Ares sat invisible on his throne watching warriors and warrior-priests come and go from his temple. Leaving their normal unimaginative offerings: food and wine, gold and baubles, animal carcasses and blood. Making their normal unimaginative prayers: 'save me and take my enemy's life,' 'make me brave and make me strong,' 'help me win and defeat my enemies.'
They left nothing of importance to them.
They asked for nothing of importance to him.
The day continued like that at every temple. They wanted, but left nothing of true importance. The day had few battles and they turned into small skirmishes, little blood spilled and no deaths. Finally, night fell and Ares returned to sulk in his great chair. He stared in sullen anger at the offerings.
Finally, much later, a soldier approached creeping into his temple furtively approaching his altar.
Skouros. A foundling. Recently married; his wife carried his child. He scanned the mortal finding little to him. Resentment, desire for his wife's flesh, pride covering fear, and ambition. Aging; now nearly thirty and still only a foot soldier with no command. And the man wanted to be a general. No, he wanted to be a great general. A laughable ambition, Skouros had none of the qualities of a great general, his heart held nothing but ambition and resentment with little skill carrying him from battle to battle.
Still, it had been a slow day. Boring. Not enough blood, not enough anger, not enough war. Maybe frightening Skouros would distract him.
He watched as Skouros cut a shallow slice across his arm spilling blood on his altar before prostrating before it.
"Great Ares, hear my prayer. I want only to devote myself to your service and follow your path. I will raise your banner on the fields of battle. Wage war in your name. I will send you blood and death for your power. I would give anything..."
Ares appeared standing next to him by his altar. "You have nothing to give. Get out." Letting his power flow to his hand, he conjured a small fireball, its heat comforting him
Skouros flinched staring at his god's right hand then scrambling backwards.
Ares continued calling power.
"Please..." Skouros begged, pulling himself up. "My Lord ..."
"I said, 'Get out.' I suggest you start running," he lifted his hand and, with a menacing laugh commanded, "now."
Skouros stumbled as he fled the temple diving off the path as the blaze of energy sailed above him. After savoring the man's fear and rage, Ares let the mortal go.
Three moons later Skouros returned. Only this time he brought an interesting offering. One Ares hadn't seen for a long time, not in a very long time.
He brought his infant son, born three days before.
Ares tasted his determination. Skouros would give his child to Ares in exchange for his patronage. He came here to dedicate his son as a warrior in Ares' service, or if the god found the child unworthy to present him as a blood sacrifice.
Interested for the first time in months, Ares watched as Skouros unwrapped the blanket and laid the infant on the great black altar. The baby's sharp wail split the air as his skin touched the hard, cold stone. Ares felt the child's discomfort and his desire for the small familiar warmth of the womb with its heat, darkness. The infant listened, while Ares followed his search, for the beat of his mother's heart.
As the child continued wailing, he sent a small rush of heat through him and soothed him, touching one small ear and letting him hear his heartbeat.
Ignoring Skouros' prayer, Ares examined the infant. Physically he showed good potential. The infant was sturdy, his small heart and lungs worked well. He had fair skin, a shock of light blond curls, blue eyes. Well most mortal infants had blue eyes and light skin and hair. He reached his mind into the child, examining the small codes that determined how he would develop. Beautiful. The eyes would stay the same blue; his hair and skin would darken only a little. He would be absolutely beautiful.
As he examined the child, he felt him flailing his arms, trying to make contact with the presence standing beside him. Ares chuckled; the child was bright, quick, and stubborn. Even better.
Skouros finished his prayer, waiting desperately for his god to appear.
When he didn't, he slowly lifted his knife, raising it above his child's heart.
Ares watched the knife descended.
The tip centered over the baby's chest and his cry filled the air.
A young woman ran into the temple. "Skouros!"
Ares appeared, his hand grasping Skouros' wrist, pulling it up and away. The knife cut the infant over one eye and blood welled from the small crescent cut. Blood covered the edge of the blade, a small drop running slowly to the very tip.
The woman dropped to her knees, frantically praying, but not to Ares. She prayed instead to her personal patron, Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth. Ares pondered blasting her to ashes for her appalling impertinence of praying to another in his temple.
Instead his attention was drawn to the drop of blood that slowly fell off the tip of the knife, straight into the infant's mouth, watching the child swallowing it.
Then he looked at Skouros, ignoring the woman. "Mine?"
Skouros nodded slowly. "Yes, God, my Lord Ares he is yours. I give him to you. To be your warrior."
"Or my sacrifice?"
They ignored the gasped, "No," from the woman who still knelt at the temple's entrance.
"Or my bedmate?"
Skouros gulped, nodding slowly. "Yes, my Lord."
Ares looked at the infant, releasing Skouros' wrist. He lifted his hand, slowly bringing his thumb to his mouth and biting it until blood welled. He rubbed the thumb against the baby's lips until he sucked it in, taking his blood.
Ares shut his eyes, swaying slightly as his blood joined the child's, creating an unbreakable bond. As the bond formed he saw possibilities. An image of their future he hoped to create. Taking the young man as his protégée. Training him to be his warrior and, when the time came, to be his lover. He saw them intertwined; him pounding into the young man the child would become. Ares hardened as the images filled him.
He pulled himself up.
He stared deeply into Skouros' eyes. "Well, General, return him to my temple in thirteen years time."
He vanished from the parents' view, but stayed watching, unseen.
The woman slowly stood and made her way to the altar. Ares felt her rage and sorrow as she picked up her son, holding him close with one arm. Trembling, she raised her other arm and quickly slapped her husband's cheek.
"How could you?" she demanded, tears streaming down her face. "You swore." She stopped, backing away from her husband. "You swore not to do this! That wasn't a dedication - it was a bribe!"
She turned, still weeping, fleeing with her son.
Ares kept a small portion of his attention on Erythia following her as she ran, swiftly packed, and began her journey. Waves of chaotic emotion poured from her, mostly desperation mixed with sorrow and rage, but she dampened them, concentrating on her determination to escape her husband. He watched as she placed Iolaus in a sling, securing it to hold him to her chest, slung her pack over a shoulder, and started walking. Ares pulled his attention back, relying on the bond he'd placed on Iolaus to relocate him and to alert him if his offering was in danger. He knew she intended to beg other gods, particularly her patron Hestia, to intercede, but considered that no danger to his plans. Hestia might intervene with some small aid, if Erythia was valuable enough to her, but now that the child was his, nothing could prevent him from claiming the boy in thirteen years.
He followed her intermittently as she journeyed and watched invisibly when, six months later, she walked up Alcmene's home and knocked, shortly after dusk.
Erythia smiled in relief as her friend opened the door.
"Erythia?" Alcmene stood staring at her friend, "Gods! You look like you've walked across Greece!" The journey had worn Erythia's normally slender frame to muscle and bone. Worry lines traced across her face, adding years, and eyes that once seemed filled with perpetual mischief and laughter held desperation. Her son slept in his sling, held close to his mother.
A bitter, slightly choked laugh forced itself from Erythia's worn frame. "I did. Alcmene ... I ... we, my son Iolaus and I, need guest rights."
"What happened? Have you seen your father?" asked Alcmene, opening the door as Erythia shook her head, blinking, as firelight suddenly poured out.
Seeing her sudden sway, Alcmene pulled her friend in gently by one arm. "Come in and sit by my fire, I'll bring food and water." She continued pulling her worn friend across her threshold. "Iphicles is sleeping, why don't you put Iolaus beside him and then sit with me."
Erythia nodded, breathing deeply, looking around her friend's home. A fire blazed in the hearth, Hestia's dedication chiseled deep into the stone. A table with four chairs sat in front of the hearth, behind that lay a counter, oven, shelves and cupboards where Alcmene prepared food. At the other end of the room, Iphicles' small bed stood next to an archway leading to what had to be Amphitryon and Alcmene's bedroom. Moving slowly, Erythia lay her son down besides Iphicles, gently caressing his hair when he opened his eyes, fussing at being moved. Crooning, "Hush Iolaus," she moved her hand down to rub his back until he slept soundly again.
Ares settled by the bed watching Iolaus as Erythia soothed him to sleep. He stroked the child's hair, in the absent-minded fashion of a man petting a cat, spending the time strengthening his bond to the child, planning his future.
"He has beautiful eyes."
Erythia started at Alcmene's voice, bringing her hands up in a defensive move, then abruptly lowering them as her brain caught up with her body. "I'm sorry...oh Alcmene, I almost hit you. I don't ... I'm sorry, I just haven't felt safe ... not in a long time."
