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Lily & Ida

Chapter Text

Lily

The darkness overwhelmed me, confusing up with down. The water pounded at me, relentless, until my eyes were filled with it, my mouth the same. I thought the seaweed would claim my legs, coffining me in the apathetic sand. All I could think was: “I want to live” and “I’m the last of my family.”

A suspended moment of guilt took possession of my thoughts. I could vividly imagine my brothers, lost in the war, and my father, dying in my arms before I was whisked away to the enemy’s ship. I couldn’t see my mother’s face really, only a memory cobbled together from photographs of her, since she had died with my birth. I’d never known her scent, her smile, her true self.

The severity of my situation regained my attention, choking the last of the air from my lungs. The current was too strong, too dark, too deep—

From nowhere, strong arms grasped my middle, dragging me through the water. A circular disk of light, the moon I suppose, grew larger, filling my vision. I wanted to help, but my body was too tired. Somehow my rescuer brought me to the surface, sweet air rushing into my chest. I coughed uncontrollably as the strong body swam me to the shore.

We crashed onto the beach, a wave propelling us onto the wet sand. My long skirts stuck to my legs, making it hard to move away from the encroaching water. I felt myself being dragged farther away from the pummeling waves and onto solider ground. I clutched the ground, coughing out water and gasping.

“Are you alright?” a smoky, worried voice asked, slapping the center of my back and hovering by my face.

“Ye—“ I tried to answer, but water stuck up my words and I could only cough.

“Take your time,” my rescuer said, rubbing a circle between my shoulder blades. Gentle hands pulled the hair back from my face, gathering it into a clump at my back. I settled down, allowing the hypnotic movement to slow my heart, to help me focus. Finally, I looked up to see who I had to thank.

In the moonlight, I couldn’t tell much right away. There was short hair, wide shoulders, toned arms, and big hands. And eyes so dark they seemed to be born of the night. They captured my attention for a moment with their intricacy and beauty.

But then I saw the soaked t-shirt sticking to slight curves and realized that a woman had saved me from the waves. She watched me, releasing my hair and moving away to give me some space.

“Thank you,” I said, my voice cracking.

“Of course,” she said, her voice mellow and even. “What happened? I was just taking an evening walk on the beach and saw an arm reaching out of the water. Good thing the moon is so bright tonight. Good thing I was here. What were you doing?”

A sudden realization of what had just happened swept over me. I had been so close to death and this woman had, by some chance, kept me from it. Now, I was here, alone, in enemy lands without any family, without any connections of any kind. But could I tell her the truth: that I had fallen from a wrecked ship, that I was a prisoner of war, that I was her enemy? Was it safe?

I sat firmly on the sand, gathering my knees to my chest, and began to sob uncontrollably. All the loss, all the relief, was too much. My sore shoulders shook despite my effort to still them.

“Oh,” my savior said, coming close once again and gathering me into her arms. “It’s alright. You’re safe. You’re going to be just fine.” She held me close, rocking me and shushing softly in my ear. She pushed my wet hair behind my ears, continuing to speak in a calming tone. Her kindness was unnecessary and it only made me want to cry more.

Gratitude surged in me and I squeaked out another,

“Thank you.”

When I was able to quiet down, she said,

“I’m Ida by the way. What’s your name?”

“Lily.”

“Well, Lily, I think we should get you home. Or to a hospital. Thank the gods for those twelve years of swimming lessons! And thank the gods you’re a slight thing. Otherwise, you might have just drowned on the spot. How do you feel?”

“I don’t think I need a hospital,” I said quickly. “Just some water in my lungs. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re sure?”

Of course I wasn’t sure. I’d just escaped a shipwreck, on which I was a prisoner, and I’d almost drowned. I had nowhere to go, no one to run to… And, yet, I knew that I couldn’t tell Ida.

“I’m sure,” I said.

“Well, at least let me drive you home. My car is just up there, in the lot. It’s a bit of a walk, but—“

“That’s not necessary,” I cut in.

Ida gave me a stern look, her long eyebrows rushing together.

“Of course it’s necessary,” she retorted, steel in her tone. She had the domineering aura of someone who always gave orders and always got her way. There was a nobility in the way she spoke and in the way she carried herself. She stood then, reaching out a hand to help me up. My ribs rebelled, aching in strange places, but I got up, grateful to stand on solid ground.

At her full height, Ida was tall and well-built, only exemplifying a sense of regality. I’d seen good breeding. Hell, I was well-bred. Not that that meant anything now. I met her stubbornness with my own, lifting my chin to appear in control.

“Thank you for your help, but I’ll be fine from here,” I insisted. My voice sounded high and light in comparison to hers. I tried to imbue it with strength nevertheless. She must have sensed it, because she eyed me for a moment.

“Why are you resisting me?” she asked, suspicion lacing her voice. “What are you not telling me?”

I shut my mouth tightly, afraid that something would slip out. Ida kept her gaze hard on me, trying to wear me down. The pounding of the waves in the summer night seemed to echo the pounding of my heart. I waited, fighting the urge to tell her everything.

Before I could answer, there was movement in the water a dozen feet from us and a man rode a wave into the shore. He was coughing as he fell onto the sand. In a flash, I knew that he must be one of the men from the ship I’d been on, most likely a soldier. He would recognize me and take me hostage. I panicked.

“You’re right,” I said, grabbing Ida’s arms to show my urgency. I spoke quickly, my words tumbling out, one on top of another. “I am hiding something from you. I’m the daughter of King Priam of Troy, your sworn enemy. I was on one of your ships returning from the war. I was under guard. I’m a prisoner of war. My entire family is dead now, so I have no one to turn to. And that man over there will definitely take me into custody if he sees me.”

Until now, Ida’s face had been composed, even through the labor of saving me from the waves. But now, shock was written all over her features, overriding her good breeding and meticulous restraint.

“What?” was all she said.

“Please, I must leave. You must help me.”

I wanted to run, but I doubted my legs could get me very far. I’d been exhausted before the ocean swallowed me. Now, I was beyond my wildest imaginations of exhaustion and completely at the mercy of a stranger.

Ida looked down to my hands where they were clasped on her arms. I let her go, wrapping my arms around myself instead. I felt my body beginning to shake.

She watched me, her dark eyes wide and uncertain. The moonlight cut across her face, leaving half in shadow yet accentuating the bold and strikingly beautiful lines of her cheeks and jaw. I could see the calculation in her eyes, the struggle to decide what to do. My shaking worsened, causing my teeth to chatter.

In a flash, Ida was in motion. She jogged a short distance away and picked up a pair of boots that were sitting alone in the sand. Then, she came back to me, putting an arm around my shoulder and leading me away from the soldier. She led me along the beach and then away from it, toward a small parking lot.

I could hardly believe what was happening. This girl, who had just saved me from death, was saving me yet again. Was it illegal to harbor a prisoner of war in Greece? I had no idea. A surge of gratitude and affection for Ida overwhelmed me, leaving behind a pleasant warmth in my chest.

A lone, red Ferrari sat majestically in the cement lot, parked across the lines instead of between them. Ida left me by the passenger side and pulled a key from inside her boot. She opened the car and reached into the back seat. I got in hesitantly, sitting on a towel that she’d thrown on the seat. She threw another towel over me and then got into the driver’s seat. She pulled a phone from her boots before throwing them into the back of the car. She dialed and put the phone to her ear as she started the car.

“E?” she said. “Yes, I know it’s late, but could you make up a guest room? I have a friend coming over.” There was a pause, then, “Yes, she’s a girl. For goodness sake, I—…Yes, yes, of course. Bye.” She hung up and sped away, taking me farther and farther from my home and ever closer to the unknown.

 

XxXxXx

 

Ida

I wanted to ask her a thousand questions. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. Surely, if Father knew what I was doing, he’d be furious. Maybe he’d throw her in jail himself. But she’d looked so helpless and innocent in the moonlight, her body shaking and exhausted. I couldn’t leave her there. Besides, she was so beautiful. I’d always been a sucker for a nice voice and a pretty face.

I drove in silence for a few minutes, my bare feet crunching sand on the gas pedal. My jeans stuck fast to my legs and I longed to be free of them.

But all of this couldn’t distract me from the situation at hand. I thought for a moment longer what to say, and then said,

“I should turn you in, you know.”

I spared a quick look in her direction. Her face was in profile and the moonlight illuminated the lines of her nose, lips, and chin. She had my favorite sort of nose—that small, unassuming type with a subtly stately shape. Her lips were perfectly shaped and expressive. Now they were pressed together, showing her fear, her uncertainty.

“I know,” she said softly.

I let her words float in the air, not marring them with my own. I didn’t know what I should do, but I knew what I wanted. I just wasn’t sure if it was wise to tell her. But I couldn’t stop myself.

“I don’t want to,” I confessed. “I don’t want to turn you in, I mean.”

I thought I heard Lily release a small sigh and fought back a smile.

“So, you’re a princess,” I said. “I don’t think that’s something you should brag about. At least, not around here.”

“You’re right,” she said lightly. “It wasn’t very smart of me.”

“Well, keep it to yourself for a while,” I said. “At least until I get things sorted out.”

There was silence again, drawn out yet amicable. Then, Lily whispered,

“Thank you.”

I felt a light touch on my leg. I looked over and Lily was smiling, tears sparkling in her eyes. I turned back to watch the road, but the image of her gratitude was burned into my brain. I felt myself blushing and hoped she couldn’t see it in the dark.

“You’re welcome,” I answered, my voice sounding gruff. We were silent for the rest of the ride, basking in the moonlight and the buzz of the road beneath us.

Chapter Text

Ida

I paced outside Lily’s door, waiting for any sound inside. I knew it was silly, but I’d woken early, dressed, and gone into town to buy a dress for her. So now I had nothing left to do but wait. She consumed my thoughts and I found it difficult to focus on anything else. This was unusual for me, since I was always so practical and productive.

I kept walking back and forth, trying to figure out how I hadn’t recognized her on the beach. Surely, I must have seen her face before somewhere. Royals cannot escape the press. And, yet, she was a stranger to me. I’d have to ask E about it later. She would know.

As though summoned by my thought, E came around the corner, her musky cologne coming with her. She was a tough, serious woman who’d practically raised me, teaching me everything a woman should know. Growing up without a mother, I’d needed someone like E. So it was with a fond smile that I greeted her.

“Good morning.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, fixing her skirts as she talked to me. “Waiting for her to wake up? That’s a bit telling, don’t you think?”

“I’m just trying to be a good host,” I replied. “Just like you taught me. What are you doing here?”

“My job,” she said with a curt nod. “Besides, I’m just passing through.”

As she went past me, I caught her arm and said,

“E, do you know who our guest is?”

“Of course I do,” she said. “And I think you’ve lost your mind, hiding her here. What are you thinking?”

“E, you haven’t told anyone?”

“I’m not quite so daft as you,” she replied. “I’ve kept it to myself.”

“But how did you know? She had to tell me her name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her photograph anywhere.”

“That’s because you’re too obsessed with your horseback riding and novels. Anyone who pays attention to foreign news has seen her. She’s not too common in the media, likes to keep to herself, but she’s there.”

I shook my head, thinking that it was time for me to start reading the newspaper.

“A heads up,” E said, leaning closer to me as she passed. “I’ve heard that Orestes is coming to pay you a visit today.”

“That damn pussy,” I snarled.

Language,” E scolded. “I’m sure you can handle him. Here’s an idea: why don’t you just tell him you’re not interested? Or just buck up and go through with the whole courting ordeal. Those are your two options, dear.”

“I just cannot tolerate his face,” I said. “Or his conversation. He’s far too weepy and self-absorbed. I think he goes to the therapist too infrequently. Or perhaps too often. I cannot tell which.”

“Either way,” E cut in, “be nice. Let him down easy. His family is important to your father.”

“I know.”

E gave me a light punch on the arm and continued down the hallway, leaving me to alternate between pacing and pressing my ear to Lily’s door.


XxXxXx


Lily

I awoke to a bright morning, the sun’s happy rays seeping into the large room from between the shades. The place felt horribly unfamiliar to me, but I was grateful for a comfortable bed and a dry set of clothes. The night before, E, Ida’s housekeeper, had taken away my wet dress and given me soft pajamas, which were a bit long on me. The woman had muttered something about them being Ida’s and that she was sorry she didn’t have anything more suitable.

My face felt tight and cold, remnants of last night’s crying. With the memory of last night, a new flood of sadness swept over me and the tears returned immediately. I tried to stifle a sob, but it escaped, loud and desperate in the quiet morning air.

A knock at my door startled me and I quickly wiped away the tears on my face as I said,

“Yes?”

“It’s me, Ida,” came a muffled voice from the other side of the door.

“Come in,” I said, gathering the sheets up around me and trying to appear content.

Ida stepped in, a light blue dress folded over her arm. Everything about her reeked of newness: designer pants and button-down shirt pressed within an inch of its life, short hair freshly clipped and product-swept into a sort of perfection, high boots polished and pristine. Her boyish, brown hair flaunted her dark eyes, strong jawline, and almost masculine chin which seemed to lead her movements. She walked straight ahead with a fearsome determination, as though only able to focus on one thing at a time. I thought she belonged on horseback or on a golf course or even at a swanky art gallery opening, but not standing here in my bedroom while I sat in my ruffled state.

“Good morning,” she said, the same coolness in her voice that I’d noticed the night before. Her bronze skin glistened gloriously in the morning light.

