By Texbard


Most of the characters herein belong to Rob Tapert and/or Studios USA and/or Renaissance Pictures. I'm a bit fuzzy on who actually owns Xena: Warrior Princess, so I'm listing all of them. This story was not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended. In my Xena/Gabrielle series, I’ve created Kallerine, a Bacchae-slaying Amazon who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. No copyright infringements intended toward the owners of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either. This is NOT a Buffy/Xena crossover.

Violence/Sex: This is a Halloween story in which we were supposed to include Vampires or Bacchae, so it gets an "R" for violence. There is no graphic sexual content in this story, but the relationship between warrior and bard is very much that of lovers.

Subtext/Maintext: There is no more subtext. Renee O'Connor said Xena is the love of Gabrielle's life, and Lucy Lawless outed Xena on national television. I figure they're the authorities on those characters, so I defer to them. It's all Maintext, baby. (g)

For Followers of my X&G Series: This short story will fall sequentially after "The Eyes of Eire." For non-followers of the series, I don't believe you will need to have read it to understand this story. My series picked up at the end of the 4th season Xena ep, "The Ides of March." Basically, they were brought back to life after the crucifixion and chose to settle down in the Amazon village with Gabrielle ruling as queen, and Xena as her consort. The entire series can be found at The Academy and at MaryD's Bard's Corner.


It was dark where she was, all blurry gray shadows. She sniffed the air, her nostrils drawing in the subtle dank scent of the damp rock walls of the cave, and the stronger acridness of fire. She eased forward, scuffling along the rock ledge in a crouched position, ducking her head to avoid hitting it on the rough low-hanging cave roof. She cocked her head to one side, trying to get a better view of the activities below her, but it was no use.

What was it, this desire to see? Something tickled the back of her mind, a vague memory, a splash of color -- sunny warm gold and bright sparkling green. Then it was gone and her monochrome world returned. Giving up on sight, she closed her eyes, inhaling more deeply and allowing sound and scent to dominate her senses.

Ah. She could smell it now, another odor that drew her out of the darker shadows to the very edge of her rocky haven. She opened her eyes again and studied the cave floor. Something moved down there, unlike the others, darting in and out of her limited vision. The others moved in graceful swirls and twists, but this one jerked unevenly, limbs askew and body contorted at an almost painful angle. Concentrating even harder with her eyes closed once more, it rose up to her -- the sweaty salty scent of skin, and the musky tang of fear.

Her sight turned inward as another memory surfaced -- the smell of horseflesh and leather, and cedar mixed with the dust of a wide-open field. The crosses rose up over all of it, the crucified villagers bleeding onto the fresh-cut timber and the ground below, the rich red liquid painting fiery bright color against the pinkish-brown wood and dark black soil. She could still hear their screams of agony and cries for mercy.

She shook her head, and the wailing in her memory morphed into a pitiful keening cry from the jerky one below her. Her belly rumbled and she grinned, a toothy smile dominated by two sharp canine fangs. Licking her lips, she did what had always come naturally, leaping high into the air, her body arching, then tucking into a compact solid ball, as she flew upward toward the stalactites hanging high above them, then downward, landing solidly among the many bodies milling around their hapless victim.

The others around her growled in anticipation, sharp teeth glinting in the low firelight, talon-like black fingernails raised and clawing gleefully at the air. She joined in the dance, a slow-motion celebration of bodies that moved around, pressing closer and closer to the victim, who was held down by two of the larger ones. Holding her was unnecessary. Fear alone paralyzed her, pinning her in place. Her cries were thin, more of one whose fate is sealed, than one who hopes for rescue.

The dance continued, as the growls and laughter rose up, filling every crevice of the palatial cavern. At last they could wait no longer, and the one who had, until recently, dwelled on high, up on the ledge, found herself shoved forward, looking over their prey. She was the one most recently-added to the fold, and was as yet uninitiated into the ways of her newfound kindred. She had not drunk of the blood of the innocent.

But the bloodlust. Oh, how she knew it. It burned in her veins, an ancient yearning and need that went much deeper than that of the others. It was her birthright. Her laughter bubbled up, as the dark desire filled her. She knelt down, licking her lips again as the young girl was offered up to her, her first chance at a taste of the rich sustaining force that would give her life, even as it brought her victim's death.

She tilted her head, dark bangs obscuring reddish-yellow eyes. She reached out with one hand, delicately tracing a soft downy cheek with her razor-sharp nails. Frowning, she pursed her lips, as her fingers traveled up, smoothing back long brown hair, although its color was mostly indiscernible to the tormentor. The young girl trembled, her eyes wide and yet vacant. Her wits were long gone, overpowered with mind-numbing terror. Suddenly, the talons withdrew and another memory surged forward. The memory had no form, at least none that even her inner eyes could see. It mattered not. This memory overpowered everything around her and she looked about wildly, snarling in confusion.

In one smooth movement she was gone, away from the madness and back to the lofty heights above them, crouching on the ledge once more. She whimpered and retreated further back, curling into a ball and wrapping her arms around herself as she rocked back and forth, willing away the confusing emotions. But they kept coming -- waves of overwhelming warmth mixed with something stronger that she could not name. It pierced her to the core, ripping into her psyche like great knives.

Her stomach growled again and she cried out in agony, torn between the need to feed -- to live -- and an innate knowledge that she could not, and would not give in to it.

At long last she crawled forward on all fours, oblivious to the feasting of the others below her. She sniffed the air delicately, driven by a hunger that demanded satisfaction. Finally, in the very back of the cave she found it -- a plump juicy rat. It shrieked but once, before she snapped its head off with one clean twist of a sinewy wrist. She tore into it mindlessly, feeding on the blood and discarding flesh and bone. The hunger pangs subsided, though the emptiness remained.

Bewildered and defeated, she slunk back to her small cubbyhole, curling into a ball once more as she tried to sleep. But there would be no rest, as she did something none of her kind had ever done before.

She wept.


"Let me see if I'm understanding you." The queen paced back and forth in front of her nice warm fireplace. A log tumbled, crackling loudly as sparks popped and flew up the chimney. She grabbed a poker and shoved it vigorously into the flames, re-arranging the partly burned down logs before she added another, swiping her hands against her soft doe-skin trousers legs to remove gritty dust from the rough bark. "Xena is missing."

"Well, not exactly 'missing'." A young Amazon shifted nervously from one booted foot to the other, her hands clasped behind her back. Her eyes were cast downward, long pale hair framing her face as she studied a thick bearskin rug. The head was still attached, and her eyes grew wide at the long teeth in its mouth. She knew who had wrestled that particular bear and won. Their queen had chosen wisely when it came to consorts. No one could equal Xena in strength, speed, or skill, when it came to almost anything. "I think she's just been delayed, or something."

"She was protecting us," an even smaller Amazon piped up, stepping forward and bravely looking the queen in the eyes as Gabrielle turned around to face her. The Amazon sighed silently. The queen had the most beautiful green eyes, and more than one young Amazon was smitten with her, although all of them knew their queen was taken, and hopelessly in love with her consort. "We saw which direction she went. I think. Maybe?" Her voice ended on a squeak.

