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The Bet

by Verrath

How It All Began...

"I bet you you can't," said Ares smugly.

"I can, too," Aphrodite retorted with the hint of a godly pout.

"No way. You haven't really worked your powers in ages, dear sister. I'd say you're losing it." He said the word 'sister' with a sneer. "You couldn't seduce a mortal if your good looks depended on it."

Aphrodite drew herself up to her full height, towering over the War God, who was lounging in a quite disgustingly lewd way on her favorite dainty divan in the heart of her temple. "Oh.... oh yeah?"

She was sure she could have found a wittier retort if Ares weren't so... insufferably distasteful!

"You're so cute when you're worked up, sweetie," Ares chuckled as he picked out a lush red apple and bit into it with a resounding wet crunch.

"Hey, those were given to me!" Aphrodite protested.

"Well, tough," Ares said through a mouthful, discarded the apple and grabbed another from the basket. "Besides, they won't give you back your pizzazz anyway. Face it, you've become the laughing stock of gods and mortals. A divine 'Barbie girl'."

"Oh, how dare you! I can still strike the fancy of every single mortal I choose at the flick of a wrist."

"Any mortal?"


"Anyone I name, you'll seduce within a day?"

"Piece o' cake."

"I'll bet you half of my worshippers against half yours that you can't."

Aphrodite's nose wrinkled cutely in disgust. "Smelly warriors.... only if you clean them up for me."

Ares nodded, chortling. "I get to pick the mortal."

"It's a deal, brother."

"Excellent!" Ares spat into his palm and extended it. Aphrodite grimaced and shook it briefly, then hastily wiped her hand on her pink silken dress.

"So, Ares... name your mortal."

The God of War leaned in closer until his lips brushed the Love Goddess' ear. He whispered something.

Aphrodite's jaw dropped. "Oh, no, Ares, that's cheating!! I couldn't possibly..."

"We didn't specify it had to be a living mortal," Ares said with a victorious grin.

"Very well," said Aphrodite, her shoulders sagging. "I suppose I said it's a bet. But you haven't won yet, Ares!"

Ares' laughter still rang through the temple long after he had vanished.

Aphrodite bit her lip anxiously and disappeared in a shower of glittering, rose-scented motes.


A Little Help

"Hey, Xena, catch!"

The warrior deftly snatched the wriggling fish out of the air and slammed its head against a stone, killing it swiftly. Her growing belly was making it a little uncomfortable to do much fishing, so she was quite happy to let her friend do the work for now. "You're getting awfully good at this." She grinned. "I think that will do for today's dinner."

"Works for me." Gabrielle sloshed to the riverbank and made her way back to her friend, who had already started gutting the fish. She flopped down beside the warrior and pulled out a knife so she could help.

"Gosh, it's been such a quiet few days," she said dreamily as she hacked away at a silvery head. "I can't remember the last time we've been able to actually sleep in, and just do nothing but a bit of hunting all day. No thugs, no enlightened prophets, no demons, depressive gods or killer rabbits, just nice, sunny weather, and you, and me. Isn't it great?"

"Knock on wood," Xena grunted, and added more fishgut to the growing pile beside her.

"Oh, come, on, Xena, be a little positive here, huh? We've earned this. I don't see how the gods could begrudge us a few-"

The air before them wavered and glittered, and with a tinkle of tiny bells, Aphrodite appeared before them. Xena groaned. "I knew it."

Gabrielle put down the headless carcass she was working on. "Aphrodite? What are you doing here? Last time we met you gave me that... uhm, never mind. You said you'd had it with mortals for the time being."

Xena's eyes narrowed. "She gave you what?"

"Manicure," said Aphrodite, at the same time Gabrielle said, "spare underwear."

"She gave you what??" Xena said again.

"Never mind," goddess and bard said on top of each other, wearing identical blushes.

The Goddess looked decidedly uncomfortable. "Anyway, I came to you two because I think you may be able to do me a favor," she mumbled.

"What favor?" Xena asked, doubly suspicious. Her glare at Gabrielle promised that they'd be having a private talk once the goddess was dealt with.

Aphrodite sighed. "It all started when Ares and I ran into these wandering people. We were both so frightfully bored, and they smelled absolutely beastly, so I'm afraid we indulged in a little battle of powers... which Ares won."

