The two godlings ran down the hall of their father's dark palace, shrieking, tossing tiny bolts of energy as they ran. They were playing a game, picking targets and challenging the other to destroy them within the time of a mortal heartbeat. Statues, tapestries, vases, weapons, armor, all were knocked to the floor, lightly singed in some cases, broken and shattered in others.
"Success!" crowed Deimos, his white blonde hair sticking up from his skull like sharp spikes of dry grass. A bolt from his small fist sent a pair of crossed spears clattering to the marble floor. He pointed to a bust of his father, grim and glowering, carved from jet by a master hand.
Phobos, spun, aimed for the bust and missed, his bolt going wide and hitting. . .
Both boy gods stopped, frozen as if time itself had stopped.
Ares, God of War, brushed the ashes from the front of his vest. His face was twisted in fury as his big hands reached out and snatched his sons up by the collars of their jerkins. He gave them both hard shakes, setting their teeth rattling.
"Not," growled Ares, bringing the heads of the children together with a satisfying thud, "in the house. How many times to I have to tell you?"
"Sorry, Papa," howled the boys in chorus. "But Grandfather made it rain today and we were bored." Their voices trailed off at the expression on their father's face. He wasn't just annoyed with them, the way he usually was. He looked genuinely angry.
"Did you finish your lessons?" His voice was calm. Both godlings swallowed on throats gone dry. Their father's calm was more frightening than even their grandfather's lightning bolts.
Deimos shook his head, biting his lip, trying to keep the tears from rolling down his smooth cheeks. You'll be the chief lieutenant of the God of War, he told himself. You'll spread panic through the enemy. Your powers will someday turn the tide of battle. The encouraging thoughts didn't help, especially when his younger brother started to cry out loud. Phobos could be such a baby.
Phobos was sobbing, choked, breathless sobs, twisting his chubby hands in the black leather of his jerkin.
"Don't be mad," pleaded the little god, raising his pale eyes to his father's dark ones. "We tried but it was so dull and Deimos told Auntie Discord that if we could just run around for a few minutes, we'd be able to learn so much better."
"And Auntie Discord fell for it, did she?"
Both boys felt their hearts lift. Their papa's voice was deep and amused.
"Some day," sighed Ares, pulling his sons against his chest to give each of them a hug, "when your cousin Strife is old enough to walk and talk, your Auntie Discord is going to learn not to trust little boy gods, isn't she?"
Deimos and Phobos giggled, wiping their noses, snuggling into their father's warm embrace. Their father didn't hug them very often, not since they had gotten old enough to live at his palace rather than with their mother. They had discussed it, whispering in their beds at night, that while they were glad to live with their father, to be raised among the men and warriors, not their mother's simpering followers, they missed the way their father used to hug them. When he saw them only on visits, he hugged them to greet them and to say good-bye. Now, he mostly smacked them for being bad.
Ares stood up, a child in each arm, and started walking down the hallway. As he passed each ruined object or disordered weapon, they repaired themselves or hung back straight and correct on the walls. The godlings giggled at the sight.
When they reached their bedroom, they expected their father to leave them there, in the care of one of his servants. Instead, he carried them into their bedroom and set them down on the floor, then he sat in the chair by the fire where their nursemaid usually sat.
"Boys," said Ares solemnly, "you have not been your best these last few days, have you?"
Phobos' upper lip started to quiver. Deimos gave his brother a sharp jab in the ribs, then looked up defiantly at their father.
"Studying all the time is boring," said the godling. "When can we go with you to war?"
The God of War shook his head, smiling. "When you are old enough to sit a horse or drive a chariot. And that won't be for a few years yet."
Both godlings sighed. Phobos sniffled, wiping his nose on his arm. Ares sighed, leaning forward. "Do you miss your mother?"
Deimos jumped in to deny the charge but Phobos, who was, after all, just a baby compared to his older brother, nodded. Deimos felt better when Ares laid a big hand on each boy's head, ruffling their fair hair. Their papa had very dark hair. Deimos wished he looked more like his father and less like his mother.
"Your mother came to me today and told me she misses you."
The boys exchanged startled glances. They loved their mama but it had never dawned on either them she could miss them. She had seemed so pleased to send them to live with their father.