"When I find her, I am going to have to smack some sense into her," Gabrielle muttered, and sat down on the hearth, enjoying the almost too-hot warmth at her back. She was chilled to the bone, and suspected it had nothing to do with the cold winter day outdoors and everything to do with the fear that was slowly wrapping itself around her heart. She leaned forward in a casual stance, resting her forearms on her thighs, the suede leather fringe on her sleeves dangling down against her legs. "Please tell me the story again, from the top, so I don't miss any details. Kallerine? Are you taking notes?"

"Yes, my queen." The slayer sat down at Gabrielle's feet, and a little to the side, as she spread a fresh piece of parchment out against one leg and dipped a sharply trimmed quill into a pot of dark blueberry stained ink.

"We were sitting around the campfire after dinner …"

"No, Laria, you're telling it wrong, it was before dinner," the taller Amazon interrupted.

"After!" The younger girl crossed her arms in an angry huff. "Joraine, you're always trying to cut in on my stories."


Two sets of Amazon feet stamped angrily, and the queen placed her head in her hands as the girls continued to argue. Finally she looked up, her last ounce of patience dissolving. "Enough!" Her voice bellowed across the room and both girls quickly grew silent, their eyes large and round at the uncharacteristic outburst.

"I'm sorry, my queen." Laria bowed her head in shame.

"Me too, my queen." Joraine backed away and sat down cross-legged on the floor, across from the queen, giving Laria a tug and pulling her down next to her. Laria glared at her as her behind hit the rug-covered floor.

"Alright." Gabrielle gritted her teeth and gave them a measured stare, before she slowly began to speak. "I … don't … care … what … you were eating. I don't care who was sitting where. What I want to know is, what happened to Xena, and where do you think she might be?" She blew out a frustrated breath, ruffling her own bangs. "Do you think you can manage that?"

"Yes my queen." Laria turned and scowled at Joraine, her narrowed hazel eyes daring the older girl to interrupt her again. She smiled with sarcastic sweetness, and faced their queen again, giving Gabrielle her full attention. "We were sitting around the campfire, all six of us in the junior tracking class, and Xena. It was already dark, and there was the nicest full moon out, shining down through the trees through the snow clouds."

"Wait." Gabrielle held up a hand. "There is a good two feet of snow on the ground. Why in Hades weren't you in a cave, or at least under an outcropping?"

"It was the part of the class where we had to learn how to stay warm if there is no cave or other shelter to be found." Joraine snuck in her one quick comment, before she went back to sulking.

"Yes it was." Laria gave her a disapproving toss of her auburn hair. "She had shown us how to build a shelter with our sleeping furs, and we were actually quite comfortable. The skins blocked the wind and the fire was large. We had plenty of logs to keep it burning all night. She was laying out for us our shifts of who would keep watch during the night, and who would tend the fire, and she heard some noise and went to check on it."

"What did you hear?" Gabrielle glanced at Kallerine to make sure she was getting everything down.

"I don't know." Laria shook her head negatively. "You know Xena. She hears things no one else can hear. All I know, is one minute she was talking, and the next, she was on her feet, her sword drawn, telling us to be quiet. Then she slipped out of the campsite so quickly, and so quietly. I didn't hear anything at all for a long time."

"Then everything exploded outside our shelter," Joraine couldn't stand it any longer, and broke in. "I could hear Xena's sword clashing around, and some terrible growling noises. At first I thought there was a pack of wolves out there, but the snarling, it wasn't quite right. I heard shrieks too, almost like women."

"They were women," Laria bumped her knee against Joraine's leg, a little harder than necessary. "Bacchae."

"Where were you?" Kallerine was suddenly alert, her senses on edge. One hand went unconsciously to a wooden stake at her waist, her fingers twitching as they curled around the well-sanded hilt.

"Up on the ridge, about a half day's walk out." Laria watched the slayer curiously. She'd never actually seen Kallerine in action, only heard stories. "We can take you back up there," she added hopefully.

"No." Kallerine's sight turned inward. "I know the place. Been watching it for a while now. It's full of caves. I've been exploring them one by one. I know there's a pack of Bacchae up there somewhere. I can … feel them. I just haven't seen them and can't seem to find the right cave."

"Xena told us to run for the village." Joraine tried to finish the story. "I wanted to help fight them, but when I headed toward the noise, she really barked at me. Told me if I didn't take the others and get them to safety, she was going to use me for battering ram practice."

"Battering ram practice?" Gabrielle frowned in question.

"As the ram." Joraine smiled briefly, and caught a matching glimpse of a smile on the queen's face, before it grew sober again. "Anyway, it was dark, but there were at least a dozen of them, several bigger than Xena. So we obeyed her and ran." She got up, walking to the window and looking out at the falling snow. "And we waited, long as we dared, but she never came after us. It was so cold. I figured I should do what she said, keep everyone moving, so they wouldn't freeze to death. I'm sorry, my queen." Sorrowful pale blue eyes fell on Gabrielle's face, reminding the queen of Xena's own eyes.

"No." Gabrielle's expression softened. "You did the right thing, Joraine. Xena wouldn't have wanted you and the other girls in danger. If there were a dozen of them, we'd just have six missing Amazons and Xena to worry about."

"But I'm an Amazon," Joraine protested. "I'm supposed to be a warrior."

"You're an Amazon who just passed her eleventh summer," Gabrielle gently corrected her. "With a mother who must be worried sick about you by now. Go on, both of you." She stood, shooing them toward the door of the hut. "Get some sleep. There should be some leftover venison stew in the dining hut, if you're hungry."

"Thank you, my queen." The girls spoke in unison, before ducking out into the snowy gray light of near dawn.

Kallerine watched them leave, closing the door behind them before she turned back to her queen. "We set out at daybreak?"

"We set out now." Gabrielle moved toward the bedroom she and Xena shared, grabbing up a small travel pouch. She shucked her clothing long enough to tug on a set of warm long undergarments, then put the matching outer top and pants back on, before belting the pouch around her long fringed leather tunic. She traded soft moccasins for sturdy rabbit-fur lined snow boots, which Xena had specially made for her. She sighed. It had been a month since they'd returned from Eire, and another, hopefully last, battle with Alti.

A month of peace, in which long evenings by the fire had gone a long way in healing nerves, and calming spirits, bringing them back to a level of pre-crucifixion banter and playfulness that had been missing for far too long, and was enhanced by their relatively newfound intimacy. The past month had reminded her of the fun times they'd shared after they returned from India. Fun, right up until Amarice had come and found them net-fishing beside a small pond, and informed them of Ephiny's death.

She'd seen Xena smile more in the month past, than in the entire year prior to it. They'd shared stories, roasted chestnuts, drank warm spiced wine, and worked at various hand-projects, both useful and decorative. And they'd made a lot of love. She smiled at that, at all the playful times they'd shared, for that is what it had been -- lighthearted and fun, and a nice change from the intensity that often characterized their couplings.

