Meg walked up to Joxer, a jug in her hand. She smiled warmly.

"Port, Jox?"

Joxer grinned.

"Yeah. Fill 'er up."

Meg poured the contents into the mug. Joxer took a swallow. He smacked his lips.

"Wow...good stuff Meg! Where'ja get this?"

"New guy in town. He opened up a brewery, and it's got the best port around. He's a nice guy too, and gives us reasonable prices."

Joxer nodded in approval. He bit into a large piece of steak, chewing it with zeal. Meg sat down next to him.

"How's the steak?" she asked.

Joxer rolled his eyes in ecstasy.


He swallowed, and licked his lips.

"Oh... man!! Food...of...the... gods!! Better than ambrosia!!"

At hearing this, Meg blushed. A shy smile crossed her features.

"I made it."

Joxer's eyes grew huge.

"Y-you?!" he stammered. "Y-You made this?!?"

Meg nodded.


Joxer couldn't contain his excitement and pride in Meg.

"This is in-credible!! Genius!!"

Meg blushed an even deeper shade of rose. She covered her mouth, trying in vain to suppress a smile.

"Oh, stop." she said softly.

Joxer looked at Meg in open-mouthed amazement.

"Are ya kidding?! This is the best steak I've ever had in my life!! Meg, I ain't kidding!! This is great!! You're wonderful!!"

Meg instantly got up, wrapping her arms around Joxer. She planted a big, wet kiss on his right cheek. Her blue eyes were full of love and gratitude.

"You're so sweet." she purred.

Now, it was Joxer's turn to blush. He averted his eyes with a bashful grin.


Meg turned Joxer's face towards hers. She leaned in, and gave Joxer a long, tender kiss on the lips. Then she pulled back a little, her forehead on his.

"Your opinion means a lot to me, Jox." Meg said softly.

Joxer's eyebrows rose.


Meg gazed at Joxer, her eyes loving and serious all at once.


Joxer took a deep breath. He grasped Meg's hands, breaking into a warm smile.

"Meg, I believe in you. I really think you can pull this off. No-let me rephrase that. I know you can pull this restaurant thing off. I've had food cooked by lots of people, but Meg-you're up there, in terms of quality. And I'm not just saying that. I really mean it. Go for it."

Meg smiled shyly. She felt overwhelmed with joy and pride.

"Thank you."

She sat down in front of him, still grasping his hands.

"What about you, Jox? How are you holding up?"

Joxer's smile faded. He sighed.

"Maria and I had a chat."

Meg's brows knitted.

"How did it go?"

"Maria was talking about how I've got to confront what I've done, and that I've gotta realize that I had no choice in doing what I did. She talked about...facing myself."

Meg looked at Joxer, puzzled.


"Looking inside myself. Facing myself."

Joxer's face darkened.

"I know she's right, but..."

"But what, Jox?"

"I'm afraid."

Meg tightened her grip on Joxer's hand.

"You don't have to face this alone, Joxer."

Joxer smiled sadly.

"I gotta, sooner or later. It''s just...the pain, ya know? I-I've never felt that kind of pain and disgust in my life. Sometimes it feels like it's beyond my control."

Meg placed a hand on Joxer's face.

"That's why you're here. So that you can start to face it. Day by day. With me to help you."

Meg smiled warmly. She got up, pulling Joxer up with her.

"C'mon Jox."

"Where are we going?"

Meg leaned into Joxer, her blue eyes level with his brown ones.

"To spend some time alone." she said softly. "I'm going to try and take your mind off your problems for a little while."

Joxer smiled in gratitude. He knew what this meant.

"I'd like that, Meg. I'd like that very much."

