1Xena stared at the mob before her. The people were cheering for her death. Gabrielle was waiting for her outside, and she would have done anything, just to get Gabby safe, but she couldn't. There was nothing she could do.
Xena had never minded the thought of dying alone, but in that moment, she wished more than anything she had people around her that loved her, instead of just the angry faces of the mob.
She looked up, and said the name of the only person that she could think of.
"Ares." It slipped out before she had time to remember that he was human. And that he loved another woman. That he loved another woman more than he loved her. Pain shot through her at the thought, and her eyes teared up.
A man in the crowd saw the tear and jeered at her. "She's crying, look at her she's crying." Sprang from the lips of the mob, and Xena was powerless to stop the tears. She almost wanted to laugh. They thought she was crying about facing her death. She had faced death far too many times to be scared. But she didn't want to die alone. Sch. closed her eyes and whispered his name again.
Somehow it felt right, to have his name be the last one that would ever leave her lips. Xena shook her head. No, Gabby should be the last person she said. She should scream it, just to let the air know what the girl had meant to her. She wanted to shake the world.
A noose was placed around her neck, and the executioner, wrapped his fingers around the lever. Xena closed her eyes, and faces flashed before her. Ares, Gabby, Cyrene, Solan, Eve, Joxer, she smiled. She could almost feel them with her. There was a familiar tingle on her back and the crowd held it's breath. The executioner pulled the lever, and Xena could hear the wood scraping by, in the thin track. She felt the floor drop from under her, she could feel herself floating, and then, silence. There was firm ground under her feet.
"Xena!" Gabrielle's voice broke her from her reverie. Xena looked up just a second before Gabrielle tackled her.
"Gabby." She gripped her tightly, breathing in her scent.
"How did this happen?" Xena looked up.
"I don't, I don't know. Once second I could feel the noose around my neck, and the next second, I was here."
Xena's senses were tingling. "And it's really strange, but I feel like there was someone there. I feel like..."
"Like Ares was there." Xena looked at the sky, and barked a laugh. "I'm really pathetic aren't I?"
"No, Xena, you're not. Not at all. You loved him, and he hurt you. You're just human."
"Gabby, you always make it sound so nice. Like I was the good guy, but he loved me, and I hurt him. And then he moved on, started a family, and I tried to take it away from him." Xena shook her head.
"Xena, you saved him. If you hadn't set him up on that farm, he would have died. No doubt. And just because you needed time to get over that he was recently the god of war, that doesn't make you a bad person."
"Yeah well, it doesn't exactly make me a good one either." She shook her head, and Gabrielle knew that the conversation was over.
The two women headed towards the Ocean. They didn't have any pressing matters, and if they wandered, they figured they would run across something eventually. They settled in a
small inn, in a sea port town, called Eurithis. Gabrielle chattered about how glad she was to finally have some good food in front of her, and Xena half listened and enjoyed the atmosphere.
She liked being somewhere busy enough that she could listen to pieces of conversations without seeming conspicuous. It was nice sometimes to pretend she was part of the atmosphere, that she was just some merchant on just some trade round.
One conversation caught her attention.
"Yeah, I swear, it's huge, marching from Rome, and they're flying his banner."
"Do you think that's what he's been doing? Do you think he's been working on this army, the whole time?"
"I sure hope not, but you never know, and from the size of it, he may well have been."
"And you're sure it's his banner?"
Xena looked at the men. One was dressed as a poor merchant, but the other was dressed like a warrior. She didn't quite understand, but she was getting a strange feeling about Ares's mortality. She walked over to the men.
"Excuse me, I couldn't help, but over hear, did you say that they were flying Ares's flags?" The men grinned at her.
"Yes, ma'am, they are. Flying them right if you know what I mean." He winked.
Xena's stomach flipped.
"Thank you." She jurried over to Gabrielle, who was gaping at Xena.
"You know, you didn't have to get up, at the climax of the story and just walk off."
