Disclaimer: There’s characters aren’t mine. They are Mr. Taperts. Please read Betrayal, Denial and Acceptance to see what the heck this story is all about. Essentially Xena and Gabrielle have broken up - that said, this is an alt tale. Love can be wonderful but as Xena once said it can be a real bitch too. This is a ‘real bitch’ story so be warned. I’m naming the series ‘Changes of Heart’. Thanks to all the folks that entered their suggestions after the last story. Hope you keep enjoying them. If you do, drop me a line.
"Ouch! Hold on! Hold on!"
Xena and Eve dropped their offensive stance and lowered their swords. They both looked at each other and rolled their eyes as the former war god called a truce for the third time in their sparring session that morning.
"Another pebble in your boot?" Eve taunted to Ares. What a wimp.
"It wasn’t a pebble. It was a rock - a very big, pointy rock," Ares whined.
Two weeks had gone by since Gabrielle’s departure. Many nights Xena felt the overwhelming urge to start out to look for her but she always fought the temptation. It was best if she just left well enough alone for now. She had to get herself in order before she went searching. She had to prove to Gabrielle that things would indeed be different. At this point she couldn’t make that promise. Too much had happened.
But the more she was around Ares the more tempted she was to find Gabrielle. The bard had a way of cooling her temper when she needed it most. Besides, to see Ares at his worst would certainly bring a smile to Gabrielle’s face. The former god was always finding some ‘ailment’ during their drills, which broke the flow of the practice sessions and it was annoying Xena to no end.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Xena sighed. "You realize that your opponent is NOT going to let you call ‘time-out’ during a battle don’t you?" Xena warned. "You’ve got to stay fit if you’re going to survive."
"Yeah I know," Ares replied defensively, "but look at my hands would ya? I’m getting bumps," he added outstretching his palms.
Xena inspected them and tried to hold back her smirk. She and Eve looked at each other and then back to Ares.
"It’s more serious than I thought," Xena replied as straight faced as possible.
"What?! What is it?!" Ares asked looking at his hands in terror.
"You’re getting . . . calluses!"
Eve couldn’t hold back her laughter any longer. She would have loved making Ares think his condition was terminal but she just couldn’t pull it off. The harder Eve laughed the more anger Ares became. And the angrier Ares became the more Eve laughed. Ares raised his sword to strike the laughing young woman but Xena put a stop to it with a quick grab to his wrist.
"Oh no you don’t," Xena warned. "Go to the saddlebag and get some ointment and bandages. That will help. Go on," Xena pointed.
Ares gave Eve a menacing glance on the way past her. But Ares was finding he couldn’t intimidate Eve any more than he could intimidate Xena.
Once Ares was out of earshot Eve asked, "What are we going to do with him? We can’t keep traveling like this."
"I’m not sure," Xena replied. So far it’s worse than I expected. He whines. He moans. He’s interrupting every conversation. It’s worse than owning a pet.
"We need to do something," Eve replied.
"We could always make him a god again," Xena offered with a chuckle. Eve chewed on her lip in thought. "That was a joke," Xena added when she noticed Eve was giving the idea serious consideration.
"I know you meant it as a joke but think about it. We-."
"I don’t want to think about it. The answer is no. He’ll do more harm than good."
She’s right Eve considered. Having the god of war back would only make more trouble. But then again . . .
"What if we just made him immoral?" Eve suggested. "He wouldn’t get older. He wouldn’t get hurt and he wouldn’t have to travel around with us anymore."
Hmm, that’s not a bad idea. It would certainly get him out of our hair and we wouldn’t have to worry about him using any ‘godly’ powers against us someday. Besides with Ares out of the picture I can finally get back to focusing on things that matter, like getting to know Eve . . . and if I’m lucky . . . finding Gabrielle.
"So what do you say?" Eve asked interrupting Xena’s thoughts.
"Okay," Xena began, "I’ve got a friend that might be able to help . . . if he’s still alive that is."
"Hercules? THE Hercules?!"
Xena grinned. Umm . . .Guess she’s heard of him. "Yep, that’s the one. In fact you might not be here if not for him. He battled Zeus while your mom helped me give birth to you."
