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
Xena scouted the bridge to Pylos, waiting for Ares' temple army to arrive. Then she felt it, the God of War himself about to make an appearance. Turning her sword on him, she was slightly taken back by the way he'd materialized with a sheepish expression on his face, with his hands raised in surrender. "Sorry. False alarm. My priests were a bit overzealous after hearing of the temple in Pylos being overrun, but I've sent them back to the temple, mostly in one piece. Eli's not on my agenda today, so.. sorry to drag you out here, especially with the baby and all."
"Oh come on, Ares; you can't expect me to believe that you're just going to allow those people in Pylos to raid your temple without any sort of retribution!" Xena scoffed, rolling her eyes at Ares attempt to lull her into standing down.
"Believe what you will, Xena, but that's how I've decided to play this. I'm reinforcing my other temples, so if Eli and his followers try this little stunt again, they'll definitely will bleed for it. However, I'm willing to concede this round to your friend. After all, the war has just begun and I'm sure there will be some decent carnage down the line for both of us to enjoy," Ares replied calmly, pulling his spine rigid like Athena always did when she sought to impress upon her lesser siblings how much smarter she was. Unable to suppress a final smirk, Ares disappeared as quickly as he came, leaving Xena perplexed.
Yet Ares had called it a war, and there was no standing around, picking at your navel when at war. You were alert or you were dead. Taking one final look at the pass and the silently swinging rope bridge, Xena turned around and headed back to Pylos. Eli might understand what Ares was doing, even if she didn't.
As Ares returned to Olympus, he felt good. He and Xena had managed to converse with relative civility, and in the end, she'd been the one left grasping. However he couldn't slow down, not if he wanted to change the ultimate outcome of things. While he'd already figured out that altering the past wasn't the point of therapy, he'd also seen first hand that it was possible with Evander and Minthe, and if it had been possible then, this might change as well. Still, he'd made a commitment and today's regret involved his dealings with Eli.
Already he'd resisted taking the bait when Eli and his followers had sacked his temple. The first time, he'd been too afraid of Mithra crushing him to move against his chosen, but Ares had since learned how to cope with the fear of death. Mithra wouldn't have that card to play, as Eli would soon be told by Xena, so the question now was what move Eli would make in its absence. Thinking to the practitioners of passive resistance still to come, Ares concluded that Eli would have his cultists take another temple, just not one of his. He was looking for his Bull Conner to come out with the billy clubs, fire hoses, and vicious German shepherds. Ares had refused to rise to the challenge, but that didn't mean other gods wouldn't. Honestly, most of the Olympians would, which meant he needed allies.
Athena was out. When he'd started to catch on to the God of Light's game, he'd warned her, but she'd accused him of thinking with his codpiece and had refused to consider his point of view. Other than Aphrodite, her besotted husband, and loyal son there weren't any gods that he could rally quickly enough to make a difference, and those three just didn't have the pull. What's more Zeus would get involved if they all started making a stink about it, and he surely wouldn't listen to his son's advice. He'd probably do what Ares, himself, had done, only with a lightening bolt, and that would get them nowhere. Besides, he was off second-honeymooning with Hera at the moment and wouldn't take too kindly to Ares showing up, claiming that the Twilight was near and that his family was in the cross hairs of the God of Light. Despite what they'd gone through not two years prior, most of the residents of Mount Olympus had splintered into their own enclaves and once again stuck their heads in the clouds. They'd forgotten the lessons Dahok's threat should have instilled in them, and he was just as screwed as ever. Growling impotently, Ares went outside to throw some fireballs and think. He needed to save his family from their own over-reactions, and he had only three days to do it in.
"Things not going well?" Dr. Naadiah's soft voice asked as he took a short respite from throwing fireballs.
"Oh you could say that! Once again, my idiot family is too self absorbed to see the forest for the trees and once again I'm the one roaring at the top of my lungs to get them off their collective asses!" Ares shouted to make his point as another fireball was let loose, making Naadiah cringe slightly as the debris fell only a few feet away from her fragile, mortal frame.
"And yet you keep roaring for all your worth," Dr. Naadiah prompted with admiration. Ares was a true fighter, and not just the god, but the man as well. She respected his constant effort, even when his intended ends violated everything she believed in personally.
