Summary: The new lovers make a grave mistake, while Zeus and Hephaestus discover their secret.
Ο Ἔρως Εμπνέει τον Πόλεμο
Olympian Muse: Love Inspires War
Upon returning to the garden from where Aphros had been stolen, the god of war was more reluctant than ever in leaving the object of his affection to the devices of Hephaestus. How Ares loathed his brother in secret! After a sundry of kisses and soft words of affection were shared between them, Ares finally departed. Aphros could still feel the soreness of his new lover’s physical confessions streaking through his every nerve. To be claimed so adamantly by a man who saw each battlefield as his own personal playground—it was no wonder that Aphrodite had desired his attention so often. The overwhelming feeling of love and lust, passion and desire, needing and wanting; these were feelings that the average human knew very well. Was this how it felt to be a human? Slowly making his way back inside the palace of his inherited suitor, Aphros had to wonder how his life might be different if his pedigree were not so closely linked to Olympus.
“What if...I were a human...” Aphros whispered to himself, wrapping both arms around his own body as though it would nullify the great emptiness he had begun to feel. Merely carrying his body toward the palace, he was completely unaware that he had been heard.
“All of Olympus would have been deprived of your godly perfection...” rang the familiar voice of Hephaestus. Aphros turned to face the elder blacksmith with a surprised expression; Hephaestus looked haggard from the exhausting work he had been selected to undergo. Aphros had to inwardly smirk at such a sight that only Ares was capable of producing with his relentless demands.
“Have you finished your errand, love?” Aphros had to keep Hephaestus in the dark when it came to discovering the truth of his betrayal. The best way to accomplish such a task was to present his natural charm—a tactic so graciously bestowed upon him as it was on Aphrodite.
“Alas, I have not yet finished. But I am quite weary and wish to retire to bed.” Hephaestus held one hand out for Aphros to take—not as if he hoped it would be taken but more like he expected as such.
“You have worked the entire day?” Aphros asked in surprise, not reaching out to take the hand offered to him just yet.
“I have.” Hephaestus was not interested in discussing his work, but he felt inclined to answer the question as he took the counterpart’s hand on his own accord. “Come, my dear...sing to me so that I may have a deeper and much needed reprieve.” Before he could avoid the inevitable, Aphros pursed his lips at such a strange request.
“Sing...? I have never been asked to sing...” Aphros felt plagued, but he was also intrigued because no one had asked such a thing of him—only of Aphrodite. What would he sing? What could he sing? It was hard to think much further as Aphros sensed that he was being led not toward the palace, but in an entirely different direction all together. “My lord—“
“Please, Aphros...I do not wish to speak of work or anything that does not involve us.” Raising one hand as if to silence his companion, Hephaestus used the other hand to gain a tighter grasp on the one he currently held. Aphros was yet again thrown off course by such behavior. Did Hephaestus truly love him or was this all an act simply because he was an inheritance from Aphrodite’s escape? “What will you sing for me tonight so that I may rest peacefully?”
“I...I do not know, my lord...perhaps something of your choosing would be most ideal?” Aphros began to feel the chill of the location through which he was being led. Was such a feeling due to the unknown of where they were headed or was it a result of the destination itself?
“I will leave it to your judgment...it is your voice that I want to hear, my lovely Aphros.” Smiling shyly at the compliment, Aphros was not sure what Hephaestus expected from him in return. Was this the first time he had felt this way? Aphros was always fully aware of how he should react in order to graciously or flirtatiously accept paeans in his favor; however, this particular moment was significantly different. Was this all because of his newfound feelings for Ares? The inexplicable connection they had made mere hours ago? Aphros had been lost in silent thought until a sudden groan of discomfort drew him back to reality. Hephaestus had seated himself on a large chair laden with bright gold threads and soft red fabrics. Unfortunately, as comfortable as such a chair may have sounded, it was not so. Finally taking in his surroundings, Aphros had not remembered sitting beside the blacksmith with one hand resting in his lap. Once the images of marital bondage came to the surface, Aphros looked further beyond his own position and discovered that he was in a bedroom chamber. He had never been to this part of the palace before then, but to know this was where Hephaestus slept and they would soon be—no. He could not think of that now.
