Author: Atrophy
Story Title: Sweet Provenance
Characters: Xena & Ares
Rating: NC-17
Summary: A tale of Xena and Ares, where they began, where they are going, and how they begin again.
This rating is for explicit m/f sex.

As you all know by now, Xena, Ares, Gabrielle, Cyrene and company belong to Renaissance (Oi! You silly people out there who can't remember that there are two s' in renaissance: there's only one farking n!) Pictures and Studios USA. No copyright infringement is intended. Apologies to any Japanese people who read it. I know nothing about Japanese mythology, so... Sorry.

Violence: ooh... kinky. *lol* Yes.
Sex: nyaaah... not much, but yes. The plot isn't based on a whole lot of sex. A few times I get descriptive, so you strange strange people who don't think Xena and Ares should be together probably should just skip this one... and the rest of my stories while you're at it. Running away, are you? FREAKS!!
Language: the occasional four-letter word, but I'd say pretty clean.
Subtext: see any, get your eyes checked.
Rating: NC 17
Size: 286 KB

Uh. This story is based on a variety of ideas that weren't originally mine. Don't be surprised if you see some similarities to Ranma 1/2 #9, "The Joining" by LadyKate (although this was actually unintentional. Gorgeous story), "When the Stars Shine Bright Enough" by someone whose name I'll find out eventually and "The Betrothal" by P.L. Nunn (God, you're an incredible writer. I hate you. jk). Don't ask me why these similarities exist, they just do. On the same note, don't ask me why Ares and Xena are paired. I just know that they are; they're practically made for one another.

This is set after You are There, but let's assume that Cyrene's still alive. We need her matchmaking abilities.
A word of warning. Gabrielle-bashing is my passion. To be polite, I'll just leave her out of most of it.
AN: Don't even try to find any sense in this. This is what happens when you stay up too late studying for exams. It's actually two stories combined, so I had to kind of stretch. That's why some scenes are so pathetic. It mostly revolves around Ares and Xena and their relationship, so all you Ares and Xena shippers out there: battle on. (That was a fecking long disclaimer, and guess what? I'm not done yet.)

You can find more stories by Atrophy at X:WP Fanfiction

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_____ *** _____

Sweet Provenance
by Atrophy

Provenance: origin, place of birth

Folk Song (Of One so High)

Mark the fall from far up high
Love never again a lie
One so mighty whose knee doth bend
His soul so pierced no thread can mend

Cry, cry, so long to wait
When can be mine who so hate?
When the dark burns light enough
When the stars fly free enough

Firefly dancing did beauty light
But captured dreams not burn so bright
The sweetest rose but plucked too soon
In fearful hands did fall to ruin

Cry, cry, a love not mine
Fateful threads how intertwine?
When the moon shines bright enough
When the tree grows tall enough

Jealous time will never cease
Gone from sight and forgotten with ease
'Til from soft lips a smile did fall
Lost life found, the proud gladly crawl

Cry, cry, ghosts now found
Lost trusts, so eternal bound
When the dove lives long enough
When the sky lies blue enough

That's when I'll be with you.

Performed by: Various bards
Music and lyrics by: Xena, twelve summers daughter of Amphipolis (now forgotten)

_____ *** _____

:: Over the summer, I have been conducting extensive research so as to make my writing more historically accurate. I have been learning ancient Greek. (Which, I must say, is a breeze after struggling with French because the gods-be-damned teachers never taught me pronouns.) So, I've discovered this: the 'Greece' in Xena:WP and Hercules:TLJ, is screwed. For example, the town of Amphipolis is-I'm sorry-was rather large, belonged to Athens, and was located in Macedonia during the reign of Alexander. At one point, it was part of Chalkidike. Never Thrace, for some strange reason. Now, I admit that boundaries may have changed over the millennia, but I couldn't prove that Amphipolis was ever in Thrace. Of course, maps didn't exactly exist before and/or during the Minoan period... ::

:: Also, Poteidaia (Potidaea) was a fishing town in the region of Chalkidike (Chalcidice). These two towns (Amphipolis and Poteidaia) played a large part in the Hellenes' war for freedom against Sparta and other various powers in the 400's AD. ::

:: Another thing: "Greece", "Greek", those names were given to the (multi...national?) peoples by Romans. The first time those peoples of Attica, Macedonia, Thrace, Crete... etc. were united under one name was in the 8th century BC, the Hellenic world, at least a millennium after the Dark (Bronze) Age the shows were alluded to be set in. There was more than one Dark Age. I'm not talking about the one in the medieval times. Therefore, to make my writing historically accurate, I would need to dissemble and rebuild the entire "Greek" world. ::

:: ... a rather daunting task for a fifteen year old. A historian would have a field day trying to sort out Xena's "Greece". Let's just assume that Xena's "New Greeceland" is not anything near our "Greece", but a powerful empire situated by the Mediterranean, 3000 Thermopylae Ave., Apt #4, Xenaverse. ::

_____ *** _____

Xena stared across the field at her opponent. His face half concealed by the simple black mask, and his hair covered by the black hood, he was sufficiently nameless and faceless. But something about him touched a chord. The arrogant tilt of his chin, the strength in his stance... she knew him well!

The Warrior Princess adjusted her own mask nervously. Leaning down to her mother, she whispered in the now elderly woman's ear, "I can't beat him."

Cyrene blinked in surprise, "What do you mean you can't beat him? I've been told that you're the best warrior alive!"

"Yeah, sure. But the problem is he's not alive. He's a god."

"A god??"

"Yes. He's too damn strong," she tugged at her hood with a groan, "I hope you didn't wager anything valuable."

"Uh, Xena?" Cyrene's quiet tone filled her daughter with dread.

"What did you bet?"

The older woman knew her daughter well enough to hear the masked (AN: pun intended. sorry) panic.


_____ *** _____

Ares cast another glance at his opponent. It was presumably a male, but the loose black tunic and trousers could hide any sex. He was tall, but slight of build, with solid, but not wide enough shoulders and a thin waist. None of this was significant, but the way he moved... he possessed a grace and fluidity that seemed so familiar to Ares.

So that was the villagers' champion. His eyes flicked to the man by his side. The god had come across the young king searching for a champion in his playful bet with some little village. Apparently he'd wagered a herd of his best cattle against a village girl he obviously had a huge crush on. Mortals, who knew what their idea of romance entailed? Out of sheer boredom, Ares had volunteered for the job. Now he was facing the kid he was soon to kill.

The two sable-clad forms entered the square cum arena. They clasped arms, and Ares was surprised by the strength in his grip. Falling back, they awaited the signal.


Both half-crouched, circling the other warily. Suddenly, the village boy sprang at Ares with startling savagery, and the god dodged, watching his opponent land with catlike grace. He had underestimated the boy badly!

The battle beginning in earnest, the two warriors traded blows in a deadly dance too fast for common eyes to follow. Ares found, to his shock, that he was steadily being forced on the defensive. The boy was pulling no punches. Receiving a cross to the gut immediately following a hard hook, Ares snarled, his hand whipping out with inhuman speed to catch the boy's wrist. How in Tartarus was this villager able to score so many hits? His pride wounded, the god moved to end the scuffle. He smashed his fist to the side of his opponent's head. The boy reeled, but to Ares's grudging admiration, never gave an inch. His hand snapped out to bash Ares' chin in a lightning fast effort to escape. Ares grabbed that wrist too, at the same time kicking to boy's leg from under him.

With a grunt, they both went down, Ares not being so stupid as to let go of the boy's hands. He pinned the villager under his body, avoiding the efforts to throw him off.

Suddenly, soft lips pressed to his with a kiss devastating in its hunger and passion. A long, wonderfully talented tongue slipped through his yielding lips, sweeping the roof of his mouth while his innards melted to mush. It teased him mercilessly before slowly withdrawing.

Dazed, a moment passed before Ares noticed the dagger at his throat, its sharp point biting into his flesh. He blinked up at his opponent, silhouetted against the bright sky. His subconscious slapped his brain sharply, reminding him of the recent reversal of position he so stupidly ignored. The villager straddled the god's waist, grinning wickedly.

"That," Ares announced with a glare, "was cheating."

"No, that was levelling the playing field. Need I remind you that while you are the god of war, I am not?"

The smooth voice, the woman's voice, sank into his recognition, and his nerves went haywire. Deliberately, he sighed, affecting an air of nonchalance as he focused on large eyes he already knew were a rich shade of azure. "Whatever you say, my Princess."

Xena laughed softly, pulling her mask and hood off. Long black tresses spilled over his chest, and his heart began beating far too fast for its own good. "Give me a break," she purred, "No mortal is able to move with your speed, My Lord Ares." She would be able to make the honorific sound like a curse.

He pushed off his own mask. "You make up for it in agility," he argued.

An inky brow lifted, "Are you saying you didn't want me to kiss you?"

"Oh gods no, I'm not saying that!" He licked his lips, "Do it again?"

"Surrender first."

"Gladly," he raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I'm no match for the Warrior Princess!" he bellowed to the spectators.

Xena reluctantly grinned at his antics before rising to her feet. She indicated the god, "He says he surrenders."

The king, who had been watching the proceedings with a sinking heart, also rose. His cheeks reddening, he announced, "This bet started when I asked your mother for your hand in marriage, Xena." Getting a blank stare, he hurried on, "But I can see that we are not meant to be, so I declare Amphipolis the winner, and you shall receive the promised cattle." At this point, his eyes suddenly unfocused, a bit of drool collecting at his lips. Xena, sweating, had pulled off the black tunic and stood clad in only a very tight undershirt with thin little straps, and *drool* rather low cut. Xena had used it to bind her breasts so a blow to the sensitive chest wouldn't be so painful. It ended a few inches below her breasts, and the black pants rode low on her gently flaring hips.

Trying not to stagger, the king stepped off the promontory and took her hand, raising it to his lips. Smiling uneasily, Xena tugged her hand away, surreptitiously wiping it against her clothes.

Ares scowled blackly, wrapping his arms possessively around Xena's slim waist, and glared at the king over her bare shoulder. His brown gaze fairly screamed "MINE".

Gulping, the king ducked his head, and scurried away.

Satisfied, Ares turned his attentions to the lovely creature in his arms. She had that bemused and absent half-smile on her lips that denoted thinking. "Now," he murmured by her ear, "about that kiss you promised me."

She seemed genuinely surprised, "I never promised you anything."

His emotions ran a relay race between shock and hurt as he replayed their argument in his mind. He pouted petulantly, "You tricked me!"

Whirling, Xena let their mouths meet, hard. She drove her tongue into his throat. Withdrawing, she muttered, "You're just like a little kid, you know that?" before crushing already swollen lips with hers once more. She winced as she broke the kiss, reaching her hand up to gingerly touch her head above her ear. "That's gonna bruise." Ignoring Ares, who was apologizing profusely, she headed back into the inn to change.

As the god stared after her daughter, a mixture of love and dry amusement in his warm brown pools, Cyrene screwed up her courage to approach him. "What exactly is your relationship with my daughter?"

Ares grinned innocently into suspicious blue orbs incredibly similar to Xena's. It wouldn't do to get on the bad side of the Warrior Princess' mother. Who knew what Xena would do? Laugh lines mapped her advanced years, and snow white hair was pulled in a low ponytail, but her bearing was anything if not regal. Her skin was still tight across her jaw, the set of which particularly reminded him of his own disappeared mother. "She's my warrior. What other relationship would there be?"

"Oh please. I saw how she kissed you."

"She hates me."

"She doesn't hate you."

"Hey, I'm not complaining. Hate is just a different perception of love, Cyrene. It's just as attractive. Xena herself said that the burns to fight me and fuck me are indistinguishable."

"Ares!" Xena clipped his muscular bicep, "You do not say those things to a civilian!"

The god shrugged, "Not like she's a blushing virgin."

Xena reddened slightly, "You son of a-"

He grabbed her fists, turning conversationally to Cyrene, "I love it when she gets shocked." Then, he strode from the square, dragging the protesting and cursing Warrior Princess with him. Seeing as it was slightly awkward since she was attempting to injure him with every step they took, Ares soon lost patience and simply swept her up into his arms. Xena, stunned, didn't start struggling until they had almost entered the wood.

"Put me down, you bastard!"

Cyrene grinned. There was a man who could handle her daughter, and that in itself made him special.

_____ *** _____

Xena stacked the last of the kindling silently, aware of Ares' steady stare. Taking a swallow from her waterskin, she turned to face the god. They stared blandly at each other for a long moment, both refusing to back down from the contest of wills.

Oh fuck this. Why are we always at each other's throats? Xena broke the silence first, suddenly sick of the childish games. "You've changed, you know that?"

"Changed how?"

"You aren't as cold anymore. You used to sneer at me a lot, like I was a disobedient child, and act so superior. Now you... you treat me like an equal."

"I'm not as cold? This coming from the woman who used to be the definition of Ice Princess?"

"Really? Me? Cold?"

"You might have been a funeral pyre when you were irritated, but you were absolutely frigid when you were angry. Believe me, I've been on the receiving end a few times to say the least."

Ouch. Xena leant against the wood pile he sat on, carefully keeping a safe distance from the god. Time to change the subject. "You seriously dragged me out here so you could watch me do my chores?"

"Sort of. I just wanted to get you alone. You're much less stiff around me when no one else is around."

Something in his voice stabbed her sharply, "I'm stiff?"

"Yeah, it's like you have to prove to everyone around you that you aren't affected by me. You have to prove that you can hurt me."

It stung. It really did. "...Oh gods, you meant it."

"Meant what?"

"Back on the Amazon lands. You said I was mean, that I-I was like one of those three-headed dogs-" And you said... Power... No, not now. Please gods, not now.

"Shit. I'm really sorry about that. I, I was deranged, you know."

She met his dark eyes accusingly, "Don't apologize. You meant it... and it was true. Oh gods, I should be the one apologizing." Her gaze dropped to the stubby grass by her boots.

"Don't," his fingers jerked her chin up, "It's not all your fault. I've noticed that everywhere. I'm a plague to be avoided and beaten at all costs. If someone so much as speaks reasonably to me, they're seen as weak, as followers of evil. Of course. This bastard isn't actually a person. He-no, it-wouldn't have any feelings."

"And then you can see how lonely you really are."

His hand dropped from her face.

"But you're not really alone, Ares. I won't let you be alone." Xena's soft voice was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard in his immortal existence. She took his hand in hers, brushing her lips over his palm... and promptly walked away with the kindling, ignoring him again.

Catching up to her, he watched her sculpted features, searching for any hint of that sweet vulnerability he had just seen. There were no cracks in her warrior façade.

He didn't mind. She still didn't trust him enough to let her guard down for long, but she understood. It felt so much less lonely already.

_____ *** _____

Ares watched his goblet refill itself with far better wine than any mortal would be able to create. The red liquid swirled gently as the level rose, smelling slightly of the tangy spices. Thank, well, Xena actually, that Dionysus was still around. Xena. Where was she?

With the amount of work she was doing, Xena seemed about geared to take over the tavern. And she'd said something about not letting him be alone?

Oookay. Deep breath. Getting a little worked up there. His fingers slipped into the pouch on his belt of its own accord, stroking the smooth facets of the gem. How he'd come across it had been a stroke of luck...

Ares wandered into his brother's now cold forge. Of all his family, Hephaestus was the only one he'd admit to missing. Perhaps it was because they two were actually the only legitimate children Zeus ever had, or perhaps it was because the ugly smith was the only god who understood. He was lonely too. Ares meandered aimlessly through the cluttered space, admiring the finely crafted odds and ends strewn about the stone tables. Suddenly, a brilliant flash caught his eye. He turned around. There it was again. Picking it up, he stared at the pendant. It wasn't particularly large (in the volume sense): two, three carats at most, but it was a beautifully rich shade of red-black, almost like warm, fresh blood. Ares had had some experience with precious gems, and he could recognize a good ruby when he saw one. This was not a ruby. Picking up a small chisel, he scratched it with all his godly strength. Not a mark appeared.

Hephaestus must have made it for Aphrodite, he deduced, his fingers closing around the diamond. He could just see Xena's face if he gave her something like this. He stifled a laugh. What a thought. But that was besides the point, because the necklace belonged to Aphrodite. Dropping the delicate white gold chain into his palm as well, he wished himself to the Halls of Love.

Aphrodite's eyes had misted over with tears of love and joy, just like Ares had expected. He sometimes envied them for having each other-for loving each other in a way he couldn't understand before. Before Xena.

What he hadn't expected was that Aphrodite would place the pendant back into his palm.

"Thanks for bringing it here, bro, but red's just not my colour."

Surprised, the god of war stared mutely, before he finally saw the understanding in her cornflower eyes. She smiled, blinking back more tears, "It's a symbol of love, Ares, and the man I loved is dead. It'll mean a lot more if it was a symbol of living love. Give it to her. I know you want to."

All Ares could do was silently nod his gratitude before he went to find her...

...And now she was nowhere in sight. The god sighed audibly. He should have known. She'd always been willing to work herself to death, he remembered, just like back when he'd been training her. A particular session popped into his mind's eye...

It was before they... when she was still a virgin. She'd always had trouble with the three-length-chucks. They were hardly predictable, flying about in that manner. He'd stormed out in disgust last time when one of the lengths had doubled back and whacked her in the stomach, and hadn't returned for a fortnight. Their training had only just resumed, and Ares naturally wanted to work on the three-lengths. To his surprise, the lengths whirled about in her hands with lethal precision. Her control was incredible! In short order, she'd disarmed him.

Ares stared at her, stupefied, and she just grinned back. Being the dramatic little girl she was, she attempted to walk away in triumph; but as she pivoted, her right knee buckled, and she went down. The god barely caught her.

Confused, he studied her face. Gods, how'd he miss it? A sheen of cold sweat covered her features, her azure eyes feverishly bright. The dark circles under her bottom lashes contrasted sharply with the pallid cast of her skin. Touching her forehead in concern, he found it scorching hot. Lifting her, he transported them to her chamber, and tucked her-almost paternally-into bed.

"Dammit, Xena, what were you doing to yourself?"

The teenager chewed on the inside of her lip, obviously trying to think through the pounding headache. "I-I was training. Three-length drills."

"Did you eat? Sleep?"

"Uh... Some."

Ares loomed above her, his brown pools cold and hard. "You don't do that, girl. You could put yourself and your army in danger. Being sick equals being dead, and I will not have a dead commander fighting in my name. Think for once!"

Her brow creased, "I didn't want to disappoint you."

That didn't feel too good. Ares waited until she'd fallen asleep before kissing her lightly on the temple, "Don't ever scare me like that again."

He went to cajole Apollo into healing her...

...There she was.

He watched her set the flatbread platters on the counter, her movements quick and precise. Contrary to common belief, the Warrior Princess could cook, and quite well. She didn't grow up in a tavern for nothing. She'd just rather not. Ares remembered watching her: most of the time, she'd be so consumed in her thoughts or other duties, she'd completely forget about the food and let it burn to a crisp. This was how she could even burn water. On the rare occasion, she'd sabotage a meal by purposely over- or under-seasoning it. Hey, if they thought she couldn't cook, all the better. They'd had quite a few good laughs over her "culinary talents" before, Ares being one of the only people she'd cook properly for, which was rather a waste, since he didn't quite need to consume mortal food. Honestly, Ares thought it was pathetic how mortals believed what they were shown and not what a blind man could see, the truth. How could a seriously culinary-challenged woman be able to prepare those precarious healing potions of hers, in which the slightest error could lead to disaster? Oh well, he wasn't about to tell. She'd be really pissed if he did.

Shoving his pride aside, he jumped to his feet and started chasing her around. "Xena, can I talk to you?"

"I'm busy."

"I can see that. You're going to work yourself sick again. Sit down and rest for a bit. Please?"

"What do you mean ag-oh. Right," she headed back to the kitchen, taking orders along the way. "I'm fine. I won't be sick."

"That's what you always think," he caught her arm, but was shrugged off, "Come on, Xena, it's not like you're the only one working here."

"My mother needs all the help she can get."

"Your mother's a tough girl. She can afford to let you rest for a moment."

Cyrene had been watching the god tagging along after her daughter like a terrier in amusement. "He's right," she called, "You're really pushing yourself too hard, Xena. Take a break."

Xena set the last order down, "But there's still the beds-"

"Xena," Cyrene interrupted, using her sternest "mother" voice, "I'm not an invalid. I can do them. Rest."



Stifling a grin, Ares tugged her off toward his table. Between the two of them, he and Cyrene could make the woman they both loved take care of herself, for despite her maturity, Xena was in fact still a child in some respects.

She reluctantly allowed herself to be pushed into Ares' vacated seat, while he stood behind her, his fingers slowly kneading the stiff muscles in her neck. Her head drooped forward with a sigh. Gods his hands felt good on her shoulders.

A twinge of foreboding weaseled into her consciousness. From beneath lowered lashes, she watched red boots (AN: are they still red?) stride forcefully over to stand before her. Groaning lightly, she raised her eyes, "Yes, Gabrielle?"

The blonde's eyes were focused on the wargod, hostility emanating from her being. "Don't touch her."

Ares' voice was more than a little impatient, "What are you talking about, Blondie?"

"I saw how you dragged her over here and forced her to sit down."

"Yeah, well she needs to sit down before she dies of exhaustion. Didn't see you helping."

It was actually rather amusing: watching them snipe like that.

"Xena knows what she's doing."

"How would you know? I've only known her for seventeen years."

"You bastard!"

"Get her to coach you if you want to use lines like that."

"Serves you right."

"It was all your doing."


"You made her hate me."

"You're blaming me for the fact that you're an asshole?"

"I'm not. We just had a misunderstanding, that's all."

"Oh, I think you understood each other perfectly!"

Their words died on their tongues as both the god and the bard suddenly focused on the rather sharp sword separating their noses. The torchlight flickered off the perfected hewn point.

Xena stood, keeping her sword between the two quarrelers. "Shut up, will you? I've got a headache now."

Gabrielle glared at the god, "See what you've done?"

Ares glared back, but didn't say a word.

The Warrior Princess growled, "Did I say continue arguing?"

The bard flushed, "I'm sorry."

Satisfied, Xena laid the naked blade down on the table, and resumed her seat. Directing tired eyes at the war god, she asked, "You wanted to talk to me?"

His tongue suddenly felt dry. Swallowing, he nodded, then shook his head. With fumbling fingers, he retrieved the pouch and pulled the necklace from it. The deep scarlet diamond glittered, its facets catching every drop of golden light. The two women stared at it, awe written across their features.

"It's beautiful!" Gabrielle gasped.

Biting his lip, Ares put the gold chain around his princess' slender neck, miraculously doing up the clasp on his second try. The gem nestled between her collarbones, just under the curve of her throat... and paled in the shadow of her beauty. Their eyes met with intensity. "A diamond is forever, right?"

Her hand rose to touch the pendant, "Why would you-?"

The god's silky brown pools dropped to the sword on the table. He murmured, "Aphrodite said it's a symbol of love."

She rose, and a small hand rested lightly in his arm, "That must have been difficult to say."

He captured her fingers, bringing them to his lips, "Not to you."

Her laugh was warm, "Liar."

Relieved that she wasn't making a big deal of it, he pulled her toward him. To his shock, she didn't resist. Her hands slid to his waist as their lips met in a kiss more tender than passionate. Ares let his eyes fall shut. This was how they should be. He never wanted to let go. She pulled away, smiling up at him as she laid her dark head upon his shoulder.

"Thank you. This really means a lot, coming from you."

"Was that an insult?" His arms tightened around her. Just typical of her, thanking him and insulting him in the same breath, and damn it all to Tartarus he loved it.

"Oh, definitely."

They shared a quiet laugh.

"This doesn't change anything, though," she forced him to look at her, "I've got my own path-"

"-And I've got my job."

They were silent for a moment.

"Would you say the odds have increased?"


"One in a billion, you said. Is it still that hopeless?"

