"Barbecue at Gabrielle's"
Disclaimer: The characters and incidents portrayed in this story are fictional. No infringment was intended.
Summary: Xena is late to Gabrielle's bbq.
Rain poured down, water dripping from her soaked hair down her back, and over her face. Her bare arms were white with cold; she ran on nevertheless, her feet splashing steadily through the puddles beneath her.
She could almost be running through a rainforest, she decided. Or along some mountain track, or beneath the spray of a waterfall. She could almost be running through the ocean, except for the great stinking truck ahead of her, and the line of garbage bins that she had to lift and throw. She was in Sydney all right, on one of those dripping wet mornings that would change cheerfully to bright sunshine as soon as her shift was over.
Zenobia threw her head back and laughed. A couple of passer-bys exchanged meaning glances at the young woman, clad in a pair of brief shorts and a singlet top, soaked to the skin, and jogging behind a dirty garbage truck. But Zenobia found situations of personal discomfort generally amusing. It was one of those strange quirks which she discovered set her apart as rather odd.
She pondered a few of those as she leapt up and grabbed onto the back of the truck as it headed through the intersection. Choosing this job was a strange quirk, she supposed, although its hours meant she could earn a decent wage while keeping up her nursing studies. Being entitled Zenobia might also have been seen as unusual, though she could hardly be blamed for that. That name had never seemed to fit her; it was far too flowery for her angular self. Her best friend called her “Zen”, though even that didn’t quite suit . . .
She jumped off the truck and headed for the next bin. She envied her friend’s ordinary name; she envied her lucrative profession. Most of all, she envied the fact that she was in bed right now, and not in the least, no, not in the slightest part, cold.
“Gab . . .ri . . . elle.”
Lin Qi drew out the name with pleasure, watching her stir from her deep sleep and fix dreamy eyes upon him.
“I love it when you call me that,” she told him, raising herself on an elbow. “I can’t believe I put up with being called Gabby for all these years.”
“Has Xena worked out why the sudden change?” Lin Qi asked. “She still calls me Ling.”
“Nope,” Gabrielle frowned. “She’s still Zenobia, and I just can’t understand why.”
One street to go. One more long winding hilly road, and she’d be able to hop into the truck and head for home. Sleep a few hours before Gab’s sausage sizzle. Gabrielle, Zenobia reminded herself. She wouldn’t answer to anything else now, for some odd reason.
Grabbing another filthy slippery bin, she slid it into the metal arm of the truck and stood back, before pushing it back from the side of the road. Suddenly a voice called to her, and she turned. The truck moved off, but she was frozen. Part of her wondered why she had to be soaked and smelling like garbage at such a time, but it was only a small part. The rest of her was transfixed. He was finally there when she opened her eyes.
Ares called out again from across the street, then plunged across the road. He couldn’t believe it. The woman he’d been searching for his entire life turned out to be the one who emptied his garbage. Talk about kismet.
The truck had stopped now, and someone had opened a door and was yelling at Xena. Ares threw him a look, and the driver got out and did the final bins himself. Meanwhile, Xena was standing in the middle of the road, about to be flattened by a motorbike. He leapt over to her, pushing her to the pavement.
“Ow! What, you’ve waited for me all these years just to scrape my knee?” She glared at him, rubbing her leg.
Ares opened his mouth to fire back a sarcastic response, but the sight of Xena half-injured on the ground stopped him in his tracks. He had to prevent himself from falling into her arms and crying her name to the stars.
“What, are you going to stand there opening and shutting your mouth or are you going to kiss me already?”
Ares sighed, and settled on the pavement beside her. He looked at her steadily and then kissed her knee a little way above the scrape. Xena shivered, then threaded her fingers through his hand. They sat looking at one another in silence until another truck passed by, showering them with dirty water. Then they laughed.
“So you remember?” Ares asked finally.
Xena allowed a broad smile to cross her face. “Just when I saw you. Ares, I’ve had to wait so long!”
“Know what you mean,” he replied, looking at her with a small smile on his face. “Come on - my place is just across the street. We can get cleaned up there.”
“Oh, but -“ Xena remembered she had a job. She looked up the street and saw the truck had gone. “You’ve hung round as a god all these years?”
