Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, and Callisto belong to Renaissance Pictures and MCA Universal. I'm only just borrowing them a bit. It's all in fun, really.

Author's Note: This story is sort of, kind of, maybe, but not really a sequel to The Heart Knows, and Come Back To Me, or, at least, it makes mention of an event mentioned in those stories.

Throw of the Dice
By Pink Rabbit Productions

I woke up a hero one day.

With Gabrielle as my lover.

Argo as my horse.

A chakram on my hip.

And Xena dead.

She had been since the day I slit her throat ten years before. She was raiding my village when her horse went down in front of me. According to the tale, at least the one Gabrielle likes to tell, the warrior princess and I faced each other in combat. Somehow I beat her, despite the fact that I was a ten year old child with no more knowledge of swords than a king has of plowshares.

My name is Callisto.

I had to take Gabrielle's word for the story. I didn't remember any of it. The last thing I remember before it all began, I was the stakes in a dice game between Athena and Ares. Correction, not all of me was at stake. That would be too simple for them. They were just playing for my sanity. Athena won.

At least I think she did.

In the time since, I've wondered about that. Sometimes, I think maybe I'm really in a cell next to Orestes, staring and drooling. Perhaps it was just Athena's ultimate act of justice. Imagine me, having done the things I've done, being offered a new life. Only the price was knowing who and what I'd been, who I'd killed, and why. Imagine that what you are would destroy the one person in the entire universe that you love. Now imagine knowing that you're keeping that person from their love.

It's enough to make madness very tempting.

It started when I opened my eyes to find Gabrielle handing me a bowl of some kind of stew and a piece of rough crusty bread. I remember tensing, ready to grab for my sword, certain it was a trick, but she only laughed.

"Sorry about that. I sometimes forget that I shouldn't wake you from a sound sleep," she said with a quick shake of her head.

For the first time in more years than I can count, I opened my eyes with no desire to kill, no need to cause pain, no hunger to see blood running on my sword. I didn't know what to do with the sudden loss of my life's touchstone. Without the urge for violence, I could barely function.

She stared at me for a long moment, brows lifted in silent question. "I know it's not my best," she muttered. "But it can't that bad."

I looked down, realizing she thought my reaction was about the stew. Actually, it smelled delicious, the odor reminding me of my mother's cooking.

"You don't have to eat it if you don't want--"

"No," I disagreed suddenly and took a bite. It was a little short on salt, but it was wonderful. I hadn't truly tasted food in years. It seemed like it all had the flavor and consistency of ashes, so I ate only what it took to survive. This was different. It was hot and smooth, and warmed my stomach. "It's good�I just wasn't awake yet." I stumbled over the words, not knowing what to make of a world where Gabrielle could laugh in my presence and the simple flavor of food was pleasurable.

Then I remembered the dice game. Ares and Athena. My sanity as a betting chip. And the Fates charmed into going along. So this was sanity. Like food, I'd forgotten the taste. Not knowing what else to do, I simply ate, listening to Gabrielle's chatter and enjoying the ability to hear a human voice without having it sound like nails on slate.

At first I told myself I was simply gathering intelligence. Understanding this new world would make conquering it so much easier. I wasn't insane anymore, but I still thought like a madwoman. Gabrielle, I soon learned, loved to practice her stories, so it was easy enough to cajole her into telling anything I wanted to know. At first, the sing-song, bardic meter set my teeth on edge, but later, when we were walking along a narrow trail, Argo ambling along behind us, I found myself losing track of the story and simply enjoying the sound of her voice.

I should have run right then and there. Sanity, you see, has its drawbacks.

As the day passed in companionable togetherness, I almost forgot who and what I was and started to see myself as the mythic hero of her tales, who'd beaten the evil warlord as a child, and grown into the wandering defender of the weak and defenseless.

