Warrior Chronicles
by Sophia
I called Teutates.

The god was with me in an instant, lying on top of me, his mouth on mine, his tongue parting my lips, his being joining with my own, and I felt only relief and bliss and forgetfulness. When our selves separated, slowly and tenderly so that I felt no anxiety at the feeling of being alone again, I looked in those gray eyes and felt something so strange, it is hard to put it into words. It was so visceral, this feeling I had. He knew me. Every fiber of my being.  Joining with me like this, he knew my past and my present. He reminded me of the huge Egyptian eye hieroglyph I had seen on one of the temples in Thebes. My family and I had travelled to Egypt while my father was meeting with a merchant there to discuss trade issues. That trip had such an impact on me as a small girl of eight - only a few years before it happened. The trip and the images I saw there were enough to lay down the foundations of my love of art and architecture - a love that would survive the hell of that day on the beach.

Teutates was that eye - penetrating, all-encompassing, omniscient. It was both a relief and disconcerting at the same time. If Ares knew my thoughts, Teutates knew my being. I stopped screening my thoughts and my words with him. Why bother? I didn't give in to him as much as my own self. I would submit to my own being and do as I would, as my will dictated. I had always tried so hard to steer my own course as if in doing so I would somehow triumph over my helplessness on that day. Now I would give in to fate, give in to the moment, give in to my self. I decided to see where this new resolve would lead.

Teutates seemed to encourage me in this resolve. He gave me complete freedom. I had my own rooms, my own horse, my own studio filled with as much art as I wanted. And I had access to him. He allowed me to come to him and ask for him when I felt a need - he was at my disposal. There were only two times a day I could not expect his complete attention and during those times, I was to able to be with him, but I could not expect him to be mine alone. I was curious about his actions during these two periods, but at first there was so much to keep me occupied that I busied myself with my own work while he was otherwise engaged. I painted, I rode my horse in the forest, and I painted. Then I wandered through the forest collecting flowers, which I painted before I picked them, then I arranged them in my studio and painted them once I had.

Sometimes, I sat quietly in the middle of the forest and waited for the animals to return, and watched them go about their business. Deer with their young, squirrels, birds, small rodents, insects, bears. I became almost invisible some days - sitting quietly for  hours without moving. Soon, the animals became used to the human who came everyday to sit amongst them. I brought my charcoals and did quick quiet sketches while I watched the animals. They accepted me as a part of their world, just another part - a tree or bush - nothing threatening.

"Do gods not eat anything?" I asked him one day while he sat with me and watched me eat my first meal. We had just made love - I always felt the most aroused first thing in the morning - and I was always famished when through. He sat across from me, naked, on his throne, and seemed to enjoy watching me eat. "We take in energy, but not in the form of food as you do. We absorb it ... from the world around us."

"I thought gods ate ambrosia." He smiled. "That is merely one form of energy - a concentrated form of converted energy. A small amount provides a great deal of energy - it is very powerful. The more one consumes, the more power one has available for activity. There are other forms of energy. We can eat food, but it is a very inefficient way of obtaining energy."

"Can you...taste?" He stroked his lower lip as he contemplated his response. "It is similar to taste - but not the same. We perceive...the energy of that which we take into our mouths. For example - when I touch my tongue to your skin, the skin say on your arm, I feel your energy - your general level of energy. When we make love and my tongue strokes your clit, I feel a great deal more energy since this flesh is very aroused and much blood circulates there and there are many nerve endings stimulated. It feels more alive, more full of energy. It is very difficult to explain, unless you have experienced both ways of being."

"Have you?"

"Yes, I let go of my power once - to see how it felt to live as a mortal."

"And?" I asked, waiting for him to elaborate, but my mind was caught by his discussion of his tongue stroking my clit.

"I prefer to live as a god." He said, a smile curving his lips. I laughed out loud at this. "No doubt!" I wanted to hear more - I wanted him to tell me of his time as a mortal. And then I wanted him to fuck me again.

"I wanted to feel life - to feel what mortals felt as they lived in their bodies and went about their daily lives."

"Well?"

"When I felt mortal life, all I truly perceived was death. Life as a mortal," he said and shook his head. "It is...very painful. Physical pain and that in the mind and heart. There are so many small pains to be experienced each day. There is the threat of large pain when one is injured, which is always possible for a mortal. So many dangers in this world for you. There is the constant loss of life that occurs each and every moment as you age. This is what I found the most troublesome. Losing life. Approaching death. Living with the knowledge that your life will end. I am amazed at how you mortals are able to go on with life, but I suppose the only other choice is death."

"Don't gods die?"

"We can, if we do not replenish ourselves. We will fade away if we do not take in more energy than we expend. But we do not have a lifespan. We are ageless."

I was full and pushed my plate away. "How did gods come into being? I know some are born - gods ... mate and produce new gods. But where did the original gods come from?"

"We original gods, and I am one, do not belong in this place.  We are from beyond this world. We came and found here a place that could give us the existence we craved. A place for our power to be deployed, and mortals to give our existence meaning. It was a mistake to bring forth new gods. Your Ares is an example. But our time here has weakened many of us and we are drawn too close to you and your failings become our own."

"Why? Why was Ares a mistake?"

"Our own coming into existence - our birth, that of the original gods, was in very different circumstances, and thus we came into being with the proper ... conditions so that we do not abuse our power. At least, not with the same disdain. Ares and the other spawn of Zeus did not have these conditions. They have therefore taken in the human failings that go along with life in this world."

Teutates sat patiently in front of me, waiting for me to ask my next question.

"So you are an original god. And Ares is not. Are you more powerful?"

"No. Just different. Perhaps wiser. Certainly older."

I didn't know what to think of these words. Ares a mistake?

Teutates sat silent, a slight smile on his lips. He waited for me to decide what I wanted to do. "You are so patient." I commented. "You seem so willing to let me do what I want and are so accommodating - complying with my every wish. Why?"

"I have all the time in the world. You do not."

The slant of the light told me it was just about time for his first "meeting" and as much as I wanted us to make love, I knew he had little time. "I think I will go for a ride." I walked over to him and leaned down to kiss him and he pulled me into his lap and stroked my hair. "So many questions, Sophia. Your mind never stops."

"There is so much to learn, and as you have pointed out, not enough time to ever learn it all." I kissed him and he crushed me against him, his hands stroking my back, then moving around to touch my breasts. He pushed me up and turned me around so that I faced the table and leaned over me from behind, his arms stretching out and covering my own, his hair falling softly around my face and shoulders, his hands on top of mine. He kissed my neck. Then one hand went underneath me to a breast, and a finger stroked my nipple until it puckered in response. The other hand trailed down my stomach to my thighs and found my flesh.

He slipped a finger inside me and used my own moisture to lubricate himself so he could penetrate me. Then he quickly entered me and remained still, his fingers found my clit and caressed it. All this he did without joining our beings, but this was the first time he had done this with me, and the first time he initiated anything except that night I called him. I waited to see what he would do, and wondered why he was not joining with me. He began to move in me, and it felt so good, even if I did not feel his own response.

"I can't feel you," he whispered, kissing my neck. "I have dropped my godhead. Will you be able to reach orgasm if I continue this?" I nodded, and replied, but my voice was almost inaudible. I was so aroused that he was taking me this way - as a full mortal, abruptly, with no prelude, and without complete knowledge of my own lust and thoughts. It surprised me - my response. He had given up his godhead to experience sex with me as a mortal would. Him yielding power so he could understand my experience. Him yielding power.

"Tell me when you are going to come," he whispered, his voice almost desperate, his breath short as he neared his own orgasm. He groaned and had to stop his motion in me and lay his head on my shoulder. "I can't feel you - I don't know when you are near, what you need, how to touch you. I don't know how mortals do this."

"We have no other choice."

I squeezed my pubic muscles and pushed back against him, wanting him to begin moving again and he complied, his motion on my clit resuming as well. I felt his lips on my shoulder and heard his quickening breath and I was almost there - a few more strokes would push me over. "Oh, gods," I moaned, as I felt my orgasm start and it felt so strange and so good - to feel it alone, in my own body, his body silent for once so I could feel only my own self. "I'm coming," I cried as I felt the sweetness spread out from my cunt, waves of pleasure swept down my thighs and up to my belly. I felt his motions quicken and his cock grow rock hard as he came as well, his breath drawn in sharply and then groaning as the spasms overtook him.

He lay against me and gasped for breath. "You enjoyed that a great deal," he said, his voice full of amazement. "I felt blind, alone." I could almost feel his godhead return - his skin seemed energized against mine - vibrant, alive.

"Mortals are used to this. It is all we know until some pesky god comes along and spoils it for us." He sat down again on this throne and pulled me down with him.

"I could not live that way. What a tragedy is a human life! To be born, not from choice, but from the folly of others, to grow and learn of your own mortality, and then to have to keep living, day after day, knowing that you will die. Then to die. All of it, the pain, the joy, for naught."

"There are parts of life that make it worth living," I replied, moved by his sadness. "Love."

"Love," he repeated, shaking his head. "Can it ever be enough?"

"It has to be. But there is also art. And the forest," I replied.  He smiled at me. I felt it was time for me to leave and he let me this time, and when I looked back, he was dressed once again in his soft clothing the color of the earth.

-----

I went to my own room and washed myself, cleansing the last traces of our lovemaking from my body. So that was why Ares felt different to me - he was not an original god and had lost some of the - wisdom? Of the originals.  There was something lost in these new gods - perhaps this is why they tormented us so.

Fully dressed, I sat on my chair by the window, thinking about Teutates' words and wondering what to do. I decided to go and see what he was doing during this time of his. As I neared his throne room, I heard the lilt of a small voice, a childish laugh, and the murmur of Teutates' adult voice. I entered his room and saw a small girl with deep red hair curling down her back seated on his lap. She looked to be about 5 years old. They were both bent over something he held in his large  hands. It was a butterfly and I watched as its wings opened and closed. The girl took it in her own hands and she crushed it by accident, unable to gauge how fragile it was, killing it as she admired its beauty.

Teutates took the dead creature from her hands and embraced her as she cried. He spoke to her in her own language, which I did not yet understand, but I could feel the comfort in his voice. He buried his face in her curls and I looked at her small face, streaked with tears as she lay her own head on his shoulder. Was this his daughter?

