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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
Title: None the Wiser
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Hercules/Xena
Pairing: Ares/Hermes
Rating: PG
Spoilers: huge spoilers to XWP: Sacrifice I & II
Archive: yes
Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com
URL: http://juxian.slashcity.net
Summary: Ares wants to talk and Hermes wants to listen, so, why not?
Lots of thanks to Candace for enormous help with this story. Candace, you make me really love my stories after you beta them :-)

NONE THE WISER

I clapped my palm against the door and it didn't give way. Sealed. Well, I expected that much. I figured it was no use to keep knocking and squatted in front of the locks instead. Okay, Heph had done good work on these locks. It took me the whole two minutes of undivided attention to make them click open at last. I pushed the door and entered Ares' place.

He was here; I could sense his presence - just as he apparently could sense mine - and taking into account that he still didn't appear to kick my ass out, I thought it was probably not such a bad decision to come.

I soundlessly walked through the arcades of the rooms; the little flames of the candles lining my way. I watched absently how my own shadow, grotesque and unsteady, slid over the walls, dim on shining black stone.

He was in his bedroom, just as I thought he would be - lying face down and with his boots on - and with the pillow in his arms. The picture so familiar, I thought with a kind of amusement; he really didn't change, my brother, no matter how much time passed.

I stopped in the doorway, leaning against the doorpost, feeling the intricate, ugly carving against my back. Dying, stabbed bodies intertwined together... I couldn't help smirking. I wondered if Ares actually liked the carving or if it just corresponded to the image he was trying to project. I moved my hand, lighting a few more candles - and that was when he shifted.

"Go away, Hermes."

He didn't turn - just hugged his precious pillow closer to his chest. I pushed away from the doorpost and made a couple of steps towards him.

"Smarts, doesn't it? Some choice the old man gave you - either to admit yourself a coward in front of all Olympus - or to confess being a traitor." It was so silent that my own voice sounded odd - too loud - and even though Ares looked like he didn't want to listen, he could hardly do anything about it. "But you did all right. You chose the right thing to say. After all, a few snickers from other gods and a few days or weeks of staying in your quarters is better than being chained in Tartarus for eternity."

He jerked his shoulder but didn't say anything - either hoping that if he kept silent, I would go away, or too furious to talk.

"I don't think Zeus believed what you said, though. He took it too personally, your siding up with Dahak - like you did it exclusively to be able to take his place. Maybe, you did, I don't know. Or, maybe, you really were just scared. I mean who wouldn't be? And who would enjoy admitting it afterwards?"

I saw his fingers tighten on the pillow-slip, so hard that the knuckles went white.

"You'll dig a hole in it," I noticed.

It was when he raised his head, the wild strands of hair falling over his face, his lips puffy as he apparently bit them and his eyes fierce as if he was on the verge of crying - or of pouncing on me.

"What do you want from me, Hermes?"

"Nothing." I shook my head and sat on the other end of his bed, leaned against the post and put my feet on the coverlet. "I want nothing from you, that's the thing. I am not angry with you for what you did - I didn't have time to get scared for my life. I don't feel betrayed because I didn't have a reason to expect any loyalty from you. I don't even particularly like you, so you didn't break my heart. I just thought you could use a company of someone like this - someone who doesn't care. An alternative to being alone, anyway."

"What if I want to be alone?" There was challenge in his voice and in the way he lifted his chin but it could hardly deceive me. I shrugged.

"Don't tell me that, silly."

It'd been ages since I called him like that. I was not sure he remembered that I had ever done it, or liked to be reminded about it. Me, I didn't even know why it came to my mind now. Maybe, because, an hour or so ago, when Ares slammed the door of the big Olympian hall behind himself, after the thrashing our father had given him, I just knew what he would be doing. Going to his room and sulk - like he'd used to do when he was a kid and got a fight with his parents... on lesser reasons than now, of course. He had always been bad at getting along with Zeus; I really wondered why he found it so difficult. After all, how many times must one get smacked down to learn that it doesn't pay to stand out?

