I had quickly discovered the reality of my new position -- I unsnarled her figures, dealt with personnel conflicts, and listened patiently to all kinds of bitching. In short, everything that Mom didn't want to deal with was MY responsibility.
I was trying to figure out what the scribbled "GRODY!" in the margin of the balance sheet referred to when I heard the thunderous crack of the front door of the temple crash against the facing wall.
"CUPID! Show yourself!"
I considered diving under the desk until he left.
"And I mean NOW!"
I heard something shatter against the tiled floor, and crawling under the desk started to look more and more like a good idea. But I reminded myself that I was the god of love, and since this was the Temple of Love, he was on my turf. I was in charge here, right?
Right. I took a deep breath, turned the brass doorknob, and stepped out into the sunlit atrium.
It was a mess. Several of the statuary podiums were laying on their sides in the main hall and shards of marble and porcelain littered the floor, and two of the pink-and-white stained glass windows had ugly cracks. One very angry war god stood quivering, his fists tightly clenched, in the middle of the wreckage.
I stooped down and picked up a jagged piece of opalescent rose-colored marble, recognizing the nose and partial cheek in my hand. I took a deep breath and shook my head slowly. "You'll be in deep shit when Mom sees this, Ares. This bust is her favorite."
He snorted crudely. "Spoken like a true mama's boy, cherub."
Cherub. Boy. Worse yet, Son. I was used to his condescension, but it was still galling. I quelled the anger I felt licking at me and pasted a nonchalant expression on my face. "Whatever. But it was a gift from Granddad, and she'll scream the house down when she finds out." I smiled at him. "When she starts shrieking like a banshee, I'll point her in your direction, okay?"
He rolled his eyes in disgust as he flicked his fingers carelessly. I saw the repaired bust thump softly on top of the now upright podium. "Happy?" he asked nastily.
"Very. It's been nice talking to you, Ares." I began to move away from him, hoping to escape into the safety of my office.
I almost made it.
A heavy hand grabbed my upper arm forcefully. "Not so fast, boy."
I slowly turned to face him. I should have known it wouldn't be that easy.
"You and I have a small matter to discuss." His eyes glinted ferally and his fingers tightened on my arm.
Bravado seemed a good choice. "Oh? And what might that be?"
"Your little stunt with the love dust, Cupid."
I felt a sinking sensation inside me. Damn. I had used only a small pinch of the dust, enough to make it impossible for his raging libido to resist Mom's considerable assets, but not enough to put him in a lover's grinning stupor. Given the depth of his lust under normal circumstances, I didn't think he would question it, and I'd be safe. But he had figured it out.
Or was he talking about something else? Maybe I'd get lucky and it would be the latter.
"What are you talking about?" I asked cautiously.
His face hardened into stone. "Love dust. Me. Your mother. Heph's chain mail net. Olympus laughing. Zeus." Each phrase that he spat out was accompanied by a shove. "Punishment. Peace treaty between Athens and Macedon." The last hard blow knocked me to the floor. "Any of this ring a bell?"
"Yeah." I got to my feet, afraid to take my eyes off him. "Vaguely."
"Vaguely?" His eyes bored into me. "You make me a laughingstock on Olympus, and you 'vaguely' remember it?"
I felt my mouth start to curve in a goofy smile and I struggled to turn it into a sneer. "Yeah, well, I've had a lot going on, you know. Doing my work, and Mom's -- she took to her bed a week ago and hasn't come out since --"
"And whose fault is THAT, Cupid?"
I ignored him. "And then going home to a wife whose face falls when it's not a certain god of war who comes through the door just puts the fucking icing on the cake." I realized I was shouting and took a deep breath. "So, yeah, I've been busy. Sue me if I don't remember every little, unimportant, bullshit thing that happens around here."
"Let me get this straight," he said tightly. "This is because I bumped bellies with your wife?"
The mental image conjured by his words, of my beautiful Psyche digging her fingernails into his buttocks as he plowed into her again and again, crying out his name in a husky scream that made my heart hurt and my brain throb, flooded my mouth with greasy metal, and I swallowed through a painfully tight throat.
"Is that what you're telling me?"
"I wouldn't expect you to understand how I could consider my marriage worth more than your stupid war, Ares." I saw her on her knees, her sweet tongue moving wetly, lovingly, over the leaking cockhead, the pungent taste bringing small moans of pleasure from her slim throat. "Your tiny mind can only grasp so much, after all."
"Spare me your whining and answer my question, you little cocksucker! You expose me -- and your own mother, I might add -- to public humiliation, and fuck up a battle plan that took me months of finessing to set up, because your ego can't handle bedroom competition for some whiny little bitch?" He took a heavy step toward me, his eyes narrowed. "Is that the bullshit you're shoveling at me?"
"Like I said. You can't possibly understand." How could I explain my love for my wife to someone who had never felt love for anyone? Not even his own son, I thought with a dull bitterness. I turned away from him, futility a dusty taste in my mouth.
"Cupid." He spoke softly, but the fury in his voice made the skin on my balls start to crawl. I kept walking.
I stopped but didn't turn around. "What now, Ares?"
"Say something -- anything -- to convince me not to tear you apart."
