The ABC's of R&R
By Dragon

Zeus, King of the Heavens, was not noted for his sense of humor.  Perhaps because the things that amused him rarely made anyone else laugh.  And at the moment he was cheerfully engaged in one of his favorite pastimes.  Sitting upon his throne he gazed towards the antechamber doors.  Huge, imposing, they formed a barrier between the throne room and those who would seek  audience with the King of the Gods.  Beyond the barrier was a small, silently austere room whose stark white walls were lined with severe hardwood chairs.  And for the last several hours, an increasingly agitated supplicant had occupied one of those chairs. For while Zeus was not noted for humor, neither was Ares, son of Zeus, noted for patience.

Most would be hard pressed to find anything humorous in the tension produced by the hours of imposed waiting on the other side of those doors, but Zeus found it hilarious.  He sat, broad smile upon his face, listening to the manic tapping of the booted foot just beyond the doors.  He knew he shouldn't be doing this to Ares, but he just couldn't help himself.  Ares baited so well.

Zeus' smile faded a bit as he did a quick calculation and realized that he had kept his son waiting for nearly ten hours.  Time had certainly flown by while he had his little bit of fun.  Inhaling deeply, he straightened his robes and with a thought, summoned a goblet of wine.  He did not welcome an audience with his son.  For many years now, their relationship had been strained.  It was not a situation that Zeus found agreeable. He wanted to love his son, but somehow they seemed to continue moving further and further apart.  The conflict had deep roots, fostered by jealousy and misunderstanding, on both their parts.  It didn't help that Hera often pitted Zeus and Ares against one another in her devious plots.

In spite of this, Ares still took the odd occasion to seek an audience with Zeus, but the result was always the same.  His appeals were denied.  As the centuries passed, the appeals became fewer and fewer.  Zeus shook his head, trying to understand why Ares bothered; the things he asked for were just impossible to give.  And Ares took denial hard.  For Ares to come to him now with a request was unusual at best, bad news at worst.

While delaying Ares for this long had been amusing, it also served a second purpose. Zeus had hoped Ares would tire of waiting, give up, and go back to his own temple.  He really didn't feel like refusing him again.  But Ares had remained as stubborn as always.  Resigned to the task at hand, Zeus waved his hand at the doors and bade them open.


In the stark room beyond the doors, an impatient God of War sat rigidly in one of the wooden chairs.  Once more he was being made to endure the indignity of waiting to see his own father.  Angrily he tapped his foot against the floor; the many hours he'd spent here awaiting an audience with Zeus were among the worst he had ever known.  He hated waiting, he hated to plead for anything, and he hated this horrible room. He'd rather be lectured by Hercules than sit here.   He sat up as straight as he could and stretched weary muscles.  He'd lost track of the time, but it felt as though he had been there for days.

Zeus was, if nothing else, a master strategist.  On the occasions Ares had come here seeking his father, the time spent waiting had invariably robbed the intolerant God of War of any eloquence.  Appeal after appeal was denied. Staring at the blank wall in front him, a very determined Ares swore that this time it would be different.

With no preamble, the doors finally swung open.   Ares took a deep, cleansing breath and exhaled slowly, making every effort to reduce his anger and maintain his calm.   He rose casually, stretching out the kinks in his back and legs.  Slowly, so as not to appear anxious, he made his way through the portal.

Stepping into the throne room, Ares had to admit - Zeus was very good at doing regal.  Sitting upon his jewel encrusted throne, dressed in his white and gold robes, he really looked the part.   A small part of Ares' mind was saddened at the thought that his own father felt the need to appear so formally to his heir apparent, but the larger part scoffed at this and forced him forward to stand proudly before his father. Nodding his head in acknowledgment, Ares spoke first, maintaining eye contact. "Father, I beg a favor."

Zeus looked down at Ares, seeing the tension in his face.  " Now that's hardly a surprise.  It wasn't very likely you'd come for tea and polite conversation."

"Well, if I had, I would hardly be feeling polite at this point, would I?" Ares clamped his lips shut, reining in the ever-present anger.  It would buy little and gain nothing.

Zeus settled back comfortably, watching his son bring himself under control.  It always seemed to be a chess game between the two of them and for the moment, it was Ares' move.

Ares looked at his father, an edge of despair creeping into his voice.  "Zeus, Father, I....." Ares licked suddenly very dry lips. "I....need some...that is, I...."

"Spit it out, boy, I haven't got all day!" Zeus frowned at his stammering son.

Ares shifted his stance and stared at the floor.  "All right, all right, well, it's like this.  You see, I need some time off.  I need a break, a holiday." He looked up, trying to gauge his father's reaction.  The look on the face of Zeus was pretty much what he had expected.

"Please tell me this is a joke? Ares, you can't be serious."

"But I am, Zeus, I am.  I need this...please."

Zeus rose from his throne and descended to the bottom step of the platform so that he now stood slightly above his son. Taking in his son's appearance he noted the edgy demeanor, the quickened breath.  Something was different this time.  The anger was there, but it had ben joined by something else. Zeus took the last step to stand beside Ares.  He lifted a hand and cautiously placed it on Ares' shoulder. Guiding him, together they sat on the edge of the platform.  Unsure of the reception, he left his hand on Ares shoulder, feeling the tension in the strong body.  "Tell me, what has brought this on?"

Ares stared at the wall, avoiding Zeus' face.  He licked his lips again.  "Everyone else gets time off - - everyone!  You, Hera!  Apollo goes on those little jaunts, Artemis goes hunting, and Aphrodite, well, I don't even want to talk about what she gets up to...." He shifted his eyes to glance at his father then turned to stare at the wall again.  "Everyone, but me." Ares turned to face Zeus, forcing the hand on his shoulder to drop.  "It's not fair.... Father, I need some time, too.  I've been at this for so long, an eternity.  I'm tired. I need a break."  Gathering up his courage Ares went on. "Haven't you noticed? I'm sure everyone else has.  My judgment, my...behavior.  I'm--what's the mortal phrase?--stressed out. I need a change of pace."  Going with emotion of the moment, Ares grasped his father's hand, a move that startled Zeus.

Mystified, he looked again at his handsome son's face.  In many ways, he was so like his mother, normally so unreadable, but now the emotion on that face was raw and unhidden. "Ares, son, are you telling me you don't want to be the God of War anymore?"

Ares released his father's hand, his turn now to be startled.  "NO, no Father, that's not it at all.  No, I like who I am, and what I am.  I don't want to change that.  I just...I need to take a break.  I mean this last year, everything, it's been so ...overwhelming, even for me.  Zeus, I'm...I'm afraid I'm going to start making mistakes that are too stupid even for you to fix.  Do you understand?"

The slight catch in Ares' voice was unnerving.  Zeus had been prepared for a lot of things but not this.  In light of his son's distress, his earlier amusement faded away.  He pulled away and stood, pacing slowly, as he stroked his beard, all the while deep in thought.  Ares watched, nervousness replacing his earlier anger.

