Disclaimer: Xena et al aren't mine. Wish they were. But I've been doing this for a long time, so if TPTB haven't sued me yet, I don't think they're gonna. I'm just havin fun.
Warning: this is set about three months after Little Surprises. You don't have to read that to understand this one, but this is the third in the series. Comments as always, can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
(Part 3 of What If?)
By: Katelin B.
The hooting of an owl echoed softly through the cavern halls, barely audible through the heavy oak door. But still it was more than enough of a noise to wake the slumbering bacchae, her keen ears far sharper than any mortal hearing. The warm blankets of her bed had slipped off some time while they slept, leaving Ephiny's skin chilled from the damp air. And if she was cold, then Solari must be freezing.
Blinking her golden eyes open slightly, Ephiny curled onto her side and reached out across the soft furs, blearily seeking her slave turned lover. Her hand connected with nothing but the soft bedding, though, and her eyes shot open in alarm. Even though it had been relatively quiet lately, she never stopped worrying that the Slayer could attack again.
Ephiny sat up quickly, looking around the room. She relaxed almost immediately when she saw the familiar form curled on a fur by the fire. Though the flames had been fed recently by the look of it, they were waning in the damp air. The constant attention it had been receiving fell away when the slave fell back into a restless sleep, and it was quickly dying out. Leaving the young woman shivering.
Quietly slipping off the edge of the soft furs, Ephiny pulled one behind her, creeping up to the slumbering slave. Even though Solari was a very light sleeper, a result of her many years of slavery, Ephiny's bacchae powers allowed her to move without the slightest sound.
Smiling down softly at the young woman, Ephiny pulled the fur slowly over her body, making sure she would be guarded against the cold. The slight movement, she knew would be enough to wake her, but not completely. "Hunh?" Solari jerked suddenly and blinked sleepy eyes, her body tensing.
"Shhh, my love," Ephiny soothed, stroking her cheek with a cool finger, "No need to get up."
Solari smiled dreamily, and shifted under the furs, looking very content and happy to be warm.
"Why didn't you take a fur with you?" Ephiny asked, a playful scowl on her face.
Solari yawned softly and smiled. "I didn't expect to fall asleep here," she replied quietly, stretching a bit. "Is it dark?"
Ephiny smiled and nodded softly, knowing her lover's senses weren't as sharp as her own. "It's just after sunset," she answered, "The kin will be waking soon, but you don't have to."
"No," Solari objected softly, stretching again and sitting up. "Gabrielle asked for my help in cleaning the General's rooms while she was training the new children today."
Ephiny chuckled softly. "Always ready to help," she said, smiling, "At least eat in the kitchens before working that hard. You need to keep your strength up."
Solari smiled and tossed the fur back, standing up and stretching lithely. She didn't miss the look on Ephiny's face at her arched neck, and raised an eyebrow quietly. As had become her habit, the slave reached up and laid a hand on her owner and lover's chest, just above her heart. She felt it's slowing beat, and the cool temperature of the flesh under her fingers, and frowned quietly. Ephiny rarely became so chilled these days.
"Ephiny," Solari looked into her golden eyes with a concerned expression, "You haven't fed in days."
"I know, beloved," Ephiny replied, reaching up to cover Solari's hand with her own, "But I have taken from you too much lately. You are more tired than normal lately, and you must recover somewhat before I take from you again. You know that."
Solari nodded. "But you must feed. Why haven't you gone hunting with the others?"
"Your blood is the only kind I crave, Solari," she said quietly, reaching up to stroke the slave's throat tenderly. The bacchae had discovered, now that she had made her true feelings known, that she couldn't seem to touch the young woman enough.
Solari shivered at her owner and lover's touch, reveling in it. She wanted more than anything to arch her throat and offer herself to Ephiny, but she knew it would be dangerous at the very least. She had been feeling very lethargic lately, and knew that since their Lord had approved their union, they had been unable to get enough of each other. She seriously worried about Ephiny's health though. The young bacchae was so very cold to the touch, and her eyes looked more sunken than the slave had ever seen them.
"Ephiny," she whispered, bringing her hand up to gently cover the one at her throat, "Please. You hunger. I can feel your pain from here. Please hunt. You must feed." She closed her eyes and brought the cold hand to her lips, kissing it tenderly.
Ephiny sighed softly and rested her forehead against her slave's own. "I know, my love," she answered reluctantly, "I do not wish to, but for you I will feed." She stepped back quietly and gently pulled Solari to her feet, wrapping the fur around her chilled body and pulling her close. "I want nothing more than to stay here with you for the rest of time," she whispered with a smile, dropping the softest of kisses on her slave's lips. She smiled at the answering moan of appreciation.
