A/N: For this short work, I wanted to have some fun and try something different than usual. I was looking for something that could be done quickly, but still enjoyable to write. I found a writing prompt, and decided to apply it to Xena: Warrior Princess. The prompt was simple; use a small wooden box as a key item in the story. So, here we go. Read, review, enjoy!
Title: Keep Your Secret
"Gabrielle, she's been gone for over a candle mark." Joxer whined, "Can't we just eat with out her? I'm starving over here."
"Joxer, we're waiting on Xena. That's final." She ended, focusing back on her writing.
"What is she out there doing anyway?" Joxer asked, picking at pieces of tree bark beside him.
"Mediating." Gabrielle replied without looking up from her parchment.
"Ha… Xena meditates?" Joxer grinned. "Come on, Gabby, Xena busts heads for a living. People who mediate are peaceful… they're humble… loving…" Joxer paused and laughed lightly, "They're not Xena."
Annoyed, Gabrielle folded her parchment and gazed over at Joxer, "You don't know Xena as well as you think, Joxer. Meditation is something she does from time to time to help clear her mind and reflect. You shouldn't be so judgmental, you could use some self-reflection yourself."
"What?" Joxer exclaimed, "I'm just saying she's a warrior… a killer." He added grinding his teeth, "You know, like me." He bounced his eyebrows. "Joxer the Mighty meditates to no one."
Gabrielle sighed heavily, "Look, if we go pick some berries to eat, will you stop talking about this?"
"Berries? I thought you said we're having fish for dinner?" Joxer frowned.
"We are, but Xena has to catch the fish first." Gabrielle stood to her feet, "In the mean time, since you're wasting away to flesh and bones, we can snack on some berries."
Joxer chuckled and dusted himself off as he stood to his feet as well, "Gabrielle, we don't have to wait for Xena. I'm a hunter, not a gatherer." Joxer grabbed his helmet and placed it securely upon his head. "I've watched Xena catch enough fish to know there's nothing to it." Joxer stepped forward, "Stay here. I'll be back soon with dinner." With that, Joxer marched off towards the river.
Thankful to have Joxer preoccupied with something else for a while. Gabrielle decided she would unpack their belongings for the evening, and save Xena the trouble of doing it when she returned to the camp. After spreading out her own bedroll, she grabbed Xena's. As she pulled the bedroll out of the bag, a small wooden box fell onto the ground. Realizing she'd never seen the small box before, she was curious about its contents. She reached down and picked up the box, studying it momentarily in her hand. As she was about to open its latch, Xena's voice came from behind, startling her, and causing her to drop the box onto the ground once more.
"Xena…" She breathed, "You frightened me." She watched as the tall warrior came closer to the camp, with two large catfish in her hands. "And you've already gone fishing…"
Xena threw the fish onto the grass, "These fellas were practically begging to be caught." She bragged. "This one here jumped right into my hands."
Gabrielle smiled, "I wonder if Joxer is having the same luck…"
"Please, Joxer couldn't catch a cold." Xena teased, and sat down to prepare the fish. As she reached for her bag, she noticed the wooden box on the ground. "How did this get here?" She asked, immediately picking up the small box.
"It fell out of your bedroll." Gabrielle replied. "It's very pretty." She added.
"You didn't look inside it, did you?" Xena asked harshly.
"No…" Gabrielle replied stoking the fire, "Why, what's in it?"
Xena placed the box back her bag, "Nothing."
"Come on, Xena." Gabrielle laughed lightly, "There must be something in there. Why else would you ask?" Xena rummaged through her bag until she found her knife, and took to gutting the fish, ignoring Gabrielle's question. Instead of giving up, Gabrielle walked over to the warrior and sat down beside her, "What could it be?" She asked. " There aren't many things that the Warrior Princess would have reason to carry in a box. A map, maybe; directions to some secret hideaway?"
"Gabrielle…" Xena warned.
"Oh! Or maybe it's medicine? Some rare herbal potion that you use for healing."
"No, Gabrielle, it's none of those things, alright. Can we just forget it about it, please?" Xena asked politely but with a clear undertone of irritation.
"Okay…" Gabrielle shrugged, "You wouldn't tell me even if I did guess what was inside."
"True." Xena smirked, raising one of her eyebrows.
"How long do you think Joxer will stay down at the river before he finally gives up and comes back?" Gabrielle asked, casually changing the subject.
"Oh, I'd say, right about now…" Xena replied, throwing the fish into a frying pan and placing them on the fire.
Within seconds, Joxer's nose picked up on the smell of the fish cooking over the fire; he immediately turned and headed back to camp. As he got closer he spotted the two huge catfish in the pan and his eyes widened, "Zeus on Mt. Olympus, Xena! Where'd you catch those?"
"In the river." Xena replied nonchalantly.
"Yeah?" Joxer sat down on the other side of the fire, across from the women, "I must have been down in a dry spot." He concluded, removing his boots and releasing a foul odor into the air.
Gabrielle leaned over closer to Xena, whispering in her ear, "Maybe that's why the fish were jumping out of the water, they were trying to get away from Joxer's feet."
Xena laughed lightly, and then advised Joxer to take some soap down to the river and wash up before dinner. At first, Joxer seemed hesitant, but then he caught a whiff of the odor himself, and decided to head down for a quick bath. After dinner, and a full stomach, Joxer was heavily asleep on his bedroll. Gabrielle put away their cooking supplies while Xena sat down to sharpen her sword, like she did every night. After a while, Gabrielle found comfort in hearing the stone rub against the blade; they lived their lives without much routine, but that was one sound Gabrielle could count on, no matter where they camped for the night.
