"Xena: Warrior Princess" and all its characters are the property of Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended through the writing of this fan fiction. The character of Nikolaos, however, is the author's creation.
SPOILERS: Contains references (mostly, but not all, minor) to the episodes: "For Him the Bell Tolls," "The Quill Is Mightier...," "King of Assassins", "The Bitter Suite," and "King Con." So, if you haven't seen all these stories, the occasional line might not make sense to you.
WARNINGS: Joxerphobes, be warned. Here be dragons! Joxer and his relationship with Gabby are presented in a positive manner in this story. You've been warned! Any nasty notes complaining about this will be summarily deleted :-)
Author's Notes: Well, here it is, my very first fanfic. Please keep that in mind as you read it, and be gentle. Any criticism or glowing praise (in my dreams!) can be sent to email@example.com.
Gabrielle nodded off, barely able to keep her eyes open. She jerked upright, nearly spilling her drink. "I think we're boring her," said Xena.
They were sitting in a tavern with Argon, an old acquaintance of Xena's they had encountered earlier that day in the village of Methone. The three had stopped in at the local tavern for their morning meal and Xena and Argon started to reminisce about old battles. At first, Gabrielle had managed to feign interest as the two warriors went over every conceivable detail of some of their most memorable clashes. Move, counter-move, counter-counter-move...
Now it was nearly two hours later and Gabrielle just could not pay attention any more.
Xena smiled sympathetically at her friend. "Listen, if you'd like to go on ahead to the next town, that's fine by me."
"No, I'm fine really," Gabrielle protested weakly. "This is gripping stuff. I could write epics about it." No one would read it, she added mentally.
"You're bored stiff. Military strategy can be pretty dry stuff for the layperson. You go on ahead. You said you'd like to do some shopping in Pydna, and I find that pretty dull. You'd have more fun doing it on your own."
"Well, if you're sure..."
"I'm sure." Xena reached over and squeezed Gabrielle's shoulder. "Go treat yourself to something."
Gabrielle smiled. "You know, I think I will." She rose and picked up her staff. "Argon, it was nice meeting you, it's been a gas." She turned to Xena. "See you in a couple of days, then?"
"Sure thing. See you later."
A little later, Gabrielle was strolling along a forest path on her way to Pydna, enjoying the quiet. She missed having Xena along, but knew that her friend would have little patience for hours searching the marketplace and haggling with merchants.
Gabrielle's pace didn't falter when she heard a twig snap behind her and to her right. Her hand tightened on her staff as rustling noises grew closer. There was a loud crashing noise from the woods. Someone was following her. Someone loud. A dark figure burst out of the thick trees. Gabrielle's instincts kicked in, and she gave the form a solid hit with her staff. The figure immediately crumpled to the ground and cried out.
"OW! What'd you have to go and do that for?" The man clutched at his face. "And why do you always have to get my nose?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Joxer, what do you think you're doing?"
"I was practicing my stealth; how'd you hear me?"
"Joxer, Athens heard you!" Despite herself, she smiled. "Here, take my hand." Joxer reached into Gabrielle's hand and she hauled him to his feet. He brushed himself off with what little dignity he could muster.
"Yeah, well, the only reason I couldn't sneak up on you is 'cause you've been trained by Xena. I could sneak up on any regular person. By the way, where is Xena?"
"She'll be following in a few days. She's catching up with an old friend and I'm going on ahead to do a little shopping."
"Can I come?"
"N-" Gabrielle stopped and thought. Well, why not? If she bought any clothing, she'd need someone to get an opinion from on how she looked in it. And, she didn't really hate having Joxer around. Sometimes, when he wasn't trying too hard to be the world's mightiest warrior, he could be decent company. What could it hurt? "Sure, you can come along."
Joxer's face split into a grin. "Really, I can? Well of course, you'd feel safer with me along, an attractive young woman like your-"
"Joxer, be quiet before I change my mind."
Gabrielle resumed her journey, Joxer bounding along beside her.
"By the way, Joxer, how are you at marketplace bargaining?"
"Gabby, just give the man twenty dinars and let's get something to eat!" whined Joxer.
"Joxer, don't make me regret bringing you along. I know what I'm doing here."
Twenty minutes later, Gabrielle had a new pair of boots, the vendor had fifteen dinars and a pounding headache, and Joxer had sore feet and an empty stomach. "Okay, all done," said Gabrielle brightly. "I could really use something to eat; it's been ages since breakfast."
"At least you got breakfast," Joxer pouted. "I'm starving!"
"I think I saw an inn down this way."
