"Well, maybe he could just hold a sword and look mean then," Gabrielle said. She had been trying to convince Xena for an hour now to let Joxer come with them. Where she didn't have any romantic feelings for Joxer, she did like him as a friend and had no desire to come back and find him dead. "Come on Xena. He'll be in less danger if he comes with us."
Xena sighed. "I guess your right. This down is a pretty dangerous place. Okay. He can come along. But I have a feeling he will be far from looking mean. He is Joxer ya know."
They both smiled and set out to find their friend.
They found him in a nearby temple of Ares', kneeling in front of the altar. When he got up they walked over to him.
"Why do you pray to him?"
"I don't know," Joxer answered. "I guess I think maybe one day he'll answer."
"You shouldn't fool yourself," Xena answered.
"Yeah," Gabrielle said. "He'll never answer you. He doesn't care about anyone but himself."
"I know," Joxer said sighing.
"Well," Gabrielle said, changing the subject. "I talked Xena into letting you come along."
"Really? Thank you Xena!"
"No problem Joxer. Now stop hugging me!" Xena said prying him away from her.
"Sorry," he said stepping back.
"Well, we should get going. We want to get to the next town by nightfall."
The three started out of the temple, Xena first with Joxer trailing behind her and then Gabrielle following behind them. When the other two were out already, Gabrielle felt a familiar presence, but didn't stop.
"It's not true ya know," Ares said making her stop.
"What?" she asked turning around.
"That I only care about myself. There are others I care about."
"Right," she said unbelieving. "What are you doing here Ares."
"Well, it is my temple."
He was right. Gabrielle had forgotten where they had been. "You were listening to our conversation?"
"He was praying. I always listen to him. When you two came in, I just kept listening."
"You always listen to Joxer? Then why don't you ever answer him?"
"He's not meant to be what he wants me to make him."
"Then why don't you just tell him?"
Ares sighed. "He'll know what he's supposed to be. But he has to find it on his own. Joxer is a very loyal follower. The most loyal I have. That's why I listen. But he wants to be more than he's supposed to be. He has to accept that before he can truly know what he's to become."
"Or maybe you just don't care enough," Gabrielle said before walking out.
Ares just watched her. She knew he was right. He could see it in her eyes. He flopped onto his throne to think. How did she always make him feel like this? He always felt all tender and nice when she was around.
"Maybe the God of War is feeling something he hasn't felt in a while."
"Huh? Oh hey 'Dite."
"Hey? I don't get a 'get out' or anything? You've got it bad don't you?"
"I'm the God of War! I'm not supposed to feel this way about a mortal!"
"Well suck it up and face the fact bro. Even the God of War has feelings of love. You just didn't know it." She paused. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"What am I supposed to do about it? She hates me! And after the things I've done to her and Xena, I don't really blame her."
"Well, maybe you can show her your softer side. I know it's there. Bro, ya gotta try. If you don't find out if it's possible, you'll be miserable for the rest of your life and make the rest of us miserable cleaning up your messes."
"I don't even know what to say to her. Every time I talk to her, I say something stupid and just make her madder."
Aphrodite sighed. "You seemed to be saying nice things earlier. Just keep doing things like that. Make her see you really care."
"She'd think I was doing it to get to Xena."
"I think you could put doubt of that in her mind. Like I said, if you don't try, you'll never know and we'll all suffer for it. Just make sure she's alone. If Xena was there she'd try to defend her and if Joxer were there he'd go get Xena."
With that, Aphrodite was gone, leaving Ares to his own thoughts. He could do this couldn't he? Why not? He was the God of War. He could do anything he wanted. He searched for Gabrielle, finding her in a camp not far from where she'd left him. Joxer and Xena were with her, talking about Zeus knows what. It wasn't him, that was for sure.
Ares stood outside the camp and watched. He wasn't sure how to approach. Should he come in the way he usually did and threaten them? No, that would push her away even more. I come in peace he thought playfully. Like that would work.
"What are you doing here?"
The voice shocked him out of his thoughts. "Huh?" He turned to see Gabrielle staring at him.
"I said, what are you doing here. What, are you deaf?"
"Uh...no. I was just thinking."
"Uh huh. Thinking while spying on us. Xena's gonna be pissed when I tell her and drag your sorry butt in there."
"Like you could or would." Her words hurt more than he was willing to admit to her or himself. "She's not even there. I saw her leave."
"Well, I'm not alone."
