It is winter when Zoë Nightshade first comes to her.
She is a young girl, -by looks at least- yet an old soul, dark eyes shining with wisdom, and Artemis immediately feels a sort of kinship towards her. She looks somewhat lost when Artemis and her current Hunters stumble upon her in the woods, but even then there is a graceful aspect to her. Her features are sharp, but there is a slight softening around her eyes that she cannot ignore. Her long dark hair is messily pulled up onto her head, and even from afar, Artemis can see the cuts on her arms from who knows what where her clothing rides up. Her dark eyes are brightly shining, and wide, and wild.
She looks dangerous. Quite dangerous, actually, and yet despite all of that, she it the most beautiful thing that Artemis has ever seen.
Artemis finds her mesmerizing -something she doesn't often find other people. She likes to watch how she moves, even when it is quickly pulling out a hunting knife and bracing for battle against them.
All is silent for a minute, apart from Zoë's slightly ragged breathing, and it takes Artemis a moment to realize that the Hunters are waiting for her to speak. She swallows the lump that has formed in her throat for reasons she doesn't yet understand, and speaks. "What is thy name, girl?"
Her dark eyes are still wide with fear as she answers. "Zoë."
"We shall not hurt thee," Artemis assures, her Hunters standing down with a wave of her hand. "What art thou doing out here in my woods?"
Zoë looks to regain some of her composure then, standing straight. She seems reluctant to share information, but does anyways. "I have been banished from my home," she says, her gaze roaming around the circle of a half dozen girls surrounding her, then locking on Artemis. "Thou art Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt."
It's not a question, but she answers anyways. "Yes," she says, then lightly gestures to the half dozen girls around her. "And these are my hunters."
Zoë takes a moment to consider this, head tilted slightly to the side, before asking, "May I join thee?" Artemis doesn't have time to respond, for Zoë continues talking. "I have no home, there is nothing left for me. I shall gladly take any vows that thy sees fit."
She is brisk and almost business-like in the way she speaks, but Artemis can hear the undertone of want in her voice. The begging that she wants to do but her body refuses. She is basically one of them already, Artemis doesn't even hesitate. "Of course you may join. Welcome to the hunt."
It's the best decision she's ever made.
As the seasons change, Artemis and Zoë become closer. Zoë is smart, loyal, and everything else that Artemis enjoys. She's an extremely skilled hunter, and a good companion. She likes to be around Zoë, enjoys her company. Zoë understands, she does not have to be flowery or fake around Zoë, in fact, she finds she is feels better than she has in years. Zoë makes her laugh, and most importantly, she makes her smile, and Artemis thinks that she might possibly make Zoë smile too. It's the first time in many years that Artemis can recall having a true friend.
"Good shot, Zoë," Artemis praises, chin high as she examines the stance of all her Hunters.
Zoë nods, notching another arrow and aiming it at the target. "Thank you, my lady."
Artemis smirks to herself, the girl is always so polite, almost stiffly so, but she can see her eyes light up at the approval, and that makes the Huntress happy. Happy that she can make Zoë happy as well. She turns her head and her smile falls. She silently curses at herself for her laziness. The others watch her, but she brushes it off, turning back to her somewhat strict self in an instant. "Chin up, Alice, and keep thy eye on the target. We don't want a repeat of last week."
She can hear a snicker from one of the younger hunters. "That means thee also, Phoebe, thy aim could much improve as well."
Artemis can see that Zoë is hiding a smirk as another one of her arrows strikes the bullseye. The goddess knows her Hunters, but more importantly, she knows the ones that are her friends.
She can tell that Zoë loves the hunt. Thrives in it. She finds that the young women is much like herself, and tries to ignore they way she feels drawn to her. She is a wonderful huntress, so good that Artemis wonders if Zoë was ever one in a past life, yet she figures she would be able to tell so. There is no way she could ever forget anything about Zoë, and she knows that if she had met some form of her before, she would definitely remember.
There is something about Zoë, though. Something that makes the goddess feel drawn towards her. Maybe the Fates have pulled them together for some reason that she does not yet know. But, whatever the reason is, Artemis just knows that she's happy to have Zoë there with her.
Even if she doesn't yet know why.
It's almost 150 years to the day of Zoë's arrival when they find Isabelle.
She is a small girl, cowering behind a tree, looking much younger than she is. She remembers nothing but her name, "I-it's Isabelle," and has been alone for quite some time, by the looks of it.
It's just a normal day when they find her, surprisingly sunny for midwinter, quite nice as the Hunters walk through the woods. Artemis doesn't notice anything out of the ordinary, actually everything seems almost overly fine to her, but it's Zoë who notices it first. She's flanking Artemis's right side, Marie -the current lieutenant- is on her left. Artemis notices the absence of her presence almost immediately, stopping and turning back to the girl, all the others freeze with her.
The dark-haired girl holds a hand up to quiet them. "Listen," she whispers. "Can you hear it?"
And then she does. It's faint, a quiet whimper, but it's definitely there. Zoë slowly moves towards the sound, until she has reached a tree, the rest of the Hunters following closely behind her. A girl clings to the pine, hands white as she grips it, sunken cheeks red from the cold. She is a small thing, dressed in rags, malnourished and petite. Her black hair hangs limply by her pale face, and she looks extremely frightened. A crescent-shaped pendant hangs from her neck.
Artemis moves beside Zoë, quietly kneeling in front of the child, poor thing. "Hast thou been hurt? Art thou alright, dear?"
The child doesn't look at her, eyes squeezed closed tightly as she holds the tree to her chest. She shakes her head side to side, movements jerky.