Ares shook his head. “After you died, Eve and her followers went a bit crazy; they got hold of some hind’s blood and came after the rest of the gods. I was one of the first to go.”
“I bet you were,” Xena murmured, shaking her head. “Well, after that I guess I’m convinced she really was Callisto’s reincarnation. I can’t believe she’d do something like that!”
“No,” Ares agreed, with a slightly bemused expression on his face. “Anyway, it turns out when a god dies, they get a chance as a mortal - “
“And here you are,” Xena finished.
“It’s a little more complicated, but . . .” Ares shrugged. He opened the door to his narrow terrace house and pushed her in. “It’ll do.”
“I don’t get it,” Gabrielle said slowly. “Xena and I are soulmates. We should have remembered who we truly were as soon as we met. But it wasn’t until I met you that I knew who I was . . .”
“Maybe that’ll be the same for Xena, too, then,” Lin Qi suggested. “Maybe it’s not until she meets . . . who was her true love?”
Gabrielle frowned. “Well, there was Marcus, I guess. I only met he once he was dead, so I didn’t really get to know him. She seemed to like him a lot. On the other hand she was really worked up about Mark Antony. Yeah, she was crazy about him.”
“What happened to him?”
“Well, she killed him,” Gabrielle explained. “So I suppose it’s better she doesn’t meet him again. Oh - I know. Borias. Now they were together for ages, and had a son.”
“And then -”
“Well, he betrayed her first, then she betrayed him, then . . . well, he died, anyway.”
“So was there anyone who wasn’t dead?”
Gabrielle looked thoughtful. “No. Well - no, there wasn’t, unless . . .” Suddenly she buried her face in her hands. “Oh, who am I kidding!” She howled. “I know who she was really in love with!”
“Who?” Lin Qi asked cautiously, edging slightly away from her.
“That bastard Ares,” Gabrielle hissed.
Ares had a fantastic house, Xena decided, washing out her long hair under the steady flow of the shower. It was one of those old terrace buildings with polished floorboards and ornate ceilings, carved banisters and coloured windows.
Not only that, but the bathroom boasted a large, deep hot-tub. Xena eyed it thoughtfully. Natural hot springs had their advantages, to be sure, but she’d never been able to fully assess the potential of a long, steaming, rejuvenating bath - too busy being alert for potential marauders. Now in this bathroom, there’d be no interruptions.
She looked up. Yes, there was even a lock on the door. She allowed a small smile to cross her face. Whoever had designed the place was brilliant, a god-like genius.
“Ares? As in Ares, the Greek god of war?”
“We were Greeks back then, don’t you remember?”
“Nope,” Lin Qi replied. “I knew you’d come from the West, but you were never specific. So Xena and Ares were an item?”
Gabrielle snorted. “He wished. He wanted Xena, all right. But she never gave him the time of day. Or so I thought . . .”
A strange expression crossed her face.
“What is it, Gabrielle?”
“Certain things are beginning to make sense, now,” she said slowly. “There was this time when she came out of the woods with a really red mark on her neck. She said it was a rabbit, but maybe . . .”
“A rabbit? And you fell for that?”
“You don’t know Greek rabbits,” Gabrielle snapped. “But it wasn’t just that . . . there was also the time in Amphipolis, when she had to play around with Ares in order to save Eve. She said she felt something . . . I thought she meant remorse, but perhaps that wasn’t what she was referring to.”
“Your clothes are in the wash,” Ares told her, leading her into the living room.
“So I’m supposed to hang around wearing a towel until they’re ready?” Xena asked.
“That wasn’t the master plan, you know,” Ares grinned, tugging fruitlessly at the edge of the towel. “It’s a warm day - who needs clothes?”
Xena moved out of Ares’ arms.
“Umm . . .Ares, I know I was a slut in the old days, and I got with any man and his sons, too, but things are different now. In fact -“ She blushed a little, then stared at him directly. “I’ve never been with a man.”
Ares’ jaw dropped. “You’re - you’re saving yourself? What, has Gabrielle put you up to this?”
Xena snorted. “Gabrielle? You mean you bought that virginal innocent act? You should have seen how she cavorted around Greece! First there was that boy after she woke the Titans; there I was trying to stop us all being murdered and she was getting it on in the back room of the temple! Sure, she didn’t go all the way, but any petting is heavy when it’s with a priest.”
