Those Whom The Gods….
By Pink Rabbit Productions

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FURIES

All Nornal Disclaimers apply: Not intended for consumption by minors, those who find the idea of two women in love objectionable, or those cursed to live under laws where such things are illegal. Also not meant to infringe on copyrights held by MCA Universal, or Renaissance Pictures.

A soft, dancing wind played with Xena's hair, blowing it across her face, then away again, never letting it rest. Like her thoughts, it was constantly moving, its course wholly unpredictable. Eyes locked on some invisible point a thousand leagues distant, she crouched slowly, scooping up a handful of dirt to let it trickle through her fingers. A long moment later she straightened, moving as though she was far older than her years. The last days had aged some part of her soul.

"Xena?" Gabrielle's voice was soft…uncertain…as though she wasn't quite certain who she was dealing with.

The warrior glanced back, taking in the bard's worried visage and carefully poised posture. She looked ready to sprint for the hills at the faintest impetus. No surprise, really. She'd had a couple of very bad days. They all had. Xena turned her head back, staring down the cliff that had nearly been her end. "I almost jumped," she exhaled.

Silence hung between them, thick and uncomfortable, like a widow's weeds. "Xena?" Gabrielle whispered again, as though she didn't trust herself to say more.

"I lied when I said I was waiting for Ares…I didn't know he'd come…" She shook her head, trying to throw off the memories of the madness that had assailed her. "I didn't know anything…" She turned her head to stare at Gabrielle, weaving drunkenly, as though it was all too much to deal with. She'd held it together until this moment, but now, the enormity of it all washed over her. "Except that if I didn't…do it…I'd hurt you…"

Gabrielle's mouth worked silently for a brief second as she drew nearer. The movements of her hands were faint, fluttery, as though she was afraid to touch. Green eyes stared deep into blue. She reached out, losing some of her hesitancy, but the caresses were as soft as the brush of butterfly's wings. For the first time in a very long while, there was an uncertainty to her touch. "I'm all right," she forced the words past the tightness in her throat.

Xena's answering laugh had a tight choked quality. "For the moment," she allowed, then reached out to brush callused fingertips along the blue bruise marking the underside of Gabrielle's chin. It started just under her jawline, and ran the length of her throat. She traced the narrow red line that centered the mark, noting the faint split in the skin with something akin to horror. "I'm sorry," she said raggedly, her body trembling with barely restrained tears. "So sorry."

Gabrielle wrapped a hand around Xena's, lifting it to brush her cheek along the back. "I'm fine," she assured her, never turning her eyes away. "Right now, I'm more worried about you." She'd thought they were through it all, but now Xena seemed not quite herself, and the bard found herself terrified that her lover was slipping off into madness again. Had Ares somehow talked the Furies into reinstating their verdict.

Xena saw the fear in her expression and brushed a gentle hand over her hair. "It's all right," she sighed. "It isn't happening again…I'm just…" she shook her head, and turned away, staring out at the ocean, watching the ebb and flow of the water. "I should leave you," she said, forcing the words out, when they were the last thing she wanted to say. She wanted to bury herself in Gabrielle, lose the fear in her softness, feel the warmth of her arms, taste the sweetness of her body, until Ares didn't matter anymore.

It was a beautiful fantasy.

Except she knew now that the God of War would never let her go. She'd never be rid of him. The bastard would follow her through the rest of her existence, no matter what she did. He was always going to be there, the proud daddy out to make the most of his darling daughter. Her lip twisted at the thought.

"I'm not going anywhere," Gabrielle said firmly, beginning to guess the source of this latest depression.

Xena yanked her hand back. She couldn't do this as long as they were touching. Ares might be thick as post, but sooner or later, it would occur to him just how to hurt her, how to make her mad without the Furies' help. All he had to do was hurt Gabrielle. "I'm a demigoddess," she said bitterly, trying to force a mental image of Ares and her mother mating--she couldn't use any other term for it--out of her head.

"You don't know that," Gabrielle disagreed surprisingly mildly.

"Don't I?" Xena cut in, her voice hard. She let some of the rage out, intentionally misdirecting it in the hopes of getting Gabrielle to go. She spun on one heel, eyes blazing. " Ares…" Her lip twisted as she said his name. "Is my father…" Her lungs were pumping heavily, like a bellows. She curved a hand to Gabrielle's cheek, her touch unintentionally rough, until she realized the mistake, and her touch automatically gentled.

"Are you sure?" the bard murmured, her voice cool, almost disengaged.

"I beat a GOD in personal combat," Xena snarled and spun away again, unable to look at Gabrielle now that she knew who--no--what, she was.

"Or he let you win," the bard pointed out with quiet logic.

Xena laughed, the sound achingly alone and desperate. "I don't think I'm that lucky," she said bitterly.

