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Fight For What You Love

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Night. Alone. Finally. 

Ares shut the double windows to his room, blanketing the room in darkness but for the faint blue moonlight. The sweet smell of his mother’s pomegranate trees sickened him, overripe and heavy on the branches. The fruit grew well in drought. As well it should, with his parents trainwreck of a marriage. 

Ares toweled off his damp hair and grabbed the toothpaste. 

Rest. Soon. He exhaled a heavy breath. 

He’d avoided Zeus all day, hoping to ask his uncle for a favor. But the press of bodies in that hellacious Underworld line had him itching. Hades did it on purpose, to discourage participants. But if there was anything a soldier understood, it was withstanding bureaucracy. Ares had stood there, fuming inside as his mind whirred with how to protect his mother without causing a civil war. How to do right by...

Then, he’d seen Persie. The memory of her had him smiling around his toothbrush. Sweet little thing. It had been too easy riling her up. Finding joy in other’s anger shouldn’t be so fun, but Ares was….broken. Persie would forgive him. She always did.

In his room at the family estate, he knew the night’s silence would help him think, clear his head. A plan would come to him. It had to. He had family matters to patch up, things no one but him could set right.

A whisper of silk. Rose oil and earth. A shadow in the mirror’s reflection was the last warning before an arm closed tight around his neck. Then, something else. 

Cold, sharp steel.

***

“You know what a blade at my throat does to me?”

“It excites you,” Aphrodite whispered against his ear, tugging him closer until her back thumped against the wall and she felt the heady, familiar weight of his body. Thank fates she could fly. She always forgot how tall Ares was.

“I missed you.” His eyes fluttered closed on a sigh.

Don’t show weakness. She pressed the dull edge of the knife deeper. “You have a funny of showing it.”

“You know I love you. Always will.”

She tugged firmly at his hair until his neck craned back, adams apple bobbing on a tight swallow. Still, he didn’t fight her. “You think love has a knife to your throat? That I’m here for pleasure?”

His chest rose and fell on sharp breaths, the red skin around his eyes flushing darker. “Fates, I hope so.” 

Aphrodite’s traitor body heated in response. It was always this way, an endless cycle of lust and connection. Then, he’d disappear, off to answer the call of some man’s war. It had been four months this time.

She had to talk sense into him. Growling, she released his throat and pushed him forward.

“We need to talk.” She floated to the cool tile floor and glared at him in the mirror, too afraid to touch him again.

A feline smile, a promise of danger, curled at his lips. Why did he have to be so beautiful, such a perfect contrast to her? Yellow and purple were as complementary as their souls. She straightened against the bathroom wall, hands back. There was nothing she wanted more than to touch him, feel his heat, take his pain.

“We can talk,” Ares said, head tilting as his gaze wandered her head to toe. The trench coat tied at her waist suddenly too tight. The blue moonlight and red glow of their eyes seemed to light up the sterile bathroom. “Let me hold you, and we’ll talk.”

“Touch me, and I’ll cut you.” Aphrodite waggled the knife at him.

“Promise?”

He loved it when she played with knives. Well, maybe she could use it to her advantage. Steeling herself, slipping into the old familiar role she only enjoyed with him, she stepped closer.

Ares' hungry gaze dropped to her lips and he turned to reach out and hold her chin in the softest caress. Danger.

“No!” she poked the knife into the soft underside of his jaw and pinched a nipple. “You know this game. Remind me of the rules.”

His smirk turned to a grin of pure anticipation. She could almost see his eyes dancing like flames, swirling for her, the promise of violence and lust, but controlled.

“You’re in charge.” He dropped his hands to the counter. “Red if it’s too much. My goddess wants her favorite slave still and silent.”

Favorite? That was so cute, and so true, she couldn’t help but smile. “We’re talking, remember. You can speak, if it’s relevant.” 

***

Ares trembled as she dragged the pointed edge of the blade down his throat, then trailed it down his chest. 

Together again. Peace. There were so many things he wanted to say, declarations of truest feelings, rages against his cursed fate. But he swallowed and kept it all pushed down.

When Aphrodite put her blade, her rope, her whips on him, everything melted away. Even himself. Especially himself and the ever present, boiling rage in his gut. It only simmered, asked to do her bidding. Waited for her command. Nothing felt like this. At her mercy. In her hands. 

The blade slid down, rasping just under the elastic of his boxers. Tension snapped every muscle tight. His heart pounded so hard it throbbed where she gripped his wrist with her free hand. Pressing firm on his pulse, she seemed to take stock of the steady thrum. Glancing up, she looked at the pink cast on the countertop and cocked her head, zeroing in on his nose.

“You’re hurt.”

“Says the woman with a knife pointed at my dick,” Ares chuckled, but her eyes narrowed, twisted his forearm until she saw the red, angry slash, already half healed. “It’s a flesh wound, I assure you. The cast is mostly for Hebe and mom's sake.”

“Who hurt you?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

She sighed then leaned up and kissed his collarbone then his nipple, smoothing the fingers of her free hand from his nose to his jaw. Whisper soft and reassuring. She turned sweet in that last breath before it all went fuzzy. “You’re safe. You know that, right?”

“With you? Always.” Ares nodded, keeping his voice firm and deep. Just because he was safe, didn’t mean she was. He’d never hurt her, or the children, but it didn’t mean he belonged with them. 

But this, they could do. This, they always did so very well.

The sharp side of the knife hissed over his chest, scoring the hairs as it went. Twisting it quick, she changed direction. He never knew which way she’d go, but every fat stroke made him shiver, sent a cascade of tingles across his skin. His nipples were diamond hard points. The tip of the blade slid down one arm, then up the other, before tracing his jaw in a continuous line of lightning and fire. 

Aphrodite pulled away, and everything went dark and cold without her. Before he could protest, he watched her bite the knife between her teeth and pull black cloth from her pocket. Unrolling it, he recognized the glove. She’d had it fashioned after one of his uniform gloves but sewed five sharp points at the fingertips.

“Kitten came to play?” Ares’ breaths came faster and shallower.

She tugged the glove over her right hand and snatched the knife from her mouth in the other. 

“With you? Always,” she said, as a bright smile, the first unbridled one of the night, unfurled. For a moment, her beauty struck him speechless. 

She pressed the tip of knife against one areola, while slowly dragging her needle sharp fingers together of the other. His head fell back on a grunt at the exquisite pleasure. Her gift of pain.

She went to work then, twisting the blade to trace over the puckered, sensitive skin of his scars. Across his abdomen, he tightened and grimaced at the sensitive scrape of metal over skin. And her gloved hand stayed busy, sweeping across his chest, up his neck, and finally down his side, daring him to writhe.

But he stayed still, focused on his breath and the tingling sensation that grew to a fire beneath his skin. It almost rivaled the wrath churning deeper inside.

Most of all, Ares focused on her. Black silk trench coat, black hilted dagger, black glove, and huge black pupils, blown with arousal. He’d never seen anything so terribly beautiful. So powerful. The mother of his children. She had no rival.

***

How could Ares not see his capacity for control? Fearsome beast that he was, the god barely flinched as the points and blade left angry marks on his skin. His body flushed a delicious dark golden color and his teasing smirk was gone, mouth gone slack. She was pleased. With his mind free, there was only the two of them and the terrible work of her hands. 

Aphrodite dropped to her knees, the knife and glove trailing down his thick thighs, tracing over the strong bones of his feet. Eye level with his covered cock, she blinked twice realizing his boxers were lilac and covered in hearts. Oh, her sweet god of war. She needed him naked. Now.

“Let’s see that beautiful cock.” She snuck her blade under the leg of his underwear, carefully rending the fabric. Up and up, she cut until she reached the waistband. With a deft flick, the fabric fell open, the remains falling down one leg.

Ares kicked them away and widened his stance. His hands fisted, bracing against the counter, muscles bunching and flexing to retain control.

“Good boy,” she whispered, blowing over the wet end of the huge golden shaft bobbing for her.

“Fates,” He panted, “Put your mouth on me.”

“Who’s in charge?” She slapped the flat of the blade against his balls, watching his breath stutter. If she were honest with herself, hers were too.

“You.” His mouth formed a perfect “O” that persisted for a moment before his jaw clenched.

The sharp points of her gloved hand wrapped around to grip his firm ass, and she placed the knife to the counter, gripping his cock firmly at the root.

Licking her lips, she trailed them up and down his length, twisting her head to the other side, reveling in him. Musky, salty, so taut, so warm. Gods, she’d missed him. Four months was too long.

“Now, about that talk.” She licked the tip, his familiar flavor delicious.

“You…you can’t be serious.”

She let her gloved hand roam up and down the back of his thigh then switched to the front. Her claws swept up his chest, muscles bunching delightfully as the razor tips left scraping white lines in their wake. Rising tall, she poked his chin with the sharp end of her pointer finger. “If you want my mouth, you’ll talk.” 

“I’ll try, babe, but shit.” He shook his head and slapped his own face. Hard. “My mind’s not all there.”

“You’re present, with me, just where I want you.” She tongued the tip of his cock and sucked the first few inches for a moment before popping off.

“Nnnggh…” he groaned, hips punching forward before he stopped himself and leaned back against the counter.

“Why did you leave?” She pumped him with one hand and scored the glove down the front of his leg. “I’ll suck you off as long as your words make sense.”

Let’s give him a chance. Aphrodite dove forward with abandon, enjoying the slide and stretch of him finally where he belonged. Inside her. When he was lodged firmly in the back of her throat, her lips against the dusting of golden curls at the base, she brought her gaze up.

His chest rose on heavy, powerful breaths, those blood-red eyes glassy. 

She cocked an eyebrow at him. It was hard to remind him to answer the question with his fat dick down her throat. Moving to pull off, he gently ran his hand down her hair before pulling his hand back.

“Kitten...I’ll talk.” He looked away and sighed, fingers gripping the marble countertop. 

Aphrodite pulled back, but gave him one more chance. She worked shallow pulls just around the tip, until he started talking. 

“Why did I leave?” He looked down at her working him over and smirked. “I was called to war. Two factions against the other. Blood feud. It’s a long story...”

She loved on his cock, sucking then licking, and the longer he talked the harder she sucked. Each bob deeper and longer than the last. Tearing off the glove, one hand tugged roughly at the base while the other rubbed his perineum. A choked cry marked the only brief halt to his story. His hips came off the counter, trying, then failing to stop mini thrusts into her mouth and hand. But, he rallied, despite the sweat on his brow.

“The Trojans were insistent, you see...their force grew stronger….harder to…control….and….” Knowing he was close, Aphrodite jerked back and fisted the tip of his cock tight to bring him back from the edge.

On desperate, deep breaths, Ares bent forward. “You’re going to kill me with that mouth one day.”

“You’re immortal. You’ll live.” Letting his cock go, she slapped it just for the pleasure of watching it bounce back for more torture. “And, you’re avoiding the question. You may have left for war, but you were gone for four months. I was worried. Why did you stay gone? And I won’t start again until I hear the truth.”

“I don’t belong with you...or the kids.” 

“That’s hot garbage,” she said, rubbing idly with a gentle stroke, because she could, because he was hers. And he was close to the truth, his truth anyway. He had this silly idea he was some kind of monster. Idiot. “Something must have happened before you left. What was it?”

Ares rubbed at the back of his neck. "I got in a fight with my dad. It put things into perspective."

“Zeus is an emotionally stunted sex addict. He has no room to talk.” Fuck his daddy issues. Ares was a father himself, and not a great one at the moment. Aphrodite made a mental note to keep her recent escapade in Zeus’ office out of the conversation. “What did he say?”

Ares dug his fingers into her hair and pulled her to stand. His eyes were soft and vulnerable. This was the real him, beneath all the smug confidence. “He said I wasn’t good enough for you. He’s right.”

Motherfu*&^% . Aphrodite would chop Zeus’ dick off one of these days. And feed it to him. With sriracha sauce.

Ares' tear-filled gaze sobered her quick. As gently as she could muster, she placed a hand on his cheek. “You’re good enough for me. You’re good enough for our family. You always have been.”

“He had a point though. You all are better off without me. I want the kids to be like you. Fierce, independent, full of love.”

She growled, remembering all the ways she’d changed when he left. So many parental burdens left to Eros. “I’m only fierce and independent because you’re not here.”

“I know.” 

With horror, she realized he thought that was a good thing. This was his plan. But it didn’t feel good, how she’d grown so tough she had a thick, impenetrable shell to anyone except her family. 

“You’re stronger without me.” He kissed her cheek. “The children are better off.”

“Foolish god.” All she wanted was him. He was no danger to them, if anything they grew twisted and hurt without him home.

“You all are part of Olympus. Respected. Besides my mother, no one else even likes me. I cause havoc wherever I go. I’d infect the kids with this rage, this monster that never leaves me.”

“You have no rage with us.” She flew up so they were eye level and she could rain soft kisses to both sides of his face. “You are tender.” She’d kiss him until he came to his sense. “Loving. Protective.”

Ares groaned and sagged against the countertop, hands softly roaming up and down her arms. “You are my medicine, but our family is my purpose. I won’t curse you. Violence haunts my steps.”

“Look at you. You have such control, such deep love. I…” She was speechless. His desire to protect them was so stubborn and stupid and….self hating.

“I don’t trust myself.”

“I trust you. I believe in you.” I always will. Somehow, he could love them but hate himself. And how could she ever solve that? She couldn’t. In that moment, Aphrodite hated him. His cowardice.

“You shouldn’t.”

Chapter Text

Soft doesn’t get me anywhere with him. 

Aphrodite would go with a new tactic. Well, not new. It was the tried and true tactic. She ripped her silky trench coat off, letting is slink to the floor. As usual, she wore nothing underneath. 

Ares jaw went slack, eyes heating again. Red. In a good way.

“Fuck Zeus! And fuck you, Ares.” She threw herself at his chest, knowing that even though she could fly, his instinct would always be to catch her. Ankles locked behind his back and her fingers gripping his curly hair with violence. Lifting up, she looked down on him. “Let’s turn that self-loathing into something you're better at. Anger. Then, we’ll turn your anger into something beautiful.” 

His giant palms tightened over her ass, then repositioned so one hand gripped her ponytail. He pulled it back, open mouth trailing up her neck on a deep inhale. Cracking the hand back down on a loud slap to her ass, he moved off the countertop.

“Dirty girls need showers.”

“Yes, Daddy-kins.”

He stopped and reared back in dismay. “The kids call me that, babe. Not sexy.”

She laughed. “Shower. Now.”

The mirror reflected a flash of entwined purple and golden skin as they made their way to his oversized walk-in shower. Two showerheads. For reasons.

The large overhead rain showerheads had the enclosure steamed up in an instant. She bit at his ears, the skin on his neck, and not gently. His dad would see teeth marks on Ares’ handsome face at family breakfast tomorrow. Let the bastard know who the god of war belonged to.

Humming, he brought his lips to her ear and tongued inside. She raised her face to the stream of soft water and let it wash away all her troubles, all their time apart, all her anger. He had enough for both of them.

“Fuck me like you mean it,” she gasped. The words came out more vulnerable than she’d meant.

"With pleasure." Ares deep voice always made her core tighten and heat rush south. "First, though. My mouth on you. Be a good girl and hold onto the bar."

Yea, his shower had a bar. For reasons. The power of flight couldn’t be trusted in moments of surrender.

Then, that stubble-covered mouth was on her, and more. A clever thumb worried her clit as the fingers of that hand pressed into her soft stomach.

“Ares!” Already she was quaking, raining her pleasure on his eager tongue. “Don’t stop.”

“Not a chance.” Glancing at her grip on the bar, he let go of her ass and moved his hand up to her breasts, slapping them briefly before teasing the nipples, back and forth. “You’re coming on daddy-kins face any second now.” 

She would have groaned at the stupid nickname if two thick fingers hadn’t pressed into her pussy. She groaned for a different reason as they made magic, hooking up and thrusting with intention. His head dipped down, tongue circling her clit. Oversensitized already, he bit lightly before sucking it into his mouth at the same moment he worked his thumb slowly into her ass.

“Nooooo,” she wailed, when all she really felt was yesssssss . She hadn't wanted to come that quick, but there she was, shaking above him. White knuckled, she gripped the bar and clenched her knees around his hand as the pulsing subsided.

He straightened and wrapped his arms around her waist so she could let go. Her back thudded against the cold, slippery tile as he nuzzled his nose over hers. Breath short. Bright eyes. No words. Their foreheads connected, and she could smell her happy scent all over him. 

***

The goddess of love and beauty. She was that to the world, and him too, but she was so much more. She was everything.

Aphrodite bit her lip when his cock rubbed between her pussy lips, so warm and ready for him. 

Some lovers gave each other locks of hair when they parted. She’d given him a smaller package, a tiny snatch of the violet curls that covered her sex. The scent never washed away. It was his most prized possession, hidden in the breastpocket of his military jacket, just over his heart.

“Ready to get fucked, kitten?”

“You ask the goddess of love?” Her eyebrow arched.

“Consent is important, babe. Doesn’t hurt to double check.”

The tiniest smile lifted at the corners of her mouth as she rolled her hips and sank down on him in one long, deep stretch. The tightest hug. A perfect fit.

So hot. So wet. The shower only enhanced the experience. He licked up one delicious rivulet of water that ran between her breasts to just over her pulse point. Dragging his cock out and back in, he set a steady rhythm. When her eyes glazed over and head fell back, he kept one hand anchored below that sexy ass and brought the other up. His fingers squeezed her perfect tits, slapped them just to hear her gasp, and let his palm wander up the long line of her neck. He gripped the hair at her nape just hard enough so she arched, bringing those dark nipples closer to his mouth.

