A sound startled her awake. She blinked into the darkness, listening attentively for any other disturbance, but at hearing none she rolled over atop her bed of furs, ready to fall back asleep. Noises in the night were hardly a rare occurrence, after all. The symphony of crickets, the hooting of a lone owl, the faint sound of crashing waves in the distance; they accompanied Miranda in her rest.
There was another piercing sound, and this time Miranda’s body tensed with tightly-coiled terror. She’d heard a cry. A very human cry. Adrenaline flooded her, heart pounding loudly in her chest. She felt the familiar, repugnant feeling at her scalp as her silver white hair gave way to hissing snakes; their slippery, lithe bodies coiling and twisting between themselves, ready to strike.
Resigned to her fate, she flung aside the blanket and stood. She grabbed the thick himation from the foot of the bed and wrapped it around her shoulders like a cloak to ward off the cold. Barefoot and wary, she walked to the entrance of her cave with no small amount of trepidation.
It was always horrific for her to come across anyone, and it never ended well. At best, it would mean more people finding their way to her hiding place - more valiant heroes convinced they could rid the world of yet another monster, and forcing her to flee yet again. At worst, it would be another life she took away, another drop of blood on her already drenched hands. She hoped this time it wasn’t another innocent bystander, at least. They were always the worst - people in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were too many stony, terrified faces haunting her as it was. She did not need another one to plague her nightmares.
It was a woman, she realised. Dear Athena, why did it have to be a woman? She was sprawled on the ground several feet away from Miranda’s cave, clutching her ankle. The agony on her features was clear, even with her face in shadows. Miranda felt a desperation to avoid what was bound to happen, to turn around before it was too late. Yet, in that moment, large brown eyes lifted and looked right at her.
An apology tore up her throat, even though she knew it would be useless - the woman wouldn’t be able to hear it at all by the time the words slipped from her mouth. She braced herself for the inevitable, swallowed down her nausea and her guilt, nails digging into her palms as she curled her hands into tight fists.
The woman continued to breathe. Her eyes squinted at Miranda through the darkness of night.
“Is there someone there?” she called out. Miranda, frozen in shock, didn’t reply. “I know you’re there. Please, I need help. I’ve hurt my ankle.”
She should not help her. She should not put her in danger like this. What if the woman saw her in the light, and Miranda’s worst fears came to fruition?
“Please,” the woman begged, and Miranda knew she could not leave her there.
Letting out a trembling breath, she willed herself to calm down. There was no danger, no senseless soldier charging at her with sharp weapons intending to kill. It was just some wounded woman, no doubt lost and disorientated. Her scalp began itching once again, and the snakes mercifully disappeared, leaving behind silky white hair in their wake.
Slowly, she walked towards the intruder, heart still racing despite herself. The closer she got, the more clearly she could see the almond-shaped eyes seeking out her silhouette in the darkness. Ignoring the terror in them, Miranda willed herself to offer a hand to help the young woman to her feet. After a hesitation, the woman grasped it and hauled herself up, leaning her weight on one leg.
“Thank you,” she breathed.
Miranda nodded silently. Before she could talk herself out of it, she placed the woman’s hand on her shoulder and wrapped a supportive arm around her slim waist. They slowly made their way towards the cave, the woman grunting in pain and leaning heavily against Miranda’s side.
Miranda tried to ignore her body’s reaction to touching someone for the first time in over a decade. The woman’s chiton was wound tightly around her, the material soft beneath Miranda’s fingertips. The body underneath it was warm in a way that was unexpected and jarring. Everything had been so cold for so long, Miranda had forgotten anything else.
She led the stranger to the tree trunk closest to the fireplace, helping her as she lowered her body to sit. Busying herself with building a fire gave her a distraction, but her practiced hands took little time before a flame flooded the cave with light. A faint gasp from across the fireplace echoed in the silence of the cave, but Miranda dared not look up for fear of what she might find on the woman’s expression.
She knew she looked nothing like she once used to. Her hair had turned a pearly silver overnight many years ago; her once fairly tan skin had paled significantly until it looked almost ivory. She had lost so much weight, and even though it had been many years since she had laid eyes upon a mirror, she knew her cheekbones stood too sharply against her face, her unfortunate nose even more pronounced than it had been in her other life.
Turning her back towards the intruder, she gathered her lone pitcher of water, a peach, and several grapes. There was little else to offer. She had meant to go out tomorrow for more food. She needed to gather more fruit and check all the traps she’d set for rabbits in the woods surrounding the cave, as well as the ones in the river and nearby beach for fish.
Miranda dropped the food and water next to the woman before sitting across from her, the fire’s heat between them.
“Thank you,” the woman repeated, her voice soft and pleasant.
Staring into the flames while the woman ate and drank, Miranda tried to make sense of the situation. In the ten years she had been on the run, she had not had any person’s company. Unless one considered the countless men who hunted her as company, which she certainly did not. She’d never even gotten the chance to speak to them, tell them how much she despised them, how ludicrous their feeble attempts at killing her were. They always perished before she even opened her mouth.
So it came as no surprise that Miranda did not know what to make of this situation. She was out of her depth. What should she say? How should she behave around this unexpected guest?
“My name is Andrea,” the woman suddenly spoke, and Miranda snapped her gaze up to stare at her.
Part of her still felt incredulous when the stranger - Andrea - remained alive after their eyes locked. With the light of the fire, Miranda was finally able to see the woman clearly. The orange flames danced in the dark brown pools of her eyes. Thick, heart-shaped lips and high cheekbones gave the woman a classic beauty Miranda herself had never possessed. Long brown locks of dishevelled hair framed the beautiful face that gazed at her so openly. Her cream-coloured chiton was dirty with mud and dirt, and torn at the hip.
Oh. Well, she supposed this was how conversations between strangers usually started. It had been easy to forget such things, living in this kind of solitude. She cleared her throat, and spoke hesitantly.
“Miranda.” Her voice was rough, an uncomfortable, harsh sensation in her throat. When was the last time she had spoken aloud? She tried again. “My name is Miranda.”
“Miranda,” Andrea repeated, a small, pleased smile curling her lips. “Thank you so much for helping me.”
She did not know how to respond to that, so she simply kept quiet. The silence continued for a long moment before Andrea spoke again.
“I’m sorry for all of this. I got lost, you see.”
“Where are you travelling to?” Miranda asked, her voice a little less gruff, but grating nonetheless.
“Well, um,” Andrea hesitated, and bit her lip before lowering her eyes. “I-I’m not entirely sure, actually.”
Miranda frowned, puzzled. How could she be lost if she didn’t even know where she was going? There was something strange about this woman, something that didn’t sit well with Miranda. Should she be afraid? Could this woman be dangerous? Did she know who - what Miranda was, and planned to kill her in her sleep? Her distrust and worry must have shown on her face, because Andrea’s shoulders slumped.
“I ran away,” she confessed, defeated and ashamed.
“What?” Miranda asked before she could think better of it.
“My parents - they were going to marry me to someone. A man named Nathaniel. He comes from a wealthy family, but he’s horrible. I only met him a few times, but I heard him yell at his poor mother once, and he--” She cut herself off, swallowing thickly. Watching Andrea’s eyes fill with tears, Miranda felt horror grip her as realisation dawned on her. She knew exactly what Andrea was going to say. “One night, he tried to force himself on me. I refused him, and he- he became angry, and raised his hand against me. I knew I couldn’t marry him, but my parents would not listen. They said I didn’t have a choice. So I ran away.”
Miranda’s eyes fluttered shut, trying to keep her memories at bay. She had spent many years trying to bury that part of her past, but the pain and terror still gripped her at times, so tightly she could hardly draw breath.
“I’m very sorry,” she offered, even though she knew it would do nothing to ease Andrea’s torment.
Opening her eyes, she saw Andrea taking deep breaths and wiping away stray tears. The young woman seemed so defeated that Miranda’s heart twisted with sympathy. Before she could consider her words, she blurted:
“You can stay here until you figure things out, if you like.”
Andrea’s eyes widened in surprise, looking almost as shocked as Miranda felt. They stared at each other in stunned silence, until Andrea’s face broke down with gratitude.
“Oh, I would so appreciate that, Miranda,” she breathed, her smile nearly blinding. “Thank you.”
Miranda shifted, feeling uncomfortable under the gaze of those eager, grateful eyes.
Why did she do that? Why did she invite this stranger to stay? It was not safe. Miranda knew better than this. But instead of giving voice to any of her doubts and fears, she stood as gracefully as she could and set about making a bed for Andrea with a spare pillow and blankets she had made herself.
Once she was finished, Andrea tentatively stood on one leg, and Miranda helped her across the short space until Andrea could lower herself onto the makeshift bed.
“How is your ankle?” Miranda asked, watching Andrea make herself comfortable under her best fox fur blanket.
“I think it’s only sprained. I know it was irresponsible to wander around at night, but I was too afraid to settle down so close to the forest.”
Miranda nodded in understanding. The forest could be rather daunting in the darkness of night. She remembered what it felt like in the first few months of being on the run, how every noise had filled her with terror and dread.
Instead of idling for more conversation - no matter how much a part of her wanted to connect with someone after endless years in isolation - she turned and walked the few steps across the cave to her own bed. She made herself as comfortable as she could, even though she felt a disturbing uneasiness about sharing her space with a stranger. It had been so long since she had been around anyone, let alone slept so close to them with her guard lowered in slumber.
“Good night, Miranda. And thank you again, for everything. May Morpheus bring you peaceful rest.”
Miranda closed her eyes, trying to calm the turmoil inside her chest, and answered, “And to you, as well.”
In short time, Andrea’s slow, even breathing resonated faintly in the cave, and Miranda willed herself to sleep, praying to the Gods that she had not made a terrible mistake by letting Andrea stay. Praying to Athena, the only God that had ever taken mercy on her, for her continued protection, even though she had rarely prayed to her since Miranda’s life had been torn from her grasp.
With that last prayer, she felt herself slowly slip away until she knew nothing but darkness.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, Miranda’s eyes snapped open as she startled awake, fully aware of the rustling noises coming from the other side of the cave. She immediately recalled the events of the previous night. Before she could dwell on them too much, she rolled onto her side and made herself look at the source of the sounds.
Andrea was turning over in her makeshift bed, a small frown marring her otherwise smooth features. She was still deeply asleep, but it was obvious that it was not a tranquil dream. Perhaps a nightmare, or simple discomfort at lying practically on the floor of a cave, with only a pile of blankets to keep the cold away.