“Good morning,” I answered, my voice almost croaking. A bit embarrassed, I cleared my throat. But I saw a light of pity flash in her eyes and I knew she knew that I’d been crying.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked, all politeness. I nodded, not ready to try my voice again. “Good,” she commented.

She took a step closer, watching my face as though to judge my reaction. I pulled the sheets a bit tighter around me and attempted to look more friendly and less like a scared animal.

“You went through quite a lot last night,” she said. “Are you feeling alright? Do you need a doctor or anything?”

I shook my head, saying,

“No, I’m fine.”

She took another step closer and, when I didn’t protest, she moved all the way to the end of the bed, laying out the dress she had. She left it there and stepped back, rubbing the back of her neck as though self-conscious.

“I don’t think I have any clothes that would fit you,” she said, “so I went out and bought you something. I hope it fits. I guessed your size and what you might like. I hope that’s alright.”

The dress was simple, but pretty. It looked like it would be about my size. It was light, perfect for the summer, and it had a tie around the waist. I knew I could make it work.

“It’s lovely,” I said. “And you didn’t have to do that. It’s very sweet of you.”

“It’s no problem,” she said. “It’s the least I could do.”

She looked down at the floor and a silence fell between us. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t seem to make my lips form words.

“You must be hungry,” Ida said. “I figured that you could wash up and get dressed and we could have breakfast. I’ll wait outside the door for you and bring you down to the dining room. I don’t want you wandering alone. You could get lost.”

She said “lost,” but something in her eyes made me think that she meant a different word. A more dangerous word.

“Okay,” I said simply.

She gave a short nod and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.


XxXxXx


Ida

The dining room was all whiteness in the morning light. A place I’d been so many times before seemed to take on a new life with Lily by my side. I suddenly wanted it to be the most beautiful table, the most perfect breakfast, the best experience I could possibly give her. I was relieved to see everything set out on the table, expensive white dishes sitting beside a steaming white teapot. Lily eyed the presentation and her pretty lips pulled into a small smile that reached all the way to her hazel eyes. I couldn’t help smiling myself.

Two settings caddy-cornered one end of the table. I pulled out the closest seat, gesturing for Lily to sit. But she was focused elsewhere.

I followed the line of her gaze and realized that she was staring at a portrait of my father. It was a large painting that took up a quarter of the wall at the other end of the table. I looked back to Lily to see that all the color had drained from her face. Her eyes were round, as though in shock, and she seemed at a loss for words.

“Is everything alright?” I asked.

“Who is that man?” she sputtered, the words coming one at a time from a nearly closed throat.

“That’s my father,” I answered, pride rising unbidden in my tone.

Now she looked at me, her mouth open in disgust.

“Your father?” she spat, the words a bit louder than was necessary.

“Is there a problem?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even. I took a step away from her, watching her carefully.

Lily pointed a long, accusatory finger at the painting. It shook slightly as she said,

“That man, your father, killed my father.” Shit.

“Are you sure?” I asked, hoping to the gods that she was mistaken.

“Do you think I could forget that face?” she asked, her voice rising in pitch as she grew more and more upset. “Do you think that I could forget that moment when the last member of my family was brutally killed before my eyes? I remember every gruesome detail. It haunts me every night, never leaving my thoughts or dreams for even an hour. Of course I’m sure.”

Tears made her eyes glisten and grief somehow made her face more radiant. She seemed at once to be both strong and delicate, both steel and lace, and it made her more attractive than ever. Her small brows drew together and I thought, for a moment, that she might hit me. Not that she could have done much damage. It didn’t frighten me.

Anger rose up in me, overtaking my usual restrain. I curled and uncurled my hands into tight fists, trying to dispel some of my emotions into the painful connection between fingernails and palm.

“This is my fault?” I asked, my words squeezing out between clenched teeth. “This is my fault that my father killed yours in war? I have no control over what my father does and I have no control over who my father is! I cannot help that I was born a Greek and not a Trojan.”

“And I’ve been playing the fool, having breakfast with the enemy!” Lily said, shooting a look of detest at the untouched table settings and speaking more to herself than me. “How could I have let myself do this?”

Then, she turned to me, putting out her wrists as though she expected me to arrest her.

“Take me away,” she demanded. “Lock me up! I owe it to my brothers and my father and my country! I’m a traitor to entertain you in this way. I will have none of it.”

“Do not condemn me to my father’s fate!” I shot back, grasping her proffered wrists and drawing her to me. She looked down to where my hands grasped her wrists and simply breathed, not answering my plea. She seemed surprised, shocked even. She let me hold her a moment longer, and then she gently pulled away. I let her go, taking a few paces from her to clear my head. I held her gaze and continued, a bit softer this time,

“I cannot help what the gods have dealt me, who fate has destined me to be. But I will not see any harm come to you, no matter how much you may hate me. No matter what you say, I cannot hate you. Just don’t blame me for my heritage, for who my father is.”

I looked over my shoulder at her, all alight in the morning sun with her long, brown hair at her back and her pretty face shadowed by sorrow. I could sense the anger rolling off of her and I figured it was best to let her be alone.

Looking away from her, I said,

“I’ll bring you back to your room. I’ll have breakfast sent in to you. My personal housekeeper will see to your needs. I won’t bother you anymore without your consent.”

She didn’t respond, so I looked over and she was seated at the table, her head hung low. I slowly came up behind her, careful not to touch her. I said, gently,

“I’m sorry about your father. And your family.”

She nodded wordlessly, the softest of movements. I thought that maybe she would have breakfast after all when Arbace, my father’s confidant and my tutor, walked in. He must have sensed the atmosphere, because he paused a moment before addressing me. He said,

“I’m sorry, but I have some bad news.”

Already a bit weary of bad news, I asked noncommittally,

“What is it?”

“It’s your father. His ship was wrecked and he hasn’t been found. I fear that he is dead.”

Lily whipped around immediately, her gaze finding my face. I have no idea how I looked. The idea barely penetrated my mind at first. What did it mean?

Then, with a rush of pain, it was all too clear.

I was an orphan, too.

“I’m sorry,” a small voice said and suddenly there was something embracing me. I stepped away, out of the embrace, and held up my hands.

“I know this is a shock,” another voice said.

I don’t much else except that I was running and then I was starting my car and racing down the street, driving toward the beach. I had to be on the beach, by the water, in the sand. That was the place I was most meant to be.

Chapter Text

Ida

I trudged through the wet sand, completely uncaring for the condition of my boots or my clothes. My hair kept flying in my eyes, too short to be held back in any permanent way.

My eyes raked the seas, searching for a sign. For a body, for a ship, for a drifting piece of wood…

I walked to exhaustion, finally falling to my knees in the sand and letting my tears fall into the rushing and receding ocean. It was made of the same sort of water, right? My tears belonged there. I could let them go there.

An image of my father, fuzzy and time-faded, filled my mind’s eye. I’d been young when he left, so my image of him was incomplete, ideal. I’d seen pictures, of course, but they could never seem to replace the imperfect memory I had of him. A strong desire to see him, to be with him, overwhelmed me and I stood up, starting off again down the beach. I let my thoughts pound with the thrum of the waves, repetitive and unchanging.

A figure in the distance broke my reverie. It was lying on the sand and not moving. I ran toward it, my legs aching with overuse, and thought that it might be another survivor from the shipwreck.

As I drew closer, I saw it was a middle-aged man, his face turned away from me. His arms were sprawled out, as though in desperation. I ran faster, falling to my knees once I reached his side.

“Sir,” I said, shaking him. I braced myself, attempting to roll him onto his back. I was rewarded with a groan. “Sir, can you get up?”

The man batted me away with a limp arm before, groggy and weak, he pushed himself up. He wiped the sand from his face and shook some water out of his ear. Then, he turned to me.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“The shores of Crete,” I replied. “Greece.”

“Greece? Crete?” His eyes lit up and there was something familiar about them. He was suddenly filled with energy and he asked,

“Do you know the daughter of the general?”

“Know her?” I answered. “I am she.”

The man smiled wide, coming toward me with such force that he nearly knocked me to the ground. He was kissing my cheek repeatedly, saying, “My girl, my little girl.”

All the anguish, all the grief of the last hour melted away, replaced with an exuberant joy. It flooded me and, giddy with it, I hugged the man, my father, with all the strength I had.

“Father! They thought you were dead! I’m so glad you’re alive!”

Then, suddenly, he pushed me away. He moved away from me with a supernatural alacrity.

“No,” he said. The single word hung in the air between us and confusion fogged my brain.

“What?”

“Get away from me!” he yelled. “I didn’t see you. You didn’t see me. None of this happened! Do not follow me— I forbid it!”

“But, Father, it’s me! What’s going on?”

“Get away!” he repeated and ran off, racing with the desperation of a madman.

I wanted to follow him, but my grief and exhaustion kept my feet in place. I couldn’t think what I had done to elicit such a response.

My feet were leaden as I walked back the way I’d come and drove back to the solitude of my home.

XxxXxx

I was just through the front door, car keys jingling in my hand, when I heard a male voice call,

“Ida?”

I held in a groan. Orestes.

The man stood in the entrance hall, a prim fedora in his hands. He had his fake glasses on today, along with a shirt, tie, sports jacket, and jeans. The pretension of his outfit matched perfectly with the pretentious wallpaper of my foyer. I wanted more than anything to ignore him, but I knew my social obligations required otherwise.

He started toward me, his arms outstretched, but I took a step back, asking,

“How can I help you, Orestes?”

He had enough sense to let his arms drop, all prospects of physical contact abandoned for the moment.

“I just came by to see you. It seems that I can’t go a day without looking upon your beautiful face.”

“Must be torture,” I commented.

“The worst sort,” he replied earnestly. I wanted to puke.

He took a step closer and lowered his eyes in a compassionate gesture.

“I heard the news,” he said. “I’m very sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do to—“

“My father is not dead,” I interjected.

Genuine surprise overtook Orestes’ face and it stopped his words for a moment. Finally, he composed himself and he said,

“Surely you’re delusional. The stress, the emotional stress… You must be in denial.”

“I am no such thing,” I shot back. “I saw him as surely as I see you now. He was washed up on the beach. He survived.”

“Then where is he now?” Orestes asked, suspicion lacing his words.

“He ran from me. I’m sure he’ll turn up soon enough.”

“He ran away from you?” Orestes echoed. “That makes no sense. And it’s rather convenient for your story’s sake. Surely, if he were alive, he’d be here right now, with you.”

“Think what you like,” I said, taking an aggressive step toward him, “but I know what happened.”

He stepped back, then shook his head and seemed to regroup. He reached for my arm and beseechingly said,

“Ida, darling, please don’t be so irrational. I’m here for you. We can grieve together.”

This new level of aggravating behavior was too much, even for my social training. His insolence, in combination with Lily’s rejection, my Father’s death, my Father’s resurrection, and then his strange behavior, caused my blood to boil and I could handle it no longer.

“I’m sorry, but I must go,” I said. “Please see yourself out.” With that, I stormed out of the foyer to the safety of my room.

XxxXxx

Lily

I sat in my room on my bed, knotting the sheets in my hands. My anger toward Ida had dissipated a while ago, replaced by a genuine compassion and something else that I couldn’t quite identify. The one thing I knew was that I’d never felt such a connection with anyone else before. Was it because she had saved me from death? Or because she was still protecting me, keeping me from jail or worse? It seemed crazy to me because I’d only known her for a day. No, less than a day. How could I feel so strongly about someone that I hardly knew?

Guilt played at the edges of my conscience. Ida had just lost her father and I was in here, doing nothing. She probably thought that I was still mad at her. Maybe even that I hated her. But, truthfully, I was grateful and I found hate hard to hold onto, no matter how much I thought that I should. She was the enemy after all. Her people had destroyed my home, my family. I should hate her. How could I have such pleasant feelings toward her? How could I be such a traitor?

And yet…

All I wanted to do was run to her and comfort her in her grief. I’d lost my father less than a week ago. I knew what it felt like. I knew all too well the hole that opened up in my heart and the emptiness that awakened me to tears in the night. I should be with her. I was the one person who could relate, who could understand how she felt. It was my duty to go to her, to help her. She had saved me. It was the least I could do.

I stood from the bed, straightened my dress and hair in the mirror, and went to my door. With a deep breath to gain my courage, I slowly opened the door and ventured out into the hallway.

I walked aimlessly through the lavish house, trying to find someone who could help me. I had wandered into a trophy room of sorts when I saw Ida’s housekeeper.

“Excuse me,” I called. E looked up at me, dark eyes suspicious, and asked,

“What are you doing out here?”

“I’m sorry,” I responded automatically. “I just wanted to find Ida. Could you show me to her room?”

E lifted an eyebrow, suspicion replaced by subtle amusement.

“I can bring you there,” she said. “But you really shouldn’t be wandering around. Ida has explicitly asked to keep you under wraps. She doesn’t want the wrong person to catch sight of you.”

“I understand,” I said.

She looked me up and down, as though judging my character or motives or breeding, and then, finding me passable, nodded, saying,

“Follow me.”

XxxXxx

E knocked on Ida’s door, saying,

“Excuse me, miss. Lily’s here to see you.”

“Let her in,” came the answer from inside.

E gave me a glare, as though to warn me to behave, and then she opened the door. I stepped in and she closed the door behind me.

Ida’s room was functional and serene. It was all blacks and whites, a few smatterings of color taking residence in tastefully hung artwork. A work desk sat by a huge window, its sliding panels leading out onto a balcony. A large, four-poster bed took up the middle of the room and an ornamented wooden wardrobe resided next to the door I’d come in through.

