Authoress' Note: This story begins in November of 2001, several months after the events of 'Soul Possession'.
P.S. While you have to be familiar with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess to read this story, you don't need as much background on 'Being Erica' to follow along. In that series, Erica Strange, a 31-year-old woman living in Toronto in 2009, undergoes the same time travel therapy featured in this story, in order to learn from her regrets over her past choices. While Erica's doctor is Dr. Tom, the therapist featured in 'Being Ares', Dr. Naadiah, appeared in a handful of 'Being Erica' episodes and was once Dr. Tom's therapist and his mentor during the series. In short, 'Being Erica' lends its premise and a few of its characters, but this is first and foremost a Hercules: The Legendary Journeys / Xena: Warrior Princess fanfic.
Being Ares: Enduring Freedom
A Xena: Warrior Princess / Being Erica Crossover
By Arianwen P. F. Everett
Ares finished his wine and looked out the window, sighing at the sight of around two thousand protesters. He and his colleagues had scheduled this meeting to discuss new developments in targeting systems, and he'd been the only one to show. Twenty minutes after he'd arrived and gotten himself a drink, he'd been party to a conference call with the other four other men he'd been expecting, all calling to cancel. They didn't have the stomach for a gauntlet, so they rescheduled for next Tuesday, and left him to his White Rioja and Chilean sea bass. He wasn't surprised, but he missed the days when warlords would leave their wives' beds just for five minutes of his time. Now he was 'penciled in', albeit at the highest levels, for consultations and networking. The civility of it bored him, but it was part of how wars were begun and waged in the 21st century, so here he was.
Pushing aside his half eaten meal, Ares signed his receipt and added a generous tip before walking out into the hustle and bustle of the city. He had no idea how the protesters had discovered his meeting or why they took such an interest in this particular get together, but the men, women, and even a few children were shouting up a storm behind the barricades that kept the sidewalk free for traffic. By the Gods he hated peaceniks, he'd hated them since that freak Eli and his cult had come on the scene, and this mob was little different. So little different that he recognized one of the faces from Eli's entourage handing out fliers to her fellow hippies and sidled over to one of the barricades, giving the cop a serious stare down when he tried to redirect him away from the protesters and through the line. "What ya doin' in London, Blondie?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Mattie Merrill responded, a bit startled from the God of War's sudden appearance.
"Oh, I was just meeting with some clients who wanted to sell me on their new and improved missile guidance system. And you?" Ares queried, having made sure that only he and Gabrielle's reincarnation heard their conversation, not wanting to be personally mobbed by dozens of humans who opposed his existence.
Mattie straightened her back, refusing to be on her guard with Ares of all
people. "I'm the new European Action Coordinator for Unite for Peace, we're a diverse group of.."
"Ah I'm the God of War; I keep apprised of my adversaries. You're run by that Sophia Zembo.. something, played a minor role in the nuclear disarmament push in the eighties. Decent woman if you can get past the frog-like voice. Obviously suffering from dementia if her current hiring practices are any indication," Ares cut in, smirking at the former blonde who'd just rolled her eyes at the subtle barb.
"Funny. So I'm guessing you're pretty pleased with yourself after September 11th?" Mattie returned in a scolding tone. She'd never forget watching those buildings come down. As terrible as things used to be back when she was the Battling Bard of Poteidaia, the scale of destruction was far larger today.
"Not so much, but it's a living. I prefer smaller operations these days, so much more bloody and personal, but a War God has to go where the seats of mortal power lay, so here I am," Ares confessed, seeing no downside in letting Gabrielle in on his perspective of modern warfare.
"Poor baby," Gabrielle's reincarnation replied, not really caring about the God of War's disenchantment with the superpowers of the world.
"So how's Xena? Last time we spoke, she was literally beating down my door over that Evander guy's disappearance. Did she and Jerkules ever find him? Is she still upset?" Ares asked, knowing perfectly well they'd never find Evander as there was now no Evander to find. What was important was Xena's mood and her view of him. He knew he shouldn't care so much, his first session with Dr. Naadiah and taught him that his own opinion had to matter more, and yet he couldn't completely stop measuring himself by the Warrior Princess' attitude towards himself.
Gabrielle's feature turned somewhat abashed as she was forced to concede they'd been on the wrong track there. "No, we never found him, and for reasons I won't go into, we don't think we ever will. We owe you an apology there, Ares. You really didn't have anything to do with it."
"I don't care about an apology. I'm used to getting blamed for things I didn't do. What counts is Xena's take on the matter. Look, I know it will likely be a while before she's willing to hear an apology for that stupid contract and the press conference debacle. I get that. What I need to know is how much worse what happened at my place in DC has made things," Ares admitted, knowing Gabrielle understood this weakness of his. The irritating former-blonde might not have any sympathy for him, but another lesson he'd learned in therapy was that he had to be forthcoming with information when the stakes were high, and that even when his instincts told him to puppeteer his way to a solution, that was rarely the best course. Gods and mortals alike were just more receptive when he was upfront and gave them a voice in the decisions that affected them.
