The Return I-III
Ares had taken his time getting back from Persia. The battle between Alexander the Great and the Persian Empire had gone better than he had hoped. The God of War had stood by invisibly as Alexander took village after village; burning them to the ground while thick black clouds of smoke rose upward towards Olympus. With a wave of his sword, the conqueror led his soldiers into combat. Blood flowed freely over the battlefield like water; staining the ground a beautiful crimson red. The smell of death and the agonizing cries as soldier after solider met their demise at the end of a sword sent a thrill through the God of War. Alexander had taken Persia as easily as taking candy from a child. He just loved spectator sports.
The air was colder than it had been when he had left. An icy breeze rustled his long black curly hair sending a tingle to his bearded face. He closed his chocolate brown eyes; taking a deep breath before opening them. Glancing around he spied the bare branches of the trees on the outskirts of the forest. He had been gone a long time. But it didn't matter. He was feeling so good setting foot on his native soil he decided to visit Xena and Gabrielle. He hadn't seen that pair in a long time. Since the Hope/Dahok incident. Maybe his Warrior Princess had cooled off enough for him to tell her what had really happened. For as many times as Xena challenged how and why, she had never questioned, among other things, how her best friend had escaped from the Lava Pit.
Closing his eyes, his mind drifted back to that day at the beach. He had been giving an order to one of his soldiers when a burst of flame shot up behind him and he was face to face with that monster from the underworld. All he had remembered was drawing his sword and saying something to the effect that if he wanted a fight he had come to the right place. The demon raised his claw-like hand in his direction and Ares felt a surging pain run through him like he had never felt before. His mind became cloudy and a strong intense wave of dizziness overtook him. After that the memories were vague. Going to where Callisto had stashed Hope; bringing her to the Halls of War, getting it on with Hope, the ceremony at the Temple. The only memory he couldn't shake was walking into the Temple and being made to kneel before Dahok. It was a memory that still brought a fresh knot to his stomach. He had to endure many humiliating things growing up under Zeus and Hera but nothing as degrading as kneeling before his enemy like a weak helpless mortal. He was Ares, God of War. He destroyed his enemies. Not bowed to them. Even then he knew his time would come if he just played his cards right. But that was all over now. Hope and Dahok, with the help of Hercules and Iolaus, were dead and Olympus was safe. Shaking away the cobwebs, his thoughts turned to Xena and Gabrielle. He would sit them down and tell them the whole story including what transpired after Gabrielle and Hope went over the side.
Callisto's fireball had broken Dahok's spell. He was drained and angry when he realized what had happened but knowing he had only any instant to act he disappeared from the hall reappearing within the pit. He got under Gabrielle as she fell downward; catching the young bard before she hit the burning coals under her.
She lay in his arms as helpless and limp as a rag doll. Carefully he placed her on the ledge and knelt next to her. She was only half-conscious, half-aware of what had happened. The God of War stroked her long blonde hair. She had kept up her end of the bargain without telling Xena. She had agreed to kill Hope in exchange for Xena's life. It was part of Dahok's order. If Xena killed his daughter Hope, Ares was ordered to take her life. He had screwed that demon on that end of his plan; then compounding it by saving Gabrielle and letting Hope fall to what he figured would be her death. He had been very skeptical that Gabrielle had the nerve to do what she had agreed to do. But she had kept her end of the deal. It was the least that he could do for her now.
"Your not going to remember any of this Gabrielle," Ares said in a soft voice. "When you wake up, you'll be safe but with no memory of how you got out of here. Do you understand me?"
"'No mem.." Gabrielle mumbled trying to turn her head. She was out of it bad. Slowly Ares raised his hand and bathed the young bard in a bath of red light. He had to be sure she had no injuries before bringing her to the surface. He had chosen a hospice not too far away. She could rest there and when she was strong enough, go searching for her friends. All had turned out well in the end and the two were reunited. They even managed to finally dispatch Hope and that thing she had spawned. Everything was back to normal.
Reaching out with his mind he searched for his Warrior Princess and her faithful companion. From the first day she had entered his temple he had formed a bond with her that allowed him to always instantaneously know her whereabouts; of course being a God didn't hurt either. Village after village; city after city but the pair was nowhere to be found.