I stood beside the wardrobe and Ida sat cross-legged on the bed, her boots left carelessly on the floor. Small piles of sand surrounded the boots and more sand decorated Ida’s black pants and shirt. Her hair was wind-tousled and imperfect. She was rather dirty but she didn’t seem to notice or care.

She didn’t look at me when I came in. Instead, she whispered,

“Did you come to continue yelling at me?”

“No. I’m here to see if you’re okay. Since your father…”

Ida looked away, out the window, and said,

“Thank you.”

There was a warmth in her voice that gave me courage. I stepped closer to the bed, avoiding her boots and the sand. I stood at the bedpost, holding it for support, and waited for a sign. A moment later, Ida looked at me, her eyes red-rimmed and her face drawn. Her eyes…those dark, seductive eyes seemed to call me to her. There was a depth to her that attracted me more than anything. And there was her palpable pain. That drew me, too.

Slowly, I walked alongside the bed toward her and, when she didn’t pull away, I climbed onto it, watching to be sure that she didn’t object. I edged closer to her, my body feeling small beside hers. She didn’t move, didn’t speak. Even in her sorrow, she was majestic.

I reached up, gently brushing hair from her eyes with my fingers. She tolerated my touch, but didn’t look at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I thought I was saying that I was sorry that she had lost her father, but when I heard myself say the phrase, it sounded more like an apology. I continued to run my fingers through her hair, comforted by the softness of it and by the repetition of the gesture. We were comfortably silent for a long while. I listened to her breathe, the inhalations growing slower the longer I played with her hair. Finally, she said, quietly and without preamble,

“He’s not dead.”

My hand stilled immediately and I said,

“What?”

“My father,” she clarified. “I saw him, on the beach. I went to him. I hugged him. And he kissed me and called me his daughter. It was just like I had imagined it would be. But…”

I was confused. She still seemed to be in a state of grief. If her father truly was alive, then why was she so upset?

“But what?” I pressed. “I don’t understand.”

“But then he suddenly pushed me away. He ran away like a madman and forbade me to follow. He said that we couldn’t see each other anymore. I don’t understand why he’d do that…”

This was puzzling indeed.

“Maybe he’s sick,” I suggested. “Or confused. He did just survive a shipwreck.”

“I don’t know,” Ida said, her voice laced with pain. “I’m so happy that he’s alive, but his rejection…I don’t understand it.”

Now Ida looked up at me, her eyes meeting mine. She seemed to lose her breath at the onset of this connection, because her chest bucked strangely and her eyes widened. Her hand moved, reaching up as though to touch my face, but it didn’t finish its intended movement. Instead, it dropped to her side and she looked away.

“Lily…” she said, and the sound of my name in her voice was enchanting. “I…”

But she couldn’t seem to bring herself to finish the sentence. Giving up on that, she restarted, saying,

“I’m sorry you lost your father.”

The genuine emotion in her voice hit me, bringing tears to my eyes immediately. I didn’t want her to see them, to think that I was weak, so I tried to hold them in.

“It was very kind of you to come here,” she added. “I very much appreciate it.”

Then she took my hand, bringing it to her lips and kissing it. Her lips were so soft and gentle. Her gesture made it even harder to hold in my tears.

“You’re welcome,” I got out. She must have heard something in my voice because she said,

“Oh, no. Have I upset you?”

I shook my head, knowing that if I opened my mouth to answer, I’d start crying in earnest.

And just like she had on the beach, she drew me into her arms. She held me close, rocking me slightly and resting her chin on the top of my head. Here, my tears came slowly, cathartically without all the violence of full-on grief. I felt abundantly safe with her arms around me and my face buried in her shoulder. It was the most natural thing in the world.

I lingered there a moment, soaking in the wonderful feeling, but then I pulled away when a thought popped into my mind.

“I know how I can make you feel better,” I said.

Ida loosened her grip and looked at me, her expression quizzical.

“I’ll go talk to your father,” I said. “If he won’t see you, he’ll see me. I can ask him why he acted that way and get to the bottom of this. I’m sure he’ll return here soon. I’ll ask him then and you won’t have to wonder anymore.”

“No,” Ida answered, shaking her head vigorously. “No, he cannot see you. He’ll lock you up for sure! I can’t let that happen.”

“Ida,” I said, my tone serious, “you can’t hide me forever. This is his house. He’s going to figure it out eventually. I’d rather face him head on than sneak around and get caught.”

She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she ran a finger over the back of my hand, watching the hypnotic movement.

“I’m going with you, though,” she said. “I’m going to wait outside the door while you talk to him. And if anything happens to you, I’ll—“

“You’ll be right there to stop it,” I finished.

“Exactly.”

She continued to run her finger along the back of my hand and I watched, her fingers long and strong. Finally, she said,

“Are you sure you’d do this for me? For… an enemy?”

I nodded, saying,

“Yes, I’m sure.”

With a rush of gratitude or affection, Ida put her hands on either side of my face and leaned my forehead against her own. Her fingertips were buried in my hair, her palms against my cheeks. She was so close to me, the heat of her breath on my lips. I was surprised by her nearness, by her fearlessness in this moment. It seemed as though she was trying to tell me something very profound, very important, using her body instead of her words. I tried to read the book of her actions, tried to decipher her language.

Tendrils of several emotions snaked through my mind at once: fear, guilt, excitement, and something else too fuzzy to distinguish. Gratitude? Infatuation? Could it possibly be? But she was my enemy. Her father had killed mine. How could I feel this way about her? Nevertheless, my heart was beating fast in my chest at her touch.

Before I could fully understand it, a knock came at the door. Ida reluctantly released me and said,

“Yes?”

“Your father has returned,” a voice from the other side of the door announced. “He is in his study.”

Ida looked straight at me, her mood completely changed. Now, something desperate clawed at the edges of her expression. She looked at me as though I could free her from whatever demon haunted her. In my attempt to do so, I said,

“It’s time.”

Chapter Text

Lily

Ida and I stood outside her father’s study. Ida kept shifting from one foot to another, dropping sand onto the otherwise clean floor. She kept taking her hands in and out of her pants pockets, looking at the ground and not at me.

“You should go in,” she said.

I thought the same thing. Better to get it over with, to dispel the fear as quickly as possible, than to wait and let it linger on unnecessarily. I stepped up to the door, lifting my hand to knock. Ida grabbed my other hand, which hung at my side, and gave it a squeeze before quickly releasing it once more. I knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” came a male voice from inside.

“Lily, princess of Troy.”

There was a pause, and then,

“Come in.”

I looked over to Ida, but she was looking away. My heart pounded, loud and relentless, as I entered her father’s study, closing the door between us.

The study smelled of disuse, dust hiding in unseen crevices. Ida’s father, an imposing, broad-shouldered man, sat at a desk at the other side of the room, a bottle of scotch on the desk and a glass in his hand. He took a sip, then took a long moment to look at me, his gaze traveling the full length of me before settling on my face.

Seeing him in person was jarring. For a moment, all I could see was the memory of him shooting my father at point blank range. The room blurred around me and my legs felt unsteady. But then I forced myself to remember Ida pulling me from the waves, saving me from death. It gave me the strength to press on. To do this for her.

“It’s really you,” he said, a note of surprise in his voice. “Has my daughter taken you in like a lost puppy, wet and alone from the wreck? Why weren’t you processed with the other prisoners?”

“Please, sir,” I began, attempting to appear both innocent and strong. “Your daughter has shown great kindness to me. It was she who pulled me from the water’s depths. I surely would have died without her assistance.”

“And she brought you here? Pampered you like the princess you are? Hid you from the others?”

“She gave me boarding for the night, yes,” I answered diplomatically.

“Did she take advantage of you in any way? Take you to bed with her?”

“No, sir,” I said forcefully. “Nothing of the sort. Why would you ask?”

He gave a small chuckle, looking out into the distance for a moment.

“I don’t mean to be crude,” he said. “I just need to know what sort of person she’s become in my absence. I’m glad to hear that she hasn’t fallen into the ways of the common noble. It has been a long time since I’ve guided her, taught her. I’ve been away too long.”

“That is not your fault, sir,” I said as he swirled his scotch in the glass. “If it is any consolation to you, she is one of the best people that I have ever met. She saved my life. I am eternally in her debt.”

He looked at me then, searching my face as though to find a lie.

“I see,” he said. He swallowed the last sip of his scotch and made a noise of contentment before reaching for the bottle and refilling his glass.

“So,” he began, “how do you wish for me to deal with you? Prison? A servant in my house? Ida’s concubine?” At the last suggestion, he raised an eyebrow.

“Do with me as you see fit,” I answered. “I accept your judgment. I’d only ask one thing.”

“And what would that be?” he asked, sincerely interested.

“I want to know why you rejected your daughter, why you refuse to see her.”

At this, he turned away from me. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see the slump of his shoulders that told me that he was upset, that something weighed heavily on him.

He waited before speaking, his voice fragmented slightly when he said,

“I admire your selflessness. But I cannot fulfill your one request.”

I wanted to ask why, but that seemed too much. I decided to take another tact. The idea was risky, and it made something sit uncomfortably in my stomach, but I pressed on.

“Sir,” I began, “you know that my father is dead. That my entire family is gone from this earth. The gods have deigned to bring me here. I see you now as my father, as my blood. I will gladly take up the mantle of Greece, if only to be your daughter. This, above all, would bring me the greatest joy.”

At this, he turned back to me. He studied me again, his dark eyes unwavering. In this solemn, searching moment, he reminded me immensely of Ida.

“You are telling the truth,” he said, astonished. “Then, you shall have what you wish. All that I have is yours. I give you my protection, residence in my house. You will live as you were born, a noblewoman.”

I bowed my head, stunned, and said,

“Thank you, sir. I’m not sure how to fully express my gratitude…”

“No need,” he said, smiling. “Repay me with your contentment.”

At a loss for words, I merely nodded.

“Go,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I have things to attend to.”

I curtsied and left, closing the door behind me.

Ida waited outside, leaning languidly against the wall. At the sight of me, she straightened up and moved toward me.

“Well?” she asked, hope alight in her eyes.

“He has accepted me as his daughter. He’s willing to protect me.”

“That’s wonderful,” Ida said. “And about me?”

I shook my head mournfully.

“He wouldn’t say.”

Ida moved back to the wall, hitting a fist against it.

“Damn,” she whispered.

“He wouldn’t budge on it,” I assured her. “He seemed in his right mind. I just cannot imagine the reason for his actions. I’m sorry, Ida.”

At the sound of her name, she looked at me. The pain in her eyes cut through me. I looked away.

“You did your best,” she said dismissively. She stood up tall, arranging herself into a figure of stoicism. “I’ll call for the tailor and we’ll have you measured. Then, I’ll send someone to get you some clothes and shoes. We can find you another room, if you’d like.”

“I’m happy with what I have,” I said quickly.

Ida tapped a finger against her lips.

“I think I’d rather have you closer to me, farther from the servant’s quarters. I’ll have E get on that. We can see what’s suitable near me.”

“There’s no need to make a fuss,” I said.

“No, there is,” Ida said definitively. “I’ll get in touch with the tailor. I need to take a ride. You’ll be alright on your own for a little while?”

I nodded. Ida walked me back to my room in silence and left me, a pale ghost on the summer wind.


XxxXxx


Ida

The only thing I loved more than my car was my horse.

Riding a horse was always the best combination of exhilarating freedom and the most content companionship. So in the good times, in the stressful times, and the hardest times, I rode my stallion, Oracle.

The air hung heavy, humidity thick with the summer heat. Every movement felt like dragging, like work. But once Oracle and I started moving, it all dissipated around me. The weighty things that were pressing my organs close just a moment before loosened, lightened with our speed. I let the air whip through my hair, urging my horse faster. My problems seemed further away with each minute. For a few minutes, my mind remained completely clear. No thoughts, only sensations.

Then, my thoughts returned, but they were all brightness, happiness. I thought about Lily wearing the dress I’d bought her, the hem floating at her knee, the skirt swirling around her legs. Her smile conquered my will, taking complete control of my mind. I imagined that she smiled often, easily, when things were normal. But things were far from normal now. I could only hope that they’d be normal again soon. And that I’d be there to see it.

A rush of gratitude and admiration flushed my cheeks as I thought about Lily facing my father for me. Who else would have done something like that? Who else would have cared enough or had the courage? The selflessness?

The repetitive movement of the horse made my thoughts come fast, fluidly. I thought of all the little moments I’d already spent with Lily and how special they felt. I knew, for sure, that I’d never felt about anyone the way I felt about her. I’d only know her for a short time, but I felt such a strong connection to her. She seemed to understand me already. That, I knew, was no small task.

And she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever met.

In that moment of clarity, that slice of sanity, I decided that I would tell Lily how I felt. What did I have to lose? She couldn’t hate me, that was clear. The worst would be for her to feel nothing for me. But I already knew that wasn’t true. It was just a question of magnitude. I could give her time to decide, to figure out her own feelings. The least I could do was be upfront. That was the best way to do anything, after all: head on, straight away, honestly, and clearly.

I’d tell her over dinner. It was set.

Chapter Text

Lily

Thanks to Ida’s arrangements, I had white ballerina flats to wear when she came to get me for dinner. I felt much more civilized after being fussed over, taking a proper bath, and receiving shoes to wear to dinner. The desperation of the night before and the savage risk of the morning seemed far away. I could almost imagine that my life could, for a few minutes, be somewhat normal.