Xena's azure pools glowed violet in the torchlight, "That should be down to one in nine hundred million."

"Oh joy."

"Maybe ninety million."

Cyrene hated to interrupt, but Xena looked positively asleep, "Xena, turn in. I've got the inn covered."

The warrior glanced around. The room was pretty empty. "Alright," she acquiesced, slipping from Ares' arms. Retrieving her sword, she kissed her mother, "Good night, Mom."

"Good night, sweetheart."

As her daughter bid her best friend 'sleep well' and strode off, Cyrene noticed that Xena hadn't even glanced at Ares again. Shooting a look at the war god, she realized that Xena didn't have to. Ares grinned almost shyly before he vanished, chocolate pools brimming with joy.

_____ *** _____

Xena laid her sword down by the bed, and paused when a flash of movement caught her eye. Turning, she stared into the bronze surface of the tall mirror, and dark blue shards stared back at her. It was an image she had hated for years, though she'd finally come to terms with it now. She looked the same. She didn't understand; was there really anything special about the way she looked? The brilliant diamond flashed in the candlelight, breathtaking in its perfection, but other than that she saw no trace of the beauty sung by those excruciatingly annoying bards. The same sky coloured eyes, fringed with thick black lashes; the same smooth planes and angles of her cheeks; the same dark, full lips... Why did Ares love her of all women? It didn't make sense.

Gabrielle found her like that, glaring at her reflection. "Xena?"

"Am I beautiful, Gabrielle?" The warrior gazed at her friend's reflection in the mirror, knowing, upon seeing her bewildered face, that she'd just thrown a curveball at the blond. She turned, clarifying, "Why would the god of war choose me?"

Gabrielle decided to answer the easier question first, though she knew Xena hadn't really wanted an answer to that one. "Xena, you're as beautiful as Aphrodite."

"But so are many others?" the Warrior Princess prompted.

"Not many, but some, yes."

"Then why doesn't he go sling the word 'love' at them?"

"I don't know. He might... care about you for fighting him, or understanding him, or just being you. I don't know."

His husky voice reached their ears before he appeared, "Sorry, couldn't help but overhear." The bright blue flash heralded his arrival.

Xena glared, "You were eavesdropping."

"You were talking about me," he shot back.


"I have a right to know what I did wrong this time."

"Why do you think you did something wrong?"

Ares's dark eyes followed her movements as she unconsciously brushed the pendant with her fingertips, "Because that's usually when you talk about me." He willed himself across the small distance, sat down on the rather board-like bed, and swiftly pulled his princess into his lap. She cursed her inattentiveness, but it was too late, and Ares had his strong arms wrapped about her form. He rested his forehead on her shoulder, "But, seriously. I been thinking about the same thing over the last few decades, and I think I know now. I'll answer your question, Xena. I owe you that much.

"For once, I'll admit Blondie's right. I do care about you for fighting me, understanding me and-and..."

"Being herself," Gabrielle supplied, pleased by his words.

He nodded his thanks, "Being yourself. But more than that, I... because you care... among other things, but mostly because you care. Even Goldilocks here," his gaze flicked to Gabrielle briefly, "she's all nice to everyone, but she wouldn't give a damn if I were hurt or in danger. She might feel pity or something, but she wouldn't care. To you, I'm a bastard, a son of a bacchae, and all the rest of the stuff you always yell at me, but I'm still worth caring for. I'm a person."

Her arm slid around his waist of its own volition (AN: silly word. Should be volation), "Hard not to, actually. I've known you for what? Forty years?"

"Sweet, you haven't been alive for forty years."

"Damn. And here I was thinking that we were an old married couple." As her words sank in, Xena suddenly flushed, "I, uh, I mean..." Instructions: open mouth, insert foot.

Ares decided to do her a favour, "Xena!" His tone was one of mock surprise, "Are you trying to ask me something?"

"In your dreams." Well at least her wit was back.

He leaned forward, "Want to know what else is in my dreams? I have the most interesting dreams, I assure you."

Xena counter-attacked, "So do I."

It was Ares' turn to blush. "Fuck you," he muttered, visions of the Warrior Princess warm and soft beneath his hands dancing torturously through his head. The familiar warmth spread through his groin.

"With a loaf of bread," Xena added mischievously, her voice pitched so that Gabrielle had no idea what they were discussing with their heads so close together. She didn't know why Ares seemed to suddenly choke and gasp with laughter.

"Gods, Xena, I didn't know you were so... accommodating."

She cast him a filthy look, continuing the exchange. "That was a metaphor. I don't mean a real loaf of bread, I meant..." her gaze flicked to the tell tale bulge in his pants.

"Thanks, I guess."

"It wasn't a compliment," she pushed herself out of his embrace. "Just because I have to be civil and treat you like a real person doesn't mean I have to be nice about it."

She allowed him a brief kiss before he left, then turned to Gabrielle. "So that's why he likes me. He's insane."

The blond grinned knowingly. Xena never cracked jokes unless she was pretty happy, and pretty happy almost automatically equalled a visit from a certain god of war. With a soft 'good night' that Xena never heard, Gabrielle left her friend to her dreams.

_____ *** _____

The god of war swore steadily, watching the other priests close Ciaranne's blind staring eyes. He'd arrived too late to intervene on behalf of the priestess when the attack on his temple occurred, and now she was dead. The thieves must have been crazy to infiltrate a temple of War. What bothered Ares to no end was that the murderer had escaped. True, many of his comrades had died at the hands of the warrior-priests, but not the one that mattered. His name was Mekran, a cowardly warrior wannabe, and his days were over.

However, for Ciaranne to be properly laid to rest, the Rite of Passing had to be performed, and she had to be avenged. It wasn't what had to be done that made the usually unshakable god uneasy, it was who had to do it.

Determined to get it over with, he stepped into the aether... and arrived in Amphipolis.

The blond gave him a short look, parroting the words she had heard her friend use many times over. "What do you want?"

The god ignored Gabrielle, instead fixing his gaze on her. Words were not needed to convey the message.

Xena sat up, "What happened?"

"My priestess Ciaranne was killed," he said simply.

She inhaled sharply. Ciaranne. The priestess had been only a few years older than she when Xena first initiated as Ares' Chosen, and they had been friends.

"What's it got to do with Xena?" Gabrielle butted in.

They ignored her, "The murderer?"

Ares shook his head slightly.

"Damn," Xena didn't particularly care for this part of the job.


The wargod gave the blond an impatient glare. "She died in a fight, which is hardly counted as a natural cause for death. The Rite of Passing must be done for her to continue on her way to the Underworld because being my priestess, she is bound to me, and must be released. The Rite must be performed by my High Priestess."

"Why do you have a High Priestess? I'd have thought you'd have a High Priest."

"I always did. This is the first time I've ever had a High Priestess."

"Oh," Gabrielle frowned, "You want Xena to what? Avenge her?"


"Who's the High Priestess?"

Xena groaned, "Why must you be so dense sometimes?"


The Warrior Princess glared at her friend, "As Ares' Chosen, I'm the High Priestess."

"No way! You mean you do rituals and preach to unbelievers?"


_____ *** _____

Xena could hardly see in the ceremonial hooded cloak, its edges embroidered with the familiar silver runes of War. Grumbling a bit at the general stuffiness of the ritual, she followed Mekran's trail. The fool didn't know how to cover his tracks at all.

If she were religious, she'd have been praying for forgiveness about now. Dammit. She was stepping off of her path for him. She had found her way of redemption in India, followed it faithfully throughout the last few years, and now she was throwing it all away for some pagan bloodletting ritual. Damn him-and damn her fucking sense of loyalty. Hah. If she were religious: an interesting thought for a High Priestess.

There was his camp site. Forgive me, Eli. This is for Ares.

Mekran's light brown eyes widened at the sight of the hooded specter bearing down on him. Scrambling to his feet, he contemplated fighting for a brief second, then turned tail and fled for his life.

It didn't take much. A quick kick and he went down. Swallowing the bile, she jerked his head up, exposing his dirt caked throat. Her dagger pressed against his sensitive skin. As he shook and blubbered with terror, War's High Priestess intoned,

"In the name of Ares, God of War, I bring vengeance.

"In the name of Ares, God of War, I bring absolution."

A jerk of the wrist, and a thin red line appeared against the paleness of his skin. As the blood began to drip in long streamlets to the packed ground, she caught it with a small black urn.

Oh gods...

"With this blood, I make sacrifice to War.

"With this death, I grant freedom."

Her grip on his convulsing form never loosened as his life blood drained into the urn. When it was full, she let him fall to the forest floor.

Stepping back, she drew her hood back, one hand cradling the urn to her chest. The moonlight spilled across her black shrouded figure, lighting her wide blue eyes, clear and austere against the clear night sky, in which the hazy band of stars lit the way back to Him.

"I'm sorry."

_____ *** _____

They were ready when she returned. Ciaranne's body lay upon Ares' black marble altar, enfolded in a long black robe, and a traditional dagger emblazoned with the runes of War rested in her folded hands, lying across her stomach. Avoiding Ares' concerned gaze and Gabrielle's inquisitive stare, Xena mounted the steps to the altar, urn in hand. He went and took his seat on his throne, behind the block. Two columns of sable-clad warrior-priests fell into position behind their High Priestess.

She knelt, as did the other priests.

In her clear, strong voice, she spoke, "In the temple of War, blood calls for blood."

A sibilant, murmuring wave followed her words as the other figures echoed the ritual chant, filling the temple with the eerie antiphony.

"In the temple of War, blood will bind.
In the temple of War, blood will bind.

"In the temple of War, blood will avenge.
In the temple of War, blood will avenge.

"In the temple of War, blood will release."
In the temple of War, blood will release.

With the chilling words still rippling through the silence, she tilted the urn, and a slow, twisting stream of dark liquid splashed to the stone floor. She poured until the container was empty, and the cold pool seeped to the edge of the altar. Once it touched the black stone, there was only one more part of the ceremony.

She raised her hands high, and the loose sleeves fell back, exposing her bare arms, on which the same runes as on the dagger were drawn in scar tissue. In the twisted, perverted light that filtered into the temple, they looked crimson as fresh cuts.

"In the name of Ares, God of War, we sacrifice this blood!" With this, she slammed her hands down into the widening pool of darkness.

Then it was over.

The other priests rose, but Xena remained kneeling, her expression stony as she pulled her hands from the sluggishly flowing blood. Ares practically tore to her side. Pulling her to her feet, he searched for some sort of reaction. He had never thought it possible to feel this guilty before.

Her features were beginning to take on a repulsed cast as she stared mutely at the blood staining her palms.

He enfolded his Chosen in a tight hug, wishing he could somehow take this all back. Almost a full minute passed... and then her arms slid slowly around his neck.

"I'm sorry, Xena. I'm so sorry..." he whispered, not wanting to ever let go.

Naturally the blond had to spoil it.

"Was that blood... human?"

Xena looked pained, so Ares answered for her, "Yes, the blood of the murderer."

"Oh, Xena..."

"Don't," the Warrior Princess choked out.

Gabrielle pushed back the priestess' sleeve, unsure what she would find. "Xena, the scars..."

Her mind clouded, Xena laid her head against her god's shoulder weakly, "They're there. They're invisible under normal circumstances, but they're there."


"It was part of the initiation," Xena's ghostly grin was mocking and sardonic, "You see, Gabrielle? I literally have War carved into my flesh." Her voice dropped to a whisper, "And I did it myself."

_____ *** _____

Later, Gabrielle glanced up from her bed at the silent figures in the seat on the other side of the room. Xena had seemed much better when they settled down for the night, but he'd insisted.

Ares sat there, leaning back against the far wall. His eyes were closed, and in his arms was cradled the Warrior Princess. She curled upon his thighs, long legs drawn up to rest on the bar intended as an armrest. Her head pillowed on his chest, her hands laid against his thick arms around her waist, holding her close. And Xena slept, knowing that she was safe until dawn.

_____ *** _____

Ares glared at the short asian goddess, cursing her pretty, heart-shaped face and almond eyes. The god had run into the foreign deity while overseeing a large scale pillaging of Higuchi by one of his warlords. The lady had flown at him in a divine rage, demanding that he remove the horrid barbarian from her lands. Being in an unusually euphoric mood, Ares had complied, sending the warlord on a mission elsewhere.

Now he was beginning to regret his good deed of the century.

The goddess had latched onto him, simpering about what a good man he was, and how much she'd love to have a man like him. Hint hint, nudge nudge. Chyogate, she called herself. Bah.

"Look," Ares felt it was a measure of his desperation that he was resorting to reason, "I need to go home. I've got a, a fiancée waiting for me," when in doubt, lie, "You have to tend to your people here, so let's just part company on good-" relatively, "-terms, alright?"

Chyogate gazed soulfully at him, setting his teeth on edge, "Oh Ares! You are already promised to another?"


"I am devastated and heartbroken. Who is she? Who is the one who so commands your affections?"

Oh shit. "Uh, her name is... Xena." Forgive me. I'm a slave to the circumstances.

The petite woman's dark brown eyes flashed, "This Xena is not worthy of you! I will fight her, and when I defeat her, you shall be mine!"


"You don't want to do that! She's a very good warrior," Ares rushed to assure her. At least that was true...

"The best warrior in the world could not withstand the rage of my sword when it is tempered by love eternal!"

Ares groaned, his patience snapping like a strand of rusted wire, "That's it. Let go of me. I am going home, and you had better leave me-and the woman I love-alone!" Ooh, that felt nice.

Stepping into the aether, the god of war transported himself back to Amphipolis. The bitch had better not try to hurt Xena.

Xena felt him the moment he oriented on Amphipolis. When he didn't materialize, she shrugged mentally. Fine, let him play hide and seek. She could care less.

She lifted the urn, and set it upon her shoulder. Damn water for being so heavy. Did Cyrene want to bathe the entire populace of Greece?

There was a soft whistling sound like the passage of some small weapon, and Xena flung the pottery away form her head before it exploded and imploded at the same time. Not a pretty sight. Whirling, her gaze focused on the small asian woman glaring at her and fairly exuding hostility. The rather sharp sword in her hand enhanced the aura of enmity. She wore a bright, blood red robe, embroidered with golden chrysanthemums. She bore no jewelery, but her black hair was piled exotically upon her head, and held by a red fan shaped pin. Her face was painted unnaturally white, while pink and black planes and lines greatly exaggerated her features.

"I am Chyogate. And you shall die for keeping my darling from me."

"Couldn't you have let the water alone?"

"Damn!" She recognized Ares' voice just before he appeared just in front of her. He was facing the asian, almost as if he were... protecting her?

"I told you to stay away!"

Chyogate sniffed self righteously, "I shall prove my love for you, lord!"

"Go find some other idiot to love. I'm not interested!" Glaring at Xena's muffled laughter, he caught her about the waist and transported them both to Cyrene's tavern.

She glanced around and frowned, "But I didn't get the water."

Ares gestured, and an identical hip high urn appeared, brimming with water.

"Thanks," Xena scowled. Damn him for being reasonable for once. Taking a bar seat, she propped her chin on her fist, regarding the wargod solemnly. He returned the gaze. She let her eyes just roam over his tall form, taking in the perfect cut of his hair, the dark, banked fire burning in his velvety brown orbs, the way his earring glittered so brazenly, the way his vest fell apart to show a tantalizing hint of the smooth bronze flesh beneath, the way his tight leather pants accentuated... Oh gods. Not going there.

Xena swallowed, dredging up the last vestiges of her self-control. "I could have taken her, you know. She was too confident."

He shook his head, "Confident or not, she's a god. Ergo godly powers which you can't retaliate against."

"She's in love with you?"

Ares glared, "No. Obsessed is more like it. She won't let me alone."

"Poetic justice."

"If you're referring to how I was, er, am obsessed with you and wouldn't leave you alone... Oh."

The Warrior Princess leaned back, a smile threatening to break loose, "What does she want me for? What did she mean I was keeping her from you?"

"I, uh, ahem... I told her I was betrothed."

"So what's that got to do with-No. You didn't!"

"I did say you were my fiancée..."


"Don't worry; I shielded our passage. She won't be able to find us. I want you to stay here in case she's still around though. It's too dangerous when a crazed goddess is involved."

He would pull something like this to cover his sorry ass. And what hurt even more was the fact that the implications meant nothing to him. Xena laid on the sarcasm heavily, trying to hide the bitterness in her tone, "Why? So I won't get in your way on your date?"

His expression wasn't the least bit humorous, "That was an order, Xena. I'm afraid I'm going to have to pull rank this one time."


"Don't argue."

Gabrielle watched, shocked, as the mighty Warrior Princess bowed down to the wargod's decision. Not fair! Xena never listened to her! "Why do you do what he says?"

Don't let on... No, I can't blame him for being a heartless bastard, that's simply the way he is. It's my own fault for reading too much into it. Xena shrugged, "He usually knows what he's talking about. Being a rather good commander, his plans are generally foolproof, and I trust that."

"Except against you, of course," Ares grinned wryly, indicating the many 'foolproof' plans he'd dashed to pieces against the Warrior Princess' tactical genius.

"And he's my god. I'm sworn to obey."

"Yeah right."

"I do!"

"Like when?"

It was frightening: how well they knew each other.

"Remember when I laid siege to Brauron (AN: now known as Vravrona)? They were catapulting fireballs at us, and you sent in my best scouts to draw the fire. It was a suicide mission, and I didn't want to lose them, but I still let you do it."

"If I recall correctly we had a screaming match over that one."

"We were warlords, Ares, we don't scream."

"My apologies."

Her blue pools took on a faraway quality, "Of course, I did yell 'You have no right to make those decisions for me'."

"And I said, 'I'm a god! That's what I do! You have no idea how hard it is for me.'"

Her lips curved slightly, "I thought we had that conversation before..."

"Those never end too well."

"You stomped out, didn't come back for I don't know how long."

"Sorry," he actually looked a bit sheepish, "You didn't need me, right?"

"That depends on how literally you're thinking," she studied him, frowning thoughtfully (AN: thoughtfully... I need an editor), "So tell me, then."


"Tell me what it's like to be a god."

Taken aback, Ares struggled for words. This was the conversation they should have had so many years ago. He shouldn't have stormed out on her back then. "I-I can hear it all. Everybody. They're all so confused and scared, and at the same time sure that they're right-that's the price of power: the power itself-they all want to win; they all want my help. And I can't put any one life over another. After a while, they all start looking like insects to me. And what they don't understand is that there's no black; there's not even shades of gray. It's all white, just facing in different directions, and I have to choose who wins.

"I get so tired of making decision that I get careless, and then you blame me for it. It's, it's hard!"

The Warrior Princess looked skeptical, but she had a sneaking suspicion that she understand the enormity of what he was trying to say. "You're telling me that you have to decide the greater good?"

"If you mean decide what's best, sure. All the time," he stopped suddenly, as if struck by a thought. "No, not all the time. Not when it comes to you. The world can go to Hades for all I care, but I'm never letting anything happen to you."

Xena's tone became slightly indignant, "'Not let anything happen?' What are you talking about? What about that time you framed me for murder? Or those armies you pitted me against? Or when I was nearly killed when you sent me to assassinate Asklepios in Trikka (AN: now known as Trikkala) for your father? I'm not even going to start on all those times you threatened or tried to kill me yourself!"

"I, uh, I'm sorry about Trikka. I made a bad call, alright?" Ares shrugged, "And if you didn't trick me into vindicating you, I would have been disappointed, and I needed someone to get rid of those armies for me. I knew you'd beat them."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence-"

Before her last words were fully formed, there was a roar, and a flame appeared, whirling and spitting out tongues of fire. Any patrons who hadn't eased out during the two warriors' waltz (AN: or maybe samba. I can't really see them doing anything as formal as a waltz) down memory lane now ran screaming from the inn. The fire coalesced into the form of Chyogate, right under the unimpressed noses of the said warriors. Gabrielle, on the other hand, blanched.

Xena turned to Ares in a droll fashion, "And you were saying about shielding?"

"Hah!" the goddess cried triumphantly, "You may try to hide your path, but I am Chyogate, and I can sense your despicable presence anywhere!"

"Yeah, yeah. I've heard it all before. Now, see, there are some people who know when they're not wanted. They're called the 'smart' people for some reason. Others, keep pushing even after the man makes it very clear that he doesn't want you. Those people are called 'idiots'. I wonder which one you are?"

Chyogate's face reddened under the makeup, creating a shade of sickly pink, "How dare you insult me, mortal!"

Xena's cool blue eyes widened, "I didn't insult you. Did you hear me outright insulting her, Gabrielle? Ares?"

The two shook their heads, failing miserably to smother wide grins.

"See? Some people have the strangest senses of hearing."

Chyogate had acquired a furious red aura, but she visibly calmed herself and stared maliciously at the Warrior Princess. Sauntering up to the tall woman, the goddess looked her up and down, a disdainful expression on her pretty face, "So you're the one my Ares is in love with," she shook her head, and yelled, "Ugly!!"

Xena's brows rose, and the goddess kept talking, "I don't know what he sees in you, ugly girl!"

Gabrielle gulped, noticing how her friend's normally clear blue eyes were rapidly becoming a stormy, pale steel. That was never a good sign. Xena rose to her full height, jaw twitching. No one had ever called her UGLY before! Especially not short, infuriating foreign gods!

A quick step, and she was draped across Ares' shoulders. The wargod stared at her as if she had gone mad, but she just smiled, sickly sweet, at the goddess, "Well, apparently Ares here likes the ugly girl, so who's the loser now?"

Chyogate stiffened, radiating jealousy, "We'll see about that!" Turning her heel, she began to stalk out, but suddenly pivoted and yelled right under Xena's nose, "UGLY!!"

"Argh!" Xena snarled as the goddess disappeared.

Hopping onto the bar, she crossed her long legs and arms, seething. Seeing the bewildered expressions of the god and the bard, she suddenly burst into hysterical laughter. "I just made the situation worse, didn't I?" she gasped out.

Xena's laugh was infectious, and soon Ares and Gabrielle were chortling along with her.

"I've never seen you get so pissed over a petty insult!" the words were forced out between peals of laughter.

"I've never been called ugly before!"

It was a while before Xena calmed down enough to grin sheepishly, "Sorry."

"No one likes being called ugly," Ares patted her shoulder condescendingly, and she kicked at him. He dodged, and smirked, "I guess I'll have to stick around and make sure she doesn't make good on her threat."

That quickly sobered them.

Gabrielle gave the wargod a cursory glance, trying to seem as controlled as the Warrior Princess, "So I assume you'll be staying for a while?" she shrugged, "At least I can threaten to get Xena to beat you up if you misbehave."

"Won't work," Xena's short retort was more resigned than testy.

"Why? All those times you beat him-"

"-Because he let me. He's bigger, stronger, faster... He's a god, for fuck's sake!"

'He' smirked, "I didn't think you realized."

"Oh, I'm safe enough. I can still whup you when it comes to strategy, and as long as I don't really piss you off, you'd never hurt me."

Ares chuckled shortly, dismally, then groaned, "Godsdammit I'm whipped."

"Glad you can admit it."

"I never thought you'd be so manipulative. I mean, using my weaknesses against me? Hardly done for the 'Defender of the Faith'."

"Seventeen years, Ares," she reminded, "You taught me well."

"Glad you can admit that."

Xena rolled a baleful eye in a good-humoured fashion, "I'm conceited, not brain-damaged."

"Shit, there's a good memory," conforming to the cliché, Ares' voice dripped sarcasm. Another portion of that not so amicable encounter surfaced, "I... You remember what you challenged me to say? In Tartarus?"

"I remember. And as far as I'm concerned, you still haven't."

"What??" he gaped, "I did!"

"What? When you were helping the Furies make Gabrielle kill my daughter? That wasn't worth anything. You were just saying that to distract me while my daughter was being murdered," she knew her words were angering Ares, but he'd asked for it, bringing the subject up.

