Best Short Story (alternative)
THATíS WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR
Disclaimer: Argo, Xena, Gabrielle and other characters mentioned on this story belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Theyíre used here just for fun, no profit intended or gained, and no copyright infringement was intended.
Another one: Iím Brazilian, so I speak Portuguese instead of English. This story is my first complete attempt of a XWP fan fiction, you probably will find some mistakes due to not being a native English speaker. Forgive me, please. Any and all comments are welcome, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Iíd like very much to know what you think about it.
Now, just a note: this story begins right after the last scene of the episode "In Sickness And In Hell" from the syndicated show Xena: Warrior Princess, when Xena notices Gabrielle is sleeping and turns to caress Argoís nose. Sit back and see what followed.
Gabrielleís sleeping for good, Xena. What do we do now?
" - Come on, Argo, letís leave the sleeping beauty alone and go for a walk. Okay?"
Okay. And, as we walk, would you mind telling me what happened with you two when youíre away?
" - Well, let me tell you what happened after Iíve left you here. I guess youíre curious about that, arenít you, my friend? Okay, then. I said goobye to you and went away with that dark horse..."
" - ... I missed you, girl. And I still canít believe you would exchange me for that man. I thought you would strike for good back there, you know?"
But you stood there, just waiting for me to strike you. You knew I wouldnít hurt you, not if I could see you and trust you as I always did. And it worked, Xena. Again.
Now itís my turn to tell you something. Do you remember how we got to know each other? I do. It was a wonderful sunny day, a perfect day for a young horse like I was. My mother took me to a beautiful plain field to a bit of fresh food and some exercise after a long while that we couldnít go there because of the Horse lovers. They had been there chasing new horses for their army, and Mom was not sure it was perfectly safe, but I kept asking and pleading till she finally agreed.
I was very happy chasing butterflies and enjoying the sun and the open field, and never knew from where came the danger. My mother knew, though, and as she screamed to me, we both started running to the bushes on the right side of the field. Before I noticed, the ground was trembling with the footsteps of two armies approaching, the air was vibrating with their screams and arrows flying. Soon we were surrounded by those men and their horses. Mom was stabbed on the belly, but she didnít stop running and yelling at me to follow her till we got to the bushes. As we did, she managed to put me behind her in order to protect me not only from the arrows but also from the sight.
The smell of blood filled the air, already full of noise and rage. As the day and the battle went on, my Momís life was slowly leaving her body, little by little in each drop of seeping blood. I was scared to death, but didnít understand for sure what was going on. When my Mom fell to the ground, panting and with terror in her eyes, I yelled at her to stand up. Yelled and yelled. I donít know how long I stared at her till I finally notice she wasnít breathing anymore. I lay down beside her and put my head on her neck, feeling absolutely lonely and empty.
The battle ended but I didnít notice. And then you came, surrounded by your honor guard, searching for your wounded soldiers to take back to your armyís camp. That sight is still so clear in my mind, Xena... The sun was setting behind you, a tall dark figure framed against the crimson horizon, covered with blood and with death displayed in the most intense blue eyes Iíd ever seen. When you approached the spot where we were, I jumped to my feet in a maddened impulse to protect my Mom. You noticed me and the dead body I was trying to protect and your expression softened with a sad smile. You took a step towards me, and I panicked. The smell of blood coming from you invaded my nostrils and I couldnít help but running away from you, running away for dear life, a fear so intense overtaking me that I thought nothing on earth would be able to make me stop and look at you again in my entire life. Yet I was wrong.
Your soldiers started to run after me but you ordered them to stop. Your voice sounded loud, clear and icy through the silence of the now dead fields, and your tone was so cold it almost froze my own heart. It was an order, coming from someone who never tolerated to be disobeyed. I could sense that, could sense the threatening danger in your tone, and I stopped too. When I managed to gather the tiny bits of courage I had left, I turned back to look at you. You were going away, focused back on the task at hand. I came back to my Momís side, the feeling of loss building inside me as it hadnít before. Looking back, I can tell it was because not only my mother, but also you, were gone. The emptiness and the loneliness grew inside my heart. I looked to Momís body and it was untouched. Cold, lifeless and untouched. I lay down beside her and I guess I should have mourned, then, but I couldnít. I didnít know how. I still donít.