Yes. Yes. Yes. They both cried out as their hips crashed together in tempo. The ability to hold back slipped away.

He gripped both sides of her hips, so tight he could see the indentation of his fingers in her soft flesh. Pounding into her, his thrusts grew so rough she could do little more than go limp. She braced her arms against his chest, leaving ten crescent shaped marks he’d be able to admire in the morning.

He bounced her on him fast, without mercy, using her like she belonged to him for this express purpose. She made him feel good, let him be someone else for a few minutes. Her legs around his hips tightened. Feeling the tingling whisper of his climax at the based of his spine, he slowed down and slid one hand between them, pressing down on her clit as hard as he dared in a slow, rocking rhythm.

“Fuuuuuu….,” he groaned. They fell apart together, hot fluid everywhere. The best kind of mess.

“You heal me, everytime we touch.” Ares voice came out on a harsh whisper. Even with their body connected as close as could be, he felt a hint of that wrongness inside him. 

Aphrodite must have sensed it. She pulled even closer and gripped his jaw.

“Don’t run away again.”

Embers lit up in his stomach. A tightness gripped his chest. It was a creature from the deep that could be battled but never defeated. Somewhere, men made war. Couples fought. A soul screamed rage into their pillow.

Ares felt it all.

“The monster claws at my chest. Why was I born this way?” Few knew what he dealt with. Most only saw the carnage. It was only a matter of time before some asshole would piss him off. Instinct would take over - blood, spears, screams - and Ares would be called to judgement again.

“You were born a fighter,” she said. In that moment, time stopped. Rewound. Ares felt like a boy again, like he could be anything. Her earnest dark eyes cut straight to his soul. “Fight for what you love, not what you hate.”

Chapter Text

“Your hair looks awful.” Hera pulled at his curls before looping one around her finger and settling it back with a soft pat. “That’s better...but maybe you need a shorter cut.”

“Ma, give it a break.” Ares shooed her away and waggled his eyebrows. “Ladies like it longer on top.”

“Stop moving!” Hebe pulled his fingers from the end of the cast and drew a flower to match the heart from yesterday. She wore a bright white satin dress with a red tie, same color scheme as Hera's gown. Such a little cherub. 

Ares only wore the damn cast because his baby sister insisted. Well...maybe to garner a little sympathy if he ran into anyone he’d had words with before he left. The war god back from public service. Hard for them to hold a grudge if he came across sympathetic.

Ares sighed. Not that it really worked. No one really cared, and soon enough he’d cock it all up again. Sure, he was good for a laugh, a quick fuck, or a favor when they needed muscle. But only his family really saw him. His hair out of sorts, a scratch on his arm. His mind fell to Aphrodite. Only she really dared touch the turmoil deeper.

The smell of the family chef's famous iced lemon cookies in the oven made his mouth water, but the honey biscuits were closer. He stuffed one in his mouth, crumbs flying everywhere. 

“What's my baby sis been up to?”

Hebe tilted her head back and forth inspecting her new artwork before capping the white sharpie and turning an assessing gaze on him. “Keeping an eye on…” her voice fell quiet, eyes darting to their mom bustling in the kitchen. “....them.”

“That’s not your job, little one.” Ares pulled at one perfectly curled ringlet. “Wanna have some fun?”

Round eyes and a huge smile were his answer.

“Let’s get out of here.” He leaned forward on a whisper, grabbing her around the waist. Yelling over his shoulder, “Bye ma! Taking Hebe. Seeya at the party.”

“Wait a-” Hera started, but they’d flown out the back door before she could finish. His little sister’s squeal of delight was enough to turn his sourest mood upside down. And she needed to be around kids her own age, kids who were messy and wild. Enough time alone in that big house, and their parents would become her project, her mission in life. He knew how useless that was, as much as he understood the desire to keep trying to fix them. Well, not today. Not this morning, when everything seemed to be looking up.

Ares snuck in through the greenhouse side entrance, the scent of every variety of rose seemed to melt over him, wiggle straight into his heart. His open palm ghosted over the tops of the bushes, meeting soft petals, glossy leaves, and thorns. Each sensation was welcome.

He was home.

“Do me a favor, Hebesy.” Ares set his sister down. “Ask Storge about his hamster.”

“Storge has a HAMSTER?!” Hebe ran so fast through the kitchen door she looked like a flash of lightning.

The kitchen was smaller than his parents, but so much more alive. He stood back, watching his kids at the table. They poked, bickered, sneered. Just like their dad, he smiled. But underneath it all was that strong vein of affection. Comfort. That’s all their mom.

“Daddy-kins!” Ludus launched himself at Ares, scrambling up to sit on his wide shoulder.

“My little red devil.” Ares growled and pretended to play bite his tiny arms as they pummeled his head.

“Dad...” Agape looked up from her cell phone, a tilt to one side of her mouth. She got older and more beautiful each time he saw her.

“You ready for the dance?” Ares asked.

She shrugged one shoulder and glanced down, her face flushing a deeper shade of green as her ears twitched. “I’ll be out of place...a high schooler with the college kids. It’ll probably be a disaster.”

“You're my date! The envy of every thot.” Eros emerged from the pantry with Mania strapped to his back and an apron that said, 'Life is short. Lick the bowl.' Stopping short when he saw him, Ares braced for the worst. Recrimination. Attitude. All of which he deserved.

Instead, Eros smiled and nodded. “Poppa-bear.”

Ares throat choked up as he crossed the kitchen to give his oldest son a tight hug, whispering in his ear, “Baby bear.” He pulled back and started unbuckling the baby carrier. “Let me take this monster of your hands. What are you making? I’ll take over. You need to get ready for the big event.”

Eros was still in his pajamas. “We already ate. I was just going to make some punch for the party.”

“Punch is my specialty.” Ares winked and pushed Eros out of the room playfully with a foot on his ass.

He peeked into the side room, happy to see Hebe, Storge, and Philautia dressing the hamster in a tiny toga. The whiskered little rat looked like a proper philosopher chewing on his lettuce.

Ares threw the cabinets open looking for the hive-shaped punch bowl and got to work combining nectar with mint and a dash of something special.

High-pitched giggles and a seductive lilting voice in the hallway had him turning. Aphrodite entered the room with Philia and Pragma on her hips, singing and twisting in a circle. They were like three stalks of lavender dancing in the wind.

“A thousand ways to love today….” Her voice in song made him drunk in love. Every time. “...a thousand more tomorrow.” Their little girls singing alongside her brought it to a higher level.

Their children were a gift to the world. On that point, he and Aphrodite never disagreed. He’d give her as many children as she wanted. The world would know all the ways to love.

***

Was there anything sexier than a man with an infant strapped to his chest?

When Aphrodite saw Ares, golden god with crimson eyes and their two ruby colored kids, her heart stopped. This was how it was supposed to be. She’d make it a reality if it took all the human ages. She and her kids deserved it. Ares deserved it. 

She coughed and put her two girls down, fingers knotted in her flannel nightdress. “I would have gotten dressed.”

“You always look great, babe.” He squeezed the two little girls in a quick hug and set them in their chairs.

“Ares, you’re in full uniform. Is that strictly necessary? We’re just chaperoning the college kids.” He would frighten all of Eros’ classmates. Though, the cast decorated with hearts and flowers made him look a little gentler.

He puffed up. “Those hormonal nymphs need to be reminded to stay in line with my babies.”

Eros and Agape were not exactly babies, but she loved how he always seemed to think of them that way. 

“Oh please, dad. Don’t embarrass me.” For once, their teenage daughter’s phone screen was black as she watched their conversation, twisting her golden hair in one hand.

“That's half of every dad's job.” Ares dropped Ludus to the ground and grabbed Agape’s hair in both hands. Fingers combing through the silky blond tresses so similar to his own, he braided it up into a crown at the top of her head. Lilacs from the centerpiece went in for a final touch. “Now, go get dressed. We’ll do a Fatesbook photoshoot later.”

Agape’s lips twisted into a shy smile and she darted out of the room fingers carefully assessing her hairdo as she went.

It was so important to Aphrodite and Ares that they kept their complicated relationship nothing but supportive in front of the kids. Hence, her sneaking into his room with a knife in the middle of the night and not over breakfast.

“Who’s watching the kids while we’re gone?” Ares sidled up to give her a side hug, the fingers of his other hand idling stroking through Mania’s curls and pinching her rolls.

“Hermes.” 

He nodded. “Good dude.”

She leaned against him and sighed. The kids were fed. Punch was ready. Eros and Agape almost dressed. Everything just seemed right when Ares was home.

“Go put on some sexier clothes, my beauty.” Ares smirked. “Can’t have these youths thinking Aphrodite isn’t anything other than the most gorgeous creature in Olympus. I know how it riles you up.”

“Shut up!” She punched his shoulder.

“You are to me, just so you know.”

She knew. Beauty had never been the problem. Neither had their love for that matter. Sure, she had her own issues to work through - prideful, combative, controlling.

But Ares’ problems were his own and twisted around things she couldn’t control. Self-confidence. Emotional regulation. Family dysfunction. Her therapist had given her words for many of the complex grey areas that had haunted her for years. The words helped. Isolating a thing let her see it better, feel it better. She hoped, one day, they’d help her find a way forward.

Chapter Text

We’re the three best friends that anyone could ever have.” Hermes singing voice echoed down the university hallway, as he clasped Eros and Agape by the shoulders.

Aphrodite flinched and strode faster ahead of them, clenching Ares’ hand tight. She smoothed her free hand down the navy blue cutout gown. Her favorite wide-brimmed fascinator covered the left side of her face, off-kilter. The dress had good movement, so keeping up with his long strides wasn’t a problem.

We’re the three best friends...” The messenger god sang the refrain on repeat.

“Oh my gods!” Aphrodite groaned.

“You called?” Hermes laughed.

Why is he here again? Oh right. Just after lunch, her nymph assistant and Hermes had arrived at the house at the same time. The golden-eyed beauty insisted she babysit, freeing Hermes to come. The red god hadn’t exactly been dressed for the occasion, so Eros lent him some clothes. While her rose-colored boy looked dapper in his powder blue tux, Hermes donned the same suit in a different color - the oddest shade of orange. Overly vibrant, it was too similar to his red skin. She got a headache every time she looked at him. But Hermes didn’t seem to care about fashion let alone irritating her. 

We’re the three best friends that anyone could ever have, and we’ll…” He picked the refrain back up, and Aphrodite vibrated with annoyance.

“SHUT IT!” She yelled, looking over her shoulder, then grumbled to Ares, “That god tests my patience.”

“You have patience?” Ares brought her clenched fist to his lips, before swooping her up in his arms and striding faster to the entrance. Hermes continued the song in a lilting whisper behind them, and Eros and Agape burst out in giggles. “Let the kids have fun, babe.”

“I thought this fundraiser would be a peaceful event. Quiet.”

“You do know Hermes and I are basically the same person.” Ares laughed. “He just doesn’t have an attitude problem.” 

“Your attitude problem is half of why I like you.” She bit his ear before catching a first glimpse of the festivities ahead. 

“The other half being my di-”

“Hera!” Aphrodite shouted in greeting and jumped out of his arms to straighten her outfit. 

The king and queen of the gods stood at the entrance of the giant greenhouse with tight, polite smiles. Perfunctory greetings followed. Ares gave his mom a kiss on the cheek and watched Zeus with an assessing glare as they passed.

It sent a shiver down her spine, sparking a rare emotion. Guilt. She hadn’t told Ares about going down on Zeus a few weeks ago in his office. Ugh, gross. The memory made her cringe every time it clawed its way back up, so she pushed it down. Deep.

Her relationship with Ares was what her therapist called hierarchical polyamory. They could screw other people, even develop feelings, so long at the bond between the two of them always remained their top priority. 

But knowing what Zeus had said to Ares before he left months ago worried her. She hadn’t realized how deeply his father’s opinion still mattered. Zeus was nothing to her but a means to an end. She had a long con carefully calibrated to ensure Psyche and her son's happiness. There was nothing Aphrodite wouldn’t do for her children. Nothing. And Zeus would be her final step.

As much as she loved having Ares home, it complicated things. With him, she wanted to be her best, most honest, self. Without him around, she held her reputation and family together by any means necessary. Morality rarely got in her way. Zeus could put a torch to all her plans without blinking. For now, she’d keep father and son as far away from each other as possible.

The university greenhouse sat at the end of the Science department and overlooked the edge of a mountain. The harsh, fast-changing rays of sunset glared through the glass, casting people and plants in strange shadows that seemed to writhe as the crowd moved.

“Wow! Classy party.” Eros twirled in a circle, glancing up at the glass ceiling. The large greenhouse, covered in flowers and greenery, seemed to glow in the golden light.

Ares looped an arm over Agape’s shoulder, and she sighed. “It is divine.”

“Hoo-boy.” Hermes elbowed Ares. “Your mother really outdid herself with this fundraiser. We’ll be swimming in fertilizer.”

“Ewww.” Eros lip curled, and he leaned away from his friend.

“I mean...for the ag class projects and the botany experiments.” Hermes scratched at his head, bicep bulging. “Not like...swimming in shit.”

“It doesn’t smell like fertilizer, that’s for sure.” Aphrodite stepped up to a fountain with a large sculpture of a swan in the middle. Rosebuds bobbed in glass bowls. Pink plumeria and white honeysuckle twisted in long strands of greenery and vines, dripping from the ceiling and wrapping around every available banister. “It’s like springtime in a snow globe.”

Her heart swelled at the beauty of it all and the relative peace in her household. Then, doubt wiggled in. She never trusted moments of peace. Doom seemed to whisper its familiar insidious reminder. 

Things are going much too well.

*****

Things are going really well. 

His kids were happy. Even Aphrodite seemed at peace. Her fingers skated over the petals of a blush rose. 

Ares had grown up at these lavish parties, but this one was different. Positively verdant. His mother usually veered towards a classy but modern style, but the industrial metal and glass of the normally orderly greenhouse was covered in a wilder kind of beauty. 

One thing looked familiar though - the black and white tiled dancefloor. 

Time to party!

Ares squeezed Agape in a quick hug before twisting her in a spin and a slow rocking dance as he surveyed the crowd. The younger members of the pantheon and their parents gathered alongside other students and professors. That insolent red nymph from the Underworld line stood with a group of friends, glaring at him. Pfft. Sudoku. Give me a break.

Ares could feel the young man’s anger. It was a palpable thing, hitting him like a blast of wind. The other friends gave off irritation and fear, a much less satisfying emotion. Ares wound his arms tighter around his daughter as they danced, trying to ground himself from stepping towards them. Why am I always so eager to instigate? This isn't fun.

“Arty!” Hermes shouted and almost knocked them sideways, flashing past in a red blur. Crazy kid. He twisted the goddess of the hunt off her feet in a swirling circle of a hug. 

Behind Artemis stood Persephone, fingers twisting in an errant curl of hair. She wore a silky yellow button-up shirt with a long black suspender skirt. The double buns on her heads crowned with yellow flowers made her look like a schoolgirl dressed up as a bumblebee. A voluptuous, mouthwatering bee. The shirt must have been borrowed from Artemis. It strained at the seams, buttons begging to pop open. Ready to burst.

“Look alive! Stop staring at the college girls’ boobs. It’ll make them uncomfortable.” Aphrodite pulled him from Agape’s arms. “Especially that little flower. Come on, we’ve got to man the punch station.”

“Maybe Persephone likes an older man.” He glanced back once more before turning to Aphrodite.

“I think you’ve been beaten to the punch there.” She smiled on a sly grin.

Jealousy had rarely been an issue between them. Growing up in a household with a mother who would maim or murder anyone Zeus got involved with was enough for Ares to wash his hands of the notion of her version of marriage and monogamy. No, thank you.

And his goddess of love and beauty felt the same. In fact, she was so opposed to marriage that anytime he brought it up, she stormed away, cursing his name. But hey, he didn’t need a ring. Their love was free. They had half a dozen kids and counting. Did it matter? Sure, they still fought like cats and dogs. She had a vicious pride in her beauty, and Ares found malignant joy in other’s fury. What? It made life entertaining.

But sexual jealousy? Their bodies were made for pleasure, why not enjoy it? As long as they were open with each other, it always seemed to work itself out.

A dark shadow streaked into the room. The Unseen One. What a cool freakin' name.

“Uncle H.” Ares nudged Hades with his shoulder as he sidled up to the punch station and straightened his tie. “You don’t have any kids at the dance. Did Hera rope you into chaperoning too?”

"N-no." Hades turned to Ares on a silent grimace, sweat beading at his forehead. “No, I’m not here in an official capacity. Just stopping by.”

To see Zeus? Ares turned as his father bounded across the room.

“Brother!” Zeus hugged Hades close then leaned back with a shit-eating grin. “I knew you’d come when I sent that photo.”

Hades face softened imperceptibly. His line of sight led straight to the bumblee schoolgirl herself. 

Interesting. Ares grinned. After the FUBAR Underworld line the day before and Hades appearance at the college fundraiser, Ares made a note to self. There is definitely something going on there. 

He and Hades were on good terms. Most gods avoided them, so they had to stick together. Sweet little Persephone hadn’t lived long in Olympus, thus no childhood tales of how terrible the two of them were. It was definitely part of her appeal, and seeing her in that adorable getup with blue petals falling to the floor, Ares sighed. Yea, he would have no problem swooping in if Hades stepped out of line. He didn’t prod his uncle to anger that often, but if he wanted to, he now knew an effective lever to pull. Not saying I want to. But if I did.

“Hades is impossible,” Hera whispered, looping an arm affectionately through his. “The girl will never leave TGOEM if she doesn’t have a reason.”

