"Bringer of Twilight"
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Ares, Gabrielle, and Argo are the property of Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA, and MCA/Universal; the other characters in this story are the author's own. No profit is being made from this story, and no copyright infringement is intended.
After helping Ares regain his godhood, Xena believes that he is back to his old ruthless and devious self. But a chance encounter leads to her to see a God of War struggling with the aftereffects of mortality -- and to confront some hard truths about their relationship.
Summary: Xena discovers who her baby's father is. Alternate version of Seeds of Faith.
The fracas in the tavern is over and I put away my sais; my body tense, my face burning with agitation and anger. So I was going to clobber some guy and I was wrong; he was only reaching for a handkerchief. How was I supposed to know? It was in the middle of a fight. He could have had a weapon in there -- I had to react. And now, Xena is giving me this disapproving look, disapproving and a little hurt. Like I've disappointed her; like I've become the kind of person who'll stab first and ask questions later.
And then, to make it worse, there's a flash of blue light and he shows up. Ares. Here to do his usual manipulative thing, no doubt. Or maybe not, because he looks pissed off.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Xena gives him a wry grin. "Ares at a village squabble? Things must be real slow."
He glares at her, unamused, then nods toward her huge belly. "You, on the other hand, have been keeping yourself busy."
Her face flinches slightly but she ignores his gibe. "What are you doing here, Ares?"
"Those people you saved -- " he nods toward the men in Eastern robes who cower at the far end of the bar -- "are part of a growing movement that incites people to disobey the gods."
"And we're supposed to stand by and let them get lynched by a mob?"
He raises his voice. "Stay out of this, Xena."
A thought strikes me, suddenly. "Are you worried that this could be the beginning of the Twilight?"
Xena turns to me, puzzled. "What twilight?"
"The philosophers spoke of a time when people will no longer worship or need the gods, and the gods will lose their power."
Ares scowls at me, jaw tightening. "It's a myth."
Xena looks from me to him, weighing my words. This is one time she won't make fun of me for being such a bookworm. "If it's a myth, Ares, then what are you so worried about?"
"Let's just say I don't like taking chances."
"Well, that's too bad," she shoots back, her voice venomous. "Because these people have a right to believe whatever they want and we're not going to stand by and let you take that right away from them."
He steps forward, so that he's right in her face, almost brushing up against her protruding stomach under the coat. There are gasps in the crowd and I reach for the sais; as if I could do anything against a god.
"You have no idea what you're getting yourself into." He's almost shouting, now; and, searching his face, I see rage and fear and something else -- something that looks like concern, care. "Just remember -- the decisions you make donít just affect you anymore; they affect our child."
I must have heard him right, because Xena looks like she's just seen the Gorgon, and her voice is choked when she says, "What?"
Ares steps back and swallows hard. "I said, everything you do affects your child."
She breathes out a quiet "Oh" and rallies herself. Then, "You're threatening me? You are afraid."
He clenches his fists, looking grimmer than ever, and vanishes in shards of blue light and smoke. The people in the tavern breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Not me -- because I know what I heard, and now I know it for sure. Ares is the father of Xena's baby.
I am so shocked that it barely registers when one of the men we rescued says that their teacher, the leader of their movement against the gods, is none other than our dear friend Eli.
x x x
As Xena and I follow the men through the busy, noisy, dusty streets, I'm lost in thought. How could I not have known, before? I saw them. When Xena was without her dark side, innocent of violence and evil -- I walked into the chamber at the house of Caleb, the monk, and I saw them; he was fully dressed but she was naked in his arms, her hair and skin damp from the bath, and they were about to kiss. I won't forget that sight anytime soon, or the emotions that surged through me then. I was shocked, disgusted, furious -- but there was something more. The way he was holding her, the look in his face, his eyes half-closed -- if I didn't know better, I would have believed he cared about her. Conniving bastard.
I thought I'd walked in just in time before anything serious happened. But obviously, it already had.
Damn you, Ares. It wasn't enough for you to have your way with her when she was as innocent and helpless as a child. You had to get her pregnant, too. If Xena hadn't merged the chakrams -- if we still had the light chakram that could kill gods -- I could have cut you to pieces right now.
x x x
Damn you, Xena. Why do you have to be so stubborn?
I sit sprawled in the throne in my temple, half-listening to my priest who is droning on about how Eli is becoming a problem and something needs to be done. Yeah, yeah, I know. Except that right now, my mind isn't on Eli.
I've tried to stay away from her; to keep her out of my way and out of my head. But seeing her now, like this -- heavy with a child she doesnít know is mine -- has brought it all back.
