Warning: Death Story, but a gentle one at the right time.
Joxer sat on the rock beside his fire, pulling off his armor with his unbandaged arm and tossing it aside. He untied the knot with his teeth, his good hand holding the other still. After removing the bandages, he sighed as he stared at the cut on his arm. //I never wanted you to go bad,// he told the infected, furry-looking hole. //I tried to keep you clean and dry. I didn't even mind when Xena laughed, even though I lied about how I got you. She never would have believed the truth.// Joxer looked down at his hands, grimacing when he saw how dirty they were. //That won't do. I don't need dirt in there too.//
He reached into his pack, grabbing the soap and brush at the bottom, heading to the nearby small river. He knelt, working to lather the brush while trying hard to ignore the pain shooting up his arm. He scrubbed as far up his arms as he could, even working around the wound, only stopping when it broke open. Joxer gave the puss oozing out a disgusted look. //You are very ill and I will clean you out whether or not you like it. No more bad smelling, green stuff from you.// He pulled off the scab with a moan of pain, not able to look at it as he plunged his arm into the water. He screamed as the water tried to go through his arm, passing out.
When he woke up, he found he wasn't alone anymore, and he wasn't beside the river either. "Hey, Iolaus," he groaned, blinking and trying to stay conscious. "Thanks. I have a hard time getting the wrapping tight enough."
"How'd you do it?" Iolaus asked, not looking up.
"Tree got me when I fell into it." //Yeah, another lie, but how I got it is really embarrassing. He'd understand.// "How bad is it?"
Iolaus didn't answer until the knot was securely tied. When he looked up at Joxer, he didn't look happy. "If the infection doesn't stop soon, you'll lose your arm," he said grimly. "Now tell me how you really did it. No tree could cut you like that, not past the bones."
Joxer shifted then tried to look away, but his friend made him look at him. "The woman I thought was an Inn prostitute was someone's wife and he took offense at me talking to her."
Iolaus nodded serenely. "I have a few scars from that sort of thing. What happened to him?"
"His wife almost killed him. She thought I was Jett pretending to bumble so I could travel anonymously."
"Ah. How'd she know him?"
"Apparently my brother's good deed of the year about five years ago was to kill her first husband and his father, who were trying to kill her." Joxer looked down at his arm. "Is it really that bad?" he asked quietly. //What will I do if I lose it? I'll never be a great warrior with only one arm.//
"It's possible. The infection's into the muscles now. I've seen healers give up before wounds got that bad." He reached over to touch the good arm when he saw the defeated nod, "and I've seen some that were worse heal with a little permanent damage that you'll learn to compensate for."
"Xena looked at it a few days back, she said it was minor."
Iolaus snorted. "Then she wasn't paying attention. We need to get you to a healer soon, Joxer. A good one."
"I don't have the money for an offering." //Or for much else. Maybe he knows those herbs Xena uses. She can cure anything with them.// "Um, do you . . . ."
"I won't be able to save it," Iolaus broke in. "I only know the basics of herb healing." He looked around. "Where was Xena headed?"
"North. Gaby's visiting someone and she's going to meet her up there."
"How many days ago?"
Joxer yawned. "Four when I found her."
Iolaus sighed. "Too far to catch." He looked at the bandage then grabbed the arm to peel the green-stained cloth away. "Let's go back to the river and wash this out again."
Joxer nodded, following him. //Great, now it gets worse. I'll add another prayer tonight, maybe I'll even get an answer. Maybe I'll wake up and the arm will be gone.// He mentally snorted. //Yeah, that's what I'll pray for, for my arm to disappear.// He knelt beside the river, sticking his arm in the icy water. "Why is it so cold in spring?"
"Because you have a fever," Iolaus said as he reached over to turn the arm better into the current.
Joxer nodded, shifting so he could get comfortable for a long stay. //Gods, this aches. Maybe losing my arm would be better; no more pain at least.// He watched his friend's face as the blood and infection-filled water ran out of him. He glanced down at the hole in curiosity, wincing as he saw the pale curves of his arm bones, and flinched away from the sight.
"I'll stay with you for a few days, as long as I can," Iolaus said softly. "You'll be fine."
"I hope so. Is that my muscles?" he asked, pointing at a dark spot.
Iolaus nodded. "That's where the infection is." He pulled the arm out of the water to get a closer look. "It looks dead." He looked up. "Are you sure you don't have anything for an offering?"
Joxer shook his head. //Just a token to call Ares. The one I got for doing something on his orders.// "Just supplies. Jerky and hard bread."
Iolaus nodded, sticking the wound back in to the current. "I'll do what I can."
Joxer watched as Iolaus looked at the knife in his hand then at him, the semi-delirious man next to him. He almost smiled as his friend decided to look through their packs before he tried to cut out the infected part, just in case the younger man had forgotten something. He smiled up until Iolaus pulled out the obsidian stone.
"A marker from Ares' temple?" Iolaus asked, fingering it. He sniffed it. "Given by the God himself, because it still smells like him." He smiled down at Joxer, who was awake and aware looking. "I could call him for you."
"It'll only respond to me," Joxer whispered, reaching a hand out for it. "He can't help with this."
"Actually," Aphrodite said as she flashed into the camp with a glow of silver sparkles, "Ares is *very* good with battlefield medicine." She reached down to pinch Iolaus' cheek. "I heard your worry and decided to see what was up." She looked down at the hole and turned a nasty shade of green, almost the same color as the infected skin. "Like ewww! He needs someone to take care of that. Cupie?" she called, looking up.
