Enter the Goddess...
Disclaimer: The characters Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer belong to MCA/Universal studios. Hercules, Iolaus and Ares are public domain as part of the Greek Myths, but their portrayal from Xena: WP and Hercules: TLJ are also owned by MCA/Universal studios. This story is produced for the public domain.
Notes: To understand this story it's important to read the first two parts of the series, 'What Is A Hero?' and 'Brother and Brother and Brother'. For those who feel chronology is important, relax, the story will tell you when this is taking place. That's the fun of it. And - the further the plots go for these stories, the further they'll divert from the tv series. It's like an alternate universe. The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus are portrayed differently that from the series, except Ares, Aphrodite and Hercules, cause I like the way they're played. The origins of Aphrodite are bastardized for the purposes of this storyline.
Warning: Well - what can I say - I've actually written a clean story. Sorry about that, I'll try harder to inject some smut next time around. However there is some gore and violence. Lots of inky stuff like that.
Musical Accompaniment: A little section I like to include in all my pre-story rants. I listened to a few things during this, but the main thing that stuck with me was "Love" by Sixpence None the Richer.
Xena, Warrior Princess
Gabrielle, bard and Amazon Queen
Joxer, a would-be hero
Jett, converted assassin twin brother
Lethaia, travelling minstrel and assassin
Iolaus, hero's sidekick and best friend
Ares, God of War
Aphrodite, Goddess of Love
*Athena, Goddess of Wisdom
*Apollo, God of Music
*Hera, Goddess of Marriage and Womanhood
Guest starring: Majel Barret as Eurepaeda.
And starring Anthony Quinn as Zeus, God of the Skies.
* These characters are forged to my perceptions because
I hated the Hercules versions so much. Ner ne ner.
And from her spring forth;
She is the bringer of light.
Borne of the Princess of Death
And the Lord of Destruction.
For Matt, who kicked me in the bum,
and made me follow my dreams.
All was quiet.
The cosmos waited with bated breath for her so patiently.
Throughout the lands there was a tense, undue calm.
There were no wars. No peace. Just a thick humidity, the precursor of change, like the calm before a terrifying storm.
'She is almost here', Zeus could hear the universe tell him, 'The new dominion will be born.'
'We shall rejoice,' he said, 'It will be the biggest celebration since I defeated the Titans!'
Hera, for once, smiled down on her husband. She knew what was coming, she knew that the time of the weak Gods of Olympus was over. They would reign ever powerful again, and her son, The God of War, would be this Kingdom's right hand.
First she knew, that if Olympus was to have any new strength, those sons and daughters of Zeus not of the womb of Hera had to be destroyed. It would happen, she would plan it slowly, carefully. Not like her other plans.
For now, she waited. Like Zeus waited. Like the whole cosmos waited. It wouldn't be long now, before the birth of the bright new star.
Xena let her eyelids droop down over her eyes. The journey from the Amazon Nation to Corinth was an arduous one, but one she knew she had to make. A very important being was about to come into the world - she certainly needed the support of her family. Cyrene was in Corinth for a Festival of Trades, and she was there to push her Tavern in Amphipolis. It was a lucky thing, Gabrielle and Joxer were set to head for his home-town, so Gabrielle could meet his family, which she was looking forward to doing. Argo slunked down the road with an easy gait, Xena leaning her aching pelvis back and forth, rocking it in motion. Nausea had passed months ago, it was no longer the time for morning sickness. Now it was swollen ankles, aching joints and back spasms and spinal strain. She wasn't sure which she preferred.
There was a hand at her thigh, and looking down she saw Gabrielle gaze up at her gently.
"Are you okay?"
Xena nodded, "Just a little sore."
"Not long now..."
Xena smiled, "We'll get there in time, Gabrielle, relax."
The bard frowned with uncertainty.
"Why didn't we just stay with the Amazons - we would have looked after you..."
"Because the best doctors are in the towns and Corinth is the closest and the best."
"You really care about the baby, don't you?"
"Of course I do," she said, taking Argo's reigns in her hands, "Besides - Mother is in Corinth. I really want her there for me this time."
Gabrielle nodded, "I understand."
Xena looked down to her a moment, a softness in her gaze, and she rested a hand on her friend's.
"I know you do, Gabrielle."
With a sigh the bard let go, taking the hand of the man next to her gruffly.
As Xena rocked to the rhythm of the golden mare's gait almost instinctively, she closed her eyes in a brief catnap. She was so tired these days. Carrying around the extra weight was one thing, sharing all that she consumed with the being inside of her was another. She was constantly hungry and it meant plenty of stops in their travels, rejuvenating their supplies. She glanced about. Gabrielle was looking back whilst still holding onto Argo's reigns, her eyes following a lagging Joxer. He was at a bushel, and Xena figured he was relieving himself till he turned around, his hands full of berries and a grin on his face.
"Look Xena! Blackberries!"
Xena smiled, "Make sure that bushel doesn't belong to anyone Joxer."
"We're in the middle of a forest Xena, I doubt it does."
Gabrielle moved at the satchel, pulling out a stretch of material, and she walked to Joxer, helping him out. After a few minutes they came back with a fair collection of fat plump berries. Gabrielle tied the corners of the fabric, making it a make-shift bowl. Joxer took it and walked to Xena, holding it up to her.
"Oh Joxer," she said with a wry smile, grabbing a few and popping them in her mouth, "I do believe you're spoiling me."
He grinned, taking a few himself and offering a couple to Gabrielle with an open hand. She giggled, taking them from his hand with her lips. Joxer gave a thin-lipped smile, narrowing his eyes with a little giggle.
"Ooh, you tickle..."
With a lurch Xena pushed Argo forward, and looking down at Joxer next to her, she pulled off his helmet, sitting it on her head with a wide smile, and she ruffled his pressed flat hair. Gabrielle smiled, slipping an arm around Joxer and gazing to Xena with a content glow. Day after day it was like this for Xena. It was the most content she had been in years, yet guilt plagued her. She couldn't fight, she hadn't been able to in months, and they had been for the most part, hiding with the Amazons. Though Xena knew, even when her child was still a baby, it would probably be far stronger than her, and one day it could look after itself better than Xena could ever do. Xena felt a yawn in her stomach. She imagined this child of a War God and a Warrior - once warlord, 'looking after itself'. Would it ravage the world around it, tearing the happy villages to kingdom come, taking it's pleasures and leaving only death and decay? Would it be - she stopped. It tore at her to think it - would it be another Hope?
Xena glanced to Gabrielle. The bard was gazing ahead down the track, Joxer leading Argo, occasionally stroking his Gabrielle's cheek or gently pushing a stray lock from her face. Gabrielle would smile, clasping the hand momentarily or returning the caress. It amazed Xena how they did not grow tired of preening and fiddling around with each other on the road even after all these months. They were nearly as bad as a pair of young teenagers, nearly. They kept the more intimate part of their affair in privacy, and they were always caring and supportive of Xena. It had been a gentle, loving time for her. Every sore bone, every ache and every weary muscle was allayed by the smiles of her friends, their caring actions, and their beautiful company. Their company was beautiful, in every meaning of the word.
The forest was thick, and the day was already half gone. Xena frowned. They were taking a long time getting to Corinth, Xena's condition becoming critical. She could feel it in her skin, in her pelvis - she was ready to let it drop. It was a moment of hours now. She could also feel something else in her skin - it was an odd sensation. Her skin was crawling and tingling all at the same time. She shook herself, looking down to Joxer next to her.
"Hey Joxer - pass me some more a' them berries."
"Okay," he smiled, loafing over to her.
Gabrielle watched him a moment, and as they had their fill of the fruit, Joxer placed the rest with Xena, who nibbled at them contentedly. Joxer returned to Gabrielle's side, wiping the berry juice off on his tunic.
"Sing that song again," Gabrielle said, smiling softly, "You know, the one you wrote."
Xena rolled her eyes. Joxer's songs!
Since acquiring the lute from Ares, Joxer had been playing much more often than he used to. And seeing as it was a good money maker, much like Gabrielle's story-telling, he didn't think to get rid of it to 'protect' his macho image. He had become the accomplished minstrel in recent months, and after that time even his voice had become stronger and purer. There was a definite timbre to it, and Gabrielle practically turned to a pile of goo every time he started with it.
Xena had to admit, Joxer had quite a talent for music. In a way it was a relief; he had forgotten about being a 'great warrior', though still learning things about self-defence and tactics from Xena, she knew he had found something to place his heart in.
The sunset had been a glowing tangerine affair, the purple of dusk now upon them. Joxer and Gabrielle wandered for kindling and wood after they had made camp, leaving Xena to rest, which Xena greatly appreciated. The two had set up the bedrolls and pelts and made a comfortable enough place to stretch out and watch the foliage of the trees above her rustle in the soft dusk breeze. Xena pulled the furry pelt that was covering her tighter, staving off the breeze. Resting her head at a bedroll, she closed her eyes, breathing in the sweet night air.
The crawling sensation that seemed to run over her skin was still there, a tingling warmth to it still nagging at her. She sighed, it was keeping her from resting.
"Come out will you," she said, her eyes still closed and her head still resting at the cushioning under her.
"So, how's the expectant mother of my child?" said the smooth voice, it's owner's form rolling light bringing it to reality.
"Tired, and not in the mood for any games tonight."
Ares sat down next to her as she curled her legs up to her. He let his hand reach out and roam at her belly, feeling the firm form of the child within her. He felt the baby inside, it rolled about, pushing at the flesh surrounding it, and Xena sucked in a breath through her teeth.
"Stop riling it up, Ares, it's kicking me in the ribs!"
Ares took his bottom lip in his teeth, taking his hand away with some amusement.
"Sorry," he muttered, bringing his knees up and crossing his legs, sitting close to her on the pelt. His arms rested at his knees, his dark eyes seeming to be gazing off into the forest.
"A moment alone is a rare thing, Xena."
"No it isn't," Xena said, eyes still closed, "Gabrielle and Joxer give me all the time alone I need."
He sighed, "I didn't mean that we-"
Xena sighed back at him, grabbing his arm and caressing it shortly with a gruff roll of her eyes.
"I know, I know. I'm just worried we won't get to Corinth in time. I wanted Mum to see the baby when it's born and-"
Ares frowned a little.
"I'm a bit disappointed you haven't come to me yet."
Xena looked to him, and she blinked. The Gods damn her to Tartarus, he actually looked hurt. The God, big and burly, resplendent in black leather and little orbs and trinkets of silver metals, gazed at her with his brown eyes large and soft. She doubted she'd ever get used to being intimate with this killer. She didn't know why she even was - many times she could remember the hatred she had felt in the past, and she grabbed onto it, to remember who she thought she was. Who she thought she was. It killed her inside to feel that hate. It made her situation unbearable. There were times, on the road, where she would just want to rip out this thing inside of her because of it, but it was then she could feel Solan by her side, with eyes wide asking her - 'Mother, why would you want to kill my sister?'. She frowned. It was always sister. But Ares often called the baby boyish names, playfully encouraging warlike ways to it through the wall of Xena's abdomen. It was then she would clout him on the ear, glaring at him angrily. He knew it pissed her off, he didn't care of course.
He's fading, she thought, That Ares I loved, that human, he's fading away, slowly.
She was in love with the locked away man, not this cold arrogant God. Yet - there were moments when he would shine through, and it made it worth-while. Those moments were getting rare. She looked to Ares, adjusting her head a moment, watching him look at the tree-tops.
"Xena," he glanced to her, pursing his lips shortly.
"Do you ever have the desire to be human again - even if it is for a day?"
Ares let out a long sigh, leaning back, uncrossing his legs. His raven ringletted locks hung handsomely at his shoulders, his sculptural features only just noticeable in the fading dusky light. She didn't like the way he looked, she could feel how he felt stronger and stronger every day, every time she had to deal with him. Why must I always have to 'deal' with him? Why can't I just exist with him? Be with him? Why is everything with him a confrontation?
"Xena, you know what nearly happened the last time."
"I nearly fell in love with you right there and then," she said, "Scary for you too?"
"No," he replied, "That was possibly the only good thing about being human for that amount of time. I was referring to my closeness to death, and my vulnerability."
"You wouldn't risk that for me again - now you have me? And now that I'm having your child?"
He met her needy gaze, resting a hand on her thigh.
"I'm a God of Olympus, Xena. I can't keep on risking my Godhood unnecessarily. We already have a problem with more and more of these new Gods having mixed blood and not being of the Golden Generation."
Xena curled her lip a little, "Like our kid huh? A problem, a little half-breed mongrel in the eyes of your family?"
Ares tilted his head at her, "That's not what I meant."
He took his hand from her thigh, his brown orbs gentle.
"I can't just risk an important part of the Olympian Realm as the Godhood of War. If you think you hate me, just imagine how much you'd hate the murderous letch that would take over if I were destroyed."
Xena's dark brows tilted to a frown.
"I don't hate you Ares."
He looked to her once more. Her features were soft now, delving deep into him were her glassy light orbs that enchanted him so. He let his hand reach out, touch her face, her cheekbone. Pulling himself up he lifted his body, his knee holding him up over her, and cradling her jaw he let his lips brush hers, soft tentative caresses easing into tender roaming. Lifting himself up once more, he gazed deep into her eyes, hand still cradling her. Xena took his chin between her thumb and forefinger, squeezing it briefly and playfully and she sighed, tracing the pattern of his beard. And in his eyes, that were warm and gentle - he was there. It was so rare, so special. She could protest, insisting he spend time as a human, but - oh, how inviting he looked, how good his rough features felt in her hands. She ran her hands over his cheekbone, running the backs of her fingers up to his forehead, and bringing them down again over the side of his face. His eyes closed in delight, leaning into the touches, almost purring in satisfaction. His dark ringletted tresses hung down, and as he grew closer, the soft curls tickled her face.
Pulling away from a final kiss he sighed.
"Will you let me help you get to Corinth?" he asked her. She gazed at him for a long moment, and with a final stroke of his cheek she sighed.
"Only if you will be human for a day."
She expected him to have a tizz and storm off angrily - she had pushed him to that with her smart mouth before but - he just sighed back at her sadly.
"The offer is there."
"And so is my request," she said.
He sat up, running a hand over the curve of her thigh that was under the pelt.
"Are you unhappy with me as I am right now?"
She shook her head, "Sometimes I just feel like I'm losing you to hate and killing and bloodlust - now - I know that's what your Godhood is about but-"
"It isn't entirely," he said, "Continue."
"But - wouldn't it be nice for you? Just so you can remember what it is to be human? Don't you think it's important to stay in touch with the people you affect every day?"
"It's actually quite painful for me to be human - and risky," He looked to her, she wore a pout, and he clasped the round of her hip and shook it gently, "You are the only reason why I'd actually consider it."
"Soon you will have two reasons, Ares."
Looking to her stomach, he let his hand slip onto it, feeling it's firmness, the life force that seemed to glow from within it. He had seen pregnant woman after pregnant woman before - Xena seemed to make him feel like she was the first one he had ever seen. Running his hands in large circles over her belly he took a deep breath in, blinking slow with satisfaction. He bent to the round belly, hand still holding it.
"You'll be a strong baby wont you?" he said, "Just like your Mommy."
Xena couldn't help but smile. He refused to talk to it at first, feeling foolish to talk to a lump, and it wasn't till she convinced him to feel it move inside of her that he changed his mind. She could see his eyes glow as it was made real to him that a being was inside of her. It was almost addictive, interacting with this being. He had a strange almost innocent curiosity about her pregnancy. Life, it's growing, it's forming existence, was a relatively unexplored concept to him, and he behaved like a boy who for all his life stomped on the beetle, till he took the time to watch it live, watch it eat and fly. He asked her questions, like why did mortals feel sick during pregnancy, and why she was tired all the time. She was certainly surprised to realise he knew practically nothing of human pregnancy, though thinking about his past it wasn't so hard to fathom that he never took the time to think about or observe human pregnancy before.
Standing up, Ares looked off into the forest.
"Your friends are returning," he said, "If you need me, just call."
With that he slipped away with raining slivers of glittering orbs, his light creating a soft glow in the glade only a moment, the quickening darkness pulling in around her.
A clanking became louder, along with chattering, and Xena felt comfort in their company.
"What took you?" asked Xena, "It's dark already!"
"Joxer lost his boot-knife freeing a rabbit from a trap!" growled Gabrielle, "Sometimes you really astound me, Joxer!"
"Did you get it back?" Xena inquired calmly.
"Yeah," replied Joxer, "Luckily it's a shiny thing so It was easy to spot - kinda. It still took us an hour to find."
"Yeah - a whole hour we coulda been catching dinner! Now we only have one quail, some nutbread and cheese to eat! For the love of Zeus, Joxer! How are we gonna feed three people with that?"
Xena frowned, watching her friend rant with a dead quail in one hand and some rope in the other. Joxer nodded, rolling his eyes a little.
"You two!!" Xena cried, Joxer and Gabrielle shutting up immediately, "It's okay - really. I'll just have some nutbread, I'm not that hungry."
Gabrielle nodded, throwing the quail down, sitting gruffly and beginning to yank out it's feathers, collecting some of them in a pile. "You were okay on your own?" asked Gabrielle, Joxer dropping the kindling to the ground next to her and beginning to lay it in a pile.
"I was fine," Xena said, gazing to the window of the night sky
that glowed through the pitch black of the tree canopy, a long sigh falling from
her. With a dim glow, sparks flew from the kindling the lovers had set up, and
a raging fire ensued. Gabrielle and Joxer exchanged a bewildered look, their flints
laying on the ground untouched. The corners of Xena's mouth twitched in a small
smile, and she said softly, "Thanks Ares."