Their father continued. "She wants you to spend a few days with her. Would you like that?'
Phobos nodded immediately. Deimos said, "Will Cupid be there?"
Sometimes, Deimos envied Cupid. Cupid was older, to begin with, and already had a few shrines dedicated to him. Cupid had wings, too, which Deimos thought would come in very handy when trying to evade his nurse or Auntie Discord. Sometimes, though, Deimos missed his older brother just because Cupid was his older brother and it was in the nature of little boys to admire their older brothers, even if both those boys were truly gods.
"No, Cupid is going to stay with me for a few days so you can have your mother's undivided attention."
Deimos considered. "Why should Cupid want to stay here? He's love, not war."
Ares sighed. "He's my son, Deimos. And when you're older, you'll understand how closely the two are connected. Now go wash up. Your mother will be here soon."
Faces washed, scruffy stuffed hydras clutched in their fists, the child gods were ready when their mother, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, appeared in their father's sitting room, in a shower of gold and pink. Deimos had planned to stand back, to let his baby brother make a fool of himself, running to be embraced by their mother, but the moment he saw her, with her pretty face and her soft bosom, he ran forward, too, giggling as she swept them into her arms.
Cupid, who stood slightly behind his mother, moved away, letting his younger brothers greet their mother. When the younger gods stopped squirming and giggling, Aphrodite looked up at Ares, her sons clutching a hand each. Some message passed between the older gods and then Aphrodite said, "See you in a couple of days. Holler if you need help."
Smiling, Ares said, "You do the same. Deimos, Phobos." He waited until both godlings were looking at him. "Behave yourselves. No smashing up your mother's temples."
Aphrodite laughed. "Don't be so stuffy, Ares, you know I love to redecorate!" Then she vanished, taking her youngest sons with her.
Ares and Cupid studied each other for a moment. The God of War was about to say something noncommittal about how his son had grown when the young God of Love said, instead, "I'm not stupid, you know, even if Deimos and Phobos call me that."
The god shrugged, his wings rising and falling to exaggerate the motion. " Don't pretend you want me here. I know that Mother wanted you to give me a good talking to so here I am."
"You are here because your mother missed Deimos and Phobos and they missed her. And this gives you and I a chance to talk. To each other."
The younger god looked suspiciously at his elder. "What's mother been telling you?"
Now Ares shrugged, the motion so like his son's. "She says you're unhappy. I say it's a phase. She wants me to talk to you. I say just let you grow out of it. Another hundred years to so and you'll stop sulking."
Anger flared in Cupid's eyes, even as he realized his father was baiting him. "I'm not sulking!" he protested. "I just. . ."
Ares waited, watching his son. None of his children looked like him. He wanted it that way, told Aphrodite the first time they lay together, that if she wanted the sons of War, that was her problem but they weren't going to look like him. She had pouted, nibbling along his jaw, where she knew it made him crazy, running those smooth, strong fingers of hers over his body but he hadn't relented. She complained, whining that he was so beautiful, the most beautiful of all the Olympians, that he should want his sons to resemble him. She didn't understand. So Ares' sons were all fair-haired, with their mother's pretty features.
"Eros." Ares rarely used his son's given name.
The young god's head came up, his mouth set, his eyes defiant. Inwardly, Ares winced. The face was Aphrodite's but the expression was his, through and through.
"I don't want to be God of Love." The boy's lower lip trembled. "I want to be your heir, not hers! I'm the oldest! I should be. . ."
"You should be what you were made to be."
"But. . ."
"Listen to me!" Ares voice was sharp with command. "And understand what it means to be a god. Because you are a god, the son of gods, the direct descendant of those whose power made the world!" The older god's voice was deep, resonating with the power that was his. "You are what it is your nature to be!"
Anyone else in the world, be they god or mortal, would have heard the thunder in that voice, heard the strength and resonance, felt the very aether tremble with it, and bowed their head in defeat. Not the eldest son of the God of War.
"I don't want to be God of Love."