Cupid flashed into the clearing, glaring at his mother. "I was in the middle of something, what's so important?"
"So we can tell," Iolaus said, giving the undone pants the God of Love was wearing a small nod.
Cupid waved a hand and he was perfectly dressed as usual, his wings twitching from the slight breeze. "What's up?" He looked down at Joxer's arm then shook his head. "Let me guess, you want me to find Dad?"
"Please, you know he hasn't been answering my calls." Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "He's still pissed that I turned one of his auxiliary temples to a pretty shade of blue that made him look better than blood red does."
Cupid nodded. "Yeah, I remember him bitchin' about that." He nodded at Iolaus. "Tie it off so the infection doesn't spread any more."
"He said it's been infected for days. He said Xena told him it was minor four days ago."
Cupid winced. "Ouch!" He nodded. "Okay, I'll go find grumpy." He looked down at the disk in the young warrior's hand. "What's that? Isn't that Dad's?"
"It's keyed to him and he won't use it," Aphrodite said with a shrug. "I heard him say it before I appeared."
"Okay, good enough," Cupid said, flashing back out, leaving a few rose petals behind.
Aphrodite sat down next to Iolaus, being very careful not to look at the arm. "So, where have you been? You didn't come to my last party."
"Herc had me up near the northern border to help him," he explained, giving her a smile. "I tried to tell him, he said it was more important than one of your parties." He kissed the back of her hand. "I really wanted to be there. All I did was sit around and yawn while Herc did the negotiating."
"Just like always," Joxer sighed, rolling over.
"Basically," Aphrodite agreed, weathering the glare. "Oh, please, sweetie, it's always like that if you think about it. You could be *so* much more. Even one of my priests." She gave him a big- eyed look. "I really could use a man like you."
"I'm sure you could," Ares said as he landed in the clearing. "Ah, stubborn," he said as he noticed who was on the ground. "Why didn't he use the token?"
"Because he didn't think you could help with this problem," Iolaus told him, giving him a grim smile. "It's his left arm."
Ares bent down to lift it up and examine it. "Wonder how he did this?" He knocked his worshiper out so he wouldn't know he was there, Joxer was fanatical about serving him if he was anywhere in the God's vicinity.
"Well, you remember the little problem your Warlord Melanthis had last week?" Iolaus asked with a grin. "Joxer never said his name but from the stories I've heard it was him."
Ares snorted then started to laugh, ending up sitting on the ground. "Oh, I can just see that happening. Why did he fight him?"
"Melanthis' wife thought he was Jett," Iolaus told him.
Ares started to laugh again, rich booming laughs that echoed around them. "Oh, then he deserves what he got. And the disrespect he'll get for having to have his men save him from his wife."
"I heard some of them want her as their Warlord now," Iolaus told him. "That was the gossip about three towns back. His reputation's ruined. The news is spreading like wildfire."
"Ooh, I'm so going to give it to him the next time he prays," Ares said with a smirk. Which fell away as he looked at the arm again. "I can't heal it. He was right about that." Iolaus handed him the knife. "Didn't trust yourself to cut it out?"
"Xena told him four days ago it was minor," Iolaus explained softly. "I won't get it all."
"Hmm." Ares examined it closer, bringing the body closer to the fire so he could have more light. "This isn't going to be pretty." He looked at Aphrodite. "You may want to leave, it's going to get messy."
She nodded and waved at Iolaus, popping out. "Later."
"Yup, whenever you want me," Iolaus called after her. He turned to find Ares glaring at him. "She wants me to become a priest."
"Of course she does," Ares said, turning back to the wound. "Want to hold him or the arm? Cupid?" he called.
"What?" his son complained, popping back in. "Why can't I get laid tonight?" He put his hands on his waist, glaring at his father. "Why don't you call for one of the healing Gods, Pop? They'd be better at it."
"Because there's a fever up north. Asclepias is up there with them and Apollo's not on Olympus."
"Ah." Cupid shrugged and sat down, pulling Joxer into his lap. "I'll hold him, let Curly hold his arm. Less blood on me this way. Cleaning blood from my wings is a bitch and a half."
Iolaus grabbed the injured arm, one hand on the elbow and one of the wrist. "Whenever you're ready," he said, looking away as the knife came down to the infected muscle, closing his eyes as he was hit by things it's best he not think about.
Ares grimaced as he started to cut out the infection, spitting on the ground after a few seconds. "This is worse than the last time I had to do this. Why didn't Xena pack this with something?"
"It's been four days, maybe she did," Iolaus said, trying to sound reasonable.
"No, there's no debris in here."
"We rinsed it out pretty well in the river."
"Still would be something left," Ares mumbled as he made another slice and tossed more bad flesh onto the fire. "It might be kinder to take his arm at the elbow."
Iolaus caught the God of War's eyes. "He's a warrior, Ares, and he didn't win it in combat."
"Point," Ares ground out, making another cut. "You are never to tell anyone I did this, Iolaus, or you will never win another fight again. Not even a bar brawl."
"Hey, it's no business of mine why you like the guy. I'm just glad it was me that found him. At least I have some herbal knowledge. Herc would have just taken him to a healer and dropped him there, without asking if he could afford an offering."
"He'd have demanded the healers treat him regardless," Cupid pointed out, looking in the wound. "You going to burn some of that?"