"I do," Gabrielle disagreed, her voice still cool and wholly logical. "I really do."

"Why…losing isn't exactly his favorite hobby."

"Did he lose…really…you're up here, intent on being alone again."

"I repeat, why?" Xena growled, spinning to glare at her lover, letting her see the full power of the rage burning in her heart. "He had the Furies make me mad!"

"So you'd do exactly what you're doing now…so you'd make yourself as alone as possible…so you'd stew in your own thoughts, until he could come back and play the loving daddy."

"You saw him," Xena ground out. "I was right. He wanted me insane…dependent on him…"

"That's the madness talking," Gabrielle pointed out, her voice gaining strength and power as she went on. Xena turned away again, the bard wouldn't let her escape. Her voice lifted as though she were telling the story to Zeus himself. "You're sane now…you don't need to think like that." She grabbed Xena's arm, hauling her around, so they were face to face. "Ares doesn't want a babbling, drooling idiot to serve him. He wants you…in all your glory…alone, bitter, enraged by life! What better way to get it than have you think you're his…child…" Green eyes speared through Xena. "He knows how you feel about him…knows what you'd do…do you really think it was an accident that he just happened to give you the information you needed to believe he was your father. I'm sorry, but I just don't believe the God of War makes mistakes like that."

Xena shook her head, but a confused frown touched her brow.

Gabrielle saw her chance and pushed her argument. "The only madness he wants for you, is what you inflict on yourself. THINK Xena!" Gabrielle wanted to shake some sense into her lover's head. "You lost Lyceus and conquered every square inch of land within a week's ride of Amphipolis…Barius died and your army took whole kingdoms…Caesar betrayed you and M'Lila was killed and you became a warlord of unparalleled might…with every loss, you became a little more mad, a little more desperate…that's what Ares wants."

Xena looked away, unable to quite accept what Gabrielle was saying.

"Oh, I'm sure he wanted you to kill your mother…and me…but he didn't want you to remain mad…at least not by the Furies' hand…he wanted the madness you drive yourself to…the kind that comes when a man sits in a dark room and stares at a candle too long." Gabrielle strode to the cliff, standing so close her toes were nearly hanging off the edge. "He wants you up here, plotting how to drive away everyone who loves you, so they'll be safe…from you…from Ares…from whatever…he wants you alone…completely and totally alone."

"And that's what I'll be if he hurts you...I couldn't live with that either."

Gabrielle turned back, and this time she really did hang her heals off the edge, well aware of the way Xena tensed, her eyes flickering to Gabrielle's feet, watching for any sign the ground wasn't stable. "No," she disagreed. "If the ground crumbles and I fall to my death, you still won't be alone. My love will always be with you. Nothing Ares can do will change that…only you or I can do that. I won't say there's nothing you could do that wouldn't drive me away, but I will say that it's our choice, not Ares'. I love you. I want to be with you, but you have to be willing to accept my love. That means the good and the bad." A few stones crumpled under her feet and fell away.

"Why don't you come back from edge," Xena said suddenly, sweat beading nervously on her forehead.

Gabrielle shook her head slowly. "Not until you reach out to me," she exhaled.

Xena's expression twisted into a mask of annoyance. "No games, Gabrielle. Come back from the edge."

Gabrielle held out her hand. "When your hand's in mine."

Xena stared at her lover.

"You're only alone if you choose to be…you have the power to deny him what he wants."

Slowly, Xena stretched her hand out, until she felt the brush of warm fingers against her own. Their fingers twined. Xena felt the faint shift as the rocks beneath Gabrielle's feet started to give way and yanked. The bard stumbled forward, and into her arms, just as several inches of the precipice broke away into nothingness. "Idiot," Xena groaned as she wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, holding her close. "Are you sure the Furies don't have something against you?" she muttered, burying her face in thick, sweet smelling hair. "That was as mad as anything I've done in the last few days."

Gabrielle drew Xena's head down, kissing her hungrily. They were full, open-mouthed kisses, that conquered, commanded, and coaxed all at once. "Make love to me here," she demanded raggedly. "Make this place ours, not his."

Xena moaned low in her throat, her hands already fumbling with Gabrielle's clothes.

They came together in a hot mingling of flesh. Bodies twined as hands and lips sought out smooth curves, stroking and tasting. The evening sun burned down on them as it cast the sky in muted hues of amber. Warm gold light painted the lovers in shades of bronze, highlighting the working of taut muscle, gilding flying strands of hair, turning them into a moving sculpture of utmost beauty. They made love into the night, stamping the place as their own, until finally, replete, their bodies limp with exhaustion, they slept, curled in each other's arms.

*****

Xena shifted in her sleep. Exhausted, she lay curled, a blanket tucked carefully around her, but alone. Normally, she would have felt Gabrielle leave their bed, but after days without sleep, she was so deep in slumber the Titans themselves could have stormed past and it's unlikely she would have stirred.

