Home Unknown

BY : karisma
Category: S through Z > Xena
Dragon prints: 14766
Disclaimer: I do not own Xena, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Title: Home unknown

Author: karisma

Rating: R

Fandom: Hercules/Xena

Pairing: A/J, C/S, and probably all the usual suspects…

Discl.: In no way, shape or form do I resemble Sam Raimi or Rob Tapert. Not even around the eyes. They own it all, but I'm takin' the boys and girls out for a spin. I promise to bring them back only slightly rumpled.

Summary: Olympus sure can use a guy like Joxer. Boy, is he surprised.

Warning: This be guys shaggin’, so if you no likee, then please, no readee. And sure as hell no complainee. You’ve been forewarnee.

Part I - In from the Cold

The moon was following him.

That was the best his tired mind could do. He knew the moon didn’t actually move – he’d spent so many nights staring at it sitting solid in the sky above him. But tonight, it just seemed that he couldn’t shake the thing.

He would have preferred darkness. A nice cover of clouds would have suited him just fine, keeping his movements somewhat secret. He knew he couldn’t help crashing through underbrush – if there was one thing everyone was always right about, it was that he was such a pathetic klutz.

He couldn’t hear them anymore, Argo’s hoofbeats quiet for the night. Their campfire was long since gone as well, a tiny dot of fire in the distance. Grecian nights were intemperate, chilly one minute and fair the next. He wished it had been warm tonight. Naturally, it wasn’t. He fought off a shiver as he trudged on, pushing the tiny voice yearning for the heat of a fire out of his head. Of course, making that voice disappear only left room enough for…

"GODS! I’M SUCH AN IDIOT!" he yelled into the night before he could even think to stop himself. "You’d think I’d catch on sooner or later! Always snuggling together at night! Those looks when they think I don’t see them! For Zeus’ Sake, they BATHE TOGETHER! Why didn’t I see it?" Another thought hit him square in the chest. He spun in the direction he had come from and focused on the eentsy orange flicker in the distance. "Why didn’t they tell me?" His heart flinched the way it always had at home when he’d been the odd triplet out, Mother fawning all over Jayce, Father strutting around like a peacock over some atrocity Jett had been responsible for… and Joxer left watching. His eyes misted quickly and since he was alone – and isn’t that always the way? – he didn’t fight it back. The woods loomed over him like giants, the moon heavy and round over his head. He felt tiny.

There it was, though. Bedroll for one. Dinner for one. Inn-room for one. He’d always fancied that Xena and Gabrielle were, at the very least, his friends. No matter what he hoped in his heart of hearts about the blond bard’s feelings for him, he always knew that the three of them were close. Not close enough to let me in on THAT little bit of information, though, right? He chuckled bitterly to himself, feeling as if he’d been punched in the gut.

"You coulda told me, guys…" He muttered grumpily to himself and to the night and to the "friends" he’d left behind to whatever snoggery and shagging they got up to in the outdoors. He didn’t want to think about it too much. "You coulda said… something. Anything. I mean, I’m not the swiftest horse on the team, but I think I coulda handled it."

A laugh took him by surprise, especially since it was his own. He turned back to the path he was forging through the forest and snorted to himself. "Sure you coulda. Now there’s a lie if I ever heard one." He could imagine the amazing stutter-stammer-faint routine he would have performed on hearing that one. Never mind if he’d actually caught them. His cheeks flamed at the mere thought of that confrontation. He wasn’t sure if it was actually possible to die of embarrassment, but he was sure that he’d come close in that situation.

A jaw-cracking yawn snuck up on him, reminding him of just how long it had been since he’d bothered to rest. He and Xena and Gabs had been pushing feet since dawn… no, before then. He’d been up before them, when the sky had still been brilliant purple and orange with wispy cotton clouds. When the day had held so much promise. The two women had still been asleep, just this side of cuddled together but probably still mindful of his presence. More guilt heaped on - he was cramping their style, and who knew for how long. Just when he thought he couldn’t feel any worse… Aphrodite’s Frilly Pink Nightie! I can’t be this pathetic…

Licks of gold crept from between the trees, warming the forest in front of him. For a second, he thought that maybe everyone was right about him. Clueless-to-the-end-Joxer, no sense at all. And now, it looked like he’d been traveling in circles. Wouldn’t THAT just be great? He’d always considered himself a fair enough tracker. Getting lost would be the final straw. Gathering up whatever he had left, Joxer of Corinth stomped noisily through the underbrush, not caring what it was doing to his shoes, and decided that if that little orange flicker that had turned up on his horizon was what he thought it was, he was just going to give up this whole stupid ‘hero’ dream and farm turnips for the rest of his life.

Fortunately for turnips everywhere, it wasn’t to be.

Instead of the meager campfire he’d left - and the women he’d left with it - Joxer found a pair of braziers burning in front of a smallish but dark temple that didn’t seem to belong. Who has a temple out in the middle of nowhere? He mentally ticked off a list of gods who might inhabit a dark forest and found his stomach trying to creep out through his spine, followed quickly by his balls. Each one was worse than the last. And what if it wasn’t a Greek god? Joxer’s heart started to trip-hammer just a little. What if some other pantheon had set up shop here to spy on Olympus or something? Or a rogue god just waiting to pounce? A solid lump formed in his throat. What if it was Dahak!

