Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Warning: This story is rated NC-17. If you're underage, or if you're in any way opposed to the idea of two women in love and/or in bed, stop reading now. This story contains explicit sexual content, as well as probably some four-letter words.
Big Spoilers: The Price
Medium Spoilers: Dirty Half Dozen
Small Spoilers: ADITL, Orphan of War
CLAUDIO. Is there no remedy? ISABELLA. None, but such remedy as, to save a head, To cleave a heart in twain. C. But is there any? I. Yes, brother, you may live; There is a devilish mercy in the judge, If you'll implore it, that will free your life, But fetter you till death. C. Perpetual durance? I. Ay, just, perpetual durance, a restraint, Though all the world's vastidity you had, To a determin'd scope. C. But in what nature? I. In such a one as, you consenting to't, Would bark your honor from that trunk you bear, And leave you naked. --Measure For Measure, III.i.60-72
The morning dawned bright and clear, and scarcely had Apollo guided his chariot clear of the horizon before the three women were up, eating a hasty breakfast of fruit and nuts, and turning to pack up their things. They were loading Argo for the day's journey when Xena's head suddenly came up, a wary expression taking over her features as her eyes hardened. An instant later, Anaira too tensed and looked around.
"Where are you?" she demanded, her voice made hoarse with emotion. Xena whirled around as Ares materialized in the clearing, his hand resting possessively on the head of the toddler beside him.
Anaira gave a strangled cry and rushed forward, but an unseen force stopped her before she could cross the clearing. She rebounded backward, caught off balance until Gabrielle grabbed her and steadied her. The little girl stretched out her chubby arms and whimpered.
Ares glanced around the campsite. "Xena," he said, seeming somewhat nonplussed. "You shouldn't be here." His gaze upon her was cold, lacking the usual tinge of ardor for his favorite warrior woman.
"Ares!" Xena burst out, her voice throbbing with anger. "This isn't like you -- to be unnecessarily cruel. Give the child back to her mother."
"Been there ... done that," the God of War growled back. "This time I thought I'd try something different." Anaira shot a questioning look at Xena. Gabrielle's hand flew to her mouth. Xena, on the other hand, looked as if she had heard what she'd expected -- and dreaded.
"It isn't right," she said, low and urgent. "You know it."
"She belongs with her mother," Gabrielle added fiercely, moving forward. Ares glanced at her in irritation.
"Go away," he growled, and lifted his hand as if to strike. Moving like lightning, Xena stepped into the path of the blow and put out her own hand, absorbing the unseen god-power with ease. Ares turned his attention back to her.
"Stay out of this, Xena," he ordered with a ferocity that was unusual even for him. Xena refused to back down.
Meanwhile, Anaira had dropped to her knees and was murmuring soft words of comfort toward her daughter. Now the child put up her little hands and toddled forward, pushing through the unseen barrier with childlike determination and rushing into her mother's arms. Anaira seized her tightly, gasping with relief, pressing the child to her breast as she stumbled to her feet and backward.
"Enough!" Breaking eye contact with Xena, Ares pushed past her and strode toward Anaira. Both Xena and Gabrielle reached for him, and he flung them away so roughly they were both momentarily stunned. Anaira backed away from him, her grip tightening further on her daughter, but at a touch from his hand Anaira cried out in pain and her arms went limp, and Ares seized the child.
Whirling, Ares confronted Xena again. "She is my daughter," he bit out with a hot intensity that seared the air, "and I will train her to know and respect what that means. Do *not* intervene!" With a loud pop he was gone. The little girl's screams reverberated in the forest, mingling with the mother's moans. She crouched by the ground, clutching her shoulders, shivering with pain and anguish.
Gabrielle hurried over to Anaira, gently pulling her arms from her body. "Are you all right? What did he do?"
"No, the pain was only for an instant," the other woman said in a voice thick with anguish. She lifted her tear-stained face toward the sky and took a long, shuddering breath. "Oh, gods...." Quietly, Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Anaira and hugged her.
"Listen," said Xena, gruffly, but not ungently. "You know what he's trying to do. Don't let him do it! This changes nothing." She met Anaira's eyes as the other warrior blinked back tears and focused on her. "Nothing!"
"You're right." Giving Gabrielle's shoulder a reassuring pat, Anaira disentangled herself. She stood up and visibly threw off the shroud of despair that the encounter had left on her.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Gabrielle asked with concern.
