"I do not like what you seem to have become."
It is three months after the events everyone knows about. Three months for stories to spread from mouth to ear, from ship to ship, from dock to agora. Three months to catch up on twenty years. Three months to begin to undo layer on layer of miasma. To learn the names of the dead, and how they died.
The things Odysseus has always told her that no one else will. (Not father, not brothers, not suitors in their numbers.)
Three months is long enough to be past the first flush - and second, and third, and tenth - of reunion, no matter how pleasant. (Pleasant is too weak a word.) Long enough for father to learn something of son, and son to realise father is a living, too-flawed man. Long enough for edge to rub on edge, and raw spots to grow, and her to begin flinching when he makes some decision. Forgetting there are twenty years he knows almost nothing of here in Ithaka.
Long enough past the touch of gleaming-eyed Athena and the fierce emotions of men to find themselves perpetually busy, always in a crowd of servants and attendants and petitioners, never alone except when in bed. (And that time all too short for more than a little pleasure and a little sleep.)
Three months is long enough that they are finally beginning to weave new threads into place. He need not be up at dawn and rebuilding his kingdom until late at night. Her household is running smoothly again (the new servants trained, the stores replenished enough).
And so, there is finally time to talk about the relentless truth. "We should talk." she says, her voice careful but direct, because she knows exactly what he's like. How he'll twist away from anything less clear that he's not ready for.
He turns, propping himself up on one elbow, looking at her in the light of the moon. His hand lifts to touch her skin, and she deliberately moves it away. "Neither your tricks nor your distractions, please" she says, crisply.
The room is entirely quiet for a stretch of minutes. She does not speak, and he does not either. She just waits. She is excellent at waiting, and she has decades of practice. He spent his war ever-changing, ever-turning, ever-shifting. It will not move her.
"Do you want me to apologise again?"
That deserves silence. She has heard his stories, both in that first flood of reunion when he wanted her compassion and her understanding and her comfort and in the later slower tales, when he told her more detail. It is pointless to resent Circe or Calypso or any other woman who found him desireable (as pointless as it is to resent Menelaus or Agamemnon for wanting his wit and his hand in war) and she will not allow herself to be that small or that petty or that limited.
A longer stretch, this time. Long enough she can see the stars shift through the window, hear the sounds of the birds in the world beyond their walls change. She needs him to figure this out, without her hinting, without her prompting.
Finally, he pushes himself to sit. "I cannot have a serious conversation with you like this."
"Like what?" she asks, and her voice is mild (but surely he knows better than to trust that mild is all she is.)
"You lying in bed, leading my eye and my hand and my wit to wander."
She snorts. "Try again, my husband. Do remember why you married me." And she stretches out, deliberate and steady, patient in her temptation and patient in her own plotting. Because she knows perfectly well her body still delights him (she is not a stupid woman, and even stupid women notice how a man's body signals its interest). But she also knows he is using it as an excuse. Forgetting that it's her in their bed.
When she looks up next, she realises he's looked away, by sheer force of will, and he is resolutely staring out the window. She stands, then, and finds a loose robe, and comes back to sit on the bed beside him.
"How do we solve this, then?" he asks, finally. And that, at last, is a way forward.
"You feel it too?" she asks.
He nods, just once, the shadow in the moonlight shifting.
"That's something." she says, and just the edge of her frustration and her annoyance come through. "What do you think the problem is?"
"I was gone a long time." he says. Logic, impeccable.
"I can count, yes." she says. "And I had rather less to occupy my days."
He turns then, so he can watch her more carefully. "I am laying out what the problem is." he says, his voice steady. "If you interrupt, it will take longer."
"If I do not interrupt, you may go the wrong direction."
He laughs at that. "I do forget." he says, his voice very fond. "How are you are not like any other woman." He then takes a deep breath. "I did a lot of things when I was gone. And more, since I returned."
She takes some pity on him, then, and says. "It is not Circe I am troubled by." she says. "Nor Calypso. Nor honest lust. Nor even war." He knew this, but she knows he wants reassurance. "It is Iphigenia."
He flinches at that, but she continues on, fiercely. "Iphigenia and your duty to your men and innocent blood on your hands."
"War is hard." he says, but he clearly knows as he says it that that is not what she means.
"You changed." she says, her voice flat and fierce. "You tried not to go, and then you went, and you did things I would never have thought of you."
He looks away again, edging back on the bed, further from her.
"Face it." she says, as clearly as she can. "The man I knew would look it head on."
There's a long silence then, when she is trying to hold onto her composure with nails and teeth, and he sits there, his shoulders tight, his hands fists on his thighs.
"You were alone a long time." she says, finally, more gently. "No one to lean on."
"I was with an army." he says, stiffly.
"Some of that time. It did not do you much good."
He turns back to her, and there's something in his face that makes her sure he's begun to realise. Now that he is no longer scrabbling for survival, no longer twisting in the unknown, no longer battered by the whims of gods or charmed into complacency. No longer just trying to keep one leap away from death and destruction.
"I came home." he says, finally, softly. Uncertainly.
"Most of you did." she says. "Let's see if we can find the rest." It's then that she curls her arms around him, and she takes a deep breath and she guides him through the dark places, the places he made choices of such horror, torn between unfathomable dooms. He cannot go back, cannot unmake them, so she needs him to own them, to understand what he did, and why, and what it means now.
It is dawn when they finish. "A new day." she says. "Make it better than the past years."
He is quiet for a moment, then he says. "I've missed things here, too. Thought I knew them, for all I knew I didn't. Made assumptions."
"You were at war with yourself. Driven onto the rocks." she says. "But if you'd stop meddling in the household for a week or two, I'd be obliged."
He blinks at her for a moment, and then pulls her into his lap, easily (his strength, not at all diminished), and cups her cheek in his broad hand. "You could just ask, kyria."
"You'd have resented it." she points out, "You are not used to sharing. Not bed, not home, not choice." And he grins because she's right, and they both know it.
"What can I do, then?" he asks, more easily.
"Come and watch." she says, after a moment. "Listen. You're the one taught me the power of ears." He nibbles at her ear, then, in punctuation, and she shivers.
That leads to other pleasures in bed, and a late morning. He listens while she solves a problem in the kitchens, and he is silent while she arranges for a coming banquet (for they were both agreed they must demonstrate that peace and possibility are returned to Ithaka), and quiet in an alcove while she bargains with merchants who - since they think her alone - assume she is weak and easily flattered and swayed.
Where she would once have made easy, she holds fast, deftly, without fear and without cruelty. Each time. Every time. She is hard where she was once soft, and she tolerates no foolishness, and she is changed. Like he is. But she has become more than she was, and he has become less.
When the sun begins to set that night, and they are sitting on the terrace by the water, he takes her hand, and says. "Help me become what I should be."
She nods, and she smiles, and she kisses him, with a gentle "I knew you would see."
The next morning, he hears the sound of the shuttle in her loom for the first time since he returned, and he feels the palace settle around him like a sigh of relief. Changeable man, changing again.