An Awakening - Part 10
Even With Ares
by Hunter Ash
Disclaimers: the usual: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Solan, Ares, etc etc etc. Don't bother suing me - this is for entertainment purposes and no harm is intended nor profit (I wish!).
Sex/Alt Subtext: Yes. Not really subtext because the relationship is between two people of the same gender and it gets sexual, loving and emotional and graphic. Same gender relationships with other characters are also referred to. If this is illegal where you are or you are under 18 years of age, or it bugs you - leave. Come back after you change your laws, get older or free your mind
Violence: A good groin shot, a couple of beatings (major character warning), stabbings and a few deaths. The deaths aren't too graphic, just sword strike descriptions (no gore). Finally, one god gets his ass kicked. Oh yeah - the word "ass" is mentioned a couple of times.
Storyline: this is part of a continuing series. I hope that each story can stand on it's own but you might want to catch the others before reading this one.
A Visit Home, An Awakening
Gabrielle's Awakening, A Visit Home - from G's point of view
An Awakening, Discovery
Gabrielle's Discovery - from G's point of view
Gabrielle Amazon Bonding - from G's point of view
Trial of a Roman, Trial of a Couple
Gladiator, Bard, Mother, Warrior
Ides of March Awakening
Children of Gods
Even with Ares
Feedback: yes, please! I love getting feedback and responding to it. I also love discussing the stories I write and X&G in general.
Torris scowled as the two women walked into the inn just before lunch.
"What in Hades did you two do to each other?" he demanded as he took in their bruised and battered faces and bodies. Xena growled and Gabrielle's eyes flashed angrily. Cyrene quickly stepped between her two children and turned to Torris, her oldest son.
"Torris, they did nothing to each other and they aren't going to tell you what happened, so don't ask again." she ordered sternly.
Torris grumbled but moved off to help serve the lunch customers. Cyrene turned and smiled at her daughter and the warrior's mate.
"Hi, Mom. Thanks." Xena smiled around the swollen lips.
Cyrene took in the sight of her two daughters and smiled a rueful smile. Torris had been right, they were a mess physically but their eyes showed contentment, for the first time in a very long time, the innkeeper thought to herself.
"Go upstairs and change, Sasha is with Solan, running around somewhere in the village."
Xena smiled at the thought of her toddler daughter and young teenager son, very pleased that the boy had taken to his half sister so well. Sasha just charmed everyone she came in contact with, her mother thought.
"Hecate?" Gabrielle questioned, bringing Xena's mind back to focus.
"She had a talk with Ares. He grumbled a lot but agreed to back off until he talked with you." Cyrene smirked.
"Gods," Xena muttered.
"Come on, lover, let's get changed and find the kids." Gabrielle suggested.
As they climbed the stairs to their room, Xena reflected on how strange the last two days had been for the couple. To try and counter Ares' godly advantages, Xena had gone on a shamanistic journey at the guidance of her goddess mother Hecate, goddess of magic and the dark moon. Both the warrior and Gabrielle had faced darkness about themselves and each other and embraced both the dark and light. Leaving them to put both halves together in their lives and in themselves.
The journey had been difficult and dangerous, especially when Alti showed up and attacked the couple, physically and emotionally. Making Gabrielle relive the pain of the crucifixion at the hands of Caesar, Xena to relive the pain of the broken legs, courtesy of Caesar, and both of them to face the emotional pain of their own dark sides.
For Gabrielle it had been facing Xena's abusive sexual past towards women and men, for Xena it was facing Gabrielle's potential bacchae blood coming to the surface.
Hecate had also promised to threaten Ares into leaving the couple and their children alone, even if he was Sasha's father.
Xena shook her head as she closed the door behind them. She didn't believe that Ares would give up so easily.
"What are we going to do about Torris?" Gabrielle asked, holding Sasha on her lap as they finished their dinner that night. The toddler was beginning to get tired and both moms were hoping she'd nod off soon. It had been an evening when the little one had been a bundle of energy after spending the day with her big brother and just watching her and keeping her out of trouble had worn both women down.
Xena smiled at her mate and daughter across the table.
"I'm not sure, my love. He feels displaced and his ego is bruised."
"He also hates that we're lovers." Gabrielle observed.
"I know, I'll try talking to him again. I've been thinking," Xena said thoughtfully and blushed at Gabrielle's raised and teasing eyebrows. "There's a small house just outside the village at the edge of the woods, a good piece of land that could be for sale, if you'd like to take a look at it."
Xena smiled at the excited look on her mate's face.
Then Gabrielle frowned, "When did we get money? Mine went to buy the Amazon land in the north."
Xena began blushing and stammering. "Well, I uh," Gabrielle raised her eyebrows again. "I have several stashes around Greece."
"From your Warlord days?"
"Some of it."
"We're going to talk about this." Gabrielle promised.
The talk turned into a debate. The bard insisting that it was blood money and wanted nothing to do with it until Xena pointed out that Gabrielle's money had also been blood money.
Both had been shocked at those words and the truth behind them.
Gabrielle had stormed out of the inn and had taken a long walk, debating with herself all the way. She could rationalize that she didn't have a choice in becoming a gladiator and certainly didn't have a choice whether she won those matches and the money or not. It was either win or die.
Then the other side debated with her. She had still bet on her matches and the matches of others and had used that money. It had been for a good cause, the Amazons needed that land to escape the Romans, she reasoned. But then, wasn't securing a future for her and Xena a good cause, especially with the kids now?
When Gabrielle had returned to the inn she hadn't mentioned the money again, just agreed to look at the house, to Xena's relief.
With a smile, Gabrielle shook her head, as the crowd began gathering in the tavern, anxious for her to begin her storytelling. Had it only been a month since she and Xena had settled down?
The bard grinned and grabbed a fleeing toddler as Cyrene came pounding out from the kitchen, hot on the tail of said toddler. Sasha squealed and giggled in Gabrielle's arms. The bard handed Cyrene her grandchild.
Cyrene grinned at the bard's delighted face.
"Is Xena coming by tonight?" she asked.
"I'm not sure, I hope so."
"Me too, I'm sending Sasha home with Solan now, maybe he can get her to calm down!" Cyrene complained with a playful smile.
The innkeeper noticed the bard's disbelieving shake of the head as she handed Sasha to her older brother as soon as he walked through the door. The growing teen grinned and tickled his half-sister and kissed Gabrielle on the cheek.
"See you at home, Gabby Mom." with a laugh he was out the door.
"He knows I hate 'Gabby'" Gabrielle complained with a laugh.
"Hard to believe isn't it?" Cyrene asked.
"You and Xena settling down, complete with a teenager and toddler."
Gabrielle laughed easily, leaning against the bar as Cyrene joined her. "Yeah, I never believed Xena would settle down and I'm still not sure I believe it."
"How's it going with the blacksmith?" Cyrene asked, picking up mugs and placing them on a tray.
"Really well. I think she's surprised at how much she's enjoying working with Dexicreon. He feels she's got a real talent for it."
"I just worry about Ares, with Hercules and Iolaus gone." Cyrene frowned and Gabrielle shared it.
"I know, he just gave up too easily for my comfort. Well, off to storytelling and earning my keep."
Cyrene playfully swatted her daughter-in-law's arm. "Earn your keep, my foot."
The innkeeper was grateful for the help. Amphiplous was a growing town and it was all that she could do to keep up, even with help from Torris with the heavy stuff and one serving girl. Having Gabrielle helping with the serving and then bringing in customers with her bard talents was a godsend to Cyrene and both Xena and Gabrielle knew it.
It also freed Torris to devote more time to his growing feed grain storage and brokerage dealings and out of their hair.
A candlemark later and Gabrielle found herself grinning from ear to ear when her mate walked through the door and took a seat near the back, returning her smile. Several strangers glanced back, wondering who could ever have caught the attention of the beautiful and talented young bard. Several had confused faces when they spotted the warrior woman. Only one made the mistake of smirking. Seeing the coldness seep into the tall woman's eyes and the deadly expression on her face, he quickly ducked his head back over his cup of wine and turned to listen to the bard. Xena growled and made a mental note to keep an eye on him when she and Gabrielle left.
Gabrielle never missed a beat in the rhythm of her story even though she caught ever nuance of the exchange between the drunk and her mate. She knew that only months before Xena would have simply walked over and pounded the man senseless. The bard wondered if the change was the result of motherhood, Xena's desire to settle down, her trust in Gabrielle's ability to take care of herself, or simply that she was getting more comfortable with her trust in their love.
