Writer's block be damned! How LONG has it been?! (LOL)
This one shot is dedicated to 2 friends: 1 online, the other IRL. Gaz1247 pm'd me a long time ago proposing a collaboration for a BMWW story in a setting very similar to the one here. Will that story ever be written? I don't know. Only time will tell, haha... As for my IRL friend, he very recently challenged me to write a story with a "the one who got away" theme and et voila, MAJOR lightbulb moment, I came up with this convoluted idea. So, I daydreamed. I googled. A LOT. Lifted quotes/concepts here and there. Twisted facts. Wove in the fiction. Tore my hair out at the inconsistencies. Engaged in frenzied typing until I went cross-eyed. Backspaced. Reworded. Backspaced again. Tore more of my hair out. One week later, I am bald but at least I have a "new" origin story in a "new" dimension in my Ruxyverse. So, please be kind. It's been a while... ;)
Lacedaemon, southeastern Peloponnese, 503 BC
Half hidden in the shadowy pillars of his villa, Timaeus watched his wife, Melitta kneel down and give his son a tight embrace. He frowned, thinking that he should put a stop to the display of affection, however private. He could hear the stern voice of his father, Archidamus, in his head. A mother's softening influence is detrimental to a boy's education, Timaeus.
Theirs was a society that found shame in weakness – and loving someone made a warrior weak. But in truth, if he cared to admit it, his love for his family was a source of strength for him.
"Mother," came the boy's muffled voice. "Should I be… afraid?"
"No, little one," his wife replied, softly but firmly. "This is who we are. What must be done will be done. In time, you will realize what I've always known about you – that you are a strong, intelligent and resilient man worthy of your heritage. Remember courage, Baerius."
"Melitta," Timaeus stepped out from the darkness. "It is time."
Melitta took a deep breath and stood up. Timaeus saw her press her lips together lest they start to tremble. The boy unconsciously pressed himself closer to his mother's side but Melitta's hand curled around the back of her son's neck none too gently forcing him to meet her fierce gaze.
"Return with your shield or upon it!"
Timaeus' heart filled with pride as Baerius squared his shoulders, dark eyes glittering with newfound determination. "Yes, mother. I will make you proud."
"Come along then, my son," Timaeus held out his hand. He could not resist squeezing Baerius' hand, his own very subtle way of showing love and encouragement. He turned around and gestured to the armed men waiting at the courtyard.
Timaeus and Melitta stood side by side as they watched the soldiers take their son away. Timaeus gave Melitta a sideward glance. He could see the tightness around her eyes. Now that they were alone, it was acceptable to show a little bit of affection.
Timaeus tipped Melitta's chin up to meet his gaze. "You have the look of a child who lost a doll, wife," he teased, his fond grin taking away the sting of his derisive words.
"Don't be absurd, husband," Melitta regarded him with mock disdain. "I merely worry that Baerius will not be flogged properly in the agoge. I've heard talk that they indulge children now. The blood of Procles flows in my son's veins. He is descended from Heracles himself. It appalls me to think that they would coddle him."
Timaeus chuckled, rubbing Melitta's lower lip with a calloused thumb. "Spoken like a true Spartan."
Baerius tilted his head up to an ominously dark sky and watched as snowflakes fell down. Winter comes early this year, Baerius thought idly. It matters not. When this is over, I go home bringing much honour to my family.
For as long as he could remember, Baerius had always been groomed to become a warrior. As a boy, his mother would deliver a stinging reprimand if he cried every time he scraped a knee. At the tender age of three, he was left alone simpering in his cot and was commanded not to fear the dark. Despite the 'tough love' parenting technique, he strove to follow his mother's teachings because in his youthful naiveté, he believed that that was all it took to become a fierce and brave warrior. He was sorely mistaken.
For eleven years, Baerius endured the much harsher physical discipline in the agoge, Sparta's military training regimen designed to produce skilled warriors who were feared by enemies and highly respected by allies. 'Never surrender. Never give up.' That was their mantra. Only the strong survived the brutal training. Since the age of seven, Baerius learned to march without shoes, go without food, wield a variety of weapons, embrace pain and survive through sheer wit alone. He was deprived of clothing save for a red cloak and forced to sleep outdoors, under the mercy of the unforgiving elements. The training was tough and to Baerius, it would have been a bit more bearable if his stomach did not gnaw at him with perpetual hunger. The first time he got caught stealing food, he earned ten lashes from all of his teachers and the older boys willingly beat him to 'help' toughen him up. He never got caught again.
