All characters belong to Renaissance Pictures and sundry. This is set directly after the fifth-season finale, "Motherhood", and answers the all-important question: How did Ares get down from Mount Olympus?
by Maya Tawi
So there was nothing left.
Nothing left but to keep climbing down, and down, and hope the climb never ended so he'd never have to decide what to do next.
He'd even contemplated suicide, for a few moments. Just ending it all, right then and there, dropping off the side of Mount Olympus into oblivion. But then he realized that with Hades dead, he wasn't sure he'd end up in the right Underworld, and he didn't want to end up in the new god's afterlife for judgment. This so-called God of Love could be a vicious bastard.
Look at what he'd just done to all the other gods.
So he'd just walked to the edge of Olympus and started climbing down, hand over hand. He didn't know how else to get down. To be mortal on Mount Olympus was something of a quandary; unless some helpful god gave you a lift, you were pretty much stuck there until you died. There was a reason the gods congregated there, after all. No mortal had ever reached the peak before. Bellerophon had been the last one to try, on that damned flying horse of his, but that had certainly come to an abrupt end. And then they came.
And then... him.
He didn't know how they were planning to get off the rock, and he didn't care. They were all alive, thanks to him, and they'd damn well better be grateful, but he was fucked if he was ever going to worry about them again.
Yeah, right, he thought, and if you believe that I've got some nice real estate in Atlantis for sale.
He didn't want to think about it-- didn't want to think about why he'd just given up his immortality, the very definition of himself, the God of War, to save the lives of two women who five minutes previous he would have gladly seen dead as a matching set of doornails.
So he just kept climbing down.
There was a hole in his right leg from where she'd shot him that had never had a chance to heal. Every time he put his weight on that leg, it throbbed mercilessly; when he bent his right knee to find the next foothold he could feel it screaming. Pain. It wasn't a completely new experience, but it was unfamiliar enough to be something of a novelty. He supposed he'd get used to it.
There was a small part of him that relished the feeling.
How long had he been here, lowering himself hand-over-hand down the rocks, buffeted by the harsh winds of the dying storm? He wasn't sure. It felt like forever already. Everything seemed to take so much longer as a mortal. What he had previously considered an eyeblink would now be the span of his entire life.
That was depressing.
He considered just letting go and ending it now; no reason to drag out the inevitable. But then he remembered that he'd decided against it. Of course, he would die eventually, now that he was mortal, and by the time he expired from old age the Underworld he knew would almost certainly be gone....
Maybe suicide wasn't such a bad idea after all. At least then he'd be in control again. If only for a few moments.
His grip on the rocks was getting slippery. He looked at his hands and realized they were starting to bleed.
Maybe if he just stopped here for a while, to rest....
A rush of displaced air told him he was no longer alone.
Perched on the rock face next to him, looking somber with black clothes and a serious expression for once, was Aphrodite. The last surviving great god of Olympus.
He could almost laugh.
She didn't say anything at first, and he started once more to lower himself down the mountain. If he ignored her, maybe she'd leave. He wasn't sure he wanted her to, but it was better than having her stay.
Then she said his name, so softly that the sound was almost lost in the wind. "Ares."
He didn't look at her, just kept climbing.
"Ares." Soft fingers gripped his chin, deceptively strong. "Ares, look at me."
He did, finally, reluctantly. Aphrodite was radiant in her sorrow; her face was paler than usual, and her eyes held an unnatural gravity. She seemed so powerful, just perched there on the rocks, untouched by the storm, and he felt suddenly, incredibly, terrifyingly insignificant.
So that was what gods looked like to mortals.
"Where are they?" he asked finally, his voice low, almost unrecognizable to his own ears.
"I already took them back," Aphrodite murmured. She held her hand out. "Come on. I'll help you down."
"No." His foot found a ledge below, bore his weight for a few agonizing seconds, and then relaxed as his left foot came down beside it.
"Please." Her voice was still almost inaudible.
"I'm a mortal now, 'Dite." He fumbled for a handhold. "We don't need the gods to get along. Isn't that what my dear half-brother always said?"
"Maybe I should drop in on him sometime. Him and the little blond one. They'd love this, don't you think? The sidekick must be old by now. Of course, I'll be old soon too."
"You don't have to keep saying my name," he chided. "I know you're there. Maybe I should change it. My name, I mean. 'Ares, mortal.' It just doesn't sound right."