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked.

"By the time we were through, five of them were running off to sign up with the nearest warlord, and one guy and girl set out looking for my temple to get married." She shrugged.

Xena cocked an eyebrow.

"What? He cheated, I'm sure of it."

"You were using people for your little games?" said Gabrielle. "That's outrageous!"

"It was Ares' idea," Aphrodite insisted. "Besides, none of them was hurt. They didn't even know anything was out of the ordinary."

Gabrielle scoffed. "And that makes it okay?"

The Goddess of Love sighed. "No, not really."

She looked so terribly distraught - for a goddess - and forlorn - for a goddess - that Gabrielle finally gave Xena a look that said, "oh Tartarus, let's hear her out", which the warrior answered with a silent nod.

Then Xena settled back comfortably - for a pregnant warrior - next to Gabrielle and they prepared to listen to the Goddess' tale.


"Are you kidding me?" the bard asked incredulously.

"That's what he said," said Aphrodite. "Unfortunately, I had agreed to the bet before he named the person..."

"Stupid," grunted the warrior.

"It didn't seem stupid at the time. He had me by my honor!"

"Who's Barbie, anyway?" asked Xena.

"Never mind," Aphrodite snapped. She was pacing restlessly in front of the two mortals, which gave Gabrielle the jitters. Xena, on the other hand, seemed unperturbed, even absent, more concerned about just what it was that Gabrielle had received from the goddess. Truth be told, it drove her quite mad with curiosity, and, yes, she had to face it, jealousy. Not that she would ever admit to that where anyone could hear, of course.

"I can't believe you actually agreed to that..." the bard told Aphrodite, shaking her head.

"Oh, rub it in, willya? Did I do that when you were complaining about not being inspired, when in truth with Xena snoring like that, it didn't surprise me one b-"

"WHAT???" Xena started to get up, but Gabrielle laid a restraining hand on her arm, lightly. "Never mind, Xena."

The warrior settled back down with a glower.


Rite Of Passage

There was, of course, no question about warrior and bard agreeing to help out the goddess, although Xena was continuously muttering about 'tempting the fates', and 'bloody gods', and such. Gabrielle kept a cheerful face throughout, even while they watched poor Aphrodite shoot down that unfortunate boar, her face a mask of anguish. A clean shot, Xena had to attest with a hint of new respect for the Goddess of Love. The animal's knees buckled where it stood, death claiming him before his head hit the ground.

"Oh, this is beastly," Aphrodite complained as she caught the creature's lifeblood as it dripped from its jugular. Splatters of blood marred her dainty dress, and she was utterly disgusted, but she still managed to look sweet and delicate as she performed the gruesome task.

"It's the only way, I'm afraid," Xena said. She looked like she was rather enjoying herself, in a naughty sort of way.

"But I don't have to like it." The goddess wrinkled her nose and held up the vial containing the still-warm, crimson liquid. "There. Now what's next? I hope I don't have to bathe in this!" She looked completely scandalized.

Xena waggled her eyebrows.

"Oh, no," Aphrodite gasped. "You can't be serious..."

Xena chuckled. "Actually, you don't. You just have to paint your face with it."

The goddess breathed a sigh of relief.

"Oh, and you drink it, of course."

Aphrodite swooned.


Of course, in order for the ritual to function properly, warrior and bard had withdrawn shortly thereafter and left Aphrodite to her own devices. She had to say, in all her immortal life, she had never felt quite so uncomfortable and apprehensive. The blood felt nasty and sticky against her smooth skin, its metallic taste still clinging to the inside of her mouth, nauseating.

And yet, her body was already reacting with the primeval surges of force raging through her. She could feel the spirit of the dead boar, soaring towards its new resting place, tugging at her own, pulling her with him until she felt her being stretched to breaking point. She was connected to the boar; she was the boar.

A wild, uncontrollable ecstasy claimed her, forcing her eyes shut even as her body began a slow, rhythmic, jerky dance. Even while she was utterly miserable, this felt incredibly good. She felt intensely alive, and acutely aroused. These were feelings that she was quite unused to having to this extent, being a goddess. Ironically, it was the very fact of her immortality that heightened the experience for her, multiplied the impact the ritual was having upon her system.