"Oh, for. . ." Ares threw up his hands. "What is it with the younger generation? Always complaining, always wanting something different?" Running his hands through his hair in frustration, he collapsed onto his favorite chair, hitching up one leg to hang over the arm. His son, confused by his father's change in tone, followed his elder's lead and sat, too.
Resting his head against the back of the chair, Ares looked at his son through lowered lashes. "So, what would like to be god of? War? If I were to take you to a battlefield right now, would you really like it? Blood and screaming and people dying? Does that appeal to you?"
"No." Cupid caught the end of one wing and started stroking the feathers. "But I could learn."
"No, you couldn't. You couldn't be the God of War anymore than I could be the God of Flower Arranging."
Cupid risked a quick glance at his father. He expected Ares to be angry. His father's reaction confused him.
"I know!" Ares sat up suddenly, his knees together, his fingertips perched on his knees, imitating the way Aphrodite sat on her throne. "You get War and I'll take Love. Should I wear pink or go straight for red?"
"Dad. . ." Cupid snickered. His father's imitation of his mother was funny, especially when he pretended to arrange his hair. "You're grown-up. You can't change jobs."
"No?" Ares cocked an eyebrow at Cupid. "Why not? Let your aunt 'Thena take War over completely. I'll take up God of . . ."
"Fashion." Cupid nearly fell out of his chair laughing at his own suggestion, delighted when his father pretended to consider the idea.
"What? You don't think I could handle fashion?"
"No. You'd have everyone in black."
"Yeah, but black goes with everything."
"Right." Cupid snickered. The laugh faded, though, as he realized his father was watching him closely. He took a deep breath. "How come I have to be a god of love? Don't I get a choice?"
Ares raised an eyebrow, summoning up a meal on the table between himself and his eldest. "Choice? What gives you the idea that you get a choice?"
Cupid picked up a slice of lamb on toast. His mother was a vegetarian. He was always glad to eat at his father's. The younger god took a bite and chewed it slowly, avoiding an answer. When Ares continued to stare at him, saying nothing, Cupid finally said, "People chose."
"People? As in mortal people? What does that have to do with you?"
"If people can chose, why can't gods?"
"Of for. . ." Ares snatched a piece of cheese off the table and swallowed it without tasting. "People don't really chose. They have to work with what they are given. What family they were born into, what skills they have, what kind of body they have to work with. Maybe there are a few alternatives but, for the most part, the son of a farmer is a farmer, the son of a soldier, a soldier."
"Still. . .if a farmer's son had a gift for art, he could become an artist. If a soldier's son wanted to raise sheep, he could!"
"Trust me. Very few soldier's sons want to raise sheep."
"I know! But if one wanted to, one could."
Ares decided to stare at the ceiling of his sitting room. It was black, speckled with stars that reflected the sky outside, except instead of rotating around the north star, they turned around the axis of his own constellation. Aphrodite had warned him that Cupid was restless. Ares suggested a more physical solution but Aphrodite insisted the young god wasn't quite old enough for that. Since it was her area of expertise, Ares had agreed to try this instead. Talking. For once, he was almost grateful that his own father rarely spoke to him.
"So, not Love." Ares watched the stars wheeling overhead. They were really very relaxing. "And, let's face it, you're not really cut out for War."
"I guess not." Ares heard his son's heavy sigh. "I suppose I'm a disappointment to you."
That brought Ares' wandering attention directly to his son. Cupid was slumping against the cushions of the chair in which he sat, his wings pulled around him like a shawl. The pain that caught in the God of War's throat surprised him.
"Don't ever say that!" he whispered, surprised that the roar he intended came out so feebly. "Don't you ever think I am disappointed in you!"
The tone of his father's voice puzzled the younger god. "But. . ."
" Your mother and I chose your nature when we made you. We decided you would be as you are together."
"But I'm all hers!"
"No, you're not." Ares took a deep breath, even though breathing wasn't really necessary for a god. "You are going to be a god, not of the gentle loves that your mother rules, not of happy families and romance and all that crap." He took another breath, not entirely pleased with the way he was saying things. Damn, he wished he was a little more thoughtful sometimes. "You are going to be a god of passion, as am I."
The boy god looked suspicious. "But you're War."
