Settling back against the ruins of the altar, I tried to make myself as uncomfortable as possible.  My left arm was broken in three places.  As I laid it down, I hit one of the fractures against a stone, keeping it from healing.  I had no intention of letting a single injury heal for as long as I could prevent it.

Resting my head back, I swallowed, wincing. I could feel the pain as it radiated through my body and into the aether.

This was my oldest temple, the first that had ever been dedicated to me.  A hundred yearling bulls had been slaughtered and burned on the stones beneath me, the smell of charred flesh filling the air for days.  All of my sacred ravens had their origins in the birds kept in this temple, millennia ago.

The walls had been toppled in an earthquake centuries past.  Over the years, the wind had blown, the river had flooded over its banks, the leaves had fallen from the trees, until the temple walls were no longer visible and this room, once the main sanctuary, was hidden under the ground, buried under tumbled stone, soft earth and the wild olives that grew on the hill. My wolves roamed the uninhabited valley, no longer hunted by men.

I felt the aether ripple.  Someone had followed me.  If it was my father, I knew exactly what I was going to do.  This wasn't going to be like Diomedes. He wasn't going to mock me in my grief.

"Ares?"  The soft voice was puzzled.  Through the lids of my closed eyes, I saw the flare of a godly light.

Not my father.  My son.  No, my sons.  My three eldest, my godly children. All three of them.

I opened one eye.  The other was swollen shut.  They stood, hesitantly, staring at me, Eros, Deimos and Phobos.  Deimos and Phobos had the same expression, puzzled by my behavior.  Eros looked sick.  Unlike his brothers, he wasn't accustomed to seeing someone beaten and bleeding.  If I had been capable of laughing, I would have.  So strange to see the three of them together.  I doubt if they had been in the same room in a century and now they were standing shoulder to shoulder, seeming to draw comfort from each other.

Deimos, nudged by Phobos, knelt next to me.  He extended one pale hand, touching my face.  For once, he wasn't twitching or giggling.  His face was solemn.

I used my good hand to push him away as soon as I sensed what he was doing. No one was healing me.

"Your cheekbone is crushed."  He sounded sulky, as if I had insulted him with my injuries.  "It looks icky."

Phobos, his head held to one side, was studying me from behind his brother. I closed my eye.  I didn't want to be stared at.

"I liked Kyknos," said Phobos.  "He was one mean bastard.  Vicious.  Just the sight of him, in that red armor of his, and his enemies would shit themselves."

"Phobos!"  Eros hissed at his younger sibling.  To my surprise, the next hand to touch my face was his.  I knew it was him because I could feel one of his wings, soft and warm, as it brushed against my uninjured arm.  He didn't try to heal my injuries, just pushed my hair off my cheek.  "Father? Please, don't do this."

I opened my eye again.  He was close, close enough so I could see how clean the curve of his jaw was, how dark his eyes were.  He was the most handsome of my sons.

"I know you're trying to punish Zeus.  If we can feel your pain, then he can, too.  But he'll never admit to it.  He's up on Olympus right now, fucking Ganymeade, trying to pretend he's fine.  That everything is fine."

I closed my eye, sending a wave of energy through my body, tearing open all the wounds.  I could smell the sweet fresh blood.

Eros stepped back, gasping.

There were so many different kinds of pain: sharp, stabbing pains that took my breath away, deep; throbbing pains that breathing seemed to soothe; sudden spears of agony caused by movement; warm aches that never varied. How could one word encompass so many sensations?  Like love and hate, pain was too plain, too simple and unadorned to convey all this spectrum of suffering.

"Should we get someone?" Phobos was saying, "Someone stronger?"


I could hear Deimos' sneer in his voice as he answered his elder brother, "Don't be stupid, Cupid.  If we brought her here, Mom would become the first god in history to throw up."

A hand in my hair jerked my head up, sending flames of pain through my ruined throat and chest.  Deimos shoved his face into mine, until I could feel his hot breath on the open wound on my cheek.  His lips were curled into his usual expression.