Her friend caught her in a fierce hug. "You can tell me about it after you've eaten, I've bread and water by the fire." She walked her over to the table, still hugging an arm about her shoulders. "Amphitryon's at war again, may Athena keep him safe, so we'll have the house to ourselves." She pushed her down into a chair, shoving bread into her hand and setting a glass of water next to her. "Eat."
Her hands closed around the bread. Erythia brought the bread to her lips, nearly biting, then abruptly moved her hand back down, shaking her head. "I can't, Alcmene, not without telling you what I did first."
Alcmene sat next to her friend, shaking her head in exasperation. "Erythia, if you want to tell me you left Skouros, the fact that you've walked across half of Greece made that an easy guess. I assume he did something incredibly stupid. If it's that your father and brothers won't let you into their homes, well all women know that sometimes men are idiots; you have no money, no food, and no place to go, that's obvious. Eat! I give you guest rights, as long as you need to stay, you can."
"Skouros gave Iolaus to Ares."
Alcmene blinked. "You mean he dedicated him?" she asked, not willing to believe the other possibility.
Erythia shook her head slightly. "No," she whispered, "I saw him with a knife over our son's heart. He offered up our son as ... a bribe." Blinking back tears, she explained, in a broken voice, "He gave him to Ares ... as a warrior ... a sacrifice ... even a bedmate ... and he did it to benefit himself. So, he could be a 'great general.' Alcmene, he stood ready to kill our son for ... for that. Skouros didn't even bother to name him." Her grip on the bread tightened, crumbling most of it.
Turning white as Erythia told her story, Alcmene leaned forward asking, "And the priest accepted that?"
"Ares," she stopped tilting her head and blinking back tears, "Ares appeared. He let the knife mark him, accepted the sacrifice, and told Skouros to return my son to one of his temples in thirteen years. Alcmene, Ares named Iolaus, not Skouros or me." She shook her head blinking. "Ares named my son." She trembled, clenching her fists, crumbling even more of the bread. Taking a deep breath she stopped her trembles. "So I fled across Greece praying the entire way. Mostly to Hestia, but to every god who I thought might listen. Praying for them to intercede, for mark to just ... go away. It didn't."
Ares snorted contemptuously at Erythia's statement. Of course none of the other gods took the mark away. He'd placed it. The child was his and none of the others would dare challenge him ... certainly not over an infant. He continued playing with the child's hair, amusement filling him when the babe opened his eyes, blinking, and searched for the presence he vaguely sensed. He whispered into the boy's mind, *you're mine, all mine, your mother has you for thirteen years, then you come to me.* Iolaus turned his head, flailing his arms searching for the voice.
Alcmene picked up the glass and drank the water herself. She looked at it shaking her head. "Erythia, eat the rest of that bread before it crumbles to pieces while I get us ... something stronger than water." When she hesitated, Alcmene snapped, "Eat the bread, Erythia, now!" She stood going to the counter, pouring two glasses of wine, watering them as little as she thought they could bear. Sitting back down, she handed one glass to Erythia and took a deep gulp of her own.
Erythia finally started eating the bread and sipping the wine.
"So you came home, and knowing your father, well we both know that he's probably already written Skouros, and your brothers won't go against him."
"Marc will, but he's sworn to Artemis, and only the Huntress knows where he is and when he'll return. I need to thank him and his goddess. Iolaus and I owe our lives to all those 'old hunter's tricks' he so patiently taught me, I used every one of them." A slightly desperate sounding laugh escaped her. "I may have invented a few new ones over the last six months." She blinked back more tears. "As for my father, I had hoped he would at least hear me out." She shook her head. "I know that he'll come talk to me eventually, he always does. It doesn't really matter. The entire trip I tried to plan ... I can't divorce Skouros. Even if they granted it, you know that they'd give him Iolaus." Her hands trembled sloshing wine from the glass. Setting the glass down carefully, she clasped her hands together, trying to control the shaking. Fury in her voice, she admitted, "I thought about killing him."
Glancing over, Ares considered the possibilities inherent in pushing her that direction. If she killed Skouros he wouldn't have to baby-sit the idiot into being a 'great general' and she would probably be executed, leaving the boy to him that much earlier. He grimaced remembering the beauty Iolaus would grow into. Damn. If he did that, then he'd have to make sure whichever priest he placed him with didn't decide to take the boy himself. No, easier to leave the child with Erythia.
"I said, 'I thought' about it, but I know if I do, I'll go to Tartarus and be separated from Iolaus forever." Erythia looked down at the table, trying to control her shaking. The best plan I've come up with, and it's not a very good one, is: make a home someplace, not tell Iolaus about any of it, help him find another god to dedicate himself to, and hope that god will fight Ares for him." At Alcmene's incredulous look, she giggled hysterically, finally shrugging. "I told you it wasn't a very good plan."
Ares blinked at her plan. As bad as it was there was one way it might work, Zeus always gave Athena whatever she wanted. She liked heroic warriors ... and Iolaus had the potential of being the worst kind of heroic warrior. A small, irritated whimper caught his attention; he glanced back at Iolaus, who had scrunched his face, ready to howl in frustration, when he couldn't find the voice. *Oh no you don't, I need to convince your momma that she does not want any more gods involved in your life.* Ares pushed him back into sleep with a thought, avoiding the incipient outcry. He glanced at Alcmene, a good traditional woman; she did her proper prayers, kept the feast days, and avoided asking the gods for any real boons considering their attention somewhat dangerous. He pushed Alcmene slightly that direction.
Shifting a little and nodding, Alcmene agreed. "You're right, it's not a very good plan." She shook her head, setting down her wine glass. "I'm not sure getting another god involved is a great idea, any of the one's who might be willing to fight Ares, aren't exactly..." She shrugged.
Ares smiled pleased that his little push had worked so well.
"Get him trained as a warrior," she continued before Erythia could protest, "I'm not saying take him to Ares' temple for training. Send him to one of the academies dedicated to Athena, but get him trained as a warrior. The better he fights, the better his chances of being claimed as a warrior and not a bedmate or sacrifice."
He frowned slightly as Alcmene suggested sending him to one of Athena's academies. He really didn't want her looking at this one. The greedy prude wouldn't know how to appreciate his better aspects, she'd just put him into one of her hero molds and he'd come out just like all the other goody-goody, cookie-cutter heroes she turned out - boring.
Erythia looked at her sleeping son. "Alcmene, claimed as warrior doesn't preclude being claimed as a bedmate," she frowned, "but I suppose it might keep him alive."
"And stay here ... or at least close. No matter where you go Skouros will find you eventually. At least here I can help some; the farm can spare grain and wool. You can grow your own herbs and vegetables; and probably trade herbs for goods. And Skouros can bloody well pay for Iolaus' education. The rest we can deal with later."
Satisfied that Iolaus was finally settled and would receive proper training, Ares stood, settling a hand over Iolaus' head. A whisper of power flowed into the child as he weaved his signature into the mark branding him as Ares' to all other gods. *Mine.*
Erythia spent the next two days resting, playing with Iolaus, watching Iolaus and Iphicles play, and helping Alcmene. Finally, on the third morning she set out. Placing her son in his sling and carrying her pack, she walked to the western area of Alcmene's farm following the river, searching for a hearthstone. Alcmene had promised that her field hands would move it to an appropriate clearing in the unsettled areas on the western edge of her farm and help Erythia build her home. After several hours of unsuccessfully searching for an appropriate stone, one large enough, flat enough, and without any flaws or cracks, Erythia needed to rest. She turned, planning to walk up the bank to a grassy area she could sit on without getting wet, and tripped over the perfect stone. Stumbling, she caught her balance, stared a minute shaking her head, and finally sat on it.
"I know you weren't here a minute ago." She shook her head slightly, patting Iolaus as he cried; his hands scrambled over her blouse small fingers tangling in the laces. "Hush Iolaus, let me get them." Untangling his fingers and untying the laces, she put him to suck as she considered the stone, reviewing her path and trying to determine if she had somehow gotten turned around. She automatically switched breasts, finally deciding that she had not gotten turned around and that the rock she was sitting on hadn't been there before. Joy filled her heart for the first time since Skouros had taken Iolaus into Ares' temple. She smiled, letting the praises to Hestia fill her mind and heart, chanting them softly as Iolaus fed; as he finished she ended the last one, murmuring, "Hestia, I know this wasn't exactly the most formal praise. This is a good hearthstone, thank you." She stood walking and burping her son examining the stone. She felt certain that as a divine gift she needed to move it without help and considered the best way to get it to the clearing.