“You wish for me to sing to you here...?” This was to be the same location where he would be claimed as a prize by the one he was never meant to be with. How could fate be so cruel?
“It is. I am most comfortable here.” Hephaestus shifted his body to face Aphros, one hand lifting to take the counterpart’s chin so as to make their eyes meet. “I do hope you will become as comfortable here as I am...especially after we are joined together before the very eyes of all Olympus. Now sing for me.” Aphros could not help but smile awkwardly when his eyes met with ones that were so beguiled by him. Did Hephaestus not understand that he came from the same modeling material as Aphrodite, but in male form? Hephaestus was not so much in love as he was settling for what the goddess of love had left him with. Even as Aphros knew this to be true, it was how things had come to be. Focusing his mind on earlier curiosities after Ares had returned to Thrace, Aphros quietly cleared his throat and slipped into lyrical verse.
“You are a human, therefore seek not to foretell—“ Aphros felt his body want to recoil as Hephaestus lifted his hand and touched rough lips to the tender skin; however, to do such a thing would anger the other man and it was not his wish to do that so early in the midst of his own infidelities. Aphros could only continue smiling, which, unfortunately, encouraged more affection from Hephaestus. “What tomorrow may bring...nor how long one's happiness may last...”
“Your voice...” Hephaestus whispered, pulling Aphros closer so as to touch his lips to the counterpart’s cheek. “It was truly crafted to enchant...the most stubborn of men.” Aphros felt appreciative by such compliments, but not so much that he would enjoy the touches of someone he did not love. It was suddenly difficult to continue, but Aphros swallowed his distaste and closed his eyes before willing his voice to begin once more.
“For not even the flutter of the fly's wing...is as fast as change—“ As Aphros had reached the end of his song, Hephaestus stole a kiss. The action was so quick that Aphros made a sound of surprise, but he was held fast and lured ever closer by the strong hands of Hephaestus resting on his shoulders. As the fair-skinned counterpart widened his eyes at the pressure of a hot tongue against his mouth, he immediately pulled back. Now it was the blacksmith’s turn to be dismayed.
“Do you not like my kiss, Aphros?” Both hands rising to cradle delicate features of the one opposite him, Hephaestus gazed on in confusion. Aphros was not so much appalled as he might have been given the circumstances, though he was not pleased to have been taken advantage of so easily. Aphros quickly shook his head in an effort to show denial of what he knew to be the truth. Aphros had no ill will toward Hephaestus, but there was no love between them and he could not enjoy what he had no emotional investment in—regardless of what godly figure he was molded from.
“It is not that, my lord...” Aphros nearly stuttered, but summoned up his courage after remembering how to please the other man. “I do not want you to spoil anything before we—“
“Ah...you wish to remain as pure as possible before we are forever joined and I can—“ Aphros brought a hand forward to cover the other man’s mouth before he could finish.
“Yes...that is what I make reference to.” Aphros shuddered beneath his clothing at the idea of Hephaestus claiming him in the same way that he had already been claimed by another. Oh, how he wished Ares were the one in front of him at that moment! Aphros began to wonder how much longer he and Ares could hide their love affair from this man. Hephaestus chuckled to himself at the seemingly innocent and sincere response to his eagerness. Gently tugging the hand away from his mouth, Hephaestus sighed with a slight smile.
“I will confess, my love...I had hoped to gain somewhat of a...” Hephaestus thought for a moment before finishing. “An understanding for what you would be like the night of our union...even if it is only a small understanding at best...” Hephaestus looked upon Aphros as if he were the only other being in existence, yet even as Aphros knew this, he could never feel truth in it due to one simple fact.
“Those words were first meant for Aphrodite, were they not?” Aphros spoke calmly, but his nerves felt like they were on fire. “After all...she was the one that you were to marry...” The words spoken seemed to have wounded Hephaestus at first, but Aphros suddenly heard a chuckle from deep within the other man’s chest.