It had been Xena's idea to hold the winter tracking classes. The warrior had a driving need to maintain that edge, to keep in touch with the skills that had saved both their lives on more than one occasion. To Gabrielle's surprise, the young Amazons in the village had clamored at the chance to follow the warrior on her insane treks into the cold snow and driving wind.

She suspected half of them had crushes on her partner, while the other half wished to be her partner. It seemed there was always one young Amazon or other, mooning about their cabin, offering to help out in whatever way they could. It had become a little joke between them, as they waged friendly bets as to which one of them each new young caller was pining away after. So far they were dead even.


The sooner she found Xena, she reasoned, the sooner they could go back to those cozy evenings beside the fire. As for winter tracking classes, maybe she could convince her restless partner to wait until after the Chinook winds began to blow, before leading any more youngsters into the wild snowy lands around the Amazon village.

She gathered a few items and placed them in her bag, including Xena's healer's kit. Her hands shook as she tucked the kit into an inner pocket. Stop it, she chastised herself. You don't know that anything bad has happened. Maybe the storms are worse up there and by the time she fought off the Bacchae, she had to take shelter somewhere to wait it out. Maybe it wasn't even Bacchae that got to her. She straightened her shoulders, putting on an air of confidence, before re-entering the main room of the hut. "I'll go round up Pony and a few other of the young warriors.

"No." Kallerine tempered her voice, indicating no intent of disrespect. "I know where to go and have a fairly good idea of where to find her. I can track Bacchae. You know that."

"But …"

"Gabrielle." Kallerine placed a gentle hand on the queen's shoulder. "We'll move faster, just the two of us. I … already know what I might have to do when we find her. The fewer folks who know about it, the better."

"I can't ask you to do that," Gabrielle protested. "It's dangerous. Ares said …" She thought back, to the first few months after they had met Kallerine, and found out the young girl had a handy talent for not only fighting in general, but for slaying Bacchae in particular. The girl had been on a quest to find her sister, Kama, who had been taken by Bacchae. They'd finally found her in a cave not too far from the Amazon village, and they'd thought it was too late. She was already a Bacchae, and seemed not to recognize Kallerine at all.

Gabrielle shivered. Xena, in a rare show of humility, had called upon Ares to help them figure out how to reverse the process, and make Kama human again. The god of war had been full of not only advice, but also disturbing insight into Kallerine's destiny. Xena, once she'd gotten Ares' attention, had been her usual cool, to-the-point self:

"Why are there still Bacchae when we killed Bacchus over two summers ago?"

"Remember our conversation about Satan and Hell?"


"It’s very hard to kill a god. But when one does die, Hades has never been particularly fond of having them hanging around down in Tartarus with him. I guess there isn’t enough room down there for more than one god-sized ego at a time, and I think my brother always feared that a dead god would try to fight him for control of Tartarus."

"You mean none of them go to the Elysian Fields?" A wry grin crossed the warrior’s face.

"None so far."

"Why am I not surprised?" Xena chuckled.

"Do you want an answer or not?" The god of war’s voice took on a vaguely offended tone.

"Oh, get over yourself." The warrior put on a patent bored expression, gazing down and dispassionately studying her upraised fingernails.

‘She’s never been afraid of me.’ Ares smiled in appreciation. "Anyway, ever since Hades found out Hell exists, that’s where he’s sent all the dead gods. That’s partly why Callisto is there, along with my nephew Strife. And I believe Blondie’s old friend Velasca is there as well."

"She’s no friend of mine," an angry bard called across the room.

"Mine neither." The warrior shuddered, remembering a power that she had been afraid she wouldn’t be able to defeat, and the even greater fear that the Amazon-turned-goddess would kill her partner.

"Bacchus is in Hell too, and like Callisto, he got into Satan’s good graces and garnered a favor from him."

"What sort of favor?" Xena’s eyes narrowed.

"A few moons after you killed Bacchus, Satan allowed him to return to earth for a fortnight, and the old blood-sucker didn’t waste any time creating as many Bacchae as he could. When his time was up and he had to go back to Hell, he left behind a fairly impressive force in his wake. The Bacchae he created have in turn continued to create more and more Bacchae. They’ve expanded their masses far beyond Greece now, into Gaul and Britannia, where the Bacchae are called vampires."

"Vampires." Xena tasted the word for a moment. "Is there any way to make the Bacchae human again? Killing Bacchus broke the spell before, but he’s already dead. Do I need to go find Orpheus?"

"No. Orpheus can’t help you this time. Bacchus supposedly left behind a large cauldron of his blood, which has since run out, but if a Bacchae didn’t get a chance to drink from Bacchus’ chalice, the spell can be reversed, at least in theory."

"In theory?" The warrior’s brows shot up.

"It’s not actually been tested yet." Ares stood and idly paced about the chamber. "The one god, the one that fights against Satan, didn’t want the world to be overcome with Bacchae, so he put some safeguards in place. Remember Xena, how you had to collect the Dryad bones to kill Bacchus?"


"No need for that anymore. A wooden stake will do. Or sunlight. Or a silver-tipped arrow." He eyed Kallerine, who was hanging on his every word. "Your slayer friend over there managed to figure those things out on her own through trial and error. Very shrewd, Slayer."

"Th . . . thank you." Kallerine looked down shyly.

"Along with making it easier to kill a Bacchae, it is said that the one god also created a way to make them human again, but it’s a method that can’t be used more than a few times."

"Go on." Xena’s voice was slow and steady, hiding the sudden inexplicable increase in her heart rate.

"It is said that if a Bacchae feeds on the blood of a slayer they will become human again."

"Come again?" The warrior looked thoroughly confused.

Ares sighed. "To each generation will be born a slayer, or so the legend goes. The slayer will possess great strength and fighting skills, and certain supernatural senses. She will be driven to wipe out Bacchae." The god of war turned toward Kallerine. "You are the first."

The slayer stood and with trembling steps, walked over to Xena, who instinctively placed herself between Kallerine and the god of war. "You’re telling me that Kallerine has been chosen by some deity to fight Bacchae?"

"Yes." Ares eyes took on an almost compassionate look. "Kallerine, it’s no coincidence that you have been slaying Bacchae. It’s your destiny."

"I . . . um . . . that is . . ." The slayer finally closed her mouth, having no clue what to say, her mind reeling with the new information.

"Ares." The warrior sounded weary. "Why is it that every time I call upon you for help, you also have to deliver earth-shattering information in the process?"

"Gotta keep the upper hand, Princess. Keep you on those pretty little toes of yours, as it were." The war god winked at her.

"So my sister has to drink my blood?" Kallerine’s mind finally caught up with her voice.

"Exactly." Ares stepped closer, his face deadly serious. "But a word of warning. She must be stopped from feeding before she has drained you too much and you die."

"Okay. But won’t her biting me turn me into Bacchae?" Anxious brown eyes looked up into black ones.

"No. Slayers can’t become Bacchae. But they can die. And Slayer?"


