Disclaimer: Tiro, Agamede, Sileia, and various other minor characters belong to me. Everyone else belongs to Renaissance Pictures and other people whose names I don't know. This story is set in the Evil Xena Alterna-Verse from the Hercules episode "Armageddon Now" and is, therefore, sans Herc. The slash herein is Autolycus/Iolaus, and some f/f elements are included as well.

The official soundtrack albums for this story include Cat Power's Moon Pix and Luscious Jackson's Fever In Fever Out.

"Half A Life" (0/11)
by Maya Tawi

"The world gets old
And I hear their lies blowing through my teeth
And at my back I can feel you breathe
Talk is cheap like when money talks
And you sound too much like you've seen it all"
-Love Spit Love, "Half A Life"

It was his first time in Corinth since his return, and he right away knew that it was a mistake.

There'd been a part of him, maybe, that had expected it to be a haven, expected the corruption that stretched over most of the continent not to have touched his homeland. Of course, his actual homeland wasn't Corinth but nearby Thebes, where he'd been born, where, presumably, his family's farm was still; but as he had left it as soon as he was able, and hadn't been back since he was fifteen, he felt no connection to it, and rarely even thought about the place. Corinth was where he'd become a thief; it was his home. Or, at least, it had been, until ten years previous. Home was an abstract concept now, nothing that he felt applied to his own life.

And it was as vain a hope as he'd known it would be. The Conqueror ruled here, too, and in fact old King Aeson's castle was now one of the bases of her Titanic empire, stretching from Britannia all the way to the shores of Chin.

Somehow he couldn't muster much hometown pride over the fact.

Even less so when he realized that she was actually in town at the time. That was when he should have turned right around and left as fast as the nearest boat could ferry him. After all, she seemed to have some sort of personal grudge against him, which was curious in itself; he'd never met the woman, had never even heard of her until he'd returned the year before, and while he had committed injuries to more than a few people over the course of his life, he was pretty sure that Xena of Amphipolis was not one of them. Yet for some unfathomable reason, she had put a bounty on his head. Granted, he was curious to find out what she wanted, but not enough to stick around and find out in person. Curiosity could do much nastier things to the cat than just kill it. The Conqueror was known for several of them.

He should have left, and he wasn't sure why he didn't, except that some... sense... in him told him not to. That same sense had been his voice of reason, his conscience, for lack of a less moral word, as a thief- telling him when it was safe to take something and when to walk away, and when something big was about to happen. That sense was his safeguard. And now it told him to wait.

So he stayed, and by evening on the third day he figured that at some point over the last ten years, his safeguard must have been broken, or maybe it was just out of practice, because by the third evening he was running for all he was worth through Corinth's main square. And judging from the enthusiasm with which the two castle guards pounded after him, he was worth quite a bit. Apparently the reward the Conqueror had laid on his head was a rather sizable one.

And his father'd said he'd never amount to anything.

To his dismay, his pursuers were uncharacteristically fit and agile, thus eradicating one of the main advantages thieves traditionally had over infuriated castle guards (the other one being an intelligence level somewhat above that of a fried eggplant). After a good ten minutes of chase, they showed no sign of tiring, and he couldn't help thinking that somebody just wasn't playing by the rules.

Life, as he had learned at such an early age, really wasn't fair at all.

He had managed to muster a small lead over them, however, and as he rounded a corner the guards temporarily disappeared from his line of sight. Then he turned another corner, and found himself in an alley. Stone walls on either side of him were streaked with mud and other less savory substances, and a third wall stood less than fifteen paces in front of him, piled high with trash and waste and rotting food.

More precisely, he was at a dead end.

He spun around, once, twice, looking for another way out; and then it dawned on him (and he wondered if he was really slipping that badly, to not have noticed before) that he wasn't alone in the alley.

An old man leaned against the stone wall, his arms folded across his chest. He looked like nothing so much as a wire sculpture wrapped in old leather, with short silver hair and bright, shrewd brown eyes that were almost black. The old man wore the simple robe typical of healers and priests; it wasn't immediately apparent which category he fell into.

The thief stared at him. "Where'd you come from?"

The old man just raised his eyebrows. "You seem to be in a spot of trouble, friend," he remarked.

"Friends I don't need. An escape route, I do. Is there another way out of here?" The guards were getting closer; any minute now, they'd round the corner, and any question of a secret exit would be academic.

"If I may ask," the old man said, "why are those men after you? You don't look that important."

The thief scowled at the implied insult. "I really don't know. I mean, it's not like I stole anything. Recently. Well, from here, anyway."

The old man just smiled at him, a beatific smile that sat oddly on his gaunt face, and said, "The grace of the good god Hermes smiles upon you."

Priest, then. Specifically, religious nut. "Oh, that's okay," the thief said hastily, edging away. "I'm not very religious, if it's all the same to you-"

"You don't have to be," the old priest said. "The good god Hermes-"

"Look, cut the oracle crap, all right? I've kind of got a problem here, in case you haven't noticed-"

The priest's smile disappeared, his expression settling into a scowl that seemed much more natural for him. "Okay, Plato, I'll put it in plain Greek for you, shall I? You're a thief, you need help, and I'll give it to you. What do you say?"

The thief frowned. "I'd say, why would you help me?"

"It's what I do." Then the old man smiled again. Somehow the expression was not very reassuring. "Out of the goodness of my heart."

"Yeah, right," the thief snorted. "'Cause Hermes is so known for his charity."

The old man cocked his head to one side, looking thoughtful. After a moment, he said, "My my, it seems your friends have friends of their own. I count... five guards, at the least, about twenty seconds away. All armed." Another evil smile. "I'd say you don't have much of a choice."

The thief shot an anxious glance back over his shoulder, back towards the entrance to the alley. "All right, you can get me out of here? No lies?"

"Not a one."

After a brief hesitation, he said, "Okay. But-"

He never got a chance to finish; the old man grabbed his hand and somehow, some way, opened a door in the stone wall of the alley. With one last sideways smirk, the priest ducked through the opening, towing the bewildered thief after him.

Ten seconds later, when the guards burst onto the scene, the two men had vanished without a trace.

End Prologue

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