"Fine." The curt dismissal, the disavowal of the previous instant's emotion, was so like Xena that Gabrielle was taken aback. She shook her head slowly at the two of them.
"If you say so." Gabrielle looked at Xena, and saw that her friend had read the thoughts on her face. Xena raised her eyebrows in a sort of facial shrug.
"Okay, so we know how to get in," Anaira said, her tone suddenly all business. "Once we get to Olympus and find our way to Ares' room, what's our plan?" She looked at Xena. "You do have a plan, don't you?"
"Of course she has a plan," Gabrielle said confidently. "Tell us the plan, Xena."
"The plan is simple," Xena replied. "I distract Ares while the two of you sneak in and get the child."
"No, I should distract Ares," Anaira objected. "You two can grab Mimi while I keep him occupied."
Xena's glare was steely and brooked no argument. "I will distract him." There was a long silence while she and Anaira faced each other down, determined eyes locking, their individual pain fusing into a single heated emotion in the air between them. Finally Xena, without looking away, relaxed slightly and added, "Your daughter is more likely to go quietly with you."
Anaira relaxed as well. "All right. We do it your way."
Gabrielle frowned slightly, considering. "But-"
"That's the plan," Xena said firmly, freezing Gabrielle with her inflection. Gabrielle looked into her friend's eyes and saw a cold glimmer there that she hadn't seen in a long time. It made her shiver slightly with an apprehension she didn't understand.
"Okay," she said, more meekly than she had intended. Xena gave a short nod and turned away.
"Let's get moving."
Xena was grimly silent as they walked, setting a rigorous pace that kept Gabrielle's shorter legs working overtime. She strode ahead, her jaw set, leading Argo. Gabrielle tried to draw Anaira out as they followed behind.
"So your daughter's name is Mimi?"
"It's short for Simetra. But we've called her Mimi since she was a baby," Anaira replied. Her desperate anguish had cooled, and she was tightly controlled now, but like Xena she seemed almost to vibrate with the emotions she struggled to suppress. Her tone when she spoke was subdued.
"We? So you have a husband," Gabrielle prompted.
"No ... just my mother. She was the only one who would speak to me, at first, when I got back from warring. She even helped me invent a dead lover so the townspeople wouldn't know about Ares." She looked at her counterpart ahead of them. "What did you mean when you said that Xena and Ares have a history?"
"Oh ... um...." Gabrielle hesitated, unsure of what, or how, to explain.
Abruptly, Xena turned to look back at them. "Let's just say you and I have a lot in common," she said, her eyes hooded. "That's all you need to know." Anaira nodded, quietly accepting.
To Gabrielle's surprise, Xena held Argo back until the other two had caught up, and then matched her stride to theirs. "So, after we've rescued your daughter," she said with a forced neutrality, "we can take the two of you back to your mother."
"No, I'm afraid not." Anaira sighed. "Mother died a few months ago."
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle said earnestly, touching the other woman's arm.
"I'm glad, actually," Anaira confessed. "I'm glad she went happily, loving Mimi. I'm glad she isn't around to see this. It would have broken her heart."
"It's hard to lose a child that you love," Gabrielle agreed quietly. Anaira looked at her, grimacing.
"Yes. But not just that." She looked away. "I was ... I was shocked by how easy it was to slip back into my warrior self. Shocked and ashamed. I ... used to think I was basically a good person."
"You *are* a good person," Gabrielle said forcefully, watching Xena's stiff face. "You became a warrior for all the wrong reasons, but once you realized it, you turned away from evil."
"I don't know, Gabrielle," Anaira sighed. "You can't know what it's like, the power you feel when you give yourself over to the warrior self. It's addictive. Even when I try to stay on the right path I can feel it pushing to get out."
"You saw it when we faced the Horde," Xena told Gabrielle unexpectedly. "And she's right. You can't know what it's like. You wouldn't want to. I hope you never do."
Gabrielle almost held her breath, startled and oddly cheered by this completely uncharacteristic volunteering of emotions from her usually taciturn friend. She felt as if a single word from her would break the spell, returning Xena to silence.
It was Anaira who broke in, exclaiming, "The Horde? You faced them? And lived to tell it?"
"Barely," Xena said, showing another fleeting instant of unmasked pain before her barriers slammed back into place. Gabrielle let out her breath silently, feeling disappointed.
The three women walked on in silence.
Thanks to the rapid pace Xena had set, there was still a considerable amount of daylight left when the travellers reached the foot of Mount Olympus. Anaira followed dutifully as Xena and Gabrielle moved along the side of the great mountain, searching for the landmarks they had seen in their dream.