"Idiot,"   He gave my head a painful shake.  "Here you are again, moping over the death of one of your worthless half mortal children.  Zeus' balls, you dickless moron, you've buried enough children by now, why should one more upset you?  All Olympus is laughing again.  Just like with Diomedes. Laughing at you."  He snorted in disgust as he dropped my head against the stone beneath it.  "Zeus is right.  You are a pitiful excuse for a god of war.  He should let you die and give one of us the job."

I watched him as he strode back to his brothers, wiping his bloody hand on his pants.  "Let's get out of here."

"I have an orgy in Corfu," suggested Eros.  "It's as far away from here as we can get and still be in Greece."

Deimos snickered.  "I hear the King of Corfu is bent."

"Seriously.  You guys will love it."

They left, Phobos giving me one, last puzzled look before they vanished into the aether, leaving me alone.   This buried pit was dark, quiet, a place where I could focus on my misery with no distractions.  Except my  memories.

Kyknos as a child.  I came upon him one day, in a mortal guise, found him playing with a crude wooden sword, fighting a pitched battle with imaginary enemies.  I watched him, pleased to see that even though he was so young, he already had speed and balance.  In ten years, he would be a fine warrior.  I greeted him.

He looked up at me, his dark eyes suspicious.

"I'm looking for Pyrene," I said, squatting down until I could look at him directly.

"She's my mother," he replied.  He wasn't looking at me.  He was looking at my sword.  It appeared as a plain, well used short, sword, such as used  by many warriors.  "Who are you?"'

Bold as brass, I thought, laughing.  "A friend of your mother's."  I paused before asking, "And who is your father?"

I waited, expecting him to boast, expecting him to say, 'my father is the God of War.'  Instead, the boy shrugged, swishing his sword through the air.

"His name is Ares.  He is a soldier.  I don't see him much."

His mother had told him who I was.  I knew she had.  Maybe he was just too young to understand what I was.

"Is he away fighting?"

The boy shrugged again.  "I guess."  His face brightened.  "Mama says he'll be coming to visit me soon.  Maybe he'll bring me a real sword."

"Aren't you a little young for a real sword."

His eyes flared, fierce and angry.  "I'll be six next month!  And my father says I will be a great warrior someday.  Like him!  He'll bring me a sword and teach me how to use it properly!"

"Perhaps he will."

The boy had sighed, his shoulders drooping.  The point of his sword began to drag in the dust at our feet.  "He doesn't come very often.  Mama says he is very busy."

"I'm sure he is.  And I'm sure he'll come and visit you soon."

An hour later, I had come striding into the yard, in my normal physical form.  The instant Kyknos had seen me, he had come running towards me, waving his sword.  He hadn't wanted me to pick him up, to coddle him. He wanted me to parry his thrust!

Phobos was right.  Kyknos was a mean bastard.

I lost track of time, cataloging each injury, making certain that none of them healed. Waves of pain radiated from my body into the aether that bound all of us together, that held the source of our power.  No one could touch that power without feeling my suffering.

The aether rippled again.  I could tell that a powerful god was approaching, but one that was more distant to me than my father.

Hades.  Standing over me, frowning.  I don't think my grim uncle ever smiled, at least, not during the summer time.  As had Deimos and Cupid before him, he bent his knees to squat down beside me.  One, black gloved hand moved into my line of sight.  His index finger touched me, under my chin, lifting my head.  He turned my head,  away and then towards him.  If I had been able to scream, I would have.

"Kyknos is your son, all right," he said, in his usual put-upon tone.  "He's been complaining continuously.  If he doesn't shut up, I'm tossing him in the Lethe."  He stood up, folding his hands behind his back in his usual stance.  My uncle was a predictable creature.  "I have never understood Zeus and I understand you less.  Why can't you be like him?  Why do you care so damn much about your by-blows?  Except for Aphrodite's sons, none of them are going to succeed you or even achieve immortality.  You know that."

I didn't answer.  I couldn't.

