Changes of Heart Pt. i
Disclaimers: These characters arenít mine. They belong to Mr. Tapert and Co. Iím just borrowing them to vent. Itís not a happy tale and it involves two women who once loved each other deeply. If either of these facts disturb you donít read this tale. Also it contains spoilers for the last few eps of season five.
This tale is set after "Motherhood" up until season six
I know what I have to do. I have to leave. Now. This wonít wait until dawn. If morning comes and Iím still here . . . I know sheíll talk me out of it, the same way she has many times before. Too many times actually.
Gabrielle checked to make sure her sais were in place and with her old satchel in one hand and her bedroll under her arm she walked out of the camp they set up at the beach that evening. Only thing she left behind was a parchment. Scribed inside was a simple statement, ĎI love you Xena but my life has no place in yours any longer. I see that now. Goodbye and good luck.í
The chatty bard has finally become the stoic warrior, Gabrielle thought bittersweetly as she had placed the scroll beside Xena. But thereís no need to ramble on. She knows. Sheís known for quite sometime now where things were heading but she did nothing to stop it.
And Eve . . . if sheís not the spiting image of BOTH her mothers . . . How many times did I wish I had the power to creating another human being with the great warrior princess? How many? 1000? 2000? The honor however went to Callisto, the woman that killed my husband. . . Xena has her daughter alright and I played no part whatsoever. . .No. . .Xena didnít acknowledge that I had a place in Eveís life. I spent months defending that child, laying my life down for that child, gave her my rite of caste. And what did Xena do? She scoffed at my every attempt in trying to create a family. . . She said we got OUR daughter back today. But today was just a little too late. . .Today, like many days this past year, was a living Hell. I canít live in Hell any longer.
Gabrielle continued her journey down the beach lost in her thoughts. I should have left sooner. I should have left in Egypt. Her attraction to Antony was almost more than I could handle. And her betrayal of him . . . well letís just say it didnít seem all that different than what Caesar had done to her years before - winning her affections and stabbing her in the back. Caesar was evil for doing that . . . what did that make Xena? Maybe Najara was right. . . In fact, maybe I should have left then.
As Gabrielle continued to walk she saw another figure heading toward her on the beach. She picked up her pace and within a few 100 yards she recognized the figure. And just when I couldnít feel any worse.
"Hello Gabrielle. Howís the head?"
Are you really up for chitchat now Gabrielle? "Fine. I didnít get the chance to thank you earlier. You didnít have to heal me too but you did." Gabrielle looked at the former god of war and began to grin. Look at that. Heís blushing. Ha ahh.
Ares played nervously with the scruff on his face. "Yeah well . . .You and Xena are a package deal and I accept that now. In fact I think it sounds pretty damn interesting."
Oh jeez, Gabrielle thought as she watched Aresí mind going off . . . imagining . . . well . . . she didnít want to know precisely what he was imaging but she had a fair assumption of what Ares found Ďinterestingí. She wasnít going to stick around to find out more.
"Hold up," he shouted and began to walk after her. "Where are you going?"
"Leaving? Just like that? Does Xena know?"
"Sheíll learn soon enough. Especially when you go back there, fall on one knee and propose. Sheís gotta thing for bad boys Ares but between you and I, I donít think Xenaís the marrying kind. Youíll just have to make do as her love toy - the position is official open now."
It took a lot to stun the god of war but he looked truly mystified as Gabrielle continued along the beach. "Wait a minute," he called jogging up after her. Gabrielle stopped again releasing a long sigh. "You canít just walk away."
"Yes I can," Gabrielle countered. "Watch me."
"Hey," he said as he grabbed her arm halting any movement. "Look Iím not good at these sensitive chat things . . . Whereís Dite when I need her?" he muttered under his breath.
Gabrielle and Ares turned to see a glittering shower quickly transform into the Goddess of Love.
"Iíve been following you for awhile Ares. You look pretty pathetic by the way," she jabbed.
"Can we put the sib rivalry on hold a moment here?" he asked.
Aphrodite cocked her head and examined Ares. He was actually being . . . sincere.
"Whatís up?" she asked taking a new interest in the conversation.
"Sheís leaving Xena," he stated flatly looking for support.
"I donít blame her," was the response. Ares eyes widened and Gabrielle pointed to Dite in a ĎSee? She agreesí manner.
"Thank you," Gabrielle nodded to Aphrodite. "Iíll be on my way now."
