Disclaimer: Theres characters arent mine. They are Mr. Taperts. Please read Betrayal, Denial and Acceptance to see what the heck this story is all about. Essential X and G 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. Im 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.
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Changes of Heart: Strife
by CN Winters
"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 wasnt a pebble. It was a rock a very big, pointy rock," Ares whined.
Two weeks had gone by since Gabrielles 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 couldnt 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 Gabrielles 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 dont you?" Xena warned. "Youve got to stay fit if youre going to survive."
"Yeah I know," Ares replied defensively, "but look at my hands would ya? Im 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.
"Its more serious than I thought," Xena replied as straight faced as possible.
"What?! What is it?!" Ares asked looking at his hands in terror.
"Youre getting . . . calluses!"
Eve couldnt hold back her laughter any longer. She would have loved making Ares think his condition was terminal but she just couldnt 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 dont," 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 couldnt 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 cant keep traveling like this."
"Im not sure," Xena replied. So far its worse than I expected. He whines. He moans. Hes interrupting every conversation. Its 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 dont want to think about it. The answer is no. Hell do more harm than good."
Shes 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 wouldnt get older. He wouldnt get hurt and he wouldnt have to travel around with us anymore."
Hmm, thats not a bad idea. It would certainly get him out of our hair and we wouldnt 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 Im lucky . . . finding Gabrielle.
"So what do you say?" Eve asked interrupting Xenas thoughts.
"Okay," Xena began, "Ive got a friend that might be able to help . . . if hes still alive that is."
"Hercules? THE Hercules?!"
Xena grinned. Umm Guess shes heard of him. "Yep, thats 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. Id 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 hed give her a hand . . . He was a really good friend . . . In fact he tried repeatedly to reason with Zeus but he couldnt 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. Its 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 couldnt get the bandage on the right way. She shook her head vigorously, "By all means yes. Im 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 its 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 didnt stick around to see this Gabrielle. Ares struggling with being average . . . up close and personal. Xena took a deep sigh. I dont miss you until Im alone like this. Hell Im not even ALONE right now and I miss you. Someday, someway well get back on track. One way or another I promise. Right now I just hope youre safe and warm and well fed . . . Then again when are you NOT hungry. Xena chuckled out loud drawing Eves 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 Eves idea of how to tell them apart, the warrior shinned like a lantern at Eves suggestion. "No you havent," Eve replied, hoping it would prompt her mother into another tale.
"Well it wasnt long after our Titan trouble I had told you about," Xena began. "A father was going to sacrifice his son to the one god."
"Elis god?" Eve asked to clarify. Xena nodded.
"Turns out that it wasnt 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 boys 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 couldnt. Especially after she started talking to the cave rocks . . . and they started talking back . . . At least thats what SHE believed."
Eve erupted into a fit of giggles, "Was she okay? I mean I know she survived and all."
"Oh yeah. Youre 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 Id 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 youll 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. "Ive 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 moms 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 what?" Xena asked.
"I dont know but it seems kinda . . . boring. I mean after all the adventures and stories Ive heard I figured your coupling would be more exciting." Xena laughed heartily at Eves 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 Gabrielles heart. When I was dead I could hear her thoughts. In fact shes the reason I fought so hard to come back. Yes the world needed me around to help those that couldnt help themselves but in truth the main reason was your mom. I couldnt leave her yet . . . not with so many things left unsaid and unfinished. I think thats why Im having such a hard time now . . . it still feels unfinished . . . Im not sure if you understand."
Eve didnt have a chance to reply. Ares came running back up the road toward them. "Weve 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 havent been in the best of moods lately. Im trying to reunite with my daughter I havent 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 youre in for the WORST ass kicking of your life if you dont step aside now. So whats it going to be?"
A collective and sarcastic Oooooo noise went around the small circle.
Okay. Thats 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 wasnt 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, "Lets 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 couldnt 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 Argos 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 groups a bit tougher. That was barely a workout," she told her travel party with a wink.
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