Both spotted it at the same moment: the confluence of trees, bushes and rock that called familiarly to the eye. There they stopped, secured Argo, and ate more fruit as they rehashed the plan.
"I'm not so sure about this," Anaira said uneasily, eying Xena. "Maybe we should rethink the plan."
"The plan will work," Xena asserted. "You two just need to give me enough time to get Ares out of the way, and then you can come in and take the child."
"Trust me," Xena insisted, almost threateningly. Anaira shrugged reluctantly and subsided.
Gabrielle frowned. Something Xena had said was nagging the back of her mind, warning her of trouble. The feeling had been growing all afternoon. "Xena-"
"Here." Glancing up at the sky, Xena drew her sword and cut a line on the trunk of a nearby tree. "When the shadow of the mountain reaches this point, you two come inside and find me. That should be enough time." She turned as Gabrielle began to object again. "That is, if you think you can handle it."
"Of course we can handle it," Anaira said. "I just don't think...." She trailed off uncertainly.
"Of course," Gabrielle echoed. "But Xena-"
"Lay low until then," Xena instructed curtly. She pushed aside the bush, just as in the dream, exposing the cavern. But then she paused, and turned back, locking eyes with Gabrielle.
"What? What is it, Xena?"
"You could never be what I would make you," Xena told her firmly. "Only what you make yourself. Always remember that." She cast one last longing, almost desperate look at the bard, and ducked through the bushes. In an instant she was gone.
"I don't like it," Anaira said slowly, casting her eye up the side of the mountain. "What isn't Xena telling me? Is there something more I should know? Gabrielle?"
"Um...." Gabrielle barely heard her. She was still trying to puzzle out what it was that Xena had said to ring her internal warning bells.
Xena brushed rock dust and dirt off her hands, turned, and strode swiftly through the dark tunnel. In short order she found the stairway and took it two at a time.
Before her mind's eye she saw the faces of her mother, her son, her sister. She thought of Ares and all the times she had resisted him, the twinge of pleasure-pain each time she pulled herself from the clutches of his near-irresistible evil. As she moved up the stairs, she reached down into a corner of herself that had been all but boarded up, and opened a door.
The savage heat of the blood-lust rose up in her throat, curling her lip into a snarl of angry, gleeful anticipation. Feeling the beast threaten to engulf her, she pushed it back, feeling it bubble maddeningly at the edges of her control.
"Gabrielle, talk to me. What's really going on here?"
"I'm not sure," Gabrielle told Anaira, feeling her unease grow by the moment. "I just have this feeling ... Xena has sort of a habit of changing the plan on a moment's notice without warning me."
"What do you think she's doing?"
"There was something she said -- if I could only remember...." Gabrielle tried to replay the entire day in her head. The out-of-the-blue mention of the Horde. The look of anguish on Xena's face when she watched Ares seize her sister. The cryptic words she spoke just before she disappeared into Olympus. "By the Gods!"
"Gabrielle! Look!" As revelation was hitting Gabrielle, Anaira had pulled back the bushes leading to the cave. Both women stared in horror at the huge boulder that now blocked its mouth.
"No!" Gabrielle screamed in anguish, as the full import of it finally hit her. Recklessly, she threw herself against the rock. It, of course, did not budge. Gabrielle rebounded off of it and would have tried again, but Anaira seized her and, with a strength to rival Xena's, held her still.
"Dammit, Gabrielle! Tell me what's going on!"
"Don't you see? She tricked us," Gabrielle wailed in despair. "She blames herself because if she hadn't abandoned Ares to fight for justice he never would have taken your child! She's gone to sacrifice herself!"
Anaira's eyes widened. "Gods...." Abruptly she released Gabrielle and put her weight against the rock, testing it experimentally. "It's not going to move very easily but -- Oh!"
"What?" Gabrielle wiped away hot tears. Her heart seemed ready to pound out of her breast with the urgency of the moment. She could barely focus on Anaira's pointing finger.
"Look, the boulder isn't quite big enough. There's a space at the top that we can probably squeeze through." The warrior turned to Gabrielle. "Are you all right?"
"We have to stop her," Gabrielle whispered fiercely. "We can't let her do this!"
"Gabrielle! Stay calm ... we will stop her. I promise you! Now tell me you're all right!" She grabbed Gabrielle's shoulders again and shook her. Gabrielle fought to suppress her fear and horror, wrestling for control.
