by Isos Arei

It's that same dream again, more vivid than ever.  Iphicles in the temple of Ares.  He's naked on the circular altar, back flat and legs apart, and the war god's fucking him right before battle.  I can practically feel the marble pressing against Iphicles' back, feel his thighs aching from being splayed open, feel Ares thrusting into him over and over.

The texts say Ares was consumed with the grave beauty of his mortal lover, but that hardly describes how one arm is twined possessively around Iphicles' leg, how the other hand relentlessly strokes Iphicles' cock.  No words are spoken, so the intensity of mutual desire has to fill the spaces between groans of pleasure.

Moments after Ares comes, I feel Iphicles' skin flush with his own orgasm.  He struggles to breathe, to stay alive, while his head pounds and his body writhes with unending sensation.  Then Ares climbs onto the altar and lies beside Iphicles.

The lovers turn to face each other, heartbeats finally slowing, breath finally steadying.  Only now does Ares speak two quiet words. "Iphiklos Areikos."  Iphicles, belonging to Ares.

Iphicles' words are also quiet, but his eyes never leave Ares' eyes. "I love you, too."

I guess it's inevitable that I'd dream about the celebrated temple scene after staring for weeks at vases and paintings and sculptures of it, reading and rereading the passages and poetry devoted to it. But sweaty nighttime arousal aside, I've already taken all the inspiration I can take from this dream.  If anything, I could use a dream about the rest of the story, the part where I most need the insight.

The myths tell how Iphicles strides into battle after this act, with the look of a god about him, and swiftly dispatches fifty men.  Of course, in Greek myth, whenever a mortal is compared to a god, starts looking like a god, or is called equal to a god, that's the cue for the guy to die in battle.  Iphicles takes a fatal wound to the chest, and the air is filled with the scent of ash-wood and bronze.  Ares roars with the sound of ten thousand warriors but cannot heal him, and so mortal Iphicles dies.

In an instant Ares spirits the body back to his temple, places it on the altar, and returns to the battlefield to visit his grief-stricken fury upon the soldiers there.  But when the fight is over, Iphicles' body is gone, nor can his soul later be found among those of the fallen in the Elysian Fields, or in Tartarus, or even wandering Stygian shores without the proper fare for Charon's services.

And that's it.  That's the conclusion.  It still doesn't make sense to me even now after I've finally turned in a lengthy explanation of how Iphicles' unusual ending, or lack of ending, might fit into the rest of Greek epic tradition.  I'd worked on the draft forever and then sat on it, dissatisfied, for just as long, even though it was probably the most thoroughly researched examination ever into that part of the Iphicles myth.

My hope was that the act of handing something in would settle my doubts, but I still feel like I forced it, as if I haven't found all the references, or as if I've misinterpreted the sources I do have. Maybe not all the ancient writings have been uncovered.  Well, that one's probably a stretch, but with the ongoing excavation in Corinth, it's my excuse to visit Greece next month.

In the meantime, maybe working on other chapters would be more productive.  So would *not* having to spend an hour every morning "composing" myself after yet another erotic dream.


So Iphicles' end doesn't make sense, but the beginning was kind of strange, too.  I could never understand how Alcmene could be pregnant with twins by different fathers.  And that was *before* my biology department friends explained to me in excruciating (and excruciatingly loud) detail one drunken night exactly how unlikely it was, Zeus or no Zeus.  But at the end of the day, there was Iphicles, sired by Amphitryon, and Hercules, sired by the king of the gods.

Studying the myth of Hercules has been infinitely useful.  For one thing, there's just so much information on him that I always have plenty to talk about at the classics department parties I can't escape.  I guess I've become minorly famous among the undergrads who like to gather around with drinks in hand to hear my spin on the twelve labors.

But more importantly for my dissertation, the stories of Hercules remind me that the Greeks were geniuses with their epics, that their storytelling tradition was anything but random.  It's no accident that *Hercules* means Hera's glory, no coincidence that *Hera* is related to *hora*, meaning seasonality or timeliness, as well as to *heros*, or hero.