"Yes. And what aspect of War? The bloodlust, yes, the anger and driving ambition. Athena gets the dull strategy, the careful maneuvering for advantage and diplomacy. I get the anger and the passion," his voice emphasized the last word. "that makes men want to fight, need to fight. Someday, when you're older and stronger, you'll take on an aspect of that same passion, that same desire, and channel it to a different end."
"Really?" Cupid thought it over, thought over the strange feelings that had been filling him of late, how different they seemed from the overwhelming love of his mother's worshipers. "But why create. ."
"Why create another god for that? Why not just split it between your mother and I? Because there needs to be a place in-between the passion of the battlefield and passion of the marriage bed. That will be your place. And frankly, of all the gods, your mother and I are the most overworked. Those damn mortals spend so much time praying to Aphrodite and I that I am amazed they get anything done."
Cupid considered what his father had said. He really hadn't expected this conversation. He had expected his father to tell him to shut up and do as he was told. Then again, there were those stories Cupid had heard, rumors and bits of overheard conversations, that made Cupid wonder about his father.
"Do you like being what you are?" He didn't dare meet his father's gaze as he asked.
Ares sighed. "You are full of it tonight, aren't you? And I thought your mother was giving me a break." He picked up another piece of cheese, studying it as if held the answers he sought. It didn't. All it held were ground pepper corns. Gods didn't need mortal food but all of them ate it from time to time. Ares liked mortal food. Something to do with the amount of time he spent with them, he supposed. He popped the piece of cheese in his mouth and chewed slowly, aware of his son's eyes.
"Of course I like being what I am." Carefully, he met Cupid's gaze. "I relish it!"
His son bit his lip. Ares knew what Cupid was thinking and wondered how brave the boy was.
"When you were my age, you didn't want to be War, did you?
"No. When I was your age, I was as big a pain in the ass as you are." He smiled to soften the words. "When I was your age, I didn't want to follow my nature, either. Natural rebelliousness of youth, I suppose."
"So, it's true. That grandfather forced you to change. That he. . ."
Ares stood up. The conversation had now officially gone in a direction he was not prepared to follow. Cupid, sensing his father's discomfort, fell silent.
There were windows in the sitting room of the God of War. They were magic, of course, creations of a god, and gave views only of battlefields, one for each point of the compass. They changed constantly, sensing a battle and focusing on it. Ares pushed back one of the heavy black draperies. His viewpoint was on a hill overlooking a narrow valley with two tribes of Spartans, skirmishing over the river that flowed through the valley. The fight was barely fierce enough to count as a battle but there were some good soldiers among the skirmishers. Ares watched a few of them go through their paces.
"Your grandfather, " said the elder god, not taking his eyes away from the bloodshed before him, "did nothing. He let something happen, which is different than causing it to happen, that forced me to accept my nature. Not change it. I have always been what I am. I merely had to accept it."
"And you want me to accept what I am?"
"Exactly." Ares let the drapery fall back to cover the view. Often, he sat in this room, watching the carnage around him, reveling in it. With Cupid coming, he had covered all the windows. Someday, this winged son of his would understand the glory of War, but not yet. Even gods had to come into themselves slowly. "You will. Someday, you will glory in your power, your purpose, your nature, as I do."
Ares sincerely hoped the conversation was at an end. He wouldn't force it, he understood how important it was for Cupid to come to terms with his godhood, but he didn't have to enjoy the process. He'd suffered enough on his own account. He had no desire to suffer those pangs again for his son.
The silence began to wear on the god. He turned. Cupid was still sitting slumped in his chair, twisting the end of one wing. With an effort, Are resisted the urge to tell his son to sit up straight and stop playing with his feathers.
Finally, Ares said, "If you really think your mother and I are wrong, and you have no true gift for passion, then you talk to Zeus and he can. . ."
Cupid sat up, staring his father so intently in the eye that Are found his voice faltering. Had he made a mistake? Would his son take what were supposed to be comforting words as yet another insult?
"Why does he hate you?"
Cupid's voice was little more than a whisper. Ares blinked, stunned by the question. Like his mother, this boy had more things going on in his head than was obvious.
"Zeus, you mean?"
Nodding, Cupid added, "If he made you to be what you are, why does he hate for being it?"
