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This That Or the Other

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This, That Or the Other
by Kerensa


Chapter 1- If Wishes Were Horses

Joxer stumbled and fell to his hands and knees in the middle of the overgrown path. He yelped at the pain in his right leg and the palms of his hands and immediately sat down on the ground. Joxer yelped again when he felt something rough digging into his behind. He shifted to one slender hip and moved the large piece of bark that he had sat down on.

Then Joxer examined his injured knee. There was a small, but very sharp rock digging into his right leg. Luckily for Joxer, his leather trousers were sturdy enough to have kept the rock from actually going into his skin. As it was, it felt like there was a cut and the area was already starting to ache.

The warrior looked up in time to see his "friends" round the bend in the path and leave him behind. Joxer knew that they had heard him fall and had kept on walking. He really hadn't expected any differently, but it still hurt all the same.

His hand tightened on the piece of bark and for a moment he pulled back his arm as if to throw it. Sadly, his good nature took over and he just tossed the piece of wood to the side where it made a slight clattering sound when it bounced off a tree trunk.

"Tartarus, they don't even care when I'm wounded in a battle, why should this be any different," he mumbled morosely.

He used the back of his hand to wipe some moisture out of his eyes. 'They are just watering because of the dirt, that's all, darn it!' Joxer sniffed. 'I am *not* crying.' he reiterated to himself. 'Warriors don't cry.'

Pulling out his water skin, Joxer tugged up on the leg of his pants and inspected the wound. Sure enough, it was bleeding and there was a deep purple bruise that was spreading out from the cut. Not a big surprise there, Joxer always bruised badly.

Joxer pulled a semi-clean cloth out of his pack and pressed it to the wound to stop it from bleeding. The young man knew how easily leather stained and he didn't want dried blood on his pants from now on. After cleaning the open wound with some water, Joxer decided that it didn't need to be sewn up.

"Thank Apollo," he said fervently. "I really, really hate sewing up a wound, especially on myself."

A little wine (and crap did that hurt) and a hastily folded bandage later, and Joxer was on his way again. Hopefully the wine would keep the injury from becoming putrid. The last thing he needed was to get sick again from an untreated, or poorly treated, wound. The last time that had happened, Jett had threatened to kick his butt from here to Athens if he let it happen again.

Naturally the here wasn't *here*. The *here* was outside of Thrace where they had been visiting Jayce at the time, but anyway...

"Oh, there you are," Gabrielle's tone couldn't be more uninviting than if she had spit.

Joxer stopped limping towards her and wondered what he had ever done to make Gabrielle hate him so much. Was it his lousy fighting? Heck, she hadn't been fighting for very long herself and wouldn't even *try* to use a sword; at least he tried. He didn't try to hide his lack of ability behind some supposed reluctance to hurt anyone. What did Gabrielle think, that her staff didn't hurt when it whacked against someone's head. Joxer could certainly tell her otherwise.

Was it how clumsy he was? Tartarus, it wasn't like he *wanted* to trip all the time, he just got dizzy sometimes. Or was it his singing? Joxer knew his song irritated both Gabby and Xena. He tried to remember *not* to sing it while they were around, but most of the time he just forgot. When he was traveling alone, Joxer sang to keep himself company. 'Heck, it's not like anybody's around most of the time anyway.'

"I hope you have something to eat in that bag of yours, because I'm not cooking." Gabrielle didn't wait to see what Joxer had to say. The young woman would probably be stunned if she knew that Joxer was thrilled to death not to be subjected to Gabrielle's idea of cooking. He always choked it down, no matter how bad the food was, and fended for himself whenever he could. Gabrielle had noticed his reluctance to eat her meals. The blond woman always reminded Joxer that his cooking had laid out an entire army.* Joxer tried to point out that he was *supposed* to incapactitate them.

She turned her back on him and went back to placing her bed roll just so-so on the ground. The blond woman was particularly fussy about where she slept. It couldn't be too close to the fire or her delicate skin might burn, it couldn't be too far away or she would get chilled in the night.

The warrior-wanna-be shrugged and flopped down on the other side of the campfire. He knew better than to offer to help the Amazon princess. The one and only time he had spread her and Xena's bedrolls, the blond woman had ended up with her blanket getting singed on one corner. A head thump and nose twist later and Joxer was *forbidden* to ever touch Gabby's things again.

Joxer smoothed the ground, by getting rid of the bigger rocks (he'd had enough of rocks for today, thank you), and made his bed. He looked around the camp and wondered where Xena had disappeared to. It wasn't like the Warrior Princess to leave the setting up of the camp to Gabrielle. He started to ask, but took one look at Gabrielle's angry back (angry about what, he didn't know) and changed his mind. A few minutes later his unasked question was answered for him. Xena came striding into the camp, her clothes and hair were wet. Joxer was surprised, she and Gabrielle usually bathed together, which thruthfully, Joxer found a little odd.

'I mean, I'd take a bath with my brothers, but I wouldn't want to be naked in front of Iolaus or Autolycus.'

Joxer winced at the idea of his skinny body being on display next to those muscular bodies...wow, actually, he kind of liked the idea of their bodies, just without his there. Or better yet, if instead of his two friends, he could just see...no, that way led to blasphemy.

"...wondering where you'd gotten to." Xena's voice broke into Joxer's mini-fantasy. It was a nice one that had Iolaus and Auto lying on the bank, naked and drying in the sun, while Joxer washed Ar, uhm...someone's back.

"I..." before Joxer could give an explanation, the warrior woman turned away and walked over to Argo, her horse.

'At least she pretended to be interested,' Joxer rationalized. 'That's something anyway.'

Wondering just how pathetic he really was, Joxer gathered his few things and headed for the water that was obviously near by.

*****

Joxer groaned at the pain in his side. Lying on the ground was uncomfortable, no matter how often you do it, and Joxer always woke up with one or two aching places. He immediately clamped his mouth shut, hoping he hadn't disturbed his fellow travelers.

It only took a few seconds for Joxer to realize that something was wrong. He sat up, looked around the empty campsite and slumped. It was empty. There were no bedrolls, the fire was dead and Argo wasn't tethered to a tree anymore.

'They left me,' he realized. 'While I was asleep, they broke camp and left me.'

He hung his head and tried not to cry. There had been many times that they had threatened to leave him if he didn't hurry up, but this was the first time they had ever actually done it. The young man closed his eyes and sighed.

"There has to be a better life than this. Most *anything* would be better than this.'

*****

Somewhere, on the far edge of Mount Olympus, a goddess' head popped up. She heard Joxer's thoughts and was troubled by them. Joxer was a "pure soul". He was destined to do great things and that kind of attitude would only lead to his being careless.

Closing her eyes to concentrate, Gaia could see into the future. She saw Joxer's death, a noble death, where he saved the life of an innocent, but still...his premature death. Gaia shuddered in fear.

"This won't do," she stated unequivocally. "He has too much to do. Joxer cannot be allowed to die so young."

The Goddess of ------ bit her lip in contemplation. 'But what to do?' This was going to take a lot of thought and some intricate planning.

*****

"Hurry up!" Gabrielle's yell jerked him out of his depressing thoughts and Joxer fell back onto his bedroll. The blond woman rolled her eyes at him and she kicked some dirt onto the fire to make certain that it was properly extinguished. At the same time, she ended up kicking dirt onto the prone Joxer. "Idiot."

Joxer rubbed furiously at his eyes where some dirt had gotten in and was irritating them. Tears began to run down his eyes, as his body tried to naturally clear the dirt out. Gabby saw the tears and snorted.

Xena walked up at that moment and looked at the scene. Joxer was sitting on his bedroll, rumpled, with tears rolling down his dirty face. The smirk on Gabrielle's face and the dirt on her boot gave Xena a pretty good idea of what had happened. She had asked the bard to let Joxer know they were ready to go. Xena had earlier decided to let the young man sleep, because he'd looked pretty rough the night before when he'd made it to the camp. So, she'd quietly gathered the camp and taken Argo to the stream to drink. She had even managed to keep Gabrielle quiet, not an easy task for the young woman who woke up so cranky.

The Warrior Princess frowned and looked at her friend carefully. 'Something is up with Gabrielle. She has been treating Joxer like centaur droppings and Xena didn't understand why. Xena decided that the best thing right now would be to get her away from Joxer, before she did or said something else to hurt him.

"Are you two ready yet?" Not giving them time to answer, because it was obvious that Joxer wasn't and Elysia only knows what Gabrielle will have to say about that, Xena started walking away. "Let's go."

*****

Naturally, Joxer didn't know what was going on in Xena's head. All he saw was that she and Gabrielle walking off and leaving him.

"My life stinks!" he exclaimed. "I wish I could have a different life."

*****

"Hoffman! Where are those pictures, you idiot?"

The slender young man hurried into the office. Several pictures dropped from his hands in his haste and he had to stop and pick them up off the carpeted floor.

Josh Hoffman tried to hurry. Mr. J. Jonah Jameson was in a particularly bad mood today. Not that that distinguished it from any other day, but still, he didn't want *all* of the Editor-in-chief's wrath directed at him.

"Here you are, Mr. Jameson."

He quickly handed the photographs to the older man. Jameson's mustache twitched as he frowned. Josh looked at his chief's desk, wondering what set him off this time. All he saw was a cup of coffee, that had been there long enough that it had a greasy film on the top, and a stack of crumpled newspapers. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary.

"No." A photo was tossed, Josh caught it. "No." Another almost hit him in the eye. "No, No, NO!" Hoffman bent over to pick up the ones that he couldn't catch.

"These are crap!" Jameson yelled. "I don't want stock photos, I want new and fresh ones."

"There aren't any, sir." Josh winced at the glare that was thrown his way. "Since Spiderman gave up fighting," he gestured to the costume that was tacked to editor's wall like a trophy. "...there hasn't been any crime saving pictures to take."

"I...Don't...CARE," Jameson shrieked. "I want a great picture for the front page. Not like this crap!" He slapped a hand down on the last several days worth of newspapers. The covers showed good, but rather dull, pictures of politicians and movie stars.

"But, sir..."

"Shut up! Get me Parker. He seems to have all the interesting shots." Half a second later, he barked, "Well?! Get on it!"

Hoffman hurried out of the office and over to his tiny and overcrowded desk, trying not to be embarrassed. 'It's not like he doesn't yell at everybody else too,' he thought miserably. He didn't want to go back and tell Jameson that he couldn't get hold of Peter. The boss would be mad and scream at him and he was tired of being screamed at.

"I wish I could have a different life," he thought and Gaia decided to answer his and Joxer's prayers.

*****

Joxer sat down abruptly, as his head spun. 'At least this time I didn't sit down on a rock,' he thought. 'Although whatever the Tartarus this is, it is almost as hard.'

"Woah." He held his head in both hands as the room spun even faster and tried his darndest not to throw up. He had no idea where a stream was and Joxer didn't want to use what little water he had in his water skin to clean himself up.

"Are you okay, Josh?" Joxer felt a light touch on his arm and looked up into a pair of concerned green eyes. 'Who's this?' he wondered in surprise.

"Uhm." He glanced around the room...Room?...and wondered where in the Tartarus he was.

'It must be some parallel world,' he decided. 'I know Iolaus has dealt with these before.' Not wanting to look like *too* much of an idiot, and get whoever the heck he was in trouble, Joxer decided to pretend he knew what was going on.

"Uh, yeah. I mean, yes, I'm fine." He smiled brilliantly at the concerned woman and watched as she flushed.

"Okay, th-that's good."

Joxer wondered what was the matter with her. She seemed embarrassed. 'Ah, that's it,' he realized. 'She's embarrassed to be seen talking to me.' Joxer's smile slid off his face, but was unnoticed by the flustered young woman who was wondering when Hoffman became sexy.

"Hoffman!"

The way she was staring at him, Joxer realized that he must be this Hoffman guy. He hurried into the room with the clear walls. Joxer's eyes got bigger and bigger as he took in all the strange things around him. 'What in Tartarus is this place?'

"Uhm, yes?" Joxer watched the angry man pacing around the room tentatively. 'Don't babble, don't babble,' he thought to himself desperately. 'That only makes people irritated and the last thing you want to do is start off on the wrong foot here.'

"Well?" The man pulled some long burning thing out of his mouth and rolled his eyes at Joxer.

'So much for starting out well,' he thought with an internal sigh. 'Just once, I'd like somebody to be glad to see me, instead of irritated.'

"Did you get hold of Parker?!" the other man bellowed.

The hollering didn't really bother Joxer, he'd been yelled at by bigger people than this guy. 'Really bigger,' he thought wistfully. 'Ares is so much bigger and his yell is a lot nicer than this guy's. Of course, I've been really, really lucky, Ares has never yelled at me before. No, he's always nice and with that sexy as Tartarus beard he's...' Joxer snapped out of his daydream and realized he'd never answered the man. He didn't know how to answer him, because Joxer had no idea who or what Parker was.

He opened his mouth to explain but was saved from having to make up an answer when he heard somebody clear their throat behind him. Years of traveling with Xena and being attacked by all kinds of people had honed Joxer's sense of self preservation. Not to mention the fact that he had been plucked out off of the road he'd been traveling and sent to this new and frightening place. He spun around, just in case of attack, and...started to fall when his head seemed to keep spinning.

The smaller, young man behind him caught Joxer's arm and with one hand and steadied him quite easily. Joxer was surprised at the strength in that hand, he wouldn't have thought the other man could hold him up like that.

"You wanted to see me, Mr. Jameson?" Parker said with a smile. "I got Josh's message."

Joxer smiled back. 'Okay, I'm Hoffman and Josh too." He kept smiling as he tried to figure out why he had *two* names. Spotting a piece of wood on the man's desk that read J. Jonah Jameson, Joxer realized that everyone must have more than one name here. It was confusing, but Joxer decided that if he just remembered to answer to either name, he should be alright. 'And Josh is close enough to Joxer that I'll probably answer to it anyway.'

He watched and listened as Parker, who he quickly realized was also called Peter, and Jameson argued over the lack of good photographs. The young warrior wasn't sure what a photograph was, but apparently it was very valuable.

Jameson yelled at the young photo finder and anyone else who wandered by the room. Peter left quickly and Joxer surmised that he didn't know where to hunt for this elusive photo. That was too bad, because Joxer liked him.

"Hoffman. Hoffman!"

Joxer jumped and remembered he was supposed to answer to that name. He turned around to see what the angry man wanted and blanched. On the wall behind the desk was something that he hadn't noticed before. It was a...pelt, he guessed. It was red and black and sort of shiny. He couldn't imagine what animal it was though and, by the god's...Jameson even had its eyes.

The warrior was nauseated. He'd never heard of someone keeping a kill's eyes before. That was just *horrible*.

"Get these out of my sight." The older man thrust a handful of parchment at him and Joxer tried not to flinch. He was a little more wary of the other man now, after seeing his trophy on the wall. There was no telling what someone who would do that was capable of.

*****

Ares' head snapped up from the battle he was monitoring. 'Something's happened to Joxer,' he decided. 'I can't feel him any more.' Ares was about to panic. Joxer was his most devoted follower; the young mortal was always praying to him. Those prayers were constantly in the back of Ares' mind and had sustained the war god on more than one occasion. And if he kept a closer eye on the mortal than he did most anybody else, well, that was his prerogative as a god.

A flash of shiny black sparks lit up the battlefield. "Unc, I can't feel Joxah, any more." Strife's pale blue eyes were wide with fear. Strife, as the God of Mischief, considered the eternally clumsy mortal as one of his followers as well, and that's how he had felt it when Joxer vanished.

"I know, neither can I. I didn't feel him pass on to Hades though." The mischief god flinched at the reference, his own death and resurrection were not that far in the past. Ares watched his nephew surreptitiously, hoping he wouldn't get too upset. "I need you to go and check on him, I would but..."

The invisible god's looked around the battlefield. This was an important part of an ongoing war and Ares couldn't, in all good conscience, leave until it was settled one way or the other. Besides which, if something had happened to Joxer, there wasn't anything Ares could do now anyway. Strife would be the better one to look around and find out what was going on.

There was another flash, this one bright blue. Cupid appeared, in all his winged glory. Cupid was also one of Joxer's gods, Aphrodite too. Joxer loved with all his heart and so he was the love god and goddesses' worshipper too, even if he didn't realize it.

Strife's gaze roamed all over the tanned and muscular body, taking in his fill while he could. Ares watched his nephew all but disrobing his son with his eyes and wondered if the two gods would ever get together.

"Joxer's..."

"...disappeahed." Strife finished for Cupid. The younger god closed his eyes to search this plane for the mortal and missed the way Cupid was eyeing him back.

"Yes, we were just talking about that." Ares looked from one god to the other, planning quietly in his mind. "Why don't you two go and find out what's happened."

'That'll give them time to get to know each other better,' Ares decided with a smirk.

Neither of the younger gods looked opposed to the idea and they flashed out together.

*****

Joxer decided to go back out into the other, very noisy, room and see if he could figure out what had happened to him. He had just started out the door when there was a loud whooshing sound and a gust of wind flew through the room.

Jameson cried out behind him and Joxer spun around. He knew better than to leave a possible threat at his back. He'd learned that by age 10, when one of his warlord father's enemies had tried to kill him. Jett had taken care of the attempted assassin and taught Joxer how to watch his own back.

"I've been robbed!" Jameson shrieked.

Joxer looked up at the wall instinctively and sure enough, the mysterious pelt was gone. Several people came running in. "What's happened?" one man asked, in a yell that cut through all the talking.

"Spiderman's costume is gone!"

'Costume? Like something you would wear to one of Dionysus' festivals. Oh, it was clothing then, not a pelt and the eye thing...must have been a mask.' Relieved beyond words, Joxer slumped, leaning against the clear wall.

"Miss me?"

Everyone in the room turned to look over at the window. There, hanging upside down, was someone dressed in the costume. Jameson snarled and threw down his nasty, smelling, burning thing. Joxer's attention was momentarily taken off the guy at the window. He picked up the *whatever* that Jameson had thrown down and stuck it in a strange looking mug filled with dark liquid. The fire hazard taken care of, Joxer listened to Jameson and the man in the window bantering. They sounded like Hercules and Ares, sniping at each other.

'Oh, and is everybody stupid here? Don't they recognize the voice of, ah, so his name is Spiderman...anyway, can't they tell that he's Peter? His voice is the same, he's shaped the same. Not much of a mystery to me,' Joxer decided.

