Consequences: The Debt
Three For The Price of One
Ares was being petty and juvenile but he was bored and when gods, especially those with energetic libidos, were stagnating they simply had to relieve tedium in some simple yet wonderfully decadent manner -- or go mad. He'd seen his Uncle Pitifus, The God of Psychosis, lose it once and it wasn't pretty.
Now, this situation was unique and could, indeed, amuse. It was also timely. Brought before Ares during a perfect moment in his existence, when he needed to be entertained and obeyed with out question.
Certainly Strife, his troublesome nephew, had been nothing but a gnat but he had his uses. It was always diverting, watching dark and nervous young Strife take The God of War's mistreatment ... and Ares missed it. Strife, his admiring servant and foot mat was recently dead at the hands of that goddess-bitch Callisto -- and now the war god didn't have anyone the equal of him to kick around. She really cut into his amusement, Callisto, and Ares was infinitely glad that she was suffering untold horrors in another realm somewhere.
But now, here was this mortal child willing to do his bidding, not knowing what to expect, and almost cowering before his ominous presence. Okay, not cowering. She was beyond that. She'd seen him during a time when he was at his weakest, with no powers, and that gave her an edge over others in her same predicament. Plus, she was Xena's tag-along and had learned the fine art of 'brave-face' from The Warrior Princess. Too bad. Ares rather liked it when mortals coward. Well, some mortals anyway. At least this girl was abnormally quiet and obediantly promised to do what he commanded. Of course, she has no choice.
He took it as a small victory over Xena. Having power over her friend, Gabrielle. Yet, what to do with her ... So many things came to mind but the most obvious use for the pretty bard had been presented to him very recently. Ares wished he had the time and patience for a clever set up, but right now he just needed the basics. Something practical. However, it had to be a deed that would lead to an event that was gloriously devastating. The Diteans and Temptians were traditional people. He would use that. What he did today to Gabrielle would have far reaching negative consequences and until the ax came down to chop off her pleasant little head - no one believing she was merely Xena's dear little tag along companion - the Amazon wouldn't have a clue.
"So, there you stand," Ares spoke dramatically, his voice booming - "Xena's sweetest regret, prepared to bow to my will ..."
Ares had helped Gabrielle get to China, to stop Xena from killing the evil Emperor Chin (What a laugh!) with whom The Warrior Princess had a personal grudge. And now the bard was here in Ares' favorite temple - just outside of Ditea - awaiting his command.
Courageously, she kept her eyes focused on his virile face, most specifically Ares' dark beard, while he stared at her. Gods, how she hated this. What a fool! Why had she allowed Ares to talk her into going after Xena in the first place? She had caused more harm than good. Yet, by warning Chin she saved Xena's soul, Gabrielle was sure. That was worth any price she would eventually have to pay. The bard hated deception but knew what her pact would require when she allowed Ares to use his godly powers. She owed him service.
Xena didn't know about this visit. She thought Gabrielle had gone home to Potadia. They were to rejoin one another by The Seggi River near Castilla in a week.
Another wonderful lie. Ares pondered, reading her thoughts, and rubbing his left cheek in reflective consideration. Finally, he said - "You haven't slept with a man since your husband kicked it, over a year ago, right?"
Gabrielle was startled by the message imparted from the black clad god. She looked to the floor when answering, "No." Barely above a whisper, embarrassed and now apprehensive.
"Well now ..." Ares practically slid down the few red carpeted steps and stood directly in front of her, towering above Gabrielle. "Interesting." He reached out a hand and touched her chin. He lifted the young woman's head so he could look into her blue-green eyes. Ares almost chuckled when the irises dilated and those sweet little lips trembled. She was attractive and with some refining could even be exquisite. Why hadn't he noticed before how much Gabrielle resembled the princess of Temptius, the kingdom neighboring Ditea?
