Meddle Not

by Hunter Ash

Disclaimers: as usual, I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Hercules, etc etc etc. The following story is written for entertainment and not for profit. Don't bother suing me, I don't own anything.

Subtext: the story reflects a consensual, loving relationship between two adults of the same gender. If this illegal where you live, move or change your laws, and leave this story.

Violence: no more than usual in a Xena story. I'd rate the story barely an "R".

Timeline: after Callisto ends up in the lava with Valesca. The story is based around an actual Greek myth of King Lycaon and how he was cursed by Zeus. This kinda reflects my frustration with Season 5. I wish the producers had stuck more with the ideas of seasons 1 and 2 and stayed with Greek mythology and gods/goddesses and left Christianity out of it. Anyone figure out the timeline in this show yet? From the Seige of Troy to Eli in one lifetime? Talk about alternative realities! Enough ranting, on with the story.

Feedback: Please! Feeding the bard is greatly appreciated. All comments will be read, homophobic ones will be laughed at and thrashed.

Xena watched the young man walk across the village square slowly, he had spotted them after looking around for a moment and was walking straight to them. Xean straightened up from the well and shifted her feet into a ready stance. Gabrielle, sensing the change of energy in her traveling mate, put down the water bucket and reached out to bring her staff closer to her.

The young man was small, about as tall as Gabrielle and seemingly just as small in stature. Xena noted his clothing as of higher ranking and his manner was one of nobility as well. Even though he may be smaller than most, his manner suggested that he was accustomed to having people step aside for him.

The young man slowed his approach and extended his hands slightly, subtley letting the warrior and bard know that he had nothing in his hands. Xena looked deep in his brown eyes and noted the amused look in them. Her eyes narrowed slightly.

"Are you Xena and Gabrielle," he said quietly. He, in turn, had taken in their traveling cloaks and how Xena's sword was at her side and not strapped across her back as was her well known custom. The young man had decided they were wanting to travel without drawing attention to themselves for some reason. He ran a hand through his tosseled blond hair and waited.

"Yes, who are you?" Xena asked, keeping an eye on his eyes and hands.

"I am Arcas, grandson to King Lycaon of Arcadia Island." He resisted the urge to bow slightly and moved a little closer, glancing around to see if any of the villagers had taken notice of the three strangers.

Xena was also glancing around for the same reason. Being a well traveled village none of the regulars had seemed to take notice but Xena wasn't convinced, someone always noticed everything in a village.

"What would a prince want with us?" Xena asked.

"A moment of your time, somewhere out of the sun and away from curious ears." Arcas suggested.

"Agreed. We're headed to the stables, you can talk on the way." Xena said simply and Gabrielle grabbed their waterskins.

The trio began to walk across the village towards the blacksmith and stable. "My Grandfather has sent to me find you, both of you. There isn't much time so I'll save the long explanations for my father or Grandfather. Our island is cursed by the Furies and Zeus himself. Our family has been cursed and it's spreading to the people."

"What kind of curse?" Gabrielle asked.

"I'm not allowed to speak of it, my Grandfather asks to explain it to you himself." Arcas blushed and lowered his head, eyes filling with shame and regret.

"Why come to us? Sounds like your argument is with the gods themselves." Xena questioned.

"You have dealt with the gods in the past and have succeeded in bending their favor." Arcas answered simply.

Xena almost blushed herself. "Well, I'm not sure I'd put it that way."

Gabrielle smiled, "We've had dealings with the gods and it's usually not a fun experience." Gabrille explained.

"Still, you are in favor with Hercules and Zeus may look kindly on your intervention. Please, this not only affects my family but the people as well."

Xena frowned, considering. She turned to Gabrielle, "What do you think, little one? We were headed for some needed rest."

"If we could help.... Innocent people are being hurt."

Xena grinned and resisted the urge to hug her smaller mate.

"All right, Arcas, how far to the island?" Xena asked.

The young man smiled and sighed with relief. "Two days easy ride. I have a horse in the stable as well and I can purchase one for Gabrielle if you wish."

"In a hurry?" Xena asked with raised eyebrows.

"My family is in pain, wouldn't you be, warrior?" Arcas asked bluntly.

"Yes, all right. Let me pay for Argo's keep."

Xena was amused, the mystery of the curse was driving Gabrielle crazy. She tried to refrain from asking questions but Xena could see the young bard struggling with it and tried not to smile at the younger woman's curiosity. Arcas was decent company and not above hunting with Xena in the evening for their meals nor hauling wood for the fire. Xena was even slightly surprised that he didn't suggest an inn instead of the open road.

"You don't seem to mind roughing it," she commented the first night and he grinned.

"I'm more at home on the road in the woods than in court. Grandfather insisted I wear these clothes to identify me more easily as royalty when I met you. He claims I dress more like a bandit than an heir to the throne." Arcas laughed.

"Heir to the throne? What about your father?" Gabrielle was still uncomfortable around royalty and Xena didn't blame her, the warrior wasn't thrilled with most royals she met but for different reasons. Gabrielle had grown up in a small village and hadn't seen much royalty whereas Xena had dealth with too many pompous types to be impressed often.

"My grandfather favors me, he thinks I'm closer to the people and could rule them better. My father even agrees, ever since Mother's death he's been detached from everything. He didn't even attend the funeral of my uncle." Arcas looked into the fire, eyes lost in thought.

"Isn't he worried about you traveling around the countryside? Something could happen..." Gabrielle asked, handing him a bowl of stew for which he thanked her and then stared in the fire again.

"This is my last journey off the island as a commoner, I'm to take my place as heir when I return. For good or bad."

"What type of curse is this, can you say?" Xena asked, beginning to sharpen her sword.

"No, I'm sorry. I know this is frustrating but I've been sworn to silence. I'm not even sure what my Grandfather has planned, actually. My family has made journeys to temples, have made numerous sacrifices, pleaded and begged the gods, especially Zeus but he won't bend."

"What makes your grandfather think that we can make a difference?" Xena questioned.

"I don't know. He holds much stock by the tales of your deeds and of Gabrielle's intelligence, talent, and bond to you."

Xena's eyebrows went up at that one and her eyes narrowed. She wondered what Arcas and his grandfather made of her relationship to the young bard. Xena knew that half of Greece thought them lovers, long before they had figured it out for themselves even. It was something that the warrior didn't want advertised though, Gabrielle had already been used against her too often and Xena's warrior life had placed the young bard in danger numerous times. Gabrielle frequently protested at this train of thought, reassuring Xena that she was right where she wanted to be and accepted the danger, especially after they had bonded and become lovers.

Arcas seemed to ignore her inquiring gaze. Xena noticed that Gabrielle was quiet too. Xena silently cursed to herself, there was nothing more that she wanted to do at that moment than gather the bard in her arms and kiss her passionately, dispelling any doubts or fears the young woman might have but increased her attention on her sword.