After several moments, Zeus stopped  and faced his son.  "Ares, of all of my children, you have a unique responsibility.  Protector of Olympus, arbitrator of the passions of all sentient beings, yours is the  most difficult and important job to be done. What the others do can be equally borne by any one of us.  You, and you alone, have the strength and the nature to bear your burden.  Anyone, God or mortal, thinking to take your place wouldn't last a day.  You were pre-ordained, born to it.  While still in your mother's womb, your fate was decided. What you ask of me, I'm not sure I can grant."

Ares slumped forward, looking at the floor, hands clasped between his knees.  "There has to be a way.  I only need a couple of weeks."

Zeus crossed back to Ares and resumed his seat on the platform.  Looking at Ares he couldn't help but think how much easier this would be if he were more like his other children.  That thought spawned another of how unfair it as to Ares to feel this way. The nature of this son was largely beyond his own control and to hold him in judgment for these faults was small indeed.  Struggling to find a way to communicate with the son who had these last few years been nearly a stranger, Zeus once more placed a hand on Ares' shoulder.  Feeling no resistance, he moved his hand across to the opposite shoulder, drawing Ares into a relaxed embrace.

"Ares, I'm sorry. I didn't realize how important this was to you." Zeus tightened his hold on his son and exhaled the breath he had been holding. "If I do this for you, there will have to be conditions."

"Conditions? What kind of conditions?" Ares glanced at his father, worriedly.

Zeus glanced back, meeting the worried look with one of his own.  "I can disperse your responsibilities temporarily amongst your brothers and sisters.  They won't like it, but they don't have to.  They won't do the job that you can, but at least the world will have some semblance of control.  The rest is a bit trickier."

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that." Ares responded cautiously.

"Understand this, I can't set you loose on the mortal world as a God.  Your temper combined with your power...the consequence to mankind could be devastating."  Zeus ignored the indignant expression on the face in front of
him.  "And, one other thing...."

"That's not enough? What? What else?"  Ares felt a thrill of fear.  Wasn't it sufficient that he was asking him to be mortal again?

"You aren't going to do this alone.  You must have a guide, someone from the mortal realm."

Ares could feel his plans unraveling.  "Why? Why can't I go on my own?"

Zeus released his son and rose to look down at the dark-haired God.  "Do you have the slightest idea of what you propose to do on this so called holiday?"

Ares stared back at his father.  Having expected to once more be denied, he hadn't thought that far.  What did one do on a holiday? He frowned, deep in thought.

Not waiting for the thought to ferment, Zeus continued, "You will also need someone to protect you.  Without your powers, you could be subject to acts of reprisal.  Do you doubt for a moment that your enemies outnumber your friends?"

Ares' frown deepened and he protested. "I can take care of myself!"

Zeus silenced Ares with a gesture. "Ordinarily yes, but if I do this for you, you will be living under anything but ordinary circumstances.  I can't take the risk."

Puzzled, Ares looked at his father's face.  He could see nothing but sincerity there. Never taking his eyes off his father's face, Ares watched as Zeus once again sat next to him.  "Ares, if you will agree to these conditions, I will grant you what you want."

Inhaling deeply, Ares chewed on his lip, considering the conditions under which his request would be granted.  Could he live as a mortal again, even for this?  Could he bear having the interference of another mortal, telling him what to do, where to go? He glanced at Zeus, who was patiently waiting for his answer.

A question remained in Ares' mind. "Father, if I agree, if I lay down everything and be as a mortal man, when my holiday is over, will you let me come back?  Will my place still be here?"  Ares' paranoia showed itself, the fear of being ousted ever present.

Zeus was momentarily at a loss.  He looked at Ares, the doubt plainly written across the handsome face before him. "After what I have said to you, how could you ask that?"  Taking Ares firmly by his arms, Zeus continued. "I have no one to replace you, Ares, nor is this in my thoughts. Your place is here.  I will give you three weeks.  Then you must return to your duties.  So, do you agree, or not?"

Ares shivered a bit in anticipation.  Then he remembered one of the conditions. "Wait a minute, who gets to be my guide, guard, whatever?"

"I think you may already have someone in mind, do you not?"  Zeus released Ares and sat back, waiting.

Ares smiled and felt the smile turn to a frown.  "But, he won't want to do this. He won't help me!"

It was Zeus' turn to smile. "Believe me, son, if I ask him, he will.  So, who's it to be then?  Your brother perhaps?"

Ares turned a look of near horror on Zeus.  "Do NOT even go there!"  He licked that troublesome lip again.  "I do know someone.  Someone who isn't very fond of me, but, he's good in a fight and from what I've seen, he knows how to have to good time."

Zeus waited.  "Well, what's this mystery man's name?"

Ares smiled at the irony of it all.  "His name is Iolaus.  And he is really, really going be surprised at this invitation!"


Part 2
Blissfully unaware of the intrigues being woven on his behalf, Iolaus, companion to Hercules and hero in his own right, was surfacing from the last vestiges of sleep.  Responding reluctantly to the insistent nudges of sunlight, Iolaus crawled out of his bedroll, yawning.  He rose and stretched. It looked to be a perfect day, bright and clear, not a sign of a cloud in the sky.  Rolling his shoulders he strode towards the edge of the clearing. A quick attendance to bodily functions, a fast breakfast, and he would be off to meet Hercules at Torone for the Festival of the Seas.

Smiling as he approached the nearest shrub, undoing his trousers on the way, thoughts of the spirited reputation of the Torone festival ran through his mind; women who didn't say no, dancing, and gambling; all activities custom made for the likes of a man of his caliber. He frowned a bit, thinking of how often Hercules had turned such a festival into a crusade of honor, saving this one or that from some deadly horror or other, and of course, Iolaus was invariably swept along by Hercules' passionate need to help.

Standing over the unlucky shrub he began to relieve himself of the waters accumulated by his body during the night. Having little else to occupy himself as the moisture splashed onto the bush, his thoughts turned back to Torone.  Maybe, just maybe Hercules would let himself kick back and have fun this time.  Maybe the Festival of the Seas would be different. Not that any of this was ever Hercules', he couldn't help himself.  It was just that sometimes, Iolaus needed a break from being a 'hero'.

An intense flash of light flared directly in front of Iolaus, causing him to close his eyes against the brightness.  Scant seconds later, his need to urinate completely forgotten, he opened his eyes for a cautionary look. He felt his jaw slipping in amazement, for he was now in what could only be called godly company.  A residual glow still surrounded the older of the two beings in front of him.  Iolaus gaped at the two gods.  While he recognized Ares, his long-standing antagonist, he stared uncertainly at the second presence. His sleep-coated mind could form only one coherent thought. *This cannot be good.*

Iolaus waited for one of the Olympians to say something, but the way he was being stared at, almost glared at by the still unnamed god, was unnerving. The sound of a throat clearing made Iolaus look at Ares who smiled and pointed to Iolaus' still unfastened trousers and exposed manhood.  Iolaus glanced down, and quickly recovered his grace and fastened his trousers.  Shifting nervously, Iolaus decided to make the first move and find out what this little visit was all about.  He couldn't remember Ares ever going out of his way just to pay a social visit and this second and as yet unnamed god was a wild card that still had Iolaus feeling edgy.  Before Iolaus could form a sentence, Ares beat him to the punch.

