by Arianwen P.F. Everett

Return to parts 1-10

     Xena eyed the fortress of Ares exterior with trepidation. The traps that surrounded and were inside the fortress were legendary. Supposedly only Zeus had the power to make it inside unscathed, without Ares turning off the security system.

     She blinked, as the light before her hurt her eyes, and when she opened them again, she was inside the fortress, what she knew to me the center room, the dugeon, where Ares could conjure and contain any beast he wished to use in his service. She had been here once, and this was the kind of room you never forgot. In the center was the largest cage she'd ever scene, forged by Hephestus himself, and inside, sat Ares, catatonic by the looks of him. This was not good.

     She'd seen that look on warriors' faces often enough. It was the only way one could hold back the flood of bloodlust and vengence, when all they wanted to do was fight, kill, rip out the hearts of their enemy. She'd seen it in the mirror enough, whenever Ceaser was involved.

     Xena ran her chakram over the bars of the cage, to get the War God's attention. He barely lifted his eyes. "I've heard of a man's home being his prison, but this..."

     Suddenly Ares bolted to the cage bars like a gorilla rushing towards a rival. "You know the danger! How can you make jokes?" Ares spat out.

     "How can you be so obstinent that you let your desire for bloodshed and revenge overcloud your judgement! You should have known Zeus would never have allowed you to kill everyone in Britainia! That's insanity! Most Britainians are not followers of Dahok! But they could be very useful in finding out who is and where we can find them! You go on a rampage, and your hatred and rage will only give Dahok what he wants! A mass sacrefice like you could only dream of!" Xena shouted back. Ares could really piss her off sometimes. And he had been such a good baby.

     Ares smiled one of his most infuriating smiles at her, and a small laugh escaped his sealed lips. "I bow to your brilliance, but what do you suppose we do?" he responded, mockery in his voice.

     "We go to Britainia. We fight Dahok, Gods and mortals. We destroy his followers, And only his followers, then Hope. Once they're gone, we go after the one true evil itself," Xena purred emotionlessly, though Ares saw beyond that facade.

      He felt how her blood called to his, its need to destroy that which destroyed her son, her friends, and that inciped bard's innocence. It was a fabulous feeling, and Ares absorbed it greedily.

      "Well?" she impaciently asked the God behind the bars. She could feel him nursing off her emotions, and she did not like how natural it felt. It was like coming home, the completion of a circle, bloodlust feeding bloodlust, power being shared.       "Alright, but Dahok's mortal followers..."

      "Are fair game. Just don't get in MY way," Xena said menacingly.

      "Never," Ares wispered, taken in by the wild look in the Warrior Princess's eyes. It was going to be like old times again, this mission, and he couldn't wait to see her massacre Dahok's people. He wanted out of his cage NOW!

      Xena looked over her shoulder, and saw Zeus conversing with Athena. She cleared her throat. No responce. "Oh Jailer," she called, again rattling her chakram against the bars. Ares covered his mouth to keep a laugh from escaping from him.

      "Yes," Zeus said, his slightly wrinkled brow furrowing. For the other Gods on Olympus, just his scowl would have struck fear, but this mortal woman seemed unmoved, and his son seemed equally defiant now, as if drawing confidence from the Lovely Warrior. This was something that could not go unwatched, and The King of the Gods made a mental note to pay more attention to this Xena woman in the future.

      "I swear by my Godhood that I will not destroy Brinainia, only those directly connected with Dahok. I've come to my senses. Now, please let me out," Ares stated pedantically, like a child reciting rules he knew by heart, and paid little heed to.

      However, the oath was enough to bind him, and Zeus knew his tone and attitude were just meant to agitate him. However he wasn't letting these two troublemakers run loose just yet. He had to keep control. "Very well, however, there is one stipulation to your release. Xena, Warrior Princess, you seem to have helped my son to regain his control, however, if I am to release him, it will be into your custody, until this matter of this evil foreign god is resolved. If he looses himself, and massacres the people of Britainia, it will be on your soul, and I will have Hades create a especially nasty place in Tartarus for you to suffer eternity. Do you accept my condition, both of you?" Zeus asked. Now he'd see how strong their solidarity was. Considering the stories he'd heardfrom the other Gods, he seriously doubted they could work together.

