Hello all! Just a little one-shot that I was going to write ooh about 3 months ago, but you can see how long my 'to-do' list really is and now I'm only just getting around to it!
First and foremost this is dedicated to my wonderful best friend Jess, who not only keeps me sane at school with regular episodes of hilarity, but also encourages me to update Fallen whenever time allows. This is a very late birthday present (it was in September) but I did promise to write something so I'm working on the thought of 'better late than never!'
The idea just sort of appeared one day, because we always hear about how Kel was always there for her friends, but friendship is a two way thing and these are just snippets of when Neal was there for her. I also felt that Neal, for all his melodrama, understands Kel in a way that perhaps others don't and that though he might hide it well, he is actually very perceptive...Well that's just how I've always felt!
For all of those who are following 'Fallen', I'll try and update soon(-ish) :P
Please leave a review, wishing everyone the best for 2008!
We are all travellers in the wilderness of the word, and the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend. -Robert Louis Stevenson
Kel didn't need the constant stream of pranks being played on her, the insults from her fellow pages, or her teacher's disparaging remarks to know that she was the least popular page that ever existed. If people were not actively involved in trying to make her leave, they ignored her, fearing the wrath of older pages such as Joren. Only Neal and the Prince would make civil conversation with her, and as the Prince tried to be diplomatic and socialise with everyone, Neal was really the only person who would sit with her.
On her third day at the palace Kel woke and rolled over in bed, staring at the wall, where the faint marks of the writing "Go home" could still be seen despite all of Salma's scrubbing. She thought miserably of the day that lay ahead, of all the horrid remarks, the feet that suddenly appeared in front of her to make her trip and the disapproving glares of all of the pages and teachers.
With a sigh she got out of bed and splashed some water on her face. Kel got dressed in her smart palace uniform, but as a precaution laid out a spare set of clothes in case she had to rush back and change in case another page "accidentally" knocked into her whilst she was carrying a bowl of soup at lunchtime.
Opening her door, Kel peered cautiously out into the corridor, checking that no unpleasant surprises awaited her. She locked her door behind her and set off for breakfast. After she had collected her food, she walked down to the end of one of the tables, feeling every hostile glare on her back and sat down by herself, staring resolutely at her food, trying to unclench her insides.
Someone placed a tray on the table in front of Kel and collapsed into the seat opposite her. Looking up in surprise, Kel saw Neal. A tousled-haired, bleary-eyed Neal who was obviously halfway through his breakfast. He grunted in greeting and continued to make his way through a plate of eggs and thick slices of ham.
Kel muttered 'morning' and began to eat her breakfast too, feeling less isolated with Neal sitting nearby. She was just finishing her pieces of toast, when she realised that Neal was watching her intently. She looked up, her eyes questioning.
'Are you okay?' queried Neal, his face full of worry.
'Fine,' said Kel automatically, startled by his question.
Neal looked away, turning his gaze instead to the pages up the other end of the table where he had undoubtedly been sitting before she arrived.
'You don't have to sit with me you know,' said Kel awkwardly, 'I more or less know my way around now.' It was a lie but Kel didn't want someone to be friends with her out of pity.
'But I want to sit with you,' replied Neal seriously, 'so unless you've grown bored of me already…'
Kel examined his face with her unreadable hazel eyes, trying to judge if he was serious or not.
'Look…' Neal sighed.
He stood up, and beckoned that Kel follow him.
'Neal we've haven't got long until our first lesson,' she reminded him, confused as to where he was taking her.
'I know, but this won't take long,' he replied.
A few minutes later Kel found herself looking out over some practice courts.
'What do you see?' asked Neal.
Kel looked around, there were warriors duelling on several practise courts, all wearing the brown tunics that marked them as members of the Queen's riders. Men and women alike fought in the early morning sunshine, their heavy footfalls kicking up dust from the dry earth.
Suddenly it dawned on Kel and she felt a rush of gratitude towards Neal.
'These women are actively fighting for their country,' he said quietly, but Kel could hear every word. 'So will you too, given time, I've no doubt about that. Just stick it out, alright? The others will come around before too long. Don't let anyone tell you that you don't belong here,' Neal said, 'if they're too stupid to see what's right under their nose -talented women warriors, then they are the ones who have to worry about whether or not they'll win their shield.'
Kel nodded, unable to think of anything to say. They stood there awkwardly for a few seconds before Neal clapped her on the shoulder in a gesture of camaraderie that she had seen amongst other pages.
'Come on young Keladry,' he said in a perfect imitation of their maths teacher. 'Let's not be late for class.'
'Thank you,' she muttered quietly as they made their way back to the Page's wing.
Neal shrugged, 'That's what friends are for.'
Kel almost stopped in her tracks. Friends. Neal noticed her sudden hesitation.
'Unless you don't want-'
'No,' Kel interrupted, 'I mean I'd like to be…friends.'