Yesterday's argument between her two friends hung in Xena's mind as they grew close to Corinth. They had made good time for a change, Gabrielle and Joxer not dawdling and picking flowers like usual. Xena's stomach had been lurching oddly all morning, and she felt her joints ready to fall apart. Corinth was close, she could smell the spices and rich perfumes and oils in the wind. She glanced at her companions. Gabrielle stuck close to Argo, retaining her unimpressed scowl that had started the day before. Joxer hung back, wearing a dark pout, looking anywhere but ahead of him. He even clanked less.
"Okay," Xena brought the horse around, Gabrielle and Joxer both stopping. It was amazing how well Xena could handle Argo despite the huge round swell of her belly, "I've had about enough of this!"
Gabrielle looked deadpan, Joxer only smouldering away quietly.
"Had enough of what?" Gabrielle asked finally, knowing full well that the question was needless.
"This! You two! Sulking like a pair of children! What the hell is going on? You two were pawing each other like love-sick teenagers for months! And now - now you're barely talkin' to each other!"
Gabrielle glanced back at Joxer, who looked away with a scuff of his foot on the dirt road.
"S'nothin'," Joxer mumbled.
"Like Tartarus it is!" Xena growled, "Now I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with this! I gotta get to Corinth, I have to get there fast! So that's what I'm gonna do - you two can meet me there tomorrow, and hopefully you'll have sorted things out by then!"
Gabrielle blinked, Argo's reigns yanked from her hands suddenly.
"Xena - what are you doing? What if you have the baby?"
Xena rolled her eyes, "I wont, we still got time yet!"
At that Xena let out a cry, squeezing the horse with her thighs suddenly, and with a bowing nod of the head, Argo sprang off at a canter, speeding up to a good run.
Gabrielle watched the golden mare grow small by distance, the dust on the road stirred by her hooves. Glancing to Joxer she sighed.
"I wish we hadn't had to have sold Nippy - he was a good horse."
"Old horse," Joxer corrected, gazing off into the forest darkly.
Gabrielle watched him plod along, his features like that of a sad puppy-dog. She sighed, her hand rubbing her forehead, wishing that this moment alone with Joxer wasn't so - so - strained. She stopped, waiting for Joxer to catch up, and upon catching up she stood, expecting him to stop with her, but he just kept on walking. Her jaw dropping a moment she growled, yanking his arm back.
"By the Gods, Joxer!" she gasped, "I don't know why you're being like this! It's no big deal, you're making a too big a thing out of it!"
Joxer examined her features a long moment and sighed.
"I wanna get married, you don't. To me that's a big deal!"
"It doesn't mean I don't love you!"
Joxer cocked his head a moment with an unimpressed wince, "Coulda fooled me Gabby!"
She sighed, catching up to him again, Joxer speeding ahead at an angry gait.
"Joxer, I'm sorry I was angry with you last night - it - it just took me by surprise!"
He glanced back at her, then scowled, looking down the road.
"How do you think I felt when you said no?!"
She shrugged, cocking her head a little, like a guilty child. "Heartbroken..."
Joxer didn't reply, he just kept on down the road.
"Joxer - I don't understand why you're so upset by this..."
He whirled around, looking at her incredulously.
"Don't understand?!?" he almost gasped, "Gabrielle, we've been together now for almost a year, known each other for three, we've shared so much. You almost had my child! All I want to do is to make our union final and - you don't," he shrugged, "Tell me what there is to not understand."
At that he started down the road again, Gabrielle trudging after.
Xena pulled at Argo's reigns, ploughing through the crowds of Corinth. The beautiful smells and gowns, the silks and sweetmeats that hung in various stalls, the laughter, the music and street theatre, and most of all the smiles of the inhabitants, all washed past her, as if they weren't there at all. Her pelvis felt as if it would break in two, and her back in half. She gripped the thick leather of the reigns, stopping for a moment in the hubbub of the town square. She looked down to the edge of a fountain, the wide rim looking ideal for a spot to sit down a moment. The pastel blue kaftan she wore, decorated around the edges with dark blue batik and greek geometric beading, a gift from a travelling Persian merchant who she saved from some bandits, floated in the breeze elegantly. Xena gracefully pulled the water gourd from the saddlebag, and taking a swig she let Argo bend her neck, sipping at the fountain's pool.
She watched children run past, giggling, throwing a ball between them. She sighed, how would she look after one of those? More importantly, how would she look after a half mortal one? Lifting the gourd up she wrapped it's straps around it, stuffing it into the saddlebag. As she concentrated on the bag, she a large, strong hand wrapped around her upper arm. She whipped around, knocking it back and crouching into a defensive stance. She instantly regretted it, her back aching precariously.
"Xena?" an incredulous Hercules gasped, helping her upright, "Is - by the Gods! What happened to you?"
Next to Hercules, Iolaus stood, his face was ashen, disbelief stealing the colour from his usually vibrant features.
Cradling Argo's head in her arms, she seemed a little evasive, and worse - troubled. She smiled thinly and pursed her lips.
"I got pregnant, that's what happened," she said.
Hercules looked her up and down, a wary smile on his face. She looked like a new woman entirely, something soft, sensual and gentle had been brought to the surface in her, as if the shedding of her armour had shed much of her harsh countenance.
"You - You wanna tell me what this is all about?" Hercules asked, perching his hands on his hips.
Iolaus glared at him.
"Alone?" he added, looking to his friend. Iolaus threw his hands up in the
air, and with a quick adjustment of his quiver he
strolled off into the crowd, mumbling to himself. Hercules glanced about him, and with a frown of decision he plunged into the crowd.
"Let's go somewhere a - little quieter..."
Entering the quiet glade, Hercules helped Xena down to a log nearby. Oh
Gods, she looked breathtaking, a peace in her
one he knew he had never seen in her before. Argo nickered as she was set free to graze, and she wandered nearby, snorting and sniffing to herself.
"Where's Gabrielle?" Hercules asked her, sitting next to her, wrapping her hands in his.
"Still on the way here, she's got some things to sort out with Joxer... they had a tiff last night."
"A - a lover's tiff? With - with Joxer?"
Xena smiled wryly.
"He has a good heart, and has been more help than you could even begin to imagine."
Herc nodded, clasping her hands.
"I trust your judgement Xena, you know that."
Xena's ice-blue eyes rang.
"So..." Herc pursed his lips a moment, gesturing to her stomach with a lax hand, "What happened?"
Xena rose a brow. "I think it's pretty obvious."
Hercules frowned. "Who's the father?"
Xena swallowed, moving her lips awkwardly as her brows tilted to a frown.
Hercules felt his throat catch, his guts felt as if a thousand Titans stomped on his
belly at once. He grabbed her by the
shoulders, pulling her to him suddenly in a comforting embrace. Xena only smiled awkwardly, his distress overwhelming
her. Gripping her by the shoulders he glared at her, worry in his expression.
"What did he do to you? Did he force you to do anything or-"
Xena shook her head. "He didn't rape me," she ran a hand up to his shoulder
gripping it tenderly, "We - a lot has
happened since we last met..."
Hercules nodded, his face ashen.
"Hercules," she gripped his shoulder once more, her eyes pleading for
understanding, "Ares has changed a little, not
entirely, but enough that I loved him... Perhaps I still do..."
Hercules shot out a disbelieving snort.
"How can you love war?" he asked her, utter shock constricting his voice to a quiet croak, "You know what he's like."
Xena nodded, "For so long he had been just war till... Till he took a risk.
He took a risk for love - for me. I didn't think
he had it in him, but any God of a people like us would have to have the capacity to grow and learn..."
Hercules only shook his head, his blonde locks falling over his clenched cheeks.
"Do you even realise what he's done to me?"
Xena's brow furrowed. "Have you ever thought about what you have done to him?"
"I can't believe you've taken his side!"
Xena sighed, "I haven't taken anybody's side. I just saw a different side to
a man - a God - I thought I knew everything
Xena seemed so certain. She talked softly, her icy eyes glowing with a quiet forlorn. She was sad - but he wasn't so sure they were for the reasons he hoped - why did he feel so angry? So torn? A hatred burned inside him, he tried to extinguish it, but upon imagining the dark bronzed form of Ares wrapped around Xena's curvaceous body, bringing her passion, her silent moans of delight, it erupted and he clenched his teeth, trying to keep it under control.
"So what changed?" he asked.
"A lot did," she said, "Beginning with me."
Xena nodded, "I had been hating myself for so long. Finding the 'bad' people
to beat up and set straight, it was the only
thing that fed my self loathing. I had so much hatred for Ares-"
"That's why I'm so shocked by this..."
"I know but - it was wrong."
"Wrong? Xena, he's evil!" Herc spat, "He's selfish, malicious..."
"And wild, regal, proud, gentle, passionate..." Her features grew softened,
"He was ready to face the whole of Olympus
to defend our child..."
Hercules' jaw dropped. "Yeah I heard - that was your child?!?"
The hero sighed, loss deep in his features...
"He's really got you now hasn't he, Xena?"
Xena shook her head. "He hasn't 'got' me Hercules. He's never had me.
He never will... as the God of War, he has his
duty. I - I can't be with him."
He examined her features as these words left her mouth. She seemed infinitely sad at this.
"You want to be with him?" he asked her.
She nodded, her fingers fiddling at the fabric of her dress, . "I remember when I stood in the battle, guards coming at me from everywhere and in a nearby bushel cowered the Ares you and I knew and loathed, except he was mortal. I'll never forget the look on his face when he bolted into the battle, shouting at me to get down. He saved me, regardless of his life."
Hercules shook his head with disbelief.
"I'm telling the truth!" she frowned, "All I knew was these bodies fell
over me, dead ones, dismembered ones. Suddenly
someone pulled me to their feet - it was Ares, and it was that moment..."
She stopped, swallowing, fiddling fingers laying still in her full lap.
"He looked so vulnerable yet, he didn't care, as long as I was fine. The
human Ares lives inside of him, balancing out his
evil tide. Every time that dark part of him, the part that is War, suggests burning a village for the hell of it, I can see the
mortal fire in his eyes and it rages like a brush-fire in the hot season. It tempers his judgement - as if it were always
supposed to be there."
"Xena - I don't think you realise who you're talking about here..." Herc
shook his head, "Ares isn't just a God of War...
"War? Yeah, I've heard it been said before... and I don't believe
it," she said, "What made love to me wasn't war, was
not hate and fear and violence. It was passion, fire, need. So many things I can't find the words for."
"The word I think you are looking for is lust."
Xena's expression grew firm.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm sorry Xena - but look at you - you're in a long blue dress, you're pregnant..."
Xena's brow furrowed, "I didn't plan this, but I have to deal with it nonetheless..."
Hercules frowned, regarding her with pain stricken eyes. She braced his shoulders gently.
"I know you're worried about me, but I'm not the same woman I was all those years
ago... No matter what my feelings
for Ares, I'll never return to my old ways... That's not who I am anymore..."
Hercules sighed, clasping her hands.
"I'm happy I have this child within me," she said, "That's all I need."
"Then that's all I need to know," Hercules said finally, pulling her to him
in a hug.
Gabrielle stopped, leaning on her staff as she kicked at the ground.
"Joxer!" she called, "Stop!"
Joxer slowed, turning around and folding his arms.
"I - oww!" she hopped on one foot, "I got a pebble in my boot somehow - aaagh! It's digging into my foot!"
"Musta been from that passing merchant carriage, you know with all the dirt and stuff flying up..." Joxer said, his brow creasing in a frown as he strode over to her, bending down at her foot. He undid the laces, pulling the boot off carefully, and tipping it up the small sharp stone topped out. The furrow in his brow deepened as he saw the stone, and dropping the boot he took her foot in his hands carefully.
"Did it hurt you much?" he asked, massaging the soft of her sole, looking up to her, large dark eyes filled with concern.
She gazed down at him, feeling his strong hands knead at her heel and toes, it felt so nice.
Her hand inched forward from her side, tentatively, her green eyes never leaving his. The tips of her fingers touched some of his soft tousled locks, and slowly she ran them over his scalp, down to his ear, then leaving the hair she ran them over his cheekbone.
"You're so good to me," she said softly, kneeling down at the road with him, "How did I get so lucky to have a sweetheart like you?"
He said nothing, just gazed at her sadly, gulping. She cradled his face in her hand, gazing at him.
"I don't know what I'd do if I lost you," she whispered, "You're the world to me Joxer..."
He watched her features, and with a silent blink he asked her;
She smiled, "She's my sun..."
He nodded. He knew what Xena meant to Gabrielle, he also knew he would never do anything to separate them. Her touch was so gentle, he felt the skin under hers turn to fire. He remembered just how much he wanted her all that time... all he wanted was to shout it to the Gods, and make it official that this woman was the very person he wanted to be with for the rest of his days. A long sigh lifted from his chest.
"Please Gabrielle, marry me...."
Her brows tilted to a frown, her eyes ringing with.... all Joxer could think of was fear! She shook her head quickly, tears welling.
"Joxer - please understand," she said as she pulled her hand away from his face, striding down the road, "I can't marry you!"
"Why?" he asked, "I love you - you love me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you... don't you want that?"
Gabrielle turned around slowly, letting her eyes fall upon him as he was crouched on the road.
"More than anything..."
He looked exasperated.
"Then what's the problem?!?"
She gave a hot sigh, lifting a tense hand. "Joxer - just - just drop it okay? I don't wanna talk about this just now!"
"When are we gonna talk about it then, huh?" he shook his head, "You can't run away from your problems Gabrielle."
She glanced back at him. He tried to read her features - what was she scared of? He didn't get it.
"We will - we will talk, just - I need time to think..."
Joxer tried to force down a smile, "Is that a maybe?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, a smile too creeping to her lips, "It's a - possible maybe..."
Joxer leapt up like a crazy puppy, running to her and sweeping her up in an embrace.
"Oh Gabrielle!" he chuckled, "you've made me so happy!"
Gabrielle frowned, "I haven't said yes yet!"
He looked to her with a sheepish grin, his dark eyes glinting with mischief, "Yeah, but you said maybe - it's better than no!"
"You're such a dork," she chuckled, letting herself sink into a hug.
"Ooh, "he giggled, "I love it when you call me names..."
She rolled her eyes, stepping out onto the road. Joxer saw a dark shape not far off, and the ground shuddered with the beating of hooves. Alarm flew across his face and he leapt out, pushing Gabrielle back. She looked furious till a flash of hay and horse thundered past - and slowed down. Joxer ran to Gabrielle's side, taking her in his arms, trembling as much as she was.
"That was close!" she said, fear in her voice. Glancing to the huge hay-filled cart the bard saw the horseman jump from it, then glancing around he ran to them.
"By the Gods!" he exclaimed, his handsome young face a ghastly pale, "Are you both okay?"
Gabrielle nodded, Joxer lifting a calming hand.
"Sure bud, we're fine," he said.
The horseman looked to his cart then to the two lovers cowering on the road.
"Which way are you headed?" he asked.
"Corinth," Joxer said, and the horseman's face lit up.
"Then hop on!" he cried, "It's the least I could do for you!"
Gabrielle felt herself being lifted, and she frowned at Joxer with an incredulous smile.
"What are you doing?" she asked, curled up in Joxer's arms.
"I'm carrying you to the cart," he said with some determination in his eyes.
"But I'm not hurt," she giggled as he strolled towards the back end of the cart, his steps pounding through her, his body cushioning her.
"Oh - oh well."
The horseman grinned, running to the front of the cart.
"I hope you don't mind my cargo - an inn-keeper needs it for his stables."
"That's fine," Gabrielle called, "This is really nice of you - you know my friend is pregnant - she's due any day now and I was really scared I'd miss her having the baby..."
The Horseman rose a brow, "Well then," he said, "We'll have to make sure you don't - HYAAAA!"
With an almighty lurch the horses and cart barrelled down the road,
towards the great city of Corinth.
Hercules sat in the tavern, waiting the arrival of his pal Iolaus from his errand to the inn they would be staying in that night.
He sighed, looking into the ale. He quite simply could not believe it! Of all the people he thought Xena could have possibly have fallen in love with instead of himself, Ares was the last guy he'd have picked. The very thought of it brought that bubbling anger back to him, that bubbling anger that was becoming more and more a steaming pool of misery.
Why had he let Xena go?
She was beautiful, smart, talented, strong. He had always felt she was a kindred. It was rare he could sit down with a woman and talk fight techniques with her.
Maybe he let Xena go cause she wasn't just the right one.
But these feelings dredged up by the recent discovery brought his heart thudding to the bottom of his stomach. He had a myriad of painful emotions broiling inside of him. What about the Gods? What if Hera decided to do some kind of mischief with this baby? Well - when he thought about it, and the tales he had heard from his little sister Aphrodite, apparently Hera liked the idea of the kid because it annoyed Zeus. Well, that was a good sign. And Ares wouldn't touch it either. He wasn't used to this - he wasn't used to Ares and Hera NOT causing trouble. There had to be a reason... there was a stink about the baby in Olympus, that he knew. Why? He had to find out the full story, whatever the cost. Xena wouldn't tell him the dirt he knew that much - it was her kid, she wouldn't say a word wrong of it, especially after Solan.
He felt a slap on his back, and turning his head he saw the bright but drawn features of his dear friend Iolaus.
"Hi Iolaus," he said, "Got us a room?"
"No not yet, the Inn-keeper wanted 20 dinars for the night - what a gyp!"
"That's okay," Hercules said, a serious look on his face, "We mightn't be needing it anyway."