Emotions and closeness could be used as a weapon, she knew. Caesar had once stated that once you separated a woman from her sensibilities then she was yours for the taking. Gabrielle's hold on her heart and soul could do just that and they both knew it. They didn't want their numerous enemies to figure it out.

Gabrielle watched her lover with a sad smile, she knew exactly what Xena was thinking. They had been over it many times. Even before they had finally admitted their love for each other, a dagger at Gabrielle's throat was always enough to cause Xena to drop her sword willingly. Gabrielle hated travelling with others, it meant she never got any alone time with Xena and she was really aching to hold the tall woman next to her. Gabrielle shifted uncomfortable on the log acting as a seat. Xena grinned over at her.

"You'll never get used to horses, will you?"

Gabrielle threw a piece of bread at the warrior with a scowl. It was an old argument, they could travel much faster by horse and Xena had offered over and over again to buy her a mount but Gabrielle just couldn't face having a horse and riding one constantly. She definitely preferred walking. Though, she did have to admit, she hated the times that having only one horse meant Xena leaving her behind to travel quickly. Gabrielle wondered if her stubborness was going to have to bend soon.

Arcas had grinned at the interchange between the women but kept his smile and thoughts to himself. The bond between the women was almost visible, he thought. He figured they were more than just travelling companions but didn't press the issue. 'Their own business,' he thought. 'Besides, they are meant for each other, anyone can see that. Even the gods must be jealous of their love.'

Arcas quickly looked around, startled by his thoughts. A look of fear apparent on his face, he thought he had learned not to test the patience of the gods.

Xena frowned, "You all right?" she asked the young man. He blinked several times and settled back down by the fire.

"Yes, I'm sorry, I got lost in thought. I'm worried about my family."

"Doesn't the curse affect you too?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yes, it does and I fear hurting others with it but I can't stand to see my sisters hurting so!" Arcas stood up suddenly, "I need a walk, I'll be back shortly."

"Stay close," Xena warned.

Arcas merely nodded and walked into the dark woods.

Gabrielle waited a few moments, listening to his passage take the young man deeper into the woods, and then walked behind Xena and wrapped her arms around the warrior. She felt Xena's muscles ease up a little and the woman sigh and lean back into the bard's arms.

Gabrielle smiled and nuzzled the beautiful neck in front of her. Xena's hand slowed as she leaned her head back into Gabrielle's breasts. Gabrielle moaned and moved her lips up to capture the lips of her warrior. She pulled back with a groan.

"Damnit! I wish we didn't have company." she whispered.

"So do I, my bard, so do I." Xena agreed, her voice husky and filled with desire.

"Let's hope this doesn't take long," Gabrielle muttered, bending once again to Xena's neck.

"Or at least they put us in the same room," Xena agreed, sharpening her sword forgotten.

Gabrielle, trying to regain control, moved back and went to the log. Both she and Xena were breathing heavily and were uncomfortable. "Any idea what this curse might be about?" Gabrielle asked, beginning to clean the dishes from the meal.

"No, not really. Zeus normally doesn't mess with mortals, it would take a lot to anger him enough to curse an entire family." Xena said thoughtfully, returning to her sword sharpening with a vegeance. Gabrielle giggled and Xena glared at her.

"I hate to be on the receiving of that sword you're taking your frustrations out on." Gabrielle giggled again. Xena scowled but then grinned. "That sword has to be sharp enough to cut a hair."

"Probably." Xena agreed, putting away her sharpening stone.

Xena snapped her head up and listened, Gabrielle reaching to pull her staff closer to her.

"It's Arcas," a voice called out of the darkness and then the young man stepped into the light and both women relaxed.
"How do you keep the rest of the countryside learning about the curse?" Xena asked as they trio waited for the ferry to arrive from the island to carry them across the water.

"We've spread word that anyone setting foot on the island will be cursed by the gods and will die within six months. Keeps people away. They sell us supplies by the ferry." Arcas clenched his jaw.

"Is that the true curse?" Garbielle asked a little nervously.

"No, I swear it isn't." Arcas tried to grin.

A short time later and the three travelers entered the main hall of the palace. Gabrielle was awed and even Xena was impressed. Gold, silver and jewels showed everywhere from picture frames to inlays in the floor. Xena repressed an urge to help Gabrielle pick her chin up from where it had dropped. Arcas actually looked embarassed at the display of wealth.

At the end of the receiving hall sat two expensive chairs on a platform covered in expensive cloth. Everywhere hung tapestries and banners, scenes of past battles, glories and family history, most sewn with gold and silver thread. A long table filled the hall with gold goblets and plates waiting for a dinner party. Xena noticed a slight coating of dust on the table and tableware. A slight smell of mustiness reached her and she had a feeling that the hall hadn't seen a party in awhile.

Arcas waited for a moment while they took in their surroundings and then motioned them forward down the hall. His face lit up into a genuine grin when a man of average height entered from a doorway near the thrones. The young man rushed forward and hugged the older man with obvious affection.

"Grandfather!" he exclaimed.

"Careful of the ribs, pup!" the older man laughed. Arcas stepped back and Lycaon placed his hands on the young man's shoulders. "You're looking good, grandson. Travel suits you well." his eyes went past his grandson and focused on Xena and Gabrielle.

He moved past his grandson and approached the two women, a wide smile on his face. He extended his hand to both Xena and Gabrielle.

Xena watched as he approached. The King was dressed in simple but expensive clothing. Fine silk tunic with very intricate gold embroidery at the hems, expensive leather trousers with gold buckles and silver inlaid decorations. At his wrists were gold bands and a gold necklace with a medallion of his family crest complimented the bands. A simple gold ring on his wedding finger and a simple gold circlet around his head completed the picture. Xena noted his brown eyes that were still dancing very life, despite the gray hair and wrinkled face. The warrior had the feeling that he had aged a lot in the last few months, his clothing hanging a little loose on his body. She noticed Arcas' frown as he watched his grandfather's shaky handshake. Xena was reassured that this probably was a serious matter.

"Thank you, Princess and young bard, thank you very much!" the old man said with enthusiasm.

"I'm not sure what we can do about curses," Xena warned.

The old man brushed aside her comments with a wave of his hand. He went to the wall and pulled on a cord. Within moments a foot servant appeared behind Xena and Gabrielle.

"Rooms for our guest, or one room?" He turned to question the two.

Gabrielle was hoping that she wasn't blushing too noticeably. "Just one, thank you. We've grown accustomed to it traveling." Xena answered smoothly.

"Of course, and I insist on your comfort. One room, prepare the bathing room for them and my grandson and tell the cook we have guests of honor." the king began ordering.

