Ring of Passion
The night was cold and windy, but in the secluded clearing where the three friends had set up camp, they barely felt the weather. The trees surrounding them provided an effective buffer against wind and the fire burning in the centre of the area compensated for the lack of sunlight. The stars shone dimly above them and, if they had looked up, they would have seen a meteor flash across the heavens.
"Xena, are you actually going to sleep tonight, or just keep staring into that fire? It's not that interesting, is it?" Gabrielle asked. She was sitting up in her bedroll, watching her friend, who was staring into the orange flames, twitching every now and then. Her face was contorted slightly, although it may have just been the flickering of the fire. Her eyes betrayed her worry, although she had purposely kept her tone light.
Xena had not spoken all day. Normally this wouldn't have worried Gabrielle, but today, something had been different. They'd saved yet another village that morning and fought off a band of ruffians. Xena had been in her element; the leader had actually had some good training. Not good enough for the Warrior Princess, of course, but he'd been a good workout. She'd had no problem sticking a sword through him. After that, she had withdrawn into herself completely. She wouldn't say a word to Gabrielle, or to Joxer, who had caught up with them that afternoon.
"Uh, Xena? Gabby asked you a question. Xena? Xeeeenaaa? Hello? Is anyone the..?"
"I heard her Joxer, you can calm down. Now shut up and leave me alone." Xena snapped at the warrior wannabe. She turned to look at him with rage in her crystal blue eyes - a look he had never seen directed at him before. He moved away from her ever so slightly, trying not to anger her any further. He might put on a show of bravado for others, but even he knew enough not to antagonise an already angry Xena. Friend or not.
"Xena, that wasn't nice. You might be angry about something, I don't know, but you shouldn't snap at your friends. We care about you. What's wrong?" The bard, on the other hand, didn't see the warning signs.
Xena stood up suddenly, a deep fire burning inside her. "Get away from me, both of you. I'm leaving."
"What? Are you crazy?" Gabrielle also stood. "Xena, it's the middle of the night, where are you going to go? How about you sit down, tell us what's wrong and we'll work out what to do tomorrow, huh?" She tried to calm the angry woman down.
"Gabrielle, get out of my way. I'm having enough trouble keeping calm as it is. Like it or not, you are my friends and I shouldn't hurt you. I will though, if you don't MOVE!" Xena had been speaking softly at first, but her voice had steadily gotten louder, culminating in a shout.
Gabrielle just stared. What was Xena doing? She wouldn't try and hurt her. Would she? OK, maybe Joxer, but that was different. He was... well, Joxer. But, not Gabrielle.
"I'm not gonna tell you again." Xena's eyes took on a dangerous glint. Gabrielle stepped just enough to the side for Xena to launch herself into a flip that landed her next to Argo. Ignoring the stares of her friends, she quickly saddled the war-horse, mounted her gracefully and spurred her off into a canter.
Shaking, Gabrielle sat down. "What is wrong with her? She wouldn't normally act like that."
"Gabby, don't you think that's stating the obvious? She's your friend, of COURSE she won't try to kill you every day. You really need to work on thinking before you speak." Joxer, helpful as ever.
"Joxer, shut up!! I don't care what you think, to be honest. I know it hurts, but you know what? I DON'T CARE! Now, shut up, and go to bed before I hurt you." Scowling, the bard turned around, climbed back into her bedroll and pulled it over her head. Their discussion was over. Sighing pointedly, Joxer also settled down, soon beginning to snore loudly.
Xena rode on through the night, her mind puzzling over her actions earlier. She hadn't recognised any of the warriors they had fought earlier, including the leader. However something had been familiar about them. Something she couldn't put her finger on.
After that, she had quickly felt a strange sensation inside her; something telling her to kill, to destroy. She had tried to curb it for the rest of the day, but it keep growing, the feeling got stronger and stronger. The harder she tried, the quicker it grew. When Gabrielle had finally asked her what was wrong, she hadn't been able to help it. She had lost her temper. The only plan of action she could think of was to get away from anyone she might harm until she could trust herself to be near them again.
For now, she just rode on and on. She didn't notice the rain that started to fall; the wind picking up so much it was almost a gale. She didn't notice the lightening bolts that briefly illuminated the sky or the thunder that inevitably followed. She just rode.
Eventually, the storm wound down to a light rain, but by this time she was so wet it didn't make any difference. The dawn was just beginning and the sky was lit softly with shades of pink and gold, which overshadowed the blue-black of the night. She spared a moment to look up at the light, surprised the night had gone that fast. A thought made her stop, quickly dismount and walk Argo over to the nearby stream. She had been riding all night. Poor Argo must be exhausted - she had barely slowed down for hours. The warrior watched as the palomino drank deeply from the gushing flow.
As she sat, wondering where to go, what to do now, a familiar sensation made itself known. Xena tensed, wondering what he wanted this time, other than to spoil her morning. She stood up, drew her sword and plunged it into the empty air in front of her. Had anyone been watching, they would barely have seen her move, so well practised was the action. They would have been even more surprised to see a man appear out of thin air, with the sword sticking out of his gut.
"Xena! Do you have to do that? It's really not that much fun. All I wanted was to talk to you." The stranger asked, trying to remove the blade from his body, his dark brown eyes staring at Xena all the while. In response she merely jabbed it even further in.
"Ares. What do you want? Before you open your mouth, no I am not going to lead any armies for you, I do not want to get involved in any of you petty squabbles up on Olympus, I don't want to kill anyone for you and I'm never coming back to you. Now, does that answer your question?" The point appeared from his back.
The god just stared. "Xena, I told you, I want to talk to you. I get lonely up on Olympus, so I thought you might feel the same and want a diversion from... whatever it was that you were doing. Plus, I can solve your problem."
"Oh. You got bored. Well, you can tell me what you did to me and then you can leave. Frankly, I don't really care how you feel, although it was nice of you to let me know." Xena punctuated this with a twist of her weapon.
"Put the sword away and I'll tell you." He helpfully stepped back, to allow his Chosen to do what he suggested.
"No. I think it looks good. You should try it permanently." The warrior moved forward again, her patience already wearing thin with the aggravating deity.
"Fine, but you move it afterwards, OK?" The God of War insisted, not wanting to anger her any further. She may have thought otherwise, but he did notice the effect he had on her and tried to keep it to a minimum. In response, Xena merely raised her eyebrows.
"Whatever. Now listen to me. I know why you walked out on your friends, and I know how to stop you feeling like killing them. I'll be glad to help you - if you'll let me."