Almost� then I'd flash on the look on her face when I killed Perdicas, or the hurt in her eyes, when I used Xena's form to take her body. It's a very strange feeling to have someone you've raped seem totally at ease touching you and wanting to be with you. I felt her confusion when I pulled away, but I found myself enjoying her company, and it felt wrong to let her too close. I'd already taken advantage of her misconceptions once. I couldn't do it again.

That night, we sat around a warm fire, her voice a welcome relief from the urge to think too much. She was a good storyteller, funny, and interesting. When it became time to bed down, it quickly became obvious she expected me to join her. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as she slowly rose, and began peeling off her clothes. I can't remember wanting a woman sexually before that moment. Actually, I can't remember wanting anyone sexually before that moment. My feelings for Xena probably came the closest, but that was about obsession, and the desire to own something. Overwhelmed by the newness of it all, I looked away. For the first time in a very long time, I was feeling something, and it was more than a little frightening. I didn't want to feel anything. Feelings aren't safe for someone like me, and they certainly aren't pleasant.

It became a lot harder to ignore her when she dropped her top in my lap. And downright impossible when her skirt followed a moment later. By the time her boots hit the dirt on either side of me, I wasn't thinking very clearly.

"I think a little celebration of our success in finally ditching Joxer is in order," she murmured, her voice low and husky.

I could barely breathe. I didn't dare look up, because I knew she was staring down at me, naked as the day she was born. She obviously expected me to do something about it. Probably something sweet, and tender, and knowing. Or at least something vaguely competent. At that moment madness was sounding mighty tempting indeed because I was completely out of my element. I hadn't a clue what to do, or how to respond. "Ummm�Gabrielle�" I could barely force her name past the tightness in my throat. I finally settled on the relatively bland. "Not tonight�okay?"

There was a long, painfully uncomfortable moment of silence.

"Callisto�" she said my name, then paused uncertainly. "Are you angry at me?"

"No�no," I answered, amazed by how fast the words were out of my mouth, and how important it was to me that she not think this was her fault. "I just don't think it's a good idea�." Then I seized on the perfect excuse. "After all those highwaymen we're chasing might still be in the area." I rose quickly, wanting some time alone. "In fact, I should go stand guard." I could feel her watching me in confused silence as I melted into the forest. I was breathing hard and five times as scared as I'd been in years. Not even the animals that ran the prison had managed to make me feel so completely out of control.

I just shambled around for hours, listening to the sounds of the night and enjoying the smell of air that wasn't thick with the smoke of burning homes and overcooked human meat.

Later, cold, tired, and confused, I wandered back to the fire, sinking down in front of it with a soft sigh. I was beginning to seriously wonder about this sanity thing. I hadn't been cold in years, hadn't felt the weight of exhaustion, hadn't felt anything. Now, in the space of an hour, I'd felt all those forgotten discomforts, and I was beginning to believe that feelings were seriously overrated. I scratched an itch on my arm, wondering if mosquitoes had simply avoided me when I was mad.

Then I glanced at the woman sleeping tumbled in her blankets and madness wasn't the only temptation. She was beautiful, her hair glowing faintly in the moonlight, one bare shoulder visible above the edge of the blanket. I wanted to touch her, even reached out, but then I remembered the past. The knowledge of what I'd already done to her stayed my hand. I didn't want the blood staining my soul to touch hers. After all, I wasn't really sane. It was just an illusion of the gods. Knowing Ares, it would probably all go away the moment I touched her. That would be his kind of joke.

Guilt was a new sensation for me. I used to mock any man in my company who showed even the faintest trace of regret, murdered any who showed more than that.

It was ironic. I had everything I could possibly have wanted. Xena was dead. I was the hero, and I had a beautiful lover, who honestly cared for me. And I was horrified at the notion of enjoying any of it.