Iolaus let his face fall drawn, "You're not seriously thinking of travelling on another night are you - I'm exhausted!"
"You can stay here," he said, "But I'll be visiting the 'folks' at home!"
Hercules looked Iolaus in the eyes, "The father of Xena's baby is Ares."
"Wh- Ares?" Iolaus winced, "You're kidding me! But Xena hates Ares!"
"That's what I thought," said Hercules, "But it seems that's not entirely true..."
"Well - what happened?"
"He became human for a time - during that time he endeared himself to her - the old 'vulnerability' trick."
Iolaus shook his head, "I don't believe it!"
"Believe it," he said, "Xena is carrying a demi-god."
"Is she in love with him?"
Hercules lifted his mug of ale, tipping it slightly, watching the foam float about inside it, "I think she is."
Iolaus sighed, putting a supportive hand on his back, squeezing quickly. A young woman behind the bar approached him and he nodded, pointing at Herc's mug of ale. He sighed.
"Oh hey - I didn't see Gabrielle with her - where is she?"
"She's still on her way here," Herc said, looking glumly at Iolaus, "With Joxer."
Iolaus nodded, smiling a little, feeling somewhat better that Gabrielle was on her way. He received a full mug of beer from the wench and he handed her a dinar. The idiot Joxer would be here too, but it was okay - they could get him to sleep with the horses. He took a sip of his ale.
"They had a tiff last night, you see," Herc continued, figuring Iolaus had to find out some time, "A lover's tiff."
"PFFFHHT!" beer sprayed from Iolaus' mouth, "Did you just say 'lover's'?"
"That I did."
"Gabrielle is in - love with JOXER?"
"Seems so," Hercules sighed.
"Something's way wrong with this picture," Iolaus said despairingly, "Xena with Ares, Gabrielle with Joxer - do you think some weird spell is going on?"
"I don't know," Hercules said, "But I know who I'm going to talk to to find out."
Xena hauled herself onto the bed in her room in the inn, the polished wood floor covered with a pelt of elk, the bed a soft mattress thick with duck feathers, and the shorn hair of various livestock, particularly sheep. There was a woven wool blanket thrown over a thick pelt, a couple of soft pillows looking terrible inviting. They turned out indeed to be very comfortable. She laid back, releasing a tired breath.
A chuckle, low and taunting, filled the room, and Xena turned her head and sighed.
"Did you see his face when you told him who's the Daddy?" Ares grinned, swaggering over to Xena proudly, "You know, being good all that time has most certainly paid off!"
"You're not suggesting this was a part of some plan..."
"Oh, no no," Ares smiled, lowering himself on the bed next to Xena, stroking her cheek tenderly, "I do adore you completely," he said, "This is just a bonus!"
He did that grin again, that impish grin that made his dark eyes sparkle. Damn it all to Tartarus, Xena felt her heart tingle at his smile, his jovial mood so inviting for a change. It was hard to stay angry at him sometimes. She was damned and determined to hate him still, or at least not love him like she did, but it was so hard. He always let loose the playful and tender human she knew, and it always worked - she would relent, and find herself in his rippling arms.
"I'd wish you could keep me out of this childish sibling rivalry!" she sighed.
"Well, Herc did try to take you from under my nose..."
Xena smirked, "He did take me from under your nose!"
"True," Ares sighed, then a bright smile smacked across his face, "But I got ya back!"
"I guess you did," she said, letting herself smile a little. "It's nice having you here."
She meant it. She couldn't believe she actually meant it. But of late his presence made her feel lighter, it brought her ease, it made her feel so feminine and beautiful - something she hadn't felt for seeming aeons.
Ares shrugged, "War times are tight at the moment. A lot of tension between nations but no real outbreaks. It's strange."
Xena frowned thoughtfully, "I guess it's just one of those quiet periods. There were a lot of wars recently..."
Ares grinned, "I know."
Guilt wracked her, but she knew, as long as Ares was occupied with having her, and tending the coming child, he would spend less time on his war-time pursuits. Maybe this wasn't such a bad arrangement after all...
"You're such a child sometimes," Xena said, rolling her eyes.
"I know you love it," he said, noticing the fruit at the bedside table. "You splashing out here?"
Xena shook her head, "The innkeeper's wife was especially nice to me cause I'm so pregnant."
Ares looked about him, and he got that impatient sparkle in his eyes.
"I don't know how you can stand being mortal, having to stay in one place for so long..."
"It has it's advantages," Xena smirked again, bringing an arm up and resting it behind her head invitingly. Ares smiled at her, then looked at the swell at her belly again.
"Hey there little guy," he said into her womb, "That's right, it's your Daddy here!"
Xena watched him and smiled.
"I'm gonna tell you a little story, it's called 'Ares the God of War, and the time your old Uncle Hermes got himself trapped in an amphora during the Trojan War'..."
"That's not the way it goes," Xena started, but Ares raised a finger.
"Shhh," he said, "Don't burst the kid's bubble!"
The pinkish mists of the Realm of Love spiralled and moved sensuously, happily, warmly. The brisk summery conditions pampered the buxom, heavenly Goddess of Love. How life had treated her well of late. Word of her bravery during the whole "Ares and Xena's Baby" debacle had spread through Olympus, and though Ares was well disliked, the killing of a baby was not widely supported, especially the child of Xena, who had dealt with the whole 'Dahok' deal so neatly for them. Her popularity amongst the mortals had increased - usual for the festive seasons in the summer months, and she actually got some semi-interesting stuff from them. Not only that - she actually almost very almost got along with Athena. It was a scary experience but - Athena wasn't so bad sometimes. Sure, she was way stuffy and the snake-aegis was definitely ten centuries ago, but she had been a stayer throughout the recent troubles, and helped keep Zeus under control. It was times like that she could almost stand her.
Aphrodite lazed on a plush pink divan, nibbling some tasty grapes grown in her very own vineyards. She groaned, pursing her lips, a little crease in her perfect brow. Some dude at one of her temples wanted her again - to whine about how his wife didn't understand him anymore most likely.
"Woah," she mumbled to herself, "That's no mortal bum!"
With a curl of her hand, the figure of a man congealed in a rain of golden sparkles.
Hercules looked about him a moment, then with a sigh he looked to Aphrodite, trouble in his features, planting his tanned hands on his slightly soiled shirt.
"Man, take a seat - wait a minute," Aphrodite screwed up her nose.
She wove her hand in the air, then pointed at him - a shot of gold energy enveloped him, and when it subsided his clothes were clean - brand spanking new.
"There - sorry, but this is Olympus!"
Hercules let loose an uneasy laugh, "That's - okay Aphrodite..."
"So - wassup bro?"
Aphrodite lifted a hand and created another pink divan for him to sit on, complete with his own grapes.
"You know what's up," he said, sitting on the edge of the divan.
"First I find out - Gabrielle is with Joxer!" Hercules gestured with his hands helplessly, "And then I find out Xena is with ARES of all people!"
Aphrodite grinned, rolling her eyes, "Oh that!!" she chuckled, "Man, I thought something serious had happened!"
"This is serious!" Hercules said, "I mean - are you playing some sort of joke on reality here or..."
"No joke," Aphrodite said, "Cupie and I had talked about this extensively, and even Psyche agreed that these matches are set!"
"No they are not set!" he said, "They are most certainly all wrong!"
Aphrodite threw down her grape into the bowel prissily, sitting up with a bust-jiggle.
"Says who?" she said, glaring at him with a serious look she rarely wore, "Says you? Who are you? You're Hercules. I'm the Goddess of Love and I say they're cookin'!"
Hercules felt like the whole world was going insane.
"Whadda you care about Xena anyways? Every time you see her you just ride off again, leaving her on her lonesome..."
"I didn't want to crowd her," Herc said with an uneasy wince.
"Duh!" Aphrodite rolled her eyes, "It isn't overcrowding when it's a hunky guy doing the crowding!"
"We're getting off the subject here," Herc shook his head, "What makes you so sure Xena and Ares are right for eachother? And Joxer and Gabrielle?"
"Easy," Aphrodite said, squeezing at a plump grape idly, then sucking it's juices off her thumb, "They're cookin! Joxer is all sweet and sensitive, yet he's a total dufus. Gabrielle's nurturing side just goes off with that! And Ares and Xena? Well that was a hard one, cause you know - everyone was telling me - Put Gabrielle with Xena! Put Gabrielle with Xena! But that just lacked the fireworks I'd seen all along with Ares. Besides - getting him all in love has saved the world a whole heap of trouble, haven't you noticed?"
Hercules had gone quiet.
Aphrodite narrowed her eyes, then smiled a little.
"You see what?" Hercules frowned.
"You don't really love Xena."
Hercules blinked, "How can you say that?"
"You're asking the Love Goddess how she can say what she knows better than you?"
Hercules gritted his teeth a little.
"Listen - you just want her cause Ares has got her - it's dead simple!"
"It's not dead simple," he said, "I really love her!"
Aphrodite gave him that serious look again.
"Hercules - choosing a life partner for someone is not an easy process - you know?"
"And the people we choose - they aren't always the most perfect choice - like Xena and Gabrielle would be perfect..."
He looked up to her.
"They are, however, always the ones that make them the most happy."
Hercules took in his top lip, his head dropping down, looking at his clasped hands. All he wanted was to make her happy, and his childish, evil brother somehow managed to do that, even though he was the antithesis everything Xena stood for.
"Aphrodite - they're total opposites...."
Aphrodite shrugged, popping in a grape and smiling softly, "That's why they get a long so well."
Hercules sighed. Everyone he had talked to about this had been on Ares' side. Was the world going mad? He tried to press the issue with the baby now.
"What about this kid - why was there such a fuss about it?"
"Oh that," Aphrodite rolled her eyes, "The Furies - those total butt wipes - tried to get back at Ares and Xena for making them look bad. They gleaned info from the Fates and totally twisted it. It's so predictable coming from them - I never trusted them!"
Hercules frowned, "I don't get it..."
"Well - they tried to have the kid killed right? Dad was like so furious! He was ready to strike it down, with the thunder thing, and like I thought that was so way harsh. Athena came around eventually, decided to help me out, and then Dad realised something was fishy when Athena started questioning the Furies and they couldn't answer his questions too well - you know the process."
"Ah," Hercules nodded, "So this kid is okay?"
"Oh yeah!" Aphrodite nodded, nibbling on a grape, "This kid should be fine!"
"But what if it's a total monster - like Hope?"
The Goddess of Love grinned, "I don't think so, Herc. I got a good feeling about this you know? You should relax a little..."
Hercules stood up, running a hand through his straggled dirty blonde locks, "I can't! Not while Ares is hanging around! He's bad, Aphrodite - real bad!"
Aphrodite's eyes softened, the grin on here face disappearing. She had rarely seen Hercules get this angry before. She sighed.
"He's not bad, Herc. He's just the God of War. He's supposed to be a jerk."
Hercules rolled his eyes with pessimism.
"Once I lost my Godhood, and I hung out with Ares a while - and you know - he's not that bad once you get past the whole 'War' thing."
Herc winced, shaking his head, "You can't get past the 'War' thing. 'War' is what he's all about, and it's what I'm dead against!"
Aphrodite laughed, "You're against war? Conflict? Where in Tartarus would you be without it? You'd be as lost as if I were to stop existing!"
Hercules now gave a smile, "I don't think so Aph."
"I do!" she said, "You're always battling your foes - without Ares you wouldn't stop there. You'd be battling everybody who came your way! Grisly to the max!"
He remembered the time when the word was that Ares had lost his powers from the Gods. He learnt it quickly to be true as everyone around him, including Iolaus, grew irritable, argumentative and then slowly murderous. That was life without Ares, he thought. But there had to be a way - to be without Ares, and not have the havoc without his dominion of cosmic rule.
He quickly dismissed the thought, realizing not only was it bloodthirsty, but it was down-right wrong. He sighed.
"Thanks Aphrodite - for-"
A colourful sweep of shining orbs and plasma burst up from the marble floor of the floating Realm of Love, and Aphrodite's eyes lit up like a Solstice Night.
"Hey Apollo!" she cooed, and whispered to Hercules, "You know, it really isn't fair that he's my brother... he's so hot!"
The intrusion congealed into the form of a tall young man, evenly muscled, slender, a soft silken waistcoat and togs set off by a golden belt and light brown boots. His hair was the deepest coal, his skin an olive toned hue of tan, and his eyes the rich brown of mahogany. It was obvious he was related to the likes of Ares, as apart from sharing colouring, he also devastatingly handsome. Unlike Ares, he had a slight figure in comparison, his face was also longer. His appearance was overall much more slender than Ares, but they both had a passion in their eyes.
"What can you do me for?" Aphrodite grinned, posing on her divan deliciously.
Apollo knelt before Aphrodite, taking her hand reverently and leaving a soft kiss on it's ivory surface.
"Dear sister," he said, "It's a pleasure to be in your presence once again."
"Hi Apollo," Hercules said, trying to ward off the coldness in his heart for his half brother.
"Hey Herc," Apollo said, seating himself next to Aphrodite on the divan without looking at him, "Kill any bad guys lately? Oh hang on, I forgot - you're too busy turning against your family!"
Aphrodite lifted tense flat hands.
"Okay quit it!" she said firmly, "Before it starts! I will not have fighting in my Realm!"
Hercules stood up, "Well I'll go - save anything from happening. Nice seeing you Aphrodite."
"Okay bro!" she smiled, leaning back on her divan, "Ciao!"
Aphrodite let Herc disappear in a rain of her magic, Apollo shaking his head.
"Jerk," Apollo said quietly, moving to the vacated divan.
Aphrodite rolled her eyes, "He's okay really! Geez, why can't you guys get along? First Herc and Ares and now you! I just had Herc here bitching about my newest pairings..."
Aphrodite had a disappointed pout on her lips and Apollo frowned gently.
"What, Demitrinos and Carla? What-"
"No," Aphrodite said, "Ares and Xena, along with our boy Joxer."
"What's he got against Joxer?"
"I don't think he likes him much. I mean, Joxer can be a bit of an idiot at times but-"
"Oh hey, I'm an artist," Apollo grinned, "You think I'd encase a jewel like Joxer in a spectacular exterior? That's more Zeus' style..."
Aphrodite took that as a compliment, knowing her creation from Zeus was an odd one, but a highly celebrated one, much like the coming birth of the newest addition to Olympus.
"So," Aphrodite smiled, her lips gaining a mischievous curl, "You talked to Artemis?"
"Yeah," Apollo nodded, "She doesn't mind my - taking of the bard under the wing of my Realm..."
"Great," the Goddess smiled, "Oh I love making nice plans!"
Apollo grinned, "Oh these will be very nice," he said, "Gabrielle and Joxer and destined for great things, I tell ya. Corinth will not know what hit 'em."
Aphrodite giggled, laying back on her plush pink divan. A thought seemed to occur to her and she slapped her brother God on the arm.
"Hey how's Artemis? She was pretty bummed the last time I saw her..."
Apollo shook his head darkly, "Depressed, unhappy. Her lands are still being mistreated, and Hera's constant abuse of her is taking it's toll."
"Is old cowface still hassling her out?"
"Yes," he said, "It seems she never gives up."
Aphrodite shook her head with a wry leer, "The words 'give up' and 'Hera' do not go in the same sentence - Herc is still copping it from her."
A guilty look crossed Apollo's face and Aphrodite chuckled. Apollo knew what she was laughing at, and she didn't have to speak a word.
"I just don't like him, he's smelly, he's oafish, and he does not act cool to my boy Joxer..."
"Our boy Joxer," Aphrodite corrected, "He's still my little studmuffin, you remember that!"
Apollo smirked, "Okay, our boy Joxer."
"Listen, Herc's not so bad once you get past the smell and the goody-two-shoes act, I mean - I kinda like him. He's a good brother..."
Apollo just snorted with doubt, and threw her a half-hearted look.
"The moment he stops acting like a self-righteous jerk, I'll believe it! Like he's never farted in a temple before!"
"Sorry," he smiled sheepishly and Aphrodite rolled her eyes.
"It's okay. So, what're you gonna do about Artemis?"
"Nothing much I can do," sighed Apollo, "Hera is the Queen of the Gods - what can you do against her?"
"Not a lot," Aphrodite mused in a pout, "Apart win a beauty contest but that's the sorta thing you can only win once."
"Why doesn't Dad do something about her?"
"Are you kidding?" Apollo exclaimed, "He's off doing the do, if you catch my drift."
A disgusted look crossed Aphrodite's face, "I catch it, with this grody mental picture I really wish I hadn't!"
Apollo cocked his head with a upward twitch of a brow.
"Well sis, I better bail - I might check up on Artemis - make sure all's hunky dory with her."
"Good idea," Aphrodite sighed leisurely, laying back on the divan, "It'll annoy old Cow Face."
Apollo shook his head with a grin, slipping from the Realm of Love with a soft shimmer.
Hercules strode from the Realm of Love, trouble in his stride. He wasn't convinced, something had to be going on. He found himself back on Earth in a rain of sparkles. Day had almost died, and he knew that the gang would be back at the Northern Star Inn. Gabrielle and Joxer, Xena, Iolaus. Would Ares be there? Why would Ares be there, he laughed to himself, He has wars to tend to. But the baby is almost due, a voice told him. A dark feeling settled inside him - it would be a very long night.
"Thankyou!" cried Gabrielle, Joxer helping her down from the back of the hay-cart.
"Your welcome!" the young horseman cried, "Glad to be of service!"