"Is that how Zeus died?" Eve asked as her eyes widened. I’d heard the stories about it but I never knew that ‘I’ was the child he fought to protect.
"Unfortunately yes," Xena sighed. "It was very hard for Hercules but he knew he made the right choice. After it was over he took Gabrielle to the side and told her to protect her family and if she ever need him he’d give her a hand . . . He was a really good friend . . . In fact he tried repeatedly to reason with Zeus but he couldn’t get through to him. And in the end it cost Zeus his life."
"Self fulfilling prophecy," Eve muttered as she thought about the story Xena told.
"Yep. It’s ironic that Ares was the only god who saw it as such. Even Athena in all her wisdom was near sighted to that fact . . . Anyway, should we find ‘the big guy’ as some folks call him?"
Eve chuckled, the big guy. Her attention was turned however to Ares who was cursing because he couldn’t get the bandage on the right way. She shook her head vigorously, "By all means yes. I’m not sure how much more of this I can stand," she answered pointing to Ares, who at this point was fighting to get the lid back on the ointment tin.
"We," Xena corrected. "How much more of this WE can stand." After a few moments of watching him struggle Xena sighed. "Go give him a hand would ya?"
"Okay but next time it’s your turn," Eve winked and then she jogged over to the ex-god.
As Xena watched Eve with Ares, the warrior smiled. Too bad you didn’t stick around to see this Gabrielle. Ares struggling with being ‘average’ . . . up close and personal. Xena took a deep sigh. I don’t miss you until I’m alone like this. Hell I’m not even ALONE right now and I miss you. Someday, someway we’ll get back on track. One way or another I promise. Right now I just hope you’re safe and warm and well fed . . . Then again when are you NOT hungry. Xena chuckled out loud drawing Eve’s attention, whom had already walked back to be at her side.
"What is it?" Eve asked. "Still chuckling at Ares?"
"Huh?" Xena said slightly startled. "Oh no . . . I was just thinking about your mom . . . Did I tell you the nutbread story?"
Eve grinned as they began to walk down the road with Ares several yards in front of them now. She liked the stories her mother told about Gabrielle, or her mom, as she was now being referred to her. The longer more formal title had been given to Xena. The shorter, more playful term had gone to Gabrielle. Instead of being upset by Eve’s idea of how to tell them apart, the warrior shinned like a lantern at Eve’s suggestion. "No you haven’t," Eve replied, hoping it would prompt her mother into another tale.
"Well it wasn’t long after our Titan trouble I had told you about," Xena began. "A father was going to sacrifice his son to the one god."
"Eli’s god?" Eve asked to clarify. Xena nodded.
"Turns out that it wasn’t the one god that was doing the ‘commanding’ but his older son, who was jealous. Anyway I told Gabrielle to stay with the young boy while I went to see his mother, just to get some inside information on the situation. When I got back to the cave they were hiding in, I found Gabrielle face down and not moving."
"What happened?" Eve asked. This is getting good.
"Well it seems the brother had been poisoning the family. Gabrielle ate all the boy’s nutbread which had been tainted with henbane. Anyway," Xena smiled, "Gabrielle ate it all. Every last crumb and she was so stoned," Xena chuckled. "That was the first day she told me I was beautiful. As much as I would have like to believe it at that point I couldn’t. Especially after she started talking to the cave rocks . . . and they started talking back . . . At least that’s what SHE believed."
Eve erupted into a fit of giggles, "Was she okay? I mean I know she survived and all."
"Oh yeah. You’re mom is pretty damn tough. The headache she got afterward however rivaled an ale hangover but she still came through when the going got rough," Xena chuckled. "She was so young then," Xena reflected. "But she was still the most gorgeous creature - inside and out - I’d ever seen . . . Somewhere along the way I lost sight of telling her just how much she meant . . . And it costs me," Xena said despondently.
"Perhaps things will change someday and you’ll get the chance again," Eve offered optimistically.
"Perhaps," Xena grinned.
Thet walked down the road in a bit of silence until Eve spoke again. "So how did you and Gabrielle finally . . . get together?"
"Get together?" Xena teased, knowing full aware of what Eve was hinting at.
"Yeah," Eve blushed. "You know what I mean."