He bent down again, brushing his fingertips across my throat.  He sighed as he straightened.  "If you healed those crushed vocal cords, you could answer me, but then you'd lose a certain level of pity, wouldn't you?"  He shook his head.  "Why have children, anyway?  You don't have to.  Maybe one or two with Aphrodite, to give you someone to help you, but the others, with the mortal women,  are a waste of your time and attention.  Maybe Athena is better at your job because she isn't distracted."

He should talk.  He spent ages pining after Persephone.  When she is around, all he wants to do is be with her; when she isn't, he mopes and whines.

He tapped his foot, the soul of his boot making no sound against the dusty surface beneath it.   His frown deepened.  In his world, he is always standing on hard surfaces, the rough stones in Tartarus, the polished marble floors of his chambers, even when he visited the Elysian Fields, he followed the roads, avoiding the famously lush grass of Elysia.  When he taps his foot in his kingdom, it makes a sound.  Here, the stones are covered by dirt.  Footsteps are nearly silent.

"Actually, Athena's wars aren't going very well."  He brushed a speck of dust of his ornate black breastplate.  "Those Thracians won't fight unless inspired.  Damn Persians are going to overrun the northern border."

Did he expect me to leap to my feet, healing all my injuries, and run out to lead my soldiers?  What was another war against the Persians?

My not talking back was  annoying him.  Usually we argued, I wanted to send him more dead, he was behind on paperwork.  We'd been having the same endless, insoluble argument for more than a thousand years.  That's what Hades didn't understand about me and my children.  Gods stay the same year in, year out, unchanging, immutable.  My children change, grow. . .die.

I closed my eye, shifting my position.  I heard his sharp intake of breath. Good.

"Ares!  Be reasonable!  So a mortal died.  All right, a half god was killed by another half god.  Zeus was lazy and didn't extend the protection order to your son.  Kyknos died in battle, your name on his lips as a war cry! What better death could you want for him?"

If I listened closely, I could hear the swish of his cloak as he paced, the soft sound his boots made in the sterile earth.  "All right, so Hercules killed him.  What did you expect him to do?  If Hercules hadn't killed Kyknos, Kyknos would have killed him.  It was self-defense."

Hercules.  My half brother.  The son my father. . .never mind.  As much as I hated Hercules, Hades was right.  The bastard had no idea who Kyknos was when Kyknos attacked.  My cheek twitched painfully.  It had been a glorious battle.  Kyknos had been magnificent, whirling his battle ax as he charged down on Hercules, howling.  If that miserable blonde shadow of Hercules' hadn't been there, Kyknos would have succeeded.  Hercules would be dead.  I wonder if Zeus would be screwing Ganymeade as a sign of his grief over the death of Hercules.

"I don't know why I bother."  Another heavy sigh.  The Lord of the Dead was a master of sighs.  "Personally, I think Athena was wrong in this case, to take Hercules' side against yours." A puff of breath to express his exasperation.  "She should be more reasonable.  Goddess of Wisdom and all that.  She knows she can't win a war without your cooperation.  Sometimes, her petty jealousies are even more annoying than yours.  I have never understood why she gets so upset about your children.  If she wanted sons, she should go get herself some instead of mistreating yours."

I was a little surprised by that.  Childless Hades on my side.  Or, to be more precise, against Zeus and Athena.

"I don't suppose it will be any comfort but you might find it amusing. . Hercules is apologizing up a storm.  Practically whipping himself. He was horrified when he realized he killed his own nephew.  He's furious with Athena and Zeus for using him to that end.  He even tried to get me to give Kyknos back but I had to explain that a god can't undo the actions of a half god, either."  Another sigh.  "At least Iolaus is being more practical.  He thinks Kyknos got what he deserved and thinks Hercules is overreacting."

My bastard brother torn up with guilt.   Hades was right.  It was cold comfort.

Hades was muttering, more to himself than me.  "Sometimes I wish I could shut the doors and let the shades of the dead wander the earth.  See how Zeus likes that."