"Stop it!" Aphrodite said sharply. She pressed the heels of her hands into her temples, as though she were watching something no one else could see, something terrible. "Stop it," she repeated, her voice pleading. "Please."
He didn't say anything, just looked away.
Aphrodite let out a long, shaky breath. "That was... amazing, you know," she began, in more normal tones. "Like, wicked incredible. You giving up your immortality to save the two people that the woman you love loves? I mean, I knew you loved her, sure, how could I not, but I-- I didn't think you were capable--"
She broke off, and he said wearily, "'Dite, you're not helping."
"I know." Aphrodite laughed unsteadily, but there was no humor in her face or her voice. "It's-- it's hard. What happened today...."
What had happened? The universe had been turned on its ass, that's what. Gods killed by a mortal. All the gods, in one fell swoop. Discord, Deimos, Hades, Artemis, Poseidon, Athena... Hephaestus. Aphrodite's husband. He looked once more at her solemn widow's weeds, slightly less revealing than her usual attire. If Ares's world was gone, she was the only one left in hers, stranded alone after everyone else had packed up and left. The last of the great Olympians....
But she was going to live. Which was one advantage he didn't have.
He continued to descend the mountain. His arms and legs felt like solid lead. Aphrodite vanished abruptly, then reappeared a few feet below him, staring up with huge, hurt blue eyes. Startled at the relief he felt upon seeing her again, he growled softly to himself and started climbing down faster.
"I was trying to say," Aphrodite began, once he was in earshot again, "that was a really good thing you did. I'm impressed. I'm...." She hesitated. "I'm proud of you."
"Oh. Well, great." He snorted. "I'm sure that'll be a comfort. Does she even appreciate it? Huh? Everything I gave up just so she would be happy for the rest of her miserably short life? Or am I still just the guy who disgusts her? You make the call."
Aphrodite hesitated. "Um. Ares, honey? What are you gonna do now?"
"Well now, that's the question, isn't it." He spoke calmly, trying to ignore the fierce sense of desperation tightening in his chest. "It's not like I have an extensive résumé or anything. I've been War my entire life. What am I supposed to do, farm? Shoe horses? Oh, I could always go join an army somewhere and end up dying even sooner than I would anyway. Not to mention all the soldiers who'd give their right arm to come across a mortal God of War. That's what I have to look forward to, you know. Embittered men with deadly weaponry just waiting to settle some score or other. That's what mortals do-- they wait until you're weak, and then they gang up on you."
"Maybe I could find Xena and her merry troupe and hang out with them. They need a bumbling hanger-on now that the warrior wannabe is dead, don't you think? Livia doesn't count. She can actually fight. Eve, I mean. Funny, you'd think I could remember who she was."
"There you go again. You think she'd take pity on my and keep me around? Been known to happen. It'd be better than nothing. And I'm sure she'd be thrilled to beat off my attackers with a stick, 'cause Zeus knows I can't do it for myself--"
His voice was rising steadily, and he couldn't seem to stop it. "Although he can't know anything, can he, 'cause he's dead--"
The blow was completely unexpected, an open-palmed slap that made his ears ring, drowning out whatever impassioned words she was yelling. Suddenly furious, he reared and drew his hand back with a snarl, intending to hurl a fireball in her direction. He realized his mistake too late, as he took a step backwards to balance himself and found nothing there. He seemed to fall in slow motion; he heard Aphrodite give a graceful little cry, but he ignored her, closing his eyes and flinging his arms out to the sides. So it was to end now; a relief, really, when it came right down to it....
Then two unnaturally strong arms locked around his chest, and he was really falling now, falling forever and through nothing and for no time at all.
When he came to, he was lying on the grass. Correction: The lower half of his body was on the grass. His head was pillowed against Aphrodite's ample bosom.
"Let go of me," he muttered, struggling to sit up.
She held his shoulders firmly, having none of it. "Don't," she said quietly. "Just rest."
Reluctantly he settled back, opening his eyes. They were in the middle of a field. The long green grass glowed silver in the moonlight, and the air was still chilly from the storm. A few stars dotted the black velvet sky, but most were obscured by remnants of heavy gray clouds. It took him a moment to realize why he felt so uncomfortably clammy; then he realized that it was moisture seeping into his clothes from the still-damp grass. Aphrodite was oblivious, as gods often were.
He didn't mention it.
Instead he said softly, staring at the sky, "I never told you about the last time I was mortal. The last real time, I mean, not that ridiculous business with the scroll."