That day was very hard to a child as I was, back then. The night fell down over the landscape and I fell asleep, longing for rest and a safe place to hide. In the dead hours of the night, an urgent sense of awareness made me wake up. I stood up as quick as I could, wiping my eyes from the slumber just to meet your bright blue gaze. I canít explain why, but that time I wasnít affraid of you anymore. I knew you wouldnít touch my Mom. I also knew she couldnít be hurt anymore. I didnít trust you yet, then, but I was curious. Why, Xena, did you come back for me that night?
"- Wanna know something, my friend? I think that going back to try to find you again, and try to convince you to come with me was one of the best things Iíve ever done in my life. Do you remember that night when we first met, donít you? Well, I didnít know why I did that at the time, but now I know. Friends like you are hard to find, Argo, and I somehow knew that we were meant to be friends. The same goes with me and Gabrielle. Thatís why I had to go after her, you know? I canít afford to lose her. And thatís why I had to come after you, Ďcause I canít afford to lose you either. Even back then I couldnít."
I guess I knew it even back then, my friend, and somehow felt the same about you. But it took me a while till I could trust you entirely. I didnít know how to understand you coming back, and we stayed there staring at each other for a long time before you started talking to me. Something was different, though. I couldnít smell blood on you, I couldnít sense danger on you. When you finally spoke, your tone wasnít cold. "Beautiful baby horse," you said, "youíre all alone now. Donít be affraid, I wonít hurt you. Here, I brought you some carrots, I know you must be hungry."
I was. But I didnít take the carrots you offered me. I didnít know if I could trust you. We continued to stare at each other and you adressed me a warm yet still sad smile. I couldnít smile back, not yet, but I started to like you at that very moment. You remained still and silent, and your attitude confused me. So, I turned and walked away from you, because I needed to be by myself a little to think of all the sudden changes that happened in my life, and all the twisting emotions that ran through my soul. You respected my decision and didnít follow me, and I liked it too.
The next morning was bright, but I wasnít. I didnít know what to do or where to go. My absent steps led me back to my Momís body. When I got there I saw the trail that death was already making in her once magnificent body and couldnít help the feel of disgust. The emptiness in my soul grew even more, but I realized it was time for me to leave once and for all my childhood days behind me and go away to see what life had left for me. And thatís when I noticed the carrots.
"-Girl, you really gave me a hard time, you know? Remember how I managed to make you come to me with those bits of carrots marking a path from where you were to my camp?"
I do. I decided to play your game and followed the path. But didnít eat the carrots. The hunger was nothing compared with the curiousity about you. I guess you sensed my arrival to your camp as Iíd sensed yours the night before, because you were standing right in the middle of the area, looking towards the way I was coming from. Your men started walking towards me but you ordered them to stop once more. You came slowly close to me and stretched your arms to the sides with your hands open. I stood still, didnít knowing how to react to your move. You stepped back and aside giving me full sight of your camp, as if you wanted to show me where you were living Ė and where you intended me to live with you. I looked around trying to capture everything, all the sounds, all the colors, the faces, the scents.
A man brought you a rope and asked if you wanted him to tie me up and lead me to your horsesí tent. "No. This baby here is a very special horse. I can see sheís pretty much like myself. Sheíll do whatever she wants to and thatís it. I donít want anyone messing with her. Do you get it?" They did. No one messed with me, ever. I, on the other hand, didnít get it. But I do now. If you had restrained me back then you would have got a good horse, even a special one, but just another horse. As you did, you got a friend.
You left me by myself and free to go everywhere. I did so and soon I knew your camp as if I had lived there all my life. It was late at night when I came to your tentís openning and glanced inside. You were there, a tired look on your face, finishing the planning for the next battle. When you saw me, you gave me a warm smile. "Baby horse! Youíre still around, after all. Good girl! Are you hungry?" The softness of your tone warmed my heart. And I was deadly hungry. You exited the tent and gestured me to come with you to your horsesí tent. There you offered me carrots once more and this time I accepted and ate voraciously. "So young and already so proud. I like it, girl. Come, finish that and letís go take some rest, tomorrow will be a hard day." I slept in your tent that night, and many others after that, till I got too big to do so. I felt safe with you.
