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Prom night and beyond! The final chapter.
"I had never seen such beauty before."
"She is a beautiful woman," Aglaia admitted, looking up at him. He found his eyes lingering on her mouth, a soft, red rosebud.
"When Zeus gave her to me," he went on. "I thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to me."
"She doesn't love you," Aglaia whispered.
"I know," he replied, nodding in agreement. He knew it, but he couldn't help how he felt. Something compelled him to pursue her in spite of her rejection. He knew he made himself the fool for her-but he couldn't seem to stop.
"Hephaestus," she said, his name in her mouth a whispered plea. He peered down at her, this gentle Grace, seeing something there that moved him.
He did it without thinking, tilting her chin up and putting his mouth against hers. She responded, wrapping her arms around him, her little body pressing into him, a soft, sudden reminder of his manhood. He felt a spark, not unlike his hammer hitting hot metal on his anvil-it was something fierce and undeniable.
He broke the kiss, staring down at her closed eyes, her rosy mouth still turned up to him, an offering. He let her go and she stumbled, gasping. Hephaestus turned away from her, swallowing hard.
He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "I have tried for years to please her, to find the thing that will turn her toward me instead of away from me. I am growing very tired."
"Then, stop," Aglaia whispered. She came up behind him, pressing her breasts into him and resting her cheek against his back.
"I can't," he choked.
He realized it, in that moment. "Because if she can love me... then maybe... maybe I'm not the boy who was thrown from Olympus because he was disfigured. Maybe I'm not the man who has been spurned by every goddess, laughed at by every god. Maybe there is some part of me that is... tolerable."
Aglaia let go of him, and he turned to see her standing there with tears on her cheeks. "Your problem isn't that you are lame... your problem is that you are blind."
Aglaia turned from him and fled. He stood, stunned, watching her go.
A sudden heat against his neck made him turn, and he forgot about Aglaia as he saw Helios, the sun god, coming toward him in his flaming chariot.
"How's she holding up?" Hephaestus shaded his eyes, admiring the golden chariot and smiling as Helios stopped quite a distance away. The chariot was scorching the garden where it stood, and he knew Aphrodite was going to have a fit about it.
"As beautiful as the day you made her for me," Helios replied with a grin. "How are you holding up, old man?"
Hephaestus shrugged. "Same as ever."
"So I can see," Helios replied, jerking his head in the direction that Aglaia had run off. "Still ignoring the flower right in front of you and pursuing the unattainable garden?"
"Did you come all the way down here to taunt me, Helios?"
"No." The blazing god sighed, shaking his flaming head. "I came down here to give you some information."
"Oh?" Hephaestus crossed his arms, not sure he wanted to hear this. Helios had long been a good friend, perhaps because Hephaestus was one of the only gods who could withstand his heat. Helios was one god he could trust to watch his back.
"It's about your wife," Helios said, frowning. His eyes said it all. "And Ares."
"I don't want to know." Hephaestus turned to walk away.
Helios called out: "You are a fool!"
"I know." Hephaestus felt something congealed in his chest, continuing to walk away.
"That little Grace loves you," Helios told him. Hephaestus stopped, turning to look back at him. "I have seen her watching you from afar. She is yours for the asking."
"What have you seen?" Hephaestus asked, walking a few paces toward him, the intensity of the heat making him stop. It was too much, even for a man who worked in the temperatures he did all day.
"It's so clear!" Helios rolled his orange eyes, waving his hand and singeing one of the rosebushes.
"Maybe with a light as bright as yours," Hephaestus replied with a little laugh.