And I just happen to have this finished and lingering on the hard drive, written for hrothgar1 a while back and just never posted. So happy femslash day everybody!
Title: Welcome To The Sisterhood
Pairing: Xena/Gabrielle, Lila/OFC
Summary: Solstice with the Amazons.
Author's Note: This is set in my reset-universe, post-series and back in time and everyone's alive again. One day I'll even write how that happens!
~ Just remember what I told you - when you cross into Amazon lands, stand very still and clasp your hands above your head. Tell them who you are and you'll have nothing to fear.
She isn't sure who 'they' are, since the woods around her are utterly deserted, but she's heard stories enough of how Amazons treat trespassers so she doesn't take more than a step or two past the totems on the trees before stopping. She slips down from the tired horse that Father insisted she ride, even though it left the farm without a mount for the winter, and stands with her hands trembling above her head -
- and then there's a whistling sound and she's surrounded by a ring of varied and deadly-looking weapons, all pointed at her by muscular bodies wearing grotesque feathered masks made even more terrifying in the fading light. She hadn't planned to cross into Amazon territory so late in the day, and despite the note tucked into her bodice she shivers.
One of the masked women - she's definitely a woman! - steps forward, a pair of swords raised and glinting. "State your purpose here."
She wants to sound brave and fearless, but it's very difficult. "I-I-I'm - Lila, Lila o-of Potadeia, I-"
Blades and arrows drop at her name, and the woman standing forward from the troupe goes so far as to sheath both swords on her hips and push her mask up with one hand.
"We were wondering when you'd get here. Welcome to the Amazon Nation, Lila of Potadeia." And then she bows, which Lila really isn't expecting, and then turns back to the other still-masked Amazons surrounding them and whistles sharply. They form up like a small army, Lila thinks, looking around her in awe and fear.
"You can put down your hands," the woman says, sounding amused at her. "Come on. We're missing the fun standing out here in the dark."
They walk a little way to the left and suddenly there's a trail, well hidden among the trees: the Amazons stay masked and with arms drawn as they follow it, all but for Lila and the woman - whose name turns out to be Viola - walking alongside her. Once or twice she stumbles as the trail falters, and Viola's calloused hand grabs her elbow to steady her. Viola has short black hair and a ready grin and reminds Lila of one of the girls back home, or would if not for the clothes she wears. Aside from the mask pushed back on her head, she has on only knee-length leather boots, a short fur skirt that exposes her broad thighs and a tight leather shirt that squeezes her breasts high and hugs close to her body like armor. Her hands have only archers' gloves, fingerless and short, and bands of inscribed leather circle her biceps; there are tattoos on her shoulders and exotic feathers on a leather cord dangling from her throat. When she moves briefly into the moonlight, there's what looks like a necklace of bone there too, and Lila shivers.
They walk until after the sun goes down. Lila's very glad of the escort, certain she'd be hopelessly lost otherwise, and she's even starting to wonder whether they're lost anyway when the trail widens and opens out onto a clearing, filled with the sound of music and voices and the unmistakeable hazy light and scent of bonfires. As her eyes adjust to what she's seeing, she realises the black shadow in front of them is the wall of a village, suddenly close and extending as far as she can see in each direction. Viola laughs at her expression: throwing her head back, she lets out an ululating wail that makes Lila want to clap her hands over her ears.
From inside the wall there's an answering yell, and then off to the right a gate opens. The sight inside is...
Lila has enjoyed the Solstice celebrations in Potadeia since she was tiny: she's even travelled to Amphipolis and Grune once or twice, and she's heard stories but she's never seen anything like this.
The gate opens onto a huge square that looks like it could hold an entire nation, and does tonight. In the very center is an enormous square bonfire wider than two men's height and so high it licks at the night sky, bathing everything around it with a warm bronze glow. The heat of it reaches even to the edges of the square, where iron braziers are burning, and between those and the fire it's as warm as summer. Between the braziers are benches covered with furs, and the occasional table piled high with food and skins of wine: and at the far end of the square is a wooden dais towered over by great mask-like carvings and lit with flickering torches. A heavy drum beat is leading the music that fills the air, clear now inside the village wall, so loud and energetic it pounds through the ground like a demon coming loose.