Finally, she placed Iolaus back in his sling and removed her apron, working it around the stone, digging until she could drag it from its place. She spent the afternoon laboriously pulling it up the riverbank, past tilled fields, until she left cultivated lands. Resting only when Iolaus needed tending, she made her way to the clearing she and Alcmene had selected. Finally, as night fell she stopped, sleep claiming her sore and battered body.
The next morning, after feeding Iolaus, Erythia searched for a rock, carefully using it to scratch out Hestia's mark on the stone. After she finished, she knelt before it and began to pray. "Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, I dedicate this hearth to you. The first and last I shall give you. I will make my home here around your hearth. Whatever you can do, anything you can do, please protect him."
The stone heated, the scratched sigil flaring into flames. The flames built, engulfing the stone, the child, and the woman.
*No god can undo what another god has done. None but Ares can remove the mark upon your son. But I will give him this small protection: once upon my hearthstone no mortal man may force him from it.*
The flames flared again spreading from the stone past Erythia and Iolaus. Flames moved through the clearing, rising up beyond the tops of the trees. Finally, they slowly subsided, leaving a small house. Within, Erythia and Iolaus lay unconscious on the hearth, now centered in front of a great fireplace. Never extinguishing, the fire burned without wood, pitch, or coal.
After awakening to her son's furious cries for food, she nursed him while looking around her new home. A single, small rectangular room, it held only the hearth and fireplace centered along one long wall, the door immediately opposite. As he ate, hunger rumbled through her. She finished feeding him, settling him a moment so she could eat. Taking bread from her pack she threw the first piece in the fire for Hestia. After eating her share she threw the last bite to the fire whispering, "Thank you."
Standing to burp him, she walked through her house, talking to her son. "Well Iolaus, how do you like our new home? We can put shelves and hooks right here on this side of the hearth." She smiled at the gurgling child, swinging him around. "We'll have a garden, so we'll need baskets on the shelves for our food and herbs." Leaning against the narrow eastern wall, she held him up to see out the window and tested the shutters. "We'll put our table here, you and I will eat, and I'll teach you to read. And..." she danced him down the short distance to the opposite wall. "We'll have our beds here, mine will go right there and yours will go in the corner closer to the hearth. Although, for now I think I'm going to put your cradle on the hearth stone..."
"Erythia! Erythia!" Alcmene's panicked voice cut through the cottage.
Walking to the door and opening it, she called, "I'm fine..." as Alcmene nearly ran over her.
Grabbing the jam to keep from falling, Alcmene gasped, "Erythia! You're all right! Iolaus, is he..."
"Iolaus is fine." Erythia looked at Alcmene; her eyes widening as she saw that she was still dressed in the clothes she'd worn yesterday at breakfast, that her hair lay tangled from the wind, and soot stained her dress and skin. "Alcmene what happened to you?"
"What happened to me? Erythia, two of my farmhands came to me yesterday evening saying they saw you dragging something! Your father showed up, you didn't come home, I've had people searching for you all night, and then that fire, gods, people saw that fire and smoke for miles, but we couldn't find it!"
"We?" Erythia peered past Alcmene, seeing a small crowd gathering, including her father. "Oh my... Alcmene, can you please get rid of them?"
Alcmene looked over her shoulder doubtfully. "I'll try, but I can tell you, your father isn't going anywhere, not without seeing you and Iolaus."
Erythia quickly walked to the hearth and laid Iolaus on it. As she stood, Alcmene returned with her father. "Erythia, there are some fairly wild rumors."
A burly blacksmith, Erythia's father filled the room, shifting uncomfortably as his daughter stood stiffly, keeping a watchful eye on her son. "As you can see, he's fine." Erythia waited silently as her father looked around the empty cottage; his eyes stopping abruptly staring briefly at the fireplace, then quickly traveling from wall to wall, avoiding the hearth and fire. Only when Iolaus sat up, carefully balancing himself, did her father look back at the hearth, carefully keeping his eyes on her son. Finally, with a deep sigh, his eyes acknowledged the fire blazing in the empty fireplace.
With another slow sigh, he walked to her. "It occurs to me that I might have heard you out when you came to me." At her silent nod he continued, "I already wrote Skouros that you'd returned to Thebes. I won't tell him where you are. I'm slow, but even I can figure that Hestia wouldn't protect a runaway wife without good reason." Sighing, he finished, "But, well, most of the village knows where you are now. Someone..."
"...someone will tell. I know." She shrugged. "I don't plan to divorce him, they'd just give Iolaus to him and..."
"...he was who you were trying to protect." He pulled her into a fierce hug. "I'm sorry girl."
"It's all right Daddy, I always could get into deeper trouble than either of us could pull me out of. Besides he's a fighter, I'll only see him winters. If I have the rest of the year I can stand the winters." She pulled away gently. "Now why don't you help me get my house put together?"
That night she lay Iolaus on the hearth and slept by it one hand upon him.
As Erythia put her new life together, Ares invisibly watched; occasionally visiting, reinforcing and renewing the bond with Iolaus, and always ending his visits whispering into Iolaus' mind, *Mine.*
Within a few weeks Skouros appeared, replying to her father's message; as expected someone told him how to find her and he showed up pounding on the door. "Erythia! Open the door!" His pounding shook the door in its frame. Taking a deep, steadying breath, Erythia laid her son in his cradle on the hearthstone before going to the door. As she raised the bar and started opening it, a swift blow from his arm tore it out of her hands, forcing her to stumble back as it flung open. Grabbing an arm, Skouros flung her across the room to strike the kitchen table. As she started pushing herself off another blow caught the side of her head and she fell back, struggling as her senses swam. She heard the sharp whistling of his belt through the air and braced herself as the first blow fell on her back.
"Damn you! Damn you for running," he screamed, beating her in a regular rhythm. "You are my wife, you will do as I say!" The beating continued as she moaned, finally flinging herself off the table to curl on the floor. Reaching down, he lifted her back up, throwing her against the table again. "Stay there!" he screamed, ripping the back of her dress with his hands. The belt continued whistling down, bruising and tearing her skin as he bellowed curses. As the beating continued, Erythia heard her son begin crying as the noise awakened him. Finally, Skouros dropped the belt tearing her remaining clothes off. She screamed as he pulled her legs open and thrust within. "This is your place! Under me and obeying me," he snarled as he finished pulling out, quickly closing his pants.
She dropped to the floor, curling up and moaning with pain, as Skouros attempted to lift Iolaus from his cradle. Hestia's fire swept out and over his hands forcing him back. Iolaus screamed in terror, his cries and Hestia's energy sweeping through his bond with Ares.
Skouros kicked his wife, yelling, "What have you done?"
Gasping in pain, Erythia answered from where she lay curled. "Hestia protects him. You can't take him from there."
Ares responded to Iolaus' terror and his aunt's energy, checking on the child and seeing Skouros' temper. He appeared turning to his new general with a growled, "Skouros, you idiot, what are you doing?"
Falling to his knees, Skouros mumbled, "Taking my son, my Lord Ares."
Ares wrapped a hand in Skouros' jerkin, yanking him roughly up and off his feet, pushing him against a wall to let him dangle, menacingly glaring. "He's mine." At Skouros' stupefied look, he snarled, shaking his head in frustration, "Skouros you gave him to me. He's not your son anymore. He hasn't been your son since I accepted your offering. He's mine!" He shook the general harshly, rattling teeth. Leaning in his eyes narrowed and his hand tightened. "And exactly what did you think you were going to do with an eight month old child on a battlefield?" he asked sarcastically, fury still evident in his tone. As Skouros opened his mouth to answer, Ares wound his hand in the jerkin, choking off the response, continuing in an irritated voice, "How did you intend to feed him? Change his diapers? Keep him alive?" He pulled him up closer, dangling him in mid-air. Snarling, he shook him, tightening his grip until Skouros gasped, choking. "You do understand the necessity of keeping my gift alive?" He shook him again. "Don't you?" He dropped Skouros to the floor, ignoring his mumbled apologies and looking at him in disgust. Crouching down, he grabbed Skouros by the hair, twisting his head up to meet his dark eyes, allowing his power to flare in them. He paused, letting Skouros get the full effect of his power-ridden eyes before threatening, "Screw this up and I will kill you so slowly that you'll pray for Tartarus." Only when a shaking Skouros nodded his head did Ares release him, standing and turning to Erythia.
