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Gabrielle stopped and gave Xena a questioning look.
"There are some things we need to discuss." Xena said with menace in her voice.
"Like what?" Gabrielle asked, oblivious to Xena's mood.
"I think you're wrong about the motives of the gods." Xena said carefully.
"How can you say that? You've seen the way they mess with people's lives." Gabrielle said, disbelieving.
"Isn't it possible that people mess with their own lives and the gods step in to help them when they're needed?" Xena asked.
"What did they do to you on Olympus? Did Ares tell you these lies?" Gabrielle asked in a huff.
"No, I asked him one question and he gave me one answer. He didn't try to convince me of anything. He was busy getting married." Xena said flatly.
"And why won't you tell me who he married? You've refused to tell me what happened while you were on Olympus." Gabrielle said accusingly.
"He married Joxer." Xena said without inflection.
Gabrielle began to snicker; the snicker became a chortle and finally moved into a full-fledged laugh. She was able to force herself to stop laughing long enough to say, "God's Xena, that was a funny one." then she laughed until she was doubled over.
Xena watched tolerantly while Gabrielle laughed herself silly.
"Why do you think it's funny?" Xena asked seriously.
"Joxer? I mean, ignoring the fact that he's a guy, the man's a complete idiot. No one would be stupid enough to date him much less marry him. And Ares is a psychopathic bastard who couldn't love anyone." Gabrielle said, then began to chuckle again.
"Joxer is a sweet man who cares deeply for the people around him. He has more heart than anyone I've met, and anyone would be lucky to have a mate that loved that deeply. And that psychopathic bastard is my father. He saw to it that I was taught to take care of myself and when I turned against him, he fought against me but never attacked me on a personal level. He may not say it, but I know that he does love me." Xena said menacingly.
"So he's using the fact that he's your father to try to get you back into his service?" Gabrielle said, knowing that she understood his motives.
"No, the only time that he's ever mentioned it was when he said that if I was his daughter, he would be proud. He didn't try to convince me of anything." Xena said, becoming angry.
"He must have convinced you of something yesterday or you wouldn't be talking such foolishness today." Gabrielle said confidently.
"Watch that. Joxer may have put up with your attitude and insults but... I. Will. Not." Xena said with a glare in her eyes and a hand on her chakrum.
Gabrielle realized that she might have gone too far. She said a little silent prayer and stood quietly while Xena calmed down.
After a few heartbeats Xena was calm enough to continue, "Ares invited me, not commanded me, but invited me to witness his wedding. Everyone, all the gods present, treated me as Ares guest. No one tried to change my mind about anything. It was a family wedding, just like any other, except maybe with better wine." She said, ending with a small smile.
"So what was this 'one answer' that Ares gave you to convince you that he wasn't all bad?" Gabrielle said, becoming snotty again.
"He told me that the war in Thebes was necessary to reduce the male population so that the women and children would be able to survive. They've had a drought..."
"He's lying. He's just telling you what you want to hear." Gabrielle interrupted.
"I don't think so. First of all, it makes sense. I know there has been a drought and Thebes has a lot of people. Second, I didn't want to hear it. I was happy believing what you told me." Xena said with coldness.
"He's a murdering bastard who will say anything to get you back into his service." Gabrielle said with venom and certainty.
"Okay, let's clear this up right now." Xena's voice raised in irritation. "He's not a bastard, he's a legitimate child of Zeus and Hera, and he's my father, so stop calling him that. As to him murdering? I, as a mortal, am unfit to judge the gods. I don't know enough of 'why' they do things to say if they are right or wrong. I can only judge right and wrong for myself."
"How can you say that? When you stop a war, aren't you dictating right and wrong to people?" Gabrielle said with her own irritation.
"No, I'm trying to give them another way to fix their problems, a way without fighting. If they are determined to fight, they will. I don't have an army to enforce my will anymore. I just live my life as I see fit and try to help people along the way. You used to understand that, what happened to you?" Xena questioned, realizing that this wasn't the same innocent girl that had originally joined her.
"Me? You're talking about me changing? You're the one who's ready to go back to Ares all of a sudden." Gabrielle spat.
"I didn't say anything about going back to Ares. I'm just beginning to understand some of his motives, that doesn't mean that I'm going to go back into his service." Xena said with a challenging look.
