Dawn took a deep breath, then suddenly Ares appeared, but several feet away from everyone.
"You are GOOD!" Xander exclaimed.
"But I didn't DO anything yet!"
"Has everyone in this world gone CRAZY?" Ares said unexpectedly.
"What?" Buffy asked first.
"Have you all gone insane?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Doesn't ANYONE fight wars honorably any more? All I've seen is these religious fanatics blowing themselves up right in the middle of innocent men, women and children. Whatever happened to meeting on the field of battle, one army against the other and fighting until one is victorious and one is defeated? Don't they realize there are rules of war?"
"This is a different world, now," Giles answered quietly. "There is but one rule -- kill as many innocents as possible to maximize the terror and bloodshed."
"That isn't war! It's -- I don't know what it is!"
"How can you say something like that?" Xena asked. "You know very well your armies sacked, pillaged and destroyed villages full of innocent people. How many of THEM died at the hands of your soldiers?"
"Sure, villages were attacked, and there were people killed or enslaved. But it was to get rid of potential enemy soldiers, or for supplies, or to sell the slaves to get money to buy more weapons. But there always was a purpose, a reason for the violence. What I've seen has nothing to do with war!"
"Like he said," Xena went on. "This is a different world, with different rules. And there's nothing any of us can do about it."
Ares shook his head and took a tired breath. It was then that everyone noticed how weary he looked. It wasn't that he looked old, like he did when he first came to Sunnydale, but a toll had been taken.
"This ISN'T what I expected. And it isn't the world I want to live in."
"What are you saying?" Xena asked.
"I'd rather go back to my Great Hall in my little piece of my world and just fade away than to try to be a god of war in this idiotic world."
"That can be arranged. Buffy?" Xena asked.
"Sure. I think Willow and Tara and Dawn have the power to send you back."
"They won't need much, not with me helping them."
Willow took Tara's and Dawn's hands and invited Ares to step inside. Ares complied, then Tara took Dawn's hand to complete the circle.
"Just one more thing before I go."
"Xena, you ARE looking good. Just like I remembered."
Xena started to answer but thought better of it, she didn't want to take a chance he might think of a reason to stay. She just smiled and nodded her head.
"Okay, girls, let's do it."
The three of them closed their eyes and seconds later Ares simply disappeared.
"That was EASY!" Dawn said. "We'll have to do that again sometime."
"How about now?" Xena asked her.
"Now?" Buffy asked.
"I think now is the best time."
"Gabrielle? Are you ready to go, too?"
"Yes, and no. There is so much I want to do. And so much I haven't done, like learning to ride that bicycle. But Xena's right -- it's time. We've been here long enough."
"You know, now that the three of us have this magic connection, there's no reason why we can't visit each other from time to time," Willow said. "We can visit you. And you two can come back here."
"Maybe we can. But I think it would be better if we made specific plans rather than just jumping back and forth through time with no warning," Xena suggested.
"She's right," Buffy agreed. "No one likes surprises like that."
There was a round of hugs and goodbyes and final words, then Willow, Tara and Dawn encircled Xena and Gabrielle.
"If you two will think about the same place, we can read your thoughts and can send you both right back there."
"How about the campsite where we left Argo?" Gabrielle said. "That's where our things are."
"Sound good to me," Xena answered.
Five seconds later the circle of arms was empty.
"See?" Buffy said to Giles. "You were worried all for nothing."
"How long do you think we were gone?"
"Probably not more than a few heartbeats -- Argo's still here. Damn!"
"Our blankets are still at Buffy's."
"I'm sure she'll put them up for us." Gabrielle reassured her. "And the weather's mild enough we can get by without them."
"And I forgot to bring back that yellow sauce. I really liked that stuff."
"We'll make a list so the next time we go we'll remember to bring back everything we like."
"Maybe you should start a list on one of your scrolls. So when they find it, they will have everything ready for us on our next visit."The End