After Thoughts

by Ingrid

I didnt know quite what to think; he sat beside me, while our fire crackled and the burning branches glowed like fireflies, him telling me how much things had changed. And I knew itd been too long. Too long since our last goodbye, too long since Id glanced at him with a smile - why had it been so long?

It took him a moment to understand why I gave up the path Id been following, and to still be at Xenas side. I still had a hard time not giving into my habitual instincts, the staff having been part of me for so long. Id slowly turned from a bard to a warrior - and I can remember how Id convinced myself because of the nature of the staff that it wasnt a true weapon....who was I kidding?

He comforted me, just like hed always done, and told me Xena would support me in whatever decisions I would make for the future. His gentleness was so geniune it made me wonder how any woman couldnt fall for him. I know Id had - but that was a long time ago - did he still feel that way? I hadnt the courage to ask him. He smiled, brushed back a lock of wavy blonde hair and asked about my scrolls, if Id written any more stories. I explained that since India, Id quilled things as a daily diary, a record of my life. Not the poetic adventure-writing Id done in the past. Although...I did miss it.

The remaining half of the obsidian amulet around his neck reflected the yellow flames of the fire, a reminder of change. I looked down at the clothes from India I wore, remembering the dark maroon skirt I used to wear when Id first met Xena. I smiled again.

This man - and all that he stood for - courage, loyalty, a true hero and warrior in every sense - was one that I trusted wholeheartedly. I could tell him anything, and hed understand. I felt myself blushing - I still had feelings for him. Of all things, he seems to remain the constant in a world of change. But for him, for Hercules, and those whod fought Dahak, I knew that wasnt true for any of them. But the amulet was the only outward change I could see. I listened, fascinated by his tale of Michael and the four horsemen, how it was to be a Guardian of the Light...and that he risked damnation just to warn his best friend of the Reckoning.

With his expressive blue eyes he looked up at me and told me how much Id grown up, that I looked so (I could tell he was searching for just the right word) unlike the girl hed left behind, weeping over my best friends death. I told him I was still that Gabrielle, but he just shook his head. I dont know why, really. We finally decided to try to sleep. The night air had a chill running through it, but the fire would suffice for now.

Hercules and Xena had gone ahead to the nearby village. We were to meet them there in the morning. Thered been talk of trouble between families there, and people had been killed. I imagined myself teaching them the ways to peace, the right way, without sword or staff, but Xena...I wanted her to understand so badly why Id changed. She said she did - but I knew her too well. She was still struggling with why. I think I still am. But peace is peace, and war is war. I am not a warrior. I dont know if I ever was one.

The thick blanket hed haggled for in a village while traveling with Hercules was big enough for the both of us. Iolaus was quite amused when I insisted we share it. I told him I didnt want him to be frozen the next morning. It was worth it to hear his laughter again. He spoke of tomorrow, how wed head for the troubled village and that our friends were probably there already. Wed stayed behind because theyd insisted on scouting it out first, but I think Xena wanted me to stay behind on this one. Shes only trying to protect me, I knew, but I was still upset with her when she left us. I planned to talk to her as soon as we reached her. Iolaus promised to take me to the best tavern in Greece after the business with the village was taken care of, and then wed go fishing. Ah, fishing. I guessed it was a hunter thing, although I loved it, too.

We laid down finally to get some rest. He surprised me, laying a soft kiss on my cheek to say goodnight. I felt secure near him, like I did with Xena, but different. This was Iolaus - a gesture like that brought out the most in my smile.

Good night, Gabrielle. I remember him whispering to me.

Good night, Iolaus. I had replied.

I looked over at him, the broken amulet, the patchwork vest, the steady rise and fall of his chest underneath his crossed arms. My constant in a world of change, yet he said hed changed twice over because of the new life hed experienced up in the skies. I am still so happy it didnt change who he was. The hunter who could always make me laugh, cheer me up, put things right...

Change is inevitable. Without it, life would be meaningless, with no memories to recall as special to us. Nothing would be of value or worth, thered be no friendships to protect, and no lives to safeguard. And time? Time is Changes companion. These two have worked together from the start of it all, like the truest of friends, together on an endless journey. They create our path and mold us into what we are destined to become.

He was asleep already. I laid my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. Id wait for the bright morning sun wake me, for Iolaus to declare our fishing trip a success, for Xena and Hercules to safely be with us...I could see the whole day unfold as if it were moments away from my reach. The next night, wed all be around the warmth of an open flame to share our past and our stories.

I neednt worry about change. As sure as the sunrise, it would come.

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