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Cassandra tries her best to escape her fate, for all that she knows it's futile.
Just as she could never have imagine the terror when Ajax grabbed her by the hair and tore her away from Athena's statue or the pain of what came after, for all that she'd thought herself braced for the future her visions had let her know was coming.
The others only wept harder, commending her for how bravely she was keeping herself composed even as chided her for making assumptions about the actions of the Gods and warned her about the possible repercussions of doing so. She couldn't help but smile bitterly at that. It was so obvious that none of the other women knew what it was like to have the touch of a God's anger on them every day, that the closest they'd ever even come to it was the moralizing stories they were whispering to her now about what might happen if she kept being so presumptuous.
She didn't bother arguing that she was only telling the truth. She knew by now that it would never work.
It wasn't until she heard the sound of horses approaching the temple that she finally lowered her gaze from the heavens to the men who had come seeking Ajax. She met the eyes of the man at the front of the party and said frankly "Clytemnestra will kill us both if you take me with you to Mycenae. If you wish to live a long and happy life, instead stay and work to restore my father's city; the God's themselves will smile upon you for your charity."
There was a moment when he looked down at her with an unreadable expression on his face that she almost thought that he would heed her warning. If Apollo had truly loved her as fervently as he'd claimed, surely he would lift his curse just this once to spare her life.
Then he laughed, and she remembered that Gods did not love as humans do. "You're Cassandra, aren't you? I see you've somehow heard how the lots fell out. Don't fear; I won't allow my wife to harm you." His voice did not have the harsh sound of a conqueror but was warmed by his laughter, and when his eyes left her face and finally noticed the state she was in they darkened with anger.
She was not sure whether this made here feel better or worse about what she knew must come.
- - -
Once, in the third year of the war, there came a point where Troy's forces were doing so well that her father had felt sure that the only thing standing between them and victory was a short distance of time. He came to her as she sat in her chambers, her ears ringing with the shouts of soldiers, her eyes fixed on her brother Hector's corpse as it was dragged behind Achilles' chariot. She didn't even notice that her father was there until she felt his hand on her shoulder, pulling her back into the ancient past that was the present.
"Othronus and Coroebus each joined their strength to ours seeking your hand in marriage," Priam said when she focused on him. "When this war finally ends, I'll need to announce which one I've chosen to marry you to. Have you a preference?"
"The war is nowhere near finished," she said softly, her voice still dazed with dreaming.
"Wedding Coroebus will make you a queen, once his father dies," he continued, giving no indication that he'd heard her. "Othronus is exceedingly fair of face for a man grown. And I believe that either will treat you kindly. Which would be your choice?"
"They will never live to be husbands, and I will never be a wife," she said, then sighed knowing that he wouldn't accept that as an answer. "But if you must pick one, please make it poor Coroebus, who would die to protect me."
That said she turned away from him, losing herself in the future once more.
- - -
"I want to see my brother," she had told Agamemnon as he brought her to where the Grecian soldiers were camped while they prepared to leave Troy. There had been no need to specify which brother; only one yet lived almost freely.
Helenus pulled her into an embrace the moment he was brought before her, beaming as if he didn't for a second expect that she might be upset about his betraying all of Troy in a fit of pique. Which she supposed showed that he still knew her better than anyone, even after how long a battlefield had separated them from one and other. For her twin alone she could forgive anything.
"Helenus, please/," she whispered to him, pitching her voice so none of the soldiers around them could make out her words, "if you love me still you /must warn Agamemnon what is coming if he returns to Mycenae. I may not be able to make him listen, but he would believe you."
He looked at her, uncomprehending. "I'm sorry, sister. I don't know what you mean."
Her mouth went dry as he continued on, telling her about what a good man Agamemnon was and how glad she should be that he was the one to claim her, not even realizing that he had just shredded the last threads of her hope.
