Disclaimer: I own none of the characters of the story.

Important Note: I don't generally place notes at the beginning of the story, but this is important enough to merit a place here.

The story of Hephaestus that I'm using here has to do with Hera. It was Hera who threw Hephaestus off of Olympus, not Zeus. Thewarriorzemos pointed out to me that earlier in the story, I'd written that Zeus had thrown off Hephaestus, but this was a typo. It was Hera, not Zeus, who did so, and as a result, Hephaestus was caught and brought up by Thetis.

Sadly, I can't go back and change this typo because I've lost the earlier chapters of my story to my old laptop. If anyone's got any ideas on how to correct it without having to reload every chapter, please let me know. I just wanted to make this clarification. Thanks to thewarriorzemos for pointing out this error.

Chapter 8

The crackling whips of lightning and the crashing of the thunder seemed to fade away in the midst of the intense light which surrounded her. For one moment, the world spun madly around her, the colors leached away by the all-encompassing brightness. Her hands and feet slipped as she tried to find purchase, and her voice tried to scream, but no sounds emerged from her throat. The band around her finger seemed to become heavier until her hand felt weighted down by it; it became hotter, almost as if it were absorbing the light into itself until she felt as though it would burn right through her finger.

Suddenly, it snapped.

The ring fell into two perfect halves that hovered in front of her dazed eyes before disappearing into the distance.

The world seemed quieter when the light faded away. Her straining ears caught the hushed sound of raindrops falling gently all around her. The light no longer faded and flashed intermittently, but stayed calm and gentle.

Everything seemed to have become so much softer.

Aphrodite looked at the little white circle on her finger; the heavy band which had weighted it down for so many years had gone.

He had done it.

She was divorced. They were divorced. No longer… married?

Aphrodite struggled to comprehend the words echoing in her mind. Was it possible? It couldn't be. She hadn't even lodged another petition, which meant…

Hephaestus had divorced her. He had thrown her out of his life. He had rejected her.

She was free, but… her husband, her consort had publicly said that he no longer wished to be with her.

And Zeus had agreed.

Aphrodite struggled to comprehend that Hephaestus had actually done it; that he had actually rejected the goddess of beauty – no, not a goddess any longer. She was nothing, now.

Not a goddess.

Not a consort.

Not a lover.

Nothing.

Her mind whirling, her eyes stared around her bewildered, and then all was blank.


Aphrodite came to, quite painfully, with a stinging sensation in her cheek.

"Must you be so clichéd?" asked her mother-in-law, no, former mother-in-law, now. Hera was glaring at her. "I mean, really, fainting? Could you have possibly picked a more weak-minded response? Don't you have any pride?"

Aphrodite was silent. She didn't want to talk to Hera just now, so she tried glaring the elder goddess away.

Hera swatted away the glance as one would a fly.

"Don't bother," she said dismissively, her glance raking Aphrodite's slender frame with contempt. "I came to see you, and found you lying as limp as a rag on the floor. I had to bring you around somehow."

That brought Aphrodite's attention to her stinging cheek. "You slapped me!" she exclaimed in outrage.

"I stopped carrying around smelling salts at the end of the 19th century," replied Hera unrepentantly. "So slapping you seemed the easiest – not to mention, the most satisfying – way to wake you up."

Aphrodite's glare intensified. To make sure she got her point across, she even changed her hair to black. Combined with the light blue eyes, the combination was quite deadly, but failed quite patently to impress Hera, who met her stare for stare.

With a sigh, Aphrodite gave up, and Hera grinned triumphantly.

"Quite so," said the elder goddess approvingly. Having won the battle, she was now prepared to be a little more magnanimous. "I see I don't need to break the news of your unmarried state now. That's good. It moves things forward considerably."

"I fail to see how," said Aphrodite, her voice brittle. "I don't have anything now. It's all gone, every bit of it."

"Don't tell me you're mourning for him, please," said Hera quietly, her eyes meeting Aphrodite's. "We both know that would be a lie."

Aphrodite looked away again, feeling bitterly cold. It felt as if the light had sucked all the heat out of her body and she was freezing. Her slight frame was shuddering and she could feel something horrible welling up inside her. The screams she had been unable to voice earlier seemed to have changed into something altogether wet and sticky, and she could feel it clogging her throat.

Hera noticed the shudders and fell silent. Moving over to Aphrodite, she sat down beside her stepdaughter and took her hand.

Aphrodite turned to her, and buried her head on Hera's shoulder. Hot tears cascaded down her face and she sobbed, quietly at first, and then with great, shuddering heaves. Hera held the younger immortal in her arms, and patted her hand.

"Pull yourself together, Aphrodite," Hera said calmly.

Aphrodite shook her head. "I've lost everything," she said forlornly.

"You didn't want Hephaestus," Hera pointed out. "So why are you enacting such a melodrama?"

"It's not a melodrama!" Aphrodite shouted. "My husband doesn't want me. He rejected me."