Gabrielle made her own mental note: this one to tease and question her mate about it later.
Even though Xena wasn't dressed in her usual leathers, she could still intimidate the best of them, Cyrene thought with a smile. She had also caught the exchange between the man and her daughter and breathed a sigh of relief when Xena merely glared. The barkeep stopped the serving girl and instructed her to keep an eye on how much the idiot drank that night. One of Xena's unofficial jobs had developed into bouncing rowdier patrons out of the inn before they could do any damage and Cyrene really didn't want it to come to that, especially if the man's attention centered around Gabrielle. The older woman knew Xena was handling herself well but when it came to her beloved, well, Xena could be unreasonable, Cyrene chuckled to herself as she took a mug of port to her daughter, careful not to obstruct her daughter's line of vision of both the man and Gabrielle.
"Don't mind him," Cyrene said easily as she placed the mug on the table.
Xena blushed and smiled. "That obvious?"
Her mother laughed. "Honey, why do you think everyone in Greece knew you two were meant for each other long before either of you did? Just don't kill him."
Xena grumbled but smiled as her mother moved onto her work. The warrior felt herself softening as she looked at her mate. She was always surprised at the jolt that settled around her heart when she looked into those green eyes. How could she have missed it for so long? she wondered and then answered her own question. Fear. She had been so afraid of losing the bard's friendship that Xena almost didn't risk finding the love hidden there.
It felt like a lifetime ago since they had visited Gabrielle's family and the ensuing emotional battleground that led to the revelation that they were so head over heels for each other that they were hurting and Gabrielle was about ready to leave her.
Once again, Xena thanked the Fates for Lila, Gabrielle's little sister, for her eavesdropping and confronting the warrior with Gabrielle's feelings. Taking on Gabrielle's father, sudden and unexpected acceptance from Gabrielle's mother and sister and then, Gabrielle herself, it was all so unexpected and amazing.
Xena let her mind drift back to their first morning together as lovers. The memory of Gabrielle sunning naked on rocks next to a small river still took Xena's breath away. The bard already had her heart and soul and by noon they had claimed each other's bodies as well. They had been almost insatiable since.
Then the world had turned upside down in their lives. Their wedding had gone fairly smoothly, the warrior reflected. Well, except for Ares crashing the wedding night. Her bard still teased her about facing Ares in the middle of the common grounds with only a skirt on, bare breasts flashing, this never failing to get a blush from the warrior.
Then the public bonding and the Romans poisoning Gabrielle, her mate. Gods, Xena thought, it was probably only Gabrielle being the daughter of Apollo that saved her. The long and painful effects had taken a toll on the bard and had left Xena exhausted and emotionally drained. It left her open for Ares to fool the warrior into thinking he was Joxer, it was enough for him to trick her into an offering at one of his altars, giving him an opening into her life again and erasing her memories of Gabrielle.
Xena gulped down half of her port, trying to get past the memories of Ares. One week, she grumbled to herself, one messed up week and she almost killed Gabrielle. And then found she was pregnant with Sasha.
Gabrielle noticed the frown on her warrior and the second mug of port that her mate ordered. She hated when memories crowded Xena. She cursed the past once again, after all they had faced, the memories still haunted both of them.
Nightmares still plagued both of them, though not as frequently as they had. The worst was when the memories invaded their minds during sex, both cursing these memories the most as well as the guilty they each had to fight. Each tried to reassure the other that they each understood about the memories and didn't take it personal but the guilt was still there.
Gabrielle despised those moments: her body writhing and responding to Xena's hands, lips and tongue only to freeze, ruining the moment. The bard would find herself in Xena's arms, trying to fight against the memories of the rapists, with Xena struggling to bring her bard back to the present, holding Gabrielle as the bard cried once again in rage and pain.
Xena's memories were harder to deal with, those of the Destroyer of Nations and the faces of her victims - both on the battlefield and in the bedroom . Xena growled at the thought of how Gabrielle would have to hold her and coax the warrior back to the present. It shamed the warrior to know that Gabrielle knew what those memories were about. Xena shook her head, Gabrielle still accepted her and loved her, even though Xena had been an abuser like the men who had raped Gabrielle.
Once again Xena felt unworthy of her mate. Then she looked up into her bard's eyes and felt that jolt around her heart again. Once more the warrior knew that she could never face life without Gabrielle again.
Nearly two years without her bard had almost killed her. Only Sasha's birth had kept her going, and knowing Gabrielle was alive, the warrior hadn't give up hope.
Xena smiled at her mate.
Gabrielle was relieved to see the smile on her mate's face. She wasn't worried about the two mugs of port, that was nothing for her mate. It was the memories that worried the bard. They could bring the warrior down for days if they took hold. The smile was a good sign. Gabrielle went into the last of the story she was telling, careful not to catch the eye of the man who had challenged Xena.
Xena loved watching Gabrielle weave her magic with a story. Those green eyes could come alive and dance, bringing each word to life. Xena had seen a room of men reduced to subtle tears at one of her bard's tales.
Xena also loved the fact that Gabrielle was writing and telling her tales again. She hadn't touched pen and paper after her slavery with the Romans for months, even when trapped inside by snow in the Northern country during the harsh winter. Xena had been worried that Gabrielle wouldn't go back to it and despaired that the abuse and killing might have killed the sense of wonder the bard needed.
After buying the house and property, Gabrielle had started writing again and then offered to tell stories at the inn for Cyrene. Both the innkeeper and Xena had been holding their breath, hoping for that. Of course, Cyrene had readily agreed, insisting Gabrielle take a portion of whatever coin she collected and a wage for waiting tables during lunch and dinner.
Xena watched her mate finish her tale and then accept the applause and demands for more. With a tired smile she declined another story and the basket passed around the customers. Gabrielle walked over and handed the basket to Cyrene and turned to approach her mate when the man from before stepped in front of her.
Gabrielle shook her head.
"Do you have a death wish, friend?" she asked with a rueful grin as she peeked around his shoulder and saw Xena's eyes flashing, the bard could almost hear the growl from across the room.
"I thought maybe we could have a drink together, a beautiful and unattached woman like yourself." he grinned, legs wide and thumbs hooked in his belt, his stance challenging her to decline and try to move around him. Gabrielle knew that if she tried he would reach out and grab her by the arm or maybe even around the waist, thus ensuring his quick and maybe timely death from one very upset Warrior Princess.
"I am attached, I am very married." she informed him.
"To who, a female? That's not what a beautiful woman like you needs!" he leered.
Gabrielle quickly considered her options and, in effect, his future. She leaned in closer to him, bringing a surprised smirk to his face. With one quick movement she reached down slightly and grabbed the one sai she still continued to wear, even in the village, and brought it up between his undefended legs, hard.
The handle and her fist sank into his groin. She backed up as he doubled over and fell to the floor, gasping for air. The bard quickly sheathed the sai and looked down at the man turning several shades of red, blue and white.
"Cyrene, I think he's had too much to drink," she commented while Cyrene tried to keep from smirking. The man's two friends quickly grabbed and picked him up.
"I think you should take him up to his room," Cyrene suggested sternly as they began to drag him away.
Gabrielle tried to fake an innocent look and smile as she approached her laughing warrior.
"What?" she questioned and then squeaked when Xena stood up and embraced her in a passionate kiss. "Xena!" she protested when the warrior finally let her up for air. Good natured laughter surrounded them and then howls when Xena grabbed her and threw the bard over the warrior's shoulder and headed for the door.
Gabrielle pounded uselessly on her warrior's back, turning extremely red. Applause, howls and rowdy suggestions followed them out the door.
"Xena! You are impossible!" she yelped and tried to catch her breath as Xena let her down and continued walking towards their new home.
"Nice move with that idiot," Xena commented, wrapping her arm around the bard's shoulders.
"Thanks, good thing my over protective mate makes me carry a weapon even in town." Gabrielle grinned, leaned up and placed a kiss on her mate's cheek, causing Xena to blush.
"I love you, Gabrielle."
"I love you too, warrior mine."
The warrior closed the door to their new home with a slam and pinned her bard against the door with her lips and body. Gabrielle moaned and wrapped her fingers in Xena's dark hair, holding her mate even closer as her tongue fought back for dominance.
Xena's hands were all over her mate and one finally worked their way under the bard's blouse to grasp her breast, playing over a sensitive and erect nipple. As Xena's other hand grabbed her tight ass cheek Gabrielle moaned again and felt her knees go weak. The warrior growled and brought a thigh between the bard's leg, keeping her pinned to the door.
Gabrielle finally broke free, gasping and clinging to her warrior.