Hera, goddess of seasonality, made Hercules untimely by delaying his entry into the world and preventing him from being born a king over all men.  The rest of his life, his labors and deeds and joys and suffering, essentially results from this untimeliness.

But in losing out on the easy life, Hercules gains the unwilting glory of a hero, and at the moment of death, he claims seasonality, too.  Perfectly on time, Hercules becomes a god on Olympus as Hera performs a mimesis of his birth.  So Zeus's divine seed creates immediate potential, but Hera, goddess of the hours, allows realization of that potential in time.  Clever story, and a lot more involved than the usual wicked stepmother tale.  Perhaps my study of Iphicles will eventually yield the same kind of neat order.

Actually, Hera plays such a central role in Hercules' life that I've gone through all my sources many times, looking for any suggestion that she might have paid some attention to Hercules' twin.  The effort is always fruitless, prompting the other classics degree candidates to make the same ridiculous joke: "Iphicles got shafted, and not just by Ares."

But that's just why I like the guy so much.  For someone who seems to have gotten the worse deal, who lived his entire life as the other brother, Iphicles did well for himself.  So there was that admittedly stupid deception with Rena.  As if no one else has ever been irrational and in love.  He didn't have Hercules' strength and wasn't Jason's first choice to take over Corinth; but for all that, he was still a competent soldier, and he became a fair ruler.  And even if he did tend toward brooding and aloofness, especially after Rena died, he never stopped trying to live fully.  It was this strange war between melancholy and passion that caught Ares' attention.

If the accounts are anything to go by, I'd pick hot-and-heavy coupling with the god of war over traipsing heroically around the countryside any day.

All in all, it seems like a good life for Iphicles, ending in a warrior's death.  Why spoil things with the surprise disappearance?


I wonder whose idea it was to include the first few rows of the audience in the drama department's production of the _Bacchae_ tonight.  It wasn't much, just a lot of donated sheets that people gamely put on, but it created the effect that citizens of Athens had once again come together in their civic duty to watch the passion of Dionysus.  And then, when King Pentheus' body was torn apart by Maenads, marking the disintegration of the body politic, there were the citizens to reintegrate the state by watching and learning from the play.  Brilliant, whoever thought that up.

I've always loved how poetic it is that as Dionysus becomes a god in the fullness of time, so too does this reintegration and healing occur in the fullness of time.  Since the myth is re-enacted ages later, the resolution is far removed from the events in the actual story.  If there's a point to the Iphicles myth, maybe it also lies outside the myth itself, requiring a more informed perspective to put the proper frame around it.

Then again, sometimes the point is that there is no point.  Maybe it's the ultimate expression of Iphicles' second-best birthright that Hercules' story has order and symmetry while Iphicles' story does not.  If that's the case, then I'll just have a very solid dissertation instead of one with a stunning breakthrough.

Plenty of people get their degrees on the strength of decent if unspectacular work.  I wouldn't choose to be one of those people, but if that does happen, it doesn't seem like it would be so bad.  Well, I'd have my degree.

Still, I'd just like to find some definite conclusion and feel like I fully understand Iphicles when I'm finished.


Visiting Athens this time around is so much better.  There's no over-eager new guide to rush the tour group through every point of interest and historical site in the area in a day and a half, including ten entire minutes at the Parthenon.  There's also no tour group, period, so that those ten minutes don't have to be shared with thirty strangers.  So I'm free to stare down at the city from the Acropolis for hours or skip the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus altogether, as long as I make it to the dig in Corinth by the middle of next week.

The vendors are out in force in the old market district today.  The smell of olives and feta, of eggplant and lamb, is everywhere; I feel like I've eaten just from passing through and need a good glass of wine to finish off the meal.

Last time I really didn't have a chance to admire the many artisans' work: finely woven rugs; silver jewelry in all shapes; a neat row of Athena figures, any of which would make a perfect miniature Palladium for the scale model of Ilium also on display.

If I could carry it with me, I'd buy one of the vases freshly painted in earthy reds and gorgeous sable, depicting Athena's birth or the decision of Cecrops.  It's fitting that vases just like these, but made centuries and centuries ago, would become precious and of far more significance than the oil or wine they were intended to carry. The old craftsmen had not much social status, but they possessed a skill and sense of beauty both priceless and timeless.