"If you go, it will kill Xena," Ares argued.
Gabrielle continued on her way as she spoke with the siblings who were following her. "Xenaís a strong woman. She hasnít needed me for sometime now. I however will die if I stay with her. You can only survive so many chakrams to the head before you realize enough is enough."
"She was protecting Eve," Ares argued.
Protecting Eve my ASS! "I noticed you didnít get an open head wound for going after Eve so donít give me that shit Ares! I donít believe it for a second!"
Gabrielle picked up the pace while the two of them continued to follow. "That was different," she heard Ares whine behind her.
"How so?" Gabrielle countered as she spun around.
Ares immediately looked to Dite hoping sheíd toss him a line. The goddess just folded her arms and smirked. "Weíre waiting," Dite ribbed her brother.
Ares ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Women!" he yelled. Gabrielle slapped him in the chest with the back of her hand as they heard the noise vibrate through the area.
"Keep it down. Youíll wake her up," Gabrielle said pointing back to the camp.
Ares got a glimmer in his eyes and Gabrielle regretted putting the idea in his head. She pulled her sais as Ares took a deep breath to yell again.
"Do it and your life as a mortal will be reallllly short."
Dite stepped between them, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. "Settle down boys and girls. Nobodyís gonna start yelling like a child for their warrior princess and nobody is gonna slit the throat of an ex-god, okay? Sheesh!"
"She started it," Ares muttered like a spoiled child.
"This is so idiotic," Gabrielle sighed. "Can I go now?" she asked Dite.
"Look," Dite began speaking to Gabrielle, "I donít blame you for wanting to leave. There have been many times lately when sheís barely acknowledged you. There have been times when sheís been . . . less than attentive-."
"Less than attentive? She was willing to walk away from me because I wanted to rule a village and all because she was Ďboredí. Another amazon wanted to be her new Ďsidekickí and Xena took advantage of that by turning her into a maid for the afternoon, all the while misleading me into thinking she wanted to settle down with me. You call that less than attentive!"
"No. I call that stupid." All three of them turned around to see Xena standing in her battle dress, armorless. "I canít deny I did all those things. But I also read your scrolls as I had promised. And I came to my senses and realized . . . I need you in my life."
"You might need me but you donít want me," Gabrielle argued. "I donít think a Ďneedyí relationship is best for either of us Xena. I want a lover who WANTS me in her life and frankly Iíve felt like a nuisance. Iím tired of feeling like Iím asking too much of you. Iím tired that every attempt I make to get closer is seen as trying to control you or manipulate you. Iím tired of watching you and Eve and feeling like an outsider. . . Thatís a terrible way to live. I canít live that way any longer."
"We can change things-."
"You said that after we left the amazons remember?. . .What did I get in return? Huh? A ringside seat to watch you fuck Antony and a chakram upside the head? Pardon me if Iím a little leery with the Ďchange thingsí attitude. Itís been months Xena and nothingís changed."
"I donít want you to leave," Xena said trying to step closer.
"It wouldnít matter if I left Xena," Gabrielle retorted. "Thatís the problem. My exist . . . it doesnít mean much when it comes to your future."
"Gabrielle . . . Youíre my soulmate," Xena tired in a final attempt.
"We WERE soulmates. But we havenít been soulmates in a very long time. Apparently souls can have a change of heart too . . . Goodbye Xena."
Donít do it. Donít start crying now. Just turn and walk away. Keep walking. Thatís it. Keep walking. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. . . .
Xena imploringly looked at Dite for help but the goddess showed no sign that she would intervene. Xena realized sheíd sealed her own fate and all the potions and spells and arrows werenít going to change that fact. Besides sheíd always wanted the bards love and not an illusion.
"Iím sorry," Dite offered sincerely before transporting away in a flash of light.
The wind picked up, leaving Xena and Ares alone on the beach. Finally Ares spoke, "Mind if I camp with you tonight? Iím kind of stuck for a place to stay and Iím not quite sure where Iím going from here."
Xena grinned bittersweetly.
"Come on. That makes two of us."
Eve was sitting up in her bedroll as Ares and Xena walked back into the camp.
"What is HE doing here?" she asked unable to show her disgust.
"Try to remember he saved your life," Xena retorted.
"Itís okay," Ares said breaking into the conversation between mother and daughter. "Sheís got every right to be angry."
