Reflections based on a pivotal scene from the sixth season’s HEART OF DARKNESS, with reference to events throughout the series.
MY DANCE WITH THE DEVIL
I rise, leaving my goblet
in Lucifer’s hands.
Glide through the celebrants, who give me space.
I fill it, center it, smoldering, shimmering, radiant in black.
I am fire and brimstone,
need and desire.
My flame boils blood. Draws and heats flesh. Consumes.
They shiver in ecstasy, or perhaps from a chill in their charred remains.
I am their angel. Fallen. Ascending. Their breath caught in between with mine.
I turn and reach out,
needing something, desiring someone. Her.
I should be afraid. Something is wrong with me.
She rises, closing the distance between us. Places herself in my hands.
And so we dance.
I turn and reach out
again, needing something, desiring someone. Him.
I am not afraid. He is nothing compared to me, to her.
Simply another vessel for evil I will toss with all the rest.
He rises, thinking to close the distance between us. Gives himself to my hands.
I have danced with the devil before.
I am his first. If my lead is right, I will also be his last.
She rises, leaving her goblet in Lucifer’s hands.
Glides through the celebrants, who give her space.
She fills it, centers it, smoldering, shimmering, radiant in black.
I didn’t know what to call her that first time, when she appeared in white for no other apparent reason than to save me. She’d stripped herself of her dark leathers, buried her weapons, fallen so low she no longer wanted to be herself. She rose to stop the slavers from beating me for my innocent defiance and bravado. Our eyes met, the distraction nearly costing her life even then. Like the phoenix, she rose again, now twirling her weapons surely and with a smile to the thrill of her battle cry.
I’d seen in her more than the vulnerable peasant the slavers mistook her for, even before she waded into them and made them quake at her name. She was mystery, passion, courage, and power. Just what I’d been waiting for.
My folks said she was dangerous. She said she was dangerous. Her own mother said she was dangerous. It never occurred to me to be afraid, to worry if something might be wrong with me for wanting to follow her in her darkness. I too was lost, yet only I could see the light in her that would help me find myself.
She is fire and brimstone, need and desire.
Her flame boils blood. Draws and heats flesh. Consumes. We shiver in ecstasy, or perhaps from a chill in our charred remains.
She was smart and fun, had conquered places I could only imagine. Taught me how to move in the world, in my own way, at my own pace. I believed she knew everything, could do anything. I was right about that, though not always in the way I’d hoped. I learned she could speak the language of death in many tongues. Watched her bask in the glory of men she’d saved from defeat one minute, only to die proudly at her command the next. Saw her ax an enemy in the back. Go from midwife to murderer in the blink of my child’s eye. She punished me more cruelly than any warlord could and for the same innocent defiance that had brought us together. All for the sake of the greater good, in the name of love. She scared me sometimes. I began to question which one of us might be wrong.
She is our angel. Fallen. Ascending. Our breath caught in between with hers.
I realized she too was scared – not only of what she’d seen in herself, but of what she’d seen in me, in our being together. She'd led me to growth and joy, but I stumbled on the violence and disillusionment she'd tried so hard to steer me from. She decided to follow my lead for a change, though I wasn’t sure where I was going either. She did finally find her way, like me back in our beginning outside Poteidaia and at what we thought would be our end. When our spirits joined above those Roman crosses in apparent eternal glory, I didn’t worry anymore about being afraid or wrong. I believed we’d already died and gone to heaven.
She turns and reaches out, needing something, desiring someone. Me.
People always thought I didn’t know enough to be afraid, that I was too good to worry about what might have gotten into me. Some counted on it. Callisto, Krafstar, Dahok, Hope, Najara, Aiden, Tataka, Alti, Ares. I learned what it was like to be seduced by my own desires, experience the dark power of demons and gods, feel true evil slithering around inside me, taste someone else’s blood.