She was so different, without all the anger, all the pain and guilt, all the hardness -- innocent and gentle and defenseless, and all those other things that should have been making me sick, especially in her. The woman I had wanted as my Warrior Queen; completely useless now for anything like that. And I was still drawn to her. I want to tell myself it was just sex; no different from what it would have been with any other beautiful woman, naked and willing. Oh yeah, willing. The little bard bitch thought I was taking advantage of her, but that's not how it was. She was the one who pulled me toward her, hot and eager and -- incredible. I remember every moment of it; the look in her eyes, the heat and softness of her kiss, the feel of her body --
I have to do something about Eli. And I know she'll fight me on this, to the death if she has to.
Why does it matter? It's not as if I haven't fathered other children. As Zeus is my witness, I didnít mean to father this one, if only because I didn't want to deal with one very pissed off Warrior Princess -- very possibly with a god-killing weapon in hand -- once Xena recovered her old self. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. What does one child matter to me? Or one woman?
I wonder if she really remembers none of itÖ
Dammit. I don't want her to be hurt; or the baby. I growl in frustration and bang my fist on the armrest of the throne, startling the priest.
"My L-lord," he stammers. "If this keeps up, you run the risk of losing your worshipers."
I am the God of War; one of the rightful masters of the world. I am not giving up my power without a battle.
"Then it's high time I paid Eli a visit," I say, back in control now. "Fear -- always makes a good impression."
Maybe I can scare him into dropping his crusade. Maybe I can do this without shedding his blood, or going up against her. I'll do what I have to.
x x x
"Make a move on me. Please."
He has to die. He killed Eli; an unarmed, defenseless holy man who preached peace. He hurt Gabrielle, the one person I love more than anyone or anything in the world. Just now, he would have killed her if I hadn't knocked the sword out of his hand with my chakram.
I should have killed him long ago, when he sided with Dahak to save his own skin; when I had the Hind's Blood dagger and I thought Gabrielle was dead because of his betrayals and manipulations. If I'd killed him then, none of this would have happened. But I can kill him now. The Dagger of Helios, the sacred weapon that can kill a god, is in my hand; its gleaming tip pressed up against his throat, pushing up against the soft skin there but not piercing it, yet. Yet.
"A dagger? You're gonna have to do better than that," he sneers.
"The Dagger of Helios. So no, I don't."
His eyes widen, filling with fear and fury, and that makes me feel a little better. I want to see the look in his face when the blood flows from the cut, and he knows that his immortal life is ebbing away with every drop and he is powerless to stop it.
"How'd you get it?" he blurts out.
"Let's just say I have friends in high places."
For a moment the rage in his look burns away the fear. "Even if you kill me, you've already lost. Eli's dead!"
I know. I failed him; I failed Gabrielle. And it's all because of you, you soulless bastard.
"Then it's only fair that you pay for his life with yours."
He clenches his jaw and throws his head back, offering his throat to my blade; waiting for the inevitable flash of pain that will signal the end.
One cut. That's all it will take.
A vision bursts into my mind suddenly: Ares throwing his head back, his eyes closed, while I'm kissing his bare chest. I must be going crazy. Or maybe it's just the pregnancy --
I grip the dagger harder; and then I see, in the blade, Eli's face. He looks sympathetic and sad.
Maybe I really am losing my mind.
"Xena," he says. "Do you really want your child to grow up with a murderer for a mother?"
I flinch as a memory comes back to me from a long time ago, when Cyane told me that if Borias and I stayed together I would end up killing him; the father of my child. Cyane said the same thing, then. "Do you really want your child to grow up with a murderer for a mother?"
I feel dizzy for a moment, my mind reeling, my heart beating so wildly I can hear it thumping. The image fades. I think I know what Eli is trying to tell me.
Ares' voice snaps me back to reality. "Come on," he snarls. "Do it!"
I become aware, again, of the tip of the dagger pushing into his skin, a hair's breadth from the vein; and of the crowd watching in rapt silence -- it's not every day you get to see the twilight of the gods -- and of Gabrielle, a pained look on her face.
"When you killed Eli, you made sure that his cause would never die." I manage to keep my voice from shaking. "It's what he wanted, Ares. You played right into his hands. Now, you're hoping that I'll play into yours." I lower the dagger. "I'm going to do worse than kill you. I'm going to spare your life."
He stares at me, breathing hard; the rage in his eyes changing to -- something else.
"Enjoy your reign while it lasts," I spit out. "The twilight is upon you."
