Than the Sword

by llamajoy

Penelo sat by the fire, her feet tucked underneath her and a bundle of manuscript on her knees.

The others knew the pattern of it by now. Sometimes Fran would stand at her elbow and offer suggestions, or Vaan would. Fran was helpful, with her viera memory and sharp eye for detail; Vaan was less so. Penelo suspected that Vaan knew that as well as anyone, but enjoyed making a pest of himself.

More like than not, though, they left her alone. This night Ashe was polishing the notched edges of her ancient blade, something more like sadness than anger to her concentration. Fran was fletching arrows, Balthier idly explaining constellations to Vaan, deriding any aspiring sky pirate who could not name the Four Kings or chart a course by the stars. Basch stood farthest from their cooking fire, where the fire-thrown light flickered into waiting shadow, watching the night.

Penelo kept her fingers busy with scraps of paper, meticulously pinning and folding, scolding the bits that strayed. She'd been quick to admit she wasn't much of an artist, but she was quite proud of her spelling. And if it was easy to convince Vaan to pinch tiny tidbits of information here and there, well, she wasn't going to discourage him. It was a better habit than stealing gil, anyway.

Frowning over a few fiddly details, she tapped her pen against her lower lip. Ice? Or had it been lightning?

Sometimes it wasn't pleasant, the remembering. Battle heat, sharp words-- the sticky sound of bloodied steel, or the noise Fran made in the back of her throat when she was too spent to cast magicks. But Penelo always felt better afterwards. And better still, if Balthier, or Ashe, asked a technical question and she had the answer at her fingertips!

Weak against lightning, she decided after a moment, jotting a carefully jagged line.

"Penelo." She started when Basch's hand touched hers, her pen faltering mid-word over her papers. He was on one knee at her side and she hadn't even heard his approach. In the firelight, the shadows on his face made him seem uncertain, and so her teasing reproof went unsaid.

"I pray you, still your pen, this time," Basch said. For all the gentleness in his words they stung her as sharply as any magick. He was looking at the parchment in her hands, the inked "V" sitting silently between them.

Stricken, over-hasty, she snapped her folio shut. Scraps scattered loose around her, and she picked at them rather than meeting his eyes. "Of course! I'm so sorry, I..." Her voice evaporated. It was a miserable sort of feeling, to be reminded yet again of how little she knew about fighting.

But the tone of Basch's quiet had changed, and when she managed to look at him there was gratitude in the corners of his eyes. His hand was warm as he squeezed her shoulder, as if he were offering compassion to her. As if she were the one who had suffered the loss. "Your understanding is enough," he said. "He could not ask for more. Nor could I."

Unasked, he helped her gather fallen bits of parchment, lining them up and placing them carefully in her hands.


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