The goddess turns to wave off the other girls, minus Zoë, before turning to speak to the girl in a soft voice again. "Art thou afraid?" A nod this time, a tiny, shaking movement of the head.
Zoë crouches down next to her mistress. "We shall not hurt thee," she assures. The child still doesn't move, but Artemis watches Zoë intently. It's the kindest she has ever heard her Hunter speak to anyone -for Zoë has never been particularly kind, and Artemis has never seen this side of her before- and yet it suits her so well. "What be thy name?"
The girl opens her eyes then, -a beautiful mix of blue and green- for Zoë voice is so kind and soothing it seems like she cannot resist. "I-it's Isabelle," she says in a small, shaky voice.
Artemis offers a hand to her. "Come hither child. We shall take care of thee."
Isabelle looks questioning at Zoë, who nods, before taking the hand of the auburn-haired goddess. She stands on shaking legs, slowly detaching herself from the tree, and letting Artemis lightly pull her away. She reaches to take Zoë's hand as well, and the two lead her back to camp.
Isabelle will talk to nobody but Artemis or Zoë -though she favors the latter- and even then there isn't much to talk about. Belle, as she says she likes to be called, doesn't recall anything about herself other than her name. She does not know where she is from, how old she is, or how she ended up in the forest.
None of the matters though, for she becomes a Hunter none the less. She is one of the youngest, at the underside of ten -that's what her and Zoë end up figuring, weighing looks, and maturity, and growth- but still good despite it. Belle becomes attached to Zoë, who teaches her to shoot, sits with her at meals, and tells her wonderful stories of the stars.
Artemis watches this with awe, mesmerized by the way Zoë is when she is around this little girl. The brunette seems to light up when Belle is around. Her eyes are brighter, she does not scowl, and she looks much like the young girl she is, happy and carefree -two things that Artemis knows Zoë is historically not. Artemis likes it. She enjoys watching, and seeing Zoë happy. It's nice, it's makes the elder Hunter seem so, soendearing. Yes, that's the word. Endearing. But she would never say that out loud, for fear of embrassesment -hers or Zoë's she isn't quite sure.
"Zoë has been showing me the stars, my lady. They are so very lovely." the young girl tells her one night, clear voice showing some type of accent that Artemis associates with the Romans.
"Has she, young one?" she asks, watching as the girl climbs into bed. She has nightmares often, and is still somewhat sickly, so they watch over her most of the time. At meals, during hunts, and it even includes tucking her into bed. Zoë usually does the latter one, but Isabelle requested the goddess tonight.
"Oh yes," she nods enthusiastically.
Artemis can't hide a smile as she fixes the blankets over Isabelle's small body. "She takes good care of thee, does she not?"
Belle nods again. "Very much so, my lady." Artemis can't help but think that she sounds like a smaller Zoë. "I like her very much, almost as much as she likes you."
Artemis's throat goes dry. "Pardon?"
The girl doesn't seem to notice any change. "Thee likes her as well, I can tell." She rolls over on her cot, eyes closing. "Goodnight," she mumbles.
Artemis swallows. "Goodnight, young one. Sleep well."
It's winter again when Zoë is made lieutenant.
It's actually Marie, the lieutenant at the time, who suggests her successor. "She's a good huntress, and a smart girl," she says, because she has been watching Zoë for quiet some time now. "Plus, that way thee can spend more time with her by thy side," she adds with a smirk.
Artemis tries to pretend she has no idea what her Hunter -and friend- is talking about, but by the she feels her cheeks heat up she's sure she doesn't do that very well. Besides, Marie is a keen watcher, and she knows her mistress, so much so that she knows who her mistress likes -even if it is, "Quite obvious, Artemis," as Marie puts it.
She brushes it off anyways, remaining cool and collected as always. "I do not know what thou is referring to, but I must ask if thou are sure that this is what is wanted?" she asks. "Thee wishes to leave us."
Marie looks sad, but her eyes sparkle with curiosity and excitement as they always have. "I wish to live my life, and then to have it end. I am ready. I want to be loved, and become married and start a family. You shall always be my sisters, but it tis my time. I thank thee for everything though," she gives a curtsy and the glow of a Huntress evaporates from around her.
She steps closer to Artemis. "Now, as I am no longer a Hunter I can say this as a friend," she begins. "Forgive me, Goddess, for speaking so frankly, but I see they way you two look at each other. I know thou art a God, yet she is more than merely a girl. You are not breaking any vows, for from what I understand those only concern men." Artemis's brows furrow, Marie can see that she is fighting a currently loosing battle. "I just want thee to be joyous, like thou art with her. Thou deserves love as well."
She gives Artemis a quick hug, then steps back then, a smile on her face. "Go get her, Artemis," she says, then turns and walks away for the last time.
Artemis tells the rest of the Hunters around the fire that night, a silver circlet in her hand. "Marie has chosen to part from us, and I respect her choice. May she live a well life." There is a moment of silence. "Now, to the matters at hand, I am in need of a new lieutenant," she pauses, glancing around the circle, even though her decision is already made. "Zoë? Would you honour me by being the new lieutenant of the Hunters."
Zoë's face lights up. "The honour is all mine, my lady."
Everyone claps, Belle cheers, and Zoë gives a rare smile that almost makes Artemis' knees buckle -which is absurd, for she is a goddess, and goddesses do not become weak at the knees for young girls. But then again, it isn't just any young girl, it's Zoë.
She hands her new lieutenant the circlet, smiling as well. Artemis thinks the sliver crown suits Zoë better than it could ever suit anyone else.
Zoë grows throughout the years.