I kept my eye closed.  I could imagine the expression my uncle's face.  He would be sucking in his lower lip, his brows drawn together over his nose. As he made his decision, his face would clear, his expression going blank.

"I'm going back to the Underworld.  When you're ready, the war in Thrace is waiting.  Kyknos is, too."

I felt him leave.  Back to his kingdom, where he ruled with an iron fist. Back to the dark and the waiting dead.

Deimos was right.  I had buried children before.  Mourned them.  Gone on.  I was a god.  I wasn't some weak mortal who could never again see a dead child.  I could come and go in my uncle's kingdom as I wished.  He never stopped me from visiting my children.

But it wasn't the same, even for a god, for me.  Not the same as when they were alive.

Harmonia, coming to me to ask permission to marry her beloved Cadmus, terrified that I would forbid it because he had killed my sacred dragon. But he had served me eight years in compensation and now the debt was cleared.  I tried to be stern, as they stood at the foot of my throne, but I saw, in my daughter's eyes, how much she cared for that damned mortal.  Her mother had given her blessing.  How could I not do the same?

She had knelt, taking my hands in hers, her head bent so I could see the tumble of dark curls down her back.

"Please, father," she had whispered, her grip tightening.  When she lifted her head, I could see the tears swimming in her dark eyes.  "I love him."

I had a thousand reasons to forbid this.  He was mortal.  She was the child of two gods.

"I'll have to take away your immortality," I told her.  She had no powers as a god.  "Make you mortal, subject to age and injury."

"Cadmus is mortal," she replied, smiling, knowing the instant our gazes met that I wouldn't refuse her this, my beloved, indulged daughter.  "As his wife, I should be mortal."

"You'll die," I said, sounding as grim as only the God of War can sound.

"Yes, I will."

Such bravery, such foolish bravery, shone from her.  She was young and had never known any pain.  How could she understand death?

"Then you will be buried by your husband."  That was my blessing to my daughter. They were buried together and I took them to the Elysian Fields myself, turning them into sacred snakes, that they could be intertwined always.  Hades had complained, of course.

The aether stirred.  Someone else was coming to bother me.  I moved, restlessly, tearing my own flesh, breaking my own half-healed bones. Whoever was coming would have an unpleasant trip.

Someone approaching me, kneeling beside me, brushing my hair back, a feather grazing against my arm.

Eros?  What was Cupid, God of Love, doing here?  He was supposed to be off in Corfu screwing his brains out.

"I left them there," he whispered, his voice soft as his feathers, "so we could be alone."

I looked at him, trying my best to express, without words, my contempt for him.  To my surprise, he sat next to me, stretching his legs out, folding his wings back so he could lean against another pile of tumbled stones.

"They don't understand," my eldest son said, his fingers brushing through my hair.  "Love, that is."  He leaned towards me, pulling a few strands of my hair free of the blood along my cheek.  "I do."  He sighed.  "Do you remember the day you fucked me for the first time?  I was so desperate for you, so glad when you took me.  It felt so good."

Now there was a memory I didn't want to be calling up now.  What was he getting at?  I suppose, since he was the God of Love, of Sex and Passion, what else did he think about?

"Mother was all concerned with technique."  He chuckled, shaking his head. "She actually made a list for the first time we were together.  I saw it. She started with eye contact, then gentle caressing, moved through fourteen different kinds of kisses. . ."

Fourteen, I thought.  I can think of more than fourteen.

"On through all these different positions.  It was overkill, for a first time.  It was a lot simpler with you."

I tried to laugh and only managed a gasp of agony.  I could picture Aphrodite, so caught up in her job, trying too hard to teach her son and heir.  Me, I don't make lists for fucking.

Cupid was leaning towards me, stroking my hair.  I swatted him away with my good arm.  Why does everyone I fuck want to pet my hair?  I'm not dog.  I swear I'm going to cut it off.

His hand came back, resting on my shoulder now.  I watched him warily, but he made no effort to heal me.  He continued his one-sided conversation.

