To Ride The Fire I-III
Strife hadn't really any destination in mind while he popped around Greece.
Looking here and there, seeing who was doing what, to whom, and why. Mostly
minding his own business, mischief being his main business in life. Mischief
and children. He had let a group of younglings distract him, about a dozen
kids, mostly around five or maybe six years old, running riot in the street,
screaming, chasing, having immense amounts of fun. So much so that he had had
to just join in. Chasing, growling, letting them catch him, pile up on top of
him and squeal and giggle and try and trap him, just to have their God
disappear from beneath them, only to reappear right next to them.
"BOO!" He shouted, making them squeal louder.
Strife rolled his head back and laughed, not the normally high pitched,
nervous giggle other Gods elicited from him, but an honest to himself belly
"That's cheating." One of the topmost kids argued.
"Hey, I'm a God, so sue me." Strife ruffled a dusty mop of unruly hair.
"You my God? Like daddy says when he's hurt his fingers or his toes?" A
small, ragged urchin wiggled her fingers at him. "He kinda staggers and says
'Oh, my God!' then hasta' go get better."
Strife scanned the child's mind, lightly, not wanting to cause any damage to
this small worshipper. He saw her so called 'hurt' daddy, drinking their
money, hung over, his wife lying for him to the child. 'Daddy's hurt himself'
and the child almost believing her.
"No, honey, not his God, his God is Bacchus, not me. I'm your God." He gently
tapped her chest, over her heart, and smiled. "Strife, God of Mischief at
your service sweet heart." He bowed to the hungry child and received such a
charge from her; pure, sweet, belief. It often amazed him, just how the other
Gods could over look this blast of pure energy, just because they over looked
"You're fun, can you play again soon?" She knew never to give a fixed time
period to an adult, they never kept promises. Strife was not surprised at
their disappointed attitude, it was one he knew all too well himself, no one
had ever kept a promise to him, unless it was pain.
"Yeah, sure, real soon." He leaned closer. "Just as soon as I can slip away
and escape the other Gods. They make me do so much work!" He sighed, deeply,
overly dramatically, playing up to her, making her laugh.
Then her empty belly grumbled.
"When you last eat?" Strife asked, already knowing the answer, her daddy had
drunk their money , again, the night before.
"I think it was yesterday." She replied, unable to lie to her God.
"Oh, sweets, here, you keep this." He looked around him, at the other street
kids he'd been playing with. Seeing the eldest boy, six years old, a century
or more in his eyes. "And you." He drew him forward, handing them both a sack
each. "Remember, this won't work for anyone who doesn't truly believe in me,
ok?" They both nodded with such sweet solemnity that the young God smiled at
them. "Dig in to the sack." He urged them on, watching them as their eyes
grew so wide they almost slipped off their tiny faces.
"Food." The boy finally said, holding up a chunk of fresh cheese bread, he
looked at the faces around him and handed the bread to one of the other
children. "I bet there's enough for all of us." He reached in again and drew
out more bread, and more, and more. Soon, they all had a chunk of bread in
their hands, eating happily.
The littlest girl, the one Strife had presented with a sack, ate her bread
like a ravenous dog, and it twisted the Mischief God's heart to see a child
that hungry, as hungry as his mother had kept him. Yet, being a God, he
couldn't die of starvation, no matter how he had prayed so to do. Once she
had finished her bread, she reached into her sack and pulled out a peach, and
again, and again, enough for all of them.
The fruit too was predated by that band of hungry kids. All eyes on their
God, all thoughts to his worship, even though not one of them knew what
worship really was. One of the six year old girls started to cry, slowly, not
knowing why, just too happy at not being hungry, for the first time she could
"Enough of the water works." Strife screwed his face up, half pretending to
be annoyed, half annoyed with himself for reacting that way.
"I'm gonna marry you!" The girl told him, taking his hand in one of hers,
wiping the wet tracks off her grubby face with the other. "I love you."
And the God of Mischief, self appointed Protector of Innocents, knew she
thought she spoke the truth. He smiled, thanking her, silently, for her
"That's always good to know, that some one loves me." He crouched down to
their level again. "I gotta be going, you keep those sacks, hide them away,
they're yours, all of ya' ok? No more being hungry, jus' don' let any grown
ups at 'em, ok?"
All the equally filthy faces nodded in unison, simply unable to express their
feelings, never having had cause for the words before.
"Right, I gotta be going, ok? See ya' real soon." Strife grinned, got a sea
of happy grins right back and vanished. He didn't pay too much attention as
to where, exactly, he materialised, so he reappeared in the space his aunt
was occupying, knocking her over, in front of everybody: almost all the Gods,
almost all the Goddesses, right in the middle of one of Zeus' parties.
Needless to say, one Strife wasn't even invited to. Instinct had taken him to
the biggest concentration of Godly power, and right into trouble, as usual.
Cupid entered his home temple, not by showy exhibitions of Godly power, but
by the actual door. He walked softly, as he always did, years of living with
his mother, and her unpredictable mood swings, had trained him too well to
walk any other way. For once in his life he was grateful for that early
training. He passed his son, playing all alone in the main hall, as he
usually did, and headed for the master bedroom. All their months of trying
hadn't resulted in a single hint of another baby, let alone an actual
pregnancy. The Love God was beginning to doubt himself, every time he touched
his wife he wondered what he was doing wrong.
Sighing, he pushed open the door, and froze on the spot.
All his months of self doubt, all his anguished talks with his grandmother,
all his sleepless nights worrying, and now he knew, had all the proof he
"What the fuck do you think you are doing?" He shouted, possibly every ear in
the world might have heard him, had he not been blanketed by his wife's
shields. Shields that would have warned of any God winking in, but never a
man walking in through his own front door.
He had finally all the proof any one could need, proof that supported his
mother's long held belief in her daughter in law's infidelity. He crossed the
room in short, economical strides and touched the beds occupants, before they
could separate, now they never would, unless he allowed it. Not while they
were both Gods at least.
"Cupid, what have you done? Release me!" Apollo tried to squirm free, all
his actions did was cause real physical pain to Psyche. She, in turn, cried
out at the actual pain, she had always thought Gods simply didn't feel pain,
not like this ata ny rate, she was annoyed to be proven wrong.
"Cupid, you don't understand, he made me do it." His wife whined, begging him
for her freedom.
"Oh, sure, you looked real terrified when I came in, not!" The Love God's
emotions were reeling, from anger to relief, finally, he knew the truth. He'd
bet anything it had been Apollo interfering with her fertility, making him
think it was his fault she couldn't conceive, when all along he'd been
protecting his own ass. Obviously the Sun God had wanted to fuck his wife,
not father children on her.
As his mood swung back to angry and vengeful, his mother's irate mind voice
called out for his immediate assistance.
"What now!?" Cupid roared, rage filling his voice with a sound never heard
from him before, the sound of death. A painful death.
Cupid appeared before his mother, already angered, ready for a reason to
strike out. When he looked at her, she had a ragged tear in one shoulder
strap of her dress, a discolouring bruise on a cheek, and Strife held firmly
between her hands, crushing the junior God's shoulders.
"He attacked me, deal with him before I do." Aphrodite's voice held such raw
anger, as much as her son's did. She thrust the hapless Godling towards her
son and glared at both of them.
As Strife fell into the raging Love Gods hands Cupid felt the last vestiges
of the pure, mortal love the younger God had received. It reminded him of
Psyche, and all she had done to him, the lies, the deceit, the pain.
Suddenly, it all had a focus, and that focus was Strife, for better or worse,
Cupid's world contained just him and his cousin, and his mother.
"So, what do you want me to do with him?" He glared at his mother, making
sure she knew what she was telling him to do.
"Whatever is upper most in your mind, I don't know, something. This is more
your dad's bag than mine." As always, she pushed the decisions onto others,
distancing herself from responsibility.
"What do you suggest, father dearest, after all, this is your scum?" He
looked at Ares, Strife's senior God.
"Whatever you want to do. You're the one charged with teaching him a little
responsibility, if not least simple good manners. Go with your hearts desire,
whatever you like!" And Ares turned his back on his son and his nephew.
Strife was looking into Cupid's face, too terrified to do anything, to
frightened to even speak, of all his life had held, this would be just
another beating, and if he struggled too much, it would just be all the
harder. His last conscious thought was of sympathy for his young mortal
friends, and the shame he felt knowing the Gods were no better than mortals,
they just had access to more imaginative ways to hurt each other.
Cupid registered the thought, it got a little twisted in his pulling it from
Strife's mind. All he cared about was it concerned mortals, and what did
Strife know of love, what did mortals?
And if Strife cared so much about children, then let him care all the more!
As he let the rage loose he changed, the grey/green monster he had once been,
he was once more. He threw himself and Strife to the ceiling and through it,
into the clear, tranquil Olympian skies, shredding the younger Gods garments
as he did so.
