By Lis
Chapter 1

Ares closed his eyes as he listened to the rhythmic sound of steel on stone.  He sprawled on his throne as he sharpened his dagger, one leg hanging off of the arm, the other resting on Strife's shoulder, who was sitting on the floor in front of him.  He barely listened as the young god babbled on and on about his latest prank, an obvious suicide attempt as it had been played on Hera.  /There are so many better things he could be doing with his mouth.../  Ares thought.  The throne was large, black and ornate; much like the rest of the temple.  Huge windows were set into the walls on the sides; charms set by Ares prevented but the gentlest wind from entering.  The wall ahead of the throne was dominated by a high, wide archway that led to the anteroom through which visitors would enter; the wall behind was a heavy curtain through which priests and priestesses or the temple entered from their living quarters.

The day had been a tiring one, he had stopped in to spend some time with old friends of his, the Horsemen.  His mind drifted back... Methos had been instructing Silas on the use of his axe; the weapon was a perfect fit for its master but would have looked comical in the hands of Death had he not wielded it so well.  Kronos was interrogating slaves from their last raid to gather information on their next.  Ares had asked his usual question, "Why do you not gather an army, conquer cities?", to which Kronos gave the usual answer, made standard by Methos-"To conquer means to rule; to rule means to take on the responsibilities of a kingdom, to lose the ride and the raid; the conqueror annihilates himself."  Caspian chose this moment to duck out of his tent, a fresh streak of blood gracing his cheek.  He spotted Ares and greeted him warmly, grinning as the god wiped the blood off of his cheek with two fingers and sucked them clean.

The afternoon had gone fine until Caspian had picked up the well-worn argument over who had the title of war-Methos had finally settled it once and for all by simply stating (it was obvious from his tone and Kronos' expression that they had had the answer for centuries, but had just now gotten sick enough of the fight to settle it) that Caspian was the incarnate of war while Ares the god of it.  That was the problem with Immortals; you had to fight fair with them.  Any attempt to use Power on them was absorbed and used; probably had something to do with the Quickening.  Of course, they couldn't kill him, and he knew how to kill them if it came down to it.  Ares hoped it never would.

Ares' mind wandered to matters of business.  /I don't have any battles to tend to for a few days at least... I could have Strife do the rounds on the warlords.../ his mind's eye focused on the image of a favored warlord... tall, dark, and great in bed... he sighed.  /I need to stop thinking about lost relationships.  Maybe I could get back with him sometime... That reminds me... Ugh.  I forgot, it's been two weeks since I last tempted Xena, time to do it again.  One of these days she's gonna accept the offer, and then I'll be fucked.  Either that or Gabrielle or Iolaus will figure out that I only harass Xena and Hercules to assure that they don't take to peace, that they remain warriors./

Ares was disturbed from his thoughts as Strife leapt up,  knocking Ares' foot off of his shoulder and causing the older god to instinctively jump to his feet; he had just enough control over his reflexes to keep himself from throwing the dagger at his nephew for disturbing him.

The lithe, powerful warrior strode in, a dazzling sight with dark hair and a fair complexion, courage and confidence emanating from his graceful form as he neatly dumped the body he had slung over his shoulder at the two gods' feet.  He smirked, an expression Ares was really beginning to hate.  /Beginning?  Oh, but he does look good in that expression.... and nothing else./ Ares shook himself mentally, bringing his mind back to the matter at hand.  "Does this belong to you?"

Strife stared down at the mortal on the floor, the corners of his mouth twitching as he tried not to laugh.  Ares scowled and lightly popped him on the back of his head when he failed.  "Yes," Ares sighed.  "Thank you.  What happened?"

"He stumbled over... well, I hate to say it, but I think his own feet as he was coming up the stairs to the temple.  I had forgotten to tell you that Kronos wants you, Strife, Eris and Athena to all  come to a banquet that a king has planned in honor of us; kind of a 'please don't hurt me' gesture by 'his majesty'"  Methos made a little mock bow on the last words, then leaned back, seeming to balance against thin air as if it were a wall.

"Yes, no problem, my nephew and I will be there.  I'll talk to my sisters about coming."  Ares looked up, daring the smirking Immortal to say anything about the mortal.  Methos accepted the dare.

"Hm, doesn't seem quite your type."  As he talked, he nudged the thin form with the toe of his boot, resulting in the sound of clanking metal.  "I thought you went for long dark hair, black leather, some idea of how to use a sword; but then you and Kronos only lasted what, a decade?  Maybe you learned your lesson."

/How does he always know what I think?  He wasn't even here when I was reminiscing!/  Ares gripped the hilt of the dagger tighter as he glowered at the smaller immortal; Methos' grin widened at the slight movement of Ares' hand; his eyes focusing into a warning glare that made even Ares shiver despite himself.  Only Methos could make him feel like a mouse under a cobra's stare.

After a few moments Strife took the opportunity to fill in the silence by kneeling down and checking over the moaning Joxer, calling Ares attention away from Methos to the nasty bruise on the mortal's temple, giving him an excuse to look away first.  /I need to remember to thank the kid later./  Ares grinned evilly, thinking about exactly how he could thank the young god.

"Well, I must go, we ride at dawn.  See you at the feast."  Methos turned and slouched out, both gods forgetting Joxer as they watched him leave, eyes on tight leather; truly a beautiful view.  Joxer gave up on his low moans and groans as he tried to attract their attention and simply sat up, holding his head.

"Oh baby, let me get that for you!"  Strife crooned sweetly as he brushed his hand lightly over the bruise, hiding his grin from his uncle as the wound disappeared.  Ares glared at the endearment and pulled Joxer from the floor into his arms, leaving the temple and appearing at a cabin he kept in Artemis' forest for just such an occasion.

They arrived at the one room cabin, made of black oak and centered around a large four poster bed.  The bed was hung with black silk draperies, with deep red satin sheets.  Ares dropped his burden onto the soft bed and climbed over it with a feral grin.  He sat back, contemplating about how he wanted the evening to go.

He decided to take it slow, after getting rid of the ridiculous helmet and breastplate.  /Does anyone actually fight wearing this stuff?/  He thought as he made the items in question vanish with a thought.  Then his attention was drawn to something in Joxer's hair...