“You want me to give her a reason?” Ares felt his teeth sharpen and heat build in his chest at the thought of seducing the little goddess of spring and angering his uncle. Double the fun. It was so rare that one of his mother’s schemes coincided with something he wanted to do. 

“Perhaps.” Hera tilted her head to the side and tapped a finger to her lips. “I’ll keep it in mind, but until I say so, keep your dick in your pants.”

Not a chance. Ares handed out punch to a lovely green dryad and a blue cyclops. There were more women in Olympus than he had time for and only one he wanted to spend it with. Where had Aphrodite gone? 

He found her deep in conversation with Hades, a glass of punch at her lips. His uncle seemed to inch slowly closer to where Persephone, Hermes, Eros, and Artemis stood.

Seeing him, Aphrodite raised her glass, mouthing the words, Taste test. He almost laughed. Why did the punch bowl need a chaperone, anyway? He’d already spiked it.

“Here’s your costume, loser.” Athena chucked a duffel bag at his head, dressed head to toe in a white sailor’s getup that seemed more appropriate on a toddler. Right. Costume.

His mother had roped them in as part of the night’s entertainment. He and Athena were the same height and looked great as a dancing duo, or so Hera had always said. At least the costume was easy to get on - a full body onesie with velcro at the back. He pulled it up and right over his dress blues. 

“Ready, champ?” He punched Athena’s shoulder. 

The glare she gave him melted to the tiniest smirk. “It’s showtime.” 

Her jazz hands came out. He mimicked her, and they tapped their way to the middle of the dancefloor. Guests scattered as the two giants shoved their way this way and that to clear a big enough space for their two-song set.

Olympus, Olympus. It’s a helluva town…” Front to back, tap, tap, tap, tap. Triple tap. Slide.

They’d done this together since they were kids. Their martial arts instructor taught them dancing to improve agility. Athena was, technically, better than him at footwork. And posture. Shit, and singing (a solid alto). Athena was better than him at most things, but Ares cornered the market on showmanship.

Shoulders linked over each other, and they tapped a simple sequence while Athena finished the chorus out. The crowd ate it up. Whether they watched in shock or awe, he couldn’t say.

Uncle H stood literally an inch away from Persephone, both stock still and sweating. Gods, they’re awkward. Agape peeked over Eros’ shoulder, tight-lipped and flushed dark green. Eros clapped, head bopping side to side as he sang along. Always a good sport, that one.

And there she is. Aphrodite sat at a round dinner table bordering the dance floor.  One elegant leg crossed over the other, showcasing her lacy thigh high stockings. Is there anything sexier than thigh hi-

Athena smacked him in the back of his head. “Your line,” she whispered through clenched teeth.

Right. Ares made an exaggerated lean and cleared his throat, beginning a quick tap solo and his part.

She finally got her kiss.” He winked at Aphrodite.

What a time we had tonight.” Athena barked out.

What a dish. What a dream. What a dame.” That brought a luminous smile to his beauty’s face.

The rest was a simple hop, skip, and jump as they elbowed their way offstage. To...not thunderous, but appropriate, applause. He ripped the cheap, plasticky costume off and threw it at Athena.

“All yours.”

His mom beamed at him, clapping loudly as he gave her a quick hug. Ares could probably take the biggest shit in Olympus and she’d ask to have it plated in gold. Gods love the woman.

But he caught sight of the red nymph from the Underworld and his friends watching him. Snickering. He faintly heard one of them say, “Gods? More like wimps.

Ares’ vision grew black around the edges and he saw the room through a haze of red.

“Son…” His mother raised to straighten her crown to straighten. A tell of nerves.

“It’s about respect, ma.” The words came out harsh and gritty. Then, he marched towards the group.

“Ares!” Heart pounding in his ears, that voice could always stop him cold. He turned to Aphrodite.

"Dance with me." She snatched a rose from the fountain, bit it between her teeth, and nodded at the violinist, who struck up a solo. 

La Cumparsita. A tango. 

Her eyes were wide and vulnerable, such a rare sight. It kept him frozen on the spot. And though the heat of his fury still clawed at his gut, the room returned to color. 

A vision of purple skin and a cutout midnight blue dress stalked toward him against the backdrop of a lone violin. Each step was to the beat, a fast flick of her heel then a slow follow with her body.

He straightened to his full height and dropped his arms in supplication. Tonight, he would dance before he destroyed.

Her scent washed over him, strong amid a space already filled with flowers. Rose oil, earth, and a hint of spice. Ares could have found her in a dark room by nose alone. 

She didn’t touch him when she drew closer, but circled like a predator. As she lined up directly behind him, two more violins joined the song, the louder music coinciding with her reaching around the barrel of his chest from behind. Slow, grasping fingers danced over his stomach and clavicle, making their way down to unbutton his uniform jacket. She tossed it to the side in a heap.

The game was on. 

He spun around and gripped her by the nape to bend her backward in a sharp half circle, her bent leg and pointed toe rising to flick up and over the back of ass before gliding in a straight line down to the floor behind her. 

This was the shape everyone loved. A woman arched back in submission, one leg long and the other in a low lunge. 

He grabbed the rose from her mouth and placed the petals at her forehead, trailing down the line of her nose, over her full lips, and finally her chin. Two breaths he held her there, watching the delight in her eyes. She loved to dance with him. And he loved...everything about her.

“Let’s give them a show, kitten.” Ares threw the rose on top of his jacket.

Spinning her in several quick rotations, he sidestepped her straight leg and brought her slowly upright.

Finally, their hands embraced, bodies only a breath apart as they stood in a tight, formal hold. To the rise and fall of the violins, her foot swept in quick flicks, lower body swiveling. Grasping her tighter, he led them across the floor in a swift coordinated step pattern.

Tap and tango were both good for footwork. Where tap was about precision, tango was about feeling your partner, from the soul out. They became two bodies, apart, who moved to the same patterns. Quick snaps of their feet followed by slow, fluid, hip-based rolls and leans. 

Each time they danced, Ares remembered how much more controlled she was than him. She had known him well enough to stop him before he caused a scene. Fight for what you love, not what you hate. One day he'd learn.

Even as they moved, she held his gaze, trusted him to lead her. For too many years, he'd felt unworthy of it. He stopped them, and for several long breaths slid his palm up her right side, continuing along the underside of her arm to her hand. She leaned her body into the contact point so he took her weight, then tilted her head to the ceiling, putting her hat and cutout dress in a gorgeous line, highlighted by the last rays of sunset. A goddess worth worshipping.

The audience watching her with bated breath, enraptured. A pin could drop. In so many ways, she showed the world what they could aspire to. 

He might guide her, but the dance was about showcasing her talent and complexity. The artistry of her movement. 

Her beauty. 

***

Tonight, he was a marvel of gold skin and navy blue. 

They hadn’t danced together like this in years. Centuries ago, they’d taken classes, slowly learning each other's bodies, how to move separately and then together. The cues translated to real life. They could read each other’s bodies, on and off the dancefloor. 

When she’d seen him striding across the room radiating anger, she had to act. The gods of love and war struck others as the most tumultuous of pairings. And they were. But they were magic too, the desire to embrace chaos instead of run from it.

This part of the song required total concentration. Walking her forward, she twisted her leg from the knee down around and then between his legs. Toes pointed. Quick, quick, they stepped, followed by a slow grasp and lean. She moved to a series of heel snaps and a quick flick between his legs. 

On the final notes of the song, they spun in half a dozen quick circles together. The greenery and golden light and all the gods and creatures of Olympus were only background. 

He stopped them, fast on a final hold. She leaned back, a knee between his legs and the other stretched back, a mirror image of the first hold. He curled over her, intent, possessive, full of love and not an ounce of anger.

“LEGENDS!” Hermes shouted, hands cupped so his voice seemed to shake the glass walls around them.

“Yea mom!!” Eros’ body erupted in a delighted wriggle.

Agape grinned, snapping photos with her cellphone.

The same moment they stood and made their way to the side, neon spotlights shone out from the four corners of the greenhouse centered on the circular ivy and flower covered chandelier above them. A disco ball descended. The real party started now. The crowd would flirt, bump, and grind until Hera and the gardening club met their goal for the semester’s special projects.

Ares pulled her into a tight embrace, his forehead leaned down against hers.

“Thank you, love.” His breath was still labored from the dance.

“You’re capable of so much control.”

His lips pressed to hers, soft, warm, and much too short. She wanted more, but now was not the time. They were chaperones first. Entertainment second. Lovers? Soon, she hoped.

“I should see what Hera needs for supplies.” Aphrodite rubbed a hand from his neck down his chest just to feel the exquisite dips and valleys of his hard body. “Stay out of trouble, please.”

His face softened on a wink. “Only ‘cuz you used the magic word.”

Chapter Text

Curse this broom closet!  

Aphrodite brushed the dust off her dark blue gown and bent to look again for the extra napkins. She’d already taken her little fascinator off as it obscured too much of her vision. There was a price to beauty, but even she had to compromise as a chaperone. The darkened closet was about the size of a walk-in pantry and had fuck-all for supplies. Hera sent me on this wild goose chase, and for what? Napkins?

The gala would be over soon. After Hades had arrived, the fundraising goal for projects had been met and then some, so the night had nearly wrapped up. The guests had long since drained Ares’ spiked punch, but Hera had ordered sparkling mead as a final toast to the event. 

Where. Are. Those. Damn. Napkins?

Familiar hands grabbed her around the waist, and something strange pressed against her throat. Fingers flying up, she felt it.

“A spatula, Ares?” She laughed, turning her head back to him.

“The better to spank you with, my dear.” A promising smile lit up one side of his face. “It’s no knife, but it only seemed fair I get payback.”

He held her firmly against his large body, even as she tried to wriggle out of his grip. “I have to get these fucking napkins for-”

“The delivery driver brought a stack of napkins with the mead. They’re good.” He dropped the spatula to the ground, his palm traveling from her throat down the curve of her breast, over her sensitive ribs and just under the tall slit in her dress. He could make her squirm so easily, especially when he whispered in her ear. “You’re all mine.”

“Still...we should get back.” There was no fight in her words. She wanted to stay and spend a few moments alone. Just the two of them. 

“Everything’s under control, babe. I told ma we were headed out.”

She sighed and melted back against him, raising her hands to grip the forearms holding her captive.

“Okay big guy,” she purred, almost coughing on the dust in the tiny space. “Where do you want me?”

“That’s a dangerous question. My answer is always the same.” He licked the side of her ear. “Everywhere.”

He released her, but instead of staying in that disgusting, dark closet, Aphrodite rushed out the door.

“Catch me, if you can,” she sang as she sprinted down the hall.

After crashing through the side door, she pulled off her shoes and threw them at the bottom of the stairs leading into the outdoor garden. She was no match for Ares in a foot race, but the tall hedge maze called to her. They could get lost in there, find some dark corner where no one else existed.

She didn’t know the maze's route, but it seemed simple enough. Counting the corners and singing to herself - right, left, left - she quickened her pace, bare feet pounding against soft grass. It was a blessed sensation. Her heartbeat raced, a heady floral scent thick in the air.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had this much fun.

But soon enough, all the breath was knocked out of her when a huge figure caught her by the shoulders. Ares spun her around and pushed her front against one of the columns, mouth against her cheek. 

“You could never escape me. Your scent is like a drug” Rough possession laced his tone. “Do you know what happens when a god catches you in a wild hunt?”

She knew. "The hunter takes the spoils."

"Any way he likes." There was a smile in his voice.

Lucky for her, she liked him every which way.

With a quick pivot, he spun her around and lifted her up with one arm, licking and nipping up her neck. Judging by the way he clutched her, panting, his control was unraveling. Her hand clenched in his starched uniform shirt, head leaning back on a sigh. He must’ve discarded his jacket at the stairs too. His mouth slanted over her, teasing at her lips in silent entreaty, but she wanted to rile him up a little more.

Fingers curling further into his shirt, nails digging into his flesh, she whispered, “Someone might find us.”

He kissed a path across her jaw. “So what?”

“What if it’s one of the students?” She laughed as he bunched the front flap of her dress up and over to the opposite side. Thank gods for the gown’s slit.

“Free sex-ed lesson?” He shrugged and brought fingertips up to rub over her lips, his eyes fixated on them. It could have been the darkness or his growing arousal, but his pupils seemed to dilate and the lines of his forehead loosened. Then he breathed out three, quiet words.

“I love you.”

Her mouth fell open in surprise. For some reason, that wasn’t what she’d expected. They were playing, like they always did. One thing led to another and they’d be half naked working each other over in public. But he was being sweet. It caught her off guard, and reminded her that while she’d demanded honesty from him, she hadn’t told him everything yet. Tell him about Zeus.

“So serious, babe.” He rubbed a thumb between her brows and bit at the inside of his mouth, a rare nervous tick. “No more love talk, huh?”

“Love talk is always good.” Her legs wrapped around his waist, arms locked behind his neck so she hovered eye level with him. “But no talk might be better. I need you. Now.”

His deep rumbling growl vibrated straight to her heart as he pushed her back flat against the column. His buckle clanked, and she heard his pants zip open. When she tightened her hold to take her weight, his free hand fell to her ass and inched closer to her center, sliding her panties to the side. 

Then, he found that perfect spot and rubbed. No more words, he just watched her reaction as his fingers set a tantalizing, unhurried motion. The wet sound of his flesh against hers seemed to echo across the quiet garden maze. 

She arched, eyes wide as they locked on his. They didn’t need dirty talk, they didn’t even need the word love in moments like this. They just needed each other and that electric connection of belonging to another person. Completely.

His eyes went dark, hungry, and she could feel his hardness grow and press against her bottom. 

She reached a hand down and pushed him into place, lodged just inside her. A moan fell from her lips. 

He brought his fingers, wet with her arousal, to his mouth and sucked on them at the same moment his hips curled up. Gods, the fullness. He always fit her so snug, so tight.

Her panties must not have been to his liking, because he growled and reached down, ripping them off with a quick, violent tug. Both his arms looped under her knees and he set a deliberate, punishing speed. 

In and out, he took most of her weight, slapping deep and hard. Her arms held tight around his neck as he fucked her faster, the space between them hot with shared breaths. 

Skin flushing red, eyes grown black and sparkling in the moonlight, he looked more monster than man. He took her like she was his spoil of war, his captive bent to every depraved whim of his imagination. And she accepted it all. When she used her feet against the back of his thighs for leverage and started to ride him back, in her own circling dance, his head fell back on a rough exhale. His own thrusts halted then picked back up with pained grunts

She wished she had the time and extra arms to tear off his shirt and lick the hundred ragged scars that decorated his chest. His naked body was a sight to behold, and just the thought of it, then the contrasting picture of him at that moment, fully clothed but fucking her like an animal, had her clenching around him, ready to blow.

He must have known because he rearranged her legs with her ankles over his shoulders, and pulled her hips more firmly against him. He took her slower in that vulnerable position, impossibly deeper. Sliding all the way out to the tip, he pressed back up in long, torturous strokes. The coarse hair above his cock rasped against her clit with each thrust.

She was scrunched into such a tight position, her hands could only rest on his face, cupping his cheeks as she stared into those eyes she’d seen a thousand times but somehow still they surprised her. Wicked. Dangerous. And tonight, so full of tender love. 

His paced increased just enough to hit her in the same, snug spot at the right speed. Heat flushed all over her body, and her feet started shaking. She knew it was coming, so close, but it was harder to reach in this position. Tender emotion tangled with the rough way he treated her body. Then, he pressed an unexpected kiss to her chin. Ankles flexing tight at his neck, her muscles seized on a ragged cry. Even in that wild, cramped position, her body clenched and sang for him.

That sweet kiss to her chin turned to a pained grunt, as he turned his teeth to her shoulder and bit down. A few short thrusts later, he exploded inside her. They pulsed around each other, a dance deep inside that seemed to go at a frenzied tempo until even their insides melted into soft sated pleasure.

When their breathing slowed and bodies relaxed, he pulled out, placed her feet on the ground, and zipped up. Leaning over, he righted her dress and pressed butterfly kisses over her temple and cheeks and mouth until she giggled and shooed him away. 

“I need a walk after that pounding.” She grabbed his hand and moved forward.

Looking back, she found him watching her ass with a mischievous grin.

The next right turn led them to a clearing with six new entrances in the maze. Perhaps is a bit trickier than I realized.

They sat down at the circular bench of a four tiered fountain. Serpents and doves curled around each other at each level, spewing clear, gurgling water to the tier below. Fragrant, golden-flowering ivy covered the bench and the neighboring garden bed. A statue of a creature wedged in the soil there made it look like it was crawling out from beneath a small rose bush. The little monster’s rock face held a frowning look of annoyance.

Pointing to the figure, Aphrodite laughed, “Mania makes that same face every time I try to correct her.”

Ares gave the statue a fleeting glance, then scooted closer to her, skating his fingers over the undone hair at her temples.

“Mania is getting cuter by the day, huh?”

“She is.” The red skin of her youngest matched perfectly the darkest hue around Ares’ eyes. “A real demon, that one. I love her fighting spirit though. She’s gonna be something special when she grows into her powers.”

Ares looked away, but pulled her closer against his side. “She scares me, babe. It’s…it’s part of why I left. Ludus is playful love, but Mania…insane love? Obsessive love?”

Worried where this was going, she stood up between his legs and held his face in her hands, looking down at him. What is he saying? Silently, she willed him to unburden his heart.

“After her baby shower, Zeus…” He met her gaze. “He told me that the more kids we have, the more twisted they’d become.”

An icy chill swept over her skin and shot deep into her gut, like she’d just stepped out of her body and something else had taken its place. Twirling away, she tried to storm off, but he held her fast. “Let me AT HIM. I will END HIM!”

