Additionally, the story below contains references, explicit and implied, of a sexual relationship between two consenting adults of the same sex. If you are not of legal age to read this story, or such material is illegal where you live, or you do not feel comfortable with such content, please refrain from reading this story.
Timeline Notes: This story takes place somewhere in 4th season. Other than that it's just a little piece that I ... dreamed up.
To Sleep Perchance
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Snnar-mmph. Gabrielle rolled over, bumping her shoulder into the warrior who turned onto her side away from the bard. Snnar-mmph. The blonde's eyes shot open. The darkness was still deep. Crickets and owls were about on their nocturnal journeys. The moon was almost gone.
Snnar-mmph. The bard pushed her hair from her face and rolled toward Xena, this time careful not to touch the warrior's body. She watched the rise and fall of the sleeping woman's chest and shook her head. She bit her lip and waited.
Snnar-rrrkk. Snumpf. The brunette rolled onto her stomach and the sounds were mercifully dampened against the blanket she was using for a pillow. Gabrielle sighed and rolled away seeking sleep again. Peace settled for a long moment. The bard's eyes drifted gently shut as she laid her head on her bent arm.
Snnar-mmph. Gabrielle groaned. Behind her she felt Xena shift again. The warrior flipped over onto her back, throwing a long sleekly muscled arm up over her head. Mmm-phft-snark. Gabrielle pulled an edge of her blanket over her ears and pressed the fabric tightly to her head.
The effort did nothing to dull the sound.
The bard rolled onto her back and stared up at the twinkling stars.
She's sleeping like a baby, for once, and I can't get twenty seconds of silence. Gabrielle's sleep-deprived mind -- for this had been going on for nearly a half-moon -- irrationally figured Xena was getting louder just so she couldn't go back to sleep.
Snnar-mmph. Gabrielle groaned and let an elbow fly. Unerringly the joint caught the warrior in her leather-covered ribs, causing no harm, but the disruption did cause Xena to quiet for the moment.
Gabrielle no sooner rolled over and expelled enough deep breaths to near sleep when Xena let loose another snore -- this one part snort and part-choke. The sound startled the bard enough she rolled over and carefully watched Xena's face for assurances that it wasn't turning blue.
It wasn't. Xena's nose was silent for another long moment. Her panic past, Gabrielle studied the warrior's face. The firelight cast an ethereal glow over her skin. Gabrielle flexed her fingers around the blanket she'd grabbed and sighed, loosening her grip.
Most of her life, Xena had submitted her body to harsh training, fighting, injuries, cuts, bruises, slashes that severed muscle from bone, and brutal conditions camping with men in an army that ravaged half the Greek countryside. In sleep, her face was smooth, young, giving the viewer a glimpse of the woman who might have been -- had life not treated her to such brutalities. Gabrielle's heart shifted pleasantly, and she gently freed one hand from the blanket and laid it on the warrior's shoulder.
Her mind was just discarding the mean thoughts of moments earlier -- the blanket from under her own head was still gripped in her hand -- when snnar-mmph, Xena started again. Keeping up her refrain for several minutes straight, the warrior's noisome nose finally pushed Gabrielle to the end of her rope.
She threw her blanket over the warrior's face and moved the blanket on which she'd been sleeping to the other side of the fire to lie down once again. Lying down with her back to the fire and the warrior, Gabrielle resolutely closed her eyes during a long pause in Xena's noises.
The peace was short-lived. The warrior began snoring again within moments, the blanket still over her face. Gabrielle stood, looking around for something to throw, found nothing and dropped to her knees next to her oblivious sleeping companion.
"Please, Xena," she murmured, hands clasped together almost as if she were praying -- well actually in a way she was -- praying for sleep! "Please be quiet long enough for me to get back to sleep."
Maybe it was the words, or perhaps it was just luck, but Xena remained silent for a long time after that talk, and Gabrielle did manage to get some sleep.
In no time at all however, it was full dawn and the fully-refreshed Xena rolled out of her blankets and sat up, rubbing her eyes and rolling her shoulders to limber the tendons. "Gabrielle?" she called over to the bard, noticing for another night that the bard had moved her bedding to the other side of the fire.
The blonde rolled over, looked through slitted eyes at the warrior and groaned.
"Come on, sleepyhead. You've been out all night. You've had plenty of sleep. Let's get moving." Xena stood and stretched. Then grabbed her armor pieces and secured them, before grabbing a length of twine on which to string the morning's catch. "You can fix up the fire. I'll bring back breakfast." The warrior's voice was slightly gravelly, deep still from the recumbent slumber.
