A/N: Hey guys! Here's another one-shot inspired by the UF challenge word, 'Pencil'. For the one-shot I used the word quill because it was more fitting to the series. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this chapter. It's set after "In Sickness and in Hell", and there's a bit of subtexty fluff in it, so...yeah. Happy Reading! :)
"C'mon, Xena," Gabrielle moaned. "Just try it. You never know…you might like it."
Xena frowned at the teasing tone of her young friend and turned away, directing her attention upon her horse again. She had been stood in the stable for the best part of a candle mark, brushing down Argo's coat. The instructions she had given the stable boy seemed to have gone unheeded; it was as though he had just taken off her saddle and put her in one of the stalls. But after the fight that had broken out over a couple of drunks earlier, she couldn't hold it against him. One of the men in the brawl had been the young boy's brother, and he'd run out to defend him or take him home, she didn't know which.
Now, because of that time consuming ordeal, Argo had been stripped of her daily brush down. After putting Argo through her paces earlier, the horse deserved to be properly looked after. She owed it to Argo for all the times she'd helped and been there as her constant companion, much like Gabrielle, especially after the incident with the Scythian army. Xena had been more than a little scared and confused when her beloved warhorse had avoided her when she and Gabrielle had gotten sick. The event had sent her straight into the grasp of a warlord. She had thought that maybe Argo had grown tired of her, but Gabrielle assured her that she would never leave her side, just like her.
The bard really meant it when she wouldn't leave her side. She had been asking a favour of her for most of the day. At first, Xena would have listened and complied, but what the young blonde wanted her to do both surprised and annoyed her somewhat. But the hopeful look in Gabrielle's eyes was almost too much for the warrior to bear. Every time she looked at her, Xena found a part of herself crumbling under the soft gaze that seemed to command her to give in to her will. Instead of looking, Xena did her best to force her gaze away; if she didn't look, she wouldn't cave.
She dragged the brush across Argo's back, ignoring the eyes she could feel pressing into the back of her neck. "I don't think so, Gabrielle. That's more your field of expertise – I wouldn't be any good," she said.
She heard Gabrielle's footsteps approach until the blonde was stood beside her. "Nonsense. Anyone can do it, Xena." Gabrielle paused for a moment, looking the warrior princess up and down when a thought came to her. "You did learn. You can do it…can't you?"
Xena blushed, her hand stilled as she looked at her. "It's not a question of whether I can or can't! I just…" she trailed off, going back to brushing. "I just don't want to."
"When was the last time you did it?"
"What? I was only asking. I was just thinking. If it's been a while, I don't know. You've taught me a few things…maybe I could teach you?"
"I can't believe we're even having this conversation," Xena said dryly. She shook her head, glancing at Gabrielle again. "Look, you stick to what you do best, and I'll stick to what I do best, okay? That way there won't be any confusion."
"Who's confused here?" Gabrielle asked innocently.
Resisting the urge to smile, Xena turned back to Argo. "No"
She heard Gabrielle sigh and watched the young blonde as she moved to the window. Even from where she was stood grooming Argo, Xena could see out of the window.
The sun was just falling on the horizon, bathing the earth in its last rays; the red and gold shades of the autumn leaves glowed as light passed through them. They fluttered gently as the warm, summer breeze caressed them. The sun spilled into the stable through the arched window, bathing Gabrielle's face in the soft, golden light. Xena could barely look as she saw a flicker of sadness appear on her friend's face, yet for it to disappear just as quickly as she continued to gaze out.
Xena knew how much it meant to her. Gabrielle spent most of her waking life writing – she was a bard, after all. It's what they do. But, lately, Xena felt that her companion had lost her concentration or inspirational spark to write. It was as though she didn't want to do it as much, not that she could blame her. After everything that happened in Chin between them, their children and Gabrielle almost dying in the lava pit, even Xena felt depressed. She had more will to watch over her friend than anything else and had become a little overprotective in the process. She was still trying to break the bad habit she had developed. She didn't want everything to revert back to the way it had been when they first met, though sometimes, Xena wondered what it would have been life if the evil that had touched their life the way it had.