"How can you say that?" he snarled, "I gave you the fucking diamond, didn't I?"

Xena's hand rose to her throat, "You want it back? Sure, why not? It obviously meant nothing to you." She reached for the clasp.

"No." he had her wrist in a death grip.

The Warrior Princess' free hand clenched around his gauntlet, reminiscent of the children's' game where one player continuously attempt to cover the other player, while the other player does the same, building a ladder of hands of sort, "Then say it!"

He froze, staring at her in terror.

"Say you love me," her voice was soft, bordering... pleading.

The god opened his mouth. And closed it again. The fearful shake of his head was almost imperceptible.


Humiliated tears gathered in her rapidly paling azure pools, and her jaw clenched angrily. She directed her gaze downward...

"I love you, Xena."

Her wide eyed stare shot back to him, and he cringed, unsure what would happen next. She smiled through the tears, rapidly blinking them away, and whispered, "Thank you."

A blur, and she'd hopped off of the bar and given him a tight hug. Releasing him quickly, Xena bit her lip sheepishly, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have forced-"

"No. I'm sorry. I didn't realize I never said..." he broke off and composed himself, a great feat after the scare she'd just put him through, "So. How many times did I technically say that I loved you?" he teased.

She fiddled with the pendant, something that was rapidly becoming a habit, not that Ares minded, "Um. Three."


Xena grimaced. He obviously wanted more detail, "Well. That time in the rain, when you were helping your family kill Eve, and then when the Furies were driving you insane, but seeing as you were... insane, I didn't think you meant... it."

There was a pause, "And the third?"

She arched an uncomprehending brow, "Just now?"

"Oh," he coughed, "right."

This was awkward, "I'm sorry. I don't... usually-"

"I know you don't."

Gabrielle bit back a snigger as the two warriors shifted like teenagers in the solid silence. It wasn't long before Xena started to laugh softly again.

"Well," she blew a stream of warm breath up at her bangs, "This sure reminds me of a first date."

"What's a date?" Gabrielle frowned at the unfamiliar (AN: not to mention anachronistic) term, recalling that her friend had first used it very recently.

Xena blanked, "You know, I don't know either." It was probably something Ares had mentioned occasionally.

When his arms slid around her waist (trust the arrogant pig to not miss the slightest chance), Xena contemplated telling him 'You know how much it hurt when you didn't say anything back then? I thought I would lie down and die.' No, not a smart thing to do. In addition to the frightening nature of the revelation, they were one of a kind; he would only use it against her.

"What are you thinking?"

He knew too much already. "Chyogate's not going to be a really big problem, is she?"

"No way."

"Good," she elbowed him hard, and he let go with a grunt.

_____ *** _____

They had gotten Ares settled into a room at the inn. Somehow, the manipulative son of a bacchae had secured the room right next to Xena's. It wasn't as if distance mattered at all, with his being a god and possessing the ability to instantly transport himself from one end of the world to another.

No. What was she thinking? She did not want the god visiting her in her room. Well, maybe. Gods, he's gorgeous.

Xena mentally slapped herself. If he could hear what she was thinking, he'd get a real kick out of it. The three of them-Xena, Ares and Gabrielle-were seated at the Warrior Princess' favourite corner table, resting after a hectic evening at the tavern. It had gotten so exasperating that Xena found herself offering a silent prayer to Ares out of sheer reflex when a patron dumped his drink on her. Horrified, she shot a glance to the wargod, only to see him smirking at her, having heard her prayer. Smug bastard. He graciously inclined his head, a God granting a boon, and her soiled lavender peasant's tunic immediately morphed to a raven toga and underskirt, his identifying runes of war etched along the hems in silver embroidery. Count on Ares to stake his claim over her even in her clothes. Biting back a grin, Xena played along, setting one foot behind the other and dipping her knee, curtsying.

He had roared with laughter, and his Princess carried on her duties, ignoring Cyrene's speculative scrutiny.

Picking at the glittering embroidery, Xena watched the god of war sharpening his sword the mortal way. I suppose he needs something to do. Well then.

"Ares, we need to talk."

He frowned, not liking her tone. Gabrielle shifted nervously, hoping that this wouldn't turn into a brawl.

"I thought you said we should leave the past behind us."

The Warrior Princess scratched at a nonexistent itch at her collarbone before fiddling with the diamond pendant she refused to remove, "Sometimes you have to lay the past to rest before you can look to the future." She crossed her legs uncomfortably, then stared straight into the god's eyes, "I'm sorry about your family."

His jaw clenched, "Sorry doesn't bring them back."

"I never wanted to kill them. They were mean, selfish pricks sometimes, but they've done some nice things. They were... people."

"Didn't stop you from killing them anyway."

"You instigated the entire conflict. Had you just left us alone, I would neither have had the ability nor the reason to kill anyone. Eli knows that I don't kill without good reason."

"We were protecting ourselves!"

"You were dooming yourselves," she stopped, lowering her voice, "The way of the warrior states that if someone is trying to kill me, I must kill them or die trying."

"But the prophecy-"

"The Fates can shove the prophecy up their cunts. We make our own destiny."

He was silent for a long moment, "The way of the warrior? What happened to that when Livia was terrorizing Rome?"

Xena's lashes drifted down over slits of cerulean, "I got lost; I know. I was being a selfish bitch," she glared at him. He's no way in Tartarus getting away with this. "You sacrificed Olympus, the symbol of Greek belief, to save us-to save me. How is that different? Yet you are seen as a self sacrificing hero, and I a selfish bitch. A rather large difference, would you say?"

Ares was silent once more.

"I've stepped off of the path a few times," the tall woman admitted, "I didn't kill Livia when I should have. I didn't kill you when I should have-"

Ares winced at this.

"-and I killed Mekran for you," she swallowed hard: the next part would not be easy, "Now that I look back, each time I did abandon my path... it was because of love. Eli's god is of Love, and I don't know whether that means I was supposed to do those things or not."

The sword clattered to the ground.

"Love?" it was Gabrielle who voiced the obvious question.

Xena nodded, "I love Eve, and," she saw that Ares was staring mutely at her, hope glowing in his brown eyes, "I do love you, Ares, just not the way you want." Tearing her gaze from his crestfallen expression, she excused herself softly, and walked to the bar.

Hardly able to assimilate her friend's confession, Gabrielle glanced at Ares. He was muttering furiously, under his breath, but broke off when he noticed his audience. Ouch: that old just friends line. Kiss of death if Gabrielle'd ever seen one.

He shrugged, "It's progress, I guess."

_____ *** _____

Xena downed nearly half of the contents of her waterskin, splashing most of it over her burning face and neck. Her sword was still held loosely in her hand, but she would soon sheathe it, having finished her morning drills and exercises. The angry red and purple blaze of the sunrise was fading into mellower shades of pale pink and the morning's clear, cloud-streaked blue, no longer looking like a harsh bruise in the dome of the sky caused perhaps by some displeased titan taking his rage out on the horizon.

Her sword and scabbard were quickly leant against a nearby tree, and Xena bent over, touching the ground with her palms. If she didn't stretch after her exertion, her back and muscles would become rather sore. Her legs spread until she was sitting on the dew soaked grass on the meadow floor in a split. Twisting, she grabbed her right boot and pressed her forehead down onto her knee. She repeated the process with her left leg, and then stretched forward, her chest touching the ground. Rotating her shoulders a bit, she reached her hands up as far as they could stretch, then bent backward, supporting her weight on her hands as she rolled into a handstand from her split. She straightened her legs up, and bending her elbows for momentum, flipped to her feet.

Barely after landing, she launched a back kick, knocking the breath out of the figure behind her with a savage whoosh.

Snatching up her sword, she glared at Chyogate, sprawled back on the drying grass. The goddess was almost unrecognizable, her midnight hair unbound and streaming over her shoulders, clearly long enough to fall below her knees. The makeup was gone, and her skin was a pale golden colour, her eyes dark and large. Chyogate was watching the warrior warily, but gasping for breath.

Eyeing the deity suspiciously, Xena tossed her the waterskin. The goddess gulped down the water, then wiped her small rosebud mouth with the back of her palm, rising to her feet. She pursed her lips, "Ow."

"Your fault for sneaking up on me. What were you trying to do?"

"I was going to attack you."

Xena groaned, "Look, Chyogate, is it? I'm sure Ares appreciates the sentiment, but you can do much better than him. He's rude, irritating, manipulative..."

"But I love him!"

"You don't want to love him! Besides, you've only known each other for what? One day? How can you tell?"

"The amount of time doesn't matter. I know that you have loved him since you first saw him!"

"What?" the warrior's eyes widened.

"Please, I'm a woman too. I can tell."

"No! I am not in love with Ares! He's my sworn enemy! And besides, we were talking about you."

"Oh! Sworn enemy! Is that why you stared at him in that dreamy way when he showed up to save you?"

Xena spluttered, raising her weapon. At the goddess' giggle, she realized that she had walked right into that one. Growling under her breath, she sheathed the blade, "I'm sure there's someone else you know that would be much better for you than some stupid god of war."

An vacant expression took over the foreign deity's face, "My Hunaman is far better than your silly god, but he has left me for some foreign bitch with yellow hair and blue eyes."

The Warrior Princess was astonished and vaguely frightened to find herself entertaining serious doubts about Chyogate's first statement, but kept her tongue, "Why would he do a stupid thing like that? You're way prettier than any foreign woman." Play along. Maybe we'll get somewhere. What an airhead. She reminds me of Aphrodite.

Chyogate fumed, "Tell that to him! He liked the natural look, he said. She's blond and busty, he said. What does he know?"

"So he was having problems with the way you looked? I'm sure if you went to him the way you are now, with no makeup and your hair down, you'd beat that woman hands down in the natural looks department." Lay it on thick. Gods, she's buying it!


"Totally!" Xena cackled inwardly, but managed to keep a straight face. This was one of those times that hanging around with Aphrodite helped.

"Okay! I'll try! Thanks, Ugly!"

Chyogate disappeared, leaving Xena to pack up, grinding her teeth. Fine, if it would get that harpy off Ares, she'd endure being called ugly. But not for extended periods of time. Nope. By the gods, I'm jealous. I have really got to relax more.

_____ *** _____

Ares shot to her side as soon as she walked into the tavern. You'd think he was waiting behind the doors or something. "Where were you?"

"Having a little chat with Chyogate. It turns out you were her rebound after her boyfriend ditched her for a blond whore."

"You were talking to the little shit?"

"Yes," Xena snapped, tugging her wrist from Ares' grasp with a twist, "Get off my case. I don't recall giving you control over my life." The god had always been extremely possessive. Perhaps it stemmed from literally hundreds of siblings all fighting over something or other. It's a lot harder to perform psycho-analysis on a god. They've done so much shit in their very long pasts that a single event or two hundred doesn't even begin to explain their psychotic mentalities.

"Xena, I told you to stay away from Chyogate; she's very dangerous!"

"I didn't go looking for her. She tried to attack me. I was just minding my business. It's not like we fought or anything. I kicked her, and then we just talked."

With an irritated moan, Ares threw his hands up into the air, "You are such an brat-"

"I learned from the best."

Ares' pending retort was forgotten when a blaze of fire erupted in the centre of the room. Chyogate appeared, sans makeup, and roaring like a drunken minotaur (AN: I like that comparison. I believe I've used it before, somewhere...).

"UGLY!! You said he would like me better!!"

The Warrior Princess growled, "Alright, that's it. My fucking name is XENA. Got that? Not Ugly. Not Mortal. Not Girl. XE. NA."

Ares sniggered.

"You find that funny, hmm, *ARSE*?"

"HEY!!" Chyogate bellowed, "We were talking about my problem!"

"Oh, pipe down!" Xena snapped, "What's wrong now?"

"He says I'm too plain! The nerve of the bastard! First he says I'm unnatural, and when I try to change for him, he turns around and calls me plain!! Can you believe him?"

The Warrior Princess ground her teeth surreptitiously, "That's ridiculous. Maybe you need a new look. A makeover or something?"

"What? I am perfect the way I am!"

"You want the guy or not?"

The asian goddess subsided sullenly. Xena nearly breathed a sigh of relief, but before she could implement the next part of her tentative idea, the idea came running right to them.

A girlish squeal filled the tavern a moment before a pink blaze made nearly everyone squint. Aphrodite appeared mid-bounce, "Did someone just say makeover??"

_____ *** _____

The next whole lot of marks passed in a veritable hurricane of activity. Hurricane Aphrodite. Xena and Ares were assigned tasks and chores involving things Xena had used before, like combs, and... combs; things Xena had heard of, like lip-stain and eyeshadow; and things that baffled the shite out of the Warrior Princess, like cucumber slices and pore refining masks. When it was over, the warriors were left sprawled on one of Aphrodite's bright pink divans, too exhausted to do anything but mutter a bit about the colour.

Eventually, Xena sat up, "Wow."

The wargod laughed, "From one control freak to another, my dear, I completely agree!"

"How does Aphrodite do that all day? It's pure chaos!"

He was saved from a long and detailed analysis of his sister's bottomless reserve of makeover energy that never worked on any other tasks when the new and improved Chyogate was pushed out into the limelight by the love goddess.

Ares eyed the foreign goddess with an appreciative whistle. He had to admit that Aphrodite had outdone herself. Chyogate looked stunning, yet subtle. She blushed, and the wargod nudged his Warrior Princess, eyes still firmly attached to the goddess, "Whoa. Looks like you've got competition."

Xena glanced at him, deadpan expression glued on over the jealousy, "As far as I'm concerned, there never was a contest. I still say if she wants you, she can have you, and good riddance."

He glared at her, more hurt than he would ever admit, "Oh?" His hands clenched in her long raven locks, tugging her closer to him before he pressed a bruising kiss to her lips. Pulling away, he raised his chin, "Could you say goodbye to that?"

The woman sat silently, mouth slightly agape. He smirked triumphantly, and her brow furrowed angrily. He'd celebrated too soon. Her hands dove around his neck, gripping tightly and pulled his mouth onto hers, her tongue driving deep into his throat. When she broke the kiss, he was gasping for breath and completely disoriented.

Sauntering away, Xena glanced back at Ares, and challenged, "Could you?"

_____ *** _____

It was the moment of truth.

This god was truly beautiful. His imposing physique was perhaps equal to that of Ares, and his features were smooth and even, a confident hautiness in his warm brown eyes. Long black hair hung down his back, fastened with a red clasp. Those warm brown eyes were currently focused on Xena.

"My fair lady," he purred, "What's a gorgeous woman like you doing in the company of these... ragamuffins?"

His 'fair lady's' lip slowly curled, an unparalleled expression of disgust plastered across her beautiful face, "It's impolite to stare."

"Would you deny me the chance to prove my undying love?"

"You love being eviscerated, do you?"

"Point taken."

Ares inched closer to Xena, glaring at Hunaman over her shoulder. Ballooning male egos were saved from a battle to the death by the arrival of Chyogate.

Hunaman's jaw dropped to the floor, "Chyogate? You-you've changed your hairstyle..."

It worked! Now the little bitch could leave and never come back. The tall greek woman leant back into the wargod, "And I thought you were stupid."

Ares only mumbled incoherently, dazed by the warmth of her form lightly pressed to his. He screwed his eyes shut, violently hoping that she wouldn't feel the growing bulge in his pants. If she did, she didn't show it, though she did tactfully ease away...

Chyogate smiled regally, "Yes, I did."

Hunaman seemed to have recovered himself, "Chyo-chan! You look gorgeous! I can't believe it!"

"Thank you. You don't look half bad yourself."

Hunaman raised the goddess' small hand to his lips and suavely kissed it, "I'm throwing a party especially for you, my beautiful one, care to accompany me? And then afterwards..."

"Actually," Chyogate casually backed away, crossing her arms with an uncaring glaze to her dark eyes, "I'd rather not."

"Huh?" The entire room glared at the goddess. The little wretch! After all the effort they'd put into this!

"You see, I've finally come to my senses. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and I realize that I don't need a man. I can do so much better without being burdened by the inferior male species," she turned a brilliant smile to the Warrior Princess, "And I have Xena to thank for this epiphany. I hope you understand, Hunaman. We just aren't working for me."

"Uh, uh... grfkl..." Hunaman reeled for a moment, and befuddled, disappeared on the third try.

Xena raised an inky brow, and muttered under her breath, "He is stupid."

Chyogate bowed graciously to Xena, "Thank you for opening my eyes, revered Xena. And dear Ares, I apologise for my infantile behaviour. Thank you again, and goodbye."

When the asian deity vanished, three pairs of shifty eyes turned to Aphrodite. The love goddess raised her hands defensively, "Hey, I didn't do nothing! You heard her, it was Xena's fault!"

"I refuse to take responsibility for the little psycho's irrationality fluxes!"

Ares' brows rose, "So she's going to be the world's first feminist," he murmured.

"What's that?"

Shit. "Nothing, Xena."

The Warrior Princess was the last person any sane man would explain feminism to. Who knows what she'd do? The god of war didn't want to take the blame for siccing her on the male species.

_____ *** _____

Xena nearly groaned as she felt the wargod materialize in her room. What in Tartarus did he think he was doing? It was the middle of the night! She hurriedly stuck her head down under the covers, hoping he would go away and then after he went away maybe her heart wouldn't be pounding like that anymore.

No such luck. A few moments later, another god arrived, this one with a distinct girly presence.

"Aer!" Aphrodite's voice whined, "Get your stupid warlord to leave my temple alone!"

"Shh!" Ares hissed shortly, "She's sleeping."

"Fine! Great! She's sleeping; now get them to go away!"

A bit of silence, then Ares snapped, "There. Done."

"Thanks, bro! You're the best!"

"Yeah yeah, now get lost! I'm busy."

There was an amazingly ladylike snort, "Doing what? Watching her sleep? You're so pathetic."

"How'd you get from telling me I'm the best to I'm pathetic in such a short time?"

"You want I should just zap her with a love spell?"


"Oh, come on. It'll be my way of saying thank you for getting rid of that big mean warlord."

Xena was now tensing, ready to bolt from her bed. No, Ares would never...

"No! I don't want you to make her love me. I want her to do it herself."

Aphrodite pshawed, "Bro, I don't make people love one another! I can only make them think they love one another. You obviously have no idea what my job entails."

There was a soft moan, and some one landed in a seat with a muted thud, "All right, Aphrodite. What do you do in your job?"

"I keep that blind force that makes sure each person has a true love running, and I can tell who belongs with whom. I can't give names or anything, you know? It's just, like, when each immortal soul was created waaay back then, it was matched to another soul. The chances that the two will actually meet are pretty slim, but their souls were created to be together. I can feel those souls, or love-profiles as I like to call them. Isn't love-profile such a better term? Like, it's totally less stuffy! Anyway, you, bro, are a blazing cloud of passion, rage and tempered by caring. Your mate is a beam, pure wild, focus, and unswerving loyalty. I can't tell you who that soul belongs to unless I look into his or her eyes, and I don't go hunting for that other person unless I have very powerful incentive."

Ares' voice sounded troubled, "So you don't know who my mate is?"

"I didn't say that!" Aphrodite protested quickly, "I found that other soul without even having to look. She came to us herself."


"Duh! Warrior babe! Who else? Xena's so totally wild and focused and she's completely loyal to you!"

"Loyal," Xena found herself cringing at the dry skepticism in his voice.

"Yes, loyal! Didn't she just kill that thief for you? She's purposefully-subconsciously, yes, but still purposefully-pushed any other man away from her, 'cause she's always been waiting for you to come to your senses!"

"And you're telling me this now, because?"

"You asked, didn't you? I didn't see the point in telling you before. You'd already fallen in love with her. What more could I want?"

"Wait. If we were created to be together, does that mean she loves me?"

"It should. But like love, the bond can be one-sided."

"Oh, thank you so much for telling me what I already know!"

"What's that?"

"She hates me!"

"Well, that's your fault."


"Shh, you'll wake her."

Xena was pressing her palm against her mouth, trying to smother her laughter. Her shoulders shook silently, but luckily the two gods were too busy glaring at each other to notice.

"So, you done bursting my bubble yet, Aphrodite?"

"Bubble? Sweetcheeks, if you ever had a bubble, it was full of self-loathing. If I help get rid of it, good for me... Aer, unfortunately, she's the only one who can burst that self-loathing bubble I was talking about. It's nice and thick right now, so she'll need all the luck she can get."

"Alright already!"

"Geez, pipe down, stud!" A soft fluttering indicated that Aphrodite had left, but the next moment, it returned.

"What are you still doing here?"

"I forgot to tell you, Aer. Apollo's gone nuts. He's gathered an army, put that cute Chosen of his, Astarus, at the head, and he's gonna fight you for Daddy's throne."

"Just great. I'll deal with it."

"You can't mess with Apollo's chosen, bro. It's the rules. You gotta use a mortal army, and fight him with your own Chosen."

"What? No! I'm not sending her-"

"Then send someone else, but I don't really think you have a choice about sending her, 'cause Astarus is attacking Amphipolis."


The goddess of love stepped hurriedly into the aether, avoiding Ares' wrath.

Under the covers, Xena seethed with rage. Again! She was stuck in the middle of some petty Olympian squabble again! Dammit! However, the Warrior Princess had a more pressing problem to worry about. In her extended stay under the sheets, the air around her had gotten very stale, and she was already having a rather hard time breathing. Argh, why wouldn't the damn god just leave? He was still sitting there, doing gods know what. Shit, she was getting dizzy from lack of oxygen, but he's still there. Okay, really dizzy now, and not caring whether he knew she had been eavesdropping or not!

Xena flung the sheets aside and sat up with a gasp, gulping down the precious, precious fresh air. Breathing hard, she glared icily at the god, who was laughing his head off.

"I knew you'd run outta air eventually!" he guffawed, slapping his leather-clad thigh.

Jumping out of bed dressed in only her thin shift, Xena quickly slammed the shutters over her window open and stuck her head out of the opening, taking in deep breaths of the cleansing medium. Biting back a chuckle, she gave him her infamous Look. Naturally, he brushed it off as if it were Gabrielle attempting it, "So you just had to have this long and involved conversation about Aphrodite's job description?"

"Oh yeah!" he held his breath, waiting for her imminent explosion.

"Apollo's doing WHAT??" Bingo.

"His Chosen is going to attack Amphipolis, and I can't interfere personally because of some stupid rules my father set millennia ago."

"So you're not going to fucking help??"

"Of course I'll help!" Ares stood, meeting her murderous gaze, "My army will keep the village safe or die trying!"

She plopped herself down onto her bed, still shooting mental daggers at him, "Do you have a good enough warlord?"

"No." At her low growl he hurried to reassure her, "You know Astarus. He's older now, but he's still smart and capable. Not one of my present warlords stand a chance. If I still had you..."

"Dammit, Ares-"

"I'll transport my armies and two best generals here immediately. We'll have to rely on sheer size to win this one. Maybe if I ask the Persian pantheon for a loan-"

"No. Dragging in armies that don't obey you is just plain dumb. I'll lead your army against Apollo's if you like."

"You're asking?"

"I'm offering."

"Thank you," Ares's face softened with a hesitant smile, "It'll be just like old times..."

"Don't get used to it. Just because I want to protect my family doesn't mean that I'm going to become your little warrior queen-"

"Gods forbid."

Xena sighed, a sudden forlorn air draping over her like a cloak, making Ares want to go and hold her tight, "I can't help but think that you somehow planned this."

"No! I would never! Xena, truthfully, part of me is crowing because you're going to be fighting for me again-no, don't turn away-but a greater part of me is dreading this. Because of some stupid power struggle on what's left of Olympus, I'm going to be putting you in danger. Not just your body, but that core of strength and caring I fell in love with and there's not a fucking think I can do about it!"

She slowly met the dark intensity of his eyes with hers, and was rocked by the fury and melancholy, and above all honesty in his gaze. She understood. Just as, long ago, Hercules had been the light she needed to banish the shadows, she was that same light to Ares.

