strength, a hephaestus/hestia mythfic
(written for my dear meredith last_archangel.)
a night of reflection with the god of the forge and the goddess of the hearth. (2,176 words)
The elevator jerked and shivered, squeaking to a premature halt. With a wince for the twinge in his legs as he crouched down to pull open the control box, and a sigh for the perpetual frustration the blasted contraption caused, he thrust a pair of pliers into the rat’s nest of wires and twisted sharply. A snap of sparks, a whiff of ozone, and the metal box shuddered back into its ascent. The damn thing was hardly worth the effort any more, its only reliability in its inefficiency. He wished he could bypass it completely and just take the winding staircase, as so many did.
But as he shoved the pliers back into a pocket and struggled upright, bracing himself on his crutches, he had to smile ruefully at that idea. As if he could hobble up that many stairs without collapsing, or tumbling down them in a macabre re-enactment of his original crippling. His screaming muscles wouldn’t allow such an attempt. He’d likely collapses two floors up and have to be manhandled up or down by Zeus or Poseidon. And while he had never considered his dignity to be all that bountiful or necessary, he wasn’t willing to suffer that sort of humiliation.
It was late; far later than he had intended. But it had taken all week to finish the cuffs, and he had been determined this would be the last night of work. Work that would have taken all of a moment in the days before the Pact, when he had his full strength and power to depend on, when he could stand to be in the same room as Chronos for longer than an uncomfortable hour or so—but that was the price to be paid, and if the others could bear it then so would he.
After all, he was made to bear things. The others got to play and delight in nature’s beauty, the pleasures of the flesh, the esteem of mortals. He was a creature of heat and smoke and sharp edges, shadows and soot and sweat. Malformed, overlooked. It was his lot. He accepted it without complaint, because that was another of his qualities: he was the quiet one. While Zeus bellowed and Dionysius laughed, Hephaestus only nodded. When others raged or bickered or complained, he simply added to the load already on his shoulders and toiled on. Ever reliable, ever dutiful, ever ignored Hephaestus.
But, he reasoned, he probably wouldn’t know what to do with accolades if he had them. Parties made him uncomfortable, most art went over his head, even before his crippling he hadn’t been one for athletics, and the cutthroat world of business was hardly appealing. He was a simple man at heart, who wanted for very little. And now, today, he had more than he had ever thought possible.
If you live with constant betrayal and disappointment for centuries, it can take some time to adjust to domestic happiness.
She was curled up on the couch. The fire had burned down into glowing orange embers. The only real illumination was the moonlight streaming through the slats in the blinds. It was just enough to cast silvery highlights in her hair, to outline the curves of her shoulder and hip, to distinguish the hoop of embroidery that had slipped from her hands from the lush pile of the carpet.
He looked down at her with an ache in his chest. She was so lovely, every bit of her soft and smooth. And he was scarred, rough, and lined. It was stupid of him, as they were all equally timeless, no matter how their external forms looked—but in his heart he still felt like an old and weary man. Far too old and hard for someone like Hestia; the best he could offer her was quiet loyalty. And she deserved more, and better.
In the shower he watched as the water rolled down his legs, cresting the ridges of scar tissue, sinking into the valleys and pits in the flesh. Rubbed a callused hand over the old burns that gleamed slick beneath the spray. Reminded himself that this was his skin, his body. He scrubbed away the grease and sweat from the forge, let it all swirl away down the drain, until only he remained. Marred flesh, but still a man.
Water dark in his hair, robe cinched tightly around the waist, he limped back into the room. Hestia hadn’t moved, undisturbed by the sounds of the shower or the clatter of his crutches against the tile. He sank slowly onto the empty end of the couch and pulled the afghan from the back. Spread it carefully over her. Tucked the edges around her legs. She stirred, a soft moan escaping her, and hair spilled over her face. Unable to stop himself, he leaned closer and brushed back the pale strands with his fingertips. Allowed himself the barest of caresses across her cheek.
Real love was a frightening thing. Even for a god—perhaps especially for a god. Love made you feel everything so keenly, left you open and raw and shaking. Vulnerable. Exposed. Just looking at her made him shiver. Made him feel as though this could be nothing more than a fleeting dream, one he would wake from into a harsh reality of blinding light and bruising edges. There were moments, like this one, when he was possessed of a powerful desire to take her into his arms and never, ever, let her go. But that was selfish and he knew it. And so he killed that urge whenever it arose. Because love also meant letting your other half breathe, and decide, without your ironband control.
War was coming. He knew it. No amount of wishing would stop it. They were trapped in the calm before the storm and at any moment the fury could fall upon them. There would be bloodshed and pain—perhaps even death. They were doing everything in their power to stall it, but it would come nonetheless. And every sinew screamed at escape. Cried to run and hide, to find a steel bunker and wait out the hurricane, to go to earth until the battle was over and the field was decided. Anything to keep Hestia safe.
