Categories > TV > Xena: Warrior Princess

Force of Habit

by ukeueue 2 reviews

Xena's the Goddess of War. Always has been, always will be. So what happens when she wants a piece of Ares, Warrior Prince?

Category: Xena: Warrior Princess - Rating: R - Genres: Fantasy,Humor,Romance - Characters: Aphrodite,Ares,Joxer,Xena - Warnings: [V] [X] [?] - Published: 2006-08-03 - Updated: 2012-10-03 - 11274 words - Complete

Force of Habit

Disclaimer: I don't own any characters or backstory. There, are you happy you /corporate lugs/?? Yeah? Well you /suck! /Fanfic writers are better than you at spinning stories!
Sex/ language/ violence: yes/ yes/ am I not predictable? Big fat yes.
Rated: R
AN: This is just a fantasy of mine. I thought Goddess of War was really onto something there with the story /Warrior Prince/. It's a beautiful idea. There's such an amazing contrast between your reaction when Xena is being mean to Ares and when their situations are reversed. They do everything for the exact same reasons, but it feels so different.
This was supposed to by my version of what would happen. Unfortunately, I was utterly unable to portray Xena as the victim, so I sank into sarcasm. gets down on knees Please forgive me. If you don't get too caught up with the melodrama and cheesy imagery, it's pretty funny.

Xena nailed her throne with a sloppy kick. Cracks raced over the black marble finish before the entire thing collapsed into a pile of rubble.

She swore. "I liked that one."

She kicked a larger piece again, and it flew through the air, smashing a decorative urn.

"Well, aren't you destructo girl today?"

Oh, shit. She did not want to face her annoyingly perceptive sister today.

"Go away, Aphrodite."

"Sorry. No can do. Daddy wants to know what's wrong with his favourite daughter." A burst of pink bubbles, and jagged pieces of the throne jumped up and reassembled in the shape of the throne.

Maliciously, Xena blasted it into oblivion again.

Aphrodite gasped, "You /so /did not do that! Daddy's going to be so pissed! He gave you that for your five hundredth birthday!"

The raven-haired Goddess of War hissed softly between her teeth, "I know. Two years before his darling Athena cracked his skull open, and he forgot about the rest of us. Favourite daughter, my ass."

The Goddess of Love reached out and spun her taller sister around, a penetrating look in her cornflower eyes.

"What?" Xena's ice blue pools narrowed. People always found it strange that War and Love could be such good friends. Aphrodite was as blonde as Xena was dark. Aphrodite's soothing, cheerful sunny-ness was well loved on Olympus, but Xena's unpredictable violence and temper was to be avoided at all costs. They were perceived as light and dark, good and evil, yet still all gods and underlings had learned early on that to mess with Aphrodite was to suffer the wargoddess's terrible wrath.

They would never tell anyone, but the wargoddess had been spiralling down a path of sheer evil that would have resulted in nothing but destruction, and only Aphrodite saw how lonely she'd been. Braving Xena's fury, Aphrodite had tried to save her, and though they had slipped farther and farther down, it had been enough. She held on long enough for Xena to find him.

Granted, the pigheaded goddess was still stuck on thinking that he'd betrayed her and that she was angry with him, but Aphrodite thought she was making progress.

"What did he do this time?"

Xena jerked away. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh please, sis. I'm not that blonde. Look."

Aphrodite's curls were now as dark as Xena's. The wargoddess bit back a laugh.

"I think you need to talk," Aphrodite said decisively. "Hey, maybe I can be your mediator thing!"


"Are you going or not?"

Xena looked away in defeat, and her sister clapped her hands, giggling gleefully.

"Mom!" Ares called, swinging himself from atop his palomino. He rubbed Argo's nose soothingly, promising a good rub-down and fresh oats.

A short, slender woman stepped hurriedly from the inn, wiping her hands on a well-worn dishtowel. "Ares!" A brilliant smile lit her face, framed by dark auburn curls. "Welcome home!" She embraced him fiercely before turning to hug his best friend and travelling companion, Joxer.

Ares bit back a sigh, knowing that despite Joxer's inherent clumsiness, the two talkative friends would strike up some sort of immediate, engaging conversation and be entertained the entire time he would be taking care of Argo. Sometimes he was just the... least bit jealous. When he had to say something to piss someone off, or when he had to manipulate someone for some reason, he was quite adept. But when it came to casual conversation, he was in the middle of a labyrinth with no magical ball of twine.

He picked up the reins and led Argo around to the stables.
With quick, sure hands, he stripped the mare of her saddle and gear, setting to work with a soft bristled brush and cloth.
"Sulking in the corners again, Ares?"

A rush of some strange warmth filled his chest before he viciously clamped it down. It was probably just because he didn't really want to be alone at this time. "What do you want?" Yeah. That was probably it.

"Oh, I just wanted to congratulate you for destroying any future attempt at peace in Hermia."

He glanced sharply at her and blanched. "What are you /doing/?"

The goddess smirked and adjusted her ruffled skirt. "Thought I'd put up a bit of an effort, make a good impression on your mother. Do you like it?" She flipped her long hair to hang like a sheet of black over her shoulder.

"You are not meeting my mother." It was hard to sound threatening while her soft, parted lips looked so utterly enticing. Dark sapphire fire flickered in a brief flash of anger, and Ares couldn't help but let his tongue quickly wet his lips.

"Why not?"

"Because you're evil." He mentally slapped himself for the lame rebuttal.

A genuine smile flitted briefly over her lips. "You like evil," she drawled. "It turns you on."


"You going to stop me?" she challenged before picking up another brush to work on Argo's other flank.

Considering that she was the one who had taught him all about the proper care of a horse, particularly a warhorse, he wasn't surprised at her deft expertise. It was just that he'd never seen her do something so... mortal. No/, he corrected himself, /not mortal. Human.

She didn't seem to be holding a grudge, considering that last time she'd shown up, he stuck a sword into her.

Argo twisted her long neck to lip at Xena's clothes, recognizing the goddess as a regular source of sugar lumps.

A smug grin on her face, the goddess tilted her head to look at him. "What are you looking at?"

To his horror, Ares felt himself flush. He looked away and cursed steadily under his breath, ignoring her laugh.

Ares ducked his head when they entered the tavern to avoid Joxer's eyes, but his friend's wild gesticulations were visible from the corner of his eyes.

"What are you doing?" Cyrene glanced between the two before settling on Xena.

"Mom," Ares started, "this-"

Xena stepped smoothly in front of him and extended her arm, "My name is Xena."

Cyrene's hand rose reflexively before fluttering to her chest. "Xe-Xena?"

"Yeah," Ares said, uncomfortably aware of the sudden silence. "Goddess of War."


Xena's hand dipped. She was ready to cut her losses and leave when a small, warm hand folded into hers.

A tentative smile on her face, Cyrene said, "Cyrene. Welcome to my tavern, Goddess."

"'Xena' is fine."

Ares muffled a snort, recognizing the suave, oh-so-charming tone.


He gave his mother a guilty glance. "What?"

"Be polite to our guests."

