When the hazy nets of sleep fell away from Kyra and released her into dawn, she woke to Kassandra's arms wrapped around her and her cheek resting on Kassandra's chest. She'd crawled on top of Kassandra in the night, turned Kassandra into her personal bedroll, and the luxury of waking up with their skin touching and their bodies entwined was surely better than any bed of feathers and silk.
She kept her eyes closed, listening to the steady cadence of Kassandra's heart, while her own fluttered with giddy disbelief, every beat repeating this is happening, this is happening, this is happening.
The Oneiroi weren't playing a trick on her, disguising themselves in her dreams. This was very real. Kassandra was very real: solid muscle and bone built around a fearless heart, warding her during the night they'd spent in a nest of blankets, sheltered by the stone walls of the hunters' hut by the sea.
Kassandra stirred, sighed softly, her essence returning to her flesh.
Kyra turned her head and smiled into Kassandra's skin. "Hey."
"Hey," Kassandra said, her voice sleep-thick and raspy.
Kyra's dreams of peace needed a lot more mornings where she woke up safe, happy, and in the arms of a gloriously naked Kassandra. "I'm not crushing you, am I?" she asked, gently rocking from side to side.
Kassandra's arms tightened around her. "You're not crushing me." Her chest vibrated with a low chuckle. "I don't think you could if you wanted to."
"Probably not," Kyra agreed. "I'm glad. You make a comfortable bed."
Fingertips brushed Kyra's forehead, traced her eyebrows, her cheekbone, her jaw. As much as Kassandra liked to present herself as a blunt instrument, it only served to hide a deep well of softness, one Kassandra deployed to great effect in quiet moments like this one. Kyra didn't want to move ever again.
"Second best job I've ever had," Kassandra said.
"Second best. What was the first?"
Kassandra tapped the tip of her nose. "When you ordered me to fuck you."
Kyra opened her eyes at the smile in Kassandra's voice and lifted her head so she could scowl at it. "I seem to recall that you didn't do that job the way I intended you to."
"And yet you came anyway." Kassandra's eyes twinkled.
As irritating as it was to see Kassandra so damned smug about what she'd done, the way the muscles between Kyra's legs clenched with the memory of fullness and maddening denial forced her to admit that Kassandra had every right to be. Still, it wouldn't do to let Kassandra think she'd gotten away with it. "You'll pay for what you did, you know."
"I expected nothing less from you."
Gods, that confidence. Kyra envied it, how Kassandra wore it so easily, a show of power borne of presence more than force. Since the moment they'd met, it had stirred Kyra's darker longings with the tantalizing possibility of bending someone so powerful to her will.
She sat up, straddling Kassandra's hips, and beheld the marvel of Kassandra naked in the daylight. The divine proportions of her broad shoulders and muscled waist would drive a sculptor mad from knowing they'd never be able to capture the glory of the real thing. Her hair fell loosely across her collarbones to the tops of her breasts, and Kyra longed to plunge her fingers into those strands. A fistful in her grip would let her pull Kassandra's mouth wherever she—
Kassandra had been watching her. "You want that payment now, don't you?" she said.
Kyra leaned forward, grinding herself into Kassandra's belly. "I always want." Her blood pulsed within her, her skin growing hot from holding back the flood. "I want your mouth. I want your hands."
Kassandra's chest rose and fell, her gaze steady as she turned her hands palms-up and lifted her chin, baring her throat.
And just like it had last night, Kyra's breath lodged in her chest as she watched Kassandra yield.
Kyra's want flared hard and fast, in her gut and her chest and her mouth, the sharp echo of it aching deep in her teeth. She bent down and kissed the side of Kassandra's neck, where the pulse beat near the surface, the potent thrum of Kassandra's blood vibrating against her lips. She nuzzled soft skin and laced it with kisses, drawing a rumbling groan out of Kassandra, and then she tangled her fingers in the hair on either side of Kassandra's head and kissed that beautiful mouth.
She'd dreamt about that mouth. Before the olive grove. Before the fort. She'd craved it, night after night. And she'd told herself it was an idle curiosity conjured by proximity and danger, nothing more.
Nothing more, even as she woke up morning after morning damp and throbbing.
Somehow her body had known Kassandra's kisses would leave her breathless and burning like no others had ever done, a prediction proved true, and it was happening again now, time stretching, their kiss deepening, and she grew lightheaded, her skin aflame.
Kassandra's breath was as ragged as Kyra's when Kyra finally pulled herself away. She sat upright, letting Kassandra's hips spread her thighs while Kassandra stared at her with a look that melted her to dripping. Then Kassandra lifted a hand and reached for her, but Kyra caught her by the wrist and held it.
It was astonishing, how strong Kassandra was. All that latent power within Kyra's grasp, like the string of a Titan's bow drawn back and waiting to be released. She knew Kassandra could have broken her hold as easily as brushing away an insect. Instead, Kassandra merely tilted her head and watched her.
"Don't move," Kyra said. "I want to enjoy you without any distractions."
"Are you going to make me beg again?"
"Do you want to beg again?" she asked, and when Kassandra didn't respond, she added, "I think I'd rather see you obey. I'm still not sure you're capable of it."
Kassandra said nothing, but the muscles within Kyra's grip relaxed.
That was all the answer Kyra needed, and she pulled the hand down and rubbed herself against Kassandra's fingers, watching Kassandra's nostrils flare as she discovered how wet Kyra was.
Kyra raised herself higher on her knees and maneuvered Kassandra's hand into position between her thighs, drawing a wide-eyed gasp and a smile out of Kassandra as she realized what Kyra intended to do.
"You're going to give me exactly what I want this time," Kyra said, and then she slowly impaled herself, knuckle by delicious knuckle, onto two of Kassandra's fingers.
This would be no repeat of last night, when Kassandra had taken over as soon as she'd slipped inside, her skillful strokes controlling Kyra as well as any leash. This time, Kassandra's hand was pinned between Kyra and her own body, and she had no choice but to stay there while Kyra rode her as long and as hard as she wanted.
Gods, it felt good to use Kassandra like this, like an object made for her pleasure, and she exulted in the sight of Kassandra's muscles tightening in the winch of frustration, from the cords in her neck to the hand she'd clenched into a fist. Even her eyes were squeezed shut.
Kyra slowed to a stop. "Look at me."