"Now - we were going to stay at the Northern Star Inn," Gabrielle mumbled, clasping Joxer's hand as they dove into the crowds of Corinth's Festival of Trades. She felt the strong hand in hers, she always marvelled how strong his hands actually were. He couldn't do much with them as far as self defense or warfare was concerned - but oh - the sweet music that would float from a lyre or lute in his arms made her sigh with delight. The crowds were as bad as Athens during the Olympics, but they pushed through with their belongings and eachother. Gabrielle felt the odd squeeze of her rear and it was often followed by a 'Watch it buddy!' or a stiff kick from Joxer to the offendee. It was a miracle no one tried to deck him.
"The Inn is that way!" Gabrielle cried, and they eased to a less crowded place near the centre fountain momument, where Gabrielle stopped a moment to re-adjust her load. She felt a hand at her side, this time she smiled.
"Watch it buddy," she grinned, and Joxer blushed.
"Do I get hit now?"
"You wish," she giggled.
Orbs of fire from torches lit the way through the town, lamps and giant bonfires decorated the streets with streamers and flowing cottons of bright colours. There were stalls everywhere that sampled the wares and delights of every Inn, Tavern and Workshop from Macedonia to Minoa. Gabrielle grinned, the festival spirit filling her.
"Look Joxer!" Gabrielle giggled, pointing to a man that danced about, his every move followed by trails of fire, "A flame-dancer!"
"He's good!" Joxer smiled, "If I tried that I'd just set myself on fire!"
"That goes without saying," Gabrielle said with a wry smile and Joxer gave a goofy grin. "Come on - we'll dump this stuff in our room, check on Xena and then we can look around a bit!"
Gabrielle stood up, taking her swag over her shoulder, and took Joxer's hand. They strolled through the festival area, smiling at strangers, and savouring the care-free and spirited air about them. A dancer came up, veils whipping and floating behind her, and she slipped a flower behind Joxer's ear, then produced another one and slipped it behind Gabrielle's.
"Happy Festival!" she cried, and Gabrielle smiled and waved at her.
"Happy Festival," she said, returning the greeting.
"Wow, I've never seen Corinth quite this done up before..."Joxer sighed happily.
"The Festival of Trades was always done in Athens, that's why," Gabrielle said, "It never quite had the wild and spirited feel there that it does here.... I'm glad they decided to move it."
"Me too," Joxer smiled, "Corinth is a merchant town, it was a pity for it to be ignored for such an event for all those years."
"-aravan is full of pots like tha-"
"What was that?"
Joxer looked to her with a pout, "I said Corinth is a merchant town, it's-"
"No no no, after that!"
Joxer looked to the left of him, then to the right, and smiled with some confusion.
"That's all I said."
"Oh," Gabrielle frowned, "I swore I thought you say something about a caravan or - pots or something..."
"It was probably a trader," Joxer said, pulling her through the crush of a part of the crowd waiting for free samples of some smoked fish marinated in olive oil and lemon, with a hint of mint. The smell caused Joxer's belly to growl, and he wanted to get to the inn fast. "Say, I'm hungry."
"I hear you Joxer," said the bard, "Lets get to the Inn!"
She winced, feeling the muscles of her abdomen crush her in a slow steady cramp that took hold of her like a python. She breathed carefully through it, using her skills of relaxation and meditation to ease through it. Slowly, the pain subsided, and she rested back on the bed. They were coming a little more frequently now - it wouldn't be long before her baby would tear it's way through her bowels like a ramming rod. She wanted it to be all over, and to have the baby in her arms. This pregnancy was not enjoyable in the slightest - it was painful, long, arduous. There was an odd whoosh of air, and Xena sighed.
"I wish you'd stop doing that," Xena growled, "You're either here or you're not!"
Ares rose a brow, strolling over to her. "Can't I keep track of how the mother of my newest child is faring?"
"Not when you whoosh in and out like you've been doing all day!" she sighed, "Either stay, or leave."
He brought his lips to a full mischevious pout.
"I think I'll keep doing it just to annoy you."
Xena rolled her eyes with a frustrated growl. "ARES! I don't have the PATIENCE for you right now!"
He blinked at her outburst, a slow smile spreading across his face, an arm over her he leant to the nape of her neck, planting his lips on her smooth olive skin.
"I love it when you're angry."
There was a procession of heavy footsteps, and wooden-planked door burst open. Ares groaned, leaning back and perching a leg up on the bed.
"Don't you ever leave her alone?"
"Hilarious, coming from you," Ares smiled thinly. Gabrielle rolled her eyes, strolling to the bed, Joxer loping in behind her.
"How're you feeling?"
Xena smirked, "I'm feeling fine."
Glancing at Ares she nodded, "That's... good." Clearing her throat she cocked her head, "Any cramps?"
"Yeah," Xena said darkly, "They're closer and closer all the time."
Xena looked up at her with a guilty pout, "Twenty minutes..."
Gabrielle sighed through her teeth, "You are so damn lucky Joxer and I got a lift from the hay merchant or by the Gods, Xena..."
Xena squeezed her eyes shut, sitting up suddenly.
Xena said nothing, she just breathed hard.
"Joxer!" Gabrielle called, "Go, get some woven wool scraps and hot boiling water from the innkeeper, tell them what's going on. Ares -"
Her expression stiffened as his brow rose. Xena needed her mother.
"Please, can you go get Cyrene?"
Ares opened his mouth, ready to tell exactly where the mortal upstart could go with her commands, but Xena howled suddenly, a particularly strong contraction gripping her. Gabrielle whipped her head back, her eyes filled with panic. He looked to Xena, huffing, her skin had a fine layer of sweat that was growing to beads. He gave a long sigh, rolling his eyes, and in a quick turn he disappeared. Gabrielle glanced around the empty room and then back to Xena.
"It seems like forever since we've had a moment alone," said the bard, pulling the sweat-laden raven tresses from the warrior's face. Xena found a moment through the cramps to turn her eyes to her and nod.
The door burst open, Joxer's arms clad with shreds of material and supplies. A plump-faced woman, face red and covered in a film of sweat from hours at the bar and in the kitchen, barrelled in after him, a wide bowl in her arms that spewed forth the slight of water vapour. She clucked and tutted, laying down the bowl on the floor next to Xena, plunging her arm into the water with a bit of heavy woolen material, and upon wringing it out with a quick twist of her deft work-worn hands she laid the warm slice of cloth on the Warrior Princess' brow.
"Now you breath dear," the woman said softly, and with a humoured smile she added, "These are going to be the longest hours of your life, you know that?"
"All to wee-ah!" Xena began to say huskily before another cramp seized her.
Gabrielle looked to the plump woman and gave a warm smile.
"This is her second child..."
"Oh..." cooed the woman, looking over Xena with a glance, "Shouldn't be too hard on her then, not with her good child-bearing hips."
Gabrielle couldn't help but smile, looking down at her panting friend.
"Don't worry Xena, Ares is getting Cyrene now."
The land of the mortals was a smelly, dirty unkempt place. But the Queen of the Gods, under a veil of fraility, of time-weathered features and old bent and stiff bones, moved with undue speed and care. In her eye glinted the reflection of a building, scorched from years of heat and smoke, the front a stall decked out with fine metal wares, the back a larger house-made-workshop, with black smoke billowing from it's stack. In the surrounding darkness cut the large glowing spheres of amber light, casting shadows in the building in front of her. In that light the silhuoette of a strong, fine man pommelled a red-hot peice of iron on the anvil, a little in from the stall, showing his skill and the process of what he was doing. The dark shapes of people milled around with curiosity, men asked him how long he beat the metal for, how many folds of the metal he made, such questions the man chuckled and gave impressive answers for. The Festival of Trades had been kind to his pocket, and he wore his 'Finest Black-Smith in Corinth' reputation with pride. When the Old Woman she was approached him, a mixed look of puzzlement and interest crossed the middle-aged man's face.
"Here to buy kitchen-wares are you woman?"
Hera smiled with her worn, age-lined features and shook her head silently.
"That's good, because I ship them all off to the kitchenry stall over closer to the town centre so you lovely ladies don't strain yourselves with the walk."
She bowed her head shyly, batting her old eyelids.
"So how can I help you?"
Hera looked to town, and with that look, a great clutter and smash was heard. Cries of anger and bewilderment ensued as men chased chickens left right and centre, even the people at the stalls raced to the square to see what had occured. A horse ran down the main parade - it could be seen though gaps between the buildings that blocked the scene from the Smith. Hera brought her eyes - that were young and icy - back to the blacksmith.
"My question is, how can I help you?"
The smith's brow furrowed a second in confusion.
"Shhh," Hera smiled with old gums, her voice a mere rasp, "Look...."
From under her plentiful shalls that seemed endless in layers, grey from years of wear, all the dye they once wore long since washed out, she produced a gelatinous lump, it seemed to writhe and move in her hands, expand and contract, glow and grow dull in a scarlet splendour. He could smell it - it was like every beautiful fruit he had ever smelt - even the fruit stalls didn't even smell this good. Confusion still played in his brow, and he felt a yearning to reach for it as it's pulsing mesmerized him.
"Ah ah ah," she said suddenly, "Do you know what this is?"
He shook his head in wonder.
"Of course not, because you're a stupid mortal," she chuckled, and the smith frowned at her. Before he could open his mouth she hissed, "Tsst!" She laid it on the wooden bench in front of her."Tell me your name, Mortal."
"Damocles," the smith said.
"Damocles, do you know how a mortal can become a God?"
Damocles looked down in thought, his brow pressing down, and he nodded.
"You eat the fruit of the Gods!"
Hera rolled her eyes, shaking her head. "As I said, you are merely a stupid mortal. For a human to become a God, ambrosia must pass through their lips..."
The smith frowned again, looking to the ceiling of his hut in thought, shaking his head and tapping his lip.
"No, my mother definitely said that-"
A hand grabbed his throat, and before he knew it his head was pressed down on the wooden bench-top.
"A human needs the vital ambrosia..."
Damocles nodded, "Okay lady, I believe you, now do you want something for your fire-place or..."
"You will be quiet till I say you can talk!" she hissed, spit spraying out on him, "Am I clear?"
Damocles nodded once more, "Okay okay."
"Tell me - what happens to a human that tries to forge with the strongest metal in the known world?"
"Not iron," Hera chuckled with a wheeze, "Hephaestos' alloy - what happens?"
"Ha," Damocles chuckled, "Every black-smith knows of that tale - they burn up from the very heat of the forges!!"
"But Hephaestos does not?"
"No! He's a God!"
"How very perceptive of you," smiled Hera once more. "What would you say if I told you that you, the greatest blacksmith in Corinth, could use the greatest forge in the known world, to create the most beautiful weapons this world has yet to see?"
The smith gave a strangled laugh.
"I dare not challenge Hephaestos!!" he exclaimed, "My wife and I give him offerings every week, he is a kind and generous God! He has gifted me with my abilities and treated me well - if I challenge him he would take it all away as easily!"
Hera smiled softly, shaking her head slowly, "He is old - he needs some rest for a while..."
"Oh yes," she nodded, "He needs a special giant room, lined with tiles of his great alloy, and sealed with a lock and seal of the same metal so that he may be protected deep within the mountain he forges in."
"Though good help is hard to find, good smith," she said with a line-riddled pout, "That is why I, Hera, come to you in disguise to help you..."
The smith stood fully upright, took a good look at the woman and burst into laughter.
"You? HERA? HAhahaha!" he chortled, "Hera would be beautiful! You are but an old crone! HA hahahaha!"
The 'crone' lifted her hand, and orb of light forming in it's grasp and with a flick of a seemingly stiff wrist she sent it pummeling into the man, forcing him to fall backwards onto the floor, landing on the round of his buttocks. Hera wheezed an old-womans laughter and shook her head.
"A true God will not parade down the street in a fanfare of beauty..." she said, then pouted a little in disgust, "Except maybe Aphrodite but she's a different case entirely.... the whore!"
The smith glared at her, "You dare call the beautiful Aphrodite a - wh - a whh"
"A whore? Yes because that is what she is..." Hera smiled, working at the ambrosia on the table. She tore of a portion, concealing the rest, and lifted the smaller part to the man's face. "Eat..."
"What is it?" he asked her.
"Ambrosia," she replied, "Eat."
"You're offering me Godhood old crone?" he laughed, "What if it be poison?"
"Have you ever seen anything on earth glow like this? Or smell so good?"
Slowly he shook his head, fascinated by the shuddering substance.
"Eat - and live forever..."
He broke his gaze from the fruity lump and glared at the woman, "But what of my wife?"
"Once you have completed your task, she can join you in eternity, a blissful Godly eternity..."
From the corner of her eye, she saw the light shapes of two figures approach the stall. Damn, she thought, an exploding horse wasn't enough?!? She examined them from the corner of her eyes - one was merely the light of the face, a dark outfit obviously covering him, and his companion - green? She looked as if she were Artemis herself. She chuckled, and send a shot towards them. Behind them, a section of the wall of the house they had just passed collapsed, clouds of smoke and debris flying around them. Hera chuckled, the smith seeing the whole thing.
"So - will you eat it?"
He felt his legs buckle underneath him in reverie, and he nodded franticly, consuming the food.
"Good," she grinned. "Well, Damocles," she smiled, taking his hand, her beauty restoring itself, "Welcome to the realms of Olympus."
She wove a pattern of glowing orbs around her with the sweep of an arm, immersing the smith in it, and slowly the glow receded, leaving the forge of the greatest black-smith in Corinth very very empty.
Ares saw the middle-aged woman work at the stall, giving an old man a mug of beer. Rather nice head she pulled, he thought, smirking. Her hair was shorter than his love's, it had waves that straggled through it, a blue headband holding it back from her fine-boned features. Blue eyes stood out against the olive skin, her face a kindess of smiles. He approached her carefully, making sure not to surprise her. After dealing with mortals for a time, he knew not to do that more than once!
He decided to take a place in line for a beer, and being tall and well built of stature, he took his place in front of some teenage boys who would probably just pour theirs in a nearby shrubbery after taking a sip. They looked like they wanted to complain, but seeing the size of his arms just swore and mumbled amongst themselves.
He came to the front of the line, smiling genially up at the woman behind the bar.
"A nice warm bitter please."
The door to the stall slammed down in his face.
He let out a sigh, looking back on the line with a shrug, "Must be out to dinner already!"
Walking around the side he caught the woman as she bound from the back door.
"What do you you want you - " she seethed, "Monster?"
"I've come to tell you that Xena needs you..."
"She needs me?" she gasped, panic fleeting across her features, "Has she made it to Corinth? I was supposed to meet her after this shift..."
"She was going to meet you but unforunately she has the unforeseen inconvenience of a baby trying to stick it's head out of her rear end..."
Cyrene glared at him, throwing a shawl she was carrying around her, "Where is she?"
"Old Fort Inn," he began as she stormed towards the building. "So, how have you been?"
"I don't want to talk to you," she growled, "Isn't that clear?"
"Course, but since I've never catered to the whim of a mortal I see no reason to start now."
Cyrene glared at the God of War. This puzzled her. When Xena had first met up with her, telling her of the pregnancy, she had been sad but overjoyed. She would be a grandmother finally, but at what cost? What had Xena gone through to be with child in the first place? Xena had muttered some such about a mild fling... nothing more was said. Cyrene rarely pressed her daughter in such matters as it never brought her anything but frustration. Time usually provided the answer.
"What are you doing here?"
Ares shot a sidewards glance down at the woman, amusement lifting his features, "You mean she didn't tell you?"
A peal of laughter fell from the God's handsome form and he slapped an arm around the older looking woman.
"My dear Cyrene, that gorgeous lump formed in the belly of your daughter was generously provided by me - though rather unwittingly I must admit." He smirked with some feigned modesty. Cyrene's jaw hung lax, terror and anger in her eyes.
"You - WHAT did you do to her?"
He pursed his full lips in a nostril flaring pout, "Aaah nothing," He glanced at her and chuckled, "Nothing bad anyway!"
Cyrene threw daggers with her glare, and without a word she stormed on to the Inn. Ares watched her a moment, then pleased he had caused a little bit of trouble, he broke into another roar of laughter, letting himself disappear in the street, to reappear at his lover's side.
"Breath Xena," Gabrielle said, wiping the woman's brow, "In a rhythm now..."
"Aauh! Phwooh phwooh pwhooh phwooh..."
"That's it, keep going..."
Gabrielle moved with Xena as she rocked gently, the raven-tressed woman panting her way through the agony. There were the heavy thumps of footsteps down the hall, and the door burst open suddenly. The woman in it's frame - silver hair billowing about her shoulders, the blue she wore and the cut the dress of an innkeeper.
"Momma!" Xena panted, reaching out a hand, "Mhuh-phwooh pwoooh AAGH"
Cyrene dove down next to Xena, letting her daughter clutch her hand desperately.
"I'm here for you Xena," she said, taking a damp cloth from Gabrielle, and beginning to pat at her brow, "It'll be okay..."
"I know it will," Xena said, the contractions subsiding for the moment, "This isn't my first child."
"What?!" Suddenly, her eyes drained of anger, and she sat down again sheepishly, "Oh Solan - of course, I forgot, I'm sorry dear."
"Listen, talk about it after!" cried Gabrielle, "She's in pain right now!"
"PAIN!" Xena cried, struggling with the cramp, "Doesn't even BEGIN to describe what I'm feeling!"
Cyrene took a seat next to Xena, clutching her hand, "I'm here for you, love."
Xena gave a quick nod, before feeling her lower half give way a little, the fire of pain spreading through every inch of her body.