"Oh, right, sorry, but I, I think I have somewhere I need to go."
"Those men, they said that there was an army flying Ares's flags, leaving Rome. Gabrielle, I think it might be legit. I think he might be a god again. I don't know how, I'm not even sure I'm right, but I'm going to find out."
"You're going to his temple?"
"Gabby, I have to know."
"Okay, do you want me to come with you?"
"I can handle it. I promise, you get some sleep. If I'm right, tomorrow we ride hard for Rome."
Gabrielle groaned. "Great."
Xena was smirking as she walked out the door. She didn't bother getting Argo, she wanted to take as much time as she could on the way. She really couldn't say what she wanted to happen once she got there. If he appeared, then there was an army heading for Greece, and he was a god again. But if he didn't, it meant he had really abandoned her. If he didn't answer her from one of his own temples, then he was happy as a mortal, with a family, and no use for her.
Xena sighed and pushed open the doors to the temple.
"Have you brought an offering for our Lord?" Xena looked at the priest.
"Well lay it in the plate, and you may enter."
"I can't, I have to give it to him myself."
The priest scoffed. "If you think Ares is going to talk to you personally, just because you happen to be in one of his temples, you're dead wrong. Maybe you're not from around here, but the gods don't just pop down to say hello."
Xena smiled then, as she brushed past the guard.
"Unfortunately, they do."
"Lady, I have worked here all my life, and I have never seen our Lord, neither has any other person I have ever spoken to."
"Well, I guess that changed today."
The guard looked at her like she had grown another head.
"You want me to believe that a woman has spoken casually to our Lord Ares? You're insane lady, now get out before I set the guards on you." Xena ignored him and entered the inner sanctum.
"Ares! We need to talk."
The priest looked horrified.
"Don't speak that way. Show some respect child!" He screeched.
"Ares!" Xena looked up, and walked over to the alter. "Come down Ares, I know you can hear me."
"Guards!" called the priest. Xena was suddenly surrounded by temple guards. One of them grabbed her, but she flipped him off, and he flew across the room, landing with a clang against a suit of armor on the wall. The guards drew their swords, and Xena threw her chakram. The swords flew out of the guards's hands, but as she caught her chakram, one of the guards came up behind Xena and put a knife to her throat. Xena's hand flew to her sword, but she didn't want to hurt any of the people. They were just doing their job. She looked around helplessly, for a way of getting out without hurting anyone, when a bright flash signaled Ares's arrival.
The men around her dropped to their knees.
"Now men, that isn't any way to treat a lady is it? Now leave us."
Xena couldn't move as the men left. For a moment, she just looked at him, trying to make herself believe this was real. Then she remembered why she was here. She had people to save, a war to stop, and questions, so many questions. And if only he wasn't so damn beautiful, maybe she could think straight.
For his part, Ares was trying to make himself remember what it was to be a god. He wanted, more than anything else he could remember, to fall to his knees, and just hold this woman in front of him. This woman looking at him with the fire he had so desperately missed.
"You're..." she looked up, as if searching for the right word. "Back."
Ares's face hardened, his eyes shuttered, and Xena was amazed with the speed his face turned cold.
"Dead, warlords took over the village."
Xena would have laughed at the irony, but the look on Ares's face was so human, so real, that the thought of laughing seemed unbelievably cruel.
"How are you...How come you're alive?"
"Aphrodite...she brought me ambrosia."
"And you took it." Xena regretted the words almost the moment they left her mouth.
Ares looked up, but his face didn't hold the anger Xena had expected, hoped for.
"They, I was dying, and I passed out and she fed it to me. I woke up...like this."
"Oh. You, if you had been conscious..."
"Don't make me answer that."
"You don't have to."
"I don't know. Then, well, what I feel now is different than what I felt then. Then, I couldn't think straight, I was so... It doesn't matter."
"It matters to you."
Ares laughed wryly. "I'm a god Xena, gods don't feel remember?"