And there are women... everywhere. All dressed the same way as Viola, or wearing even less. They're sitting on the fur-covered benches, drinking, eating, talking and laughing; around the fire they dance in a rough circle, bare limbs flashing in the warm air, voices raised along with the drums. Further out in the shadows beyond the firelight there's the glint of steel and the rhythm of fighting mingled with the sound of cheers, only just audible over the heady music.
It's beyond Lila to think of blushing. Viola points across the square and there's the reason she's here - her sister seated on a fur-draped throne, wine cup in hand, surrounded by other women and talking until a familiar tall dark shadow taps her on the shoulder and points.
"Lila!" Gabrielle calls out, high over the drums, and then she's jumping a clear five feet down from the dais and running across the square, darting between the dancing Amazons to envelop Lila in a tight hug. "You made it!"
"I did," she says, smiling. "Gabrielle, this is..." Incredible, she wants to say, but doesn't quite dare. What would their father say to all this?
Gabrielle smiles at her with a face flushed from wine and heat and something else she can't quite place. "Happy Solstice, Lila." She grabs Lila's hand and grins. "Come on! Come sit with us." And so Lila ends up on the dais above the festivities, half a dozen barely-clad Amazons around her and Gabrielle no better, Viola pressing a wine cup into her hand and just grinning when she protests.
"It's Solstice, Lila of Potadeia," she says, and Gabrielle laughs.
"There is fresh water from the springs, if you really don't want wine," she says, and squeezes Lila by the wrist. "Are you hungry?"
Lila shakes her head and takes the cup. Her fingers tremble a little despite the heat of the fire but it's good wine, spiced and fruity, and quite warming as it goes down. Gabrielle watches her take a sip and smiles.
"Lila, you remember Ephiny and Eponin, and it looks like you know Viola." She gestures around the close circle and the Amazons bow in greeting, although Viola just grins at her instead. "And this is Solari, Astera, and Thalestris."
"Hello," Lila says, and wonders if she's ever felt quite so childish as she does sitting here surrounded by these women, all of them dressed in fighting leathers and all armed even on Solstice Eve.
As if sensing her hesitation, the muscular red-headed woman Gabrielle calls Thalestris smiles warmly at her.
"Thalestris and Astera are Amazon Princesses," Gabrielle explains. "And since you're my sister that makes you their sister, too."
Lila's not quite sure how she feels about that, suddenly having more sisters than she had a moment ago, but she smiles gamely and clasps her fingers tighter around the cup in her hand. She's relieved when the music rises in a new tune and Gabrielle applauds with delight, turning to watch as a new group of Amazons take to the square.
From the other side of the throne Xena leans forward, as if she's noticed Lila's curious expression. "They dance to celebrate the coming of the new year."
"And to keep warm," Ephiny says dryly.
"You should dance, my Queen." Viola says, with a sparkle in her eyes that makes Lila want to blush again. "Your sister's safe enough here."
Gabrielle looks at Ephiny, a barely concealed excitement in her eyes. Ephiny nods.
"It brings a prosperous year when the Queen dances."
"Well, in that case," Gabrielle says, and holds out her cup for Eponin to take. She stands and turns to Xena, and the smile on her face is wide with anticipation. "Dance with me, Xena," she says, softly, and this time Lila does blush, deeply, at the rough tone in her sister's voice.
Without a word Xena puts down her own cup and plate, and pushes herself up with a hand on the arm of the Amazon throne. Standing, she's as tall and graceful as Lila remembers; a great feline creature, her leather armor and her long dark hair shining in the glow of the fires. The sight of her taking Gabrielle's hand sends a shiver down Lila's spine.
Then they jump in unison from the dais onto the dancing square; the circle of Amazons opens up to let them in, and Xena's hands move up Gabrielle's arms to pull her close. In the light of the bonfire Gabrielle's short hair is a golden halo; her Amazon armor is tight against her body, giving her a bold and slender silhouette, and she laughs as she dances without any thought for the glinting sai tucked into her black leather boots. Her steps are sinuous and rhythmic as she moves in time to the drums, and when she spins the tattoo on her back seems to move, too, like a black flame in the firelight.