Not in the practical sense. For she does not age, -immortality coming with the choice to be a Huntress- nor does her body change in anyway. She does grow though, Artemis watches as it happens.
Her speech changes with the times, only slightly, yet it still remains true to its old English roots. The way she moves becomes even more graceful -if possible- and she seems to be lighter on her feet. She is still polite, and proper, and slightly cold to some people, but the majority of her being seems to have softened a bit.
It's her eyes though, Artemis notices, that change the most. Still dark and piercing as always, but brighter in the way they shine. Lighter, less weighed down by grief and pain. Happier. They are happier, and Artemis loves it. She loves it so very much.
And as Zoë grows, so does Artemis's love for her. It starts as a small spark, somewhere deep in her soul, and turns into a raging fire over decades of watching Zoë, and knowing Zoë, caring and learning about her. Just after decades of Zoë.
She attempts to ignore it -because she took a vow of maidenhood, and Zoë just seems much too human for her, it couldn't work, it couldn't- but that didn't go to well, for ever time she saw Zoë her immortal heart would speed up. So she gives up the thought of forgetting about Zoë, because that was never going to happen, and just accepts her love for the other girl. Screw maidenhood -for lack of a better term- she never really figured that it included other women anyways. Zoë is worth it, she's always worth it. Artemis tries to hide it though, her blatant love for her lieutenant, but she figures that she isn't doing a very good job with that either, judging by the way some of her other Hunters look at her.
Artemis wonders -hopes, desperately hopes and pleads- if Zoë likes her as well, in the same sense that she does. She can't tell, and it eats at her, infuriates her, and yet makes her feel all so small at the same time. She is usually so good at reading people, so good at reading Zoë -because they are friends. Because she knows that girl and watches her- but she can't tell for the life of her, and it kills her.
It's stupid though, to think Zoë would ever love her. A relationship would hardly be easy, but not unheard of. She has seen her brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles have relations with mortals before. She has watched them fail, and it is one of the reasons she chose maidenhood, -besides her dislike for men- because she always watched someone to get hurt. She doesn't want Zoë to ever be hurt.
She does not want herself to get hurt either, but she would never admit it. Hearts are fragile things, they are delicate, and beating despite immortality. They are real, and vulnerable, and very very breakable. Hers included.
Artemis wonders if it is even right, to love Zoë. She toils over this thought through many nights, and finally decides that even if it isn't she does not care. She loves Zoë, passionately, irrevocably, and with all of her heart, and she doesn't think that that fact is ever going to change. But it does not matter.
Zoë's worth it. She will always be worth it.
Isabelle dies during the spring.
Artemis wishes she could say it was peaceful. Or a freak accident. Or that Belle was ready to go. But it's none of those things. No. It's tragic, and untimely, and it just plain shouldn't have happened.
But they are Huntresses. So they hunt. That's what they do. They hunt monsters, and help poor lost girls, and sleep under the stars. These are the things they do. This is how Belle lives. It's also how she dies.
They are tracking a monster. Tall and ugly, covered in fur and spikes. It picks up Isabelle and throws her hard into a tree. Zoë's arrow is buried between the monsters eyes before the young girl can hit the ground. It explodes into dust, but hardly anyone pays anymore attention to that.
"Isabelle!" Both Zoë and Artemis are at the young girl's side the moment after the monster disappears into dust. Artemis props her head in her lap, dark hair spilling everywhere. "Are you alright, young one?" she asks, hope fading. No, no.
Belle groans. She tries to roll over but winces in pain instead, settling on the ground. "It hurts," she says, her eyes fluttering. "It burns, my lady."
Artemis examines her diligently. Looking at the sickly wound on her side and the mangled form of her limbs. Zoë's eyes shine with rage. "Is she alright?" Artemis doesn't answer. "Artemis," Zoë whispers harshly, voice desperate. "Will she be alright?"
Artemis looks up, and she is sure that her lieutenant can immediately tell by that look that there is not hope. Zoë's jaw tightens, and Artemis watches the change, thinking maybe this will be the moment she first sees Zoë break down.
But she doesn't, and it's such a remarkable thing to watch that Artemis must suppress a gasp. Zoë takes a deep breath -hardly shaky at all- and moves closer towards Belle, softly pulling the young girl's hand into hers.
Zoë leans forwards, and speaks in the kindest voice Artemis has ever heard her use. "It is going to be fine," she says quietly as Artemis strokes Belle's hair. "I am going to stay with thee, and it will be okay," she promises. Then she kisses Belle lightly on the forwards, lingering for a moment, before pulling back and preparing herself to watch the one person she cares about die.
And it almost breaks Artemis' heart.
After Belle has taken her last breath, Artemis waves her hand over the body and watches somberly as it shimmers away into the night sky. She whispers a small prayer, and then moves to kneel beside Zoë.
Artemis takes Zoë's balled fists in her hands, slowly coaxing them open and placing a thread with a small silver pendant in her palm. Isabelle's necklace. "You did well," she says.
Zoë looks at her then, and the goddess can almost hear the not well enough, in the way the other girl's eyes glisten. But Zoë does a most remarkable thing, -which shouldn't surprise Artemis anymore, but still does- she stands up, wipes her eyes, and with a deep breath faces the other Hunters, none of whom have dared to move during the whole ordeal. There is a moment of silence for their fallen friend.
"Let us go from here," she says, and Artemis can almost pretend she doesn't hear the shaking in her voice -and can almost pretend it doesn't hurt her too. "We have a camp to set up." And with that, turns to nod at her mistress, and walks from the clearing.
Artemis follows, without a word. That is the day she decides that Zoë is so much more than she could ever imagine.
She calls her brave one from that day on.
