A/N: Wow. Just...wow. Seriously. It's been over a YEAR. I am so, so sorry. In my defense, this has pretty much been the second-worst year of my life. But...it's over! I'm finished with my freshman year, and I've transferred to Smith, where I expect to be a lot happier (and a lot more literary). In this past year, I've done practically no writing at all, much less creative fiction writing, so if this chapter is stale and awful on top of being horribly horribly late, I appologize again. I also wrote a great deal of it just now, and it's now past four in the morning. This hasn't been betaed, or...even edited, really. Properly, anyways. For that, apology squared. I'll come back and fix it, but it was suddenly important to me to get this thing up as soon as possible. Again, I offer my firstborn son as apology. Also, fluff. Lots. As much as I can write without feeling self-conscious. Enjoy.
I stormed through the courtyard, livid. Odysseus was in his usual spot, pensively staring at nothing in particular. The rapture was gone from his face; he was, once more, the man I knew."What is wrong with you?" I demanded. His head shot up, and for a second he looked completely bewildered. He composed himself instantly, however, and before I knew it was wearing his usual smug expression, tinted with the faintest bit of confusion.
"You told my uncle I was pregnant!"
"What? Penelope, that's ridiculous. I didn't say anything of the sort."
"Well, you certainly implied it! So eager to get me married off, he told me! And so eager to be married yourself." Odysseus bristled.
"And if I am?"
"It's my business if and when I get married, not yours."
"It's your uncle's business!"
I froze, stunned. Odysseus seemed surprised at his words. I took a breath.
"You're right. Marriage isn't a woman's business, isn't that right? Just like logic and wit aren't, right? I didn't hear you complaining about it when I was helping you with your precious riddle, you hypocrite."
"Don't ever call me a hypocrite." Odysseus' voice had gone soft and hard, something I'd never heard from him before. "You helped me, I succeeded, now you're angry. What does that make you?"
"A fool, apparently. I thought you valued me as an equal, not some means to an end."
"Means to an end? Is that how you see our marriage?"
Our? He was already refering to Helen and himself as a single unit. I felt ill.
"Well, it's a little hard not to, after your insistance that you were merely here for the challenge."
Odysseus refused to meet my gaze. "Circumstances change. Is that so awful?"
"I liked circumstances the way they were, back when we'd just..." I trailled off-he looked so pained, I couldn't finish my confession.
"I'm sorry. It was wrong to be angry with you; I see now it was a simple misunderstanding of my uncle's."
"It's understandable. If my honor had beeen smilarly called into question, I'd have been considerably angrier."
"It was more than that. I'll...I'll miss this." I gestured around the courtyard, where we'd had so many idle conversations. Odysseus looked surprised.
"Is that all? We can come and visit easily, Penelope."
That 'we' again-my heart tore just a bit more. I laughed bitterly.
"It would hardly be the same! It...I don't want to lose our friendship."
"You consider me a friend?"
"Then why on earth are you upset? I pride myself on being intelligent, but I expected you to be very happy about this, so either I'm a fool for the first time in my life or you're illogical for the first time in yours. Which is it?" Odysseus had little patience for games, and it was showing. I had to be straightforward.
"The latter." I sighed. "You're my friend, and as such I know the logical reaction to your good fortune should be joy, yet any such joy I might have is suffocated by my own selfish desires."
Once again, Odysseus' voice grew hard. "You don't share my joy at our marriage?"
"How can I? Odysseus, for the first time in my life I am consumed with jealousy-I envy Helen so much, it hurts. The thought of your marriage causes me such pain! I've only known of it for a short while, yet already the knowledge burdens my heart. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep save to witness some nightmare. I cannot think save to obsess, to go over and over in my mind-"
"Enough." Through my speech, Odysseus had grown angrier and angrier. He spoke with heavy restraint. "I've heard enough; you've made your point. If you don't want this marriage, you had only to ask. I'll respect your wishes, but I'll be damned if I'll stand here and listen to anyone, even you, insult me in such a fashion."
"Insulting you is the last thing I want to do, believe me, but I simply can't help the way I feel about this. I'm truly sorry I'm not happier for you." I had poured my entire heart out to the man I loved, and he was offended by it. If I were a less stubborn woman, I would've laid down and died right there.
