Subtext: Not intentional, if you see it, then congratulations you’re more perceptive than I am
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Ares, and Gabrielle belong to RenPics (well, except in the case of Ares, he actually belongs to Greek mythology), and any coincidence with other stories is purely that, coincidental. Don’t sue me; I’m not making money off of this story (don’t we all wish we could). Enjoy!
Rating: Don’t know all that much about the ratings system, but I figure it’s PG
Summary: Xena meets with Ares some 30/40+ years after Cortese’s raid (this takes place after the whole 25 year jump, plus the year in Norseland, and includes that whole infamous 10 years ago). It’s the anniversary of her officially becoming a warrior, and Ares uses this opportunity to talk about some of the things he’s done to her on the series.
Now on to the story…
“Hahhahahaaaahahahahhaaaa!” Loud, uproarious laughter filled the tavern as Xena and Gabrielle made their way to an isolated table in the dark corner of the room. The establishment was just like any other, full of music and questionable individuals. Xena’s eyes wandered over the usual suspects, while Gabrielle went to the bar to order them a meal and some drinks. Twenty-five years later and the scumbags are still the same.
Gabrielle walked towards the table with ale in hand. “Amazing place, huh?” quipped the blond-haired woman while setting the drinks down. She lowered herself onto the uncomfortable chair.
Xena shook her head slightly, a knowing expression on her face. Before she could say anything, something else caught her attention. She felt a pair of eyes looking at her. Turning around, the intuitive woman found the source of her unease. A young messenger and the barkeeper were talking, casting glances at the warrior woman. After a few moments, the barkeeper pointed in their direction and the boy walked over. He looked to be about twelve summers old, with dirty blond hair and green eyes. His cheeks were cherubim, and his clothes were slightly tattered. “I have a message for Xena,” he choked and held out the scroll.
Xena took the scroll cautiously and asked, “Who’s it from?”
He shrugged and stated “A priest took me aside and told me to deliver it here.”
The bard’s green eyes met the warrior’s blue ones over the table. A brief, silent exchange of mistrust flowed between them. Xena wasn’t, nor had she ever been, keen on being on the receiving end of priests or the gods they served and worshipped.
She laid back in the chair, scroll in hand and looked at the boy. “What temple was this priest from?”
“I don’t know,” he mumbled nervously and downcast his eyes. “He just told me to give it to the Warrior Princess.”
“Be careful...” Gabrielle said in a warning tone. “Remember Cleopatra.”
After a moment of thought, Xena opened the scroll slowly, ready for any surprised that awaited within the piece of parchment. Finding that it was safe, she read:
Do you know what today is? Tonight, you pick the place and I'll be there.
Gabrielle watched as a myriad of emotions passed on her companion’s face. She could sense the questions, the anger, the surprise, and the touch of endearment in her facial expressions. “Xena?”
Xena looked up and Gab swore she saw the faintest blush on the warrior’s face. She folded the parchment, and, noticing the messenger boy staring at her with a look of awe, thanked him. Xena saw him hesitate for a moment, and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Was there anything else?”
“Y-yes,” he stammered. In barely a whisper, he asked, “Can I have your autograph?”
The bard hid her smile and tried not to make her giggling audible. She felt a kick under the table as Xena tore a piece off of the parchment, took out one of Gabrielle’s quills, and signed her name.
When he had gone, Xena turned to Gabrielle and commented, “I thought he was nervous because he was afraid of me.” She took a sip of ale as the barkeeper came with their food.
“Famous enough to warrant an autograph now?” the bard teased and looked at the retreating backside of the barkeeper. “You still haven’t told me what was written in that parchment.”
Xena averted her eyes and mumbled, “Nothing important.” Her companion stopped in mid-chew, noting the new sparkle in the warrior woman’s eyes. Hmmm, whatever it was has put her in a very happy mood.
Gabrielle raised her eyebrow at the sly smile and far away look on her friend’s face. “Okaayyy,” she said, trying to think of a change of subject. She knew Xena would tell her when she was good and ready, so she didn’t press the issue. “We’ve spent the past three days eating at inns and taverns. What do you say we get back to roughing it a bit, huh? I’ll go hunting for some venison tomorrow.”
Xena snickered, making Gabrielle stop in her tracks. “And why is that so funny?” she asked, even though she already knew.
“I leave the hunting up to you, and we’ll starve to death. I’ll handle it and you can cook, as usual.”
“Allllll right. You’re absolutely right, Xena. We do things your way, as usual. Wouldn’t want to starve to death...or die from your food poisoning.” Gabrielle ducked as a lamb leg bone came flying in her direction.
Xena was looking over the chakram imprint on the scroll when Gabrielle came out to the barn.
“It just occurred to me. Since we’re so close to Potedaia, you want to go see Sarah and Lila?” she asked. “We’ve got nothing better to do.”
Xena hurriedly stuffed the scroll in her bag and turned to look at her friend. “Sounds like a plan.”
Gabrielle was incredibly curious about what Xena was so anxious to hide, but knew not to press her best friend just yet. “Good, I’ll go get Blanca saddled up,” she stated and walked off.
Night had fallen as the duo rode into the little village of Potedaia. The air was cool and the full moon cast an illuminating, slightly eerie light on their surroundings. Gabrielle dismounted her horse and headed quietly for the stables, expecting Xena to follow right behind her.
The warrior had other plans, however. “Gabrielle,” she whispered. “I have something I have to do, I hope I won’t be too long...I’ll tell you about it later,” she continued as she saw the questions forming in Gabrielle’s eyes.