It's different after Isabelle.
There is a month where Zoë withdraws herself completely, -but a month is nothing when you are immortal, a month to Artemis is a kin to what a week is to a mortal- and Artemis let's her. She hardly emerges from her tent, and seldom talks to anybody, not that she was very loquacious in the first place. It's frightens Artemis a bit, but above all, it worries her. A lot. More than it should, probably.
It makes Artemis sad, as well. Because Zoë was really just opening up to her, and now their relationship has taken two steps back. It's selfish, maybe, because she must allow Zoë to mourn Belle in her own way, and therefore must resist the urge to take the other girl in her arms and not let her go.
Zoë hardly comes to see her anymore too. The frequent visits that she used to have with her lieutenant stop almost completely, as Zoë can't seem to speak without trembling, not that anyone really notices that. Artemis pretends not to notice either. But Zoë is different, she's sad, and it worries her. It makes her sad to, because the girl she loves has disappeared into the woods with the life of a girl who went much to soon. Zoë spends all of her time deep in the woods now, with her bow, using dead trees as target practice, instead of spending time with her.
Artemis wonders why. She wonders if it's sorrow that makes her go wallow in the woods, or pride that makes her do it alone. She wonders if she shoots because she's angry, or if she shoots because the guilt is too much to bare. She's too afraid to ask.
Artemis will follow her sometimes, perched in a tree and quietly watching. She can tell that Zoë is really upset, because her arrows continue missing the tree trunks, and normally her Hunter has a good aim. She always watches long enough to make sure that Zoë is okay, but leaves before the other girl starts crying. Artemis doesn't think that she would be able to handle that.
It gets better though. Eventually. Zoë goes into the forest less, and the other Hunters quit acting like they are tip-toeing between shards of glass when around her. Artemis doesn't hear her cry ever again, nor does she ever see her with puffy, red-rimmed eyes. She seems better.
One day, around two months after Isabelle, Zoë even comes into Artemis's tent without having to be asked, and sits down beside the fire. Just sits there, like she used to, and they fall back into their normal routine of things. They talk, Artemis laughs, Zoë even smiles once, and out of the corner of her eye, Artemis catches the glint of sliver around Zoë's neck. This makes Artemis smile too. The girl she loves is coming back to her. And she was very well missed.
Their first kiss occurs during winter, and a particularly cold one at that.
It's spontaneous, passionate, and a long time coming, because the tension between them has been thick for years now, and everybody knows it.
It's actually Zoë who initiates it, which surprises Artemis somewhat -in a way that makes her jaw drop and her knees go weak. Zoë has always been so polite and proper, she isn't one to leap before she looks. She is glad that she takes this one chance though, this one leap of faith, for Artemis fears that if Zoë hadn't, nothing would have every happened. And that they would have been stuck in emotional limbo with each other -as they have been for almost a millennia- for the rest of eternity.
They are warming up in Artemis's tent -just the two of them- for it is a bone-chilling type of freezing outside. So cold, that she decided it was best not to be outside, and allowed her Hunters to go and rest.
Zoë speaks to her in a quiet voice, saying something that makes Artemis tilt her head to the side. "Do you not enjoy it here with us?" the Goddess asks, fear gripping at her throat.
Zoë blinks. "Of course I do," she assures with a comforting smile that almost makes Artemis's heart still with relief. "This is my home."
It's such a simple, true statement, and yet it makes Artemis feel as light as air, because she can hear the underlying meaning, the words so clearly spoken in her head, you're my home.
Artemis is quite unsure where their relationship rests right now. They have a comfortable friendship, a quiet and deep companionship that could easily be mistaken for something more. And maybe that's because it feels like it should be something more. It's more then friendship, and between accidental touches and tip-toeing around invisible lines, Artemis has never loved Zoë more. They break the walls of friendship down, brick by brick, and it's frightening, and exhilarating, and wonderfully confusing all the same.
She thinks Zoë can feel it too. She sees it in the way the other girl watches her, the look in her dark eyes, and the way she reactes when caught staring and even more so when she catches Artemis staring. The want for each other. The want to make invisible lines walls for them to break down. Or to erase all lines at all.
Artemis smiles at her. "Your home?"
Zoë nods. "Yes," she says. "It has always been." It will always be.
Artemis lets her smile widens at that, watching as her lieutenant looks at her with something that the goddess hopes may be akin to love. The young-looking auburn-haired women is about to open her mouth to try and respond with something intelligent, and kind, and that does not consist of a declaration of love when she realizes that the other girl is moving towards her. And suddenly Zoë's lips are pressed against hers.
Zoë's lips are softer than she had imagined, full and plump, and they seem to aline perfectly, just so that Artemis's top lip is between both of Zoë's. The kiss is soft, hesitant, and Artemis is so surprised, and her heart is beating at such an explosive rate that she doesn't respond until she feels Zoë begin to pull away with fear, an "I'm sorry, my lady," playing at her lips. Well, we can't have that, she thinks, and flings her arms around the other girl's neck at it is so describes in a collection of dreadful mortal romance novels -which she hasn't read, no, not at all.
They learn quickly, lips together once more, and Zoë begins to lean against the Goddess, kiss becoming more insitant. The girl let's out something like a content moan in the back of her throat, and Artemis has to pause an think, my, that was arousing, before tightening her grip on the huntress and kissing her further. Zoë smells of pine. She tastes like sour berries and something else entirely that is so intoxicatingly her.