While in the agoge, Baerius learned that he would have been exempted from participating in the grueling training. Sparta was unusual among the Greek city-states in that it had the Archagetai – two lines of kings. According to tradition, the Agiads and Eurypontids were descended from the twin sons of Heracles. The former was considered senior to the latter but as a direct descendant of Procles and first-born of Timaeus, Baerius was heir apparent to the Eurypontid line and as such, was expressly excluded from taking part in the agoge - unless his father decided otherwise. But Baerius was glad that his father chose to have him trained. Looking back, he would not have wanted it any other way. Through the rigorous discipline and instruction, Baerius grew up to be the epitome of a true Spartan warrior. If he ever rose to be king, surviving the agoge would only add to his credibility and prestige. Just like it did the current king.
Thank the gods Leonidas is a strong and worthy leader, Baerius mused. May his reign endure for all time.
Now that Baerius was practically immune to cold, hunger and pain, it was deemed time for him to take the final test of manhood. He was sent into the wild unarmed and as naked as the day he was born with orders to slay a beast and bring back the pelt as proof of his feat.
Baerius had followed the tracks of a wolf pack earlier that day, planning to slay the alpha when the chance presented itself. Although wolves hunted together, there would be an instance where they had to separate from the pack in order to flank the prey. His plan was simple – wait until the wolves were hunting and move in for the kill when the lead wolf detached itself from the pack. But first, Baerius knew he had to craft a weapon. He decided that a makeshift spear would have to do. He picked up a fallen branch that was the perfect size and weight for a spear.
Baerius surveyed his gloomy surroundings and spied a small hollow at the foot of the imposing Mount Taygetus. It's better than nothing, Baerius nodded as he made his way to his shelter for the night. At least it will cut some of the wind. He sat down cross-legged on the ground, picked up a chipped rock and began systematically hewing one end of the branch into a sharp point.
"I believe it would be wise for you to come out of hiding now," Baerius said offhandedly, his deep voice breaking the relative silence of the forest. Two hours ago, his keen warrior senses told him that somebody was trailing him from a safe distance.
Baerius sighed and stood up when his stalker did not deign to reply. "My patience grows thin. I give you this last warning. Reveal yourself now else I shall assume that you wish to test your mettle against a Spartan."
Several heartbeats passed until a soft rustle came from behind a thick tree a few feet to his right. Baerius inhaled sharply at what his eyes beheld.
She walked toward him with the undulating gait of a dancer. Baerius' eyes traced her nudity from the tips of her toes to her flowing raven black hair. Her limbs were long and supple, with voluptuous hips and the smallest of waists. She was endowed with breasts so full and firm, areolas rosy, her nipples puckering defiantly against the cold. Her smooth skin had the natural golden glow of one who spent her days in the sun.
As if the perfection of her body was not enough, the beauty of her face quite easily rivaled that of the goddess Aphrodite. Her lips were lush and red, nose long and straight. Her cheekbones were elegantly formed, giving her the look of an aristocrat. But her eyes framed by thick, long lashes and perfect wing-shaped brows, were her most striking feature. They were bluer than the bluest of sapphires. A man could get lost for a lifetime staring into them. They reflected silent strength, unbreakable spirit and limitless compassion. And wonder of wonders, in the mere seconds that he laid eyes upon her, he felt a certain bond toward her. He felt like he always knew her. Like she has always been a part of him.
"By the gods…" Baerius whispered, his breath misting as he expelled it slowly. "What sorcery is this?"
"I come in peace." Her lilting voice reminded Baerius of the soothing music from a lyre. He shut his eyes tightly trying to control his sudden desire for the beautiful creature in front of him.
"My name is Diana."
"I come in peace," Diana repeated. This time she raised her arm, showing the man the two rabbits she had caught earlier. An offer of truce, of friendship. "Would you care to share these with me…" she trailed off expectantly, hinting.
The man blinked once. Twice.
