Ares transported himself to the bedroom of the small house silently, without his usual fanfare. The house was dark and quiet, the three occupants having retired hours ago. The woman slept alone in the big bed, the toddler in his own small room, but it was the baby moving restlessly in his crib who had Ares' interest.
As the god moved soundlessly to the crib Alcmene frowned and stirred in her sleep, sensing potential danger to her brood. Ares absently waved his hand and sent her into a deep, dreamless state from which she wouldn't awaken until dawn. She was Hera's business; Ares couldn't care less who his philandering father slept with.
He looked down into the hand-carved crib where his baby brother lay waiting for someone to pay attention to him. Only three months old, the infant was already hefty and rapidly outgrowing his knitted pajamas. Spotting the familiar face, he turned over and held out his arms eagerly.
Ares offered him a finger. His eyes widened as the child clasped it with the strength of an adult and pulled in into his mouth.
"I know," he said softly, "you're the son of Zeus. You're getting stronger every day."
He reached into the crib and gently lifted the baby into his arms, taking care to settle the small head into the crook of his muscled arm. Ares hadn't held a baby since his own son and nephew, but he hadn't had to worry so much about hurting Cupid and Strife.
"Hercules," Ares whispered, turning the name over. "It fits you." He lifted his baby brother up so they were face to face.
Hercules' sharp blue eyes focused on the sword earring dangling from the War God's left ear. His chubby hand shot out and he grasped the shiny sword. Ares hissed in pain as Hercules tugged.
"Ow! Let go, Hercules. I need that ear." As soon as he removed the grabby little hand from his earring Hercules plunged both hands into Ares' midnight curls and yanked, shrieking his delight.
"Fighter, aren't you?" Ares chuckled softly, carefully untangling the strong fingers from his hair and settling Hercules back into his arms. "Sleep now, little brother," he soothed, stroking the fine caramel colored hair and lulling him with a light sleep spell. He cradled Hercules in his arms as the infant fought sleep, clinging to Ares' vest and babbling his protest.
"It's okay, Hercules," the god reassured him. "I'll come back tomorrow night and the night after that."
The grip on his vest tightened once before the baby drifted off into a restful sleep.
Ares kissed the small forehead briefly before gently laying Hercules back in his crib. "Just wait til you grow up, little brother. You and I will fight many a battle together..."
Ares watched in anticipation as the merceneries closed around Hercules and Iolaus. The pair fought back to back, giving each other as much protection as possible, but Ares didn't think it would be enough this time.
Once again, Hercules had gotten himself involved in someone else's business and this time it looked like it was going to cost him. These men were armed with Hera's weapons and blessings. More than that, they far outnumbered the demigod and his lover.
The god smiled his soft, predator's smile and waded into the middle of the fray, watching for the blow that would send Hercules to Tartarus where he belonged. He'd disrupted Ares' life for too long, thanks to Zeus' decree, but Hera bore enough of a grudge to overpower even the king of the gods.
Turning to defend Iolaus, Hercules never saw the sword that buried itself in his chest and shredded his lung. Ares' melodic laugh rang out over the battlefield as he materialized directly in front of the dying man, preparing to relish his death and Iolaus' grief.
"Hercules!" Iolaus cried.
Gasping and choking on his own blood, Hercules stumbled and fell into Ares' arms. Surprised, Ares caught him instinctively.
Hercules went pale with shock as his lifeblood gushed from the ragged tear in his chest. His breathing rattled with every painful breath he took.
Ares shifted him into the crook of his arm and Hercules clutched at his vest desperately. Ares looked down at his dying brother cradled in his arm, the hand on his vest.....
Ares' cold eyes softened. For a moment he was holding his baby brother close in a dark, quiet room, their lives together still full of potential instead of venom.
He reached down and ran his hand down the gaping wound, repairing the lung and closing the gash. With a wave of his hand, he vaporized Hera's merceneries.
Iolaus rushed to his mate's side and examined the skin where the lethal wound had been.
Hercules righted himself. "Ares..." He stopped, confused.
The brothers stared at each other, neither knowing how to handle the moment.
"Don't get used to it," Ares said, but his voice was soft, not his customary snarl. Without another word, he flashed out of existence.
"What the hell was that all about?" Iolaus asked.
"I'm not sure, but for a minute there I remembered..."
"What?" Iolaus prompted.
Hercules shook his head. "Nothing, I guess. Come on." He led Iolaus toward the nearest town.