I didn't even know how to feel about the realization that Gabrielle was my lover. When I was mad, it was Xena I loved, using her to fill the void left by the loss of everything in Cirrah. When she destroyed my family and village, she became the most important thing in my life, mother, lover, enemy, nemesis, tormentor, and soul mate. Suddenly, she was simply someone for whom I felt an odd sense of kinship. Like me, she had once been mad, and found some small measure of sanity.

I remember tensing as Gabrielle came up behind me.

"Come to bed, Callisto," she whispered and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. Suddenly, her hands were sliding over smooth leather, loosening the catches on my armor and peeling leather aside with knowing skill.

Unused to the warm shiver of arousal sliding down my spine as delicate teeth nibbled on one ear, I could only sit there, perfectly still. The only time I can remember feeling like that before, I was in the middle of combat, my hands and sword dipped in blood. Even sleeping with Ares was nothing more than a way to hurt Xena, just like taunting Gabrielle, or hurting Argo�or hurting Gabrielle. I didn't want to think about that�couldn't think about that. I didn't want to remember what I did to her in Xena's body.

When I didn't move, she tensed faintly, her voice worried as she whispered my name. "Callisto?" A deep, forgotten part of me warmed at her caring despite my struggles to ignore it. I knew it couldn't last. "What's wrong? You've been so quiet all day."

Oddly enough, I actually wanted to explain, but I knew she'd think me mad, or worse, she might believe me. "Just thinking."

"It's that man we saw today, isn't it?" she probed, instinctively knowing just where to search. "The one the soldiers were leading away."

"Theodorus," I filled in and felt her nod. She was incredibly gentle as she drew my head around until our eyes met.

"Xena's dead," she whispered and for the briefest second something seemed to flicker in her eyes. She fell silent for the briefest of moments, making me wonder if there was still some ghost of a memory, or a sense that nothing was quite right. Did she know that she was once Xena's lover, her body twined with the warrior princess's in desperate passion? I know because I saw them. The night before we faced Velasca, when Xena thought I was asleep, she reached down, catching the bard's hand to lead her off into the forest. I snuck after them, following to see them touch, hear their groans, and see their bodies together. I probably could have killed them both in that moment. A part of me wanted to, but I couldn't move, couldn't even stop crying. How could one body contain so much hatred and so much love, all of it so tangled as to be inseparable?

As if sensing my inner turmoil, she petted my hair in a tenderly soothing motion. "She can't hurt anyone now�and her army is gone. The few stragglers left are like Theodorus; too weak to be much of a threat. You've seen to that." Then she kissed me, her mouth warm and sweet. It was softer than anything I'd ever felt. She fluttered tiny kisses around my mouth, then pressed her tongue inside to explore deeper, her gentle passion reminding me of all things I'd missed during the years of madness. I've never made love in my life, barely even had sex. When her lips left mine, it was only to explore the rest of my face in a tactile journey that made my heart pound as if trying to escape my chest. "You were so beautiful that day," she whispered against my temple. "Standing against Draco." Another soft kiss brushed my mouth. "My brave warrior." Even knowing I shouldn't touch her, I couldn't resist when she deepened the kiss. The caring and tenderness she offered were too tempting. "If it wasn't for you�" she exhaled, her breath fanning over my face as she urged me around.

I responded with the only thing I could think of that might push her away. "I don't want your gratitude." I knew all the things I'd done to this woman. For her to be grateful for anything, except slitting my own throat, seemed a perversity beyond measure.

Her response was perfectly serious. "But you have it�and my love."

Damn her. How can one human being leave me so torn and shredded, so aware of who I've been and tantalizingly close to who I could be?

Suddenly, I couldn't hold back anymore. She was so inviting as I pressed her into the blankets, capturing soft lips in a kiss made up of equal parts denial and desperation. I guess I thought that if I could just lose myself in her body, my real past would go away. If believed in her version of my life, basked in her faith, perhaps I wouldn't notice my own lack of conviction.

She is amazingly beautiful. Soft and warm, making me intimately aware of the feel of her skin and the beat of her heart.

