What's Eternity Between Friends?

(Sequel to "Mortal Coil")

by Lori Bush (lwbush@gw.total-web.net)

Disclaimer: As usual, they belong to others, and that peeves me no end. However, I do beg of those others not to sue me over it.

Rating: PG.

Sex: No

Violence: Well, most of us saw it on the show. For the sake of this story, TLFE *did* H.

Archive: Sure -- all the mailing lists, Raye, Triple Threat if you guys want it.

Pairing: G/J, X/A -- This is a real "happy ever after" kinda story -- saccharine alert!

This story is a sequel to "Mortal Coil" and it won't make any sense if you haven't read that one first. In it I explain Joxer's "job" and history. I read an interesting story on one of Misty's sites that gave me the idea for this one.

Once again, I thank Ruth Keniston for her work and patience. We had some email problems, and I know she thought I was being stubborn about one part, but she just never got the rewrite I'd sent her!

And thank you to everyone who sent me such nice comments about "Mortal Coil." I hope you like this story as much.

How had everything gotten so screwed up? Not that he hadn't seen things like this happen before, just not on so grand a scale.

First, the Fates had changed the gods' perception of Xena's child. What had at first been a welcome pregnancy was twisted into something to be feared and ended. Only a few realized that they were being manipulated -- Aphrodite, Ares and finally Hera. Ares used it to manipulate Xena, but that was just his way. But now Zeus was dead, and Hera as well, and those who had tried to protect the mother and child had failed. Xena and Gabrielle were gone, and Joxer wasn't sure where. Although Eve was safe with Octavius, Joxer knew Xena wouldn't want that to be a permanent arrangement, so he would have to do something about it.

His first job would be to throw the other gods off her scent. His only choice would be to create a new family for her. The other gods wouldn't suspect him of protecting her if he played it right. They knew his job, so they knew he would never betray Xena's trust while she lived, but they also thought he bought into the lie that this child was a threat to them, and so would never think he would shelter her.

The best idea would be to give her to Meg and find her another "father" to watch over her, but he knew in his heart that only he had the power to protect her if it came to that. Eve was his responsibility, as he saw it, so he would have to marry Meg and raise her himself. Now that Zeus was gone, he could exercise his powers if he needed to, but it would destroy the remainder of his current project, and he really needed to stay here as long as he could, until Eve could fend for herself.

With a heavy heart, he spoke the marriage vows. But he soon found Eve had vanished as completely as her two mothers, and though he searched for her, he couldn't ask his family for help, since they wanted her dead. He'd gone to Rome, but was unable to make any headway there. Octavius, who'd been friendly to him on the beach, now refused to grant him an audience, and no matter how many questions he asked, no one seemed inclined to give him news about the baby girl the young ruler had brought back from Greece. Finally, he gave up and settled in to his new life. He was married now, and he needed to keep the trust of the woman to whom he was wed. He cared for Meg, but his heart ached for Gabby, for Xena, for his mother and father. They were all gone, and he had to stay, to do what was right. Joxer and Meg adopted children, to fulfill her wish of being a mother, and he loved them dearly. Still, he could hardly wait until this particular mortal existence was over. He was tired of hurting so much. Perhaps Uncle Hades would let him visit Gabrielle in his domain, if that was indeed where she was.

*********** Twenty five years later *******************

Joxer flexed his muscles, his immortal form a bit stiff after over sixty years of dormancy. He looked to the little scene, where the mortal body he had worn for so long lay, dead and empty in Gabrielle's arms. She had come back before leaving to seek out Eve, unbeknownst to the others. She was talking to it softly, explaining how she realized now how much she loved him. He knew he could go to her, reveal himself and drink in the words he'd waited so long to hear, but that would break her trust. She would then know of his lie, that his whole life had been a lie, although a necessary one, and the god of trust could not do such damage in his own domain. He hated being responsible, sometimes, but so many of his family had betrayed their own character in the interest of self-service, that he couldn't add his own inconsistency to the flame that was burning Olympus to ashes. For the family had destroyed itself -- Eve had merely been a catalyst. When gods stopped being what they were created to be, their influence waned.

He would miss his earthy family, too, but he had to let them go. Meg and Virgil would take good care of the younger children, and he would keep an eye on them as he could. But they could never know who he really was.

Gabby had known -- almost known. He had relied on Morpheus' help to get him out of the fix he had put himself in when Xena had been injured. She had thought it a dream, but now that he could hear her thoughts, see inside her head, he realized that she was mourning his death along with the death of the hope that it had been true. She somehow figured that if he were immortal, she would never see this day. But he had explained to her once that the body he had been wearing was indeed as mortal as her own...

