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by Mercury aka "No Hands"
Darkness was quickly descending upon the countryside as the two travellers approached the small village. The taller woman rode atop a chestnut brown mare with an almost intimidating bearing. She was dressed in retentive leather adorned with armor and bore upon her back a sword. Her sable hair blue gently in the mild winter breeze as her cerulean eyes scanned her surroundings for any danger. Her inquisition was for a purpose, she knew this village all too well. Her shorter and more muscular travelling companion walked along the path trying to keep pace with her. Everything about the woman was a contradiction to her browbeating cohort. Her strawberry-blond hair and sea-green eyes gave her a delicate appearance. But by the looks of the staff in her right hand, she was anything but defenceless. She walked in an insouciant manner as she recounted story after story to her sombre concomitant. As they neared the local tavern, her story telling came to an end. The younger woman looked up at her friend on the horse and spoke:
"Xena, look over there..." The taller woman slowly dropped her judicial gaze of the village and turned her attention to the direction of her friendís pointing finger."...in that tavern.
It looks like a festival to celebrate the new year!"
Xena knew what question would follow. She didnít want to spend anymore time than she had to in this village and vowed to stand her ground about leaving as soon as possible.
She braced herself for the oncoming query.
"Can we go? I mean, after all it is the last day of the year and it really looks like fun!"
Xena kept her word and didnít give in. Barely.
The bard, realizing that she needed a new plan of attack, tried the only thing
she could think of. She looked up at her leather-clad companion and with sheer
innocence in her bright eyes asked,
It was more than Xena could handle. She knew she could not deny her friend anything and the look on the young womanís face told Xena all that she needed to know.
"Sure Gabrielle," she replied with an affectionate smile tugging at her lips.
The young bardís radiant smile was reward enough for the arcane warrior. Gabrielle knew nothing of Xenaís detestation of the village and Xena preferred to keep it that way. Her happiness derived from Gabrielleís happiness and if it was a festival that brought a smile to the storytellerís face, Xena was all for it. After all that Gabrielle had done for her, Xena was willing to sacrifice.
"Why donít you go inside while I bring Argo to the stables," suggested the warrior. "Iíll join you in a minute."
"Okay," said Gabrielle as she turned to go inside. "Oh and Xena, thanks!"
"No problem. But donít go telling everybody, I have a reputation to protect. After all," she replied with an arched eyebrow, "what would people think if they heard that the ĎWarrior Princessí was going soft?"
"We wouldnít want that, now would we?" Gabrielle retorted sarcastically as she made her way into the tavern.
Xena dismounted Argo and led her towards the stables. She handed the reins of the mare to the stable boy and cautiously made her way back to the tavern where she had left her friend. The Warrior Princess opened the doors and circumspectly stepped inside. The tavern was crowded with people. Xena analyzed the room for any sign of peril, and after finding none she set out to find Gabrielle. She found her sitting at a small table in the corner of the room and Xena advanced towards it. After venturing through the labyrinth of dancing people, she finally reached the table. Gabrielle greeted her with a smile as Xena sat down across from her.
"Great party, huh?" the bard inquired.
"Iíve seen better," Xena replied with a wry smile.
Gabrielle was excitedly taking in all the sights and sounds of the room, while Xena sat there evaluating the whole drunken bacchanalia. Xena noticed the look of wonder on the bardís face and spoke:
"Gabrielle, you donít have to sit here the entire night. Go, have fun!
The nightís almost over you know."
"But what about you?" Gabrielle asked with absolute concern.
"Iíll be fine. Besides, you deserve a break. But enjoy yourself now because weíre leaving first thing tomorrow morning!"
"Yes maíam!" Gabrielle replied with mock obedience and she made her way onto the dance floor.
Xena turned her chair around to allow herself full view of the establishment and her friend. ĎFriend,í Xena thought confoundedly, was that all they were? She didnít know when her feelings for the bard had changed, only that they had. And as she gazed out at the vision of loveliness that she called her best friend, dancing among the crowds of people, a deep sense of love enveloped her. Gabrielle was a sight that was goddess inspired and Xena couldnít imagine her life without the sweet storyteller. She didnít want to. The Warrior Princess continued to stare out at her friend, when all of a sudden there came an angry shout from across the room.
"Xena!" called a man from the doorway.
Xena looked over towards the man as all eyes, including Gabrielleís, were focused on her.
The man in the doorway wore armor that Xena was all too familiar with and brandished a knife in his left hand.
"What do you want?" Xena demanded as a feeling of dread washed over her.
"First I want to ask you a question, then I want your blood!" came the manís acrimonious response.
"Well, I can only guarantee you one of the two, so go ahead and ask your question." Xena rejoined.
"Five years ago," the man began, "I watched as you rode into this very village and murdered innocent people. I was among the lucky who escaped the wrath of your sword, but my brother was not. I watched as he died violently at the hands of your army. I vowed from that day forward to find you and vindicate my brotherís death and tonight Iím going to do just that! So let me ask you Xena, do you know what itís like lose someone you love more than life itself? Do you have any idea what it is like to see the life of the only family youíve ever truly known and adored forfeited? Well, do you?"