     "I agree," Xena stated, nodding her head. She didn't stutter or hesitate, and that impressed and worried Zeus.

     "Fine by me," Ares stated, just as firmly, but with a leering lilt in his eyes, directed at Xena.

     Zeus shrugged and opened the cage, setting Ares free.

     "So, Princess, how should we travel to Britainia? Should I just wisk us away, or..."

     "First we find Gabrielle. Then we gather an army. Then we sail to Britainia, and end Dahok's reign once and for all!" Xena said, a smile crossing her face, as the plan rewound itself in her head.


      Ares waved goodbye to his uncle Posidon, as he sunk beneath the ocean waves and away from the drifting ship, which suddenly started to move again. Well, it would cost him a favor, but Dahok wouldn't be messing with the armada he and Xena had strung together. Ares could only hope and trust that Dahok wasn't strong enough to challenge his uncle in his own domain.

      He looked across the deck at the sailors around him, and sneered with disgust. He needed to be amongst his own ilk, and headed towards the door leading to the hold, where the battle hungry warriors he'd enlisted to fight the one true evil were being housed. He needed to test steel to steel, he was in a foul mood, made fouler by the traveling arrangements he'd discovered had been made only once he had boarded the ship.

      Xena had insisted she did not want to sail with him and that it would be better anyway if they each took charge of one group of warriors, so they would not terrorize the sailors in boredom and bloodlust. She'd always had a head for that kind of organization in an army, rare in most warlords, and it had always been a point in her favor. That was not the problem however. The problem was whom she WAS currently traveling with on one of the other twenty ships, run by some woman pirate named Nebula. His damn halfbreed halfbrother halfwitt!

      Ares knew he shouldn't care but he did. It shouldn't matter whom on Earth or in Tartarus, this mortal warrioress chose to bed down with, but it most definitely did right now, and right now Ares needed the one thing that could surpass Xena in his consciousness, blood.

      He stormed down into the hold, only to find his warriors not sparing, preparing for battle, but pushing each other out of the way in order to get closer to one obscured figure in the center. A high pitched female laugh struck him from the center of th crowd, and Ares sighed. He didn't need this right now, although, then agian, she could be just the person to release his anger upon. "Discord! What are you doing here?!"

      "Waiting for you, but these men seem to know how to show a lady a better time," the young Godess said, making eyes with one particularly handsome buck.

      Ares growled in responce.

      "Alright, alright, Zeus sent me. Said he wanted to make sure you and the lady warrior kept your end of the bargin. If you go nuts, not only does Xena get Tartarus, but I get your Godhood. I like it. Discord, Godess of Massacre. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think Ares?"

      "What, a big hole where Britainia used to be wouldn't be noticed by the King of the Gods?" Xena asked, trying to avert Ares attention a bit. Discord was baiting an already tense Ares, and Xena didn't want to spend eternity in torment, should he explode.

      "Xena, nice to see you again," Discord said ingenuously.

      "I doubt it, now why are you here? I doubt you'd be Zeus's first choice of chaperone, being a chronic liar and all," Xena asked, just as stand-offish as the two Gods in her company.

      "Actually, you're right. None of the other Gods were interested, and I volunteered, so here I am. You didn't think I was going to let you and Miss Warrior Princess take a romantic little cruise together, did you Ares?" Discord teased.

      Ares looked like he wanted to pounce, as most of the soldiers in attendence fought back a laugh at that remark. "This is hardly a 'romantic cruise', we're off to fight a viscious war against a God that wants you and your entire family dead and the entire earth subjegated in terror," Xena explained, striking fear in the hearts of the jovial warriors.

      "Same difference, at least in Ares book," Discord harped. This time, no one was laughing, and Discord realized she was looking bad here. "Anyway, I'm going to pop on ahead to Britainia. See if I can stir up descention in the ranks of Dahok's followers,"

      "At least you can do something useful," Ares commented.