They hadn't gone more than ten steps when Gabrielle stopped in her tracks. Joxer, following close behind, almost barreled into her. "Wha...? What's wrong?"
Gabrielle stared ahead, as if in a trance. "Isn't it the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?" Joxer followed her gaze. A large stall hung with deep blue silks stood not far ahead.
The bard headed for one particular dress and ran a hand through its material. The vendor saw how much the young lady liked the dress and immediately started his sales-pitch.
"Good afternoon, friends, I am Diorus. I see you are interested in one of my creations. And a fine choice it is too. Made of the finest materials, meticulously crafted..."
"It's wonderful," breathed Gabrielle. "Joxer, I need to try this on."
"What about lunch?" Joxer whined.
"Joxer, it won't take long, I promise." She added in a whisper only Joxer could hear. "It's not like I can really afford it or anything, I just want to try it."
"What can it hurt, sir," spoke Diorus, "to let your beautiful young...?"
"Friend," replied Joxer, a little gloomily, "just friend."
Diorus was a little surprised. He was certain he had these two pegged as a couple. "...to let your beautiful young friend try it on?"
Joxer looked at Gabrielle as she stroked the dress. He smiled to himself. She really likes it. How can I possibly say no? "Okay, I've waited this long to eat, I can wait a little longer, I guess."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Diorus. "If the lady would like to step over here, I have an area set up where you can change." Gabrielle stepped into a little booth and pulled a curtain shut behind her.
After a few minutes, during which Joxer desperately tried not to imagine Gabrielle changing clothes, the curtain opened again and the bard stepped out. "Stunning!" exclaimed Diorus.
"So, how do I look?" Gabrielle stood her staff upright in the earth and walked around it, modeling the dress with one arm out-stretched.
Joxer stared, speechless. He reached up, pulled off his helmet and held it in front of his chest. "I've never seen anything more beautiful in my life," he said softly. Gabrielle didn't seem to hear. She just continued her pirouette, luxuriating in the feel of the dress.
The dress was a perfect fit and, it seemed to Joxer, on Gabrielle, it was all things a dress could be. It was elegant and flowing but managed to cling suggestively to all the curves of her body. The colour was like the deepest blue of the night sky and Gabrielle looked like a princess or a goddess in it.
Gods, thought Joxer, she gets more beautiful every time I see her. And when she smiles like that, my heart soars. I wish I could tell her, but every single time I try to show her how I feel, something goes wrong. If I could just say the words out loud...
Gabrielle stopped her modeling at stared beyond Joxer, her eyes opening wide in amazement.
I'll say it, Joxer thought. I'll say it right now. He put his helmet back on and tried to steady himself.
"Gabrielle," he gulped, "there's something I've been meaning to tell you..." He noticed her expression. "Why do you look like that?"
Then the voice came. "Hello, boy." It was a voice Joxer knew all too well.
He shut his eyes tight and whispered, "Oh, gods, no." Opening his eyes again, he turned around slowly and looked up into the face of the man standing behind him.
He was a huge man, the most imposing figure Gabrielle had ever seen. And she had personally met several giants. Not only was he more than a head taller than Joxer, but his shoulders were so wide he looked as if he might have trouble getting through doorways. He wore about three cows worth of leather and what must have been a bearskin as a cape. The bearskin only accented the fact that this was also one of the hairiest men Gabrielle had ever encountered. He had a beard that hid most of his face and wild hair down to his shoulders.
"Well," the man boomed, "aren't you going to say hello to your old man, boy?"
Joxer looked panicked. "Hello, father," he said, rather weakly. "I didn't know you'd gotten out of prison."
"Wasn't long ago. Shortly after Jett was moved to Marimus. He told me you were responsible for putting him away! Found it hard to believe! Still do. What is that on your head; call that a helmet, boy?"
Joxer winced. It had started already. The put-downs, the verbal abuse. Somebody run me through with a sword right now.
Gabrielle walked up and stood next to Joxer. "Joxer, is this really your father?"
Joxer sighed and turned so he faced both of them. He pointed a hand at the enormous newcomer. "Gabby, my father, the warlord Nikolaos." He then indicated Gabrielle. "Father, my friend, Gabrielle."
Joxer's father scrutinized the bard. "Gabrielle? Then this must be the girl-friend Jett mentioned."
"Whoa!" Gabrielle waved a hand in protest. "I am not Joxer's girl-friend. We're just--"
Nikolaos didn't let her finish. "Didn't think so," he bellowed. It seemed the more the warlord spoke, the louder he got, and the more people could hear every word. "Can't imagine the runt here ever getting any woman, let alone one as attractive as you. At least not without paying!" He roared with laughter. "Do you pay for it, boy?"