He looked up at me and I watched as his face transformed from its look of understanding to one of pride. "Sophia," he said, motioning me to come in the room. "Come and meet Flauria." He spoke to the small girl again in her language and the girl looked up and wiped her eyes. She smiled at me and that smile was so enchanting! Her eyes were green and small freckles dotted her nose and cheeks. A tooth was missing giving her smile a comic look, but beautiful nonetheless.

He whispered in her ear and she sat up straight and spoke to me. "Hello, Sophia. Nice to meet you." She said, her words careful, but thick with her accent. She turned back to him to check if she had done well and his smile was her answer. I could see the pleasure on her face and she could barely restrain her happiness and wiggled in his lap.

"Hello, Flauria."

Teutates stroked her red curls possessively. I could see he loved this child and wondered who she was. "Flauria will one day be my mortal bride," he replied, reading my thoughts. "She is the gift from the tribe and will give me continued life. Each generation gives up one of their daughters. It is their way of repaying me for my indulgence."

"So you have a wife from each generation? Is the one from the last dead or still living?"

He pushed the small girl off his lap and whispered in her ear. She put her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek, her small pink lips pressed against his pale flesh. The she ran by me and out the door.

He watched her leave and then turned back to me, patting his lap for me to join him. I felt that I did not want to replace her on his lap - was I just another mortal child to him? "Come," he insisted, "I have something to tell you which I think you will not like to hear, but hear it you must."

I went to him and sat on his lap, my arms around his neck. Our eyes were at the same level and when I looked in his, I felt such an overwhelming sense of distance from him, despite his warmth and his actions to comfort me. "Flauria is the tribe's sacrifice."

I looked at him, and played with the word he used to describe this small child -- sacrifice. What did he mean, sacrifice? A sacrifice was what mortals made to the gods to ask for their good will, to request a favor. Animals killed, their blood spilled as a way of placating the powerful god by giving up a life. A human sacrifice? I was horrified.

"You mean, one day she will die for you? The tribe will kill her for you?"

"No, not exactly. Her life force will join with mine. She will infuse me with her life and become a part of me, maintaining me for another generation." He saw the look on my face and felt me stiffen.

"Sophia," he began, his voice firm, "you are happy here, with me. You must accept the ways of our tribe. This is their wish, it brings meaning to their and my existence." I pulled away from his embrace and stood up. I ran from the room and out into the forest, running anywhere, away.

-----

I ran until there was no breath left in me and fell down into the grass in a small meadow. I lay back and looked at the blue sky, dotted with fluffy clouds. Birds flew high, wheeling on the wind - the whisper of its breath through the tall grassed played in my ears. Beyond I saw the trees and above forest canopy, the tree, Teutates' tree, emerged from its midst. I stood and made my way to it, stepping over fallen branches and piles of leaves. Inside the forest, the green and yellow shade was cool on my cheeks hot with emotion, wet with tears. I heard the twitter of the birds and high above the rustle of wind in the leaves. There it was, that massive trunk. The white flowers, the moss, the fungi all as I remembered them. I stood beside it and looked up and the tree seemed to go on forever it was so tall. I leaned against it and felt its bark hard and rough against my skin. And I knew at that moment that I had to return to Athens.

"I knew you would not stay for long," he said. "Please, Sophia. I do not want there to be only one ring with your name. It makes me so sad." I pushed away from the tree with reluctance, and felt the tears slip down my cheeks. "I can't stand the thought that you take her life! The gods of Greece do not do this!"

"They do. All of us derive our continued existence from human life, from your life force. Ares does from the death of war, Zeus and the others do from ambrosia. It is nothing more than the life force of mortals - sacrifices gathered from all the years we have been in existence on this world." He looked at me, and felt my continued horror.

"Sophia! She will feel no pain - only the joy of our union. She will become part of my immortal being. This is no better or worse than your beloved Ares, whose life force comes from the death of his enemy or from ambrosia!"

"How does she ... join with you?"

"It is similar to our own joining, Sophia, except I go further, opening her so much that her own being becomes part of me and I absorb her entirely. There is no separation. Her mortal body dies and her essence joins my own. She will feel only the ecstacy of our union."

I turned and left the tree.  And walked through the forest, not knowing where I was going or why. I just couldn't get past the idea that these gods sucked the life out of us, they stole our lives from us. It was as Teutates said that first day I met him. Gods stole their power from us. When we stole it back, they would become the stuff of myth. I only wanted now to steal that power back from them, from Ares and Teutates. They did not deserve that power. They gave us nothing in return but heartbreak.

I sat down by a small brook and looked into its shallows at the stones smoothed by the waters endless action. The sound of running water calmed me. All beings took their energy from somewhere - we mortals did from the plants and animals on which we fed. They in turn had their own food sources. So it was with gods - except it was on us they fed.

I felt his presence behind me.

"I have to go back to Athens, Teutates. I have to live with other humans, others of my kind. I want to study and paint and be in the midst of all those people who walk the streets. Feel their life around me."

He pulled me up to him and put his arms around me. "Will you still call me? I have grown used to your touch and will feel lonely without you."

He kissed me and as our beings merged I felt his deep sadness, his loneliness - the same loneliness I felt when I joined with Ares. I knew that these gods, for all their power, needed mortals to feel complete. If it wasn't our energy they stole, it was our experience. Our capacity to feel, to suffer, to love. For he had admitted that gods couldn't feel these things without our essence. Unless they took on a mortal form, they could not perceive life except through stealing from us. I would no longer be a means to fill their void.

From wherever they came, here they needed to feel some connection to humans. Flauria filled this need in Teutates as I did as well.  As Iphicles and I did for Ares.  As Flauria grew, for her entire life until she joined with him, Teutates felt her life grow and develop, he felt her wonder at the world, and it soothed the tremendous pain of his eternal being. His immortality was as tragic to me as my finitude was to him.

"I will," I replied.

-----

Several weeks passed. I wandered through the streets of Athens but saw nothing of its beauty, nor did I hear the bustle of life around me. I had not eaten and did not feel my hunger, even though I had not a bite to eat for a whole day. I felt the desire for life seep out of me.  There was nothing for me to do. Melenos had accepted me back  into the class but he had cancelled the class for this past week while off in the country with his new apprentice to complete a commission. I ran out of money and food and had not the heart to call on my family for support.

I stopped in front of the Temple to Ares and looked at the supplicants walking in and out, bringing their offerings to the god in hopes of winning his favor. I was tempted to go inside and impale myself on some sharp object and bleed to death on his altar. Instead I saw one figure emerge into the sunlight, his chestnut hair shining in the light. Dimitris. He did not look my way, and turned to go in the opposite direction.  I quickly stepped out of the lane and hid so he would not see me. As beautiful as he was, I felt a deep reluctance to see him. I was still so embarrassed at the failed encounter with him that day in Rome. I turned and walked the other way, hoping he would not see me, but he must have turned around and I felt his hand on my arm as he reached my side.

"Sophia!"

There was no escape so I put on my brightest face and tried to look surprised. "Dimitris!" I replied. We stopped in the middle of the walkway and stood facing each other, awkward now that we had to speak.

"I thought you lived in Thessaly."

"I moved to Athens to study under Melenos. I am taking his classes this semester."

"Oh, gods! What luck. How wonderful for you - studying with Melenos. He is one of the greatest artists in all of Greece." He smiled. "If I had not been the first-born son, I would have studied art. Instead, my father made me go to the academy to study warfare."

I had been avoiding his eyes, but now looked up into them. How sad - to be denied your true love.
"Do you have any skill in art? You could still draw and paint even if you are not able to study."

He sighed, and his deep voice was filled with sadness. "All my energy was spent doing my duties to my father. Preparing to take over his place when he died. I am afraid I haven't picked up a piece of charcoal or a paintbrush for eons. And now, I am head of my household and have to do my own duties. There is little time for these pastimes.

"They are not pastimes to me. Art is my life." I lied.

"Then you have a wonderful life, Sophia. How I envy you."

"Don't. Right now I have to leave and return to Thessaly. I lost my apprenticeship and have no money, no food. I must go back to my own family or starve to death." I don't know why I said this to him but I felt my words about art being my life were so hollow, such a lie that I could not stop crying. Defeat hurt so much. I had made so many mistakes.

"Sophia!" he said, taking my hand in his. "If you need money..." I shook my head quickly. "No!" I began, feeling like such a fool to have even mentioned it, "no, I shouldn't have said anything, but only realized it for the first time myself. I have been avoiding even thinking of it since..." Since my return from Britain, I thought to myself. He pulled me with him.

"Come - we will start by making a sacrifice to Ares, then go and get you some food." He was stronger than me, and would not accept my no. "Sophia!" he insisted, "let me do this. To make up for Rome..."  He stopped outside the temple and purchased a lamb for his sacrifice. The shopkeeper handed it to him and he carried it into the temple, handing it over to the attendant. He pulled me into the darkened interior. My face flushed when I looked at the throne. I did not want to be here.

"Why Ares?" I asked him, wondering why the war god was the god to whom he prayed. "I trained as a warrior, and have fought in several battles. I am still alive, in part, due to him. I owe him some debt. But I will make this sacrifice for you, Sophia."  We stood and watched as the lamb was sacrificed, and I felt Dimitris eyes on me as the lambs throat was slit and its blood poured out of it into the bowl. Nothing importune happened - a simple sacrifice, the lamb died, its blood spilled in exchange for the war god's indulgence.

We left the temple and emerged into the light. He took me to a sidewalk eatery and we had a meal. It was my first since the mid-day meal the previous day, and I almost drooled at the sight of the food when it was placed in front of me. He watched amused as I ate heartily and drank the wine. I finally relaxed and looked at him as he ate the food on his plate. He ate slowly, and made noises of appreciation as he did, unlike me who had almost piled it in without tasting it. The food was simple, rice, lamb, greens. He ate it like it was the most prized food in the world. He smiled at me, and I was once again taken by those dark eyes and sensuous lips. After Iphicles, I had to agree with my own assessment. Dimitris was definitely the most desirable mortal man I had seen.

"So tell me about your life, Dimitris."

