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Love is not Love
Pink. Pink walls. Pink statues. Pink wall hangings. Still, this place needs something. Of course. I casually flick my hand towards an altar, and a vase of flowers appears. Pink, of course. Roses, full blown, blushing velvet petals, gorgeously scented, with some ferns mixed in for contrast and few of those white little flowers I can never remember the name of.
Redecorating is such a chore, but it's that time of the week again. Gotta do it. Hmmm, what next? Oh, the main hall - must be several days since that's had a makeover.
A surge of energy warms me as Ares makes an entrance in his own understated black leather way. He leers at me, at the priestesses who bow their heads. It's his way of saying hello.
"Well, what do you think?" I gesture flamboyantly at my piece de resistance. It's a work of art, I know, but all artists hunger for appreciation.
He steps closer, not even glancing at my floral masterpiece, his eyes fixed hungrily on me. Oh, I love a man in tight black leather. Pity they're so single-minded. No artistic appreciation whatsoever.
"Uh duh? Hello, I know I'm gorgeous but can you appreciate my other talents for a second?"
"Sure." Ares pointedly looks around the temple for something to admire, a sneer on his lips, his gaze flicking past my floral masterpiece without pausing, He winces slightly at the sheer pinkness of the decor. Shuddering theatrically, he gives me his attention once more. His eyes fix on my chest. "Nice tits, bitch."
To express his appreciation, Ares grabs the objects of his affection roughly, digging his fingers in hard.
"Ow!!!!!" I struggle a little in his grip. Not to get free, but a girl's gotta make a point some times, ya know? "This isn't a meat market, Ar, no playing with the merchandise."
His arms slip round my waist and tighten. "Playing hard to get today, 'Dite? I'm not in the mood for fucking about."
"You are SO crude." I pout. I do my best 'good little girl smile', knowing the complete vacuity of the expression will annoy him even more. Come on big boy, get with the program here. Put out or buzz off.
He glowers blackly at me. Gotcha, babe. Come to mama.
"Crude?" he repeats. "Crude? This from the woman who suggested that her worshippers skip the nonessential prayers because they were cutting into her free-form orgies? The same goddess who said that any half-decent guy should practice sucking oranges through straws to acquire the skills SHE needed in a lover."
I giggle again. "Hey, it was just a suggestion, Ar! How was I to know the best part of the Corinthian army was gonna abandon that little battle they were heading for just in the hope of impressing me?" He's still peeved about that, I can tell.
I inspect my pale pink nails for flaws as they rest against his chest, then look up at him apologetically. "I let you have them back afterwards . . ."
"Six months later." He's not as pissed as he sounds. One hand has casually dropped to fondle my ass. Oh, that's nice.
"I said I was sorry." He's such a killjoy. He's got thousands of soldiers and the silliest ideas of what to do with them.
"You did, didn't ya?" He smirks, teeth gleaming whitely against his black beard. "How's 'bout you show me how sorry you are instead?"
I smile and simper at him, letting him think he's won. Then, when he least expects it, a quick knee to the groin and the big, bad god of War is rolling on the floor in agony, curled in a ball, calling me all the names under the sun. That gives me 'bout 30 seconds before he remembers he's a god and banishes the pain. I dash for the back passages of the temple, pink draperies streaming behind me, confident I can lead him a merry chase. I'll teach him to sneer at my skills.
Running through the cool stone corridors, all I can hear is the echoes of my footsteps. I slow and turn to look behind me, worried by the fact that I can't hear signs of pursuit. Ares is usually a straightforward kinda god. He shows up, I give him hell and he chases me round the temple and then we fuck each other stupid. What's gone wrong today? True, I don't usually hurt him, but like . . . he's a god . . . he can cope with a little pain. Don't they say you only hurt the one you love?
Still no sign of him.
Chest heaving with the exertion, I lean against the wall, adjusting the fit of my golden armlets. Suppose he's given up on me and gone for the temple hetairai? Absently smoothing a perfect golden curl into place, I consider the possibility. It'd be like choosing well water over a fine vintage, but it's the sort of thing Ares might do, if he was furious. Regaining a measure of dignity, I stroll leisurely to the public galleries and peek inside each one in turn. Nope, he's not with any of them. Mental note: must get the name of that auburn-haired stud from Thais later. It'd be rude to interrupt them while they're praying that hard.
Disconsolate, I wander back to the hall. Ares is there, alone. He's seated himself on my throne, having changed the upholstery from pink to scarlet (ugh, abomination!), and his eyes fix on me, hungrily. He pats his knee, as if I were a child or maybe a dog to sit at his foot. Condescending bastard. Slowly, I walk towards him, a little extra swing in the hips, a promise on the lips. Nothing too over the top.
"I don't want to play games, 'Dite, not today. Just love me," he says, unsmiling.
Fuck, he's serious. I abandon my plans for revenge, not without a few regrets. He has these incredibly intense screaming orgasms if you tantalise him long enough. You know, for the first hundred years we were lovers, I didn't know he knew the meaning of the L word. Even now he uses it rarely and never in public. It's usually a cue that he's on edge, needing support. It's not what you or I might call love, but it's as close as he gets to it. Ares just doesn't have it in him to love another soul unconditionally. His work is his passion. Relationships, sex, friendship; all of these come a distant second to his wars and feuds.