She watched Xena walk away. The river lay just out of sight on the other side of some trees. Once alone, Gabrielle rolled over and groaned. "She had to be perfectly rested this morning," the bard sighed softly to herself.
The warrior was gone long enough for Gabrielle to shrug off her depression because of another unfulfilling night of sleep. She was adding tinder to the fire when Xena returned, and crouched next to her. Gabrielle took the prepared filets and placed them into a small pan, adding a scattering of spices from their cooking herbs pouch.
"How are you feeling?" Despite her rough night, Gabrielle knew that Xena had been feeling poorly the evening before. The warrior's attempts at self-recovery included the fact that she had not stressed herself with a workout this morning.
"Better," Xena assured her. "The rest last night did me good."
Gabrielle nodded. "Where are we headed today?"
"Over to Thebes. There's a military council there. I've been asked to offer some advice." Her voice faded on the last word, strained beyond its health.
"Perhaps you'll be able to get something for your throat from the healer there."
Xena rubbed her throat and nodded. "Pretty rough, huh?"
"Yeah." Gabrielle smiled. "Well, at least you'll have an excuse today to play the silent warrior type."
Xena's smile was slow in response but she did smile. Gabrielle loved that smile, and the instant that it softened the lines of the warrior's face, she silently forgave Xena for the restless night she had spent.
The sun was warm and comforting. The day clear and balmy. The bard began to think of a warm bathing spring and eyed the roadside foliage for signs of nearby water.
Gabrielle liked watching the scenery as she walked along beside Argo and the mounted warrior, but today, she seemed to find the inside of her eyelids far more often. Using her staff, she walked along the even road, which seemed to sway a bit too much underfoot. It worked well, for a while, until she hit a rut.
The staff missed it and her dulled senses didn't catch herself until she was falling. She heard Xena's voice as if it were a great distance away. Then, suddenly a pair of warm arms had encircled her chest from behind, and she wasn't falling any more.
Her brain tried to focus.
"Gabrielle?" Xena's voice sounded obscenely loud in her ear though logic told her the warrior would be whispering not yelling. Normally. Maybe there was something to be alarmed about.
The sensation of surprise jolted her limbs and she jumped a bit in Xena's arms. "Huh? Wha?" She made a move to bring her staff into fighting position, but her arms and legs weren't doing exactly as she commanded. The staff was pulled from her grasping fingers. "Yow." She brought her fingers to her lips and kissed them gently.
Then realized they weren't her fingers. She eyed the long tanned fingers with curiosity, turning the palm over to examine it.
"Gabrielle?" The bard looked up into a hazy face that finally resolved itself into a pair of blue eyes set in high cheekbones and smooth well-tanned skin. Xena. She twitched her lips into what she hoped was a smile. Xena's lips moved again, but Gabrielle didn't understand.
"I'm sorry." She shook her head to clear it, but that only adding a new sensation, throbbing. "Um. Oh. Ow." She tried to cradle her temple in a palm.
Abruptly she was helped to the ground, and warm broad palms caressed her temple and cheeks. Distantly Gabrielle was aware that Xena was checking for fever. "Not sick," she offered wearily. "Just tired."
"Tired? We've barely covered half a league."
Gabrielle opened her eyes and tried to focus. "Guess I was more tired than I thought after last night."
The bard rested her head against the curve of Xena's breastplate. Stroking the bare shoulder, Xena echoed, "Last night?"
There was no answer. Xena was surprised when, instead of a complaint about her armor's hard edges, a soft snore issued forth, which evened into slow breathing. Gabrielle had fallen asleep from one word to the next. She looked down into the smooth face and brushed the pale cheek. The blonde did not stir to her light touch. "Why didn't you say anything?" she whispered to the unhearing woman.
She scooped Gabrielle up in a cradle hold and with a pitched whistle, brought Argo kneeling beside her. With a careful throw of her leg, she mounted the saddle. Another whistle urged the mare to her feet. Carefully holding the bard against her chest, Xena guided Argo without benefit of reins, back onto the road and down into the valley heading for the roofs just visible within the clutch of a small forest of trees.
She looked down across her own breasts to smile on the sleeping bard, golden eyelashes soft again pale cheeks. She shifted, to free a hand, and brushed golden locks of hair from Gabrielle's forehead. "You must be getting sick," she murmured, brushing her lips across the skin. It wasn't particularly warm, or showing signs of fever, but the bard's exhaustion and pallor suggested illness. It bothered Xena that she hadn't seen the bard's symptoms earlier. Last night? she thought again. Nothing happened last night. "And this morning you were only mildly worse than usual about getting up." I figured it was that time of the moon.