"Don’t get any lofty ideas about letting every Bacchae you find feed on you. It would kill you. Use it in only the most extreme of circumstances. You were meant to slay the Bacchae, not save them. There is a balance that must be maintained. The gods of Satan’s realm have decreed it. Besides, you have no way of knowing which Bacchae have fed on the blood of Bacchus and which have not."

The slayer's voice cut into Gabrielle's thoughts -- "Ares said not to go offering myself up to every last Bacchae out there. It worked on Kama. If anything has happened to Xena, she's not just anyone." Kallerine stepped back, checking her supply of wooden stakes and silver-tipped arrows. "For the others," she indicated the weapons adorning her body. "Not for Xena."

"I know, Kallerine." Gabrielle tucked her own sais efficiently into their straps at her boot tops, and retrieved a well-worn staff from the corner, behind the front door. It would do as a walking stick in the deeper snow drifts, and if she needed it for defense, she'd have it handy. She stopped, grasping the slayer's arm. "Thank you. It means the world to me. Let's go to your hut and get you some warmer clothes, and be on our way."

"You and Xena have been true friends to me. I'd die defending either one of you." Kallerine held up her queen's thick wool cloak, slipping it over Gabrielle's shoulders. "Let's be on our way. It's a good half-day's walk up there, and the snow will make traveling all the slower."


She ran swiftly, slinking along the ground on strangely unfamiliar paws, her nose snuffing the air, sorting out the deluge of scents that washed over her. It was daylight, and somehow she had known the only way she could go outside the cave was to take on the shape she now bore. And more amazingly, she had instinctively known how to shape-shift. It had felt odd, but now it was merely interesting, experiencing the world in a way she never had before. She was following some of the others on a wild hunt for she knew not what. Out there in the dappled sunlight, she could see colors -- the green of the fir trees and the pale blue of the sky overhead above the tree branches, though everything was still very blurry. Her ears and nose compensated well enough, though, that sight was an afterthought.

They wove in and out among the trees, sometimes taking off to follow small woodland creatures, but more often staying a steady course, destination unknown. Her paw pads were tough, and the paws themselves were large and thick with fur, making nice snow shoes, although the snow on the ground wasn't as deep in the heavily-forested area than it was out in the open. The wind ruffled through her fur and it felt good to be outdoors after being cooped up deep inside the dark cool cave.

She was ravenously hungry. The rat from the night before had done very little to sate her appetite, and her stomach twisted uncomfortably. Part of her wanted to give in and partake in whatever feed might be in store for the evening. But that other unexplainable part of her was repulsed at the idea. Her thoughts were still fuzzy. She wasn't sure who she was, or how she'd gotten where she was. At present she didn't even know what she was. Those strange emotions and flashes of color continued to float through her brain, confusing things all the more. She vaguely remembered crying herself to sleep the night before, alone and away from the others.

She allowed lupine senses to take over, and picked up a scent that sent her wolf brain reeling. She charged forward, nipping at the heels of the leader, urging the large female off toward a side path that led away from the hilly ridges and down toward the valley below. The leader growled at her and she growled back, nipping again, taking a bit of loose fur in her teeth and shaking it slightly. She equaled the leader in size and strength, and she took advantage of that, tussling with the more experienced wolf until she gave in to the newcomer, leading them all down the new-chosen path, sliding through heavier snow that grazed their bellies and flew up behind them in a fine powder as they ran.

As they continued on, the others picked up the scent, and eager yips traveled down the row as they increased their pace. The new one fell in, just behind the leader. Her senses were on overload, her lungs drawing in deep breaths full of a scent she had no choice but to seek out. It was sweet, and salty, and musky, and was mixed in with the smells of leather, wool, metal, and wood. It was imprinted on her brain and called to her more strongly than any other instinct.

They topped a cresting hill, then slid down a steep slope, leaping over some felled trees, and over a pair of large boulders, landing in deep powdered snow. The scent increased and now her ears perked up, hearing the shuffle of leather against leather, the faint clink of metal clasps, and the slightest weight of feet breaking a path. Ever fiber of her body had to get to that sound and that scent, and she moved to the front of the pack, pushing ahead, ignoring the angry warnings of the overtaken leader, who tried in vain to catch up with her.

At last she broke into a clearing and saw two blurry figures, hearing a low melodic voice that sung to her with comforting tones. She charged forward, feeling the pack close on her heels, and hearing sounds of alarm rise up from the two humans they bore down upon. The humans scrambled for some boulders, clamoring up just as the pack reached them, surrounding the large rocks and growling furiously at their prey.

The distressed tone in the golden-haired human's voice touched something deep inside of her, taking over and pushing down the desire to attack the humans, replacing it with an overwhelming need to protect. She suddenly turned, placing herself between the boulders and the leader, facing off in angry snarls and snapping teeth, that led to a growling, biting war between the two large wolves, while the others stood back, barking and growling at them, forgetting the two terrified women atop the rocks for a moment.

It rose up inside, boiling in her blood, well-honed fighting instincts that took on a new edge, as she used the only weapons at her disposal, fangs and claws, and sinewy muscular weight. She pounced, taking the leader down and rolling over and over, as teeth sank into skin and the fur flew. They both growled ferociously, enraged snarling rumbles that vibrated up from their throats, piercing the clearing and ringing off the trees around them.

Then her teeth found the leader's throat and she grabbed hold, snapping around a mouthful of fur, digging deeper until she found muscle, and the warm pulsing sensation of blood just under the skin. She bit down, shaking her head, hearing the leader's growls morph into painful yelps. With renewed vigor, she shook her head harder, not letting go, and tasting the warm salty blood in her mouth. The blood triggered another instinct and her eyes glinted in the sunlight, as she sunk in with all her might, reveling in the life-giving force that washed over her tongue. With a final pitiful yelp, the leader grew still under her and she let go, as the limp body fell to the ground in a heap in the snow.


The wolves came upon them so fast, that they had no time to react, save to scramble to a nearby pile of boulders. There were at least a dozen animals, and Gabrielle and Kallerine both drew weapons, prepared to fight as best they could, although it was a losing prospect, given the odds. As she edged away from a jumping, snapping set of jaws, a black blur caught her peripheral vision and she turned, to see a large midnight-colored beast charge forward. The wolf spun around and began fighting the others, snarling and growling, before it finally engaged another large wolf.

She watched in fascination, as the two animals rolled over and over, in a flurry of teeth and writhing bodies. The rest of the pack turned away, diverted at the spectacle of the two strong ones locked together in heated battle. They all barked, some in agitation, some in confusion, and for the moment lost interest in the two women on the rocks. Gabrielle saw blood foaming from the mouth of the black wolf, and then watched as it killed its foe with a furious shake of its head.

The black wolf stood up, tall and proud, and for a brief second the clearing was quiet. Then the area erupted in growls, as the other wolves bolted forward toward the rock. The black wolf, however, was having none of it, and proceeded to hold them off, nipping and snarling at them, and herding them slowly away from the women. One by one, the defeated animals slunk away into the forest, confused at their new leader's behavior.

Finally, it was silent again, save two rapidly-beating hearts. "What do you make of that?" Gabrielle whispered to Kallerine, who was standing back to back with her.