The woods around her teemed with that same life force; she could literally hear the grass grow, and feel its roots claw their way deeper into the earth beneath her feet. Her senses thus heightened, the twitter of a bird nearby threatened to shatter her awareness; elation gave way to sheer horror. And still she moved to the rhythm of Life itself, requesting leave to go beyond. She was the boar. She needed to Cross Over.

Images flashed. She was sailing down a crimson chute into a large, pulsating chamber; her own heart. A mountain range against a blue sky. Fire. Water. Leagues of black rock all around her. Motion. Male seed gushing forward to claim her womb. Desire. Lust. Blood pumping in her veins so forcefully it made disembodied colors flash before her eyes, refusing to form a coherent image. The essence of life; coursing through her. A bright glare, the boar.

Blackness. Oblivion.


"Do you think she'll be okay?" Gabrielle asked anxiously when they had taken up vigil by the lifeless form of the goddess. Seeing this immortal, powerful being lie there still and pale and cold, her body at their mercy, unnerved her more than she cared to admit.

"Gabrielle, she's a goddess. Besides, she got herself into this one."

"Oh, I know that. But she looks so... fragile." She gently adjusted the furs that covered the body. "She's not a bad sort, really." Her eyes were imploring Xena to agree.

Xena gently patted the bard's hand. "I know. She'll be okay. We're here to make sure of that."


That Other Place

When she came to, Aphrodite knew immediately that she had arrived wherever she was going. She felt light-headed. Her tongue was a dead, dry lump that did not seem to be part of her. Blood still caked her cheeks. Only when she tried to walk a few steps did she become aware that she was lying face down on a porous surface that felt neither cold nor warm.

Unconsciously, she willed her powers into being to relieve the various discomforts.

Nothing happened. Her breath caught. Why weren't her powers working? What had she gotten into here? And she had not even started to look for her quarry yet. A new feeling gathered slowly and settled uncomfortably in the region of her stomach, one that she was completely unfamiliar with - fear.

Lifting her head slowly, she looked around.

At first glance, it looked just like the world she knew. But the grass seemed just a little too green, the wood of trees and bushes just a touch too brown. Also, everything was perfectly still. Not a breeze of air stirred, not a leaf twitched. A bird was frozen in mid-flight. As she stared at it incredulously, it sprang into motion, fluttering across her vision, only to freeze again in midair. And so it was for everything she looked at. For as long as her gaze rested on something, it would become animated, only to go still at the edge of her vision.

"Far out," she mumbled, and flinched at the loudness of her own voice.

Firmly reminding herself that she had a bet to win, she finally took heart and walked a few hesitant steps. Maybe she'd get her powers back in working order once she had gotten her bearings.

"Well, so far it's been a piece of cake," she said aloud, taking a measure of comfort in the sound of her voice, however freaky it sounded amidst the surreal silence. "Now all I have to do is find Alti."

A whoosh of air in the rigid landscape unsettled her; she whirled nervously. And found herself in a motionless meadow, face to face with the evil shamaness. Alti, it seemed, would not be found. She found you.

Dressed in ceremonial Amazon shamaness garb, furs and skins seemingly haphazardly wrapped around her willowy body, dark hair whipping around her face where there was no wind, arms spread wide, she stood grinning darkly at her. With those black eyes glittering from under lowered eyebrows, Alti was positively breathtaking. Aphrodite thought fleetingly that Ares did have good taste in women. But, seducing that one? On her own turf? That might prove to be a challenge, indeed.

"Ah!" the shamaness said in her gravely voice. "Xena's little..." Then she did a double take. "... goddess?? You're not supposed to be here."

Thinking to take her chance while Alti was still recovering from her surprise, Aphrodite gestured quickly. No cute flitting rose petals sprang forth from her fist to instill Love, Lust and Happiness in whomever they touched; not even sparkling dust. Aphrodite's trademark Cute Little Smile died on her face before it had a chance to bloom.

Alti, of course, was not impressed. "So, you've come to work your little tricks on me, have you," she hissed.

