Corpses. Mountains of corpses. Lakes of blood, as far as Joxer could see. Dismembered bodies. Arms and heads. Penises and legs. Hands and torsos. Intestines winding their way through the horrid red fluid like snakes. His throat went dry. His stomach heaved ominously. Then Joxer heard a sound.

The sound of metal tearing into flesh.

The sound of metal biting through bone.

Joxer turned around. He saw Xena in the midst of battle.

The dark warrior swung her blade in a vicious arc. It sliced through her opponent's head, cutting it in half. Blood and brains exploded forth. The corpse dropped with a sick, moist sound.

The dark warrior thrust out a foot.


Joxer saw the man's face implode. Blood and teeth flowed out in slow motion, creating a ghoulish river. His eyes popped out of his sockets, going in opposite directions. He flew off into the air, arms spread, as if he was a bird in flight.

Joxer saw her eyes.

Xena's eyes. Cold, blue rage. Teeth bared in a hideous grin. The veins in her neck pulsated like snakes. Xena's eyes locked with his. In a second, a shiny disk was in her hand. She opened her mouth and let out a hideous scream.


Her arm struck out, like a viper. The chakram tore through the air. Joxer was horrified. He couldn't move. He felt warm wetness ooze down his leg. He tried to scream, but no sound came out.

The chakram came right at him-

And it ripped past his ear. Joxer heard a sickening sound of metal ripping into bone. He spun around. The chakram was buried in a soldier's face.

His face. Split in half like a loaf of bread. He dropped into the pool of blood with a sickening splash. The blood splashed onto Joxer's face. He shrieked in horror.


He spun around, wiping his face with a savage desperation. He wanted to get the blood off. Oh, he wanted this godforsaken blood OFF!!!!




Two hands. Gripping his wrists. He looked up. It was Xena. She looked at him strangely, sadness and resignation in her clear blue eyes. Joxer stared at her in shock and fear.

"How do you live with it, Xena?! How do you live with it?!"

"I don't have a choice! And now, neither do you."

Joxer heard footsteps splashing towards him, from behind. He spun around, and thrust his arm forth. He heard an ugly, squishing sound. Joxer looked up-

Into Criton's eyes. His face slowly began to decay, clumps of flesh falling off of it. Hundreds of worms burst forth from his mouth and eyes. Joxer tried pulling the knife out of Criton's chest. He kept yanking and yanking. But he couldn't pull it out.

"No!!" he screamed. "No!!!!!"

Then Criton opened his mouth. And he threw up. Vomit and worms engulfed Joxer's face. Joxer let out a blood-curdling scream.




"Joxer, wake up!! JOXER!!"

Joxer leaped out of bed into the darkness. He rushed forward, tripping over what felt like a chair. He crashed into the ground. He rolled and rolled until he hit a wall. Whimpering and crying, he scooted along the wall until he backed into a corner. He covered his head, and yelped like a dog being kicked. There were the sound of several footsteps running about. And then, Joxer saw light.

He saw Xena. Wearing a nightgown. Holding a candle and rushing towards him.

"No Xena, NO!! STAY AWAY!!" he shouted.

Xena stopped instantly. Her face was full of terror and shock.

"Joxer!!" she exclaimed. "It's me!! Meg!! Meg!!"

The door burst open. A huge, hulking form rushed in.

"What's going on?!"

"Joxer just had a nightmare!!"

The huge form turned towards Joxer. He cowered in fright.

"D-Don't hurt me. Please. I-I didn't do anything!!"

The form slowly got down on its knees.

"It's going to be all right, Joxer. It's going to be all right. Nobody's going to hurt you. I promise."

"Who-Who are you…?!"

"Maria. I'm Maria. Remember? I'm Meg's friend. And that's Meg. Not Xena. Okay. Just calm down…"

Joxer stared at the form quizzically.


The form lit a candle. Joxer looked closer at the face it lit. It was a woman's face. Round, friendly, and full of concern. Joxer slowly began to recognize her.


Maria smiled broadly. Joxer turned towards the other woman. Tears were rushing down her face.


The dark-haired woman nodded quickly. She didn't dare speak, trying to hold back sobs of her own.

Joxer drew a deep sigh, falling back against the wall.

"By the gods…"

Meg rushed forth, instantly sitting at Joxer's side. She put down the candle and wrapped her arms around Joxer, holding him tight. Meg buried her face in his hair. A strangled sob came from her chest. Joxer felt terrible. He clutched Meg's hand, squeezing it.