I faced him, my bully of a father, and told myself not to swirl the red cape in front of his florid face. It would accomplish nothing. His flared nostrils and heavy breathing said my efforts would be best spent trying to pacify him with a sincere (or sincere-sounding) apology. Massive arms ending in huge clenched fists told me that any other course of action didn't have a snowball's chance in Prometheus' temple of succeeding. Pride be damned! I'd be smart for once.
My mouth decided otherwise.
"I'd say . it was a good day's work."
My head snapped back and bounced off the wall when his fist connected with the underside of my chin, and I cracked the base of my skull against the edge of the stone altar on the way to the floor. He came at me again, growling, and I bit my lip to keep from screaming when he hauled me up off the floor by one wing and threw me against the wall.
It was the last thing I remembered.
* * *
Coming back to consciousness was like swimming endlessly up through an ocean of honey mead. My mouth was very dry, and damp hair hung in my eyes. Pain crested across the back of my neck as I slowly turned my head to the side. I closed my eyes tighter against the agony that moved swiftly from my neck to the thick wing seams on my back.
"Morning, sunshine. Sleep well?"
I opened my eyes. When the room stopped spinning, I raised myself carefully by bracing my arm against the floor. I concentrated on not whimpering when the weight of the wings pulled against the tender, undoubtedly bruised place where they joined my back.
"Now, cherub, shall we try this again?"
I exhaled slowly and tried to focus on the Ares in the middle, since I figured he was the real one of the three I was seeing. I chose my words carefully.
"Fuck you, Ares."
"Wrong answer, sport." He stood up gracefully from the satin-covered love seat and advanced toward me, the cat-o'-nine-tails whispering against his leather-covered thigh.
* * *
I zoned out almost immediately, the way I always did during these sessions of "discipline." How many times had he found it necessary to do this? I wondered numbly as the tiny spikes studding the leather tassels tore into my back and tears coursed down my face. I had lost count a long time ago.
I used to tell myself that he did this to make me stronger, that the beatings were for my own good, and that it hurt him worse than it did me. I used to scream for Mom, or Zeus, or even Hera for help -- to save me from my father's "love" -- but rescue never came. I even told myself that I must deserve it -- that even if I didn't know why, he was older and wiser than me, and he knew best.
Time had robbed me of the ability to lie to myself, and the loss of that ability paradoxically took with it the driving compulsion to try to grab the whip, or board, or whatever implement was being laid across my flesh.
Adulthood brought the bleak knowledge that had always lurked beneath my determined rationalizations: that he beat me because he could. He did it because it felt good.
I sprawled on the floor and I took what he gave, and I always hated myself for it later.
I felt the fist that did not hold the whip clutch and twist a handful of feathers, snapping the spines like so many toothpicks, and I screamed, a high, thin wail that make my insides curl with shame. The cat whistled through the air, a steady sound always, agonizingly, inexorably followed by the sharp fire that sizzled and opened new flesh. Sadistic, he concentrated on the area on my back, those oh-so-tender muscles that anchored the ponderous ailerons below my shoulders, straddling me to get a better angle of assault, and I swallowed the bile that rose in my throat at the coppery smell of the wetness that ran down across my ribs and splattered redly on the tile.
Powerful fingers dug into my throat as he hauled me off the floor and into a kneeling position and pulled me against the rock wall of his body.
"You little bastard," he whispered huskily, his hand groping roughly between my legs.
Always, it ended with this.
I gritted my teeth as he shoved himself inside me, hard and huge and unoiled, cruel fingers twisting my nipples and teeth tearing at my neck and back, and the cold tile chafing skin from my nose and forehead.
It was always like this, the pounding against and into me, faster and harder, my skin rubbed raw against the floor or the ground or the uneven bark of a tree. That pattern was set when I was ten years old. I hated it, but it didn't really touch me. Not inside, not in my heart. Not where it mattered.
Because I felt no pleasure. My small victory over him: he could force the pain on me, but he couldn't make me enjoy it.
I realized he had stopped moving, but I knew from the thick hardness still stretching me that it wasn't over. Realization throbbed dully when I felt the slickness around his cock and smelled almonds.
No. Please. Not that. Let him just finish and get it over with.
Please, gods, not that!
And he began to move again, more gently, movement made smooth by the almond oil, and his fingers sensuously teased my reddened nipples. I closed my eyes and steeled myself against surrender to the full lips that kissed my shoulders and the sides of my neck and the sharp teeth that closed carefully and expertly on the lobe of my ear. I tried to tune out the warm hand that slid underneath me and closed around my cock, the fingers sliding firmly up and down the hardening shaft and the thumb rubbing slowly back and forth over the sensitive tip. But I lost the battle as his cock hit with perfect aim the place that sent a bolt of pleasure through my body, and kept hitting it on every inward stroke.
When I came, dousing his hand with my seed, he chuckled huskily behind me and filled me with his cum, and I groaned at the betrayal, again, of my own body.
I felt him slide out of me and stand, the sudden sound of bootheels telling me that he was again dressed. I kept my eyes closed.
"Glad we could work this out, son." His voice vibrated with malicious humor. "Until next time." Measured steps moved a distance away from me, and then stopped.
Sick to my stomach, I forced myself to open my eyes and look at him.
"You might want to do some thinking about who exactly you were jealous of. Me . or Psyche."
His laughter echoed as he vanished.
Moisture crept down my face, but I felt nothing.