"I didn't give up my Godhood so I could be by myself." Ares muttered to himself. Thunder rumbled overhead and rain poured down on him. With all the noise from Mother Nature, Ares knew no one could hear him. Not even Xena. In fact, the Warrior Princess had already disappeared from sight. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. I'll save you from those cannibals. You'll see. Xena isn't the only hero around here."
The ex-God of War rose from his hiding spot and followed the cannibals to their camp. As camps go, this one wasn't much. A few straw huts and half naked savages armed with wooden spears. Ares knew the numbers were in their favor. If he still had his powers it would have been easy. Pop in and blast them with fireballs. But he didn't have his powers. He had given them up to save Gabrielle. Worst, he had never told her why he had given up his Godhood. He wasn't used to expressing his emotions. For a long time he had thought he was in love with Xena, but he had realized that wasn't true. It just totally amazed him that it was Gabrielle he really loved, the peace-loving bard. But then she had blossomed into a beautiful peace-loving warrior, which made it a bit easier for him to accept. But would she understand it?
Ares shook his head. He needed to concentrate on rescuing Gabrielle. They had placed her into a cave. The cave had what appeared to be a bamboo door on it. He was sure his sword could easily slice through it. But all of those cannibals were a problem. A disguise was out of the question. There was no way he could pass for one of them. So a deversion then, he decided. Like setting fire to one of the huts. He watched as the Medicine Man entered and later left the cave. Ares hunkered down and decided to wait for early morning when most of the tribe hopefully would be asleep.
Time passed and the rain disappeared. Ares realized his idea of starting a fire wouldn't work. Everything was soaking wet, including the huts. The wet straw would never burn like he wanted. And if he waited until later when the huts were dry, all the cannibals would be awake. Ares considered his options and decided to just rush in and free Gabrielle. He pulled his sword from its scabbard and dashed into the camp. He peered into the cave and saw Gabrielle wasn't alone. Virgil was also in there, along with a very skinny man with giant ears. He didn't know the man, but he knew Virgil was Joxer's son. "Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle blinked awake and stared sleepily at Ares. The fever she had from the stab wound had broken during the night and she felt much better. "Ares?"
"I'm going to rescue you!" Ares swung at the bamboo door with his sword. If it had been just a few pieces of bamboo, he could have freed her much faster. But the cannibals had crisscrossed piece after piece until only tiny square openings remained. The sword clanged on the bamboo door and cannibals came running to see who was making the noise. They yelled in alarm when they spotted Ares and soon attacked him.
"Behind you!" Gabrielle cried.
Ares spun around and was soon faced with dozens of hungry cannibals. He slashed at them with his sword, but they just kept coming and coming. They stabbed at him with spears and braver ones leaped onto him, biting him. Soon Ares was overpowered and disarmed. The door to the cave was opened and he was tossed inside with the others.
"Ares, how did you ever find me?" Gabrielle asked in confusion. The last time she had seen him was when the Furies had driven him mad and Xena had almost drowned.
"Well, I've been sort of following you and Xena." Ares admitted.
"Why?" Gabrielle asked.
Before Ares could reply, the door flew open and a bunch of heavily armed cannibals entered. The leader, who wore a pig's head on his head, pointed at Gabrielle. Two of the cannibals grabbed Gabrielle and started to drag her from the cave. "We cook you now. Female meat rare delicacy. Soft and tender." Pig Head said.
"No!" Gabrielle cried. She tried to dig her boot hills into the earthen floor, but it was useless. A cannibal gripped each arm tightly and she was hauled towards the exit.
Virgil tried to run forward, but spears blocked his path. "No! No! Don't cook her! Gabrielle!"
"Don't cook Gabrielle!" Ares yelled. He pushed the spears out of his way and wrapped his arms around Gabrielle's waist as he tried to pull her back into the cave. "I didn't give up my Godhood so you could cook her! If you cook her, I promise when I get my powers back I'll blast you freaks off the face of the Earth!"
"More to eat on him." Pig Head stated as he look at Ares. "He has powers. Magic. We cook and eat, we get magic!"
More cannibals grabbed Ares.
"Hey! I didn't say you should eat me!" Ares protested loudly.
"We eat both!" Pig Head declared. "Yes. Cook both together, magic go in both meat!"
The cannibals roared their approval as they dragged both Ares and Gabrielle outside. The door to the cave was slammed shut and locked. Virgil rushed forward and peered out after Gabrielle. He desperately reached for her, but it was futile. Only his hands fitted through the small openings. His face slumped as tears started to drip down his cheeks. "Gabrielle."
Outside, Ares and Gabrielle were tied together facing each other. Their hands were tied behind each other's backs. The cannibals chatted to each other in a strange tongue while they smeared some disgusting goop onto their future dinners..