Strife had to choose, did he struggle, break free and fall, or did he let
Cupid do what he wished and hope he wouldn't be dropped? He chose to
struggle, a hurt he knew was coming was far better than any injury he could
imagine Cupid visiting on him. He twisted and pulled as Cupid held tighter
and tighter, as they flew higher and higher.
Once high enough, Cupid threw Strife to the ground, not bothering where he
landed, just watching him try to focus his thoughts to zap out of the
freefall. Terror robbed the younger God of all focus, every God knew that,
Strife impacted the roof of Zeus' halls, crashing through to impact with the
floor. There he lay, broken, alive, in agony.
All the Gods present stared at the younger God, almost spell bound.
Cupid flew back in, through the hole Strife had created, he swooped down,
grabbed the broken body of his victim and flew upwards once more. This time
several of the Gods, his father included moved outside, to the roof of Zeus'
"Enough Cupid, bring him down, give him here!" Ares shouted at his son, the
monster he had never seen before, but had heard of. "Mother, this is your
doing, undo it."
"I can't." Hera whispered. "The spell was too well crafted to his true
nature, even I can not separate them, only he can, if he really wants to."
She looked up to see one grandson brutally rape the broken body of her other
grandson. "And I don't think he wants to, not right now."
Once he reached his completion, had forced his body and his will on Strife,
he let him fall, again. This time he merely watched the limp body fall, then
left Olympus entirely.
As Strife crashed to the ground again he made no sound. He lay there, as if
he were dead, and for his injuries, it might have been better for him if he
Hades was first to the Godling's side, he reached out with his own powers and
"Strife lives." He announced, flatly. "But only just."
Ares arrived second, he knelt beside his uncle and nephew. He touched
Strife's face, as gently as he could, and the cheek crumbled beneath his
"Apollo!" Ares lifted his head, leaned back and bellowed for his brother.
His brother heard that shout, that desperate need, and knew Cupid had done
something, something that had shocked even the War God. And he lay there,
trapped by his cock still stuck in Psyche's cunt, unable to do anything,
other than humiliate himself, and he couldn't do that, anyone else yes,
himself no. Whomever it was that had been injured would have to settle for
Asclepius, he would not, could not bring himself to respond. All he could do
was look at the weeping fool of a Goddess beneath him and wonder what he had
ever seen in her in the first place. She wasn't even a good fuck.
Ares gave up on his brother after his third shout, he called instead for his
nephew, Asclepius, and the junior God of Healing turned up immediately,
having realised the real sense of desperation in his uncle's voice.
Zeus knelt the other side of his grandson from his brother and son, he
reached out a gentle hand and touched the God's mind, and kept it shut down,
idling, lost in unconsciousness, free of the undoubted agony the child would
be in if he were awake.
"I've never seen Cupid so enraged, what Strife did, it didn't deserve this."
The King of the Gods whispered, looking at his son, hoping Ares would have
some insight into his own son's thinking. All he saw was Ares' own confussion.
Asclepius knelt beside his grandfather and assessed his patient.
"Sweet mercy, what happened to him? Who did this?" He looked around him, at a sea of shocked faces.
"Cupid did it." Zeus finally answered when he realised no one else probably could, shock was settling in all around them.
Finally, Aphrodite arrived, the architect of the afternoons disaster. She really hadn't seen Strife's state too clearly when he fell through the ceiling, she hadn't witnessed the younger God's rape, nor final fall from the skies either. She honestly thought Strife was all right.
"Why isn't he on his feet yet?" She asked, approaching the group from behind Ares and Hades, unable to fully see Strife. "Where's Cupid?" She looked for her son, ready to thank him, then as she arrived at the scene of Strife's final fall and she saw what her son had done, in her name. "Oh fuck, Strife?" She could hardly recognise him as the wounds all over his body began to bleed and swell, obscuring his features.
"Did his landing on you really deserve this?" Hades looked at his niece and glared at her. "We all know just how much you hate Strife, though I, for one, am at a loss to know why. But did he really deserve this?"
"Where's Cupid?" The Love Goddess asked, earning her an angry glare from her uncle, her father and even her brother, her former lover.
"Hiding, cowering away if he has any sense what so ever." It was Hera who spoke to her. "I don't think he has won too many friends here today, do you?" The Queen of the Gods cast her mind about, tracing her grandson's movements on Olympus, finding the trapped pair of Gods as she did so. "Go look after your grandson, and see to your daughter in laws needs, if you can." She pointed towards Cupid's temple and ushered the Goddess away. "Strife doesn't need you, you've done enough here for one day."
"I never meant this to happen." Aphrodite pleaded her case, whined at them, even let a single tear escape, to no avail.
"I'm sure that will be such a comfort to him, go away, can't you see when you are simply not wanted?" Hera turned her back on the Love Goddess and crossed to stand directly behind Ares, gently she placed a hand on her youngest son's shoulder.
Ares looked up at her touch, curious as to what she could possibly want.
"What is it mother, what do you want?" He didn't let his eyes linger on her face, he never did, it wasn't as if he really needed to see the hate she bore for him.
"Someone should go tell Eris what's happened, she might want to know." She sounded as if she were sincere, Ares couldn't find any hidden agenda in her topmost thoughts, but then, he was aware that she knew he was there, as she always did.
"I suppose, but I don't think she'll care." Ares rose, after touching Strife's face one more time, as gently as he could. "You couldn't make her care if the Titans themselves would kill her if she didn't."
"I know, son, but it's worth a try, and she does have to know, she is his mother." Then she heard her own words, and looked at her son. "Please, Ares, no comments, just this once?" She sounded so exhausted, so weary of the centuries old war she had been waging against Ares.
"I'll go, just leave off the fake concern." He turned to Hades, and asked a boon of his uncle. "If he wakes, could you tell him where I am, I'll be keeping his hag of a mother from coming here and laughing at him."
"Surely." Hades promised. "And when you're ready to see him yourself, he'll be with me."
Ares almost panicked at that statement, he had already lost his nephew to death once, he didn't want to lose him there again, ever.
"He's not dead, he will not die, okay?" Hades ushered Ares on about his errand. With a silent nod the War God vanished.
In Cupid's temple Aphrodite found Bliss still sitting in the main room, alone, playing.
"Hey, sweaty, where's your mamma? What ya' doing here all alone? Have you seen your daddy?" She crouched down beside her grandson, revelling in the pure love all children gave off when they felt safe, secure, happy. If she but knew it, she was echoing her hurt nephews thoughts from just before she herself had had him injured.
Bliss sat back, looked at his grandmother and then pointed to the bed room, and returned to his quiet game. He felt the world shift, just moments ago, and he felt a heart break, yet, being so young no one would ever ask him what was going on.
Aphrodite entered the bedroom and found Apollo and Psyche trapped together, she couldn't help it, as concerned as she was for Strife, she enjoyed the deep, ruddy blush that suffused Apollo's entire body. She knew, in her heart of hearts, that if Strife had been there, he too would have enjoyed the mischief in herant in their predicament. Yet, now she knew what had driven her boy to such an act of violence against his cousin, she also knew what should happen to the Gods really responsible.
"So, caught at last then?" She touched them, moved them to the area to the left of Strife's last location. Only to find the younger God was still there, now she was really concerned, they should have healed him and moved him by now, shouldn't they?
"What's wrong? What really happened?" She knelt down, in the location Ares had vacated and touched her nephew's nearest finger. Enough to find out what had happened to his body, enough to know what was causing such abject horror and care in the other Gods. "Oh, little pum'kin, I'm sorry." She whispered.
"Who, or what, is that?" Hera pointed to the deeply read mass of flesh before them.
"That is what drove Cupid into a rage in the first place. He found them, sealed them together and left them to come see what I wanted." She looked at the Goddess of Faithful Marriage and smiled, sadly, at her. "I'll leave them to you to deal with, I have a grandson who needs me, and a son I need to find, if you excuse me.." She slowly faded, taking a long last look at Strife's still broken body as Asclepius attempted to repair all the damage, one fracture at a time. Just before she totally faded she showed Hera what she had learned on touching Strife.
As she realised the truth, Hera wept for her grandsons. The rapist and the raped. Turning to face Apollo and Psyche, the Gods truly responsible for Strife's punishment, she too got angry. She focused on her grandson's wife, the ex-mortal, she who desired her precious adventure above all else. Including her husband. It was an infidelity too many.
"Take a good look at him, harlot, see what your fucking has done!" She wrenched Psyche's head up and towards Strife, making sure she had a clear view of all the damaged caused to the young God. "If you want adventure, then live it, slut, one day at a time, like all you other squalid little mortals." She pushed out with her own powers and found that spark of Godhood gifted to her on her wedding day, along with the blessing of her marriage by Hera herself.
Hera ripped that spark free and cursed her own blessing.