And each time when things didn't go his way, he got this look in his eyes - both stubborn and hurt; like he couldn't understand how life could be so mean to him. When he was a kid, I used to tell myself that it was what I liked most of all - to see him like that, sullen and vulnerable. I told myself it was why I came to his room - to make fun of him. It was easy to make fun of him... too easy for enjoying it for too long.

Later I was not even sure why I visited him. Out of habit, probably. Or because no one else did.

"So, what are you going to do?" Ah, it was already better; I knew it would be this way. He came to terms with me being here and tried to get some use out of it. Not that I expected anything else from him. "Will you rub my face into what happened? Make me say it again - that I got scared, that I didn't want to die - that as soon as I saw Dahak, I didn't even think about putting up a fight?"

"Why would I do that?" I said calmly, nestling more comfortably in his bed and materializing a few pillows behind my back to show him I was not leaving any time soon. "How can I tell you when you have to fight - especially to fight when there's a good chance you'll lose? I wouldn't let anyone do it for me."

It didn't comfort him; I could see it in his eyes. He thought he was supposed to fight, no matter what. Like he was going to when he gathered that army of his to stand against Hope.

"I got scared, okay," he repeated, sounding tired. Anger was gone from his eyes and he moved like he was cold. But he sat up at last - with his legs crossed and with the obligatory pillow on his lap and I found it a good sign. He was willing to talk. Well, I always could make him talk, no matter how he resisted it at first. Sometimes I thought I could've started a riot on Olympus, using some things Ares had told me on these occasions... "When Dahak appeared behind me... It was... I can't explain it. It was different from having a dagger dipped in hind's blood pressed to your throat. Ultimate vulnerability. Like he could destroy me as easily as we can destroy mortals - and yet it wouldn't be death, not something I knew. Something unspeakable. He didn't even have to threaten - he just asked if I was ready to serve him. I said 'yes'."

"I understand," I said. He gave me a weird look, like he was not sure I meant it. But I didn't pretend: what was there not to understand? I didn't know if I would do the same had I been in his place. Most possibly I would've tried to sneak back to Olympus while Dahak was not looking - and share the responsibility of making decisions with others. But Olympus was probably the last place where Ares could seek help.

"I agreed," he added with a sigh. "To everything he wanted from me. With just a few pathetic mortals as the only means to get me out."

"Pathetic mortals." How good at self-deception he was. He would probably keep trying to believe in it until someone pushed his face into the truth. "Do you call your Xena a pathetic mortal?"

Oops. It almost reminded me of probing a wound. I saw how his face twitched, as if I hurt him - and I probably did. He looked away from me, at his hands, like he had never seen them before - and I thought it'd be too much if he started biting his nails now. It was so much like all those centuries ago... when I had known for sure how to hurt him, how to manipulate him - and how to comfort him if I had my mind set on doing it.

"Xena..." The word was like a sigh, bitter enough to make me wince. He stopped contemplating his fingers at last and cast a glance at me, like he was not sure what he was going to see in my eyes. Well, the truth was I was not sure myself what he was going to see in them. If I looked at him frankly, that is. "Xena shouldn't have been there at all. It all came to that, you see. Keeping Hope safe from Xena was what Dahak wanted from me. And keeping Hope safe from Xena meant that Xena lived."

"You are *so* protective," I grinned. "You sure she's not your daughter, after all?"

He laughed - without any humor, though.

"I knew Xena would go after Hope, as soon as she learned about Hope getting back. I offered her my army. I thought if she was going to fight all the same, she could as well do it having the best forces behind her. If she did it as a commander, she was not necessary going to be the one who'd kill Hope. And I thought..." His voice dropped, partly in a chuckle, partly in reluctance to say that. "She would be safer with me, anyway."

"As long as it wasn't be a choice between you and her," I said. It might've been cruel to say that but I knew it was true - and he knew it was true.

"I didn't really think she would agree to join me - not with the way the things turned between her and Gabrielle recently. But I had to try."