Erythia held the pieces of her torn dress together, quaking with terror. She scooted back as Ares slowly walked towards her, stopping with a desperate moan when her back hit the wall. He smiled menacingly, crouching in front of her, staring into her eyes. In a menacing, silky voice he asked, "And you wouldn't mind if I did kill him, would you?" With a desperate panicked cry, Erythia tore her eyes from his, ducking her head. Shaking his head, he pulled her chin up with a finger, forcing her eyes to his; implacably he stared at her gently stroking her chin and cheek with his finger. Keeping his voice low, gentle, silky, almost seductive he reminded, "Just remember he's not your son either. He is mine. So, don't get too attached." She shook her head, tears spilling down. His gentle caress stopped as his body tensed and his hand wrapped around her chin, fingers gripping her face tightly. All the seductiveness left his voice hardening it to cold ruthlessness. "And Erythia, don't even think about dedicating him to another god ... that will just get you two pissed off gods." He released her letting her cringe away from him as he stood.
Going to the hearth, he lifted Iolaus, bringing him up to look in his eyes, sending gentle wisps of soothing energy through him. He smiled as Iolaus' blue eyes blinked then met his. Allowing himself to fall into the link he continued soothing Iolaus until his cries stopped. "You are going to be so beautiful," Ares crooned, bringing the baby to his shoulder and gently patting his back. "I'm going to teach you, I'll make you perfect for me. You'll love what I do to you, being mine." He continued patting, whispering into Iolaus' mind until he fell back to sleep. He turned to the parents still huddled on the floor, shaking with terror on opposite ends of the room. Glaring at them, he snarled, "Just remember. He's mine." Gently, he put Iolaus back in the cradle, stroked his hair, kissed his mark, and whispered, *mine,* into his mind before vanishing.
The war god continued his surreptitious visits, checking on Iolaus, assuring that his bond and mark remained clear. Erythia quietly lived with her son working her garden, selling herbs to purchase what she couldn't grow or make. She survived her husband's winter visits, suffering his attentions but assuring she wouldn't conceive again; using a sponge soaked in a mixture of herbs and vinegar keep his seed from her womb.
As Iolaus' second birthday neared, Alcmene grew heavy with her second child. She claimed that Amphitryon had come to her in the night, however, rumors that she had been unfaithful spread through their village and within weeks everyone but Erythia shunned her. A few days after Iolaus' second birthday, Erythia took him to Alcmene, knowing her friend's time was near. As she approached she saw the burnt ruins of Alcmene's barn and hurried, calling for her friend. "Alcmene!"
"Here, Erythia." Alcmene waved her friend over into the house. Shaking slightly, Alcmene hugged Erythia, pulling her into the house. "We need to talk."
Erythia put Iolaus on the floor by Iphicles' blocks. "What happened? How did your barn burn?"
Taking a deep breath and looking at Iolaus, Alcmene said, "You better sit down." Alcmene crouched by Iolaus, hugging him and whispering, "You are going to become one incredible man." She kissed him lightly on the check.
Iolaus squirmed out of her arms, picking up a block and looking around. "Where Iphy?"
"Iphicles is with his uncle, Iolaus." Alcmene stood, hugging her friend. "Erythia, what I have to tell you is wild and unbelievable," she tugged her over to a chair.
Iolaus frowned as they sat down. "Baking?"
Alcmene laughed. "No baking today, you little pastry thief." She winced as a cramp passed through her back. "I'm most likely going to be busy having a baby."
Frowning at the upset in his normal routine of: see Alcmene, play with Iphicles, and eat sweets, Iolaus walked over to tug at Alcmene's hand. "Baking!" As she shook her head no, he reached up touching her stomach lightly. "No baking?" He blinked, smiling as a kick moved her stomach under his hand. "Baby!"
"Iolaus go play with the blocks," Erythia ordered, pulling him away gently and guiding him back to the toys. Turning back to her friend, she demanded, "Alcmene what happened?"
Turning pale and sitting slowly, Alcmene started speaking in a shaking voice. "A man appeared, pretty much out of nowhere. He told me that my child was his best friend, Hercules, and that Zeus tricked me and was his father." Alcmene took a deep trembling breath as Erythia shook her head slightly, frowning. "He said that me and my child were in danger ... that some goddess wanted to kill us. I thought he was mad, but, well, you see the barn...he saved our lives when she showed up and started blasting at things... at me with fireballs."
Erythia took Alcmene's shaking hands in her own as her friend finished, terror reflected in her voice and eyes. "What, you mean some hero traveled to the past to save you and your son's lives and faced a angry goddess?" She looked at her friend wonderingly as Alcmene turned to look at Iolaus. "What kind of mad hero would?" she asked her voice trailing off as she followed Alcmene's wondering gaze to her playing child.
"Iolaus, Erythia. The man was Iolaus." Alcmene took her friend's hand. "The woman called him by name, but even if she hadn't ... his eyes are the same blue with the same unruly blond mop of hair and he wore his father's amulet." Erythia trembled, starting to gasp slightly, tears forming in her eyes. "He looked to be in his thirties, obviously a warrior. He still bore the scar, Ares' mark, but Erythia, he loved my son enough to face an angry goddess and he won. He tricked her and saved us."
"Alive," Erythia whispered, her entire body shaking as she dashed tears from her eyes, "my Iolaus, you're sure he was my Iolaus?"
Alcmene nodded. "Yes."
Sobs tore from Erythia, tears pouring from her eyes ignoring her attempts to brush them away and hold them back.
Iolaus ran to his mother, tugging on her hand. "Don' cry Mommy, no." Erythia lifted him to her lap, holding her son tightly, stroking his hair as she worked to stop sobbing. Iolaus squirmed, turning to Alcmene for help. "Mommy sad."
"No Iolaus," Erythia said, turning him so he could see her smile. "These are happy tears."
She nodded, drying her eyes on a sleeve. "Very happy tears."
Alcmene gripped the table, gasping and wincing slightly. Hearing the gasp, Erythia turned to her friend.
"Alcmene, you're in labor!" She set Iolaus down, going to her friend. "Iolaus, you stay right there where I can see you." Lifting Alcmene, she scolded, "What were you thinking of, you should have told me your labor had already started." Ignoring her protests, she pushed Alcmene to her bedroom. "Change and walk around slowly. I'm going to get Iolaus somewhere he can't get into any trouble." She rushed back into the other room, finding her son already sitting on the table, reaching for a sweet. "Iolaus!" She gathered him, the sweet and some toys, searching for a place to settle him. Finally, shrugging, she dragged them all into the bedroom, settling him by the bed. "Stay there," she ordered in her sternest voice. A sharp gasp came from Alcmene and Erythia saw water flowing to the floor under her. "Get on that bed, now!" Moving quickly she gathered cloths, set water to heat, and found the other items she would need for the birth.
Six hours later Erythia ordered, "Iolaus, give me the baby's blanket." When he didn't respond she looked down and found him curled among the wreckage of toys, clothes, Alcmene's jewelry, kitchen utensils, and other items he'd gathered in his forays through the house as his mother helped her friend. "Now you decide to sleep, you couldn't have done that four hours ago?" She reached down, retrieving the slightly sticky blanket, wrapping Hercules and placing him in his mother's arms. She watched as Alcmene began examining him closely, counting fingers and toes. With a sigh she started cleaning up, first from the birth then after her son. Finishing, she lifted Iolaus, lying on the bed next to Alcmene. He stirred restlessly; she glared down, exhaustedly ordering, "Don't even think about waking up."
Alcmene's giggles shook the bed. "It's not that funny, and even if it is you have to laugh quiet or you'll wake him up."
Alcmene whispered, "Oh, we wouldn't want that. I don't remember Iphicles being quite that ... active. Did he really start a fire in my living room?"
"Well ... not really a fire, fire, he just managed to knock a few embers onto the rug. It's only scorched a couple of places. You can just move the furniture around and cover the burnt areas." She patted his back gently. "Actually, except for the timing, it's probably a good thing. Since our hearth is his safe place, he never really learned the proper respect for an open flame."
Iolaus squirmed, opening an eye and letting it drift around, finally settling on Alcmene and the sleeping baby. Smiling, he reached out his hand brushing it against a small arm. "Oh, soft baby." Hercules opened his eyes at the soft touch, wriggling and slowly focusing his blue eyes on Iolaus' face. Patting again, Iolaus giggled. "Pretty baby."
"Alcmene, look. I know he's much too young, but I swear he's looking at Iolaus." Erythia gently pulled her son back as he tried to reach for Hercules' face. "Now Iolaus, be gentle with Hercules."