"Xena, I would much rather if you stayed here and I just sent my other generals into this. If all else fails, I'll relinquish my claim to the throne. I'd like you to stay out of this."

She stood and strode to stand before him. Reaching up, her fingers thrust through his short, bristly hair and she pulled his mouth down onto hers. His tongue sought the comfort of her honeyed walls, and she gladly surrendered it to him. Pulling away after a long while, she whispered fiercely into his lips, "I'm leading your army. You have the throne of the King of the Gods within your grasp, all I know you've ever wanted, and you're just going to throw it away? Not bloody likely, if I have anything to do with it." She cut off his reply swiftly, "Thank you for caring, but I've got a personal claim in all this. I've never hidden behind your army before, Ares, and I'm not about to start now. Last time I checked, I was your Chosen. If I'm not going to defend your honour, what am I good for?"

"But that core of goodness I was talking about-"

"If it's my core, then it's not going anywhere. Trust me."

"I'd still rather... never mind. You should get some sleep. It's still marks 'til dawn."

Xena smiled wryly, "You think I can get to sleep now?"

"I'm sorry. I'll leave you in peace then."

"No!" her grip tightened on his arms before he could leave. When he eyed her with bemused surprise, she offered a tentative smile. "Stay?" she insisted.

He grinned back, wordlessly falling into her bottomless pools of gleaming blue, joyous as a sailor drowning in the soothing embrace of his mother the sea. A quick sweep, and she rested in his arms, cradled to his chest as if she were a doll. "You, my dear, must get some rest."

"I'm not your dear," she retorted automatically as he laid her down onto the rumpled bed and climbed in after her. He dragged her closer to him, and she stiffened, but then relaxed when he simply wrapped his muscled arms about her form, spooning her from behind. A large hand rested just below her breast and the other on her hip. His breath brushed her ear, warm and steady.

She chuckled softly, "Do you remember all those long, late night talks we had? We'd lie just like this, and talk about anything that came to mind."

"Oh, I must certainly remember, Princess," his arms squeezed her closer for a moment.

"You know, you had a feck of a lot of nerve telling Chyogate that I was your fiancée."

"I know. I must have been suicidal, huh?"

"Nah, it just goes to prove that you got balls."

This time they both laughed. Feeling a lot more secure and content than she'd been in a very long time, she burrowed deeper into his embrace, "I've been thinking about those talks we had ever since you somehow conned my mother into giving you the room next to mine."

"Ah, well, my Princess, I've recently relinquished the room, but let me tell you, it was not easy to obtain..."

_____ *** _____

"The army of Apollo is poised to destroy this village," Xena met the horrified gazes of her people, gathered around her in the square.


"What have we done to enrage Apollo?"

"Are we going to die?"

She raised her voice to carry above the panic-struck speculations, "You'll all be fine! I have the word of the God of War that his armies will protect you. The battle should not even affect your day to day lives, but I want you to pack a few necessities, and should there be any danger to you, a messenger will come and lead you to a nearby safehold. Don't worry at all," a feral smile graced her face, "I will not let anything happen to you."

"So we're supposed to just stay in the village and do nothing?" Cyrene challenged.

"Nobody leaves the village until the threat is dismantled! Go about your business now."

Dismissed, the villagers meandered off, and Xena warily approached her family. Gabrielle and Cyrene were sporting identically unamused expressions.

"And what about you?" Gabrielle ground out, "Do you stay in the village too?"

"I'll... be leading Ares' army."


"You think I'd trust him enough to sit here and wait for him to save us?"

"How do you know this isn't just one of his tricks?"

"Aphrodite told Ares. She wouldn't lie."

"What if-"

"Stop it, Gabrielle. I trust him not to lie about this, at least."

The bard gave a small smile, clearly disappointed in her friend, "And what about me?"

"You're a grown woman now. You can make your own decisions."

"I'm coming with you."

"To make sure Ares hasn't corrupted me again?"

"To make sure you haven't corrupted yourself."

"What does that mean?"

Gabrielle sighed, resting a callused hand on the Warrior Princess' arm, "You're forgetting that he isn't a mortal anymore. Sometimes I think that I'm losing you... to our greatest enemy." Her gaze pointedly focused on the pulsing crimson of the diamond pendant.

Xena's hand rose reflexively to her throat, closing about the necklace, "He was never an enemy, Gabrielle. He was just someone who needed help."

"Why you?"

The raven-haired warrioress suddenly chuckled at the irony of the situation. She had asked the exact same question when he'd first given her the diamond, but the difference was that this time she knew the answer, "Because I care."

_____ *** _____

Ares had been greeted with frigid glares when he first arrived to inform Xena of the successful arrival of his massed army. Then, after a stern talking-to Xena had given her mother and friend on the subject of the saving of lives and proper gratitude, he'd provided a very generous and superb dinner of roast, as well as some of Dionysus' best, and now he seemed to be forgiven.

This was not necessarily a good thing when it came to Gabrielle.

"You want to hear a story??"

Gabrielle nodded brightly, knowing that Xena would keep her safe.

"I'm the God of War, Blondie! I don't do stories!"

"Ares," Xena nudged him, "Be nice."


"I wanna hear a story too."

He stared at his Princess in disbelief, "You're ganging up on me?"


"I don't know any stories."

"Give me a break. I'll start," Xena paused for a moment, "Once upon a time there was nothing but an empty void of chaos. But then the chaos separated into beings-"

"Xena, I know this story," Gabrielle whined, "It's the story of creation."

"Shush, there's more," the Warrior Princess grinned wickedly, "So, you know how the Olympians were born and created, and all that. But in the beginning, before there was man, before there was time, the Olympians were far different from those we know today. The were the embodiment of the element they represented. Their sole purpose in existence was to be those forces. Such was War."

Ares frowned, "How do you know? I can't remember that far back."

"I know. You didn't exactly exist back then. Not your personality. Anyway, War didn't have a name yet; not then, not for a long time. It was cold, brutal. It was empty."

No one dared to speak, caught up in the alluring majesty of the dark haired woman's voice.

"It was war, incapable of any warmth not the heat of battle. It was the antithesis of Love. But no, it wasn't lonely, because it was a blind force, unable to feel.

"But then the governing force made a mistake. It created mankind. Strange, irritating, warm, feeling, loving man. And this mistake cost the Olympians pain, because the spirit of man grew, surrounded them, infused them, and they were changed. So War lost itself in that change, became a 'he'... and Ares was finally lonely."

Ares knew that it was his turn. His voice sounded, low and huskily, surprising all but Xena, "Torn by this loneliness, War searched. He searched the world for that indefinite something that would make him complete. Eons passed, War despaired of ever finding it, and his bitterness grew.

"Until one day, in the fields outside Amphipolis, he found it. He found Her. Her, with the tresses as black as a moonless night," Ares' fingers wound themselves in those black tresses, "whipping about her face. Her, with the eyes as blue as the deepest ocean. Her, with the beauty that stopped a god's heart. Stopped it to have it start anew, this time beating only for her, for Xena. And Ares was no longer lonely, for he had found love."

Xena picked off where he left off with a smirk, "But no, Ares did not want nor understand this strange concept of... love. He only knew that she was different, for the idea that just one mortal may possess such power over an Olympian was unthinkable. Despite every one of the reasons, the thousands of reasons to strike her down as she stood right there, with warrior's blood coursing through her veins and fresh blood staining her breast and blade, he chose her as his own.

"Though he was inexorably drawn to this disrespectful servant, he maintained his distance as she burned and killed in his name. Maintained his distance to search for something, someone that could incite the same reaction, that could prove that this Xena's hold was not as frightening as it seemed.

"Yet nothing came of this search, until such a day that his Xena left him, weary of waiting for this distant god, and to search for something better than his half-hearted interest and fear. Thinking that someday, he would find that something special he searched for, he let her go."

Ares shifted sheepishly as he continued the story, "Once, twice, thrice he let her go, but his heart, hoping someday to be complete, battled his fear, and he could not help but chase that elusive half-promise she could afford. Having thrown away three chances, it was nearly too late when he finally realized that that something special could not be found elsewhere, but had been standing there, waiting for him ever since he'd first seen a certain half-grown Warrior Princess. It was then that he could cease running from what he could not hide, and open his soul to a long dormant love."

He reached out and tilted Xena's chin so her eyes would meet his, "And now, I no longer wait for something to save me from you, for I have stopped fearing. All I wait for now is for you to stop fearing me, stop searching for that something that could never be better no matter how hard you try, and give me your love in return."

She stared up at him resentfully, "You turned the whole thing around!"

"If ya didn't want the whole story, y'should've stopped long ago," Ares glared back.

Immune to their immediate bickering, Cyrene sniffed a bit, "That was beautiful!"

Ares scowled, and abruptly stood, as if he had just remembered their audience, "Well Xena, now I'm officially embarrassed. I hope you're happy."


He muttered something about "exasperating women who can see too much" before vanishing.

"Wow, Xena," Gabrielle breathed, "I didn't know you were such a good storyteller!"

"Hey, don't let the walking arsenal look fool ya," Xena stood, stretching, "Good night, mother, Gabrielle."


Xena left the two women there, staring off into space, for a long time.

_____ *** _____

When Gabrielle passed Xena's room later on the way to hers, she paused, hearing low voices. It doesn't count as eavesdropping when it's a friend. Gabrielle has some weird morals. Stopping, she flattened herself to the wall so she could see through the sliver of light that shone through the crack in the door. Flashes of black were Ares pacing restlessly through the small room. A blur that was Xena suddenly blocked his way.

"Why are you being so chicken-shit? I'd have thought you would welcome the conqueror back."

The two of them were neatly framed in the crack. His hand rose uncertainly, "I do. It's not the conqueror I'm worried about. I love the conqueror. You're still the conqueror."

"What are you babbling about?"

"Come on, Xena. That calm tactical genius? That sheer thrill of the conquest? You still feel it, and it's pure conqueror. No, it's the other part, that 'I'm gonna hack to pieces whoever gets in my way' mentality. It-it," Ares lowered his eyes, "It frightens me."

Xena had to duck her head to see his eyes, "I frighten you?" her voice soft and... devastated.

He sighed forcefully, "You know the bloodlust, that incredible power and darkness. It's so strong in you, maybe stronger than in me, and yes, that scares me. I'm the God of War; I'm supposed to feel those things. I was created for it. What's your excuse? ...We're so alike, Xena," his hands rose to cup her jaw, his eyes sad and earnest, "When I'm around you, I bring out that darkness in you that echoes mine so closely. And if that darkness takes over, we'll both be destroyed, and I'm terrified of losing you."

Xena's own hands rose to grip his wrists tightly, above his gauntlets. Gabrielle couldn't help but notice that Ares' skin turned white under her crushing fingers, yet those fingers could only reach less than three-quarters of the way around his wrists. "I'll fight it. If I can defeat you, I can defeat that darkness."

They faced off, the Warrior Princess and the God of War, silent. Then, slowly, Ares' hands slid down her throat and glided along her muscled arms. She let go, and in a whisper Gabrielle could barely hear, she murmured, "Trust me..."

The god's arms wrapped tightly around her slim waist, and she lightly stroked his nape, offering whatever comfort she could.

When he finally pulled back, Gabrielle noticed that his brown pools held the bright suggestion of tears. Ares chuckled mockingly, although this time it was directed at himself, "Some god of war, huh? Seeking refuge in the arms of a woman."

The corners of Xena's lips curled slightly, and she took his face into her hands, forcing him to keep eye contact, "It's all right. It's going to be all right," she brushed his lips with hers, "We're all going to be all right." They kissed again, and this time Ares sucked her lower lip gently in.


"Shhh..." Their mouths met in a much deeper kiss, and Xena slid her hands to his shoulders, pressing herself to him.

Gabrielle backed away from the door, feeling very out of place. Damn, why did I have to eavesdrop? Part of her felt like bursting in there to yank Xena away from Ares, berating them both for... what? Kissing each other? Betraying her? She eased away into the pool of light shining from her room.

_____ *** _____

Back in Xena's room, Ares stared at his Princess, still slightly out of breath.

She smiled softly, and then was back to all-business, "So I leave tomorrow with the army."

Ares nodded briskly, back on safe territory. "Yes. I've briefed the commanders about the entire business, but you're going to have to go into a bit more detail," he sighed, rubbing the smooth column of her throat thoughtfully, as if blessing her. "I wish I could handle this myself..."

"No, you're not allowed to interfere with Apollo's chosen."

"Stupid rules. Who invented them anyway?"

"You're asking me?"

"No," he turned, sitting down on her bed. The gold coloured silence washed over the two warriors, temporarily transforming them into the regular people they longed to be...

Xena watched the quiet god, suddenly awed by his presence. Years ago, she had been just a tavern keeper's daughter, knowing nothing of the godly pantheon. Then, when she met Ares, it amazed her to see how very human the Olympian was. Whatever worshipping intentions she may have had were drowned in his kisses and random bursts of anger and snideness. She'd treated him first like an idol, then an equal, and after that, like dirt, and he did nothing to change her actions or perceptions. All that didn't change the fact that he was a very powerful god, though. The God of War... The god warriors across the entirety of the Greek provinces prayed to. Who was she to have this great being's trust, his love? Xena bit her lip. Now wasn't the time to grow an inferiority complex. Despite her logic, it still didn't erase her feelings of humbleness. He made her feel more special than the moon and the stars.


"What?" he idly traced the raised pattern on his vest. With a soft thud, a pile of brown leather dropped to his feet. His head shot up. She was standing there before him, in her white undertunic, her crystal pools a deep indigo.

Slowly, she undid the laces on her gauntlets, letting them slide to the floor to land on her leathers.

Ares drew in a sharp breath as she kicked off her boots. What in Tartarus did she think she was doing? "Xena..."


"Don't do this. I feel like you're trying to say good-bye to me."

"Maybe I am," she lifted her hand to tease his short hair between her fingers, "It's the possibility we have to face before every battle."

"Don't think like that."

"Why?" her laughter caused his guts to twist like someone-no, she had landed a hard punch, "I'm nothing if not realistic." When he shook his head she sighed and straddled his lap, and she could feel how hard he was, "I want to do this, Ares. Don't you want me anymore?"

His throat feeling like one of the South Wind's deserts, he could only nod. Realizing that his answer could be taken two ways, he immediately shook his head.

Xena laughed again, took hold of the hem of her shift and pulled it over her head, displaying herself for him, to judge or to accept. As she discarded it, she brought her lips to his, kissing him softly. She never needed to have asked. To Ares, every part of her body was perfect, from the ripples of muscle under the bronzed skin to the paler stretch marks her tight abdomen sported.

Ares moaned deep in his chest, and turning, pushed her down onto the bed under him. His clothes vanished with a weak wish.

As his hands ran down the length of her thigh, Xena suddenly pushed him up off her. Sitting up, she regarded Ares solemnly, noting his confusion, "Ares, last time, fifteen years ago, I gave you myself. I was too young back then; I didn't understand what I wanted back. Now, I need you to know that if we do this, I take what is mine."

"What is yours," his statement was more of a question.

"Yes. If we make love now, you are mine. Do you understand? I claim you."

His head reeling with the enormity of her claim, Ares suddenly realized that it was unnecessary. He had long ago, without even thinking about it, thrown his entire heart and soul to her mercy. Whatever he had done in the past, he had always held a large part of himself back. He'd told himself that it was because he wanted to maintain control over himself and whoever it was he was fucking then, but now he understood because he had been waiting for her, for Xena, to take him. Years ago, this thought would have been branded pathetic by him, but he knew now that it wasn't true. One has to be very brave to love someone so completely. It was a frightening ordeal, love was: like throwing oneself off of a very high cliff, and trusting the loved one to spread wings and save you both.

Chuckling with sheer merriment, Ares pulled his Xena into his strong arms, pressing his mouth to hers.

"I'm yours. Got it."

Xena smirked fondly at the god as he lowered her back onto the bed, holding her close. He was always amused with whatever she did. He'd laugh at her most earnest speeches as if she were a favourite daughter thinking about joining a group of children in a mockery of the Battle of Corinth. Except for the fact that she had actually been at the Battle of Corinth... What the hell. A twitch of the mouth indicated her amusement at how easily Tartarus was being replaced with Hell after that episode with Mephistopheles and Lucifer. Hooded eyes fixed upon the wargod as he softly kissed her throat, the spot where his fingers had been rubbing. No, not like a daughter. Xena knew that despite his amusement, he had been listening. He always listened.

He let his hands cup her breasts, those tanned, very round orbs that were so supple yet firm. Perfect. They thrust and rounded to his palms, soft and full. Ares knew she'd be insulted if she knew what his frenzied mind was doing. She had always been the strong, tough Warrior Princess, independent and capable to any who dared to ask, but right now she seemed so soft, so tiny and feminine under his large frame. Unbidden images of their first, and until now only, joining filled his skull. She was just a girl-child then, young and trusting. When he'd pierced her maiden-head, she'd cried out openly in pain. A few saline tears had trickled down her cheeks, just like the warm blood that traced her inner thighs, but she just watched him, trusting him to make everything alright.

"What is it?"

Ares shook his head at Xena's question. Damn the woman for knowing him so well. Running his hand along her collarbone and down her lean arm, he pressed his palm to hers, as if he was comparing the sizes of their hands. His fingers ended a good length past hers. He pulled her hand to his mouth, kissing her fingertips and licking the smooth curve of her nail.

Xena smiled at the god, bemused. Why was the bastard being gentle? As if she were fragile, one of those innocent little princesses he screwed by the dozen. She'd expected him to be violent, domineering, anything but this. Licking her bottom lip, she grabbed his shoulders and rolled them both over. When he protested, she quieted him with a deep kiss, and whispered, "Don't. Let me pleasure you."

She pressed butterfly kisses to his eyelids, his nose, the corners of his mouth. Her tongue slowly danced along his jaw, feeling like licks of fire. When she moved to his throat, the warm pressure of her breath combined with the softness of her tongue sent a jolt of lust coursing through his body to settle eventually in his groin.

Xena smiled against Ares' adam's apple as it bobbed under her caress, and the hum of his moan vibrated through his chest and throat. When she kissed and sucked lightly against the ridge of his collarbone, his shoulders jerked, and his hands rose to rest on her back. Glaring playfully at him, she pressed his hands down by his head, "I'm not done yet." His breath was coming faster, and she covered his mouth with his, driving her tongue deep into his mouth and running it over the almost unbearable sweet walls. She ducked her head and ran her tongue over the tightened nub of his nipple, tugging on it with her teeth. He'd always seemed to like this when she did it.

He gasped, but it was partly because of her attentions to his nipple, and also because the brush of her long lashes on his skin when she blinked was tingling in an incredibly arousing manner. Remembering her earlier warning, he didn't move to touch her, but when she continued her ministrations with a throaty chuckle, he nearly lost his mind. Her fingers and lips danced tantalizingly over his well-muscled stomach and teased his hips, going dangerously close to his swollen, straining cock. The soft brush of her hair dangling over him caused Ares to suddenly thrust his hips up toward her, and she sucked in a sharp breath, but she still ignored his aching rod.

Xena kissed and nibbled on the inside of his muscled thighs, quivering with need, and she could hear him almost panting, like her. Slowly, slowly she flicked her tongue over the head of his cock, touching the liquid oozing out of him, and she almost came because he tasted so perfect. He was perfect, and he was lying there, putting himself completely at her control, at her mercy, and a dull ache filled her chest because she wanted to be able to love him as much as he loved her. If this ageless god, this near supreme being could place himself so much into her hands, why couldn't she trust him with her entire soul? Because he is evil. Xena shook her head, taking the tip of his enormous 'godhood' into her mouth, sucking lightly while her hand teased him. No, he wasn't evil. This Ares was a far cry from the conceited, untrustworthy bastard who betrayed the entire world to join Dahak. Who betrayed her so many times, just like she betrayed him. But if he could trust her so completely after her ultimate betrayal, why couldn't she swallow her grudge? "You'd be surprised by the change you can inspire in a man, or a god."

His moan pulled her out of her thoughts, and she resolved to forget them for the night. Abandonning herself completely to him, to the smell, feel and taste of him, she pushed away all straining at maintaining control, and took his entire length into her mouth, shifting a bit to adjust to the sheer size of him. Her teeth very lightly grazed the sensitive cleft between the head and shaft, and he bucked wildly. She ran her tongue over his shaft, quivering herself, and held onto his hips as he ground into her mouth. Setting her tongue against him, she began moving her head up and down, sliding him in and out of her mouth. His hands clutched at her thick hair, but she didn't care anymore. He was hers, and for tonight at least, she would be completely his.

Ares felt the change, even through his roaring blood. She wasn't holding back anymore, and she suckled, licked and stroked his cock with complete abandon, kneeling between his thighs. Grinning joyously, he tried to look at her, but his vision was too clouded, so he concentrated on stroking her raven tresses and the smoothness of her neck. Then, a hand squeezed his balls between her fingers, her thumb running over them, and Ares was writhing under her, swept away in his climax.

Still holding onto him, Xena felt the rush of his hot seed spurting into her mouth, sweet and delicious. Still sucking, she collected every drop, his fingertips digging into her scalp. Gods, he was perfect. When they last made love, she had been too young and inexperienced, which was obvious considering that she had been a virgin, and so she never got to taste how incredible he was. Licking her lips, she smiled. It was well worth the wait. Her own arousal was running down her legs, slicking her mound and thighs, as she lay down next to his shuddering form, trying not to rub herself into the sheets.

He grabbed her face and kissed her brutally, shoving his tongue down her throat, and tasting himself in her mouth. She moaned, the sound rumbling through both their forms, and he quickly hardened again. Comes of being a god: extra stamina. Lots of it. Flipping her over onto her back and taking his still stiffening cock in one hand, he rubbed the tip against her swollen lips of her sex. Her hips rose automatically, and he reacted by growing even more. He used his cock to tease her opening, and moved his hand to brush her clit, drawing gentle circles around it. Her mouth opened, and she stared, hypnotized, as he brought his hand up and sucked her taste off of his finger. She moaned again, and he touched her clit, rubbing it lightly between two fingers. Her legs moved further apart, and her wet cunt roughly brushed his cock, causing him to gasp. Tightly gripping her raised hips, he shoved himself into her silky caverns, and their hands clutched each other at the sensation.

Xena's body arched into his, her beautiful eyes wide and feverish. He stopped, holding her, staring into those eyes, mesmerized. The warmth of her tight walls enfolding his cock was pure ecstasy, and he trembled, quietly reverential as he gazed upon his goddess. This moment had been too long in waiting to stop any longer, and he slowly rolled his hips, grinding into her. A strangled moan wafted from her lips, and she threw her head back, her lashes drifting down over the ethereal blue, and for the first time in years, she let go of the walls shutting off their bond, the walls that they had both long forgotten about, and it felt like going home. He knew the moment those walls crumbled, felt the pure essence of her mingling with his after long years of being apart. He felt her pleasure as well as his, and nearly fell over the precipice. He fucked her faster, his impatience riding over to her.

Xena didn't make a sound, not anymore. But in her mind, she was moaning and gasping, and she could hear him do the same, above the disorienting roar in her ears. [Xena... Xena. Love... so much...] He was rambling in her mind, his pure joy almost drowning out his mental words.


Those who feel like they have a true connection with another haven't the slightest clue what they are talking about unless they have a bond like that between the Warrior Princess and the God of War. No two people have ever truly been one unless their minds were connected and melded like such. Their breaths flowing as one, their hearts beating as one, he was soon pulling out his entire length and slamming back into her slick walls. They could never lie to each other, never hide any portion of their souls, not when their minds were unfolded and laid open for the other to read and know and become. And when they came, they came together, as one the whole way through, and their screams were silent to outside ears, but resonated the length of the universe to them.