It was the first time I'd ever made love.

I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but she knew, and she taught me. If I wasn't the skilled, or experienced lover she expected, she made no comment, just tutored me in the art of love until we were both damp with sweat, our bodies trembling in the aftermath of passion.

Passion. I never knew what that word meant before. I thought it was a trick of the gods, but it's not. If the gods really understood it, they wouldn't want any man, woman, or child to feel that way, because they can't stand the idea of anything more important than they are. It is so much greater than any god.

When we finally slept, we were coiled together, our bodies touching the way I'd seen them.

Xena and Gabrielle.

Odd, I should have been thrilled. I'd finally taken everything of Xena's and made it my own. Gabrielle stirred gently, cuddling closer, and I smoothed her hair back from her temple.

Like I said, guilt was an all-new sensation.

That morning, she was affectionate, teasing and kissing me. Like her, I was eager to stroke and caress. I'd touched the sun, and I hadn't melted. Not even the gods frightened me anymore. She wrapped her arms around my neck, leaning against me as we shared a slow kiss, both laughing through the meeting of our lips as we realized breakfast was well on the way to burning. Suddenly Gabrielle bounded away, muttering giggling curses as she tried to rescue our food.

"I used to be a good cook before I met you," she complained good-naturedly.

I crouched down, staring at her with a frank hunger that was totally new to me. "Don't worry. I don't want you for your cooking."

Her brows lifted. "Oh."

I grinned. "In fact, I could cheerfully give breakfast a miss altogether."

"But I want you to keep your strength up," she pointed out with a teasing smile.

My fingers were itching to touch her skin again, so I only smiled and rose to pace around the fire. I was just reaching down, my fingers twining with hers, when his voice rang across the small glade.

"Callisto!"

Joxer.

I glanced over to see him hurrying toward us, amazed I'd missed the sound of his armor clanking. I told you passion is powerful. Well, I suppose no life can be perfect, but I must admit, I wish Xena had beheaded him in youth. Gabrielle was no more thrilled than I. I could hear her muttering soft imprecations.

"I came to deliver a message," he muttered as he sat down and immediately began helping himself to our food.

Gabrielle was still muttering, and I was wondering how fast I could get rid of the weasel- faced boy, when he suddenly said the magic words, his mouth so full of food I almost didn't understand him.

"Somehow, Xena's gotten out of Tartarus--who knows what kind of deal she made with Hades--anyway, she must want some kind of revenge for the way you offed her, because she's looking for you."

I guess there was some of the old me left, because I grabbed the scrawny fool by throat, impatient with his obsession with my food and yanked him to his feet. "Tell me everything you know." He gacked a brainless answer and I shook him. "Now!"

His eyes were panicked as he answered. Considering the recent state of my impending sanity, I probably shouldn't have enjoyed it so much.

"She found me outside a bar in Melarous�" He coughed through my hold on his throat. "She said to tell you�ack�tell you that she's coming for you."

He made an extra clank or two as he hit the ground several feet away.

So Xena had escaped Tartarus and was in Melarous. But which Xena?

Joxer answered that question only a second later as he muttered, "It was really weird too, because she said to tell you that there wouldn't be a pit in deepest Tartarus where you could hide if you hurt Gabrielle�.which is really weird, because I didn't think she'd ever met Gabrielle�."

Then I knew it was her Xena. The one whose life I'd stolen. I glanced at Gabrielle, who was simply staring into the distance, an odd expression on her face. And now Xena wanted her life back. "Shut up, Joxer."

"Don't worry, Callisto, I'll protect you," he insisted in that whining, idiot voice of his.

Apparently not even sanity can make that sound pleasant. "No, you won't Joxer, because you're leaving." I pointed in the direction opposite Melarous. "And you're going that way." I wanted him as far away as possible. Sanity was new enough to me that it was hard to resist the temptation to remove his head just to let off stress. I grabbed him and shoved him on his way. "Now, get moving�and if I see you again, you may wish it was Xena who'd found you."

