Author: Pamela A. Lord (Heron)
Story Title: Bacchanalia
Characters: Xena/Gabrielle, Gabrielle/various f (Bacchae), Gabrielle/f (Lara), Gabrielle & Bacchus, Xena & Bacchus
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Again traveling through the woods of the Bacchae, Gabrielle and Xena are fraught with disturbing dreams.
This rating is for explicit f/f and m/f sex, extreme violence, bdsm, rape, torture and sexual violence.

I just borrowed the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. They belong to Renaissance/MCA/Universal, and are used without permission. Bacchus has always belonged to himself and he owns the Bacchae, heart and soul. No copyright infringement is intended. The rest of the tale is mine with all copyrights thereto.

This story assumes a loving, sexual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal where you live, please do not read it.

This story depicts scenes of extreme violence and sexual violence and/or the aftermath. If this disturbs you, please read something else.

You can find more stories by Pamela at XENADOM

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by Pamela A. Lord

Part One: Giving and Taking

Xena slept, curled about Gabrielle, whose warm breath fell in a sweet rhythm over the warrior's breast. The bard was strangely awake after their vigorous lovemaking. Usually she was the one to drift off first, satiated and blissful after Xena's touches ignited her and held her, while one by one, the falling stars went out. Making camp in these woods for a second night now had brought the bard strange dreams, unbidden and unwanted.

Gabrielle tried to fall asleep. Just gazing on Xena as she slumbered usually made the bard feel so at ease, usually. These were the only times the tall warrior was ever really, truly relaxed. Her battle instincts were dampened, raptor reflexes calmed. Though in a quarter heartbeat she could stand, awake and armed, feral and dangerous. The haunted look she wore, hidden to most, was always apparent to Gabrielle. Here as she slept, she was innocent, calm and free from her troubling memories. This was when Gabrielle loved Xena the most, this composed, guileless, childlike guise.

Gabrielle reached out and pulled their half-full wineskin over Xena to her own side. Perhaps this would help her get to sleep. She uncorked the skin and drank deeply. The wine was strong but after the first few swallows, it went down much smoother. The bard preferred cider or mild ale, since she got tipsy so easily. Wine: the blood of the grape. She really hated that phrase. Especially here, especially now. Gabrielle shivered and pulled the sleeping fur closer around herself. Not even the cozy warmth that Xena exuded could get the chill out from her heart tonight.

Xena was no longer afraid to answer Gabrielle's questions about her own bloody past. The ex-warlord realized that after all the pain and loss and anger that never was denied, Gabrielle would never stop trusting her, would never stop loving her. These talks were healing; her bard's insightful comments showed Xena how she had been shaped and changed. Gabrielle had learned about enough bloodshed and cruelty to fill a thousand scrolls, but all Xena's actions had been in response to betrayal and murder. From that, it was understandable, how vengeance could rule every part, bursting and spreading in an unstoppable plague.

One unselfish act. That's what Xena said she witnessed, when the slavers had corralled Gabrielle and the others outside of Poteidaia. A naïve child had offered everything to save others. And unwittingly she had shown a light into the void and kindled a single mote of hope in a battered, beleaguered soul. Xena could never repay that debt.

Gabrielle had also been rescued, not just from a beating and captivity, but from a mundane, numbing life. She had been suffocating under the expectations that others had, to fulfill a life they wanted. So she left to follow a fearsome fighter into uncertainty and danger. Neither woman could pinpoint when their friendship changed to love, then from love to a depth of sharing souls, beyond death, despite disagreements and misunderstandings and unendurable loss.

Once again as Xena and Gabrielle entered the Bacchae woods, as they had nearly two years ago, the woods were silent. This time was different, it was normal, it was safe. Orpheus had no need to play his lyre to soothe the wild women, since she and Xena had destroyed the corporeal form of the dark Wine God.

Unlike Xena, who seemed to know half of the Olympian Deities on a casual basis, Gabrielle had never really met a God before. Occasionally, she had left offerings at the roadside shrines to Gaia. Since becoming an Amazon princess, Gabrielle gave a small prayer to Artemis every night that held a moon, but Bacchus was the first she had ever known through the Bacchae's touch. His eyes had snared her to his purpose and held her fast. Though his words were indistinct, his voice reverberated throughout her being, and somehow, his will had become hers.

It was halfway between the summer Equinox and winter Solstice, just like the last time. Some leaves had turned and dropped, the rest would fall soon enough. They crackled pleasantly underfoot, although Xena could walk as silent as a ghost on them, as always. You could smell the overflowing winepresses from at least a league away, and hear the harvesters singing to make the sheaf binding go faster. The last root vegetables were dug up and sorted between food stores and replanting nodules. The bleating and lowing of kine and cattle punctuated the year-end slaughter, as if they knew their last days were upon them.

With the time of year and the rumored undertones, hints and whispers and legends had all crowded into Gabrielle. Sharing accounts of fire-eyed women turning into beasts that ripped flesh asunder had been the scare of a childhood faery tale, an exploration into a make-believe fright. It was just another story for a traveling bard to thrill a tavern's audience with a dark fantasy.. Until the bloodlust and beauty, and the seduction of eternity became a terrifying reality.

Gabrielle's eyelids wavered then closed, and the nearly empty skin slipped from her hand. The last couple of sips drained slowly into the soft thick moss and vanished. She tried to open her eyes but the view made her dizzy; the careless scattering of stars spun and whirled behind her brain. The tree branches stretched down for her in leafy whispers. She whimpered softly and reached out for Xena's hand, but there were none free to grasp. One palm cupped Xena's cheek and the other hand was tucked up, under the small dark birthmark on her right breast. Gabrielle finally fell into an uneasy sleep as Morpheus teased her with the past.

Gabrielle knelt and gathered up the jagged dryad bones then abruptly dropped them as they burned her hands. She turned and saw Xena with an inchoate vision, past the dark cascade of hair and bronzed skin, to the heat and life that pulsed under the metal, leather, and flesh. That was a map of luscious liquid mortality, the true essence of the warrior princess. Gabrielle knew that with her new strength she could snap the spine of this woman and ravage her body, but there was something more immediate. A calling, a summons that she must find, must answer. She flew past the gesturing noisy meals, time enough to feed after she found the source that demanded her presence.

Gabrielle had reveled in the power of being a Bacchae. The flight through the caverns was beyond any expectation. No bird ever had such control; bats were clumsy, flailing creatures compared to her. She perceived new layers to the world, new shades. She saw time, felt colors, even the lichen vibrated with life. She held her hands before her, seeing them afire with the mysterious distillation that spread from within her.

The food had followed her in. Gabrielle hung upside down on the limestone wall as it passed beneath. The other food had pulled her away, pushed her aside, called her name, pleaded with her. Physically stronger than her, it made Gabrielle angry, then she heard again the insistent invitation to her heart. Once she answered the greater, the lesser would be easy to take care of. She would tear off their heads and drain them dry.

"Do it," Xena said as Bacchus laughed, and with terrible ease, Gabrielle tore into the flesh of her dearest friend. Her lips worked over the jagged holes to draw in Xena's rich blood, that most intense of intoxicants. Hot and salt and sweet were Xena's fears-they were so exquisite. The banquet of emotions far surpassed any transient fare she had taken in as an ordinary woman.

Often admitted to, Gabrielle knew Xena was concerned for her bard's safety every day in their travels and encounters. When the Persians had invaded and an arrow pierced and poisoned Gabrielle, Xena had tried to put Gabrielle's life above the entire population of Athens. Gabrielle realized Xena would sacrifice the world for her bard but she wouldn't let the warrior do that. They both would rather sacrifice their own lives for the greater good.

Each apprehension had a different taste, seasoning the warrior's blood, and Gabrielle savored them languidly, one by one. The flavorings of Xena's fears came as piquant and dusky and sumptuous. First and sharpest, for Gabrielle-who was losing her soul to the influence of Bacchus. Shades of subtleties for Xena herself-she was trying so hard to make up for her human misdeeds. If she became a Bacchae, so many more innocents would suffer. Lastly, if Xena died-that weight on Gabrielle's soul if it ever was released at the point of a Dryad bone-to know she was the cause and the instrument of death. That was Xena's worst fear, that Gabrielle would bear the guilt of her warrior's death.

As a Bacchae, in her hunger for Xena, Gabrielle hadn't care. All she had felt was the delicious anticipation as Xena finally surrendered. The intense scent of her as Gabrielle pushed aside her long dark hair to bare her throat, was punctuated by her soft cry when Gabrielle burst through her skin to the surging fount beneath. It was bliss as she drew out that delectable nectar, fermented by wants and needs and emotions. Xena fell beneath the spell of depletion and capture, moaning, her heart beating faster to keep pace with the withdrawal of her life. Repletion came in a climax that changed Xena into a newly awakened Bacchae as Gabrielle tasted the last drops of mortal blood to come from Xena. It was unimaginable ecstasy to quench her thirst from such a woman. Gabrielle now knew Bacchae fed from one another for pleasure; she looked forward to that consummation.

Their salvation was twofold that night. Gabrielle was not a full-fledged Bacchae and did not drink to kill, her petite size not requiring that much blood to cause death. And Xena, despite the insidious spell, kept the thought of her love for Gabrielle and the one chance for freeing their souls uppermost in her mind.

As much as the erotic lethargy under Gabrielle's control conflicted with Xena's innate need to be in command, there was a quality of submission that Xena found alluring. Something, Xena found, that she could admit to her love.

Gabrielle, who was still embarrassed over the forceful possession, recalled how she discovered initiating that particular erotic encounter had been truly exhilarating. This they could share, this they understood between themselves, and made their love deeper for the truth.

Then the dream changed.

Xena's whip snapped over the heads of the wolves while Gabrielle looked down on the sounds of merrymaking. From the balcony, she heard the screams of a young woman being pulled into a building across the courtyard by two other masked women who wore short black capes and skirts. Then Gabrielle found herself inside the hall where pipers and drummers held sway over a costumed crowd. The singers could barely be heard over the taut skins tapped and pounded while flutes trilled and keened. Multicolored torches burned, releasing scented oils into the night air. Gabrielle felt the mesmerizing tempo deep inside and she began swaying back and forth with her eyes closed.

A touch on her arm made Gabrielle look around to see two young women removing their intricate black leather masks. They danced around her, encouraging her participation with their welcoming gestures; their short capes billowing out and back like dark petals from a sluggish poppy. One was a light brunette with wavy hair pulled back, and light blue eyes, who smiled invitingly. The other girl was slight of build with dark hair clipped short like a man's. Her look was both exotic and compelling. Her eyes were dark too and their invitation was just as warm and deep as her friend's smile.

Gabrielle was drawn in, a part of the trio, graceful and confident, with movements she never thought she could mimic. She, who had felt embarrassed at the harvest celebrations in Poteidaia, and sat aside, awkward and shy and uncoordinated, now wove her body with theirs, first in copy, then in counterpoint. Gabrielle was turned and urged to move this way and that, flowing with their limbs, feeling their breath on her cheeks, their eyes watching every motion with tacit approval. They were three entities with one mind, one heart, one breath.

Fingers brushed through Gabrielle's hair and she turned her head aside as they twined in her red gold tresses and gently massaged her scalp. Lips touched hers lightly once then again. Gabrielle felt herself responding; it felt so right and so good. Her lips parted as the other girl's tongue begged for entry. Her supple muscle twirled and licked, exploring the sweet world of the bard's mouth. Gabrielle returned the attentions, kissing and tugging on the fair-haired girl's mouth, demanding more in the voracious battle of hungry flickering heats. Gabrielle's palm held the curve of a soft cheek, her other hand moved over a firm buttock, squeezing the plump resilient globe under the thin linen fabric.

A hand stroked and circled Gabrielle's bare midriff then pushed up her dark green abbreviated top, uncovering her full creamy mounds. The night air felt so cool on her heated skin, exposed to the world but only they three were here, no one else. A voracious mouth swallowed Gabrielle's gasp of surprise as her nipple was pressed and rolled between a slender finger and thumb. She felt small, firm breasts press into her back as a second pair of lips pulled at the other sensitive pink tip. The dark girl's tongue licked and circled, teasing Gabrielle as her aureoles swelled and pebbled under the delicious assaults. Hands lifted and squeezed her breasts as liquid lightning shot through to her very core.