Both naked bodies pressed into each other. Meg and Joxer shared a deep kiss, their tongues battling it out in each other's mouths. Meg then broke the kiss, sitting back up on top of Joxer. Her eyes hooded, filled with animal lust, she slid herself back onto Joxer's member, impaling herself on it. Meg groaned loudly in ecstasy. Joxer sat up, clutching Meg's arms. He tilted her back, and closed his mouth on her ample left breast. Meg cried out in excitement. She clamped her hands around Joxer's head, pulling him forcefully into her. Joxer continued to feast on the soft, creamy-white flesh, sucking Meg's breast deep into his mouth. Meg cried out again. She began to rock her pelvis up and down. Grunts, whimpers and sighs came from the lovers. Meg grabbed Joxer's buttocks and thrust herself onto him, again and again. Joxer pulled back from the ample breast to catch his breath, only to have Meg grab his head, and kiss him. Hard. Meg thrust her tongue deep into Joxer's mouth, and Joxer was quick to respond. They refused to break this kiss, their moans and whimpers growing louder and louder as each one reached their climax. Joxer was first. He thrust up hard into Meg, exploding inside her. Meg pulled back and screamed in joy, climaxing at the same time. She bent foward and bit hard into Joxer's neck. Joxer cried out in pain and ecstasy. He thrust into Meg again, as a second wave shot through his member. They fell back onto the bed. Meg continued to suck on Joxer's neck. Both lovers were covered in sweat.

"M-Me-Meg??" gasped Joxer.

Meg wrapped her body tighter around Joxer's, licking the blue-black bite mark she left on his neck.

"Hmmmm??" she purred, busy with her task.

"W-What, a-are-"

Meg cut him off, smothering his words in a deep, hungry kiss. She moaned deeply, almost like an animal. Joxer couldn't believe Meg's stamina. And he was enjoying it immensely.

They kissed for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Meg broke the kiss. She snuggled into Joxer's right side, nuzzling his ear.

"How many times does that make it?" Meg whispered, nibbling at an earlobe.

"T-T-Thr-Three." stammered Joxer.

A devilish smiled crossed Meg's face.

"We've made each other come three times." she purred dangerously into Joxer's ear. The way she said that made him shiver with excitement.

Meg noticed this. She licked his ear, reaching down and gently massaging his penis. Joxer gasped.

"Wanna try for four?" Meg growled playfully.

Joxer put his hand on hers, stopping the massage. He gazed at Meg, a pained look on his face.

"Oh gods, Meg. I'm drained! I'd love to...but I'm exhausted."

Meg pouted.

"Awww...poor Joxie."

She drew close, and gave Joxer another long, slow kiss. Their tongues swirled around and around in each other's mouths. Then Meg drew back, and smiled.

"Get some sleep, sweetie."

Joxer smiled in return.

"Good idea. And Meg?"


Thanks for this."

Meg smiled warmly. She kissed Joxer on the nose, snuggling close.

"You're welcome. Get some sleep, Jox. Night."

"Night, Meg."

Meg closed her eyes, and in a little while she was sound asleep. Joxer looked up at the ceiling, his eyelids beginning to droop. But he fought to keep his eyes open. He was terrified again. Beyond belief.

Terrified of going to sleep.

Every single night, without exception, a horrific nightmare would invade his dreams. Oh, how he dreaded sleep now. It used to be so different.

Then Joxer remembered what Maria said:

"Ya gotta face yourself, no matter how much you hate it. You wanna control the pain? That's the key."

Joxer sighed nervously.

"Oh man..." he whispered.

He lay quietly for a while, staring at the ceiling. Joxer then turned towards Meg, who was now in a deep sleep. She snored into Joxer's shoulder. Then suddenly, Meg turned away from him, moving off into the other corner of the bed. She continued to snore.

"I'm glad you can sleep." he whispered.

For the next half-hour, Joxer tried to fight his drowsiness. But his sexual encounters with Meg had left him too drained. Eventually, he lost the battle. Joxer drifted off into a deep slumber.

Joxer stood on a mountain. The skies were orange.

He looked to his right. A huge, purple thunderhead loomed in the distance. Giant bolts of lightning shot from its base. Joxer stepped forward.


Joxer looked down. His eyes grew huge with terror. He had stepped into a man's torso. His intestines wrapped around Joxer's foot.


He yanked his foot out of the torso. He stumbled forward, tripping over a rock. Joxer fell hard into the earth. Stunned for a moment, he slowly got to his feet, rubbing his nose. He looked around him. Dead men, in different stages of decay, littered the landscape. The ground was a rust orange. The smell of rotting flesh hung heavily in the air. Joxer gagged. But he managed to hold it in, and began to walk.