Would Gabrielle still be the same woman if she hadn't lost her blood innocence in Britannia, been forced to give up her child, or left in Greece with the doubt that Xena had put there to fester into jealousy while she went to Chin? Perhaps, but the world would have always left its mark on her one way or another. With everything she had gone through during their travels, Xena remained in awe of how her friend could still walk around, bearing the scars that she had been dealt, and still offer kindness and compassion to those she met, changing their life the way she had changed hers.
"You're right, Xena. We do have our own strengths. I shouldn't try and force you to do something you don't want to." Gabrielle turned to her and smiled, though Xena noticed it didn't touch her eyes. "I'll, um, leave you to Argo and go to bed. The sun is almost down and I'm tired, so…"
"Yeah," Xena cleared her throat. "Sure, I don't know when I'll be up."
An awkwardness hung in the air as both women stared at each other. While Xena cleared her throat, Gabrielle moved away from the window, walking her staff along with her. She nodded, patted Argo and squeezed Xena's forearm before heading toward the door. As she left, Xena stepped away from the warhorse and put the brush back into the saddle bag. She sat heavily on an upturned bucket and sighed, running her fingers through her hair.
Why did Gabrielle want Xena to write so badly all of a sudden? It felt like a puzzle to her. Though, now that she thought about it, Gabrielle had taken quite an interest in trying to make her write or get her to read some of the scrolls she has written lately. She didn't know if it was because of what happened between her and Hope and she was still coming to terms with it, or if it was something else.
Hearing Argo snort, Xena looked up. "What? Don't look at me like that. I haven't done anything wrong. I just…I don't write, Argo." The horse whickered and hoofed the ground in front of her. "
Xena couldn't hide the sliver of guilt she felt creeping up on her. Over the years, Gabrielle had written numerous scrolls about their exploits – many of which had copies made of them and were archived the libraries in Greece for others to read. Gabrielle had once said that she would rather live the adventures they have, rather than tell them, but she constantly wrote before they went to sleep, recounting their missions in the embellishing way she did.
Would it be so bad if Xena picked up a quill to write something, even for Gabrielle? She admitted that she wasn't one for words. Most of her statements were made on the end of a sword or when she was compromising to make the best of a situation. She was no good at expressing her feelings through ink. She had tried to tell Gabrielle how much their friendship meant to her over the years, but instead, the words would freeze on her tongue and she'd just give Gabrielle a hug.
"What do you think I should do, girl?" she asked, looking up at Argo.
The horse neighed, flapping her lips and shook her mane, looking over at the bag Xena had left sitting against the wall opposite her stall. Xena narrowed her eyes at the bag.
"Fine, I'll give it a go. Sometimes I think you two team up on me, y'know?" she said. She stood and walked over to it and looked inside. Along with some other belongings there was a waterskin and an extra dagger.
"There's no parchment in here. But there are….apples," Xena arched an eyebrow at the mare and held one out for her. "Thanks for your help," she said sarcastically.
While the horse whickered happily and munched on the piece of fruit, Xena rubbed her chin in thought, wondering where she could get some parchment and ink. She smiled as she looked out the window and saw the inn where they were staying.
Gabrielle turned over in the bed, pulling the sheet further around her face. As she stretched her hand out under the covers, patting, she felt a noticeable emptiness in the space beside her. She wondered if Xena was sleeping right on the edge. She opened her eyes, yawning as she did and blinked until her eyes adjusted to the darkness. The sun was not yet up, but from the bruised looking sky she guessed it wouldn't take long. There was no light in the room and wouldn't be for a while. She could only guess that it was dawn seeing as she woke by herself without provocation.
"Xena?" she said tiredly. She yawned again and lifted herself up onto her elbows, pulling back the covers. "Xe-Xena?"
Jumping from the bed, Gabrielle pulled back the covers the rest of the way. Even in the restricted light, she couldn't see Xena's outline on the mattress, nor was her armour laid out on the dresser where she'd put it the night before.