"Beats the Tartarus out of me." Kallerine edged around until they both faced the remaining leader. The boulder was slippery with melted and iced over snow, and they both had to dig in carefully with their feet to keep from sliding off.

The black wolf moved curiously closer and looked up at them. Gabrielle gasped, as a pair of vibrant blue eyes gazed deeply into her own. "That's no normal wolf." She glanced at the slayer.

"Bacchae." Kallerine drew a silver-tipped arrow from her quiver and slipped it into her crossbow, drawing it up and taking aim.

"No." Gabrielle's hand flew down over the weapon, pushing it away from the wolf. "Wait a bit."

"Al…..right." The slayer eyed her curiously, but complied, dropping her arm down and resting the weapon against her thigh.

The wolf crept forward, inch by slow inch, until it was at the base of the boulder. It continued to stare at her, and a pained whimper escaped from its throat. It danced uncertainly from paw to paw, then barked once, wagging its tail before it dropped to its belly in a submissive posture, peering up at Gabrielle with those mournful eyes. Gabrielle knelt down on the boulder, reaching out a hand.

"Gabrielle …" Kallerine grasped her shoulder, intent on dragging her obviously-crazed queen away from danger.

"No." Gabrielle remained still, not retreating. "It's alright."

The wolf belly-crawled forward and hesitantly stood, sniffing her hand. It whimpered again, then just the tip of a pink tongue poked out, licking her fingertips. The queen grew bolder, reaching out and stroking a silky black head, then scratching the wolf's neck, feeling the thick soft fur riffle through her fingers.

Then the beast took off, running back toward the woods, stopping at the edge of the tree line. The wolf gazed at her longingly, then sat back on its haunches, tilting a black furry muzzle skyward. A heart-wrenching howl erupted, shattering the silent snow-shrouded clearing, and Gabrielle's heart broke with it. She watched it stand and run, scampering back up the path and out of sight.

"My queen?" A confused slayer jumped down off the rock, and Gabrielle followed her, landing solidly in a pile of snow.

Green eyes gazed into the mysterious forest, her soul following after the beast. "Xena."


The sun was starting to set as they approached an obscure outcropping way up the ridge from the other caves that Kallerine had explored in the past. It had been a rough slippery trek over rocks and logs, dodging dried winter-dead thorny scrub that clung in crevices all along the way, hanging over the trail and catching their clothing from time to time. Tracking, however, had been a breeze, and they had figured out after about a half candlemark of travel, that the wolf was leaving clues for them all along the way, broken branches and obvious paw prints in the snow, all combined to lead them to the cave without having to stop and look for traces of the animal.

Gabrielle's thoughts were constantly with her partner, wondering what it was like to be a Bacchae. Or a wolf, for crying out loud. Her nose scrunched up. That must be really weird. Not that Xena hadn't shape-shifted before. She'd already been a Bacchae, an Indian god, a reincarnated mother of peace, and a rabid bunny-person. She thought about that.

She herself had also been a Bacchae, an Indian goddess, a male warrior, and almost a blue stone person. Mental not to self -- never go to India again. Then there were the three other individuals they'd met who looked exactly like Xena, enough that they both wondered if Ares had fathered other children besides Xena, even though they were told he hadn't. I wonder if any other people have had these kinds of complications in their lives?

Was Xena lonely? Her heart-wrenching howl echoed in Gabrielle's mind and she shivered. No doubt, the warrior was something. Confused, perhaps? Lonely? Angry? Knowing Xena, she was probably a little of all those things. And in less than one day, the warrior had apparently fought her way to a leadership position in their pack, at least when they were wolves. She smiled. No doubt, that was my Xena. The smile disappeared as quickly as it came, and she bit her lower lip. Hang on, love. One way or another, you're not going to be lonely for much longer.

Kallerine looked back behind them, over the darkened treetops to a blood-red sky. It had long since stopped snowing and the clouds had all blown away, replaced by a crystal clear blue that had slowly given way to the rainbow pallet of sunset. Now the red-orange orb had settled beyond the distant mountains, coloring the entire vastness over their heads in fiery hues. Below them the valley was dark. Not even the light of any campfires showing through the thick trees. Of course, she realized, most people didn't go trekking through the woods to camp in the dead of winter.

"This must be the place, the trail stops here," Gabrielle eyed the outcropping and the deep shadows beneath it. "Now to find the entrance."

"I haven't explored this high up yet." Kallerine ducked under the cold gray-brown rock, feeling an instant chill, even colder than the winter air out in the open. "Makes sense any growing pack of Bacchae would find a really good hidden place to live when they aren't out hunting."

"Scary, to realize they've been up here, less than a day's travel from the village." Gabrielle began methodically searching the rocks, moving along the surface, looking for an entrance. Nothing was readily visible to the naked eye, and both Amazons looked behind scrub, and felt all along the edges of the stony surface, feeling for anything that might give way.

"Nothing." Kallerine stood back, her hands on her hips. "Maybe that wolf wasn't Xena after all."

"It was her." Gabrielle looked up, studying the rock carefully, patch by patch. "Hold on." She took a step back, then ran forward, stretching out her legs and springing off a log, flipping up and landing on top of a narrow ledge. It wasn’t a leap anywhere near the ones Xena was capable of, but still, she was proud of a skill she had worked painstakingly to develop, especially given the sprained ankle she'd gotten the first time she'd ever tried it. Not to mention being flat on her back and unable to help Xena while the warrior fought off the entire Persian army by herself. That had been a turning point for them, one of many. She smiled, briefly. A good turning point. "Here." She knelt down, looking into a dark round hole, just big enough for a human to fit into. "I think I found it."

"I'll be right up." Kallerine followed suit, her flip a little less graceful than the queen's. She ended up grabbing the ledge with her hands, dangling down the side of the rock until Gabrielle dropped onto her stomach and helped pull her up to a standing position. "Thanks." The slayer glanced at her queen admiringly. "How on earth did you learn to flip like that?"

"Good old fashioned practice." The queen moved aside, gesturing toward the opening. "What do you think? Is this the entrance?"

Kallerine inched forward, kneeling next to the hole and closing her eyes, extending her senses. She heard odd rustlings coming from inside the cavern, and the scent of blood rose up, strong and clear to her nostrils, which flared in response. She spotted tell-tale claw marks on the edges of the hole -- they were by no means made by wolf claws, but had the width of something more akin to human fingernails. Moving closer, she squinted and reached down, grasping a bit of long black nail that had broken off and lodged in a tiny crack in the rock. "Definitely the place." She flicked the nail bit away and pulled a torch from the pack on her back, lighting it and shining it down into the entrance.

"How deep?" Gabrielle scooted down next to her. "Oh. Narrow." She wrinkled her nose. "At least we can get down that by wedging against the walls. No need to get out a rope."

"True." Kallerine prepared to turn and enter the hole, only to find Gabrielle already scrambling down in front of her. "My queen," the slayer called after her in exasperation. "I'm supposed to look out for you when Xena's not around."

Gabrielle snorted. "I can take care of myself, Kallerine, and we both know it. That whole personal bodyguard thing is just to appease Xena's conscience on those rare occasions we are separated."