Joxer looked into the sky. The thunderstorm was coming his way. The lightning grew in intensity. Huge rumbles of thunder ripped through the heavens. Joxer knew he had to find shelter.

He stumbled along, Suddenly, he heard the sounds of a fight. Swords were clanging. He ran down the trail, and around a immense boulder on his right.

His eyes widened in shock.

It was Xena and Criton.

They were fighting, in the midst of a mountain of corpses. The corpses were of men, women, and children. An endless sea of crosses stood beyond them. There were more dead bodies hanging from them. Joxer's jaw dropped in absolute terror. He tried to move-

And couldn't. He was paralyzed, rooted to the spot.

No matter how hard Joxer tried, he could not will his body to move. He watched helplessly as Xena and Criton fought.

The warrior princess took a vicious swipe at Criton's midsection. He jumped back and somersaulted over Xena. She turned around, just in time to block a vicious downswing. The harsh sound of metal striking metal echoed through the canyons of corpses surrounding them. Xena's blue eyes went wide with savage fury.


Xena whipped her leg out in a flash. Her booted foot struck Criton in the jaw. Blood and teeth exploded from Criton's mouth. His head snapped back, and Criton staggered backwards, turning away from Xena. She raised her sword and rushed forward, preparing to deliver the killing blow.

Then, out of nowhere, Criton's foot snapped out, hitting Xena's midsection. She grunted loudly in pain as a rib snapped. Criton quickly followed with another vicious kick. This one struck the side of Xena's head, and her face whipped away. Blood and several teeth flowed out of Xena's mouth in a ghoulish fountain. Joxer stared on in terror and disbelief.

Xena staggered back, stunned by the ferocity of both blows. Her blue eyes were glazed and dilated. As Xena turned around, there was a flash of metal. A huge fountain of blood exploded from her torso as Criton's sword cut down the length of it.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Joxer screamed.

Xena dropped to her knees. Her sword fell out of her hands, onto the earth. Her eyes were wide in shock and agony. She gagged, blood erupting from her throat. Criton smiled hideously at his victim. Then he thrust his sword at Xena with all his might. It ripped through her chest and out her back. Xena's eyes crossed, rolling into the back of her head.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Joxer screamed. "STOP!!!! STOOOOOOOOPPPPP!!!"

Xena slowly looked back down at Criton's sword. Red-black blood ran the length of it. She looked up at Criton, her blue eyes unfocused, trying to speak. Harsh, wordless rasps came out of her mouth, along with an endless river of blood. Then Criton yanked the sword out of Xena's body. There was a sickening sound of metal cutting through bone and flesh. Xena swayed on her knees, her eyes crossed, her bloody tongue hanging out of her mouth. Criton raised his sword. He let out a blood-curdling roar.


Criton swung the heavy blade. It ripped through Xena's neck, slicing her head off. It flew through the air, bouncing repeatedly, until it came to rest near a pile of skulls. Her body fell back onto the ground, twitching erratically. Rage exploded inside Joxer.


He drew his knife, and rushed at Criton with a blinding speed. He collided with him so hard that both men sailed several feet through the air. They crashed into the earth. Joxer raised his arm, and buried the knife into Criton's chest.


Lighting crashed through the darkening skies. Thunder exploded through the air and earth, shaking everything around Joxer. It began to rain. The rain was blood-red. Joxer kept plunging the knife into Criton's chest. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again-


There was a brilliant flash of white light-

And Joxer instantly sat up in his bed

The storm inside him was roaring full force again. His body shook so violently that he felt himself moving closer and closer to the edge of the bed. His throat began to tighten. With a tremendous effort, he swung his legs out, and sat at the edge of the bed. Joxer dug his fingers deep into the mattress. At that moment, Meg popped up from under the covers. Her eyes widened in shock.


She scrambled to his side. Meg gasped in terror as she saw Joxer being wracked by savage convulsions. His face was twisted in agony; yet there was something inside his eyes. And that something was rage. Rage and heated determination. Joxer was fed up. He was going to fight this thing. He growled like an animal. Meg instantly reached for him.

