Dirce, in a world of her own, was thinking about the menu, “We’ll have those little berry cakes ...”
King Manaleus nodded, victorious, when a thought occurred to him. "I just have one question, dear. You said something about bandits attacking you and your friends on the road. I never sent any people after you."
Dirce gasped. "They were real! By the gods, that means Joxer really did save my life!" She ran to Joxer and gratefully embraced the surprised warrior-fool where he stood.
"Say, Dirce..." Joxer began, genuinely happy but also a little surprised by his heroics.
"Daddy, this is Joxer The Mighty.” She pulled Joxer with her as she and the men walked to the opened door of the bedroom, “He saved my life while we were coming here! Isn't he just wonderful!" She dragged out the last word. “During the feast he can relate tales of his other acts of heroism and...”
They could hear their footsteps and conversation fading as the royals plus one walked down the stone tiled hall.
Iolaus closed his eyes and sighed. He’d hit rock bottom. A woman had actually dumped him for Joxer. The mighty. His brain supplied.
“Come on.” Xena said in an 'I give up' tone of voice. Hercules followed her and the healer did the same.
Gabrielle and Iolaus were left to stare into space, still skeptical. What a strange couple of days!
"You know," Iolaus began, looking over at her, "I never thought she'd go for Joxer but they are rather well matched."
Gabrielle nodded, guardedly staring at him. "I know.”
“I guess what I’m saying, Gabrielle, is that some people were meant to be together and others...”
“Iolaus,” Gabrielle raised her hands in warning, “A spell from Aphrodite or not I know you had a thing for Dirce. You have a *thing* for every woman you meet. Now, don’t insult my intelligence by suddenly coming to the conclusion that it’s me you should have been wooing.”
“Well, I didn’t...” he started.
“You’re not capable of loving just one woman and besides that - ” Her face was turning red in an effort to keep herself from suddenly weeping, “...if there is one thing a girl doesn’t like it’s when a man chooses her on the rebound. Second best just doesn’t cut it with me...” Gabrielle walked out of the room, clearly unforgiving.
Iolaus put a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. He was getting a terrible headache.
Cupid held his young son, Eros, in his arms then looked down at his mother as they watched the couple through the mirror pool, “See, the Iolaus dude didn’t end up with Dirce. Told you.”
“Yeah, but I don’t see him with the bard-chick either.” Aphrodite reminded, “She’s blown him off big time. Not that I can blame her. Guys are so fickle.”
“Hey, those two were getting along just fine until you meddled.” Cupid reminded.
“Maybe, but if it’s meant to be then anything I did won’t matter.” Then she looked up at her son and grandson and smiled slyly, “I think the first place I’m going to take Eros is to Panathenaland -- and I’m going to spoil him rotten!” She tittered then started to make cooing sounds at the two year old cherub. “That’s right, your Nanna is just going to be soooo good to you!”
“Not so fast, Ma. these things have a way of working out, you know.” Cupid held the boy a bit more snugly to him. It better work out or Psyche really *was* going to kill him. The last time Eros went with his grandmother for a couple of days there was absolutely nothing he or Psyche could do with him upon his return. Then, shortly thereafter, their was that mess with the boy running away and taking his father’s arrows with him. Not that it was that big a deal where the gods were concerned but Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer still wore the wounds of the little boy’s shenanigans.
The feast took place in the palace’s Great Hall and Dirce was allowed to invite anyone she wished, which included nobles, palace workers and peasants. Food and drink were distributed in great quantities and the entertainment - particularly the actors who recited the works of Homer and Herodotus - were well received.
“I knew Homer.” Gabrielle whispered to Hercules, as they sat at the long white clothed supper table, appearing a bit depressed as she lifted her tankard of ale. “He was a wonderful story teller and he reminded me a lot of...” She cut her words off and took a gulp.
Xena, on her other side, pulled the tankard from her friend’s hand. “Gabrielle, you should never drink when you’re upset.” she reminded her friend.
“I’m not upset.” the bard pouted, childlike.
Hercules looked to his left, where Iolaus was sitting and sighed. His partner, despite the great food and merriment looked miserable. Very unlike him considering the festive atmosphere. The demigod then looked a bit passed him and saw Dirce who was feeding grapes, one at a time, to Joxer. The warrior was obviously enjoying every minute of the attention.
When the juggler had left the stage to be replaced by musicians, there was a loud applause.
Xena, as if suddenly recalling an important bit of information, sat up straight and looked over Gabrielle’s head at Hercules. She cleared her throat until he looked at her, “Hercules, I need to talk with you in private, do you mind?” she asked.
He looked at her, puzzled for a moment, then moved to stand: “Sure.” he said.
The couple walked over to a punch bowl and as she scooped the red drink into a mug Xena spoke quietly to the demigod.
Hercules looked up at Xena after hearing what she said then over to where Iolaus sat, “You’re kidding, right? Iolaus?”
“Gabrielle told me last night before she fell asleep. She was depressed and I think it helped to get these little matters off her chest. Besides, I think she was hoping I’d tell you and you’d tease Iolaus mercilessly about it. She isn’t happy with him -- but I think she could be led to change her mind if Iolaus takes the cue.”
“He can be pretty headstrong.” Hercules warned.
“It’s up to the two of them. We can only give them the opportunity.”
Hercules nodded and chuckled, “You’re right. Go to the band leader.”
As the minutes passed Gabrielle sneaked side glances at Iolaus and caught an occasional sigh. Was he as unhappy as she? Oh, what was the matter with her? Why couldn’t she just go over there and say she understood, was sorry and make peace? It wasn’t like he had really done anything bad. They’d already determined that it was Aphrodite who had been causing all of the trouble. What Gabrielle saw between Iolaus and Dirce was a part of whatever game it was the goddess was playing.
