Disclaimer: This story has violence and depicts relationships of a romantic nature between people of the same sex.If this offends you, please move on.Also the only characters that are mine in this story are the ones that did not appear in the series.All others are the property of Universal Studios.

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Studies In Light

Chapter 5-Calming The Storm

Written By: Caina Q.Fuller

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Xena/Ares

 

The setting sun had never looked so glorious as it did the evening Xena rode slowly into the Amazon village with Varia's cold, stiff body propped against her. The young warriors blood had long since stopped draining out of the horrible wound in her stomach, but the site of Varia's life draining from her eyes was still fresh to Xena's mind.

 

One by one the sisters of Varia's tribe looked up to see who was entering their village, and one by one they realized it was Xena bringing home their obviously dead Queen. Some of the warriors clasped their hands to their mouths to hold back their cries of anguish while others didn't bother to hide their pain.

 

Cyane emerged from her tent, wondering what the screaming was about. She thought perhaps it was another raid from the constantly growing Roman colonies that surrounded Amazon land but found something much worse when she took in the site of Xena's oddly blank, tear-stained face and Varia's dead stare. Her heart broke within her chest.

 

"Xena? What happened? Who did this?"

 

Xena's eyes slowly came to hers and Cyane thought she could literally feel the pain in the Warrior Princess' heart. However it was Xena's answer that shocked and hurt every Amazon in the village the most.

 

"I did."

 

****************************

 

 

Cyane motioned for the ram's horn to be blown in order to bring order to the chaos that erupted upon Xena's words. Once the sisters of the village were calm enough to hear her voice she did her best to take charge. She was next in line to be Queen as Varia had given her the right of caste to the crown should anything happen to her. Now it had.

"Take Varia's body to the preparation tent. Chiniah, Arialah, gather some sisters and prepare a pyre for Varia. We must have everything in order for burial tomorrow evening."

 

Chiniah stepped forward, her eyes betraying the anger in her heart with vivid clarity. "What about her? She murdered our Queen. Your duty as the next Queen is to-"

 

"I don't need you to tell me what my duties are Chiniah!" Cyane stepped back to put some distance between her and the crowd of angry warriors. "I am next in line for the crown so that puts me in charge! All of you will obey me! I know you're upset but now's not the time to fall apart. Chiniah, obey my orders."

 

"Yes your Majesty." Chiniah spat at Xena's feet before she turned and stormed away, calling for her most trusted sisters to arrange the funeral.

 

Cyane turned to Xena, her disappointment painfully plain in her face. "Somehow that came out sounding more like Yes you stupid bitch'. Take Xena to my hut. Chain her there."

 

Xena didn't resist as she was hauled roughly away. "Gaia. Take Xena's horse to the stables. Feed and water her, ok?"

 

Gaia was not only Cyane's blood cousin but she was also her most loyal sister. "What are you going to do?"

 

"I'm going to get some water to wash Varia's blood from Xena's hands, then I'm going to carry out the law."

 

"You know the law says Xena must die for her crime against the Amazon Nation."

 

"The law says Xena must die if she murdered the Queen. If she defeated Varia in a fair fight then I must set Xena free."

 

"But what's guarantee do we have that Xena won't lie about what happened to save her own skin?"

 

Cyane couldn't believe what she was hearing. "This is Xena we're talking about. She'd rather die than lie about something like this. Now do as I asked, please."

 

Gaia led Argo away to be stabled for the night and Cyane set about her duty to find out just what happened to her Queen.

 

**********

 

Cyane entered the hut with a large pail of hot water and scrubbing rags. "Xena. If I take your chains off will you promise not to try and escape?"

 

"At the risk of sounding vain Cyane, I'm only here because I want to be. If I wanted to escape-"

 

"You wouldn't need me to unlock your chains. I know. I just thought I'd be courteous and ask."

 

"I don't see why. I don't deserve it."

 

It took her awhile to find the courage to ask but finally Cyane put forth the question that would either mean life or death for Xena. "Did you murder our Queen, Xena?"

 

Fresh tears spilled from Xena's eyes as memories of what happened came back to her. She could still smell the blood of the innocent and taste the smoke from her mother's burning Inn at the back of her throat.

 

"Xena?" Cyane urged, scrubbing Xena's hands arms and chest free of blood. "Sweet Artemis, you're covered in blood. Its on your clothes, your boots are soaked in it up to your ankles like you've been wading in it. It's even matted your hair. What happened? This all can't be Varia's blood."

 

"Its not. It's the blood of my Kinsmen."

 

"Tell me what went wrong. I have to know. Your life and the life of my sisters depend on it."

 

"How do the lives of your sisters depend on it?"

 

"If I have to sentence you to death and you chose to make a break for it they will fight you to the death to carry out your sentence. You may die and take a lot of my sisters with you. Now tell me: How did Varia die?"

 

"I killed her. It was yesterday evening"

 

************

 

Xena watched Amphitryon's head fall to the floor with a sickening thump. The villagers only stared at her with helpless shock as his body hit the floor. Xena unhooked her Chakram from he hip and hurled it at the bastard that had set her mother's tapestry on fire. The flames were already spreading to the wooden beams that supported the roof and soon everything that could burn in the tavern would catch on fire and the place would be burned beyond recognition or repair in a matter of hours.

