"Afterwards"

By Carly

Disclaimer: The characters and incidents portrayed in this story are fictional. No infringment was intended.

Summary: Ares and Xena recover after "Motherhood".



Her eyes were locked upon those of her enemy. So she would die. So she’d die on her knees. Still would her last movement be the futile lunge of a warrior . . .

Blood spurted from Athena’s belly, and her eyes blinked in instinct. The gaze was lost . . . and as she slowly rose, so did her enemy fall, slumped, dead on the floor.

Xena turned away, ran to her friend, her daughter - and finally stood and faced the man who had saved them. She mouthed the words he needed to hear, but all she could see was the effortless way the chains fell from his body.

******

“Mother?”

Xena stirred from her daydream and smiled down at her daughter, lying in the grass, her face turned up to the sunlight. She stroked her daughter’s hair, the thin baby hair of her memory transformed into thick curls.

“We used to imagine your voice, you know. When we heard your baby cries . . . the small sounds of pleasure you’d make when I fed you, or the laugh you gave when Gabrielle tossed you into the air.” She paused, and saw Eve crinkling her brow, trying to remember.

“You were born with black hair, blue eyes, the way every baby is . . . we used to argue about whether those eyes of yours would change, whether your hair would lighten as you grew.”

Eve smiled a little at that. “I look like you, Mother.”

Gabrielle ran up, then, and urged Eve to chase her into the river, laughing. Xena knew her friend was enjoying the freedom of movement after her injury, understood that Eve would feel the same way. But she hadn’t been healed; her wounds still hurt.

Somehow Xena knew that unlike herself, Eve would not be tempted to return to the darkness - again, and again - the way Xena had. The way, she admitted to herself wryly, she would have almost every day had it not been for Gabrielle’s steady presence.

It had something to do with what she had seen in the light-

Xena shook her head. It did not do to think to much about what had happened to Eve that day. It frightened her terribly, and she did not know why. Except that she had looked up to the sky a moment and asked, and had then been given.

“Hey.”

Xena looked up as Ares limped his way over to her. She nodded at the bandaged leg.

”How’s it feel?”

“Like Cerberus has been chewing on it awhile . . .” He settled himself beside her on the grass.

“Here.” She unravelled the bandage and saw the puckered skin around the wound, red and unhappy. “Not good. Sorry, I’ll have to cut it off.”

“Wha -”

She grinned. “But as for your leg . . .”

Ares shook his head, and punched her lightly on the arm. “For a moment there, I thought I’d have to wrest the sword from your hand.”

Xena thought she’d be able to beat him now, as a mortal, though she wasn’t sure . . . she wondered how it would feel, now there was someone on earth her match with a blade.

“It needs a poultice, though.” She grabbed the saddle bag and searched through for the mixture she’d made up for her own wounds. They were oddly slow to heal now, too.

“Here.” She opened the little clay box and smeared some of the cool ointment on his skin. “Now for fresh bandages . . .”

“Getting wounded is a hell of a pain, isn’t it?”

Xena grinned. “Something like that.” She tied the ends of the bandages expertly and looked at him. “Feel better?”

He nodded, watching the women swimming in the river. She followed his gaze.

“It won’t be long, till you’re there again,” she promised.

“Funny, but for the moment I don’t mind being here.”

*****

The campfire crackled as the moon rose. They had settled down for the night long before, but Gabrielle could tell Xena was not yet asleep. She rolled over and touched Xena’s arm lightly.

“It’s not keeping you awake, is it? Your wound?”

Xena turned over and smiled at Gabrielle. “No, it’s all right.”

She clasped her friend’s hand in the darkness.

“Gabrielle, what happens to gods - what happens to them, when they die?”

Gabrielle hesitated. “No one really knows, of course. Death is such a mystery . . .” Then her voice deepened. “Some say they become the stars in the sky - or become part of the earth, a mountain, a rocky outcrop.” She tilted her head. “Some say they become human, and walk amongst us, to learn what they could never as immortals understand.”

“Or are they snuffed out as surely as Celesta’s candle?”

“No one knows, Xena.” Gabrielle paused. “Anyway, Ares is mortal, now.”

“I wasn’t -“ Then Xena sighed. “I hadn’t thought of that. He may be mortal, but human?”

Gabrielle pressed her friend’s hand firmly. “His wound will heal.”

“Or maybe he died already,” Xena said in a low voice. “And now he is, as you say, walking as human amongst us.”

*****

Xena unwound the bandages and took a last look.

“How’s it feel?”

“Fine.”

“It looks fine, too,” she nodded, and pulled the last of the cloth away. “The poultice must have worked.”

Ares inspected the wound with pleasure. “That’s some scar.”

“Yeah, but who’ll see it? What you need is a slash across your face, or -“ Xena teased.

“Just you try it,” Ares returned, then fell as Xena pushed him down. “What?”

“Ares, I chained you - but your act of mercy freed you from those bonds . . .”

“Yeah, well you know the chains don’t work on mortals -“ Ares began. Then his eyes narrowed. “Don’t, Xena. Not a soul in a thousand years has had to face what you went up against. Don’t make it out to be -”

“What?”

Ares sighed. “Not everything is a story, that has a thread running through it from start to finish. Sometimes things just - happen.”

He looked over at Eve, and at Gabrielle, diving in the river, their voices echoing.

“I know what you feared - that I’d die from the wound you gave me, after what I did for those two.” He shrugged. “What would that matter? I did it for you.” Then he looked at her. “I was never imprisoned by you.” He grinned a little sheepishly. “Love frees.”

Xena looked out at the river; the sun was setting, and the light glistened on the water, so that it was hard to see. She blinked, as the reflection blinded her, for an instant, and then she looked back at Ares.

“What did you say?”

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