Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Autolycus, Eve and the horsies belong to MCA/Universal Pictures. Just the little story is mine

Love/Sex: Two women in love, but nothing graphic. The following chapters will also contain an m/f relationship. This is not the main part of the fic, but it is essential to the plot. F/F loving will prevail.

Angst: Yep....

Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'

Comments: Any feedback can be sent to mjb1_1@hotmail.com

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17

Aphrodite stormed through the ruined halls of Olympus, left untouched since the Twilight, growing more frustrated as her search proved fruitless. Since Xena and Mesella left to rescue the child she had been on her own hunt; looking for answers. Starting in Athene's apartments she had found nothing but the usual accoutrements of godly life. Systematically, working from suit to suit, she had eliminated her kin one by one as the god who enchanted Gabrielle. Now, days later she was left with a steaming pile of nothing.

Sullenly she threw herself into the crumbling throne that sat at the centre of the great hall. Wriggling into a more comfortable position she felt something digging into her back. Turning at the waist, she expected to find a piece of rubble lodged into the join where seat met back but there was nothing. Standing up she bent and ran her hands over the area, once again finding the jutting irregularity in the carving. Concentrating hard, she noticed an almost imperceptible ripple in the air as her hands passed over it.

"Sneaky, sis, real sneaky." Muttering to herself she extended her powers and thrust her hand through the magical barrier. Grasping hold of the concealed object she pulled hard, dislodging it and breaking the illusion.

With the spell broken it was easy to see the shallow recess carved into the chairs back, not quite big enough for the box that it had contained. Perching on the edge of the chair the blond goddess turned over the square box she now held in her hand. It was a simple object, made from pine and brass, giving no indication that it contained anything important enough for a god to hide. Gesturing towards a nearby table, which glided towards her across the floor and positioned itself before her, she placed the box on its surface.

"OK, Dite, concentrate. Who knows what booby-traps Athene put on this." With a look of serious concentration she flexed her fingers and carefully opened the lock. With a snick it came loose, the lid popping open just enough to reveal a crack of white. Sliding a manicured finger into the gap, she pulled open the lid revealing a large stack of parchment bound together with a gold ribbon.

"What have we here?" Picking up the stack she untied the bind and spread them across the alabaster surface. Picking one of the folded squares at random she unfolded it and began to read;

My Dearest Athene,

I can not tell you what our time together means to me. Since I was a child I have dreamed of being your champion, being your lover is more than I ever hoped for. I know that our time is fleeting, but I take what you can offer readily. Although you can read my thoughts, I wanted you to have something more tangible, a piece of me...

"Oh, Thene!" She had known, they all had, that Athene shared a more personal relationship with her chosen than most gods. None of them had realised just how deep that relationship was. "Some Goddess of Love I am!" Turning to another letter she realised that this parchment seemed newer, written in a different hand.

My beloved Ilainus you are gone, slain by the hand of she who would destroy us all. I held you in my arms as you died, felt you slip away and could do nothing. I, the goddess with dominion over that and I could do nothing to save you.

Perhaps I should have protected you, kept you away from the fighting but you would have resented that. So would I. I miss you; I know you can hear my thoughts from Elysium so you know that. I do love you, as much as any immortal can love. I wish that we could be together when this is ll over but I do not know where I will find my end. You see, I know I will join you in death; Xena is nothing if not determined.

If I die, I will make sure that I take from her that which she has taken from me, something that will hurt her far more than loosing her life: losing her soul. I never thought gods had a soul till I met you Ilainus and found the other part of mine. Maybe I will see you on the other side.

Aphrodite felt a fat tear trail down her cheek and watched as it splashed onto the parchment, smudging ink where it fell. The sometimes flighty and always upbeat blonde goddess had never really understood her older sister, not until today. Athene had always been an enigma to her, cool and aloof, all wisdom and logic with the exclusion of emotion, or so it had seemed. How wrong had she been; it seemed her sister had managed to find and cultivate love without her sibling even knowing.

"You knew what you were going to do all along, didn't you, big sister?" Riffling trough letters from Ilainus and ones written to her after death, she saw when things changed for her sister. "That day in Amphipolis, it stopped being about the Twilight for you." Aphrodite's voice was soft as she realised what they had all died for. "They all died for your revenge; Artemis, Poseidon, my sweet Hephaestus and I can't even hate you for it. I might have done the same in your place."