Aphrodite was silent. But it was an encouraging kind of silence. He went on.
"There were these... warlords-- when they realized who I was, they attacked me. Or maybe it was after that. Whenever.... The point is, they mopped the floor with me. You know why? 'Cause I rely too much on being a god. I can't fight as a mortal. I don't know how. I'll be easy pickings for the first halfway competent soldier who comes along."
"You'll learn," Aphrodite assured him.
He felt a brief flash of annoyance. "Yeah. Sure I'll learn. I'll have to, won't I? But really, what's the point? The last time this happened, all I could think about was getting my godhood back. That was all I worked towards. Now it's not an option. As long as Gabrielle and Eve are alive, I'm stuck like this. I can't exactly kill them; that would kind of negate the whole reason for doing this. Even if I physically could, and if I could get past Xena, which I don't think is going to happen any time soon. And I don't even know if it would work, or if it'd just be gone forever then, so when you think about it, there's really nothing I can do except live out the rest of my pathetic mortal life. So I ask again: why bother?"
No answer from Aphrodite. A soft golden curl trailed across his face, and he realized that the goddess was bowing her head.
"You're not gonna hit me again, are you?" he added.
She couldn't hold back a giggle. "No. As long as you don't get hysterical again."
"I was not hysterical."
"Coulda fooled me."
There was a pause, and then Aphrodite said cautiously, "I think the point of mortal life is to get as much enjoyment out of it as you can before you die."
He struggled into a sitting position, and this time she let him. "Well, that part's out. It's impossible to enjoy this."
She couldn't say anything to that. She had, after all, spent a few miserable hours as a mortal herself; she knew whereof he spoke.
"They seem happy," she ventured.
"They don't know any better."
Aphrodite hesitated. "Listen," she said, "I don't know if I can get my hands on any. The place is totally trashed, you know? There's no more left down here, and I don't know where Zeus kept his--"
His eyes narrowed. "What are you babbling about?"
"Ambrosia," she blurted out. "Look, if I can find some--"
"And why would you do that for me? I didn't even think you liked me."
Aphrodite's smile was infinitely sad. "We're a dying breed, sweetie. We gotta look out for each other." She paused. "I think I'm gonna get... very lonely soon."
"There's still Apollo. And Hermes."
"Oh, please," she sniffed.
"Demeter and Hestia?"
"You still have Cupid," he pointed out.
Her mouth formed a pretty pink 'o' of guilt at the mention of her son. "Cupid," she exclaimed. "Oh, man-- I gotta find him. I gotta tell him before-- before he finds out from anyone else--"
"I suspect," Ares said dryly, "that he already knows."
"To let him know I'm alive, then." Aphrodite plucked a handful of grass, letting the slick wet blades fall through her fingers. "I just... I don't get it," she admitted finally, in a small voice. She sounded like a little kid. "I don't understand why all this had to happen. I mean, was what we were doing so wrong? I thought-- I didn't think we were so bad, did you?"
"It's this new God of Love of theirs," he said, disgusted. "Some love. You don't suppose they mean your son, do you?"
Aphrodite just gave him an impatient look. "Of course not. Cupid wouldn't do this."
He rolled his eyes. He supposed he should know better than to try to make jokes when he was mortal and tired.
"What I'm saying, couldn't he just wait for converts?" she persisted. "That Eli was doing a pretty good job of spreading the faith 25 years ago, and that's nothing compared to how it is now. Why'd he have to--" Her voice caught.
"Kill us all?" he finished bitterly. "Why not? He just got impatient, or he couldn't stand the competition. We'd do the same thing. Well, I would, anyway--"
He broke off abruptly, openmouthed, as he realized what he'd just said.
"You would," Aphrodite agreed. "I know you would."
He wasn't listening. It couldn't be, he thought. Of course not. It's ridiculous.... But the more he thought about it, the more sense it made.
Ares had killed Eli. Only to ensure his own survival, true, but nevertheless he had killed the living messenger of the God of Love. And then, only a short time later, Eve was born.
So maybe this so-called loving god was just so pissed off at Eli's death that he abandoned any thoughts of coexistence and decided, no, mass extinction of the Greek gods was the only way to go.
Which means, he thought, if that's true, then I'm the one who caused this.
He sighed. He'd always thought he'd be thrilled if it came down to this-- the other gods dead, dying, or otherwise out of the way; him the only surviving one, or one of the few, anyway. But not now, not at this cost. Not if it meant being mortal.