Shaking and shuddering, Ares slumped onto his Princess, her sweat-slicked form clinging to his, his spent cock still dripping with a concoction of her juices mixed with his. [Gods, Xena. You make me feel incredible...]

[You are incredible.]

They laughed together, silently, pressed together like one. Her breasts were flattened against his chest, round and firm, and his cock rested against her muscled stomach.

When she felt able to speak again, she glanced up, the glint of laughter still present in her eyes. [Wow, God of War. Wait 'til I tell all my friends about this.]

She didn't need to see his face to know how his lips tightened, [So that's what this is about? Doing a god?]

Silence wove her painful spell through the air, the warm golden glow of the candles becoming brittle and cold. Her jaw twitched as she clenched her teeth, "Yeah? It's not like you gods haven't done enough of your own screwing with us mortals." She spoke aloud, her anger radiating through their bond.

He didn't answer, but if possible, his dark eyes hardened even more. His arm slid from under her torso, and he sat up.

Oh gods. It was just a joke. Before he could leave, Xena flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around his muscled waist. Swallowing her pride, she donned her sweetest face, and pleaded, [Don't be mad, Ares. I didn't mean it that way.]

He found himself blinking back tears as he stared down at her wide, innocent eyes peeking up through her glossy black bangs. Memories of the warrior as a child floated around them like ghosts of the past. Laughing silently, Ares took her shoulders and hauled her up into a tight hug, falling back down onto the bed. I'm getting way too soft!

She blew her bangs out of her eyes, her head pillowed on his strong shoulder, [Well, that was embarrassing.]

[You never cease to surprise me, sugar.]

[What? Thought I was too stiff to do a little begging?]

[I'm sure your conscience will eat at you.]

[Damned straight.]

His lips found hers, and she wasn't too surprised to find that his kisses could still make her stomach flutter maddeningly. [I'm sorry. It was a bad joke.]

Ares let hooded eyes follow the graceful line of her throat to the swell of her breast, [I was the one who took it too seriously.]

That counted for an apology, she supposed. Stifling a yawn, she shifted, and her thigh pressed to his groin. She could feel him hardening again. But all he did was kiss the corner of her mouth, whispering, "Go to sleep, Xena."

Her eyes fluttered shut, and he felt a strange catch tug at his chest. Was it possible to be so happy that it hurt? Just when he thought that she was asleep, she suddenly murmured, silently, [I trust you'll keep watch?]

Maybe flippancy was a retreat she could rely on when she frightened, or couldn't handle some emotions and needed to convince herself that she was tough enough... But it still hurt. Maybe someday she would trust him, and then perhaps he would have a chance.

[But of course.]

She was truly asleep when he mouthed the words, "I love you, Xena." And somehow, it wasn't enough anymore.

_____ *** _____

The day had barely dawned, and they were already well into another quarrel.

[Xena, cut me some slack! How was I supposed to know? I can't control these things.]

The walls that had cut off their bond for so long slammed down venomously, "You're a god, fuck! Why can't you?"

Ares nearly reeled from the physical pain of their connection closing, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm War! I have no powers when it comes to controlling procreation!" He bit his lip, "Why can't you be happy about this?"

She refused to look at him.

"You wish we hadn't done this?"

It was gradually dawning on her that they had an audience. She shot a glance at her mother and Gabrielle, dreading their reactions. "Right now, yes."

It hurt like hell, "Because you don't love me."

Xena felt an unwelcome tingling start in the corner of her eye. Still looking down, she let a hand splay over her flat abdomen, covered only by her thin shift. Over her-their-unborn child, "I... Your bastard... I don't know."

Ares felt like crying. "Marry me, then," he whispered harshly. Her eyes flew to his. "Marry me and that won't be an issue."

Bitterly, memories of long past, childish fantasies of being his wife came to mind. And somehow, it tore her up inside because it was for all the wrong reasons. "Never," the word seethed like the raging waters of the Acheron.

This wasn't going well at all. Why couldn't he ever find the right words? Why couldn't he let her see that he would ask the same question were she barren? He blew up. "You want me to get down on my knees and beg? Fine!" There was a thud as he dropped to his knees, "Marry me!"

For perhaps the first time in her life, the Warrior Princess took the coward's way out, running from the room, and the god of war burst into tears like an injured child.

Shocked, and a bit frightened, Gabrielle followed her friend, hoping that the entire episode was a bad dream.

Cyrene handed the shaking god a kerchief, wisely waiting until he had calmed down. He did, though not before soaking the cloth with a god's tears, and it dissolved, leaving behind only shreds of threads.

The woman searched for the right words. She couldn't be nice; he'd just clam up tighter than a merchant's purse... "Well, you really screwed that up."

His brown orbs impaled her angrily, but she took a deep breath and plunged on, "That was incredibly stupid. You backed her into a corner, Ares. You never do that to a woman, least of all Xena. If she doesn't have a choice, she strikes out with all of her might, and it's fueled by fear and desperation too."

"I know."

Cyrene sighed. At least he was willing to talk now. "You can't pressure her. My daughter has always been terrified of commitment, and it never helped that everytime she threw herself into something, it would betray her. She's afraid to take the risk. You have to be patient; don't rush things, alright?"

He groaned, "But I'm so sure..."

"She isn't. Maybe somewhere inside, yes. But just beneath the surface, she's a nervous wreck. Just trust her. She won't leave you hanging for too long. Believe me. This time she has more than herself to think about," Cyrene broke out in a wide smile, "She has my grandchild."

"It's been long enough."

"Give it more time."

Ares pursed his lips, forcing himself to take deep, calming breaths while he remained seated on the floor. My child... Our child. "You would make an incredible advisor, Cyrene."

She laughed, "Just on matters of love, son."

_____ *** _____

Damn him. Damn him to Tartarus. Xena punched the offending tree again, brutalizing the frightened souls with furry tails that lived within its green-draped arms. She could care less. It's all a just chore to him. He never cared. As far as he was concerned I'm a burden to him. 'Marry me and that won't be an issue.' Yeah right. That hurt so much it wasn't even funny. I hate him! Nothing we ever had matters to him. A tiny voice from deep inside gave substance to what she'd rather not have admitted was bothering her the most. He never loved me...

Gabrielle found her by the old willow, furiously wiping away the tears as quickly as they fell.

"Xena?" Gabrielle couldn't keep the angry, hurt tone out of her query. She slept with the gods-damned bastard for fuck's sake!

Her only answer was a tear-stained glare.

Gabrielle, unsatisfied, pushed harder, "Are you going to marry him?"

How can she be so fucking insensitive? Xena pointedly ignored the blond, though she knew it was useless. Gabrielle never knew when to quit. You'd think she'd get the hint from the six odd years we've suffered together.

"Xena, I know you're hurt, but you have to think logically about-"

"Hurt?" The warrior towered over the bard, "You wouldn't have any idea what hurt is!"

Gabrielle cringed, retorting hotly, "What does that mean? You of all people know all that I've been through."

"Of course I know, because I was there with you the whole damn time! You always had me to turn to whenever you screwed up or needed help! Losing your husband? Big fucking deal! I had to lose Marcus twice! Losing your blood innocence? How many people do you think I've killed to protect you? Being impregnated by some evil god? I've been raped and tortured! I've always shielded you from nearly everything!"

"It was because of you that I had to go through those horrors! Were it not for you I would be living peacefully with Perdicus!"

"I never asked you to follow me! Had you ever told me 'Xena, I'm leaving' I would have let you go wherever you wanted!" The Warrior Princess bit her tongue furiously, taking calming breaths. If this continued, she would do something to Gabrielle that she would most probably regret later. Staring up into the cloudless morning sky, still tinged with hints of blushing dawn, she spoke, her voice tightly controlled, "I'm sorry, Gabrielle."

"I'm not saying that I didn't have it a lot easier than you, Xena, and I'm not saying that I could have survived out there without you-"

"No, I was just as lucky," Xena felt controlled enough to look at the blond, "I had Ares."


"I've spent the better part of my life on the road, and through the whole ordeal I've always... almost always had Ares by my side to look after me, much like you had-have me."

"So you do love him."

Xena laughed shortly, "It isn't that easy. No, I don't love him. I need him, I owe him, but I can't love him. Not that way."


"He'd take my love and twist it until he'd destroyed me and there's nothing left in me except him. It's what he does. That's what being the god of war means, and he can't help it."

"Then leave him. We've been through too much together to let a man get between us, and you said yourself that you don't need him or any other male."

"Do you mean that or is it coming from your hatred for what he's done to you?"

"I mean it because I hate the idea that he might ever get what he wanted," Gabrielle took her friend's hand solemnly, "I'm sorry that I have to say this, but when it comes down to a choice, it's either him or me."

The warrior snatched her hand back, "Ease the pressure, why don't you?"

Gabrielle shook her blond head sadly, "I mean it."

Xena headed back into the inn, "I'll decide after Astarus' threat is neutralized."

"I hope you make the right choice."

Your opinion does not make a choice right. The black-haired woman didn't speak the words out loud, merely focusing on finding the wargod.

_____ *** _____

"Where will you be?"

Ares spun around, "I'll be watching." He knew that she meant the battle immediately.

"You watch often."

"All the time."

Xena stared up at him wordlessly.

The god carefully brushed away a lingering bit of moisture on her cheek, "Be careful."

His soft warning was greeted with a sneer, "Looks like you got what you wanted."

"Was it I who wanted?"

A wry smile, "No." Then the tall woman shook her head gently, "Marriage was not part of the deal."

"So I upped the stakes."

A spark of anger returning to her pale gaze, she turned away, crossing her arms over her stomach... protectively, almost, "I don't recall agreeing to that deal."

Ares reached out and spun her around gently, attempting to take her hands in his. She immediately withdrew, locking her wrists behind her back. "So you won't even consider it?"

"What's to consider?"

He had to grin; conversing with her was almost like talking to himself. "I won't give up, Xena. I can wait."

She crossed her arms again, stubbornly, "Never is a long time to wait, Ares."

"The way I see it, 'never' is an abstract idea. Having no definition, it can be as long or as short as those involved choose the make it."

Xena gritted her teeth. He was making fun of her, but in his eyes she could see a pigheaded, deadly earnest glint. Damn him for making her ache inside like this, [Why marriage? Why now?]

[Because I'm going to lose you!] Hearing the desperate edge to his inner voice, Ares shut his eyes and took a deep breath, [It's always, truly, frightened me, knowing that while I li-no-exist, you'll reach the end of your mortal life and you'll be taken away from me. I've waited for eons, and all I have left are a few years. Do you know how little time a decade is to me? That's why this is so important. Xena, I'm asking you for eternity. This union will intensify our bond thousandfold... You and I will literally have one soul, and as long as I am immortal, you will be too.]

[Immortal? I, I have to give up everything? Watch my friends wither and die? Ares... I don't know if I can. You said it yourself, immortality isn't life, it's only existence.]

[Yes,] he truly looked unhappy, [I can't do anything about your friends. There's no more ambrosia left.] Falling back obstinately on flippancy, he smirked, [You wouldn't want me to marry all of them, would you?]

A withering glare does not have the same effect when the warrior producing it is fighting back a chuckle, [What do you mean, there's no more ambrosia left? Isn't that your... sustenance?]

[We partake of it for purely ceremonial purposes. Occasionally there'd be some sort of festival and my father used to force us all to eat a bit of the, I must admit, rather disgusting mush. Ambrosia is a very... unusual substance. You know how it first appeared from the cornucopia?]

[Yes, it's in the legend of Zeus' overthrowing of his father.]

[The cornucopia was destroyed in the war with the Titans, as was Amalthea, the goat.]

Xena frowned, fascinated. Ah, the perks of intimately knowing a god. [It's gone? Then what does Demeter hold?]

[Don't tell anyone, but it's a fake.]

[I'm guessing there's another way to produce ambrosia, then.]

[Yes. It's conjurable, but it takes years and years to create a little bit, and then there's this whole huge secret ceremony. That's why we have-had emergency stashes hidden all over the mortal world. Most of which you had a rather large part in destroying. None are left.]

[Sorry. It was necessary.]

He glared jestingly at her.

[If it could be conjured, why did you not?]

Ares shrugged sheepishly, [Remember that huge secret ceremony I just mentioned?]


[The secret died with Zeus.]

There was a mere beat before she started snickering, [Your paranoia came back and bit you on the ass, didn't it?]

[Ha ha,] he twisted his lips dryly.

Then, another thought struck her.

[But won't my mortality affect you?]

Her sudden non sequitur would have baffled anyone who was not a certain god of war, [No. It's like-do you know how in procreation there are dominant genes?] The only response was a blank stare. [Sorry, you wouldn't know. That stuff hasn't been discovered yet. Anyway. Some... facts... states are stronger than others. If a mortal and an immortal... uh... reproduce, the result is a half mortal, because they aren't using what is already there, they're creating something new. When an immortal soul and a mortal soul join-fuse-the immortal soul takes precedence and the result is immortal. It's... complicated.]

[Hold it. The immortal soul will take precedence over the mortal one?]

Seeing her belligerent frown, he hurried to reassure, [Only concerning the state of mortality.]

She sighed, her blue eyes taking on a tired gloss. [But there are other options. Reincarnation-]

[What? I'm supposed to spend eternity chasing after you? How fair is that, really?]

The stoic façade slammed down, [How could I forget. Xena the selfish bitch.]

[No, don't.]

[Ah, but it's true.]

Ares' brown gaze flitted to the side, and a muscle in his bronzed cheek twitched, determined to avoid the subject, [That's not what... frightens me the most. What if I find you, and you've already found someone else? What if you hate me?]

[How can you know?]

[Do you want to see?] he offered, turning back, [The problem with the future is that there are billions of possibilities. It is never certain which one will be true.]

[Show me a random one.]

His hand rose to her cheek, and she gazed up into his brown orbs. She couldn't really remember ever studying his eyes before. Trying to ascertain whether he was lying (more exactly, bending the truth), or not-something not as impossible as it sounded, but quite close-yes, many times. But never just his eyes. They were a rich, earthy brown, set with flecks of red and gold, just like the baubles that were embedded in the brown earth beneath their feet. And, she saw, they were capable of more compassion and love than she had ever imagined. The iris was a series of darker and lighter rays, fanned together like a mandala with infinite arms. The pupil was a solid black, as black as the void that presided over the fears of all hearts faced with loss, the price of humanity. Yet there, hidden in the far back of that void, was just the barest hint of light, of life not as empty as imagined.

With an indiscernible murmur of fear, Xena found herself pulled into the sheer blackness of that pupil, that void. It engulfed her, smothered her doubts and thoughts with a warmth like a mother's womb, yet cold like the abyss that terrified all. So this is what it feels like to die...

Suddenly remembering the glimmer of light, she mentally twisted about searching for it. There! Even as she celebrated her triumph, it tore through the emptiness toward her, growing blindingly bright and looming over her. Yet it wasn't frightening, partly because that was where she knew she had to go, and partly because in some back burner of her subconscious, she could still feel his warm palm resting against her cheek. Even in the haunting limbo of eternity, he was still there, protecting her, making her feel safe. He was there, like he always was...

The light struck her with almost tangible force, but again, he was there, shielding her from the brunt of it, and then she had arrived.

Facing the tall, golden brown-haired girl, she repressed a shudder of excitement. This was her future self!

The girl rolled her shoulders, relieved after slouching in a cramped position over her geography exam for the past two hours.

That was it. The compulsory credit was earned, and she was never taking geography again. Canadian forestry could bite her ars-

She rammed right into what felt like a walking brick wall.

Blinking, she stared up at the tall man. Even in the Yale sweats, he looked incredibly strong. Short-cropped black hair hugged his temples, intense dark brown orbs peered down at her, and when his full, sensuous lips parted over perfect white teeth, she felt a burn originate in her belly and spread like that wildfire she just wrote about in a section of her essay. It quickly consumed her cheeks, and she glanced down, embarrassed by her blush.

His strong hands were closed about her wrists, and she realized that his grasp had been all that prevented her from tumbling to the ground when she'd walked into him.

"I'm sorry," his voice was deep and husky. It rumbled in his chest, so close to her own, and she felt shivers race down her spine.

"No, ah, I wasn't watching where I was going." Godammit, her wit had just packed a bag and slammed out the door, not bothering to leave a note.

His grin widened, "I feel like I know you."

She gave him a look that just screamed 'give me a break'. That look, flung from her pale grey eyes, was so purely Xena that his heart nearly stopped. Silly, silly. Gods' hearts don't stop.

"Well, I must say, I haven't heard that one before."

Ares laughed, releasing his hold on her wrists reluctantly. Ah yes, she was never thrown for long. "What about 'you're beautiful'?"

No longer threatened by his burning touch, she offered a smirk, "It's been done."

"It's true."

She stepped back, "For what it's worth, I feel like I know you too."

"What's your name?"


"Short for Alexandra?"


"Ah. It's pretty."

She gave him a bored glance, turning away, "Aren't you too old for high school kids?"

"You're fourteen."

"How'd you know that?"

"Because she died fourteen years ago."


"The girl I love."

"I'm sorry," she hesitated, noting in some back corner of her mind that he used the present tense, "but I still don't see how you know-"

"Never mind," he offered a dazzling smile, "Seen 'Harry Potter'?"

"Hell no," she glanced around. It was out of unease rather than fear, because... because she felt unusually safe with this strange man, "I should go..."

"Oh come on, come see something else with me. You're not afraid of me, are you?"

"No," the response welled from the innermost regions of her soul, passing through the event horizon of truth and out the other side, "You make me feel... safe."

If you're worried about the age difference, I can wait. Xena blinked. She could hear this Ares' thoughts. For you, I can and have waited an eternity.

"Well then," the wargod linked their arms and smiled again, leading them away, "My name's Keith, by the way..."

So that was how they would meet, but what about after the first-she groped for a term-date? The scene flashed once, and Xena knew it was pushing forward to the future.

Ten years later...

Alex curled beside the man, her dark head resting on his shoulder. The flickering beneath her eyelids betrayed that she was having a dream. Her brows drew to a frown in her sleep, and she suddenly sat up, waking with a light gasp.

She seemed perplexed at what just occurred until she turned and regarded the man-no-god at her side. A dreamy smile touched her lips at the remembrance of a love eons old.

His eyes fluttered open, "Alex?"

It was a little awkward, hugging him while he was lying down, but she did it anyway. She sought his lips, "I love you, Ares."

He laughed as if the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders, "I love you too, Xena."

They indulged in a longer kiss, and the Warrior Princess felt herself pull back. She hurtled through time, and gradually found herself staring into the god of war's dark eyes. He shrugged, [That was one of the ones that worked out. In another version of that, you were already in a serious relationship, and spent the rest of your life feeling as if you had misplaced something, but didn't know what it was.]

[I have to go,] torn, she reached out, but stopped herself before she actually touched him, [All I can promise is that I'll think about it.] She turned and strode away, her guts in turmoil from what she had just witnessed. "I love you, Ares." What if... No. It wasn't true, just a possibility, and she would have to be able to forgive him first.

_____ *** _____

Her meeting with the wargod's army had gone quite well. They were competent warriors, obedient as, well, the god himself when he was trying to please her. All brawn and no brain, standard Ares hiring clause. She'd carefully pored over a map of the country-side, though it was mostly unnecessary, and quickly determined the best place to draw the enemy into battle. She'd grown up in this area; she knew the fields like the back of... Ares' mouth. A quick drilling of signals and tactics into the generals' brains over the two day trek to the chosen battlefield, a bit of charismatic growling about Astarus' pending doom in the face of Ares' glory, and they were all hers.

Xena stepped into the tent she'd been given. Glancing around, she approvingly noted the practical simplicity until her eye landed on an expensive applewood chest covered with an ebony veneer, and carved with a chakram hanging over the crossbars of a sword, his sword. A sardonic grin twisted her lips.

[I see you kept it.]

[Anything my Princess wants, my Princess gets,] his fingers lightly brushed her back as he followed her to the chest, but he remained standing while she knelt.

She pushed the lid up, revealing the contents. Torchlight shafted up the beautifully forged blades of her twin swords as she removed them, almost reverently placing them onto the padded lid of the chest. A few daggers that could be cunningly hidden in various places joined the swords, her personal arsenal from her warlord days. A clunky broadsword she'd wielded in her early years as a warrior she smirked at, and a scimitar from her days of riding with Borias she fingered with a mere scintilla of remorse. Some frilly dresses from her childhood she shook out and refolded. She'd always hated them when she was forced to wear them, but they were all she had left from those peaceful years when all the violence she would normally see was limited to bullies who picked on little kids, who were in turn picked on by her. No one ever dared to tell on her, she remembered, shuddering a bit inwardly at her childish cruelty. Her mind turning to the cock-tease she'd pulled on Ares in his temple when the siege was on, she realized with an unpleasant shock that she hadn't ever lost that mean streak. She looked up when Ares' lips brushed her cheek.

[Don't think like that. I like the mean streak.]

[Get outta my head.]

His low chuckle sounded next to her ear, and she smoothed out the dresses, wondering for a moment at the miraculously moth-free state they were in. Some rather more mature dresses Ares had forced her to wear to some random God-Chosen festivals she didn't bother to look at, though she lingered on the ceremonial garb of War's High Priestess, worn to happier, relatively, occasions than the Rite of Passing, which was a separate affair in itself. That placed aside, her hands touched a long rectangular object swathed in heavy silks. Ah yes, the motherlode.

She unwrapped it with deceptively steady hands. It was a qing, a traditional musical instrument from the land of Di Guo (meaning Kingdom, and called Chin by some), given to her by her beautiful friend and mentor, Lao Ma. The twenty one horsehair strings quivered, sensitive to the merest breath of air. Xena tentatively touched a chord, and it rang out, as pure as the day it was stretched onto the polished cherrywood frame. She quickly played a simple three octave scale, tuning only one string that had become flattened.


Ares shrugged under her inquisitive gaze, [I had Apollo tune it occasionally. He likes studying foreign instruments. He'd like you to teach him the basic positions sometime when we're not at war.]

She kept staring at him, and he finally chuckled, [Yeah, he's insane. He makes a point of not mixing warfare with pleasure.]

[Strange god,] she smirked, a definite overtone of sarcasm in her voice, and turned her attention back to the instrument. Her hands dancing over the strings, her countenance spoke of concentration as she re-familiarized herself with the feel of the qing. A soft melody filled the tent (written in b-, though the key probably didn't exist back then. Think Scarborough Fair), plaintive minor chords sounding as her fingers touched the harmony.

When she was finished, she flexed her slightly burned and reddened fingertips, and rewrapped the qing, packing the chest once more. She stood, and Ares took her hands in his, brushing his lips over the stinging grooves.

[Thanks. I haven't practised in years.]

His tongue snaked out to lap at her fingers, and she snatched her hands away. At his slightly hurt expression, she hunched her shoulders sheepishly, [I'm sorry. You-gods, I can't believe I'm telling you this-you have this remarkable ability to get under my skin.]

He smiled, a cocky, mischievous glint in his eyes that made Xena want to slap him and throw him down and ravish him at the same time. Annoyed at her body's reactions to the war god, she decided that she had to take control of the situation now. Putting a bit more distance between them, she quickly undressed.

She piled the leathers and armour onto a stool, and turned slowly, a slender brow risen. Long fingers of her left hand rose to idly tease the strap of her thin shift. His eyes latched onto their movements, and with a hint of a grin, she let them flutter down, brushing the swell of her breast along the way. Both hands rose, scraping up his chest to his shoulders.

[You know, I've heard a lot about your sexual prowess,] Xena stated casually, as if she were discussing the weather.

[Have you, now?]


[And what do they say?]

[Oh, quite a lot. Talented cock. Doesn't give head.]

Ares leered down at her cleavage from his vantage point, [Doesn't give head? Hmm,] his hands rubbed her spine, gliding down to her waist, [I wonder how that rumour got started.]

