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Aegis

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The temple stones are cold beneath her cheek.

Her mouth tastes of vomit and her breath is coming in deep, sobbing gasps, not quiet, proper tears but a death-rattle, shaking her body as she struggles to draw in air.

The scratch of sandaled feet on stone; she squeezes her eyes shut. “Forgive me,” she shudders.

“There is nothing to forgive.” She doesn’t need to look to know those unnaturally silver eyes are fixed on her. Fabric rustles and she hears the clink of a spear laid to rest beside her.

“He—” and her voice cracks at the absurdity of it all. The embodiment of the ocean, fierce and deep and unimaginably vast, and yet the method he chose was so very, very human. “He defiled me.”

“He defiled this temple,” the voice snaps out like a whip and she flinches. A hand against her head brushes back the long strands of her hair. “Nothing he could do would defile you.”

She can’t hold back the fresh flood of tears, hot and burning her eyes. “He praised me for my hair.” Her soft, curling hair, that she keeps so long because despite everything, she never feels as pretty as her sisters.

The hand goes rigid. “My uncle,” an acknowledgement of failure in those words, “has never been very good at keeping his hands to himself.”

She opens her eyes and delicate, calloused fingers trace tear-tracks down her face. There is terrible understanding in those eyes.

“I’m tired of being afraid,” she whispers.

“Never again.” Gentle hands cup her cheeks and the goddess presses a kiss against her forehead. “Never again will you have to be afraid.”

Squirming, wriggling sensation and her hair thickens. Her skirt twines around her, rippling into scaled hide, bones and muscle merging and lengthening into deadly coils. A little hissing chorus sings in her ears, a wordless promise of protection.

Those silver eyes hold hers as the goddess pulls her upright and she can feel them fixing, scaling over, tearless now and ever-watchful. Athena smiles, an uncertain expression that makes her look like the girl she has never been.

“And all who look upon her are turned to stone.”

A serpent’s tongue flicks across her cheek and she smiles back.