"You're not?" He hadn't realized that anyone else had traveled with them. Other than Joxer anyway and he didn't consider him a threat of any kind.
"Nope. Joxer's with me."
"Joxer?" Ares laughed out loud at the thought of Joxer trying to protect her from him. "And he's going to give you protection how?"
Gabrielle thought a minute. "Okay. So maybe he won't. I can protect myself anyway."
"Against a God?"
"Against anyone I have to. Just go away, okay?"
Ares watched her walk back into camp and over to Joxer. They spoke briefly before Joxer got up and walked away. Just go away? No Gabrielle. I can't just walk away from you. He disappeared only to reappear in front of her.
"I'm not going to just go away."
"Why? Xena's not here. There's nothing here you want."
Ares sighed. "I'm not here to see Xena." He watched her look back in the direction Joxer had taken. "Or Joxer."
"You. I'm here to see you," he said cutting her off.
Ares sighed again. He had no idea what to do next so he sat down. "Um...Well. I came to see you because I wanted to talk to you. But I have no idea how to say what I want to say."
Gabrielle just looked at him. Then she said flatly, "Then it's not that important, is it."
"It is important. I've just never really done this before."
"Said what I have to say."
"I love you!" he said cutting her off again. She didn't say anything for a long time. He didn't know how to take the silence so he just disappeared, leaving Gabrielle to wonder all by herself.
"Don't be to hard on him little one."
"Aphrodite. What are you doing here?"
"I'm here for Ares."
"Did you hear what he said to me?!"
"Yes. I did."
"Can you believe it? It's just a trick to get to Xena. He'd do anything to get to her!"
"He wouldn't hurt you little one." She continued when she saw Gabrielle's confused look. "Look. He meant what he said. You should have seen him earlier. He had no idea what to do. He's not good at expressing his feelings. That's why it came out the way it did. Don't blame him for coming to you. You have some sort of feelings for him that aren't all hate. They may not be love, but they aren't hate either. I knew that and told him to go for it."
Gabrielle looked at the ground. "I had no idea. I don't hate him. Not the way Xena does. I don't know how I feel about him. I didn't mean to hurt him though."
"I know that. But he doesn't. He wasn't sure how you'd react to begin with. And now he thinks you feel the same as Xena and he's embarrassed. It's not every day the God of War falls in love."
"Let me think about it okay? I'll decide what to do tonight. If I decide to talk to him, can I call you and ask you to take me to his temple?"
"Sure thing sweet cakes," Aphrodite said, her spirits lifting a little. "Just call me when you're ready."
"Thanks Aphrodite." Gabrielle hugged Aphrodite before she disappeared, leaving little hearts all over the camp. Gabrielle had to do some serious thinking. She sat down where Joxer had sat and began to think.
When Cupid flashed into Ares' temple, he had to duck out of the way of a vase flying at him. "Whoa, dad. What's up?"
"Nothing's up. I'm just fine!" Ares said, blasting another vase. Then he plopped down in his throne. "Why can't I ever say anything right?"
"Well, you're getting there. You've really got it bad don't ya?"
"What are you doing here?" Ares asked in a tone that said he wanted to drop it.
"The vibes you're sending out can be felt all over Olympus. We all decided that some one needed to check on you and I was the only one brave enough to do it. Nearly lost my head for it too," he said looking at the broken vase that had, just minutes before, flew over his head and crashed into a wall.
"Sorry about that," Ares grinned. "Okay, so what have I got?"
"Oh come on dad. I am the God of Love ya know. It's written all over your face." He paused. "I also talked to mom."
"Then you know. Great! All of Olympus is going to find out!"
"Nah. Mom and I'll keep our mouths shut. Besides, I watched you talking to her when she told you to go away. Not a bad conversation for the God of War."
Ares sighed. "So what do I do?" He felt positively pathetic. He'd never asked for help from anyone for anything in his life. Especially not his over-confident winged son.
"Just keep doing what you're doing. Keep talking to her. She doesn't hate you. She's just mostly heard the stories from Xena. She'll come around."
"I don't want you doing anything to her."
"Okay. I won't." Cupid looked around. "Well, if you're okay, I promised Strife we'd take the day off and spend it together."
"Yeah, I'm fine. Have fun."
"I plan on it," Cupid said smiling, and then flashed away leaving little hearts all around the temple.
What is it with the hearts! Ares thought to himself.
"You're gonna do what?" Xena asked.