The two girls pull apart for air -much to soon, for Artemis's liking- but do not move to pull away from each other. Artemis rests her forehead against Zoë's, and Zoë is smiling, a smile that causes Artemis to hold to her tighter because of the weakness in her knees. She watches as Zoë slowly moves a hand to run her fingers over her red, well-kissed lips. Artemis can almost see her gasp as she removes her had and then sets in on the side of the goddess's face. Zoë's smile widens. Atremis doesn't say anything, she can't, for words could never describe the almost painfully happy feeling in her chest. So she just smiles.
And Zoë doesn't stop smiling back.
The first I love you is also in winter, the same winter as the first kiss. It's a very important time, that one winter, it's the winter that starts it all.
Artemis sits by the roaring fire in her tent, playing with Zoë's hair as the taller girl -Zoë, because Artemis is fairly small in the thirteen year old form she likes to stay in- lays with her head in Artemis's lap. Zoë smiles contently, the hunter unusually vulnerable in the position she is in. Zoë does not normally allow herself to become this way, but she lets herself relax when they are alone, and Artemis likes to think that it's because she is so comfortable here with each other's presences.
She likes it when Zoë relaxes as well. She enjoys seeing the way her lieutenant's face softens, -the lines of worry and pain disappearing- and thinks she looks most beautiful with her hair down, lazily leaning towards Artemis's touch in the dark tresses.
It's such a perfect evening. It's crisp, and warm, and everything just feels so right between them. They speak to each other in hushed voices, words exchanged a secret between them two. Artemis enjoys their conversations, and the comfortable silence shared while neither is speaking.
It's just feels so simple, so right, and the words flow freely from her lips. "I love you, my brave one."
Artemis can feel Zoë stiffen in her lap, freezing in the middle of a breath. The goddess's heart beat quickens, her chest tightening in a fear that she has gone too far, that she has gotten Zoë only to scare her away so quickly, but she doesn't not apologize. "It is true," she states, trying to keep her voice from shaking. "I do love you, very much. Do not be frightened by it."
Zoë exhales quickly, breath slightly shaky. She remains against Artemis, still laying with her head in her lap but does not relax. She is quiet for a long moment. "I love thee as well," she admits softly after a stretched out paused, tilting her head to look up at the other women. She relaxes slightly at the sight of Artemis smiling. "I think I have for a long time, just that I have never admitted it to myself. I, was frightened, I believe. Of you not reciprocating my feelings. It just came as I surprise, to have heard thee say it, for I never thought it would be so. I hope thou shalt not think it a poor reflection upon yourself that I did not respond immediately, I was just gathering my wits about me. I do love thee."
Zoë is rambling, and Artemis finds it more adorable than she would care to admit. The other girl had never been so good with words, not as good as herself, at least, but Artemis finds it endearing that she tries so hard. Leaning down, Artemis silenced her with a kiss, resisting the urge to deepen it profusely when Zoë kissed her back.
She pulls away, heart skipping at the blissful look on Zoë's face, and then laughing at the slight pout that came afterwards. Oh, her love was quite the unique one, and she couldn't have asked for anything better.
"I love you with all my heart, brave one, and I know that you love me."
Zoë raises a brow. "You do?"
Artemis smiles, resisting a chuckle. "I do now."
They grow close throughout the years - the falls, springs and summers, for they spend everyday together, but mostly the winters- and Artemis's memory is filled with wonderful visions of cuddling by fires and late night runs through the woods.
Everything with Zoë. Always with Zoë.
"I love thee," Zoë tells her one night as they gaze at the stars.
Artemis smiles. "I know that, my brave one."
"Yes," Zoë says with a nod. "I just wanted to tell thee, for thou always tells myself the same. I just thought I should say it more often." Artemis nods in agreement, making a happy sound in the back of her throat and curling into Zoë's side. All is silent for a moment but the sounds of the night.
"Beautiful, is it not?" Zoë speaks after a while.
Zoë shakes her head. "No," she says, finger entwining with the Goddesses. "This, us. It's just that..." she seems to struggle with her words, "it's just beautiful, that's all."
"Yes," Artemis says. "Yes I very much think that as well." She sits up then, and Zoë looks up at her from her place lying in the grass with furrowed brows. "I have something for you," she declares.
Zoë sits up as well, face softening. "Artemis..." she begins.
The goddess shakes her head, and opens her palm. A silver charms appears there, a star, and Zoë's face lights up. "I know how much you like the stars," Artemis says with a small grin. "I would've gotten you a moon, my symbol, but you've already got one," she points the a chain around Zoë's neck, Belle's pendant hanging from it.
Zoë carefully plucks the charm from Artemis's hand, examining slowly. "It's beautiful," she comments in a light voice, turning it over in her palm. She looks up at Artemis. "But you did not need to get me anything."
"You gave me your heart, it is only my right to give you something in return. It shall never amount to how much you have given me," Artemis says, and Zoë is quiet, watching her. Artemis has always been the one to speak in their relationship, Zoë not being one for words. "Consider it a promise, a symbol of my love. Mortals have rings, you have a star."
Zoë does not speak. She looks at her lap, and Artemis thinks for a moment that she might cry. But she doesn't, as always, and instead reaches around her neck to pull of her necklace. She takes the star charm, presses it softly to her lips, and then strings in onto the chain next to Isabelle's crescent moon. She begins to move to clip it back on, when Artemis reaches a hand out. "Let me," she says softly, unsure why she is whispering. She clips the necklace into to place and then withdraws, lying back into the grass.
Zoë lays down beside her, pressing her face into the crook of Artemis's neck. She can feel the dark-haired girl's smile on her skin. "Thank you."
Artemis pulls Zoë close to her, looking up at the stars. "Anytime, my love."
"I know you love her," her brother accuses a few decades later, walking quickly to keep up with her brisk pace.
