Daphnae woke up to a pair of amber eyes, but not the ones she had been expecting.
“Chara,” she said her daughter’s name with an urgency she couldn’t quite hide. She drew her pup into her arms and began to purr, both in greeting and assurance. At once, Chara responded with her own purr, and Daphnae’s suddenly panicked maternal instincts were eased somewhat.
Chara was here, safe with her in this inn at Amphipolis. Not with the Huntsman, whose broken body they’d left to rot in a cave when they found it.
“Did you have trouble sleeping, little bird?” she asked, kissing the top of her pup’s head. It was unusual for Chara to wake before her. More unusual, however, was Kassandra’s absence. It wasn’t like her alpha to leave bed without her.
“A little,” came the soft, guilty admittance, which Daphnae soothed away with a stronger purr. “The bed feels too big without Pater.”
“It does,” Daphnae agreed, holding Chara even closer in a futile attempt to make up for Kassandra’s loss. It wasn’t enough, but it would do, for now. She then sought out her alpha’s scent, frowning when she realized how faint it was. “Do you know where your pater went, Chara?”
“I woke up when she was leaving. She told me had to go somewhere for a little while, but she promised me she’ll be back.”
For a little while, Daphnae repeated, but only to herself. “I’ll go find your pater,” she promised Chara, “and I’ll tell her how much you miss her, so she’ll be back sooner.”
Later, Daphnae approached Myrrine while Alexios played a game with Chara. The male alpha, as he tended to, had swept Chara off right after their morning meal. Daphnae appreciated it, certainly if she turned out to be right about Kassandra.
“You know, then,” Myrrine said simply after taking one look at her. The elder omega led her away, to where Chara couldn’t hear them.
“Kassandra is in a rut,” Daphnae stated. “Where is she? Where do I meet her?”
An unattended rutting alpha, even an ordinary one, could be a danger in crowded places like Amphipolis. For an alpha like Kassandra, one likened to gods, the risk was doubly true, perhaps more. The inn was full, the people of Amphipolis still on edge from what the Order had done in Makedonia. It made sense for Kassandra to leave, to wait for Daphnae elsewhere.
Something flashed in Myrrine’s eyes then. Hesitation, a warning.
“You won’t tell me,” Daphnae realized with a growl. “She is my alpha. My mate,” she told the elder omega, making certain the mate mark on her neck was in clear view. “I should be with her.”
“But you were not, many times before, when you should have been,” Myrrine growled right back, also showing her fangs.
That had Daphnae backing down, had her bowing her head in both submission and shame to the elder omega who was the mother of her mate.
Myrrine approved of her, but not so their mating, which she and Kassandra decided on at Lamia. Chara had been their only witness, and it was fitting, it was perfect. But it was not Spartan, Myrrine had said. There was tradition to follow, rites to pass, and ceremonies to be had, but Daphnae couldn’t wait to mate Kassandra, not a moment longer. She was already seven years too late.
The future was largely uncertain. She and Chara were no longer of the Daughters. Sparta was their destination, but it remained to be seen if it would be their new home. What she was sure of, the choice she made and would make again, was Kassandra: her alpha, her love, and now her mate.
Of the many mistakes Daphnae had made, Kassandra wasn’t one. She would prove it to Myrrine, to any who dared to doubt her, until there was no question.
“I’m here now,” she told Myrrine, now meeting the elder omega’s eyes. “Let me be with her, as her mate should be.”
Myrrine’s eyes - amber, like Kassandra’s, like Chara’s - held hers for a moment. Daphnae didn’t look away, didn’t even blink, until it was the elder omega who broke the staredown. Myrrine’s gaze lingered long on the mate mark on her neck, and then, with a sigh, the elder omega relented. “It was not up to me. It never is.” The last of that, Myrrine muttered with bitterness. “Were it so, you and I wouldn’t be arguing, Daphnae. No mother wishes for her child to suffer. Gods know Kassandra doesn’t deserve any more pain.”
“She wants to be alone?” Daphnae asked, frowning when Myrrine nodded. “You don’t know where she is?”
