Do It One More Time
Warnings: NC-17 m/m smut ahead, so if that ain't yer cup of java,
better look elsewhere!
Archive: joxerotica, when it's finished. Anywhere else, please ask first.
Series: In case you need a roadmap, it goes
Love's Sweet Revenge
A Little is Enough
Kiss and Tell
and it probably won't make any sense if you haven't read those already.
Thanks to Shari for beta-ing; all remaining mistakes are my bad thanks to
changes I made since then :-)
/ I am leaving to find Jett. I need time to work this
/ out and settle things with him, and I need to do
/ this on my own.
/ I know what happened was not your fault. But
/ right now I need time to deal with the anger I
/ feel towards both of you.
/ I'm sorry. Don't follow me. I'll find you when
/ I'm ready.
/ I love you.
Joxer read the note one last time, as the soft light
of dawn crept into the room through the open window.
Satisfied it said what needed to be said, he carefully
placed it on the pillow, and then gave in to
the urge to brush his hand gently, one last time,
through Autolycus' tousled hair. The sleeping man
didn't stir, but Joxer knew he had to leave soon, or
Or else what--lose my nerve? He was far from sure
that he was doing the right thing by leaving, sneaking
out on Autolycus the same exact way that the thief
had once tried to do to him. It was a situation in
which Joxer had never imagined he'd find himself. Now
that he had, he was anything but happy about it.
All night he had debated the same questions, over and
over: whether to leave or to stay, whether to believe
Autolycus' story or not...whether he was overreacting
or perfectly justified in feeling the hurt and
resentment that consumed his thoughts and weighed down
his heart. He wanted desperately to be able to believe
Autolycus, and that what had happened had been an
honest mistake. But he couldn't look at Auto
without seeing him and Jett together...sharing passions
and intimate moments that Joxer had wanted to think
were his alone to share with his beloved thief.
Dammit. He wiped angrily at the moisture in his
eyes, which were sore and burning from his lack of
sleep, and no lack of tears. As carefully and quietly
as he could, he finished dressing and gathered his
things, then headed for the door. His hand paused as
he reached for the handle, and he turned back to cast
one last look back at Autolycus.
The mixed emotions that tormented him as he did so
were enough to make him dizzy. I have to go, he
told himself, closing his eyes, trying to compose
himself. I can't take this; I have to sort out why
this is making me so crazy. If he really loves me,
Auto will understand, and we'll be able to work things
He had to believe that was true.
Joxer left the room and closed the door quietly behind
him, struggling to convince himself this act of leaving
wasn't as permanent as it seemed. But he knew he
didn't have time to delay any longer. He quickly
made his way downstairs and out into the still quiet,
sleepy streets of the small village. It was going to
be a long day on the road if he wanted to make it to
Egio by nightfall.
Dawn passed into morning into mid-afternoon before
Joxer finally slowed his pace, realizing it was past
time he take at least a short break. His mind had been
so preoccupied all day that he had not been cognizant
of his grumbling stomach and his sore feet until both
reached near critical condition.
He found a grassy, shady spot off the road and
sat down with a weary sigh, shaking off his bag and
wondering if he actually had anything left to eat in
it. If he'd been thinking clearer this morning he
would have tried to pick up something in the village
before he left...too late for that now. His mother had
packed him off with enough food to last him for a few
weeks at the end of his brief recent visit, but he'd
consumed most of the tastiest snacks already, and Auto
had helped with much of the rest. He found
he still had some dried fruits, a little cheese, and
half a loaf of bread, and that made for an adequate
meal. He ate merely what he needed to sustain himself,
having little appetite to really savor his food, or
barely taste it at all.
Instead, he kept thinking about what he was heading
into--as well as what he'd left behind. What if
Jett's already found Xena and Gabrielle? What if I'm
too late when I get there? Jett was about a day ahead
of him, he figured, based on what Autolycus had
said...not counting the fact that Jett could have
secured a horse and made his way to Egio at a faster
pace than the leisurely one Joxer and Auto had been
Of course, he had no way of knowing for certain that
the warrior and the bard would even be in Egio for
the festival. Considering Joxer hadn't seen either of
them in months, they might not even be in the country
for all he knew. But what other leads did he have?
None. He merely remembered Gabrielle's enthusiastic
reports about how wonderful last year's festival had
been, and how much she would be looking forward to
future ones. And at the very least, Joxer knew Jett
seemed to be headed in this same direction. The
two of them definitely had a few things to settle,
regardless of Jett's plans for his friends.
That was what he was heading into...and it still left
him the problem of what to do about Autolycus. The
anger that had dominated his thoughts and feelings
earlier was losing some of its fire, since he'd had
some time to recover from shock of it all. In his
anger's place, uncertainty and longing were fast to
take up residence. Suspicions continued to run through
his thoughts: How could he have not known it wasn't
me? Beneath the surface, Jett and I are nothing alike,
couldn't he tell? Or is the surface all he cares
about, and I've been a fool to think otherwise? Hades,
maybe he knew exactly what was going on, and now
he's trying to play stupid to cover it up, to make me
But then he corrected himself, No, I should have more
faith in Autolycus than that. If he wanted to cover up
what had happened, he never would have told me about it
in the first place. The urge to turn around and find
him, and to apologize for leaving him behind
with only a note, was strong. Despite the heartache he
felt, he couldn't imagine what it would be like if he
lost Autolycus for good except that it would no doubt
be a thousand times worse.
Autolycus... As much as he tried to push him out of
his thoughts, he kept seeing his lover's face in his
mind's eye: that smile that always made Joxer's heart
ache; the incredible expression on his face at the
moment before he came... How many times had Joxer
thanked the gods for bringing this man into his life?
Wondered how such an apparently rough match somehow
managed to work, and to thrive? Until now, at least,
he'd thought it was thriving, every day nearly better
than the last. But the fear had always been there for
him, right from the start. How could he hope to hold
on to someone like Autolycus, a man who had sworn off
anything resembling love or commitment years ago?
Joxer shook his head, struggling to dismiss the
thoughts that were getting him nowhere except more
confused. First things first--he had to take care of
his brother; his personal affairs and his love life
would have to wait until later. He picked up his
things and headed off on the road again, knowing he
had several more hours of walking ahead of him before
Joxer had no idea he was being watched, and that was
precisely how the King of Thieves intended it.
From a short distance away, he spied Joxer as the
lanky man finished eating, then collected his
belongings and started walking once more. The horse
Autolycus had "liberated" this morning grunted softly,
seemingly impatient to get a move on it as well. But
Autolycus waited, wrapped up in his thoughts and
uncertainties. He had caught up with Joxer easy
enough, but now...now he wasn't sure what he should do
As soon as he'd spotted Joxer on the road, he'd nearly
tossed all caution aside and run right up to him, to
try to apologize one more time for what had happened.
But reason had forced him to stop and think, and to
realize that was no doubt the worst thing he could do.
In his letter, Joxer had specifically asked him not
to follow. To reveal he was doing precisely that would
be violating Joxer's trust in him--a trust Autolycus
knew was already damaged severely...perhaps beyond
Joxer had said he needed to go after Jett and resolve
this matter alone. Therefore Autolycus would have to
let him--as long as Joxer could take Jett on by
himself. Autolycus would stay back and simply keep an
eye on things from a distance, unless it became clear
that Joxer needed his help.
But still...Gods, this is hard. Even from afar he
could see how much Joxer was hurting, and knowing that
pain was because of him wasn't helping Autolycus'
frame of mind one bit. He just wanted to tell Joxer,
"I screwed up. I'm sorry. What more can I say? What
can I do to make things right again?" Though inside,
he realized Joxer probably didn't know the answer
to those questions yet.
He waited until Joxer was almost out of sight before
getting back on the horse to follow.
The sun had set and the stars were glimmering brightly
in the sky by the time Joxer made it to the city of
Egio. It was nothing more than a moderately large
seaside town, which once a year enjoyed a brief moment
of celebrity by hosting a five-night festival of the
arts. The festival was known and respected
throughout the county, as it always provided attendees
an exciting mixture of new and old performers and
troops, from musicians and poets to dancers and
painters. Bards gathered to share stories, discuss
ideas and trade scrolls; artists in all recognized
fields vied for first place in competitions held
throughout every day, in hopes of finding a patron or
perhaps a scholarship to one of the finer academies in
the land. And in the midst of it all, the simply
curious wandered the streets from stage to stage,
enjoying a few nights of the best talent Greece had to
It was with a still heavy heart and a nearly exhausted
body that Joxer entered Egio, the sounds of music and
laughter all around him only dampening his spirits
further. There was no excitement or joy to be found
here for him, not as he had originally imagined there
would be. The money he'd saved to purchase his own
lute or lyre, and to cover the entry fee in a
competition or two...he was almost tempted to find the
nearest gambling hall and toss it away. The music in
his heart was bitter, when he could hear it there at
Joxer hoped he could find somewhere to rest for the
night, but judging from the huge crowds he worried
that there might not be room to spare at any inn in
the entire town. He'd be happy with a pile of hay in a
barn if it came down to it--and those were probably in
high demand as well. In the chaos of the noisy
streets, everything seemed a blur and he didn't even
know where to start to look for a place to sleep. And
he was so tired, from being on the road all day
and not sleeping the night before...it was almost
too much effort to do anything but collapse in a quiet
corner somewhere and hope the local thieves and
miscreants had too many other targets tonight to
bother with him.
He stopped for a minute as he approached the main
marketplace in the heart of town, to try to get his
bearings in the unfamiliar city. Looking to his left,
he saw a small stage set up in a side street, with
chairs and benches only half-filled. There was a young
man on the stage, reading from a scroll with some
curious degree of theatricality. Joxer walked
over in that direction, thinking those benches looked
like a relief for his feet, and maybe the bard could
distract him for a while. He sat down in the back row
of the makeshift seating area, catching after a few
minutes something about a tale of a prince on a mythic
quest to bring home a gemstone from a dragon's lair.
The story sounded familiar, but Joxer's mind kept
wandering. The mention of gemstones automatically
brought Autolycus to mind...not that he was ever far
from his thoughts.