“But she is not here, Aphros. She abandoned me for that damned mortal Adonis...it is you who stayed.” With those words, Hephaestus slowly lifted himself to a stand and slid his fingers beneath the counterpart’s chin to make their eyes meet. “I no longer wish to discuss this. If you desire to remain pure for our wedding night, I can understand such sentiment. I will retire here—“
“May I spend one last night on Cyprus, my lord? I know that you will give me freedom even after we are wed, but...it will never be the same...if you understand what I speak of.” Aphros felt a pang of fear at the upcoming events. That fear had built up for so long that it had developed into the overwhelming weight of panic. Aphros needed time alone and in a place where he could not be manipulated by another. Hephaestus did not seem overly burdened by the request as he was already easing himself into bed after a long day of solid work.
“I do not desire to begin our lives together in a negative light, my love...you may do as you wish. But please return to me tomorrow...there is much left to prepare and only two days in which to do it.” Hephaestus, now resting on his back with a peaceful expression, gave Aphros a thin smile before closing his eyes. "Goodnight, my beloved Aphros."
“I will, my lord.” Aphros was grateful for the time Hephaestus had given him, and he stood from his seat before going to the other man’s side. “Thank you...” Aphros whispered, leaning down to press a kiss to the blacksmith’s forehead.
More eager than ever to be alone, Aphros quickly slipped from the bedchamber of Hephaestus to begin his journey back to Cyprus. Rounding the corner to begin his way down the hall, Aphros felt a strong and familiar grip land on his waist before he was tugged out of the hallway. Completely derailed, Aphros cried out and began to protest with a fiery spirit only he and Aphrodite could have conjured up. However, before the fire could get started, it was promptly placed under control with a heated kiss. Aphros felt his eyes widen once he finally realized who his assailant was, pulling back with an honest gasp of surprise.
“Ares...why are you here?” Aphros was clearly out of breath, but Ares chuckled and pressed their foreheads together as if that should have spoken for him.
“I grew tired of waiting...it is as simple as that, my love.” Ares grinned in arrogance, but Aphros lifted both hands to his lover’s face as if to show his concern.
“You should not be here...what if Hephaestus were to see you? We would—“
“Do not fear what will never happen, dear angel of love...” Ares closed his hands around the counterpart’s waist before reeling him in closer. “After the time we have spent together...I will never allow another to come between us...for any reason.” Aphros felt that he could trust Ares without hesitation, but that was not so easy when what he knew completely contradicted his feelings. Hephaestus was a powerful Olympian, even if Hera had disowned him; he was the blacksmith of the gods and had amazing favor with Zeus because of that fact. Even if Ares had nothing to worry about as the god of war, it was imperative that Aphros found a way to make Ares leave the palace without him.
“But...he is here. He is resting in his chambers not far off...Ares, my love...you should go!” Aphros closed his eyes, still panting lightly for air as he began to feel lightheaded. Ares must have recognized this behavior because he only held Aphros tighter in response. “Ares...please. I do not wish for us to be found here this way....it is far too dangerous for you to be here!”
“Then come with me. I will take you away from all this danger if it is what you fear the most!” Ares had not yet realized that his voice was slightly higher than before, even as a whisper. “I could not bear to leave you to such a fate as this...I had to come back.”
“It is not so simple as that, my love...and now is not the right time for us to be making such irrational decisions for our future!” Aphros was becoming impatient, but Ares ignored all sense of warning and pressed a desperate kiss to the counterpart’s mouth. Anyone would claim that Ares was never easy to fight off, especially in battle—Aphros found himself to be no exception to that rule even if he was a new weakness for the war god. Whimpering helplessly, Aphros slid his hands down to his lover’s chest and returned the kiss with equal desperation. Ares stepped forward and pressed Aphros against the wall behind them, deepening the kiss upon receiving such a welcomed response.
“What would my brother say...if I had you right here...in his palace...” Ares laughed lightly to himself, one hand keeping a hold on the love god’s waist while the other slipped beneath the silken fabrics hiding muscled thighs. Aphros parted his lips with a gasp at such a suggestion, and then struggled against the roaming hand by attempting to buck it off.
“Do not say such things...he might hear us,” Aphros pleaded, pressing his hands harshly against the other’s chest in a vain effort to keep him from going any further. “Please, Ares...my love...”