      "Oh, I can do many useful things, including keeping an eye on you two. See you around!" Discord said, flashing away. The warriors groaned at the loss of the only eligible woman on board, and Ares and Xena left the hold in annoyance.

      "Damn her!" Ares shouted, once he had stomped all the way to the bow of the ship, Xena right behind him.

      "Calm down!" Xena ordered, grabbing Ares chin, and forcing his eyes to meet hers.

      Ares clenched his fists at his side, and took a deep breath. "If it was anyone but you, Xena..." he growled, forcing her hand off his beard. Xena held his eyes, challenging him to forget who she was and cuff her. The two stayed that way, each holding their ground.

      Suddenly Ares felt himself knocked off his feet, a force ramming into him from behind. He quickly caught himself as he hit the floor, twisting in one movement to grab his sword and face his attacker.


     Ares smiled a dark and eager smile before throughing his entire weight and force into his attacker, sending the two rolling over five times, with Ares getting the upper hand. "Sorry you chose to come along, but we don't really need you here Brother!" Ares said, removing a dagger from his belt. This time it wouldn't be on his head, if he killed...

     Suddenly pain shot through his head, as Xena's boot connected with his ear, and he fell off his opponent as for a split second, he lost his barings.

     "I AM NOT SPENDING ETERNITY IN TARTARUS SO YOU CAN KILL HERCULES!" Xena shouted at the recovering God. She then put her boot into the side of her demigod mentor. "AND YOU, What in the name of Zeus where you trying to do?!" she hissed and kicked three times.

     "Ow! Stop Xena! I saw him threatening you! I thought you needed help!" Hercules said, shielding himself with his muscular forearms. He could easily deflect her kicks, but he didn't want to hurt her. She was obviously upset, and perhaps he had interfered and been in the wrong.       "I can't believe this! Is it some sick family trait you share that you can't believe I can take care of myself!" Xena said, her anger building, and her eyes turned to Ares, who had gotten up and replenished himself, looking a regal and supreem as ever. He smiled a dangerous smile at Xena, daring her. He loved to fight her. They each slowly started to circle each other, waiting for an opening, and Hercules, knowing he could do nothing but try to keep everyone else safe during the battle to come stepped back.

      "Xena! There's a group of ships just approaching the horizon! They're not ours! Xena!" Gabrielle shouted from the perch uptop where she stood watch.

      Xena's war cry hit the air, as she flipped backwards out of Ares reach and right infront of the ladder leading to the lookout. Swiftly she ascended the distance and grabbed the primative telescope from her friends hand. She looked in the direction Gabrielle pointed and saw the large Britanian vessels approaching. "Damn! They're making a premptive strike, and this army has never even fought together as a unit, muchless a sea battle! They're soldiers not pirates!" Xena swore, pounding her fist into the post. She took another look through the scope, and plan came into her mind. She flipped down all the way from the outlook post, confronting the startled captain. "This Armada is going to be getting extremely close. Smaller ships towards the center. Ares, make contact with your uncle, Posiden, see if he can give us some large waves oin twenty minutes exactly.

For a second Ares was stunned. A mortal was giving HIM orders, but Xena had her no nonscence or I'll skin you alive personally look, and he ran towards the bow of the ship to get his Uncle's attention.

The older God rose to the sea surface, and eyed his perniscious nephew with weary eyes. "What do you want now?" he asked, rolling his eyes slightly.

"Waves, we need waves, big one in twenty minutes precisely. It seems Dahok knows not to attack directly, so he's using his mortals and an Armada of their ships to meet and destroy our main forces before we can get to Britainia. We need these soldiers, if we are to win!" Ares explained emphatically.

"Why don't you just... Oh, right, this Dahok would block you from just landing your men on Britainia," Posiden mimiced, rolling his eyes again. Godlings. Always so concerned about things of relatively insignifigant proportions. This Dahok wasn't even a century old, hadn't even escaped his celestial plane to enter the world, and Ares was fighting a full blown war with him. Whatever made the kid happy as long as it left him alone. "Alright. You want waves in twenty minutes you got waves, Happy?"

