=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

DISCLAIMER: This fan fic uses characters from X:WP and H:TLJ, which are, of course, the sole property of MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures. But the story, such as it is, is all mine.

 

Yes, this is a sequel to "Love is a Many Splintered Thing."

 

Yes, there is some Joxer/Gabrielle romance (sort of).

 

Even so, I think you all will like the story anyway.

 

Oh, and it's rated the same as the television show: PG14 for suggestive language and adult situations.

 

~ Autolycus

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

 

Aphrodite was beyond pleased with herself. Her plan had worked to perfection. And, even better, Xena had no idea her friend was still under the Goddess of Love's spell. Making love to that moron had only stripped away the first layer, causing Xena, and the blonde brat herself, to think the spell was broken. But, it wasn't. Not by a long shot.

 

And, if Aphrodite had her way, it never would be.

 

*****

 

Xena slowly dismounted from Argo. She was weary from not only having traveled all day, but from having to listen to hour after hour of Gabrielle and Joxer sing multiple versions of his accursed song. She had hoped that once the spell was broken, the Bard would return to her normal self, to the woman Xena loved. But, she hadn't. Not really.

 

But, Xena had to admit, she also seemed very happy. And, that was what counted, wasn't it? Did she have any right to jeopardize Gabrielle's happiness simply because she didn't agree with the choice the Bard had made? She'd already caused Gabrielle enough pain by being unable to prevent the death of her husband, Perdicus. How could she deny her a second chance? Even if it was with Joxer of all people.

 

She glanced back and watched as her two friends prepared the campsite for the evening, laughing and talking, sharing loving glances and casual touches. Just the way she and I did, Xena thought sadly. But, she had to admit that they made a good couple. She'd never seen Joxer acting so un-Joxer-like. He hadn't stumbled once. He hadn't banged his head or fallen down or walked into a tree or fell off a cliff or anything all day. Amazing. Gabrielle's love seemed to have given him a sense of self-confidence, of self-worth, even, that he'd never had before. In the space of a single day, he'd gone from being a clownish boy to a mature man. Almost like magic...

 

Xena suddenly froze as her heart leaped up into her throat. Magic. That had to be the answer. Both Gabrielle and Joxer were now under a spell by the Goddess of Love. She should have realized it earlier and known that Aphrodite had been lying about the way to break the curse from Gabrielle's behavior once she thought the spell had been broken. But, she'd been too distraught, and physically sickened, by it that she hadn't paused to consider the possibility that Aphrodite had lied. As comforting as this heartfelt knowledge was, it didn't help her in regards to breaking the curse. And, since Aphrodite wasn't about to help her, she would have to figure out how to break the spell on her own.

 

She looked over at Joxer and Gabrielle, sitting by the fire, holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes, and shook her head in disgust. And I'd better do it soon, she said to herself.

 

*****

 

After an uncomfortable night, made even worse by the sounds coming from the bedroll shared by the cursed couple--She could have sworn she heard animal noises--Xena decided that the only way to find out what the secret to breaking the spell was to ask another God. Cupid owed her a favor for finding his and Psyche's son, Bliss, and the Warrior Princess decided it was time to call in that marker.

 

After they'd had breakfast and packed up, Xena announced, "I thought we'd head toward Larisa, I've heard that the villagers there are having trouble with a Cyclops who's been raiding their herds."

 

"Great!" smiled Gabrielle, glancing up at Joxer. "We'll stop and help them on our way to Poteidaea."

 

"Poteidaea?" Xena questioned, fearing she knew the answer.

 

"Joxer and I are getting married," Gabrielle beamed.

 

Xena's stomach started doing violent flip-flops as it struggled to forcefully expel the meager breakfast she'd had, but she managed to control it and smile. "Oh? Well, congratulations," she said through tightly gritted teeth.

 

"Thanks. You'll be my Maid of Honor, naturally," the Bard added.

 

Xena nodded. "Of course. We'd better get going; it'll take us two days to reach Larisa. And then Poteidaea's another two weeks, at least," the ex-warlord stated. She climbed up on Argo and was about to urge the mare forward when she suddenly turned around and said, with as pleasant a smile as she could muster, "Oh, and no singing today. There are bandits in this area and we don't want to attract any unwanted attention. I mean, every delay just means your wedding will have to wait that much longer, right?"

 

"Right. No singing," Gabrielle nodded. "Besides, I'm sure Joxer and I can find other ways to keep our mouths busy."

 

"I'm sure you can," Xena replied, her mouth twitching a bit and her shoulder slightly jerking.

 

"How long has Xena had that nervous tick?" Joxer whispered to Gabrielle as soon as Xena put her heels to Argo.

