Stitches In Time
"We should talk, Hera." Zeus stood behind his seated wife at her dayroom window, watching the bright red and yellow threads of her embroidery take the form of long flower petals beneath her proficient fingers.
"And just what should we talk about, husband?" Hera replied over the fluttering of a peacock passing the open window.
Biting back his temper, Zeus let his gaze wander over the dayroom. It had changed much over the centuries, and for the darker: tapestries that once told of he and Hera creating landscapes, plants and animals now told of the tragedies that followed -- the thunderbolts and floods, the deaths and the murders.
"You've redecorated." He commented flatly.
"Twice." Hera yanked the thread.
Zeus studied the luxurious auburn curls that tumbled down Hera's slim back, remembering how they flowed in battle against the hundred-eyed giants. She was a terrifying beauty his Hera. He suddenly felt a consuming desire to see her eyes spark in anger once more. "Have you seen him?"
"I've heard he's better."
"Seeing and hearing are two different things." Hera turned in her seat to fix Zeus with the flashing glare that would be his for eternity. "But the sobs of crying goddesses do echo terribly in the healing rooms, don't they, husband?"
Zeus ground his teeth. "Apollo informed me he moved Ares back to his own rooms this morning."
"Yes." Hera turned back to her embroidery.
"Have you seen him this morning?"
Zeus' hand whipped out to seize Hera by her upper arm, dragging her to her feet before him. "I am not the only one with blame here, wife."
"That is correct, husband." Hera inclined her head. "Yet you are the only one who hasn't faced the consequences of our action, the only one who hasn't witnessed Ares' condition for himself." Her clear gaze pinned him once more. "As the council of gods, we took the decision to punish our god of war as one. We engineered his imprisonment, left him incarcerated for over a year. The action that we took was ill informed and potentially fatal. We all bear the responsibility, we share the blame equally."
"We didn't know the brass jar would affect him so badly," Zeus growled but then fell silent under Hera's cool scrutiny. His attention turned to the flower embroidery. "It's very beautiful, my dear."
"Yes." Hera sat down to resume her work.
"Yellow and red. It is very bright."
"Is it for the gardens? I see you are using the animating threads."
"No. It is for mortal soil. It eats flies."
"Ah." Zeus eyed the long petals that formed the shape of a pitcher, or a jar. "Beautiful and deadly, Hera. A combination you're fond of."
Hera paused mid stitch, her slender body rigid.
With a small stab of guilty triumph, Zeus flashed off to Ares' bedchamber before Hera could turn around.
"...And the giants fled before the mighty power of the combined -- oh, Father." Ilithyia, Zeus and Hera's eldest, dark-haired daughter, stood up from her seat at Ares' bedside only to immediately dip back down and pet the bared forearm of her brother's inert form. Zeus closed his eyes against the sight that greeted him, cursing the darkness of the bed that only made his son seem more pale and weak.
"He's asleep?" Zeus' eyes were drawn to the angry bruising around Ares' wrist that Ilithyia's gentle fingers were careful to avoid.
"Not really." Ilithyia answered, shaking her head so her black ringlets bounced in a mockery of Ares' limp curls that were always the finer.
"Leave us," Zeus growled, surprising himself with the anger in his voice.
"B-but Ares." Ilithyia laid a hand upon her brother's softly breathing chest. "Father, he can't be left alone."
"I'm here." Zeus stepped forwards, crowding Ilithyia's smaller frame.
"But he needs to be spoken to, and touched. He's not really asleep."
"I can do that." Zeus spoke coldly into Ilithyia's red-rimmed grey eyes.
Zeus eased Ilithyia away from the bed before sitting down and resting his hand upon Ares' forearm. "You may go, daughter." He rubbed the cold skin, Ilithyia already forgotten even before she flashed away as he tried to heat Ares' arm with a light friction. The conferred warmth was momentary.
"Ares," Zeus whispered, stroking and hating the paper skin beneath his fingers. "Ares, it's your Father. Open your eyes now, son, speak to me." He traced a finger down Ares' high cheekbone and along the fine jaw line, feeling his own jaw tighten as he reached the full lower lip that now refused to move for him. "Ares." He finally leaned forwards and kissed Ares' nearest eyelid, relief flooding over him when the long lashes fluttered open.