"Between her and Gabrielle? You mean..." I think I heard something about it before, probably from Dite. But wow... it had to hurt if they really were getting it on and Ares knew it.

"I thought, you know, even when they reconciled, after Solan's death, that nothing was lost. Gabrielle still had something she didn't tell Xena, about me bringing her to Chin - and when she went to Mnemosyne, I thought she wouldn't be able to handle it, would relinquish her memories. Xena would forgive her for taking my help, I knew that, Xena's no fool, she must've already guessed this much. But Gabrielle didn't know it... I thought the little bitch wouldn't have guts to face it. Only it turned the worst possible way..."

He was babbling; he didn't realize it, until he stopped to take a breath - and then his eyes became defenseless and expectant, like he was afraid I'd interrupt him. I just nodded.

"I watched them through the mirror, can't hang around them normally, with Xena sensing my presence like that. So, Gabrielle was moping and repenting for how evil she was to be jealous about Xena - and Xena was all over her, just not wiping her tears, telling her it was okay, she was good, not a selfish tomboy she really was. 'Not a big deal!' Xena kept saying it. 'Not a big deal!' Until Gabrielle jumped up and squealed: 'It is not a big deal for you but it is for me!' She kissed Xena's face all over, toppled her on the ground... You would have to see it. It made me sick!"

I couldn't help smiling at that. Yeah, I wouldn't mind seeing it.

"Don't you say you didn't see it coming."

He glared at me, like I'd just spat in his plate.

"I did, okay? I just didn't want to think about it, thought they wouldn't do it. And when they did... Gabrielle was pretty clumsy, you know - but she took with passion." Peevishness was gone from Ares' voice, just reflection stayed. "Who would expect it, looking at her. And Xena... one would think Xena'd find enough presence of mind to push her away - but no. She looked so fuckin' happy. Had that silly open-mouthed face - like she was blessed by Gabrielle's touches. Like she couldn't believe it was happening to her. Well, it was long by then, of course - but if she needed to get off so much, why didn't she come to me?"

He stopped abruptly, realizing that he was saying stupid things - and his eyes were so miserable that I couldn't help but reach and pat his ankle slightly.

"I don't think it was so much about sex," I said.

"At first I wanted... I don't know what I wanted! But after a while - it became to seem somehow easier. I thought not everything was too bad. Maybe, they wouldn't do it again. Maybe, they would stop being friends. Maybe, Gabrielle would get herself killed."

The last was the most likely, I wanted to say - but there was no need for it, Ares knew that better than I did.

"That's why I went to visit the Fates," he continued. "To get to know how long they were going to have this shit together."

"And found out about Hope and Xena." This much I could imagine. I didn't know when he started planning, trying to turn the situation to his favor. Something told me that at once - it was as natural for him as living. Perhaps I wouldn't do it better than he did. But eventually... did he get what he wanted?

"I was pissed off with Xena - but I wanted her alive," he talked as if to justify himself in front of me - and I accused him of nothing. So far, at least. "What is she to me dead? Zeus hardly would let her come back, especially if he knew that I cared." I couldn't agree more. "If I had an army, Xena could pull enough brains together to understand that she had more chance with me than she had alone. She would be at my side again."

"But Dahak appeared."

"Yeah." There was something in his eyes that indicated he didn't want to go beyond this short answer. And suddenly I thought I knew what it was. When Discord and Dite screamed at him that he was dooming them to death just to spare his life, he didn't argue. It was true, of course. But it was not the whole truth. He didn't say more trying to save face - maybe, because there was nothing else to save.

"You knew it was a short-lived safety for you, right? He wanted you to protect his daughter and to impregnate her - but after that, he wouldn't need you any more. There was no cushy place for you as his daughter's husband. He just needed you... for her... like..."

"Like a stud for a mare? Come on, Hermes, say it." His eyes and his voice were so scathing that I felt nervous. Yet his anger wasn't directed against me. I did hurt him - but not as much as he was already hurting. "Of course, I knew that. We were going to make those six kids - and taking into account how quickly the first one grew inside Hope, it wouldn't take that long. After that, they would just get rid of me. But till then... I had time."