 

"I'm not sure," Gabrielle replied thoughtfully. "It must be fairly recent, but I can't seem to remember much before yesterday."

 

"You know, it's the strangest thing, but I can't, either," Joxer said.

 

"I guess the realization that we love each other has made the past inconsequential," Gabrielle said, lovingly gazing into Joxer's face.

 

Up ahead, Xena discreetly leaned over and threw up.

 

*****

 

Two days later--Two days the likes of which Xena hoped to never experience again as long as she lived!--the trio arrived in the village of Larisa, a sleepy community situated on the banks of the Peneus River and home to one of the main temples of Cupid. As they had arrived fairly late in the afternoon, Xena suggested to Gabrielle and Joxer that they secure them a couple of rooms in the inn while she ask around to see what she could learn about the Cyclops. Gabrielle had enthusiastically agreed and Xena had set off for Cupid's temple, a large stone structure on the outskirts of town.

 

"Cupid," Xena called, entering the building. She noted that, like his mother's temple, it was decorated with statues and friezes depicting love in all its various forms. But, whereas Aphrodite's temples, like the Goddess herself, tended to be rather crude and gaudy, Cupid's was beautiful. The scenes and the statuary were erotic, but not salacious, showcasing the tenderness and the playful nature of love, instead of its pornographic, sweaty side. "I need your help."

 

"Anything for you, my most favorite warrior doll," the God grinned, flashing into existence in front of her. "What's the prob, Xena?"

 

"Your mother has put a curse on Gabrielle to make her think she's in love with Joxer," the Warrior princess explained.

 

"Joxer? Isn't he the one who's really in love with Gabrielle? The one I couldn't snap out of Bliss' spell?" Cupid asked.

 

Xena nodded. "But, Gabrielle's love for him, naturally, is just the love of a friend. Your mother's spell has perverted that love, making it something unnatural and ugly," Xena continued.

 

"I can't break Mom's spell, Xena. She's too powerful for me," he replied.

 

"I was afraid of that. But, I was hoping you'd have some idea what I could do to break the spell," Xena said anxiously.

 

"Well, with most love-related curses, the way to break them is with a kiss from the accursed's true love," Cupid grinned. "You might try that."

 

Xena smiled. "Thanks, Cupid."

 

"Any time. Mom should know better than to mess with you," he added, flashing out of existence.

 

Xena nodded and then made her way to the inn. She learned from the innkeeper that Gabrielle had reserved a room for her and a room for herself and Joxer. Xena sighed deeply and went to their room and knocked on the door.

 

After several minutes and a shouted "Hold on," the door opened and Gabrielle and Joxer, both looking rather disheveled, stood there, smiling.

 

"Xena, what did you find out about the Cyclops?" Gabrielle asked, motioning the ex-warlord inside.

 

"He's gone. Apparently he moved on up river after the livestock here got scarce," she lied. She couldn't help but notice that the large bed showed signs of having been recently, and vigorously, used and her stomach resumed its gymnastics. "But, I had this great idea. There's a temple to Aphrodite in town. Why not have your wedding there?"

 

"Well, she was responsible for bringing us together..." Gabrielle said thoughtfully. "But, I really wanted to get married in my hometown, with my parents and my sister there."

 

"You can always have another ceremony when we reach Poteidaea," Xena reminded her. "I just thought this would be a good way to honor the Goddess for what she did to, er, for you."

 

"What do you think, Joxer?" Gabrielle asked, turning to her fiancé.

 

"I think Xena's right. If it weren't for Aphrodite, we might never have realized how much we loved each other," he said. "We'll have a big wedding in Poteidaea, but I think a ceremony here would be a nice way to thank the Goddess for what she's done. Don't you?"

 

The Bard nodded. "You're right. Both of you. Besides, I can't wait to be your official wife!" she smiled, leaning into him and affectionately stroking his arm.

 

"Great," said Xena, her mouth and shoulder twitching violently. "I'll set everything up. See you two in the morning."

 

"Sleep tight, Xena," Gabrielle called as the Warrior Princess shut the door behind her.

 

"Yeah, right!" Xena hissed, making her way to her room.

 

*****

 

The next day dawned bright and clear. The sun was shining and there were only a few fluffy white clouds in the sky, which only served to add to the beauty of the morning. A perfect day for a wedding.

 

When Gabrielle and Joxer finally made their way to the dining hall, Xena was already there, looking impatient.

 

"Good morning, Xena," the Bard said, sitting next to her.

 

"Morning?! It's practically afternoon," Xena pointed out.

 

"We lost track of time," Joxer said simply, but he glanced over at Gabrielle and smiled knowingly.