“Okay, I’ll just...” Gabrielle trailed off as she watched her friend ride away into the night. “Very strange.” Taking her mind off of her friend’s questionable behavior, she turned to face the small farmhouse that held her sister and niece. “It’s good to be home.”
Xena had such mixed emotions when she restored him to his godhood. In a way, she had helped him only to fight against him. Restored the hatred only to fight the hatred, but it had to be done to keep the balance. Her path of redemption kept circling around to him, and she had learned a long time ago that she wouldn’t be able to escape him in any way. Destiny had intertwined them, and only recently had she begun to accept that.
She sat on the dunes, waiting. She had taken off her leathers and armor earlier in celebration of this stress-free day, something that she rarely did. Her white shift, free of the heavy metal breastplate, felt good against her body in the cool night. The moon shun in all of its glory and the waves of the ocean were soothing music to her ears.
She felt his presence a few minutes later. While she had been soaking in the beauty of nature, he soaked in the beauty sitting before him. She turned around and began to stand, but Ares motioned her to stay seated. He could feel the slight nerves and see the questioning look in her eyes as he sat beside her. Slightly nervous himself, he let out a slow breath, hoping that his explanations would go over well.
“You remembered,” she said with her back still facing him. “It’s been so long…the days I became a warrior are forever engrained in my memory. In some ways it’s a blessing and a curse. I am who I am because of Cortese’s raid and yet I carry so much baggage because of everything that’s happened since.”
Xena’s eyes explored his as he sat down beside her. “So you understood what I meant in the scroll,” he said as a statement of fact.
“Yes,” Xena whispered. “What I don’t understand is what you want to tell me.”
Ares fidgeted, took another deep breath, and launched right in. “At first, it was all about getting the greatest warrior back who had slipped through my fingers. Pure greed, lust, and power, and I would do what I had to do to get you back. But it’s not like you were the first one to turn away from me, and I couldn’t place my finger on what it was about you that got to me for a long time.”
He paused, as Xena got into a more comfortable position.
“I tried to separate myself from it by trying to make Callisto my new focus, but that didn’t turn out the way I expected. And then of course Sisyphus took my sword. After living as a god for centuries, mortality was rough. You were the only one I trusted and the only one who could handle the power associated with godhood without letting it get to your head. That’s something you have that I don’t, and probably one of the reasons why I wanted you as my warrior queen.... I wanted you to be the better half of war. I was meant to be more like you, but I wasn’t raised that way.”
Xena placed her hand on his arm, urging him to continue. “Obsession turned into desperation, and well, the lines got blurred for me so I had to sort things out. I don’t think I did a good job.”
“Is this your way of telling me you’re sorry?” she asked him.
“I just wanted you to know where I was coming from.”
Xena chuckled. She knew Ares didn’t want to come out and say the words. They’d make him look weak. But she also knew that this was the best he could give and was more than could be expected from him. Inwardly, she accepted his apology.
Xena sat straight up. “Now I have something I want to tell you.”
Ares gulped, preparing for a barrage from the love of his life.
“I lied to you. I did feel something in that temple. I felt the desperation you felt in wanting to save my daughter and me. I felt the conflicting emotions you had about the prophecy and what it meant for your survival and your feelings for me. And after it was over, I felt dirty. That was a line I hadn’t crossed before, and even after everything you’ve done to me, I felt guilty when logic tells me I shouldn’t have felt anything but satisfaction. All of this because I sensed some change in you. And then you had to prove me wrong, to prove yourself wrong. Of all the things, why did you give me that ultimatum, Ares? Why a baby or else?”
He simply said, “I wasn’t raised to love, Xena. I wasn’t raised with love; I was raised with hatred and jealousy. That’s who I am, so it’s not easy for me to go about this love thing the right way.”
She understood, but she knew she’d never be able to really know what it was like for him. To live for so long with bitterness and loneliness. She felt fortunate in that her own cycle of hatred had ended before it swallowed her into a never-ending abyss. She yearned for Ares to feel the same and wished she would be the one to end his cycle.
Ares gazed at the beautiful warrior woman. “Xena, how do you feel about me now? Be honest.”
Xena hesitated, looking unsure of how to answer his question. It was a question she herself had trouble answering. “I care about you, I at least know that much. I wouldn’t have done some of the things I have since you’ve given up your godhood if I didn’t at least care. Do I love you? I’m tempted to say yes. I wouldn’t be willing to die for someone I didn’t love. Am I in love with you? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m confusing lust and attraction with love.” She smiled at him. “Maybe if you don’t do anything to prove me wrong and screw up…”
While she talked, Ares unknowingly leaned in closer, as if in anticipation of every word. He saw the caring and compassion in her eyes and pulled her into a passionate kiss, a kiss without the lustful overtones, without the inhibitions, and without the mind games of the past.
They finally pulled apart, each regretting that their time was up. Xena stood up and said, “I have to be going back. Gabrielle is probably wondering about me. Thank you for the gift.”
“What gift?” Ares said puzzled.
“The gift of your love and your perspective of the some of the things I’ve been wondering for the past few years.”
“Xena?” He took her hand, urging her to stay. “You listened to me tonight. Why?”
“I know what it’s like, Ares. To want to say something, to want to show that you’ve had a change of heart, and having the people that you’ve hurt not willing to listen. I’ve been there before. It’s not easy to face yourself in other peoples’ eyes.” She regretfully looked down at where his hand held hers. “Goodbye Ares. And happy anniversary.” She almost smiled at the irony of that statement.
“You too,” he whispered, kissed her hand, and let go. Xena walked along the surf heading back to Potedaia, thinking about all that he’d told her that night. When she reached Argo II and saddled up, she turned around and their eyes locked. Then he was gone. He took her heart with him.