“Please what, Aphros? My brother sleeps soundly...” Ares pressed a kiss to trembling lips, swiftly raining more kisses upon a tightened jawline and the pale throat below. “He has since we were children...do not worry about him discovering us...let me have you here...”
“As much as it might appeal to me....” Aphros panted, pressing his hands even harder against his lover’s chest, “it must not happen here.” Once Ares finally slowed down, he backed up slightly and gazed at Aphros with incredulity in his expression.
“Why must you torment me this way...” Ares huffed in aggravation, closing his eyes with a bitter expression as if he were at a loss for what to do. How could any being—especially one who was his equal in status—have the ability to do this to him? How could Aphros deny them both what he knew they needed? In the midst of his wonderings, Ares noticed that Aphros no longer wore the same beautiful clothing from before. In fact, the clothing itself had not changed so much as the hue and design by which it was made. The chiton was not as long as before, but knee-length and a dull shade of Persian orange. The garment that once highlighted the perfect sculpture of a godly body now hid it almost completely from view with fabric loose enough to fall off given the slightest tug in the right direction. The himation was not the beautiful scarlet from before but a nauseating shade of darkened saffron—and it was not draped around the waist as it should have been but hanging over one shoulder as if it had been forgotten. No belt or cord held the clothing in its place, but as Ares looked further down, he began to clench his teeth. Aphros wore sandals of faded gold and darkened leather; two laces interlocking over each foot before they were tied evenly around the ankles.
“Ares...please go...we will see each other again before the weddi—“
“There will be no wedding!” Ares spoke sternly, and it was the first time that Aphros had become truly frightened of the war god. It did not take Ares long to find that his demeanor was more abrasive than intended, and he cleared his throat before gently taking his lover’s face in both hands. “Why are you wearing clothes like this, my love?” Ares was clearly enraged, but ordered up all remaining self-control in order to stay calm. Aphros was not yet sure how he should answer when he knew that it would only infuriate Ares further than was necessary. Sighing shakily, Aphros shook his head and conjured up a white lie so as to both appease his lover’s fury while at the same time allowing Ares to leave unscathed by prying eyes.
“I chose to wear them...” Aphros whispered quickly, leaning forward to press a loving kiss to the other man’s lips. “Go...I am begging you...do not let Hephaestus find you...or us...in such a compromising situation...”
“Aphros...” Ares sighed, brushing each thumb carefully underneath such desperate cerulean eyes as they threatened to shed tears. “Now I am the one begging you...” Aphros reached up to grip his lover’s wrists with both hands at such an unexpected—yet endearing—combination of words coming from the god of war. Leaning inward, Ares touched their lips together in a slow, but momentary kiss before pulling away. “...Come with me...”
“I...” Aphros began to decline, but he found it an impossible task when Ares was being so honest with him in what he wanted. Had he truly won over this man’s heart completely in such a short time? Without realizing it, Aphros smiled faintly as he nodded in agreement. “I will go with you, my love...” Swallowing the heartbeats in his throat, Aphros took hold of his lover’s hand. “But we must go now...I have stayed too long and Hephaestus has eyes all throughout this place...I was supposed to leave some time ago and you are not supposed to be here at all!”
“Let us leave then, my dear...and never look back.” Ares held fast to the hand that took his, and then lead the both of them from the room where they had sought refuge. Holding Aphros close to his side, Ares moved quickly down the hallway at the center of the palace. “I will take you to Thrace with me...my brother would never attempt to come for you there...you will be safe.” While Ares reassured the both of them that they were safe, Aphros had a feeling that he should be paying more attention to their surroundings as they fled so carelessly in the open together. Just as Aphros was beginning to pull his wits together, the escape plan was interrupted by the very weapon that Ares knew quite well: the unbreakable net of Hephaestus.
“Ares...I tried to tell you!” Aphros began to struggle against the strength of the net all while he felt Ares winding one arm around him as if to make it clear that he would not be letting go.
