The first thing Ares noticed was the bandage on his son's shoulder.
He had not expected Eros to visit him, for he had barely spoken to the boy. Eros was his mother's, that had been clear since his birth, and Ares had never seen the point in interfering where he had no place. Aphrodite was not his wife, and they were never meant to raise children together – the children that resulted from their trysts they divided between them, as the children's natures suited. Ares had many times seen soft-skinned Eros playing at his mother's feet and never once had he felt himself a father to the boy with such gentle eyes, whose arrows were loosed by Aphrodite's whims, and, in their flight, never touched flesh.
But now Eros stood before him, no longer a child but a young man, white-feathered wings (so unmasculine, Ares remembered thinking, so impractical for battle) folded on his back, and a bandage wrapping his shoulder.
Ares, who had just returned from a battle and who still had mud and dried blood on his palms, wondered what he was doing there.
"Father," Eros began, in a melodious voice, "I wanted to ask something of you."
Ares laid his spear against the wall and went to pour himself a glass of nectar. "Is Aphrodite having you act as messenger for her now? Tell her I have no time to see her this week. I'm far too busy with the Argive conflict."
Eros smiled, and Ares realized that his lips looked just like his mother's, curving and red. "No," the boy said, "I want to ask something for myself."
Ares offered Eros a glass of nectar, to which the boy shook his head. Ares shrugged. "Well. Then ask."
Eros' wings fluttered, slightly but perceptibly. "I'm going to be married."
That did not clarify matters in the least. "Good," Ares replied, feeling as though that word was quite sufficient response unto itself, "Your mother must be –"
"Mother doesn't like the girl," Eros interrupted, voice quavering, "she never has. And so I wanted to speak to you, I wanted –"
"My blessing?" Ares felt dizzy, and took a gulp of the nectar to calm him.
"I don't know about those things," Ares said, "they aren't within my area of expertise. I don't have anything to tell you. But I should think that your mother would have some idea about those matters, given her occupation."
Eros' expressive face blanched, and his beautiful lips set into a line. "She doesn't understand Psyche, or why I…she doesn't understand fidelity, what it means to devote oneself to one person for all your life. She won't ever approve. I know that. She thinks that it makes me weak."
Ares had several children, and he had never had much difficulty with them. When Phobos and Deimos were young he thought himself adept at teaching them all he knew, and at managing the boyish disputes that arose between them. They were both familiar to him, and with them he had never felt at a loss. None of his children, not Phobos or Deimos or any of the others had ever spoken of an emotion how Eros did.
"Why are you coming to me?"
Eros smiled, suddenly, and such a brightness lit his face and Ares felt an unexpected surge of affection for him, a feeling that he did not want this boy, this unfamiliar son, to be hurt. "Because you've loved mother. You know what that is. And I thought you would also understand why I would wish to marry, against her will. Wasn't it hard for you, loving her?"
The question came suddenly, incomprehensible in its boldness. Ares could not remember anyone asking him before how something felt. It made him silent for a moment, until the sound of Aphrodite's laughter came back to him, the image of light playing upon her calves, her golden hair lying upon her silk tunic in wavy patterns. And he said, "Of course."
"Everyone has told me the stories about you two," Eros said, and Ares did not understand how he could be so forthcoming, this boy he had barely spoken to, "even mother tells them, and they laugh about them, but I never laughed."
"Why?" Ares asked, "It was ridiculous, Aphrodite and I caught up in my younger brother's net. It made a sight worthy of laughter."
"I see what mother's power does to mortals and to gods, all the time. It isn't something to laugh at. I see that especially now that I feel love myself, and mother tells me to let it go."
Ares sat down, and put his sandaled feet up on the table. "Where did you get that wound?"
For a moment, Eros seemed not to know what Ares meant. And then he came to himself and touched the bandage at his shoulder, meditatively. "Psyche did that to me. She didn't mean to, it was only that…you see, I first met her when mother sent me to loose one of my arrows at her. She is beautiful, you understand, and the people of her city were so amazed at her beauty that they were neglecting mother. And mother can't stand to be neglected."
Ares laughed. "No, she can't. Go on."
"But when I went to shoot her, I had an accident, and stabbed myself instead. You see the wound here?" Eros held out his hand to Ares. There was a small puncture in the center of the palm, barely noticeable. "And so I fell in love." Eros smiled, radiant. "To think, that I had made so many fall in love, but, till then, I never had felt it myself! It's the most remarkable thing. I felt as though I was turning into honey, all melting and thick and golden, light shining through me. But I couldn't let mother know that I had made such a mistake, and so I kept my identity secret for Psyche. I brought her to a beautiful palace, gave her everything she could have wanted and more, but visited her only at night, when she couldn't see me. I made her promise never to try to discover who I was. One day, though, she grew too curious, and afraid that I might be some monster, reprehensible, and while I slept she brought an oil lamp and looked upon my form. The burning oil dripped upon my shoulder and I was burned. It hasn't healed yet, because I haven't healed yet from her distrust."
Ares frowned. "I don't understand something."
"Why are you still concerned with Aphrodite's objections if you kept the whole matter secret? If she doesn't even know about you and the girl –"
"But I had to tell her after Psyche wounded me. I needed her healing. I was in pain."
Contempt warred in Ares with a sharp, sudden pain. "You can't depend on her. Surely you know that. She's capricious. If you can't deal with your wounds yourself –"
Eros seemed outraged. "She's my mother."
"Hera is my mother, and if I went to her with every hurt I had, I would be forever in her power, and you must be sure that she would use that. They all think me a coward already – what must they think of you?"
"Without her I mean nothing, I have no power. She is everything I know. How can I not go to her when I am in pain? She draws me, irresistibly."
Ares laughed, cruel. "Do you think you're the only one who knows what that is? She draws everyone."
There was anger in the furrowing of Eros' brow, something in the corners of his eyes that reminded Ares of himself. "The rest of you have lives outside of her. Your very self is not dependent upon her. If you wanted me to learn independence from her than you never should have left me to her complete care. Look at me – I'm her creation, nothing else."
Ares was standing before he knew it. "My son – " he said, but the words tasted odd, even though he felt them for the boy before him, who had tears standing in his bright eyes. He began again, more slowly, "This girl of yours – her name is Psyche?"
Eros closed his eyes, and for a breath he smiled. "Yes. It means soul."
"Marry her. You have my blessing. Don't worry about what Aphrodite thinks. I'll go to Zeus and ask him to make her a goddess – he's happy with me now, he'll listen. And once she's an immortal, your mother's objections won't have any weight."
Eros seemed startled, even though this must have been the result he'd hoped for from this visit. "Thank you, I cannot imagine – "
"And bring her to meet me, when you can. I'd like to see what she's like."
Ares almost left the conversation there, but he forced himself to say to Eros, even though the sentimentality stuck in his throat, "I wish I had known you earlier."
Eros nodded. "So do I," he said quietly, as though the words were difficult and then, with a smile that seemed enough of a goodbye, he left.
Ares stood and poured himself another glass of nectar.