"Yeah, I think so," Ares said, tossing the knife away. "Truth?" he asked, glancing at Iolaus, who nodded. "I'm only this nice to family. He's Strife's grandson out of former Priestess of mine."
"That explains a lot," Iolaus said with a grin. "He's a lot like his grandfather."
"Oh, yeah," Ares said, grinning back. "Very much like him. I'm actually surprised Strife isn't down here yet." He tipped his head back. "Strife!"
"What?" came the cranky voice as the God of Mischief walked out of the woods. "Who hurt Joxer?" He frowned down at the arm. "Who am I gonna kill?"
"Melanthis, if he isn't already dead," Ares said, calling a small flame to the end of his index finger, running it along the infected muscle, ignoring the screams Joxer was making. "Hold him still," he ordered. "This is too deep for part of it to be burned clean but it should start to heal." He glanced up. "Go do your job, Strife. I gave you an order."
"Just as soon as I know he's not going to lose his arm," Strife said, sitting beside Iolaus to take control of the arm. "Let me."
"Okay," Iolaus said, backing away, wiping away the blood that had sprayed from his face and hands.
"Apparently, Joxer was the one who had talked to Melanthis' wife in the Inn," Ares told his nephew. Cupid burst out laughing and his father shot a glare at him. "Did you have something to do with this?"
Cupid shook his head. "No, but good gossip travels fast. One of Mom's priests told me about it." He looked at Strife, who looked clueless. "Seems Melanthis' wife was coming off as an Inn prostitute with Joxer and he started talking to her. Melanthis got offended and took a swing. Joxer ducked out of the way, behind the guy's wife actually, and she beat him *down*!" He started to laugh again. "She beat him so badly that his men had to come save him. The cut must have been an accident during their fight."
Strife shook his head. "Jett was there. Joxer was supposed ta meet him two towns over. From what he was talking about, it was from Melanthis' first attack. He never said it was Joxer though."
Iolaus frowned. "Really? Wow." Strife nodded. "Did he hit Melanthis? The man can't fight."
"Nah, he didn't hit nothin' but the table," Strife said, smiling at his grandson. "I'll take him ta Jett tonight, let him handle this. He's good with field injuries and I can convince him ta take care of his brother."
Ares nodded. "Yeah, he is." He pulled his hand back. "There, all I can do." He took the bandage Iolaus handed him, grimacing at it. "This isn't clean."
"It's all he had."
"I can fix that," Cupid said, waving a hand and making a pile of clean cloths appear. "How's that? Technically women's supplies, but they should do."
"Perfect," Ares purred, pulling the first few over, using them to stuff the inside of the wound. "These should soak up any leftover infection well enough." He used the last few to wrap, using the dirty bandage to tie them off, making sure it wouldn't touch the wound again. "Strife, take him to Jett and then go find Melanthis. Tell him I want to talk to him. Oh, and find Xena and tell her the same thing for the same day." He flashed out, leaving Ares staring at Iolaus and his son. "Son, go finish what you were doing," he dismissed.
Cupid grinned and left them alone. "Thanks, Pop, it's been real."
"I want to know what part of the world they learned that from," Iolaus said, shaking his head with a smile. "Him and his mother both."
"The future," Ares said, waving them both clean. "There, much better. You did the right thing calling Aphrodite, Iolaus. He would have lost his arm."
"I knew I couldn't deal with it," the hunter said with a small shrug. "She suggested calling you."
"Yeah, I know. We all know better than to bother Apollo for a mere mortal and Asclepias is real busy right now." He rubbed his eyebrow. "Can you bring his things to my nearest temple? It's about a day away."
"Sure." Iolaus looked over the God of War. "You really like him?"
"He reminds me of Strife when he was little," Ares said diffidently. "Like I said, it's a family thing." He waved and started to leave.
"Wait!" Iolaus said, handing him the token. "This was with him. I'm not sure if you want it back."
"Put it in his things. I owe him a favor and this wasn't about that." Ares left in a small burst of dark red light.
"Wow, he's really okay sometimes," Iolaus said softly, gathering the things laying around the camp to put them into Joxer's pack.
Joxer looked up at his older brother, frowning. "Why do you look so bad," he asked, raising his good hand to rub over the stubbled cheek. "You look like you just got out of prison, again."
"You've been out for three days, Joxer, I'm supposed to be worried." He helped his brother up, propping him up on the bed so he could see his arm. "Ares preformed a minor miracle and saved your arm. It's healing pretty well, but you're not going to be able to use it for a while." He touched the bandage lightly, smiling at the wince of pain his twin gave him. "Yeah, it's gonna hurt."
"Wonderful," Joxer said dryly. "Just what I needed." He stopped and gave his brother a confused look. "Ares helped me?"
"The story goes Aphrodite came to see why her favorite plaything was so upset and she called him." He shrugged. "I just got handed you by a messenger and then he was gone."
"Oh." Joxer looked down at his arm. "How bad is it?"
"I wouldn't want to look at it if it was on me," Jett said simply. He kissed his brother's cheek, giving him a bite. "It'll heal and you still have your arm. No fancy sword work from you for a while, but otherwise you'll be fine." Jett stood up. "Hungry yet?"
"Thirsty," Joxer said, greedily taking the cool glass of water he was handed and chugged it as fast as he could. "Oh, more?"