He applauded politely when he realized some time later
that the man had stopped speaking and the rest of the
audience was clapping enthusiastically. Several people
walked over to the bard to talk to him while the rest
of those gathered began to disperse, off to find some
other entertainment. Joxer was reluctant to get up
from his seat, though, wondering if anyone would mind
if he simply stretched out here for the night and--
"Joxer?" a familiar voice called from somewhere to his
left, startling him. Glancing in that direction, he
blinked when to his surprise he realized it was
Standing alertly with staff in hand, the traveling
bard and former object of Joxer's affections looked no
different than when he had last seen her. He could
tell the festival had her in good spirits, what with
the excited glimmer in her eyes and the easy smile on
her face. She moved over to sit next to him and said,
"Hey, what a surprise! Didn't know you'd be coming to
the festival. And I almost didn't recognize you
without the, ah...all your...stuff." She waved
her hands about her shoulders and head in a vague
imitation of his old armor.
"Yeah, I um...I got rid most of that, a while ago.
Kind of a long story." He couldn't help himself;
seeing Gabrielle still elicited a bit of that old,
familiar feeling of desire in him. But it was muted
and distant compared to times past, and with someone
else now the primary focus of his heart.
Her amused smile faded as she peered at him more
closely. "You don't look too good, Joxer. Are you
feeling all right?"
"I've been better. It's...been a long day." He yawned,
but tried to shake off his sleepiness. "Hey, is Xena
around? I really needed to find both of you."
"She heard about a little trouble north of here
and went to check it out, but she should make it back
here for the last night or two of the festival. Why,
are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No--well, yes...I mean, you guys are the ones who
might have some trouble. Especially Xena. It's Jett."
"Jett?" she asked, then after a moment remembered,
"Oh, your brother, right?"
He nodded. "He broke out of prison and he's after
Xena. And probably you, too. I came here hoping to
find you guys to warn you. He could even be in Egio
already; I know he wasn't very far from here a few
"Great, just when I thought I might be able to relax
for a few days," Gabrielle sighed, sounding more
irritated at this potential complication than truly
worried by it. "Well, I think Xena can handle herself
okay. And all I care about is getting through the bards'
competition in two days in peace." She indicated her
bag of scrolls and said, "I still haven't decided
which story I should submit as my entry...but anyway,
have you had anything to eat yet? I'm starved. Maybe
you can help me decide which story would be the best."
Joxer wanted to protest her nonchalance over Jett, but
decided against it. He couldn't quite muster the energy
to get into it, and would worry about it tomorrow. The
prospect of a warm meal was rather appealing. "Sure,
"Let's go, then. Wait until I tell you what Xena and
I have been up to lately! I wish I had time to write
it all up before the competition, it's going to make
a great story..."
Autolycus followed Joxer and Gabrielle--from a
discreet distance, of course--from the small stage, to
a tavern, and finally to a stable off one of the
quieter streets in town. He felt somewhat
uncomfortable about all of this sneaking around...and
though he knew it was foolish, he couldn't help but
feel a touch of jealousy at Joxer sharing Gabrielle's
company instead of his own. Knowing how the young man
had been quite enamored with the bard for so long
wasn't helping, either.
Get a grip, Autolycus. It's not like anything's gonna
happen! And after what's gone down already, you sure
don't deserve to be casting any stones, accusing Joxer
of fooling around. When neither Joxer nor Gabby left
the stables after a fair amount of time, he guessed
they must have called it a night. With a yawn he
realized he should probably do the same, though he
didn't imagine himself getting much real rest until
this whole matter was settled with Joxer and Jett.
In which case, he had other things he should take care
of tonight. One of the top on his list was trying to
find any signs of Jett being in town...and where was
Xena? So far Gabrielle seemed to be travelling solo
for once, which could definitely complicate things.
Whatever the case, he doubted hanging around here for
the rest of the night was going to do him any good.
Disappearing into the still crowded streets, the King
of Thieves set out to start putting his own plans into
The stables were not much of a resting place, but a
roof over their heads and some soft hay under their
bedrolls was certainly much better than nothing. As
Joxer had suspected, finding a room in any of the inns
in town was impossible at the moment--Gabrielle had
tried earlier in the night without any success. But
she'd also gone looking for a place Xena could house
Argo when the warrior woman finally arrived and had
found this place. The owner had no problem with people
staying there with the horses if they didn't mind the
company; it was just more dinars in his pocket as far
as he was concerned.
Joxer was restless all night. He was tired, to be
sure, but too worried over his problems to rest
properly...and too accustomed to sleeping with
Autolycus nearby to do so easily on his own. When he
did manage to fall asleep, his dreams proved even more
disturbing than his waking thoughts. He was relieved
when the first light of dawn began to shine through
the cracks in the door and the windows, and roosters
outside began to announce the arrival of a new day,
even if he was still tired.
Gabrielle was clearly not as pleased by the prospect
of waking up. She tossed and turned about on her
nearby bedroll for some time, sighing loudly as she
forced herself to finally wake up completely. Sitting
up with a yawn, she declared, "I really hate
Joxer had never been particularly fond of them
either...until Autolycus had come along, at least.
There was little he enjoyed more than the wonderful
sensation of waking up with those strong arms around
him, or nestling close against that warm, delectable
body. And then there was the enjoyable task of coaxing
the thief awake with soft kisses and teasing
caresses...quite often it took a good hour or two
before they actually managed to get out of bed in the
Joxer was drawn away from that line of thought as
Gabrielle stood and, after stretching out her arms and
legs, she walked over to her pack and returned with a
small bag of food. "Hungry?" she asked, offering the
bag to her companion.
"Thanks." Joxer took a thick slice of nut-bread and
some fruit, and then passed the bag back to the bard.
They sat and worked on their breakfast in silence for
a few minutes before Gabrielle asked, "Did you sleep
"Yeah, guess so," he lied, figuring it was easier than
trying to explain why he hadn't.
"You sure? Seemed like you were having some bad dreams
"Really? I...don't remember."
"Yep. Definitely sounded like bad dreams to me. You
were mumbling stuff in your sleep and tossing all
around...I almost woke you a couple of times to check
if you were okay."
"Sorry I kept you awake."
"No, you didn't. I was pretty restless myself. Too
excited about the festival, I suppose." Gabrielle fell
quiet, then a short while later continued, "I thought
I heard you calling out--of all things--Autolycus'
name a few times."
Joxer choked on his nut-bread at her remark. Trying to
cover up his reaction, he stammered, "Aut--Autolycus?
"You know Autolycus--the King of Thieves? Tall,
dark, handsome, and totally full of himself?"
"Oh...oh, that Autolycus! Ha ha ha," he forced
himself to laugh. "Gee, I wonder why I would mention
his name in my sleep."
"I don't know, you'd have to tell me." Eyebrow raised,
she queried, "It wouldn't have something to do with
that long story you wouldn't tell me last night, would
He shrugged and evasively answered, "Maybe...Maybe
"I think it does," she stated. "I mean, come on, I'm
looking at the way you're dressed right now and it's
screaming at me 'color scheme by Autolycus'. What's
been going on since the last time I saw you? Have you
been working with him?" Her eyebrow arched higher as
she suggested in a conspiratorial tone, "More than
Her persistence was not only making Joxer uncomfortable,
it was starting to irritate him. And with that
irritation came remembered other reasons why he was
more than a little irritated at her. He sat back and
coolly asked, "What does it matter to you?"
"It matters because I can see something's got you
really upset, and maybe I can help." She reached out
and touched his arm softly. "We're friends, Joxer, you
can talk to me about it."
"Friends..." he repeated, considering this for a
while. "Like, the way me and Xena are friends? And you
She gave him a slightly puzzled look, then agreed,
"Well, yeah, we're all friends."
"Uh huh." He nodded, thinking this over before asking,
"Gabrielle, if we're all such good friends, how come
you or Xena never told me that you two were more
than just friends?"
She stared at him with obvious surprise, but quickly
recovered her calm--though she dropped her hand away
from his arm as she asked in a level tone, "What do
"You know what I mean. You're in love, aren't you? Why
didn't you tell me? Why didn't Xena tell me, when I
know she knew I...that I had feelings about you. I
don't know if you knew, and that doesn't really matter
to me now...but if Xena was really my friend why
didn't she tell me anything?"
Finding Gabrielle at a complete loss for words was
certainly a rare turn of events. When she didn't
answer him, Joxer continued, "Maybe I was a fool not
to see it. I mean, as soon as I found out, I couldn't
believe I hadn't seen what was going on right in
front of me. I just don't understand...why couldn't
you both have trusted me with the truth?"
"Xena was going to say something...she wanted to,
but...it's my fault," Gabrielle admitted, looking more
than a little embarrassed--and definitely
uncomfortable about suddenly being the one put on the
spot. She seemed to find it hard to meet his eyes as
she struggled to explain, "I...I was wrong; I
didn't believe her when she told me your feelings
were...serious... And then, I guess I just didn't
want to hurt you, by telling you the truth."
"It hurt a lot worse finding out from someone else."
Joxer's words were bitter with the memory of how he
had felt that night, when Autolycus had told him.
"How did you find out?" she asked softly.
"From Autolycus. Something about switching or sharing
bodies with Xena once."
"Oh. Yeah," Gabrielle recalled, then fell silent
again. After a time, she asked, "I, um, don't suppose
telling you how sorry I am about the way things worked
out would help any?"
Joxer sighed. First Autolycus, now Gabrielle...
everyone's sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I wish saying
"I'm sorry" really did somehow make everything all
right. But it doesn't. Maybe in time, but right
"Gabrielle, I really...I was in love with you...at
least I thought I was, back then. And finding out the
truth, after all that time..." He trailed off,
suddenly wishing he hadn't brought this up at all. It
wasn't making him feel any better, not the way he'd
thought this confrontation might. All it was doing was
stirring up old pain on his part, and making Gabrielle
upset, and he couldn't even muster any satisfaction
from her guilt as he'd imagined he would. "Never mind,
let's forget I even brought it up. It's all old news
anyway," he said, trying to move on.
He turned his attention back to finishing his
breakfast, even though he had no appetite left for the
food. Neither one of them said anything, or seemed to
have any idea what to say to each other, for an
uncomfortably long time. Gabrielle finally tried to
change the subject and asked cautiously, "So...um, do
you want to talk about what's up with you and
Autolycus? If you want to...and I mean, if there's
something to talk about."