Gabrielle's face twisted up in disgust as she peered at the goop. Her gaze shifted to Ares. "I thought you were going to rescue me."
"Well, I am! Sort of. OK, I admit the rescue didn't go as I had planned." Ares admitted. He flinched as hands started to rub the greasy stuff onto his bare arms. Whatever it was, it smelled rancid. His stomach twisted and it wasn't entirely from the rotten smell. He was prepared to be cooked and it frightened him. His heart pounded in his chest and his palms sweated, yet he felt cold. They had stripped him of his black leather vest before he had been tied to Gabrielle and now more hands rubbed the cooking grease onto his bare back. "Look, I'm not used to being mortal, OK?"
"I know." Gabrielle attempted to smile but it failed. "I'm sure Xena will rescue us soon. She always comes through."
"Look, there's something I have to tell you." Ares started to say. He paused for a moment and wondered how he should say it. Before when he had been a God, he had tended to be very direct. He would have just blurted it out to her, once he had decided to tell her. But being mortal had changed that. Being tied up to a roasting spit and covered with rancid grease didn't do much for his self-confidence, either. In fact, he decided he must look like an idiot. How could Gabrielle ever take him seriously in his present condition? But then she didn't look her best, either. Her beautiful short hair was plastered to her head in a thick layer of grease and her skin was covered. Although she didn't look too frightened yet, he could feel how fast her heart was pounding. It thumped steadily against his chest. Suddenly he realized this was the closest he had ever been to her and it really wasn't fair that they were going to be cooked! A cannibal approached and tried to shove a hollow tube into his mouth. Ares bit his hand and snarled. "Would you mind? I'm having an important conversation with my woman here!"
The cannibal snatched his hand away and looks at Pig Head for advice.
"Cook then now." Pig Head ordered. "Me hungry."
A cannibal grasped each end of the long roasting spit and lifted. Nothing happened. They strained their muscles and gritted their teeth together as they tried to lift the heavy dinner. The cannibals were thin and bony, as it was difficult for them to catch a steady supply of meat. Once people heard of the cannibals, not many ventured into the jungle where they lived. It was mostly travelers from distant areas that they caught, people who traveled down the nearby river. And even when they had fresh meat, it didn't last long. There were too many cannibals and not enough meat to go around. Often they couldn't even wait for it to finish cooking and started to eat it half raw. "It too heavy."
"More people lift!" Pig Head ordered. He fingered the necklace of leopard claws he wore around his neck and his mouth watered. He couldn't wait to get the God's magic. Then his tribe would be invincible!
Six more cannibals rushed over to help. Together they managed to heave the roasting spit up into the air. They carried it the short distance to the pair of "Y" shaped sticks. They lowered the spit onto the two sticks and hurried away to get some firewood. Once they had the wood ready, they could start cooking.
"What do you mean, your woman?" Gabrielle asked in confusion.
"See, I was hoping that..." Ares stopped talking as the sticks creaked and groaned loudly. There was a loud snap as they broke and they tumbled to the ground. Ares groaned as landed on his back with Gabrielle on top of him. A bone was stabbing him in his side and there were several sharp rocks underneath him. Anyway, he thought they were rocks. "That we could be a couple."
"Ares, we're about to be cooked!" Gabrielle reminded him.
"There's a reason I gave up my Godhood, you know. I know you probably think I did it to save Xena, but I didn't. Well, I wanted to save her too, but you were the main reason." he continued.
"But I thought you loved Xena..." Gabrielle said as her mind whirled. She gazed into Ares' dark eyes and saw everything he said was true, that he meant every word. She knew people often confessed things before they died, but she never expected this!
The cannibals gathered around the broken cooking sticks and jabbered in their own language. Pig Head picked up the smashed remains of one of the "Y" sticks and threw it onto the ground with anger. His nostrils flared as he pointed at Ares and Gabrielle. "We still cook you! Your magic not saves you this time! We eat you and then we have magic! Go dig roasting pit. Go get banana leaves!"
"Banana leaves?" Gabrielle asked Ares, confusion clear in her blue eyes.
"Hey, don't ask me! I'm new to this mortal concept of cooking." Ares replied. He realized that once again the cannibals had interrupted them and he had not answered her previous question. "Well, I admire Xena for her skills as a warrior. She is after all the best warrior that ever lived. And since I am, was, the God of War I thought I should love the best warrior, right? I discovered it doesn't work that way. And me and Xena, well, we just don't get along very well. I admire her but she hates my guts. Even I know that's not a good recipe for a relationship. But now we get along great. Don't you think?"
Gabrielle thought about it and realized Ares was right. She enjoyed spending time with him, that is when Xena wasn't around. Whenever those two got together Xena usually ending up insulting him or something. "Yes, we do seem to get along well."