“Babe. He’s an asshole.” He gripped one of her arms tighter, while clamping a hand at the back of her neck to pull her back to the cage of his legs and arms.

With her hands on his shoulders, the soothing bulk of his large, strong body calmed her somewhat, though she vibrated with the need to move, do something. How dare he say that about my baby?  

“Honestly, I don’t even think he meant it. He was drunk. I was mad about something stupid,” Ares said. “But it’s this worry, about the kids, that’s like a soft spot between two plates of armor. When I’m poked there, it really fucks me up.”

Aphrodite’s teeth ground together in barely restrained rage. “Mania is perfect the way she is. If I ever hear another word about it, I will castrate you both. Permanently .”

“Message received.” Ares gripped both her shoulders and shook once. “There’s something else I haven’t been honest about.”

She swallowed the bile that threatened to rise, knowing how much she’d held back from him. When did they start keeping so many secrets?

“I told you why I left, but not why I came back.” Both his hands trailed down her arms, then dropped to his knees. “Bad news comes in threes, you know? I heard a call for war from Persephone.”

That little flower? Ugh. Aphrodite shook out her hair and took a deep inhale of fresh air, trying to give the tense ache in her heart room to breathe.

“Eros is taking care of Persephone, they’re like this.” She twisted two fingers together. “Besides, Hades watches her like a hawk.”

“I noticed that, but her call felt serious.” He kissed the knuckles of her hand and placed the palm on his cheek.

“We don’t give our son enough responsibility. He is all over it. Believe me.” Her thumb ghosted over his golden stubble and gave a playful slap to his face. “You said bad news comes in threes. Get on with it.”

He sighed. “Zeus got in a big argument with ma.”

What’s new? She thought but didn’t say. Noticing how disheveled he looked, she busied her hands straightening his collar and tie.

“I managed to defuse their little argument, of course,” he continued. “The weird thing was that it was the same day I’d heard about a massacre of over three hundred people.” 

Aphrodite’s fingers stopped, and her gaze met his.

“Arrows from the sky, the villagers said.” He searched her face, chewing on the inside of his mouth again. “It was Eros, wasn’t it?”

She nodded.

“Even as the god of desire, I managed to taint him.” He gripped her hips tight, a pinched expression on his face. That self-loathing from the first night he’d returned...It was about Mania and Eros. “What happened? You should share things like this with me?”

All the tension, the secrets, and the pain she held tight inside lashed out in a furious rage. “I WOULD IF I KNEW WHERE YOU WERE!” Then softer, “I looked everywhere for you!”

His face fell, chastised. “Babe, that wasn’t an indictment. Of you, at least. It…it kills me that Eros did that. Remember what we said when he was born? He’s pure goodness. No heartache, no sadness.”

She remembered how hopeful they’d been. A thousand ways to love , they’d always said. The gods of love and war would raise happy, healthy kids no matter what differences they had with others. But, for Eros at least, Aphrodite had given up that fantasy after his mess with Psyche. 

“He’s not a child anymore, Ares. And sweet Gaia, do I need that reminder myself sometimes.”

“Listen, I plan on talking to Hades about it.” He craned behind her to where the soft light from the greenhouse glowed. “I want to see if we can fudge the numbers and keep it out of Zeus’ line of sight.” He turned back to her with a smile. “I mean, I could also start a war down there to cover it up. I just need to figure out what to do for our boy.”

Emotion clogged her throat. Too little too late. She choked out the words, “It’s already fixed. Zeus knows. He forgave Eros.”

“Just…forgave him?” Ares brows pinched together. “That doesn’t sound like-”

The rest of his words were lost in a fog. Her mind went blank with panic seeing Zeus, a purple fucking nightmare, turn a corner of the tall hedge and walk straight toward them.

Run! Her body said. Her logical mind had no time to disagree or say a word to Ares before instinct kicked in. She turned and fled, like a deer being hunted. 

But the only thing Ares would find when he caught her was the truth, if his father didn’t tell him as a sick joke. It had been a terrible choice of a desperate mother. And when Ares knew, she didn’t want to see his face. He’d look at her the way everyone else did, everyone except herself and her kids. 

Aphrodite, the shitty mom. The liar. The whore.

Chapter Text

“Son, I need to talk to you.” 

His father’s grating voice cut through the quiet night at the same time Ares stood to follow Aphrodite back into the maze. He paused and turned. Zeus never calls me son.

“Have you seen Hebe?” Zeus peered around the fountain at the six hedge entrances with honest curiosity.

“She's certainly not here.” Ares threw his hands up. “Alone in a magical garden for fates sake.”

“Well, you're her brother! She was last seen with you, and you know she’s my cup bearer for the final toast.” Thunder rumbled in the distance at his father’s annoyed statement. A light rain would come soon, even if all went well. And if it didn’t, Ares knew the drill - a storm...shouting...a struggle for dominance. Had the asshole really come all this way to hassle him about this inane shit? He couldn’t help but needle the bastard. As much as Zeus adored Hebe, his actions didn’t bear that out too often.

“Hebe is eight years old, and it’s a school night.” Ares stepped toward him on instinct, a sinister smile emerging. He'd always been drawn to conflict with his father, like he was made for it. “She's with my kids being a kid, not your fucking bartender!”

“Is that right?” Zeus’ long, straight hair picked up in the wind like a swarm of angry snakes, and dark clouds moved in. Ares felt a sick pleasure at how easy it still was to goad the old man into an argument. He didn’t even need to use his powers, though the monster twisted in his gut, ready to be released, ready to battle his oldest foe. Zeus continued, “Still such a hateful quarreler. You think you know-”

A loud thundercrack stole the rest of his father’s words at the same time a flash of lilac skin caught Ares’ eye through a gap in the maze. 

Aphrodite. Could she be lost? She’d run off so quickly. The beast inside quieted a fraction, growing agitated as a pained curiosity sparked, more potent than his desire to fight. What caused my fierce beauty to run?

“This isn’t worth my time.” Ares darted toward the entrance he’d seen her flee into. Fighting with his father could be fun, but Zeus wasn’t as important as her. He never would be.

This section of the maze was darker, the leaves blue-black and all the flowers shades of silver and white. Even the fireflies that flashed around him gave off a cool toned light, buzzing to an ominous tone. Creepy, much?

He was the hunter again, but this time his skin prickled with unease. Ares followed her faint scent and the instinct within him that could always find her.

Rounding a half dozen corners, his pace picked up as he jogged down a curving, serpentine route. A long stretch of tunnel ended at a sheer drop off. He dug in his heels to stop from falling over. 

There she was, to the side in a bare dirt clearing. Aphrodite stood at the very edge, looking down as her gown billowed in the wind. Crackling lightning and the distant moon backlit her profile, and a thousand stars glittered in the distance. The sea, of all things, was calm. 

He stopped, as quiet as a mouse. For a single, terrified moment the bleak expression on her face had him worried she would throw herself off the cliff, as if lying battered on the shore below was preferable to this verdant garden.

He took a deep breath and stepped forward, resolved to fly if she did jump or fall. 

I’ll catch her.  

His sole purpose in life, to support her, revealed itself to him. The simplicity and obviousness of it startled him. He would catch her if she fell. Every time.

“Aphrodite.” He started forward, but sensed something wrong. Off-kilter.

Even as the rain beat steadily down, an ephemeral purple cloud, misty and swirling, circled the ground at her feet. Dancing ribbons of light grew from her hands in twisting patterns. 

Her spine was too straight, arms flat at her sides, as though another presence had taken hold of her body. She’d borrowed from older powers before, but not like this. Worried he was not dealing with Aphrodite anymore, he recalled other names mortals had given to love and beauty through the ages. His trembling voice called out.

“Qetesh.” She blinked and lifted her arms out at her side, palms up, water droplets floating in the air as they left her fingers rather than falling to the ground.

“Oshun.” Her face rose to the sky, tongue out to catch the rain in her mouth.

He could barely breath, but tried the oldest name he knew.

“Inana.” 

Her face whipped to him, eyes as white as death itself, vacant and fathomless. He’d seen her primal form before, a terrible force of passion and life. But all other times, the amethyst center of her eyes remained. She’d remained. That version of her had always excited him. But this...this was not her. Aphrodite had fled, and an older self protected her.

“I wish I were a mountain.” Her voice came out a whisper, but it echoed in his ears as if shouted from within his own body. The aching pain in her tone forced unbidden tears to his eyes. The fire inside awakened, slithering in a circle, ready to act. I wish I were a mountain.

The voice jolted an ancient memory of his own, a poem - The Maiden and the Mountain. All he could think to do was speak it to her, hoping she would change back to his beloved and not this force of chaos he did not understand.

“I praise the lady of battle, the great maiden Inana.” He dropped to both knees, blinking the rain away and keeping his gaze on those terrible eyes, as bright as the sun. “  Holy Inana does as she wishes, destroying even the mountain for its disrespect, because of its elevation, its height, its goodness and beauty, because it wore a holy garment and did not bring its nose to the ground or press its lips into the dust.”

Her gaze dropped to the ground at his feet, and without a second thought he fell to the ground and kissed the dirt, rising to finish the poem, “Goddess of the fearsome power, clad in terror, riding on the great divine, You are made complete by the strength of your holy weapon, drenched in blood, covered in storm and flood.”

A great wind made of pure light seemed to rush out of Aphrodite's small body. She fell to her knees, then face down on the ground. The lilac mist whooshed around her once more, then curled into the clouds high above, taking with it all the ominous weight he’d sensed when he’d first come upon her. When the last of that foreign sensation melted away, the sky cleared. Even the rain slowed to a soft mist.

Aphrodite looked up. Tears streamed down, creating track marks in the dust covering her lovely face. And though she cried, he could have shouted with glee to see they were her eyes again - dark but bright, full of love, and no hint of that other form.

“I wish I were a mountain and never again a woman.” She choked out the words, but held his gaze. He rose to his feet and walked slowly forward, afraid to call back that ancient spirit.

If any woman were a mountain, it would be you, he thought but his mouth was frozen shut. He dropped to his knees again and hugged her tight. Something was very wrong if Aphrodite, only ever capable and confident, was in over her head.

“Why did you run away?” His question echoed the one she’d asked him after sneaking into his room the night before. He kept his tone soft. “Zeus arrived just after you left.”

Her body stiffened, then trembled. Ares pulled back, and a thousand thoughts ran through his mind. Four months away and so much could have gone wrong. His father was a devious asshole, but... “Did Zeus hurt you?”

A weak shudder passed through her body.

“Look at me.” He grasped her face and waited for her move.

When she raised her gaze to him, her jaw set defensively. She was afraid...of him. His judgement.

“Tell me, babe.” Gently, he brushed the hair back from her temples over and over like a soothing child. “What happened?”

“I slept with him. A-a few weeks ago.”

“You don’t even like him.” Ares’ breath left in a rush as his heart fell like a stone. The oddest thing of all, there was no anger, just numbness followed by confusion. He'd been gone a little longer than usual, but had she grown tired of him? Did she find Zeus preferable? He was the king, not a delinquent deadbeat with attention problems. His heart withered into a tight, dead weight at the bottom of his chest. Everything felt cold, frozen, everything except a sliver of his rational mind still scrambling to make sense of it all.

No, no, no. I'm missing something.

“You ran because he showed up.” Seeing her eyes close on a grimace, bile rose and his skin flushed quick as he considered the most horrible of possibilities. "Did he...?” 

Swallowing, she forced her gaze back, and though she said no words, her eyes told him the truth. She hadn't wanted Zeus, even a little. “It wasn't forced, if that's what you mean, but I had to compromise. It was...for Eros...the massacre. I had to keep him out of trouble.”

Wrong, wrong wrong. The whole situation was completely fucked up  . Consent was about more than words. It should be about enthusiasm, especially for the goddess of love. Anything less was...unnatural.

And just like that, his inner wrath kicked into high gear, writhing and screaming for release. She's mine to protect. Normally, his rage was a hot feeling of power, but this time it hurt, like his very guts were twisted around the growing beast within. 

It was his weak spot. His family.  

“My father wanted you to fuck him rather than help out his own grandson?” 

His skin grew hot, and he knew it was changing from golden to an angry red. His teeth sharpened to daggers. He breathed deep, in and out, but it didn’t help, only fed a fire that expanded inside him like a wild blaze cresting a hilltop. This was just the beginning of the wrath he’d shown to his father many times. It seemed the old man needed another lesson about Ares, the bloodthirsty. They don’t call me the curse of men for nothing, he smiled, head turning to search out his father.

“I’m lost.” 

He turned back to find her eyes closed, eyelashes trembling. And like a soaking, summer rain, she snuffed his fire out. The monster had always been hers to command.

“Lost?” He cupped her face in his larger palms.

“I don’t know why I feel so….” She glanced back to the sea, hair wet. For a moment, she looked so scared, he worried the older spirit would return, “...disoriented.” Droplets fell off her eyelashes as she turned back to him, so terribly beautiful. “I offered myself to him. It was all for Eros, but why do I feel so...confused? Lost inside my own head?”

“He took advantage of you.”

Her brows furrowed and lips pursed. “No one takes advantage of me. It was…" Her next words were hushed, a whisper, "...it was my idea.”

False. A lie. She repeated it to herself to cover the real machinations. Ares knew his father too well.

“Why did he call you into the office and not me? It was the god of a war’s son who committed an act of wrath. Unpermitted, right? Yet he called in the warrior’s mother, the goddess of love and beauty. Curious.”

She blinked and looked behind her, as if the far horizon had some last clue. Finding none, she turned back to him, watery eyes launching a new teary rivulet when she blinked. 

“He took advantage of me.”

Ares nodded.

“Of ME?” Rage filled her eyes, as if his own monster had sprung to life inside her. When she shot to her feet, he followed her. Clued into the way her eyes darted everywhere, he lifted his arms wide at his sides. She was looking for an exit. “Let me go!”

“No. You’re upset. Call me crazy, but flying off the handle won’t help.”

Her chest rose and fell on quick breaths. She turned blazing eyes, wide and hard as steel, to the maze, and her hands balled into fists. Running to the maze, she crashed into him instead. And when he clamped hands around her hips and wouldn’t let her go, she thrashed and wailed, then began to pummel his chest. Her pounding fists had more power than he’d ever felt from her as she hit his chest and ribs, over and over. 

“Don’t be so nice to me! You should hate me!” The high, shrill sound haunted him. 

“I love you too much to hate you.” He willed his body to stillness. It was like holding a tornado. The harsh bite of a nail sliced across his skin, but he barely flinched. His grip tightened as she grew more desperate, open handed slaps turning back into fierce punches.

“It’s easier to be hated than this!” She screamed up at him, teeth sharp as knives.

Easier to be hated than loved? No, not that. It was easier to be hated than...vulnerable. 

As the god of war, if there was anything he understood, it was that. 

There is a place of hurt so deep, it would lash out in a storm of wrath to protect that last kernel of vulnerability from being hurt too. The inner wounds were kept where no one else was allowed to see, but it was also the home of the child’s heart. In all their time together, he realized, he’d never seen her softest center, the innocent girl within.

But he was close. Even if she tried to protect it with barbed wire and thunder and ancient spirits, he would wait until she showed him.

In the meantime, he'd take the pain of any beating she needed to give him. She’d taken away his pain too many times to count. Each time, he’d grown more dependent on her, more in love with her strength, more in awe of her control. Love was the core of every argument with her. She’d danced with him to help him avoid a mistake. She’d fought him, even with a knife to his throat, to do right by their family. 

Ares had a lifetime of lashing out. She deserved it now. Emotion clogged his throat, but he formed the words on his lips.

“You’re safe with me.”

She punched him twice more, once to the liver which had him doubling over. And that was it. 

Two deep, shaking breaths and she started sobbing. Her fingers grasped his shirt so fiercely it ripped half open, and she crawled up his body. He placed her legs around his waist and hugged her tight. Hot, wet tears fell down his neck, soaking the torn collar of his shirt. 

This was about more than the stupid debacle with Zeus and more than their complicated centuries-long relationship. It was about her.

She was soft and vulnerable beneath all the layers of image and attitude and schemes. Sometimes even the strongest woman in the world needed help. 

For too long, Ares had forgotten that.

She pulled back. “Help me kill him?”

“I’ve tried too many times. It won’t work.” A sad smile crossed his face. "Besides, the world needs you to see the best in people, give hope to the fuck-ups out there. Leave the wrath to me. I may not be able to kill him, but I won't let this die easy."

Her forehead scrunched. “He took advantage of me.” She had to say it again to accept it. 

“He did.” Ares placed a soft kiss to that tense space between her brows. “No woman, or man for that matter, is a mountain.”

Fresh tears fell from her face.

“I screwed up. I should have been honest with you right away.”

“Honesty has always been our best policy, but I screw up all the time, kitten.” His kissed the soft spot behind her ear, whistling the chorus of a love song and swaying back and forth in a simple dance. When he pulled back, a tremulous smile passed over her lips. “What? I love to dance with you.”

“I love you.”

Those three simple words, as quiet as the waves far below, meant more than he could have imagined. She hadn’t said it since he’d been back. Deep down, he was afraid maybe she didn’t anymore. “I wish I felt like I deserved it.”

“We're both….we both have work to do, Ares.” Her fingers scratched across his scalp and tugged him nose to nose. “But we can do it, can't we? We can make this work?”

“Always. I may screw up, but I'll never stop trying.”

“I’ll try too.” Her perfect face, so recently possessed by another then wracked with sobs, finally looked at peace.

He pressed a tender, closed mouth kiss to her lips, then another that lasted a few seconds longer, sinking deep into relief to see her back to her old self. Tenderly, they explored each others mouths. Her fingers traced his cheekbones and gripped his hair tight. They could have been there for a moment or half an hour, so lost in each other and the perfect balance they seemed to bring to each other. But when the wind picked up, she shivered in the chill night air. He let her down, he refused to release her hand. 