Realizing how difficult this conversation must be for a god, Gabrielle decided to deescalate things and answer his question without any jibes at his expense. "She knows you didn't harm Hercules' nephew, so I think you're okay on that score. And you're right that she's still spitting daggers over the contract, but I can speak with her when I get home tomorrow night, and.."
"No, the apology has to come from me. I just don't want to push her till she's ready to hear it," Ares abruptly cut off the petite woman's offer before she could make it. It wouldn't do him any good to apologize by proxy. Xena wouldn't respect such an action, and there would be no hope of forgiveness.
Mattie understood well enough. What she didn't understand is how she could come to understand Ares' point of view. Something had changed in him over the centuries. Perhaps he'd been heavy handed at the press conference, but having calmed down since then, he was acting more reasonably, which confused her. She needed to regroup and figure this out. "I understand, but I need to get back to work. Is there any message you would like me to deliver when I see Xena next?"
"No, not really. Just say 'hi' for me. That's enough," Ares replied, wanting Gabrielle to know that there was only so far he was going to go in expressing his feelings around her. He'd leave the ball in her court as to what to say, but he did want Xena to know that they'd met up. Not letting her know things like that had a bizarre way of biting him in the butt.
"Okay. Will do," Mattie returned, now left to figure out what she'd tell Xena about the meeting.
As Ares turned to leave, he felt like he'd made this day mean something. Sure his meeting had fallen through, and he still had a few smaller hot spots around the globe to work on, but he and he'd walked away from Blondie on a good footing. He couldn't really see anyway for the bard to twist this on him and use it to poison his relationship with Xena.
All in all, it felt like a small victory, and Ares smiled as he turned onto an abandoned alleyway and used the privacy to disappear. Only to end up in Dr. Naadiah's office, facing his therapist's equally positive mood. "You seem happy."
Taking a seat, Ares leaned back and nodded. "I am. I am. For once I think I got the best of Blondie. I didn't loose my temper. I didn't give her any ammunition to shoot me with that I couldn't withstand if she did. So yeah, it's been a good day so far, very productive on a personal level at least."
Catching the last part, Dr. Naadiah smirked at the question she was about to ask the God of War. "Trouble at work?"
"More like nuisances at work. Blondie's now a pacifist-for-pay, so she was at a protest that put the kibosh on a lunch meeting. We rescheduled, but it's still throws my calendar off. Not to mention the Chilean sea bass was really bland," Ares added, not really concerned about the impact of the protest or Mattie's presence.
"I'm sorry to hear that. So, tell me about regret number 12, 'Shish kabobing Eli'," Dr. Naadiah opened expectantly, getting their session on track. Ares was obviously not picking up on the leads she was tossing out, which usually meant the patient had no idea what they were going to work on that day. Probably due to the sheer amount of time he'd been examining his regrets, Ares was usually quicker at discovering the problem, even if he needed the session to come to grapple with it and figure out a way to deal with the emotions the process brought up. This time the War God appeared completely unaware of how his recent run in with Gabrielle's reincarnation and this incident in his past fit together, so Dr. Naadiah decided that rather than try to draw the connections out with words, she'd send him in a day earlier in the timelines and let the momentum of experiencing his past lead him to the point of contention more organically.
"Eli…" Ares felt the name move through his lips, followed by an irritated groan. To this day he had trouble figure out how such a scrawny, worthless creature could become a vessel for the God of Love. He got that making the man uninteresting had been part of the plan, lest the gods figure out he was someone to keep an eye on and interfere before Mithra, who fashioned himself 'The God of Light' was ready, but Eli had been far more flawed than necessary, and yet he'd accomplished the task. He'd angered Ares just enough to get himself killed, and in doing so, sparking a full blown rebellion against the gods.
"Yes, Elia and his 'shish kabobing'," Dr. Naadiah clarified, using the words Ares had written down in his list. She assumed Ares stabbed the man, but was otherwise coming at this blind. She still refused to watch tapes from the multiple TV series all this was recreated in, as not to draw conclusions about her patient. Part of this therapy was in the doctor learning about the patient's challenges and triumphs as they relived them. If she watched some dramatized version of a part of Ares' life, that experience might be dulled and compromise his therapy. That she was unwilling to risk.