"Youíre damn right I do," Eve said as she stood up poking a finger at the former God. "Why in Eliís name do you keep defending this jackass?" she asked Xena.
Why do I? Xena considered. Heís done more damage than good in my life. But stillÖ "Heís down on his luck right now," Xena answered with a sigh. "Weíre gonna give him a hand."
"We are huh?" Eve replied sarcastically. "And what does Gabrielle have to say aboutÖWhere is Gabrielle?" Eve said looking around, finally putting her anger with Ares on hold long enough to notice the bard was not present.
"Sheís gone," Xena answered softly.
"What do you mean sheís gone?! What happened?!" Eve exclaimed.
Xena opened her mouth to speak but nothing would come out. She didnít know where to begin her explanation.
"Is she dead?" Eve asked, terror beginning to fill within her eyes at the thought.
"No," Xena said quickly to calm Eve who was beginning to shake. "She just doesnít want to travel with us anymore." Xena didnít add more. Instead she chose to wait for Eveís reaction to the news.
Sheís gone? Eve thought. How can she be gone? How can she just walk away? I spent 25 years without a mother to finally discover, in truth, I had two . . . And now one of them is suddenly gone? Perhaps the responsibility was too much? Perhaps . . . "Is it because of me?" Eve asked softly. "Is she leaving because Iím here?"
Xena could have sworn her heart broke at the sob she heard in Eveís voice. "No sweetheart, no. She left because of me."
"And me," Ares said piping into the conversation. Xena looked over to Ares when she heard the less than proud response. "I havenít been a staunch supporter of your moms relationship," he told Eve, avoiding eye contact with either woman. "Iíve been very much the adversary more times than I can count."
"Go figure," Eve replied tartly and rolling her eyes.
"Look," Xena replied moving closer to her daughter. "Gabrielle loves you very much and it wouldnít surprise me if one day she comes back. If not to see me at least to see you . . . Did she tell you that youíre an amazon? That sheís a queen and gave you her rite of caste?"
Eveís eyes widened at the news and she shook her head no. "Well itís true," Xena continued with a proud grin. "Gabrielle couldnít have loved you more than if she had given birth to you. I was too preoccupied or blind or . . . whatever . . . to see that. She said it often but it fell on deaf ears and now Iím paying the price."
"No offense mother but it sounds like Iím paying the price too. I might not get the chance to know her now." Eve mentally kicked herself for the way the remark came out so insensitive. She hurts bad enough right now and you gotta go lay her on a guilt trip. Real smooth. "That came out all wrong," Eve added, taking a spot back on the ground again at her bedroll. "I just mean it would be nice to get to know the woman behind all those scrolls I read . . . but that chance might be gone."
Sheís right. It might be too late but then again. . . "I know Gabrielle pretty well. I donít think sheíll stay gone long," Xena grinned. Ares cleared his throat and Xena snapped her head around. "You have something to add?" she asked clearly annoyed with the ex-god.
"I think youíre fooling yourself Xena," Ares answered. "That look in her eyes and conviction in her voice - I think sheís gone for good," he concluded quickly.
"Yeah well I really donít give a damn about your opinion Ares," Xena retorted. "I still say I know Gabrielle better than you." Ares smirked and shook his head in disbelief but said nothing. "What?!" Xena answered, her annoyance turning into anger.
Ares and Xena faced off for a moment, sizing each other up. "Sheís right. Gabrielle was right," Ares sighed. "I stood on that beach and tried to convince her to stay with you." That news obviously startled both mother and daughter. "Yeah I know, hard to be believe but true. . . Why? Because I see how much she means to you Xena and I know how difficult it would be if she left . . . even if you donít see it. And Iíll tell you what else I see." Ares didnít pause to find out if Xena wanted to hear. He just continued. "I see exactly why she left. Gabrielle isnít the same woman you knew years ago. She will no longer follow you blindly into battle. Sheís a warrior and a woman in her own right. You never recognized that."
"This from the man that views her as the irritating blonde," Xena said to Eve.
"At one time yes," Ares answered. "She irritated the hell out of me and I know why now. She could love you unconditionally. She had the POWER to make you see the goodness inside you . . . but somewhere along the way you both lost sight of that. And itís funny because her loss should be my gain. But it feels like a hollow victory, won by default because in the end, I didnít cause this breakup . . . You did."