Under the cover of trees some distance away, Gabrielle carefully arranged the proper herbs and flowers in an appropriate way. A sacrifice from the hunt would have been more apropos, but she certainly wasn't going to go hunting wild boar in the dead of night. This was just going to have to do. Besides, as far as she could tell it was purely longstanding tradition that made her make the gesture. Certainly she'd never seen any positive effects from the Gods. From Ares to Aphrodite, they seemed to be a pretty useless group. She had just finished the softly spoken prayers, when she became aware of another presence in the night. Her chin lifted, eyes trailing up black boots, taking in muscular thighs and a broad chest. Her eyes locked with his in a blink. "Ares," she said with the faintest inclination of her head and rose gracefully.

The God folded his arms across his chest, glaring at her with open dislike. "Do you really believe that tale you told Xena?" he asked, cutting straight to the chase.

Gabrielle shrugged, unwilling to let him see any fear. "Does it matter? She believes."

His head inclined in acknowledgment and he paced around her, his gaze assessing. "You may be a little smarter than I gave you credit for."

Gabrielle turned to give him the once over, then the two paced around each like opponents analyzing each other's weakness.

"What does she see in you?" he demanded, his tone jeering.

"You know, I've thought the same thing about you," Gabrielle shot back. "Why did she follow you for so long…you're nothing but a weak, petty tyrant. Without your Godhood, you're nothing."

Ares' hands snatched out, grabbing Gabrielle and hauling her close, his intent painfully clear. "Weak?" he sneered, holding her captive in heavy hands. "Maybe I should just try and find out what it is Xena likes about you," he snarled, his mouth coming down on hers so hard, she tasted blood.

Somehow, the bard twisted a hand free, and clawed his face. Her nails left deep, bloody gouges in his cheek. The God shoved her to the ground with a curse. "Stupid slut," he sneered. "I guess what she sees is mostly just your face between her thighs."

Gabrielle snapped to a crouch, wishing she'd brought her staff as she glared at him. "When you were human, every punk in town was taking pieces out of you."

"Don't," Ares hissed, and she saw his weakness.

Normally, she would never have hurled the comment, but she'd had several days of pure Tartarus, due to his machinations, and now he'd dared to try and take what wasn't his. "So, when the local bullies bent you over a barrel, did you enjoy it, and scream for more, or did you just scream?" she demanded in a flare of temper. The God's answering blow was solid, and whipped her head to the side, as she tumbled across the dark, loamy earth. He stormed after her, boots kicking up the carefully laid sacrifice of herbs and flowers. She saw his hand lift again, and wondered if she'd even have time to feel the blow.

The blow never fell.

Instead the God stiffened, jaw muscles working with the effort to hold his rage in check.

"Ah, ah," a voice, low, feminine, but vibrating with power, chided.

Gabrielle craned her head to stare at the newcomer.

She was clothed in muted greens and browns, wearing a bow and quiver slung over her shoulder and across her body. There was little doubt about her identity in the bard's mind. "I believe that was a sacrifice by the queen of my faithful that you just disturbed," Artemis pointed out, her dark eyes blazing dangerously.

"You aren't needed here," he snarled, but the Goddess tut-tutted.

"Oh, I think I am…what kind of patron Goddess would I be if I let you go around killing all of my followers...the Amazons are already in somewhat short supply for me to allow that...besides, there is the small matter of the sacrifice."

Ares stared at her as though she'd gone mad. "Since when do you--"

"Since I choose to," she cut him off. For a moment, she almost seemed to glow in the dark night. "Or do you wish to discover what else I might choose to do?" she demanded, her tone threatening.

The corner of his mouth twisted in a smirk. "Still carrying a grudge, I see," he jeered.

"Something like that," the Goddess responded with acid sweetness.

Still on the ground between them, Gabrielle watched the exchange. She'd never really hoped Artemis listened to her prayers. After all, the Goddess had ignored all of the turmoil in the Amazon camps, hiding away as though they didn't exist. She hadn't even responded when Velasca destroyed her temple.

Ares shrugged his expression cheerful and sullen at the same time. "It was only one meaningless little virgin."

"One meaningless little virgin priestess," she shot back. "On my altar at Thebes, who bore that brat of yours, who murdered my queen, and destroyed my temple."

Ares chuckled softly. "That one does seem to be a bit of a handful," he admitted, sounding the proud father of an infant, who's just learned to walk.

Artemis gritted her teeth. "And I can't even kill the stupid witch, since she's the offspring of one of my faithful…even if she was raped by you."

Ares snorted with triumphant laughter, his earlier rage forgotten, or at least in check once again. His eyes ran over Gabrielle with insulting intensity. "Hmm, maybe I should try that trick again."