“She’s somewhere in Makedonia. She can’t go far, not in her condition. Where, exactly, I don’t know, but it would be away from people, where she can’t be disturbed for a week.”
“I will find her,” Daphnae declared, waiting to see if Myrrine would challenge her.
The elder omega seemed to have something to say. An explanation, Kassandra’s reasons, perhaps, but instead Myrrine stepped aside and said, “As her mate should.” It was the first time the elder omega had acknowledged their mating so outright and with approval.
“Are you searching for my sister or hunting her?”
Daphnae didn’t turn around to face Alexios. She had sensed the male alpha’s approach, caught his scent and heard his footsteps long before he announced his presence. “This is for the wilds, Alexios. Not Kassandra,” she said of the weapons she had laid out, the same bow and sword she brought to the fight with the Huntsman, though never had a chance to use. “It’s better to have prepared too much than not at all. A painful lesson I’ve had to learn again and again, at great cost.”
“I…you are right,” Alexios mumbled, the harshness in his voice now replaced by sheepishness. “I’m sorry.”
Daphnae nodded, looking at Alexios now. He had warmed up to her considerably after learning that she had been willing to change Daughter law to be with Kassandra. He was even thrilled by their mating, insisting that all of Sparta should celebrate it once they arrived, so it was strange, the way he had confronted her just now.
“Are you here to stop me, Alexios?”
He snorted at the question, made a face. “No. You’re more stubborn than my sister. I didn’t think such a being existed until I met you.”
“Then are you here to tell me what’s going on?” she asked, and she would plead if she had to.
“It would probably not convince you to stay,” Alexios said, mostly to himself.
“It wouldn’t,” Daphnae answered his suspicion with honesty, “but, please, tell me.”
Alexios stared at her, and then looked away. He paced the room, back and forth, until with a sigh, he sat down on the bed. “Ruts are… difficult for Kassandra. Even after you sent her away all those years ago, she only wanted you. She never stopped wanting only you.”
Daphnae’s breath caught. She didn’t know, didn’t even suspect. She assumed that Kassandra spent her ruts with omegas. It was only natural, she had been telling herself, even though she seethed, burned with jealousy and rage at the mere thought of countless omegas touching her mate.
She hated how it thrilled her, how it made her heart flutter, how her omega instincts sang in delight, to know that an alpha like Kassandra loved her so much to suffer rut after rut alone for years.
Stop, she told herself, fought the feeling away. There was no joy to reap from her mate’s pain.
Ruts, unlike heats, were indiscriminate. They happened, they didn’t stop, no matter what. Not even for a broken heart.
“She sought you, every time. Begged for you, tried to go to you. I had to stop her, fight her, break her bones, tie her up like a dog. Like a fucking dog. My own sister.” Alexios shut his eyes, shook his head. “I hated you then. Hated you so much.”
Daphnae let Alexios talk. She hurt Kassandra, she knew, just not how much.
“Then why does she avoid me now?” Daphnae asked when Alexios had calmed down.
“I think she’s afraid.” He hesitated then, considered if he should say more. “She’d say things about you when she’s too starved, too weak to fight me, out of anger, out of pain, words she doesn’t mean, but if you heard them, if you saw her so broken...”
“She is my mate. I would never leave her.”
Alexios, however, was not convinced. “Mate marks last forever, but love doesn’t. All Kassandra and I have to do is look at our parents to know this.”
It wasn’t hard to track Kassandra. Though her mate kept away from the roads, there was a clear trail to follow. Some Spartan soldiers had even picked up on it, believing it to be a massive, rampaging lion that needed to be put down.
“It is no lion,” she told them. “It’s my mate, and you would do well to leave her to me.”
The Spartans, all alphas, raised their chins in challenge. Before Daphnae was subjected to needless alpha posturing, their leader stepped forward. “I know you,” the alpha said, motioning the other alphas to be quiet. “The Eagle-Bearer’s omega.”
The title alone had the rest of the alphas shrinking back, their shoulders lowered while they murmured amongst themselves.
