DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures; just borrowing for this story. The rest of the story and other characters are mine. Please contact me before using any of my stuff. Thanks.
SERIES DISCLAIMER: This is part of the Beginning Again Series. Takes place two weeks after "Love Contest."
SPOILERS: Ties that Bind, The Furies
SUBTEXT: Xena and Gabrielle are in love in my world, but nothing explicit happens in this story.
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: Mostly off screen but goat-boy gets some on screen pain.
Let me know what you guys think, and to those of you who want some angst, don't worry I'm working on it. This is just the calm before the storm.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Story 4 of the "Beginning Again" series
Sophia ran through the woods, jumping over high roots and ducking under low limbs. She peeked back over her shoulder and saw no sign of her pursuer. She breathed a sigh, and began to slow down. But a tree root had other ideas, as it tripped the Guardian.
After crashing to the ground, Sophia slowly glanced up. *Oh boy,* she thought to her self as her eyes caught a glimpse of two hoofs and a pair of very hairy legs. She looked up and smiled. "Hey Pan."
"Don't hey Pan me, you no good Guardian." Pan poked his staff into the young woman's shoulder. "How could you? You knew I loved her."
Sophia pushed the staff away. "Now, hold on Pan." She stood up and brushed herself off before continuing. "I did not know that you wanted her. Besides, Teri and Kolas are soulmates. They should be together. If you really love Teri then you would want what's best for her, and that's her soulmate, not you."
Pan squinted at the Guardian. "I'm a god. That's makes me the best thing for Teri."
"Pan, Kolas is Teri's soulmate, and that makes him the best one for her, not you."
"You just don't think I'm good enough for Teri."
"Is it because of my looks?"
*That's one reason,* she thought as she looked down at the pint-sized god. Pan, the God of Woods, Flocks, and Fields, barely made it to Sophia's waist. And with the legs, ears & horns of a goat, and the foul scent of a skunk, Pan was not a good catch for no one. But Sophia knew she had to be more diplomatic. "Cousin Pan, you had nothing in common with Teri. She's a city girl, and you like the outdoors. You're a god, she's a mortal, which means you would have only be infatuated with her a short time, and then you would have moved on. Trust me, this is for the best."
A sneaky look came upon Pan's face. "Your right Sophia. But instead of telling me all that stuff, you should have told me what was REALLY on your heart. In fact, I think you should do just that," he said as he pointed a finger at the half-mortal.
Sophia held out her hands in front of herself. "Now, wait a minute, Cousin Pan, don't do anything stupid. I was on my way to visit Ares, and you don't want to get him mad."
"I'll take my chances." A blue light beam left his hand and struck the Guardian. "See you around." Just as quickly as he appeared, he vanished.
Sophia felt around her leather-clad body, searching for injuries or changes.
Finding none, she chuckled. "Goodbye goat-boy." As soon as the words left, Sophia covered her mouth, her eyes wide with surprise. "Where did that come from?"
Ares sat lackadaisically in his dark fur covered throne as he mused to himself. *What to do, what to do.* He looked around at his dark and dank throne room. *Started a war two days ago. Squabbled with Athena yesterday.* Ares, the God of War, was bored, and that only meant one thing...trouble. *Maybe I'll visit
Hercules tomorrow.* But the god was brought out of his musings by a visitor. A sly smile graced Ares' face as he saw who it was. "Well, look who has come home for a visit. My own
Sophia came up to the throne. "Hi Ares." It was then that the god saw the black eye, swollen lips, and the bruises on his daughter. Ares rose from his throne, his anger barely seething through his cool facade. "What happened to you?"
"What hasn't happened to me? First I tick off Pan because I set up some woman he was hot for with her true soulmate. So goat-boy zaps me. Then I go into this tavern, and this very big, very smelly woman hits on me. So I told her to go jump into the lake and while she's there, bathe herself. Well, she didn't take to kindly to the remark, so she gave me this," she stated as she pointed to her eye. "Well, the fight became an all out brawl. And during the brawl, I couldn't get my mouth shut, and so by the end of it, everyone was after me."
Ares reached out and tilted the Guardian's head so he could get a better look. "They will pay for this."
"Chill out Ares. It wasn't their fault. I started it. Ever since my run in with goat-boy, I say the first thing that pops into my head."
"It doesn't matter who started it. I'll finish it. I will not have people thinking that they can mess with my daughter and get away with it." He examined the bruises one last time. "After all, I have a reputation to maintain."
Sophia knocked Ares' hand away as she glared at him. "Thanks for the concern, but I'm fine. And don't worry about your reputation." She held up the silver heart emblem she wore around her neck. "This is the only thing that identifies me. No one there knows I'm your daughter."
"And why is that? You should be leading my armies. I keep warning you about being a Guardian. Now look at you. See, if you worked for me, Pan wouldn't have dared to do anything."
"I didn't come here to have this conversation with you. You know being a Guardian of Love is my destiny."
"Fighters shape destiny and warriors mold the world. When are you going to learn that?"
"The day when Aphrodite learns to fight with a sword." The Guardian shook her head at the god. Seems like whenever they get together, an argument ensued. "When are you going to accept the fact that I'm not like you? I don't love battle or blood and I don't like hurting people."