"What the hell is this??"  Ares roared, pulling the white feather out of the man's hair.

Joxer looked confused.  "Maybe a bird..."  He left the sentence dangling, not sure what to say.

"Lovebird, you mean?  That sweet little nephew of mine, I'd know his feathers anywhere the way he sheds them all over my temple whenever he delivers a message from his mother.  I think he does it on purpose...maybe he was making a claim on you?  Hm?  You had the spice, now you want the sugar?"

"No!"  Joxer yelped, wiggling under Ares' hand, which had clamped onto his shoulder.  The other still clutched the feather.  "Maybe it was in my helmet.  I just spent two weeks with Hercules, you know how gods are always dropping in on him!"  Joxer stopped squirming and tried his best pout, real tears sliding down his cheeks.

Ares melted, quickly loosening his grip and pulling Joxer up to him, apologizing... and then freezing.  He sniffed.  He bent his head, burying his nose in Joxer's neck, sniffing again.

"I know that smell... that's... Autolycus' cologne!!!  How do you explain that?!"  Ares shouted, throwing the man back unto the bed.

"I don't know what you're talking about!  I haven't been near Auto in weeks!  Maybe I just happened to buy the same scent he uses, I was trying to do something special for you."  The last came out as a pitiful whine, which once again made Ares feel guilty for losing his temper.

"I'm sorry.  I guess I'm still a little worked up from talking with Caspian earlier."  /Well, screaming with him.  Or maybe Methos, I cannot stand anyone making me nervous, least of all a friend./  Ares let these thoughts run though his mind as he nuzzled Joxer's neck... kissing and licking as far down as his clothing would allow, basking in the smell of the cologne mixed with sweet sweat, tasting the fear, and relief.

Ares leaned back, pulling off Joxer's tunic.  Just as he was about to throw it to the side, he noticed something embedded in it... a long blond hair.  "Hey, Joxer?"  Ares said, thoughtfully.

"Yes Ar?"

"Did you say you just spent two weeks with Hercules?"

"Yeah,"  Joxer fairly moaned, as Ares lightly tweaked his right nipple, still holding on to the tunic with his other hand.

"Was Iolaus with the two of you?"


Ares stopped, sat up, and smiled, his eyes narrowing ala Methos.  "And just what the fuck were you two doing?"

"What?  Uh, helping Hercules beat a flock of Griffons, why?  What's wrong with you today, Ar?"  He tried the puppy dog look again, but to no avail.

"What do you mean, 'what's wrong with me'?" Ares' voice started out near a whisper, rising to a shout.  "I'm not the one who seems to have fucked every man from here to Hades!!"  He gripped the tunic tightly in his right hand, yanking out the hair and waving it in front of Joxer's face.  The strand brushed the mortal's nose, causing him to sneeze, fear written on his face.  The expression struck something in Ares, causing him to giggle.

Relieved by the calmed reaction, Joxer tried to explain, staring at the strand of hair.  "Well, we left our clothes in a pile as we bathed in the mornings, maybe it got mixed in.  Or maybe..."  his voice trailed off as he muttered the last words.

"What?"  Ares asked, relieved that there was a plausible answer, but wanting to know what it was.

"Maybe one of the times he picked me up after I tripped.  Those griffons sure seemed to like the parts of the woods with the most tangled undergrowth!"

Ares laughed softly, silently cursing himself for being so distrustful.  All of the bits of evidence he had found had a reasonable explanation, he was just too paranoid, too accusing.

Ares began to pull off Joxer's pants lovingly, pulling off each boot gently, then tugging the pants the rest of the way off.  He kissed his way back up Joxer's leg, running his tongue up his right thigh, reveling in the salty taste of his lover.  But then... there was something wrong... a strange taste... like... woad?  He took his eyes off of Joxer's face, looking back down at his leg.  Blue paint was smeared from the inside of his upper thigh to his lower belly.

From the shadows in the far corner, Strife giggled.  He may not be perfect as second-in-command to Ares, but he was damned good at his real job, mischief.
Chapter 2:  When the Cat's Away...

Ares closed his eyes, sitting up.  He opened them again, looking down at the confused mortal.  /There is an explanation... there has to be... but I can't deal with this now, I'll kill him.  And if this is what it looks like, chances are Methos will kill me next./  He stood up and backed away from the bed, took one last look at the woad, and then disappeared in a flash of pure white light, causing Joxer to throw his arms up over his eyes.

Strife walked over to the bed, grinning.  He giggled maniacally as Joxer opened his eyes, trying to blink away the afterimage.  "Aw, poor baby wose his wittle wover?"  He pushed aside the curtain and perched on the edge of the bed.

"I don't know what he was talking about!!  The only other man I've been with since I met him is-"  He gasped as Strife leaned forward and flicked his tongue over the tip of the mortal's cock.  Joxer moaned, then shook his head and pulled away, scooting back until he was leaning against the headboard.  "How did all those things get on me?" He asked, whining slightly.

Strife pouted.  "I don't know.  If you want, I'll go tell Unk that you were with me for the last few days and couldn't have been with all those other guys..."  He trailed off, affecting an expression of
helpfulness.  There was no way in Tartarus he'd admit that to Ares, knowing his temper, but he was sure that there was no danger.

"No!  He'd probably think that I'd been with you *and* all of them!" He slid a finger through the paint on his leg.  "What is this anyway? Why did it set him off like that?"  He looked at Strife suspiciously. "You didn't put it there, did you?"

The god sniffed.  "I knew you wouldn't respect me in the morning."

"That isn't a no.  And you *did* give me the cologne."

"How am I supposed to know what Autolycus smells like?  I've never bedded him.  Why would I put anything on you?  Do you think I'm stupid enough to play a trick on the god of war?"  /...And get caught/, he added silently.  He sniffed again, turning his back on Joxer, sitting on the side of the bed, and staring at the floor.

Joxer shifted until he was beside the slim god, placing his hand on his back.  "Aw, I'm sorry.  I'm just upset, and you do have a reputation."

Strife hid his grin by covering his mouth and turning his head, closing his eyes as if trying to block back tears.  /Might as well play this up if he's buying it./ Joxer knelt in front of the pale immortal, pulling Strife's hand away from his mouth.  Strife anticipated the move when Joxer reached for
him and quickly bit his lip.  Joxer smiled when Strife opened his eyes, looking down at him.  He used his other hand to gather up some of the woad from his thigh and slide the finger laden with the blue gunk over Strife's nose, putting a dot on his chin for good measure. "Blue is your color."