“I was at Amphipolis when you were brought in with her. You’ve healed, and so quickly,” the alpha captain went on, not cowed like her soldiers. “And you’re mates now.” There was a look in the alpha’s eyes, the same sort of surprise and disapproval Myrrine had shown when she first saw their mate marks. “Why is your alpha tearing through Makedonia’s forests?”
“She’s rutting,” Daphnae replied with the truth, and the other alphas cowered further.
Even the alpha captain, who had held her composure until now, had gone wide-eyed at the news. “That certainly explains the felled trees. You are not with her?”
“Not yet, but I will be.”
“Do you need help?”
“No.” This Daphnae said with such aggression that it made the alpha captain take a step back. “What I need is for you Spartans to get out of my way so I can find my mate and break her rut.”
The alpha captain stared at her, and when she didn’t flinch or look away, the alpha actually smiled. “Spoken like a Spartan omega. Go. Find your alpha, and soon. I don’t think Makedonia would survive the Eagle-Bearer’s rut otherwise.”
Daphnae did find Kassandra shortly after that, in the westernmost peninsula. She was led there, not by a trail but the scent of her rutting alpha mate, thick in the air and delicious. All for her, only for her.
She saw her mate then, stalking along the shore like a restless wild animal, and naked: glorious, magnificent, and naked for her hungry eyes. What a sight her handsome alpha made: glistening bronze skin, rippling muscles, cock hard and ready for her.
Her gaze lingered there, at the part of her mate that she hadn’t touched or enjoyed since they’d reunited. Her cunt clenched in longing, the emptiness unbearable, almost painful. It had been far too long, and they had yet to consummate their mating.
What better time than now? came a thought, primal and omega, when Kassandra noticed her, amber eyes turning black in an instant.
It was more sound than name. A deep, rumbling sound that was both possessive and pleading, made by an alpha in need. Her alpha, her mate, needed her and only her, and Daphnae was happy to oblige. She approached, eager to be rid of the space between them, but then Kassandra flinched when she got close, stepped back and out of reach. The rejection hurt her, angered her.
“Go back to Amphipolis,” her alpha snarled, or tried to, but whined instead.
“Not without you,” Daphnae almost snarled herself. She would have had no such trouble, unlike her alpha. There was no need for restraint, no need to resist what was only natural between alpha and omega mates. But she tried. She stopped, kept her distance. She tried, for Kassandra. “Why are you doing this?” she asked, not quite able to hide the demand in her voice, the impatient growl in it.
Kassandra’s upper lip twitched. Her alpha’s ego, at its barest, most vulnerable, wanted to challenge her, but again, it was reined in, snuffed out in a string of curses, none directed at Daphnae. Then, her mate was turning around, walking away.
“You could have woken me up this morning.” Daphnae hounded her alpha, gave chase. “You should have. But instead you lied to Chara, and then I had to. Is that what you want our daughter to think, Kassandra? That ruts are shameful, that she should fear her future mate?”
“I just needed to think!” Kassandra roared, more like a wounded beast than an angry one. “I needed to think.” Her alpha was whimpering now, shaking. “But you, you’re everywhere, Daphnae, your smell. So good. So good. Daphnae.”
There it was again, more sound than name, and it nearly had Daphnae’s knees buckling. “Then come here. Please,” she pleaded with her alpha. It was maddening, the distance Kassandra kept between them. Her mate’s rut clammored for her, begged for her, and she wanted it, needed it just as much.
“I can’t.” Kassandra shook her head, looked at anything but Daphnae. “I can’t!”
“Why? Tell me why!” Daphnae shouted right back. She had lost her patience, along with her temper. “Tell me!”
Kassandra bared her fangs, even growled, but didn’t speak. A long spell of silence later, her alpha looked at her, finally, stared right into her eyes. “You will leave me. Again.”
“I am your mate, Kasssandra,” was all Daphnae said, was all she should have had to say.
“Mate.” Her alpha scoffed, sneered. “My mother’s mate threw her pup off a fucking cliff.”
“Don’t you compare me to him. Don’t you dare! I would never do anything like that, to you or to Chara.”
“You would have killed me while you were pregnant with our daughter, do as your mother did.”