"I want to know who that man is!" Jameson yelled, after Spiderman had left via the window.

'I guess that answers that question,' Joxer thought with a carefully hidden grin. 'And I thought I was supposed to be the idiot.'

Joxer followed everybody out of the room and went back to his desk. 'I don't think I like it here very much,' Joxer decided. 'I wish I could go back.'

"Hoffman!" Jameson bellowed.

*****

Joshua Hoffman, newspaper man and editor in training at the Daily Bugle, fell over onto his side in the middle of the empty camp. Okay, reality check. Actually, he's just J. Jonah Jameson's flunky and gopher. The editor hadn't ever let him do any actual work on the newspaper and unless things changed drastically in the future, he never would. JJ, as he liked to be called by his friends, few that there were, was ticked off that Josh's grandfather was the head of the Board of Directors. Josh knew that Jameson had been *persuaded* to take him on and treated Josh like dirt because of it.

The younger man lay there for a few minutes, trying to take stock of his altered situation. He knew he was outside, because of the breeze on his face and the sound of birds and insects around him. He was laying on the ground, lucky him, and his head was *finally* feeling less like he had been bounced off a Volvo.

Josh sat up and thought he was going to hurl, but he didn't. Hoffman realized that he hurt all over. The side of his head hurt, and feeling it, he discovered a lump there. His nose ached and touching it made his eyes water. Josh shifted on the ground, trying to get more comfortable, and realized that his butt ached too. He started to get up, but when he put any weight on his right knee, it screamed out its protest. He pulled the rough blanket to one side and saw that the knee was about four different shades of purple and black and there was a nasty gash in the middle of it.

"Needs stitches," he decided expertly. And yes, he was an expert. Many, many years as a klutz had earned him the title.

*****

There was a double flash of godly light in front of him, of black and blue. Coincidentally, it matched the colors on his knee. Joshua didn't see it, because the gods who were searching for Joxer, kept themselves invisible. It's a good thing too, because Josh would have freaked completely out at the sight of two gods.

The displaced mortal looked around the clearing. 'What in the heck was going on?' he wondered. 'How did I get here, where ever this is, and more importantly, where are my clothes?'

The thin blanket covering him wasn't much protection against the elements and...what kind of underwear was this?! Joshua stared at his crotch for a long moment and finally decided that the underwear was a kind of loincloth. "Great," he muttered sarcastically. "Now, I'm Tarzan?" The young man snorted. "Damn, if I'm the next Tarzan, with my crappy body, we are in trouble."

Strife laughed in agreement. Cupid, however, arched his eyebrows in surprise. "What's he talking about? He has a nice body."

The mischief god blinked at his buff and gorgeous cousin. He looked over at the man who looked like Joxer, but obviously wasn't. The sunlight glared off the pale body and he was so slender that Strife wondered how he ever managed to stand up wearing the armor he usually did. The similarities between Joxer and Strife were obvious. The god thought furiously, if Cupid thought *he* looked good, then maybe there was hope for Strife.

"Who is he?" Cupid walked around the unknowing mortal. "He looks like Joxer." Cupid leaned forward and sniffed. "He even smells like Joxer, but his aura is definitely that of somebody else."

Strife's mouth hung open. Watching Cupid sniff someone had shut his brain down. "Uh, y-yeah."

"Well, this obviously isn't him. Let's go tell dad." Cupid smiled at Strife and held out his hand. The mischief god smiled back uncertainly and took the proffered hand. Joshua was just as unaware of the gods when they left, as he had been when they arrived.

*****

Josh, completely unaware of the conversation, and the sniffage, looked around and spotted Joxer's armor lying to one side. "You...have...got...to be kidding," he said slowly, as he poked at the mish mash of fabric and metal. He took a deep breath and started pulling the clothing on, because there wasn't anything else around.

"Damn, this guy has a *lot* of scars," Josh said, as he looked at a long, jagged, and only partially healed cut, on his right flank. He frowned and covered up the wound. "Alright, this is freaky. I'm some place that I don't know and obviously I'm somebody else, so what's going on?"

He stood up slowly and limped around the blackened remains of a campfire, trying to get his bearings. "Shoot, I don't even know which way to go."

Joshua was completely out of his element. He had been born and raised in New York City. The closest he ever got to nature was when he took a walk in the park. *Outside* usually consisted of noisy cars and buses. *Nature* was the scrubby little tree that lived in its concrete container by his front stoop.

"Are you coming or not?!"

Josh jumped at the woman's yell. He stumbled, because of his injured knee, and would have fallen if not for the tree he managed to grab. The young, blond woman snorted and rolled her eyes. The man from the future gave her a dirty look. He didn't like being made fun of. It happened *way* too much for his liking and this guy that he was supposed to be seemed to be a victim of derision too.

"Joxer, are you alright?"

He wasn't as startled by the new voice and besides, she sounded friendlier than the younger woman. "Oh hey, I know this guy's name now. Joxer. Joxer? What kind of name is that?' he wondered. 'That doesn't give me a clue as to where I am. And what in the world are they wearing?'

Hoffman tried not to stare at all the feminine skin on display. He didn't want to be caught ogling them. Joshua could tell that the dark haired one was a fighter of some sort, he blond too, considering the weapons they were carrying. It was only then, that Hoffman noticed Joxer's sword and realized he must be a super hero too. Hey, he could recognize a hero when he saw one. He had been around Spiderman for a couple of years now.

'At least I hope we're all super heroes and not villains,' he thought worriedly. 'You can never tell. The Green Goblin was a bad guy, but Dr. Octopus started out as a really wonderful and nice, scientist.'

"Don't worry about him, Xena. He's just being his usual klutzy self," the blond woman said with another eye roll.

'I wonder if she gives herself a headache doing that,' Josh wondered, even as he realized that not all bad guys were villains.

"Gabrielle," Xena's tone was chiding. At least she didn't roll her eyes. "He can't help being clumsy."

Joshua wondered how Joxer would feel about the left handed support he was supposedly getting from the dark haired woman. He knew that it didn't make him feel all that much better.

"So, are we going anywhere today or not?" Gabrielle swung a tall walking stick around in an arc. She made it look like she was practicing, but Josh, who had been picked on a lot in his life, recognized it as a subtle threat.

Fingering the lump on the side of his, or rather Joxer's, head, Josh had a pretty good idea where it had come from.

'Geez, even JJ never hit me.'

*****

"Damn! I don't like it here. Maybe my life isn't so bad, not in comparison with this poor schleb's. I wish I could go back."

A strong wind seemed to pick him up and spin him around, almost as if he were in a tornado. Joshua gasped as the air was sucked from his lungs. When he came back to his senses, Joshua was, thank heavens, back at his desk at the newspaper.

"Hoffman!!"

He automatically jumped up at Mr. Jameson's bellow and ran into his boss' office. "Yes, sir?"

"How did this happen?" JJ was holding out a coffee mug that had one of his infamous cigars sticking up out of it.

"I don't know, sir, but I'll get you a fresh cup."

"Oh, well, yeah, see that you do." Jameson seemed unaccountably flustered at Hoffman's friendly smile.

'Maybe this life is okay, after all. And if Jameson doesn't start letting me do the job I'm supposed to be learning, I'll go somewhere else.'

Josh smiled at the thought and got a clean cup of coffee for the irascible editor.

*****

Joxer sat down with a thump and realized his behind was never going to stop being bruised at this rate. This time was different though, because Xena turned and came back when she heard him fall.

"Joxer? What's wrong?"

"I-I d-don't know." He swallowed hard and watched as the world faded in and out for a moment. The young man realized he must look as bad as he felt, because Gabrielle even seemed worried.

"We'll make camp here for the night," Xena stated.

"But we just broke camp here," Gabrielle complained.

Joxer watched as Xena turned and glared at the blond Amazon princess. He was mildly surprised at the support, at least from Xena. Gabrielle grudgingly began to gather some wood for another fire.

'I wonder what happened,' Joxer thought, as he lay back down on the bedroll that Xena had thoughtfully spread out for him. 'And will it happen again?'

He closed his eyes to rest. The little bit of time that he had been in the other dimension had exhausted him.


TBC

Chapter Text

A/N: Jaques S'Er/Jake Kleinman are alternate characters that Ted Raimi played in The Xena Scrolls episode, in season 3. Pavel is the Ted character in the movie The Man With The Screaming Brain. He had no name other than Pavel in that movie, so I made up his full name. Ditto on any other background information.

Chapter 2- Idiots Would Ride

Joxer slept in fits and starts for most of the day. He was vaguely aware of Xena and Gabrielle moving and talking in the background; Gabrielle more than Xena. The blond bard was being deliberately loud and managed to wake the exhausted warrior on more than one occasion, so his rest was spotty at best.

Then she dropped a pan, well, the pan actually, they only had one, after all. That seemed to be the last hammer on the horseshoe, because he heard Xena snarl at Gabrielle. When their voices got softer, he opened his eyes and saw that Xena had dragged Gabby over by Argo was talking to her in a quiet, but intense manner.

It got quieter after that and Joxer was finally able to get some sleep. He didn't wake again until it was almost nighttime. The sun was just leaving Apollo's keep when he felt a touch on his arm.

"Joxer?" The hand jiggled his arm. "Joxer," the voice was more insistent this time.

"Hmmm?" He didn't really want to wake up.

"You need to eat something."

Joxer opened his eyes and looked up at Xena dreamily. "Eat?"

A snort from the side had Xena turning to glare. She looked back and gave Joxer a wry look. "Yes, you need to eat today, before today turns in to tomorrow."

The younger man sat up and looked around the campsite dazedly. "I slept all day?" he asked in amazement.

"Yes, and wasn't that thrilling," Gabrielle said sarcastically. Joxer was surprised at the pain he felt when she said that. He would have thought he'd be numb to the hurt by now, after all it had been several years that she had treated him like dirt, so why was he still surprised when it happened?

"Thank you." He gestured to the campfire and his bedroll. Again, he was somewhat amazed that the pair had not gone on ahead. They had done that before, when he'd been injured and unable to move very fast. So, why had they stayed with him when he wasn't even hurt, just tired?

*Flash*

Joxer blinked the bright spots out of his eyes and saw Xena, sword drawn, and Gabrielle, stick at the ready, facing Cupid. The warrior wondered if he should go stand beside them, as a gesture of support, and decided not to bother.

'It's not like I could fight him, even if I wanted to.' Joxer eyed the blond god and absentmindedly noticed how handsome he was. He looked from the god to the two women facing him. 'Could Xena even fight him? I know she does Ares, but I think he just let's her get in a blow here and there. And what exactly does Gabby think her little stick is going to do? Cupid would probably just blow it up into kindling...or stick it up her...'

The warrior was shocked to realize that he kind of liked the idea of Gabrielle being given a dose of her own medicine. He had realized long ago that the love he felt for the blond bard wasn't there any more and instead, realized he had feelings for somebody decidedly bigger than the small woman.

And Joxer blinked when he realized that Cupid was smiling at him. Joxer's eyes widened in surprise. 'Can the gods read our minds?' he thought in a panic, remembering some of his more lascivious thoughts. The love god turned to look appraisingly at Gabrielle's stick and Joxer decided they must be able to.

"Hello, Cupid," Xena said warily. Cupid was one of the "nicer" gods, but he was Ares and Aphrodite's son and therefore not to be entirely trusted. "What are you doing here?"

Cupid raised one startlingly dark eyebrow at the Warrior Princess and Joxer cringed, waiting for her to be blasted. Joxer always wondered where Xena and Hercules and even Gabrielle got off questioning the gods about anything. 'It's none of her business,' he thought to himself. Again, Cupid smiled over at him and inclined his head.

"Well...if you must know, I was checking up on a couple that I've been trying to get together and saw that you three were in the same place as yesterday and I wanted to see what was up." He turned to Joxer and said, "I saw Joxer resting and wondered if he was sick."

Joxer blushed happily. "You were worried about me?" His voice squeaked alarmingly on the last word.

"Well, sure we were." There was another flash and a tall, skinny, black leather and metal stud clad man appeared in their midst. With his dark hair and all-over black outfit, Strife seemed to blend into the dimly lit night sky. Only his pale face and an occasional flash of crystal blue eyes showed that someone was there.

"Strife." Xena's sword, that she had put away upon seeing the *harmless* love god, was quickly redrawn.

"Aren't you dead?" Gabrielle said as she curled up her lip.

Everyone else turned to the Amazon Princess in shock. Apollo didn't look so harmless now, in fact, one hand was glowing with the beginnings of a fireball. Xena was looking at her companion like she was a bug that had crawled out from under a log, and not a very bright bug at that.

"W-well, that was rude," Strife stuttered out.

Joxer was disgusted by the tacky comment, although he still wasn't surprised.

"Hi, Strife." Joxer got up this time and walked over to the two gods, thereby showing where his allegiance really stood. "I'm so glad to see you again. I'd heard that you were dead. I'm glad to see that you aren't. Although, I am amazed. Iolaus said he saw what happened and he's usually right about that kind of thing. But, I guess he was wrong this time, thank the gods." Joxer was slightly out of breath by the time he finished.

Strife giggled at the long winded welcome, not nastily though. He seemed to be happy with a friendly reception. Joxer was glad because he genuinely liked the mischief god. Cupid was smiling now too and Joxer noticed that he had moved closer to his cousin when Gabrielle hurt his feelings.

"Thanks, Joxah. I was dead, but I got a reprieve."

Joxer smiled and then frowned. "I glad you got to come back...but how can a god die?"

"With hind's blood," Gabrielle said as she rolled her eyes. Her attitude showed just how stupid she thought Joxer was for not knowing that.

"Yes, I *know*," Joxer said in exasperation. "But I thought they were all dead."

Strife's smile was a little strained and since he was discussing his own death, it was understandable. "They are, but some people have a little ah tha blood hidden heah and theah."

Xena sheathed her sword and walked closer to the gods. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that." Cupid and Strife looked over at that statement. Strife curiously and Cupid intensely. She went on to explain. "I'm the reason that Callisto was insane." Strife twitched at the blond woman's name and Cupid slipped an arm around his waist, giving him a comforting squeeze. "I wish you hadn't died."

Gabrielle gasped and opened her mouth to probably blast Xena for wanting to save the *insane* god. Xena elbowed her young companion in the stomach, not very hard, but enough that Gabrielle doubled over with an "ooof".

"Thank ya," Strife said with another giggle. Gabrielle raised her head to glare at him. Cupid seemed to take exception to the glare and was about to move forward when Joxer spoke up.

"I'm fine, now. But thank you for worrying about me."

"So, what happened?" Cupid turned his back on Gabrielle, ignoring the woman completely.

"Well..." Joxer glanced around hesitantly. "It sounds kind of crazy..." Gabrielle snorted again and Joxer lost his nerve.

"Joxah, ya're talkin ta two gods heah. I really don't think it gets much crazier than that."

Cupid nodded, seconding Strife's statement. "I guess that's true." So, the warrior told what had happened. How he had been somewhere else and more importantly *someone* else. He didn't tell them about his wish or how it had come about.

"It sounds like ya were in tha future." Strife placed his glove covered hands on his hips and started to pace. "But how did ya end up theah, that's tha real question."

"I don't know." And he really had no idea. It never even occurred to Joxer that a god would hear his cry for help, let alone answer it.

*****

"Pavel, you idiot, go and find her!" Dr. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov screamed at his young assistant.

"Yes, doctor, right away," Pavel Andreavich Drusky said.

The young Bulgarian man hurried out and climbed into his van. He had to find Mrs. Cole or the experiment would be a failure. Mr. Cole had already disappeared out of the lab and they couldn't afford another loss. Pavel figured that the wife would be easier to find, after all, her brain was in a robot. There couldn't be *that* many robots running around, could there?

*****

Apparently finding a robot woman was tougher than he had thought. Pavel had been searching for over three hours and so far, no luck. The tired man hit the steering wheel in frustration and then rubbed his sore hand.

"I hate my life," he stated unequivocally, his accent thickening with emotion. "It is always Pavel do this, Pavel you are an idiot, you weirdo, stop following me." He had to grin at the last part. Ilya had been right, he had been following her. Pavel had a crush on the young woman and wanted to give her some flowers, but the blond woman saw his advances as a bad thing and had threatened to call the police on him if he didn't leave her alone. He had *almost* conceded that it was a lost cause.

Now, he needed to find that American couple or the doctor was going to be really mad at him. "Hello, who's this?" He angled his neck and saw the blond robot, finally. "What is going on?" She and some dark haired woman were having a fight and there was the husband.

Pavel jumped out of his vehicle and hurried after them. "This is my lucky day," he said as he chased after the trio. The desperate man stopped and watched in horror as Mrs. Cole was attacked by the crazy curly haired woman and fell over the railing. He followed her husband down and ran past them when he saw they were having a tender moment. He hurried after the crazy woman, who was now dead and floating down the canal. Just as he was about to catch her, because they could always use another body to experiment on, Pavel tripped and whacked his head on the concrete embankment.

Pavel watched as the body floated past and thought, "There has to be a better life than this."

*****

"I can't believe you attacked me," Gabrielle shrieked.

Xena sighed and rubbed her aching forehead. "I didn't attack you, Gabrielle. I stopped you from insulting *two* gods and infuriating them even more than you already had. Cupid was about ready to bite your head off."

"I think Strife is more likely to bite someone," Gabrielle sneered.

"See, it's that kind of attitude that is going to get you killed some day." Xena hit the ground with the palm of her hand in frustration. The red glow from the fire made the warrior look fierce. "Strife may not be your favorite god, but he's obviously special to Cupid and I know for a fact that Ares is very fond of his nephew."

Joxer watched them fighting back and forth, his head swiveling from side to side, until he was feeling nauseous and closed his eyes.

"Please." Gabby snickered. "Cupid would never hurt anybody and Ares was always blasting Strife."

"Except when he was the Green Eyed Monster," Joxer said quietly.

Gabrielle started to answer and then stopped to think. She remembered some of the tales that Hercules had told about the love god when he got jealous and had to conceded that Joxer was right. Even though it galled her to do so.

"And Ares may have fought with Strife, but he loves him. Strife has lived with Ares most of his life. In fact, Ares raised his nephew. So, I'd be careful what I said if I were you." Xena lay down on her bedroll, with her back to the bard.

Joxer figured that Xena had the right idea, and he was still tired too, so he laid down as well. He heard Gabrielle huff and mutter under her breath before she laid down as well. The warrior wanna be let himself glide into sleep.