The manís words pierced Xenaís heart. His questions did not bring memories of the death of her brother Lyceus, but rather those of Gabrielle on that one fateful day at the Thessalian healing temple. Xena had almost lost her once and refused to lose her a second time. Xena was brought out of her brooding reveries by the fast approaching attack of the charging man. Her gauntleted wrist met the descending knife blade and she quickly disarmed her attacker. Even though the manís lack of weapons put him at a disadvantage, it did nothing to abridge his fury. He lunged at Xena and after a short fought battle he was knocked unconscious. Just before slipping into the dark abyss of senselessness, the man murmured one last message to Xena.
"You canít hide from your past." he said as he sunk into a heap on the tavern floor.
It was more than Xena could bear. She looked down at the man who had lost so much and then across the room at Gabrielle. There was a look of confusion and compassion in the bardís eyes as she watched Xena run out of the room. Gabrielle, unsure of what she had just witnessed, swiftly ensued the fleeing warrior. As Gabrielle stepped out the back door, the music had once again restarted and the festival resumed. Gabrielle looked to her right and there, slumped against the side of the building, was Xena. Her face was bathed in moonlight and Gabrielle could see the tears that uncharacteristically fell from the Warrior Princessí face. The pain and anguish in Xenaís azure eyes broke the bardís heart as she approached her fallen hero. She placed her hand gently on Xenaís shoulder and sat down beside her. Xena was so overcome by emotions that she sank into the storytellerís warm embrace and sobbed bitterly onto Gabrielleís proffered shoulder.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena and soothingly stroked the warriorís raven hair.
They sat like this until Xena found enough strength in woman now cradling her to break the enfoldment and face her friend.
"Heís right you know." Xena stated softly. "I canít hide from my past. Itís going to haunt me for the rest of my life and I canít bear the thought of my past possibly getting you killed."
"Xena," Gabrielle said speaking just as softly, "heís only half right. Maybe you canít hide from you past, but you can continue to atone for it. Donít you see, thatís what this festival is all about. The year is almost over and a new one is approaching. Itís a chance for the world to start all over again and begin anew. You can do the same thing. Whatís past is past and you should have nothing to hide. You have to focus on the future now and Iíll be with you all the way. I love you and Iím not going anywhere," Gabrielle said as she kissed Xenaís forehead.
Xenaís heart leapt at her confidantís last statement and she looked Gabrielle in the eyes and spoke once again.
"You said I should have nothing to hide, but the truth is I do. Gabrielle you deserve to know what Iíve hidden for do long. I love you with all that is me and I have for a long time. When that man back inside spoke to me about losing the only person I love more than life itself, I didnít think of Marcus or my brother Lyceus, I thought of you. Thatís why I ran out. I couldnít stand the thought of losing you again. I love you Gabrielle. Your the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep at night. Iíll understand if you never want to speak to me again, but I had to tell you how I felt. Iím sorry..Iím so sorry Gabrielle."
Xena bowed her head and refused to meet Gabrielleís eyes. As the yearís closure drew near, Xena was bracing herself for the expected departure of her friend. She could hear the soft, slow music from inside the tavern and knew that it was time for the last dance of the evening and of the year. The Warrior Princess abruptly looked up as she felt Gabrielleís hand on her shoulder.
"Xena," Gabrielle asked, her face as beautifully innocent as ever, "may I have this dance?"
Xena nodded still not quite sure of her friendís sentiments or even why she was still there for that matter. Gabrielle stood up and taking Xenaís hands in her own, she helped her friend to her feet. Gabrielle wrapped both her arms around Xenaís neck and peered deeply into the taller womanís intoxicating blue eyes. Xena looked at Gabrielleís stunning face and saw something she had never seen before in the bardís gorgeous visage. ĎCould it be?
Did Gabrielle feel the same way about her?í Xena put her arms around the smaller womanís waist and pulled her close. They both closed their eyes as they moved in sync to the slow, soothing music emanating from the building. The song came to an end as the final minute of the year was being counted down. Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked up to see Xena gazing down at her intently. Xena brushed away a few strands of hair that blew in her friendís face and tenderly cupped Gabrielleís face in her hands as she bent down to kiss her. Almost as quickly as she had kissed her, Xena pulled away.
"Iím sorry Gabrielle. I never wanted to hurt you. I am so..."
Gabrielle suddenly grabbed the back of Xenaís neck and pulled her down to meet her lips.
She kissed Xena with such voracity that it surprised both women. When the kiss finally ended Gabrielle looked up at the love of her life and uttered, "To you my dear, a new beginning."
Xena stared down into Gabrielleís hypnotic green eyes and said with a smile, "No, to us my beloved, a new beginning."
They leaned into each other and kissed again as the year slowly came to an end.
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