"Zeus?" Ares settled his deep brown eyes on his father's face with a blink of surprise. "You came."
"Of course I came." Zeus caressed Ares' cheek with the back of his fingers. "How could I stay away when you're hurt like this?"
"But you did stay away." Ares scowled. "You stayed away for days. I asked where you were."
"You did?" Zeus ran his fingers through the lank waves of Ares' hair. "No one told me you were asking for me."
"They said you were busy." Ares twisted his head away from Zeus' touch.
"I was." Zeus took hold of Ares' chin, turning his son's face to him once more. "I had to catch the giants who did this to you."
"Wrong, Dad." Ares sneered. "Apollo killed them. Artemis told me."
Zeus stifled the growl of anger crawling up his throat. "No, I was trying to find out if there was anyone else involved in your imprisonment. It seemed to me that it would take more than those two giants to capture you and chain you in that jar for so long."
"And what did you find out?" Ares' voice was very low. "Was there anyone else involved?"
"No." Zeus smiled. "It was only Otus and Ephialtes as we first supposed. They must have stolen the potion that debilitated you."
"But how did they--"
"It doesn't matter, Ares." Zeus rubbed the taut forearm beneath his fingers. "You're safe now. The giants are dead."
"But what about that potion?" Ares searched Zeus' face with a narrowed gaze. "It's not something anyone would leave lying around, and how many gods could make it anyway?"
Zeus swallowed against his dry throat. "Don't worry about that now, son." He suddenly enfolded Ares in a fierce embrace, feeling the cold body in his arms tense. "I've told you no one else was involved. It's over."
Ares made no response.
"It must have been dreadful, chained in the cramped dark." Zeus was looking idly around the shady bedroom when he caught sight of a small casket with Hera's glimmering green seal upon it. "How you must have suffered." He stroked Ares' hair, and tried to break the bright seal with a flex of power. The casket trembled but remained closed. "How was it you came to be injured so?" He growled a little harsher than he had intended. "If you had just lain still--"
"What?" Ares jerked against Zeus' chest. "Do you think I should have just stayed there and accepted what they did to me?"
"But you hurt yourself." Zeus held Ares tight and continued to scour the room for other gifts his son may have received. "The giants didn't hurt you. The only power signatures on your injuries were your own."
"I had to get out of there." Ares' breath was coming in gasps as he tried to lever Zeus away. "You don't know what it was like."
Zeus drew Ares closer. "No, I don't." He gritted his teeth and petted Ares' shoulder. "Of course you had to try after all."
Failing to find any trace of any other gifts, Zeus was considering whether the young nymph Simaethis was ready for his attentions when the warm breaths against his chest deepened into a steady sleep rhythm. Having eased Ares back onto the mattress, Zeus was about to straighten up to take his leave when Ares' hand latched onto his wrist with a crushing grip.
"Oh, so you're going now?" Ares snarled, his fingers digging into Zeus' flesh. "What a surprise."
"Ares, you'll be fine now so stop this foolishness." Zeus shook himself free. "You're the god of war -- behave like one."
"That's just what I'd expect from you, Dad." Ares glowered at Zeus' shimmering robes. "Leaving when you don't like what you see, pretending it doesn't exist. If you're fed up playing the doting parent call someone else to me."
"No." Zeus glared across at Hera's casket. "You are my son. You do not need weeping goddesses holding your hands. Is that clear?" He risked a glance down and was relieved not to be captured by Ares' dark eyes. "You have to put this behind you." He watched Ares finger the outlines of the golden animals that decorated his silk robe. "You have to be strong."
Ares lay in silence, his fingers tracing the pattern of a hunting dog.
"Here." A flash of inspiration struck Zeus and a small flash of light deposited a large yellow puppy on Ares' stomach. "You won't be alone now because he'll be with you."
Ares' hand left Zeus' robe to stop the wriggling dog rolling from his stomach off the edge of the bed. Zeus watched a smile tug at Ares' mouth as the puppy chewed and licked the restraining fingers. "What's his name?" Ares brought up his other hand to tease the scrapping pup.
"You can call him whatever you like." Zeus smiled, hoping to catch a spark of the sudden light in Ares' eyes for himself.
"What's his name?" Ares repeated, his attention fixed on the cavorting puppy.
"Graegus," Zeus sighed, turning and walking away. "His name is Graegus."