Cycrops straightened with a groan and took a quick look around the village. Nodding to the blacksmith, he watched him take the last wagon of supplies and valuables up into the hills. Gazing around the deserted buildings, he shook his head, the long black braids clicking in the still air. A sudden breeze trembled a wind chime on the tavern porch.
Looking to the south beyond the coast, the towering black clouds boiled and bubbled into fantastic shapes. "All of them evil." He murmured to himself while he headed to the safety of the hills away from the port. The cryptic message from Athena had sent the villagers scurrying for higher ground taking only what they could carry with them.
The gods were fighting each other and mortals were going to pay the price, Cycrops mused while he threaded through the boulders that lined the narrow path that led to the cliff cottage he'd made into home. The sun had totally disappeared now and the wind was picking up speed. Closing the shutters tightly, he circled the perimeter of the house gathering any loose objects that might blow away in the coming storm.
Squinting, he looked seaward again, noting the changes in the skyline. A waterspout spun out of control making for shore and picking up speed. Not for the first time, he wished he weren't so helpless. What good is being an immortal if I can't protect those who look to me for leadership?
The waterspout tore into the dock, shooting planking into kindling and peppering the village with wooden shrapnel. Another spout formed off the shoreline and came ashore with hissing fury, destroying everything in its path. Cycrops stood on his front step and clenched his fists in helpless rage.
His mind replayed the last two days. The tall dark haired goddess had appeared in his garden with an urgent warning. For the first time in three hundred years, her dress had been disheveled and a lock of hair had fallen over her forehead. "Send the villagers up into the hills with food and water and those items they can't live without. We're fighting a rogue god." Then she'd disappeared again and he'd done her bidding.
Not for the first time he pondered his love/hate relationship with the goddess who had made him immortal. In the beginning, he'd hated her for the gift of eternal life. He'd wanted to die and she'd denied him his death, instead forcing him to live and watch all the others around him grow old and die.
But time had softened his despair and he'd grown to look forward to her visits. Her infuriating logic and never-ending reasoning made him clench his teeth and hold on to his temper but she made him think beyond his immediate situation and gave him something to look forward to. Even if it was only a new argument in their ongoing debate about justice.
A rogue god. Cycrops pondered the possibilities while the world darkened around him. He'd heard the stories of disasters and disappearing villages. When Xena and Gabrielle had asked his help, he'd given it gladly. All a part of the same problem obviously, he mused to himself while taking a last look around. Lightning flashed in continuous arcs on the horizon and he shivered as the pressure dropped suddenly.
He barred the door behind him and went to check the rekindled hearth fire. "Odd, the fires going out like that." The local Hestian virgins had barred themselves in their temple and still hadn't come out. Luckily, the temple was on high ground so they should be safe. He'd never met the fire goddess but he suddenly wondered if she had been a victim of the rogue.
Putting water on to boil, he stretched and wondered with a slight frisson of fear if Athena was in any danger. She could be a real pain sometimes but she was *his* pain and he didn't want her dead. Who would he argue with? After all this time, who knew him so well? His ears popped suddenly and he jerked to his feet, whirling around to face whatever danger had arrived.
A shower of golden sparks crackled and popped in the still air, forming around a figure that materialized with a moan of anguish. Athena reached out vaguely to him and slumped to the floor in a heap. Cycrops reached the limp body in a moment and scooped her up, her head falling heavily on his shoulder. Little shudders rippled through her and the golden sparks ricocheted off her and into him.
They felt good, he decided, rather enjoying the way they washed over him like a refreshing bath. Striding to the bedroom, he pushed open the door with his foot and gently laid her on his bed. Stepping back for a moment, he took in her condition. There was blood splattered on her white gown and it was torn in several places. A livid bruise glowed on one cheek and her bare arms were scratched and bloody. What had happened to her armor, he wondered?
Leaving her briefly, he gathered hot water from the hob and clean cloths from his storage chest. Returning to her side, he gently ran his hands over her still form and checked for breaks and open wounds. He wondered why she wasn't healing instantly as she always had before when she'd been in an accident.
The golden sparkles disappeared while he was gently bathing away the dirt and blood from the skin he could see. Raising her head to smooth out her hair, he froze when she groaned. Feeling the back of her skull, he found a large bump. "Ouch, little one. I'll bet that hurts. Why haven't you healed yourself?"
Continuing a soothing murmur, he smoothed an herbal ointment on the deepest scratches on her arms. "Your skin is like satin, little one, soft but too cool." Removing her sandals, he noticed dried blood on one ankle. Sliding her skirt up her legs to above her knees, he found a partially healed knife wound in her right calf.