Miranda still remembered how restless she had been every night for the first few weeks on the run, away from civilisation and its comforts. Now though, her body was more than accustomed to living in such circumstances, and she had plenty of practice at making a fairly comfortable bed to sleep on.
Catching sight of the empty bowl by the dying fire, Miranda remembered that there was barely any food left, especially now that it was not just her who would need sustenance. Since the sun was starting to shed light on the outside world, Miranda decided to go in search of food for herself and Andrea. And maybe spend some much-needed time thinking about this new development in her life.
As quietly as she could, she got up and donned her warmest himation, wrapping it around herself tightly before slipping on her worn sandals. When she picked up her hand-woven basket, Andrea stirred again.
Miranda watched, frozen in place, as brown eyes blinked open and looked around disoriented until recognition dawned on Andrea. She found Miranda with her gaze and offered a tired smile.
“Good morning,” she murmured, her voice thick with sleep, and rubbed her eyes. “Where are you going?”
“To find food.” Miranda’s voice hadn’t lost its coarseness from last night, and she cleared her throat before speaking again. “Stay here, I will be back soon.”
“Oh.” Andrea blinked, and her features were filled with something Miranda could not decipher. “Alright,” she said, and pulled the blankets tighter around her, until most of her head was buried under them. “Good luck.”
Miranda did not know how to respond to that, so she simply turned around and made her way out of the cave. The day was brisk but pleasant, and there were no clouds in the sky. It would get warm later. Perhaps she would try her hand at fishing today, despite how futile her last attempt had turned out.
A few hours later, the sun was high in the sky, and Miranda had shed her himation in order to enjoy the warm rays on her bare arms. The chiton she was wearing was her preferred one out of the three she owned, the fabric lighter and softer, held together around her waist by a belt.
Despite her misgivings and anxiety about having a stranger in her cave for an undefined amount of time, she did her best to put her fears out of her mind, and focused instead on finding as much fruit as she could.
One of her traps had caught a hare and she picked up the limp animal tentatively. She always hated this aspect of living in the wilderness, but the queasiness had receded with time. The hare seemed free of any worms or other undesirables, so Miranda draped the animal in the basket and decided to make her way back to the cave.
When she arrived a short while later, Andrea was sitting on the tree trunk and staring into space. Her head snapped up the moment she heard Miranda’s footsteps approaching. They looked at each other for a silent moment, assessing, before Andrea smiled tentatively.
Miranda nodded in greeting, and set about placing the peaches, apples, grapes, and nectarines in the little alcove at the deepest part of the cave. She arranged them carefully, and placed a small cloth over them before reaching for the sharp knife she’d taken from one of the mindless men who had tried to kill her.
Straightening her shoulders, she grabbed the dead hare by its long ears and strode out of the cave. She had a specific place where she skinned the animals, away from the cave so the smell of blood would not attract any unwanted predators. It was by the river, and Miranda sat there for a quiet moment. She listened to the trickling water and the soft breeze brushing through the trees around her.
After finding comfort in the sounds of nature, she let out a deep breath, summoning the fortitude she always needed in order to complete this particular task. She slid the blade under the animal’s fur, and scrunched up her nose as she set about skinning it.
When the deed was finally done, she washed the animal and the fur in the cold water, watching as the blood flowed with the current. She washed her hands with vigour, wanting any traces of her actions to be washed away as well.
Upon Miranda’s return to the safety of her cave, Andrea visibly flinched when she laid eyes on what Miranda was carrying. The lifeless animal hanging from Miranda’s hand was a jarring sight, so she quickly placed it over the tower of sticks she’d built for exactly this reason, away from Andrea’s sight. She laid the hare’s wet, clean fur over a rock just at the entrance of the cave to dry in the sun, satisfied that it would make for a nice patch of blanket after cleaning it thoroughly with sea salt for at least a week. The cold winters were always the worst, and Miranda had learned the hard way to spend the rest of the seasons making sure she had plentiful furs to keep her warm.
“Hungry?” She asked Andrea, waving her arm vaguely in the direction of the hidden fruit.
Andrea shook her head, still looking queasy after seeing the skinned hare. Miranda wondered where the woman came from. Perhaps a big city, where most people were blissfully oblivious as to the process of having animal meat as part of their meals.
“The pitcher is almost empty, though,” Andrea said.
Miranda wordlessly nodded, grabbed the pitcher from its place on the floor near Andrea, and left the cave once again to fill it up with fresh water from the river.
Days passed like that, with Miranda getting up early and busying herself away from the cave while Andrea recovered. There was very little conversation, even though Andrea had made plenty of effort in getting to know Miranda - why she lived in a cave, alone and away from mankind, how she had gotten there, where she came from... But Miranda felt unnerved whenever Andrea did so, and she often grew quiet or evaded any questions thrown her way.
On the third day of Andrea’s stay, the younger woman attempted a new approach.
“Do you enjoy poetry?” Andrea suddenly asked, before taking another bite of the cooked fish Miranda had managed to catch that morning. Miranda looked up at her, startled at the question.
Not really waiting for an answer, Andrea started talking about her love for poetry. Miranda was astounded by her knowledge. She spoke of Archilochus, Alcaeus, and Hesiod - names Miranda knew well. In her other life, she had loved reading more than anything. She found solace in the written word, able to escape her reality with each verse that she revelled in.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was voicing her own opinions about the things she’d read such a long time ago, and they both became engaged in deep conversation that moved to art, architecture, fashion, and religion. She was amazed at how cultured Andrea was, how much she knew about the things Miranda had once loved so much but were now a distant memory. It revived her to think of them again, to remember how much beauty there was in the world outside her own isolated fortress.
Andrea even relayed all the recent happenings in their country, the many things Miranda had missed out on, hiding away. She was shocked at just how much had happened in the ten years she’d been on the run. It was unsettling to realise that even though her life had been stolen from her and she had been forced to live this solitary existence, the world kept turning without her.
And why shouldn’t it? She was an insignificant part of it. But the twisting in her stomach did not ease up, and she retired to bed early with a feeble excuse of exhaustion.
She felt Andrea’s concerned eyes following her, but she simply rolled away from that inquisitive gaze, and prayed for the mercy of sleep.
It became somewhat easier after that. Miranda no longer felt the need to keep her distance or hide away, despite her uneasiness at being so close to another person after all her years of solitude. Part of her wanted Andrea to stay, because her honest smiles and easy conversations were slowly healing something inside Miranda she hadn’t known was broken.
There was a constant fear, however, buried deep in her subconscious, that Andrea would find out who Miranda was - what she was. That she would run away as far as her legs would carry her, screaming for help from anyone who would listen, and Miranda would once again find herself hunted by men.
She had learned long ago not to get attached to any place, not to get too comfortable or make herself at home anywhere. But this place - with its ample cave, the fruitful forest that served as its protector, the river that nourished and cleaned her, the lonely beach that offered comforting memories of her youth - it had become her favourite place she’d lived in. It would be difficult to leave it behind if Andrea were to flee in horror and warn the nearest village that a terrifying, man-killing monster lurked nearby.
Thus, whenever Andrea asked questions, Miranda avoided giving her answers. No matter how comfortable she had become with the woman, how much she had come to appreciate her presence, Miranda would not risk her secret being revealed. Miranda distracted her by moving the conversation to other topics, away from her. Once, in her eagerness to avoid Andrea’s inquiries, she even offered to teach the young woman how to start a fire. Andrea had grinned enthusiastically, and proved herself a quick learner.
When Andrea was able to walk again, over a week after her arrival, Miranda showed her the area. She led her to the beach through the clearest path, and made sure to show her every animal and fish traps she’d set up. She took Andrea to the river, and offered her the mix of algae and plants she used to wash herself. Andrea gratefully took it, and started disrobing before Miranda had time to turn around.
“Don’t go, please?” Andrea asked, touching her arm when Miranda made to walk away in order to give her some privacy. “I’d like the company.”
Miranda stared at her, speechless, but then acquiesced, despite the strange curling deep in her abdomen. For a mere second, she caught sight of Andrea’s naked back, and Miranda jerked her eyes away. It felt wrong to look upon Andrea like this. She did not understand why, since she had seen women in states of undress before, but this was different, somehow. Here, it was just the two of them.
She turned around, facing away from the sight of Andrea, and carefully sat on a rock by the shore. She listened to the sounds of water splashing and the contented little sighs Andrea gave as she submerged into the cool water. Miranda closed her eyes, feeling like a living, breathing contradiction. Despite her need to face away from Andrea, there was an overwhelming desire to turn around and look. Instead, Miranda forced herself to stare up at the brightness of the sun until her eyes stung.
After long minutes that felt like hours, Andrea announced she was finished, and Miranda extended her arm without looking directly at her, offering her spare clean chiton. Andrea thanked her, and draped it over herself, tying it loosely at her hips with the belt. She made quick work of cleaning her dirty dress before they both traced their steps back to the cave. Andrea hung up her soaked chiton by the branch of a tree to dry in the sun’s warmth, and Miranda announced she had to go to the beach. A flimsy excuse, and without real reason.
She ignored the strange look Andrea gave her, and hurried to the seaside. She needed to get away, to put some space between them.
The sky turned to stripes of orange, red, and pink in breathtaking brush strokes. Miranda basked in it, gazing at the horizon with her bare feet in the water, toes curling around the soft sand. She stayed there as time stood still, even as the sky darkened and a soft breeze picked up, gently caressing through her hair.
She could not understand why she felt so unsettled, so strange regarding Andrea. Her mind scrambled for a reason, but came up empty and disappointed. Miranda took a deep breath, and surrendered.
Upon her return to the cave, Andrea smiled brightly at her. She had started a small fire - her first attempt without Miranda’s guidance - but Miranda knew she was still uncomfortable with preparing their meal, so she took it upon herself to place the rabbit over the fire and keep a careful eye on it as it cooked.
After a filling, quiet dinner of rabbit and mushrooms, they were both sitting side by side at the entrance to the cave, gazing up at the bright stars in comfortable silence.
It felt nice to share the silence with someone. Miranda had done exactly this many a night before, but it felt so much better with Andrea by her side. The sounds of the night were now accompanied by Andrea’s steady breathing, the shuffling noises when she moved, her melodic humming as she sang a quiet tune.
Long moments passed like this, each lost in their own thoughts, until Andrea turned to her with an open expression.
“Will you tell me how you ended up living here?” She asked, her voice quiet.
Miranda’s eyes were closed, her head tilted upward, pale skin luminous under the soft glow of the moon.
“I am a broken seal; a scarlet stain upon the earth.”
Andrea leaned back, startled. Miranda’s eyes snapped open as she realised she’d recited the words aloud.