Nails traced feathery circles on her strong smooth legs. One hand slipped along the top of her thigh then went under her tan skirt and inward, delving under Gabrielle's britches where she was melting in a slow fire. They tipped up, rubbing against her fleshy velvety folds. Another cupped her nether cheek and squeezed then released, fondling her. Fingers divided her lower lips, stroking back and forth at the slick wetness at her opening then one finger slipped deep inside her as Gabrielle felt a sharp prickling over her heart. Now she groaned aloud as a thumb pressed hard and circled the tiny throbbing bundle of nerves. Two more fingers slid inside her tightness coaxing her to greater heights. Pain sliced brightly into Gabrielle's breast then receded to a dull ache as she felt warmth and wetness flowing out from her, drawn out by the busy touches within her and from the lips working at her bosom. Now Gabrielle was dancing on the hidden fingertips that played inside, writhing deliciously under the expert ministrations, wanting more, needing more as the pressure built between her legs and at her breast.

Gabrielle's eyes widened and she quivered as their eyes turned golden and her breath caught in her throat. Her muffled cries as she went over the edge were caught and taken by the lips that feasted on hers and the tongue that licked up the last red drops from over her heart. The questing digits moved more leisurely as her inner walls quaked and squeezed, slower and slower. Gabrielle was molten all inside; her legs turned into boneless fog. Now those four hands held her, supported her, eased her transition into reality. Their strength was a luxury of comfort as the world came back. Her clothes were straightened; her brow was soothed. The two strange young women moved back, almost bowing, thanking and acknowledging the intimacy shared, taken, given and changed forever.

The warrior princess was there; she had seen everything with heavy-lidded lavender eyes. "Is this what you really want, Gabrielle?" Xena asked in a low dangerous purr. Her breath came in heavy increments seeing Gabrielle flushed and shaking from the aftermath. "You'd give your heart and-virtue," Xena sneered at this, "to play the whore with strangers in front of the whole town. Suits me. Right down to the ground." Her lips twisted in a cruel smile as she grabbed Gabrielle and spinning her, pushed her forward, tripping her so that the girl fell to her knees in the midst of the wild throng.

"Xena! Don't!" Gabrielle begged as Xena's left arm locked about her neck and she dropped behind Gabrielle, her bronze armor breastplate pressing cruelly into the bards' shoulders. Gabrielle struggled to stop Xena, pulling at her warrior's gauntlet-covered forearm to no avail. She cried out when her inner thighs were cut by Xena's chakram as her legs were forced wider apart.

"Open for me like you opened for them," Xena growled. Gabrielle's knees scraped across the coarse wooden floor and she wept, feeling the circular edge press against her labia, cutting easily through the thin, soaked fabric of her under garment. Xena transferred the chakram to her left hand and held it tight against Gabrielle's throat. She grabbed the front of Gabrielle's green blouse and yanked it open, then tore off her brown skirt and britches, exposing her to the gathering.

"Please Xena, don't-I'm sorry!" Gabrielle was sobbing, confused and scared, knowing what was happening but not understanding why. Xena leaned back and drew the girl with her, presenting an unobstructed view of her sodden reddish blonde mons to the eager wanton crowd.

"Let's give them a show you'll never forget, shall we?" Xena whispered to Gabrielle just before she ran her nails deep over Gabrielle's nether cheek. Suddenly, Xena drove her entire hand up into Gabrielle, the harsh passage made mercifully quickly since the girl was still copiously wet from the Bacchaes' touch.

Gabrielle screamed repeatedly as Xena pumped her fist up again and again, pushing the girl's vulva up and out, flaunting in a crude and brutal display of invitation to the more enthusiastic, drunken patrons.

"Ah ah..." Xena warned the rowdier male customers. "You just watch, don't touch. If I have to pull my sword, you'll be jerking off in pieces." The ravaged girl heard the vulgar shouts and suggestions directed at Xena and her battering fist. "I almost forgot, liked this too." Xena murmured as she jerked the circular blade under and across the soft part of Gabrielle's throat.

Gabrielle shrieked as blood slipped from her lacerated neck. Xena snapped the chakram sharply up against the bard's cheek, forcing her head to the left side as Xena's lips fastened onto the wound and drank Gabrielle's life in deep drafts. Xena stopped for a moment, her lips just brushing against Gabrielle's ear.

"I had almost forgotten how good fresh blood tastes, especially when it's from someone... so hesitant, and ripe." The raven-haired warrior's low erotic tone left no doubt of that in Gabrielle's bewildered mind. The shaking girl felt the frantic cadence at her throat as the warm rivulets flowed over her right breast, dripping off it in sticky tendrils. The coppery scent of her own blood lay uneasily over the musk and spice odor of her unwilling lust. Xena's reaming fist squished in and out, twisting about in her slick inner walls.

Gabrielle felt Xena shudder against her, then Xena locked back onto the gash, her teeth ripping the edges ragged as she enlarged the fissure. The blonde sobbed in pain and shame as Xena savaged her flesh. Xena's tongue foraged deep in the slippery hole, not wanting to miss a single drop of her bard's essence flowing out of the narrow channel. Gabrielle was barely cognizant when Xena's fist withdrew from between her thighs with a vile sucking sound. Then her fingernails crimped and pinched at the abused reddening pearl that throbbed unmercifully under the public punishment and the malicious, covetous stares.

Even as the implacable climax built and Gabrielle felt herself falling into welcoming darkness, she managed to whisper between lingering final breaths, "Forgive me, Xena. Please. I love you..."

Gabrielle's eyes snapped open, she was panting and shaking as tears ran down her cheeks. Xena had rolled onto her back, still in a deep tranquil sleep. Taking a deep breath, the bard arose quietly and walked away from the soft glow of the embers left from their supper fire.

"That's not how it happened... Oh Gods... What have I become?"

Part Two: Call and Answer

Brushing aside dried vines and sere leaves, Xena and Gabrielle bowed their heads and entered the accursed cavern once more. Two years ago under Bacchus' control, Gabrielle had bitten Xena, in an attempt to conscript her into the passion of an unholy thirst. Both were saved when Xena drove the dryad bone through Bacchus' heart. The young women who had not drunk from the chalice were restored; the others, tainted by the deity's vital fluid had disappeared, but there was still a danger. The dark Wine God's blood had been left in the embossed silver cauldron mixed with potent wine. Over time, the liquid had evaporated into the leavenings of a dusty burgundy stain, a dull powdery discoloration adhering to the cold shadowed concavity.

Since that time, Orpheus had stayed nearby the cavern to guard against any searching to align themselves with the force of Bacchus, but that wasn't enough anymore. Rumors had started up about this awesome malignant power, waiting to be regenerated by a single drop of willing blood. Even without a body, Bacchus' influence was still potent. Any warlord with half an army could defeat the lone mystic singer and take up the mantle of the Wine God's deadly cause.

A few days ago, Orpheus had appeared to Xena and Gabrielle when they rode into the outskirts of the Bacchae woods. Only they knew of the cauldron's hiding place, and only Xena and Gabrielle could be trusted to destroy it. That seemingly insignificant residue within must now be eliminated before anyone awoke the monstrous evil from the sparse remnants. Xena was going to make sure that never happened. The only safety was in complete and utter destruction of the vessel and its malevolent contents.

The warrior was concerned about her love. Gabrielle had been rather reticent ever since they had returned to this area. Although Xena had given herself willingly to the hunger in Gabrielle, she knew the bard nevertheless felt guilty for her ruthless assault on her dearest friend. Despite her fears, Gabrielle insisted on going with Xena, back to face her past.

"I'm worried, Xena... I've been having these bad dreams." They were a short ways inside, in front of an unlit torch. The smaller woman rummaged in her bag for her fire starters. "Ever since Britannia and India, it's as if all these daemon Gods are conspiring against me. It's getting harder to tell what's real. What is the line between consciousness and sleep, and wishes that should have never come true."

"You've been quiet these pass couple of days, I thought it was something I said." Xena gently stroked the blonde's short hair. This style made Gabrielle look older, more serious until she laughed and became a bright-eyed child. A vibrant gamine, with more thoughts than words that spilled out with such enthusiasm, no scroll was safe from catching the leftovers before they escaped.

"No, Xena. It's just that, I still feel I'm to blame for attacking you. And I did it so easily; I was so eager to take your blood." Gabrielle looked around at the desolate stone that surrounded them, no comfort could be found in the musty air and careless rock. Any trace of humanity had long since been obliterated. Even their voices were soaked up and quietly swallowed by the inhospitable limestone.

"You weren't yourself, Brie, you were under the influence of Bacchus."

"What about my killing Meridian and Hope, and my lack of action leading to the death of Crassus? When you were paralyzed and I took down so many soldiers with such a rage, I didn't feel human anymore. It wasn't that I regretted defending you; I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. You can disconnect from your battles, shed the blood and end the wrongs with just a small regret that you couldn't stop more. Those that fall are just wasted lives come to an end. It's that lust for blood that suddenly emerges from within me, out of nowhere. When it happens, I don't know how to control it.

"I just feel like something is waiting for us. Waiting for me..." Gabrielle shuddered and struck flint against steel. Sparks flew and ignited a torch in a bracket. A stray mote hit the wall; a surge of foul smelling rust-colored smoke sprung up and a line of fire ran at shoulder height running the length and breadth of the great cavern. Gabrielle gasped and stepped back, coughing.

"It's all right," Xena sniffed the air and her nose wrinkled. "Oil was left in that shallow gutter carved around this place. It's a bit stale though." She pulled her sword from the sheath on her back and held it up for battle, "Let's get this over with."

Gabrielle swallowed hard and stepped out in front of the warrior. "Everything is ready..." The older woman heard her say in almost a whisper.

"For what?" Xena looked down, her puzzled expression questioning her companion.

Gabrielle turned suddenly, her fingers wrapped around a dart. She stabbed it into her warrior's chest just above the decorative swirls of her armored breastplate. Xena dropped instantly to her knees, shocked at seeing her lover smiling down at her. The drug paralyzed her limbs; Xena could neither lift her sword nor even ask why before her senses failed her and she measured her length on the floor.

"Wake up-" A hard slap rocked Xena's head to the side. She was cold, stripped naked, shivering and dizzy. She opened her eyes and realized she was chained to a boulder. Her arms were pulled down tightly over the sides, knees bent, legs wide apart. Her feet rested flat on the stone floor. The rock ended in the middle of her spine, she was molded backwards over it. Xena saw over her shoulder, that directly below her head rested a dreadfully familiar silver cauldron-where the dried blood of the Wine God awaited a fervent liquid resurrection.

"Gabrielle, why? What are you doing?" The dark-haired warrior tested her bindings but there was no escape from the tight, thick iron shackles at her wrists and ankles. The rough surface dug into her back and buttocks. Xena could move her hips slightly and her head was free but all else was held fast. Gabrielle was watching her, her head cocked to the side in a nonchalant attitude of being completely at ease.

"Blood calls to blood, Xena." The bard's voice was low and deliberate, well nigh worshipful, as if she was on some hallowed crusade. "I'm going to bring back Bacchus and create an army the likes of which the world cannot resist. It will be unstoppable by any weapon, and immortal. Every casualty becomes another follower of mine, of Bacchus, loyal to the death, and beyond."

"Listen to me, Brie. Bacchus is doing this to you, what's happening isn't you."

The red gold hair shook in the negative as Gabrielle answered, "It is now. You might have been, 'The Destroyer of Nations,' but these legions will include hearts, minds and souls. The power of the spirit. That's worth more than any strong arm that can wield a blade. You taught me that."

"You don't want this, you don't believe in this!"

"I do now, dear Xena."

"All these years-all the good you've done. All the good you have yet to do-"

"-Has been a waste." Gabrielle's tone was harsh. "Most people would as soon crucify me as listen to me. Been there, had that done. Twice, thanks to you." Xena flinched at that bitter truth, but that pain she would bear and more to free her love from this appalling spell.

"But fighting for good, Gabrielle, we've made a difference."

"You've killed so many worthless bastards, and more always appear. You've been trying to hold back the sea with your sword instead of just turning the tide red."

"Is that what you want? To stop lesser evils and liberate a greater?"

The bard smiled slowly, a terrifying expression from her now. Xena had basked in the love from that look alone, when she was at her greatest sorrow. Here it was unnatural, freakish, and Xena felt the panic in her gut like a lamprey was latching on and burrowing through her entrails. "I can't believe you would do anything to deliberately hurt someone."

"The strength of despair, Xena. That element in your blood will be the catalyst. Moreover, I know exactly how to get it with unwilling, innocuous sacrifices. Bring them in."

Xena heard many footsteps and pleading voices. She looked to a side tunnel and saw a half a dozen Bacchae enter, each leading a heavily shackled Amazon. But these weren't full warriors, these were still girls only a couple of years into their moon cycles. She recognized these teenagers from belonging to Gabrielle's tribe.