"Bed! Now!" she demanded.
The bard yelped again as the warrior lifted Gabrielle over her shoulder and made her way through the darkened house to their bedroom. Xena dumped her mate onto the bed with a grin, trying not to laugh outloud at the bard's indignant look.
Gabrielle couldn't hold the look any longer and laughed herself. This playful side of her mate was something that had surprised and pleased her. It even surprised her even more when Xena was playful and affectionate in public.
Gabrielle lit the lamp next to the bed and looked over at her lover.
Xena's eyes narrowed at the mischievous glint in her mate's eyes and leaned back against the door as Gabrielle's hand stopped her from moving.
Slowly, with maddening patience, the bard began unlacing her blouse, one lace at a time. Xena felt her face beginning to blush as the bard ran her hand over the material, revealing erect nipples underneath. Instead of removing the blouse the bard next moved to her belt and slowly unhooked the belt, dropping it beside the bed and unlaced her skirt tie. Xena's breathing quickened as Gabrielle's hips moved off the bed and her head fell back in exaggerated desire.
Then the bard moved to her boots, gently removing her sais and placing them on the table next to the bed. Her hands trailed over the supple leather of the boots and up her thighs, feeling the tight muscles underneath. Xena whimpered as the bard groaned when she ran a hand lightly over her own groin region. The warrior restrained herself back against the door with nerves of steel and the gritting of her teeth.
Gabrielle slowly unlaced the boots, again moving slow enough to drive her mate to a frustrated growl. Standing next to the bed, the bard grinned an evil grin and removed the boots.
With continued slow movements, Gabrielle stepped out of her skirt and revealed to her mate that she wasn't wearing anything underneath. Xena's breathing became even more shallow and rapid as her hands began to shake. She crossed her arms with, she hoped, a stern and strong expression but could tell from Gabrielle's dancing eyes that the bard wasn't fooled by her nonchalance.
The blouse followed the skirt and Xena tried to remember to keep breathing as the bard slowly approached her, body moving like a cat in the shadows.
Xena unfolded her arms and let Gabrielle begin unlacing her own tunic top, the bard moving much too slowly for the warrior. A small whimper escaped, bringing a smile to Gabrielle as she lifted the tunic off her mate and gasped at the sight of her lover.
The bard thought once again that she'd never get enough of Xena, even if they lived forever. She leaned up on her toes and kissed her warrior softly, careful not to touch her body to Xena's, teasing the warrior. Her mate groaned and closed her eyes, knees almost buckling.
Gabrielle slowly unbuckled the warriors belt and let it fall to the floor, followed by the trousers. A warning growl kept Xena's hands braced against the door as the bard went to her knees to remove Xena's short boots.
Xena's legs began trembling to match her hands as Gabrielle's hands began caressing her legs, first on the outside of the thighs and then on the inside, just stopping short of her sex. This brought out a moan from the warrior and caused her to thump back against the door.
Gabrielle lightly trailed her hand between Xena's legs and groaned at how wet her mate was as she and leaned on her warrior's thigh. As her fingers parted her lover's lower lips and began teasing Xena, Gabrielle blew lightly across the dark patch of hair in front of her, Xena's legs almost buckled again and the warrior's fingers interlaced through the blonde's short hair.
The warrior cried out as the bard's fingers entered her and her tongue found Xena's clit. The warrior's hand hit the door as she tried to steady herself.
"Gabrielle, please!" the warrior cried. The bard drew back and pulled Xena to the floor and quickly positioned herself between her lover's legs again, pulling more cries out of her lover as Xena's hips began to rock with the rhythm the bard's hand and tongue were setting.
Gabrielle drew up for a moment and watched her lover's face as Xena's body began to climb higher and higher.
"Gods, I love you, woman," the bard said softly and Xena's blue eyes met hers with answering passion. Gabrielle interlocked her hand with Xena's while she increased the speed and depth of her other hand and returned to worshipping her lover's body with her tongue.
Xena felt her muscles contracting around the bard's hand and her throat protesting as her cries began getting louder and stronger until she felt the beginning of the edge. Then her cries turned into whimpers as her body shook, begging for release.
"Let go, lover," a voice whispered and Xena screamed her lover's name and felt her body curl up around her bard's hand. Gabrielle crawled up and took the warrior into her arms while Xena caught her breath.
"Goddamn cold floor," Xena muttered as she snuggled into Gabrielle's arms.
The bard laughed and pulled Xena to very shaky feet. Fortunately it was only a few feet to the bed.
Xena grinned and fell on top of her mate and began kissing Gabrielle passionately, bringing a leg between the bard's and Xena, in turn moaned, at how wet her mate was for her.
"Oh gods, what you do to me," she whispered in Gabrielle's ear and then moaned as the bard bit down on her neck. Xena responded with a growl and thrust her hand between the bard's legs and her own thigh. Gabrielle threw her head back with a cry of passion, sending a jolt through her lover's body as their bodies connected together in the passion.
The warrior began a dance with her fingers and hand, taking her mate up and then backing off, again and again until Gabrielle was a mass of shaking muscles and nerve endings that were on fire.
"Please!" the bard finally begged, gripping Xena's shoulders painfully.
The warrior grinned as she raised up from nipping lightly at one of the bard's nipples. Xena slightly moved up the bard's body and kissed Gabrielle again. The bard's hands moved from the warrior's shoulders to her hair and the back of her neck as their bodies rocked together.
"Now! Please!" Gabrielle begged again and sank her teeth into the warrior's neck. Xena moaned and thrust hard into the bard, while her thumb found Gabrielle's clit. The bard cried around her teeth but refused to release her hold on her lover's neck, sending shivers down Xena's entire body as she began to shake with her bard at the approaching orgasms.
How many waves shook Gabrielle's body? Neither of them could tell, her cries followed by Xena's and continuing as both shook out of control.
Xena opened her eyes and found Gabrielle curled up in her arms, both of them breathing heavily. Xena smiled and pulled the blankets up over them as Gabrielle sighed and nuzzled her way to her favorite position in the warrior's arm, head resting on her shoulder.
Xena wondered if she should say anything to Gabrielle about the drop of blood on the bard's lips as she kissed it away. The bard smiled and returned the light kiss, settling into sleep in her lover's arms.
Xena looked up from the anvil in surprise at the sight of her older brother heading her way, the anger on his face evident even across the village common. The warrior placed the horseshoe she was working on in the water bucket and walked out from behind the anvil, removing the leather apron and adjusting her sweat band.
Torris, she could tell, was so angry that he couldn't even speak when he finally got up to his younger sister. His face was red and hands were clenched by his sides. Xena waited, willing herself not to narrow her eyes or provoke him in any way with her expression.
"What is it, Torris?" she asked in a non-stressed voice.
"What in Hades was that scene last night?!" he finally choked out.
"What?" Xena frowned.
"Gabrielle nearly castrates a customer and then you..... you!" he began waving his arms around as he shouted. Xena maintained a calm appearance, not giving into temptation to look back and grin at Dex, working the forge. She knew that would just send Torris right over the edge.
"Gabrielle did not almost castrate anyone. She took care of a potentially abusive situation and didn't permanently damage anyone."
"Turning his..... his... that into jelly wasn't damaging?" he demanded.
"It was either that or face me," Xena said simply with a shrug which only seemed to irritate her older brother even more.
"What do you call that scene you pulled?"
"Picking up my mate from work?" she teased and grabbed his fist as he attempted to swing at her. She easily held his hand in midair as he struggled to complete the blow and finally gave up, pulling back, sputtering in rage.
"I have to hear about it from the other Council Elders! My sister throwing her damned female sex mate over her shoulder! Like a customer buying a whore!"
Before Xena's eyes and mind cleared, Torris found himself on the wrong end of Xena's powerful fists and on the ground nursing a broken nose and bruised jaw. Xena struggled in Dex's powerful arms which were wrapped around her. She finally tried to calm her breathing as she glared down at Torris' bloody face and ripped tunic.
Dex relaxed his hold but didn't let go as he felt the warrior's muscles relax. Torris scrambled to his feet, holding his nose and glaring back at his sister. They both looked around at the small crowd gathering around, including Cyrene running from the inn with Gabrielle.
"Xena! Torris!" Cyrene yelled as she parted the crowd to get to her children with Gabrielle following. She turned Torris to face her and took off her apron to hold it up to his nose and glanced at Xena to make sure that her daughter was all right physically and mentally.
Gabrielle started to pass by Cyrene and Torris and was startled when Torris reached out and grabbed her by the collar and to pull her back.