"I'm so sorry, Meg. I'm so sorry-I didn't mean to scare ya!! I didn't!! Oh by the gods, I'm so sorry-"

Meg only squeezed him tighter. She sobbed again. Joxer felt hot tears rush down into his left ear. Maria soon was at their side. She placed a hand on the side of Joxer's face.

"You okay?" she asked with great concern.

Joxer nodded feebly.

"Yeah." he said in a small voice. "Yeah, I-I'm okay."

Meg pulled back slightly. She looked at Joxer, her eyes bloodshot with tears.

"H-How often does this happen?!" she asked shakily.

Joxer lowered his head.

"Almost every night." he whispered.

Meg shook her head in disbelief.

"Oh Joxer…"

Joxer suddenly noticed the smell of urine. He looked down and frowned instantly.

"Oh…shit … not again. I wet my pants again…."

He suddenly realized what he had said. Joxer's face filled with embarrassment. But Maria quickly spoke up.

"Hey-I've done it myself. No biggie."

Joxer sighed.

"C'mon now. Meg, help me get him up on his feet."

Meg and Maria helped Joxer to his feet. He stood shakily.

"Can you walk?" asked Maria.

"Yeah…I think so."

"C'mon then. Back to bed."

"Um-I really do think I should take off my underwear."

Maria chuckled.

"Yeah, I think so."

Even Joxer managed a smile. He turned to Meg.

"I'm okay. Really."

Meg nodded slowly, sniffling and wiping away tears.

"All right. I-I'll wait for ya in bed."

"I won't be long, Meg."

Joxer left the room, walking into the nearby bathroom. Meg turned to Maria, her eyes full of fear.

"What are we gonna do?!" she whispered frantically.

Maria placed her hands on Meg's shoulders.

"Don't worry, Meg. We'll think of something. I know we will."

Meg turned towards the bathroom. It was going to be a very long night.

Joxer dug his head into his pillow. Somehow, he managed to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep during the night. He was awake now, but his eyelids were still closed. Joxer could see the light of another day through them. He still felt very tired, with not much of a desire to get up. The bed just felt too comfortable. The slight chill in the air made Joxer curl more under the covers.

Joxer felt a weight push into the bed behind him. He felt the weight move, slowly pressing into his back. Joxer then felt a gentle hand delicately touch his head, stroking it. Then Joxer felt a pair of lips close on his right earlobe, sucking it softly. A smile formed on Joxer's face. He opened his eyes, turning to his right. Meg lowered her lips to his. Her tongue probed Joxer's mouth for a few moments, and Joxer was more than happy to respond in kind. They kissed deeply and passionately. Meg wrapped her legs around Joxer's, and pressed herself into him. She moaned deeply, savoring the taste of Joxer's mouth. Then reluctantly, she broke the kiss, and pulled up slightly, laying her forehead on his.

"Hey you." she purred softly.

Joxer frowned.

"Why didja stop? I was getting into it!"

Meg raised an eyebrow, and smiled devilishly.

"I know. Jox Junior's pressing against my leg."

Joxer laughed. Meg couldn't have felt better at hearing that laughter. It made her heart soar.

"Oy…Jox Junior…Sheesh…I tell ya though, I liked that wake-up call a lot."

"I knew you would."

Meg sat up, straddling Joxer's thighs.

"So! How about breakfast?"

Joxer raised an eyebrow.

"Hey! I thought you were breakfast!"

Meg laughed heartily. She looked at Joxer, waggling her eyebrows.

"If you're a good boy, I'll give you some later."

Joxer pouted.

"Why not now??"

Joxer reached up, and gently cupped Meg's breasts. He felt her nipples harden. Meg let out a gasp. She hesitantly clutched Joxer's hands, pulling them away. She frowned deeply.

"Joxie, I would-but I have to go shopping for food with Jazmine."

Joxer sat up. He was still pouting.

"Meg, please…"

He bent forward to kiss her. Instead, Joxer felt a piece of toast shoved gently into his mouth. His brow furrowed in disappointment.


Meg raised her eyebrows.


Joxer bit into the bread. His eyebrows shot up.

"Wow!! Garlic!! My favorite!!"

Meg smiled shyly.

"I knew ya'd like it."

Joxer munched away on the bread happily. After a few moments, Meg's face turned serious.

"Joxer, are you all right?"

Joxer looked up. His expression changed as well. He put down the bread on its plate, and gently grasped the sides of Meg's face. He shook his head in pity and guilt.

"Meg…I am so sorry for last night. I really, really didn't mean to put ya through that."

Meg lowered her eyes.

"It's all right."

Joxer shook his head.

"No it isn't. The last thing I wanna do is scare ya like that Meg."

Meg grasped his right hand.

"Joxer, it was a nightmare. It wasn't your fault!"