He stared at me for a long moment and for the briefest moment, I wondered if he knew, then the veil of sheer stupidity was back over his eyes, and he stumbled along his way, whining about missing breakfast with every step.

I didn't relax until he was out of sight. I was still standing there like that, every muscle in my body painfully tense, when Gabrielle leaned against my back and wrapped her arms around me. She was shivering gently, and her voice had an odd quality to it when she finally spoke. "You're going after her, aren't you?"

"Yes."

A long, uncomfortable pause followed my answer, then she spoke again, her voice hesitant, as though she was struggling with something she couldn't quite remember. "Are you going to kill her?" She sounded scared, though it was impossible to tell whether her fear was for me, for Xena, or for both of us.

I didn't answer, just peeled her hands away as I quietly instructed her to pack our things. I knew she was hurt by my sudden distance, but I couldn't deal with her feelings any more than I could deal with my own.

We walked in silence that day, both lost in our own thoughts, the gentle teasing of the morning gone forever. I'd been given a brief glimpse of the Elysian Fields, but that was over. I knew who I was again. I wondered if this was my punishment for the evil I've done. What better way to make someone suffer than make them sane, give them a moment of sheer bliss, and take it away for all eternity.

That night, we camped several hours outside of Melarous. I wasn't going to touch her, but as if sensing the end was near, she turned to me, her need desperate. How could I refuse that? I had to make love to her one last time. Afterward, she lay curled against my side, her skin warm and soft against my own. I thought she was asleep when I carefully rose and began pulling on my leathers.

I didn't want her to see what was coming.

Looking back, I realize she never really slept. I forgot how long she'd been my lover�at least in the course of her life if not mine. She knew me too well. I was half-dressed when she sat up, pulling the blanket around herself, her expression sad and accusing at the same time.

"What's going on?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I muttered and didn't slow my movements as I pulled on my boots.

"Try me."

I stared at her, drinking in gentle features. A strange sort of knowledge glittered in her eyes. Not even the Fates could make her deny her love for Xena. Even now, it amazes me how much that hurts. Somehow, despite everything, a part of her knew it was all wrong. "I think you already know," I whispered, feeling as though I was already dead.

She shook her head. "No."

I fell to my knees in front of her, cupping her face in one hand, stroking the downy soft hair at her temple, enjoying this last chance to touch her. "Yes�I think you do." I was close to crying, barely able to hold back the tears as I stared at her. I brushed my thumb over her cheek in a gentle rhythm. "It was never me you were supposed to be with."

"Xena," Gabrielle whispered very softly.

I nodded, wishing I could lie to her, but knowing it would be hopeless to even try.

"She has dark hair," Gabrielle whispered to herself, then looked up at me, her expression confused. "It's like I can remember one life, but there are bits of another that's totally different. How can that be?"

"Because one of them is a lie."

"This one." It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded again.

Suddenly shivering violently, Gabrielle reached for her clothes and began tugging them on.

I could feel her fear. It was a living thing, moving through her veins with every beat of her heart. "I wouldn't hurt you," I whispered.

She turned, staring at me through narrowed eyes, but didn't argue. "Tell me why," she commanded, her voice a ragged shadow of itself.

"I don't know," I answered honestly. "I wish I could tell you why, but I can't."

She gestured around herself. "And all of this? Do you know anything about this?" She was angry and barely controlling it.

"A game," I whispered, feeling miserable. I was right, feelings really aren't all that great. "My sanity was nothing more than a dice throw between the gods�a chit to barter between Ares and Athena."

Her expression softened, though that wasn't my aim.

"I don't understand."

"Athena and Ares played dice�for my mind�Athena won�or at least, I think she did. I'm not really sure. It's all very hazy�then I woke up here."

"Yesterday at lunch," she whispered, and I nodded. "And last night?"