Gabrielle paced at the foot of the bed. Her first instinct was to panic. She was alone - Xena was nowhere in the room. She would tell her if she was going anywhere, right? If there was trouble, Xena would have woken her up for her own safety or to help. So where was she?
She paused in her pacing, her heart turning to stone. Was she angry with her for something? Perhaps she'd pushed Xena too far yesterday by asking her to write something. Was that it? She dragged a hand down her face. She knew how much reading and writing annoyed Xena, why did she have to push so thoughtlessly? The idea had just popped into her mind the day before when she had visited the theatre in the middle of the town. Seeing the stories come to life had lit a spark in her imagination. She had wanted to see if she could encourage Xena too, spread her love for writing.
It had been so long since she had last written that she felt she might have just gotten caught up in the excitement over the whole thing, and at the same time, she had brought up one of the subjects Xena wasn't confident in.
Damn my pride, she thought as she moved to the window. Why did she have to keep doing things like this? She cringed, remembering the look on Xena's face when she'd brought up the subject of getting her to write. She ran a hand through her long hair, clenching the tips in her hand. The next time she saw her she would apologize, promising never to bring it up again. It felt as though, even years after the day they met, the fire that resided within her to write still blazed like a star, but that was no excuse to drag Xena into it. They liked different things and even if she could change it, Gabrielle didn't think she could bring herself to do that.
She frowned as she leaned on the window sill and looked out toward the stables. There was a light still on inside. From where she stood, Gabrielle could see the orange glow from the lamps bathing a dark figure slumped over in the stable, unmoving.
"Xena…?" she breathed. Her blood turned to ice.
Without hesitation or thought, Gabrielle turned and wrenched open the door. She left, bounding down the stairs with abandon, taking no care that she was in her nightshift or to tiptoe and spare the other residents within the building the noise she made. Her heart was in her throat the whole time she ran from the inn and made her way over to the stable. She feared the worst.
If Xena was dead because she felt she had been forced to sleep outside to avoid an argument with her, then it was Gabrielle's fault. She knew she should have just dropped it. She would never forgive herself if she had caused her best friend's death over something as silly as writing.
Upon entering the stable, Gabrielle found Argo sleeping, her legs curled under her. Nothing seemed to be out of place since the previous night. There were no signs of a struggle or a possible scuffle, nor was there any blood on the hay covering the floor.
"Xena? Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle said, as she approached her friend.
Xena was sat on a hay bale; her body slumped over a crate covered with a blanket and her head resting on her crossed arms. She waited with her heart on the edge, her breathing hollow and panicked until she heard the soft, familiar sound of Xena's snoring. She lowered to a crouch next to the crate and smiled, realizing her panic had all been for nothing.
Xena was asleep. Gabrielle couldn't help but notice how utterly relaxed and innocent she looked as she slept. Her mouth fell agape slightly, all the muscles in her face were all relaxed, rather than the tenseness she seemed to hold when awake. She looked almost childish as she slept, dead to the world. Reaching up, Gabrielle pushed her fingers across Xena's forehead, brushing the errant hair that fell across her closed eyes.
It was when Xena mumbled in her sleep and turned over that Gabrielle finally saw what lay on the blanket covered crate. She didn't know how she hadn't seen it all when she'd first stepped foot in the stable. There was scrunched up pieces of parchment thrown to the floor surrounding Xena, an empty inkwell knocked onto its side and a quill hanging limply from between the warrior's fingers. But that wasn't what caught her attention. It was the piece of parchment that fluttered slowly to the ground when Xena moved in her sleep.
Gabrielle reached over and picked it up, holding before her. She barely read a couple of lines before she smiled and sniffed to keep herself from crying.
Xena seemed to react to the sound and shot up from the hay, drawing her sword quickly. She stood, swaying from her abrupt wake. "Gabrielle?" she said sleepily upon seeing the blonde on her knees on the floor. She saw a tear escape from her eye and trickle down her cheek. Seeing that there were no enemies around, she sheathed her weapon and crouched before her best friend, resting her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "What's wrong?"
