The water ripples and churns. A series of ficlets. 64 - Ares hadn't signed up for this.
24 May 2007
X/A – Part 4 of the Pebbles arc. Some language. I got a bit excited...
Xena let her eyes wander over the fire to take her mind off the pain in her arm as Gabrielle bent over it, making tiny neat stitches. She caught sight of Ares' pale face, eyes fixed on the needle in Gabrielle's hands.
"What," she said, "don't tell me you've never seen anyone being sewn up before?"
"No," he snapped, "I haven't."
"It's not as bad as it looks. Keep your needles sharp, and they'll slide through the skin like butter. The unpleasant part is probably the feeling of the twine dragging through—"
Ares disappeared in an abrupt blue flash.
Gabrielle caught her eye, and they shared a laugh.
"We must be getting close," Xena said eventually, holding still while Gabrielle tied off the last knot and bent her head to bite through the excess fine twine. "They've stopped watching us and launched a full offensive. They must be trying to tire us out with the attacks."
"Why have they only sent parties of five or less? Wouldn't it be easier for them to just charge us all at once?"
A smelly salve was applied to the wound, and Xena hissed at the sudden burning. "My guess is whoever's sending them can't attract too much attention. It has to be a god. No humans would have been able to track us like this."
"It's working, though." Gabrielle couldn't hide the edge of worry in her voice. "You haven't slept for more than three hours at a time for four days now. You're getting tired."
Xena gave her a fond smile. "Didn't you say at some point that I thrive under these kinds of situations?"
"It's not healthy."
"Yeah." Xena waited patiently while Gabrielle pulled the bandage wrapped around her bicep tighter and tied it off. "That's why were making our own move now." She raised her voice. "Hey, Ares!"
He didn't reply, but she felt his sulking presence nearby. She began assembling her armour, hooking up her breastplate and shoving on gauntlets. She picked up an armband, looked at her bandaged arm, and sighed, tucking it into a pouch.
Ares appeared now, scowling with impatience. "Well?"
She tossed her chakram up into the air with a flourish and let it clang onto its hook on her belt. Behind her, Gabrielle snorted and mumbled something resembling "show-off."
"Let's go," Xena said.
"Xena, I swear we're going in circles!" Ares' voice had an edge to it that he'd vehemently deny was a whine. "Was that your big plan? Dangle me around like bait?"
She shot him an irritated look. "I've been leaving trails throughout this whole area. If we're going to draw them into a decisive fight, I'd rather it be in territory that I'm familiar with and that's far enough from any settlements that there's no risk of involving innocent people. So yes, you're bait."
"You're going to fight them? All of them?"
"We've been heading toward an abandoned fort that my army used as a base. The three of us could hold off an army in there."
"An army. Just the three of us."
"We wouldn't have to do this if you remembered who gave you the bloody water in the first place."
"Are you blaming me?"
"Xena, Ares…" Gabrielle tried.
"I'm sick of doing this, okay? It's been weeks, and we've only got four of those fucking pebbles. I can't even tell where the next one is. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life fighting these people? They obviously just want to stop us from finding the rest of the pebbles. It would be so much easier to just leave everything as it is and just stop trying."
"Why are you so pissed off? You're immortal."
"There are things that can kill a god."
Xena stared at him for a moment, and said, "I've called you many things, but a coward was never one of them. We need to find the rest of the pebbles. You're not the Ares I knew."
"When has this been about you?"
Xena scowled, hurt tainting her eyes, and her hand shot out reflexively and snatched an arrow out of the air inches from Ares' neck.
Gabrielle knocked away the next one with her sais. "I've been trying to tell that you we're being followed."
Xena looked at the smear of red across the arrowhead. "Shit," she said.
They were attacked then, and Xena saw the same red stain on the blades angled toward them.
"Ares! Be careful."
He'd seen the same weapons. His hand hesitated on the hilt of his sword, and then fell away. "Fuck this," he said. "I'm not doing this anymore."