 

"I'll bet you did," Xena mumbled, her mouth and shoulder jerking spasmodically. "All ready for the big day?" she asked.

 

"I need to get a dress. Do they have a dressmaker in town?" the Bard inquired. "You'll need one, too. Can't have my Maid of Honor looking like a warlord, can I?"

 

Xena nodded. "I think I saw a dressmaker's shop last night, but, Gabrielle, this will just be small ceremony, in front of strangers. Why not wait until you reach Poteidaea to get a dress?" she suggested.

 

"Because this is the one that counts, Xena," Gabrielle replied, smiling but determined. "And I want it to be as special as I can make it."

 

"Oh, it'll be special, all right," Xena said to herself.

 

"What was that?" the Bard questioned.

 

"I just said that it will be special, regardless of how you're dressed," Xena replied quickly. But, noting the look in her beloved Bard's eyes, she added, "But, if you want us to have dresses, then, by the Gods, we'll have the most beautiful dresses this town has to offer!"

 

Gabrielle threw her arms around Xena's neck and hugged her tightly. "Thank you, Xena. For everything," she added, pulling away before the startled ex-warlord could do more than quickly embrace her in return.

 

"Anything for you, Gabrielle. Anything," Xena said softly, her blue eyes growing soft as she gazed into Gabrielle's face.

 

"And you'd better get some decent clothes, too," Gabrielle said, turning to face Joxer. "I think the patchwork warrior look needs to be retired, permanently."

 

The would-be warrior looked down at his jumbled armor and nodded. "Time to dress like a man and put this childish suit aside," he agreed. He bent over and kissed Gabrielle sweetly. "I'll see you at the temple."

 

"I've arranged with the Priest to have the ceremony at sunset," Xena said. "Don't be late."

 

Joxer laughed and walked off.

 

"Shall we go?" Gabrielle asked after he had disappeared out the door.

 

"You haven't eaten yet," Xena pointed out.

 

"I'm not really hungry. Too excited, I guess," the Bard smiled.

 

Xena nodded. "Sure, let's go see if we can't find you a decent dress. Not that you wouldn't look great in anything, Gabrielle," she added softly.

 

*****

 

Sundown. All of the temple's priests had gathered for the ceremony, as per Xena's request, as had some of the curious townsfolk. The head priest, an older man named Diomecles, was standing at the altar, waiting to perform the ceremony. And, next to him was a man barely recognizable as Joxer. The would-be warrior's ragtag collection of armor had been replaced with a white silk shirt, dark vest and pants, and a golden belt. His hair, which normally looked like a greasy hedgehog had been glued to his skull, was clean and neatly combed.

 

He was talking pleasantly with Diomecles when his breath suddenly caught in his throat upon seeing Gabrielle and Xena enter the room.

 

The ex-warlord was wearing a low-cut dress of blue that almost matched her eyes and Gabrielle was clothed in an elegant white gown that trailed behind her. It was all lace on top and festooned with buttons and sequins that suggested a pattern of flowers, without blatantly depicting any actual flora. She was smiling and her face looked more radiant than he'd ever seen.

 

Behind Diomecles, Aphrodite herself suddenly flashed into existence in a shower of multi-colored flowers. "Whoa. I never thought old blood and guts would let this happen," she said with a grin, looking at Xena. "Cool. This is even better than I'd hoped for." She made herself comfortable on the velvet couch that dominated the altar and prepared to enjoy the ceremony.

 

Gabrielle, with Xena standing right next to her, took Joxer's hand in hers and then all three looked up at Diomecles.

 

"Love," began the priest, looking down fondly at the pair before him, "is the most sacred of all emotions. It is the purest and most basic of all human desires. The need for love outweighs the needs for food, shelter, and even water. For, without love the human soul itself is doomed. Love is not petty. It does not seek to control or manipulate. Love is enduring and forgiving. It does not bear grudges and is incapable of ill will. Joy is the only thing love, true love, can engender."

 

Behind, him, Aphrodite began to squirm uncomfortably.

 

"Do you two love each other like that? With no qualms, no regrets, no hidden motives or unspoken longings? If you do, then repeat the following pledge with me. But, if you don't, if something other than the purest of intentions is compelling you to go through with this, then stop now, or risk the possibility of a life devoid of the joys which only true love can bring. Are you ready to continue?" They nodded. "Good. I swear by the most holy and sacred vow that I do love thee with all my heart and soul and will never forsake thee and will never curse or spite thee or cause thee harm, lest I do those very things to myself, for thou art my blood and my life and to harm thee would be the same as piercing my own heart with a poisoned dagger."