"Xena, how long have you had that box?" Gabrielle asked, once she had finished putting away the supplies.
"Gabrielle, get off the box."
"Come on, if you can't tell me what's in it, can you at least tell me how long you've had it? Why you have it?" she reached out and stopped the warrior's hand from sharpening her sword, "The curiosity is killing me, Xena."
Xena sighed, "I've had the box since I was a little girl."
Gabrielle blinked several times, not expecting this answer, "Xena, I've traveled with you for three years now; I've never seen that box."
"I've never read your stories, but that doesn't mean they don't exist." Xena replied.
"That's different." Gabrielle raised her finger and pointed it at Xena, "I've told you about my stories. In fact, I've tried to get you to read them several times." Gabrielle pondered for a moment, understanding the box was probably more valuable to Xena than she had earlier assumed. "If you've had it since you were a child, it must be something someone in your family gave to you?" Xena didn't reply, instead she went back to sharpening her sword. "Okay, okay, I give up." Gabrielle placed her hands in her lap, "Keep your secret, warrior princess." She smiled. "I'm going to sleep. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Gabrielle." Xena replied, eyeing over her sword.
The next morning Gabrielle woke up to see Xena tending to the fire, a light frost had covered the ground, and it was much colder than she had expected. She glanced down to see the small wooden box placed beside her hand. She leaned up from her bedroll, grasping the box. "Xena…" she called out, gaining the other woman's attention. "Why did you put this here?" It was cold enough to where Gabrielle could see her breath in the air; she quickly wrapped her furs around her
Xena walked over to Gabrielle and kneeled down beside her, "Open it." She instructed; her breath visible as well.
"Xena, it's okay, you don't have to show me what's in the box. I realize it's something special from your past." Gabrielle handed the box back to Xena, but Xena wouldn't take it.
"The box is from my past, Gabrielle, but what's inside it isn't. Open it." She repeated.
"I don't understand, you were so against this last night…"
"I thought it over…" Xena began, "Now that you know about the box, you might as well know what's inside."
Gabrielle turned the box around in her hands, and unlatched the lid. She slowly opened the box, and pulled out a tattered piece of folded parchment. She gently unfolded the parchment, reading it carefully. "Xena, I don't understand… Is this some sort of a list?" She asked, looking up from the parchment and into the eyes of her friend.
"Yes." Xena shortly replied.
Gabrielle studied the parchment more, Xena's writing wasn't terrible, but you could tell she didn't do it often. She read aloud, "Remember the greater good." She smiled and continued on, "Don't criticize too much." Gabrielle laughed and skimmed through the list pausing when one particular entry caught her eye, "Be more like Gabrielle." She glanced up at Xena, who's face clearly showed she was nervous. "Xena, this is so sweet. I never knew you wrote things like this."
Xena scratched at her head and looked away from Gabrielle, "When… When I realize something." She paused, "Sometimes during my meditations or sometimes just out of the blue, I try to write it down, so I don't forget." She glanced back at the bard, "Meeting Hercules changed my life…but meeting you has inspired it." She picked up the box. "My brother Lyceus made this box for me when we were children. He gave it to me one solstice, and I've kept it close to me ever since. For many years, I left it empty. I felt like I didn't have anything worthy of putting in it. Now, I know what belongs in it. It's what's always been in there… my hope."
Gabrielle wiped away at a few tears forming in her eyes, "Xena, I'm sorry. I never should have pried into your business. I just… I never thought it was…" Gabrielle cleared her throat, "This is beautiful and I had no right to pressure you."
"Gabrielle, don't be sorry." Xena interjected, "I owe so much of this to you." She glanced down at the list, "I just wish I had more on there…"
"I think this is a pretty great start." Gabrielle smiled. She reached over for Xena's hand and held it in her own. "Thank you, Xena, for sharing this with me."
Gabrielle suddenly felt closer to Xena than ever before, and feeling this intimacy between them, Gabrielle pulled Xena down closer to her, embracing her tightly. After several moments, the younger woman pulled away, "It's cold." She stated matter-of-factly. "And still early."
Xena nodded in agreement, "We can sleep in a while longer before packing up camp."
Gabrielle repositioned herself in her bedroll, creating enough space for Xena to join. Though they rarely shared a bedroll, Xena welcomed the opportunity, especially during the colder parts of the season. Xena glanced back over at Joxer, who was still sleeping heavily.
"Don't worry about, Joxer." Gabrielle replied, pulling the woman under her furs. Gabrielle snuggled close to Xena, and soon both women were warm and comfortable. Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed contently. Noticing Xena's hand was moving, Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and she looked up, "Xena, what are you doing?"
"Just adding something to the list." Xena replied, as she folded her parchment and placed it back in her box.
"Oh? What did you add?" Gabrielle asked, a smile creeping onto her lips.
"I think I'll save it for some the next time your curiosity gets the better of you." Xena replied, bringing her arms under the warmth of furs, wrapping one arm around Gabrielle. Xena closed her eyes.
Gabrielle laughed softly and cuddled closer into Xena's embrace, "Okay… Keep your secret, warrior princess… for now."
Xena smiled, and tightened her grip.