Ares slowly walked towards his daughter, never taking his eyes off of her. "I'm the God of War, my expertise is in warfare. You are my child, and as my child you should be waging war, not playing match-maker. You have my darkness inside, and yet you keep suppressing it. I'll admit, I've made terrible mistakes and decisions in my past, some that I will have to live with for all eternity. But don't let your anger about my mistakes cause you to deny your place at my side."
Sophia shook her head. "I don't know why I even bothered." She looked around at his dark and gloomy throne room. "You don't really care about us. You see your children as one thing; heirs of your mantle. It's no wondered you are alone." She swiped her hand through her short ebony hair. "You don't have a decent relationship with any of us. Not with Evander, not with Xena, and not with me!"
A look of shock and concern flooded from Ares. "What did you say?"
"I said you don't have a decent relationship with any of us: not with Evander, not with Xena, and not..."
Ares shook his head and laughed. "You've been reading too many of Gabrielle's scrolls. Xena is not my daughter."
Sophia saw the sincerity in his face and slowly came to the realization that Ares did not know. "Ares, you better have a seat."
Ares slowly walked back to his throne, sat down and watched as Sophia walked up to him. "Okay, I'm sitting."
"Remember when you were teaching me about my powers? You told me that it was relatively safe to me to possess anyone's darkness, except for Evander. Because he is my brother, his darkness is too much like my own. I would go insane if I took his. And that is just hat happened with Xena."
Ares began to laugh and a sigh of relief escaped from him. "But that was different. Her darkness is equal to yours in strength, not kind."
"Ares, I've taken other people's darkness that have surpass my own. I've also read the scrolls. At one time, you pretended to be her father in order to get her to join you once more. Then later, Xena suspected that you were her father. But you denied it. Her fighting style is so much like yours, and she's your equal in cunning and strength. Add the fact that I went over the edge with her darkness. Ares, she's your child."
The smile slowly disappeared from his face and the truth of Sophia's words hit him. *She's my daughter.* Even though the news stunned him, Ares managed to quickly recover. "Even if that was true, so what? She's never going to change. She likes being a goody-goody."
Sophia stared at the god, disappointment showing from her eyes. "Is that all you care about? I hope she never changes. But if I'm right, and I know that I am, that means she's my sister. And that means something to me."
"It's something you'll never understand. Family comes first with me." She turned away from Ares. "By the way, thanks."
She headed towards the door. "For letting me know exactly where we fit into your life."
"Sophia wait," the God of War jumped from his throne as he watched Sophia continuing to walk away. "Damn it!"
"Well, you really blew it this time."
Ares regained his composure before turning around to face his mother. "Are you here to give me parenting lessons?"
The auburn haired Hera stood regally as her stark ice blue eyes pierced through Ares. "Don't give that sarcastic attitude to me. If you keep slapping her hands away, she will stop reaching out to you."
Ares walked over to the table and poured himself some wine into his gold goblet. "She just threw me off, that's all. She never wanted to talk before."
"Pan placed a spell upon her. Now, she has to say the first thing that comes to her mind and heart. And it seems that you were there. You should be pleased, at least she's thinking about you."
"What do you want Mother?"
Hera sighed in disappointment. It seems that Ares would never admit to himself what really mattered. "I came down to ask you a favor."
"A favor?" Ares interest picked up. "And what kind of favor would this be?"
She watched as he lifted the wine-filled goblet to his lips. "I wanted you to talk to Sophia. Zeus and I have talked, and we wanted her to deliver a wedding gift to Xena and Gabrielle."
"Why would I do that? I wasn't even invited to the wedding."
"Neither were we. But I'm trying to amend the suffering that I caused. Maybe you should do the same."
He slammed his goblet down unto the table. "Why are we crawling to the whims of humans? They may be our children and grandchildren, but they are still mortals. They should be worshiping us and doing our will. But instead, you are groveling at their feet. Who are the gods here? "
"This is not about our godhood. This is about our family. You don't have a relationship with any of your children."
"I do too. I have one with Sophia. It may be unsteady, but she knows that I will be there for her when necessary."
"How about when it's not necessary? And what if Xena is your daughter?"
Ares gripped his chalice until his knuckles were white. "Mother, I suggest you go and see Sophia yourself. I like to be alone."
She looked at her son one last time. It seemed hee too, was determined to make the same mistakes she had. "Fine Ares. Keep sitting here by yourself. You're going to regret this one day," she stated before disappearing.
"Fine, if he doesn't want to tell her than I will. Serves him right, the pompous blow hard. Why do I do this to myself? He's a pig, he had always been a pig, he will always be a pig." Sophia stomped out of the Temple and down the road. "That's it, I wash my hands of him."
"You don't really want to do that." Hera appeared in front of the Guardian.
Sophia narrowed her eyes at the Queen of the Gods. "The Hell I don't. And what are you doing here?" she sneered at her grandmother. "I thought I made it perfectly clear that I didn't want anything to do with you."
"You did, but some time has gone by, and I hoped that you would have forgiven me."
"It isn't my forgiveness you should be asking for." Sophia began walking past the goddess.