They stared at the night sky together for several quiet moments, until their breaths returned to normal. Seafoam clumped on the shore below. Bright and soft as clouds, they were a thing you could touch but never truly possess, just like her.

“Shit! One more thing.” She looked up at him, her thumb moving in small, reassuring circles over the back of his hand. “The reason Eros committed the massacre was because this mortal girl tried to kill him, but it was all a misunderstanding. In fact, she might be his true love. Psyche is a good girl, down to her bones, and I’m hiding her as my nymph assistant. I’ve got a plan to make her immort-”

“Whoa. Hold on. True love?” Ares’ eyes narrowed in disbelief. Their son’s popularity hinged on facilitating orgies and ragers throughout Olympus.

She swatted his arm. “Love, not sex. If anyone knows the difference, it’s us.”

Here she was, scheming to grant some poor girl immortality just to make their son happy. Even after Eros had screwed up, she’d fixed it at the cost of her own self-respect. She’d told him about putting Persephone in Hades’ car when his uncle had slighted her honor. Everything she did was in service of their family or reputation. Why she bothered with him, the god with the worst reputation in Olympus, boggled the mind.

And in the short time he’d been gone, so much had fallen apart when one of their kids had made a few mistakes. What would happen when the others got older? The trouble would compound, and where would Ares be? Off somewhere while Aphrodite cleaned up the mess. 

He was a fucking coward. Running away hadn’t helped a damn thing. It had only put the mother of his children in an impossible position and pushed her to a breaking point. If she insisted on this scheme to help Eros and that nymph-mortal, he could do one fucking thing for his woman. 

“Babe, listen.” He leaned down closer so they were eye level. “Don’t fuck with Zeus. I’m gonna take care of this and fix it with my mother.” 

She turned away, to face the wind coming up from the cliff. Her hair took flight in a dazzling dance. “I don’t need you to fix anything.”

“I know that better than anyone. You know why?” He moved behind her, grabbing around her shoulders and stomach, melding her against him so they were one. “You’ve been trying to fix me since day one. And it’s not fair.” 

Her chin quivered, but she said nothing. 

“You want to fix everyone else’s problems, but none of us can take care of you?” He gripped her jaw in his hand, and settled his chin against her shoulder. The sky was cloudless, sparkling with dark, endless beauty. Still, she stayed silent, and the sad reality hit him. “You don’t believe me.”

She turned and opened her mouth as if to deny it, but it was the truth, and he knew it. He let her go and surveyed the maze. I’ll convince her on the way out.

“This fucking maze.” She huffed and kicked at the dirt. “There’s no way out, and it’s spelled so we can’t fly over it.”

“You just need a different perspective.” He reached down and lifted her to sit on his shoulder. The cliffs they stood on were the top of a slowly sloping hill, and Ares could just make out the many paths in and out. She could see farther from her new vantage point. 

“Wow,” she said in a breathy voice, “It’s really pretty.”

“No matter where we are and what’s been done, we find a way out. Together. If I have to burn this entire fucking garden down, I'll do it. We walk home over ashes, hand in hand. But before I do that...can you see the way out?”

Her eyes darted this way and that, circling back around. Finally, a small smile. “I see it.”

“I’ve done a shit job taking care of you, but I will fix this with my parents. Can you trust me?” 

“You can’t go at him angry. And your mother...I’m afraid she can’t be reasoned with when it comes to Zeus’...affairs.” Her lips lifted on a sneer.

“I’ll be careful. Reasonable.” He almost wanted to laugh at how impossible it sounded, but fuck it. Tonight was about taking a stand. “Nothing is more important to me than you and the kids. Trust me. I’ve got this.”

She hugged his head, then dropped to the ground and started walking to the closest entrance back into the maze, looking back at him with a smile. “Catch me if you can.”

He kept close at her heels, unwilling to be left behind. And as they ran, his mind began to whir. A heavy weight settled in his chest. 

His girl had slept with his father. His mother was a raving lunatic about cheating. And he had promised to fix it without violence.

He punched the top of a swan-shaped bush and ran faster. 

I have no idea what the fuck I’m going to do.

Chapter Text

The room was too fucking quiet. How can anyone think in this kind of silence?  

The glossy fern in the corner was covered in dust. Ick. And the smoky blue, middle-aged cyclops just watched him, sitting cross-legged on the other side of the room. Waiting.

Ares coughed. “Sorry, what was the question?”

The man’s single, cerulean eye blinked behind his golden monocle. “How would you describe your relationship with your parents?” 

Ugh, no wonder I blanked out. 

“Ma is an evil genius, and my fa-” He stopped himself. “Zeus is an asshole, a sex addict, and a shitty father.”

Today marked Ares’ second day seeing a therapist willing to accommodate emergency sessions. And while he’d left yesterday with a throbbing headache, everything had seemed a little clearer. His brain was an onion, and pulling back each layer hurt, but the process let him see what a complicated mess he really was.

“It’s interesting you call your father by his first name.” The old doc was a giant, over 15 feet tall, but harmless looking, like an amused librarian in a tweed vest. A mug of tea balanced on one knee while he scribbled on a small pad of paper sitting on the other. The click of his pen each time he pulled it from behind his ear to take notes jolted Ares back to reality. He imagined the guy was writing something along the lines of - There he goes again. Grade-A dumb-ass. Anger problems. Either attention deficit disorder or consciously avoiding all talk of his parents. 

Ares struggled to remember the man’s last words. Oh yea...not calling his father a father. 

“Zeus?” He shuffled his feet, widening his stance to lean forward. “Well, that is his name, and he’s never been much of a father to me.” 

“The tone of your voice changed, and you adopted an aggressive stance that could intimidate others. That really bothers you.”

Ares cracked his neck and shifted back against the chair. “Well, you know about my anger issues. That’s why I pay you the big bucks.”

“The big bucks I’m paid are to guide my clients to solutions of their own choosing.”

“Yea, yea, yea. You’re not big on advice. I remember.”

Damn, this guy could enforce boundaries , something Ares had learned plenty about lately. The therapist had come recommended by the red nymph Ares had thrown out a window in the Underworld. When they’d run into each other, instead of riling the guy up, Ares had apologized. The guy had brushed it off and recommended his therapist and...Sudoku of all things. Turns out the number puzzle was a great way to pass the time instead of pissing people off. Who knew? 

Sudoku. Therapy. Sex. Training. Ares had kept busy over the past couple days, trying not to rage out on his father. The promise of therapy was a convenient closet he stuffed his negative impulses into. Wait for therapy, rage, wait for therapy. Though talking about his feelings didn’t exactly take the place of yeeting someone out a window, sexy times with his girl followed by sweating it out at the gym had certainly helped.

He still hadn’t figured out how to avoid Ma’s wrath on Aphrodite while also making sure Zeus paid for his disrespect. Hera would discover the truth eventually, there was no use hiding it. The question was - how to approach it?

“How do you normally handle conflict with your father?”

“Head on.” Ares threw his arms out wide with a shark-toothed smile.

“I know the situation with your parents and your anger issues, yet you haven’t approached him directly. You’ve controlled yourself admirably thus far.”

“I guess.” Ares huffed, elbows leaned against his knees, hands clasped together when he felt the familiar buzz of his cell phone. He could barely keep it together and had avoided all of his mother’s texts.

“What are some new techniques you could use?” The therapist asked, taking a sip of his tea like this was any other Thursday. His father had tricked the mother of his children into sex!

“I truly do not know, my man.” Ares shoved a hand through his hair. What was so wrong with smashing the bastard’s face in? Ugh, family. “I’m here, like you said. Step one, I guess. It’s just...I’m a man of action. It isn’t easy, waiting.”

“Who do you look up to in terms of conflict resolution?”

Now that’s an interesting question. Ares cocked his head and looked out the window. The shifting branches of a gnarled olive tree caused dappled light to dance on the window and shag carpet. The answer was easy.

“My sister, Athena.”

“What does she do?”

“She’s always three steps ahead, keeps quiet until she knows what’s what. Everything with her is logical, but at the same time she’s real supportive. When I was a kid and got in a jam, I always used to joke - What would Athena do?

“Your sister is strategic, logical, and supportive.”

An unexpected emotion clogged his throat. “The opposite of me.”

“Hmm, that’s interesting.” The therapist’s pen clicked, then scraped against his notepad like nails on a chalkboard.

“That I’m a complete fuckup?” His words came out sharper than he’d intended.

“That you think you’re a fuckup.” The old man’s one, round eye blinked at him, so cool it made Ares stiffen. “If they are the opposite of you, who is the most like you?”

His body flushed with shame. He shook his head, punching closed fists down into the seat cushion.

“It’s not a trick question.”

“Zeus.” Ares lifted his heated gaze to the therapist, who didn’t seem fazed by the show of aggression in the least. “My father.”

“The asshole.” The blue giant's tone was gentle.

Ares nodded.

“The sex addict.”

Ares sucked on the inside of his cheek and nodded again.

“The shitty father.”

Those words were like an ice dagger to his heart. Am I a shitty father?

“There’s an old saying,” the therapist continued. “We hate in others what we hate in ourselves.”

Zeus and Ares. The similarities were so strong it sickened him sometimes. Horny. Impetuous. Always moving. Sneaky with words. But Ares had to fight back on one point.

“I’m not a shitty father.” He closed his eyes, then got real with himself. “At least, when I’m home. Me and their mom keep our shit out of their line of sight.” Ares was determined his kids would never hear arguments the way he had as a child, hiding on the steps while his parents fought in the cavernous foyer. Alone and confused. 

“You want them to avoid the pain you felt as a child.”

Fuck, this guy was like a fucking mind reader. Ares pointed at the therapist. “How can two people who say they love each other one moment care so little about each other the next?”

“You felt like your parents didn’t care about you,” the therapist said.

A crimson haze clouded his vision, flames eating him up from the inside out. He wanted to stand up and storm away. But just like Aphrodite had beaten at his chest, Ares recognized the same reaction in himself. He was angry because it was true. He’d always felt like an outcast, unloved and forgotten the moment his parents started arguing. Getting in on the fight was the easiest way to be noticed. Then later, it was the only way he could prove dominance over his father, make him as scared as he’d always felt as a child.

“My kids will never feel that way,” he promised through gritted teeth.

“An admirable mission, but we’re here to talk about you.” The therapist took his monocle off and rubbed it with a soft cloth from his pocket. The guy was so calm, despite the way each simple question ripped Ares’ heart to shreds. “You don’t think about the future much, do you?” 

Ares tilted his head back to the man and narrowed his gaze. “I guess not.”

“But you admire that in your sister. Three steps ahead, you said? So she sees the future before it happens.” The old guy cyclops placed his spectacle back on and leaned forward, his gaze searching. “What does your best tomorrow look like?”

The words were like a magic spell that clenched his heart in a vise and caused tears to spring to his eyes. Ares swallowed. “I wake up to some morning sex with my girl, who’s got no worry lines between her brows. We have a big family breakfast. All the kids are happy and healthy. My mom is on good terms with Aphrodite. My little sister gets a pet, or starts spending more time with my kids.”

“And your father?”

“My father genuinely cares about...my kids.” Ares couldn’t even say himself. That was too impossible. He looked to the ceiling to avoid the tears that sprang to life. “Fuck, I wish I wasn’t so weak.”

“It’s not weak to need love.”

Gods, that made sense. Ares did need love, so very badly. After his fucked up childhood, he’d held onto Aphrodite for dear life, the embodiment of fierce love. He’d made it his life’s work to knock her up with as many kids as she wanted. 

“So what are you going to do, one step to get you to that future?”

“I’ve gotta talk to my mom first. If she’s in my corner…” His mind whirred to life like a clock. With Hera, anything was possible. Hera was the key. She’d always been more powerful, more influential even than his father. “I’ll figure out revenge against Zeus after I talk to her.”

“Revenge?” The therapist’s startled gaze was interrupted by the ding of a low chime. He looked to his watch, then back to Ares. “That’s all the time we have for today. I encourage you to speak to your mother. I’m always here to facilitate family sessions if you feel this environment might be a safer space.”

“You’re a real one, doc.” Ares stood and pulled the old cyclops in a crushing hug. 

The mug of tea nearly toppled off his knee when he stiffened and pulled back on a grimace. “We’ll review physical boundaries first thing tomorrow.”

“Sure thing.” Ares grinned. “Wouldn’t want to get too attached to me, eh?”

On the jog home, rather than his mind being muddy, filled with flaking layers of childhood trauma bullshit, for the first time in two days, he felt like he could breathe. He would talk to Hera before he flew off the handle. Today. He’d be like Athena and keep his trap shut, anger under control. 

Hebe had begged for a sparring session, so he’d agreed to meet her at the big house in a few hours. Ma would be there, and Zeus always had a conference call with the Norse on Thursdays, so no risk of confrontation there. 

That took care of Sudoku, therapy, and training. He rubbed his hands together as Aphrodite’s house came into view. Now for the sex.

He pushed the front door open with gusto. “Daddykins is home!”

Silence greeted him. Creeping through the living room, he rounded the corner to the master suite. The lilting hum of a familiar voice wiggled in the air, straight to his heart.

The bay window illuminated her room with the golden light of mid-morning. Combined with the red glow from the stained glass nightstand lamps, Aphrodite positively glowed. He watched her backside sway in a tempting figure-eight, wireless earbuds tucked in her ears as she folded laundry. The delighted garbled song she sang sounded like her favorite group, the Sphinx Girls. 

Nine piles of varying size clothes lined the entirety of her king sized bed. Not the bed then. The bench will have to suffice.  

Ares sank down on the bay window seat. His bulk cast a long shadow across the room. She turned, gaze roaming over his face. He knew she’d notice his puffy eyes, but thoughtful goddess that she was, didn’t needle him about it. 

“Feeling alright, big man?” Cocking a hip, she pulled her headphones out. 

“I’d feel a lot better if you got your ass on my lap already, little woman.”

“Almost done.” She kept folding laundry, but her wink held a promise. 

“Where are the children, love?” Ares asked. Silence always seemed good in theory, but something about it bothered him. He liked a busy house full of kids, a tavern full of laughs, a battlefield full of screams. But silence? Unnerving.

***

“They’re with Psyche and Eros at the pool,” she answered, letting her gaze trail over him again. Sweaty in a good way, he wore low slung joggers and a faded tee from his favorite metal band.

“Is that so?” He dropped to the ground and crawled toward her. She’d always been a sucker for men on their knees.

“Such a creature of habit for a man so drawn to chaos. Training follows sex, right? Who are you sparring with today?”

“Hebe.”

A startled chuckle bubbled out.

“Her idea, I assure you.” He nuzzled her stomach, sneaking the tip of his nose under the crop top to suckle and bite at the underside of her breasts, his voice muffled. “How long do we have?”

Her breath hitched. “At least thirty minutes.”

“More than enough time for some afternoon delight.”

“It’s not even lunchtime yet.” When his palms glided underneath the hem of her baggy cheer shorts to grab her ass, she rubbed her legs together. Already, she could feel the warmth of her arousal seeping into the fabric. “There’s still chores to do before they get home.”

“Shhhhhh.” He resurfaced from under her top and pressed a finger to her lips, then scooped her up under the ass. Stalking back to the window bench, he placed her on his knee, a queen on her throne. “I’ll help with the chores, if you’ll just get your damn clothes off already.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and stood, ripping her top off while scooting out of her shorts. Tugging off his pants, she pried his legs open to kneel between them while he wrestled his t-shirt off. “Any chore?” 

“Anything.” He was almost breathless as her touch glided from his bare feet to his knees then further up. “So long as I’m not late to meet Hebe.”

“We better be fast then, hmmm?” Her hum transferred to his skin the moment she put her lips on his thick cock, trailing up, down, and around, rolling his balls at the same time. Her tongue got to work, leaving hot, wet trails she knew turned cold instantly by the goosebumps on his flesh. She licked and sucked lightly on the tip.

His gaze, heated with single minded intensity, stayed on her mouth as he worked her ponytail loose. She wore it up all the time, and while it acted as a fun handle during sex, he often liked to play with it. Gathering the dark purple mass in one hand, he trailed the other down her neck to the end of her shoulder before hefting one bare breast. Her skin prickled with excitement, nipple hardening to a tight peak instantly. No lover had ever been as attuned to her as him. 

Humming, she stuffed his entire length deep in her throat, settling her lips of the base with a small shake. Her tongue licked the underside of his cock as she looked up to see his mouth drop open when she started a hard suction. 

I warned him this would need to be quick.

Working him up and down, she didn’t neglect his glorious balls. Such a tender part of a man, they weren’t always pretty to look at, but she loved to play with them. They’d get feather light treatment with an occasional squeezing pressure at just the right time. Her other hand reached up over his hard, rippling stomach to pinch at his nipples until he growled and paid her the same courtesy. She popped off to fist his base, working tight up and down motions while she sucked at the tip. 

Gods, sucking dick always made her feel so powerful, the ability to reduce a man to a slave in a moment. Her fingers snaked down to test her own arousal, find a bit of pleasure in the meantime.

“Ah-ah, that’s all mine.” He wrenched her hand up, lifting her fingers to suck them roughly, then pulled up and twisted her to a sit on his lap. Her back fell tight against his chest, the iron bar of his dick hot on her ass. She reached back to capture his hair in both hands, reveling in the silky feel of his curls. A hand captured her throat in a gentle grip, as wet fingers trailed over her quivering stomach and down to her center. Edging his knees wider, she opened broadly. Cool air kissed every sensitive spot. He didn’t leave her cold for long, covering her pussy with his whole palm, rubbing his fingers back and forth. The exposed position and light restraint around her neck made her mewl and rotate for more friction. “So ready, babe.”