I couldn't lie to her even though I wanted to. I wanted to tell her it was all a dream and this was the real world. "That was the first time I've ever made love to anyone."

She touched my face, catching a tear on her fingertip. She looked tired and hurt, and she reached up to massage her own temple. "It's like I can almost remember, but not quite."

Needing to feel her against me, I tugged her close, holding on tight as if I could delay what was coming. "I'm sorry." I ran my fingers through her hair and breathed in the sweet scent. "So sorry for everything."

She mumbled something against my chest. I can't remember what it was anymore, or maybe I never knew.

Then it was all over. Whatever chance I ever had was gone.

"GET AWAY FROM HER CALLISTO!!"

Xena stood at edge of the fire, the flames reflected in her gaze. She had her sword out, and I think she'd put an extra bit of an edge on it because it glittered like her eyes. I hooked my toe under my sword and flipped it into the air, catching the hilt and flicking it to send the scabbard flying. Sanity is one thing, experience quite another.

It was Gabrielle who stopped us from killing each other in that first instant.

"Xena, no!" she shouted, throwing her arms wide as she stepped between us.

Xena stared at her lover with a quiet kind of desperation. "I don't know what she's told you or what you believe, Gabrielle, but you have to trust me and step aside."

Gabrielle seemed to falter, as though more than one reality was playing at once. "I can't�she hasn't hurt me�not here�"

Poor Xena. She didn't know what to make of that. She stood staring at Gabrielle with a pleading kind of hunger, wanting the world back the way it was supposed to be and uncertain just how it was now. "I don't have long," she rasped. "If I can't set things right soon, they'll stay this way. Hades couldn't give me much time."

For a moment, I was so happy it hurt. All I had to do was wait Xena out. Then I felt Gabrielle shudder as if someone had put a sword through her. Xena and I both knew the score, but she was playing the game without all the rules. Any joy at the news drained away as I realized that if she knew the truth, she'd probably put a sword through me herself.

"It's not that simple Xena," she whispered. "There has to be another way," she muttered. She was talking to herself, trying to work it through as more and more of the past came back to her. Obviously, she hadn't remembered the rape or Perdicas yet, but she would. I don't think Xena heard her next comment. I don't think anything could have stopped her from killing me if she had. "I love her."

Whenever I think that feeling nothing is better than feeling something, I remember that moment when, for the briefest second, I had a heart of my own.

With my luck, it wasn't fated to last.

Ares' voice cut in, and the nails on slate sensation returned with a vengeance.

"Now, this is a problem," those too smooth tones echoed through the small clearing as he glittered into existence. His eyes ran over me with an aura of insinuation that made my skin crawl, then he grinned at Gabrielle, a triumphant smile twisting his mouth. It suddenly occurred to me that none of this was about Xena or I. It was about her and some sick, jealous sense of competition. "Care for some help m'dear?" he questioned as he paced around us.

"Not from you," she sneered, her voice thick with dislike.

Xena was as tense as I was, ready to protect Gabrielle if Ares tried anything.

"Now, now," he chastised. "I can help undo this whole mess�after all, it was my bet that did it in the first place." He looked back and forth between Xena and I. "Or they could just fight it out to the death," he suggested idly.

"No!" Gabrielle snapped and reiterated her position between Xena and I when we both tensed.

Suddenly he ghosted, instantly reappearing in front of Gabrielle. Two sets of eyes, one pale blue, one black dark followed him as Xena and I braced for a fight. He only tapped the tip of her nose and flashed an oily smile. "And if you're thinking you can have both of them, think again. Only one gets to be sane at a time," he chuckled. "But I'll tell you what, you can choose which one you want."

"This is all because Xena prefers me to you," Gabrielle accused.

His lip twitched into a sneer as red crawled up his neck.

"Choose," he repeated succinctly and paced away from her, confident he had her in a bind. He was enjoying himself far too much.