"What in Tartarus happened to you, little one?" Shaking his head in dismay, he cleaned the wound and put the herbal balm on before he wrapped it in a bandage. He noticed again the little shivers and drew up the heavy blanket from the foot of the bed, tucking her in while kneeling by the bed.
Her tangled hair bothered him for some reason and he awkwardly combed his fingers through it, teasing out the worst of the snarls while trying not to jar her head. It felt like spun silk as it slipped through his fingers in a black stream. She murmured something and he bent closer to hear her words.
"Mother." Tears slipped from her closed eyes and slid into her hair.
"Athena, can you hear me? It's Cycrops and you're in my home. You're safe here." He felt so helpless and unsure of what to do.
Her eyes fluttered open for a moment but they were unfocused, the pupils so wide her eyes appeared black with only a tiny purple rim. "So many dead. Must tell Cycrops to get everyone away from the coast."
"They're already gone, little one. We're safe and now, you are too. Rest and heal." He used his calming voice, the one that had always quelled the panic of his sailors. She quieted and fell back asleep between one breath and the next.
Five days later, Cycrops watched the horizon for any further damage from the sea. The first tidal wave had pretty much wiped out the town. The second and third had taken care of anything that was left. He shook his head at the swells that pounded at the coastline. No one with any sense was out sailing. Messengers had come through, telling of the damage up and down the coast. The deaths were estimated and even if they were high estimates, it still appeared that over 100,000 people were dead and more would be if supplies didn't start reaching the huddled camps of refugees.
Turning back inside, he put on some more hot water and checked the sleeping goddess. She'd roused once or twice and taken a drink of water each time but he still wasn't sure that she'd recognized him. Her leg had healed along with the scratches but the lump on her head had only gotten marginally smaller and if she bumped it, she moaned in her sleep.
She was a quiet sleeper, rarely moving. He wished, not for the first time, that he had some way of telling the gods that she was here. Surely someone had missed her. A tingle interrupted his thoughts and he whirled, snatching up his sword in case it was an intruder.
Another goddess appeared in a flash of light. She was tall and beautiful with golden brown hair that fell about her broad shoulders. The hunting bow slung across her back reassured him.
"Artemis." He straightened and lowered his sword.
"Cycrops. I've been looking for Athena. Her owl told me that she sometimes comes to visit you." Artemis looked hopefully at him, her long fingers plucking impatiently at her leather belt.
"She came five days ago and hasn't really regained consciousness yet. Maybe, you can help her." Cycrops barely restrained himself from breathing a sigh of relief. Surely another god would know what was wrong and why she was healing so slowly.
Artemis moved past him into the bedroom and knelt by the bed, one hand going to the pale forehead and the other gripping the still fingers that lay on the blue quilt. A shimmer of light swept over them both and the huntress gave a gasp and bit her lip.
"Cycrops, I need you to help me." Her blue eyes looked him over carefully as if gauging his strength. "She's a mess and I'm going to need to borrow from your energy since neither she nor I have much left."
He smiled uncertainly but moved instantly to the other side of the bed matching her position with both his hands. "She has a knot on the back of her head that just won't heal. Could that be why she's not healing herself very quickly? Every other wound is gone."
Artemis moved her hand around and winced when she found the bump. "It's not helping any. Put your hand over it," she waited until he had Athena's head cradled then closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "now concentrate on the lump getting smaller while I try to channel your energy into her healing."
Cycrops closed his eyes too and visualized the lump gone and all pain banished from the still body. Artemis' hand was cool against his skin until he began to feel a heat rising from the goddess on the bed and center on the healing spot. Long moments passed, until the huntress gave a gasp and broke the contact.
He opened his eyes in time to see a tear fall down the tanned cheek. The sorrowful look in her wide blue eyes was directed totally at Athena, who moaned and awoke with a start. Her gaze went straight to Cycrops and her fingers tried to grip his.
"The village?" She whispered hoarsely.
"Destroyed but all the villagers are safe in the hills." He took his hand from under her head and reached for the mug of water he kept by the bed. Artemis took it from him and helped Athena to drink. Two sips later, she pushed it away.
"Hey, Brains, you had us all worried. When you disappeared from the ship and didn't appear on Olympus, we were afraid the Chaos Energy had gotten you." Artemis smiled and smoothed the hair away from the tired face.
"Is that what it was? Is Ares dead?" Athena asked quietly.
"Good thing you're already resting. This could take a while." Artemis sighed and pulled up a stool before starting the story.
Cycrops listened, spellbound by the unfolding tale. For the first time he learned who the rogue was, the names of the dead gods and other immortals and how they had finally destroyed her. He watched the emotions flicker across Athena's pale face before him. The death of Hestia hit her hard and a tear squeezed out from between her eyelids. The aftermath of the war of the gods was still being tallied and he discovered that the estimates of mortal death were low.