"You make no mistake," he says, still catching his breath. "We're going to see each other again -- when we've got a little more privacy."
"Count on it," I parry; but I'm not sure what he's talking about. I feel confused; as if I'm on the verge of grasping something -- something important -- and just missing it.
He vanishes with the usual light show, and the people in the crowd gasp and cry out in relief. Gabrielle rushes toward me and embraces me.
"Oh, Xena," she breathes out. "I'm glad you didn't kill him."
Her words make me want to cry. Even though she's a warrior now, she still hasn't lost her compassion; only minutes ago the son of a bitch was going to lop her head off, and she's glad I didn't kill him. I love you, Gabrielle.
x x x
Later, that night, Gabrielle and I are out of town, sitting by a campfire amidst some sickly-looking shrubs.
"I shouldn't have blamed you for Eli's death, before," I say. As if she could have done something against an enraged god. "I'm-- "
Before I can say it, she interrupts. "Xena, I was blaming myself. I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry."
We smile at each other; and then hear a voice. "Your enduring faith in one another is the greatest miracle of all."
Gabrielle gasps and jumps to her feet. "Eli!"
It's him; but I can see that he is not of this world anymore. He is clad in a long white robe, and while I don't think he is actually emitting light, there seems to be a kind of soft white radiance about him that dispels the falling dusk. He is smiling.
"Thank you, Xena, for keeping my cause alive."
My eyes fill with tears. "I had help."
He turns to Gabrielle. "Thank you for listening to your heart. Like I said, you can never disappoint me."
She nods, speechless. And then he says gently, "Tell her, Gabrielle. She needs to know."
With that, he fades, though the radiance seems to linger in the air a moment. I'm terrified. It's that thing again, and I'm grasping at it and it's almost within my reach but it still slips away.
"Tell me what?" I ask, my mouth dry.
She takes a deep breath. "It's about the baby."
"What about the baby?" I can hear my own voice grow hoarse with fear.
"The father -- "
And, in that instant, I know. I remember, from the time when I had lost my dark side. My memories of that time are excruciatingly blurry and vague, but this one, right now, is clear. Ares and I together, his naked skin hot against mine, our bodies joined -- with me arching into him and pulling him down to kiss his mouth --
I know. Maybe I knew all along.
x x x
I pace around my empty temple; swing my fist, punching at a column. She was right. Eli is dead, and I've lost. The twilight is upon you.
Mortality was bad enough before. Only then, she was at my side.
She'll never forgive me.
A fireball forms in my fist and I launch it at a statue of myself, shattering it to pieces. It feels good somehow, briefly.
I can still feel the dagger at my throat; the hatred in her eyes. I know how she felt; for a moment back there, I could have killed her and our unborn child. Maybe I should have. I know I'm done for, and she did it, just as much as if she's cut my throat with that dagger.
I throw another fireball, and another, not caring what or who I hit. Distantly, I hear the clang of metal as some ceremonial weapons on the wall clatter to the floor.
Spent, I stumble toward the throne and collapse. Focus. Think. Who says the Twilight has to be inevitable? Well, she does, but she's no Oracle of Delphi. I can rally the other gods. Wipe out a city or two and put some fear of the gods into these Eli-loving sheep.
She didn't kill me. She had the Dagger of Helios at my throat and I had killed her precious Eli and almost killed Gabrielle; and she didn't kill me.
No. Not that again. Focus.
And then I hear her; her voice, slicing through the distance between us, as sharp as that blade.
I could try to fight it, but I know I'll lose in the end. I'll go to her.
x x x
She punches him so hard that he staggers back. I'm sure that if he'd been mortal, she'd have broken his jaw or his nose. This isn't exactly the way to greet the father of your baby, but then, under the circumstances, he probably doesn't expect anything else. He rubs his jaw, wincing a little, and stares at her silently, waiting for her to speak.
"You son of a bitch," she says. "You son of a bitch."
"I didn't do it on purpose," he says.
She gives a harsh laugh. "Oh -- you didn't do it on purpose. You just accidentally fell on top of me?"
"I mean, I didn't want to get your pregnant. You weren't supposed to unless I wanted it. I don't know what happened."
My own anger surges as I remember them together, and I speak up. "You took advantage of her when she wasn't herself."
He says nothing; and, to my utter amazement, it's she who speaks in his defense, sort of. "I wasn't a child, Gabrielle. I knew what I was doing."
"But you donít even remember it!"
"I remember enough," she says grimly. I get up and go over to stir the fire; maybe it's best to let them sort this one out between themselves. I wonder, quietly, how she could have been drawn to him when her dark side, and everything that connected her to war and violence, was gone.
