The Mind of Love

By FreeBard

Chapter 1- "Dreamers"

All was not well that night. Argo noticed it and began nosing around in the thick foliage at the edge of camp. She gave a few distressed snorts, but the two figures laying on the other side of the clearing remained still. The fire smoldered unsympathetically. She gave her head a little toss and, apparently giving up communicating her concern, simply stomped the ground with one of her front hooves. It gave off a hollow sounding thud in the resounding silence of the night.

Gabrielle heard the noise and stared wide-eyed across the clearing to the awakened Argo. Argo's sleeplessness was as odd as her own at this time of night. She had felt like rising and crossing to the horse, for the company of the caring animal would be consoling. It would certainly be better than the empty feeling she currently felt in the core of her body. She remained where she was, though, riveted there by the same thing which filled her with a disturbed chill. Xena lay beside her, asleep. 'That is, if it can be called sleep,' Gabrielle thought, for her friend constantly shifted, unable to fall into a restorative and peaceful slumber. She muttered names and places of the past ten years of her life as dreams overcame her senses. Gabrielle recognized most names that sent out into the night. She tried not to think about them, for the ache in her heart threatened to consume her entirely. The pain that these names evoked was too recent, unresolved. One of the names was her own.

A knot of wood in the fading fire popped and sparks began a hectic flight upward. Gabrielle followed them with her gaze into the sky, the deep orange glinting off her blue-green, pensive eyes. The pin points of light faded, disappearing to reveal the myriad of stars, scattered like a handful of sand upon a dark page. Gabrielle thought of writing something on the scrolls that sat in a little bundle beside her. Writing always helped. Gabrielle did not move though, for the light was too dim and getting darker, and she daren't leave Xena's side. She sighed a ragged sigh and turned to Xena, who remained still long enough for Gabrielle to put an outstretched hand briefly on her cheek. It felt hot to the touch. Her dark eyebrows were pulled tightly into the middle of her forehead, her face the image of suffering.

Gabrielle laid back down. "Friend, If there is any way to travel this road with you, To heal and to support you, Wherever the tortuous path may lead, Whatever the pain of hateful thorns, Or the confusion of failing light..." She whispered this, almost as a prayer and looked back up to the unwinking stars which hung in the dark night. She continued, "I trust not in the stars or the Fates, but in you..." She trailed off, the words which she had penned many months age seemed wholly different now...the words had not become hollow, which can happen with the passage of time, but rather had gained a quality to them. The poem was rich from Gabrielle's mouth which was, like the poem, older than its time. For Gabrielle, it was rich and sad, like a mournful soldier returning home from war, revisiting a place ingrained in his soul and yet viewing it with a stranger's eyes. Gabrielle closed her eyes at this comparison that sprung to mind unbidden. "It is still home..." she whispered, nearly hissing to convince herself. 'It is still home,' her tired mind agreed, and her weary heart warmed a bit. The words of a philosopher she had known from the Academy came to mind, "Change and growth are like yarn, spun from the sheer passage of time...Change comes naturally to the loom, Growth you must bring yourself, for only together can you weave the most beautiful tapestry which is life..." Gabrielle was heartened by this thought, and she gave one final thought to change, and threw a last, long look at her friend. Just before she dropped off into sleep, she hoped for a better morning.

"So, you are saying that I snore?" Gabrielle asked, her voice noticeably agitated.

They continued down the road, side by side, the noise of a frying pan clinking against Argo's saddle the only sound. It clinked twice before Xena replied.

"Ah," she paused, pressed her lips together and added simply, "Yeah." Her blue eyes glinted a bit, but the rest of her stayed tranquil. It was a moment of Xena's driest humor. Gabrielle, as expected, was flustered by this thought and more, by her friend's equable reply. She sought a decent come-back. She came back from her well of responses empty-handed. So instead, she sighed with what she hoped was a dramatic flare and turned away to look at the passing foliage.

After a beat, and with a private laugh, Xena turned to her and touched her forearm. "Hey, that doesn't mean I want you to sleep on the other side of camp or anything..."

Gabrielle realized the opportunity to turn the conversation back to her original intentions. "But it does mean that you didn't sleep well last night?"

The flicker that swept over her face would have been impossible to notice had not Gabrielle been looking for it. Xena replied with a typical dose of blasť, "Yeah."

Gabrielle wanted to call her bluff, but the words faded as they reached her lips. This stance was unfamiliar, Xena had always been the protector. Gabrielle wanted, above all, the comfort and help her friend-but looking into her dark face, with its still exterior and yet anguished interior, she knew that turning the tables on her at this moment would not help. Xena had to be ready to accept her as nurturer, and ready to accept this gift of love.

A few minutes passed, the clinking of the frying pan keeping rhythm for some sad waltz. The longer Gabrielle continued on, silent, the more worried Xena became. She did not worry so much that her friend knew of her untruth, but was more concerned that she had really hurt her feelings. Nonetheless, she felt guilty and nearly ashamed that she couldn't speak of her disturbing dreams. 'Stay cool, and level-headed' part of her said, 'mustn't worry her with the truth. She has been through enough already. She is really not hurt by this...just thinking of a fitting response.' This part had laid siege to the rest of her being which cried out, 'Tell her! She is your strength and has been wise in matters of the heart...She is your...Why can't you tell her?' Only her stomach stayed neutral and complained only of hunger, but its opinion was generally ignored in those passing moments.

Finally, her worry insisted. "Gabrielle, you're not upset, are you?"

Her friend turned, her golden-red hair bouncing a little as she did. "Oh, no, just...thinking." She smiled a half-smile which betrayed her pain in spite of itself. Xena slowed Argo to a stop, who half-snorted, sympathetically, and shook her head a little. Xena took the step to her left. This definitely had nothing to do with snoring. "Not thinking sad thoughts, are you?" She put her arm around the bard, who leaned into her, heaving a sigh a relief that changed its mind midway and became a sob.

"So much has happened...changed..." she whispered through her ragged breathing. Xena nodded and rested her cheek against Gabrielle's bowed head.

"I know," she said softly. A tiny, glittering tear slid from her cheek, paused for a moment as an iridescent bead, and then sank into a field of golden blond hair.

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