"No," he said, taking a long drink of his wine. He closed his eyes and seemed entranced by its flavor, but I had found it only mildly pleasing. "I want to apologize for Rome, and explain." I shook my head. I didn't want to talk about Rome. I wanted to forget it. "No need. It should be me who apologizes to you. I had just gone through something traumatic and was not ready yet for a new lover."

He reached out quickly and took my hand. "Sophia. Don't apologize to me. It is me who needs to apologize to you." He held my hand until I looked up into his eyes. His face was so serious, his dark eyes so intense, I waited, not wanting to insult him.

He sat back and let go of my hand. He poured more wine for us both and drank down his cup as if to garner courage. "I have to tell you a story - about me and explain why I was unable to ... finish what we started in Rome." he stopped and looked down at his folded hands.  "...I felt such shame that I was unable to make love to you the way a normal man would."  My face flushed. I was not certain I wanted his confession. "You see, I am unable to ... perform as a normal man, to have sex in this way. A young woman I know ... she, I..." he stopped speaking and looked away, pained by the story he was trying to tell me. "I have a burden of guilt that keeps me from feeling able to take the risk of getting my lover pregnant."

I shook my head, still not knowing what he meant. "Sophia! This young woman is barren because of me. I stood by and let her take up with a friend of mine - an officer whom I admired very much, and whom I knew would only harm this girl and throw her away. I even arranged it so they could be together - alone - so he could seduce her.  I did nothing, when I knew I should have stepped in and stopped it - told her of his deception and his plans for her. But I didn't. I don't know why I didn't. Because I was selfish - I wanted to maintain my friendship with this soldier. Because it was too much of a bother, would cause too much of a scene, even though I knew it was the proper thing to do. Because I didn't think she was important enough. I don't know. All I know is that I was responsible.  And I failed her." It was all so confusing to me. I couldn't make out how these threads all fit together.

"I should have intervened. I would have lost my friendship with this man, but she would not have got pregnant and would be able to marry and have children now. Instead," he said, his voice so low and filled with shame. "I let her go to him, become his lover.  I stood by and said nothing. I didn't think she would almost die as a result. Of course, she got pregnant, and this friend of mine was nowhere in sight. She went for an abortion to some healer woman I found. She almost died and now can not have any children. She married but when he found out she was barren, her husband rejected her. She now lives with me, on my estate. I will care for her the rest of her life. Willingly."

He took another long drink and filled his cup once again. "So you see, I am afraid that I can not enjoy intercourse - not because I am incapable, but because I think of what happened to her, and how I am responsible for her state. She has retreated into some private hell. Her body and mind destroyed." Here I was, in the presence of another tortured man, watching as he got drunk and confessed to me. "I tried to give you as much pleasure as I could before... but I could tell you did not enjoy it. And I couldn't tell you about this then."

He turned and took my hand and looked at me once again and I saw the pain in his eyes. "Life lost can never be given back. This will never make amends. I can never make amends for my selfishness. My refusal to act." His words were a knife cutting through my heart. "Do you think it is possible for her to ever forgive me?"

I felt my heart reach out to Dimitris. "I don't know if this woman can ever forgive you, or if she even blames you - probably not. But you blame yourself. And I believe you are truly sorry for your part in her story." He clasped both my hands in his and leaned down to kiss them.

"Sophia," he whispered, his head bowed. "I haven't told you everything. It is worse than I have told you." He was silent for a moment. I thought perhaps it was him who got this girl pregnant - him who seduced her and cast her off when he tired of her, and deserted her when he found out she was pregnant.

"The girl - it was my sister."

I leaned back, taking my hands out of his. He sighed and covered his eyes with a hand and leaned back in his chair. Then he looked at me. "She was under my protection, Sophia. I was responsible for her care. I was her powerful big brother who should have been there to defend her against this brute who lied to her and spoiled her. But I wasn't. I was so caught up in my relationships in the military - who was my friend, who was my ally, who would move me up in the ranks of officers through their association. All so I could please my father, who never loved me anyway. I saw my sister as a sacrifice for my own position. I didn't want to rock the boat."

This was something else. She was not some stranger, or even an acquaintance. She was his sister - his blood. He should have protected her. He should have defended her. What could I say. He did seem full of remorse, now, after all the pain and sorrow was over.

"I am sorry, Dimitris. I can not absolve you of your guilt. This is something between your sister and you." I saw that my reply brought real grief to him. He shook his head and looked away. "She knows of my guilt. She found out and will not speak to me. We...live in the same house, but she has not seen me now for so long, and has not asked for me. I feel unable to go to her."

"You must go to her. Tell her how you feel. Confess your guilt. Ask her what you can do to make amends. You must if you truly want her to forgive you, if that is even possible."

"I'm afraid that even when I confess, even when I ask for her forgiveness, she will still reject me. I am a coward - me! The mighty warrior, head of my father's estate!" I didn't know what to say. What could I say? I had a hard time even looking at him myself. His cowardice, his lack of responsibility for his sister sickened me. Yet, he did show remorse - real sadness at the tragic consequences of his inaction.

"Now you are going to reject me as well. I can tell by the way you can't look at me anymore."

"Dimitris, I am not your sister. I can not tell you how she will respond to your apology. But I can tell you that she might accept it and still not want to ever speak with you again. Are you willing to accept that?"

"No!"

"Dimitris, this is her pain, her life that has been destroyed, not yours. She must be the one who lets you back into her life. She must do this on her own, when she is ready. You must be patient - show her you will accept her decision."

"And you?"

I shook my head. "Why did you even tell me this? How do you expect me to react? What you did was - despicable."

"Sophia! I told you so you would know. Ever since Rome, I have felt such disgust with myself, such regret for my actions. You were so beautiful, so full of life, so captivating. So giving. I hoped that we might try again. That you might consider me as a lover. I wanted you to know - so you might understand why Rome happened and not blame yourself. So you might forgive me as well." He leaned forward and took my hands in his and looked at me. "Can you forgive me? Forgive me for being a coward, selfish, unfeeling? For my despicable act?" These words should have been coming from Ares' own lips. I realized that only a mortal could feel this pain and remorse. Not a god.

"Dimitris, I..." I shook my head and pulled my hands away. Another man unable to live up to my expectations. How could I bear being with another man so soon after Ares, especially one who showed such smallness of character in his past. I felt as repulsed from him as if I was his own sister and he was asking me for forgiveness.

"I can't do this again, Dimitris. Be with a man who has betrayed another. I was betrayed as well and like your sister, my life was changed from one act of indifference."

He looked down at the ground and ran his fingers through that long silky hair. "Tell me. Who betrayed you, Sophia? Or are all cowards the same?" He looked up at me, his face set, trying to steel himself for my rejection of him.

"I too was betrayed by someone who should have, could have protected me. But he, like you, didn't care enough about me to intervene. He too was thinking strategically rather than morally. And I've spent half my life trying to recover. The fact that I spent my last months with a ... I can hardly even call him a man... who abused me, who tormented me, who demeaned me, is a testament to the damage he did to me." I covered my eyes as I felt the tears falling.

"Some days it is so hard to stay alive!" I cried, wiping my eyes. "Some days, I only want to die."

"Don't die. It should be him who dies, not you."

"He won't die! He can't even feel pain! He's a god - your fucking God of War!"

I broke down completely. He knelt beside my chair and took me in his arms while I cried on his shoulder. "Dimitris - what you did was bad, but what this bastard did to me was unforgivable! He watched as I was raped, twice. And twice he could have stepped in and stopped the pain. But both times, when I was 10 and when I was 18, he was thinking rather than feeling. He can not feel. He is a cold cruel bastard."

"How could he do such a thing? He is a god - gods can intervene. Why else have power?"

He pulled my face to his and wiped my tears. "You can never forgive him, Sophia. He does not deserve your forgiveness."

"You know what the very worst part of this is? The very worst part of it is that I still love him."

"How can you love him? He does not deserve your love."

"He doesn't deserve my love. And the one who does deserve my love doesn't have it. The one I left for him. That's life. It's so unfair."

-----

I sat with Dimitris and said nothing - there was little to say. He sighed and looked away. "So, Sophia. You were betrayed by the god of war, and yet, you still love him. Why?"

I shook my head - what could I tell him? Because Ares was so beautiful? That sounded so shallow, and I knew it was more than that. Because he was such a good fuck? More than that as well. His humor? His skill at warfare? I couldn't place it. There was no one thing I could grasp onto to explain my love for Ares - it was all these things taken together. And it was the fact that I had been inside him, completely filled by him, and when I was joined with him, felt complete, full, alone no longer. I remembered his loneliness, felt his need - for me, for Iphicles. Then, at that moment, I felt his love for me emerge from my memories of our joining.  It was there, even though that love was denied, was forced into the smallest recesses of his being. He did his best to overlook it and substituted for it desire and anger. Ares tried so hard not to love me, and feared his own failure. Struggled against his every impulse to kindness, to thoughtfulness, to love.  Feared its power over him. I knew that his love must be as powerful as his anger and his lust - but these would not betray him - only his love would. And I had been only constant in my love for him and my desire for his love. He kept me there, by his side, out of guilt - that I knew. He kept me there out of love, yet could not express it - this I just learned while sitting across from Dimitris.

He could lose himself in lust - why not love? Anger overtook him and he seemed to allow its dominance, yet fought love's slightest taint.

"I have tried, for all this time, to let Ares know I love him - that I want only him. I have tried to comply with him, with his wishes. I have been honest with my own emotions, Dimitris. He has no doubt of my feelings - he knows my heart. None of this has succeeded.  I love him in spite of himself, but I can no longer keep it up, can no longer face the lack of love from him."

"Then he is a sorry bastard and a fool, Sophia. To not love you? His heart must be stone." He leaned forward and took my hands in his and looked at me, his face so serious, his voice choked with emotion. "Sophia! Give me a chance to love you. I know I will have to prove myself to you and that it will take a lot for you to trust me after what I have told you about my past, my own weakness. But I knew in Rome, when I heard you talk to that young Roman, when I saw your love of beauty, when I felt your desire for life that I could love you."

