DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of TPTB and are used for my amusement only.
THANKS: To my beta, Heather, for her thoughtful comments. Back to the sandpit.
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© February 2011
* * * * * *
“That is so not fair!” Cupid paced angrily in front of his mother.
‘Listen, sweetie. When you're as old as I am–”
“You can say that again!”
“What do you mean by that?” Aphrodite stood there with her hands on her hips.
“Nothing.” Cupid sat down and sulked.
“Are you saying that I'm old?” Aphrodite snapped her fingers and a mirror appeared in her hand. She held it up and looked at her face. “Am I old?”
“Only in years, mom.” He looked at his mother as she continued to move the mirror around, looking for an imperfection on her skin.
“Look! I see it! A wrinkle!” She looked at him in distress.
Cupid squinted and tried to look interested. “I can't see it.”
“Here! Here!” She moved closer to her son. “See?”
“All I can see is your finger on your skin. There's nothing there.” He smiled. “You're imagining things.”
“I am not imagining things. There's a wrinkle…” The mirror rose once more and she looked at her hair. “Oh Gods! There's a gray hair!” Her fingers picked at her hair until she isolated the pesky strand. She pulled it out viciously. “Ow!”
“If it's worrying you so much, change it.” He pulled at his bow.
“Change it? How?”
Cupid's eyes rolled. “You're a goddess, for goodness sake. Pluck it, pull it, re-arrange it, I don't care. All I'm worried about is you pulling rank on me.”
“Cupid, honey, I am the Goddess of Love. You're an amateur until I say so, so chill out.”
“Fine, but don't blame me if your hair starts falling out. After all, you're not getting any younger.” He disappeared in a flash, leaving a shower of golden sparkles in his wake.
Aphrodite studied herself in the mirror. “See? There's another one!” she called out to her departing son.
* * * * *
“Do you ever get the urge to settle down somewhere?” Gabrielle poked at the fire with a stick. Their life of late had been a little boring, interspersed with a fight here and there.
“Why? Are you sick of traveling?”
“No!” Gabrielle glanced sideways at Xena. “Maybe just a little bit. I'd like a soft bed once in a while.”
“All right. It's more the closed door that I'm looking for. Making love is tricky when you have one hand on your chakram all the time.”
“Do you prefer to be caught naked?”
“Only if you're doing the catching–”
“Great Zeus!” Aphrodite cried as she appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the campsite. “I'm dying!”
Gabrielle looked concerned. “Calm down. What's the problem?”
“Didn't you hear me? I said I'm dying!” Aphrodite started to pace.
“Come and sit down,” Gabrielle offered.
“Or go home,” Xena muttered.
Aphrodite snapped her fingers and an ornate chair appeared next to Gabrielle's bedroll. She plopped herself down in it and sighed deeply. A second later another chair appeared, with a quill and scroll neatly rolled on top of a soft cushion. “Sit.”
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who shrugged. She stood and picked up the writing materials, sitting in the now vacant chair. “What's this for?”
“Taking notes.” A goblet appeared in Aphrodite's hand and she took a sip from it.
“I'm out of here.” Xena stood and gathered her sword and chakram. “I'll look for dinner.”
Gabrielle's gaze pleaded for Xena to stay but the answering look told her ‘you're on your own'. She watched her warrior leave and wished she could do the same, but being the goddess's friend left her no choice but to stay. She sat on the chair and looked at the forlorn goddess. “What's wrong?”
“I'm dying.” Aphrodite repeated.
“You're immortal. You can't die.” Gabrielle hoped that would end of it but she knew there was more.
“Cupid said I looked old. Am I old? Do I look old to you?” Aphrodite's voice quivered as she became agitated.
“Well…” Gabrielle paused. How could she say this without insulting her? “You're probably older than I am.”
“Look. You're a goddess, Aphrodite,” Gabrielle said, stating the obvious, “Of course you've lived for many years. But old? It's all in your head.”
“Are you telling me I'm nuts?”
“No, of course not, but I find that age is also a state of mind. You're only as old as you feel.”
