Wargames (Pts 7-12)
Part 7

Iphicles stormed into his private quarters fuming, looking for something to throw.  "Gods-tainted BASTARD!"

The young steward with the mousy blond hair that had been assigned to his quarters this night shrunk away in fear, too overwhelmed to offer so much as an aperitif.

"Fucking SHIT!"  Iphicles slammed the door, found the soft *thunk* it made unsatisfactory, turned his gaze on the hapless boy.  "YOU!" he roared. "What are you doing here?"

The steward, fully unnerved, babbled something in the barbaric tongue of the North.  Iphicles bristled, then calmed a bit at the unintelligible babble. "Oh, speak Greek, you fool."

Eyes so wide they seemed to have no white, the boy managed, "I am for serving you here, my hatstand."

//"My *hatstand*"?!//  Despite his anger, Iphicles felt a traitorous chuckle building up within him, and as if on cue he heard it echoed deeper and richer in his mind.  **My HATSTAND?  Oh, that's RICH!  Now don't just gawk at the boy; answer him!**

Iphicles was sure from the boy's expression that he turned three shades of red before he answered in strangled- but-measured tones.  "Boy... the proper word is lord, or king, or your majesty, or highness-" he pronounced them slowly.  "You just called me a hatstand."  He explained it and watched the boy turn white as a sheet, cutting off his stumbling apologies.  "Now I suggest you go study your Greek with more intensity before you serve us again.  Go!"  He made a shooing motion and the boy disappeared out the door with an awkward, hurried bow, relief written large across his young, fawn-eyed face.

The minute the door closed, Ares appeared in a blue-white flash and collapsed on Iphicles' bed, laughing uproariously.  Iphicles folded his arms across his chest and waited for the god to wind down, doing his best to maintain a stern, put-upon expression despite the urge to break into hysterical laughter himself.

It was a long wait.  Every time Ares seemed to be getting himself under control, he took one look at Iphicles and lost it again, tears literally running down his face.  It was enough to send Iphicles back into true annoyance.

Finally Ares trailed off into weak, breathless giggling and the king said icily, "Are you done now?"

"I- oh, ow, hurts - yeh, yeh, done," Ares gasped.  "Suh-horry.  It's just... first that beh-*beautiful* scene with Herc and th-then *hatstand*!"  He went into another weak fit of laughter, calming down much more quickly this time. "Shit, it really *does* hurt when I laugh."  He rolled onto his side, propping his head on his right hand, looking at Iphicles ingenuously.  "Stop looking like there's a red-hot poker up your ass.  Sit.  Wanna talk about it?"

Iphicles grunted noncomittally, but sat.  "I did NOT need that."

Ares cocked his head curiously.  "I thought you handled that whole thing with little brother rather well.  You fucked him up, you know.  He didn't know *what* to think when he left."

The king smiled wryly.  "He'd have no trouble making up his mind if he saw us now."

Ares snorted dismissively.  "And he'd be wrong."  Hoisting himself up, he positioned himself behind Iphicles, bringing his hands up to massage the tense muscles of the king's neck and shoulders.  Iphicles resisted for a moment, then relaxed into the touch of the god's strong, soothing hands.

"Unnngh... keep doing that..."  Iphicles allowed himself to relax, and relaxing, began to think through the encounter with his half-brother.  "He's not going to let this go, you know.  Not with this talk of atrocities."

"So what do you intend to do about it?"

The king settled himself more comfortably on his bed.  "I'll have to investigate it, I suppose.  See if there's anything to it.  If it's Corinthian troops I'll have to put a stop to it, and if it's the Messilanians I'll have to put a very public stop to *them*.  And I'll have to do it quickly or *he'll* wade in and play hero again."

"And get all the credit," Ares added as he worked at a particularly knotted set of muscles.

"Exactly.  Which will seriously undermine public opinion and thus my ability to rule effectively, though to get that through *his* head..." Iphicles trailed off, tensing again at the thought.

"And Argos?" Ares asked lightly.  "They have to be dealt with.  And you can't very well deal with them if you're off in the hinterlands investigating Hercules' stories."

"Fucking rights," Iphicles growled.  "But he doesn't see that."

"His business doesn't involve seeing the big picture."

Iphicles grunted in agreement.  "But I *do* have to look into his claims."

"So delegate."

Iphicles snorted even as he leaned back into the massage.  "Right, delegate. Who am I supposed to delegate?  You think any of my advisors can be trusted to give me an accurate report?"

"I'll check it out for you."

The king twisted to look Ares in the eyes.  "And how do I know *you'd* give me an honest report?"

Ares shrugged.  "Why shouldn't I?"

"You're the god of war.  You tell *me*."

"I'm god of *war*, not god of atrocities."

Iphicles collapsed on the bed with a gusty sigh, then looked up at Ares. "So *is* there a god of atrocities?"

Ares thought about it.  "Uhm... not per *se*..."

"So whose bailiwick do wartime atrocities fall under?"

Ares gazed up at the canope of the bed, sucking at the insides of his cheeks.  "Darker gods you're better off not knowing... and Despair, of course, but no one in their right mind fucks with *her*...  possibly Desire too..."  He lapsed into a contemplative silence.

"You were saying," Iphicles prodded.

"Hm?  Oh, nothing.  Just that I'm not responsible for wartime atrocities. Not to mention that humans seem quite capable and fond of committing atrocities whether there's a war on or not."

The king nodded.  "But that doesn't change the fact that I have to investigate Herc's claims."

Ares settled onto the bed again, head propped on his left hand, the right toying idly with Iphicles' hair.  "And like I said, I can have a look for you.  What's with the dye job?"

"What's *what*?"  Iphicles twisted around to face him, mirroring the god's position.

"The dye job.  You never used to be auburn.  I *liked* it darker."

Iphicles' eyes narrowed suspiciously.  "How'd you know about that?  How long have you been watching me?"

The god half-shrugged.  "Don't be so touchy.  I've known about you since our *dear* brother was born and I've kept half an eye on you since you became king of Corinth.  Consider my position.  I'd be a fool not to keep up on who's king of what."

Iphicles dropped back onto his back with a sigh.  "Granted.  But what's all this about my hair?"  He rolled his head to the side to look into Ares' eyes.  "You *really* liked it better dark?"

Ares gave him a quirky grin.  "You have to ask?  If I liked blondes I could be going after Iolaus."

Iphicles smirked back.  "Yeah, but you're a god.  For all I know you're seducing both of us at the same time."

The god's eyebrows flew up nearly to his hairline, then he collapsed on the bed laughing.  "Clever!  I *like* that!"  He turned to face Iphicles, one hand resting on the king's hip.  "And you're right.  I *could* be doing that.  It'd certainly piss little brother off.  But I'm not.  You're *far* more interesting than his precious hunter."

"Mmmmnh..." Iphicles yawned, then murmured, "But in what way?"