"I'm gonna go talk to Ares." Gabrielle had told the whole story to Xena and what she planned to do.
"Gabrielle. You know Ares as well as I do. You have to know he's only out for what he wants. He's probably using you to get to me."
"No, I don't think so this time. Aphrodite came to me after he left. She said that he meant every word he said. I don't hate him Xena and I hurt him. I made him think I did. I think there could be at least a good friend in Ares and I would really like to try."
Xena sighed and thought a little. "Do what you have to do Gabrielle." Xena said and then walked back over to her bedroll.
Gabrielle knew she was upset. She was about to go to her when Joxer sat down.
"Hey Joxer." Gabrielle said, settling back down. "Why can't she understand?"
"For the same reason I can't. She loves you Gabrielle and she doesn't want you to get hurt."
"I know. But it's something I have to do. I feel bad for the way I treated him. He was sincere and I hurt him with it."
"I understand," Joxer said pulling her into a hug. "And you always have someone who loves you if…if things don't work out."
"Thank you Joxer," she said hugging him back. "I couldn't ask for better friends than you and Xena."
Joxer felt Gabrielle go to sleep. Not want to wake her, he shifted slightly to make himself more comfortable and soon felt himself sliding into a sweet slumber.
The next morning, Gabrielle woke to Xena putting the last of the bedrolls onto Argo's back and tying them down. She realized that she was still sleeping in Joxer's arms and that he was staring at her.
"We thought you were gonna sleep forever," he said smiling down at her.
"Everything's packed except for that blanket you two are sleeping under," Xena said walking over towards them. "I got some fish for breakfast and left some for you over there. They should be about ready to eat."
"Thanks," Gabrielle said getting up. She turned and offered Joxer a hand and pulled him up behind her.
"You're welcome," Xena said finally, then turned to Joxer. "We should get going."
"Yeah," Joxer said.
"I'll catch up with you in a few days," Gabrielle said, hugging Xena.
"You better," Xena said, smiling for the first time that morning. "And tell Ares that if he hurts you, he's got me to deal with."
Gabrielle smiled. "I'll tell him." Xena smiled and walked over to Argo as Gabrielle turned to Joxer.
He gave her a big hug. "Tell him the same for me," he whispered in her ear. "And you be careful."
"Thanks Joxer, I will."
"I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too," she walking him over to where Xena and Argo stood. "I'll see you in a few days."
"Good," Joxer said and smiled at her. Xena mounted Argo and Joxer gave her a quick hug, then followed Xena down the road, turning once to wave bye.
Gabrielle watched them go until they were out of sight, tears slowly falling down her face. "Aphrodite!" she called once they were gone.
"I hoped you'd call sweet pea," she said appearing in shimmer of golden light and hearts. "You ready to go talk to him?"
Gabrielle took in a deep breath. "Yeah, I guess so."
"Then let's go!" Aphrodite said taking Gabrielle's hand and disappearing.
They reappeared in a dark temple. There were black curtains on the windows and a blood red rug in the middle of the room and a few weapons up on the walls. This was obviously the throne room. The throne wasn't as glamorous as Gabrielle thought it would be. It was dark like everything else, but it looked like just another chair to her.
"I know what you're thinking sweety," Aphrodite said watching her stare at the throne. "Knowing Ares you'd think there'd be more to this place."
"Why isn't there? With the way he acts, you'd think it'd be full of stuff."
"I know. But he likes it simple. He's the only one that does. That's one more thing that makes him different from the rest of us."
"Where is he?" Gabrielle said looking around and some of the weapons.
"He's probably still asleep. He sleeps almost as late a Cupid! I'll go get him."
"Oh no, you don't have to..." but Aphrodite was gone before she could finish.
Ares was snoring loudly and Aphrodite briefly wondered why they didn't hear it in the main room. She was going to wake him nicely but couldn't resist when she saw the discarded pillow on the floor and picked it up.
"Wake up little brother" she said softly.
"Go away," he moaned and swung his hand at her sleepily.
"Hey Ares! Wake up!" she said as she whacked him on the head with the pillow
"What in Tartarus!" Ares said jumping out of the bed. "What are you doing here!?” he yelled when he finally realized who she was.
"I brought someone to see you," she said walking toward the door. "Come on."
"Who?" he said as he threw his pants on and ran after her. She waited for him in the throne room. Who did you..." he said running into the room and seeing Gabrielle. "Gabrielle."