She shook her head slowly, hunting for an answer. There was some part of her that loved each of us. Suddenly, her chin lifted, and I could hear the smile in her voice. "What about a wager?" she offered, and he spun in response.

"A wager?" he repeated thoughtfully. "I know what you want." A tastelessly gaudy gold and maroon couch appeared and he settled onto it, lounging comfortably. "But what could you possibly have that I would desire."

I wanted to grab Gabrielle back to me when she paced forward. Xena must have had the same urge, because she took a half step forward, only to freeze uncertainly, when Gabrielle continued bartering. "My head," she offered.

Ares lifted his chin, lips twisting into a smirk. "At the risk of sounding clich�d, oh foolish mortal, I can take that anytime I want."

"Can you really?" Gabrielle taunted. "Or aren't you just the least bit worried about the notion of taking the queen of Artemis' favored Amazons?"

"Go on," he bit out, his expression too disinterested to be real.

"You and Athena threw the dice for her sanity," she stated, hooking a thumb my direction. I felt Xena's eyes on me, but didn't look her way. My entire focus was on Gabrielle. She leaned down until her nose was scant inches from the god's. "Are you afraid to make another little wager?"

Xena started toward them, but Ares flicked a lazy hand toward her, pinning her in place. "Gabrielle, don't do this," she called out, and I added my voice to hers.

"Neither of us is worth it."

She ignored us both as she stared down the God of War. "Do we have a deal or not?"

He rose easily, straightening his shoulders. "I like the idea of a bet," he admitted as he paced where the couch had been only a second before. He turned to face Gabrielle, arms folded across his chest. "But your head." He reached out to trail an idle hand over her hair, and she twisted sharply to escape his touch. "I don't want that just yet." At her disbelieving look, he shrugged. "And Artemis would never honor your deal anyway," he allowed bad- naturedly. "She always was an utter prig." Then his momentary sulk drained away as he grinned at her. "I'll tell you what�one throw of the dice�and they're both mad, or they're both sane."

Gabrielle backed up a half step. I didn't have to see her face to know that one had caught her by surprise.

"But you want Xena sane. We both know it."

He shrugged. "I'm willing to take the risk�are you?"

It was Xena she looked to first. Xena she truly loved. Whatever she felt for me, it didn't have that raw power to transcend space, time, and fate.

"You can still choose," the god offered.

I knew her too well. If she had to choose, it would destroy her. If she bet and lost, that would do it as well. And, frankly, I didn't trust Ares not to use loaded dice. The god's are petty that way. Maybe he was hoping that if Xena and I were both mad, we'd become allies. My eyes met Xena's for the briefest second. Fat chance of that. She wanted my head.

And if we both survived, whole and sane, then I'd lose again, and Hades would probably still want Xena's life. There was only one answer. "Can't you do anything right? " I sneered and Gabrielle spun. "Tell him it's me you want and let's get out of here." I twisted my lips in my best 'madwoman' fashion. "Xena's got a whole lot of dying to do." I knew everything to do to horrify Gabrielle, and I did it, my heart breaking with every ugly word. I paced past Xena, trailing a finger over her cheek. "And you and I have so much fun left to have." As I passed her, our eyes met, and I was surprised by the lack of hatred in her gaze. She knew what I was doing. I think there was actually gratitude in her expression. "Though I think we're definitely going to have to work on your skills with weapons." Gabrielle frowned slightly, struggling with memories of her other past, the one she'd shared with Xena. "After all, we don't want you to die like poor dear Perdicas, do we?" I saw her expression twist as she tried to sort the confusing jumble of memories. In this place, she'd never been married to the poor fool. I knew the way to push her that final step, and it broke my heart to use it. "Oh, wait, I'm the one who killed Perdiculous, aren't I?"

Her answering gasp was small and pained. "No."

I drove the knife home, knowing it was the only way to make her do what she had to. "Yes." I even managed a zealous giggle. She had to hate me. "I forget now, how long did it take him to die?"

