Ares thinks his life will be simpler now that his affair with Aphrodite is over. However, he didn't count on finding out that Alala, his constant companion and best friend, has been waiting a very long time for him to end things with the love goddess. Alala, goddess of the war cry, has loved Ares all her life but never told him. Even when Aphrodite wasn't around, there was always another woman in his bed. Now she's taken a chance and allowed her feelings to show. Ares quickly becomes confused by his desire for her and his fear of losing her completely, if he makes the wrong choices. When a rival appears on the scene, Ares has to do something to make up for how blind he's been, or risk losing the perfect companion the Fates gave him so long ago.
Aphrodite disappeared, and Ares sat back on the couch. He groaned. Conversations with Aphrodite always took a lot out of him. He wished more women could be like his mother or his sister.
The back door slammed, and Ares listened for a minute. He heard humming.
He got up and walked into the kitchen. “Hey, you’re up late.”
She smiled. “Went for a walk.”
He nodded. Alala was a deity of war like himself and the daughter of Polemus, a war demon. Polemus and Alala were his two most interesting companions. Polemus was a surprisingly pacifistic war demon, at least he had been the past few decades, and Alala’s name had become the Greek war cry, even though she was probably the quietest woman he had ever met. She was also the sweetest, despite the fact that many a poet had said soldier’s lives were sacrificed to her glory and the honor of the call to war. He had to smile, remembering how many of those mortals had never even believed in the ancient gods. She and her father lived in the west wing of the house, as they were his most constant companions when he decided to involve himself in mortal warfare and conflicts.
“Is it nice out?”
He was always inclined to find her silence frustrating, but he knew it was part of her personality. “I could use some air. Aphrodite was just here.”
Alala smirked. “Oh. I see.”
He knew she didn’t like Aphrodite, but he wasn’t sure why. Being so quiet and so intelligent, she probably found Aphrodite silly and superficial, but it had to be more than that. “She told me something interesting.”
She looked into his eyes and nonchalantly asked, “Finally admitted Eros is your son?”
Her statement shocked him. “So you’ve always thought I was the father?”
She shrugged. “It seemed obvious to me, but it wasn’t my business.”
“Well, maybe not.” He rubbed his neck. “I’m going out for a while.”
“You seem tense. Let me give you a massage.”
That sounded amazing. It had been months since she’d done that for him. “Yeah, if you weren’t going to bed.”
She shook her head and started down the hall to one of the fitness rooms.
He usually liked the silence that accompanied her massages, but he found himself growing curious about why she didn’t like Aphrodite. He also wanted to talk instead of brooding over his own thoughts. Alala was a very good listener and always gave remarkably insightful advice. She was so wise he’d often wondered if Athena or Artemis might be her mother, though the “virgin” goddesses both claimed they had never sullied themselves in that way.
He sometimes felt as if Alala was a servant, not a friend. He didn’t treat her that way, but she acted as though she was, as if serving him automatically made her a servant. She kept him at a distance, though he knew she cared about him. She had tended every wound he’d ever received and never complained once. She’d spent hundreds of hours massaging his sore muscles and seeing to his needs.
He removed his shirt and stretched out on the table. Her touch immediately calmed him. After a few moments, he turned his head so he could see her.
“Can I ask you something?”
“I’ve never said this before, and now it feels ridiculous, but you and your father are not my servants. You’re no different from me. You’re a goddess, and your father is a powerful demon.”
She looked at him, tilting her head a little. “I know that.”
She didn’t elaborate. Instead, she climbed on top of him and began kneading his shoulders.
He found he couldn’t help becoming aroused as her hands worked his shoulders. She was very petite, so her thighs pressed tightly against his sides as she straddled him. He wanted to get her talking again.
“Why do you hate Aphrodite?”
She stopped and sat back. “I think she isn’t good enough for you.” She climbed off him and began rubbing down his legs.
It took him a moment to realize she’d used her powers to take his pants off.
“She’s obviously good enough for you to fuck, I guess. You have to unwind some way.”
Once again, he was shocked. Alala didn’t normally express any opinions unless asked, and especially not such bold ones. “Well, I’m never going to do that again.”
“You want to do it now.”
He grimaced. She was referring to his erection. He didn’t know if it was better to tell her that her skilled touch turned him on almost every time she massaged him, whether he got an erection or not, or to lie and say he still wanted Aphrodite.
“I’ve got a beautiful woman massaging me. I’m not thinking of anyone else.” He’d never really considered fucking her, as he’d always felt very protective of her more than anything else, but the sensual power of her hands usually made him think of fucking someone.