Several of the islands in the Aegean were simply gone and all of their people with them. Crete was devastated with more than three-quarters of its population dead. The coast of the mainland had been pounded unmercifully and more carnage was discovered each time one of the slowly recovering gods went out to their temples.
The meager daylight was fading before Artemis finished her story. Cycrops wondered at Athena's smile when the huntress told her that the god of war and his companion were still healing but out of danger for now. He wouldn't have thought the two of them would have much in common.
"The cleanup is going to take a while. None of us have much energy left and we mostly depleted our stored supplies during the battle." Artemis sighed and stretched. "Are you up for the trip back to Olympus?"
Athena shook her head. "Not yet. I can't face the temple. Not without her."
"That's all right, love. Let Cycrops feed you up. You're nothing but skin and bones. I'll drop off some of my next hunt. Take a nap, Brains. It'll be better when you wake up." She dropped a kiss on Athena's cheek and rose, gesturing for the sailor to follow her.
Cycrops pulled the blanket higher around the already sleeping goddess and followed Artemis into the next room. The tall huntress stalked the room with an almost feline grace, stopping here and there to touch a wall hanging or sniff a bundle of hanging herbs.
"Her mother was one of the first killed. Metis was no fighter and I'm afraid Athena is feeling guilty that she's dead. She's never been one to show her emotions." Artemis sighed and glared at Cycrops. "I'm no good at this sort of thing. Give me something to hunt and I can handle that but I've never understood how she thinks. She's the brain of our generation. But I don't know if she can handle these feelings. This ... loss of control of her environment."
Cycrops cleared his throat. "I don't mind providing a safe haven for her. I owe her my life."
Artemis smiled. "She took quite a bit of heat when she made you immortal. Poseidon was pissed and even Zeus was a bit miffed that she didn't ask for his advice. She just folded her arms and gave them that superior look that always seems to send men insane."
Cycrops bit back a grin. He knew that look well when she was arguing logic and thought he should have seen her point. "It's because she's more intelligent than we are and she doesn't hide it."
The huntress sighed. "Yeah, that's part of the problem." She eyed him oddly, her eyes narrowing to slits while she considered something. "This could be interesting. I think I may have just figured out why she came to you when she was hurt. Take care of her and I'll let the others know she's all right. One of us will stop by next week to see how she's doing."
With a wave of her hand, Artemis disappeared, leaving Cycrops with a dozen questions in his brain and no one to ask them of. Rolling his eyes to the ceiling, he mentally cursed enigmatic gods. Shaking his head, he checked the bowl of rising dough by the fire and decided to take out his frustrations on kneading it to a pleasing consistency. Maybe the smell of fresh baked bread would tempt Athena's appetite.
A new loaf of bread was cooling on the table and Cycrops had fished some butter from the cool shelf deep in the well. Fish stew was simmering on the hearth. It had been two weeks since Athena had first come to his home for sanctuary and he still didn't know why she'd chosen him. They'd played innumerable games of chess in near silence. She seemed to be debating something in her mind but was not yet able to share her conclusions.
She spent long hours on the cliff, watching the ocean waves pound the beach. When the tidal waves stopped, the villagers came back and started the arduous task of rebuilding. He'd joined in for a few hours each day, utilizing his strength in helping with the building framing. This afternoon he'd felt her eyes on him when he'd stripped off his shirt in the humid heat to help raise a roof truss.
A movement at the periphery of his vision stilled his hands from setting the table. Raising his eyes, he saw her silhouetted in the doorway, her slim form backlit by the dying light of day. She'd left her hair down and it cascaded over one shoulder in a waterfall of ebony strands. For a moment, he felt a twinge of emotion that he hadn't felt in centuries while he remembered how those curls had felt sliding through his fingers.
"Something smells good." Her voice was still huskier than usual. "When did you have time to make bread?"
"I didn't." Cycrops smiled gently and finished setting out the handcarved spoons by each wooden bowl. "Lara baked this afternoon for each family of workers. But the stew is mine and hopefully you'll be able to manage more than a few mouthfuls?"
She blushed and came in, shutting out the dusk and moving slowly to the table by the fire. "I'll try. You're a very good cook. I never knew that about you."
He laughed and began to ladle out the fragrant stew. "I took my turn with the others of my crew. Most of my recipes came from them. Some, of course, are better than others. This one was given to me by a young slave named Ahmed from Egypt. He was a good sailor and one of the best cooks we ever had aboard."
She took a small sip from her spoon and looked up at him, her eyes wide. "It's very good. Sweet, yet spicy. What kind of fish?"