"Nothing fancy, please. We're here to help, not be pampered." Xena grinned.

"Allow me to indulge myself," the king argued with a smile, "we haven't had guests in a long while." A look of sadness swept over his face. "Not since...."

"Grandfather! May I take them to their rooms since it's close to mine? I want out of these clothes and in that tub soon." Arcas suggested.

The king merely nodded and began to turn back to the door he had come from. He turned to his guests once more.
"Please forgive me, this ordeal has been hard on me and my family. I will explain everything at dinner with everyone there."

"Of course, your Highness." Xena said easily and the old man turned and left. Xena and Gabrielle both noticed the look of pain on Arcas' face as he watched where his grandfather had left. He turned to the guests and tried to smile.

"Ladies, please follow me." he bent to pick up his travel bags as Xena and Gabrielle did the same.

The rooms were just as fancy as Xena had expected. "Gods, my back is going to be sore from sleeping on that soft bed, I know it." Xena complained as they took in the room. A huge and obviously soft bed filled the center of the room, a huge fireplace with a fire already blazing off to their left, a dressing room to the right and a wonderful writing table by the window.

Gabrielle dropped her bags and punched the warrior lightly on the arm. "I could ask and see if they could put a board under you." she teased. Xena grinned and dropped her gear into a chair. The young bard walked up behind the warrior and wrapped her arms around the taller woman, running her hands under Xena's leathers. "Or I could promise you a workout," she whispered.

"I'll take the second option," Xena moaned. They both broke away with a start at a knock on the door. Arcas stuck his head in the door.

"The bathing room is the fourth one on the right down this hall. Ring the bell when you're done and the servants will fill the place again for me."

"Thanks, Arcas." Gabrielle grinned. He smiled back and ducked out the door.

"I get good feelings about him," Gabrielle commented.

"I do too, I think he'll make a good king. I am curious about the state of this kingdom though." Xena sat down in a chair and then quickly struggled out of it. Gabrielle laughed at her struggle and gave her lover a hand. Xena regained her feet and then glared at the chair. She decided that sitting next to the fire on the hearthstone was probably better. Gabrielle began rummaging through their packs and started pulling out clothing.

"What do you mean, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.

"There's dust everywhere, King Lycaon was right when he said they hadn't had guests in a long time. The gold is beginning to turn, the servant was scruffy looking and we didn't see anyone other than guards coming here to the castle. Normally at this time of day the place would be crawling with villagers."

"You're right. I had noticed the lack of people but hadn't noticed the dust. Coming to the bath?" Gabrielle asked, beginning to unlace her top, knowing exactly what that was doing to the woman across from her. Xena's breath caught in her throat and her pulse began to quicken. She was on her feet quickly. Gabrielle laughed and dashed out the door with the warrior on her trail.
Arcas softly closed his doors as the women entered the bathing room. "Definitely a couple," he commented to himself.

Xena and Gabrielle were impressed with the meal and said so. Lycaon looked pleased.

"My cook has been with us since I was a young man. I will extend your compliments to her." he said with obvious pride.

Gabrielle smiled at the old man's pride and looked around at the rest of the family who had joined them for dinner. Her bardic eye had taken in little details about everyone for later scrolls. Both she and Xena had been surprised when seven sons and their wives had joined them as well as four daughters and their husbands. Lycaon had laughed and said he had more sons roaming around the island and two more daughters as well. He admitted with a grin that he had no idea how many grandchildren he had.

Gabrielle commented that he had indeed been blessed.

"We were.... once." one of the daughters whispered and silence descended on the dinner.

Xena looked over at the King. "You were going to tell us about the curse," she reminded him.

Gabrielle tried not to flinch as one of the sons bit into his share of the beef. She had noted that most of the family seemed to prefer their meat rare, almost raw. Gabrielle could appreciate good meat cooked from rare to well done but the meat the family was enjoying seemed almost raw.

Gabrielle had also noted that another family trait ran to, well, fur. The hair of each family member was very thick and the facial hair on the men was most abundant and thick as well. Chest hair was visible from under tunics and shirts, all the way to the neck and the hairs along the arms were dark and very thick.

'Like bears,' Gabrielle thought. Gabrielle also noticed that the daughters also had thicker than usual hair.

Then Gabrielle frowned, she noted with curiosity and a sense of unease that the wives of the King's sons and the husbands of his daughters were also abundant with hair. 'How can that be?' she wondered. 'They can't all have the same taste in mates. Too much inbreeding?'

Her attention was drawn back to the King as he gathered his thoughts.

"Two seasons ago, six months, we were visited by Zeus himself. In my youth the gods frequently visited this place. The hospitality of my father and then of myself were legendary. Over the years I and my sons grew jaded and the visits became infrequent. When Zeus arrived six months ago none of my younger sons had dealt with a god before. Some of my spoiled brats," Lycaon bit back on his anger and Xena and Gabrielle both noticed two of the younger sons lowering their heads. "they decided to test our visitor." the King's voice faltered. "They killed a young man who had been caught stealing on the island."

"Tell the truth, father, the boy was only 12 winters old. We murdered a child." one of the sons spoke up, his fists clenched on the table.

Xena placed her hand reassuringly on Gabrielle's thigh under the table, out of sight. The bard had gone very pale and Xena's jaw was clenched.

The young man began to cry but continued, his wife looking distressed as well, pulling at her dress sleeves and crying. "We... we... we served him to Zeus." the young man totally broke down.

"By the gods," Gabrielle muttered, trying not to lose the dinner she had just eaten. It was taking a moment to process the implications, the truth of what he had just said. 'Served him to Zeus,' Gabrielle thoughts, 'dear gods, they cooked him!' Xena's grip on her leg increased and Gabrielle looked over to see absolute fury on the warrior's face. Gabrielle knew that Xena was fighting to maintain control.

"Yes, by Zeus. He was furious and killed two of them on the spot with lightning." Lycaon responded.

"They were the lucky ones," one of the daughters muttered.

"He then cursed me, my family and anyone part of my kingdom of the island."

"What's the curse?" Xena asked, not even sure if she wanted to break the curse.

"That we will turn into wolves in the Spring for a span of seven years, then seven years as humans and then seven as wolves and it continues."

"I can understand your pain, Lycaon, but what your sons did...." Xena began.

"Was beyond forgiveness, I agree. I admit that I bear responsibility for raising the scoundrels but I appeal to your sense of morality and goodness, my people don't deserve this fate. They are innocent and shouldn't suffer this."

"What could we do?" Gabrielle asked, "Zeus isn't likely to bend his judgment on this one."

"I've asked you both here because of your experiences with the gods. Most of our priests have never even seen the gods, let alone dealt with them. We've made numerous sacrifices - not human, of course!," Lycaon quickly reassured his visitors. "We've pleaded and begged and have searched far and wide for a magician to break this curse but none could help or wouldn't help. With your intelligence and experience we might find a way to save the island."