Children. Ares closed his eyes. When his mother had learned that Aphrodite was going to have the child of Ares, Hera had laughed. Children are a trial, she had chuckled, shaking her head at her son. I only hope you have a son that is as hard on his parents as you were on us. It's only right. Well, mother, thought the god, your curse has come true.
When he opened his eyes, Ares found his son was still watching him, nervously, as if he expected the God of War to be angry. Funny thing, that. Ares had never really been capable of true anger towards his children, not the way he felt towards most of the rest of creation. Annoyance, yes, aggravation, all the time, but anger. . .
"I remind Zeus of his failures."
"Huh?" Cupid kept waiting for his father to tell him the conversation was at an end. Several times, he had fully expected Ares to tell him to shut up and go practice with his bow. He wasn't sure why his father kept talking but he was going to take advantage of it. "What failures?"
Giving up, Are sat down again, creating a deep chalice full of strong, unwatered wine. A god couldn't really get intoxicated, even on the best stuff, but it could be relaxing.
"When Zeus created the world. . ." Ares started, wondering if he really understood what he was about to try to explain to his son, "he destroyed what had gone before because he intended to create a new world, with new creatures in it, who would be superior to anything the Titans had made." Ares took a sip of wine, then settled for staring into the cup rather than looking at Cupid.
"He created humankind with the intention of making a new race that was perfect. Perfect in form, in nature, in thought. He created those gods as were necessary to direct the mortals he had made, then sat back to watch it work. He had accepted war was inevitable. War and the ambitions behind it drive humans to strive for greater things, not just land and materials, but all the advances possible to humanity."
Ares took another swallow. He was speaking very slowly, very carefully. Cupid, he knew without raising his head, was watching him like a hawk.
"He meant for war to be almost passionless. For advancement, for glory and bravery, not for the baser emotions. But he found that sometimes, rage and bloodlust are necessary to get mortals to risk their fragile lives." Ares shook his head. "No, that's not it. Zeus didn't discover that. Mortals found it out for themselves. Zeus thought he had made flawless creations but he had, in fact, imbued humans with own divine flaws. Hubris. Pride. Lust. Fury.
"So, he had to create another god, one who could direct those passions, that anger."
"Me." Ares managed to look up at Cupid. At least the boy was sitting up straight and had let go of his feathers. Wings. Why did a god need wings? He has asked Aphrodite that when he first saw his tiny child, held in her arms. Because they're so cute, Aphrodite had replied, fluffing them up. Aren't they? Ares had nearly gagged. Cute was simply not in his nature. "Every time Zeus looks at me, he reminds himself that he failed in his plans, that his humans are flawed because he is flawed."
"Oh." Cupid kept looking at his father so intently that the elder god finally had to look back into his wine. "But that's not fair!"
The whine in his son's voice made Ares laugh. "Life isn't fair. That's why gods and mortals play games by rules. To create a place where 'fair' makes a difference."
"Have you and Zeus ever. . ."
"Discussed my analysis of his dislike for me? I'm sitting here alive, aren't I? That should pretty much answer that question."
Cupid had given up on his feathers but was now gnawing on his lower lip. That was one nervous habit he had gotten from his mother.
"Listen." Ares tried to sound comforting, which was hard for him because it wasn't a tone of voice he often felt called upon to use. "The Fates rule us, even the gods. Zeus hated his father--with even better reason than I hate Zeus. The old man tossed his old man in Tartarus and someday, I hope to do the same to him. Look him right in the eye and push. It's my destiny, he know's it, and that is the other reason we hate each other." When his son opened his mouth, Ares silenced him with a gesture. "Don't get maudlin over this. Zeus and I know our parts. Someday, you or one of your brothers will probably look me right in the eye and shove me over the edge, too, and then Cronos and Zeus and I can work out our differences for eternity. I'll leave it until then."
Suddenly, Cupid stood up and crossed the room, his wings flaring out behind him. Ares was startled by the movement, and by the look in his son's eyes. Gracefully, the younger god knelt before the elder.
"It won't happen like that, Father."