Joxer picked at the last of his food as he debated
what to say, if anything. What do I have to lose? he
decided. "We've been...well...I caught up with him not
long after you and Xena took off, a few months ago.
I'm not sure I could even explain what happened after
that, or why, except that it's been...really great,"
he admitted. "At least, it was, until recently.
Some things happened and...I'm not sure what to do.
I needed some time to think."
"What sort of things?"
He didn't want to get into the specifics, so he
answered, "Basically things that made me question how
much I trust him. On one hand I feel bad for even
doubting him at all, but..."
"...but he's Autolycus," Gabrielle finished. "Not
someone I'd normally trust farther than I could throw
Joxer smirked. "That pretty much sums it up."
Gabrielle was quiet for a while, then remarked, "You
and Autolycus, huh."
"Weird? To say the least?" he supplied with a small
She caught his smile and it seemed to break some of
the tension, as she smiled back and answered, "Yeah,
kind of. You know I'm going to have to hear the
whole story behind this now."
"Maybe later, okay?"
"Sure. Whenever." After a pause, she had to ask
one more question: "Do you love him?"
He hesitated only a second before answering, "Yeah, I
"Does he love you?"
That was the question, wasn't it? "He says he does.
I didn't doubt him until now." ...And I wish I could
make that doubt go away.
"If he does, I'm sure things will work out. You should
try to just relax and enjoy the festival for a few
days, you know? It might help clear your mind, put
everything into perspective," she suggested.
"I'd relax, but there's still Jett to worry about," he
"You really think he's going to come after us? Why,
for Zeus' sake?"
"It's the way he is, Gabrielle. I'm sure it's some
sort of honor thing to him. He'd never screwed up an
assassination before--and then having to go to jail
because of it? He probably thinks he needs to take
Xena out to show that he's still in business, that
he's still a good man for the job. And I'm afraid he
might use you as bait to get to her."
"That's all so crazy."
"Yeah, but we're talking about Jett. And crazy, that's
just the way he is."
With breakfast finished and the sounds of the festival
beginning to drift through the air, Joxer and
Gabrielle took off to check out the scene. Although it
was early and no performances were scheduled to start
for a few more hours, the streets were beginning to
fill up, particularly around the large marketplace.
Vendors called to everyone to check out their
merchandise, which included everything from foodstuffs
to clothing to musical instruments to...
"Get your Official Festival of the Arts Memorabilia,
right here and only here! Don't miss this chance to
take home part of the excitement!"
"Memorabilia?" Joxer asked Gabrielle with a frown.
Gabrielle grimaced and shook her head in dismay.
"Obviously Salmoneus' latest dinar-making scheme."
The stocky man with a full beard and short, thinning
hair continued to shout, "That's right! Memories to
last a lifetime--and in sizes and shapes to suit
"Why would I want a cheap, ugly mug, just because it
has '10th Festival of the Arts' carved into it?" Joxer
asked, picking up the offending item to look at it
"Why, you ask? Why, so that every day when you get
your morning cup of goat's milk, or your evening taste
of ale, you can remember the glorious time you had
here in Egio!" the salesman explained eagerly. "Oh!
Hi, Gabrielle...perhaps I could interest you in a
commemorative scroll or two?"
She eyed the offered items, and crinkling her nose in
what Joxer had to admit was still quite the most
adorable way, she declared, "This is some of the worst
quality parchment I've ever seen. It feels ready to
fall apart in my hands!"
"Hey, don't knock the merchandise! Okay, maybe it's
not good enough for the Sacred Archives in Athens, but
for most of the people around here this week? Consider
it beginner's parchment--and besides," he grinned,
"with every five scrolls you purchase, I'll throw in a
free copy of Socrates' lost scroll, 'Philosophy for
Dummies'. What do you think?"
"I think you truly frighten me sometimes, Salmoneus,"
Gabrielle answered, handing back the scrolls and
starting to walk over to the next vendor.
"What about you, my good man? Any interest in a
commemorative plaque? Backstage passes to tonight's
sold out performance by the Ladies of Lesbos Exotic
Dance Troupe?" Sal waggled his eyebrows as he waved
the tickets in the air.
"Uh...no thanks," Joxer answered, stepping away
quickly after Gabrielle. "Boy, the things some people
will do to make a dinar off these festivals anymore,"
"I know, but if that's what it takes to draw all these
great performers together, I guess it's not so bad.
Besides, it's all rather exciting, don't you think?
People coming here from across over the country, all
of them interested in supporting and experiencing the
"I guess," Joxer agreed reluctantly. Truthfully, the
swarms of people were more anxiety-inducing
than exciting to him. How could he hope to find Jett
in crowds like these?
I just have to stick close to Gabrielle, he
resolved. It bothered him that Xena wasn't here and
that he hadn't warned her about Jett yet, but
Gabrielle refused to leave town to go track down the
warrior. And Joxer was not about to leave Gabrielle
alone where Jett could get to her.
After most of the day acting as Gabrielle's shadow,
however, the bard was starting to get restless under
the close scrutiny.
"Joxer, you really don't have to follow me around
everywhere. I'm not a helpless little girl," she
started to complain as they sat waiting for the next
performer to take the stage. This afternoon was the
first round in the bards' competition; Gabrielle
wasn't scheduled to present until tomorrow, but she
wanted to get a good feel for other entrants and how
the crowd responded to their stories. "I'm sure there
are other performances you're more interested in than
all of these storytellers."
"Well, maybe...but making sure you're okay and
catching Jett is the most important thing to me at the
moment. There'll always be other festivals. I'm not
going to leave you alone and have him sneak up on you
He could tell she wasn't very convinced yet. "Jett
didn't seem that tough last time we ran into him. I
mean, Xena took him out in no time."
"But Xena's not here, is she?" Joxer answered.
"Besides, back then he didn't expect you and
Xena to be any real trouble. Now he knows different.
Believe me, there's a reason he's considered one of
the best at what he does--and that's killing people."
"Okay, whatever. If it'll make you happy, then you can
keep tagging along after me."
There was no time for further discussion at the moment
anyway as the performance was about to resume. The
young man on stage was quite good, Joxer thought. He
had a strong voice and he dared add a touch of humor
where so many others today had been utterly serious.
For a while, Joxer allowed himself to get caught up in
the story being told, and letting it push aside his
own worries and dramas. Maybe Gabrielle was right; he
just needed some time to relax and put some distance
between himself and Autolycus.
By the end of the day, Joxer was almost in a good
mood. He and Gabrielle had gone for an early supper
and then sampled some of the evening musical
performances before calling it a day. He enjoyed the
music more than the bards, and had begun to feel the
urge to play stirring once more within him. But it was
still only a glimmer of an urge, one which he would
put on hold until later.
"So tell me, did Autolycus make you get rid of your
old armor because it didn't agree with his fashion
sense?" Gabrielle asked as they walked back towards
"No, I decided it was time for a new look myself. I
didn't need all of that anyway, since I decided I
didn't want to be a warrior any more."
"Oh yeah? Was that because of Autolycus?"
"Sort of...but I'd been thinking I needed to find
something different for myself for a while before
then. I actually had gone looking for him, because I
thought maybe he could teach me to be a thief. But
that didn't work out too well."
"So now what are you going to do?"
He shrugged. "I was thinking about giving music a
try...that's why I originally wanted to come to the
"If that's what you think you'd really like to
do, you should go for it. I think it's great that
you're trying to find your own path, what's best for
you, instead of trying to be what your family would
want you to be."
"Especially since I'm not any good at that," Joxer
"We can't all be good at everything."
"I know...I'd just like to find one thing I'm good
at," he moped.
Gabrielle stopped and took Joxer's arm, turning to
face him. Seriously, she said, "You're a good friend,
Joxer. A better friend than maybe I deserve after
the way I've treated you in the past."
He felt an embarrassed flush rising to his cheeks at
the compliment, and the affectionate look in her eyes.
In fact he had to stop himself from letting his mind
twist that look into something more than it was--
Friendship, that's all it is. She loves Xena, and you
love Autolycus...even if you're still kind of pissed
at him. "Thanks," he answered her at last.
Gabby just smiled, then patted him on the back as they
continued on to the stables in comfortable silence.
From the shadows, Autolycus observed the whole scene,
wishing he could hear the words being said even as he
was feeling guilty about wanting to eavesdrop on them.
There couldn't be something going on between
them...or could there? Maybe Gabs had a fight with
Xena, too, and now...nah, crazy. I'm losing it. Joxer
might not be the swiftest guy out there, but he knows
better than to screw around with Xena's gal.
To think anything else...he really didn't want to
go there. It would serve him right, he knew, if Joxer
wanted to "even the score" on him. But Joxer had
said in the note he still loved him, right?
Hades. I wish I could talk to him. I wish I hadn't
screwed things up, I wish I didn't feel like a slime
for following him around, and I just wish we could go
back to the way things were before.
Patience... he reminded himself. He had to have some
And if that didn't work, maybe he'd go pester
Aphrodite and see if he couldn't call in a favor,
after the way she'd screwed with his head when this
whole business with Joxer had begun.
The day had been a long and tedious one for the King
of Thieves. He'd awakened early to make sure he was up
before Joxer and Gabrielle, and could catch them
leaving the stables--and this was after staying up
late to get a feel for the local criminal scene.
Autolycus knew how to find the right places of ill-
repute where those who tended to skirt the law
gathered, passed information, and generally made
themselves available if the price was right. Even when
a city was unfamiliar, a person who knew what signs to
look for could find these places easily enough. Where
others would see nothing more than a simple set of
scratches on the wall, or scarf hanging from a window,
a thief or other well-versed outlaw saw a clear road
map to sanctuary.
It was at one such establishment, a back-room bar on
the outskirts of town, that Autolycus had confirmed
that Jett was indeed in town. Though Auto didn't
run across him--thankfully--he heard that the assassin
was already bragging how he was going to make a move
sometime during the festival, something which would
announce that the King of Assassins was officially
back in action.
"What's yer business with 'im?" the proprietor of the
establishment had asked warily after providing this
"Just some old affairs to sort out."
"If 'e comes back 'ere, you want me to tell 'im yer
lookin' for 'im?"
"No, that's all right. I'm sure we'll cross paths
sooner or later." Auto had slipped the man a healthy
"tip" for the information, and to hopefully keep him
quiet in case Jett did come back.