Fiery Tessa was always pressing Xena for more swordplay, and Chloe, a quiet honey blond who, when she staff sparred with Queen Gabrielle, almost seemed her twin for size and intensity. Amaryllis was studying for medicine and she preferred hand to hand fighting to weapons' training. Dark-haired Myrrha was the fletcher's apprentice. She had asked Xena about making the recurved bows of horn and wood Xena had used when she rode the steppes of Chin. Panthea and Jenath were twins with unruly mahogany ringlets they were always tossing back before finishing their concerted attacks with their chobos.

"No, Gabrielle. We know these girls. We've lived and worked and played with them."

"That's odd, you defending Amazons. And this coming from the woman who wiped out the entire northern tribes once upon a time. Spitting them in their own forest, like so much worthless meat. Turning these fledglings into my first recruits would be fun, but using them to tear out your heart will be even better."

"They're our friends, our family."

"Yours maybe, not mine."

"They're your subjects, Gabrielle, your Amazon children you swore to protect.."

"Not anymore." Again, she smiled, this time with an anticipatory gleam in her sea-green eyes.

"My life for your death!" Tessa, the grey-eyed wiry redhead cried out as she tried to lunge forward. Her Bacchae guard pulled back Tessa's head by her auburn braids and struck her down with her fist.

"I don't want to hear another word from that one," Gabrielle ordered. "Bring her over here, so my warrior princess can watch." She picked up Xena's dagger from the pile of the warrior's discarded leathers and weapons and stuck the blade in a torch flame, turning it over and over until it smoked. The bard hummed a tuneless little melody as the metal began to darken in the smoke. The Bacchae dragged a half-stunned Tessa across and compelled her to kneel at Gabrielle's feet. Then the Bacchae forced the girl's jaws apart with the terrible strength of one hand.

"Noooooo!" Xena screamed as Gabrielle pulled out Tessa's tongue and sliced it off. The twins started crying softly. The Bacchae let go with a derisive grin as the girl collapsed, little keening noises coming from the ruins of her mouth.

"Yours is still useful, my love," Gabrielle smirked. She tilted her head back, opened her mouth and dropping the severed piece in, swallowed it. "Secure them, strip them and get out my toys." The Bacchae were coldly efficient in carrying out Gabrielle's orders. She favored her horrified lover with a smug look as manacles secured the young Amazons to thick chains suspended from the ceiling. It was but the work of a few moments for the razor talons of the Bacchae to divest the girls of their tunics, skirts, britches and boots. The last pieces of shredded doeskin and feathers floated to the ground as the captives hung, their toes barely touching the ground. The young Amazons' wan nudity amplified their fragile plight as the torches fluttered in anticipation. Xena had never felt so powerless; she tried appealing to her bard one more time.

"Gabrielle, look at me! They are innocent. You don't have to do this."

"Oh, but I do want to, I've been wanting to for the longest time. You've enjoyed meting out violence for most of your life, Xena. Well, now it's my turn.. However, I am restrained by one thing, I can't shed your blood. Yet. So you'll appreciate the fact that I've had to improvise."

A rattling sound caught Xena's attention. Two Bacchae brought over a low brazier with rods and chains hanging over the edges. They set it down on its tripod stand between Gabrielle and Xena. Coals glowed hatefully, illuminating the delicate blonde's comely features as she picked up a wound wire handle with dozens of long slender links hanging from it, smoking and glinting from the heat. She put it back with a reluctant expression before turning with predatory thoughtfulness to her captive warrior.

The bard's delicate fingers stroked down to Xena's mound, circling possessively through the dark curls. "Watch them Xena, I know your tastes." Gabrielle's teeth scraped around a dark, erect nipple. "After all, I wasn't much older then they are now, when we became intimate." Xena steeled herself as Gabrielle bit harder; she swallowed back a deep moan of desire. The young woman knew exactly what to do to arouse her.

Xena could only watch as each Bacchae touched and teased a young Amazon, alternating the thrill of arousal with razor fangs slicing into their smooth pliant flesh. The warrior heard the girls' moaning as they too were stimulated, succumbing against their will to the adept manipulations of the daemon women. The six, slender maidens' lovely forms slowly degenerated as pinches bruised their skin and lacerations oozed bright red, as if roses were weeping. The girls writhed in their chains as the unfamiliar sensations came in from all sides, kindled hotly between pleasure and pain.

Gabrielle pushed four fingers inside Xena's warm, wet walls and pumped in and out with the old familiar rhythm guaranteed to trip the warrior over the edge. Her thumb pressed in circles against Xena's sensitive nub, shooting sparks throughout her groin. Her nails scraping across the tight swollen tip. Despite herself, Xena felt a wetness gathering between her legs where the erotic pulse shimmered hotly inside.

"Stop them. You can still stop this, Gabrielle!" Xena cried, trying to deny the effect Gabrielle's languorous strokes had on the building furnace within her. The smaller woman slid down and latched on to the reddened bud with her teeth, sucking hard as she pumped her hand faster inside of the warrior. Xena's tawny muscular body tensed just before the torrent of impulses roared through her. Her teeth clenched tight as tempestuous spasms shook her lean frame, slamming her repeatedly into the rough rock under her. She groaned aloud, unable to suppress the powerful climax.

"Why?" asked Gabrielle, smiling as she arose, inhaling the spiced musk aroma above Xena's splayed legs. She wiped her sticky fingers through Xena's raven locks. "When we're all having so much fun?" She stepped back and turning, quickly snatched up the red-hot steel cat o' nine tails and snapped them hard across Xena's trembling breasts. As Xena took another breath to scream, she could smell her own seared flesh.

The supple fingers that had soothed so many of Xena's wounds, that brought her to ecstasy and written tales of their many exploits turned just as gracefully to hideous acts. The warrior thought she knew every type of pain but Gabrielle's poisoned instincts wreaked gory havoc in the many terrible hours they had been in the cavern. Xena still had trouble believing the misery her love inflicted, and worse, luxuriated in. The exhausted warrior witnessed acts she had never even imagined, dealt by the hands and commands of her once gentle Gabrielle.

Only two of the girls still lived, both were without tongues. Like the others, Myrrha and Panthea had their flesh flayed from their breasts and backs. They lay twitching and moaning on the cold stone, their legs shattered into too many angles. The more fortunate ones, Tessa, Chloe, Amaryllis and Jenath were blessedly dead. The way the cavern floor was slanted had allowed their warm spilled blood to run onto Xena's bare feet, coating them, sticking between her toes. The six Bacchae had left on Gabrielle's orders. Even they were more than satiated after the extremes inflicted on their defenseless prey.

Gabrielle ordered each of the Bacchae in turn to take their pleasures from Xena after the bard had flogged a crosshatched pattern of seared stripes from Xena's shoulders to hips. The burns from the metal whip were scored deep across the warrior's breasts and taut stomach. Xena estimated she had spent over eighteen hours in this Gods' forsaken Tartarus on earth. Each moment that passed had been a study in torment and a vain wish for precious death to take her away. She was never allowed to even faint. Gabrielle had played on her intrinsic strength of will and vain hopes of mercy for any of them. To Xena's sorrow, her bard knew the warrior well; Xena was far from death and unable to deny anything to her insane beloved.

Xena could barely see for the tears, her voice was nearly gone from the fruitless begging and her own screams. Gabrielle had alternated the flaying and disfigurement of the Amazons with tormenting her warrior. Initially, the bard had been avid, almost impetuous in her techniques. After Jenath had died before even an hour had passed, she had been more circumspect and inventive in her approach.

Gabrielle squeezed the last drops of blood from a mangled heart into a goblet, then threw the wretched lump of muscle away. She drained the warm blood and sensuously licked her lips. Scarlet trickles wound down the corners of her mouth covering previous spills. Xena blinked away the wet from her eyes. She was utterly broken; her breath came in harsh pants. She didn't know how the young Amazons had lasted this long through all the tortures.

"Please..." Xena begged, her voice rasping. "Kill them. Stop their suffering.."

Gabrielle smiled and kissed her, leaving the metallic taste of blood in Xena's mouth. "Not yet. Watch you two. And I might let you die." The mutilated girls slowly lifted their heads, obedience was instantaneous to Gabrielle's every whim, while they still were conscious. She tossed the cup aside; it rattled against the stones.

"I've had you so many ways, but this..." Xena's sword clashed softly, chafing against the sheath as Gabrielle drew it out. She rubbed the cold hilt and the paua shell at the very tip over Xena's left nipple. The trembling older woman just watched, indefensible against this latest assault. Gabrielle knelt and inverted the sword so that the point rested in Xena's cleft. She gently parted Xena's nether lips and eased the tip up into her, anchoring the rounded hilt on the cavern's floor with a large stone she slid over for just that purpose. Xena had to raise herself on tiptoe to keep from being further impaled on the angled double-edged blade.

"No-?" but it came out more as a question as the bard stood up.

"Let's see how tall you really are when I start cutting. Hmmm?" With one hand, Gabrielle pulled back the long sweat-stained raven hair and with the other, she held up Xena's chakram level with her friend's azure eyes. "Tell me when it starts to hurt," she purred and began to saw at the side of Xena's throat with the sharp edge. Whimpers came from the ruined girls lying on the floor.

"Please..." was the beaten warrior's barest whisper as her skin parted reluctantly and blood flowed. Gabrielle switched hands and now ground the chakram's edge into the other side, opening a second deep gash. She yanked Xena's head back and listened to the trickles flowing into the waiting cauldron below.

The warrior trembled with the effort of maintaining her precarious position as the blood loss magnified her weakness. She shuddered, trying to grab and hold onto the rock with her hands; she drew in a quick breath as the sword's tip slipped against her vaginal walls. Her palms were scraped raw from supporting herself through previous tortures. Xena's knees threatened to buckle, she felt her body slipping, again she stretched out. She heard Gabrielle's boot scraped slowly across the floor.

"I'm sorry lover, I've lost patience," Gabrielle whispered in her ear and Xena shrieked as the lethal steel shot up into her. Gabrielle seized the hilt and shoved the full length of the blade all the way into the warrior. It's momentum easily plunging through her soft internal organs. The first third of the sword burst out from between Xena's charred breasts. Convulsions shook her body as crimson poured out, gushing over her thighs and around the grip. She sagged against the stone, her body jerked once, then again. Xena's mouth opened, but there were no more words, only a thin thread of scarlet from her lips. She was still, her cobalt eyes wide and unseeing. Gabrielle smiled, her gaze hooded and satisfied.

Xena awoke with a gasp. She looked quickly at her beloved, only by seeing Gabrielle's chest rise and fall in an easy rhythm allowed Xena to take a breath herself. What was happening?

Part Three: Essences

Gabrielle crouched down behind some bushes, shivering. She hoped that getting rid of that half-skin of wine would also leave her with pleasanter dreams for the rest of the night. As she finished she heard a faint rustle and froze. Enough of these silly games, the bard told herself, she stood up and adjusted her clothing.

"It's just me, X-" Gabrielle's breath stopped at the sight of two amber eyes at waist level staring at her. A low growl that was more felt than heard, broke her trance. "Shhh, easy there," she whispered to the huge gray wolf. "I'll just leave you to your hunting. Bye now." Gabrielle stepped back slowly keeping her eyes lowered so as not to antagonize the beast. Oh yeah, she couldn't wait to tell Xena she nearly got her backside bit off when she went to pee. Mentally shaking her head, Gabrielle went in a large arc to circle back to camp when she heard another rustle.

Thin dark lips rippled back from powerful jaws, exposing way too many sharp teeth. Gabrielle backed away from a second black wolf, nearly as large as the first. She couldn't lead them back to a sleeping Xena; the bard would just have to take a longer way to return to bed. One step led to another then a third wolf came out from around a stand of laurel. A fourth crept up and then more glowing pairs of yellow orbs emerged from all sides. Gabrielle saw lupine eyes reflected all around her path back to their site. Logical thought dissolved, every bit of education and inquisitiveness faded leaving just the base instinct to flee for her life.

Gabrielle ran. No strength was spared for useless cries, just trying to get precious distance between her and the ripping maws behind her. Briars scraped at her arms and plucked at her sleeping shift. Roots and rocks conspired to trip her; a stitch jabbed at her side. Gabrielle's heart drummed against her ribs as she stumbled, caught herself and ran on. Get to safety, anywhere. A cave, something-and the ground was gone.

A muffled grunt came from her as Gabrielle's falling ended on sand, knocking the wind out of her. She had come down several yards through a narrow hole that the wolves still snuffed around. Above, their whines of frustration brought a small smile to her, not exactly a glamorous escape. She spat to clear her mouth and tried to steady her breathing. Xena would track her down and get her out by breakfast. That would have to do for now, she thought as she stood, brushing off the loose grains from her shift. Gabrielle could barely see, but she could feel her way for a few paces.