I'm tempted to stay here all day, chatting with the shopkeepers and vendors in Greek, listening to the conversations all around me, and trying to imagine what it must have sounded like in the agora so long ago.  My Homeric Greek professor used to think I was too enthusiastic about reciting passages from the Odyssey, but I liked the sound and feel of its ancient cadences.

I'm sure the mere language of their own stories didn't particularly turn on the old bards.  I, however, feel a thrill close to desire imagining Ares and Iphicles speaking to each other in those powerful rhythms.  But it's not just the sound itself that is so captivating; it's that I would understand the conversation that clinches it for me.


I do regret having to end the stay in Athens without having fully made up for the first short tour.  But not doing anything directly relevant to the dissertation was making me antsy, and the dream of Iphicles and Ares in the temple came back with a vengeance.  In any case, I'm glad to be in Corinth not only because I've never been here before but also because I can finally see in person the ruins of ancient Corinth that I've studied for so long.

The temple of Ares is just minutes outside the city and extremely popular with tourists.  Impressively well preserved in the first place, the building was made even more imposing with a decade's worth of careful restoration.  I'm dying to see the temple, especially the main chamber and its altar, but it's sure to be crowded all morning and I would prefer some solitude when I see it for the first time.

So the old palace of Corinth is the first stop for today.  Large sections here have also been beautifully preserved and would normally be filled with visitors, but the grounds have been temporarily closed to the general public to allow excavation of areas adjacent to these sections.

The central courtyard has been planted with carefully pruned shrubs and citrus trees, all placed to complement the spacing of the surrounding palace columns.  Three or four small groups of people are scattered throughout, no doubt discussing the excavation schedule, newly uncovered artifacts, and the status of various restoration projects.

I wave to a couple of classical architecture students I met at a seminar last year before walking up the steps into the massive reception hall.

It must be the hours I spent in the university museum looking at the palace model, or all the times I went through my portfolio of pictures and illustrations, but everything from the double doors to the decorative sculptures to the throne at the end of the room seems so familiar to me.  Why didn't I come sooner?  Surely I'd never have problems finding insight into Iphicles if I could work here everyday.

A woman and a man, both with clothes dusty from excavation, hurry into the reception hall as if to talk to me.  When they approach, both seem to do a slight double-take, but then they smile and introduce themselves as Haruka Aino and Theo LeFevre.  I introduce myself as well and briefly explain what I'm studying.

"You should talk to Dr. Enyalios if you can find him," the woman says.  "Actually, I mistook you for him when you walked through the courtyard just now.  He shows up every time we dig up a vase or something, and he has this knack for guessing which room in the palace it used to belong to.  We just excavated a new piece and wanted to ask him about it.  Anyway, I bet he'd be useful for your research."

"A man who kind of looks like me, right?"


"Thanks for the tip.  And if I see Dr. Enyalios I'll also be sure to let him know you're looking for him."

"Thanks.  And good luck."  We shake, and they turn and leave through the double doors into the courtyard.

I don't meet anyone else while exploring the grand banquet hall, the king's private dining room, or any of the numerous guest rooms in the palace.  But I like that because I can walk around admiring the remarkable re-created furnishings without distraction.  Several times I even allow myself to indulge the fantasy that I live here; it helps that I've essentially memorized the palace floor-plan.

But as I near the open doorway to the king's bedchamber, I notice a man in the room.  He's facing the bed, back to the doorway, and he must be deep in thought because he doesn't hear my footsteps.  From behind, he seems built like I am, and his darker hair touches the shoulder, too, so I take a chance.

"Excuse me.  Are you Dr. Enyalios?"  At the sound of my voice, the man turns around sharply.

I don't know what affects me more: the man's incredible resemblance to me, or the expression on his face, a look of profound disbelief marked by an indescribable sadness.  We stare at each other for a long moment, marked by heartbeats or centuries--it makes no difference.

"Iphiklos?" he says, voice filled with the same mix of emotions.