The thief had gathered little information beyond that
so far, nor had he spotted Jett anywhere during the
day. Tonight he would try again, his hope being that
he could find where the assassin had himself holed up.
Auto was thankful Joxer and Gabrielle had spent so
much time at those boring readings all day. At least
he'd managed to get some sleep then...something he
didn't expect to get much of tonight.
By the next day, the crowds in the city had, if it
were somehow possible, grown even larger and more
overwhelming than before. The final days of the
festival were when the most famous performers were
scheduled to appear, and also when the awards would be
announced for the competitions. Naturally, these were
the events most attendees wanted to make sure to
catch, and to Joxer it felt as if half of Greece had
descended upon the small city. Even with a mostly-
willing Gabrielle, it was difficult for him to not
simply lose her as they tried to make their way around
town. With stages already full and booked all day,
some musicians and troops eager for a chance in the
spotlight simply claimed a spot on the street to play-
-which only added to the congestion and general
inability to get anywhere without a struggle. Joxer
couldn't remember a time he'd seen this many people
gathered together in one place...and that was
definitely making him nervous.
Xena still hadn't shown up, and Gabrielle was growing
somewhat anxious about that herself. Not so much
because she was afraid, but more because she really
hoped Xena would be there for her performance, which
was only a few hours from now. Joxer was trying, one
last time, to convince the bard not to go ahead with
"You know, going up on that stage today will be a sure
way for Jett to find you. There'll be other
competitions--ones without assassins to worry about.
Don't you think your safety is more important than
trying to win some award?"
"Joxer, we've gone over this before, and I'm not
going to run scared! I think I have a real chance of
winning this year, and the recognition of simply being
able to compete and maybe have someone take an
interest in my scrolls is not something I'm going to
miss. Not after all the work I've put into my
writing the past few years. I've been waiting for this
chance for too long..."
Joxer didn't hear half of her reply, however, for he
had just caught something out of the corner of his
eye--or rather, someone. True, there were literally
hundreds of people all around them in the marketplace,
but how many of them looked exactly like he did? That
sort of thing tended to set off warning signals in a
person's brain rather quickly. He whipped his head
around, trying to find the familiar figure again--just
in time to spot Jett once more, as he handed a vendor
a few dinars, then turned and started walking away.
"Gabrielle, it's him, I told you he was here!
Gabrielle...?" he trailed off as he turned back
around, only to find she was no longer there. In the
brief moment's distraction, she was gone, swallowed up
in the rest of the crowd pushing and shoving all
Joxer tried not to panic as he attempted to figure out
what to do next. He couldn't see the bard anywhere,
but he could still see Jett--though he would lose him
soon if he didn't take after him right away.
"Shit!" he cursed under his breath. This was not
good. What was he supposed to do now?
Well, he decided, I know where Gabrielle is going
to be soon: the competition. But who knows when I
might see Jett again. I'd better not lose him. It's
time we had ourselves a little chat.
He slipped his way through the crowd with as much
speed as he could manage, thankful for once for his
slender build, which made such maneuvering easier than
for most. He made it to the corner of the sidestreet
he'd seen Jett take off for, and spotted the assassin turn
the next corner up ahead of him, heading to the right.
Joxer picked up his pace to follow, then paused,
confused when he made the turn and saw no one
at all down the length of the narrow, quiet alleyway.
He took a few steps forward, lingering close to the
walls of the building just around the corner--
--Until a hand reached out and roughly yanked him
through the open doorway of said building.
"Hey!" he shouted in protest as he nearly lost his
balance. "What the...Jett!"
Joxer could see his brother grinning, in the dim light
of the empty room. From the rowdy sounds coming
through the walls, and the large crates and barrels
all around them, Joxer got the impression this had to
be some sort of storeroom for the tavern next door.
"Hey, Jox, long time no see. How's it going?" Jett
Joxer's response came almost without thought and for
once, fast enough that his brother didn't see it
He punched Jett right solid in the balls.
"That's about how I'm doing, Jett, thanks for asking."
Jett doubled-over in pain, but managed to stay on his
feet and not swear too loudly at the blow. "Fuck!" he
cursed, then managed to gasp out slowly, "I
guess...your little thief...told ya what happened."
"Why'd you have to do that, Jett, huh?"
"Because...he's a hot piece of ass? Why not?"
Joxer went to punch him again, but this time Jett
managed to stop him. He grabbed Joxer's fist in a
painfully hard grip and told him, "Oh no...you got
your free shot, Jox. You don't get another one."
Straightening himself out and still wincing, he
complained, "What's the big problem, anyway? Didn't
mom always tell us we needed to learn to share?"
Joxer struggled to free his hand, which Jett only
reluctantly released. "You don't get it, do you? I
finally find something special--someone special--and
you need to go and ruin it. That's why I'm mad."
"Hey, before I found out you were screwing the guy, I
was gonna kill him! Instead, I decided to find
out if he was worth your time." Jett grinned. "He's
still alive, so there ya go. Have fun. Now, are we
through here? I've got things to do besides listen to
you whine about your love life."
Jett pushed him aside and started toward the door.
"Things like killing Xena?" Joxer called after him.
Jett paused and turned back towards him. "Maybe."
"Then you're not going anywhere."
The assassin laughed at him. "Are you serious? We've
played this game before; you know you can't stop me.
Go back to playin' house with Autolycus and stay out
of my business."
"No! I'm not gonna let you do this! Xena and Gabrielle
are my friends, Jett."
"That bitch Xena ruined my reputation! Put my ass in
jail! I gotta waste her, Jox. It's...it's an honor
"And so's this," Joxer insisted. "My honor." He
walked over and slammed shut the door. "You're not
leaving here until we get this situation under
Jett rolled his eyes and sighed impatiently. "You
know, this is really going to hurt you a lot more
than it's going to hurt me."
Autolycus was growing worried.
He'd finally had some luck the night before and, after
staking out nearly every low-life hangout in Egio,
managed to catch sight of Jett leaving one such
establishment in the early morning hours. He'd
followed the assassin--with extreme care--back to an
old, and what looked to be abandoned, blacksmith's
shop on the edge of town. He'd been doing a good job
of trailing him ever since Jett had left the building
late this morning. But Autolycus' task had become much
more difficult when the assassin had wandered into the
extremely busy marketplace, and then made a sudden
change of course off onto one of the smaller side
streets. By the time Autolycus had worked his way in
that direction, he barely caught sight of not Jett,
but this time Joxer, headed down the same street.
Autolycus had not spotted Joxer until then, and seeing
him only made him more determined than before not to
lose either of them.
But unfortunately, that was exactly what happened. As
the thief stuck his head around the corner of the
street, he was puzzled to see no signs of either man,
in either direction. He proceeded cautiously, and then
ran ahead to check all of the intersecting alleyways,
but to no avail. He could only assume that Jett must
have entered one of the buildings on this street and
Joxer had followed him...which meant that all
Autolycus could do was find a good hiding spot of his
own, and wait.
He'd been waiting for what felt like an eternity, made
all the worse because he couldn't be certain he wasn't
wasting his time. Damn, he cursed, mad at
himself for screwing up when it had really counted.
He hadn't been expecting so many people, making it so
hard for him to stay on Jett and/or Joxer's trail. All
it had taken was a few minutes and he'd lost them
He tried to reassure himself that, killer or not, Jett
wouldn't do anything too terrible to Joxer if their
meeting came to blows...or would he? Maybe Joxer could
even somehow talk a little sense into Jett, and they
could work out their differences without things
Yeah, and maybe someday Ares will decide to make
Hercules his best buddy.
If Jett hurts him, in any way... Atuolycus clenched
his fists, trying to control his anxiety and put aside
such thoughts. He couldn't let anger cloud his
concentration. He was running on low sleep and frayed
nerves already and couldn't afford any other
At last, from the shadowed corner where he waited,
Autolycus spotted a door opening across the street
from him. It looked like Joxer stepping out...
...or was it? Though the clothes matched what he'd
seen Joxer wearing before, something set off
warning bells in Autolycus' mind. It was something in the
man's expression, the way he carried himself. How
can I see the difference so clearly now, when I
couldn't before? the thief wondered. Perhaps it was
from having learned his lesson the hard way. Or
perhaps, it was simply the cold set of the man's
expression, not masked since--as far as he knew--he
had no one to try to fool yet. Whatever the case,
within seconds Autolycus knew he was seeing Jett, not
Wearing Joxer's clothes. With no signs of Joxer
leaving after him.
Shit! If he'd been thinking clearer, he might not
have acted as brashly as he then did. But worry over
Joxer propelled him to charge out from where he'd been
hiding and call out, "Hold it right there, Jett."
Jett spun around, his surprise quickly fading into a
leering smile as he said, "Well, if it isn't
Autolycus! And not so easily fooled this time around,
I see. I suppose you're not as stupid as I thought."
"Where's Joxer?" Autolycus asked evenly.
"Momentarily indisposed," the assassin dismissed.
"Terrible, isn't it, when family members just can't
"What's terrible is Joxer having to put up with family
members like you."
Jett put on an expression of mock hurt and answered,
"Autolycus, you wound me with such words! The last
time we met, you certainly had a much more agreeable
attitude towards me..." Jett stepped closer, close
enough to lightly finger the front of the thief's
vest. The leering smile returning, he continued, "As I
recall, you didn't have any complaints about my
Auto knocked the hand away in disgust and anger, but
then instantly regretted allowing the assassin get to
him so easily. Jett's eyes narrowed, and before
Autolycus could see it coming, a hard blow to his face
sent him stumbling onto the ground.
"You know I only let you live before because I got the
feeling Joxer would be pissed if I offed you. But
don't get in my way, or else I might have to
change my mind."
Autolycus saw the kick coming and rolled away in time
to avoid the impact, then shakily he got to his feet.
"Just tell me what you did with Joxer. I swear, I
don't care what you're planning on doing as long as
he's all right."
"Yeah, sure you don't," Jett responded, launching in
for another attack. Autolycus did his best to block
the swift hands of the assassin, but fighting had
never been his strong suit--he much preferred running
when given the option. It was throwing him off-
balance, trying to fight someone who looked so much
like Joxer--yet who was obviously so much more adept
at holding his own. More than his own. Autolycus
tried to get in a solid punch, when he thought he had
an opportunity, but Jett grabbed his arm and twisted
him around, dropping him to his knees with a kick
which this time didn't miss.