 

The man responsible for the fire screamed in fear as the Chakram came flying at him, his reaction time too slow to be of any good to save him. His scream was quickly cut short however, when the razor sharp edge of the blade sliced across his throat.

 

"Xena!" Varia's voice registered at the back of her mind but she couldn't find it within her to obey the Amazon's request that she stop her murderous fit of rage.

 

"Get them!" A villager yelled from the rear. A few of the men foolishly heeded his order and charged Xena and Varia. Xena cut them down one by one, and then turned on the villagers that were crowding every possible exit of the Inn which was rapidly filling with smoke.

 

"Xena stop! They're villagers, they re no match for us!"

 

Xena shoved Varia roughly aside and ran into the crowd. She saw mentally that she was out of control but she just could not stop. All she could see was her mother burning at the stake with the faces of many of the people in this room standing around to watch as Cyrene begged for mercy they had no intentions of giving. It filled her with even more rage and she loosed it upon the villagers.

 

"I'll kill you! I'll kill you all!" Xena screamed, swinging her sword aimlessly and cutting down every man and woman in sight. The worst part of it all was that the dark creature that she'd once believed to be dead was fully resurrected and she loved the feel of their blood as it soaked her from head to toe. Words she'd spoken in this very same room to the villagers of Amphipolis years ago when she'd first met Gabrielle came back to her now: revenge is sweet.

 

Xena followed them outside, literally wading in their blood to chase them down and make them pay for their crimes against her and her family. A child made the mistake of running before her and Xena moved to cut him down, not caring in the least he couldn't have been a day over seven years old.

 

Varia's blade blocked Xena's just as it was about to deliver the deathblow to the child.

 

"Xena, you have to pull yourself together! I know you're hurt and angry but murdering these villagers isn't going to help ease your pain."

 

Xena didn't even recognize her own voice when she spoke to Varia. "Get out of my way Varia. I'll kill you too."

 

"Everybody run!" Varia shouted to the villagers. She didn't need to tell them twice as she faced Xena down. A woman, who may have been the child's mother, scooped him up and ran for the nearest horse.

 

"Xena, if you want someone to work out your anger and hatred on, let it be me. I stand a better chance against you than they do."

 

"Do you now? Are you willing to bet your life on that?" Her cold, evil grin sent chills over Varia's scantily clad body.

 

"I'm willing to bet you couldn't kill someone you've made love with."

 

Xena gave Varia the most wicked laugh the Amazon had ever heard before and she knew that she'd misjudged this new Xena.

 

"I've done it before Varia, and they were better warriors than you. This is your last chance to get out of the way of my revenge."

 

"It doesn't have to end like this Xena."

 

"You're right. Get out of the way and you can live through it. Otherwise"

 

This time, in this fight, Xena was pulling no punches. She had Varia off balance in six moves and Xena gave in to the desire to spill blood once more. She struck Varia's blade with such force that it broke in half, then quickly followed through and ran her sword through Varia's gut.

 

As Varia's blood soaked her hand and her life began fading before Xena's eyes, an image of Gabrielle dying in the same way floated before her eyes. This site, along with Varia's last words, calmed the rage within Xena just enough for realization of all the blood she'd just shed to hit home.

 

As Varia's life faded before Xena's eyes, the Amazon Queen brought her lips to Xena's. "I just wanted to love you Xena."

 

*********************

 

"That's what happened."

 

Cyane sat motionless, speechless, before Xena. "Youmurdered our Queen in a fit of rage."

 

"Yes."

 

"I can't understand whyhow you could do something like that."

 

"You have no way of knowing the monster I used to be Cyane. You have no way of knowing how Gabrielle's love kept me going. When I lost her I lost myself. Varia tried her best to save me but she couldn't. I exploded with my rage and killed her. Now I must pay the price. I'm asking for the Mirake."

 

Cyane hadn't heard that word in years but she knew its meaning all too well. "You know about the Mirake?"

 

"The second Queen named Cyane was murdered by a male warrior named Mirake. As punishment the reigning Queen ordered him to burn at the stake alongside the Queens pyre. The soul of anyone condemned to the Mirake must spend eternity wandering the earth, so close to humanity but never able to partake in it. Not even as a ghost. I am asking for that sentence now, to be carried out tomorrow evening."

 

Cyane had no choice but to agree. Xena had done so much for the Amazon nation, but now she was going to be executed by them. She had to be, considering she'd just admitted to murdering their Queen.

 

"I'll inform the tribe of your decision."

 

"If you don't mind, I'd like to do that. I want to tell them what happened."

 

"Alright. It's the least I could do for the woman who, up until now, has been our Nation's most loyal friend."

 

Xena gently took Cyane's face in her hands and kissed the younger woman's forehead. "Believe it or not Cyane, I still am."

 

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Gabrielle

 

Demeter arrived almost as soon as Zeus could mentally summon for her. "Demeter. I assume you know why I have called you here?"

 

Demeter bowed to the king of the gods then turned her attention to the others gathered in the room. Hera took up her position beside her husband, followed by Hades and Poseidon. They were the most powerful of the Olympians and together they may just be able to hold back the impending destruction.

 

"I know why you have called me here," Demeter said. She walked with the others to a large mirror-like object that reflected their images. This was more than a mirror however. In the hands of the gods it could be used as anything from a universal gateway to a rainmaker. It was Demeter's most useful tool.