Ares slid over, wrapping himself lazily around the king's body, fingers tracing lazily up his abdomen, insinuating themselves under the fine silk shirt. "In every way," he purred.  "Even I don't *always* have an ulterior motive."

Iphicles arched and flexed into the searching hand as he chuckled.  "You expect me to believe that?"

"Well,"  Ares smirked slightly as his fingers brushed teasingly over a nipple, "perhaps I should amend that.  My ulterior motives don't always have to do with my office."

"I see."  He reached up to give the earring dangling from the god's left lobe a sharp tug.  "But I'm willing to wager they're always self-centered."

Ares grinned.  "Oh, always."  He gave the nipple a pinch.  "I don't do altruism."

Iphicles laughed softly.  "Then by your own admission you *do* have some utterly selfish reason for offering to check out the atrocity reports for me."

Ares growled, "Sometimes, king, you're too clever for your own good."

"So what's the reason, hmmm?"

"Would you *stop* thinking about work for a few damn minutes," Ares groaned. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm trying to initiate some foreplay here."

"I noticed," Iphicles grinned, then extricated himself from Ares enough to sit up.  "But now's not the time.  I can't concentrate yet."

The god sat up too, pouting at him.  "I think I'm offended."  Behind the pout was a glimmer of real irritation.  "Mortals don't say 'Not now, Ares, I'm preoccupied'.  Not if they know what's good for them."

Iphicles raised an ironic eyebrow.  "I'm well aware you could zap me or use your powers to make me do whatever you want *and* love every minute of it. It's certainly what everyone expects of you lot."

The dark eyes narrowed.  "'You lot'?"

"Gods," Iphicles shrugged.  "None of you have anything *like* a track record of asking your mortal conquests what *they* think of anything."

Ares glowered at him.  "We don't have to.  We're superior."

"Now that's debatable," Iphicles countered, mentally throwing caution to the winds.  This was dangerous, but it was more exhilarating than thinking about Hercules and Argosian marriage offers.  Not to mention if Ares *didn't* zap him into next year it might mean... "Certainly you're stronger, more lethal, longer lived; physically superior in every way.  But in matters of self-control, empathy, compassion?  I'm sorry, but from what I've seen most of you behave like a gaggle of thirteen-year-old bullying brats."  He leaned back against the headboard, folding his arms across his chest, and waited for the explosion.

Part  8

Ares surged off the bed, the picture of perfect rage, brows drawing down as power built up visibly within him.  His body fairly crackled with energy.

Iphicles waited, expressionless.

Lips curled above sharp white teeth, the god growled, white-hot energy playing about his body, just waiting for focus...  And suddenly, shockingly, the god laughed.  The sound started low in his throat then overtook the seeming rage.  "You bastard.  If I do *anything* you prove yourself right!" He sent an energy bolt crackling harmlessly into the far wall of Iphicles' quarters.  "It's a pity you're mortal."  The god fell back on the bed, still chuckling.  "Herc's *never* had your sense of humour."

Iphicles looked bemusedly at him.  "What makes you think I was joking?"

"Oh, that's the beautiful part," Ares grinned.  "You weren't.  Even though you knew I could kill you.  That takes balls.  I like that.  Sign of a good warrior."

Maybe it was just the lighting, but Iphicles couldn't help but notice that Ares' canines gleamed wolfishly.  He felt a trill of arousal, but pushed it aside for the moment.  "You've seen me on the battlefield," he said with a toss of his head.

"So I have," Ares agreed, that wolfish grin still playing across his face.

"You *seemed* to like what you saw..."

Another deep chuckle.  "Never said I didn't.  And all's fair in war, I say."

Iphicles looked at the dark god measuringly.  "Understood.  And while I'd be... underwhelmed, I'd understand if that little... episode we had was just a battlefield game for you.  But."  He poked a finger at Ares' chest, punctuating his words.  "You *keep*-" Poke.  "Coming-" Poke.  "Around." Another poke, then he deliberately lounged back on the bed, keeping his tone light and a little sarcastic.  "So talk to me, war god.  The war's over. What exactly are you doing here?  Why are you hanging around?"

Ares gave him a bland Look.  "Why are you so suspicious?"

Iphicles shrugged.  "Part of the job description.  My ascendance to this office generated as many enemies as supporters, you know.  And don't think I didn't notice you're avoiding my question.  So let's try this:  if you're really here to help, then be helpful."

Ares tried for an ingenuous look.  "I already said I'd check out those atrocity reports for you."

"Unh-uh."  Iphicles shook his head stubbornly.  "The fact that you offered makes me that much more convinced that this is something I *should* look into personally.  The question is what to do about Argos."

"Invite her here."

Iphicles blinked at the god.  "What?"

"Melenna.  Invite her here.  They want you two to marry, don't they?"

"Well yeah, but..."  Iphicles chewed his lower lip, trying to come up with a way to refute the simple, reasonable suggestion.  "It's against protocol. That's not how these things are done."

"So?"  Ares grinned at him, all dark impishness.  "Change the rules."

**Change the rules...**  Such a beautifully simple thought...  And why not? He hadn't become king the ordinary way, so why not?  If it shocked the Council... well, that just added spice to the idea.  //Change the rules// Iphicles slowly raised his eyes to meet with Ares', a grin creeping across his face.  "I think you're a bad influence on me."

Ares chuckled low and soft.  "Good.  Now are we done talking?"

Iphicles made a show of considering the question.  "For now.  I still don't trust you, you know."

"You shouldn't."  Ares slid closer, draping an arm around the king.

"And you still owe me."

"*Owe* you!"  He pulled Iphicles to him, murmuring so close that Iphicles could feel the warm breath against his lips.  "Owe you what?"

Iphicles leaned in, capturing the god's lips in a long, punishing kiss that Ares returned with fervor, and for long moments there was nothing but soft, warm flesh and hard teeth, tongues searching, meeting, grappling for supremacy as they strained against each other, then Iphicles pulled back, nipping at full lips swollen with arousal one last time then between gasps, "You told me... I could do *you*... that first time... on the battlefield."
He twined a hand in the god's dark curls, not pulling, but exerting a steady pressure.  "Remember?"

Ares growled, yanking against the pressure but not breaking the hold.  "I remember.  I said when you *earned* it.  You haven't earned it yet."

Iphicles pulled hard, yanking the god's head back, and bit his way up the throat to whisper in his ear, "So when will I know I've earned it?"

Ares surged up with a sudden show of strength, rolling on top of the king, pinning wrists with hands as his thighs straddled and caught Iphicles' thighs, voice low and heated, "When I let you top me, mortal..."

Iphicles ground his hips against the dark god's, feeling an erection matching his own.  "Liar."

Ares matched his wager with a thrust of his own, upping the ante by removing their clothing with a thought at the same time.  "Am not."