"Actually, I-" Whatever Aphrodite had been about to say, whatever pose she had been about to strike, was pre-empted when an unseen force hit her squarely in the chest and flung her upward. She sailed backwards and landed with a thud on her back, twenty paces further away.

It hurt!

"Well, wench, I hate to tell you, they won't work here. This is my world. It's just you..." Alti balled a fist as if holding something, and raised her arm. Her muscles bunched powerfully, even though it looked as if she were lifting empty air. Aphrodite felt herself be grabbed by the throat and lifted two feet above the ground.

"... and me," Alti finished gleefully.

It was beginning to dawn on Aphrodite that this bet was rather more than she had bargained for. This was Alti's realm. Here, she could be hurt. She could be destroyed. And there was a none-too-friendly, all-too-powerful shamaness to deal with.

"Please, let me down, I'm not here to fight you." That's what she meant to say, anyway. But, suddenly finding out you've lost your godly powers when you needed them most, and having your throat squeezed tight by an unseen fist tended to hamper your capability for coherent speech, so all that came out was a strangled gurgle.

The next instant, she found herself being punched in the gut and thrown backward again. The breath was forced out of her lungs as her back slammed into a tree trunk.

Without having moved, Alti was suddenly by her side, holding a knife to her throat. "Is that all you got? A bit flimsy, for a goddess." She chuckled icily. "Guess they don't make 'em like they used to."

"I... I'm not here to fight you." Aphrodite wheezed, fighting to get her breath back and trying not to think of the blade pressing against her unblemished skin. Although the bruise left by Alti's taunt was not so easy to ignore.

Now the shamaness was mildly intrigued, although she did not relax her stance. "You're not?"

Okay, Aphrodite, think quickly, the goddess thought, how to go about this? Certainly not by giving away the whole plan, right? Right. Like there even is a plan.

"Nope," she croaked, clearing her throat a few times to relieve the strangled feeling. "Not my line of business, really. I'm the Goddess of Love, after all."

She actually managed to flaunt her silken dress with a little flourish, and smiled brilliantly, although the effect was partly lost due to the dull ache in her gut, and her generally diminished good looks after the beating she had just received.

Alti's grin broadened, but it was not reassuring. "Indubitably."

"Could you, like, take it easy with that blade? It re-eally messes up my make-up, you see."

"What do you want, then?" the shamaness asked. She pulled the edge of the knife away, only to replace it with its tip against the goddess' jugular. When she cleared her throat, Aphrodite could feel the cold metal dig into her skin. The problem was, she was doing some serious throat-clearing just now.

"I... was curious?"


"Yes, that's it. Curious. Heard so much of you... wanted to see for myself."

"Is that so?" The point of the knife slowly trailed its way down her throat, just shy of actually drawing blood. Alti's gaze followed it down. She licked her lips slowly. When it reached the goddess' cleavage, Alti looked up.


"Well, unfortunately," Alti grated, "I don't believe you." The knifepoint scraped its way along the top of her breast and found the strap holding up that side of her dress. The blade sliced through it as if it was water. The silken garment slithered down her shoulder, just short of revealing anything that should not be seen.

"But, but, but it's true," Aphrodite stammered. "You're a very attractive woman, you know." And that, Aphrodite thought, was the simple truth.

Alti must have felt flattered in spite of herself, because her grin softened almost imperceptibly, and a hint of new interest was coming to her features. This, however, was lost on Aphrodite, whose mind was churning, struggling to grasp this new situation.

She realized she was weak, and completely at the mercy of a powerful being that not only existed in this world, but had also shaped it to a big extent. Some of what Xena had told her about Alti and this place came back to her. It was a thing controlled by the mind. Alti's mind, mostly, but if you could only figure out how, you had some measure of control here.

Also, she realized she'd have to have a word with Ares when she got back - if she got back. This might once have been a regular mortal, but she certainly was not now.

For now, though, it looked like she was stuck here, powerless. But then, she'd been without her powers before, and it had worked out. She could do it again. She hoped.


"Xena, what's going on with her?"

Aphrodite's head was jerking violently. A livid bruise appeared on her cheekbone. Her eyes snapped open, staring rigidly ahead, unseeing in this world. What horrors they saw in another, neither one of her guardians wanted to guess. A razor-thin, straight indentation appeared at her throat.

