Disclaimer: "A Battle of Hearts and Minds" is © by Fantango & Xentrya. All characters that have appeared on Xena: Warrior Princess belong to their respective owners Renaissance Pictures/Universal Studios/Studios USA. No profit is made or intended from the writing of this fiction.

Couple: X/A
Rating: NC-17. Sex, Violence/Death, Drama, Romance, Comedy, Angst, Friendship, Adventure.

Setting: Primarily S4 with mentions to S1-S2-S3-S6

Summary: All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream - Edgar Allan Poe. When Dahak's intentions of ruling Olympus and Earth with an all new line of Destroyers bleeds into the picture, will wicked betrayals and unexpected deaths finally overcome Xena's thirst for revenge with the darkness of hatred and violence, or is there still time to save the day? How will Gabrielle cope, and what do a God of War, a rose and Callisto have in common?

AN: There are no words to express the depth of my gratitude to my wonderful friend and collab partner 'Xentrya' who has given generously her time and attention; without her, this story would not be what it is today.

To the many fans of FFN and Xena who have read and are continually offering their encouragement, support and advice to our stories, this one's for you guys!

Of course, these acknowledgments would not be complete without the series, the many works of fiction from both Buffy: TVS and Xena: WP or two amazing authors who provided me all the inspiration and courage to start writing my own. Thank you Tango and Ladykate!

Please review! You don't know how much it means to an Author to get a review on their Fanfic and know whether you're enjoying it of if there's room for improvement. Believe me; it makes us want to write more for you.

~ Chapter One ~

Under Your Skin

One glance... that's all it took to read the subtle sign of irritation etching its way across the Bard's face before all attention was once again focused onto the sword she was sharpening; each long and decisive stroke across the blade becoming more precise than the last, making it evident something had also been bothering Xena.

Sighing heavily, she mumbled softly under her breath, realizing the God had been there watching.

The mere thought of him keeping tabs on their Group could just about irk the crap out of her, well, that and the fact she could feel every inch of his being crawling and burning through the veins right under her skin.

One of the many gifts Ares had bestowed... the ability to sense when his Godly presence was around, oh joy!

She gazed up at the Bard once more, making a direct gesture towards the Wannabe Warrior sitting contently next to the simmering fire.

"Hey Gabrielle, stay here with Joxer. I'll be back in a minute."

With that, Xena was off, sword gripped firmly in hand while traipsing through a small and gloomy opening lingering in the woods.

She need not have waited long though, having frozen and spun around; black bangs falling lightly over her shoulder and landing across the elaborate metal of her breast-plate in the process.

"You know, I've heard bells are in fashion this year. You should definitely look into them!" She spat, raising the steel's knife forcibly into the opaque air wafting in front of her.

Perhaps an empty threat, but nonetheless she'd wanted to make it clear; his precise method of announcement was beginning to drive her body crazy!

"Bells...?" The God replied, lasciviously raising an eyebrow while closing the distance between them.

He was now inches apart, breathing hard on her lips, watching her, sensing her body tensing, responding to his closeness, almost feeling her heart hammering against his chest, and all he could think of, despite her looking daggers at him, was possessing her, over and over again, not ever letting her leave his arms.

But that was far from happening and he knew it. And yet, he needed to touch her.

So, carefully raising his left arm, he tucked a strand of stray hair behind her ear while allowing himself to drown in her impossible blue eyes.

Licking his lips, he let a playful smile take over, fully aware of the fact that what he was about to say could very likely trigger an unpleasant reaction out of her.

"Very funny Princess, but I hate to break it to you. I'm more of an old fashion guy... God... I'm more for the... personal interaction. You should know that by now." He hesitantly added, while inhaling the sensuous perfume of her skin.

Even his proximity was enough to heat her inner core, and yet, Xena continually managed to conceal the immense rush of pleasure travelling throughout her body.

A brow lifted, almost tempting as the traces of a small smirk played freely across her features while a firmly rounded fist was raised, threatening to do some serious remodeling.

"I bet you say that to all the Warriors you visit?" She teased.

An expression of content filled Ares' features nonetheless, as he quickly noticed Xena's somewhat playful mood, carefully concealing the surprise her reaction had plunged him into.

"Ouch! Come now Sweet!" The God replied on a so called 'hurt' tone, while covering her fist with both palms and delicately opening it, just to bring it slowly to his lips and plant a gentle, almost erotic kiss on the back of her wrist.

"Have a little faith will you? Have I ever given you any reason not to trust me?" He added, an innocent look glued across his face, but radiating of bewilderment, the whole scene reminding him of one of Aristophanus' lame comedies.

The steely gaze Xena was holding, and so often grown accustomed to, could easily've been enough to intimidate any know contender, but the fact it was now Ares who stood before her, roughly forced the Warrior to draw upon a more tactile solution.