 

Gabrielle and Joxer repeated the words aloud, but no one noticed that Xena also mouthed them.

 

"And now, I do seal this bond with a kiss, and with this kiss let our hearts and souls be forever joined," Diomecles finished. He smiled and gestured to the anxious couple and, behind him, Aphrodite, while still feeling a bit guilty in light of the ceremony and the way it reminded her what love should be, eagerly sat forward and waited for this final dagger to be thrust into the body of her rival.

 

Suddenly, Xena grabbed Gabrielle and, spinning her around, kissed her hard on the mouth.

 

"NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!" screamed Aphrodite, bursting into view and startling the crowd. "No. No. No. It's not supposed to end like this!" She stomped her foot and glared at the kissing couple.

 

Xena reluctantly pulled back and looked Gabrielle in the eyes. "Is it you? I mean really you, Gabrielle?" she asked.

 

"It's me, Xena. By the Gods! I can't believe what almost happened!" she exclaimed, looking down at her dress.

 

"What's going on?" Joxer asked. "What happened to my clothes?"

 

All three looked up to where Aphrodite was still fuming with rage. "He'll remember, in time," she promised. "None of you will ever forget."

 

"Neither will you, Aphrodite," Xena grinned wolfishly.

 

The Goddess of Love clenched her fists and then disappeared in a flash of light and a shower of flowers.

 

"How did I do?" Diomecles asked, a twinkle in his eyes.

 

"Great. I just hope Aphrodite doesn't take her anger out on you," Xena replied. "You laid it on even thicker than I asked."

 

"I may have embellished the ceremony a bit," he conceded. "But, it was about time someone reminded the Goddess what ideal love is all about. Be happy, my friends."

 

"We will," Xena nodded. "Come on, you two, let's get out of here."

 

*****

 

"I'll never be able to look Gabby in the face again!" Joxer said miserably. He was once more clad in his usual armor, although he did carry the clothes he had bought in a pack on his back. "She must hate me. You must hate me! Gods! How can I even look you in the face?" He promptly buried his face in his hands.

 

"She doesn't hate you, Joxer, and neither do I," Xena assured him as they sat on a bench outside of the inn. She was also wearing her usual attire, but her dress was back in the store. "It wasn't your fault. Aphrodite used you both to get at me. If anyone's to blame, it's her, not you. You'll always be our friend, but that's all, Joxer. And it's time you realized that and found someone of your own, instead of vainly waiting for Gabrielle to fall in love with you. It's never gonna happen, my friend."

 

"I know, Xena. I guess I've always known, but, just like the fact I'll never be a great warrior, I couldn't admit it to myself. Until now," he added, looking up and smiling. "Thanks."

 

"You're welcome. Now, come inside and let's have dinner," she said, getting up.

 

"I think I'll hit the road. Tell Gabrielle goodbye for me, will ya?" he asked, rising to his feet and clasping her arm in a warrior's handshake.

 

"Sure, Joxer. Don't be a stranger, though," she smiled.

 

He looked over his shoulder as he walked away and waved back, stumbling over a large rock in the road, but quickly regaining his balance before actually falling to the ground.

 

Xena nodded and went inside to where Gabrielle, back in her regular clothes, too, sat waiting.

 

"Where's Joxer?" she asked.

 

"He decided to go on without us," Xena answered, sitting next to her.

 

"You didn't kill him, did you?" Gabrielle asked urgently.

 

"Of course not!" she shot back. "He just wanted some time alone. Aphrodite hurt him, too. A lot."

 

"I know," the Bard replied thoughtfully. "I hope she's learned her lesson."

 

"For a while, maybe, but she'll recover and try again," Xena frowned.

 

"Well, then, we'd better make the most of the time between now and then, hadn't we?" Gabrielle said suggestively.

 

"And just what did you have in mind?" Xena asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

"Well, technically, this is our wedding night, and we've got a room already. I say we use it!" the Bard grinned.

 

"Do you really mean it, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, afraid she'd misheard.

 

"Absolutely. I wonder if they have room service?" she asked coyly.

 

"They do now!" Xena promised her. "Let's go!"

 

The pair of women got up from their seats and made their way to the room the Warrior Princess had occupied the night before. Xena opened the door and walked in, but Gabrielle stood, tapping her foot impatiently, just outside the room.

 

"What?" Xena questioned.

 

"Aren't you going to carry me across the threshold?" she demanded.

 

Xena grinned and scooped Gabrielle into her arms and carried her into the room and tossed her onto the bed, closing the door with her foot as she did so.

 

A moment later, Xena opened the door, stuck a "Do Not Disturb" sign to it with her breast dagger, and then closed it again.

 

The End