Disclaimer: Not mine, and if someone could figure out whose they were before LL and RoC are too old for a movie, I'd be ever so chuffed.
Context: post-ep for To Helicon and Back
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THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELICON
First, they burn their dead.
They burn their dead while the warrior sings and their silent queen stands dry-eyed by her side. The wind comes off the sea and the fires dance because the women do not. These women will not be dancing for a very long time.
The warrior sings till her voice is hoarse, one round for each fallen Amazon. If anyone were to look, they might see the warrior's hand reach for the queen's, and the queen holding on, white-knuckle tight.
"We need food. And water," the queen says, long after the warrior is done, long after the pyres have begun to collapse in on themselves and the spirits of their sisters are truly gone. "Blankets, a dry place to sleep."
Her voice is quiet, but it carries above the crackle of the pyres, over the waves, across the blood-soaked beach. Some of the women rouse themselves to look at the queen, some only remain as they are, staring blank-faced into a particular flame.
"I'm not going up there," one of the Amazons snaps. "We're not raiders," says another. No one wants to enter Bellerophon's castle.
"We need to eat, we need to stay warm," the queen answers. "Those are the only supplies available to us right now. The nearest village is three days by land."
"What?" says the first Amazon. "The pyres won't keep us warm enough?"
"We have to get home." The queen walks forward, turns to face her sisters with the flames at her back. In the dimming light she is gold and red, still wearing the blood of a dozen slain men. Already, a cold wind is blowing in from the sea; to those with trained noses, a storm is not far off.
"Anyone who can't walk for three days on no food is no Amazon," someone mutters.
"Your sisters gain nothing from your suffering," the warrior says sharply, finally stepping forward. "We will take what we need, a blanket and food and water for three days for each of us. Only that, no more."
The warrior chooses them into teams, like a child's meadow game. These to the kitchens, these to find waterskins and the well, these to the soldier's barracks for something to keep them warm.
"Who will guard the pyres?"
The queen and the warrior exchange a glance, indecipherable to all but themselves. "I don't think we need to worry about any more attacks," the queen says in that same soft, hollow voice. She turns and begins picking her way up the dunes.
The night seems endless, the pyres determined to burn till sunrise. The women make camp on a grassy plateau overlooking the beach. Having something concrete to do helps, and when the food is laid out, more is eaten than anyone expects.
The queen stares into the small fire while the women tend each other's wounds. She has said almost nothing since they made camp. The warrior catches her by the chin, begins to bathe the blood from the queen's face and neck.
"Is any of this yours?"
The queen lifts her hands, stares at the red-black stains ground into the creases, embedded under her nails. "I don't think so." She looks up, her bravest act yet. Dull green eyes meet sharper blue, and even by firelight it is obvious that her cheeks are far too pale.
"I can't be this," she says. Once, her voice would have slid upward, made it a question begging for the answer she needed to hear. Once, too, the warrior might have supplied it, or softened the truth if she couldn't lie.
The warrior makes her face hard. Her heart is breaking for the loss of her old friend, that naive, enthusiastic village girl. But she also loves this woman with a passion she could never have summoned for an innocent. Loves and understands. This is what that girl was destined to be, from the day she received her right of caste.
"You have no choice," the warrior says, and the queen's eyes close, her quick mind lifting each gossamer layer of meaning. No choice in raiding the castle, in leading her sisters into this battle, in taking the queen's seal, no choice all the way back to throwing herself over Terreis. No choice, because each of those actions come from the unchanged core of what makes her Gabrielle.
"I don't accept that," she says, at last. "Especially not from you. What happened to free will?"
"Free will is dictated by our sense of what is right."
"The greater good?"
The queen pulls away from the warrior's hands, jumps to her feet. There's a bit of life in her eyes again, a bit of colour in her cheeks. Good, the warrior thinks. They need steel right now, not tenderness. Later, when they've gotten the women back to the village, when the two of them are alone, then there'll be time to worry about what will happen to them, if there is still a 'them' now that destiny has caught Gabrielle in its snare.
"There are always choices," the queen snaps, and walks away, quickly. She knows this is not what her sisters need to hear.
The queen's trail is not hard to follow, even with the gathering clouds hiding the moon. It doesn't take the warrior long to find her friend kneeling over a small cleft in a pair of rocks, trying to rid her stomach of a meal it never had.
"I could live with you not seeing this," the queen says, without lifting her head.
A boot tip comes into her line of vision. The warrior braces one leg against the rock, wraps her arms loosely across her friend's chest, and as much as the queen is shamed by her weakness, that's how grateful she is to have those arms there.
"Do what you need to do," the warrior says softly. "I did it myself, after Cortese."
As if in response, the queen's small body gives a mighty heave. Another and another, until every muscle is rigid and trembling and she can hardly breathe. When she's finally done, so is her strength. It's only the warrior's arms keeping her from tumbling headfirst against the rocks.
Beneath the warrior's lips, the skin between the queen's shoulders is cold with sweat. The warrior unties the cloak she's wearing, wraps it around them both. She searches quickly, finds a comfortable place to sit, and guides her armful of exhausted friend to the ground.
