What is a Hero?
Part One of the Children of the Gods series.
By Nancy Lorenz.
Disclaimers: Xena Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Joxer and Callisto are all characters owned by MCA/Universal studios. All Gods but Aphrodite and Ares written from Greek Myth, with some Xena canon thrown in. No money is being made from this creation.
Content: Gabrielle/Joxer, Ares/Xena.
Chronology: Before the Sacrifice episodes. Let's pretend, just for this series, that Hope never lived past Maternal Instincts. Nup. The bitch was poisoned, she died. For my sanity, mmkay?
Author's Notes: This story would be nothing without the help and advice of Sandy, a darling woman I only really got to know well years AFTER Xena finished, yet she was around at the time. Call it madness - I've been missing out on the friendship of an awesome person! I also thank Findle, for all the times I've pounced upon him online, nattered in his ear about my story and probably bored him utterly shitless. Tina, my little baby sister, too has had me do this to her. So to them - thank you. You've helped me immensely.
No one knows what it's like
To be hated To be fated
To telling only lies
But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance That's never free
"Behind Blue Eyes"
The room was warm, a fire crackling at the hearth. Not a real fire, but there was no one there to criticize. Well - no one that cared. Nearby was a round table bedecked with perfectly ripe fruits that exuded a rich tart smell, and an ornate crystal amphora, filled to the brim with rich blood-red wine. It was the kind of fair that he was used to. He was a God, one of the most loved in Greece, mainly because he was the eldest. First son of Zeus, handsome, virile symbol of masculinity and headstrong passions. Reduced to cringes as his sister laughed at him openly.
He had no reason to trust her. He wasn't even sure why he let her into his realm. He supposed they both kept an eye on the Amazons, and they were a pet project that Artemis was utterly obsessed with. He knew that deep down, it had to burn Artemis right up that they were *his* creation, he made them and that his energy ran through their veins and made them as magnificent and terrible as they were, even though they worshipped Artemis as well.
He let her talk, hoping to figure out why in Hades' realms she was here bothering him.
"Again?" she chuckled. "She got away again?"
Ares rolled his tongue around in his mouth darkly. "Yeah, so?"
Artemis tisked through a pout. Her hair was the black of the darkest midnight, framing her healthy olive skinned face. Her deep brown eyes regarded him coldly as she cleaned her under her nails with the tip of one of her arrows.
"Honestly brother, how hard can a mortal female be to defeat?"
"What makes you think I'm trying to defeat her?" He snorted nonchalantly. "It's gratification I want from her."
He knew that story wouldn't slide forever, and it didn't seem to convince his sister. Artemis rose an eyebrow only for a moment, a smirk forming on her pointed lips. She laughed at him again, her grin emphasizing her nymph like nature, her knee high sandals and short toga making her look younger than she was by a few millennia. The grin didn't seem to reach her eyes.
"Yes, I know. It's pathetic," she said, and her smile turned to an derisive grimace. "Some God of War you are. Can't do your job because of your preoccupation with this Xena woman! And people wonder why I choose to be chaste."
"Woah - who says I'm not doing my job?" he growled.
Artemis rolled her eyes. "Oh, just about everyone in the Pantheon. Not that you've ever been very good at doing anything other than getting your butt kicked."
She sighed, waving a hand at him. "Don't pretend it's any different, Ar. Anyway. You've been worse since Xena. Everything you do is connected to her somehow. When's the last time you tricked two warlords into fighting each other till neither of them were left standing? Whatever happened to goading the Spartans? Teasing the Aegeans?"
"I've been busy," he said, shrugging and frowning into his goblet of wine. "I've just been planning something really good... really horrific."
A lie. A laugh from Artemis told him that she obviously didn't buy his excuses, and fewer of the Olympian Gods did every day. He was fast running out of relatives to bullshit to. A worry flowered in his chest, that perhaps Zeus had sent Artemis here. It would be like him to get one of his favourite daughters to grill him about this sort of thing. Just the sort of relative to make him mad and fly off the handle, making some terror and destruction in the process. Perhaps his paranoia was getting the better of him, but he knew better than to take Artemis on face value.
She blinked at him with gleaming dark brown eyes. "Seriously, Ares... we must do something about this... 'thing' you have for Xena."
"I haven't got a thing for Xena," he said sternly, getting up from his pew and strolling to the lounge fetching some wine. "I liked the havoc she caused, the fighting, the leather, the brass..." Not that he knew it, but his confident smirk grew a little distant.
Artemis rolled her eyes and groaned. "Who are you trying to kid?" She sighed, leaning back in the chair she sat in. "Come on Ares, busty brassy Valkyries are a dinar a dozen. Why not find another human to play with awhile, huh?"
Ares shuffled on the spot uncomfortably.
Artemis looked to him with disdain. "You always have to get obsessed with the difficult ones, don't you?" She sighed huffily. "You know she can't stand you. You're everything she hates... you're conniving, cowardly, evil and male. Not to mention twisted and entirely self-centred."
He handed her a clay cup of wine tiredly. "Thanks." He added with a frown. "May I point out she doesn't have a problem with men?"
"No, just you." She sipped the wine thoughtfully. "You've been trying to get this Xena back for years. She's hardly worth the fuss, is she?"
A long sigh left Ares as he tipped his head to the side. "She's only a one in a million, Art."
"Oh please." Any sympathy the Goddess may have been showing fell from her demeanour as she squared her shoulders and set her dark eyes at her brother. "Well, tell me. What's wrong with the way things are now? She's a warrior, isn't she? She fights?"
"Yes, she fights, and I enjoy it." He didn't tell her that he lived for it. That he loved every moment her heart thumped as she wielded a weapon or brought her own flesh to bear on someone's body, that it made him feel alive like nothing else did. He thought she wouldn't have taken it very well. Either way, it was crystal clear in his warm brown eyes, and Artemis saw it.
She sighed, getting to her feet and strolling over to Ares. She placed her hands on his shoulders, massaging them in a somewhat awkward approximation of sisterly affection. It didn't work because everyone knew, including Ares, that Artemis was close to nobody but Apollo and her nymphs.
"Oh Ares, you can do better than her. You are the God of War. You deserve a princess!"
"Funny," he muttered.
Artemis rolled her eyes. "Okay, that's it. Little sister is gonna finally do you a favour and help you out with your Xena hang-up, okay?"
"What do you mean, help me?" He frowned at her, brows knitting. "Since when did you ever help me with anything, Artemis?"
"Since it's messing with the balance of things, Ares," she said, doing her best to look innocent and caring. "Everyone in Olympus wants this little mess sorted. So do you want my help or not?"
"Right. Fine. Whatever," he bit out, rubbing his eyelids.
"One condition, though."
He glanced up at her doggedly. "Name it," he said darkly.
"If it doesn't work I want you to drop this thing okay? Father is getting really worried about you, and as a God you have your responsibilities. Enough of your time has been taken up by this mortal. I think all the family would be in agreement that it is time to end this one way or another."
He felt dread wash over him and he pursed his lips, running a finger over his beard briskly. "What's your plan?"
Artemis grinned, massaging his shoulders once more with vigour.
"Well... one thing you should realise is that you can't romance a woman with deals or bribery or blackmail. I know, you're a War God, it's your style..." She ticked a nostril with distaste. "You might have been lucky with Xena by now if you hadn't treated her like a commodity all this time."
Ares sighed, a little petulantly. "You wanna get to the point?"
"You know Daddy has a saying," she said, leaning on his shoulder and batting her eyelashes at him. "Keep it simple, stupid."