The reality she'd even allowed her body to enjoy the pleasures of his alluring embraces, those gentle caresses... literally compelled her guts to twist and turn inside.

Perhaps she could willingly believe it was simply just a mind over matter thing, her way of toying with the God, and nothing more?

Then her position was nimbly shifted and followed by a less than constrained swallow as she let her tongue promptly slide over too-dry a lips.

He'd still been gripping her wrist when she decided to completely close the gap lingering between them, fully permitting every curve of that voluptuous body to press against his burning flesh, to warm her very senses.

"Spare me, Ares." A short and breathy response returned, one particularly hot against the God's lips, forever tempting him to taste her.

Never once did Xena miss a beat. The God was practically renowned for his issues concerning the entire trust factor, and she'd be damned to bloody Tartarus if she was going to let him slide this easily under the radar.

"Why are you really here?" The quizzical question was raised, before her breath slightly hitched as something extremely hard and firm grazed boldly against her inner thigh.

Ares' breath stopped for a moment, as feeling his Princess' body so unbearably close to his own and clearly perceiving the challenge coming from it.

He was never able to ignore the way she could make his immortal blood rush through his veins, crashing inside his heart like waves to the shore, the rhythm of his pulse reaching impossible levels, making him dizzy, forcing him to lose all trace of control, her proximity slowly driving him crazy, and it took all of his Godly will not to respond to his so immediate urges, restraining himself to devour her, starting with those hot, tempting lips of hers.

No... not yet anyway.

He had to play the game first, had to make her desperately wish for him to kiss her, and he could already imagine his wet tongue, slowly tracing the contour of her mouth before licking and sucking her lower lip.

The mere thought of it made his body react, his every fiber screaming for him to touch her, to taste her.

With a flinch, the God of War was back to reality.

His gaze still fixed on Xena's dry lips, her eyes searching for an answer which she never seemed to find when it came to him, and a small mysterious smile escaped his lips, aware of the effect he had on her, feeling the heat coming from that seductive body of hers, pleasure written all over her face.

"Why am I always here?" He answered, the tip of his fingers lightly caressing her left cheek. "You tell me."

As a silent smile moved across Xena's face, she gradually allowed full lips to part in a way that was intentionally meant to invite the intense sensation of his tongue to mingle with that of her own.

She'd at least give him that; let him think he was somehow grasping a sense of control over her, even if it was really just an excuse to screw with his mind, the way he frequently did with her.

Whether Ares believed he could actually take full advantage of the opportunity and sample her though, was as good as anyone's guess.

Either way, Ares would lose and Xena knew it.

If he surrendered, she'd have him wrapped tightly around her finger, and if he brushed it off, then he simply missed out.

The whole concept must have been playing delicately over in his mind too, as she tried to accelerate the decision with a painfully slow movement of her hips grinding ever so slightly against the leather.

Topping it off, she close her eyes tightly, prohibiting the God from losing himself deeply inside those crystal blue pools as she embraced the tender touch of his fingers skimming lightly over her cheek, before abruptly cutting him short, reclaiming her hand and body once again from his persuasive possession.

Maybe not the best method of putting across the point that she completely loathed the way he continually dropped in on the Trio, always un-announced to everyone but her.

"To cause trouble, you always do, Olympus starting to become a bit of a bore huh?" Xena continued, swiftly taking a step back and enabling the sharp blade of the sword to rest gently against his chest.

As Ares' gaze shifted gradually onto the steely sword, and biting his lower lip, his ardent desires left hanging once more, he took it out of her hand, softly caressing her fingers in the process.

"You don't need this around me." He stated placidly, placing it back in her scabbard, where it belonged.

Looking Xena in the eyes, a short all-knowing glance, he adopted a rather casual pose, his back now leaning against a near-by tree.

"Trouble...? Me? Nuuuuh..." He added smiling, that gorgeous smile of his, that particular one he always used when flirting. "I've been behaving lately. Plus... can't I just drop by for a visit, to see how my absolutely stunning Chosen is doing?"

That being said, and without wasting any more words — not that he ever was the talkative type — the God started analyzing hungrily every inch of Xena's body, examining her from head to toe, resting his eyes on her full breasts, apparently contemplating the intricate design of her armour, but his mind was definitely wandering elsewhere, way beneath her black leather shift, fully aware of the fact that his close inspection of her always made her feel awkward.

Nevertheless, he kept on teasing her, forcing her out of her comfort zone; though he never quite understood why in Zeus' name that always bothered her.

There was not one muscle on her body that a decade of fighting hadn't perfectly shaped; she was more of a Goddess than a mere mortal, and he could never have found one single physical flaw if he wanted to.

Not to mention all those gracious catlike moves of hers. By all Gods of Olympus, he wasn't getting into that again.

"You are meant to be mine Xena. My Warrior Princess living as my Warrior Queen, my Enyo, my Goddess."