"Swordfish. Firm flesh with none of the fishy aftertaste of some of our finny friends."
She blushed again and dropped her eyes to her bowl. He wondered what he'd said to get that reaction but filed it away under 'Athena - reactions - unknown causes'. Taking his own spoonful, he savored the blend of spices before swallowing. They ate in silence for a few moments until Athena raised her head and stopped her spoon in midair.
Nodding decisively, she refocused on her spoon and continued her bite. Swallowing, she met his eyes. "Ares and Joxer have finally awakened. They're weak but recovering."
Cycrops nodded, moving the plate of bread slices closer to her bowl. He was curious but determined not to question her. He'd seen others react to her and he refused to make her the font of all wisdom for a series of foolish questions. If she wanted him to know, she'd tell him. But he was curious about her relationship with Ares. He'd have thought they were diametrically opposed to each other.
"I don't mind your questions." She smiled at him across the table.
"How do the two of you get along?" He chose his words carefully.
She finished a bite of bread, chewing slowly and gazing at the candle flame between them. "He's better at fighting while I'm better at tactics. When we have a major war, we pretty much divide up the labor along those lines. Ares is the strongest of us in carrying back the energy from a large battle. I can only absorb and link to so much before it starts to leak away."
Cycrops paused in mid-bite; wondering what she was talking about. She laughed quietly and proceeded to explain about energy and how it was created and used by the gods. That explanation lasted the entire meal, especially when he made her stop and eat a few bites before continuing on.
"Are you disappointed now that you know how we work our ... magic?" She took a sip of wine and watched him, her gray eyes steady.
He shook his head, unsure how to answer. "Poseidon does this as well? Sea battles and ship wrecks fuel his power?"
"Yes. Especially the sea battles." She cocked her head to one side and contemplated him. Then she seemed to read his mind. "Like Ares, he rarely has to start a battle, just take advantage of men's desire to dominate each other. And only when he's very angry does he cause a shipwreck. The seas are too vast for one god to control. A storm in one place has an effect elsewhere. A balance must be maintained or else a cataclysm ensues that wreaks havoc on the entire world."
"Like this volcano created by Ate's death?" Cycrops asked tentatively.
Athena's eyes dropped to her empty bowl. "The four strongest goddesses of the four elements combined to release the River of Fire through Hestia and thus into Ate who had drained the Hearth Goddess of her essence. That much release of energy sapped all of us." She shuddered and rubbed her arms, her gaze lost in the recent past. "Not to mention the Chaos Energy that Ares released into her through his own body before Joxer pulled him off the island. He shouldn't have survived that, you know. Neither should Joxer. No one ever has before."
Cycrops felt a twinge of an emotion, but he wasn't entirely sure which one. He sorted through the last few moments and realized with a start that he was jealous of the admiring tone Athena used when she mentioned Ares. He'd never met the war god but he'd always thought of him as a bully who started wars for the fun of it. Now, he had to rethink his perceptions.
A glimmer in the air heralded the arrival of another god. The shower of golden sparks brought both their eyes around to the hearth. Artemis appeared with a weary smile. Athena jumped up and guided her to the bench.
"Artie, you look awful. Is it very bad on Olympus?" Athena asked anxiously.
"Yeah, it's no picnic. Power levels are still dangerously low and everybody's power storage is depleted. The water gods are the best off since Nature has been releasing massive amounts of energy. Tethys and her daughters are pretty much keeping the rest of us supplied with what we need." Artemis accepted the bowl of stew from Cycrops with a smile and started to eat immediately.
"I'll need to come back then." Athena sighed wistfully.
Artemis shot her a quick look and finished a bite before speaking. "You've got a week or so before we're going to need you. I think Ares will be back to normal by then. We'll need to have a Conclave then and split up the land so we all get out to help."
"I've been trying to help here but my energy levels just don't rise." Athena shook her head, her gaze distant. "I depleted my power storage while on the island." She swallowed hard. "Before Mother was killed."
The goddess of the hunt nodded and finished her bowl of stew, mopping it up with a hunk of bread. "Oh, that was good, Cycrops. Is there enough for me to take some back to Olympus? Aesclepius is just about at the end of his tether. Poor man, he's been working night and day at his temples."
"Of course, Artemis. I'll put it in a covered bowl for you." Cycrops smiled wryly. Fish soup for the gods, who'd have thought what his contribution to the effort would be?
"You and I need to have a little talk, The." Artemis rose and gestured to the outdoors. Athena nodded and left with her.
Cycrops sighed and found the bowl with the wooden cover and the wicker handles that kept the lid on and provided a handy carrier. A white linen cloth wrapped the extra loaf of bread and he put them aside for Artemis to take with her. All the while, he wondered what the two goddesses were talking about. Not for the first time, he questioned why Athena had come to him. And stayed.