Iphicles gasped at the sudden exquisite feeling of flesh-on-flesh, straining against the hold the god had on his wrists as he challenged, "Prove it."

Ares did a slow grind, sending wild tendrils of arousal rocketing through Iphicles' body.  "How?"  The single syllable seemed to linger heatedly in the air between them.

Iphicles gritted his teeth, willing his body away from its precarious point on the edge of orgasm.  His voice came out a low, strangled growl.  "Blow me.  Now."

The god's hands tightened their grip on his wrists painfully.  "Giving me orders, are you?"

"Not at all.  Just asking for a taste.  A sample.  Something to give me a real incentive to 'earn' it."

"Hmmm..."  Ares gazed at him inscrutably, dark curls hanging down around his face.  One of the tendrils was tickling Iphicles' left cheek maddeningly, making him wish the god would let fo his wrists for even a moment.  Finally he got another slow, sharp-toothed grin.  "Cocky *and* manipulative.  And to think some people say you have no character."

He cut off Iphicles' indignant yelp by tightening his already painful grip on the king's wrists.  "Now, your highness, I believe we'd agreed to give the conversation a break."

Iphicles gasped as he felt a trail of warm/wet followed by cool air trace down him from chest to abdomen, retaining his position even after the iron grip on his wrists subsided.  His calm was now claimed with an effort.

"You want a bit of incentive?  A bit of proof that I'm no monster?"

The king shuddered as Ares' tongue laved his navel.

"I'm happy to oblige."  And Ares dipped his head, nipping and licking his way down to Iphicles' center with slow precision even as his fingers teased at his nipples, raising then to hard, brown nubs.  Ares' toungue danced a mad tarantella down his thighs, and he twined his hands in and around those darkdark curls, urging him towards a request no mortal had a right to ask.

And still some stubborn corner of himself felt the right.  "Now..."

And could scarce believe it as he was enveloped by hot, wet heat, the god taking him in all the way.  He could feel Ares' throat working, swallowing him even as his talented tongue traced small patterns along the underside of his cock.  He thrust into the god, fucking his mouth, only vaguely aware of the pain/pleasure of renewed pressure on his wrists as Ares yanked his arms within reach.  As teeth raked lightly, maddeningly along his cock he screamed from the sheer pleasure of it, everything a beautiful madness now. Pulled out of the god's hungry grasp again to wrap his fingers in soft hair as nails raked his thighs leaving contrails of fire and ice in their wake.

He pounded into Ares' welcoming mouth relentlessly, and found himself not rebuffed for his violence but egged on, encouraged by tooth and nail and the heady scent of passion.  All too soon it was too much, and despite his wishes his balls tightened in imminent release.  He thrust *up*, the god's hands tight around his hips, his own nails digging mercilessly into hard-muscled shoulders, and came hard and screaming into-

Iphicles collapsed on his bed, breathless and befuddled.  The motherfucker had disappeared in a blue-white flash, leaving him to spend himself on sheets and abdomen.  Before his fury could even properly build, a dark chuckle echoed through his mind, **"You requested a *taste*, an *incentive*... I'll be back."**

Iphicles stifled a groan of mingled rage and appreciation as a knock came at his door.

Part  9

Cleaning up the mess Ares' abrupt departure had resulted in, Iphicles strapped on his robe and answered the door at the second "discrete" series of knocks.  "Yes Leonidas, what is it," he intoned with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

"You're expected in council," his majordomo explained as his searching gaze slid up and down the king like an insidious slide-rule.  "About the Argos affair."

"Can't it wait?"

Leonidas shook his head dolefully.  "I am sorry, your majesty, but given the ramifications of this proposal, your consul is understandably concerned."

Iphicles laughed humourlessly.  "'Concerned'?  I suppose that's one way of putting it.  I'll be there in a moment.  Tell them that."

Leonidas bowed his way out of the room as Iphicles considered his options. Argos. Messilania.  Atrocities.  Hercules.  Ares.  There was a way through this all, and he was inclined to trust his instincts.  Adjusting his clothing and doing his best to forget about his dark, inconsistent lover, he strode to the council's main room.  "I understand you have *concerns*," he said balefully as Leonidas reappeared and took his seat at Iphicles' right
side.  "Well, speak."

Landus, one of the eldest in his Council who preceded his rule, spoke up firmly.  "What do you intend to do about Argos' offer?"

Iphicles grinned internally, though his outward mien was dead serious.  //So Herc hadn't spread talk of atrocities yet.  Or my most *caring* Council doesn't give a shit...//  "Simple, Landus.  We accept their offer conditionally, and invite her here."

"INVITE her here!"  Iphicles smiled benignly as his senior advisors sputtered, shouted or grinned quietly depending on their demeanor and interests.  Once the uproar died down he spoke in clear but oh-so-penetrating tones.  "This *is* not only my, but the future of Corinth we are speaking of after all.  I fail to see how we can possibly come to a measured conclusion without Our meeting the Young Lady in Question.  Not to mention there are certain matters We must address in the meantime that preclude Our traveling to Argos.  Teleas-" he turned to his senior advisor, quietly amused at the barely hidden expression of surprise on the older man's face, "You will instruct Argos' envoy to inform their king that the matter is under consideration, contingent on my meeting the Lady in question, and assuming he agrees, arrange for her accommodation upon arrival in Our Palace.  I expect you to keep me informed.  And in the meantime, I will see to our more immediate concerns.  Is that all?"

He looked at the nonplussed faces of his Consul and nodded firmly.  "Very well then.  This Council is adjourned.  I bid you good night."  Iphicles turned on his heel and exited his chambers in decorous haste.  All he wanted to do was got some sleep before the onslaught, and for once the gods were with him.


After one of the best sleeps he'd had in ages, morning commenced in much the way Iphicles expected.  One message after another telling him *why* he should meet with this or that person to reconsider his decision.  He ignored them all, eating a leisurely late breakfast as he waited for the inevitable


of blue-white.

A dire shadow fell over his scrambled eggs.

"So *what* do you think you're doing?"

Iphicles blinked innocently.  "Eating breakfast?"

Ares plunked down in the chair across from him, growling, "You know what I mean," as he eyed Iphicles' jam-covered toast with obvious interest.

The king delivered a piece of ham and egg to his mouth, chewing thoughtfully before he replied around a sip of aromatic tea.  "I'm doing precisely what you suggested, Ares.  I instructed them to invite the Princess Melenna here. Considering how long *that* will take to iron out, I have more than enough time to accompany you on the investigations of Herc's alleged atrocities."

"Accomn'y me?"  The god's eyes widened as he stuffed a biteful of Iphicles' breakfast in his mouth.  "Wha' you mean, accomp'ny - gulp - me?"

Iphicles eyed the god sourly, but Ares seemed not to notice.  "Just what I said."  He stuffed in another forkful, sensing his repast was in danger. "It's my duty as king- munch, swallow, scoop - to inveshhigate any reporded - chew, swallow, scoop - atrocities."