"Baerius," he said gruffly, visibly shaking himself.
"Would you care to share these with me, Baerius?" Diana gestured at the rabbits.
"You are naked," Baerius stated the obvious. Her lack of clothing should not have bothered him. Just like any Spartan boy, Baerius spent much of his time outdoors playing, hunting, riding, wrestling and swimming. Spartan law dictated that girls do exactly the same thing. Boys and girls swam nude in the River Eurotas to cool off during the hot summer months. Nudity did not bother him. It should not have bothered him. But it did.
Diana lifted an eyebrow, amused. "So are you."
"I have to be," Baerius frowned.
Diana failed to control a wayward smile. "Well, if you can to be naked in this weather, I don't see why I can not be as well."
"What are you?" Baerius demanded.
"It would seem that in the pursuit of mastering the art of warfare," Diana noted sardonically. "Spartans have chosen to ignore common courtesies. But then again, you are but a man. I should not have expected manners from your kind."
Shocked understanding dawned in Baerius' eyes. It can't be... he thought in disbelief. It must be... "Apologies, my sister in arms," his voice was full of bewilderment. "I forget myself. It is not everyday that a person gets to meet one of the Antianeirai. "
"Yes," Diana confirmed with a smile. "I am Amazon."
"I am honored to meet you," Baerius gestured toward his rock shelter. "Please, join me."
Diana accepted the invitation with a small inclination of her head. They sat down facing each other; Diana began to skin the rabbits while Baerius silently started a fire. The smell of cooking meat permeated the air in no time.
Diana had spotted him this morning as he stealthily followed a wolf pack. Something in her came alive the moment she set her eyes upon him and the realization that he was a man greatly piqued her curiosity. What she knew about the opposite sex, she learned only from the archives. The few sketches that she studied depicting what a man looked like were so different from the actual flesh. And despite several misgivings, she could not resist the compulsion to shadow him as he went about in his business. He moved with the deadly grace of a soldier thus, she was not at all surprised when he announced that he was a Spartan. Diana remembered reading about the injustices committed by the Spartans and Athenians against her ancestors centuries ago. Recalling the oppression that her forebears had to suffer through never failed to raise her ire, but she could not help but feel grudging respect and admiration for the kind of strength of both body and mind needed to complete a Spartan warrior's training.
Diana studied Baerius discreetly while they ate. She thought that he was a man of proper size and smiled approvingly at his impressive physique. She was one of the tallest among her sisters yet he easily towered a head above her. He had taut, well-developed muscles on a broad-shouldered frame with a aura of readiness radiating from him, like a jackal ready to pounce on his unfortunate prey. The multitude of scars that crisscrossed his back contrasted starkly against his bronzed skin. It somehow added to his dangerous beauty and Diana's fingertips itched to trace the pale sinewy lines. His angular face seemed to be carved from marble, his aquiline nose hinting at nobility, if not of pedigree then surely of character. His square jaw was lightly covered with a short black beard that partially hid an interesting cleft in his chin. His hazel brown eyes were constantly roving the night, alert to any hidden threats. He was a warrior through and through. Gazing upon his fine form stirred a foreign and unnamed emotion within her.
"You spend the day following me like a huntress would a prey. And now, you stare at me like a philosopher attempting to decipher the meaning of life," Baerius said with a hint of amusement, finally breaking the companionable silence between them.
"I... I do apologize," Diana felt a hot flush creep up her cheeks having been caught in the act of inspecting him. "I have not seen a man this close before."
Baerius' lips twitched with the beginnings of a smile. "And do you like what you see, Princess?"
Diana looked at him in alarm. How did he… she thought, panicked.
"Princess?" she croaked. He can't know, can he?
"You who are endowed with much beauty can be no less than royalty," Baerius grinned. "Unless you are the goddess Aphrodite herself come to visit a mortal?"
"Courtliness is a part of your warrior training after all," Diana said lightly. Inwardly, she sighed with relief, thanking the gods that her secret was safe.
Baerius puffed up his chest proudly. "We are expected to hone intelligence and diplomacy along with our fighting prowess."
"I reckon this is the culmination of your agoge," Diana said in an effort to veer the conversation further away from her lineage.
"You seem to know much about my culture," Baerius nodded, looking at her intently. "It is a shame that much of yours remain obscure."