“I am not my mother! And I chose you. Not at the beginning, when I should have, but I chose you, Kassandra.”
“Because you had no one else, Daphnae! You had nothing else!”
“Enough!” Daphnae snarled. She lunged, pinned her alpha on the sand. “I am your mate, Kassandra. I am your mate!” she roared, pushed her alpha back down. “You will not be rid of me, and you will not deny me.”
The promise, the threat, she chased with a bite, sudden and harsh, bleeding open the mate mark she left on her alpha just days ago. Kassandra was rigid under her teeth, not moving, not breathing, but not for long. Soon, her mate was shuddering, panting against her neck and bucking into her searching hand.
“My mate.” Kassandra’s voice was rough, jagged like the sharp teeth that grazed her neck.
Her alpha’s rut, smothered earlier by their rage, now howled to life, angry as they had been, and ravenous. There was no stopping it, no fighting it. There was only need and urgency and instinct.
“Your mate,” Daphnae affirmed, relinquishing the bite to present her own mate mark to her alpha. She licked her bloody lips, the taste making her empty cunt clench at nothing. “Your omega,” she growled, pleased when her mate throbbed in her hand.
“Mine. Mine.” The word was muffled, grunted again and again between the rush of bites and kisses that trailed along her throat. “My mate. My omega.”
“Yours. Yours,” Daphnae chanted breathlessly when, at last, Kassandra’s fangs found her mate mark. Sharp teeth broke skin and sunk home, and she welcomed the claiming bite with a moan, tangled her fingers in the mess of her mate’s long brown hair. The bite was all alpha and rut, exactly what her omega instincts needed.
With a firm, languid stroke, Daphnae let go of her alpha’s cock, bracing her hand on a broad shoulder as she swung a leg over to straddle her mate. Kassandra’s whine melted into a groan now that her hand had been replaced by her bare cunt, its heat and abundant wetness. She hadn’t bothered to wear a perizoma under her hunting leathers.
Before she could properly mount her alpha, a firm grip on her hips seized her. Daphnae opened her eyes, saw that it was her mate’s hands on her, that it was her mate who had stopped her, and she snarled.
Kassandra snarled right back at her, fangs sinking deeper into her neck, fingers digging into her hips. The show of strength and possessiveness had Daphnae gasping, and then, quickly, the world spun, and she was on her back, her weapons discarded, her clothes torn open, her moans swallowed by her mate’s mouth.
The kiss was rough, savage as it was brief. There was something other than desire in the wild amber eyes that now lingered on her naked breasts, at the sight of her, spread open, ready for the taking. A frenzy, an anger, in those amber eyes.
Kassandra drew close, not to kiss, but to whisper harshly, menacingly, “How many eyes have seen you like this since you threw me away?”
Daphnae was given no chance to answer. Her alpha was upon her in an instant, hot mouth and sharp teeth leaving a bloody trail from her mate mark to her breasts. Large, calloused hands palmed and pawed at her body, the touch as desperate and raw as the words growled out against her skin.
“Who warmed your bed, Daphnae? Your sisters? Artemis herself? Alpha mercenaries who happened to catch your eye? Who touched you, put their hands and mouths where only I can? Who made you feel good while I spent night after night after night alone?”
Daphnae’s answer, this time, was caught in her throat, came out wordless and breathless instead when Kassandra slipped two fingers inside her.
“Who did you fuck, Daphnae, who’d been inside you while you were pregnant with my pup?”
It was like no time had passed, the familiarity with which Kassandra touched her, how her alpha’s long fingers dragged heavily along her front wall first before curling, just as she enjoyed it, and then how, once she lifted her hips, seeking more, her alpha cupped her cunt, palm pressing down on her clit.
“I remember the last time I had you like this. I remember, Daphnae.” There was no guessing, no hesitation in the deep, slow strokes of Kassandra’s fingers. “You were in heat, told me I was the first alpha you’d spend it with, and you said you wanted me to be the only one. I remember.”