*****

Xena walked back out the woods, still adjusting her skirts. She paused for a moment when she saw the confused look on Joxer's face and then strode up to him. "Are you alright?"

The slender man jumped, licked his lips nervously and looked around the woods. He quickly stood up and crossed his arms over his chest and stuck on a confident smile. "But of course, I am alright, mademoiselle. How could I not be? I am a soldier from ze French armee. We are always diligent and ready for anything."

Gabrielle walked over and poked the young man in the chest. He jumped and stepped away from her when she started to do it again. "Why are you talking so weird? You sound like your freaky brother, Jayce."

"You're not Joxer, are you?" Xena asked suspiciously.

"No, my cherie, I am Jaques S'Er."

"What are you doing here?" Xena put one hand on her chacram, just in case.

"I am afraid I cannot say, it is a top secret mission," he said, rolling his r's like a pro. "I should warn you, I have been trained to resist all kinds of torture." He eyed the irritated Xena and Gabrielle, who had picked up a rock. "Uh, you're not going to torture me, are you?" His accent dropped off like a harpy shot out of the sky. "Okay, really, I'm Jack Kleinman and I have no idea how I got here, where ever here is."

"I am Xena and this is Gabrielle," she waved at the blond woman. "This is Greece."

Jack's eyes bugged out. "Greece?" he squeaked. Then he gasped and took a closer look at both women. "Xena?!" He got a funny look on his face, one that the Warrior Princess wondered about. "You two look like some people I'm working with, only...you sure act different."

"What two people?" Xena asked.

Jack started to answer when he suddenly grabbed his head with a moan and staggered to one side.

"Jack?"

"Joxer?" Gabrielle caught hold of his elbow and steadied him.

*****

Joxer sat up and quickly realized that he was in another strange place. He touched the ground and wondered what strange kind of rock he was sitting on. It was white and smooth and went on for a long ways... Great gods! There was a woman floating, face down, in that strange stream. If he didn't get her out, she would drown!

The Greek man jumped up, yelping when his hand scraped on the white rock, and hurried after the woman. He ran alongside the stream for quite a while, but he couldn't catch up to her. The longer he ran, the farther away her body got. After a little while, Joxer had to admit to himself that she was dead and he *wasn't* going to stop her body from getting lost.

Dispirited, he trudged back the way he had come. He felt sad that he hadn't been able to rescue that poor woman and his mind was spinning. Just before he had ended up here, Joxer had found himself in a strange cave with an odd looking and acting pair of women that looked just like Xena and Gabrielle. The Xenaette had been very timid and had a surprisingly whiny and nasally voice. The Gabrielle type person was tough and seemed mean to him and she had one of those nasty, smelling things burning in her mouth like JJ Jameson did. They talked about looking for some scrolls and mentioned Xena's name, but before Joxer could question them, his head had spun and he'd ended up here, wherever the Tartarus that was.

As Joxer neared the spot where he'd come in to this new reality, (and boy did this white rock stuff go on forever) he saw a couple of people lying on the ground. The hero hurried over to them and pulled the man away from the woman.

Joxer gasped at the terrible, long cut on the man's head. "A-Autolycas?" He frowned and placed a hand on the man's chest. The injured man looked like Auto, but then again he didn't. For one thing he was several years older than the King of Thieves and he just *seemed* like a different person. Just like the Xena and Gabrielle in that last reality hadn't felt like the women he had known for years. The steady thump-thump under his hand reassured Joxer that this Autolycas look alike was going to live. The warrior then turned his attention to the woman.

He shrieked and fell back on his butt. "Oh...my...Gods!"

With a trembling hand, he reached out and touched the *woman?* Her skin was slick and shiny and felt odd to the touch. She had long, blond hair, but Joxer could tell that it wasn't real, it looked more like one of the wigs that Jayce sometimes wore during his routines. And her face...wasn't there. It was a ragged bunch of metal, he thought. It was a little like the metal on his sword, but again not really the same.

When he touched her face, the woman thing jerked, sending him scurrying back with a muffled scream.

Joxer felt his head swaying and he was glad. The younger man hoped he was going to another place. This one was just too scary.

*****

Pavel shook his head and looked down at the hand holding his arm. He followed the hand, which led to an arm, that ended up on a really pretty young woman. The Bulgarian man straightened unconsciously and gave her a winning smile. That worked about as well as it usually did; she grimaced and dropped his arm like it was diseased. He sighed in disappointment.

"Joxer?"

The young man looked up, to see yet another pretty woman. This one looked formidable though, so he decided not to make a play for her. 'She would probably break me in two,' he decided, sizing her up.

"Joxer?" She sounded really concerned and Pavel looked around for whomever she was talking to. Looking back at the dark haired woman he noticed that she was giving him a strange look.

"Uhm, yes?"

Xena's eyebrows shot up at the strange accent. "You're not Joxer, are you?"

"No. I am Pavel Andreavich Drusky." He stuck out his hand, but the woman just looked at it, like she didn't know how to shake hands, like a civilized person. Pavel looked at the two women warily. "And who are you?"

"Gods, he sounds like that weirdo brother of Joxer's...again," the blond said with a curl of her lip. Personally, Pavel thought it made her look like a dog he saw once that had gotten something nasty in its mouth.

"Gabrielle," Xena said with exasperation.

"Well, it's true." The blond walked over and sat down on a fallen log.

"No, it isn't. Jayce has a completely different accent."

"Different freaky accent all in the same freaky bundle."

Xena turned back to the misplaced Bulgarian man. "I'm Xena and that is Gabrielle."

Pavel looked to where she was pointing and saw the other woman roll her eyes. He shrugged indifferently. What did he care if that woman didn't like him, that was her problem.

"May I be permitted to know, where am I?" He glanced at the trees and dirt road. Pavel listened as the dark haired woman, Xena?, rattled off the names of several villages or towns that they were near. "I see. I don't know where any of those places are, but thank you anyway."

Xena gave a little laugh, but he was glad to see that it was not a mean laugh. "You are in Greece."

"Greece!" Pavel's mouth fell open in stunned surprise and he started babbling in Russian. Xena went on to explain how he and this Joxer guy had somehow switched places for a while. He rubbed his head at the ache building behind his eyes.

"Don't worry, the last few times this happened, it didn't last long," Xena said, mistakenly thinking she was reassuring him.

"Times?!" he said in horror.

There was a bright flash and Pavel looked over in time to see three people appear out of thin air. One was a beautiful woman, wearing almost nothing. There was a very pale man in odd clothes, that looked...what was the word he'd heard? Oh yes, Goth. And the last man was very attractive...and had wings.

It was too much for Pavel, who shrieked and stumbled back, grabbing his chest.

*****

Pavel blinked a few times. He could tell from the feel that he was lying on concrete, instead of dirt. When his eyes cleared, he saw Mr. and Mrs. Cole lying on the ground in front of him. Delighted with his good luck, the young scientist made sure Mr. Cole was still alive and Mrs. Cole's machinery was still working. Realizing he was running out of time where the woman was concerned, Pavel ran back to his van to get a trolley to load the couple on to. He didn't see the crazy woman anywhere and figured she was lost.

"No big deal," he thought. "Her brain wouldn't be worth saving and I might find and salvage the body later."

He decided that running around all day, with little food and too much anxiety had made him hallucinate the scene in "Greece". Pavel decided not to the doctor about his adventure, he didn't need to be labeled as crazier than he already was.

*****

"Joxer?" The question was asked with more than a little trepidation.

The warrior blinked his eyes to clear them and glanced around in relief. He was back in Greece! "X-Xena," he gasped and swallowed hard. "Yes, it's me."

He looked around at his friends and Gabrielle. Absently, Joxer wondered when the godly trio had come back. He gasped when his lungs didn't seem to want to work correctly. The world turned black, and just as he was wondering when night had come again, Joxer pitched face first onto the ground.

*****

"Oh dear," Gaia said as he watched the scene unfolding on her scrying mirror. "I didn't realize that the body switching would be so hard on him."

She concentrated on Joxer and frowned when she saw how sickly he really was. It wasn't that surprising then when he collapsed, although it was still distressing to witness. Gaia was glad when Cupid dove forward and caught Joxer, thereby keeping him from being hurt.

"This is not what I planned at all," she stated. "The young mortal was supposed to realize that he liked this life best and the person that is in love with him was supposed to come running, not them." She gestured at Strife, Aphrodite, and Cupid, who was laying Joxer down on his pallet. "I may have to rethink this."

*****

Ares growled when he saw his son holding Joxer in his arms. Unreasoning jealousy swept through him for a moment and then sanity reasserted itself when it became apparent that Cupid was helping the young mortal.

The war god started to flash down to the campsite and then decided that wouldn't be a good idea. Ares knew that he had several enemies and if he were to *honor* any particular mortal with his concerns, that person would be open for attack.

"Tartarus only knows what Hercules would make of it," Ares spat out his half brother's name. "Xena too for that matter. She'd decide I was using Joxer as a ploy to get her back with me. Ares snorted. "As if."

Joxer was deeply unconscious and pale. 'A lot paler than even normal,' Ares decided. 'Not as white as Strife, but still pretty bad.'

With a worried frown the God of War sat down on his throne and continued to watch the scene below him.

TBC

Chapter Text

Joxer was lying on a bed when he woke up. For most people this wouldn't be something to comment on, but for the warrior-wanna-be it was a decidedly unusual occurrence. The young man glanced around in surprise at the opulent surroundings. There was on a large four-poster bed with dark green hangings. The room was huge, bigger than anything Joxer had seen before and let's face it, anything was better than sleeping on dirt.

He sat up and realized he was naked. Joxer blushed and clutched the cream colored sheets to his pale chest. Joxer looked around, but didn't see his clothes...any of them! The warrior was just about to pluck up the courage to get out of bed and look for his clothes when the door opened and several young women entered the room. Joxer yelped and covered himself up even more; the blankets were pulled up to just below his chin, leaving him peeking out like a frightened puppy.

An older man followed the women, who were quietly tidying the room. He smiled when he saw Joxer. "Ah, you are awake, my lord. That is good."

Joxer wondered who the *lord* was. He didn't see any other man in the room besides himself and...oh, okay, so *he* was the lord. He was about to say something when the servant made an abrupt turn and left the room, leaving Joxer with all the bustling women.

The dark haired warrior was smiling shyly at the women, and wondering if it were physically possible to literally die from embarrassment, when the door opened again and Strife walked into the room. The god giggled when he saw Joxer hiding under the covers. The ladies all turned to face the door when Strife came in, bowed to the god, and then hurried out of the room.

Strife grabbed up a robe from the back of a chair and handed it to Joxer. The mortal was chagrined to realize it had been there all along and he hadn't noticed it. But then again, he had been looking for his own armor, not any other clothing.

"Heah ya go, Joxah. Ya can wear this fah a while." He turned his back so Joxer could get out of bed unobserved. "Yar clothes are bein washed," he explained. "Don't worry, ya'll get yar armah back taa. It's bein polished right now."

Joxer smiled at the explanation. Most people didn't bother to tell him what was going on, stating that he was too stupid to understand it anyway. And yet...here was a *god* going to all the trouble of making Joxer feel comfortable. It gave the mortal a warm feeling to know that at least some people liked him.

"Uh, where are we at, anyway?" Joxer asked as he slid the bright red robe on. It was made of a soft material that felt good on his skin.

"We're at Ace's." Strife gave a tentative glance over his shoulder and smiled when he saw that Joxer was dressed. "Asclepius' temple," he clarified, seeing Joxer's confusion over the name. "Ace is his family nickname."

"Oh, okay." Joxer smiled at the friendly god. "Why are we here?"

"Cause ya collapsed night before last, aftah ya got through with yar hoppin through different lives."

"And-and I was brought here?" the warrior said in awe and amazement.

"Yeah, ya needed some place ta rest that was a little bettah than tha hard ground." The god giggled and Joxer grinned back at him, not really seeing what was so humorous, but just happy that someone had thought that much about what was best for him. "Come on, let's get somethin ta eat." Strife gestured and Joxer followed him out of the room.

The young man felt self conscious about wandering around in the robe, even though it covered him more completely than even his armor did, but quickly forgot all that when he realized that Strife was in a robe too. Strife's covering was a bright blue and the material was shiny, like the silk from Chin. The fabric swirled around Strife's bare feet and seemed to warm the god's pale skin.

"I stay heah sometimes," Strife explained. "It's taken me a while ta get ovah bein dead. Theah are times when I need ta build up mah strength." Strife gave Joxer a sidelong glance. "Ace thinks that maybe ya need ta work on yar health taa."

Joxer's mouth dropped open. Not only was Strife worried about him, but Asclepius was too. "I..." He didn't know what to say.

Strife gave him a smile and patted his friend sympathetically on the arm. "Heah we are." He gestured to a heavy oaken door. "I hope yar hungry, cause Ace's acolyte's tend ta go crazy when he has othah guests."

"Other?" Joxer asked as his godly friend opened the door with a wave of his hand.

"Yeah, othah." Strife pointed to the other side of a very long room.

The far end was filled with people, young and old, in various stages of healing. There was one man who had so many bandages wrapped around his burly body that you could only see part of one side of his head. A priestess of Asclepius' was feeding the man. Joxer knew she was one of Ace's because of the pale blue robes that all of his followers wore.

Some of the patients were almost well and seemed to be happy. Others were still badly injured and looked sad and depressed. One child in particular was sitting dejectedly in a chair by one of the many windows. Strife waved to the little girl and immediately went over to talk to her. The child, who had both legs wrapped up in thick, heavy wrappings, brightened when she saw the god.

"Well, it's about time you got up."

Joxer winced at the voice that boomed out, making his ears ring and his head start to hurt again. Reluctantly, Joxer turned towards the nearer portion of the dinning hall. Sitting there, at a huge table, was Xena and of course, Gabrielle.

"What do you mean?" he asked quietly, hoping not to disturb the healing atmosphere coming from the other side of the room.

"You've been out of it two nights and one day," Xena explained before Gabrielle could answer.

"I have?" Joxer's mouth dropped open as he glanced over at the windows. The warrior had assumed that it was the next morning after his strange romp with the metal woman and the older Autolycus wanna be. He had been so befuddled earlier that he hadn't noticed when Strife told him the same thing. Now he was being informed that he had missed yet *another* day to sleep. "Wow."

Xena picked up a piece of fruit from one of the overflowing bowls and bit in to it as she eyed Joxer worriedly. The juice from the fruit ran down her bare arm, leaving sticky trails behind. Joxer was amazed at her concern and more than a little touched.

"What in Zeus' name are you wearing?" Gabrielle's disdain cut through any happy feelings that Joxer was feeling, like a hydra making its way through a village.

"It's called a robe. I'm sure ya've heard ah such things." Strife marched up, his pale blue eyes spitting out lightening bolts and his robe swirling around his body like a suit of living water.

"Yes, of course I have." Gabrielle glared at the mischief god, who narrowed his eyes at her in annoyance. "I just didn't think *you* would wear anything like that." She eyed him up and down.

"What? Ya thought I wore mah leather all tha time?" Strife snorted and plopped down in a cushioned chair. "Not everybody feels tha need ta hide in their work clothes, even at breakfast."

Strife snatched up a roll and winked at Joxer. The warrior sat down and started loading a plate. For some reason he was really hungry. Joxer risked a glance over and almost choked on his juice at the speculative look on Gabby's face. It was apparent that she wasn't sure if she'd been insulted or not.

There was a bright flash of black light. Before Joxer could turn to see which god had arrived a loud clattering sound made him jump. Heart beating wildly, Joxer looked over and saw that Xena and Gabrielle had leapt to their feet, knocking both chairs over backwards. That, of course, was the loud noise that he'd heard. Seeing the two women poised for a fight, Joxer gulped and cast a fearful look over his shoulder.

And there was Ares.

His god.

Tall, handsome and strong...and with an amused smirk on his face.

Joxer looked back at his "friends". Xena had a knife in her hand, presumably in place of her sword or chackram which were not around as far as Joxer could see. The knife, however, was for cutting fruit or bread. It wouldn't do much damage to a mortal, let alone a god.

Joxer took in Gabrielle's appearance. The blond bard was doing her best to emulate Xena's battle stance; knees bent, arms angled for the best shot...with...her roll. The warrior blinked, certain he was seeing wrong, but no, Gabrielle was going to defend herself against Ares, God of War, with a roll.

The absurdity of the situation had Joxer biting his lip to keep a serious expression on his face, because he could just imagine what Gabrielle's reaction would be. Then he glanced over at Strife and it was all over. The mischief god couldn't have given a damn about Gabrielle's or Xena's feelings, so he started laughing. Not a snigger or a giggle, no, it was an out and out laugh.

Before long Ares' wonderfully deep laugh could be heard behind him and Joxer reveled in the sound of it. Xena look at the knife in her hand and her mouth started to twitch as well. By now, Joxer had both hands firmly planted over his mouth, trying to hold the mirth in. Gabrielle glanced at the roll in her hand and that broke the dam. Joxer started laughing along with the others and even Gabby rolled her eyes and smiled a little. She tossed the roll up and down in a mock threat and then took a bite out of it...

*****

Ares' laughter tapered off as he looked at the back of Joxer's head. The soft brown hair, that was still sleep tousled, looked so touchable. It led to that wonderfully long and pale neck that had the war god aching to caress. And that soft robe hugged Joxer much the way he wanted to and...

Robe?

The God of War's gaze snapped up to his nephew who was sitting just opposite of Joxer. The mischief god was wearing a robe too and his normally spiky hair was lying in ungelled waves around his face. They had obviously just got out of bed. Together?

Strife's head snapped up and he looked fearfully at his uncle. Ares knew that his nephew was one of the few gods who could actually feel it when Ares got mad. Strife swallowed hard and glanced around like he was looking for an escape route.

The terrified look in Strife's eye, even momentarily, caused Ares' anger and unreasoning jealousy to crumble. He knew that Strife was aware of his interest in Joxer and would never interfere with that, and besides the God of Mischief was interested in Cupid.

Ares smiled at Strife and the younger god slumped down. The war god was ashamed to see that Strife had paled considerably during the brief and silent exchange. That worried Ares, because Strife was still very weak from his return from Hades' realm.

"Ares! My love!"