Xena resisted the urge to growl, "We try to avoid dealing with the gods and none of them owe us any favors."

"Please, just a few days with us is all I ask."

Xena frowned but nodded her agreement after receiving a nod from Gabrielle.

Lycaon was visibily relieved. "Thank you, warrior and bard. Maybe a fresh viewpoint will help. Now, I'm sure you're tired from your journey. I will see you both in the morning at breakfast."

Xena stood and Gabrielle followed. "Of course, thank you for your hospitality, your Highness."

Xena moved silently as a cat on a rug down the hallway and down the stairs. She and Gabrielle had gone to their rooms where Xena had waited for several minutes and then began a silent journey back towards the great hall. Gabrielle was left at their room, keeping an eye on the hallway for unexpected visitors.

Xena knew from experience that the family would now be discussing everything that had happened at dinner as well as their arguments and actual plans. Xena smiled, she had done the same things uncounted times during her career as a warlord. Send the guest to their tent and then discuss the best way to use them or kill them.

Xena moved quietly behind one of the banners next to the doorway and wasn't surprised to see the daughters, husbands and sons and wives still sitting at the table with Lycaon. The old man looked even more weary than he had when they arrived.

"No, you can't go through with this!" Arcas was protesting.

"Since when do we have choices?" another son demanded.

"What you did was obscene enough!" Arcas argued.

Xena resisted the urge to come to the young man's defense when the other man, his uncle, leaped out of his seat and attacked the young man. Growls and curses filled the hallway until two other men pulled them apart.

They were held apart, neither injured but both were panting and swearing at the other.

"Enough!" Lycaon shouted and everyone relaxed. After a moment everyone regained their seat. "Nothing is set in stone. I'll listen to the warrior and bard and hope they can help us. Otherwise we have a choice between two horrible options."

"I'll not be part of either of them!" Arcas shouted.

"You will because you don't have a choice either, nephew. What do you think will happen when the outside world finds out that the island is inhabited only by wolves? They'll hunt us down. For seven years we'll live as wolves. They'll wipe us out in half that time." one of the daughters argued.

Arcas's face was still angry but he nodded with the agreement of her statement.

"I'm tired, family. I suggest we get what sleep we can and approach this tomorrow. We've argued over this so many times that the arguments don't even hold passion for me anymore." Lycaon stood up and the rest of the family followed.

Xena quickly crept away. She and Gabrielle were still puzzled after the warrior made it back to their room and Xena told the young woman what she had heard and seen.

"Still doesn't tell us what they're planning," Gabrielle complained.

"I know," Xena replied with frustration in her voice. She began sharpening her sword.

"What do you suggest?" Gabrielle asked, coming behind the warrior and wrapping her arms around the other woman.

"That we get out of here as fast as possible. We stay one day and then leave."

"What about the islanders?" Gabrielle frowned.

"There are times when nothing is right and innocent people get in the way. I don't know how to help them and I have a feeling we're in danger." Xena concentrated on her sword, not wanting to mee the bard's eyes right then. Xena knew she was right but that didn't make her feel better about the untold number of people on the island.

Gabrielle's frowned deepened. "We have to find a way," she said stubbornly.

"We can't save the world, my bard." Xena replied simply.

"Doesn't mean that we can't try." Gabrielle countered which brought a smile to Xena's face.

"Gods, you are incredible! No matter what the situation you always try and find the good in it." Xena marveled, putting her sword and sharpening stone aside to take the bard into her arms.

"I want to talk to Arcas alone, he's not happy with their plans and maybe we can find out what's going on." Xena muttered as she nuzzled the bard's neck, sitting Gabrielle on her lap. The bard whimpered, grabbing Xena's hair.

Xena grinned and bit down on the soft skin of Gabrielle's neck, causing the young woman to jerk with reaction from the energy bolts rippling through her body. "Gods, just your touch...." the bard muttered.

"Only for you, my love," Xena whispered as she pulled back to begin untying the laces to Gabrielle's top with her teeth. The bard giggled and began to help only to have Xena growl.

Acras sat upright in his bed later, blinking with confusion and then heard a similar cry to the one that had woken him up. As his sleep filled brain processed the noise he grinned and then laid back down. "Gods, you two must be incredible together." he muttered with a smile.

Xena was tired, they were in their fourth hour of hashing the problem out from every direction. Sitting around the small table was the King, Xena, Gabrielle and one of Lycaon's sons, Borithias. So far, nothing any of them suggested had a chance of working. Xena noticed Gabrielle brush a lock of hair away from her weary face. A slight look of pain on the young bard's face caused Xena to frown.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Just a headache, this is going nowhere." Gabrielle complained.

"I agree, let's take a break." Lycaon went to the wall and pulled on a cord. In a moment a servant was there with a tray with two pitchers and goblets. "Wine for us and cider for our bard."

Gabrielle's face was thankful, "How did you know I don't drink much?" she asked.

"A good guess," the King smiled.

Everyone leaned back in their chairs, enjoying the silence for the moment. Xena was trying to work through another angle of the problem but shook her head with frustration.


Xena looked over and was shocked to see that Gabrielle's face was pale and covered in sweat. Before Xena could move or speak the young bard's eyes rolled back up in her head and she fell back into her chair unconscious. Xena tried to rise to her friend's aid only to find the room spinning. Xena reached out to grab the table for support and missed, falling to the floor. Darkness began to sweep into her world.

"I'm sorry," a voice broke through the darkness just before Xena fell totally into it.

Xena was not amused when she finally opened her eyes. Damp, musty, dark, straw for a bed = cell, Xena's mind quickly determined. She looked around and growled when she realized that she was chained to a wall. She sat up and tested the strength of the chains. Would take time and work, she figured. She looked around and found that she was in a series of cells, each with a solid wall on each side so that only one side was open with bars and door. Xena could see into the three cells across from her but not the ones to either side.

Xena found that she was able to stand, even with the chains on her wrists but only able to move half way across the cell. Her sharp eyes noticed movement in the cell directly across from her. Though the torchlight was dim a figure was visible on the floor.

"Who's there?" Xena called and she was more than surprised when Arcas stood up and walked to the bars, gripping them angrily. He had bruises above his eye and his mouth had been bleeding. Xena also took in his torn clothing.

"Hi," he said simply.

"What in Tartarus happened!?" she demanded.

"Well, I was jumped in my sleep last night. Late this afternoon they brought the two of you in."

"Two of us? Where's Gabrielle?"

"In the cell next to you, she's still unconscious, though."

"What is going on!?" Xena rattled her chains.

