For disclaimers see Betrayal. Email the author at email@example.com.
Xena, Eve, Hercules and Ares all meandered slowly up to the tree. It was a beautiful sight - Golden bark and leaves that bared silver fruit shaped like ovals. Ares lead the way and wrapped his fingers around the immortal food that was his for the taking. A few moments passed but he still hadnít pulled the fruit from the tree.
"Is there a problem?" Xena asked getting a bit perturbed as she waited impatiently for the former god to collect the prize they had sought.
Ares let go of the fruit and turned around. "As a God you wouldnít give me the time of day but as a mortal . . . Youíve helped me far greater than my expectations Xena. . . . I love you . . . but I know if I eat this and become immortal Iíll never have the chance to win your love. As a mortal man I think I have that chance . . . I donít think I can do this. Iíd rather risk death and have a chance at winning your favor than to walk alone forever."
The circle stood in stunned silence for a moment.
"Excuse me?!" Xena exclaimed. "We traveled all the way up here. I broke my arm trying to get here. And NOW you decide you donít want to be immortal?! Please tell me he didnít just say that?" Xena added rhetorically to Herc, as she began to pace.
"I donít think I can do it," Ares mumbled sincerely.
"Ohhh," Xena growled in frustration.
"Look," Eve offered going over to the tree and plucking an oval. "Here," she said tossing it to the former god. "Donít eat it now. Take it with you and if you decide to change your mind and become immortal you can eat it whenever you please. Okay?"
Sheíd only known her mother for the course of a few months but in that time Eve knew when Xena began to reach her Ďbreaking pointí. By the speed of Xenaís pacing, Eve knew that Ďpointí was close at hand. Perhaps offering a solution to both of them was the key to keeping the peace.
"Iím gonna kill him," Xena mumbled repeatedly as she walked back and forth.
Herc stopped her on one of her passes by him, "No youíre not," he told her as diplomatically as possible. "I think Eve has a wonderful idea. Take the fruit," Herc told Ares, "and if the time comes that you change your mind itís all yours, okay?"
Ares walked over and faced Xena. "Iím sorry," he told her sincerely. "I appreciate what youíve done for me here . . . what all of you have done . . . but if I thought there was no way at all that I could win your hand Iíd eat this in a minute . . . But I know that somewhere deep down inside, you love me too Xena."
Oh for crying out loud . . . why me? Xena wondered silently as she pinched the bridge of her nose, hoping to release the dull throb that was beginning from her frustration. Patience, Xena. Focus. Have patience.
"Ares . . . Thanks. . . but no thanks. Iím not going to love you the way you want me too. That is never going to happen because I found my true love . . . Grant it, what I had with you was special. There will always be this Ďbondí I have with you. But thatís not the course I want to take on my lifeís journey. Gabrielle is the one I want to travel with in this life and the next and the next and the next. I swear by any god or goddessí you name I will search until I find her, in this life and all others. I love you too Ares. Youíve helped me when no one else would but youíll never be my soulmate, never. And thatís what you need to find to really understand love. . . Iím sorry I canít be the one. I would but . . . Iím already taken," Xena grinned bittersweetly and kissed Ares on his cheek. She took the fruit from his hand and placed it in his saddlebag. "Now letís find a way off of this rock."
"Maybe you can call on your one God to help you," Ares playfully jabbed.
"I think the one God helps those that help themselves," Xena countered with a grin as she considered a way down the mountain. Hey! I got it! "But we might still have some help from Olympus." Xena turned and faced the valley below taking a deep breath. "Aphrooooditeeeeee!" she yelled as loud as she could.
A glittering shower appeared as the Goddess of Love materialized.
"You rang?" she replied with a teasing grin.
"Yes I did. Do you think thereís anyway you could . . . you know . . . do your goddess thing and get us outta here?" Xena asked, unsure of how Dite would respond.
Dite looked to Herc first who gave a guilty shrug. "So you got up here but now you canít get down huh? Bummer babe," she responded as she started to fade away.
"Hold on!" Herc called, making her come back to her solid form again. "Look I know that Ares and Xena arenít your favorite folks in the world," Herc began. "But Iíd really appreciate it if youíd lend us a hand . . . so please . . . will you help us?"
Dite crossed her arms in defiance and looked at the group around her. "She killed my husband," Dite said pointing to Xena. "All because of that little brat, whom Ares swore to take care of," she added pitching a thumb to Eve and Ares. ". . . Iíll get you off the mountain Herc but the rest of them-."