The declaration came, not from Joxer where he'd welcome it, but from...Gabrielle! The Amazon Princess was running towards Ares, her arms outstretched and a sappy smile on her face. Ares did the only thing he could think to do. All of those years of military strategy paid off.

He ran.

*****

Strife's mouth fell open as he watched his very large uncle backing away from the much smaller Gabrielle in horror. "Unc?!" Strife's voice actually squeaked when Ares began to hurry and then run around the table.

It was on his third time around the table, with Gabrielle stating her love over and over again, getting louder with each passing, that Ares seemed to come to himself. The war god stopped and turned to blast the blond woman.

Fortunately for Gabrielle, Xena had had enough and stuck out a foot when her friend passed by again. Gabrielle landed on the ground with an "oof" and just missed being turned into a small burrowing animal by Ares' firebolt. The blast hit the wall behind the two women and Ares cursed under his breath, bemoaning the lost opportunity.

The God of Mischief looked over at Joxer and was surprised to see that the young man's face was not in its usual vulnerable expression. This time he looked mad enough to hit somebody and Gabrielle, lying on the floor with Xena's boot in the middle of her back, was the target he was aiming for.

"Uh, what just happened heah?" Strife asked, trying to diffuse the situation. "That's not exactly normal behavior fah Gabbster."

"Thank the gods," Ares muttered under his breath.

"Ares, Ares," Gabrielle squealed. She used her hands to try and pull herself to the older god. The blond was actually making progress, because Xena couldn't put *that* much weight on her, when there was another flash.

Aphrodite appeared in a hail of bright pink lights and little white snow flakes. She glanced down at the squirming Gabrielle in surprise. "What's up with Gabrielle?" she asked and then waved her hand. "Never mind." The sexy goddess concentrated, leaning forward to *see* into Gabrielle.

"Oh," Dite said as she stood up abruptly. "She's been enchanted. I wonder how that happened?" With a wave of her hand a bright purple light settled over the young woman and Gabrielle's escape efforts stopped as she slumped into sleep.

"Enchanted?" Xena asked with a frown. She hesitantly moved her foot, ready to replace it if Gabrielle was faking.

"Yes..." Aphrodite "hmmmmed" as she looked around the room. "Oh, it was that roll." The goddess beamed brightly when she solved the puzzle and didn't see Strife throw his roll back down on the table in horror.

*****

Joxer thought he was going to cry. Gabrielle had been chasing *his god*! He wanted to be the one to chase Ares. Or better yet, have Ares chase him. Not that he'd run *very* hard.

Joxer started to grin. Then he gasped in fear when he remembered that Cupid had seemed to read his mind. What if Ares knew what he was thinking?

The pale man got to his feet, intending to go back to his room. He didn't know if the mind reading thing was real or not, but he wanted to put some blasting space room between himself and the god...who...was.....getting very....fuzzy....

*****

"...mostly. Maybe not every word."

'Crap,' Joxer thought. 'Not again!'

Getting to be a veteran at this time travel crap, Joxer looked critically at the man who was talking to him. 'He looks like Autolycus,' Joxer thought. 'But he's not.' It wasn't anything specific that Joxer could point to, but he could tell this wasn't the King of Thieves. Pinned to the other man, who looked like he had been in a vicious fight, was a tag that said *Ash*. Joxer took a wild guess and decided that was the man's name.

The other man frowned at him and seemed to be insulted when Joxer didn't say anything. Before the misplaced warrior could try to make amends, since he didn't want to get whoever he was in trouble, Ash walked around the corner and out of his sight.

Gazing around the room, the young warrior winced at the bright lights that were glaring down at him. He couldn't figure out where the candles were or why they had it so bright in the first place.

A large sign hung down from the ceiling. *S-Mart* was written in bold letters. He didn't know what that meant and decided to ignore what was going on for a few moments while he figured out who he was. The warrior knew it was best to be prepared when somebody started yelling your name.

"Run!"

The scream startled Joxer out of his contemplation. He looked up in time to see a large number of people running around and screaming. None of them seemed to know what they were doing though, because no one was actually getting anywhere. If there was something to run from, these people weren't going to make it.

There was a roar and someone went flying past Joxer. The warrior ducked down and missed being hit in the head by mere inches. Joxer glanced down and saw a shiny metal can that was cracked open and now leaking pale blue liquid.

Joxer kept his head down and hurried around the end of the aisle. There stood the Autolike guy. He had a long piece of metal that made a lot of noise and the weapon was spitting out things at a woman.

The warrior was confused for a moment. Auto was attacking a woman? That wasn't like him, at least not the friend that Joxer knew, especially since she didn't have a weapon to fire back. The dark haired man was trying to decide whether or not he should help or attack the man when the woman in question screamed and turned her head. A strange wind whipped her hair back from her face and Joxer's mind was made up for him.

'Oh Zeus, she's dead!' his mind shrieked at him.

It was easy to see that the woman was really a corpse and had been for quite a while. Her face had already decayed enough that it was impossible to tell what she had looked like in real life.

The weapon blasted again and the woman staggered back a step and screamed. Joxer clamped his hands over his ears, not sure which was worse, the scream or that awful weapon.

Already worn out from his previous jaunts through time and space, Joxer didn't have much left in the way of nerves. The weapon fired again and little bits of wood and metal fell onto Joxer's leg. He jerked back and tried to hunker down into a smaller target.

'I don't like it here!' he thought frantically. 'I always seem to end up where it's scary and I want it to stop!' His mind screamed the last thought and miraculously his head started spinning.

*****

Joxer kept his eyes closed, afraid what he'd find when he opened them. At least there was no more screaming or booms from that weapon.

"Joxah?" Strife's unusual drawl was music to the mortal's ringing ears.

"Strife?" Joxer looked into the young god's worried blue eyes and realized that Strife had hold of his arms. He glanced over at Ares and smiled. "I'm home," Joxer said weakly, before he collapsed to the ground.

*****

Strife sat beside his new friend's bed and tapped one booted foot on the floor in agitation. He wasn't able to stay still in the best of times, but seeing Joxer collapse, twice in as many days, was fraying his last nerve.

It had been positively weird to see Joxer change into someone else right before their eyes. One minute he was Joxer, the next he started screaming and running around like a loon. All attempts to calm the man down caused him to scream even louder and yell, "Ash was telling the truth!"

They had all watched in growing fear as the man in Joxer's body ran around in hysterics, making the already exhausted body weaker and weaker. Ares had exchanged a brief nod with his nephew and Strife had managed to catch hold of the mortal. Ares was about to knock him out, as gently as possible, when he had stilled and changed back to himself.

Joxer had dropped and even Strife's helping hands hadn't been quick enough to catch him. Confusion abounded as Asclepius worked on his patient, Xena paced in agitation, Ares glared at anyone and everyone when they didn't move as fast as he thought they ought to, and Gabrielle...eyed the fallen Joxer.

Not eyed, as in she was disgusted with him. No, *eyed* him.

Strife looked down at the pale mortal and noticed that the soft material of his robe had settled smoothly on Joxer's body. And it outlined every dip and *bump* exceedingly well.

Gabrielle was eyeing one bump in particular. In fact, she couldn't take her eyes off of it.

Strife took a chance and glanced at Joxer's groin. Sure enough, the mortal, skinny though he was, was indeed *Mighty* in some areas.

*****

"That didn't go very well."

Aphrodite turned to give Gaia an incredulous look. "Well...duh!" The blond goddess put her fists on the barely covered hips and shook her head. "Not only did Joxie get the wrong roll, but *Gabrielle* was the one chasing after Ares.

Gaia nodded seriously and they both stood quietly in Gaia's spectacular garden for a moment. Then Gaia started snickering. Dite grinned and giggled too.

"Gabrielle, the mortal who hates the gods, was chasing after little Ares," Gaia laughed. Dite smiled, because Gaia was the only one who still called big, buff Ares *little*.

"Uh huh." Aphrodite's curls bounced as she shook her head. "Luckily they were all so distracted by the body switch and then Joxie collapsing that nobody questioned where the *enchanted roll* came from."

Gaia sighed, calming down from her giggle fest. "Yes, we were lucky. Did Ares seem interested in the young mortal at all?"

"Oh yeah. He was, like, trying to hide it, but he wants Joxie."

"Good." Gaia snapped a dead head off of a rose bush and tossed it into her basket. The dead roses were useful in some particularly potent love spells and so she saved them for the love goddess.

"Perhaps Ares' protective feelings will kick into play and he will admit how he feels," Gaia said thoughtfully.

"I hope he does it before Joxie gets too old to appreciate it," Dite said. "I've gotta get back before they wonder where I ran off to."

"Yes, it is known that you care for the young mortal, so it would be unusual for you to run out while he is...sick." Gaia looked at the goddess thoughtfully. "I wonder what Ares would do with a little...competition."

Aphrodite thought about that for a few moments and then grinned at the older goddess. "Bitchin," she said before flashing out.

The sly look on Gaia's face would have stunned all who knew her. "Bitchin indeed."

Chapter Text

Joxer opened his eyes and flinched back when he realized he wasn't on Olympus anymore. Glancing around at the metal walls, Joxer decided he had done another one of those body flip type things. *Tartarus!* He hadn't even had time to see more than Strife and, oh my, Ares, before he got jerked around again.

Carefully sitting up, Joxer almost whacked his head on the bed that was over his. The young man's long legs wavered when he stood up and he reached out one pale hand to steady himself against the side of the bed.

"Well, that's one thing that never changes," he mused out loud as he studied the arm of the body he was currently occupying. "No matter who or where I am, I'm always pale. Not Strife pale, but still, not a lot of color here."

Belatedly, Joxer realized that talking about yourself to yourself wasn't the best first impression to make on anybody. He glanced around the room, which took about half a second; it was a *very* small room. The warrior was glad to realize that he was all alone in the smaller room. That in itself was a miracle, because if there was any way to be humiliated, Joxer could usually be counted on to find it...two or three times. But this time, the Fates were on his side and he hadn't looked like a moron in front of somebody.

"Oh, well, it's early yet," Joxer said with a high degree of sarcasm. "I'm sure I'll find several people to unimpress before the day is through."

And speaking of not being impressed, Joxer figured that wearing clothes would be a good idea. As it was, he was only in a thin shirt and some interesting undergarments that in no way resembled the loincloth he usually wore. Fingering the floppy legged, extremely short trousers, Joxer felt a tiny shudder of worry.

"*These* aren't the clothes this guy wears, are they?"

Joxer sincerely hoped not, because there was no way he could leave this room if they were. Just *no way*. With a little squeal of happiness, Joxer spotted a uniform of some sort that included pants and another shirt. Joxer got dressed and looked around for some boots. He didn't find anything like that, but he did see a pair of shoes. They were odd looking and laced up, but it didn't take the warrior long to figure out how to put them on. He tied them in a very efficient knot and prepared to go outside.

He would face whatever was on the other side of that door. Proudly. Bravely...just as soon as he figured out how to open it.

The dark haired man had pushed and pulled and even tried raising the door when a round, wheel-like shape in the middle of the door started turning. 'Oh,' he thought to himself. 'I never thought of that.' In walked a tall, dark haired and very handsome man.

"Hey, Tim." He waved negligently.

'Thank Zeus,' Joxer thought reverently. 'At least I know what name to answer to now.'

"Uh, hi." Joxer smiled carefully. Not too brightly, they always thought he was cracked when he did that, and not too soberly, because the other man might think something was wrong.

Joxer dithered in front of the door. Now that he knew how to leave, he was reluctant to. Who knew what frightening calamites awaited him out there.

"You better get cracking. Bridger's in a foul mood today," the other man said as he hopped onto the top bed.

"Oh, okay." Joxer nodded his thanks.

'Terrific. Just what I need, someone else to yell at me.'

*****

Outside in the corridor, things weren't any better. Joxer realized that he had no idea where to go and this time there weren't any people yelling for *Tim* or bodies to follow. Nothing. Just more of that depressing gray metal. The walls, floor, even the ceiling were covered with it. It was boring as Tartarus.

The door opened behind Joxer, making him jump. "You know, it might be easier with these." Joxer looked down at the man's extended hand and saw a tangle of metal wires and bits of clear stone.

"Thanks, I forgot." The young man smiled confidently as he gingerly took the....whatever it was. He was good at bluffing, having had to do it for most of his life.

The other man shook his head and smiled brightly. "No problems. Wouldn't want you on the bridge without your glasses."

And he was alone again. Now he not only had no idea where to go, but he hadn't the least notion of what to do with the bits of things in his hand. He glanced up carefully when several people came out of a side corridor. One of the men nodded to Joxer, even as he kept talking to his companion. Joxer nodded back and eyed both men. The nodder had something on his face that looked a lot like the weird contraption that Joxer's roommate had given him. He waited until they were out of sight and decided to try wearing the jewelry, because that's what Joxer figured it was. It took a couple of attempts to get it on his nose and ears correctly, but then...

Joxer gasped. Everything was clear! He could see writing on the wall which, unfortunately he couldn't read, the grooves in the floor...everything! It was amazing and Joxer would have loved to stand around and stare at everything, but he had to find this *Bridger*. He started walking briskly down the hallway, still marveling at how much he could see, and decided that even though he didn't know where he was going, it was important to look like he did.

"Yes, Captain Bridger." The voice rang out, loud and clear, from an open doorway. A tall, blond haired woman backed out of the room, a wary look on her face. Her posture gave the impression that she wanted to get away quickly and didn't bolster Joxer's confidence at all.

Joxer waited until the woman had left and then he darted a look into the room she had just exited. There were several people standing and/or sitting in among a lot more metal things that were making *all kinds* of noises. Briefly, the warrior wondered what it was about the future where they used metal in everything.

"Ah, there you are, Mr. O'Neil." An older man looked at Joxer sternly.

"Yes, sir. C-Captain Bridger." He was going out on a limb here, hoping that was the man's name. Otherwise he was going to look like an idiot.

"Good." The older man glanced around for a moment and then back at Joxer. "Lucas needs help with Darwin today, so I'm assigning you to him. I know it's not your regular position," he gestured at a chair in front of a frightening bunch of blinking lights. Joxer was thrilled that he wasn't going to be expected to work or run the panel or whatever he'd have to do with it.

Joxer looked back over, still trying to keep a non-panicked look on his face, and saw the Captain waving someone forward. "Anderson here will help you carry the new equipment to Lucas."

Anderson and Joxer picked up the box that was long, but not heavy and started down the long corridors. Luck was on Joxer's side and Anderson ended up at the front of the box, so he led them to where they had to go.

Joxer liked Lucas, a nice young man, on sight. The handsome man seemed to like *Tim* as well and was thrilled with the arrival of his new equipment.

The time traveling warrior sat down beside a strangely round pond. Even the water was odd, it was so clear that you could easily see the bottom. Joxer peered closer at the side of the pond and saw that it was made from that strange white rock he saw a couple of *jumps* back.

Splash!

Joxer jerked back in surprise when a gray animal leapt from the water and slammed back down, sending a plum of water in Joxer's face. Wiping the water out of his eyes, Joxer missed seeing Lucas come up and stand beside him.

"Darwin! Is that any way to treat Tim?"

Joxer realized that Lucas was scolding the animal. While this was a little odd, it wasn't any big deal, Joxer talked to animals all the time. It's not like they talked back.

"*Not Tim.*"

The odd sounding voice was coming from a box on the wall. Joxer stared at it, wondering who was talking. Lucas knelt by the water and patted the animal on its head.

"What do you mean, Darwin?" he asked kindly.

"*Not Tim.*"

Joxer was stunned to realize that the animal, called a dolphin, from what Lucas had said, was the one talking. Somehow this dolphin realized that he wasn't who he was pretending to be. Lucas fussed and worried about the dolphin, because he was sure the animal was sick.

That was how Joxer spent the rest of the day. He watched as Lucas interacted with Darwin, but mostly he was amazed at all the things he could see. That night, back in his bunk, Joxer realized that this life was okay, certainly the best of the lot so far, but he missed his friends.

'And Gabrielle better not be making another play for Ares...or I'll kick her butt,' Joxer thought to himself as he drifted off to sleep.

*****

Tim woke up and immediately knew something was different. His bunk was never this soft...or this big. He stretched out an arm to either side and realized he couldn't touch the edges of the bed.

He sat up and glanced around the opulent room. It was a *huge* room, done up in silks and velvets in all different shades of blue.

The door opened and several scantily clad men and women floated in. At least, that's how it seemed to Tim. They smiled prettily at him and with a pained grimace, Tim smiled back at them. Then several more people entered the room and Tim's smile dropped off as he considered his situation.

First off, he wasn't where he should be. Secondly, there were a great many strange people running about; the very pale man in the scary Goth clothes for a start. Third, he was seeing angels. That cute little cherub and the good looking blond man had wings, ergo, angels. Fourth, Tim realized he was extremely dizzy and he couldn't see worth a damn. Even without his glasses, which he couldn't find anywhere, he should have been able to see more than this.

Tim came to the unmistakable conclusion that he had suffered a brain injury, i.e. an aneurysm or a stroke or possibly even a concussion. He had to be hallucinating everything he was seeing. 'It was very sad really, if you thought about it,' I thought to myself.

"Hi," the dark haired figment of my imagination said. I decided that I had a really odd imagination to come up with this guy. I mean, how many earrings could one person wear?

"Hi." I decided to be friendly. It wasn't as if they could help it that they weren't real.

"Ya're not Joxah, are ya?" he asked quietly.

"No, my name is Tim O'Neil.{"}

*****

No one was really surprised that Strife was the first one to notice the change. The young man seemed to be taking it in stride, but didn't believe any of what he was seeing was real. Apollo determined that that was probably the best thing, that way Tim wouldn't be upset when he changed back. To him it would all have been a hallucination.

Tim sat at the dinning table and seemed bemused by variety and amount of food on display. He rubbed his forehead and leaned forward to squint at Gabrielle, whom he was sitting beside. Gabrielle reacted as she normally would with Joxer; she smacked him on the arm. But this wasn't Joxer.

The Joxer look alike frowned and jumped up from the table. Walking around to the other side, he sat back down by Strife. "Ma'am," he said politely. "I don't know who you are, but I don't have to be abused by you."

Gabrielle was indignant. "I don't abuse you, or well...Joxer."

"Oh no?!" Strife snorted and waved his hand. A scrying mirror appeared in it. He leaned forward and handed the mirror to Gabrielle who took it reluctantly. After the fiasco with the roll the day before she was *very* careful about anything she touched.