The Fates certainly could be bitches when they put their minds to it.
Aphrodite was apparently recalling the same incidents he was. "In fact, it wasn't so long ago you trapped us in that so not happening other world. Or when you sided with Dahak against us, hoping he'd kill us all and you could take over. Or even when you--"
"I remember. Clearly. Which only leads me to ask again," he added, "why in Tartarus you would want to help me."
She sighed. "Oh, for-- You know what, Ares? I really don't know. I guess I just like you. I mean, I know you'd be glad if you were still a god and I were dead, but that's just the way you are."
Ares couldn't resist. "That's pretty twisted, you know."
"Hey, watch it," Aphrodite said, her voice regaining some of its habitual playfulness. "I am doing you a favor, after all." Then her expression darkened again. "I mean, I will... if I can...."
"I know, I know." He stared down at his bloody hands, turning them back and forth, inspecting them. Mortal hands. Talking with Aphrodite, he'd almost forgotten his situation. Now, seeing his own blood-- tasting it, as he raised his fingers to his mouth and almost tentatively touched them to his tongue-- he was all too unpleasantly reminded.
There was hope now, though, wasn't there? If Aphrodite found the ambrosia.... And maybe she was wrong, maybe there was still some left in the mortal world. It gave him something to look for, something to work towards. Ambrosia. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before.
He realized that he was actively participating in the maintenance of an awkward silence, and he cleared his throat. "'Dite, I really... uh... I appreciate it," he said, in a low, gruff voice. The words felt foreign coming from his lips, and he winced at how pathetic it sounded. The God of War didn't thank anybody.
Except he wasn't the God of War anymore.
Aphrodite nodded, looking uncertain. Or torn, like she wanted to stay but also wanted to get as far away as possible. A fallen god couldn't be a pleasant thing for a real god to look at.
He knew the reverse was painful as well.
So he just turned his head away. "Get out of here," he said. "Find your son."
Aphrodite smiled reluctantly. "Our son," she said, touching his face.
He grimaced. "Don't remind me."
She giggled again, but he couldn't shake the feeling that she was playing a part, and not very well. "Poor Ares. You're still not over it, are you? The God of Love being the son of the big bad God of War...."
He flinched, and Aphrodite's smile disappeared abruptly as she realized what he had said. She bit her lip, looking embarrassed. Ares shook his head. "It's okay," he managed. "Go."
She stood, raising her hand. Then she stopped and smacked herself on the side of the head.
"Oh, I am so mentally challenged!" she exclaimed, in response to his look of bewilderment. "I can't just leave you out here. We gotta get you somewhere, like, warm and dry and stuff."
"'Dite, no," he said. "Look, I'll find my way. I'll be fine."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said sharply, grabbing his arm and hauling him bodily to his feet. He stumbled forward a bit. As a mortal, her strength took him somewhat by surprise; he was used to being more than a match for her. "It's no trouble at all."
He hesitated, not wanting to tell her that the gods' traditional method of transportation now left him feeling like his insides were being turned out. It was embarrassing enough just to experience.
"'Dite," he said, "don't."
Aphrodite scowled at him. "I'm not leaving you here," she snapped, "so get over it." The expression on her face told him that she would not be dissuaded.
He sighed. "Get on with it, then."
She clasped his arm firmly, almost-- unconsciously, he was sure-- the way a warrior clasped another warrior, and then he felt himself tilted, and once again the world around him vanished.
This time, when his stomach had settled back where it belonged and he dared to open his eyes, he was lying on a reasonably comfortable bed in a good-sized room. An inn, he assumed. Aphrodite was perched on the end of the bed, watching him with what seemed to be a perpetual expression of worry.
He closed his eyes again and groaned. "I feel like Tartarus," he said.
"You look like it," Aphrodite agreed with a pretty frown.
He started to sit up, and then she was fluttering over him, pushing his head firmly back down to the pillow and pulling the sheet up to his chin. He cocked an eyebrow at her and said, "I never thought of you as the mother hen type."
She didn't reply as she firmly tucked him in. Exasperated, he reached up and slapped her hand away, or tried to. It was like hitting a brick wall. And not being able to break through it, more to the point, because as a god brick walls were nothing he had to think about; now, as a mortal, his baby sister was as immovable to him as Mount Olympus.