Lila doesn't even realise she's staring.
The spiced wine is much more heady than she first imagined, she realises hours too late; she feels light-headed as Viola helps her down the back steps of the dais, grinning at her unsteady feet.
"Enjoyed yourself a bit too much, Princess?" she teases, wrapping a bare hand around Lila's forearm. Lila leans close to her, not quite stumbling and not quite on purpose; Viola's skin feels very warm against her own, and there's so much of it...
"Lila," Viola says. She tips her head back and smiles happily. Viola's got such a pretty voice. Viola sighs, a sound that Lila doesn't understand, because it's such a warm and lovely night, and beautifully quiet now that the drums have faded, but Viola just looks at her with a strange expression and shakes her head. "Come on, Princess, let me escort you to your hut."
That, as it turns out, is a wooden lean-to close to the Queen's lodge, larger than the room at home she used to share with Gabrielle - more than twice the size, she's sure, although the wine could be playing some small tricks on her. There's a private hearth and a wide bed with a mattress, linens and furs that looks wonderfully inviting. She turns to Viola in surprise.
"Oh, but I can't stay here -"
"Good night, Lila," Viola says firmly, and closes the door.
When she wakes up her head is pounding - it's still dark outside the curtained window above her head, but she rolls out from under the bed covers anyway. There's a small table in the corner of the hut, but no pitcher. She wraps her travelling cloak around her shoulders for warmth and puts a log on the dying hearth.
It's so quiet outside that for a moment she almost thinks she imagined the night, but for the dying embers of the Solstice fire just visible between the buildings. She walks to the square on stumbling feet, but it's empty now, even the embers of the fire only warm from a few feet away. She turns slowly around in a circle, trying not to fall over, until - there, there's a well close to the village wall, and jugs for water too that she can fill and take back with her. She manages to fill one with only the smallest spill, and gratefully takes a few long swallows before cradling it close to her chest as she picks her way back through the village.
If the huts weren't so close together, or if there were a torch burning a little closer, or if she were paying a little more attention...
She's already got the door pushed halfway open - quietly, to preserve her pounding head - before she realises.
This hut has a wide stone hearth, too, larger than hers, and a small fire blazing in it that blinds her for a moment. This hut has a large bed like the one she was sleeping in, a bed draped in Gabrielle's precious Indian silks and luxurious furs and very much occupied.
She doesn't dare move, or close the door, or breathe. The pitcher is cold and a little damp through her tunic. From the bed there's a sound of someone muttering; a moment later there's a chuckle and then a pleased sigh, and then laughter and someone's voice murmuring.
"I thought you'd sleep until morning."
"On Solstice?" The furs move and she catches a glimpse of Gabrielle's blonde head. "It brings a prosperous year if the Queen dances on Solstice," Gabrielle says, in a low, throaty voice that makes Lila's cheeks flush with heat.
More laughter, quiet and rough, and more movement under the furs. "Then let's dance..."
Lila backs out through the half-open door as slowly, as absolutely quiet as she's ever been, still not daring to breathe at all until she's standing in the darkness outside again, the pitcher of water hugged to her chest. She lifts it to her lips and takes a long drink, her fingers trembling on the cold metal. She shakes her head and it spins wildly, making her clutch the wall to stay upright. As she's standing there, there's a muffled thud and then a shout -
"Oh! Oh, Xena-"
Lila starts at the sound: she hardly realises what she's doing as she creeps to the window. If she stands on tiptoe she can just see -
See Gabrielle, there, on the bed, naked on top of the furs and silks and the Warrior Princess of Greece.
Lila's never really seen the tattoo that Gabrielle wears since she came back from Japa, not in its entirety, not before tonight; Gabrielle refused to talk about it, and so seeing it now she has to cover her mouth with one hand to keep from gasping out loud at the enormity of the thing - a huge, coiled black dragon that covers every inch of skin on Gabrielle's back and looks like it's on fire as she moves. And move she does - she's leaning on her forearms, her hands clenched carelessly in red silk like it's rough linen either side of Xena's broad shoulders, and she's rocking, desperately, back and forth with her head hanging down as if she's...