Without speaking another word, I settle myself on his lap, nudging the hilt of his sword out of my way with one hip, and wrap my arms around him. He hugs me back, tightly, his mouth seeking mine, seeking warmth, affection, tenderness, passion.
All I have to give is his.
Ares lies next to me but he might as well be in a foreign land. He casually strokes my hip, his fingertips tracing geometrically perfect circles and he stares at the ceiling as I curl against the heat of his body, an arm supporting my head. His body is relaxed, but he's focused elsewhere. I know he's thinking of her. He's with me and he's still thinking about her. It's been the talk of Olympus for weeks now, her denial of him, Hercules' victory and Ares' defeat. The lesser gods don't mention it in his presence, but he must have noticed the way the most animated conversations die away when he entered a room. Zeus has that proud papa look that shits Hera off no end; not that cow-face needs an excuse for her bad temper.
I can't take this any more, I have to say something before I explode or something. "Get over her, Ar, before you lose it completely."
Those deep brown eyes survey me. He cocks an eyebrow and pretends not to understand but the sculpted pectoral muscles under my hand tense. He knows.
"Face it, Ar - you never cared that much when she was yours. She was good - but there are a hundred more like her out there." An instinctive denial leaps to his lips but dies unspoken. He glares at the ceiling, across the room at the painted walls, anywhere but at me. "Babe, you know it's the whole chasing thing. If she stopped running for a moment, you'd be gone in two." Still nothing.
I sigh, heavily. The message isn't getting through. "Sweetie, I'd get Cupid to hit her with an arrow in a moment if ya said the word. But you still wouldn't have her back, not like that. Some things you just can't keep."
"Like me and you, 'Dite?" he asks in a low voice.
Ouch. Low blow. That'll teach me to try the old post-coital psychoanalysis. I know what he's asking, though he's never referred to it this openly before. "I can't, Ares. I can't leave him."
He's still. Not a muscle or eyelash twitches. I guess I have to explain to him what I don't fully understand myself.
"He's my husband. I need him." I say simply. How do I explain the difference between the gentle feelings I share with Heph, and the tumultuous relationship with Ares, the passion and lust that draws me back no matter how much I vow never to touch him again? "I love him, but I love you too."
It sounds weak to my ears and to Ares too. He snorts contemptuously. Heph understands. He knows that I need him, need his unstinting love, just as Ares needs mine. At least, most of the time he understands.
"You need him? What can he do that I . . . " He stops, turning onto his side to face me in frustration, mirroring my pose. "You play us off against each other, 'Dite. We were friends once, good friends. Now we can barely be civil to each other."
I'm stung by the accusation. "I don't!" I know what Ares is doing - trying to deflect me from the whole Xena debacle. I'm blonde, not brain-dead. But this is more important. "You're the one who had to be so possessive, to embarrass him in front of everyone as the cuckolded husband. You could be more . . . discreet."
"Why? Why should I sneak around like a thief in the night - I don't have to share," Ares asserts as he pouts, fetchingly.
Damn the man. It's not easy to argue sensibly when you're seized with desire to suck on that luscious bottom lip. Stay on target, babe, resist the lip. I lightly graze the soft golden skin of his belly with my fingertips instead, hoping to distract him from his petulance.
"Well, if you want to end up netted like a silly fish the next time Heph sees you hanging 'round my temples grinning inanely, that's your business. Personally I'll pass." Athena still makes snide comments about whether Heph's caught any impressive fishes in his net lately. Given the lack of excitement in that bitch's life, she'll still be harping on for the next millennium. I should offer her use of the net to catch a lover of her own.
Ares takes a deep breath and tries to regain control of the conversation. "Zeus made you marry him, purely to spite me."
What an ego. "Ar, sweetie, sometimes it isn't about you." I take a deep breath and release it slowly, counting to calm myself. "I need you, I love you but it's just not enough." Oh Zeus, now I sound like a bitch. I try again. "Have you ever asked me how I feel, what I need, what's bringing me down? What's my favourite place, whether I worry about Cupid finding himself a nice girl, whether love is going out of fashion?"
Ares stares at me as if I've grown horns in the middle of my flawless forehead. "No," he admits, grudgingly.
"No," I echo sadly. "Not once. You listen to me talk, but you don't really care about me, Ar, and Heph does."
He rolls away from me, his warm skin sliding out from under my hand, legs gathered under him as he stands with his usual fluid grace. He whirls back towards me.
"What is this then, a pity fuck?" His anger distorts his face, and he clothes himself with an abrupt wave of his hand. "Is that all I am? A bit of rough and tumble, some boorish idiot you amuse yourself with before you run back to your precious husband?" He's practically spitting now, his face dead white. He grabs me by one arm, his fingers biting into my flesh. It hurts.
"Or am I part of your work? 'Tame the evil War God, give him some culture'," he parrots, sounding remarkably like Apollo in one of his more priggish moods.
"That's not what I – "
"You don't fool me, Dite, you need me as much I need you." He's calming now, regaining his control, shutting away the too-raw emotion. One bronzed hand rests on the sword at his hip.
Light sears my eyes and he's gone. He'll be back. Not soon. It may be months, or years, or decades. I don't know exactly when, but I do know he'll always back. One day when his wounds are a little less raw, when he's had time to miss me.
I know I need him.
But does he?
I know I love him.
But can he?
"Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds."
William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXVI