Changes of Heart: Explanations

By CN Winters

Xena grinned when she spotted Hercules in the distance putting the finishing touches on a stone retaining wall that surrounded a small house. Xena climbed aboard Argo and called down to Eve, "I’m going ahead. See you when you get down there."

She took Argo into a full gallop, kicking dusty behind her on the trail.

Hercules looked up when her heard the hoofs approaching. Is that Xena? No she can’t look that young . . .Well I’ll be. It is Xena. He gave a smile and chuckled as she approached and he hopped the fence with ease to meet her. Xena reeled Argo in when she was close enough and leapt from the mare, jogging over to see her friend.

They both laughed as they embraced and Herc gave her a playful twirl in the air, gently putting her down.

"Where’s Gabrielle?" He asked with a smile. But soon his smile began to fade realizing that perhaps Gabrielle was no longer on the earthly plain.

"We decided to go our separate ways . . . well she decided that but we’ll discuss that later," Xena gave a nervous chuckle. He looked as old as when he had battled Zeus for Eve’s life and not a day older. "Anyway, you’re looking as young as ever," she commented on his appearance.

"You should talk," he said pulling her arms up and away from her body giving her an appraising eye. "Did you find the Tree of Fietus too?"

Xena smiled. Ah ha. "So you do know where the tree is? Any mortal that eats the fruit is said to become immortal? Looks like it’s true ummm?"

Herc smiled and dug his toe in the dirt a moment. "I didn’t want to do it but Iolaus convinced me otherwise."

"Damn right I did. The world needs the big guy around," they heard a voice behind them add. Iolaus, it appears didn’t eat the fruit. His hair was thinning and graying. The laughlines around his lips and eyes were more prominent but he still appeared very dashing with the same mischievous sparkle in his blue eyes. He offered his arm to Xena in greeting. "How have you been Xena? Forgive me for saying it but the last we heard . . . you were dead."

"We were in a way I suppose," Xena said before silently cursing herself for using the word ‘we’. We? She’s not here anymore. When are you gonna realize that? "Gabrielle and I, I mean, we . . .". Why the hell am I stumbling all over this? Just spit it out already! "Ares froze us accidentally when he thought we died but we managed to escape and come back. Some. . .things . . . happened and she decided to go out on her own."

Xena’s voice cracked and Herc’s eyebrows crunched in examination. "Actually I heard part of the story already. My sister told me. Are you okay?"

Sister? Ahh…Dite… Xena chewed on her lip to push down the tears that threatened to come forth with Herc’s question.

"Yeah, I’m doing okay," she sighed. "It’s been about two months now since she left. I’ve been so busy with dealing with Ares being a mortal and getting to know Eve that I haven’t had much time to really consider things with Gabrielle. . . I mean I think of her all the time but I just haven’t thought about it . . . Does that make any sense?" she asked exasperated at trying to explain to the men who stood silently watching her.

"Well do you mean that you miss her?…You just haven’t had time to realize that it’s over. .for good?"

"Yeah," Xena smiled bitter-sweetly. "Gabrielle was always good with words like that." The smile was only brief as she began to hear Herc’s words sink in deeper . . . It’s over. For good. . . She shook her head to rid herself of the thoughts. The sooner she could get Ares out of her life the better. She pointed up the path to Ares and Eve who were now almost within earshot.

"Anyway, I’ve got ex-god trouble and thought you could lend a hand," she chuckled.

With that Herc looked up the path and he saw Ares and a young woman walking toward them. "Who’s the girl?" Herc asked, nodding toward her.

"That’s our daughter . . . Eve."

You did it again - using words like ‘our’ as if Gabrielle is standing right here. Xena took an unsteady breath. Come on and get a grip here. Why are you acting so mushy now? Pull it together warrior. Xena wiped her eyes with her fingertips to guard against any tears that might escape. She didn’t think being near Herc would have this kind of effect on her – the overwhelming urge to ‘spill her guts’ as it were. At the moment she couldn’t even lock eyes with the demi-god for fear of losing what control she had over her tear ducts.

"Ares gave up his godhood to save Eve’s life . . . and Gabrielle. . . I don’t want to make him a god again but life as a mortal is just too painful for ME with him around," she joked. "And it’s tough for him too I guess. Will you help? . . . Make him immortal, I mean? Obviously you have the answer to immortality," she teasingly prodded.

Finally Xena looked up to see the beam on Herc’s face as he watched Eve come down the path. "She’s a beautiful girl Xena."

"Yes she is," Xena answered. "Does that mean you’ll help us?"

"Help Ares?" Herc chuckled.

Xena simply nodded.

"No," Herc answered. "But I’ll help you. And who knows since he did something unselfish for ONCE in his life . . . perhaps he could change too . . . but I’m not holding my breath," the demi-god winked.

"Eve," Xena called out, pulling her closer. "I’d like you to met Hercules and his partner Iolaus."

"Nice to meet you sounds like an understatement," Eve said offering her forearm.

Herc took her gently by the hand and gave a light kiss to her knuckles instead. "It’s my pleasure," he grinned warmly. He escorted her over to Iolaus who still stood behind the wall where they shook hands.

"Come in everyone," Iolaus instructed. "Yes . . . even you Ares," he teased.

Ares rolled his eyes but joined the group passing through the gate, making their way to the house.

"So this is the kinda pad heroes have when they retire huh?" Xena said giving the home an appraising eye. "Not bad," she grinned. "Kinda reminds me of Gabrielle’s hut at the amazon village."

"Yeah but there’s no naked woman running around in the front window," Iolaus teased as they walked inside which earned him a jab from his buddy. "Have a seat. Supper’s almost done," he said pointing to the dinning table.

Xena noticed a limp as Iolaus went to the stew pot. "Hurt your leg Iolaus?" Xena asked.

"Nahh, just old war wounds catching up to me. It comes and goes and today it’s flaring up. Come on and grab some spoons and bowls. There should be enough for everyone."

As Xena and Eve went to the kitchen area, Herc and Ares spent the time just looking at each other – neither one willing to lose in the staring contest.

"What?!" Ares finally asked irritated.

"I could kick your fanny allllllll over the place right now," Herc chuckled.

"Well why don’t you give it a shot tough guy," Ares taunted.

Xena could hear their voices behind her, beginning to rise. She didn’t even bother to turn around to face them. "Can’t you two give it a rest?" she sighed.

"I take it they don’t get along too well," Eve whispered to Xena.

"Like Greek Fire and water," Iolaus said whispering into the conversation.

"I HEARD that," Herc called into the kitchen.

"Well it’s not like it’s untrue," Iolaus said bringing a bowl for Herc too as he sat down at the table.

Xena had two bowls and she slid one over to Ares. "Don’t argue. Just eat. That will keep your mouth busy for awhile."

"He started it," Ares rebutted pointing his spoon at his half-brother.

"Well if Daddy were around you could go back and cry to him. But since he’s not shut up and eat," Xena warned.

Herc could tell by the snap in her voice that Xena had about all she could take of the former god of war.

"I’m sorry," Herc apologized to the group, hoping it would give Xena a respite he felt she very much needed.. "I promise Ares, no more arguing. Agreed?" Herc offered his hand in truce.

Ares pushed Herc’s hand away, along with the bowl. "I’ll be outside if you need me," he told Xena.

Herc shrugged his shoulders and settled himself down to eat. "Well so much for trying," he replied before putting a spoonful of stew in his mouth. Xena and Eve ate in silence until Xena complimented Iolaus on the food, a comment that Eve quickly echoed with a thanks.

"Don’t mention it," he grinned. "It’s just nice to see you again Xena. We haven’t see our old friends in ages," Iolaus added before turning to Herc. "How long’s it been since we seen Autolycus?" he asked. "At least a year I think."

Herc nodded, "Yeah around last summer."

"You mean the King of Thieves is still around?" Xena smiled warmly. "What’s he doing?"

"Well he DID about 15 years in prison after getting caught in a diamond mind," Herc grinned. "But he paid his debt to society and decided to take up woodworking."

Woodworking? Xena couldn’t hold back the laugh at the thought. "You’re pulling my leg aren’t you?"

"No," Iolaus said shaking his head. "That sofa over there was a house warming present he made for us when we built this place. He’s really creative and he’s got a knack for that kinda stuff. He’s actually making a better living doing that than stealing."

"Eh, who thought Autolycus had other skills," Xena said checking it out from across the room.

Everyone took a moment to go back to their stew. Autolycus is still alive. I wonder now about mother. And Lila! Lila is probably still alive. Damn it! We should have gone to Potiedaia. Maybe that’s where Gabrielle’s gone too. Maybe we should-

"You okay?" Herc asked.

Xena realized Herc had been talking to her but she got so caught up in her mind she didn’t hear him. "I’m sorry," she grinned bashfully. "I didn’t catch that."

"Yeah you seem pretty distracted. Are you finished eating? Would you like some more?" the demi-god asked.

"Oh no, I’m fine. Thank you both. It was very good," Xena remarked.

"You’re welcome," Herc answered. "Now let’s go out back. I’ll show you the pond we made. Iolaus . . . maybe you can show Eve some of those scrolls we’ve got?"

"Do you like scrolls?" Iolaus asked, the young woman.

"Are you kidding?! I love them - especially the one’s my mom wrote…I mean Gabrielle."