"Perhaps I did," Xena nodded. "But you played a very big hand in it Ė telling me to seek vengeance for Solanís death, making a deal with Gabrielle by using her jealousy over LaMao, offering to train Gabrielle as a warrior when she was grief stricken over Eli-."
"Well Iím not the one who dragged Gabrielle cross country behind a horse. Iím not the one who left her standing on the dock feeling helpless. And Iím not the one who condemned her for not interfering when a friend asked her to look the other way . . . You did all those things on your own Xena. You made the choice in the end, not me."
Xena could feel her pulse in her head. Sheíd been angry with Ares many times over the years but at this moment it far exceeded anything she could imagine. Iím looking at a dead man her mind hissed. She was ready to pull her breast dagger and slash Ares throat in that second and she would have if she didnít hear Eveís voice.
"I never read any of that," Eve said looking at Xena for conformation. "Did you do those things?" Eve asked, almost pleading that it wasnít true. It canít be true, Eve thought silently. All those scrolls never mentioned anything like that. They sang of all the people that she saved, all the good sheíd done. How could she hurt Gabrielle? Gabrielle risked her life by walking into my Roman camp just to say that they loved me. How could mother hurt anyone that brave and daring and noble. It canít be true.
But the longer Xena didnít answer the more Eve realized that yes it was true. Gabrielle just never mentioned it in her writings. Eve began to wonder why. Was it out of love? Was it too painful to put on parchment? Why?
"Eve," Xena began, "I was a terrible person for a very long time . . . and sometimes," Xena began to tear up but quickly swallowed them down. "And sometimes itís hard to fight my Ďdark sideí. Thatís what Gabrielle called it. She understood it. And sadly, there were times that she felt the wrath of it. Iím not proud of that because I love Gabrielle very much. I do. And itís hard to see that sometimes in light of all the things that have happened to us."
"You mean in light of all the things youíve done," Ares corrected smugly.
"You are this close to deathís door," Xena said narrowly spacing her thumb and index finger in front of him.
"Youíre right," Ares said. "That was a cheep shot but if you want the bard back Xena youíll have to start seeing the things that have happened and accepting responsibility for them. If you donít . . . youíll never get her back . . . never."
"Youíre suddenly the god of love huh?" Xena rebuffed.
"No, Iím suddenly mortal with eons of experience with humans. I see things a lot more clearly now . . . I just wish you did too."
Suddenly Ares stomach made an atrocious churning noise. All three looked to Ares belly and at each other, thankful for the break in the deep conversation.
"Hungry?" Eve poked fun.
"Is that why my stomach hurts and makes hideous noises?" the newly mortal god asked.
Xena grinned and shook her head. Boy oí boy does he have a lot to learn about mortality. She reached into the saddlebag next to her bedroll pulling out some bread and cheese, tossing it to the former war god. "Here," she offered. "That should quiet things down so we can get some rest tonight."
Ares took a bite and turned to Xena with a wince. "Please tell me all food doesnít taste this bad."
Eve and Xena grinned at each other and nodded, This is gonna be some road trip all right. "Oh yeah, some of itís even worse. In fact thatís the best of the best youíve got there pal," Xena added. Whatís the harm in making Ares believe all food is terrible? Besides itís just desserts for his antagonism tonight. "Come on letís try to get some rest. Itís been a long day," Xena offered.
Xena gave Ares her bedroll and shared Eveís. As mother and daughter lay next to each other, Eve turned to Xena. "Will you promise to tell me more tomorrow? Things I didnít see in the scrolls? Maybe things about Gabrielle?"
Can I really do this? Xena considered. Yes you can. You have to. Eve deserves the truth. "Yes but only one story at a time," Xena considered.
"How about tonight?" Eve said snuggling closer. "Just a small one?"
Xena smiled. Story time with her daughter. She missed much in Eveís growth but perhaps some moments could still be saved and experienced. Xena cleared her throat to speak. "I sing of Gabrielle. The girl I met . . . the woman I love . . ."
Ahhh . . .is will do nicely.
Gabrielle picked up the last log she found and examined it after a brief toss in her hand. Quietly she made her way back to the fire pit where her bedroll lay for the evening. She carefully stacked the wood in a triangle shape with plenty of kindling below. Normally she would just go to sleep but this evening was chilly as a result of being so close to the water. She needed the warmth if she was going to get any rest.
With a few clicks of the flint the tiny twigs caught the spark and within moments a fire was blazing. The feeling that she was being watched suddenly draped over her like a wet blanket and she looked over her shoulder unsure and nervous of what she might find.