"If you hadn't come along she'd never have come back!" he hissed, pulling the bard off balance and stunning her with a fist just above her eye, sending Gabrielle to the dust. Cyrene and several villagers grabbed him and dragged him back several feet while Dex tightened his hold over an enraged Xena.
Cyrene quickly went to Gabrielle and helped the young woman to her feet as a couple of other villagers rushed to help the bard up. She attempted a smile, wiping at the blood flowing down past her eye. She quickly turned and went to her mate, taking Xena's face in her hands and began talking to her warrior.
Gabrielle knew the look in Xena's eyes. She had seen that same berserker madness in Xena's eyes when the Romans drove seven inch spikes through the bard's wrists when she was crucified by Caesar. It had taken Xena hours to come out of that rage.
Finally, Gabrielle saw Xena's breathing begin to slow down and her eyes start focusing.
"Gabrielle?" she whispered and the bard nodded to Dex, the big man gently removing his arms from around the warrior. He gave her a quick squeeze on the shoulder and returned to the shop.
Xena looked around and noticed everyone had gone about their business but were still keeping an eye on the couple, seeing how the interesting afternoon was going to end.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. "I'm here, my love, and I'm fine."
"You're bleeding," Xena protested.
Gabrielle took her warrior's hand and led her to the shade of a nearby tree.
"It's nothing, my love." Gabrielle said simply as Xena tried to wipe the blood away gently, to get a look at the cut above her eyebrow.
"Where's Torris?" Xena growled.
"Inside the inn with Cyrene. Xena, promise not to hurt him."
"Gabrielle," Xena growled, warningly.
"Please, this is going to be hard enough to work around."
"He hit you!" Xena hissed, her eyes narrowing and flashing.
"Yes, and he tried to hit you. You also broke his nose and maybe his jaw." Gabrielle said simply.
Xena glared towards the inn.
"Pounding him anymore isn't going to help," Gabrielle argued with the silent warrior.
"Would make me feel better," Xena countered and was surprised when Gabrielle smiled and took Xena's face in her hands again.
"I love you, my warrior. The best thing right now is for both of you to avoid each other. I don't know what else to suggest."
Xena sighed, letting her anger flow away. "I don't either. He's not likely to move away and I'm beginning to like it here a lot."
"Me too." the bard slipped her hand into Xena's and began walking her back to the blacksmith's shop area. She leaned up and gave her warrior a quick kiss on the lips. "I don't want you to go all stoic because of him either." Gabrielle warned and started walking towards the inn.
Gabrielle frowned as she walked into the inn and saw Cyrene wiping away the blood from Torris' nose with a wet cloth. Xena's older brother caught her eye and looked away. Cyrene frowned at her son.
"Get in line, Gabrielle, I want a look at that cut." Cyrene ordered.
"I'm fine, Cyrene."
"I'm not going to lose a good bard to infection! Bad enough my son will now have a bent nose and his meals will be non-chewing for awhile."
"Is his jaw broken?" Gabrielle asked, still keeping her distance.
"No, but it won't feel good for awhile. Maybe it'll keep his mouth shut!" Cyrene snapped and Torris growled, getting a slap upside the head from his mother.
"If you could talk I'd make you apologize! I know you and Xena used to fight all the time but you do not lay a hand on a woman! Even if she is your sister and especially Gabrielle! Do you realize how close you came to dying?" Cyrene demanded while Torris grumbled.
Gabrielle sat down at a table with a heavy sigh. Fortunately it was after the lunch rush and there weren't any other customers.
Torris looked over and glared at her. Gabrielle finally snapped and she was standing over the man before Cyrene could move to stop her.
"Listen, damnit! I am not going away! I faced a lot worse than you to be with Xena, don't make me show you what I learned from them! Find a way to deal with it already! I'd think you'd be happy for her." she shouted and then spun on her heel and went to the kitchen to clean up.
After wiping her wound off, the bard found she was still pent up and went out the back and to head headed for the tree next to the stream behind the inn, a favorite place of hers and Xena's. With an angry growl she began practicing a weapons routine with her sais, working out some of her anger.
She was always quick to try and calm Xena down, now she found she also had trouble dealing with her anger. With a shout she threw her sais, burying them into a nearby tree. Gabrielle grabbed them and spun in a complicated pattern, letting them fly into the tree again with another shout.
The bard attempted to smile when she saw Xena standing nearby, leaning against a tree. Gabrielle blushed and retrieved her sais and walked over to her mate.
"So much for the peacekeeper," she muttered.
Xena drew her into the warrior's arms, holding her close.
"I love you so much." Xena said simply. "Mom told me you had words with Torris. Fortunately for his ass, he'd already left."
"It was more a case of having words AT him." Gabrielle grinned, nuzzling Xena's chest, tightening her hug.
Xena leaned against the tree and slid down, pulling a giggling Gabrielle with her.
The bard snuggled into her warrior's arms with a contended sigh.
"We need to go take Sasha off Mom's hands for awhile before dinner." Xena whispered.
"I know, I'm teaching her letters while your Mom makes dinner." Gabrielle informed Sasha's mom with a grin.
"Yup, she's smart."
"Takes after her Gabby mom." Xena grinned.
"I'll get you for that tonight," Gabrielle promised.
"I hope so, little one."
"Hey, beautiful, how about a kiss?" a male voice demanded from behind the bard one night and the speaker nearly got an elbow in the jaw. Gabrielle almost dropped her serving tray when she turned and saw Hercules and Iolaus standing behind her grinning.
The bard sat the tray down and leaped into the demi-god's arms for in a big hug and then, with a grin, proceeded to hug Iolaus as well.
"It's good to see you both! What brings you two this way?" she asked and then raised her eyebrows when she realized there was a figure standing behind Iolaus. She caught the eyes and shy grin of the growing boy.
"Ketli?" he nodded and then grinned when the bard hugged him as well, switching her greeting to Germanic.
Gabrielle's grin faded when she saw the expression in Hercules' eyes.
"Oh gods, it's serious, isn't it?"
"'Fraid so, where's Xena?"
"She should be here any minute for supper. Grab a table and I'll join you in a bit."
The warrior was also pleased when she walked in and to see saw her friends sitting at a table with Ketli, the young orphan from their adopted northern Germanic family, and her own kids. Then she also saw the tension in the men's faces.
Gabrielle walked over with a mug of port and food for her mate and a quick kiss before scurrying off to finish serving dinner to the other customers. Xena made the rounds of the table, giving hugs to everyone and taking Sasha into her arms.
Xena caught the two men's grins.
"What?" she demanded as Solan giggled and ate quickly to cover it.
"Just thinking how good motherhood and settling down have been good for you both. How long since we were here?" Hercules smiled.
"Five months." Xena switched to Germanic. "You have grown, Ketli Axe Hand."
The boy blushed and grinned. "Sasha is beautiful, Ylsa." he answered, using her adopted Germanic name and watching the child. Xena nodded in agreement and sat her daughter in her own chair and took in the German boy.
The boy had grown from the seven year old she had last seen. Now he was taller and leaner with blond hair and flashing blue eyes that betrayed his northern origin. The warrior was glad to see his quick smile, though, he hadn't exactly had an easy life, she reflected.
The dinner continued with small chatter, catching up on what had gone on between the friends, Solan discussing his continuing training in tracking and hunting with Xena, the warrior mother proudly discussing her daughter's speed of learning, and Ketli's impression of his travel to Greece with his adopted fathers.
Xena had raised an eyebrow at that one, getting a blush from both men and a laugh out of the warrior woman.
The warrior led her guests and family to the small house at the edge of the forest, knowing that Gabrielle would skip storytelling with Hercules and Iolaus in town. Both Greek men were impressed with the small home and the delight in which Xena took in showing them around and Solan's pride in his growing fur collection from his hunts. They sat by the fire drinking port and cider while waiting for Gabrielle.
Xena could sense the tension in the room and was grateful when Solan volunteered to put Sasha and Ketli to bed.
Gabrielle sighed when she walked in the door and walked over to hug the men and Solan again. She settled in front of the fire between Xena's legs, leaning back into her mate.
"This isn't good, is it?" she asked, breaking the tension finally.
"No, it isn't." Hercules confirmed and stared into the fire. "Since Caesar's death Rome has been in confusion and in an uproar. After the assassination, Brutus was given the governorship of Crete. Marc Antony tried to seize power but Caesar's will legalized the adoption of adopted his grandnephew Octavian and gave him most of the estate. Octavian went to Rome to claim his inheritance, which includes all succession rights of Caesar, and has been courting the aristocrats but especially Caesar's veterans."