Kassandra hesitated, then opened her eyes, and as her gaze reluctantly settled on Kyra, the blood in her cheeks rose and bloomed. The sight of it sent a thrill across Kyra's skin like the trail of a falling star. Was Kassandra actually blushing? Kyra filed that tidbit away for future reference.
Then she rode Kassandra slowly, making sure to tell Kassandra how very much she was enjoying this, by the wanton look on her face and the lewd sounds she made.
Kassandra's fingers spasmed inside her, and Kassandra groaned, hollow as a gourd. "Fuck," she said. "Just let me touch you."
Kyra smiled. "But you are." She clenched herself hard around Kassandra for emphasis. "And you're doing a magnificent job."
Another groan, this one sullen. Kyra's smile grew wider.
She kept going, taking her pleasure from Kassandra's helpless fingers and captive gaze, letting the pressure build until it pressed her against the floodgates of her release, seeking the final push that would open her up to its deluge.
She found it in the desperate heaves of Kassandra's hips beneath her, and in the want roiling in Kassandra's eyes, a want that surrounded Kyra like a storm blowing in from the sea. Then the gates burst open and the pleasure filled her to overflowing, in great rippling waves that carried her on and on until her thighs threatened to give out.
Breathless and spent, she eased herself off of Kassandra with a sigh and sat at Kassandra's elbow.
"You could have done that with an olisbos," Kassandra muttered, flexing her wrist and fingers.
"I thought that's what I just did." She grinned down at Kassandra, then lifted her fingertips and stroked Kassandra's jaw, tracing a line down her neck and across her shoulder. "My very powerful, very gorgeous, very patient olisbos."
Kassandra rolled her eyes. "Hopefully that settled my debt."
"Oh no, I'm just getting started," Kyra said. "Unless you want me to stop..." She stilled her fingers halfway down Kassandra's arm.
"I want you to be satisfied."
Kyra laughed. "That might be an impossible task." She'd sipped at her desire for Kassandra and found an entire sea waiting in the cup. "Tell me, what do you want this very moment?"
"To taste you."
Kyra smirked and slid two fingers between her legs, running them through her still-wet folds.
Though it wasn't what Kassandra intended, she welcomed Kyra's fingers anyway, parting her lips and sucking Kyra into her generous mouth. And then her defiance came out, in her gaze and in her tongue gliding against Kyra's skin, a challenge and a promise: a glimpse of what Kassandra would do if only Kyra would let her.
The promise in that skillful tongue was almost enough to make Kyra abandon the game and let Kassandra have her way with her. Almost. "Keep obeying me and you'll be rewarded," she said, speaking her own promise, and then she pulled her fingers free and replaced them with her lips, tasting herself in Kassandra's mouth, faint and slightly salty. Outside the door to the hut, the sea called in roaring waves, matching the pulse between her legs.
She sat up and throbbed as she contemplated her next move.
Kassandra sighed with pleasure, then licked her lips and asked, "And what is your command?"
Kassandra had a talent for shading her voice with undercurrents of meaning. This time, she'd chosen amused mockery, to match her habit of trying to provoke Kyra to irritation. It wouldn't work, of course, not with Kyra already burning with wants that left no room for anything else. But she wasn't about to stop Kassandra from trying — she'd just add the price of such insolence to the amount Kassandra owed.
She patted Kassandra on the cheek, and said sweetly, "Don't take your eyes off me, and do what I say."
In the early morning light, Kassandra's eyes were flecked with brilliant motes of gold over deepening layers of color, bronze shading into brown — a rare combination, beautiful enough to inspire poetry on its own. But her eyes were worth paying close attention to for another, more important reason: they revealed Kassandra's true emotions far better than her words or body ever did.
And right now, they were curious about Kyra's plans, but trusting enough to let her go ahead with them anyway.
Kyra took a deep breath, searching for her voice and finding it tangled within her desires. "Touch yourself," she said.
After a moment's hesitation, Kassandra did.
Kyra wasn't prepared for the sight of Kassandra fingering herself on command. How could she be? Days ago she would have said it was about as likely to happen as Artemis coming down from Olympus to proposition Kyra herself. And oh gods, it was so fucking delicious, watching Kassandra stroke her own clit while her gold-anointed eyes were compelled to stare back at Kyra, the hunger within them on full display.
Kyra caressed the underside of Kassandra's breast with her fingertips. "Don't stop. How wet are you?"
Kassandra's eyelids flickered. "Very."
"And the Spartan gift of tongues makes an appearance."
"You're the one who's good with words."
"I am — and you're not impressing me. At all." She ran the pad of her finger lightly over Kassandra's nipple, back and forth.
Kassandra let out a low growl, and her eyes searched the roof of the hut, as if there might be a codex of words engraved upon its wooden planks.
"Did I say you could look away?"
Kassandra's breath was uneven as she forced her gaze back to Kyra.
"Words, Kassandra," she prodded.
Kyra snorted dismissively. "Boring. Try harder."
An irritated glint appeared in Kassandra's eyes. "Ahh... Gushing... Torrential."
"Torrential. I like that." She bent down and gave Kassandra a kiss, as hard and quick as a downpour in a spring storm. Just enough to tease. "Would you rather come, or taste me?" she whispered into Kassandra's ear.
"Good answer. You can make yourself come if you want," she said generously, and she kissed Kassandra again, softer this time, enjoying how Kassandra's mouth melted into her own, and how every one of Kassandra's moans of pleasure tasted a bit differently.
Pulling away from that kiss wasn't easy, but she had one question left on her mind, and judging by the way Kassandra was wriggling and panting, she didn't have much time left to ask it.
"Have you ever done this while thinking about me?"
"Yes." More a gasp than an articulate word.
Delos. The only time they'd really been apart during that trip was the night before they'd sailed back to Mykonos. And Delos was only a few days after they'd met. Kassandra was beginning to make more sense.
She grinned. "You've been lusting after me for a while."
Kassandra shook her head. "Not just lust," she said, forcing the words out from between her teeth.
Kyra's eyes widened, but now was not the time to dwell on that revelation, not with Kassandra growling softly and rocking her hips, caught in the thrall of her need. She'd done a splendid job of obeying — better than Kyra had expected, and she deserved her reward. "How close are you to coming?" Kyra asked.
Kyra couldn't help herself: she laughed in delight, laughed at the perfection of Kassandra's answer, laughed at how lucky she was to say, "Go on, then. Come." And she leaned forward and kissed Kassandra in time to feel the snap and shudder of her release, drinking from the fountain of her pleasure in great mouthfuls, feeling Kassandra's body writhe and writhe and writhe.