"Looks like our ol' gal has taken a liking to her," Xena said dryly. Before Gabrielle could rebuke her for being an insensitive klutz, she continued. "Hey, I'm serious here. Do you see any blood? Alti's only roughing her up a little. She could do much worse if she wanted to."

"To a goddess?"

Xena shrugged. "Think Alti gives a Bacchae's ass? It's her realm, we can only hope Aphrodite remembers enough of what I told her about it."

The indentation changed shape and became a tiny spot, traveling down Aphrodite's neck towards her cleavage.

"We have to bring her back," said Gabrielle urgently.

"Not yet. Give her a little more time."

Aphrodite's lips moved soundlessly.



In the time it took for those thoughts to flash through Aphrodite's mind, Alti had somehow conjured up a thick rope that was wound in tight coils around the goddess' body, immobilizing her except for her head and her toes. Even more humiliating, she was suspended in midair like a fly caught by a spider; which pretty much summed up what she felt like.

The 'spider' was grinning up at her with a venomous glitter in those intense black eyes, while slowly scraping the tip her knife across her own cheek, leaving a white trail but not quite breaking the skin.

"That's... really freaky, you know," Aphrodite told her nervously, trying unsuccessfully to shut her ears against the tiny, grating noise of metal on skin that was somehow much louder than it should have been.

Alti bared her teeth in what was probably meant to be a broader grin. "Why, thank you." She pressed down harder on the knife, and a trickle of blood appeared from the gash on her cheek.

Aphrodite shuddered. She watched the skin knit back together and the blood disperse, leaving only a slim white scar. Then that, too, disappeared in the blink of an eye. As if it had never been there at all. Well, it might very well never have existed, the goddess mused. Who knew what tricks Alti was playing on her mind.

She tried not to let the shamaness see how her thoughts were racing. Snatches of what Xena had told her floated in and out, but never clearly enough for her to grasp. If she had had her hands free, she would have played with her locks nervously; perhaps it was for the better that she didn't. Above all, she did not want to show Alti how weak she really felt. She might have this girlie-image, but she was still a goddess, and goddesses could not afford to be weak. She might not be the sharpest sword in the armory ever to rule on Olympus, but she was not a complete loss. Well, she hoped. Just barely, she kept from biting her lip.

"What are you trying to do?" she asked, as calmly as she could manage.

Alti stopped grinning. If possible, it made her eyes grow even more intense. The question is, goddess," she cupped Aphrodite's chin, forcing her to make eye contact, "what are you trying to do?"

Briefly, Aphrodite considered telling some outrageous story of how she had been stranded here in an unfortunate accident, but one look into Alti's face convinced her that might not be the best idea. It could not be possible, of course, but she felt as if the shamaness could look into her very soul, and knew exactly what she was thinking. But that must be only her imagination. Otherwise, why would Alti need to ask? Only her imagination, then.

"Answer me, wench!"

Aphrodite had not realized how long she had been thinking in circles; Alti's harsh voice snapped her back to attention. The voice, and something writhing where the ropes had been, constricting, slithering, the rope. Only it was a rope no longer, but a giant snake.

She almost smiled. She might be a sissy when it came to most nasty creatures, such as mice, and rats, and spiders, and all that, but she was actually quite fond of snakes, and had a good idea how to deal with them. Of course, Alti could not know that, as it stemmed from an eternity ago, some unfortunate incident that she had been involved in, concerning a man that was missing a rib, a too inquisitive woman - supposedly the first couple ever, or some such - and an apple. Best not go into that one, it had produced quite a splash back then... Zeus still developed that nasty tic in his cheek whenever it was mentioned, and would mumble under his breath about wishing he'd been in charge at the time.

So, the serpent was not having quite the effect Alti had anticipated, but if that fazed her, she gave no outward sign. It was, however, a formidable creature, and it certainly was not to be taken lightly, and not just because of its tremendous weight.

Its head was about as long as her hand, bobbing before her face, mesmerizing. The forked tongue flicked nervously, while its coils flexed and shifted, now loosening their hold, now tightening it to the point where Aphrodite had to struggle for each breath she took.

