This was written for Lhinneill as a birthday present. It's the first attempt at a Xena fic that I've made since before I got married. (Gosh, almost 10 years ago? Geez...) I've had mixed feelings about Herc/Xenaverse in recent years due to certain experiences associated with my ex, and this used to be a lot easier for me to write. I really loved this show once, though, and I'd like to get over the issues, so I decided to give it a shot. I'm really not 100 sure on my characterizations because it's been so long since I tried to write in the fandom. It's set like late season 2-early season 3, so there is no Eve at this point. Concrit is welcome, but please try to be nice about it. Credit for the idea goes in part to LiteraryLitany
My Hands Are Open
Xena strode away from the stand of trees at the edge of the woods, moving toward the sandy riverbank a few yards away. The sun was sinking lower in the western sky, and the pink and orange shades at the horizon line were beginning to deepen. She crouched to fill her waterskin, and as the clear, cold liquid bubbled into the skin, she lifted her gaze to admire the view. The hair on her arms and the back of her neck prickled up even before she heard the familiar and unwelcome voice.
"Hello, Xena," Ares said as his reflection wavered into existence in the water. He stood directly behind her, his arms crossed casually over his chest.
"What do you want, Ares?" she asked as she rose and turned to face him.
"Now, is that any way to greet an old friend?" he asked.
"We're not friends," she reminded him, brushing past his chest to head back toward camp.
"We could be," he said, falling quickly into step at her side.
"I don't think so."
"Your loss," he shrugged.
"Ares. I'm not going to ask you again."
They were just at the edge of the woods, and he half turned, waving his right hand casually while the left index finger attempted to trail its way along her arm. She spun and caught the finger, but as she was about to give it a hard twist, she saw a low banquet table draped with a white cloth and set with an ornate candelabra now at the edge of the river. She released the finger and crossed her arms, tilting her head skeptically at him.
"I thought I'd invite you to dinner," he explained.
"I have plans," she said flatly, then turned and stalked into the trees.
"Your loss…" he said again, his voice echoing through the forest as he vanished.
Xena frowned. She had never known Ares to give up so easily. Still, she was sure she'd find out what he was really after soon enough, and until then she couldn't do much about it. Shaking her head in exasperation, she sighed and kept walking.
Gabrielle wasn't at the fire when she got back, but she found Joxer seated on a fallen log in front of it. He was hunched over a scroll, intent on what he was reading, but from her vantage point, Xena couldn't tell what it was. She moved closer, leaning over his shoulder to get a look at it, but as she did so, he snapped upright and whirled around, tumbling backwards in the process. She grabbed his chestplate and yanked him forward to keep him from toppling into the fire. Then she raised her eyebrow as he half staggered, half clambered to his feet and tried to keep the scroll hidden behind his back.
"Oh, hey Xena!" he squeaked.
"Joxer…" she planted her fists on her hips. "What are you reading?"
"Me?" he asked, looking around in badly feigned confusion.
"Hand it over," she said, wiggling her fingers for the scroll.
"Um," he moved his head from side to side again. "Hand what over?"
"This," said Ares as he materialized behind Joxer and plucked the scroll from his hand. The would be warrior whirled around again, then jerked backward as if he'd been struck by the mere presence of the God of War. He made an abortive dash for the safety of the woods, but quickly found himself caught by the waistline of his pants, arms and legs flailing uselessly as Ares dangled him there while reading the scroll.
"Put him down, Ares," Xena sighed.
She started toward them, but halted again, frowning at the war god's expression. Ares' face had gone from smug amusement to surprise to dangerous fury in a matter of seconds. She had seen him undergo similar transformations before, but she usually knew why.
"What?" she asked.
In response, he held the scroll out to her. Joxer redoubled his efforts to get away, and Xena narrowed her eyes. She stepped closer and reached around Joxer to take the scroll, quickly scanning the contents. As she did, she felt her eyes shoot wide open, then narrow, then widen again as a boiling rage easily equal to Ares' anger began to fill her.
"What's going on?" asked Gabrielle as she emerged from the other side of the clearing.
Xena began to read aloud. "'…Dressed in a filmy white gown that flowed around her like a gossamer cloud, Xena stepped out onto the balcony. There was a light breeze that tickled her toes in their golden sandals, but she found it pleasant after the heat of the chamber. Resting her palms on the balcony rail, she leaned over, peering downward in hopes of discovering the source of the magnificent singing.