“How do you mean?” Andrea asked. She stared at her with a strange expression, as if trying to remember why those words sounded so familiar.
Miranda’s heart was racing. She should not have said that. It felt like she was standing on the edge of a precipice, about to be discovered. Adrenaline shot through her, and she could almost hear the phantom hissing of snakes.
“Miranda?” Andrea’s voice trembled, and her beautiful face twisted with dawning horror. “Oh.”
“You look like her.” Her tone was filled with panic. “The-the white hair, and your skin--”
Terror gripped Miranda when she felt the tell-tale itching sensation at her scalp.
“Oh!” Andrea cried out in shock.
She scrambled to get up, but Miranda lunged forward and grabbed her arms. Large, horrified eyes stared at her, the tensed body shaking beneath her grasp. Miranda looked at her in dismay, silently pleading for the impossible. With a trembling voice, Andrea began to recite the warning words of spurned men.
“Medusa, eyes blue and sharp,
Serpent hair, white as bone.
Her voice is false, string of harp;
Glance once and turn to stone.
Slither, snake, away from here;
Back to the pits of Hell;
Whence you came, do not return.”
Miranda flinched, feeling as though she’d been struck. She had heard the hateful verse spat from the mouths of the countless men who had so often tried to kill her. They had never quite finished it though, for Miranda’s eyes had been too fast.
She had not expected it to hurt - the notion that people wanted her to go to Hell, where she belonged. Or perhaps what pained her more was the person who had said the words, whose face was now ashen with fear.
Miranda knew people regarded her as a monster, but she'd never truly felt like one until this moment.
Defeated, she loosened her grip. Andrea immediately sprung to her feet. Miranda curled in upon herself like a wounded animal, pulling her legs up towards her torso and burying her hideous face in the cradle of her arms. The snakes retreated, and her hair fell over her shoulders like a white curtain, hiding her from the world.
Just as Andrea turned to flee, Miranda found herself speaking up, the words slicing through her chest and up her throat, escaping her lips before she had time to reconsider.
“I have never hurt you.”
Andrea froze in her escape, shoulders tight with tension. She slowly turned around, looking down at Miranda with frightened, bewildered eyes, breathing ragged. A frown marred her features, but she hadn't left yet. Miranda knew she had to at least try.
“I have only helped you. I’ve given you food and shelter, kept you company while you healed. I am not what they say I am.”
Brown eyes regarded her differently now as Andrea studied her closely. The fear remained, but there was something else that Miranda could not decipher.
“Why did you do it? Why did you help me?”
Miranda pushed her hair back, her vulnerable face now in clear sight for Andrea's gaze.
“You were hurt. You needed help. And when you told me what had led you here, why you ran away,” Miranda swallowed thickly, shoulders lifting up around her neck to ward off the sudden cold she felt. “I knew I had to help you. Give you a safe place to stay.”
Andrea stepped closer. Miranda flinched at the sudden movement. “Yes, but why?"
“Because I know what it’s like!” Miranda cried out. Her hands were trembling. She wrapped her arms around herself, clutching her sides, desperately trying to keep herself in one piece.
Andrea slowly came closer, until she was sitting next to Miranda again, looking at her closely with wary eyes.
“Do you-” She began, and bit her lip. Her eyes darted nervously to the forest in front of them as if seeking an escape. “Do you want to talk about it?”
The question threw Miranda off. She had never spoken of this to anyone. She had only ever briefly mentioned it in her prayers to Athena, but never to another person. Deep down she wanted to. She longed to scream with fury, to cry and release some of the pain, to unleash all the pent-up rage and humiliation she’d carried within her for as long as she could remember.
“I prayed to Athena,” Miranda began in a quiet voice, looking down at the ground. “Every night, since I was a little girl. My father-” Memories of her life swam in front of her like a violent current, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to drown. “My father was not a nice man. My mother died when I was very young, and he took his anger out on me.”
Andrea’s breath hitched, but Miranda was too afraid to look at her, even when Andrea moved closer. Miranda could feel the warmth radiating off her, and took comfort in the sensation.
“For years, I lived with him and my brother. He took after my father, and every day I would have to face their violence.”
She was trembling now, and she squeezed her arms tighter around herself in a vain attempt to not fall apart.
“As soon as I was old enough, my father forced me to marry a man older than myself. Stephanos-” His name tasted like scorching acid at the back of her throat, and she felt almost dizzy with nausea. She tried to swallow past it, but the sick feeling remained. She tried to speak despite her broken, quiet voice.
“He drank. A lot. He was worse than my father and my brother. Worse than anything I could have ever imagined. I tried to run away several times, but he always found me.”
Andrea was biting her lip, her gaze unwavering from Miranda’s downturned face. Miranda felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny, bare and naked as she revealed her darkest, most painful secrets. A sharp, vicious pain in her chest accompanied the remembrance of her past. It wavered in its intensity when Andrea moved even closer, their sides practically pressed against each other. Andrea’s voice was hesitant and laden with something like dread when she dared to ask:
“Did he, um--”
Miranda didn’t want to talk about it. This was difficult enough as it was without having to go into details of all the ways she’d been hurt. She needed to block out the memories, needed to drown out the agony that was tearing through her.
“I prayed to Athena,” she repeated, steadying herself with a deep, shuddering breath. “Every night. I prayed that she would set me free from the cruelty of men, that she liberate me from the torture that I was forced to suffer through for the rest of my life. I prayed for vengeance, too. I wanted Stephanos to suffer, and my father, and any other man who ever mistreated a woman.”
“And she answered,” Andrea guessed, and Miranda nodded.
“One morning I woke up, and when I saw my reflection… It was horrifying. I saw the snakes, and thought I was having a nightmare at first. But they didn’t disappear, and I didn’t wake up. I looked less human. My hair, my skin-- it was all different. Wrong. I remember screaming in horror, and Stephanos running into the room, and then…”
There was a loaded silence as Miranda couldn’t bring herself to finish that sentence. She remembered so vividly. Stephanos yelling, and Miranda looking at him, and then watching him turn to stone before her eyes, his expression frozen in shock and horror. Miranda had panicked. She couldn’t understand what had happened, what it all meant. She'd decide to wait, filled with dread and anxiety, to see if he would come back to life.
He never did.
After that, Miranda knew she had to leave, to get away. She took with her the most important things: a change of clothes, some food, her favourite poetry scrolls, and her mother’s gold necklace - the only thing Miranda had to remember her by, a heirloom that still hung around her neck to this day.
After that fateful morning, she had never been the same. She felt tarnished, broken, but free. She had escaped. She would never again be abused; her body would never again be beaten by the merciless hands of a man.
As the days passed, and she made her way further and further away from the town she had lived in all her life, she did her best to survive. She’d had to learn how to live in the wilderness. It took some time, but after many hardships and near-death experiences, she had managed to learn how to live in harmony with nature. How to be invisible.
That had been the most difficult thing. To not be able to have any human contact at all, even from a distance. To avoid people, because their lives depended on her ability to do so. She still remembered so clearly the old farmer with the kind face who had found Miranda sleeping by a creek mere days after she’d run away. And the little boy that had lost his ball at the edge of a forest where Miranda had been looking for fruit. And the young merchant who had stumbled upon her hidden refuge by the side of a mountain.
Yes, she had learned the lesson very early on to avoid going anywhere near humans. It was the most painful lesson she’d ever had to learn.
“So you escaped?” Andrea asked gently, jolting her back to the present. “And you’ve been on the run ever since?” Miranda nodded again, not trusting her voice to be steady enough after the onslaught of deeply buried emotions. “How long has it been?”
“Ten years, give or take,” she managed to rasp.
“Gods,” Andrea murmured. “I’m so sorry, Miranda.”
Miranda finally lifted her gaze, surprised by Andrea’s declaration. She had expected many things - terror, disgust, loathing - but she’d never expected sympathy. She did not know how to respond to such a foreign concept, so she remained silent.
“I’m sorry about what I said, earlier.” Andrea seemed genuine in her regret as she looked at Miranda with eyes full of sorrow. “It’s just that, well, people have created this story about you. The frightening, terrible Medusa.” Miranda scowled. Of course people would make her into the monster, some cruel woman who deliberately turned men to stone. “But now I see that those stories are wrong about you. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re as bad as they say.”
Andrea was grinning at her sheepishly, and it took a moment for Miranda to realise that she was teasing her. It had been so long since she had been on the receiving end of any sort of well-intended humour that she barely knew how to react, even though she was amused by the endearing way Andrea was looking at her.
“Sorry, bad joke,” Andrea grimaced, and then her expression became serious again. “But seriously, Miranda. I really am sorry.”
A tentative hand landed on Miranda’s shoulder, its warmth almost knocking Miranda over. Andrea’s thumb caressed her bare skin in soft, soothing circles, and Miranda suddenly had trouble breathing. She had not received any kind of comfort from anyone in all her life, and the burden she had been carrying on her shoulders like Atlas himself suddenly spilled over her. Andrea’s touch was so reassuring and tender that tears filled her eyes. Before she could stop them, they slid down her cheeks in streams of grief and bitterness and ire, all her pent up darkness pouring out of her in waves.
The younger woman moved even closer, shocking Miranda when she wrapped her arms around her, pulling her against Andrea’s body until Miranda’s face was buried in her delicate neck. Miranda felt all her strength suddenly drain from her, and she caved in, wilting into the embrace like a sunflower seeking warm rays of light.
The ache in her chest loosened its grip, and the weight on her shoulders felt less suffocating now. She let out a trembling, relieved breath, even as the tears continued to fall, and let herself drown in the warmth of Andrea.
That night, Miranda slept better than she had in all the years she’d been on the run. Something inside her felt healed. The tears had cleansed her, Andrea's comfort had liberated some of her deeply embedded pain. It was unexpected, but deeply appreciated nonetheless. A great relief.
Andrea had been patient with her. She’d held her with care and spoke in soothing tones until Miranda’s tears ran dry. Miranda had wiped them away and straightened her shoulders until some semblance of composure was restored. Andrea had understood without the need for words - Miranda wanted to move on. She'd simply squeezed her hand as Miranda bade her goodnight before crawling into bed, exhausted and hollow.
She’d been vaguely aware of Andrea remaining where they’d been sitting, pensively looking up at the vast sky above them. For a moment, a slow, curling fear had gripped Miranda that Andrea would leave; that she would wake the next morning only to find emptiness around her. It had taken her aback just how much she dreaded being left alone again. After Andrea’s presence, her interesting conversation and easy laughter, after finally having a sympathetic companion to confide in, Miranda could not bear the thought of returning to the isolated silence. Before slipping into slumber, she’d sent a prayer to the Gods that Andrea would find it in her to stay, despite knowing what Miranda truly was.