“And Perdicus. I had to beg her to marry him! I was terrified her father was going to find her six months pregnant and come after him with a shotgun!”
“We didn’t have shotguns back then,” Ares frowned.
“We had axes; and they’re far messier, just ask my mother.” Xena told him. “You know, most of the time on the road was spent fleeing angry wives and girlfriends . . . we could never settle down anywhere! Actually, half the trouble we found ourselves in was due to Gabrielle’s dalliances. She just couldn’t control herself.”
Ares looked amazed. “So that time at the farm, when she came onto the warlords - that wasn’t an act?”
“No act at all . . .” Xena assured him. Her lips twitched.
Ares’ eyes narrowed. “You’re lying, aren’t you. You -”
He grabbed her and threw her down on the couch, tickling her mercilessly while she cried with laughter.
“Oh, I wish I’d kept it up!” she hooted. “Just imagine your face when you saw Gabrielle next . . .”
“I was lying too, Xena,” Ares told her softly, pinning her on the couch under his body. “Or not telling the whole truth, anyway.”
Xena stiffened immediately. “What do you mean?” she asked, glaring.
Suddenly Ares felt very glad Xena no longer wore a sword at her back.
He moved his hand lightly from her chin, to her throat, running his fingers gently down to her belly, and spreading his hand across it firmly. Xena’s body became rigid - her fingers gripped his shoulders, and a low moan left her lips.
“You - you’re a god,” she stammered. “Whoah. But I thought . . .”
Ares raised himself up on an elbow and watched Xena trying to compose herself with some amusement.
“Well, what I said was true. I did have to walk among mortals for a life. But gods always win out. Once I left that life, I got to be a god again.”
“You were a good boy, huh?” Xena grinned. She slipped the towel back around her and grabbed an apple from the kitchen counter, leaning against it and biting down hard.
Ares looked a little embarrassed. “Well - the second time around.”
“You didn’t pass first time? I bet Athena did,” she snorted.
“Yep, one life and she was straight back with her owls,” Ares nodded.
“This is kind of confusing,” Xena said thoughtfully. “If we’ve all lived before, then there’s actually only half-a-dozen people in the world, each living out their life over and over again.”
“Why do you think each generation makes the same mistakes?” Ares shrugged.
“I bet Xena forgets the salad,” Gabrielle grumbled, laying out the sausages to thaw on the bench.
“Has Xena ever made salad?” Lin Qi asked, pulling out the tomato sauce and bread.
“No, but she’s got to learn sometime!” Gabrielle returned, and moved over to the fridge. “Ah, no one eats it anyway. Listen, I’ve decided that Xena doesn’t need a man - especially not Ares - to awaken her memory.”
“So what’s your plan? Get her chakram? Her sword?” Lin Qi asked, tears pouring down his face.
Gabrielle stared at him, horrified. “It’s not that important - oh, you’re chopping onions. No, I think if anything will awaken her it’s Argo. I’m going to have to find her exact replica.”
“Hmm. A horse - or the god of war. Are you sure -”
“At least Argo never betrayed Xena!” Gabrielle snapped, then caught herself. “Well, at least she only betrayed her once . . .”
“So does Gabrielle still hate me?”
“Hate you?” Xena asked. “She never hated you. In fact, she once suggested a threesome, but I said you wouldn’t be interested.”
“Really?” Ares asked casually.
“Of course not, you sick bastard!” Xena cried, hitting him. Ares dodged the blow, laughing.
“That’s it. I was going to have sex with you, but you’ve blown your chances now.”
Ares looked solemn, then slipped a hand around Xena’s waist and dipped her halfway to the floor, nuzzling her throat. She couldn’t help but sigh with pleasure; and Ares caught her eye, winking.
“So - you were lying when you said you were saving yourself?”
“Well, even if I wasn’t, I think it’s pretty clear you’re the one I was saving myself for,” Xena answered, grabbing his hand and bringing it back around her waist.
He conceded her point and returned to his earlier position, moving his lips from her throat to her breasts, sinking down on the floor and moving over her gently.
“There’s no place you’d rather be, right?”
“Right,” Xena murmured, gripping onto his shoulders. “Oh NO!”
She sat up and Ares rolled over, looking apologetic.