Before Autolycus knew it, he was trapped in a
stranglehold, unable to find the strength or the
opening to free himself. The slender assassin was
deceptively strong. "You and your good friends Xena
and that tasty-looking blonde...you couldn't stay
out of my business before. Why should I think you
"Because...I swear...I won't...just...Joxer...all
right..." Autolycus gasped. His vision was growing
dim, and right as he felt ready to black out, Jett
released him to fall to the ground, struggling to draw
breath into his aching lungs.
"Man, he's really got you hooked good, doesn't he?"
Jett remarked. "Joxer's fine...I merely made sure he
won't be bothering me for a while. Like I'm gonna make
sure you won't, either. Say good-night, Autolycus."
I really should have known better, Joxer sighed to
himself. He never had been able to stand up to his
brother in his fight--even putting aside the fact that
Jett was so much faster and more competent at such
matters. Joxer always tried to play by the
rules...well, except for that punch to the nuts.
Jett, on the other hand, merely played to win.
Jett hadn't hurt Joxer too much, except for his
pride, which was smarting quite severely. So were his
wrists, tied securely behind his back, and his ankles,
which were similarly bound in front of him. It might
not have been so uncomfortable except that the rope
was cutting into his bare skin; Jett had unburdened
Joxer of all of his clothes save his socks and
underwear. In fact one of his socks was now, rather
disgustingly, shoved into his mouth and tied in place
as a gag. To make matters worse, Jett had shoved him
into a closet in the back of the storage room. Joxer
feared no one might find him here for days.
Jett had promised he'd come around and check on him
"later"...no doubt once he'd taken care of Gabrielle
and found Xena, Joxer thought miserably.
Dammit! he cursed, working with renewed intensity
against his bonds. I have to get out of here!
His wrists were raw, and his struggles to free himself
only seemed to cause more pain, but he refused to give
up. Unfortunately, Jett obviously knew a thing or two
about making sure a prisoner couldn't escape easily.
The knots were too secure, and the rope too strong to
Of course, I'm sure Autolycus would've able to get
himself out of this, Joxer thought, wishing he'd
spent more time learning some of the thief's tricks
regarding the art of escape. Himself and me, while he
was at it. What the Tartarus was I thinking, leaving
and deciding to take on Jett on my own? Now I've gone
and screwed everything up.
Joxer kept struggling, growing more frustrated and
desperate as the minutes passed into what felt like
hours. After some indefinite time, though, he thought
he heard someone moving about in the storeroom.
"Mmmmmmmph!" he tried to shout, though it was quite
difficult with the gag in his mouth. "Mmm-mmmph!" He
managed to scoot himself over until he could lift his
bound feet and kick them against the door, trying to
catch the person's attention.
Only a few seconds later, he heard someone working on
the door. Great, on top of everything else, he
locked me in here? But soon enough, the door swung
...and he couldn't believe it when he saw the
blessedly familiar--although surprisingly bloodied and
bruised--face peering in at him.
"Well!" Autolycus observed, managing a bit of a smile,
"I thought you might be in some sort of a bind. I see
I wasn't mistaken."
"Yeah, tell me about it." Autolycus kneeled before
Joxer and reached behind his head, loosening and then
removing the gag. "Better?"
"Let me get those ropes." Autolycus moved around
behind Joxer and got to work on freeing his hands.
How did he get here? Joxer wondered, though concern
over the thief's condition prompted him to ask first,
"What happened to you?"
"The same thing that happened to you, I believe--
That would certainly explain it. Though only one
thing could explain how the King of Thieves had found
him: "You've been following me?"
"Uh...yeah, I guess that's kind obvious. I'm sorry,
I...I know you told me not to, that you wanted to
take care of Jett on your own..."
"Yeah, and as you can see I did a real good job of
that." He knew he should have been angry about it,
but he was too relieved at being freed, especially
since a few moments ago he had been certain he had
no hope of stopping Jett.
He also couldn't help it that, despite everything, he
was simply glad that Auto was here. The few days alone
had dampened his anger, and given him a lot of time to
think things over. He sighed in relief as his hands
were freed and he could start shaking and rubbing the
numbness out of them.
"You had to give it a shot. I wasn't gonna get in the
way of letting you do that. But now we'll deal with
him together," Auto answered, as he moved back in
front of Joxer to untie his feet. When he finished, he
raised his eyes and added, "I'd like to hope maybe we
can deal with other things too, together, once this is
over. Listen, Jox...I know we don't have a lot of time
for talking, but I gotta tell you this now. I know I
said it the other night, and it wasn't enough. But I
don't know what else to say, except that I'm sorry...
more sorry than I can put in words. I hurt you, and I
honestly didn't mean to. You gotta believe me."
Tentatively, he reached out placed his hand on
Joxer's, waiting for his answer.
That soft touch, so hesitant and tender...that
hopeful, vulnerable look on the normally so-composed
thief's face... How could Joxer deny what he was
seeing, what his heart was telling him was the truth?
"I do," Joxer answered softly. Perhaps it would take
time before he could forget what had happened, what
had nearly pulled them apart...but he could forgive.
He relaxed his hand under the soft touch, feeling a
tremor of desire as Auto took the invitation to grasp
it more firmly, and stroke it gently with his thumb.
"I love you, Joxer. I don't want anyone but you,"
Autolycus vowed. "After we straighten out this
business with Jett, the only thing I want is the
chance to try to prove that."
Joxer shook his head and answered, "Auto, you don't
need to prove anything. I know. I'm sorry I doubted
you, and ran out like I did...I was just so upset, I
needed some time to try to sort myself out..."
"Hey, I understand, no apologizing to me here, all
right?" Auto assured him with a clearly relieved
smile. When, after a moment, he leaned in closer for a
kiss, Joxer offered no resistance, positively feeling
as if he could melt into the thief's embrace that soon
followed, and against those warm, coaxing lips...
Auto sighed in regret and pulled away much too soon
for Joxer's taste. "I wish I could just do that for
the rest of the day..."
"Me too," Joxer agreed, "but Jett--"
"I know, I know. He really packs a mean punch. I don't
know how long I was knocked out cold back there."
"More than enough time for Jett to probably find
Gabrielle. She was scheduled for the Bards'
Competition this afternoon."
"Yeah, I saw that on the schedules stuck up nearly
everywhere. We'd better hope she's still there.
Uh...you got anything to wear besides that?" Autolycus
asked as they both got to their feet and prepared to
"Jett left his clothes in the corner here," Joxer
answered, picking up the leather garments and hastily
getting dressed. As soon as he finished lacing up the
boots, he nodded to Autolycus and said, "Okay, let's
"...And once again, the sweet sounds of Orpheus' Lyre
echoed through the forest as he was reunited with his
"And the Bacchae? Some say their cries can still be
heard in the night, along with the mournful calls of
wolves when the moon is full. Perhaps it is merely
superstition...or perhaps some of the children of
Bacchaus live on, waiting for their master to come
back to them. If so, let us hope that if that time
comes, another hero like Xena will be there to stop
The enthusiastic applause from the crowd brought a
wide smile to the bard's face, and she bowed
graciously in appreciation for the response. She'd
never performed in front of so many people before, and
at first it had been terribly intimidating. But once
she starting getting into the story, and saw she had
the audience's attention, her confidence grew and she
knew it carried over into her voice and presentation.
I'm so glad I chose this story! I thought the
audience yesterday wanted a little more action and
magic, and what better to fit the bill than this?
She hoped Joxer was somewhere in the audience,
considering he'd played a part in the story, too--and
she'd actually gone back and revised the scroll
slightly last night, out of guilt over some of the
less kind things she'd said about him when she'd first
written it. But she was certain he had to be around
somewhere. She hadn't even noticed she'd lost him
earlier in the busy market at first, and when she had,
she couldn't find him anywhere, nor did she have the
time to really try.
"Thank you, Gabrielle, for our last entry in this
afternoon's round of the Bard's Competition," the host
announced as he joined her on stage. "Please,
everyone, make sure to join us tomorrow in time for the
awards ceremony, when the judges' choices in all
of the major competitions will be announced!"
Gabrielle made her way off the stage while the host
encouraged people to stick around for the dance
exhibition coming up next. Several of her fellow
competitors came up to congratulate her on her
presentation, and she met them graciously,
complementing them in turn for their performances. She
hoped, based on the crowds' reaction, that she had a
good chance of winning the competition, but it was so
hard to tell if the judges' reaction would be similar.
A tap on the shoulder got her attention, and she spun
around to see who it was. "Hey, Joxer! I see you found
"I figured you wouldn't miss out on the competition."
"That's for sure. Sorry I lost you earlier. I know how
worried you've been about Jett, but as you can see, I
managed to survive a few hours on my own."
"So I see. Hey, how about we go get something to eat?
Celebrate the good showing."
"Sounds like a good idea," she agreed, "I was too
nervous to eat anything earlier..." With that, they
disappeared into the crowded streets in search of some
"Damn! It's already over?" Joxer groaned as he and
Autolycus finally found the right stage where
Gabrielle had been scheduled to perform--only to find
the Bards' Competition was over. "Now how are we
going to find her?"
Autolycus spied a few men swapping and examining
scrolls by the side of the stage and worked his way
over toward them through the crowd. "Excuse me, but
were you here for the Bards' Competition earlier?"
"Yeah, why?" one of them answered, a little
suspiciously. Autolycus knew he was looking far from
his best at the moment, what with one eye swelling up
and soon to turn black and blue, and several bruises
and cuts he'd had little chance to tend to beyond
wiping away the dried blood.
"You see a gal named Gabrielle? Blonde, about this
high...short skirt and this sort of ugly green top..."
"Oh yeah, yeah, she was the last one up for the
One of the other men piped in, "She left with some guy
right after she finished...he looked just like that
fella behind you, actually." The man pointed to Joxer.
"Great," Autolycus sighed. "Any idea where they went?"
"Up the street that way, somewhere." The man waved
vaguely to his right.
"Thanks," Auto answered. Turning to Joxer, he said,
"Okay. Time for Plan Beta."
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Autolycus
answered, rubbing his chin distractedly as he thought
over their options.