Ares reached out and stroked his son's soft cheek, smiling into those young eyes. "You say that now, Eros. You and Deimos and Phobos are just children. Someday, after a millennia or two of having me as a father, you may be more than willing to give me the push."
"No!" There were tears in the younger god's eyes. "We don't hate you. We couldn't hate you. We love you."
Ares sighed, pulling his son to sit next to him. "Today. We will live a very, very long time, you and I and all the rest of us. You don't really understand. . ."
Cupid imitated his father's earlier gesture of silence. "You don't understand! Zeus was awful to you so you hate him. You've never been awful to us! We will never hate you like that."
"Really?" Ares tilted his head to one side, as if the angle would reveal something new about the godling beside him. "Maybe you're right." He pulled his son close, wrapping an arm around the slender boy, aware of how the younger god curled into that welcome embrace. "Have you ever heard the expression, 'only the gods are eternal.'?"
"Yes." Cupid shifted his weight, leaning as closely as his wings permitted.
"It's not true. We will live a very, very long time, especially compared to the flash of existence lived by humans, but in the end, we will fade away or be overthrown. New gods will come along. Or maybe mortals will just learn to survive without us. Can you love me for that long?"
Cupid pushed away, looking up into his father's dark eyes, his face flushed with the absolute conviction of youth. "Yes. That is my nature."
Ares smiled sadly, kissing his son on the top of his head. Soon enough, this god would have his illusions shattered, just as Ares had. Cupid didn't yet understand what the word passion meant, that it could apply to hate as well as love. Until then, he hugged his son and whispered, "Yes, that is your nature."
Then he pushed Cupid away, gently, until they sat a little way apart. To his dismay, Ares saw that something was still bothering his son. The God of War almost groaned. Maybe Cupid was just a little more mature than Ares had estimated and the boy wanted to learn something physical. Anything would be better than continuing this damnable conversation.
Ares, suppressing the urge to tear out his hair and scream "Now what?," nodded, indicating Cupid could continue.
"Are all gods created with a nature?"
"You were made to be War, Mom was made to be Love, Deimos and Phobos and I were made to be what we are? We were all made to fulfill a purpose. Right?"
Ares closed his eyes, trying to follow this latest line of questioning. "Right."
"Grandmother and Grandfather made you with the intent that you be what you are. You and Mom had to make an effort to make me what I am."
"Yeah?" Nope. The darkness behind his eyes wasn't helping. He might as well look at the boy again.
"Could a god be created who didn't have a nature?"
"That doesn't make any sense!"
"Yes, it does!" Cupid stood up, pacing, reminding Ares of himself at that age, all intensity and certainty. "I was made to be God of Love and Passion. You and Mom consciously did something to create me, right? I don't mean the physical thing."
"Yes." Ares was beginning to get an idea where this conversation was going. "We used our powers to shape you before you were born, to determine what direction your godhood would take."
"Could a god be born without anyone making that effort? Just, making love, conceiving a child, and letting the child be born without any attempt to influence it?"
"Like mortals do?"
Cupid's face was alight with the notion of a undirected god. Ares thought it over carefully. "I suppose so." He rocked his head from side to side, unaware of his habitual motion and how that sure sign that he was thinking things over carefully amused his son. "No reason to, though."
"Why do you need a reason!" Cupid was smiling. "You and mom could . . ."
Ares held up a hand. "Whoa! How did this get from 'theoretically this could happen' to 'you and mom'? Surely you don't want another baby brother?"
"No." The younger god's smile was broader. "A baby sister would be nice, though."
"Argh!" Ares said it as if he were angry but smiled back at his son to show he was bluffing. "This whole damned discussion has been leading to this, hasn't it? You sneaky little godling."
Cupid's grin showed the deep dimples he had inherited from his father. "No, not really, but I was planning on bringing it up sometime. God of Love, you know."
"Not yet, boy." Ares shook his head, though. "I'll mention it to your mother. Deciding to have babies is her department."
"You're not mad, are you?"
Ares took a deep breath and let it out. "Maybe. A little. Aggravated, anyway. We'll trade kids for the weekend, says your mother, you'll have fun. A little archery practice. Sheesh." At his son's crestfallen look, Ares opened his arms. He knew he couldn't embrace Cupid as innocently as this much longer. The boy snuggled into his father's arms again, sighing contentedly.