"Time for something turn to the better? Or... Was it just like - 'Let everyone die today so that I can die tomorrow'?"

"What if it was?"

He was defiant. He knew he angered me - no matter how I tried to be cool about it all. Cool... It was easier to say than to do - thinking that I could be dead by now. Because of him.

"You son of bitch," I said.

I didn't try to hit him; I wanted to - but it would be too simple and it wouldn't solve anything all the same. And I knew that after a few bolts Zeus had struck him with today he was rather wobbly. He lunged at me, toppling me on the bed and pressing me down.

He was bigger than me - and heavy - and his face, furious and smiling, was so close to mine that his hair brushed against my cheek.

"Do you have anything else to say, Hermes? How bad I am?"

"Bastard." He was so heavy - and he didn't try to make it easier for me. My wrists were going to be black and blue from his grip. I wiggled under him, trying to get purchase to slam my knee between his legs.

"Bastard? You're the bastard, not me. But go on if you like talking dirty. I surely do."

He liked to push this button - about his parents being married and mine not. He thought he could get me this way. I kept silent, relaxed as much as I could, and felt Ares grind his pelvis against mine.

"This was your plan, Hermes, right? To get under me? Then you didn't need to start from so far away - could just say what you wanted and skip this sanctimonious shit of talking and listening. If you like it a little violent, I can do it."

I was not sure he could. He was soft, I could feel it - despite the glimmer of his eyes that made him look excited and dangerous. I didn't struggle any more and I knew it put him off. Then I freed my hand carefully, not meeting much resistance, and touched his face. He felt ice-cold. His eyelashes trembled so frequently as if he couldn't stand an uninterrupted stare even for a moment.

"You are really so silly, Ares. You don't understand anything."

"What am I supposed to understand?" he muttered half-heartedly and I twisted from under him; it didn't turn out to be really difficult. I pulled him to me, his head on my shoulder, my arms around him.

"Here. It's better this way. We can just talk."

"I don't want to talk," he said stubbornly, exactly because he did. "Why don't you want to have sex?"

"Some other time," I said.

"Don't you want me?" He asked it like I was the one who pressed him down to the bed and suddenly let him go. So surprised - begging so hard for reassurance.

"I do." My anger was gone - and I was telling the truth. I mean who didn't? His lips made me think about tracing them with my tongue, slowly and gently at first, and then thrusting in his mouth until we both forget to breathe. His hands made me think about all the places on my body where his warm rough fingers could touch me and make me swoon. I wanted him as much as others wanted him. Maybe, it was the reason why I didn't get it on with him yet: all those men and women, mortal and not, who would eagerly put their hands on him.

"Then why?"

He was so stupid... so many questions - and not likely that he would have any use for the answers.

I thought about all those moments when I saw him at his most vulnerable - when I carried him away from Aloides' captivity and he sagged in my arms, heavy and broken. I remembered my anger then: not so much with those twin giants who just did what they could - but with Zeus who allowed it to go for so long; with others who didn't say a word; with Ares for letting it happen to himself. And with myself - illogically - for not getting him out earlier, for not being able to protect him.

There was no reason why I would want to protect him; Ares was supposed to be perfectly capable to take care of himself. But was he really capable of it? If he was - how did it happen that now he wound up with Zeus furious with him and other gods considering him a traitor?

"Tell me more," I said trying to settle more comfortably and feeling how a half of my body went numb under his weight. "How was it, with Hope?"

"Funny." It was not exactly what I expected - but I was not sure Ares meant it either. "It certainly helped me a lot when I boinked her, to think about her mother boinking Xena. An amusing thing was that she might've been thinking about the same at that moment. She wanted Gabrielle," he added after a pause, thoughtfully. "Not to use for something, like she needed me. She just wanted her."

"You set Gabrielle up." I made it sound as neutral as possible - and indeed, I was not sure if I meant it as a compliment or bewilderment. "You wanted her to sacrifice herself for Xena - that's why you showed her the thread. This way Xena would stay alive..."