The rubble came tumbling down, a cacophony of cluttering wood and stones the avalanche from the wall that was there only seconds ago. She grabbed her companions' hand, yanking him to her and diving into a roll, her companion following suit. Dust and grit filled every orifice of her face, and she coughed, feeling the sand in her teeth, and the sharp pain of crud in her eyes. She coughed, trying to clear herself of the dust. A hand was at her arm.
"Are you okay?"
Shaking the settled dust from her hair, she glanced up to the pale concerned face gazing down at her.
"Yeah," she nodded, "How in Tartarus did that happen?"
The fellow gazed over at the collapsed wall some metres away. He shrugged.
"I don't know," he replied in his low naturally sultry tone, "But it happened when that old biddy looked at us!"
The woman looked to the blacksmith's stall across the dirt road.
"Weird," she said, a pout of deep thought in her features. The man stood upright, helping the green-clad woman to her feet.
"We better get back to Mother's," he said, "She doesn't like being without us for long..."
"Did your brother get your message?"
The man nodded, "He should have."
The both of them smacked themselves clean of dust and grit before reaching the town square where they were headed. The fellow's jaw dropped.
"By the Gods!"
People ran to and fro, screaming and panicking as animals burst like wine-skins. Not much could be seen in the round orbs of lamplight, but fires that leapt from stall to stall illuminated the situation beautifully. The Baker's store-front was a mess of blood as wandering chickens popped one by one. The vendor selling rodents and birds as small meals ran from his stall in terror as the place was spattered with the blood of rabbits and hares. The woman's companion grabbed a running fellow by the sleeve, glaring at him with dark eyes.
"What on earth is happening?!"
"The Gods must have cursed us!" he bellowed, "The town's best Stallion just exploded!"
"Exploded?" the woman gasped.
The fellow nodded, "Like nothing I've ever seen! The Gods must be angry!"
"Or insane!" the woman growled. She looked to her companion, who seemed to now be ignoring the tempest around them, rather his obsidian eyes were locked on the lanky figure of a man standing outside the door of the Old Northern Inn, bathed in lamplight, with worry in his stance. A woman, silvery streaks billowing behind her approached him, and he led her inside. He spotted the silvery, pointed helmet.
"Joxer's here!" he exclaimed, "Come on, somethings up!"
Ares paced, her cries filling his ears. The prissy bard's commanding words called over the yells, and quick pants, hissing breaths shot from pink blood-filled lips. Her raven locks hung plastered to her skull with sweat, her shoal eyes to the brim with urgency.
"I can see it Xena!" the bard cried, "Keep going! Push! It's time to push!"
"That's what I'm TRYING to do!" she screamed over the pain, being dragged by a speeding chariot or slowly dipped into hot oil nothing compared to this pain she felt. She felt as if there was no more of herself to give, she wanted it to stop - to end, it was too much.
Ares wanted to stop her pain, help her somehow. He knew, however, she had to push through it on her own, it was a part of the process of living, and he had been told again and again that without it, the experience would be a lesser one. But this did not allay her pain, or dim her screams.
Her pants grew rapid, her eyes bulging...
"Don't panic, Xena!" cried Gabrielle, "You're nearly done!"
He wanted to step forward from invisibility, though he knew this moment was for Xena. Still, her eyes flicked around the room and he knew she could feel his presence. Should I come forward anyway? he thought, but the idea of his family taunting and hackling him for taking part in a primarily female happening made him shudder.
"Come out ya bastard!" Xena cried, "Let your child come into the world seeing you! Aaaaugh!"
Oh, to Tartarus with it, he sighed, since when did I care what the family thought?
Nothingness fading from him he slipped into being.
"All right I'm here-"
Xena's cries drowned him out, his entrance quite inconsiquential at that moment.
"Breath Xena, breath!" Gabrielle cried.
Ares pulled his lips taught, bending next to Xena, "Is there anything I can-"
Before he could finish, a clammy tense hand grabbed his, it's knuckles white, and Xena pulled her eyes to him. She said nothing, hissing and clenching her teeth, her face shuddering with beads of sweat clinging to her features. Her eyes, a sea of blue and pain, held his, and as the pain ripped through her she screamed, her head snapping back in agony. He looked down to her hand, pushing against it for leverage. Were he mortal her grip would have brought him pain - yet it didn't hurt in the slightest. She may as well have been trying to crush stone. Cyrene stood back, sending resentful glares in the God's direction. He knew by her the hate in her eyes that she felt she had the right to be where he was now.
A cry - small, almost like that of an animal, filled the air. Gabrielle moved at the end of the bed, the linen she had put on the hearth now a gentle vibrant warm. She stood, the tiny bundle in her arms wriggling and complaining, no unhappy cries bursting from it, only little noises of curiosity and discomfort. Ares let go of Xena, stepping to Gabrielle. The little being was so obviously feminine, her petit nature so much like her mother, and yet so much like her Olympian heritage. He took the cord that hung from her in his fingers, and with a glow of blue, it disintegrated, the dust sizzling to nothing as it floated in the air. Pushing past him Gabrielle sat at the bed next to Xena.
"Can I see my baby?" Xena breathed, her eyes glowing with need.
Gabrielle nodded, nestling the baby in Xena's arms.
"Oh Xena - she's - she's beautiful!"
Ares stood at the end of the bed, pursing his lips. He felt - different. Different that he ever had before. What was it about this mortal that made him question everything he had been so comfortable with for millenia? He gazed at this child - this new addition to the Olympian family. She certainly was worthy this child, but - why...
"Gabrielle," Xena said softly, placing a hand on the bard's arm, "The place you are now - I love you dearly - but I think the baby needs to know it's Father."
"It's important to him to be with me and the child."
"How do you know?" Gabrielle whispered, "What does a mindless killer care of-"
Xena's grip stopped her.
"More than you think," she said. "Thankyou for helping my girl into this world. I'll never forget it, and I'm so glad it was you that did."
Gabrielle nodded, and leaning forward she gave Xena a gentle kiss on the round of her cheek. Standing, she looked to Ares who pouted at the end of the bed, and she notioned to where she was sitting.
"Go on Ares," she said, "Meet your daughter."
He tentatively moved to Xena, sitting at the end of the bed carefully. The baby gaze up at her mother with fascination. Her eyes were dark, a dark dark blue. That dark - it was so familiar to Ares, he had seen it in himself many times.
"She is a handsome child."
Xena nodded, "Yeah, yeah she is."
The baby turned her head suddenly, the dark eyes flicking to her Father. They examined him, boring so deeply into him. He gulped, the child - she would know him well. A little hand, covered in the thin film of birth, reached out at him, little fingers exploring the air between them. He lifted his hand to her, and she grabbed it, a wide gummy grin gracing the newborns' face. The girl cooed. Xena looked up to him, a soft, sad smile on her lips.
"She likes you, Ares."
"Her name ..."
Ares glanced up to Xena, his full lips pouted slightly in amused thought.
"She's no Goddess of War," he said, "I can see it in people, the hunger for the kill. It is absent in her... naming her for the glory of War mightn't be appropriate..."
Xena frowned, "She's only a baby, Ares."
"I know," he said, "But if she is to live in your realm, my dear Xena, you should name her accordingly."
Lowering her eyes down the the little girl, she brushed the child's cheek with the back of her finger, wet with her blood.
"An," she said softly, "When I was in Brittania, they told me some of their language and - An is the name of peace. It's the name she wants, Ares. I can feel it."
"Ares' daughter, An. Contradictory, but I like it," he said, wiggling his finger as the girl gripped it, tiny tentative smiles playing on her newborn face. Xena smiled, looking to Ares.
"Do you want to hold her?"
Ares gave a satisfied smile, bringing his arms up to recieve the little child. The girl cooed as she was placed in her father's arms. She reached up to his face, feeling the smooth and tickle of his short cut beard, fascinated by the new sensation. She gurgled, and he rose a brow.
"Talkative, isn't she?"
Xena nodded, her eyes narrowed, mirroring Ares' satisfaction. It was times like this she felt love inside her, at this God's so human side. She wanted that part of him to be human, and to be with her always. But that dark fire that always threatened to burn excited her, she knew it. Gazing down at the eyes of the child, she didn't see that fire burn in the deep lapislazuli orbs that gazed up with such love at the bearded man that held her. The red tender lips of the child suckled the air, and with an unhappy whimper she looked to Xena.
"She wants her mother," Ares said, bringing her forward for Xena to take.
Taking the child, Xena looked up in almost alarm, "Are you leaving?"
Ares cocked his head with a lopsided smirk of amusement. "You wish me to stay?"
Letting her eyes fall to the child she nodded, "For the baby..."
Ares smiled softly, pulling up a pew next to the bed, "Very well."
Cyrene smiled, walking over to the bed.
"I'll let you get some rest," she said, looking at the baby with a loving smile, "She looks like you, you know."
Xena nodded, "Yeah Momma."
Kissing Xena's forehead softly, Cyrene stroked her daughters sweat-lined face,
and quietly stepped from the room.
Joxer stood at the doorway of the inn, glancing up to the second floor as the cries seemed to cease, and an odd quiet filled the room above. He turned, ready to move inside the room and check on Xena. He felt a hand tug at his arm, and he turned his head.
"Jett!" Joxer exclaimed, pulling Jett into an embrace. Looking over the shoulder he patted in a brotherly roughness he spotted the elegant beauty waiting next to him. "Lethaia!"
He pulled her into the hug, hugging the life out of the two.
"Okay, you can let go of me Joxer," Jett croaked, "I mean I like a hug as much as the next fella but I have this strange habit of breathing!"
"Whaddaya MEAN ya like a hug?" chuckled Joxer, "You hate em!"
"Joxer, what are you doing?"
Joxer stumbled back, letting go of the newcomers, and spinning around he saw Gabrielle looking on in the doorway with amusement. "Jett! Lethaia!" he cried pointing with a wild gesture.
"Hey!" she smiled, stepping forward, taking the two in a hug, one by one. "What brings you here?"
"Mother," said Jett, "She wont let up..."
"She's gotten worse?!" Gabrielle said.
Jett nodded, "I thought that might be why you're here..."
Gabrielle blinked, rememberance striking her expression.
"Joxer!" she said softly, "It's a girl - Xena's had a little girl!"
Joxer felt his brow battle itself... he didn't know whether to grin or burst into tears. His mother, though a slave to fashion and the high-standing of being a warlord's wife, was always so dear to him. She was the only one in the world who did a thing to protect him. How he loved her, loved her nurturing. She was one of the only people he knew that loved him so unconditionally, apart from Xena and Gabrielle. He put his hands at the bard's shoulders.
"Gabby, I gotta see Mama..."
Gabrielle nodded, "I'm coming with you!"
With that she spun around, running up the steps. Joxer turned, his brother and Lethaia looking suitably impatient.
"So," he clapped his hands, trying to ward of the silence, "Have you two hit it off yet?"
Lethaia's eyes widened and she glared at Jett, her face growing beetroot red.
"Oh - Gods! No no no," she laughed uneasily, "We're travelling together - partners, like -"
"Xena and Gabrielle," laughed Jett, the same uneasiness taking him.
Joxer nodded, with a thin knowing smile. "Suuuure," he then cocked his head back, "Ha ha ha!"
Jett and Lethaia exchanged sideward glances, their dark eyes boiling over in embarrassment.
"Okay," burst the voice of Gabrielle in the flurry of steps as she approached the group, "We can start off now... What's going on?"
She looked back and forth between Jett and Lethaia, the both of them an interesting shade of crimson.
"Nothing!" said Jett with some adamance, and Joxer leered, slipping an arm around Gabrielle as they set off.
"Oh, okay..." said Gabrielle, "Hey - how have you two been?"
Hercules arrived to a dark chaos of dimembered limbs and blood-streaked terrified town-folk. He leapt into a sprint, barreling down the town centre. As he arrived, little moans of hope began to lift in the air. He saw one man sobbing at his cart of sweetmeats and fineries.
The man let out a shout, jumping back, nearly falling off his stool.
The man appeared from behind the counter, shivering wildly.
"Oh, I thought you might be a God - you-" The man double took, "You *are* a God! Mercy!!!"
Hercules frowned, a smile working at his weather-worn mouth, "Uh- Demi-God actually. I rather think of myself as a man... what happened?"
The man's eyes darted about, surveying the scene in an instant, "Animals! All of them - blowing up!"
Herc winced, "The animals 'blew up'?!"
The man nodded, "Yes! Yes! All of them! Even the town's best Stallion!"
Looking over the blood soaked stables and saddlery, Hercules bore his teeth in a sickened grimace.
"Terrifying!" the man shrieked.
"I was going to say bizarre," Hercules said, "I wonder..."
"It must be the Gods!" the merchant shuddered again, "Some how this celebration has evoked their wrath!!"
"No!" Hercules smiled, moving his weight from foot to foot with a breezy movement, "I think someone is having a bit of fun watching people get scared out of their wits!"
The hero spun on his heel, seeing the blonde well-built young man running towards him.
"Iolaus," he said, "Did you see this happening?"
"No," he shook his head bewilderment crossing his features as the carnage made itself known to him, "What in Tartarus happened?"
"Tartarus is right!" the merchant shook his head darkly.
"Herc!" Iolaus jumped a foot in the air as rememberance struck him, "It's Xena!"
"Xena?" the merchant asked, "The Warrior Princess!?"
Herc nodded, without really thinking, more focused on Iolaus' panic, "What-"
"She's had the baby!"
The merchant let loose an almighty bellow.
"DEMON!!!" he cried, stumbling away from Hercules and Iolaus in fear, "The Destroyer of Nations - she's here! And she has brought forth her evil babes! Her spawn must be destroyed! This!" He notioned to the destruction surrounding him, "Is the evidence of the carnage!"
Iolaus frowned deeply, placing a hand on Hercules' arm. He pulled him away some.
"Hey Herc, maybe this guy is right! What if the kid's e-"
"No," Herc shook his head adamantly, "I gotta see this kid first!"
As Iolaus bound along with him, the hysterical cries of the merchant filled the streets, one by one people joining in.
"Spawn!! Demon child of War!"
Hercules turned, Iolaus stopping and glaring at the man. "How do you know this kid's the child of the God of War?"
The man obviously didn't know, as he truly screamed when he heard this revelation.
"Oh we all shall perish!!"
Hercules grabbed Iolaus, storming to the Inn. Iolaus winced, shaking his head.
The inn room was a dead silent, Xena tucked into the bed so carefully, her baby sleeping soundly at her breast. Ares watched over them, his eye falling down the curve of her breast, the round nipple sitting precariously close to the cherry red lips of the newborn child. Pride and satisfaction ran through him like a joyous torrent. This woman had brought him his newest child, one much better looking than some of the numerous others. His daughter was perfect in every way, her lips dark against her ivory skin, dark tufts of hair in soft downy spirals on her round scalp. He took his lip between his teeth. He wanted to search her mind, know his girl, but fear played in him. It was such a delicate thing, meeting a new powerful soul for the first time. She was a powerful soul, he could feel it, but there was a strange feeling of security becoming him, that no matter what conflicts lay ahead for Father and child, she would never overthrow him, never destroy him. He readied himself, carefully reaching out to touch the new soul. The mind, though new, was sharp but unformed. He reached out, delving deeper...
An, can you hear me?
A voice, fresh, unsure, not in any tongue but in emotion, wondered who he was.
I am your father An. I am the God of War.
The mind almost recoiled, the little face of the baby frowned in her sleep. She didn't like war.
You know what War is?
A furrow grew in the soft velvet brow of An. She knew it was death.
You are right, An. It is also triumph, victory. Conflict.
An understanding seemed to spread through the child's soul. She felt that war was death. Conflict was growth.
Ares smiled. You understand, my daughter.
A soft smile played on the sleeping child's face. She knew she loved him dearly.
Ares rose a brow. Love... nobody really 'loved' him. Probably not even Xena. What do you know about me An?
She knew he was lost, yearning for something. She knew he was her Father, and that she loved him.
"You love me," he breathed softly, "Little An."
The heavy clobber of rushed steps interupted his thoughts, and glancing up he knew who was bursting through the door before he even saw him. Hercules pounced into the room, Iolaus bumping into his backside. He looked confused, as if something wasn't right. Everything was so quiet, so peaceful. He dared another step.
"Ares..." he growled, "What are you doing?"
Ares blinked, then smiled down at the mother and baby.
"I'm watching my family," he said, "Is that a problem?"
Hercules felt like he was living a bizarre dream.
"Did we hit a vortex into another universe and miss it?" exclaimed Iolaus.
Ares frowned as Xena stirred, the baby letting out a whimper. "Shhh," he said, "You'll wake up An."
"Shhh!" Ares scolded.
Hercules frowned, continuing in a strained hoarse whisper. "Since when did you care about waking babies up?!?"
"My children were all cared for," he said, "I wanted them all to grow up strong and loved."
"Ha!" Iolaus whispered back harshly, "What does the God of War know of LOVE?"
"More than you realise," he said calmly in reply.
"What's going on?"
The three men seemed to jump as the silk voice cut through their hoarse whipsers.
"Nothing," Ares said, leaning back in his chair, letting a lax hand brush her cheek tenderly. Xena flinched away.
"Wrong!" Hercules said, "Something is going on - something very strange."
Xena frowned, holding her babe close, "What happened?"
"All the animals in the vicinity of the town square exploded!" Iolaus cried.
Xena blinked down hard, trying to believe her ears. She glared at a rather amused looking Ares.
"Don't look at me!" he lifted his palms up towards her, "I'm as surprised as you are!"
Iolaus doubled back, "Are you serious?"
"He wouldn't lie to me," Xena said darkly, "If he knew what was good for him."
Ares smirked. "I'm serious, I really had nothing to do with this."
"Then who-" began Herc.