Joxer sighed.

"I wish I could stop them. I really wish I could. But they are so…vivid. So…horrible…"

Joxer threw up his arms in exasperation. He looked into Meg's eyes.

"Ya know, Maria's right!! The guy was a bastard. And I should be feeling good about the fact that I rid the world of 'im!! But these…nightmares….I really don't get it!! The guy outright murdered people!! He left kids orphans!! So, I did the world a favor!! I mean, right Meg?"

Meg looked at Joxer, confused, not knowing what to say. Joxer frowned.

"I'm sorry Meg. I didn't mean ta put ya on the spot."

Meg grasped both of Joxer's hands, placing them on her lap.

"You should talk to Maria, Jox. She can answer questions like that better than I can."

Joxer's brows knitted with curiousity.

"Where'ja meet her?"

"About 5 years ago. Some guys were harassing me. One of them tried to rape me. Maria came along, and did a number on them. She took me in for a while. We became close friends. She's fought in a lot of wars. She's taken on Persians, Romans, all sorts of warlords…We parted company about a year later, and I lost touch with her."

"Ah, I see. She seems like a nice person."

Meg nodded.

"She is. She really is."

"So-why's she here?"

Meg sighed.

"She couldn't handle being a soldier any more. Money got tight, and she moved around for a while, taking odd jobs. Then she found me, and I returned the favor. She lives here, acts as a bouncer, and sometimes does construction around town for extra money."

Joxer nodded in approval.

"Yeah. A bouncer is just what this place needs."

Meg shrugged.

"Ya know how some guys get. I can take care of myself, and so can most of the other girls, but there are those guys that…just…oh gods. Maria doesn't take shit from them, I'll tell you that."

Joxer raised an eyebrow.

"I can see that. She looks like she can break a guy in half."

Meg sighed.

"Anyway, I'm trying to get out of the brothel business. One of the newer girls, named Francisca, is one Tartarus of a cook!! So, we got to talking, and I'm seriously thinking about trying to change this into-I dunno-maybe some sort of a restaurant."

"Hey-you ain't no slouch as a cook either, Meg."

"Yeah, I know some stuff. I sorta liked cooking different things, and…well, maybe I'll try getting back into it. Weeeell…"

Meg slid off of Joxer, standing up on the floor. She smiled an apologetic smile.

"Sorry sweetie, but I gotta go."

Joxer instantly stood up. He frowned again.

"Aw Meg. You're mean."

Meg knitted her eyebrows.

"Whaddaya mean I'm mean?"

"After that wake-up call, ya just gonna leave me here like this?"

Meg lifted an eyebrow. She moved up to him, caressing his face.

"I guess that was kinda mean, huh?"

Joxer lowered his head, a hurt look on his face.


Meg slowly reached for Joxer's trousers. She began to pull them down, and smiled slightly.

"I think I've got a quick solution."

Meg slowly got down on her knees. Joxer's eyes widened in surprise.

"Hoo-boy…" he whispered.

Joxer looked out the window, taking in the early afternoon view. People milled about. Some were talking and laughing, others buying food and clothing. Joxer licked his dry lips. He turned to his right, and picked up a goblet full of apple juice. He downed some of it. Joxer smacked his lips.

"Ahhh…nice stuff…"

He sat down in his chair, and looked outside again. But this time, he allowed his mind to wander. Wander back to last night. And all the other nights before it. Joxer shook his head. He couldn't understand why he was having such a difficult time with the death of Criton. He had mulled over it, over and over again. But something inside him just could not stand the fact that he killed another man, no matter what the reason. And this something was screaming out its disapproval in ways that were making Joxer insane.


Joxer bit his tongue. He looked into the clear blue sky.

How in the world did Xena do it?! What was the secret?!

Joxer shook his head in disbelief. If he was feeling this way about killing one person, how must Xena feel? But no-no-no-no, Xena was this seemingly all-powerful woman-the perfect killing machine!! Dispatching her enemies like it was nothing!! Not that Joxer hadn't seen moments of sadness from Xena, but those were few and far between. Joxer was amazed beyond belief that Xena could have that kind of self-control. He envied that so badly.

How in Tartarus did she do it?? And why couldn't he have that kind of self control?!

Suddenly, Joxer felt a wave of tension shoot through him. It came out of the blue. He sat back, surprised.

"What the…"

He shook it off. Joxer had felt a little nervous over the last hour, but didn't think much of it. He basically read some scrolls that dealt with some of the local news, and chatted with some of the women in the brothel. He had kept a low profile, and no one had seen him.

Suddenly it hit him again. The tension. Only much stronger this time. Joxer got to his feet. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. His eyes widened in fright.

