Ares closed his eyes when the crash of thunder and the flash of lightning rocked the world. And when he opened them, Xena and Gabrielle were kneeling collapsed against one another.

"This must be my lucky day," he muttered to himself. After nearly two millennia of castigating himself for his part in what had happened to Xena on Mt. Fuji, he found himself with an unexpected second chance. He realized with a start that it must have been Gabrielle that he had sensed in those odd times throughout history when he'd *almost* felt Xena's presence and some things fell into place for him.

The fact the both Xena and Gabrielle were obviously immortal were just icing on the cake and he planned to take any advantage of that that he could. It was times like this especially that he hated having to conserve his powers. Popping in and out was just so much easier and less time consuming. But there was nothing to be done for it now, so he remounted his horse and headed towards them purposefully.

Xena and Gabrielle leaned against one another for support breathing deeply as the aftereffects of so much energy flowing through them receded. Slowly they opened their eyes and gazed at one another and Xena smiled sadly.

"Guess it didn't work, my bard. I'm... I'm sorry."

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena neck and returned the smile, though hers was bright and not full of the sadness Xena's showed.

"Xena, we have to focus on the time we have ahead of us, not the time we have already missed. There's a whole world out there just waiting for us to experience it... together."

"I know... I had just hoped we could start over. I... I feel like I've missed so much time with you."

Gabrielle urged Xena's head down until their lips were just touching. "Look at it this way," she said softly as she brushed their lips together. "We have an eternity," kissing again, a little longer and deeper contact. "To try to catch up." This time the kiss went on until Xena's hands clenched at Gabrielle's waist, drawing them closer together.

Gabrielle smiled into the contact and felt Xena do the same and they separated with several tiny kisses, only pulling back as far a necessary to look into one another's eyes.

"Always trying to see the bright side?"

Gabrielle chuckled lightly. "Yeah. It's better for the long term outlook."

Xena gave her a real smile. "Yeah, I guess it would be." She drew a deep breath, but whatever she was beginning to say was lost on the wind as Ares reached the fire circle and several things happened simultaneously.

"Well, well... now isn't this just... cozy," Ares commented with a smirk.

Both the fox and the panther rose to their haunches, hackles standing on end and fangs exposed, causing the war god to take an undignified pace away from them. Xena and Gabrielle scrambled to their feet, stepping in front of one another to shield their naked partner from Ares' view. For his part, Ares crossed his arms over his broad chest and let his smirk broaden, though he kept a judicious eye on the two animals that seemed to be watching him with almost malicious intent.

Xena reached for her saddle bags, lifting them and digging through them to find a shirt for both herself and Gabrielle. It felt wonderful... now that the adrenaline rush of the experience had worn off, they were both feeling the cold cut through them and even a little defense was better than none.

"Oh, please don't cover up on my account. I was thoroughly enjoying the view."

"Whaddya want, Ares?"

The god stroked his beard as if in thought, though he was careful not to approach any closer. "What do I want? Hmm.... Well, let's see...." He looked at Gabrielle. "Hey, Blondie. Ya miss me?"

Gabrielle looked at Ares with disdain. "In a word... NO."

He clutched at his chest dramatically. "I'm wounded. After all, isn't it because of me that you two are finally together? I mean, I'm the one who sent Xena into the future, right? Don't you think I should get some consideration for helping the two of you back together again?"

"What do you want, Ares?" Xena asked again, pronouncing each word distinctly.

"I'd think it would be obvious, Xena. I want you. We have a whole new world to conquer and I...."

Without warning and so fast Xena nearly missed it, Gabrielle erupted, putting the force of her frustration of Ares continued interference in their lives behind the straight-from-the-shoulder punch. There was no sound until impact - fist to face and the crack of bone, the crumple of cartilage and the spurt of hot blood. It took another five seconds before Ares' behind hit the ground from the force of the blow.

"Thun ob a bith!" he screamed, glaring forcefully from behind the hand that covered his nose and mouth. Gabrielle leaned over him and smiled mirthlessly darkly gratified when he instinctively winced away from her.

"Let me explain something to you, war god and I'm only gonna say this once, all right? I'll put it into words even *you* can understand." She stood and wrapped and arm around Xena's waist, who obligingly curled an arm around the bard's shoulder. "MINE, not yours. So stay away from her... and from us."

Ares looked at Gabrielle in disbelief. No one spoke to him like that and got away with it. Of course, no one had ever broken his nose before either and he was going to have to look into how she managed that little feat a little more deeply.

Xena walked forward and knelt next to him with what could almost be described as sympathetic pity in her eyes.

"Hurts like a bitch, doesn't it?" She removed his hands from his face and winced. "Tch... you're gonna need to set that before it'll heal." She stood and moved back into the fire circle to stand at Gabrielle's side, gratified when the bard immediately wrapped herself around Xena's body.

"Word to the wise, Ares. You've got to worry a lot more about what she'll do to you," squeezing Gabrielle to her and smiling at the return pressure, "than you do about what *I* will. She's had a lot more years practice honing HER many skills."

Xena brushed a kiss across the top of the blonde head. "You sure you wanna chance it?"

Ares rose, keeping one hand on his nose to staunch the river of blood that flowed through it. He was startled to see two sets of eyes turn red and suddenly many things were crystal clear to him.

"You're bacchae!! You're immortal because...." He backed away, wishing for the nth time he was still powerful enough to manage the things he had in his prime. "Damnation!" He jerked his nose back into joint and the tears ran freely down his face.

"This isn't over Xena," he said. "I'll find you again when you're not on holy ground and we'll... talk," he said with what he intended to be a rakish smirk, but what the deformation of his face turned in to a hideous grimace. "And don't think I'll forget about this, Gabrielle. One day you will both be mine."

Without another word he mounted his horse and turned it towards the east, loping away from them into further darkness at a ground eating pace.

They watched him go before turning back to the fire. Xena stoked it while Gabrielle put on water for tea and got out a bit of food from their rations to make into soup. Even with the exchange of blood she was exhausted and the cold simply drained her faster.

Xena laid out the blankets, chuckling when she saw the panther and fox had curled up together on the far side and were resting comfortably together despite the cold temperatures now making themselves known inside the circle.

"Guess we'll wash the paint off tomorrow," Gabrielle commented when a pair of long johns and socks hit her squarely in the chest. Xena nodded.

"I think one ice bath a day is enough for anyone."

They sat down together, side by side and watched the flames hiss and crackle in the fitful wind that blew while they waited for the water to boil. Gabrielle poured the water into their cups and let the tea steep while she stirred the stew that was slowly warming up. Then she sat back against Xena's chest, sighing when the warrior wrapped long arms around her and stared out into the darkness of the plains night.

"So, where do we go from here, bard-o-mine?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "Well, we promised Hercules we'd meet him in Banff for a while if it didn't work. After that...." She shrugged again. "I dunno. I'd like to go back to Greece... maybe visit Aphrodite for a bit."

Xena nodded soberly. "She was a good friend to you, huh?"

"Yeah," Gabrielle sighed. "She was."

Xena considered then agreed. "All right. We'll go see Herc and let him know what's going on and then we'll go visit Aphrodite. After that...."

"After that, the future is ours to make of it what we will... as long as we make it together."

Xena tilted the bard's chin up and captured her lips in a long passionate exchange while the pot bubbled unattended and the stars winked back in silent indulgence.


10/03 & 02/04 - 10/04