'This all sounds terribly official,' he chuckled. 'I'm afraid you're stuck with me now.'
Kel smiled inwardly, I can live with that, she thought to herself.
'Come on Kel, the others are all waiting for your help with that maths problem that we've been set, you know the one with the-'
'Wait a second,' yelled Kel thickly.
A few moments later, Kel's door opened and Neal looked down on his younger friend who was clutching a blood-stained rag to her nose.
Neal invited himself in, and watched the only girl page as she tried to gather up her belongings one-handed, the other still trying to stop her bleeding nose.
'Joren again?' Neal asked, knowing the answer.
'I fell-,' Kel started.
'You don't need to start up that rubbish with me Kel,' interrupted Neal, 'unless the floor jumped up and punched you around the face, your injury was a direct result of one of your and Joren's little escapades, which if I'm not mistaken are triggered by his unfair and injust treatment of someone who wasn't sticking up for themselves.' He paused for breath, 'am I right?'
Kel nodded, not meeting Neal's eye.
'You do realise that every time you fight, you're just giving the Stump more reasons to throw you out,' reminded Neal as he peeled the bloody rag from Kel's nose and examined it critically. 'It's not broken,' he murmured and placed his fingers either side of Kel's nose.
Kel felt a cooling sensation run through her bruised skin and her nose stopped bleeding. Neal also touched one long finger to her split lip and the lump above her eyebrow.
'There,' said Neal satisfied, 'at least the Stump won't learn about this particular fight.'
'Thanks,' mumbled Kel.
Neal opened his mouth to continue his well-reasoned argument against Kel doing what she was doing, but he shut it again, realising that nothing he said was going to change the mind of the determined ten-year-old that stood before him.
'Come on then,' he sighed, 'there are several people awaiting your mathematical genius.'
'Okay, but can you explain to me that ethics thing about why the King wouldn't attack in the battle of 43 H.E,' replied Kel as she collected her things.
'It would be a pleasure,' replied Neal in his eloquent drawl as he ushered his friend out of her room.
Kel fidgeted in her seat in a most un-Kel-like fashion. No one needed to ask what was wrong, they were as nervous as she was. It was the evening before the last day of term. Kel had survived her probationary year and as Neal had predicted, she now had a decent group of friends, ones which were currently sat alongside her, all crammed into Neal's room as they worked in silence.
The atmosphere was so tense that Kel felt like she might suffocate at any moment. Tomorrow Lord Wyldon would decide whether or not she could stay, perhaps he had already made up his mind. No one wanted to discuss the topic and instead sat in silence, except for the odd forced, falsely-cheerful comment.
'I think I'll go check on Peachblossom,' said Kel as she clambered to her feet and made her way out of the room, not waiting for her friends' responses. She could here the whispering that broke out in Neal's room as soon as she had left.
'He will let her stay, won't he? He has to let her stay,' whispered Merric.
'I'm sure he will,' replied Cleon, although his words were hollow, as though he too was waiting for someone to reassure him.
I wish someone would reassure me, thought Kel. She had tried her best, kept up with the boys and had worked twice as hard as any of the other pages. One half of her reasoned that he can't through me out, I've never lagged behind the others. But the other half of her remembered with dread, the way Lord Wyldon still treated her differently to all of the others.
Not wanting to hear anymore of the boys' conversation, Kel hurried down to the stables, welcoming the cool evening air on her face.
She sat with Peachblossom, murmuring to him and burying her face in his mane as she fought for control of her emotions, taking comfort in a presence that wasn't constantly staring at her in a concerned fashion.
'Kel,' called out a tentative voice, that she identified as Neal's.
'Can you come out of that stable so I can talk to you without endangering my life?'
Kel opened her eyes and slowly turned around, still struggling to keep a tight grasp on her emotions. Neal's face was peering anxiously over the stable door, his green eyes troubled.
Whispering a goodbye to Peachblossom, she left the stall.
Neal sat down upon a bale of hay outside the stable and beckoned that Kel sit down next to him. She obeyed and stared fixatedly at a kernel of straw that was blowing about slightly in the wind.
'Kel, I can't tell you that you'll be allowed to stay, because well, no one can fathom what the Stump actually thinks. We all know that you've proved yourself five times over and if my Lord is a halfway decent Knight he will recognise that. Also know you've got a lot of powerful people supporting you, obviously Lady Knight Alanna, but also Queen Thayet, Buriram Tourakom; Commander of the Queen's Riders and even Lord Raoul was particularly impressed with your performance the other week, I overheard him talking to my Father about it.'
A small tendril of hope flared somewhere deep inside Kel.
'A lot of people believe in you Kel, never forget that.'
Kel allowed herself to laugh out loud as Neal recounted one of his escapades with the Lioness. It felt so good to be around Neal again. Both of their Knightmasters had agreed to let them have the Sunday afternoon off, and although Neal had wanted to go into the City, Kel had dragged him out for a ride.