Panic turned the woods around Joxer into a living, snarling thing for the longest few seconds of his life, until the common sense Xena and Gabrielle would swear to Chin and back he didn’t possess crept back in. He’d been in that toss-up with Dahak and doubted he would ever forget it. The foulness that the evil entity spewed into the air made every part of his body cringe and tingle. Right now, aside from a little nervous nausea and fatigue, he felt nothing. So he could scratch that off the list of possibilities. The Greek symbols and letters engraved on the steps ruled out another pantheon (unless they were trying to fool people, which seemed kind of dumb out in the middle of nowhere). And spying on Olympus would probably be a lot easier a little closer to Olympus. Which left Joxer right back where he started. Strangle little temple in a forest that wasn’t going to be any easier to navigate in the pitch-black night without a torch as a cloud passed over the moon. But the sky hadn’t been cloudy, had it? The moonlight dimmed another notch and he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Guess I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?"

Screwing up his courage and strapping it down tightly, he made his way up the small, black stone steps. He kept his steps light and careful, since the stonework looked in need of repair. Funny enough, though, they supported his weight without crumbling. Didn’t even shift under his feet. Maybe it was the firelight throwing shadows., but they looked on their last prayer. The outer walls didn’t seem to be in much better shape, strange sorts of moss clinging to the stone and looking ready to choke the whole thing closed. Joxer wasn’t entirely sure moss couldn’t do that, either. If it was hanging around some god’s temple, maybe it was magic… charmed… enchanted… god-chanted? He could never figure out what to call it when a god stuck his or her juju all over something and made it behave for them. Thinking back on his own experience with that be-fuckered little bell, he was sure ‘cursed’ was close enough.

Somewhere in the shrouded forest, a lone, hungry howl rose up, prompting the lone traveler to forget about curses and moss and book tail through the crumbling door arch. Whoever this god was, Joxer hoped that letting wolves eat him wasn’t going to be allowed inside their temple.

Inside wasn’t much different from outside, as it turned out. Great stalks of wild plants were pushing up through the cobbled floor stones. Cobwebs hung thick from the ceiling, clinging like frightened children to the pillars that supported the roof. General disarray seemed to be the theme. An altar, crumbling with age and neglect, lay at one end, no offerings present and old grime clotting the top surface. If he didn’t know better, he’d say the place was deserted. No prints marked the clutter and dust on the floor. No echoes of footfalls - Joxer actually stopped to listen and came up with nothing. Had it not been for the braziers outside, he’d doubt anyone had been there in years.

"Hello?" Only the echo of his voice answered him. Really weird. "I… didn’t mean to barge in, but it’s getting kinda cold outside and if it’s OK by you, I’d like to catch a little rest?" He made it a question just in case whoever was around wanted to give him the bum’s rush. "Hello? Hell-oOo…" Only his steps accompanied his voice as he slowly wandered through the smallish room.

Funny thing, though. As he walked into the room, the main room probably reserved for worshippers, his eyes focused. Having been in the dark for a good few minutes (ask Gabby, it’s been most of my life, he grumbled inside his head), they got used to the dim atmosphere and the room sharpened. And then, a little something else. As he moved through the chamber, he noticed that… it was fake. Not the room itself, though. The lack of biting night air told him that much. But the cobwebs, the plants, the cracked and disheveled stonework… he reached a hand out to one of the walls and instead of crumbling brick, he found his touch gliding smoothly over cool, unbroken stone.

In fact, once he was a good twenty steps inside, he found a whole other room existing behind the charade. Rich if simple tapestries and some very deadly and obviously well-cared-for weapons hung on the walls - some of the axes and swords looked foreign and he couldn’t help running a finger over the hilt of one, fine-grain leather greeting him in touch and tang. the shoddy, decrepit altar was a complete illusion. In its place, a small, round table with two chairs pushed up to it. A pile of scrolls was perched precariously on the table for two, though they didn’t seem to be in danger of falling. Joxer gave it wide berth just in case. No sense in asking to be blasted to oblivion.

Behind the table, where a blank, moss-encrusted wall had been before was an archway. Gabrielle’s voice scolding him about what curiosity did for cats echoed around inside his head as he stepped past the table with incredible care. It occurred to him that this was someone’s private hideout, sanctuary from whatever it was that plagued them, and him snooping around wouldn’t be much appreciated. But he really was only looking for shelter for tonight - the next village was less than a day’s walk away, but he hadn’t wanted to chance heading there in the dark. And he had been considering straightening the place up a hair, too. Not that it really actually needed it, anyway.

"Hello? Anyone home?" Joxer called through the archway, his greeting bouncing off the walls of the room beyond it. If the other room’s true self had been hidden from outside viewing, the inner room obviously hadn’t needed it. Beyond the cupola lay a simple but roomy bed chamber, with the necessary fixtures. Bed. Armoire. Comfy looking chair. Plush black rug on the floor. Sealing his fate for several centuries, Joxer stepped inside the bedroom to snoop. Had he just retreated, maybe set up camp in the first room, things might have been different. But onward and inward he crept, careful not to disturb anything important.

