Joxer, Meg and Xena belong to Universal, yada-yada-yada. Oy-is this really necessary?? We all know this spiel by now. Sheesh!!
There be violence, sex, and adult situations in this story, ladies and germs. If you're under 16, GO AWAY. This is not meant for kids. My writing is a bit on the intense side.
ABOUT THIS PIECE
This piece was my first Xena fanfic, written in July, 1999. It took about two weeks to crank out. BRAVING THE INNER STORM was one of those stories that formed rapidly in my head and was SCREAMING to come out.
I liked the characters of Meg and Joxer, but I was annoyed at the two dimensional nature of each. Sadly, they never developed beyond that status. This angered me as a writer. They were just there for laughs. Joxer and Meg, considering their backgrounds, struck me as damaged people. I wanted to try and flesh them out a bit and give them much more depth, while keeping most of the characteristics they had on the show.
This piece is meant to look at Meg and Joxer as more complex characters, attempting to lift them out of their status as "cheap chuckles." The story is serious, and rather dark. I liked the idea of a more mature Meg and Joxer, and I really wanted to explore that in fanfic-especially since so few fanfic writers wrote them in such a fashion.
It's Meg and Joxer the way I wished they had been written.
January 9, 2004
Joxer stumbled through the forest.
The sides of his head pulsated in pain.
The vision replayed itself in his head. Again and again. The knife drawing out of Criton's chest. Thick, red black blood, dripping from its tip. Criton, falling like a sack of potatoes onto the dusty earth.
Those eyes of his…those dead eyes, boring into Joxer's soul…
And that goddamned voice…that leathery face. That putrid breath of Criton's ripping through Joxer's nostrils like an ax. His stomach churned ominously, as if in the midst of a hurricane.
"You're just like me now, sonny-boy. Just like me. A goddamned killing machine. Yeah boy, YEAH. A bad-ass, slaughter-happy, warmongering-"
"AAAAAAAAARRRGGGGGHHH!!!!!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHAAADDUUUUPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
He drew his sword, and swung it in a vicious arc. The blade embedded itself in a tree. Joxer yanked at it repeatedly. But his sweaty hands couldn't get a firm grip. He sprawled backwards, crashing hard into the leafy earth.
His dark eyes darted back and forth. His heart hammered in his chest, pounding through his ribcage as if were about to explode out. His throat began to constrict. His body began to shake.
Oh, gods, not another panic attack!! Ohgodsohgodsohgodsohgodsohgods…
He rolled into a ball. Tremors ripped though Joxer like tidal waves. Pain exploded through his brain in violent, pulsating bursts. Huge drops of sweat rolled off of his face. His throat constricted more. He began to gag.
His eyes rolled into the back of his head. And the whole world faded away into a white mist.
Joxer slowly opened his eyes. He looked around him. It was nearing night. Joxer carefully sat up. He felt very weak. His shattered nerves pulsed throughout his body, causing his muscles to twitch.
How does Xena do this?! How in Tartarus does she do this?!
Joxer lifted a trembling hand. He ran it through his hair. Joxer thought back to when he and Armon raced off on Argo. They managed to leave Criton's foot solders behind. After arriving in another town, Joxer told Armon to take Argo and leave. He also told him that he didn't want Xena or Gabrielle to try and find him. He was going into hiding for a while.
Hiding…well, that was something he was good at. Joxer wouldn't have lasted this long if he wasn't good at running away and hiding.
Huh…some warrior…I suck at fighting and I'm a master at hiding…
Hiding from my godforsaken life.
He had been in hiding in the forests for over a month now. Joxer had managed to trap a rabbit or two, as well as an occasional fish. Yet, he had a hard time thinking about food. All he could think about was that knife, tearing into Criton's chest. And Armon. Ready to rip Joxer's heart out.
How did a moron like you kill my father?!
Well, even morons get lucky sometimes.
Joxer shook his head, willing the vision away. An involuntary shudder rumbled through him. With a great effort, he slowly rose to his feet. Joxer erratically looked around.
"M-my helmet…" he muttered, his voice trembling. "M-My helmet…"
Joxer spotted it, a few feet away. He walked over to it. Joxer bent over to pick it up. Suddenly, a wave of dizziness swirled into his head. He fell face-first into the ground, clumps of dirt and grass forced into his mouth. He coughed violently, spitting out muddy brown and green chunks of earth. Joxer rolled onto his back. He slowly sat up, legs spread, on the ground. He looked up into the starry heavens. The sun had just gone below the horizon. Blades of grass hung from his mouth. His lower lip quivered.