Ida stood at the door, clean and in a different outfit than the last time I’d seen her. She wore dark, tight jeans, a crisp red button down, and knee high black boots. Her hair was perfect again, shining and pin straight.

“You ready?” she asked, offering her arm to me.

I nodded, taking her arm and trying to hide the smile that came unbidden to my face.

“We don’t have to eat in the dining room, if it upsets you,” she said gently, not looking at me when she said it.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I did face the man in person. I think I can handle his portrait.”

“We’ll sit with our backs to it,” she said and I couldn’t tell if she was joking or being serious.

There was silence for a few beats, our footfalls the only sound in the hall. Ida seemed to tense beside me and I knew she was about to say something. When she did, her voice was soft, sincere. She said,

“Thank you, again, for what you did for me. I know that must have been difficult.”

I didn’t answer, only squeezed her arm. I looked up at her face and saw a small smile starting at the corners. It made me want to smile, too.

Everything in me wanted to acknowledge how I felt about her. I wanted to blurt it all out, tell her everything. But I knew that I couldn’t. She was a Greek and her father had killed mine. I couldn’t betray my family by being with her. It was another sacrifice I’d have to make.

And who knew if she wanted to be with me, an orphaned Trojan princess. I was the enemy to her as much as she was the enemy to me. She had already given me so much. I couldn’t be so ungrateful as to push the envelope. I couldn’t ask for more. I wouldn’t.

The encroaching twilight made the dining room look like an entirely different place from this morning. It seemed smaller, more intimate. I realized that Ida hadn’t been joking about sitting with our backs to the portrait because the table settings were arranged for just that.

Ida ushered me to my seat, pulling out the chair for me. I sat down this time. It felt like a re-do of this morning, but a better version.

She sat at the head of the table, looking so princely, so much like she belonged there. Like she’d been born to sit at the head of a grand table. It was refreshing to see her in her element. I drank in the power she emanated, feeling safe and content.

I fingered the expensive china as a servant bustled in, carrying food. A vast range of food appeared before us, a colorful display of artistic culinary prowess. It reminded me of being back home and I felt tears standing in my eyes. I looked down, hoping Ida wouldn’t see. I didn’t dare let them fall.

After a filling dinner, accompanied by enjoyable conversation, Ida offered me her arm again and she led me outside to the gardens. Darkness was just falling in earnest, bugs congregating around our ankles. Lanterns ran the perimeter of the garden, creating a beautiful glow and casting shadows on flower petals. It was immensely romantic.

Ida gestured for me to sit on one of the iron-cast benches in the garden, the leaves of a strong maple overhead. She sat beside me, folding her hands in her lap. The tightness of nerves rolled off her and I wondered what she was planning. I couldn’t hope to believe that she’d say what I wanted her to. And, yet, I wish she wouldn’t, because I only had to turn her down.

I sat quietly beside her, our legs touching by default. I soaked in the beautiful silence of the garden, waiting for Ida to take the plunge.

“Lily, I need to tell you something.”

There she went.

I turned to her, trying to look as open and sympathetic as possible.

“Yes?”

She took a deep breath and let it out, wringing her hands in her lap. Then, she looked at me. Our eyes met and I couldn’t look anywhere else.

“Lily, I… I hope this isn’t too forward, but… I think you are very special and I would love the opportunity to take you out, to have a chance with you. I know that we’ve only just met, and I never do this, but I feel so strongly about you and I just had to do something about it.”

“What?”

The word came without a thought. I covered my mouth quickly with my fingers, as though I could squash it back in.

“Lily, simply…I adore you. I know it’s too soon to say that, but it’s how I sincerely feel.”

Well, there it was. I couldn’t answer immediately, but I knew what I had to say. I wanted to soften the blow, somehow, but in the end, all that came out was,

“But, Ida, your father and mine…”

She let out a loud sigh and I imagined that she was aggravated with my answer.

“Curse the gods,” she muttered.

She took another deep breath, as though steadying herself. I wondered if this was her way of dealing with anger. I could imagine her counting down from ten, releasing her emotions into the summer night air.

“I understand,” she said stiffly. Then, her tone softer, she added, “I just need you to know that I’m still here for you. For anything.”

She reached over and took my hand, squeezing it briefly but firmly before releasing it once more.

“This garden is as old as I am,” she said, shifting the mood with her reminiscent, confiding tone. “I have so many memories of running away from everything and hiding out here. I’ve read so many books on this bench, under the trees. I love reading outside. Everything always seems more alive, more real, when I’m outside with the wind blowing and the birds chirping.”

Something in my chest ached. Listening to her only made it worse, deeper. With the night around us and beauty rolling from her tongue, I couldn’t help but be completely mesmerized by her.

I wanted to tell her that I wished that I could change fate, that I could transplant us into a different time, into different circumstances. The words pressed from the inside against my tightly closed lips, forcing me to fight my own instincts.

“I have always liked to read, too,” I said, sounding lame even to myself. “It was how I escaped the completely masculine environment I was raised in. All I had were brothers and my father.”

“I wish I had siblings,” Ida said impulsively. Then, thinking better of it, she put a hand on my knee and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to— It’s just that I’ve wanted siblings for so long. It came out without thinking about it.”

“It’s okay,” I said, meaning it. It had been refreshing to hear something so truthful, so deeply rooted that it was habit. “Really, it’s okay.”

Ida looked down at her hand on my knee and, realizing what she’d done, slowly took it away and put it safely in her lap. I missed the warmth of her touch immediately. I bit back a curse, angry again at fate. A chill raced through me, brought on by Ida’s nearness, but she read it as a response to the chilling evening.

“We should get back inside,” Ida said. “You’re cold.”

I nodded, standing. I didn’t know how much longer I could sit beside her in such a romantic setting without imploding.

She stood, draping an arm over my shoulder. Somehow, I slid into place easily beside her, my shoulders just the right height for her arm. I wondered if we were meant to fit together so well as she led me into the warm quiet of the house.


XxxXxx


Ida

I was at the stables just after dawn, hoping an early ride would soothe my nerves and occupy me until Lily awoke. The sun, friendly and pinkish as it drifted through the window, warmed my face as I brushed down Oracle.

I was adjusting the saddle when I heard my name called by a young, male voice. It was too far and distorted to identify it, so I poked my head out of the stall and yelled back,

“Here!”

I went back to adjusting the saddle as heavy boots crunched over hay, moving quickly in my direction. Finally, a figure appeared in the stall door.

“Ida, dear, I have some news from your father.”

The intruder’s identity was too obvious now.

“Good morning, Orestes,” I said begrudgingly. I refused to turn to address him.

“Stop doing your horse thing for a minute and talk with me,” he said. “It’s urgent.”

“I’m sure it is,” I said, my tone bored. “Let me guess: my Father has finally decided to put his foot down and we’re getting married tomorrow.”

“Not exactly,” he said. He stepped into the stall, a rather brave move for him, and he put a hand on my shoulder, turning me to face him. I shrugged off his touch.

“Well, what exactly is it, then?” I demanded.

“Your father has decided that we are to go to my homeland, to Argos. Together. Today. And we’re not coming back. Not ever.”

Rage surged through me and my brain stopped creating coherent thoughts.

What?!?

“He says it’s necessary,” Orestes explained. “He didn’t say why. Honestly, I don’t care much why. This is the greatest thing that could happen. Ah, my love, aren’t you thrilled?”

Thrilled?” I threw back at him. “Have you been listening this whole time? I don’t want to be with you and I most definitely do not want to leave my home. Why would you think I’d want to do that?”

“You’re just nervous,” Orestes insisted. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Argos is a beautiful place. You’ll love it there.”

“I am not ‘just nervous.’ I am very aware of my own wants and feelings. What part of your miniscule brain thinks that I actually want to be with you in any place at any time?”

My voice was loud, threatening to break right out of my throat with its intensity. My entire body felt tight, ready to explode. How could Father do this to me? What was wrong with him? Had he completely lost his mind in the war? Why did he think that this was any sort of solution? Could he really not bear to face me – so much that he had to send me away? Something about the whole situation seemed utterly wrong. I had to get to the bottom of it, once and for all.

I stomped out of the stall, lovelorn Orestes on my heels. I shut Oracle in and marched out of the stables. Orestes was calling after me, asking questions, but I didn’t listen to any of them. I didn’t have any space left in my brain to even acknowledge his presence, much less actually hear whatever nonsense he was spouting. His voice was a pesky mosquito, best ignored.


XxxXxx


I stormed into the house, shouting at the top of my lungs,

“Father! Where are you? I must speak with you!” I knew I was tracking mud in on my boots, but I didn’t stop to do anything about it.

Arbace found me first, his hands raised in a gesture of surrender. I tried to sear him with my glare.

“Where is my father?” I asked him.

“He’s occupied at the moment,” he answered.

“’Occupied,’ my ass!” I shouted back. “Is he in his study?”

“Please, Ida,” Arbace said gently. His patronizing only made me angrier.

“I don’t need your help,” I said defiantly. “I’ll find him myself.”

I started off in the direction of his study. Now I had two men on my tail, both whimpering rather annoyingly.

I opened the door without knocking, entering the room with all guns blazing. My father was indeed there, swirling scotch in a glass. He looked horrendous. Dark circles had taken residence under his eyes, persistent and consuming, and his frame slouched haggardly in the leather chair.

At the sight, most of my anger misted away, leaving me with pity and a small amount of compassion. I tabled my original idea of shouting at him and, instead, turned to close the door quietly. Then, I approached his desk slowly.

“What do you want?” he asked, trying to sound stern but failing miserably and sounding exhausted instead.

“Father, why are you sending me away?”

“I have no choice,” he said.

“That cannot be true,” I replied. “Father, please, I see that you are distressed. What has happened? Let me help you.”

“You cannot help me and I cannot tell you what you ask.”

“Stop being so cryptic,” I said, my words coming out hard in the wave of my anger. I paced the room for a moment, collecting my more intelligent thoughts together. Finally,

I knelt in front of my father’s desk, looking up at him and saying,

“Father, I beg you: do not send me away. My heart and soul are here. Sending me away would be condemning me to the worst sort of fate. Surely, you cannot find it in your heart to go through with this.”

Father let out a long sigh, turning away from me and sipping his drink.

“I’m sorry, my daughter, but this is the way it must be. Maybe, one day, you’ll understand.”

“I cannot understand what you will not tell me!” I shot back, standing.

“I want to tell you more than anything,” he admitted, turning back to me. He looked up at me, tears in his eyes. In that moment, I was overcome with both pity and frustration. The war inside me never seemed to cease these days.

“Then tell me,” I pressed. He shook his head sadly.

“This is your fate and you must bear it. I must bear it. There’s nothing to be done. Your ship is being prepared as we speak. Get your things together. You leave at noon.”

“Father!” I pleaded one last time.

But he turned away from me and I knew that he was immovable.

Chapter Text

Lily

I found Ida in her room, a huge suitcase on her bed. Her door was open, so I walked in. I noticed immediately a rawness in her movements, a harrowed desperation orchestrating each of her gestures. A thousand warning bells went off in my head.

“Going on a trip?” I asked, trying to keep my voice light and friendly.

She didn’t answer, throwing a blouse into the suitcase instead. She didn’t even bother folding it. She ripped another blouse off a hanger in her wardrobe and threw it into her suitcase, too.

“I’m guessing you don’t want to go,” I said.

“I do not,” she said through clenched teeth. She threw another blouse into the suitcase, then stopped and she stared at the half-filled luggage. Her shoulders fell and she let out a loud exhalation.

“Are you okay?” I asked, taking a step closer to her. She shook her head woefully. I took another step towards her and put a hand on her shoulder.

“What happened?”

“My father is sending me away,” she said emotionlessly. “He’s making me go to Argos with Orestes. And I’m not allowed to come back.”

“Why? And you mean Orestes, like the Orestes? The one whose mother killed his father and then his sister killed their mother?”

“Yes, that Orestes. He came here for political asylum a while back. He’s been my suitor for the past year. Needless to say, I despise him.” She sneered at the thought, but then her face relaxed again into sorrow and she said, “As for my father, I have no idea why he’s sending me away. I begged for an explanation but he only said that he couldn’t tell me and that this was my fate. He won’t budge. I have to leave.”

This was far worse than I had expected. A pang of negativity pierced my chest, my stomach slowly knotting itself into something irreparable. I suddenly wanted nothing more than to throw my arms around Ida and hold her close. I wanted to keep her here, with me. It hurt me so much to see her so upset. And what was I going to do without her? I felt a hole starting in my heart and I knew that it would only open wider with time spent away from her.

“There’s no way to avoid this?” I asked softly. She pressed her fingers against her eyes as though to hold in tears.

“No,” she said. I heard the choke in her voice, the barely contained emotions. “I have to do as he says. I really have no choice in the matter. Besides, he’s my father and I have to trust him. He’s the only family I have. I just can’t believe that I have to lose it all. That I have to leave everyone I care for.”

Now she looked at me, her dark eyes glistening with tears. The heartfelt emotion in her gaze went straight to my heart, making the clench there increase even more. Her sadness awoke an instinct in me and I found my hand reaching out to cup the side of her face. I ran my thumb across the skin just under her eye and found it surprisingly soft.

She leaned into my touch, her eyes closing.

My throat closed slightly from the emotions and I knew that I had tears in my eyes, too. Unable to drag any words from my disobedient throat, I stood on tiptoe instead and placed a gentle kiss on Ida’s cheek. I lingered there a moment, so close to her, and took in her scent. She smelled sweetly of the summer wind and cinnamon. I thought I could drown in it, feel safe in it, for the rest of my life.