"Gruah-n-nooo!!" he snapped in a gurgled hiss.

Meg yanked her hand back. Joxer's eyes darted towards her. He spat out the next words as if they were poison.


With impossible effort, Joxer managed to get to his feet. But the vicious hurricane inside him wasn't going to let Joxer have his way that easily. His nerves roared to new heights of agony. His head was pounding along with the violent beatings of his heart. Meg quickly moved up to him.

"J-Joxer-" she stammered.

Joxer lifted a shaking hand.

"G-G-Gh-Gh-Gonna...b-b-be o-o-kay-"

Meg moved in front of Joxer, her face full of anger and determination.

"Joxer, ya gotta let me help you!! Please!!"

Joxer shook his head erratically, and lifted a finger.

"N-N-No!! T-T-Table-a-a-a-tttttaable-"

Meg had enough. She put her arm around Joxer. He quickly turned to her, anger and fear in his eyes.


Meg's eyes grew cold. They narrowed. Joxer for a moment swore he was staring into Xena's eyes.

"Ya wanna try and stop me?" Meg growled.

Joxer knew he was walking on dangerous ground. He dared not challenge Meg.


"Then shut up and walk."

Meg helped Joxer over to the table. She helped him sit down. Meg then moved a chair towards his. Her expression softened, and she stood next to him. Joxer continued to tremble violently. Meg bent down, looking into Joxer's pained face.

"You just rest." Meg said in a hurried tone. "I've got something for that."

She rushed out of the room. Joxer sat in the dim candlelight, trying to will himself to sit still. But his body refused to obey him. It continued to tremble violently, as if Joxer were a human earthquake.

All in your mind, Jox...this is all in your mind...

He squinted his eyes shut, concentrating fiercely on trying to keep his body still. But his body absolutely refused to listen. Suddenly, he heard heavy footsteps. Joxer opened his eyes. It was Maria. She quickly sat down next to him, placing her hand on his shoulder.

"Another one, Jox?!"

"Y-Y-Yeah-w-w-what's wrong with m-m-me?"

Maria's eyes narrowed in sadness and pity.

"It's your nerves, Joxer. Your nerves are shot."

Joxer placed his head in his hands.

"O-Oh G-G-Gods...I-I'm in T-T-Tartarus..."

Maria nodded her head in understanding.

"I know, Jox. I know. I've been there."

"M-My I'm choking..."

"It's just your nerves, Joxer."

Joxer shot her a look of anguished surprise.

"Just my n-n-erves?! Oy..."

"Meg's gonna bring you something to calm your nerves."

"What...i-is she bringing?!"

"This." answered Meg.

Maria and Joxer looked up. Meg brought over to Joxer a cup of hot tea. Joxer stared at Meg in disbelief.

"W-What's this?!"

"A special tea." answered Meg. "Just drink it. Trust me."

Meg placed the tea in front of Joxer. He reached for it, but his hands were shaking too violently. Joxer pulled away, growling in frustration. Maria leaned towards him.

"Focus, Joxer." she said. "You can do it. I know you can. Focus. Take your time and focus."

Joxer rolled his eyes into the back of his head for a second. Then he glared at the cup of tea before him. His eyes narrowed. He reached out for it again. Joxer slowly clutched the cup's handle and the plate it sat on. He carefully lifted it to his lips, and took a sip. Joxer made a hideous face. He spat it out.


"Drink it!"
Meg ordered sternly. "I know it tastes like centaur piss, but drink it!"

Joxer shook his head in disbelief.

"Of all the things..." he mumbled. "W-why me??"

Joxer lifted the cup to his lips. He slowly, very slowly, began to drink the greenish-brown liquid. Steam rose above his face. Joxer's eyes squinched shut. He was absolutely appalled at how this tea tasted. But if this was going to help him somehow, Joxer was certainly not going to ignore it. He couldn't stand another moment of this nightmare he was going through. Meg stood nearby, arms crossed, making sure that Joxer drank every drop. Maria kept watch as well. After what seemed like an eternity, Joxer finally downed most of the tea. He set the cup and plate back down on the table, smacking his lips and tongue with total revulsion. He glared at Meg, and made a slow, sweeping motion in front of him with his hand.