Ares grabbed his toast and bit into it, letting the strawberry jam pool and drip lasciviously on his lips.  He chewed the snippet of bread slowly, making it clear how much he was enjoying every moment, then sloooooowly licked the jam off his lips, his tongue pink and mobile as it caught every last vestige of the sticky substance.

Much as Iphicles didn't want to admit it, Ares brought a whole new level to the concept of breakfast.

"I said *I'd* look into it for you," Ares said, voice soft with jam and menace.

"And *I* say-" Iphicles speared a sausage, taking the end of it into his mouth, tasting it, savoring the salty-sweet flavour of the meat, drawing it out again slowly, consideringly, eyes flashing up to the god's, then back again to the sausage and he bit down, taking the end into his mouth and chewing it in obvious pleasure, "we go together.  Not that I think you're unqualified..."  he tongued the sausage lightly before taking another succulent bite, his eyes never leaving the dark god's, "but people might look askance if I were to vouchsafe this endeavour and turn it over to unspecified advisors.  Logical, yes?"

"...Yes."  Ares took a sausage from the king's plate, rongue raking its length before he slid it fully into his mouth, sucking at its juices before he chewed it delicately.  "I'm still included though, right?"

Iphicles grinned.  "Of course."

"And what about-"  the god swallowed, grimacing, "little brother?"

Iphicles took a calm sip of his tea.  "He's not invited."

"He might be a problem."

One eybrow flew up as Iphicles conscientously combined ham, egg and a piece of sausage into one bite.  "I thought you could handle him."

"I CAN," Ares glowered, then brightened.  "So when do we leave?"

"Tomorrow morning.  It will take that long for me to arrange things." Iphicles grinned, "I trust I won't have to provide you with a horse and supplies."

Ares laughed lightly.  "No.  I'll be around."

"I thought as much."

As Hercules strode into his throne room he felt that small headache coming on again.  "What is it, brother?"

"I'm coming with you."  Hercules had that obstinant set to his mouth that Iphicles remembered well from his half-brother's childhood.

"Herc..."  Iphicles raked a hand through his thick hair distractedly. "Hercules.  No.  You've informed me of a potential problem and as king I am investigating.  I can *deal* with it from here.  There's no need."

"I may be able to help!"  Clear blue eyes looked up at him with sincere emotion.

It made him want to slap the hero.  "Herc, there are so *many* people that need help.  People who *need* you.  This situation is under control.  Go. Find Iolaus.  I'll deal with my kingdom."

Hercules lowered his eyes, obviously battling with himself, then raised them to Iphicles with new resolve.  "Iphicles, I'm sorry, but I *have* to go. You haven't seen yet... I *promised* those people!  And I can't go on until I know that they're safe."

Iphicles bit back a groan, settled for a hooded stare.  "Well then.  As you will, brother.  But be aware that this mission is under my command.  You will take your direction from me if you wish to accompany us."

Hercules gave him a frank, open nod.  "Of course, Iphicles."

//Of course... gods, he even made hating him seem like a low, petty thing...// "As long as we're understood.  We leave in the morning.  I'll arrange for a page to awaken you."

Hercules gave him a slight smile.  "Thanks, but that won't... be necessary. Just tell me what time you want to start and I'll be ready."  Another, slightly self-conscious smile.  "All these years on the road have made my internal clock more trustworthy than any mechanical device."

Iphicles nodded.  //Of *course*...//  "Well then... about an hour after sunrise."  He smiled in mock-cheerful acquiesence.

Hercules smiled back.  "I'll be there.  And... thank you."

Iphicles made the appropraite noises as his brother exited, then left the throne room through his personal exit to his quarters, determined to relax a little in the short time remaining before he set out on what was likely to be the most stressful road trip of his life.

Part 10

The day dawned clear but overcast, the clouds painting everything in a muted pearl-gray.  There was a faint promise of rain carried in the soft scent of morning, but for now it was all the coiled, subtle potential of a sleeping cat.

Iphicles had been up since well before dawn, packing his travelling gear, putting on his travelling leathers, and... well, fidgeting.  He'd already repacked his pack three times and it wasn't even sunrise yet.  The only reason he hadn't gone down to check his horse's tack was the horse wasn't awake yet.  A road trip with Hercules.  Oh joy.

The blue flash in his bedroom signified his release from these maddeningly circular thoughts, but too late he noticed they were tinged with red as Ares materialized, arms crossed forebodingly over his broad chest, brows drawn down, eyes crackling with suppressed energy.  "Almost ready are we?" the god spat out in precise, clipped tones.

"I think so," Iphicles nodded distractedly.  "I've enough supplies for a sparing fortnight at any rate."

"I'm *so* relieved," Ares snarled sarcastically.  "Give you time for a little *brotherly* bonding, will it?"

Iphicles turned in confusion at the hostility he heard, then blinked as his mind made the necessary connections between his and the god's actions and sat down heavily in his favourite chair.  "Ares..."

The dark god growled as he paced in front of the king.  "Yeah yeah... He *insisted* on going with you.  For the *noblest* of reasons of course.  So what does little- oh, EXCUSE me! - BIG brother do?  Caves just like every other idiot mortal!"


"Shaddup."  Ares glared at him with eyes like burning mahogany.  "You tell me what you think of that walking 'legend' of a brother, you tell me what you want to do to him, what's been done to *you*, you tell me you WANT to prove yourself worthy of your office ON YOUR OWN, and then the first time he bleats at you, you *allow* him to have his WAY?!"  The god closed the gap between them, grasping Iphicles' shoulders painfully as he growled bare millimeters from his face, "YOU. Are.  Pathetic."  He spun away, nails raking roughly across the king's bare shoulders as they left, leaving Iphicles feeling tendrils of painheat as the god turned his back to him. "And to think I thought you were worthy of my attention..."

"ARES."  Iphiclces put every bit off command he'd ever learned into that voice.  "LISTEN to me."  He stood and moved forward, wrapping his arms around the dark god.  For all the reaction Ares showed, he may as well have been embracing stone.  Undaunted, he murmured in the god's ear, "I know what it looks like.  Hercules gets his way again.  Did it ever occur to you that *I* may have an ulterior motive for conceding to his wishes so easily?"

Still unresponsive physically, Ares' voice was a dark monotone containing a world of hurt.  "We were going to go *together*."

"We still *are*."  Iphicles nipped at the tense muscles of Ares' neck.

"No.  You don't understand. Or you DO.  He can see me.  I can't ride with you with *him* along."

"Are you telling me *Hercules* can stop you from accompanying me?" Iphicles breathed softly.

Ares stiffened further, then turned slowly with a soft laugh.  "You bastard. Caught again in my own logic, eh?"

Iphicles grinned.  "*I* didn't say it.  And I *assumed*-" he smacked the leather-clad ass smartly, "That the god of *WAR* could figure out a way to join us without certain do-gooding little brothers catching on."