“No one else. There’s been no one else,” Daphnae rasped out, the words spilling from her like the wetness between her legs. “There’s been no one else since you, Kassandra. No one since you.” She clung to her alpha, pulled her down for a kiss, whispering, “My mate, my love.”
Kassandra didn’t kiss her back, stilled the hand on her cunt. Then her alpha shook, broke from her lips with a growl. “You are mine, Daphnae. You are mine.” The furious declaration was not for her, but for the rest of the world, for the gods themselves to hear, to know whom she belonged.
It would leave marks, the kisses that were more sharp teeth than soft lips as they trailed down down her body. “Yours, Kassandra. Yours,” she murmured like a prayer, said it again and again as she arched into her alpha’s wandering mouth, eager to be branded, to be claimed. She would bear her mate’s marks proudly.
When she felt Kassandra’s breath on her cunt, Daphnae beckoned her mate, squeezing the fingers still inside her to get them to move again. Kassandra didn’t fight her this time, face at once buried in the folds of her cunt, breathing in her scent, her arousal.
Kassandra’s teeth latched onto her clit, fangs closing around it but not biting down. Daphnae bucked off the sand with a drawn-out moan, her legs coming around her alpha’s shoulders and pulling her further in. Then, finally, she felt her mate’s lips and tongue, all thorough laps and zealous sucking, and Daphnae came undone, suddenly and swiftly.
“Again. Again, Daphnae,” Kassandra snarled through a mouthful of her cunt, fingers sliding deep and certain, their rhythm relentless and unfaltering. “Come for me again.”
Daphnae, her body, her instincts, were more than happy to oblige her mate, needing little else before she was just about smothering her alpha with her thighs.
Then Kassandra wanted another, and another. How many, Daphnae didn’t know, the scent of her mate’s rut so strong, so dizzing that she wanted, needed each and every one, and she needed more. More than Kassandra’s fingers, more than Kassandra’s mouth.
“Enough.” It came out a rasp, so different from when she made the demand earlier, but it was a demand all the same.
Her mate, rut-maddened, didn’t stop, must not have even heard her.
“Enough,” Daphnae repeated, louder, more forceful. She grasped the back of Kassandra’s neck, pulled at her alpha’s hair until she could see her face. How beautiful her mate looked between her thighs, lips and chin drenched with her wetness, eyes more black than amber seeing only her.
Then she all but hauled Kassandra on top of her. “Inside. Inside. Inside me now,” she panted between kissing and nipping at her mate’s neck. The mate mark had already healed, and she would bleed it open again later. For now, there was her cunt, empty and aching for her alpha’s cock.
Feeling her mate’s hard cock nestle on her folds brought some relief, and she wasted no time grinding on the long, thick shaft of it, wetting it and the knot at the base. It was already swelled to its full size, had been for a while now, Daphnae could tell, because Kassandra shuddered above her, overwhelmed by the sudden attention to her previously neglected cock.
“Daphnae. Daphnae.” Kassandra seemed to try to say something else, but only her name came out every time. It got louder and more frequent, and then turned into possessive rumbling when her alpha began to slide inside her.
Kassandra entered her slowly and deliberately, an alpha reclaiming her territory. Daphnae indulged her mate, her cunt clamping tight around the length of her alpha’s large cock as more and more of it sank inside her.
Larger still, Kassandra’s knot made its presence known and felt when it caught at her entrance. Her mate went still after that, forehead resting on hers, watching her, waiting.
Daphnae purred under the intense, heated gaze of her mate, her omega instincts delighting in the weight of a strong alpha on top of her. Her alpha, her mate, on top of her, inside of her.
She kissed Kassandra, and this time, Kassandra kissed her back. It was soft, unexpectedly so, and it made Daphnae’s heart ache with longing and love. Not once, in those long seven years apart, that she thought she would ever have Kassandra to hold again, to kiss, to make love to. She told her mate as much. “I’ve missed you, Kassandra. I love you. I never stopped loving you, Kassandra.”
That, it seemed, was what Kassandra needed to hear. Her mate began to move, cock withdrawing to the tip and then plunging back inside her. Unlike with her mouth and fingers, however, Kassandra was clumsy with her hips, cock sensitive to the impatient, eager squeezing Daphnae couldn’t help.