"Oh, please don't tease me," Solari responded with a smile, giving the bacchae a little shove back, "Go before I change my mind and break my promise to Gabrielle." She grinned rakishly, despite her exhaustion, and Ephiny had to laugh.
"I will remember that, my little slave," the bacchae grinned right back and stepped away, "Get yourself dressed, and I'll walk you to the kitchens before I go."
Solari grinned and quickly clothed herself as warmly as possible against the damp night air, mindful of her health. The last thing she needed was to catch cold while she was trying to get her strength back. A coughing sickness right now would only slow her recovery, and cause great harm if she didn't watch herself. Her own body had little defense against illness while it was so weak, but she was well taken care of by Ephiny, and given only the warmest clothes.
Solari had found it strange in the beginning that only a few slaves were permitted fur clothing on the coldest nights, herself and Gabrielle being counted among them. The rest were clothed in the rags they had been bought in, or nothing at all, depending on how their owner desired them. The slaves had little choice in the matter. Only those truly cherished were given the finer things to stave off cold and boredom.
She fastened the last hook on her fur lined tunic and turned around to tell Ephiny that she was ready, only to find the bacchae watching her with a strange expression. Solari remained silent and immobile, trying to read the look on her owner and lover's face for a long moment.
Ephiny seemed to finish her thought after a while, and shook her head to clear it. "Ready?" she asked, her voice husky with desire.
Solari grinned, recognizing that tone, and nodded silently. She was intensely honored that Ephiny wanted her as much as the slave wanted her owner. Feeling rather impish, she watched Ephiny turn to the door of their chamber and quickly stepped up behind her, wrapping her arms around the bacchae's waist and pressing her body close. She felt Ephiny tense reflexively, reining in her natural impulse to lash out at such a hold, and grinned, growling softly in her owner's ear. "Just wait until my strength is back, my bacchae lover," she purred, flicking her tongue quickly over the nearby earlobe, "You'd better be ready for the ride of your life." She growled again softly and bit down lightly on Ephiny's throat for emphasis, letting her owner know without words, what she expected.
Ephiny groaned deeply and had to struggle to restrain her desire. "You'll pay for this, Solari," she choked out, running her hands over the small arms wrapped around her body.
The slave released her owner and stepped back, grinning. "I know," she whispered, and moved around to open the door, "I'm counting on it."
Ephiny forced a strangled laugh out and took a deep calming breath, before stepping into the hall. She watched her slave straighten the collar of her tunic and shook her head. Of all the Slayer's forces, she mused silently, it will be my own slave who kills me. She grinned at the thought and started off down the hall, Solari's hand gently held in her own.
"Where do I put this?" Solari asked softly, holding up a strange looking leather contraption for Gabrielle's inspection.
"Oh," Gabrielle reached out and grabbed it, blushing softly, "Um, that goes over here. I'll take it."
Solari grinned softly and went back to her work, picking up clothes and other things from the floor. She had been around long enough to know what a phallus harness was, but hadn't realized the General and her slave were into such things. When she had seen it, absent of any attachments, beside the bed, it had only taken a moment before she felt the urge to pick it up and tease Gabrielle.
She continued gathering up clothes that had been strewn about, and placing them in a basket for cleaning later. They worked in silence for several long moments before Gabrielle spoke up again.
"Has Ephiny gone hunting?" she asked softly, still wiping a wet cloth over the wooden table to remove any dust or stone fragments that had gathered since it's last cleaning.
Solari nodded, stopping her work for a moment to deposit the second basket by the door. "She didn't want to, but I told her she needed to feed."
Gabrielle smiled, remembering when she had first been allowed to show her feelings for the General, and how inseparable they had been. She remembered begging the same thing of Xena, when the General had gotten so cold and pale from not feeding, that Gabrielle had become worried her lover was going to starve herself.
"Bacchae can be very focused," she said softly, knowing that Solari understood that, "Ephiny will probably need to be forced more than a few times to go on the hunt." Gabrielle turned around and saw the strange look on her sister's face, so she explained. "Don't forget, Solari," she said, "Bacchae are basically mortals with animal instincts. Once they have a taste of something they like, it's very hard to accept anything else. Things that they feasted on before, become foul tasting to them." She ran a hand over Solari's cheek gently. "It is the way of things."
"I worry for her," Solari finally blurted out, remembering how close she and Gabrielle had been in Cortez's slave pens before the bacchae had taken them. She remembered those long days in chains, having only Gabrielle to talk to and assuage her fear, and vice versa.
"I know you do," the little redhead soothed, pulling Solari into a hug, "But everything will be okay."
The two women held each other for a long time. Taking comfort in the friendship that they had counted on, when nothing else was certain except pain. And their eventual death.
