The blood flowed like a wild river. It threaded its way through the air, crimson fingers reaching out erratically through space. Virgil's head whipped back-
And he crashed into the ground. The monstrous, bald hunk of rock-hard muscle stood over him, his smile twisting into a contemptuous sneer. His two companions laughed.
"What a pansy!!"
"Well whaddaya expect from a guy who likes to ball other men in the ass?!"
Virgil spat out a couple of teeth. His head throbbed with violent blasts of pain. He felt the side of his face begin to swell up.
Hands that grabbed his shirt and hoisted Virgil to his feet like a rag doll. His eyes saw for the briefest instant a massive, sweaty forehead.
White-hot, savage pain. He felt his nose collapse. His head snapped back-
And a knee burrowed deep into his groin. A massive explosion of agony ripped up through his scrotum. Virgil felt himself lifted into the air by the impact of the blow-
Something rock-hard smashed into his face. And Virgil flew.
He didn't know how long he flew, or how far. He just felt himself soar. He caught glimpses of different things; of a treetop, of the sun, of the grass shooting past below him. He twisted through the air. Virgil was soon face-down again. He saw dark earth rushing up to meet him-
And the earth's kiss was a savage one.
Rocks and earth tore into his mouth, face, nose, and eyes. Virgil let out a gurgled shriek. Blasts of white tore through his mind, along with stinging pain. Sound was dulled. He felt himself rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling-
Something hard and wooden stopped him. It slammed into his stomach. Virgil felt splinters dig into his belly.
Another blast of white shot through his head. For a few moments, there was just white nothingness. A low, intense hum accompanied the white. There was nothing. Nothing else.
Then he began to feel something. His arms. Then his legs and body. They throbbed. Virgil came out of the white sea of unconsciousness. He heard voices. Bits and pieces.
"...piece of shit..."
"...wrinkled whore Meg..."
The voices faded.
Virgil lay motionless a long time before he attempted to move. When he did, his body was screaming out vehemently against it. The pain rushed through his tortured flesh. He let out a strangled cry. But his anger and will fought the pain, pushing through it.
He slowly sat up. He clutched the tree bark.
Hand over hand, Virgil pulled himself to his feet. His right eye was swollen shut. Virgil began to limp along through the forest. A wave of painful dizziness shot through his head. His knees weakened. Virgil fell against a tree. He propped himself up against it. Virgil drew in one deep breath.
He continued on.
It hurt to breathe. Oh gods, did it hurt. Damned rib was broken. Or bruised. Did it matter really? It hurt like hell just the same.
Virgil made it out onto the dirt road. He limped along. It seemed to take forever.
He saw his parents' restaurant, finally. It was downhill, mercifully. A couple of women saw him. They gasped, quickly moving out of his way. Virgil ignored them. Only one thing was on his mind.
The door in front of him.
The side door to the kitchen.
Little by little, step by step. And then he was there. Virgil fell against it, and slammed his fist with dull, heavy thumps into the door.
"Okay, okay!! Just hold on there!!"
D-Dad s-s-sounds annoyed, thought Virgil. Wait t-t-t-t- till he sees me-
The door opened. And Virgil saw his father's face. It went from annoyed to full-blown horror in a second.
Virgil's legs gave out. He fell into his father's arms. Joxer quickly lowered his son to the ground. He looked up, his face wild with fright and desperation.
Joxer looked down at his son.
"Oh gods, Virgil!!"
The teenager heard the sound of running feet. Then his mother's cry of anguish.
She was at his side like a gust of wind. Tears streamed down her eyes.
"My baby, my baby!!"
Meg bent down and kissed Virgil, holding his head in her arms.
"I'm getting the medical equipment!!" Virgil heard Francisca say.
Meg whimpered, her face overwhelmed with grief.
"Meg, give him room to breathe!!" admonished Joxer.
Virgil started to feel light-headed. His father's voice seemed to sound farther and farther away. Virgil tried to look into his father's eyes. Joxer's brown eyes widened with fear.