And as much as he wanted to stay and watch her, to hear her words of love, the god of trust had work to do. His mortal presence on Earth for these many years had strengthened the spirit of trust among men, and that was good, because now, in the Twilight, it would be sorely needed.


Gabrielle sighed. Joxer had been dead now for months, and everything else had changed dramatically too. She and Xena had returned to Greece after making their peace with Eve. But after twenty-five years gone, their home was no longer theirs. People they loved had died (again Joxer crossed her mind -- she couldn't go there again), cities and towns had changed, and no one knew or cared about a couple of women who were legends of the past. Even Hercules, although he hadn't changed a bit physically, had become more reclusive. The age of heroes had passed. The Twilight of the Gods was upon them.

Xena had finally gone to Ares, admitting the love she had fought for so long. He had regained his power (which didn't surprise the bard a bit -- ambrosia still worked, even with the ending of the reign of the Olympians), but lost his influence as the Twilight entered. Still, the fact he no longer did the damage he once did was enough for the Warrior Princess. She had chosen to take the ambrosia he had offered her, to be able to stay with him forever. After her first trip to Olympus, her smile had been so broad she almost seemed to be mocking Gabrielle's sadness. First Joxer, now Xena, were gone from her life, although Xena hinted at surprises in store for her. Little did the bard know how dramatic those surprises were to be. ..

She was depressed - on the verge of suicide, really. She had no purpose left in life. She knew that her scrolls had perished in the fire that had destroyed Meg and Joxer's tavern, and no trace remained of all her hard work. Her family was gone, or so she thought. Joxer was dead, Xena married to Ares. She no longer even had her horse.

When he came to her, she scoffed at his story. Her mood was so bleak she could only believe this was another torture from the fading gods, just to give her hope that would be then snatched away. But then he took her to the Elysian Fields, to visit her mother and to confirm what she could barely believe.

Apollo was her real father. She was a demi-goddess, with powers she never realized. She was immortal. That at least explained why she had lived through the thing with Dahok and Hope. Her father had already explained to her that the deal with Eli's god was above and beyond the powers that the Olympians held. She had to laugh -- a demi-goddess without a job in a time when the gods themselves were losing power. That and a dinar would get her a cup of tea. She spoke to herself out loud. "What do gods do when they can't die and have no real jobs left?"

"We hang around with what's left of the family and talk about old times." Her head snapped up at the sound of that voice and her breath caught in her throat.

"Joxer!" But it couldn't be -- he was dead. Funny, he didn't look dead. He looked, well, great. Better than ever, in fact. "For a dead guy, you look pretty good," she commented, reigning in her shock.

He laughed. "You can't kill a god that easily, you know." He eased himself down to sit on the log beside her. He was watching the wheels turning in her head.

"The dream, the god of trust thing. It's, it was... you really are a god?"

"It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it." His grin faded, and he stared into her eyes. Her frustration finally had the outlet it had sought, her temper was raging, and she stood, glaring down at him.

"How could you do that to me? I thought you were *dead*! I mourned for you, and you just watched while I suffered. Did you know about this whole demi-god thing, too? Knew all along that I was Apollo's daughter?"

He looked down. "I didn't know -- I was as surprised as you were. All those years I worried and fussed over you, and you were in better shape, mortality-wise, than I was. I *was* mortal, you know."

She grunted, not yet quite ready to forgive him, although her heart lifted at the realization that she could finally have what she'd spent years denying that she wanted. Her admission hadn't been too late after all.

"Did you really mean all the things you said, Gabby, when I died? Do you really love me now? Because if you mean it, we have a lot of time to work it out, you know."

She released the remaining bit of her anger. "I think so. So much had happened, so many things are so different. But it's been hard, having you gone. I've missed you more than I thought possible. I do love you, I guess. I just don't know who I am anymore, or what I'm going to do."

He took her hand. "Why don't you come with me to Olympus? I know you were there once, in your Dad's place, but I can show you around. We'll visit Xena and Ares, let you get a feel for it, and then we can talk about what you want to do next. I'll be glad to wait for you, as long as you think there's a chance for me."

She stood, pulling him up with her. "This could be the start of something interesting. I promise this time to really deal with my feelings." She shrugged. "Let's go. You think we could get anything to eat on the way? I'm starving."

He laughed as they sparkled away. "I've missed you."