"Oh no…"

The tension grew and grew, spiraling out of control. It roared through his body, setting every nerve on fire. He felt his body begin to tingle, the sensation swirling in huge waves through every fiber of his being. Suddenly, Joxer felt his throat begin to constrict. He stumbled across the room, grabbing onto a chair. Joxer fell to one knee.


His body began to quake violently. Joxer shook his head erratically.

"No…" he whimpered. "O-O-Oh godsno-"

The door to the room opened. It was Maria. Seeing Joxer, she rushed to his side, her eyes wide with alarm.

"Joxer!! Joxer, what is it?!"

Joxer gagged. He tried to speak.

"Ha-hel-help-can't breathe-"

Maria swept up Joxer in her huge arms and carried him into Meg's bedroom next door. She laid him on the bed, and grabbed his wrists, staring at him helplessly.

"Just hold on, Jox!! Hold on!!"

Joxer's body felt as if he was in the midst of a monstrous earthquake. He shook violently, his nerves absolutely screaming out in agony. His jaw was clamped shut. Sweat poured down his brow. He focused as hard as he could to stop this violent, raging hurricane that took his body over, but to no avail. Maria held onto him, helpless to do anything.

"Ride it out…" Maria said with a sense of urgency. "Just ride it out Joxer…."

This continued for several moments. Then, all the symptoms slowly began to subside. Joxer focused on Maria's face, breathing hard.

"P-Passing…I-It's passing…"

"You sure?!"

"Y-Yeah…Yeah, it is."


"Yeah, yeah."

Joxer felt weak. He took several long, deep breaths. After a few moments, Joxer shook his head, growling in frustration.

"Gods…I'm tired of these damn things…"

Maria raised an eyebrow.

"This happened to you before?"

"Yeah…this…this nervousness came over me…this fear…and then I go into these goddamned convulsions-"

"You felt this huge fear, or something?"

"Yeah…yeah, that's it. This nervousness-it, like-took over my whole body!!"

"That sounds like a panic attack."

Maria straightened up, grabbed a chair, and sat down by Joxer. She held his hand.

"You sure you okay, kid?"

Joxer nodded. He wiped the sweat from his brow. Maria gently patted his hand.

"You'll be all right. I've had those myself."

Anger suddenly overcame Joxer. He tossed a pillow across the room. He looked up at the ceiling, eyes filling with rage.

"What are ya Furies trying ta do to me?!"

Maria quickly grabbed Joxer's arm.

"Hey-hey-hey!! Take it easy, Jox!! Easy!"

Joxer looked at Maria in anger and fear.

"That's it!! It's the Furies!!"

Maria's jaw dropped down in surprise.


"The Furies!! The Furies are trying ta punish me!!"

"Get a hold of yourself, Jox!!"

"The Furies are trying ta punish me!!"

Maria grabbed Joxer by the shoulders, shaking him roughly. She yanked him up to face him. Her eyes were full of anger.

"I said getta hold of yourself, dammit!! Act like a man!!"

Joxer immediately fell silent. He swallowed hard, eyeing Maria in fear. Her eyes narrowed.

"I don't want ya acting like this in front of Meg. She's worried enough as it is."

Joxer lowered his head.

"I'm sorry."

"Look at me."

Joxer looked up at Maria. Her eyes were full of determination.

"Listen to me. I know how hard this is for you, but you gotta face this thing. You're gonna live with this for the rest of your life. And if you can't figure out a way to deal with it, it's gonna kill ya."

Joxer's shoulders sagged. He gazed at Maria, totally at a loss.

"How?! How can I beat this?!"

"Ya gotta stop running away. That's what you're doing. In your head. Running away from this. You can't run from yourself, no matter how hard ya try, Joxer. You gotta face yourself, no matter how much you hate it. You want control the pain? That's the key."

Joxer slowly shook his head.

"It's just that…it's…it's so hard…"

Maria's face softened.

"I know Jox. Believe me, I know."

Joxer gazed at Maria intently.

"How many people have you killed?"

Maria's face grew somber. She sat back, and sighed.

"Gods…I dunno. Over several dozen, maybe?"

Joxer gasped slightly.

"Oh wow…"

Maria ran her tongue along her teeth. Pain briefly flashed through her eyes. She sighed again.

"Joxer, it's an every-day battle. I'm not going to lie. It's hard. I cry a lot. Meg sometimes has to comfort me. That's why I got out of soldiering, Jox. It was just too much."

"Maria…Xena tells me the first kill is always the worst. But what happens afterward?"

Maria bit her lip. Her brows knitted.