Turning to his mother, then back to Alcmene and her new child, he pointed. "My Herc." Squirming vigorously, he wriggled out of Erythia's arms and leaned over Hercules, kissing his cheek. Then he squirmed into his mother's side and watched as Hercules fell asleep, until he slowly drifted back to his own dreams.
The mothers looked at each other, slowly smiling before letting sleep steal over them.
Ares snarled, glaring at the sleeping group. He'd been watching them most of the day, originally attracted by an odd combination of his energies blazing into being where he hadn't directed them and a weak echo of his bond with Iolaus. Investigating, he discovered an adult Iolaus, still covered with his energy combined with that of a time portal and watched him battle an unfamiliar goddess to save one of his father's half-mortal bastards. As they battled, Ares worked through layer after layer of protection and fortification on the mortal's mind, anger rising as he found signature after signature tainting his mark and bond. Hades had a weak marker that he recognized as one he used to brand mortals for his personal attention at their death, and some other odd traces that Ares eventually recognized as ones Hades placed on those rare mortals who went to his realm and returned. Besides Hades' mark, faint traces of marks from Athena, Artemis, Hephaestus, and Hermes still existed, all of those were old, faded and easily eradicated, primarily irritating in their very existence since they indicated that Iolaus had followed their ways at various times, or been protected by them for some reason. He considered Aphrodite's mark weaving through his own much more irritating, that damned thing was as close to a direct challenge as she would resort to, and indicated serious interest.
On top of all of that, he found one stinking bond to someone else, someone new, with a pattern Ares hadn't been able to identify earlier. A bond that bloody damned well played havoc with his own bonding and mark, leaving Iolaus somehow pulled between the two bonds. The moment Hercules breathed his first breath Ares recognized the new pattern and signature as his, then he watched as they set the first small ties as Iolaus touched Hercules and their eyes met. Ares snarled again, calling power to his hand and glaring at Hercules. He'd managed to avoid his parents' most current battles in their centuries old war over Zeus' infidelities and bastards, but this time the bastard was poaching on his territory; taking one of his gifts and he wouldn't have it. Stretching forth his hand over Hercules' head, he poured power through him that once and for all would sever that embryonic link and keep it from ever reforming.
His father's furious voice cut through his mind at the same moment shields snapped around Hercules, forcing Ares' power to wash back into him. Still reeling from the unexpected backlash, Ares turned, snarling at his father. Zeus stood his ground, ignoring the rage his son didn't bother to hide, firmly he ordered, *Ares, you will not harm your brother, you will not break his link to Iolaus, nor will you harm Iolaus. I will not allow you to do anything that might change the events that joined these two and brought Iolaus back here to save my son.* Walking up to the bed, he ran his hands over the two boys, further shielding their incipient bond from tampering. He turned back to Ares. *You do know that the boy should really be bound to Athena. He will most likely become a great hero, and she would make a much more appropriate patron.*
Ares watched incredulously as his father tampered with his gift and suggested taking him away. *Iolaus is mine! Skouros gave him to me as a temple offering; your own rules state that no god can take a temple offering away from another. Besides you always give Athena the good ones and I end up with the idiots, I'm keeping him.*
*Ares,* Zeus soothed, trying to calm his temper, *I'm not going to give him to Athena, you can keep Iolaus, you just can't try to break his bond to Hercules.* He patted Ares gently on the shoulder. *Son, you'll just have to share Iolaus with your brother.*
Ares froze, his eyes widening with furious shock as his father vanished. "Share? I'm supposed to share?" He turned, looking at Iolaus, slowly walking to the bed and touching his gift, pouring strength into his own bond and mark, but staying well away from the shielded link to Hercules. He gently caressed the child's hair, smiling when he woke up, blinking sleepily. *Hello Iolaus,* he chuckled with amusement as the child looked around for him, *you're mine.* He mentally pushed Iolaus back into sleep and stepped back. "Share," he muttered in an irritated voice, "I don't fucking think so." He vanished.
After that night, Erythia and Alcmene spent more time together, letting their two boys bind together, becoming closer with each day that passed. Iphicles played with them until he left to live with his aunt and uncle a few months after Hercules' birth following Hera's attempt to kill Hercules by placing a snake in their shared crib. That incident finally convinced Alcmene that it was too dangerous for her older son to live with them. After that, Hercules and Iolaus grew even closer, playing at first under the watchful eyes of their mothers, then later wandering further; exploring the farm, village, and woods surrounding them. Under the watchful eyes of Iolaus' grandfather, they began learning how to work the forge and to give thanks to Hephaestus. His uncle taught them hunting, archery, and the respect to give Artemis. They attended an academy dedicated to Athena, learning to fight and think. All the while their love grew, shifting as they reached adolescence and they felt the first stirrings of sexual desire. Ares watched and his jealousy raged as his father's bastard planted the first seeds in a garden he had claimed for his own. He swore to tear those seeds of love out and supplant them with his own.
Only Skouros' winter visits home interrupted their time together. When he came Alcmene kept Hercules close to home, not wanting him exposed to Skouros' rages and violence towards Erythia and Iolaus. Partly to keep him innocent of that kind of violence, but mostly out of fear of what he would do to Skouros if he saw him hurt Iolaus. And Skouros rarely let Iolaus out of his sight, using each visit to try to harden his son, frantically attempting to mold Iolaus into his vision of a warrior worthy of Ares' attention; furious that he never became what he wanted. Iolaus stayed too small, too pretty, and too full of joy for Skouros to ever see the will and fire in him. As his thirteenth birthday neared, Skouros despaired; terrified that when he took the boy to Ares his god would reject him, a gift unworthy the great favors he had granted.
When Iolaus turned ten, remembering Ares warning, Erythia refused to dedicate him to any particular god, meeting arguments with a calm, "My father wants him for Hephaestus, my brother wants him for Artemis, his teachers want him for Athena, and his father has chosen Ares. There will be time enough when he's older."
Nearly three years later, a week before Iolaus' thirteenth birthday, Hercules dedicated himself as a warrior in Athena's service with Iolaus looking on. After the ceremony and celebration the two boys camped in the forest between their homes. Hercules watched Iolaus, perturbed, as his friend remained uncharacteristically silent while they explored, fished, set up camp and ate. He tried to talk to him a few times only to have his concern shrugged away with a quiet, "I need to think about something." Finally he decided to enjoy the companionable silence, sitting up with his friend until he slowly drifted to sleep. Iolaus sat up during the night lost in thought, watching the gentle rise and fall of Hercules' chest, finally smiling and nodding his head reaching to wake his friend a few hours before dawn.
"Herc," he whispered, shoving gently on his shoulder. "I've decided."
Sitting up sleepily, Hercules pushed hair off his face and looked at his friend. "Decided what?"
Meeting his eyes, Iolaus whispered, "I'm dedicating myself to you."
At that Hercules shook himself awake. "You can't do that!" He stared at his friend, taking in the stubborn set of his face and body, realizing that he had made up his mind. "Iolaus," he whined, "you're going to get us in trouble. You have to dedicate yourself to a god."
"No," Iolaus replied firmly, pulling his hunting knife out of its sheave. "I, Iolaus, dedicate my life to Hercules, I bind myself to him in life and death to serve him. This I swear by the Styx." He calmly cut a long line across his palm, holding the hand up and passing the knife to Hercules.
Gulping slightly Hercules took the knife. "You're crazy, you do know that," he whispered. Then straightening, he smiled saying, "I, Hercules, dedicate my life to Iolaus, I bind myself to him in life and death to serve him. This I swear by the Styx," finishing with a long cut to his palm, reaching up to take Iolaus' hand and mingle their blood. Still holding Iolaus' hand he pulled him into a hug. Holding him close, he whispered, "There. Now we're bound together as blood brothers and shield mates, and you can still dedicate yourself to one of the gods, because I'm not one and I'm not taking any of their due."
The long latent bond flared to life, tangling with Ares' link to Iolaus. Feeling his link weaken, Ares poured energy into it and followed it to find Iolaus wriggling out of Hercules' arms, giggling, "I'm not going to you know, we belong together, back to back heroes. And if I'm crazy, what does that make you for following me?"
Hercules shrugged self-consciously. "I just love you too much to argue."
Iolaus' eyes widened. "Really? You love me ... like that?"
"Uhm, I think so, I'm not real clear on what 'like that' means yet, but I know I love you and I don't ever want to live without you." Hercules watched Iolaus' body plummet towards him to grab him in a fierce hug.