"Virgil!! Son, stay with us!! Stay with us!!"
Virgil fought to keep his eyes open, but his father seemed to fade more and more into that strange bright white again.
"Virgil!!" shouted his mother. Her voice sounded so far away.
"Then I blacked out again."
Thanis shook his head in disbelief and anger.
Virgil turned towards Thanis.
"I was out for over a day. I came to eventually. I told my family what happened, what Pallos did to me. Uncle Jace was performing in the area, and was going to stop by and visit. Maria went and told him what happened, and he canceled the rest of his engagement. He rushed over to see me."
Virgil thought back again...
Jace grasped his nephew's hand. He gazed at him sadly. He wiped the hair from Virgil's face.
"I'm so sorry Virgil."
Virgil gave a ragged sigh. He rolled his good eye in grief and anger.
"I-I-I wasn't bothering anyone!! I was minding my own business!!"
Jace lowered his head.
"I know." he said quietly.
Jace looked up. Meg and Joxer sat near their son, their faces ashen with agony. Virgil's two brothers and three sisters stood around the bed, their faces full of sadness, fear, and anger. Maria was among them. She rubbed Virgil's feet affectionately. Virgil looked at Jace again.
"Why?!" he asked, grief and anger lacing his voice.
Jace snorted slightly.
"Why. That's a question I've asked myself many times, Virgil. Why some people couldn't accept me because I was different."
Jace looked out a window. Pain roiled through his dark-brown eyes.
"I've had to live with the stigma of being gay all my life."
"B-But I thought being gay was acceptable among the Greeks!!" exclaimed one of Virgil's sisters.
Jace smiled sadly.
"That depends on who you are Katia, and what station in life you're in. It may be acceptable to some, but not everyone. Don't be fooled. Trust me. Animals like Pallas are a dinar a dozen."
Maria's eyes narrowed with rage.
"He can't get away with this." she growled. "I swear I'll get him for-"
"You won't do a damn thing!!" exclaimed Joxer angrily. "I don't want ya going after that animal. Your mom and I will talk to the authorities. I know what a hothead you are, Maria. Don't get any ideas."
Meg stood up. She walked over to Maria, placing her hands on her daughter's shoulders. She turned Maria to face her.
"Your father's right." Meg said quietly, her voice and eyes full of deadly seriousness. "Don't get any ideas in your head Maria. Pallas is an animal, a bully."
"So, he's just going to walk?!" cried Maria in anger. "This is my brother he almost beat to death!!"
Meg drew closer, her ice-blue eyes penetrating her daughter's.
"You don't know this kind of man like I do. I've seen his kind lots of times. I've seen the kind of damage they can do. They can do far worse than this. Joxer and I are going to talk to the Greek officials and see what they can do to bring him to justice. You stay away from him."
"Listen to your mother." said Jace. "Pallas is bad news. I've seen his type too."
Maria sighed harshly. She yanked herself from Meg's grasp and walked over to the other side of the room, plopping down heavily into a chair. She gazed out the window, tears trickling down her cheeks. Meg frowned deeply. She slumped in exhaustion, and walked back over to Joxer's side. He gazed at her with sympathy. Meg sat down next to him. Virgil looked up at the ceiling, shaking his head.
"H-How could people think of me that way?!"
Joxer snorted harshly.
"Because they're dumb. Idiots. Morons. Short-sighted and close-minded."
He sighed and looked down at the floor, his brown eyes wandering over it. He closed them, and sighed deeply.
"I know...because I used to be like that."
Virgil turned towards his father, his eye wide with shock. Joxer timidly glanced at him, then at Meg and the rest of his children. They all stared at him in disbelief. Joxer then turned towards Jace.
Jace's face darkened. He lowered his head.
"Joxer....don't do this."
Joxer immediately shook his head.
"No. These are my kids. This is my wife. They have a right to know."
Meg shook her head in disbelief.
"J-Joxer...w-what are you talking about??"