"Thank you." Ares responded, holding back a snide comment.

"Good, now leave me in peace!" The Lord of the Seas huffed, plunging below.


     The ships, now tethered together like a great barge rocked violently. Everyone grabbed onto whatever they could find, as waves seemed to swamp the decks again and again, forcing the sailors and soldiers alike, into the hold. They could do little, but hope that the Britannia ships sent by Dahak would fair far worse being smaller, less sophisticated, and without the support provided by the anchoring of the ships together.

     Ares insisted on standing on the deck, watching the carnage of Dahak's men, sinking beneath the waves. Xena had declined his offer to stay, and was within the hold, huddling together with Gabrielle and Hercules.

     Using his powers, Ares was also keeping kept an eye on his brother. He didn't want the upstart mongrel trying to rekindle anything in Xena. He wanted her rough and focused, as she had been on Olympus when she won him his freedom. He wanted her to be his Warrior Princess, and this time Hercules would not get in the way.

     As the last of Dahak's armada fell victim, succumbing to the vast ocean, Ares smiled, then waded across the deck towards the steps that lead to the soppy hold.

     As he was about to descend the short staircase, Ares looked out across the makeshift barge, and laughed at the sinking ship his idiot brother's best friend was on. The pirates, warriors, and that Iolaus pest had emerged from their hold, having felt the large piece of driftwood that had rammed them, piercing the keel. Now they were all bailing out water and screaming to the gods to save them.

     He fully intended to save the warriors and the pirates, but his brother's little friend would be meeting their uncle Hades soon. Ares smiled evilly, imagining the devastation on Hercules face when he discovers that while he was sitting on his ass down in the hold, his buddy was drowning to death.

     Or perhaps he could use this situation to his own advantage. Throw his do-gooder brother off kilter and endear himself to the lovely Xena. He wasn't stupid enough to believe that one act of rescue would make her swoon, but to know that he had done something she deemed good, might be just what he needed to find that chink in her armor of hatred for him, and it was hate she felt for him. He knew that for sure. He felt it in her. It was pure and divine, and it only served to endear him more to her.

     With a wave of his hand the crew of the dying vessel were spread out between the remaining twenty odd ships. Two other ships had also taken major damage, and he saved their crews and warrior cargo as well. However, the only person Ares added to this ship was Iolaus. He wanted to make a point.

     When the waves had ceased twenty minutes later, and the ocean calmed, Xena, Hercules, and the sailors left the hold. Upon reaching the deck, Hercules let out a sigh of relief to see Iolaus in one piece. Iolaus looked stunned, just sitting on the deck, braced for the seas further fury.

     Hercules and Xena rushed to their friend's side.

     "Are you okay?" Xena asked first. She looked towards Ares for a moment, thinking he must have done something sinister to the fair haired man, something not obvious. Perhaps something internal. She kneeled down by Iolaus, and started feeling ribs and limbs.

     Iolaus pushed her hands away. "I'm fine Xena. Herc, we were going down, and... Ares, what happened to the other, Nebula and..."

     "They're all taken care of. They're scattered about the remaining ships. No one on our side was killed," Ares said, rolling his eyes at such a petty concern as a few dozen human lives. He however, turned his attention to Xena to see what type of reaction she was having to his current benevolence. He almost wanted to laugh, as she calmly rose, and began climbing the rope ladder to the lookout. Any mortal would have believed she was back to business as usual and had disregarded contemplating his saving the drowned ships crew and passengers, but not only could he read her mind, but he knew her well enough to know the questions were eating at her and this was just her pride and professionalism surfacing. A good commander always gave the impression that they always knew exactly what was going on and was on top of every contingency. From his perspective, it was quite a show.

     He continued to watched her, transfixed to the point that he completely forgot about his half brother and his companion. He saw her brows furrow, and a scowl cross her face. He looked out onto the ocean, and with his superior vision, saw what mortals on deck would have missed. He smiled a wicked smile and felt like a kid who just got away with something naughty.