"For good reason, too," retorted Hera. "I did point out to your father that you should be consulted, but he showed me a petition you had already lodged. After that, he simply brushed my arguments aside."

"Father tossed me away," said Aphrodite bitterly. "I've never meant anything to him. My wishes have never concerned him. But the minute Hephaestus wanted a divorce, he agreed. How is that fair? I've petitioned him for years. I begged him not to make me marry Hephaestus, but he insisted. Now, he dissolved the union without even asking me."

"Is that what's bothering you?" asked Hera. "Your father always thinks himself omnipotent, Aphrodite. He has never concerned himself about the female goddesses, or indeed, women's emotions in general. What did you expect?"

"I don't know how you stand being married to him," said Aphrodite, looking at her hands.

A corner of Hera's lips twisted. "Neither do I," she said, "but then again, when was my opinion ever sought about our own union?"

Aphrodite looked up at once. "I'm sorry," she told Hera genuinely. "I didn't mean to bring up your own circumstances. It's just so hard, not knowing what to do. Hephaestus told me that I didn't know anything about love, despite being the goddess of love. He said I was vain and selfish. Even Charis agreed with him. On my way back from my temple, all the gods and goddesses I met looked at me as though I were beneath their feet. Then, father dissolved my marriage without even asking me. What am I supposed to do now?"

Hera had been watching Aphrodite talk, her face sympathetic. As the younger woman's voice trailed to an end, however, she entered the conversation. "Are you finished with the self-pity yet?" she asked, making her voice mocking.

"What do you mean?" Aphrodite had been prepared for sympathy, not its opposite.

Hera stood and walked over to the window and looked out. "You have no idea how much I envy you," she said, and turned her head to look at Aphrodite. "You don't know how fortunate you are."

Aphrodite was stunned. "What do you mean, mitera?" she repeated the question, moving forward to face Hera. "I don't have a role on Olympus any more. You know what that means."

"Yes, it means that you can leave this place, go somewhere else, away from all these petty politics," said Hera passionately. "You can go and live anywhere you choose, whether it be on a mountain, or among the mortals."

"Hera-"

"You can do anything you want, talk to anyone you want. You won't have anyone or anything holding you back. Oh Aphrodite, don't you see how lucky you are?" Hera turned to Aphrodite again, and caught her hand. "Do you know how long I've prayed to the fates for such a thing to happen to me? And now that you have it, you're sitting and crying about it, instead of using it."

"That was your wish, not mine," said Aphrodite indignantly. "I liked my job, thank you. I did a good job, didn't I?"

"For someone who didn't understand it, you certainly did," agreed Hera.

Aphrodite stared at her, hurt, and dropped Hera's hand. "How could you say that to me? I did my best."

Hera sighed. "You didn't listen to what I said, dear," she said, reprovingly. "I said, that for someone who didn't understand her job, you did it well."

"I heard you, mitera," said Aphrodite coldly, and stalked over to her couch again. "Care to explain? Because those were the exact words your son threw at me, too. Oh wait, he's not your son, is he? He doesn't even call you his mother. It's funny that –"

"That's enough, Aphrodite," said Hera sternly, her voice so frigid that Aphrodite quailed under its power. "I will not hear this vitriol spewed from your lips."

Aphrodite's lips trembled, and she turned away. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I didn't mean it. You know I didn't."

"I've known you long enough to know it, yes," said Hera, coming over to sit beside her. Then, looking at Aphrodite, she said: "Of all of Zeus' children, you are the only one I can stand. It's strange, really."

"Yes, it is," said Aphrodite, smiling a little. "Why is that?"

"I thought I would hate you, too," said Hera, her voice a little melancholy. "What with Zeus' constant infidelities, it hurt even more to be confronted by them. Hercules, Helen, Minos, all of them. Somehow, it never stopped hurting."

Aphrodite looked at Hera's strained features, and reached over to take her hand. "They already had mothers, all of them. I didn't even know how to be one. Athena was already fully grown by the time Zeus married me. I was so jealous of Zeus' offspring that I tried to conceive on my own. It worked, and Hephaestus was born."

Aphrodite looked at her sharply. "Why did you throw him away, then?" she asked, trying to keep all harshness from her voice.

"I was so surprised; Hephaestus was a tiny little thing, red and scrawny, and so ugly. I looked at him and I compared him to Athena or Ares, and I thought he would never survive. I was so ashamed of him and myself," Hera said, her eyes filming with tears, and her lips quivering. "My only thought was that Zeus would laugh at me. I never even considered Hephaestus as a child at all. I just wanted to get rid of him and pretend he never existed. There's no excuse for my actions."

Aphrodite had sat silent and unmoving through the horror story. Hera had never spoken to anyone about Hephaestus' birth before. "Why were you so surprised?" she asked softly. "Surely you've seen babies before. You are the patroness of marriage, after all."