Sighing, he settled down by the fire and picked up the net he was mending for the Arcturus family. The familiar work settled his mind into a fugue state of calm and peace. Quite a while passed before the two returned and he set aside the net and rose to meet them.
"One week, The. Then we'll have the memorial service and it's back to work for all of us." Artemis gave her cousin a hug and crossed to the table where Cycrops held the basket and bread. "Thanks, Cycrops. Keep up the good work." And with a wink, she disappeared.
Cycrops waited while Athena slowly approached him, her hands playing with her skirts nervously. Whatever it was, it was serious. He poured her a goblet of water and she thanked him with a murmur, her eyes never meeting his.
"It can't be that bad, Athena. If you need my help, you need only ask." He prompted her gently.
She sighed and took a hasty gulp of her water before her violet eyes rose to meet his. There was pain there and fear and ... something he couldn't identify.
"Let's sit down, Cycrops." She sat down abruptly on the bench. "I need a favor of you. A really big favor and I don't know how to ask you. Because I'm afraid you'll hate me for asking."
Cycrops chuckled and sat down across the table from her. "We've known each other for three hundred years, Athena. In all that time, we've argued, played chess, shared a thousand conversations and more. I think of you as a friend. How do you think of me?"
She smiled the dimple in her right cheek flitting into view. "I too think of us as friends. I don't have many male friends. Most of the gods just tolerate me for my problem solving abilities. I've heard the jokes they tell about me behind my back." She sighed wistfully. "For some reason, they seem to believe that if you think, you can't also feel. And lately, that has given me a problem, I can't solve by myself."
Cycrops felt a twinge of rage at the insensitive gods who had hurt her. Couldn't they see through her reserve to the shy woman underneath? "Then they are idiots. You are not one of the Ice Maidens from the North. I've seen you show compassion, tenderness and caring for centuries, now."
Her eyes raised to his and their glow held him still. "Perhaps, you will be willing to help me." Her hand reached across the table and touched his gently. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble, I'd like you to show me how to make love."
He sat frozen in shock. She couldn't have just said what he thought she'd said. Could she? He replayed it in his mind several times but each time it came out the same. She wanted him to make love with her.
A virgin goddess.
"I'm sorry, Cycrops." She snatched her hand away and put both hands in her lap. "Now, I've shocked you. I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind since we've been friends for so long. I knew I could trust you, you see. But now I've spoiled everything." She bit her lip and twisted slightly on the bench. "When I started feeling ... funny when you touched me, I couldn't understand it. At first, I just thought it was an upset stomach. But it only happened when we touched, so I experimented a bit with some of the gods. And it never happened with them. I didn't get a chance to test it with Ares because he fell in love with Joxer and I never saw him alone after that."
Cycrops found her words rather endearing. He'd always known that she thought first and felt second but he'd always found her a warm hearted person and not the cold personality that some spoke of. He realized that he couldn't stand the thought of her in someone else's arms. Which meant, of course, that he was actually thinking of her in his arms. Suddenly, he had a touch of that stomach problem himself while he remembered how she's felt in his arms when he carried her to his bed after the battle.
"I'm sorry, Cycrops." She whispered through the tears he knew she would never allow to fall. "Please forgive my asking. I didn't mean to trade on your kindness and caring."
He cleared his throat and she flinched before sitting up a little straighter and raising those beautiful eyes to his. "I'm not going to say that I never thought about it before. Because I've felt a twinge or two myself over the years. But while I'm immortal, thanks to you, I am not a god, Athena. You deserve someone of your own power. I'm just an old sailor who likes you more than he should."
"Oh." She cocked her head to one side and the thinking look he'd seen so many times over the chessboard crossed her face. "Then you don't mind that I'm too tall and quite plain. And that I think too much. Most of the other goddesses are very beautiful and they seem to understand all these feelings that I don't."
He knew her too well and he could feel the brave effort she was making to show him all her self-perceived flaws. He shook his head and reached across the table slowly, with his big hand extended palm up. Patiently, he waited while she watched him with a puzzled look and placed her own uncertainly on his. Tenderly, he closed his around hers.
"You are not too tall ... for me." She blushed and he continued. "And it has been a very long time indeed since I have thought you anything less than beautiful. You are the essence of moonlight shimmering on the ocean waves. Your eyes are the color of primroses unfolding in the early morning sun. Your skin is pearl white satin that I'm afraid I'll bruise with these rough fingers of mine. And your hair is like a waterfall of the finest of black silk."
"Oh-h-h." Her eyes widened in disbelief while her hand trembled in his. "Does that mean you will make love to me?"