 

Hera lay a hand on Demeter's shoulder and gently pulled her around to speak face to face with her.

 

"Demeter, you know the risks if you do this."

 

Demeter nodded. "I also know the risks if I don't. This could mean everything. Not just for the mortals but for the gods as well. There's no guarantee eve Zeus could survive the fall of our universe."

 

Poseidon, who had earned a reputation for being Olympus' rudest god, eased up to her. It was no secret that both he had a thing for Demeter, but she did not return his affections. "If this doesn't work you'll become mortal forever. Unless of course you would consider my earlier proposal-"

 

Hades elbowed Poseidon in the side. "Now is not the time to think of your libido Poseidon. She has a much more important mission at hand. We all thank you for what you are about to do Demeter. And if you do lose your god-hood I will give it back." Hades eyes met Poseidon's. "With no strings attached."

 

Zeus quickly tired of the on-going argument between the two gods. "Enough! Demeter, are you ready?"

 

"I will do my best to calm Nature's pain until Athena can find Gabrielle and return her to her home world."

 

"Then let us open the gate," Zeus said. He joined hands with Hera, Poseidon and Hades and together the four were able to combine their powers to open the gate. The mirror began to glow until it deepened into a swirling vortex in which Demeter prepared to enter. She turned to her fellow gods.

 

"Zeus, inspire Athena to hasten her search for Gabrielle. She needs to learn to clean up her messes."

 

"Indeed she does," Hera said pointedly at Zeus. She'd long since argued with her husband about reining his favorite child in. Perhaps now that she was on the verge of destroying all of creation he'd consider her advice to discipline her.

 

Demeter entered the vortex and immediately it closed shut behind her.

 

*****************

 

Once inside the vortex Demeter was closer to nature than she was at any other time. Nature, she'd found, was a living creature. This was something no mortal realized, and a concept very few gods could grasp. Except for her. She'd made friends with the force that Nature truly was, and perhaps she could find a way to heal her.

 

She picked up on Nature's presence now. She was indeed ailing. Gabrielle's presence had upset the very fabric of the universe, and this was literally killing Nature. Only Demeter's immortality and divine powers could act as a medicine that would temporarily relieve Natures pain, and thereby calm her before she inadvertently destroyed the very earth in which they lived in her death throes.

 

******************

 

Outside the vortex Demeter's efforts to soothe Nature were working. The churning sky and driving winds were dissipating and the quiet left in its wake gave no sign of the imminent danger looming over them.

 

"She's doing it," Poseidon said with pride. Hera, however, had her eyes glued to Zeus.

 

"Get that daughter of yours under control Zeus. Or I will. We both know you don't want me to handle her."

 

Hera faded away before he could say anything in return. She had a knack for getting in the last word, and unlike the other gods she wasn't afraid of him. Nor should she be considering she was almost as powerful as he.

 

"If Hera and I ever divorce-" Zeus said, turning to his brothers, but they would hear none of it.

 

Hades and Poseidon held up their hands and backed away, speaking in unison. For once they had something to agree on. "We don't want her either."

 

With that, they faded away, leaving Zeus to ponder the question of just what he could do to bring his daughter under control.

 

******************************

 

It was early morning, before sunrise, when Gabrielle noticed two things. One: Xena's new chest armor was digging painfully into her stomach and two: the storm was over. There was nothing but quiet as she lay there with Xena draped over her midsection.

 

My Xena never did this, Gabrielle thought, as she was forced to face one more difference between the woman she loved and this stranger that wore her lovers face. Her dreams at night were filled with her hopes of one day reuniting with her soul-mate. She also wondered what Xena was doing without her. Had she met someone new? Gabrielle hated the thought of Xena holding another woman or man, but she hated the thought of her lover going through life alone even more.

 

As gently as she could, Gabrielle eased from beneath this world's Xena and stood. The bed was too close to the fire and that, combined with Xena's body heat and the heavy blanket draped over both of them, had served to make her feel as if she'd spent the night roasting in Hell itself. She could smell the fresh, cool air blowing in through a crack in the shutters to their room and decided to go outside to cool off.

 

The Inn was empty as she made her way out into the cool morning air. She took a seat on a log in a secluded area of the yard and stared up at the night sky. It was cloudless and beautiful, and the stars twinkled like chips of diamonds strewn across rich velvet. The air was exquisitely fresh, cooling her sweat-dampened skin. It also cleared her lungs of the smoke of the nights fire.

 

"Hello."

 

Despite herself Gabrielle jumped with a startled yelp as a dark figure moved in the bushes slowly toward her. It was still too dark to see but she recognized his voice and his general shape.

 

"Joxer."

 

He cocked his head to the side and lifted an eyebrow, curious as to how she knew his name. "You know my name."

 

She was giving him that familiar look again, and the way she'd said his nameit was like she'd said it a hundred times before. Unlike the last time they'd met, the feeling that he also knew her was almost tangible and her beauty in the moonlight was breathtaking. Joxer wanted so much to reach out and touch her just to make certain she was real and not something from a wonderful dream.

 

"Sure I do. You're Poseidon's champion."

 

"Ah, of course. Juice?"

 

He handed her a decanter full of a clear liquid that smelled something like freshly squeezed grapes. "Don't worry," he said, grinning at her hesitation. "I haven't drunk from it yet. It's a clean decanter too."