Kassandra whined, all tense muscles and jerky, uneven thrusts. Daphnae kissed her mate, hands soothing the rigid muscles on the way to grasping her alpha’s hips. She steadied the frantic, frustrated rutting, and then set a pace, leading her mate to a rhythm that soon didn’t need her guidance.
“Daphnae. Daphnae, Daphnae, Daphnae.” Kassandra had found her voice again, and still only had her name to say.
Daphnae responded by kissing her mate’s jaw and chin, enjoying the taste of herself on her alpha’s skin. Her hands wandered, sliding up Kassandra’s back, her nails digging into the scarred skin whenever their hips met. She had her own marks to leave, a reminder for her mate to whom she belonged, and for the world to see.
What she did, primal, possessive, had Kassandra growling in arousal, the power of which, undeniably alpha, made Daphnae’s cunt clench so tightly that it halted her mate’s hips. Their eyes met, and Daphnae saw that the anger was gone from her alpha’s darkened amber eyes, as was the fear. Only need remained, for her and only her.
She let Kassandra move, her cunt easing around her alpha’s cock, though barely. It was different now, how Kassandra took her, claimed her. It was new for Daphnae, to not be in control, to give all of herself. She felt exposed, naked past her skin, but also safe, and good, so good.
Kassandra felt so good, cock sinking deep, stretching and filling her so well even with the knot still outside. Daphnae wasn’t a vocal lover, but her teeth and her nails let Kassandra know just how good she was feeling, and how close she was getting.
Her alpha’s cock throbbed heavily whenever hilted inside her, begging for release, for her to come. Daphnae had never been with a rutting alpha before, and she didn’t know if it was because they were mates, but instinct told her that Kassandra wouldn’t, couldn’t come until she did. Daphnae, in turn, needed - akin to a heat - to have Kassandra rutting her, knotting her, much as she needed to breathe.
She held her mate’s hips flush to hers, not to stop, but to grind on her alpha’s knot. Her cunt clenched greedily around the cock buried inside her, demanding the rest of it. Kassandra obliged with a broken moan, seeking out her mate mark, her scent, with such feverish desperation that Daphnae thought her alpha would devour all trace of it.
Though slow, taking Kassandra’s knot didn’t hurt. Daphnae was an omega, wet and willing, and Kassandra, her alpha, was also her mate. Her body was made for this, for her mate’s ruts, just as Kassandra’s body was made for her and her heats. Daphnae felt only pleasure, and only more of it the more of her alpha’s knot she took, the blissful stretch making her claw at Kassandra’s hips and lower back.
Above her, Kassandra shuddered, so strongly that Daphnae also did, when the widest part of the knot slipped in. Daphnae lowered her hands, grasped Kassandra’s ass and pulled her in the rest of the way.
Kassandra’s thrusts resumed, short, sharp jerks that had the wide knot rubbing all over inside her cunt, and her alpha’s cock, now sheathed to the knot, pressed down on the deepest part of her, nowhere else to go, filling her completely. Then Kassandra filled her another way, and Daphnae only realized that she had come when she did so again, as her alpha’s throbbing cock flooded her cunt.
Daphnae didn’t know how long it went, Kassandra filling her so much and for so long she thought it would spill out even with the knot, but it didn’t, not a single drop. She also didn’t know how many more times she came, just as she didn’t know when she tangled her fingers in Kassandra’s sweat-soaked hair, or when she bit down on her mate’s neck.
The sun was setting. It was the first thought Daphnae had that wasn’t Kassandra and rut and sex since she scented her rutting mate. She was on her back again, though when that happened, she wasn’t sure. She remembered, faintly, the feel of the hot sand on her palms and knees, of Kassandra’s even hotter breath on the back of her shoulders. She remembered Kassandra’s hands, on her hips at first, and then on her breasts, while she rode her alpha’s knot.
Her torn leathers and her weapons, on the other side of the peninsula, were left forgotten, far away from where they ended up. They had made this isolated patch of earth a bed for their mating.