He was so beautiful, with his incredible dark eyes and lustrous hair - his huge body and smooth skin. I had desired him once so much! "Come with me to my apartment - I will care for you." He looked down at his feet, "I cannot take you to my estate for my sister has demanded that I never marry as long as she is alive, and only the sons of my younger brother will one day lead my family's household."
-----

I ran until there was no breath left in me and fell down into the grass in a small meadow. Up above the blue sky was dotted with fluffy clouds.  Birds flew high, wheeling on the wind in graceful arcs.  The whisper of  wind's breath through the tall grassed played in my ears. Beyond I saw  the trees and there, above the forest canopy, was the tree, Teutates'  tree, emerging from its midst. I stood and made my way to it, entering  the forest's moist interior, stepping over fallen branches and piles of  leaves. Inside the forest, the green and yellow shade was cool on my
cheeks that were now hot with emotion and wet with tears. I heard the  twitter of the birds and high above the rustle of wind in the leaves.  There it was, that massive trunk. The white flowers, the moss, the fungi  all as I remembered them. The tree seemed to go on forever it was so  tall. In my embrace, its bark felt hard and rough against my skin. I  knew at that moment that I had to return to Athens.

"I knew you would not stay for long," he said. "Sophia! I do not want there to be only one ring with your name. It makes me so sad." I pushed away from the tree with reluctance, and felt the tears slip down my cheeks. "I can't stand the thought that you take her life. The gods of Greece do not do this."

"They do. All of us derive our continued existence from human life, from your life force. Ares does from the death of war, Zeus and the others do from ambrosia. It is nothing more than the life force of mortals - from deaths and sacrifices, from your daily activities gathered from all the years we have been in existence on this world." He looked at me, and felt my continued horror.

"Sophia! She will feel no pain - only the joy of our union. She will  become part of my immortal being. This is no better or worse than your  beloved Ares, whose life force comes from the death of his enemy or from ambrosia!"

"How does she ... join with you?"

"It is similar to our own joining, Sophia, except I go further, opening her so much that her own being becomes part of me and I absorb her entirely. There is no separation. Her mortal body dies and her essence joins my own. She will feel only the ecstasy of our union."

I turned and left the tree, and walked through the forest, not knowing  where I was going or why. I just couldn't get past the idea that these  gods sucked the life out of us, they stole our lives from us. It was as Teutates said that first day I met him. Gods stole their power from us. When we stole it back, they would become the stuff of myth. I only wanted now to steal that power back from them, from Ares and Teutates.  They did not deserve that power. What they gave us in return was not worth this loss.

I sat down by a small brook and looked into its shallows at the stones  smoothed by the water's endless motion. The sound of running water  calmed me, and I knew that all beings took their energy from somewhere.   Mortals took our energy from the plants and animals on which we fed. The animals and plants in turn had their own food sources. So it was with gods - except it was on us they fed.

I felt his presence behind me.

"I have to go back to Athens, Teutates. I have to live with other humans, others of my kind. I want to study and paint and be in the midst of all those people who walk the streets. Feel their life around me."

He pulled me up to him and put his arms around me. "Will you still call me? I have grown used to your touch and will feel lonely without you."

He kissed me and as our beings merged I felt his deep sadness, his loneliness - the same loneliness I felt when I joined with Ares. I knew that these gods, for all their power, needed mortals to feel complete. If it wasn't our energy they stole, it was our experience - our capacity to feel, to suffer, to love. For he had admitted that gods couldn't feel these things without our essence in them. Unless they took on a mortal form, they could not perceive life except through stealing it from us. I would no longer be a means to fill their void.

>From wherever they came, here they needed to feel some connection to humans. Tuiren filled this need in Teutates as I did as well - as Iphicles and I did for Ares.  As Tuiren grew, for her entire life until she joined with him, Teutates felt her life grow and develop, he felt her wonder at the world, and it soothed the tremendous pain of his eternal being. His immortality was as tragic to me as the finite nature of my life was to him.

"I will," I replied.

-----

Several weeks passed. I wandered through the streets of Athens but saw nothing of its beauty, nor did I hear the bustle of life around me. I had not eaten and did not feel my hunger, even though I had not a bite to eat for a whole day. I felt the desire for life seep out of me.  There was nothing for me to do. Melenos had accepted me back  into the class but he had canceled it for this past week while off in the country with his new apprentice to complete a commission. I ran out of money and food and had not the heart to call on my family for support.

I stopped in front of the Temple to Ares and looked at the supplicants walking in and out, bringing their offerings to the god in hopes of winning his favor. I was tempted to go inside and impale myself on some sharp object and bleed to death on his altar - perhaps my death would teach this god about the mortal heart. Instead I saw one figure emerge into the street, his chestnut hair shining golden in the sunlight.  Dimitris. He did not look my way, and turned to go in the opposite  direction.  I quickly stepped out of the lane and hid so he would not  see me. As beautiful as he was, I felt a deep reluctance to see him. I  was still so embarrassed at the failed encounter with him that day in  Rome and felt so dead inside I didn't really want to talk to anyone. I turned and walked the other way, hoping he would not see me, but he must have turned around and I felt his hand on my arm as he reached my side.

"Sophia!"

There was no escape so I put on my brightest face and tried to look surprised. "Dimitris!" I replied. We stopped in the middle of the walkway and stood facing each other, awkward now that we had to speak.

"I thought you lived in Thessaly."

"I moved to Athens to study under Melenos. I am taking his classes this semester."

"Oh, gods! What luck. How wonderful for you - studying with Melenos. He  is one of the greatest artists in all of Greece." He smiled. "If I had not been the first-born son, I would have studied art. Instead, my father made me go to the academy to study warfare."

I had been avoiding his eyes, but now looked up into them. How sad - to be denied your true love. "Do you have any skill in art? You could still draw and paint even if you are not able to study."

He sighed, and his deep voice was filled with sadness. "All my energy was spent doing my duties to my father. Preparing to take over his place when he died. I am afraid I haven't picked up a piece of charcoal or a paintbrush for eons. And now, I am head of my household and have to do my own duties. There is little energy for these pastimes."

"They are not pastimes to me. Art is my life," I lied.

"Then you have a wonderful life, Sophia. How I envy you."

"Don't. Right now I have to leave and return to Thessaly. I lost my apprenticeship and have no money, no food. I must go back to my own family or starve to death." I don't know why I said this to him but I felt my words about art being my life were so hollow, such a lie that I could not stop crying. Defeat hurt so much. I had made so many mistakes.

"Sophia!" he said, taking my hand in his. "If you need money..." I shook my head quickly. "No!" I began, feeling like such a fool to have even mentioned it, "no, I shouldn't have said anything, but only realized it for the first time myself. I have been avoiding even thinking of it since..." Since my return from Britain, I thought to myself. He pulled me with him.

"Come - we will start by making a sacrifice to Ares, then go and get you some food." He was so much stronger than me, and would not accept my no. "Sophia!" he insisted, "let me do this. To make up for Rome..."  He stopped outside the temple and purchased a lamb for his sacrifice. The shopkeeper carried it into the temple, handing it over to the attendant. Dimitris pulled me into the darkened interior, and my face flushed when I looked at the throne. I did not want to be here.

"Why Ares?" I asked him, wondering why the war god was the god to whom he prayed. "I trained as a warrior, and have fought in several battles. I am still alive, in part, due to him. I owe him some debt. But I will make this sacrifice for you, Sophia."  We stood and watched as the lamb was sacrificed, and I felt Dimitris' eyes on me as the lambs throat was slit and its blood poured out of it into the bowl. He must have been thinking of the last time we were together and the blood of his sacrifice sprayed on me. Nothing importune happened here - a simple sacrifice, the lamb died, its blood spilled in exchange for the war god's indulgence.

We left the temple and emerged into the light and my eyes stung from its brightness. He took me to a sidewalk eatery and we had a meal - my first since mid-afternoon on the previous day, and I almost drooled at the sight of the food when it was placed in front of me. Dimitris watched amused as I ate heartily and drank the wine. I finally relaxed and looked at him as he ate the food on his plate. He ate slowly, and made noises of appreciation, unlike me who had almost piled it in without tasting it. The food was simple, rice, lamb, greens, but he ate it like it was the most prized food in the world. He smiled at me, and I was once again taken by those dark eyes and sensuous lips. After Iphicles, I had to agree with my own assessment - Dimitris was definitely the most desirable mortal man I had seen.

"So tell me about your life, Dimitris."

"No," he said, taking a long drink of his wine. He closed his eyes and seemed entranced by its flavor, but I had found it only mildly pleasing. "I want to apologize for Rome, and explain." I shook my head. I didn't want to talk about Rome. I wanted to forget it.  "No need. It should be me who apologizes to you. I had just gone through something traumatic and was not ready yet for a new lover."

He reached out quickly and took my hand. "Sophia. Don't apologize to me." He held my hand until I looked up into his eyes. "It is me who needs to apologize to you." His face was so serious, his dark eyes so intense, I waited, not wanting to insult him.

He sat back but would not let go of my hand. He poured more wine for us both and drank down his cup as if to garner courage. I let him hold my hand - I did not have the strength to pull away nor the desire to see him hurt by my rejection of his affection. "I have to tell you a story - about me - to explain why I was unable to ... finish what we started in Rome." He stopped and stroked my hand.  "I left because...because I felt such shame that I was unable to make love to you the way a normal man would."  My face flushed. I was not certain I wanted his confession.
"You see, I am unable to ... consummate the act of intercourse. A young woman I know ... she, I..." he stopped speaking and looked away, pained by the story he was trying to tell me. "I have a burden of guilt that keeps me from feeling able to take the risk of getting my lover pregnant."

I shook my head, still not knowing what he meant. "Sophia! I stood by and let her take up with a friend of mine - an officer whom I admired very much, and whom I knew would only harm this girl and throw her away. I looked the other way when they were together - and my silence allowed him to seduce her, to deflower her, then cast her aside when she became pregnant.  I did nothing, when I knew I should have stepped in and stopped it - told her of his deceptive ways but I didn't. I don't know why I didn't. Because I was selfish - I wanted to maintain my friendship with this officer. Because it was too much of a bother, would cause too much of a scene if I tried to stop them, even though I knew it was the proper thing to do. Because I didn't think she was important enough. I don't know. All I know is that I was responsible.  And I failed her." It was all so confusing to me. I couldn't make out how these threads all fit together.