Corinth was just ahead. Might as well start there. In a flash Ares found himself in the mist of a marketplace. Things were dwindling down for the night. Merchants closing up shop or packing up their carts. Last minute shoppers ran around trying to find what they would be needing for the night.
Outside one of the local taverns a number of soldiers had gathered. They were Iphicles' men; probably just finishing their shift before returning to the palace. The tall one with greying hair seemed to be commanding the attention of the others. So as not to disturb the group, Ares appeared invisibly within their mist. They would never know he was there. Only Xena knew when he was around; even when he didn't want her to.
"I'm telling you, he got both of them. I saw them both hanging there. He nailed them to the cross; not just tying them like they usually did. I guess Caesar was afraid they'd get away somehow."
Ares listened carefully wondering who this soldier was talking about. He knew of the Roman's use of crucifixion as a form of punishment, but nailing the prisoners? Not a bad idea.
He was about to leave when he heard a statement that made his blood run cold.
"I can't believe it. Someone finally managed to kill the mighty Xena."
"What!?" Ares roared becoming visible to the men who jumped back kneeling before the God of War.
Grabbing the one who had spoken the dreaded words, Ares pulled the soldier off his feet; lifting him up by the neck.
"Say that again!" Ares snarled, "About Xena!"
The soldier turned ashen realizing his life was hanging by a thread.
"I saw them, my Lord," he said trying to talk through Ares clinched grip around his windpipe. "Xena and that little friend of hers. I had been sent by Iphicles to bring a message to Caesar but his cabinet had killed him on the senate floor. On the way back I was walking past where they had prisoners hanging. I saw them both hanging there dead."
Ares tightened his grip slowly and painfully squeezing the life out of the soldier.
"And you did nothing!"
"They were already dead, my Lord I swear! There was nothing I could do."
Ares punched into his mind searching the soldier's memories. Staring into his terrified eyes, the God of War saw what the soldier had spoken about. There, in the mist of the snow and icy wind, his warrior princess hung nailed to the cross, her back broken. Gabrielle, her hair now much shorter than it had been when he had left her at the hospice hung there next to her. Together even in death.
The God of War threw the man to the ground. As much as he wanted to kill him, it wasn't his fault. The one man who could be blamed was also dead. He couldn't even kill him. Pain and anguish ripped through Ares; tearing at his very soul. Every nerve torn to shreds. His Warrior Princess was dead. If he had been here, he could have saved them both whether Xena would have wanted him to or not; but he wasn't. Now they were both dead and he would never see her again.
Ares disappeared in a explosion of fire that sent the men sprawling face down to the ground.
Ares reappeared seconds later in his Temple. Pain and anguish beyond all reason ripped viscously through him. Seeing nothing but his Warrior Princess hanging there, the red hot rage that he had always kept in check exploded as he shot lightning bolts at everything he saw. He wanted to destroy everything and everyone around him. Shield after shield was split in half; weapons of death and destruction were thrown about. Marble statues reduced to dust; stained glass windows were shattered; tapestries that had been hanging on the wall were torn to shreds; offering tables overturned; dumping whatever had been on them to the floor. Nothing mattered anymore. No offering from any mortal could bring back his Xena.
With nothing left to demolish, the God of War grabbed his throne. Raising the chair above his head he brought it crashing it down splintering it into tiny pieces. Over and over again, smashing the wood against the black marble floor until all that was left was tiny splinters of wood.
Dispelling the fury, Ares dropped to the floor curling up in a seated position. He couldn't hold back the grief that tore at him like a savage animal. Hot stinging tears rolled down his face that he buried in his hands, crying as if his very soul would break. He didn't care who saw him. All of Olympus could go to Tartarus. He had nothing left. His Xena, his warrior princess, his love was gone and it was his fault. If he hadn't been off watching the battle in Persia he could have saved them both.
Sorrow and agony welled up from within him. It was as if he were crying the tears of a thousand lifetimes. If he had the hinds blood medallion he would have used it's crimson contents on himself. He would welcome death if it meant being reunited with the only mortal, the only one he really loved.
After awhile, his tears seemed to quiet themselves. He sat curled up, his arms wrapped around his waist, his long black curly hair hanging in his face. "Xena," he whispered in a hushed voice, "Xena, I'm sorry. It's my fault. I let you die. It's my fault.it's my fault."