Strife couldn't help grin at that.  He leaned down and kissed the other man lightly, brushing Joxer's lips with his own, then rubbed his nose over the man's cheek, smearing the paint over it.

"I think you look better in it.  Listen, I'm sure Unk will let up, he's probably just gone to let off some steam."  /I feel sorry for the Carthagian army.../

Joxer, who had been running his hands over the leather of the young god's outfit, finally gave up and whined, "Could you get rid of these?  I can never find the fasteners.  How do you get into it?"

"Same way I get out of it."  The clothes disappeared.  "Are you sure about this?  After he just accused you of cheating on him, and in his cabin?"   The last part he was actually slightly nervous about, though he didn't think that Ares would come back after storming out like that.

"Where else?  And I might as well commit the crime, if I've already been tried and found guilty."  He nibbled the inside of Strife's thigh, then ran his tongue over the area to soothe it.

Strife shuddered, then put his finger under Joxer's chin, tilting his face up.  "Not here."

"Oh?  Then what about here?"  He took the head of the god's throbbing cock into his mouth, tonguing the slit.

Strife moaned, letting his eyes fall shut as he tangled the fingers of one hand in the mortal's hair, leaning back on the other one.  Joxer slid further down his length, running his tongue over the vein on the underside.  When he felt the dark curls brush his nose, he began sucking hard, swallowing in time to the pulse he felt against his tongue until he could no longer keep up.

"Oh yes... I mean, no... no, oooh, mmm... *no*, not *here*."  Strife could barely get the words out as he tugged on Joxer's hair lightly, urging him up.

"Okay, not there either.  What about here?"  Joxer stood, then straddled the god's lap, easing down onto his erection slowly, grimacing a little at the burn.

"You-mmmm-you little-*ooh*-you were planning for this!"  Strife gasped out.

"Yeah, well, Ares can get a little... overzealous sometimes... when he hasn't... seen me for a while.  I've learned to... take care of preparing... beforehand."  He settled on Strife's lap, pausing to
catch his breath.  He then began to rock, holding Strife's shoulders.

"I can see why he would... how can a man so..."  He groaned, then began to thrust up into the other's depths.  "So... inept at *walking* be... be so good at..."  Strife gave up talking as he wrapped one arm around Joxer's back to steady him as he let the other hand slide down his chest to rest on the mortal's cock, grasping it and pumping it at the same pace as their joining. He dipped his head down, licking each of the man's nipples before catching one and worrying it between his teeth, bringing it to a tight bud.

They echoed each other's moans as Strife plunged into Joxer, who was meeting the thrusts just as fervently.  Finally Joxer, head thrown back and groaning loudly, came; the spasms caused Strife to slam as deep as he could into the mortal as he leaned back, abandoning the other's chest, and came to a shattering climax.

Joxer collapsed against Strife, shaking slightly.  The god lifted him off his still hard cock and cradled him to his chest, moving up on the bed until he was laying on the large, soft pillows.  The mortal nuzzled Strife's neck, as the god whispered sounds that were almost words sweetly in his ear.  /It'd be a shame if Ares were to walk in here now.  He went to all that trouble bartering with Hades to get my soul back to have him just kill me again so soon./  The thought made his erection wilt.

"Wow," Joxer muttered, half asleep.  "Ares never lets me on top in any form or fashion."

"Anything for you, baby."

Chapter  3:  Power Games

Kronos watched as Methos stared into his drink.   The older immortal seemed to be concentrating on something.  He casually propped his foot on the edge of his chair, leaning further back into his seat, and stared even harder into the liquid.  Kronos was used to this behavior.  Methos usually ordered simple water whenever he was at a tavern; of course he was the one to polish off whatever ale the nomads carried with them in their camps.  Kronos assumed this was simply to keep his edge, that Methos only trusted his brothers to drink around.

Suddenly, Methos sprung up, slipping a dagger from his boot and flinging it over his shoulder in one fluid movement, the chair undisturbed. The dagger buried itself in the wood of the door, pinning the powerful man who'd been standing in front of the portal to it, the blade having slid cleanly between the leather and flesh; vest and shoulder.  The man looked up from his conversation, surprise and rage contorting his features until he saw who it was, the expression vanishing instantly.

"Ares!  Why trouble yourself with talking to the owner of this fine establishment," Methos called, gesturing at his surroundings, oblivious to the rotting wood and foul stench of many of its customers, "when you could be having a drink with Old Friends?"

Ares detached himself from the door, unconsciously wiping the blade on his vest as he strode over to the two Immortals.  "Where are Caspian and Silas?"  Methos sprawled in his seat again. Ares carefully placed the dagger in front of the leaner of the two as he straddled a chair next to Kronos, watching Methos warily.  The relaxed Immortal grinned obscurely back.

"They're over at the whorehouse, where else?"  Kronos stated distractedly.  "More importantly, how in Tartarus did you do that?" he asked Methos.   He lifted his drink to his lips slowly, hoping to hide the agitation in his voice.

"There's a reason I drink water in these places."  Methos looked back down at the bottom of his glass, which was held up and tilted slightly.  Kronos could have hit himself:  the reflection in the glass, Methos could see behind him.

Kronos glanced between the other two immortals, noticing the air charged between them.  He wondered about what must have happened to make Ares nervous; he'd avoided being too near Kronos for years, seeming to prefer Methos' company.

Ares turned to Kronos, a distracted look on his face.  "Can I talk with you?"

"Speak.  You have my attention."

Ares shifted uncomfortably.  "Actually, I was wondering if we could talk alone."

"Something you have to say that my brother cannot hear?"

Ares glanced at Methos, whose smirk and raised brow reminded him of earlier that day, when he had dropped Joxer at his feet.  "Actually, I believe the two of us have already talked about it; something about my 'type'."

"Oh, by all means, I'll leave the two of you to your discussion.  Or maybe you would like a room?"  Methos' smirk turned into an evil grin as he tilted his chair back, putting his boot against the edge of the table.  "Hey, barkeep!  Do you have a room free?"