“Do you know I found a wrinkle? And a gray hair?”
Gabrielle seriously doubted that, but she kept a straight face. “Really?”
Aphrodite pointed a well-manicured finger at the scroll. “You're not writing.”
Gabrielle lifted the quill. “No ink.” Aphrodite snapped her fingers and black liquid welled up on the tip of the quill. Gabrielle scrambled for the parchment and began to write. “So how did this all start?”
“Cupid was complaining, as usual.”
Gabrielle didn't want to say what she thought of that particular mother-son relationship. “About what?” She bowed her head over the parchment and didn't look up.
“He wants to take over the business, so to speak.”
“The business?” Gabrielle made another mark with the quill.
“He wants me to step down as the Goddess of Love.”
“What does that mean?”
Gabrielle looked up. “Errr, it means… ahh.”
“Do you think I should retire too?” Aphrodite's eyes squinted like she was about to cry. “I am old!” There was a lot of wailing and a few tears.
Gabrielle stood and went to her bedroll to find a piece of cloth for Aphrodite to wipe her tears. The goddess took one look at the scrap and snapped her fingers to materialize an ornately embroidered handkerchief to dab her skin with.
Gabrielle ignored the snub and sat down, taking up the same posture she had been in moments before. “What did Cupid say?”
“He told me to change something.”
“He didn't say exactly. He said ‘pluck it, pull it or re-arrange it'.” Her tear-filled eyes looked at the bard.
“Would it make you feel better?”
“I don't know. Would it?”
“What have you got to lose?”
“Nothing, I suppose.” Aphrodite thought about it. She stood and started to de-materialize before stopping. “Thanks Gabby. You're my gal.”
Gabrielle sat there stunned. It was like a really bad dream. Maybe she could switch her dream to the one where she and Xena were wrestling in mud, then having a nice long intimate soak in a hot mineral spring. Oh yeah….
Aphrodite's chair disappeared. “Oh no.” Gabrielle found herself on her ass as the chair underneath her dissipated. At that moment Xena appeared with a dead rabbit in one hand.
“That was quick.” Xena looked around for the goddess.
“Aphrodite thinks she's getting old. She says she found a wrinkle on her face.” Gabrielle held up her hand. “Before you say anything, she's decided a change is in order.”
“Change? What sort of change?” Xena's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“I don't know, and that's what is worrying me.”
“As long as it doesn't concern us, she can turn blue if she wants.” Xena hunkered down at the edge of the clearing and began to clean the rabbit.
“Oh please, don't even suggest it.” Gabrielle stood up and rubbed her ass.
“Is that an invitation?” Xena's gaze was fixated on the ass in question.
“Maybe later. Let's get cooking.”
* * * * *
“Hey there, sweetpea.” Aphrodite materialized in thin air and one foot off the ground, interrupting Gabrielle in mid-hit. The bard went down with the strike, rolling out of the way of her attacker's mace.
Aphrodite watched the proceedings with amusement as she hovered in the air. She seemed unconcerned about sweaty bodies or swinging weapons coming in contact with her.
“Not now!” Gabrielle yelled. She tried to reach her sai on the ground, but it was out of reach. Her attacker was joined by another, the two of them moving in to take her.
“Hey!” Aphrodite called. They looked at her and she took exception to the leering. “That's not nice.” She wiggled her finger and their weapons drooped, hanging from their hands like soggy reeds.
Gabrielle took the opportunity to stand. She jumped into the air and kicked forward, hitting both her attackers in the chest and sending them backwards. Her sai was now accessible and back in the hand in the blink of an eye. Gabrielle launched her own attack, pounding the sai handle into the men's temples and knocking them out cold.
It took a moment for Gabrielle to take in what Aphrodite looked like. “You changed your hair.”
“Do you like it?” Aphrodite grinned, her dimples on full display.
Aphrodite snapped her fingers and the fight stopped. Xena's fist was planted in a warlord's ample stomach, while the warlord's frozen face told a tale of agony.
