The groan of steel grinding against steel echoed through the otherwise silent chamber. Slowly, cautiously, the great golden door opened, seemingly on its own—nothing could be seen pushing it from the shadows of the outside hallway. That chamber was the only light in the otherwise dark palace, shrouded in golden rays of light, warm and inviting—so inviting that a slim figure stepped in through the great, steel door, bathing herself in those golden rays. She had no wish to remain in that cold darkness any longer, for she was not the sort of creature who belonged in it. She was ethereal, an angel, and light seemed the only fitting substance for her to dress herself in.
Letting her shawl fall from her shoulders, the woman stepped further into the room, kicking the door shut behind her. If her husband had not now realized that she was there, he most certainly did now. She made no effort to be silent and conceal herself from him, although she could have (and often did) with ease. But no, tonight she needed something from him.
“Vulcan,” she murmured lightly, knowing that he was listening, knowing that he knew she was there. She took a step deeper into the room, a slow smile crossing her face. “Vulcan, my dear, sweet husband, I have come to see you. Why do you hide from me?”
Sighing, just loud enough so that she knew he would hear, the woman crossed over to his bed—their bed, rather. It was hers just as much as it was his and although she had not laid on it for so long that she hardly remembered the feeling of the silk sheets beneath her body, it brought back memories to her—memories that she had long left undisturbed, both pleasant and horrible. This was her marriage bed, the one she had shared that first night with her hideous husband. She passed her hand over the golden blankets, touching the marks of soot that covered them. She could count the number of times she had slept in this bed easily, using only her hands. She had not been there in some time and yet, she knew her husband would not disappoint, not when she kept him so deprived, like a starved animal.
“Vulcan, love,” she said again, watching the oddly shaped shadow on the terrace that she knew was her husband. She heard him groan in a voice that she had not known for such a long time, she had nearly forgotten it. Deep and hoarse, like the grating edge of steel on steel.
The shape outside the window began to move until, at last, it lumbered through the glass door, out of the darkness of the outside world and into the light. There he was, her husband. Still hideous as ever, she saw. His beard had grown out even more so in her absence, now reaching the place just below his collar bones. She rather liked it shorter but just as well. It did little to alter his appearance anyway. His arms were still muscular, his shoulders still broad, his back still oddly bent, and his left leg still clearly as lame as ever. He limped even as he made his way over to their bed, his harsh brow furrowed.
“What do you want, Venus?” His words were harsh and to the point—he had never had an elegant way of expressing himself—but his tone was soft and curious. Perhaps, it seemed, even hopeful.
Venus felt her heart soften and for a moment, she felt a twinge of regret at the way she had treated him, that she had not been a good and faithful wife to him, that he had not had so much as even a taste of her flesh in so many long years. But it was not as if he could not get his own lovers. He was not a helpless babe. She had not been entirely faithful but neither had he.
Venus straightened her shoulders and offered him her most beautiful, most enticing smile. “While the Greeks were destroying Troy, burning it to the ground and drowning it in blood, I asked nothing of you, my dear, sweet husband. I did not ask for weapons, even though you, my dear, can make the best the world has ever known—I would be lying if I did not admit as much.” She tossed her long, golden hair over her shoulder, revealing her neck to him. She smiled knowingly as he looked at it, his hungry eyes slowing slipping downward, taking in the rest of her body. “I owed weapons to Priam, too, and to my own, my dear Aeneas, when he was suffering there in Troy, when his wife was murdered before his eyes. But—“ she caught Vulcan’s chin in her hands, keeping his eyes, which had started to stray, focused on her—“I did not ask for anything from you.”
“I am aware of this,” he snapped at her, gruffly, looking past her.
“I know, dearest. I only remind you because now my dear boy—my son, Aeneas—has landed on the coast of the Rutulians and you know how dangerous it is there. And so I, who has not asked anything of you in so, so long, have come to ask, as a mother for her beloved son, if you, my adored husband, could forge something for him. I know you—only you—could make the best for my son.”
“Your son…” he said at length, testing the words in his mouth. “Your son whom you begot with another man. Your son and not mine. Why would I want to help him?”
His tone stayed even the whole time, never betraying even the slightest hint on annoyance or anger and Venus knew he could not conceal his feelings from his voice. He was not angry at her, then. His voice simply sounded tired, broken.
“Let me convince you, then,” she cooed, sliding closer to him, the closest she had been to him in years. He still smelled of fire and smoke, although not in the sort of way that overwhelmed her. It was a manly scent, that reminded her of warmth, or fires and nights beneath the stars. She found that she rather liked it, in spite of herself.
Inhaling deeply, she slid onto his lap, wrapping her pale arms around him in a torturously soft embrace. His skin felt warm against her, as it always had, she remembered. Her husband always seemed to have a touch of flame within him—the smell of smoke, the warmth of fire, and love always kindling beneath his surface. Gently, she rubbed her soft hands over his arms, knowing that her palms were already probably black with soot. Sliding her hands over his bare, muscular back, she let them trace the once-familiar path back up his neck, into his curling, black hair.