"Introductions are in order.  Zeus...Iolaus...Iolaus...Zeus."  Ares stood aside watching his father face this proposed traveling companion.

Iolaus felt his mouth part in shocked surprise, but quickly recovered enough to recall his manners.  Bravely, he walked the few steps forward to stand in front Zeus and extended his hand.  "It's an honor and pleasure to meet you, sir."

Mindful of where Iolaus' hand had just been, Zeus raised his own hands and grasped Iolaus firmly by the shoulders.  "Let me assure you young man, the pleasure is all mine.  I've heard a lot about you." Zeus glanced over his shoulder, the look telling Ares two quiet and get us something to sit on.  Ares willingly complied with both unspoken requests.  Truth be told, he didn't have the first idea of what to say anyway.  Zeus on the other hand could convince a dead man he had another breath coming.  Ares quickly whipped up a bench directly behind Zeus and Iolaus.

Hands still on Iolaus' shoulders, Zeus maneuvered him into a sitting position on the newly arrived bench.  Iolaus spared it a quick glance but didn't bother to question its existence considering his current company.  His mind raced at the situation he was in.  What could Zeus possibly want with him?  And Ares, why was he here?  It was common knowledge he and his father didn't get along, and yet, here they were, together.  This was a really strange way to start the day.  Iolaus realized that Zeus was speaking to him and quickly gave him full attention.

Zeus released his hold on the hunter and sat beside him.  He looked deeply into Iolaus' eyes, . "Iolaus, I come to you with a proposition.  I need--indeed, the world--needs you."

Iolaus stared hard at the King of the Gods.  "Me?"

"Yes, you.  Don't underestimate yourself.  Ares speaks very highly of your abilities."  Zeus was aware of Ares rolling his eyes and ignored him.  "That is why you have been chosen.  Your skill, courage, and zest for life make you the perfect one for the job."

"What could you possibly need me for?  I mean, why me?  What can I do?  I'm just a man, a mortal.  You two, you're gods.  You can do anything you want. And you, you're the King of the Gods!"  Iolaus was a picture of confusion; Ares saying anything nice things about him, Zeus needing HIM!  Iolaus' head was spinning.

"The function my son serves is utterly vital to the health and well being of everything and everyone.  If his abilities are impaired in any way, we will all suffer.  Even War can be conquered by the pressures of life, and I cannot sit by and watch Ares succumb to these pressures."

Zeus took a moment to exchange a look with his son, who had moved to stand slightly in front and to the side of the bench.  The look silenced the retort Ares was about to make.  Turning back to Iolaus,  Zeus continued. "In short, your services are required.  My son needs a companion and guide while he takes a brief holiday.   What I ask of you is much, I know.  This will not be easy.  I am keenly aware of how difficult Ares can be.  I would like for you to advise him and help keep him out of any...situations he might get himself into."  Zeus knew Ares was pulling another face and continued to ignore him. He focused on Iolaus, who was visibly stunned by the offer that had just
been dropped into his lap.  Iolaus spared a look at Ares who did not return it.  The god was looking at the ground, making every effort to avoid interfering with his father's negotiations.

Iolaus shifted back to look at Zeus.  "I don't understand. Ares is a God!  Why would any of that matter?  If he breaks it, he can fix it. Why would he need me?"

Zeus turned eyes of warm, sparkling gray to look deeply into Iolaus' own eyes of sky blue.  "A condition of this holiday is a temporary revocation of Ares' godhood.  He will be as a mortal man. He's a bit...volatile to place in your world with all his normal abilities and power."  Zeus ignored the muttering coming from his son. "You see, Ares has never taken a holiday before.  He has rather a lot of steam to let off.  Can you imagine that with his godhood intact?"

Iolaus paled at the thought.  Zeus continued. "Ares needs to relax and have fun.  I need you to provide the necessary insight and guidance to see that this happens with the fewest possible consequences. You will be provided with unlimited funds and whatever else you need to complete this assignment properly. I understand you are a man who knows how to have a good time?"

Iolaus shrugged. "Well, I guess you could say that.  But, I still don't understand, why me? And why would Ares do this?  I mean, " Iolaus looked back at Ares again, "I thought you hated mortality?"

This time Ares did look up and meet his eyes.   Iolaus almost laughed at what he saw.  Ares looked like a bug pinned to a board.  Iolaus watched him struggle to find the words to answer the question. Looking upwards as if for inspiration, Ares stammered his response. "Look, blondie, I know that you and I haven't always gotten along...okay, we've never gotten along, but, look, I promise you, what he said, it's the truth." Ares forced himself to look at Iolaus again. "You're a goody-good. I know I can trust you.  And I swear, I...just want to...look, I just want to have a bit of fun and if I can tolerate you, maybe you can tolerate me? Okay?"  Far from the eloquence he was searching for and dramatically short of an explanation, Ares stopped before he started making even less sense.

Zeus gently tapped Iolaus on the arm to regain his full attention. "Iolaus, you will be doing a service to the entire world.  I need you and Ares needs you.  And I need your answer."

Iolaus sat between the two most powerful gods in the heavens and felt his heart pounding.  His first instinct was to scream 'no' and run but he had a strong suspicion he wouldn't get very far.  He looked at Ares again. The God of War looked tired.  Surely that wasn't possible?  Maybe the last year had hit Ares as hard as the rest of them.  He ran the high points of the proposition over in his head.  Fun and unlimited funds, these were good things.  Putting up with Ares.  That could be bad.  Being in the good graces of Zeus, that could be good.  Having to live with Ares for...wait, how long was this for?

"Hey, you didn't say how long this was for!"  Iolaus couldn't take Ares constant company indefinitely.  He felt pretty sure eventually one of them would  kill the other out of sheer annoyance.

Zeus smiled brightly, so brightly that Iolaus found himself squinting again.  "I've given Ares three weeks. Is that acceptable?  Is there anything you would need other than money?"

Iolaus cleared his throat and thought some more.  There was a lot to be said for both sides of this argument.  He had been hoping for some recreational activity anyway, and maybe he could keep Ares out of his hair long enough to actually enjoy himself in the bargain. But for three weeks?  He blew out a cleansing breath as an unpleasant thought slammed into his mind with the force of a typhoon.  "Hercules!  Oh, I forgot about him.  I'm supposed to meet him in Torone this evening!  He'll pop a vein over this!"