"Smoooooooth." he mumbled sarcastically.

Meg broke into a mischievous grin.

"Different, eh?"

Joxer's eyes widened in definite agreement.

"Ooooooh yeah. Different. Veeeeery different. Um-what in Tartarus is in this, uh, tea??"

"It's a special herb, used to calm the nerves." said Maria. "I've had to drink this tea, when my attacks were too strong."

Joxer looked up at Meg, his right eyebrow raised as high as it could go.

"Meg.....I think I'd rather have centaur piss."

Meg smirked.

"I can arrange that."

She moved a chair next to Joxer, and sat down next to him. Her eyes became full of worry.

"You okay, Jox?"

Joxer noticed that the tremors had lessened somewhat. He still felt very uncomfortable.

"N-Not really. J-Just a little better, but not much."

"What are you feeling?" asked Meg.

Joxer rolled his eyes up towards the ceiling.

"Gods... the worst tension I've ever felt in my life. It's like-i-it's like I'm some sort of earthquake or something. I-I can't stop it!!"

"Well, you're doing something right." said Maria. "You seem to be able to talk a little better now."

Joxer sighed.

"I-I just tried what you said...a-and focused. That choking thing was harder, but I-I managed to sorta calm that too. But Gods.... it's so damned hard..."

"I've had these attacks too." said Meg quietly.

Joxer turned abruptly towards Meg. His eyes were huge.

"Y-Y-You?!" he stammered. "But I never-I never saw you-"

"I was just good at hiding them." interrupted Meg. She lowered her head, and sighed.

Joxer placed his hand on Meg's shoulder.

"I-I'm so sorry." he said with the utmost sincerity.

Meg looked up at Joxer. She chewed on her tongue for a moment. Then she spoke.

"Maria and I have had very hard lives, Joxer. This kind of thing is pretty common."

Meg shook her head. She sat back, her brilliant blue eyes staring off into space.

"The last time I had them was after I left King Lias's castle...."

Joxer squinted in puzzlement.

"W-What happened there, Meg?"

Meg quickly looked at Joxer. Her face became full of shame. She lowered her head and bit her lower lip.


She looked up at the ceiling again. Joxer could clearly see pain shoot across Meg's face. He moved up to Meg, clutching her right arm.

"Meg, what happened?"

Meg looked away, her eyes focused on the cracks in the wooden floor. She fought hard to keep the rising agony down in herself. Joxer immediately felt Meg stiffen. Fear of a different kind began to fill Joxer.

"Meg, what-"

"Hold on." interrupted Maria.

Maria got up, and knelt down beside Meg. She took her friend's hand.

"Take it easy now."

Meg tried hard to fight back her tears, but it was too late. They began to roll down her cheeks. Joxer had enough. He willed himself to stand. It was difficult, but right now Joxer was more concerned about his friend than his own pain. He knelt down next to Maria. When Joxer saw Meg's tears, his heart broke. He was determined to know what the reason was for this. Joxer placed his trembling right hand on Meg's cheek.

"Open up and tell me Meg." Joxer said softly, full of compassion. "Remember what you told me in the bath? Let it out. I want to help. I care about you Meg."

Meg looked at Joxer, her eyes full of pain and shame. She lowered her head, and swallowed hard.


"Take your time, sweetheart." said Maria gently.

Meg sighed heavily. She studied the cracks in the floor.

"Joxer...remember what I told you about my leaving King Lias's castle?"

Joxer nodded slowly.

"Um...yeah. You told me that you felt restless...that you didn't want to stay in one place..."

"I lied, Joxer."

Joxer wasn't surprised. Privately, he had wondered why Meg had left King Lias. She would never have had to worry about having a home or a job again. Joxer had tried to get more out of her about this, but Meg wouldn't tell him. So, he let the issue go. Whatever it was, it had to have been serious.

"W-What happened, Meg?"

Meg lowered her head even more.

"I...I-I...I was raped..."