Hercules took a sip of his port. Xena began massaging the bard's shoulders.
"Antony got his assignment changed from Macedonia to Gaul. Thousands of troops have been joining with Octavian, even though he doesn't have the authority to raise troops. Antony is getting very worried and has been plotting with Brutus. That led to a temporary truce between them including an alliance. Brutus went to Gaul, in secret, to negotiate with Antony and raise public opinion for Antony. Nothing does that better than a battle victory." Hercules said bitterly.
"Battle? In Gaul?" Gabrielle whispered. Frowning, Solan moved his chair closer to that of his moms.
Iolaus ducked his head, wiping away sudden tears.
"Oh gods," Hercules muttered as he wrapped an arm around his mate's shoulder. "Brutus led Antony's troops right to the Amazons and Centaurs."
"What?!" Xena whispered in disbelief.
Hercules nodded, fighting back his own tears. "Axel, Iolaus, Ketli and I went to visit them, to arrange trading for the winter furs just after the attack. We found three survivors, one burned beyond hope and two who are now with Axel's tribe. They told us what happened."
"Only two lived?" Gabrielle whispered, grasping Xena's leg tightly as the room seemed to spin.
"Yes, a little girl named Tyro and an old woman named Sterope."
"Ephiny, Solari?" Xena choked out, wrapping her arms around her mate's chest.
"Brutus ordered their execution himself."
The two women gathered Solan into their arms as his tears finally broke.
"How?" Gabrielle asked, eyes flashing brightly into Hercules'.
"Crucifixion. They said he questioned the Amazons and tortured them, trying to find out where you were." Hercules said softly.
With a shout Gabrielle broke free from the embrace and dashed out the door. Xena hugged Solan even tighter for a moment and then pulled back, looking closely at her son.
"I'm okay." he said simply. Xena nodded and grabbed her cloak and followed Gabrielle into the night.
Xena found her mate sitting by the same stream that ran behind her mother's inn, rocking back and forth, her arms wrapped around her knees. The warrior knelt down and gently placed the cloak around Gabrielle's shoulders and took the bard into her arms, both letting the tears flow.
The next day the small group of mourners rode up the mountainside until they reached a bare spot on top of one of the smaller ones.
Soon a huge bonfire was laid and ready and everyone gathered around. Solan began a drum beat with Iolaus keeping a base beat with him. Hercules handed a torch to both Gabrielle and Xena and then stepped back and bowed his head respectfully.
With an Amazon wail of grief, Gabrielle bent forward and threw her torch onto the bonfire. Xena followed with a howl of her own. Most of the next candlemark was spent with the two women dancing, singing and howling their grief while Cyrene chanted prayers to Hecate and Artemis.
As the fire began to die down, the two women and drummers were exhausted, having pounded and howled their grief to the sky and flames. Xena slowly wiped her face of the sweat and tears and approached her mate, who was kneeling on the ground near the fire, staring at the flames and breathing heavily.
Gabrielle stood as the warrior approached her and slowly removed her Amazon Queen mask. She picked up her staff and looked at it carefully and then threw it into the fire, surprising the warrior.
"My tribe is dead but the Amazon spirit will never be killed!" she vowed.
Xena nodded and waited, watching her lover's blazing eyes, bordering on the berserker rage. Gabrielle walked to her lover slowly and reached to Xena belt and pulled out the warrior's dagger. Xena didn't move, even when Gabrielle sliced her hand open once again and gripped her fist around the blood.
"Ephiny, Solari - all of them, Brutus and Marc Antony will pay." Gabrielle hissed and Xena closed her eyes, fresh tears escaping. She understood her mate's suffering and the desire for vengeance but she also feared for her little bard. With a heavy sigh she took the dagger from her mate, cut her own hand and let the blood run onto the ground.
"For our family and our tribe, My Queen," she vowed with her Queen and then drew Gabrielle into her arms again.
"This could take awhile," Xena warned as they sat around the table the next morning and Gabrielle nodded, her eyes still bright with grief and anger. It had been a rough night for both women, both plagued by nightmares again.
"I know, just as long as it happens someday." Gabrielle stated.
"I'm not going to let you turn into an assassin, damnit!" Xena snapped and Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. Hercules and Iolaus looked very uncomfortable.
"I've killed, remember?"
"Inside the Arena when you had no choice. Choosing to take someone's life ahead of time is something totally different. That's a line of darkness I don't want you to cross, please." Xena's eyes were pained and Gabrielle's face softened.
"I want revenge, yes, but most of all I want justice."
Xena nodded. "Then we'll figure it out. Right now I think we should wait and see how things develop between Antony, Octavian, Brutus and Cassius. I don't want to get caught in the middle of a civil war unless we can use it to our advantage."
"All right, you were the general, my love." Gabrielle leaned back, finally her eyes easing up.
"Are you going to be okay, Dex wants me to go to Desume, a customer over there has a special order for us. I'd be gone two days." Xena asked with a frown and Gabrielle attempted a reassuring smile.
"Actually, yes. I want to take a trip to the woods just north of here. There's a shrine to Artemis I'd like to visit."
Xena nodded, understanding. "I thought I'd take Solan and Sasha with me, if you don't mind."
"Of course not, my love."
"What about you three, my friends? What are you plans for the near future?" Xena asked their two best friends.
"We thought we'd stay here for a week and then head over and see our families to introduce them to Ketli." Iolaus answered with his characteristic grin.
"Great, we love having you two here, I just wish it was under better circumstances." Gabrielle said, wiping away a stray tear. She stood quickly. "I'm going to help Cyrene at the inn." she announced and quickly kissed her mate and was out the door.
Xena struggled with her own tears.
Gabrielle was a little disappointed that Artemis didn't make an appearance at the shrine when Gabrielle visited and sacrificed to the Goddess in honor of her fallen Amazons. In fact, she reflected, she was very disappointed and wondered why the Goddess hadn't been around at all to see her Chosen.
The warrior bard was pondering that and Brutus' actions when she noticed a rider approaching her hard and fast. Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and she reached down and drew a sai into her hand as her horse stopped, ready for whatever command she might throw at the mare.
The rider, a young girl in peasant clothes, stopped her horse far enough away from the bard to show she wasn't dangerous.
"Are you Gabrielle, friend of Xena?" the girl asked breathlessly.
"Yes, what is it?" Gabrielle replaced the sai after determining that the girl was alone.
"My father found a young boy tied up in the woods, he's been hurt bad and he's asking for you. Said his name is Solan."
"Lead me!" Gabrielle ordered and the girl turned her horse as the bard urged her horse to join the girl's as they flew down the road to Myrcinus.
The girl's house was on the edge of the village and they arrived quickly. Gabrielle was off her horse and impatiently waiting by the door for the girl to open it before her horse had even skidded to a stop.
"Father! I found her!" the girl shouted as she opened the door.
An older man, skin tanned and weathered by years in the field, stepped out from a back room and approached the bard with an easy smile.
"You are welcome in my home, I've sent for the healer." he said simply and motioned for her to join him in the back.
Gabrielle whimpered at the sight of the young teen lying on the simple cot. He had a broken nose that was turning into two black eyes, split lips, an arm in a splint and he was deathly pale.
"Solan! Can you hear me?" Gabrielle asked as she knelt next to the cot, taking the boy's hand carefully.
The teen opened his eyes with a groan, his body twitching in pain.
"Gabby mom?" he whispered.
"I'm here, Solan," with experienced hands she quickly lifted his tunic and hissed at the bruising along his ribs and frowned at the knot at the boy's stomach. He groaned loudly when she poked him. Internal injuries were definitely a fear.
"We were attacked, Mom said Ares warrior priests," he whispered.
Gabrielle's eyes took in the rope burns at his wrists and noted that he was able to easily move his legs until she tried to bend his legs into his stomach, again he groaned in obvious pain.
"What happened, Solan?"
"They hurt Mom really bad and took her and Sasha away in a wagon. They left me tied to a tree." the boy began to cry and Gabrielle started talking, trying to ease his physical and emotional pain. Finally a young woman walked in with an older woman, both carrying satchels.
"I am Polyphonte and this Nomia, I am her apprentice." the girl introduced herself.
"I'm Gabrielle and this is Solan. He's been beaten badly, broken nose and bruises but I'm worried about his stomach. There's a couple of lumps and they're rigid and painful. It hurts him to bend his legs to his stomach and he's very pale." Gabrielle said quickly as the older woman moved forward and the younger one pulled up a stool for her mentor.