“You can't leave Xena like that.”
Aphrodite rolled her eyes and flicked her finger. Xena jumped back after the punch and brought her sword to bear. “Wha? Where? Who?” She swung around in a circle, observing her enemies' various statue-like poses. “Aphrodite!”
“Chill out, warrior babe. I just wanted to borrow Gabby here for a moment.”
“It's been four months and suddenly you turn up unannounced to… What did you do to your hair?” Xena's tone was less than appreciative.
“Xeeennnaaa,” Gabrielle growled.
“What did she mean? Didn't she like it?” Aphrodite looked concerned.
“Well, it takes a bit of getting used to. What made you decide to dye it black?” Gabrielle thought the goddess's solution was a bit drastic.
“To cover up the gray hairs, of course.” The goddess clicked her tongue in disgust.
“And what happens when the gray hairs come back?” Xena joined in the conversation.
“Xena,” Gabrielle hissed.
“They'll come back? You mean that dyeing it doesn't get rid of them?”
“They do for a while. The hair on your head grows all the time. That's why we cut it every so often.” Gabrielle studied the goddess in front of her. “I don't think black is your color, Aphrodite. Maybe you should have dyed it the same color as your existing hair.”
“But the gray…”
“If you dye it blond, the gray hairs will become blond. At least the gray hairs won't be as noticeable in blond hair as they would be in black.”
“Oh, I hadn't thought of that.”
“If you don't mind, we have a fight to get back to.” Xena moved back to her adversary and put her foot in his stomach. “Can you…?” Xena's head nodded at the flabby man with the puffed expression.
“Uhhh?” Aphrodite looked at Gabrielle. “That's it?”
“I'm afraid so. The gray hair will be more noticeable in dark hair than it would be in light. Besides, who ever heard of Aphrodite with anything but blond hair?”
“Sorry, Aphrodite, but Xena's right. I can't see any gray hair myself, but if you're sure that there is, then darkening your hair is not going to solve it.”
“Fine,” Aphrodite said tightly. She left in a flurry of sparkling dust and a snap of fingers.
Gabrielle felt a sharp pain across the back of her head and she fell to the ground. A high pitched yell cut through the air and the soldier pounding on her suddenly disappeared. She glanced sideways and saw his unconscious body hit the ground.
“Can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?”
Gabrielle chuckled. Those were familiar words from Xena and words that gave her a lot of comfort. Xena would always be watching her back.
“What about Aphrodite?” Gabrielle rolled to her feet and took up the battle. Her sais sat comfortably in her hands and she used them to great effect.
“I think her vanity has run amok.”
“Do you think that's the end of it?” Gabrielle kicked backwards and collected a fighter in the groin. He dropped to his knees with a painful groan.
“What do you think?” Xena replied. She let her chakram go, the weapon singing in the air as it bounced from tree to head to tree and back again.
* * * * * * *
Agro reared up with the sudden intrusion. Floating six inches off the ground was Aphrodite, materializing within an inch or two from her nose. Xena pulled the reins tightly, holding on grimly as Argo shifted. She was about to swear when she saw who the intruder was. She mentally counted the time and figured that a visit from the goddess was about due.
“Aphrodite?” Gabrielle's jaw dropped. “That's an… interesting look.”
“I think this will solve my problem,” she announced cheerfully.
“Do you have a part in a play or something?” Xena asked.
“Nnnoooo. Why do you ask?”
“You've got enough makeup on your face to be seen in Athens … from here.”
“You are a real downer, warrior babe. What about you, Gabby? Have you anything nice to say?”
“Is all that makeup necessary?”
“It hides the wrinkle.”
“You probably don't need that much.” Gabrielle tried not to wince in case Aphrodite wrinkled up her nose and broke the mold.
“I'm not used to wearing makeup, Gabby. I just rely on my natural beauty.”
“Are you listening to yourself?” Xena asked. “Natural beauty. You don't need makeup.”
“But the wrinkle–”
“Forget about the wrinkle!” Xena shouted in frustration.