"Yes." He loved the smell of his father, so unlike his mother. Leather and wine and a musk that stirred him in ways he couldn't yet understand.
"Promise me something."
"No, listen before you agree." Regretfully, Ares pushed his son away again. "This is important."
Puzzled, Cupid nodded. "All right."
"As you grow up, our relationship will change. All fathers and sons have their problems, mortal or god. I want you to remember, and tell your little brothers to remember, that no matter how angry I get with you. . .and, believe me, you have never seen me seriously angry. It's scary and someday, it will be directed at you, for whatever reason." He was getting lost in his explanation. Ares started again. "No matter what happens between us, know that I was never disappointed in you boys. Never. You are my sons and I am proud of you. Do you understand?"
Cupid nodded, which made Ares smile sadly. "No, you don't understand. But you will. Someday. Now, please tell me we can go shot arrows or something. I have had enough conversation to last me for a century!"
Laughing, Cupid leapt to his feet. "Aunt Artemis has been giving me pointers!"
Laughing, Ares followed.
The rest of the weekend proceeded as the God of War expected. Archery practice. Getting called away to deal with some matters of War. Stopping Cupid from dropping eggs on warriors as he flew past. Gods don't get tired, Ares reminded himself as he collapsed into his favorite chair at the end of the second day, pulling a few pinfeathers out of his hair. Kid was starting to molt. Definitely time to get him back to his mother.
As if summoned, Aphrodite appeared before Ares.
"Ares!" she squealed, dropping into his lap. "You look exhausted."
"Your sons," muttered Ares around the kiss she gave him. "Speaking of which, where are the little hellions?"
"I tucked them safely in bed. They are so cute when they are asleep!"
"Good thing or I might smother them."
She smacked him in the chest, then let her hand slide inside his vest. "You're terrible," she murmured as she ran her tongue along his jaw. "So, how'd it go with Cupie?"
Ares pushed her back, snarling. "Don't call him that! Cupid is bad enough."
"Don't get all high and mighty with me! I have to put with with Deimos and Phobos so you have to put with Cupid. I mean--don't you think all those names are getting a little repetitive. Eros. Deimos. Phobos. Don't you have any imagination?"
For a moment, Ares debated pushing her all the way off his lap on to the floor. Then he glanced down at her cleavage and reconsidered. Sighing in resignation, he pulled the Goddess of Love into a tight embrace. "I have a very good imagination," he whispered, his voice deep and purring. "As you well know."
Aphrodite giggled softly for a moment, letting his hands roam across her body, before she stiffened. "Wait. I really need to know. How is Cupid? He really was upset about something."
"He's fine. We talked." At her suspicious glare, Ares spread his hands innocently. "Really. We talked. A lot. A whole lot. A whole lot more than I wanted to. Which reminds me, your son thinks we should have a daughter."
"Really?" Aphrodite looked at her lover. "What did you say?"
"I said I'd talk to you. See, we had this whole discussion about gods being born to serve a purpose, well, I guess I didn't put it that clearly but that was the idea and your son had the bright idea that we should have child without any purpose."
Aphrodite snickered, sliding her hand down Ares' torso. "Just for the fun of having a child."
"Something like that. Have a kid and see what comes out. He had this notion it would have the perfect balance between love and war. Kid's a romantic."
"Harmony," breathed Aphrodite, making her clothes disappear. She liked to undress Ares herself. "Perfect harmony between Love and War. Sounds good to me. One thing, though."
Ares, who was losing track of the discussion as her hands worked busily on his body, grunted, "What?"
"This time, she looks like you. Just think how pretty a little girl would be with your dark eyes and curls and your smile."
"Fine, whatever. Now shut up and fuck. After this weekend, I need it!"
Cupid--or Eros, if you prefer--watched from his perch on top of a case of weapons in his father's study. He knew, if they were paying attention, that his parents would sense his presence instantly but he also knew they were too distracted to notice. Besides, he was the future God of Love and Passion and he figured he might as well start learning the finer points of his vocation. He couldn't help himself. It was in his nature.