The queen fumbles at the catches of the warrior's breastplate, and the warrior takes over, hands shaking from the tight knot in her throat. Finally, the armour is no longer between them and she can settle back with her friend nestled in her arms, a small bundle curled between her legs. Relief, more powerful than the strongest grappas, pours through the warrior's blood. She had not been certain, at dawn, that they would both survive to see the setting sun.
"Was it a good day of fighting?" The queen's voice is thin and high, a dreadful knell for another piece of her innocence lost.
The warrior rubs her cheek against the top of the queen's head. "It was."
They sit like that for a long time, until the queen's trembling subsides and her breath comes slow and deep. "Sleeping?" the warrior murmurs. She hopes.
"No." The queen lifts her head at last, lets it rest against the curve of the warrior's arm. Her eyes are dry, their gaze turned deep inside. It seems to the warrior that this should not be so.
"Here." She offers a sip from the mug she brought. "Mint tea. It'll help settle your stomach."
Small fingers curve over longer ones as they both hold the mug steady so the queen can drink. The tea is only lukewarm by now, but it tastes fresh and clean and the queen manages half of it before her throat closes up.
"I'm so tired," she whispers. "But I feel like I'll never sleep again." The weight of the mug leaves her hands as the warrior takes it, sets it somewhere in the shadows.
"You will," the warrior whispers back. "Close your eyes. I'll be right here." Somewhere above them a cloud has moved, and for a moment the moon that once belonged to Artemis casts a blessing on the queen's upturned face. The warrior licks her thumb and strokes the last flecks of dried blood from that beloved mouth, leans forward and replaces it with her lips.
In her arms, the queen sighs deeply, and the warrior pulls back. They're still so new at this. Uncertainty, born of feelings held too tightly for too long, has not been vanquished. She's an old warhorse, used to being ridden hard and put up wet, unaccustomed to the sensitivity of near-virgin skin. She can't get rid of the fear that one of these days she'll lose control, that passion will overtake her the way battle lust once did and she'll open her eyes to find the love of her life lying bruised and bloody beneath her hands.
The queen has no such fear, she knows nothing of the violent side of lust. Her only experience is the tender clumsiness of a wedding night, and this. These warrior's hands, calloused but gentle, these lips she reaches for again and again, fingers woven into the warrior's tangled hair.
"Touch me," the queen whispers. She drapes herself across the warrior's lap, places those hands where she wants them, shameless as the Warrior Princess herself. The warrior's breath flees into the night. On this day of becoming painfully aware of all the things she has unconsciously taught her young friend, this is the most unexpected.
The queen nuzzles her cheek, and the warrior's hands wake to their task. The queen's skin is dry now, warm, texture of finest velvet beneath her arms, at the back of her neck. Here now is leather tanned to an almost comparable softness, enclosing heavy curves of breast, the liquid heat of desire between her legs. The warrior slips a hand beneath the thin covering, feels her lover's ribs expand with a rush of breath as her fingers make contact.
Torture so exquisite; Greek fire running through the veins, flames that burn, but never consume. The warrior cradles her love with one arm, enters slowly, carefully, fingers moving in a gentle rhythm.
The queen slides her legs further apart, surrenders to those battle-roughened hands. Her eyes close as the tension in her body gradually dissolves, sighing into the sweetest of kisses.
"Hey," the warrior says softly, after a while.
"Still here," comes the barely audible reply. It's closely followed by a smile that lights up the darkening night. The warrior starts to withdraw her fingers, but the queen grabs her wrist. "Stay," she whispers. "I like the way you feel."
"We have about ten minutes before it starts to rain."
"Then stay with me for nine." The queen turns a little to complete the circle, encountering no resistance as she slides a hand beneath the warrior's skirt.
"Maybe eight," the warrior sighs. She lets her head fall back against the rocks as she's entered and her senses expand. Yes, like this. I touch you, or is it you touching me? Tonight it is not about climax, it's about something else, something so vast they will never reach the end. For the first time since they went charging up to Amazonia after Eve, they are themselves, the real Xena, the real Gabrielle, no titles or sobriquets. Just two women who love one another beyond anything as mundane as life or death.
Far away, below, the pyres still glow against the rising dawn and the women are beginning to stir. The queen curls against her warrior, savouring the last few minutes they'll have alone.
"Do you remember when I went to fight Alti? The way we cut ourselves?"
The warrior withdraws her hand from where it has slept between the queen's thighs, leaving a trace echo of warmth. She raises it above them, fingers glistening in what little light there is. The queen wraps her own hand around the larger one, palm to palm, scar to scar. "You know what this means," she says. "What we did."
"I'm not an Amazon."
"That doesn't matter, not to me. I'm bonded to you, Xena. Where you go, I go, as long as we live."
"Your sisters need their queen."
"You need me. And I need you. We'll get them home. And then I'll choose someone to take my place, as I always have and always will."
"I won't be the thing that keeps you from fulfilling your destiny, Gabrielle."
The queen sits up, takes the warrior's face between her hands. "You are my destiny. There is no other choice that I would ever make."
The clouds break then, fully and finally, the threatened rain blowing off across the mountains to fall somewhere else. In the early light Xena's eyes are silver and Gabrielle's are gold. Until their eyes close and their lips come together; two women sealing their fate, becoming one.
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