     Hercules noticed his tormenting brother's gaze, and followed it out. He two saw the almost endless army of ships approaching. "Why are they here?" Hercules asked. Ares obviously had this planned.

     "Don't worry. They're on our side, brother. Mars made a special request," Ares responded smugly, his eyes still fixed on Xena, who was absently stroking her chakram in a predatory manor. Ares was in ecstasy, with the thoughts running through her head.

     Hercules and Iolaus were less thrilled at the sight Xena presented. Even without telepathy, they could see the dangerous bloodlust she was experiencing. It was like facing the warlord once again.

     Iolaus leaned in towards Hercules to whisper. "What's wrong with her?"

     Hercules pointed to the ships which were now coming over the horizon. "They're Roman, and that flag on the lead ship signifies that she carries their Caesar."


     Xena jumped down from the lookout, charging Ares. She grabbed him by the neck, ramming him hard into the lookout post. "Why, you deceitfull sack of sh..."

     "Xena, please," Hercules requested, cringing at the ferocity she displayed. He knew he'd been that way himself many times where his brother was involved, but Xena seemed posessed by this rage.

     "Sack of SHIT!" she punctuated. She was way gone now.

     "Now, Xena, he brings with him over 16,000 of the most highly trained soldiers on Earth, all at your disposal. I would think that you could put aside your feud with Ceaser for a minute and think of the future of humanity a moment," Ares teased with a straight face.

     "My disposal?" Xena asked. This didn't seem right. Ceaser would never give up potential glory, or the chance to command his own army from the safety of a tent. And he'd NEVER give a woman command of anything besides cooking his supper.

     "Yes, although he doesn't know it yet, Ceaser will be sitting this one out. The man is an excellent politician, and on the corpses of his soldiers, he has been sucesssfull in expanding his empire. But this is not the kind of battle shear numbers can win. I need a charasmatic general who can whip her men's bodies, minds, and souls into a singular purpose. Otherwise Dahok will crush us from the inside out. Under Ceaser's command, those men could easily become Dahok's. The general of this army has to be able to so fill these men with will and determination that there is no room for doubt or second guessing within their hearts. As you have already acknowledged, Dahok's power comes from the human heart. Ceaser's only passion is his own ambitions, and possibly in possessing and destroying you. A good trait in mortal warfare, disasterous in a war between gods, which is why I am turning over his forces to your command," Ares explained.

      Xena laughed. "You may be his most favored god, but Ceaser will never go for that."

      "Let's just say, he has no choice, and he knows it," Ares replied, vanishing away to the lead Roman ship.

      Xena wondered what Ares had meant by that, but knew now was not the time to ponder the question. Now she had to reorganize her army. 16,000 additional troops made a big difference. Still, the anticipation of watching a humbled and humiliated Ceaser turn over command to her, sent a sadistic chill through her.

      After assuring Hercules and Iolas that she was all right, she called over the ship's captain, ordering him to head for the main port in northern Gaul, and to send the other ships the same order. With three ships down in the waves, they needed to purchase supplies and arms to replace those lost.             Two of the ships that had been sunk had been pirate ships, and Xena tried not to think of how these crews planned to remake their lost homes. She hated to admit it, but she couldn't allow herself to worry about that now. They needed the ships and the crews in this war and they needed them now. She couldn't afford to enforce ethics and morality right now. Part of her didn't want to. That part wanted to keep her forces fully supplied and damn everyone else, and that frightened her. It felt too natural, too easy, to let this happen, but she had no choice. This was war. She'd give them all three hours to restock, and then they were off to Britainia.

      This decision made, she headed back down to the hold, to her best friend, and better half. She shut out all doubts, and assigned herself to the job at hand, but still, she needed comfort and assurance that she was not a monster.


     It was a balmy night in Gaul, and the new arrivals from the Greek and Roman armada were being eaten alive by local insects. Still, it was the kind of night where the sea air was fresh and tangy and noone could resist being out and around after such a long and arduous day.