"Thanks to Christians and Muslims burning most everything about his cult that they could get their hands on, you wouldn't know much about him from a historical perspective, but to give the sanctimonious stooge his due, Eli was the inventor of the technique your people refer to as 'passive resistance'. After having worked as a traveling magician in India for a few years, he discovered that he had actual healing powers, and upon returning home to what is modern day Turkey, he started a movement to disobey the gods and desecrate our temples. As I'd never dealt with this particular response to a divine cease and desist before, I stabbed him in order to put an end to his growing influence, only to turn him into a martyr and set Xena and her friends against the Olympian order. After that, she had no desire to find any sort of compromise that saw my family survive and continue our lives as gods. Eli had been a friend of hers and Blondie's and though she claimed that her fight was all about religious tolerance and protecting her child, the truth was she wanted my people dead, as payment for my having slain Eli," Ares summarized, guilt creeping up in inside of him. While he acknowledged that both Xena and Athena had been unrelenting and inflexible, he still blamed himself for have set Xena off in the first place, and he'd often wondered what would have happened if he'd let the whiny little preacher continue his tantrum against the evil gods unharmed. If he was reading his therapist correctly, he'd soon find out.
"And yet you still loved her, through all of it," Dr. Naadiah commented, the hint of a question wrapped inside.
"Always. I was angry at her for choosing to invest so much passion into avenging such a weak fool and, admittedly, fearful of dying, but I never stopped loving her, before, during, or after the Twilight. Her coming into my life was the best thing that ever happened to me, even after all we went through and all I lost as a result," Ares stated succinctly, more sure of Xena's value to him than of anything else he'd ever known.
"So then, what will you do differently this time?" Dr. Naadiah asked, not interested in debating Ares' on that score. Truthfully there was nothing to debate. Ares along had the final say in what the best thing to ever happen to him was, and at this point in his life, it was Xena. That might one day change, or it might not.
"I'm not going to let Eli provoke me, that's for sure. It was like he knew just where to strike, where all my insecurities were. Heck, he even knew how I felt about Xena, though I barely understood it myself, and he intentionally riled me up in order to get me to kill him. Xena was right; I played right into his hands. This time, no matter what he says, I'm going to either remain calm or just stay away from him all together. Let him throw his little fit. I won't get suckered into fighting out of fear. Eli was very insightful for a mortal; he told his followers that all fear was the fear of loss. So, I figure, if I don't allow that fear to control me, neither will he, and in time his peace cult will crack up as so many had done before and since," Ares planned, two thousand years of dealing with this type of protest had given him the know how to deal with this form of protest. Eli might have been the first, but he wasn't the last, and Ares had learned a few counter measures since then.
Nodding his head, he mentally prepared himself for the trip back. He had to outwit Eli this time, and then he'd find a way to work with Xena to protect both Eve and his family. There had to be some middle ground for them, as they eventually found a balance before she dragged Blondie off to Japa. By the gods, how that memory still hurt! Even knowing he'd one day get a chance to change it didn't diminish the pain. But that regret would be worked on in a future session; Dr. Naadiah had given her word. He had to focus on Eli today.
Dr. Naadiah considered this response before pushing forward for clarification.
"And what about Xena? You mentioned that this Eli set her against the Olympian gods…"
"Up until that point, Xena didn't particularly like the gods, but she tolerated most of them. Blondie and Dite were good friends, and my sister and Xena usually got along as well. Hades and his sister, Celesta, had a good working relationship with the Warrior Princess, as she'd helped them out of a few minds and she'd called in a few favors over the years. Really there were very few gods who'd she'd go out of her way to kill before Eli died, so if I don't harm Eli I doubt that will change. She already hated me at that point. Considering some of the things I did to her over the years, she had a right to, but she never truly wanted to harm me or my family till Eli died in Gabrielle's arms. That's what sent her off the deep end," Ares replied, remembering that Xena had been all over this regret.
Yet, he knew he could resist her baiting him as well. Giving in was a death sentence for Athena, Hephaestus, Discord, and some others he'd cared about. Giving in had ensured he and his parents would never reconcile. Giving in had cost him his temples and his place in the world. He was still the God of War, but there was no glory in it anymore. Mortals thought him a myth, and yet he worked as tirelessly as he ever had. He'd been born to the job and Xena had restored him to it when he'd given up his godhood. It had never really been a choice, but at least before the Twilight and the rise of Mithra's faiths, there had been major perks. Perhaps if he resisted well enough he could regain some of that. Even if all he did was get Xena to just stop and think about what she was doing and what the consequences of her actions would be beyond Eve and Blondie, it would be a major victory.
"Alright then. I wish you luck in not stabbing someone to death," Dr. Naadiah quipped, sharing a brief smile with her patient before sending him on his way.
As Ares opened his eyes, he heard Xena's voice. "He was going to hit you with his hanky?"