"What do you mean? How can you know? You've not been reading my thoughts again, have you? I know that you do." Xena's eyes barely showed the anger she felt at the idea.
"No! You have no faith in me. Look, the thing is, I can't tell you why. You'll have to trust me. I DO know why you feel like this. Do you trust me Xena?" His eyes did something his mouth couldn't - he begged her to believe him.
"I trust you. Now explain." When she looked in his eyes and saw what they conveyed, she could hardly say anything else.
"OK. Have you ever heard of the Ring of Passion?"
"No. Wait a minute, it this one of Aphrodite's stunts?" The warrior started to put two and two together, her blue eyes darkening in anger.
"I promise you, it's nothing to do with her. Anyway, we have to get that back before you can see your friends again. It's been stolen by some ugly moron who thinks he's got what it takes to use it's powers for his own purposes. Problem is, he doesn't." Anticipating the warrior's next question, he continued, "What powers? Oh, it can bring about the strongest emotions between anyone, any group of people. Love or hate. The holder can will it's force onto anything in the world - make the bitterest of enemies into comrades for life, the most peaceful of kingdoms fall into an intense feud. Heck, it could cause the mortal world to self-destruct, if it was used enough. He's currently got it focussed on you - that's why you got so angry with Blond- with Gabrielle and Joxer last night. It doesn't work on gods though." Ares took a long breath after he finished.
Xena ignored the insult to her friend. "So, when do we start? You go get some wood for a fire and I'll find something for breakfast." She half turned away, but left her face visible to him.
Ares scowled. Whatever he felt for Xena, he had absolutely no intention of having breakfast the mortal way that morning. "Xena wait. I've got a better idea." He waved his arm and instantly, a blanket appeared on the ground with various foods on; rabbit, venison, bread, cheese, fruit and a jug of wine. Xena noted that they were all things she liked. A smile emerged onto her face, unbidden. She quickly hid it, but not quickly enough.
"Now, isn't this a lot faster than your way?" An irrepressible grin was on Ares' face as he saw his Warrior Princess try to act in her usual cool, disinterested fashion. He remembered what she liked to eat. He thought back to a time a few years ago. She'd just won a particularly important battle - the name of which escaped him, there had been so many - and had been hungry. She had sent her men off to hunt, needing to plan their next conquest, when he'd popped up, bringing with him the exact same foods he had then, right down to the same wine. He wondered if she remembered.
She did. She wasted little time starting to eat, but her mind was racing. *He remembered. I thought he'd forgotten - obviously not. I wonder what he wants... but maybe he's just being nice. Or maybe he doesn't care and just wants to get on with finding this thing. What's it to him anyway? He said it doesn't work on gods. He looks good today...XENA! What are you thinking? Whatever it was, put it out of your mind - focus. Remember what he taught you? Mmmm... oh yeah... he taught me a lot... That wasn't what I meant and you know it! * Without realising, she had become involved in a battle between the conflicting parts of her soul.
Ares watched her eat, not knowing what she was thinking. Contrary to what she had said earlier, he didn't read her thoughts. Sure, he had in the past, but not anymore. Eventually, she finished and he poured her a cup of wine to wash it down with.
"Thanks. I'm done now - shall we go?" Xena handed him back the cup, and their fingers brushed together. They both felt the sudden surge, the rush of current from one to the other. After a long moment, Xena pulled her hand away. Her cheeks were tanned enough to hide the small blush on her face.
"Uhh, sorry. Anyway, shall we go?" Ares didn't answer, but flicked his arm slightly. The remains of their breakfast disappeared and in their place stood his horse, a beautiful black animal, worthy of the God of War. He had named it after the woman in front of him, who was currently occupied in saddling her own mount, unknown to her.
He waited for her to jump up on Argo's back and then followed suit, moving slightly forward, so that he keep up with her; she was already cantering away.
As they rode, Xena broke the rather uncomfortable silence. "All right, so how do we get this ring back? Who has it, anyway?"
"You remember Draco, don't you? He's got it. As for how we get it back; I was hoping you'd have some ideas."
Xena scowled. Oh yes, she remembered Draco. Bastard had gotten in the way during that whole mess with Cupid's son - whenever she saw him now he reminded her of that. Or, more specifically, he reminded Gabrielle of it. At least she wasn't here this time. Gabrielle!
"Ares, I need to get in contact with Gabrielle and Joxer. They'll be wondering where I am. If I write them a note, will you make sure it gets to them?" She pulled Argo up, knowing he would agree.
"Don't see why not, nothing can happen to them with you this far away from them. Here..." He made a scroll, quill and ribbon to tie it up with appear in her hand. "I'll even let the bard keep the quill if you bundle it all together."
"Thanks." Xena hopped nimbly down from Argo and crouched down, leaning the scroll on a rock, beginning to write.
Gabrielle and Joxer-
I'm sorry about last night; it wasn't your fault, either of you. I won't be back for a while, but I'll explain later. Don't worry about me though, I'm with Ares. Gabrielle, he says you can keep the quill. Don't get in too much trouble. Go to the nearest town you can find and relax a bit. Tell some stories in the tavern or something. We'll find you when we're done.
She tucked the quill into the scroll, rolled it up and tied it with the ribbon, handing the package to him. He held it in his hand for a brief second and then it was gone, leaving in it's place only a few silver sparks, which also disappeared very quickly. Having seen the routine before, Xena didn't watch, but climbed back up onto Argo.
After a brief period of silent riding, Ares asked if she had any plans to stop Draco.
"Does he have an army with him? Does this ring give him any powers, or immortality? Where is he holed up at the moment? Do we need...?"
"Whoa, calm down, Xena. OK... army? I don't think so. Powers, definitely not, or the Gods would know about it. He's about 5 days hard travel east of here, nearby, a week if we take it a bit slower. He's in some disgustingly dirty cave. No, I doubt we'll need anything more than what you've got on Argo and what I can conjure up. That answer your questions?"
"Pretty much. I know where he is - I used that cave for reinforcements one time. I'm surprised you don't remember it. Anyway, Draco is not that hard to beat. I don't know if Cupid ever told you about the chaos Baby Bliss can cause when he gets hold of Daddy's arrows... oh, he has?" At Ares' nod, she continued. "Well, anyway, to cut a long, confusing and embarrassing story short, Draco fell in love with Gabrielle and I told Cupid not to reverse the effect - love suits Draco. All I have to do is convince him she'd hate the idea and we're all done. It might be better for him not to know you're involved though." The warrior said, as her agile mind worked out exactly how they could do just that.