"Autolycus?" someone called to him. Looking up as
Joxer turned around at the familiar voice coming from
behind him, he exclaimed with relief, "Xena! It's
about time you showed up!"
"Autolycus...Joxer. It's been a while," she greeted
them both, then said, "I was hoping to make it here in
time to see Gabrielle on stage, but I see I'm too
late. She's not going to be very happy with me about
"I think that's the last thing you need to be worrying
about," the thief explained.
"Why, what's wrong?" she asked, her blue eyes quickly
showing her concern as she looked between the two men.
"It's my brother, Jett," Joxer answered. "He escaped
from prison and he's looking to even the score. He's
pretending to be me, and it sounds like he left the
competition with Gabrielle."
"You don't have any idea where they could be?" Xena
"I don't think he'd try to pull off being Joxer
for too long...my only hunch is that he'd trick her
somehow, and take her back to where he's been hiding
out, to use her to get to you. In which case, I know
where to find them," Autolycus said.
"Then we'd better get to this 'hideout' of his as soon
as possible," Xena said. "If he's laid a hand on
her..." she nearly growled, leaving the threat hanging
"Don't worry, we'll take turns in that case,"
Gabrielle awoke slowly, feeling completely
disoriented when consciousness came to her.
Where am I? she wondered, though when she
looked around she found she couldn't see very
clearly at all. Everything was blurry, hazy--her
vision, her thoughts, her recent memories. On
top of everything else, her head hurt and she
felt more than a little nauseous.
All she remembered was...something about...the
competition, yes, that was fine...and then
Joxer...Joxer and the tavern and some food...the
rabbit was good but the ale tasted a little
Her eyes finally managed to focus and she saw
that he was standing right in front of her--
though with a rather un-Joxerlike smile on his
face. Why, Joxer should know that giving her a
look like that was just asking for trouble, or
at least a good nose-pinch...
...although she'd need to use her hands to do
that. And she was just realizing that they were
tied behind her...?!
"Joxerrrrr?" she questioned, her voice slurred
as she couldn't quite get her mouth to work
"Guess again, little girl," he said.
For a moment, his response was too complicated
for her brain to understand. But then she
remembered why Joxer had been so obsessed with
following her around town and guessed, "Jett?"
"Very good!" he replied with a sneer. "You
deserve a prize for figuring that out so fast.
Too bad the only thing I have for you is this."
He pulled out his dagger and held it to her
throat. She tried not to shudder or in any way
show her fear as he ran the flat of the blade
along her neck, so slow and so lightly it was
like some perverse erotic caress. To Jett, it
probably is, she realized, getting a sick
feeling in her stomach.
"You'd best be more careful about who you accept
a drink from in the future, Gabrielle. Of
course, whether or not you have any kind of a
future at this point is something we'll have to
see about. It depends on how...accommodating you
are, and if Xena does what I ask her to do.
Namely, hand herself over to me."
He smirked, and his eyes followed the path his
blade took, down her neck and then over her
chest. "I'd hate to have to kill you, at least
before we've had the chance to get to know each
other better. As much as killing you might be
fun too, especially with Xena here to watch. But
where is, Xena, hmmm? Why don't you tell me that
now so we can get things moving along, and so I
don't have to make your stay here with me more
uncomfortable than necessary."
"You don't have to...do this..." Each word took
a great deal of effort to form and speak, and
she wished her brain wasn't working so
sluggishly as well. She needed to figure out a
way out of here, but in her current condition
that was going to be difficult. Whatever Jett
had drugged her with to knock her out was not
leaving her system quickly. "We can...work
"I don't think so. It's too late for that," Jett
But then another voice interrupted, "No, it's
too late for you, Jett."
Jett spun around and Gabrielle tried to focus on
where the other voice was coming from, the one
that had sounded just like Jett...
"Joxer!" the assassin groaned. "For fuck's sake,
didn't you get the message yet? Stay out of
"No. I told you, I'm not going to let you hurt
"And I thought I already showed you that you
can't stop me."
"Alone, I can't. You're right. But you're
forgetting that I've got friends...in high
As if on cue, a pair of cries filled the air--a
trademark piercing "Yiyiyiyiyiii" as Xena
exploded through the doorway, and an equally
loud "Yodelaihihoo!" as a blur of green and
black descended from the rafters above their
heads. Jett looked up just in time to catch
Autolycus' boots right in his face. The assassin
was knocked to the ground with a solid "Ooomph!"
while Autolycus landed gracefully, dropping his
rope and grappling hook to the side. He spotted
Gabrielle's staff standing against the wall and
grabbed it, while Joxer ran over to free the
bard and Xena prepared for her own attack.
"You looking for me? Well here I am," Xena
beckoned as Jett struggled to get to his feet.
"Come on and get me."
"Bitch!" Jett spat, drawing his sword and
obviously welcoming the invitation. Autolycus
hovered clear of the two of as the fighting
ensued, waiting to see if he could be of any
assistance. Jett was fast, and did manage to
glance Xena's arm with his sword once, but it
didn't take long to see that the Warrior
Princess was the better fighter in close combat-
-particularly when she was pissed off.
"You should have stayed out of my business!"
Jett growled, swinging wide with his sword.
"You should have stayed in prison," Xena
answered coolly, as she spun low to avoid the
blade, then jumped up with a flying kick that
sent Jett staggering back toward Autolycus. The
thief couldn't resist getting in one good blow
himself, with opportunity presenting itself like
that. He swung Gabby's staff and slammed Jett in
the side of the head with it. The assassin
landed with a heavy thud on the ground moments
later, knocked out cold.
"Well," Xena smirked, "that wasn't so hard."
"Hah! With you around, maybe," Autolycus
replied, rubbing his side, which was smarting
still from his earlier one-on-one with Jett.
"Here--" Joxer tossed Autolycus the rope he'd
cut away from Gabrielle. The thief quickly went
to work tying Jett's hands and feet together.
Xena ran over to check Gabrielle, who didn't
seem too steady on her feet. The bard was
hanging onto Joxer for balance and looked ready
to pass out. "Are you all right, Gabrielle?"
"He...I think he drugged me
with...something...taking a while to wear
off..." she answered slowly.
Autolycus offered, "Xena, why don't you find
someone to check her out, and take care of that
wound on your arm while you're at it. Joxer and
I can bring Jett in to the authorities. I
suspect the local law enforcement won't be too
happy to know they've had an escaped prisoner
from Miramar running the streets during the
"I'm sure you're right," Xena answered, taking
the wobbly Gabrielle from Joxer and heading for
the door. "Okay. We'll catch up with you later."
Autolycus looked up at Joxer after she left and
said, "You don't have a problem with bringing
Jett in, do you? I mean, he's family and
all...if you want to just leave him here..."
Joxer shook his head, gazing down wearily at his
brother. "I don't owe him anything, family or
not. I don't know if prison will do him any
good, or if he'll stay locked up any longer this
time than the last. But after everything he's
done, it's what he deserves."
The authorities were more than willing to take
in the still unconscious assassin, for word had
already spread from Miramar that he was on the
loose and was a wanted man.
"We ain't got the manpower to spare to escort
him back there 'till after the festival, but it
don't look like he's gonna be too much trouble,"
the warden of the prison told them.
"Well, don't underestimate him--he's already
caused more than enough trouble for some of us
since he escaped the last time," Autolycus
"Yeah yeah," the warden dismissed. "We'll keep
that in mind."
Autolycus had his doubts that he would, but he
wasn't about to argue the matter. The sooner he
got away from institutions of the law himself,
the happier he generally was. His face was
plastered on enough wanted parchments across the
country and he didn't like taking chances that
someone might recognize him if he hung around
for too long.
With Jett disposed of, a quick search for Xena
and Gabrielle commenced. The two men soon found
them at a healer's establishment, not far from
where Jett had been hiding. Both women were
doing fine--Gabrielle was still out-of-it, but
resting and taking medicine that would help
clear her system of remaining toxins; Xena's
wound had been cleaned and dressed, and turned
out not to even need any stitches. While they
were there, Joxer insisted on Autolycus getting
his own injuries examined, though they turned
out to be nothing more than minor bruises and a
few cuts that were quickly cleaned up.
"I'm going to stay here with Gabrielle tonight,
to make sure she's going to be all right," Xena
said. "Thanks, both of you, for watching out for
her while I wasn't here."
Joxer wanted to protest that if he'd done a
better job of it, Jett wouldn't have had the
chance to do anything to her, but Autolycus
spoke first. "Don't mention it; all in a day's
work. Well, I think we'll be leaving you two to
catch up and get some rest."
They all said their good-byes and made plans to
meet the next night for the awards ceremony. The
two men stepped outside, and Autolycus breathed
a deep sigh of relief. "Man, has this been a
"A day and then some," Joxer agreed. "So... what
"Good question." The thief turned to Joxer, and
took a step closer to him. "As I recall, there
was something I said I wouldn't mind doing for
the rest of the day."
"Oh yeah...I think I remember something about
that," Joxer answered. "But I think you'd better
remind me of exactly what you had in mind."
Autolycus responded with a smile that--despite
his swelling eye and other bruises--was still a
sight to make Joxer feel dizzy with longing.
"Remind you, huh?" the thief replied, reaching
up to touch Joxer's cheek. "Well, does this ring
The searing kiss that followed was a welcome
reminder, indeed. Not necessarily of Auto's
earlier wish, but of everything that had come
before then, everything that made Autolycus so
special to him. It washed away the bitter taste
of the past few days, making the things which
had haunted and worried him all that time fade
Autolycus pulled back slightly, watching Joxer
with an expectant smile. "Yeah, that definitely
rang a few...bells," Joxer told him, unable to
keep a grin off his own lips.
"So, you ready to blow this joint? I've got a
little something arranged I think you'll
"You'll see. Wouldn't want to spoil the
surprise," Auto told him. "Come on, with these
mobs all around town it might take us a while to
Autolycus led the way then across town, keeping
as brisk a pace as possible through the still
thick crowds. They were nearly through the
marketplace when Joxer came to a sudden halt,
jerking Autolycus to a stop as well as he
grabbed the thief's hand.