The two Squires had cantered down through the woods, talking all the while.
'And then,' Neal recounted, 'her daughter Aly turns up-' Kel listened amused to how Alanna had chased Neal and her daughter all over the Swoop.
'So what are her family like?' Kel asked as they slowed to a walk.
'Absolutely mad,' said Neal with feeling. 'Her husband George used to be a thief and knows all sorts of useful things like how to pick locks. She's got three children, although I haven't met her eldest yet because he's at the university. There's the twelve-year-old twins; Aly and Alan. Alan is thinking about trying for his sheild-'
'But not Aly?' questioned Kel, wondering if there was going to be another female page that followed in her footsteps.
'No,' said Neal, 'as far as Alanna's concerned Aly has "no direction" in life. Aly wants to be a spy, but she hasn't decided how to break it to her mother yet.'
Kel in turn, recounted her life with the King's Own and their latest adventures. Their riding didn't have any purpose; they weren't aiming to go anywhere, they just rode as they talked, each just enjoying the others company and a respite from their responsibilities and the memories of what they had witnessed.
When they returned to the Palace several hours later, they both knew that it was going to be a long time before they had another such afternoon.
'Thanks for that,' said Kel awkwardly, 'it was nice to get out of the palace for a bit.'
'Yes,' agreed Neal. 'One tends to forget how enjoyable something so simple can be, as long as you've got a friend.'
Kel didn't quite know what to say to this remark.
'Of course the fact that that horse of yours went through an entire afternoon without biting me also was rather pleasant,' said Neal, ruining the moment.
Kel just laughed.
Kel bid her companions goodnight and returned to her room, her thoughts troubled. Her first whole day at Haven had been eventful, but not entirely unmanageable. Lord Wyldon and Captain Elridge had left in the afternoon, leaving her in sole command of the Refugee camp.
Kel took down her glaive and absorbed herself in her pattern dances, trying to clear her mind. After twenty minutes or so, she became conscious that someone was watching her.
'Don't worry,' said a familiar voice, 'it's only me.'
Kel asked her best friend, 'What are you doing here?'
'Checking to see if you're alright,' replied Neal casually.
'Why wouldn't I be?' said Kel guardedly.
'I've known you too long,' declared Neal, 'that old Yamani mask doesn't work on me. You're fretting about something, and despite your somewhat misguided opinion of my intellect, I can take an educated guess as to what you may be worrying about.'
Kel sighed and dropped into a nearby chair. 'It's just such a daunting task; I mean, what if I fail them? I'm greener than the Palace gardens in Spring and…' she broke off, her eyes troubled.
'Kel' said Neal seriously, 'Lord Wyldon chose you,' -Kel looked up in surprise that Neal hadn't used his usual nickname of the "stump"- 'because not only are you a natural commander, but because you respect the commoners and in time they will respect you.'
'But you or Merric-'
'Could never command this place as well as you could,' Neal said with an air of finality. 'Look Kel, would you expect to be assigned to the post of camp Healer?' Kel shook her head, confused. 'That's because it's not what you've been trained to do. Similarly I would not expect to command anything bigger than a single squad because it's not what I've been trained to do.
But you, you rode alongside Lord Raoul, who is arguably the best Commander alive today. If he thinks that you have the skill to command, then who's to say that you won't do a damn fine job of it.' He finished this little speech, his eyes blazing.
'It's not so much the commanding part,' whispered Kel quietly, 'I just…it's the responsibility for their safety.'
Neal looked at her bemused, 'But Kel that's what you've always done; -you took in Tobe, Lalasa, Jump…You've always cared for those who couldn't stick up for themselves, it's just that this time there are rather more of them…'
Kel snorted, but all the same she felt a small weight lessen on her shoulders. She looked at Neal, gratitude filling her eyes, for his unnerving aptitude for knowing the right thing to say when she was upset.
'It was a pleasure,' said Neal with an elegant bow. 'Until tomorrow Lady Knight,' he bid her goodnight and disappeared up the corridor.
Kel paced, and her friend's gaze followed her up and down the room.
'You'll be fine,' said Neal reassuringly.
'I just feel so…' Kel gestured to her attire.
'Beautiful?' asked Neal.
Kel shot him a withering look, spoiled slightly by the anxiety that crept into her eyes. She smoothed her hands over her white gown.
Neal hadn't been lying, she looked absolutely stunning in a wedding dress, designed and made by Lalasa. It had been the seams-mistress's finest creation to date, and she hadn't accepted a noble for it.
Kel's hair had been piled up into an elegant design on her head by Yuki and Kel, for all accounts looked as stunning as any bride could ever be.