"Youíre pretty good at that," her visitor said pointing to the fire.
Yeah, now. There was a time when I wasnít, Gabrielle thought as she turned around. "Well the first night I took off after Xena I ended up in her camp because I couldnít start a fire to save my life." She chuckled, remembering how helpless she felt back then. She was going to be the great adventurer yet she couldnít make twigs smoke. It took all the courage I had to walk into her camp that night. The next night she showed me just what to do in case I ever got lost or separated from her . . . Separated. . . The smile, formed from the remembrance of how young she was back then, slipped from her face as a feeling of melancholy took hold of her. "So what brings you out here Aphrodite?" the bard asked, hoping to clear her mind of the painful thoughts.
"Just checking up on you I guess," Dite answered. When neither woman said more Dite continued, "Sheís taught you a lot I know. Itís hard to let that go," Dite sympathized. Gabrielleís eyebrows scrunched in examination of the goddess. How could she possibly know what I-."Because little one, when it comes to love I can see right into any mortal," Dite answered the unspoken question.
"I thought all the goddess of love cared about was her temples and her Ďeveningí wear," the bard grinned.
"Superficial airhead huh?" Dite remarked. "Guess thatís why Iím still around and half of Olympusí most powerful are gone right?"
Gabrielle chuckled, "Very true. Wanna have a seat?" the bard offered patting her bedroll. Dite took the invitation and without physically moving appeared beside the bard. Gabrielle grinned and shook her head. "You only had to move 5 strides. Was it really necessary to Ďpoofí beside me?" she teased.
"What good are powers if you donít use Ďem?" Dite countered. Gabrielle continued to grin and poked a stick in the fire for distraction until Dite continued. "Speaking of power . . . I tried to sway Athena from using the furies on you but I had little control over it. I didnít-."
"Aphrodite," Gabrielle interrupted. "thatís not your fault. If you hadnít stepped in when you did things would have been much worse. Iím just glad that Xena didnít overreact and harm you." Gabrielle rolled her eyes in disgust with the thought of the warrior.
Dite smiled, "Thatís kind of you to say. But I know that Xena wouldnít harm me if I approached to offer help. Besides I didnít need to fight her. I had nothing to lose so why battle her. The mortal world only needs two true gods. Only two factors play such a role in humanity - death and love. People donít need wisdom to survive. They donít need Ďhobbiesí. They certainly donít need war . . . But love . . . humans will always need love. And humans will always need death."
"I never knew you could be so philosophical," Gabby replied slack-jawed.
"Thereís a lot you donít know about me Gabrielle. Not many mortals do. I show them what I want them to see and the rest well . . . I kinda keep it under wraps," the goddess winked. "But I donít think my immortality is weighing on your mind tonight. And I thought perhaps I could share some insight with you - like things you didnít know or might not have realized. . . But thatís only if you want to. If not Iíll just Ďpoofí, as you say, outta here," she added snapping her fingers.
"No need to Ďpoofí," Gabrielle smirked. "Iím just not sure where to start I guess."
"Well letís see," Dite said looking up to the star filled sky in thought. "Would you like to know when Xena was first attracted to you?" Dite wiggled on the bedroll, beginning to get into this little Ďgameí. "This could be fun," she squealed. "Wanna play?"
"Play what? Guess the warriorís heart?" Gabrielle retorted.
"Sure," Dite said enthusiastically.
Do I really want to do this? . . . Oh what the hell . . . "Okay, what do I do?" Gabrielle sighed.
"Okay," Dite began before planning things in her mind. "We could do a Ďtruth or dareí kinda game or I could ask you a personal question and give you the right answer."
"Iím confused," Gabrielle answered, playing with her earlobe as she considered what Dite had in mind. "What do you mean by the right answer?"
"Well, letís just start and youíll see. Okay? Now . . .When did Xena first realize she was attracted to you?" the goddess asked.
When did Xena first realize she was attracted to me? Hmmm . . . "After I got kidnapped by Baccus."
"Naaaahhhhh, wrong answer sweet cheeks. Would you like to try again?" Dite grinned. This could actually be fun, Gabrielle considered with a growing smile. "Of course itís fun," Dite said, reading Gabrielleís mind. "Itís my game. . . Now would you like a second guess or not?"
"No. Tell me. When did Xena realize she was attracted to me?"
"The first day she saw you."
"Get outta here!"