"And free to date," he added with a wry smile. "I wanted Gabrielle dead. I figured if she considered herself so good she might as well have given her life for something good."

"It's what she did," I said. "She *was* giving her life when she pushed Hope to that pit. And, more important, Xena believes that Gabrielle gave her life."

"It all could've worked." There was more bitterness in Ares' voice than ever before - something broken in it. "It had to be... a 'win-win' situation for me. Not in the way I told Xena, of course... You know I wonder if it hurt her," he said suddenly, "when I said that her death would be my gain. Her face didn't change... it meant she was hurt, I know. Xena wouldn't admit it, ever. Not now, anyway."

Not now when she thought her beloved was dead - thanks to him. I thought I got it - what was devastating him the most. That Xena was farther away from him than ever - and it was his own doing.

He was always like that, I thought with a strange, sad annoyance: does stupid things and has to live with them - and gods forbid him to ever admit he was wrong!

"Xena cared for me, you know." I felt him smile against my fingers as I touched his face. I didn't know if it was the truth or just wishful thinking - and I bet Ares didn't know it, either. "Deep down there, she did. I wonder if she'd really kill me, when I stood between her and Hope..." I wanted to say that he shouldn't have doubted it - when he went on. "And if yes, would she feel sorry... But I knew Callisto wouldn't let her waste hind's blood on me, while she was waiting for her turn. Maybe, Xena knew it, too?"

His toying with the thought of death left a bitter taste in my mouth. He sounded almost like he was willing to die to see whether Xena would drop a few tears over him. Well, it was a temporary state for him, I knew.

"I still thought it was going to work out, even when Gabrielle tripped over the edge. I thought everything was going to be okay! Xena would grieve but she would get over that. I would make her forget it."

Oh, did he think so? Then he was even more stupid than I thought. But, maybe, it was just another case when he tried to close his eyes until it was too late. And, maybe, in his heart he always knew he was not going to get Xena back. 'No win' situation.

"She was so grief-stricken that she let Callisto provoke her into killing. And when Xena whacked her - I knew it was my turn next. So, I just disappeared."

Back to Olympus, to the pissed-off Zeus and the pissed-off gods. Not the place where I would like to be if I were him - but home is home.

"You think she'll ever forgive me?" His voice was so quiet that I couldn't believe at first that I really heard it. Not these words, anyway. I wouldn't put it past Ares to beg for forgiveness - when he didn't have any other choice. But I hadn't ever known him to want it.

"Maybe, one day." Maybe, she really would - only it was hardly going to be of any use for him. Grief and anger ebb eventually - and love... There Ares didn't have a chance. Not only because of what he had done. But any love he could give Xena would be still less than she needed. Tainted love.

"I should go to her," he said with a sigh, laying his head against my chest. "Even if she is going to try to kill me at first. I'll go to her as soon as Zeus lets me out of here. I can face her anger, I really can."

"Sure, you can, big boy." I patted his hair absently. Self-deception again. He wouldn't go to Xena, would be too afraid to be rejected once and for all. But I preferred to leave these thoughts with myself. I was not the one who was going to make things worse for him; and, anyway, I didn't need to - he was pretty successful in doing it himself. "Everything will be okay," I added running my fingers over his face. My brother... So beautiful. So silly. So easy to hurt.

He was doing it for as long as I knew him - letting others hurt him. He should've been the most invulnerable of all us; his domain demanded it from him. And yet again he opened enough to feel pain. Why did he have to do it? And why did I care? But I did care.

"Zeus will forget it," I murmured, my fingers motionless against his cheek. "Xena will forgive you... Sleep now. Hypnos!" I called just with my lips and felt the Sleep God's presence over Ares.

He didn't notice as I got out from under him. His hair was all messed - but his face was peaceful, the eyelashes not trembling any more. I could've looked at him for ages when he was like that. My heart clenched but I didn't want to leave. I leaned to him and placed a kiss on his lips; then walked out and re-sealed the locks behind me.

THE END

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