Ares' upper lip curled artfully.  "And *you* are still too clever for your own good."  Lightning quick, his hand wrapped in Iphicles' hair, pulling his head back as the god planted a long, punishing kiss on the king's willing mouth.  Iphicles' arms wrapped around the strong, muscled back of the god, pulling him closer as his tongue delved deep into the dark heat of Ares' mouth, learning every exquisite crevice even as their tongues met and
clashed, tasting each other, and Ares pulled away abruptly, colour high, his lips already looking swollen with arousal.  "Look for me," he said, voice rough as unsculpted marble, "I'll be there.  Every night, every day, I'll be with you.  And Hercules will - MUST - never know."

"He won't!"  Iphicles gasped.  "I will."  He shook long tendrils of hair out of his eyes impatiently, body demanding he follow up on the preview he'd just been offered.  A paragon of restraint, he ran his hands down the muscular, leather-clad chest before him.  "Don't you think you should give me a parting assurance?"

Ares gave him a tight grin, gently forcing his hands away.  "Given the time constraints, that was it.  Look for me every night on the road."  And disappeared in a blue-white flash.

Iphicles gave a soft moan of frustration, and wondered for the millionth time at all the stories he'd heard of gods coming down to earth to take their pleasure with humans with no preamble whatsoever.  And as usual, //What the fuck was *that*?// turned into //What's wrong with *me*??// turned into //It's all Hercules' fault// with the ease of long-felt resentment, even though he knew it was unfair to both Ares and himself, never mind Mr Perfect Little Brother.

//Look for me every night on the road...// Oh, he'd do that all right...


A short time later, Iphicles was in the stables, checking the tack on his favorite gelding, Ransom.  The beast whuffed companionably as Iphicles adjusted a cinch the way both he and the horse preferred and mounted.  With nothing more than a click of his tongue and a slight twich on the reins, he guided the animal into the courtyard to be met by Hercules, standing there with nothing but a small sack of provisions on his back.  "Been waiting long?" he managed in a civil tone.

"No, not at all.  I just got out here myself."

//No one should sound so cheerful at this time of morning.//  "Ah, good." Iphicles searched for something else to say to the expectant look on his half-brother's face.  "You can still keep up without a horse of your own?"

The demi-god grinned annoyingly.  "Still.  I... prefer walking.  If I fall behind, I'll catch up.  You just see more this way."

Again Iphicles fought down the urge to bristle.  The comments clearly weren't directed at him.  It just *felt* like they were.  "As you wish," he smiled.  "Let's go then."  And without waiting for agreement, he urged Ransom out the gates of the courtyard towards the wild, newly-conquered lands of the former Messilania.


The first few hours passed in silence as the unlikely duo made their way along the well-maintained roads of Corinth's outlying districts, Iphicles moving at an easy walk to save Ransom's strength, Hercules trudging close behind.  The day reamained overcast, but unseasonably warm; it was like travelling through a soft, grey blanket.  Even the sounds of the birds and the occasional traveller seemed to acknowledge the feeling of serenity, muting the evidence of their passing in deference to the mood.  Iphicles found himself relaxing into the rhythm of Ransom's gait, the feeling of freedom that being on the road gave him an unexpected treat.  He could almost imagine that there was no goal to this trip, merely the sweet calm of Now, like when he was young, before-

^^Ruins your day every damn time, doesn't he?^^

Iphicles started minutely as the voice echoed in his mind, then thought back tentatively, **Ares?**

A mental snort.  ^^You were expecting someone else?^^

**No...  He can't hear you, can he?**

^^Does it *look* like the dolt can?^^

Iphicles chanced a look back.  Hercules was strolling several paces behind him, eyes trained on the traces of a farmstead off in the distance.  **No.**

^^Well then,^^ the words tasted honey-sweet in his mind.  ^^How far are you planning on going today?^^

**There's an inn half a day's ride up the road.  It's close to the border. I figured on stopping there before we head into hostile territory.**

A mental grin, followed by a disembodied tongue running from his collarbone up his jawline to nip at an earlobe, then that voice seeming to breathe hot in his ear.  ^^I'll see you there then.  The Black Boar, right?^^

**Asshole.  You knew all along!**

Rich laughter echoed in his mind as he glanced back at Hercules again.


They reached the Black Boar just as the sun was setting, and once Ransom's needs were seen to for the night, headed into the inn proper to secure rooms.

Iphicles gave a false name and showed his coin.  In his riding leathers he looked much like any other warrior, and the innkeeper granted him a room without a second look.

Hercules, of course, announced exactly who he was, then pretended modesty as the innkeeper and his entire family fawned over him, offering him the best suite at the inn (which he refused) and everything up to and including the pleasures of their daughter, son or both (which he also refused with a fetching blush).

Of course they got the best table and the best of service in the common room when Hercules deigned to reveal that Iphicles was his travelling companion.

After a meal of hearty lamb stew (surely a notch above what the innkeeper normally served to patrons, Iphicles thought), they settled down with large mugs of ale, watching as the inn slowly filled with local men seeking relaxation after a hard day's work.  Iphicles knew the only reason they weren't being approached by fawning synchophants was Hercules had requested the innkeeper not make his identity known.

"This is a remarkably peaceful town," Hercules commented.

Iphicles looked at him sharply.  "Meaning?"

Hercules shrugged, looking confused.  "Just what I said.  Especially with it being so close to the border."

"Border or not, we're still in Corinthian lands."  Iphicles knew he sounded unreasonably snotty, but somehow couldn't help himself.  It had been that way since Hercules was old enough to talk.

"You should be commended," Hercules smiled at him.

For some reason, it just made Iphicles feel more irritable.  Rather than sound like a petulant child, he took a long drink of his ale, looking at everything but his half-brother.  He all but jumped out of his skin as Hercules grasped his forearm lightly.

"Iphicles.  I... know that you have some reason to distrust me, maybe even dislike me, but... this trip.  It's for the best.  It's important.  And... maybe we can put some of our difficulties to rest, hm?"

The king looked slowly into those honest blue eyes //Yeah right, a few hours of companionable travel is gonna make it all okay.  *Gods!*// and lied through his teeth, smiling the professional smile he'd learned since becoming ruler of Corinth.  "Maybe we can, brother."  He clasped Hercules' forearm heartily.  "Maybe we can."  Then he took another long drink.

Part 11

"HERCules!  People feel safe when near him HERCules, only the ev-il fear him..."