“Sorry, I thought you’d like -”
“Damn it, I promised Gabrielle I’d be at her barbecue . . .” She pulled herself up from the floor and scanned the place for a clock. “I’m supposed to be bringing the salad!”
“How about you break the news about my existence - oh, and your past existence - and I’ll come a bit later.”
“You can make salad?” Xena asked breathlessly.
“I’m a god. I can create salad,” Ares grinned.
“Hey, Lin Qi,” Xena nodded at him, and then gave him a meaningful glance.
He took the hint and slipped back inside.
“Umm . . . Gabrielle?”
Xena looked over at her friend. She was bending over the barbecue, scraping the metal plate clean.
“Gabrielle? I just wanted to say I’ve invited someone to the barbecue this afternoon.”
Now she was lighting a match, cupping the flame in her hand, and staring at it.
“Gabrielle - are you all right?”
“I heard what you said.”
She lit the gaslight and watch it flare up before turning around.
“You called him Lin Qi. You’ve remembered - haven’t you, Xena?”
A broad smile broke over Xena’s face. She moved towards Gabrielle, but she held up a hand.
“What I want to know is how you’ve regained your memory. I guess you’ve figured that knowing Lin Qi had something to do with it for me -”
“And knowing me was the other part. Yes, I know,” Xena replied cautiously. She eyed her friend quizzically. “What’s wrong, Gabrielle?”
“I just want to know who it is, that’s all. Who you’ve met. What, is Rafe back on the scene? Is it Autolycus?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You know very well . . .”
“Hercules? Iolaus? Caesar?”
Xena’s face stilled. “Don’t you mention that name in the same sentence as . . .”
“What was all this obsession about Caesar anyway, hmm? He only crucified you . . . three times . . . I guess he crucified me once, too -”
“That was why I hated him so much, Gabrielle,” Xena said sweetly.
Gabrielle looked pleased, though she immediately tried to hide it.
“I’ve been racking my brain, Xena. Borias? Marcus? Mark Antony?”
Xena sighed, and raised an eyebrow. Gabrielle let out a wail.
“Don’t tell me you’ve fallen back in with Ares! After everything he’s done!”
“Come on, Gabrielle. After all, the things I’ve done are just as bad - and I’ve done them to you.”
“Yeah, but that was you,” Gabrielle grumbled.
“So? What’s the difference? How come you can accept the fact that I’ve done terrible things, and still stick around?”
Gabrielle hesitated. “You know the answer to that. Are you telling me you love Ares?”
Xena glanced down uncomfortably. “Put down the fork, Gabrielle, and I’ll answer your question.”
Gabrielle realised she had balanced the barbecue fork in the palm of her right hand, and dropped it hastily on the table. “Sorry about that. Habit -”
“I know. I always wondered why I had such a collection of frisbees about the place.” Xena bit her lip, and then stepped forward, grabbing her friend’s hands. “I’m really glad to be back, Gabrielle.”
“Me too!” She threw her arms around Xena. “I missed you - I missed you so much!”
“I love you, Gabrielle,” Xena mumbled. “And - yeah, I love Ares too.”
The tall woman retreating down the darkened street reflected on the ironies of her life. Rain in morning; sunshine as soon as she headed indoors. Driving, pouring rain as soon as she had to walk back home again.
"Shower and bed. Shower and bed," Xena muttered to herself, focusing on her destination. Her clothes stuck to her, and a river of water was flowing from her hair down her back. It wasn’t pleasant.
A figure came out of the small side-street behind her. Xena instinctively grabbed at her right hip, but remembered that her chakram no longer hung there; and she had no sword at her back, either. It wasn’t as though she really needed it. Several thousand years on, and there seemed to be no monsters; no giants or bacchae, either. Obviously the warriors had finished them all off years ago.
“I just want a word . . .” The indistinct phrase floated up behind her, and Xena growled.
“I’ve got a word for you. Fuck off.”
“That’s two words.”
And Xena spun around, facing Ares at last.
“So after all this time as a mortal you’ve finally learnt to count.”
Ares stepped closer, and grabbed her hand. Then he kissed it gently, and tapped his own chest. “One - two. I’ve always known of that equation.”
Xena relaxed a little, but her eyes remained narrowed and accusing.