Artemis smiled too sweetly, leaning forward as she threatened him. "Touch her and the world will shudder under my rage. You won't have a warrior left standing, a king still on his throne, or an altar that isn't in pieces."

Gabrielle's gaze swung back and forth, sensing a story that still hadn't come out. She sensed the Goddess was looking for an excuse, wanting the battle that would ensue.

Ares apparently saw it too, because he paled a shade.

"More than one grudge," Artemis hissed, and he paled a little more, swallowing as he backed off in the face of her fury.

Ares tried to summon his trademark sneer, but it was a weak effort at best. "Oh, keep her," he jeered and suddenly disappeared in a spray of light.

Gabrielle let out a breath she hadn't even been aware of holding and twisted to peer up at the Goddess, who stood staring off into the distance. "I…uh…it never…that is…occurred to me you'd come," she stammered hesitantly.

The Goddess offered a hand and tugged Gabrielle to her feet. She pivoted to face the bard. "I have my reasons for what I do," she responded ambiguously, then reached out, the back of her hand just touching Gabrielle's bruised cheek and smoothing away the injury. "Gods protect their own…" she breathed. "But after this, he may be even more dangerous for you…you've made an enemy." She stared down at Gabrielle through intense eyes.

"Is he Xena's father?"

The Goddess shrugged, refusing to answer as she murmured, "It won't matter either way, soon enough."

"What does that mean?"

"Ares rages, Zeus hides on Mount Olympus, Poseidon wastes his time on petty vengeances, Aphrodite pretends she doesn't see by being as dumb as she knows how…and I…I hunt and avoid mankind like the plague."

Gabrielle stared at the Goddess in confusion. "I don't understand."

Dark mournful eyes searched the bard's face. "We're old Gabrielle…very old…for living Gods. But whatever lives, must die. The titans went before us…now our turn is coming."

"Are you saying…" Gabrielle didn't finish the sentence, barely even dared to finish the thought. She felt another faint caress on her cheek. The Goddess' skin was cool against her own, somehow reminding her of her grandmother shortly before the woman had passed on. She'd been cool to the touch like that, as though her heart wasn't strong enough to get the blood to every part of her body.

"We're dying…and new Gods are coming…" Her chin tipped upward, sharp eyes watching the sky just as a shooting star blazed across the horizons. "Young…fiery….as we once were." She turned her gaze back to the bard. "I fear for mankind…" Another soft touch. "Fear for you…be careful. A young God is dangerous…Full of itself…overconfident of its place in history…" She turned away, striding off into the darkness, leaving the confused young woman behind as she blended into the forest. "If you think we're annoying…" Then was gone.

*****

Xena stirred faintly as she felt Gabrielle's body slide under the blankets beside her. She never woke, but in sleep, turned to her lover, wrapping strong arms around her.

"Sleep," Gabrielle whispered as she held her close. She had a feeling they were going to need all the strength they could get in the coming days.

*****

Epilogue

A single arrow pierced the boar's heart and sent the animal spilling to the ground with no more than enough time to bellow once, before it was dead.

"Nice shot," Ares said dryly and snatched an apple from the tree of life to begin munching happily.

"Go away," Artemis dismissed him as she strode over to the animal, staring down at it for a long moment before bracing her foot on its flank and pulling the arrow free.

"Never liked boar much," Ares muttered. "Didn't think you did either." He took another bite of the apple, juice trailing into his beard. A single drop trickled away and fell onto the dead animal.

The boar suddenly bounded up and ran away with a wild squeal.

"Guess you can hunt him all you want now," Ares commented with an idle laugh.

Artemis turned to face her none-too-well-loved half brother. "What do you want?" she demanded impatiently. He was here for something. They only spoke when one or the other wanted to make some kind of trouble. Doubtless it had to do with the warrior and the bard. Xena was his latest obsession, and he was like a dog with a bone.

"You spend too much time in the gardens," he chided. "You should get out more."

"Spare me," she said dryly.

"I'm just trying to be a helpful older brother."

She turned a doubtful gaze on him. "I repeat, what do you want?"

"Just to remind you that Xena's mine," his voice dropped low and threatening.

"As Gabrielle is mine," she shot back. "Though it won't really matter soon enough." A chill wind blew through the garden and they both shivered.

"Stay away from them," the God of War blustered.

She only shook her head, amazed at his inability to see what was right in front of them. Shaking her head, she turned away. "See you in hell, big brother," she drawled, knowing the next world was almost upon them.

"Never," he snarled, and she laughed in response, spinning back to turn dark eyes on him.

"Oh, we'll both be there. Haven't you heard, they don't let Gods into heaven when they die?" Then she was gone, and Ares was left alone in the gardens, shivering as he felt another chill wind.

THE END

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