She held her hands out and moved slowly, placing one foot directly in front of the other. Gabrielle cocked her head to listen for anything around her, but the only faint sound was her own steps on the cold sand. She inhaled deeply but she only smelled the crushed ferns that scented her feet and calves from her flight. Eight and a half steps to the cavern wall. Gabrielle turned around and felt a breeze and a wisp of scent... from something from before.

"Mine!" roared a sonorous voice as something circled Gabrielle's neck cutting off her air. She gasped in a futile effort, clawing at the arm that lifted her from the ground. She might have been trying to scratch through a tough boar's hide for all the effect she was having. Violet lightning burst behind Gabrielle's eyes and the black cave diffused into nothingness as she passed out.

There was light and dank musty air that Gabrielle raggedly drew in with each breath. Her throat felt bruised and her head ached. She was naked, her sleeping shift lay in rags at her feet. She didn't remember when it was taken from her, or when she was bound, trussed up like a slaughtered lamb. Gabrielle raised her head and saw the ropes had leaves; no, they were vines that held her arms out to the sides. She focused ahead of her to a ledge three man heights above the ground. Atop that was a marble throne covered with black sheepskins. Sitting, his massive bejeweled hands resting on the giant rams' horns that served as armrests, was the manic God. His own horns were somewhat smaller ivory twins to the armrests, but much sharper and brighter.

"Bacchus-" The name came in a hoarse whisper from Gabrielle. He chuckled in a low scornful tone as a handful of enthralled succubae danced in a sensual rhythm to strange music. Sinuous arms stretching, touching hair, fingers caressed faces as mouths whispered ancient endearments. Voices rose and fell in soft susurrations. Feral eyes gleamed wildly as knowing glances passed one to another. Red lips parted in slow sly smiles revealing sharp white fangs.

"My she-beasts did a fine job of herding you, Gabrielle, Amazon bard." Several wolves ran in past the astonished blonde-haired woman. They shook and blurred growing taller to become more of Bacchus' followers. Only their wild amber eyes were the same as their bodies changed into voluptuous feminine forms. Heavy kohl-edged lids eased over cat yellow centers then flashed wide revealing a thin red circle around each iris. Their yips and growls became taunting sibilant laughter directed at the helpless young woman.

"No... " Gabrielle shook her head trying to deny what she knew was the awful truth.

"I would have made you like a god, but you betrayed me with Xena, warrior bitch. I've spent two long years in limbo, restoring my corporeal form. I can be lenient, I'll give you one last chance. You'll be the undoing of that warrior princess. Join me now, of your own free will. I offer you eternal youth, beauty that never fades, power-" His deep voice resonated throughout the subterranean room.

"-No." The bard's voice was firm. Gabrielle shuddered, remembering the smell of Xena, the feeling of tearing into her willing flesh as she held those sculpted cheekbones, the taste of her wild warrior's blood pulsing into her mouth, and the shame deep in her soul for what she had done.

"Vines!" The earth itself answered the command of Bacchus as damp grayish/green tendrils pushed through the stone walls and grew thick with tiny bumps lining the sides. The ropy verdant lengths swelled in the space of a few heartbeats, twirling thicker without any leaves though the lumps distended and broke out with long piercing thorns, writhing like the Medusa's cursed locks about a terrified Gabrielle.

"I'll never become one of your Gods-be-damned blood-sucking harpies!" The bard quaked inside, but her heart and soul would not break faith with Xena again, never again.

"Only my mastery keeps them from ripping you apart, girl. You will beg for the chance to join me, pray that I hear you."

Gabrielle cried out as she was yanked up off the floor, her arm sockets wrenched painfully to their limits as her body lurched and fell. The Bacchae jeered their disapproval as the young woman twisted, trying vainly to break free.

Gabrielle took a deep shuddering breath, "Never," was her answer as she braced herself.

"Strike!" The dark Wine God bellowed and the vines lashed out. Claws of malevolent flame ripped into her body repeatedly. Gabrielle screamed and kept on screaming as her back and buttocks were shredded by the virulent multitude that attacked her in mindless obedience. The scent of Gabrielle's spilled blood aroused the Bacchae to a feeding frenzy. Only the power and the fear of their burgundy-skinned lord and master held them back. The vicious flogging slowly crushed Gabrielle's consciousness and her body sagged in its restraints.

The blonde sputtered and coughed as cold wine splashed across her face and breasts, every breath came out as a strangled sob with hundreds of paths of pain stippling her graceful shoulders and firm curves in a bloody entwined lattice. Three of the wild women squirted wine from their goatskin botas over her tattered back. They all laughed with their cruel dark lord as the alcohol blazed greater agony on Gabrielle's lacerations. Her shrieks and gasps were sweet music to accompany her trembling bloody form. Watery bloodstained trickles meandered down her back and thighs, wound down her legs and pooled under her feet.

The manic God flew down to land in front of the beaten bard. He lifted her chin, and stared into her pain-glazed green eyes, ruffled through her short-cropped hair and nodded in approval. His fingernails, black and sharp, scraped down about her full breasts. His thumbnails traced about the line dividing the pebbled aureoles from the crests of the pale swells. Gabrielle blushed and looked away as her nipples hardened and reddened, straining outward under the heated unwelcome attention.

"There are other ways to make you mine..." A deep chuckle started inside of the Wine God's chest, his fingers dipped lower, tracing back and forth across her toned stomach, sliding around her ribs, feeling her taut muscles ripple and twitch trying to get away from his hideous touch. He gripped her hips and easily elevated her midsection so that her sex was level and open to his ravenous gaze. His nails scored into the already torn flesh of her lower cheeks as his nostrils widened, inhaling her ripe scent.

"Don't, please?" Gabrielle whimpered, every fiber trying to deny the inevitable. Bacchus just smiled and parted her legs wide for his invasion. His tongue licked a wide coarse path back and forth across her cleft as her screams came one swift on the heels of the next. It was as if sharkskin was rasping over her most tender flesh, abrading her inner lips and drawing blood from her tiny nerve rich bud. Bacchus impaled Gabrielle on his tongue, violating her, his turgid muscle skewered into her, rippling about inside, undulating in the slick channel drawing out her fluids. Gabrielle's every motion only served to inflame him, her pelvis jerking into his face as he reamed in and out, lapping at her squelching oozing slit. His aquiline nose rubbed over her engorged clitoris as Bacchus licked around faster, spiraling the bard over the peak as she thrashed and moaned with the waves overwhelming her with fresh pain even as she climaxed.

"Bacchus! Put her down!" The torment slowed and stopped, Xena's distinctive tone was a blessing to Gabrielle, even in her trembling shame. Gabrielle felt the manic God's hands move down to her thighs just above her knees. Xena stood behind Bacchus by a good twenty paces, sword and chakram at the ready.

"Well, Warrior Princess, this sweet cleft you love so much," He addressed her while staring at his pulsing wet, graphically exposed prey. "One misstep and I will rip her in half." Hoarse wails came from Gabrielle as Bacchus opened her wider, almost in a split.

"What do you want, Bacchus?" asked the warrior princess.

"I've got her wet enough, Xena. She'll do nicely when I break her in a bit more. Spread open like this every night to receive me. How long do you think she'll hold up? Two months? Three?" The cavern walls mockingly amplified his deep resonant tones. "She's got the strength of youth, but she's small. Care to place a wager, Xena? How long will she last?

"And her mind... I could let you watch her descent into madness. That will be my gift in return for your treachery. In a mob, the delusion's focus is to the outer world. Like King Pentheus, in his folly against me he sought to end my sacred rites in Thebes. Thinking him a boar upon the hill, his aunts ripped off his arms and Agave, his own mother, tore off his head and held it high in triumph to my glory." His eyes raked over Gabrielle, her shuddering form held in mid-air.

"Alone, the crazed turn inward. What she sees will make her gouge out her own eyes. She will feel maggots eating her just under her skin and she will tear at her own flesh to get rid of them, but they'll just burrow deeper. Everything she experiences will be a horror and a curse until she dies in wretchedness and torment."

"I'll spare her that fate, I'll kill her before you hurt her again. Then it'll be just us. I know you, Bacchus. There's something you want more than Gabrielle."

"What I would take from her sweet body, you will give willingly, in every way. Xena shall be the whore of the great God Bacchus."

"No-Xena... " came the faint denial from Gabrielle.

"And do I have your word that Gabrielle won't be hurt?"

"No further harm will come to her." Bacchus lowered the bard's legs and waved his hand, "Depart." The vines holding Gabrielle lowered her to the cavern floor and unwrapped from her arms, then they receded into the darkness of the stone ceiling. The beaten girl trembled anew as the cold stone abraded the fresh rawness.

"I-I'm so sorry, Xena," Gabrielle stammered hoarsely through her tears as the warrior ran to her side. Xena knelt and saw the ruins of her love's back; there was no way to get her out safely, and to defeat Bacchus and the more than a score of daemon women surrounding them. She clasped the bard's small hands in her own.

"Don't, Xena, don't do it," the young woman begged.

"I've got no choice, Brie. Look...look away when it happens, try not to listen."

"Ahhh... " Gabrielle cried out. Spasms shook her slender frame as she began to go into shock from the beating.

"You didn't have to do this-" Xena was livid at both Bacchus and her own helplessness. That her beloved Gabrielle was suffering for it was more than she could bear.

"I can be merciful," his voice rumbled, "for your surrender." Again, Bacchus waved his hand and the lash marks vanished. Gabrielle nearly passed out in relief. "I have no need to lie."

"In wine there is truth?" Xena asked bitterly. The Wine God nodded and folded his arms. Xena stepped back and removed her chakram, sword and two Dryad bones from her belt. She undid the clasps of her armor and the ties and clips of her leather bracers, greaves and dress. Her boots were next and last her undershift that she folded into a pad and placed under Gabrielle's head. Xena tried to reassure her friend with a caress on the blonde's tear-stained cheek, but Xena didn't trust her voice to speak about this. Not here, not now.. Gabrielle kissed her hand, she understood.

"Leave on your upper arm bands, you'd be naked without them," Bacchus smiled at his own wit. A wave and several Bacchae dropped sheepskins in a pile on the floor. The God sat on them and leaned back. "Watch and learn, little bard. Even the mightiest warrior kneels to my power." He undid his pants and his massive erection burst up, freed from his black leather trousers.

"I wasn't called the 'Conqueror' for nothing," was Xena's murmured retort as she knelt between his massive thighs. Ares was quite well endowed as befitting the God of War, but Bacchus was huge enough to put a centaur to shame.

"Remember, Xena, if you fail to satisfy me... she will." He indicated Gabrielle a few paces away who was afforded with an excellent view of the scene. Xena bent over and began working her lips and tongue about his shaft, breathing slowly and concentrating on delivering to Bacchus the best climax he would ever have.

Xena didn't look at her bard as she serviced the Wine God. His immense organ was trembling under her oral expertise as she kept him at the ready, slick and stiff for nearly half an hour before she felt wet enough to begin to accommodate him. Her eyes were cobalt ice as she spread herself and eased the tip of his shaft into her cleft. Gabrielle gasped seeing her lover lowered herself by slight degrees as Bacchus filled her, his long thick column disappearing part of the way into the straining woman.

"Enough foreplay," Bacchus announced as he gripped Xena's waist and simultaneously pulled her down as he ferociously thrust deep all the way up. Gabrielle saw her warrior grimace as the force tore inside, filling her. Xena gritted her teeth and began to ride up and down on the thickness. Her hands reached behind and under her, teasing the God's bulky scrotum with rhythmic squeezes. Gabrielle knew how her love clenched her interior muscles; the subtle control Xena had over her sex was just an extension of her natural self-control over the rest of her body.

The eyes of the Wine God narrowed and glazed as his breath came deeper and faster with Xena rocking above him, her raven tresses flowing across his chest with each lowering of her head, the dark locks dragging back across his stomach when she sat up.

"Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride," Xena said with a half-smile as she increased her pace, a flush spreading down over her magnificent breasts to their lush dark nipples.

"Wait!" Bacchus ordered as he rolled, pushing her off and over onto her knees. "Head down!" He growled as he grabbed her hips and drove into Xena from behind, pumping in animalistic grunts. Gabrielle saw how Xena gripped the sheepskins in her tight fists, the tendons in her arms white and straining. She bit her lip hard as the Wine God came, roaring wordlessly, his cries echoing throughout the caverns.

The spent woman almost fell over as Bacchus pulled out with a slurping noise.. But Xena was Xena, no matter what male used her; she would never be a victim. Gabrielle saw the colossal effort her love made to act as if all was normal. Xena sat back on her heels, tossed back her sweat-streaked hair and regarded the very satisfied God for a moment then she casually reached for her leathers. Gabrielle knew what this endeavor cost Xena; she saw the small tremors around the woman's stomach and the blood that streaked her inner thighs..