Before Kronos or Ares could respond, Methos had not only rented them a room but had ushered them to it, closing the door behind him.

Ares finally managed to speak, "I didn't mean-"  He closed his mouth when he realized he was speaking to empty air.  He turned to Kronos. "Actually, I just meant to ask you where the four of you have been in last few days."

Kronos glanced around, then looked at the door oddly.  "What was that all about?"  He looked at Ares.  "And we rode through a nomad's camp yesterday, the two days before we were enjoying the spoils of the raid the day before that."

"So, was he with you the whole time?"  Ares continued, ignoring the question.

"Yes, the only time he wasn't either beside me, over me or under me was when he was riding to your temple."  /I really must ask Methos for another lesson in Eastern styles again sometime.  What did he call it again, Kama Sutra?/

"How long was he gone?"

"What, did he start a battle somewhere along the way, slaughter one of your armies?  Poor thing,"  Kronos mocked him.

Ares glared at the younger immortal.  "I'm just curious.  Trying to figure out if he's grown any more efficient lately."

"Efficient?  I suppose so.  He was gone just long enough to have practically trotted the whole way."  Kronos watched the other warily, trying to figure out what was on the god's mind.

"So he couldn't have made any side trips?"

"What did he do, seriously?  You're acting as if he needs an alibi.  I assure you, anything Methos does is justified."

"How's that?"

Kronos was perplexed; normally Ares wouldn't dare challenge Methos, to his face or otherwise.  "Because there isn't a damn thing anybody can do about it."

Ares relented, relief for some reason showing in his face.  "I wonder who the hell Joxer was with then..."  he muttered to himself.

"What was that?"


Kronos was about to pry more, but he saw Ares was about to flash out. "Well, all you wanted to do was question me?  Pity, wasting Methos' hard earned dinars."  /I can just see him now, earning them back with interest by slitting the tavern keeper's throat./

Ares looked at him for a moment, then grinned, waving his hand.  Both of their clothes vanished.  Kronos crossed his arms over his chest, his nipples hardening at the contact.  "Are you sure about this?  I seem to remember this as being exactly what broke us up."

Ares smiled, then dropped to his knees in front of the other man, licking his lips.  He grasped Kronos' hips, pulling the Immortal to him.  He ran his tongue around and over the head of Kronos' cock, lightly teasing him until the man growled deep in his throat.

Kronos grinned as Ares slid his mouth over his pulsing organ, sucking in earnest.  "Seems like you've learned a few things since we were last together.  Did you miss me?"  He put one hand on the back of Ares' head, the other on the god's shoulder, in effect holding him down and close.

Ares half whimpered, half moaned around Kronos' cock in response.  The vibration pushed all thought from Kronos' mind.  All he could concentrate on was the movement of Ares' mouth as the god pulled back to the head of his cock slowly, then swallowed the length again quickly.

Kronos roared as he came, pulsing deep in Ares' throat.  The strength left his body as he leaned on Ares' shoulders, gripping both tightly.

Before he realized what had happened, Kronos was on his back on the bed, with Ares throwing his legs over his shoulders.  The god thrust into the Immortal, his suddenly oiled cock sliding in to the hilt. Kronos howled in rage and pain as Ares began to pump, leering down at him.

The pain ebbed and faded and soon the Immortal was erect again.  He reached for his cock, but Ares grabbed his hand and pushed it over his head, then pulled the other one up, too.  Kronos twisted and growled, trying to get free.  Ares changed the angle and slid over his prostate, and Kronos stopped fighting and groaned loudly.  He began to push against Ares, meeting his thrusts.  The older immortal let go of his hands, grabbing Kronos' cock and roughly pumping it in the same rhythm as he pounded into the other man.

Kronos watched as Ares bit his lip, groaning as he came deep within the Immortal.  The expression set him off; he fairly screamed as he came even harder than the first time.  Ares collapsed on top of him, pulling out as he did so.  Kronos barely registered the movement, his mind spiralling back down from Elysium.

"I'm glad you boys have had such a good time, but we really must ride.  The feast is tomorrow."  Kronos opened his eyes to find Methos lounging in the doorway, smirking at them.  Kronos closed his eyes again.  /I really hate that smirk/  he grumbled to himself.


Chapter 4:  The Bet

**Note:  Inanna is the Sumerian goddess of love and war.  Indrani is the Indian goddess of sight.

Caspian smiled sweetly at the small strawberry blond.  She had bumped into him while calling to someone, "Xena", in the crowd.  "Excuse me."

He gasped.  "Inanna!"  He dropped to one knee, bowing his head.  "Oh, what have I done to deserve your presence?"  He spoke just loud enough to be heard over the din of the market.

"Um, hi."  The woman leaned on her staff, looking down at Caspian strangely.

"With a voice as beautiful as the first morning light!  Oh, my soul soars at that one word.  Speak again, sweet goddess!"

"I think you have me confused with someone, sir."  She glanced back at the crowd.

"On the contrary, my love, it is you who are mistaken.  I am your worshipper, oh goddess of love.  Not to be called 'sir', I am but a servant to your light.  I hadn't realized you'd left Sumer!"  He reached for her hand, bringing it to his lips.  "I am Caspian."

"Well, Caspian, that was a nice line but I think it's time for you to be going now."  The raven haired woman that strode up to them was obviously "Xena".  Caspian was surprised to see a chakram at her side; he hadn't seen such a weapon in years.

"And miss the chance of all my years?  To bask in the glory of this fair woman?"

"Do your basking somewhere else.  This one's taken."  The warrior grasped his shoulder, attempting to steer him away.  Something flickered in his eyes as his sweet smile turned into a maniacal grin.  He grabbed the hand that clasped him, yanking the woman to her knees in front of him.

"Perhaps I would prefer you.  More meat on your bones, you would make a fine meal."  His tongue flicked over his lips.  Xena's eyes widened at the gleam in his eyes.

"Brother!  Methos told me to come get you," Silas called from the entrance to the stables.

Caspian blinked and shook his head, glancing down at the woman who stared up at him in surprise and fear.  He let her go, glancing back at the other woman.  He turned away, unimpressed, and walked over to Silas.  "Well, we mustn't keep him waiting."

Xena leapt back up to her feet, anger replacing the flash of fear.  She began to reach for her chakram, wisely pulling away at the last moment.