She paused for a moment, but then went on with her massage.
He rolled over and took her by the shoulders. “Why react to other things I’ve said and not to that?”
She looked fairly calm. She brought her hands up and moved his off her shoulders. “I was still thinking about it.”
He closed his eyes. He was frustrated about the things Aphrodite had said, and he was taking it out on an innocent who meant a great deal to him.
He looked at her imploringly. “I’m sorry. I’m not myself right now. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
He studied her face, pushing a strand of her red hair out of her blue eyes. “How did you grow up so calm and sweet living here?”
“I was born to calm and soothe you.”
He could not keep his eyebrows from shooting up. “What?”
“I’ve been with Eris to see the Fates many times. She was born to be your companion and reflection. I came into your life to calm you.”
“You think so?”
“Don’t you feel better when you come home to me? I tend your wounds, get rid of your pain, and massage away any aches. I mix a fine drink too.”
He’d always loved her low-key sense of humor, and he would never deny he was always very glad to come home to her.
“So now I’m an even bigger asshole for not noticing all you do.”
“You always notice. You always thank me. It comes so naturally you simply don’t think about it.”
He didn’t feel as if he was getting much from her responses. “How come I can talk to any woman but feel awkward with you?”
“It’s probably because my silence makes me seem so different from other women. You talk to me all the time. And you’re never awkward.”
That’s because I’m usually not thinking of you as a woman. “But I just ramble about my problems.”
“So I can make them not seem so bad.”
He crossed his arms, struggling to find the right approach. “Are you really going to tell me you like taking care of me like I’m a big baby?”
She laughed. “I give you what you need. It’s not hard.”
“Sounds boring to me.”
“It gives me great joy.”
“Coming from anyone else, I wouldn’t believe that in a million years.”
“Perhaps this is a bad night to have this conversation.”
She turned away and started folding his clothes. He watched her face. She didn’t seem upset. He couldn’t read any emotion from her at all.
“Aphrodite upset you. Your mind is racing. You’ve never questioned any of my actions before. You’ve never questioned my place in your life. You’ve accepted it because it was meant to be. It’s natural. You’re feeling off kilter right now and suddenly questioning things you never thought to question before.”
His mind struggled to keep up with all she’d just said. “I’m far more upset about you than about Aphrodite.”
She put his clothes down beside him. “Why are you upset about me?”
He ran his hands over his face. “I’ve taken you for granted for thousands of years when you’re probably my best friend.”
She shrugged. “I’m quiet. I blend into the background.”
He turned his body to her and held her arm when she tried to move away. “You do not. You’re beautiful and sweet. You do soothe and calm me.”
“I know, and I’m glad.”
“I talk to you all the time, but you’ve never talked to me this much, ever.”
“Sometimes words aren’t needed.”
“I suppose not. You do always seem to know what I need.” He paused. “What would you do if I kissed you?”
She put her hand on his cheek, but he still felt nothing from her. “I would let you.”
Something about her calm answer stung. “But you wouldn’t kiss me back? You simply wouldn’t object.”
“I would do what you wanted and give you what you needed.”
He felt an aching in his temples that reminded him of fights with Aphrodite. Yet this was not a fight. He touched the hand on his cheek. “So you’d let me use you? I don’t like that, Alala. You’re a goddess. I could never and would never command you. Or take advantage of you in that way.”
“You wouldn’t be using me. You’d be turning to me.” She took her hand away. “I’m not insulted you don’t want me.”
He thought hard. What was she talking about? “I just asked you if you’d let me kiss you. How did you translate that into me not wanting you?”
“You were testing me.”
He sighed. “I’m not testing you. I’m trying to figure you out. Five minutes ago you were my sweet, innocent girl, and now you’re the most puzzling woman I’ve ever known. I said I wanted to kiss you, and you acted completely indifferent.”
She blushed. “That’s how you thought of me? Your sweet, innocent girl?”
She seemed to like that idea, and he had never seen her blush before over anything, so he decided to pursue the topic. “Yes. I never thought about it much before, but yes. Thinking of you always calms me. Like you said.”
“I can be anything you need.”
The candid surrender in her eyes aroused him in a way he’d never experienced before. He imagined taking her to his bed. He knew she’d be sweetly submissive. She would yield to his every whim. He could almost hear her quiet sighs and moans.
When he realized they were staring into each other’s eyes, he suddenly felt like a dirty old man. He jumped off the table and darted from the room.
“I’m going to bed. I don’t need anything else tonight.”
Any other woman would have called after him, even if only to say one last thing. She let him run away from her without a word. And that’s what he suddenly felt he was doing. Running away.