"Hold up, I want to check something out," Joxer
said as he started walking toward one merchant's
"What?" the thief grumbled, not sounding happy
about the diversion from his plans. Joxer
ignored him as his eyes roved over the
impressive array of musical instruments the
vendor had on display. The quality and condition
of merchandise varied, but there was one
instrument that had caught Joxer's attention
from afar, almost demanding that he get a closer
look at it. Up close, it was even more
captivating to his eyes. He carefully picked up
the finely-crafted lute, finding it extremely
light in his hands.
"Easy with that, buddy, that there's one of my
best," the portly vendor warned Joxer.
"I can see that," he answered reverently,
lightly plucking the strings. Though slightly
out of tune, he could tell the quality of the
sound was wonderful. He hadn't seen such fine
craftsmanship in a musical instrument in a long
time. "How much do you want for it?" he was
quick to ask.
"Eighty? Are you serious?!"
"I told ya, she's one of my best. You want
quality, you got to pay for it. You don't want
to pay, I got cheaper models but they ain't
gonna sound that sweet."
The vendor was momentarily distracted by someone
trying to pay for a pair of drumsticks.
Autolycus whispered to Joxer, "You want it, I'll
come back later and get it for you."
"You mean, steal it."
Joxer didn't want to steal it. He wanted to
buy it, out of respect for the artisan who had
obviously put many loving hours into its
construction. "I'll give you fifty for it," he
told the vendor.
"Fifty?! Don't be absurd. You know they're
chargin' me fifty dinars just to park my cart
here every day for this damn festival? Offer me
seventy-five, and maybe I don't laugh your ass
out of town."
"Okay...maybe it's worth sixty dinars. That's
all I have," Joxer added, which was the truth.
"Seventy's my best offer, and that's only 'cause
I'd rather sell 'er than lug 'er back home with
the rest of this stuff at the end of this week.
Come back when you can cough up the extra
Damn. Sixty really was all the money he had-
-enough and then some to buy any ordinary
instrument, but one like this... Ruefully he ran
his fingers over the strings once more,
wondering how he'd come up with the extra money
before the vendor sold the wonderful instrument
to someone else...
"Here!" Autolycus shoved a hefty pouch of coins
into his hands. "Take ten dinars so we can get
out of here already."
"Yes, really. I don't want to have to hear you
going on and on about this thing for the next
few days if you don't buy it now."
Joxer quickly counted out ten dinars from the
pouch, and added it to his sixty. He felt
positively giddy as he handed over the money and
held onto his new instrument, waiting for the
wary merchant to double-check the amount of
"All right, enjoy it, fella."
"I will!" Joxer shouted back as Autolycus was
already pulling him away. "Gee, thanks, Auto!
Where did you get all that money anyway?" The
thief usually traveled light on cash--
considering he generally stole what he needed.
"Oh, I sort of came across it," he answered
Short moments later, a voice could be heard over
the crowd, shouting, "My money! Someone just
told all my money!"
"Look, can we get a move on it already?" the
thief insisted, picking up his pace and grabbing
Joxer by the arm.
Joxer shook his head in dismay, but then just
had to smile. There were some things about
Autolycus that never changed. Joxer supposed he
wouldn't have him any other way.
"You got us a room here?" Joxer exclaimed in
surprise as a few minutes later, they approached
the Egio Seaview Inn. It was only the nicest
hotel in the town--in fact, one of the nicest in
several surrounding towns. All of the festival's
most renowned performers and its wealthiest
supporters were supposedly staying here, and the
place was, Joxer had heard, usually booked solid
for the week of the festival over a year in
advance. "How did you...?"
"The owner's an old friend of mine," Autolycus
explained. "I did him a few favors a while ago,
so he did one for me this time. You know I like
to travel in style."
That was true, Joxer knew from experience,
although he had to ask as he took in the
expansive lobby of the hotel, the well-dressed
guests and staff all around, "What were you
planning on doing, impressing me back into your
good graces?" Joxer said it mostly as a joke,
but he saw the thief flinch slightly and
regretted saying it soon after the words were
out of his mouth.
"It's not like that, Jox. I just thought if
things worked out, we should enjoy somewhere
nice and all--"
"--I know, I was kidding, Auto," Joxer told him
quickly. "This is great, really... especially
compared to where I've been staying the past few
"Didn't look like you were minding the company
"What do you mean?"
"Well, just that you and Gabrielle seemed to be
having a good enough time together."
Joxer paused and turned around, playfully
accusing, "You were jealous?"
"Me? Nah. Not really." Under Joxer's continued
stare, he confessed, "Okay, kind of. But I
figured I deserved as much. Guess I just wished
it was me you were having a good time with,
instead of me being the one you were running
"I would have been having a better time with
you. So no more running away from any problems,"
Joxer promised, "and no keeping secrets, if
something's wrong. Deal?"
"Deal," Autolycus agreed, taking Joxer by the
arm and heading up the stairs. "Now how about
we, as they say, put this deal to bed."
A few moments later, Joxer's eyes widened in
surprise as Autolycus opened the door to their
room. Stepping inside, he took in the sight of
the luxurious decor, the huge bed dressed in
fine silk, and the large windows that opened
onto a balcony overlooking the sea. "Wow...I
haven't stayed somewhere this nice since...ever,
I think." He shrugged off his bag and carefully
put down his new lute on a chair near the door.
"Sometimes it's worth living it up, you know?"
Autolycus remarked after closing the door.
Stepping up behind Joxer, he enfolded him in his
arms and added, "Some people are worth
it...definitely worth it."
Joxer closed his eyes and leaned back against
the thief, welcoming his strong embrace, the
missed feeling of being this close. He could
have cared less where they were; as long as
Autolycus was with him, that was all that
mattered. Still, he had to admit as he opened
his eyes and admired their surroundings once
more, this place definitely beats that old
stable, and that bed does look comfortable...
"I'm gonna make sure you know how much I want
you here, Joxer," Auto said softly against
Joxer's ear, so close the hairs of the thief's
moustache tickled Joxer's skin. "You, and only
you." Warm, heavy breath against his neck turned
into warmer lips, working their way up to his
earlobe, then teasingly sucking on it. The
sensation left Joxer weak in the knees and
thankful for the strong body behind him, keeping
him on his feet when his own legs no longer
seemed up for the task.
He sighed as the persistent mouth traveled back
down his neck, working its magic on his
sensitive skin. As much as his body craved this
attention, this erotic touch, more than anything
his heart and his spirit felt free again--free
to enjoy the love they shared once more.
Auto's hands did not rest for a moment, instead
proceeding to strip Joxer of his clothing with
ease, if not speed. No, Autolycus seemed to be
enjoying taking his time, slipping agile fingers
through the loops and freeing the buttons of
Joxer's vest, then the cuffs of his shirt. As
each piece of attire fell softly to the floor,
Joxer shivered with building anticipation and
delight at the feel of those fingers now
touching his bare skin. The thief even slid down
onto his knees, to unlace Joxer's boots, urging
Joxer to then step out of them. Joxer's pants
and shorts were soon to join the rest of his
discarded clothes, leaving him to wonder just
what Autolycus had in store for him next.
"Gods, I love the way you look, the way you
feel..." Auto told him, running his hands over
Joxer's smooth calves and thighs. He kissed the
back of Joxer's right knee unexpectedly, which
caused the standing man to start giggling and
nearly fall to the floor, it tickled so much.
"Sorry..." the thief apologized, although he
didn't sound very sincere. He slowly rose from
his knees, hands tracing along Joxer's sides as
he did so and leaving Joxer's skin tingling in
their wake. Standing again, Autolycus turned
Joxer to face him, taking a moment to appreciate
his body. Joxer looked into the dark eyes when
they rose to his face, surprised by the
intensity of Auto's gaze. The thief spoke
slowly, pausing often as he seemed to struggle
with his words, "Jox...it ain't easy sometimes,
for me to tell you things. Like, how glad I am
we've got each other. How much you mean to me.
How, sometimes...I feel like every time I see
you, or hold you...it's like, I feel like I'm
falling in love with you all over again. I'm
just not used to saying things like that...even
when I want to, and I know you deserve to hear
it, and know it, the words...they get all messed
up in my head and don't come out the way they
should. Like right now."
"Auto, You don't have to say anything; I know,"
Joxer assured him.
Autolycus shook his head and insisted, "No. If
you really knew, you wouldn't have doubted me.
You would have known I could never want
anyone...anyone but you."
Joxer didn't know what to say. It was so rare to
hear Autolycus speaking so openly, and Joxer was
finding it difficult to hold in his own
emotions. He ended up deciding the best response
was to simply pull Auto close, and kiss him with
every ounce of passion and love that he could
muster. His tongue ravished the welcoming mouth,
meeting Auto's tongue and searching out the warm
depths, then pulling back to trace over the
sweet lips. He pulled the thief's bottom lip
between his own and sucked heavily, until the
other man moaned against him, clutching harshly
at his naked body.
"Mmmmph..." Auto murmured, when Joxer finally
let him come up for air some long time later.
With a grin, his eyes glistening brighter than
usual, Auto remarked, "Maybe I really oughtta
work on this communication stuff some more, if
that's the kind of response I get."
"I'm all ears, any time you want to practice..."
"I'm sure you are."
"You know, it seems like a real shame to be
standing here when there's that big, comfy-
looking bed right behind us," Joxer suggested,
running his hand down along the other man's
"Yeah, I think you're right," Auto agreed,
following Joxer as he walked towards the bed--
until Joxer stopped him with a firm hand to his
"Get undressed first," he insisted, and added
with a smile as he laid down, "slowly."
Autolycus looked at him with equal parts
frustration and desire. "Slowly, huh?" the thief
asked, loosening the buttons on the sleeves of
"Mmm hmm," Joxer agreed, sprawling out lazily on
the soft sheets and settling into a comfortable
position that granted him the best possible
Autolycus rolled his eyes and asked, "Want me to
do a little dance while I'm at it?"
"Just take your time. I like watching you." He
couldn't help it, he simply loved watching the
handsome thief strip, gradually revealing that
delicious body. Joxer bit his lip to keep in a
sigh as Auto's black shirt fell to the ground,
revealing his tanned and well-defined chest and
shoulders, the trail of dark hair that lead down
to his waist.
Auto kicked off his boots and then started
unlacing the front of his pants, his eyes on
Joxer the whole time, watching his reactions
with obvious amusement. "Slow enough for ya?"
Auto asked, pausing for a moment to rub his hand
over his groin. The sight was enough to make
Joxer squirm; if watching Autolycus strip made
him hot, watching him touch himself was enough
to make him feel on fire.