"Don't-you've been all too clear in expressing your true feelings about me, haven't you? I wonder at how I might have considered you a friend these past few months, when the thought of marrying me repulses you so! Perhaps I should have known better than to believe I'd found a woman capable of being honest, of not playing games, saying one thing while thinking another-I thought because you were clever, you were trustworthy! I thought because I admired and loved you so, you admired and loved me just as much." Odysseus was as livid as I was stunned. I sat down, trying to make sense of what he was saying, and in my silence he continued on.
"What was your real purpose in all our conversations? Hoping to use me, to get your useless cousin married off as soon as possible? You didn't have to fake a friendship to do that, I would have accepted your help and solved that riddle regardless. Have I really been such a fool? And what a fool I still am, for even now, angrier than I've ever been, I still find myself in love with your wit and intelligence, for such things cannot be faked. No, I am not so proud that I cannot admit this, but you can be sure I'm far to proud to marry a woman incapable of love."
It hit me, suddenly, that for the past quarter of an hour Odysseus and I had been having two completely separate conversations.
"To be honest, I don't know what offends me more: Your disgust at my proposal, or your assumption that I'd actually force you to accept it, even after-" Odysseus found his speech abruptly interrupted by my lips; I lept up, grabbed his rough, unshaven face, and pressed his lips to mine with a fervor I hadn't believed myself capable of posessing. He kissed me back at once, holding my waist in his strong hands, and for a few blissful moments I knew the sweet rapture that comes with feeling utterly posessed. I broke away and looked into his gray eyes, my own filled with tears.
"You love me? Really, truly? As madly as I love you?"
"Penelope..." Odysseus trailed off; his eyes were half smiling and half bewildered as he struggled for words. "Penelope, for the first time in my life I am completely baffled, completley incapable of sorting out what's just happened."
I opened my mouth to explain, but he gently held a finger up to my lips, halting my reply. "And, also for the first time in my life," he continued, "I have absolutely no desire to sort out anything." He grabbed me and kissed me again, pulling me closer than I'd dared hope to find myself. My hands ran along his broad shoulders, his arms, his chest, anywhere I could reach. If I'd had an eternity, it would have been too short a time to feel his body against my own. His kisses were powerful and desperate, as though he couldn't get enough of me, as though he couldn't believe I was there at all. Such strength, such intelligence; how could he even have noticed my existance? Surely he was about to realize he had me mistaken for some other girl, some worthier girl. Any second now he'd break off this kiss. This kiss...sweet Aphrodite, I'd never felt this weak, even as I clung to him with the strength of ten men. Such feeling! Feverish, desperate, wanting, taking, it transcended happiness. There was only one word for it:
I stared up at my ceiling, once more unable to sleep. I closed my eyes, and all I could see was Odysseus' boyish grin, the one he'd been wearing all day, from early on when his solution was announced to all the dumbfounded suitors present, to right before we'd parted only an hour ago. He'd kissed me goodnight and told me, rather playfully, that if I didn't leave for bed immediately my uncle's initial misconception about our relationship had a dangerously high chance of being fufilled. What a day! Last night I'd been so hopeless, and somehow Odysseus and I had already reached the point where we were arguing about kids. I smiled to myself, thinking of his insistance that we have three girls, that "You're the only intelligent woman I've ever met, and we need to fix that." He'd become completely deaf when I pointed out his need for an heir. How I loved his stubbornness! And in just a short day, there were already so many new things I'd discovered and subsequently fallen in love with. The feel of his rough hand as it caressed my cheek, the way he stared contentedly into my eyes, the way he held his hand on my stomach, as though he couldn't wait to see it swell with our future children. Every inch of me burned for him, the fever heightened by the intensity of his gaze, of his touch.
Sighing, I opened my eyes-And, once again, found myself surrounded by fog. I sighed.
"Is this a dream?" I asked the void, sitting up.
"It hardly matters." Aphrodite stepped into view. She looked mildly
softer than she had the night before. Her flaxen hair was done
up, and a few loose curls framed her girlish face. She idly tossed around something made of gold, not meeting my gaze.
"I want to thank you, Goddess. Your gifts from this past day have brought me more joy than I'd expected to find in a lifetime."
Aphrodite laughed and stopped playing with her object. When she held it still, I saw it was a golden apple-possibly a relic of her hand in Atalanta's fate.
"You're thanking me, are you? I suppose I should enjoy this while it lasts." She looked me in the eye and smiled enigmatically.
"Soon," she whispered, "the time will come when not a day goes by that you don't curse my name."