"I should have intervened. Instead," he said, his voice so low and filled with shame. "I let her go to him, become his conquest.  I stood by and said nothing. I didn't think she would almost die as a result." He took a long drink of wine and looked up at me briefly from under his brows, then looked down. "Of course, she got pregnant, and this friend of mine was nowhere in sight. Some healer woman I found botched her abortion and she almost died. When her fiance found out she was not a virgin and was barren, he rejected her. She now lives with me, on my estate. I will care for her the rest of her life. Willingly."

He took another long drink and filled his cup once again. "So you see, I am afraid that I can not enjoy intercourse - not because I am incapable, but because I think of what happened to her, and how I am responsible for her state." Here I was, in the presence of another tortured man, watching as he got drunk and confessed to me. "I tried to give you as much pleasure as I could before... but I could tell you did not enjoy it. And I couldn't tell you about this then."

He turned and took my hand in both of his and looked at me once again.  I saw the pain in his eyes. "Life lost can never be given back. This will never make amends. I can never make amends for my selfishness. My refusal to act." His words were a knife cutting through my heart. "Do you think it is possible to forgive someone like me?"

I felt my heart reach out to Dimitris. "I don't know if this woman can ever forgive you, or if she even blames you - probably not. But you blame yourself. And I believe you are truly sorry for your part in her story." He leaned down to kiss my hand - to hold it against his cheek.

"Sophia," he whispered, his head bowed. "I haven't told you everything. It is worse than I have told you." He was silent for a moment. I thought perhaps it was him who got this girl pregnant - him who seduced her and cast her off when he tired of her, and deserted her when he found out she was pregnant.

"The girl - it was my sister."

I leaned back, taking my hand out of his. He sighed and covered his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Then he forced himself to look at me. "She was under my protection, Sophia. I was responsible for her care. I was her powerful big brother who should have been there to defend her against this brute who lied to her and spoiled her. But I didn't. I was so caught up in my relationships in the military - who was my friend, who was my ally, who would move me up in the ranks of officers through their association. All so I could please my father, who never loved me
anyway. I saw my sister as a sacrifice for my own position. I didn't want to rock the boat."

This was something else. She was not some stranger, or even an acquaintance. She was his sister - his blood. He should have protected her. He should have defended her. What could I say? It was so easy to feel  remorse, now, after all the pain and sorrow was over.

"Dimitris. I can not absolve you of your guilt. This is something between your sister and you." I saw that my reply brought real grief to him. He shook his head and looked away. "She knows of my guilt. She found out I knew he had no intentions of marrying her and will not speak to me. We...live in the same house, but she has not seen me now for so long, and has not asked for me. I feel unable to go to her."

"You must go to her. Tell her how you feel. Confess your guilt. Ask her what you can do to make amends. You must if you truly want her to forgive you, if that is even possible."

"I'm afraid that even when I confess, even when I ask for her forgiveness, she will still reject me. I am a coward - me! The mighty warrior, head of my father's estate!" I didn't know what to say. What could I say? I had a hard time even looking at him myself. His cowardice, his lack of responsibility for his sister sickened me. Yet, he did show remorse - real sadness at the tragic consequences of his
inaction.

"Now you are going to reject me as well. I can tell by the way you can't look at me anymore."

"Dimitris, I am not your sister. I can't tell you how she will respond to your apology. But I can tell you that she might accept it and still not want to ever speak with you again. Are you willing to accept that?"

"No!"

"Dimitris, this is her pain, her life that has been destroyed, not yours. She must be the one who lets you back into her life. She must do this on her own, when she is ready. You must be patient - show her you will accept her decision."

"And you?"

I shook my head.  "Why did you even tell me this? How do you expect me to react? What you did was - despicable."

"Sophia! I told you so you would know. Ever since Rome, I have felt such disgust with myself, such regret for my actions. You were so beautiful, so full of life, so captivating. So giving. I hoped that we might try again. That you might consider me as a lover. I thought of coming to Thessaly to find you but was afraid you would spit in my face.  I told you this now because I wanted you to know - so you might understand why Rome happened and not blame yourself. So you might forgive me as well." He leaned forward and took my hands in his and looked at me. "Can you forgive me? Forgive me for being a coward, selfish, unfeeling? For my despicable act?" These words should have been coming from Ares' own lips. I realized that only a mortal could feel this pain and remorse. Not a god.

"Dimitris, I..." I shook my head and pulled my hands away. Another man unable to live up to my expectations. How could I bear being with another man so soon after Ares, especially one who showed such smallness of character in his past. I felt as repulsed from him as if I was his own sister and he was asking me for forgiveness.

"I can't do this again, Dimitris. Be with a man who has betrayed another. I was betrayed as well and like your sister, my life was changed from one act of indifference."

He looked down at the ground and ran his fingers through that long silky hair. His face was flushed.  "Tell me. Who betrayed you, Sophia? Or are all cowards the same, their identity unimportant?" He looked up at me, his face set, trying to steel himself for rejection.

"Like your sister, I was betrayed by someone who should have, could have protected me. But he, like you, didn't care enough about me to intervene. He, too, was thinking strategically rather than morally. And I've spent half my life trying to recover. The fact that I spent my last months with a ... I can hardly even call him a man... who abused me, who tormented me, who demeaned me, is a testament to the damage he did to me." I covered my eyes as I felt the tears falling.

"Some days it is so hard to stay alive!" I cried, wiping my eyes. "Some days, I only want to die."

"No! Don't die. It should be him who dies, not you."

"He won't die! He can't even feel pain! He's a god - your fucking God of War!"

I broke down completely. He knelt beside my chair and took me in his arms while I cried on his shoulder. "Dimitris - what you did was bad, but what this bastard did to me was unforgivable! He watched as I was raped, twice. And twice he could have stepped in and stopped the pain - but both times, when I was 10 and when I was 18, he was thinking rather than feeling. He can not feel. He is a cold cruel bastard."

"How could he do such a thing? He is a god - gods can intervene. Why else have power?"

He pulled my face to his and wiped my tears. "You can never forgive him, Sophia. He does not deserve your forgiveness."

"You know what the very worst part of this is? The very worst part of it is that I still love him."

"How can you love him? He does not deserve your love."

"He doesn't deserve my love." I repeated and his eyes closed in pain. "And the one who does deserve my love doesn't have it. The one I left for him. That's life. It's so unfair."

-----

I sat with Dimitris and said nothing - there was little to say. He sighed and looked away. "So, Sophia. You were betrayed by the god of war, and yet, you still love him. Why?"

I shook my head - what could I tell him? Because Ares was so beautiful? That sounded shallow, and I knew it was more than that. Because he was such a good fuck? More than that as well. His humor? His skill at warfare? I couldn't place it. There was no one thing I could grasp onto to explain my love for Ares - it was all these things taken together. And it was the fact that I had been inside him, completely filled by him, and when joined with him, I felt complete, full, alone no longer. I remembered his loneliness, felt his need - for me, for Iphicles.

Then, at that moment, I felt his love for me emerge from my memories of our joining.  It was there, even though that love was denied, was forced into the smallest recesses of his being. He did his best to overlook it and substituted for it desire, derision and anger. Ares tried so hard not to love me, and feared his own failure. He struggled against his every impulse to kindness, to thoughtfulness, to love - in fear of its power over him. I knew that his love must be as powerful as his anger and his lust - but these would not betray him - only his love would. He kept me there, by his side, out of guilt - that I knew. He kept me there out of love, yet could not express it - this I just learned while sitting across from Dimitris.

He could lose himself in lust - why not love? Anger overtook him and he seemed willing to allow its dominance, yet fought love's slightest taint.

"I'VE tried, all this time, to let Ares know I love him - that I want only him. I've tried to comply with him, with his wishes. I've been honest with my own emotions, Dimitris. He has no doubt of my feelings - he knows my heart. None of this has succeeded.  I love him in spite of himself, but I can no longer keep it up, I can no longer face this lack of love from him."

"Then he is a sorry bastard and a fool, Sophia. To not love you? His heart must be stone." He leaned forward and took my hands in his and looked at me, his face so serious, his voice choked with emotion. "Sophia! Give me a chance to love you. I know I'll have to prove myself to you and that it will take a lot for you to trust me after what I have told you about my past, my own weakness. But I knew in Rome, when I heard you talk to that young Roman, when I saw your love of beauty, when I felt your desire for life - for me - that I could love you."

He was so beautiful, with his incredible dark eyes and lustrous hair - his huge body and smooth skin. I had desired him once so much! "Come live with me in my apartment - I will take care of you." He looked down at my hands entwined with his own. "I can't take you to my estate for my sister has demanded that I never marry since she cannot as well. I will have no heirs as long as she is alive, and the son of my younger brother will one day lead my family's household."

"Dimitris!" I whispered, more to myself than to him, "I can't fuck my way out of this. It didn't work before and it won't work now." He looked away as if I'd struck him.

"Then stay at your own apartment - we don't have to be lovers - yet. When you are ready - when you can trust me - you can come to me and I'll be yours. I'll wait for you - willingly. Just let me look after you so you don't have to leave Athens and your classes and your art. Thessaly is such a backwater. Stay here in Athens. You belong here." I pulled my hands away. My heart felt so heavy at that moment that I either wanted to fall into his arms or feel nothing - especially his touch. "I don't know - perhaps you could loan me some money until I'm able to find
another position as an apprentice. I may have to go back to Thessaly to ask for help from my parents. I don't want to be indebted to you. I can't say that we will ever be lovers, Dimitris, although I once thought you were about the most desirable man I had ever seen. I can't see that far ahead."

"Let me see you once in a while, so I know you are well and that you don't need my help. I fear your being alone, Sophia. You seem in such a delicate state."

"I'll give you my address. You can come by and see me.  We can talk, have a meal." He smiled at this and seemed satisfied, but I intentionally gave him an incorrect address. He repeated it twice to memorize it, but I saw his sadness that I did not want our relationship to go beyond this level.

"I have to go," I said, standing up abruptly as I felt my grief rise.

"Sophia!" he called to me, and ran to my side as I turned the corner.  "Let me give you some money to see you through this." Out came a small purse from inside his tunic and he pressed it into my hand and closed my fist around it. I took it so I could leave as quickly as possible and could barely speak to thank him.

"I'll come and see you - soon!" he called to me as I fled his side.