Once again, Kyra was back where she'd started: laying on top of Kassandra, drowsing in her warmth. Sunlight slanted through the hut's doorway in acute angles of gold, and the air was redolent with the scents of arousal and fulfillment, Kyra's mouth still tingling with the aftertaste of Kassandra's pleasure.
She circled her finger around Kassandra's nipple, and fought the urge to draw it in against her tongue.
Kassandra nudged her gently. "Still not satisfied?" she asked.
"Are you? You're still hard," Kyra said, flicking the nipple playfully.
"Reach down and find out how hard I really am."
Kyra's chest tightened, squeezing her voice into a whisper. "Gods, you make me want." She'd never felt anything like it, this constant hunger for someone.
Not even for Thaletas.
Thinking of him made her stomach pitch like the deck of a wind-tossed ship. He was a good man, and a dutiful lover: kind, attentive in the moment, but without a drachma of creativity, and though he was willing to suffer patiently whenever she played games of power, it was obvious they stirred nothing within him. Thaletas would give her safety and stability, a home and Spartan citizenship, if she wanted it, and after a lifetime of uncertainty, the things he offered her had been enough to cling to, even if it meant burying her darker wants time and time again. They'd shared plenty of good and happy moments that had built into something that felt like love.
It wasn't fair to compare Thaletas to Kassandra when something greater than a mortal's blood flowed in her veins. No mortal could move like she did in a fight. No mortal could leap from the heights she did and land unscathed, magical spear or not. Kyra wouldn't be surprised if Kassandra's lineage branched from a scion of Achilleus, or Herakles. Someone whose blood mingled with that of the gods.
And how could Kyra have known her message — her arrow shot into the dark, really — would bring a demigod to their shores?
A demigod who was now stretching muscles both divine and splendid beneath her, saying, "What I want is to sit up. I haven't stayed in bed this late since..."
Kyra slid away from Kassandra. "Since?" she said, prodding Kassandra to finish. She missed Kassandra's skin against hers already.
Kassandra pulled a few blankets into a pile against the wall and leaned back into them. "Since I was in Argolis, this past winter." Her voice had hitched with a slight hesitation, intriguing given such mild words. "I'd hurt my shoulder"—a minute flex of muscles within the left one told Kyra which—"and it landed me in bed for a few days. But I ended up spending weeks in Argos, waiting for it to heal enough for me to finish my business there and move on."
"I bet that drove you crazy."
"It did. I hate being stuck in one place."
"You've been stuck here for two weeks," Kyra said, nudging Kassandra's thigh with her knee, both for emphasis and as an excuse to touch her.
Kassandra studied her for a moment. "Come here," she said, reaching for Kyra and pulling her close. "This is different. I have things to do."
Kyra rested her head against the muscled plane of Kassandra's chest, and as she felt Kassandra's cheek settle against the top of her head, Kyra understood, suddenly, that as perfect as this moment was, it would never be long enough. "And once you run out of things to do, you'll be on your way," she said, the words wriggling out, slippery with the truth, before she could stop them. A few moments without Kassandra's skin next to hers had been hard to bear. How was she going to handle—
Kassandra drew in a breath. "Don't," she said quietly. "Don't think of this now."
Kyra closed her eyes and listened to the steady beat of Kassandra's heart. Fingertips grazed the skin at her temple, sweeping into her hair, again and again, until her breathing slowed and her thoughts were filled with Kassandra in the present instead of Kassandra vanishing into the future.
Kassandra's fingers drifted over to the scar on her forehead. "How did you get this?"
"I promise I won't."
"I tripped and fell against a sculpture when I was two."
Kassandra winced. "Probably bled like Hades."
"Oh, it did. I remember the entire world turning red, and my mother scooping me into her arms as I cried out, 'Mater, I'm dead!' over and over."
"Did you really?"
"Hollered as loud as I could until she found someone to put in the stitches." She opened her eyes to the sight of Kassandra's chest rising and falling, and the red slash of the scar on Kassandra's right shoulder curving out of sight. "I don't have as impressive a collection as you do."
"I kept running into fists and blades in my youth."
"I suspect I've had more chances to run away than you have." Kyra pulled Kassandra's right arm closer, tracing the stark welts just above her elbow, three of them, like the forks of a trident. "But these weren't from a blade."
Kassandra nodded. "They were from a—"
"Lynx," Kyra said. "They're evil bastards in a fight."
"You're right, and they are." The accuracy of Kyra's answer had surprised her. "Fucker hunted me in broad daylight, and leapt right onto my back from the trees. I fought him off, but not before he tore my arm open to the bone."
"How long did it take to heal?"
"A few months. Then a while longer for enough strength to come back for me to swing a sword again." Hard, solid muscle bunched and relaxed under Kyra's fingers. "I was lucky. The physician in Sami thought I'd lose the arm, or if I managed to keep it by some miracle, that it wouldn't be the same."
A wound that severe should have taken at least six months to heal. And to escape permanent damage... It wasn't just luck that had knit Kassandra's skin together again so quickly and cleanly.
Kyra added healing to the growing list of things Kassandra did better than anyone else. She thought of her own non-existent list, and how she owned hardly anything in this world, no lands, no titles. How long would Kassandra's interest in her last? A few days, sure. Perhaps a few weeks. Then Kassandra would tire of her and start looking for the exits. Kyra couldn't blame her, really. What could she possibly offer a demigod who could have anyone she wanted?
"What are you thinking about?" Kassandra asked.
Something Kyra didn't want to think about any longer, and wasn't going to share. "I'll give you one guess."
"Me, I'd wager. You look like you're trying to solve a problem."
"Nicely observed," she said, patting Kassandra's belly. "Are you learning how to read me?"
"It seemed a good idea, given how easily you can read me."
Kassandra was better at obfuscation than she gave herself credit for, but Kyra had spent a good chunk of her youth running errands for the hetaerae in exchange for coin — and for lessons in skills she might use to hunt a different sort of prey than the kind favored by Artemis. When it came to matters of the heart, both light and dark, the hetaerae were without peer, and from them she'd learned how to listen closely to what was said and unsaid and commit every word to memory; how to read the subtle movements of the face and body that revealed a person's desires; and how to recognize the telltale signs of a lie. Knowing how to detect a lie was the first step in learning how to tell one.