I reluctantly pulled away, but Ida stayed exactly where she was, as though stunned. Her breaths came shallowly, as though it was physically painful to take a full breath. I took another step away, watching her carefully and unsure what to do. She remained that way for another long minute before she broke out of it, rushing over to the wardrobe and pulling out a bunch of hanging clothes. She carried the bundle over to the bed and unceremoniously dumped it into the suitcase, hangers and all.

“I have to finish packing,” she said. It sounded like a dismissal, so I gave her a nod of understanding and left her.


XxxXxx


Ida

The wind whipped across the pier, pushing my hair into my eyes. It annoyed me to no end.

“We have perfect conditions,” the ship’s captain had said moments ago.

“Only calm seas,” another crewman had noted.

I started wishing for a storm.

Orestes stood next to me on the pier, chattering on inanely. His voice was white noise. Lily stood on the other side of me, her face sorrowful. I wanted to take her hand, but I crossed my arms across my chest instead, digging my fingernails into my biceps to keep from screaming. Our luggage was onboard and the ship was ready to leave. We were only waiting on my father.

“Where’s Idomeneo? Why isn’t he here yet?” Orestes asked, his words finally breaking through to my conscious thought. Of course he’d want my father to hurry up and get here. I gave Orestes a dirty look.

“He does everything in his own time,” I said. Honestly, I’d expected him to be here early, all but physically pushing me onto the boat.

“There he is,” Orestes said, pointing to a figure in the distance.

“Well, I guess it’s time,” I said. “You might as well get aboard.”

“Ladies first,” he said. I didn’t move. I wasn’t stepping off the pier until my father was here to watch me do it. And even then, I would wait until the last possible moment.

We stood in silence until my father was on the pier with us. He looked straight at me, his eyes conveying a strong, weighty emotion that I couldn’t quite identify. We’d been separated too long. That subtle emotional communication that happens between family members and lovers – we didn’t have it. I thought that maybe we would have created it over time, but that dream was shattered now.

Father shook Orestes’ hand and then moved to me, putting his hands on my shoulders.

“May the gods protect you,” he said. “I will miss you, my daughter.”

“Father, don’t make me do this.”

“Give this up,” he replied. “The die is cast. Your lot is decided.”

I looked away from him, anger and sorrow mingling within me. I spoke, evenly yet with sincerity,

“I go, but my heart remains here.”

Orestes looked at me, then at Lily, a smug expression sliding across his face. He gave one more huff of satisfaction, then left to board the ship. I looked once again at my father and said,

“Let me embrace you one more time before I go.”

He hesitated, then nodded, pulling me to him. This felt different from all those other embraces that we’d shared in my childhood, but I couldn’t tell if it was a physical difference or an emotional one. I figured that it was more likely that it was physical because I had changed so much since I’d last hugged him. I’d grown up, become someone while he was away.

I hugged him as tight as I could, but he pulled away. He left me without another word, walking farther down the pier. Now only Lily stood by my side.

She started it. She threw her arms around me, pressing her entire body against me. I reciprocated, my arms around her and my nose buried in her hair. I kissed the top of her head, whispering,

“My Lily, my love, I will miss you deeply.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” she said into my shirt. Her fingers tightened at my sides and my emotions threatened to overwhelm me. I pulled away slightly, letting her keep her hands on my waist and looking down into her eyes.

“I don’t want to leave you,” I told her. “I know my father will take care of you. Promise me you’ll do everything you can to have a safe, happy life.”

“I promise,” she said.

I stepped out of her grasp, knowing that if I stayed any longer, I’d never have the strength to leave. I touched her hair once more and then briskly walked off, boarding the ship.

The moment I took my first step onto the ship, the wind whipped up, pushing my hair into my eyes. I looked up and dark clouds, moving fast, congregated overhead. I heard a crack of thunder in the distance.

“What’s happening?” I yelled over the suddenly strong wind to the ship’s captain.

“Storm,” he answered. “Came out of nowhere.”

I spotted my father racing toward the ship.

“We can’t leave now,” the captain shouted. “We’ll have to wait this out.”

My father stood right beside the ship on the pier. His hands were shaking. He kept looking around him, as though expecting to be attacked. Something was very wrong.

Then there was a high-pitched scream. I turned to see that it had come from Lily. She was standing on the pier, eyes wide and her hand outstretched, pointing at something in the sea beyond the boat. I rushed off the boat to her side.

“What is it?” I asked, putting an arm around her shoulders protectively.

“I saw something in the water. Something big. There’s something in the water!”

“What do you mean? What sort of thing?”

“I’m not sure,” she answered, her voice a bit uneven. “But it was big and not like anything I’ve ever seen. I just saw the end of its tail and a spike of some sort. I didn’t get a good look.”

“Let’s get out of here,” I decided. I started off, walking back to shore, but my father stopped me.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m going home,” I shouted out of anger and out of necessity. “We can’t leave now. We have to wait out the storm. Besides, Lily saw some large beast in the water. I don’t want her anywhere near the sea when there’s a storm and a creature lurking.”

Father opened his mouth, as though to fight me on it, but then he closed his mouth and nodded. Taking Lily’s hand, I took off for the parking lot, thinking only of getting home.

Chapter Text

Lily

I laid on my bed with my eyes closed, listening to the rain pounding on my window and the wind blowing through the tree branches. Ida had run off as soon as we’d returned, supposedly taking care of things. Her father had seemed a bit off-kilter back at the pier. If there was any sort of emergency, I didn’t think that he could really do anything useful.

I kept thinking about the creature that I’d seen in the water. Had I imagined it? Did creatures like that still exist? Would it wreak havoc on the boats, on the town? Scenes from Godzilla flipped through my mind and I almost laughed.

“Lily!”

I shot up to sitting, eyes open immediately. Ida was standing just inside the door. I hadn’t heard her come in.

“Goodness, you made me jump out of my skin!” I said, a little too loudly.

“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just that there’s an emergency. That thing you saw in the water.”

I nodded, fear creeping into my heart.

“Yes?”

“Well, you were right. It’s a huge creature of sorts and it’s come into town. It’s wrecking things, eating people.”

I wrinkled my nose in disgust at the mental picture of a sea monster ripping people apart.

“What are they doing about it?” I asked.

“They have the military on it,” she said noncommittally. I could see that there was something more.

“What is it?” I pressed, feeling a horrid sense of urgency flood over me.

“It’s my father. He said that this is his fault. That Neptune is punishing him.”

“Punishing him?” I repeated. “For what?”

“He wouldn’t say,” she replied. “But he won’t do anything about it. He’s hiding in his study, all huddled up like a scared animal.”

She shook her head, closing the door behind her and moving further into the room.

“Neptune must have sent the storm, too,” she said. “I can’t believe that this has to do with my father. What could he have possibly done? Neptune has no quarrel with our family. Why would he start now?”

She began to pace, hands clasped behind her back. She started thinking aloud, saying,

“It can’t be a coincidence that the storm started just as I was boarding the ship to leave. Maybe this is connected to me somehow. Or maybe it’s only because I’m his daughter and Neptune is punishing him through me. I’m not sure. I feel like I should be able to figure this out. I’m just missing something. If only I could put my finger on it…”

I let her talk, unsure how to help anyway.

Ida paced for a minute more, silent and tapping a finger against her pursed lips. I loved to watch her do this. In this moment, she seemed to lose all self-consciousness. I felt like a voyeur, finally seeing the real Ida: the girl who existed when no one was watching.

Suddenly, she stopped and looked straight at me, saying,

“I have to go fight it.”

Horror stopped my heart for a split second. Then I sputtered,

“What?”

“This monster—it’s sent from Neptune, so it might be indestructible by common means. Maybe it’s something that my father himself has to fight. But he’s in no shape to fight now. Maybe his blood could suffice. I’m his blood, his only blood. I need to go fight the sea monster.”

“No,” I insisted. “That’s insane. You can’t be serious!”

“I am,” she said and I saw her determination in her eyes. She was going to go through with it. My heart sank in my chest, my thoughts darkening. I rushed from the bed to her side, grasping her arm as though I could physically keep her from running into battle.

“You can’t,” I said.

“I must,” she said. “Innocent people shouldn’t have to pay for my father’s mistakes.”

“But you’re an innocent person and so am I. Why must we suffer further for your father’s cause?”

This seemed to register with Ida. She paused, looking out into the middle distance. I waited, hoping that my words had changed her mind. Then, she shook her head and said,

“He was only going to send me away anyway. I don’t have anything to live for if I’m separated from everyone I love. At least I can die for a good cause. At least I can help people in the process.”

“What are you saying?” I implored.

She looked straight at me and muttered the most crushing words possible:

“Lily, without you, without your love, nothing matters to me.”

I felt as though my legs could no longer support me. I leaned against Ida, my head resting on her chest.

“Please don’t die,” I said. It slipped out and I suddenly wished that I could retract it. I don’t know where the words came from or who let them out, but there they were, floating and translucent.

Ida took hold of my shoulders in surprise and held me out in front of her.

“What are you saying?” she said, the words deliberate.

“I can’t hide it anymore,” I continued, the words avalanching out. “I’ve felt so much love and so much guilt and regret and I can’t stand it anymore. I know it’s against my heritage and against my country and against my family, but I have to admit it. I love you, Ida. I have from the moment you saved me from the waves and it’s only grown with time. Please, my darling, for my sake, don’t die. I have lost everyone that I have ever loved. I couldn’t lose you, too. I couldn’t go on.”

Ida just stared, her eyes wider and more intent than I’d ever seen them.

“You’re serious,” she said, amazement ringing in her words.

“Very much so,” I answered.

She shook her head, a smile lighting up her entire face.

“They say that true love can kill,” she said. “Well, they must be mistaken, because I surely would die right now, on the spot! Lily, dear, am I dreaming?”

I lifted a hand to stroke her cheek and answered,

“No, my love, you’re not dreaming.”

Ida just kept watching me, moving one hand to gently touch my neck. Her fingers ghosted up the curve of my skin, settling at the nape of my neck and winding into my hair there. Her other hand fell into the small of my back, gathering me close against her. Carefully, reverently, she drew me to herself and our lips met.


XxxXxx


Ida

Lily tasted like springtime and all the things that I’d ever waited for. Her lips were impossibly soft and she kissed generously, intuitively. It felt as though we’d kissed a thousand times before and had already perfected a synchronous technique. An insatiable need, kept at bay for so long, surged in me but I quelled it, keeping my kiss passionate yet gentle.

We broke apart and, as I gazed into Lily’s face, the light dancing in her eyes nearly blinded me. I smiled wide enough to break my face and pulled her in close, my arms resting comfortably around her waist.

“I love you, Lily,” I whispered in her ear. I kissed her ear, then her hair, and finally her mouth once more.

I pulled away, saying,

“I’m so sorry, but I have to go.”

“Must you?” Lily asked, grasping my arms. I felt the intense insistence in her hands and saw it in the worried pull of her eyebrows.

“Don’t worry,” I said, stroking her cheek. “Venus will surely protect me. How can she not reward our love?”

“But what if you don’t come back?” she asked.

I didn’t answer. Instead, I dropped another kiss on her lips and left before I could change my mind.


XxxXxx


I changed into my worn-in boots, riding jeans, and a t-shirt. Next, I raided my father’s armory, strapping on a Kevlar vest and grabbing one of his outdated swords. I figured that a mythological monster would need a traditional weapon. I felt its weight in my hand, swinging it around a few times before deciding that I was ready.

My Ferrari raced into the middle of town and I parked it arbitrarily, running out when I heard the screams. I ran down the streets, following the sounds of falling buildings and screaming people. I was immediately soaked to the bone from the torrential rain. Thunder roared as I rounded a corner Laundromat and then I saw it.

The sea monster was about 8 or 12 feet high on all fours with a long, whipping tail and vicious spikes running from its head all the way down to the tip of its tail. It was dappled with browns and greens in an uninteresting way and its eyes were jet black pearls in its boxy head. The creature thrashed its spiked tail, crunching through buildings, cars, and innocent bystanders. It bared its needle teeth, a long tongue flicking out occasionally and huge, sopping gills gaping open and closed on either side of its thick neck.

Soldiers surrounded it, shooting all sorts of modern weapons at it to no avail. Just as I’d figured it would be.

I raced toward the fray, my sword swinging. When I reached them, I held up my hands and the soldiers looked at me in surprise.

“Stop shooting for a minute!” I shouted to them. “I want to try something.”

“Are you crazy?” one of them yelled back over the pounding of the rain and the cacophony of screams and destruction.

“This is no place for you,” another added. I ignored them, running straight up to the creature and forcing them to stop shooting with my vicinity.

I struck first, slicing at the creature’s leg with my sword and leaving a deep gash at its ankle. It howled in pain, the sound radiating through the already thick air. The rain was falling harder now, plastering my hair to my head. Thunder clapped overhead and I imagined Neptune huffing in anger.

The monster rounded on me, opening its mouth threateningly and slithering toward me, avoiding its hurt foot.

“Bring it on,” I whispered to it, raising my sword again.

As it ran toward me, I stood my ground. I let it come as close as I dared, and then I moved aside so it would run past me. As it came in range, I stuck the sword right into its open gill, pressing hard so that the cut continued down the monster’s side as it ran. I pushed in harder, letting the creature gut itself with its momentum.

Adrenaline pumped through me, creating a soft glow in my brain and making normal thoughts a bit fuzzy. I felt like I could do anything.