Still, Gabrielle was carnally unenlightened. That could be a problem. Ares didn't want to play teacher. He didn't have time and Lord Trecherius was due at the temple in a few hours. If this was going to work he'd have to get the girl on her way. "What?" Ares asked, examining her expression, "You think I want to sleep with you, Gabrielle?" Humor punctuated his tone. Okay, sure, he was curious but if he broke the little Amazon's spirit now she might not cooperate later and this entire overthrow wouldn't happen. It had to happen.
He needed Temptius and its incredible deposits of oil to bolster his ever decreasing position on Olympus. True, oil wasn't a huge commodity now but - as the gods well knew - in a couple thousand years there would be life and death struggles over the black-bubbly liquid. Imagine if he - Ares - could lay claim to it. He would ultimately having so much power on earth even Zeus would be impressed.
Ah yes, Zeus. Lately, The King of the Gods watched his eldest son a little too closely, as if he expected him to attempt something improper. Which, of course, was true. Ares had to bring the old man down a couple of pegs. The acquisition of Temptius might do it. That's where the little girl came in. But he'd have to be cautious. If Xena found out what Ares had put Gabrielle through the God of War would never again take control over his favorite warrior. Yet, if the Amazon Princess just mysteriously disappeared without a trace ... Xena would be lost and lonely and in need of a shoulder to cry on. Vulnerable.
Ares wanted Xena back by his side, fighting, maiming and killing like the ruthless warrior she once was. And, with this scroll-toting harpy out of the way, it would be a triple victory. He'd have Temptius, Xena and a firm grip on Olympus. Ares, King of the Gods. It had a nice ring to it.
"You're very nice to look at, Gabrielle, and any lesser god might find you physically appealing - but I like leather, screams and the occasional lethal weapon." Callisto again popped into Ares mind. Oblivious, he licked his lips then: "Semi-virgins have never held much appeal for me." Then, lower as he moved away from her - "Too much damn trouble." He returned to his throne. Gabrielle straightened her shoulders and briefly looked confused. She didn't know whether to be relieved or insulted.
"Nevertheless," he sat heavily and threw a long leather clad leg over an arm of the throne, "it would be pleasing to watch you abandon yourself with another ..." A smile grew wide on Ares face at her stunned expression. He instantly seemed inspired, "Oh yes, Gabrielle, to watch you give yourself - body and soul - to whatever man or woman I see fit ..." He looked directly into her horrified eyes, "That would be entertaining!"
Gulping slightly, Gabrielle found her voice, "Why are you doing this? What could you possibly get out of it?" she asked. Ares leaned back and grinned in that devilish way only he and his followers could appreciate. Xena would have a coronary if she knew and Gabrielle would never get the opportunity to tell.
"It'll be fun ... Don't tell me you've never fantasized about someone watching ... and watching you, little girl, with your pure heart and unshakable faith in all that is moral and good, will be especially sweet." He watched her closely. Was Gabrielle falling for this? She felt revolted and, without realizing it, began to wring her hands.
"I can't ... I mean, I know I owe you but this ... I can't, Ares. It goes against everything I believe in."
The God of War frowned. On the surface, he wasn't asking so much but her fumblings, innocent and puerile as they were, rather disturbed him ...or even touched him. He would never admit it but Ares appreciated Gabrielle's tenacity and loyalty - misdirected as they were - and although he wouldn't let her out of this predicament - Hey, he was a 'bad guy' after all - he could, at least, make an allowance. Why not let her spend these last few days of her life having a good time with someone she liked? In the end they'd both end up dead but at least they'd go to the Otherside with a couple of fond memories.
"What if I make your partner someone you've always thought about making love with. Maybe a man from your past. Someone good looking and virile. Would that make it easier?" He then said, although he knew better - "You've been spending a lot of time with that character, Joxer...."
"No. Not Joxer." Gabrielle said, immediately and absolutely.
This time Ares did laugh, tossing his head back as the guffaw easily left his lips. "Is there another?" He took in her indecisive expression and sighed, "I've made a concession, Gabrielle. But I *will* pick someone for you if you can't."
"You're asking too much of me, Ares. I just can't do this. It's not just the morality it's ..."