"Um…well, ya see-it's different for everybody Jox. Xena's right about a first kill being the worst. After that…"

She shrugged.

"After that, I felt the same things I experienced with my first kill. But as a soldier, you've got to shut down part of yer brain. Ya got a job ta do. Ya got people to watch out for and land to protect. I dunno…you sorta have to close off your emotions. And with time, killing sort of becomes mechanical. Ya sort of…disconnect yourself, I guess."

Joxer shook his head.

"I guess that's how Xena handles it. I wish I had her self-control in that department."

Maria raised an eyebrow.


"Maria, I've never seen anyone as focused as Xena. She…she really is like the ultimate soldier. I mean, I'm not saying she doesn't have nightmares sometimes, but…ya know, she really seems to keep things in focus and she does what she has to do. I mean, Xena doesn't like to kill, but she's been a warrior so long, it's like breathing to her. She manages to push her pain down and move beyond it."

Maria's eyes narrowed.

"Dontcha think ya might be thinking a little too highly about Xena?"

Joxer looked at Maria, confused.

"What do ya mean?"

"I mean, how much do ya really know, in terms of how she deals with death? Remember her history. Xena was once the Destroyer of Nations. If there's a Tartarus on this earth, Xena's living it. Man, I don't even want to think about the nightmares she must endure. Just think about that for a minute, Joxer. Don't place her on a pedestal. Remember where she came from, and who she is now. Xena's no different from us. She's a human being."

Joxer lowered his head, considering Maria's statement. She nodded to herself, and went on.

"Yep. That girl's got baggage. Big time. Try and imagine having killed hundreds of Critons."

At this, Joxer laughed harshly.

"Oh, please!! I've got trouble managing this kill!!"

"Soooooo…how do you think Xena feels?"

Joxer scratched his head. Moments passed as he thought. He took the pain he was feeling, and multiplied it in his head as best he could, taking into account how many people Xena had killed-during all her years as a warlord and warrior. He had never stopped to fully consider the hell Xena carried within her. But Joxer's murder of Criton had given him a horrific new perspective. His eyes slowly widened at the realization. And then, Xena's predicament suddenly hit him.

"Oh man…the… gods …"

Joxer then lowered his head, his face dark, full of anger at himself. He felt more ashamed of himself than ever.

"I am such an ass."

Maria's eyes narrowed in surprise.


"Here I am, whining like a baby over a single stupid kill."

Maria clutched his arm.

"You're not being a baby. What you're feeling is perfectly normal."

"But compared to Xena-"

Maria immediately raised a hand, silencing him.

"Don't compare yourself to Xena. Not like that. You and her are two different people. A lot of what Xena feels has been of her own making, Jox. A lot of this hell she's brought on herself. And she'll struggle with it, no matter how much good she does. This was self-defense. You weren't going out of your way to kill Criton for pleasure. You were trying to protect your friend."

Maria stood up. She smiled sadly.

"You gotta go into yourself. Face whatever it is inside you, and understand it Jox. I mean, really understand it. And it's hard. But no one can do that for ya. I mean, it's good to have friends you can talk to, but that's only part of it. You gotta mind the store. And the store is what's in here."

She pointed to herself.

"Ya understand, Jox?"

Joxer bit his lip, and nodded.

"Yeah…yeah, I think so…"

A pause. Then he spoke again.

"But these panic attacks! I mean, they seem to come out of the blue! How do I stop them?!"

"From my experience, it's all part of the same problem Jox-facing yourself, understanding yourself. These are hard lessons to learn. Controlling those attacks won't be easy, but you'll manage if you focus."

Joxer stared at the ceiling for a moment.

"Focus…" he repeated. "That's something else Xena tries to drill into me."

Maria nodded in approval.

"The woman knows what she's talking about. Keep in mind-this is something you've got to work at every day. You can't get rid of it by praying to the gods or snapping your fingers. You gotta work at it."

Maria crossed her arms, and slowly smiled, as a thought occurred to her.

"Make that your mission, Joxer the Mighty. Think you're up to it?"

Joxer laughed.


"Meg tells me you always talk about being up for anything! So-whaddaya say??"

Joxer smiled warmly.

"That Meg…yeah, she's right. I am Joxer the Mighty! I'm ready for anything!"

Maria laughed heartily.

"Now, there's the spirit!! I've got faith in ya, Joxer! I know you can beat this!!"

She bent down, and ruffled his hair. Joxer yelped in surprise.


Maria chuckled.

"This means I like ya. Whenever ya wanna talk, let me know."

Joxer extended his arm.

"Thanks, Maria."

Maria grasped it firmly in a warrior's handshake.

"No need. That's what friends are for."

Part 3