“Do not worry, my love...this is...but a...mild...inconvenience...” Ares put emphasis on each word as he tore at the chain with his free hand in an attempt to shred its power to nothing. It did not work. At that point, Ares snatched the dagger on his belt and began to strike repeatedly at the wrought iron surrounding him and his lover—to no avail. Had Ares not learned the first time this very same trick was used against him?
“Aphros...how could you do this to me...” came the pained voice of Hephaestus. Moving into the open from where he was well hidden, Hephaestus marveled at the audacity of the pair standing before him. Ares was a familiar sight to behold, but Aphros was greatly unexpected. “A second time, Ares? My own brother...”
“You could never appreciate Aphros...look at the way you have him dress himself! If that is not enough...you treat him like a trophy just as you did Aphrodite...you are nothing but a—“
“Ares!” Aphros could hear no more of the arguing, they had been caught in their wrongdoing and he was more than certain that punishment would come to pass sooner than later.
“What would you have me do...lie to him!? He is but a petulant cripple who will stop at nothing to take everything beautiful from the world...even the heavens itself! He has the nerve to complain about his meager appearance as he forces the unwilling to look the same as him...all while locking them in a gilded cage which has the false representation of freedom! Dear brother...I have fallen victim to this weapon of yours once before...and even still a second time...but I assure you...I will not lose to you again...especially when this new battlefield between us pertains to matters of the heart and not of misguided lust...” Ares tightened his jaw in defiance as he ground his teeth together. Aphros had gone still with silent shock at the confessions spilling from the mouth of Ares. Was he truly hearing this? Would it be enough for Hephaestus if there were real emotions involved this time? Aphros saw the fire in his lover’s eyes, but where there might have been shame; there was none to be found. This was a trial that Ares had to, once again, face head on and try to bargain his way out of.
“Am I to assume that you two have…been together?” Hephaestus asked in a low voice, though his surprise was still apparent on the worn features of his face.
“We have, my brother. I regretted the last time that this happened when I was with Aphrodite…but this time…” Ares began, shaking his head matter-of-factly, “I do not have it in me to regret. There is nothing I have to feel apologetic for and even if I did…you and I both know I would not attempt to appease you by showing my sympathy. Aphros is beyond anything you or I could ever appreciate…though something tells me he would prefer that I attempt to be the one he needs rather than you.” Aphros felt his breath hitch as Ares tugged him closer into the curves of his body and it felt more natural than anything he had ever felt before. How had Ares managed to sneak inside of him so quickly and easily?
“Ares…” Hephaestus sighed, rubbing his face with one hand while the other lifted as if to request that the other man simply stop speaking. “There is nothing you can say which will keep me from informing Zeus of this circumstance. I will let him decide what to do with you since he is your father…but as for Aphros…” Hephaestus turned his eyes on the flushed and mortified counterpart at his brother’s side. “I want to believe that you can still be trusted…you are a counterpart after all and not on the same level as the rest of the gods. Perhaps you have some shame and meekness within you still?” Tilting his head to the side, he reached forward as though he were going to touch his paramour’s face—but was caught off guard when Ares pulled Aphros out of his reach.
“You have sullied him enough, have you not? I can feel your disgusting kisses and caresses all over his skin…how dare you—“
“Ares! Stop it at once!” Aphros growled out, more than tired of his lover’s own brand of petulance showing its ugly face in the midst of their error. Hephaestus was not an unkind man and he would have taken very good care of Aphros—but the one thing that would have prevented any true happiness between them was the lack of true love. Aphros did not love Hephaestus and the both of them knew, at the very heart of the matter, he was nothing more than a replacement for Aphrodite. The one Hephaestus loved was the female form of Aphros, and Aphros—well, he loved Ares. “This fighting cannot continue…especially over me.” Turning to Ares with a look of dismay, Aphros smiled with the same sadness and solemnity that Ares had seen the day they met. “I love you…but how can I go against your father’s wishes knowing that he will destroy me?” Ares was stunned and knew not what he could say to such a statement nor to such a question. How in the name of the gods was he to respond to this?