      As Xena strolled around the little village, that had accepted the armies among them, she realized that she hadn't eaten all day, and knew she should. She located the small local resteraunt, and took the only available seat, under the canopy outdoors. Gabrielle soon joined her, making eyes with the waiter, till he lept to get her an extra chair.

      As they talked about the coming days, then moved on to less weighty, even silly matters, Xena let her emotional gaurd down, slowly sinking into the easy commradery she and Gabrielle shared.

      Until Hercules arrived, dragging two angry men with him. "Where's Nebula?" the demi-god demanded.

      "We don't betray our captain, man!" One of the prisoners spat back.

      "Well, then maybe you'd like to explain it to her!" Hercules replied, pointing to Xena who had now stood up, and assumed her, 'I'm in command; spillit or die!' pose.

      The fire of defiance went out of the two men's eyes, under the Warrior Princesses steely blue gaze, and they fell at her feet. "We need those ships, Me Lady! You need those ships, to defeat the enemy god in Britainia! We's only doin it for the mission!"

      "And to haul back whatever loot can be found," Hercules commented disgustedly under his breath.

      Xena took a deep breath. She gave Hercules a quick, pleading look for understanding and acceptance, and his jaw dropped as he realized what she was about to do.       "Alright, but the second we return, those ships are returned, and anything, you all happened to 'find', along the way goes to the families of anyone you've harmed in aquiring these vessels. Do I make myself clear?!" Xena demanded an answer.

      "Yes, Princess Xena! Yes, yes!" the two syncophantic pirates, replied earnestly.

      "And rememember, you are coming along to fight a war, not scavange after this army, Understood?", Xena asked, not waiting for a reply. They'd better understand or she'd deal with them herself, once this mission was complete. "Now go tell your Captain I need a word with her before we set out tomorrow, and also tell her I'd advise against showing her face around here till dawns early light," Xena commanded.

      "Yes ma'am!' both sailors replied in unison, scurring off to deliver their precious message.

      As everyone around them, started back to what they were doing, Hercules, stormed right up to the two women's table. "What the heck was that?" he demanded Xena, looking hard into her eyes.

      "That was problem management for an army of over 23,000 men," Xena responded cooly, shutting her feelings away. She had to maintain a posture of self confidence, despite her own doubts at her dubious actions.

      "As much as I like Nebula, she's a criminal, a pirate, those men are pirates, and you just gave them flat out permission to hijack three vessels!" Hercules stated unbelievingly, anger coursing through him.

      "I gave them flat out permission to increase the tactical strenth of this army! Dahok is strong, Hercules! We have got to be stronger, or everything and everyone in the world is detroyed and dead! A few harrassed sailor's is a small price to pay! And I don't take kindly to being openly questioned in front of my men!" Xena spat back, fire in her eyes. How dare he. She stormed out of the resteraunt, making her way back to the command tent.

      "Well, well, well, nicely done, Hercules. Although, on some level, this is sort of a conflict of interest. Then again, they do say that politics makes strange bedfellows. I didn't think you had any inclination towards my talents. Maybe there is hope for you yet," The petite, leather clad Godess stated, running an index finger down Hercules's chest.

      "Discord. Great, just what I need," Hercules said, sighing and moving away from her straying hands.

      "Okay, look. Though it really goes against my better judgement, I'm going to explain things to you. Xena commands this army. You follow her orders, and you don't go making her look weak. Else, the rest of the men will start questioning her, and this army does need a strong leader. As much as I personally hate her, Xena is exceptional at just that!" Discord spat out coldly.

     "What do you care? Shouldn't you be off running errands for Ares?" Hercules replied.

     "Look Muscel for Brains, I have as much at stake here as you or your helpless little mortals. We're on the same side. I'm trying to avert problems in this army, and start them accross the channel, so appologize, and make nice nice with our fair Commander!" Discord shouted, ramming Hercules down to the ground with a wave of power. Discord then disappeared, as Hercules pulled himself to his feet.