"We Amazons do have a tendency to isolate ourselves, don't we?" Diana held his gaze steadily, admiring how the firelight was reflected in his tawny eyes.
"So much so that it is as if you are a legend slowly fading into myth," Baerius agreed. "What brings you far from home?"
Diana took a deep breath. "We have a similar rite of passage as yours. Just as you have to prove yourself a man, I have to prove myself a woman."
"I am supposed to slay a beast," Baerius quirked an eyebrow, leaning sideways on his elbow, giving the false impression that he was being indolent. "It will be an unfortunate inconvenience if you considered me as one."
Diana frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
"It is said that women of your kind hate men," Baerius retorted drily.
"Oh," Diana shook her head when she realized what he was implying. "I… I am not here to kill you… And perhaps hate is too strong a word. Amazons do not hate men. We are simply… wary of them."
"Care to enlighten me as to the why?"
"You know as well as I do how much my people suffered in your hands," Diana said, grimly remembering the cruelty endured by her ancestors in the hands of men. "Man does not understand anything but war and violence. It matters not if you're Athenian or Corinthian or Arcadian. But Spartans are the worst of them all."
"This coming from an Androktones?!" Baerius sat up, riled at her unwitting insult. "You kill men simply because of the ludicrous notion that women are more superior!"
Diana rose to her knees. "You dare insinuate that women are second rate?"
"Only Spartan women give birth to real men, Princess," Baerius injected the honorific with much disdain.
"You insufferable... arrogant..." Diana swung her arm to slap the jeering expression from Baerius' face. He caught her wrist adeptly in his big callous roughened hand.
"Engaging me in a duel will prove to be unwise, Diana," Baerius warned in a tone that made the arctic temperature drop a little bit more.
"Unhand me!" Diana demanded furiously.
"Only if you submit."
It was the worst thing to ask from an Amazon. With a fierce growl, Diana launched herself at Baerius. What ensued was a deadly dance of might and will between two fighters extremely skilled in hand to hand combat. Punches were thrown, kicks were dodged. And Diana never felt more alive. There was something in her opponent that infuriated her and yet she felt a heady rush of exhilaration as she tested herself against such an elite warrior.
Baerius deftly twisted her arm behind her and trapped her body against him with an arm across her neck. A sudden feeling of arousal surged through him from the feel of her bare skin pressed against his. His body hardened even more when he noticed her chest heaving up and down with exertion and excitement.
"Deny that you were born and trained for the field of battle and you deny yourself," his breath was hot against her cheek.
With a heavy grunt, Diana managed to break free from his hold and toss him over her shoulder. In a flash, she had him on his back and straddled him, gripping his wrists beside his face. "Maybe that is true for your people but all we Amazons ever wanted was peace. You fight to conquer, we fight to defend."
Baerius eyes narrowed dangerously at the implication that the Spartans were nothing but marauding barbarians. "We prevent lawlessness and civil strife!" Her full breasts, barely inches away from his lips, were wickedly distracting.
"Bah!" Diana panted, equally distracted by the wanton sensation of the hard planes of his stomach rubbing between her legs. "You say you fight for peace but you revel in war!"
"Yield, Amazon," Baerius said in a lazy and sensual drawl that made Diana's heart flutter.
"You are in no position to demand my surrender, Spartan," Diana squeezed her thighs ruthlessly against his torso in an attempt to douse the ravenous fire building up within her core. He grunted. Slightly. Too much to hope that a rib cracked, she thought irately. Almost as if he could hear her thoughts, Baerius chuckled, his eyes gleaming with challenge... and seduction.
Great Hera! He's enjoying himself! Diana thought, vexed. And so are you, a little voice reminded her.
Diana gasped as Baerius bucked against her. Her breath left her in a soft oomph! as her world tilted and she found herself on her back, arms pinned over her head. She struggled against his heavy weight but to no avail.
Diana met his steely gaze defiantly. "Never."