"But she's not-"

Xena cut him off by dangling a pouch in his face and shaking it so that it jingled.

"Help Xena with her bags, Ares."

"But she doesn't-"

Two huge sacks landed on the ground in front of him with a thud. He shot her a black look, hefted one of the sacks, and swore loudly.


Grumbling, he headed toward the stairs.

His mother caught up with him when he'd reached the top. "You know," she said quietly, "I think I would have preferred Aphrodite or- or maybe Artemis."

"Excuse me?" Xena's outraged voice rose from the bottom of the staircase. "Artemis? With the prissy gold bikini?"

When Xena made her way silently down the stairs the next morning, before daybreak, Cyrene was already in the kitchen.

"Good morning."

The goddess froze. "Uh, morning." She stood by the steps, debating whether or not to give in to her curiosity. She gave. "How did you know I was here?"

Cyrene turned with a knowing smile. "You move just like my son." She gestured toward a long table laden with food. "Sit down and have breakfast."

"I don't need to-"

"You do now."

Xena raised her hands in mock surrender and took a seat.

Ares stopped at the foot of the stairs. She was back in her glossy black leathers, sword and scabbard belted to the back of her silver-studded tunic. He'd die before he admitted it, but he much preferred her leathers. Like this... Gods. She exuded sex. A bowl of apple cinnamon porridge was placed before her, and, as he watched, the tip of her tongue flicked out to lick a sweet drop from her wooden spoon.

Oh, gods. Callisto. Callisto killing Perdican, Joxer's poor wife. Callisto naked. Callisto fucking Joxer. Callisto fucking Xena. OH SHIT. You will go down!

Xena turned to look at him with a puzzled frown, and he slid into a seat in record time, careful to hide... his lower parts from her.

"What's wrong?"

"What? Nothing."

"I can hear you panicking from over here."

"It's /nothing/."

"/Fine/. See if I give a damn." Xena swallowed another spoonful of the mush. Mortals liked to eat really strange things.

Ares ate his bowl silently.

"So, what do you people do around here? Anyone you need me to hurt?"

Ares glowered over the table, "We don't do that around here. Some people aren't violent, spiteful bitches."


"No, it's quite alright, Cyrene," Xena leaned back in her chair, balancing expertly on the two back legs. "Do tell, /pet/, what do those people who aren't violent, spiteful bitches do these days?" A mocking smirk teased her lips.

With a low growl, Ares kicked under the table. He'd always had very good aim.

Her chair tipped over backward, and Xena crashed to the floor with a small grunt.

"Ares, apologize right now!"

Xena picked herself up and straightened the chair. "It's alright. I never get hurt or anything."


"Sorry," he mumbled, finishing his porridge and standing. "I'll be back in a bit, mom." He strode swiftly out the door. At least the boner had gone away on its own.

Xena popped a grape into her mouth, "Thanks for breakfast, Cyrene. It was delicious."

Cyrene nodded at the goddess as she followed the Warrior Prince out the door.

Outside, Ares unsheathed his blade, thankful that the square was still deserted. The pale pink dawn cast a soft glow on the buildings, but the shadows were still heavy.

Pivoting, he swung, and metal clashed loudly. His heart pounded, blood rushed through his ears, and he threw himself into the fight.

Xena nearly walked into Hera as she entered her Halls of War on Olympus.

"What were you doing?"


"You missed our appointment."

"We never do anything on our 'appointments' anyway. I was busy."
Hera gave her daughter a sharp look. "With that man. Ares, is it?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"How many times have I told you never to fall in lov-"

Xena would have gaped if she wasn't the Goddess of War. "You think I'm in love with /him/? Have you been smoking whatever Apollo's on?"

"You deny this?" The queen of the gods seated herself in her daughter's throne.

"Yes," Xena nearly snarled.

"Then why haven't you killed him?"

"What?" This wasn't good. Hera was throwing her off too much.

"He broke his oath and left your side. Tradition states that you kill him."


"You kill him to make way for a faithful follower."



Xena sputtered, "He's the best warrior I've ever seen! I can't just go and kill him for some personal vendetta!"

"You can't? No. You mean you won't."

"I can't. I swore to never hurt him. He's been loyal for so many years that I owe him that respect."

"You won't kill him."

"No. I don't care if he's sleeping with Athena. I won't kill him."

"Then I will."

"What?" The wargoddess was beginning to feel like she was set on repeat. "Why? This isn't any of your business."

Hera's cool gaze never wavered. "I am your mother. Everything I do is for your best interest." She shook her auburn head ruefully. "Xena, daughter, you are the future of this family. You will rule after your father. You cannot afford to be shackled down."

"You will not go anywhere near him!"

"Why? He's just a mortal. Why do you care?"

Xena was beyond exasperation. "Because I choose to do so. Because unlike you, he's useful to me."

"You will not take that tone with me, Xena," Hera was white with anger. "If you care about him, that is doubly reason to destroy him." She paused, and offered the furious girl an old, old smile, broken and dusty with disuse. "You're my daughter, Xena. Everything I do is so you can have the best, so you can have everything that I couldn't."

"Oh, so it's for the best? You're killing someone I'm rather fond of for my own fucking good?" Xena stood, a suspicious shimmer in her pale eyes, "If you hurt him, I will destroy you. I will hunt you and I will tear you to pieces. You know I can. You taught me."

Hera smiled tightly, "Then you'd better start now."

Xena sucked in a quick breath and vanished.

Ares turned from a table after setting down a couple of mugs of ale, only to see a brilliant green bolt of something heading straight toward him. Then there was a flurry of black, and Xena slammed into a table, splintering it. Green sparks raced over her skin, and her face contorted in discomfort.

Half a dozen creatures with tons of eyes suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and one tried to stab him with a long spear.

"What the fuck?" Ares ducked and rolled. "What did you do /this time/?"

He watched in shock as the goddess of war launched herself at the creatures, blue flame crackling about her. She was nothing but a shadow as she systematically struck down each monster. She fought like a demon, the only evidence of her blows was the way the things clutched at various body parts.

"Shit," Ares whispered as he saw her get knocked to the ground. Those things were strong. She twisted, her momentum actually causing her to fly up into the air, and kicked. There was a sickening ripping noise, and a creature's head tore off of its body, spraying green blood over the walls.

Taking a deep breath, Ares plunged into the fray, fighting dirty as he made his way to his goddess' side. She beheaded another one of the creatures, and Ares tackled her, a spear barely skimming her long black hair. She rolled away from him, snatching up the discarded weapon of one of the deader things and whipping it toward him. It sank into the creature that was trying to stick him, and it fell to the ground, hopefully dead. He stole its spear before it hit the ground, and battered at another monster. With her free hand, Xena flung a bolt of power at one, and it exploded in a shower of green gunk.

"Oh," she kicked a thrusting spear off course and it tore straight through one of the monster's neck, and manoeuvred until they were back to back. "Fun."

She caught a spear as it tried to skewer her, and sent a charge of pure energy down the shaft. The creature's hands, or whatever it was that they had that passed for hands, melted before it blew up.