"No. All of us," Herc insisted. "I canít leave them here."
Dite let out a deep sigh. "If I do this you owe me big time, got it?"
"Always," Herc answered, extending his hand in a deal. As soon as they locked palms both of them they disappeared. Seconds later Dite was back.
"Her," Xena and Ares said in harmony as they both pointed to Eve. The warrior and former god shared a grin for thinking the same thing as Dite and Eve disappeared.
A few seconds later Dite returned. "Next!" she said impatiently.
"Ladies first," Ares replied to the two women.
"How gallant," Dite snickered. With that Dite and Xena were gone and Ares stood alone on the hill.
Seconds later, Dite appeared. "Looks like itís just you and me Bro," she replied as she returned.
"Yeah it looks that way," Ares answered. When he didnít give a sarcastic reply Dite looked deeper and could see his heartbreak.
"Ares," she began, "Itís all for the best. Xenaís right about this . . . Sheís not the one for you."
Ares gave a light chuckle in spite of his dark mood. "So tell me ever powerful goddess of love . . . Will the ex-god of war ever find love?"
"Most definitely," she grinned. "But itís gonna take time so hang onto that fruit. Ya might need it," she answered giving him a chuck on the shoulder. "Come on, letís get you somewhere safe, okay?"
Ares nodded and with that they vanished from the hill.
Herc, Eve and Xena all looked around at their surroundings, trying to place the town they were standing in when Dite returned alone.
"Whereís Ares?" Eve asked.
"I sent him on another path," Dite answered. "Your path is here," she told Xena and Eve.
"And just where is Ďhereí?" Xena asked.
"About three towns from Athens, in a tiny town called Aterrus," Dite answered.
"Athens?" Xena asked. "I have to get to Potiedaia," she stressed.
"Look," Dite replied. "Thereís a big bad warlord on the way here and these folks need your help. It would be WISE, hint hint, to stick AROUND," she added.
"No," Xena answered, with the bard being the only thing on her mind. "Everything else came first before Gabrielle and this time Iím putting her front and center. I canít stay here."
Dite sighed. "Are all warriors this thickheaded?" she asked Herc. Herc just chuckled. "Listen babe," Dite began. "Iíve heard your thoughts. Iíve listened to your conversations and I can see your ready and rariní to get your bard back so trust me . . . hang out here, take in the sights, go easy on the mead . . . Poteidaia is not the place you want to be right now. Get it?" Realization washed over Xenaís face and she started to look around the town. "Relax . . . sheís not here. Not yet anyway so just chill."
"Thank you," Xena said sincerely.
"Donít thank me yet," Dite said. "Iím just setting up locale. The events to follow will all be your doing so you better make damn sure you make the right choices. Gabrielle isnít mad anymore so that means one of two things - sheíll move on with someone new or sheíll consider trying to build a life with you again . . . This is your moment of truth warrior princess so donít blow it."
Xena nodded self-assured in the fact she could Ďdo the right thingí and she couldnít hold back her grin at the prospect of seeing Gabrielle again. Iím going to see her again! She thought excited. She missed her so much and the ache returned stronger than ever. A moment later, however, a butterfly feeling grabbed her stomach and a nervous nature took over despite her joy. Oh Lord Iím going to see her again. What am I going to do? What am I going to say-
"Well little bro what do you think?" Dite said to Herc halting Xenaís worried mind long enough to hear their conversations. "Time to get you back to that hunky blonde in the cottage?"
Herc chuckled. "Sure as long as you think Xena can handle things here."
"Who? The warrior princess?" Dite teased. "Oh yeah . . . this little pissant wonít be a problem. Sheís a big gal - she can handle it. Now weíll get to see if itís true if she can fight with one hand tied behind her back," Dite remarked, pointing to Xenaís arm.
"Very funny," Xena grinned.
Dite winked and put her arm around Herc. "Kudos chicky babies. Weíre outta here," she said snapping her fingers.
"Good luck Xena," Herc told her as they began to vanish. Xena knew that Herc wished her well in the upcoming battle but these well wishes meant something deeper - her relationship with Gabrielle.
"Thanks for everything Hercules," she told him sincerely before he was out of sight.
Once alone Eve and Xena looked around them. "So now what?" Eve asked.
"Well," Xena said putting her arm around her daughterís shoulder, walking deeper into town. "We hang out here, take in the sights, go easy on the mead," Xena grinned.
"And we wait for her," Eve added.
"Yes," Xena agreed. "We wait for her."
CONTINUED IN PART XIII: TELLING TALES