     "She's right you know, Herc. We both know that sometimes in war, you have to follow orders, nowmatter whether you agree with them or not. I have faith that Xena has this all under control," Iolas commented to his friend, as he helped his friend brush the dirt off of him.

     Hercules looked out upon the sea of soldiers, looking for the command tent. Once his eyes had fixed on it, he also noticed the dark figure, entering it. "Yeah, but possibly not for long. Come on," the Demi-god called back, his blond friend following quickly behind him, as not to get loss in the mass of men.

      The candles gave the tent's interior and it's sole occupant a soft ethereal glow, making her look even more beautiful, radiant, even divine, as she observed the map before her. A finger traversed its way down the map, and her eyes flashed as she grabbed the quill beside her, taking notes on her new discovery.

      Ares rolled his own eyes at himself. He was being stupid, him The God of War, hiding behind a tent flap, gawking at a warrioress like some lovestruck farmhand. He took three more steps into the tent to come up behind the working woman.

      "Wench, I told you I'll take my bath when I'm good and ready!" Xena barked out, a smirk on her face, as she imagined the look on her visitor's handsome, swarthy features.

      "Oh, but me' lady, I only hoped to help with the task," Ares cooed seductively, his hands coming to rest on either side of her shoulders, as his speaking lips dappled with her left earlobe, sending warm flutters through her system.

      No doubt about it. Say what you will about him, Ares was sexy, and she had to admit, she'd walked straight into that one. Xena cleared her throat, in an attempt to also clear her thoughts. "What do you need Ares?" she asked diplomatically.

      "I just came to see how you were doing. Being this close to Dahok's domain, I don't want to take my chances on getting back to Olympus, so like you, I'm stuck hear waiting out the morning with no entertaining prospects," Ares explained, righting himself again, and starting to pace.

      "Well, I'm just finishing up here, before I bathe and go back to my tent to sleep, but I'm sure a handsome God like yourself could find some 'entertaining prospects' somewhere in the villiage," Xena rebutted.

      "How can you say that? I'm not looking for just any mortal beauty to dally with!" Ares stated in mock astonishment.

      "Why not? From what I hear, that seems to be your usual strategy," Hercules said, as he entered the tent.

      "Why dear brother, I didn't know you were so concerned for my love life. We'll have to go 'window shopping' together sometime," Ares retorted, smiling at Hercules's annoyed frown.

      Xena just sighed. "Can I help you Hercules?"

      "Yeah, well, I came to appologize for questioning you like that out in front of your army. I've been a free agent so long, I guess I forgot about command structure. I was out of line, and I'm truly sorry," Hercules said, his head bowing just slightly, always keeping his eyes on his evil brother.

      Xena fought her instincts to hug him. She was his commanding officer after all. "Apology accepted, just don't let it happen again, okay?"

      "Okay," Hercules responded, getting the total message. Hercules couldn't bring himself to leave, yet he couldn't justify staying. Xena was a big girl. She could definitely take care of herself. But Ares was tricky and smart, and Xena wasn't acting like herself. He hated to admit it, but she seemed to be regressing into what she was when they'd first met on opposing sides. The fear of her returning to her warlord ways sent his heart cold.

      For her part, Xena said nothing more, returning to her work. She knew him so well, she could almost hear the concerns whirling about inside Hercules's head. When he figured out that she considered their discussion over, he'd leave. And five minutes of silence later, he did.

      "So now that he's gone, what do you say to me bringing you a light snack, having your bath drawn, and then maybe..." Ares purred, letting the sentence drop off.

      "I'm going to bed," Xena finished for him, with a smirk. Even if she couldn't really trust either of them to become lovers, it was definitely flattering to know that he still wanted to.

      Ares laughed deeply. She'd got him again. He could expect no less from his Warrior Princess. Still, as he left the command tent, he used his powers to create a small bowl of strawberries on the map table. She needed to eat, didn't she?

      He heard a soft "Thanks" from behind him, as he walked away, and he couldn't help but smile.