Zeus was quick to respond. "You leave Hercules to me.  I'll talk to him and be sure that he doesn't interfere.  You don't have to worry.  He will not hold this temporary alliance against you, I'll make sure of that.  So, do you agree?"  Zeus was still smiling, obviously sure of his victory.

Iolaus looked at Ares, then Zeus, then Ares once more.  *Now I know what a lamb about to slaughtered feels like.* "Against whatever good judgment I have...yes, I guess so. " Looking back at Ares he went on, "You are really going to owe me for this."  Iolaus shook his head, wondering what terrors the next few weeks would bring.

"Good.  I knew we could count on you. Think about what else you may need for when I depart this mortal plane, I will not intervene again until the allotted time has expired."

Iolaus continued to shake his head, marveling at fortune and fate.  *Hercules is going to shit a brick.*  He looked at Ares who now appeared nervous.  *You didn't think I'd do it, did you.  Surprise, you get what you want, and may the rest of the gods help us both.*


Part 3
Awaiting the arrival of his friend Iolaus, Hercules pondered the modest meal the smiling girl placed on the table.  She primped and continued to smile as she brushed by a bit too closely, making body contact with the demi-god.  Not unpretty, but far from ravishing, she leaned forward, giving an expansive view of her buxom form.

"I hope what you see pleases you," she cooed suggestively.

Smiling back politely, Hercules was relieved of the need to answer when the ethereal  form of Zeus shimmered into existence in the chair beside the effusive serving girl.  While Hercules could see Zeus, it was readily apparent the girl could not; and Zeus being Zeus saw no need to resist the temptation before him.  The pinch he gave her derriere produced an immediate reaction.  She squealed in shock and spun around, hand raised to slap whoever had dared to take such liberty.  Hand still raised, she frowned in confusion.   Looking back at Hercules, puzzled, she regained what composure she could, smoothed her dress and left for the kitchens. Watching the sway of her body as she walked away, Zeus chuckled softly.

Hercules shook his head.  "You just never stop, do you?  What do you want,

Zeus turned to face Hercules.  "Why, son, is that any way to talk?"

Hercules smiled ruefully.  "When it comes to you, it's the only way to talk.  You're not here without a reason and it's probably a bad one, so I ask you again, what do you want?"   Hercules ignored the people at nearby tables, whispering nervously about the poor man talking to himself, and considered Zeus' face. It was hard to reconcile that face with anything paternal, even after all these years.

"Ah, Hercules, always ready to think the worst of me.  You are right about one thing, I do want something of you; something very important."  Zeus looked around the crowded inn.  "Iolaus did say something about a festival.  I suppose that's why it's so crowded, eh?"

At the sound of his friend's name, Hercules felt a jolt of panic.  He grabbed his father's arm.  "Where and why did you see Iolaus?  I've been waiting for him to meet me here.  If you've done something...."

Zeus shrugged off the hand and the concern.  "Hercules, he is perfectly fine.  He's been commissioned to do a little job for the Gods.  That's why I'm come to see you."

"Iolaus?  Why would you want Iolaus?"  Hercules was baffled.  As much as he loved and admired his friend, he just couldn't grasp what the Gods could want him for.

Zeus smiled reassuringly.  "You know, that is exactly what he said.  The two of you need to work on a few self-esteem issues.  You both severely underestimate his value."

Hercules wasn't smiling when he answered.  "Don't you lecture me on Iolaus' value.  I know it well.  He's the best friend anyone could ever want.  If you're involving him in anything dangerous, I will never forgive you."  Hercules noticed the number of people now observing his apparent one-sided conversation.  "And if you're going to talk to me, at least have the decency to show yourself to them before they toss me out for a raving loon."

"Oh, very well."  With a slight wave of his hand, the general populace got quite a shock.  Where there had been no one a moment ago, there now sat a man clothed in flowing robes. Smiling a deceptively sweet smile, Zeus waved a few fingers in the general direction of the closest tables.  Several people fainted; many ran in panic.  Others stayed to stare.   Amused, Zeus turned back to his son.  "They're so easy to impress.  Now, where were we?  Oh, yes, Iolaus."

"Yes...Iolaus.  What did you force him to do?  Where is he?"  Hercules waited anxiously.

"Keep your head, son.  He isn't being *forced* to do anything.  He was asked and he has agreed.  But he was concerned that you would be upset with him.  That's why I'm here."

Hercules frowned.  "Why would I be upset with him?  Zeus, what have got him doing that he would worry about my disapproval?"

Zeus dismissed his earlier humor, becoming very serious.  "He is doing something very important, son.  He is with your brother, helping him through a new experience.  You must leave them be, or this is all for naught."

"My brother?"  Hercules felt his mouth part, knowing full well which of his brothers was the topic of conversation.  "You left Iolaus with Ares?  You bastard!  Why?  Do you have any  idea of how many times Ares has tried to kill him?  Why would you do that to Iolaus?"

Zeus frowned tightly at his half mortal son.  "Hercules, be quiet and listen to me.  Ares is talking a holiday and your friend is helping him. Iolaus is in no danger.  if anyone is in danger here it is Ares.  He is in very unfamiliar territory.  Think of Iolaus as a guide, a counsel.  What could be safer?"

"What could be safer than being with Ares?  How about walking unarmed through the lowest depths of Tartarus?  Ares could kill him with a thought!  Why, father, why?" Hercules was a mixture of worry and anger.

"Hercules, listen to me.  Your friend is not in jeopardy.  I am not so foolish an old man that I would release Ares unhindered into your world.  Ares is mortal for the next three weeks, the length of time I allotted him. Hercules, the plans have been set in motion and you mustn't interfere.  Ares deserves a chance for some rest and recreation and Iolaus is there to guide him through.  He agreed, son. He was not forced.  Don't meddle in something that is not your concern."

"Not my concern?  Iolaus' welfare is very much my concern.  I can't believe you did this.  And since when did you give a damn about what Ares needs?  This is thin, even for you."  Hercules was standing now, anger winning about over other emotions.

Matching the move, Zeus also stood.  "Don't  presume to guess what is between Ares and me.  Just know this, they will be left in peace without your interference, one way or another."  His face set in a stony glare, Zeus disappeared in a blue flash of light.

Now alone, Hercules tried to gather his thoughts.  Everything Zeus had told him mixed with his fears and swirled in his mind like a storm cloud.  He walked away from the table and his uneaten meal, one thought finally victorious; Ares was dangerous and could never be trusted, mortal or otherwise.  His concern urging him on, Hercules left the inn, heading in the general direction of what was the hunter's last known location.  He had to find Iolaus before it was too late.


Part 4
Iolaus sat on the ground tossing small stones at randomly targeted trees.  Waiting for Ares to wake up was boring.  *If I had any sense, I'd leave right now.  But then again, how far would I get? I'd probably have a little black cloud on my heels the rest of my days.*  A small movement from the prone body of the God of War interrupted Iolaus' thoughts..