-----

Back at my studio, I threw Dimitris' money purse on the small table by the door and stared at my newest canvas depicting the god of war as I remembered him best - seated on his stallion, sword in hand, the sky black behind him from the smoke of the fires on the battlefield. His lovely face could barely be seen.  It was shrouded by shadows save for a gleam in his eyes and some stray light which caught the fullness of his lips, the contours of his beard and his curls.  The canvas was almost complete, needing only some more detail in the background, but I had not the heart to complete it. Beside it stood the canvas depicting Teutates' tree - depicting him. I knew I could find no love from either god or protection from Ares, despite their incredible power and beauty. Even with all that power, Ares had failed me, had not saved me when I needed him, my god of war.  For all his care and gentleness, I knew Teutates could never love me. He was too far removed from anything human to really love me, not as two mortals love each other. Yet, their love  - their protection - was all I wanted. I was so tired - so tired of life, so tired of living.

As night fell, I did not bother to light the lamp or the candles and laid on my bed, waiting to die.
-----
Part 7

I lost track of the days as they passed. I rose only to rinse my mouth and relieve myself, and during those last days, I felt barely able to do even this much. Thuclides found me lying on the floor, unable to find the strength to make it back to the bed. I could barely see his face my vision was so blurred and my head light from lack of nutrition. He tried to force fluid down my throat, but I refused to swallow, wanting only to die. "Sophia!" he cried, "drink this now or you will die."

"Good." My dry throat croaked. Thuclides stepped out of the way and I saw the god take his place, felt his arms lift me and shake me angrily.

"I won't stand by again and do nothing, Sophia. Not again," his deep voice boomed. I closed my eyes. His face was the very last thing I wanted to see - not now - not when I had made my decision. He held a cup to my lips and tried to pour water into my mouth, but I closed my lips tightly.  I opened my eyes and watched with acute satisfaction as his emotions got the better of him and his face flushed with anger. "Drink!" he demanded and he stopped when he saw the smile of triumph on my face. I was going to die and he could do nothing about it in spite of all his power. "Sophia! Drink, damn you!" he roared.

"Why should I?"

"Sophia! Why do you want to die? Because of me? Don't be such a silly girl."

I turned my face away. He just didn't understand. I just felt blackness inside me - blackness that nothing seemed to send away. What I wanted, I could not have. What I could have, I did not want.

"Thuclides - you are a healer. How do we make her drink? Is there some technique to get the fluid in?"

Thuclides shook his head and looked into my eyes. "If you try to force it in, she will choke, and that strain alone could be too much." He took my hand in his and pinched my flesh. "Look," he said to Ares, pointing to the ridge of flesh that stayed where he had pinched me. "She is so dehydrated. While her body may still respond to fluid if she starts to drink, it is her spirit that is really ill. She must decide she wants to live before she will drink."

Ares turned and glared at me. He could not suppress his anger at the position in which I had put him. "Sophia! Stop being so foolish. You must drink. You are far too young to die." He propped me up again and held the cup to my lips but I would not open my mouth and the water spilled over my chin onto my chest. I smiled at him.

"There is no reason for this. You are young and have talent that must be developed. Your talent should not be wasted. Even Melenos has said this to me." He took the cup of water and held it up to my lips once again as if those words would make any difference. He had no sense of a mortal's emotions - what motivated us - what motivated me. I closed my eyes. I could almost feel the heat pouring off him from his anger. He threw the cup across the room and shook me as if he could threaten me into drinking.

"Damn you, Sophia! Drink!" Thuclides brought a new cup filled with water to the god who took it without a question and pushed it against my lips. I was enjoying his anger. He stopped finally as more water spilled uselessly on me.

"What is it you want, Sophia?"

"You know what I want." He shook his head, frustration overtaking him, and turned his face away form mine.

"You love me. Admit it." I whispered, my dry throat barely able to produce the sounds. He said nothing for a few moments then turned back and tried once again to pour the water in my mouth. I persisted in my refusal to comply. "Sophia - do I have to pry your mouth open with my hands and pour this water down your throat? I will!"

I closed my eyes and raised my hand to knock the cup away. Even that small movement took all my effort. He shook me in anger. "Sophia! If you don't start drinking, you will die."

"I want to die." I replied as I opened my eyes and watched his face, so angry at this stubborn mortal who was forcing him to face his emotions. He shook his head and looked away at Thuclides - helpless in the face of my will. Thuclides bent over me and peered at me, his face sad and drawn with concern. "Sophia," he begged, "please, for your own sake, drink. Don't give up. Your life is too precious and too full of promise to waste this way. Drink, please!" My head was resting in the god's lap and he could not look at me now, his emotions were clearly overwhelming him. I had my answer even though he would not give it to me, but I had to make him say the words. If he couldn't, I would not resist death's pull.

"Admit it, Ares." I whispered, "Then I'll drink." He could not look at me. Finally, he closed his eyes and bowed his head next to mine so that I could feel his curls touch my cheek, feel his breath on my neck beside my ear. "Sophia," he whispered, his breathing ragged. He said nothing for several long moments. I waited.

"Sophia! I'm here am I not?" He looked at me finally. "Drink!"

I laughed - nothing but a dry croak. My mouth was so parched my lips felt stuck to my teeth, my tongue glued to my palate. "You are so weak," I rasped. "You are so pitiful - afraid of love. Afraid of me." My words were slurred as if I'd drank too much wine. "Can't even say three simple words. You - a god! Afraid of three of the smallest words." I tried to lick my lips, but had no saliva and my tongue felt like it had a weight attached to it, weighing it down. I sighed and felt my grief finally flood through me and I cried, a tearless cry, my body shaking, releasing my anguish as my heart broke again for the thousandth time since that day on the beach.

"You've failed me again when I needed you." I choked, feeling my throat close in on itself, and I could not breathe. I didn't care if I died now. He couldn't admit it, he couldn't say those words to me. I would be pleased to die there with my head on his lap. He should have come down from his mount of invulnerability on that day, and burned those pigs into cinders - the hell with the opposing god and the strategy for the course of the battle. He should have cradled my small form in his arms like this and healed my wounds, restoring my faith in my gods and in life itself. Given me the gift of childhood back - erased the memories as was in his power. I could have lived my life out in peace as any other child does, and his being would be lifted up above the depths to which it had already sunk back then. Saved us all this pain on this day.

"Sophia!" he said, his eyes closed tight. "Gods are not supposed to intervene like this! Not the way you desire us to. Not in the small daily pains of your lives. I am the war god. I fight. I am not a healer. I am not a hero."

I didn't care for his rationalization. He had power. Why have it if it was not used? Now, unable to change the past, and do what he should have done then, he could still make it right by admitting that he did love me after all and save my life, redeeming his own existence if only a small bit.

"Sophia!" he cried.  He opened his eyes and I watched as his face contorted in pain, only inches away from me. I waited, my eyes not leaving his own, no matter how much pain I witnessed. He had seen my own countless times.  He closed his eyes and I felt what a tremendous effort this took for him and knew that when he said it, the pain would signal the truth of his admission.  "Sophia," he whispered, his cheek pressed against my own. "Don't die."  I felt his body shake with unconcealed emotion. "I love you." I closed my eyes and gave myself over to life. He grabbed me and lifted me up to him, his face buried in my neck, his lips pressed against my throat. Then he grabbed the cup of water and poured it in my open mouth and I tried to swallow but could not and choked as my throat was so dry. Then again I swallowed, and felt the cool water slide down my throat, into my stomach.  A thrill went through me at that feel as if my body realized it was not my time to die.

Ares sat with me for an hour, gently pouring water into my mouth in small amounts, waiting as I swallowed, wiping any water that escaped as I struggled to stay alive. I'd like to say his face was soft and kind as he ministered to my needs there on the floor beside my bed, but it wasn't. It was still harsh and angered. He resented me for making him admit he loved me. I realized his anger was the only emotion he knew how to feel at such a moment. He stayed with me all afternoon, barely speaking to me, but staying all the same. I didn't want to talk anyway and was far too weak still. I slept when I had my fill of water then fruit juice Thuclides prepared. The energy from the juice took away some of the fog in my brain and I thanked Ares. He nodded but said nothing.

Finally, I opened my eyes and saw that he was still seated on the bed at my side. He propped me up, seeing that I was awake and watched me through half-lidded eyes. "I would like some leek broth, Thuclides." I said, amazed to hear a real voice, even though it was faint still. Ares brought it over and spooned it in my mouth. When the bowl was finished I closed my eyes.

"You can go now," I said, waving him away with a hand. "I'll survive." I felt him lift off the bed and stand beside me.

"I'll be back later to see how you are," he replied, stroking my cheek. He bent down to kiss me, but I turned my face away and shook my head.

"No you won't. I don't ever want to see your face again." I opened my eyes and looked into his. They widened in shock as my words sunk in. He frowned and shook his head, sitting back on the bed again and leaning over me.

"I told you I love you!" he said, confusion and just a hint of panic on his face. I nodded. "You did. Leave me. I can never forgive you for what you've done to me and, more importantly, for what you didn't do." I turned my head away, for my next words hurt me as much as him. "And for what you can never give me," I had to bite my cheek as I felt the grief rise in me, "the kind of love I deserve to receive every day, given willingly."

He reached into himself then and searched for that capacity in himself and even he knew he couldn't give to me what I deserved - what I could find only with another mortal. I thought of Dimitris then, and hoped that when I recovered, he would come by and then remembered I had given him the wrong address. My heart fell even though I had initially written him off as another weak man who was bound to fail me as so many others had. I would find him myself. He at least could feel real emotion and wanted me to forgive him.

Ares bent over me, his lips brushed my own and he repeated his words to me, admitting he loved me. Then he left me without a word.

-----

Thuclides called the healer woman who had cared for me before. She shook her head when she saw me and heard of my decision to let myself die. "I thought to myself that you were in trouble when I first saw you, Sophia," she said as she fed me. "You have a deep wound within that must heal before you can move on. You need loving attention. Is there no man who will give this to you?"

I thought of Asklesius. How could I ever consider going back to him? I couldn't. Dimitris. A man who thought he could love me, and who was willing and able to ask for forgiveness and admit failure and error. He was not perfect, but then, who was? I decided to try to find him when I was well enough.

He found me first.