She began to watch the images on the surface in fascinated horror as scene after scene flashed by. Joxer was hit, thumped over the head, his nose was twisted, ears pulled, pushed out of the way, laughed at or ignored.

The Amazon princess stopped eating to watch. She swallowed the lump of shame in her throat, especially when the scenes of abuse were interspaced with times that Joxer did something nice or did his best to help.

Gabrielle remembered all the times he brought her a handful of flowers. Not once did she thank him. No, instead she either laughed or tossed them back at the warrior. Usually both.

With a pang of regret she realized he hadn't given her any little trinkets in months. No flowers, not one pretty shell or shiny rock. Nothing.

Sitting beside her, Xena frowned at what she was seeing. She hadn't realized it was that bad. Across the table, Strife snorted and she looked up to see Strife shaking his head in disgust.

"Ya weren't sa lilly white yarself."

Another mirror appeared in Xena's hands and she peered into it apprehensively. Joxer fought bravely, if badly, beside her and Gabrielle in fight after fight. His contribution was almost always ignored or belittled. Hercules and Gabrielle were the worst offenders, being the ones who put him down, but she was just as bad at pretending he wasn't even there. Iolaus offered what encouragement he could, but the blond hunter was usually patching Hercules up to say much.

The scenes changed to the aftermath of the fights and it got even worse. Gabrielle and Xena helped bandage each other, but no one helped Joxer. He had to tend to his own wounds, be they minor or major. Xena watched as they left Joxer behind time and again because he couldn't *keep up*, and felt like throwing up at their callous and cruel behavior.

'No wonder Joxer was so surprised that we stayed with him after he collapsed.' Xena knew that Joxer would never have dreamed of treating anyone else that way.

*****

Strife pursed his lips and watched the two women. Xena and Gabrielle were crying as they watched Joxer's life with them. He looked closer at one of the mirrors and saw Joxer trying to teach himself how to fight.

The wild swings of his badly constructed sword wouldn't have hurt a fly, however, there seemed to be some promise in the moves. With decent weaponry and a little encouragement, he might be a fairly good warrior.

Tim gave a small moan and rubbed his head again. Joxer placed a leather clad hand on his friend's shoulder and asked worriedly, "what's tha mattah?"

"My head hurts," Tim admitted. "I need my glasses. I don't know how I can be expected to see without them."

"Glasses?" Ares asked with a frown.

Strife waved a hand and the image of several varieties of glasses, from monocles to trifocals appeared in front of the war god. The phantom spectacles floated around, giving Ares a chance to see them at all angles.

"Ya wear 'em in front ah yar eyes ta see bettah."

"Joxer has problems with his eyes?" Xena looked at Tim intently. The other man didn't notice because he had closed his eyes.

"I guess sa."

Asclepius walked around behind Tim and gently touched his head. Tim sighed in relief when the headache disappeared under the healing touch.

"Yes, indeed he does." Ace frowned. "My goodness, that must make it very difficult to see where he's going." With a wave of his hand in front of Tim/Joxer's face, Asclepius let out a small wave of bright yellow light. "How is that?"

Tim opened his eyes and smiled. "That's great! I can see perfectly now. Thank you." The young man offered his hand to be shaken and Ace bemusedly accepted it, even though it was obvious he didn't know what he was doing.

*****

Tim rolled over and fell out of bed with a thump.

"Hey, are you okay?" Ben hopped down from his upper bunk and squatted down beside his friend.

"Uh, yeah I think so. I just had the strangest dream though." Tim frowned and rubbed his head. "Ouch."

"You've got a pretty big knot in the middle of your forehead." Ben examined the lump carefully. "I think you need to get this looked at."

"Okay," Tim said, just as his eyes rolled back and he slumped to one side.

Neither the unconscious Tim nor the frantically yelling Ben noticed the young man standing in the corner. Strife crossed his arms and smiled.

"I had ta do somethin ta explain yar suddenly bettah eyesight."

With that he vanished in an explosion of black sparkles.

*****

Joxer could hear birds chirping, so he figured it was morning and since the last place he'd been hadn't had any wildlife at all, excepting Darwin, of course, he figured he was back on Mount Olympus.

Cracking open one eye, Joxer realized that yes, he was back in Apollo's temple. Moreover, he wasn't alone. Ares sat in a massive black chair beside his bed, the god's eyes were closed and Joxer indulged himself for the moment, getting a good eyeful of his leather clad hero. Very tightly leather clad.

A warmth along his side turned out to be Strife. He was also in leather, but since Joxer wasn't interested in him, he didn't eye him like he had Ares. Strife also had his eyes closed, but when Joxer was looking at him, the god smiled.

"Good mornin, Joxah."

Joxer grinned back. "Hi, Strife." A creak of wood made him turn to the other side. "Uh...hi, Ar...I mean, my Lord Ares."

The god reached out one hand and Joxer winced, afraid he had angered the war god. However, Ares merely brushed the hair off of Joxer's forehead. Not that there was *merely* anything to that gesture.

Joxer gasped at the touching and intimate move. The young warrior's eyes grew bigger and Ares let his hand linger on Joxer's forehead. The warm, soothing touch made his heart pound and his breath come out in little gasps.

"Welcome back...again." He removed his hand and Joxer mourned the loss. Then he leaned closer, Joxer could feel the warm breath on his already overheated face. "By the way, Joxer, you can call me Ares."

"Oh...okay." Joxer's voice was barely a whisper. "Ares," he said the name like a caress and Ares' eyes darkened in appreciation.

Chapter Text

"Hiya sweetie."

Joxer glanced around to see who Dite was talking too. He figured that Cupid or his son Bliss must be around somewhere, but no, he was alone in the room. Realizing he was the object of Aphrodite's flirting made Joxer very nervous. The last time that had happened, Joxer ended up enchanted by that damned ringing bell.

"Uh, hi Aphrodite." Joxer smiled winningly at the goddess and saw her face brighten considerably, not letting his worry show. "You look very lovely today."

"Oh, aren't you sweet." She sashayed over, not stopping until she was right in front of him. "How are you feeling this morning? You look...fine." The goddess eyed him up and down and licked her shiny pink lips.

"Uh, I'm..." Joxer's power of speech cut out right about the time that the love goddess semi-crossed her arms and hugged her elbows. This had the affect of making her breasts push forward even more than usual. Joxer stuttered, wondering where to look and what he should do if she came out of her lacy top completely. "I'm better. Th-thanks for asking."

'Nope,' he thought. 'Not good at all.'

====

Dimples appeared in her cheeks as Aphrodite watched the mortal who was in awe of her physical assets. She leaned even closer and slipped her arm into the crook of Joxer's elbow. The young man blushed, a deep red, when her breasts rubbed against his bare arm. Out of the corner of her eye, Dite saw a flicker of light and realized that a god was hiding behind an invisibility shield.

'Good,' she thought triumphantly. 'Somebody's finally noticed. Now maybe, Ares will get off his cute duff and make a move before Xena gets Joxer involved in something dangerous and he's killed. I doubt we'd get him back, because Hades admitted that he's lonely when Persephone's not down in the Underworld. Besides, he's had his eye on Joxer for some time.'

Not realizing that his love life, even though he didn't realize he even had one, was being planned out, Joxer gallantly led the goddess out for their morning meal. After the couple had left the room, Cupid appeared in a bright flash. The blond god narrowed his eyes at his mother's retreating figure.

"I wonder what she's up to? Mom better be careful, because Pop has his eye on Joxer and *any* competition risks being blasted back into the Void."

Cupid tapped one hand against his leather kilted leg and smiled wickedly. "Competition, huh." He grinned, realizing, he hoped, what his mother was doing and decided to further her cause along.

He closed his eyes and concentrated for a few moments. It didn't take long to find his father and Cupid snapped his fingers to transport there. It wasn't much of a surprise to find the God of War sitting on his throne at his main temple, with a scrying mirror in one hand and a scowl on his face. Cupid kept his face somber, knowing from experience that humor at this point could humiliate the person who was jealous and backfire, turning them off the person they were interested in completely.

"Hey, Pop."

"Cupid," Ares answered absently. He didn't look up from the scene he was watching and only cursorily acknowledged his son.

The love god sighed and plopped down. A *visitors* chair appeared under his butt as he was falling. Hooking one leg over the arm of the chair negligently, he picked a piece of white down from his pants. "I think mom's at it again."

"What do you mean?" The God of Love pretended to ignore Ares' sharp reply.

"I think she's picked out another mortal to have an affair with." Ares' hand tightened on the mirror dangerously. Knowing his father's temper, Cupid flicked a finger and unobtrusively raised a mini shield in front of himself, so if the mirror shattered, the glass wouldn't cut him. "I don't know how serious she is this time." Cupid leaned his head back and looked up at the ceiling. "Let's hope she's not going to make this one immortal and then dump him in a few years." He threw up his hands in mock indignation. "Poor Terlius still mourns sometimes. I just hope that if she's going to be with this new guy that she'd make up her mind and pick one that she'd marry. An eternal companion would be..."

Ares snarled and flashed out in mid-sentence. Cupid smiled and with a wave of his hand had Ares' mirror to watch with.

"An eternal companion would be a great thing...for you...pop."

====

'I hope Ares hurries up,' Aphrodite thought. 'Much as I like flirting with Joxer, 'cause he blushes so sweetly, I need to get Prince Draius and Princess Ishta together or their kingdoms are going be keep feuding for like, a hundred more years.'

"Would you pass me that fruit, stud muffin?" Dite pointed to the apple on top of the platter. It amused her that Joxer quickly averted his eyes. He was so shy about looking at her chest and the goddess wondered if Joxer were still a virgin. Normally the love goddess would have probed the mortal's mind to find out, but she was so fond of Joxer that she didn't want to invade his privacy like that.

"Uhm, sure." Joxer handed over the food without even looking over at her.

"Aphrodite," Ares growled.

Joxer jumped several inches out of his chair and yelped. Dite patted him on the back soothingly and that made him jump again. The poor young man looked from the irate war god to the suddenly amorous love goddess with a wild eyed look.

"Hi, Ar." She started to say more, but a side door opened, admitting Xena and Gabrielle.

Aphrodite silently cursed their timing. Both women were immediately on the alert when they saw the two deities, although Dite wasn't sure why. After all, they were on Mount Olympus, in Apollo's temple, what did they expect but to see gods.

"Hi theah...woah." Strife stopped in the doorway and eyed the tension filled room with trepidation. While keeping a careful eye on his aunt and uncle, Strife walked over to stand by the object, directly or not, of most of the attention in the room. "How's it goin, Joxah?"

"I'm..." Joxer grabbed his head and held it in his hands for a few seconds. He lowered them and then jumped up, knocking his chair over in the process. The young man glanced around the room, at a loss as to what to say. "Hey." He nodded. "Nice jacket...and pants."

"Thanks," Strife fought the urge to giggle as he thought, 'we're off''. "And who are ya?"

"My name is Steve Martin. Yeah, yeah, I know." He waved a hand wearily and rolled his eyes, obviously used to being teased about his name. "But I'm no relation to the actor."

Strife, the only one among them who had any idea what he was talking about, just nodded his head. The Joxer clone slouched on to one hip in an attempt to look tough. "Where am I...?" He gave another, this time more worried, glance around the room. "And, hey, where's Rebecca?"

"Who?" Gabrielle asked as she frowned at him suspiciously.

"My girlfriend, Rebecca."

Seeing that Steve was becoming upset, Strife tried to smooth the situation. "Okay, this is gonna be hard ta undahstand, but ya're on Mount Olympus." Strife had looked into this young man's very brief future and decided *what the Tartarus* and just told him the truth.

"You mean like where the gods of Olympus lived?" Steve was eyeing them uneasily.

"Yep. Actually we still do. In ya're future we're still livin theah." Strife grinned at the *do you think I'm a moron look* Steve was giving him.

"Really." The amount of sarcasm rolling off the man from the future was thick enough to choke Argo.

"Yes, really." Ares threw a thunder bolt and blasted the wall. The fact that it barely missed Gabrielle was just a bonus. "Ares, God of War here."

Steve's eyes widened in appreciation when he saw the devastation that the god had wrought. "Cool. Uhm, nice to meet you." He glanced over at Aphrodite and did a double take. "Oh, wow! You are *hot*"

Dite giggled. It wasn't often that Joxer felt comfortable enough to show that he was attracted to someone. Steve apparently didn't have that problem.

"Oh, puh-lease," Gabrielle said in disgust; her jealousy over Joxer (or Steve either) making her reckless.

"And who are you?" Steve asked as he eyed Gabrielle and Xena up and down.

He took in Xena's leather and buckle and spring supported bodice outfit and Gabrielle's very bare and revealing crop top and skirt and came to the unmistakable conclusion.

"Are you hookers?"

Strife burst out laughing. The others just looked at Strife, not understanding the reference.

Steve eyed Xena's chackram and Gabrielle's knives. "In to dominatrix stuff maybe?"

The God of Mischief was laughing so hard by now that his sides were aching. He didn't receive a burst of power from the mortal, so he knew that Steve wasn't joking. He truly believed what he was asking. Strife managed to control himself long enough to send a telepathic message to the other gods in the room, informing them of what a *hooker* was. The room was soon filled with laughter. Xena had a fairly good idea of what the young man meant and was beginning to see red.

Strife sent images of dominatrixes and Ares snorted at the idea of Gabrielle being in charge. They were all being so entertained by images, courtesy of Strife, of Xena and Gabrielle as trollops that they missed it when Joxer/Steve grabbed at his head again.

====

When Joxer had first arrived, he'd found himself in the middle of a very intense kiss. He and the young woman had been laying on a soft surface, his hand was on her breast and one of her hands was between his legs fondling him.

Joxer had been amazed and embarrassed and didn't know what to do. Well, obviously he knew what to do, contrary to what some people thought, he wasn't a virgin. But the few women he had been with had to be given a few dinars for the privilege and there hadn't been a lot of touching beforehand. Or afterwards for that matter.

Luckily, the young woman had become distracted, by what he wasn't sure, so the touching part of the evening had ended painlessly and without a lot of embarrassment.

Joxer looked over at the young woman who was busy telling him a story. It was an awful story; not the telling part, no, the tale itself. Because of who he loved or, possibly the color of his skin (Nah, that was just *too* ridiculous) some poor guy had been beaten up, his hand cut off, smeared with honey and had a swarm of bees attack and sting him to death.

"That's terrible," Joxer stated. "Nobody should be hurt because of who they love."

"I know." The young woman, with short red-brown hair, nodded vigorously. "That's why there's supposed to be a curse."

She touched him on the arm and Joxer was distracted from her story when he glanced down and saw that he was wearing a black leather jacket. He glanced around the young woman, who was still talking, and looked over her shoulder in to the mirror.

'Hmmm, I don't look too bad,' he thought. "Not as good as Ares does in his leather, but then who does."

"Candyman," the young woman said with a smirk.

'I wonder how long I'm going to stay here?' Joxer eyed the young woman.

"Candyman," she repeated.

'It's not that I'd mind staying here for a little while,' Joxer admitted to himself.

"Candyman."

'...'cause she's pretty and all..."

"Candyman."

'But I don't even know her name. Besides, she's not nearly as gorgeous as Ares...and what is she going on about?'

The young woman took a deep, fortifying breath and smugly said, "Candyman."

Joxer's mind finished processing what she'd been saying at about the same time she finished the invocation. If he hadn't been distracted, Joxer would have warned her about the reality of curses. As it was...

A strong wind blew through the closed room. The young woman's eyes met Joxer's in the mirror. Suddenly, she wasn't as assured of the ridiculousness of the curse any more. Joxer's skin turned clammy as he felt a strong presence behind him.

Joxer spun around...

====

...and staggered over to one side.

Joxer braced himself against a wall, his head spinning and his heart racing, and looked for the young woman he'd just been with...and the danger she had called up. But there was nothing. Apparently he'd jumped lives again.

'And none too quickly,' he decided. There was a lot of guilt running around in his mind, because the girl was still there and his alter ego was going to bounce back in to a very dangerous situation.

Actually...Joxer frowned. His heart was still racing. The younger man still felt he was in danger, but he didn't know who or what he was in danger from.

He heard a muffled thump and jerked slightly. It was coming from around the corner and down the stairs that he was currently standing on. Clutching the hard, kind of squarish pack^ to his chest, Joxer stepped away from the wall and walked around the stairwell landing. There was a young woman, with long black hair, walking down the stairs. She didn't look all that prepossessing, but experience with Gabrielle had taught him that smaller didn't always mean weaker.

Joxer slipped and almost fell head first down the stairs. He looked to see what he had slid on and saw that there was a puddle of muddy water on the floor, making it extremely slick. The warrior followed the trail of liquid with his eyes and confirmed that it was coming off the woman. She looked drenched and Joxer wondered what had happened to her.

"Uh, are you okay?" Joxer's voice quavered as he inquired.

There was more wrong with this person than being wet. She was walking odd, moving her head in a very strange way, like there was something wrong with her neck. Added to that was the way she was breathing. She was gasping and it sounded like she couldn't breathe very well.

His naturally helpful nature took over and Joxer started down the stairs, carefully avoiding the water, to help her. The young woman stopped and stood still, except for the odd jerking motion of her head. Joxer stopped as well and the feeling of wrongness intensified. She started to turn around and Joxer realized that he *did not* want to see her face.

The young warrior turned and ran back up the stairs. He threw the pack in his hands down behind himself and vaguely heard it sliding down the stairs. The weird, high pitched whine from the woman got louder and Joxer ran faster. Joxer knew instinctively that whatever that was, it hadn't really been a woman, but something pretending to be one. There was a malevolence, a hatred, that poured off it, making Joxer more and more scared.

He could tell that whatever it was, it was gaining on him. Joxer rounded a corner and was just almost to a door when something touched his shoulder...

====

Strife jerked back when Joxer screamed.

"Joxah!" The God of Mischief took one look at Joxer's wild eyed, terrified look and gathered the mortal up in his arms. Obviously, whatever had been happening to Joxer in that other life had been awful. Strife could recognize someone who had faced death. He had felt the same way when Callisto had slid the hind's blood dagger into his gut and Strife had realized that he was going to die.

"It's alright, ya're safe now," he comforted.

Joxer burst into hysterical sobs and held on tight to his skinny, godly friend. Almost immediately, Ares and Gabrielle were beside the pair. Strife gave Gabrielle a hard look, ready to blast her if she so much as smirked at the crying man, but this time there was only worry for Joxer, not even a hint of derision.