 

She took his offering and drank some of it down. Like the night air it was cool and refreshing. "That's so good."

 

"Yeah, I like it. I like to drink the juice before it ferments. I think its better this way."

 

"I would tend to agree. You can enjoy it without becoming intoxicated. I suppose it's important for a god's champion to always be alert for danger, huh?"

 

"Indeed it is."

 

They shared a few moments of comfortable silence as they watched the eastern sky begin to brighten with a new day. The air was heavily perfumed with the spring flowers that were blooming all around and Gabrielle found herself missing sleeping under the stars with Xena. After a few minutes of listening to the sound of the waking village, Joxer broke the silence.

 

"You like to watch sunrises?"

 

"No, not really", Gabrielle admitted, slightly embarrassed. "I love sleeping in. It was just too hot in my room with the bed being close to the fire and Xena smothering me like she"

 

"Like she?" He waited expectantly for her to finish.

 

"Nothing," Xena said, looking away sheepishly.

 

"Watching the two of you I get the feeling you two are uh, more than meets the eye."

 

"No. We're friends but not lovers. Actually we only just met a few days ago."

 

Knowing he was taking the subject matter into an area too personal for her to discuss with a stranger, Joxer backed off, much to her visible relief. "I love watching sunrises myself."

 

"Since when?" She caught herself before she could say more. How easy it was to forget that this wasn't the old days and this wasn't the Joxer that had loved her so much he gave his life to save her. The woman in the bed upstairs wasn't her Xena. This wasn't even her world.

"I sense you are a woman with a troubled mind" Joxer left the sentence hanging, hoping she would tell him her name.

 

"Gabrielle. I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce myself."

 

"That's alright. You know, you don't look like one of Athena's guards."

 

Gabrielle became even more uncomfortable with his questions. She felt perhaps like he was interrogating her, and she reminded herself again that she and this Joxer were complete strangers. He didn't love her the way the Joxer she'd known had, therefore there was no reason for him not to give away her identity to his god or Athena herself. He sensed her hesitancy and smiled.

 

"I'm sorry. I have a tendency to question people. I shouldn't do that but you're different somehow. Would you think me too forward if I told you that I felt as if I know you?"

 

"I wouldn't find that strange at all. You'd be surprised at the things I've learned."

 

"A real-world woman huh?"

 

"That I am. Though I'm loyal to no god in particular."

 

"I can understand that better than you'd think. Sometimes I tire of Poseidon's petty cruelties myself. I would have followed Athena but she doesn't allow male Champions."

 

Gabrielle found herself laughing. "Let me guess: You're an ambitious man and you're not about to allow sexism to trap you in a dead end job?"

 

He began to laugh along with her, genuinely amused by her sense of humor and how well she had read him. The sense of familiarity was stronger and he was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable with it.

 

"That's it exactly. I wouldn't be able to rise above centurion. Besides all that I wouldn't look good in one of those silver skirts."

 

"Legs too hairy?"

 

They begin to giggle, helpless to control their laughter. This man had every quality in a man she'd ever wanted to see in Joxer, and she could feel a strange attraction tickle deep in her stomach.

 

This is ridiculous, she thought, trying to shrug off the feelings that were arising within her.

 

"Gabrielle?" Xena's sharp voice said from above.

 

Gabrielle looked up to the third floor window to find Xena looking down at them, and the Bard wondered how long she'd been there listening, and Gabrielle hated it when people snooped. "Yes Xena?"

 

"What are you doing?"

 

The jealousy in Xena's voice was painfully obvious and it wasn't lost on Gabrielle that that Xena's behavior must have made her look like a liar to Joxer. After all, she'd just finished telling him there was nothing between her and Xena of a romantic nature and now Xena was acting like a lovesick schoolboy. Gabrielle tried but she was just unable to keep the irritation out of her voice.

 

"I'm just talking to someone Xena. Why are you up this early?"

 

Xena looked at Joxer with a mixture of jealousy and anxiety. For all she knew he had already told Athena their whereabouts and her former lover had sent assassins to kill Gabrielle.

 

"Come upstairs. Now." Xena's voice left no room for argument so Gabrielle looked back at Joxer, somewhat apologetically. This woman was proving to be radically different from her Xena, what with the way she barked orders to her instead of asking. Gabrielle began to feel as if she were being smothered by this Xena.

 

"I'll be right up." Gabrielle lay a hand on Joxer's arm, surprised by the hard flesh beneath. Yes, he was definitely a different man from the Joxer she'd known. "Enjoy your sunrise Joxer. Perhaps we'll meet again."

 

"I hope we do. And Gabrielle?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"I get the feeling you're a woman of truth and honor."

 

He had indeed sensed her fears that Xena's behavior had made her look like a liar, and he wanted to soothe her fears. What a man this Joxer was.

 

Gabrielle smiled and left him there to watch the sunrise as she went upstairs to deal with Xena. She didn't know what path her life was going to take but it promised to be a rocky one if this Xena was going to be in it.

 

******************************

 

"Are you out of your mind?" Xena yelled when Gabrielle arrived back in their room. She realized Joxer was still below their window and quieted her voice. "He's Poseidon's Champion and he'll sell us out to his god in a heartbeat. Trust me, I know him."