“My father…and most of all my brother…” Ares shook his head in disbelief, “they would never—“
“I was promised to Hephaestus...what can we do? Our fates are cruel...“ Aphros reached forward to glide his fingers lovingly over the war god’s features, shaking his head helplessly as if he had no other alternative. The both of them had no other choice. As Ares lifted both hands to take hold of the one touching him, he shook his head. Ares stood his ground, though he was amazed by how Aphros could be so gracious at a time like this. How could such a helpless creature have reached so deeply into the core of his soul and set it afire with every feeling, thought, and emotion he had never felt before? It was unlike Aphros to behave this way after what they had shared together. Ares knew Aphros to be passionate, sincere, and most of all adamant in everything that he did. As unfamiliar and new as that moment was, he thanked Aphros from the very root of his being for allowing him to experience it. Whatever had changed Aphros so intensely, Ares knew there had to be a way out of the situation they were in.
“I...” Aphros felt more than defeated, but Ares would not stand for such an ending to come to them. What Ares wanted, he took; if he was going to be denied the one thing he knew he needed more than anything, he would have to take Aphros, too. Keeping his lover’s hand in a tight grip, Ares turned to his brother with a look of pure will and determination. As Ares began to speak, his gaze burned into Hephaestus; however, he was talking to everyone within hearing distance.
“I will not accept this. I will never accept anything that ordains itself worthy enough to stand between us—even if that thing is destiny itself.”
Against the better judgment of Hephaestus, he conceded to the pair of lovers and allowed them to take their case before Zeus at the benign request of Aphros. Even as the counterpart knew that Zeus was infallible in his own belief systems—and everyone knew how unpredictable those could be—Aphros knew Ares well enough to understand that he would never accept what was to come of them once all of Olympus learned of their affairs. Unfortunately, such a discussion of godly error was not to be done without all Olympians present—this would always please Zeus in terms of putting on a show of his powers. In the tribunal hall of Olympus, Zeus sat high above all others on a throne of gold. Of course, every known god and goddess was in attendance strictly by their king’s demand. Hera and Athena were sure to make their presence known by means of hateful epithets.
“Dear brother...I see you have moved on from Aphrodite...but by taking a step down to a counterpart. Such action is unlike that of a true Olympian. What do you have to say for yourself?” Athena shook her head in what looked like pure disgust, arms folded over her chest. Ares, having heard his sister’s words that were intended to sting, retorted in such a way that gave proof to their lack of bonding as siblings.
“Dear sister...still reveling in frigidity, I see. What is wrong...can you not find a man who does not think you one as well?” Ares sneered at his war-like equal, smiling triumphantly when he was shot a look of resentment.
“I trust my sons are on trial once more due to the wiles of another Olympian harlot?” Hera snapped casually, her eyes moving from son to husband as if she were silently judging the both of them.
“Enough, Hera.” Zeus spoke in an even tone of voice, his eyes locked on the counterpart that seemed to have stolen his son’s very heart away. “Olympian, yes...but this is an Olympian counterpart...”
“It does not matter who it is, dear husband. One of my sons has become a mad adulterer and the other is—“
“Someone you cast out because of his appearance! You are in no position to judge. You show your discontent through words or consequent actions when the slightest amount of beauty in this kingdom outdoes your own, yet you find logic in casting out your own child when they are not as beautiful as the ones you complain against! Enough!” Zeus had listened to his queen’s protests for as long as she had offered them in all their years of marriage. However, the king of the gods had grown weary of hearing the same things from his wife as if it were all she thought about—well, that and how he was always favoring his own ‘bastard’ children over all others.
“Am I to understand that only you are allowed to speak without repercussion? That you may act out violence, hatred, or adulterous schemes if only to get what you want without suffering the consequences?” Hera was not standing for such treatment, even if it meant that she were to be silenced forever at the hands of her own husband. “May I also deduce from your statement that only you, my husband, may do as you wish without falling prey to the circumstances your choices produce not only for yourself, but those you choose to involve in your petty games of treachery against me?” Hera’s face reflected disdain for her husband, but the words that she had spoken to him were more than enough to spark a reaction. The look that Zeus gave his wife after such a lengthy berating was akin to rage.