"It means, we've already started making love." He rose slowly and pulled her to her feet. "Now, we take the words and act on them. Will you come with me?"
Her smile was blinding, even in the candlelight. She circled the table and he drew her into a comforting hug. "Yes, Cycrops."
He laughed gently and held her close for a long moment. Life was about to get very interesting and even though this was probably a really bad idea, getting involved with a goddess, he was going to forget about the consequences and just love her, as she deserved to be loved. And if it was just an experiment for her, well, he'd enjoy it while it lasted.
Time for the first lesson.
Cycrops took a mental hold of his physical control while sweeping Athena up in his arms. She started and gripped his shirt hastily, her eyes flying up to meet his. He smiled and strode to the high-backed settle by the hearth. Sitting down, he cradled her in his lap and watched her blush as their bodies settled together.
"We'll go slow, Athena, if you don't mind. I would like to " he paused and sought for the right word, "... savor you."
Her blush deepened. "All right. What should I do?"
He chuckled. "What ever feels right, little one. What ever feels good ..."
His hand slowly caressed her arm "and sweet ... "
Lips murmuring against her temple "and true."
She shivered but he didn't think it was with cold. His lips moved slowly down her cheek, enjoying the downy softness that flowed into her square jaw. Nibbling gently, he circled her chin and then nipped her ear before he flowed down the satin skin of her ivory neck. Her head tipped back and he felt her heart beat frantically at the hollow of her throat.
"Slowly, little one. Slowly." He licked once up her throat then pulled back to look into her eyes. "We have all the time in the world."
The violet gaze was wide and wondering, the questions he could see there trying desperately to get out. But her first words were said with a wry smile instead of an inquiry. "No one has ever called me that before. I tower over most of the other goddesses. Like a gawky adolescent with a sudden growth spurt."
Cycrops felt that twinge again. The one that made him want to go up to Olympus and shake some sense into the rest of the gods. "Nonsense. Finally, I don't have to worry about getting a constant crick in my neck. I always feel like a giant."
"Nonsense, yourself." She smiled shyly at him and let go of his shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles with her hand. Her touch was warm and he felt himself begin to harden, imagining what that touch would feel like on his bare skin. "But with you, I feel almost petite. You look at me as if I were beautiful."
Oh, little one, how I wish you could see yourself as I see you. His heart ached with the sudden knowledge that he was falling in love with his goddess while she was only experimenting with love. You're going to break my heart, Athena. And I'm going to let you do it. Just so I can see you smile.
"You are beautiful, Athena. Do you know when you are most lovely?" He settled back and nudged her head down to his shoulder, one hand holding hers and the other stroking her back soothingly.
"No, when." She smothered a yawn against his chest and he smiled at the fire as he set about to lull her to sleep. Gentling a kiss on her hair, he controlled himself. This was enough for the first night.
"When you've been presented with a problem and told there's only one answer." He let his voice go to a comforting rumble. "You put your head to one side and your lovely eyes go a deep purple while you ponder a solution. You take that little curl by your left ear. You know that one that's always escaping. And you twirl it tight then let it slip off your finger. Twirl and slip. Twirl and slip."
He dragged out his words softly, the repetitions almost hypnotic in their intensity. Risking a glance down, he saw the long black lashes flutter briefly before closing. "Sometimes you frown and sometimes you smile. That little dimple flashes out at me and I know that you've found another answer that no one else has even thought about. Then, you straighten your shoulders and raise your chin and smile."
She was smiling now, her hand gripping his shirt again. He smiled and brushed another kiss across the top of her shining hair. "Your voice is soft and low while you lay out your ideas. I've tried to decide if you sound more like a mountain brook on a sunny day. Or if you remind me of a silver breeze from the valley below."
Her breathing was slow and constant, her body relaxed in a boneless sprawl across his lap. He kept up his gentle stroking and watched the fire begin to die. His thoughts were moderately troubled while he pondered his strategies for the upcoming days. Not really a battle plan, he decided. More like a blueprint for seduction.
Cycrops grinned wryly. He was probably kidding himself that he could keep this whole interaction on a non-painful level. He knew himself well enough to know that he'd probably been falling in love with her for years. Slowly rising, he cradled her close and took her through into his bedroom.
She nestled into the goose-down mattress with a murmur that sounded suspiciously like his name. He smiled and softly kissed her lips, savoring the sweet taste before tucking her in and returning to the other room and his pallet by the fire. While he stretched and turned, trying to get comfortable on his makeshift bed, he considered that fine line between love and hate.
I really should have seen this coming.
He awoke to a feather light caress across his cheek and the delightful weight of another against his side. Flaring his nostrils, he caught Athena's scent like an intoxicating perfume. A delicate lick of the sensitive skin below his right ear made him shiver and try for a control he would sorely need in the next few moments.