Hera reached out and touched the Guardian on the arm. "Sophia, please. I know I did something horrible, and I know that I can never make up for it. But I am your grandmother."
"Yes, you are. Through no fault of my own." Sophia regretted the words as soon as she saw the hurt on Hera's face. "Damn it. I didn't mean that."
"It is true though. You were brought into this world and you didn't choose your family. But never forget Sophia, we are family."
"So is Gabrielle and Xena. And if I have to choose between the gods and them, they win."
Hera removed her hand from Sophia's arm. "There is no need to choose."
Sophia stepped back from the goddess. "What are you up to?"
"I know you are planning on visiting Xena and Gabrielle, and I accidentally overheard your conversation with Ares. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he really cares about you and your siblings."
"Yeah, as long as we don't interfere with his war parties."
"He didn't mean that. Unlike you, he isn't forced to say whatever pops into his mind. Once you left, he was very upset at himself. You know what he told me?" Hera paused, making sure she had Sophia undivided attention. "Ares told me that he has a relationship with one of his children--you. He said he will always be there when you need him. It may not sound like much, but coming from Ares, that is the world."
Sophia sighed as she swiped her hand through her raven hair. "I don't even know why this is bothering me so much. He made his bed."
"It's bothering you because you care. You care about him."
"And I shouldn't."
"But you do. He stopped being a monster in your eyes. Gods can change Sophia. It just takes someone who is incredibly patient and kind. And that's just what you are. You helped to change Ares. And even though he is fighting tooth and nail to hold on to his old image, he is losing the war. Don't turn your back on him now."
The Guardian lowered her head and stared at the ground. "I'm still going to tell Xena what I suspect."
"And I think you should. She's has the right to confront him if necessary."
Sophia nodded. "I guess I better get going." She looked up at the goddess. Although Hera had caused her friend pain, she was still her grandmother. "You and Ares confuse me a lot, but I can tell your heart is in the right place. Thanks for talking." She began to walk away, but the goddess called for her again, so she turned back around. "Yes?"
"Sophia, I'll be brief and straight to the point. I need a favor."
"Yes. As you probably know, Zeus nor I were invited to the wedding. But after all the pain I caused, I wanted to give Xena and Gabrielle a gift. I've talked with your grandfather and he agreed with the gift. And I want you to deliver it to them."
Sophia shook her head. "I don't know grandmother. I'm not sure they would accept a gift from you."
"Please, just try. They have the right to reject it, but I think that they would really like this."
Sophia looked around. "So where is it?"
"You can't bring it to them; only tell them about it."
"So what is it?"
Hera smiled at her grandchild. "Trust me, they will love it."
Xena and Gabrielle walked down the dusty road, leading their steeds in the heat of the day. "Another day, another deed for the greater good," the Bard mused out loud.
Xena looked down at her companion. "Sounds like you're bored."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Just thinking how easy it was to defeat that warlord. Actually it wasn't too hard at all, was it?"
Gabrielle bumped her shoulder into the Warrior Princess. "I see you're in the usual talkative mood."
"Yep." Xena slightly tilted her head as her sensitive hearing picked up something.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.
"Horses. Heading this way." Xena pulled out her sword as Gabrielle readied her sais.
Sophia, riding upon Thunder, raced past the two women. "Incoming!" she yelled as her white steed galloped past.
"Incoming? What did she mean?" Gabrielle looked down the road. "Uh-oh." She watched as two riders galloped past them. "Wasn't that..."
"Helos and Selos? Yes, it's them." The two women jumped onto their steeds. "And it looks like Sophia is in trouble." The two fighters raced to catch up with their friend.
Sophia reined in Thunder and jumped off the steed. She she hit the snow-white horse in the flanks, sending it into the clearing.
As the lone Guardian came into sight, the two twins stopped their rides and jumped down. With bulging muscles and intense light brown eyes, the tall duo made their way towards Sophia. "Where's that big mouth of yours at now?" Helos sneered.
"Guys, can't we talk about this? You see, I have this problem..."
"Yeah, you don't know how to keep your mouth shut. But that's all right, because Helos and I are going to shut it for you." Both men drew back a fist.
"I don't think so boys." Xena rode until she was alongside the Guardian and Gabrielle was on the other side. As she jumped down, she eyed the twins. "What's going on here?"
Sophia smiled brightly. "Xena, I'm so glad you are here."
Selos looked at the Warrior Princess. "You know this pig?"
"Look who's talking? Looks like you have two ferrets growing from your chest." Sophia covered her mouth with both of her hands.
Helos eyed the Guardian. "That's it." But before he could take a step, Xena was in his face with the charkram in her hand. "Calm down Helos."
Sophia smiled. "I love it when you use that thing. Can you ricochet it off a few trees before you slice him in half?"
Xena narrowed her eyes at her friend, before turning her attention back to the men. "Someone please tell me what's going on?"
"Your friend made passes at Helos' wife," Selos explained as he pointed to the Guardian. Xena turned and eyed Sophia.
"Did not. I was just admiring her. Besides, it wasn't my fault..." Sophia tried to keep her mouth shut, but it was no use. "His wife is built like an hour glass."