His lips crashed down upon hers in a savage, punishing kiss that was meant to subdue. Diana felt her lips bruising. When she gasped for breath, Baerius' tongue plunged into her mouth, invading, teasing and challenging her. Passion and logic collided in her thoughts. You don't need to do this, Diana! The part of her that had a tenuous hold on her sanity protested desperately. I don't care! Her passion screamed with equal desperation. With the drumbeat of her heart pounding on her ears, she touched her own tongue to his lips. The kiss exploded with a hunger so primal that it threatened to overwhelm her senses.
She could feel the evidence of Baerius' desire pressing insistently against her. He moaned in pleasure when she instinctively rubbed herself against him. Diana felt him release her wrists, his warm hands traveling down to her mold her full breasts, teasing the sensitized nipples. She reveled in the touch of his strong and rough fingers on her heated skin, arching against him, wanting to get closer even as she was crushed against him so tightly that she found it hard to breathe. When Baerius lifted his lips from hers, she mourned at the loss.
His smoldering gaze held her captive. His sensuous lips formed one word.
And when Baerius' lips closed tightly around her nipple, sucking hard, Diana went down in defeat.
Pnyx Hill, Athens 480 BC
The rulers of the Greek city-states and other influential citizens converged in an assembly to discuss the impending threat from the Persians. Perhaps 'discuss' was putting it mildly. The leaders were locked in a heated debate on how to deal with the conqueror, Xerxes.
Baerius held back a sigh of impatience. Regardless of the assembly's decision, he already knew what King Leonidas intended to do. It was a course of action that he fully supported – even though, in his heart or hearts, he knew that this was a fight they could not win if the king failed to secure the support of the other city-states.
All of a sudden, the loud arguments were replaced with astonished whispers. Baerius looked up to find out what caused the furor to blessedly cease. His eyes bulged in recognition.
"Queen Hippolyta, what an unexpected surprise," King Leonidas intoned. "I bid you welcome."
The queen of the reclusive Amazons inclined her golden head to acknowledge the greeting. Her arrival was indeed unexpected. None present could remember the last time that the fierce warrior woman set foot in the assembly to involve herself in the affairs of Greece. The Amazons did not like fraternizing with men in general, and had a particular loathing for the Athenians. So, the fact that she felt the need to break her long isolation to attend the gathering highlighted the gravity of the threat from Xerxes.
But Baerius could not care less for the monarch. What he cared about was the woman who stood to her right. The sight of her had the violent force of a spear piercing his chest, impaling his heart. The woman whose smile had bewitched him. The woman whose scent and taste drugged him. The woman whose face haunted his dreams for more than a decade. The woman who disappeared after a night of passionate lovemaking. The woman who disappeared after they whispered of their dreams and hopes. The woman who he never learned to truly forget. Diana.
The world melted away as they stared into each other's eyes. His memory of her beauty paled against the reality of her ripened perfection. She was a flower in full bloom.
Baerius was catapulted back to a long ago night spent in the forest beneath the shadow of Mount Taygetus. He had woken up the morning after feeling sated and then bereft when he realized that she was gone. He had tried to track her down but she left no trace. It was as if she was never there. He would have convinced himself that she was but a vivid dream if only her sweet taste did not linger on his tongue… if only he could not smell traces of her fragrant skin… if only he could not feel the sting on his back where she clawed at him whilst in the throes of ecstasy. Left with no plausible explanation of her disappearance, he very nearly convinced himself that perhaps she really was a goddess come down from Olympus to have her way with a mortal.
Despite the feeling of utter dejection, Baerius immediately found his balance and rigid self-control. He completed his quest, returned home and took his rightful place in society. He went on with his life, continuously blocking out a pair of sultry, soulful blue eyes from his memory. He had fought in countless battles, always emerged the victor, bringing honor to Sparta. In time, he wedded the beautiful Thaleia. She was a good wife – she knew what was expected from her and she accomplished them without fail. Their union produced his heir, Demetrios, who was recently taken away to participate in the agoge. He knew the boy would make him proud one day. He was fond enough of Thaleia and he had to admit, he loved Demetrios. Outwardly, he was the picture of a perfect Spartan.
But that one enchanted night changed something in him forever. Despite of his achievements, he could not explain the gaping hole he had in his life. Instinctively, he knew that it could only be filled by the woman who fleetingly connected with his soul a long time ago. He endured the emptiness stoically. It was expected. It was the norm. But every once in a while, he could not help but ask himself one question…
Baerius tore his gaze from Diana, giving himself a mental shake when he heard King Leonidas call his name.