"It sounds to me," Ares proclaimed, standing and resting a hand at the hilt of his sword, "Like the work of Hera..."
Hercules rolled his eyes a little, "I've - never - heard of Hera blowing up animals before!"
"She used to do it when I was a little tyke," Ares said, indicating with his hands, "She was a lot more hormonal then."
"More?" Iolaus went pale.
"You've no idea," Ares said with a leer.
Hercules frowned, running a hand along a dark jaw, "Hera... what would Hera be up to?"
His eyes fell upon the baby, and he stepped forward, crouching next to Xena.
"Xena, may I?"
Xena examined his eyes with a narrowed gaze, and he felt her protectiveness of the child. She looked to Ares, and following her gaze Hercules saw him nod with an amused smile. What was he hiding? He felt the soft limber warmth of the child in his arms, and the little one stirred, murmuring a little noise of wonder. Holding the tiny baby so carefully, he looked over her as she snuggled at his muscle-bound forearm. She held not even a look of disregard for him as a stranger, rather a fascination and a look of ... peace? Yes, as he held her, she almost sent him to sleep, a feeling of contentment overwhelming him more than any other baby he'd ever held. Even as he entered the room, he'd felt it, much to his disbelief. He hadn't realised that this child had been the core of it all. He glared at Ares, confusion all over his features.
"Aren't you disappointed?" asked Hercules.
Ares' eyes fell down to the sleeping form with glowing pride, a knowing smirk on his features.
"To the contrary," he said, "I find the fact that she's a good little girl rather refreshing..."
Xena closed her eyes a moment, looking away. Ares leant to her, talking in her ear.
"Believe me, the bad ones are a handful."
She sent a flat look to him from the corners of her eyes.
Hercules felt his blood boil. She was obviously not very happy. Why didn't she see that? Why did she insist on subjecting herself to that when she could be happy? Happy with - him? Looking down to the baby he felt an overwhelming urge to hand her back. Even though in her calm countenance rang the warmth of Xena, in her movements and eyes was the power of the Gods. It was an unearthly, untouchable power, one beyond humanity. It made his blood cold, even though he was part God himself. He had tempered his strength through is years... this child, so young and new, had her life ahead of her, and with a father like Ares... Perhaps even that peaceful power she held could be used for wrong. He with held a shudder as he handed back the baby.
"She's lovely," he said, almost automatically. He stood, gazing at Xena, Ares and child numbly. "Come on, Iolaus, we got a mystery to solve..."
Hercules gave Xena one last glance, then turned on his heel, Iolaus following him out
Xena looked to Ares, frowning a little.
"He thought your child might be evil," said Ares, smiling in amusement.
"She might be..."
Ares sighed, looking down at the infant. "Oh, as useful as that would be, I am afraid to say that she's as evil as one of Apollo's nymphs or..." He frowned, "Gabrielle!"
Xena rolled her eyes, settling the baby down with soft jostling. "What do you think happened in the town square then?"
"I told you," he said, "I think it might be Hera."
Xena glared at him pointedly and he burst into a silky laughter.
"Hello, I'm telling the truth!"
Xena now sighed, a little crinkle of concern in her brow. "I thought she liked An..."
"She does," he said, "And she just loves me."
"Because you're the child of Zeus and Hera..."
"Not because," Xena pursed her lips, "You're a worthwhile person?"
Ares gazed at her a long moment after hearing this.
"I'm a sign of her domination over the world," he said, a slight smirk of amusement on his face, "As is any child born of Hera and Zeus. I think that's why she spends half her time trying to kill Zeus' bastard children..."
Xena gazed down at An, letting the baby hold onto her finger. The child didn't seem any different to any another mortal baby. Even her hold was soft and pliant, not clenching and strong like she'd thought it'd be. Maybe she hasn't that much Godhood in her somehow...
"Oh, she does," said Ares, making Xena jump a little, "It's rather subtle, but oh, so powerful."
Xena expected him to purr at that point, but it wasn't satisfaction of a gain to his realm that glowed in his eyes.
"Don't you go getting any bright ideas!" Xena said with clenched teeth.
"Even if I did, I don't think it'd matter," said Ares, taking one foot of the baby between his large thumb and forefinger, "She has her own ideas about things. She'll be a character, this one."
"Do you look into her mind, like you look into mine?" she asked him, her brow a mixture of uncertainty.
"Sure," he said, taking his bottom lip between his teeth as he slid his hand down his arm and around Xena's, "And she looks into mine."
Xena's blue eyes flashed at Ares' face, anger boiling in her features, but also sadness, "Well... does she look into mine?"
Ares nodded, caressing her hand, "She looks into everything - she's a baby..."
Xena brought her eyes disjointedly down to the face of her child, pain enveloping her, "W- so I can't hear her, because I'm a mortal..."
"Oh, you can," Ares said, leaning to Xena tenderly, "You're just not listening for her..."
Xena gave him a sidewards glare of disbelief.
"I said, that you're the only mortal that knows when I'm around..."
"Yeah," Xena curled her lip, "You're like a bad smell."
Ares rolled his tongue in his mouth, then continued, "That's because for so long, you were listening out for a fight, you were geared to the ways of war. An is not war."
She narrowed her eyes like a child, nutting out what Ares was saying. She gazed down at the baby, trying to sense her. Something blocked her, she battled, but she couldn't...
"Ares - stop that!"
A peal of laughter fell from Ares' face, and he shook his head slowly, "That's not me Xena. It's you."
She glared at him.
"Let go. You're guarding yourself. You've gaurded yourself your whole life. For once, for something to work, you have to let go of your anxieties and distrust and believe."
"Believe in what?" Xena growled, "Believe in you? In the ways of Olympians? All I've ever had from you lot is a whole bunch of trouble!"
Ares looked at her levelly, "No, you have to believe in yourself. And if I may make a point - we gave you a perfectly healthy baby girl."
He was right. The son of a bitch was right. That was happening a whole lot more lately.
"I know," she breathed, leaning back on the backboard of the bed, gazing out the window, "I'm so tired."
"You should sleep some more," Ares said, "It's been a big day."
"A painful one," Xena moaned slightly.
Ares nodded, "Sleep then," he stood, tucking quickly at his vest, "Will you be okay on your own?"
"Mom's downstairs," Xena smiled, "I'm sure she'll come in if she sees you leave."
Sucking in a lip quickly he nodded, "True."
"Ares, thanks for staying with me..."
Reaching a hand down to her face, he let the back of his finger cascade down the plain of her face. It was covered in a fine film of cool sweat, her skin was like the ripest sweetest peach.
"Think nothing of it," he said shortly, almost as if he was embarrassed, "It was the least I could do for the mother of my child."
"Yeah," Xena nodded, sadness in her features. "For the mother of your child."
With that, she saw him slip out of the room, on foot for a change. He still disappeared so fast, that her heart jumped at the sight of the room without him. She sighed, closing her eyes slowly. The child suckled at her breast, with Solan it hurt so badly, but An was as gentle as the nudge of a dove. She let sleep sweep over her gradually, one by one her senses dying into the numbness of sleep. Finally she sat there, her mind running off the trodden dirt roads of routine thought into the wild of her subconscious. She was so close to sleep, she barely felt it. It was so absurd a possibility she thought it just the beginning of a wild and fanciful dream.
Green swam past him as he soared through the ethereal tree-tops, down through age-old knotted oaks and cedar saplings. A great ravine to the brim with spirit life plunged up around him as he dove down into the heart of the Realm of the Goddess of the Hunt. The knicker and sprint of a frighten doe was a brown flash to him as he slowed to the sparkling diamond pool that was the Goddess' domain. Crystal shards of a waterfal created the most pleasant tune, one that the nature of the cosmos grew and lived to. Even the best song composed by one of his chosen could not emulate its beauty.
Beside the pool the beautiful Goddess sat, gazing mournfully into the gently running water.
Indeed Artemis was so beautiful to him, if there was another in the whole of Olympus - nay - the cosmos, that could compare to his own beauty, it was his twin. It hurt him to see her pout so.
"Artemis," he said more softly, "I've been looking for you everywhere - what are you doing here? You're usually in Macedonia this time of year..."
She glanced up at him darkly, "My nymphs are preparing the coming of Autumn for me this year..."
He sat next to her at a rock, gazing at her intently.
"Geez - Arty - what's wrong?"
She blinked slowing, a long breath leaving her.
"I am tired," she said, "So tired of running."
"Hera," Apollo whispered.
She nodded, "I hide, but she finds me. She sends one to attack me but - I kill it, and more cut to the chase..."
"Can she get you here?"
His twin's midnight orbs met his, tears brimming them, her lips trembling.
"Of course she can!" she gasped, "She can get me everywhere I go! There is no use! I sit here and I wait to die!"
"Yeh- Yeh think she'd really kill you?"
"You know her!" Artemis cried, "You were on her side once! You know what she is, you know when she chooses her enemies they remain enemies until they are dead and obliterated so that even Hades cannot find the components of their souls!"
Apollo ran sympathetic hands over her shoulders, bringing his sister to him in an embrace.
"Arty - I'm not going to let that happen to you, okay?"
"Whether you want to let it happen or not," she said roughly, leaning away from his hold, "It will happen."
In the embrace Apollo frowned, true fear in his eyes. He knew she waited to die. It was as if half of his life was ready to be destroyed - nay - all his life. Though he had many misadventures and he had done much wrong - the love of his sister - his polar being - survived all passions. He was the sun, she was the moon. He would not be without her calming soul.
Light poured in suddenly with a deafening blast of light. Artemis cowered in Apollo's arms, Apollo squinting into the light that brought a billowy wind. He felt the light, sharp, with a heat like a million needles, dive into him, around him, through him. As it claimed him he clutched his sister to him, tears streaming down his chiselled features. With a last utter he said...
"I love you my sister..."
Joxer led the way as they ambled down the backroad of Corinth, towards the large spacious townhouse ahead. In the dim moonlight one could see the shadow of a propped veranda of thatch bound to a wooden frame. >From it hung shapes that were assumedly planters. They approached it, and Joxer helped Gabrielle up the dark walkway, stopping suddenly as there was a bump.
"Lethaia," hissed Jett, "Are you okay?"
"What are steps doing here?"
"They're so you can reach the door."
There was a irate silence, and Joxer could just see Lethaia take his hand as they climbed up the steps. Both brothers in the doorway, with lovely lass in hand, they exchanged a glance, Joxer grinning madly.
"Don't look at me like that Jox."
Joxer was cut off by his brother calling out. The interior of the house was cluttered, the dining and living area full to the brim with old war trophies and exotic tokens. The stone floor was laden with a fine Persian rug, taken when Joxer's father plundered a persian trading vessel. His mother wasn't in the area, and his heart seized in his throat.
"Mama!" he called now, stepping forward.
A scuffling was heard from the wash-room, and on the doorframe a hand sat, a little wrinkled with age, but seemingly not that of a decrepit old woman. The hand let go and in the frame a woman stood up, barely any older than Cyrene. Jet black hair was in a high-roll, very neatly done, adorned with jewels, slivers of silver hair showing her age. Spotting Joxer she grinned, letting out an ear-peircing cry.
"Joxie hunnyyyy!" she cooed, running over and pulling the young man into a hug, "Oh my little one! I've missed you so much! And - is this the day I've been waiting for your whole life?!"
The woman grabbed Gabrielle's chin, squeezing it a little and shaking the girl's head.
"Oh - you're pretty! Stand back, let me look at cha!"
"Uh - Ma, this is Gabrielle," said Joxer, stepping back from the two, "Gabby, this is Eurepaeda, my mother."
"Hi," Gabrielle managed to smile and mutter before Eurepaeda pushed her backwards to arms length.
"Ohh, those are good child-bearing hips!" the woman grinned, "Joxer, I'm so proud of you! When are you getting married?"
Joxer let loose a strained laugh, looking at Gabrielle with genuine exasperation, "Not for a while yet, we only just started courting..."
"They've been 'courting' for 9 months now," smirked Lethaia, and Jett snickered. Eurepaeda blinked, total astonishment drawing her mouth to an 'o'.
"But you - you could of had a child in that time! Goodness boy what's stopping you?"
Joxer opened his mouth, but Gabrielle filled the void with a laugh.
"Ha!" she said, strained smile, "My mother! My mother wanted to see me get married, but she wont let meeee tillll," She glared at Joxer and licking his lip quickly he jumped in.
"Adequate means, yes!!" Gabrielle cried, "Till we have adequate means to have a wedding!!"
"So you're poor?" chuckled the woman, "Aah, that's no problem! I'll have you married here in Corinth!"
"No really," Gabrielle shook her head, "It's okay... we can wait!"
"Wait for what?" the woman threw her arms up, then held Gabrielle by the shoulder, "Wait for grey hairs to sprout from your pretty little head dear? I don't think so! You should marry while you're young! Have lots of babies to my," she looked to Joxer, "My strapping young boy!"
"I would love to marry Joxer, Ma'am-"
"Please!" Eurepaeda lifted a finger to her mouth, "Call me Mama..."
Gabrielle pressed her eyelids down in a long sigh, "Mama, but I'm really not ready commit myself jus-"
"Okay," the woman just smiled, her grin bright and bubbly, "That's fine." She pressed her hands together, looking about the room. "You know, it's so rare I get any female company these days... I was wondering if perhaps you would like to have a girls' day in with me tomorrow. No pressures, just me and you and-"
Her eyes sparkled brightly as they fell upon...
"Oh - no really," Lethaia smiled with crimson cheeks, "You don't have to Eurepaeda!"
"Uh! I insist I absolutely insist my dear!" she chuckled, rouged lips moist and supple pulling to a vibrant smile, "I wouldn't have it any other way!"
"Oh, uhmm," She glanced to a smirking Jett, then an equally as put upon Gabrielle and let loose a strangled laugh, "Oh haha... okay."
"Woooonderful!" Eurepaeda threw her hands up again, I'll just go get us some nice fat juicy wine for us to share!"
The woman strolled off with the grace and stead of a dancer, but elocution and learning in her mannerisms.
Gabrielle frowned, Joxer shaking his head and pointing a thumb at the door.
"I thought you said she's getting worse!"
"She is," Jett nodded, "She wont shut up about it now, and I'm afraid if we don't help her she'll-"
"Heeeere we go!" Eurepaeda placed down the amphora of wine in a stand on the table, placing down some kantharos' on the table next to it. "Now, I was talking to your brother about this, and I really think we're beginning to formulate a plan now!"
"About what Ma?"
Joxer hoped it wasn't about what he though it was about.
"Well - how to get your father out of the clink, of course!"
Jett eyed Joxer, who gulped.
He floated through the void, a peaceful void where even he knew he belonged, to the one place where he felt small. A flash enveloped him, and green surrounded him, alabaster stone and towering structures flying past him as he appeared in the Great Hall of Olympus. He sighed, knowing what lay in store for him there.
"IT'S THE BIG DADDY!!!!"
A cheer, loud and deafening, burst throughout the already noisy chattering area, a practical orgy taking place around them. Zeus was half laid on his throne, one of Apollo's nymphs passed out in his lap.
"SON!!!" he hollered, "Come give yer proud Daddy a big kisssh!"
Rolling his lip, Ares lifted a hand, "Uh, I'd rather not."
"Come HERE!" he growled, "Befoh I zap ya wizz my thundrrrr!"
Ares did so, not wanting to evoke his father's wrath. Zeus grabbed Ares by the ears, planting a big kiss on each cheek. He reeked of the strong heady wine of the Gods, stuff that would make an elephant pass out at a league. A diluted amount had brought many a mortal couple together, including a few he knew.. He staggered back, and nearly tripped over a mound at the foot of the pedistal of Zeus. At a second glance, Ares saw it to be Hermes, quite convincingly smashed beyond coherency.
"I saw the baby!" Athena grinned, skipping over to Ares. "She's lovely!"
"She's Peace," Ares said matter of factly, "I thought you'd dig that."
"Oh absolutely!" Athena nodded, nowhere near as inebriated as any of the other Gods. That was something for Athena - a God that barely ever strayed into delirium of any sort. "She'll make a wonderful addition to Olympus as soon as she takes the ambrosia and rids herself of her human half!"
Ares snapped his glare to his half-sister. He felt a pang in his chest. Before he could even make sense of it he was spun about by another set of hands.
"Heya Ar!" Aphrodite grinned, also rather sloshed, "Big Daddy huh? That's beef! I tell you what though - you really feel old when yer kids have kids!" The Love Goddess smacked the chest of the War God in a silent, wine-scented laugh.
"That's great," Ares frowned, glancing about the room.
"No it's not it's totally bummed!" Aphrodite shook her head shakily, "Like - d'you realise how old it makes me feel?"
Ares felt alarm strike him. He spun about, then spun back.
Ares glanced back to Aphrodite, his lips set firmly in a troubled scowl.
"Oh! Prolly still running from ol' cow face!" Aph said with a wave of a hand.
With another glance about Ares felt his teeth clenching.
"Who cares!" Aphrodite laughed. Pushing the Goddess away, Ares ran back up the steps of the main Podium. Grabbing his father's toga-front, Ares shook him.
"Father - where's Hera?"
Zeus blinked slowly, painfully, then released a sigh through pursed lips.
"Aaah I dunno - who cares! You know wah she's like! Get yer hands off thah girl Sseuzz se ZZ! No moh wine fer you Zeuh! You'll get a grumpy head innemornin! Bah!" Zeus waved a hand, and clutched the buttock of the girl on his lap. "Get an amphora and get drinkin' son!"