"I suppose so." Kallerine slid backward, feet first, scooting down with her legs and arms braced against rough cold rock. She dropped the torch down, watching as it hit the cave floor below them. "Not too far a drop either. Very clever. I just hope they're holed up far enough back in the cave that the torch doesn't alert them to our presence right away."

"Well …" Gabrielle reached the end of the vertical tunnel. "We really don't have a choice. We can't very well see in the dark, now can we?" She paused, thinking about what she'd said, and remembering Kallerine's special ability to almost instantly make visual adjustment between darkness and light. "Most of us can't at any rate," she amended. With a swinging jump, she let go, leaping out and landing on her feet next to the torch.

Kallerine dropped down next to her, watching as Gabrielle lifted the burning piece of wood, waving it around and casting eerie large shadows up to a very tall ceiling that was covered in stalactites. "So far, so good." She lowered the torch. "What do you think?"

"Toward the back." The slayer set out and stopped, handing off two wooden stakes. "You know the drill."

"One in hand and one at my belt for back-up, I know." The queen slipped one of the stakes into a loop at her belt, then moved forward, leading them across a narrow rock bridge that crossed over a slowly trickling underground stream. The water, she knew, would be ice cold, and she stooped down, collecting a handful, sniffing it before she cautiously sipped. "Clean and clear. Safe to drink."

"Excellent!" The thirsty slayer also dipped her hand into welcome liquid, her eyes fixed on the area around them, keeping watch as she drank. Experimentally, she picked up a rock, drawing her arm back and hoisting the rock upward, sending it careening off a far wall. A small group of bats exploded from between the stalactites, squeaking their protest as they flew swiftly away, disappearing into an opening up above their heads. "Drat."

"More climbing." Gabrielle sighed. "Glad we brought plenty of rope."

A half candle mark and much struggling later, they had scaled the wall that led up to the opening, landing on yet another narrow ledge. The edged along the smooth rock, backs to the wall, until they reached the opening, definitely big enough for a person to go through with ease. Kallerine lifted the torch. "Be ready, I have a feeling this time they're going to know we're here."

"Do we need a plan?" Gabrielle kept one hand cupped near the torch to hide the light from the next chamber.

"Kick butt and look for Xena," Kallerine smiled. "Seriously, we both need to fight any of them that attack us, but if you find her, yell and I'll watch your back until we can both get situated. We either need to get her out of the cave and away from the others, or I'll need to set up some fires around us to keep them away. They won't go through fire -- it would kill them."

"Getting her out of here would be next to impossible," Gabrielle reasoned. "Down that wall and up the tunnel? I just don't see that happening."

"Then fire it is." The slayer cocked her head to one side, listening. "Which I believe they already have one going in there. I can hear it popping. See?" She pointed to a faint light dancing just inside the entryway.

"Good. Hopefully that means they have wood as well." The queen inched forward. "Let's do this thing."

They framed the doorway, peering cautiously inside, before Kallerine reluctantly raised the torch. Way down below them a dozen sets of yellow-red eyes peered up, and fanged mouths hissed at them, claws striking out into the empty air in their direction. "Let the games begin." Kallerine leaped out onto a broad expanse of rock, looking around and spotting rough steps cut into one side, leading down to the cavern floor.

"How handy." Gabrielle strolled toward the staircase, seeing several of the Bacchae moving in her direction. "Don't fail me now, Mr. Pointy." She addressed the stake in her hand, raising it in a threatening manner and jumping from step to step, trying to appear bigger than she really was with her dramatic movements. It worked, momentarily, as the Bacchae spotted the stake and backed away cautiously, but not without enough hissing to put a nest of snakes to shame.

A quick glance around revealed that none of her would-be attackers was Xena. "Can you handle this?"

"Most certainly." Kallerine handed off the torch and flew into the center of the group of Bacchae, kicking and spinning in a circle, slashing out with her own stake. "Go. Find Xena." Kallerine hollered after her. Gabrielle ran across the expansive room, past the fire, fending off several more Bacchae, which were obviously offended at her presence. She shivered as she dodged a skeleton, noting a pile of bones tossed into a pit next to it. The skeleton looked fresh -- not dried out and pocked with holes like the bones in the pit. "I can't think about that right now," she muttered to herself.

Once again, none of the Bacchae coming after her were Xena. She couldn't remember what Xena looked like as a Bacchae. The last time they'd been in a situation like this, Gabrielle had been the one to turn first. She had very little memory at all of being one of them -- just vague snippets of sensation, but nothing truly concrete. Xena also claimed to not recall being one, but Gabrielle knew better. Joxer had "helpfully" shared every last gory detail with them, but Xena had corrected him on a few points, leading the queen to believe her beloved consort not only remembered, but did so in great detail. She suspected Xena simply chose not to relive that moment, just as they both chose not to relive being crucified. Unpleasant things were sometimes best left lying dormant.

She leaped over another branch of a stream, legs extended out almost in the splits. As she landed on the other side, a tall menacing Bacchae jumped in front of her, slashing at her and baring her fangs, trying to grab her. Claws dug into her shoulder, shredding her leather tunic and wrenching her head around. She felt hot breath against her neck and grasped the stake in her hand more firmly, stabbing backward blindly, making solid contact. Suddenly the grip released her and she turned, watching the surprised Bacchae dissolve into a shrieking pile of dust. She tried not to think about the fact that the Bacchae was once human.

She saw Kallerine, backing her way toward her, stabbing and fighting all along the way, taking out several Bacchae, which left a dusty trail behind her. Gabrielle turned, surveying the very back part of the cavern. A slight shuffling noise caught her attention and she looked up, spotting a dark form moving in the shadows, way up over her head. "Xena?" The figure moved, scooting closer to the edge, but still lost in shadows. "Xena, if that's you, I'm here to help you."


The voice washed over her, settling into places so deep inside, that it could never be denied. She couldn't understand what it said, but words were not necessary. It spoke directly to her heart, welling up inside her, causing an almost physical pain to grip her chest. She shrieked sadly, then scooted forward, just long enough to get a glimpse of its source. There, below her, she saw a blurry gray form, moving in and out of the circle of a lighted torch. The light reflected off color -- a shiny golden halo around the human's head. It was the same gold in her daydreams and she cried out again, then moved back into the shadows.

She heard it now, a scuffling scraping noise, then a rope landed up and over the side, catching around a jutting portion of rock. The rope was pulled taut, then the scraping, raspy sort of noise commenced again, a brushing of leather against rock. The scent of the human drew closer and she sat further back in her protective alcove, wrapping her arms around her knees. She'd seen the humans killing the others like her. Part of her was afraid, but another part somehow knew this particular human would do her no harm.

She wanted so badly for something in her world to make sense. Her heart hurt but she didn't know why, nor was she able to accurately call it such. It was a sad emptiness, but the warmth the human exuded was filling that place up, striking a familiar chord and driving back a little bit of the darkness. A part of her wanted to charge forward and help the human over the edge. A larger part of her felt unworthy, and afraid, and uncertain if the human might be frightened if she made any sudden movements. She sat back, anxiously hoping the golden-haired one would make everything right again.

