He's not sure what to say. What's she doing? He wishes his dumb brother weren't here.
"I'll answer for you," she tells him. "Of course you don't."
"I...That is..." Hephaestus stammers. "I'm here because I want—"
"No one can love me," she says. "No one."
"What do you mean?"
"That is the price," she tells him, "of being the goddess of love."
Ares's deep voice breaks the silence. "Don't be ridiculous," he says. "The only reason Father Zeus made you marry him was because all the other gods were fighting tooth and nail for your hand. He stuck you with him to avert a civil war. We all wanted you."
She shrugs. "I know you all wanted me."
Modesty was never her forte, but then, a humble god is hard to find.
"I'm the source of love," she says, "but no one will ever truly love me. The fountain of passion, but I will never know a true passion of my own."
Ares throws up his hands. "You're nuts! Have you read Homer? Hesiod?"
"Goddess," Hephaestus says quietly, "what can you mean?"
She gazes into his eyes until he squirms. "You male gods are all rapacious pigs," she says dismissively. "I grant you, Husband, you're less horrible than some. You all brag of your exploits. You're no more loving than an anvil is. Fickle and capricious and completely self-centered. You're incapable of love. Just as you're incapable of dying."
"You're calling us self-centered?" replies Ares. "You're no Florence Nightingale."
"You have no idea what I am," she tells him, "nor what good I do. I know what you think of my 'silly romances.'"
She turns to Hephaestus. "I might find a mortal to love me," she continues, "but that's worship, not love. I'm perfect. Mortals aren't meant to love perfection. It disillusions and destroys them in the end."
Hephaestus is baffled. Aphrodite has no one to love her? He, the god of fire and forges, has no shortage of ore and fuel. Ares, the god of war, has been enjoying a blood-soaked century like no other in history. Artemis has no shortage of stags to hunt. Poseidon's not low on salt water.
And his wife, the gorgeous goddess of romance, is lonely?
"Do you know what it's like," she says, "to spend eternity embedded in every single love story—the fleeting and the true, the trivial and the everlasting? I am elbow deep in love, working in passion the way artists work in watercolors. I feel it all." She wraps her arms tightly across her chest, as though the room is cold. "I envy the mortals. It's because they're weak and damaged that they can love." She shakes her head.
"We need nothing. They're lucky to need each other."
"Yeah, well, they die," Ares points out.
"Why have you never said this before?" Hephaestus asks her.
"Why should I?" she says. "Why would you care? You think my work is stupid. You never come out of your forge."
She's right. Not stupid, not exactly. But, perhaps, inconsequential. Iron—there's something that lasts. Steel and stone. But human affection? Hephaestus, as any Greek scholar can tell you, wasn't born yesterday.
Aphrodite still looks cold. She couldn't be. But Hephaestus breathes at the fireplace, and the logs laid out there burst into sizzling flame.
Firelight plays across Aphrodite's features. She tilts her head to one side. "Do you want to see what real love looks like?"
Hephaestus looks up. Her eyes are shining.
"Do you want to hear about my favorites? Some of my finest work?"
"Yes." Hephaestus's reply surprises him. "I do."
A groan rises from the couch, but the goddess ignores War.