"You have training?" the older woman, Nomia asked.
"No, but I've seen plenty of wounds and beatings," Gabrielle answered, watching the older woman's hands fly over the boy, much as hers had done. The young woman, Poly went to a table and began pulling out herbs and mixing them in a mortar.
"You're too young to have such knowledge," Nomia smiled.
"So is he," Gabrielle commented, wincing as he groaned in pain again.
"They always are," the old woman agreed and took the cup that Poly handed her of the mixed herbs and wine. She held the boy's head up gently and got him to drink most of the wine.
"Solan, do you know where they took Xena and Sasha?" Gabrielle asked, hoping to get more out of him before the pain herbs hit.
"Something about a temple," he muttered, eyes closed.
"You are needed elsewhere," Nomia observed.
"Yes, his mother and sister have been kidnapped."
"Then go, we won't know until tomorrow if there is bad bleeding inside."
"Solan, I'm going to find them and get them back!" Gabrielle promised and dashed out of the back room. She approached the father and daughter.
"Thank you, I'll pay for whatever cost the healer wishes. I have to leave for a bit, if I don't come back within two days, send word to Cyrene in Amphipolis at the inn that Solan is here and hurt."
"Don't worry, he is welcome to stay here as long as necessary. You'll be back."
the farmer said optimistically.
Gabrielle cursed Ares with every curse she had ever heard of and invented quite a few along the way as she rode hard. How in Hades did Solan end up in Myrcinus, she wondered. It was north of Amphipolis and not on the way to Desume in the East. The only solution Gabrielle could see was that he was left as bait for her to find and attempt a rescue of Xena and Sasha. That meant the priest warriors must be headed for the temple of Ares at Crenides, north of Desume.
Gabrielle growled and urged her horse on faster. She knew she was heading into a trap but was determined to get Xena and Sasha back, she'd just have to change Ares' plan, she thought as the wind whipped through her short blond hair.
The bard wasn't surprised when she caught up with the small band of warrior priests late that day. She left the road, leading her horse deep into the woods next to the road and left the mare to take to the trees. Gabrielle was hoping that Ares hadn't mentioned some of the bard's Amazon talents when instructing his warriors.
Gabrielle moved through the trees with the grace of a stalking tiger and got close enough to see the camp they were setting up next to the road. She by-passed the sentries easily and slid into the shadows. The bard stifled a moan as she saw her lover in a hay filled wagon with Sasha next to her.
Xena was unconscious, hand covering an obvious wound in her side. Like her son, her face was bruised and cut and there was a bad gash across her left thigh. Her weapons were sitting on the bench seat of the wagon.
Sasha was quiet but it was obvious she had been crying and it broke Gabrielle's heart to see the little one clinging to her unconscious mom as the men ignored her and Xena while they sat up camp.
Gabrielle turned her eyes from her mate and daughter and focused her rage down to take in the camp and its' set up. Pretty basic, she thought. Men are so typical. Horses tied to a rope line, sentries positioned every so many yards apart, watching the outside of the camp, several others gathering wood for a fire while another prepared dinner for the group.
One leaned over the wagon and checked on the woman and child. He ignored the terrified cry from the child and felt Xena's neck for a pulse.
"She's still breathing but I don't know how." he yelled to the man preparing dinner.
"I don't know either but I'm glad she is, Ares said not to hurt her!" the other one complained.
"Then he should have tried to take the kid away from her without hurting her!" another one snapped back, nursing a broken arm.
Gabrielle was pleased to notice three men lying on blankets and moaning in pain and most of the rest were nursing bruises and cuts. Two of the men weren't long for the world, she thought as she watched them.
Xena and Solan had put up quite a fight. There were five horses without riders and Ares' priests were known for their fighting skills and blessing from their God.
Gabrielle settled into the fork of the tree she was in, deep in the shadows and waited.
The figure moved through the shadows quietly as death. A hand reached up into the wagon slowly and removed the sword lying there without being seen or heard. The only indication that something was wrong was a slight thump near the horses. None of the priests even turned their heads in question.
When the sun finally rose the next morning the head priest groaned, grabbing at his ribs when he turned over. He stood up slowly and walked over to the wagon and blinked several times.
Every sleeping man found themselves jumping out of their blankets and cloaks, grabbing for weapons as he started yelling and kicking at them.
"Where's the brat!?" he demanded.
"What?" someone demanded back, trying to untangle themselves from their blanket.
"The kid! Where's the kid!?" he shouted.
"What are you talking about?" another man demanded and ran over to the wagon and was stunned to see the warrior woman still in the wagon but not the child. "Maybe she had to use a tree and climbed out." he suggested.
"Then find her!" the leader shouted.
"The horses are gone!" another voice came from across the camp and the head priest began swearing as he trotted that way.
Nothing was left of the horse line except the cut rope. The guard was missing and so were the horses.
The priest screamed in anger and stormed back over to the wagon and noticed the missing sword.
"All right, damnit! Xena's pet is somewhere around here and I want her found!" he screamed and the able bodied warriors scurried into the bushes and trees.
Gabrielle grinned, holding a wide-eyed Sasha high in a tree, hidden in the shadows.
"Something to remember in the future, Sasha," she whispered, "men seldom look up."
Gabrielle wrapped part of the horse rope around Sasha's waist and secured the other end tightly to a branch. It was dangerous to leave the child but she needed to get Xena away from the warriors and there were still too many of them to take head on.
"Stay quiet for me and we'll get your Mom back soon, okay?" she whispered and the young child nodded simply. With eyes wide she watched her Gabby Mum move from the tree into other trees and shadows.
A candlemark later, the priest called everyone back to camp and was enraged to find four men missing.
"Did any of you find the sentry from last night?" he demanded and they all shook their heads.
"Damnit!" he cursed, kicking at the body of one of the warriors who had died in the night.
"Why don't you call Ares to help?" one of the priest warriors suggested.
"Because he can't interfere with the brat, something about the other gods. That's why he sent us on this job, moron" the high priest snapped.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed, that was good information to know. Ares wouldn't be popping up out of thin air and getting in her way. She quickly counted and found six warriors left, including the priest. Ares hadn't been taking any chances sending that large of a group out to kidnap Sasha.
She frowned, she needed to find a way to lessen the number somehow and didn't want to wait until nightfall to do it. Then the bard grinned when she saw the bow and arrow next to the corpse. Gabrielle also spotted her mate beginning to regain consciousness and breathed a sigh of relief. Must be that healing god gift thing, she thought.
A well thrown rock sent the warriors dashing into the woods and the bard into the camp to grab the bow and arrows and then back into the trees. The high priest was an extremely bright red when he called everyone back to camp to find two more men missing, this time they found the corpses after some searching, each with an arrow through the throat.
Another well placed arrow in the thigh of a warrior sent him to his knees yelling in pain and dropping his sword.
Gabrielle dropped out of the nearest tree with Xena's sword in one hand and a sai in the other. The high priest screamed in anger and charged the small woman.
Unknown to Gabrielle, Xena was awake and managed to pull herself up by the sideboards of the wagon and gritted her teeth as the bard grinned, facing the onslaught of the warrior priests.
The first man rushed the bard with his sword extended and Gabrielle easily parried the sword thrust with her sai and embedded Xena's sword through the man's stomach and out his back. She quickly yanked the sword free by placing her foot on the man's chest and pulling, shoving him backwards as he clutched at his gaping wound. She quickly jumped forward as he fell and buried the sword in his throat as he fell, pinning him to the ground.
The warrior bard parried another sword with the sai as she pulled out the sword and lashed out with a quick sidekick into the chest of the man whose sword she had trapped in her sai. With a well practiced move of her wrist the man lost his sword.
Gabrielle switched her balance to the other foot and spun quickly, coming upright and placing the spinning foot along the jaw of another priest. She met the sword of the High priest head on.
The man's rage gave him additional strength and Gabrielle found herself almost bending over backwards under the pressure of his sword against hers. She slashed out with the sai, forcing him to pull back to avoid getting the weapon in his stomach. Gabrielle pressed the advantage and broke the stalemate of the swords and flipped out of the way of his next thrust.
As the man, who she had kicked picked up his sword and charged her again, the bard spun, racking her sword along his stomach. Gabrielle switched her grip on the sword and thrust backwards, several times, sending the sword through his stomach three more times before switching the grip again and facing the last two fighters.
Instead of rushing her they stopped and began flanking her. The one was the warrior she had shot with the arrow and he wasn't moving quickly, and Gabrielle's eyes narrowed in concentration.