“Fill me up,” she ordered, then smiled. “Daddykins.”

That earned a light smack to her sensitive pussy. Hurt so good. It was just what she craved, taking the edge off the softness.

Two thick fingers thrust in while he worked his thumb in a steady circle around her needy clit. He bit her ear, then licked the pain away. 

“We need to be fast, you said?” There was a smile in his tone. It amazed her how he could go from having his guts ripped out in therapy to playing with her so easily. Pride welled in her heart. She wanted to reward him and needed this post-therapy sex as much as he did.

“Fast...and hard.” She worked her hips to push his thrusting fingers deeper, gasping when they curled inside, hitting her just right.

His grip on her throat tightened a fraction as he pulled her head back to rest on his shoulder. “Say please.” 

Oh.

“Please.”

She gasped.

Tension snapped tight.

Her legs opened further.

She arched back, body singing for him.

“There’s my kitten, purring for me.” Her walls fluttered, on edge.

He pumped her roughly, three fingers now, that circling thumb insistent. “I’m so close,” she whined.

The heat built with their connection. Almost there. The slick sound of his fingers slipping out and the blood in her ears almost drowned out his voice. “Not yet.”

“I need it!” Her head shook, fast and frantic. She had no time for games. I need him to make me whole. 

“You come on my cock,” he growled and grasped her waist. “Fast and hard.”

Lifted like a ragdoll, she inhaled quick.

They both moaned on her descent.

He filled her deep.

So tight.

“Love?”

“Yes.”

She answered even as her mind swam outside her body. His names for her were many, but she always recognized them. Love. Babe. Kitten. Sexy. And so many more. They changed over the years with the fashion and the whims of language.

His length filled her, setting a slow pace as his fingers at her throat loosened and moved up to grip her jaw, so he could whisper in her ear, “You’re my medicine, you know that?” 

Still arched back and staring at the ceiling, her hips rolled him inside as her tits took up their own swaying pace. His medicine? He’d said it before, but she hadn’t thought much of it. Over the years, she’d heard all his charming words, but in that moment, the truth hit her. Sudoku. Therapy. Sex. Training. She was part of his healing, part of his journey for control. Self-discovery. 

Often even she, the goddess of love, forgot the power of that bond. The strength of a true partnership was both malleable and nearly indestructible. Even if he wanted to fix the situation with his parents on his own, she knew they’d end up figuring it out together in the end.

“Do you?” His words were pained, needy. “Know how much I love you?”

“As much as I love you.” Her breaths gusted out with each powerful thrust.

His body stuttered and stopped, letting her rest at the bottom of him, completely filled. A hot tear fell down the side of her face. It wasn’t hers.

He swallowed loud. “I never thought of it that way.” 

She twisted to face him, amazed and at the same time, suddenly aware that their arguments lately had revolved around him coming to this very realization. He deserved love. He had love. His kids. Her. “You never imagined that this family...that I love you as much as you love me?”

His glowing eyes and huge black pupils shone with emotion as he chewed the inside of his cheek and shook his head. “No.” 

My poor sweet god, as much at war with himself as everyone else. She kissed him quick and leaned back to grasp his neck. 

“My answer is yes. I know how much you love me. Hold me tight, and let me show you how much I love you.” On a slow rotation, she moved his thick length inside her until he groaned. “How much I want you inside me, to come inside me. Always.”

Her sultry voice turned to a groan as his length pulled out then pressed back in, long and deep. A hand dropped down to slap her pussy followed by a strong, circling pressure at her clit. “I love you so much, babe. You’ll never know the end of it.”

She circled, loving the feel as he moved faster inside her. Their dueling motions somehow found a synchronized rhythm that worked. Gods, it worked so well.  

His body heated behind her, a feral growl shaking out. It was the side of his monster she loved, craved, the heady power of his strength turned in complete attention to her. The flip side of his rage was passion - and it was so beautiful.

“Let go baby. Treat me rough if you need to.” Turning, she murmured at his ear, “I want it all, even the rage inside.”

His breath hissed out, as hot as steam. He was right on the edge, gripping her tight, so tight she could barely breathe, so tight she stopped her own movements and just let him use her. His cock worked wonders, fast and deep. Wild and pounding. And she was there, so close.

“Are you gonna come for me?” she panted.

“Sweet fates, I just want it to last forever.” His breath gusted out in rapid exhales as he jerked in and out, his fingers still working her clit.

“Now,” she cried. “We still have forever.” 

Her body took flight, jumped off the edge, and became one with the stars. His life pulsed inside her while she sparkled from her fingers to the tips of her toes. Both arms banded tight around her as he worked a few last ragged thrusts in and out.

When the room came back into focus and his hold released a fraction, her nose slid across his cheek to nip at his ear, voice soft. “It took you this many centuries to realize I love you? Truly?”

He chuckled. “No one ever accused me of being the god of wisdom, babe.”

Chapter Text

A pig in a pink bow? Morbidly funny with the scent of bacon in the air.

Ares emptied out the trash and watched his youngest son clamber onto the animal’s back on their way back into the house, using its satin bow like the reins of a horse. Apparently Eros had a soft spot for the pampered pig, a memento of his lost love or some nonsense. 

Aphrodite’s assistant had cooked up some BLTs after the gang’s morning at the pool. Most of the kids played in the backyard, but he’d asked the two boys to stay inside. It never hurt to start martial training young, and Hebe would be happy to see her younger nephews, not to mention Storge’s wiley hamster.

“Gods above and below, Ludus, you’ll break poor Sweetpea’s back with your rough-housing.” Aphrodite grabbed their red devil by the back of his shirt and lifted him off the pet pig. Ares passed them to put a clean trash bag in the kitchen container. 

Coming back to the living room, he watched Storge tempt the pot-bellied beastie over to him with a leaf of lettuce. The little rodent, Jujubee, sat on his lap dressed up like a proper king, complete with white chiton and tiny crown made of toothpicks. The piglet seemed to be on his way to becoming a warrior, judging by the cardboard war helm Storge tried to wrestle onto its head.

“We’ve got twenty minutes to get to Mama H’s house,” Ares said, dropping a kiss to Aphrodite’s forehead as he took Ludus from her. 

“Mama Achoo will be there?” Ludus grinned ear to ear.

Ares grimaced at Aphrodite who lifted her hands in an innocent shrug. He’d tried so hard to get them to call Hera Mama H, because she hated any form of grandmother. Aphrodite on the other hand insisted her name was Kookoo, after her original sacred animal, the cuckoo. The kids, confused with the unspoken war of names between their parents settled on Mama Achoo. Hera didn’t hate it. She didn’t love it either, let alone understand it.

Ares glared at Aphrodite as he scooped up Storge and Jujubee with his other arm. 

“Sweetpea!”

“The piggy!” 

Storge and Ludus cried in unison, their arms held out for the strange new family pet who stared at them with a half-cocked headpiece, shiny bow, and scrap of lettuce hanging from its mouth.

“Eros won’t like it.” Aphrodite shook her head and picked up the prized pig.

Shaking their arms with urgency and sporting full on pouts, the boys could not be resisted. She sighed and handed the animal to Ludus, tying a quick sling with her scarf. “You be very careful with her. Show mommy you can be trusted.” Ludus’ smile grew tenfold as he retied her bow into a four-petal flower shape.

Looking to Storge and Ares, she pointed. “I trust you two to keep watch. No riding her. No fighting over her. If Jujubee is a king, Sweetpea is a queen, more precious than gold. Got it?”

Storge nodded with wide, solemn eyes, crossing his heart silently. 

Ares just winked. All this hemming and hawing for a pig! Bacon in the making. Wild! He readjusted his two sons and both animals, hefting them onto his shoulders for an easier carry.

“Let’s go, little monsters.” They headed for the door.

“Ludus is a monster, father." Storge grimaced as he clutched the formally dressed hamster in both of his tiny hands. "I’m a perfectly good boy.”

“Despite all my best efforts.” Ares chuckled. “Let’s see if we can get you two into fighting shape with some sparring.” 

The delighted wriggles of both boys made holding them harder. “Hey! Hold still, and keep tight to those beasts. I won’t have your mother’s heart broken if they come to any trouble.”

The trio sang songs and told jokes the rest of the walk to the royal palace. 

Looking like a circus act, they passed two guards at the golden gates, but the usual complement of three dozen were not present at the perimeter. Before he could turn back and ask, Ares saw them standing in a half circle in the front yard. 

Hebe inspected them with an adorably formal bearing, like the little princess she was.

Catching sight of them, she sprinted forward, both hands grasping at the air as if she couldn’t hug them quick enough. Her glittering turquoise cloak billowed behind her to reveal sensible athletic wear underneath, no doubt an exact match to something his mother owned.

“You brought the boys!” She screamed, demanding to hold Jujubee. Ludus grunted and twisted into Ares neck, refusing to part with the pig.

Ares set both boys down and ushered everyone toward the guards.

“What’s with purple rain?” Ares gestured to dozens of nymphs outfitted in the gaudy split front formal coats of the royal guard. The dark violet cloth was offset by high collars, elaborate buttons, and embroidery in shiny gold accents. They still looked ridiculous, but at least they didn’t wear the giant fur hats of the Celtic pantheon.

Hebe didn’t answer his question about the guards until he nudged her, to which she lifted her chin imperiously high and wouldn’t look at him. 

“Father insisted.”

“I don’t care what he th-” Her sharp look had him shutting his mouth. She was a kid too, something he often forgot, for how mature she acted. And unlike him, she was still on good terms with Zeus. He didn’t want to be the one to fuck that up.

Hebe stopped and grasped both his hands as the boys continued forward, her gaze steely. The matching mother-daughter outfits were one thing, but to see his eight year old sister with the same hardened expression as Hera scared him.

“Papa’s here too. I asked him to come.”

Ares insides twisted, heating in turmoil as his head whipped around. Sure enough, there he was, waving the boys forward as they ran into his arms.

“Gaia love you, but you’re a meddling little sh-” Ares swallowed before continuing, “...sweetheart. Listen Hebe, this is none of your concern.”

“This family sure is my business, mister.” She fisted both hands at her hips and leveled a fierce glare at him. Terrifying and meddling. Runs in the family, I guess. “Now, you play nice and teach us kids something you’re good at.” 

“Knock me down a peg, why don’t ya?” Ares ran fingers through his hair and laid a hand gently on her shoulder as they made their way to where Zeus stood, hands on the heads of his grandsons, smiling like a smug shithead.

Ares rolled his head in a big circling motion, trying to ease the tension. All he could think about was how much his father would disappoint Ludus and Storge one day. He replayed the litany of cutting insults leveled at him over the years, wiggly words that broke down his self-confidence, made him believe he really was only good at one thing - fighting.

“What’s first?” Hebe stood between Ares and Zeus, arching an eyebrow at him when they reached the large field encircled by guards.

He put a hand out. With a single thought, his war spear materialized. The leather-wrapped grip provided a familiar, grounding sensation he needed at the moment. With his spear, he had some semblance of control. Fighting was about technique, rules, and practice until it became muscle memory. But it was also about instinct, something Ares had in spades.

He turned to the nymphs closest to him. “You three, come here. Give your close combat spears to the little ones, but take the blades off.” Spotting three shorter nymphs in the middle, he beckoned them forward. They were all female guards. “Each of you pair up with a kid.”

Zeus reclined against a column, giving a thumbs up to the kids in between scrolling through his phone.

Ares smirked. “Boys, give your grandfather the pets. Mommy said they needed to stay in safe hands.”

His father scowled at him, stuffing the phone in a pocket of his ugly tropical print shirt. He accepted the pets with a smile for the boys that didn’t quite reach the eyes.

Ares walked down the line, first inspecting the kids, who giggled as he poked and prodded at their form, until they each straight with the spear pointed up. When he perused the guards, he felt a little bad that each of them had sweat beading at their foreheads. Coming to a stop in front of them, he arched an eyebrow. “We are only doing basic holds and motions. Nothing to stress about.”

Three nervous heads bobbed repeatedly in acceptance. He didn’t mind riling up people’s emotions, but not with the kids present.

Ares gave them a sharp smile and twisted to face Hebe and the boys, clapping his hands together.

“Spears! The tried and true weapon of war,” Ares began, twisting his own spear in a quick circle and stabbing it into the ground. “Don’t let swordsmen fool you. A spear will beat any other blade nine times out of ten. In formation, a shield wall of spearmen is the best front line any legion could ask for.”

Storge glanced over at his hamster with a wistful expression, and Ludus started fidgeting with his feet. Ares pulled up his spear and quickly knocked both of theirs out of their grips. Hebe’s stayed firm, as her concentration was steady on him the whole time.

“Hey!” Ludus cried, followed by Storge, “Father!” 

Hebe lips twisted up in a proud smile.

“Pay attention, lazy boys. Now, hold the pole with both hands - one at the base and one further up to guide the movement and allow for short thrusts. When you bring the spear down to fight, use a motion more like a paddle than a baton. Move your foot forward with the weapon.” Ares showed them how to advance while bringing the spear down in a rowing motion. “You save precious time and momentum that way. Now, let’s see it.”

The kids worked through the motion several times, with small corrections. Ludus insisted on yelling ‘Hiyah!’ each time, which made Hebe laugh to no end. Zeus still struggled with the animals, the pig twisting in the cloth sling around his neck. He barely glanced in their direction, much to Ares relief.

When they’d all achieved a solid fighting stance, spear pointed forward, Ares continued, “A spear is a not a sword. Use short, chaotic movements, with the goal of keeping your opponent back. Don’t ever swing your spear wildly around like a baton twirler. A spear must be thrust, short and quick, again and again. Chaos is your friend...in small doses.” He motioned to the guards. “Now...see if you can make contact with the royal guard.”

They failed miserably at first, but with some coaxing and whispered hints, Storge made first contact, a glancing blow to his opponent’s ankle. That rankled Hebe enough that she bit her lip and went wild with a feverish assault that ended up hitting her guard in the underarm. Ludus never quite caught on, but he was having fun and didn’t seem to care.

Hebe and Storge high-fived and boasted of their small achievement. “Let’s go show Mommy and Sissy!! Bring Juju and Sweetie!” She cried, and dashed to the front door, spear overhead. 

“Mama Achoo!” Ludus and Storge ripped the animals from their grandfather’s grasp and raced to follow, spears tucked under their arms.

Ares shooed away the guards, nodding to the ones with missing spears. “We’ll get your sticks back in a bit.”

“Shouldn’t you…” Zeus watched the kids disappear into the big house, then turn to him with a sneer, “...follow them?”

“Ma’s got it. The sticks don’t have blades, and there’s not an aggressive bone in their bodies. They’ll be fine.” Ares stared at his father’s rumpled floral shirt and dopey expression, so blissfully unaware of his son’s rampant desire to rip his head off. Or maybe he did and didn’t care. Why had Ares wasted so much of his childhood wanting to impress him while also being so afraid of him? This… joke of a man. 

“I suppose that’s one way to parent.” Zeus brushed his rumpled shirt free of animal hair and picked up his phone, whistling as he scrolled.

What would Athena do? What would Athena do? Right...shut the fuck up. Keep your mouth closed, war boy. Ares took a deep breath in and pulled out his phone. 

A message from Eros blinked at him. Mamabear said you have Sweetpea!!! Send proof of life. Is she okay?

On a deep sigh, Ares replied with a pig emoji - She’s being cooed over in the big house by all the kids. Perfectly safe.

“Lady troubles?” Zeus chuckled.

Ares gaze slid up as he pocketed his phone. No, just a functioning relationship with my child.

“You want to give me pointers on how to cause trouble with the ladies?”

His father’s jaw rolled in irritation. “Little do you know.”

“I know plenty.” Ares smirked despite the unspoken direction he knew the conversation was taking. Ever since childhood, he’d laughed in the face of danger. It was easier than being afraid. “And what do you care about my love life anyway? You told me I wasn’t good enough for Aphrodite.”

A beat passed as a mischievous glimmer twinkled in Zeus’ gaze.

“I was wrong,” his father said, clicking his phone closed and stuffing it in his ugly cargo shorts.

He was wrong...Ares was good enough for her? That should have put him at ease, but the false smile on his father’s face told him the words did not mean what they said. 

“The two of you are perfect for each other.” Zeus tilted his head. “As it turns out, your consort is just as twisted as you.”

Blood pumped quick, heating every inch of his skin. Fire raged, inside and out, before Ares could even take a breath. Never had the beast sprung forward so quick. 

On a quick lung forward, he grabbed Zeus by the collar and snapped sharp teeth, pulling them nose to nose. Inappropriate as it was, Ares felt a terrible smile unfurl at the same time his vision blackened around the edges and flooded with a red haze. He knew by his father’s wince that bright flames danced in his eyes and heat radiated from his touch.

“You never speak about the mother of my children like that, asshole.”

To their credit, the royal guards acted fast, pulling Ares off him, even if it took six of them to do it, and dragged him across the yard. 

“I know what you did!” He yelled, gaze staying trained on his father.

Adrenaline pumped, demanding immediate action.

One against…forty. They were bad odds, but he’d faced worse. And while he’d never won, he’d survived. Ares would take those odds any day to defend Aphrodite’s honor. His family’s honor.

Growling and calling on his inner fire, he twisted and pushed against the guards. With a quick, short blast of heat, they flew out in a circular pattern around him, landing at least twenty feet away. Zeus and the remaining guards were a good fifty feet away. 

A light mist fell from the rumbling clouds above. Ares tilted his head back and let the droplets steam as they hit his darkening skin, creating a haze of white around him.

Think fast, the beast inside hissed, stretched for release and gave him a new idea. 