*About time, too.*  Iolaus pulled himself up to stand and stretch, the rumbling in his stomach reminding him he had never quite gotten around to breakfast.  His morning meal plans had been rudely interrupted.

Walking over, he knelt to look closer at the god who had plagued both him and Hercules for so long.  This was really going to be hard, trying to suspend his usual reaction to that face.  Ares conjured up memories of bad days and bitter defeats.  No matter how much he ran over it, he was still puzzled as to how he came to be in this particular situation; drafted to be Ares' bosom companion for the next three weeks.

Hearing a small moan, Iolaus seated himself,  thinking over the morning and recalling the sequence of events.


Maybe Ares had agreed to mortality but that didn't mean he embraced the concept, and watching it happen was one thing Iolaus wasn't going to forget anytime soon.

Once Zeus had gotten Iolaus' agreement, he stood and faced his recalcitrant son.  Iolaus was left sitting on the bench, curious as to what would happen next.  It wasn't every day that mortals were privy to the interactions of the gods.  Wisely keeping his mouth clamped shut, Iolaus watched as Zeus approached Ares. The hunter took in the look of apprehension and puzzlement on Ares' face.  Somewhere in that expression was a also a hint of doubt. It was also clear that Ares had something he wanted to say, but he never got the chance.  A wave of Zeus' hand sent The God of War into a deep slumber.  Feeling a bit voyeuristic, Iolaus watched as Zeus caught the falling god and
lowered him to a now waiting blanket, gently brushing the dark hair from the still face.  Perhaps it was foolish, maybe even dangerous, but Iolaus couldn't help but comment.  "He'd probably like to hear it, you know."

Zeus looked at Iolaus. "What do you mean?"

Iolaus did not turn away from that powerful stare, and bravely plunged on. "You could tell him you love him.  Most children like to hear it, no matter how old they are."

Zeus did not smile, nor did he bother to reply.  He turned back to Ares, regarding his son thoughtfully.  Iolaus looked on, wondering what would happen next.  His suspense was short-lived as Zeus placed both hands firmly on Ares' chest.  Even in slumber, the physical shock was obvious; the mighty body jerked in shock as the power drained from the God of War.  Iolaus grimaced in unwanted sympathy.  The process of rendering the god to a state of mortality seemed to go on forever, but really lasted only a moment.

When Ares' body stilled, Zeus pulled his hands away and raised his right arm, his hand beseeching.  The Sword of War appeared in the outstretched hand briefly, then disappeared from sight.  Lowering his arm, Zeus rose and approached Iolaus.

The hunter looked at the now peaceful body lying on the ground, noticing for the first time the change in clothing. The black leather and black boots had been replaced by a simple tunic and trousers of rough linen and a pair of brown walking boots .  Pursing his lips, Iolaus studied Zeus and forged ahead with what was on his mind. "I remember what Hercules told me, about how Ares took his powers that time; how much it hurt.  Hercules wasn't a full god either.  You did it that way to keep from hurting him, didn't you?"

Zeus declined to answer, instead staring at Iolaus with an intensity that made him feel like he was being examined from the inside out.  At length, Zeus handed Iolaus a small, bronze colored flask.  "When Ares wakes, have him drink this.  It will help." Iolaus nodded his understanding and took the proffered flask, not bothering to ask where it had come from.  He was getting used to things popping out of thin air.

"Now, as to what you will need," Zeus spoke as a leather pouch appeared in his hand," this will provide for the length of the holiday.  As the money in it is expended it will be replaced.  Should this pouch be removed from your person without your knowledge or permission, it will return to you and the thief will be empty handed."  He handed it to Iolaus, who smiled in appreciation.

"I could have used this during my last trip to Corinth.  Thanks."

"Don't thank me, young man.  That is to provide for my son's holiday.  Spend it wisely."  Zeus began to pace slowly, alternately looking at Ares and Iolaus.  "You haven't said what else you may need.  I must return to Olympus; you need to make a decision now."

Iolaus frowned in thought and shrugged. "I can't think of anything else, except maybe patience."

Zeus smiled at that and nodded.  The King of the Gods extended his hand and Iolaus quickly responded with a firm grasp.  "Good luck, Iolaus."

Where Iolaus had been holding the hand of the mightiest of the gods he now held air.  Looking around, he noticed that Zeus had also scuttled the bench.  Nervously, Iolaus patted the bulging money sack, confirming its actual existence.  That at least remained in the wake of the god's vanishing act; the money pouch and a slumbering God of War.

Sighing, Iolaus sat on the ground. *I ought to enjoy this.  This is probably the best I'll get on with him for the next three weeks.*  He settled back to wait for his nemesis of a lifetime to recover.


Part 5
Hercules made his way through the crowded streets, worry creasing his brow.  One thought drove him, pushing him forward single-mindedly; find Iolaus.

For Iolaus, knowing the demi-god was a double-edged sword.  The hunter's unswerving loyalty and friendship often came at too high a cost.  There weren't many mortals who had his history of death and resurrection.   Running those moments over in his mind, Hercules felt a resurgence of guilt and
remorse. Through their long friendship, Iolaus had gotten the backlash from so many plots against Hercules; plots woven by petty warlords and gods alike.

Shoving his way past a startled vendor, Hercules thought specifically of his half-brother, Ares.  Ares had nothing but disdain for Iolaus, and thinking that Zeus would have foolishly entrusted Hercules' best friend to the mercies of the War God urged an even faster pace.  Nearly upending a cart of fish,
Hercules suddenly halted, his mind finally allowing a string of logic to filter through.  Why was he leaving Torone?  If Iolaus was supposed to be showing Ares a good time, where else would he be going but here, to the Festival of the Seas?  With any luck, Iolaus was also bearing in mind the fact that Hercules was waiting for him in Torone and could help him out of this predicament.  There would be Zeus to answer to of course, but Hercules was quite prepared to take on the King of the Heavens to protect his friend of a lifetime.  Apologizing to the glaring fishmonger, Hercules turned back,
retracing his steps to the inn.


With a soft moan, the former God of War opened his eyes.  Blinking rapidly to bring the world into focus, he looked around, orientating himself to a strange world view.  Several things were immediately apparent.  He was lying on the ground, there was an ache in his chest and Iolaus was staring at him.  Taking several deep breaths, he slowly sat up, the aching spreading to his head with the movement.  Avoiding Iolaus' stare, he sat quietly, casting his mind back to the last thing he could recall; the face of Zeus.

Absently rubbing a hand across his chest, Ares could feel the mortality which was now his in every aching muscle. It was also obvious that he and the hunter were now the only occupants of the clearing.  Catching another deep breath, Ares looked at Iolaus.

"He's gone, isn't he."  Ares felt a strange twinge, something he couldn't identify.