"W-What's happening to me…?" he whispered.
Joxer reached over, picking up his helmet. He stared at it, studying every dent, every scratch. Then he remembered them again.
Xena and Gabrielle.
Joxer knew that Xena and Gabrielle were looking for him. But he didn't want to be around them. He felt so small, so insignificant. Joxer had run into an occasional friend or two, and they told him that Xena and Gabrielle were desperate to find him. But Joxer harshly demanded that they not say a word to them about his whereabouts. He wanted to be alone.
And the last time he spoke to a person he knew was 3 weeks ago.
Joxer looked at his hands, his clothes. He was filthy. He smelled terrible. He hadn't bathed in over a week. And Joxer didn't really seem to care. About anything and anyone. Least of all himself. He felt a depression he had never known creep into his soul.
The floodgates opened. And Joxer screamed into the night. He fell onto the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.
He didn't know how much time had passed. He didn't even know when he had started walking. But there he was. Joxer the Mighty. A mighty NOTHING, he thought heatedly. He felt very, very weak. He hadn't eaten in almost 3 days. And he didn't care to. He mumbled to himself incoherently.
"..some warrior…bullshit…fighting wrongs…singing stupid songs…"
He tripped over a root, ramming head first into a tree trunk. The resounding clang echoed throughout the forest. Joxer dropped back into the ground with a loud thud. Pain roiled through his head. He lifted it, and saw he was at the outer edges of a town. He could make out lights in some of the houses before him. But the pain was getting to be too much. He couldn't focus. His head fell back against the ground.
He stared into the star-filled sky. Slowly, he felt the familiar veil of unconsciousness begin to take over. Then he heard footsteps. And several voices. Female voices. One of them was very familiar.
"Dunno…hey-I think I know this guy!"
A shuffling of feet. Joxer felt someone kneel near him.
"By the gods…" the voice whispered. "It's Joxer!!"
Joxer instantly recognized that last voice. He tried to speak.
"M-Meg…" he croaked.
A tall form was instantly at his side. He felt his head being lifted, and placed in a soft lap. A hand was caressing the left side of his face. The last thing he saw were two pale blue eyes, staring at him in fright. The silhouette of her angular face shone in the harsh moonlight. Her dark hair caressed his other cheek.
"Joxie…" she whispered.
Joxer strained to keep his eyes open, but it was a losing battle.
"Meg…" he whispered.
Then everything went black.
Joxer slowly opened his eyes. He found himself in a bedroom, lit with several candles. And it looked familiar. He suddenly recognized it. It was Meg's bedroom.
Joxer slowly sat up. Suddenly, a vicious explosion of pain ripped through his head. He clutched the sides of it and let out a loud, strangled moan. Joxer gripped his hair, pulling at it with all his might.
The door to the room instantly burst open. Meg rushed inside. Her eyes were wide with fright.
She was at his side in a second, and took him into her arms.
"What is it honey?! What's wrong?!"
Joxer's face contorted in agony.
"M-My head…M-My head…it's…it feel's like it's gonna explode…"
Meg immediately looked out towards the entrance, her blue eyes ablaze.
"Matilda!! Get a basin of cold water in here!! Now!!"
"Okay Meg, okay!!" came a voice from beyond the door. " I'm on it!! Jazmine, where's that basin?!"
Meg turned her attention back to Joxer. Her heart broke at the sight of Joxer's agonized expression.
She held him close, kissing him on the top of his head and whispering soothing words into his ear. Meg rocked Joxer slowly, comforting him as if he were a child. She tenderly stroked his head. Within moments, three women rushed into the room. One of them carried a basin full of water. Meg abruptly looked up.
"Put it here Jaz, next to the bed."
Jazmine wasted no time in placing it on the table next to Joxer's bed. Another woman rushed up to Meg, offering her a cloth.
"Dip it in the basin, Matlida. Then give it to me."
Matilda did as she was told. Meg gently laid Joxer back on the bed. The woman handed Meg the cold, wet cloth. She folded it and placed it on his forehead.
"He looks terrible." remarked the third woman.