"That's not my name," I say stupidly before realizing that I'd answered him in ancient Greek.  More heartbeats, more centuries.  And then in my mind's eye, this man's face begins to replace the one my subconscious had chosen from paintings for the god of my temple dream.


In my moment of hesitation, he has composed himself, and now he just stands there silently.  Arms folded loosely, he appears casual, but I know better.  The look he gives--it's not just an undressing, but an attempted layer-by-layer removal and examination of thoughts and feelings in order to reveal the most personal core.

He remains still, but I feel very distinctly that I'm being viewed from different angles, different perspectives.  It's like I'm held up to a light, tilted, and spun over and over until I'm not sure what is sky and what is earth.  Still he does not find what he's searching for, and this failure seems to awaken some long-ago emotion in him. Eyes flicker for a second with dulled rage before he reestablishes control.

There's a sudden flash of light, a brief sound of clashing metal. Then he stands before me in black and contrasting silver--seemingly taller, broader, more savagely beautiful than before.

"Iphiklos," he says again, voice leaving no room for dispute, but the very presence of the man--the god--makes clear a challenge. Everything depends on my answer, and I take another chance.

"Yes," I say firmly.  And the seasons fall into place.  I see clearly, and perfectly, that I'm the man in the temple.  I see more: a legendary brother, his true friend who was also my friend, mercenaries and warlords, a good wife who tried to love me, an unexpected coronation, a kingdom.  "I am Iphicles."

"Do you remember me?" my challenger asks carefully.  The stakes feel even higher than before.  I think of doomed king Pentheus, unaware Dionysus is testing him, horribly botching his initiation with wrong responses and meeting his bloody end at the hands of the Bacchae.

I remember to breathe.  And try to concentrate on the question.

If dreams are memories, I have remembered Ares a hundred times lying upon the altar, but beyond that there is nothing.  Even as the most trivial details, like the royal chef's favorite cooking spoon, effortlessly come into focus, I cannot recall anything of my supposed, infamous affair with the God of War.

I search his face and see no hint of danger, only an intimation of that earlier sadness in an otherwise guarded expression.  Maybe I shouldn't fear for my life, but the longer I take, the more something else slips away from me.

I could just tell him I remember, and I would willingly spend as much time as necessary making up for that lie, except that this kind of pretense seems even worse than assuming someone else's identity.

But what if I don't need to pretend this time?

In the epic tradition, perfect memory requires emotion and emotional connection.  When I look at him, I feel a surge of lust, excitement, and...familiarity.  Maybe the better question is, do I *want* to remember him?


Then--a flood of images and sensations.  Ares, with me in every room of this palace.  The feel of cool silver studs pressing against my bare skin.  The taste of Ares' lips and Ares' tongue.  The rough texture of his hands.  The primal sound of his growling during sex.

Memnemai.  I remember him completely.  I remember the first time we slept together, and the last, and every time in between.  That day in the temple wasn't just a dream.  It was real.

"I remember you, Ares."  His jaw tightens almost imperceptibly, the only visible reaction to my words.  "You want me to prove it to you?"  Nothing, not even a raised eyebrow.

"I remember what you like," I say, and push him against the wall. "You like a little aggression."  Ares stays silent, but his chest rises faster, and his mouth parts slightly.

I kiss him, slide my tongue into him, and taste Corinthian wine. "You like a suggestive kiss."  He tries to lean forward, but I hold him in place with my body.  I move my hand down to his pants and touch him through the tight leather.

"You like my hand against your cock, rubbing it, squeezing it, but you can't wait for the sight of my lips slowly dragging across the tip of it."  Ares swallows once and moves his hand to wave away clothes, but I grab his arm.  "Leave the pants.  I like how your cock feels straining against leather.  We'll get to the other part later."

The vest and its cool silver studs disappear, and I'm licking his nipples.  They're harder, and far hotter, than those studs on his vest, but I already miss the taste of wine in his mouth.

I kiss him again, grinding my own aching cock against his through the double layer of clothing as he bites my lip.  God, I want him.  "Lose the rest of it, Ares.  Mine, too."  Another wave of his hand, and our clothes are gone.  Ares rakes my body lustfully.