"Joxer?" Ares said softly. The young man looked up and saw the compassion on Ares' face and threw himself at the older god. Strife didn't mind the desertion, he was glad to see Joxer burrowing his face into the side of Ares' neck. His uncle gladly held on to the warrior. He'd had a lot of practice comforting upset people in the last several months. Since coming back from the underworld, Strife had been plagued by nightmares where he was murdered over and over again. Ares had soothed his nephew more times than either of them could count.

Ares picked Joxer up like he was a small child and carried him out of the room. Joxer was still crying and the older god was talking soothingly in his ear. Whatever Joxer had faced in those other dimensions had broken Joxer, at least for the moment.

Strife himself wasn't in that great of shape. The fear that Joxer had brought with him had briefly permeated the room and had dredged up partially buried terrors in the skittish god. Cupid eased up to Strife, being careful to not make any sudden moves and to walk in front of him.

The mischief god stared at the love god. He didn't realize that he was shaking like a leaf, but Cupid did. The blond god slowly wrapped his arms around Strife and held him close. For the first time, Strife melted into Cupid's arms and began to cry himself.

====

Ares sat beside Joxer on the bed. The mortal man had finally fallen asleep in Ares' arms. Joxer had started to panic any time Ares began to lay him down, so the god held on to him. It's not like the slender mortal was a heavy burden to the muscled god.

The jumping around that Joxer was experiencing was hard on the young man, physically and emotionally. It was hard on those around him too.

It had been a shock to realize that Steve had been replaced by some other poor devil while they were laughing about the *hooker* joke. No one had noticed the switch for a couple of minutes and by the time they started to approach the obviously confused man, Joxer had appeared and started screaming.

Ares concentrated and a section of the wall in front of him changed in to a mirror. One look assured him that Strife was being cared for by Cupid. With his mind reassured, Ares let some of his ever present worry about his nephew slip to the back of his mind.

"I hope whoever has caused this knows what they're doing," Ares said softly.

His breath disturbed the hair on the top of Joxer's head and caused the young man to stir. Ares pressed his lips to the smooth skin of Joxer's forehead in a tiny kiss.

"It's alright, Joxer. I've got you."

====

Gaia watched Ares cuddling Joxer and nodded in satisfaction. The goddess looked at the two men who had briefly switched lives with Joxer and shuddered at their awful fates.

With a regal wave of her hand Steve and Arthur's souls were plucked out of their bodies *before* they were horribly murdered and sent out in to another dimension. There each one took the place of one of the many Joxer look-alikes who had died and lived the remainder of their own lives in peace, not remembering what had happened or who they used to be.

"Now, if Joxer would just admit that he's happy with the life he has, the enchantment could be lifted. Otherwise, I'm helpless to stop this shifting around."

Gaia leaned back in her throne and tried to think of some way to hurry the process along. Briefly, she wondered how long this was going to go on.

^I mean a briefcase.

Chapter Text

Joxer opened his eyes and stared straight ahead into the room. He was too tired and worn out to even look around, not that he would have seen much anyway. From the darkness that filled the room, the young man figured that it was the middle of the night. What night he didn't know. So much had been going on lately that Joxer wasn't even entirely sure he was still on Mount Olympus, let alone when in the week it was.

A large, warm hand trailed through his hair, soothing Joxer before he even had a chance to get upset. At that moment, Joxer didn't give a Tartarus what day it was or where he was. Someone obviously cared enough about him to sit in the dark and watch over him. That was more than his mother ever did. In fact, only Jett and Jayce had ever watched over him before.

Except for Strife and Ares.

The young warrior remembered his friend Strife helping him when he'd been so scared and he seemed to remember...yes, Ares carried him to bed and held him.

He closed his eyes and savored the bit of pampering. Joxer was thirsty and wished he could tell that to whomever, but at the moment all he could concentrate on was breathing. Talking was out of the question. And wouldn't that make most people happy.

Joxer felt something touch his bottom lip and carefully open his mouth. A thin trickle of cool water was poured in and before he had a chance to respond, the same strong hand was on his neck. A few soft strokes to his throat and Joxer automatically swallowed.

The young warrior was amazed. Someone had not only stayed with him, but they were massaging his throat to help him drink. Joxer would have cried if he'd had the energy.

Joxer opened his eyes again, to see if it was Ares that was petting him, and realized that he must have fallen asleep, because it was now daylight out. Streams of sunlight filtered weakly in through the heavy curtains.

He found just enough energy to turn his head towards where he remembered someone sitting the night before. It was Ares and he was still there, sprawled in a black leather chair and sound asleep.

Joxer indulged himself and watched his god. 'It's unlikely that I'll get to see him like this very many more times,' the young warrior reasoned.

Ares watching was something that Joxer had been doing for years. He had seen the war god mad, very mad and really, really mad. He'd seen him laughing in derision and lately he'd seen him laugh happily. But he'd never seen him really relaxed before.

The God of War's strong hands, ones that could break someone in two or wield his mighty power, were lying open and vulnerable on his lap. The beautiful eyes were closed and his head lolled to one side, exposing the long column of his throat.

Joxer wished Ares could be this open and relaxed all the time. He knew that wasn't realistic, because the God of War had many enemies. Still, a worshiper could dream.

The young warrior took a deep breath and winced at how achy his chest felt. He guessed it was from being so tense the last several weeks, but whatever the cause, it made him feel like a pile of Argo's droppings. As a matter of fact, Joxer realized that he felt awful all over.

The end of his nose began to itch and it was all Joxer could manage to raise one arm and shakily scratch it. His hand flopped back onto the bed with a plop and Joxer glanced over, hoping he hadn't woken Ares up; the god looked so tired, he didn't want to disturb him.

But no, Ares was still asleep. Joxer smiled happily. Well, actually one corner of his mouth quirked a little, but the intention was there. All of his muscles felt like they were made up of something soft and squishy. Like that funny, clear looking fish like thing that he'd seen on the beach once that had no bones at all*.

On the upside, Joxer was thrilled with how well he could see. With all the time hopping he hadn't had a chance to really enjoy his eyesight being fixed. Now, he can see things farther away than say, the end of the bed and can make out little details, like how long Ares' eyelashes are. Or how the ends of his curly hair are slightly lighter than the rest. Or...

The room brightened momentarily when the door to the hallway opened. The shaft of light touched on Ares' sleeping figure and was quickly extinguished when the door was shut again. Apollo tiptoed into the room. His serious expression was traded for a big grin when he saw Joxer looking back at him.

"You're awake," the god whispered. He knelt down beside the bed and picked up Joxer's hand. "It's about time." The rebuke was said with a smile, but Joxer could see the worry behind it all the same. "You've been out of it for three days this time. If it weren't for godly powers," Apollo glanced over at the rousing Ares, "and a little personal help, you wouldn't have survived."

Joxer was stunned. He'd been unconscious for *three days*! No wonder he felt so awful. He shivered at the realization that his death had been that close.

"Are you cold?" Apollo asked. Joxer gave a faint nod, but before the healing god could do anything, flames flew up from the fireplace across the room.

"Maybe that will help." Even Ares' voice sounded tired.

"Thanks," Joxer whispered. Ares' concern warmed him a lot quicker that then fire did.

"Well, look who's awake." Strife leaned over the back of Ares' chair, one pointy elbow on the war god's shoulder. "It's good ta see ya up and around, Joxah. Or up anyway."

Ares turned his head and gave the pale god a pointed look. Strife grinned unrepentantly. Apollo rolled his eyes at the two god's antics. He turned back to Joxer and gave a smile and wink though.

The God of War gave a martyred sigh and stood up. Strife's elbow slid off as the larger man got up and he made a production of almost falling. Ares rolled his eyes and shook his sleep tousled head.

"Strife, you're a nut." Ares took hold of the front of Strife's leather suit in one fist and gave the mischief god a little shake. Strife stuck out his lower lip in a pout, not at all upset about being shaken. "But you're my nut. Sit down." Ares pulled the young god around and shoved him into the chair. "Stay here, I'm going to inform *the others* that Joxer's awake."

"Okay, Unc." Strife slung one long, skinny leg over the arm of the chair. "I'll keep an eye on tha Mighty One heah fah ya."

Joxer almost felt it hurt when Strife mocked his self proclaimed title, but then he realized that Strife wasn't being sarcastic. Strife turned away from watching Ares saunter out the door and gave Joxer a searching look. Pale, pale blue eyes calmly gave Joxer the chance to think. Belatedly, the young mortal remembered that the gods seemed to be able to read his mind. He winced, afraid he'd hurt his godly friend. Strife smiled.

"It's okay, I undahstand," the God of Mischief said quietly. "Bein picked on isn't fun."

"Neither is doubting your friends," Joxer said *very, very* quietly. Strife smiled at the apology.

"Well," Apollo stood and brushed his hands off by slap/rubbing them together, "you are going to have to rest for at least several more days, young man." The blond god wagged his finger in Joxer's face. "No more jumping around and..." Apollo cocked his head to one side, obviously hearing a godly summons. "Damn, I'm outta here, dudes." He flashed out with a bright grin.

After a few moments, Strife giggled. "Ta hear, Mistah Shiny Britches talkin, ya'd think ya wanted ta be flittin around time."

"I know," Joxer's voice was just a fraction stronger this time.

"So, are ya ready fah some breakfast?" Strife enthusiastically magicked up enough food for a feast.

====

Strife paled considerably (an incredible feat for him) and shuddered. "No wondah ya were sa upset."

Joxer nodded. He had just finished relating his last two jumps and had scared them both. The mortal was propped up in his fancy, if borrowed, bed. He fingered a bit of the clothes he was wearing and wondered to himself what they were made of, because it felt so nice against his over sensitized skin.

"Like that da ya." Strife continued, "it's silk. Unc chose 'em fah ya."

The warrior smiled. "And they're black," he said with a smirk.

"Yah, can ya believe it?" Strife snorted. A noise outside the door made them both pause, but whoever had been out there moved on.

Strife sighed when Joxer gave the door another disappointed glance. Ares had been gone quite a while and it was obviously bothering Joxer. "Unc must be freshenin up."

Joxer nodded and glanced back down at the bed covers. "I guess so."

"He was with ya tha whole time." Joxer looked up hopefully. His dark eyes looked huge in his thinner face. Despite Ares' excellent nursing and Apollo's good medical care, Joxer had still lost weight over the last several days. "He nevah left yar side, not once tha whole time ya were out ah it."

The young warrior was still smiling when there was a knock at the door. Strife flicked a finger negligently, one leg still hooked over the chair's arm and swinging back and forth. The door swung open to reveal Xena and Gabrielle.

Inside his head, Strife groaned. Xena wasn't too bad, but the Gabbster was the last thing Joxer needed. He sighed. "Come on in."

====

"It was like a nightmare," Gabrielle stated for the umpteenth time, "chasing Ares around like that and not being able to stop." She shuddered and missed the irate look on Strife's face.

Xena rolled her eyes and hoped that her younger friend would stop talking before the mischief god blasted her butt out the door. Then the Warrior Princess looked at Joxer and saw a look that made her gasp in surprise. Joxer had a *I would put a dagger in your eye and rip it out and then make you eat it* look in his eyes. The warrior woman hadn't seen a look that venomous in years and never from sweet Joxer before; certainly not towards the woman he used to love.

Realizing that if Strife didn't kill Gabrielle, Joxer was going to crawl out of his sick bed and at least give it a try, Xena decided to pull Gabrielle out of the line of fire. The blond woman, never realizing how much danger she was in (does she ever?), was still expounding on the horrors of being attracted to Ares.

Personally, Xena thought Gabrielle was protesting wayyyy too much. 'Maybe she got a good look at his gorgeous ass and liked what she saw.' Xena snorted at the idea of Ares putting a leg over the Amazon Princess that he hated so much.

"Come on, Gabrielle. We need to go pack our things." She tugged Gabrielle over to the door and was *so* grateful when the young woman stopped complaining.

Turning back to Joxer, she explained. "Since you are doing better, we're going to go back down to Greece." Xena smiled and walked back to the bed. Picking up Joxer's hand, she gave him a friendly hug. "Join us again when you're better."

"Okay." Joxer's eyes were a little shiny.

"Goodbye, my friend."

"Bye, Joxer," Gabrielle said from the doorway. She gave a little wave. "Take care."

Joxer's anger seemed to disappear when he realized that his friends were leaving. He smiled at Xena and then Gabrielle.

At the doorway, Xena turned and gave the young man a cheerful wave goodbye. "Goodbye, Strife. You take care too."

"I-I will," Strife smiled and the door closed behind the Warrior Princess.

====

"Hey, Stud Muffin." Aphrodite's voice arrived seconds before she actually flashed in. And there certainly was a lot of flash. The sparkles were pink and lavender, that kept twinkling as they fell to the ground, and instead of hearts or flowers in her wake, she had both, *plus* butterflies and small birds. It was all a bit overwhelming and by the time Joxer and Strife came to their senses, Dite is sitting *very close* to Joxer on the bed.

"Hi, Strifey." Dite was bubbly and flirty. As a matter of fact, Strife thought she was going to bubble over any minute.

"Hiya, Dite. How's tricks?" Aphrodite frowned at her nephew but Strife didn't let that faze him.

"Hello, Aphrodite," Joxer's voice was back to a whisper. The visit with Xena and Gabrielle had worn out what little energy he had.

"I'm soooo glad that you're awake, sweetie. I was really, *really* worried about you."

With each *really*, Dite moved closer, until she was right on top of the mortal. Now, every time Joxer took a breath, his arm brushed against her lacy dress. Strife could see that that was upsetting Joxer, who had turned an interesting shade of crimson.

"So, tell me cutie pie, have you ever heard the phrase 'eternal companion?' Joxer shook his head no.

Strife was trying to figure out a diplomatic way to get Aphrodite, who was acting like a cat in heat, off the young man, when Ares arrived.

One look at his uncle's scowling face and Strife scooted his chair back. That probably wouldn't do any good if the war god blew, but it might give him a running start.

"Hi, Ar." The goddess leaned back a bit from Joxer, who appreciated that immensely, and looked very unconcerned.

"Dite," Ares growled. His ex-lover smiled, her cheeks dimpling and eyes sparkling. The God of War eyed how close she was to Joxer and stalked over. "A little close, aren't you." She moved back all of six inches and waited until Ares' glare doubled in intensity before she sat all the way up.

Ares still wasn't happy. "Excuse me." If he had been a mortal, Ares would have broken off several of his teeth by now. Dite gracefully oozed to the bed, one hand trailing down Joxer's leg as she did.

Joxer was looking worried when Ares turned to give him a searching look. The god carefully brushed the hair from Joxer's forehead and ran a strong finger over the mortal's furrowed brow, smoothing the skin out. Strife could see when an idea popped into the older god's mind. "Have you seen the view from your window, Joxer?" The mortal shook his head no and whimpered slightly when that moved Ares' hand in a caress. "I'll show you then."

The war god flung the covers to the end of the bed, partially covering Aphrodite in the process. The love goddess smoothed the covers down and moved over to lean against Strife's chair. Somewhat mollified, Ares scooped Joxer up into his arms like, well like a potential lover carrying his intended over the threshold, and carried him over to the window.

Joxer blushed again and it only took Strife a moment to understand why. He knew all about having a skinny, pale body that he was ashamed of. Strife waved his hand and Joxer was covered in the red velvet robe that Strife had given him a few days back. The mischief maker thought it contrasted nicely with the black silk bed clothes. The war god gave Strife a smile carried Joxer over to the window, ignoring the goddess.

Dite watched Ares all but claim the mortal and winked at Strife. The God of Mischief could hardly contain his laughter. 'It was all a set up,' he thought and mentally smacked himself for not realizing it sooner.

The goddess stood up and struck a pose, one hand on an outthrust hip. "I think I can go now." Ares didn't so much as twitch, he was so absorbed with the mortal in his arms. Instead of making her angry, being ignored by Ares made Dite smile happily. "Yes, my work here seems to be done." She turned to Strife. "I've gotta go. There are some awesome waves off the coast and a bunch of totally cute guys are having a contest in my name. Later." She waved and gave Ares a wicked grin.

The God of War heard what she said and realized what Dite had done. He had to smile. He knew she just wanted him to be happy. Ares wanted the same for her and wondered how he could steer her towards Hepheastus. The forge god had been in love with Aphrodite since they were children and Ares thought the stable god would be the perfect person for the seemingly flighty goddess.

"I've gotta go taa, Unc," Strife said. "I'll go check on that war fah ya."

Ares nodded and Strife flashed out. Glancing down, Ares realized that Joxer had fallen asleep in his arms. The god stood for a while, holding the man he loved.

====

Joxer was so thankful when Strife covered him up. It's not that the all black outfit didn't cover most of his body, but it was so *clingy*. Any embarrassment he'd had disappeared when it dawned on Joxer that Ares was actually carrying him. The first time it had happened Joxer had been too hysterical to appreciate the strong arms supporting him, but now he could and Joxer intended to indulge himself.

Ares nodded at the window and the curtains slid open. Joxer braced himself for the glare to hurt his eyes, but it was either later than he thought or the windows had a spell on them. Either way, there was no glare, just the view. And what a view it was.

The young mortal got his first real look at Mount Olympus and was awed. Apollo's temple was up on one of the higher hills and that meant that a lot of the other temples were visible from this vantage point.

The white one with golden statues had to be Zeus'. A large one that had a faintly pink sheen to it must be Dite's and on the opposite side of the view, a dark, reddish, almost black temple was either Ares' or Hades'. Joxer thought about it a moment.

'It has to be Ares', because Hades lives in the Underworld. I don't know if he has temples up here or not.'

And it was so *clean*! Joxer was used to the filth and grime of everyday living that most towns had. Sanitation wasn't a word that most people knew of. Refuse and raw sewage alike were generally thrown into the streets to mingle with the droppings of the animals. But here...

The streets were clean enough that you could tell they were made of brick. The few times Joxer had seen brick pavement, it had been so dirt encrusted that it was indistinguishable from the paths that lined it.

Everything was shiny and cared for. Every temple had gardens that were well tended. Flowers and trees were everywhere. It was even more magnificent than he'd ever imagined.