"They plan to offer Gabrielle up as a sacrifice to one of the gods in exchange for the breaking of the curse." Arcas turned his eyes away from the blue ones blazing into his soul, he was ashamed.

"Did you know about this?" Xena hissed, struggling against the chains.

"No, I swear I didn't. I just knew what I told you. That's why I'm here, I'll be on the same altar as Gabrielle." the young man said firmly.

"What about me?" Xena frowned.

"I think the idea is to release you, the god wants you destroyed."

"ARES!" Xena screamed and was actually surprised when he didn't appear in front of her. "Ares, damnit! Where are you?!" she demanded and received silence in return.

Xena pulled against her chains in rage.

"Xena?" a soft voice pulled the warrior out of her dark thoughts and she was on her feet instantly, pulling against the chains.

"I'm here, Gabrielle." she said loudly. She noticed Arcas get up and go to the cell bars, looking into the cell next to her.

"What's happened?" Xena heard the young woman asking.

"The usual," Xena laughed ruefully. "some god wants us dead and Lycaon thinks it will break his curse."

"Which god this time?" Gabrielle almost sounded exasperated and Xena grinned.

"I'm not sure, I'm almost positive that it's Ares as usual but he hasn't made his usual appearance to gloat about it."

"What about you, Arcas?"

"I disagreed with my family so I'll be there with you." the young man shrugged.

"Do you know when they plan this?" Xena asked.

"No, once I disagreed they wouldn't discuss their plans with me. I don't think they plan to be gentle about it though." Arcas turned away from the women and returned to a corner of his cell.

Xena could almost feel Gabrielle going pale and the warrior growled. "What do you know, Arcas?" Xena demanded, rattling her chains.

"They want to break your spirits before the sacrifice. They plan beatings and, if I know some of my brothers, maybe worse." Arcas' voice carried across the cells and chilled both the warrior and bard's bones.

"No," Xena whispered. She was nearly mad with frustration and fear. Not for herself, she had taken beatings and worse before. It was for her bard that she was worried. Xena would gladly walk into a raging volcanoe to prevent Gabrielle from feeling any pain.

"Xena, maybe they'll take only one of us. If I offer myself, maybe you could live." Gabrielle's voice called to her and Xena felt herself begin to cry. She hadn't told Gabrielle that was the exact plan of the King and his family. She had a feeling this might be because of her past and she couldn't face Gabrielle knowing it was because of Xena that she was about to be killed. Xena cursed everything and everyone.

"No, little one, please. I can't live without you, even if they let me live I would follow you soon." Xena called to her bard.

"No! Swear to me you'll live if you can! The world needs you!" Gabrielle pleaded.

Xena shook her head, amazed at the depth of the bard's belief in the battle scarred warrior. "I can't promise that, Gabrielle. You're my soul, my light, I'd be lost without you."

"Promise me, damnit!" Gabrielle insisted. "I can face death if you might live." Xena rattled her chains in frustration when an arm tried to reach around the wall past the bars.

"I'm chained, Gabrielle," Xena cried out. "I can't touch you!"

"Xena," Gabrielle's voice broke, "I love you."

"I love you, my bard."

"You won't promise me, will you?" Gabrielle's voice was resigned.

"Not if you won't." Xena countered. Xena could almost see Gabrielle shake her head.

"I can't live without you, my warrior."

Xena cursed again and began working on digging at where the chains met the wall, using one of the links to dig around the joint. Either the wall or the link was going to give, Xena was determined.

Xena was beginning to wonder if anyone was going to check on them or feed them a couple of hours later when she heard a door being unlocked and footsteps approaching. She quickly rearranged the straw up against the wall, effectively hiding her efforts with the chain and wall. She stood and faced the cell opening and wasn't surprised to see Lycaon and one of the servants. The servant was carrying a tray of food and another servant approached Arcas' cell with a tray as well. Xena's sharp ears heard Gabrielle's cell being opened as well.

The servant in front of Xena's cell opened the door cautiously and entered the cell only far enough to place the tray on the stone floor and then push it with his foot into the warrior's reach. Then the cell was locked again as were the other two.

"Lycaon," Xena began, her voice tight and eyes narrowed.

The King held up his hand, "Please don't threaten me with death, torture or any of the other. Nothing you threaten me with would surprise me. Believe me, I am sorry about this, warrior. I'm fighting for my family and my people. If it takes your death then so be it." The King started to turn away and Xena growled.

"How can this help? It was a selfish act of your sons that got you in this in the first place?!" Gabrielle demanded. "How can killing more innocent people make it right with the gods?"

"Apparently the gods have their own agendas and one is taking advantage of me. If you die and the warrior loses all will to live then it pleases one of them and they remove the curse." Lycaon justified.

"You're not going to kill, Xena?"

Xena could hear the hope in the young bard's voice and pulled on her chains again.

"No, the deity wants her to live in despair. I don't know why this is happening except that it gives me and my people a way out." Lycaon answered.

"At what price? What kind of king would save himself at the price of innocents?" Gabrielle demanded again. "And what about your favorite grandson, your chosen heir?"

Lycaon wouldn't look at his grandson who stood next to the bars. "It is regrettable that he's chosen this path. You don't understand, bard," Lycaon approached the bars of her cell, pain in his eyes. "My people need the royal family and my leadership, I have to save my family."

"Your people are cursed because of the actions of your family. All I see is a selfish old man trying to justify his selfish actions, trying to justify his murder of innocent people just to save his own skin." Gabrielle's voice was filled with bitterness and Xena could image the smaller woman turning away from the King.

Xena could see the King's face contort in rage and knew the bard had gotten to him and it had merely angered him because the bard's words were true. Xena knew he wouldn't change his plans and that Gabrielle would probably suffer because of her words.

"Lycaon, if you touch her I will fight my way out of Tartarus to make your death very painful and very long." Xena threatened.

The King laughed, "I would expect no less, Xena. I'll take my chances."

"You know if I live that I'll destroy this island and everything on it if you hurt Gabrielle!"

"You could try, warrior, but it would only be your suicide. High cliffs, excellent archers, vicious tides and sharks in the bay. We're well protected and armed." with that Lycaon was gone.

Xena screamed in rage and yanked at the chains again.

"Xena," Gabrielle called out after the warrior's screams and yells had died down.

"What?" Xena muttered, still angry beyong rational thought.

"Which of the gods? This could be the work of Ares, he's tried something like this before." Gabrielle thought aloud.

"Somehow I don't thinks so. This isn't Aphrodite's or Artemis' doing either. Aphrodite doesn't play this type of game and you're the Chosen of Artemis. I can't see Apollo's hand in this either. Who would go up against Zeus?" Xena also thought aloud.

"Ares bends the rules when he thinks he can," Gabrielle mentioned.

"I know. Ares! Show yourself, damnit!" Xena yelled and actually jumped when he appeared next to her.