Silas lumbered ahead of Caspian, who sauntered through the streets, leering at the women who caught his eye.  They soon reached the inn at which the Horsemen were staying.  Methos refused to stay at the castle, insisting it was an unnecessary risk.  Caspian didn't believe that the king would dare try anything, even if he could.  The Horsemen were invincible.

Their brothers were waiting for them in the tavern under the inn.  Methos was sprawled in his seat, feet propped up on the table in front of him, chair tilted back until it touched the wall.  He was staring into space as he flicked a coin into the air, catching it on a finger when it descended.  A little girl was standing beside the table, mesmerized by the coin.  Methos grinned, looking at her, then flicked the coin to her.  As the child scrambled to pick it up, he reached down and ruffled her hair.  The girl ran off, giggling, to show her papa.  Kronos was idly toying with his drink across from him.

As Caspian called for the barkeep to draw two more ales, he took the seat between the two, while Silas dropped into the chair across from him."What was the meeting called for?"  Caspian asked, grinning at the woman who brought him his drink.

"No."  Methos stated simply.

"No what?"  Caspian responded, glancing at Methos then returning to his flirting.  The woman smiled back, then left to serve the other customers.

"No, you can't have her."

"Why not?"  Caspian pouted.

"We all know what you'll do with her, and the whole point of the feast is to keep us from harming the citizens of this fair city."  Methos chastised.

"We're actually going to follow the king's orders?"

"That's overstating it a bit, but yes.  At least, until after the celebration.  It'll be more fun to rip away his hope than to spoil it before it's reached its height."

Caspian sighed, barely glancing at the waitress as she refilled his drink.

Methos smiled gently and patted Caspian's shoulder.  He leaned back again, then spoke to everyone.  "Which is why I wanted to talk to you.  We mustn't lose our tempers around the mortals before or during the ceremony.  That means you, Caspian."

The tattooed Immortal made a face, then took a swig of his beer, staring at the wall behind Methos.

Methos looked at him for a moment, then smiled again.  "If I were to let you have her, would you be able to control yourself?"

Caspian perked up.  "Yeah, it'd be an interesting change from broken slaves."

"Then enjoy yourself, little brother."  Methos smirked as Caspian almost leapt to his feet, then strode over to the woman and whispered something in her ear, grinning.  Methos turned to his remaining brothers.  "Five dinars says he rips out her heart before he's done."

Kronos shifted in the uncomfortable chair.  "I don't think you give him enough credit.  He can control himself.  How about ten?"

Methos literally stood to the challenge.  "Fifty dinars."

Kronos stood up too, leaning until he was almost nose to nose with the taller Immortal.  "A hundred dinars, and my share of the loot next pillage."

"Two hundred, my share, and you can be the leader of the next raid."

"Two fifty, my share, and my complete subservience for a week!"  Kronos voice had raised to a shout, face spread into a huge grin.

Methos thought for a moment, then stuck out his hand.  "Deal."

Kronos grasped his wrist.  "Deal."  They shook, then sat back down.


The woman, Myna, made her excuses to her boss then let Caspian lead her to his room upstairs.

As she closed the door, he wrapped his arms around her from behind. "Mmmm... sweet Indrani..."

The woman sighed as his hands cupped her breasts through her simple blue dress.  "Who is Indrani?"

He nibbled her ear.  "And modest, too.  The Indian goddess of sight.  Gives a man a reason to live, to see such beauty.  I don't know what I did to deserve your presence."

He unlaced her dress, pushing it off of her shoulders.  It pooled at her feet, and Caspian turned her around.  His lips trailed down her body, pausing to suckle her nipples.  She tugged at his tunic and he pulled away, then undressed.  He kissed her deeply as he swept her off of her feet, carrying her to the bed.

He gently laid her down, moving over her.  He again ran his tongue down her body, pausing over her breasts, dipping into her navel then continuing his descent.  He slid his tongue into her, revelling in her heady taste, then flicked it over her clit, smiling at the resulting moan.  He lapped at the juices that flowed down her thighs, following them back to their source.  She shuddered around his tongue, coming hard.  He moved back up her body as she trembled in the aftermath, trailing gentle kisses back to her mouth.  He kissed her deeply, letting her taste herself in his mouth.  He nipped along her jaw to her ear, nibbling it playfully.  He gasped lightly as her hand found his cock between them, stroking the hard flesh lovingly.

He sat up, simply gazing down at her.  He sighed and moaned, then regretfully pulled her hand away from his cock and to his lips as he positioned himself to enter her.  He stretched out over her once again, kissing the side of her neck and feeling her racing pulse under his lips.  He slid into her as his tongue once again slipped past her lips, the heat making him moan into her mouth.  She hooked her legs around his calves as he nibbled lightly at what flesh he could reach.  He trailed kisses over her throat, over shoulders, over taut nipples as he slowly withdrew and entered again and again, settling into the exquisite agony that was the tantalizing slow pace that teased both of them until he picked up speed, penetrating deep with each thrust.  As he neared climax she began to contract around him, throwing her head back, lips parted in a silent moan that he could feel where his lips pressed against her breast.  His lips found hers as he came, pulsing deep within her.  He remained motionless for a few moments, then moved off of her, curling his arm around her as he lay by her side.

Caspian closed his eyes, satiated.  Almost.  He reached down beside the bed, pulling a dagger out of the boot which he had kicked by it.  He pulled her on top of him, pushing her slightly off of him as she dove down for another kiss.  As he kissed her, he ran the knife across her throat, the sharp blade slicing ear to ear.  He watched as the blood spilled over her breast unto his chest, drenching him.

When the flow of blood slowed to a trickle, he pushed the body unto the floor, and fell into a pleasant sleep.

Chapter 5:  The Plot Thickens

"No!"  Gabrielle cried, for the hundredth time.  She turned back to the bar, exasperated.

"Come on, one night.  This is a once in a life time offer,"  the man grunted, shifting his huge bulk.  Suddenly, she felt an arm wrapping around her from behind, fingers splaying over her abdomen.  She was pulled back against a tall, slender man who leaned down to prop his chin on her shoulder.