"You're magnificent, Iphicles."

I could say the same of him, all taut and golden and erect.  I drop down and take his cock in my mouth, sucking hard, and Ares thrusts his hips forward.  The desire to swallow him, to devour him, is overpowering even without the taste of nectar on his heated skin. I'm ready to make him come this way, but Ares pushes my mouth off.

"You know what else I like, King?  Fucking you, wearing you out.  Get on the bed."

Ares watches me as he pours oil on his cock.  And then I'm on my back, watching him as he spreads more oil over two fingers and works them into me.  He kneels between my legs and presses his cock against my ass.  The head stretches me open, and then he's inside me, slick and hot and harder than I've ever felt him.  He fucks me slowly and deliberately, and the friction is making me mindless, but the pleasure in Ares' face grounds me in the moment.  As always.

As always?

"I'm not a king anymore, Ares."

His rhythm doesn't change.  "So I'll just call you Iphicles.  And fuck you some more."

"I'm--oh, god--serious, Ares.  I'm not even a soldier.  I'm--fuck, that's good--I'm a scholar, writing a paper on my own life."

He stops, annoyed but not impatient.  "I searched forever for you and never found you.  And now you're here.  Probably because you're writing that paper."  Ares presses into me again, but I'm not satisfied.

"Don't you want your warrior, your king, back?"

He begins his merciless thrusting again, and he twines one arm around my leg.  "I don't care what you are, only who you are."  He wraps the fingers of his other hand around my cock and strokes me in time with the movement of his hips.  "Now stop talking so I can make you come."

I say nothing more except cry out Ares' name when I come in his hand.  Ares comes soon after, shuddering hot seed into me, and groaning with such roughly-edged ecstasy that I want to come again.


When I wake, Ares is lying on his side next to me, stroking me idly. "You like this new room?" he asks.  "It's more private than yours--I didn't want those archeologists to walk in on us."

I take in the polished stone walls, the sculpted black marble, the darkly shimmering bed sheets.  "Ares, this is your temple in Corinth!  You like *tourists* to watch?"

"Oh, this *is* my temple, Iphicles.  But they can't see this room, or hear us.  So feel free to moan as loudly as you want."

It's hard to resist an offer like that, especially with sword-callused hands rubbing against my cock, but this place reminds me that I need to clarify something.  "Ares, tell me about the battle. I don't remember that."

Ares' body inexplicably tenses.  "What is the last thing you remember?"  The seduction is gone from his voice.

"You and me, in a temple.  Your temple somewhere else."

He holds my gaze for several seconds, then looks away.  "You're a scholar.  You've read about the battle.  I didn't have to kill any bards for getting the story wrong."

"So it's accurate then?"


"Okay, then."  I reach for his hand, still on my cock, and move his warm fingers over the length.  "Don't stop."

He touches me half-heartedly at first, but as my cock fills and my breath quickens, he moves down the bed so he can lean over me, and suck me for a moment, and spread the wetness with his fingers.  I'm close when he suddenly sits up, keeping his hand on me, but easing his grip and slowing the stroke.

"Ares, do that faster, harder."

"No, you'll come."

"That's kind of the point--"

"I need to tell you something."

All right, but don't take your hand away.

"Iphicles, I'm sorry.  You were gone, and when I went back to the temple, even your body was gone, even your shade was gone.  You were gone, and I never told you how I felt."

"Yes, you did," I tell him, but his touch is still full of regret.

"Saying it during orgasm isn't the same."

"I knew how you felt."

"Look, Iphicles, the last thing you ever heard from me--because I was an emotionally stunted bastard--was that you *belonged* to me.  What the hell kind of statement is that?  Then you died too fast for a goodbye."

"Ares, I knew how you felt--"

"I won't make the same mistake.  Let me make it perfectly clear: I loved you then, and I love you now."  He stares at my face until he's satisfied I understand.

When he speaks again, the deeply resonant suggestion of sex has returned to his voice.  "And if you die on me again, do it after you fuck me one more time."  He strokes me harder again.  "You *do* remember how to do that, don't you?"

"I won't last long enough right now."

