"Take it easy, Xena. He's already dead," Gabrielle admonished.
Xena sneered as she put down the knife and pushed the plate of roasted fish away.
Gabrielle put down her own plate and scooted around to Xena's side of the fire. "I can tell something's bothering you. Do you want to share?"
The answer came in the form of cold, steely silence. "Okay, I'll take that as a no." She started to return to her dinner.
"Wait," Xena said. "You're going to find out soon anyway. I'm pregnant again."
Gabrielle's eyes widened. She hadn't been expecting that. "Is this another miraculous conception?"
"Then you know who the father is this time?"
"Yes, I know," Xena practically growled.
Gabrielle racked her brain for answers. The only man Xena had really been around lately besides the ones she met on the battlefield was "Ares?" Another cold silence confirmed it. Gabrielle's inquisitiveness got the better of her. "How was he? Wait, you don't have to answer that," she quickly amended. "It's really none of my business."
"It wasn't like I expected," Xena said. Gabrielle couldn't tell whether the red glow on her cheeks was a blush or the fire glow, but she was betting on the former. "I always thought it would be lusty, wild, and aggressive."
"And it wasn't?" Gabrielle asked, not really wanting to hear more and yet unable to tame her morbid curiosity.
"I'm not saying it wasn't some of those things at times, but he was gentle and loving too. It's not what you expect from the god of war."
"I'm not that surprised. A god doesn't give up his immortality for you, and it was you he gave it up for, without true love being involved. You do realize that it is the equivalent of a mortal man giving up his life for you?"
Xena let out a sigh of frustration. "I know he loves me in his own twisted way. You know what's crazy? I believe our relationship would have worked if Ares had been mortal. I saw a whole new side to Ares when he lost his godhood."
"Clearly," Gabrielle said, lowering her eyes to Xena's stomach.
"You know what I mean," Xena snapped, not amused by Gabrielle's attempt at levity. "He still had his tough guy exterior to be sure, but I saw the vulnerable man who just needed some genuine love and affection. He was someone who was capable of returning that love and affection to a creature that served him no useful purpose. The dog changed him for the better."
"It wasn't just the dog," Gabrielle told her, placing a hand over Xena's.
"It doesn't matter. Ares is a god again and I don't want him to know about the baby."
"He's going to know. He can't stay away from you long enough for you to hide it."
"I mean he can't know that it's his."
"Whose will it be then?"
"Hercules'. If Ares were to ask him, I know Hercules would be able to cover for me and convince Ares that he is father."
"Smart thinking. If Ares goes after the father in a jealous rage, and knowing Ares he will, you couldn't pick a more capable father. I hate to bring this up, but you never know what to expect from a demigod. Has your pregnancy seemed normal, so far?"
Xena turned and thrust a finger in her face. "This child was created by two mortals! He or she is going to be perfectly normal."
Gabrielle didn't comment, but she wondered which one of them she was trying to convince.