Xena had yet another brief renuinion moment with her friends. She hugged Gabrielle and pet Argo before leaping onto the horse and helping the bard get on the mare as well.
They rode through the forest for what seemed like miles. A pit formed in Xena's stomach, as Ares likely knew she had fled by now.
Dusk had fallen, storm clouds filled the air heavily. The sun had hidden behind them, casting a dull grey through the tree-tops.
Xena finally decided Argo needed to rest, and she and Gabrielle got off the horse. They couldn't make camp, not so close still to the temple, but did need a moment of rest.
"Xena? If Ares is a God, can't he just track you through the aether? What are we going to do if—"
Xena cut her friend off.
"Don't worry, Gabrielle. I have a plan."
The bard nodded, and Xena called out into the air,
The Godesses didn't show, so Xena called out again.
Before Xena could even finish the Love Goddesses' name, she appeared in a shower of pink sparkles, a stark contrast to the darkness around them.
She didn't seem to notice the state of distress the two women were in, and began,
"Alright alright, hold you horses, ladies, the Godess of Love is in the house!"
"Aphrodite, we need to talk to you."
Gabrielle started, but Aphrodite was already rambling on.
"Oh, Xena. Meow! When did you get such taste in style? I should like, totally borrow that dress sometime. But do you mind if I change the color, blood red is just so..."
The Goddess made a face, and Xena finished, dead-pan,
"Big Bro definitely needs to lighten up a bit."
"Actually, that's why we're here. I need you to cast a protection spell on me, Dite. Something that won't allow Ares to track me through the aether."
Xena said, hoping the Love Goddess knew how to perform such a spell.
"You're his Chosen. Shouldn't he know where you are and all that? For protection?
She asked. Xena fought the urge to spill the beans and tell her, if anything, that Ares might be more intent on killing her than protecting her when he saw her next. Gabrielle tried to explain the circumstances.
"Aphrodite, please. Ares took Xena against her will, we need your help."
"Oh, but Stud Muffin only did that to save her life. Xena, Zeus wasn't kidding when he said he'd kill you if you tried anything. Just go back to Ares, you and him can figure this out, I know you can."
Gabrielle shot a look to Xena. The bard still didn't know most of the details surrounding Xena's charge of being a "rogue" Chosen.
"I know that Dite. I don't need the spell to protect myself from Ares. I need it so that Zeus and Athena can't find me, either."
The Goddess seemed to understand, and nodded slowly. That wasn't a complete lie, Xena needed protection against all three Gods, but she worried the Goddess wouldn't help her if she knew she was working against her favorite brother.
"Well, ok. But if there's something going on between you two, Xe, you need to try to work it out."
Oh, we are well past working it out, Xena thought, thought she kept her mouth shut.
Dite suddenly closed her eyes, and the wind started to blow around them. From her hands she drew golden light, and cast it upon both of their forms.
"That should hide your soul signatures."
"Thankyou, Dite. You may have just given us a fighting chance."
The Love Goddess still didn't seem to know entirely what was going on. In truth, only Xena understood the cost, because only she had seen what Ares had done to those who betrayed him.
Guilt swarmed all around her.
Xena had been caught in a web of lies, and she had just added another tangle in lying to Aphrodite, one of her oldest friends.
Even the fact that she had lied to Ares ate at her, even if he deserved her betrayal.
And then there was Gabrielle, who she had lied to for years. As far as the Bard knew, she had the relationship that all warlords did with the God of War.
But it wasn't just that Ares had been Xena's patron God. No, she was his Chosen, and that was something Gabrielle would never understand.
Xena was going to try to explain it to her.
After Aphrodite had taken off, something about a hair appointment, Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo made their way through the woods.
It was well into the night by the time they found a town, and most everyone was asleep.
Luckily, the taverns were open all night long, and Gabrielle paid for Argo a stall in the stables and a meal of oats, as well as a room for the two women.
Several men were still up by the time they made it inside, rain-soaked and exhausted.
They jeered at the way the bard and Warrior Princess were dressed, but Xena had bigger matters to worry about.