"I love you like that. I'll wait for you," he promised, kissing him lightly on the lips. Hercules held him firmly responding to the kiss and pushing him down, running his hands along Iolaus' body, pushing under his shirt to reach skin. With a moan Iolaus wrapped his legs and arms around Hercules clinging to him.
Roaring with rage, Ares pulled lightening from the sky ... his first strike setting a nearby tree on fire. The two boys rolled apart, jumping up as lightening cut through the night followed by the reverberation of thunder so close it shook the ground. The skies opened, pouring rain upon them and they fled for the nearest safety, Iolaus' home.
"ARES! What are you doing?" Zeus screamed, slowly calming the storm his son had called up. "You have no business calling up a storm, particularly not here and not now."
Turning to confront his father, rage still flowing through him, Ares roared, "I'm keeping your bastard away from my gift!" Walking toward his father he lowered his voice to growl, "Don't worry I didn't hurt the little bastard, but I'm not letting him take what is mine. I'll take it to a full circle, Father," he warned. "I don't intend to give Iolaus up, so unless you want to explain to everyone why this particular half-breed bastard is worth breaking your own rules, you won't interfere in ten days when I claim him." He continued sarcastically, "And as for 'sharing' ... I'm the God of War, you really didn't include 'sharing' in my character." Taking a steadying breath, he finished in a firm warning tone. "Iolaus is mine," before vanishing.
The boys flung open the door to Erythia's cottage. Laughing as water poured off them. They stopped, stunned to see Skouros sitting at the table during the spring. Erythia already had a bruise on her face and moved slowly limping as she served her husband his dinner.
Skouros stood, yelling at Iolaus, "Where have you been?" as his fist lashed out, striking his face and throwing him to the ground.
"Hey!" Hercules yelled, stepping in-between them and easily catching Skouros leg, as it moved to kick Iolaus, throwing him off balance and onto his butt, he continued, "Why did you hit him?" Iolaus and Erythia both tried to calm the young demigod as Skouros picked himself up.
"I don't answer to you, boy. Now get out," Skouros growled furiously, "Now boy, you are not welcome here." He strode towards Hercules, ready to throw him out.
Iolaus quickly picked himself off the ground, quickly pulling Hercules towards the door, whispering urgently, "Hercules you need to go, I'll be fine, it's okay, sometimes he just gets angry, he never really hurts me." Hercules looked at them trying to decide what to do. Finally, reluctantly, he nodded and slowly walked to the door, looking back a last time at Iolaus before opening it. Worry still in his eyes, he grudgingly left, trusting his friend's confident nod and whispered reassurance, "I'll see you tomorrow, or maybe the day after, it'll be fine I promise."
As the door slammed shut after Hercules, Skouros yanked Iolaus around by the hair, slamming him against the wall next to the door. Iolaus flung his hands out, turning his head, barely avoiding breaking his nose on the wall. As he tried to get his wind back, he felt two hard punches to his lower back. His father turned him around, flinging him back against the wall striking him in the gut before releasing him to curl on the floor. "Get up and pack your things, we go to Thebes."
"The village?" Iolaus asked, confusion filling his voice as he sat up.
"No idiot, we go to the city of Thebes. I'm taking you to Ares." Skouros watched his son impatiently. "Get up and pack!"
Iolaus slowly stood, using the wall for support. "Ares? I don't follow Ares."
Another blow to the face knocked him off his feet again. "I swore you to Ares on your third day of life. You will stand in his main temple in the city of Thebes, ten nights hence. Now pack."
Iolaus picked himself off the floor, unsteadily looking between his parents. Settling his gaze on his mother. She nodded. "Do as your father says, Iolaus." He slowly moved through the small house, picking up a carry sack and filling it with his few possessions. Skouros nodded as he complied, leaving the house to prepare the wagon. As Iolaus placed the last item in his sack, Hercules' old shirt cut down for him, his mother brought him wine.
"Here, you'll need this." She handed the drink to him, watching to be sure he finished it. Then hugged him, holding him tightly as he swayed.
"Mother?" Dizziness swept through him. He stumbled, dropping his carry sack.
"Shh, walk with me." She led him as quickly as she could to the hearth.
Iolaus swayed, nearly falling as she lowered him to the stone. "Mother, I don't understand. What's wrong with me?" She didn't answer his question. Instead she pulled at his legs until he lay curled up; his entire body inside the perimeter of the hearthstone.
"Stay there my son," she whispered softly, kissing his forehead and brushing his hair back, as the drugged wine completed its work and he slipped gently into unconsciousness. She stood in front of her hearth waiting for Skouros.
Skouros strode back into the house, finding Iolaus unconscious on the hearthstone. His first blow slammed Erythia to the ground. She stayed there letting Skouros beat her, praying only that her son would stay asleep until he'd finished. Ares sent a current of energy through the unconscious boy. Iolaus raised his head and saw the belt descending on his mother. Summoning his strength, he rolled from the hearthstone.
"Father, I'll go."
Ares watched invisibly and glowered, allowing a small ball of energy to form in his hand. Skouros hadn't even bothered to tie the boy and now completely ignored the small signs of incipient rebellion. He continued watching, following Skouros while lightly bouncing the ball of energy in his hand. He raised it once then, with a deep frustrated sigh, subdued his temptation to blast Skouros and simply take Iolaus to the temple himself. He turned, tensing, when a sudden wavering in the energy field around him alerted him to an incoming relative.
His sister's mocking laughter sounded from a nearby tree. Looking up, he saw Discord sitting with Strife in a branch above the road Skouros followed. "You want me to blast him for you?" she asked, raising her hand and allowing a sphere of discordant energy to form.
"No," Ares growled, striking as she drew back her arm to throw the sphere. His own rapidly released blast knocked her off the branch, causing her energy to fire upwards into a flock of geese. Skouros hauled fiercely back on the reins as dead geese fell onto the road. The General looked around cautiously before continuing.
Strife giggled madly, paling and abruptly disappearing as both Ares and Discord glared at him. Discord laboriously sat up and started to stand, shrieking once when Ares grabbed her roughly by the neck, pulling her up to pin her to the tree with one hand. Ignoring her clutching fingers, he held her tightly, moving close. "Look at me, Discord," he ordered, pulling her head back by her hair, "and listen carefully. I will tell you once, do not interfere in this." He squeezed, causing her to gasp for breath. "Skouros plans to complete his offering of Iolaus in my temple in ten days. I intend for the protocols to be followed exactly, perfectly ... so that nothing, and no one can keep me from claiming him. And you and your brat will do exactly as I order." He continued squeezing her neck until small bones snapped under his hand and blood spurted from her mouth. Releasing the pressure slightly, he waited for her to heal the crushed windpipe before continuing. "No deviations. No games. No creativity. Because if either of you screw this up, I'll give you to Hades to test out new ideas for Tartarus." He coursed power through her until she convulsed violently. "Do you understand?" he asked.
She nodded weakly and Ares finally dropped her to crumple on ground. "Erythia will go to Alcmene for help and that whore will try to get the garrison quartered at Athena's school to stop Skouros. Have Strife slow them down, make sure he understands that if he kills any of them I'll take it out of his hide. I don't want Athena to have any reason to demand payment of a blood debt over this. You go to the boat, leave enough men there to defend it, if the garrison makes it through. Have Timmons get the rest on the road to meet Skouros. The idiot has no idea how stubborn the boy is. He'll lose him on his own."
Discord vanished to carry out his instructions and Ares resumed tailing Skouros. A few hours later he tensed again, certain that Iolaus would move in the next few seconds. The drug had worn off an hour ago and they would be past the forest in less than an hour's time. He shook his head, watching Iolaus somersault off the wagon, making a break for the woods. He mind called Timmons, the priest he'd assigned to Skouros ten years ago, ordering him to keep the idiot from deviating from Ares' battle plans.
*Timmons, the boy is heading west and south, cut him off here,* Ares sent a vivid image of the area to place his warriors, *and don't injure him.*
Ares carefully herded Iolaus towards his sentries, using his power and their link to guide him away from safety. Within moments Iolaus had run into the first sentry, skidding and diving to one side as he saw the man. He spent the next hour trying to avoid Skouros' warriors as they closed in, finally resorting to hiding in branches. Ares sighed in sheer frustration as a third set of warriors walked underneath the boy without bothering to look up. "Idiots!" he muttered to himself, "Why do I get all the stupid ones?" With a brief flash of power he broke the branch Iolaus lay on, making the boy tumble through the tree. Right before he crashed to the ground, Iolaus caught a branch, twisting around and releasing his body to catapult feet first into one of the warriors. The other one grabbed him, yelping as Iolaus bit his arm above his gauntlet. The boy gripped hard, shaking his head like a terrier, ripping a good-sized chunk of flesh out, causing the warrior to scream and let go to clutch his arm. Iolaus spit flesh and blood out of his mouth as he scrambled away, only to be grabbed by two other warriors summoned by the noise. Still struggling, he kicked out, until others grabbed his feet. The warriors held him tightly by his wrists and ankles, carrying him back to the wagon as he twisted, screaming curses.