He sighed and slumped against her, clearly exhausted from working at the forge, pressing his face into her neck as she continued twining her fingers through his hair in the way she knew he liked. Then, knowing she could not let him pass into sleep just yet, ran her fingers back down his oddly twisted spine, until the fabric of his tunic stopped them from going lower. She lifted his face from her neck and began to trail kisses down his neck, careful not to brush the hair of his beard. He groaned and tightened his grip around her as she trailed her tongue over his collar bone, ignoring the bitter taste of ashes and sweat in her mouth.
Vulcan cursed himself inwardly for giving in to his wife so easily and she continued to press kisses to his skin. Every kiss weakened him all the more and he knew quite well that she did it on purpose. She kept him longing for her for so long that, when she did come to him, he had practically no choice other than to accept anything she said. Familiar fire filled him to the core, blazing through his chest under his skin, all originated from her, from her lips on him. He had not felt this flame within him for so long—oh, so long—but he remembered it all the same. Whenever it was reawakened, it was as if it had never gone at all and his instincts took over him before his mind did.
He saw Venus smile, cruelly, he thought, as she felt his desire against her. She knew what she did to him and exactly how to do it. She knew he was beyond enamored by her beauty and charms and that, if he wanted to resist her, it would have taken everything in his being and more to draw away from her now. She had already won.
“My dear Vulcan,” she purred, this time kissing his ear. “Will you help your poor wife? Have I convinced you?”
He groaned as she drew away from, the fire in him demanding more. She looked at him with her large, green eyes—seemingly so innocent and helpless. She certainly knew how to work her own form of magic. But, his heart softened even as his desire grew all the more. He could not hate her, not when she looked at him so prettily, not when she never forgot about him or ran from him, even if the only times she approached him was for her own advantage. She was dear to him, even after all this time, and he loved her still.
“You must know that you do not have to give me reasons for what you wish. You do not have to dress up your argument so prettily, my love. If this war is what you want, then I can promise everything that is in my power to make. You can have your weapons, if you want them. Now,” he growled, feeling that flame seer his insides painfully, “do not ask any more of me. Just come here. Just love me for a while.”
She nodded, her eyes sparkling in victory. “Anything for you, my husband,” she murmured, her lips once more brushing over his skin.
“I love you,” he growled, as her kisses found his lips, joined again after so long. He felt Venus laugh against him, her body brushing his in the most agonizing way possible, but he was not insulted. Venus would not speak the words back to him, he knew, because that was not what she did. She showed love through her body, her kisses, her soft caresses, not through words. He, however, preferred the words, even though his voice was rough and scratchy, even though he could never make the words sound beautiful, only because his body worth less than the words were. He was lame and ugly and, by all accounts, could simply not measure up to the high standards his wife had. He could, however, offer her the two of them combined, words and body, and make a gift of them that was, in the end, quite pleasant.
Venus let him pull her down onto their bed, her eyes slightly dazed in pleasure, and even touched his blacked chest with her clean, pure hands. She did not make any move to leave, even when Vulcan moved his body to cover hers, feeling every curve and dip of his wife’s body beneath him in ways that he had not felt in so long. The two long-separated lovers locked themselves in love’s dance, a passionate rhythm of tender need and overwhelming desire. It was slow and a bit awkward, as the two of them had not been partners in this for so very long. But Venus made up it for it in her soft kisses that she pressed to every inch of Vulcan’s body she could reach and Vulcan, by his desperate growls and his calloused hands touching every bit of Venus they could, covering her with soot, his mark of love.
Then, after the finale of sparks and small explosions of fire and cries of passion, Vulcan collapsed on top of his wife, breathing heavily, promising his undying love for her as she kissed him, over and over. Whether Venus’ affection was all a scheme to make him comply with her will, he knew it not, for it was a convincing farce, even if that was all it was. And Vulcan, happy to accept it, scheme or no, had let himself indulge in her, with all his passions, all his love for her completely unveiled before her eyes. And perhaps, with each kiss, she spoke her love to him, too—Vulcan was not sure, but it seemed a happy enough fantasy that he let himself believe it was true.
“Let me sleep,” he rasped into her chest, his face now pillowed on her breasts. “Let me sleep and tomorrow I will make those weapons for you son.”
“Whatever you want, dear,” she breathed, her fingers twining themselves once more in his dark locks. “Sleep. I’ll be here when you wake.”
“Is that a promise?” he asked, trying (and failing) to keep the hope from creeping into his voice.
“Yes, my husband. I have been away from you for far, far too long.”
Her chest hitched as she breathed and Vulcan smiled into her breasts. That almost, unless he was mistaken, sounded as if she had missed him. His eyes slipped shut, his head full of happy fantasies and thoughts that he tried, as often as he could, to keep locked away.
“Sleep,” Venus cooed again, taking one of his limp hands from her side and kissing it lightly. She had already forgotten about the soot that covered him… and, now, her too, as her eyes fluttered closed to follow her husband into a tranquil, well-deserved rest.