Was I merely the hapless victim of their wickedness, of my innocence? Did I open the door with my passion for knowledge? My envy of Lao Ma? My arrogant certainty about Hope? The wrath I felt toward Callisto and those Roman guards who tried to kill Xena? Were such sins the root of those horns I sprouted in hell, of the rotten fruit forced into and from me? Whatever, at least I stopped worrying so much about being better than Xena.
I should be afraid. Something is wrong with me.
I have learned so many names for good and evil, yet still didn’t know what to call her. I don’t know what to call myself. That black snakeskin she wore should have been a tip-off, but I didn’t pay any more attention to it than I did to her outward appearance all those winters ago. I knew only that for once she was inviting me in, beckoning me follow her lead to a place she’d tried to leave behind and never meant me to see, let alone step into.
She was finally letting me experience the magnitude she was capable of, which she had refused because of me. I was the one person she could let near it. The one person who loved her enough to dismiss it in the past. Who might even now resist the spell she’d cast over everyone else. If she wasn’t good enough for me, why should Lucifer want her?
I rise, closing the distance between us.
She has never seemed more vulnerable than she does now, not even when she lay like a broken child that awful day she freed Eli. But I am not nearly as afraid of losing her as I had been then, when I struck out wildly in my desperation to defend her. I am more aware of what I am capable of, of the power I have in choosing to be with her, of the good possibility it is a choice I will exercise in many lives. Whatever either of us has to do or become, she would always be what I’d wanted, what I’d waited, fought and died for. My hope. I reach out, needing something, desiring someone.
I place myself in her hands.
I sense a plea rather than a command in the black-gloved fingers that caress my cheek. They gently turn my head so I can face her, just as I had helped her face me in Caesar’s prison when she’d awakened hoping it was I who held her, afraid I’d succumbed to the darkness I’d unleashed to save us. I see in her eyes what she’d seen in mine – love, trust, serenity. Confidence everything would be all right as long as we were. Our souls defined each other’s world.
"Relax," I’d told her before our crucifixion, and she did. Now I do the same. I lean in relief against the darkness. Touch it, play with it, embrace it, not worrying if she will be all right, reassured whatever might be wrong with me is good enough for her
And so we dance.
It was intoxicating. Liberating. Raw, sensuous, mindless pleasure. No restraints, no agonizing over tiny degrees of separation between a good day and a bad one. No regrets, no guilt, no blame or shame. No wonder Xena fights so hard against this. And she keeps on doing so to be with me? Wants Lucifer to reign so she can continue a flawed mortal constantly struggling against it? Good thing I know Xena is no fool.
She turns and reaches out again, needing something, desiring someone. Him.
She is not afraid. He is nothing compared to her, to me.
Simply another vessel for evil she will toss with all the rest.
I could say my judgment was compromised by that green vapor emanating from hell’s portal. That Xena made me do it. It wouldn’t be true. I loved and accepted all of Xena, not just her potential for good, but also her intimate acquaintance with evil. Otherwise she wouldn’t have needed me, nor I her. I believe it’s my own darkness I’ve been afraid of, worried I would relax into it and become the monster Xena subdued inside herself. But I’ve witnessed how the small, moment-to-moment advances she’s made have taken her farther beyond anything I dreamed. The light I helped stoke within her is bright enough now to ward off demons in us both.
He rises, thinking to
close the distance between them. Gives himself to her hands.
She has danced with the devil before.
She is his first. If her lead is right, she will also be his last.
No one knows better than Xena how to play with fire – the ecstasy, the agony, the consummation. Like Michael said, like she said, she is ultimately dangerous that way. Yet she rose above this ultimate temptation on the wings of light we share. Her faith – in herself, in me – saved us this day from hell on earth. Maybe we should have been more worried about that darkness throbbing in our hearts. To tell the truth, I can’t recall a time we loved each other more.
We have been angels. Fallen. Ascending. Our breath caught in between. We turn and reach out, needing something, desiring someone. What is this radiance that draws, burns and comforts us so? It has so many names. I know only I have danced with the devil and found grace in my partner’s form.
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