"What I remember most, what I liked best, wasn't the actual sex but lying with you afterwards, in your arms.  Do you remember?"

Of course I remember.  I'm a god.  I can't forget.  I remember.  I remember his wings spread out across my bed, the tips sweeping the floor, trembling as I fucked him, his hands clutching at my hips as I pushed into him, his every breath a cry of ecstasy.  I had my hands on either side of him, keeping my weight off him, since he seemed so fragile compared to my usual lovers.  I wasn't even touching his cock when he came.  I remember being surprised by that, how his semen started pulsing across his belly, his back arching like a bow beneath me as he climaxed.

And I remembered afterwards, after we had fucked for hours, that I had wanted to leave.  I had a battle to attend to but he had clung to me, his head on my chest, his wings wrapped around us like a shroud.

"I know you've been with all your sons, not just me." The hand was caressing me, drawing a languid pattern across my chest, his fingers sticking in the drying blood that spattered it.  His lips were so close to my ear, I could feel each puff of warm breath.

Little sneak.  Trying to distract  me with sex.  Figured if he got me hard, I'd want to fuck and then I'd have to heal myself.  I reared back, slipping my good arm around to push him away, shoving him back until he sat back on the floor, looking startled, his white wings turning red where they soaked up my blood.  I added a bolt of burning energy to get my point across.  The effort hurt like Tartarus.

Gasping, Cupid lurched to his feet.  He glared down at me.  I readied another bolt.

"You don't have to do this!"  he said through gritted teeth.  "The rest of the gods get the idea.  You're hurting and you want the rest of us to feel the pain as well.  But it's not working!  Everyone is ignoring you."  He bit his lip.  "Deimos is right.  Some of them are laughing at you, at you, the God of War, being sentimental about a dead warrior."

I threw the bolt.  Cupid staggered back.

"Father."  He straightened, his wings flexing and shaking, the bloodstains vanishing.  He looked down at me and sighed, sounding a bit like his great uncle.  "I love you."

He vanished as he said the words, knowing how I'd react.

Damn him.  Damn him to the depths of Tartarus.  I twisted my body violently. I had been with Kyknos, not long ago.  We were celebrating with an orgy after a battle.  Kyknos is. . .was a handsome man, who looked much like me, save for his long, broad nose.  Like me, he had his pick of lovers.  There had been a pair of twins, tall, long legged women with firm breasts, who shared his bed most nights.  We shared them that night.

I turned my thoughts away from that.  There had been another time when I held Kyknos in my arms.  Then, he had been a child and I had been his father.

It was summer.  I heard him, praying to me in the middle of the night, when he should have been asleep.  When I looked on him, I saw him lying awake in bed, restless with fever and pain.  He had broken his leg, fighting an imaginary battle along the top of a haystack.  His splinted leg was propped up on a stack of cushions.  He had a knife in his hand, a small one that I had given him.  He was sliding the blade part way out of the scabbard, then driving it home, muttering under his breath.

"Mama says I have to stay in bed for a month.  I told her I'd ask you, that you'd let me get out of bed before that.  I can't stay in bed a whole month!"

"Don't you think your mother knows best?" I had said, appearing at his bedside.  When I appeared, a smile had flickered across his face, quickly dampened as his movement towards me caused his broken bones to shift.

I had laid my hand across the injured limb, sending healing energy though it.  I didn't heal it completely, just enough to make sure he'd be up and about in a few days.

I sat on his bed, summoning up an army of toy soldiers, and we had played for hours.   I taught him the basics of battle tactics, enjoying myself.  I rarely had the time to play with my children, any of them.  I was having such fun, I barely noticed as he leaned against me, no longer moving the soldiers, just letting me command our armies.  It was only as he rubbed his eyes sleepily that it I realized how tired he must me.  I had started to stand up but his small hand had caught at my jerkin.

"Stay," he begged,  "Please."

With a wave of my hand, I dispersed our miniature soldiers and leaned back, pulling Kyknos into my arms.

"Mama sings to me," he whispered as he snuggled into my embrace.