"Will that be all? Or if you want a weekly appointment, I'll add you to my list," Xena said in a causal tone as she pulled up the straps of her dress.

"One more sampling of another essence. Blood." Bacchus answered as he stood, fastening his pants and yanked a petrified, still naked Gabrielle to her feet before him.

"Let her go, Bacchus." Xena struggled to stand, her long legs still unsteady from the recent activity.

"Would you submit to me, with your very soul-" The dark God's nails indented the flesh over Gabrielle's left breast, "or shall I tear out her heart before your eyes?" His pointed nails dug harder into the bard; five little threads of blood trickled down over her chest.

"I will be yours, every part of me-"

"No, Xena!" Gabrielle gasped as the Wine God's nails cut deeper into her breast.

"By my love for Gabrielle, I swear. And you, Bacchus, swear by the Styx, that once I'm yours, neither you, nor any of your Bacchae will harm her." Xena's cobalt eyes blazed.

Bacchus laughed, nodding. "I swear by the River Styx, once you are mine, Xena, neither I nor any of these women will harm her." He shoved Gabrielle into the arms of the two nearest Bacchae for safekeeping. "Hold her gently," he admonished the snarling hissing pair. They bowed their heads in deference to their dark lord.

"No, no- Xena!" Gabrielle begged her love, as Xena's clear loving gaze rested on her for the last time.

The manic God circled behind the tall woman, wrapped his fingers through Xena's long dark hair and yanked her head to one side. His other thickly muscled arm encircled her waist as he bent down, tearing into her throat with relish. Xena gasped, her eyes rolled back in pain. She began moaning and sliding against him as the insidious overwhelming pleasure took her beyond the pain.. She didn't hear Gabrielle crying her name while her life flowed into the manic God's greedy mouth. Xena barely knew when Bacchus let her go and she slumped to her knees, her raven hair veiling her face.

Gabrielle jerked free of the two Bacchae that had held her; she wept as she knelt to cradle her friend. The angry grieving bard plucked a dryad bone from Xena's cast off weapons and held it up, threatening Bacchus.

"Let us go or I will kill you," her voice shook. The Wine God laughed at her hollow threat; slowly Xena raised her head. Gabrielle drew back, shocked at the sight of the once beautiful blue eyes, now a grim hawk yellow with red flecks in them. Xena had changed.

"Can you do it? Kill me... " She taunted her bard, "Put me out of my misery.... " Xena grasped Gabrielle's smaller hand and wrapped her strong callused fingers tight about the bard's, crushed it around the ivory spike.

"I-can't. Xena-You're hurting me!" Gabrielle's arm dropped, desperation filled the sea green eyes.

Xena's mouth curved into a malicious smile. She grabbed the back of Gabrielle's head with her free hand and yanked the girl to her. Xena viciously sank her nascent fangs into her love's throat. A terrible awareness filled Gabrielle as Xena's lips worked savagely against her flesh pulling in her blood; she could feel her life ebbing away in sudden drafts. She couldn't scream, could barely take a breath yet Xena growled and snarled in her gorging feast. Their breasts were pressed hard against each other in that horribly intimate embrace, the smooth finished leather of Xena's dress feeling abnormally coarse against her bare skin. Gabrielle felt her heart beating quicker trying to keep up with the blinding loss while Xena's heart pounded loud and strong, overtaking the smaller woman's. No glamour covered the hideous feeling of draining; the pain of Gabrielle's ripped flesh and the suffocating palpable darkness that was closing in. She couldn't feel her fingers anymore; the bone spike dropped from her nerveless hand. Gabrielle heard the dark Wine God's deep mocking tones over the sucking and swallowing of her life into Xena's devouring mouth.

"Stop now and she becomes one of us. Continue to feed and she dies... What will you do?" Bacchus asked as he looked down on his newest acolyte. Xena's lips left off their task, she raised her head. A question formed in the changed warrior's fierce yellow eyes as she gazed into Gabrielle's emerald ones. Her ravaged throat gave mute testimony to Xena's pitiless attack. Bright blood trickled up through the irregular jagged bites and spilled over the side to her shoulder. The bard's breath came in shallow whimpering noises.

"Gabrielle? Gabrielle!" Xena screamed as Bacchus and his minions laughed. The warrior spun, snatching up the second dryad bone and drove it into Bacchus' heart. The dark God bellowed and burst in a haze of red dust. The daemon women scattered and fled with the sudden loss of their lord. The two lovers were alone.

Gabrielle felt Xena holding her tightly; the older woman was shaking as her body changed- her eyes smarting. She was human once more.

"Live-Live!" Gabrielle tried to focus her eyes at the touch of sword-callused fingers caressing her cheek.

The smaller woman shuddered hard, her heart was burning and something was pushing out of her jaws. Gabrielle swallowed, trying to speak around the growth of fangs. She groped at her side and her fingers found the discarded dryad bone by her thigh, it weighed as much as a cyclops, but she had to pick it up. With a shaking hand, she brought it to her chest, letting the point rest over her heart.

"Don't-let Bacchus win." Gabrielle's free hand reached up to Xena's cheek, "Don't let me-become one of them. Promise me... " Her fingers trembled as they brushed a small clear warm drop.

Xena spoke through her tears, "Never. I swear." She gently closed her hand about Gabrielle's and pressed her lips to her bard's as she pushed down. Gabrielle felt the ivory spike burst through her breast and grate between her ribs before Xena received her last kiss.

Part Four: A Mote of Evil

Xena placed the tray on the table by the window and turned to the lovely, half-naked sprawled form that covered their bed. Not only had her lover stolen all the covers as usual, Gabrielle had also managed to get the blankets tangled up around her legs while Xena had gone downstairs to scrounge up some food for her bard's morning consumption. The slender compact body of her beloved bard always was a delightful sight. The graceful back and curves were all the more precious because Gabrielle knew how much Xena treasured her. She also knew upon each awakening how Xena got her smile in the early mornings, from sitting across from the smaller woman and gazing on her, sometimes throughout the night. The warrior's soul was renewed by these solitary watches, as was Xena's life.

The warrior's warm indulgent smile at this sight of her beloved would not have been believed by any of Xena's former associates in her warlord days. There was incredible passion, yes, and yet that was the smallest fraction of what drew her to the young woman from Poteidaia. There was devotion, laughter, tears, rueful looks and an awe, that she could have done so much wrong, to then be blessed with the love of someone like Gabrielle.

Love passed in glances and subtle nuances of motion when they were with others. Alone, Xena would wrap herself around the younger woman, enjoying the closeness and the freedom of being able to be herself, with all her faults and flaws. Gabrielle would hold tight to her and they would be one again, like the old legend, two beings sharing one soul. Her heart was always full during these nurturing times.

Ever since the Bacchae moon and especially since the ravages in Dahak's temple, Gabrielle had altered when it came to the first couple of days before her cycle. Her emotions, her thoughts, her dreams, all changed as if she became someone else. She would feel like hiding away like a wounded animal, soul-sick. At these times, Xena did her utmost to ensure that they stayed at a village inn for those two nights. Hot baths, a variety of foods and the distraction of a busy town helped Gabrielle get through the worst of it.

"One of them..." the prone bard murmured agitatedly in her sleep, her face buried in the pillow, her short fair hair awry like a child's.

"Wake up, love," Xena sat on the edge of the bed and gently caressed a bare shoulder.

"Don't-" Gabrielle rolled onto her back, her hands were clasped over her heart.

"Gabrielle, wake up." Xena's large hand easily covered the bard's smaller ones as she shook the smaller woman gently to arouse her.

"You swore to me! You promised!" Gabrielle awoke, sitting up suddenly, tears spilling from her eyes as she stared into Xena's concerned face.

"What's the matter, Brie?" Xena recognized the agitation of waking from a disturbing night's visions. Her love was still in the grip of those blasted nightmares she realized as she sat on the edge of the bed facing the blonde.

"Why didn't you-" Then Gabrielle looked down at her uncovered breasts and shook her head, "It couldn't be just a dream... not this time."

"Easy," Xena unlocked the tight grip her bard's hands held with each other and kissed the palm of each, "You're safe with me, Brie. It's all right now."

"I'm not... never mind." Gabrielle ran her tongue over her upper teeth. She fell back, exhausted against the pillow. Tears ran down her face as she looked past the dark-haired woman, back into the nightmare.

Xena reached out and stoked her cheek, "What is it, Brie?"

"I know, I get more emotional these times of the month. But these Morpheus-be-damned dreams!" She turned and looked over at Xena. "First I'm getting bitten and you cut me. Wolves chased me then they turn into Bacchae and I'm being whipped for not drinking blood. Bacchus takes me, and forces you to have sex with him then he bites you and you're attacking me and you're drinking my blood... "

"The cauldron... " Xena's gaze unfocused for a moment. "You driving the sword through me, the Amazon girls, and impaling you because-"

"I wanted my last sight to be your face, feeling your lips on mine one last time as you helped me die. I wanted it to be true. Then maybe this would all stop."

"It's all over with, Gabrielle."

"Is it?" Gabrielle's voice was barely above a whisper as she stared into Xena's cerulean eyes. "The same time of the month they occur, and they just get worse and you have them too?"

Xena held her bard in a tight embrace and kissed the top of her red gold hair. "We've battled warlords, titans, monsters, insane zealots and radish soup.." She leaned back and looked into the sea-green eyes. "A few bad dreams can't stop us."

Xena pressed her lips to Gabrielle's and felt the younger woman relax into her caress. Their tongues dueled briefly, flowing around each other, then Xena rested her cheek on Gabrielle's.

"I don't know what I'd do without you, Xena. Thank you," the blonde took another look down at her breasts and shook her head. "It all felt-so real."

"They're just fine, Gabrielle," Xena joked as she brushed the pale bangs off the bard's forehead. "Though you do look like you're getting a chill." She smiled as she handed the younger woman her clothes.

"Ha, ha. Xena, warrior jester." The bard stuck her tongue out at her dark-haired lover as she stood and dressed.

"Keep it up, kiddo, and I'll let you starve." Xena broke off a piece of nutbread and chewed it. "I suppose if this is the best Bacchus can do, to try and get us in our dreams, he's just playing with shadows. Without the cauldron, he has no real power."

Gabrielle bent over the basin and splashed water on her face and hands. "You're probably right, as always." She stood there, leaning over, drops falling unheeded. The smaller woman turned and planted a quick kiss on Xena's lips, getting her chin all wet. Xena threw the small towel at her. The blonde snatched it in mid-air and gave her love a small smile.

But what if they're more? Xena thought, as Gabrielle dried off her face and hands and divided the nutbread. Breakfast was consumed in a pensive mood.

"I'm going to take a walk about town, Xena."

"For a girl who can't stand to live in a one cow flop village, you sure enjoy making the rounds."

"The people in small places make for better character sketches; they're more down to earth," Gabrielle explained. "People in cities seem to exaggerate things as if to accommodate the greater area that they live in."

"Here," Xena tossed over Gabrielle's staff. "There are still bad characters too. I don't want you to go unprotected."

"Xena... "

The warrior raised one eyebrow in the, 'please don't argue with me' expression.

"Yes, I'll take my staff." The younger woman acknowledged with a wry smile. "I'll meet you back here for dinner?"

"And a hot bath," Xena replied.

"You're on," Gabrielle smiled and kissing Xena goodbye, left their room.

Xena's smile faded. She didn't tell the whole truth, bad characters were a mild understatement. These past few times of the month in towns with Gabrielle had been unsettling. On four occasions, one or two girls in every village had been found each in a state of deshabille and very pale as if they had lost a great deal of blood from an attack. Careful examination showed them to be unharmed, without any visible wounds. Not a one had remembered what had happened to them and it was only by luck that they had been found so soon. If it had been a Bacchae, the victim would certainly have changed over or been killed outright. With Gabrielle wandering around in unfamiliar territory, she could be set upon as well. Xena was not about to let that happen.

The dark-haired woman went to check on Argo in the stables. "The blacksmith is going to trim your hooves this afternoon. Be good." The palomino whickered softly at seeing her mistress. Xena gave the mare a couple of leftover figs from breakfast and scratched her horse between the eyes. "I'm going to keep an eye on our bard. I know she thinks she can take care of herself but there's something more going on than these random attacks. It just doesn't feel right. I'd rather have her angry at me for invading her privacy than finding out she's been attacked too." Argo let out a soft whinny in agreement. "I knew you'd see it my way," Xena left the stables.