"Sure." Jett refilled the glass, standing beside the bed to refill it a few more times. He waited until Joxer started to look sleepy again before taking the glass away from him, helping his brother back under the covers. "You keep getting better looking every year we do our meeting," he said softly.
Joxer frowned at him. "I do?"
"We're twins and since I do, you have to," Jett told him, pinching him on the nose. "Get better, this nursemaid stuff is boring." He left his brother alone, heading out into the main part of Ares' temple. "He woke up and drank a pitcher of water," he reported to the priest that was helping them. "He's gone back to sleep again."
"It's as expected," the priest said. "Lord Ares wishes a word with you when you're free."
"I'm free. He's napping." He headed for the throne room, bowing to the God of War, not such a bad guy if you were on his good side and liked by him. "He's napping. Drank a lot of water. Got a laugh out of him." He smirked at Strife, who was lounging in the corner beside the throne. "It worked, the laughing eased him back into sleep."
"Knew it would," Strife said, giving his grandson and worshiper a smile. "Oh, Unc, they're on their way here now. Both of them. I told Xena she was going to be yelled at last so she'll have to wait and hear it all."
"Good," Ares said, nodding. "Go have some free time." He waved Strife away, who took Jett with him. "Yeah, he's good," Ares said appreciatively. "Only Jett could appreciate Strife."
"I don't know about that," Xena said as she walked into the room. "Why was I summoned, Ares?"
"Just sit and listen, you'll find out," he said with a smirk. "I won't even try to kill you this time."
She just glared at him, heading for one of the back walls and a bench.
A woman in bronze armor with a familiar man walking behind her walked in, bowing deeply to him. "Lord Ares, forgive my presumption, but the men have asked me to take my husband's place." She waved at the man behind her.
"I've heard," he said dryly. "I also happen to like the idea but I have a few *minor* problems." He waved them closer. "The first is that your husband is a brilliant tactician, that's how he got his command."
"And he'll still be doing that," she assured him quickly. "The heads of his forces were most adamant that they wanted it that way."
"Good," Ares purred. "The second is that *little* fight you got into in a tavern." She frowned. "The one where one of my other warriors got hurt?"
Melanthis laughed. "*He* was a warrior? He hid behind my wife."
His wife glared at him. "Shut up." He stopped. "Thank you." She turned back to the God of War. "Was he very injured? Do we have to make reparations?"
"Oh, he was very injured. I had to personally take a lot of infected muscle from his arm." Melanthis ran for a nearby urn and started to throw up. "Still have a weak stomach?" he asked cheerfully.
"No," his wife said softly, "there's another reason." Ares focused solely on her. "His mother used to make this herbal syrup that was put on their blades, a tradition he still carries on to this day. I'm not sure what's in it, but our healer is here and he makes it now. I do know that Melanthis' father used to not only coat his blade with it but he also used to drink a little every day."
"Poison," Xena said, getting up and walking forward. "We're talking about Joxer, right?" Ares nodded. "Can I see him? Maybe with that and the syrup, I can figure out what's going on and cure it."
"Please. He's back in the high bedroom." She nodded, heading out of the throne room. "Get me the syrup. Four days after Xena inspected his arm, we almost had to take it off." He looked at Melanthis. "Never again will you coat your blade with that."
"Yes, Lord Ares," he said, bowing. "I didn't know it would harm him. My mother said it was something to condition the metal. I had no way of knowing."
"You're not in trouble. I needed to know what it was that happened and make sure that your wife would be able to handle the job."
"Oh, she can," Melanthis said dryly. "She's a regular commander at home, my Lord."
Ares snorted. "I'm sure. Go and have this syrup sent."
Xena walked out with Joxer, who was clinging to her arm. "It's not serious, but I need something from Apollo's garden to fix it."
Ares gave her a bland look. "What makes you think he'll give it to you?"
"I know," she sighed, "but the only three places this grows are in Apollo's main temple garden, in a grove sacred to Athena, and in a woman's garden that I'm not sure is still alive."
"Who?" Melanthis' wife asked. "Sycarda?" Xena nodded, looking impressed. "She used to help my mother, that's where I learned herbs. May I help him, Lord Ares?"
"Please," he said, waving his hand. "He can use all the help he can get right now."
"Hey!" Joxer complained weakly. "I'm getting better." Xena let him go and he almost fell. "Never mind," he whispered, grabbing her to steady himself.
Xena smiled at the new Warlord. "Bring it to me here, we'll figure out a way by tonight."
Melanthis and his wife both nodded, then bowed to Ares and left the temple.
Ares looked down at Joxer, giving him a small smile. "Feeling better?"
"Much," he said, bowing to his God. "Can I do anything while I'm here?"
"Heal," Ares said dryly. "Then you can go out and serve me again." Joxer nodded, and Xena let him go, both she and the God watching as the young warrior made his way back to his bedroom by clinging to the walls. "You're looking for that paw stuff, right? The one that wouldn't grow for you, even with Godly intervention?"
"Yes, that herb. It's the best infection killer I know. He still has a little but it's all around his bones." Ares nodded slowly. "We need to cure it or all that work you did will be for nothing, I'll have to take his arm."
"I'll see what I can't arrange." Ares left the temple, heading for his home on Olympus. "Strife!" he called.
"What?" Strife flashed in. "You gave me the rest of the day off."
"I know, but we need a very specific herb."
"I heard," he sighed, rubbing his eyebrow. "Athena, Apollo, or some woman, right?"