Xena watched in disbelief as he raised his hand, the familiar blue glow beginning to envelop him, and an arrow thudded into his arm. He looked down at it, confused expression on his face, and collapsed.
Xena swung a charging soldier into another, sending the two crashing to the ground, and quickly spun to deflect a thrust aimed at Ares' crumpled form. A heavy kick pushed back a couple more, but when she looked around, sunlight glinted off the wall of metal closing in.
Sparkles erupted behind her, and Xena spared a relieved glance. "Aphrodite, you got my message!"
The goddess cringed as a lance speared over her head, but nodded. "I brought the antidote."
"Can you transport us?"
Moments later, they stood in the gloom of the abandoned fort Xena had outfitted to survive a siege.
She quickly bent to inspect Ares' wound. "I didn't think he would refuse to fight like that," she muttered.
"It's okay," said Aphrodite. "We got to him in time. He'll be a bit weak, but he won't die." She winced, watching Xena yank the shaft out after snapping the arrowhead. The flesh pulled together, already healing, albeit sluggishly.
Aphrodite looked up from splashing the wound with liquid in a small vial. "He said to tell you he was sorry he couldn't make it back, but Iolaus sent him an urgent message asking for help."
"Ok. Stay here with him, Aphrodite."
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"To finish this fight. Coming, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle looked up from her station near a narrow slit of a window. "Right behind you," she said.
I can't believe he was going to leave us surrounded by the enemy, Xena seethed, swinging her sword over her head to cut a concealed rope and drop four soldiers into a pit lined with sharpened stakes. Some had fallen over in the years of disuse, but most remained to render the trap deadly as ever.
Another cut, and a huge log swung free amid a chorus of screams.
The little fucker.
She didn't see the club until blood trickled into her eyes, and she struggled to pick herself up off the ground.
Aphrodite smiled brightly when Ares opened his eyes. "Aer! Welcome to the land of the living, bro!"
His eyes focussed somewhere through her. "Xena," he rasped, and staggered to his feet.
"Wait! Warrior babe said to stay here!"
He looked down at his hands, trembling while they clenched in the material of the winter cloak Xena had tossed at him nearly three weeks ago. "I… don't think I have a choice," he said, reaching for the door.
"You can't even fight like that!"
He glanced back at her, eyes narrowed into slits and sweat running down his face. "Don't tell me what I can't do."
Her vision was spinning, and she looked up at the wavering five figures that lifted their heavy clubs with a roar.
They resolved into a single soldier, and the roar was drowned out by an even louder one accompanying a burst of flame that enveloped him and singed the air.
She watched Ares skid to a halt beside her, squinting with effort as he looked around at the men surrounding them. Raising his arms, he released a barrage of fireballs. He looked up at a hail of arrows, and his teeth were bared in a snarl as he sniped them out of the air with answering flames.
He was blindly intent on those attacking from the front, Xena realized, pushing herself to her feet and launching herself at a man trying to sneak up behind the wargod.
I've got your back.
Aphrodite peeked out of the fort when Gabrielle stormed up and delivered a fierce verbal attack on Ares for nearly hitting her with his fireballs, and Ares told her with a scoff that real warriors could have dodged easily.
Xena stopped Gabrielle from stabbing him with her sai, and Aphrodite flung her arms around her brother's neck with tears in her eyes.
"Owww," Ares howled. "Watch the arm!"
There was a muted flash from Aphrodite's hand, and she opened it to reveal a pebble that was more light than dark in its pattern. It rolled off her hand, and Xena caught it and peered at it.
"Courage," she said softly. She met Ares' eyes, and held it out to him. She didn't say you earned it.
She gestured at his arm when he took the stone. "Looks like that'll leave a scar."
"Really? He looked down at the shiny, still red patch. "My first one. Impressive, huh?"
Xena attempted to hide a smile. "Very."
He didn't say I know. Thanks.