Ares grinned, shaking his head. "That's my Xena: always three steps and a somersault in front of everyone else. Even me, some of the time - not often, but it happens."
'His' Xena winked. "I learned from the best."
He feigned a sudden realisation, putting his hand over his mouth in mock surprise and widening his eyes. "Maybe you do care for me. Just a little, huh? So tell me, Xena, what am I the best at?"
"Who said I was talking about you? Maybe I meant Caesar. Who knows?" A wicked look purposefully made its way onto her face. She hadn't meant to say what she just had, but luckily, she knew how to get to the God of War and had avoided a potentially embarrassing moment.
"You wound me sometimes. You do know that, don't you?"
"Oh yeah - I count on it." She treated him to a dazzling smile. "Come on, Ares, we have to get going." She waited for him to put his tongue back into his mouth and push his horse into a trot before following.
"That was mean, Xena. You know I'm a sucker for that. You're the only mortal than can get to me like this. Even the gods have trouble. Now, why is that? And why is it, I can't do the same in return?"
"Oh, you can - you always did. I'm just better at hiding it than you," she said under her breath, not wanting him to hear.
"What?" She didn't reply, but moved away from him, spurring Argo on faster. He watched her. He saw her long black hair stream out be hind her, her blue eyes that could turn his legs to jelly, her smile... her smile - he couldn't have described it for all the gold in the known world, but it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. Shaking his head, marvelling at the effect this mortal woman could have on the God of War, he pushed to catch up with her.
They rode for the next two days, for long hours, only stopping to eat and sleep. The rest of the time was spent in either awkward silence, or discussing ways of beating Draco. Although neither would admit it, they didn't feel the need to speak that much. The God was not talkative at the best of times and Xena only opened her mouth if she had something useful to say. However, in the years that she had been travelling with Gabrielle, she had gotten used to hearing the bard chattering away next to her. As much as she complained about it, she found that she missed it, although she would never tell Gabrielle. Some things would not be good for the bard to know.
Of course, Ares was much more... visually entertaining... and that more than compensated. He would sit on his horse next to her, so close she could reach out and touch him. To her consternation, she realised she wanted to do just that more and more with each passing moment. It was hard not to stare at him, he was so near and so wonderful to look at.
Or at least he would be for another girl, she reminded herself sternly. To you, he is not good to look at. He is your enemy - the one who corrupted you. You will not be able to be with him, even if you wanted to. Which you don't. You don't. You don't want to be with him any longer than you have to. Right?
Ares was thinking along similar lines. Gods, she looks so beautiful today. But, something's troubling her. I wish she would let me get close enough to her to tell me. But she's so cynical about me now. I taught her not to believe everything someone says to her. I guess it's kinda funny, if you think about it. I wish I hadn't told her that. I wish I hadn't hurt her, maybe then she would listen to me. I could have spared her so much pain. I should have left well enough alone. Oh well, it's done.
Neither of them spoke for them rest of the day. As the night fell, they made camp in a small gap in the thick forest they had been riding through. Ares conjured up their dinner - a part of their routine now - fish that time. Xena had taken off her armour and was sitting with her back against a rock, starting to make a fire. She insisted on doing that - after all, she couldn't cook, but she was proficient at fire starting.
The flints stuck together, creating a bright spark that leapt onto the carefully arranged kindling nearby. The wood was dry, Ares had made sure of that, complaining that he was cold. Xena knew that wasn't true, but that he knew she would be feeling the weather and, in his own way, was helping to warm her through. He would have been fine on his own - that would have warmed me through, she thought ruefully, still shivering slightly - the fire would catch better in a moment. Suddenly, she felt a warm sensation over her shoulders, which shielded her from the night air.
"Thought you might like something to keep you warm," came a low voice from just behind her. She pulled the fur over her even more, disappointed that he hadn't put his arm around her, wishing he would stay near her. The air seemed to have grown much thicker, much tenser, as she replied, trying to control her thoughts.
"Thanks... I am cold. I wish I was inside, to be honest with you," the warrior tried to make a joke, lighten the atmosphere.
"I could fix that," Ares said, taking her hand in his, obviously planning to transport them to one of his temples for the night. When Xena did not protest, he gripped it firmly. The next instant they were in his closest temple, in his bedchamber to be exact.
It was decorated in shades of red and black - a black rug on the floor, red walls, various weapons hanging on the walls and door, a beautifully wrought iron window-frame, which gave access to a view of the ocean. They were not near the coast, but the sea was one of Ares' favourite things -Xena was the only other person to know. He wouldn't have admitted it if anyone asked though. The only items of furniture were a table, now covered by their dinner - he had brought it with them - a couple of very comfortable looking chairs and the bed, currently covered in black sheets with red pillows, to match the overall colour scheme. A fire was blazing in the grate next to where they had appeared, next to the table and chairs.
Xena sat down in the nearest seat. She always hated moving from one place to another, she didn't know how the gods could do it so often. It shook her up quite a lot and she was always dubious about doing it unless they had to.
Noticing her discomfort, Ares poured her a cup of wine he had brought for their dinner and pulled his chair closer to her. Taking a chance that she wouldn't hurt him, he also put his arm around her. Only then did he remember how much she hated his method of travelling.
"I'm sorry, Xena. I didn't think," he whispered, his regret and concern overshadowing his wish not to make her angry for being too close. Most mortals couldn't travel with gods without briefly passing out. However, Xena was not most mortals - she was used to it, even if she didn't like it and could force herself to stay conscious.
She turned to face him, surprised that he cared. "It's OK. I just wasn't ready, that's all. It wasn't your fault," she managed to say, lost in his brown eyes, so close to her face. By the Gods, she wanted to kiss him so much, she didn't know why. She just did. She moved her head closer, willing him to make the first move...
He couldn't believe what was happening; not only had she not complained, she had seemed to like the presence of his arm. Maybe, just maybe, she would understand. He leaned a little closer to her, still keeping eye contact, in case she changed her mind...
Aphrodite sat in her own palace, on Mount Olympus, with her mirror in her hand. She checked her reflection quickly. Satisfied with herself, her thoughts turned to her brother.
"Mirror, mirror, in my hand, show me the cutest god in the land," she murmured, expecting Ares' face to materialise in the mirror. Instead, she saw her son, Cupid arguing with Baby Bliss.