"You have to realize I'm new to these warm emotions: love, friendship. My mother only taught me how to hate." Ares told Gabrielle. He turned his head and saw a bunch of cannibals were busy digging a pit of some kind. He wasn't too sure what they were using as digging tools. He narrowed his gaze and frowned when he recognized his sword in the hands of one of the cannibals. Anger seethed in his chest. "Do you see that? They're using my Sword of Power to dig a cooking pit!"
"I know. And those other two are using my sais." Gabrielle said softly. "You get used to these type of things after awhile. All kinds of things happen to you when you travel with Xena."
"So it seems. You of course realize that if it weren't for me you'd be cooked already, right? So I am saving you, in my own way." Ares' mind drifted and he wondered exactly what was taking Xena so long to rescue them. It she waited any longer they might actually get roasted and he didn't think he'd cared for that idea too much.
"Now that you mention it, I think you're right." Gabrielle agreed. She lifted her head and saw a bunch of cannibals run out of the jungle with armfuls of dark green banana leaves. They dumped the huge leaves onto a pile near Ares and Gabrielle.
"I couldn't understand how I could love someone who loves peace so much." Ares continued, but he watched the cannibals with the big green leaves. He had to admit he had no idea what they were up to. "Peace and War are opposites. But maybe I need a little peace in my life. I learned there's more to life than only war and fighting. I know I did awful things in the past as the God of War, that I did things to you and Xena. But that was before I had learned to love, before I learned what real love is. I realize now I threw myself into my job because my life was empty and alone. I used work as a substitute for what was missing in my life. Then, when I had thought I had it all figured out, I still didn't have it right. But now I know I do and I hope that maybe someday you will feel the same way about me. I know it's hopeless though. How could you ever love War? I stand for everything you hate. I think that's another reason I deluded myself by chasing after Xena all of those years. She enjoys some of the aspects of war, or used to anyway. So I had tried to convince myself I loved Xena while all of that time I was really in love with you. I realized once I admitted to myself that it was you I loved I didn't stand a chance."
Gabrielle's mind whirled from everything Ares had just told her. She needed a moment to think about everything he had said. She felt her legs lifted and used that as an excuse for more time. She twisted her head around and realized the cannibals were wrapping the banana leaves around them. Dirt was glued to the grease that was smeared over their bodies, but the cannibals didn't seem to care. They just wrapped the banana leaves around their bodies and tied it secure with pieces of vine. "I do care about you, Ares. I can see that you've changed. You proved that when you sacrificed your Godhood to save our lives. If we ever get out of this alive, I'd like to spend more time with you."
"What about Xena?" Ares asked.
"Xena will just have to learn to adjust." Gabrielle smiled down at Ares. "Trust me, Ares, in the beginning Xena didn't want me around either! I sort of forced myself on her. She discovered it was much easier to keep me out of trouble if I traveled with her instead of following along behind her. From there, we grew to be best friends. She'll get used to having you around after time passes."
"So you really think there's a possibility for us?" Ares asked Gabrielle.
"Of course I do!" Gabrielle replied. "That is, if we don't get cooked first."
Ares glanced toward the cooking pit and saw it was finished. He gulped nervously as he watched Pig Head to see what would happen next.
Pig Head motioned to his cannibals near the newly dug cooking pit with his hand. Pig Head's tribe had never used a cooking pit before but Pig Head had once heard about it from someone else. "Now build fire in hole. Line hole with bricks. Bricks get hot, cook food."
The cannibals stared at each other, confused expressions on their faces. They jabbered to each other and all shrugged. One stepped forward. "What are bricks?"
"Me don't know." Pig Head admitted. He scratched his chin as he thought. "We cook without bricks! Just make fire, throw food in, cover up."
The cannibals dashed to get the materials needed to build a big cooking fire. They dumped the ingredients into the hole and soon a fire crackled. They rushed over to where Ares and Gabrielle lay tied up in banana leaves. They reached down to pick them up so they could be carried over to the cooking pit.
The air whistled as Xena's chakrom buzzed through, hitting all the cannibals on their heads. Xena's war cry echoed through the cannibal camp. She swung her sword at the nearest cannibals as they rushed to attack her. She leaped over to where Ares and Gabrielle lay and cut them free. They retrieved their weapons. Ares helped Xena fight the cannibals while Gabrielle freed Virgil and the man with the large ears. They all leaped onto the cannibals' horses and raced off into the jungle towards the elaborate booby-trap Xena had prepared. There all the cannibals were fated to drown when the damn broke and the river once again filled its banks.
Ares tightened his grip around Gabrielle as they rode the galloping horse. Being mortal now didn't seem so bad since Gabrielle had accepted him. Together, he knew, they could convince Xena they were right for each other.