"Yeah, them." He looked out at the other temples. "Try Athena, at least she'll see the necessity of healing a warrior like Joxer."
"Why do you like him so much?" Strife asked, not moving beyond shifting his weight. "I know why I like Jett, and Jayce, but why do you like Joxer?"
"Because he's like a little kid at Solstice all the time," Ares said, turning to look at his nephew. "He's always happy to see me, even when he's not fighting."
"Ah, he appreciates you. About why I like Jett." Strife nodded and disappeared. "Later."
"I wish Cupid would quit teaching you words," Ares muttered, heading for his throne. "Maybe this will all be cured by tonight."
Strife quickly picked himself up off the floor, where he had landed because he had had to teleport away so quickly. "She said no," he told his Uncle.
"I figured that," Ares growled lightly. "I was sure she'd see reason this time."
"She said no mortal warrior was worth defiling a sacred grove, especially not one of your men."
Ares shook his head. "Whatever. Do we know where that woman is?"
"Yeah, I stopped in with Xena to get where she was and checked on her, she's still living but her garden's gone to pot. She said she didn't have any because it wouldn't grow without help."
"It won't," Ares agreed. "I remember Xena trying to cultivate it. The thing wouldn't ever grow. Did she check? Even just for a wild plant?"
"She's blind, Unc, she couldn't check." Ares nodded, giving him a grim look. "Now what?"
"Now we wait, I guess. This is outside of my influence."
"Hey, there's always the other option," Strife pointed out.
"Oh, yeah, I can just see Hera going for me feeding Joxer tree of life fruit, even a slice." He shook his head. "If she did agree, I'd be very suspicious of why. She hates that fact that you have children, and that they're mortal is a double insult."
Strife snorted. "I know. She's being fussy, doesn't want me to carry on the family heredity of insanity, as she once told me."
Ares shook his head with a disgusted look. "You don't do that, Deimos does that. I don't know why she still gets you two mixed up, it's been a few centuries." He looked toward the entryway as he felt another God coming in. "Apollo," he said, pointing.
Strife turned, watching as the blond God walked in. "Hey, you answered, and even in person," he said, amazed.
"Shut up, Strife," Ares growled, mostly for appearances.
Apollo looked at Ares, giving him a 'well' look. "You needed something so badly that you had to send *Strife* to find me?"
"Hermes couldn't and this isn't a God thing," Ares said, relaxing, or seeming to. "One of my warriors, and a member of a distant bloodline, needs some of the herbs out of one of your gardens, an antibiotic herb."
"I heard," Apollo said dryly. "What's in it for me since he's mortal?"
"He's my grandson," Strife said softly, looking down at his shoes. "He's only mortal because I didn't want Hera finding out." He glanced up.
Apollo looked at Ares, who nodded. "I see. What does he need really?"
"It's an antibiotic herb, paw something or other," Ares said with a hand wave. "Xena's beside him and she said it was the only thing she knew of. I took as much of the infection out as I could and burned a lot of the rest, but it's near his bones."
Apollo nodded. "I'll go see him, that sounds serious." He glanced at Strife and Ares nodded. "Mom's gonna piss goats," he said as he disappeared.
"Oh, yeah," Strife said, nodding. "Really big ones." He looked up at Ares, who gave him a small, secret smile. "What are you going to do?" he asked suspiciously.
"Oh, I think I can keep you busy long enough to stay out of her temper tantrum. Like now?" Strife disappeared, and Ares waited on his mother to finish solidifying. "Hera," he said, trying to keep his impatience out of his voice. "Problems in your temple that I need to deal with?"
"No, those raiders haven't come back. I just heard the worst rumor so I came to verify it." She stared at her son. "Something about Strife being allowed to have children?"
"He's an adult," Ares pointed out. "I can't keep him from procreating. I don't give him much chance but his bloodline is very stable. Deimos' on the other hand seems to have inherited some of his insanity." He shrugged. "I do know about his children and I have watched over the sick one that's in my temple right now from his lineage."
"One's ill?" she asked, one eyebrow going up. "Which one?"
"Joxer. He's a grandson with a very bad infection. He's at my temple as he's one of my warriors and I had to help heal him." Ares stood up, using his height advantage to seem more powerful than he felt at the moment. "If you'll excuse me, I should check in with Xena to make sure he's not slipping away."
Hera waved at him. "Please. Though I'd like to meet him." She gave her son a cold smile. "I'd like to make sure that the stability was passed on."
Strife reappeared with Jett, who was apparently on his best behavior because he hadn't tried to harm Hera yet. "Here, talk with this one, it's a set of triplets. Admittedly the weakest of my children." He winked at Jett. "And very proud of that fact."
"Very true," Jett purred, running a finger across Strife's chin. "Later?"
"Very later," Ares told them. "Hera, this is Jett, Joxer's twin. And yes, they are the most unstable of Strife's children. Feel free to use my temple, just don't redecorate." He walked over to Strife, pulling him down to the mortal temple. "What were you thinking?"
"I wanted to get the ban lifted. Before she decided to destroy all of them." Strife gave him a desperate look. "Please, Ares, stick up for me in this? You know what's she's done before."
"Yeah, I know," Ares sighed, sitting down in his throne. "I'll help any way I can. You know that."
Strife nodded. "Yeah, I know." He looked down the hallway as a door closed. "I think Xena was just kicked out of Joxer's room."