"Yes, my love?"
He quickly ducked being decked by the chains binding Xena to the wall and jumped out of her range.

"I take it he's over there?" Gabrielle asked and Arcas nodded, amazed to see the God of War.

"Is this your doing?" Xena demanded, rattling her chains at him.

"As much as I've fantasized about having you chained at my whim, this isn't my gig." Ares grinned.

"Then whose?" Xena demanded.

"Sorry, babe," Ares shrugged, "I'm not even supposed to be here. Although," he stepped forward slightly and ran a finger across Xena's cheek and brushed a lock of hair from her eyes. "I could fix it, if you wanted."

Xena, with lightning quick reflexes, grabbed Ares' wrist and bent his arm back. He quickly stepped back out of her range.

"Let me guess, Gabrielle lives if I come back to you and back to my old ways," Xena smirked.

"Well, standard offer. Just say the word and the little brat is back on the farm where she belongs and you're out of this cell with your weapons. You can resume your career, starting with Lycaon's head." Ares grinned.

"Get out of here, Ares."

Gabrielle suggested Ares do something that Xena wasn't sure was physically possible and even Ares raised his eyebrows at the suggestion from the young woman.

"Don't listen to him, Xena. I'd rather be dead than have you return to him." Gabrielle yelled.

"Don't you ever shut up?" Ares yelled back. "Look, just say the word and all this is over."

"Go away, Ares." Xena sat back down on the straw with a frown.

"Call when you want me, you know you're always my favorite." Xena noticed with an inward grin that he still didn't get any closer even if she was his favorite. "Maybe you'll change your mind when you see her broken body on the altar."

Ares was gone, just avoiding the wooden cup Xena had heaved at his head.


"He's gone."

"If he isn't doing this, then who?" Gabrielle's voice was thoughtful.

"I don't know. It isn't Aphrodite, this isn't her style or her concerns. This isn't like Apollo, besides, I think he likes you." Xena also thought outloud. Gabrielle snorted in the next cell. "You're Artemis's chosen, she wouldn't do something like this anyway."

"What about Hades or Athena?"

"She's usually more honorable in her dealings and Hades doesn't like to mess with the living." Xena frowned. "I don't think many would dare go up against Zeus' curse unless it was Zeus himself or Hera."

"I still don't trust Ares, he's crossed the line before." Gabrielle argued.

"I don't trust anyone except you, my bard." Xena countered, "but I don't think it's him. Why would Zeus or Hera want either of us dead?"

"Xena, promise me you won't go back to Ares!" Gabrielle's voice broke with tears.

"I promise, my love. No matter what happens, I won't return to the Warlord." Xena promised solemingly. A silent vow to herself that if Gabrielle died then she would follow shortly, one way or another.

Arcas watched the two women silently.

Xena went back to work on the chain and wall.

Lycaon visited them again in the morning. Xena resisted the urge to throw something at him, she merely glared. With a shiver he turned back towards the bard.

"I'm sorry, I'm commanded to break your body and spirit, I don't know why." he said flatly.

"Then you'll never succeed," Xena heard Gabrielle snap. "You'll never break my spirit."

"She's right, you know. Besides, I'm going to break your spine." Xena promised with a wicked smile with sent another shiver up Lycaon's spine.

"Grandfather, enough of this!" Arcas cried, struggling against the cell door. "Let me out, I won't fight you anymore."

Lycaon ignored him.

"What?!" Gabrielle's voice was shrill, Xena merely growled.

Lycaon turned to his grandson. "Why should I believe your change of heart?" he demanded.

Arcas gritted his teeth. "Because I'm your grandson! My destiny is with you, no matter what it may be. You were a fool to mess with the gods, I would be a fool to fight them."

"I'll kill you myself, Arcas." Xena threatened.

"I'm sorry, Xena, I truly am. I wish it could be different but look where dealing with the gods has gotten you."

Lycaon produced a key but hesitated. "You swear by the gods that you won't stand in my way?"

"I swear by the gods that I won't stand in your way." Arcas swore and Xena also swore under her breath eternal vengeance on these warped people.

"Arcas, no, please! This isn't you!" Gabrielle pleaded.

"You must understand, Gabrielle," Arcas said as Lycaon unlocked the cell. "This is my family and they must come first. I'll hold the dagger if I have to, if it frees my mother and sisters from this curse. I'll take this guilt on myself all the way to Tartarus."

"No, please." Gabrielle whispered, Xena imaged tears flowing from the bard's green eyes.

Xena could see the young man's face harden as he and his grandfather turned and left. Xena could hear Gabrielle crying and screamed in rage.

Xena continued working at the chain, ignoring her raw and bloody hands.

"Xena, what can we do?"

"I'm working on it, Gabrielle."

"And what do you intend to do against the gods, warrior?" a strong female voice demanded. Xena's head snapped up with a glare.

"Callisto!" she hissed and she heard Gabrielle's sharp intake of breath.

"Hello, darlings! Miss me?" Callisto laughed her manic laugh.

"Not really," Xena stood up slowly. The food had been meager and she had worked hard at the chains and wall, she was nearly through one of the links, she wanted to reserve her strength even though right then she wanted nothing more than to strangle the goddess in front of her.

"Oh, I'm hurt!" Callisto pouted.

"How did you escape the lava?" Gabrielle's voice was tense.

"I had some help, seems if I do a job for Hera I get out of that hell you put me in." Callisto raised a hand and Xena found herself blasted against the cell wall from a bolt of energy. She fought off blackness as she slid down the wall.

"Xena! Callisto, no!" Gabrielle pleaded.

"Why not? Oh, I've thought of a thousand different ways to torture both of you." Xena shook her head and lunged for Callisto as she heard a cry of pain from Gabrielle as another bolt of energy shot from the blond demon's hands. Xena crashed to the floor with a growl and a struggle, this merely caused the goddess to laugh delightedly.

"You know, I am so glad you two finally figured out that you were soulmates and became lovers. It'll cause so much more pain when I rip Gabrielle's face off and kill her, don't you think?"

Xena screamed in rage and fought against the chains.

"Why would Hera want us dead?" Gabrielle asked from the next cell.

"Actually, you'll be a means to an end. With you dead, tall, dark and beautiful here will snap easily, Ares steps in, she turns evil..."

"Won't happen!" Xena protested.

"Yes, it will, my love." Callisto promised with an insane glint in her eyes. "Then Hercules gets called in to help and between the three of us: Xena, Ares and myself, the demi-god will be toast." Callisto laughed.

"I'll never join you and Ares," Xena swore.

Callisto merely smiled. "Trust me, given enough torture, especially when you get to watch me torture that little bard of yours, your mind will snap."

"Callisto, no! Please, don't do this to her!" Gabrielle pleaded.