I yelled, taunting the monster. Blood and a sticky, black substance gushed from its side, spilling onto the street. It turned on me fast, catching my arm in its teeth. Pain lanced through my entire body, increasing my bloodlust. The creature stank horribly of seaweed, dead fish, and low tide. It shook its head, trying to thrash me from side to side. I swung my other arm around, burying my sword into its nearby eye. It screamed and released its grip on me. I fell to the pavement, immensely relieved to be free of its teeth.

I got to my feet as quickly as possible, holding my trusty sword in front of me menacingly and expecting an attack. But the creature was splayed out on the concrete, bleeding and gasping. I didn’t wait for it to get up.

I marched up to it, bringing my sword down on its red-stained neck. I kept carving, imagining I was simply sawing a tree trunk, and finally my sword came through the other side. The sea monster’s head rolled the tiniest bit, its tongue permanently tasting the street.

I stood there, staring at my handiwork as the rain poured down my face. A second cloud of adrenaline enveloped me and I could only vaguely hear shouting and cheering through the sound of the slowing rain. Someone was clapping my back, shaking my hand, but I couldn’t register any of it.

My sword bloody and my body covered in monster guts, I ran away from the crowd. As if on autopilot, I returned to my car and jumped in. I threw the sword in the back seat and climbed into the driver’s seat. The leather squished beneath me, but I didn’t care. I started the car and drove home with my one good arm.

Chapter Text

Lily

I sat on the front stoop of Ida’s house, the awning keeping the rain from me. It pounded only a foot away, relentless and cold. I shivered as the wind wildly whipped my hair around me, but I stayed where I was. Ida would come back any minute now. She had to.

Just when my thoughts had traveled to the bleakest place, Ida’s red Ferrari pulled up. I leapt from the stoop, running toward the car.

Ida came out of the car, wet and dirty. Red smeared her one arm and speckled her face. Her hands were covered in blood and a clumpy, dark substance that I couldn’t identify. Before I could begin to worry, I ran to her and threw my arms around her. She pulled me to her with one arm, kissing my wet hair and face. Our lips met next, relief pulsing between us.

Ida stared at me, her face covered in red and black and her expression intense and serious. The combination made her incredibly sexy and dangerous looking all at once. She studied me, as though trying to commit every detail to memory and then she used her good hand to bring me back into a kiss. The intensity of her kiss matched the intensity of the look she’d had a moment before, passion and gratitude flowing from her lips. I simply melted into her attention, feeling higher than I’d ever felt in my entire life. I could almost taste the adrenaline ebbing off her in waves. It must have been contagious, because I felt it flooding my senses, coaxing me into a dreamlike state.

When she let me go, she staggered and almost fell. I caught her shoulders, steadying her.

“Let’s get inside,” I said, offering myself as a crutch. She put her good arm over my shoulders, leaning into me. The rain was slowing around us, falling softly now. The drizzling water was beautiful, shining. I cherished the feeling of Ida’s body against mine and smiled, leading her into the safety of her house.

I laid her out on a couch in the parlor, not caring that I was probably ruining the upholstery for good. Ida sank wearily into the cushions, her head giving up and falling against the armrest.

E rushed in, surveying the scene with abject horror. I appealed to her immediately, saying,

“Please bring me something to clean her wounds.” She nodded and bustled out of the room wordlessly.

I turned my attention back to Ida, thinking that I should start to take some of her clothes off. I started with her boots, reaching through the grime to untie the laces. I pulled hard, wrenching one off with a slurping, suction sound. The other came off in the same manner.

“Look what you’ve gotten yourself into now,” I said amicably. “You just love to find dangerous situations, don’t you?”

Ida gave a small, tired chuckle, her eyes still closed in exhaustion. I smiled to myself, putting her boots off to the side.

I looked and realized that she had a heavy vest of some sort on over her drenched t-shirt. I ran my fingers along it, trying to find how to remove it. I came across Velcro straps on the sides. I pulled the Velcro apart and the vest was ready to be lifted over Ida’s head.

“I need you to sit up,” I said. Ida groaned and slowly pushed herself to a seated position. I gently lifted the vest over her head, lying it down beside her boots. I looked at her, searching for what other sorts of protection she’d strapped on. I didn’t find any.

“You fought a monster in a bulletproof vest and jeans?” I asked incredulously. “What did you use for a weapon? A walking stick?”

“A sword,” Ida answered, her eyes still closed and her head turned sleepily away from me.

“A sword!?” I repeated. “Are you insane? When have you ever used a sword before?”

Ida gave a weak shrug and said,

“It worked.”

E rushed into the room, a basin of water in one arm and the other full with medical supplies.

“What happened?” E asked Ida. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“Damn beast got my arm,” she answered. “Don’t need a hospital. I’ll be fine.”

“You were out fighting that monster?” E nearly yelled. “Ida, you could have died! Actually, you probably should have.”

“Well, I didn’t,” Ida responded, finally opening her eyes and addressing E directly. “And I killed it. What more do you want?”

Now it was my turn to be shocked.

“You killed it!?”

“Why else would I be here?” Ida asked, a shadow of hurt in her tone.

The full meaning of the situation hit me. This girl, this woman, had just slain a sea monster. Single-handedly, I guessed. She really was a hero. Pride and love swelled in my chest and I wanted to jump on her right there and kiss her to death, but I refrained. E was present and Ida was hurt. My silly desires would have to wait.

Instead, I took the things from E and said,

“Thank you.” She must have heard a dismissal in my voice, because she left us alone.

I soaked a towel in the water E had brought and Ida turned to sit on the couch properly. She rolled up the short sleeves on her t-shirt, revealing the full extent of her injury. The red punctures and gashes continued under her shirt, holes in the cotton proving my theory correct.

“I think you’ll have to take that off,” I said softly, unable to keep myself from blushing. I stared down at my hands as I squeezed the water out of the towel.

“Ah, so that’s the sort of girl you are,” she said teasingly. “Well, if you insist.”

I kept my eyes averted as I heard the brush of fabric on skin. I twisted the towel one more time and then I looked up at her.

She sat there nonchalantly in a dark grey sports bra, her strong body on display for me. I tried to slow my heart, but it didn’t work.

I focused on her wounds, which wound all around her arm and kissed the edge of her shoulder. Thankfully, nothing seemed too deep or too serious. I started to wash them out, one by one, my work as gentle as possible. Her blood began to get on my skin, but I found that I didn’t mind. I felt closer to her, somehow, having something that belonged to her on me. Ida sat there, not saying a word, not complaining. Once or twice, she winced slightly, but it was purely reactionary and she didn’t amplify it in any way. I admired her self-control.

After her wounds were clean, I applied hydrogen peroxide to each gash, watching the substance bubble white against her skin. Then, I completed another cleaning with a new towel and applied antibacterial cream. Last, I bandaged each cut and puncture. When I finished, she looked immensely better.

I took another towel and soaked it silently, wringing it out before applying it to her face. Carefully, I wiped the remnants of blood and guts from her face. She cooperated, staying still and quiet throughout the process. A zenlike atmosphere descended over us as I moved onto her other arm, uncovering the olive tone of her skin from under the mire.

When the last patch on her smallest finger was clean, Ida leaned forward toward me. Wordlessly, she took my face in both of her hands, her cold thumbs secure against my jaw. She brought my face to hers and kissed me delicately, as though she was afraid that one of us would break with too much pressure.

“Thank you, my love,” she said.

“Thank you for coming back.”

Ida looked at me and I couldn’t deny the love that I saw in her eyes. It lit brighter and purer than anything I’d ever seen before. The feeling went straight to my heart, fluttering the tissue there. Suddenly, she looked past me and her expression changed completely. Anger and pain replaced love and I turned to see what she was looking at.

Her father was standing in the doorway, his stance stiff and his eyebrows up to his hairline.

“This is who you’ve chosen?” he asked Ida, his tone a bit accusatory.

Ida stood defiantly, her bandages making her look like the warrior she was.

“Yes.”

“A Trojan?”

“I don’t care where she was born,” Ida said, her tone steely. “And I care even less about your war. Don’t impose your prejudices on me. Besides, I just killed a sea monster for you. I think you should be thanking me, not reprimanding me.”

“I heard,” he said.

She reached over for her t-shirt and pulled it on. Then, she stepped past me toward her father, facing him head on. She fixed her dark gaze on him, unmoving, as she asked,

“What the hell is going on, Father? What have you done to cause this insanity? I’ve more than earned the right to know.”

“You’re right,” he said, his tone tired. His shoulders sagged as though the entire world sat on them. “This is it. On my way back from the war, my ship drove into a huge storm. We were all going to die. I called out to Neptune to save us. He struck a deal with me. He would save me if I would sacrifice the first person I met when I landed. How could I know that the first person I’d meet would be you?”

The shock of this revelation swept through the room, as palpable as the wind that had been rushing outside not too long before. A twinge of hatred for Ida’s father bit into my heart and anger rose up in my throat.

“I haven’t had the heart to sacrifice you,” he continued. “I thought that sending you away would appease him. I thought that another god would take your side, protect you from Neptune’s wrath. But he sent the storm and the monster instead. But now it seems that you’ve conquered even that.”

“If he sent that monster, what will he send next?” Ida asked, fear taking control of her expression and anger raising her voice. “What will he do if we continue to delay?”

“I couldn’t say,” Ida’s father answered, his words filled with regret.

Ida let out a long sigh of frustration, burying her fingers in her hair. She started pacing and I started worrying, remembering what she’d decided the last time she’d paced.

“I guess I have a decision to make,” she said.

“You don’t have to decide right now,” I put in.

She looked at me, sorrow weighing heavily in her eyes, and said,

“I’m sorry, darling. I don’t want this any more than you do. But time is a precious commodity and I’m afraid we don’t have too much of it. Neptune’s temper seems unconquerable. I can’t let any more innocent people die.”

“But you’re innocent,” I said, hearing the pleading in my voice and wishing that I didn’t sound so pathetic. But love had a strong hold on my heart and it was calling the shots.

Ida must have heard the desperation in my voice, because she came right over to me, cupping her hand on my face and making soothing, shushing sounds.

“I know, my love,” she said, looking me right in the eye, and suddenly the rest of the world receded into the background. “This isn’t fair. None of it is. But I have to do what’s right, no matter what.”

I reached up, holding onto her wrist, and asked,

“How many times must I almost lose you today?”

“One time more.”

The words crushed me.

Ida kissed my forehead, lingering there a moment, and then she turned to her father.

“Prepare the execution,” she said. “I’m ready to die for the good of my country.”

I stepped away from Ida and turned on her father, courage gathering from some unknown place and propelling me. It was an ungrateful and stupid move, I knew, but I couldn’t stop myself.

“How could you?” I asked him. “How could you be so pitiful that you’d trade your life for another’s? You didn’t know who you would meet, but you knew that they’d be a person. How could you be so selfish?”

“That’s easy for you to say, Princess,” he shot back, spitting out the last word irreverently. “You didn’t have to make the decision. I had a whole ship full of my loyal soldiers: the men I’d fought beside for years. Some of them had saved my life on multiple occasions. How could I let them die in a storm, especially when they were so close to home? Blame the gods, not me. Neptune demanded much and no one else came to help me. I only had one chance to save myself and my soldiers and I took it. Only now that it’s my only child do I regret it.”

“It’s still wrong,” I insisted. “No one life is worth more or less than another.”

“Strange words coming from a noble,” he said. “How can you think so little of me? I have shown you mercy. The least you could do is remain silent. This is none of your business.”

“It became my business when you involved Ida,” I said. Ida placed a hand on my shoulder and said,

“Please, be calm. Let me do this. It’s the right thing to do.”

I was out of words, out of energy. Unsure what else to do, I turned away from Ida’s father and wrapped my arms around her instead. I grabbed the fabric of her t-shirt tight in my fingers as I pressed my nose into the skin of her neck, keeping my tears in with a fierce determination.

Chapter Text

Ida

Neptune’s temple shone gold and blue in the summer sun. The skies were completely clear of the storm, allowing the sun to beat down with the entirety of its late afternoon force. It would have been a cheerful day if I didn’t have to die.

I noticed, with a sneer, that Neptune’s temple had been untouched by the monster’s visit. I walked up the golden stairs, Lily’s hand in mine. She hadn’t let me go since I’d announced that I was going to allow myself to be sacrificed. Her hand pressed mine tightly, her hips bumping against me on a regular basis. She couldn’t seem to get close enough. I enjoyed these last minutes of nearness, wishing that I had more time to be with her, to explore all the parts of my love for her.

A huge, wooden altar waited at the top of the stairs, right between two golden columns. A crowd had already gathered in front of the temple, waiting anxiously at the bottom of the stairs. They were silent, venturing only a whispered conversation occasionally. A general hush fell over the area, strangely quiet after the mayhem of the afternoon. My father stood in the shadows, half hidden behind a column. He held a long, nasty looking knife with a jewel-decorated handle, rubbing his thumb thoughtlessly over a ruby. He wore a long, black cloak ornamented with gold and blue waves. I wore the same black t-shirt and jeans that I’d fought the monster in. Why change when I was just going to be killed anyway?

I stood beside the altar, glaring over at my father. He stepped toward me hesitantly, sadness dominating his features. In that moment, I felt pity for him. This man, his eyes filled with emotion, reminded me of the father I’d known—the father of my childhood. The man who had returned from war was a stranger to me. Now, in these last minutes before my death, I could finally see the man that I’d missed for all those years. Here was the man that I had pined for in those lazy summer afternoons and chilly winter nights.