"Mortal you were born, mortal you will die. Alone, unmarried, divorced from my children, and your children. You wanted no more, then have no more.!" And Hera rendered her barren. As soon as Psyche changed back to her born state, the spell binding God to God was nullified, but, before Apollo could leave Hera grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to his son's side, still naked.
"Look at what you did. Really look, inside!" She shook him for good measure, felt his gasp in horror at just what Cupid had done.
"Careful Ace, you cut the foetus and he might yet bleed to death. He's not fully recovered from the last time." Then Apollo knew that his son was only just able to cope with the minimum of Strife's wounds, he'd not had the time to look fully into his patient's state. Getting him stabilised was proving hard enough on its own. "Here, let me help." He fused two tiny shards of bone back together, reforming the first cervical vertebrae, and work steadily on, unheeding of his nakedness.
Ares found Eris, toying with mortals, as always. She had the thief Autolycus on a chain, one of their brother Hephaestus' if he were not mistaken. Looking at the other end Ares was entirely unsurprised to find Iolaus, though he really wouldn't want to be in his sister's place when Hercules found out. He put those thoughts to one side, he had something to do, and it really needed doing.
"Sister, mother sent me to find you." He looked at the mortals and desperately wished they weren't there, but against the holding power of those chains, his desires were powerless. "Strife has been hurt." He spoke plainly, looking back towards his sister, lifting the chain from her hands as his words distracted her for a moment.
Then she laughed.
Then she cheered.
Then she would have danced a jig if she weren't being choked by her own miss-acquired chain.
"So?" She finally gasped.
"So?" Ares mocked. The sound of his voice caused Iolaus to worry. If it was strong enough to hurt Strife, and Ares witnessed it, was Strife dead again, had Ares been unable to save him, again?
"Is he dead?" The hunter's hesitant question drew the War God's attention, and what Iolaus saw there, the pain they echoed, made him realise Strife might be better off if he were dead. "How?" He swallowed. "Will he recover? Can we help?" There was no love lost between himself and the War God, but having buried that young God once, he really couldn't face it, and by extension Hercules' own possible mortality, again.
"Cupid did it." Ares' eyes shadowed, reliving an inner vision. "And he did it because I told him to do what he liked." Ares' voice almost faltered. "And he almost killed Strife, and do you want to know what horrendous thing Strife did to deserve this pain, this humiliation, the rape? Huh? Shall I tell you?" Ares didn't wait for a response, he just carried on regardless. "He materialised too close to Dite and she tore her dress. That's it, that's all. She tore her fucking dress and Cupid dropped Strife from the clouds, smack!" He shook his sister in the chains, roughly, for emphasis. "Right through the roof." He smiled, coldly at her. "And you'll be so happy to know that he swooped down, saw what he had done and landed." He paused, seeing the growing relief in the mortals eyes, that they believed Cupid was feeling guilty for his action. "And he picked him up again, carried him back into the sky, fucked him hard and fast, and threw him back down to the ground." Again he shook the chains viciously." Where he remains, still, because he can't be moved, because there isn't a number high enough for all the bone fragments to be counted."
At last he fell silent.
"And Cupid? He's under arrest, or whatever you Gods do in cases like this?" Autolycus looked so hopeful that Ares almost pitied him the truth he was about to hear. Almost, but not quite.
"Cupid? He flew off somewhere, free and as casual as you like." Then the tenuous link he had with his mother flooded with new knowledge, and that fed his rage. "That bastard dies!" He screamed, slammed his free hand through the nearest wall. "I will kill that God forsaken shit myself!"
Iolaus shuffled forward, as best he could, he reached out a trembling hand, but reached out anyway. Death wasn't new to him, he had little fear of that, the pain that often preceded it he could live without though.
"Who, Ares, who is dead, who will you kill, and why? Tell us, talk to us, we can't help if you don't tell us what's happening?"
"Cupid has forced a child on Strife's body." He left the words plain, devoid of emphasis, devoid, almost, of inflection.
No one spoke, no one moved.
Then Eris took in as deep a breath as the chains allowed, tilted her head back and screamed. The pain, the history, the raw hurt in that sound carried, for miles around. To every Godly ear currently on Earth.
To Hercules and Xena, who failed to understand it. To Aphrodite, who remembered what caused it, before and now. And to Cupid who huddled in a tight ball, in a forest, nowhere, who regretted it with every fibre of his being.
He couldn't believe what he had done, he knew he had wanted, so bad, to do it, and had enjoyed doing it. Losing control, letting the rage carry him. Riding the fire as his father called it. Oh, he had rode the fire, and had fallen off, lost control, so totally, that he knew he could never go back. Not now he'd killed his cousin, killed him for tearing his mother's dress. And in such a fashion.
He tore the symbol of Love from his own neck and crushed it in his fingers. There was little he could do about being a God, until the others took it from hm, but never again would he call himself the God of Love. He simply didn't deserve it.
On the Olympian pathway, where he had landed, Cupid's cousin, and his child, continued to survive.
On Earth, Ares held his sister as she vowed such torments on her nephew, still in the chain.
Iolaus and Autolycus had been freed, they had gone to find Cupid, a length of chain in their hands, and would bring him back, alive.
Aphrodite was too busy weeping, guilt filling her, to continue searching for her son. As she sat on the side of a city street, a small group of raggedly dressed children surrounded her, they sat beside her and waited. When she finally ran out of tears to shed, the Love Goddess looked up and finally saw her companions.
"Are you hungry?" The eldest boy asked, dipping his hand into an empty sack and pulling out a piece of freshly baked cheese bread.
"Thank you." Aphrodite managed to whisper her thanks, and as her hand touched the bread, she knew, she knew what had distracted Strife that he fell onto her. Looking at that lump of bread, she had had her son maim, rape and forcibly impregnate Strife, for a loaf of bread and a child's smile.
"That's two." Bliss told his great grandmother as she sat down beside him, ready to share his toys.
"Two what, dear?" Hera was, indeed, on the floor, playing with the now parentless child.
"Two hearts, they've broken." He informed her.
"Can't they be fixed?" Hera didn't doubt the child's words, he was a Love God after all.
"Not yet." Bliss lifted a new toy and handed it to Hera. "You can play with this one, if you like?"
"Why, thank you, I think I shall." Hera smiled, tightly, but managed to show the child she bore him no ill will for his parents actions. "After this game, shall we go get something to eat?"
"That'd be nice, gre'gr'ndma." Bliss smiled, heartbreaks forgotten, for now.
The street urchins looked after their sad friend. They fed her, lead her to where she could sleep safely and they found a ragged old cloak to hide her fine robes. They worried about her. She reminded them so much of their God that they prayed, as a child prays, openly, from the heart, out loud.
"We found a lady; we think she's a lady God, she's too sad to play. Wish you were here to play with." The little girl sighed, deeply, and asked her new friend if she were hungry yet. "Do you want another peach?" Simple direct question, earning the first simple direct answer she had uttered since they had found her. However many days ago that had been.
"Th.. thank you, that would be nice." Aphrodite looked into the girls face and tried to smile. "St.." She faltered on her nephew's name. Memories that were still too heavy to bear crowded her; but the longer she struggled with it, the stronger she became. "There was an accident, Strife was hurt. It'll be a while until he can come play with you again." She finally managed to talk around the truth, as all adults do when they want to protect something. At that moment the former Goddess of Love so desperately wanted to protect Strife's innocents from the truth, them and herself.
"Will he get better then?" She asked.
"Eventually." Aphrodite looked to the cloudless sky and wondered if she were a liar or not.
"Well, that's alright then." She reached into her sack and fished out a peach for herself. She sat, eating noisily, enjoying every morsel of that fresh, ripe fruit.
"Strife really likes peaches, I think they might be his favourite fruit." Aphrodite drew the ragged edges of the cloak the children had given her just a little closer together, as if keeping out a cold wind where there was no wind.
"Mikos is selling some of the peaches. He said we could buy meat if he sold some; him and the other boys is gone selling them. Not many of them, that'd be rude." She finally ran out of things to discuss with the lady God, so as children always will, she went to the heart of her confusion. "Are you a lady God then, like the others said?"
"Yes, for what little it's worth." Aphrodite reached up to her neck and yanked off the necklace that hung there. "It's not like I'm really any good at it." She whispered the last part, mostly to herself, so the little girl left her to her own, adult, devices and found a beetle to play with instead.
Aphrodite crushed the little emblem of her office. She rolled it between her fingers until it was unrecognisable.
"I quit!" She muttered and threw the little ball of Hephaestian metal as far and as hard as she could, getting it well away from her.
Ares still held Eris in the chain. It wasn't that he feared what she would do to his son, more what he feared she would do to her own son. They had been sitting there, waiting to be told it was safe to bring her back to Olympus, for two whole days. Ares had sat there with her, patiently waiting, and now his patience with both her and the wait was at an end. He focused his mind elsewhere and vanished, taking his sister with him.