Both women erupted into a fit of the giggles like two gals at a sleep over. "Itís true!" Dite said soundly, confident in her answer.
"With the peasant dress and the barrettes?"
"Oh yeah," Dite smirked. "In fact she was so distracted that Dracoís scrub solider managed to knock her down during the fight."
"You were there?" Gabrielle asked in amazement. Aphrodite simply nodded. "Why? Wait! You didnít put a spell on me to follow her did you?"
"Goodness no! You did that all on your own darliní . . . I was there because the big guy asked me to keep an eye on Xena for a little while to make sure sheíd be okay. And itís hard for me to say no to Herc," she grinned.
"Well Iíll be," Gabrielle stared at the fire mesmerized by this piece of news.
"Okay, next question," Dite said bringing back Gabrielleís attention.
"Can I ask this time?" Gabrielle questioned excitedly. Dite grinned and nodded enthusiastically. "What did Xena think after our first time . . . you know. . . together?"
Dite cocked her head as she thought about the question. "Fear," she answered after a few moments of consideration.
"She was afraid of me?" Gabrielle answered. Why in the world was she afraid of me? Didnít she trust me? I gave her everything that night - all that I had.
"Exactly," Dite answered. "and thatís what scarred her. She wasnít sure if she could measure up. She wasnít sure that she could be everything you needed. That worried her because she didnít want to lose you."
"Then what changed?" Gabrielle asked as a sob threatened to spill forth. Playtime was official over now and Dite took a deep breath to steady herself for it. "How did she get so far from what she wanted that night? Why did she just let me go?" Gabrielle added.
"Now Iím going to say something and I need you to understand it. Youíve got a temper on you bard and I donít want you reaching for the sais . . . okay?" The goddess paused to see if Gabrielle would agree. Once she got the nod of acceptance she continued. "Xena isnít the only one whoís done damage to this relationship Gabrielle. Youíve done your share too. And when trust is betrayed it is soooo hard to get that back."
"I know I did wrong by betraying Xena in Chin. I know that now. Hell I knew that then and I made every effort to show her that she could have faith in me."
"Like joining Najaraís cult to start a hospise . . . Like deciding that people who waged war werenít worthy and that peace and light are Ďthe wayí."
"I never said that," Gabrielle countered. "I just wanted to examine other courses in life."
"Yes. I see that. But did you ever consider that maybe the examination would have its toll on Xena. You were choosing courses that would take you farther away from Xena - opposite ends in fact."
"Have you heard that opposites attract Aphrodite?" Gabrielle said trying to defend her actions.
"Yes, and itís true. . . but opposites donít make lasting relationships. The sparks are great at first but then it just kinda fizzles away. You canít stay together if youíre walking down separate roads - thatís a fact. And by the time you Ďcaught upí to her . . . she was already gone. Not physically but emotionally. She couldnít have you play a part in Eveís life because what would happen if you changed your mind again. What if you decided that you wanted to go the bard academy or find a husband to settle down with or perhaps just go back home to the little hick town of yours for good. Xena couldnít take that chance . . . And I donít blame her."
"Whose side are you on here?" Gabby asked.
"Loveís side," Dite answered firmly without hesitation, ". . . Iím not on your side or her side. Iím on loveís side. And the only way love will survive for you or Xena is if you BOTH take the time to realize you werenít completely honest with each other . . . perhaps even honest with yourselves . . . Once you find acceptance of the role youíve played will you find love . . .be it with Xena or someone else. Ares top babe might not be the gal for you but youíll never move forward until you acknowledge your part in all this . . . Take it one day at a time Gabrielle and youíll survive."
Gabrielle took the wine skin from her pack and took a deep long swig. She turned to offer the goddess a drink but she had vanished. Gabrielle looked around the perimeter of the camp but Aphrodite was gone.
Maybe sheís right, Gabrielle considered as she laid down on the bedroll looking up at the stars. How many times did Xena and I star gaze together? . . . Itís not the same without her. But then again whenís the last time we did take time to do this? The amazons . . .I tried to touch her arm that night and she moved away. Like sheís been moving away for months. Damn her! Truth is Iíve been without her for months but itís only now that Iíve left . . . Go to sleep Gabrielle. Donít do this to yourself. Just wake up. And move on tomorrow. One day at a time.
"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 wasnít a pebble. It was a rock - a very big, pointy rock," Ares whined.