"Callisto? Please, don't�."

I was laughing then, playing the role of the madwoman that I know so well. Be careful of the roles you play, lest they become real. "Did you think I loved you?" Another mad laugh sent a shudder through her.

"You might want to use that choose option now," Ares suggested lazily. Oh, he knew perfectly well I was lying, but he has a stake in Xena sane and me mad, so he played along.

She was still hoping. I could see it in her eyes.

"Get real, Gabrielle, you aren't even a very good lay." At least I had some small measure of satisfaction of knowing Xena knew I was with her that night. I can enjoy that now, but I don't know if I did then. Probably just a little bit.

She was shaking, her eyes pleading for some softness from me, but I didn't dare let her have what she wanted. It would have changed everything. Besides, I told you. Emotions are overrated. It was easier to be the insane me than the one she loved. "Y'know, maybe I should just go ahead, and slit Xena's throat now. So much more fun than waiting until she's mad as a helmet maker." I even took a step toward her.

That's what did it. "I choose Xena," she gasped.

Ares nodded triumphantly and waved a hand. "As you wish."

Released from her prison of immobility, Xena grabbed Gabrielle to her, holding on desperately, her fierce look challenging the god. She was safe now. I'd done what I intended.

"Oh, relax," he laughed and waved a hand. "As far as you're concerned, this never even happened." And a violent wave of heat, light, and blackness surged through us all. I heard Gabrielle call out, her voice muffled by demon winds. For the briefest second, I think I even glimpsed the Fates as they restitched the timeline. Then I didn't know anything at all.

Now here's the funny part, the real kicker, if you will. Ares couldn't really make the bet with Gabrielle, at least not without Athena's consent. He could charm the Fates into undoing what they'd done, but technically, my sanity still belonged to Athena. She wanted her say as well. Who knows, maybe she set it all up to come out this way from the beginning. Rumor has it she likes little games like that and having the God of War in your debt is never a bad idea.

So Xena and Gabrielle got whipped back into the proper time frame, no doubt safe and happy in each other's arms, and mating like crazed weasels even as we speak. Me, I felt the claws of my impending insanity. If anyone asks, they're quite painful, but comforting in a perverse way. After all, I know them so well and, if the food's not so good, at least you're never cold or hungry. When I opened my eyes again, I was in a smoky cavern, Athena pacing around me, her eyes assessing.

"I guess there's a first for everything," she murmured thoughtfully, leaving me to wonder what she meant. She didn't leave me in the dark for long. "You've earned a small reward for your first ever act of kindness." she whispered softly.

I experienced the briefest moment of hope. "Sanity?"

And she dashed it to earth with a slow shake of her head. "That issue's dead and gone." She smiled wickedly. "And now Ares owes me a small debt.

So I was right. Ares did want me mad.

The dice from her game with Ares lay forgotten on the floor, and she snatched them up, staring at them with a distant look. Finally, she turned that gaze on me. "Do you want to remember, or not? The choice is yours."

I stared at her for a long moment. I could have the memories, agonizingly warped through the veil of madness, or lose the one beautiful thing that had happened to me since my family's destruction and with that loss would go the memory of the pain of losing it all. Neither choice was very appealing. Then I smiled, because I knew my answer. It was fitting somehow. "Throw the dice�."

*****

Callisto stared at her audience, head canting to one side. She petted the rat's forehead with an odd gentleness, but it still squirmed in her grasp. "And that's the whole, sad story." She frowned slightly as if struggling to remember something. The tiny creature suddenly nipped her hand, squirmed free, and escaped deeper into the cavern. She'd already forgotten about it though, to stare off into the distance as her mind sorted through the jumbled story. For a brief moment, the haze of madness threatened to lift, but the pain of remembering washed over her again, and it fell solidly into place. Her eyes squeezed shut to block out the hurt and she whimpered very softly. "At least I think it is�."

The End

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