"See, she won't stop. She even called her hot."
"I would never call your wife hot. I would call Gabrielle hot, but not your wife. I just whistled at your wife. So there!"
Helos narrowed his eyes. "Are you crazy or something?"
Before Sophia could respond, Gabrielle grabbed her by the back of her head and held Sophia to her shoulder, muzzling the Guardian's voice. "It's obvious that something is wrong with her. I promise she won't cause you any more trouble."
Helos eyed the three women. Knowing that he and Selos had no chance of winning, he sighed. "After what you two did for our village, we owe you. Just keep her out of our way."
"No problem. Right Sophia?" Without lifting her head, Sophia nodded. Xena and Gabrielle watched as the two men took off.
Xena returned the charkram to her side and faced Sophia. "Okay Sophia, what's going on? Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Xena listened as Sophia muffled something indiscernible into Gabrielle's shoulder. "What did you say?"
Sophia turned her head. "I said let's talk about this later because I'm far too comfortable to move."
Within a flash, the Warrior Princess had Sophia by the hair. "Too bad."
Sophia screamed as Xena pulled her away from Gabrielle's shoulder. "Not my fault! Not my fault!"
Xena let go of the Guardian and stared intensely into brown eyes. "You better explain what's wrong with you, and you better do it fast."
"It's really not my fault Xena. Goat-boy zapped me."
Gabrielle gazed at her friend. "Goat-boy?"
"Cousin Pan did this to me, just because I helped a young lady find her soulmate. How was I to know that Goat-boy was interested in her? Because of him, I say whatever pops into my mind. I lost the ability to control my words. Now, I'm always fighting or running."
Xena chuckled. "So I guess you want our help."
"Now that you mention it, yes I would like your help. But I have no idea where to find him. And how are you going to get him to unzap me?"
"We'll get to that once we find him." Xena climbed upon Argo. "And the best place to find a god is at a temple."
"Does Pan have a temple?"
"Every god has a temple Gabrielle. We just have to find one of his."
Sophia rolled her eyes. "Good luck. Even if he had a temple, he probably wouldn't be there. He likes to run around on his two hoofs causing trouble for anyone who comes across his path."
"As a last resort, we can go to the Pantheon. Every god is worshipped there," Gabrielle suggested.
Xena nodded. "Right. Let's go back to the village. Maybe someone there will know of a temple near here."
The three friends hopped unto their steeds and rode until they came to the outskirts of the small village. "Let's stop here."
Sophia jumped off Thunder and turned to the Warrior Princess. "Why are we stopping here?"
"Because Gabrielle and I are going into the village. You are going to wait here with the horses."
"Hold on here. I should go since this is my problem."
"Exactly. How many villages have you been to since your encounter with Pan?"
"And how many arguments or fights have you been in?"
Sophia lowered her head. "Eight." She lifted her head with a twinkle in her eye. "But one of those was with Ares, so it doesn't count!"
Xena eyed the young woman. "Sit."
"Sitting." Sophia sat on the ground and began to hum as she watched her two accomplices make their way into the village.
Gabrielle glanced back at the Guardian. "You know, I feel sorry for her. Imagine not being able to have a quiet thought or keep a secret ever again."
"I know. In her state, she won't make much of a Guardian. That's why we have to find Pan." Xena and Gabrielle made their way into the tavern and back to the bar. "Excuse me," the Warrior Princess addressed to the older woman behind the bar, "can you tell me if there is a temple dedicated to Pan near here?"
The woman tucked her graying blonde hair behind her ear as she answered. "When I was a child, there was a temple about two days east from here. In those days, the village was just beginning, and the people use to pray to Pan for protection from the creatures of the woods." She squinted her hazel eyes as she tried to remember more details. "The old priest name was Jala. He died more than twenty years ago. After he died, there was no other priest. I'm not sure if the building itself is still standing."
"Thanks for the information." Xena turned to the Bard. "Well, it least it's a start. Let's get back to Sophia."
Sophia stood up once the two women came back. "So what did you find out? Is there any temples here?"
Gabrielle nodded. "There may be one two days east from here."
"May be one?"
"Yes," Xena answered, "There hasn't been a priest there in decades." She saw the disappointment in Sophia's face. "Don't worry. We'll find him." She took Argo by the reins before climbing on her. "Let's travel until sunset and then we'll set up camp."
Gabrielle shook her head as she gazed down at the sleeping Guardian. The sun was shining directly onto Sophia, but she didn't stir at all. "I didn't know that talking could wear out a person so much."
"Of course not, you're use to that type of exercise," Xena joked as she sewed up a rip in her leathers.
"Ha-ha. Real funny." Gabrielle grabbed a towel from their saddlebag. "I'm going to see if I can catch any fish. Do we need anything else?"
"We're running low on herbs."
"Gotcha. See you later."
Xena watched as Gabrielle disappeared into the woods before returning her attention to her leathers. Within moments, the rip was repaired. Xena looked up and Sophia was still asleep. "Okay sleepyhead, time to get up." Xena walked over to her friend and shook her.
Groggily, the Guardian lifted her head. "Good morning."
"How did you sleep?"