When her eyes fluttered open in the morning light, she immediately sat up and turned towards Andrea’s bed. An overwhelming relief washed through her when she saw the back of brunette curls sprawled upon the pillow, the blanket rising and falling with the movement of the woman's slow breathing.
So, Andrea had decided to stay. Miranda let out a deep breath and ran a shaky hand through her sleep-tousled hair. A warm, foreign sensation spread from her chest to the rest of her as she watched the sleeping figure a mere few feet away. It was a jarring contrast to the emotion she'd expected to feel upon waking. She had braced herself for the moment that she would find Andrea gone.
Why did she stay?
Miranda knew it was pointless to wonder, since there was much of the younger woman that she did not know or understand. She also knew that she would not ask for fear of the answer she’d receive. If Andrea had stayed because she pitied Miranda, or because of some misplaced sense of duty, Miranda would be sorely tempted to make her leave. She did not want anyone’s pity, least of all Andrea’s.
As she woke up fully, she recognised the urge to get away. She needed some space after the events of last night.
She got up and mindlessly gathered her plant soap and her sandals before quietly making her way out of the cave and into the forest. She needed more than space. She needed to wash away the strange sensations that had plagued her since the day before. To cleanse herself until she felt like a different person, or at least a better version of herself.
The river’s water felt cool and refreshing on her skin. Miranda did not even flinch as she submerged fully into its depths. The sun was particularly warm, so, after washing herself thoroughly, she moved towards the shore and lounged in the large patch of sunlight that touched the earth from between the trees. The water droplets quickly dried on her skin, and she sighed in contentment, basking in the sensation of being revived.
Time passed without her knowledge as she drifted like the river current in a dream-like state. She did not know how long she remained there, but a noise behind her made her flinch and look up in alarm.
“Oh!” Andrea dropped the pile of nectarines she’d been carrying. She stared at Miranda with wide eyes and parted lips. Miranda felt heat creep up her chest and into her cheeks with embarrassing speed, and she scrambled to somehow cover herself.
“Miranda,” Andrea stammered and stumbled closer.
Miranda continued to gape at her, frozen in shock, as Andrea came towards her. Why was she approaching? Miranda wanted to hide away, to drown under the water’s surface until she was invisible.
“Please,” she rasped, and Andrea stopped mid-stride. “Don’t- Don’t come any closer.”
“Oh.” Andrea seemed to finally realise Miranda’s humiliation. “I’m sorry. I saw you lying there and I thought you were hurt…” Her voice quietened before she finished the sentence, and they stared at each other in mutual disbelief. “I, um, I’ll leave you to it.”
Andrea turned hastily and crouched on the ground to pick up the fruit she had dropped. Miranda watched her, heart still pounding too rapidly for comfort. She willed herself to relax, and dropped her arms from where they had crossed over her naked chest in a feeble attempt to preserve her dignity.
She hadn’t always been so shy about her body, but that had been a long time ago. Before she was forced to become the property of a man she did not know; before Stephanos' bruises tainted her body; before she became a deadly monster.
It did not take Andrea long to collect all the fruit and stand back up to her full height. She took a step in the direction of the cave, away from the river, when suddenly she turned slightly to look back at Miranda over her shoulder.
Miranda’s body was set aflame as Andrea’s brown eyes quickly ran over Miranda’s exposed skin. Her gaze felt like a warm touch, caressing Miranda’s neck, her collarbones, down her chest, stomach, and the expanse of her legs. Then almond eyes lifted again to look right into Miranda’s ocean ones.
Miranda’s breath was knocked out of her as she reeled back at Andrea’s softly-spoken words. The younger woman turned on her heel and quickly strode away before Miranda had the chance to come up with a response. She was left by the river shore, heart reaching at an alarming pace, cheeks warm and body suffused with pleasure.
When Miranda returned to the cave, there was a stilted silence that was unlike the usual, easy silences she had become accustomed to with Andrea. This one was uncomfortable, and she knew it was mostly due to her own embarrassment.
She had never felt particularly confident in her appearance, but her culture had always celebrated nakedness. It was the most natural thing. When she was younger - before she’d been married - she and many others would go to bathe at the beach without a stitch of clothing covering them. Miranda had always ignored the strange, uncomfortable feelings that came whenever a girl was too close, and tried not to look at them too much as they laughed together and splashed each other in harmless water fights. She’d forced herself to push aside her insecurities, and to not compare herself with the beautiful girls around her.
She had never felt admired, physically or otherwise, by anyone. The attention she’d received from boys never felt completely trust-worthy, like they didn’t really see her, only what they chose to focus on. And Stephanos had broken her down until she felt worthless. So Andrea’s comment, spoken so honestly and earnestly, had struck something in her. For long, silent moments, she’d sat by the river, filled with doubt and incredulity. And, of course, embarrassment.
Yet no matter how much her mind brushed off Andrea’s words as untruthful - a simple white lie Andrea had let slip in the spur of the moment to ease Miranda’s mortification - part of her desperately wanted to believe her. For unfathomable and undoubtedly ridiculous reasons, Miranda wanted to be beautiful to Andrea. And that was the most disturbing thing of all.
After Miranda finally worked up the courage to return to the cave, all they managed to do was sit in silence and then eat dinner while they stole awkward glances at each other. She did not know how to proceed, how to move past this like it was insignificant. She knew, rationally, that it was. They were both women, they both had the same anatomy, why should Miranda feel so consumed with self-consciousness? Why should she feel so utterly mortified, when Andrea probably didn’t think about it twice after the fact? But Miranda simply could not do the same, and now there was a stiff silence hanging between them because of her.
Perhaps it was because she had bared her soul the previous night, sharing her deep, terrible secrets with Andrea, even though they had only known each other for two weeks. It had left Miranda feeling much better, lighter, but also vulnerable and exposed. Now, after the river incident, Andrea had seen everything. Miranda was feeling the overwhelming need to keep some part of herself hidden, to stay invisible amongst the shadows, the way she had lived for so long.
After their meal was finished, they moved to sit at the entrance of the cave again. They spent endless moments staring out into the dark wilderness before them, when Andrea’s voice broke through the quiet.
“What’s your favourite poem?” Andrea suddenly asked.
Miranda blinked at her in surprise for a long moment before managing to pull her thoughts in order.
“Oh, there are far too many to choose from,” she answered, and Andrea chuckled lightly. The sound immediately relieved some of the tension in Miranda’s shoulders.
“Well, I can tell you mine, if you like. I know it’s slightly unconventional. My mother never really liked this kind of poetry, but I’ve always loved it,” Andrea rambled, plucking at her fingers nervously.
It was that gesture that made Miranda realise what Andrea was doing. She was willingly opening up, showing Miranda something about herself that she was self-conscious about. She wanted to make Miranda feel less alone in how much she had revealed by doing the same herself. That strange, warm sensation in her chest returned, and Miranda could not hold back a wide, grateful smile.
“I promise not to judge,” she said truthfully, and Andrea grinned appreciatively.
“Alright.” She closed her eyes, as if trying to remember the verse perfectly, and took a deep breath.
“As love then is the power
that none can disobey,
so too my thoughts must follow
my darling far away:
the sparkle of her laughter
would give me greater joy
than all the bronze-clad heroes.”
Miranda's breath caught.
She knew this poem. Indeed, she herself was an avid admirer of the author, and had read everything she could find by her. She had even quoted, inadvertently, a verse by her the night before, which had prompted the revealing of Miranda’s secrets.
Andrea was looking at her with a hint of trepidation in her eyes, so Miranda smiled to ease any worry she might have.
“I always liked that one,” she said, and took a leap of faith. “Sappho has long been one of my favourite poets.”
Andrea’s shoulders sagged in relief, and a dazzling smile nearly blinded Miranda.
“Oh, yes! Isn’t her writing divine? Her poems are so beautiful,” she sighed almost dreamily.
Miranda hummed in agreement. She had memorised many a verse by Sappho, and could still remember some of them. One in particular grabbed her attention as her memory flittered back to the time where she’d had access to Sappho’s work. It sent a shock through her at how much the words pertained to her life after becoming the feared Medusa. She took a breath, and let the words flow from her lips, her voice laden with melancholy.
“You: an Achilles’ apple
Blushing sweet on a high branch
At the tip of the tallest tree.
You escaped those who would pluck your fruit.
Not that they didn't try. No,
They could not forget you
Poised beyond their reach.”
Andrea’s breath came out in a trembling, sudden exhalation. Brown eyes looked at Miranda in awe, with such honest admiration that Miranda felt herself blush faintly under the attention.
There was a silence, but it was different now. The comfort had been restored, and Miranda no longer felt so painfully bare. It felt as if she knew a lot more about Andrea now that they had such a wonderful, significant thing in common. A new understanding of each other. They had spoken about poetry several times already, but to have such love for the same author, one who was so different to anyone else, made them connected in a way they had not been before.
They revelled in this new shared knowledge, in the subtle but strong connection they both felt, and Miranda was finally able to relax fully for the first time in far too long. Despite everything she’d revealed the night before, despite how humiliated she’d felt after Andrea had seen her naked at the river, it all fell away in the wake of this new comfort.
They smiled at one another, their eyes full of all the unspoken things between them. After a moment, they both turned to enjoy the last rays of sunlight before dusk, and Miranda closed her eyes in bliss.
The next night was bitingly cold, despite the heat of the day. Even under the three blankets and with the combination of straw, feathers, and fur acting as a mattress to ward off the cold from the floor, Miranda felt it settle deep in her bones. She tossed and turned, trying to get as warm as possible to no avail. They had decided to keep the fire going through the night, but Miranda hardly felt it at all.
A faint noise from the other side of the cave alerted her to Andrea’s own shuffling. Through the faint, flickering light of the flames, Miranda realised that Andrea was not asleep.
It occurred to her then that Andrea’s bed was thinner than her own, and she must feel the cold even more, especially since she was hardly used to sleeping in these conditions. Something stirred in Miranda at the idea that crossed her mind, but she knew she could not allow Andrea to freeze to death in her sleep.
“Andrea?” she called out in a faint whisper.
“Yes?” Miranda could hear the tremble in her voice and her clattering teeth.
“It’s too cold for you to sleep there tonight.” Miranda swallowed down the inexplicable sensation of heat that spread up her body. “Come here.”
Andrea turned to her then, eyes wide as she looked at Miranda across the space between them.
“Um,” she said dumbly, and licked her lips. “Are- Are you sure?”