Her cunt clamped down on her mate’s cock, and she only realized what she was doing when Kassandra groaned against her neck, sensitive and overstimulated, having just emptied inside of her. Daphnae murmured an apology, smoothing her hands along her mate’s tensed back.
Eventually, Kassandra’s trembling stopped, harsh pants and pained groans melting into a relaxed purr. Daphnae answered with a purr of her own when she felt her alpha’s weight settle on top of her.
The fangs biting into her mate mark soon retreated, replaced by lips that kissed the worried spot with reverence. “Daphnae.” The soft rasp of her name almost sounded strange, when there had been just instinct and alpha rut between them.
“I’m here,” she whispered into her mate’s hair. “I’m here, my love.” She knew what was happening, had felt it during her heat. Kassandra’s rut was satisfied, for now, and they were allowed a moment of respite, of clarity. For her mate, it was also of regret and shame, so Daphnae wasn’t surprised when the next time Kassandra said her name, it was with a sob.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. What I said-- I’m so sorry.” The apologies came spilling like the tears that trickled down her neck.
Daphnae let her mate cry, feeling the sting of tears in her own eyes. When was the last time Kassandra had cried, she wondered, and it hurt to think that it might have been seven long years ago.
It took some time, or perhaps it just felt that way, but Kassandra’s sobs ebbed into small sniffles. That made Daphnae choke up, because it was exactly how Chara was like when calming down after a cry. She stroked Kassandra’s hair, rubbed her back, until it was quiet, both of them just breathing, holding each other.
Daphnae was the first to speak. “Why didn’t you tell me?” It felt unfair to even ask, given what she had kept secret in the past, but it was why she had to.
Kassandra nuzzled her neck, muffling a sigh. “It wasn’t your burden to bear. My feelings are not your responsibility. What I did with them after you… after we parted ways does not fall on you.” Kassandra looked at her. Tried to, at least.
Daphnae cupped her mate’s face, guided the amber gaze back to her. “We are mates now, Kassandra. It concerns me now. Will I have to chase your next rut and the ones after?”
“No,” Kassandra was quick to answer, which relieved Daphnae. “I just wasn’t expecting it. It was too soon and so much has happened. The Order, the Huntsman. Chara. Your sisters. I was afraid that what I’d say to you, that what I’d do, that you would--”
“Take Chara and leave you?” Daphnae guessed, and at once regretted the bluntness of her words when her alpha’s beautiful amber eyes glistened with fresh tears. “Kassandra,” she called softly, again making her mate look at her, “you don’t have to pretend that I didn’t break your heart, not for Chara’s sake, and certainly not for mine. I’ve hurt you, terribly and repeatedly, and us mating doesn’t erase that.”
“I can’t lose you again, Daphnae. I can’t.” Kassandra closed her eyes, the tears falling faster than Daphnae can wipe them away. “Please don’t leave me. Please don’t take Chara away. I’ll do better. I’ll change. I’ll do anything.”
Daphnae hushed her mate with a kiss, short and chaste. “All I want you to do is feel, Kassandra. Feel, and don’t hide it from me. Don’t be afraid of me. Give me a chance to be your mate.”
Kassandra looked away, but only briefly. “I wanted to tell you about my ruts, to explain.” She stopped, cleared her throat. “I was hoping that if you knew, that if we talked about it, then it’d be different. But I’d lost track of time, and when I woke up this morning, it was too late.”
“We’re talking now,” Daphnae said, wiping away the last of her mate’s tears.
Kassandra shook her head. “But it’s after. After the things I said to you, the things I made you say.”
“Made me?” As soon as Daphnae echoed it, she knew what her mate meant. “Do you think I was just telling you what you wanted to hear?”
“I was angry, jealous, unreasonable--”
“Kassandra, there’s been no one since you,” Daphnae declared, quieting her mate. “There wasn’t going to be anyone else since you. How could there be? I can’t love anyone else. I don’t want to.”
There was more to say, so much more to talk about, but then Kassandra kissed her, in that soft, tender way that, this time, had Daphnae shedding tears.