The bard spun rapidly, confusing the two warrior priests, especially the High priest who was blinking in confusion as he tried to speak and find his next breath as he couldn't seem to understand the sai sticking out of his throat.
Gabrielle, taking advantage of the other man's slowed responses, came out of her spin on the run and forward flipped under his guard to bury the sword in his chest. Before he could instinctively slash down with his sword, she kicked his legs out from under him and buried her other sai in his throat.
Almost growling with the onslaught of the energy coursing through her veins, the warrior bard blinked and sat down heavily on the ground, looking around her. Xena watched as her breathing slowed and the dazed look began to leave her mates' eyes.
"Gabrielle," Xena said softly with a groan.
"Xena!" Gabrielle jumped to her feet, ran to the side of the wagon and vaulted into the bed of the transport holding her mate, taking Xena into her arms.
Xena attempted a smile for her mate.
"Gods, I've been so worried!" Gabrielle whispered, brushing a lock of dark hair out of her warrior's eyes.
"Guess it's that god healing thing, that wound should have been fatal." Xena agreed with a whisper. "Sasha?"
"Hang on, my love." Gabrielle smiled and gently lowered her love back onto the hay and jumped out of the wagon. She looked back at her mate with a smile. "I'll be right back."
Gabrielle quickly climbed the tree and grinned at the smiling child sitting patiently in the high tree top, just where she had left her. She grabbed her daughter for a big hug.
"Guess what, little one! Your mom's awake and asking for you, should we go see her?"
"Yes, Mum." Sasha agreed with a grin. Gabrielle smiled and pulled out a harness like bundle of straps from a pouch she had left hanging on a branch near the child. She quickly harnessed the small child onto her back and climbed down carefully and then released the squirming little girl when they reached the ground.
Gabrielle was all smiles as she lifted the child into the wagon and watched Sasha lay down next to her mother, curling inside Xena's arm. Xena smiled back at her mate and down at her daughter.
"You get to rescue me again, my love." the warrior said softly.
"Yup, Solan is alive, with a farmer and healers." Gabrielle stated before Xena could ask the next question.
"Is he allright?"
Gabrielle lost her smile and Xena closed her eyes in pain. "They didn't know when I left."
"I'm going to kill Ares this time!" Xena growled.
"No, my love, you're too injured." Gabrielle debated with her mate.
"He's gone too far this time!" Xena protested.
"Yes, and this time he gets to answer to me!"
"They were setting up a trap for me. They left Solan where he would be found. Ares wanted his priests to kill me and deliver you and Sasha to him at his temple where he thinks Hecate won't interfere."
Xena growled, not wanting to let loose with the string of obscenities in front of her small daughter.
Gabrielle nodded in agreement. "I'm going to get my horse and then we're going to the temple. I'm going to have a talk with the God of War." Gabrielle told her mate grimly.
Xena wasn't sure she was strong enough to argue with the stubborn set of her mate's jaw.
"Whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets," she muttered as the bard trotted away.
Xena sat up in the back of the wagon, chakram in hand and sword across her lap. Sasha sat next to her mom, eyes wide, sensing the seriousness in her two moms as Gabrielle pulled up next to the temple of Ares.
"Gabrielle," Xena's voice stopped the bard as she jumped down from the seat and faced the temple. The warrior knew the stubborn set of the bard's jaw and frowned. "Let's just go home and face this another day," she argued with Gabrielle's eyes and determined body language.
"No, my love. Not this time." Gabrielle said flatly and then her eyes relaxed and she managed a small smile as she leaned over, kissed her mate and gave a quick hug to Sasha. "If something happens...."
"Nothing's gonna happen!" Xena hissed.
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and then began strapping on one of the swords she had taken from the soldiers and followed that with a dagger at the small of her back. Xena was surprised when the bard pulled out a spike from her leather wrist bracer. Gabrielle smiled a quirky smile. "Never let them know all your weapons," she quoted her former gladiator trainer and friend, Nikki.
"If something happens, get home. Do not come in after me. Promise me, Xena!"
Xena growled and grabbed Gabrielle's hands into hers, trying to fight back tears and a wince of pain. "I can't promise that, Gabrielle. I'm not leaving you!"
"You have Solan and Sasha to think of." Gabrielle argued.
"I can't live without you!" Xena protested.
"You're a mom now, yes you can."
"You're as much their mom as I am so you had better come back, damnit!" Xena insisted.
"That's something Ares and I are going to talk about." Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and Xena saw the mental shift of her little bard into hardened Arena fighter and realized that she was now looking at Dancer, the gladiator deadly enough to win the coveted wooden sword of freedom from Caesar' s hands himself.
Xena released her mate's hands with a sad nod, knowing that any further argument was useless. Dancer turned and sprinted up the stairs, hesitating a moment at the door and then going in.
Xena wrapped an arm around her daughter, trying to comfort Sasha and herself.
"It'll be okay, Sasha. It has to be."
"She'll be back, Sash." Xena promised and closed her eyes, offering a prayer to Apollo and Hecate to watch over their children. Xena knew that Gabrielle meant to pound it through Ares' head to leave them alone or die trying to kill him to end it once and for all. The warrior knew her bard was willing to do just that if it meant saving Sasha and Xena from Ares.
Gabrielle spotted two priests and three worshippers in the temple as she looked around. She pulled up the hood on her cloak and entered quietly, sitting down on one of the benches as she took in the temple.
It was as she would expect of the God of War, fire blazing in the center of the room, a few benches for worshippers, an altar that was so stained with the blood of animal sacrifices, and maybe other sacrifices, she thought, that it looked like it had been painted a deep rust color. Behind that, up several stairs, was a stone chair.
Tapestries of various symbols and knotwork design lined the walls, mostly in reds and blacks.
Finally the three worshippers made their offerings and left, leaving Gabrielle and the priests. The bard stood slowly and approached the altar where the two men waited, watching her. As they realized she was female a puzzled and surprised look hit each of their faces. Before they could question her they found a sai under each chin, both froze.
"The God of War and I have something to discuss, get out." she hissed, increasing the pressure on the sais, forcing the men's heads back even further. They nodded agreement around the metal sticking into their jaws and Gabrielle pulled back slightly to sheath one of the sais and drew the sword. The priests rushed out of the door, slamming it behind them.
"ARES!" the bard screamed.
"You know it's customary to offer a sacrifice when you want something in my temple." a voice said in a bored manner and the God of War appeared on his throne, lounging across it rather than sitting in it.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and she pointed the sword in his direction.
"I take it that you're a little upset with me?" he grinned as he stood up.
"Your men almost killed my wife, kidnapped my daughter and possibly killed Solan. I also figure they were waiting to kill me. Not to mention tricking my wife into sex with you. Yeah, I'm a little pissed off at you." she snapped, watching him carefully as he stepped down the steps, she kept the altar between her and the god.
"MY daughter, bard. Not yours." Ares lost his bored expression and looked angry.
"You've got about as much claim to her as a stud horse to a colt." she sneered and ducked as an energy bolt shot out of his hand. She grinned as she straightened up. "What's the matter, Ares? A little too close to home?" She dived across the floor, rolling into a defensive stance with her sword and sai as she dodged another energy bolt.
"She's my daughter!" he yelled.
"Not even close! Is that why you wanted me dead, because you know she'll never be yours as long as Xena or I am alive?" she demanded.
"Xena's been mine and will again."
"Get over it!" she shouted back. "The only way you could even get close to Xena was to trick her. How does that feel? To know that she prefers me to you?"
The bard yelped as another energy bolt hit closer that time. She moved closer to Ares as he growled.
"With you out of the way, she'll come back to me!" he sneered.
"Not a chance and you know it, that's why you're so desperate to get ahold of Sasha. You know Xena will never go back now that she has the kids and me. Even if I'm gone she won't come back to you." Gabrielle countered.
"How do you know that for certain, Gabrielle?" Ares lowered his hand and she moved a little closer. "Doesn't it drive you crazy to think of her in my arms that night? To know that her body was all over mine and I was deep inside of her?"
"What kind of delusion are you under?" She demanded. "The only way you've ever had her is through tricks, what kind of power or love is that? Have you ever made her beg for sexual release? Funny, I never hear her scream your name." Gabrielle smirked back and parried a sword slash as the God of War drew his sword and slashed at her with a yell of anger.
The bard found herself falling back as she quickly had to parry and block a series of blows that were almost too fast for her to counter. As she felt the wall behind her, the warrior bard wasn't so sure about her skill in surviving a straight out match against the God of War. She became convinced when her sword was knocked from her hand and her other hand pinned to the wall and a sword at her throat.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and waited.