As the demigod tried with charming embarrassment to turn the inn's patrons away from another melodic ode to his heroicness, Iphicles slid away from their table and trudged unnoticed up the stairs to his room.  He knew his half-brother would be selflessly denying his importance most of the night. //And probably wake fresh as a daisy at the crack of dawn on top of it...//

He entered his room, shut the door firmly behind him, and sat heavily on the bed just long enough to pull off his boots before stretching out on his back.  //Gods.  How am I going to survive this?  Just a few days out and he's given me a permanent headache.  We're not even out of Corinth's lands yet.//  He raked his hands through his hair and stared unfocused at the ceiling.  There was a crack in it that resembled Herc's fetchingly uneven
nose.  Iphicles groaned.

^^You're not *just* travelling with him you know.^^  The words were accompanied by a subdued flash of electric blue as Ares materialized next to the bed.

Iphicles looked up at the welcome sight of well-filled leather above him. "I know.  But you're travelling incognito.  HE's not."

"You mean you don't feel all that brotherly these days?"

Iphicles snorted.  "No comment.  You know, it'd be easier if he weren't so unrepentantly *nice*."

Ares thudded on the bed next to him.  "I know.  What say we don't worry about that for a few minutes."  He trailed a hand up the king's thigh as punctuation.

Iphicles gave him a hooded smile.  "I'd like nothing better.  But Ares... can you tell me anything about what we're headed into?"

"After," the dark god breathed as he wrapped himself around Iphicles. "Ignore everything but me right now-" tongue and teeth traced an electric path down Iphicles' throat - "And I'll tell you everything once I've had you..."

"You have *me*?" Iphicles wrapped his hand in those espresso-dark curls and yanked hard, bringing Ares' eyes up to his with an accompanying yelp.  "As I recall, you *owe* me."

Dark eyebrows flew up in a skillful imitation of surprise.  "I owe *you*? Since when?"

"Like I need to remind you?"  Iphicles traced the line of hair outlining the god's left cheekbone.  "You, me, you giving me a blowjob when someone knocked on the door..."

"That wasn't *my* fault," Ares protested unconvincingly.

"You could have come back.  You could have stopped him.  For all I know you could have paused *time*.  You could have done any number of things, seeing as you're a god.  You didn't.  Therefore you *owe* me."

"Brat," the god growled, "I don't owe anyone."

"Maybe I should tell Herc-"

Ares cut the mortal off by the simple expedient of throwing himself on top of the king.  "Liar.  You won't say a word."

Iphicles grinned hot and sincere.  "Not if you pay up."

Ares grinned back at him, all teeth and ferocity.  "Well if that's how you want it..."  With a thought he removed the king's clothing, locking his hands around Iphicles' wrists as he renewed his assault on that so-delicious throat.

For several long moments Iphicles couldn't put together a coherent thought as the dark god's tongue and teeth traced an intricate pattern of heat and sensation from his throat down to his suddenly sensitive nipples.  It was only when Ares paused momentarily to gauge his effect on his mortal lover that Iphicles managed to gasp out, "hh-Ares, hold on a moment."

"Hold on?"  Ares wrinkled his nose in surprised annoyance.  "Why?"

"Well, just, why don't you-" wrists still imprisoned, Iphicles inclined his head, indicating that Ares was still fully clad.

A distinctly nasty grin crossed the god's face.  "Oh, I don't think so. Perhaps if you hadn't been so impudent..." he squeezed Iphicles' wrists as a painful punctuation, "Or if you hadn't gone for that... dubious dye job... But since you are guilty of both, I think not.  You didn't specify anything beyond your wanting what I owe you, after all.  Beyond that it's my game. My rules."  Another of those thought-flashes and Ares' hands were replaced by leather cuffs around the king's wrists, attached to chains that in turn attached to the sturdy headboard.  The god grinned again, making a great show of cracking his knuckles. "Perhaps I'll reconsider when it's my turn. But for now... it's time to play, your *majesty*..."

"ARES-"  His complaint was cut short by an involuntary gasp as the god's tongue essayed a line down his chest and abdomen to explore his navel, the hot, wet probing sending frissons of arousal to every conceivable point of his body.

Ares looked up with a low chuckle.  "You aren't honestly going to tell me you object, are you?"  He looked down pointedly.

Iphicles groaned, well aware of how achingly hard his cock was, but some last stubborn part of him still managed to grind out, "You're a real control freak, you know that?"

Ares blinked, then gave him the first honest grin he'd gotten all night. "I'm a god.  It goes with the job.  Now shut up before I forget why I enjoy you."

Iphicles shut up, and Ares returned his attention to the king's navel, then slowly drew his tongue down the soft line of hair to his center.  With expertise born of a millenium of more of practice, he ran his tongue lightly around the head of Iphicles' already-weeping cock, dallying to tease at that sensitive spot just under the crown until he elicited the moan he was waiting for, then moved with light precision down the shaft, the deliberateness of it making it all the more maddening.  Iphiclces squirmed, hands flexing helplessly in the grip of his restraints as he tried to thrust into that teasing heat.

The god just gave a low chuckle that vibrated from Iphicles' balls into some primitive centre of his brain, all possibility of coherent thought gone as first one ball then the other was sucked into the hard/soft warmth of Ares' mouth, as battle-callused fingers teased from his perineum to his anus and back, a thousand promises in every touch.

Then without warning Ares took him all the way in, enveloping him, dark curls tickling in soft counterpoint on sensitive inner thighs as tongue and throat worked the king into ecstatic frenzy.  He wanted to fuck Ares' mouth, but instead Ares' mouth was fucking *him*, taking him in deep and as hard as he could thrust, that talented tongue milking every inch of him, *demanding* his passion, and //gods!  Too soon!// he was coming, Ares' throat working as he swallowed, draining Iphicles in a way he'd never felt before.

For a small eternity after Ares pulled away all Iphicles could do was lie there and breathe as he waited for his consciousness to coalesce.

"Was the payment acceptable?" the god asked with a cocky grin.

Iphicles barked out something resembling a laugh.  "*More* than acceptable."

"Good."  The god licked his full, sensuous lips as his leathers finally disappeared.  "Then it's *my* turn..."



It was that noise again.  Iphicles steadfastly ignored it.  It'd worked the last four times.


With a groan, he shifted in his bed and stuffed the pillow firmly over his head, trying desperately to get back to the dream he'd been having.

--rattle rattle *click*-- "IPHICLES."

No.  This wasn't how the dream had been going.  There was no voice that sounded like Herc-


Someone shook him.  Hard.  Iphicles groaned testily and tried to burrow further into the bedclothes.

"Iphicles.  Get up."

Another personal earthquake.

"C'mon Iphy!  Get UP!"

He sat up in one violent motion and glared muzzily at his half-brother.  "Do NOT call me IPHY."

Hercules shrugged, unruffled as always.  "Sorry, but I've been trying to wake you for over an hour.  We need to get back on the road."

"Yeh yeh... just gimme a few minutes, okay?  I'll meet you downstairs."

Herc gave him a curious look, but went away.