At last, the human struggled, swinging one leg over the edge and pulling herself forward until she was resting on the rock. Another human followed close behind her but stopped short at the edge, drawing a stake, along with a crossbow and several arrows. The other human began shooting arrows over the side of the cliff, and she heard shrieks coming from the others like her. She growled low in her throat, as the first human approached her. The girl was speaking to her in comforting tones, as she set aside the stake she had been carrying and held out both hands, palms up. So. The human was unarmed. She took a chance, creeping toward the human, and extending one hand, long black talons lightly touching one of the girl's upturned hands, before she withdrew, once again wrapping her arms around her knees.

Suddenly, the other human, the one who had been shooting the others, stepped closer. Her heart leaped up in her chest. This one, she sensed, was an enemy to her kind. She reacted, slashing and growling, trying to attack this one, while also trying to avoid the many pointy wooden and silver objects projecting out from the human's belt. The closer the human got, the more her hackles rose, and she finally lashed out, making contact and feeling her nails cut through leather, drawing blood. The human backed away, giving her time to retreat further into her hideaway.

Wary eyes gazed out from the darkness, watching as the two humans talked, arms gesturing wildly as they moved a little ways away from her, and out of sight. She curled up on her side again, feeling the strange wetness trail down her cheeks, just as it had the night before. She wanted the other human, the one with the golden hair, to come back to her. That human brought an unexplained sense of comfort to her very lonely world.


"I won't let you do this!" Kallerine's eyes flashed in anger. "If it goes wrong, I'll never forgive myself. Not to mention I might as well not go back to the village."

"It's the only way. She's not going to let you get close enough." Gabrielle dug through her pouch, drawing out a roll of linen bandages. "We need to wrap up your arm. Those cuts look nasty."

"Later." Kallerine was busy dropping most of her weaponry, save her crossbow, which remained strung across her back. Fires burned now, all along the edge of the cliff, and so far, no more Bacchae had attempted to disturb them, what few Bacchae she hadn't taken down with her arrows. The crossbow was a precaution. "Maybe if I'm not armed so heavily, she'll let me get close."

"I don't think she'll bite you." Gabrielle continued with the healer's kit, helping Kallerine slide her damaged tunic down her injured arm. She quickly cleaned the four evil-looking slash-marks with herbs, then wrapped the slayer's arm carefully, before helping her get the tunic back up and buttoned.

"And what makes you think she'll bite you?" Kallerine glanced back toward the dark hovel the warrior was hiding in. "Or that this plan will be successful?"

"I'll just have to make her understand. And I don't know that it will work, but it's the best one I can come up with, so you'll just have to work with me on this." She withdrew a sharp dagger from a sheath at her hip, holding it up. "Come on." With a swift motion, she cut deeply into her own left hand, wincing as rich red blood seeped up and ran down her arm. "If your blood flows in my veins, then Xena can feed on me instead."

"And if it turns you into a Bacchae?" Kallerine eyed the knife skeptically. "How do I get you to feed on me to turn you back?"

"You don't." Gabrielle studied the blood dripping onto the cave floor. "If I can't walk out of here with Xena returned to her human state, then I'm not walking out at all. If this fails, I'll be counting on you to slay both of us. I know neither of us would want to spend eternity attacking and killing other people to survive."

"I can't." Kallerine's voice shook, and she backed away.

"You can, and you will, and that's an order." The queen remained steadfast in her determination. "You'll just be sending us to our next life together. Now. Kallerine, come here." The slayer obeyed. Gabrielle was, after all, her queen. Not to mention pig-headed stubborn, royalty or not. "Give me your hand." She held it out, watching as the queen cut her palm equally as deep as her own, then took it, squeezing it hard with her own cut hand, mingling their blood. They stayed that way for several minutes, not speaking, eyes conveying all the fear and uncertainty they both felt in that place. Down below them, the smell of fresh blood was driving the remaining Bacchae into a frenzy.

"Hurry." Kallerine felt Gabrielle release her hand. "I'm going to have to hold them off. I can already hear them trying to climb up here."

"Now we're really sisters," Gabrielle swiped the knife with a strip of cloth, then re-sheathed it. "Not just by Amazon law, but by blood." She watched Kallerine's timid smile, before the younger girl unslung her crossbow from her back, locking an arrow into place. "I'm depending on you to keep us safe." She patted the slayer's shoulder, then ducked under a low rock shelf, returning to the dark hole Xena had retreated into.

"Xena?" She poked her head into the darkness. "Xena, I know you're in there."

As the human drew close, invading her space, the fresh blood scent made a powerful assault on her nose and she whimpered as the hunger rose up inside. Then the girl was in the alcove with her, moving closer without fear, speaking coaxing slow words that she didn't understand. The bloody scent was overwhelming and her mouth watered. She hugged herself tighter, refusing to attack the one who brought a small measure of peace to her soul.

"Come on , Xena." Gabrielle grasped her lover's arms, tugging them away from Xena's legs. She ignored the warning half-hearted growls directed at her, and deliberately moved against Xena, forcing an awkward embrace in which she tried to avoid the angry claws so close to her face. "I'm not going to hurt you, but I need you to bite me." She pulled down her collar, exposing her neck. "Right here. I promise, I won't let you hurt me."

The golden one's scent was powerful, and the feel of her in her arms was warm and soft, evoking the strange emotions she had felt during her daydreams of gold and green color. The girl moved closer, settling all up against her, the girl's back pressed against her chest and stomach. Instinctively, her arms closed around her, as she carefully pulled her tightly against her, trying not to cut her with her nails. She felt a light butterfly sensation at her cheek, as the girl brushed her lips against it. The pale soft skin offered to her was too tempting to resist, and she poked out her tongue, taking a tentative taste.

Gabrielle both heard and felt the groan of surrender, as it rumbled against her from deep in Xena's gut. "That's it. Feed, love." Suddenly, a sharp sensation pierced her neck, followed by a powerful suction, and her body came rapidly to attention, responding with a need that she had never expected. It was blissful and her eyes fluttered shut as Xena began to feed on her. Oh, yes. Now she understood. This was very very dangerous, because part of her wanted to let the sensations go on forever, sending pleasant tingles up and down her spine, which then settled into her guts, making her want to turn and just …"

"Gabrielle?" A familiar deep voice burred in her ear and she slowly came out of her sensual haze, turning in Xena's arms. Gone were the talons, the long fangs, and the reddish-yellow irises, replaced by warm friendly blue ones, which gazed back at her in utter confusion. "Where are we?"

"It's you, isn't it?" The queen ran her fingers back through thick shiny hair, then stroked Xena's now pink-cheeks. Impulsively she leaned forward, once again kissing those beloved cheeks, then capturing startled lips in a sweet quick kiss of affirmation. "Um .." She swallowed, tasting a hint of blood lingering there. "Long story, but I think we need to get you home."

"Of course it's me." The warrior carefully untangled herself from her lover and poked her head out into open space. "Is that Kallerine out there?"