"You're listening to his words, believing his lies, even though you've seen the suffering that he causes with your own eyes." Gabrielle said with hatred.
"I've seen suffering, I've caused some of it, but I'm not sure how much of it was caused by Ares and how much was prevented by him." She said emotionlessly.
"Listen to yourself, you've been on enough battlefields to see how many innocent men have died for the glory of Ares." Gabrielle said, switching her voice to pleading.
"Innocent? Those men were on the battlefield because they chose to be. And their deaths might have meant safety for the truly innocent, the women and children that they were defending." Xena said, becoming disgusted.
"They wouldn't need to defend their people if Ares didn't start the wars." She said, as if to a slow child.
Xena, picking up on the tone, said, "People start the wars, Ares guides them so they produce the best result for the most people. If people didn't want to fight, they wouldn't."
"You're wrong! Ares causes all the wars. He is evil and needs to be destroyed. Mortals will never be free to live their lives in peace until he is gone." Gabrielle said with venomous fury.
Xena looked at the snarling visage of Gabrielle and fully realized the hatred and ugliness that she contained. It was as if she was seeing Gabrielle for the first time and couldn't believe that she hadn't noticed the attitude of the mean hateful little woman before.
"Gabrielle, leave." Xena said in a voice like stone.
Gabrielle was stunned for a moment then started nattering, "What? You can't mean that. You just need a day or two to get over your trip to Olympus..."
"Gabrielle. Shut. Up. And. Leave. I don't want to see you, talk to you, or gods forbid, hear you again. Joxer was right, you are mean. You are arrogant and hateful. If our paths should cross again, I don't know you. If you approach me, it will be the last mistake you make. Is. That. Clear?" Xena said with Warrior Princess authority.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and prayed silently again before saying, "Can't we just talk about this, I mean maybe I was a little..."
"Is. That. Clear. Bitch?" Xena asked again.
Gabrielle finally nodded as Xena began to undo the packs on Argo's back. Within minutes, all Gabrielle's possessions were laying in a pile beside her as Xena rode away.
Gabrielle stood stunned and thought, [Psyche, why have you forsaken me?]
* * * * *
Asclepius and Ganymede walked in silence for a few minutes through the gardens of Olympus, just looking at the beauty before Ganymede asked, "So you're looking for someone to love, what are you looking for in a mate?"
They stopped on the path as Asclepius thought. "I'm not sure, I don't have a clear image of who I'm looking for, just someone that I can spend time with. Someone that I can come home to after a long day at the temple and tell my troubles to. Someone who actually cares about what I'm thinking and feeling..." he trailed off.
"If you find someone like that, see if they know someone for me, because that sounds pretty nice." Ganymede said with a smile.
Asclepius got a serious considering look on his face. "I guess I never thought about you looking for someone. I mean, you look so young, like you shouldn't be thinking about dating for at least ten years." Asclepius said in a friendly tone.
"I look this way because Zeus did something to me. The old pervert wanted me to look like this, so I do." Ganymede said with anger.
Asclepius raised his hand in a familiar gesture. "Do you mind?" he asked, wanting permission to scan Ganymede with his godly abilities.
Ganymede just nodded, giving permission.
Asclepius closed his eyes and moved his hand slowly up and down, a few inches away from Ganymede's body. After a minute he opened his eyes.
"I think I can undo what he did. It appears that he stopped your growth with a potion that I'm familiar with, and I seem to remember it having an antidote." Asclepius said in his professional persona.
Ganymede was speechless. Centuries ago, he had dreamed of being able to grow up like everyone else. Now it might be possible.
Thinking that he had insulted Ganymede, Asclepius said, "If you want to, that is. There isn't anything wrong with you as you are, I just thought that you'd like to look as old as you are so you could find someone..."
"Thank you Asclepius, really. But I've never considered finding someone to be my mate. I was basically a slave all my life until last week. So I haven't even thought that far ahead. I'm pretty sure that I'd like to go through with it, if you do have an antidote." Ganymede said in a daze.
"Call me Ace. And I just don't want you to think that I'm trying to change you or that there's anything wrong with you the way you are..." Ace chattered nervously.
"I think I understand, Ace. This is about Cupid sending me, isn't it?" Ganymede asked, thoughtfully.