Aphrodite lowered her eyes. "Well, it's not something I let get around, you know, wouldn't help my rep any, but I have been known to do a mean tuck-in every once in a while. And it drives Cupie nuts, the poor baby, wants to be all grown up--"
"'Dite," he said, not unsympathetically-- without much emotion to speak of, in fact. "You're babbling."
"Oh." She looked guilty again. "Well," she added briskly, straightening and brushing her hands off, "I should... go. I'll... uh, look in on you every once in a while... make sure you're not off getting killed or anything."
He scowled. "I don't want your help."
"Fine, then I'll do it and I won't tell you." The words were a blunt reminder of what he knew all too well-- that now he couldn't stop her. Now he was at the mercy of the gods, just like all the other mortals, for the foreseeable future.
Whatever gods were left.
He thought of how certain of his relatives would have gleefully taken advantage of his situation, and he could almost understand the attraction of this new God of Love. Almost. Except the new god wasn't an improvement; he was just a better politician.
Aphrodite turned away, staring out the window. Far beyond the horizon, the gray light of dawn was slowly creeping across the sky.
"I, um. I tried to tell them, you know," she said quietly. "That they were making the prophecy come true, by what they were doing. Self-fulfilling. But you know how Athena is, she thinks I'm, like, a total airhead. Like anything I think of is stupid just 'cause I don't sit around reading and, like, strategizing all day. Just 'cause I've got a fun job--" Then she paused and added, "How Athena was, I mean."
He looked at her, pale and beautiful in her long robes of black, glowing white with the light of the moon and the coming dawn. She looked like a statue.
"You and me both," he said. "On both counts. I warned her, but she never took me seriously. That woman had a serious superiority complex."
"Still," Aphrodite said thoughtfully, still gazing out the window. "She wasn't all bad, not all the time."
"If you say so."
Abruptly, Aphrodite turned. "Well, sweetie, I really gotta go. But I'm serious-- I'll be keeping an eye out for you, and don't you dare tell me no."
He grimaced. A determined Aphrodite was possibly the most frightening-- certainly the most disconcerting-- thing he'd ever experienced. And besides, as testified by the sudden yawn that took him completely by surprise, he was too tired to argue.
Being mortal sucked.
Aphrodite raised her hand again, and he felt a sudden burst of panic explode in his chest. What would he do when she left? Eat, sleep and be mortal? She was the last link he had to the only life he knew.
He managed to keep his voice low and steady. "'Dite." He hesitated, not sure how to say it, hating himself for wanting to
(the God of War doesn't need anybody--)
(I'm not the God of War....)
but finally he managed to choke out one word.
Her eyes widened sympathetically, and he could have kicked himself. He didn't want sympathy, and he didn't want pity; he just wanted her to be there. Apparently the two came hand in hand.
"No, don't." He turned away again. "Forget about it."
"Ooh, I can't," Aphrodite said in dismay, ignoring this. "Stay, I mean. I gotta find Cupe, and there's so much to straighten up...." She trailed off, an expression of distaste tempered by depression marring her perfect features. "Ew, housework. Maybe I can get Hermes to do it. I think he's in love with me."
"Surprise, surprise," Ares muttered.
"Of course, I told him, I'm a taken girl. I mean, monogamy is such a total waste, but I gotta have some standards, so I told him, one god at a time for me--"
She broke off suddenly, as though hearing her words for the first time. Lines of pain etched themselves deeply around her eyes.
"Guess that's not gonna be a problem now, huh?" Aphrodite murmured.
Automatically he said, "I'm sorry about Hephaestus." It couldn't hurt to be nice, after all.
Her expression didn't change. "No, you're not."
"No, I'm not," he agreed, with a brief flash of annoyance. "He was always too much of a drip to be bothered with. Don't know what you saw in him."
Aphrodite flinched as if he'd struck her, and he immediately regretted the words, a new experience in itself. Before he could think of some graceful, dignified, unapologetic way to take them back, she vanished.
Ares stared at the spot where she'd been and said, softly, "I'm sorry."
She hadn't wanted to leave, he knew. She'd dithered at his side for so long, almost until sunrise, because they had a kind of sanctuary in each other's presence, a shelter from the rest of the world. Soon Aphrodite would have to start gathering the rest of the Olympians, to put Mount Olympus back together. She would have to fortify against any future attacks by the new god. He wondered if she knew. He wondered how she would manage, with both him and Athena gone.
But it wasn't his problem anymore.
He was mortal.
And when he woke from sleep (sleep that was already starting to claim him, against his will), he would still be left on earth. Alone.