“Hera...enough! Chaos help me if you speak out once more and delay these proceedings I will have no qualms in banishing you to Tartarus!” Zeus gave Hera a moment to reply if she were ready, but nothing came. Hera acquiesced in bitterness, and then Zeus turned his attention back to the issue at hand.
“This is nothing you have not seen before, father.” Ares spoke coldly, as though he cared not one way or the other what happened; however, it was exactly the opposite. When before his father, Ares felt the pressure of living up to the expectations set for him as god of war—he had to keep his wits about him so that Zeus could not take advantage of his stolen heart.
“Are you questioning my actions as well, my son?” Zeus rumbled, lifting a hand to cover his eyes in aggravation. “The replacement for Aphrodite at your side...might he have something to do with why Hephaestus has summoned me here?”
“He does, my lord.” Hephaestus stepped forward with a hitch in his movement, his voice humbled even if he was feeling a second round of betrayal at the hands of his brother. “Once more, Ares has managed to seduce what was promised to me. I have done nothing wrong in this case but provide for Aphros. I have built him a place in my palace; I have allowed him to roam as he pleases without treating him as a master would a slave...I have not mistreated him and still he strays from me to the arms of another.” Zeus listened without speaking, but his mind was reeling with the many things he already knew about the two lovers before him. Hephaestus was a kind man, but he was not a desired man—Ares, on the other hand, was.
“I know my son well enough to realize that what Hephaestus says is true. However...” Zeus turned his eyes toward Ares with interest, “why a counterpart, my son? Why not choose a recognized Olympian with status?” The whole of the temple turned to look upon Zeus in mock-astonishment, but Zeus only waited for an answer to his questions.
“An Olympian with status, father? You yourself have called him an Olympian...all Olympians have status regardless of the lack in recognition of it. Such an impudent way to speak to your offspring...do you not wish to set an example for me? Oh...but you have. I follow in your footsteps and it seems that I still cannot do it right because the one I have chosen is not suited to your tastes.” Ares was losing his grip on the reality of the situation and only felt more contemptuous of his father the more he looked at him. As Ares began to speak again, Aphros moved closer and touched his lover’s hand to offer support in his vengeful speech. It was then that Ares gave in to his better judgment and grasped the encouraging hand that touched him. “Aphros is no replacement. As for status...he does not need status with anyone but me—and he has it. A counterpart he may be, but he is still an Olympian and still a full-blooded god. Or have you forgotten that you have created your own favored mongrel half-breeds like Heracles and Perseus?”
“I advise you to calm your temper and guide what you say, my son. As a pure-blooded god you should be more versed in how you speak of me if you wish to remain an Olympian in my kingdom.” Sighing heavily, Zeus looked upon Aphros with a questioning gaze. Zeus had not yet made up his mind about such a being that could tame one of his children as it seemed Aphros had. “Even as I am slightly intrigued by this particular choice of yours,” Zeus gave Aphros a once over glance and continued, “I cannot allow anything to come of it. This counterpart was promised to Hephaestus as part of the contract between him and Aphrodite. That contract is broken and now, as unfortunate as it may be, Aphros must take her place.” Zeus had finished speaking, but Ares had not. The god of war simply would not accept no for an answer this time, and Aphros winced as he could feel his lover’s grip tightening on his hand.
“I will not stop seeing him, father. I—“
“You will have to kill us both, my lord.” When Aphros finally spoke up, all eyes turned on him. It was highly unlikely that a counterpart would ever come before Zeus under circumstances like adultery, but it seemed that this counterpart was quite different from the rest. “I do not love Hephaestus, my lord. He is…a kind man and has never disrespected or abused me…but I—I cannot be expected to fulfill a contract I knew nothing of until it went into effect. I…I do love your son…am I a god of love only in theory and not practice? Why give me such a position if I am unable to fulfill it even for myself?” Aphros had decided that if Ares was going to put everything on the line, he would have to do the same in order for them to equal in their efforts to stay together. While Ares was astonished at what his lover had to say, Zeus appeared to have his interest piqued further than before.