The God of War does not sing lullabies.

The father of a little boy with a broken leg, however. . .

When he was asleep, I moved away from him, tucking him into bed and brushing a kiss across his forehead.  I had just straightened when his mother came into the room to check on him.

"My lord," she had breathed, gazing up at me with adoration.

No.  Damn you, Eros, son of Ares.  You know tactics and strategy as well as I do.  You just use them to a different end.  I banished the memory of sweet Pyrene and her son, focusing again on my corporeal body and its pain.

It would be so easy, to fade into the aether, to let it wash over me, taking away my pain.  Unlike some of the gods, I rarely existed in my pure, divine form.  I was a god of the practical and felt a body was practical.  Now, though, the flowing, glowing currents called to me like a siren song.

Like one of my relatives lurking in the aether, hoping to lure me there. Distracted by my pain, it took me a moment to recognize Nike.  She almost never took her mortal form.  Winged victory.  Cupid again, I suspected.

I concentrated on the here and now.  The pull of gravity.  The darkness, smelling of blood and dust.  The sound of my tortured breathing, loud in the silence.  The rough stones beneath me, the scent of old sacrifices still lingering there.  Something skittering away in the dark, some underground creature accustomed to privacy in this ruined chamber.

Kyknos in my arms, the broken end of a spear protruding from his chest. Kyknos in my arms, a fevered child.  Kyknos in my arms, face blank in pleasure.  Kyknos, dying, coughing blood, his hand clasping mine, his eyes staring into mine, my name on his lips.

Rage at Hercules for killing him.  Greater rage at Athena for goading my poor bastard brother into the battle in the first place.  And an anger without boundaries at my father, who was behind it all, manipulating everyone, including me.  How dare I love my child, show my love, when great Zeus, Father of Us All, was incapable of such pure emotion.  He said the words more than I did, but never felt them.

I tried to scream as the hot tears tracked through the blood on my face but my crushed throat reduced the sound to a low moan.

Someone was coming.  Not through the aether but digging in, through the old entrance.  I knew who it had to be.  I removed my tears but left the blood and waited.

Both of them, of course, the half-god and his mortal shadow.  Iolaus, his face white, carried the lamp.

Hercules looked better than I must but he still carried the marks of our battle on his body.  One arm was in a sling, he was limping, and a bruise purpled his jaw and cheek.  When he saw me, he gasped, stepping back. Behind him, I heard Iolaus mutter.

Hercules' throat worked.  I waited.


I raised an eyebrow in sardonic greeting.

"I. . ."  He swallowed.  Unbidden, Iolaus set the lamp down on a stone and retreated, giving us privacy.  Poor foolish mortal, his love for my brother caught him up in the ways of gods.  If I didn't respect his warrior ways, I'd have put him out of his misery years ago.  And if I killed him directly, then he would stay dead.  The God of the Underworld cannot undo the actions of another god or half god.

Hercules shuffled forward, obviously embarrassed.  He had come to argue with me, not feel pity, explain how he was truly blameless in my son's death. Let him.  I didn't care.

"I'm sorry."  He sat down on a stone, where Cupid had been reclining earlier.  In the dim light, I doubt if his mortal eyes could see the pool of blood disturbed by his boots.  He wouldn't know until he went back into the sunshine.  How would he react to see the stains?  Would he know what they were?

My mind was wandering.  The sound of my brother clearing his throat brought me back.

"I swear, Ares, I didn't know he was your son!"  He sounded as if he were in as much pain as I was.  "When Zeus told me why you were so angry. . ."  He couldn't stay still. but lurched to his feet. Like me, he both loved and hated our father.  "I couldn't believe they'd do that!  Zeus and Athena, trick me like that!"  He tried to gesture but was brought up short by his injured arm.  He stopped, facing me, looking down at me.  I have never seen a mortal who could look as tragic as Hercules.  Something in the odd tilt of his eyes, perhaps.  He knelt, awkwardly.

"I am sorry, Ares.  I didn't know he was your son.  But there I was nothing I could do.  He was trying to kill Iolaus."