Warmth filled me, lasting a minute before reality reasserted itself.

I purposefully let go of Lily’s hand and, directing my words at my father, I said,

“Let’s get this over with. I’m ready.”

I turned to kiss Lily one more time, but I didn’t let it last too long. I held her to me for a moment, whispering in her ear,

“I’m sorry.”

Then, I gestured for her to stand away from the altar and I climbed on, lying down on its wide table. The wood was hard and unforgiving under my shoulders, upsetting my newly bandaged wounds. I ignored it, thinking that I was about to be in much more pain anyway. What a waste. My father walked slowly toward me, the knife shaking in his hand.

He stood over me, his figure grim and massive in my vision. He put a hand on my shoulder, saying,

“Goodbye, my daughter. I’m sorry.”

Then, with both hands, he raised the knife above his head and shouted,

“Neptune, be appeased!”

I closed my eyes and heard Lily scream,

“No!”

Suddenly, a weight pressed across my chest, pressing me into the altar. I opened my eyes to see Lily stretched over me.

“No,” she repeated. “Kill me instead! I volunteer myself to Neptune. I will die and Ida can live.”

“You can’t do this,” I said to her, sitting up to get her off of me. To her credit, she fought to stay between me and the knife. “I’m the one who must be sacrificed,” I insisted.

“No, I offer myself as sacrifice!” she shouted.

I looked right into her tear-rimmed, beautiful eyes and pleaded,

“Lily, please. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

She shook her head defiantly, situating herself once again between me and my father’s blade.

“Take me instead,” she said to my father.

“If you kill her,” I said, “then you have to kill me, too. If she dies, we both die.”

“No!” Lily fought back. “I’m doing this alone. Ida must live out her life. She must be happy!”

“I won’t allow it,” I said, raising my voice and giving my father the sternest look I could muster. His knife hung above us, uncertain and tremulous.

Suddenly, a crack of lighting raced across the sky and thunder roared in our ears. Without any warning, a man materialized beside my father. He was tall, impossibly muscular, and wearing a crown of golden seaweed on his head. He was radiantly handsome, ageless, and smelled strongly of the ocean. He had his massive hand around my father’s wrist, which looked frail and tiny in comparison.

“Stay your hand,” the mysterious man said. My father dropped his arms and the man took the knife from him.

My father fell to his knees, whispering,

“Almighty Neptune, we are not worthy.”

Neptune looked down on my father in disgust. Then, he turned to Lily and me, a look of admiration on his face. I put a protective arm around Lily, whose eyes were big with shock, and faced the god head-on.

Neptune turned to the crowd, addressing them in a deep, booming voice.

“No one will die today,” he said. I could feel the relief run through Lily, releasing the tension from every one of her muscles. I planted a kiss of joy on her hair, pulling her to me. Neptune continued, “True love has won out today. I will not allow innocents to die for the greed of a lost man.”

He turned to my father, pointing at him with a thick finger,

“You will pay for this. I will spare your life, but you must give up your rank, your title, your land, everything. You are never to enter the battlefield again. You are to live as a pacifist, stripped of everything you once had. Your entire inheritance and all your belongings are now in the hands of your daughter. You are to move out of your house and live in the town among those who were terrorized by the monster. Your daughter is to be trained as a military leader instead. She has been born for greatness. I know that she will manage your estate with grace and honor. Do all these things or I will come back and I will take your life.”

And as quickly and mysteriously as he’d come, he was gone. Only my father was left, meek and cowering on the ground. The knife fell, clattering and purposeless, to the ground.

I leapt off the altar and helped him up. He stood and looked at me with a weary smile. He weakly took me into an embrace and I hugged him back. Then, I turned to Lily and kissed her as if I’d never kiss her again, all the joy of our new life, of our new possibilities, rushing through me. When we parted, she was smiling crazily. She pulled me in for another kiss, laughing against my mouth. I smiled, too, holding her close against me and never wanting to let her go.


XxxXxx


Lily

I laid in bed that night, the day’s events rushing through my head. I couldn’t seem to believe that it had really happened. Somehow, Ida had cheated death twice, leaving her alive for me to hold and have. We’d escaped with more than I could have ever hoped for.

But, what of the future? What if she only wanted me for a concubine? Or what if she got tired of me? Would all of this been some cruel joke to make me love her more, only to lose her in the most mundane way possible?

Suddenly, the thought of losing her in another way overtook me and the previous happiness fled. She seemed far away in her room. How easily I could lose her…

Panic rose in my chest, urging my heart into an uncomfortable race against no one. I sat up in bed, the night-dark room menacing instead of comforting around me. I wanted to be weak, to run to Ida and curl up in her embrace. I had almost lost her so many times…

I couldn’t decide what to do. The right thing would be to stay in bed and go to sleep. I shouldn’t worry. It was silly. It was something a girl would do. I was a woman, after all, and I’d faced death today. I’d given myself, my very blood, for my true love. Surely I could sleep through the night, alone in bed, and be fine in the morning. I could have faith that everything would be fine. I could banish these fanciful fears.

But I wanted to go to Ida. I wanted to ask her to take me into her bed and hold me close. I wanted to feel her heartbeat against my back, lulling me into peaceful sleep. I wanted to leave this room, to leave this solitude, and never leave her side. Surely, she wouldn’t think less of me because of that.

I pulled aside my covers, stepping out of bed onto the wood floor. My bare feet were soundless in the already soundless night. I crept toward the door, still undecided. I reached it and let my hand rest on the knob, my forehead leaning against the wood. Just as I was about to reprimand myself and go back to bed, the softest of knocks sounded on the door. I jumped away in surprise. Next, there was a soft,

“Lily?”

The voice was unmistakably Ida’s.

“Ida?” I asked anyway.

“Can I come in?”

I opened the door for her.

She looked simultaneously exhausted and wide awake. Her hair was sticking up in the back and her face was drawn, but her eyes were open and alert.

She stepped in, closing the door quietly behind her.

“I can’t sleep,” she said.

“Neither can I,” I replied.

She looked down at her bare feet, large and bronze in the moonlight. It seemed like she wanted to say something, but was too afraid to begin.

She reached out and took my hand, running a thumb over my knuckles. She looked at our joined hands as she said,

“I want to ask you something. You can say no if you want.”

I took a step toward her and my closeness seemed to give her courage. She looked at me, her eyes somehow even darker and more mysterious in the night, and asked,

“Lily, would you come and…sleep with me tonight?”

I must have blushed because she added, quickly,

“Oh, not like that. I mean, just sleep. Sleep beside me.”

I didn’t answer right away, even though I wanted to. For some reason, I didn’t want to seem too eager.

“I wouldn’t ask you to do anything you don’t want to,” she added. “I don’t ever want to pressure you to do anything. If you don’t want to stay with me tonight, I understand.”

I knew that she could pressure me to do anything. She had all the power in this situation. She always had. I could have had no interest in her and she could have forced everything from me. But she never did. I knew her words about not wanting to pressure me were real, and that made me smile.

“It’s not that,” I said carefully. Hope flashed in her eyes. I put my hands on her arms, running my fingers over her biceps. They were the perfect combination of soft skin and hard muscle. I knew that I couldn’t say no to her, but I couldn’t give up this opportunity to ask her for more.

“But why?” I asked. “Why the urgency?”

Ida look a deep breath, leaning into my touch and taking a moment to organize her thoughts.

“I’m afraid,” she said finally.

“You, afraid? You weren’t afraid of anything today. Not a monster, not death, not anything.”

“But I am afraid of losing you,” she admitted. “I know it’s silly, but I have this horrible fear that I’m going to wake up and you’ll be gone. I’ve almost lost you so many times today. I couldn’t bear to lose you now, after I’ve won you back. I just can’t let you out of my sight. I want to sleep with my arms around you so that no one and nothing can take you from me.”

All at once, I was so glad that I had asked because that was easily the most beautiful thing that anyone had ever said to me.

I enveloped her, pressing all of me against her. I breathed her in, finding her usual cinnamon and summer wind scent under all the smells of the day. She twisted her fingers in my hair, pulling my head into the curve of her neck.

“Lily, I love you so much,” she whispered.

“I love you, too.”

Then, after a beat, I said,

“I understand. I want to come with you.”

Without warning, Ida was kissing me, her fingers insistent on my arms. She intensified the kiss, her one hand moving to massage the top of my ear. I pressed in, causing her to take a step backward. Encouraged, I pushed again and she was against the wall. Using her good arm, she flipped me around so that I was against the wall and she was leaning over me. Her hands settled on my hips, keeping me against the wall as she kissed me. My mouth broke away, landing a kiss just below her ear and then again farther down her neck. At this, she took in a breath, leaning her head on the wall above me.

“Lily,” she said, her voice raspy, “I’ll never get to sleep if we go on like this.”

I kissed her chin and smiled. She looked down at me, chuckling almost inaudibly. Her eyes were bright and she couldn’t seem to keep a smile from her face.

She kissed me once more, quickly and casually, and said,

“Let’s go to bed.”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“If I wasn’t injured, I’d pick you up right now and carry you to bed properly,” she said, extending her hand to me.

I flushed at this and took her hand, letting her lead me to her room.

Once inside, we climbed into bed with a strange giddiness. I felt as though I’d conquered the world and I could tell she felt the same. Promise rang in the air, filling me with a golden, inexplicable joy.

I curled into the middle of the bed and she came after me, folding her arms around me. The sheets and the pillow smelled just like her and I loved it. She held me tighter, her lips brushing the nape of my neck and it felt so natural, so calming, that I fell into sleep almost immediately.

Chapter Text

Lily

It was a miracle, waking up beside her. Ida still had her arms around me, her head pressing into my neck. Soft sleeping sounds left her lips, buzzing against my skin. I smiled, realizing that I’d gotten through the night without nightmares or tears. I’d slept soundly for the first time since losing my father. I felt deliciously awake and alert.

I turned in Ida’s arms, bringing us nose to nose. She stirred and I kissed her lightly. Her eyes opened and focused on me. I smiled at her and she kissed me, profusely and full-mouthed. I pulled away.

“Don’t,” I said. “I have morning breath.”

Ida laughed at this and her laughter was a shocking sound. I realized that I hadn’t heard it before. It was deep and hearty, soothing my fears. She leaned over me and kissed me again.

“I’m starving,” she said, rolling out of bed and picking her phone up off the night table. She sent a text, then jumped back into bed.

“Then we should get dressed and have breakfast,” I said.

“Unnecessary,” she said, kissing my cheek gleefully. “It’s on its way here.”

“I see there are some perks to your status,” I said, only half joking. She seemed to catch something in my voice, because she just studied my face, a hesitant look on her features. After a moment, she let it go and changed the mood back to one of cheerfulness.

“We’re having a party in three days,” she said. “A big party with fancy dresses and weird appetizers and everything. You’ll come, right?”

I nodded. As much as I loved parties, I didn’t particularly want to go to this one. I had no idea how Ida’s people would react to me. However, I felt that I couldn’t contradict Ida’s wishes. I knew she was asking out of courtesy. I was sure that I had to go no matter how I felt about it.

“It’ll be fun,” I said, trying to sound sincere. Ida snorted.

Right. It’ll be nothing short of torture, but I know you’ll make it better. We’ll find a way to have some fun.” She winked at me playfully and collapsed into the pillows behind her. “I’m going to go into town today to pick out our outfits,” she said wistfully. “How do you feel about blue?”

“I’m fine with whatever you choose,” I said. “Do you want me to go with you?”

“Normally, I would,” she said. “But I have to do this one on my own. Besides, I think you need some time to yourself. I can’t be taking up all your time. You’ll go crazy for sure.”

I took her hand and said,

“On the contrary. You make me happy, keep me sane. I wouldn’t have dealt with this so well without you.”

Ida shook her head.

“You’ve got it wrong. You’re the one helping me. You’d be fine on your own, I’m sure of it.”

We sat side by side on the bed, reveling in the morning light and in each other’s company. We stayed that way until there was a knock and our breakfast came through the door.


XxxXxx


Ida

Lily and I spent a few quiet days together. We filled them exploring, teaching each other things, and talking. Every hour I spent with her just made me love her more. Every story she told or secret she uncovered made me want to hold her for all eternity. I had never met someone so compatible, so beautiful, so strong, and so wise. She had a radiant, pure heart and a wicked good sense of humor. I couldn’t get enough of her. I spent every waking and sleeping hour with her and it wasn’t enough. I was addicted and I didn’t want to be cured.

She let me take her to bed every night. I don’t know if she felt obligated to or if she worried that I’d get angry if she refused. I told her time and again that she didn’t have to comply, but she did anyway. I made sure to be respectful and caring. She deserved no less. We kissed and slept and sometimes my fingers got lost in her hair, but I never made a more serious move.

On the day of the party, I bothered her while she was getting ready.

“Come in,” she said when I knocked on her door.

She was already in her party clothes, wearing the lace, midnight blue dress that I’d bought her. The hem kissed her leg mid-calf and the transparent lace straps on the pretty v-neck showed off her shoulders and collarbones beautifully. The cut was suggestive but classy, making my heart pound when my eyes wandered over her skin there. Two bows ornamented the front skirt and another sat at the valley of the v-cut on the dress’ back. The dress showed off her figure superbly, reminding me of one morning when she’d stepped out of bed and the sunlight had pierced right through her nightgown, offering me a teasing silhouette.

“You look beautiful,” I said. She blushed, making her even more attractive.

“Thank you,” she said simply.

“Turn around,” I said.