Meg shot her an icy stare. Fear shot up the woman's spine. That glare, so much like Xena's, she thought…
Jazmine elbowed her hard in the ribs. She gasped in pain, turning to face Jazmine.
"Shaddup, will ya Stella?!" Jazmine hissed through clenched teeth. "Does he hafta know?!"
Jazmine grabbed Stella roughly by the arm, yanking her outside.
"G'wan! Git outta here!!" she whispered harshly.
Stella eyed Jazmine, full of guilt.
"I'm sorry, Jaz, I'm-"
Jazmine closed the door in her face. She shook her head.
"It's…all right…" gasped Joxer slowly. "She's right…I feel…worse than I look."
"Just relax, sweetie." said Meg. "Don't talk. Just rest."
Joxer slowly turned to Meg. He smiled weakly.
Meg returned the smile.
He swallowed hard. Then he spoke
"I'm glad you're here."
Meg felt a tear trickle down her cheek. She tenderly stroked Joxer's face, and leaned close to him.
"I'm not planning on going anywhere." she whispered. "I'll take care of you."
"You need anything else, Meg?" asked Jazmine.
Meg turned towards her.
"Yeah. Some soap and a towel."
She turned back towards Joxer.
"Ya gotta clean up. When was the last time you…?"
Joxer lowered his head in shame.
"I-I don't remember…"
"S'okay. It doesn't matter. As long as you're safe."
Meg turned to the two women.
"Remember-not a word that Joxer's here. Got that?"
The two women nodded.
"You got it." said Matilda.
"That includes Xena and Gabrielle." Joxer said suddenly. "I don't want them to know, either."
Meg turned towards Joxer, surprised.
"What? B-But don't you-"
"I said no."
Joxer's voice was cold as steel. His dark eyes were hard. Meg and the other women felt a pang of fear at his tone of voice. Meg hesitated a moment before she spoke.
"Um…o-okay. If that's what you want."
"Uh-we'll be going now, Meg." said Jazmine. "C'mon Matilda, let's go."
The two women left, closing the door behind them. Meg stared at Joxer in bewilderment.
"Why don't you want Xena and Gabrielle to know where you are?"
Joxer sighed slowly.
"I…I just don't, Meg. Not now…I-I wasn't planning on seeing anybody but…"
He looked into Meg's deep-blue eyes, which were full of concern and love. Joxer let out a tired smile.
"…but I'm glad you found me. I thought I wanted to be alone, but…after seeing you, I don't want to be alone anymore."
Meg smiled warmly. She placed her forehead against Joxer's.
"Ya won't be." she said softly.
Joxer sat in the large tub. Meg sat behind him, soaping his back. Meg felt the extreme tension rippling through his back muscles. She peered around, looking at his profile. Joxer stared ahead, almost emotionless. Meg did not like this at all. Joxer was usually joking, being playful. Meg enjoyed the childlike aspect of his personality. This was something totally different. That Joxer was gone. This one…this one actually was scaring her.
"Tell me about it." Meg said quietly.
"About what?" Joxer replied almost absently.
Meg averted her eyes for a moment, afraid to speak. But she did so, anyway.
"About…you know. Criton."
Pain shot through Joxer's face. Meg felt as she had just stabbed herself.
"You know, huh?" Joxer asked in a small voice.
Meg hung her head.
Joxer sighed. He moved back against the edge of the tub. Meg moved around to his front. She gazed at him with sympathy.
"I heard you were trying to defend Gabrielle."
Joxer bit his lip. He looked at the ceiling.
"Um…y-yeah. I heard someone coming towards me. I turned around. It was Criton. He-he was coming at me, and-"
Joxer stopped. He looked down at his hand. It was trembling.
He lowered his head, and began to cry. Meg instantly moved up to him, wrapping her arms around Joxer tight. She buried her face in his hair and kissed him on the top of his head.
"Let it out…" she whispered softly into his ear. "Let it all out. Just cry."
And Joxer did. He let down his defenses, and began to cry bitterly. Meg held him tight, rocking him gently in the tub, whispering soothing words into his ear. Tears came to Meg's eyes. She hated to see Joxer suffer. It tore her up. But Meg knew she had to be strong for him. He needed a friend. She kept rocking him gently, kissing him, whispering soothing words. Finally Joxer stopped crying. He looked at the water in shame.
"I'm…worthless." he mumbled.