"Not to roar is to surrender, and if I'm I'm gonna go out, it will be like Athena, with a sword in my hand, not conceding to that halfwit, Eli!" Ares grated, double-handing his fire this time as the frustration redoubled at the mere mention of the pacifist's name.
"It makes sense. You're the God of War, after all, but perhaps you're roaring to the wrong audience. You said it yourself, this situation is about mortals, the path to victory in playing to human self interest, and yet you're trying to figure out a way to appeal to your divine relatives for assistance," Dr. Naadiah countered, gently steering the conversation while letting Ares adapted to the idea she was presenting.
"Peace is in the self interest of most mortals. Only those with power, who are insulated from the consequences of war, seek it out voluntarily. All in all, Eli's message is far more attractive, even if in the long term it's wrong," Ares explained, feeling some of the frustration ease. A part of him worried that Dr. Naadiah was becoming a crutch, but he knew he needed that crutch right now. He didn't completely understand her process yet, but it reminded him of an occupying force training the local population to defend and govern themselves when their conquerors withdrew and went home. To what end his occupation and retraining served, Ares was still in the dark, but despite his weaknesses now, he could see himself beginning to understand his therapist's reasoning, and that kept him moving forward.
"How so?" Dr. Naadiah queried, pushing towards the understanding she could see a hint of on the horizon. Ares understood the weaknesses of the God of Light's idea of peace, but he was used to undermining that idea through violence and shows of hard power. As he'd pointed out multiple times, those tactics, including his stabbing of Eli, were counterproductive. He could appreciate the flaws of his old way of doing things clearly enough. Now he needed to work out the new way.
"Too much of Eli's brand of peace breeds stagnation and corruption. Mortals like to think that if there were no more wars, everything would just fall into place, but what they don't realize is that there are always bad apples waiting to fleece the flock, to push their agenda or to exploit the peaceful majority for their own enrichment. These individuals thrive in peace time. War, or even just simple conflict, can expose the rot. Take for example the way Xena and Blondie finally saw through Mithra's propaganda. Caligula, yes that Caligula, tried to make himself a god by siphoning off Aphrodite's powers when she was at her most vulnerable. This, and his truly amazing orgies of blood and sex, created an adversary for the God of Eli, to which the Archangel Micheal responded by attempting to kill my mentally fragile sister in order to break the connection between her and that freaky little Roman. Seeing a being she'd trusted to be an agent of peace and the betterment of human kind standing over her good friend, Aphrodite, about to behead her when she lay delirious and vulnerable, finally showed Xena Mithra's true agenda, control not peace," Ares illustrated, a savagely proud smile gracing his full lips.
"You find this amusing?" Dr. Naadiah asked, trying to keep judgement out of her voice. Still, from what Ares was describing, his sister had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a psychopath who'd been using her to become a god, and then nearly beheaded by an Archangel bent on preventing any competing religions to his god's from forming. She couldn't reconcile this with the playful, yet protective relationship she'd seen between the God of War and the Goddess of Love just over a week ago.
Suddenly understanding where Dr. Naadiah's confusion stemmed from, Ares quickly explained. "Not what happened to Dite, no, never. She's still uneasy about discussing what happened to her back then, and if you remember, stopping Caligula before he starts in on her is on my regrets list back in your office. But the way Xena resolved the crisis, how she kicked Micheal's smug ass, then held his head under water, asking him where angels went when they died; that was priceless! She'd found her way back and saved Dite and I in the process. Albeit we were both mortal after that, but we were alive and together, and Xena was powerful and whole. That was what made me smile."
"You all survived and were stronger for it, and now you want to ensure the rest of your family comes through as well," Dr. Naadiah surmised, now understanding why this memory held more affection than horror, but still needing to get Ares back to dealing with Eli, rather than the God of Light and his winged servants.
"Mithra was waging a genocide. I didn't understand that until I saw mortals take to the practice several times during the 20th century, but that was his goal; he wanted everyone of my race permanently out of his way. My stabbing of Eli gave him what he needed to move forward with that campaign. It brought Xena and a large enough number of mortals to his cause. From there it was all down hill and sheer luck that his strategy eventually turned on him in Rome. If it hadn't, I wouldn't have lived to meet you, and the rest of my family would be just as dead," Ares concluded, hating the fear that was seeping back into him. Once again he was fighting the Twilight, and once again, he was afraid. Centering himself, he pushed back the fear, refusing to submit to it. That fear had cost greater Olympians their lives. He wouldn't join them when there was a still a chance to both live and change all of their fates if he could just square this nasty little circle.