Miranda rolled her eyes, but a fond smile spread across her lips at Andrea's consideration.
“Yes, silly girl. Now come. And bring the blankets with you.”
Andrea heaved a sigh of something akin to relief and hauled herself up. She shivered as the frosty air engulfed her, and she quickly picked up the blankets before scurrying to Miranda’s bed. Miranda watched, unsettled for some unfathomable reason, as Andrea draped the blankets over Miranda and then crawled underneath them. Before Miranda was ready, their bodies were nearly pressed together.
“Are you alright?” Miranda asked, concerned when she noticed how much Andrea was trembling.
“Y-Yeah,” Andrea said, shuffling deeper under the blankets. “Just cold.”
“Mm,” Miranda hummed, frowning when she felt hardly any body heat coming from Andrea. “Autumn seems to be coming early this year.”
She waited a few moments for Andrea to get warmer now that she was in a better protected bed. Miranda herself felt much better now that she was under Andrea’s blankets as well as her own. But Andrea continued to tremble, and Miranda’s worry grew.
“Here,” she offered, and pressed herself closer. “You’re too cold. You need body heat.”
Miranda took a fortifying breath, and wrapped her arm around Andrea’s middle, pressing their bodies together until they were touching from feet to chest.
Miranda ignored Andrea’s reaction. She was taken aback by just how cold Andrea’s body was. Her feet were icy against Miranda’s, her hands like frozen icicles. Miranda wrapped herself tighter around Andrea, and used her breath to warm the trembling fingers between her free hand. So concentrated was she in warming her new bed companion that she didn’t notice how Andrea’s body had grown still. Didn’t notice Andrea’s expression as she gazed at Miranda mere inches away.
“Better?” Miranda whispered after spending several moments trying to share her warmth with Andrea.
She finally looked up, only to be locked with brown eyes. She was briefly taken aback by just how close Andrea was. Her eyes seemed even bigger like this, with the faint light of the fire darkening her eyelashes so that they looked like an artist’s brush strokes against the tops of her cheeks. She smelled clean from her bath in the river earlier that afternoon, and the faint aroma of lavender that Miranda had taught her to rub behind her ears and on her wrists to serve as natural perfume. Her body felt soft and warm against Miranda’s, the sensation so heavenly that breathing came with difficulty.
“Yes,” Andrea answered, her voice low. “Thank you.”
Miranda nodded faintly.
“Good night, Andrea. May Morpheus bring you peaceful rest.”
Andrea’s smile warmed her more than the blankets.
“Good night, Miranda. May He bring you sweet dreams.”
Miranda forced herself to close her eyes, no matter how much she wanted to revel in the beautiful sight of Andrea. She tried to numb herself, tried to ignore her body’s strange behaviour.
Mere moments later, Andrea’s breathing slowed into its familiar deep cadence, and Miranda’s eyes fluttered open against her will. She gazed at Andrea’s features, smooth and tranquil with sleep. Her heart squeezed in her chest. It was such a sharp sensation that she shut her eyes tightly to make the cause disappear into darkness.
Remembering the relaxing exercises she’d used in her many sleepless nights, she evened her breathing, counting the seconds with each inhalation and letting the air out slowly.
She fell asleep, her arm still wrapped around Andrea, and dreamed of endless fields of lavender.
The sun had been up for some time now, shedding light into the cave, the fire long since extinguished. A nearby bird’s song woke Miranda, slowly dragging her back to the land of the living.
She was immediately aware of the warm body wrapped around hers, pressed against her back and holding her close with a limp arm flung over her waist. Her stomach stooped low when she remembered the night's events. Andrea’s steady breathing fluttered over the back of her neck, tickling the sensitive skin there and sending shivers down her spine.
She needed to get up. She had to remove herself from this situation, no matter how divine it felt to have Andrea like this. Trying as best she could not to disturb her sleeping companion, Miranda regretfully edged away from Andrea until she was nearly off the bed.
“M’randa?” Andrea’s voice was drowsy. The hand on Miranda’s hip tightened.
“Hey,” Miranda said softly, twisting around to look at the sleepy face staring up at her. Andrea’s hair was tousled adorably, half of it plastered against her cheek as her eyes blearily blinked the slumber away. “Good morning.”
Andrea hummed and buried her face into the pillow. Miranda couldn't fight a smile at the gesture.
“I’m going to go check the fish traps and find some more grapes,” she stated, searching for any excuse to put some much-needed distance between them.
Andrea looked up at her again, frowning in confusion. Miranda knew she was going to ask questions that she did not have the answers to, so when Andrea opened her lovely mouth to speak, Miranda acted reflexively.
She reached out with her hand and delicately pushed Andrea’s hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. She was surprised by her own actions, and hesitantly watched as Andrea’s mouth snapped shut and brown eyes stared at her in wonder. Snatching her hand back as if she’d been burned, Miranda quickly stood and hastily pulled on her sandals before leaving the cave without another word. Andrea’s unwavering eyes followed her until she made a sharp turn towards the beach.
Miranda spent nearly an hour there, concentrating on examining all the fish traps while valiantly pushing away any stray thoughts regarding Andrea. How soft her skin was, how good her body felt pressed close to Miranda’s, how charming she looked first thing in the morning. She did not dwell on these things, but it was nearly impossible not to, especially since all her traps had come up empty.
As she started making her way back to the cave, she mentally prepared herself to see Andrea, to talk to her and act like nothing was amiss - despite Miranda’s confusing thoughts regarding the younger woman. She was mentally rehearsing what to say upon her return when a sudden, piercing cry cut through the air with a sharpness that stopped Miranda in her tracks.
Before she knew it, she was running. Her legs carried her as fast as she could muster. Her heart was thundering in her chest so wildly that she could hardly hear the hissing of snakes over the pounding in her ears. Dread gripped her mercilessly as panic flooded her. She gritted her teeth and sprinted impossibly faster through the trees until her feet ached.
When she burst through the edge of the forest next to her cave, what she saw nearly made her knees buckle. A man, his back to her, arm raised with weapon in hand. Andrea, pressed against the outside of the cave, face white with terror. Miranda, heart frozen, helplessly watched as the man’s spear shot through the air towards a defenceless Andrea.
A pained cry broke through Andrea’s lips when the spear struck, and she crumpled to the ground.
The attacker whirled around at the sound of Miranda’s dismayed shout. The moment his eyes found her, he became motionless, his shocked expression set in stone. Miranda rushed past him, not sparing him a moment’s thought.
She ran forward, stumbling as she scrambled to reach Andrea’s side. The younger woman was clutching her arm, her pained expression finding Miranda’s as soon as she dropped to her knees next to her.
“Miranda.” Andrea’s frightened eyes were wide, her voice shaking, her breathing fast and laboured.
“Shh,” Miranda soothed, even though her whole body was trembling.
She grasped Andrea’s wrist and carefully removed her hand away from her arm. There was a long, bleeding wound on her bicep, but Miranda noted with relief that it was not very deep. She sent a grateful prayer that the spear had only grazed Andrea’s arm, when Miranda knew very well that the damage could have been much, much worse.
At the mere thought of it, she felt sick all over again, and had to take deep, calming breaths to push away the nausea. Andrea wordlessly copied her breathing until they were both slightly calmer now that they were not in any imminent danger.
“Miranda,” Andrea whispered, her voice laden with something Miranda could not decipher. “Your hair.”
Now that Miranda’s blood wasn’t pounding in her ears, she could hear the snakes hissing around her, and realised why Andrea was looking at her with such wide eyes. She felt shame that Andrea had seen this part of her twice now - a part so hideous and grotesque that Miranda had hated it ever since she had seen her reflection in the mirror that first day ten years ago. She lowered her eyes, not wanting to see the disgust in Andrea’s face.
A trembling hand reached up between them, and Miranda froze in astonishment as Andrea’s fingers touched her temple, then slowly moved over her skin until they reached her hairline. She inhaled sharply when those fingers tentatively touched the snakes that had replaced her hair, gently caressing their silky, shiny scales. The animals didn't even flinch as they allowed the soft touch. Miranda’s shocked gaze lifted to find Andrea staring up at her without a hint of fear. Instead, her expression was awed and curious, and Miranda felt her breath catch at the reverence in Andrea’s touch.
“He thought I was you."
“I’m so sorry,” Miranda breathed, because she didn’t know what else to say. She was shaken to her core, speechless at Andrea’s unbelievable actions.
Andrea shook her head and a small, tentative smile curled at the edges of her lips. Her hand dropped between them again, but landed to rest on Miranda’s forearm. Miranda missed the intimate touch immediately, no matter how strange it had felt to have Andrea’s fingers brushing over the snakes Miranda had loathed for so long.
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault. And I’m not badly hurt, am I?”
Miranda swallowed, curling her trembling fingers into fists. The skin under Andrea’s hand on her arm felt like it was on fire.
“I have something that will help. We don’t want that getting infected.” She focused on the logical next steps, hoping they would settle her and keep the turmoil of emotions at bay.
“You’re hurt too,” Andrea said, steadying her by briefly squeezing Miranda’s arm.
“What?” Miranda asked, perplexed, before looking down at herself. “Oh.”
Small, thin cuts were scattered on her bare arms, around her ankles and shins from running through the thick forestation in her desperate attempt to get to Andrea. They were hardly painful, but a few were bleeding and would need to be taken care of.
“I didn’t even feel them until just now,” she mumbled to herself.
“I think that happens when you’re frightened,” Andrea said, not unkindly.
Miranda hummed and hauled herself to her feet. She offered Andrea a hand, and helped her up until they both stood face to face. Miranda’s pulse was still too fast, but as they stood for a moment in silence, she felt grounded.
They were alright. They were safe. She felt the familiar itching at her scalp, and the snakes disappeared, replaced once again by Miranda’s silver-white hair. Andrea watched the transformation avidly, the look of wonder returning to her face.
Andrea’s eyes found something over Miranda’s shoulder, and she turned to see the statue of their attacker. Miranda bit her lip, wondering how Andrea would react to her killing a man, even though he had tried to kill Andrea first. As if reading her mind, Andrea spoke up.
“He deserved it, if you ask me.”
Miranda whirled around in surprise, eyebrows raised as she stared at Andrea. The younger woman shrugged.
“What? He came here to kill you, Miranda, and nearly killed me by mistake. I don’t feel particularly sorry for him right now.”
Miranda felt her lips tugging up into a smirk at the defiance in Andrea’s face. The woman had a point, after all.
They made their way to the entrance of the cave where Miranda led Andrea to sit on the log where they usually had their conversations while soaking up the sun or gazing up at the stars. After putting the pitcher of water to boil over the fire, she quickly gathered her healing supplies - a cleansing paste and a healing salve made from herbs and plants, and a clean strip of cloth that served as a bandage.