"I am trying to make small talk, but you are making this very difficult, you know," Aphrodite said wryly, gaining back some composure. Don't move. With luck, the serpent wasn't hungry. The first rule was not to panic, and not to struggle. The creature did not look overly aggressive, just bewildered at how it had come to be where it was. Don't panic.

Alti watched her closely while she spoke in a soft, too velvety voice. "I'm not much for girl talk. It bores me."

"So, what do you like? What does a gorgeous shamaness like you do when she's not doing that shamaness-whizz-magic-thingie?"

As Aphrodite had hoped, the snake relaxed when it encountered no struggle, and gradually it went from nearly strangling her to merely resting its coils comfortably against her. Though still heavy, its weight permitted her to breathe freely now. Good. So it wasn't looking for food.

Alti barely caught herself before she was actually gaping. Good, again. She'd caught her by surprise. The shamaness had surely expected her to panic at the appearance of the reptile. A feeling of triumph welled up in her, and she couldn't resist a smug little smile. She figured it probably looked more cute than smug, anyway. That was one perk of her job as Love Goddess.

The snake changed back into the rope, which slid to the ground in a neat pile. Aphrodite remained suspended for another instant or two, before she dropped like a sack to land unceremoniously on her backside.

Alti frowned. "It wasn't supposed to do that," she mumbled. Aphrodite was sure she had not been supposed to hear. Aloud, Alti said, "I'm quite fond of doing the shamaness-whizz-magic-thingie, thank you." Her voice mimicked Aphrodite's perfectly. But now there was a hint of respect and puzzled surprise on her face. Yes, this visitor certainly intrigued her!

Aphrodite, meanwhile, was scrambling to her feet rubbing her backside. She kicked the pile of rope experimentally, and was only half surprised when it puffed into non-existence.

"But there has got to be a time when you're not on the job," she persisted, pressing her momentary advantage. A radiant smile bloomed on her face. To be sure, her dress was ripped, and she must be bruised all over, but she felt more in control of things now, for some reason.

Alti made no reply, just looked at her intensely for a long while. Aphrodite started wondering if perhaps she has sprouted a third eye in her forehead or something, but then she suddenly realized that her dress was whole again, and clean, and her bruises seemed to be gone. Xena's words started floating back to her. It's a place where the mind is the strongest force, stronger than magic, and certainly stronger than the body.

It looked like she was getting the hang of this place.

"I bet you get very lonely," she pressed on, inhaling. She noted with satisfaction that Alti's gaze had wandered down from her face to her heaving bosom. "Don't you?" she whispered huskily.

Alti's eyes snapped back up. "Well... actually it's been okay, mostly," she said. "I admit I feel like I could use some... company every once in a while." The way she said the word 'company' suggested she was not looking for a chess partner. She flashed the goddess a toothy grin. "Unfortunately, most people think they can't stomach my kind of... attention."

Small surprise, after what she'd just put Aphrodite through! "Aww, what makes them think that?" she asked prettily.

"Apparently my reputation tends to give people all sorts of ideas. Besides, I don't really have that many visitors here, you know."

"Well, it is a bit of a hassle to get here, really. The kill, the mess, all that warm blood, it's really rather disgusting. And it's not like you were all that welcoming after all the trouble I went through." Now she pouted a little.

"Well, this isn't some spa in Athens, goddess or no," Alti said gruffly. "You're not even supposed to be here. I should hope this type of thing would scare people off."

Absolutely!! "Not me, though," Aphrodite said. She still felt like running far and fast. The woman gave her the creeps, as gorgeous as she was. But then again, the whole thing in itself carried a strange excitement.

"You still haven't told me what you want here," Alti remarked.

On impulse, Aphrodite decided to go with the truth. Well, part of it, anyway. The whole bet business was beginning to sting a bit; she actually did feel attracted to the shamaness!

"I've come to seduce you." And she inhaled again, to stress her point.

After the briefest dumbfounded silence - and this time Alti's jaw did drop - the tall shamaness threw her head back and laughed.

"Oh, that's a new one!" She wiped her eyes. "And daring, even for a goddess."

But the ridicule she was trying to put into her voice was not really convincing, thought Aphrodite.

