Is it so much to ask to just have a story where I can write whatever I want without feeling obligated to make it good? I don't know what I'm saying. This chapter has just been so frustrating to write. And my life hasn't really calmed down at all. I have SO many things to do over the next few weeks. Thanks for staying with me and reviewing and inspiring me to continue. I really think that one of these days I'm just going to have to take a leap and start working on a manuscript or I'll just spend the rest of my life wondering. Anyway, I hope you like what I've decided to do for this chapter. It's been rewritten countless times but I'm finally happy with it.

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If you haven't already done so, PLEASE GO VOTE IN THE POLL ON MY PROFILE! And check out my FORUMS which I've been updating with POSSIBLE STORY IDEAS.

Also, please go check out Wolf Wolf and leave some reviews. If I can actually get some readers on board, it could mean a whole new direction for me, into fairytales and more of a young adult sensibility. Not that I don't love Greek mythology and romance. ;)

And, as always, PLEASE REVIEW!

Much love, Cat

xxxxx

REFERENCES:

For more on the significance of Virgo please see the wiki page on the goddess Astraea.

Barbarian: Greek barbaroi (n.) meant "all that are not Greek," but especially the Medes and Persians. (Online Etymology Dictionary…see website for more context)

DEDICATIONS AND THANKS: I have the most amazing betas in the world.

Ryna, LaughingTiger, you put in so much work and take this story as seriously as I do. You've renewed my confidence in the literary merit of this story and you make me believe that I can push myself to do better when I feel frustrated and you inspire the most brilliant ideas.

Lauren,imawordbender, you are like the sister of my soul. I'm thrilled to be working with you even if it takes a little work for us to get on the same page.

And thank you toMcGonagall's Bola, BlackWolfRises, archangelraphaelsdaughter, andmeli101for all your feedback and help with editing.

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Aphrodite stepped forward slowly, her shoes clacking against the bare, wooden floor. Hephaestus had just pulled back most of the curtains covering the windows, flooding the room with light. Moving her hair out of the way, she bent slightly in order to blow out the candles. As he continued to fiddle with the latches on the windowpanes, she began to make her way around the room.

She took a deep breath as he finally managed to open one of the windows and let in some fresh air. As it circulated through the room, she felt it carrying the tension from her body. She hadn't felt particularly tense but the calm that came over her as she took in the pale blue walls and exhaled for what felt like the first time in a long time made her realize that she had been. There was nothing much to see. The attic didn't contain any furniture, not even dusty outlines of where cabinets or tables had once stood. The room felt… untouched. This was a place that could truly be hers. There were no enormous chairs that swallowed you up when you sat in them. There was no scent of cologne and no artifacts from a life lived so distant from her own. This was unconquered territory that she could claim without feeling like a barbarian who had displaced the rightful owner.

Turning to Hephaestus, she had to restrain herself from ordering him out of the room. She couldn't seem to quell the fear that the longer he stayed in the room, the more likely he would be to leave some mark of ownership. Her panic seemed to sharpen her awareness of him until she could almost imagine seeing his cologne begin to mingle with the particles of air. In her mind, she was already pinning up cerulean silk curtains and arranging furniture, making the space her own. She could hang a drying rack along the wall shaded from the sun for her herbs and spices. No true aphrodisiacs existed on earth… at least none that the mortals would recognize. It would be far too dangerous. A proper tonic to encourage attraction and sexual desire required weeks of preparation, crushing herbs, chopping roots, distilling special waters. And that corner was the perfect spot for a bookshelf to store all her scrolls, and life charts, and journals of past experiments. The room had so much potential.

If she could only start growing her roses again… She would have enough space in here to make her oils and scents. Those damned self-important, often heavily intoxicated "oracles". It was almost more trouble than it was worth to try and relate messages through them. If only one of the other gods could create another proper psychic. She was tired of having to disguise herself to interfere with the mortals' lives and guide fate in the right direction. Though she did believe she was becoming quite the actress.

Unaware of the path her thoughts had taken and the reason for her silence, Hephaestus called her over to where he stood.

As she neared, she saw that the curtains had been concealing a balcony.

"I realize it's not much to look at," he said, "But from this window you'll have a clear view of Virgo, and during the day, it overlooks the grounds."

"Only during the day?" she teased, before walking out to join him at the balustrade. She missed his slight frown at her little joke as she found herself drawn to the view below them.

Hephaestus watched as the playful gleam in her eyes was replaced by surprise and appreciation. He stayed as still as possible when she unconsciously leaned against him to get a better view of the acres of lush gardens; a multitude of colorful blooms barely hemmed in by winding stone paths; orchards of olive and fig trees, among other varieties she could not identify. She had refused to come to the house during their short betrothal and it had been dark when they arrived on their wedding night. Now, in the full glory of the mid-morning sunshine, she was seeing the gardens for the first time. He had difficulty concealing his satisfaction at her expression.

It was almost overwhelmingly lovely. During their long engagement, or "estrangement" as she had called it, Aphrodite had pictured his home as she remembered it when they were first building Olympus. As the oldest of the goddesses, though lacking the respect seniority might otherwise bring, she recalled this land as barren and wild. Even when the land had been cleared in preparation for Hephaestus' return to Olympus the grounds had lain fallow for years. It was a miracle that plants were not just growing, but flourishing.

Aphrodite's gaze swept across the landscape before finally coming to rest on her husband's face. Though they were now getting along, she felt his character was more impenetrable than when they had been at odds. Back then she had seen him as taciturn and dull; how wrong she had been. He was reserved in the fullest sense of the word. He held something back, something hidden and protected within himself. Even now, as she was warmed by the heat of his body, she sensed the part of himself he shielded from scrutiny.

That last thought sharply recalled her mind to the present. She plummeted back into an awareness of her body, pulling away as she became conscious of how she had been pressing against him. Drawing her arms around herself, she only looked up at him after she had retreated a respectable distance.

With her eyes directed elsewhere, she hadn't seen Hephaestus' reaction to her retreat. His expression was already shuttered when he asked her, "Well?"

Aphrodite met his gaze uncomprehendingly, her consternation building at the perceived challenge until she realized that he was asking whether or not she wanted to use the room for her work. She nodded. "Yes," she added, as if the gesture needed clarification.

He reached into his pocket and placed the key to the attic in her hand. Then he walked around her and methodically closed each of the open windows. She started at the sound of the smaller windows sliding shut and the sharp click of the larger windows hitting their frames. She wouldn't have been caught off guard if she could have brought herself to look at him while he was doing it. But she couldn't.

Before he closed the last window, Aphrodite heard the scrape of flint as Hephaestus relit the candle. The heavy thud of the curtains falling back into place served as a brief warning before the room was cloaked in darkness, save for the shaky glow of the candle.

"Thank you," she managed to say in spite of her sudden uncertainty. Without knowing why or how it had happened, she sensed that something had changed between them.

He inclined his head in acknowledgement. The flame flickered as he raised the candle to illuminate his face. "Shall we go?"

She looked at him for a long moment before following him out of the room.

If only he had smiled.

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God, I love that last line so much. Hope you do, too.

PLEASE REVIEW!

Much love, Cat