Joxer sighed. He gazed at Jace with sadness, pity, and guilt.
"I used to treat my own brother like garbage. Yeah. Me and Jett. Our father had us thinking that way. We used to tease him for being a homosexual. My mother was constantly trying to get Jace to act more manly, whatever that was. He would get beaten up by other teens outside, but Jett and dad would beat the piss outta him too. Sometimes worse than those outsiders. That's about the only thing I wouldn't do. But it didn't make me no angel. Jace eventually ran away, and never came back. Our family decided that we should never mention his name in public. We never did.
"I always used to think that he was wasting his life. Isn't that a kick in the pants? Me, the Warrior Dork, accusing my brother of wasting his life. And the thing is that he had it together more than I ever did."
Jace looked up at Joxer. He smiled sadly.
"Joxer, you're no longer that person. You've grown up a lot since then."
"Yeah, but it wasn't until Xena and Gabrielle pointed my stupidity out to me. Huh. Some growth."
Joxer immediately raised a hand.
"Jace, don't even try it. Okay?? I was lower than horse shit. You know it, and I know it."
Jace sighed. Joxer then looked down at Virgil. A set of tears came down his face.
"That's why I was afraid for you, son." he said quietly. "I-I was afraid that you would run into someone like me, or worse. I-I didn't want to see you hurt."
Joxer lowered his head. Meg placed an arm around him, and held him close. Virgil gazed at his father in pity.
Joxer squinted his eyes shut in pain.
"I-I'm not worthy enough to be your dad!"
"That's enough!!" admonished Meg, anger flashing in her ice-blue eyes. "Don't even go there. You're the best father these kids could ever hope to have!!"
"Dad, look at me." Virgil pleaded. "Look at me. Please."
Joxer slowly opened his eyes, and looked down at his son. Virgil smiled slightly.
"When I see you, dad, do you know what I think of? I think about the time you took me for a ride on Argo. I think about the times that I'd play hide-and-seek with you in the barn. I think of the dad who used to tickle me until I laughed myself silly. I think about the dad who used to take me fishing down by the lake. I think about the dad that would hold me when I was sad and crying."
Joxer swallowed hard. A tear trickled down his cheek.
"That's the dad I know. That's the dad Maria, Katia, Stella, Faustus and Tobias know. A dad who loves us and cares for us more than anything on this earth."
Joxer choked back a sob. Meg kissed him on the cheek.
"And that's the husband I know and love." she said softly.
Joxer stared at Virgil's badly beaten face. He knelt down and tenderly ran his fingers across his son's bruised cheek. A low, pained whimper escaped his lips.
"O-Oh Virgil..." he uttered in a trembling voice. "I-I'm so sorry for what happened to you..."
He laid his head on his son's chest and wept. Meg knelt beside him and held him close. The rest of the children crowded around Meg and Joxer, trying to comfort them. Jace stretched his hand out, grasping Joxer's. He looked up at Jace through tear-filled eyes. Jace smiled slightly. He placed Virgil's hand atop his father's, and he in turn, placed his hand on theirs.
"We'll get through this together." Jace said softly. "All of us."
Maria stood by the door. She had heard the entire story. Her face was filled with pain. She kept behind the door, being careful to stay out of sight. Thanis smiled.
"Your family is a very close one, Virgil."
"Yeah. We've always been that way. We look after each other."
"Whatever happened to that shit Pallas?"
Virgil's face darkened slightly. He paused for a moment.
"He got away. We never found him."
Thanis pulled him close, leaning his head on Virgil's.
Maria gently closed the door. She let out a ragged sigh. Maria walked over to the side of Meg's bed, quietly sitting down. She gazed at her mother's back. Maria could hear the sickened lungs try and breathe in and out. Meg let out a gentle, raspy cough. Maria bit her lower lip. Her ice-blue eyes watered slightly.