"So how does not stabbing Eli change things?" Dr. Naadiah asked, understanding the importance of Ares concerns, but knowing that they could only lead him down a road that wouldn't help him.
"I won't, hence my frustration and the fireballs," Ares returned, gesturing to the debris at the base of a plateau beneath his balcony.
"Perhaps you need to speak with Eli himself. Explain the situation, find that compromise you originally sought with Xena," Dr. Naadiah proposed, knowing how humbling such a thing would be for the God of War.
After a moment Ares sighed in resignation. There were many ways to fight a war, and sometimes retreat offered the best chance for victory in the future. Truth was that while he missed all the benefits of being a god, he'd learned to live without them. Living without some of his family members, living without Xena, those were harder to accept. He seriously doubted the zealous Eli would accept any sort of truce, or that his god would allow him to accept, but a ceasefire might buy him and his relations the time they needed to get their acts together. "Alright, I guess it couldn't hurt, but I reserve the right to plan ahead. I'm not going into that parley without a Plan B, not with so much at stake."
"That's completely reasonable," Dr. Naadiah concluded, hoping Ares was wrong and this Eli was open to negotiation. The idea of genocide had initially struck her as hyperbolic, but the more she turned over the events she knew of, it might be accurate. If so, then it meant that people all over the world stepped into churches, synagogues, and mosques, thinking they were worshiping a god of peace, when in reality, they were praying to a brainwashing, genocidal, mass murder. All her life, she'd believed that it was his followers that partook in that sort of violence and destruction, but now she wasn't so sure, and considering that her own brothers worshiped that god still, she didn't know how to react. One thing was for certain, she'd speak with Dr. Arthur about it after Ares returned to the present.
Twenty minutes later, Ares appeared outside the home Eli had accepted shelter in. Grumbling under his breath, he knocked, waiting for entrance. Finally, after a few agonizingly humiliating seconds of waiting, Gabrielle opened the door and scowled at him. "What do you want, Ares?"
"I've come to parlay with Eli. Please inform him that I've arrived and wish to speak with him," Ares returned, taking on the same conversational tone he'd used with Mattie over two thousand years from now. He'd been forced to adopt this formalized speech in the halls of the Pentagon several decades ago, and truth be told, he still hated every minute of it. War wasn't meant to be a business, and yet, at the dawn of the 21st century, it had turned into one. That, in and of itself, could depress him if he thought on it too much. Admittedly, the stunned look on Blondie's face at his declaration made him feel a little bit better.
Recovering quickly, Gabrielle crossed her arms over her chest and blocked the center of the doorway. "Eli doesn't want anything…"
"It's alright, Gabrielle. Ares just wants to talk. Let him in," Eli interrupted, searching Ares eyes for something. He understood the concept of body language, and had learned to control his own so well that he competed in professional poker tournaments from time to time, but Ares could tell Eli was looking for something else, or at something else only he could see. It was unnerving, but Ares held firm, refusing to make it easy for the proto-hippie across the room.
Eventually Eli gave him a small smile and gestured towards the large pot of soup at the center of the table, and the little bowls of bread around it. "Would you like something to eat. We have plenty."
"Thank you. I've recently taken up eating as a hobby. So getting down to it, I'm interested in knowing why you and you followers decided to sack my temple earlier this morning?" Ares questioned while half filling a bowl with soup and grabbing a spoon and a small, seeded roll. He knew asking Eli to speak in private would make him appear weak, and nothing riled up a social reformer like a calm, rational adversary speaking in a warm, open tone.
"Sack? We merely took back what belonged to the people of this town. After all, that temple was built by the hands of these people's ancestors," Eli responded, matching Ares conversational tone.
"And those ancestors chose to dedicated that temple to me. I remember one of this town's founders, a man named Broderius, allocated the land and commissioned the masons. He was very devoted to me after I counseled him on challenging his neighbor in Andos, and after winning the battle, he built me that temple as a gift, to say thank you. Thus your seizing it earlier was indeed sacking," Ares returned, dipping his spoon into the soup and taking up a mouthful as soon as he'd finished speaking. Sadly the bean-based concoction was only so-so, but he smiled and nodded to the elderly woman who'd obviously cooked it.