There was one left. Out of the corner of her eye, Xena saw Ares's spear clatter to the ground. She grabbed his arm and managed to swing them around so that she was facing the thing and he was behind her. Its spear sank through her breastbone and into her chest. After the momentary shock, something white hot and terrible blazed through her body. Was this pain?

Ares caught her as she fell against him, her retrieved sword in his hand. His left arm around her, he /swung/.

It was a horrible excuse for a sword strike, but the sheer strength behind it removed the thing's head, green slime spraying the two warriors.

Ares sank to the ground, swearing steadily. "Xena. Hey. Gods, don't do this. Xena!"

"Shut up!" The goddess snarled, gasping at the sensation. "Get it out!"


"The godsdamned spear, you asshole, get it out!"

He studied it for a fraction of a moment. There was no other way. He grasped the shaft in one hand, wrapped the other around her shoulders, and yanked.

She cried out softly, her hand over her mouth. There was no blood, but he could see fragmented bone in the gaping wound.

Cyrene followed them as he carried her to her room.

"What were those?"

"Hera's hundred-eyed guard dogs."

"What do they want?"

Xena gave him an incredulous look. "What do you think they want? You've just made Hera's hit list."

He set her down on the bed and straightened.

"Don't go!" the goddess suddenly grabbed his wrist. When he looked at her questioningly, she shook her head. "I can't protect you if I can't see you."

"Right." He suddenly studied her wound. "Are you bleeding?"

Xena looked down. Tiny drops of red were welling up, as if the wound was weeping. It was getting faster.

She cursed heatedly. "Where's my sword?"

"Uh. Downstairs?"

"Get it. Please. I'm mortal without it."

Cyrene gasped sharply and ran from the room.

She quickly returned, and Xena slid the sword into its scabbard. There was a faint blue glow, and both weapon and sheath faded away into nothing. At Cyrene's bewildered gaze, Xena explained that she'd put it away. The drops of red seemed to evaporate into nothing, and bone and flesh shifted in the wound, knitting itself together. In no time, her skin was smooth and unblemished.

"Are you going to be alright?"

The goddess smirked. "Why, sweetheart, you almost seem to care."

Ares bit his lip and muttered, "Shut up."

The door closed softly behind Cyrene.

Ares closed his eyes and let his breath hiss through his teeth. He should go.

She didn't react when the bed shifted under his weight. His breathing was steady and soothing by her ear. She twisted to look at him. His chocolate eyes met hers, so warm. No matter what happened to him, his eyes never changed, not even when she'd switched his body with that of his nemesis, Caesar. His touch, his gaze, so warm and passionate. Everything about him suggested passion, from the sharp angles of his cheekbones to the lush fullness of his lips. Even facing the power-crazed wannabe empress of Rome, Callisto, he never lost that depth of passion. There was something else in those brown eyes now, though. Something she'd never seen displayed before her.

"You're afraid, aren't you?"

Ares blinked, "What?"

"You're afraid of this. Of finding out that I can be hurt and die. I'm your constant. No matter what happens around you, I will come back again and again to try to convince you to come back to me. Now you find out that that's not certain, that I am not forever, and that frightens you. It's like having to face loss for the first time all over again."

He shook his head, his eyes tightly shut. "No."

"You used to be a much better liar."

"Stop it."

Xena sighed softly, breathing in the warm masculinity of his scent. "I hope you outlive me."

Something in his chest began to hurt.

He woke late that night with an empty feeling. Xena was gone.

He got up off of the bed reluctantly, and was suddenly struck with the knowledge that something was missing. He looked back at the rumpled sheets. Warmth. That was missing. Warm sheets.

Warm sheets scented with cool, sweet water and the hint of earth and blood.

Her scent.

He headed toward the door, wondering if he'd find her downstairs.
A familiar blue blaze threw stark shadows upon the floorboards.
"Where do you think you're going?"

Ares swung around, an unbidden smile touching his lips before he caught himself.

She reached up, pulling something over his head and tucking it into his leather vest. He caught a glimpse of the pendant as it glittered in the weak moonlight. Two snakes, intertwined.

"Promise me you won't take it off until this is over."

"I promise."

"Promise me."

"I promise. I promise. I promise. I say it once, I say it twice, I say it thrice, and that makes it true."

The childhood adage had been a favourite of Ares and Lyceus. He'd always used it whenever he wanted to really convince his mentor that something was true.

She loosely tucked him into the bed again, and as he watched, confused, she took a seat at the foot of the bed.

"Aren't you going to sleep?"

She blinked, genuine surprise flitting across her face. "Sleep?" she repeated. "I don't understand."

"You know? When people lie down and rest so that their bodies can replenish their strength?"

"I know what sleeping is," she grunted.

Ares carefully kept a straight face, struck by the absurdity of the situation. "That's nice; ever tried it?"


He fell into an awkward silence, and she eyed him unabashedly.

"What are you looking at?" he muttered.

She leaned toward him, long, lean muscles on her bare arm shifting, and her eyes drifted half shut. "I was about to ask you the same thing."

To his horror, Ares's ears began burning. The small hairs on his neck felt as if they'd shrivelled and curled up on themselves under the brush of her warm breath. He shivered and swallowed in an attempt to clear his ears of the roar of rushing blood. "I-uh," he tried, eyes drifting rebelliously to her parted lips.

"Hmm?" she hummed, and he felt his pulse vibrate in resonance.

He averted his eyes. "Did you want anything else?" he said, his voice cool and monotone.

He saw her scowl in the corner of his eye, and she slid into the aether with a muttered profanity.

The Halls of War materialized around Xena.

The little bastard. He'd obviously wanted her. Unbidden, the sensation of hot skin sliding against hers hit her so strongly that she couldn't suppress the shiver that slid down her spine.

A nearly perfect warrior and a spectacular lay. So why the fuck couldn't she have him?

A halo of golden curls entered her field of view, framing Aphrodite's sweet smile. "Poor sis. You want me to go talk to him?"

Xena snarled, flopping down onto her enormous bed and burying her face in the heavy silk sheets.

A light hand on her hip made her roll onto her back, and Aphrodite deftly undid the hooks on her leather pants. Sliding the supple material down, Aphrodite placed a light kiss on Xena's flat belly, and her warm tongue dragged over an angular hipbone.

Xena pushed her sister off and quickly refastened her pants. "Thanks, Aphrodite, but not now."

Aphrodite's smile held far too much understanding for Xena's liking. "The warrior babe doesn't know what he's missing," she declared before blowing a kiss and vanishing in a shower of glitter.

Xena looked down at the floor irritably, eyeing the golden specks embedded in the black throw rug. Those were never going to come out.

It wasn't anywhere near dawn when Ares rolled out of bed, snatching up his sword. Hurtling out of the window, he hit the ground running before he skidded to a halt.

"Oh. Shit."

Spears, banners and armoured forms brimmed along the rolling hills surrounding Amphipolis.

In no way could so many troops have appeared so quickly without godly intervention. Ares did a quick mental count. There were too many. The village would be flattened, unless...


