The water ripples and churns. A series of ficlets. 63 - Family is always there. Even if it sucks ass.
22 May 2007
X/A – Part 3 of the Pebbles arc.
"—got enough wood for the night, so we should probably turn in. Ares? Are you listening to me?"
He didn't seem to hear her, and she frowned with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Leave me alone," he said, before standing and heading out into the forest.
Xena shrugged at Gabrielle's questioning look when he was out of view. "He probably just needs some angst time. "
She rubbed the cloth in her hand down the blade resting against her knee a few more times until Gabrielle's pointed silence forced her to sigh. "I'll go check on him."
She found him sitting by the river. He looked at her when she approached him, frowned, and settled back into his gloomy hunch.
"Why are you helping me, Xena?"
She sat down beside him and leaned back onto her hands. "You're… my friend, I guess." She was quiet for a moment. "Friends help friends."
He lay down on the grass then, and turned to look at her. He reached up to push away a strand of hair that the wind had blown into her mouth.
"I'm glad," he said. His fingers brushed over her cheek. "Sometimes, I wonder if what I do remember is real, whether it was just a hallucination. I'm glad you're how I remembered."
She stopped his hand as it wandered into her hair, and she frowned at the memory of a candle-filled room, water surrounding her body, and his fingers combing across her scalp.
And then he'd tried to give her his peace-through-war spiel.
"Ah. Sorry." He pulled away and lay on his back.
They didn't talk anymore that night, staring up at the bright band of stars directly overhead.
Ares woke to shrill screams of rage and shouts coming from the direction of the campsite.
Xena noticed his arrival first, and she stopped him from entering the clearing with a suspiciously strangled cough. "Breakfast got away from Gabrielle," she said. "You'll probably get smacked with a frying pan if you go over there."
He watched a tiny brown rabbit race across the campsite, ears flat against its head and eyes wide with terror, closely chased by the blonde warrior wielding a frying pan like a mace.
It dove into a bush seconds before a high velocity swing of the pan stripped the plant of half its leaves, but ultimately failed to reveal a rabbit carcass.
"Looks tasty," Ares said, earning himself a heated glare.
"Can't you do a… a god thing or something?" Gabrielle asked, gesturing at the remains of the bush with the frying pan.
"What god thing?"
Silence descended heavily.
"Ah," Gabrielle said with a forced laugh. "Nothing. I'm babbling."
Ares opened his mouth, a dissatisfied frown on his face, when Xena cut him off with a jerk of her hand. She signalled to Gabrielle, took Ares' wrist, and the three melted into the shadows of the forest.
"Movement," Ares hissed, jerking his chin to the left side of the clearing. Gabrielle appeared by their sides with barely a rustle, and Xena nodded in acknowledgment.
"Second time we're being spied on in two days," she murmured. "Can't be a coincidence."
They waited until their visitors were inspecting their abandoned makings of a fire before attacking.
Gabrielle ducked under one man's initial wide swing, bringing her close enough to launch a series of jabs with the hilts of her weapons, and Xena hit the other with a lazy punch that sent him off his feet. Flying backward, he landed on Ares' outstretched blade, only stopping when his torso slid into the hand guard with a damp thunk.
Ares looked down at the streams of blood running down onto his hands, and then up at Xena's annoyed face.
"Oops," he said.
She waved her hand dismissively. "It's fine. We'll catch the other one."
The other spy, seeing his companion dead, kicked up a spray of dirt into Gabrielle's face and ran. Xena swore, prepared to give chase, when the spy stopped in his tracks. As he backed slowly into the clearing, the reason for his change of heart appeared in the form of a gauntlet-covered arm clenching onto his collar, shoving him back as the owner of the arm stepped toward Xena.
"I think I found something you're looking for, Xena," said Hercules.
"Great timing, as always," she responded with a twitch in her lips. She reached for the spy, moments before the man oozed a bright yellow light, and his torso exploded in a shower of heavy, thick shreds.
Xena wiped at her cheek, only managing to further smear the streak of blood.
"Well," she said, "now we know a god is involved."
"Xena," Ares cut in, "he's got one of the pebbles." He motioned sullenly to Hercules.
Hercules looked at him, then the corpses on the ground, and said, "Someone want to fill me in?"
Hercules splashed water on his face to get rid of the last of the blood, ignoring the heavy glare directed at his back.
"No one's impressed, hero," Ares finally spat. "Xena and I could easily have gotten that guy without you."
"We don't need you here. Xena and I have everything under control."
Hercules gave him a strange look as he bent to pick up his shirt, and Ares snorted derisively. "She doesn't need you at all, little brother. Not like she needed me."
"Right. I'm sure that's why she left you all those years ago."
Hands clenched in his shirt and dragged until Hercules' eyes crossed trying to keep Ares in view.
"You useless little prick! Why?" A pebble appeared over Hercules' head when Ares grabbed him, and it quickly shattered and settled over Ares, but the raging wargod didn't notice. "Why is everything so easy for you? Zeus was my father long before you came into the picture! This world was our world, the people were our servants, but you just bumble along doing obnoxious little good deeds, and they like you! Why?" His voice had been steadily rising as he spoke until Hercules winced at the volume. "And now, I have Xena helping me and telling me that she's my friend like it's so hard to say for her, and you just come along, and she smiles at you! And I'm just… I'm…"
Hercules' voice was so soft that he barely heard it. "You're what?"
"Forget it," Ares said, letting go of his half-brother and stepping back. "Just leave, Hercules."
"I'm sorry," Hercules said, finally.
Ares scowled at him. "I don't need your pity!"
"Yeah, yeah." Hercules looked away and said in a carefully absent-minded voice, "You know, if you told what you told me to more people, they'd like you, too. You don't always have to hide how you feel. Or take it out on people."
"I'm the God of War." There was a pause as Ares' head caught up to his mouth. "I don't do nice," he continued.
"Hmm. I see you got more of your memory back. Xena told me you didn't remember about being a god."
Ares scoffed, refusing to look at him.
"And about Xena—"
"Shut up, I don't want your advice."
"She needs to know she can trust you."
"And it has to be unconditional. I think you can do it."
Hercules slid a thumb into his belt, determined to wait out the silence. Some time passed before Ares spoke, eyes finally meeting his.
"Just because we're talking, it doesn't mean we're bonding."
"Right. No bondage at all."