“You were supposed to bring the salad! After all the trouble I took breaking the news to Gabrielle . . .”
“Aphrodite was in trouble,” Ares explained succinctly, wrapping an arm around Xena and walking with her. “In fact, she still needs our help.”
“What kind of trouble can the goddess of love be in?” Xena snorted. “Has she been indicted for the incidents at the White House?”
“She won’t want me to tell you this, but the fact is -“ Ares took a deep breath. “She still isn’t the goddess of love.”
Xena looked astonished. “Aphrodite’s failed that many times? What on earth has she done?”
“Been worshipped as a goddess in every incarnation,” Ares admitted. “That’s against the rules.”
Xena snorted. “And in this one? I don’t know of any love cults -”
“Heard of Venus Olympus?”
Xena’s jaw dropped. “The fashion guru? You know her? Wow, she’s really cool. She’s . . .”
Ares nodded grimly.
“She’s Aphrodite,” Xena finished, shaking her head. Shower and bed. Shower and bed. She sighed. It wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
“Hey, bro! Didn’t I just see you leave?”
Aphrodite turned around as the four friends slipped into her dressing room.
“Who’ve you brought - hey! Gabby!” And she gave her friend a hug. “I’ve missed your stories, you know. They were hot!”
“Yeah, they are -“ Lin Qi began, then stopped, colouring.
“And Xena!” Aphrodite stepped back a little. “Hon, you need to do something about that wet hair look. It’s not coming back in for at least a decade.”
“Thanks for the tip, Aphrodite,” Xena growled. “But what have you been up to? I hear that you won’t make it as immortal again if you don’t start becoming a little more inconspicuous.”
Was it just her, or was there something stifling about the small dressing-room? Her heart was starting to beat a little faster, and for some reason her eyes kept turning to Ares.
“Oh, you’ve been listening to big bro, there,” Aphrodite laughed, sitting herself back in her chair by the mirror. “They can’t fail me again! No, I’ll be fine - don’t worry about me.”
Xena noticed that Gabrielle was breathing hard, and biting her lip. But she shook her head, and stepped forward.
“You’ll be fine, all right, Aphrodite,” Gabrielle told her. “We’ll make sure of that.”
“What’s the plan?” Xena asked, hoping whatever it was it was quick and easy and they could get out of there as soon as possible. Shower and bed. Shower and bed.
Aphrodite giggled at the sight of Xena’s flushed cheeks. “See, there’s still a little bit of love clinging to me yet. I’ll make it as goddess this time . . .”
“With a little help from your friends,” Gabrielle replied, rifling through Aphrodite’s wardrobe. “I’ve got the perfect solution for you -”
“No!” Aphrodite cried out in horror.
There was a knock on the door.
“Five minutes till on-air time, Ms Olympus.”
“Yes,” Gabrielle said, advancing on her. “Last year’s clothes!”
The downfall of Venus Olympus was in the morning papers; by the afternoon ones no one could even remember her name. Her humiliation on national television had assured her immortality, although it wasn’t exactly the way she’d planned.
Xena sighed, and pulled herself out of bed, walking downstairs to the kitchen. She’d managed both the shower and bed at last, while Ares accompanied Aphrodite back home. Funny, then, that the mantra was still playing in her head.
Xena shivered, then, and turned around in time to see Ares appear in the kitchen.
“She’s all right?”
Ares nodded. “Hephaestus was very glad of our help.”
Xena thought she heard the clink of metal in his pocket, but ignored it. Instead, she pointed at him accusingly. “You’ve been getting in my head, again, haven’t you?”
“What do you mean?” Ares asked, approaching her with an air of innocence.
“I thought I just needed a hot bath and a good rest. But those words keep going on through my head - what are you trying to do, drive me mad?”
“More like drive you crazy,” Ares whispered, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Listen more carefully.”
Shower and bed. Showeranbed. Showerbed. Showbed. Show bed. Show bed . . .
Xena glared at him. “You always had a thing for sending me insane, didn’t you? Well, you can forget about seeing the bed . . .”
She gave him a push, and he landed on his back on the floor.
“I’m not moving any further than I need to,” she finished softly, moving over him and finally settling her mouth on his.
“No problem -”
Love you Xena I love you Xena I love you Xena Love you. . .