"I'll take care of that."  He bends down so quickly and his mouth is so hot that I can't help arching into his throat too fast.  But Ares just groans, and I can feel that sound all along my cock, traveling to the rest of my body.  It's too much.  The heat, the pressure, the tightness, the vibration signaling Ares' pleasure.  I come, and come, and Ares doesn't stop sucking me until the end.

His voice is still thick with desire.  "Feel better?  Now we can start again."


We're finally both sated, but I don't move away.  I want to feel my cock buried inside Ares for a moment longer, and he stays still, too.

"I like this, Iphicles.  I fuck you in your old palace, you fuck me in my new temple.  It's kind of poetic."

//I agree,// says a deep male voice.

The visitor arrives without warning, but Ares doesn't seem threatened.  He's definitely irritated, though.  "Mind knocking?" he snaps, waving our clothes back on.

"And hello to you, too, brother," says the new god.  Judging by his almost feral beauty, the mane of golden curls, and the bracelets of golden ivy around golden lions, this can be none other than Dionysus.  He greets me with a curious, knowing smile on his face. "Iphicles."


"Smart man," he says, without a trace of sarcasm.

I see Ares take in this exchange and scrutinize Dionysus suspiciously.  "What are you doing here?"  He doesn't quite snarl, but I would have worried had his addressee not been divine.

"I'm here to watch," says Dionysus, gold eyes actually flashing.

"Well, you just missed the show, brother."

"Oh, no, I'm right on time."

Before Ares can ask further, a stir in the air signals another visitor: Hera, goddess of the hours, majestic in her robes of sovereign blue.

"Hello, Iphicles--"

"What the hell is going on?" Ares interjects.  "Last time I checked, this *was* my bedroom!"

"Calm yourself, son," says Hera, voice unperturbed.  "I'm here to talk to Iphicles first, then you."  Amazingly, Ares restrains himself from saying anything else.

Hera turns to me again.  "Iphicles, I have a story to tell you.  I think you already know some of it, but I'm going to fill in the rest.  Are you ready?"

That actually sounds like I have a choice.  "Yes, goddess."

"You are aware I delayed your twin Hercules' birth?"

I nod, and Hera looks pleased.

"But you don't know that when I visited Alcmene that day, I also noticed you.  I sensed your fate to teach something to Ares that would make him a god of wisdom as well as war, like Athena."

Ares starts, but Hera holds up a hand to him.

"I saw the focused self-control that Zeus' daughter had and was happy that my favorite son would master the same with your help.  But when I upset Hercules' timeliness, I also upset yours, and your fate became to die before teaching Ares the lesson."

Now it's my turn to start, but still Hera does not pause.

"I didn't want Ares to lose this chance, and I further didn't want an innocent to die untimely.  So I watched you.  And when you died in battle, before your shade began its journey to Hades, I called Dionysus to my side.  He displaced you from that moment so you could return in the fullness of time and try again.  You've probably discovered you can't recall that last battle at all: it's because you weren't supposed to die then."

A thousand different reactions compete to be expressed, a thousand questions demand to be asked.  But for now, a single image forces its way to the forefront: the grief on Ares' face when he turned and saw me in the king's bedchamber.  I challenge the goddess to whom even the god of war pays deference.

"If Ares is your favorite, why did you make him wait for millennia?"

"I didn't choose the time of your return," Hera says simply.

Ares turns on Dionysus with rage clear in every gesture.  "You...!"

If Dionysus is intimidated at all, he doesn't show it.  When he speaks, the tone is gentle, even affectionate.

"You know well that I don't control the outcome of these things.  I merely set events in motion and learn the result only after it occurs.  In Iphicles' case, I became aware of him sometime during his return to the palace of Corinth.  What happened there?"

Dionysus looks slowly from me to Ares and grins widely.  "Never mind.  I can guess."

"Don't try to distract me, Reveler," warns Ares.

Hera intervenes and places a hand on Ares' shoulder.  "Iphicles came back when the time was proper.  It was exactly the right time for him to see his life with perspective and to decide what he wanted.  In the meantime, my hot-headed son, you learned you are capable of coming to terms with impulses other than anger and obsession.  You will see that if you would just calm down."