"It's not your fault Ares," came a soft gentle voice behind him.
Ares turned to see his Uncle Hades standing a few feet behind him.
With lightning speed, the God of War jumped to his feet grabbing Hades by his black shirt tossing him into the wall along side him.
"I want her back now!" Ares shouted slamming him against the wall hard enough to make the walls shake. "Give her back Hades! Or I'll make you suffer like.."
Before Ares could finish his sentence, Hades hit him with a bolt of energy that knocked him to the ground a few feet back. The God of War rose up on one knee and shot a fire bolt at Hades. Either the God of the Underworld would return her or he would destroy him and all of Tartarus.
"I said NOW!" Ares roared, his voice cracking with rage and pain.
"I don't have her!" Hades shouted back dodging the fire bolt. It collided with the wall behind him sending smaller balls of flames shooting of in all directions. Ares was totally over the edge. He had never seen his nephew this out of control. His passion for Xena was overtaking his sense of reason and there was nothing Hades could do. At this point the God of the Underworld doubted that there was anything even Zeus could have done.
"I'm warning you Hades!" came another threat and a fireball the size of a human head came searing at him. A split second late and the fireball hit him between his arm and his chest setting his shirt on fire. With a wave of his hand Hades dispelled the flames.
This was it. He had to calm his nephew down before he had to face Zeus and explain why he killed his son. Hades extended his hand and a golden chord flew from his palm and wrapped around the God of War pinning his arms to his sides. Ares fell to his knees, struggling to get out of his bonds.
"That should hold you." Hades snapped back walking over to his nephew.
"You're finished Hades!" Ares shouted trying to break free, "When I get out of this I'll..."
"Don't count on it." Hades said grabbing Ares by his arm and pulling him to his feet. It was ripping Hades up inside to see his nephew in such agony but it was out of his hands this time.
"I want her back," Ares said, his voice, raspy and sore, its tone just above a whisper, "She's mine. Give her back...Please."
Hades couldn't answer as a lump caught in his throat. He had never heard his nephew say please to anyone. Not even his own parents. This was destroying the mighty God of War. Despite all the abuse he had put up with as a child, all the fighting with Hercules, he had always remained strong. The other Gods had only the faintest of ideas concerning Ares interest with this one particular mortal, not even his parents knew the extent of his passion for her. But now, seeing his nephew's eyes, red from crying, his voice wracked with pain, his spirit so broken, the God of the Underworld wanted nothing more than to set things straight. But he couldn't. Not this time.
"Listen to me Ares." Hades said grabbing Ares by his upper arms and forcing him to look at him. "I don't have her. He soul didn't come to me."
"Then where did it go?"
Hades paused, not sure how to break this to his nephew. His love was now part of another realm that he had no control over. Another God did. A new God that had just begun gather followers.
"She's in another place. With another God."
"What other God?" Ares asked calming down and becoming confused at the same time. Only Hades dealt with the dead. Where else would she..
"Because of Gabrielle's spiritual quest and her own discoveries, Xena is in the realm of the God of Light?"
"Apollo?" Ares snapped becoming angry all over again, "If that bottle blonde."
"Not Apollo.Ares listen to me." Hades was becoming frustrated. How could he tell Ares what had happened. He was still so full of rage that anything was possible.
"Xena is part of the realm of the God of Light. The God of the Israelites. She was brought to what the Isrealites call heaven; our Elysian Fields. Ares, there is no way to get her back. I'm sorry."
Ares stood there baffled. What his uncle was saying wasn't making sense. Because of that annoying blonde, Xena wasn't in the Elysian Fields were she should be. He would take care of that right now.
"Release me Hades. I want to have a talk with this other God. He has what belongs to me and I'm going to get her back. Where can I find this God?"
Hades wanted nothing more at that moment than to disappear. He was sorry that he had said anything but he wanted desperately to bring peace to his nephew. If he knew she was happy and her soul was in a better place maybe he would go on without her. Now he saw there was no chance of that.
"I said release me! NOW!"
"I liked it better when you said please." Hades cracked. His nephew's eyes were as cold and empty as a pit. To release him so he could go to this new God."