Miranda returned to sit next to Andrea and took a fortifying breath. With as much care as she could, she cleaned the blood away with the boiled water, which had cooled enough to not burn Andrea’s sensitive skin.
When she began rubbing the cleansing paster over the wound, Andrea hissed at the stinging sensation. Miranda subconsciously rubbed a comforting hand over her shoulder. The younger woman grew quiet after that, and simply watched Miranda as she worked.
Studying the woman kneeling before her, Andrea forgot about any pain she’d felt. Miranda’s silky hair glinted in the sunlight like waves of molten pearls; the high cheekbones and perfectly shaped lips looked soft under the warm rays, contrasting sharply with her furrowed brow as she healed Andrea with elegant hands. She was meticulously gentle as she worked.
When Miranda finished wrapping the protective cloth around Andrea’s arm, she felt those keen, observant eyes studying her. She lifted her head to look up, only to be locked in Andrea’s gaze. For a moment, it felt as though everything stopped, and Miranda knew nothing except deep pools of dark honey.
“Thank you,” Andrea murmured.
Miranda was reminded of the first night they met, when Miranda had helped a stranger in need. How could she have known that Andrea would become so important to her in only a fortnight? How could she have predicted the visceral feelings she would feel because of her? She cleared her throat, lowering her eyes to break their suddenly overwhelming connection.
“Here, let me,” Andrea offered, and took the supplies before Miranda could argue.
Andrea’s hands were as attentive and careful as Miranda's had been as she cleaned Miranda’s cuts along her arms. They were barely significant, and she only used the boiled water on the bleeding ones to clean them, but she made sure to cover them with sufficient cleansing paste. Miranda sat as still as possible, hardly able to draw breath as her heart started racing again.
She nearly gasped aloud when Andrea lowered herself to her knees before her and slowly pushed Miranda’s chiton up to her thighs after a mumbled "may I?". Even though Andrea was just as careful with the cuts around her ankles and lower legs, and even though she was solely focused on the task, Miranda felt her cheeks warm with the heat that ignited in her abdomen. Andrea looked breath-taking. A gentle, divine creature kneeling before her, healing the cuts of a wounded monster.
Needing to take fortifying breaths, Miranda closed her eyes to push past her body’s ridiculous reactions. Yet, part of her wondered - is this what all those poets had written about a thousand different times in a hundred different ways? Were these the feelings that Sappho had described so beautifully with words that had torn at Miranda’s heartstrings?
Andrea stood, and the motion made Miranda’s eyes snap open.
“There,” she said with a smile. “All patched up.”
Miranda nodded and licked her lips. “Thank you.”
Andrea reached over and squeezed her hand gently, looking at her with honest, earnest eyes.
“It’s the least I can do, Miranda.”
They spent the day recovering in the cave, basking in the sunlight and eating what was left of the fruit. While the cleansing paste dried upon their skin, Miranda offered Andrea comfort in the way of idle conversation, distracting them both from unwanted thoughts regarding the events of that morning. Andrea smiled gratefully, the corner of her eyes crinkling and the brown irises turning gold in the sunlight.
“We should go to the river and wash away the paste," Miranda said. She prodded the green clay that had dried up on her arms and nodded in satisfaction. "It isn’t meant to stay on for too long, just enough for it to disinfect the wounds. After we wash, we’ll put on the salve to aid its healing.”
She stood from her place at the cave’s entrance and gathered the plant soap. When she turned back around, Andrea was staring at her uncertainly. Her pearly white teeth bit her lower lip in a sign Miranda had come to understand as unease or worry.
“What is it?”
“Um,” Andrea mumbled and pulled at her fingers resting on her lap. “Do you mind if we go together? I just- I don’t feel-”
Andrea couldn’t find the words to finish her thoughts, but Miranda was almost certain she understood. After Andrea’s near-death experience, Miranda should have known the younger woman would not be keen to be left alone again so soon. Miranda herself wanted to keep Andrea close, to protect her if any harm dared threaten her again.
So, she ignored the traitorous nervousness that fluttered in her stomach at the thought of the two of them washing themselves in such close proximity. Instead, she smiled reassuringly and nodded, delighted when Andrea’s face lit up with relief.
They made their way to the river, walking side by side through the forest. The silence between them would have been comfortable had Miranda not spent the short journey riddled with anxiety and bracing herself for the unease that would no doubt fill her when they reached their destination. More than once, Andrea glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, but Miranda carefully kept hers staring forward until they reached the river.
Standing by the shore and listening to the water drifting past, Miranda shifted apprehensively. Andrea seemed to notice her discomfort, because she stepped closer and gently took the soap from Miranda’s hands.
“I’ll go first, if you like,” she offered with a kind smile.
Miranda was touched by the gesture and returned the smile appreciatively. As soon as Andrea reached for the hem of her chiton in order to undress, Miranda turned her back and sat on a nearby rock. Her resolved, unwavering gaze was strictly fixed upon the trees, even as the sounds of water splashing and Andrea humming a quiet melody dangerously tempted her resolve. She did her best not to imagine what Andrea looked like in that moment - water droplets dripping down her body in rivulets that traced her dips and curves, hair slicked back and plastered to her skin down her back, face tilted back in bliss.
When it was Miranda’s turn, Andrea laid against a tree, drying her skin in the sun. Miranda did a fairly good job of not looking at her, of methodically going about the task of washing herself and rubbing off the paste without thinking too much of the woman lounging unclothed mere feet away.
She was drying herself off as best as she could when a noise had her reflexively looking up towards Andrea. Her eyes caught a glimpse of smooth skin and long legs before she forced her eyes away.
Not caring that she was not completely dry yet, Miranda dressed quickly and haphazardly. The material of her chiton stuck to her body in awkward places, but she gathered the soap and slipped on her sandals as if she did not care at all.
“Ready?” she asked, still not looking at Andrea.
“Oh,” Andrea murmured. "Yeah, just, um, give me a minute?"
Miranda listened as Andrea jumped up and quickly pulled on her clothes. Once Andrea was covered, she walked towards Miranda with a tentative smile on her face. Miranda’s lips curled up in an attempt to return it, but it felt strained. She was still too unsettled. She wanted to return to her cave and hide.
“Shall we?” Andrea asked, lifting her hand in a chivalrous gesture for Miranda to lead the way.
Miranda’s smile became easier after that. They both made their way back to the safety of their cave, Miranda listening attentively as Andrea spoke about everything and anything that drifted into her mind.
That evening before nightfall, they rubbed healing salve over their cuts. It stung far less than the cleansing paste had and it was a far quicker process. Miranda wrapped the bandage around Andrea’s arm as carefully as possible, to which the younger woman squeezed her hand in silent gratitude.
After they had both finished the process of taking care of the wounds to avoid any possible infection, they left the cave to gather food. Miranda found a rabbit in one of her traps while Andrea set out to find some fruit. They never drifted too far apart in their expeditions, always staying within hearing distance.
Later, Andrea girded her loins and accompanied Miranda back to the river in order to skin and clean the dead animal that would be their dinner. Even though Miranda hated this particular task, she was amused at the way Andrea watched her do it with a combination of disgust and morbid curiosity.
When they returned to the cave with their prizes, Miranda set about building a fire while Andrea put away the fruit. It was a welcome change for Miranda to be with someone who wanted to help instead of someone who demanded she do everything on her own. Andrea didn’t even need to be told, she just followed Miranda’s example.
She was also rather impressed - Andrea had taken to life in the wilderness a lot better than Miranda had at first. It was incredibly endearing, not to mention a relief to not have to look after someone who was incompetent or repulsed by Miranda’s way of living. The opposite was true, in fact: Andrea had great respect for nature, and Miranda often caught the look of veneration on her face as she touched the wood of a tree or gazed up at the moon.
Dinner was a quiet affair, but Miranda felt at ease thanks to Andrea’s easy smile and relaxed mood. They ate dessert - a peach and a handful of grapes each - sitting in their usual place at the entrance of the cave. The air was not particularly cold yet, so they both enjoyed the tranquility of the night. Stars filled the dark sky like a million tiny diamonds, and the moon was full, shining brightly like a proud deity looking down upon her admiring subjects.
Miranda was marvelling at how close it all seemed - the sky was so clear it felt like the stars were touching the treetops - when she felt eyes upon her. She turned to Andrea, only to find brown eyes watching her, a thoughtful expression on that lovely face.
“Have you ever turned a woman to stone?”
Miranda inhaled sharply, caught unaware. She always tried to avoid thinking about the people she had killed, but now that Andrea mentioned it-
“No,” she answered, and frowned. “I don’t think I’ve come across a woman since this happened to me.” She waved toward her face vaguely.
“How could that be possible?” Andrea asked. “Women are pretty much everywhere. We make up almost half the population! You really haven’t seen a woman in the last decade?”
Andrea’s face was so bewildered that Miranda almost felt like laughing.
“Well, I did a pretty good job of staying away from people,” she said off-handedly, but caught the saddened look that crossed Andrea’s face.
There was a brief silence. Miranda could practically see Andrea’s mind working as she looked into the forest with a concentrated expression.
“So,” she began, and turned back to gaze at Miranda. “Do you think your power only works on men?”
It was curious to hear someone use that word to describe what Miranda did to men when they looked at her. She had always considered it a curse, even though it had technically granted her the wish to keep away from men. And the people of Greece believed her to be a demonic monster, of course. But Andrea made it sound like Miranda’s curse was not something heinous or vile.
“I had considered it, yes,” Miranda answered truthfully. “Ever since you came along and stayed alive after looking at me. When I prayed to Athena I only ever wanted to get away from men, so it would make sense. But I never took the risk of seeing if this- this power affected women as well. Until you.”
Andrea nodded, and looked away briefly as if considering her next words carefully. When she locked eyes with Miranda again, there was some honest, deep emotion in them that nearly knocked Miranda over with its intensity.
“I’m glad it doesn’t,” she said, her voice quiet enough that Miranda had to lean closer. “I’m glad I found you.”
Miranda’s chest caved in on itself. She didn’t know why - whether because of Andrea’s words or that look on her face - but she was moving even closer. Andrea’s eyes flickered to her lips, and Miranda felt her heart start to pound.
She wasn’t sure who closed the distance, but suddenly there was warmth on her lips. Delicate. Gentle. Miranda had never felt anything like it. Andrea felt so soft against her, so perfect, that Miranda’s faith in Athena was solidified, for how could anything as wondrous as Andrea exist without the benevolence of her goddess?