Without moving from his spot on the ground, Iolaus maintained eye contact with Ares.  "If you mean Zeus, yeah, he's been gone for some time now.  He left right after he did...well, you know."  Iolaus studied Ares.  That aura of perfection that was part of being a god was gone but  something else was missing as well;  the certainty of purpose he usually exuded.  "You were ready to call this off, weren't you?  Is that what you wanted to tell him?"

Continuing to rub his chest, Ares lowered his eyes, swallowing hard.  "No."  He raised his eyes again gazing at Iolaus.  "It's not important any more."   Ares wasn't about to tell Iolaus that he was worried about Zeus' sudden pliability and he was certainly not about to mention that he was afraid that three weeks from now he would be no more that a distant memory to his father. A wave of pain caught Ares off guard and he let his breath out slowly,  blinking in discomfort.

Catching Ares' distress, Iolaus remembered the flask.  "Oh, here, Zeus said you were to drink this.  He said it would help."  Taking the flask from his pocket, he handed it to the former God of War.  Ares took the offered flask gingerly, studying the brass bottle briefly before opening it and quickly downing the contents.  The sweet liquid flowed like fire down his throat and in mere seconds the pain abated and his vision sharpened.  Ares sighed in relief and moved to stand.  Iolaus followed suit.  They stood in awkward silence, neither sure of how to proceed.  Iolaus proved once more his forthrightness and broke the silence.

"Okay, before we get on with, or whatever, I've got two things to get out of the way.  First, why me?  Out of this whole cockeyed world, why me?"  Iolaus waited, watching as Ares shifted his weight and chewed his lip. Opening and subsequently closing his mouth, Ares finally delivered a wordless response in a shrug.

Iolaus smiled humorlessly.  "You couldn't think of anyone else, could you?  Ares, I would have thought, Xena..."

Iolaus was cut off by the sharp retort from the dark man.  "Not very likely right now.  She'd have my hide on a stick!"  Ares shuddered at the thought of an angry Xena in the custody of a mortal God of War.  Casting a pensive look at his companion, Ares tried to explain. "Iolaus, for what it's worth, I didn't want to involve you or anyone else, but Zeus insisted.  I don't like this requirement any more than you.  And, you're right, I couldn't think of anyone else that I could trust."

Iolaus frowned at that.  "You trust me?  Why?"

Ares shook his head, again rubbing at the tender skin on his chest.  "Why not?  As much as it gags me to use phrases like this, you're a man of your word.  You've said you'll do this, and I know you won't betray me.  Besides, I've watched you with Hercules.  I know that he lacks a certain...flair for the finery of life.  Surely a paid holiday, even with me, can't be all bad?"

Iolaus bristled at the mention of Hercules.  "Just keep Hercules out of this, okay?  He's the best thing that ever happened to me, and while he may not appreciate some of the less noble things from day to day, well, that's just him.  I don't want to talk about him anymore.  This is between you and me." It was Iolaus' turn to shake his head. "I still can't believe this.  I keep thinking that at any moment I'm going to wake up and find this was all some weird dream."

Ares laughed at that.  "I think that's my line."  A lock of hair fell across his forehead and he flicked it back, irritated. "Damn, I hate mortality."

Iolaus raised a brow.  "Should have thought of that before.  Of course, I guess you could always change your mind, swallow your pride and call Zeus."

Ares shook his head firmly.  "No, he meant it.  He won't interfere until the three weeks pass.  I'm stuck until then."

Iolaus nodded and clucked his tongue.  "Okay, so that's that.  There's just one other thing I want to get out of the way before we start."

Ares turned a puzzled look on the hunter.  "What's that?"  The next breath found him on the ground again, flattened by a right cross.  Ares blinked in pain and surprise, stunned into silence.

Smiling brightly, Iolaus reached down to help up his long-time adversary.  "That!  I've wanted to do that for twenty years."

Iolaus pulled Ares to his feet where he swayed for a moment, looking at Iolaus through wary eyes.  The former god rubbed his jaw, wriggling his mouth to ease the tingling.  "You're not going to do that again, are you?"

"Not unless you piss me off.  Now, let's go.  I haven't had anything to eat yet today and I hate being hungry."  Iolaus picked up his pack and headed off through the trees with Ares scrambling to catch up.  Falling in to pace beside Iolaus, Ares was dismayed when his own stomach grumbled in response to the mentioning of food.  Iolaus smiled but said nothing.

Struggling to keep up with the quick stride of the hunter, Ares questioned their destination.  Iolaus slowed a bit, accommodating the still adjusting Ares.

"I was going to head straight on to Torone.  There's a great festival there, but Hercules is there too.  He's waiting for me and in spite of what Zeus said, I know Hercules.  I think we'll stop off at a really nice place between here and there.  No festival, but lots of pretty girls, good food and a great view.  We can stay there for a view days, have some fun and let him cool off and move on."  Seeing Ares take all this in, Iolaus sped up once more with Ares battling to catch up again.  Smiling to himself, Iolaus realized how much fun he could have with this whole situation if he played it right.

Still several paces behind, Ares couldn't figure out how someone as short as Iolaus could cover so much ground so quickly.  "Hey, why didn't you ask Zeus for horses?"  Ares shouted to the relentless hunter.

Iolaus glanced over his shoulder.  "Now why would I do that?  Walking is good for you and when we get there, why the poor things would have to be stabled for days.  We don't need horses.  Come on, it's not far; only about an hour or so east of here."

Panting, Ares stopped dead in his tracks, watching the retreating back of the hunter.  "An hour!"  He rolled his eyes and hurried to catch up.  This had better get to be fun soon or when he got his godhood back a certain golden hunter was going to be very sorry.

Part 6

Iolaus loved Delphinius.  It wasn't a big village; on the contrary it was
fairly small and quite quaint. But the people of Delphinius were big hearted
and filled with a true lust for life, and Iolaus being a lusty man felt right
at home.  There was a brightness to this place that was hard to explain, but
it always made him feel better to come here.  He tried to remember why he
didn't come here more often but his mind didn't want to acknowledge that the
reason was more than likely the many righteous campaigns of Hercules.

Moving through the village streets, Iolaus looked around  taking in the
busier than normal activity.  Thinking about it for a moment he realized that
this was probably a side benefit of the event a few miles away. The streets
were full of the laughter of children hard at play and the colorful cries of
enterprising  street vendors.  If the festival at Torone had indeed spilled
over to Delphinius, this might work out even better than he had planned.

A series of censurable sounds behind him brought Iolaus' attention back to
his traveling companion. Listening to the irritated muttering, Iolaus
couldn't help but smile as he strode up the dusty path leading to the inn.
Ares was definitely not  much of a walker, but then it wasn't as though he'd
had to do much in his long lifetime.  Iolaus' smile turned rueful as he
imagined what his own life would have been like had he been graced by the
fates to be a god.  Shaking his head at such foolish thoughts he inhaled the
sea air and quickened his pace.  The fishing here was really good. Casting a
glance over his shoulder at the red-faced, sweating Ares, he wondered about
Olympians and the age old art of angling.