Once there, the four warriors struggled to get the madly twisting boy into the wagon. Timmons pointed and ordered another two warriors. "You two get in the wagon and grab his wrists." They jumped into the wagon, grabbing Iolaus' wrists and lifting him up. As they took hold of his wrists the first two holding his wrists released them, stepping back. Iolaus convulsed, pulling one arm free, twisting up to bite at the guard holding his other arm. "Don't just stand there you idiots! Grab him!" Timmons bellowed, jumping into the wagon to roughly pull Iolaus' head back. The other two rushed in, catching Iolaus by his waist. "Good. Now get him up here."
Finally, working carefully, they were able to get him into the wagon bed. However, even then they couldn't secure him until Timmons assisted again, getting a rope around a wrist. "Flip him over!" Iolaus kicked back, striking Timmons in the shoulder. "Damn it! Someone sit on his legs!" Timmons pinned Iolaus' arm to his back with a knee, secured the rope around that wrist and looped some around the second wrist drawing them together. Tying him tightly, Timmons continued pinning Iolaus down until another warrior could fasten the free end to the wagon seat. When he finished, Timmons looked over to see Skouros binding the boy's legs together.
After a few more fruitless minutes, Iolaus stopped struggling and slowly sat up to glare at his father, fury roiling within. "Bastard! I hate you! I'll never forgive you for this." Iolaus settled back into a corner, waiting for his father to strike him. As Skouros raised his fist, Timmons caught him by the wrist and sharply reminded him, "My General, he is Ares' offering." Skouros lowered his fist slowly, glaring at his son, finally turning away and getting them moving again.
Twice more before reaching the coast, Iolaus attempted to escape; the first after freeing himself and diving off the wagon and the second by conning them into untying him to piss. Both times the warriors had to run him down and return him, kicking and screaming curses, to the wagon. After the third time, they tied him spread-eagled in the wagon bed until they reached the coast. It took another half hour battle to get the boy on the waiting ship and tied to his bunk.
The short voyage across the Gulf of Corinth passed easily, but only because Iolaus spent the entirety of the trip retching with nausea. Within an hour of getting off the ship, Iolaus made a fourth escape attempt, this time managing to steal one of the horses. Timmons rode after him, using a staff to unseat the boy, Iolaus rolled up then sprinted away forcing Timmons to ride him down and herd him back to the band. Finally, looking at the tied and battered boy, Timmons tried reasoning with him. "Iolaus, you can't escape us, we're too many and too strong."
Iolaus lifted his head, laughing; bright wild blue eyes met Timmons', his whole body shaking with mirth. "I don't have to escape. Skouros has six more days to get me to Ares' temple ... all I have to do is make him miss that appointment." He smiled a wild fierce grin. "And you can't kill me. You can't even do anything that 'might' kill me or seriously damage me. After all," he finished sarcastically, "it would be a really bad idea to damage Ares' offering." He looked down at his bound hands before looking at his father, taking a deep breath he finished in a wild fey voice. "And no matter what, I will not be one of Ares' trained dogs. I'll never be like you."
Ares watched, opening his mind to the variety of emotions raging through Iolaus as he moved past terror, anger, and grief. Finally, ending in sheer, wild, undaunted determination, Iolaus focused entirely on his vow to Hercules, determined not to swear to Ares, knowing that if he did it would put them on opposite paths.
Iolaus continued trying to escape. When that didn't work he slowed them down, making every attempt to move him a struggle. When he couldn't do anything else, he baited them: impugning their courage, trying to turn them against each other, cheerfully over-estimating the time to Thebes adding imaginative consequences of being late, and finally regaling them with tales of what Ares had done to warriors who had failed him.
When they reached Thebes three hours before sunset on the tenth day, Skouros started directly for the temple, stopping at a public bathhouse only after Timmons' sharp reminder that Ares' offering should be clean. As several of the warriors took turns bathing and guarding Iolaus, Timmons went to a small separate room. Drawing his knife he sliced a shallow cut across his forearm. "My Lord Ares, hear my prayer, when the boy's life spills on your altar..." he paused at a series of splashes intermingled with curses and a loud thud, "...please let me be the hand that holds the knife."
Laughing in amusement at Timmons' frustration, Ares appeared. "Sorry Timmons, but I won't be able to grant that prayer. I have other plans for Iolaus." Ares glanced up as additional thuds and curses echoed from above.
Timmons knelt, offering his bloody forearm to his god. Ares pulled him up, wiping the blood off with a finger, absorbing the blood offering and healing Timmons simultaneously. "My Lord, the boy is an offering; if he won't swear than you must take his blood."
Ares let a slow, lecherous smile flow across his face. "Timmons, I'll take blood, just not his life. I plan to make him mine." His smile faded, irritation taking its place as another thud reverberated, ending in silence. Ares shook his head. "You might want to go upstairs - my offering is escaping - again."
Timmons tore up the stairs, slamming the door open in time to fling himself across the room and drag Iolaus back through the window he had begun climbing out. Slamming him across the room, he dumped the still filthy boy into the bath, roughly holding his head underwater; pulling it up briefly every so often so the boy could spit out water and get in a few breaths of air, before he forced it under again. He continued that, scrubbing the boy with his other hand, cleaning the accumulated grime from his body. Finally finished, he pulled Iolaus up, keeping his hand tangled painfully in the boy's hair. "I don't understand what my God sees in you boy, but I'm sworn to him and will give him what he wants." He viciously kicked the downed warriors, growling, "Get up you idiots." Using his hold on Iolaus' hair, he forced the boy down, controlling him until the warriors had tied his hands behind his back and hobbled him. Even then he kept a firm hold on the boy's arm, joined on the other side by Skouros.
Within minutes, Iolaus stood naked before Ares' temple, still damp from the recent bath, panting from his struggles, shivering slightly in the chill twilight. Timmons and Skouros stood on either side, both maintaining a firm grip on his arms, preventing any additional escape attempts. The general's war band stood in a semi-circle behind them, all displaying an extensive variety of bruises, matching the ones on Iolaus. Still invisible, Ares walked around them, examining his offering; letting his anticipation run hotly through him. Iolaus stood straight, his body whipcord lean, muscles bunching with tension. His skin looked paler in the twilight than his normal glowing tan, his damp hair curled wildly, tangling in the breeze, while his blue eyes reflected determination and fire.
Ares stopped behind the boy. Iolaus barely reached mid-chest and was half or less his weight, but looking into the boy, with a god's eyes, Ares saw only the intoxicating fire within and swayed slightly. He reached formless hands out to caress the young body, feeling nipples harden as Iolaus shivered. Ares caught Iolaus' vague awareness of his presence, uncertainty and foreboding rushing through the young warrior. Ares leaned over, kissing his mark, caressing his damp hair, and whispering, "Mine." The whisper carried to Iolaus on the breeze, the single word 'mine' sweeping through him. He looked around, startled, trying to find the voice, pushing down terror.
Skouros gave the signal and his warriors took Iolaus from him and Timmons, lifting him by his upper arms, subduing his struggles, as they entered the temple. Ares' head priest stood before the altar. Skouros' men knelt, displaying their reverence, while Iolaus stubbornly stood. Skouros knelt, pulling on his son's bound wrists, forcing him down. He held him there with fierce pressure, but the boy tried to pull up, forcing Skouros to signal Timmons to help hold him. Following invisibly, Ares sat on his throne, watching as his trap closed.
Skouros proclaimed, "I bring Ares my son as promised thirteen years this night."
The priest looked at the struggling, recalcitrant boy. He raised an eyebrow. "Do you come to swear your allegiance to Ares?"
Trembling, Iolaus shook his head. "No. I don't." He took a deep breath and waited.
His father pulled his head back by his hair. "Thirteen years this night I swore to Ares to return my son to his temple to serve his pleasure. If he won't be Ares' warrior, then he will be Ares' sacrifice."