"Bliss, OK, please go to sleep. We've had this discussion before, you remember what happened last time you wouldn't go to bed for Daddy. Xena got mad at me and Ares got mad at us both. He won't be as easy to calm down if you shoot her again. Please, Bliss!" the God of Love muttered soothingly at his son. Oh for his mother to take care of the baby, so he could... well, make him a brother or sister. "Oh, Mom, you'd come in real useful now,"
Aphrodite was currently enjoying herself watching him, when she heard him. "OK, why not? I like the kid anyway. And he's right about Ares getting mad if anything else happens to the Warrior Babe. Cupid, get in here! And bring Bliss with you!" she directed the last towards the image of her son in the mirror.
Seconds later, the real thing appeared in the pink room. "What, Mom? You wanna look after Bliss for an evening?"
"Sure, if you do me a favour. I wanted to see what Ares and the Warrior Babe were up to," she started.
"What have you done to them?" said Cupid warily.
"Nothing, just something between me and Ares." A pause. Cupid looked at his mother, not blinking. "Fine, I'll tell you - it's too cool to be a secret, anyway. I told him I'd get Hephie to stop making weapons for him unless he and Xena got back my Ring of Passion. One of his dirty little warlords stole it. I told him that he had to do it without using any of his powers and that he wasn't allowed to tell Xena. Anyway, I wanted to check up on him and I asked the mirror to show me the 'cutest God in the land' and it came up with you. No offence, but Ares is waaay hotter than you. Can you help me?" she pleaded.
"You're crazy Mom. They'll never do it, not if he can't tell Xena."
"They will! He can tell her what they're doing, just not that I want them to. She wouldn't do it if he did. They'll do it, I'm sure. Plus, it gives them chance to finally get it together. They have to spend some time with each other, away from the bard. As much as I like her, she is not good for my favourite couple. Now, help me with my mirror," she ordered.
Cupid just laughed. "You want to put Ares and Xena together. That's rich. You really have lost it this time. In fact, I'm certain - so certain, I'd be happy to put a little wager on it. What say, if they don't get together, you have to give me...um, you have to stop meddling in all the couples I match up. Hm? Or are you worried they won't get it on?"
"No, I am not. I accept, but if they DO 'get it on' as you put it, you have to stop telling Psyche that you get Bliss to sleep all on your own - you have to tell her it's me. And you have to let me look after the little guy as often as I want," said the Goddess, rising to the challenge. "And,"
"I think that's fine, Mom. And, about your mirror, it showed up me because Ares is not on Olympus - he's in the mortal world. Although I disagree about him being better looking. Give it to me," said Cupid, handing Bliss to his mother and taking the ornate hand mirror from where she had thrown it when he had mentioned a wager, briefly preening himself in it.
"Show me Ares," he commanded. The picture rippled and dissolved, showing instead the interior of Ares' chamber. He handed it back to Aphrodite. "Bye Mom, don't forget about them - I'll be keeping an eye on the two of them," he said, before flickering out of view, leaving a shower of golden sparks.
Taking the mirror, the Goddess of Love saw a most interesting sight. Ares, with his arm around Xena, with his head very close to hers.
"Cupie, time to start thinking about paying up. I TOLD you they were right for each other. They were quicker to figure it out than I thought they'd be. Oh well... Hey, little guy, you believe me, don't you?" she asked Bliss, taking him in her arms and leaning back on her pillows, settling back so they could both enjoy the show.
* This feels so right. Why did I ever leave him? If only he wasn't the God of War. If only I could let it happen. If only... *
Xena pulled away, moving to the window. "What was that? Another plan to get me back?" She turned so that he wouldn't see the small tear that formed in the corner of her eye, which she blinked away, angry that she couldn't control herself around him.
"Xena... I promise you, it wasn't a trick. Just an apology. I never meant to get you involved in this whole mess with the ring, but I don't have any choice. Please."
"Ares, I don't want an apology from you. Don't lie to me anymore. Just send me back to camp for tonight, and in the morning you'll transport us to Draco. Why didn't you just do that to start with, anyway?" she finally turned to him, letting him see that she was still a little shaken. The tear had gone though, she had made sure of that.
"Please, Xena? Will you just listen to me?" Ares crossed over to where she stood, proud and tall, stepping behind her and turning her to face him.
"Ares, I don't want to hear more lies from you. Please, just send me back,"
"Will you stay here if I leave?" he asked gently.
"I don't have a choice, do I? I can't get anywhere in the middle of the night without Argo, can I?" she snapped.
"Then you sleep here and I'll go back to camp." He didn't give her a choice, but disappeared immediately.
Xena watch him go, only then allowing herself to move to the bed. She threw herself down on it furiously, cursing loudly. "Damn him, the stubborn, two-faced, pig-headed bastard - what was he thinking? What was I thinking, letting him that close? He's my enemy, the one I fight against. I can't let myself love him." Shaking her head, she laid it on one of the soft, sumptuous pillows adorning the top end of the four-poster bed. * Gods, even the bed reminds me of him - same smell* She didn't sleep for most of the night, as her mind was occupied with thinking about the God of War.
Ares reappeared in the camp, furious. He angrily flicked a finger at the dwindling fire, which instantly flared back into life.
"Aphrodite!! Come here!" he bellowed.
"Whoa, could you shout a little louder? I don't think Hades heard you. Zeus, it's cold out here. What happened with the Warrior Babe?" Aphrodite zapped herself a floor-length fur to wrap up in - a bright pink one.
"Maybe if you wore more clothes you wouldn't be cold. How did you know that's what I wanted to talk to you about?" he said, visibly trying to calm down.
"She's the only person who can make you that mad. How did you mess it up this time?"
"I tried to kiss her. You don't understand, she wanted it too. I could tell. But she wouldn't go through with it. It's always GAMES with her! I never know what to say, what to do. She's different to any other woman I've ever met. She's so stubborn, so proud, so..., so..." he trailed off.
"So... much like you?" Aphrodite couldn't help but smile at the look on his face.
He nodded. "I guess you could say that," he admitted grudgingly.
"OK. So, if you're right and she does want to be with you, what would you like her to do?"
"I don't know. Um, I'd like her to just give me a damn chance - to let me prove myself to her." Ares muttered, more to himself than his sister.
"And what do you think she'd want you to do? She'd want you to tell her how you feel - no strings. Not any of this 'Xena, I love you! Give me a child or I'll let my family murder your daughter.' Just talk to her - tell her, and then let her work out what she wants."