"Oh, my little bard, save your breath. I promise you that you'll need it."

With a flash of light Callisto was gone.

"Xena?" Gabrielle's voice called out.

"Right here, my love. I'm working on it." Xena promised.

Xena covered the chain with the straw as both her and Gabrielle heard the door open again. Xena's sharp ears heard Gabrielle whimper slightly and the warrior growled as she realized Gabrielle's door was being unlocked.

Xena resisted struggling against the chains as sounds of a scuffle reached her. She began to curse and swear loudly at Lycaon's and all his family and followers. Arcas stepped into sight and she growled at him.

"What are you doing, Arcas?" Xena heard Lycaon's voice. She also heard a muffled frustrated scream from Gabrielle and the sound of more struggles.

"I'm checking her lock, grandfather. I'm told that she has many skills." Xena's eyes narrowed as he flashed her the key and then tossed it at her.

"Is it secure?"

Arcas rattled the door, showing his grandfather it was locked.

"Very well, follow me. Let's get this over with." Lycaon's voice actually sounded weary.

"Xena!" came a muffled scream and Xena screamed in return.

"Hurry! She'll last one whipping but not many more than that!" Arcas hissed to Xena and turned out of her sight. Xena went back to her chains, moving frantically.

Xena was nearly beside herself when she heard the door being unlocked and then Gabriell's cell door open. A small moan reached her as something thumped on the stone floor.

Xena yelled curses and screams, rattling her chains for effect.

Arcas stepped into view. "She's alive, warrior." he said simply. Then he leaned forward and tossed Xena's sword to her from under his cloak, followed by her chakram. Xena caught both without a sound and quickly buried them in the straw. "Hurry, damnit! She's unconscious but alive. There's something you should know, Callisto isn't a total god. Hera took part of her godhood away for failing to kill the two of you. She still has some powers but she can be killed by mortal means. When they come for Gabrielle in a candlemark, follow behind quietly." he whispered.

"Why? You swore an oath," Xena demanded.

"I swore I wouldn't stand in my grandfather's way and I won't. I didn't swear that I wouldn't help you."

"You'll be a good king, Arcas."

"A king of wolves," he said bitterly and turned away.

Xena waited until the dungeon door had closed and she broke the last remaining bit of metal holding the link together. With a frustrated growl she was at the cell door and unlocking it. Within moments she was in Gabrielle cell and kneeling over her battered bard.

Xena felt tears escaping her eyes as she took in the young woman's bloody back. With a sob she quickly ripped part of her shirt and dipped in what little water was left in the water bucket and began to gently clean the blood away. Xena flinched at the soft moans of pain from the small figure.

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry I couldn't get out sooner." then Xena stopped, the guards would notice if Gabrielle was cleaned up. There was no way the bard could reach her back herself. Xena cursed and moved around to position Gabrielle's head in her lap and gently wiped the young girl's forehead with the cool cloth. Softly cooing and talking in reassuring tones. Gabrielle's breathing shifted from painful rasps to a more even rhythm.

With a practiced eye Xena could see that the lashes weren't deep, with proper care they probably wouldn't scar but she had to get Gabrielle out of there first. Xena reluctantly moved from out from under the bard's head, Gabrielle's whimper of loss in her sleep tore at Xena's heart but she knew the guards would be coming soon. She quickly went back to her cell and placed the chain back together, hiding the broken link in the straw. She waited with eyes that flashed with intense anger. Her sword just beneath her boot, if needed quickly.

When she was finally able to release her anger everything seemed to happen quickly. Xena had followed the two guards carrying a moaning Gabrielle up the stairs, neither of them noticing the shadow that trailed them through the corridor to the main hall. Xena had slipped behind the same banner she had used before and cautiously looked out. She resisted the urge to spring immediately into action when Gabrielle was placed face down on a wooden table and her hands and ankles tied to the legs. The bard had begun to regain consciousness and was struggling against the ropes and biting at the gag they had roughly forced between her teeth. Xena was proud of the fire she saw in the younger woman's eyes, even through the pain, Gabrielle was fighting back.
Lycaon and most of his sons and a large number of other men and boys were gathered in a semi circle around the table. A priest of Hera intoned chants from the other side of the table and splashed Gabrielle's back with water, blessing the sacrifice. Gabrielle growled and pulled on the ropes even harder.

Xena did leap into the center of the room with her famous warcry, sword and chakram at the ready when one of the guards had moved forward and ripped Gabrielle's thin robe from the rest of her body and began to unbuckle his belt. The young bard had screamed in rage and then had almost burst into tears at the sound of her lover's cry.

The King and his family turned, surprise evident on their faces. Xena grinned and a couple of the less courageous types felt their bladders give way at that grin and what promises it held.

Several began drawing their swords or daggers.

"Want to pick on someone not tied down?" she taunted.

"Kill her! Kill her or we're cursed forever!" Lycaon screamed, drawing a sword himself.

Xena knew that in these tight quarters against these numbers it was a slim chance of surviving but she was determined to take out as many as she could and hopefully reach Gabrielle before going down. If necessary she would take away any chance of torture for her or the bard with her own blade.

With a laugh she launched herself into the air, startling a couple of the men advancing on her. They quickly went down under several kicks. She managed to flip over the sword of another and landed behind him. With a quick thrust of her sword behind her she knew he wouldn't be coming at her again. Xena quickly slashed out with the sword and used the chakram as a shield, deflecting several blows, trying to clear a breathing space. With a war cry she flipped over three of the attackers back into the center of the room and then ran for the wall with four of them on her heels. What surprised them was the woman warrior seeming to defy the very nature of gravity and fling herself up the wall, appearing to almost walk up it, and then flip back behind them. Her sword had sliced the backs of their necks, severing their spines before they could turn around. With a laugh the warrior threw herself against the wall again, taking a defensive position.

Lycaon cursed as two more of his grandsons fell to the warrior's sword and went to the table and shoved the priest out of the way. He raised his sword in both hands, over his head, over Gabrielle.

"Xena!" he yelled and everyone seemed to hesitate.

Xena's eyes widened at the sight of the sword poised above her mate. She drew back the chakram with a snarl.

"Even if I fall someone else will kill her before you can reach her." Lycaon promised.

Xena hesitated, knowing he was right but reluctant to give into any fight.

Gabrielle screamed a muffled reply and tugged at the ropes. Her eyes pleading with Xena not to give in.