She kissed her mate back, just as softly, at first. Soon, there were tongue and teeth, and Daphnae was reminded, suddenly, that her mate, her rutting alpha, was knot-deep inside her.
She thought of little else after that, and for the rest of the week.
They were to sail for Sparta come morning. It had been days since Kassandra’s rut had ended, the extended stay insisted on by Myrrine. Daphnae agreed with the caution taken by the elder omega, given the unusual circumstance of Kassandra’s past ruts.
Kassandra, in turn, knew better than to argue with her mother and her mate.
Those extra days, Daphnae and Kassandra spent with Chara, eager to make up for their absence during the rut. Their pup, however, had been anything but upset about it.
“Does that mean I’m going to have a baby sister?” had been Chara’s first question. “More than one?” was the next, asked with a big, hopeful smile.
The answer was no, of course. “Not yet,” was what she said to Chara, which had Kassandra smiling like their pup did.
Omegas could only conceive when in heat, and the last one Daphnae had was when she and Kassandra made the beautiful little girl presently snuggled up between them.
Father and daughter were sound asleep. Chara looked so small, tucked into Kassandra’s arm. Kassandra was a tall alpha, big. It was so easy to imagine another pup or two clinging to her.
Not yet, Daphnae repeated, this time to herself.
She managed to get out of bed without waking her mate or their pup. Kassandra did stir a moment, but settled back down when Chara cuddled closer to her. The sound of Chara’s happy purr followed Daphnae until she quietly closed the door.
Outside, she found Myrrine, who looked to be expecting her.
“Hello, Daphnae. I had a feeling you’d be awake,” the elder omega said, and together, they found somewhere to sit.
Some of the Spartan guards eyed them warily as they passed. It seemed word had gotten around that Myrrine took exception to their commander Teutamos insulting Kassandra. She didn’t break his nose, “But he probably wishes she did instead,” Alexios had told her with a chuckle.
They didn’t go too far from the inn, just somewhere with a view of the sea. Daphnae easily found the Adrestia, some of the crew still awake, Barnabas most notably. No doubt the old man was making doubly sure the Adrestia would be ready to sail first thing in the morning. He and Alexios had also been very insistent on making the ship more accommodating for Chara.
Daphnae sat next to Myrrine, having been beckoned by the elder omega. It surprised her how quickly she followed the wordless command. Not since her own mother had she acted so deferential to another omega.
They began to talk, Myrrine speaking first.
“It’s not easy, leaving behind the only life you’ve ever known. Even harder when it feels like it’s been taken from you.”
“It’s for the best. For the few of my sisters who remain, and for Chara.”
“Do you know where they are, your sisters?”
“Most are in Lesbos, the rest scattered across the Greek world.”
“Have you reached out to them since?”
“Do you intend to?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
When Daphnae didn’t answer, Myrrine asked a different question.
“Do you regret your decision, Daphnae?”
“No.” That, Daphnae didn’t hesitate to say, didn’t have to think about. “I am with my daughter and my mate. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” She didn’t know she was smiling until Myrrine smiled back at her.
The elder omega placed a hand on her back, and Daphnae couldn’t fight the instinct to lean into the maternal touch.
“I think you’d come to like it there, Daphnae, in Sparta.”
Shortly after, Daphnae returned to the inn. Kassandra woke up when she got back in bed, while Chara slept on.
“Did you go somewhere?” Kassandra asked, reaching for her, Chara happily snug between them.
“Just a short walk outside,” she told her mate, who blinked sleepily at her.
“In the middle of the night?”
“I was with your mother.”
“That doesn’t make it any less strange.”
Daphnae laughed, and though it was soundless, Chara still squirmed and huffed in her sleep. Kassandra grinned, nuzzling their pup until Chara was relaxed and purring again. Daphnae watched, smiling, and when Kassandra looked at her, she kissed her mate.
“I’ll tell you about it later,” she said, whispering even softer. “It can wait.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Go back to sleep, my love.”
Kassandra smiled, holding her closer, and was soon drifting off. Before long, so was Daphnae, to the sound of their pup’s purring and her mate’s heartbeat.