A bird in the hand is worth two in the bed
by Ian Hayes
First published: October 2009
DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess and its characters are not mine.
This story incorporating those characters is copyright Ian Hayes.
VIOLENCE WARNING: Nothing, but hopefully a bit scary.
SEXUAL CONTENT: Only cuddles
Feedback: Any comments always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabrielle fidgeted underneath her sleeping furs again. She sighed, her breath causing a small cloud in front of her face. A quiet grumble sounded from her throat as her eyes opened, swivelling around from side to side, peering into the blackness around the edges of the campsite, almost totally dark now that the banked fire had died down to just a few, barely visible embers. She looked across at the somewhat larger mound of sleeping furs to her left; just barely able to see the slow rise and fall as the source of the mound breathed deeply, clearly in a deep sleep.
"Hades!" the blonde head exclaimed quietly to itself. "Why did Xena give me that extra mug of tea tonight?" Gabrielle wriggled her hips again and glanced around once more, somewhat furtively. Ever since that adventure with Bacchus only a few days ago her imagination had become very good at creating monsters behind every bush and in every shadow, especially at night. She sighed again, exasperated with herself for being such a baby. She slid out from under her furs, being careful not to expose them to the cold air, and quietly crept into the group of bushes that she and Xena had agreed to use for the purpose.
As Gabrielle stood again she sighed with relief… and froze, listening intently. Had she heard a quiet groan from over by the lake shore? The lake was only about twenty paces from the their camp and that really had sounded like a groan, totally unlike the sound of any animal she was familiar with. As she listened, a prickle shimmied its way up her spine and she shivered, violently just as the sound of a splash reached her. She jumped and opened her mouth to call out to Xena, stopping herself just in time. She closed her mouth again with a muffled click of teeth.
"Oh for goodness sake." She chastised herself under her breath. "Xena will have a field day ribbing you over this for waking her up in a panic over a fish jumping in the lake or a twig falling from a tree." She turned to go back to her bed… and froze… again. There it was again, definitely a groan, and a clank of metal as well this time. Gabrielle opened her mouth again and then closed it again as her ego took command, reminding her of the consequences of a false alarm. She shook herself and stood up straight, squaring her shoulders. "Come on, you wimp, go and see what it is before you call in the cavalry." The words, spoken quietly, carried more conviction than the feeling in her chest as her heart decided that one hundred and fifty beats per minute was an appropriate level for the task at hand.
Gabrielle had taken fours strides towards the lake shore before she realised that the ground under her feet was actually quite solid and it was her shaking knees that were causing her to be a bit unsteady. As she moved closer, a rustle of dried leaves off to her right almost caused a whiplash injury as she spun her head around to peer into the bushes. She thought she saw a shadow move out of sight, just as she focussed on it, but it didn't reappear. A drop of cold sweat ran down her ribs from her left armpit making her shiver again and she swallowed, hard. "Probably only a little animal." She persuaded herself. "Or something." She took another few steps. A twig snapped behind her and any semblance of control also snapped. Gabrielle sprinted to the water's edge, convinced that a surviving bachae was about to sink its fangs into her neck at any moment. The option of crying out was no longer a possibility from a throat suddenly as dry as a Tartarus desert.
Reaching the water, Gabrielle slid to a halt and spun around to face the hideous terror that was only a stride behind her. Her eyes widened as there was nothing there. She looked frantically left and right, straining her ears to catch any hint of where the attack was going to come from. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her breathing was coming in rapid gasps. Gradually she realised that there was nothing there. "Gods!" she breathed as her breathing slowed and her heart stopped threatening to break one of her ribs. That was when a cold, clammy hand grasped her ankle.
Gabrielle's heart stopped and all of the air in her lungs suddenly solidified. She took off at a pace that Argo would have been proud of, charging back into the campsite at full tilt. She slid to a halt beside Xena's bed furs and without any hesitation drew them back and slid under them, squeezing herself tightly up against Xena's warm and now wide awake body, pulling the furs back over her head. Xena slid an arm around the shivering, compact body and pulled her close, a wide, satisfied smirk pulling at her lips.
Gradually, Gabrielle's breathing and heart rate returned to more like normal levels and she started to relax, realising where she was and starting to enjoy the feeling of warmth and safety emanating from the strong body she was tightly snuggled into. Her mind also started working again and she started to work out how she was going to explain this to her, no doubt bemused, friend.
"I suppose you're wondering what this is about?"
"You mean it's not that you find me irresistible and couldn't keep your hands off me?"
Gabrielle's thought processes left the rails briefly as she couldn't simply deny outright the light-hearted accusation. "Er, no, it wasn't that." She eventually said, shyly, struggling to find words that wouldn't make her sound like a silly, frightened teenager. The shoulder under her head shaking gently made her pause as she realised that Xena was chuckling. Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbow and peered into Xena's face. "Are you laughing at me?" she accused.
Xena snorted as the chuckle forced its way out of her throat. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. Happy Hallow's Eve?" She gently stroked Gabrielle's back, hoping that her feisty companion wouldn't be so mad that she'd debunk and go back to her own bed.
"You… you… you set this up, didn't you?" There wasn't any humour in Gabrielle's voice.
"Mmm, sorry. I couldn't resist it. Forgive me?" Xena squeezed her cross friend gently against her, gazing intently into eyes just visible in the dark.
Gabrielle felt the squeeze and realised that she really didn't want to move away. Her anger subsided as she put her head back down onto Xena's shoulder. "Only if I can stay here and you keep me warm." She tried to put as much indignation as she could into her voice.
Xena chuckled again. "I think I can manage that." She said, not at all put out by the condition of forgiveness.
A minute or two passed, both friends relaxing into their embrace and gradually easing towards sleep.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said, somewhat dreamily.
"I can see how you could have done the groaning and the bush rustling and twig snapping, but how did you do the wet and clammy ankle grab?" Gabrielle felt the muscular body wrapped in her arms stiffen.
There was a pause of several seconds. "I… didn't." Xena said, very quietly.
Two sets of arms tightened around suddenly wide-awake bodies while eyes searched the darkness and ears strained for any sound. Dawn would not come too soon that night.
The end – bwahhahahah!