Unsmiling, his eyes burning with impatience, Ares trumpeted: "If you don't repay me by doing what I tell you, Gabrielle, I will select another woman to take your place. How about your younger sister? Lila's quite pretty, like a flower ready to be picked. I'm sure I can find someone to initiate her. Maybe a soldier or a barbarian ...."
"No!" Appalled, Gabrielle closed her eyes as a frightening image entered into her mind. "Okay ... okay ..." she gulped air and, sobbing, opened her eyes to look at him again.
"Good." he said in a tone that imparted weariness and a mood to get on with the thing. She was being such a child. Really, what more could she want?
Gabrielle hesitated, "I don't want him to remember what we did after it's over. I mean, after the entire debt has been paid off. Can you at least do that for me?"
Ares didn't hide the smile, "You really are an innocent, aren't you?"
'No Ares, I've killed and I've made love. I'm not innocent. I'll never be innocent again.' Gabrielle spoke softly, "I think I know who you can pair me with and I know he doesn't think of me that way. Well, he could, but I'd need to work on him. Right now, to him, I'm just a friend and it will be too embarrassing, too hard, if ever we see each other again, after having said goodbye ..." Gabrielle looked upward, toward the ceiling, pained. "And I know we will. See each other again, I mean."
"And, of course, you're worried about what Xena will say if she finds out, right? She'd want to know details and you're not a good liar ..." Ares nodded, understanding -- "If that's what you want, of course." Then he said, "But I have a condition too, Gabrielle."
Her eyes locked with his.
"You have to seduce him twice - in two totally different places - and you have twenty four hours to do it in." Originally, he was going to give her only a few hours for the first encounter - Trecherius would want to see something immediately - but Ares felt compelled to grant this untainted girl a little more time. He could be patient if required. Trecherius would just have to understand. "You cannot tell your partner anything about me. If you can't make love twice in that period of time you owe me another favor in addition to the original."
"But I don't think I can." she sputtered. Fear shown in Gabrielle's eyes, "He's used to a more experienced women and I'm not ...The circumstances..."
"That's the deal, Gabrielle." Ares lifted a hand in her direction, a gesture for her not to think or argue. The beginning of godlike magic suddenly swirled about the temple, "Concentrate on who you want to be with...and go to him."
Two For the Price of One
"I suppose you think that was my fault." Iolaus looked up at his friend as they walked leisurely down the dirt paved road, friendly accusation in his tone. "He seemed sincere. I didn't know Shatgunius had invited us to his daughters wedding for anything other than to have a good time - and to be able to say 'Hercules was there'. He really made it sound like a good time."
Hercules lifted his hands in exasperation, "Iolaus, you should know better than to trust an old man you've just met in a tavern." He attempted to keep his anger in check, "Shatgunius wanted me to marry his daughter! Why couldn't you figure that out? I saw it the minute we stepped foot in Toledous."
"Well, yeah," Iolaus allowed, "but you had the advantage of that huge banner stretched from one side of Mainus St. to the next that screamed, "Welcome, Hercules, my Future Son In Law."
The two friends side-glanced at each other as they walked and started to laugh. It was funny when you really thought about it. Luckily, before matters got too uncomfortable, the two were able to beat a hasty retreat and were now on their way to a place where they could really enjoy themselves.
"Help!" came a cry. It was female and in trouble.
"Sounds like our song." Iolaus commented before he and Hercules ran to where they thought the scream was coming from. Backed up against a tree, her staff several feet away on the forest's dirt floor, with a wild ten foot tall boriaxus monster stomping the ground in front of her - snorting angrily - Gabrielle appeared stunned and horrified.
"Gabrielle?" Hercules stopped short, several yards away from the sobering sight, and stared.
Iolaus nearly plowed into his spine. "Gabrielle?" he repeated, looking up at his friend then over to where the woman stood, terrified. "What are you doing here? Where's Xena?"
"I think we'd better ask her later. Right now ..."