A loud crashing through the tunnels startled them both, and the embrace fell away quickly. Solari backed up quickly into a corner, but Gabrielle heard the familiar snarl and stood her ground. The door of the chamber flew open more quickly than any mortal arm could throw it, and a dark vision stormed in. "Gabrielle!" General Xena growled, her eyes glowing and her fangs fully extended.
"Yes, General," she said, stepping forward quickly. The young woman immediately went about unclipping her owner's armor from her tall body, feeling the tenseness in her body. She knew that Xena was raging from the battle training, and that she probably hadn't seen Solari backed into the corner.
"Solari, can you please take the General's clothing to the laundry?" she said softly as she worked, hoping to give her friend a quick excuse to leave before the General got to busy with her.
Xena's continuous, yet soft, growling halted immediately and the glowing of her eyes dulled momentarily. "Solari," she rasped thickly around her fangs, seeming to remember something, "Ephiny has sent for you. Go to her." The soft growling purr started again, and Gabrielle nodded rapidly.
"Yes, General," Solari squeaked softly, and bowed quickly, scampering for the door, "At once, General."
The purring stopped again, and Xena placed a hand over Gabrielle's to still her movements. "And Solari?"
The young slave halted quickly, her hand on the open door, preparing to pull it closed behind her, and turned around. "Yes, General?"
"Thank you for helping Gabrielle today," Xena whispered.
"Yes, General," Solari bowed once again and scurried out the door, closing it behind her. She knew a dismissal when she heard one, and she wanted to get back to Ephiy as quickly as possible. She realized halfway down the tunnel, that she had forgotten the laundry, but wasn't going back for it. Solari kept running.
Kept running until she reached the closed door of her own home and finally stopped to catch her breath. She puffed raggedly for a few long moments, before opening the door and stepping inside.
"Ephiny?" she called softly, looking around quietly, "I'm back."
"I'm back here," came the soft reply, from the bathing chamber. The voice was rather subdued, and Solari didn't reply. She knew that Ephiny was removing all traces of the hunt from her body, in keeping her promise to the slave. Solari hadn't said it bothered her, but somehow, Ephiny had known.
She was grateful she hadn't been called back to assist the bacchae in her bathing. Even after all that she had experienced in the slave pens, she still had trouble dealing with the sight of so much blood covering the one she loved. She heard the occasional splashing of water, and busied herself with tidying the living chamber and setting out a clean shift to warm by the fire.
When Ephiny emerged, naked, from the bathing chamber, she was busily rubbing a towel over her curly hair. Saying nothing, she moved over to the fire and tossed down the towel, quickly pulling the warm shift on. She sat in the same chair, and began pulling a seashell comb through the tangles of her hair.
Solari had continued tidying the chamber when Ephiny entered. When she saw her owner and lover settle down without a word to her, she moved up quietly and took the brush out of her hands. The bacchae started at the touch, and then settled back, letting her hand release the brush. She relaxed under the soothing touch of her slave, gently working her hair out with the comb.
"Thank you," Solari whispered, her hands stroking over Ephiny's wet hair.
Ephiny closed a hand over Solari's own and squeezed gently. It was all she could manage without losing her composure. She couldn't tell Solari how hard it had been to take an innocent life now that she knew love. She couldn't tell anyone. Least of all her Sire. He would surely take Solari away from him for good.
Ephiny swallowed the fear that brought a lump to her throat, and quietly guided Solari around to sit in her lap. Without words, she buried her face in the slave's chest, simply surrounding her senses. Solari sensed her need and remained quiet, dropping the brush to the chamber floor, and folding her arms around her owner and lover. No words were needed, only comfort.
"See?" Gabrielle muttered, sitting back and pointing. She knew Xena wouldn't have believed her without proof. For a while she hadn't believed it herself, and had taken nearly three moons to open her scrolls again. The moment she had, however, the story wrote itself out the moment the parchment was unfurled.
Xena blinked for a long moment, watching the ink dry on the scroll. She finally looked up at the bard and frowned. "Pack up your gear," she grumbled in her customary warrior fashion, "We're heading out."
Since it was late evening, Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest, wanting to know where Xena intended on going in the dark. The warrior halted her intended comments with a hand. "If these are about Ephiny and Solari," she said rationally, "Then we are going to Amazon land to make sure they are all right. Let's get moving."
Gabrielle made no further protests. She hadn't thought of it that way, and suddenly worried for the fate of her friends. Hoping they were okay, she quietly began moving about the campsite, packing up her things as quickly as possible.
Several moments later, they were on their way, heading into what, neither was sure, but both knew that it wouldn't be good.
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