They reappeared in a forest, facing Hercules. The hero was currently alone since Iolaus and Autolycus were still looking for Cupid. The look of shock on his face would have amused the War God, even only two, maybe three days ago. A lifetime before that day. Or so it seemed.
"Ares." Hercules greeted his brother cautiously, then noticed Eris was his prisoner. "Eris?" His voice squeaked, slightly, over his sister's name. Then he remembered the scream from two days before. Somehow instinct told him that that banshee wail, the likes of which he'd never heard since Eire, had come from Discord's heart and throat.
"What's happened?" he finally looked away from his sister, to the unnaturally quiet War God.
"Two days ago; Cupid attacked Strife, carried him into the sky, threw him to the ground. Right through the roof of dad's temple no less. Then he flew down, grabbed him, took him up again, raped him, forced his body to conceive a child, finally he threw him back down again." Ares gave the very minimum of facts to his hero brother. He looked, and sounded exhausted.
"Why is Eris in chains then? If Cupid did it?" Hercules heard the facts, he simply couldn't take them in, not yet.
"Two reasons; one, to stop her hunting down Cupid. And two, to stop her going to Strife and tormenting him, hurting him even more than Cupid did." Ares pulled on the chain, making his sister sit down beside him on a fallen log conveniently situated beside the road. "I have to get back to Olympus, it's been two days. Two days and I still haven't heard how he is, if he's alive or dead. But I can't take her with me, I can't risk it." He looked up at Hercules as the hero stood motionless, watching him as he spoke. "Can you hold onto her, while I see how Strife is? Please?" It was that last word that won over Hercules. He had never heard of Ares ever begging anyone for anything. Not in his personal hearing anyway.
"Certainly." He reached out and took the end of chain in Ares' hand, he met his brother's exhausted eyes. "I take it that the damage was considerable, beside the rape and child that is?"
"His skeleton was shattered." The way Ares spoke made shivers dance up and down the hero's spine. "Sometimes, it's a curse being a God. When you can't die, can't escape into Hades' domain, can't live with the agony. You can't die from it and begging doesn't help."
Hercules suddenly realised Ares was speaking from very bitter, personal, experience. For countless minutes he stood there, looking at his brother and holding his sister in a Hephaestian chain. It all seemed so unreal. It all seemed all too real.
"Go, see to him, tell him.." He paused, knowing neither Strife nor Ares would ever believe his well wishes, yet he did mean them. "Tell him I wish him well, okay?"
"You do?" The surprise was so clear to hear in Ares' voice it almost physically hurt Hercules to listen to it.
"He's my nephew too. I sometimes think you lose sight of that fact. And, no matter what he has done to me, to Serena, he paid for that, he died and came back. Fresh slate as they say." Hercules paused before he finally asked the question he most wanted answered, unsure if he was going to get any sort of an answer at all.
"What did he do, that Cupid did all that?" He asked as softly, as gently as he could. Even then the words brought Ares' eyes to his, the horror so clearly evident in them. The hero wondered how he had ever missed the show of emotions he now clearly recognised in Ares' face before.
"He bumped into 'Dite and she tore the strap of her dress."
"And?" Hercules demanded the rest of the story this time. There had to be more to it than that. A ripped dress, surely not?
"And that's all!" Ares stood, facing him. "She ripped her dress, that's it, that's it all. There is no more." Ares extended his powers creating an image, from his own memory, of Asclepius trying his best to treat the grievously injured young God. "And he did that." He pointed to the image as it floated in the air between them.
Eris twisted and pulled, trying to get her freedom. The image was before her too, there was no way she could avoid seeing it. After all she had done to Strife, he was still her son. Cupid had done to him, directly, what he had caused to happen to her. The child he created by another's rape, he had raped and damaged. One prank too many.
"Let me go!" She screamed at her brothers.
"Why? So you can go hurt him some more?" Ares accused her of the basest of intentions towards her own son. She had to admit it was a valid accusation, up till now, but this, this was so different. Yet Ares just couldn't see it. Couldn't be allowed to see it.
"You go, I'll take care of her." Hercules squeezed Ares' shoulder, not saying the words he knew Ares knew he so desperately wanted to say.
Ares nodded anyway, and vanished.
Two days of wandering had brought the former God of Love to a small city. He had spent some of his energy reabsorbing his wings. For the first time in so long that he couldn't remember, he was wingless. He walked through the city gates, dressed in basic black leather pants, a very plain shirt that had once been white, and a basic black leather vest. The former Love God carried no weapons, except for his inner rage.
The guards looked at him, at his unarmed status and decided he would be fun to play with.
"Halt!" One of them shouted, right in the blond man's face.
"Get out of my way." Cupid snarled, eyebrows gathering together, lips thinning.
"Or what, sunshine? You're not exactly armed, are you?" The second guard joined his companion, he too anticipated a bit of fun at the unarmed traveller's expense.
"Who needs weapons?" Cupid grabbed both guards by their throats. He lifted them both over his head, easily. He smashed their heads together with sufficient force as to break both their necks. He let the bodies fall where they would, and walked on.
The crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle hadn't expected that outcome. They looked from the two dead bodies to the tall blond man as he walked into the city streets, losing himself in the general population. One of the other guardsmen finally arrived to see what the commotion was, he didn't expect to find two of his friends dead. Not like that. Not if the witnesses were to be believed. That a young man could do that, lift them like toys. He had heard that the hero Hercules could do things like that. Could the mystery man be Hercules? But Hercules didn't kill, did he?
Heading off, he went to report what had happened at the gate, and to pass on the description of the killer the witnesses had given him.
Elsewhere in the city a new fight had broken out. In the heart of the action a tall blond man with haunted eyes struck out at all those around him. They had picked the wrong being to rob. By the end of the fight four more dead men were tallied to Cupid's soul, each death became so much easier than the one before. Each death became something else to distance the pain of his action against Strife, the pain of betrayal from Psyche, from Apollo.
The grief stricken God settled in for a long evening's drinking in a shabby little inn, in the rougher area of the city. Having acquired a room, a bearly edible meal, and a couple of bottles of wine he settled down to see if he could drown Strife's cries and fear in the alcohol. Nothing else seemed to help too much. Except the killing, and he had wit enough left to realise he'd run out of mortals before he ran out of pain.
On the island of Lemnos, the crippled Fire God was working at his anvil, shaping the metal almost randomly. No one had had much ability to concentrate since Cupid's attack on young Strife. Seeing the young one thrown down like that had stirred up long buried, but never truly forgotten memories. Of falling for four whole days and nights, the power of that impact so much even Apollo himself probably wouldn't have been able to cure him. Even if he had tried. Not that he had.
As he thought about things, paying little attention to his work, a ball of his own gold crashed onto the sheet of metal he was pounding. His hand was on the downward arc, too late to pull back, he hammered than gold into the rest of the sheet of metal. Setting aside his hammer he touched the gold, knowing who it was from, what it was, the grief it held.
"Dite.." He whispered as he ran tender fingers over the former emblem of the Goddess of Love.
On Olympus Bliss was sitting with his great grand parents, playing at their feet as they sat with Strife. The sick God was still asleep, more than asleep. Bliss had heard Apollo and Zeus talking about it. They couldn't wake him, they had tried, now gre'gran'dad and mom were really worried. As he sat and played he felt his step grand dad's heartbreak. He tugged on Hera's skirt, getting her attention.
"That's three now." He told her. He saw the growing sorrow in her eyes and wished he knew what to do about it. Maybe, if he were older?
"Who now child?" Hera asked.
"Three what?" Zeus asked, having missed the previous conversation between his wife and Bliss.
"Three hearts all broken." Bliss told him. "Daddy, gran'ma and now Phaestus. All broken." He went back to playing, quietly as the adults tried to guess what had broken the Fire God's heart.
"I'll go." Hera offered.
"Is that wise?" Zeus wondered. "There is so little love lost between either of us and the children these days. Isn't there someone better to send?"
"Who?" Hera quizzed him, not cross, just unable to think of any new options. Their world was ripping itself apart and it seemed as if there was nothing they could do to stop it.
"Ares? He and Heph get on fairly well these days." Zeus looked up, out of the room and to Olympus itself. "He's just arrived back, without Eris, I might add. Wonder where he's left her?" Zeus extended his heart and soul and touched his son, calling him to Strife's side, and his parents presence.
Ares appeared, quietly, with no show, he was just suddenly there beside them.
"He sleeps?" He asked quietly, not wanting to wake the sleeping God.
"I'm afraid not, son, he still hasn't regained consciousness from the attack. I slipped him into a deeper state while he was treated but he should have sleep that off by know. Neither Apollo nor Asclepius know why he still sleeps." Zeus backed away from Strife's bedside, lifting Bliss out of the way as he went.