The Goddess of War appeared, eyes hooded and hostile. "Do I hear someone call my name? Oh, I wonder who it could be? Tell me, my Chosen one, did you hear someone call my name?"

"Cut the crap."

Her faint smile vaporized. "I wouldn't take that tone, man. I'm not the one who called for your help." Xena tugged stiffly at her tunic and crossed sleekly muscled arms under her breasts. "What do you want now?"

Ares swore under his breath, eyeing the infuriating goddess. "You can see the army as well as I can. Joxer's not much help in the physical combat department."


Ares glared, knowing that she was pretending incomprehension. "So I need to get rid of the army before it destroys my village."
"What does that have to do with me?"

"You're the godsdamned god of war. Do something."


Ares's dark eye twitched as all that was familiar slid out of his grasp. "What?" She usually jumped at the chance to have him owe her a favour.

"I can't. Those are Hera's followers. If I mess with them, Zeus will murder me."

"Xena, my family..."

Xena turned her gaze to the banners. "Cyrene's a nice lady," she muttered softly.

Ares could tell that she was wavering. "Please."

The wargoddess shifted uncomfortably. "I can't interfere personally," she maintained, "the best I can offer is my army, and even then, I'm going to get shit from my parents."

Ares's dark eyes blazed. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Me, leading your army again after all these seasons."

A condescending smirk took up residence on Xena's face. "Recall that you /asked /me for help, dear. Now, I could just as easily retract my offer. To be honest, I was planning on giving Zeus a wide berth, considering that I just took that protective amulet you're wearing from his private and very well guarded rooms."

Ares glanced down at the leather strap visible above the neck of his tunic. He took hold of it and began pulling the pendant from under his shirt. "Fine, I'll give it back, then-"

Xena's hand was suddenly encasing his wrist in an implacable hold. "You promised."

Meeting her ice-like gaze, Ares found himself obediently letting the amulet drop. She moved away, and he was furious that he had blindly followed her orders. When he could think again, that is.


Ares stared at his goddess' tall, arrogant, scabbard-covered back resentfully. "Fine."

"What do you say?"

He seethed at the bitch's tone. "Thank you-"

He stepped right up to her and pushed his belt dagger right through her chest. "-my dear Lord."

Xena grinned. "Temper, my Prince," she admonished mock-severely, and faded from view.

Ares suppressed an irritated growl. True to her word, Xena had delivered the army. They were gifted warriors, remarkable well-trained, and intensely loyal. And each man to whom Ares had spoken had a story to tell about the Goddess of War. No matter how the story started, it always came down to her prowess in bed. She was a jungle cat, according to some, and a sultry demoness, according to others. Ares' head spun. He was not jealous.

Strong hands touched his shoulders and massaged the tension from them.

Ares shrugged the hands off, something that suspiciously resembled a pout on his lips. "Shouldn't you be charming the pants off all your warriors out there?"

"Do I detect jealousy, my dear?"

"I'm sure that's what your overblown ego would love to believe."

Xena came around to face him, giving him an infuriatingly indulgent smile. "So why did you ask?"

He stared at her. Her impossibly blue eyes reflected gold firelight and glittered with merriment, but the glow could never hide the wild hint of blood, of clashing swords, of victory and glory. It drew him in like a moth, igniting his blood so that it swept through his veins, bringing the euphoria that only war could provide. The intense heat pooled in his face, his skin... his groin.

"Ah... There it is. How I've missed the darkness inside you."

"Sex is not darkness."

"My dear boy, for us, sex is always darkness. It's a battle. It's living, it's fighting, and it's dying." She cocked her head. "The way you want me is darkness."

Ares sneered. "I wouldn't want you if you were the last woman on the planet."

"Really? And I suppose that's just your body stiffening hatefully at my proximity?" Her gaze fell pointedly.

Dammit! He'd hoped that she wouldn't notice. He turned his back and adjusted himself to a more comfortable position, and she laughed. The bitch actually laughed.

"Modesty doesn't become you, Ares."

"Fuck off, Xena."

"Thought you'd never ask."

Her arms slid around his waist, one hand slipping into his vest, and one reaching for his belt.

He spun around, landing a solid backhand to her jaw. "I meant it, Xena. If you're looking for a whore, I'm sure the entire population within ten kilometres would be more than happy to service you."

She stepped quickly into the aether, but not before Ares caught the hurt in her eyes. Staring at the empty space in which she had stood, he dismissed it as his imagination.

"Ares, we've pretty much blocked all access to Amphipolis. I've got a few squadrons digging spike traps, and the scouts that returned reported that Hera's army is planning an all-out assault on us, not the village." Joxer paused, a glint of admiration in his eyes. "You were right. How did you know that they wouldn't go after the village?"

Ares yawned widely. "Hera may not be a warrior, but she's not stupid. She knows that we're watching her. She made the initial mistake of moving her entire army into one area, and if she moves to spread out, she knows that we could move quickly enough to flank her. No, a frontal assault was the only answer." He squeezed Joxer's shoulder. "You've done a lot for me; thank you. How about you get some rest now? Tomorrow will be a long day."

Joxer's normally-cheerful face was arranged in an adult expression that Ares rarely saw. He bit the inside of his lip, and asked, "Are you going to be alright? You know how you get around-"

"I can handle Xena," Ares interrupted.

"Oh, I know that. It's just that-"

"Joxer." What did Joxer know of the trouble Ares had when dealing with Xena? Ares thought back to the times that Joxer had confronted the Goddess of War. He had it, Ares realized with a jolt. That look. Ares found himself looking at Joxer a bit differently. The battered pot-metal armour hid most of him, but Joxer wasn't quite so young anymore. Ares made a mental note to invest in some new clothing for Joxer. "Thanks," he said, "I'll be careful."

Ares waited until Joxer had exited the tent before giving his chair at the rickety, map-strewn table a dirty look. "What do you want?"

Xena appeared, sans her usual flashy entrance. "You always know when I'm here." She studied him with unconcealed interest. "I wonder how that is. Perhaps I have a certain... presence."

"You say presence, I say stink."

She laughed. "So the oaf is warning you against me. How fitting. Are you worried that I'm going to sink my claws into you?"

"Leave Joxer alone, Xena. He's been through much more than you will ever understand."

"Wouldn't dream of it. He doesn't interest me."

She was standing just behind him now, and very faint hints of her scent drifted around him. She smelled like the earth below his feet, like the taste of water, but also like blood.

"You were at a battle."

Ares got a toothy grin in return. "Yes I was, and it was glorious. A warrior took a fatal wound to the chest. His blood was trickling down beneath his armour, and he screamed my name. He screamed as he ripped through half a dozen of the enemy, his own blood bubbling in his throat, all before he died..."

He watched her mouth as she continued speaking: her dark mouth, full and inviting, flushed with the blood pounding through her veins. She spoke of men, of throwing oneself into a fight, no thoughts, no inhibitions, only action; she spoke, and battlelust rose within him. A haze settled about his vision, and energy coursed through his body. He watched her mouth until he could bear it no more, and he tugged her closer and covered her mouth with his own.

