It felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the room when Aphrodite left. I literally gasped a few times, trying to draw enough oxygen into my lungs. Between Ophelia and Aphrodite, I needed a cold shower.
I finished painting the walls three hours later. Dropping the brush in the tray, I went over to the ice chest I had brought with me, opened it, and pulled out a bottle of beer. Twisting the top off, I took a long pull from the bottle and looked around, feeling pleased.
A loud crashing sound from the lobby grabbed my attention. I put my beer on top of the ice chest and hurried out to the front. I pulled up short when I saw my brother smashing the receptionist’s desk with his large forge hammer. “What the hell are you doing?” I yelled at him.
“Just doing a little redecorating,” he said, swinging his hammer again and splitting the desk in two. Picking up the desk chair with one hand, he turned and tossed it through the front window before turning to look at me. “She was here.”
“Who are you talking about?” I said, already knowing the answer.
“My wife was here, with you,” he growled, his grip tightening on the leather grip handle.
“Yes, she was here.”
Roaring, Hephaestus rushed at me, slamming full force into me and sending both of us flying backwards. I landed on my back, and he landed on top of me. “How could you betray me?” he said as he stood up. He raised his hammer, ready to hit me with it.
I shifted a little bit and swept his legs out from under him. As he felt backwards, I jumped to my feet. “I kissed her; that was it,” I told him.
“Just like old times,” he replied, getting to his feet. “You just couldn’t stay away from her.”
“She came to me; I didn’t even know she was back,” I retorted. He swung his hammer at me and I dodged out of the way.
“That’s a lie!” he exclaimed, charging at me again. This time, he got me in the ribs with the hammer. By the Gods, that hurt. I feinted around him and ran down the hall. He chased after me, swinging his hammer right and left, leaving enormous holes in the walls.
I turned right at the end of the hallway and sprinted to the last room on the left. I had placed my old armor and weapons in there, unsure what to do with them. At the moment, I was very glad they were handy. I threw open the door, hurrying inside. I immediately spotted my shield and sword. Grabbing the shield, I slid it over my left arm before grabbing my sword. As I turned around, Hephaestus came into the room. “Is this what you really want to do, brother?” I asked him, taking a defensive stance.
“Do I want to kill you?” he huffed. “Oh yes, brother, more than anything in the world right now.”
The clash of metal on metal echoed off the walls of the room as we went back and forth. I truly did not want to hurt him, but Hephaestus didn’t give me much of a choice. I sliced the arm holding the hammer, not enough to incapacitate him, just to slow him down a little. Unfortunately, it didn’t even phase him. His adrenaline fueled his anger, and he hammered my shield mercilessly.
I rushed him, shield in front of me, driving him out the door and into the wall. He headbutted me, pushing me back a couple of steps. It wasn’t a wide hallway, so I was limited in what I could do. I went low and sliced the back of his calf, then slammed my shield into his knees. It was enough to knock him on his butt, and I smashed the shield down on his head. Then I brought the edge of the shield down on the top of his feet. Letting the shield go, I wrenched the hammer away from him, turned and threw it to the other end of the hall. “Have you had enough yet?” I asked him.
“No!” he snorted, getting to his feet. His enormous fist flew into my face, knocking me backwards into the opposite wall. He grabbed me by the front of my paint-splattered t-shirt and started pummeling my face. “You…are…going…to…stay…away…from…my…wife…or…I…will…kill…you.” Each word was followed by a punch.
I did the only thing I could think of: I kneed him right in the family jewels. God or mortal, that hurts. He released his hold on me and dropped to his knees. I could feel the blood dripping down my face, splattering all over the hardwood floors that I had painstakingly refinished. Bending over, I picked Hephaestus by the back of his shirt and shoved him up against the wall. I started pounding on him, the thrill of the fight fueling me. Long ago battles ran through my head, and bloodlust became strong. I wanted to hurt him; no, I wanted to kill him, just as much as he wanted to kill me. I felt excited, and I punched him harder. By the Gods, it was good to be in a fight again.
Suddenly, I found myself being jerked backwards and thrown to the floor. I looked up to see Hades standing over me. “What do you think you are doing?” he said angrily as Hephaestus slid to the floor behind him.
“What does it look like I was doing?” I retorted.
“It looked like you were trying to beat each other senseless, although you had the upper hand. Do I even want to know what brought this one?”
“Aphrodite was here,” Hephaestus said, trying to catch his breath. “He had his way with her…again.”
“I did not, you buffoon!” I yelled. “I kissed her, yes, but then I pushed her away.”
“You’re a liar!”
“Shut up, both of you,” Hades said. “Ares, tell me what happened.” It only took a couple of minutes to tell him about her visit. “Will she verify your story?”
“Yeah, she’ll repeat the lie you two came up with,” my brother snorted derisively.
I got to my feet. “I can prove it without her,” I told them.
Hades helped Hephaestus to his feet, making sure to stand between us as I led the way to the elevators. We rode in silence to the fifth floor, where a bank of computers was set up. I had already taken on a couple of security jobs, which necessitated the need for a control center. On the advice of a friend, I had hired Anderson Giolito, a young man with some wicked computer skills. He looked up from his laptop, his eyes widening in shock. “Boss, are you all right?” he asked as he glanced over at my brother.
“I’m just fine, Andy,” I assured him, even though I was sure that I looked like a bloody mess, literally. “Could you pull up the video from my office, about three and half hours ago?”
“Sure thing.” Fingers flew across the keyboard, making a clacking sound. “Here ya go.”
I motioned for Hades and my brother to step over and take a look. I watched them with my arms crossed. “Turn up the volume, too,” I told Andy. “You two pay attention.”
Their eyes stayed glued to the screen as they watched everything play out. I knew exactly when they got to the moment when I kissed Aphrodite, because the pulse in Hephaestus’ neck started pulsating faster and his eyes bugged out of his head. When they were done, they looked over at me. I turned around and left the room. This was family business, and I didn’t want to air any more of it in front of an employee.
“It appears that you were telling the truth, Ares,” Hades said as I closed the control room door. “Hephaestus, I don’t believe you owe your brother an apology, but I do think you need to go home and talk to your wife. I strongly suggest that the two of you stay away from each other for a while. You need to focus on your home life, Hephaestus, and you need to focus on your business, Ares. That should keep you both busy.”
“I’m too busy at work to deal with her right now,” Hephaestus muttered. “Everyone wants something for their new jobs and businesses. I barely make it home to sleep. I don’t have the time to talk things through with her.”
“I suggest you make the time,” Hades replied. “Now go home.”
As Hephaestus walked past me, his arm shot out and he gave me one last punch in the ribs. I didn’t flinch. He growled and kept going, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
“You need to get yourself under control, Ares,” Hades warned me. “When I came around the corner and saw you, it was like watching you on the battlefield again. You were fired up. If I hadn’t stopped you, you would have put him out of commission for a while. This isn’t ancient times, nephew. This is the 21st century. You’ve got to learn to keep your temper and your bloodlust under control, or one day, you will start World War III. That’s not a mess your father wants to deal with right now. Keep your word and stay away from Aphrodite.” He headed over to the elevator and pushed the button.
“Or what?” I challenged him.
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. “Or I will take you on a trip down to Tartarus, and you won’t enjoy it,” he replied quietly before stepping on the elevator.
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