"Fine." Sophia pulled herself from the pallet, rolled in up, humming to herself the whole time.
"You know Sophia, that was an interesting tune the first seven times I heard it." Xena pulled out her sword and whetstone.
"Sorry Xena. But humming keeps my mind occupied. It seems like every time I think, I talk, and that has caused lots of trouble. By the way, I need to apologize for yesterday."
"No apology needed. I understand."
Sophia chuckled as you felt the top of her head. "Yeah right. That's why you almost gave me a bald spot?"
Xena smiled brightly at the Guardian as she sharpened her sword. "Let's just say you were looking a little too comfortable on my fiancee's shoulder."
"Hey, remember, I pushed you two in the right direction. Shouldn't that entitle me to some privileges?"
"Understood." Sophia returned her attention to gathering her things. "By the way, where is our favorite bard?"
"Taking a bath." This time, Xena regretted her words.
"Hum, Sophia, hum."
Sophia nodded. "Right." She kept on humming as she took a seat across from Xena.
Xena rolled her eyes up to the heavens as the tune chiseled itself into her head. Hoping for a reprieve, she asked a question. "Okay, Sophia, why don't you tell me the reason why you were looking for us?"
The Guardian stopped her humming. "So you guess it wasn't because of Pan."
"You said it yourself. You didn't think of asking us until I mentioned it. Whats going on?"
Sophia eyed her friend. "Xena, I found out something. Or should I say I suspect something. But I don't know how you are going to take it."
Xena placed her whetstone and sword down on the ground. "You can tell me anything. What's the matter?"
Sophia sighed. "I had hoped that Ares would pop in and tell you himself. But he's probably still in denial." she saw the confused expression on the Warrior's face. "Xena, I really don't know where to start."
"The beginning is always a good place."
"It is, isn't it? Well, when I first learned my powers, Ares warned me that I could steal anyone's darkness. Anyone's that is except for his and Evander's because they were family. If I tried, it would lead to insanity. So I can't take my father's, my brother's or any other siblings." Chestnut eyes stared into cobalt eyes. "And that is exactly what happened when I took yours."
Xena's voice was barely a whisper. "Are you telling me..."
Sophia nodded. "Yes. Ares said that the insanity was caused because your darkness was similar to mine in strength. But I've taken other people's darkness who surpassed my own. Nothing ever happened with them."
The same feeling that haunted her while she was insane at the Furies temple came back. Xena stood up, picked up her sword, and walked towards the woods. "Tell Gabrielle I'll be back."
"Where are you going?"
"To have a talk with dear old Dad."
"Ares! Show yourself now!" Xena yelled.
With a trio of flashes, Ares appeared twenty paces behind the Warrior Princess. "Let me guess, Sophia opened her big mouth."
Xena spun around to face the god. "Don't blame this on her. I knew I was right. You pretended to be my father when you seduced my mother. Then when I accused you in front of the Furies, you denied it."
"If you remember correctly, I told you that I was your father a long time before that. I just didn't realize how true that was."
"So your admitting it."
Ares shook his head. "All I'm admitting is that it's possible that you're my daughter." The God of War crossed his arms. "But now that you know, you can claim your rightful place by my side."
Xena shook her head. "I thought that you wanted Gabrielle."
"Too much of a goody-goody."
"Sophia would be perfect, but she has too much of Athena in her. She won't let the darkness take over." He took a couple of steps towards Xena. "But you are different. You've tasted the darkness and you know its true power. And now that we know the truth..."
"You want me to join you. We've been down this road before and you know where it leads." She turned and started to head back to camp.
"Where are you going?"
"Back to my family." She continued to walk away.
Her statement and tone stung Ares. In his head, he could hear Hera's words. But instead of facing the ugly truth, he struck back. "I don't know why I didn't see it before."
His statement caused Xena to stop. "See what before?"
"The similarities between you and your sister." He watched as she turned to face him. "Both are warriors who are trying to walk a path they shouldn't be walking. She feels about her daggers as you feel about your charkram." A sick smile danced across his face. "And my two daughters have the same taste in women. I guess that's why Gabrielle found it so easy to love you."
With her sword in hand, Xena took a step towards the god. "Watch what you say about Gabrielle. She's my soulmate."
"Only because Sophia bowed out. Remember Xena, Gabrielle and Sophia were planning to spend the rest of their lives together, the same thing that you are doing with Gabrielle now."
"Do you have a point?" Xena sneered at the god.
"I would like to hear it also." Gabrielle stepped out from the tree line, with Sophia following close behind.
Xena could have sworn she saw a look of surprise and pain flash in Ares' eyes as he stared at the Guardian. She then turned to the two women. "Sophia, Gabrielle, what are you doing here?"
Gabrielle walked to Xena's side. "Sophia told me everything. I was worried."
Xena smiled down at her soulmate. "No need." The Warrior Princess turned and faced the God of War. "We asked you a question Ares."
Ares shrugged his shoulders. "Just trying to protect you from heartache."
"I love Gabrielle and there is no one I trust more. She has my heart, and I have hers. I know you can't understand that." She glanced back at Gabrielle and reached out her hand, which Gabrielle took within her own. "And I pity you. I really do." Without stating anything further to the god, Xena and Gabrielle began walking back to camp. "Coming Sophia?"