Placing the moment, Ares fought the urge to materialize. This was the point where he'd discovered she was cooking Eve and had started going off the rails himself. He'd been so jealous and so hurt, believing that she'd conceived the child with another man, possibly even his mongrel half brother, that he'd not even considered how he'd handle the situation, and she'd lured him into divulging too much. Once Xena suspected the Twilight was near, she'd had to investigate the situation further and that had really started things moving in the wrong direction. This time he was going to think things through, so he stayed hidden. She'd still escort Eli's followers back to him, but it would be no more than that.
As difficult as it would likely be, wrestling with his feelings over the next few days events, he knew he had no choice. Since his last session a little over a week ago, he'd been thinking about Athena a lot. He'd seen her at her best then, and a part of him refused to accept things had to end the way they had. Athena's death was high on his list of regrets, number 4 or 5 if he remembered correctly. He'd get his shot at it one day, but perhaps if he was careful here, he might tweak things in his older sister's favor when that time came. Turning his attention back to the screen in front of him, Ares materialized a black, leather sofa and began to watch more intently.
Just over an hour later, Ares was watching Eli preach that the gods were able to know love and thus were unable to defend themselves against it. In his mind's eye, he could still see the corpses of Discord and Hephaestus' splayed out on the beach, a beach that would never again know Poseidon's protection as he'd been dissolved one final time into his watery home moments earlier. Love hadn't done that. The woman he loved had. Xena had always known more about love than her buddy Eli ever had, including how to use it as a weapon. Yet in the end it had been that peacenik freak and his god that had won. Xena had lost most of Eve's childhood anyway, and he'd lost most of his family and the world they'd built.
Shaking off his malaise, Ares refocused on the action as Xena and Gabrielle came into view and embraced Eli. Xena had asked if Eli's followers were getting the right message, and Eli claimed that they weren't fighting a war of violence but a war of peace, earning Xena's sceptical questioning of how such a concept was supposed to work. Just that simple question made Ares heart swell with pride. She hadn't yet been brainwashed. She knew something didn't add up.
"War of love, yeah right," snorted Discord as she popped in beside Ares, who didn't bother looking up.
He didn't need her problems right now. He was trying to save her life, but of course, he couldn't tell her that. "What do you want, Discord?"
"I want to know what you plan to do about this creep?! His cultists just stormed into your temple and are burning your weapons! Aren't you going to fry them? Can I do it?!" Discord requested impishly, the tip of her tongue caught between her teeth as she rubbed her palms together in anticipation of what she'd like to do to the mortals on the screen.
"Ah, you do remember the god providing Eli with his juju his Dahok's twin, right?" Ares returned incredulously. She'd been one of the first ones panicking over Dahok's rise a few years before this, and now she was looking to challenge a god that was at least as powerful. Obviously surviving that threat had emboldened his young Goddess of Retribution and she was foolishly looking to exercise her new powers on the followers of Mithra's lackey.
Suddenly seeing Ares point, Discord slumped back against the sofa cushions. "Admittedly that sucks, but we have to do something."
"Doing something is what Eli wants. We attack, we prove his point. We kill him and we make him a martyr. No, dealing with this god requires a defter touch," Ares responded, looking to his youngest sister to see if she was listening.
As usual, she wasn't. She heard him, but she wasn't even making an attempt to understand. "What do you mean by 'a defter touch'?"
"A mortal touch. This war has to be fought mortal against mortal. The more we intervene, the weaker we appear, to both sides. No, Eli and his god want to alter mankind's way of life beyond just eliminating us. That's where we have to strike, at their own self interest. We need to demonstrate our value to them, along with all they have to loose without us," .Ares summarized. That was as far as he was going to explain to the petite goddess sitting beside him. Anything more and he'd start sounding far too reasonable for the Ares of this time, and that might draw the other gods' attention towards him.
Reminded of one of his previous sessions, where Discord had brought Gabrielle back to Britannia after he'd sent her home to Greece to keep her out of Dahok's clutches, Ares decided to be blunt with his maliciously-minded sister as to ensure she didn't get in his way this time. "You are to stay away from Eli. You are not to move against him. You are not to convince mortals to move against him, or other gods for that matter. If I even hear that you even breathed the same air as him, Tartarus will look like a fun time compared to what I will do to you! Do you understand?!"
"Yeah, sure Ares. Whatever you say; you're the boss," Discord replied, raising her hands in surrender as the ground shook beneath their feet.
While she might not comprehend what he was talking about, but she could obey him out of fear. With Discord that was often the best he could hope for.
Once the young goddess had finally left, Ares returned to the screen, only to find Eli stuffing his face with Gabrielle yacking away at his side. Xena had left to confront his temple army; he had to get to them first. Despite what he'd told Discord, he wasn't going to allow his followers to attack Eli or his followers until Xena and her friend had moved on. Yes, this war had to be mortal on mortal, but with Xena, mortal was a relative term.