However, this didn't appear to be a usual moon-cycle dip in the bard's spirits. Besides, they had synced during their first year traveling together. They both weren't due for another four days.
Xena gently squeezed down each of the bard's limp limbs, feeling for any inflammations. She frowned, and touched the bard's dry warm lips with a concerned finger. Nothing. "What is wrong with you, my bard?" she whispered.
She looked up and guided Argo into the center of town, looking around for an inn, or at least a stables. She found her objective in a small squat building with shutters hanging askew over the two front windows. A sign nailed next to the front door proclaimed dubiously, "Paradise Inn." Using her knees carefully, Xena stopped Argo just outside, near a tie-rail. "All right, Gabrielle, time to put up for the night I think." She looked up at the sky and shook her head. "Barely lunchtime," she sighed. "Oh well."
As Xena slid from the horse, Gabrielle stirred in her arms. "Mmmm. Hmmm. Oh." The green eyes opened to the view of the warrior's cleavage, which made her pale cheeks flush. Slowly her eyes tracked up to find Xena, who had stopped walked, looking down into her face. "Hi."
"Hi, yourself. Feeling better?"
"Some." She turned her head and looked around. "Where are we?"
"Polectus. It's a post town. I thought for your sake we ought to put in early today."
"A campsite would've been all right."
Xena's eyes took on a serious cast. "I wasn't so sure you weren't sick, and in need of help I couldn't give you."
Gabrielle gestured to the dirt. "Um, I won't say I'm not happy we're stopping. Because I am. But..." Xena let Gabrielle down, allowing the smaller woman to slide against her own body in order to carefully find her feet. "Thanks."
Xena brushed her knuckles under Gabrielle's chin, lifting the green eyes up. "How long have you gone without sleep?"
Gabrielle sucked her bottom lip gently between her teeth then took a deep breath. "Just a little trouble. It'll fix itself soon, I'm sure."
"Is it trouble falling asleep? Or are you having more bad dreams?" Xena asked gently, but since their troubling journeys of the last year, Gabrielle's bad dreams had occasionally rivaled Xena's, robbing both of them of sleep from time to time.
"No, it's not the dreams," Gabrielle replied. She was still a bit unfocused, and rather than deal with this right now, she almost could hear a bed calling her name. "Let's go inside?"
Xena nodded and put her hand on Gabrielle's elbow. The bard walked steadily, but slowly. The warrior was still concerned, but the blonde waking up took away at least a large portion of her worry about illness. "Want something to eat?"
Gabrielle slowly shook her head. "No, just a bed."
"All right." Xena ducked inside the doorway of the inn and found herself face to face with a brawny soldier type.
"We're not open for business," he said succinctly.
"My friend and I want a room," Xena replied, keeping her voice even and calm, though she could tell from his voice that he was really not interested in negotiating.
"We have no rooms."
"This is an inn. What? Did we come through at festival time or --?" Gabrielle swayed close, putting her hand on Xena's bicep. The warrior slipped a hand around the bard's back, keeping the tired woman on her feet for a little longer.
He looked her and Gabrielle up and down quickly. "No festivals. We just don't have any rooms... for you."
Xena felt Gabrielle's hand squeeze on her elbow. She tamped down on her irritation and tried again, sweetly. "For me? You don't even know who I am."
"Don't need t'know. You're Amazons. We don't have their kind here."
Gabrielle's brow furrowed, and Xena replied to the man evenly. "Well you're half right. She's an Amazon. On the other hand, I'm...getting really angry."
She had let some of her irritation creep into her voice, dropping it several registers.
"Go bed down in the stable with the other animals," he replied, his hand going to his sheathed sword.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered, a quiet plea. She wasn't up for this.
So Xena punched him quickly instead of allowing the ire he'd raised in her to lengthen the process out of a need to pummel him senseless. His head snapped back, his nose broken with a sickening crack, and then forward, and his knees buckled. Without another sound he dropped to the floor of the inn's common room, and Xena got a chance to look past him. The room was empty.
At least I didn't make a scene, she thought with a wry chuckle. "Come on, Gabrielle. Let's find a room." She fished in the pouch tied on her belt for a collection of dinars and dropped them on the bar counter a few paces away. Then she guided the bard to the stairs which led up at the back of the room.
"It's a quaint place, hmm?" asked Gabrielle quietly.
