There are a lot of things Athena dislikes about Ares. She has a list of them, long and detailed and peppered with notes of her personal grievances with the only person who can make her lose her usual prudence. At the very top of this list is his utter lack of respect for rules. She's confronted him many a time, listing reasons and citing examples, but she may as well have been lecturing a sack of rocks so stubborn was he.
The only rule that she's ever seen him follow, obey almost obsessively, is the unspoken one that Hera teaches to all her children, love Hephaestus.
And still Ares manages to make a foul.
She runs into him in the halls. Athena's searching for Hephaestus and Ares is slinking out of Aphrodite's room.
She knows what has happened even before she smells his sister-in-law's perfume on him like a shroud of miasma. They look at each other for a long time, his face is haggard and weary and for once she has nothing to say. He lifts his hand, looks as if he's reaching for her. She decides then to have Hermes deliver her message and leaves Ares alone in the hallway.
She finds herself studying Ares as intently as a lost traveler studies a map.
She observes his wavering confidence when Hephaestus responds to him with one word answers and silent nods. She sees him steel himself against the criticism, sees him let his sisters pick him apart for what he's done, sees him break under Hephaestus' acceptance.
Athena wonders if she's the only one who sees Ares bleed when his brother distances himself from him.
"I thought she was you."
He's drunk, slumped over her door, and Athena thinks if he were wounded at this very moment he would bleed alcohol.
She helps him over to the bed and lays his head on her lap. Ares grips her hand tightly; his eyes are glassy but focused only on her.
"I thought she was you."
Athena strokes his hair until he falls asleep.
"I don't hate him," Hephaestus tells her when she finally finds a chance to speak to him. "I could never hate him."
"Perhaps you should tell him that."
She's just leaving the throne room when Hermes barrels in.
"Ares has been wounded!"
Athena's never run so fast in her life.
"I'm sorry," Ares croaks into his brother's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
"I forgive you." Hephaestus says, adjusting the splint on Ares' injured leg.
"You don't have to spare my feelings…"
"I'm not. I choose to forgive you Ares, I will always choose you." Hephaestus nudges Ares' forehead. "You're my favorite brother you know."
Athena listens behind the door, and smiles.
They resume their usual bickering when Ares' leg heals. His arrogance makes her want to pull her hair out and her life lessons drive him insane. They argue all the way from the throne room to her chambers, about mortals and philosophy and Dionysus' newest fling.
He holds open all the doors for her.
She kisses his cheek before saying goodnight.