It was almost as if she had been expecting his actions. She responded immediately. Her mouth pressed hard against his own, and her tongue coaxed his lips apart with a few quick sweeps, and masterfully curled along the underside of his mouth, sending jolts of desire through his entire body. She inched him backward, and his knees were threatening to give way when she leaned into him, sending him tumbling down onto his thick blankets. She was straddling his leg, one thigh pressing firmly against his crotch. Her hands, oh her hands were everywhere, sliding into his vest and over his leathers. Ares reached for her, his movements feverish with excitement. He pulled her closer to him, and he froze when the cold metal of her belt-dagger dug into his side.

She seemed to sense his sudden misgivings because their clothing disintegrated from their bodies, and he gasped at the feeling of hot skin.

No matter what she had originally thought, Xena certainly hadn't been expecting this. She shifted so that she could slip her hand in between their bodies, and she traced a line over Ares' inner thigh and across the smooth skin between his legs through the soft curls covering him. His mouth opened slightly, his eyes drifted shut, and Xena felt something indescribable pour into her chest, making it ache with fullness. She watched him reach for her, but then he stopped again.

Ares studied Xena with what was left of his control. "You sicken me," he said, and he rolled her over onto her back. There was no mistaking the pain in her eyes this time, and he almost apologized. He pressed his mouth to her jaw and trailed tiny nips and licks down to her collarbone. There was a strange sense of gratification in knowing that she could be hurt. He propped himself up on his elbow, and his other hand stroked down her shoulder and her arm to entangle his fingers with hers. She could be hurt like him.

Ares lay with his back to Xena, her arm draped over his waist. He could feel her, every inch of her body against him, and he could feel the terrifying power that permeated her being licking at him like unseen flames. He felt this, but it seemed faraway... dampened. His stony face never twitched for fear that he would lose control and cry.

Xena softly kissed his nape and shoulder, tasting his sweat in her mouth, and she said, "You'll be good. You're still good."

Ares didn't move for so long that she thought that maybe he hadn't heard her. Then he twisted and hesitantly took her into his arms. "You're good, too."

He couldn't see her, but he felt her lashes and her smile against his chest. And he didn't feel so dirty anymore.

Xena stood on a tall hill, her favourite vantage point for observing a good fight. Her arms crossed under her breasts, and she watched, pleased by the skill displayed by her hand-picked army. Her eyes drifted again, to her chagrin, to a dark-haired figure on a cream warhorse. Her plans of slow, intricate seduction were dashed to pieces, but even though the man was no longer unwilling to let her slip into his bed, she was nowhere closer to her ultimate goal, bringing him back to her service, her interests. Strange how she rarely thought of her ultimate goal anymore.
He was magnificent, his sword, his blows dealing death and destruction to any enemy in his path. Nonetheless, he stayed close to his friend, who was wielding a long stave with surprisingly impressive skill. Admittedly, his unwieldy armour hampered his movements greatly, but he was clearly holding his own. An enemy warrior swung at him, and the large plates covering Joxer's front and back crashed to the ground with a clang audible even to Xena. The man seemed taken aback, but promptly flung the plates at the warrior, knocking him down and out of the battle. Joxer moved with considerably more ease afterwards.

Ares caught her eye and worked his way to her side, leaving a swath of pain in his wake.

"Enjoying yourself?" he asked, breathing deeply.

"Very much." She pointed out across the field. "I like the way you flanked them, but you've left a hole in your line along the eastern side there."

A scowl on his face, Ares studied the area the goddess had pointed out. Turning, he made some quick gestures to a man standing on a nearby hill with a large red flag. The man waved the flag, and a shift like sifting sand poured soldiers into the indicated gap.

Xena smiled, "I'm impressed." Both watched the progressing battle intently. "Don't you usually command from the front?"

Ares shrugged. "No point now. They'll break anytime."

True to his word, the handful of deserters increased to a trickle and then a flood as shouts of "Retreat!" rang through the valley.

A soldier rushed to report, unnecessarily, that the enemy was running. Ares joined the army amid shouts and cheers for a battle well-fought. His praise was received eagerly before he addressed the men. "Reset the traps and rest!" Xena heard. "They'll be back."

The wait was interminable. Ares longed for a good fight, a brawl, anything to take his mind off Hera's army, which had been sitting just across the next rise for the past moon-but no, don't expect a brawl from the almighty godsdamned Xena's chosen army. They're too bloody disciplined; they don't even drink. "Dulls the senses," they quote Xena. Every so often, a foolhardy plan to attack the enemy camp rises in Ares's mind, and every time, he crushes it ruthlessly. They're too well-situated. They'll see anything a mile coming. He watched Joxer down in the main camp, dicing with the soldiers. Xena's soldiers. He found his mind wandering back to hands, lethal hands, soft hands, and blue, blue eyes. She aroused him. She aggravated him... She confused him. He thought too much. He was used to waking up with her, now, seeing her eyes study him with an intensity that terrified him. She usually watched him through the night, but sometimes, in brief, sparse moments he horded like treasure, he would wake to find her in his arms with her eyes closed, and her beautiful face soft and serene until she woke. She did sleep. She'd laugh at him and tell him, teasingly, that he tired her out the night before. Strangely, it was the small things that haunted him. A look, a quick touch to his arm... he was thinking too much again.

"Why is it that every time I come find you, you're off in a corner brooding?"

Ares stifled a laugh. "I don't brood."

"Brooding is all you've been doing since you started this atonement kick." Xena sat down beside him. "So tell me. Are you really having more fun these days?"

"I'm fighting for a better world."

Xena laughed. It was cut short when she caught sight of Ares's cold, closed face.

"You don't know /anything/," Ares hissed. "You don't know what it's like for me. Don't you dare laugh at me."

"I know."

Ares turned away from her. In the camp, Joxer threw. Moments later, his hands shot up into the air: the classic pose of the victorious. His infectious smile seemed to charm all he'd ever met, and even notoriously sore losers regarded him with easy, unguarded laughs and firm pats on the back that looked about to knock Joxer over.

"I apologize."

Ares fixed the goddess with an incredulous stare. "I must be getting hard of hearing in my old age. What did you just say?" He found his tone teasing despite attempts to present a flat and bland face.

Xena all but sniffed, "Rub it in my face, why don't you." She looked at him, her eyes sharper than any dagger. "Tell me."


"What it's like for you. Tell me that."

That was the last thing he needed, a goddess trying to be a human. Slumming, they called it. Bitch.

Ares watched Joxer for a while longer. Then, Xena stood up and stretched out a hand to him. "Come with me. I want to show you something."

Ares took her hand and let her pull him to his feet. The roaring sound of air rushing into his ears accompanied by a blinding flash caught him by surprise, as did the sudden absence of solid ground centimetres before his feet. When he stumbled, Xena wrapped an arm around his waist and held him steady while he took in the new scenery. She had transported them to the very edge of a cliff far far up in the sky. A thick, seemingly tangible layer of cloud spread itself a long way down from where he stood. Ares had never been afraid of heights. Unfortunately, the cliff couldn't be described as high. It was too high for that.

"Don't look down." Xena sounded far too amused.