Meg quickly placed a hand under Joxer's chin. She glared at him, her blue eyes ablaze.
"No you're not." she said harshly.
"Meg, my whole life is a lie. I'm not Joxer the Mighty!! I'm some stupid, worthless wanna-be-"
Meg clutched Joxer by the chin, her blue eyes boring into his. Joxer's eyes widened in fear.
"You…are….not… worthless." she hissed through clenched teeth. "I don't ever want to hear you say that about yourself again. You got that?"
Joxer sighed. He trembled with tension.
"Then what am I? Tell me Meg, because I don't know anymore!!"
Meg released Joxer's chin. Her face softened.
"Joxie…you're mighty because of what you got in here."
Meg placed a finger on his chest. She wiped away the hair from Joxer's eyes with her other hand.
"You got a big heart, Jox. That's rare. That's what makes you mighty."
"I don't feel mighty."
"You are to me."
Meg placed her forehead on his and tenderly kissed his lips. Meg ran her tongue along Joxer's lips, gently requesting entrance. But Joxer wouldn't open his mouth. Meg took the hint. She pulled away slightly, searching his eyes.
"When's the last time you had food, Jox?"
"I-I don't remember…3 days ago…?"
Meg's eyes widened in shock.
Joxer nodded meekly. Meg shook her head. This wouldn't do at all.
"C'mon. I'm gonna get some food into you."
"Meg, I'm not hungry."
"That wasn't a request, Jox."
Joxer looked up. Meg looked at him with a disapproving stare, her blue eyes cold. She had her arms crossed.
"G'wan." she said flatly. "Let's go."
Joxer opened his mouth, but Meg narrowed her eyes, daring him to protest. He sighed, and smiled.
Meg slowly broke into a smile. She took Joxer by the hand, and lead him the edge of the tub.
Joxer bit into the chicken leg, ripping off a huge chunk of meat. He swallowed it, downing it with some port. Putting down the port, he attacked his meal again with a vengeance. Meg sat nearby, smiling.
"Ya not hungry, huh Jox?"
Joxer looked up from his meal. He smiled sheepishly, a piece of chicken hanging from his mouth.
"Well…maybe a little."
Meg raised her eyebrows, pointing to her bottom lip.
Joxer looked at her quizzically.
He wiped the chicken bit off his mouth with a napkin. Then he stabbed a juicy tomato with his fork, taking a large bite out of it. Meg lowered her head.
"I've been really worried about you." she said quietly.
Joxer chewed thoughtfully. He looked at Meg with sympathy. He swallowed and spoke.
"I'm sorry, Meg. I didn't mean to put you through this."
Meg looked up, eyeing Joxer sadly.
"Jox, it wasn't your fault."
Joxer laid down his fork. He suddenly found the patterns on the table cloth very fascinating.
"Then why do I feel so bad?"
Meg got up. She took her chair, and put it alongside Joxer's. Meg sat down again. She placed a hand underneath his chin, and turned it to face her. Joxer looked into her large blue eyes, seeing the pain and pity in them.
"Jox, you were just defending yourself."
"I didn't want to kill him, Meg. I didn't!"
Meg smiled sadly.
"I know you didn't. I know."
Joxer sat back. His dark brown eyes scanned the ceiling.
"This…past month has been really rough, Meg. I've just been wandering and wandering. I-I've been thinking about my life. Thinking about how stupid and confused I was. Why in Tartarus did I convince myself I was this great warrior? I thought there was glory in this. There ain't! When I killed Criton, it's like…it's like I really saw things for the first time. How they were. And I saw myself, how I really was. And I wanted to puke."
Joxer lowered his head.
"I'm a misfit."
Meg bit her tongue. Misfit. These words sounded all too familiar.
Just how I see myself…she thought.
Uncomfortable silence lingered in the air for a few moments. Meg sighed, and looked up.
"Jox, I want you to stay here a few days."
Joxer's eyes immediately shot up.
"No Meg. I can't do that."
Meg instantly grabbed Joxer's shoulders.
"Joxer, please. Please stay with me-"
"Meg, I can't! It's bad enough those bounty hunters are after me. If they hurt you…"
Joxer's face contorted in pain at the thought. He placed a hand on Meg's face.
"…if they hurt you, I'll never forgive myself."
Meg took Joxer's hand, and kissed it. She looked at Joxer with determination.