The men yelled and waved their arms, diverting the attention of the beast from Gabrielle to themselves. It reared up on its squat hind legs and let out a scream that would make Echidna jealous. Tentacles shot out from it's black glistening forehead at the intruders but the men were able to beat them off with relative ease. It wasn't really interested in them anyway. Gabrielle ran for her staff but one of her legs was unexpectedly caught up by another tentacle which sprang from the creature's left shoulder - causing the woman to land face first on the wet grass. 'Geez Ares, couldn't you have at least left me with a little dignity?' She spat out leaves and clawed at the ground as the monster dragged her in its general direction.
The boriaxus was distracted enough for Hercules to throw a powerful punch to its oversized face. It shuddered once, looked as if it might strike out, then - abruptly overcome - fell unconscious to the ground. The tentacle released Gabrielle's ankle and retracted. She allowed Iolaus to help her to shaky feet and put her arms around him. She held the blond warrior close, "Thank you." Gabrielle whispered in his ear, her voice trembling. "I've never been so afraid." Don't pour it on too thick, Gabrielle, or he'll suspect something isn't right. He knows you better than this. She thought.
"It's okay." Iolaus helped Gabrielle over to a large-flat boulder. He sat the bard down so she could catch her breath.
"That was one of the scariest things I've ever seen. It had my staff out of my hand before I even realized it was anywhere near me." she explained, quickly.
"Are you all right?" Hercules asked, looking over his shoulder at the fallen boriaxus. Seeing that they were out of danger for a time, the demigod folded his arms in front of his chest and watched her closely. "Did it hurt you?"
"I'm fine, Hercules." Gabrielle smiled, visibly relaxing. "Not a scratch. Just frayed nerves."
"What are you doing out here by yourself?" Iolaus asked, relieved and taking one of her hands in his. He smiled and was openly pleased to see her.
"I'm sort of on vacation," she thought quickly, "Xena went to Amphipulous to see her family and I decided to take a nature hike.
"Amphipulous is twenty five miles away." Hercules commented.
"A long hike, Hercules." Gabrielle shot back and quickly tried to change the subject. "Boy, am I glad you two showed up when you did." She squeezed Iolaus hand and gazed into his blue eyes. This won't be so bad. As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for Ares watching it could even be wonderful ...
"You look great, Gabrielle ..." Iolaus, realizing they probably weren't the right words when her smile broadened then said, "It's great to see you, Gabrielle." Hercules rolled his eyes - Oh, Iolaus... "We're heading to Bantius for a few days." the hunter-warrior rebounded quickly, "It's a Summer Solstice festival. Would you like to join us?" He tried hard not to be too terribly obvious, anxious for the company of a lovely young woman, but he wasn't succeeding.
Perfect. "Is it okay, Hercules?" Gabrielle looked up innocently at the handsome halfgod, "I won't be crowding you, will I?"
"No." he said firmly with a smile, despite trepidation. Hercules recognized the longing gaze Iolaus was giving the bard and, after all, Gabrielle was on their side. He stuck out a hand, which she took, and helped the bard to stand. "Gabrielle, your company is always a pleasure."
She could have any man in the known world, including my demigod-dimwit half brother and she picks Iolaus. Ares rolled his eyes and slumped back in his chair. Well, the hunter was a good looking hero-type and that sort of thing did appeal to young human females ... but geez. "He's a sidekick!" The God of War growled ... Still, this could work. He's just the type Armeta might have a fling with...
"Isn't that the guy who turned me into a chicken?" Discord petulantly stood beside Ares, watching the threesome through his wide-screen portal. She had fixated on Iolaus. Her dark leather one piece ensemble, with its metal studs and light body armor, sounded as she moved. She tapped her booted right foot on an alter step. "I hate him."
Ares said nothing but continued to glower. Yes, he was a pain in the posterior but it was Hercules that Ares truly detested. Dad always liked him best. Discord suddenly smiled with wicked anticipation, "Are you planning to do something to them?" Her red, pouty lips parted in a sinister smile.
"Just watching someone pay off a debt."
"Who, the girl?"
"No, two times with the little blond guy."