"Yeah. I guess it bothered me more than I realized. He seems to think I'm not good enough to be loved or he wouldn't be trying to change me." Ace said shyly.
"I guess so. But if you are happy with who you are, it doesn't matter what he thinks. Are you?" Ganymede asked, hoping that Asclepius wouldn't think he was being too personal.
"Yes. I am." Asclepius said with a smile.
"Problem solved. Cupid can go find someone else to change then. We're going to keep you just as you are." Ganymede said with a smile of his own.
"Thanks Ganymede. You know, all this stuff gets muddled in my head, it really helps to talk about it. It seems to make it clearer." Ace said happily.
"I'm glad. You're good to talk to. I mean, you're good company." Ganymede said shyly.
"Thanks, so are you. Would you like to go do something tonight? Dad and the muses are going to a festival in Arcadia, one of those things that sound like fun until you get there. So if you don't have any other plans..." Ace rambled to a halt.
"Yeah, if you don't mind us stopping at a few brothels before we go out. I just won't be able to relax until I know that everything is as it should be." Ganymede said happily.
"I wouldn't mind at all. I think a tour of the brothels of Greece would be an interesting way to begin the evening. It's not like I've ever done that before." Ace said with a smile.
"Since you put it that way, we'll make it a real tour. I'd really like to introduce you to my followers. I know they'd like you." Ganymede laughed at the surprised look that came over Asclepius' face.
"Until then I'm going to do a little research and see if I can't find that antidote for you." Asclepius said, returning to professional mode.
"And I'm going to get some sleep. As you might imagine, most of my work is at night." Ganymede said, trying to affect his own professional mode.
"See you tonight then." Asclepius said before walking back toward the temple of healing.
"Until tonight." Ganymede said as he headed toward the house of debauchery.
* * * * *
Strife appeared outside Cupid's office in the house of love. He knocked gently on the door and waited for Cupid to bid him to enter.
"Heya Cupe. Ya gotta minute?" Strife asked nervously.
"Sure, come in. Anteros and I were just doing some paperwork." Cupid said with happy surprise.
"I'll just be going..." Anteros began.
"No Ter, it'd be bettah if ya stayed. Ah'm only gonna be here a minute." Strife said quickly.
Anteros looked surprised but stayed where he was.
"Cupe, Ah'm here ta ask if ya wanna gwan a date wit me tanight." Strife said nervously.
"Will Thanatos be joining us?" Cupid asked cautiously.
"Yeah, prolly, but we can still have us some fun anyways. So do ya wanna?" Strife said with a big grin.
"Of course, I just wanted to know what to expect. What time should I be ready?" Cupid asked with a loving smile.
Strife began to melt at the sight of the smile and knew that he had to get out of there if he was going to behave himself. "Jus aftah sundown. Ah'll meet'cha at yer temple. Kay?"
"I'll be waiting. Where are we going?" Cupid asked, while thinking about throwing Strife down on the desk and...
"It's a surprise. See ya then." Strife said and flashed out of the room.
"So what's that about Thanatos?" Anteros asked, unable to imagine why he would go on their date.
"He's our chaperone." Cupid said with a little frown.
"I'll be back in just a moment." Anteros said and flashed out.
A moment later, gales of laughter could be heard coming from one of the private rooms in the temple of love.
* * * * *
Hera and Lust watched carefully as Jett entered the room. They were expecting him to show some sign of his humiliation or not show up at all.
"Good morning ladies!" Jett said with enthusiasm.
Lust looked at Hera with wide eyes as Hera shrugged in response.
"So what do we have on the agenda today. I can't wait to get started." Jett continued, obviously not caring about their reactions.
"Uh. There's a councilman in Sparta that needs our services, then..." And Hera named off a few jobs that they would be doing that day.
"Sounds good. But I'm going to stop work a little early. I have a date." He said with a big smile.
[It couldn't be.] Both Hera and Lust thought as Jett left for work.
* * * * *
Jace walked past a doorway noticing that Hera and Lust were talking in hushed whispers inside the room. He continued on to his office and went to his desk. Sitting on his desk was a figurine of a dancer, fully extended in a graceful move. There was a note attached to the base.
I saw your dance, I felt your pain, be comforted and know that someone cares.
Jace looked again at the figurine and smiled. [Someone cares.]