*Nah, somehow I just can't imagine the big bad God of War baiting a hook, let
alone having the patience to wait for a bite.  He'd probably be afraid of
pissing off ole Uncle Poseidon anyway.*  As the inn came into view, Iolaus
returned the smiles of several very pretty young girls and they giggled and
scurried away.  The hunter smiled in remembrance of what it was to be that
young and slowed his pace, allowing Ares to catch up with him.  Smothering
his grin, he glanced at the temporary mortal now beside him.  Taking care
that Ares wouldn't notice, Iolaus frowned a bit as he took in the state of
the demoted god.  Ares had fallen twice along the way, and now bore a few
rather prominent scratches but what concerned the hunter was the slight limp
as the big man pushed himself on.  Slowing down a bit more, he looked
pointedly at Ares.

"You okay?  Did you get hurt when you fell that last time?"

With his breath coming hard and fast, Ares scowled at Iolaus "Oh, now you
care?  Wasn't that you laughing like a hyena when I tripped?"

Iolaus shrugged and then frowned in confusion. "What's a hyena?"

Ares rolled his eyes and speeded his own pace to pass up the hunter.  "Never
mind!  Let's get going. I'm starving and my feet are killing me."

At the mention of food, Iolaus was reminded of his lack of a proper
breakfast.  "Okay, it's not much further.  See that red roof over there?  The
place with the big sign in front; that's where we're going."

Now very visibly limping, Ares retorted. "I don't care where we go, just as
long as I get to sit down and there's something to eat."  Turning around to
look at Iolaus, Ares had one further comment.  "Oh, and by the way, I'm not
having any fun."  The former god turned back and angled toward the inn.

Maintaining an even pace, Iolaus grinned at the dark man and mumbled quietly,
"You might not be having fun, but I sure am."


Meanwhile, back in Torone, a very agitated demi-god tapped nervously on the
oaken table, earning the irritated stares of the other patrons who were
trying to give him a wide berth.  He had already broken a chair in
frustration and the diners and residents at the inn were seriously concerned
at to their collective welfare.  Hercules' strength was well known and it was
obvious that he wasn't totally in control of his emotions at the moment.  A
tap on his shoulder broke his reverie and Hercules turned to face the

"I'm sorry, sir, I'm going to have to ask you to stop doing that.  You're
scaring my customers."  The old man swallowed hard, his nerves playing up at
the thought of confronting the mighty Hercules.

Guiltily, Hercules looked at the people around him.  Lifting his brows in
supplication, he smiled lightly at the innkeeper.  "Sorry, I'm just a bit
worried about my friend."

Letting out the breath he had been holding, old Marcellus smiled back, his
confidence restored. "I understand.  Will you still be needing your room?  I
only ask because of the crowds.  Someone else would be more than happy to
take it should you no longer need it."

Hercules glanced at the door expectedly as it opened to admit more hungry
travelers, but the face he hoped to see was not amongst them.  Sighing he
turned back to the old man. "I better keep the room, just in case.  You'll be
paid for it, don't worry."

Marcellus nodded his understanding and left the demi-god to his waiting game.

Iolaus and Ares stepped into the Fortune Inn and looked for an empty table.
Spotting one in the corner near the kitchen door, Iolaus motioned Ares in
that direction.  It took a bit of doing to reach the table, with Ares
stopping periodically to inhale the aromas of food and drink.

"Come on, no drooling on the patrons."  Iolaus took the dark man by the arm,
guiding him away from the busy diners.

Ares glowered but finished the walk without comment or further hesitation.
Sitting down heavily, he rubbed the calf of his right leg and grimaced.  "I'm
hungry, I'm thirsty and I'm tired.  And I'll tell you right now, I'm not
walking like that anymore, got it?"

It was Iolaus' turn to roll his eyes.  "Okay, okay already, I've got it. Now
stop whining.  I'll get us a place to stay and something to eat and drink.
Just wait; after we've settled in, we can start to have some real fun.
You'll see. Stay here, and keep quiet.  We don't need you terrifying the

As Iolaus turned his back and headed in the direction of the front desk, he
could hear Ares muttering darkly.  As it turned out reprimanding his
companion wasn't an option. In the next breath, Iolaus was startled by a wild
shriek of delight which closely preceeded  finding his arms full of squirming
femininity.  "Iolaus, you old dog!  Why do you stay away so long?"

Iolaus managed to pull back from the insistent lips and arms long enough to
laugh at his old friend.   "Maeve, my darling, I must be insane to stay away
from you.  How's the husband these days?"  He ducked the affectionate swat.

"Oh, you would bring up that old poop!  He's still just fine, unfortunately."
 Maeve looked across the room, searching the occupants.  "I suppose you're
traveling with the walking wet blanket."

"If you mean Hercules, no, I'm not.  I'm with the rather pissed looking guy
over there."  Iolaus pointed in the direction of Ares, only to find him
staring back with nothing less than pure malice.

"Maeve, could you get the mister or one of your girls to take him something
to eat.  He's in a pretty ugly mood when he's hungry, and right now, he's
very hungry."  Iolaus' own stomach betrayed his own hunger.

"Seems you are too laddy.  I'll take care of it."  She grabbed a serving girl
hurrying by.  "Trinka, get two bowls of stew and bread and take it to number
14.  Be quick now."  The girl nodded and scurried away, anxious to do her
mistress' bidding.

"A good girl, but not very bright. So, my love, who's your friend?"  Maeve
was staring at Ares intently. Iolaus smiled at the look.  It was one he was
familiar with.  Hercules always said that when the hunter stared at a woman
like that he was undressing her with his eyes.

"Behave yourself, Maeve!  He's a....cousin...from...uh....the north.  I'm
showing him around, you know,  making sure he has a good time.  He has a
rough job and hasn't had any time off in a long time."

A look of sympathy mixed with the lust on middle-aged features.  "Oh, I know
just how he feels.  This place keeps me busy twenty-four hours a day."  When
Ares noticed her intent stare, he smiled back, and nodded.  Maeve inhaled
deeply. "I'd be more than happy to show your cousin a good time."

"Maeve, dearest,  I think you'd be way too much for him."  The serving girl
chose that moment to speed from the kitchen with the bowls of food and warm
bread.  Iolaus licked his lips at the rich smells as she passed by making for
Ares' table. The look in the eyes of the dark man made Iolaus fear for the
bowl which was meant for him. "Maeve, if you and I don't finish our business,
my cousin may finish my dinner too,'s about a couple of rooms?"

Maeve walked back to the front desk, Iolaus following closely behind.  She
laid out her books.  "Love, I wish I'd known you were coming.  I only have
one room available, and that won't last long, not with this crowd.  And
before you ask, anyone else with rooms to let are in the same state.  You saw
the streets out there. The only other place you might find space would be the

Iolaus blanched at the thought of telling Ares he had to sleep with the
horses and decided very strongly against that option.  He looked at the buxom
innkeeper and swallowed nervously. "One room?  Maeve, are you sure?  Maybe
someone is gonna leave tonight and one will come open?"