Hands landed on her arms, tracing her skin up and up until Andrea’s fingers were in her hair, caressing her neck, her cheeks, leaving divine paths of flames in their wake. She felt like she would melt under Andrea’s tender touch, such a foreign sensation on her skin. Nobody had ever been so careful with her, so tentative, like Andrea feared she would break.
But Miranda knew she wouldn’t. She didn’t feel broken anymore.
She pulled Andrea closer, wrapping her arms around her warm body and holding her tightly against her. She tilted her head to kiss her better, to revel in Andrea’s mouth, soft like the petals of a flower. Andrea’s touch remained reverent, tracing Miranda’s features, her collarbones, the length of her throat. Something inside Miranda settled into place, bringing with it a life she didn’t know she’d lost. Like the dawn of spring after the longest winter’s cold.
Andrea sighed against her, and kissed her once, twice more before pulling back just enough to look at Miranda. Miranda’s own eyelids were slow to flutter open, heavy with pleasure. Andrea’s face was so close to her own that their breath became one. The dark eyes gazing at her were full of warmth and affection and relief.
Exquisite lips turned up into the most radiant smile Miranda had ever seen, and only then did she realise she was smiling too. She cupped Andrea’s cheek, marvelling at the beauty before her. She felt Andrea’s fingers push her forelock back, curling it behind her ear in the same way Miranda had done to her the previous night. So tender was the gesture that Miranda felt like she might cry.
The word slipped from her in a quiet plea, her voice rough with the overwhelming emotions that threatened to break through her.
“Please, stay with me.”
Andrea’s smile grew impossibly more.
“Yes,” she breathed, her eyes shining with happiness brighter than the moon itself. “Yes.”
They kissed again, bodies moulding together in a tight embrace. A sharp relief, almost as holy as a benediction, flooded through Miranda. After so long feeling broken and alone, she finally felt complete.
Chapter 3: Epilogue
7 Years Later
Miranda sits at the entrance of the cave in the same place she has shared so many conversations with Andrea. It’s a quiet night - something not so common anymore. Clear skies paint the world with the light of glinting stars and a resplendent moon, perfectly round and ethereal. The image brings Miranda a certain sweet nostalgia. It was a night much like this several years ago that everything had changed, her life revived by Andrea’s kiss.
So much has happened since then. Miranda often has trouble believing it’s all real, and all because of Andrea.
Seven years ago, after that attacker nearly killed Andrea, Miranda had wanted to leave, to reluctantly abandon the closest place she’d had to a home in a decade. It felt too dangerous to stay. If one man had found her, it meant that others would soon follow.
But Andrea had stood her ground, saying that this cave, with its forest and beach and river, was right for them. It was their place, their sanctuary, and they couldn’t know for certain that another hunter would find them. She argued that Miranda could not keep running all her life, because what kind of life would that be? Miranda had admitted that it was exhausting, and part of her hated the idea that she would be sentenced to continue running for the rest of her life.
So, they decided to stay, despite Miranda’s fears. There had been many sleepless nights at first, but she had slowly relaxed back into their usual routine. No other hunters arrived to threaten their lives, so Miranda’s fears slowly subsided. After a few weeks, Andrea had proposed another idea - one that would improve their lives significantly.
It was all made easier because of the horse. The day after that hunter had tried to kill Andrea, they found a lone horse tied to a tree not far from the cave, laden with hunting javelins, food and clothing provisions, reins and all. Andrea had immediately taken to it - named him Nereus and made sure to care for it as she would a pet, building him a shelter to the best of her ability. She’d told Miranda a charming story of being a little girl and sneaking into the stables to visit her father’s horse any time she could. It had endeared Miranda even more to the woman, and so she had accepted Andrea’s proposal.
They kept the horse for travelling, and for the first few trips, Andrea used the hunter’s clothes to disguise herself as a man in order to safely visit nearby villages, most of which were several days’ travel.
In Andrea’s absence during those trips, Miranda had felt the worst anxiety she had ever experienced. The jarring silence left in Andrea’s wake had filled Miranda with desolation, and she’d suffered from awful night terrors on the rare nights she’d actually managed to sleep without Andrea by her side. She spent long hours praying to Athena and any other Gods listening to keep Andrea safe, but the empty quiet around her only served to make her fears louder.
What if something bad happened to Andrea? What if she was injured or robbed or kidnapped? What if she decided to never return?
Miranda’s worst fears never came true, mercifully. Andrea always came back after a few days, her smile bright and triumphant, her kisses eager and passionate.
Through selling and bartering the forest’s fruit, their hunted animals and fur, Andrea had managed to obtain goods and essentials that Miranda had missed dearly since she’d been forced to abandon civilisation. They obtained items such as spun cloth, thread and needles to make new garments, a wax writing board and scrolls to write on, as well as utensils, cooking pots, knives, pottery, and sandals. The new pillows and blankets made sleeping far more comfortable and warm; the olive oil, ground flour for bread, and seeds to start a vegetable garden gave their diets a variety Miranda had greatly missed. Life in the wilderness became much easier than Miranda could have ever imagined possible.
On one of Andrea’s trips to one of the bigger towns, she had begun what Miranda still considers one of the greatest gifts Andrea has ever bestowed upon her.
She’d spread the rumour that the feared Medusa had been vanquished, that she personally knew the “valiant hero” who had slain her. Slowly but surely, the tale of Medusa’s death had spread all around the nation, and men and women alike had rejoiced the fall of a terrible monster. This reaction did not bother Miranda in the least, for she had been in a celebratory mood as well. She no longer had men hunting her down, blood thirsty and vicious. She no longer had the constant fear and alertness that each day could be her last, that Andrea was in danger just by being near her. She was finally able to breathe.
Therefore, it was a great shock when a woman stumbled upon their cave.
Miranda had been far too nervous to approach her, for fear that her snakes would make an appearance and the legend of Medusa would return to haunt her. Knowing this, Andrea took it upon herself to approach the lost woman.
After being offered warm tea and nourishment, the stranger revealed her name was Amalia. She had escaped from an abusive marriage to a fisherman by stealing his boat in the middle of the night. A storm had blown her ashore, damaging the small vessel, and she had become lost in her attempt to reach the city of Megara on foot where she’d planned to contact the only distant relative she had left. She’d seemed so desolate, so worn down, with bruises darkening her left cheek and bare arms.
Miranda had not stood a chance. She saw too much of herself in this stranger. She knew what it was like. She knew the terror and the despair. How alone one could be against the abuse of a cruel man.
After the offer had slipped from her, Andrea had looked at her in surprise. Miranda felt a flash of regret, because this was something that they should both discuss and decide together. This was their home - hers and Andrea’s. But before she could second-guess herself too much, Andrea had smiled in that honest, reassuring way of hers, and Miranda knew she’d made the right decision.
After Miranda and Andrea briefly spoke of their own experiences - without mention of Miranda’s curse - Amalia had agreed to stay for some time. Miranda and Andrea did the best they could to teach Amalia everything. It took her longer to learn than Andrea, but eventually she began to adapt to her new living circumstances. She had even taught them better fishing techniques, which had proven very useful.
Four weeks after she’d arrived, she’d declared that she was surprisingly comfortable here. There was something reassuring and safe about living in this little place at the ends of the earth - a sanctuary of bliss without pretence or hate or violence.
Shortly after that, Amalia had taken it upon herself to build a cabin in the woods, a little away from the cave. “To give you privacy,” she’d reasoned, and Miranda had blushed while her lover had simply laughed. Thus, in her next excursion, Andrea returned with materials and equipment to build the cottage. Amalia had proven herself a talented architect, building a humble abode using stone, lime mortar, gravel filling, and a thatch over wooden support beams to act as a protective roof. She had even managed to make a door and window shutters out of wood.
Seeing the beaten, wounded woman heal and bloom into someone confident, full of wit and resilience, was incredible. It gave Miranda the idea that would set everything in motion. She’d turned to Andrea one night in bed, holding the woman close, revelling in her warm skin.
“What if we made something of this?”
“This?” Andrea asked in confusion.
“A refuge for women. Somewhere they can escape to when life treats them unkindly. A safe haven away from the violence of men.”
Andrea had regarded her thoughtfully for several moments.
“Are you not afraid they will learn who you are?”
After a hesitation, Miranda nodded slowly.
“Yes, I am. But I believe it to be worth the risk. I want to help women who are living the way I once was. The ones who have nothing and suffer every day."
She swallowed past the emotions that always plagued her when memories of her past life emerged. Andrea, gentle as ever, softly touched her cheek and held her closer. With the warmth of her lover, Miranda found her voice again.
"Despite your initial fear, you gave me a chance and accepted that part of me, so maybe others could as well. I was thinking of telling Amalia about it soon, so maybe we’ll know better then. I think it’s best if she finds out through me instead of - I don’t know - my snakes making a surprise appearance in a moment of fear, for instance. Besides, she deserves to know, don’t you think?”
Andrea had agreed, of course. Her heart was even kinder than Miranda’s. She was more willing to trust and sympathise with strangers, and Miranda loved her for it. For that, and for a million reasons more.
The conversation with Amalia went well, considering how apprehensive Miranda was about it. She had told everything she’d told Andrea that fateful night, when one of Sappho’s verses had slipped past her lips and Andrea had realised who Miranda truly was. Amalia had reacted fearfully at first, of course, but she had listened nonetheless. By the end of Miranda’s tale, Amalia had looked at her with understanding in her eyes. She even hugged her. Nobody else besides Andrea had ever hugged Miranda like that.
After that, things had been set into motion. In the next several visits to nearby towns, Andrea had taken extreme care to look for any women that seemed in need of an escape. She had offered secret reassurances to as many of them as she could find, and told them a tale that could save their lives.
Over time, the tale of Miranda spread through the country in hushed voices and behind closed doors. To this day, it lives - the story of a secret place away from society where women can find peace and liberty. Mothers tell their daughters, girls tell their younger sisters, women tell the neighbours who live in houses of raised voices. They tell the story of a woman who was blessed by Athena with a power to shield herself from the cruelty of men.
“She is the protector of women in a far away place. If you ever need refuge, there is a safe haven in the Northernmost valleys, where hidden women live under her protection."
Thus, their sanctuary started growing. First it was two young girls, Callidora and Calligenia - twin sisters who ran away from home after their mother’s death, trying to escape their abusive father. Then it was a woman named Serena, who was running away from poverty and her only remaining option was selling her body to the hungry claws of men’s greed. After her, it was Althea, an elderly woman who had been left a lonely widow with no means to survive. Several months later, two young women, Galene and Eutychia, escaped their homes before they were forced to marry against their will. They were all welcomed with open arms and comforting words.