"Be that as it may, it stands as a monument to violence and destruction. While those in the past may have chosen to honor your ways, those living today have rejected them," Eli countered, hardening his words just a bit more to show the strength of his argument.
"Really, than why did my priests in Andos, at the other temple Broderius had built for me, need to inform me that nine of my servants from Pylos showed up on their doorstep, having been forced from their home shortly after sunrise by a mob of your followers?" Ares quizzed, matching Eli in tone, and refusing to concede his point. Everyone else at the table, including Gabrielle, were turning their heads back and forth as he and Eli verbally sparred, and for a moment, Ares saw a spark of uncertainty in his host's eyes, as if he'd overplayed his hand by inviting him to join them for dinner.
"They refused to allow my people to take the weapons for burning, so regrettably they had to be moved out of the building," Eli answered, holding himself slightly more erect, as if he felt a bit threatened by the God of War's words, which was exactly what Ares desired.
"So what you're saying is that your people sacked my temple, but spared my priests and priestess? My question was why? Why stoop to stealing when you can erect your own temple to peace? Is it a matter of land? I'm sure if the people of Pylos are as devout as you claim they'd manage to find find the time, energy, and resources to build a new temple," Ares rebutted, driving the verbal dagger in deep.
"And you would just accept a competing temple in Pylos without trying to burn it down? Really?" Gabrielle broke in with incredulity, wanting to pull attention off of Eli. She could see the surprise Ares' statement about choosing theft over building their own temple producing a small seed of doubt in some of Eli's dinner guests and she sought to nip it in the bud before it could take root and bring the kind of trouble for Eli that Ares obviously had in mind by the look on his face.
"Gabrielle, do you remember a few months back when Mavican attempted to kill you in order to get Xena's attention, how she started damaging Demeter's temple in the process? What did I say? What did I say about destroying the temple of another god?" Ares questioned, forcing Gabrielle on the defensive. Working with JAG officers over the years, he'd learned how to direct a proper interrogation, and now he'd turned the uncomfortable lighting and wobbly chair on the golden-haired bard.
Gabrielle shook her head before rebutting. "That was different. Demeter is your aunt. The God of Light…"
"Is a god who claims to want peace. Is that all a lie, or do you practice what you preach, Eli? Look, while as God of War I respect your desire to burn and pillage, I really do, but I won't stand by while my temples are destroyed in another god's name. I told Xena as much when I ordered my temple army to turn around and go home. They didn't exactly have my approval when they marched and will be punished accordingly. Move against me or mine again and I won't hold my followers back. I'm sure you'd all agree they have a right to defend their religious freedom too," Ares explained, popping the final bite of the seeded loaf into his mouth and washed the dry bread down with the weak wine on offer. It was humble food for humble people. He'd been one of them for nearly two years, and eating the fare on offer at Eli's table, he was once again grateful to Xena for having restored his godhood.
"So it finally comes around to threats," Gabrielle retorted before Eli could get a word in.
"Not from me; I'm not threatening anyone. However, the mortals that serve me aren't exactly the most nuanced and most of them have only one way of expressing their discontentment. For now I'm keeping them in check, as a responsible god does, but if you insist on attacking their god, I might not be able to contain their response. What can I saw? Mortals have their own mind. Oh what am I saying, you may not be a god, but you have followers, Eli; surely you know how it is," Ares commented, shrugging his shoulders as if he were discussing a force of nature that could not be contained. Truth was, there was a lot that could be done, but Ares wanted to make his point in front of Eli's people. He wouldn't attack them, but his followers might of their own volition.
"I do. Well, you've made your point abundantly clear, so allow me to make mine. For centuries the gods have treated this world as their personal playground, without showing the slightest bit of remorse when their games took away the homes and dignity of the people who'd lived there. I'm sorry if your priests and priestesses were inconvenienced when we took over the temple, but there are far more important things at stake than convenience. We're fighting for a better world for all mankind; some people won't like that, but it has to be done. I understand that you want to protect your worshipers. That's admirable, but it won't stop what we have created here in Pylos. The Olympians' days are numbered. If you want to help your people. Help them to make peace with that," Eli stated firmly, with a regal finality Ares had to respect. He couldn't deny Mithra's chief stooge was a consummate con man.