Few people saw the tall warrior take to the trees at the edge of the village.. Only birds and squirrels witnessed her tracking through the upper foliage. Xena heard voices and crouched on the branch of a poplar, Gabrielle's voice and a girl's, Lara, the merchant's vivacious daughter. They moved further off and from her height, Xena could see they were heading for the nearby stream. Traveling from limb to limb, Xena ended up lodged comfortably in an oak, not twelve feet away from the two young women. She could see for quite a distance in all directions, should anything approach. The warrior settled herself for what she hoped would be an uneventful watch.

The couple sat on a mossy bank side by side, their feet free from boots and sandals. Lara rattled on about all the places she'd love to see and the caravans with their exotic wares and meeting all sorts of crafters and Gabrielle listened, leaning against a low rock, with an occasional word thrown in to show interest. The way she kept looking around told Xena her bard was getting bored. Finally, someone who talked more than even she could stand! Well, merchants sell by their patter and it obviously ran in the family. The pretty dark-haired girl chattered like a magpie, oblivious to her audience. Xena saw Gabrielle's eyelids flutter and her chin drop slowly, she was dozing off. Xena held back a chuckle as she crossed her arms and leaned against the trunk. Lara rambled on.

"I need you." The words came unexpectedly from Gabrielle and Xena paid closer attention. What was she talking about? She made no sense. Lara stopped her monologue and stammered, flustered at being interrupted. Gabrielle was looking hard at the confused merchant's daughter with a strange expression; as if what she said wasn't what she meant.

"I-need-you-" Came more forcefully the second time, in a deeper, more earnest tone from the bard, as though she was trying to make the dark-haired girl understand something vitally important. Lara's gaze was intent on the blonde sitting by her, her dark brows drawn tightly together in her concentration. Gabrielle reached out and slowly pulled the laces open at Lara's bodice. The third, "I need you..." faded as Gabrielle bent over to Lara's left breast and took the girl's exposed nipple in her mouth.

Xena thought her heart was going to stop, her breathing certainly did.

"Ahhh... no... I don't-I can't-" Lara shook her head and gave a half-hearted push, trying to dislodge the blonde. Gabrielle looked up and brushed her fingertips across Lara's lips. The two were still for the space of a few breaths; then the dark girl sighed and lay back, her small firm breasts heaving in the excitement. The blonde head bent and returned to the task at hand. The dark-haired girl was snared tight in the seduction, her blue eyes wide with the new discoveries the bard was opening for her. Gabrielle was intent on Lara, who for her part, was already moaning at the delightful melting sensations. Xena felt something shatter inside.

Lara's long dark hair spread out around her as her body undulated beneath the bard's. It was as if Gabrielle was making love to a younger version of Xena; someone who never shed blood or caused suffering. Lara arched her back and had one hand on Gabrielle's head, the other about her side. The two young women were so caught up neither would have heard a volcano erupting directly over them. How odd, Xena just realized all the attacks had been on blue-eyed, attractive girls of sixteen or so, with long dark hair. As was Lara. No, that had to be just coincidence.

Xena wanted to yell at Gabrielle, to slap her and drag her off the merchant's daughter, to force her to explain herself; or to run away from this ravishing and never set eyes on the bard again. No, this can't be right. Gabrielle wouldn't just reach out and take someone. Lara had tried to resist but she couldn't. Xena had seen enough about the merchant's daughter to know that her loquacious demeanor covered a shyness that excluded any youthful intimacies. And didn't Gabrielle slip into a moment of unconsciousness just before this happened? What if the dreamtime influence of Bacchus had broken through to the bard's waking hours?

That had to be the answer, anything else was unthinkable, especially that Gabrielle wanted someone else. What possibly would drive her bard to share her love with another? What did Xena do wrong? Did Gabrielle just stop loving her? Xena had to stay, the warrior had sworn to protect her love, no matter what happened. If this was the end of their life together, so be it. Still, there was the danger; Xena would keep watch, regardless of how much it hurt. Then she would see them safely home before telling Gabrielle she was leaving, and please find more sheltered places for your trysts. But no, HER Gabrielle wouldn't do this. She couldn't, not to anyone.

Now Gabrielle's right hand slipped under Lara's skirt and pushed up, uncovering the pale thighs and the dark triangular thatch. Her fingers parted the yielding nether lips and were moving vigorously back and forth between them. Her fingers glistened with the girl's juices as she stimulated the reddened hardening nub. Xena could smell Lara's scent and her own body felt the arousal as Gabrielle abruptly thrust three fingers hard inside the dark girl who cried out and jerked violently. Gabrielle must have broken through her maidenhead, but that pain was quickly covered with the intensity of the swift-approaching zenith of Lara's first orgasm. The girl was moaning louder, her hips rocking into the blonde's hand. Lara's breath came in labored pants and a low groan started building in volume as Gabrielle pumped furiously inside her. Suddenly she moved her head to the girl's throat, kissing and nuzzling her when Lara came in a massive climax, her hips rising up off the ground, her head banging into the ground as her fingers clutched tightly on Gabrielle's hair.

Xena's finally let out her own breath with a small cry and Gabrielle looked up. A tiny bead of liquid flew from her bard's lips. It was red.

"Gabrielle!" Xena leaped to the ground and grabbed the bard's shoulders, turning her away from the dazed Lara who slumped back into the grass. The bard's eyes were bright amber; her mouth was open and the warrior woman saw the fangs.

"X-Xena?" Recognition came slowly to the blonde. She blinked hard and her eyes changed back to their accustomed green as the upper and lower fangs receded.

Lara groaned and insight came with an abrupt pain, as Gabrielle looked to the side, seeing the merchant's daughter for what she was: a victim of a Bacchae. Her victim.

"No-No!" Gabrielle cried. The girl's virginal blood was on her hand and the taste of it was in her mouth. Both bard and warrior saw the open wounds at Lara's neck and breast. "Stop it, Xena-Stop her from bleeding."

Xena quickly bent over Lara. "I don't have to, look... " Gabrielle watched with some little relief as the two sets of puncture marks closed and healed. Gabrielle tore at the hem of Lara's under shift until she had a pulled a piece off. She went to the stream, wet it then returned and with shaking hands began to wipe off the residue of her feeding from the insensate girl.

"Will, will she be all right, Xena?" The tall warrior felt for Lara's heartbeat at her throat and watched her breathing.

"She's a bit pale, but she has a strong pulse. She'll be fine." Xena took the damp rag from Gabrielle and finished cleaning up the trace of blood on the girl's inner thighs. Lara drifted off to sleep as Xena drew down her skirt and tied her bodice closed. "Let's get her back to her parents." She tied on Lara's sandals then picked up the slender girl with ease and turned towards the village, less than a half of a league away.

"Xena, it's been me all along," the bard was stunned. She struggled to pull on her boots then clumsily picked up her staff, her movements as wooden as her weapon.

"We'll talk about this tonight, Brie. Right now, we say Lara fell and hit her head. There's no bump but she felt dizzy. A good night's sleep and she'll be back tomorrow, talking the customers to death." Xena saw Gabrielle flinched at her poor choice of words. Xena went to say more but the blonde turned away, the terrible revelation breaking her heart.

The merchant and his wife saw the bard and warrior escorting their daughter to their shop in the front of their house. Lara complained of being lightheaded but she took some broth and retired for the day. With many thanks for their daughter's safe return, Xena shook hands all around and excused them from sharing dinner with apologies, but they had to meet someone in Corinth tomorrow.

Gabrielle had barely said a word since they left the glade. After leaving the merchant's home, they went back to the Blue Ram Inn. Xena talked to the innkeeper while Gabrielle went upstairs to the room they shared last night.

Their door was shut. Xena opened it to see her saddlebags laying empty on the floor and all their items strewn about save one. Tears ran down Gabrielle's cheeks as she knelt by the foot of the bed holding a Dryad bone to her breast. That shard had lain hidden at the bottom of the pack for over two years; Xena didn't think the bard even knew of its existence.

"I can't do it alone, Xena. Help me, please?"

"No!" Xena fell to her knees by her beloved and pried her fingers away from the bone. She saw three deep scratches where Gabrielle had tried to drive the ancient ivory spike through her breast to her heart, and failed.

"I'm a monster... " Gabrielle sobbed, inconsolable.

"No, no you're not." Xena enfolded the distraught woman in her arms and rocked her gently. "If you were, Lara would have died or changed into a Bacchae, and she did neither. We're going to find out why it only affects you for a couple of days and what we can do about it."

"And if we can't? Will you kill me? I can't-I can't live like this, Xena."

"Hush now, Brie." She tilted the younger woman's face up. "I've settled our account and Argo's waiting for us." The warrior gathered up gauze and ointment from the disarray and gently cleaned and treated the shallow scrapes over her bard's breast. "We will solve this together, away from here. All right?" Gabrielle nodded slowly.

Xena took the Dryad bone, placed it at the bottom of the saddlebag, and had repacked in a matter of minutes. After a moment, Gabrielle sighed heavily and arose. Xena's heart bled for her; the bard's expression was that of one going to the executioner, yearning for that finality.

They rode on without speaking for several hours, Gabrielle holding tight to Xena's waist. A couple of times Xena felt warm tears on her shoulder where the bard rested her head. When she asked if Gabrielle wanted to take a break, a muffled 'no' was her only answer.

Xena stopped an hour before sundown. "There's a cave nearby, we're going to get some rain tonight so let's collect plenty of firewood."

The younger woman nodded and by the time they reached the cave entrance, they had a good supply. In one chakram throw, Xena got a brace of pheasants for their supper as well. She unburdened and set Argo loose while Gabrielle got their dinner dressed and spitted over the fire set up at the back of the cave. Xena undid her armor and weapons and placed them well away from the rain that had just started to fall in earnest.

Finally, after a meal of two bites and a long silence, Gabrielle spoke, "Xena, what happens if you can't stop this? You say you won't kill me. Will you find a prison cell and lock me up in iron chains? Throw in a faun or ewe that I can tear at? But I suppose if I could have taken an animal's blood you would have found me in a byre and the townspeople could have blamed a wolf or fox."

"Gabrielle, there's more to this than just craving blood."

"Yes, there's rape," she replied bitterly. "Something in me made Lara welcome my attentions; it wasn't of her own free will no matter how much she thought she enjoyed that violation. I broke into her in every possible way, and she thought it made her feel good and loved. I started doing it in my dreams and now I do it when I'm awake."

"Yes, it's something in you, not YOU, Gabrielle." Xena moved to sit close by the bard, "And it only happens just before your menses; somehow, that's the trigger. That and the dreams."

"How long do you think you can keep that shard of bone away from me? When I change, I'll know next time, then I will take it. And I swear by Gaia-I'll use it."

"No, Gabrielle. You listen to me," Xena held her love's face in her hands. "This thing got in, it can come out. I am not giving up on you. Not now, not ever." She kissed the red blonde hair and looked hard into the sea green eyes she loved so much. "I will NOT lose you."

Gabrielle bowed her head, "I'm just so afraid." The two women held each other for long moments.

"I know, Brie. I know." Xena took up a cup and had a sip of tea then she handed the cup to the smaller woman. "When we helped Orpheus a couple of years ago and you were changed... did you have your menses then?"

"I think so, why?" The bard looked out at the night, hearing the rain falling but only seeing what touched the edge of their cave. Xena put her arm around the smaller woman and held her close.

"Some years ago, I was very sick and I spent some time in a healing temple with a priestess of Hecate. Some people think that that Goddess is part of Artemis, known as Diana by the Romans. Others say she's of the eldest race of Gods, one whom not even Zeus could bind as he did Chronos. She is known as the Daughter of Nyx, the deep night and of the dark of the moon. Women in their moon blood cycle are especially hers."

"Great. So along with cramps, nausea and a craving for blood now some daemon Goddess wants me? Tell her to take a number behind Morpheus, Bacchus, Dahak, Tataka-did I miss anyone?" Gabrielle shuddered and combed her hair with her fingers.

"No, Brie. I think Hecate saved you. That time is the strongest time, spiritually, for women. When men bleed by accident, they're hurt and it's all right. But when women bleed regularly, it's a sign of health and seen as wrong because men are afraid."

"So when you were the Destroyer of Nations and it was that time of the month, you were unbeatable?"

"Usually," Xena chuckled softly. "It was, I'm on the rag and I've got a sword. Any questions?"

Gabrielle had a genuine smile for the first time that day, "And were there any?"

"Nope, not a one."

Gabrielle sighed heavily, "What are we going to do, Xena?"

"I'm going to have a talk with that part of you that has the need."


"I'm going to put you in a trance and see if you can remember what went on, especially the details. It's painless and safe."