"Why don't you go back to the sty, and quit harassing the patrons?"  He turned his head and caught her ear between his teeth, then straightened a bit and brushed her cheek with his.  The man in front of them seemed about to say something, then caught the other man's eye and backed away, turning and quickly ambling to the other side of the tavern.

Her rescuer released her, politely calling to the barmaid for a tankard of ale.

"Thank you.  What's your name?"  Gabrielle asked, leaning against the bar.

He looked her up and down, slowly.  He then turned back to the bar, looking mildly annoyed with the service.  "I said give me a beer!"

He glanced at her again.  "Didn't your mommy tell you not to talk to strangers?"

The barmaid stood talking to Hercules.  He was waiting, impatiently, for Iolaus to come downstairs.  The pair of them had been invited to the same festivities as Xena and herself.

"Oy, you tart, can I get a little service?"  the lean man demanded, stepping away from the bar and glaring at the woman.  Gabrielle was shocked.

"Can't you see she's busy?"  Hercules called to him before turning back to the barmaid, looking concerned as he listened.  The man sneered, reaching for his dagger.

"Methos!"  Ares seemed to appear out of nowhere, though there was no accompanying flash.  "I didn't expect you this soon.  The feast isn't for a few hours yet."

Ares glanced at Methos' stance.  He appealed to the barmaid, "I'm afraid my friend takes his worship of Ninkasi seriously.  I suggest you get him some ale before he slits a few throats."  The barmaid scurried to fill the order, shaking in fear.

Methos relaxed, clasping wrists with Ares.  "Actually we've been here a while.  Silas is tending his horse, Kronos is scouting the castle, and Caspian is upstairs."

"Do you really think the king would try something?  I don't believe he'd dare."

"Best not to take chances.  So, where is this warrior you wanted me to meet?  That we'd uh, 'best avoid'?"  Methos sauntered over to a table, dropping into a chair.

Gabrielle slid past Ares, sitting by Hercules.  "What is going on?" she exclaimed, lightly touching the earlobe that Methos had nibbled.

Hercules shrugged, watching his half brother warily.  Ares sat across from where Methos was sprawled.  "You know I didn't mean it like that.  I merely asked you to keep your distance, as she'd probably start a fight, and then one of you would kill her."  He nodded at Methos' drink.  "A little nervous?"  he asked, amused.

Methos picked up the drink, looking into it.  "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not after you.  I didn't think I'd ever have to lecture *you* about overconfidence."  He raised the drink to his lips, then lowered it again after seeming to have made a decision.  "An Immortal has been acting as the King's Advisor here for the last five generations.  This may be a play for our heads."

"So?  Any one of you could easily defeat him."

"Her actually.  One of the original Amazons, from before they turned into giggling school girls."

"Now wait, there are a few of the old warrior tribes left.  My little brother Herc fought them recently."

Methos snorted.  "A few.  I remember the days when even we avoided them."  He grew serious again.  "She's too clever for Silas.  I worry about letting Caspian take Quickenings,  He gets a little more belligerent, a little more manic with each one."  He brought the tankard to his lips.

"That still leaves you and Kronos."

He set the ale down again.  "It's strange.  He was just a reckless kid when I found him and-"  he sniffed, wiping away an imaginary tear.  "And now he's all grown up."  He chuckled, running his finger around the rim of the glass.  "That does worry me, though.  He grows stronger with each one, and each changes his personality a bit.  What if his loyalties change?"

"I think you worry too much."

"Each contingency must be planned for.  Whatever can go wrong will, and I like to be prepared."




Methos just looked at him oddly.


"Why are you throwing names at me?"

"Trying to figure out who you are.  Methos doesn't act like this.  He never worries.  Discord?"

"Nope, try Erebus."  Ares laughed, then looked at him skeptically.

"Now I'm sure you're not Methos.  He would be at my throat if I called him Discord."

"I like Discord."

"You like Discord?"

"Yep.  Especially with your Aunt Hestia's potatoes.  Mmm-mmm!"  Methos guffawed as Ares growled,  then glared at the Immortal when he heard Hercules' and Gabrielle's laughter.  He looked back to the table, slouching and scowling.

Methos sighed, crossing his arms and pouting at Ares.  When that failed to get a response he gave in.  "All right, fine, if you really want to know.  All of what I said is true, but I'm not worried about Kronos taking a Quickening.  He considers "good" Immortals' heads a waste of his time.  I just hate taking them myself.  They throw off my balance."  He lifted his ale to his lips, tilted it back to take a sip, when the bottom of the tankard fell into his lap.  It was immediately followed by the ale, drenching him.


Iolaus laughed.  Methos had thrown his goblet across the room again, standing to brush wine from his lap.  Gabrielle wondered why he bothered.  Every cup he had gotten since the banquet had begun seemed to be faulty.  Xena and Iolaus both found it funny that Methos couldn't take a sip of his drink, but Hercules and Gabrielle knew it could be serious.

Earlier, it had taken Ares and Hercules both to keep Methos from ripping the bar maid's throat out, and to drag him out of the tavern.  As soon as she was out of his sight he calmed down, straightening his clothes, and turning on heel to storm off.  Hercules was still nursing his wounds, he'd had Xena bandage him as he refused to go to a healer.

The banquet was bright and festive, guests filling the huge hall.  It had been dedicated to Ares' friends, Methos and his brothers, for some unknown reason.  They didn't look like brothers, but they acted it, with friendly teasing and general closeness.  At least, the other three did, Methos looked to be ready to kill everyone at the party.  When the king had asked Hercules and Xena to come to watch some "dangerous people", he meant dangerous.

Not only were Ares and his friends, their unofficial guards, and the royal family present; the guest list also included other important, well known people, as well as a few gods.  Cupid could be seen chatting with a few of the king's daughters, while his mother flirted with the princes.  Apollo was singing with the band, old ballads.  Hermes was laughing with Autolycus and Strife.  As Gabrielle watched, Strife saluted both of them and ran over to talk with Cupid.

Gabrielle spotted another familiar face approaching them, twice.  Joxer looked uncomfortable in tight, black leather pants and a billowy deep red silk shirt.  Jett had obviously dressed him for the occasion, as he was dressed the same, only with a rich blue shirt.  He had an arm wrapped around Joxer's shoulders, guiding him to their table.

"Joxer, Jett!  Nice to see you!  Join us,"  Xena said, grinning.  Gabrielle glanced between them, confused.