She continued to gaze at her mother. How she had suffered. Maria remembered all the stories Meg had told her about her childhood. Maria couldn't believe that someone survived the kind of things she did. The fact that her mother was alive at all shocked her to no end. But it gave Maria insight into her mother's strength. It was a tremendous inspiration.
Maria thought back some more. Virgil was right. This was a family that looked after each other. She thought about how protective her parents were when it came to dating. When she first started dating, her mother was watching her dates like hawks. Even more so than Joxer, amazingly enough. Both Joxer and Meg were fiercely protective of her. Maria smiled at the memories that drifted back.
"Gods, Pridas! I've gotta get inside!! Mom and Dad are gonna be furious with me!!"
The handsome, dark-haired young man chuckled, rolling his eyes.
"Okay, okay Maria. I'm sorry. It's my fault you're back here late."
Maria smiled, shaking her head.
"You love taking chances, ya know that?"
Pridas laughed gently.
"C'mon, you know I'm responsible."
Maria smirked, crossing her arms.
A pause. Pridas raised an eyebrow.
"Soooo...how's about a good-night kiss??"
Maria rolled her eyes in exasperation.
"Pridas!! I gotta go now!!"
"A quickie. Please??"
Maria shook her head, smiling at her boyfriend.
"Okay. A quickie."
Pridas put his arms around Maria, lowering his head to hers. The two gently kissed. Lips parted for a moment. The couple gazed into each others' eyes, and they began to kiss again. It slowly began to intensify into something more passionate.
"All right!! Break it up!!"
The lovers immediately stopped kissing. They looked towards the house. Meg stood in the doorway, arms crossed. A smirk of disapproval curled her lips.
"Hey Joxer." she called over her right shoulder. "Look who's back."
Joxer came outside, standing alongside Meg. He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.
"A bit past bedtime, aren't we??"
Maria's eyes filled with dread.
"Mom, Pop, -I-I'm sorry-"
"No, but you will be." Joxer said in a threatening tone. "Do ya have any idea how late it is??"
"Please don't blame Maria." said Pridas. "It's my fault. I'll take full responsibility."
Meg and Joxer looked at each other for a minute. Meg turned to Pridas, raising an eyebrow.
Meg walked over to Pridas. She poked him hard in the chest. He gasped, stumbling back a step. Meg pinned him with hard, ice-blue eyes.
"Just where have you been taking my daughter?!"
"U-Um, we-we had a-a dinner! I-I took her to Telly's!!"
Meg advanced on him like a cat. Pridas stumbled backwards, trying not to fall onto the ground. His face was full of fear.
"Mom, please!!" exclaimed Maria in anger and fear. "He didn't do anything!!"
"Where did ya go afterwards?!" growled Meg, baring her teeth.
"U-Uh, w-w-we went for a walk!!"
Maria spun towards Joxer.
"Dad, please!! Make her stop!!"
Joxer stood there, arms crossed, an evil smile curling his lips. He walked over to Maria's side.
"Nope. I love seeing your mom in action."
"Where did ya go for a walk?!"
"U-Uh-b-by t-the riverside-"
"And what did you do at the riverside?? Huh?! Huh?!?!?"
Meg grabbed Pridas by the collar, yanking him forward so her face almost touched his.
"Mom, STOP!!" cried Maria.
She began to move forward, but Joxer grabbed her arm.
"Hold it you."
Maria spun towards him, terror in her eyes.
Joxer and Meg looked at each other, exchanging a brief, sinister smile. Meg then turned towards Pridas. Her ice-blue eyes bored deep into his. Her lips curled into a snarl. Pridas trembled in Meg's powerful grasp. Meg raised an eyebrow, eyes wide with feral intensity.
"Now you lissen ta me, buddy." she hissed in an icy voice. "You wanna date my daughter, you'd better bring her back, on time and untouched. Got it?!"
"Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes ma'am!!" Pridas stammered, his brown eyes wide with fear.
"No bars. No walks along rivers late at night. Ever stop to think that at that river, ya might get jumped?! Huh?!"