The tavern owner informed them they had missed dinner, but offered them a cup of ale each and sent them to the spare room upstairs.
Xena and Gabrielle often opted to stay in taverns instead of inns, simply because most taverns had spare rooms and were much cheaper.
Xena gulped as she watched Gabrielle light a small candle to allow them to talk.
They sat down on the old bed, facing each other.
Perhaps even harder than facing Ares was Gabrielle. She hated to see dissapointment in the young bard's eyes, but knew she had to tell her now.
Because the conversation she would likely have with Ares later on might not leave her the chance to tell Gabrielle anything ever again.
The fire-light casted an orange glow over Gabrielle's face, gleaming against her strawberry hair. The bard had listened carefully, never interrupting, as Xena told of her past with the God of War.
Throughout the story, Xena nervously expected some sort of judgment, a comment or even a nasty expression, to come from her friend. But Gabrielle simply let Xena speak, an occasional glimmer in her green eyes.
The Warrior Princess recounted a time when she was sixteen, and Ares had taken her under his wing and offered to train her as his warlord.
Soon after that, a spark formed between them; romance mixed with business. It was then that Xena had accepted Ares' offer to be his Chosen. Together, they had left a litter of bodies from Greece to Chin. Xena had become drunk on power, and Ares had become intoxicated with his Warrior Princess.
She had left him, eventually, after her hunger for power became more so than even the God of War could handle.
Xena explained how her confrontations with Caeser had pushed her completely off the edge, how she had spiraled out of of control and returned to Greece worse than ever before.
Things had never been the same between she and Ares when she returned. The War God looked for what they had, but Xena's heart had turned cold, and it was only until Hercules had saved her from her dark path that it finally warmed again.
"And then I met you, and you were the light of my life, Gabrielle. You showed me a new path, you walked with me on it. And I lied to you."
Xena's blue eyes casted down in shame until Gabrielle laid her hand on her friends shoulder.
"Xena, I don't blame you. Ares manipulated you. You were only a young girl, and he took advantage of your trust. Thankyou for telling me."
"I should have told you earlier. I was just frightened of what you would think of me. I never wanted you to see the monster, Gabrielle."
The bard offered a small smile.
"That was the old you, Xena. The one I know is brave, and strong, and full of light."
Xena reached over the bed and hugged her friend, a single tear dropping down her cheek.
"There's more. When Posideon took me, he, err...gave me to Ares."
The blondes' brow furrowed slightly.
"What? Xena you're a person. He couldn't just—"
"He did. The Gods think of mortals as below them, Gabrielle. That's what got me into this mess in the first place. I slapped Ares. In front of all the Gods, I struck an Olympian. I didn't think much of it at the time, but Athena made an issue of it. She demanded there be a trial. I lost. The Gods proclaimed me a "Rogue" Chosen, and swore that if I disobeyed Ares again, I would be executed."
"So that's why you needed the protection spell. To hide from Zeus and Athena?"
"Unfortunately, Gabrielle, that's not all. When I was sentenced to be a slave under Ares' rule, and knew you were coming to rescue me, I came with a plan. I needed to get him to put his guard down, and the only way to do that was to make him think he had me, completely."
Xena explained, not really wanting to go into detail about the next part.
"But I thought you already..."
"I had to give myself to him completely, Gabrielle."
Xena stressed, praying the bard wouldn't make her spell it out.
She was already ashamed enough.
"That's why you're dressed like that. And that was his bedroom, the one I found you in."
Xena nodded slightly.
Tears sprung into Gabrielle's eyes.
"Oh, Xena! I'm so sorry. I didn't know—"
"Shh. Shh. It's alright, Gabrielle. Let's try to get some sleep, we have a long road ahead of us."
Xena didn't mention how much she enjoyed the weeks where she had belonged to Ares completely. There was no shame in doing what it took to survive. But the amount Xena enjoyed it, the amount she reveled in it, was something else entirely.
Hey everyone! So this chapter we got a touching moment between Xena and Gabrielle, but just a warning, the next chapters will definitely be dark, so heads up! But you know what they say, It's always darkest before it's dawn...