//Great.  He probably thinks I'm hung over now...//  Iphicles forced himself out of bed, pulled on his travelling leathers and got his gear in order. //It'd probably be in my best interests to let him think that.  Can't let him know that me and Ares... *Gods* do gods have stamina!//  He glared in the polished bronze mirror, trying to put himself in some sort of order, //Is the hair really that bad?  Maybe I shoulda gone with black...// then trudged down to the common room and his predictably wide-awake half-brother.


"Hope you enjoyed that, Herc.  That was the last real inn we'll be seeing for awhile."

Hercules shrugged.  "I spend most of my time on the road."

//Of course...// "Well, we're heading into Messilania's conquered lands now. Comfortable quarters are bound to be few and far between."  He reined Ransom in a bit to match the demigod's pace.  "Do you have anything beyond rumours to tell us what we might expect?"

Hercules shook his head.  "No, but from experience I can tell you those aren't the usual rumours one would expect from a conquered territory."

Iphicles nodded, working the reins as Ransom bounced restlessly at the slow pace.  "You still determined that you won't ride?"


Iphicles sighed internally.  "Well, I need to let Ransom stretch his legs a bit.  I'll meet you at the fork in the road, okay?"

Herc agreed and he let the impatient horse have his head.


Iphicles reached the fork long before his half-brother, and was a little pleased to see Ares waiting for him.

"Ares!" He dismounted, tethering Ransom.  The horse happily started grazing in the thick grass at the side of the road.  "Wasn't sure if I'd see you again."  He embraced the god briefly, then moved back to look him in the eyes.  Ares wasn't a big fan of sentiment.  "I hope this has something to do with your not answering what we're heading into here last night."

Ares nodded, looking unusually unsettled.  "I checked into this area this morning."

Iphicles nodded, leaving the fact that this was clearly the first time the god *had* looked into the aftermath of the war unsaid.

"It's... I hate to say it, Iph, but the big lout's right.  You *do* need to look into this."

Iphicles raised a skeptical eyebrow.  "In what way?  Can't you tell me?"

The war god actually looked uncomfortable.  "Yes and no.  You can expect to find the usual sorts of atrocities; looting, rape, that sort of thing, but..."

"BUT?"  Iphicles stood his ground, not much liking something that could make a god uncomfortable.

"But there's... something else."  Ares sighed and started pacing in front of the king.  "I'm not holding back, Iph, I just... I don't *know* what it is. I couldn't pinpoint it, couldn't trace it down.  And *that*..." he stopped, looking Iphicles in the eyes, clearly serious and just as clearly disturbed, "That is unnatural.  If it's of a mortal's doing, especially if it  pertains to war, I should be able to see exactly what it is.  Even if it's another god trying to cover his or her tracks, I should be able to divine it.  But I *can't tell*."

"Which means..." Iphicles said slowly, not entirely sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"Which means you, me and everyone in this region is in deep shit," Ares concluded.  "What I *do* know is it kills, and it enjoys it, and it operates on a different set of rules from men *or* gods."

Iphicles let that sink in, pacing himself now.  "You're serious about this..."

The dark god snorted.  "No, I'm trying to seduce you.  Of COURSE I'm serious."

"Why not tell the other gods?"

That earned him a venomous look.  "Yeah, right.  Firstly they can't do a thing about it, and secondly, this is supposed to be *my* bailiwick.  You think *you* have family problems, try to imagine what would happen if I told *my* family I couldn't solve something!"

"Then why tell me?"

Ares turned away, muttering almost inaudibly, "Because you're the only friend I have..."

Iphicles decided on the spur of the moment to pretend he hadn't heard that. "Pardon?"

"Because you're the only one in a position to do something about it."

He admired how quickly the god recovered.  "But what can I do?"

Ares sighed.  "I don't know.  I won't know 'til we find out what this... thing *is*.  Until then just... be aware, and be cautious.  And don't tell Hercules."

Iphicles laughed.  "Don't worry about *that*.  When will I see you again?"

Ares grinned.  "Every chance there is.  Just keep your eyes open.  I don't know what this... *thing* is doing yet.  Investigate every lead you get. The people will love it anyway.  Looks like you really care."

"I *do* care," the king protested.

Laughter rang in his mind as Ares disappeared.  "Of course you do.  Laughing Boy is only a few minutes away.  Later!"


"And this village is..?"

"Telnus," Hercules provided.  "They're another who never made complaints, but-"

"We have to make sure, I know," Iphicles finished.  The Messilanian border villages had nothing beyond property damage to complain about.  This was the first that was deep into Messilanian territory, and the king was mildly concerned about what he would find.

They were met at the northernmost border of the village by one of the village headmen and two frightened-looking youngsters carrying spears and wearing ill-fitting armor.  For once Iphicles was content to let Herc explain their mission, as it got them shepherded into town immediately.

The atrocities the villagers listed were horrendous but typical.  Property damage as always, a huddle of women who had been raped either by Corinth's forces or Messilania's, and a new, savage wrinkle -- outside the village, a pyramid of the heads of the men who'd been protecting its borders.

"Is that it?" Iphicles asked the war god late that night.

"No.  That was a tactic the Messilanians came up with once it was clear they were losing.  If a village was clearly lost, the Messilanians themselves would ride in and decapitate the defenders of the villages, so Corinth's troops would not only win, but be blamed for the barbarism."

"And you let that happen?!"

Ares shrugged.  "It's all a part of war.  *I* didn't come up with the ruse."

"Including the torture of the few they kept alive to torment?"

"War isn't pretty, boy."

"You're a real prick, you know that?"

His comment was greeted with laughter.

Disgruntled and feeling like he was dancing blind on the edge of a precipice, Iphicles went back the rooms the village had allowed him and Herc and settled into an uneasy sleep.

Part 12

For once he awoke before Hercules, mainly because he could no longer ignore the rock digging into his back.

He sat up with a tired, resentful grunt, batting the hair out of his eyes impatiently.  Another day, another dollop of demigod.  Oh fucking joy. Wishing he'd at least had the booze he felt like he was recovering from, he stumbled down to the bank of the stream they were camped by, slouching over it to splash the cold glacial water into his face.  For a brief moment he experienced a wash of homesickness.  Back in Corinth, a servant would have
tended to his every need, seeing that he had a light breakfast after his warm bath and soothing massage and-

^^What was that about a massage?^^

He half-grinned as an electric blue flash and nearly inaudible *pop* of displaced air heralded Ares' arrival.

"Just remembering the comforts of home," Iphicles supplied.

"Tsk..." Ares clucked sadly.  "Another warrior gone to seed.  A shame what good living can do to a man..."

Iphicles twisted in the mud of the riverbank to regard the dark god incredulously.  "Gone to SEED?!  This from someone who can pop in and out at will?  Excuse me, but I haven't noticed YOU roughing it lately."

An imperious snort.  "I'm a god.  Gods don't *have* to rough it."