'To her astonishment, she found Ares in the courtyard below, his face turned up toward her window, with a golden harp in hand that matched her sandals…'"
"Matched your sandals?" Gabrielle interjected with a wince.
"It gets worse," Xena said as Ares casually flipped Joxer into the air and caught him again, this time holding him by the front of the collar.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Gabrielle held up her hand. "I want to hear the rest."
"You know, Xena, she gets more and more annoying!" Ares exclaimed.
"Listen—" Gabrielle started to say.
Joxer's protests cut her off. "But it wasn't my fault! Everybody's reading it!"
"Everybody?!" Xena and Ares demanded in unison.
Sighing, Gabrielle strode up to Xena and plucked the scroll from her distracted friend's grip. Then she continued to read. "'Smiling, Xena turned and went inside again, pausing only long enough to pick up her fan from the bedside table before she went outside to greet her—lover.
"'In the courtyard, Ares continued to sing until Xena stood before him, then he lowered his harp and smiled into her blue eyes. Xena smiled back, running the palm of her left hand over the chiseled musculature of his arm. She leaned forward to press her lips to his, sliding her hand upward over his shoulder and onto the back of his neck. Ares' arm wound around her waist, and he pulled her against himself, but after a moment or two, Xena pulled back and eyed him speculatively.
"'I didn't know you could sing, Ares,' she said.
"'I didn't either,' he confessed.
"Xena raised her eyebrows.
"'I would do anything for you Xena!' he declared fervently. 'The mere sight of your womanly beauty makes my heart quiver!'
"'Oh, Ares!' Xena exclaimed, bringing her fan up to her face to cover her blushing. She fluttered her eyelashes and—"
"Stop it, stop it, Gabrielle!! I CAN'T TAKE ANYMORE!" Xena screamed, cutting off the rest of the recitation.
Ares lifted Joxer higher, holding the hapless and still flailing captive above his head. "Where did you get this?!"
"Um, um, um," Joxer stammered.
"Where, Joxer?" Xena demanded.
"I'm not supposed to tell!" protested Joxer.
"Okay," Ares shrugged.
Joxer's mouth fell open. "Huh…?"
"You first," Ares said, tossing him to Xena, who caught him without missing a beat.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Joxer screamed. "Okay, I'll talk, I'll talk!"
"Good," said Xena dangerously. "Now where—did you get—the scroll?"
"I got it from one of the priestesses in Aphrodite's temple," he said hurriedly. "They're handing them out all over the place."
"Why?" Xena persisted.
"Because Aphrodite's a secret Xena/Ares shipper!"
"What?" Xena and Ares chorused.
"She writes the stories!" Joxer said. "It's not my fault!"
"Not so secret anymore," Gabrielle commented with a snort of amusement.
Xena shot her a dark look.
"I'm gonna kill her," said Ares.
"Oh, no you're not!" Xena said sharply, releasing Joxer, who fell unceremoniously into a heap at her feet.
"Why not?" demanded Ares.
"Because I'm gonna beat you to it!"
Xena expected to have to do some damage in order to get Aphrodite to put in an appearance. Surprisingly, however, when she, Gabrielle, and Ares stormed into her nearest temple, they found both Aphrodite and Cupid inside. Neither of them noticed the trio, as they seemed to be engaged in a heated debate.
"Come on, Cupid. They're in the woods right out there," Aphrodite was saying, waving her hand at the windows behind her altar. "I even talked him into asking her to dinner. All you have to do is…"
"Forget it, Mom. Just forget it. There is no way—no way—you're going to convince me to shoot Xena with an arrow just so you can get more material for your stupid—"
"Ugh! Stupid!" Aphrodite cut him off. "How dare you call my stories stupid, Cupid!"
"I could think of another word for them," Xena spoke up.
Both gods turned to face her, and Aphrodite backed up a step, then inched her way behind Cupid and clung to his shoulders, peering around his wing as Xena and Ares came menacingly toward her. Cupid furrowed his brows and looked at her sharply.
"Don't try to hide behind me. I had nothing to do with this!" he said, stepping to one side.
"Cupid, you traitor!" she huffed.