She shook her head.  "Afraid not, dear.  I'm booked up solid for the week.
The only reason that room is open is the poor old sod drank too much and fell
out the window this morning.  At least he was happy when he died."

Frowning at the morbid story, Iolaus looked back across the room at the
feasting former god.  This could get very interesting.  He turned back to

"Well, do you want it or not?  I'll have others wanting before long.  I love
you dearly, but business is business."

"I'll take it.  I don't suppose there's any possibility of two beds?"

"Fraid not.  Sorry, love. But you two are family, so surely it won't be a  problem."

Iolaus gave a weak smile.  "He's kind of a rough sleeper, my cousin."

"Sorry to hear that, but I'm sure it will be fine.  After all, it's better  than the stables." She handed him a key.  "It's the last one at the end of  the hall on the third floor. Now," she leaned across the counter, "what else  can I do for my favorite golden boy?"

Iolaus grinned at her.  "You're the only one I know who can get away with  calling me that."  Looking back again as Ares was rapidly finishing his share  and eyeing the other plate, Iolaus took a deep breath.  "Bring us two strong  ales.  Better make it three.  I'm gonna need two myself."

Smiling back, Maeve nodded. "Coming up, love."  She grabbed the tankards to  fill the order as Iolaus headed back to the table.  Walking slowly, he mused  over the situation. *I don't know what you're gonna think about this, Ares,  but I really never wanted to be able to say I slept with the God of War.*

Part 7

"I don't see why we can't just go to the room!  All I want to do is pull off
these boots and fall down on a bed!"  Ares protested as Iolaus bravely pulled
him along the road to the local baths.  Dusk was falling and the streets were
even more crowded than earlier as bands of musicians had begun playing and
spontaneous dancing had added to the generally festive mood.

Dodging around one such outburst of joy, Iolaus yanked Ares from the path of
a swirling pair of villagers and headed away from the heart of the music.
Ares continued his complaint. "Look, blondie, I refuse to be ordered around
like a child. I want to go back to the inn, NOW!"

Keeping a firm grip on Ares, Iolaus shouted over his shoulder at the irate
former god.   "Ares, anyone with a working nose could tell you why you can't
just go to the room; you smell and it's not a good smell!"  Iolaus' progress
was aborted as a glaring Ares braked to an angered halt.  He turned to face
the disheveled former god and smiled in spite of himself.

The glare on the face of the dark man was joined by a frown.  "Now you're
making fun of me.  I suppose you think this whole thing is just one big
comedy and I'm only here for your personal amusement.  Is that it, huh?"

Feeling a little guilty at being confronted with at least a partial truth,
Iolaus shrugged and sighed. "I'm sorry, its just...well, you're  a mess.  I'm
not used to that from you and I'm only human.  When something seems funny to
me...well...I laugh!  I don't claim that it's the nice or smart thing to do,
but sometimes people do things that aren't very nice or smart."

Ares' frown turned to a look of puzzlement as Iolaus once more took the dark
man by the arm.  "Look, just trust me on this, okay?  You're tired, sweaty,
and pretty damn tense.  Cilla runs the best bathhouse in Greece.  I mean, you
just haven't lived until you've had one of their massages!  You come out
feeling like a big sack of mush."

Ares considered the last statement carefully. "Mush?"

Iolaus shook his head.  "Ares, you can't tell me that you don't want a dozen
beautiful girls taking care of your every  need, washing your back, rubbing
your tired legs, stroking your brow..."  The sentence went unfinished as Ares
grabbed Iolaus by the vest and took the lead, moving at as fast a pace as his
slight limp would allow.

"Come on!  What are we waiting for?  Which way, which way do we go?"  With a
broad smile, Iolaus recovered from Ares' sudden reaction and wriggled from
the grasp of the former god.  He moved ahead of Ares  taking a little known
shortcut to Cilla's House of Delight.


Back in Torone, Hercules had reached the end of his patience and a decision.
There was nothing left to do but to go and look for Iolaus.  Throwing money
on the table for the innkeeper, he turned to leave the crowded room, only to
collide with a very solid object.

"You're in an awful hurry, big guy."  The voice was achingly familiar and
Hercules smiled down at the amused face of Xena, his long ago lover and
continued friend.

"Xena!" Hercules gave the warrior a quick embrace and looked around for her
constant companion. "What are you doing here?  Is Gabrielle here too?"

Xena smiled. "She's here.  She's doing a little shopping.  Gabrielle likes to
shop."  Xena's smile faded as she saw the worry in Hercules' face.  "What's
wrong, Hercules?"

Suddenly finding the room stifling, Hercules motioned to the door.  "Let's go
outside. I've got a story to tell you and I could use your help."

Xena nodded in understanding and followed Hercules through the inn and out
the door.


Strolling the streets of Delphinius, Iolaus turned the corner and stopped in
front of a building which was glorified by a tented awning above the doorway.
 Shouts coming from inside ignited his curiosity and he moved to take a quick
look.  He smiled slyly and a made a mental note of a good place to return to
later.  Gambling!  Iolaus really loved gambling and with any luck so would
Ares!  Keeping the former god entertained was the only way that Iolaus was
sure to guarantee his own fun.

At the thought of Ares, Iolaus resumed his reconnoiter of the village and the
potential it held for godly recreation.  It was now full dark but the village
was far from sleep.  The streets were brightly lit and full of color, people
and noise.  As he passed yet another vendor hawking his goods, Iolaus mused
as to whether or not Ares was a shopper.  Maybe he could get some of his
venting done through the time-honored method of simply buying 'stuff'.
Falling deeper into thought, Iolaus slowly realized how little he truly knew
about Ares.  Obviously, the God of War enjoyed conflict and fighting, but
Iolaus wondered what else Ares might like to do.  As Iolaus sidestepped a
pair of jugglers, Ares' accusation from earlier cut through his thoughts.  He
was without doubt guilty of using Ares' situation for his own amusement.
Pausing for a moment to let another group pass, the hunter mulled a few
things over in his mind.  Ares was certainly in very unfamiliar territory but
then again, Iolaus couldn't be expected to stay completely neutral.  He had
too much history with Ares to not enjoy certain aspects of the dark man's
struggles.  Then there was the dilemma of Hercules.  That worried Iolaus
quite a bit.  He didn't like deceiving Herc, but if the hero got involved in
this, it could be disastrous.  The more he thought about it, the more staying
in Delphinius seemed the wisest thing.  Nodding to himself, Iolaus moved on,
turning back towards the bathhouse.  Ares should have had enough time to have
gotten as mellow as the finest wine.  With a bit of luck, explaining the
single bed to a softened up Ares would be a far easier task.