Ares aimed a glare at her. "Where else am I supposed to look?" His stomach-churning vertigo ceased. He left her arm where it was.

"Look up."

Reflexively, Ares glanced up, and his breath caught in his throat. Bands and swirls of white covered the sky. He squinted carefully, and the bands separated into white grains. Stars. Pinpricks in the fabric of the sky, letting in the brilliant light of outside.

"Don't worry," Xena said softly, her breath tickling his ear a bit, "I'm maintaining a bubble of air dense enough for you to breathe. Look."

The patterns in the sky shifted and turned, blurs of white and blue and red. In the distance, a huge star, impossibly brighter than the rest, appeared, moved, and faded to nothing.

"What are you doing?" Ares asked.

"This is Zeus' observatory. I'm moving us through time, just a week or so in a heartbeat."

"Are you allowed in here?"

She shrugged. "He's never stopped me. I used to spend a lot of time here. I like making them move. It reminds me of the little glowing bugs on earth."

"Used to?"

"When I was little. I didn't have much to do, and my parents wouldn't let me leave Olympus."

Ares shook away the mental image of a young Xena. She must have been adorable, his traitorous thoughts put in. "I used to catch fireflies because they reminded me of stars," he said softly.

"When I was older, I caught fireflies and damselflies and cockroaches, anything I could find. I kept them in jars. The damselflies wilted before the day was over. I think I liked the cockroaches the most. They'd live for weeks because they'd eat the cockroaches that died. I'd end up with lots of cockroach pieces at the bottom of the jar. Legs and feelers and stuff."

Ares stared at her. "You are so /weird/."

She laughed, and the sensation of moving without moving returned. When Ares's surroundings coalesced once more, shock once again caused him to stagger. The room was decorated almost exactly like the Halls of War, with weaponry mounted on the walls and stark, black, and slightly sinister furniture slashed in silver and red. Xena believed in ambience. None of this surprised Ares. What did surprise Ares was the ragged brown stuffed bear sitting at the head of the huge bed, covered in standard issue black satin sheets. The bear wore a pink cap set at a jaunty angle, with one button eye nearly falling off of its stitches, and a threadbare red jacket.

Xena snatched up the offending object and held it behind her back. Her face was a curious shade of pink, Ares noticed, unable to suppress the smile on his lips.

"Dad gave it to me when I was really little." She glared at him, willing him to contradict. When he didn't answer, she reddened further. "What? It was nice to touch and hold while I slept. I was really little. Shut up."

Never had he seen her so flustered. It was almost flattering. He touched the bed. Under the shiny sheet was a layer of soft linen, and a furry rug to lie upon. Xena broke in, sounding almost defensive. "The satin shit looks fine, but it's really uncomfortable."

Ares turned to face her. "Am I nice to touch and hold?"

"Oh, stuff it," Xena said, stepping forward to press him back onto the bed.

He accepted her kiss eagerly. Fool, fool, he berated himself. You let yourself be charmed by her touch and her childhood stories, and you forget who she is. Enemy. My enemy. His hands were busy peeling off his enemy's leathers. Every time he touched her, it was easier to forget that she was the enemy. Her mouth kissed its way down his abdomen while her hands worked at his pants, and he let out a low moan.

She was half-draped across his chest, her thigh caught between his legs. Cat, he thought. Retractable claws. Her blue eyes opened, and she watched him coolly. A big cat, he amended. A big, lethal cat.

His fingers traced her hip, her waist, the contour of her breast. "You've never shown me this room, before."

She slit her eyes lazily, looking at him through a fringe of black lashes. "I didn't feel like it. It's private. Only close family have ever been in here." She shrugged. "It's mine."

"What's different about now?"

"Feels right."


"I like you." Xena rolled onto her back, taking a good portion of the sheets with her. She touched his shoulder, hesitation evident in her gaze. "Ares, I-"

This is idiotic, Xena thought. You're getting a good fuck out of it. Don't ruin it.



Ares raised his brow sceptically.

I'm a goddess, dammit, not a wimp. "I love you." The bottom dropped out of Xena's stomach and she wished feverishly for something to kill.

Ares blinked once, slowly, before shooting out of the bed. He watched her warily, as one would a viper.

Xena sat up.

"Games," the warrior snarled, "That's all you do. You and your godsbedamned games." She was silent, but he could see the blazing flames in her eyes. What right had she to be angry? "After all the shit you put me through, I've got to say that this is a winner. I should bow. You almost had me there." His voice was quiet, sarcastic. He dug for things to say, things that would hurt her. He wished he could think straight.

"Fuck you," she said softly, and vanished.

Realizing that he had been staring at an empty bed for a good while, Ares scrambled for his clothes. They were the only garments present. It was as if she had never been there. The sheets were made, but the bear wasn't there. Stranded on Olympus, Ares thought. Joxer would love it. He stalked out of the door.

The corridors were practically endless. Ares opened all the doors he came across, but they were all empty rooms. Some belonged to Xena. Others were tastefully decorated in marbles and beautiful furniture; somehow, they worsened Ares's mood. Coming to the end of a long row of rooms, Ares yanked open the big door. Inside were a huge bedroom, and a man. A god. A god who was staring at Ares with a mildly surprised look on his face.

Zeus regarded Ares, openly scrutinizing the warrior. He didn't look like the commanding, rock-fisted, virile tyrant that the stories had made him out to be. His blue eyes were identical to Xena's, cutting and vaguely ethereal, but there were thin lines in the sides of his mouth, at the corners of his eyes. His cheeks were wide and shaped so that he had a small but permanent frown, and his hair was all but pure white. He looked... tired.

"So you're Xena's boy," Zeus began conversationally.

Ares bristled. King of the gods or no, Zeus wasn't going to treat him like dirt. "I'm hardly a boy, and no matter how young you think I am, I will never be described as 'Xena's'."

Something resembling laughter danced in Zeus' eyes. "The boy has backbone. That's good. My daughter has had precious little discipline in her life; you might just be the man to give it to her." Zeus' voice boomed jovially, as if he had revealed the funniest joke that Ares had ever had the privilege to hear.

Ares managed a questioning little noise in the back of his throat while his eyes widened in astonishment.

"She's going to need someone who isn't afraid to turn her on his knee and give her a good spanking when she misbehaves."

Ares's eyes widened even more. "You can't-you can't treat a woman like that..."

"Woman?" Zeus gestured dismissively. "What woman? We're talking about my little girl." Ares didn't appear convinced, so the god continued, "I'm not saying you shouldn't respect her. Sometimes, though, you just have to take charge. Xena doesn't recognize any authority that isn't bigger and stronger than she. She's my daughter: an arrogant bitch of a goddess. She's very much like me. If you let her trample all over you, she'll be miserable, and she'll wander off." Seeing Ares' expression, Zeus softened his tone. "She's been happier these past few years she's known you than I have ever seen her since she first assumed the position and responsibilities of War." He paused, and Ares was certain that he felt the temperature drop. "Of course, my tolerance only applies to a certain extent," Zeus said softly.

Truly terrified for perhaps the first time in his life, Ares watched Xena's father as he flashed a brilliant smile and vanished from where he sat.