Ares turned about, ignoring the festivities about him. His skin crawled like something terrible was wrong, more terrible than any evil outside enemy. It was dissent in the heart of Olympus - the one thing that could easily bring the Gods down to their knees. He shook his head - what did he care? He was supposed to be that scoundrel with a taste for power. If he knew what was good for him, he'd meet up with Hera, find out what was going on and try to get himself in on her fun.
Ares pressed his eyelids together, clutching his head a moment. Those eyes, the most stony lapas-lazuli, yet so warm and loving. He felt that warmth glow inside of him, and for a moment, he let it glow and he revelled in it. How he loved his daughter, he hadn't felt this ever before. He frowned, grabbing Athena and pulling her from Olympus.
With an odd woosh they appeared in Ares' lair, Ares pacing without looking about. Athena sighed, pursing her lips in a sulk.
"Why did you bring me here? What's wrong with you anyway?"
Ares glared at her, "Something is very wrong! Artemis and Apollo weren't at that party!"
Athena shrugged, "So, maybe they don't like you..."
Ares cocked his head, widening his glare, "Have you ever known Apollo to miss a party?"
Athena nodded with a pout askew, "You got a point..."
"Down in Corinth, all the animals in the town square exploded, and from what I could tell from the tavern gossip, the town's best Blacksmith disappeared - all in the 6 hours that Xena was having An!"
Athena now frowned with him, seriousness filtering into her features, "Did you say Blacksmith?"
"I don't know if you heard, but Hephaestos has gone missing."
Ares narrowed his eyes, "Hephaestos?!"
It was like a punch to the gut - Hephaestos had practically been a life-long friend, forging him the ultimate weapons for centuries.
"Hera is up to something... I felt her at the village - I thought it was to see An into the world but now..."
Athena stepped to Ares, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Calm down, Ares," she said softly, "We'll nut this out. Look..."
Ares lifted his gaze to her placid green eyes.
"I know we haven't always gotten along, and most of the time I've hated your guts, but lately, you've really impressed me. I think finding Xena and An has been good to you. Whatever happens I'm with you now."
His brain couldn't register what he had just heard. Was Athena ... being *nice* to him? Never in all his years had she ever been nice to him! He'd been the outcast of Olympus for so long he can't remember the time his sister had even given him a favourable glance! His mouth opened, a cracked 'Thanks' leaving it.
"S'no problem. I really gotta sober up. You go wander about Corinth some more in the meantime, see if you can find out anything else weird that's been going on."
Ares nodded, and stepped from his realm, light flashing about him.
Pain ripped through him, but glancing about in the swirling mass, he saw he was still alive. He couldn't tell where he was falling to, all he could feel was a rushing, a swirling, a chaos around him, and a slow waning. Weariness claimed him, oh he was so tired. A town drew up to him, swallowing him, and seeing it's splendours it looked so inviting....
Gabrielle stepped with trouble down the limestone steps to the dirt front space, waiting for Joxer to join her. The stars twinkled delightfully and strong, heralding the beautiful night. She sniffed. She could smell smoke on the air. Strange things had been happening in this town of late... Exploding animals, burning stalls, the missing blacksmith she'd heard about. A dark dread filled her.... An....
There was the sudden clump of a heavy wooden door, and turning around she saw Joxer plod down the steps to her. He took her hand, smiling softly.
"Let's go," he said.
They set off down the street, bypassing the main square. They headed for some forest, wanting to find a silent, intimate clearing to talk a while. The back-streets of Corinth were dark and ominous, tall apartment houses rising up either side of them. Joxer knew the backstreets well, and Gabrielle watched with wonder as he wove them through to the edge of the town. There, after passing sentries and guardhouses, they stole into the forest, trudging through the thick leafy folage. Finally, they found the clearing Joxer had had in mind, and from his satchel he pulled a luxurious pelt from his mother's house, laying it on the ground, next to an old log that had been set down ages ago, before Joxer was a twinkle in his murderous father's eye. Gabrielle crouched down at the lovely fur, a soft frown denting her brow.
"Wassup," Joxer asked, and she glanced up to him, sighing slightly.
"Something's really wrong," Gabrielle replied, laying down next to him, as he was sprawled out leisurely.
Joxer just frowned at her, and she could barely make it out in the half-moon light.
"All those weird things happening in town, at the same time An was born...."
"You're not thinking that An...." Joxer wound a hand in circles to press his point. Gabrielle gulped burying herself into his chest.
"I'm really not sure," she sighed, "I wish I knew. This is all so spooky..."
Joxer nodded, "I know," he said, "It really reminds me of-"
Gabrielle looked to Joxer as he stopped himself, and he just winced regrettedly.
"Yeah," he continued, "It is spooky."
Joxer laid back, the soft pelt cushioning him on the hard floor, the tree canopies reaching out for eachother, framing the sky in their lacy sillouhettes. As he gazed up at the glithering orbs, he felt Gabrielle settle down next to him, her hand laying on his chest as it rose and fell with his breath, her sweet hair so close to his lips as she nestled into the nape of his neck.
"You know, the eyes can be the key to finding out about a person's spirit," Gabrielle said softly, "Yours are soft and brown, all warm. So cosy. That's you, the real you."
Joxer squeezed her slightly as she spoke.
"And Xena's, are strong and noble and friendly deep down."
"Well, whaddaya see in An's?"
She shrugged a little, "It's hard to tell at first, when you first meet someone there's a lot of guesswork involved. It's not like you can soothesay with eyes or anything..."
Joxer laughed a little, "Yeah that's stupid."
"One thing I could tell is that she isn't bad. When I looked into Hope's eyes..." Gabrielle narrowed her eyes in a sigh, "There was love, but it was like looking into the eyes of an imp, not a baby. She was wild, and uncontrollable. An, is like... looking at the eyes of a painting of the Gods... or the great statue of Athene the Great Temple of Athens."
"You have to see her for yourself," Gabrielle said, smiling up at him, "I mean apart from being your run of the mill cute newborn baby, it's like she knows things, and you know she can't, cause she's too young to."
Joxer nodded, "So it's like, she knows what you're saying?"
"No, it's more like, she knows what you're feeling, and she responds to that."
"Gnoh," the lanky young man pouted, "Yeah she definitely sounds spooky."
"She is beautiful though."
Joxer nodded. The sky was crystal clear that night. >From one corner of the deep blue sky, a small sliver of flame sailed in towards the centre. Joxer smiled.
"Oh hey, Gabby, look! A falling star!"
Gabrielle cooed, spotting it with him. Her expression grew to one of concern as she noticed the way the star was moving. It was flailing, tumbling, but still moving slowly towards the centre of the sky, growing bigger and bigger with each passing second.
"Joxer, you don't think...."
There was no time to finish the sentence. The flame grew in the sky, and with a yelp, Joxer grabbed Gabrielle's arm, pulling him with her as he dove into the lush undergrowth surrounding the clearing. A deafening crack and rumble filled the air, the two lovers cupping their ears. The flame roared, and ploughed into the ground. As the ball of fire touched the ground, the earth splashed about it, creating a round bowl of earth which the scorching centre lay in. Joxer sprang up, a bellow leaving him.
"Gabby! Is that...."
"A star?" she offered, "Must be."
She crawled out from the undergrowth, dusting leaves and bark bits from her legs, and she frowned as she looked to the centre. Like a nut in it's shell, the curled up form of a person lay in the centre, the clothes a little scorched, the skin dirty and a bit bruised. Gabrielle kept quiet as Joxer crept to climb over the edge of the mound.
"Careful, Joxer, it looks hot."
Joxer threw a wave, "It's fine!" he grinned, "Can you believe it? People live in the stars!"
"Yeah," Gabrielle smiled uneasily, mainly humouring Joxer, "Amazing."
She crept with him, and placing her hands above the sand, she felt it was still very warm, like the coals after a fire. She climbed up the hill of sand with only her feet, outstretching her arms for balance. She teetered on the top, watching Joxer tumble into the crater with little decorum. He sprung to his feet, making sure as little of his armour touched the ground as possible. He gave an odd yelp.
"Are you okay?"
Joxer nodded, "I just got a bit warm-"
Joxer's eyes boggled as the low long groan interrupted him. He glared down at the person that was the star. Clearing his throat, Joxer patted the person on the shoulder.
"Welcome to Greece, Mr. Star," Joxer smiled weakly, "I'm Joxer, the Mighty, and this is Gabrielle...."
He slowed down as the person, that was apparently a man, uncurled himself, letting a limb stretch out.
"the... also... Mighty?"
The fellow stood up shakily, holding onto Joxer. Joxer expected him to be hot, but he wasn't. The man looked about him, then back to Joxer. With a weak smile, he pulled Joxer into a tight embrace.
"My child!" he sighed happily.
"Um, I think you've made a mistake..."
"No!" the man said, leaning on Joxer, "No, the Fates must have guided me here!"
Gabrielle squinted at the man, and she put a hand on Joxer's shoulder.
"Joxer... does he look kinda familiar to you?"
Joxer curled a lip at the man, and then at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle gazed at the dirty contours, the high cheekbones, the devistatingly handsome face. She milled over it, turned it over and over in her head. It must have...
"So, Mr. Star, what do you think of our humble city?"
'Mr. Star' frowned a little, dusting himself off weakly.
"Joxer, will you stop calling me that? Just call me by my name!"
Joxer narrowed his lips in an embarrassed blush, "I don't know your name."
The fellow chuckled, "Dear child, I am Apollo!"
"Oh riiiight!" Joxer chuckled with him, "Apollo!"
His mouth hung open in a grin till the penny dropped. He choked.
"Gnnnggnngg!!! Apollo!" He fell to his knees, kissing Apollo all over his sooty boots, "Oh Great father of the Muses, oh!"
Apollo rolled his eyes, pushing at Joxer's shoulder as he hadn't the strength to pull the fool to his feet. He gave Gabrielle a weary look, and with a quick nod, she pulled Joxer to his feet.
"Stop that!" she hissed, and Joxer regained his standing, pressing his hair back on his head, neatening it, all around his mouth a doughnut of soot.
"It's okay," Apollo said, "I get that a lot."
Gabrielle nodded with a wide smile. She looked to Joxer, who seemed lost in deep thought.
"Say, you called me your 'child'? What's that supposed to mean?"
Apollo staggered up the side of the crater, Gabrielle and Joxer helping him.
"There are mortals who were created for a special purpose. Each God has the right to have their 'Chosen Ones', their 'Children'. They can have as many as they choose, as many as they think will have a good effect on mankind. Artemis slaps them about willy nilly." He gestured at Gabrielle, then looked towards his prodigy, "I don't. Joxer here is a special case."
Joxer frowned incredulously, "I am?"
Finding the scorched pelt, Apollo spread it out some, collapsing on it.
"Yes," he said, his voice sounding sleepy, "You're a chosen of mine, one I spent a particularly long time on. Aphrodite helped with you. She's always kept a bit of an eye on you."
Gabrielle glanced to Joxer, dreading that he'd explode into song about being mighty, as he was sometimes wont to do in times of duress, but he rather let his jaw hang open in utter shock. Gabrielle looked at the God of Music slowly nodding off on a burnt sheet of dried skin, and realised this couldn't do at all. She bent down next to Apollo, shaking his shoulder.
"You should come back with us - we'll find you a place to stay. You can't stay here..."
His eyes flicking open, Apollo rolled on his back, his arms curling in defence.
"No," he said, "I can't, you're right. I need to find Hercules..."
"Why Hercules?" asked Gabrielle, "I thought you hated him..."
"I do," breathed Apollo, calming down slightly, "But he's the enemy of Hera, and any enemy of Hera is an ally of mine."
Gabrielle nodded, helping Apollo to his feet, "We know where to find him. We'll help you Apollo."
Apollo nodded in thanks as Joxer was shoved under his arm, Gabrielle wedged under the other. They started to stagger towards town, and after a totally dumbfounded silence from Joxer had persisted...
"I'm a CHOSEN?"
Hercules leant on the shop's doorframe.
"Ten arms it had!"
"Ten arms?" Iolaus repeated incredulously.
"Aye!" the plump-faced woman said, "It was horrific! And it belched fire worse than Hades himself!"
Herc pressed his lips together, surpressing amusement, and looked to Iolaus with tiny cresents of a hidden smile at the corners of his lips, "Yeah, Hades has always had trouble dealing with that ... gas thing."
Iolaus let out a short chuckle, the woman glaring at him. Herc cleared his throat, patting the woman on the shoulder gently.
"Well, thanks for telling us what you know," he said, "See you."
He turned away, pulling Iolaus along with him, who was clearing himself from the last of the chuckles.
"Honestly Herc, ten arms?"
Hercules sighed, "Well, it's obvious people were scared."
"How'd you figure that one out?" Iolaus cocked his head in an unimpressed glare.
Hercules ignored it. "We better go back and see if Xena's okay... I got a feeling..."
His voice drifted off. He sensed it, again. What was it about this night that brought the Gods out in force? Iolaus had noticed the change in his best friend's expression, an expression he always seemed to see before trouble started.
"What is it Herc?"
"Aah," he sighed, "Maybe I'm imagining things but... Naaah..."
"What?" Iolaus persisted, "I know you, something's up."
Hercules let a sigh through his nose as his lips drew thin in a tense grimace, "I've got this feeling... Apollo..."
Iolaus' frame drooped significantly, "Great, just what we need! First we've got Ares breathing down our necks, now Apollo! Who next, Hera?"
Hercules didn't hear him. It wasn't often he felt the mental effects of his Godly half, he mostly tried to supress them, as if they didn't exist. As a demi-god, he had them to a certain degree. All the Gods of Olympus were bound to eachother, indominably, down to their very fibres, to hurt another was to hurt the Great Family, and Hercules wasn't completely excluded from this great bond because of his mortal heritage. As the son of Zeus, the most powerful of Gods, he was bestowed the powers to feel the proximity of his siblings. It was a diluted sensory perception at best, but he knew that for this certain desperate situation, he would try to use his gift, that even Iolaus hadn't a knowledge of. So carefully, timidly, his mind reached out, trying to push away his human half for just a moment, just to touch that Godly power... Pain ripped through him as he did, and he buckled to the ground.
"No," he shook his head, "Stop..."
Iolaus nodded, his hands still reaching out in case.
He examined the pain as it extended through his body, each muscle tearing itself from the bone, fire shrivelling his form, his eyes drying out, energies in and out pummeling him, and he curled on the ground helplessly. With every ounce he had, he closed his mind, filling it with images of earth, of his home, of his mother. The pain continued to throb in him. Pushing himself up off the floor, he clutched his head, swallowing determinately. Glaring towards the residential blocks of Corinth, he knew the Godly power he'd sensed was there.
"Come on," Hercules said darkly, "Apollo's in trouble."
"Ah-" Iolaus' jaw hung open, "I don't believe it! Unless you were aware, and I doubt that, Apollo hates your guts!"
Hercules sighed, "Iolaus, he needs our help. He's in pain, terrible pain!"
"So?" his blonde-topped sidekick began, but seeing that gaze of his best friend, that look that made him realise the right thing to do in every situation, he sighed, flapping an arm helplessly, "Yeah I see, you wanna help him anyway!"
Herc didn't take the time to nod. He bound down the dusty road, straight for the section of town he knew was lined with expensive townhouses, Iolaus jogging to catch up behind him.
The deafening clang of the heavy hammer split the ears of the man, his curiosity pulling him along. Even though the sound was loud, much louder than a human should be able to withstand, it didn't hurt him, nor did his ears feel numb from it. He followed the woman before him, now a tall and elegant blonde, who looked barely in her 40's. She stopped at the edge of the cavern that looked over the proceedings of the great Smith of Olympus.
"All this will be yours," she said, a thin smile on her lips.
"Until Hephaestos returns, right?" the man corrected her. The icy blue eyes glared at him pointedly with a bemused smile.
"All this is yours," she said again, slight alteration to her words, "Now work. I need you to create for me six-thousand tiles of the alloy of Hephaestos - his assistants will help you."
"Www-" the smith stopped, "How big do they need to be?"
"A cubit in width and height," she said, turning to leave.
"A cubit!" he exclaimed, "B-b-but that'll take forever!"
The woman stopped, and turning slowly, her eyes found his and they drilled into his very soul.
"It will take you three days," she said.
"Is there a problem?" she asked him, "I thought you said you were the best Smith in Corinth."
"I-I-I am but - not even Hephaestos could make-"
"Hephaestos could forge 2000 swords in an evening, for a battle the next day if need be."
"But he's a God!" Damocles finally exclaimed.
"So are you," Hera sighed, rolling her eyes.
Damocles let out a panicked breath, looking totally lost.
"Dear Damocles - as you work you will find you have a strength and stamina you never had before!" Hera said tenderly, motioning him towards the anvil before them.
With a tentative smile, Damocles lifted the huge hammer resting at the work-bench. He expected it to be heavy, but it was as light as a bit of tin. He grinned widely at Hera, and knelt at her feet.
"Oh, Great Hera! Thank you! I will serve my Lord Hephaestos and you!"
"Good, Damocles," Hera smiled, placing a delicate hand on his crown, "I know you will."
Gabrielle opened the door, Joxer leading the staggering Apollo inside the well-adorned living area. The God of Music had been silent since he landed in the clearing, and trying to get him into Corinth without drawing much attention to them was damn near impossible with all the goings on of the past night. Now that they were back at Joxer's house, she would find Apollo a cot, then collect Xena from the inn. Eurepaeda had heard Joxer talking of little An, and she absolutely insisted that Xena stay with her rather than suffer the insane charges of the Corinthian innkeepers. The luxury of Eurepaeda's house was breathtaking, she didn't realise Joxer's father had been such a successful warlord. Apollo found a divan, but Gabrielle shook her head, trying to pull him up after closing the door behind them.