"It's a skill," Kyra said. "Like swinging your sword. It can be learned and practiced."
"Who teaches this art?" Kassandra asked. "I could easily find someone to teach me how to use a sword, or how to box, or wrestle. But I'd be hard pressed to find an instructor for reading people — beyond life's experience."
"I learned it from hetaerae."
"Really?" She went quiet, thinking. "That makes sense. They'd want to know their clients' desires."
"And weed out the ones with bad intent."
Kassandra paused, looking away at the sunlight crawling across the floor. "Did you ever think about... becoming one?" she asked, her voice softening with uncertainty, as if worried she'd crossed a line with her question.
Kyra smiled. "I may have learned some of their tricks," she said, drawing her hand down to swirl her fingers around Kassandra's clit and smirking at the resulting gasp. "But no, I never considered it. I'm ill suited for that sort of work. I don't enjoy being told what to do."
It took Kassandra a few moments to recover her wits. "You obeyed me well enough last night."
Well enough. Kyra's eyes narrowed at her choice of words. "That was a first for me."
"And also a last?"
The yes sat on the tip of her tongue, and she was so close to declaring it a one-time thing, a lucky break for Kassandra, never to be repeated again, but that's not what she ended up saying at all. "I wouldn't be upset if you did something like that again."
"But then you'd demand payback."
"I would absolutely demand payback."
Kassandra grinned. "It would be worth it, just to see you squirm."
Alas, Kyra's cutting retort was itself cut off at the knees by the sound of a long, famished growl, and her reflexive glance down at her belly admitted her guilt.
"I see you remain unsatisfied," Kassandra said dryly, though a flicker of amusement passed through her eyes. "Now, did you stash some food around here along with that excellent wine, or am I going to have to go hunting again?"
Kyra surveyed the table with satisfaction. Of course she'd planned for their excursion to include something to eat that wasn't just figurative. So what if dinner ended up becoming breakfast. Kassandra certainly didn't seem to mind.
They'd cleaned up and gotten dressed, and Kyra had lifted the basket of food from the cool confines of the game locker under the floor of the hunters' hut, and spread its contents out across the table. Now Kassandra was sitting on the bench in the same place she had last night, watching Kyra with a smirk that left no doubts about the nature of her thoughts. It stirred Kyra's blood, that smirk, and she longed to turn it into something that looked a lot like begging.
She took a calming breath, and an idea formed within her whirling thoughts, a pattern of order pleasing in both form and content. She waited until Kassandra's eyes met her own, and then she deliberately lowered herself onto Kassandra's lap.
Kassandra's grin grew even wider, but Kyra ignored it and reached for the loaf of barley bread on the table, infusing every movement with purposeful grace, from the line of her arm to the tilt of her head as she turned her attention back to Kassandra. This too, she had learned from hetaerae, who knew how to plant seeds of desire rooted in all the senses. She smiled softly and grazed her lips against Kassandra's, smoothing away her smirk and enjoying how something so simple could make Kassandra forget to breathe.
"Is it true that in Sparta, the men always eat dinner together in a common hall?" Kyra asked.
There was a pause. "It's true," Kassandra said, a crease of confusion crossing her brows.
Kyra divided the loaf in half, then the half into quarters, again and again, stopping when she held a bite-sized piece in her hand. Old Zeno's paradox of dichotomy, with its traps of inaction, had nothing on her. She knew when to stop.
"Why is that?" she asked.
"To build kinship. Brotherhood. Spartan citizens are soldiers first, and every man eats with his unit in a communal mess hall."
Kyra uncovered a small bowl of spiced chickpeas and olive oil mashed into a spread, then caught Kassandra's gaze and held it as she feigned thought. "There's a certain... intimacy that comes with sharing a meal, wouldn't you agree?" she asked Kassandra, and then she dipped the piece of bread into the bowl, lifted it, and fed it to her.
Intimate. Gods, it was beyond intimate, feeding Kassandra morsel by morsel. As much as she enjoyed the heat simmering in Kassandra's eyes, it was those sensuous lips brushing against her fingers that struck Kyra deep and made her forget everything else.
"Eat something." Kassandra's voice drifted up from the curve of Kyra's neck, as warm as polished wood in sunlight, her lips so close to Kyra's skin it tingled with the want of them.
And Kyra did, taking bites of hearty bread and cheese, and feeding Kassandra tidbits of dried fig and raisins in exchange for kisses. And when she placed a honey-covered fingertip against Kassandra's lips, and pushed inside to meet her waiting tongue, she felt it in two places at once.
Kassandra made a sound then, low in her throat, and she moved like a powerful, caged beast under Kyra's thighs. Now it was Kyra's turn to smirk. "I see your hunger remains undiminished."
Sharp teeth scraped Kyra's skin, followed by an apologetically soft tongue, and before Kyra succumbed entirely to its charms, she pulled her finger free and claimed Kassandra's mouth with her own.
The kiss cracked her open to her marrow and filled her with molten fire, burning with its own kind of paradox. If she were a poet she'd call it glukupikron — sweet and bitter — the sweetness of the moment tempered by the knowledge that it would eventually have to end.
It had been a mistake to set this table of desire so thoroughly, but Kassandra made it so easy for Kyra to forget about vengeance, forget about her duties to the rebellion, forget about revelations she wasn't at all ready to think about. "We have to stop," she forced herself to say through ragged breaths. "Or we'll never leave here."
Kassandra sat back and gazed at her curiously. "Do you want to leave here?"
"No. Not particularly."
They looked at each other.
"But you have to talk to Barnabas," Kyra said gently. "And I have to tell Praxos that you've offered up the Adrestia's services."
Kassandra sighed, knowing it was true. "You're right."
Now that Kyra had opened the sluice to her pent-up thoughts of duty, they came pouring through in a rush. "I have to make arrangements to transport everyone's family to the Adrestia. And I should call on the scouts who've been watching the port to find out what they've seen. And after that, you and I need to start planning—"
Strong arms circled her waist, and Kassandra rested a chin on her shoulder. "When was the last time you had an idle day?"
"We went hunting all morning."
"That wasn't entirely work," she said, which only made Kassandra's arms squeeze tighter around her, and she tried to remember when she'd taken a day and spent it only on herself. "I don't know," she said finally. "Years. Not since the leadership of the rebellion fell to me." After that, there was always work to be done, people to direct, plans to make.