"I'll be there in a while Xena. I have to talk to Father first." After watching her friends as they headed back to camp, the Guardian turned her focus to the god. Sophia didn't try to hide the anger that she felt as she stared at Ares.
The god narrowed his eyes at the Guardian. "What did I do now?"
"What am I going to do with you? You finally accept that she's your daughter, and the first thing you do is upset her."
"I offered her the world, and she throws it back into my face. Again."
"Ares, you are offering her something which she already has."
Ares shook his head. "What? That irritating blond?"
Sophia sighed. "No. Xena at one time had the world trembling. The mention of her name struck fear. But even with all that power, she was still empty. Your way of life left her unfulfilled. But now, she knows love again. She has the love of her family, her friends and her soulmate. Why should she return to your side? Why would she want to?"
"You would think that love is everything. Aphrodite has really pulled the wool over your eyes."
Sophia crossed her arms over her leather-clad chest. "I'm not naive about love. I know it can't solve every problem. It can't stop death or cure disease." She glanced down at the ground and sighed before returning her attention back to Ares. "And it can't fill a heart that refuses to change. Grandmother told me to be patient with you, but I've had it."
A look of shock came across the god's face. "You spoke with your grandmother? I thought that you never wanted to see her again?"
A small smile came upon the Guardian's face. "That's the amazing thing about love Ares. It can make a way where there's no way. Love has changed Hera. And she claims that it's changing you as well. But I just don't have the patience to wait anymore." Her voice was void of emotion, "Goodbye Ares."
Ares shook his head in disbelief. "You really don't mean it."
"Don't I?" She walked up to the god. "In case you have forgotten, I cant lie Ares. You crossed the line when you tried to use me against Xena. You've proven that you will do anything, say anything to get what you want. I don't need anyone like that in my life. Goodbye." The Guardian turned and walked away.
"So, what happened?" Gabrielle stated as Sophia walked into camp.
"I don't want to talk about it." The Guardian sat on the ground, took out one of her daggers and began to needlessly sharpen the unbreakable weapon and hum the same tune again.
Gabrielle glanced at the Warrior Princess and shrugged her shoulders. Xena walked over to Sophia and pulled the pouting Guardian up from the ground. "Why don't we get the wood for the fire while Gabrielle prepares the fish?" The Warrior Princess gently shoved Sophia away from the camp, preparing herself for their first family heart-to-heart chat.
As the two siblings made their way through the woods, Xena studied her half-sister. In so many ways the Guardian was like Ares and herself: strong, self-assured and totally stubborn. Once any of them had an idea in their heads, none would let it go. Ares was determined that one of his children would be his heir. Sophia was just as determined it wouldn't happen.
Sophia could feel Xena's stare, so she turned around and faced her half-sister. "What is it? Why are you staring?"
Xena glided over to the Guardian and placed a hand on Sophia's shoulder. "You are definitely my sister. We may not look alike, but we are definitely the daughters of Ares."
"You say it as if it was a good thing."
Xena sighed. "You know, you are going to keep getting hurt if you don't learn to accept Ares for what he is."
"Oh, I've done that. He's a selfish bastard. Do you have any more insight to give?" Sophia bent down to pick up some more wood, but a strong arm stopped her attempt. She looked at the Warrior Princess. "I don't get you. He tried to use me against you. Aren't you the least bit upset?"
Xena shook her head. "I would have been surprised if he didn't do something. That's Ares."
"But that's not true. I've seen the good in him Xena." She dropped her gather wood to the ground. "When I first found out about him, all I could see was a monster. And yet, every time I was in serious trouble, he's been there to rescue me."
A small smile crept upon the Warrior's face. "You told me how he helped you when you powers were about to destroy you."
Sophia nodded. "And then there was the time I was going to destroy Poteidaea. He could have had me as his Chosen One. I would have destroyed that town and turned my back upon my responsibilities as a Guardian. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, he stopped me." She swiped her hand through her ebony hair. "Which one is the real Ares?"
"Both. The gods are like us Sophia. They have the capabilities for good and evil, darkness and light. It's easier for Ares to show his dark tendencies." Xena thought about the look that Ares gave as Sophia exited from the woods. The Warrior Princess knew that Ares cared about Sophia, although he had a tough time showing it. "But Ares does have his moments."
"I just wish those moments weren't so rare. Look, I know you're right. If I want him in my life, I'm going to have to get use to his self-absorbing, battle-lusting, enemy-making take on life."
Xena wrapped her arm around her half-sister. "I knew you could see his good points."
After eating breakfast, the small band packed up their gear and headed east. "Do you really think Pan is going to be there?" Sophia asked her two companions. "And how are you to make Pan change me back to normal?"
The Warrior Princess looked over her shoulder to the Guardian. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, let's focus on finding him."
"And what if he's not at the temple? Then what?"
"I've already have a plan. Pan likes to roam through the woods." Xena turned to Gabrielle. "Do you think you little friends can help find him?"