Ares saw his son's son. Looked at his grandchild, knowing he shouldn't blame Bliss for Cupid's actions, yet, unable to put that rational thought into anything closely resembling action.
"It wasn't his fault, Ares, it was Psyche and Apollo. Cupid walked in on them, together, then his mother called and you know the rest." His mother touched his bare arm. As he registered the touch he turned to face her. She knew exactly what he wanted to know. "Psyche is gone, mortal once more, barren, she had even lied to Cupid about his not being able to father another child. That's where the anger came from..." She turned from her son to her grandson. Ares' eyes went with her, looking at Strife. "He didn't deserve this. To be the focus."
"And you called me here why?" Ares forced his face away from his broken nephew, too many memories of his own crowding in on him, as always he took refuge in anger.
"We need you to go check on Hephaestus. Seems Bliss here felt his heart break just a few moments ago." Zeus faced his estranged son and wished that distance away.
Sometimes, even a Gods wishes don't come true.
Ares continued to glare at his parents, his eyes darting from one to the other.
"Why don't you go? I can sit here with Strife as well as you can." Finally Ares' gaze settled on Strife and he took the few remaining steps to his nephew's bedside. He reached out, hesitantly, not quite touching him. The memory of touching his cheek only to have it splinter beneath his fingers too new, too raw.
"Son, it's going to take so much more than wishing to keep Strife and the baby alive. It's not an easy vigil, not one I'd wish on anyone. Not one we ever wished to have to do ever again, but we must, for their sakes." Zeus turned from the hurt God in the bed to the hurting God by his side. "And while we are here for Strife, you as our son, as my heir, must go do those jobs I can not do for myself. That includes going to Lemnos and checking up on Hephaestus. It includes continuing to search for Cupid and Aphrodite." Zeus touched Ares' cheek. "You are my Prince, it's time we all remembered that and acted accordingly."
All Ares could think about was their statement saying they had had to sit this vigil once before. He couldn't remember any situation like this before.
"Who did you have to sit here for? Before, who was it?" He looked directly into his father's soul and watched for the lie he felt would inevitably be told.
"Eris, it was Eris we sat for, the baby in her was Strife." Zeus told Ares the honest truth, but the images around that truth were so tightly held in the War God couldn't see past his sister, asleep, like Strife, unable to wake out of her nightmares. And now it was all happening all over again.
"I don't remember this." Ares was honest in expressing his confusion, he had no memory of his sister pregnant. It was almost like he went to sleep one day and everything was as normal; when he woke up Eris had Strife and wasn't treating the child too well at all. And everyone pretended not to notice, so he went right along with them. Until the damage to Strife became such that even he couldn't ignore it any more. And he finally did something about it.
"It all happened while you were a prisoner in that damnable jar. You can't have memories of what you never saw." Zeus cupped his hand around Ares' cheek. "Trust us, we know what needs to be done here, and we will do it. You, on the other hand, have more duties than ever before to do, go out there and keep this family from ripping itself further apart."
"All right." Ares finally agreed. He looked longingly at his nephew one last time. "If he wakes, tell him .." He couldn't even say it to his own parents, the mental pain such an admission was just too much, all the gentler emotions had long since been too deeply buried to be easily to hand, to express his feelings. "... and Hercules says to wish him well for him, he's got Eris now, he'll take care of her."
A tug on his pants leg drew his attention back to his grandson.
"Gran'dad, up?" The boy looked at him, arms out to be lifted up.
Ares automatically obliged, he lifted Cupid's son to sit on one hip.
"What is it, little one?" he tried very hard to smile at the child. It wasn't his fault, he shouldn't be held responsible for his parents activities.
"When the baby gets born, will I get to play with it? Like a friend?"
"I don't know. I just don't know." The War God hugged his grandchild close and finally handed him over to Hera. "Here, look after him, I have work to do." He looked once more at the unconscious Strife and back up at his mother. "Tell him I miss him, there's so much work to do and I could sure use his help getting it done." He smiled, shakily. It had been the nearest he had been to revealing his true feelings in a long, long time. Yet, it needed to be said.
"I know, I'll tell him. Go take care of your brother." Hera ushered him off about his duties.
On Lemnos, Hephaestus still stood, holding the metal sheet he had half flattened his wife's Godly emblem into. Frozen in shock and worry.
"Heph?" Ares' voice reached him a split second before he appeared. "What's wrong? You okay?" The War God looked at his brother and the sheet of metal in his hands and realised that the shapeless blob of gold might have some significance, though what that was escaped him for the moment.
He guided his lame brother over to a bench and table, encouraged him to sit and prepared to wait, yet again, to be told what had happened.
"Dite's given up. She's returned her emblem, that's what that smear of gold is. What could have happened between her setting out to find Cupid and her returning the emblem I made to me, and in such an odd fashion?" He looked for answers from his brother, he was desperate for someone to tell him what to do, what to think, what to feel.
"She.." Ares was at a loss as to how to explain the emotions of another being to his brother, but he was his father's hand in this, he had to. Somehow! "She probably feels guilty, you know? For Strife? She was annoyed with him, we've all been annoyed with him now and again. He's an annoying rascal after all."
Hephaestus laughed, slightly, very strained, but the effort was well meant.
"He's the God of Mischief, he's supposed to be annoying, or didn't you realise that?"
Ares laughed too, his humour was much less forced, and more directed towards himself.
"Actually, I'd never even thought about it. I don't suppose he can't control the Mischief any more than I can control the War urge amongst Gods." He put an arm around his brother. "Heph, you're a genius." He smiled, got one in return and felt the glories of a hard won victory were his. "Now, I don't really think Dite will be resigning, fully, from the Pantheon any time soon. Do you?" He watched his grieving brother grin once more. "So, make her a new emblem, a better one, put your heart, soul and bedroom memories into it." Ares saw his brother blush a shade of red he had never seen before in nature, or even their own super nature.
"I can do that!" Hephaestus finally squeaked, getting himself sort of under control. And more focused on the big picture than his tiny corner of it. "Any news? About Strife, Cupid or Dite?"
"Strife's still not awake. As for Cupid, he's still gone to ground, as too Dite." Then he thought about it. "Hey, can that mash of gold tell you where it was thrown from, or however it got here?"
"Dunno' till we try." Hephaestus cleared his mind of all negative thoughts and feelings, he opened his soul to smeared shard of Gold.
Ares watched his brother probe and explore with his mind and soul, knowing full well there wasn't another God that could track Dite this way, or any of them for that matter. Finally, Hephaestus returned to his conscious self.
"Sikyon." The one word was enough to give Ares fresh hope of solving this Tartaran nightmare.
"Then I'll go look for her there, you stay here and get to work on a new emblem for her." Ares squeezed once more and stood up, hope finally regrowing where only despair had lived for so very long. Then he remembered something.
"Heph, do you remember Eris being pregnant?" He watched his brother, mind, body and soul as he formulated an answer.
"Yes, she didn't have too good a time of it either." Then he tried very hard to drop that subject. "Shall I start on a basic emblem for Strife's child? I take it that he or she will on be your side of things?" That question did change the subject, for which the Fire God was very grateful.
"I don't know, work up a design for each, or one that can be both, ok?" Ares looked thoughtful and vanished from Lemnos leaving a happier brother than he had found on arrival.
Ares reported back to his parents, taking the unusual step of talking to them in person, rather than leaving a note or using mind speak. At least, when he was with them he was with Strife too, however tenuously that connection was made.
"Dite's resigned as Goddess of Love, and is somewhere in Sikyon, so I'm off to look for her. Heph's going to remake her emblem for her, so he's alright now. And, he's going to work up some designs for Strife's baby's emblem, he figures it'll either be a War child or a Love child. I had to admit I didn't know.. So, while you sit here you could be thinking on that one." He finally took a breath. "Any news on Cupid?"
"None, sorry son." Zeus smiled, slightly, he looked exhausted, and Ares wondered just how much power he was putting out towards Strife and the baby.
"Okay, I'll go see who's doing what and if there's anything major, I'll get back to you." He reached over, finally touching Strife. "Wake little mischief, the other's are all getting soft with out you!" He smiled sadly, and left.
Eris was still sitting with Hercules, still chained, still swaying between anger and humour. All his life her son had been her target, her very own prisoner, just as she was his. All his life he had served to remind her, of how his life came about, of who was responsible, and how he got away with it so easily, for so long. Now, it seemed as if she might finally get some justice. If only she could get her hands on her nephew, preferably around his neck.
The hero watched the play of emotions running over his sister's face, she didn't seem able to settle on one emotion.
"What's really wrong? Why are you so angry? It's not as if you actually like Strife. On the contrary, I do believe you actively hate him. Why?"
"Drop it Hercules, you simply wouldn't understand." She sighed, she didn't snarl as had been Hercules' expectation.
"Try me!" He turned her face to meet him, eye to eye. "Let's start at the beginning, ok? Who is Strife's father? It's one fact I've never been able to find out."