Ares doesn't let go that easily.  "You let me suffer all this time and never told me?"

"After Dionysus and I left your temple, we traveled to River Styx and swore not to tell until the time was right, or else you would not have learned, and Iphicles could not have chosen to remember.  It would not have been telos."

This at last seems to quiet Ares.  Hera cups his face with both hands and just for a moment is only a mother, not a goddess.

"Son, leave off your anger and accept what you have learned."  They are connected by the silence of understanding.

Hera drops her arms, steps back, and stands divine once more.  "Kneel before me, Ares, and arise the God of War and Patient Wisdom."

I watch Ares kneel, and for a second I see myself in his place, Jason in Hera's place.  I know I didn't look so composed.

Hera lays a hand on Ares' head, and his eyes close beautifully.

I've seen him in the most intimate of moments, and still I feel I shouldn't be watching this ceremony.  But I can't look away as soft light surrounds Ares, illuminates his skin, and makes every eyelash and every hair shine distinctly.  Then the light dissipates in all directions, dusting the temple with new knowledge.  Ares rises.

Hera speaks to me before I recover from my awe.  "Iphicles, you know that a hero who returns from the dead becomes immortalized.  And so shall you, if you choose."

I look to Ares, who avoids my gaze, truly giving me a choice.  But his jaw tightens, and that tells me what I need to know.

"I accept."

Hera smiles, regal and knowing, and touches my face.  I wait for my body to glow or for heat to course through me, but I don't feel anything except the goddess's hand on my skin.  She sees my expression and leans close in confidence, her voice a whisper of the seasons in my ear.

"It's because you've already been changed by your own self-knowledge.  There was little for me to do."

"Thank you, goddess."

An even softer whisper: "Thank you for loving him."

She straightens, nods slightly to Ares, and disappears, leaving behind the fragrance of summer rain.

Dionysus claps a hand on his brother's back.  "It's okay, you don't need to thank me.  And you won't even owe me.  Much."  He favors me with another smile as if to share his joke with me.

"You're not the Dionysus of the _Bacchae_," I say.

"Are you sure?"  His smile turns fearsome before softening again. Dionysus tips his head to indicate Ares.  "Don't you know, better than most, that the gods are not one-dimensional?"  He, too, vanishes, and then Ares is by my side.

Now that the glamour of transformation has worn off, he doesn't look any different.  Well, maybe there's one change.  He still radiates power and danger and sexual heat, but the struggle to control all of that is gone.  Ares...with even greater command of his body.  I don't even bother suppressing my desire.

"It suits you," I manage.

"Thank you," he says quite seriously.  "What will you do now, Iphicles?"

Besides test the endurance of an immortal body on you?  "I have to complete my dissertation.  It's too bad I can't talk about any of this, but that's not important."

"Yes, it is."

"No one would believe it.  But ask me if I care more that this happened or that I don't receive my degree with highest honors."

"Iphicles, finish your dissertation.  And when you're done, I want you to write the rest of the story.  Record for me everything that led you back to Corinth and everything that has happened today.  Then I will take this writing and it will be sacred to me for all time. Will you agree to this?"

Will I write what I must have always wanted to write--and write it for the only audience that really matters?  "Yes."

"And after, the vast libraries of Olympus will open for you, and you will see that a copy of every book and every scroll ever written, including your own writing, numbers among the sacred texts there."

"Ares, are you trying to keep me by your side for eternity?"

"Of course."

"Well you can practice convincing me for two weeks before I head back to finish my studies."


I have a new dream now.  Iphicles, in the temple of Ares in Corinth, not on an altar, but on a bed.  Damp sheets cling to his back, sweat runs down his thighs, and the ache of unwitting separation is swiftly forgotten in the ecstasy of reunion.  Ares, consumed with his immortal lover, repeats Iphicles' name over and over between groans of pleasure.  The lovers reach telos and collapse in a tangle of arms and legs and darkly shimmering sheets.  Then Ares speaks again: "Iphicles, what I should have said, so long ago, was that you belong *with* me."


The Beginning.