As I lay sleeping one afternoon, he came into my studio and I woke when I heard an unfamiliar voice. He and Alenea, the healer, spoke in quiet voices. "Who are you?" she asked suspiciously. "I am ..." he said, then paused as he tried to decide how to describe himself. "... someone who loves her." She didn't seem pleased with this answer. "And her? Does she love you?" Another long pause. "Maybe someday."

She filled him in on my condition. I heard him heave a great sigh. "I should have insisted. I knew she was very unhappy - I should have insisted she come with me, but I felt I was already pushing my luck with her."

He came over to the bed and sat down beside me. I kept my eyes closed, wanting to see what he would do and say as I lay sleeping. "Will she survive?" he asked Alenea. "Yes, she is past the worst stage of dehydration and has some strength again, but another few hours and she would have died."

"Who found her?"

"The god of war and his servant."

"The god intervened?" I felt him lay his hand on mine but I merely shifted as if I was still asleep. "About time - the bastard. He failed her before - twice. Are they...back as lovers?"

"No. She kicked him out, at least as far as Thuclides is concerned. Sent him away." I felt the bed shake as he laughed quietly.

"Serves the bastard right. She is so beautiful." I felt him stand up and opened my eyes a crack to watch him as he walked around my studio. He examined the painting of Teutates' tree and of the god of war. "She is so talented. What a fool the god is."

"Gods and men both," Alenea replied.

"Do you need some time? I can stay with her and look after her if you need to get away for a while."

Alenea smiled at Dimitris and winked at him knowingly. "I can find a reason to leave for a while. How long should I stay away?"

"As long as you want. I will stay until you return. I know a few healer's secrets so if she needs help, I will be here to help her. Go," he smiled, pushing her out the door, "come back when you have had a break, a meal. As far as I'm concerned, you need not come back - I am glad to care for her. But that is up to Sophia."

He pulled a chair beside the bed and sat facing me, his eyes never leaving my face. I felt his gaze on me and it felt so good - to feel his concern and willingness to just sit quietly beside me and wait for me to awake. How long should I leave him there?

I waited as long as I could, and still he sat there patiently. I turned over to face him and opened my eyes, and feigned surprise as well as I could, feeling very guilty as I did.  He deserved honesty from me. I resolved to be only honest with him from then on.

He immediately came to my side and bent over me, his eyes searching my face. Those shapely cupid lips brushed my cheek and he took my hand in his and stroked my palm.

"Sophia! I was such a fool to let you go that day. I knew you were upset. I could tell you were on the edge, but I felt unable to ... push myself on you when you seemed so disgusted with my story."

I shook my head. "It is my fault. I wanted to die." I squeezed his hand and wanted him to know that I was pleased to see him. "I want to live now. Thank you for coming by. You can't know how pleased I am to see you. How much I hoped to find you once I recovered, but how did you find me? I gave you the wrong address..."

He smiled at me and leaned down to kiss my cheek and he stayed with his cheek pressed against mine for several long moments. "Sophia!" he whispered, "I would have searched the whole of Athens to find you - going from door to door if I had to. But I finally went to Melenos and he gave me your address, thank the gods." I felt him chuckle - felt his cheek rise in a smile against my neck. He lifted his face and looked into my eyes - his were so dark and warm and filled with care for me. When those lips touched mine, when he placed his chaste kiss on my mouth, I wanted only to pull him down on top of me, to have his huge body crush me under his weight so I could feel his warmth and substance against me. I knew I wasn't strong enough yet for him, but I was already planning his seduction.

"Sophia," he said, sitting up and taking both my hands in his. "As I have said to you - I can never marry as long as my sister is alive. I will always have to go back to her and my estate for some time, if not each day, then frequently to conduct my family's business. But we can still be together - we could live together in Athens. Let me stay with you and care for you while you recover."

How could I say no? There he was - seated beside me, his beautiful face so open and warm - waiting for me to accept his love. Here was someone who could love me. I felt, as I lay there watching him, that I could love him as well. I gave in to life and let it lead me where it would.

-----

Dimitris sent Alenea away and bustled around the studio, preparing me meals and bringing me fresh cut flowers from the markets. He gave me sponge baths and brushed my hair.  A daily massage became a ritual and each day I found it harder and harder to resist the urge to make some move, to let him know I wanted to make love with him. He slept on the bed beside me, on top of the covers wrapped in an extra blanket.

"This is crazy, Dimitris," I finally said one night as he rolled uncomfortably beside me, perhaps as filled with frustrated desire as I was. "Come in here with me and keep me warm," I whispered. He crept under the covers with me and his arms slipped around me. We lay together in silence for a while, but finally, unable to resist any longer, my hands reached out to him, to touch him and my mouth sought his out in the dark. "Sophia," he whispered to me, holding me back from him. "I want to wait until you are completely recovered. And I want to wait until daylight so I can see every inch of you as we make love." I could barely believe it - a man turning me down? I laughed into his neck and felt him stiffen. "Why are you laughing? Sophia!" he said, shaking me slightly, "You are still very weak. I want you to be able to...participate. And I want to see you, to watch you." He kissed me then, and his kiss promised passion. "Let's wait - at least until the morning."

Morning took a very long time to come. When I woke up, he had filled the bath for me and was busy juicing some oranges for our breakfast. A bath was so appealing to me - it had been so long since I could indulge and I felt I must be like one of Caesar's stinking barbarians. Perhaps this is why Dimitris wanted to wait. I laughed at myself as I stepped into the tub. He held my hand as I sat down and I shuddered from its heat - it felt so good to be immersed in water again. Dimitris brought me a cup of juice and stripped off in front of me while I drank it. My eyes lingered over his body, so strong and bronze, his sculpted muscles and dark body hair aroused me. He was already stiffening at the thought of what was to happen as I was as well and I sighed as he sat facing me in the small tub, his great legs moving around my small waist, his arms pulling me closer so that our bodies were mere inches away from each other.

"My hair needs washing," I said as he took a cake of soap and worked a lather up in his hands. He washed my hair and rinsed it, squeezing it out. He took one hand and began washing me, up the wrist to the elbow, the shoulder and down to my breasts and belly. I watched the flush spread from his face to his neck as he lathered me. I stood when he lifted me up so he could continue my bath and had to brace myself against his strong shoulders as his lathered hands slipped down to my vulva and around my buttocks. When he looked into my eyes, I could sense his desire - it raised my own higher, if that was even possible.  Then I sat back down and washed him - my soap-slick hands slid over his golden skin, his broad chest, his strong arms. He stood in front of me and my hands moved down his trim belly to his glorious cock, large and rock-hard. He moaned as I took him and stroked him with my slippery hands. His strong thighs parted slightly as my hand pushed between them so I could stroke him and cup his heavy balls. I wanted to suck him so badly! I pulled him down into the tub so he could rinse off and then stood up and stepped out of the tub.

I took a towel in my hands but he took it back and led me to the bed. "I like your body when its wet - you look so beautiful." I sat on the end of the bed and pulled him to me, my arms slipping around his hips in an embrace that brought my lips to his cock, my mouth taking him in fully, my tongue circling the bulging head. I loved this act of worship.  Knowing how much pleasure it gave him aroused me just as his taste aroused me, and I stroked his shaft, milking him of his fluid, licking it off the tip of his cock as it welled up under my attentions. "Oh, Sophia," he whispered as I sucked him in this way, my lips caressing him, my hand stroking him. Finally, I heard his breath quicken and felt him tense and he pushed me away and back so that I was propped on my elbows.

He knelt down and kissed my neck, then his tongue slid down my chest to my breasts. He took one nipple between his finger and thumb and pulled it to a hard point while his tongue circled the other nipple, now puckered and wet. He sucked each one in turn and I felt jabs of desire down my belly to my now swollen cunt. Then his lips moved lower and his hands pushed my thighs apart, his lips burying into the wet folds, his tongue finding my hard clit and stroking it slowly before sucking it. I watched as he licked me and could barely breathe as desire filled me. Oh, gods! I was cumming so quickly - he barely had to touch me and I was ready, the sweetness spreading from my clit to my whole cunt, and I spasmed and shook from the force of my orgasm, crying out his name as my whole body tensed.

"I want to fuck you properly, Sophia - as a man is supposed to. I am afraid, but I want you so much." He whispered, his lips pressed against my neck. "It's all right - I know how to prevent pregnancy. Women have many ways of doing this - you do not have to worry. Your sister was perhaps unaware of these methods. You do not need to fear, Dimitris."

"If you're certain," he replied. He moved up and kissed me again while his fingers stroked me, trying to re-ignite my desire. I had not had sex for over a month and knew I could have another orgasm very quickly with him inside of me. I gasped with renewed pleasure as I felt his huge cock press into my flesh, spreading my cunt lips while his thumb continued to stroke my swelling clit. He gasped as he felt my hot flesh enclose him then leaned forward and braced himself on his hands, his face only inches from my own. My legs went around his waist and I pulled him into me with each stroke and we remained there fucking in this position, watching each other until we both shuddered from the force of our orgasms and gasped into each other's mouths.

-----

That first week we were lovers was heaven to me, even though it was not god-sex, even though it was only mortal. Dimitris was insatiable - his lust was a match for my own, and we fucked as often as either of us felt a need. Dimitris loved to watch everything, my every action on his body, my own face as I came, and he wanted me to watch him, watch him lick me, watch his cock move in and out of my cunt while we fucked, watch him masturbate, watch him cum. We were shameless as if we both had just discovered sex for the first time - as if we were the first humans to fuck. We tried every position known and some that weren't but seemed intriguing - positions that had us both laughing so hard at the impossibility of achieving penetration - and those that stopped us short from the exquisite pleasure attained as cock and cunt came together in the most rapturous manner.  The sex was so marvelous and so endless. I felt deliciously bad with Dimitris - he seemed to enjoy my own desire, saying that I was perfect - that my interest in sex and my drive was a match for a man's own desires.

"Where did this come from, Sophia? You want to fuck me just as much as I want to fuck you - you like the same things I like, the things I want you to like."

I smiled into his neck, pleased that he felt this way. I did have a strong sex drive and always worried that my lover would find me too forceful and too lusty. It was a relief to find someone who wanted my lust, who appreciated it.

"What do you mean?" I asked in mock innocence. I knew damn well what he meant, but wanted to hear him say it to me.