"Even if it wasn't, I want to know-why I get-" she swallowed hard, "why I do what I do, and how we can stop it."

"I know, love. Now lie down and make yourself comfortable." The blonde moved over to their sleeping area and sat on the furs.

"But first this," Gabrielle held out her wrists together. "Tie me."

"That's not necessary, Brie. I-"

"Yes it is, Xena. Bacchae are very strong and they can fly-and, I don't want to hurt you."

"I can take anything-"

"Xena, please."

"Alright," the warrior reluctantly agreed. The bard took off her boots and lay back on the furs placed near the fire. Xena had folded the saddle pad under the top as a pillow, making the younger woman's head level with the low rise their campfire sat on. Gabrielle shivered involuntarily as Xena knelt and wrapped leather laces about her wrists and ankles.

"They're not too tight, honest," she reassured Xena. "I'm ready." The warrior lifted the small hands and kissed the palm of each.

"Here goes. Relax and breathe deeply. In, out, again, good. Now look into the flames, the very heart of the fire. Find the core, the brightest spark and see it clearly. See only that light and hear only my voice. Watch closely and listen, remember you are safe, nothing can hurt you. These are memories, only memories.

"Remember over two years ago, remember the time of the Bacchae moon and the catacombs of the Wine God. How is it you become like and yet unlike a Bacchae? What happened, Gabrielle?"

*Bacchus angrily dragged the golden chased goblet through the cauldron for the second time and thrust it at Gabrielle's lips.

"Drink!" He roared as the wine and blood mixture sloshed over his hand; his burgundy skin the same hue as the admixture. The idiot played the lyre and Gabrielle screamed with the rest of the Bacchae, dropping the chalice and clutching her ears at the shrillness. The dark Wine God spun about, a drop, a fleck, an infinitesimal trace of blood-drugged wine arced from his hand through the air and landed unheeded on Gabrielle's tongue.*

Part Five: Needs

Xena took a deep breath; one minuscule drop. A single tiny particle of the Wine God's blood had gotten into Gabrielle, but she was not fully changed, not-lost. A small bit of ambrosia had brought Xena back to life but it hadn't changed her into a god. She just had to convince the bard that this was not an insurmountable problem, that they could deal with this. Xena was not going to lose her beloved to any Tartarus-be-damned speck of tainted fluid from a drunken manic God.

"Gabrielle, tell me... What is the reason behind this single-minded thirst? Why do you focus on these particular young women? Why do you want blood from dark-haired, blue-eyed girls?"

"First blood is perfect," Gabrielle answered thickly around the fangs that emerged from her upper and lower jaws. Her eyes slowly changed from their customary sea green to glowing Bacchae yellow as she transformed into a merciless supernatural hunter of innocence.


"Taste. The taste is everything. You were already in my heart, and I wanted you for so long then I finally had you. Your scent, your feel and your flavor. Everything you are is in your blood. Your focus, your fears, your desires and needs, the dreams and fantasies of which you will never speak. Every action, every thought, the kills and the tenuous salvation you so desperately crave. Your lust and your will. The blood knows everything and carries that information throughout your veins. The blood IS the life, storing everything you've done since the day you were born until the day you die.

"I want that again. I keep looking for the passion and the form, but they're not you. Even when I bring them to the peak, and lightning bursts inside them for the first time, and I savor their climax burning in their life's pulsing, they're not you. That's the rage that drives the Bacchae in me, to never again be able to taste that greatest, most exquisite life. So I keep searching, because you are lost to me, forever." Tears welled up in the inhuman amber eyes.

Xena's heart went out to her bard. Other Bacchae killed when they were disappointed, that their prey was not whom they wanted, would never be that first taste/touch/love. Gabrielle had supped lightly when she realized the life she drank was not what she wanted, and she sorrowed and left the girls dazed and tired but alive.

Xena's touch had often brought Gabrielle to such fulfillment that she had fallen unconscious from the intensity. What if she aroused Gabrielle, brought her to ecstasy and from that to bring out the Bacchae in her? That would prove to her that Xena was here, loving her, trusting her, and willing to give anything and everything to her beloved. That intensity, that rush of emotion would be the catalyst for Gabrielle's need and Xena could and would fulfill that. She had no doubt she could handle Gabrielle when the thirst came out.

The warrior sat back and removed her leather dress, boots and britches. Then she untied the strips that bound Gabrielle's ankles and her wrists. She unlaced the bard's blouse, freeing the abundant pale curves with their rose tips that stiffened in response to the cool air. Xena undid Gabrielle's belt and skirt, moved them aside and pulled her britches off. The younger woman lay impassive as Xena undressed her.

Xena never tired of seeing her love unclothed, the compact package of sleek muscles and bountiful contours comprising the fairest of all Gaia's creations. The bard was fairly comfortable with her body, accepting her warrior's devouring with her eyes with a pleased acceptance, yet still a mite shy in her demeanor, an ingrained trait never quite erased. Xena knew she in turn, was an altar Gabrielle never tired of paying a fervent tribute to, consuming the tawny frame with all her heart.

"Watch me, Gabrielle, as I love you. Feel what is in my heart. You are my life." The warrior bent and lightly kissed the bard's soft cheek, staying away from her mouth and the hesitant reigned in hunger, for now. She lipped at the softness under her chin and the hollow between the collarbones. She cupped Gabrielle's full firm breasts squeezing them, rolling and kneading the generous mounds. Her callused thumbs rasped over the sensitive nipples and the pebbled pink aureoles, watching as the blonde's breathing got sharper, her breath hissing between her slightly parted coral lips.

Xena's dark head bent as she licked about the erect points, one to the other and back, hearing the moans coming from her love. She nipped and pulled at the hard tips as Gabrielle arched into her mouth. Xena suckled and chewed lightly around the crinkled flesh, swirling her tongue about the puckering nibs. She laved the firm round flesh in long teasing arcs. The warrior reluctantly left the sumptuous breasts and moving down, planted light kisses over Gabrielle's arched ribs and her firm stomach muscles.

Xena then slipped her hands behind and under, squeezing hard on the younger woman's round nether cheeks. She loved these pliant resilient globes that kept their teasing fullness despite the warrior's tightest grip. How Gabrielle would pout, saying her enthusiastic lover would leave bruises when Xena was so forceful. Then when it was her turn, Gabrielle would try to do the same, only succeeding in finding one of the few ticklish spots that the tall warrior had. If there ever were marks left, the bard wore them proudly. The scratches she left behind on Xena's back were more then payment in kind, brands of love each wore and renewed at every opportunity.

Xena parted the bard's strong thighs and twisted her fingers through the soft reddish blonde curls. She nibbled at Gabrielle's inner thighs, in scraping bites from knee to the innermost joint. Xena's tongue moved lightly across the crease between her flanks and the plump mons. Now the bard was moaning louder, lifting her hips for more attention. Xena spread apart her labia, opening Gabrielle wide with her thumbs and forefingers. She gazed on the turgid bud, already twitching with desire as it protruded from the sliding hood. Xena then licked up first one side then the other of the velvety inner folds. Her tongue took quick little laps across the bard's enlarged nub then she thrust deep inside Gabrielle's slick tight tunnel, again and again.

She stopped for a moment, inhaling the intoxicating fragrance that wafted from Gabrielle's inner core. This was Elysia, this was the rarest and most coveted aroma, spicing the sweetness of the nectar that glistened from Gabrielle.

"You are mine," Xena whispered hoarsely, "and I belong to you, Gabrielle. Always." Xena fastened her lips around the erect tip and began sucking it hard.. She thrust three fingers deep inside the bard's warm wet passage, pumping in the darkness to splinter the light. Xena's tongue lapped rapidly about her clitoris, then pulling at it between her teeth as Gabrielle screamed into the storm. Thunder shook their haven and the bard thrashed about, bucking under Xena's touch, falling between worlds. She shook, her compact frame washed by the shadows thrown by their fire. Gabrielle's breasts heaved, her mouth opened but she was not ready to take blood, not yet. The warrior arose, her back a bit cold from the draft but the rest of her afire from her exertions.. She watched for any signs of the immanent hunger, but the blonde lay panting, her breathing slowing to normal. The thirst wasn't there.

Xena sighed and looked at Gabrielle again. Her cobalt blue eyes narrowed. She pulled over her breast dagger and made a small shallow slice across her left forefinger. She watched the blood rise to the top and squeezed a drop onto Gabrielle's lips. She watched the reaction as the bard's tongue licked out and took the offering. Her eyes closed for the space of a dozen heartbeats then she reopened them, their yellow gaze still focused on the fire.

"You shall awaken when I tell you, and you shall remember everything that transpired. Awaken, Gabrielle."

The blonde slowly moved her head to see her warrior, naked and sitting before her. "You untied me?" Her tongue ran over her lips and she shook, blinking hard, her brows angled as her yellow eyes looked confused.

"I offer you my blood, Gabrielle. After our joining, I promised myself to you heart and soul. All that I have is yours, all that I am is yours."

"What do you think you're doing?" Gabrielle's voice was low and dangerous. She looked down to see her nipples taut, dark and swollen, delicate blue veins laced her full throbbing breasts. She saw the matted curled hairs at her groin and Xena's lips and fingers shining with her fluids.

"Take my blood, I'm offering it freely to you."

"I'll take what I want." Gabrielle sprang to her feet and knocking Xena aside, ran to the entrance of the cave. "And that means I want my sweet Lara, or some little piece like her. I'll make her scream when I take her, break her wide open when I pound my fist into her, then I'll drain every last bit from her."

Xena scrambled to her feet, "That's what you think you want, but it's not enough. Even as her life fills you, you'll still be empty. Gabrielle, take from me, love."

The bard's full lips curled into a sneer, "Maybe later." She fled into the storm.

"Gabrielle!" Xena ran after her into the night rain. The heavy showers sluiced Xena's long dark hair back and coated her nude body with its chilly embrace. She had no time to grab anything, neither clothes nor weapons. Those precious seconds were badly needed to keep track of Gabrielle in this storm. How long could the younger woman last in this raw fury? She wasn't a full Bacchae with the abnormal powers to protect her from this battering by nature. Xena had to find her before she hurt herself. They were much too far from any towns, despite Gabrielle's presumption to revisit the merchant's dark-haired daughter.

The thrumming downpour cut visibility and most of the subtle clues left by Gabrielle's flight. When nothing could be seen on the ground, Xena went into the trees and followed her bard in a rough arc, catching a glimpse of pale limbs flashing between the verdant growths. Lightning suddenly illuminated the night and smashed into a tall fir, toppling it. The resulting fire was quickly extinguished, but not before Xena saw Gabrielle ducked behind the fallen tree and vanish.

"Gabrielle!" Xena jumped to the ground and went behind the outstretched trunk; half expecting to see the bard collapsed from exhaustion but the smaller woman was nowhere to be seen. Xena cursed under her breath and pushed aside branches then stopped. A hole, another cave and Gabrielle had gone into it.

Xena had to crouch and keep her back bent to avoid hitting her head on the low roof. It was completely black, an unleavened Stygian gloom narrowing suddenly and just as suddenly widening again. Xena felt no other openings by hand or by the change in air currents. She felt that Gabrielle had gone through here unhampered by Xena's need for care. She must have traveled this before, as a Bacchae.

The darkness was playing tricks with Xena's eyes, little bright flickers came and went and then stayed. Torches, just a few, were scattered about the walls. Then the confines looked terribly familiar. She was in the Bacchae catacombs, lighted and still except for a slender blonde figure dancing in the emptiness and silence.

Gabrielle hadn't made it through the woods and the sharp stone tunnels unscathed. Xena saw a multitude of scratches and small cuts all over the pale body as she twirled and swayed to music only she heard.


"It's nice to be wanted, Xena." The young woman kept dancing with her back to Xena as the tall dark warrior approached. "Bacchus wants me, you want me." Gabrielle turned and swayed, her arms outstretched. The older woman caught the little grimaces that crossed her face as she floundered. Xena looked down and saw blood at every step Gabrielle took. The soft soles of her feet had been cut in her mad race from the warrior, and the storm, and herself.

Xena inched closer and spoke softly as if to a frightened child or spooked beast, "And what do you want, Gabrielle? Tell me."

"I-I want to die but my soul will have no peace. I want to be alone, but the emptiness terrifies me. I want to drink blood and I feel disgust. I want to hurt you, but I love you."

Xena edged around a low boulder, "Let me help you, Brie."

Gabrielle went back a few steps; she bent and brought up something long and white lying against the wall-an old Dryad bone. That was the spot where Bacchus had disintegrated; only the shard had survived.