The following day brought up a carnage I had never experienced, but I have no clear memories of it, except for one thing. You were riding your huge black stallion and he got stabbed on one leg. The injury was not that bad, but you dismounted, put him aside, and continued fighting on foot. Suddenly, a man came from behind you when you were having a bad time fighting with three other soldiers. I knew I wasnít supposed to be there, watching, let alone go into the battlefield. But I saw the man ready to stab you on the back, and I had to do something. I ran towards him and hit him as hard as I could, then ran after him, biting and hitting the way I could. When I finally stopped, I was in the middle of the battlefield surrounded by armed and rageous people.
I froze, panicked with the consequences of what I had done. Very good, Iíll die like Mom, I thought. Next thing I noticed was you, maddened with anger, coming to me and spreading death and destruction around us. The enemy ran away, your army won the battle, and I heard you say something between your teeth. "Nobody touches my horse", you said, for the first time in our life together. You turned to check on me, gazing into my eyes, sword in hand, covered with blood and with death in your eyes. I took a step away from you, then another, and another. You understood my confusion, my fear, and smiled to me once more. I was scared to death, I could smell the blood and the danger on you, but I could also see the warmth in your smile and the pain your eyes now showed. Did I hurt you?, I thought, overtaken by the confusion, my emotions flashing and shifting inside me. I feared you, Xena. I admired and loved you. I still do.
I think you loved me then, the first thing you had loved in a very long time. You thrust your sword into the dirt, openned your arms and stared at me. I saw the blue cloudless skies of my childhood mirrored in your sparkling eyes and I knew I had found my home again. You beckoned me and I came to shelter in your arms. You touched me for the first time. I liked the feeling of your warm and calused hands on my head, my nose, my body. I still like it, Xena, and I missed it very much when you went away to look for Gabrielle.
I nuzzled your shoulder and up against your chin and cheek. "Good girl", you said, with that tender voice Iíve learned to love. "You donít need to fear me. I wonít hurt you. I wonít let anyone hurt you, never. I promise. Do you trust me, baby? Good. Wanna come with me? ĎCause I wonít force you, but Iíd like if you decided to do so." I nuzzled you again, enjoying the moment, safe and happy by your side. I had nowhere else to go but, yes, even if I had I would have stayed by your side all the same.
You understood my silent compliance and we started to walk back to the camp. You told a soldier to take your black stallion to the stable healer and walked beside me. That horse never forgave me for that. As we got back to the camp, you gave me some food and left me eating, once more voraciously, while you got cleaned up. When you came back I had already finished my meal, so you bathed and brushed me to clean off the signs of the stressful day. I was delighted with your gentleness, and even more when you started to talk again.
"Do you have a name, baby horse? I gotta give you one now youíre staying. Iím happy you do, you know? The minute I first put my eyes on you I knew youíd be the one for me. Oh, sure, I have lots of horses already. I can have all and any ones I want. Iím the Warrior Princess, the Destroyer of Nations. Nobody dares to deny me anything.
But with you itís different, baby. I can see you donít Ė and you wonít Ė belong to nobody. You are a primal force of the Nature, just like me. You didnít take my litle carrot bribes, no matter how hungry you were. Youíre the most beautiful horse Iíve ever seen, a shinning piece of gold and muscles. I liked you in the very first glance I cast on you. Besides, you have a courageous heart, and youíre loyal, too. You tried to protect your mom back there, then you tried to protect me Ė you probably saved my life earlier today. It doesnít happen quite often, you know, someone trying to protect me. At least, not since Borias... I gotta respect you for that, if not thank you. So young and so brave... Youíre a little hero, do you know that, young one?
Hey! Thatís it! I know what name will suit you perfectly. Heroism, golden skin... Iíll call you Argo, baby! What do you think of Argo? Do you like it, girl?"
I did. I do. If I once had another name, I canít remember. Iíve been Argo since then. I nuzzled you again, happily, and you chuckled quietly while finishing the brushing. That day marked the beginning of my nurturing, though Iíve never felt restrained or forced to do anything. You made it all look like fun, with all the races, jumpings, whistlings and learning all kinds of things you could tell me. Besides that, I loved when you talked to me. You told me about the people in your life, the loved and the hated ones, and about your deeds, the good and the bad ones. You used to talk to me about your plans for a new battle or a hunting excursion, or just the next meal. When you were happy, you would share it with me, and when you were not, I would try to comfort and help you. You would do the same with me.