Artemis doesn't even look at him. "Love whom?"
"That Hunter of yours," Apollo says. "What was her name again, Zoë, wasn't it?"
"My lieutenant," Artemis comments. "A superb Huntress."
Her brother raises a brow. "She seems like more than just that."
"She is my finest Hunter, I take pride in that," Artemis counters, continuing to walk away. "She is the best, and I recognize that. Is there a problem with that?"
"You don't have to be embarrassed, little sis," Apollo says, moving to effectively cut his sister off.
Artemis sighs, stopping quickly as to not run into his chest. She looks up at him. "We are twins!" she exclaims, throwing her hands up into the air. "And your mind is making things up, brother, there is nothing that is going on between Zoë and myself that surpasses friendship."
Apollo rolls his eyes. "As if, Artemis. I know your lying."
Artemis's teeth clench, and she spins around to continue walking, snow covered twigs snapping beneath her feet. "I do not know what you are accusing me of, brother, yet you come here, to my own woods to harass me about it, and I do not appreciate it one bit," she says with anger rising in her voice. "I have nothing to be embarrassed of nor do I have anything to hide, so I will kindly ask you t-"
Zoë appears suddenly before them, and Artemis immediately closes her mouth. Zoë's eyes light up at the sight of her mistress. "Artemis," she begins, the spots Apollo and quickly starts over, voice taking on a formal tone. "My lady, we have been searching for you."
Artemis tries to hide a smile, but her eyes light up and she knows it, and she also knows that Apollo can see it. She still attempts to hide it though. She guesters to her brother, voice softening substantially as she speaks to the girl. "Zoë, my dear, this is my brother Apollo. Apollo, my finest lieutenant, Zoë Nightshade."
Zoë's dark eyes widen, and she goes into a deep curtsy. "I apologize for interrupting your conversation, Lord Apollo. It is an honor to be your acquaintance."
Artemis scoffs. "No need to be so faltering, he isn't much."
Apollo shoots her a scandalized look. "Actually, I like it," he says, steeping forwards to look at Zoë, eyes roaming her in a way that makes Artemis want to protectively step in front of her and slap her brother in the face. "So this is the girl my sister's cold heart has expanded so much for?" he muses, and Artemis can see Zoë flush, she narrows her eyes. "She seems quiet nice, I approve."
"Apollo," Artemis warns stepping forwards, but her brother cuts her off with a wave of his hand.
"No need to worry, she's all yours," he says, moving to stand beside the Goddess again. "I think this calls for a poem," Apollo pauses, placing one hand on his chest and raising the other in a dramatic manner. "Oh, how love is like a-"
"Apollo!" Artemis snaps again, this time effectively cutting her brother off. "I don't think either of us would like a poem." She turns to Zoë. "You may return to camp. Inform the other girls about my whereabouts, we shan't be but a minute more. We can talk when I get back."
Zoë -who looks surprised, and embarrassed, and somewhat scandalized- nods profusely. "Yes, my lady," she says, then turns and quickly walks away.
Apollo turns to her after Artemis has disappeared, raising a brow. "Nothing that surpasses friendship?" he questions, mockingly repeating her words.
Artemis is still watching the spot where Zoë had just vacated. She almost denies it once more, almost begins their struggle again, but instead pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs. "You mustn't tell a soul," she commands in a small voice.
Apollo isn't listening. "I can't believe my sister has finally found love. I knew that whole maiden thing was crap. I must say, it isn't unexpected. Zoë seems cool though, cute too-"
Artemis looks at him. "You mustn't tell anyone," she says firmly.
"Why not?" he asks, then his voices raised with an excited gasp. "You are embarrassed, aren't you? You've got nothing to worry about, everyone will be so happy for y-"
She cuts him off again, voice low. "I am not so much embarrassed as I am afraid," she says through her teeth, hand gripping at Apollo's arm, pulling him down so they are at eye level. She speaks quickly. "I love Zoë more then anything in the universe, and I would love to be able to show people that. But I have many enemies. If anybody were to think that they could get to me through Zoë," she stops, teeth clenching, grip tightening, fist squeezing shut. "If anything were to happen to her, I couldn't live with myself."
Apollo's eyes soften in understanding. "You're able to protect her. We could protect her, nothing would happen."
Artemis releases him. "Our family doesn't exactly have a good history with things like that," she deadpanned.
Her brother rubbed that back of his neck. "You've got a point."
She looked him in the eye. "You must promise not to ever tell anybody about my feelings for Zoë or our relationship together, understand?"
"You. Must. Promise," the goddess says through her teeth, tone leaving no room for argument.
"Swear," she commands.
Apollo nods sincerely. "I swear."
Artemis allows herself to relax then, smiling slightly. She reaches forward to pull Apollo into a rare hug. "Thank you, brother."
He nods. "Anytime, sis."
She pulls away then, glancing up to the sky. "You best be going. I must return to my Hunters, and the sun should be rising soon."
Apollo wiggles his eyebrows. "You mean, return to Zoë," he teases.
"Apollo," she warns.
He held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay," he says "You're right, I'll go." He moves to leave, then paused and turned back to his sister. "I hope that you two are happy."
Artemis smiles. "We are."
Apollo nods, and with that, he is gone. Artemis turns and walks quickly back to camp, nodding at her Hunters when she arrives before retiring into her tent. Zoë is waiting for her.
"I apologize for my brother, he's not quite the subtle person, nor is he accustom to anything occurring in my love life," Artemis apologizes, coming to lay next to where Zoë is sitting on the bed, who immediately lays down down beside her, snuggling up to her one side and resting her head on the goddess's shoulder.