"I can't tell you, ok?" She tried to turn her head away, and failed.
"Why not? Is it that you don't know? You've had sex with so many Gods and mortals you simply don't know which one got you pregnant?" He was deliberately hurtful. He knew, somehow, that she was covering up a secret, a secret so big it could destroy someone. Yet, to him, it seemed like a secret that ought to be told, finally.
"Oh, I know all right. Just about every fucker knows." She snarled, hurt, defensive, vulnerable.
"Just about everyone knows.." Hercules turned what she had said over in his mind. And hit on the exception. "Everyone but him? Am I right?"
The look of horror on her face was proof enough that he was on the right track.
"Shh. No one talks about it, it's forbidden!" She cast her eyes as heavenward as she could. "There's a serious punishment involved her. Now, I don't mind it fallin' on you, but I sure as shit stinks don't want it fallin' on me!"
"What punishment, from whom?"
"Worse than death, from pops." She looked at him, seeing real concern for her, no less, in his face. It was the same look Ares got when he thought about her treatment of Strife, only Ares' concern was directed towards Strife, not her. Unable to stand that look any longer she turned to stare at her own feet, and Hercules let her.
"What? Why?" Hercules released her chin, letting her look to her feet, at last.
"Because it'd destroy Stife's father if he ever found out he'd done what he was forced to do. See, it was Cupid's stupid arrow, one of his mischief making ones. It was why he was finally confirmed and restricted to Love duties. It almost killed both of us. It's why the lie was born." Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she continued to look at her own feet, she was curled over her chained hands, as if protecting herself from the greatest hurt in the world. Hercules had to admit she probably was, and he was the one causing the pain.
But he had to know.
"Why did it almost destroy Strife's father?" The hero was mildly confused at that. "After all, surely knowing it was an arrow, one of Cupid's arrows, he didn't have to blame himself. It wasn't really his fault.."
"I know, you know, we all know, but he doesn't! He doesn't rape, never had before, never has since. He's emotionally incapable of such a gross act. It simply isn't in his nature, unlike the other Gods, he won't take what isn't freely given. And knowing he'd done it almost drove him insane, so Menosyne and mom and pops got together with Apollo and so the great lie was born." Eris risked a look at her half brother, and saw sympathy there, for her and Strife and Strife's father.
"His memories were replaced then? What with, what is the great lie?" Hercules sat shoulder to shoulder with his sister and put a protective arm around her, drawing her in to him, sharing his strength and warmth with her.
"Yes, his memories were replaced. He has no recollection of being on Olympus for over a year surrounding the rape, the pregnancy, the birth and early months of Strife's life." She shuddered, long buried emotions erupting in her, and Hercules could feel them, and the fear they left behind.
He also had a sickening idea that he know who Strife's father really was, and what the great lie was too. He could wish this all unsaid, all he wanted, but that wouldn't make it so.
"It was Ares, wasn't it?" He whispered his question, feeling her nod in response, just before the damn burst and half a Gods lifetime of anger, rage and fear spilled out.
All he could do was be there, and hold his sister tight to his chest. So he did, holding on for dear life; hers, her son's and her son's father's.
"Damn you Cupid!" He cursed his nephew.
In his inn, jug of wine before him, Cupid felt the curse, knew someone had told his favourite uncle the truth. Now all it was was a matter of time before his father knew his son had raped his own brother.
Not knowing what to do, where to go, he looked for some form of oblivion, and found it. If the truth destroyed his father, as it had so long ago, he'd be ready. He'd be the kind of son he would need to take over.
The God of Love was dead, the new God of War was born.
He winked out and onto the nearest battlefield he could find. It was time to start his new career with some on the job training. And anyway, the deaths did make the pain go away, ever so slightly.
In Sikyon, Ares found the street kids Strife liked so much, they were so easy to find, their thoughts full of their hurt God. What he didn't expect was the ragged object that turned out to be Aphrodite. It seemed that the Goddess of Love and Beauty was gone, in her place stood some shambling wreck.
"Well, fancy meeting you here!" Ares reached for her, pulling her to his side with ease. "We have a mess to sort out, and this isn't helping. You're going home and you're gonna face the consequences of your actions. Got me?" He snarled, then let the pain he felt show on his face. Aphrodite wasn't just gone, she was broken. "Dite?" Unsure what he really wanted to ask, he opted for asking nothing.
Silently, he took her back with him. Just as he felt the war in Thessaly escalate. He had had that conflict cooling down, now some idiot had started it all over again. Now he would have to start all over again. He needed those fools alive to defend Greece from the Persians. They were no use to him dead!
Once on Olympus he called for yet another brother.
"Hermes!" The bellow reached everywhere, the messenger of the Gods didn't even pretend not to hear it, not this time.
"Yes, Ares?" He looked from the War God to the ragged bundle sitting on the floor at the War God's feet. "Who, or what rather, is that?"
"That is Aphrodite, is what that is. Why I called you is a lot easier to explain." He looked from the bedraggled Goddess to the eagerly waiting God before him. It seemed even Hermes wanted to do something, like it was do something or explode. "There's a war in Thessaly that I need stopping, between Pherai and Pagasai. I don't have the time right now to see to it myself, so I need you to take Herc and Eris there and get them to stop it." As he spoke he wrote out explicit instructions, and even the reasons why, to his half brother. Before he handed the scroll over he stopped mid motion and stared at it. Explaining himself was so not him. He shrugged, let it go, handed it to Hermes and put it out of his thoughts. "You'll need to help Eris take Herc there, ok?"
Hermes nodded his understanding and left Ares with the damaged Goddess of Love.
"Now, what am I goin' ta' do with you? Hmm? Any suggestions?" He got no response, which didn't surprise him, she was pretty far gone into her own pain and shame.
He took her to his own home, filled a bath and gently took her in with him, holding her, letting the heat, the warmth, the water and his arms ease her into healing. While she wept, he held on, and said absolutely nothing.
III. Burning Up
As Ares sat holding Aphrodite up in the bath, rocking her, he began to sing, quietly. He sang lullabies, one after the other, all that he could remember. His mind was full of remembered times he had sat like that with Strife. Letting the warm water soak the dried blood free from him, just so Ares could finally get his shirt off. It had been one such time that always counted as the beating too far. He had brought his nephew to his home, and kept him there.
Now here he was, rocking his sister. Trying hard to figure out how he could mend her broken heart. This wasn't a time for sex, that would do nothing but cover over the cracks in her self esteem. This was tear down and rebuild, and as God of War he wasn't too used to being gallant rescuer.
Only to Strife. And even then he knew he had let his nephew down in the worst way. Surely he'd be awake and starting on the road to recovery, such as there was after that particular crime, if he hadn't let him down by telling Cupid to do as he wished.
Who of them had realised just what it was that Cupid had desired and wished for from his cousin? What form his revenge would take?
Yet, despite all his short comings as a saviour, his sister needed him. Possibly like she had needed no one else ever before. After all, as far as Ares was aware she had never once felt an iota of guilt in the past. Now she had all Strife's troubles settling on her.
Had a torn dress really been worth all this?
"Ready to talk now?" He kept his voice low and slow, as comforting as he could remember how to be.
"Yes, no, I don't know." It didn't make any sense what so ever, but it was at least speech, it was progress.
He laughed, softly, a mere hiss of almost sound against Aphrodite's ear. She lifted her head and looked at her brother, looked at his weary face, his almost frightened eyes.
"Is he better?" She had hope and longing shining from her soul. Ares was reluctant to destroy her fragile hope, but he had to be honest, above all now was not a time for lies and half truths.
"No, he still hasn't regained consciousness from the attack. Zeus and Hera are sitting with him, feeding him their energy. They don't know how long this will take. But, since they did it before, for Eris seemingly, they at least know what it is they're doing." He pulled her tighter against him as he felt her stiffen at the mention of Eris. Misunderstanding her reaction he tried to comfort her further. "Hey, relax, she still on the mortal world, with Herc, she's not here to hurt you, or Strife."
A flash of memory shot through her mind, unable to stop it, she tried desperately hard to swamp it with other images. She only partially succeeded.
"What is it? I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong?" Ares was too concerned at that moment to care about the cavalcade of images, until he felt her forcing more of them on him. "Stop!" He shook her, slightly, breaking eye contact with her. "Calm down. You finish getting washed, dressed and stay here. Not in the bath naturally, in my home, stay here and wait for me. Ok?" He saw her smile at his attempt at gentle humour and saw it as the prize it was. She nodded and he felt better about leaving her there. "Good, I'll see you soon." He vanished and reappeared in Zeus' study dried, dressed and ready to face the next challenge, in about a years time.