'I don't feel ready to be married,' she confessed quietly. 'I never expected any of this,' she cast her eyes around at the flower arrangements and decorations that littered the floor of the antechamber where she waited.
'Well life has a horrible way of throwing things on you when you least expect them,' replied Neal cheerfully, 'at least I can say that you deserve this one.'
'But marriage,' replied Kel, 'people will expect me to settle down and start a family,' she wrung her hands.
'Kel,' said Neal seriously, 'Dom doesn't expect that of you and that's all that matters. You love him right?'
'Of course,' Kel replied.
'Then there is absolutely no problem,' said Neal firmly. 'You love him and I know he adores you. Why care what other people think? All the people that matter to you are delighted with your relationship. I think that you're perfect for each other.'
Kel smiled weakly, 'I guess I'm just being stupid.' Neal nodded and Kel threw a weak punch at him, 'you weren't meant to agree!'
'Well I'd better be off,' said Neal. 'Dom will be needing his best man.'
He pulled Kel into a hug, 'It'll be fine, you'll see,' he muttered into her hair.
They broke apart and Neal left the room, only poking his head around the door to say, 'And Kel, you really do look beautiful!'
Kel entered the infirmary, looking quite unruffled. She hurried up the rows of beds until she reached the healer's office at the end and knocked on the door.
'Come in,' drawled a bored voice.
Kel sidled into the room.
'Hello,' said Neal brightening up, 'I was afraid it was another person with a cold. I hate curing sniffles.' He adjusted his chair so that he could face his friend without twisting his upper body uncomfortably. 'And just what may I do for you?' he asked.
'I…I think that I'm pregnant,' Kel whispered.
Neal jumped up and rushed over to his friend, 'Do you mind?' he asked, and Kel pulled up her shirt obligingly.
'Congratulations,' cried Neal, overjoyed. 'Dom will be delighted!'
'You really think so?' asked Kel tentatively. Something in her voice, made Neal pause.
'Kel are you alright with this?'
'Of course,' she replied, trying to sound pleased.
Neal was just wondering what to say, when a stray tear trickled down Kel's face, which she battled to keep straight. 'Oh Kel,' he breathed, and enveloped his friend of twelve years in a hug.
'It's just,' she sobbed, 'eugh, I've always hated my body doing things without consulting me first.'
Neal comforted and soothed his friend, really quite startled at Kel's outburst of emotion; he couldn't recall her ever crying before.
'You know you're meant to be celebrating,' he reminded her gently as they broke apart.
Kel sent him a watery smile. 'I am happy, I really am,' told him earnestly, 'it's just a bit of a shock that's all.'
'You'll make a great mother,' Neal informed her seriously, 'and like I said before, Dom is going to be the happiest man alive.'
'Thanks Neal,' Kel sniffed.
'I can't believe it,' said Kel, anxiety written across her features. 'Our children are pages, pages!'
'I know,' sighed Neal dramatically, 'it makes me feel very old.'
Ten-year-old Emmine of Queenscove and her best friend William of Masbolle, had said goodbye to their parents without a backwards look, leaving two best friends stood in the hallway reminiscing.
'It hasn't changed a bit,' remarked Neal.
'I remember my first day,' said Kel, looking around at the familiar hall, 'someone had vandalised my room.'
'Hopefully that sort of thing won't happen to Emmi,' said Neal, only a hint of worry in his voice.
'She'll be fine,' assured Kel, 'Will would have words with anyone who tried to mess with Emmi.'
'I know,' chuckled Neal, 'and I've a feeling that it would be more than words.'
'True,' said Kel, 'and he has a cursed hard punch.'
'Another generation of Mindelan ready to create chaos among the pages,' commented Neal.
'I did not create chaos,' replied Kel idignantly, as she smacked his arm.
'Alright,' admitted Neal, 'mild uproar then,' as he dodged Kel's hand again.
They stood for a few moments, lost in their memories, until Kel spoke, 'Are you sure they'll be alright? They still seem so young.'
'They'll be absolutely fine,' said Neal, 'after all, we survived.'
'Only just,' retorted Kel, 'my Lord nearly murdered you on several occasions for that insolent tongue of yours.'
'True,' Neal replied, 'but seriously Kel, they'll be fine.'
'They've got each other,' acknowledged Kel.
'Just like we had each other,' said Neal looking down at his best friend.
'Just like we have each other,' replied Kel, taking Neal's arm and leading him out of the pages' wing.
(-a/n- Okay, so what did you think of that? It was quite refreshing to write something other than Fallen. I hope I managed to capture the interaction between Kel and Neal. I just thought it would be interesting to write a series of moments throughout their friendship, but more on the terms of Neal helping Kel, as in the books it's normally always Kel helping someone i.e. the other way round. Sorry if Kel seems a little…wimpy in this one-shot, but after all it's only 8 moments of weakness in her whole life…)
Please leave a review, I'd love to know what you thought!