"Yes." Gabrielle pulled the warrior back again. "Bacchae took you. We had to come rescue you, honey. You're in a Bacchae cave, although I doubt there's many left by now."

"There's none." The slayer triumphantly laid down her crossbow, dropping the quiver of arrows next to it. "Mission accomplished, I see?"

"One hundred per cent." Gabrielle smiled, unable to resist grabbing Xena one more time and hugging her tightly.

"Why don't I remember how I got here?" The warrior frowned in confusion.

"Xena, let's go home." Gabrielle backed out of the cubby hole and stood, coaxing her lover up with her. "I'm exhausted and we have a long journey ahead of us yet. Can it wait until we're back in our hut? I promise I'll explain everything."

"Alright." Xena grudgingly rose, looking around and shaking her head, trying to recall how she'd gotten to the cave. "Last thing I remember is checking the perimeter with my tracking class. The class … are they all …"

"Fine. All of them." Gabrielle gently covered her mouth. "Shhh. At home, okay?"

"Okay." Xena gave in, taking her turn at swinging down the side of the overhang, sliding down the rope with practiced ease.

It was a long silent walk back home, made longer by a side-trip to retrieve Xena's sword and chakram, which they found not too far from the burned down campfire she'd shared with her class the night before. The north wind had picked up again with a bitter cold bite that made any extra effort difficult. They took turns breaking a path through new-fallen snow, stopping only long enough to pick some wintergreen berries to munch on, sustaining them along with some dried jerky and flat travel bread Kallerine had packed in her hut.

At last they reached the outskirts of the village, just as the pearly gray light of dawn reached out, driving the darkness from the night sky. They said hasty goodbyes to Kallerine, who wanted nothing more than to sleep, and promised to check in on them later in the day. With weary steps, they trudged toward the queen's hut, stepping inside to blissful quiet, save a friendly blazing fire someone had kept burning for them.

"Bedtime for warriors." Gabrielle teased her partner, nudging her toward the bedroom as they both shed their travel clothing, exchanging it for warm soft sleep shirts. They crawled into bed, curling around each other, reveling in the shared body heat after the long cold day. "I should've checked you for fleas," Gabrielle grinned.

"Fleas?" Xena looked down, scrutinizing herself.

"Don't ask." The queen patted her stomach. "I'll tell that part when I tell the rest."

"Alright." Xena idly stroked Gabrielle's hair, then trailed her fingers down her face and across her neck, frowning as she encountered what felt like a wound. She sat up, carefully examining her lover's neck. "What happened here?"

"Nothing." Gabrielle grasped her fingers, trying to remove them without success.

"Gabrielle …"

The queen sighed and sat partway up. "You became a Bacchae."

"And???" Xena's eyes widened. "I attacked you?"

"No." Another sigh. "Xena, we tried to do what we did with Kama, only you wouldn't take the bait. So, Kallerine and I became blood sisters." She held out her bandaged hand. "I was the only one who could get close to you."

Trembling fingers gently grasped Gabrielle's injured hand. "Didn't notice this on the way back, with your gloves on. I wish I could've taken care of it for you." Xena's voice was hoarse. " I wouldn't feed on Kallerine, huh?" Her lower lip quivered and she sniffed, just once, trying to hold on to her composure. "You mean…?"

"Yes. And it worked. And I'd do it again if I had to." She curled back up with her partner, resting her head on Xena's shoulder.

"That was a big gamble, my love." Xena felt it all over again, the guilt anytime Gabrielle was hurt, or at risk, on her behalf. Damn. How many more times is she going to be put in danger because of me? "What if …"

"No 'what ifs,' Xena. No regrets. No second thoughts." She sat up, green and blue eyes meeting in warm compassion. "Tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing for me."

"I would ride through the gates of Tartarus and back for you. You are my greater good, Gabrielle, I hope you know that by now." Xena hugged her close. "Thank you." She kissed Gabrielle's head. "Didn't that hurt?"

"Xena." Gabrielle ran a teasing fingertip up her lover's middle. "I think you know the answer to that, now don't you? Remember when we killed Bacchus?"

"Ah." The warrior laughed, finally. "You have no idea how long it took me to quit thinking about how that felt." She had known she had feelings for Gabrielle, for a very long time. They hugged often, and as a rule, Xena never hugged anyone. They had no trouble being in each other's space, and in fact, sat closer than necessary, even when there was plenty of room. But that one moment, when Gabrielle had wrapped her fingers around her neck, and bitten down … just thinking about it sent chills down her spine. The good kind. After that, there had been no denying what she felt for her younger companion, although she never thought, at that time, that anything would ever come of it besides a lot of frustration. She chuckled. "There's a reason we bathed in so many cold streams for so long, my bard."

"Ah-hah, so you do remember!" She lightly tickled the warrior and felt her fingers clasped and stilled.

"Yes, only I couldn't do then, what I really wanted to do to scratch that itch, if you know what I mean. You, on the other hand …" She raised a meaningful eyebrow, then stole a kiss.

"Count on it." Gabrielle captured her lips again, making it last long enough to get their hearts racing. "When we wake up, oh warrior of mine, you can make it all up to me."

"The sacrifices I make for you," Xena released an overly-dramatic sigh, and felt her lover hug her tightly.

The queen drew a soft down quilt over both of them, snuggling up in a warm nest she had no intention of leaving for several candlemarks. "Xena, one question. Back in that cave, how did you know it was me? Or did you know it was me? Or do you remember knowing it was me? Oh… I’m not making sense, am I?" Gabrielle moaned in frustration.

"For you, you're making perfect sense." Xena ruffled her hair. "And you're reminding me of a much younger Gabrielle."

"Xena!" She playfully slapped the warrior’s belly. "I am not that little girl any more, thank you very much."

The warrior bemusedly glanced down at their joined bodies. "No argument there." She grinned at her partner's reaction. "But you're still cute when you blush. And yes, I do sort of remember. Bacchae, they have terrible eyesight. I was really confused and all I really remember are emotions and sensations. That's how I knew it was you. It was something beyond sight, Gabrielle. I felt you. That's the best way I can describe it."

"Yeah," the queen smiled dreamily. "That makes perfect sense, because way back, when our roles were reversed, that's how I knew it was you and what you needed me to do. I sensed it." Impulsively, she slid up, savoring Xena's lips one long last time before going to sleep. She brushed noses with the warrior and peered intently into her lover's eyes, admiring the view. "Though seeing does have its benefits."

"Gabrielle, I love you." Those eyes twinkled back at her, clear and blue, without a trace of the yellow blood-shot appearance they bore earlier.

"Love you too, Xena." She curled back into the warrior's embrace, glad beyond belief to be home.

A long arm reached out, snuffing the bedside candle. Xena allowed the familiar small sounds of the hut to settle in around her, and the smells, while her eyes flicked over the items that filled their bedroom, before she finally closed them, falling asleep and dreaming pleasant dreams in clear, living color.


THE END, until I get to the next long X&G story, which at the rate things are going, will be sometime in 2005. (g)

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