But no. When the fight began in earnest he would be needed, as he always was. In times of peace he was invisible; but as soon as blade met shield every voice would call out for him. For his forge and hands and clever mind for fitting pieces together, to craft swift and brutal death. The cruel hypocrisy of it all: he, who had only ever wanted peace, was the chief instrument of war. Sometimes it felt as though he and Ares shared that title, just as they had once shared a wife: unwillingly.
Hestia moved, the afghan sliding askew. Her arm stretched towards him, almost certainly unconsciously, eyelids still flickering in a dream. He took her hand, curved his fingers around hers, and smiled as her grip tightened. As comfortable as the couch was, she would have a crick in her neck come morning and her hipbones would ache from the springs. If he were haler, he’d simply pick her up and carry her to bed. Such a silly thing to be bothered about—he knew she cared little about grand gestures. Hestia had made it clear that she had no interest in alpha male displays. But still…
She had been working so much, pushing herself to the verge of collapse. Days would pass before she came home and when she did her time was spent sleeping wherever she could. He found her on the couch, slumped over the kitchen table and a half-finished meal, at the window seat with her cheek pressed to the glass. He felt guilty and selfish for wishing they could have more time together; greedy for wanting to suggest another vacation, regardless of how restorative such a respite would be. It would feel too much like holding her back or asking her to neglect her duties just for his personal pleasure. How could he keep her from her calling, even for a mere handful of days?
The mumbled words in the inky silence surprised him. She looked up at him, eyes glittering bright in a bar of moonlight that gleamed through the slats in the blinds. A sleepy blink made her eyes cross, and it took some effort for her to refocus on him. Still more than half asleep. Liable to slip back into the fog in the next heartbeat.
“Nothing,” he whispered soothingly. “Go back to sleep, dearest.”
“No,” she said. “You’re sad. I can feel it.”
He smiled wanly. “I’m an old and melancholy fool—that’s all. Please, go back to sleep.” He straightened and made his way laboriously to the bedroom, where he didn’t even bother to turn on the light. There was enough moonlight glinting through the curtains to make out the vast shape of the bed in the gloom, and he sat heavily on the edge and leaned his crutches against his bedside dresser.
Hestia moved so quietly, he didn’t realize she had followed him until she sat behind him, the mattress squeaking softly as she slid her arms around his waist and pressed her face to his back. She hugged him silently as he folded his arms over hers, thumbs rubbing warm figure eights across the back of her wrists.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Working so late. You tried to wait up for me.”
“Don’t ever apologize for your work. It’s important, and I’ll never begrudge the time you spend doing it.”
“You’re just as important—”
He gently extricated himself from her arms and turned. “But I can’t,” he said, brushing her hair over her shoulders. “For so many years you’ve gone without praise. I can’t help but redress the balance now.”
“There are times when things can be said without words. With every look and smile, you show me how much you love and appreciate me. Every touch…” She unknotted the belt of his robe. “Sometimes, there’s no need for words.”
She pushed him back gently and he cooperated, the pillows soft beneath his head as she unbuttoned her dress and cast it aside. Opened his robe and began kissing his neck. Traced hot lines along the ridges of his abdomen. When she kissed him properly she drew the edge of his lip between her teeth, nipping gently until he buried a hand in her hair, fingers curving into firm and inescapable bands around the back of her neck. With his other hand he took a firm grip of her thigh and aligned their bodies more firmly, hipbone striking hipbone.
If she wanted a wordless declaration, he would give it to her.
His previous weariness had evaporated. His head was abuzz with adrenaline-spiked lust as her body slid against his. The heat of her hearth meeting the fires of his forge. It was always exhilarating: the joining of bodies to match the joining of hearts. The rush of desire tempered with affection. Only with Hestia had he ever felt so… vital. Alive. With her he was a full and passionate man.
“Hephaestus,” she said in the quiet aftermath, as skin cooled and shivered. Her hand lay heavy and warm against his chest, fingers curved over his heart. “I was waiting up for you because I’ve decided something.”
“Hmm?” He combed through her hair, admiring the glint of gold in the dim light filtering through the blinds.
“I’m staying home until things are resolved. Until the threat is over.”
“But your work—”
“I’ve left my shelters in capable hands. That work will continue without me. Right now, my place is here. At home. With you and the family.” She paused. Tilted her face to kiss his neck. “I’ve been dreaming again—no, not the nightmares,” she said quickly, feeling him stiffen in alarm against her. “I’ve been dreaming about us. About what we could have. And that future won’t happen so long as this weight and fear hangs over us. I’m going to talk to Psyche and Dionysius in the morning and see if there’s anything I can do to help them—if they don’t need me, I’ll go to Zeus. Chronos. There must be something I can contribute. Some way I can help remove the cloud hanging over us.”
“I love you,” he said huskily. His arm tightened around her.
And she knew what he meant beneath the words: that he loved her so much he would support her decision, even if it terrified him. Even if it worried him half to death that she was putting herself in danger, getting involved when he’d prefer she was safely away. That he loved her as a true partner should—and a partnership involved letting your other half make their own choices.
“Bless you for that,” she whispered. “For making me stronger.”
“You were always the strongest of us, Hestia,” he said. “Always.”