Carefully she gathered the letters back together, securing them with the ribbon before placing them back into the box. Putting the box into its shallow alcove she cast a quick ward over it, leaving things as she had found them. Although she had not found any trace of the spell that separated warrior and bard she now had confirmation that it had been her oldest sister.

"You wouldn't leave them with no way out, would you Thene? Even at your worst you had more class than that." Now the trick was could the Goddess of Love figure out what that was.

*******

My wife goes gallivanting across the countryside with some warrior she doesn't know, my sister vanishes and I'm left in the dark! Ares let out a growl as he contemplated the situation. Something was definitely going on between his wife and his sister and he couldn't quite put his finger on it which irked him still further.

He was further disquieted by the captain of the guard, something about the woman teased at the back of his mind. He felt that he should know her but couldn't place the reason why. Again, things came back to his sibling and he couldn't help but wonder if his sister knew more than she was willing to share with him. Her sudden and unexplained departure several days ago had not been out of character for the ditzy blond, that it coincided with the rescue of the young prince was suspicious, however.

Tearing into his suit, he was startled to find the warrior princess seated at the window with Eve in her arms. The two blue eyed brunettes turned to look at him, one curious and the other excited. Eve clambered off of her mother's lap and was wrapped around her father's knees in a flash. Patting her curly head he met his wife's eyes and couldn't miss the question there. Kneeling to be eye level with his child, he clasped her tiny hands.

"Evie, why don't you o and visit with Claudius and I will read you a bedtime story tonight." With a happy whoop the girl kissed him sloppily on the cheek before dashing out of the room. And then here were two.

"Ares, would you like to tell me why our dau...why Eve is acting like she hasn't seen you in days?" She just couldn't bring herself to say 'our daughter' knowing that Gabrielle was so close. Gabrielle; who had kept them safe during her pregnancy and after. Gabrielle; whom she had hoped, so long ago, would be Eve's other mother.

"Xena, I've been busy, you know that. Just because you choose to go running around the countryside doesn't mean that my business grinds to a halt." As soon as the words left his lips he knew it wasn't the way to go.

"So you would rather I let an innocent boy die?" The words were cool an utterly calm, frighteningly so.

"You know what I mean."

"Oh, I know Ares. Seems to me that the further I get in this pregnancy the more you think I am going to demure and be the 'little wife'. Seems like you don't really know me at all." Standing up, she walked until she was standing toe-to-toe with him. "We've been here almost three moons and I have barely seen you, Eve has barely seen you. You tell me you're busy, that you have pressing matters to deal with, but refuse to share them with me... I don't think I know who you are anymore!"

"Everything's my fault? Get off that high horse before you fall off it, Warrior Princess! You haven't exactly been available yourself, have you? You're always off conspiring with my sister or that soldier...should I be jealous?" And there was the crux of the matter, he was jealous.

"I don't know, should you?" When had they become a pair of bickering children?

"I can't do this, not now; I'll come back when you're ready to listen to me." Turning on his heals he thundered out of the room, the door slamming behind him with a resounding crash.

"Way to go, Warrior Princess!" Tiredly she moved back to her seat and stared blindly out of the window. "Why did I have to pick a fight with him?"

On her journey back to the palace with Mesella she had realised that, as much as still loved Gabrielle and liked the guard captain, she could not leave her husband of the last four years for that. There just wasn't enough of her soulmate there to justify that. Or so she had thought, until she saw Ares and Eve's reaction. After spending o many days with the doting Mesella and the boy who was not hers, the fact that her husband seemed to have lost interest in her child was disturbing.

"Little one," she patted her swollen stomach, now seven moons along, "I hope that you're not the reason your father is behaving this way." Yet a part of her knew that it was and she shuddered.

*******

Stalking around his sister's room, Ares was not surprised when he could find no sign of her, just like he hadn't found her in any of the other places he looked. That only left one possibility. Concentrating hard, he excised his powers and transported himself to Olympus. When the Twilight had first occurred, he had been convinced that he would become mortal when the other gods were destroyed. This was a notion that Athene had cultivated, it was also untrue. Like his blond sister, Ares still retained many of his godly gifts. Unlike his sister he had chosen not over use them, knowing that Xena detested the reminder of who he had been. Today, the Warrior Princesses worries were not the top of his list of priorities.

