In Ditea, after the quick coronation of King Tallus who promised to take care of Prince Homer and treat him as if he was his own son, the heroes stood in Ares favorite temple.
Hercules wanted to make certain his ambitious half brother didnt have anything further up a preverbal sleeve. Perhaps a Plan B to come back on the good king. But the heroes could find nothing. Ares had been so full of himself, his certainty that all would be as planned, that he hadn't looked any further than at the opportunity in front of him.
'Typical Ares', Hercules thought.
"All is well." Gabrielle summed up with conviction, leaning casually on her staff. She shook her head back and forth, contemplating the absurdity of everyone and everything involved. The last couple of days had been like nothing shed ever experienced. "Amazing." she added. Iolaus stood beside her and she grinned at him.
Iolaus looked over at Hercules then at Gabrielle. "And now we can go on with our lives." His return smile never quite made it to his eyes as he gazed at her, "You'll be going back to Xena now." He said as a statement of fact. Then, "I'll miss you, Gabrielle." He leaned forward and placed a very gently kiss on her cheek.
She was confused. This seemed so abrupt considering all they had been through. Somehow she'd expected more from him. Perhaps even a... "Iolaus... " The bard hesitated, noting his control and an odd lack of tenderness, "After last night..." She whispered. "I thought maybe..."
Again, Iolaus glanced at Hercules who had turned and was trying unsuccessfully to look as if he wasn't listening to the conversation, then back to Gabrielle, "I love you, Gabrielle. I said it and I meant it." He said, firmly.
"But?" she asked, puzzled, knowing there must be more.
He lifted his hands to touch her arms but, his head bowed, Iolaus could not look directly into her eyes. "I will *never* forgive you, Gabrielle."
A breath caught in the bard's throat. It was a she feared.
"I've tried. I really have, but I can't do it." Then, taking a practically invisible gulp he said, "I'm so sorry."
She stood still, too stunned to say anything. She wanted to cry out and beg just once more for him to forgive her. Gabrielle would do anything -- but she knew it was at an end. Selfishly, she had destroyed everything that might have developed between them. All to pay the debt.
Gabrielle watched Iolaus slowly turn from her, indicating to his demigod best friend that he would be awaiting them on the outside of the temple, on the road to the Seggi River.
Iolaus, his facial features turned from the bard and demigod, took a ragged breath. She would never know, by looking at him, how difficult it was for Iolaus to turn her away, to pretend he could easily go on without her. But if he were to function ever again, as the man and hero some called him, he would have to make a clean break. Gabrielle couldn't fathom how much he ached to hold her in his arms, how much he still loved her and wanted to be with her ... And, most of all, she would *never* know the real reason they could go no further. Because yes, he had forgiven her. He forgave Gabrielle for everything the moment he admitted he loved her, as she lay helpless and trusting in his arms last night.
But it was what came before that he could not forgive. The brutal animal force he used on her and that complete loss of control. He was not worthy of Gabrielle or any woman with such a beautiful soul. He never would be. Iolaus could not forgive himself and knew that Gabrielle would try to talk him out of these feelings if she knew the truth -- He didn't want to be talked out of them. He wanted to grieve and live with his self hate for the rest of his days. It was his own private retribution.
Hercules watch his friend then, when the hunter was gone from view, he came up beside Gabrielle.
"He really hates me, doesnt he?"
"He could never hate you, Gabrielle."
"But it will never be the same."
"He won't remember."
Gabrielle looked up at Hercules.
"I know about the deal you struck with Ares. Part of it was that Iolaus wouldn't remember what happened between the two of you -- or any of this. So Gabrielle, there is still a chance you and he ..."
"That's good for him." She said sincerely, "I don't want Iolaus in pain over something I did."
"Things can develop on their own. You two can ..."
"It wont be the same."
"Of course it will."
"No." Her eyes grew haunted and the words were firm, "It won't ever happen again because *I* know what I did, Hercules. I'm not worthy of him. I won't let it happen. Ever." And her tone spoke of finality.