"The council must act quickly," Baerius declared, infusing his voice with as much conviction as he possibly could. "We must act quickly."
"Why?" Queen Hippolyta asked imperiously.
"In order that we Spartans may reach the first line of defense in time," he explained.
"And where might that be?" Diana queried. He could feel a tightening in his chest as her sweet voice created a deluge of emotions that he did not want to contemplate on. Matters of the heart were not a priority right here and right now.
"The Pass of Thermopylae, Princess," King Leonidas replied somberly.
"Thermopylae," the queen huffed contemptuously. "Of course. It would have to be the pass that protects Athens. Why you would willingly throw away the lives of your fine soldiers to protect these cowards, I will never understand."
The Athenians roared in affront.
"NO!" King Leonidas yelled over the din. "Thermopylae is the pass that protects GREECE! Mere cities do not matter now. It is only Greece that counts! Only with our combined might can we hope to avoid slavery! I am a warrior, not a politician, so I will plead this cause with all of you one last time. Instead of squabbling amongst ourselves, we need to act now!"
Queen Hippolyta shook her head ruefully as she turned her back and started walking away. "This has been a waste of our time. Come now, Diana."
Baerius strolled through the agora, the commercial center of the city of Athens. He wove through the hustle and bustle of the crowd toward the temple of Hephaestus, the patron god of craftsmanship and fire. As befits its honoree, there were many potters' workshops and metalworking shops that surrounded the temple. He was on his way to claim a dagger he had ordered sharpened prior to attending the assembly.
"Walk with me."
Baerius gave a start at the whispered request. He hesitated, suddenly unsure if the melancholy was worth the effort. After all, it was just one night. Just one night a long time ago. But his uncertainty melted away at Diana's shy smile and her warm hand on his arm. He allowed her to lead him toward the Agoraios Kolonos, a hill adjacent to the temple of Hephaestus, where there was a small garden and a fountain.
"I should have known you would be King," Diana said softly.
"Would that it made a difference, Princess," he countered.
They sought shade under an olive tree. Diana leaned her back against it and looked up to him unsure of what to say. When she saw him at the assembly, she very nearly spun on her heel to run away. Again. But her contempt over her cowardice overrode her shame. There was so much that she needed to explain.
She had been young and naïve when she met him, so full of idealistic notions, so eager to prove herself. She was always so quick to proudly say she was Amazon. Philippus, the Captain of the Royal Guard and her teacher, had said that she potentially had the combat skills to best the champion Artemis and that she could be as wise and learned as the scholarly Alexa. So, Diana trained and studied hard to excel, to earn the respect of her people as heir to the Amazonian throne. But what was the point of all her hard work when she was not even allowed beyond the borders of their island? Diana had yearned to go out into the world. To see. To feel.
And so she did. She sneaked out, so self-assured with her survival skills. She sneaked out, so cocky that she knew everything there was to know about Man's World. She sneaked out with the Amazon doctrines so deeply ingrained in her. But everything that she thought she knew was turned on its head when she met Baerius. He showed her that life was not so simple as the letters on a piece of parchment. The seed of doubt was planted in her. She began to question her beliefs, or rather, what she was taught to believe. She began to have a nagging feeling that perhaps the Amazonian views regarding the world were too narrow, too shallow. But in the end, indoctrination won out. She could not turn her back on her obligations as Princess of the Amazons. But the memory of her time with him, however brief, was forever etched in her heart. At night, while she lay in bed listening to the waves as they crashed gently on the shores of her home island, she always ended up wondering…
Diana looked upon him now, silently begging for him to understand.
"I… I do not know where to begin," she told him honestly. "Words fail me."
"Perhaps there is really nothing to say," Baerius said.
"Surely, you don't believe that," Diana shook her head stubbornly.
A gentle wind blew a lock of hair across her face. Baerius resisted the urge to brush it back. He gave her a shrug instead. "Maybe there was a time, in its most infinitesimal measure, when I hoped for something more. But it is not to be. It cannot be."
Courage, don't fail me now. Diana prayed. She did not want to examine her feelings too closely but she had to face the truth. "I did not want it to be just a dalliance," she finally said.