 

"How well do you know him?" Was that jealousy Gabrielle was feeling in the pit of her stomach? Ridiculous. She wasn't going to fall for this Joxer any more than she had the man from her own world.

 

"Well enough to know I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. He's a womanizing bastard so stay clear of him. I'll try to find a horse that can carry Gabrielle and Callisto so we can head move on."

 

"I don't think Joxer will tell on us Xena."

 

"You said you knew him from your world. Remember one thing: He is not your Joxer. He belongs to Poseidon."

 

Gabrielle watched Xena storm out in her new leather pant outfit. It went with her personality but it also served not to remind her too much of her Xena. She shook her head at the situation she'd gotten herself into and hurried next door to wake her younger version and Callisto.

 

******************************

 

The Innkeeper tenderly reached inside the safe and pulled out the purse that held his profits from the day before, trying desperately to avoid cutting himself on the blade that was pressed dangerously close to his throat.

 

"Hurry old man," the thief whispered. The Inn's inhabitants, mostly consisting of temple guards from Poseidon and Athena's own champion, were beginning to arise for the day. The Innkeeper was surprised at this thief's ambition. It either meant he was crazy or he was desperate to steal with that much protection in the Inn.

 

"Where's the rest of it?"

 

"That's it."

 

"Liar!" The thief pressed the knife into the Innkeepers throat again.

 

"I swear. That's all I have."

 

"I'm gonna start cutting until you tell me where the rest of the money is."

 

The thief replaced the gag over the Innkeepers mouth and slashed twice at his substantial belly. The pain must have done something to clear the Innkeepers mind because he remembered Xena's gift. Something of a freebee get-out-of-trouble card with Athena for being nice to her champion.

"Athena," the Innkeeper mumbled under his gag. "I ask for you help in the name of your Champion Xenahey, that rhymes."

 

"What in Tartarus are you mumbling about?" The thief asked, yanking the gag off the Innkeepers mouth. He never saw Athena appear behind him.

 

"Who has summoned me?"

 

The Innkeeper sighed in relief as Athena appeared. "I did my goddess. This man is trying to rob me."

 

"Really?" Athena said, giving the thief a wicked grin. The mood she'd sank into since finding that Gabrielle's presence was destroying her world had left her depressed. The chance to dispense a little quick justice was just what she needed to lift her spirits. Besides, this Innkeeper had mentioned Xena, and wherever Xena was, so was Gabrielle.

 

"Come here my child."

 

The thief shook in fear from head to toe as he slinked his way over to Athena like dog that knew a spanking was coming. "Yes, goddess? I can explain, really-"

 

"Shhh." She cupped his chin in one hand and looked deeply into the thief's eyes seeing his life in a detail greater than his own memory could allow. "You have killed many innocent people for nothing more than to satisfy your sick desires. You're a menace to society. A threat to my other children. I cannot allow you to live."

 

"Butbut" The thief tried to pull free of her grasp. When that failed he made a useless attempt to escape by running his dagger into her mid-section, with no effect of course.

 

"If I allow you to live, you will continue to harm those who are weaker than yourself. I'm sorry but I'm afraid I'm going to have to put a stop to you."

 

With one smooth jerk she snapped the thief's neck and allowed him to drop to the floor. Next, Athena focused on the Innkeeper who swallowed over a lump of panic in his throat as Athena callously stepped over the thief's body and focused on the wound on his stomach.

 

"That's not too bad. I can clear that up in no time."

 

When the wound was healed, Athena captured the Innkeepers eyes with hers. "You called for me in Xena's name. The only way you would have known to do that would have been if Xena gave you her favor when she was my champion. When was the last time you saw her?"

 

"Last night my goddess." Despite her gentle smile, the Innkeeper feared he would loose control of his bladder at any moment. "She is staying with some friends on the third floor."

 

"She's here now?"

 

"Yes my goddess."

 

"Thank you." Athena turned and stepped back over the body, then on a second thought, looked down at it. "You don't mind cleaning up my mess do you? I'm in a bit of a hurry."

 

"Not at all."

 

With that, Athena faded away. She had a blond home wrecker to kill.

 

******************************************************************************************************************************

 

Xena/Ares

 

The muted chanting of the Amazon sisters increased in both tempo and emotion as Varia's body was taken from the preparation tent to the pyre for burning. Xena had spent the entire day listening to the sisters preparing the stake at which she would be burned along with Varia's body. It was only fitting, considering she'd murdered the woman who'd been willing to leave her tribe in order to save her soul from falling back into the hatred and despair she'd been lost in before Hercules and Gabrielle had entered her life.

 

She knew these things mentally, yet she couldn't help but feel as if she were a woman wearing a mask to cover her true face to the world. She had shown these women nothing but a contrite spirit, but inside she seethed with hate and anger. The only reason she was going to allow them to kill her this night was the simple fact that if she didn't let them slay the monster, the monster would slay many more innocent lives in the name of her hate. She just couldn't allow that to happen.

 

"I have to end this."

 

"Why?"

 

Xena didn't even bother to look up at the sound of the one who'd spoken to her. She wasn't surprised he was here now, but she was a little curious as to why it had taken him over three and a half months to get to her. There had to be a reason.

 

"What took you so long Ares?"

 

Ares reclined on a pillow that had been given to her by Cyane in an attempt to make her last few hours on earth at least moderately comfortable. She'd refused to allow herself any small measure of comfort as a pathetic act of atonement for killing Varia and the villagers of Amphipolis.