Xena looked up sharply. The Ares in front of her was the one she remembered, the cruel heartless bastard, that she had lived most of her life next to.
Ares stared at her. He hated himself for closing up like that, and he hated himself for letting so much slip. He was a god he shouldn't feel this way damnit! And yet with Xena it had always been different. He had felt for her, as a god, more than he ever thought he could, even as a mortal. So why couldn't she just shut up about his life and get on with it.
"You wanted something."
"You're here so you must want something. What is it?"
Xena took a deep breath. "I wanted to see if you were really back. I overheard a man talking about an army by Rome flying your colors, and I wanted to see if you had abandoned your family that quickly." She sneered, feeling all of the anger building up inside her.
And she hated him, hated him for not staying where she had left him, for finding someone else, for choosing someone else over her, for not needing her, and now for being the way he always was. She wanted to hurt him, hurt him like he hurt her when he gave up his time as a mortal to someone else. When he turned her away, and told her that she wasn't the most important thing in his life. She hated him for taking away the only constant she had ever had in her life, and then for coming back the second she needed him most, and still not needing her.
"I wanted to see with my own eyes how fast you had chickened out of the life you said you wanted."
Ares could see before his eyes, Myr being taken away, the warlord's smirking face, as he laughed about Delilah's death. He could see the burning laughter in Xena's eyes, and he could feel the shame, at not being able to protect his family. The only family he had ever had, and he couldn't even keep them alive. He could see Xena glaring at him, her eyes dancing, and for once, he didn't want to see that fire. He wanted to see the woman, not the warrior.
"And I find you here, a god again. What was it a few months?"
The slap rang through the hall. Xena fell silent stepping backwards, and holding her face.
"Shut up! Don't you talk about it. You don't know! You were the reason I left. Damn you to Tartarus, it was your fault!"
They stood staring at each other, each trying to catch their breath first, but neither could.
"Damn you." Ares breathed, the sound barely a whisper.
Xena just gaped at him, she could feel him hand on her face, his anger, and the pain in his eyes, made her take a step back.
And they were back to where they started, both broken, and far too empty for anger.
It was all they could say, and they just waited to see who would break first, who would be the first to disappear into the gut wrenching agony, that was so sure to follow.
He moved first, reached out and touched her arm. And then, in an instant, they couldn't remember where one began and the other ended.
They clung to each other, for the need to feel, something, anything. Xena hadn't felt anything in such a long time, and Ares, had felt too much, so much he couldn't hold it inside himself.
And for the first time since the beginning there where no schemes, no fights, no haunted gazes. For the first time since the beginning they needed each other with the same intensity.
They clung to each other until the priest knocked on the door, and they remembered who they were, and why they had never realized how easy this was before.
"Lord, may...may your most loyal of servants, enter, and pray before you?"
Ares ignored his priest. He was fighting the cold that was his constant companion.
"Xena." He breathed, "Xena, don't leave me."
And he wished that they had time. That they could stay here, in this place removed from the real world, without wars, and without other people, but he knew that they needed both.
She nodded. "I have to. There's a war Ares."
And he smirked, like his old self. He felt, surprisingly like himself, before everything. Xena felt the same way, and while both were dreading the thought that things might return to how they were, before Eve, they both knew that the way it used to be, was so much better than the way it had been until now.
"I should go."
Ares nodded. "Yeah. I guess you have to go stop that war. I guess I'll see you there." He smiled, his face softening. "I'll look forward to it."
Xena smiled back at him, drinking in the feel of this place that wasn't the real world.
"I guess I'll be seeing you."
Xena turned and began to walk towards the door. Her fingers wrapped around the handle.
"Soon." And his face was so earnest in it's hope, that she couldn't help herself.
Xena turned and smiled, "Soon."
Then she pulled open the door, and left. She entered the real world, and Ares couldn't help but smile after her retreating form. He held the door open with his powers until she was out of the temple entirely, then he disappeared.