The Bard shrugged her shoulders. "It can't hurt." Gabrielle stopped her steed and jumped off. As she walked into a clearing, Gabrielle closed her eyes and focused her thoughts. With her mind's eye, she saw the sky as a bird would as her spirit called out. In less than a quarter of a candlemark, screeches could be heard, coming from the sky.
Xena looked up and watched as two hawks circled overhead. "Here they come," the Warrior Princess stated as the birds headed to Gabrielle.
Sophia shook her head in awe as she watched the two hawks land upon the Bard's outstretched arm. "So how many animals can she talk to?"
"Three types of birds and four types of land animals. She seems to have an easier time with the land animals."
"She always did like keeping her feet on the ground." The two women watched as Gabrielle stared at the hawks before releasing them.
After returning the birds to the air, Gabrielle closed her eyes again, and focused her mind on the woods. Within moments, two foxes darted from the nearby forest, and sat by Gabrielle's feet. The half-god opened her eyes, bent down and petted the animals. After a few moments, the foxes darted back to the woods.
With Sophia following her, Xena climbed off Argo and walked over to Gabrielle, helping the Bard to her feet. "Are you feeling okay?"
Gabrielle nodded. "I'm fine. It's getting easier." She turned to Sophia. "The hawks will scan from the air, and the foxes will cover the ground. I told them to meet us at the temple if they have any news."
Xena glanced at the two women. "Good. We should arrive at the temple by tomorrow. And then we'll deal with Pan."
The three friends traveled east until they arrived to a worn down building, which was no bigger than a small hut. The roof was in shambles and the wooden door was barely on its hinges. "Looks like no one has been here for years," Gabrielle commented as the they came to the front door.
"So what's the plan?"
With all seriousness, Xena answered the Guardian's question. "We ask him to turn you back to normal."
Sophia loudly suck her teeth. She couldn't believe her ears. "We ask? Nicely? We've been traveling for two days now, and the best you can come up with is asking?" Sophia threw her hands up in the air. "Fine. We ask."
Xena glanced back at her two companions before opening the door. The door creaked as it slowly gave way. The Warrior Princess stood in the entrance as she studied the interior. Sunlight peeked through the tiny crevices in the walls and was the only source of light inside the one room structure. In the center of the room stood an archaic wooden throne surrounded by five diminutive stone columns. "Someone's been here recently."
The Guardian peeked over Xena's shoulder. "How can you tell?"
"No dust or cobwebs anywhere on the columns and throne. It this place is truly abandoned, everything would have been covered with them.
It was then a windpipe melody danced through the air. "How right you are Warrior Princess." The tune continued as a dancing Pan materialized in front of the throne. With a windpipe to his lips, he continued to play and dance as he looked at the three women. Once he saw no one joined him in his merriment, he stopped. "So, you wanted to see me?"
"How did you know we were looking for you?" Sophia asked.
Pan glanced over at Gabrielle. "The daughter of Apollo can talk to the animals, but I can communicate with the trees. I know all that goes on in my woods."
Xena eyed the god. "So you know why we are here."
"Yes, and forget about it. I will not undo my actions."
"You can't leave me like this!"
A smirk danced across Pan's face. "Oh yes I can. And I will."
"So many times, I wanted Cupid to aim an arrow at the girl I loved. But each time, Cupid would just laugh and ignore my requests. But at least he listened. Aphrodite never once paid attention to my pleas. And then she sends you to interfere in my plans. I can't do anything to them, but I can take care of you."
"You never loved any of those women Pan. Love is more than a feeling. Love is being there through good and bad times, seeing past the faults and forgiving the mistakes. Love is wanting the best for the other person. And love is letting go when the other person has a chance at true happiness with someone else. If you really loved her, you would want the best for her. And what was best for Phoebe was her soulmate. All she and the others were objects, something to satisfied your lust, to be used and discarded. Trust me Pan, when love truly hits you, you will know. And when it does, you will be so thankful that Aphrodite and Cupid didn't listen."
Pan unhastily walked up to the Guardian. He glanced at his hoofs before returning his sincere filled gaze to the young woman. "What can I say? I didn't truly love any of them. And I would have dropped them when I became tired of them." A sigh escaped his lips as he continued. "I really don't know what to say, except that had to be the most STUPIDEST THING I'VE EVER HEARD!" The short god broke out into roaring laughter. "You forgot one clique: Love means never having to say you're sorry." Pan fall to the ground, rolling about as his whole body shook with laughter.
Sophia's body twitched in barely controlled anger. "I don't believe this!" She looked over at her two friends. "Well, asking didn't work. Can we slice him up now?" Sophia pulled out her daggers and turned towards Pan who was still laughing.
Xena grabbed the Guardian's hand and then turned her attention to Pan. "Are you going to change her back?"
Pan chuckled as he made his way to his hoofs. "No."
Xena let go of Sophia's arm. "Okay, you asked for it."
"I'm a god. What can she do to me?"
"She can't kill you." Xena glanced over at the Guardian. "But she can hurt you."
Xena watched as Sophia gave chase to the pint-size god, the two of them running around in circles. As soon as Pan past her for the third time, Xena stuck her foot out, causing the god to trip.
Sophia picked up the god by one of his horns. "Now change me back!" She demanded, as she held her dagger to his throat.