Yeah, if you like narrow-minded bullies, Xena thought, but kept her thoughts to herself. The bard's head was already beginning to droop again. Xena immediately lifted her hands to Gabrielle's shoulders to steady and reassure her. "You need more sleep. Let's get you settled, then I'll go set Argo up in the stable."
They moved in quiet up the rest of the stairs and down the hall, finding a door ajar. After Xena checked it, she pushed the door wide and let Gabrielle enter. The bard sat down on the wood frame bed, pressing her palms into the cushion.
"Feathers," she exclaimed, her voice filled with pleasure and amazement.
And well she should be amazed thought Xena. Finding a feather bed in a cheap small town inn... She smiled at Gabrielle's eyes and saw them dance with warmth and invitation. "Ah, no, I don't think so, my bard. I've got a horse to feed and rubdown." She did rummage through their bag briefly.
Gabrielle nodded. She slid off most of her outer garments, accepting a tossed nightshirt and pulling it on. Then she laid back, rolling quickly to her side. "When you get back, I could use a rubdown too," she enticed sleepily.
The come-on, said so baldly by the usually quiet younger woman made Xena laugh. But the laugh was not heard. For as soon as her head hit the pillow and her eyes closed, Gabrielle slept, her breathing soft and even.
The sound was soothing to Xena and she felt the remaining edge of her head cold tug her toward the bed. But Argo awaits, she reminded herself and left, tugging the door and securing it behind her.
The bard inched toward wakefulness slowly, permitted a leisure she was unused to after so many years on the road. When her eyes adjusted to the low light of the room, she determined the hour to be quite late.
And the second disturbing fact: Xena was not present.
The realization brought the bard upright, pulling the blanket against her bare chest. The room's window was ajar and the night breeze blew in, dusting across the bed. Shivers bolted along her spine and Gabrielle looked expectantly toward the closed door fully prepared to see Xena, magically alert to the fact that she was now awake, duck in the doorway.
Her lips turned downward a bit at a time as the moments passed with no sound beyond the door and no signs occurred that the warrior woman would appear.
She rolled out of bed, and slipped on her skirt and top before moving to the window, to view the night-lit village outside. Across the way, she noticed the stableyard, and the small wooden structure of the stables beyond. With only the moonlight to see by, Gabrielle could not identify if anyone was inside, but hoped that Xena had chosen instead to bed down with Argo and wasn't off on some mission without her.
The idea that Xena might go off without her bothered the bard terribly. But she hadn't exactly been pleasant company. The last quarter moon had seen her losing more sleep than even during her nightmares after Dahak. She tried to figure out if she'd let on about her discomfort in any noticeable way... And remembered basically passing out on the road.
That'll do it, she thought ruefully. She didn't remember much about getting here, but assumed that her behavior might have alarmed Xena a bit too much for the warrior to handle. "Guess I better tell Xena I'm okay." The tall, strong brunette was notoriously difficult about handling her own emotions. Gabrielle slid on her boots, draped her cloak around her shoulders and quietly exited the room, making her way to the front of the inn.
The town center was filled with ordinary bustle. Gabrielle skirted a merchant hawking several bolts of attractive cloth. Determinedly she strode across the dirt center of town and approached the stable's closed doors.
The hinged door creaked as she pushed her shoulder against it. She swallowed, remembering too much that she disliked about barns. She stopped in her tracks and called inside instead. "Xena?" There was no answer. She tried again. "Xena!"
The silence alarmed Gabrielle enough to overwhelm her fears. Pushing all the way in, she looked down the aisle between the rows of stalls. A few horses stuck their noses out, investigating their intruder. She smiled at each and one by one their heads retreated. Gabrielle moved further inside to examine the contents of each stall.
She found Argo's stall where she had expected, last one in the back next to the stablehand's room. She peeked into the sleeping room. The youth from the day had been replaced by a large older man in heavy leather tunic and breeches. A stave lay close to his hand, though he slept soundly. Her presence had not awakened him.
Xena, she knew, would have been up at the stable doors before she'd taken her second step inside. The bard chuckled silently at the suggestion that the Warrior Princess might retire to become a stable guard. Which brought her mind back to the matter of her missing tall, dark and beautiful partner.
Where could you have gone? The bard and Argo eyed each other in the silence. Argo munched a mouthful of hay while her big golden eyes tracked Gabrielle in front of the stall.
She was feeding Argo and thinking when a voice sounded behind her, making her spin around. "Did you sleep well?" The warrior leaned against a post, arms crossed over her cuirass.