 

"I was waiting for this to happen."

 

"I figured you would. Opportunistic bastard."

 

"I've come here to talk about your future."

 

"I don't have a future Ares."

 

"You could. You could atone for what you've done and I can help you."

 

The look of incredulity on Xena's face was almost comical so she forced a small grin to take its place. "You know in Amphipolis they turned your temple into a stables."

 

"Did they?" Ares said, wondering why she would talk to him about temples when they could be discussing her future. A future with him at her side.

 

"Mmmm," Xena said. She knew how Ares felt about temples. They were a status symbol and he loved them more than he let on. Besides that, she wanted to get in one last dig before she died. "Now it's as full of shit as you are."

 

Instead of angering Ares he let go with a genuine, full-fledged belly laugh. "Oh, Xena. I love you. Even at the hour of your death you still find it within yourself to insult me. What a woman."

 

Suddenly Ares was off the pillow and in her face. She tried to jerk away from him; startled by his sudden movement, but she only succeeded in hitting her head painfully on the supply cabinet she was chained to. His breath was sweet, as the breath of all gods was. It reminded her of the ambrosia he used to wave before her face in the old days when they'd first met and she'd pledged her loyalty to him. She knew the taste of it, the power that he could breathe into her with every kiss. It had always been intoxicating.

 

It was now, as his wonderfully dark eyes bore into hers. That old feeling of half remembered love and desire flooded her loins and her chest, and had she been standing her knees would have bee made weak. He was like a drug she had been addicted too all her life, and only Gabrielle's love had been able to keep her from using again.

 

"Now she's gone."

 

He was reading her thoughts. She'd always hated that, but at this moment she found it strangely comforting. "Ares, I will never call out to you for help. You know that so why even try?"

 

"That's one of the reasons why I love you."

 

She feigned disgust when she really wanted him to take her in his arms and just hold her. She wanted him to make this nightmare of the past few months go away, and she knew he had the power to do so. However to get him to do it would mean she owed him. It would cost her her soul.

 

That's just it, she thought. I don't have a soul. It died with Gabrielle.

 

"I can give it back to you."

"Get out of my head Ares!"

 

"I can't. I'm a part of you and you know that. Xena you considered Gabrielle to be your soul mate. I consider you to be mine."

 

"You don't have a soul Ares. You never did."

 

"You know that's not true. When you say such things it hurts me Xena."

 

She knew Ares well enough now to know when he was being sincere. The first time he'd told her he loved her in Tartarus just before Eve had been born, she'd saw he was being sincere. Yet she'd given him an opportunity to back out of what he'd said and he'd taken it. That had been his biggest mistake and now he knew that.

 

"I can help you avenge Gabrielle's death. Xena, you're the type of person who needs direction in her life."

 

"Everyone needs that-"

 

"-But you need goals! You hate to admit it Xena but you're a natural born leader. The Fates granted you an ability to take charge and change the world for the better. Use that now Xena. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and break free from this place! Avenge Gabrielle, Varia and your mother's honor. Avenge yourself. Follow me Xena and conquer the world and rule it with honor. You can make earth paradise. Do it."

 

With each word he spoke her desire to follow him grew until she felt it would smother her. She was torn between doing what was right, and doing what felt right. All she had to do was accept and she could indeed rule the world. She could either be the Destroyer of Nations or she could save the Nations of the world by taking over and bringing about a peace that she and Gabrielle could never had accomplished on the path they had been taking together.

 

"Xena?"

 

Cyane appeared in the doorway just as Ares faded away.

 

"Its time."

 

******************************

 

Varia's body had been completely covered from head to toe in a fashion very similar to the Mummies Xena had seen in Egypt. Only her face was left bare as Xena was led past her. Chiniah jerked Xena around to face Varia.

 

"Look at our Queen. Look how young she is. Now she's dead. Murdered at your hand."

 

Cyane stepped forward and gently eased Chiniah away from Xena. "Xena has accepted her punishment Chiniah. Let it go now. Justice-"

 

"Justice can never be done for her crime against our Nation."

 

"I'm sorry you feel that way Chiniah," Xena said. "I killed her and I regret that. I loved Varia more than you realize."

 

Cyane led Xena up to the stake and tied her there, as was her duty as Queen. Once that was finished she came down and took the two cross bows that had been loaded with flaming arrows. Cyanes sisters stepped back and the new Queen raised each crossbow.

 

"As is the custom of days of old. I commit our murdered Queen to the flames and set her soul free to join our Amazon ancestors in the afterlife. Eternity will be sweet for Varia, for she died to protect the innocent from evil. As for Xena, the Queen's murderer, we commit her soul to eternal damnation. She will walk the earth, aware of humanity but never allowed contact with it. Your punishment Xena, will be eternal lonliness."

 

Cyane fired the crossbows and the flaming arrows planted themselves in the logs that had been doused with Greek Fire. They caught quickly and began to burn bright and hot.

 

However, the flames hadn't even reached Xena's feet before they began to recede. The sisters looked at one another in confusion until Ares appeared before Cyane and wrapped a hand around her throat. She did her best to free herself but it was useless. His strength was unnatural and his body impervious to the moral wounds she tried to inflict on him.