Xena noticed the look.  "Jett was hired by Cleopatra to find out who was plotting against her.  He works for her now, he's the new Security Chief."  She smiled reassuringly at Joxer.

"But I thought he was going to prison?"  Gabrielle asked, watching Jett carefully.

Jett answered.  "I was retiring, but I didn't want it to seem like I burned out.  I figured I'd go out honorably.  Caught by the Warrior Princess because of my love for my dear sweet brother," he crooned the last words, pinching Joxer's cheek, "and given a choice between jail or a nice cozy job that I had the right kind of experience for."

"So you knew all along?"  Gabrielle asked Xena, annoyed.

Xena's knowing smile wavered when Jett snorted.  "Cleo and I ran into her earlier.  Tried to attack me, had to struggle to restrain her without hurting her."

"You?  Ha!  *You* gave orders to ten men to hold me back!"

Jett chuckled.  "Of course I did."

They were interrupted by Autolycus, who tapped Joxer on the shoulder.  "Care to dance?"  Joxer looked a little surprised as he followed the thief.  Gabrielle noticed Strife had left Cupid and Aphrodite, and was talking to Apollo.  The golden god giggled and turned to speak with the band as Strife headed toward another clump of guests.

Aphrodite waved at Joxer before turning back to her flirting.  He blinked a few times and shook his head, looking confused.  The band started playing a slow tune, Apollo singing a love song sweetly.  Couples filled the dance floor as Autolycus pulled Joxer close, hands on the slighter man's hips.  Gabrielle was surprised as Joxer not only didn't trip over his own feet, but actually danced pretty well.  She watched Aphrodite suspiciously.

"Ares taught him."  Gabrielle jumped at Strife's voice coming from behind her.

"What do you want?" Hercules asked warily.

"I think you'll be interested in what I have to say,"  he said to him, then turned to Jett.  "Love how you dressed him."

"I figured it was enough leather for Ares, and enough color for everyone else.  Besides,"  he straightened the edges of the shirt that lay open to his waist.  "I look good in it, so he must, too."

"What are you two talking about?!"  Xena hated not knowing what was going on.

Strife giggled.  "My job is to keep anyone from getting too cocky, gods and man alike.  I figured it was time for Uncle Ares to get some trouble back."

"Who keeps you from getting too cocky?"  Iolaus tossed in, watching someone in the crowd.

"Oh, Unk, Herc here, Callisto, who ever else wants to hit, throw fireballs at, or shoot lightning at me for no real reason."

Hercules looked concerned.  "Someone is going to get hurt.  Ares is not someone to be played with."

Strife shrugged.  "No doubt, some will probably be killed."  Hercules and Xena both started to stand, so Strife quickly spoke again.  "Chill, I've talked to Hades and Apollo, they've agreed to heal and revive anyone who needs it as result."  The two relaxed.

"So, what are you doing?"  Xena asked, suddenly fully interested.  Gabrielle patted her leg under the table.

Strife looked toward Jett.  "Could you tell them?  I need to talk to the Horsemen.  Might cheer Methos up."  He jogged away from their table.

The group looked at Jett expectantly.  He propped his feet up on the table, leaning his chair back.  "First, my brother is *not* to know about this."  He waited for everyone to nod.  On the dance floor, one of the princes had taken Autolycus' place, and the thief was approaching them.

"Excuse me.  I'm sorry.  Keep going, Herc will fill me in later."  Iolaus hopped out of his seat, heading for the door.  Autolycus sat next to Jett, who leered at him.


A dark man was terrorizing one of the princesses in the passage leading from the hall to the rooms.  Iolaus had watched her hitting on him in the hall, he knew there was going to be trouble because the man was one of Ares' buddies.  He had walked away from her, and she was now regretting following him.

"I don't believe the lady wants to go with you,"  Iolaus said, drawing up to his full height.

The scarred man turned as he sliced the girl's dress open with his dagger.  "What makes you think we're going anywhere?"  He laughed evilly, looking down on him.

Iolaus drew his sword.  "I think you had best let her go."

The man tossed the girl aside.  "You're right, it would be in my best interest.  You're much prettier."  He smirked at Iolaus, carefully grabbing the blade pointed at him and ripping the sword out of Iolaus' hands.  He grabbed at the smaller man, who jumped away in time and managed to get in a few good blows before being disabled, thrown over the scarred man's shoulder, and carried upstairs.


Autolycus shifted uncomfortably under Jett's gaze.  When the pale man looked to his plate, he relaxed, his aura of confidence returning.  "Did you tell them?"

"I was waiting for Blondie,"  said Jett through a mouthful of meat.

Xena spoke up.  "He told you to go on.  Besides, he was following a girl.  Now tell us!"

Gabrielle was torn between listening to Jett and going to warn Joxer about the lunatic he was dancing with now, Caspian.

"I don't take orders from him or you.  And it's not really any of you or your little rat terrier's affair.  So, up for a fuck?"  he asked, looking at Autolycus.  He took another bite.

"What?"  Autolycus and Xena cried out at once, he stuttering and she enraged.

Jett swallowed, his eyes still on the thief.  "Hercules, it's gonna be your turn after Cupid, he's next.  Ask Joxer to dance, then offer to take him up to your room after a few minutes."  He paused to take a bite of apricot.  "Don't worry, I doubt he'll accept.  After all, he-"  melodramatic gasp "-rejected Autolycus."  He looked again to his food.

Hercules thought for a moment, glancing between Ares, Joxer, and Jett.

Jett sucked the juice off of his fingers, watching Autolycus watching him.  "Remind you of something?" he mouthed, leaning back further.  The thief licked his lips.  Jett glanced around the table.  "You know, when you're head of security you usually don't have to worry about people leaving you when you need them.  Maybe after you two,"  he indicated Hercules and Xena with sharp nods, "decide to retire from Ares' service you could try it."

Both sprung too attention.  "I do *not* serve Ares!"  They were in perfect sync.

"Of course you don't."

Hercules stood, striding quickly to the dance floor.  The song was ending, and Joxer appeared to be making excuses to Cupid.  The band had played mostly slow songs for the past hour, ever since Joxer had first gotten up.  Ares was watching him like a hawk, concentration evident in his face.  Gabrielle was waiting for smoke to pour out of his ears.  Hercules spoke to Joxer, who looked baffled.  The demigod reached out and fingered the silk shirt, smiling and raising his eye brows.  Joxer shrugged and allowed himself to be enfolded, Apollo singing a slow, sad song about lost love.