Ares muttered, "Wonder if I'll be like that when I have a child."

After a harrowing experience at the mercy of a helpful goddess of love, Ares found himself back in his tent. He pulled off his boots and settled onto his bedroll, feeling strange. He lay back and stared up at the heavy fabric above him. A branch scratched against it, a dark silhouette shifting in the wind. He thought about the stars in their bands and clusters. His tent seemed empty, he realized. Maybe he could ask Joxer to keep him company.

He rolled onto his side and hugged his blankets tightly. He didn't really want to see Joxer. His bed smelled like her.

He finally let the thought he had been suppressing escape. She wasn't going to come.

Ares slept fitfully that night, and when Joxer arrived to wake his friend, he found Ares, fully dressed, sitting at his table.

"Ares." Joxer smiled and set down his helmet, which was filled with turnips of all things. "When you disappeared yesterday, Hera's army tried to take us by surprise. Hah. Poor bastards; we routed them good. Some of them were running like blind bats, their arms covering their heads fearfully. I got one on the arse so hard with my staf... are you alright?"

Ares attempted a grin. "That's great, Joxer. Did you chase them?"

"Well, no, 'cause you weren't here, so I thought we should wait. Are you sure you're alright?"

"What makes you think otherwise?"

Joxer's expression was set and determined. "Oh, come off it. We've been travelling together for, what, three years now, and you still think I don't know you like the back of my neck?"

"How well do you know the back of your neck?" Ares asked, bemused.

"Neck-hand-you know what I mean. Don't change the subject. This has something to do with Xena, doesn't it? She dragged you off somewhere yesterday and did something to you. By the gods, when I get my hands on her, I'll make her pay threefold for whatever it was she did!"

"She told me she loved me."

Joxer's rant stopped short. "Oh." He picked up a turnip, wiped it on his shirt, and took a bite. Chewing thoughtfully, he stared at Ares. "Er... and?"

"And what?"

"And what's the problem?"

Ares leapt up and began pacing in the narrow confines of the full tent. "What do you mean what's the problem? She's Xena! She's a god. People like her don't fall in love. I-" Ares frowned. "I don't know."

"You don't know if she's telling the truth?"

"I want to believe-I mean, it would be-I don't know."

Joxer said softly, "It's okay to be afraid."

Ares spread his hands helplessly. "Being afraid doesn't help me. It's hard. It's so hard to believe in someone and then find out that she's been lying the whole time. That's Xena. She's a manipulative bitch. She never tells the whole truth if she can avoid it. It's simply... what she does, who she is. She is War. Do you know what it's like to put everything on the line, jump off a cliff without knowing if there's a haystack at the bottom?"

"Yes." Joxer shrugged. "It's called trust. Either you have it, or you don't. Did you tell her about this?"

Ares suddenly looked sheepish. "I, uh, actually, I yelled at her."

Joxer's lips compressed, as if he was holding back a smile. "You? Mr. Control? Nah." Ares felt an urge to stick his tongue out. All tension seemed to have drained from his body. Then Joxer continued. "Oh, crap. I forgot to tell you. Xena's addressing the army right now."

Ares blinked. He prodded Joxer's thick skull with a stiff finger before heading out of the tent, followed first by Joxer's indignant "Hey!" and then by Joxer himself, with his helmet-ful of turnips.

"...champion arrived." Ares heard. "Najara is a certified psycho. She's a skilled warrior, one of the best I've trained, but as a commander, she is flighty, and therefore, unpredictable. I'll expect you to back up Ares while he goes after Najara." Xena's eyes bored into him. "Take her out. I don't care how. Capture her, maim her, or-preferably-kill her. Once you have her, Hera's army will fold like a cheap sword. Is that understood?"

"Yessir!" nearly three hundred warriors barked out.

"Dismissed." She stepped off of the raised platform. "Ares, come here." When he was close enough, she dropped her voice. "Najara is weak against low attacks and those from her right side. She's fast and agile, so I don't want you to chase her. Let her come to you."

Ares nodded and waited, but she didn't say anything further. He sighed. "Train with me?"

They'd barely spoken since. Ares had complained to Joxer about Xena's close-mouthed behaviour, but to Ares's bewilderment, Joxer didn't take his side. "You know," he'd said, "she really set herself up for rejection. She's probably more scared than you are." He'd found her sitting by the river once, glaring at a wandering sheep. The sheep hadn't seemed too intimidated. When he had been still far too far away for her to possibly hear, Xena glanced in his direction and tossed something in her hands into the river before stalking away. Curiously, Ares peered downstream. A dozen or so shredded purple orchids had floated out of sight while he watched.

The attack came nearly a fortnight after Najara's arrival. As Hera's soldiers poured into the valley, a chilling cry lifted the hairs on the back of Ares's neck. He located its source, a small blonde woman swathed in grey and green cloths, waving a huge sword. Ares released his chakram, knocking down the entire front line of enemy soldiers as the spinning disc ricocheted from man to man. The blonde woman ducked, avoiding the chakram easily, and when Ares caught the weapon, she gave him a venomous grin and hissed loudly.

"Well," Ares said dryly, "I guess that's Najara."

He spurred Argo forward, heading straight for the rushing woman in a horseback game of chicken. At the last possible moment, Ares swerved to the side, gifting Najara with a deep cut on her arm. He flung his chakram, pressing his advantage, but to his consternation, Najara blocked it with her sword, knocking it away to embed itself in a nearby foot soldier. On the back pass, Najara screamed her warcry and launched herself onto Argo behind Ares.

The noise was deafening. Najara had her arm around his throat in a chokehold, warriors were screaming all around, and black spots began swimming in Ares's vision. She'd knocked his sword to the ground, and Ares set about searching for another weapon. Pulling at her arms, he found a thin dagger in her gauntlet. He pulled it out, only to have Najara pluck it from his hand.

"Ah ah ah," she taunted, waving the blade before his eyes. "Too late for you."

Ares didn't waste his breath. He jerked his knee up, catching her hand and knocking the dagger skyward. He dug his elbow into her side, grasped the dagger, and stabbed it up through her ribs in one fluid motion. He heard her breath catch at his ear, and then she laughed, hoarsely, before tumbling to the ground.

Some nearby soldiers took one look at Najara's crumpled form and ran. Soon, the rest were following.

As the army cheered around him, Ares half-smiled uneasily. Something wasn't quite right.

Not far away, Joxer surveyed the scene and muttered, "That was too easy..."

On cue, a blister of green light heralded the appearance of Hera, who stalked toward Ares with black murder written across her face. She glared at Ares, and he tumbled from Argo's back as if an unseen force had shoved him.

"Ares!" Joxer yelled and rushed to help his friend. He hadn't taken three steps before a vice-like grip on his collar stopped him cold. Twisting in his captor's grasp, Joxer froze, shocked. "Xena!" Then his eyes narrowed. "Why aren't you helping him? If you care so much, why are you just standing here while your mother kills the man you love?" he spat.

Xena merely turned an expressionless face to him, and her cold eyes shrivelled Joxer up inside with dread.