"I can feel Apollo," Ares said, closing his eyes. "And he's not real pleased with what he sees." He teleported into the sick room, looking down at the wound. "Hey, much nicer today," he told Joxer, patting him on the top of the head like a dog. "It was freely flowing puss when I went in to fix it," he told the God of Medicine.
"I figured it would had to have been pretty bad for you to exercise your meager battlefield skills." Apollo touched the skin around it lightly. "Well, the girl was right, it's the only thing that will kill the infection. Unfortunately, it's out of season at the moment. And I'll never get it to bloom if I try and force some up."
Xena walked back in with a bowl of steaming water and a cloth. "There is a way. A woman by the name of Sycarda was a genius at growing herbs, including that one." She sat beside Joxer's sleeping form, starting to clean around the wound. "She's very old now and, from what I was hearing, blind, but if anyone could get it to grow she can." She looked up. "I still think it's the only way to save his arm."
"It is," Apollo said, nodding at her technique. "You do that very well."
"Sometimes you have to do things like this on battlefields during the breaks. You learn a lot about infection out there." She looked over at Ares. "I still want to know why he's here."
"Because he is, be thankful," Ares said harshly.
"Okay." She went back to her cleaning after giving him a look that said she was going to bother him about it until she found out.
Apollo smirked at Ares. "I'll see what I can do," he said, flashing out in a burst that looked like sunlight.
"This isn't looking good, Ares," Xena said softly, holding open the edges of the wound so he could see the deeper muscle tissue. "It's reinfecting where you didn't burn."
"We'll figure it out," Ares told her, leaving her alone, heading to where he could feel Hera popping in. "Figure it out yet?" he asked, going back to lounging on his throne.
"I have decided that the bloodline deserves further consideration." She looked at Strife. "I will have a list." The young God shook his head. "Yes, I will," she said coldly.
"No, you won't," Strife said. "I don't care if you do blast me to Tartarus this time, I'm not going to let you kill my family." He crossed his arms, glaring at her. "Do your worst."
Hera laughed. "I have no intention of harming the already born, but I may need to cut off a part of the lineage before someone truly unstable is born, someone even worse than that Caesar person."
"That's lead poisoning," Ares said, holding up a finger. "The Romans were stupid enough to use lead pipes to bring water into the city."
Hera snorted. "Then on their heads be it." She looked Strife over. "Have you been hearing things I haven't?"
"You mean besides your step-children?" Ares said blithely, pulling out a dagger to clean his nails. "And one of Apollo's children?" He glanced up to see her murderous scowl. "See what he sees now?"
"Very well," she agreed coldly. She looked at Strife, staring him in the eyes. "I am not going to harm your lineage, merely make a distinction about whether or not they are eligible for certain Godly moments of intervention like the other offspring are."
Strife reached behind him and pulled a scroll out of thin air, handing it to her. "That's the ones I know of," he said quietly.
"Thank you." Hera disappeared without a flashy light show.
Ares raised one eyebrow at Strife. "You're trusting her?"
"No, but I figure if I have to, I can at least save some of them." He gave his uncle a grin. "Oops, I may have forgotten one or two." He covered his mouth as he giggled and disappeared.
"Ah, Strife, ever changing but always the same," Ares sighed, turning his attention back to Joxer.
Joxer woke up, shaking his head to clear his vision. "What's wrong?" he slurred.
"The pain medicine," Xena told him. "I have to get in there to clean and it's going to hurt. A lot." She bent back over the strapped down arm, picking up the first wet cloth and wincing as she stuck it into the opening to clean off some of the debris she could see inside it.
Joxer screamed, passing out after a few minutes of that.
Xena sighed, going back to her cleaning. "I'm doing what I can," she told him, working on getting a bit of puss off the muscles between the two bones. "I wonder if Gaby's having fun."
"Oh, I doubt it," Ares said from the door. "What did you do to him?"
"I'm cleaning inside the wound, there's some dirt and puss dried on in there." She stood up, trying to hand him the now dirty cloth. "Want a turn?"
"No thanks." He walked over to look down inside the hole. "It's still getting worse?"
"Yeah, a lot worse," she sighed, sitting on the bed, careful not to sit on the wet cloths. "I'm not sure that I can save it now, even with the herbs."
"We'll do what we can," Ares told her. "If not, then we'll be as merciful as possible." She nodded, standing back up again. "I'll even do it for you."
"Thanks. I really don't want to be the surgeon on his arm." She went back to her cleaning. "What is Gaby doing anyway?"
"She's in jail for mouthing off to a Council member about the Way." He smirked as he left her alone, able to read her emotions enough to know she was going to explode.
Xena shook her head and blew a piece of hair out of her eyes. "I'll yell at her later. If she's still living," she muttered. "Not that it's likely that she will be. Her mouth's going to get her into more trouble if she does. It always does. Same as your wanna-be hero moments do you, Joxer." She patted the side of his face and started to work harder on getting the gunk out of the wound. "Maybe I can get Ares to have Strife go torment her for a while, that ought to teach her."
"That's mean," Strife said, landing behind her with a small basket. "Apollo sent this for you. He said it's all he could get to come up."
