Gabrielle woke to the sound of Xena clipping on her breastplate. She groaned, not yet ready to open her eyes and be vertical.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Xena sang.
She groaned again; Xena was much too loud and chirpy for this early in the morning. “Shh,” she mumbled. “Go back to sleep.”
Xena ruffled Gabrielle’s hair. “The sun’s high in the sky. C’mon, let’s get moving.”
She sighed, and sat up in her bedroll. She rubbed her eyes, taking her time to open them.
“Still want to sail from Salona to Athens?” asked Xena. Salona, the city close to where they’d made camp, was the capital of Illyricum, a Roman province northwest of Greece.
Xena glanced at her. “You were arguing against it yesterday, wanted to travel across land. Are you all right?”
Xena came and sat next to her. “You’ve got bags under your eyes. Are you still having trouble sleeping?”
Gabrielle sighed. “I need to use a bush. I’ll be back in a minute.” She got up to take care of her business but took her time, though she knew all too well she was only delaying the inevitable. She couldn’t hide things from her partner.
When she returned, Xena threw a fig at her, which she managed to catch just in time. “Breakfast.”
“Thanks.” She yawned, and bit into the fruit while Xena packed up the rest of their stuff and put it in Argo’s saddlebags.
“So?” Xena came over and put her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “How are you?”
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and looked at Xena. Her throat felt scratchy, and she swallowed. “I probably got about two hours’ sleep last night,” she admitted. “I just… When I’m lying there on my back on the flat ground, all I can remember is having nails hammered into me. I can’t stop thinking about dying on that cross, and I can’t make the memory go away. The agony, and then the darkness… It won’t stop.” She swiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I don’t know how you sleep so peacefully, Xena.”
Xena looked like she’d been slapped, and Gabrielle winced. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. “It’s okay. I know you lash out when you’re in pain.” She sighed. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, you know.”
Gabrielle looked up at her, frowning. “How?”
Xena rubbed circles on Gabrielle’s back. “If you think you can’t sleep, you won’t sleep. I’ve been there many times, so lucky for you I’ve got some remedies.”
“What sort of remedies?” Gabrielle continued to frown. “They’d better not be concoctions that taste like one of Joxer’s soups.”
Xena chuckled. “Nothing like that. But one of the best things is to do physical activity and get some sunshine. Let’s go!” She released Gabrielle and grabbed Argo’s reins instead, making her way down the road.
Gabrielle groaned, but tossed the remains of her fig away and went after her. When she caught up, she said, “Okay, what else helps?”
Xena flashed a grin at her. “Talking about your problems. You never seem to have a problem doing that, so fire away.”
Gabrielle’s glare was only half pretend, but she recognised the truth in Xena’s suggestion, remembering how relieved she’d been after using Xena as her confessor so many times over the years. She tried not to think about Hope or Solan and the painful catharsis of Illusia. She opened her mouth and it all came spilling out: Eli, her Way, her crucifixion by Xena’s side, everything. By the time she finished, they were both in tears. She had to stop walking after she nearly tripped on a rock she didn’t see coming.
Xena pulled her into a tight embrace. She laid her head against Xena’s breast, listening to the beating of her heart and letting it calm her.
She sniffled. “I need you to tell me it’s going to be okay.”
Xena kissed the top of her head. “Gabrielle,” she murmured. “We’ve been through hell, but the important thing is we made it out. You’re going to be okay, I promise you.” Her voice was strong and full of reassurance.
Gabrielle nodded, then pulled away. She looked at Xena with a steady gaze. “I am, aren’t I? And so are you. We’ll always have each other.”
Xena gave her a tearful smile. “Yeah.”
Gabrielle cleared her throat. “So, what else fixes insomnia?”
“Well…” Xena waggled her eyebrows.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Seriously?”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot.”
Gabrielle didn’t reply, just folded her arms across her chest.
“Okay, fine. You said lying flat on your back reminds you of being on the cross, so why don’t you try sleeping in a different position?”
“I’ve always preferred to sleep on my back.”
“Well don’t, it makes you snore.”
Gabrielle punched Xena on the arm. “I don’t snore.”
“Only because you’re not sleeping.”
Gabrielle scrunched up her face and nodded. Xena had her there. “Fine. I’ll try sleeping on my side. Emphasis on try.”
Xena grinned. “Good. That’s better for spooning, anyway.”
Gabrielle pulled Xena’s head down to her level so she could kiss her cheek. “You’re so thoughtful, Xena.”
Gabrielle knew that overcoming her insomnia would take time, as these things were never fixed overnight, but she did know that Xena’s advice and support made her feel better already. She just had to be patient, and she could do that. She could. Really.