"Father, please, everyone can hear you." Joxer's voice was barely a whisper. His face was turned down, but Gabrielle could see him turning bright red with embarrassment. She felt an indignant anger build inside her. She couldn't believe the way this man was treating his own son. Although she'd admitted it to few people, Joxer was her friend, and she wasn't going to let a friend of hers be treated like this.
"Hey!" she interrupted. "You didn't let me finish!"
Nikolaos ceased his diatribe, and turned to Gabrielle. "Well?"
"The reason I'm not Joxer's girlfriend is because..." She glanced at the humiliated Joxer, thinking furiously. "Because we've moved beyond that stage." Joxer turned to Gabrielle, his eyes widening. What was she doing? She smiled at the warlord. "We're betrothed." The bard faced Joxer, and winked. "We're getting married."
"You are?" rumbled Nikolaos doubtfully.
"We are?" echoed Joxer.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Get with the program, Joxer, she thought and brought her staff down heavily upon his foot.
"AAAAaayyes, we are!"
"As you can see, we're just in the process of picking out a dress for the occasion."
"Well, the gods work in mysterious ways, I always say. When is the happy event?"
"How long are you in town?" asked Gabrielle.
"My men and I will be here about a week, I'd say."
"The wedding's next month; the oracle said it would be the only auspicious day."
Nikolaos chuckled. "I don't think so."
"Pardon?" replied Gabrielle. Joxer's eyes widened in distress once again.
"I said, I don't think so. Never did trust oracles. Just a lot of superstitious babble to keep the masses happy. You'll have the wedding before I leave next week. Can't miss the runt actually getting hitched, now, can I? How much for the dress?" Nikolaos addressed Diorus without waiting for a response from the duo, who just stared in shock at the warlord.
Diorus resumed his patter. "Well, as you can see, sir, it is made of the finest silks--"
"How much?" grumbled Nikolaos.
"How much was the esteemed gentleman planning to spend?"
Nikolaos sighed, removed his sword from his sheath, and smoothly jabbed it against the dressmaker's throat. The few passers-by who had not already stopped to watch now did so.
Joxer saw Gabrielle's grip on her staff tighten. "Gabrielle, no!" he hissed, placing his own hand over hers. "He'd slice you in two in a second, whether you're my betrothed or not!"
She glared at Joxer, but then saw the fear in his eyes. This wasn't his usual strong survival instinct kicking in; he was really terrified. She loosened her grip on the staff slightly and decided to see what happened next.
Nikolaos repeated each word of his question with perfect calm, as if to a slow child. "How. Much. For. The. Dress."
Diorus was sweating visibly. "Uh... eighty dinars?" he suggested, weakly.
"You'll take seventy." It wasn't a counter-offer; it was a statement of fact. Nikolaos replaced his sword, removed some money from a pouch on his belt, and placed the dinars in Diorus' limp hand. With the entertainment apparently over, the on-lookers went about their business.
"Joxer... dear," said Gabrielle through clenched teeth. "Could I talk to you for a minute... alone?"
Joxer sighed and let her lead him off a short distance. As they walked off, she kept smiling back at Joxer's father in what she hoped was a disarming way. When they were out of earshot of Nikolaos, Joxer whined, "What do we do now?"
"Quiet, I'm thinking..." Gabrielle frowned, her mind racing. After a moment, her face cleared. "Okay, for now, we stall. We go through the motions of planning for a wedding as best we can. A big, elaborate wedding to take up more preparation time. Ordering decorations and food, sending invitation scrolls, arranging a priest or priestess, stuff like that. Then when Xena shows up in a couple of days, we clean his sundial. Although I still think I could take a crack at him."
"No!" Joxer stopped and took a deep breath. "No," he repeated, more calmly, "you're good, but you're not that good. We need Xena, otherwise you, I, and a whole lot of townspeople are gonna get hurt. Trust me, he's my father, I know."
Gabrielle gave Joxer's arm a reassuring squeeze. "All right, I'll take your word for this. I promise I won't try to take him without reinforcements."
Joxer was visibly relieved.
"Now we just have to worry about how to pay for all the things needed to prepare for a for a wedding that's not supposed to happen."
"No problem there. My father will probably insist on paying for a chunk of it; for a warlord, he's almost flamboyantly generous. And he's loaded. Not that I ever see any of it," he added bitterly.
"Perfect!" The bard grinned. "If he's paying, we can go all out and make our 'wedding' more elaborate. That should stall things enough for Xena to show up in plenty of time."