"Yes ... yes...."
"Good. Put your foot here." Anaira laced her fingers together and boosted Gabrielle up onto the rock. "Can you get through?"
"I think so. We're lucky she had to make do," Gabrielle answered, taking deep breaths to calm herself. She sucked in her stomach and wormed her way into the crack.
As Gabrielle's legs disappeared into the cavern, Anaira glanced back at the tree. The line of shadow was slowly crawling up its trunk. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer to Artemis before lifting herself up onto the rock.
In moments Xena was at the door, watching the twinkle of the golden sword on its face. Just as in the dream she reached her hand out to the knob. Just as in the dream she felt it turn in her palm. But then the door flung open and he stood there, splendid in the surrounds of his own space.
"Xena." He seemed neither surprised nor unsurprised to find her at his door.
"Ares." He took a step back as she advanced, giving her access to the room. She strode confidently inside, tossing her head with precision timing so that her hair swept aside and brushed across his throat. She heard him catch his breath as he closed the door behind her. The darkness surged up again from her belly and she swallowed it down again, thinking, Not yet, not yet!
"Well, this is a pleasure," he said, but cautiously. "How did you get in here?"
"I have many skills, thanks to you," Xena replied, glancing casually around the room. Spacious and luxuriously decorated in velvets and silks, it nevertheless exuded a distinctly sinister aura in keeping with the temperament of its occupant.
"You weren't always so eager to thank me," Ares observed, remaining where he stood, watching Xena prowl the edges of the carpet.
"I was being stubborn. That from you too?" She glanced at him, keeping her chin down, lifting her eyes to him in a deliberately coy gesture. "Refusing to accept my true heritage ... the legacy you've given me."
"But now you're prepared to accept it," he said slowly, uncertainly.
"You say prepared...." She saw that he was riveted to her every word. "I say eager. But there's a price."
His brow creased suspiciously. "A price? I don't understand. What are you saying, Xena?"
Xena crossed over to Ares' bed, turned, and slowly sat down on it. Ares watched her intently, like a panther motionlessly observing its prey.
"I'm offering you a trade ... Daddy." Xena spoke slowly, as if speaking to an idiot ... but there was also an element of seduction in her tone. "In return for me, you swear to allow Simetra to grow up, live and die naturally, all without any intervention from you."
A gleam of excitement lit Ares' eye. He strode across the room and sat beside Xena, pressing closely against her. The heat of his sculpted masculine body suffused her skin.
"You'll lead my army?"
"Battles unlike any the world has ever seen," Xena crooned sibilantly, feeling the fever begin to rise in her own skin. She could almost taste the blood on her tongue; she knew Ares could. "All for the greater glory of War."
She felt his fingers lightly brush her bare shoulder, and his breath ruffled her hair when he spoke against her ear.
"Promise me one thing," he near-whispered. Xena lifted her chin slightly, waiting.
"What?" Now his other hand skimmed the surface of her thigh, not actually making contact, but raising goosebumps all along her flesh. Again he whispered into her ear.
"Never call me Daddy again."
She turned her head to look into the smoking pools of his eyes. His passion was so hot it seemed that to look directly at him would burn her eyes. She met his gaze. "Then you agree?"
His mouth was a hair's-breadth from hers. "You're mine," he breathed. "You'll swear to it?"
Xena put out her tongue for an answer, and drew it across his upper lip. Ares growled desperately and his lips closed over hers, hungry, seeking. Xena closed her eyes and let the red-black beast, so long caged, surge up from the depths of her chest. And she opened her mouth to her god, allowing his tongue to claim her as her strong arms slid around his neck, pulling him closer. And she was on her back on the bed, Ares the sweet hot weight pinning her down, his fingertips like points of fire licking at her flesh.
But Xena stopped, wrestling her mouth that throbbed and tingled away from his kiss, pushing at his shoulders with all the strength he had given her, so that he stopped and stared down into her eyes.
"Swear it," she ordered huskily, sweeping her dark lashes up to fix him with her steeliest look. "Swear you'll never interfere in her life, or her mother's." His breathing was rapid and though he was a god, she could feel his heart pounding wildly against the chest under her hand. "And Gabrielle. Swear you'll leave them all alone." And she twisted her hips under him, making him gasp.
"I swear. I swear," he groaned and moved -- almost hesitantly -- to kiss her again.
The dark haze, the color of spilt blood, clouded her brain again, stronger than in years. And the Warrior Princess opened her legs to the God of War.
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