"No, Apollo," she said, "We have a bed for you..."
Apollo smiled wearily, patting Gabrielle's hand. Letting her help him to his feet, Joxer winding himself under the God's arm to support him, they began to move towards the sleeping quarters. Gabrielle could not ignore how beautiful he was, his features a work of art made real.
"If you don't mind me asking," she said, "How did you get in this state?"
Apollo gave her a sidewards glance, then brought his eyes forward in a dark scowl.
"Hera... that harpie!"
"Hera did this to you?" Joxer exclaimed.
Apollo nodded, "She blew into Artemis' realm like a whirlwind - she did something to us - I know not what, but I felt so weak. She tried to take me too, but she was focused on Artemis, and us the twin Gods withstood her well. I almost had Artemis free, but..."
Apollo stopped, swallowing down hard, his eyes rimmed with the red of tears.
The handsome God shook his head, "No, no, she is alive. I can feel it. But Hera has her, and I don't know what she wants of her. It is against our rules to kill another God. These rules we obey since they were laid down by Zeus himself, when he overthrew the last of the tyrannous forefathers."
"I've heard the stories," Gabrielle nodded, sympathy in her features, "What are you going to do?"
Apollo opened his mouth, but a soft breeze blew against his face and stopped him short. His eyes blinked slowly, and he turned his head behind them. There the stalwart frame of Ares stood, his eyes a deep distress.
"Ares," Apollo barely managed to say, "What - come to wallow in my defeat?"
"What happened to you?" Ares breathed, storming forward, taking his brother in his arms. Gabrielle and Joxer staggered back as they were ripped from the God.
Apollo blinked slowly, frowning at Ares with much effort.
"Whadda you care?" he replied.
Ares looked to Gabrielle, "Where's the nearest bed?"
Ares picked up the God, taking him into a small room with a cot neatly set in the corner. Laying the man down, he sighed.
"Apollo - what happened?"
Apollo rolled over onto his side, curling himself up, "Hera came," he said, pulling the blanket over him, and his eyes flicked up with fear, "She took Artemis!"
"Artemis?" Ares said, "What did she want with Artemis?"
"I don't know - how would I? And what in Tartarus has happened with you?"
Ares sat at the edge of the bed, his strong brow pressed down in throught.
"Taking Artemis.... "
"Ares!" Apollo hissed, too weak to bellow, clutching his head in pain.
Ares blinked, looking at Apollo for a long moment. "I'm a father, Apollo."
"Ares, you've been a father many times..." Apollo began, not bothering to even look at his brother.
"This is the first time I've been a father to her, to my most prized protege."
The God of Music frowned at Ares, a smile cracking across his face, one of utter incredulity.
"You're-" Apollo laughed, cradling his head, "Oh I can't believe this! You're in love aren't you? I mean for real this time!"
Ares gave a flat look to the jovial God, "Doesn't mean I'm Mr. Nice God now, you realise that..."
"With a mortal at that!" he chuckled further, "Why this is priceless!"
Ares now only scowled.
"Man," Apollo sighed, "So, how's the kid?"
"She's perfectly healthy," Ares replied, "In fact she's..."
Apollo waited with risen brows.
"It seems she's the Goddess of Peace."
Ares expected a barrage of more laughter from Apollo, but instead he got a frozen grin, which softened into what could only be deciphered as awe.
"Are you for real?" he asked him. Ares nodded. Apollo shook his head slowly, "We have a Goddess of Peace, after all this time..."
"You think I could make something like this up," Ares said, shooting his brother a half smile, "Yes. A Goddess for peace is ours."
A slow roll of laughter poured from the grin of the God of Music, "A Goddess of Peace borne of the God of War!"
"It doesn't get any funnier the more you say it," Ares sighed.
"So what is this Goddess' name then? Pax? Hmm?"
"An," Ares said suddenly, "Her name is An."
Apollo nodded, his grin calming slowly, "That's a good name. An. I like it."
"Xena thought of it," Ares said, battling to keep a smile off his face, "She heard of it in Brittannia."
"Yes, Xena," Apollo brought in a breath through his teeth, "The mortal woman who has taken the heart of my brother."
"I hate to cut in on this brother to brother chat," came a voice from the door, "But I just don't trust you two in the same room together."
Ares threw a glance over his shoulder and rolled his eyes, Apollo glancing out the window with a knowing smirk.
"An entrance like a one dinar bard's tale and the look of a beggar!" said Apollo drolly, "When are you going to get a new set of clothes Hercules? That look isn't becoming for the son of Zeus himself."
Hercules, bronzed arm propped up in the doorway, his sturdy frame leaning against it, smiled at the God.
"I had feeling you weren't well," he said, "You usually can do much better than that."
Apollo smiled weakly, "Don't tell me you're using what little Godly intuition you were given, finally?"
Herc nodded, springing from the doorway and strolling into the small square room, "For once, it came in handy." He glanced down to Ares, who was silent, scowling darkly in the direction other that the hero's. "What's the matter, Ares, not happy to see me?"
"On the contrary," he said, "I was just coming to terms with the fact that I may have to ask you for your help, as terrible as the idea may sound."
"What, is there an echo in here?"
Hercules grinned slowly, shaking his head a little. "So, what is it that the great God of War can't handle?"
"My mother," Ares said, glaring at Hercules with all seriousness, "I think something is definitely going on now, she has some plan."
"Hera?" the blonde son of Zeus rose a brow, "You? Against Hera?"
"That surprises you?" asked Ares.
Hercules shrugged, "It's just that - you've always been, you know, her favourite."
"It means nothing," Ares said darkly, "And I doubt it ever did. I am the son of Zeus and Hera, strong and handsome - "
"Not to mention modest," cut in Apollo with a leer.
"That is all I am to her," Ares continued, "A successful continuation of her legacy. Happy to learn that brother?"
Hercules shook his head slowly. Gazing at the God of War, it was an strange picture he saw before him. This swaggering slimeball he'd known for as long as he was alive seemed to stare off into nowhere, his entire being sunken at his own words. He'd never seen Ares anything but smug and contemptuous... He clenched his teeth. He wouldn't feel sorry for the braggart. Were he not such a scoundrel perhaps he'd have more to feel good about. His sympathy wasn't owed to the likes of Ares.
"So," Herc piped up, "What do you need me for? Aren't you a full fledged God?"
"Defeating Hera is more than a matter of power," Apollo said, laughing huskily, "I don't know why Ares thinks you can help."
"He's foiled her before," Ares said, "He could probably do it again."
"Even if I could," said Hercules, "Why should I help you? After all you've done?"
"Because," Ares said, perking up a little, a leer beginning to grow on his face, "This is a matter that is more than me, more that Apollo - it's a matter that even you, brother, can't ignore."
Hercules nodded slowly, pulling a chair over and sinking down into it. He glanced to Apollo, looking him over as if he had noticed him for the first time, a nonchalant air taking him.
"So what happened to you?"
Gabrielle sank into the chair in the kitchen, Iolaus sitting across from her with a stunned and rather urgent pallor. Joxer stood in the doorway, a hardness to his features. His eyes watched every move Iolaus made, his ears listened and examined every word. He watched his beloved Gabrielle too, till she glanced up at him and tilted her head.
"Joxer - why don't you see if Xena's okay?"
"She'll be asleep Gabrielle," he said, "I'm helping her move here tomorrow, remember?"
Gabrielle smiled uneasily, "Oh yeah."
She obviously wanted some time alone with the sidekick of the great Hercules, his muscle-bound arms resting on the table, handsome blonde locks and kind blue eyes displayed in front of her. Joxer shook his head suddenly - why was he jealous? Gabrielle loved him! They'd been together for months now... they'd almost had a child together. But there sat a real hero, so very handsome and yet this guy exuded an air of vulnerability Joxer could spot a mile away. It was that same vulnerability that drew Gabrielle to him those months back, and though their love was so much more than the roles they played he couldn't help but feel a great stirring inside of him.
Perhaps for the first time since he'd felt Gabrielle's lips on his in a true reciprocated love, he was frightened out of his mind.
Stepping forward, he placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, smiling softly.
"I'll go see how the village square is faring after the ah - mishaps..."
Gabrielle glanced up to Joxer, smiling softly, "Yeah," she said, "Thanks."
Joxer leant down, taking her lips in a breif caress, her hand slipping over his neck a
moment before he moved away, swinging his step and striding out the door. Gabrielle
watched him go a moment.
She turned her gaze back to Iolaus.
"So," he said.
He lifted his eyes up to her, taking her hands with a warm smile, "Tell me Gabrielle, how have you been?"
Gabrielle smiled, "For the first time in months... blissfully happy!"
She nodded again.
"With uh," He laughed uneasily, "With Joxer?"
Gabrielle smiled through a shrug, nodding a little, "With Joxer."
"Oh," he nodded back at her, pausing a moment, "Look, I know you love the guy and all but - Joxer's an idiot!"
A peal of laughter fell from the bard, her face lighting up like the night sky, "I know," she beamed, "I think that's his charm!"
"So that's where I've been going wrong all these years," he said, smiling, sadness behind his face. Gabrielle could see it so well.
"But seriously," she added, looking down at her hands as they ran over themselves, "He's been good to me, and I couldn't imagine being without him. He can be a bit of an idiot sometimes... He's changed though, or maybe I have. When I see him I don't see a fool anymore. I see a sensitive soul, who sees the beauty in everything. He hears music, you know. In his head - and makes it real with his lute."
"Yeah??" Iolaus' brows rose, "I never knew he played..."
"He does," she nodded, "He's a brilliant lutist. You know - Apollo said that Joxer is his chosen - I wonder if he just said that so we'd get him to safety..."
Iolaus shrugged, a darkness in his eyes, "I wouldn't put it past him."
"What's Apollo like?"
Iolaus looked back to Gabrielle, "He's an irresponsible child stuck in a grown God's body. All he cares about is music and parties and his lovemaking conquests..."
"And his sister..."
Gabrielle glanced behind them. Apollo stood haggard in the doorway, the thumping footsteps of Ares and Hercules following him.
"I know I've been cruel to you and Hercules, but I would have done anything to win the favour of Hera, just so she would finally give my darling Artemis a days rest from running!"
Gabrielle looked back to Iolaus, who's kind features were now hard, pain ringing in them.
"We're supposed to believe that?" Iolaus almost growled, "After all you did..."
"Iolaus," said Hercules quietly.
"No, Herc!" Iolaus pointed a finger at Apollo, "You know you've got a lot of nerve, coming here and -"
"Iolaus!" Hercules voice scolded him but his eyes were calm, "Artemis has been kidnapped by Hera. As has Hephaestos. Apollo was supposed to hear from Hermes yesterday and he hasn't been seen either."
"Are you serious?"
Hercules cocked his head and Iolaus nodded quickly.
"Sure yeah of course you are," he sighed, "So, you really want our help?"
Apollo smiled wearily, "It would be nice."
Iolaus glared at Ares. "What are you gonna do?"
Jaw set hard, his features obscured by darkness, he let a waterfall of light fall over him and dissolve him to nothingness.
"I take that as a 'Go to Tartarus'?"
Hercules shook his head, "No, he's helping us."
"Ares?!" he nearly stuttered, "Helping? Since when?!"
Gabrielle looked up from her hands and smiled. "I think you mean 'since who'."
A look of realisation glazed over Iolaus' eyes and he nodded. "I see."
Herc nodded with him, "Yeah. Come on, Iolaus. We better let everyone settle to sleep here." He glanced to Gabrielle, placing a gentle hand at her arm, "We'll be by tomorrow, to make sure Xena settles in okay."
"I'm sure she'll be fine," Gabrielle grinned, "If you see Joxer out there, send him home."
Hercules nodded, a look of bewilderment crossing his face, "Yeah - I uh - will do that."
The hero turned with a caring swagger, bending over a little to fit through the doorway of the kitchen which was obviously only made for the passage of women. The front door was huge, making for the entry of a hefty warlord. The clank of the latch of the ominous front doors echoed through the house, as if to emphasize it's emptiness. Gabrielle turned, surveying the very empty room. Jett had stolen off to the town's Tavern for some reason he mumbled, and Lethaia- Gabrielle blinked, a little startled. Lethaia stood in the doorway of the kitchen, the light from the lamps spilling into the dark living area, her gauzy night linen hanging from her nymph-like frame. The wraith figure stepped forward with a groggy step, her quiet voice rough.
"The hero brigade wake you up too eh?"
"I actually haven't been to bed yet."
Lethaia shook her head, tutting softly as she sank into the dreamy divan that squatted not two cubits from the dying hearth. The red coals flushed the face of the assassin, "You know a girl needs her beauty sleep Gabrielle."
Sarcasm was so faint in her tones, and Gabrielle, finding a companion divan, snuggled with a pillow, "Yeah, yeah."
Gabrielle watched the dark-haired woman for a moment. Curled loose locks of night hung down and framed the high-boned face, the dark orbs glinting in the coal-light.
"Why did Jett go out tonight?"
"Probably to seek some work," Lethaia said softly, as the still house seemed to invoke a whisper, even though Eurepaeda's quarters were upstairs.
"You mean he's-"
"No," Lethaia shook her head, "Jett isn't an assassin anymore, not in that sense of the word. You know there are times when I think he's not even sure of what he does anymore. I mean, he and I travel together," A laugh left her, "You know I don't even now why. Ever since - you know, when we broke him out, we just wandered about together. I did my thing and he just tagged along like a Oracles' familiar."
Gabrielle smiled, "Seems like you've forged a friendship."
Lethaia threw a cautious smile on her thin lips, "I wouldn't say that. I mean - sure we're friends. We're all we've got. I think about going back to the way I was, travelling alone. It seems impossible to me."
"That's how I felt after I found Xena," said the bard, "Like I'd found the other half to myself."
Lethaia narrowed her eyes a little in knowing, "Not how you felt when you found Joxer?"
It was now Gabrielle's turn to laugh, "No, with Joxer it felt like I'd found my old play-mate from childhood."
Lethaia grinned, "Sometimes Jett shows that playfullness that Joxer seems so comfortable with."
As Gabrielle watched, the woman's smile faded.
"It's almost as if he feels guilty about enjoying anything."
Gabrielle looked into the coals, their glows fading silently.
"Has that got anything to do with his father?"
Lethaia's gaze snapped to Gabrielle and she grimaced, "You're perceptive."
"I'm a bard," she replied, "It's a job requirement."
Lethaia let an amused curl grace her lips. "Mam- I mean - Eurepaeda - wont let up about this jail-break talk. By the Gods, Gabrielle, even Jace is afraid of his father. The man is a lunatic. He belongs in jail!"
Gabrielle nodded, the fear evident in Lethaia's eyes. "Why does Eurepaeda want him out of jail then?"
"I've no idea," replied the woman, "I guess she's lonely but - a woman of her high standing and beauty would surely have plenty of suitors."
"Well, she is still married," countered Gabrielle.
Gabrielle took a sidewards glance at Lethaia. "I guess she just cares about her husband."
"The guy was a murderous tyrant!" exclaimed Lethaia, "He abused Joxer and Jace, warped Jett beyond recognition and 'Mama' just acted like it wasn't happening."
"I guess she didn't have a lot of choice in the matter," said the bard.
Lethaia shook her head, "This family is so screwed up Gabrielle. It's a wonder Joxer came out to be so wonderful."
"I've seen the goodness in Jett too. And Jace for that matter but - he's another story."
"Totally," laughed Lethaia with Gabrielle.
The door latch complained with a creak as someone on the other side of the door manipulated it, and with a resigning clunk the door opened. In the doorway two identical figures ambled in, one singing softly and merrily, stinking of mead, and the other pulling off his comical helm.
"With a ro ho ho and an amphora of mead!" sang one baritone, identical to the other which came back with.
"... And Apollo himself swore he never seen, such a gorgeous babe that I got betweeeeeen my-"
"Joxer!" Gabrielle hissed, "Have you been drinking?"
"Tartarus no," Joxer said quietly, "I was just singing with Jett and..."
Jett staggered to Lethaia, bending over shakily, and clasping her shoulders, he planted his lips at her ear.
"How is my little homicidal rosebud?"
Lethaia rolled her eyes, "Don't call me that Jett. You know I don't kill that much anymore."
Gabrielle rose her brows, watching the pair snap at eachother.
"Ihh sorry," he said, "My missaake. Miss me?"
"Terribly," she replied flatly, and Jett gave a quick growl.
"I love it when you talk like you hate me."
"I don't hate you," Lethaia said, "I just hate you drunk."
Jett chuckled again, standing upright suddenly and nearly keeling over as a result, "You know where my cot is sweetpea. If I wake up in the morninnn alone I'll be sorely diszzzepooinned."
The assassin's footsteps clobbered the floor with much disregard to the sleeping woman upstairs. Even the hissing pleads of quiet from his peers did little to quieten his steps. Joxer shook his head.
"Aah, Mama is used to loud-mouthed braggarts coming home at all hours," he
said, tucking an arm around Gabrielle's waist,
"OOoaaargh," he yawned, "Let's go to bed, we gotta help Xena tomorrow."
Gabrielle nodded. As Joxer guided her forward through the dark, the bard placed a hand on Lethaia's shoulder.
"You going to get some sleep?"
Lethaia smiled up at the bard, "I think I'll just sit up for a little bit."
Gabrielle returned the soft smile, and turned back into the embrace of her beloved as she was taken upstairs to a rapturous sleep. Lethaia turned her gaze back to the fire, giving a long forlorn sigh.