- - -
During the war she would often walk the walls of Troy at night, her mind constantly a few minutes ahead of her body telling her the path she should take to avoid getting caught until she finally reached a place where she could quietly look down on the enemy soldiers. She would do her best to seek him out then, to watch as he drank with his men or planned with his fellow officers, and did her best to open her heart to him. '/It will be easier if I can love him,/' she'd thought, although it had been hard then to believe that she could have soft feelings for a man who would help to destroy her home. '/It will be easier if I can at least see him as a man rather than an enemy./'
She didn't know then that when he was standing before her it was hardly an effort to do so. She had heard of his skill in battle before, of his strength, but never of his kindness. In all her visions of the pain and death to come she'd never seen how he would do his best to make her laugh often, how he would let her freely go where she would as long as she always returned to him, how he would save the most savory morsels of any food he had for her. Before they went their separate ways Helenus had teased her about how yet another man had fallen under the spell of her charms, and she supposed that he was right. In her experience only a man in love would so patiently wait for her to heal from the brutality of Ajax's attack before ever trying to bring her into his bed, or use her so gently when she chose to give in.
By the time he began undressing her she was so focused on him that she'd forgotten why she'd chosen to wear sleeved chitons ever since Troy had fallen. When he went still above her she wrapped her leg around his and arched up against him, amazed at her own boldness. "What is ii, Agamemnon?" she asked.
"Are these Ajax's doing too?" he replied, his voice as angry as she'd ever heard it.
She finally realized what he was talking about when he ran his hands down her arms, across the still-pink scars that crisscrossed them. "Oh, no," she said. "My own carelessness was at fault for those. I fought as hard as I could to keep them from opening our gate to your horse, not thinking that I should be heedful of which way my arms flail when struggling with men who had their weapons drawn to fight any soldiers that might rush in." She didn't feel the need to mention that some of the soldiers had deliberately cut her, shallow wounds that they'd hoped would make her leave them alone.
They rarely spoke of how they'd been on opposite sides during the war and for a moment she thought that he didn't welcome the reminder. Then he bent and kissed the remains of a gash on her shoulder. "Your father should have counted himself lucky for having at least one child clever enough to see through our deception. I'll need to be sure not to follow in his footsteps by listening if you ever have warnings for me."
"Then put in at the next harbor we pass and don't--" she began, only to be cut off my his mouth covering hers.
- - -
She was staring at the shore of Mycenae from the deck of the ship, fighting the urge to throw herself into the water and swim in the opposite direction, when Apollo came to her at last. "I'll give you one last chance to beg my forgiveness," he said in way of greeting as he appeared by her side in the warm rays of the high noon sun.
"Beg your forgiveness?" she repeated incredulously, glancing around and noticing that no one else seemed to see them.
"I'm sure you see how lucky you are. I'm not often so forgiving, but it wouldn't make me happy to see someone I've loved come to such a messy end." He reached out to graze his fingertips down the back of her neck, the light touch sending a shiver down her spine that she tried her best to suppress. "And of course any girl would prefer a god to a man who killed his own daughter."
She jerked away from him and whirled around. "Because your twin made him do it."
Apollo shrugged, uncaring. "He was a braggart."
"He was young. Not that much older than I was when I was fool enough to believe that a gift from someone I thought was my friend would be freely given, and that no harm could come from wanting to remain only friends."
"But now that you have the wisdom of age behind you, it must be clear to you that there's only one real option that you could take," he said with a cocky smile.
Cassandra studied him closely. He was wearing the form that he'd always chosen around her, and was still the most beautiful man that she'd ever known with his skin deeply bronzed and his hair the flaming color of sunset. And she was truly no longer a child for she could see as she never had before the lack of empathy, of /humanity/, behind the god's fair face. "You're right. There is only one choice."
She didn't look back at him once as she crossed the deck to where Agamemnon was giving his men orders as they prepared to land. He turned to her with a wide grin when he realized she was there, and waved an arm in a wide arc to gesture at all the land on the horizon. "Have you heard yet, Cassandra? It's Mycenae, at last!"
She smiled back at him as he brought the arm down again to wrap it tightly around her waist. "It looks like a beautiful land. I look forward to finally seeing your... our home."
"I warn you, Cassandra," Apollo said, his voice easily drowning out Agamemnon who was describing his city to her, "you're not getting another chance. If this is truly your choice then the most you can hope for from me when Clytemnestra comes for you with her ax is that someday I'll be in a merciful enough mood to have my oracle send someone to avenge you. Is that what you truly want?"
She ignored him and rested her head on Agamemnon's shoulder as, for the first time in almost as long as she could remember, she closed her mind to the future and opened her eyes fully to the present. There was too little time left to do anything but fully enjoy every moment of it.