Give your rage. Give it to others.  

Give it? He’d received rage from others his whole life, but only once had he ever transferred it - two pet birds during a boring school lesson. An old folk song that seemed to infuriate them. He’d never tested it again.

Try it, that terrible inner voice crowed, Better now than never. 

Ares kneeled, palms flat on the manicured grass. All of his furious, dark heart poured into wishing that deep-seated wrath into existence. 

This time, he was no bored schoolboy. He was a god of war on a mission of vengeance. A whispered song fell from his lips.

~~~

Hear me all you

Spirits of wrath

Stand up from your sleep

Give power to the root

Sharpen your teeth

Gnaw at the ground

Three fates, I pray

Spin. Twine. Bind.

Bind to their hearts

Twine round roots

Spin fire

~~~

Ares looked up. The sky darkened in a swirling purple storm. The rain fell harder. 

And… nothing happened. 

The clouds continued to rumble. Lightning cracked in the distance. Terrified nymph guards dusted themselves off and tiptoed closer. 

I’m a failure, he winced

The beast knew better. 

The opposite of a failure, it sang inside. Something grew, fluttered beneath the surface of the ground and his skin.

His body vibrated in a hundred, no, a thousand tiny tremors. Hot fluttering wings of wordless emotion screamed out. When he sensed the rage of others it was usually in emotion or words, but this was different. The rage was primitive in feeling.

Snarls. Tensing muscles. Wings beating against harsh wind. 

Wings?

A large raven dive bombed one of the nymphs, pecking at the juncture of the guard’s coat and hip, a weak point. The green-skinned man fell, shrieking in pain. Worms wriggled over Ares’ fingers in hurried, jerky movements as if fighting each other to get out of the ground and move away from him. They crept toward where the royal guard tightened ranks around Zeus. 

His father’s hands flung wildly as he shouted at them, too far for Ares to hear the words, but he saw a tight fear in the king’s expression. 

More and more insects crawled across the grass in slow progress across the field.

Gophers and voles wriggled out of the ground, twisting over each other to enter the fray. 

Squirrels and raccoons ambled forward, growling as they picked up sticks to wield, rushing to Ares from every corner of the expansive yard. 

From above, a swarm of dragonflies and birds attacked the nymphs closest to him and screeched at each other, vying to be the alpha of the flock. 

There were countless little creatures, more coming from the ground and distant fields by the moment, all rushing to meet the enemy.

Ares’ enemy. 

I could get used to this.

The god of war stalked forward, spear in hand, ensuring his strides were slow enough to keep pace with the smaller creatures running full tilt. His battle song still seemed to vibrate from his feet into the ground, blanketing the land.

And somehow, his rage simmered as it dispersed among them. For the first time in the heat of the battle, he could almost see straight, only the tinge of pink to his vision.

Then, bringing up the rear of the strangest army Ares had ever led, he saw a sight that truly heartened him. Two small, fierce warriors.

Storge’s hamster, a tiny king with a toothpick crown, rode into battle on the back of the diminutive piglet, Sweetpea. 

Pitched forward against the wind, their eyes blazed red, chiton and bow flapping as Sweetpea ran full tilt to the fray. Jujubee’s tiny fingers held onto the ends of the pig’s pink collar as if commanding a battle horse. Sweetpea even had the crumpled, cardboard war helm still balanced on his left ear. Spittle flew from their lips, curled over jagged teeth in angry snarls. 

Small they may be, but mighty.  

Ares grinned in triumph. Never had he commanded such wild power.

In opposition, the nymph royal guard stood firm. Even arranged in a tight formation, Ares could see his father through a gap in the ranks. His violet hair whipped in the wind, jaw jutting forward in anger. Lightning crackled over their heads and across the sky in dazzling patterns. That was nothing new. He’d had been struck before, too many times to count. It was barely a deterrent anymore. 

“Call me any name you like, fragile king,” Ares whispered to the roaring wind, “But no one fucks with my girl.”

He reared back and launched his spear through the air. It plunked in the ground just in front of Zeus, whose bewildered gaze darted across Ares’ growing legion of feral warriors.

Surveying the mayhem in his disorganized ranks, Ares re-materialized the spear in his grip. One last look at the rear guard, led by the determined Sweetpea and Jujubee, howling at the sky, and Ares remembered the final step before any battle. 

He lifted his giant war spear high, twirling it overheard in fast circles with a loud whistle.

Every army needs a rallying cry.

“Warriors!” A tremor shook through him. They felt his call, every one. “May your weapons grow bloody.”

His pace quickened. “We go to the slaughter!”

Chapter Text

“I’m worried!” Eros glared over as they flew at top speed to the royal estate. “And Ampelus is really shaken.”

Aphrodite huffed and shook out her hair, pinning it up in a sloppy top knot so the wind wouldn’t ruin it. She’d had a blowout just yesterday. What a mess! 

“Your piglet is fine, baby bear. You’ll see.” The assurance felt hollow. A sick sensation had settled in the pit of her stomach at the same moment Eros burst into the house, outraged that she’d let the boys borrow his pot bellied pet.

Better safe than sorry, she thought, let’s go check to make sure everything is okay. Harsh goosebumps and the persistent, tingling itch of wrongness in her gut told her something wasn’t okay. 

They flew in from the back of the estate. She saw her two little boys leaving Hebe’s giant playhouse. They wandered aimlessly, hands cupped around their mouths yelling for someone. Or something. Their pets, Jujubee and Sweetpea, were nowhere to be seen. Hera and Hebe exited behind them, wearing matching turquoise capes. Keeping to the clouds, she and Eros avoided discovery.

“I don’t like this,” Eros voice rumbled in frustration.

“We’ll find them.” Her voice came out thick and loud, the old power within her growing fierce with worry. Ares was nowhere to be seen. “And him.

Dropping from the sky on the other side of the mansion, she was struck silent by the chaos before her.

The royal guard stood in front of Zeus, whose long violet hair snapped in the wind like a whip. Only a short distance away, Ares, all red eyes and sharp teeth, marched forward with deadly intent. He was joined by... garden animals? An entire forest’s worth of rabid creatures stalked forward at the war god’s command. Many of them held tiny spears fashioned out of sticks or picked up rocks and threw them without caution. 

Ares did this?

“Sweetpea!” Eros cried and dashed towards the back of the strange legion, scooping up a wiggling bundle of chunky pink legs. In only a few seconds, he’d returned to her with a warrior pig and enraged hamster king. “You said they’d be fine. What happened?”

Aphrodite blinked slowly and sighed. “Your father happened.”

While this manifestation of his power was new, she’d long seen how easily he could rile others to anger with words. She placed a hand on Sweetpea’s belly while cupping Jujubee’s small form with her other palm. 

Be at ease. Gather pleasure. Seek ecstasy.  

The wriggling slowed, and both animals squirmed to an upright position in Eros’ arms, nuzzling and licking at him. 

“They may be a bit...excited for awhile. Don’t let them loose or you might lose them for good.” She wiped her hands free of animal fur on her figure hugging emerald green dress. Frayed, gauzy strips of fabric at the hem tangled around her legs in the fierce wind. Glancing at the darkening sky, she bit her lip. Zeus is not happy.

Eros looked to the impending battle. “Will papa be alright?”

“I’m here aren’t I, baby bear?” She smiled with more confidence than she felt. “Find the kids and your grandmother. Distract them from this, please.”

“Your word is law.” Her sweet boy kissed her on the cheek and dashed away.

With a silent prayer, using only the feeling in the center of her heart, she called on her power. Back arched, a thick sensation rushed through her, bursting at her skin as her hair writhed. Vision edged in  white, she straightened and surveyed the impending violence below. 

Auras of all color and strength swam before her. She’d need to turn the individuals of yellow, green, blue, and every other color to a solid, deep pink. The color of love. It would motivate the warriors of Ares and Zeus from thoughts of fighting to a singular, shared desire to fuck. 

A nice orgy. It’s been awhile. Why not in the royal swimming pool?

But first, a distraction.  Her arms shot out, sending a pale lilac mist to the empty field between the two opposing sides. The first animals to reach it, rushed back out, circling in confusion as to where to go next. It would hold them for a few moments, at least.

She flew straight to where Ares surveyed the new mist barrier. Skin flushed dark red, he emanated a palpable heat in his black track pants and a tattered tank top a size too small. Rain drops sizzled to steam as soon as they fell on him. This was his battle form, larger than life and hot with rage.

His aura told a different story though. A bright metallic gold shimmered around him, almost yellow. More than fury, his heart was afraid. Something inside him had awakened and he feared a loss of control.

Approaching, she didn’t touch ground but instead floated just above him, keeping a safe distance. 

“Kitten,” his voice growled out the endearment like a warning as she neared.

“War daddy.” Her breath stuttered to see him up close, so hulking and wild. But she was here to help, not gawk. “I’ll take care of the nymphs and animals. Let no harm come to them. Deal?”

He growled, grabbing her arm to pull her close. It was dangerous to get too close, so she kept the tension strong, ensuring her body floated back up to the sky feet first. His grip slid to shackle her wrist and tightened.

“I thought you were going to let me take care of this.” His heated whisper was a quiet roar that shook her to her core, savage and arousing.

“I am.” She finger combed her hair out of its hasty bun with her free hand, affecting an air of nonchalance. “Zeus and your mother are all yours. I’m concerned about PTSD for the guards and little creatures.”

“They’re my warriors.” He watched the animals writhing nearby in confusion, trapped by the mist from their sweet revenge, then glanced back at her with a curious, narrowed gaze. “You said you’d take care of them?”

“You’ve seen my power before in nightclubs.”

“Oh.” Realization dawned, and his fury cooled a fraction. “Interesting.”

Behind his eyes danced a new presence she’d never seen before, only felt. The beast. The force he'd wrestled with deep inside his whole life. And while he feared it, the energy had always piqued her curiosity. In her own heightened state, she watched new webs of electric energy stitch their auras together in a dozen places. 

If she took the two armies from the playing field, Ares would be alone against his father. His only hope was to believe in his own power, something he rarely did. Behind the bravado had always been a god wracked with fears of inadequacy.

“Let your monster off leash. I want to see what he can do.” She imbued her voice with a seductive purr that turned to a harsh demand as her fingernails traced his cheek. Their bond strengthened, fed on older energies from the earth, and their power grew. Together. “God’s blood on your spear. Destiny in your hands. Arise, Ares.”

 


 

Arise Ares, the beast growled in agreement, echoing through every bone as he sank to knees and lifted his head to the sky. Become his fiery nightmare.

The beast and his own true love seemed to speak of the same accord. She floated above him, more angel of mist than physical being. Her white glowing eyes promised power and destruction, but he was not afraid of her this time. Those amethyst pupils shone through. Aphrodite was still there. 

With only the dark sky and splintering thunder above, he opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out. 

Silence and a slithering sensation crawled through his body and up. Up to meet the goddess of love’s whispered demand. 

Arise, Ares.  

It was him and not him, beyond control, something large and growing larger.

His head rolled back on a groan and heat waves poured from his mouth, flames like a curling river. But the glowing licks of fire had magma-like scales and gained a corporeal body the further it came out of him. Red and yellow, glowing and hissing, the long, wriggling lava flow gained form.

A monster. The giant snake. Some called it the world serpent, the furious wisdom, the first being. It was a hideous nightmare to others, but to Aphrodite, a servant. Life and death in one beast, creation and destruction. Chaos.

As the snake slithered out of him, from the corner of his eye, he saw delicate purple hands command the lilac mist. It disbursed over the animals, as her mouth moved on a silent spell. After a few heartbeats of confusion, he felt his army's rage dissipate as the creatures burrowed back underground or fled for the hills. Their passion for rage had been redirected to one of carnal desire. She turned her gaze to the nymph guards with a calculating gleam in her eye. It would be a harder job, but he knew she was up to it. She could do anything.

The glowing, fiery serpent finally wrested itself from Ares’ body, and he coughed in relief. Looking back up, he stared in slack jawed wonder as its crackling lava scales wrapped around Aphrodite’s ankle, then twined up her leg in a hot caress. 

And when it’s tongue flicked at her skin, he tasted her soft, cool skin. On a more delicate tether, he felt her reaction. The beast’s caress, to her, was the same delicious burn of melted candle wax on skin. Together, they stared at each other, reveling in the power they shared, a power that seemed greater than anything they could achieve alone. 

Still floating above him, she brushed the hair from his temple at the same time he lifted a hand up to trace the line of her jaw. A twin caress of equals, two opposites in perfect synchronicity. Their gaze was full of all the love they’d spent a thousand years making.

“Let’s give the old man a show.” Full, beautiful lips pulled into a teasing smile. Her confidence, even with a fiery, glowing snake slithering up her body, emboldened him. 

Beneath the churning wrath, he felt the young boy, the real Ares, rise too. Long before his responsibilities as a war god, he’d only ever been a harmless mischief maker.

Gripping the nape of her neck, he pulled her down in a quick, passionate kiss. They fit together in a way he’d never felt with another. Tongues dueling, hands grasping, they had only a moment before he broke away and grinned up at her. “Do your worst, witch.”

She didn’t have to be told twice. Straightening, the serpent of wrath snaked up then down her body as it stretched long enough that its head slithered on the ground. Once touching ground, it grew as it moved, the tail still wrapped around her leg and waist, ending at the crook of her elbow while its body lengthened and thickened.

Through tremors in his feet, he sensed how it - how he and Aphrodite - fed on the heat below the ground and perhaps some older, elemental spirits of death and rebirth. For a moment in time, they were the ouroboros. Such a beast could not exist for long. Nothing could grow forever. But in that moment, it expanded, its head the size of a car as it slithered toward the disintegrating purple haze separating Zeus and his guards from the terrible gods of love and war.  

It was Aphrodite’s turn to sow her own version of chaos. Lifting her palms to the sky, he heard her whisper - Breath. Flight. Desire

White clouds formed from her fingers that grew into the shape of doves, pale with black eyes and tiny pink feet. Dozens of them sprouted to life and made a beeline for the guards. With her power diverted to her minions, the purple mist disappeared in the wind, and the nymph guards got their first look at the serpent's neck arching high above. 

Its giant black tongue flicked in and out to the beat of Ares’ own heart as its enormous body moved smoothly in a wide arch around them. Its scaly, red and orange skin bubbled, occasionally bursting out lava that burned the bright green grass.

The royal guard was so shocked, they didn’t notice the doves landing on their shoulders, cooing and sliding beaks under armor and into ears. The delicate birds whispered Aphrodite’s wishes. They would soon become her thralls, bent to her pleasure.

With a graceful turn and a quick peck on his check, she landed on the ground and beckoned the three dozen guards to follow her swaying hips. Their expressions turned dazed as they dropped their weapons and followed her to the pool area, shrugging out of armor and clothes as they went. Their purple jackets with gaudy gold buttons became nothing more than fabric to trample upon. 

His last glimpse of her was a backwards look as she walked away. With a wink, she untied the knots at the shoulder of her green dress. A flock of doves flitted around her new crowd of ensorceled, half-clothed nymphs.

He shook his head of the sight, knowing he had his own mission to accomplish. Let’s give the old man a show, she’d said. He fisted his hands, willing the serpent beast to make a wide pass around the field, constricting into a circle around Zeus and Ares. A cage.

His father turned this way and that, yelling incoherent curses at the nymphs before, finally, facing him.

If he wanted to see what his twisted son and consort could accomplish, Ares and the beast would show him. Zeus clapped his hands together, and the sky cracked, splintering in blinding lightning around them. 

A dozen bolts struck the serpent, to which it writhed and twitched but did not falter from its position. Ares felt the shock in his gut, a creaking seize of muscles inside that had him wincing. Despite the pain, his hand tightened around his spear and he charged forward.

“Fight me like a man!” he roared, letting his weapon loose.

His father dodged the spear, only catching a glancing blow of the blade through his ugly shirt, tearing the pocket in half and sending his phone flying to the ground.

“Be sensible, son.”

“No calling for help, now.” Ares tackled him, the weight and strength of his father’s body a pleasant challenge as they tussled and rolled in the grass. He landed vicious blows to his father’s kidneys and at least one to his face.

Adrenaline pumped fiercely through him, and though cuts bloomed on his arms from his opponent’s wicked grip, he felt no pain. Blood lust sang through his veins, the high of battle.

This was his domain, and he was its god.

Choking him tight, both hands at his neck, he reveled in the paling grey tinge to his father's face. His eyes bugged out in shock and fear was a beautiful sight.

A glancing blow of an elbow to his face, Ares nose spurted blood, and he fell back. Zeus rose to stand, glancing around quickly. The snake still blocked every exit. Its flicking tail and swaying head told them both if he tried to fly away, he’d be caught.

Still gasping for breath, Zeus knelt, a hand raised at the ready. Ares knew what a tap-tap to the ground would do and swept forward, spear snapping out to knock his father’s hand back up.

Ares pulled him to stand and trapped his father with an arm wrenched behind his back. He used the flat of his spear to thump it forward, bloodying Zeus’ nose in return. From behind he whispered, “No summoning Uncle H, coward.”

Zeus threw his head back, but Ares dodged the blow, only getting a split lip for the trouble. But his father had one last trick up his sleeve. Even tightly bound, he was still able to reach up one hand to scratch at the old, jagged scar that always lay hidden beneath his long violet hair.

“Fuck,” Ares growled under his breath. Athena.

“All’s fair in love and war,” Zeus sputtered through the blood running down his nose into his mouth. “Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to show me, you little ingrate? You think the two of you are more powerful than me?”

What?

The silvery manifestation of his sister began to sparkle into existence. 

“I’ve been trying to tell you…” Ares gripped his father’s jaw so they stared into each other’s eyes - amethyst to red. “I’m disappointed in you.”