Over the course of the next few years, five more women sought refuge from abusive husbands. One of them, Leda, had brought her young daughter, Gaia, who was only three years of age. She was a delightful, adorable child who brought bright laughter to them all, and an innocence that healed something inside all the women around her.
Miranda’s little corner of the world was no longer her own. Instead, it was shared among women who treated each other with kindness and respect, learned from each other and offered comfort freely. Despite her initial fear, they all accepted Miranda and her “powers”. They embraced it, even, believing it to be a most remarkable gift from the divine Athena. They trusted her to protect them, and she in turn felt protective of them. She cared for them all, and they cared for her too. They became a family.
Every one of them made efforts to build their small community together. Andrea taught them all to horse ride, Althea wove them all warm clothes for the colder months, Amalia had built small cabins for them with the help of the stronger women of the group. Leda made hand-woven baskets, Galene made artful vases and bowls from clay, and Eutychia taught them how to defend themselves in case they were ever in danger on their journeys to nearby towns.
They took turns tending to the vegetables and hunting for food, as well as going on any necessary trips to gather needed goods - except for Miranda, who had to remain hidden from the public. And they all took care of little Gaia as if she were their own. Miranda had taken to the child with particular fondness, entertaining her with her hair of snakes whenever the little girl demanded it, much to Andrea's amusement.
Most importantly, they offered each other comfort and company, especially on the bad days. Each of them was a survivor. A warrior. The time they spent together was always easy and peaceful, filled with that deep, indescribable understanding that only women possess. Nobody had been surprised when faint, anguished cries had rung through the night, born from nightmares of memories that still haunted them. Just as nobody had been shocked to learn about Miranda and Andrea’s relationship, or when Serena moved into Amalia’s cabin six months after her arrival.
Many evenings were spent around a fire, telling stories and sharing music and laughing together. Bathing in the river had become a particularly relaxing time for all of them, especially in the warm summer days, and even more especially with Gaia splashing around with peals of gleeful laughter. Walks along the beach had become a common occurrence, most prominently at dusk to watch the sun sink into the waves and paint the sky a magnificent palette of warm colours.
Despite the amount of time spent in companionship, there was a silent understanding that privacy and solitude must be respected. Nobody was forced to participate unless they wished to do so, for which Miranda was incredibly grateful.
It had taken her some time to adapt to this new way of living. She had forgotten what it was like to be part of a community, to feel included and appreciated by anyone that was not Andrea. Gradually, however, she had learned to cherish it, and could no longer imagine how she had lived for so long in such lonely misery.
Even though they had the means to make a cabin for themselves, Miranda and Andrea had decided to remain in their cave. They were too comfortable there, where their love had tentatively started and then developed into the most divine gift Miranda had ever received. They’d built up a wooden barrier with a door at the entrance for privacy, but they usually kept it open during the day.
Now, every time Miranda looked around, she felt at home. The space felt fuller now, more alive with all the stacks of scrolls and writing utensils, the hand-woven clothes, blankets and rugs. Her most treasured possession stood proudly amidst it all: a small Kylex that Andrea had brought for her on their third anniversary. The drinking vase depicted an image of Sappho with her beloved Atthis. Miranda had been so moved by the gift, so overwhelmed with love, that she hadn't been able to fight her tears.
When Andrea goes on her travels (always accompanied by another of their clan, upon her lover's insistence), Miranda always waits for Andrea's return at the entrance of their home, and tonight is no different. The faint sounds of muffled conversation and teenage laughter in the distance make her feel calm. She is content to wait patiently now, unlike the first few months after Andrea had taken to her expeditions into civilisation. This change is due to more than just the fact that Miranda is not alone in Andrea’s absence anymore.
She no longer fears that Andrea will not come back.
A light breeze picks up, running through Miranda’s hair and cooling her warm skin. It’s a hot summer night, and Miranda has spent the day at the beach with the youngest of their clan. Callidora and Calligenia spent hours jumping waves and having water fights; Miranda had supervised from shore, building sand castles with a delighted Gaia while Leda lounged beside them singing songs Miranda vaguely recognised. It had been a beautiful day, but Miranda had wished for Andrea to be there to share it with them, as she always did when her lover was gone.
After such a day, sleep is starting to suffuse Miranda. She is stifling a yawn when she hears horse hooves pounding on the ground, coming nearer.
Miranda stands, but does not approach as Andy dismounts Nereus and removes the saddle, reins, and bags full of goods. She knows well that Andrea enjoys this process - she loves to tend to the horse after a long journey.
After Nereus has been loosely tied to a tree and given plenty of water, Andrea finally comes towards Miranda, her expression happy despite the tiredness Miranda can see clouding beautiful brown eyes.
“Hey,” Andrea says as she approaches.
Miranda does not respond. Instead, she kisses her with all the warmth and love that has been building up over the last four days. Praise Athena, how she has longed for Andrea.
When they part, there is a bright, beautiful smile on Andrea's lips.
“Missed me?” she asks, chuckling.
“You know the answer to that,” Miranda responds. She nuzzles a soft cheek and lays a kiss upon it.
“Hmm,” Andrea sighs in delight, revelling in the feeling of Miranda’s strong arms wrapped around her.
“Did you have good travels?”
“I did. I’ll show everyone all that I managed to procure. Speaking of which, how fare the ladies?”
“Good,” Miranda answers, breathing in the familiar scent of her lover. “I spent the day at the beach with the girls.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Andrea says, and places a tender kiss on Miranda’s forehead. “And what have you been doing since you got back?”
She says this with a knowing tone and Miranda rolls her eyes. Amalia and Serena have been conspiring against her by telling Andrea all the things she does while Andrea is away. Miranda has tried to convince Andrea that the two women exaggerate. She does not “sigh like a besotted wife” and “gaze at the horizon longingly”. What an absurd notion.
“If you must know," Miranda drawls. "I’ve been sitting in our favourite place, looking up at the sky and remembering our first kiss. There, happy now?”
Andrea grins at her in delight, and Miranda does not regret her admission in the slightest. Not when Andrea looks at her like that. Her lover turns in her arms to press her back against Miranda’s front, leaning into her warmth as she gazes up at the sky.
“Oh,” she murmurs quietly, but Miranda can hear the awe in her voice. “Yes, I see what you mean.”
As they both marvel at the view before them, Miranda squeezes her arms tighter around Andrea’s middle, pulling her impossibly closer. She rests her chin on a firm shoulder, brown locks of hair ticking her cheek. In a soft voice, she begins to recite the poem she has been thinking about all evening.
“Stars veil their beauty soon
Beside the glorious moon,
When her full silver light
Doth make the whole earth bright.”
She hears Andrea let out a slow, pleased breath before the younger woman is once again turning in her arms, her eyes shining with love as she gazes at Miranda.
“Sappho, Miranda? Are you trying to woo me?”
A smirk curls her Miranda's lips.
“That depends,” she replies smoothly. “Would you like to be wooed by someone such as myself?”
“Oh, my love.” Andrea’s smile is so beautiful that Miranda has trouble drawing breath. Fingers tenderly push her forelock away from her face, and then lower to touch her jaw. “I wouldn’t want anyone else.”
Miranda has no words to respond to that declaration, too lost in the exhilaration that suffuses her when Andrea draws closer, her words echoing in Miranda’s ear like a pleasant mantra. She leans forward and kisses her, the softness of Andrea’s skin and the familiar comfort of her lips making her melt against her.
They retreat inside, closing the door to shut the world out for the night. In this cave, with the dancing flames of the fire bathing it in warmth and light, they are the only beings in existence.
With careful fingers, Miranda undresses Andrea and leads her to their bed, their lips hardly breaking apart. Even after all this time, she still wonders how her life has come to this, what she did to be blessed so.
She trails her lips over soft, smooth skin, runs her fingers over all her favourite places. Andrea’s soft moans and whimpers fill their home. It is the most exquisite symphony of sounds Miranda has ever heard.
She is overwhelmed with love for this woman - this heavenly creature that listens to Miranda, comforts her, heals her, and decides to stay despite everything; this celestial woman that offers her love to Miranda without doubt, deceit, or regret.
As her lover unravels against her, crying out her name in prayer, Miranda knows that she will spend eternity worshipping Andrea.
When she crawls up the bed, Andrea is breathing heavily, her skin slick with sweat and her cheeks flushed like the most beautiful flowers. She is exhausted and hazy, but Miranda can’t stop herself from leaning down to kiss her once more. Andrea hums at the back of her throat, and snakes an arm between them with clear intent. Miranda chuckles lightly, because of course exhaustion would never stop Andrea. She has learnt this in the most delightful ways many, many times before.
The first time Andrea had undressed her, mapped her skin with fervent kisses and devoted all her reverence to Miranda’s body, they had been unable to leave the bed for an entire day. Miranda had never felt adored like that. She’d never been loved like this. Nothing in her life had prepared her for the ecstasy Andrea would give her time and time again, the elation that would make her body float into another plane of blissful existence.
But it was more than that. Every caress had set her aflame, yes, but they also healed all the broken pieces she had carried within herself ever since she could remember. She’d felt like a phoenix, reborn by Andrea’s touch.
Although she desperately craves Andrea’s touch in this moment - especially with eager lips kissing her neck just so and those fingers crawling lower and lower on her abdomen - Miranda knows that Andrea is exhausted and sleep deprived.
“Mm,” she lets out a hum of delight, because Andrea’s ministrations always give her a thrill of pleasure. “Not tonight, darling. You need rest.”
Andrea lets out a faint whine of complaint.
“Shh,” Miranda hushes soothingly.
She lifts herself enough to put some space between their heated bodies. An amused smile curls her lips at the adorable pout that graces the younger woman’s features. She raises a hand between them and gently moves aside a lock of hair covering Andrea’s forehead.
“We have all the time in the world, my love.”
Andrea sighs, but nods in acceptance and finally allows herself to fully relax onto their bed, her body melting into its warmth. Satisfied, Miranda carefully rolls off her. She pulls the blankets over them before pressing her body close to Andrea’s.
“I love you,” Andrea murmurs sleepily, and kisses Miranda’s bare shoulder.
Miranda smiles and drapes her arm over Andrea’s waist.
“I love you too,” she says, and closes her eyes. “My Andrea.”
They fall asleep in each other's arms, wrapped safely in the knowledge that their love is as strong as the power of Athena herself.
As the members of their small community sleep in their peaceful haven, safe from the cruelties of the world, the goddess of wisdom and justice watches over them with a proud, gratified smile.