"So Auto, are you staying at the castle?"  Jett lightly stressed his name.  The servant assigned to their area picked up Jett's plate as she went by, glancing at the two in front of empty seats questioningly.  Jett shook his head and she moved on.

"Of course, why would I turn down the offer?"  Autolycus responded.

"And just how were you invited?"  harped Xena."I happen to be friends with one of the royal guests.  I helped him get his wife's ruby necklace back one time."  He picked at the food in front of him.  "What about you three?"

"I'm not sure if we're staying anymore, but we have a room."  Xena glared at Autolycus.

Jett pulled his feet off the table and leaned across to pick up Iolaus' plate.  "I don't think he or the server will be coming back anytime soon.  I'm sharing a room with Cleo, of course.  After all, it is my job."  He grinned wickedly.

Hercules and Joxer were strolling to the table.  Hercules took his arm from the slim man's waist to pull out Iolaus' chair for him, sitting in his seat beside him.  Jett raised an eyebrow at his brother as he dropped his hand under the table to wipe his fingers on his pants, then left it in his lap.

"I asked him to escort me back to the table, I need a break."  Joxer looked a little dazed.

Autolycus choked on his drink, gasping as he caught his breath again.  "Excuse me," he squeaked, then cleared his throat and shifted in his seat, leaning back a little.  He looked at Jett pleadingly.  The former assassin only grinned strangely.

The doors by them flew open, and Methos' scarred brother stormed in, holding a bundle of clothes.  Gabrielle could only make out a flash of purple amongst black leather.  He stomped up onto the platform that Methos' table was on, throwing down the bundle and slamming his fist down on the wood in front of Ares.  His voice rang through the hall.
"These are mine until I get him back."  His tone changed a bit.  "No one would wear anything that horrid without a reason."

Methos laughed loudly.  "It looks good on him, though, doesn't it?" While Joxer's attention was directed toward their table, he winked at him.  He then stood, pulling his brother away from the table and pushing him into a seat before kneeling beside him, calming him down.

He took his drink from the table and gave it to the darker man, settling on his haunches.  When he took a sip without getting soaked, Methos took it back, grinning happily.  He tipped it back...

And threw the goblet across the room, swearing and grabbing the towel their servant had thoughtfully left.  The cup just barely missed Cleopatra, as she had ducked in time.  Jett leapt to his feet, stalking a few paces before he was tackled by Hercules.  Luckily, Methos didn't notice the pair.  Hercules lead Jett back to the table, holding his shoulders as if holding a wild cat by the scruff of his neck to protect himself.  Jett eyed Methos as he was pushed into his seat.  He jumped back up after Hercules let him go, heading toward Cleopatra instead of Methos.  He pointed at a large crowd, then ushered her over behind it, in his line of sight but not Methos'.  He returned to the table, still a little tense.

Autolycus had looked relieved when Jett had had his attention turned.  He jumped when Jett began speaking again, asking Hercules about his latest adventure.  He was drumming on the table with one hand, Gabrielle giggled when she realized it was "Joxer the Mighty".  She assumed his other hand, which was again under the table, was resting on the hilt of his sword, as Xena did when she stepped down from an attack.

Autolycus hoarsely called for a glass of wine.  He was flushed, and Gabrielle realized he had been more quiet than usual.  He looked at Jett pleadingly again, then closed his eyes when Jett grinned at him wickedly.  He buried his face in one hand, the other gripping the edge of the table until his knuckles were white.  No one else seemed to notice, Joxer, Xena, Hercules, and Jett were discussing the antics of different guests.  At the moment, Joxer was telling a cute story that Hermes had told him about one of Cupid's recent victims.

Everyone's attention was drawn when Autolycus groaned.  "Leg cramp," he said, through clenched teeth.

"I could get it out, come out to the washroom," said Jett helpfully.

"No!"  Autolycus squeaked.  He cleared his throat.  "I mean, I'm not sure I could walk on it.  I'll just wait it out," he whispered..

'If you wanted, I could do it right here."  Jett offered kindly.

"No, no, I'll just wait it out,"  gasped Autolycus.

Gabrielle's attention was drawn to Ares' group.  The four brothers had stood, turning their backs to one another, each scanning the crowd in front of him.  A woman walked into the hall, stopping in front of Methos and bowing her head, then turning and leaving.  Methos followed, calling something to his brothers in another language.  They laughed, and sat back down.

Gabrielle glanced back at Autolycus, who now had his head on the table.  /Poor guy, he must really be in pain/ she thought as he moaned softly.

She stood, and made as if heading for the washroom.  Once out of the hall, she followed the path she thought Methos had taken.  Right when she had decided she was hopelessly lost, she saw lightning flickering on a wall down the passage from a window leading to a courtyard.  She ran to it just in time to see Methos get struck by a bolt of blue lightning, he and the body at his feet surrounded by mist.  There were no clouds in the sky, and the lightning seemed to be coming out of nowhere.  One last bolt hit him, and then he sank to his knees, the mist clearing.

He looked up and caught her eye, then grinned and pulled himself to his feet, leaning on his sword.  She ran back the way she had come, not daring to look back until she was back in the hall.  She jogged back to her table, panting.  Joxer was dancing with Hercules again, Iolaus was still gone, Jett had disappeared, Xena was eating, and Autolycus still had his head buried in his arms on the table.  She took her place next to Xena.

She jumped when she heard Jett's voice from under the table. "Is that better?"  His head appeared as he pulled himself into his seat.  Licking his lips, he asked, "Did I fix the cramp?"  He pouted when Autolycus only stared at him with an unreadable expression.  Jett huffed.  "Well, that's gratitude for you."

Methos came in, carrying the woman's head by the hair.  He tossed it to Caspian, who set it on the middle of the table, facing the kind.  He plucked Caspian's wine from his hand after waiting for him to take a sip, toweling himself off after yet another goblet had fallen apart.

Xena hadn't noticed the entrance.  She finished her dinner, smiling seductively at Gabrielle and leading her back to the room.