"No." He quickly stated before dematerializing. Sophia looked down and realized that her hand held nothing but air. She slowly turned around to her friends. "Now what? Am I going to be like this forever?" She walked over to Xena and Gabrielle. "Let's get out of here." It was then she heard a shrill coming from behind her.
In a blaze of blue and white light, Ares appeared holding Pan by one of his goat ears. The War God shook a finger at the Wood God. "It's very rude to leave your guests." He turned to the three women. "Of course what can you expect? He hasn't had visitors in such a long time." While ignoring the screams and tears of pain,
Ares lifted Pan by the ears until the god was at eye level. "Now, you will change my daughter back."
Pan wildly nodded his head as he pointed to the Guardian. A light blue beam struck Sophia in the chest. "She's back to normal."
"Good." Ares tossed Pan, sending him crashing into the wall. "Now be a good minor god, and go play with your flocks or something."
Pan slowly rose up. "You major gods are all big bullies! You just wait!"
Ares started to head towards Pan, but Sophia blocked him and then turned her attention to the God of Fields. "Hey Pan. I want you to know that there's no hard feelings, and just to prove it, I'm going to help you to find your soulmate."
Pan's ears perked up. "Really?"
"Yes." An evil smile danced across Sophia's features. "The first she-goat I come across is all yours."
Pan squinted his brown eyes at the Guardian. Although he wanted to zap her, one glance at the War God and he thought better of it. "You just wait Sophia. Your turn is coming." The short deity faded away.
Ares mocked Pan before turning his attention to Sophia. "All's well that ends well."
Sophia nodded as she eyed the War God. She was still angry about his actions earlier, but yet again he was there when she needed him. "Thanks."
"Your welcome." Ares stared at his youngest daughter. Out of his three children, she was the one who had the best reason to shut him out and yet, she was the one to whom he felt closest. But once again, Ares let his anger and desires dictate his actions. He knew they needed to talk and he needed to apologize, but he was the God of War, and the God of War never apologizes. "I better get going.
There's a battle I need to attend." In a blaze of light, he vanished.
The Guardian stared at the far temple wall and slowly shook her head. Xena walked up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Ready to go?"
Without turning around Sophia replied, "You guys go on. I'll catch up later."
Knowing that the Guardian needed time alone, Xena nodded and headed out of the temple with Gabrielle.
Although, she was elated to be free from Pan's curse, she knew she had Ares to thank for her freedom. She looked up and spoke. "Don't think this gets you off the hook. I'm still mad and I want an apology." Nothing happened. *I know better. Why am I wasting my time?* She turned to the door.
Without a word, the Guardian turned to the source of the voice. With her arms crossed, she waited for him to make the next move.
Ares fidgeted as the words left his mouth. "Love means never having to say you're sorry, right?" He stared at his daughter as he waited for some kind of reply.
Sophia sighed. It was the best he could do and she knew it. *It'll do. For now.* "Right. See ya."
A small smile graced Ares lips before he vanished. "See you later."
"You knew," Gabrielle stated as they exited the temple.
Xena quirked up her eyebrow. "And just what are you accusing me of?"
Gabrielle smiled at her soulmate as she began to climb her steed. "You knew Ares would help. But how?"
Xena glanced up at the sky before answering. "Ares didn't know that Sophia had heard everything he said to me this morning. When he saw Sophia, a look of pain washed over him. He really does care what Sophia thinks about him."
Gabrielle snickered. "So the Guardian of Love has the God of War wrapped around her finger and she doesn't know it."
"Wrapped may be too strong a word. But he has changed." Xena turned her head as she heard Sophia running to catch up with them. "So how does it feel to be normal again?"
"I'll never be normal. But it does feel good to be back to my old self. And unfortunately, I have Ares to thank for that." Sophia sighed. "I guess I'll never understand him."
"Don't try. He is who he is."
"I know Xena. And I've accepted that." She saw the doubt that graced both Xena and Gabrielle's faces. "I really have guys. Nothing he does will ever surprise me anymore." She paused long enough to climb upon Thunder. "And now, I've got to get going. Because of this little detour, I'm way behind on my duties."
"You'll still be able to make our bonding ceremony, won't you?" The Bard asked.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world." A sly grin popped onto Sophia's face. "Besides, I have the greatest gift to deliver to you two."
"What is it?"
The grin broke out into a huge smile. "You should have asked me that when I was under Pan's spell Gabrielle. Now, you will have to wait until the celebrations to find out." Sophia gently kicked her horse in the flanks and waved at her friends as she took off.
Gabrielle and Xena waved at the Guardian. "So Xena, what do you think it is?"
"I don't know. But knowing Sophia, it could be anything. We are just going to have to wait and see." As she climbed upon Argo, the Warrior Princess swore she could hear the wheels in Gabrielle's head as they beegan to spin. "Gabrielle, you will never be able to guess, so why don't we..."
"You don't think it's a great treasure, do you? Or maybe a jug of Dionysus' wine? Or maybe..."
Xena shook her head as they continued down the road, heading towards their next adventure.
Return to the Academy
Written and ©Copyrighted by: Paully Adams
January 20, 2002