War's Chosen
By Gwendolen

Patience had never been his strongest virtue, especially not when he was summoned by his father and then had to wait. The waiting was the worst and he hated it. He never knew what exactly Zeus might want; it could be a lecture about his own shortcomings, a sermon about his doings or his relationship to his mother or siblings. And sometimes it involved orders, things he had to do for his father, rarely connected to his main duty but still something only he could do. And very often it was something he felt loath to do but had no other choice than to comply.

He wondered what it was this time, as he studied the older god cautiously. Zeus' attention was fixed on one of his scrying mirrors and a soft smile was playing around his lips, a dreamy smile, tinged with the hunger of lust. Ares knew it only too well; after all he'd seen that expression often enough in the past. In some ways he pitied the poor mortal who'd caught Zeus' attention.

Trying to curb his growing impatience Ares shifted slightly from one foot to the other, while trying not to sneak a look at the scrying mirror. It was better if he didn't know who the unfortunate mortal was. It was always better not to get too involved in Zeus' affairs or Hera's for that matter. At least most of the time, there were always exceptions. Finally, after what felt like eons, Zeus shifted his attention from the mirror. Ares couldn't help but twitch under the scrutiny. Although Zeus had lately taken on the deceptive appearance of an elderly man, looking mild and gentle, Ares was not fooled by this. He could feel the intense, immeasurable power of the older god, just like any other god. Only the mortals were fooled.

"Ares." Zeus' voice gave nothing of his thoughts away, a simple recognition of his presence. A lifted hand beckoned him closer. A wave with the same hand to the scrying-mirror and the picture changed, but not fast enough for Ares not to see the picture of a pretty blonde woman laughing at the giggling little child in her arms. Now the mirror showed him the familiar sight of a war-camp, tents with standards - he easily recognized the colors and markings of Thebes - soldiers sitting around a fire, eating, gambling, taking care of their weaponry and uniforms,  sharing drinks and gossip.

The pictured focused  on one man in particular, a tall broad-shouldered man with shaggy brown hair, laughing with some of his friends while he whetted his knife.

Ares frowned at this. What was Zeus' interest in this soldier? Could he have something to do with that woman? Her husband maybe? The child's father? But even if he was that had never stopped Zeus from taking what he wanted.

He waited in silence for Zeus to speak.

"That one. Make sure that he doesn't survive the next battle, Ares."

Refocusing his attention Ares again studied the warrior and this time recognized the man. Amphytrion. He'd changed since the last time Ares had seen him; leaner and hardened by what he'd seen, his face had lost some of his smooth youth. A promising fighter with a good head for strategy. Given time he'd become a good warlord, maybe even one of the best Ares had had in a long time. But time was something this mortal wouldn't have.

"Care to tell me why?" Ares asked.

"None of your business," Zeus' reply was curt.

Forcing himself to remain calm. "It's just, I hate loosing such a promising warrior without knowing why." Needling softly, hoping for some information. If Zeus was willing to go as far as killing that woman's husband, she must be special to him. And that would mean trouble on Olympus, as Hera would not be overjoyed by her husband straying again. And that made this a matter of survival.

"I don't have to explain myself to you, Ares," Zeus said, his eyes hard and cold. And Ares knew that he would accept no argument, just as he would answer no questions and give no explanations. It would be better and easier to just do what Zeus told him to do even though he was loath to do it. And afterwards it would be best to hide until the big fireworks were over. In the hope that Hera would calm down.

° * ° * ° * ° * °

Ares watched with barely concealed disgust as Zeus, in the form of the now dead Amphytrion, pounded into the soldier's widow, who didn't even know yet that her husband was dead. She was gasping and mewling her pleasure, intent on the man she thought of as her husband.

His scowl deepened when he felt the shift in power and the tiny spark of life flaring up and he knew that a new life had just been conceived. He was getting another half-sibling. Wasn't it bad enough that Zeus was sleeping around again? No, he had to go and sire another bastard. Life on Olympus, as Ares knew from experience, would be decidedly unpleasant in the following years. Hera would be livid when she learned of the new conquest and the child. And she would take it out on everybody who crossed her way. Yes, life would surely be a joy.

The sudden wailing of a little child distracted Ares from his contemplation. He saw the woman, Alcmene, move slightly as if to free herself of her lover's embrace, but one kiss was enough to take her mind off her crying child.

Not really being able to give a reason as to why, Ares decided to take a look at the child. He's only seen a brief glimpse of it in the scrying mirror and now wanted to see the child. Amphytrion's child.

He found it in standing up in its crib, a soggy diaper the obvious sign of its distress. He looked down at the little boy who watched him with huge dark eyes and then slowly reached out to touch the mop of reddish-brown curls. They felt soft against his fingertips and he felt pity for this little boy who had to grow up without a father and with a demigod as sibling. And most probably Hera making their lives miserable. He would be just another victim in the endless, never-declared war between the gods.

Gazing down at the child who watched him with huge dark eyes, he finally leaned over to pick him up. There really wasn't a point at letting the child stay uncomfortable for the rest of the night. And he doubted that Zeus would allow his mother out of bed, no matter how much the little one cried.

Changing diapers wasn't something he was really comfortable with but at least something he knew how to do, thanks to some of his own half-breed children and their strong-minded mothers.

Once he was done, he held the little boy in his arms, felt him snuggle against his chest, full of trust. Breathing in the clean, sweet smell of the boy Ares wondered what would become of him. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was responsible for this child. He owed it to its father after all.