That this was a godly temple was obvious. Any fear he had about invaders or other pantheons fled as he strolled around. The place had a familiar warmth to it, even without a hearth fire or torchlight, almost as if it was meant to be inviting and comforting. He guessed gods needed a little of that, too, sometimes. And then there were the pictures on the walls. The first room, the main room, had been as close to official-feeling as a room like that would probably ever get. It had the tapestries and weaponry and an air of ‘business’ to it. In here, Joxer swore he smelled cookies. Sugar cookies. And the walls held a never-ending collection of portraits and letters and scribbled drawings. Shyly, Joxer avoided the letters, knowing that knowing too much was a sure way to get smote in these parts. The portraits didn’t involve any prying, though. Plain as day: Ares. Aphrodite. Discord. More than a couple of Cupid. A whole slew of a little winged boy who had to be Bliss, though he looked older than Joxer remembered the little tike. A big portrait of a lot of young men and women who bore similar features, including Cupid and Strife. One of Hades and Hephaestos fishing, of all things. A couple of a goddess he didn’t know for sure, but she had that older, grandmother aura and for some reason, looking at it instantly calmed Joxer down.

"Well," he sighed, almost relieved. "At least it’s one of ours." The fleeting parade of which one of them it could be sent a shiver up his spine. Glossy black stone and sharp-edged weapons didn’t exactly trumpet ‘House of Intellect.’ It spoke of pain and torture and long, rainy marches across the Grecian landscape. These were things he decided he’d like to avoid as much as possible. And so, he did what came natural in the temple of a god you don’t want on your bad side.

The rug was soft under his knees, which he was grateful for immediately. As pretty as the shiny black stone was, it wouldn’t be so forgiving on the penitent. He only hoped the owner would be more rug than stone floor.

"Umm… hi. It’s me, Joxer. I don’t know if you know me or not, since I have no idea whose place this is, but I’m hoping you’re not too mad for me being in here in the middle of the night. It’s just… kinda cold outside and the moon just disappeared and I know if I keep on going, I’m gonna end up in a briar patch with a branch up my butt or something, not that that’s anything new. I’d just rather not sleep in a bush full of thorns all night. I just want you to know that I’m not here to defile the place or anything, I’m trying not to mess anything up… hey, that’s a neat trick, by the way, how the place looks all nasty and messed up at first and then when you walk in, it’s really all cool and neatened up and kinda friendly. Anyway, I’m probably gonna sleep here tonight, if that’s not against the rules or anything. If it is, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you here before morning and you’ll blast me into dust. So…"

Joxer drew himself up straight in his kneeling position, hoping it looked a little more official. "Thank you, oh mighty god of this temple for allowing me shelter on this night. May the morrow come soon that I might repay you for this kindness. Sound be your sleep and free from troubles be all your days. In your service, I remain Joxer." He almost added ‘the Mighty’ to his prayer, but whoever the patron or matron of this temple might be would probably see right through that. Besides, he wasn’t feeling quite so mighty tonight anyway. And it might not have been your regulation-type prayer, but he didn’t want to go blathering through it and ruin the offering…

His eyes snapped wide open. Offering! That nervous nausea was back. He had nothing on him that would be a proper offering to a god. A quick patdown of himself made it worse. He had nothing save the essentials. Ohhhhh, crap. Working quickly, he emptied his pockets and aside from lint and the odd burr that had found its way inside, the only thing he had was the brown-cloth package that held breakfast for tomorrow. As much as he would have liked those big, fluffy biscuits first thing in the morning, he much preferred living instead.

Somehow, he found his feet and quick-stepped it back to the other room. Hoping that fruit and biscuits were enough, he laid the package on the table as gently as he could before mumbling a rote prayer of offering and then darting back into the bedroom.

Since he hadn’t been fried on the spot, he was encouraged. Quickly, he stripped off his jangling, mismatched armor and piled it neatly in an empty corner. The bed called to him, he could almost hear it, but that old friend common sense piped up and convinced him otherwise. That chair didn’t look too bad, though. It was all fluffy looking, cushioned all over and deep seated. A quick prod told him that it would do just fine. As a final politeness, he took off his traveling boots. No sense in dirtying up the place you were going to sleep. And they never really fit him right anyway…

Maybe it was the chair. In a temple, maybe it was one of those god-touched things that had a purpose. Maybe it was the cozy atmosphere or the heady scent in the air or the fact that Joxer was just bone-tired. Whatever it was, it worked. A large yawn rippled through the would-be warrior and before it was finished, his eyes were closed and the last thought on his mind became the dream for the night. Oh, to have a good pair of boots…

Asleep, Joxer never saw the muted blue-black sparkle or the god that emerged from it. And maybe that was all for the best anyway.

"Ahhh, shit." A cool, pale hand ran through the mortal’s already tousled hair, petting him affectionately. Joxer murmured and shifted in his chair-bound sleep. The voice above the sleeping man was sad, resigned to fate. "My ass is grass."


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