After a moment she opened her eyes and found Ares contemplating her, his face still angry.
"Why do you fight me? Join us! With Xena and you at my side, we could conquer the world! Xena and I could bring the world to it's knees and you could bring order to it."
"After you've slaughtered thousands, right?"
"What, still on the peace kick?" he demanded. "With a sword in your hand now, bard? Peace loving Gabrielle, now a fighter who can take out several of my best warriors, killing all of them?" Ares lowered the sword point but held her wrist to the wall and moved closer to her, almost pinning her body against the wall with his. "Tell me you don't feel the fire now when you fight. That's what Xena and I feel! I can make you feel like that everyday for the rest of your life." he promised.
"You try to kill Xena, Solan may die, you try to kill me and kidnap Sasha and now you're offering me.... what? The world, your body? I don't think so!"
"Do you think you can just pretend that Sasha's not the child of a god? Why do you think your friend Brutus was looking for you? He knows if he has Sasha he'll have my favor and can control his own destiny. He wants Xena dead and he wants you either dead or in his bed, either way at this point."
"No," Gabrielle whispered in disbelief.
"Yup, he's become quite ambitious since he killed Caesar and you, for some strange reason, drive him crazy."
Gabrielle surprised the god with an upper cut of her palm to his nose, loosening his position against her body and effectively stunning him. Before he could recover he stumbled back a few feet and looked down at his ribs in disbelief. Gabrielle started to move forward to follow through with the stroke but he quickly recovered enough to hold his sword up in a defensive position as he looked down at the dagger sticking out of his ribs on the left side.
Ares raised his hand, staring at the blood with a stunned expression on his face.
Gabrielle couldn't resist a smirk as he looked back at her. She switched the sai to her primary hand and circled away from the wall.
"How?" he questioned, pulling the dagger out with an obvious grimace of pain.
"A gifting from one of Xena's parents. Xena, Sasha and I now have the ability to cause you pain. We can even kill you if we get in a good enough shot. Still think you're invincible?" Gabrielle taunted.
He stumbled back a couple of feet, still looking at the blood on his hand when the bard shouted an Amazon warcry and the God of War found himself having to quickly recover as he had to block and parry strokes from the warrior bard's sais, forcing him across his own temple.
Ares had to admit that the bard was good, as good as one of his warrior priests. This Gabrielle was new, before the bard had always been restrained, holding something back in her fear of killing someone. This Gabrielle let loose with all the anger of the last two years on the God of War and he found himself taking several blows from the blunt end of her sais and she took several blows from his fists without falling. Ares was impressed.
With a growl he attempted to recover and slashed out, taking a hit from one of the sais along his arm as his sword connected with the bard's shoulder.
Gabrielle shouted in pain and dove backwards, off of Ares' sword, raising a hand to her own blood as he growled, holding his own wounded ribs. The bard regained her feet and spun on one foot as he charged her, taking another sword slice along the arm but getting in a solid strike in his lower back with the sai.
The God of War howled in pain and rage as he hit the floor, holding his back and writhing in pain. Gabrielle also fell to her knees, holding her shoulder in pain. Both could feel the blood flowing from their wounds. Gabrielle could see that her sai had probably gotten a couple of good internal organs or a lung. She narrowed her eyes and struggled back to her feet, attempting to stumble closer to Ares.
"Listen to me, damn you!" she growled. "You've tried to take my mate from me one too many times. Tell me why I shouldn't rip your equipment off right now!" she demanded and was surprised to see something she had never seen before in the dark eyes. Fear.
"Go ahead, will killing me make you feel better or will you be like me? Want to cross that line, bard?"
Gabrielle felt her fist clench in anger as she pictured the thought of Xena with him in a cave behind a waterfall, conceiving Sasha that night. She gritted her teeth as she remembered Solan's battered body and Xena's near brush with death. Then she screamed with rage at the thought of Sasha spending any time with him.
"Gabrielle, don't, please." a voice brought the bard's eyes back in focus as she realized she was straddled across the god with her sai held high, about to strike for the chest or throat.
Gabrielle didn't look up, knowing that Xena was in the doorway of the temple.
"After all we've been through because of him?" she demanded, noticing the blood slowly seeping from his mouth. A lung stab, the experienced gladiator noted, he would have to get some special healing from one of the other gods for this match.
"I know he deserves it but you don't." Gabrielle could sense Xena moving further into the temple. Ares didn't look away, keeping his eyes on Gabrielle and the raised sai above his heart and throat. "Don't become what I was, he'll win. He won't have me but he'll have you and I couldn't live with that." Xena pleaded.
"I'm not the same innocent bard you first met, Xena. I almost lost you to him! How many times?!" Gabrielle demanded and her eyes narrowed as she felt muscles beneath her tense up. She let out a warning growl and tightened her grip on the sai.
Xena caught both moments from the fighters.
"Ares! Don't move! Don't push her, damnit!" she shouted.
"If she doesn't kill me now I WILL kill both of you!" he promised, coughing on his blood.
Gabrielle hissed and her body tensed.
"Gabrielle, please! Don't let it take you!" Xena pleaded, moving a little closer. "Come home with Sasha and me. Let's get our son and go home."
"You almost died, Xena. If it hadn't been that you're the daughter of a goddess, you would have died!" Gabrielle protested, feeling the strength beginning to ebb from her body as her wounded shoulder began pounding at her. The fighter knew that she was losing the energy of her anger and that something had to happen soon.
"Yes, but I'm alive and Sasha is alive and not in his hands."
"Come on, damnit! Do it and claim your place as a fighter!" Ares taunted.
"She's already a fighter, Ares, but she's also a bard and she's my wife, my Queen and my life. You're not worth it." Xena said simply and Gabrielle slowly began lowering the sai.
Xena bent down and helped her bard stand up and then steadied her as the blood loss began to take a toll. Xena looked down at Ares and drew her sword out and placed it at his throat.
"Remember, I've already crossed that line many times," she hissed.
"Xena?" Gabrielle protested.
"Listen, Ares," Xena growled. "We are now on a little more equal terms, remember that and stay away from me, my family, my friends, my children and my mate. Next time, I'll cut off parts of your anatomy that would be very embarrassing for a god. Got me?"
Ares merely nodded and was gone in a flash of light.
Xena turned in time to catch Gabrielle as she stumbled. Together they managed to work their way out of the temple where the two priests were standing, wondering whether to try and enter or not. They took one look at the wounded women and decided not to approach their temple or god right then.
Xena helped her bard into the back of the wagon, quickly ripping away part of Sasha's blanket into a bandage. She placed it over Gabrielle's wounded shoulder as the bard closed her eyes.
"Sasha, can you do mommy a big favor and hold that there while I drive the wagon and take us to get Solan?" Sasha nodded and pressed down on the makeshift bandage but pulled back quickly when Gabrielle moaned in pain.
"It's okay, go ahead and press." Xena smiled reassuringly and the child smiled back and pressed down on the bandage. Gabrielle attempted a smile at her mate and daughter.
"Think he'll leave us alone?" she whispered.
"For awhile. We know that he can't touch us himself and he knows he's vulnerable to attack from either of us or Hercules. He's pretty much a coward when it comes to his own skin." Xena grinned.
"Or parts of his anatomy." Gabrielle smiled back.
By the time they got back to Myrcinus to the farmstead, Xena's wound was much better and she thought that she might actually live. She grinned. Gabrielle's wound had stopped bleeding and the bard was sleeping with Sasha's hand holding the bandage steady in the moving wagon.
The healer's apprentice was at the home of the farmer and quickly rebandaged Gabrielle's wound and stitched up Xena's, applying salve to prevent infection. They found Solan alive and awake though in a lot of pain from the bruised internal organs and broken nose. He winced more than smiled but managed around the pain when he saw both women and the little girl walk into the room.
"He needs to stay here for a few more days before he can travel and neither of you should travel either." Poly, the apprentice instructed.
"You are welcome to sleep in my bed," the farmer offered quickly.
"The barn would be just fine," Xena said easily as she sat next to her son.
"Mom, are you okay?" he whispered.
"I am now. My kids are okay and my wife kicked Ares' butt." she grinned.
"Ares?" he questioned. "Wow!"
"Yup! I can't wait for her to write that one down!" Xena agreed, sending a teasing look to her mate across the room.
"I'll get you for that, warrior mine." the bard promised.
"I'm counting on it." Xena responded in a husky voice.
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