 

"Ares! What are you doing?" Xena almost sounded angry that he was saving her life.

 

"Protecting what is mine." He turned to face her and looked deeply into her eyes. "You heart. You might not want to admit it Xena, but you gave it to me the moment we lay eyes on one another. I'm reclaiming it."

 

"Let our Queen go!" Chiniah screamed, rushing up to him. "This is justice for our murdered Queen-"

 

"Ah shut up!" Ares moved to kill her but Xena called out to him.

 

"Ares wait. Let Cyane go."

 

"You know the deal Xena."

 

Xena looked at the angry faces of the Amazon's around her. She knew they would all die to see her burn at the stake, but the truth was she didn't care. A partnership with Ares would allow her the revenge she had been wanting since the moment Gabrielle had been raped by Apollo. This rescue attempt of his would give her an honorable reason to escape their justice though she knew her real reason for leaving was purely selfish.

 

"I agree. Let them live and I will be your Warrior Queen."

 

Ares shoved Cyane aside and she collapsed to the ground gasping for air. His handprint would leave bruises but she would live. The other Amazons howled with fury as Xena took Ares hand and faded away, robbing them of their vengeance.

 

"I won't rest," Chiniah said, staring at the stake that had begun to burn again the moment Xena had faded away with Ares, "until Xena's stains my hands the way our Queens blood stained hers."

 

******************************

 

Callisto rubbed sleep from her eyes as the older Gabrielle shook her awake, somewhat roughly. "What? Gods, its not even daylight out yet. Let me sleep."

 

"We have to go," Gabrielle said. Callisto didn't know the woman very well but she could tell she was agitated about something.

 

"What's wrong?"

 

"Nothing. Let's move."

 

"I don't think that's going to be necessary."

 

Gabrielle's blood ran cold in her veins and her younger counterpart screamed in unison with Callisto. Gabrielle turned slowly and faced down the goddess that had been trying to kill her almost from the day she arrived on this world.

 

"Athena," Gabrielle said coolly. For now Athena chose to ignore her.

 

"Callisto," Athena said, her eyes roamed over Callisto. "Gutsy move in the temple. Stupid, but gutsy."

 

Gabrielle yanked Callisto out of the bed and pushed her behind her own body. "Gabrielle. Come here."

 

"Shielding them with your own body? Unless you're made of Hephaestus' metal you make a pitiful shield against my powers."

 

"Let them go. Its me you have a problem with."

 

"No its not. Its her pride." Xena said from the doorway behind Athena. "How did you find us Athena?"

 

"The Innkeeper called on me to save him from a thief. In your name."

 

Xena moved in front of Athena, her larger body blocking the goddess' view of the other three women. "Could you three give us a minute?"

 

Athena looked up at Xena, incredulous. "Do actually think me a fool Xena? Like I'm going to allow her to waltz out of here while you try to sweet talk me?"

 

It was all Xena could do not to roll her eyes at Athena's petty behavior. "You've found us once, you can find us again."

 

"Therein lies the problem Xena. I don't have time to hunt you down again. I have to send Gabrielle back to her universe."

 

Everyone in the room perked up, especially the younger Gabrielle, though Xena didn't look too happy about it and couldn't hide it in her voice. "You're sending her back?"

 

"Yes. If you've noticed we've been having storms lately. That's because of her presence. She's not just ruining our relationship, she's destroying our universe."

 

Gabrielle couldn't hold her tongue another second. She'd never been the quiet type and that had been the cause of almost as much trouble in her life as it was an instrument to get her out of trouble.

 

"Whose fault is that Athena? I tried to leave but you just wouldn't let me. Now look what's happening. It's not my fault, it's yours!"

 

"Would you people listen to yourselves?" Callisto said, moving from behind Gabrielle. The younger version of the Bard tried to hold her back but Callisto pulled free anyway. Every woman in the room was looking at her and she doubted she would have their attention like this again. She would make the best of it.

 

"You're the goddess of wisdom, you're her champion-"

 

Both Athena and Xena spoke in unison. "Former Champion."

 

"Well. At least you can agree on something. Former champion then. Gabrielle and I are just farm girls and she's an irritating loud mouth who shouldn't even be here. Why do we have to make such a big deal about this? Athena, I know your pride is wounded but come on. Is this really worth killing over? Why don't you just send Gabrielle home and move on? We'll be dead in a matter of years but you'll live on forever. Why bother?"

 

They were quiet for once, and it began to look as if Callisto had saved their lives once again. However Athena just couldn't let go of her pride. "If I allow her to live I'll lose face. No. Gabrielle you're going home, but you won't get to see it."

 

Xena moved back in the way. "Athena-"

 

"Move Xena or you die with her."

 

"I'm not going to allow you to do this."

 

Athena's mouth dropped open in shock. "Not allow me? Not allow me? Just who the hell do you think you are?"

 

"I'm the one woman on earth that can handle you."

 

Xena threw the first punch and the fight was on. Knowing that Xena would only be able to buy them so much time, Gabrielle pushed the girls toward the door.

 

"Run!" Gabrielle urged. She pushed the girls out the door and into the hallway.

 

"But what about Xena?" Her younger counterpart asked, resisting Gabrielle's efforts to push her along to the steps.

 

"She can handle herself," I hope, she added silently.