Rage exploded inside Joxer. Maria and Meg looked at him. They were both startled by the darkness that overshadowed his face. Joxer's eyes narrowed into two feral slits. His lips curled into a snarl.

"Who did it?!" Joxer hissed icily. "I'll kill 'em!!"

Maria quickly placed a hand on Joxer's shoulder.

"Joxer, I took care of the rapist."

Joxer growled like a rabid dog. Maria couldn't believe the drastic change in his demeanor. She felt a twinge of fear shoot up her spine. Meg quickly grabbed Joxer's other arm, her eyes full of fright.

"Joxer, no!! Maria took care of it!!"

Joxer let out his breath slowly. He shook his head.

"If I had been there, I would've killed him."

Meg grabbed Joxer by the shoulders, her face full of anger and fear.

"Joxer, let it go!! Please!!"

Joxer lowered his head, his eyes moving rapidly over the floor. Meg quickly placed a hand under his chin, and lifted it so she faced him.

"Please Joxer." Meg begged. "Let it go. For me. Please."

An eternity seemed to pass. Finally, Joxer sighed. He sat on the floor, taking Meg's hand in his.

"Tell me." he said, simply.

Meg and Maria looked at each other for a moment. Meg sighed, and began to speak.

"I-It was Agis's brother, Timerus. He wanted to get revenge for Agis's death. He said that it was my fault...H-He was planning to break Agis out when he heard about his murder in jail. So, he came after me..."

Meg wiped her tears from her face with her right hand. Joxer rubbed her left one.

"Go on Meg." he said softly.

"I, uh-I-I'd never seen Agis's brother, but I knew that he was an assassin. O-One day, farmers came in to deliver grain to King Lias. There was a lot to unload, and the farmers and soldiers worked into the night. I was in the kitchen, cooking the spicy soup King Lias liked..."

Meg shook at the memory. Tears came to her eyes.

"A-And-and he came into the kitchen. Disguised as a farmer...."

Maria sat next to Meg, putting a huge arm around her. She held Meg close. Joxer squeezed Meg's hand tighter.

"I-It's okay. Go on Meg."

Meg sighed. Her eyes darted around the room, gazing at anything but her two friends.

"He hit me. He beat me and beat me...And then he raped me. T-Timerus was going to kill me, but Philemon and Diana came to the door. Timerus escaped..."

Meg could not continue. She burst into tears. Maria held her close, kissing the top of Meg's head.

"Sssssssshhhh....Don't cry....Ssssssshhhhh..."

Joxer moved in front of Meg. Tears welled up in his eyes. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly.

"Meg...I-I'm so sorry. By the gods Meg, I am so sorry..."

Meg stopped crying. Joxer tenderly wiped Meg's tears from her face. She looked at Joxer solemly, and spoke.

"Looks like we all are carrying some pain inside, huh?"

Joxer eyed her steadily, nodding.

"I guess we are."

Meg turned to Maria.

"I...I wanna go to bed." she said quietly.

Maria stroked Meg's head.


Meg suddenly turned to Joxer, concern on her face.

"Joxer, are you all right? What about you?"

Joxer shook his head.

"I-I'll be okay."

"The medicine should kick in in about fifteen minutes." said Maria. "It'll help you sleep, and keep your nerves calm. But ya gotta remember Joxer-this ain't a cure. The only way to manage the pain, if not stop it altogether, is to face it and adjust yourself to it. Don't use this tea as a crutch."

Joxer nodded in understanding.


The three got on their feet. Joxer was a little unsteady, and Meg took a hold of him. Maria sighed and spoke.

"Well, back to bed. Night, you two. Rest plenty."

"We will." answered Joxer. "Thanks. For everything."

Maria smiled. She left the room. Meg turned to Joxer.

"Let's go back to bed."

"I'm with ya."

Meg and Joxer climbed into bed. They got under the covers. Meg turned to Joxer, her blue eyes searching his brown ones.

"Hold me." she said softly. "Please."

Joxer took Meg into his arms. She snuggled into him, and closed her eyes. Meg felt content. And so did Joxer. Two lonely souls, turning to each other for companionship. It wasn't long before both of them fell into a deep, peaceful sleep in each other's arms.

Part 4