"She wouldn't go for it. You know her," he said.
"That's the point. It's not about what she says. It's about you caring enough about her to be brave enough to tell her. She has to give you points for letting her know. I would." she said, wrapping the fur around herself even more.
"You're not Xena, though, are you?"
"No, I'm not, but I'm a woman. And just between you and I, I think you're really cute together. Don't let her slip away," she winked and vanished.
"Well, that was helpful," he rolled his eyes and lay down next to the fire, trying to get comfortable. He stayed like that for several hours, not sleeping, just staring into the fire, thinking of Xena.
The room was now much darker; the fire had all but gone out and there was only a starless night sky to see through the window. The tall figure on the bed groaned softly as it slowly drifted back into consciousness. Blue eyes blinked, trying to accustom themselves to the gloom. After a few seconds, the shape moved to the window, wondering what hour of the day it was. There was no moon, so it was impossible to tell. There it stayed for a long time, so still that, had anyone seen, they would have been reminded of a statue, a dark silhouette against the maroon of the walls and of the thick drapes that hung at the sides of the window frame.
Seemingly lost in her thoughts, Xena let out a soft sigh, only just audible to her. She didn't know what to do. She had felt something, when he had tried to - no, responded to her trying to kiss him. Was it only a few hours ago? It felt much longer. She felt something. Something other than hatred for the thing which she had dedicated her life to fighting against. War. She did not try to deny it. She was intuitive enough to know that there was no going back - that evening had been a test. She was not yet sure if she had passed or failed, only the Fates could know that. However, she did know that this feeling wasn't planning on leaving any time soon.
What to do? Ares could read her like a book, making any attempt at lying to him futile at best. At worst... she let the thought trail off. She had no intention of telling him, at least not yet. One of the things he had confided to her, years ago, was that he loved her because she was not like other woman. She didn't change her mind at the drop of a hat. That had always been true of the Warrior Princess: once she had made a decision, she stuck by it to the end, no matter if it was right or wrong. She gained respect from that, from friends and enemies, even if they hated every fibre of her being. She saw only one other option, as she knew deep down that if she carried on having these urges, she would die inside.
Shaking her head, she moved silently back to the bed.
Ares lay, looking up at the stars in the black sky. It seemed denser than usual, tighter, closer to earth. He felt suffocated, having a problem, or an emotion that could not be taken care of either by completely ignoring it and forcing at to the back of his mind, or by simply annihilating it, was a new, feeling for him. A feeling he did not like - it ranked right up there with hunger, fear and a hangover - and they were mortal sensations. He didn't like it one bit - feeling helpless was not something the God of War could allow himself to feel.
Trying to forget his own feelings, his mind turned to what had been puzzling him: Xena. He didn't understand her anymore. Years ago, he had told her how much he appreciated her honesty and the fact that she made decisions based on facts, not emotions. How he valued that she stuck to any choice she made. She had had chances to settle down, no more risking her life for people who didn't know her - only the monster she had once been - and who, frankly, didn't care. They were grateful, yeah, but they didn't care. If their situations had been reversed, he would have saved the odd village or two and then settled down.
As a mortal, he did not possess the drive that kept him his job - the bloodlust only existed in the immortal part of him. He didn't know if it was a blessing or a curse. Xena, though, was a different story. Although he would never admit it to anyone, least of all her, he thought that if she ever did become a goddess, her sheer will and strength of mind would keep her from abusing the gift he would bestow on her.
He ran the last sentence over to himself again. The gift he would bestow on her? Where did that come from? She didn't want to see him. There was no chance, less than the chance of his family ever getting along, that she would even let him near her, let alone live out eternity with him.
That brought back another unpleasant feeling: guilt. All she wanted was to get back to her friends, the people she cared about and who cared about her in return. He had blown that, single-handedly. His lack of self-control meant that she probably hated him even more than she had before. Just a few years ago, they had been everything to each other. Lovers, yes, but he knew there was more to it than that. Most mortal women would give themselves willingly to him, but that wasn't what he wanted. He wanted Xena.
She had wanted him, back then, as well. He had spent some the best years of his life in her company, just enjoying the equality she gave him. He could have been anyone, an ordinary man and she would have treated him the same. And then, she had changed. He knew that the path of the 'Destroyer of Nations' had been walked. She would never come back to him. He wanted her as a person - like they used to be. But she had left him. He had thought she was happy.
No, he didn't understand her anymore.
The night had been and gone and now the sun was creeping up into the heavens, announcing that a new day was dawning. Ares groaned softly - somehow he had ended up staying on the hard ground all night. He had planned to go to one of his other temples, but he had been too busy thinking about Xena. Her eyes were brighter than any star, he thought, shaking his head. Now for the fun part: going to talk to her. He only hoped she would hear him out, as he had spent a good part of his sleepless night working out what to say to her. Feeling strangely nervous, he transported himself back to his chamber.
Xena was still sleeping when he arrived, so he didn't wake her up. He just stood near the bed, watching her sleep. She really was beautiful. He moved closer. Her blue eyes opened suddenly and to his great surprise, she did not seem furious. He'd thought she would be angry with him - not smiling slightly as she tried to adjust to the light in the room.
"Morning," she said, her voice a little hoarse from sleep, "Did you have a good night?"
"Morning, yourself. It was.... Uncomfortable - what about you?" He wasn't sure if she was being genuinely nice to him, or if she was playing some game.
"I didn't get a whole lot of sleep... only a couple of hours. But other than that it was good.
"Damn. Look, Xena, I need to talk to you. Don't say anything, but hear me out, OK?" Might as well get it over with.
She nodded, now wary, knowing where this was going to lead.
"Thanks. Look, I'm sorry about last night. I didn't mean to hurt you and I'm sorry if I did. I know you must hate spending time with me and, frankly, I don't blame you. But, the only way you can see your friends again is if you let me help you. I promise not to try anything else on you, and I'll do whatever I can to help. If that's a problem for you, I'll go talk to Gabrielle myself and let her know what's happening. OK?" He smiled apologetically, "I know it's not a great apology, but that's what I'm trying to say. Do you believe me?"
"I believe you. And I'll help you find this ring - don't worry. Thanks for the offer about Gabrielle, but she'll be OK. Can you do me a favour though?"
"Can I have a some water?"
Ares laughed. "Of course, anything you want."
"Just water will be fine. I'm not really hungry," she said.
A big cup of water appeared in his hand, which he handed Xena. "There you are."