Still, Iolaus could have at least tried to take her feelings into consideration. After the conversation and near-kiss while hunting he knew she was having some rather deep feeling for him. Yet he didn’t seem to think even once about it afterwards. Hadn’t he felt anything?
And what about he and Dirce? If she hadn’t decided Joxer was her soulmate would she be feeding Iolaus those grapes and calling him her hero? And would Iolaus be sitting there, enjoying it, while she - that sweet little bard from Potedia - was watching them from afar?
Iolaus closed his eyes for a few seconds and tried to reason it out in his head. Okay, maybe he should have paid a little more attention to Gabrielle when it seemed, for just a minute there, that things were getting warm between them. They had found common interests and - oh yeah - when she began to move in on him, hoping for a kiss that he was more than eager to exchange, he knew there was something special brewing. But now she was being so damn stubborn! Sure, he screwed up, especially when it came to Dirce but...
He looked over again at the couple as she leaned into her hero and tickled him underneath his weak chin. They giggled during their play.
Iolaus felt like he was going to be sick. I really must be losing my touch, he thought. There was a time when beautiful women would just come to him and not demand that he be perfect in every way as long as he engaged them and made them feel special. Having a dazzling smile, good physique and being fun used to be quite enough to entice the ladies.
But were they the right ladies? Any of them? And would losing any one of those many beauties make him feel as forlorn as he felt right now?
The band played, just finishing up it’s second fairly fast tune, when it lapsed into a soft melody...
...a tune both Iolaus and Gabrielle recognized.
Beautius. Music inspired by Calliope. Their song.
Standing next to the punch bowl, Hercules and Xena watched the couple.
“They’re not moving.” Xena whispered, “I was so sure - ”
“Wait.” He studied Iolaus, saw the thoughts racing through his mind and emotions chasing across his face.
Xena watched as the stern mask on Gabrielle’s pretty face softened. She couldn’t quite look over at the hunter but it was obvious where the warrior-bard’s thoughts were.
“Here we go...” Hercules murmured and smiled.
Iolaus stood, pushing his chair behind him. He then placed a hand behind his blond head and rubbed, a familiar gesture when he was undecided about his next move. Slowly, almost lackadaisically, he inched closer to the still-seated Gabrielle.
Unexpectedly afraid, she stood and attempted to move off but his hand caught Gabrielle’s arm and held her still for just a few seconds. He was behind her and she still could not look directly at him. Yet, she could sense him and, truth be told, she liked the feel of his hand on her arm, gently moving up to her shoulder.
He softly pushed her to the dance floor.
“That a boy...” Hercules quietly encouraged, watching closely.
“Directing her but not strong arming. A good move.” Xena nodded with a smile of her own. “You read Iolaus very well, Hercules.”
He looked down at Xena, “He’s better at picking up on signals than I am.” Hercules confessed. “I learned from him.”
Iolaus moved Gabrielle out onto the dance floor and gently took her in his arms. They swayed back and forth but she still did not quite look at him. Her arms remained down by her sides, her hands dangling.
Then, very carefully, he leaned his forehead gently against hers and whispered a very few words.
Neither Hercules or Xena could hear them and didn’t know what it was Iolaus said but they did see an immediate reaction from Gabrielle.
She lifted her head, her eyes were filling with unavoidable tears, but she smiled for the first time that evening. Gabrielle’s arms lifted and moved around Iolaus. They held one another, their cheeks touching. Their movements were gentle and sensuous - and very forgiving.
He breathed in her scent, a mix of lilacs and wild flowers. He could die right now and be a very happy man.
She lifted a hand to touch the back of his head, to run her fingertips through his blond curls. This was bliss.
Hercules took Xena’s hand in his, “Shall we?” and he pulled the reluctant warrior woman to the dance floor.
"You dance?" she asked, stunned.
"I was taught by an expert."
Far above them on Olympus, Aphrodite reluctantly allowed Cupid to take her grandson from her. "Come on, Cupid!" She whined, "This is totally NOT fair! I think you did something. You did the arrow thing, didn’t you?"
"You were standing right here with me, Mom.” he laughed, “Time to pay up!" Cupid grinned.
“All right! I’ll let the romances run their course! No interference - Nothing.” she promised with a pout. “But it’s just not right. I’m the Goddess of Love! I should be there for my little bro’s friends ... I can do such incredible things for them!”
"Chill, will you?” Cupid interrupted, “Ma, it’s now time for you to see some real mortal romances. Not something you or I manufactured because it seemed a bitchin' idea at the time.” He mimed at the fountain, “You want to watch the party, don't you?"
Aphrodite sighed. “I guess so.” She folded her arms under her ample bosom and peered into the pool as Cupid began to move away with his little boy. “Son...” She gazed at Cupid’s retreating form, a little vulnerable as he turned to look at her, “Can I at least sometimes tuck Eros in at night, like a good grandma?”
Cupid face spread in a wide smile, “That’s a really cool idea, Ma. I think Psyche and the little guy here would like it a lot.”
“Thanks, dude.” she said, feeling a little happier.
Aphrodite once again looked into the pool and now saw Joxer and Dirce on the dance floor. And - could it be? The Goddess of Love’s eyes stretched a bit. Hercules and Xena? Dancing together? “Oh, now here lay possibilities!” she exclaimed with a dazzling smile.
Then Aphrodite’s attention returned to Iolaus and Gabrielle. Well, they were kind of cute in a way. “Have fun, Curly.” she whispered, “And if you and the bard-chick decide to have kids together - don’t make bets with them. You’ll lose every time.”
With a sigh, Aphrodite blew a kiss at the fountain water.
It was time to go to Vulcan mountain and see what her Hephy was up to. There were times when a girl just had to experience unending adulation...
Written by Jackie and Beckers
Fan Fic Main