 

They made it down the stairs but before they could exit the lodge the doors burst open and Amaranda entered with her guards. Gabrielle made eye contact with Athena's new champion, Amaranda.

 

"Upstairs. Find Xena," Amaranda ordered. Her entourage hesitated, looking between Amaranda and Gabrielle. "Now!"

 

The remaining five women, not a full compliment by any means, snapped to attention and rushed up the steps. When they were gone, Amaranda drew her blade.

 

"You young ones, go outside and take one of the horses. They're fresh."

 

"I'm not leaving Xena," the younger Gabrielle vowed, but Amaranda would hear none of it.

 

"You can't do her any good dead. Besides, there is a messenger waiting for you about your sister on the road outside of town. Now go."

 

News of Lila spurred Callisto and young Gabrielle out the door, but Amaranda blocked Gabrielle's path. "As for you"

 

"Let me guess: I have to die?"

 

"Yes, you do. I just want you to know that it's nothing personal. I have no grudge against you but I am loyal to Athena. Xena too."

 

Gabrielle nodded, hoping Amaranda understood her position as well. "You do understand that I have to fight to survive as well."

 

"I would be sorely disappointed if you didn't."

 

Gabrielle drew her Sai's, and as Xena was fighting her former god upstairs, so Gabrielle fought that god's champion in dining hall three floors below her. All the while Gabrielle was under the watchful gaze Poseidon's Champion.

 

******************************

 

Athena's superior strength was more than even Xena could handle and her knees buckled beneath her. Xena collapsed onto the bed with Athena straddling her as five of the Elite Guard rushed in the room.

 

"What are you doing in here?"

 

"Amaranda sent us to find Xena."

 

Athena rolled her eyes. She loved her dolls but sometimes they could be incredibly stupid and nave. "I have Xena under control. I want Gabrielle chained and bound for me when I'm finished here."

 

The guards shared nervous glances. "But Amaranda is fighting her downstairs."

 

Athena turned to Xena with a wicked smile. "I would prefer the kill her myself, but if Number One does it for me then so be it. I'll get over it. Now go."

 

Once the guards were gone Athena relaxed her grip but she remained straddled over Xena.

 

"Number One huh? Amaranda always did resent that I had that role over her."

 

"Actually I think she's just as loyal to you as she is to me."

 

"Then why is she trying to kill Gabrielle?"

 

"I've left her no choice."

 

They stared at one another and though Xena tried she was unable to dislodge Athena from her dominant position above her. Athena used the tip of her blade to cut open a slit in the leather below the chest armor.

 

"So you're back to the leather huh? Looks good on you. It would look even better off of you."

 

"Your touch disgusts me now Athena, so get your hands off me."

 

Athena's hand snaked out, slapping Xena hard across the face but the Warrior Princess' pain was nothing compared to the anguish she saw in Athena's eyes. Xena, however, couldn't have cared if she wanted to.

 

"I gave you purpose!" Athena began, barely holding back tears. "You were nothing but a thug when I found you. The whore of that worthless bum Boreas. I took you from that life and gave you a reason to fight for good and honor. l-"

 

Xena gently moved the tip of the blade from her chest as it began to dig into her flesh. "-You loved me, I know. I'm grateful for that Athena, and I loved you too butyou know how I have always felt there was another half to my soul somewhere in this world. I tried to make you my soul mate but you're not. Gabrielle is."

 

Athena looked away from her former lovers beautiful blue eyes. Xena meant the world to her. For Athena this was much more than an issue of pride. For the goddess of Wisdom it was an issue of love. She felt incomplete without Xena. There was a void that only this woman could fill for her. Neither Amaranda nor any other woman would ever be able to make her feel as whole as Xena did.

 

"I love you Xena."

 

"Prove it."

 

"How?"

"Let Gabrielle live."

 

"No." Athena stood from her chair and rushed over to the door. She stopped, however long enough to turn to Xena. "If I allow her to live, you'll go after her again. If I kill her-"

"You kill her and I'll never come back to you."

 

Athena searched Amaranda's eyes to see if this was indeed the truth. She knew Xena well enough to know that it was. "So be it. I have my pride."

 

"Yes," Xena said, her voice dripping with bitterness, "And in the end that's all you're going to have."

 

Athena decided to let Xena have the last word of this verbal battle, turned and walked out of the room. No sooner had the door shut than did Xena vault out of the window. She would save Gabrielle from Athena, or she would die trying.

 

************************************************************************************

Xena/Ares

 

Xena and Ares re-appeared in a place she hadn't seen in over thirty years: Her old tent. It was a perfect replica of her tent from when she'd been on a mission to conquer the world under the name "The Conquer." Weapons of every sort adorned the walls and a bed in the corner was made up in the finest silk and satin.

 

A table stood in one corner with a map of the immediate area laid out before her on its rough surface. It had no markings of conquered territories on it yet, but soon it would be stained red with the blood of her defeated as she took one village after another.

 

"Do you remember the first time I tried to convince you to come back to me?"

 

A small smile curled the corners of Xena's lips. "Of course I do. What about it?"

 

"I offered you a chance to call up any warrior you want from history to work under you in order to help you conquer the world. I'm willing to do that again."

 

"You can't be serious."

 

"I'm dead serious. Anyone. You name him or her and they are yours."

 

"Alright." Xena ran a hand over the map. "I want Livia."


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