Both sides of Discord's mouth upturned slightly while considering the possibilities - "That's all? Oh, we can do better than that." Discord folded her arms under her breasts, "I could make trouble. Shake things up a little?" With a snap of her head she tossed dark hair over a shoulder. "At least let me try to get things heated up between the two. I think a little violence... Maybe he could take her by force or..."
"Maybe later --" Ares thinly smiled, not wanting to tip Discord off, and reached over to touch her cheek. Actually, he appreciated her imagination but couldn't trust the goddess as far as he could drop kick her (which was a good distance when he thought about it). Discord had no idea what Ares ulterior motives were with this girl and he wanted to keep it that way for awhile. "I want to see how far she will have to go first. She's inexperienced and clumsy. It could be great fun watching her make a fool out of herself, without any of our help. But yes, I'd also like to see her in action." He made an appearance of thinking hard for a moment, "We'll throw them a bone to start but later - if it's just too easy - then you can have your fun, Discord. Throw up barriers or something."
The goddess reached over to rub a muscle in his neck, "You're so good to me." And she smiled devilishly. One day Discord fully expected to be The Goddess of War. Ares would eventually slip up and she would be there to pounce on an opportunity. She was ripe for advancement and had already allowed The King of the Gods to know that she was capable. However, in the meantime, she studied Ares. His methods and the way his mind worked fascinated her. It also didn't hurt that he was a magnificent lover.
"Exalted one ..." A lithe hand maiden walked into the temple and respectfully bowed before her master, "Counsilor-Lord Trecherius of Ditea has arrived." she announced.
"Very good." Ares suddenly stood, shaking off Discord. "Send him in."
Discord watched Ares, curious.
"Hercules, could you please help us?" The woman, plump and dressed in a white apron - her hair tied back with a ragged piece of cloth - asked, as the demigod as he and his friends entered town. "We need someone to help judge The Beautiful Baby Contest."
"I think all babies are beautiful." Hercules smiled weakly, trying to get himself out of the chore. If he was asked to judge pies, archery, crafts or demonstrate his strength for charity, no problem. But baby contests only meant trouble. He saw a brawl break out in Thrace once. It was ugly. "I couldn't make just one choice ..." he pressed.
"But you're honest and no one trusts any of the judges we have. They all have children in the pageant." She pleaded, "It would mean so much to us."
Iolaus and Gabrielle quietly giggled at Hercules dilemma. "I think you should." The hunter said, purposely standing behind Gabrielle while putting his friend in a bad position. "'Healthy competition breeds strength, Hercules.'" Iolaus quoted a mentor from his and the demigod's warrior-academy days.
Hercules shot Iolaus a peeved look. His best friend just loved doing this sort of thing to him. Giving up, the demigod allowed the grateful woman to lead the way.
"We'll see you later, buddy!" Iolaus called and took a hold of Gabrielle's hand, turning in the opposite direction.
"That was mean." Gabrielle tittered, amused despite the misdeed. And clever.
Already booths had been set up and tangled groups of people were running from one exciting event to the next. Gabrielle and Iolaus watched an impressive juggler for awhile then a couple of impromptu actors somehow managed to get the couple involved with their play. They didn't stay in the production long, both being terrible actors, but it was all in fun and everyone watching seemed to enjoy their amateur attempts. The couple snacked on apples and grapes while examining clay pots and tapestries then Iolaus tried to get Gabrielle to enter a story telling contest. She was sure to win, he told her.
Out of character, Gabrielle - almost shyly - shook her head no. "I haven't prepared anything." the bard said. Iolaus was incredulous but accepting. Gabrielle was always ready to tell a tale. She seemed preoccupied despite her cheery expression.
Finally, when the opportunity presented itself - as they stood near a gaming table surrounded by some rather boisterous players - Gabrielle timidly asked: "Iolaus, could we go some place a little quieter? I'd like to talk with you ..."
He was a little surprised by the seriousness in her tone. Gabrielle looked like she needed to say something important. Iolaus wondered if she was still traumatized by the boriaxus. "I think there is a place over here where we can talk." he said, motioning to a makeshift bench near an alley.