Ares' expression softened seeing how worried he was making his uncle. Hades could have done anything to him, yet at the worst his arms and shoulders were a bit sore from the golden chord. He was still alive and he would get Xena back. That he was sure. Maybe he's even get that annoying blonde back too. Might as well keep Xena happy.
An embarrassed smile replaced the mask of rage. Nodding, "Hades, please release me so I can talk to this other God into releasing Xena. I'm sure we can come to an agreement, one God to another."
"He's as calm as he's going to get," Hades said to himself, dissolving the golden chord. Ares rubbed his upper arms stretching them to get the kinks out. He glanced around at the sheer destruction all around him.
"I guess I was a bit angry." he joked to Hades who burst out laughing.
"I'd say so."
With a wave of his hand, the God of the Underworld restored the temple to its original standing before Ares had demolished it.
"Thanks Uncle." Ares said extending his hand to Hades. The God of the Underworld clasped hands with the God of War nodding back.
"Any time nephew."
"Now," Ares said placing his arm around Hade's shoulder, "Where can I find this other God?"
Hades took a deep breath holding it for a second before releasing it. He began to tell Ares where he could find the God.
Ares closed his eyes taking a deep breath before opening them again. There before him stood tall majestic gates of gold that gleamed with an unearthly brilliance. All around him were white clouds that made up the ground and sky that enveloped not only him but
everything around it. It was nothing like Olympus or any other place he had ever been too. All this fluffiness was making him very uneasy. Well he wouldn't be here long. All he needed to do was reclaim Xena's and Gabrielle's souls and return with them to
the Crypt where their families had laid them out together. He was looking forward to the shock their families would have when the pair returned home alive. Maybe this would bring him back into good graces with the Warrior Princess.
"Who stands before the gates of the God of Light?" came a deep voice to his right. It seemed to echo all around him sending a ringing in his ears.
Ares turned to see a tall, muscular man with short blond hair standing a few feet away. He wore a long white robe that fell just above his ankles with a golden chest plate and gauntlets around his wrists. Instead of boots, he wore sandals on his feet. He gave
the stranger the once over, knowing he never heard him approach. Something about his dress reminded him of a Roman soldier.
The stranger waited; his face an expressionless mask but something about his blue eyes that gave off a cold arrogant air. He stood there waiting, not flexing a muscle.
"I am Ares, God of War. I demand to be let inside to see this God of yours." he answered taking a step towards the stranger. He was determined to get Xena back and no one, not even this individual was going to stop him.
"You demand nothing here, Godling." the stranger said in a calm but stern voice.
"Godling?" Ares repeated not sure if he had heard right, "Maybe you didn't hear me. I am Ares, God of War and I demand to be let through those gates!"
Ares could feel the anger growing in him. How dare this guy speak to him in such a manner. He closed his fist ready to shoot a lightning bolt through whoever this joker thought he was.
"I am the Arch-Angel Michael." the stranger said reading his unspoken thoughts, "You are now in the realm of the God of Light. You have no authority here. State your business."
Ares clinched his teeth ready to state his business by frying this.this angel.
"I am here to claim something your God has that belongs to me and I."
"The God of Light has nothing that belongs to any other than himself. You are mistaken and I must ask you to leave."
Without another word, Michael turned his back and started to walk away; dismissing Ares without another thought.
Ares took a step towards Michael, his anger building to a rage that would be difficult to control. He wanted nothing more than to turn this wimp before him into dust. Closing his eyes, the God of War took a deep breath counting to ten before slowly releasing
it. Either this holy freak lets him through those gates or he would blast his way through. The chose was his but he wasn't going to leave without Xena and Gabrielle.
"Hold it!" the God of War shouted getting Michael's attention.
The Angel turned to face the War God, his face a blank mask.
"Understand this. I am staying here," Ares said approaching Michael until they were practically eye to eye, "Until I get back the souls of Xena and Gabrielle that your God has in his possession. They are mine. At the very least they belong in the Elysian Fields not wandering around some wimpy, puny..."
Michael remained silent, his steel blue eyes staring straight ahead appearing to look more through Ares than at him.
Ares, taking this as an insult, that he was being ignored.