"Well," he began, shy himself to admit his own desires, "you like quantity..." He nuzzled my breasts, licking my nipples. "You love my cock." I smiled as I saw a flush spread on his face. How could I not love it? A man's cock was his glory - it was masculinity to me - it was the man. If I loved the man, how could I not love the cock? And I was beginning to feel that I did love this man and was surprised at how easily I was able to forget Ares while in his presence.

He leaned closer to me, his mouth next to my ear, his voice low, his breath hot on me. "You love to...taste me, to swallow me." He looked at me with all seriousness and his confession made me smile to myself. Another Asklesius - wanting this act but feeling embarrassed to admit it, wanting me to accept his gift, but feeling afraid to ask as if it was a burden I had to endure and not a pleasure.

"You like to watch. You like me to watch you. You'll do anything, try anything." He kissed me on the mouth, his tongue probing me then licking my lips and sucking my bottom lip gently. "I can't get enough of you."

How his words healed my heart! To want me so much - as much as I wanted him. To understand my own desires and accept them. But it was not just the sex - it was also the love I felt from him. The love was so strong from him and he was not afraid to say he loved me. He said it often, at any time, and I could see it did not hurt him to admit it. Crying out that he loved me as he came inside me, in my mouth, in my cunt - and yet, not expecting me to say it back.

I don't know why I couldn't say it to him. Perhaps there was still some small part of me that held on to that hope that one day I would hear these words come this freely from the god and could say them back to him. I was so happy with Dimitris for that first week of lovemaking. But something dark crept in my heart one day - I can't explain it. I felt the need to travel to Thessaly once again, and go to the Halls of War, to Ares, to see if these feelings for Dimitris were strong enough to exceed my lust for the god.

"Why do you want to see that bastard, Sophia? How can you do this after all that has happened?"

"I have to, Dimitris. If you love me, you will say nothing and wait for me to return."

"What if you don't?"

I said nothing. I did not understand myself. I could not fathom why I needed to do this, why I insisted once again with a lover for him to let me go to the god's side. The day I left him, Dimitris said nothing to me, just stood silent and helped my with my bags, as if he understood and accepted this need in me. I could not look at him as I left. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I closed my eyes as I heard the pain in his voice. His voice broke as he said good-bye. "I'll wait, Sophia. Come back to me. I love you more than anything."

-----

I arrived at the Halls of War and went into the cool dark interior. Down the long hall I walked, but I saw nothing - my thoughts were on the god and what he would do when he saw me. I went to the throne room. It was empty.

"Ares?"

He materialized on his throne in front of me and sat straight, rigid, both hands gripping the throne's armrests.  His massive form seemed larger than I had ever seen him before. He stared at me from under his brows. A dark frown furrowed his forehead and his eyes were almost red from anger.

"How can you even dare come to the Halls of War!" he said, his voice so deep and low and filled with hate.

I swallowed in fear - I had never seen him as angry as he was now. I could feel the heat coming off him in waves as I stepped towards him. Standing between his knees, I leaned forward and rested my hands on his shoulders. My mouth moved to his but he did not rise to meet me nor did his lips soften as I pressed mine against them. I felt his body grow under my hands - his form expanding until he must have been almost 8 feet tall. I was but a small sliver against his massive body.  Real terror filled me for the first time as I looked up into his dark eyes. His godhead seemed real to me then, and I knew he could kill me in an instant. Why shouldn't he? I had rejected him after he had offered me his confession, admitting that he loved me. I sent him away, and had been cold hearted - unforgiving.

"What is it you want from me, mortal?" he growled.

"I..." I didn't know what to say. He knew anyway. I had come to him, why? To see if I could get from him what I had from Dimitris. Love.

"I can never give that to you. Go back to your mortal lover, foolish girl."

"Ares," I said, panicking at the thought that this was it - that whatever relationship had existed between us was now dead, gone, lost to me on that day I had rejected his words of love. "I'm sorry. For sending you away after you admitted you loved me. You saved my life."

"So? What makes you think I care? Go away. Go live your life. Fuck your lover. I have other things to do than listen to your pitiful apology." His face was a stone, blank, emotionless. I felt his words slice through my heart and the tears flowed down my cheeks. When he saw my tears, he actually smirked.

"Such a weak little female, Sophia. I suppose I was wrong to think you had a warrior's heart. They see the truth before them, see the way out of a bad situation, and cut their losses, move on. You are too foolish, a foolish girl. Leave me. I can't tolerate the sight of you any longer." He turned his great head away and stared off in the distance, his fingers drumming on the armrest. I stood, unable to move, my heart breaking as I watched his indifference.

"GO!" he shouted, and turned back to me, his face contorted in anger. "Do I have to throw you out?"

I turned and left.

-----

I arrived as the sun was setting. When I opened the door, I saw Dimitris sitting on the chair by the hearth, a book in his hand. He looked up at me, and then rushed over to me, throwing his arms around me and crushing me against his huge chest.

"Sophia! Thank the gods you came back! I was so afraid he would keep you there, tell you he loved you and that you would stay..." Our mouths joined, and then there were no more words, only the muffled sounds of our bodies as we ripped each other's clothes off and stroked and kissed each other, desperate in our passion, our need to reaffirm our love. No preliminaries were needed - I wanted to feel his cock inside of me and I pushed him down on the stool by the hearth and sat on him, crying out as I felt his granite length fill me up. Tears filled my eyes as I moved on him, fucking him, our eyes locked on each other.

"I love you, Dimitris," I admitted to him, finally, as I felt my orgasm near. I watched as his eyes closed, and he buried his face in my neck.

-----

Epilogue

-----

We were walking along the cobbled street - he was taking me to a fresco he found on one of his lonely journeys through the city in search of art to show me if I returned to him. We had just made love for the second time this day, and both of us were weak - our legs were wobbly from the strain. Giddiness seemed to grip us both, and he was acting the fool, chasing me through the shopkeepers' stalls, grabbing me and tickling me, then kissing me passionately for all to see.

I was so happy with him. Ares could never give me this, he could never laugh with me, cry with me, love me as Dimitris did. While I still thought of the god, and my time at the Halls of War, I knew I would never feel the need for him again. He showed me his true self that foolish day. A self that even I could not love.

Dimitris was showing off, walking around the tall wall that surrounded the fountain in the square outside his apartment. I had never been there and he was just going in to fetch some item of clothing. He didn't want me to come in with him.

"It's too small, dark and depressing, Sophia. I prefer your studio. It is so light and breezy and I have so many pleasant memories there." I relented and agreed to wait outside.

He walked around the fountain, his arms outstretched to balance his massive form on such a precarious perch. I watched him - he was so beautiful - his long lustrous hair shining gold in the sun, his skin bronze and supple, his muscles sculpted, his lips! So full and shapely. Eyebrows raised, he laughed, taking real risks as he tried to mimic the acrobats we had seen performing in the market the previous day. I should have known he would fall in his foolishness, and he did, trying to brace himself, his arms reaching out to break the impact. He rolled gracefully, but remained on his side facing away from me, clutching his arm in pain. I ran to his side.

"Let me see," I insisted, trying to get a look at his arm. He pulled away and tried to block my view of him. "No," he gasped, "It's fine, just a sprain. I'll be all right."

Even my untrained eye could see he had broken his arm - it was bent in an odd shape. I looked at his face, contorted in pain even as he tried to smile at me. His face was flushed. "I'll just go upstairs and get the clothes. You wait out here."

I grabbed him and tried to get a better look at his arm, but he turned away. "Dimitris! Don't be so foolish! Even I can tell it's broken!"

"No," he insisted, "If anything, it may be dislocated. I'm fine. Sophia. I've fought in several battles. I'm trained as a warrior. I can handle a little pain, for goodness' sake."

He cradled his arm, and turned to me. He seemed to have got some control over his features, but I could see the incredible pain under the surface. "Stay out here." He looked at me angrily, and I nodded.

I watched as he entered the building and then I snuck in after him. I hid when he checked back to see if I had followed him, and watched as he bent over in pain in the hallway. He opened a door and went inside, but the door did not fully close, and I peered through the sliver that remained. Falling to the floor, he rolled in agony, holding his arm up and examining the clearly broken bone. I heard his groan as he tried to crawl to the table and watched, amazed, as he pulled a sword off it. I recognized that sword, how could I not? I had polished it so many times, held it up in my own arms, examined its hilt, the intricate carvings.

Ares' sword.

With the sword in his hands, his body transformed into the god's own form, his chestnut hair curling black around his neck and back, his body expanding, filling out Dimitris' large but less bulky form. I could see his profile and was amazed to see the beard materialize. He held the arm out and I watched in shock as it straightened and heard his sigh of relief.

"Fucking idiot." His deep voice, Ares' deep voice, boomed. "Show-off." Then I heard his chuckle, and his chuckle turned into a deep belly laugh and I watched as he lay down flat on the floor and covered his eyes, the sword still in his hand. He held it up and turned it around, admiring its beauty.

I crept down the stairs and sat beside the fountain. What in Tartarus should I do? Ares obviously had dropped his godhead to take on this form, to be with me as a mortal. It had been Ares in Rome. It was Ares all along. Should I say something? Let him know that I knew he was the god?

He emerged into the sunlight, his long straight chestnut hair glinting, the sun picking out the gold highlights. I realized now why I had been so immediately attracted to Dimitris that first time I saw him. I saw in his face and form such a perfect combination of the men I had loved or been attracted to - Ares' dark eyes, Iphicles' chestnut hair, Asklesius' lustrous long hair, straight and shiny, Iphicles' lips, the god's skin, Iphicles' body.  Ares deep voice. The god had given me himself in a mortal form. A form I could love with a heart that could love me back.

And Dimitris' tortured tale of guilt - his failure to act to protect his sister was Ares' way of apologizing to me, of accepting blame, of showing his remorse, of asking for forgiveness.

I saw his bright smile and smiled with him as he held out his arm, pointing to it, nodding his head. He came to my side and pulled me into his embrace.

"See? I told you it was just a dislocation. I'm fine. Let's go see the fresco."

I kissed him, and felt my heart fill with love for this mortal man in my arms. He held me so tightly. I looked into those dark eyes, and felt such happiness from him.

"I love you." I said. "Let's go."

The End