[So I gather they were wrong?]

His strong arms engulfed her, lifting her off the ground, and gently deposited her onto the bedding in the corner of the tent. He crawled onto her, his mouth dropping down to cover hers.

[Actually, I haven't eaten anyone in a very, very long time. I don't like the feeling, really. Kinda degrading, having to kneel to pleasure some whore that I don't feel any real attraction to.] His nose and lips nuzzled along her shoulder, and his teeth dragged the strap of her under tunic off her smooth, tanned skin.

[Excuse me?] Her sure hands deftly did away with his vest and belt, but he slapped her fingers away from his leather pants and glared at her sternly until she obediently placed them under her head, after he'd slid her shift off of her slim form, of course.

His brown gaze raked possessively over her thrusting breasts, her perfect face, her concave stomach, and settled on the dark tangle of curls covering her mound, [Not you. You've had me on my knees too many times to count, Sweet. What's one more?]

[It works both ways. I like doing hand and blow jobs because it makes me feel in control. I can see how every touch, every tongue I give makes whoever it is I'm fucking react, writhe at my mercy-] Her mental voice broke off with a strangled moan when the pressure of Ares' warm breath touched the wet between her thighs. Her hands clutched at his hair, annoyed that she couldn't get a firm grip. Sometimes she missed his long, curly raven locks. His snicker vibrated through her flesh, and she bucked.

Ares' eyes glazed over at the involuntary movement of her hips, [You're right,] his finger lightly rubbed over the swollen seam, and it parted pleadingly, [I think I like it too. Having you all wet, open, begging for my touch...]

She growled, and half-seriously tried to pull away. His hands held her down with all of his godly strength, and she snarled in frustration as she struggled, [You're such a pig. You and your libido both!]

[Xena,] his tongue slid through the moist folds, and her back arched, all thought of escape wiped from her mind. [Stop fighting me. Trust me this once, and then we can get back to comparing notes on technique.] He laved her slit slowly, his beard and mustache leaving pinkish scratches on the pale skin.

Her low laugh hummed through her body, followed by a moan of protest when he withdrew his tongue, determined to show her what a god learns after a few millennia of experience. His fingertips dragged tantalizingly over the labia, and she had to bite her lip to keep from announcing her night time activities to the men outside. An impossibly hot forge raging in her core, she could feel moisture begin to seep from her. His thumbs carefully pried the lips apart, and he licked a fold ever so softly, his beard prickling her sensitive mound. Her thighs were starting to tremble, and with massive amounts of exertion, she propped herself up on an elbow to watch. His dark eyes held hers for a moment, and then he brought his slicked hand to his lips, slowly licking and sucking her arousal off of his fingers. A moan that seemed to come from both of them at the same time rumbled through them.

His fingers slid through her heated folds, tracing the swollen ridges. They dragged agonizingly forward, and Xena's nails dug into his shoulder, rigid with anticipation. To her consternation, he only softly brushed the hood of skin over her clit, once.

She growled, [Quit teasing!]

[Did anyone ever tell you that patience is a virtue, my dear?]

[Obviously not!]

He was laughing again, and she wanted to smack him, until two large fingers suddenly plunged into her now very slick depths. Xena rose straight up off of the bedding, and promptly collapsed again when he just as suddenly withdrew.

Shaking, she met his malicious gaze. He was smirking, [That's teasing.]

[I'm going to gut you. I am going to peel your flesh from your bones; I'm going to eat your eyeballs-]

[Shhh,] His tongue flicked over her clit, and she had to bite off a whimper. As his surprisingly versatile appendage traced small circles over her hyper-sensitive nub, his fingers combed and tugged at the black, strangely fine curls covering her sex, before dipping in to drag slowly over her. The scent of her filled him, arousing him until he had to brace himself over her, his erection protesting at being pressed into the bedding furs as well as confined in his tight pants. His slow, tantalizing caresses continued, and he could feel how dangerously close she was getting to the edge.

The same two fingers trust into her again, and she nearly came, had he not withdrawn immediately... again.


Her protest had no effect; he just grinned into her now very tender flesh. Suckling softly at her swollen nub, he began stroking her, lightly at first, but then harder as her arousal grew. Occasionally his teeth would scrape over her clit, and she would tense, the cords of her muscles taut as the late Artemis' bowstrings, her laboured breathing all but stopping. He easily brought her back up to fever-pitch, but this time, when his fingers slid, slowly, into her, he didn't stop. Gently, to keep her on the edge but refuse her release, he curled his fingers, lightly stroking that smooth spot that made her writhe under his hands. His tongue lapped roughly at her sweetness as moisture seeped from her, and it felt as if she were surrounding him everywhere, making him feel hot and tight, even in his hands and throat.

If someone had stabbed him with the hind's blood dagger now, he would have died very happy.

His fingers were swiftly replaced by his tongue, and as he thrust deep into her, swirling along her honeyed walls, collecting precious drops of her essence, his hands slid up to squeeze and fondle her swollen, firm breasts. She cried out in his head, long and ragged like the blue heron (AN: I think. Can't remember).

[Come for me, Xena. I want to feel you...] his mouth slid back to her clit, and he sucked once, hard-

She was still shaking when he settled between her thighs, resting his weight carefully on her small-comparatively-frame. Her hips rose when he slid into her, raising both their forms. Sometimes he forgot how strong she was.

She stayed still for a moment, and he could feel a bit of mischief seeping into her. Beyond that, he had no idea. She was truly very good at hiding that which was on her mind. She stiffened, and he gasped because it caused strong, internal muscles to grip him tightly. A throwing of their combined weights up, and they flipped over. She smirked down at his surprised blink, [Why do you always get to be on top?]

[You want a turn?]

[Hm,] her hands slid teasingly over his broad chest, and down, into the thickening, coarse hair below his navel. She laughed, [What happened to your pants?]

[I-certain parts of me got tired of them.]

[Thought they were looking a bit tight.]

He suddenly pulsed inside her, and her breath hissed sharply. Gripping his tight waist, she rode him, thrusting lightly at first, then hard enough so that every forward thrust caused his pelvic bone to grind into her clit. A golden flush spread over her throat and breasts as their grinding became more like bucking; that warmth in her grew and pressed steadily until it swept over her and she stiffened with a cry.

Her fingers dug into Ares' flesh as he pounded into her, a mask of grim concentration on his face. Even in her daze, she sensed his distress, and let her hand fall behind her. Her clouded blue eyes fluttered shut in pleasure as his frenzied thrusts rippled through her inner flesh. She rubbed her thumb briefly over his opening, causing him to moan, before hefting his heavy sacs in her hand. Her slender fingers moved in intricate patterns, drawing delicate scratches over the sensitive appendages. The pressure in his groin grew until he thought he would explode, but somehow, he still wouldn't come. Then, both hands disappeared behind her magnificent body, and all he felt was a firm squeeze before his universe exploded into waves and waves of pleasure.

Floating around in a sea of shimmering bliss, he pulled her closer to him when Xena burrowed deeply into his arms, her ear at his heart, and quickly drifted off to sleep. He soon followed, euphorically aware of her possessive arm wrapped tightly around him, and they both slept soundly, basking in the afterglow.

_____ *** _____

He mounted her this time, when they woke early the next morning, and by the time the camp was awake and bustling, he'd left her to her business after a thorough goodbye-for-now kiss.

It wasn't long, however, before trouble accosted Xena, and under the guise of her blond friend.

"You slept with him again last night, didn't you?"

The Warrior Princess couldn't quite control the flush that burned her cheeks immediately, "Does that bother you, Gabrielle?"

"How can you face yourself in the morning? He's War for the gods' sakes!"

"What is it that you have against war?"

The blond stared at Xena as if she'd grown a third nostril, "What are you talking about? War! Didn't you say that it was good for nothing, yourself?"

"That was just a silly magic-influenced song."

"I can't believe you're seriously standing there, telling me this. Have you forgotten everything that you fight against?"

"What is it about peace that makes it so much better?"

"It's peace! It's good!"

"Good? Good is a very narrow-minded definition."

Gabrielle regarded Xena sadly, "You're not my friend, my soulmate Xena, anymore."

"Need you be so melodramatic? I believe I am entitled to my own opinion."

"Yours? Or Ares'?"

The tall woman only smiled, "You're right, war does kill lives-"

Gabrielle's triumphant smile never grew past its infancy, dying of one of the numerous diseases known to cut short a baby's life.

"-but it's peace that kills souls."

_____ *** _____

Xena could tell that the men were miserable. They'd been waiting, stifled and hot, for over half the day. It wasn't actually the heat that bothered, though; it was the damnable humidity. You could probably drink the air if you tried hard enough.

Strands of black were plastered to the Warrior Princess' throat and face, tickling uncomfortably, and the raven tresses were frizzing at the ends.

Three low whistles, one long and two short, put Xena on alert. Keeping to the cover of the trees, she squinted at the distant hill. The black and glitter of armour marching over the rise caught her eye.

Xena repeated the whistled signal and Thedelus and Belasius appeared by her side. She nodded at them, "You know what to do. Do you remember the signals?"

"Yes, my Lady. The chakram throw means keep to the ridges and proceed until further orders. The eagle cry means flank and reinforce. One whistle, my troops join Belasius', two whistles, Belasius' troops join mine."

Xena nodded again, "Go."

Thedelus and Belasius' troops quickly separated from the main body and moved to wait on the ridges surrounding the valley of the battlefield.

Xena turned her attention back to the enemy. She did some quick mental calculating as the last phalanx marched over the ridge. Two hundred calvary and three hundred infantry. Her hunch had proved correct. Astarus did have reserve troops.

Her hand squeezed Gabrielle's gauntlet for good luck, and the blond offered a hesitant little smile. Unhooking her chakram, she let it fly. It rebounded off a rock face and sliced across the vanguard. Before it returned, Xena unsheathed her sword.


As the wave of soldiers, led by Gabrielle, poured down the hill, Xena took to the trees. Hurtling through the branches high above the ground, she passed over Belasius' started troops. Yes, there they were. Astarus' reserves.

Returning, she dropped to the forest floor just by Belasius' mount. It shied, but was immediately hushed. Holding up a hand for silence, she awaited the other scout's report.

Two long flashes. 'All clear.'

"Fuck!" Xena swore, putting her forefinger and thumb to her lips and whistling loudly, once. Immediate movement could be seen among the brush as Thedelus hurried to join Belasius.

Pivoting to face the awestruck and slightly fearful gazes of the men, Xena simply pointed in the direction of Astarus' reserves. Belasius saluted and ordered his men to march, while Xena ran back to Argo.

Dammit, she'd known that there had been a large probability that Astarus would only have one reserve troop, but which flank it would come on had been a toss-up.

Catching the returning chakram, she secured it as she mounted Argo.

The Warrior Princess was a sight to behold as she pounded down into the battlefield. Her chilling war cry struck fear into the hearts of the enemy, embued by her reputation. Drawing on the strength in her fluid motions and fierce sapphire orbs, her own warriors grinned confidently and renewed their attack.

This, this was Ares' Chosen, the Destroyer of Nations. Contrary to legend, she did not earn the title through cruelty or brutality. No. It was on the battlefield, where her very presence could sway the outcome of a battle. Where her every strike was beyond perfection and beauty. Where she belonged to him in every possible way, and where she was him.

Astarus' reserves having been ambushed and quickly cut down, the main body of the sun god's army beat a hasty retreat as the war god's forces threatened to overwhelm them, led by the raging she-demon of a Warrior Princess, and disappeared back over the ridge to regroup for the night.

_____ *** _____

It was barely dusk when Ares' army finished expanding their camp to include the terrain they had gained that after-noonday. An entire phalanx had left to carrying through some special instructions involving the next day's battle, but they would be finished before the night grew old. It was as the Warrior Princess was heading back to her tent when her unexpected visitor seemingly magically popped up in her path. (AN: did you see how Hercules jumped out of nowhere when Xena was being attacked in Prometheus?)

"Hey, Xena."

"Hercules!" she quickly embraced her old friend, "What are you doing here?"

"I heard Amphipolis was in danger, so I headed over to help."

"Where's Iolaus?"

A wistful smile tugged at the tall man's lips, "He married, settled down. Said he was too old for the adventure thing anymore."

"Oh, right. I'd forgotten that it's been twenty-seven years," she frowned, "But you look exactly the same."

He shrugged, "Seems that I don't age. Something my father must have given me."

Hercules trailed after Xena as she continued walking. "You never cease to surprise me," she teased.

"You should talk. Last I heard you came back from the dead, stopped Livia and offed most of the Olympian pantheon."

"I'm sorry. They were your family too."

She nearly cringed at her slip when Hercules suddenly stopped in his tracks, "What do you mean, 'too'?"


He gave her a long look, but decided to drop it, "So, how goes the battle?"

Xena smirked fiercely at Hercules, "We did very well today. They've lost almost a quarter of their men, and we're still nearly at full strength."

The demi-god frowned, "You seem to be enjoying this battle."

"To be honest, I am."

"Too much."

The Warrior Princess' icy pools narrowed, "I'll do what I have to." She froze momentarily, then smirked again, mischievously. Pushing him toward her tent, she explained, "I'll just go wash up. You wait in there for me, and I swear if you get into a fight I will personally kick you both into next quarter-moon."

"What?" Hercules managed before being shoved into the tent... where Ares was standing by the long table, scrutinizing Xena's neat notes on a map of the area.

"Xena!" Hercules growled, but she was already gone.

Ares gave him a black scowl but didn't move. He'd heard Xena's threat.

After a long moment of charged silence, Hercules snarled, "I knew you were behind this."

"Did you, now? You sure know a lot, don't you?"

"Oh yes."

"Then I'm sure you know that I'm sworn to not interfere personally? That she just wanted my help?"

"She would never-"

"You're just jealous."


"I have her, and you don't."

You could never love her like I do."

"No. I love her more," Ares glared at his half-brother, "I would never hurt her, not anymore."

Hercules stared at the wargod in shock. He meant it! "Why should I believe that this isn't just another trick of yours to win her back into your fold?"

"Because I love her."

"So do I, but I'm not trying to make her lose to her dark side."

Ares shook his head, "You wouldn't understand, Hercules. We've been together since the very beginning. She's so strongly bound to me and I to her that it's almost frightening."

"That's just your cock talking."

Ares looked so furious for a moment that a mere mortal would have wet his britches, but then his expression settled on superiority, "It's far more than physical. You didn't see her back then; her body wasn't... the best in the business. She was so small and boyish, but she was still so beautiful, so young. She was just a kid when I took her virginity: skinny, belligerent, her breasts were like small apples in my hands, and I knew she was special."

Xena's voice made them jump, "I was fourteen. That's not exactly a prime decision making period."

"Why?" Ares steeled himself for the bitterness.

"I gave you everything, Ares: not a smart move. I gave you every fucking thing."

"And I wasn't there in the morning."

He looked as if he was about to cry, and she felt herself almost mellowing, "Then you shoved me onto that ship, and I wanted to claw your eyes out."

"One year. I stupidly ignored you, and you grew up so quickly. I hated Caesar for taking the little girl away from me, and part of me was in awe of him for molding you so quickly, so easily."

"You'd have thought I would have learned my lesson with you; but no, I had to go trust the bastard. Fall in love with the bastard."

The god flinched visibly.

Xena sighed. This conversation had started ugly and was getting worse, "Stop it. Get ready, we're attacking just before dawn. The sun will be in their eyes." As she turned to go, she offered a cold smile, "You can't seriously dump the guilt on me. After all, Ares, you made me."

_____ *** _____

"You still here?"

Ares' head jerked up at Xena's voice. Solemnly, he regarded her, his mind working at what she could possibly have been doing for so long.

She shrugged, [Question: how many idiot followers of Ares, God of War, does it take to set up a tent without it collapsing on them?]

He smiled, relieved, and raised his hand. First he raised two fingers, then four, and with a innocent roll of his eyes, all ten fingers.

Slowly slinking into the tent with a minute smirk, Xena closed in on the god.

[Ah, yes. You were always turned on by a good fight.]

Her eyes widened, a fierce fire lighting within the blue depths, one he hadn't seen in long years, [You drove me nuts when you just stood there, back then, and watched!]

[You wouldn't have let me touch you anyway.]

Her pace quickened, and the length of her body slammed into his. Her mouth was open, and their tongues tangled, wrestling for dominance. [That didn't make me want you any less.]

She peeled off his vest before he ripped her armour and leathers off. His hands were thrusting it down her glorious curves when her nails raked over his shoulders, leaving thin, burning trails.

[Oh, I'm gonna fuck you hard for that,] he half-teased, half-threatened.

Her hands were tugging at his pants when she suddenly froze, [Wait, wait.]


[Turn the light out.]

[Oh right.] Half the men were probably gathered outside watching the shadow show.

They were plunged into utter blackness, the antithesis of light, and had to laugh when a series of groans and cat-calls sounded outside.

[Do they know it's you?]

Quickly adjusting to the darkness, Ares let his hands rub her breasts before dragging them to her waist. [No. They probably think that you're doing Hercules.]

[He's taller.]

[Size there doesn't matter.]

_____ *** _____

Ares woke the next morning, a few marks before dawn, to see Xena sitting cross legged on the pelts, stark naked and staring at him while he slept.

He rolled over and kissed the flat plane of her belly, showing his affection for both her and their unborn child, [Morning.]

[I don't think I've ever seen you asleep before.]

[You're a very... exhausting woman, my dear.]

She settled back down onto his chest, [You can't keep up with me?]

[There's a first time for everything.]

[Gods. Pompous asses the lot of them.]

[You know you love it.]

[Damn, he's got me there.]

They shared a quiet laugh before the Warrior Princess stood and stretched, [This battle won't last beyond today. We'll defeat Astarus and drive the army out before nightfall.]

Ares blatantly admired her sleek form brazenly displayed before him, [The war, on the other hand, is far from over.]

[You and Apollo have probably been at each other's throats since you were born. This war will never be over.]

[Just wait 'til I officially take the mantle of the King of the Gods. Then he wouldn't dare cross me.]

Xena paused in the midst of dressing, [Right, you were Zeus' eldest son and heir. But why now? He died twenty some years ago.]

[Athena contested my claim to the throne. I couldn't resolve it until I defeated her once and for all.]

[You mean you were training Eve-Livia...]


[So you're going to be King now?]

[Yes,] Ares frowned at her slightly troubled countenance, [It won't change who I am. Even if I had all the power in the universe, it wouldn't stop me from loving you.]

[No, I know that,] she cocked a brow at Ares, enjoying the sight of him sprawled naked among the furs, [You gonna get up or what?]

[Bossy lady.]

_____ *** _____

Dammit, she didn't have time for this.

Xena had known this was going to happen, but that didn't make the confrontation any less agonizing.

"How could you? Xena, we outnumber them! There was no need to resort to underhanded tricks!"

She kept half an eye on the enemy, floundering in the stake lined pits she'd had dug, while Hercules berated her. The ones who hadn't been outright skewered were milling about like headless houseflies (AN: sorry about the rather unpleasant imagery; it's a popular Chinese analogy), some mainly trying to get out of the deadly sinks.

"You cheated! Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"Yes, it means that less men need to lose their lives today," Xena snapped, whilst checking to see if the heavy nets had come into play like planned. Yes. Astarus' phalanxes were in complete disarray, fenced in by the nets while arrows and shot stones began pelting them, many with deadly accuracy. Some random groups attempted to get into "turtle" formation, overlapping their shields to form a shell, but there was not enough order, and many gaping holes provided excellent targets.

"Less men lose their lives?" the now immortal demi-god echoed incredulously, "Those men in your traps are dying! How is that sparing lives?"

"Would you rather they were dying while cutting down our men?"

"Have you no concept of honour?"

Xena sighed, sometimes some things were so ingrained in the very hub of society that any new ideas or methods just couldn't be accepted, "Honour here is beating yourself on the head while sending thousands of rather valuable men to their deaths. Leave honour to those who can afford it."

Astarus' men had finally cut through the nets, and were advancing toward the Wargod's army. A shrill whistle cut through the moans and cries of the wounded as well as the warcries. The archers immediately retreated, but not before loosing one last volley.

A grim but pleased smile touched the Warrior Princess' lips ever so gently. The traps had functioned perfectly, and the Sungod's army was all but decimated.

Nevertheless, they were still hurtling headfirst into a blood bath. Xena momentarily wondered why people couldn't just be reasonable for once. She quickly nocked an arrow, aimed and let fly. With impressive reflexes, Astarus swung his sword, deflecting the speeding projectile. She smirked. A young Astarus had once been her sparring buddy, before he'd left their Lord's service for Apollo, and she'd known it wouldn't have been that easy. He was well into his middles ages, but years of hard labour and training had kept his figure toned and solid, perhaps in better shape than most men in their prime.

She drew her sword, "Hold the line! We let them come to us."

There was definitely something sinister about her tone, Hercules decided.

The two opposing forces clashed with an ear-splitting din, and all reservations were swept away. Despite being quite outnumbered, the followers of Apollo fought with a savage, self-righteous flame. Groups of Ares' soldiers ganged up on single warriors, methodically cutting them down like single blades of grass. They understood their High Priestess' special brand of honour well. Victors never look back, preferring to spend their time hoping for a violentless future; it was the losers who had 'glorious battles'.

Immune to the surrounding slaughter, a little pocket of lucid thought stood still as the eye of a hurricane. Astarus gave his old friend a wry smile, "I thought you were dead?"

"It's a nasty rumour. How's life under Apollo?"

"Pretty good. Rather less head-splitting than life with Ares."

"Tell me about it. Although personally I think they're both insane."

They shared a quiet laugh.

In the awkward silence that ensued, Xena directed a wistful twist of the lips at the older man, "I don't suppose we could just walk away, get something... strong to drink?"

Astarus sighed, "You and I both know that one of us isn't going to leave this alive. Can I hold you to that drink when we meet in the Elysian Fields?"

"Definitely. That is, if we meet."


"Ares has asked me to marry him."

"No kidding!" his smile was sincere, "Congratulations! I was wondering when he'd get around to it. Hey, you can still look me up if you're a goddess."

"I haven't exactly accepted," Xena shrugged sheepishly.

"Don't know what you're waiting for."

"You're actually helping Ares?"

"Hey, don't glare at me like that. I always thought that you two made a good couple."

"Now you're scaring me-" Xena hissed as she brought her sword up to deflect Astarus' heavy swing. No more words were spoken as the two switched to a more physical exchange. He'd learned some new tricks that kept Xena very alert, but then again, so had she.

Soon, it was very obvious that the Warrior Princess had the upper hand, and from her vicious thrusts and blows, it seemed even more obvious that she intended to maintain that upper hand. Numerous gashes appeared on the man's form, while a glancing nick off her armour was the closest he'd come to touching her.

He was tiring, and they both knew it. Xena pressed her advantage further, but then, in a split moment of misjudgment, stepped into his feint.

Damn! Xena tried to make up for her mistake, but he'd moved a bit too quickly.

Astarus bashed the butt of his weapon against her temple, and Xena dropped. Not pausing a moment, she reached behind her and stood on her hands in a back flip, landing on her feet.

[Xena, look out!]

Ares... Xena snarled in pain when Astarus' sword clashed with her own before she had recovered, forcing her arm back harshly. Switching her sword to her left arm, her leg slammed into his gut, knocking the wind out of him. Her blade sliced cleanly through his bicep, lodging into the bone.

Focus, focus.

Whirling, Xena wrenched the sword from his arm and cut off his anguished scream with a crushing kick to his throat. Another quick swing, and his huge body crashed to the ground, a bloody stump where his neck used to be.

Teeth gritted tight, Xena defended herself with her left arm until word spread, and the Sun god's defeated army retreated hastily, sans its leader.

Exhausted, Xena smiled, accepting her due accolades as Belasius led the exuberant army in a chant:




_____ *** _____

Xena rode through the resting troops, searching for her friend. Dammit, where was Gabrielle?