As they came close, ready to plop down and talk, a dark-cloaked figure approached - "Give me your money!" it demanded gruffly, wielding a dangerous looking dagger.
Taken off guard, Gabrielle gasped and took a step backward.
"You don't want to do this." Iolaus said. Instinctively, he pulled Gabrielle protectively behind him, momentarily forgetting her fighting abilities nearly matched his own. A sincere attempt at civility infused his tone, "If you're hungry ..."
"Don't argue with me or I'll take it outta your pretty little girlfriend there."
Holding her staff firmly, Gabrielle stayed quiet, ready to fight if needed. She couldn't be sure Ares had anything to do with this but if he did, and he was causing trouble so she couldn't pay off the debt, then she'd have to help take care of matters. She'd fight and inevitably come clean with Iolaus. She was starting to feel guilty about the whole thing anyway. If it wasn't for Lila ....
The attack, when it came, was quick and ineffective. The dagger came down clumsily and Iolaus knocked it effortlessly from the thug's hand. He then gave the man a quick elbow in the midsection and watched him fall, gasping for air. Iolaus picked up the impressive and oddly decorated blade, "I'll take this as an apology." he said, slipping it into a small sheath attached to his belt. In truth, he didn't want this guy going after anyone else.
"I won't forget this!" the man shouted hoarsely, glancing once at the dagger, and scurried away from his intended victims.
"Iolaus, you were wonderful!" Gabrielle piped enthusiastically, propping her staff against the bench. Excited, pleased their attacker had apparently been a real thug rather than Ares, she put her arms around Iolaus and kissed the hunter full on the lips.
He hadn't been expecting the physical endearment but didn't dislike it either, "Gabrielle." Iolaus breathed her name when they parted, holding her gently. "It wasn't that big a deal --" but the kiss was and, motivated, he leaned in for another.
Suddenly distracted, understanding something anew (Did Ares just help me?) Gabrielle turned away from his lips, allowing them to softly touch her temple and cheek. He was breathing warmly in her ear and Gabrielle liked it. Iolaus touch could almost made her forget ... and then she glanced around - checking to see if they were alone.
Yes, she knew Ares was watching but it was the mortals the bard was concerned with. All of Bantius didn't need to know what she was going to say to Iolaus. Mustering courage, she whispered huskily in his ear: "I want you."
Startled, he blinked. "What?" Iolaus pulled back a little. Did he hear her right?
Her tone was low but sincere, "I know this seems sudden and please don't think I'm wanton or a harlot but I ... I would really like to be with you, Iolaus. Can we go someplace?" and Gabrielle felt strange, knowing Ares was observing and probably laughing at her.
Iolaus could only stare at her for a few moments. Is that what she had been wanting to tell him all this time? "Look ..." he hesitated, holding her gently by the arms and feeling a bit perplexed. Yes, she was lovely but she was also very young and if an over-protective Xena ever thought he was taking advantage of her friend -- Of course, his own welfare was the least of Iolaus' worries. Gabrielle had been through two traumas, attacked by a vicious monster and a desperate mugger, in less than six hours. Was this misplaced hero worship?
"You were my first love, Iolaus." The bard spoke quickly, almost desperately - seeing the reservation in his eyes. "That first time, when you kissed me near Vulcan Mountain - was that really three years ago? - opened my eyes. Then later when we got together in Corinth for King Iphicles official corination ceremony .... Then later still when you rescued me while I was trying to take Xena's body home..."
She stopped speaking, seeing that her muddled words were only making Iolaus more uneasy. She would need to try a different approach. "Haven't you ever thought of the two of us together? I realize you're an adventurer, Iolaus, and I don't expect this to mean forever..." She lost focus for a moment, the words sounding unreal and forced even to her, "Really I don't. I need to adventure too. I just want..."
"You just want to make love with me." he finished for her quietly; seriously. He knew she was trying to take the pressure off of him but her 'I don't expect this to mean forever...' unintentionally hurt. Oddly, said by any other woman he'd immediately feel at ease and ready for romance. But Gabrielle ...