Iphicles rolled his eyes and turned back to the cold, racing water.  "Then gods have no right to comment either."  He lost Ares' retort as he stuck his head into the rushing stream, surfacing a moment later gasping, hair dripping liquid ice.  "Oh FUCK ME!"

Hot breath in his ear, "Was that an invitation?"

Iphicles chuckled as he twisted to catch divine lips in a long, hard kiss. "You."  Teeth pulling at the bright metallic dagger in the god's left lobe. "Are."  Tongue swirling up to probe at the finely-formed ear. "Incorrigible."  A final nip and he pulled away laughing.

Ares looked more than a little disgruntled.  "You think I'm joking?"

"No."  The king stood up, hair dripping, suddenly serious.  "And I'd like nothing more than to *make* that an invitation.  But Mister Perfect is going to be awake any minute and I don't have to tell you what would happen if he saw us together right now-"

The god grunted sulkily.

"-AND we're getting close to... whatever this is.  I *have* to keep focused on that for the good of Corinth."

Ares sighed.  "'The good of Corinth'... You sound like every damned true king I've ever met."

Iphicles brightened almost imperceptibly.  "True king?  What do you mean?"

"Sit."  Ares settled on the riverbank, gesturing beside him, relaxing a bit as Iphicles joined him.  He regarded his young, moody lover for a moment before speaking.  "This is just an observation, but there's a difference between those in charge of a land and those who truly rule it.  A... bond almost.  I've seen it a thousand times over.  The men and women who are
*true* kings all think that way, putting their lands and holdings before themselves."  He cast a sideways grin at Iphicles.  "Those who are merely caretakers are *much* easier to manipulate."

"But I don't rule due to Royal lineage..."

Ares snorted contemptuously.  "Those are some of the *easiest* to sway.  You should be glad.  Inbred idiots, most of them."  He gave the king a strangely solemn smile.  "Mark my words; Rome even now bites away at the frayed edges of the Greek empire, and they *will* win, though they steal everything of value from you.  They already rename the gods to fit their own fancy, though we remain the same.  But in no time at all, due to *royal lineage*, the epilectic will be considered superior to the scrofulous, and in madness they will consider themselves gods.  Learn from this, little king, and pay no heed to royal lineage."  And quite suddenly he was his usual flip, sexily uncaring self again.  "So how long do we have before little brother wakes up?"

"Not long enough," Iphicles muttered.  He meant it, but part of his mind was utterly wrapped around the incredible statements Ares had just made.  "Have you found out anything more about what we're facing?"  Feeling Ares' fingers stroking his hair, he leaned into it.

"No," Ares admitted.  "Just that I've never felt the like before.  It's not human, and it's no god, local or foreign."

Iphicles leaned against Ares' shoulder and said with lazy curiosity, "There are other gods?"

The dark god sighed.  "Yes.  I suppose I shouldn't be telling you this, but there are many other gods in many other lands.  My family are the gods of Greece and its lands, and now Rome, since they've stolen us all and think that by changing our names they make us their own.  They've stolen from the Egyptians too, of course."

Iphicles tried to wrap his mind around this statement, and ended up in slightly hysterical laughter at the thought.  "So do you know these other gods?  Do you have a yearly mingler?  How can there BE other gods?"

Ares looked more than a little uncomfortable, but determined to see it through now that he'd brought it up.  "Because... It's complicated.  To you, we're all- powerful, but even gods have their rules.  I can't tell you any more except there are those that are beyond gods.  And you don't want to meet them."

"And you think that's where this... thing is comng from?" Iphicles asked shrewdly.

Ares nodded.  "Keep your eyes and mind open, little king.  If I can't pinpoint it, it's from something outside.  And there's more outside than you know too.  It's likely smart *and* dangerous, and I don't want you challenging it."

"But-" Iphicles' question was cut short as Hercules hailed him and Ares disapppeared.

As evening drew close they entered the next village, a larger one as they drew close to the capitol.  As usual, the moment Herc mentioned his name they couldn't hurry fast enough to open the gates for him.  Oh, and his companion.

"You could have gotten us two rooms."

"You were standing right there when the innkeeper told us the inn was full. There's no need to put more people out; we can share the room."

"The horse has more spacious quarters than this."

"Iphicles, would you-  We only need the room for *sleeping*."

"He OFFERED you the bigger room."

"It would have been spendthrift to take it."

"He offered it to you for free."

"And I refused.  It's his livelihood."

"I *know*.  And I could afford to pay him ten *times* what he could hope to get for TWO rooms.  So all you really accomplished was to *deny* the man the extra money he could have gotten from us."

"*I*-" The demigod stopped short, looking like he was choking on whatever words were queued up behind the first, and spun away to glare out the small window.  "WHY do you always have to be so cursed *contrary*," he muttered.

"Well, why can't *you* lighten up with that self-sacrificing schtick once in a while?" Iphicles shot back.

Hercules turned back around to glare at him.  "It's not a 'schtick'.  It's a way of life.  *My* way of life, and one I feel strongly about."

Iphicles flopped on the bed, rolling his eyes.  "Yes, Herc, everyone knows what a paragon of virtue you are just like everyone knows you really *mean* it.  It wouldn't shatter your bloody image to be *comfortable* once in a while.  Though I suppose I should be grateful you *didn't* volunteer us to sleep in the stable."

"And THERE'S that patented Iphicles sarcasm again!"

"Strangely, you're the only one to constantly point that out, *brother*."

Hercules sighed impatiently as Iphicles' face slid into a sullen pout he was all too familiar with.  "What is *with* you?  I've been *trying* to get along with you this entire blasted trip and all I get from you is attitude, when you're not avoiding me altogether."

Iphicles snorted.  "How exactly were you trying to get along with me?"

"Well for starters I *wasn't* commenting on your behaviour.  Every time I've suggested a direction we should take in everything from investigating these atrocities to securing accomodations to- to how we travel, you contradict me.  I try to make conversation and you either say nothing or act insulted-"

"That's because every conversation you start and every 'suggestion' you make seems to turn into a lecture on how I should just trust you and follow along because you've done this sort of thing more than I have."

Herc stared at him like he'd just sprouted another head.  "A lec- I don't-"

Iphicles glared back at him.  "Yes you do.  Do you realize you haven't once asked what thoughts *I* might have about what we're looking for, or how we should go about sorting out normal consequences of war from the sorts of horrors you've heard about?  You just *assumed* that you're running this show."

The demigod blinked at him and gave an exasperated sigh.  "Good GODS, Iphicles, I know you've resented me in the past but I *thought* you would have grown out of that by now."

Holding his anger tightly in check, Iphicles levered himself off the bed. "That's it.  This conversation is over.  I'm going to get started on looking into the local atrocities.  You can keep the fucking room.  I'll arrange my own accommodations.  If you learn anything, I'll meet you outside the stables tomorrow morning to compare notes."  He took great satisfaction in closing the door firmly behind him before Hercules could get another word out.

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