"He does seem quite the charmer," Zoë quips.
Artemis raises a brow. "Why, Miss. Nightshade, was that sarcasm I hear?"
"I believe so, my lady."
"Well, maybe my brother did rub off on you," she comments.
Zoë's nose wrinkles. "Gosh, I do hope not," she says, and Artemis looks at her. "No offense, but he is, well, something else, it seems. Just not like myself."
Artemis nods in agreement. "Yes, not like you at all, my dear," she says. "Maybe that's why I like you so much," she muses.
Zoë relaxes further against her. "Yes," she yawns. "Maybe."
"I do apologize, though, if he made you uncomfortable," Artemis says.
"It's quite alright, Artemis," Zoë tells her. "I suppose it was about time I met him."
"Yes, he seems to like you."
Zoë perks up slightly at this. It surprises Artemis, because she has never been one to seek any praise but her own. "Really?"
Artemis nods. "Well, I love you, so he must like you."
Zoë smiles lazily, and Artemis can tell that she is drifting off, it is late -so late that it's early- after all. She pulls the blankets over them and snuffs out the candle just as Zoë murmurs, "I love you too."
She doesn't remember much about the summers. Or the springs, or even some of the falls for that matter.
Artemis can recall laughing in the wind, and the carefree look of Zoë's face that is so rarely there. She remembers sun through her lover's dark hair, and the joy of an unnaturally spontaneous midday swim. She sees the changing of the leaves, and watches as the flowers grow around them. Time moves so very fast for her, for she has so much of it, but she tries to remember as much as she can.
Many of her Hunters are still somewhat human, and the concept of time a mystery to the young ones. They don't understand living forever, still watching the world around them with wide eyes, what they don't realize is that they are forgetting.
Artemis tries to remember, so hard she tries, for Zoë. She does not wish to forget anything with Zoë. She wants to remember every moment spent together. Every second by her side, in her presence, with her love. She wants to have it all with her forever.
She doesn't know why she remembers all of their winters so well, maybe it's because now she has something worth remembering.
Crackling late night campfires, and declarations of love. Crisp smells of the air and the blooming nightshade -a deep purple flower that Zoë takes as her namesake after Artemis describes it as beautiful and dangerous, just like her.
It's a wonderful feeling, having someone you love at your side.
Artemis can tell that Thalia Grace makes Zoë angry beyond belief.
"I just don't understand," Zoë exclaims as she paces back and forth. "Why did she not wish to join us?"
"Do not take it as a reflection upon yourself, my dear," Artemis says from her cross-legged perch on a deer hide. "I suppose she just did not wish to be a Huntress."
"But why not?" Zoë wonders, still pacing.
Artemis watches her, head tilted to the side. "It seems to me," she begins, "that she had things she was not willing to leave behind."
Zoë scowls. "That boy, you mean," she says with distaste.
"Yes, the boy," says Artemis. "And possibly the young girl as well."
"I told her that he will betray her, and I still believe so. She is being foolish," Zoë states, pausing to look at Artemis with a hand on her hip.
Artemis considers this. "Imagine if I were, gods forbid, a man. A mortal man. Would you give me up to join the hunt?"
Zoë raises a brow, thinking about this for a moment. "I do not believe I would love thee as much if thou were a human man."
"Just consider it, Zoë."
"I suppose I can understand where thou art coming from," she admits with a sigh.
"And what do you mean you wouldn't love me?" Artemis's tone is teasing.
Zoë rolls her eyes. "But I still do believe that that girl is making a mistake."
Artemis nods. "I believe so as well."
With an exhale, Zoë came to sit next to Artemis infront of the fire. "Maybe after he betrays her she will come back," she muses.
Artemis purses her lips. "Yes. Maybe so."
Zoë Nightshade has quite a beautiful laugh, or at least Artemis believes so. And she thinks that anyone else who would be lucky enough to hear it would think that same.
The thing is though, that Zoë doesn't laugh often, hardly at all actually, and the sound is so rare that it takes Artemis a moment to process it the first time she hears it.
She can't remember the exact moment -but it was probably something embarrassing on her part, because Zoë always seems to enjoy those moments- but she remembers the laugh. It's only a quick chuckle, but the sound it so pure and delightful, like the ringing of bells or the twinkling of wind chimes.
Artemis freezes at the sound. And she smiles, and she turns to Zoë with such a grin that the other girl tilts her head to the side in question.
"What?" she wonders.
Artemis's smile widens. "Nothing," she breaths, and it's almost wistful in it's roots. "Just, you're laughing."
And Zoë smiles, fingers going to touch her lip softly. "Yes. I suppose I am."
"I like it," Artemis tells her with a grin, moving closer.
Zoë raises a brow, wrapping her arms around the other girl. "Do you, my lady?"
She nods, leaning forwards quickly to peck Zoë on the nose, causing her to giggle again. A warm feeling grows in her stomach, happiness, she realizes, this is what happiness feels like. And it feels good. Artemis's grin widens. "Yes, my brave one. Yes."
It is winter when she comes to her, and it's winter when she leaves. They've had decades together. They've had centuries, millennia, and yet she still feels as if it isn't nearly long enough. She will live forever, and Zoë was suppose to live forever with her.
Artemis knows the moment her father hits her away that Zoë is -for lack of a better word- a goner. She can feel it somewhere inside of her. It's a snap, a break down deep in her soul, and it hurts like hell.
Foolish girl, she thinks, because Zoë has always been so brave. Stupidly, dangerously brave. And loyal, and she couldn't have just let Artemis take care of herself because that's isn't who she is. Because she probably knew that the goddess wasn't actually hurt, yet she wouldn't take that chance for even a moment. It's stupidly brave. And Artemis loves her for it. And Artemis is going to lose her for it.