As if she's watching whatever Xena's doing, and Xena's hand is between them, moving in a steady fast rhythm, the other on Gabrielle's back with her fingers spread wide. Their legs are twined together and Xena's calf, peppered with scars that shine in the glow of the fire, is wrapped over Gabrielle's, her bare foot rubbing up and down oh, so slowly. Lila bites her thumb to swallow the gasp again.
"Oh, gods, oh, Xena..." Gabrielle's voice shudders as it rises, and Lila's sure she can't be the only one who can hear it now. "Oh gods, Xena, yes, yes, yes yes-"
"Gabrielle," she hears Xena say, loud enough to be heard even over Gabrielle's cries, and there's laughter and something like pride in the way she says Gabrielle's name. "Yes, Gabrielle, that's it, come for me..."
Lila tastes blood as she bites clean through the skin of her knuckle. This time she can't quite keep in the gasp, or a squeal of pain.
She ducks away from the window and presses her back to the wall, just in time to hear Xena say in a louder voice that she hears far too clearly, "What was that?"
Gabrielle's voice is lapping over before Xena's even finished the question, "It doesn't matter-"
"Really, I should-"
"Shut up," Gabrielle says savagely, in a voice Lila would never have imagined from anyone, least of all Gabrielle and not ever in front of a warrior like Xena, especially not to her.
And Xena laughs.
Lila sinks onto the ground beside Gabrielle's hut and forces herself to breathe. She's heard stories - wicked, wicked stories, their father's always said - of women who spurn men, even women who pretend to be like men, to have men's - things - and she's heard many people tell those same stories about the Amazons, but then Gabrielle became their Queen, and she knew they were only stories and couldn't be true... that Gabrielle wouldn't do such things...
It's Thalestris, the red-haired Amazon who teased her on the dais. Now her face is in shadow, but her voice is soft and concerned. "I thought I heard someone walking about. It's late at night for being out in the cold."
She looks up; before she can speak or even think what to say, a long moan cuts through the quiet from the cabin behind her back, followed by a desperate, joyous cry that's abruptly muffled. She blushes, turning her face away as she feels her skin grow hot again.
Thalestris chuckles, but the sound fades quicker than it should. When Lila looks up again the Amazon is watching her intently with something like pity in her eyes.
"Come on," Thalestris says quietly, and offers her a hand. "Come with me, Lila of Potadeia."
Thalestris leads her out into the square, to an empty bench, and hands her a thick fur to wrap around herself. The embers are still dying down deep in the remains of the bonfire, and there's barely any light left. Thalestris sits down beside her.
"Some women," she says gently, "who come to join us as sister Amazons, sometimes they think the way you do, to begin with."
Her throat feels tight and hot. "What way?" It doesn't sound as defiant as she wants it to.
Thalestris puts a hand on hers. "That women shouldn't love each other the way men and women do."
She jerks her hand away - or tries to, but Thalestris only grips tighter, looking her steadily in the eyes.
"The ones that think like that, sometimes they realise what they've been taught by the outside world, by your world is wrong. Sometimes they don't." She shakes her head. "The ones that don't, sometimes they stay, but not often. I suppose it's difficult to be close to people who are happy in ways you think they shouldn't be.
"Your sister is my Queen," she says, quietly but firmly. "Every Amazon of our tribe would gladly lay down their life to see her happy."
She thinks about Gabrielle... Gabrielle, with her sun-blonde hair when everyone else in the family is dark, Gabrielle with her wonderful stories and her smile, Gabrielle who always protected her from the village boys when she was small, even though Gabrielle was even smaller.
"So would I," she says, in a soft voice.
"Xena makes her happy." And Lila knows it's true. She's known it for a long time.
Thalestris smiles and squeezes her hand, helping her up. "Come on, Princess. It's still Solstice night, and you should be in bed."