"My Lady!"

Xena spun, her eyes immediately fixing on the armoured man holding a sais (AN: I have checked. I cannot find this word in the dictionary, therefore I do not know the singular tense).

Gabrielle's sais.

Covered with blood.

"My Lady, there has been no sign of Gabrielle..."

Xena barely heard the man through the roaring of blood in her ears. She had known that she should have left the bard in Amphipolis, where it was safer. She'd known it. And now her friend was dead, and it was her fault. No. Not only her fault.

Fuck Astarus! Fuck Ares!! They cost her Gabrielle.

She barely recognized her own voice, "Rouse the men, we're going after them."

_____ *** _____

The Destroyer of Nations rode at the head of her army the following dawn, gazing down upon the unsuspecting fires of the remains of Astarus' army. So small and insignificant, and soon to be snuffed out.

Shards of blue and white light heralded the arrival of a god.

Ares stared at his Princess, his Princess whose hatred, anger and bloodlust was feeding directly into his godhood. The power it was giving him was euphoric. He'd almost forgotten what her darkness felt like, and now all the memories, the staggering pleasures, they had the clarity of crystal. Years ago, he had become addicted to the massive rush of power she could give him, and when it-she had gone, he'd collapsed in on himself, shaken with excruciating symptoms of withdrawal that were worse than his need for her for a time. He had needed that feeling of invincibility back. That was why he let his love be buried under that desperate need and done things to regain her that he just as desperately regretted.

She twisted in the saddle and their eyes met.

[What are you doing?]

Xena turned back to the campsite, a sigh escaping her lips at the question. [Making sure that they won't come back.]

She glanced at Belasius, patiently awaiting her signal to begin the massacre. Her arm rose. All she had to do was make the signal, and the army of war would storm the camp, hacking down all who survived the last day's battle. And when they were dead, the threat to Amphipolis would be non-existent, and she would have revenge. Just the signal.

Xena blinked.

Turning, she stared into the bronze surface of the tall mirror, and dark blue shards stared back at her. It was an image she had hated for years, though she'd finally come to terms with it now.

Xena, you're as beautiful as Aphrodite

...because you care...

Ares felt the power surge waver, ebb and slowly all but disappear. He shut his eyes in relief as Xena's hand dropped to her side.

Her beautiful, beautiful voice sounded, clear and strong.

"Pull back."

His Princess' smile was brilliant as he hauled her out of the saddle, planting a multitude of kisses upon her upturned face.

She'd done it.

She'd faced the darkness alone, and won. She'd pulled back when even Ares had no control. Her arms slid through his and rested against his broad back and shoulders.

The god noticed the confused and shifty look on Belasius' face, and made himself visible. Belasius blanched.

[Ares,] she whispered at the same time as Belasius, sounding so tired, [Gabrielle.]

The god pulled back, [Dammit, I forgot to tell you. I found Blondie out cold in the woods. Aside from some bruises from when she fell off her horse, she's fine.]

Her azure pools widened when he waved his hand, and a sleepy looking bard appeared next to a spooked Belasius. The warrior nearly jumped out of his pants. Xena's mouth slowly opened, and then she punched Ares in the nose. Belasius almost passed out.

"You soulless bastard!! Why didn't you tell me earlier??"

"Gee," he rubbed the smarting member of his facial anatomy, "Could it have been the reception I would get?"

Xena broke away from a tight hug with her best friend and smiled sheepishly, "Sorry." She hauled his head down for a thorough kiss, and Belasius finally fainted.

[Thank you.]

Ares grinned; that was more like it, [Anytime, Princess.]

_____ *** _____

With the legendary organizing skills of War's Chosen, it wasn't long before Thedelus had ridden off back to Attica, and a very awed Belasius gone home to Rome.

The Warrior Princess found herself and the bard riding back to Amphipolis slowly. Xena didn't complain about it, but her shoulder had pulled again when Argo stumbled and threw her that morning.

Xena could feel her arm shaking as she lifted the sword. The blade swung forward, wobbling slightly, toward the tree, and she tensed for the impact. There was a loud clash when a broadsword suddenly blocked her blow. It was all Xena could do to keep herself from crying out as the impact jarred her shoulder badly, and there was no way she could have been able to retain her grip.

Ares blinked as her sword clattered to the ground. Lowering his arm, he realized in a concerned jolt that she was extremely pale. [Are you alright?]

She forced a sheepish smirk, [Yeah.] She surreptitiously eased down the barrier she had erected long ago between their bond, realizing he could probably feel her pain through it, "You just caught me off guard, that's all." He didn't need to know how much her shoulder was screaming at her.

"Not possible," Ares retorted.

Xena inched backward, insisting, "Really. You know how it is when you don't get enough *sleep*..."

He narrowed his eyes, ignoring her jab at their recent night time activities, and noticing how she seemed to be turning her right side away from him. Dropping his own sword, he grabbed her swordarm, forcing her to turn so he could see. His fingers ran up her arm, the light touch that would have been wonderfully sensuous were it not for the throbbing, until he reached the perceptible burning and swelling. He probed her shoulder lightly, eliciting a slight hiss from her. "It's badly sprained."

Xena spoke through gritted teeth, "I know."

"What in Tartarus where you doing, lifting up a sword?"

"I was trying to gauge how badly sprained."

"You're always so stubborn when you're hurt," he removed his hand, and a tight bandage was neatly wrapped about her shoulder, a soothing poultice pressed to her skin under it.

"I wasn't injured that often."

The god smoothed her raven tresses back almost tenderly, "Sweetheart, I would have rathered that you were never injured at all. You are only mortal."

"Quit acting like my mother."

His hand dropped and he glared at her, "Do I look like your mother? Anyway, I'm taking you home."

"I refuse to be zapped around. It gives me motion sickness."

"Fine. I'll ride with you. I'm not letting you wander around these dangerous forests injured and alone."

"I'm not alone. I've got Gabrielle."

Ares slanted a slow glance at the smirking blond before impaling Xena with his sternest glare, "As I said, I'm not letting you wander around these dangerous forests alone." Turning slightly, he whistled.

Xena grinned at the enormous black stallion that appeared in a blue blaze, and butted her in the chest. "Weore!" she rubbed the animal's erect ears before shooting a mischievous glance at the wargod. "Next you'll be calling me 'kid' again."

"He missed you, kid."

"Arrogant pig."

Xena saw, to her consternation, that Weore had hedged over to Argo II, who shied away from the huge beast's attentions nervously, but not in an unflattered manner. The stallion tossed his mane proudly, and nickered a... dominating greeting to Gabrielle's yet unnamed hackney, but other than that, left him alone, knowing that his reign would not be challenged. He was definitely Ares' animal. Frowning, Xena separated the two horses, "Why couldn't you bring Dane?"

Ares' stare was so purely amazed that Gabrielle burst into giggles. His voice was equally outraged. "The God of War riding a gelding? Are you out of your mind?"

"Fine. Just keep him away from Argo."

"She looks like she would rather have him close by."


He wrapped his arms about her waist before she could protest, and spoke quietly by her ear. "Our situations are quite similar, wouldn't you say?"

By the time she'd pulled away and pivoted vengefully, Ares was grinning ear to ear. He motioned with a jerk of his head, "Come on, I'll give you a leg up."

"Like I'd need your help, old man!"

As he boosted the warrior up into the saddle, he raised his brows in mock-shock, "Who're you calling old?"

"I'm surprised you don't look like your father yet."

Gabrielle chimed in, "Well, Greba did mention the gray hair."

"Hey! Do not be talking about that," he paused, giving the blond a pointed glare, "other simpering twit anywhere in my vicinity!"

Xena reached over, winced, and rubbed her shoulder. When he nudged Weore over and inspected her shoulder again, she smacked him lightly on the arm, "Is that how you treat your girlfriend?"

"Greba was not, never was, and never will be my girlfriend," he gently chucked the Warrior Princess' chin, and she made a face at him, "I like the taller, darker type. And be careful, kid, your face could freeze like that."

"Still, you know what Sophokles (AN: sometimes called Sophocles. *shrug*) said," Xena grinned nonchalantly as she directed Argo to continue on their way home.

"By the gods, Xena. You know what Sophokles said?"

"That's not funny, Gabrielle."

"Alright," Ares drawled, "what did Sophokles say?"

"OUDEN ALGOS OION H POLLH ZOH." (AN: there are two forms of the letter 's', in lower case, in the greek alphabet. This font doesn't have one of them {the one that I need here}, so I might as well do as the ancients do, and write in capitals. Hey, the ancients didn't even leave spaces to indicate breaks between words. Consider yourselves lucky.)

"There is no pain like old age," the wargod repeated dryly, "Oh, you cut me to the quick, woman."

"I live for it."

(AN: I'm gonna insert another little note here. It's interesting. I swear. I promise I won't do it too often afterwards. As you can probably tell, Astarus is derived from "astar", which is greek for "star", but that's not the point. Do you remember Agathon, the smart villain in that episode "The Dirty Half Dozen"? His name, get this, means "good". It's the neutral form of the adjective "good". As opposed to the masculine form "agathos" and the feminine form "agathe", that is. Who would think of naming a "bad guy" good? I smell a conspiracy, or at least some sort of symbolism...)

_____ *** _____

The trek to the field before the battle had been, in all, two days' worth of walking, and during the first battle, the wargod's army had pushed Astarus backward another half-day's walk. On horseback, the trip back should theoretically have taken only one day, but seeing as the Warrior Princess was injured, Ares had slowed the pace down to a snail's crawl. Night had fallen before the trio, or counting the steeds, sextet, reached the halfway mark to Amphipolis.

Ares leant against a tall beech, watching his Princess as they waited for the blond to return with their water skins. Xena was seated casually on a fallen log, idly slinging her chakram at a rock. The weapon bounced off the stone, ricocheted off of another rock, then a tree, and returned to her. As soon as she caught it, she would sling it again, and the sequence would restart.

Ares let out a low chuckle, [Is that how you use my gift?]

She eyed him innocently, [Gift? If I recall correctly, I stole it from under you and Kal's noses.]

[I let you keep it. That constitutes a gift.]

She caught the returning chakram and didn't release it again, [Huh.]

The god crossed his arms, the past days still playing through his mind, [You know, I remember when you would rather die than kiss me in front of your men.]

Xena's sullen eyes rose to his, and his joking demeanor fled, [I'm tired of acting.]


[I know you do it all the time. When you're around other people, Ares, you act like such a bastard, like you're somebody else. And then for a while, just after I left, you acted like that around me. Now you're back to normal, but I don't know. Is the arrogant piss Ares that other people know the real Ares, or is the cocky, sweet, loving Ares I know the real Ares?]


Xena shrugged her uninjured shoulder, refusing to be deterred from her questioning.

[Xena, when I'm around you, I let go. If I'm always putting on a front when I'm with other people, then it's because they can't make the real me come out like you do.]

[You're not putting on an act with me?]

[No. Why?]

[I wanted to know if you trust me.]

Startled, Ares stared at his Chosen, but she only smiled before setting about to light the fire.

When she winced, he sighed, and picked her up from where she was crouching with a swift swoop. Startled, his action didn't register until he'd set her down again on the same log she'd been sitting on earlier. Xena watched, bemused, as the god waved his hand, and the wood promptly jumped up and arranged itself for maximum burning efficiency. Another wave, and an orange and scarlet ball of fire blew up out of the thin air, quickly settling down into a controlled flame, hardly flickering at all.

[Hmm,] Xena fought to keep a straight face, [That works better than rubbing two sticks together.]

['Course it works better. Didn't you use to be a bit of a pyro when you...] horrified, he trailed off.

She stared into the fire that seemed to have morphed to another, far bigger flame, consuming all in its path, while a child, an all too familiar child faced her, soot blackening her dark-blond tresses. A tear tracing down her dirty cheek, the child asked one soft, devastated question: "Why?"

[Xena, I'm so sorry. That was incredibly stupid of me-]

Her smile was a bit sad, a bit knowing, and a bit peaceful, [It's all right. She's forgiven me.]

[But have you forgiven yourself?]

She gazed up at him with those strangely old blue pools, a mask of serious contemplation superimposed on her regal features. It was a long, tense while before she smiled again, only this time it reached her eyes, and they suddenly didn't seem so old after all, [You know what? I think I have.]

[So it's over? No more suicide missions, wrongs to right? No more giving me gray hairs from worrying that the moment I turn around you'd be in the middle of something I can't save you from? And no more travelling to gods know where, looking for trouble?]

[I don't go looking for trouble. It generally finds me without any prompting on my side.]

[My mistake.]

[I don't know. I'd probably go insane with boredom if I tried to settle down.]

[Xena, do you trust me?]

She hesitated for but a heartbeat, [Yes.]

[Then exactly why is it that you won't marry me?]

[I don't trust myself.]

[I promise you would never be bored,] he teased, trying to make some sense of the situation. There was no response, [How can you not trust yourself? That battle with Astarus was a perfect example. You won.]

He wasn't talking about the battle.

[Remember that core of goodness I love? You told me that it wasn't going anywhere. You said that I could trust you. You weren't going to lose yourself the moment you had a taste of blood again.]

[I nearly did.]

[You didn't. Wasn't it you who said that the greater victory was not to never fall down, but to be able to get up when you fall, and try again?]

The Warrior Princess was silent, staring up at him with something resembling awe. She slowly rose to her feet, never dropping her gaze, [Who are you?]


[You're not the Ares I knew. He never understood me when I said that.]

[I know.]

Xena tilted her face up and kissed him, a unhurried, probing kiss. She'd never thought she would be able to feel so much, so strongly toward him since they had the nearly fatal fistfight by the frozen pond, and she'd examined his bruised and battered face afterward.

[Ares, do you remember what happened when the Furies drove you insane?]

[Which part?]

[When I was trying to provoke you into hitting me into the pond, I told you 'You might be mortal, Ares, but you will never be a man'.]

He winced, [Yes?] the word was drawn out, wary.

[I lied. You have become a man, Ares. A very good one, even if you're still a bit on the immortal side.]

Ares could only blink. Then she brushed her lips against his once more, and he understood. His arms crushed her to his chest, while her left arm encircled his shoulders, and he wanted to stay like this forever.

Her face burrowed into the crook under his chin, and he felt her smile. Then, the woman who was, yet wasn't his Warrior Princess whispered, [Thank you.]

_____ *** _____

Ares was having serious urges.

How did Xena stand it? After snoring fit to wake the deceased Hades the entire night, the irritating blond was babbling a mile a minute again. Does she even think about what she says before she opens her mouth, or do the words flow straight out without making a pit-stop at the brain?

There's got to be a trick to this. Xena's not insane yet, Ares decided, turning his attention to his Princess and concentrating. He nearly fell off his horse laughing. Xena was mentally going over the footwork of each and every one of her sword drills, blow by blow. Gabrielle's rapid-fire words weren't even making a dent in her little bubble of sanity. Suddenly, the Warrior Princess' mind went blank, and all he could see was a black void. Either that or she was carefully clearing her mind.

The god nervously met her icy stare, [Don't you have anything better to do than reading my mind?]

[Like what?]

[Keeping an eye on the terrain? Making sure we won't get ambushed by some thieves like we always do?]

[Please. Like anyone would dare attack me.]

A guttural snarl was the only warning he had before something plowed into him and they both crashed to the ground. Him on the bottom, of course. He gazed up at the soul-sucking orbs of sapphire blue and raised his brows.

"Whyever not?" she growled.

"Is this where you shoot me with the crossbow? 'Cause if it is, I'm out of here."

Gabrielle had surfaced from her little world of words and leaned back in her saddle, staring down at them, "Whyever not what?"

Ares waved a hand majestically, "Oh, Xena just found it impossible to resist my charms and great looks, and just had to tackle me out of the blue-"

"Shut up!"

He was obviously blowing shit, so Gabrielle ignored him, "Xena?"

The Warrior Princess shoved his arm off of her and jumped up, muttering, "He was bugging me."

"How? He wasn't saying anything."

Ares grumbled softly from the ground, "Like you could tell." A boot headed for the vicinity of his head, so he quickly rolled to his feet.

Xena pulled herself into the saddle with a soft hiss at the protest from her shoulder, "Gabrielle, one of the perks of being Ares' Chosen means I have to suffer having him talk in my head."

"And you allow this?" Gabrielle snatched hold of a rein, a bit of anger coming through her tone, "So you're choosing him, then?"

"Save it, Gabrielle. It's not like I have a choice. I have to die before he can replace me."

Weore nudged up close to Argo, "You want to be replaced?"

She studied him. He seemed rather anxious, hurt and apprehension shining from his beautiful, amazingly soft brown pools. His question wasn't any more about replacement than a scroll had to be full of poetry. She had to smile, "No."

Needless to say, Ares was very relieved. He didn't want to give her up as a High Priestess anymore than Aphrodite wanted to stop wearing pink, or Hercules wanted to stop being a paranoid jerk. She was very good at the administrative junk he could make neither head nor tails of. She could outsmart Athena when it came to... unique... negotiations. Give him a good battleplan anyday, but no paperwork.

It was then that a slight movement in the deep brush alerted them. Ares glanced at Xena, but she'd already heard. As the highwaymen swaggered out to block the road, she smirked, unimpressed by their puffed out chests and filthy forms. They had a better chance at giving them rabies than defeating them in a fight. The Warrior Princess glanced smugly at the wargod, "I told you so."

"Give us all your money!"

Ares directed a baleful eye, "Or what?"

"Or-or..." the robber gulped, suddenly noticing the very big swords two of the three warriors were sporting. The little blond broad looked butch too.

Perhaps if they'd had a good description of the Warrior Princess, the God of War and the Battling Bard of Poteidaia, they wouldn't have been so foolish that day. Sadly, descriptions of legends are seldom accurate, usually leaning toward the 'ten feet tall, fire-spitting eyes' direction.

With unusually high-pitched screams for blood, the robbers dashed blindly toward the warriors, chipped second-hand blades raised high.

Ares glared at Xena in a serious, murderous manner. She raised her hands innocently, "Staying on horse, gotcha."

Satisfied, he and Gabrielle dismounted. The first bandit clumsily tried decapitate the god. Ares ducked, and the arm bearing the heavy, unbalanced sword swung back, heavily relying on centripetal force, and clocked the robber on the head. He dropped like a log. The second man was slightly smarter. He didn't try to swing the sword, merely thrusting at the strange man in the leather. A blur that made the robber's eyes water, and his sword was soaring through the air, almost gracefully, and landing out of sight. Taken aback, he blinked at the smiling wargod, who, out of no ill will whatsoever, smacked him with the hilt of his sword. The man collapsed onto his companion.

Gabrielle, quickly dispatching two bandits with her sais, turned to watch the god of war. He looked like he was really having fun as he knocked another robber out. He grinned up at Xena, "Hey, this hero business isn't as hard as it seems!"

Both warriors on the ground distracted, that was how the last robber got past them, intent on hacking away at the still mounted warrior woman, figuring that she was probably someone important.

"Xena!" Ares yelled, fear, something he truly wasn't used to, surfacing in his frantic eyes.

Both he and Gabrielle dashed for the robber, desperate and murderous.

A boot slammed the inexperienced robber between his eyes, and he was asleep on his feet, little stars dancing around his head. Slowly, to the confusion to Ares and Gabrielle, he tipped over backward, measuring his length on the hard trail.

They blinked, their gazes gradually fixing on Xena.

She frowned, "What? You think I'm an invalid?"

Ares finally let his breath out, "My apologies, oh great Warrior Princess. Don't ever do that again."

"I in no way provoked him!"

"Sorry to interrupt this fascinating conversation, but we probably should get out of here before they wake up."

"You implying that we can't take them again?"

"No. I'm saying that another episode like that, and I'd die of a heart attack," the blond hauled herself back into the saddle.

Sharing a small laugh, they set out again. If they continued at this pace, they would reach Amphipolis by the next morning.

_____ *** _____

He was watching Xena, an unreadable expression on his face when she finally stopped twisting and turning and just gave up on sleeping.

"Ares," Gabrielle whispered.

He glanced up from his Chosen, his face a mask of irritation, "What do you want, Blondie?"

"I'd like to ask you a question."

"You can ask, but I may not answer. She's asleep, so there's no need for me to act nice to you."

"You call that nice-Never mind. I just wanted to know. When you said that you wanted me to conquer the world with you, did you really mean that I was good enough?"

He snorted, "Don't flatter yourself. I was only trying to get to her. You wouldn't have lasted three heartbeats against a warrior like Xena had she been truly focused on killing you."

"So your entire offer was a lie to, what? Make Xena jealous?"

"Partly. She's attached far too much sentimental value to you. Had you actually accepted, she would have done anything to get you away from me, and if I know her, it would have included sacrificing herself to me," he eyed the blond, a disgusted look on his face, and she couldn't help but notice how handsome he was even with that ugly expression, "Personally, I'm glad you refused. I was willing to make sacrifices for her, but when it comes to you, the price is in no way worth it. If I had to touch you one heartbeat longer, I would have retched."

Insulted, Gabrielle stood stiffly, tucking a bit of short blond hair behind her ear hautily, "I'm going to sleep now."

He sneered up at her, "Thank gods, I won't have to listen to your excruciating chatter one moment longer."

Gabrielle hid in her bedroll, and Ares sat by the fire through the night, half watching some images of battles around the area needing his attention, and half watching his beautiful Princess.

_____ *** _____

"Xena!" Cyrene came out of the tavern, "You're back!" Her sapphire eyes narrowed at the bulky bandage on her daughter's shoulder, "Unharmed?"

"Just a sprain, Mom. It's all but healed now."

"Good," Cyrene smiled winningly as the warriors and the bard dismounted, "To celebrate your victory, I've invited our friends over for some of that to die for chicken that you love. I've gotten seven whole chickens. They're very fresh."

Xena scowled suspiciously, "Mo-om, do you mean 'crispy, juicy, everybody's dying to eat' fresh or 'alive, kicking, I have to kill and prepare it' fresh?"

"The latter."

"I knew it."

Gabrielle gulped, "You want Xena to cook? Are you trying to poison us?"

Cyrene eyed her suddenly shifty daughter, "Did you tell her you couldn't cook to get out of doing it?" This had been a very common situation.

Xena nodded meekly.

"I should ground you for fibbing."


Cyrene smiled in a kindly manner at Gabrielle, "Don't let her out of her share of the cooking. She's been preparing the tavern specials since she was eight. Then when she hit thirteen, she suddenly started to be 'a horrible cook'. I didn't buy it, but I couldn't serve my customers burnt food, so I let her out of it. She only did couple of special occasions after that, when she would just as suddenly 'remember how to cook'. Before she... left that year, that is. Teenagers. I hope you never behaved so badly."

Gabrielle shifted, and Xena grinned wickedly, "Yes, Gabrielle, you really must tell us some of your teenage escapades. What good bard doesn't have them?"

The blond glared ineffectually. Xena had gotten her stuck. She couldn't back down from telling about her 'embarrassing years' without telling people that she wasn't a good bard. Damn the woman.

The woman turned out to be very competent in the kitchen. Xena had tried to get Ares to kill the chickens for her, but it was revealed that the wargod had had many a nightmare about killing chicken as a mortal, and made such a fuss that Xena kicked him out of the kitchen.

The tall woman smirked at her friend as Ares rushed out in relief, "Well, now I know what not to make him if I ever marry him."

Gabrielle's smile faltered, and she evaded the subject.

Xena let it pass, but she knew that she owed Ares an answer. Soon.

_____ *** _____

Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Cyrene and the guests were sitting down to eat, jesting and laughing, when a deep voice suddenly drawled from the doorway. "Hey, barkeep, is there a room for the handsomest man in Greece here?"

Xena grinned widely, running to the tall man, "Tor!"

Who the... Ares watched with some jealousy as she hugged the stranger close before he remembered an elder brother named Toris she used to complain about when she was a child.