"Walking away was the right thing for you to do then just as it is the right thing for you to do now," Baerius smiled ruefully. "Suppose we woke up to find ourselves still in each other's arms? What then?"
Diana closed her eyes, her heart heavy. "We would still have said our goodbyes," she answered bitterly.
"You are Amazon and I a Spartan," Baerius stroked her silky smooth cheek with the backs of his fingers, finally giving in to the temptation to touch her, to feel her. After all these years, I deserve this... Just one last time, he thought fiercely. "If only it was not so, then maybe things would have been different."
"I suppose even warriors can dream… But this," he continued, tapping the sword by his hip. "This is reality. My reality. Right here, right now, this is the only thing that I know is for certain. Yearning for something that cannot be is futile."
"As futile as fighting a war that cannot be won?" Diana tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. "The Oracle's prophecy says that we will be wiped from the face of the earth…"
"And since when did a Spartan run away from a fight just because he is told that defeat is inevitable?" Baerius smirked. "Every day that we remain standing is another day of freedom for Greece. No retreat, no surrender, Diana. That is the legacy of Sparta. You of all people should understand that."
"You know that I would fight by your side if I could," Diana declared passionately.
"I do not call you coward, Princess," he threaded his fingers through her hair, taking pleasure in feeling its familiar texture. "I see in you the courage that can shame the most valiant of heroes. But perhaps this is not the time for you yet. We each have a part to play in this grand drama of life. We have an obligation to our people. Mine takes me to Thermopylae. Where does yours take you?"
"My mother… she…" Diana began hesitantly. "She has prayed tirelessly, night and day, for the gods to deliver the Amazons from all this hate and suffering."
"The gods have always been petty. They take pleasure in meddling with our lives only when it pleases them," Baerius' firm lips twisted in disdain. "But where are they now? Now when we need them the most?"
"Don't blaspheme," Diana chided gently. "Hera has answered my mother's prayers."
Baerius frowned. "What is your meaning?"
"The goddess will grant us immortality and powers beyond our imaginings. But she has decreed that Themiscyra is to be hidden from the world of man…"
"To what purpose?"
"The Amazons will finally be free from war and strife."
"And at what cost, Diana?"
Diana sighed. "We are to continue honoring them like we always have. And when the time comes, whenever that may be, we are to be their champions."
"You free yourselves from one master and then shackle yourselves to another?" Baerius asked in disbelief. "The wisdom eludes me."
"It is the only way for our people to survive."
His strong arms wrapped around her waist and he drew her in for a tight embrace. Diana pressed her cheek on his chest, finding comfort in the steady beat of his heart. "If the Oracle foresees our doom, then perhaps, this is the gods' way to guarantee that we do not vanish from history," Baerius thought out loud, absently caressing her back. "Perhaps you are to remind people of the time when a handful of men stood against thousands to fight for freedom. Maybe this is the gods' way to ensure that the world will remember us."
"I will never forget you."
"I feel like I knew you long before I first laid my eyes upon you," Baerius rested his forehead against hers. "You will always be a part of me and I you. The hope inside of me whispers that I will see you again and we shall stand side by side fighting for truth, justice, freedom and peace."
Diana smiled. "And when that time comes, I swear I will be with you every step of the way. I will never again leave your side."
"Even if I pushed you away?" Baerius smirked.
"Even if you pushed with all your might," Diana vowed resolutely.
"Until then, Princess," he moved closer, his lips inches away from hers. "But for now…"
It began as a gentle kiss of remembrance. They remembered their ephemeral time together, remembered that two strangers from two very different worlds somehow completed the other. It soon became a kiss of desire… a wistful yearning for a chance to love, a desperate longing for what might have been had the chance not slipped away. And finally, it became a kiss of hope… the hope that one day, they would find each other under better circumstances, in a better world where love might be allowed to flourish unrestrained.
Diana's eyes glittered with unshed tears as she looked up to his face one last time. She drank in every single detail and kept it safe in her heart, to carry with her across the ages. There were things that still needed to be spoken but now was no longer the time. Here was no longer the place. So instead she said the words that he needed to hear.
"Return with your shield or upon it."
Androktones – killer of men
Antianeirai – those who fight like men