The next two years I had spent growing up happily by your side. Sometimes you would ride me into battle, but not quite often. I must say Iíve been always very thankful because of that, Ďcause I would follow you to wherever youíd like to go, but the smell of blood and death was like embeded inside my nostrils since my motherís death, and I never got over that feeling. I guess you somehow could see that, and tried to save me the discomfort, the disgust. The other horses in your army mocked me because of that, specially your black stallion. He used to call me a cry-baby and a wuss, but I didnít care. I knew part of that was just jealousy and envy. When he started to call me your lapdog, then I began to care. It was not only jealousy, not anymore, not in his case, a huge and proud warhorse born to battle. He could notice that you were changing, too, that the sights of the war were embeded inside your mind like the smell of blood inside my nostrils. He noticed you were changing, and he couldnít understand. He couldnít bear that.
What bothered me was the fact that, if he already noticed that, your men soon would notice it, too. I was right, unfortunately. There was a day when we got back from an exploration, and it marked your turning point, my friend, but could also have marked your death. I canít remember much of it, Ďcause Darphus ordered the stable healer to tie me in a spot far from the camp, and I stood till the next morning, just able to hear the shouts and the drums. Darphus himself came to get me in the morning, surrounded by your men in a mocked copy of your honor guard. Someone cut the rope and I canít say how but I managed to get past them and run away to look for you.
"- Well, but I have to say I gave you hard times, too. When Darphus betrayed me I went away without looking back. I thought I needed to do something big in order to get the leadership of my army back. I left you behind, Argo, and I apologize. But you found me, donít you, girl? As you always do."
Yes, I found you. And I will always, because youíre my best friend, youíre the only familly I have. And, I must be honest, I love your puzzled face when you think Iím lost and turn just to see me there, staring at you. In fact, I think that the only being that likes it more than me is Gabrielle. She even treats me far better when I do that to you.
" Ė Weíre a great team, donít you think? And Gabrielle is a good addition to us, too. Well, alright, I know you and her havenít always been friends, but...ah, you know what Iím trying to say, donít you, Argo?"
You love her. She is almost perfect to you because you love her. I know that. Iíve seen the love starts to grow inside both of you. Do you remember when she got married to that little childhood friend guy ? You spent the rest of the day and all night chasing Callisto and asking yourself why you hadnít noticed what you really felt for her, then calling yourself chicken because even if you had noticed you wouldnít have the courage to tell her that youíre in love with her, and then just saying her name out loud. Warrior wuss, you called yourself. I had to laugh, my friend, because it was obvious she was in love with you, too, at least for me. But you had to be close to die to finally admit it to each other. Humans are very complicated.
" Ė Let me tell you, Argo, you gave her a hard time, too. She still thinks you donít like her."
But I do, Xena. I liked her from the very beginning of your relationship, because she seemed to me exactly the kind of incentive that you needed to become a better person like you wanted to. At that time, I would play with her just for fun, because she seemed so affraid of me. Remember how she used to repeat time after time how tall I am and how scared she was to ride a tall horse? I found it funny, and, even if sometimes I would nag with her, I liked her very much.
What I didnít like was the way she treated me, like if I was one of your belongings, and, for that matter, one of hers, too. I donít belong to you and you know that. Iím here because I want to be, not because you own me. It took some time for her to learn that, but as she did, it was okay with me. And, yes, we are a great team, Gabrielle included. More than that, weíre friends, Xena. Weíre family.
" Ė Yeah, I know you like her. She just doesnít understand you like I do. Iím happy that you two are getting along, it means a lot to me, you know that. Weíve been through lots of things together, good and bad. You never failed me, my friend. On the other hand, I seem to be always failing you."
I wouldnít say that, Xena. Sure, you sent me away when you were attacked by the Persian army and you thought both of you were going to die. You seemed to die at least two times, and youíre always leaving me somewhere to go away to someplace I canít go along with you. But I wouldnít call it "fail me", not till this last adventure.