Xena took the basket, looking down inside with a delighted smile. "Everything I need. Want to help me pack the wound and bandage it?" Strife nodded, going to the table of bandages to pull a thin one out. "Good," she said, snatching it from his hand to load a handful of the herbs into it. She twisted the bundle, working until all the cloth was stained green, then put it into the hole, packing it in as far down as she could. "That should do it for now," she said, taking an outer bandage from the God of Mischief, folding it and tying it over Joxer's arm. "Yeah, that's good," she sighed, stepping back. "Very good." She looked up as she felt someone else enter the room. "Um, hello," she said, stepping away from Athena.
"Who's this?" she asked Strife, pointing at Joxer. "I've heard rumors that you have children."
"I do," he said, nervously fidgeting. "He's my grandson. One of his twins is an entertainer and the other is one of my worshipers."
Athena nodded then turned her cold expression on Xena. "Why are you here?"
"He's a friend and Ares asked me to take care of him. Why? Did you *need* something with Joxer?"
"Joxer?" Athena snorted. "I've heard of him. He might as well be one of Strife's too." She waved a hand in the air. "At least he's mostly harmless."
"Yeah, he is," Xena said, equally as coldly. "And he's also one of the most considerate and brave people I know. How many other people would step between me and a Warlord, or even me and Ares?" Athena opened her mouth. "Don't you *dare* put him down in front of me," Xena hissed. "He deserves a hell of a lot better than he gets. All he ever hears is that he's an idiot and he's actually very smart. Has the worst hand at poetry but he's still got a good heart. The good- hearted people will be the ones left after people like you and me and Ares are gone, Athena, and for that, I'm kinda grateful. Otherwise, everyone'd be dead by now." She looked at Strife. "I'm going to go back to my cursing of Gabrielle, unless you need me."
"No, thank you." He smacked her across the back of the head, earning a head shake. "See, no harm, no foul," he told Athena after Xena had left. "Joxer's one of those *good* people, one of the ones who does a lot of stuff wrong, but he means everything so well. One of those that deserves an easy retirement after what we've put him through."
Athena nodded. "So I understand, but still. Him?"
"He's my grandson," Strife said coldly. "One of which I am very fond of."
Athena smiled at him. "Good. He needs a firmer hand on his life." She smiled sweetly at Ares as he walked into the room and handed Strife a goblet. "Father wants you."
"Yay. I'll be up there in a few." Athena disappeared in a hazy cloud. "Well, I'm proud," Ares said after a few minutes of silence. "You've grown balls around the other Gods." He clapped Strife on the back with a small smirk. "Don't even think about doing that around me."
"Nope, not for you," Strife said with a grin hidden by his goblet. "Needed something?"
"Just to make sure that the poultice was working." He looked down at the bandage. "Looks okay still."
"It is. I've keyed a line into Joxer and he's already seeming to be stronger, just over the course of a day."
Ares nodded. "Good. We'll get him back on his feet in no time then. Then you can go back to silently watching him."
"Nope, I think I'm gonna help him like I do Jett." Strife finished off his goblet of ambrosia and sent it away. "I think he deserves some help."
"Yeah, I can just see you showing up to help Gaby and Xena fighting against me." Ares rolled his eyes. "Make it subtle, huh?" He walked back out. "I'm going to go see what Zeus wants. Yell if you need anything." He disappeared from the hall.
"About two quarts of piss," Strife told himself. "'Cause I scared that much outta myself today." He lay down on the bed beside his grandson, pulling him close enough to hold. "Yeah, you're gonna be fine, even if I have to do something drastic to make it so. Hey, I like that line, I oughta go tell someone to write that down."
Xena looked at the anxious men standing around her, handing off the last bundle of herbs, looking down inside the opening of Joxer's arm. "That's it," she said, stepping back.
Ares growled as he looked down inside. "There's no other way?" She shook her head. "What about Apollo?"
"He said he might if Joxer had been a child of mine, but he's too busy to come for a grandchild. Seems Asclepias fell over while treating that fever so he's went to take over."
"Ah." Ares stepped back, letting Strife get in there. "Now what?"
"I want to give it a day," Xena said out of the blue. "Sometimes the herbs take a while to work. On some people it actually takes a week after removing them to show any difference."
"Okay," Strife said, standing up and looking at them. "Unc?" Ares nodded so he looked at Xena. "We'll do it your way, but we're starting a war this week."
"I am," Ares said quietly. "You're staying beside him. In case something happens." He held up a finger at the protest. "Family is important and there's not going to be anything for you to do for weeks anyway. Not even annoying the other side's Generals."
"Thanks," Strife sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I'll stay here with him and if there's a change, you'll know right away."
"Good," Ares said, reaching over to pat Strife's head, knocking him backwards so he was lying on top of Joxer. "Stay there." He looked at Xena, nodding her out in the hall. "I can hear the question, spill it."
"Why do you really like him so much? I've seen how you act to the other two twins."
"Because I do," Ares said simply. "I don't know why, I just do." He shrugged and popped out with an enigmatic smile. "See ya."
Xena groaned. "Where do the Gods get that language?" She started to walk back into Joxer's room but stopped because the door was locked. She backed away, deciding to head out into the garden for a break. Strife apparently had it.
Strife looked over at his grandson, sighing as soon as he felt his Uncle leave. "Come on, Joxer, time to wakey-wakey." He nudged the good shoulder, grinning at the silly smile the mortal gave him. "Feelin' good?"
"Very," Joxer slurred. "Very pretty."
"Me?" Strife asked, looking down at himself. "You're jokin' right?" Joxer shook his head. "You're not?"