"I know you're awake." Her voice was teasing and he opened his eyes to find her looking down on him from only a hand breath away. "I thought so. I was going to make breakfast for you but ..."
He chuckled. "I know. I remember when you tried to make tea a few years back."
"I never could get the timing down right." She shrugged ruefully. "Why did you put me to bed and come back out here? Did you change your mind?"
He heard the uncertain note in her voice and brought his arms up around her for a reassuring hug. "Never! Before yesterday, we'd barely touched each other. Making love is made up of so many things." He feathered a light kiss across her lips. "Feelings, touch, sharing. I don't want to rush it."
She leaned back in and initiated her own kiss. Just a brush of her lips to his but he felt himself quiver with the need for more. Drawing back, her wise eyes met his and he wondered what she saw there. Whatever it was, made her smile. "I'm not changing my mind and I'm not playing with you. This is not a game and you have as much right as I do to call it quits. But going slow is probably a good idea. The next few days are going to be hectic."
"Damn. What time is it?" Cycrops suddenly remembered his promise to help again in the village.
"I know. We've both got work to do." Athena rolled off him and onto her feet in one graceful motion. Reaching down a hand, she tugged him up, her eyes appraising his bare chest while her other hand touched him gently. "Artie looked so tired last night. It's time I went back and pulled my own weight. I'm not the only one who lost family."
He hugged her close and brushed his fingers through her hair. He didn't want to let her go but all he said was, "Meet back here tonight?"
She buried her face in his shoulder and held him tightly. "Yes. Sundown or a little earlier. Be careful today."
"I was just about to say the same thing." He kissed the tip of one ear and felt her lips against his skin. The innocent caress sent a ripple of desire through him and her head came up with a curious expression on her face. She stepped back from his arms and tilted her head, the violet eyes never leaving his.
"Tonight." The word lingered on the still air even after she shimmered out of sight.
Sighing, Cycrops shook his head and began to get ready for a very long day.
The next few days passed more quickly than he would have thought possible. The daylight hours were spent in hard physical labor with little time for wondering what would happen later. And the nights ... well the nights were spent in a haze of sight and touch and sound. Each caress he introduced her to, she returned tenfold until he ached with the need to bury himself in her. But he waited for a sign that she was ready for that culminating touch.
On the night before the memorial service, she was later than usual. Cycrops padded barefoot across to the back of the cottage and ducked through the low entrance to the cave out of which his home had grown. Setting the lantern on the ledge by the door, he stripped off his dirty shirt and pants and left them in a heap on the stone floor. Easing himself down into the warm water, he grabbed the soap and scrubbed himself clean. Ducking his head under, he massaged his hair and scalp with an inaudible groan of relief.
Suddenly, he felt another pair of hands running over his shoulders. Rising up abruptly, he shook his head and cleared his eyes of the streaming water to find Athena laughing before him. Playful water splashing overfilled the stone basin onto the granite walls until her hands stilled on his shoulders.
"You are so beautiful." She moved closer, trailing her hands down his chest. Her gaze captured his while she touched him from chest to hip with her entire body. "So strong you can be gentle . . . so patient with me." Her eyes began to dilate until only a slender rim of violet showed. "No more waiting, Cycrops. I trust you with my body." She gentled a kiss above his left nipple before whispering, "You already have my heart."
He closed his eyes and held her close, letting her scent fill his pores and her heartbeat become his own rhythm. His hands stroked the satin skin of her back while hers wondered up and down the long muscles of his shoulders. He felt dizzy with desire and her breathy little moans were beginning to fray at the edges of his control. Sweeping her up in his arms, he carried her out of the damp chamber and into the warm air of his bedroom.
Laying her on top of the gaily colored quilt, he finally followed her down, half covering her with his own body. One leg slid between hers and his lips slid down her throat to her breasts. Remembering her spoken belief that her breasts were too small, he proceeded to worship them with gentle nuzzling and warm, slow suckling. She shivered in his arms, clutching at his back with a low moan.
"So beautiful, little one." His hands slowly stroked up and down over her stomach, almost but not quite tickling, before he tongued a small pink nipple to a hardened peak.
"Cycrops!" Her voice broke while she tried to take a deep breath. But he had already moved his hand lower to stroke through the ebony curls of her mons, one long finger seeking the small nub that gave her so much pleasure. He'd brought her to climax just like this the previous night but this time he alternated tweaking the nub with a shallow stroke into her silken passage, plunging deeper with each stroke.
Her hands had stilled for a long moment while she adjusted to the new caress but her hips began a gentle rocking movement and suddenly, he experienced a new sensation himself. That long fingered hand closed around his cock turning it into a aching iron bar and it was his turn to shiver.