"Xena," he says, stumbling a little. "Listen -- I -- I have feelings for you, okay?"
Stunned, I turn around and see his face in the now-bright moonlight. He looks anxious and vulnerable, and I suddenly remember how he looked at her before. It can't be true. He can't --
"Are you trying to tell me that you love me?" Her voice is incredulous, bright with disgust. He says nothing. "Go on, say it. Tell me you love me."
Ares moves his lips and blinks, and finally says nothing. It occurs to me that if he was playing a game, he would have had no trouble saying it.
"You're just looking out for number one, as always," she says scornfully. "Now that the Twilight's near, you know your best bet is with me. That's why you gave me this child, isn't it? You knew the Twilight was coming and this was your insurance policy."
Slowly, he shakes his head. "You've got it all wrong."
She snorts. "Why should I believe you?"
They stare at each other, as oblivious to me as if I weren't there. And then, suddenly, I feel another presence; the air seems lighter, somehow, and I heard a gentle voice say, "Xena."
It's Eli, again. Ares backs away a little, a flash of sheer terror in his face. "Donít be afraid," Eli says, and Ares looks so mortified that I actually, briefly, feel sorry for him.
Eli goes on, his face kind, his voice serene. "I told you before, Ares; maybe underneath all that rage there is some compassion after all."
Ares says nothing. It can't be easy talking to someone you just killed, especially when that someone may now be more powerful than you.
"I also said that gods knew nothing of love. I think I was wrong."
Xena gapes at him open-mouthed and then turns toward Ares, who looks at this moment like he would vastly prefer to be swallowed up by the Abyss of Tartarus.
"Xena," Eli says. "You were right about the twilight of the gods. It's the birth of your child that will set it in motion."
Xena gasps. "My child?"
"Your daughter will open the way to the rule of the God of Love."
"My daughter," Xena repeats in disbelief. "But why? She's the child of the God of War."
"And that's why she was chosen. She was conceived when you were as pure of heart as a human being could be. Pure enough to turn the child of War into the Messenger of Peace."
At this, Ares finally regains the gift of speech. "Well. Somebody up there has a twisted sense of humor."
Xena stares at Eli for a moment, digesting all this, and finally asks, "So -- what happens now?"
"That's up to you," Eli says, then looks at Ares. "To both of you. The road before you is not an easy one. The Olympian gods will not give up their reign without resistance. They will try to stop your child from being born; or failing that, to kill her." His eyes shine softly. "Be careful."
He starts to fade, and I call out, "Eli -- are we going to see you again?"
"Not in this world," he says. "But I will always be in your heart, Gabrielle."
And then he's gone, his voice echoing faintly in the air. "Love is the way."
"I'll miss you," I whisper.
There is a long silence after that. I notice that the fire is dying, and go to add some dry branches. The crackle seems to startle Xena and Ares out of their stupor. Ares wipes his forehead and sighs.
"My child," he says. "Messenger of Peace. I think that was his way of saying, 'Paybacks are a bitch.'"
His wisecracks are reassuring, somehow; a sign that the world is still almost normal.
Xena shivers a little in the night air and wraps her coat more tightly around herself. I come up to her and put a hand on her arm.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah Ö I think so."
"It's a lot to take in."
She goes over to the fire and sits down. I'm about to sit next to her; but then I see that, after a moment's hesitation, Ares is coming toward her, and I know that right now I need to give them some room.
"I'll go gather some more firewood."
x x x
We sit still as Gabrielle's figure melts into the darkened plain.
My daughter. Messenger of Peace. Bringer of Twilight. Ares' child.
"Xena," he says. His voice sounds strange; different, perhaps because there is no trace of mockery or anger in it now, or of suave seduction. "No matter what's happened between us before, I promise you I'm not going to let anyone -- god or man -- hurt our child."
"And I can trust you," I say -- realizing as I speak that it comes out as a statement, not a question. How can I trust him? But maybe, if Eli could look into Ares' heart and find love there Ö It's up to both of you, Eli said. Did he want us to raise this child together?
Inside me, the baby kicks, making me gasp a little.
"What is it?" he asks, concerned.
"The baby," I say. "It's moving."
Ares lifts his hand and gingerly moves it toward me. I take his hand then, and put it on my belly to let him feel it; my hand over his. The baby moves again.
"Our child," he says.
It sounds strange, after everything that happened -- after I almost killed him just a few hours ago. And yet --
"Our child," I say.