“There she goes again.” Gabrielle said as the glittery dust settled.
“It's getting to be a habit.”
* * * * * *
“Xena?” Something airborne was fast approaching Cupid's head and he barely stopped it.
“See? This is why I want a soft bed and a door with a lock.” Gabrielle's voice broke the silence of the campsite.
“Gods, Cupid! What are you doing here?” Xena snapped from her position hovering over Gabrielle's right breast.
“Ahh… errr. I wanted to talk to the two of you about mother.”
“Now?” Xena sighed, then moved. “You've killed the mood anyway.”
“Xena!” Gabrielle's face started turning a nice shade of red.
“What? This is nothing new to him.” Xena found her shift and slipped it on. “Your timing could be better.”
“I wasn't thinking. Mother's acting really strange.”
“No kidding. From what I heard, it started with you.”
“Where did you hear that?” Cupid shifted nervously.
“From your mother's mouth actually.” Xena smiled as she watched Cupid's feathers quiver. “You told her she was looking old. That true?”
“I may have said something in jest,” he conceded.
“Aphrodite didn't think it was a joke. She came to me nearly in tears.” Gabrielle stepped around Xena, finally dressed. “You know she has a very sensitive ego.”
“Sensitive?” Cupid chuckled. “Try obsessive, self-absorbed… vain.”
“We get the point. Why are you here?” Xena suspected that Cupid wanted a favor, and if that was the case she would make him pay.
“Can you… you know… chill her out or something? Granddad is getting very tetchy.”
“I know what it means, Gabrielle. Let me get this straight. You made a mistake and now you want us to clean up your mess?”
“That's about it. What's it going to cost me?”
“Let me think about it.” She grinned evilly. Let him think the worst.
“Thanks, Xena. You're the best.” Cupid disappeared in a flash.
“We're going to help him?” Not that Gabrielle doubted they wouldn't.
“I suppose we should, otherwise Aphrodite is going to wander around confused and dazed.”
“And that's different how?”
“I amend that to more confused and dazed.”
* * * * *
Another six months had passed without Aphrodite's presence. Her sudden appearance at their camp, while not unexpected, was a shock nonetheless. She had been busy in the intervening time.
“Gods, Aphrodite, is that you? What have you done?” Xena couldn't help but stare.
“I was trying to smooth out the wrinkle.”
“What with? A Boulder ?” Xena's eyebrows rose. It was time to stop Aphrodite's insanity.
“It's not that bad is it?” Aphrodite's finger rose to her brow to trace where the wrinkle had been.
“Not that bit, no. It's the rest of the face that I'm worried about.”
“What?” Aphrodite snapped her fingers and waited for a mirror to appear. “Where? What's wrong?”
Gabrielle had remained quiet during the exchange. She was madly scrambling for the words she knew she would have utter soon. The Goddess had given herself a new face… and not for the better. The brow was certainly now nice and smooth, but the skin had to go somewhere and where it went wasn't flattering, at least in her eyes.
‘Soon' had just disappeared and had become ‘now'. “Yes, Aphrodite?”
“What do you think?” The Goddess looked at Gabrielle with hopeful eyes.
“Tell her,” Xena said.
“ Tell her .”
Xena stared at her. By the Gods! “Your brow looks great.” Xena cleared her throat. “But… “
“Not you too!” Distressed, Aphrodite left.
“You are such a chicken!”
“I just couldn't do it. She calls me ‘Gabby', Xena.”
“You want me to call you Gabby too?'
“Gods, no! When you say Gabrielle…” She shivered.
Xena strolled over and ran a finger down the plane of Gabrielle's cheek, continuing down her throat and stopping in her cleavage. “Gabrielllleeeee,” she said huskily.
“That is so not fair.” Gabrielle swallowed harshly. She cleared her throat. “So what are we going to do about Aphrodite?”
“It seems to me that she is in need of a bit of ego boosting,” Xena said.
“And we'll boost her ego.”
Gabrielle looked at Xena in confusion. “How?”