"No more waiting, Cycrops." She breathed into his ear fiercely. "I need you inside me, now! Deep inside where I've never been touched before." Her fingers explored him with too gentle strokes that were driving him insane. Seeming to sense that, she tightened her grip and ran her thumb over the flaring head that had begun to weep.
He shuddered in anticipation and she stopped, her eyes wide. "No! You did nothing wrong, Athena. It just feels too good."
She smiled and continued the caress. He shaped her with his hands, positioning her on the narrow bed and kneeling between her sprawled legs. Hesitating, he looked into her eyes, suddenly unsure of himself and unwilling to cause her the pain he knew was coming.
"I know, Cycrops. It will hurt for a moment but it will be worth it to have you held fast in me. Now, love. Please?" Her voice was strong and sure and her hand tugged his cock just once.
"I love you, Athena." His mouth spoke the words he'd never thought to say to anyone again and he watched her eyes widen while he quickly sheathed himself in her tight depths. "Oh gods!" Holding still while she adjusted to the possession made his arms shake where they braced him on either side of her shoulders.
She was so hot and wet and ... he couldn't think of words special enough to describe how she felt around him. "Athena?"
Her eyes opened slowly and she seemed to glow. "I had no idea. How very safe you make me feel."
He smiled and rocked back and forth gently within her, watching her eyes widen at the new touch. "And loved ... cherished ... adored ... desired ..."
"Yes-s-s-s." She moved restlessly beneath him, her long legs coming up to clasp about his waist, while her hands clutched at his shoulders.
Leaning down for a kiss, he mimicked their other movements with his tongue. Sliding into her spicy mouth, he tasted her honeyed depths. When she returned the favor, they tangled their tongues in a twisting pattern that mirrored what their bodies were enjoying.
He knew it wouldn't take long for him to lose control this first time, the long teasing days of arousal had him on the knife's edge of desire. With a sinuous twist of their bodies, he steadied her on top of him. Her surprise at the move ended in a moan at the different sensations the new position engendered. She shivered and gripped him tighter with her inner muscles.
He thrust up and watched her face change while she clutched his arms. His hands held her hips still and he thrust again, stimulating that spot that should send her over the edge into completion. But she moaned and shook her head. He realized that she was still trying to control herself.
"It's all right, Athena. Let go." Remembering what she'd said before. " I promise I'll hold you safe."
Her eyes locked on his and he thrust again and again while she shivered into ecstasy, taking him right along with her as she milked him to completion. She fell forward onto his heaving chest and he hugged her tightly, murmuring sweet assurances into her hair. They lay there in a satiated heap for long moments until he began to worry what her reaction would be.
A sleepy voice from under his chin reassured him. "Oh, my. It felt like I was flying. Then I was falling and that was scary. But I knew you'd catch me."
Cycrops felt the sting of unexpected tears. "Always, Athena. I'll always catch you."
She raised her head and feathered a kiss across his lips. "I know you will, Cycrops." She cocked her head to one side and gave a little wiggle, closing around his suddenly re-interested cock like a leather glove. Now it was his turn to widen his eyes.
"Gods have great recuperative powers, did you know that?" Her eyes laughed at him before she grew serious. "I love you too. You've been my friend for so long that I was afraid that this would drive you away. I know that I want you with me always but I don't know what you want."
"I'd like that." He surged up into her and watched her eyes go sultry. "Right now, you're needed on Olympus."
"Would you be willing to come there?" She sat back a little and began to play with his nipples, tweaking them to rock hard peaks before bending forward to tongue them with little flicks that send urgent messages straight to his cock. "We could use your mortal strength in the repairs. And you could meet some of the family. Not that that's an unmixed blessing."
He laughed at her wry tone and drew her head up to his. "Yes. I'll help you rebuild. And yes, I'll meet the family. What will they think about ..." he gestured down their interlocked bodies. " ... this?"
Her eyes crinkled and she got a very smug look on her face before she focused on his eyes. "It will be the eighth wonder of the world for a bit. But no matter what they think, I'm not giving you up."
His heart melted at her fierce tones and he kissed her gently. "I'm not giving you up either. Maybe in another three hundred years, they'll come around?"
She laughed and tightened her inner muscles. "What ever it takes, Cycrops. Tomorrow, we'll mourn our dead then we can begin our new lives together." She kissed him slowly, feasting on his mouth like a banquet. "Oh, do that again."
Laughing, he rolled her beneath him and proceeded to do that again and again and again until they exploded in sweet delight and fell together into healing sleep. His last thought, one of speculation. I wonder what Ares will say.
End chapter 1