Joxer laid his head on Ares' shoulder and sighed happily. He wondered how long this contented feeling would last before reality stepped in, but decided to ignore any sad feelings for now. With Ares' heartbeat pounding in his ear, Joxer fell asleep, happy in the arms of the god he secretly loved.

====

Later that next evening.

Joxer was lying in bed. He was feeling much stronger and Asclepius had said that if he kept improving he could get up and walk around the next morning. Joxer hoped so, because he was really bored. He'd been alone for most of the day, because there was a very important and very formal function in Athens that Strife had to mess up. Joxer didn't know where Ares was, but he missed the two gods.

"They don't have time to baby-sit me," Joxer said with a grimace. "They are two *very* important gods and have taken off enough time to look after me."

He still missed them though.

The mortal rolled to one side and closed his eyes to rest for *just a minute*. A bright flash startled him awake a couple of hours later.

"Ares!" Joxer pushed himself up, glad to see the war god. He gasped when he saw how much blood and gore were on the dark haired man. A searching glance convinced Joxer that, except for one long gash on his left forearm, the blood wasn't Ares' though, so he relaxed.

The God of War was magnificent in his fierceness. Red blood still ran down the sword in his hand, showing just how recently he'd been on the battlefield. Ares' long, black, curly hair was in wild disarray and damp, so Joxer reasoned that it had been raining wherever he was. The way his skin and leathers glistened was more proof. Eyes wild and grin even wilder, Ares never looked more like a fierce war god than he did at the moment.

Joxer gasped at the sight and felt himself growing hard. If he'd been stronger, Joxer would have jumped on the war god and damned the consequences. Being blasted to Hades' kingdom would have been well worth it.

====

Belatedly, Ares realized how much of his last combatants (their blood, brains and bits of bone) had been transferred to his clothing. He'd been so pumped up from the battle that he'd flashed immediately here, without cleaning up first. Ares winced, even Aphrodite had been disgusted when he'd come back from a battle without getting rid of the evidence first.

Ares wondered how much of Gabrielle's peace loving ways have rubbed off on Joxer and if this was going to cause problems between the two of them. The god cleaned up with a thought, missing the arousal that his warriorness had engendered in Joxer.

"How did the battle go? Where were you at? Did you win? Well, that was silly of me, wasn't it? You are the God of War, of course you won. Who were you fighting?"

Joxer's rapid fire questions betrayed his excitement and thrilled Ares to the core of his being. Instead of being put off by the violence, Joxer was excited and unless the god was mistaken...he was *really* excited. The God of War glanced down at Joxer and sure enough there was a considerable bulge between the mortal's legs. Ares began to relate the details of the battle to a wide eyed Joxer. He sat down in his chair and sat with his legs wide spread, so Joxer couldn't miss his own erection.

"Would you like me to help with that?"

Ares' voice faltered for a moment. He hadn't dared to hope that Joxer would be the one to make the first move. Then he realized that Joxer was pointing to his injured arm.

'Tartarus!' Ares thought in disappointment. 'Oh well, him wanting to tend to me is good too.'

"Thanks." Ares scooted his chair closer to the bed and magicked up the necessary supplies.

====

Joxer rinsed out the cloth in the pan. The water was already tinged pink with the blood from Ares' arm. The mortal was having a tough time concentrating on Ares' arm, but he somehow managed to clean and bandage it. Joxer wasn't certain if he needed to wrap the wound, but Ares didn't seem to mind and he certainly didn't since it got him ever closer to his own personal Elysian Fields.

The young warrior might not be the brightest guy in the world, but he could see Ares' erection straining the tight leather pants. Joxer's mouth actually began to water as he wondered what Ares would look like *without* the confining leather. He gave a small moan at the thought and glanced up fearfully as he betrayed himself.

It really wasn't good form to literally be drooling over your god. Or stroking his injured arm in the way you wanted to be stroking his cock.

Ares was breathing hard and eyeing Joxer's body too. Joxer gasped at the look in his eyes. No one had *ever* looked at him like that. The god was coming at him and Joxer didn't care if it was the result of battle lust, he wanted the Ares to kiss him.

Ares was leaning forward to kiss Joxer. Both man and god were excited. Ares and Joxer's lips were just about touch when...

Poof...

Joxer fell against a wall and stood there stunned. He'd almost kissed Ares! The young man wanted to kick the wall in frustration. Who knew if the moment would ever come again. Joxer smothered down a scream at whoever the Tartarus was causing this and took stock of his current situation. It's not like he usually had a lot of time to adjust, after all.

It was obvious that he, whoever the heck he was this time, had been running. In Joxer's hand was a long, nasty looking dagger that was dripping blood off the point. Joxer held it up to the torchlight and realized that the blood went all the way to the hilt of the weapon and knew that the person who'd been stabbed was quite probably dead, or near enough for it to count.

That gave the young man a moment's pause. It reminded him a little of Ares, just a few moments ago. However, this was him and Joxer had never actually killed anyone before.

Joxer could hear some people running his way and his self preservation instincts took over. He gave a furtive look around and ducked inside of a shallow alcove. As he heard the footsteps getting closer, Joxer raised one black clad arm and covered his face. In that way the paleness of his skin was hidden.

A troop of about 20 guards passed by at a trot. Joxer remained unnoticed in his cubbyhole. The young man had lived in a warlord's household after all. With Jett and their father as an example, Joxer knew all about stealth; he just usually wasn't good at it.

The hidden man stepped further back into the alcove and bumped into something that clanged dangerously. Being used to his own rattling armor, Joxer was able to stop the noise in record time. He listened and didn't hear the troops returning, so he the young man realized he hadn't been caught. Joxer glanced over and was astonished to see himself looking back.

The warrior gasped in surprise and clapped one hand over his mouth to stifle the noise. Upon a closer look though he realized that his hair was too dark to be his own. That, and the all black clothes that were bristling with weapons, and Joxer realized he'd traded lives with his brother, Jett!

He was now the King of Assassins. Him, Joxer, the Clumsy Mighty. That meant Jett was back with Ares. Joxer wasn't too fond of that idea, especially since Joxer had been in bed and he and Ares had been about to kiss. Realizing there was nothing he could do about that state of affairs, Joxer decided to concentrate on the situation at hand.

After all was quiet, Joxer stepped back out into the corridor and looked around. Tiptoeing softly down the hallway, Joxer made it out of the castle without being found out. He gave a brief hope that Jett didn't have anyone else that he was supposed to have assassinated.

'At least I didn't switch with Jayce,' he thought. 'He'd have jumped Ares' bones in a minute.'

====

Jett shook his head as the spinning stopped and blinked his eyes to clear them. He gave out a very unassassinly yelp when he saw the God of War puckered up and about to kiss him.

Ares jerked back a second before their lips would have touched. He scowled at Jett and the killer tried to get up and run for his life. Tried being the operative word. Jett realized that a) running from a god really wouldn't do any good, and b) he didn't have the energy to drag himself to the other side of the bed, let alone make a run for it, and c) he had a hard on to end all hard ons.

"Who the Tartarus are you?" Ares thundered.

"I'm Jett, my Lord Ares." Jett bowed his head, which was all that he could manage at the moment.

"Jett?" Ares slumped back in his chair in astonished disappointment. "Crap."

"Uh, yes, we've met before, Your Majesty."

"I know, I remember you. You do great work, by the way."

Jett flushed under the praise. "Thank you, sire. I'm...not certain how I came to be here."

Ares leaned his head back against his chair and sighed. "You're in Joxer's body. He's being switched around to different people's bodies."

The matter-of-fact recitation astonished Jett. "Oh-kay. Who's doing it? And why?"

The war god threw his hands out to the side in indignation. "Tartarus knows, but I sure as crap wish it would stop."

Jett held a hand out in mid-air and watched as Joxer's arm trembled with the strain of holding it still. He frowned dangerously. "Why is my brother so weak? It's hard to stay sitting up."

Ares frowned at that. He'd thought Joxer was feeling stronger than that by now. "It all began few weeks ago."

====

Joxer hit the guard in the back of the head and caught him before the unconscious man could hit the ground. He drug the heavy body into a shadowed spot by the guard's station and began to strip him of his uniform. Jett's chosen profession obviously kept him in top form, because it was relatively easy to move and maneuver the body.

So far, Joxer had knocked out four people, avoided a couple of dozen and managed to do it all without seriously hurting anyone. Or even minorly hurting them, unless you counted the headaches those four people were going to wake up with. Slipping on the guard's clothes (over Jett's, because his brother would kill him if Joxer lost his leathers) Joxer was able to slip out of the compound unnoticed.

Joxer wondered if it was Jett's body that made the difference. He'd never felt this graceful or competent in his life. He envied his brother, but he still wanted to be back with Ares.

As easily as that, Joxer felt himself tripping and saw the ground coming up...

====

...and he fell, half off the bed, half onto Ares' lap.

"Ungh."

"Joxer!"

The God of War took hold of him by the shoulders and laid him back in the bed. Joxer was grateful. Even though he'd dearly love to lay in Ares' lap, doing it while dangling over the side of the bed *wasn't* the way he wanted to go about it.

"ares."

The last thing Joxer heard before he passed out was Ares yelling for Apollo.

====

Gaia, Zeus' mother and a very powerful goddess, crossed her arms and actually stamped her foot.

"That wasn't the best timing in the world, but I *am not* going to have them kiss for the first time when Joxer thinks it's only because of blood lust. No way, no how."

She ran her fingers across a velvety rose petal and sighed. "Ares has to admit that he loves Joxer before that young man will believe it. Anything else will be cheap and end up breaking both their hearts."

Gaia concentrated on her grandson. She shook her head as she watched Apollo trying to calm Ares. Behind them, she could see Asclepius tending to the unconscious mortal.

"He'd better get his behind in gear. Joxer's only mortal after all."

The end...for this chapter.

*I mean a jellyfish, in case you couldn't figure it out.

Chapter Text

Joxer sat in the lovely and lush garden and looked out at the wonders of Mount Olympus blankly. His mind was wandering, not up and down the golden streets that he was seeing, but back almost a week's time.

It's been six days since he'd switched back and forth with Jett. Six days since Joxer and Ares had almost kissed. Five days since the God of War had left to deal with a war and hadn't come back. At least, not to Asclepius' temple. Not where Joxer could see and hear him.

No one had any idea why Ares stepped back. The war god had been hovering over Joxer for weeks and then all of the sudden...poof...he left and didn't look back.

Joxer gave a shuddering sigh and lay down on the soft, green grass and curled up in a tight ball.

====

"Unc needs ta be made jealous," Strife suggested innocently. "Again," he added with a shake of his head.

The pale, skinny God of Mischief was watching his equally pale and slender friend through the curtains in his room. It broke Strife's heart to see Joxer looking so depressed.

"Hmmm," the blond god pursed his lips and tapped his chin with one finger. "That gives me an idea."

Strife turned and gave the healing god a worried look, just before Apollo flashed out. The grin on 'Pol's face wasn't reassuring.

"Crap, I wonah what he's up ta now," Strife grumbled, remembering how angry Ares had gotten when Aphrodite had flirted with the mortal.

====

"So, like I was saying...you seem to be all recovered from the life hopping thing now." Apollo clapped Joxer on the shoulder and tried not to wince as the slender man staggered and almost fell over at the friendly gesture.

"Yes, I guess I am." Joxer said reluctantly. "I'm not as tired as I was."

"Right," Apollo said heartily, with a mega sunlight smile. "You're fine now."

The god spoke loudly and clearly. Not because he thought Joxer needed the extra emphasis, but because he was hoping that would catch Ares' attention and the war god would get his butt back to claim the mortal like everyone knew he wanted to. He glanced around waiting for the flash that would herald his little brother's arrival.

And he waited...

"I," Joxer sighed and his shoulders slumped a little. "I guess I need to go back to earth now," he decided.

Apollo tried not to panic. *This* was not at all what he'd planned.

"Uh, well...you don't need to do that."

Joxer gave him a sad smile. The young mortal tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. The lock fell over his forehead again, and Apollo had to fight the urge not to brush it back himself. Right now, Joxer looked so very young and vulnerable.

"No, I need to get back down there and help my fri...uh, help Xena and Gabrielle."

The warrior looked about ready to cry when he caught himself calling the two women his friends. Apollo felt his heart clench at the misspeak. He knew that Xena did care for the young man and thought that Gabrielle did as well, despite the way she acted most of the time.

"Well..." Apollo thought quickly and amended his earlier statement. "You are *better* but, uhm...you're still not completely well. I don't think you need to be alone for a while, just in case. Maybe you can travel with your friends. They could keep an eye on you."

Joxer nodded. "Okay," he said dispiritedly, before going back inside to his room to pack.

====

Strife blinked at his uncle in astonishment. "Ya did what?" he asked quietly.

"I know," Apollo sat down on Strife's bed with a plop. "I didn't mean for that to happen at all, dude." He blond god flopped back to lie crossways on the bed.

The mischief god shook his head. Dark, spiky hair glittered in the sunlight streaming through the open window. The young god was once again dressed in his black leather, safety pinned suit. Of course, no one around Olympus knew what a safety pin was, but Strife had looked through the Halls of Time to find something scary, but suitable, for his version of armor.

"He's goin down ta wheah Xena and Gabby are, right?" Apollo nodded yes to Strife's question. "Okay, we can work with this."

Strife put his hands on his hips and began to stride around the room as he thought. His heavy boots made clomping sounds on the pale marble floor. After a couple of revolutions around the room, the god snapped his leather gloved fingers and smiled.

"I've got it! We get him down ta earth...*safely*," Strife emphasized, "then we take turns watchin him...surreptitiously. Hopefully tha presence of sa many different gods watchin him will be enough ta get Unc's attention." Which had been Strife's intention in the first place. Leave it to Apollo to take so simple of a statement and bollocks it up.

Apollo sat up and nodded. Strife saw that even lolling on the bed hadn't messed up the other god's hair or clothes and rolled his eyes internally. It was hard as Tartarus for Strife to maintain his look. The amount of hair gel alone was outrageous.

"Cool," Apollo smiled at his nephew. "Sounds like a plan."

====

The road was just as dusty and dirty as Joxer remembered it being. It didn't matter that this wasn't the precise same road he'd been on the last time he collapsed, because they all looked the same. A dirty little path, surrounded by dusty trees, and rocky ground to sleep on.

Joxer plastered on what he hoped was a sincere smile and turned to the god who had just flashed in with him. "Thank you for the ride, Hermes."

The messenger god smiled at the mortal. "No problem. I needed to deliver a few messages in the area anyway."

Actually, it had been Strife's idea for Hermes to ferry Joxer down to earth. Considering how unsteady Joxer had been for a while now, no one just wanted to *send* him back, and when Strife hadn't been able to convince Joxer to stay, this was the next best solution.

Well, truthfully the best solution would have been for Ares to have appeared and made the whole trip obsolete, but that hadn't happened, so they'd improvised.

"Joxer!"

The mortal turned and looked to see the Warrior Princess hurrying towards him. She actually looked happy to see him, something for which the heart sore Joxer was very grateful for. Xena grabbed him in a tight hug and Joxer let himself, just for a moment, sag against her and let the strong woman support him.

"Hi," Joxer said quietly. He straightened up and stepped away, not allowing himself to take advantage of her surprise for very long.

"Joxer." Gabrielle, who had just followed Xena out of the woods, seemed, if not happy, at least not as irritated to see him. "What are you doing here?"

'Okay, maybe not,' Joxer decided.

Xena gave her blond companion a nasty look and Gabrielle winced, with a chagrinned look on her expressive face. "I didn't mean it that way. But the last time we saw you, you were staying on Mount Olympus. What happened?"

Gabrielle's sympathy was almost Joxer's undoing. By clenching his fists tightly and digging his short fingernails into the palms of his hands, the warrior was able to stave off the tears he wanted to shed.

"I got better," he said with false brightness. "Hermes..." Joxer gestured to one side and then looked around in surprise. The Messenger of the Gods was gone. 'He didn't even say goodbye,' Joxer thought sadly. "Uhm...Hermes brought me back."

Xena frowned. She didn't like it that the gods had apparently dumped her young friend. She and Gabrielle had only left him on Olympus because they could see how happy the young man was and how everyone seemed to care for him. It bothered her that he was so depressed now.

"Well, that's lucky for us," Xena stated with a big smile. Inside, she was hoping and praying that Gabrielle wouldn't say anything to spoil the mood.

"Right," Gabby agreed. She took hold of the strap of Joxer's carryall and slipped it off of his shoulder. "Come on, the camp is this way." She jerked her head to one side, indicating the way. "We might catch some fresh fish for dinner." Confident that he was following her, Gabrielle headed off into the woods.

"I..." He plucked at the leather tie that held his shirt together nervously. "Are you sure this is okay? I can make my own camp if it will be too much trouble."

The uncertainty on his face made Xena want to go up to Mount Olympus and kick some glowy, godly butts. "Don't be silly, Joxer. We've missed having you around." It was true, she had missed him, and Gabrielle had even wondered out loud how he was doing several times.

Bending over, Xena picked up Joxer's armor. It was lying in a neatly tied bundle on the ground. The fact that he wasn't wearing the mismatched protective gear showed how out of it he still was. Xena had never seen the young man without the armor, not unless he was sleeping, and even then he sometimes wore it to bed, stating that 'a warrior needed to be prepared at all times'.

"Okay." Joxer meekly followed the Warrior Princess into the woods and farther away from the last few, happy weeks.

====

The young warrior gasped and tilted away from the door he'd been leaning against. He slumped back again when the dizziness overtook him. He had to stay where he was, and hope like Tartarus that he wasn't in any danger, until his head stopped turning like a dust devil.

'Each time I jump around, it takes longer and longer for me to settle down,' Joxer decided. 'I'm not looking forward to when I go back.'

For some reason the return trip from a body leap was always much harder than when he left to begin with, possibly because he was already worn out. Whatever the reason, Joxer leaned against the door for a couple of minutes before he could straighten up again.

Looking around, Joxer confirmed that he must have body switched again, because he had absolutely no idea where he was. It was obvious that he was in a building of some kind, whereas he'd been in camp just a moment before. Not to mention that it was nighttime and when Joxer had left Greece, it had been early morning.

'Tartarus!' he thought to himself. 'I wish this crap would stop happening.'

Joxer shivered as he tried to figure out where he was. 'Wherever it is, it certainly is cold, because there's a draft on my arms...and legs...and backside...and my...'

He stood for a moment as an extremely uncomfortable thought crossed his mind. Praying to any and all gods that he was wrong, the warrior looked down.