"Yes, but I've never seen an actual newborn baby. I was unconscious after Ares was born. It was so difficult, you see," said Hera, a little flustered. "After that, I didn't see him at all. I wasn't allowed to see him. You know how those times were… a child was only considered by the father, not by the woman who carried him or her. Zeus wanted Ares to grow up powerful, and unaffected by women."

"Then he hated him for it because he was afraid Ares was too powerful," said Aphrodite drily. "How like him. I'm sorry, mitera, I had no idea. No wonder you and Ares don't get on."

"I tried to make it so that Hephaestus didn't exist," repeated Hera, her voice anguished. She dropped her head into her hands. "I didn't even consider what my actions had done. Then, when I realized and searched for him, he had disappeared. I didn't know that Thetis had caught him."

"She said she made It just in time," Aphrodite tried to make her voice as non-judgmental as possible. "By the time you realized, he would have probably died."

"Yes," Hera closed her eyes and shuddered. "He would have died. He would have died by my own hand. He smiled at me, you know, when he was born. But I didn't notice. I was too caught up in hiding from Zeus to notice. I killed him, Aphrodite."

"He's still alive, mitera," said Aphrodite, "don't get carried away."

"I don't blame him for not acknowledging me," said Hera sadly. "I just hate that the one person I could have loved, my own child, looks to someone else because I was foolish and wicked enough to throw him away. After that, I tried to put it aside, and I never became pregnant again. I could only look at Zeus' children with envy, and hate them for existing, when my own child didn't exist."

"Why didn't you say anything to Hephaestus when he came to Olympus?" asked Aphrodite softly.

"I was too ashamed to even look at him," whispered Hera. "By the time I did look, Zeus had announced your union. I protested to Zeus afterward – I told him about you and Ares, but he wouldn't be moved."

"Father's always been all about power," said Aphrodite cynically. "So why did you accept me, then?"

"You were different," said Hera slowly. She took a deep breath, and swallowed. "You came up to Olympus, and we all fell in love with you. How could we not? You were like the child I'd always wanted: beautiful, vivacious, bubbling with joy and laughter. It made me happy just to be near you. I never thought that you could change. It was so easy to love you. You were irresistible. But Zeus was afraid, you know."

"That I would win everyone's heart and take over Olympus," Aphrodite put in. Hera smiled. "Has father always been this paranoid?"

"He's always been worried about that, no matter whom it is."

"Well, he could have saved himself the trouble," said Aphrodite. "I shudder at the very thought of trying to lead our wonderful little band. Seriously, he needs to take a break from Olympus."

"Yes, well, he can't and more to the point, he won't," said Hera. "Mortals have a saying, you know: Absolute power corrupts. Zeus has been in power for so long, he is bound by it. He could never live without it. It drives him."

"Thank the fates I'm free of that," joked Aphrodite flippantly before she realized what she had said. She looked at Hera, realization dawning upon her.

Hera smiled back at her. "Yes, you are free," she said meaningfully. "You're free to do whatever you like. You can leave, my dear, and choose your own fate. Perhaps, you can even find your own true love along the way."

"Yes, I can," said Aphrodite wonderingly. "I don't have to be here. I can do whatever I've dreamed of doing."

"Hephaestus did you both a favor," said Hera, "although if you ever tell anyone I said that, I will hurt you. After all, I am the –"

"Patron goddess of marriage?" asked Aphrodite with a twinkle in her eye. "Thank you, mitera. Thank you for coming to talk to me."

"You're the nearest I have to a daughter," said Hera, coming to her feet. "Keep in touch, will you?"

"I will," said Aphrodite, following Hera to the door.

"Have fun," said Hera softly, and winked at Aphrodite.

Author's Notes: Hope you all enjoyed the latest chapter! This was more of an interlude between Hera and Aphrodite, and setting things up for the future. Now the fun can begin! I hope you all read my note earlier in the chapter.

I've replied to one or two by author's reviews, and I shall continue doing so in order to avoid filling up the chapter with replies to reviews. For those users who don't have profiles, however, I shall continue to reply here. Thanks to each and every one of you who had taken the time to review the story. I'm happy so many of you are enjoying it. It gives me great pleasure to hear your thoughts. Hope to hear more from you soon.

As always, if anyone else would like to participate in this challenge, the details are on my profile. If you're writing this story, please let me know, and I will add your story to the list.

Cheers,

Windwhistles

LONGNodaichi : Thanks for the review. That action's going to wait a little, but fun dates should soon be coming up.

Suzu: Thanks for the review! Hope you like the chapter.

Liliesandroses: Thanks for the review!

IrishDiamond: I'm so happy you liked the wedding rings dying. I thought it would be a great way to show the end of their marriage. Read yours the other day, and it's getting really really interesting. I shall leave detailed reviews on it as soon as I finish reading it all the way through again :D

Sadistic Lunatic: Thanks so much for your review. Hope you liked Aphrodite's reaction. Now, she can really get going on her adventures.