And you, I added mentally, although, in truth, I'm sure Hercules would be more concerned with his friend than with himself.  Did Hercules know that someday he would die and be made a god?  Had father ever told him that?  The Fates, perhaps, who seemed as indulgent towards my brother as the other gods were?  Or was he truly ignorant of his future?


My wandering attention must have shown in my face.  I drew myself back to him, tugging at my injuries as I did.  He paled.  Enough of a god to feel my pain, too.  Interesting.

"I know what it's like to bury a child."

Harmonia.  Kyknos.  All four of my children by Demonice.  Good boys, all four, if not great warriors.  All dead and wandering the hall of the Underworld.

Hercules was still speaking, apologizing for the grief he was causing me.  I waited.  Was he going to ask me to stop suffering for the sake of the other gods?  I concentrated, catching the drift of his words.

". . .any other way.  I don't expect you to forgive me, though."

I might.  He was as much as puppet as I was in all this.  My pain must be clouding my judgment.  I  smiled as I imagined Hercules' expression should I speak forgiveness to  him.

He leaned towards me.  "I know something else, too.  I know why you're doing this."


"It's not to punish Zeus, is it?  You know he can ignore your pain."  My brother extended his hand and brushed at my hair.  I was definitely cutting it when this was over.  "You're punishing yourself, aren't you?  Punishing yourself for not being able to save your son."

Damn him.

He sighed.  The Hades sigh seemed to be common to all my relatives.  I watched him, gnawing his lip, his eyes unable to meet mine now.

"I wanted to punish myself for failing to protect my children.  That's why I attacked Hera's temples.  I wanted her to hurt me so that I could suffer as I deserved.  I was in pain of the spirit. I wanted pain of the body, too."

I healed my throat enough to speak.


He raised his head, startled.  I'm sure Cupid or someone had told him I wasn't talking while I sulked.

"Fuck off."

His eyes went wide.  Before he could say something, Iolaus came forward out of the gloom.  He gave me a brief glance, his expression unreadable.  He laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"We should go.  It's getting late.  There are wolves in this valley and I don't want to be caught here after dark."

Hercules nodded and stood, wincing as he did.  He gave me one last, penetrating stare, then turned to leave.  As he did, Iolaus reached for the lamp.  Our eyes met.

"Pity you weren't Herc's father," he said cryptically, then picked up his lamp and followed his friend.

They left me in the dark, sitting in a pool of my own blood.  Why had Hercules been the one to understand?  Because, I answered myself, he had mourned children.  Damn him.  Damn Zeus for spawning him.  Damn Zeus for spawning me.

Another disturbance.


She stood looking down at me, her face a pale mask, incomprehensible.

Why give me the capacity to love? I had asked her once, long ago.  I'm War.

Because, she had explained in her patient, pitiless voice, you must motivate mortals and love and hate are the most powerful motivations.  You must understand love to understand hate and you must understand that men will die to protect those they love or die to destroy those they hate.

Powerful, elder god, Hera, child of the Titans.  She reached for me, not with her arms but with her power, snatched me up and took me with her into the aether.

I thought I had begun to understand pain, its depths and dimensions, but I was wrong.  What I felt as she carried me transcended me.  I became nothing but the agony.  Ares, God of War, son of Zeus and Hera, ceased to exist and there was only white hot pain, without will or consciousness.

When I came back to myself, when the pain abated enough that I could be myself, I was somewhere else.

"This was the cave where Zeus was sheltered," she said.  "No one comes here. No one can sense it save those of us of the first generation.  Hestia, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter, they don't care.  Zeus won't allow himself to care.  You can stay here."

No comfort from my mother but no chastisement, either.   She vanished, leaving me alone in my suffering.

Kyknos was dead, killed in battle.  It had been his destiny.  I should celebrate his warrior's death.  And I would, as soon as I finished mourning the child he had been.

I lay back against the stones, breaking my bones, tearing my flesh, letting the blood flow, until I was healed.