She drank it slowly, still sitting in the bed. They talked about various things, nothing really important, but neither of them felt comfortable in silence. Eventually, they decided to get going. Ares respected Xena's wishes and turned around while she got dressed.
"Ares, why can't you just transport us to the cave? It's still a few days away..." Xena asked curiously. She had been wondering about this for a while.
"Well, I can't tell you right now - only after we get the ring back. Do you trust me? I swear I'll tell you afterwards, Besides, I thought you'd enjoy a break from the bard."
She grinned frankly at him. "Having a few minutes of silence every now and then is nice...but you do have to tell me. I was wondering.."
He nodded, grinning back at her and then, seeing that she was ready, he took her hand and they were back at the campsite. Both of the horses had been fed the night before, groomed and left in peace. Xena was pleased he had remembered. They broke camp quickly, the mortal way and then set off.
Up on Olympus, Aphrodite squealed in delight.
"Man, they are perfect for each other. He got really lucky though, with that apology. I should have helped him a bit more. They're so cute!!! Toodles!" She said to the empty air and disappeared.
They travelled in surprisingly easy silence for the next couple of days, both of them thinking about the night before. Xena wished with all her heart that she could swallow her pride - she had been thinking a lot about the War God and has just about come to terms with her sudden, and not unwelcome, lack of hatred for him - and just tell him straight out. Gods, she wished Gabrielle was here, to help her decide what to say. Then again, she knew Gabrielle would absolutely hate the IDEA of Ares being anything other than bitter enemy and would not be especially helpful. And not having to hear her voice every second of the day WAS nice.
Maybe things had turned out for the best, after all, she had survived most of her life without the blonde bard, and could doubtless do so again. It would be very hard, and she hoped she would never have to deal with the loss.
She looked ahead to the next ridge of the rough territory they were travelling. It had been a hard few days riding, on rocky, uneven ground and she would be glad to see the back of it. She had little doubt that one of the other gods had told Ares to get back this ring without using any of his powers. It sounded a lot like something Aphrodite or Cupid would pull, even though Ares had denied it.
"Ares, I think we're here. This is the cave I mentioned to you - the one I kept reinforcements in. Is it the same one you meant? Ares? Ares?" the warrior pulled up her horse, worried that she was not getting a response from him. He just sat, staring at her in a slightly bemused manner.
"Oh...yeah, this is the place. After you, my lady," he said, pantomiming a bow, which, on a horse looked completely ridiculous. Xena couldn't help but laugh.
"Are you all right? You were a bit out of it just then... you need some water?" she said, calming herself. There would be time for laughter later.
"No, I'm fine. I was just dazzled by your beauty. No really!" he protested, off her raised eyebrow and a look that clearly said 'flattery will get you nowhere, so don't bother.' "Trust me, I'm a god. I'm OK. Are you planning on going in, or do you want me in front?"
"I'll go first. But be careful, Draco is a tricky customer."
"You think I don't know my own warlords?" He winked at her.
"I worry that you think you know them too well. Some of them have brains of their own - Draco is one of them." She did wonder if he actually knew this sometimes, as he let so many 'stupid' warlords with 'no brains' who 'relied on him' run around with big armies... that she fought. She dismounted Argo and stepped into the cave.
For the middle of the day, it was very dark and cold inside. She had liked that 10 winters ago as it meant that food could be stored there. Now, it brought an uncomfortable chill and a longing for the bright sun outside. She shivered, trying to decide if Draco had a reason for picking out a damp, dark cave for a hideout, or if he just did it to be difficult.
"Xena, explain this to me again. We just walk in, get the ring and beat up anyone who tries to stop us. Am I right so far?" Ares whispered, moving a little closer to her.
"Just about. But if we run into Draco, leave the talking to me, understand?" He nodded, happy to sit back and watch her work.
They began moving forward again, Ares taking Xena's cue of moving carefully, and keeping in the shadows as much as possible. They spent quite a while navigating the large cave - it had lots of nooks and crannies and so, a lot of potential ambush points. Although, she was not expecting anything much, Xena knew it paid off to make absolutely certain.
"Well, well... Xena. You made it. Who's your friend?"
"You idiot, Draco! That's Ares, the God of War. Or, should I say ex-god..."
The first voice clearly belonged to Draco, but the second... Ares' face grew angry as he saw the two figures: Draco and...
"Discord. What are you doing here?" Ares' face darkened and he angrily stepped towards the black-haired young goddess.
"Well, I heard about the whole bet thing that you and Aphrodite had and I thought 'Hey, there could be some real fun in this', ya know?" Discord said gleefully. Draco hadn't yet moved, as he was still trying to work out how Ares and Xena could be working together.
"What? Ares, what is she talking about? A bet?" Xena turned to him, momentarily forgetting about Discord and Draco. There was anger in her eyes.
"Xena. Give me a chance to explain." He shot a furious look at Discord. "She's wrong - don't listen to her. Let me explain."
"Oh no you don't! Draco, attack the 'Warrior Princess'" yelled Discord, seeing an opening for a fight and launching her body into a flip that took her right up to Ares.
He blocked her sword thrust with his bare arm, not being hurt as he was immortal. He jumped away from Xena, so that she would not be caught by any stray fire bolts. "Watch out for fire bolts - be careful!"
She saw that there was very little else she could do - she'd have to wait for an explanation. She whirled around, drawing her sword and grinning. "Come on Draco. You wanna try and take me? Do you?"
In response, he brought his sword up in a strike meant to deprive her of her left arm. She danced lightly out of the blade's way, lightly flicking her own towards his arm, creating a tiny scratch. They traded blows in that fashion for several minutes, neither managing to gain the upper hand.
Ares and Discord were involved in a similar game, but they weren't using swords anymore - instead they were employing their various different kinds of lightening and fire bolts, giving a dazzling light to the dreary cavern.
Xena struck suddenly: with her sword, she faked a cut to his stomach, at the same time propelling herself into a flip that took her to the far side of the cave, far away from the now angry warlord. She spun around, looking for any possible way of trapping the mortal and god. She glanced up and smiled, seeing what she had hoped for.
Then, her acute hearing picked up s humming just behind her. Curious, she turned so that she could see what was causing the strange noise. It was the ring.
She quickly moved to the stone rock it was on, not held in place by anything. Strange, she thought. I'll have to keep an eye out for traps. She reached a hand out carefully, in case it was enchanted. Nothing happened. Shrugging, she took a look at it. When she had first noticed it, it had been glowing an amber colour, somewhere between yellow and orange. Now, in her hand, it was a beautiful deep red colour. The Ring of Passion. Hmm. She tucked it into her breastplate and rejoined the fray.