The dark haired man eeeped when he realized he was indeed naked.

Joxer's hands immediately shot down to cover his crotch. He glanced around the hallway, thankful for the darkened area and the fact that he seemed to be alone. He backed away from the door he had been leaning against and hurried down the hall, one hand over his groin and the other hand reaching back and covering as much of his butt as he could.

Diving into an open doorway, Joxer was thrilled to find that this room was also unoccupied. His face a brilliant red color, the warrior carefully shut the door behind himself. The room was too dark to see in, but Joxer did spy a bed and carefully lowered himself down.

'I hope this is my bed,' Joxer thought with a grimace. 'Otherwise somebody's going to get a nasty surprise.'

The strain of leaving Mount Olympus and the added strain of being switched again took their toll of Joxer's tired body. Only moments after his head hit the pillow, he was asleep.

====

Dennis Skinner stepped back in surprise. One minute he was standing outside Kerry's bedroom door and the next he was leaning against a tree. He glanced down.

Leaning against a tree...peeing.

Skinner shrugged and finished taking care of his bodily functions as he glanced around interestedly. Most people, finding themselves in a completely different location, would have been hysterical. Skinner, however, just assumed this was a new aspect of his psychosis and went with it.

Yes, the young man knew that he was insane, but he was too insane to care.

Tilting his head to one side, the killer heard voices off to one side. Going on the assumption that they weren't just more voices in his head, Skinner decided to walk that way.

The closer he got, Dennis could tell that it was definitely two voices. Two female voices to be precise.

"There you are. We were getting worried." The tall, dark haired woman seemed to be genuinely concerned about him.

"Yes, we were." Another voice said. "We were about to come looking for you. Mind you, I'm glad I didn't have to, because I think that plant is poisonous." Out of the corner of his eye, Skinner saw a tanned arm gestured to a bush near to where Dennis had just come from.

"I'm sorry," Skinner said. That seemed to be the safest answer to give.

The dark haired woman sighed and gave her companion a dirty look. "It's alright, Joxer. And Gabrielle...that is a mulberry bush, not poisonous at all."

Dennis finally had the chance and looked behind himself. That's where the second voice had been coming from. He had decided to face the friendlier woman before turning around to the other, not so welcoming, voice.

He gasped.

"Are you okay?" the second woman asked.

Dennis nodded, his eyes were riveted to the reddish-blond hair that the woman had. It was long and straight...and would look perfect on his head!

Wherever he was, Skinner was happy with this new turn of events.

****

Knock. Knock.

"Dennis?"

Joxer moaned and tried to pull the covers up over his head. He didn't want to get up yet.

"Dennis? Are you alright?" The woman's voice got a little louder. She was obviously becoming concerned.

"Uhm, yes." Joxer knew his answer didn't sound very reassuring, but it seemed to do the trick.

"Okay. I'm going to fix breakfast now, if you want some."

"Yes. Uh, thank you."

Joxer waited until he could hear footsteps leading away from his door before he got up and started looking for clothes. The warrior wrapped a sheet around his body, not being comfortable being naked even when he was the only one in the room.

Finding something to wear was easier than Joxer thought. He put on a shirt made of stretchy white material and a pair of trousers with a very unusual fastener on the groin. Joxer had almost caught his penis in the silver metal teeth of the fastenings. He briefly wondered if Dennis had any undergarments, but decided not to risk the metal things to take his clothes off, just to put some under things on.

Following the smell of cooking food, Joxer walked down the hallway and into a bright, sunshiny room. A smaller, dark haired woman was standing in front of a shiny metal object cooking something in a pan.

"That smells good," Joxer said quietly.

"Thanks." The woman didn't turn around while she spoke.

Joxer watched her cooking and realized that the metal thing was a stove. It wasn't anything like the cooking stove that had been in his father and mother's household. That one had used wood. Joxer knew that for certain because he'd tried to help cook one time by adding fire to the stove. The young boy had received a burn on his arm and a beating on his butt for the effort. Cook had tended to the injured arm and Jayce had found a salve for his behind.

"How do you want your eggs? The usual?" She turned around and gave Joxer a big smile. Her pretty dark eyes twinkled mischievously.

"Okay."

The warrior watched as she expertly cracked the eggs and stirred them in the pan. A loud bell startled Joxer. He looked around for the bell ringer, but didn't see anyone. The young woman picked up a slender, aquamarine, rectangle from the counter beside the stove. She pushed a button that was blinking.

"Hello. Oh hi, Delli. How's it going?"

Joxer watched in amazement as she talked into the new object. Very faintly, he could hear another woman's voice answering back.

'She's able to talk to somebody, without them being in the same room.' Joxer was amazed. 'I wish I had something like that back home.' He thought for a moment. 'Of course nobody else would have one, so I wouldn't have anybody to talk to. Not that there are very many people who would want to talk to me anyway. Except for the gods that is and they don't have to have something to talk into. And I'm not sure if they even want to talk to me either, not after Ares stopped coming around and Apollo seemed to want me gone. Strife is a friend though and Cupid too, I think. But like I say, they can just poof in.'

Joxer paused in his babbling, internally out of breath. The woman, and darn, he still didn't know her name, handed him a plate heaped full of wonderful looking and smelling food. Joxer nodded his thanks to the still talking woman and sat down at the table. He was so hungry and the food looked *very* appetizing that the warrior ran a hand over his mouth to see if he was drooling. He wasn't, but it was a close thing. After more than a week of Gabrielle's idea of cooking, Joxer was ready for something better.

====

"I don't believe this," Strife said with a weary shake of his head.

"I know," Apollo agreed with him. The blond god patted Strife on the knee in commiseration. Of course, Apollo being Apollo, he just had to move the hand up higher on the mischief god's black leather clad leg.

Strife watched his uncle in amusement, waiting to see how far the lusty god would go. He never got to find out.

The God of Love's flash was usually a blue color. The brightness of blue depended on what mood Cupid was in. After his and Psyche's marriage crumbled, the blond god's flash had been a very dark, royal blue. Today, it was navy.

"What do you think you're doing?" he asked in a low growl.

Apollo's hand stopped climbing Strife's leg. "Offering comfort," Apollo explained. "Poor Joxer has jumped into another life and Strife was upset about it."

"Oh really," Cupid said, eyeing the hand that was still on Strife's leg. "And you believe it's necessary to offer *that* sort of help," he growled out. Apollo hastily removed his hand, before Cupid removed it from his body.

"Hey, Cupe," Strife quipped. He was thrilled to have the beautiful god defending his honor. "How's it goin?"

"I'm great," Cupid said with a bright smile. "How are you?" The love god glared at Apollo and then eyed Strife up and down, looking for any damage.

"I'm fine. Joxah's some place different again though."

Cupid waved a hand and the settee that Strife and Apollo were sitting on extended. He sat down on the lounging chair, on the other side of Strife and glared at Apollo, daring him to say or do anything.

"Where's he gone this time?"

"We don't know," Strife answered. "But I'm getting a very funny feeling coming off the guy that's now in Joxer's body."

"And I'm worried," Apollo admitted. "The last time he jumped lives, he was unconscious for days and he was only gone for about an hour that time. Joxer has already been gone for at least eight or nine hours. So, what's going to happen when he comes back this time?"

All three deities exchanged worried glances.

====

Across Mount Olympus, Gaia sat slumped on her throne.

"This is falling completely apart," she admitted. "Joxer's about to collapse...again...from the traveling. And where, in all that's holy, is Ares?!" she hollered. The normally quiet and loving goddess actually yelled out in frustration.

She closed her eyes and searched the Greek pantheon for the missing war god. Ares had left for his *war* over two weeks ago and hadn't been back since. Gaia knew that Strife and Discord had received orders from Ares, but hadn't seen him in that whole time.

Stretching out her godhood, she searched for her absent grandson, but he wasn't in Greece, not even in hiding. The earth goddess was powerful enough that she could sense one of her family even if they were cloaked. So, Gaia dug deeper...and there he was.

"He's hiding in Hades' realm?" she asked incredulously. "Ares, the almighty powerful, God of War, is cowering behind a bunch of dead people!"

The older goddess stood up, her face was a dark red color and her hair was literally standing on end, because she was so outraged. Throwing her hands skyward, the goddess snarled, a look that was worthy of Ares himself. Sparks flew from her fingertips and lightening erupted all over Mount Olympus because of it.

"I...have...had...IT!" she screamed and disappeared with a bright orange flash.

====

Zeus heard the primal scream and saw the lightening storm across the perpetually clear Olympian sky.

"Oh crap," he whispered. "Mom's pissed off."

Praying fast and hard, the King of the Gods hoped that he wasn't the cause or the object of his mother's ire. Ducking his head as lightening ripped through the sky, Zeus said a quick prayer for whoever his mother was about to jump.

====

Joxer stared in amazement at the small box in front of him. Kerry, that was the woman's name, as he'd discovered, had motioned for him to sit down, and indicated that she was *going to take a shower* (whatever that was) and had picked up a small black box. She had aimed that box at the bigger box (a lot of boxes around here) and pushed a button. The result was instantaneous.

Inside the box, Joxer could see a whole bunch of people running around. Some were yelling, all were talking at once, and one woman, named Ricki Lake, bore a striking resemblance to Kerry.

The warrior looked for the tiny people he was looking at before it dawned on him that this box was probably like the one Kerry had been talking into earlier and the person was on the other end. So, Joxer tried talking to the box, like she had into the smaller one in the kitchen. Although people talked, no one answered him back, making Joxer wonder if he was doing it correctly. The younger man even tried picking up the box that made these people appear and talking into that. It didn't help either.

Giving up, Joxer sat back down and listened to the people. He didn't really like doing that, because it was too much like eavesdropping. Especially when he paid attention to what they were saying. The lives of these people were really bizarre and disturbing. And this, coming from someone who palled around with gods, was frightening.

Against his will, Joxer was mesmerized by their tales and was still sitting on the couch in front of the television when Kerry came back from her shower 15 minutes later.

====

"...so I thought that would make a good story to add to my collection." Silence greeted Gabrielle's statement. "What do you think, Xena?"

"That sounds fine, Gabrielle," the warrior princess answered absently. Obviously her mind was more on the path ahead of them than on what her friend was saying. "I'll be back in a little while. I think I heard something up there." Xena gestured to the path through the dense forest.

"Oh. Oh-kay." The warrior slapped the reins, halfway through Gabby's answer, and she and Argo took off.

The blond (or is she a red head?) frowned at her friend's retreating figure. She wasn't very fond of not being paid attention to. Nor did she like it that Xena had ridden off on her own.

"You agree with me...don't you?" She turned to face Joxer, who was eyeing her strangely.

"Certainly," he answered suavely. "I think your idea is excellent."

"Uh...oh. Thank you." Gabrielle blushed at the compliment and eyed the dark haired man. She wasn't used to Joxer making her feel flustered. "I guess we should follow after Xena."

Joxer nodded and smiled sweetly. He gestured grandly at the path. "After you."

====

Skinner was walking behind the one with the nice hair again, only this time there wasn't a witness.

Leaning over, the Joxer imposter slipped a knife from the side of Joxer's boot. No one, not even the Warrior Princess, knew that Joxer carried several more weapons than his badly forged sword.

Her hair gleamed in the late afternoon sun, taunting Dennis. It had been calling to him all day.

He was just walking up behind Gabrielle, knife in one clenched hand, while the other was reaching out to grab her head, when...there was a bright flash over to one side.

In an instant, Skinner had the knife concealed inside his shirt. The object of his desire, Gabrielle's hair, swung out in a wave when she whirled around to face whatever had caused that bright light.

Dennis looked over, smiling innocently, at the very pale, dark haired man standing at the edge of the woods. A quick glance at the new arrival's hair and Skinner dismissed it as a possibility. The spiky black hair was unusual, but not different enough.

Then...he looked into the man's eyes. His striking, very unique, and very beautiful, pale, blue eyes.

'Mine!' his mind sang.

====

Strife gasped as the possessive, homicidal wave rolled over him.

He staggered back and dropped to his knees as the man who looked like Joxer stared at him. The gods could read minds, if they wanted to that is, and he'd always been able to *hear* Joxer loud and clear. Apparently that worked even on faux Joxers.

"Strife?" Gabrielle's voice couldn't compete with what was assaulting Strife's mind.

Images swamped his mind. Pictures of women screaming in pain. Dying in horror filled agony as the man, who so resembled his friend, skinned them alive. Through it all, Strife's own eyes would occasionally pop into the other man's mind and the mischief god realized Joxer, or the pretend Joxer that is, wanted them for his own.

"Strife? Are you alright?" The Amazon Princess' scared voice finally broke through to Strife.

"I..." He swallowed hard and tried to slow down his racing heart. "I'm..." Strife looked up into insanely glittering brown eyes and couldn't finish saying that he was alright.

The god *heard* another thought and realized that Gabrielle had been minutes away from dying. He took hold of her arm and pulled the unresisting woman closer. Gabrielle had unaccountably been worried about the young god and was leaning over him, so it didn't take much effort on Strife's part to pull her over.

"What is it? What's wrong?" When Strife didn't answer, Gabrielle looked up to the sky. "Could I have some help please, something's wrong with Strife."

====

Joxer staggered into his bedroom and sat back down on the bed. The things that he had seen on the television (Kerry called it that) had astounded the warrior. Looking around the room, Joxer wondered what other surprises were in store for him.

He lay back on the bed, feeling suddenly tired, and stared up at the ceiling. "How did they get it so smooth?" the younger man thought to himself. "Except for in the god's temples I've never seen anything so perfect in all my life."

Thinking of the gods made him think about Ares. Joxer closed his eyes and determinedly suppressed the tears that threatened to fall. "There's no need to think about him. Ares has made it clear that he doesn't really want me around. I-I guess the almost kiss was just a fluke and now he's come to his senses."

Now, he really was about to cry. So, Joxer got up and started wandering around the room. He picked up a book and glanced inside. Joxer gasped in astonishment. "How did somebody write so neatly? And so small?" Peering at the printed pages, he added, "Every letter is the same size and spaced perfectly. Wow. I'll bet that was tough to do."

Joxer envied the scribe whose work he was looking at. As the son of a warlord, Joxer wasn't expected to have very much of an education. And with his poor eyesight, what little schooling he did have didn't go over very well.

An odd odor crossed Joxer's nose. He stopped in his wanderings and sniffed the air. Laying the book down on the dresser carefully, as befitted such a fine tome, Joxer retraced his steps. The smell was stronger the closer he got to the closet.

"What is that stench?" Joxer wondered. He started to open the door and the smell that poured out of the small enclosure made him gag. Letting go of the doorknob, he pinched his nose together with one hand, while trying not to throw up in the other. "Great Olympus!"

Curiosity overcoming his natural desire to run away from whatever was causing the odor, Joxer held his breath and reached out for the edge of the partially open door. Before he could touch it, the warrior staggered back several steps, almost falling down. He caught himself on the corner of the dresser. His heart thudding painfully in his chest, Joxer moved over and sat back down on the side of the bed.

"W-what was that? It felt like something pushed me." Joxer gave up trying to figure it out and lay back on the bed.

Turning onto his side, Joxer rubbed his chest a little where it was aching. "I want to go home," he declared. And with a swirling sensation in his head, he did.

====

"Strife?"

The God of War flashed in. He had heard Gabrielle's cry for help and come immediately. He wasn't going to risk losing his beloved nephew again.

"Ares. Thank goodness." Both gods and the Amazon Princess were surprised at her statement. None of them ever thought they'd hear Gabrielle being glad to see any god, let alone the God of War.

"What's wrong?" Ares asked, as he knelt by Strife.

"I don't know. He flashed in and then collapsed almost immediately. And he won't say anything."

Ares looked from Strife's wide-eyed, frightened gaze to Joxer, who was standing several feet away. The fact that Strife seemed scared of sweet, innocent Joxer was amazing enough, but couple that with the fact that Joxer wasn't by his good friend, and you had a bizarre situation.

The war god concentrated on Joxer's thoughts and was immediately inundated by the insanity swirling around inside that innocuous looking head.

"What's going on here?" Xena's strident voice rang out. She jumped off Argo and hurried to stand between Joxer and Gabrielle, ready to face off against the possible threat from the two gods.

"Tartarus," Ares breathed out. "I've never felt anyone that insane before. Not even..." Ares glanced at Strife, not wanting to upset him further.

"Not even Callisto," Strife finished for him.

"What?" The two women looked over at Joxer. "Joxer's not insane," Xena declared with a frown.

"*That's* not Joxer," Ares declared. "How could you not see that?"

Dennis Skinner smiled, but now that the secret was out, Xena and Gabrielle could tell that there was something *not quite right* about the younger man. His smile was too bright and the way he was standing was more alert, like he was ready to attack, not relaxed and loose the way the real Joxer would.

The imposter was about to plead his case when he his head began to whirl...

====

Dennis blinked a couple of times and realized he was in his bedroom at Kerry's house. He smiled happily.

'Now, to get back to business,' he decided. 'I wish I could have gotten those eyes though,' Dennis thought. 'Gabrielle's hair is no big loss, because I can find nice hair anywhere, but those eyes were unique. Oh well.' He shrugged mentally at the loss.

Sitting up, Skinner felt something slam into his chest, stealing his breath away.

'Oh damn,' he thought with little regret. 'I guess I won't get to finish after all.'

The young man slumped back onto the bed and closed his eyes for the last time.

====

In front of the doorway, the future version of Strife watched as Dennis Skinner, serial killer, died from his heart defect.

Strife had been the one to stop his good friend Joxer from seeing the horrors that Dennis had hidden in his closet. Sadly he wouldn't be able to protect Kerry and her husband. They had to find the bits and pieces of human flesh that were in Skinner's closet; they had to know what horror they had been sheltering and *just* how close Kerry had come to joining them.

Looking at the body on the bed, Strife said a thankful prayer that it *wasn't* his friend, and then flashed back home.

====

Joxer sat down on the dusty ground with a thud. Sitting right across from him was Strife, who was also sitting on the ground.

"Joxah?" The mischief god's voice was tremulous.

The young warrior nodded wearily. His breath was catching in his chest, making it come out in little gasps.

"Joxer, it's alright." Ares had moved over and was now leaning over the mortal. "I'll take care of you."

Looking up into Ares' worried eyes, Joxer felt another pang in his chest. He just didn't trust the war god now.