Two weeks had gone by since Gabrielleís 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 couldnít 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 Gabrielleís face. The former god was always finding some Ďailmentí 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 Ďtime-outí during a battle donít you?" Xena warned. "Youíve got to stay fit if youíre going to survive."
"Yeah I know," Ares replied defensively, "but look at my hands would ya? Iím 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.
"Itís more serious than I thought," Xena replied as straight faced as possible.
"What?! What is it?!" Ares asked looking at his hands in terror.
"Youíre getting . . . calluses!"
Eve couldnít hold back her laughter any longer. She would have loved making Ares think his condition was terminal but she just couldnít 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 donít," 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 couldnít 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 canít keep traveling like this."
"Iím not sure," Xena replied. So far itís worse than I expected. He whines. He moans. Heís interrupting every conversation. Itís 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 donít want to think about it. The answer is no. Heíll do more harm than good."
Sheís 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 wouldnít get older. He wouldnít get hurt and he wouldnít have to travel around with us anymore."
Hmm, thatís not a bad idea. It would certainly get him out of our hair and we wouldnít have to worry about him using any Ďgodlyí 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 Iím lucky . . . finding Gabrielle.
"So what do you say?" Eve asked interrupting Xenaís thoughts.
"Okay," Xena began, "Iíve got a friend that might be able to help . . . if heís still alive that is."
"Hercules? THE Hercules?!"
Xena grinned. Umm . . .Guess sheís heard of him. "Yep, thatís 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. Iíd heard the stories about it but I never knew that ĎIí 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 heíd give her a hand . . . He was a really good friend . . . In fact he tried repeatedly to reason with Zeus but he couldnít 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. Itís 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 Ďthe big guyí as some folks call him?"
Eve chuckled, the big guy. Her attention was turned however to Ares who was cursing because he couldnít get the bandage on the right way. She shook her head vigorously, "By all means yes. Iím 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 itís 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 didnít stick around to see this Gabrielle. Ares struggling with being Ďaverageí . . . up close and personal. Xena took a deep sigh. I donít miss you until Iím alone like this. Hell Iím not even ALONE right now and I miss you. Someday, someway weíll get back on track. One way or another I promise. Right now I just hope youíre safe and warm and well fed . . . Then again when are you NOT hungry. Xena chuckled out loud drawing Eveís 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 Eveís idea of how to tell them apart, the warrior shinned like a lantern at Eveís suggestion. "No you havenít," Eve replied, hoping it would prompt her mother into another tale.
"Well it wasnít long after our Titan trouble I had told you about," Xena began. "A father was going to sacrifice his son to the one god."
"Eliís god?" Eve asked to clarify. Xena nodded.
"Turns out that it wasnít the one god that was doing the Ďcommandingí 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 boyís 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 couldnít. Especially after she started talking to the cave rocks . . . and they started talking back . . . At least thatís what SHE believed."
Eve erupted into a fit of giggles, "Was she okay? I mean I know she survived and all."
"Oh yeah. Youíre 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 - Iíd 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 youíll 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. "Iíve 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 momís throne. We succeeded, of course, and after I came back we just Ďhooked upí."
"You just Ďhooked upí," Eve mocked teasingly. "Just like that?"
Xena paused a moment, "Yeah, just like that."
"Hmm. . ."
"Hmm what?" Xena asked.
"I donít know but it seems kinda . . . boring. I mean after all the adventures and stories Iíve heard I figured your coupling would be more Ďexcitingí." Xena laughed heartily at Eveís 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 Gabrielleís heart. When I was dead I could hear her thoughts. In fact sheís the reason I fought so hard to come back. Yes the world needed me around to help those that couldnít help themselves but in truth the main reason was your mom. I couldnít leave her yet . . . not with so many things left unsaid and unfinished. I think thatís why Iím having such a hard time now . . . it still feels Ďunfinishedí . . . Iím not sure if you understand."
Eve didnít have a chance to reply. Ares came running back up the road toward them. "Weíve 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 havenít been in the best of moods lately. Iím trying to reunite with my daughter I havenít 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 youíre in for the WORST ass kicking of your life if you donít step aside now. So whatís it going to be?"
A collective and sarcastic ĎOoooooí noise went around the small circle.
Okay. Thatís 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 wasnít 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, "Letís 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 couldnít 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 Argoís 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 groupís a bit tougher. That was barely a workout," she told her travel party with a wink.
Continue to Part II