"Then how about this: I'll go and speak with Barnabas, and you'll go and see Praxos, and afterwards, we'll meet up again, because I want more time alone with you, and I'm willing to steal from duty to get it."
Kassandra was offering her a chance to honor both duty and desire. A compromise, to be sure, one that her mind railed against while her heart and loins ached to accept.
"All right," she said eventually. "There's a stream not far from here. If you follow it to its source near the Statue of Artemis, you'll find a spring-fed pool up in the rocks. It'll split the distance between the Adrestia and the hideout."
"Not back here?"
She turned to look at Kassandra, brushing stray strands of Kassandra's hair back over her shoulders and smoothing out a wrinkle in her tunic. "I don't trust myself enough to spend another night with you. Not until this is all over. I'd forget what I was fighting for."
Kassandra nodded. "I understand," she said, giving Kyra a final squeeze before letting go. "Let us hasten to our duties then, and make our reunion all the sooner."
There was food to clean up, crockery and blankets to repack, armor to don, and after they'd finished it all, Kyra followed Kassandra out to the beach. Kassandra planted her feet in the sand and gazed out across the sea. "Mykonos is definitely my favorite island," she announced as she adjusted her bracers. Somehow, it was still early enough that the morning light banded across her armor in strips of gold.
In fact, everything glinted with gold, the world sparkling with excitement. The skies were bigger, the waters more inviting, and were those fewer blue sails she counted crossing the waves?
Kyra touched the small of Kassandra's back, trailing her fingers along Kassandra's waistbelt as she circled around to face her. "And you're my favorite misthios," she said, tracing a finger down between Kassandra's brows, past the scar on the bridge of her nose, to full lips that compelled Kyra to kiss them. And she did, her hand grasping Kassandra by the neck while the other slid into Kassandra's hair, and Kyra pushed her back, back against the wall of the hut, kissing her hard, until the lines in the stones began to spin and she had to hook her fingers into Kassandra's armor to stay upright.
"Did someone say we'd never leave here?" Kassandra's grin was wicked.
"Gods!" Kyra threw her hands up and stepped away from Kassandra's reach. "Go," she said, waving Kassandra away. "Go now."
Kassandra gave her a half-bow. "Don't take too long," she said, and then she strode away, leaving footprints in the sand and urgency in her wake.
Kyra went to the hideout. She found Praxos and saw the relief flood his eyes when she told him to start sending families to the Spartan camp where the Adrestia awaited them. She sent word to her scouts for them to report to her the next morning. She dealt with every request that had piled up while she'd been gone, from big — mediating a dispute over a gambling debt that had nearly come to blows — to small — deciding if the food budget should grow now that they were flush with stolen drachmae.
And after all that, she emerged into the sunshine and knew that more time had passed than she'd intended, long enough to make Kassandra wait.
She cursed, and then she started running.
The forest paths of the Daughters of Artemis covered Mykonos like a sprawling spiderweb, and Kyra had learned them as a young girl by following the heels of the huntresses sprinting ahead of her, their feet skimming the duff as they ran, vaulting fallen trees and swooping between the living ones, the earthbound in flight.
Over time, the paths had become as familiar to her as the lines on her palms. She knew how they intersected, bisected, and split; knew which of them to choose so that when she emerged from the forest, she was at the edge of a stone grotto, where waters cascaded from above to began a meandering descent to the sea. And after running like a lovesick fool halfway across the island, she stood on the bank of the stream and let the cool, misty air bathe her sweaty skin and soothe the raw edges of her breath.
She climbed the hillside to a shelf at the top of the waterfall, and when she pushed past a small stand of myrtle shrubs, she saw Kassandra waiting for her beside a pool of water surrounded by flat stone the color of charcoal. Grass and flowers grew in a patch at the edge of the stone, the purples and blues of wolf's bane, larkspur, and iris, and two young oak trees clung to the hillside beyond that, offering the grass their trembling, tentative shade.
She sat on the sun-warmed rock next to Kassandra. "I'm sorry I made you wait."
"Don't be. It's peaceful here," she said. "It reminds me of Kephallonia. I taught Phoibe how to swim in a pool like this." She kicked her feet through the water. "It was just as cold as this one too."
Kyra tried to imagine Kassandra teaching a child to swim. "What did you do, just throw her in?" she teased.
"Only the strong float in Sparta."
"Somehow I doubt that," Kyra said. She reached down and started unlacing her sandal.
Kassandra grinned. "I taught her very carefully, though I suspect she's part water nymph with how easily she took to it."
Kyra kicked her sandals off and eased her feet into the pool, hissing at the bracing cold.
"Sit here in the sun for a while. It'll feel good soon enough." Kassandra ran her fingers through the water, then flicked them at Kyra, showering her with icy drops.
She couldn't let that go unpunished. She dipped a hand into the pool and sprayed Kassandra with water, fully expecting the hostilities to escalate and readying herself for a trip into the freezing spring.
Instead, Kassandra just sat there, wearing a playful smile and a crown of silvery droplets in her hair, relaxed and at ease in a way that only made her more beautiful.
And Kyra could do nothing else but lean forward, grab Kassandra by the armor, and kiss her.
Kassandra's hand cupped her cheek, and spring turned to summer between them, time stretching over lazy days of languid heat, rich with the scent of flowers and honey.
When they finally parted, Kyra could have sworn the leaves on the oak trees had grown bigger.
Kassandra smiled like she'd tasted something wonderful, and Kyra tried picturing her without her armor and weapons, a young woman wearing a peplos, with her hair in fashionable ringlets, enjoying idle delights. Not with those muscles, Kyra decided, and not with that body, so perfectly suited for battle. And so her imagination went further back, peeling the years away, searching for Kassandra as a little girl, all sweetness and laughter — no, she'd be fierce and feral, like a wolf child roaming the Lakonian mountainsides...
Kyra laughed then, and gave up.
"I'm trying to picture you as a child, and failing."
"I was a lot shorter."
"Is that when you cultivated your sparkling wit, too?"
"No one laughs in Sparta."
Kyra rolled her eyes, knowing she was being teased. "Liar. But Spartans certainly appreciate brevity."
"Spartans see the world as a harsh place, and they have little time for anything they consider frivolous."
"Which is anything outside of battle, or training for battle, I'm sure," Kyra said. She lifted the edge of the crimson shawl Kassandra wore over her armor and rubbed it between her fingers. "I just can't see you as a polemarch, serious as the grave, duty your only concern."