"Ares! Move her over to that corner - we can stop them!" she yelled, already exchanging blows with Draco again. Slowly but surely, she forced him over to where she had stood a second ago. As soon as she judged both Discord and Draco to be in the right spot she flipped back, shouting to Ares to get out of the way. No sooner had she landed, she took her chakram and threw it at the roof of the cave, causing a collection of rocks to dislodge from the ceiling and fall right onto the young goddess and the warlord. Discord screamed, seeing them before Draco did. "Areeeeeeeees! You won't get away with this! I'll make sure! I'll..." her words were drowned out by the falling rocks, which had effectively buried the two.
"Well done. They won't get out of that for a while. Did you get the ring?" Ares asked, coming over to where she stood, the chakram in her hand, just caught.
"Yes. Now explain. What was she talking about? What bet?" Xena's eyes were starting to cloud over, as the adrenaline rush from the battle faded and the reality of the moment set in once more. She turned to face Ares, standing proudly in front of him.
* Oh Gods, Ares. Please, don't say that you only came for a bet. Don't say it was all a lie. Please, don't say it. I don't know if I could bare it if you did. I love you. *
* She looks so beautiful standing there, so tall and graceful. I wish I could just kiss her right now. Am I crazy? She'd hate me afterwards, she'd tell me to leave her alone. Forever. And I couldn't take it if she said that. So? That's still a few minutes away. You never know until you try. Now who's crazy? Look at me, I'm arguing with myself...*
"Ares? What did Discord mean when she was talking about a bet? Tell me," she said, only a slight break in her voice giving any sign that she was not completely calm and collected.
*Please, Ares, tell me. *
*She is so beautiful. I could get lost in her eyes... she asked me a question. Damn. *
"Xena, it had nothing to do with you, don't worry. Aphrodite wanted me to get the ring back for her, for some reason, and she said that she wanted you to come too. I don't know why. Please, Xena... I would never do anything to hurt you. You do know that, don't you?"
* I wish I could believe him. It would be so easy to fall into that trap. But I don't know, I really don't know. I want to believe him, I really do.*
* Maybe the honest approach would work. Gods know, it'll be hard, but maybe, just maybe, if I tell her the truth, she'll believe me. *
"Xena, listen to me. I know you won't believe me, but this is something I have to say. It might not be what you want to hear, and I respect that. You can hit me afterwards if you want to - just let me talk. Xena, I love you. There, I said it. I know you don't feel the same, I just thought, that if I could spend some time alone with you that I'd find a way to come to terms with that. I didn't. I just found out that I love you more than I ever knew. So, I've made a decision: I'm going to leave you alone now. I'll stop tormenting you, stop hurting you, stop everything. I love you Xena."
*What? Did he just say what I think he said? He loves me? He's going to leave me? But he can't! I won't let him. *
* Where did that last part come from? I didn't mean to say it. Maybe it was for the best; she looks horrified at the idea that I love her. Oh well. She'll get over me.*
"No. No, you aren't going to leave me. You can't. I won't let you. You mean more to me than almost anything in the world. Please, Ares... don't let me live alone. I wouldn't be able to stand it. I'd be cold. I need you. "
During the conversation, the two had moved closer to each other, close enough to feel the other's breath on their faces. Tears quickly forming in her eyes, the Warrior Princess covered the last distance between the two, so that her lips practically touched those of the God of War.
"I love you, " she murmured softly, barely audible, and without warning, she pressed her mouth against Ares', in a soft kiss. Slowly, after a second, she pulled away slightly.
* What did I do? There's no going back now... But that doesn't matter to me anymore, I don't want to go back. I want Ares. *
*Wow. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she does care, just a little. You never know, do you? You never know...*
And she pulled him close again, in another kiss, this one far more passionate than the last.
**"They say, if ya love something, let it go,
Xena stretched out slightly as she opened her eyes. She was not where she had imagined she would be. She had thought she would be in a camp somewhere, trying to get the kinks out of her back after a night on the hard ground. Oh no...
She was currently lying naked in the arms of the God of War, in his bed. Her head was resting on his exposed chest, which moved rhythmically as he breathed, still asleep. His arm was wrapped around her waist, his free hand holding hers. He looks so peaceful and happy that Xena didn't wake him up immediately, but simply lay there, enjoying the closeness of him , the closeness she hadn't even known she had missed. They really were a perfect match. She closed her eyes again, intending to go back to sleep.
Just then, she felt him shift under her and knew that he was waking up.
"Xena? Are you awake?" he whispered, leaning towards her a little. "Xena? As his lips briefly touched hers, she surprised him by kissing back, wrapping her arms around his neck and rolling over so that she was sitting on top on him.
"Good morning," she said softly as they parted.
"Morning? It's the middle of the afternoon. We slept pretty late," he murmured back.
"I don't remember sleeping much."
"What do you remember?" he asked, grinning.
"Oooh, Draco, Discord... the fight..."she trailed off, her eyes gleaming.
"No! I meant, what do you remember about last night?
"Well, I've been meaning to tell you actually, Ares,"
"What?" he asked, looking at her curiously.
"I've got this trouble with my memory," she laughed as he tried to hit her, his eyes sparkling. "So, you'll have to remind me." She leaned in for another kiss, which he gladly obliged.
"Gabby, how much longer will they be, do you think? We've been here for almost two weeks and I'm bored. I want to right some wrongs and sing some songs. I want something to do!"
Gabrielle turned away and took a deep breath. *Focus, Gabrielle. They won't be much longer. I hope. * Over the past week and a half, she had been driven slowly insane by Joxer and his ramblings. He had been talking practically non-stop ever since they had received Xena's cryptic note. Several questions had been running through the young bard's mind, questions that she wasn't sure she wanted the answers to. What had been wrong with Xena last night? Why could she not see Gabrielle? And how did Ares come into it? She had been puzzling over these, and others for so long... and still had no idea what was wrong.
The only advantage of it was that she had something to think about, as they had, for once, done what Xena wanted and gone into a nearby town. She had earned their keep in the tavern by telling stories each night. The villagers loved her. The innkeeper had said they could stay for as long as they needed, and for that she was grateful. But, that didn't change the fact that she missed Xena. She missed helping people.