"I missed you when I woke up."
"I went to see about replenishing some of my medicines. You really scared me." At this admission the arms uncrossed, and the emotionally blunted warrior façade fell aside. Xena cleared the small distance between them and enveloped Gabrielle in a warm embrace. "Are you sure you're all right?"
Wrapping her arms around the warrior's waist and squeezing back, Gabrielle nodded into Xena's chest. "I've lost a lot of sleep lately." She brushed her hands against Xena's belt and came up with the pouch. "I hope you found something for your cold."
"I'm fine, Gabrielle." She brushed aside a lock of the bard's warm honey hair.
The bard cocked her head to the side and sized up the taller woman. "Sorry, Xena, but your head cold... You snore." The warrior's expression changed dramatically. To Gabrielle, who winced, Xena seemed both hurt and angry. The reaction immediately brought out the bard's apology. "I'm sorry. I know you can't help it, but it's so loud--"
"I snore?" The warrior's short exclamation burst into the bard's train of thought. "I snore? Me?" She raised a long finger to the bard's chest and poked it... gently. "I've just been thankful you haven't been talking in your sleep again."
"Wait a minute!"
"I haven't... Not since..."
Knowing Gabrielle's thoughts, Xena interjected, "Once that unlocked your tongue... You tell stories all the time."
"I do not."
Gabrielle realized they were descending into bickering and drew herself up. "All right," she admitted quietly. "I'm sorry I talk in my sleep. But your head cold really makes you snore."
"I'm sorry you've lost sleep over my cold." Not an admission actually, but the wry look on Xena's face placated the bard. Both women realized at the same moment that they weren't going to find a way to fix this and laughed. "All right, I'll try and clear up this cold quickly, then I'll just be sure to go to sleep before you do."
The bard linked her arm through Xena's and led them both back out the stable. She was surprised when the warrior shifted in the blink of an eye, picking her up in a cradle hold. Their mouths were inches apart and just as her lips were covered, the bard added, "Maybe I can make you tired enough to fall asleep first every night."
The warrior's answer was a deep throated chuckle and more insistent nibbling on the soft flesh of her bard's exposed throat.
At the inn door, Gabrielle reached out and pushed it open. The inn was quiet. She hadn't noticed when exiting, but no one was seated anywhere within the large dining room. "Want a midnight snack?" she asked the warrior.
Xena raised her eyebrow rakishly. "That was the plan."
To which Gabrielle replied, "I meant food. I'm hungry. I haven't eaten all day."
"You go up. I'll collect a tray of something," the warrior replied, nibbling the bard's throat, lips and ear as she set her on her feet at the base of the stairs. Gabrielle lifted her chin, green gaze questioning. "Don't worry. I'll be right up."
Gabrielle had changed to her large sleeping tunic by the time Xena's distinct footfalls were heard outside in the hall. She opened the door and was surprised by a mountain of food piled on a tray. Beyond the tray, blue eyes twinkled. "Ready?"
The bard eyed the array of food and nodded.
Xena set the tray on the bedside table and lifted off the first confection, a raspberry roll, holding it out to Gabrielle. Instead of taking it in her hand, the bard leaned forward and seized it gently between her front teeth, nibbling a small piece. The sweetness exploded on her tongue and she groaned in pleasure. "That's good," she uttered breathless after swallowing.
Xena lowered her hand, almost casually and jam dribbled on Gabrielle's tunic. "Oops." The woman's dark eyebrow climbed into her hairline "Let me clean that up."
She lowered Gabrielle back down to the bed and licked quickly at the spot just above the pert lift of the bard's breast. "Mmm," she groaned sweetly. "Hold on. I've almost got it."
Her mouth slid over the nipple and breast beneath the tunic, sucking gently. The bard helplessly squirmed. "Mmmm, this is good."
The bard's tunic was gone in the next instant and the warrior's slid her own warm nude form against Gabrielle to ward off the slight evening chill. Xena's attentions were long, involved, and like the woman herself, complicated and sweet, and fiercely passionate. Gabrielle quivered soon with the strength of a powerful release, feeling all of her muscles go numb.
The warrior arranged her partner's limp limbs and tucked the bard's head against her shoulder before drawing the covers up and over them.
"I do not snore," she succinctly informed the sleeping bard, closing her eyes and tucking her chin against the top of the blonde head.
There was a long period of silence. Their breathing evened out in tandem, arms tightening around each other unconsciously as sleep claimed them.
"I don't talk in my sleep," replied Gabrielle, her voice thick... with sleep.
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