Ara found her after. She always found her, no matter where Nira fled, no matter where she tried to hide. And she always did try. Not out of fear. Out of shame. Shame that while Ara matched her in every way in the arena, sister-strong and glorious at her side, she could never match Ara in this other game their masters played with them. Never could she be as beautiful, as seductive, as carefree and powerful as Ara was, when ugly hands were laid on her in false intimacy. That strength, she did not share.
She heard the light pad of feet behind her as she refilled the bucket for the third time. Ara's. No other feet sounded so clear and familiar in her memory. But she ignored them, ignored her, instead focusing on the blood between her legs, focusing on wiping it clean, on easing with cool water the burning there.
Then there were arms around her shoulders, warm and bronze and strong, and a warm chest at her back, a fierce heart beating proudly against her spine, and she couldn't help but ease back against it, against her. Ara-love. Sister-soul. And though her hands did not stop, though the water grew steadily redder, she rested her head back against her lover's shoulder and cried, hot and proud and broken.
"Nira-nai," Ara whispered, gentle and sure. "Nira-nai, sister-soul. Let me help. Let me see." And she couldn't refuse, could never refuse. She could refuse no-one, in this world, but never, never Ara.
"I'm sorry," she said, blankly, as Ara's hands slipped over hers, threading through them, strong and soothing as they lent power to hers, cleaning and caring, healing, taking away the memories of those other hands, other touches. "I'm sorry, Ara-love."
"Don't," Ara whispered, cheek resting against Nira's, tears mingling hot and free between them, love and pain and pride. "Don't, Nira-nai. Nothing to be sorry for. Nothing at all. Sister-soul, my love." Her legs wrapped under and around Nira's, becoming a cushion, and her hands held and caressed, stroking and easing away the pain. "Not alone, Nira-nai. Not alone. Why we have strength, why we are goddesses. Me and you. Together. Sister-soul, sharing all. Sharing strength." She turned her head, nuzzling against Nira's cheek, crying and smiling and free. "Let me share with you? Give you all, give you everything. Nira-nai, my love."
And Nira turned in her grasp, feeling their hands slip out of her, uncaring as she found Ara's mouth with her own, tasted salt and blood, tears and pain, and understood that it was love. Pain shared, strength shared, and what she had she gave without thought, knowing Ara would give back all and everything in turn.
"Love you, Ara-love," she whispered, voice crumbled and white.
"Always, Nira-nai," Ara answered. "Always, my love."