"Jox, you'll be all right here. Nobody's going to find you here. Besides, no bounty hunters have been through here in 3 weeks. Back then, yeah. They came here looking for ya. But it's been quiet since."
There was a knock at the door. Meg turned towards it.
"Hey! C'mon in!!"
The door opened. Joxer's eyes almost popped out of his head. His jaw dropped. A gigantic woman stepped into the room, ducking her head as she did so. The woman was over seven feet tall, and was massively built. Joxer gulped, seeing the awesome power that ran through her muscles. Joxer could swear that this woman was a gladiator. The woman smiled at Meg.
"Hey kid. This your friend Joxer?"
Meg blushed slightly.
"Yeah, he is."
The huge woman walked over to Joxer. He trembled, despite himself.
The woman chuckled heartily. She reached down, offering Joxer a massive hand.
"Hey Joxer!! Name's Maria. Don't worry. I won't bite."
Joxer hesitantly reached up. The woman grasped his hand gently, shaking it.
"Don't worry. Any friend of Meg's is a friend of mine. Meg's like my kid sister. I watch her back. And I'll watch yours. You ain't got a thing ta worry about."
Joxer sighed slightly. He felt relieved.
"Um…how do you know Meg?"
"Old friends, actually. We go back a few years. But we can talk about that another time."
Maria turned towards Meg. Her face turned serious.
"You don't hafta worry about a thing. I'll let ya know if anything weird comes up."
Meg smiled at her friend in gratitude.
Maria turned towards Joxer, her hazel eyes turning into ice.
"I ain't gonna let anyone hurt ya, Jox. That bastard Criton had it coming."
Joxer nodded slowly.
"I, uh… I really don't wanna talk about Criton, if ya don't mind."
Joxer lowered his head in shame. Maria looked at Meg, puzzled. Meg's face was somber.
"It was Joxer's first kill." she said quietly.
Maria's eyes widened in understanding. She pouted, turning her eyes on the dejected man sitting before her. She laid a massive hand on his shoulder.
"You poor guy…I know what you're going through."
Joxer raised his head, eyeing Maria quizzically.
Maria raised an eyebrow.
"I was a soldier once."
Joxer's brows knitted in pity.
"When you're rested, we'll talk. You're going through nightmares and stuff?"
Joxer lowered his head.
"Bad ones, huh?"
Joxer nodded slightly.
"Yeah. Pretty bad."
"You speak to anyone about it?"
"Not for a month. I really didn't want to be around anyone. I…I just felt, and still feel…so ashamed of myself…"
Maria squeezed his shoulder slightly. Joxer looked up at her.
"Then I'm glad we found you." said Maria. "You spent enough time alone. Maybe too much time alone. You need to be around friends now."
Meg turned towards Joxer.
"So that settles it Jox. You're staying."
"Meg, I don't want to be in the way-"
"You're not in the way." she said with finality. "You need help, and yer gonna get it."
Meg stood up, gazing down at Joxer. She crossed her arms, lifting an eyebrow.
"How about it?"
Joxer couldn't help but smile. He was really touched. He raised his hands.
"All right. You win."
Meg and Maria smiled.
"Good choice." said Maria.
She turned to Meg.
"It's late. I'm off ta bed."
Meg hugged Maria.
"Night, Maria. Thanks."
Maria ruffled Meg's hair playfully.
"Get some sleep, kid. Night Joxer."
Maria left the room. Meg turned to Joxer. She could see the bags under his eyes. She lifted a hand to him.
Joxer rose. He blew out the table candles, and walked over to Meg, grasping her hand. She led him to the bed. Joxer flopped down heavily onto it. Meg lay aside him, snuggling up to Joxer.
"Wow…" Joxer sighed. "A real bed. I can't remember the last time I was in one of these…."
"Get used to it." Meg purred softly. "Yer gonna be here for a while. Get some rest."
She moved over Joxer, and lowered her lips to his. Her tongue gently pushed against his lips, asking for entrance. Joxer relented this time. Their tongues slowly swirled around each other. Meg moaned softly. The kiss lasted for a few moments. Meg reluctantly pulled back, kissing him on the forehead. She then lay next to him, nuzzling his ear.
"Yer gonna be all right." she whispered. "I promise."
Joxer held her hand over his chest. He stared at the ceiling. He was afraid. Afraid of sleep. No, terrified. Terrified of the nightmares that would surely come.