“What do Gods like, huh?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“Enthusiastic followers, and lots of them.” Xena had a plan.
* * * * * * *
When they reached the outskirts of Thebes Xena arranged for the word to go out. Runners went to the four corners of Greece , delivering a message of love and peace… and an arranged celebration in a temple to Aphrodite. The day after the next full moon would be Aphrodite's Day.
Xena and Gabrielle hung around Thebes for the intervening days, watching Aphrodite's temple for signs of habitation.
“Do you think she's going to notice?”
“Gabrielle, what else do you think she's got to do all day long, besides interfering in our lives?” Xena glared at her disapprovingly. “Of course she'll notice! It's all about her, isn't it?”
“I suppose it is.” Gabrielle leaned against the portal frame. “Not as many as we hoped.”
Xena looked up at the sky. “It's early yet. Give it a little more time.”
There was a steady stream of worshippers that morning and by noon the temple was near capacity.
“This is more like it.” Gabrielle let a smile cross her lips.
“Any second now…” Xena sensed the shift in the air. “Right on time.”
“Hey, sweetpea. Xena.” Aphrodite stood next to them, her winning smile lighting up her face.
“You have a few worshippers today,” Xena asked pointedly.
“And it is so cool. Junior should see this!”
Xena glanced at Gabrielle and allowed a half smile to grace her lips. “Maybe he should.” She shifted closer. “And you did it all without your imaginary wrinkle.”
“What Xena is trying to say…,” Gabrielle put herself in between the two women, “…is that you are beautiful enough now. Don't change a thing. They all love you just the way you are.”
“He was angry that you said no. Simple as that. Believe me, there is no wrinkle and there are no gray hairs.” Xena said as she stared Aphrodite in the eye, trying to sound as sincere as she possibly could.
“Why all the people? I sent no instructions through my priestesses for worship.”
“Why not? Love is a wonderful thing to be thankful for.” Xena rolled her eyes as Gabrielle spoke. “Let's have a special day for love. Aphrodite's Day.”
“Hmmm.” Aphrodite smiled, her dimples standing out. “That so rocks!”
“You do realize that the other Gods are going to want their day too,” Gabrielle whispered aside.
“I'll just send them to Cupid.”
* * * * * *
Gabrielle sighed deeply. “This is wonderful.” Aphrodite's Day had been a huge success and there had been rumors of the event being repeated next year. Gabrielle giggled and smacked Xena's wandering hand. “Stop that!”
“I have to admit a locked door was a good idea.” Xena looked at the door in question, her gaze sweeping over the chair wedged under the handle. The small room was bathed in an orange glow from a nearby candle. She looked down at Gabrielle lying underneath her, watching the light cast shadows over the bard's youthful face and lending a more mature hue to her features.
“Nothing.” Xena drew a finger down Gabrielle's cheek and rested it on her lips. “I was just thinking about how much you've changed since we first started travelling together.”
“Oh no!” Gabrielle gasped in mock surprise. “Did you find a wrinkle?”
Xena growled. “You forget one thing. Being indoors has an added problem for you.”
“I now have two free hands.”
“Oh oh is right, Gabrielle. And my deal with Cupid was for thirty days of closed doors. Wherever we end up at the end of the day he has to find us an inn.”
“Do you think this is the end of it?”
“This is only day one. I've got another twenty-nine to have my way with you.”
“No, not that! I mean Aphrodite. Do you think we've convinced her to leave her face the way it is?”
“At least until she finds something else wrong. Let's all pray she's happy with her breasts.” Xena lowered her lips to Gabrielle's right breast. “Now you, on the other hand, have absolutely nothing to worry about there. They are perfect.”
“You're just saying that.”
“I know, I just did. Now let's investigate your thighs.” Her lips continued their journey down Gabrielle's torso. “I hoped you learned a valuable lesson here.”
“I sure did. I let you lie on top so you can ravish me.”
Xena chuckled then nipped Gabrielle's skin. “Don't let a God get in the way of love. She doesn't know what she's doing.”