She seemed hesitant, and the tiniest bit confused, but she did as I asked. I reached into the box I had with me and took out a shimmering necklace. Without her seeing, I fastened it around her neck. She turned in surprise and looked up at me, her fingers on the necklace. She rushed over to her mirror, admiring herself with the necklace on.

“Oh, it’s gorgeous!” she said. The silver and blue necklace fitted her and her dress just as I’d hoped.

She ran toward me and kissed me, saying,

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” I said. “It suits you.”

She went back to the mirror, looking at the necklace. I followed her slowly, standing behind her and watching us both in the reflection. There was something in my eyes that I’d never seen before. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it.

“You don’t have to buy me things, you know,” she said.

“I like to,” I said. I took her shoulders and turned her to me, saying the thing that I’d been thinking for days.

“Lily, you know that you don’t have to stay here with me. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. I place no obligation on you, no expectations. You can live your life out in your own place and still remain under my protection. I will always take care of you. You don’t have to repay me in any way. If you don’t want this,” I gestured to the two of us, “then you can tell me. I’d understand.”

Lily’s lips fell into a small frown, her eyebrows pressing together.

“I truly love you,” she said. “I want to be here with you. Please don’t think otherwise.”

The words seemed too good to be true, but I knew that she meant it.

I gathered her to me, smiling into her hair.

“I love you, too.”

I held her a moment before letting her go and saying,

“Well, I should let you finish getting ready. I’ll send my hairdresser to you, since you’re dressed before me.”

“What are you wearing?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I said. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

With a mischievous smile, I left her to wonder.


XxxXxx


Lily

The ballroom teemed with people, jostling and chatting like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. I tucked a piece of hair behind my ear, hoping the movement would calm my pounding heart. The hairdresser had done a beautiful job, curling my hair and pulling it up in an intricate masterpiece. A few loose ends tickled my shoulders.

I searched for Ida among the crowd, walking slowly in my heels. I smiled at anyone who paid me attention but didn’t dare to stop to talk. I’d hoped that Ida would take me to the party herself, but she’d sent me a note to meet her there. I felt safe enough, but I was uncomfortable around all the strangers.

Finally, I saw her. My heart stopped in my chest at the sight of her. She wore a long, black dress with a huge slit up one side that exposed her endless, muscled leg. Black heels added to the effect. The dress fit snugly, the top a crisscross of black straps that wrapped around her neck and waist. Her hair framed her face, straight and severe, amplifying the lines of her cheekbones and the dark beauty of her eyes.

She caught sight of me and came toward me. I stood there, waiting as she wove through the crowd. When she reached me, she slipped an arm around my waist and pulled me to her, leaving a kiss on my cheek and whispering,

“You are beautiful.”

I wanted to say, “You’re stunning,” but the words caught in my throat.

The live band suddenly got louder and a voice, fuzzy through the microphone, announced,

“Welcome everyone! Let’s kick off this celebration right. I’d like to invite the guest of honor to come onto the dance floor with the partner of her choosing.”

Ida’s eyes lit up and she said,

“That’s us.”

She put out her hand and I took it. I felt small and scared as she led me out onto the wood floor in the middle of the room.

A man, decked out in a shimmering purple suit and smiling insanely, stood on the floor already. He glared expectantly at Ida and she stopped in the middle of the dance floor, her hand still in mine. I felt her entire body tense up beside me. I wondered if this was Orestes. He looked me up and down before focusing on our joined hands. The smile on his face disappeared, replaced by a look of angry surprise.

“What are you doing?” he asked Ida, his voice high and strained.

“Give it up, Orestes,” she answered. She turned away from him, drawing me close as though she intended on dancing. Orestes came toward us, putting a hand on Ida’s shoulder and pulling her from me. She turned back in his direction and I could see anger boiling behind her dark eyes. My heart started to race and I could acutely feel the gaze of the party-goers.

“I won’t give it up,” he insisted. “You’re to be my bride and I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Don’t make a scene,” Ida hissed.

“I’ll make any scene I want to,” he shouted. “We’re to be married, Ida!”

“No,” Ida said sternly. “For the last time, I will not marry you. Please, get off the floor and leave me alone.”

“This is all her fault!” Orestes said, pointing at me. “That Trojan whore has bewitched you! Can’t you see that?”

A new level of anger rolled through Ida and she took a deliberate step toward Orestes. They were nose to nose, her lip curling with restrained words.

“How dare you,” she said slowly, her voice aching with barely controlled rage. “She has nothing to do with this. You will apologize.”

“I will NOT,” Orestes spat back, squeaking on the last word. “You will marry me, or I’ll KILL myself. I’ll put a dagger right through my heart!”

He breathed heavily, pressing close to Ida. She didn’t back down, didn’t soften in any way. She stared right into his eyes and said in her dark voice,

“You don’t have the nerve.”

With that, she turned away from him and, in front of everyone, kissed me.

I heard Orestes shriek and I broke the kiss, moving to see him. He stomped off, pushing guests and servants aside. I clutched Ida’s arms, allowing her tall form to protect me.

“He won’t come back,” she said to me. “You’re safe from him. Deep down, he’s a coward.”

I almost pitied Orestes. Then, I remembered that he’d called me a whore and I didn’t feel so bad.

Ida smiled at me and said,

“I think it’s time we danced.”

She pulled me in as the DJ started a slow song. Her body moved hypnotically against mine, rocking me into a sense of complete security. In that moment, all the pressure of the guests, all the anxiety of my arrival in Greece, and all the grief of loss melted away. There was only Ida, only her warmth pressed against me, only our bodies moving with the music, only the promise of a bright and fearless future.

After the song, we vacated the floor to polite applause. Ida was well-liked, that was obvious, but I wasn’t sure how they felt about me. I suppose it didn’t really matter. I knew that I could win them over, eventually.

Ida brought me through the crowd, exchanging a few words with various couples. She always introduced me with pride and not a hint of shame or reluctance. Her strength made my worries dissipate.

After a half hour of useless chatter and too many introductions, Ida leaned down and asked,

“Want to get some air?”

I nodded vigorously. Ida made a hand motion at the servant guarding the door to the gardens and then led me out of the room into the summer night.

Chapter Text

Lily

This night reminded me of the first time we’d come into the garden. The wind was peaceful and the lanterns cast a romantic glow over the place. Ida took me to the bench again, gesturing for me to sit. I did, grateful to be off the heels for a minute. She sat beside me, taking in a deep breath of relief. We were silent together, enjoying the hum of insects and the distant chatter of the party. Ida took my hand, resting it on her knee.

“Last time we were here,” she said softly, “you turned me down. I’m glad that you’ve changed your mind since then.” I wanted to say something, but felt a seriousness fall over us, so I kept silent and let her continue.

“This garden is one of my favorite places in the world,” she admitted. “The thought of leaving it was unbearable. But I realized that the thought of leaving you was even worse. I thought, ‘How could this girl, this person that I barely know, get so deep under my skin?’ And then it hit me: you were no ordinary person. This was no ordinary circumstance. Something extraordinary was happening, had happened. All I had to do was have the courage to take advantage of it. So I told you how I felt over and over again. When you finally accepted me…well, it was the happiest moment of my life.”

At this, she slid from the bench and knelt in front of me, her hands on my knees and her eyes looking right into mine. I held my breath.

“Lily, I know you turned me down last time, but I’m really hoping that you won’t do that this time. I love you immensely. Unlike I’ve ever loved anyone. And I don’t ever want to leave you. I don’t want you to ever leave my side. So, Lily…”

She reached just inside the top of her dress and pulled out a small ring. The diamond captured the low lights around us, amplifying them into something new and brilliant.

“Lily, will you be my wife?”

A thousand emotions typhooned through my body and I started to cry. I leaned forward and kissed Ida, whispering, “Yes” over and over again on her lips, my voice filled with excitement and disbelief. She stood and pulled me up with her, wrapping her arms around me and kissing me passionately.

When she broke away, she said, “Oh, thank the gods.”

She kissed me again, her hands insistent on my back as she pressed me impossibly close.

Then, she was just holding me, rocking me gently. I felt wetness on my shoulder and realized that Ida was crying. A bit in shock, I pulled away from her slightly, letting my hands move up to her jaw. I turned her face toward me, wiping away her tears with my fingers.

“Oh, my love,” I said gently, “I thought I’d never see you cry.”

“Well, I guess there’s an occasion for everything,” she said, laughing through her tears.

I floated through the rest of the night, laughing and drinking and chatting without a care, before finally settling into Ida’s bed.

She seemed insatiable that night, kissing me until I was breathless and had long lost the ability to think clearly. She just kept gathering me closer to herself, her hands insistent on my waist, on my hips, on the small of my back. I found purchase on her body wherever I could, pulling her close to me as I fervently returned her kisses. All the while she watched me intently, searching my eyes for a hint of protest. I gave her none.

She slowed somewhat and her fingers traced the lines of my legs, dipping slightly under my short nightgown, and reverently meandered across my collarbones. Her hands kept exploring, careful and curious. She mapped the inches of my exposed skin first, finding unexpected places to leave the gentle pressure of her lips. Their softness ghosted down my neck, along the rise of my shoulder, against the crook of my knee.

Her dark eyes, half hidden by the equally-dark fringe of hair that fell across them as she leaned over me, were mysterious and exciting. More than a few times, I caught that inexplicable light of love and, other times, I saw some sort of lust cloud them. Either way, the sight made me kiss her again.

Now I was the one who took risks. My fingers pulled at the end of her sleeping shirt, right where it met her shorts, and then journeyed beneath, touching the soft skin of her bare torso. I let my hands drift up and down her back, finding the strong muscles of her shoulders and the toned lines of her sides. She stopped for a moment, looking down at me in shock, and then she smiled. She put her mouth on mine, her tongue playfully grazing my teeth. I kept my hands on her sides, pressing into her.

When she tired, she laid beside me, playing with my hair and kissing my fingers. We admired my ring, which had been Ida’s mother’s and fit on my finger perfectly, and we admired each other long into the night.


XxxXxx


Five Years Later

Ida

I was grateful for the air conditioning in my father’s two-bedroom apartment, the buzz a comforting sound as the summer sun beat against his third story window. I could imagine this place transforming into a hot box, powerful enough to cook eggs on the floor, without the presence of modern technology.

I sat on his worn couch, fighting the urge to pick a scab off my wrist as I listened to the calming rhythm of Lily’s voice. She was filling in my father on our latest activities, sitting beside him on the carpet with our one-year-old Cassie between them. The toddler was smiling and hitting her mother’s leg with her chubby hand. I smiled at the baby, who was looking in my direction, and Lily looked over, too, and I was struck for the thousandth time at how they had the same exact eyes. Cassie let out a little gurgle of a laugh, which only made me smile wider.

“Ah, Ida,” my father started, “I didn’t know you did that anymore. Smile, I mean.”

I shook my head at him, pretending annoyance.

“Well, Grandpa, just because I spend all of my day doing army drills, it doesn’t mean that I no longer have a personality,” I replied, teasing him with his new title. He pretended to hate it, but I knew he secretly loved it.

He scoffed, as I expected he would, and turned back to his granddaughter. He let her hand curl around his finger as he said to her,

“Well, you smile enough to make up for your stoic mother, don’t you?”

I rolled my eyes and Lily smiled at me, a clear and pure happiness shining in her pretty eyes. She reached out to touch my leg, her fingers welcome against the sore muscle of my calf. I half-smiled back at her, grateful to see her adjusting so well to everything. The people loved her, as I knew they would, and even my father harbored a huge affection for her. I really couldn’t think of anything in the world that I could want.

An hour later, I leaned against my Ferrari as I watched Lily buckle Cassie into her carseat in the back. As she struggled with the clasp, she commented for the second time that day,

“You know, this car really isn’t suitable for children.” Her voice was muffled by the sound of the running engine and the blast of the air conditioning, but I could hear the teasing in her tone.

“Hey, if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for the kid,” I answered. “Besides, she needs to start young, riding in style from the ripe old age of one.”

Lily extracted herself from the back, turning to face me instead. She smiled and I knew what she was going to say. As predicted, she began,

“You know, we should look into—“

“No minivans,” I insisted, reaching for her hand and pulling her toward me. “We might as well sign the death sentence to our sexiness if we do that. I refuse.”

“Impossible,” she replied, standing so close that our thighs were touching. She kissed my chin, saying, “You’ll die before you stop being sexy, minivan or otherwise.”

I shook my head, but I smiled at her words, resting my hands on her hips to keep her close.

“You are too good to me,” I said.

“No, you have that backwards,” she replied.

I kissed her, leaning back against my car and thinking that things couldn’t get any better.

I reluctantly pulled away when I heard Cassie making sounds of worry from inside the car. Lily leaned over to peek through the window, her body still in my hands.

“Ah, someone wants to go home,” I said. “But,” I added, my voice lowered, “when we get there, we’ll finish this.” Lily nodded eagerly, saying,

“Thank goodness for E the babysitter.” She kissed me once more and then disentangled herself from my grasp, heading toward the passenger seat. I jogged around the back of the car to get to the driver’s seat, jumping inside and turning to Cassie in the backseat once I was there.

“Alright, kid, you ready to go?”

She just clapped her hands in response and Lily laughed lightly, saying,

“I guess so.”

I put the car into drive before reaching across to take Lily’s hand. Our joined hands rested in her lap and I relished the feeling of her skin against mine. I didn’t think I’d ever grow tired of it.

I glanced up at the rearview mirror to check for traffic and caught sight of my daughter. I smiled, saying,

“Ok, Cassie, we’re going home.”