A shadow passed through Kassandra's eyes, and she looked away and stared at the water for a long time. "My fa— stepfather put duty before whatever love he may have felt for our family. I don't intend to repeat his mistake." She picked up a pebble, then cast it into the depths, watching the concentric circles of its ripples spread across the surface. "Sometimes I wonder who I would have become if that night never happened. Probably a polemarch, with ambitions to become a general someday. Maybe I would have chafed at having to blindly follow the orders of those above me." She smiled. "You're not the only one who doesn't like being told what to do."
"But it's also possible that the agoge would have beaten any willfulness right out of me. Even a year of it was enough to come close."
The agoge. Thaletas had told her of it, how he'd spent years enduring what sounded to Kyra like unimaginable cruelty, all to produce soldiers who were as rugged as the land they fought for. She hadn't known that Kassandra had gone through the same. "I thought that was only for boys."
"It is. But my mother was very persuasive. And it also helped to have the birthright that gave me this." Her hand reached back and drew forth her spear. She spun it in her fingers with a practiced flourish, and when it came to a stop, its handle pointed towards Kyra, inviting her to take it.
It was lighter than she'd expected, with a dagger's agility, and perfectly balanced despite its unusually long handle. Its polished metal held an iridescent sheen of oil, and as she gazed down the lengths of its blade, she couldn't find a single imperfection in its razor-sharp edges. A strange weapon, made stranger by the fact that its chronology didn't line up.
"Where did a weapon like this come from? If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was forged yesterday."
Kassandra had been watching Kyra study the blade, and the question brought her back from wherever her thoughts had taken her. "It's my grandfather's spear, broken at Thermopylai."
Thermopylai, the battle of heroes. Another piece of Kassandra's scattered past had been revealed. "He was someone important, wasn't he?"
Kassandra smiled. "You could say that."
She didn't volunteer more, and Kyra sensed enough reluctance behind it to leave the matter be. Kyra looked at the spear in her hand, beautiful and deadly, then handed it back to Kassandra. "You said this has magic within it. I believe it."
Kassandra slid the spear back into its sheath. "Ever been to Andros?"
"There's a place there, a vast chamber too big to have been built by human hands, and within it is a great forge."
"Built by the gods?"
"Perhaps. I figured out that I can use the forge to make my spear stronger, but the forge isn't driven by fire — it needs these," she said, and then she opened a pouch at her waistbelt and handed Kyra a something.
It was a gold colored object the shape of an equilateral triangle, with sides as long as a finger, perfect in its precision. She flipped it from side to side and hefted it in her hand. Thick as a kernel of wheat, but so light it couldn't have been made from any metal. She ran her fingers around its polished edges and found them smooth and seamless, and when she tapped it with a fingernail, it rang with a sound that wasn't wooden or metallic.
"What is it?"
"I think it's a fragment of a powerful artifact."
The golden surface of the fragment shimmered restlessly, and it left her with the disconcerting sense that she'd seen it before. She gazed at the power in the palm of her hand, marveling at its existence. "It's incredible, like fire captured in a jar. Can you imagine, being able to store power in such a small thing, and then releasing it whenever you needed it? What humans could do with something like this..."
The corners of Kassandra's lips had curved into a smile.
"Where do you get them?" she asked, thrusting the fragment back at Kassandra. "Take it, or you'll be stuck here answering my questions for an eternity."
It disappeared back into Kassandra's pouch. "I get them by killing terrible people."
"Terrible people with knowledge of such powerful objects? I feel like I should be worried."
Kassandra studied her for a long time, saying nothing.
Kyra smiled knowingly. "You don't trust me enough yet to tell me more," she said, ignoring the quick pang through her chest. "It's all right. I won't ask you to."
"No, it's not that," Kassandra said. "I do trust you."
"If I tell you, this knowledge will put you in danger." She laughed without humor, and pressed her fingers to her temples. "But if I don't tell you, and you end up becoming Archon, not knowing will be just as dangerous."
This was the second time Kassandra had mentioned Kyra becoming Archon, and Kyra would have laughed it off like she had the first time if not for the worry creasing Kassandra's brows and the tension in the set of her shoulders. "All the more reason to tell me," she said. "I'd rather face danger with my eyes fully open. Doesn't matter if I'm Archon or not."
More silence. Then Kassandra took a deep breath. "It's a conspiracy."
"This unending war between Athens and Sparta. It's a conspiracy, driven by those who profit from playing both sides."
Kyra shook her head in disbelief. "There are too many moving parts in those alliances to control them so easily."
"I'm not talking about a handful of players."
"That would take influence at the highest levels of every nation in Greece."
"I've already killed the High Priestess of Hera in Argolis, and the Monger who ruled Korinth," Kassandra said. Her voice, capable of holding such depths, was flat and restrained. "And I saw at least forty others like them gathered together when I first uncovered this plot."
Kyra had seen Kassandra perform miraculous feats. Kyra had held that strange golden fragment of inexplicable origin. And when her eyes met Kassandra's, the truth was plainly written within them, as impossible as it sounded.
"Then these people control the whole of Greece."
Kassandra turned back to the pool, putting her face in profile, strong enough to be struck on any coin. "They call themselves the Cult of Kosmos."
"Mortals trying to put order to the universe. They certainly don't lack hubris. How did you get mixed up in this?"
"They destroyed my family. Put words in the Pythia of Delphi's mouth, told her to declare my baby brother anathema to Sparta."
"The one who died?"
"He didn't die," Kassandra said, and Kyra's eyebrows lifted in surprise despite herself. "He went over the edge of that cliff, like I did, and he survived, like I did. And when the Cult found out, they stole him from my mother and raised him to be their enforcer." She spoke to the pool with an unnerving calmness. "He's hunting us both, my mother and I. And the Cult made him a weapon more powerful than I am."
She looked up from the water, meeting Kyra's gaze, and Kyra saw that what she'd taken for restraint was instead an undercurrent of fear.
A chill ran through her, spreading down her spine and fanning out along her bones, and she had to resist the urge to look over her shoulder.
Kassandra had poured so many pieces into Kyra's hands all at once that pictures had begun to form: a cliff on a stormy night, a spear of unknowable power, a conspiracy vast and intricate, and a brother who was the dark mirror to Kassandra's light. But there was one piece missing that would tie them all together.
"Who are you?" Kyra asked.