"Yeah..." Joxer breathed, struggling between
wanting to just watch him and aching to touch
him instead. A whimper nearly escaped his throat
as Auto finished unlacing the top of his pants,
sliding them down his legs damnably slowly,
revealing his swollen cock and firm naked
thighs. Gods, how can someone so incredible be
mine? he wondered as he took in the
As soon as the pants were kicked aside,
Autolycus descended upon Joxer with a low,
"Enough foolin' around," then claimed Joxer's
mouth for a harsh kiss. Autolycus' body covered
him, warm flesh rubbing against his own with
every movement, every caress. It was such an
incredible a feeling, he couldn't get enough of
it. Ever. His hands ran over the smooth back,
down to the firm curve of the thief's ass.
Autolycus in turn ground his hips against him,
pressing his cock against Joxer's in delicious
friction. Nothing could ever be better than
this, Joxer thought dreamily, except if there
was some way to make it last forever...
"I want you so bad..." Auto groaned. "I want to
make you feel so good."
"I'm feeling real good right now."
"I know, I mean, tell me what you want.
Anything," Autolycus urged, kissing his way
along Joxer's neck. "Anything to make you
"Mmm...well that's pretty nice," Joxer murmured,
content enough to let the thief do whatever he
"How about this?"
Joxer squirmed and gasped as the Auto moved down
lower and flicked his tongue lightly over one
nipple. Apparently satisfied by Joxer's
reaction, he continued circling the sensitive
flesh with his tongue, then teasing it between
his teeth. The sensation was so intense--Joxer
couldn't quite decide if it was intensely
pleasurable or painful, but he didn't want Auto
Cool fingers brushed the length of his hard,
throbbing cock, while Auto continued working his
way down Joxer's body. When the fingers were
replaced by moist lips, sucking hungrily on him,
swallowing him deeply, he clutched at the
bedsheets and struggled to maintain some small
degree of control. Otherwise, he was going to
come in no time, and it felt much too good to
let it be over so quickly.
"Auto..." he sighed after a time, when he knew
he couldn't take it any longer, "please..."
"Please...I want you...inside me," he begged,
wanting to do something that would satisfy them
both at the same time, wanting to feel that
union of their bodies more than anything in the
"Well, you won't hear me refuse a request like
that," Auto answered him, quickly sitting up and
reaching for the small vial on the bedstand. He
poured out a generous pool of oil into his hand,
applying some of it to himself and then rubbing
the rest over Joxer's ass. Joxer sucked in his
breath as a slick finger slipped inside him,
then a second, working him gently until the
thief was satisfied he was ready.
Joxer cried out when Autolycus entered him
moments later, but it was a cry of joy, only
briefly of pain. He loved the incredible feeling
of having Autolycus inside him, filling him;
Auto's blissful expression as he sunk fully
within him, then found that rhythm that was
uniquely theirs; the pleasure as Auto hit, again
and again, that spot that sent Joxer soaring to
a place somewhere higher than Olympus.
"Joxer...oh gods, Joxer..." Auto groaned, until
words were no longer possible, only heavy
breaths and building moans.
Auto's cries were echoed by Joxer, until the
younger man could take no more and he came fast
and hard, shaking and struggling for breath. Not
long after, he felt Autolycus shudder against
him, coming with a final assault of deep thrusts
and a harsh cry of his name.
"Jox, oh yeah, mmm..." Auto sighed, easing
himself down and pulling Joxer against him for
one more kiss. "Mmm," he practically purred
against the younger man's neck, "damn but I've
"It's only been a few days, hasn't been that
long," Joxer added teasingly.
"Feels like it. Been a long time for me, since
I've been with you without feelin' guilty
about...well, you know."
"Yeah. Guess so. Forget about it now," Joxer
insisted, stroking Auto's soft hair, slowly
coming back to down to earth. "I want to forget
about Jett. I want to forget about the last few
days, and go back to the way things were
"I hear that," Auto agreed. "I just wish
sometimes...Hades, I don't know..."
"It's...Jox, you turned the whole world upside-
down on me, you know? I told myself a long time
ago that I couldn't get involved with
anyone...it wasn't worth all the trouble...the
pain. I was perfectly happy with that...until
you came along. Now...now the only pain that
bothers me is what I've managed to cause you,
'cause I don't know what I'm doing with this
relationship half the time."
"So? I don't think I know any better than you.
And we can't be doing that bad, I mean, we made
it through this situation all right, right?"
"True," Auto said. Peaceable silence settled
over the room for a while, until the thief said,
"Hey, so, when do I get to hear what you can do
with that fancy thing over there?"
"Yeah. I paid for part of it; I think that
entitles me to a little entertainment."
"Sure, why not? I'm curious. I mean, you looked
like a guy who'd just been handed the Golden
Fleece when you bought that thing, I wanna know
what's so special about it."
"Okay, sure...but I'll need to fuss with the
Joxer got up and took a moment to clean up a
bit, using the basin of warm water and soft
towels provided in the room. He then retrieved
the instrument, truthfully somewhat eager to
give it a real try himself. He settled on the
edge of the bed to fiddle with it for a while,
testing out some chords and tightening the
strings until they sounded right to his ears.
"Let's see...any requests?" Joxer asked.
Autolycus shrugged, propping himself up with his
hands under his pillow. "Don't know much about
music myself; just play whatever you want."
Joxer thought for a while, and then an old song
came to mind that seemed somehow appropriate and
not too difficult for his out-of-practice
fingers. He hummed along with the melody, not
quite remembering the words to the simple song
at first, and feeling a little self-conscious
about singing them when he did. But when he
looked over to see Autolycus' encouraging smile,
he went for it, his voice uncertain at first but
building in confidence which each verse.
"Here am I,
Who whiles away the mornings
Since you've gone
Too long have I lay alone
Not knowing which way to turn
And there you are
Quite sure that you were right
Knowing full well
That I'd be the first one
To go down
The day you left
I think you knew you'd not be back
Well at least it would seem that way
Because you never said goodbye
But when it comes around to you and me
I'm sure it will work out all right.
And you'd be the one who was laughing
And giving me something I don't need
And you know I'd always hold you,
Keep you warm
Oh, more fool me
But when it comes around to you and me
I ask myself,
Do I really believe
In your love?
Yes, I'm sure it will work out all right."
Joxer finished at that, apologizing quickly,
"Well, it's been a long time since I played,
that wasn't very good..."
"Hey, I'm not complaining! I'm no expert or
anything but that sounded real nice to me."
"Yeah, compared to everything else I've
been hearing around town the past few days, I'd
say you're just as good as the rest of 'em out
"I used to be better," Joxer admitted, running
through some chords and exercises absently.
"It's going to take a lot of practice for me to
get really good at it again."
"Well, everything takes practice. I didn't just
wake up one morning and know how to pick
Athenian triple-reinforced locks in under a
minute, you know. Everything takes time to get
"I suppose," Joxer said, putting aside the lute
again so he could lie down against Autolycus.
"Even things like you and me."
"Yeah," Auto agreed, pulling him close, "like
you and me. Think we'll ever get that right one
of these days?"
"I think so," Joxer answered. "We've made it
pretty far already. And there are definitely a
lot of things I don't mind practicing...as often
as possible, in fact."
"Oh really?" came the wry reply. "Got something
in particular in mind?"
"Mm hmm. If you're up for it."
Autolycus chuckled and told him, "With you
around, that's one problem I never seem to have,
"And first place in this year's Bards
Competition goes to...Gabrielle of Poteidaia!"
"All right, Gabby!"
"Yeah! You did it!"
The bard ran for the stage, the enthusiastic
cheers of her friends and everyone else in the
crowd urging her on. She was practically
bouncing up and down in delight as she took the
award from the announcer, putting the golden
medal around her neck and joining the other
winning bards and poets on stage.
"It's a good thing she's back on her feet so
quickly and didn't miss this," Autolycus
"Are you kidding? I had to force her to stay in
bed all night and get some rest. She wasn't
going to miss the awards for anything," Xena
"I'm glad everything worked out," Joxer added.
"Jett's back in jail, everyone's okay, and Gabby
won the competition."
"...and I take it you two have worked out your,
um, problems?" Xena added with a half-smile.
Autolycus shot Joxer a look, as he quickly
answered, "Um, yeah, I guess you could say
"That's good to hear." As soon as Xena turned
her attention back to the stage, where Gabrielle
was making a brief thank-you speech, Autolycus
whispered harshly to Joxer, "What did you tell
"I didn't tell her anything! Gabrielle must have
"Oh. Gabrielle?!...Wait a minute, what did you
"Well, you know...nothing much...she just wanted
to know why I was so depressed when she met up
"Oh, great. Next thing you know, our love life
is gonna end up in one of her scrolls, just you
wait. Hades, she'll probably enter that one in
next year's competition!"
"I kind of like that idea. You and me, we'll be
legendary heroes. Or, a legendary thief and
minstrel, at least."
"Hmph," Autolycus answered, unconvinced but
knowing it was pointless to argue about it now.
"Well, I guess it's not so bad. As long as
whatever she has to say about me is properly
(The quoted lyrics in the part above are (c) 1973 by
Genesis, from the song "More Fool Me". I
absolutely suck at writing poetry/lyrics myself
so I had to resort to pilfering some. :-) Oh yeah, and thanks to the Man himself, BC,
for inspiration for the final punchline.
If I could do it over again
If I could take the words I'd said
Put 'em back inside my head
And keep 'em in its where they belong
To say what's on your mind without thinking is wrong
If I could do it over again
I'd be happy just to be
Right beside you silently
I'd appreciate what you'd done
Instead of dwelling on what's missing
I'd have fun
I'd give anything for the chance
I'd only I'd known everything in advance
I'd give anything for the chance
To do it one more time--again
If I could do it over again
There are rules that I would break
Different ways I'd make mistakes
Just one thing that I wouldn't do
I'd never say it's never cause that never is true
At first I thought that everything was your fault
Then somehow I took on all the blame
It's so hard to let it go
And with all that I know
I would do everything the same
But I'd give anything for the chance
If only I'd known everything in advance
I'd give anything for the chance
To do it one more time--again.
(c)1991 D. Holland, "If I Could Do It Over Again"