"Well I'll just leave you two kids to talk. Have fun." She disappeared, leaving little hearts all over his temple. Again.
"I hate it when she does that," he said under his breath.
"I don't blame you. Hearts don't really go with the décor here," she said looking around.
"Why are you here?"
"I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to say I was sorry for what I said to you," she said walking toward him. "I didn't mean to hurt you," she said absently taking his hand. "I didn't understand that you were serious. I thought it was just another way to get back at Xena."
"I guess I can't blame you for that. It wouldn't be the first time right?" he said looking at the floor.
"Truth is, it kinda shocked me. It came from out of the blue and caught me off guard. I don't hate you Ares. I never did. And when you said that you loved me, it made me take a look at what I did feel about you."
"And what did you find?" he said not looking up. She was almost tempted to look at the floor to see what he found that was so interesting.
"That what I feel is far from hate. I got to get to know you when you lost your powers because of the scroll. And the man I got to know is an incredibly sweet man. I found that I not only didn't hate you, but that I even liked you. And the more I saw of you, the more confused I got. I knew I liked you, but it was changing. I was afraid to let it change because of what Xena told me you were. And that conflicted with what I met that day," she lifted his chin so that he looked at her. "My liking you was changing into love, Ares. I wouldn't admit it. I wouldn't even consider it until you told me you loved me that night. And I knew that I wanted to give this...us...a chance." She took his face in both of her hands and kissed him.
"You really want to try?
"Yes. I do."
He smiled at her and she smiled back. He picked her up and swung her around. "You have made me the happiest God on Olympus, Gabrielle."
They kissed again and Gabrielle pulled back. "I think we should go together and tell Xena and Joxer of my decision."
"Okay," he whispered. "We can do that." He put her down, took her hand and they disappeared.
They reappeared right in front of Xena and Joxer. So close, in fact, that Xena almost ran over them.
"I guess you've made your decision," Xena said, seeing their hand still clasped.
"Yes, I have," she said smiling up at Ares. "I'll be right back," she said to him as she saw Joxer move behind Argo. She moved after him, leaving Xena and Ares in awkward silence. "Joxer,"
"Yeah," he said not turning to her.
"I love him, Joxer."
"I know. I guess I was just kinda hoping that you'd change your mind."
She put her hand on his shoulder and turned him around. "I'll always love you, Joxer, you know that. You are my best friend. I've never had anyone care about me the way you do."
"And I'll always care about you Gabrielle. I'll always be here if you need me."
She pulled him into a hug. "Thank you Joxer. And I for you."
They stood in the embrace for a few seconds longer. Then they walked back up to the front with their arms around each other. "If you hurt her," Joxer said to Ares. "I will find a way to destroy you."
He didn't flinch. He didn't even worry about Ares turning him to dust. Ares stared at him and saw the truthfulness and caring in his eyes. He knew that what the man meant it. "I won't hurt her," he said finally.
"Good," Joxer said and turned back to Gabrielle. They hugged one more time as Xena swung down off Argo.
"You take care now," she said as she took Gabrielle into her arms. "And you find me if you ever need me."
"I will Xena. Thank you," she said hugging back. "Same goes for you."
Gabrielle went back to stand beside Ares. She waved at them with tears in her eyes. Xena and Joxer waved back, also with tears. Tears were even threatening Ares, though he'd never admit it.
"Ready to go?" he asked softly.
Gabrielle took one last look at her friends. "Yeah," she said with a deep breath. She took his hand and watched her friends disappear before her.
Back in Ares temple, Gabrielle held on to him for a few long minutes.
"You can go see them whenever you like you know," he said softly. "You can do whatever you want. You don't have to stay here all the time."
"I know," she said sniffing. "It's just, knowing that I won't be traveling with them anymore. It's just kinda sad."
"Well you can do that too. If you ever want to go down and stay a few days with Xena, you can. I won't stop you from being happy."
"Oh Ares. Thank you," she said squeezing him. "I love you."
"I love you too," he said grinning uncontrollably.
"What?" she asked, his grinning contagious.
"Nothing, it's just that, that's the first time you've ever told me that."
"And a sentimentalist too. You never cease to amaze me Mr. God of War."
Ares hugged her, then pulled back. "So what was that with Joxer?"
"He loves me and doesn't want me to get hurt. Why? Jealous?"
"Just shut up and kiss me," he said, still not being able to wipe the grin off his face.