However, so was Ares when he needed to be, and attracted everyone's attention with a round of applause. "Bravo, Eli, bravo! I've heard that same speech come out of the mouths of thousands of warlords over the centuries, but you Eli, you've put a unique spin on it. You almost had me believing that you cared for the people you'd be displacing and the safety of those whose blood would become spilled in your god's name. Seriously, I thought Xena was good back in the day, but well done, Eli. Well done!"
Before Eli could get another word in, Ares turned to Gabrielle and nudged her shoulder with his elbow in a move meant to provoke the blonde into taking over the room and giving their host no time to rebut his claims. It was a low blow, but then Gabrielle had lobbed her fair share his way over the years, and Eli had just proven he couldn't be negotiated with, even if it brought peace and saved lives. If they were both so bent on destroying his people, they could both choke on their hipocrisy as far as Ares was concerned. "He's way better than Krafstar, was, isn't he? Admittedly, Krafstar had more of a way with the ladies, but this guy's overall message..."
Sensing Gabrielle was about to blow her top, Ares braced for the punch she'd throw, only to stare blankly at the young woman he'd known for centuries. "Eli is nothing like Krafstar! Dahok was a monster! The God of Light…"
"Is what? What do you really know about this God of Light you're so devoted to now? Do you know where he comes from? What his objectives are? Do you even know his name, Gabrielle?! Oh, I know you've spent some time in heaven and hell, and you've met Micheal and a few of this god's other lackeys, but beyond that, what makes you so confident that you're dealing with a god you can trust and not just a more clever version of Dahok and his cult?" Ares spat out vehemently, not loosing his temper, but appearing to for the crowd's sake.
He'd already made peace with this particular blind spot in Gabrielle's character after he'd saved her from being raped and impregnated by the One Great Evil on his second session with Dr. Naadiah, and he now understood that the blonde's terrible choices in where to invest her devotion were not his to meddle with, nor his to take responsibility for. Somehow, that understanding had removed the infuriation that had previously accompanied these memories, yet he could tell by the colors Blondie's face was turning, along with the way Mattie had treated him back in 2001, that she was far less reconciled and didn't know how to handle his questions, much less provide a reasonable sounding answer.
Gabrielle didn't know what to day and her mouth hung open as the usually skilled orator struggled for a reply.
"You might just want to think about that before you sign up for this crusade, Blondie. You all might. Thank you, Eli, for having me at your table; I appreciate your hospitality," Ares finished before nodding to his host and flashing out of the room in his trademark blue light.
Once Ares had returned to rooms on Mount Olympus, he looked out over the balcony at the rocky landscape below. Throwing more energy around was tempting, but he knew it wouldn't be productive. He'd tried to get Eli and his people to think their actions through, to see that the big, bad gods were not the only threat they faced in this world and that their new god might just be as bad as those that came before him, if not worse. Yet for all the successful points he'd made, he knew that they weren't convinced. They might be a bit more hesitant for a few days, but in the end Eli would calm their doubts and move his army forward. Once he'd discovered his powers and gained some self confidence, the man had been a natural leader. Ares had to take him down, or his army might still rise, even if he lived past the next two days.
Thankfully, Ares knew how to take down a religious figure like Eli without violence, and the irony of whose help he'd be needing wasn't lost on him. In a way, he kind of owed her. Locating her at one of her favorite haunts, Ares teleported in quietly, slightly amused at the tangle of human flesh she was buried in. Even Aphrodite didn't have such raw talent for the raunchy. "Discord!"
Jumping at the sound of her name bellowed across the stone corridors of the abandoned castle she used for her pleasures, Discord quickly pulled herself out of the mass of naked men undulating over her, and smoothed out her hair and clothing. "Get up and wait outside, boys. This should only take a minute.. unless you want to join in, Ares."
"Sorry, not my scene, but I'm afraid you'll have to postpone this little get together. We have work to do tonight. I've finally figured out how to deal with Eli and his mob, and I'm going to need your.. network.. to pull it off," Ares replied, amused by the offer, but refusing to show it. He'd missed her these past few centuries, not as much as he'd missed Strife, but admittedly there was a missing piece of him that bore her name. It felt good to work together again, if only for a few days.
"What you have in mind?" Discord questioned, the mixture of bloodlust and mischief he'd always associated with her coming to the foreground as she sought details.
Smiling wide with the happiness he knew his youngest sister be given with his next few words, he met her expectant eyes and purred. "An army of whores, My Dear. We need an army of your most skilled whores."