Standing in the centre of what was the main hall he noted the accumulation of dust ad debris that had mounted in the six years since the last battle. He also took note of the obvious disturbance in the dirt where his sister had walked not too long ago. Satisfied that she was somewhere in the mountain he began to track her down. Treading carefully through the rubble, not wanting to alert her of his presence too soon, he made his way to the apartment that the Goddess of Love had shared with her husband.

Nearing the door which stood ajar, he paused before entering as he heard a voice from within. Listening intently to his sister's monologue, he was very pleased with his decision to stay quiet. What he heard made him less happy; in fact, it made him very, very angry.

"Think, Aphrodite, if meting Xena didn't snap her out of it what will? Come on Gabrielle, give me a clue! Show me how to get Mesella to wake up!" Peering through the crack, Ares saw her rubbing at her temples, obviously at a loss.

So, the annoying blond is back! Damn it, I knew that little bitch was familiar! Walking back the way he came he found himself back in the main room. It explains everything, really, especially why Xena is pushing me away, she knows! Running his hand across his beard he began to plot. His days as God of War may be over, but he was still that man and he fought for what was his. You won't take her away from me this time, Blondie, not this time!

Then he was gone.

*******

Agrippina watched as her son took perverse pleasure in tearing the legs off of a small, grey, mouse. He was fascinated by the way that the creature writhed and squealed as limb after limb was removed. He didn't kill it outright, didn't rip off the legs all at once. He was a far more patient little boy than that, just like his mother. He would remove one leg and then watch as the animal learned how to drag itself around and then he would remove another. Sadistic? Maybe but h had a thing that most children his age lacked, rive and determination. He would make a fine Emperor one day, if she had her way. Already the wheels were in motion.

"Gaius, come here." Stormy eyes turned to glare balefully at her.

"Don't call me that, mother," the word was all but a sneer, "I am Caligula!"

"I am sorry, Caligula." At hearing his chosen name, he acquiesced to her wishes and came to stand before her. Most children would have forgotten about the rodent but not her son, she could tell he was still observing its death throes. "Caligula, we will be leaving this palace soon only to return when you become emperor. Are you prepared for hat my son?"

"Don't be ridiculous, mother, I will be the next great emperor, with Drusilla by my side as my queen!" He was so adamant that she was not sure how she would make him change his mind. The child's eerie obsession with his little sister did trouble his parent but she was sure he would grow out of it.

A cough in the doorway drew her attention away from her son. Turning to glimpse the dark figure in the archway she knew what she had to do. Resting a hand on a thin shoulder she met his eyes, hoping to impart the importance of her next words.

"Caligula, you need to go and find your sisters, stay with them until I fetch you. Remember, you may tell nobody what you know or who you have seen here." He nodded solemnly before dashing to meet up with the girls.

"Are you sure that the boy should know so much?" The dark figure took a seat beside her.

"Caligula is a good boy, he knows what to do!" Agrippina couldn't help but feel a little defensive; she knew that she was only tolerated in the palace. She and her family were considered to be little more than peasants to the royal family. Only her son kept them in the Emperor's good graces, Caligula was third in line for the throne.

"Everything is in place. You know that this will be a long process?"

"I know that, War God, my child isn't ready for power yet!" Did he think her a fool?

"Quite," Ares studied the driven young woman and couldn't help but admire her fire. "The senate will never allow Claudius to take power, I have seen to that. I had hoped that the boy would be completely eliminated but that plan hit a snag. No matter, Caligula is now second in line to the throne."

"Will Germanicus take power?" Shrewd, very shrewd.

"Yes, we do not want to raise too many suspicions after his father's death. He will take control and then die in battle, leaving the throne empty for your teenaged son."

"Teenaged?" It would be sooner than she had expected.

"It's a long plan but not too long. Go home, Agrippina, and forget about all of this. Just remember, your son will owe me a debt when he is the most powerful man in the world and I will collect."

"We understand Ares." He was already gone, vanished as gods are want to do.

*******

His business at the palace concluded at long last, Ares was at liberty to focus on his own problem. Today had not been the best day to weave the last threads of his plan, not after finding out about Gabrielle but it was done. Caligula would be a fine, albeit unpredictable, ruler and allied wholly to Ares. Just because he didn't play the role of War God anymore, didn't mean that he wouldn't willingly accept tribute. When Agrippina had approached him with her request, how could he say no?

What to do with you, Gabby? What do I do with you...?

To be Continued...

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