He could only stare after her, unable to give words of comfort, watching the small blond woman - with her Amazon staff - walk, as her beloved did before her, from the temple. The pain and anguish in her words affected him deeply. He suddenly remembered his own jealousy when seeing Iolaus and Gabrielle strolling together. Their happiness of that time. That was so unfair (of him) ... and so was what happened so recently to them.
Then a thought came to Hercules that was unlike him. It was crazy and dangerous but workable. "Ares!" he called, his voice echoing in the chamber. Hercules moved further into the temple.
In what appeared to be a reception area, with blood red carpets and dark tapestries, he spotted the war god, sitting on his throne.
"Havent you done enough?" A moody Ares asked his half brother, a low and very angry tone to his voice. "I worked for years on getting Ditea and Temptius where I want them. And now..."
"Ares, I dont care." Hercules stared unsmiling at the war god. "I need you to do something for me..."
Ares, who had been staring down at the stone tiles of the floor before him suddenly snapped his head up, "You are asking a favor from The God of War?" he asked, interest suddenly creeping in.
"No." Hercules advanced, folding his arms confidently in front of him. "I'm willing to make an exchange."
Ares eyes narrowed, "An exchange."
"Zeus doesn't yet know what your plans were with those two kingdoms. He hasn't been told that you were going to use them as a stepping stone to further your position on Olympus. He doesn't understand that you want to over-throw him and become King of the Gods yourself. What do you think he'd do if he knew?"
That was something The God of War didnt *want* to think about. He wouldn't just be demoted, he'd be annihilated! Zeus had killed Chronos, his own father, for power... A son of The King of the Gods attempting to do the same to his own could easily find himself in the pit of Tartarus for eternity. "What do you want?"
"Iolaus is going to forget everything that's happened between he and Gabrielle. True?"
Ares nodded, "It was a part of my arrangement with her."
"I want you to make Gabrielle forget, too."
Ares brows raised, "Why?"
"You don't need to know why. Just do it."
With a sigh of resignation, Ares nodded. "You do understand that making her forget doesn't mean she and Iolaus will live happily ever after. They may never even see each other again."
"But it will be up to them. *Their* choice. If they do get together again it will be because it was meant to happen, not because The God of War blackmaled one of them."
The brothers stared at one another, challenging.
"Fine," Disgusted, Ares took a breath. Hercules was an idiot. "Its done."
Before he turned to walk away from The Halls of War, Hercules said: "No funny business, Ares. If I find out you went back on your word or you hurt Xena or Gabrielle in retaliation I will come back for you and Zeus *will* be standing by my side."
"No need for threats. She'll be on the road to see Xena in an hour and it will be as if you three never got together in the first place. Gabrielle will forget everything and be blissfully ignorant. Situation normal."
Hercules nodded and exited.
"You've turned into a soft touch."
The God of War, standing and stretching - feeling good about himself once more - swiveled to look at his sibling, "How's that?"
"Seems to me you gave up a little too easily with Ditea and Temptius ...and now you agree with Hercules about that little scroll toting little tramp."
Ares smiled as he stepped closer to Discord, "Not really. Things are happening around us, My Dear. New gods are appearing from no where -- an evilness is coming amongst us unlike anything weve ever seen before. Who do you think will be there to battle it?"
"And Xena." Ares reminded, "Xena and her little friend ... who still owes The God of War a favor." he laughed, "If she forgets everything that has happened then she also forgets that the debt was paid. I can use that. The opportunity will come."
"And what about me?"
"You?" Ares studied Discord for a moment. He liked her this way. Bound with gold cuffs made by Hephestus, in the cage Ares had reserved for Hercules. He wouldn't keep her like this forever, just long enough for the little trouble making goddess to learn a valuable lesson. "Take a nap, Discord." and smiling, Ares walked away from his sister, purposely not disappearing in a flash of sparks, swaggering broadly.
"ARES!" Discord screamed with fury.
This situation did have its humorous side, he decided.
(Discord was not harmed during the writing of this fiction but Annoyus and Trecherius are still awaiting Iolaus in Tartarus :)