"Are you listening to me?" Ares shouted in Michael's face his hand flying towards his neck. It took the will of a God not to strangle this individual.
"That won't be necessary." Michael suddenly said breaking out of his trance, "The God of Light will see you."
Ares took a step back giving his vest a quick tug. That was more like it. He knew that this.angel was no match for him and neither was this other God. He would go in there, take Xena and Gabrielle and return home to finish what he started.
Micheal picked up his staff and waved it in the direction of the Gates. Slowly they opened and a burst of light shone forth. Ares stepped back covering his eyes with his hands.
"You may enter." Micheal said disappearing in a burst of light.
Ares lowered his hands, turning back towards the gate. Either the light had dimmed down or his eyes had adjusted quickly. Either way he was going in. With one hand on the hilt of his sword the God of War walked slowly through the gates his brown eyes glancing right, left, up, down, watching for any hidden traps he might come across. There was not way he was going to trust some strange God or his cronies that guard
The veil of clouds continued to swirl around him. Everything was white and fluffy. He thought of his nephew Cupid, he could see him in such a place. But not the God of War. The soft sound of voices caught his ears. Singing. Ares stopped to listen. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. Even better then Poseidon's Sirens. It was light and airy; like the echoing of a bell. The music had a pure sound to it. He would definitely have to fill Apollo in on this when he returned home.
"I understand you wished to see me." came another voice in front of him. This one vibrated like thunder in a cavern. It almost knocked the God of War to his feet. Ares turned to see the most magnificent light before him. It was even brighter than the one that had caught him at the gate.
"Am I speaking to the God of Light?" the God of War asked taking at the light. This veil annoyed him. It was worse than appearing before Zeus. As egotistical as his father could be, at least they met face to face.
"I am Ares, God of War. I'm here to claim what is mine."
"What is yours? I'm afraid that you are mistaken. I don't have.."
"You have the souls of the ones known as Xena, the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle from Podadea!" Ares barked back. If he had to hear one more time that he was making a mistake..
Silence fell over the area. The God of War waited knowing his patience was wearing thin. He was going to get them back if he had to rip every cloud to shreds to find her.
"The ones you seek. Xena and Gabrielle.."
"Are mine. They died at the hands of Roman soldiers but they were from Greece. They don't belong here. They belong in the Elysian Fields or."
"You are not here to bring them to the Elysian Fields War God. You want them back on earth with you." the God of Light said with definite amusement.
Ares grit his teeth. He hated it when his private thoughts were evaded on. Zeus and Hera always did that to him. But this guy was another story.
"They are mine and I want them returned. I'm willing to be fair about this but don't push it."
"Just what do you consider fair?" the God of Light asked, "Your ways are of no use to me. I stand for love and brotherhood, not death and destruction. There is nothing you can do for me."
Ares took another deep breath. He had just about all he could handle. It was worse than standing before Zeus. Who in Tartarus was this God to talk to him like that. He couldn't help who and what he was. It was the position he had been born into; not chosen. But Xena was his only love and he would do whatever it took to get her back; even seeing that irritating blonde would be alright at this moment.
"Xena is your love. The one who your soul cries for." The God of Light stated, his voice softer, "That is why you are here."
Ares forced his anger back down within him. This, this God was playing with him. This whole scene was for this God's amusement. He felt like a puppet being manipulated. Realizing there was no hiding it; Ares swallowed his pride and tried once more.
"Yes, she is." Ares admitted trying to remain calm. The vision of her and Gabrielle hanging on the cross was still fresh in his mind. He knew the agony they both suffered before death had mercifully taken them. The God of Light waited, knowing the War God before him was holding back. He would declare his true feelings if he were to ever see these individuals again.
"Xena," Ares continued trying to choke down the pain and the tears that were starting to build yet fighting the rage at his own weakness, his inability to stay in control. But when it came to Xena, he had never been in control, so why should this be any different.
"Xena is the only mortal that I have ever loved. She and her friend died unnecessarily and I want them back."
It was the first time that Ares had ever said those words out loud to a stranger. Only his Uncle Hades knew how he felt. Glancing away, the God of War wondered what the other God was thinking. He was unable to read his thoughts and it annoyed him more
than anything. Silence fell between them like an executioner's axe. Ares gripped the hilt of his sword, waiting for this Light God to say something.