When Gabrielle lifted what she held, Xena felt her heart squeeze and her stomach flutter in fear. She blushed. "Oh, that. Um, Gabrielle…I know it's not good…it's not finished-" she stopped when Gabrielle shook her head silently.
"No, it's…" When she lifted her head, Gabrielle's eyes where shimmering with unshed tears and her cheeks had tinged pink from emotion. "You wrote this? All of this?" she asked.
Xena sat back on her heels and rubbed her neck with embarrassment, looking away. She cleared her throat. "Y-yeah. When you left earlier I felt bad about how…well, how I handled things. I decided to try writing after all to cheer you up." She shrugged then, smiling childishly. "It wasn't so bad," she admitted.
Gabrielle smiled as she settled beside her. She held the parchment up for them both to see and began to read aloud:
"Over a thousand nights have come and gone,
But you have been there all along.
My ally, my sister, my love, my life,
You will always be my light.
When darkness comes you pull me out,
Removing all trace of my menacing doubt.
The time you first asked to come along,
I resisted, I detested the responsibility that would come.
But then you smile, and the feelings that follow,
Fill the hole in my heart that evil had left hollow.
A world without you couldn't be considered,
I'd rather stay with you till I'm old and withered.
I know our journey will eventually end,
But I'll always count myself lucky to have you as a friend.
Because be it in this world and forever,
We will always be together."
Silence filled the stables when she finished reading. Nothing but the gentle morning breeze passed through, rustling and pushing the loose hay across the floor. Neither spoke for such a long time that Xena thought that the young bard had fallen to sleep. But, when she looked down and saw Gabrielle's face, she saw the crystalline tears falling silently down her cheeks. Without a word, Xena looped her arm around her shoulders and pulled the bard into her side.
"It's so beautiful, Xena," Gabrielle whispered into her side. "Thank you."
Xena smiled and rested her chin on Gabrielle's head. "I meant every word. I'm sorry about earlier, Gabrielle. I didn't mean to upset you or get annoyed."
"No, it's my fault. I shouldn't have pushed you to do something you don't like to do." Gabrielle looked at the poem again. "It really is beautiful, Xena. I didn't know you had such a way with words."
"I have many skills," Xena replied.
Gabrielle snorted and sat back slightly so she could look up at Xena. She rested her head against the arm supporting her and grinned, arching an eyebrow. "Yeah, I guess you do." She looked around at the mess of wasted parchment surrounding the crate. "How many tries did you attempt it?"
Xena looked too. "A few," she said wryly. "But I wanted to make it perfect...I think that's when I fell asleep."
"Ah, Xena," Gabrielle sighed humorously.
They stared at each other for a moment, savouring the silence and the feeling of happiness that had come from something as simple as a poem. To Xena it was just a jumble of words put together, describing what she felt. But to Gabrielle it signified so much more. That her friend had decided to put her feelings down on parchment, when normally she stood there tongue-tied and awkward or abandoned the attempt altogether, meant a lot to her. She would treasure it forever. She didn't need a physical object that served as evidence to prove their friendship and loving bond - she already felt it within every beat of her heart, but she would still keep it.
When she shivered, her skin raising with goosebumps from the cold washing in through the open doors and windows of the stable, Xena frowned, concerned. She pulled Gabrielle up with her, grabbing the blanket she'd used to cover the crate so she could wrap it around her shoulders.
"C'mon, let's get you back inside. You must be freezing in just your night clothes."
Though her skin was cold because of the weather, the warmth from the love she felt pouring from the words in Xena's poem kept her heart warm all the way back to the inn.
Thank you so much for reading this chapter. I hope you liked reading this as much as I liked writing it. I wanted to write something a little soft for this one, so I hope that came across. The poem in this chapter is my original, created solely for this one-shot. As usualy, any reviews/comments are greatly appreciated, so are any PMs including issues you may have with spelling/grammar/Con-crit. If you liked reading this, please don't hesitate to check out my other stuff. Thank you again :D