"Actually, I have a couple of Gabby’s scrolls," he winked.

"You do?" Eve and Xena both asked in harmony.

"She didn’t say she’d given any away . . . but then again I never asked," Xena replied guiltily.

The room fell quiet, not sure of what to add at the moment. The tone of ‘regret’ hung in the air a few more seconds until Herc spoke up. "Well, we’ll be back later. Come on Xena," Herc said wrapping his arm around Xena’s shoulder and leading her out the back door.

"So are you ready to tell me what happened?" Herc asked.

"About what?" Xena said evasively. Herc didn’t reply. He just gave her a ‘look’ that spoke volumes. No getting around it with him. "I’m not sure. I mean I know why I just . . . Oh damn it." Xena broke down into sobs.

She wasn’t sure how long it lasted but when she calmed her breathing enough to speak again she noticed that Herc’s shirt was slightly wet.

"I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that," Xena chuckled nervous.

"Because you’re sad . . . you’re confused . . . and if I know you, you haven’t taken time to grieve yet. You’ve been babysitting Ares because of some unspoken debt you feel you owe him for saving your family and as a result . . . you’ve avoided dealing with your breakup with Gabrielle."

Xena gave a genuine chuckle of amusement for the first time since her arrival. "You’re good," she smiled. "I guess that’s exactly what’s going on."

Herc took Xena by the hand as they walked toward the water’s edge. They stood there for a moment and just looked out at the water and the small rippling when a fish would jump now and then. "Are you going to look for her?" he asked quietly. "Or have you given up on getting her back?"

Xena sighed and consider the question. Yes. No. Maybe. "I haven’t decided," she answered. "I figured that if she wants to see me then she’ll come to me."

"What if she’s thinking the same thing?" Herc asked. "What if she’s waiting for you? Someone has to make the first step. You said it’s been what? Two months?"


"Are you ready to see her?"

"I’m not sure," Xena answered honestly. "I took Gabrielle for granted in many ways but . . ."

"But what?" Herc asked sincerely.

"But she let me down too . . . No . . . she spent some time examining who she was and I didn’t see us having a future. She always did though . . . I was scared of her . . . and me."

"Scared? Of what?"

"Of losing her, of loving her . . . I mean she was on a path of non-violence. With our life it’s not the safest path to be on and I worried that I might not be able to help her. And then later . . . when she realized that the warrior life was what she was truly destined for instead of supporting that I . . . I got scared again. My brother was a warrior and I lost him. Then a time came and I lost myself. I was worried that Gabrielle might die. I was worried that I might lose her to the darkness of war someday – just like my soul had been lost . . . I didn’t say anything though. I just . . . shut her out.

She’d make comments about how much she loved Eve and how we could build a future together and instead of loving her like I should have . . . like I wanted to . . . I turned away because I was scarred to get TOO close. I could give this woman my sword and my body . . . but I couldn’t give her my heart. And when I reacted and struck her with my chakram . . . that was it for her. She’d had enough and left . . . and the sad part is I don’t blame her. And the really sad part is what I feared most. . . losing her . . . came true in the end anyway."

Herc was speechless. He’d never heard Xena be so ‘wordy’; so open. He wondered if Gabrielle had heard all these thoughts Xena just expressed to him.

"But that’s my story," she grinned for show. "If I could take it all back I would. If I could show her how much I love her and trust her I would. But it doesn’t look like that’s meant to be. I’m sure she’ll move on. She’ll fall in love. She’ll find someone who sees how wonderful and special she is. . . that person could have been me if I hadn’t been so proud or so cowardly . . . perhaps both."

She’s gone. She’s really gone now.

Xena started to cry hysterically at that point. She never took the time since Gabrielle left that night on the beach to really cry. Her time was spent training Ares on being human or telling the ‘happy’ stories about Gabrielle to Eve. It kept the darkness of it all at bay. But now. Now that she had time to think about it. Emotions she didn’t have time for before hit her full force - the devastating feeling of loss and dread and on a certain level anger.

How could see just leave? After five years just walk away.

Xena pulled away from Herc’s embrace and she found herself starting to pace. Okay. Enough is enough. Quit feeling sorry for yourself Xena. . . I’m gonna find that damn tree. I’m gonna lay out all the cards for Eve about Gabrielle and I from now on, even the ugly ones. Then with Ares out of my hair and Eve knowing the whole truth . . .

Xena wiped her eyes and looked at Herc. "I need your help," she told him.

"You got it Xena. You know that. What do you want?" he asked noticing a shift in her mood to one of gloom to one of determination.

"I’m gonna find that tree. Will you help?" she asked him.

"Consider me there," he smiled.

"Good," she grinned confidently. "Because after that . . . I’m gonna find my bard."


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