"Looks like you're going to have to face the music this time, Mom," he remarked with a shrug.
The mention of music sent Ares into a rage, but as he charged, Xena let out a whoop and somersaulted over his head. She landed with her sword drawn, shaking her head. Ares glared.
"What are you doing?"
"I told you. You don't get to kill her," Xena said.
"If you think I'm going to let you dish out all the punishment this time, Xena, you are sadly mistaken!" Ares shook his head, drawing his own weapon.
As the two of them began to fight their way around the sanctuary, Aphrodite stared in furious dismay. The temple was quickly in a shambles, with the two of them leaping onto tables, smashing vases and urns, hanging from curtains and tapestries which inevitably tore under their weight, and even destroying beautiful statues of her!
Finally one of the largest ones crashed onto the floor—which was already strewn with shards of pottery and other debris. It landed face-down, and she heard an ominous crack. Wincing, she waved her hand to roll the offended statue over, and found that its nose had been completely smashed inward, leaving a large hole in the middle of its face. That was the last straw. She stepped closer, put two fingers into her mouth and gave a loud, shrill whistle that even pierced the racket made by their clashing swords. Both warriors froze with weapons locked between them and turned to face her.
"One: there is no fighting in my temple! Two: has it occurred to either of you that I'm immortal? And three: there is no fighting in my temple!"
"The immortality thing might be a problem," Ares commented thoughtfully.
"Uh-huh," agreed Xena with a nod.
They looked at each other. "We'll work around it."
"All right, all right, look!" Aphrodite threw up her hands. "I give."
"What?" Ares asked.
"I give," she repeated, moving her wrist in an annoyed circle as she did so. There was small flare of light around her fingertips, and she continued. "No more stories. They're all gone. No one who read them remembers. Except us because we're in here."
"And you're not going to write anymore," Xena prompted, inflecting her voice so that it was clearly a statement and not a question.
Aphrodite bit her lip.
Ares and Xena broke the weapons' lock they had been holding and stepped toward her again. She backed away, thumping into Cupid's chest, and found herself caught by the shoulders. She raised her eyes to the ceiling and let out a long sigh.
"Okay, okay. I won't write anymore. Goddess's honor. Just stop fighting in my temple!"
Xena and Ares studied one another for a long moment, then both shrugged and sheathed their swords. Then, turning, they headed for the door without a word of apology. As they reached it, Joxer's head poked around the doorframe.
"Hi, guys! What are we doing in Aphrodite's—wow! Look at the mess!"
"Nevermind, Joxer," said Gabrielle, sidling past Xena to grab him by the arm. She hauled him down the steps, leaving Xena and Ares alone in the pavilion outside Aphrodite's temple.
Xena crossed her arms, giving the God of War a long, measuring look. He raised his eyebrows and looked back at her, but she held the silence, continuing to stare. After a moment, he raised his chin to peer downward at her.
"What?" he asked.
"So…all you really wanted was dinner."
He smirked and reached out to brush is finger against her cheek, gradually vanishing as he did so. Though he was gone, his voice echoed around her. "Maybe next time."
Xena rolled her eyes and started toward the edge of the pavilion where Gabrielle and Joxer stood waiting with Argo. As she turned, she found herself face to face with Cupid, who was leaning against a cylindrical pillar. He grinned, and Xena stabbed a finger at him.
"Don't even think about it," she warned.
He raised his hands in a gesture of innocence, holding them before his chest. "My hands are open."
"Keep it that way."
Cupid watched Xena and her friends move off into the setting sun and shook his head. With a sigh that was partly amused and partly ruefully, he pushed himself off the pillar and walked inside, where he found his mother sitting on her own alter with her chin in her hands, mournfully surveying the damage to her temple. He tilted his head at her and smiled.
"Come on, Mom. Cheer up. There's gotta be some other hero you can write tacky romance stories about."
"I don't want to write about anyone else!" said Aphrodite petulantly.
Cupid sighed, "Is it really worth getting all your temples trashed?"
"No," pouted Aphrodite. Cupid thought for a moment that he might have actually managed to talked her out of pursuing this little diversion. He knew it couldn't last much longer anyway. None of her fads ever did. Then she brightened in a very dangerous way. "But I never said anything about finding someone else to write them!"