"I-I-I-I-" stammered Pridas.
"I-I-I-I-I-I-I, duuuuuuuuuh!!" repeated Meg jeeringly. "I what?!"
"I-I didn't think." Pridas said in a hushed voice.
Meg slapped him on the side of the head.
She released him. Pridas swallowed hard, rubbing the side of his head. He took a few steps away from Meg. Her eyes narrowed into icy slits. She advanced towards him.
"You're not gonna see Maria for at least a week." Meg growled. "She's grounded."
Maria's eyes bulged out of her head.
Meg spun towards her, pinning her with a heated gaze.
"Hell yeah!! Got a problem with that?!"
Maria immediately fell silent, lowering her head in shame. Meg turned back towards Pridas.
"Pridas, I'm gonna tell ya right now. Anything happens to my daughter, I'll skin ya alive. Got it?!"
Meg snarled in disgust.
"Get outta here."
Pridas took off like a bolt. Meg turned to face her daughter. She advanced on her, like a cat after her prey. Maria cowered in fear. She stepped back.
"You get your ass upstairs, to bed. You're going to be doing double-duty cleaning out that barn tomorrow. Go!!"
Maria rushed into the house, and ran up the stairs. She ran into her room and closed the door. Maria stood by it, listening to footsteps ascending the staircase.
"Well Meg, they asked for trouble."
She heard a door open. Maria heard her parents enter their room. The door closed. Maria opened hers, and walked over, peeking through a crack in the door. She saw her mother flop into the bed, soon followed by her father. Meg shook her head in disgust.
"That idiot Maria...after everything I've told her!!"
"Hey Meg, c'mon. Maria's not an idiot. Take it easy."
Meg spun towards Joxer, eyes wide with anger.
"Easy?? Easy?! Joxer, look what happened to me when I was a kid!! I was naive, like Maria!! And I paid for that!! Big time!!"
She laid back, staring at the ceiling with anger.
"Dammit Joxer, I love Maria more than my life. I'll be damned if I allow anything to happen to her."
A pause. Joxer chuckled.
"Meg, you had poor Pridas crapping in his pants."
A slow, sinister smile crossed Meg's lips. She turned towards Joxer, raising an eyebrow.
"I did, didn't I??"
Meg looked back at the ceiling, and sighed.
"Ya know the funny thing, Joxie?"
"I actually like Pridas."
Maria's eyes widened in shock. She had never heard her parents say anything like that before. They were never impressed by the other young men she dated. And the funny thing was that out of all the men she had dated, Maria liked Pridas the most. This revelation was most certainly an eye-opener.
"That's why I had ta shake him up the way I did." said Meg. " Na-uh. Someone's gonna date my daughter, they'd better get their act in line."
"No argument from me."
Meg frowned. She turned towards Joxer.
"Joxer, I had nobody to teach me right from wrong. I-I had to learn everything the hard way. I-I don't want my babies to go through what I went through."
Joxer's face filled with pity. He moved over Meg and kissed her on the forehead. Joxer wiped away the strands of gray-streaked hair from her face.
"Meg, do you have any idea how many times I wish I could take all those bad memories from your mind? It tears my heart out to know you've been through all that."
Meg smiled sadly. She placed her hand on Joxer's face.
"Did I ever tell you how much I love you, Joxie?"
Joxer blushed slightly. Meg pulled Joxer down, and they exchanged a brief, tender kiss. Meg looked deeply into Joxer's eyes.
"I hope my girls are lucky enough to find a husband like you."
Joxer shook his head.
"C'mon Meg. I'm not perfect. I-I've done dumb things."
"Who hasn't. Look at me, for goodness sakes! But you more than make up for it with that big heart of yours."
Joxer blushed further, turning a lovely shade of rose. Meg smiled gently.
"I never get tired of seeing you blush. C'mere."
She drew him down, and they began to kiss. It deepened with passion. Maria smiled slightly. She pulled away from the door, and let them have their privacy.
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