Xena straightened up and lowered her sword. With a vicious laugh Lycaon's muscles tensed and Xena knew that she could never reach Gabrielle before the sword did. With a scream she launched the chakram and then threw herself at the men in front of her.
Gabrielle closed her eyes but opened them in surprise at the sound of Lycaon's surprised yelp. She turned her head to find Ares holding the old man up off his feet, one hand holding the chakram which he sent sailing back to Xena. "You know, old man, as much as I don't like the irritating little wench, I can't let you kill her. Sorry." with the ease of a god, Ares tossed the King backwards into the wall where the old man slid down the wall and stayed sitting on the floor, blinking his eyes, stunned.
Just before they could plunge their swords into the warrior woman the two sons were surprised to be lifted off their feet in a similar fashion. Their widened eyes took in the sight of Hercules holding them just before he banged their heads together. Xena grinned and ran another son through with her sword.

"Hi, thanks for coming." she greeted the demi-god between sword thrusts and parries.

"Glad to make it," he grinned.

"How did you manage to get Ares to agree to this?" she asked as they fought back to back.

Hercules glanced over at the War God protecting the still captive body of Gabrielle, his sword making short work of any of the sons or grandsons that tried to get to the bard.

"Father threatened him. Once he found out about Hera's plan to interfere with you, Gabrielle, me, Iolus and his curse on this family, he was enraged and made Ares help us. Of course," another son went down under the demi-god's strong fist. "we'll never hear the end of it." Hercules warned.

"Don't I know it," Xena agreed.

Within moments the fight seemed to have gone out of the others and they fled, dragging their injured kinsmen with them. Xena dashed over and quickly cut Gabrielle's bonds and the bard pulled the gag out of her mouth.

"What in Tartarus is going on?!" she demanded. "Don't tell me I owe my life to HIM!" she pointed at the God of War, cleaning his sword on one of the expensive tapestries.

"Well, the gag was nice for awhile," he complained with a shrug.

Xena grinned and tore down another one of the banners and wrapped it around her mate. Gabrielle, realizing her state of undress and taking in Ares' appreciative glance blushed profusely. Hercules grinned.

Xena frowned and quickly looked around.

"What is it, Xena?"

"Callisto, what happened to Callisto?" she asked no one in particular.

A noise from one of the doorways caught their attention as Arcas leaned against the doorjam. Everyone noticed his bloody hands and Hercules rushed forward to catch the young man before he fell on his face.

"I can answer that," the young man said as Hercules lowered him to the floor. Gabrielle, Xena and Hercules quickly looked the man over. Hercules ripping away his shirt to reveal very large and vicious wounds in the man's shoulder and stomach. Hercules ripped the shirt into pieces and placed one of them over the stomach wound and another over the wound in the shoulder. He looked up at the two women and shook his head. Both he and Xena knew the stomach wound was fatal, and painful.

Gabrielle knelt by Arcas and took his hand. "You helped Xena, didn't you?" she asked.

"Yes, I couldn't let them kill you. Callisto fled after I put a dagger in her back."

"You took on Callisto?" Xena asked, impressed with the young man's courage.

Xena noticed Lycaon moving slowly towards them and motioned the old man closer. Arcas spotted his grandfather.

"I'm sorry, grandfather, I couldn't let you do it. I'm sorry." Arcas coughed painfully and spit up fresh blood. Gabrielle used the end of her tapestry to wipe the blood away. Arcas' eyes began to lose their focus.

"There's nothing to be sorry for, I was wrong. I am proud of you, Arcas." the old man began to weep.

"He can't hear you, Lycaon." Hercules said simply and lowered the young man all the way to the floor. He went and pulled another tapestry down and covered the young man as Gabrielle began to cry.

Xena grabbed the old man and lifted him off his feet. "What manner of death would you prefer, you son of a bacchae?" she demanded through clenched teeth.

"Xena," Hercules began and Xena turned to him with enraged eyes.

"Do you know why they were cursed? They killed a boy and cooked him and served him to your father." Hercules looked ill. "Then they whipped Gabrielle and were going to sacrifice her, just so Hera could use Ares and me to destroy you. Think he deserves to live?"

Hercules shook his head. "No, but he's already been cursed and no god or human will help them from now on. Zeus is having a very long talk with Hera, the world probably won't see her for several years, as angry as he is right now. Let's take Gabrielle and leave them to their fates."

"Xena, let's go." Gabrielle encouraged, rising to her feet.

Ares snorted and approached the group. "Dad did agree to alter his curse a little, if you're interested." he said, sheathing his sword.

Xena lowered the old man to the floor. "How so?" she demanded.

"Instead of the seven year thing, which would be too easy on them, they will only turn into wolves on the nights of the full moon and for one month in the Spring. This way they live in torment for the entire lifetime, no relief every seven years."

Xena nodded after a moment. She grabbed Lycaon by the collar and pulled him close. "Just remember this, Lycaon, if any of your bunch leaves this island and terrorizes anyone innocent I will come back and skin you alive."

Lycaon merely nodded in his terror and Xena released him.

"Come on, Gabrielle, let's find our stuff and get out of here. I want to get far away from this place and see to that back of yours."
Xena's eyes narrowed as Ares stepped in her way. He raised his hands to hold off any attack or argument. Without a word he turned the young bard around and gently removed the tapestry from the young woman's back. Everyone heard Hercules gasp at the sight of the wounds. Ares merely shrugged and held his hands over the bard's back and closed his eyes. Xena and Hercules both stopped breathing for a moment as the wounds closed and then disappeared, leaving only slight red marks. With unsuspected tenderness, Ares pulled the tapestry over the bard again. She turned to face him with widened, surprised eyes.

"Thank you?" she whispered.

Again he shrugged. "A favor to Artemis, maybe now she'll stop trying to pin me with those damned arrows of hers for awhile." with a flash he was gone.

"Well, I guess I get back to the southern Greek coast by foot." Hercules complained with a grin.

"Sounds good, want company?" Xena asked, drawing the bard into her arms

"Always," the demi-god answered with an easy smile. "By the way, I'm glad to see you two have figured it out."

Gabrielle giggled as Xena blushed. Xena dropped her head and nuzzled the bard's long reddish gold hair and whispered, "I'll get you for that giggle, little one."

"Promise?" Gabrielle countered as she shivered from the touch of her lover and Xena shivered herself in response at the challenge.

Hercules figured this was going to be an interesting trip and probably an uncomfortable one, considering how he was still attracted to the warrior woman.

"Hope they have cold streams along the way," he muttered, unaware of just how keen Xena's hearing was.

"What?" Gabrielle questioned as her warrior blushed again.

"Nothing, let's go."

"You know," Gabrielle hesitated and picked up the chain between Xena's wrists. Fortunately it had been made to hold her to the wall, not restrict her arm movements. "I could think of some interesting things to do with this." Gabrielle said thoughtfully.

"Gabrielle!" Xena shrieked as the young bard laughed.

Hercules decided it was time to find which room was theirs to get their stuff and get out of there. "You two are going to be impossible to travel with," he complained as he went up the stairs. He was very pleased to hear their laughter follow him.

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