Ares eased himself behind his father's desk and started looking over the normal petitions the other Gods and Goddesses always pestered his father with. He split them into three piles, trivial, immediate and down right funny. He had never realised just how trivial and time wasting most of the tasks presented to his father were. Zeus did them all with the same grace, or lack there of, that he had expected a pile of life and death decisions. Not questions about how to explain Dinosaur bones to shepherds. In the War Gods experience no one gave a rats fuck about the opinions held by shepherds. After all they generally came under the heading of collateral losses in his game plan. Now, as his father's stand in, he had to actually think this shit up?
He created a fourth pile, called it Theological Imperatives and saved them up for Zeus' return.
He had four tasks left that he really ought to see to as soon as practicable, he had several that he was going to have words with the petitioners about, and delegate them to finding their own arses and answers. Some of the junior Gods were far too lazy in his eyes. As for the down right funny ones, he focused his will on the pile of scrolls before him, they vanished, only to reappear pasted to walls all over Olympus where everyone could read them and have a good laugh too. Maybe next time they wouldn't waste his father's time. Maybe next time Zeus might have time to be with him? He wouldn't count on it though.
It was then that Hercules' frantic prayer hit him. If he didn't get his ass down to the mortal world he'd have no son, no sister, and possibly no Thessaly either.
Wearily he stood up, groaned and relocated, ready to face his next crisis.
Or so he thought.
When he arrived, Eris had a tall blond, familiar, if somewhat wingless individual, pinned to the nearest tree and was trying to rip his arms off, or so it seemed. The man in question didn't really try to defend himself too much, not that he could easily move in that grip.
"What's going on here?" Ares roared, when that tired he often found the adrenaline rush from anger helped focus his mind. It worked this time too, briefly.
As he shouted Eris was startled, loosening her grip slightly and letting her blood smeared prisoner escape. The young man drew forward an equally blood smeared sword and put the point to her throat.
"Enough Aunt Er, I don't want to hurt you. I got a job ta' do, I got a prayer to answer, back off!" It was then that Ares finally did accept that the young man was indeed his missing son. Yet he had never thought of him as a killer, but now, here he was swimming in blood and death. As far as Ares could fathom, this was simply not Cupid's destiny, he shouldn't be doing this, this was Strife's job, his job even, not the God of Love's job.
"Cupid, put down the sword, it is not your prayer to answer but mine, should I so choose. And if anyone had asked me I'd have told them we need BOTH these cities fully armed against the next wave of Persians. Not that anyone ever asks me these things, oh no! It's all 'your so evil Ares', 'your so bad Ares', but the first sign of trouble it's all 'oh defend my arse Ares the Persians are trying ta' stick swords up it'." His rant had the desired effect, it distracted his son long enough for him to get the sword out of his hands and take a firm hold on his shoulders.
As he touched his son he was filled with both the rage and regret that warred for his son's soul. More images, so like those his mother had flooded his mind with earlier flowed through him.
"Why, Cupid, do you hate Strife so much? What did he do that would make you do that to him? Don't you remember Alcippe? Did you think I'd sanction that particular act of violence against your own cousin?" As Ares quizzed his son, the younger God couldn't keep the relief that his father still didn't know from leaching beyond his own shields.
Ares put it to one side, didn't know what? He'd witnessed Cupid's violation of Strife himself. It was an act of uncontrolled rage, and he thought he had taught his son better than that.
"Son, if you couldn't handle the rage, why didn't you give it to me? The mortals do it all the time, whether they want to or not; but you are a God, so I can't help you unless you ask me to." He pulled his almost lifeless son back against his chest. "Why don't you give me your rage? Don't you trust me? Do you think I'd use it against you?" His constant quiet questions destroyed what little reserves his son had.
Cupid turned, as best he could, faced into his father's body and wept.
"Imsosorry." He strung the words together, "Imsosorry." He repeated them like a mantra, "Imsosorry." over and over, "Imsosorry." chanting, gasping for breath. He sank to his knees, held close to his father's body, unable to stop the tears from falling.
Ares let him weep, he didn't try and halt the sea of grief that swept up at him, the rage, the humiliation, the pain of betrayal, they were all given up from son to father. He simply hadn't realised there was so much rage locked away in his son's soul, it rocked him, exhausted him even more than before. As Cupid fell silent, Ares could at last marshal his thoughts. He needed to get them all to Olympus, if only he could recall how to do that.
Hercules stood beside him, calling for Hermes, quietly. He didn't want to upset the fragile peace Ares was currently holding together in his own being. The hero had never before seen just what it was that his brother did for the world. And if he drew in all those same rages from the mortal world as his son had given up, it was no wonder he was so short tempered himself. Where did he get to dispose of all that emotion?
"What is it?" Hermes appeared, took in the situation at a glance and spoke softly.
"Get Iolaus and Autolycus here, and take this scroll to Xena.." He looked at the scroll Ares had sent him. "Erm, got a quill?" Hermes sighed, produced the required item and waited as Hercules amended the scroll. Handing it to the Messenger of the Gods he muttered, mostly to himself. "It's about time she knew what Ares really did." Then he looked at his exhausted brother. "They can keep the peace, you have to get home, with him." He still couldn't look at his nephew, or call him by name. Not after all he had done, to Strife, and to Eris, and especially his own father.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself Hercules turned to Eris.
"Eris, how can we all get to Olympus, I don't think either of them has the focus to get there themselves."
"We need a very powerful God to open a portal, then we can walk there." She looked over what remained of the battle field and smiled, a shy and sly grin as she spotted the one God who would freely help them. "Uncle Hades, please help Ares." She spoke at a conversational level, yet her voice reached the far side of the battle field where the God of the Dead was collecting up some important souls.
Hades looked over the Eris' position, saw the whole tableau and handed the leaders of the army over to his servants, ignoring their pleas for his personal service, he headed at once to Ares' side.
"Eris?" He looked at his niece, holding out one arm, sheltering her to his armoured chest. "What's happened now?"
"Ares took Cupid's rage." She sniffed, glared at her half mortal brother and relaxed as she saw understanding there, not scorn. "Can you get us home?"
"Of course." Hades extended his powers, a swirling mass of light and colour appeared before him. "Eris go through and hold it open from that end. Herc and I will get these two home. We'll be right behind you." He ushered her into the maelstrom, and lifted Cupid from his position kneeling at his father's feet. "Herc, bring Ares." He lead the way, walking Cupid through the portal.
"Come on Ares, you need some sleep, this way." He took the War God's hand and felt the tiny tremors that shook his exhausted brother's body.
Numbly, Ares walked with him. Cupid's rage, regret, his guilt and grievances all swimming with every other image he'd picked up since this all started rolling over and over in his mind, unable to slow them, let alone stop them, he simply had to live with them until something resolved itself from the confusion that tried so hard to drown him.
By the time Hades had them assembled in Ares' home, Aphrodite had wandered in from somewhere and crossed to face her son. Every breath was held tight as they waited for her to speak, everyone bar Ares. The War God was far too exhausted to deal with yet another battle and it's fall out, he staggered closer to his son, and his former lover.
"Enough, no more, it will all wait till morning." He tried to sound like his accustomed self, and failed miserably. His voice had no power to it, it even quivered slightly.
"You need rest. Which way to your room?" Hercules gently touched Ares' elbow, as if his brother might either kill him, or simply hit him for daring to touch his person.
Ares lifted his left hand and waved vaguely in the direction of an ornately carved door. Hercules sort of had an idea he was being answered, not daring to risk angering his brother any more he pressed on very gently.
"Lead the way then." He smiled, shrugged, and answered the perplexed look Ares gave him. "It's a hero thing, we need to be helpful."
"Strife needs a hero." Ares muttered, but he was walking in the right direction, so Hercules didn't interrupt him, just made an interested sound.
"Hmm?" Hercules moved ahead, pushed open the door and saw a long corridor with many more doors off it.
"Everybody sleep." Ares made his judgement, he was temporarily King of the Gods, it was his call to make. "I'm filling in as King of the Gods, and I say sleep." He waved a hand, again in a broadly vague gesture sort of in the direction of the doors. "Rooms." He announced finally, and Hercules fully understood.
"Uncle Hades." He waited for his uncle to join them.
"Ares dictates all of us are to get some sleep. Here, somewhere." He too pointed at the doors.
"Fair enough." The God of the Dead dragged a still unfocused God of Love along to one door in particular. "In you go sunshine. Our temporary King demands that you sleep, well you can damn well sleep in here. If you can!" He went back for Dite and Eris, putting them in rooms opposite each other.
Ares had finally reached his own bedroom door, he pushed it open, looked around and pointed to two more doors up from his own chamber.
"You two can have those rooms. Good night." Hades fully accepted the compulsion, and as always Hercules fought it.
"Do you need any help?" He had to be the hero to the end, or so Ares thought.
"See, I can undress myself." And a now naked Ares staggered across the room and onto the expansive bed therein. "Bed!" He snarled sleepily.
Unable to resist, Hercules complied and retired for the rest of the day and night.