"Thanks a lot for sticking up for me like this."
Gabrielle smiled at Joxer. "What are friends for? C'mon, let's go tell your father the 'good news.'"
Things were awkward almost right away. Gabrielle and Joxer had to pretend to be a couple whenever Nikolaos was around. And he was always around. He wouldn't leave them alone for more than five minutes at a time, although they were able to get far enough away that they could hold brief conversations without him hearing.
Although he couldn't say so, part of Joxer was on top of Mt. Olympus with joy. He knew she didn't mean any of it, but he secretly adored each time she called him names like "sweetheart" and "dearest." He naturally responded in kind, and wished desperately that he could tell her he meant it all, every word.
For her part, Gabrielle felt uneasy with the situation, but not in the way she had expected. It wasn't the "icky" sort of discomfort that she had expected to get from Joxer's supposedly false affections. Rather, she felt ill at ease with pretending that she loved Joxer. This was rather odd, she felt, because she had lied and pretended equally ludicrous things before in order the protect lives. But, somehow, in this situation, she felt more deceitful than those other occasions. She couldn't really explain why. She forced herself to ignore it and concentrate on the business at hand.
The first step was to decide whom to "invite." There was little point in trying to send requests for help with any invitations, as Nikolaos decided to take a very hands-on approach to the wedding preparations. "Got to make sure everything's perfect, don't we, boy?" As a result, each invitation, which were all to people too far away to make it to Pydna in time anyway, was examined by the warlord. Their one hope here was the scroll being sent to Xena in Methone. When the warrior received notice that Gabrielle was marrying Joxer, she'd know something was up, and come immediately.
To slow things down further, the couple arranged, during one of their stolen moments, to have an "argument" while deciding who would attend the festivities. Unfortunately, this did not go as they had planned.
Gabrielle had changed back into her usual garb and she, Joxer and Nikolaos sat in a tavern near the market.
"Well, why can't we invite Meg?" Joxer demanded, as haughtily as he could manage.
"Oh, I don't know, I just don't know her very well." Gabrielle replied, in what she hoped was a dismissive tone.
"But I know Meg really well."
At this point Gabrielle was supposed to respond that she just didn't like Meg, to which Joxer would take offense at how she felt about his friends, and they could both walk off in a huff, possibly even giving them a chance to cancel the wedding.
Instead, Gabrielle snapped, "Yes, I'm fully aware of how well you know Meg!"
Joxer froze, stunned by the deviation from what they had planned, and by the fact that Gabrielle seemed to be really upset.
Gabrielle's eyes widened as she realized what she had said. She slapped both hands over her mouth for a moment, then removed them. "Joxer, I'm sorry, that was a terrible thing to say, I wasn't thinking."
Nikolaos had watched the exchange with growing amusement. "What's this all about, then?"
"Meg is... an old girlfriend of Joxer's." Gabrielle couldn't very well tell Joxer's father that Meg in fact ran a bordello that Joxer had frequented in the past, the very thing that Nikolaos had accused him of.
"Gods above! Another one! How do you manage all these women throwing themselves at you, boy?" Joxer just smiled sheepishly.
Gabrielle reached over to Joxer and put a hand on his arm. "I really am sorry. Of course you can invite Meg. Come on, let's get back to work." Gods, that was stupid! Why did I say that?
Under the watchful gaze of the warlord Nikolaos, they continued their plans.
Then there was the matter of making sleeping arrangements when they arrived at the inn that evening. Once again, Nikolaos was quite adamant. "Now, now, don't try to tell me you want separate rooms! I know what you kids are like these days, running around debauching all over the place! Innkeeper, your best room, the one with the biggest bed for my boy and his wench!"
Joxer frowned and raised his voice. "Father! She's not a 'wench,' she's my betrothed."
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in surprise. This was the only sign of defiance she had seen from Joxer towards his father all day.
Nikolaos waved a hand dismissively. "Yes, yes, whatever you say, boy." Ignoring any further remarks from Joxer, he resumed his discussion with the innkeeper, which seemed to involve quite a lot of threatening. "Well, I want the best room, and I plan to have the best room..."
Joxer's face darkened. He stood up straight and took a determined step towards his father. He was stopped by Gabrielle's tug on his arm.
"Joxer, don't!" she hissed. "It's all right! Really, it's no big deal!"
Joxer hesitated, looked at his father's back, then turned to see Gabrielle's face. His expression softened and he relented. "Yeah, what was I thinking?"
"Well, it's all settled, boy! Best room in the place! And I'm paying, I insist!"
"Yes, father," sighed Joxer.
End of Part One
Continue to Part Two.