"Unless, of course, you're not interested in this type of thing..." Aphrodite looked around her, arms crossed, studying the surroundings, the ground, the unmoving blades of grass, a bug suspended and motionless, anything but the woman opposite her.

There was a silence. A long silence. Aphrodite carefully avoided looking at Alti, even though after a while she was afraid the shamaness had left the scene.

The gentleness of Alti's voice when she finally did speak was startling. "Why would I not be interested in someone as lovely as you, goddess?"

Aphrodite looked up into dark, mysterious eyes, and gasped when Alti's fingers brushed her cheek.


"Heh. Whaddya know, I think that's a blush," Xena chuckled softly. "Our divine gal is on a roll."

Gabrielle, however, was watching the Goddess closely, worry creasing her brow with the way Aphrodite's body kept jerking and distorting.

"It's not funny, Xena." But the bard considered her friend's obvious ease of mind, and conceded she might have a point. Aphrodite actually did not look horribly uncomfortable.

Just then, a low, throaty moan escaped Aphrodite's lips. Both women's heads whipped around to look at her prone form.

Xena's eyebrow shot upwards. "Now that did not sound like a woman in pain."

"Indeed," agreed the bard. "Well, I'll be! Would you look at-" She squeaked when Aphrodite suddenly flung her arms around her and pulled her downward. That in itself would have been funny, perhaps, but the fact that the goddess' body had not stopped its rhythmic jerking lent the whole scene a more... awkward... quality.

"Oh, boy, looks like Ares might just be losing his stupid bet after all..." Xena was fighting valiantly to keep her face smooth, but it looked like it was going to be a losing battle.

"Funny, Xena, very funny," Gabrielle's voice came strangled through an amazingly powerful lock-hold.

Aphrodite's eyes were still open and staring sightlessly, but her chest heaved violently. Her head was flung to one side, and the impression of an open hand appeared on her cheek.

"Wha-" Gabrielle panted, but the rest of what she had been about to say was lost in a tangle of limbs as the bard struggled to free herself from Aphrodite's death grip.


Before she could react, Gabrielle had a similar, hand-shaped impression on her cheek. As slender as Aphrodite's arms were, she certainly delivered a poweful blow!

"Why I-" She broke off when she heard a snort from Xena's direction, and stopped her struggles in time to see the warrior lean helplessly against a tree, holding her sides and lauhging so hard tears were streaming down her face. "Oh, boy," she managed between guffaws, "the lady sure packs a punch, doesn't she?"

Upon seeing her friend far from amused, Xena carefully straightened her face. Sniffing once, she wiped her eyes and pushed herself off from the tree trunk. "Sorry," she said seriously.

Gabrielle, carefully prying open the fingers of a godly fist that had a death grip in her hair, shot the warrior a dark glare. "Somehow, I'm not amused," she said.

"Sorry," Xena said again, watching the bard succeed in freeing her hair to a series of winces and pained hisses, and finally extricate herself from Aphrodite's clutches. Gabrielle started to get up, only to find her foot caught by the hand of a very determined Love Goddess. Unable to keep her balance, she fell headlong. The cloud of dust she stirred up momentarily obscured goddess and bard.

It was too much. Xena lost it again, snorting and cackling in a rather un-warriorlike fashion.

"Well," the bard said, straightening and dusting off her skirt. "I guess that's a winner, then." Her lips did twitch, but she managed to look as if rolling in the dirt with a goddess was what she had been planning to do all along, at which Xena literally bent double with laughter.

"I bet Ares is having a fit right now," the warrior remarked when she could breathe again.

Now Gabrielle giggled and shook her head in puzzlement.

"I wonder what thatwas about," she said, raking her fingers through her disarrayed hair. She gingerly touched the red mark on her cheek; that was certainly going to raise eyebrows for the next day or so.

"Maybe we don't want to know," said the warrior.

Both women watched the rapt face of the goddess in silence for some time. Presently, Xena spoke.



"This... thing... Aphrodite gave you..."

Gabrielle blushed again, and suddenly became very interested in a non-existent spot of dirt on her arm. "Trust me, Xena, you don't want to know."

She barely ducked half a trout that hurtled towards her face.


The End


Well, what do you think it was that 'Dite gave Gabrielle? Wanna take a guess?

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