"Joxer, I told you. I have no idea. I am bored out of my mind too. I wish we could find out. But, please, don't sing anymore," she said through clenched teeth. Joxer had quickly gotten over his hurt at Xena's harsh words after he saw the note and started singing his song incessantly to try and send his wishes to Xena. Exactly what that would do, or how he figured it would help, the bard did not know.
Just at that moment, a sudden flash of light signalled the arrival of a god. Ares, to be precise. And he wasn't alone; Xena was standing next to him, a smile on her face as she saw Gabrielle, who ran to her and hugged her.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I couldn't have gone another second without seeing you. I am SICK of that damned song. You have no idea how close I was to killing him. Thank you. So, what happened, why is he here and what took you so long?" she rattled off at an alarming speed, breaking the hug, scurrying to her bag and pulling out Ares' quill and a scroll. "Talk."
After exchanging a glance with Ares, who was trying not to laugh at the bard's enthusiasm, Xena shook her head. The break was most definitely over. "Later. Let me say hello to Joxer first. Then, we, uh, we have something to tell you."
Ares had stepped back while she was talking and was sitting on the bed, watching Xena handle her friends. He shook his head slightly, unconsciously imitating her, as he wondered how he would behave in the same situation. He only hoped that they didn't overreact to their piece of news.
Joxer came forward to hug Xena, sensing somehow that whatever had been wrong with her last time was all OK now.
"Joxer, I'm sorry. I had no right to act the way I did to you. Forgive me?"
"Xena, of course I do. I already had. I'd almost forgotten it ever happened. You've come through for me so many times, how could I not?" he smiled, happy to have her back to normal.
"I'm sorry, Joxer. I had no right to act the way I did to you. Forgive me?"
"Xena, of course I do. I already had. I'd almost forgotten it ever happened. You've come through for me so many times, how could I not?" he smiled, happy to have her back to normal.
As they broke apart, Gabrielle reinserted herself into the conversation.
"So, what do you have to tell us?"
"Ares, do you wanna tell them?" Xena asked, raising her eyebrows slightly.
"Not really. It would be better coming from you, I think," he replied. Actually, he doubted that they'd even believe it if he told them. It was only just plausible to him- they were actually together.
"If you're sure," she said, sitting down on the bed, next to him. Gabrielle and Joxer were still standing, now looking very curious.
"OK. Xena, shut up and tell us. Don't keep me in suspense." The blonde interrupted, tapping her quill against the scroll. "I'll put the scroll away if it will make you happy." She muttered, doing just that. "There. Now tell us."
"OK. Promise not to lose your temper, either of you?" As they nodded slowly, Xena could practically see the wheels in her friend's head turning. "Good. Well, you might not like this, but me and Ares... we're together now."
There was a dead silence in the small room. Xena and Ares looked at each other, and then at the other occupants of the room. Joxer was looking down, a small smile on his face, as he took in the information. Gabrielle, on the other hand, was standing dead still, a look of pure shock on her face, staring at the two warriors.
"What? As in, you're a couple?" At their nod, she started pacing the room, muttering to herself furiously, shooting dark looks at Ares. Snatches of what she was saying came back to the other three.
"Together? They can't be... brainwashed... wouldn't... not normal... something wrong... stupid no-good god... no respect... can't give privacy..."
Eventually, she tired of this. She walked over to the woman on the bed and started shouting. "Xena! What did he do to you? You wouldn't act like this usually! What's wrong with you? WHAT HAPPENED?"
"Gabrielle, sit down on the bed and calm down. I'll tell you. You too, Joxer. OK, I think the answers to your questions are: no, he didn't do anything to me, nothing is wrong with me - I'm fine, and as for what happened, we just found out some things about ourselves."
Gabrielle seemed to respond to Xena's calming tone and the hug that followed her words. She took a few deep breaths and went to stand over by the small window, visibly trying to calm down. Finally, she turned back around to find the other three staring at her, waiting for a reaction.
"Are you sure he's not messing around with your feelings? Does he mean it? Are you SURE?" she asked slowly, making a careful choice of words. Ares looked outraged at even the thought that he was lying to Xena, and would have jumped up and said something to the bard, but the Warrior Princess raised her hand and looked at him, clearly indicating to him to let Gabrielle finish. Joxer was still just standing, watching them. He had no wish to make the bard any angrier.
"I'm sure. If I wasn't, this wouldn't be happening. Do you believe me? But, this is important to me, Ares is important to me. Are you all right with it?" Xena stood up again and put a hand on her friend's shoulder.
"If you're sure, and if he really means a lot to you, well, I guess it won't hurt to give it a go. But," she said, turning now to Ares, "if you hurt her, if you aren't telling her the truth, for whatever reason, I will hurt you. Is that clear?"
"Crystal. But, believe me, I am telling the truth."
"OK. Until you prove yourself wrong, you can have the benefit of the doubt. I'll try and deal with it, OK. On one condition."
"What?" Ares and Xena asked in unison, then glancing at each other in surprise.
"If you guys suddenly feel the urge to kiss each other or anything, please go and do it away from me. Deal?"
"Um, guys? Can we get something to eat?" Joxer piped up.
Later that evening, the Warrior Princess and the God of War stood together outside of the village, on a hill that gave a clear look at the stars. After they had eaten their meal, they had given Aphrodite back her ring. She had been very grateful to them - her words had been "OK, you two are, like, totally the coolest people in the whole world! Anytime ya need a favour, Warrior Babe, you just look me up, ok? By the way, I think you two look really cute together! Goddess of Love, remember?" And they hadn't denied it.
But, right now, Xena was just enjoying the moment. She was standing next to Ares, who had his arm around her, and her own arm was round his waist. The night sky and the remoteness of the hill helped to create a romantic atmosphere, which was only enhanced by the two lovers. There was no need for words, and so they had not said a thing since Ares had suggested they go for a walk. What he didn't say, but Xena guessed, was that he was getting tired of Gabrielle's and Joxer's non-stop chattering. As she herself was craving silence again, she had gladly accepted, and now, here they were.
She turned her head to look at Ares. He was staring out at the village below them, a smile on his face. A small breeze was blowing, and it was ruffling his hair a bit. Somehow sensing her gaze, he turned and smiled.
"Nothing. I'm just enjoying this, you and me."
"Oh. So am I... I can't believe it took us this long to get it together," he said, stoking her hair away from where it had blown onto her face.
"Well, all that matter is, we're together now. And nothing will change that."
"Nothing," he confirmed, leaning his head down slightly before capturing her lips with his, in a tender, passionate kiss.