Kassandra squared her shoulders. "Kassandra, daughter of Myrrine, granddaughter of King Leonidas of Sparta."
Kyra nearly broke into incredulous laughter. It made perfect sense. "You're royalty," she said, pulling away from Kassandra without thinking. And not just any royalty — a lineage whose threads could be traced back to the divine, just as Kyra had suspected.
Kassandra reached for Kyra, but her hand stopped in mid-air. She balled it into a fist and dropped it into her lap. "I'm not, Kyra. Not anymore." She shook her head and smiled distantly. "I'm an exile without a home, searching for what's left of my family."
"While hunting down this Cult, and saving the world like your grandfather did."
"I don't care about saving the world," she said. "I want to see my mother safe, and then I want vengeance."
Kyra was silent. It was as though Gaea herself had awakened and begun to stir, pulling the ground into new angles along with her. Sunlight bounced off the water, all at once too bright and too hot on Kyra's skin, and she stood up abruptly and waded deeper into the pool, the rocks slick and rounded against the soles of her feet. She untied her chiton and pulled it over her head, tossing it onto the rocks and standing naked under an indifferent firmament. Then she inhaled hard enough to feel her ribs creak, and plunged into the depths.
It was cold — cold enough to steal her breath away and shock her back to her senses. She surfaced and drew in a gulp of air, treading water as Kassandra looked at her with surprised amusement.
"How is it?"
"Join me and find out."
Kassandra blinked, and then she began stripping off her armor, the pile at the water's edge growing piece by piece, until she too stood naked on the bank.
The view would have been one to admire if Kyra's hands weren't already starting to go numb. "Are you coming in or— Ahh, no. Don't you dare—"
Kassandra had leapt with the intention of causing the biggest splash, and she entered the water nearly on top of Kyra, inundating her with an icy wave that left her sputtering. She shook her head to clear the water from her eyes, and watched Kassandra sink into the rippling depths.
A moment later, Kassandra broke the surface, gasping for breath. "Gods, it's cold!"
Kyra grinned, then kicked her feet into a glide across the pool to its far side, where it was bounded by a wall of stone and cloaked in shadow. The water grew even colder as she cut through it; the spring's source lay somewhere in the darkness below.
She slapped a wet handprint onto the stone wall, then swam back to Kassandra.
They looked at each other, a distance between them, neither knowing what to say.
Wordlessly, Kyra paddled to the edge and hoisted herself over it, laying back against the stone and closing her eyes to the glare, letting the sun lave her skin.
Kassandra swam over and joined her on the rocks, close enough to spray her with a fine mist of water droplets as she settled in beside her.
She lay there a long time. She felt Kassandra's presence, quiet and solemn, the lineage of kings singing in her blood while Kyra's own lineage... As much as she didn't want to believe that Podarkes was her father, what else could it be but the truth? She shuddered, knowing her blood was fouled with cruelty and greed.
Kassandra saw her tremble. "Are you still cold?"
She didn't answer, and her silence drew Kassandra closer, until Kassandra's skin tentatively touched her thigh. She didn't move, didn't speak, didn't open her eyes, and more of Kassandra slid against her, their flanks pressing together, a leg slipping over to entwine with hers, and she had to bite her lip as Kassandra's heat warmed her through to her muscles, despite knowing she'd received it under false pretenses.
"It's too much to take in, I know," Kassandra said quietly.
It was wrong to let Kassandra think she was the cause of Kyra's disquiet, but what else could Kyra do? Talk about her father? Enumerate all the ways in which she was unworthy of Kassandra's attention? That would be a fun conversation. No, like Phaethon, she'd hold the reins of Helios's chariot until her thrilling ride reached its inevitable conclusion.
She opened her eyes to the strange sight of an awkward and uncertain Kassandra hovering above her, and made herself smile. Feelings worn long enough would become real. "I was the one who wanted to compare notes, remember?"
"You forgot your bow."
"I'm afraid our archery contest will have to wait."
Kassandra chuckled. "I suspect I've dodged the sting of defeat."
"Well, since you've conceded, I think I'll claim my prize now rather than later."
"I never agreed to any terms."
"Even a theoretical archery contest would have a winner. Winning deserves a prize." And the prize she wanted was a distraction from thoughts she'd rather not be having.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Have me like you would a stranger." Someone found in an agora, or a kapeleion, or during some adventure, captivated by the Eagle Bearer's beauty and easy charm into spending some time with her in bed.
"You're no stranger," Kassandra said, touching Kyra's cheek with her fingertip.
A flush crept up her neck. "Then pretend I am."
"I can't. I know your wants now, and how they differ from mine."
"I don't see how that matters when I'm offering myself to you."
"It pleases you to make others yield. To break them, didn't you say?"
Kyra frowned. It sounded so much worse in the daylight. "I don't always have to have it that way," she said guardedly.
"Maybe so, but what I enjoy most is seeing you lose yourself in pleasure."
Then Kyra understood what Kassandra was trying to tell her. "Is that so?" She moved Kassandra's hand between her thighs. "Feel this, then."
Kyra let out a shaky breath as Kassandra's fingers slipped between her folds, her mind emptying of any thought that didn't involve Kassandra taking whatever she wanted from her. "See? That's what you do to me. You."
A trickle of water ran from Kassandra's braid down her breast, and for a while, the slow spatter of droplets onto Kyra's skin was the only movement between them. Then Kassandra stood up, pulling Kyra up with her, and she scooped Kyra into her arms and carried her across the stone to the grassy verge.
Kassandra lowered her into the flower-strewn grass and lay beside her, stroking her skin. "Gods, you're a gift," Kassandra whispered, the reverence in her voice matching the gentleness of her hands.
Kyra lay open before the sky, the stones, the trees, and the water, all of them bearing silent witness while Kassandra explored every plane and curve of Kyra's body, first with her hands and then with her lips, her touch so tender it made Kyra ache.
There was more. Kassandra's explorations moved from touch to taste, and Kyra moaned as Kassandra's tongue circled her nipple, moaned again as Kassandra sucked it into her warm, wet mouth. There was no control here for Kyra to take, no planning, no thinking — just Kassandra's mouth and lips and tongue testing her like a musician playing the first notes on a new lyre.
Lower. Below the curves of her breasts. Lower. Across her belly strung taut. She felt herself writhing, her thighs parting, and through the roar of her blood in her ears, she thought she heard Kassandra's voice say "You're so beautiful."