Laughing, Xena poked her brother in the stomach, "Handsomest man?"

Toris, twenty-five plus years older than when Xena had last seen him, donned a mock-injured façade, "You mean I'm not?"

"Oh, no, Toris. You definitely are."

Ares couldn't help it, "Hey!"

The Warrior Princess gave him a stern look, "Oh hush, Ares, you're not a man."

He stood, crossing his arms and frowning, "I'm not?"

Barely holding back a grin, Xena released Toris to the mercy of their mother's monster hugs, and in a rather... seductive manner, slid her arms along his slim hips, "You're the handsomest god."

Smiling widely, Ares pressed a kiss to her lips, "That I am."

She pulled back, shaking her head, "You're so full of it."

There was a loud cough from Hercules, who was looking decidedly disgusted. The demi-god had been invited to the gathering by Cyrene when he dropped by the town for supplies after the battle. He belief that the wargod could be trusted around the woman he himself still cared for quite a bit had not increased, but unless he could get Xena to believe the same, nothing could be done.

Diplomatically, Xena shoved Ares into a chair before the two half-brothers could start a brawl, and hurried to set another place for Toris. This was going better than she had expected. Not only were most of her closest friends there, but her brother had just turned up out of the blue, a decidedly pleasant surprise.

_____ *** _____

Gabrielle giggled, pulling away from a kiss with Malaius, an old friend of Xena's. Apparently they had been very close, but they were only friends now, after the many elapsed years. He's such a nice man, and cute too! Just way too old.

Still laughing, Gabrielle realized that it was her turn. Glancing around at the circle of people, she searched for her victim. Oh!

"Xena!" The warrior groaned good-naturedly. "Are you feeling truthful or daring?"

Xena pondered a moment, "Daring."

"I... dare you to pass a mouthful of wine to Gregor using only your mouth!"

The two subjects of the dare exchanged a horror-stricken glance. "No way!!" they yelled in unison.

Disgusted, Xena glared at Gabrielle, "That would be like telling me to kiss my little brother!" Gregor, though he was in his forties now, had been one of Lyceus' best friends when he was very young. They'd plotted against Xena or Toris together before, laying their childish traps and practical jokes.

Gabrielle giggled again, "Fine, but you know the rules. Now you have to tell the truth!"

Xena nodded, "Yes, anything!"

"Hmm, gotta make this good," Gabrielle tapped her chin, "I know! When and to whom did you lose your virginity?"

Xena choked, "That's a personal question!"

"You have to answer it!"

"You!" the woman glanced worriedly at Hercules, who already knew the answer. As she had expected, the hero looked as if he had swallowed something distasteful.

"Yes, Xena," Cyrene cocked a stern, motherly eyebrow, "Answer the question."

"I, ah, I..." Xena stuttered for a moment, then lowered her head, shooting a glance at Ares. He was looking somewhat uncomfortable. She sighed, "I was almost fifteen. Just over one year after I left home."

Gabrielle frowned, "You were very young. Who was it?"

Cyrene seemed a bit angry, "Too young."

The warrior groaned almost silently, "I could take care of myself, Mother. And as for your question Gabrielle, it was, um, Ares."

"What?" Cyrene seemed fit to take out her feather duster and spank her daughter, and the god while she was at it.

"Mom! Calm down! We were, uh, kind of drunk at the time. At least I was."

Gabrielle was staring at her friend in shock, "I was under the impression that you never..."

"It was just once."

Ares gulped at the thought of Cyrene's ire, but jumped to his love's defense, "She would just blow me off after that one time. Annoyed the Tartarus out of me."

"How many times have you slept with the son of a bacchae in total?" Cyrene seethed.

"I, uh," Xena did some quick mental calculating, "Four?"

Gregor, Malaius, Gabrielle, Ares, Hercules, shocked and stewing, Hermion, another close friend, and Toris seemed to be trying to sink into the ground as Cyrene towered above the group like a vengeful demon.


Exasperated, the Warrior Princess shot to her feet, facing her mother, "Mother! I'm a grown woman! Butt out of my love life!"

With visible effort, Cyrene resumed her seat, "I'm sorry. I keep forgetting that."

"You already knew I was sleeping with him, though."

"That was before you told me he took your virginity!"

"I thought you liked Ares."

The elderly woman crossed her arms, "I did. But have you forgotten how he drove you insane and made you try to kill me?" Cyrene none too subtly emphasized that last part of her response.

Embarrassed, Ares mumbled, "I'm really sorry about that. I, I, wasn't used to not getting my way in everything."

Hercules glared at the god, "You selfish bastard. I don't know what Xena sees in you-"

"Hercules," Xena interrupted. When the man stopped and gazed at her, she rubbed the spot between her brows tiredly, "Please, just... stop."

With a muttered apology, the demi-god subsided.

The Warrior Princess gazed sadly at her furious mother, "You're disappointed in me."

"Not you. Just the company you keep."

"He apologized."

"Too late for that."

"Mother, he's the reason we're able to stand here today. He's proven himself time and again. You gave me a second chance, and had I been the god of war, I would have buried him in carnage. I chose to murder and pillage; he only did his job well. Can you not at least do him the courtesy of a benefit of a doubt?"

Cyrene studied her daughter through narrowed eyes. Then she sighed, "Well, he is a god..."

"But you would have preferred Apollo, or maybe Hermes, right?" Xena did a perfect impression of a younger Cyrene, and Gabrielle, remembering the episode her friend was referring to, laughed loudly. The tension broke; Xena had won Cyrene's wholehearted support for Ares. He wasn't as pleased, however.

Ares frowned sadly, [Why, though?]

[Why what?]

[You've screwed roughly half the population of Greece. Why wouldn't you let me touch you again?]

Xena crossed her arms, as if attempting to shield herself from the bitterness in his tone, [I did whatever I needed to do for whatever new campaign I had. But you... you had-have-too much control when it comes to a fuck. I'd lose every bit of control and reservation if you even just touched me. I'd probably forget what it was I came to ask you for.]

[Really. What about that siege? You didn't seem to lose any control there.]

She scowled, angrily returning to speech, "I had no choice! I had to satisfy myself before I went to find you so I would keep my wits! And even then, I almost lost it."

Ares rose, glaring at her, "I never thought you'd be such a coward!" he ignored her furious Look, "Don't you see it? When you touch me, don't you see how my eyes become cloudy, and my breath refuses to cooperate? I am just as much at your mercy as you are at mine, but the difference is I was brave enough to trust you!"

"How could I trust you, you son of a bitch? You, you were the one who taught me never to trust anyone! You tried to kill me! Tell me why you fucking thought I could trust you!" Even in her fury, Xena noticed the smug look on Hercules' face, and it quickly brought her back to her senses. Sighing, she pushed her fingers roughly through her long hair, "Look, it's different now, alright?"

Unsatisfied, Ares looked away. The Warrior Princess, never bashful, locked her hands behind his neck and pulled his mouth to hers. The other people in the room shifted uncomfortably at the deep kiss, but the warriors never noticed, not even when Hercules glared murderously. Pulling away, Xena was relieved when Ares offered a small smile. Still holding him close, her deep blue eyes gazed icily at her blond friend. It was a look that clearly said "This was all your fault for suggesting the damn game. Think up a new one now!"

Gabrielle scratched her nose, "Uh. I know! Hey guys. Let's play this other game I invented now! One person thinks up an object or event, then has to make the other people guess what the thing they thought up was without speaking or writing it down..."

As Gabrielle rambled on, Ares sat onto the ground again, pulling Xena with him so that her back was pressed to his chest. Twirling her soft raven tresses about his fingers, they quietly watched the bard demonstrate the game together.

Ares nuzzled her neck contently, [A guessing game? I swear, you mortals are so queer sometimes.]

Xena glared jestingly at him, [We're queer? Ares, your mother was also your aunt!]

[Oh, getting personal, are we?]

_____ *** _____

The party-goers had eagerly accepted Gabrielle's new game. It was Malaius' turn now, and people were laughing, a bit under the influence of the heady wine they were consuming, while yelling out guesses.

"...second and third syllable..."

"...sounds like..."





"Narcissus," Xena called, lounging in the wargod's arms. They clapped at the correct answer, and Xena rose for her turn.

Ares watched her, grinning happily. They hadn't had this much fun in a long time. In fact, he and Xena never seemed to have fun together at all in the past few years; their rather dysfunctional relationship wasn't built on a lot of fun, but something deeper. Sometimes he still wished they could be normal. Aside from in bed, of course. The memory of the feel of smooth, warm skin next to his made him half shut his eyes. But before, they didn't even have that. His smile faded along with the scene before his eyes. So long ago... when she was... yes, seventeen.

Xena pulled the leathers and chainmail from her blood-soaked form, easing herself into the steaming tub.

Ares materialized, looking askance at the man chained to a post in the room. Brown eyes gazed back fearfully in a dark, leathery face surrounded by shocks of grey hair.

Without glancing back, Xena spoke, [Don't touch him, Ares. He's just a prisoner.]

[He's too old for you, Xena."]

She dunked her matted hair into the water, [He was causing dissent among the prisoners, so I ordered him chained here.]

[So he could have a good view?] The jealousy in the god's mental voice was well masked, but she could still feel it through their bond.

[He was my father's friend. I used to run around naked in his backyard.]

[I doubt you had that much to display back then, though.] His fingertips lightly brushed her bare shoulders.

Still with her back to him, Xena eased away from his hands, [Not now.]

[Why?] he inquired, a puzzled smirk on his face.

She raised her hands, still tainted red with blood. Unbeknownst to Ares then, she had just recently given up her child to the centaurs, [I'm trying to wash it off, Ares; You make me feel dirty.]

Looking back, the wargod realized that her words went far deeper than face value. Fuck, fuck. Now he was the one who felt dirty.

Gritting his teeth so hard that it pained even his immortal jaw, he realized that she was right. He made her. And the least he could do was give her the peace she longed for. Away from him. Maybe he could give them a bit more time, indulge a bit more, but eventually he would have to go.

And by the gods it would hurt.

_____ *** _____

She placed her hand on her flat belly, marvelling at the new warmth coming from within. It would be a couple more moons before she showed any outward sign of her pregnancy, but the damnable morning sickness had already started. She remembered rushing out of her room stark naked a few mornings, searching for a basin. It would get worse before it got better, but Xena hadn't been very plagued with the nausea when she had Solan or Eve, so it was safe to assume that it wouldn't get too bad. Of course, the infant hadn't been half-god then, but it seemed to make no difference in the pregnancy.

The last moon had been relaxing for the Warrior Princess, consisting of only helping out at her mother's tavern. The only real excitement had been when Hercules accidentally walked in on her and Ares one morning whilst they were engaged in a rather intimate embrace. A lot of yelling ensued, but it had eventually been sorted out after they had gotten dressed. There had been minimal violence, just some peacekeeping work, and regular sparring sessions with Ares. Despite the evident peace, Xena had gotten wind of the distinct feeling that he had been uneasy over something ever since they had returned from the battle against Astarus, but he wouldn't talk, only pasting his pathetically fake smile on his face and assuring her that nothing was wrong. Maybe it didn't look so fake to others, but she could see right through the silly bastard. The fact that she could feel his emotions under that façade rather helped too. But what was wrong? Sometimes she would catch him staring at her with an expression of such yearning, as if he was going to... let go?

That couldn't be it. Xena had found herself drawn ever closer to the dark wargod over the past moon. Their bond was so strong now that Aphrodite had admitted to being frightened by its strength and intensity.

Hah, and naturally Ares was all for making it even stronger.

Her mind drifted back to the conversation she had just concluded with her mother. Cyrene had made it very clear that she wanted Xena to accept Ares' proposal of marriage.

The warrior gaped at her mother, flabbergasted, "You really think I should marry him?"

"Yes! He loves you; you love him; marriage is the next logical step!"

Xena fingered the necklace he'd given her. She'd been doing that a lot recently, she realized, "I can't love him, Mom. He's... Ares. He's too strong. If I give him my love, he'll take over. Oh, he won't do it on purpose. He'd just expect things, and I'd do it to make him happy, and then he'd expect more and more until I became his ideal little toy."

"You don't know that. He won't, because you're talking about how your love gives him a hold or control over you, and it does. But you must remember that he's putting everything at your mercy, too. If he knows you as well as I think he does, he will know what you want, how you are, and he'll change just as much to make you happy."

"If he were one of those self-sacrificing types, maybe."

"He doesn't have to be. You've been practically living together this entire past moon. Has he tried to manipulate you into becoming his warrior queen? Did he expect you to fight for him when Apollo's army threatened us?"

"Those are loaded questions," Xena folded her arms belligerently.


"Alright," the dark-haired woman back down and smirked ruefully, "No, he didn't. He even told me that he didn't want me to fight."


"Because he says he loves the real me."

"You see? If he loves the real you, would he try to change you?"

"What did I say about loaded questions?"

Cyrene laughed, "The god of war can change, Xena, just like you."

"But it's just that. He is war. It's impossible for him to not be war, cause pain. How can I love a monster?"

"Why is he a monster?"

"What do you mean why? War is death and pain and suffering..." Xena trailed off, cowed by her mother's patiently expectant visage.


The warrior sighed, "War is conflict. Without conflict there would be no change, no growth."

"Good girl."

"How do you know these things?"

"I'm a mother, sweetheart. It's what I do." Cyrene smiled at her daughter's chuckle, her blue eyes dancing with laughter, "Also, I've had a very long time to think things through. When you've lived as long as I have, you'll understand."

Still uncertain, Xena stared wistfully into the distance, "I wish I could trust him..."

"Think about it," Cyrene patted her daughter's smooth cheek, "But don't think too long, because even though it's said that you don't know how much something means to you unless you lose it, by the time you've lost it, it's already too late."

Too late...

A tingle at her nape morphed to a pleasurable shiver, and she knew that Ares had joined them. Unwilling to attract attention, the god had taken to walking around Amphipolis. Not that he didn't attract attention anyway, with his stunning looks and huge sword.

Xena glanced up, unable to suppress the flash of joy upon seeing him. Get a grip, Xena. You said yourself that you don't love him that way.

And what way is that? Xena almost groaned. Now she was arguing with herself? Love is love. You're happy because he's here. You feel safe when he's around. You feel full when he's around. You can never imagine living without him...

Oh gods.

Ares chose that moment to sit down across from her. She smiled at him, but then it faded at the apprehension and sorrow in his brown gaze. [What's wrong?]

The god took a deep breath. Here goes. Time to tear out your heart, [I need to talk to you. Just hear me out, ok? ...You said nearly two years ago that we couldn't be together because I was bad for you. You were right. Because of what I did to you, you nearly lost yourself in that battle. I nearly destroyed you, the real you.]

[What the fuck-]

Ares raised a hand, [Don't. Let me finish. I realize what you meant now. And if I love you, I know that I need to stop hurting you. I promise you that I'll leave you alone. I won't interfere with your life anymore. It's what you always wanted, isn't it?] his hand gently cupped her cheek, [I just wanted to say goodbye.]

Xena stared at him in mute stupefaction. His hand on her cheek lingered, suddenly all too cold.

[It's for the best,] his voice wavered. Who was he trying to kid? [I love you, Xena.] How could he do this?

He brushed his lips to hers before standing. This jolted Xena out of her daze. Springing to her feet, she clamped a hand around his arm.

"You have got to be kidding me," all activity froze as her voice steamrolled through the hubbub of the tavern. Cyrene lowered the pitcher, watching the proceedings with dread.

"You see," Xena continued, fear and anger causing her voice to crack slightly, "I love you too, and if you think you can walk out on me just because you don't trust me to be strong enough to fight the darkness, you don't know me at all."

Ares' jaw dropped, "What-?"

"You remember before we made love that first time? I told you. I warned you that if we went through with that, you were mine.

"Don't give me that look. You are mine, and I'll be damned to Tartarus if I let you go now. It's your own godsdamn fault I'm up the pole, and your fucking fault you asked me to marry you. There is no way you're going anywhere after that."

The shock in his eyes slowly morphed to joy. A glad cry bubbling from his throat, he snatched her into a tight hug.

Xena wasn't finished yet, "Don't think that I haven't seen those looks other women throw you. Let me remind you that I never, ever share."

The god chuckled, pressing his lips to hers, "Are you going to rant all day, Xena?"

"Don't change the subject. I tell you-" He grabbed her hips and hoisted her up easily, letting her wrap long legs around his waist.

"-If I ever catch you within three metres of any of them-"

Her voice was suddenly smothered as the man turned the corner to her room near the back of the inn.

Cyrene and Toris exchanged a long glance, and then they both dissolved into helpless giggles. (Though Toris would vehemently deny doing something as girlish as giggling.)

_____ *** _____

Xena covered his soft mouth with frantic kisses. She had done it, made her decision, and there was no turning back. Their child would grow up with both its parents, and there would be anger and quarrels and love and hope, and above all there would be Ares. It wouldn't be easy-nothing ever was-but by the gods they would make it work.

Her quick, sure fingers deftly undid Ares' belt and the clasp at his waist before they reached her room. As he kicked the door shut, Xena shoved the leather down, and his cock jutted up against her mound, rock hard.

The rough wood of the wall pressed into her back, and with a quick heave, his throbbing length was buried deeply in her. Her gasp rattled pleasurably through her diaphragm, her fingers digging into his flesh. With a lustful moan, he nuzzled through her raven locks. Hot, wet kisses covered her face and exposed breast as his slow, intense thrusts ground her into the wall. His driving ardour very quickly rising, his lips latched onto her throat, and when he came, he bit down on the reddened skin.

Xena hissed at the nearly overwhelming sensation of the mingling of pain and pleasure as he filled her with his cum.

His arms still tightly wrapped around his Princess, he staggered to the bed and collapsed onto it. Her strong form easily absorbing the shock, she tightened her legs around the god lying on her, pressing him deeply into herself. His mouth slid over hers, and she thrust her tongue through his soft lips, flicking about his mouth in tandem with their re-established rhythm. His hand gripped her hip, and both her leathers and his melted away into nothing.

Her body arched up into his at the feel of hot, slick flesh pressed closely to hers, no partition between their mingling forms.

Ares didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She wasn't fighting him anymore. She'd always tried to maintain some semblance of control to keep him at her mercy as much as he did her. Now, she was giving him complete control, something that he knew had to be rather frightening for her.

He lowered his mouth to hers for a deep kiss, and rolled, flipping them over.

Xena froze for a moment, staring in shock. He'd willingly pulled her on top of him. With an incredulous smile, she pushed herself up to a sitting position, sliding slowly up his shaft. He watched, unprotesting.

With a soft laugh, she lay down on his muscled frame, her legs tangling with his, [Are you trying to prove something to me?]

[Were you?]

[Maybe,] her lips covered his, her hands exploring his firm chest. His fingers clenched in her hair, holding her close to him as she slid his stiff cock through her moist walls, thrusting him deep into her.

Their tongues pressed together, and he sat up, his hands scraping down her spine to squeeze the sides of her muscled waist. With each thrust, he pulled himself deeper into her, and she hummed around him. Breaking the kiss, she arched into him, her arms locked about his neck, and he took her nipple into his mouth, suckling hard. His tongue danced over her smooth, tanned breasts, bouncing as she ground into him. Her skin felt like silky water next to his, and Ares felt like he had somehow cheated. What had he done to deserve her? He could think of nothing; he was the one who owed her for defeating Apollo's army. Yet, he was reluctant to draw the Fates' attention to what might very well have been a mistake on their part.

[Xena,] his too large, too rough hands cupped her beautiful face, [Did you-did you tell me-]

[Yes,] she kissed him thoroughly, [I love you, Ares.]

[Not the way I want?]

[Just the way you want. Maybe more.]

It was amazing how clear-headed she sounded. He could feel her tightening around him, each thrust punctuated by a firm squeeze of her inner muscles. Her hand dropped to their joined sexes, and she began firmly stroking the base of his cock.

He moaned, and pounded her harder. She accepted his hardness into her searing canal once, twice... She stiffened, straining, and earth-shattering orgasm tore through their joined forms.

Exhausted, they collapsed amid the tangled bedsheets, still holding each other tightly.

Xena rested her head on his firm chest, twisting to look up at him. Her hand reached up to sift through his lengthening ebony hair. Being immortal, it was perfect, not sweat-soaked like her own. Her perfect god of war.

Sated, Ares stroked her firm thigh slowly, [You were saying what you were going to do if you caught me within three metres of another woman?]

Xena groaned, [I'll let you know if I ever remember.]

He kissed the red spot marking where he'd bit on her neck lightly, [I don't see why the term is sleeping with someone. Personally, I'd say there's very little sleeping involved.]

Her low laugh vibrated pleasantly against his chest. She pulled his fingers to her lips, [But seriously, Ares. You don't have to protect me anymore,] her eyes were calm and clear as they met his. [You have to trust me when I say that I won't lose everything I stand for everytime I face the slightest evil. I won't surrender to the darkness the moment I lose Gabrielle. Not anymore. You all want me to learn to renounce evil by myself, yet you don't think that I can do it. Why? I'm not that weak-willed. You might have shaped who I am, but it was I who changed you, remember?]

Ares stifled a grin at the thought of his Princess as being weak-willed. Anything but, [I'm sorry.]

[Trust me?]


[Love me?]


[I love you, too. There, now we have no more misunderstandings.]

[Great. So?]

Xena laughed quietly, [So we can concentrate solely on sex for the moment, if you wish.]

[Ooh,] the wargod draped himself over her slender frame, nudging her thighs apart, [Good idea.]

Something else occurred to her, and she pushed him off. Sitting up, she grinned, [Ah, Ares?]

[What?] he practically growled.

[Remember that whole souls-melding-into-one idea?]

[Yeah?] the word was drawn out slowly as hope and fear warred inside him.

[I'm game if you are.]

His eyes widened, [You'll marry me?] Ares hesitated, [What about your friends? Gabrielle?]

Her entire demeanor radiated calmness and acceptance, [Nothing lasts forever, Ares. Sometimes you just have to choose what's more important.]

Grateful, he reached out and just held her, letting his actions tell Xena what words could not describe.

As she drifted off into Somnus' realm, the words of an old folk ballad came to Ares.

...When the dove lives long enough
When the sky lies blue enough
That's when I'll be with you.

And without looking, he knew that the dove soared, dark against the bright blue sky.

_____ *** _____

And far away on a plane not of this mortal world, a great tapestry hissed and shifted as two beautiful, strong threads intertwined. The crossing of those two threads, one blue, one black, had begun nearly at the beginning of the shorter one, but had only been loose, occasionally meeting each other. Now, the threads twisted together, tighter, tighter... until it only seemed like one. And suddenly, it was one, stretching out into forever, glittering silver.

The End

AN: Oookay. This wasn't supposed to be that long! *lol* It did get a little dark, didn't it? Damn. It was supposed to be a love story...
The last scene reeked. Oh well, I was desperate and running out of ideas.
This was written over about two months (occasionally I must stop typing to attend to a pesky little matter called school), so you can see my mood swings in there.
I've noticed some people thinking that should Xena and Ares choose to pursue a relationship, the biggest obstacle would be Gabrielle. I disagree. The biggest obstacle would have to be their rocky past, and I believe that their love is the kind that can last through anything, even their past.
Of course, this could be because I'm king of the IHG castle.
Hey, where did the whole Chosen/God bond idea come from? An episode? Did I miss that one? Help! Anyone know?

p.s. Gabrielle kicked up a huge screaming raving fuss when Xena announced that she was marrying Ares. The wargod eventually got so sick of her excruciating voice that he blasted her into oblivion with a little fireball. Xena was a bit upset, but Ares soon made her feel better. Score! Bye-bye bardy! (sadly, this was only a fantastic daydream of Ares' when he and Xena had to pay the blond a visit after their child was born. Xena would have blamed him for the bitch's death, and god or no, you don't want to get on the bad side of this woman.)

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