His father’s eyes widen in confusion and...hurt?

“You’re the god of gods.” Ares’ jaw clenched, holding back the fury to try and be honest about his feelings for once. “And you took advantage of Aphrodite. You used the very thing she was created for to coerce her. Love. The love of our son. Your grandson.”

“No one takes advantage of Aphrodite.” Zeus scoffed, but there was a spark behind his denial that made Ares wonder if he hadn’t quite understood how unequal the power dynamic had been. A blinding realization hit him as Zeus eyed the serpent and glanced beyond to where Aphrodite and the entire guard force had retreated.

“You’re afraid of me.” He pulled his father’s face back to him. “Of us?”

Purple nostrils flared in defiance as Zeus spit blood out of his mouth to the ground. He was. Perhaps he had been all along. Ares’ whole life he’d heard whispers of the prophecy that one of Zeus’ sons would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown Kronos. He's afraid...of me? But I’m a fuck up.

Aren’t I?

“We don’t want your power, old man.” Ares snapped his teeth just to see his father flinch. His breaths came fast and hot, a rising desire, of all things, to cry clogged his throat. Was this the root of a lifetime’s conflict with his father? Fear. Well, screw him. I’ll use it to my advantage. “But if you ever fuck with my family or my girl again, your power will be the least of your concerns. It’s my job to protect them, even from you.” 

Zeus sucked his lips into a thin line, defensiveness clouding his gaze. 

Can my father, a leader and man this weak, be redeemed? Forgiven?

Should he be?

A cough, accompanied by a familiar voice had them both looking sideways.

“Brother.” Athena leaned against her giant spear, gleaming in polished silver armor. Her crimson plumed helm and cape fluttered gently in the wind. Tall and strong, her cool, assessing gaze swept from him to Zeus. “Father. You called?”

Chapter Text

The giant serpent slithered in a steady circle, maintaining the boundary that kept the king of the gods and two of his oldest children in tight quarters. The light reflecting off its glossy body and the creaking grass were the only hints to its movement.

“Kindly get this beast off of me.” Zeus struggled in Ares’ iron grip.

“This is between me and him,” Ares growled at Athena. If it wasn’t his uncles breaking up their fights, it was his sister, or worse, his mother. He should have seen this coming. 

“Not if you’re planning on starting a war in the middle of a weekday.” Her neck cracked as she stood tall, feet braced apart, armor grinding together as she moved. “You’ve been back for less than a week.”

She was right. Just like he’d predicted, it was only a matter of time before his loss of control had put people - even his children’s pets - in danger. But this had felt different. Zeus hadn’t called on his own son, the god of war, when his grandson had fucked up. Instead, he’d coerced the goddess of beauty into sex. Women always paid the price with him. Ares’ arm tightened around his father’s throat until a pleasant choking sound gurgled out.

“I see you figured out the snake trick.” Athena glanced at the enormous serpent, its magma-like skin crackling as it moved. “It only took you, what, a millenia, loser?”

Her joking tone using his old childhood nickname had him grinning in confusion, despite the split lip. The elbow at his father’s neck loosened. “You knew?”

“I have a beast of my own.” Her shining, silver eyes had so much depth for all the color they lacked. Every layer he’d ever pulled back with Athena only revealed more complexity. But rage? She was so calm. 

“A little hint a few centuries ago would have been polite, champ.” Ares sniffed up some of the ichor pouring out of his broken nose.

“Meaningful lessons are best learned on one’s one time, under one’s own agency. Though, I concede, a little hint might not have hurt.” The side of her mouth quirked up. “Now, let father go, and we’ll talk.”

His gut instinct, as usual, was to follow her advice. Talk about...what? She didn’t even know why this whole fight had started, did she? Her simple solutions to his problems in life would have annoyed him long ago, but she always knew the right thing to do. Every time.

“Why are two so chummy?!” Zeus raged, twisting in Ares’ grasp.

Athena sighed. “I’d rather not get too worked up today, father. I have yoga in thirty minutes.” 

Ares released his father with a solid shove that had him scrambling for purchase on the ground. 

Moaning in pain, Zeus rose to a standing position and pointed at both of them. “I don’t take kindly to disrespect.”

Athena blinked slowly at him with a cool smile, and Ares used every inch of willpower to clench his fists and lips tight and let their father walk away.

“Snake trick, my ass. A fucking mess is more like it!” Zeus grumbled as he snatched up his phone and walked away. As the serpent’s tongue snapped out toward him, he shot a quick thunderbolt at it. The vibrating pain ricocheted through Ares’ body, but barely. “And for what? A single stupid mis...” His voice trailed off. Stomping away, he looked less like the ruler of the gods and more like a petulant child in his ridiculous cargo shorts, torn shirt, and bloody nose.

Ares took a deep breath.  

The old king is...a fool. Not even his children respect him.

Suddenly, it was hard to stay angry at him.

The giant, fiery beast dissipated in a flash of steam and smoke. In less than a breath, it was as though it hadn’t been there at all, the only hint being the scorched ring of earth left in its wake. Warmth curled deep in his belly again. It was close to a comfort. He felt whole. 

“This...fighting him...you must know it won’t lead anywhere.” Athena’s voice grew louder as he sensed her approach him from behind. 

The grip on his spear tightened as he dug the butt into the ground. Anger still simmered in his blood, but Athena was right. Even though it felt so damn good to let go, years of fighting hadn’t amounted to anything.

Hera rushed down the stairs and Ares’ heart lodged in his throat. Her turquoise cape snagged in a rose bush and she nearly tripped on her sky high heels. She had little room to move in her golden, figure-hugging dress as she ran to Zeus. Her gaze darted over him with worry, but her fists stayed glued at her sides. They exchanged words, and her arms flailed toward the pool where he knew Aphrodite’s orgy must be in full swing. His father crumpled at her displeasure, moved around her, and trudged toward the house, leaving Hera startled and staring at the mess in the yard. 

“You’ll never defeat Zeus alone. Even with Aphrodite, it’s futile.”

“I don’t care about that. He fucked with my family, took advantage of Aphrodite.” He twisted to see his sister’s reaction, but she was a closed book. As an eternal maiden, he thought she might be more upset. If anything, her lack of reaction told him the news didn’t surprise her in the least. “I just want him to stop being a complete asshole.”

“You may not care about power, but he does, and that’s why you’ll always lose against him.” Athena had always been tall for a woman. Standing nearly eye level, the long horse hair crest of her helmet towered above him.

In that moment they weren’t two opponents wielding spears, but two siblings within hugging distance. Ares watched the way her gaze studied him, carefully and quietly. He wondered if the origin of her preternatural calm wasn’t some divine balance of masculine and feminine. She’d always embodied the best of both.

“Zeus calls on you like a dog. He knows you’ll come running, but has he ever really been there for you?” he asked on a soft breath. “You say I could never win, but I sensed his fear today.”

Athena’s eyelids fluttered. The movement was slight, but he knew to watch for the tiniest signs with her. Athena was better than Ares at nearly everything. It was a known fact. Wasn’t it?  

“Zeus isn’t scared of you.” Ares put the pieces together. “He’s not smart enough to be frightened of his own daughter.”

The way she coughed and looked away, it was like he’d said something that caused her pain. She looked over his shoulder, focusing on the distance.

“Or his wife.” Her voice was quiet but hard as steel. “She’s the only one who could lead an opposition, if you must know.”

“Ma,” he whispered, turning to watch Hera stalk toward them. Long, undone strands of shining hair fell messy and wild out of her updo. Her gaze drifted over the mess of a front yard, and when she looked at them again her face was full of tight annoyance.

“I don’t need to hear the details of what caused all this.” Athena moved to stand in front of him, waving a gloved hand at the dead, singed grass around them. “But she does.”

“Believe it or not, talking to Hera was my plan for today.” Ares’ laugh was tired. “What would Athena do? I asked myself.”

Athena gripped his forearm and pulled his shoulder to hers, an acknowledgement reserved for warriors. “Remember…we always work best together, brother.”

He gulped and nodded once. Behind those words was something else. She saw the future, in her own way, a path she must recognize all of them careened toward. Was their big, dysfunctional family, along with every soul in Olympus, headed to a war against a weak king? If so, Ares knew only one thing; it wouldn’t be him at the lead. 

It had never been the god of war Zeus should have feared.

It was the women he’d hurt along the way.

Athena hugged him. Her strong arms wrapped so tight, she squeezed his breath out, leaving only a strange, new feeling of hope when she finally pulled away. Her tall, perfectly straight, plumed helm bounced slightly when she nodded and faded in a shimmer of glittering silver.

Ares ran a hand through his hair, twirled his spear in a half circle and stabbed it into the ground as his mother stopped before him, hands on her hips. The wisps of her unbound hair glowed in the backlit sunlight. 

“You mind telling me what in all the realms is going on out here, my boy?”

Where to start? Eros killed some mortals. Zeus came down hard. Aphrodite slept with him to keep the secret. But when Zeus disrespected her...I had to fight back. 

Didn’t I? 

“I fucked up.” Ares rubbed at the back of his neck. He loved his mother. He’d always felt safe with her. Told her the truth. Trusted her. “I’m sorry about all of this, ma. I’ll make it up to you. My plan was to come to you first, but then Zeus ran his mouth and…”

“You’re trembling, baby,” Her cool palm on his cheek grounded him. She ripped part of her torn cape and dabbed at his nose, cleaning away the mess like she always did. She deserved the truth.

“Zeus fucked Aphrodite,” he said, unsurprised when her eyes went wide with shock and her head whipped around.

“That huss-”

“Ma!” His hands cupped both sides of her face, forcing her to look at him. Her sea-blue eyes grew stormy with anger. “It was only to protect Eros. She kept it all under wraps, away from prying eyes, but she didn’t want to do it at all. Believe me on that. She really didn’t. He manipulated her.”

It was Hera’s turn to tremble from the hard set of her jaw to her body. He just hoped it was directed at his father and not Aphrodite. Hera had a bad habit of taking out her anger on easier targets.

Ares released his hold on her face and grabbed her hand. “Let’s take a walk.”

She snorted in irritation each time they stepped over discarded guard coats or large patches of burnt ground but said nothing until they caught sight of the pool. The orgy was in high gear judging by the vague shapes of bodies writhing through the green and white plastic fencing.

“I can smell the class action lawsuit...the tabloids.”

“You’re a PR wizard. You’ll figure it out.” Ares looped her arm around the crook of his elbow. “Blame it on the bad boy of Olympus. Put me in the doghouse. I deserve it.”

Hera pointed at the pool. “She deserves it! I can’t believe her. Honestly, I will never-”

“Understand her?” he interrupted, not wanting to hear a tirade about Aphrodite’s moral failings. Not today, when she’d swooped in and helped save lives. “Understanding her is like predicting the dance of a flame. There’s no point. She just is. She was made to be enjoyed not understood.”

“She’ll never marry you.”

“You're right. Not of her own volition, and I respect that.”

“I don’t know what you see in her. You could have a real wife. She’s not good enough for my perfect boy.”

“Fucking fates, ma. We have half a dozen kids together!” Ares laughed. What did he see in Aphrodite? Everything was too simple an answer. She was his perfect match, fought him on everything that mattered. It struck him at once how similar Hera and Aphrodite were - goddesses others feared, unfailingly loyal to the point of cruelty. They demanded respect and rarely apologized. "The two of you are more similar than you think - fierce, family-first bitches."

They entered the queen’s rose garden. Square flower beds lined the small area, thorny beauties blooming in every color imaginable. Hera dropped to a seat on the single white bench. 

“I would never have done what she did,” she huffed.

Ares crossed his arms, leveling her with a look of disbelief. To help her children Hera would do anything. She hadn’t been below disguises and duplicity in the past.

She sniffed and straightened her collar, patting up at her messy updo to assess the damage. “My petty seductions are...tests of character.”

“You’re more powerful than her. Is that what you want me to say? Because it’s true. She has less leverage than you, especially when it comes to Zeus.” When Hera’s gaze drifted to the ground, Ares walked around the bench and unpinned the remains of her french knot. “And don’t think I don’t know how similar I am to him. 

“You’re nothing like your father, sweet boy.”

“Ma, I’m a lot like him. It’s a burden, but I’m learning to accept it.” His fingers combed through the mess, laying the frizzy bits down and bringing everything back in order. He’d always enjoyed playing with his mother and sisters’ hair. Depending on the culture and time period, long intricate braids or knots were a sign of status among warriors. “Maybe eventually I’ll develop some empathy for him while I...I don’t know...get to know myself...work within my faults.”

Hera let out a wordless hmmph while lifting a hand to pat his arm. He separated the hair into two sections at her temple and began to braid in a fishtail style, looping under to keep the design tight to the head.

“How can you love me so much and scorn him?” he asked.

“Scorn?” Disbelief laced her tone, and her fingers twisted in the skirt of her metallic gown. She really didn’t know how her treatment of Zeus affected him, how it affected her own kids? 

“Family dinner was a battlefield growing up. The meltdown, even in happy times, was inevitable. If anything, the fighting felt more honest. Maybe that’s why I took to it.” With this style of braid, each section was new, being pulled partly from the existing braid and partly from the scalp, ensuring the plait stayed strong and tight. “Do you know what it’s like to be small and alone in a big house, watching the two people you love most tear each other apart?”

“You turned out alright, baby.”

“Did I?” Ares pinned the end of the first braid, curling from her left temple to the nape of her neck on the right side. He picked up the remaining hair at her temple and started on a second one parallel to the first. “And anyway, I was talking about Hebe.”

“Hebe.” Hera’s voice cracked on a whisper. His little sister was hyper focused on rules and being an adult as quickly as possible. She’d adjusted to the chaos in the family in her own way, and as much as Ares loved her mature personality, he wanted to see her be a kid.

“And ma, it’s not just your kids that pay for the marital discord,” When the two braids met at the bottom, he began to weave them together in a bigger braid, keeping all the strands smooth and even. “This path of endless jealousy and lashing out against the women Zeus fucks has led to so much heartache. Has any of it helped your relationship with him?”

Her voice hissed out through clenched teeth. “I’m supposed to take that disrespect laying down? It reflects on me!”

“He can have any woman’s body, but you and I both know it’s a prize of pride and flesh alone. A lightning crack, a moment of connection. I won’t begrudge him that.” He coiled the completed braid in a circular shape at the bottom and pinned it securely in place, tucking a few last bits into place. “His mistress is not a woman, and you are wrong to punish them. Love is deeper than bodies slipping together. His mistress is insecurity.”

The new updo was done. He’d meant to plait the coiling braid into the shape of a flower, but it ended up looking more like two snakes hiding behind one.

Hera’s fingers traveled over the new design, and she stood up to walk to the other end of the garden. When she turned around, she was so beautiful it hurt. His mother. He hated to see her in pain, but she’d needed to hear the truth. And he needed her to know what it was like as a child growing up in the middle of their wretched relationship. Now, his own true love was caught between them. He had to make his point.

“Leave Aphrodite alone, and I’ll do anything you want.”

Shrugging off her torn cloak, she folded it into a bundle under her arm. And just like that, she was a queen again, not a harried, confused wife. Spine straight, she said nothing as she walked slowly back to him.

“Sometimes I wonder if you manipulate people for your own amusement, mother.” As soon as the words were out he knew he shouldn’t have said it, not when he’d just demanded something so important from her.

“You’re one to talk, son.” She stepped close, challenging him even though he was the one looking down at her. When those blue eyes trained on him with full intensity, he always gave in. Not today. He would push, push her to the edge. 

“Exactly,” Ares kept his voice soft. “If there’s anyone you can be honest with about manipulation, it’s me. It feels good, doesn’t it? To see a situation spin out of control under your invisible direction? To have a hand in some wild chaos.” He gestured to the pool with one hand and the ring of scorched earth behind him with the other. Grinning like a cat, he felt his teeth sharpen. “It’s beautiful.”

“Don’t try to spin me up with your power, boy. Do you know who I am?”

“I know.” Ares bent closer so they were nearly nose to nose. “What color are my eyes, ma? My skin?”

"Normal." Her chest heaved on fast breaths. “Black. Bronze.”

“It’s your power that runs through me.” He tugged at her braid. “I know what you are. More importantly, I’m finally coming to understand what I am. I am yours, your mirror image.”

He dropped to his knees and she was the one looking down, surprised. Her sharp, white crown popped into existence, glinting off the sunlight. With her perfect braid and shining tiara, she looked for all the world like a young woman of wholesome goodness, more innocent than her 2,000 years. But Ares knew her better. His mother was a far more complicated creature than met the eye.

“What do you want, ma? You are more clever than Zeus by tenfold.” He grasped both of her hands in his own. He needed to keep pushing, to hear an admission from her lips on one crucial point, a small curiosity he’d always had. “The blesser of marriage, the great lioness, the goddess of the sky and stars, what do you want? I would burn down the world to give it to you if I knew you’d keep my family safe.”

Hera's gaze searched him, wide but calculating. He could see the plots spinning, the alliances she imagined on one side then another.

“Does Olympus need a woman king?” He cocked his head, voice only a whisper. 

Her breath stuttered, and she blushed like a maiden.

“You’ve never said it out loud, have you?”

No. Her white crown sparkled on a slight shake of her head, the sheen of her golden dress refracting dappled light on his skin. She was a woman he’d always put his trust in, even when he was frightened. Fearsome and beautiful. A leader.

“I am your son. I am your god of war. What. Do. You. Want?”

Her jaw clenched and eyes lit with steely determination. 

Ares had never been so afraid and so thrilled at the same time. Even the beast within, rousing to life and ready to act, seemed to tremble within him. From the look in her eye, he was nearly certain what her answer would be.