"The wound is poisoned," she tells them in sorrow. She had immediately rushed to her lieutenant's side, where she is now, face grief-stricken. There is a buzzing in her ears, and she can hardly hear herself speaking.
"Come. We must get Zoë away from here," she demands, trying to hide the desperation from her voice. She leans protectively over Zoë, and she tries to remain cool and collected -like the goddess she is- as she gets then away to safely, but she is only thinking one thing. Save her, save her, save her.
Her voice shakes as she orders them into the silver chariot, and Artemis hopes desperately that it isn't actually as prominent as she hears, and that the half-bloods can't tell how much she is hurting. Zoë cannot see the stars. She must help her to see the stars.
Once they are far enough away to be safe, Artemis lands the chariot and ushers everybody out. She picks Zoë up with ease -cradling the taller girl in her arms in a somewhat awkward manner- and moves away. She clutches Zoë to her chest, savoring the contact, before reluctantly setting her down.
Artemis watches her intently, with sad eyes, the sound of her heart pounding painfully in her ears. "Zoë," she whispers, lips at her lieutenant's ear so nobody else can hear. "Zoë, my love, hang on, please."
The daughter of Zeus is by her side, brows furrowed with worry. "What can we do for her?"
Artemis doesn't answer, not because she can't, but because she fears to say what she does not want to be true, I don't know. She swallows. "Help me to bind her wounds."
The two other half-bloods join them as her and Thalia wrap Zoë. Artemis can see that her Huntress is fading, she can tell by the way Zoë's body shivers and her eyes darken. "Can't you heal her with magic?" the boy asks. "I mean...you're a goddess."
Artemis tries to chuckle bitterly, but she has to stop herself in fear that it will come out as a sob. "Life is a fragile thing, Percy," she tells him. "If the Fates will the string to be cut, there is little I can do. But I can try." She reaches to touch her lover, but Zoë catches her wrist in a firm grip, sending a tingle up Artemis's arms.
The two exchange a look, and Zoë's dark eyes are sad. I'm sorry, they say, I love you. Artemis makes an almost unnoticeable shake of her head -but of course Zoë can see it- and sets her jaw. Don't you dare die on me, her silver eyes say, don't you dare.
There is something else though. Acceptance. Understanding. Goodbye.
"Have I...served thee well?" Zoë asks, and her voice is almost unbearably weak.
Artemis's heart shatters. "With great honour," she whispers. "The finest of my attendants." She hopes Zoë can hear the underlying meaning in her words. But she shouldn't be worried, Zoë has always understood her.
Her face relaxes. "Rest. At last."
"I can try to heal the poison, my brave one," she says, almost begging. Zoë blinked slowly and said nothing, but Artemis heard it loud and clear. No, it's okay. I am ready.
Artemis closes her eyes with a shuddering breath, holding Zoë's hand tightly in hers. She lifted up Zoë's hand, pressing her lips to the back of it and holding them there and she Zoë speaks to Thalia. The goddess continues to breath deeply, trying to contain herself. She can't do this, she's not ready. Bile rises in the goddess's throat. She can feel the pounding of her heart in her chest, the churning of vomit in her stomach, the clutching grip and sorrow and fear holding her tightly. She can't do this.
A sob catches itself in her throat, and she is shaking, the hands holding Zoë vibrate violently, causing the dying Huntress to shake as well. Don't take her, she pleads, Don't take her away from me. Please, I'm ready ready. Don't take her, dont leave me alone.
A fearful shudder runs through Zoë, and grief's hand squeezes her tighter. Artemis pulls away.
"Stars," she whispers. "I can see the stars again, my lady."
Artemis tries to stop her body from shaking. She can't catch the tear before it escapes, running down her cheek. She prays her voice doesn't crack, pray they cannot hear the shaking. "Yes, my brave one." I love you. "They are beautiful tonight."
It hurts Artemis more then she could ever imagine -so much that her silver aura flashes with sorrow and rage all around her- and as Zoë takes her last breath, Artemis wishes that she could take hers as well. She would give up her immortality just to go with Zoë into the afterlife. She would face her uncle, take her chance with tartarus, just to be with her love forever.
Artemis feels frozen with unimaginable pain. She cups her hand above Zoë's mouth. "Ύπνου, και την αγάπη μου." Sleep well, my love.
There is an exhale of silver mist from Zoë's mouth, and Artemis watches in silence as the body of her love disappears into the night. Straightening, she releases the wisp into the sky with a blessing. She can hear the half-bloods gasp, but she doesn't take her eyes off of the outline of her Huntress in the stars.
It's selfish really, to put her up into the sky like that. But Zoë always liked the stars, was always her happiest under the stars, and this way Artemis will never be able to forget. She does not want to forget. Never will she forget Zoë. Never.
She would give up everything -everything, she would give it all- just to be with Zoë. Everything for five more minutes alone by her side, for four more midday hunts, three more nights spent sleeping in her arms, two more hugs, one more kiss -anything and everything for a kiss. For one more winter spent together. More time, she just needs more time. They've had so much time but she wants - needs, she needs- more. She's never needed anything like she needs Zoë Nightshade. It's painful and desperate and it consumes her.
Uncurling her fist, Artemis glances down at her hand. There is a necklace resting in her palm, with two charms on it. A crescent moon, and a sliver star.
In all her years, she never really understood love. Not until Zoë. And she never understood the pain of true heartbreak until now.
Artemis used to love winter, but she just finds it much too cold after that.