When the door clanged shut behind him, Cupid realised something pretty significant. They had put him in Strife's bed chamber. The room reeked of his cousin, his brother. Unable not to, Cupid wandered around room, lifting, touching, looking at things he had never seen before. All the treasures Strife chose to keep around. Finally his explorations brought him to a second door, pushing it open he found a bathing chamber.
Cupid acted on instinct, before he was really aware of his actions he was naked and in Strife's bathing pool. Scrubbing the reek of battle and blood from his skin where he stood, and lifting an enormous jug he poured lots of clean, warm water over his head. He felt it trickle where his wings had once been. It was such a strange sensation he stood still, appreciating it. He had never had a full immersion bath in all his life, perhaps maybe one or two as a child, but he truly hated the smell of wet feathers. Now he could finally find out what the appeal of lying for hours in the warm water really was all about.
First, he sat, putting the jug aside for use later. He looked around his cousin/brother's bathing chamber, letting his eyes linger over anything and everything they alighted on. He turned away from the side of the bath and finally stretched out, rolling over, feeling the warm water caressing him for the first time. Soothing, calming, easing tensions he'd had for half his Godly life time. It was almost sexual in it's tender touch.
No wonder people raved about the sensation.
He revelled in the warm embrace, it seemed right, somehow, that it was Strife's bath in which he washed away the last traces of his attempt to smother his guilt. As he rose from the water he looked around for something to wear and spied one of Strife's robes. He wrapped himself in the bright red silk, after drying his body with a thought. Pulling the sides together he held them tight to his body, remembering the feel of Stife's already broken body against his. Remembering what it felt like, coming in his brother's body, creating his child in that same body. And throwing him back to the ground, like some discarded, worthless piece of trash.
A whimper escaped his lips.
The former Love God wandered back to Strife's bed. He sat down on the still rumpled bed, Strife never having bothered to tidy it before the attack, his attack. Shedding the robe, he lay back, another first, having wings sticking out his back had always denied this position to him. The different pressure on his spine startled him, like the bath, the support his lower back got was amazing. He groaned, grinned and rolled over into his more accustomed sleeping position and finally drifted off into a troubled, dream filled sleep.
Across the hall, Cupid's father was tossing and turning in a fitful sleep. Haunted by all the images, half spoken phrases and feelings he had been crowded with all day.
Cupid was in the arms of his lover, not Psyche, never her, never again. His lover was giggling at something, touching him, fleetingly, too quick for the Love God to capture his torturing hands. He pleaded with his lover to take him, to love him. Finally his lover acquiesced.
In his mind the War God could see his little baby nephew, long limbs, dark mass of hair, growing bigger, stronger, one day at a time. Just like he had. He saw his own hands, huge in comparison to the child, tremble as they lifted him from his crib. Wet, cold, lonely, hungry, Eris having abandoned him, yet again. Strife always stilled in his arms, snuggling close to the warmth of another living being. Knowing instinctively where he was safest.
The Love God squirmed beneath the touch of his lover, he was on his back, wingless, open to his lover's every desire. He distantly heard his own voice proclaim his love for the God pleasuring him so much. The smell of both their bodies mingled, melded and carried Cupid even higher in the throws of love and desire. He felt complete, filled as he should be. Holding his lover's body within and around him. Climaxing more or less at the same point. Rolling them both over so he lay above his lover.
Ares struggled with images crowding his memory. Contradictory images of those damn chains holding him tight, his own voice echoing back at him for release from that brass jar. Eris' voice pleading with him to release her, to resist Cupid's mischief arrow. The chains pulling him down, wasting his muscles with the guilt of his insupportable actions. Holding his little boy safe from his avenging mother, easing the dried in, blood soaked, shirt off his slim, fragile shoulders. Telling him he'd live here with him from now on. His son. Strife was his son. He had taken his own sister, against her will. Strife was his own son. Now he too was fighting to die, to take himself and the baby Cupid had forced on him, and reach for Tartarus and oblivion. Just as Eris herself had done; and like Eris, Strife too was being kept alive by the sheer force of will power exerted by his Grandparents. Only this time Ares was aware of what was going on.
He had raped and they had hidden the memory from him. They had stolen his rightful guilt, he should feel guilty, he was guilty.
As Cupid looked down at his lover, his lover's distended belly moved. Their baby almost reached out to touch his or her other father, to share in their loving. He looked up into Strife's happy eyes and saw the love turn to hate. Strife pushed against Cupid, rolling him onto the floor, asking him how it felt to be used for anothers desires?
With a thump the former Love God hit the floor, having rolled of the bed. The impact winded him, waking him instantly. Leaving him fully awake and listening to his father's heart break. Deep inside his heart he knew his father now knew the truth, again.
Cupid crossed to the bedroom door, wrapping a bed sheet around his naked body as he went. He opened it and watched as his uncles Hades and Hercules both ran to Ares' door.
"Can I help?" He offered whatever they wanted of him. Even as he finished his short speech Hercules punched him square in the face, sending him flying backwards.
"Haven't you done enough?" Hercules snarled and followed his uncle into his brother's bedroom.
Hercules' worst nightmare was realised as he heard the War God screaming, telling them he had raped his own sister, had fathered a child on her, his son Strife. Hades seemed lost as to what to do, he stood by the bed, trying to pat his shoulder. As if that would help?
The hero pulled Hades away and lay down beside his distressed brother, remembering Eris telling him that his guilt almost killed him the first time.
"Shh, this is not your fault, it was Cupid's arrow, his fault not yours. You couldn't help it, Eris knows that, she accepts what happened, now. And you got a fine son who really needs you. Think about Strife, going through the same. He needs his uncle, his father, he needs your strength...." Hercules gestured to Hades to shut the door, and to shut it behind him as he left the room.
It looked as if it was going to be a long night.
Eris heard her brother realise the truth that had been ripped from him so very long ago. She heard too the brief interaction between Hercules and Cupid. Shortly after that she heard Hades bid Hercules luck and Ares' door closing again. For a long time she lay there, wondering if the Gods could survive the demise of Ares. Could she? Strife? And what of Strife's baby? Who would protect that innocent if Ares was gone?
She thought long and hard and finally got out of bed, wandered up the corridor to Ares' bedroom door. Hesitantly, she waited for inspiration, finally her resolve coalesced and she opened the door.
"It wasn't your fault, Ares. It was the last act of mischief Cupid played out on us. His ability to perform acts of such mischief was taken from him and given to Strife." She stroked her distressed brother's shoulder and climbed into the bed on the opposite Hercules.
In his little room in Asclepius' temple, Strife began to roll from side to side. As if he was fighting to either waken or return to oblivion. Hands touched his face, his hands, and voices gentled his mind. Instinct had him reach to those voices.
When Strife looked up at his Grandfather's face he saw Zeus give him a very exhausted look of welcome.
"What's wrong with Ares?" He gasped out his first words past dry and cracked lips.
"We don't know. I didn't know there was something wrong with Ares." Zeus helped his Grandson sit up and held a cup of cold water to his lips as he took a few desperately needed sips.
"I heard him cry out, he woke me up. Didn't you hear him?" Strife tried to rise completely and go to his uncle. "I feel so weak." He mumbled as he fell against his grandfather's shoulder.
"I'll go check up on him, is that all right with you young Strife?" Hera stroked a hand across her Grandson's cheek.
"Would you?" He smiled, shakily. "Did I dream it, or did it really happen?" He turned back to Zeus, hoping he had had a fever dream.
"It happened." Zeus held him close to his chest as Hera flashed out. "We don't know why he chose to do as he did, but we do now know what was driving him."
"I don't want to know. I don't care. He did what he did and that's enough." Strife began to tremble. "Did he stop at raping and hurling me back down to the ground? Did he do anything else?"
Zeus could hear the fear in Strife's voice, but enough lies had been told to, and about, this child's life that he was loath to tell one more.
"He's left you carrying a child."
As Strife wept his Grandfather held him tight, rocking back and forwards, crooning a litany of almost meaningless words. As he slowly calmed down Strife realised he was telling him about his faith in his courage, his strength.
"Ares knows.." Hera spoke plainly as she reappeared.
"Oh shit." Zeus began to tremble and it was Strife who comforted him.
"Knows what?" He looked from one Grandparent to the other, worrying, what secret could Ares discover that would have them show such fear.
Would Ares attack Cupid if he knew where he was? Would he attack Aphrodite for egging him on? Was it an older secret? Like where his own father was? His long held dream, of finding his father? Could it come true?
"Come child, Ares needs you." Zeus helped Strife onto his feet and dressed him in Honey coloured linen robes, sandals on his feet. "Lean on me, we're going to have to walk there, you're still too frail to make the leap."
"Lead on Gramps."
"Lean on me, child." Zeus helped him out the room, Hera dashed ahead, opening doors, emptying corridors of any who would watch the spectacle of Strife's walk to freedom.
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