“Your place in Olympus is that of a counterpart, Aphros…in other words, you are a secondary substitute for the one who had been chosen over you in the creation process. You are a lesser god, even if you come from the same model as Aphrodite. Lesser gods are not to mix with those greater than them unless the fates ordain it. In the case of you and my son…I see no destined future there nor have I been informed of one if it exists. Why should I override what the fates have not decided? Because you are in love with him? Love is not a valid reason and very rarely the cause of anyone being together…in Olympus and on Earth. Marriage and courting are not designed to be a perpetual tryst…they are strategic or political bargains struck between two parties for financial security or the better good of all.” Zeus leaned back on his throne, appearing to be quite exhausted with explaining the rules of godhood to someone whom he viewed as having no reason to understand them in the first place.
“My king, Aphros was promised to me. However, I know that my brother will not give up without some form of battle. I am against this, but you see…I have no choice. Aphros will die willingly for Ares than come willingly to me.” Turning to Aphros, Hephaestus appeared to be begging with his eyes as he continued. “If I were to prove my worth to you…even in a battle I…if I were to go through such an immoral act for the sake of proving to you that I was a better choice…would you consider me instead?” Aphros listened quietly, but without making eye contact with his contracted fiancé. Ares tugged at his lover’s hand to pull him even closer than before, almost as though he did not trust the blacksmith in the slightest to keep to himself.
“I…Hephaestus…I would never love you as you deserve—“
“That is not my concern. I wish to prove something to you...that is all. If I do this…will you consider me instead of my brother?” Hephaestus came closer and Ares growled deeply in the back of his throat, threatening the very ground that his brother stood on if he made any sudden moves to take Aphros away from him. Zeus, in the meantime, was increasingly interested in why his son was behaving unlike himself—and all because a lower being had managed to capture his attentions long enough to coerce feelings greater than a platonic nature. Aphros stood silent and did not know what to say; however, Ares knew exactly what to say.
“If I were going into battle, my worth is not on the list of things to prove to my enemy.” Snickering to himself, Ares gave Aphros a look which suggested that as the god of war, he had more important reasons to go into battle—especially then. Aphros could feel his face warm up with the heat of flushing skin, and he could only smile nervously at Ares for such honesty in a moment where their very lives were in danger. Zeus had watched the interaction between his son and the lover he was so adamant in protecting. Indeed Aphros was the same as Aphrodite, just in male form. Did he have the same wiles? One thing was for certain: Aphros either fit the same pattern as Aphrodite or he was truly in love and willing to sacrifice what little position he had left on Olympus. Regardless of the true answer, Zeus was ultimately fascinated by the scene in front of him. Moreover, he could not ignore the fact that Ares, god of war, had indirectly claimed that he would go into battle for a counterpart.
“I have heard enough.” Zeus narrowed his gaze and landed it on Ares. “Before I make my decision, I have one final inquiry, my son. The root of the war in Troy began with a beautiful woman—and you have always claimed that war over a woman was without gain. However, I remember that you eventually lent your strength to the Trojans even as you had promised it to the Achaeans...” Zeus began to chuckle before he continued, “all because Aphrodite—the one goddess said to be the fairest of all others—had persuaded you to do so. Secondly, you would never allow yourself to be seen openly with Aphrodite or any other of your consorts even with as fearless as you always have been—you would sneak around in order to be with them. Finally, I have never witnessed you showing a war-like spirit for your consorts, most of all Aphrodite. Given this explicit history of yours, for what purpose would you entertain the idea of going to war now?” Ares raised a brow at his father’s statements, and Zeus raised an eyebrow in return as he waited for an answer.
“In the first place, Aphrodite and Helen are women...this war is not for a woman. Next, Ascalaphus died in that battle...I wanted to avenge him, not win a mortal’s heart. Finally, my consorts...” Ares stopped, turning slowly to gaze at Aphros before reaching up to gently brush his fingers over the facial features he had come to admire so greatly. Zeus watched carefully, and it seemed to the god of gods that his son was having an epiphany of his very own as he gave his final answer. “They were just that and nothing more. This time...it is very different.” Zeus continued to watch his son: the looks shared between him and Aphros; the unfamiliar body language; even the tone of voice in which he spoke to or about Aphros—it was all quite simple to understand.
“So...my son, the malevolent and desensitized god of war...is in love.”