"It was after I died the first time," Xena replied non-chalantly. "I’ve been dead a few times but I seem to keep coming back," she added with a grin as she explained. "We had just gone on an ambrosia quest with a crazy, power hungry amazon after us who wanted your mom’s throne. We succeeded, of course, and after I came back we just ‘hooked up’."
"You just ‘hooked up’," Eve mocked teasingly. "Just like that?"
Xena paused a moment, "Yeah, just like that."
"Hmm. . ."
"Hmm what?" Xena asked.
"I don’t know but it seems kinda . . . boring. I mean after all the adventures and stories I’ve heard I figured your coupling would be more ‘exciting’." Xena laughed heartily at Eve’s appraisal of how she and the bard became lovers. "What?" Eve asked, not quite sure of what caused the outburst from her mother.
"Trust me Eve. That night was anything but boring," Xena informed her with a chuckle still firm in her voice. "Besides, I already knew what was in Gabrielle’s heart. When I was dead I could hear her thoughts. In fact she’s the reason I fought so hard to come back. Yes the world needed me around to help those that couldn’t help themselves but in truth the main reason was your mom. I couldn’t leave her yet . . . not with so many things left unsaid and unfinished. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time now . . . it still feels ‘unfinished’ . . . I’m not sure if you understand."
Eve didn’t have a chance to reply. Ares came running back up the road toward them. "We’ve got trouble ahead," he said winded, pointing behind from where he came. Six snarling highwaymen stood before them looking anything but friendly.
"So we do," Xena smirked as she unsheathed her sword. Eve in turn did the same. "I love trouble," she grinned menacingly at the men as she proceeded forward. "Can we help you?" she asked the men.
"You can start by emptying your purses," the apparent leader of the gang answered.
Xena sighed. "Look fellas, I haven’t been in the best of moods lately. I’m trying to reunite with my daughter I haven’t seen in many, many moons while listening to a crybaby 24 hours a day. Add to the fact that my bard of five years recently left me. What does this mean to you gentleman? It means you’re in for the WORST ass kicking of your life if you don’t step aside now. So what’s it going to be?"
A collective and sarcastic ‘Oooooo’ noise went around the small circle.
Okay. That’s it!
Xena resheathed her sword and ran into the group of men with a thunderous charge. She could end this fight in a matter of seconds with the blade but there wasn’t a real sense of satisfaction in that in the moment. She wanted to feel her anger expressed . . . repeatedly . . . flesh against flesh. Besides death was too easy. Perhaps after today these men would learn a lesson and they could find another occupation less hazardous and more human friendly.
She head butted the closest man to her and he fell limp instantly. The next got a right hook that sent him into the fellow behind him. The next one charged at Xena and she gripped him by his sword wrist, snapping it with such force it looked as if his hand would fall completely off at any moment. Two others charged her from the left and right. When each was close enough she grabbed each by the back of the head, slamming their faces together until they too, like their comrades, were sobbing masses on the dusty trail.
"Boy do I still love to see her work," Ares whispered to Eve.
The only one left standing was the leader who was now left quaking in his boots; boots that Xena was sure probably were stolen. She motioned him toward her. "Come on pal," she taunted, "Let’s see what you got."
For a second it looks like he actually considered taking her up on the offer. But common sense prevailed and he chose flight instead of fight. As he took off away from the group, Xena reached for her chakram and sent it hurling at the man. Eve took an unsteady breath. She couldn’t believe her mother would kill an unarmed man as he ran away. The tried to move faster but he realized he was going to be struck.
And struck he was . . . in the belt.
Promptly his pants fell to his ankle and he tried to pull them back up and run at the same time. With a mighty whoosh the weapon returned to Xena and she secured it on her hip as she walked back and gathered Argo’s reins. Eve gave a sigh of relief. Her mother upheld the warrior code by not killing a fleeing man.
"All clear," Xena replied in a chipper voice. "After you," she said with a wave of her hand to her traveling companions. Ares and Eve stepped around the men who were moaning on the ground. As one tried to get his legs back, Xena gave him a boot to the butt that sent him head first into the road again. "I hope the next group’s a bit tougher. That was barely a workout," she told her travel party with a wink.
CONTINUED IN PART V: ASTONISHMENT