She groaned when Kassandra's lips brushed past the curls between her thighs, and gasped when Kassandra's mouth closed around her, and as the tip of Kassandra's tongue delicately traced the outline of her swollen clit, she knew she made other sounds, but by the time they reached her own ears they'd lost all shape and form.
But Kassandra heard them, and gods, how she wielded time itself as she played Kyra with her tongue, improvising under the dappled shadows of the oak trees until Kyra's every breath was heavy with the scent of sweat and earth and grass, and her moans turned to whimpers before hollowing out into soundless gasps, and when Kassandra finally released her, the coil of her need unspooling into pleasure, she let out a fierce cry that echoed off the water and stone, and closed her eyes against a rush of tears.
She shaped Kassandra's name in her mouth, and speaking it was as natural as breathing, and she did, over and over in a litany as her body quivered on and on, that only ended when Kassandra kissed away her tears. "Kyra?" she asked, and the worry in her voice forced Kyra's eyes back open.
"I'm all right," she said, the words sticking in her throat. She scrubbed at the wet trails down her cheeks with the heels of her palms. Kassandra had given her pleasures beyond imagination, and yet here she was, crying and saying stupid things. "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know what's—"
Kassandra placed a finger against Kyra's lips and shook her head, and then she lay down in the grass and pulled Kyra next to her, and Kyra couldn't stop herself from crawling half on top of her, just so she could rest her cheek on that muscled chest and hear the beat of the heart within it.
They lay there, listening to the water and the bees buzzing in the flowers and the leaves of the oaks above them, stealing time and setting duty aside.
And much later, she looked over and saw Kassandra's tunic laying in the crushed grass her body once occupied, and she tugged at the white fabric with her fingers. "Your tunic's going to have grass stains all over it."
"It's seen... worse," Kassandra said with a dark chuckle. "And I'll wear those grass stains proudly."
Kyra fell silent, her body still echoing with Kassandra's hands and tongue, remembering the reverence in each. "There was no pretending in any of that."
"No. I couldn't," Kassandra said, and her heart began to pound beneath Kyra's ear. "You're not like anyone else."
And gods help her, Kyra would cling to those words, for the alternative was to sit with the knowledge that her hopes for the future would soon sail away on a ship emblazoned with an eagle.
At least this way, she could tell herself that ship might come back one day.
There was no stopping time, and they didn't try, instead choosing to enjoy how well they fit together. And when Kyra left the spring hours later, she did so with Kassandra imprinted into her skin, and muscles, and bone.
The hideout was bustling when she arrived just before sunset, astir beyond the usual changeover of the evening's watch, and boisterous greetings followed her into the central chamber, noisy as it was with conversations and laughter. She found Praxos, and listened as he filled her in on the day's events while she grazed on bits of bread and cheese from the trays laid out for dinner.
"We managed to get most everyone to the Adrestia," he was saying, "and Captain Barnabas says they'll be ready to sail in the morning once the last ones arrive."
That explained the upbeat mood surrounding her. As risky as it was, the truce had let them catch their breaths after the marathon they'd been forced to run all these months. And the fighters would swing their swords with renewed focus now that they knew their families were going to be safe.
"Good work," she said around bites of bread. "Anything else?"
"The Athenians are loading ships in the port."
His words didn't sink in immediately, but once they did, she laughed with satisfaction. "Now that is very good news."
Praxos glanced at her sideways. "You've been in fine spirits today."
"Am I that obvious?"
"Comes with putting up with your schemes for so long."
"My schemes have us on the verge of breaking the Athenian occupation." Saying it was pleasant enough, but thinking of all those blue banners being torn from their mounts made her smile, even under the shadow of confrontations she knew were yet to come.
"Aye, that's true." He watched her eat several bites, then looked down, frowned, and returned his gaze to hers. "You should know — Thaletas is waiting for you in your chambers."
She stopped chewing. "You could've said that first."
"It's been a long time since I've seen you this... happy. Figured I'd let you enjoy it as long as possible."
"And why would seeing Thaletas change that?" she asked, keeping her voice neutral.
"Don't try me, girl. I've known you since you were as tall as my knee. There's more going on here than you've let on." He peered at her, his face somber, and he lowered his voice to just above a whisper. "He's in a foul mood," he said, reaching for her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. "If you need me, shout."
So Praxos had sensed a change in her, the shift in her allegiances. He'd not offer his thoughts any more than he already had, unless she asked him directly.
He'd done her a kindness in warning her.
It meant she had time to prepare herself. To think what she might say. To accumulate props — a chunk of bread and a cup of watered-down wine — and make sure she was holding the bread mid-bite the moment she walked through the doorway to her room. All the easier to look surprised to see Thaletas.
He was sitting at the table in the center of the room, a single lamp illuminating the interior. She stepped through the doorway and froze in place as if startled.
He looked up and fixed her with a hard stare. "Where have you been?"
No greeting, no preamble. Praxos was right: he was in a bad mood.
She chewed and swallowed. "Eating."
"Today. Yesterday," he said, his face unchanging. Did Spartans ever roll their eyes, or did the agoge beat that out of them too? At least Kassandra seemed to have missed that lesson, and if she'd been here to hear it, she would have rolled her eyes at Kyra's flippant response.
Kyra placed the bread and cup on the table. "Yesterday, I went hunting. Today, I scouted what's left of the fort down to the beach." Just enough truth to bend it like a willow branch until it nearly broke. "Why?"
"I don't think you've been lying to me since you went to Delos, but you've hidden things."
"What do you wish to know?" Time for her to answer, for what little it was worth after what she'd already done. She'd answer his every question, except the why of it, for she didn't know the answer to that herself. Eros hadn't shot her with an arrow — he'd tied her to Kassandra with a line that had only grown tighter the more she'd struggled against it.
"Were you with Kassandra for part of the day today? Or all of it?" he asked, and then he laughed bitterly. "I've never been a fool — until I met you." He gestured to her, shaking his head with resignation. "Even now, seeing you... my anger fades."
Gods, she was going to hurt him. The theoretical knowledge she had kept putting off was about to turn practical. She slowly sat down on the bench across from him, as her belly hollowed out and her hands began to shake, and suddenly she knew, with complete certainty, that she was going to hurt them both. First Thaletas, and then later... She looked down at her hands and knew.
After all, hurting people was in her blood.
"There's something I have to tell you," she said to him.
And then she did.