"If I fall on this... it all stops, doesn't it? Or that-" She pointed to the left and Xena saw the overturned cauldron. "If I bleed into that, will it ever end? Can two naked, unarmed mortals battle an intangible omnipotent horror? Even if you had your sword, you couldn't break that chain of events. You can't stop it, Xena. Not now, not anymore." Gabrielle turned in her wrist, pressed the broken edge of the bone to her breast, and let herself fall forward.

"No!" Xena jumped and flipped through the air to land crouched, catching Gabrielle a scant hands-breadth from death, just before the blunt knob of the bone impacted the floor. "I'm not letting you do this!" Xena pushed up with her powerful thighs, forcing Gabrielle to stand. Each grabbed the other's right wrist unable to advance or let go, desperation lending unaccustomed strength to the bard, making her nearly Xena's equal.

"Why not? It's what's in me. It's what I deserve... for Dahak and Hope, and Solan. Please, Xena, let me go."


Gabrielle's yellow eyes narrowed as she lunged, drawing their hands together.. Xena jerked them apart and drew a sharp breath inward as the jagged shard cut into the warrior's breast over her heart. Gabrielle froze at the view, her nostrils flared as she inhaled deeply, her teeth clenched tightly together.

"Take from me, Brie. Drink from me," Xena pleaded softly. She brushed her long callused fingers over the smaller woman's hand, gingerly removing the spike and letting it drop unheeded. She could see how Gabrielle was completely fascinated, so astounded with the sight and scent she could barely stand. Xena gradually drew the smaller woman to her. The blonde took one small step, then another only slightly less hesitant. The bard closed her eyes and the tears spilled over, Xena could feel her trembling on the verge. Gabrielle slowly opened her mouth, her lips barely parted as they slid over the wound on Xena's breast.

"It's all right, Brie. You're safe with me, and I'm safe with you." Gabrielle pressed harder on the open cut, drawing in the warm salty essence of her warrior. Xena felt tears wetting her own cheeks as she held Gabrielle close within the strong circle of her loving arms. The effect of the drinking changed to a slow building eroticism as Xena felt a flush spread over her body. Her legs felt boneless, the torches blurred together.

"Down," she murmured to her love; still joined they sunk to their knees. Xena felt Gabrielle's left hand slide over her hip and down between their bodies, heading for the tingling juncture at the apex of her thighs. Gabrielle's fingers glided through her dark curls and rubbed over the fleshy silken folds. Xena parted her legs wider as her bard probed into her tight slick walls coaxing out liquid fire. Her thumb brushed across Xena's straining swollen clitoris and the dark warrior groaned aloud, trying to move closer for more of that delicious pressure.

Gabrielle's tongue was lapping slowly over the slice at Xena's breast like a cat with cream. "I want... " Gabrielle whispered as she slowly pushed in and out of Xena's core, coaxing out the sweet elixir.

"Gods, yes, Brie-anything." The tempest built within the raven-haired woman while Gabrielle's thumb bore down with an inexorable purpose on her throbbing pearl. Xena's hips rocked into the blonde's hand toward the finish. The warrior felt if she had to stop now it would kill her, she couldn't keep her mind focused on anything but the here and now. All her immersed senses were centered on the blonde's deft touches on her, urging her onward as she melted..

Xena felt Gabrielle's lips brush off against her breast. She looked down at her bard, seeing her eyes were deep gold as she spiraled her lover closer to the edge of passion, staring intently into Xena's hooded cobalt gaze. They were both panting; the rain had long since dried on their bodies, now they shimmered with their shared perspiration.

"I need-" uttered the bard in a low tone. Xena turned her head and wrapped her hand round the nape of Gabrielle's neck, guiding her close. They held still for a space of two breaths then Gabrielle's fangs plunged into her throat as the bard held tight to the dark hair. The brief slicing pain became incredible pleasure, shuttling between Xena's center and Gabrielle's feeding from her neck. Her proficient lips and tongue coaxed the warrior's blood to leave its accustomed paths beneath Xena's flesh. The younger woman resumed her propelling fingers deep inside the warrior increasing in tempo as Xena's straining moans changed to louder cries of imminent release. One last hard coiling press on her clitoris by Gabrielle and both women shook with the incredible shattering climax.

This was like nothing Xena had ever felt, such an overwhelming liberation throughout her whole being. Gabrielle was bringing her to peaks she never knew existed just by drinking her blood while loving her. No previous lover even got close to what she felt with the young woman from Poteidaia, and this unbelievable crashing in every fiber of her being surpassed even that. This was complete surrender to Gabrielle, beyond mind and flesh and lust. Only Xena could satisfy the unnatural hunger, only she accepted this intentional taking of what she would and had killed for in others. And only Gabrielle could give into her darkest basest urges within the bounds that Xena provided in love and acceptance.

Xena sunk to her heels and rolled on to her back with Gabrielle atop her, fastened to her throat, still thrusting inside, massaging her hard pulsing nub, bringing the warrior to a second and shortly a third orgasm. The shockwaves of the prior two brilliant culminations still filled Xena. Her inner walls convulsed and squeezed tightly about the bard's digits buried within her. Stars exploded in an inner fountain so bright, Xena felt as if she were in a vast comet of blissful release. Shattering spasms repeatedly shook her long muscular frame, while she hugged Gabrielle's smaller form in a grip even death could not break.

Gabrielle finally raised her head and sat up straddling her warrior's waist, her small graceful hands resting on Xena's ribs, feeling her love's ragged breathing get back to normal. Sea green eyes gazed lovingly into cerulean blue as Xena's callused hands held her small hips. The fangs were gone, no longer needed. The bard's look was full of gratitude and repletion as she shook her short blonde hair out of her heavy lidded gaze. A red drop flew from a trickle on the edge of her lips.

"No!" Gabrielle shrieked in horror as both women watched the crimson mote land just inside the overturned embossed silver cauldron.

It glowed, sparkling then faded like a dying ember, but much more malevolent.. The drop thinned and spread in a burgeoning stain, climbing up the metal wall against all natural precepts, pulsating with a blasphemous stamina. A hissing reddish-black adder of a wisp coiled sinuously upon itself then drifted up from the primeval blot. It smoked, thickening and gleaming, filling the vessel, blunting and turning on the concave surface as if it were a sightless glutinous worm searching for escape. It spilled from the vessel, expanding into a tumultuous expanse. Darker and deeper grew the fumes that spiraled higher, reaching up into the stalactites, coalescing into a massive form in a matter of heartbeats. The true top was hidden in the shadows of the ceiling far above them, as if ingesting the thick descending stone prongs. It towered menacingly over the two astonished exhausted women.

"Brie, get out." Xena pushed Gabrielle off and behind her, determined to be the shield once more to protect her love. The warrior stumbled to her feet, then lost her balance and fell back to her knees. Between the sensations from the glorious aftermath still fluttering through her and the loss of blood, Xena couldn't even stand erect.

"Not without you, Xena. Never without you." Gabrielle slipped to kneel beside her warrior, determined to stay until the end. Two rippling curled horns formed and lowered out of the poisonous effluvium.

"You can't have her!" Xena yelled as she staggered upright and steadied herself. She grabbed the cauldron and ran only a few steps before a twist of burgundy cloud slapped her, knocking her several steps away. Her head hit a stone, stunning her as the great silver bowl was whisked high over her head.

"Give it to ME!" The familiar sonorous voice of Bacchus roared from the shapeless ruddy miasma.

"No!" Gabrielle swiped up the discarded Dryad spike and sprinting, dove to the heart of the bloody cloud. She was caught in midair, gasping as a tendril rushed through her chest and thrust out her back. Gabrielle swayed uncontrollably in the tenebrous grip, impaled on mist she hung, as the countless amorphous extremities pierced her limbs and torso. Every scratch and scrape done in her flight through the woods from Xena opened anew, covering her body with fragile traceries of scarlet.

"MINE! All are MINE!" bellowed the rudimentary form of the Dark God. Gabrielle shook like a rag in the winding coils, her head snapping back and forth.

Xena rose to her knees and wiped the blood from above her eye where the stone had cut it. She faltered, dizzy and sick but she couldn't stop, she had to get to her love. Xena grappled and hung on around Gabrielle's waist, her arms slipping from the blood that seemed to cover the bard's whole body.

"NO! One drop of WILLING blood, Bacchus!" Xena screamed into the murky infernal fog. New spears of vermilion smoke shot through both of women.

"Xena-" Gabrielle screamed as she was dropped and both fell in a tangle of blood drenched limbs. Xena huddled about the smaller woman, locking her strong arms about the semiconscious form, never to let go as the inchoate ruby vapor dropped.

"W.i.l.l.i.n.g..." Came a voice from everywhere and nowhere, a woman's voice, a voice of authority, of power and great age.

Xena and Gabrielle looked up, the mist had split in two. One grew enriched upon itself and changed to an amber glow in almost a feminine shape, leeching the fury from the roiling sanguine mass.

"One willing to give her heart, her soul for the love of the other. Not willing for you, my bloody child. Not this time."

A reverberating howl came from the essence of Bacchus, both sound and florid smoke faded back into nothingness.

"He-Hecate?" Xena stared, cradling Gabrielle who looked up weakly at the vague outlined figure.

"You have more love than faith, warrior, but that is no impiety. As for you, bard, the taint is purged for now. Need is no crime. You honor each other. Be well."

There was a blast of light and the cauldron burst part, blowing the torches out in the riotous wind. Tiny silver sparks dipped and whirled about the two women like crazed fireflies. They held each other tightly as the gale twirled about them. The solid rock disappeared from beneath them in one breath and in another they thumped down somewhat gently on the ground. Ahead was their cave, the campfire burning cozily if low within, waiting for them. The greater part of the storm was over, rain pattered lightly on Xena and Gabrielle as the warrior helped the smaller woman get to her feet and hurried them inside.

Shivering by the fire, wrapped in a sleeping fur, Gabrielle stared into the small blaze that was busily gnawing on the fresh kindling Xena laid down.

Gabrielle wiped the moisture from her face. "Did you hear what she said?"

Clear dribbles of water puddled innocuously on the cave floor from Xena's tawny frame. The warrior grabbed another fur for herself and bent to add herbs to the water in their pot for tea while she pulled over their cups.

"For now. Yes, I heard that, Brie." She opened their healing pack and took out salve and linen strips.

"That means it could happen again. It will happen again." Gabrielle looked hard into the burgeoning flames.

Xena cupped her cheek, "I am here for you, love. Whenever you need, whatever you want." She opened the fur from around the bard's body and gently daubed at the variety of cuts over the girl's legs and stomach. There was a crescent shaped burn over her heart from the insubstantial spear of the Wine God's essence that had held her aloft.

"No, leave it. I deserve to be branded as a monster." Gabrielle pushed her hand away.

"You're afraid to take." The warrior bit her lower lip, "And I'm afraid to give."

The blonde turned her head, questioning her love, "I don't understand, Xena."

"I always saw sex as conquest, whether giving or taking, I was always taking.. Shedding others' blood meant that I was alive, and more deserving to live. But even when you felt like you were a beast, taking blood, you did it with love, still giving. You may have begun with those girls as unwilling, but they DID want your touch. You were gentle, caring, compassionate-"

"Compassionate!" The bard was shocked.

"Yes! Because you wanted to give them exquisite gratification, even as you took their blood. I..., I witnessed everything you did with Lara. There was never any violence, any hate within you. You didn't want to hurt her. The taking of blood was a small part, done to increase both your pleasures. Then you took from me, while loving me," Xena ruefully rubbed her chin. "I'm still amazed that I survived that incredible-ecstasy. That was the most extremely sensual experience I've ever had."

"So you got off while I was feeding; I'm glad of that." The bard bit back a sob.

"Brie, it was much more than that." Xena took Gabrielle's hands in her own. "I've never felt like I gave everything before, that I wanted to give in like that. Keeping that control, that-part of me, to me alone, and not ever sharing was important to me. I couldn't let anyone in. Two years ago, the first blood you took was mine, willingly. I gave into you then, to save you. It was erotic as well, because I wanted your touch, and if that was the only way I could ever get it, that you would ever do it, then so be it. I wasn't going to force you to love me. I've done that to too many.

"Tonight... tonight, I gave to save me. I can't be who I am without you, I can do that now, with you. You need to take from me, I am your first taste. I need to give that up; I need to give it to you. You are the one person I would give anything for, do anything for but I couldn't. Now there's some twisted sense of pride that the one thing you want-I have to give. I want to be able to do it again, for both of us. Please." She held the bard's cheek in her hand.

Gabrielle nodded and softly kissed the warrior's sword-callused palm, "I think I understand. I love you, Xena."

"And you, Brie, are the best of all things to happen to me, my love, my light."


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