"Pretty angel," Joxer sighed, rolling so he was snuggled up to the God of Mischief. "Night."
"Ya sleep." Strife rubbed down the soft back, grinning at the ceiling. "Me, an angel? Not hardly." He giggled. "But I'll accept it as a compliment, until you're well, then I'll make ya apologize." He settled in to sleep too, he had nothing better to do now that Ares had let him off the hook.
Strife did the honors, pulling back the bandage, mouth falling open at the inside of the hole. " It's not pretty," he warned, getting out of the way so Apollo could look at it.
The God of Medicine frowned, poking at the muscle with a rounded stick. "You're right, it's not pretty. Pretty gross, but not pretty." He looked down at Joxer. "We could still take your arm off, it'd be easier on you than having this thing finish healing."
Joxer shook his head. "I want to be a great warrior some day, I *will* be a great warrior some day. I need that arm. I can live with pain."
Apollo stepped back. "So be it." He looked at Xena. "You did your best and it worked some, but it's still way grody in there." He shrugged and flashed out, leaving behind some glitter.
Strife sat down on the bed beside Joxer, helping him sit up. "So, you still wannna be a warrior? Knowing that you'll get more injuries like this some day?"
Joxer nodded solemnly. "Yeah, I do. I want to be the best."
Xena nodded. "It's done then. The rest is up to your body." She patted Joxer on the shoulder. "I'm going to go free Gaby before they lynch her." She stopped Ares before he could walk in. "It's still not great, but he wants to stay pledged to you."
Ares nodded. "Of course," he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Want help getting your little friend?"
"I'm not sure she'd welcome you right now," Xena said with a smirk. "She hates you."
"Ah, but so do you, dear Xena," Ares said, fake drama adding higher notes to his voice. "I could send you there."
"Argo's in town."
"What sort of God would I be if I couldn't send a horse and a warrior somewhere when I wanted?" She shrugged and he made her disappear, along with all of her stuff. "Oh, boys," he said as he walked into Joxer's room. "She's gone, we can party now."
Strife grinned. "Cool! Can I host the orgy tonight?"
"Sure, why not." Ares smirked at Joxer. "You may not attend. Not until your arm heals, young man." He sent a spark at Strife, making him jump and move. "Go annoy Xena and Gaby."
"Awww, but I started to like Xena."
"I'm sure she's back to normal now," Ares said dryly, "telling Gabrielle all about how cruel I am to her." He waved and Strife disappeared. Ares sat on the bed, looking at his warrior. "Strife's asked that you be allowed to stay here while you finish healing so he can help you with it. Afterwards, I will allow you to train with my arms teachers, they'll help you adapt to the problems with your arm. I'll decide how you can pay me back after you've finished your training."
Joxer misted up. "Thank you, Lord Ares. I'm so very grateful." He leaned over, giving Ares a hug. "Thank you," he whispered.
Ares pushed him back down, gently of course. "Don't do that, you don't know who might be watching," he grumped, brushing imaginary lint off his leathers. "Just get better so I don't have to listen to Strife whine." He stood up. "I'll let you get some rest, that's the most important thing right now. Otherwise you'll be here forever." He faded out as he walked toward the door, disappearing from the mortal plane for a while.
Joxer put down his scrying mirror, wiping off his cheeks. "How could I have forgotten that?" he asked the stones he was sitting on. "The most important time of my life and I forgot why I got this." He ran a thumb down the wide scar on his forearm. "How could I forget you? You were the reason I changed. The reason I learned to fight and became a credit to Ares' name, and Strife's too." He leaned back against the gravestone, shaking his head. "That isn't fair. Even after all this time, I shouldn't have forgotten something so important." He turned, brushing a hand over Strife's name, then over the one next to it, Xena's. "I'm sorry I forgot, I won't do it again," he promised. "It must have been the knock I got in the last war I fought as Ares' aide de camp. It was a table after all, a very heavy table. It must have done more damage than I thought." He looked up as a light flashing announced a God popping in. "Ares," he said, bowing to his God. "I was just telling them I was sorry for forgetting what set me onto this path."
Ares helped the aged warrior up, hugging him. "I know. It was that table actually. You had a skull fracture. I'm sure even Gabrielle would have understood." He teleported them gently back to his temple, the one Joxer had spent almost a year at. "Here, you rest for a while, Joxer. I'll go get us lunch." He left his warrior alone, heading into the shadows to watch and listen to him. He wanted to fill his mind with images of his favorite warrior before he left his life.
"Oh, I am an old fool," Joxer sighed, getting comfortable. "I wonder what ever happened to Melanthis and his wife. I'll have to ask Ares later." His eyes started to feel heavy as he felt the pressure come back to his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. "I'll ask him later, when I see him," Joxer whispered, head falling back onto the pillows.
Ares walked out of the shadows, covering one of his best warriors ever, silently summoning a priest. "Prepare a bier for him, we'll bury him next to Strife." He looked at his priest, who was crying. "He lived to be almost ninety, a record among my followers," he told the young man, clapping him on the shoulder. "Be happy for him, he did everything he ever wanted and became the man he wanted to be." He flashed out, unable to stand in the same room anymore. He had learned to respect his warrior, and had learned what sort of man had lain beneath the happy exterior. He wasn't sure which was more important to him, but he knew which one had been to Joxer, and in the end, that's all that could be said - Joxer had become all he could be and Ares had learned to respect and like him for the man he had been.