This is exactly what I wanted to talk about with you. Iíve been at your side for a long time, Xena, I know your bright side and your dark side. Iíve been through everything with you, and itís been worth the while, the bad times and the good times. Thatís what friends are for.
When Gabrielle died, I suffered with her loss, and suffered because you were suffering. I went with you to look for her because I love her, too. As you decided to go to the Amazonís Land of the Dead, I understood your decision of leaving me behind. I was sure that you thought were going to certain death and didnít want me to go along because youíd hate to know I died because of you. I respected that and said goodbye to you for the third time in our life together. I wandered about but never left this area because deep in my heart I hoped youíd be back.
Then, when my heart was finally calming down and my hopes were nothing more than a dull pain inside, what do I see? You and Gabrielle, alive and fine, coming from an entirely unexpected direction and, above all, with Joxer! What was I supposed to feel, Xena?
" Ė I think I understand why you didnít want to come with me. You felt betrayed, donít you, because I went right after Gabrielle without stopping here to catch you so we could do it together. Is that it?"
Youíre absolutely right. I felt betrayed. Do you remember that time you stabbed me? Yeah, right, I know it was Callisto in your body, I knew it was not you from the beginning, but couldnít understand how it could be. Being stabbed by the hand and the face I loved so much was so painful it almost killed me instead of the wound. I thought I would never feel that hurt again. But this time it was worse. If you were not going to die, if you were going to bring her back, why didnít you allow me to go with you? My only answer for this question was "because she doesnít love you anymore, because she no longer wants you", and it kept playing again and again inside my head.
Now that youíve told me everything that happened when youíre away, I understand that you had no choice, that you didnít know she was stil alive, and that you had to run straightly to Poteidaia to avoid that little bastard Hope to bring her father to our world. But I need to tell you how I felt and why Iíve let that Horselover ride me. It was not an apple, it had nothing to do with him, but with me. I felt betrayed. I thought you didnít want me anymore. I felt that was nothing more for me in my former life and decided to let go.
I could have resisted when the Horselovers came to catch me, but I simply gave in. The leader said that if he rode me into battle he would be invincible. I thought "whatever" and let him work with me and ride me, thinking that he was taming me. As if he could... But I didnít complain because I was feeling empty and lonely once more. If you and I couldnít be friends anymore, at least with him I would have been respected and well treated Ė you saw the tent he got me Ė and, so, I took his offer, mostly because without your frienship there was nothing else left in the world to me.
Itís true you had come for me and tried to take me back with you. But, as in our first meeting, I didnít think I could trust you. The smell Ė by the way, how did you get that smell? Eeeewww!!! Ė was different, but the feeling was the same. You had betrayed me once, you could do it twice. When you left the camp and the Horselover leader came to ride me, I didnít understand that the enemy he was willing to attack was you. You could have betrayed me, but I wouldnít betray you.
And then, when we approached the field where you were, my legs moved absently as my mind rushed through my memories of that day long time ago. I saw you with arms streched and hands open, sword embeded in the ground, telling me youíd never hurt me, youíd never let anyone hurt me. I focused on the target ahead and saw the same image. For the second time in my life, I trusted you. I loved you and let you inside my life once more. I could never hurt you, Xena. Weíre friends, and I think youíre right when you say weíre meant to be together. Can you understand this? Iím sorry if Iíve hurt you, but I was pretty hurt, too. Can you forgive me?
" Ė Iím sorry if Iíve hurt you, Argo, I didnít meant to. Yet, you should have known Iíd come back to you, my friend. I still think weíre meant to be together, and I still think weíre friends. Of course I wonít leave you if I had a choice. After all, thatís what friends are for. And I understand your behavior. In fact, I think Iíd have done pretty much the same. Hey, do you think we are, say, kind of proud and arrogant?"
Are you kidding? Youíre probably the most arrogant person Iíve ever met in my entire life!
" Ė Look to who Iím asking this question... As if youíre not the proudest horse that ever existed..."
Hey, you! Donít you start with me, warrior, I may be tempted to kick your ass, Warrior Princess or not Warrior Princess.
" Ė Alright, alright, my dear friend, no more teasings, okay? I missed you a lot and wanna enjoy ourselves now we are back together. Say, wanna go for a race back to the village to wake Gabrielle up and have a nice meal around the fire?"
Ha-ha, my friend! You bet!