"Would she say the same for you, War God?" the God of Light asked.
This was it. Ares turned away. There was no way he could say yes to this question after all he and Xena had been through. A wave of defeat poured over him like a tidal wave. He would never get her back, never see her face, hear her voice..
The God of War turned around to see Xena standing behind him. She, like Michael outside, was wearing a long white gown. Her long black hair hung loosely around her shoulders. She was as beautiful as he remembered. Slowly the God of War took a few steps towards her. Maybe this was just an illusion and she would fade but the Warrior Princess reached out and touched his arms. At the feel of her skin on his, Ares grabbed her and pulled her into a tight embrace; one arm around her waist, another up by her head not thinking about what her response to his touch would be. She had never been fond of him getting close to her in the past, but now he held her like a treasure he would never let go.
"Xena," he whispered into her ears; his voice cracking with emotion. "My Xena."
He felt the tears rolling down his face. He had never cried in front of anyone, let alone Xena but it didn't matter this time. Nothing did but holding her.
The Warrior Princess returned the loving gesture holding Ares closer than she had ever had before. She was no longer angry with him. She understood why he did what he did and through the God of Light she was able to forgive him for it.
"Well, Xena, Warrior Princess," the God of Light began, "Do you feel for the God of War as he does you? Is he your soul's love?"
Ares pulled back, "Damn, did he have to question her?"
"Hold it!" Ares snapped, "You have no right."
"Yes," Xena answered first glancing at Ares then up at the light. "Yes, I love him."
Ares drew in a breath so sharp it hurt. He was totally taken back by Xena's declaration. She reached up and touched his cheek with her hand. Her expression was soft, her blue eyes shining, not cold as he had seen them so often in the past.
"Xena, I." Ares began, his voice choking with emotion. He couldn't believe this. It had to be an illusion. A cruel heartless illusion by this God for his amusement.
"Shhh." She whispered kissing his lips so softly he barely felt it. "I understand now. I didn't before. I'm not angry with you. I.."
Ares pulled her close again; not waiting for the rest of her sentence. Her scent intoxicated him. She was so different. Softer, gentler, as if the transformation had taken away the strong, hardened warrior she once was. But it didn't matter. To hear her say she understood what happened, why he did what he did, that she didn't hold it against him.
Then another thought popped into his head that brought him back to reality.
"What about Gabrielle?" he asked, trying to gather his thoughts. His brown eyes turned towards the light; reflecting it's glare like a mirror.
"I came for both. I won't leave without her as well."
"You expect me to release the both of them?" the God of Light asked, "You expect a lot War God."
"Gabrielle too!" Ares snapped stepping in front of Xena. This God was playing games with him and he was in no mood. He came for the both of them and that's how he would leave.
"She and Xena are like sisters. You can't expect me to allow them to be separated."
The God of Light thought a moment. He was intrigued that this God, this lover of death and destruction actually had a soft side.
"What if I said I would only release this Gabrielle if you give up Xena forever?"
Ares remained silent as the fury in him rose to the boiling point. To give him Xena only to take her away. He glanced back at the Warrior Princess. She stood there, her expression not changing. She was a vision of beauty. All he wanted at that moment was her happiness even if it meant depriving himself of his own.
"I won't deprive her of her best friend. Not for my sake."
The God of Light burst out laughing. He was loving every minute of this.
"Gabrielle's soul will be returned to earth through the two of you. If you both truly love each other, you will bring her forth through love."
Xena and Ares glanced over at each other not sure if they understood.
"Are you telling me that the only way Gabrielle will ever see the earth again is if she is." Ares paused hoping he found the right words, "born to the two of us as our daughter?"
"That is correct. Otherwise, she and Xena will remain with me for all eternity."
Neither individual moved. Ares glanced away; fighting not to pull away from Xena. He had spent night upon night dreaming, no fantasizing about having Xena in his bed, holding her warm, naked skin close to him, making love to her until the sun came up. Any other time he would have grabbed the chance, but now if felt like an ultimatum.
He couldn't force Xena that far. Even at the risk of losing her.
"The decision is Xena's. I leave it to her."
"Well, Xena, what is your decision?"