He watched helplessly as Hera raised her hand, green fire hovering on her palm, and with a sound that could only be described as a cackle, prepared to disintegrate his best friend.

"Do something!" Joxer pleaded. "Don't let her kill him!"

The laboured breathing of the mortals present echoed throughout the battlefield. The Goddess of War kept her gaze on the tableau before her, and she didn't move. She saw Ares turn his head slightly, and nearly winced as their eyes met. He stared at her mutely, not asking anything, but Xena could see the terror he felt... and the betrayal.

Ares could read nothing in her eyes. Was she angry with him for their fight? Had she gotten fed up with his disrespectful behaviour? Had she simply stopped caring? The sting in his chest brought the burning sensation of tears in the corners of his eyes, and when Hera flung her hand forward, shooting a crackling spear of power toward his head, regret filled his head.

"No!" Joxer screamed, but was quickly drowned out in a deafening clash of thunder.

A deep, authoritative voice resonated through the air, but not before a dark blur knocked Ares out of the way of the bolt, which travelled on to hit the muddy ground and created a large crater that quickly filled with water. "Wife mine, dare you disobey the decrees set upon our race since the days of the Titans?" the voice boomed.

Joxer spun around, but Xena had disappeared.

Ares opened his eyes warily, inspecting himself to make sure that he still possessed all limbs and appendages. He found himself lying on the ground still, but he could feel something warm and soft underneath him, pressed to his back. "Get off me!" the warm and soft object hissed. Ares rolled to his feet and discovered that he had been lying on Xena, who was covered in dirt.

"You look like a gopher that's just had to dig out of a collapsed tunnel," he informed her.

As expected, she glared at him and straightened her tunic stiffly. "I'm the Goddess of War. My appearance is always impeccable." She spat some sand to the ground. "Except maybe for now," she admitted.

Ares didn't know if he would laugh or cry if he cracked now.

Hera watched uneasily as Zeus materialized before her.

He looked seriously pissed. "By the laws of the Titans, my daughter and heir has chosen one mortal to act as her champion on earth and to further her cause. This mortal was to be free to perform his duties, unhindered by the other gods. By attempting to kill him directly, you have broken this law in the greatest degree. You will now be brought before a committee of those uninvolved and tried for your crimes. Xena."

"Yes, father?"

"You will testify as a second witness. There is no need to bring the mortal, but you may do so if you wish."

The wargoddess turned to give Ares a small grin. "You stay here and rest. I've got her this time. The evidence is so overwhelming that this shouldn't take more than a few marks."


"Don't argue with me, man."


Her kiss was hard and desperate, but it drained all the tension and worry from his body. Pulling back, Xena said, quietly, "I love you." Then the gods were gone.

It was late. Cyrene and Joxer had turned in long ago, but Ares sat still on the stone wall that he had erected for his mother. She wasn't back yet.

Time passed. A dog wandered by, sniffed at the foot of the wall while Ares watched, and then it raised its leg to urinate. Having finished, the dog wandered away again.

There was a familiar ripping of air sound, and the area was illuminated by blue light.

Ares didn't look around. "You knew that would happen."

There was a pause. Then: "Yes."

"You used me. The amulet called Zeus when Hera broke the law."


They didn't speak for some time, and when the dog returned on his meandering way, Ares kicked at it. The dog bolted, whimpering.

"I guess that's it, then," Xena spoke quickly and bitterly. "I'm the cold-hearted bitch you always thought I was."

Ares didn't speak.

"I'll just take that amulet back to Zeus, and you'll never have to suffer the sight of me again. How's that sound?"

She waited in the silence, but patience had never been her strong suit. "Dammit, Ares, why do you always have to make everything into a guilt trip? Give me the godsdamned amulet. I'm sure you'll be more than pleased when I leave, so why are you being so difficult?"

Had she been able to see his face, she would have seen the flash of fire in his eyes.

Ares let a resolute expression settle upon his face. "No."

Xena blinked. What the hell did he want with that amulet?

"What do you mean, no?"

"No, you're not taking it."

"Give it."

"Hmm. How 'bout no?"

"Ares, I borrowed that from Zeus. He's going to kill me if I don't bring it back!"

"You can't leave."


"I won't let you."

Ares found himself staring up at the night sky, his jaw aching like he'd been kicked by a horse. His goddess loomed over him. "Why? You'll miss having a good fuck-toy?" She kicked him in the ribs, hard. "You don't fucking care whether I leave or not; now give me the godsdamned charm!"

She moved to kick him again, but his hand closed around her ankle like a vice. He tugged, and she crashed to the ground beside him. He'd placed the entirety of his weight on her in a second. He thanked whatever gods who weren't listening for the fact that the goddess was so angry that she wasn't thinking straight. She seemed to have forgotten about her superhuman powers.

"You only have yourself to blame, you know. If you hadn't stolen the thing from Zeus in the first place, you wouldn't be stuck here with me." The teasing words were spoken without an ounce of humour.

He pinned her hands above her head and shoved the bulge in his pants against her crotch.

Xena froze, her mouth opening in a silent "oh". She quickly shoved him off of her and scrambled to her feet. Finally seeing him clearly, she could tell that he was every bit as livid as she.

There was only time for one thought before he backed her up into the side of the inn. /Shit/.

"You, my Lord," Ares brushed his open mouth over her hair, his breath warming her cheek, "are not going anywhere." He reached down and tore the chords off the hooks of her pants. His calloused fingers slipped through, and her mouth drifted open in a silent gasp. "You will never leave my side without my express permission. You will never fuck any other man or woman. You will be with me. You will let me make you happy. You. Are. Mine."

Xena pulled him close and kissed him hard. The yard vanished, and they dropped onto her bed, high up on Olympus. "Like I'm the only one with a penchant for sleeping around," Xena muttered between kisses.

"Aphrodite told me all about it." Ares pushed her firmly onto her back, savouring her wide-eyed stare.

"She told you what?" she demanded.

"Oh nothing, really." His hands touched her-- rubbed her skin. He looked up at her from hip-level. "This and that." He lowered his mouth and caressed her with his tongue teasingly. "What you like." His tongue flicked out, and Xena gasped softly. "What makes you scream..."

Her hand clenched in his curly hair. "Oh gods..."

They sat right on the edge of the cliff, their legs dangling over the sheer face.

"That one looks like a worm."

"That one looks like a swan.

"Yeah? Well, that one there's a dragon. It just ate the swan."

Ares gave her the look. "It didn't move. Besides, it doesn't look like a dragon, more like a scorpion."

Xena shrugged. "Constellations rarely look anything like what you name it. Clouds, though. They form very distinct shapes at times. I remember seeing one that was long with a bulbous-"

Ares put up a hand quickly. "Stop right there. I do not want to know."

She pulled his hand away. "But-"


They sat still, staring up at the sky.

"So, now what?" Ares asked.

"You wouldn't be willing to become..." she stopped when Ares shook his head. "Maybe I'll come see you sometimes."

"Alright," Ares said.


He scowled and nudged her with his shoulder when she snickered.
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