Now that was an exquisite thought that he could have never completely shut down, no matter how many sword fights, shouting and bumps he had to deal with because of it.

"I'm not your anything, Ares. Anyway, couldn't you of done that on Olympus? Borrowed a mirror perhaps, from Aphrodite?"

She'd always considered herself as being the decisive type, and yet, Ares still found ways to prove her otherwise; the complete sincerity in his smile, and that voice, making it patently obvious.

She never could deny the fact that, yes, it bothered her some; especially when she caught sight of his gaze running along the length of her body and emphasizing a fraction as they followed the swell of her breasts, or those perfect curves hugged fittingly by leather.

What was it he'd once said?

"A God need never lie."

Xena still didn't want to believe it, but he'd been absolutely right, and she only had herself to blame for not figured it out earlier; particularly when having realized the Bastard had succeeded in his manipulation, had managed to get enough reaction out of her body to satisfy his somewhat more sensual urges, well, only for now...

The best part was that Ares had also allowed her to subconsciously do all the work, letting her become fooled even by her own dirty little plan.

She should have known the game had first begun the moment she'd felt his presence surging beneath her skin, it always did, and for whatever reason, she always let him.

Then that blazing fire within her eyes slowly began to return, as she lunged forward and pushed him brutally against the oak he'd casually been leaning back on.

"You're an Arse! Do it again, and I'll personally make sure your almighty title ends with 'God of blindness'."

"Oh I like it when you play rough!" Ares replied on a tone breathing of desire, pride and eagerness.

"Just my kind of Gal...! Face it Xena! We're made for each other! All that rage laying inside you, just screaming to burst and tear the world apart, the fire burning in your eyes, all that passion... Oh yeah! As much as you hate to admit it, you're pretty much mine!"

And with that, he extended one hand, tracing around Xena's body a red, warm halo, feeding her a sweet taste of that unforgettable blood lust, violence, ambition and power that she was now trying so much to forget and deny.

It had the effect of pure heroin, numbing her senses on one side but also drilling an uncontrollable thirst for War, Conquest and Mayhem somewhere deep inside, rushing throughout her body with the speed and force of a hurricane.

Watching her enjoying it, her brash lips half parted, Ares felt a surge of energy entering his body; it was coming from his bond with Xena, and it was as sweet, deadly and irresistible as only poison could be.

Ecstasy, rough force, complete trust, a considerable amount of seductive darkness, and... something else he didn't dare to name yet.

It was all there, present in their unique connection, and when their eyes met, a soft moan escaped his lips, as a sensation very similar to orgasm ripped through their bodies, leaving them both breathless.

When it was over, regaining his composure once again and feeling air re-entering his lungs, he simply added as to prove a point.

"You were saying...?"

"So that's your game?" She sharply insinuated, the very tone of it rolling off of the tongue like a swift cut to the throat.

While Xena may not have completely understood it, the God certainly wasn't taking the whole concept of rejection well.

Of course, he'd never really let it show, but in reality, the thought forever forced him into a particularly painful and seemingly desperate spiral to regain the shattered shards of a breaking heart, no matter how dire the consequences.

The irritated position Xena's stance now held, eagerly begged her entire being to pull away, and she would have done so sooner if it hadn't been for that exceedingly warm sensation that captured her body and emanated deep from within the fiery pit of her stomach, pulling forth and awakening the wrenchingly fierce dark past she so desperately tried to keep buried.

The sweet taste of power, that thrill of leading a colossal army towards victory, without the slightest chance of defeat and the destruction and bloody carnage left over from the aftermath; had become extensively intoxicating when the intense experiences swam vigorously through her mind and continually attempted to summon up the full rage and heat concealed under the thick layer she'd placed upon herself to chase away the menacing urges that were felt every time the blade of her sword sliced through an Enemy's raw flesh.

And then something extremely essential had firmly pulled her back into reality when she'd fought desperately to regain the need to breathe.

Gabrielle had been that bright light, the very essence of a Saviour she'd been searching for, and, despite how many times Xena often felt herself slipping deeply back into the ominous darkness, the Bard had always managed to keep her grounded.

A small trace of severe heartache incorporated her tone, as an expression of rough confusion slightly began to illustrate her features.

"You're trying to use my past against me?"

Hearing herself utter the words, quickly turned all previous thoughts of uncertainty and allurement into a deadly visage.

And with teeth violently gritted against each other, she drew back a compact fist, throwing an enraged blow toward the God's face, catching him accurately across the jaw.

She didn't stick around to examine the full force of impact inflicted though, but instead strode irately back to the inviting glow of the compound, positioning herself comfortably between the Wannabe Hero and the sympathetic Bard as she stared solidly into the dancing flames, while bantam remnants of a once darker past echoed painfully throughout her mind.