Ares watched the priest nod to Skouros, moving to allow him and his men to drag Iolaus before Ares' black granite altar. Again his priest asked Iolaus, "Do you come to swear your allegiance to Ares?"
Iolaus took a shuddering breath. Finally he whispered, "No."
Ares walked over to the altar as Skouros' men lifted Iolaus. Iolaus struggled against the hands placing him on the altar. He convulsed, nearly pulling away for a moment, then they shackled him to the rough granite; spread-eagled on the stone. The priest asked a third time. "Do you come to swear your allegiance to Ares??"
The priest handed Skouros an obsidian knife, he accepted it taking a deep breath and raising it over his son's heart. Avoiding his son's eyes he proclaimed, "I dedicate this sacrifice to Ares."
Iolaus turned his head to look at his father, trying to catch his eyes, as Skouros watched the knife descend. Ares heard his whispered, "Father..." as the stroke continued.
Ares appeared, catching Skouros' wrist, twisting the knife from his hand. The general stepped back, bowing with his men before the God of War. Ares stood with the knife, running it down Iolaus' body. He let the boy's rising panic flow into him like sweet nectar. He stopped to center the knife over Iolaus' heart, feeling the boy tremble with terror. Iolaus' breath came in shuddering gasps and he shut his eyes, waiting. Ares tangled a hand in his hair, pulling his head back; Iolaus' eyes blinked open to meet his.
Power ran through Ares' eyes, the god letting it flow to meet the fire running through Iolaus' eyes. Ares licked his lips while watching the mad pulse in Iolaus' neck. "Swear to me," he growled, lowering the knife so the tip rested above Iolaus' heart.
Terror poured off Iolaus, but he still forced his eyes away, breaking contact. "No."
Ares tugged on the hair, capturing Iolaus' eyes with his own a second time. He kept his hand tangled in the wild blonde hair, letting his cock harden in anticipation. He worked the trap, knowing that in only a few short minutes he could take, burying his cock in Iolaus' center.
"Do you want to die?" he asked, smiling threateningly, pressing the knife tip in just slightly, barely breaking skin. He carefully maintained the pressure as Iolaus' trembling increased.
"Of course not," Iolaus gasped out the response, struggling with the shackles.
Ares lifted the knife, laying it across Iolaus' chest. "Well that's good," he kept his voice light, conversational, letting a little humor into the tone, "I wouldn't want a suicidal warrior in my service." He felt the conflicting emotions tear through Iolaus in an almost incoherent cacophony: fear of being foresworn, honor, and love competed with a nearly overwhelming desire to live. Iolaus tried desperately to sort through the emotions, moving closer to accepting Ares. Until ... he remembered that if he swore to Ares he would have to fight Hercules. At that thought his other emotions faded leaving only one remaining determination: an absolute refusal to betray Hercules for any reason, no matter what price he paid.
Ares shook with rage as Iolaus' love of Hercules poured through their link.
Iolaus took a calm breath. "I won't swear to you."
Ares locked the rage down, maintaining a conversational tone with effort. "You don't want to be my warrior and you don't want to die. I can hardly just let you go." He gently released his harsh hold on Iolaus' hair, switching instead to a light seductive caress. Leaning forward, he whispered a gentle reminder, "After all, your father did promise you to me." He stood, pacing a moment. "Hmmm. What to do? What to do?" he teased, stopping suddenly to glance between Iolaus and Skouros; letting his power show, dark light pouring from him as he drew all eyes to him. Ares slowly walked to the foot of the altar. Looking at Iolaus, he reached out to rub a thumb along his ankle. Then he walked along the altar, running a possessive hand along Iolaus' side from ankle to underarm, feeling the boy's terrified and confused shudders under his hand. Iolaus focused on calming his shudders, shutting his eyes and waiting for the knife. Ares stopped, brushing his hand along Iolaus' chest; smiling, he whispered a soft seductive, "I know."
Ares' hand swiftly lifted the knife, quickly sweeping a shallow slash down Iolaus' chest.
The sudden, tearing pain broke Iolaus' hard-won calm forcing a ragged, desperate sob. Ares leaned down and licked the welling blood from Iolaus' chest, and controlled a shiver of pleasure as Iolaus' blood mingled with his, setting the second stage of their bond. Iolaus tensed under his tongue, trying to curl away, then started shaking as he felt Ares' pleasure and desire flowing into his mind. His heart pounded too fast for a mortal to bear and Ares controlled their link, easing the flow of his emotions to Iolaus. Ares' tongue lingered, slowly moving past the cut to suck on a nipple. He continued sucking until Iolaus' low moan of confused pleasure broke free.
"You could choose to fill my bed." Ares willed his clothes away, pulling Iolaus' shackled hand until it rested against his hard cock.
"Choose. My warrior, my sacrifice, or my bed companion."
Ares pushed heat and lust into Iolaus, closing the trap carefully. Through their bond, Ares tasted Iolaus' confused, angry struggle to ignore the lust filling him and work his way through the trap. Die. Fight Hercules. Fuck Ares. His choices echoed, chasing in desperate circles through his brain, until finally, Iolaus took the one choice that left him a chance to be with Hercules again.
Trembling, Iolaus whispered. "Your bed."
Rage for the reason tainted Ares' pleasure at the decision. Knowing he had won, Ares went with the pleasure, pushing the rage down. He smiled, pushing his cock into Iolaus' hand. "Good decision." Iolaus tried to move his hand and Ares gripped his wrist, keeping the hand on his cock. "Iolaus, do you swear, on the Styx, that you will remain my bed partner until I release you?" He pressed the knife into the shallow cut and forced Iolaus' hand against his cock.
Hesitantly, Iolaus whispered, "Yes."
The knife vanished from Ares' hand. Lowering his head, Ares kissed him brushing his lips against Iolaus' until they opened with a soft gasp. Ares' tongue stole past the barely parted lips. Iolaus lay bound to Ares' altar, his hand rubbing Ares' cock as he tried to understand the sensations sweeping through him. Neither his own fumbling masturbation nor Hercules' one kiss had prepared him for Ares. The war god continued kissing him, driving his tongue deeper, exploring the sweet mouth and taking Iolaus' kiss. He added a hand, caressing the body spread on his altar gliding the hand from hip to nipple. Pinching the nipple, Ares' other hand released his wrist to thread into Iolaus' hair. Ares let the disorderly curls twine around his fingers in a caress. Iolaus' hand slipped off his cock and he gasped into Ares' mouth. Ares tilted the boy's head, baring his throat, then his mouth left Iolaus' to travel down, exploring his neck with lips, teeth, and tongue.
He sucked, bit and licked, marking the young warrior as his; the harsh kisses traveling from Iolaus' neck to chest, latching onto a nipple. Ares kept his hand tangled into Iolaus' hair, enjoying the glide of curls across his fingers, but slipped the other hand from his new lover's nipple to under his back, lifting the chest to his mouth. Iolaus' tried to tear his head from Ares' grasp, moaning as the god's grip tightened. Tears filled his eyes as Ares continued arousing him. Ares opened his mind further to Iolaus, expanding the link, pushing his own lust into him. Iolaus' confusion, fear, and rage filled him, pouring through their link in waves. Underneath all the confusion one simple focus remained.
Iolaus' love for Ares' bastard half-brother screamed through his mind, pouring into Ares through their link. Ares lifted his mouth from Iolaus. Removing the hand supporting his back, he let Iolaus slam back to the altar. He pulled hard on his hair, twisting his head up to meet his eyes. "Mine," he hissed, releasing Iolaus' head to viciously shove it back to the altar.
As he moved away from Iolaus, stalking to the other end of his altar, sharp currents of arousal flowed to him from the surrounding warriors. He spared a few seconds attention to them; noting hard cocks, flushed and heated faces, hands drifting down to relieve themselves, then clenching as they controlled their response. With a brief nod he gave them permission.
Iolaus' broken sob echoed through the room when he saw his father masturbate while Ares pulled him down the altar by his ankles, the rough stone scraping his back and buttocks bloody. The chains binding his wrists lengthened as he moved, until his ass lay at the very edge of the altar. Ares hooked Iolaus' legs around his waist, lifting him up. Ares watched Iolaus breath deeply, trying to prepare himself, terror shooting through him.
Ares guided his cock to his entrance, pushing the tip of the cock just in, feeling the legs tense around his waist, trembling. He planted his hands on Iolaus' hips, holding them steady, controlling their shaking.
He looked at Iolaus and thought fiercely. *Open your eyes.* When he didn't obey, he poured his will into him again. *Open your eyes and look at me.* Iolaus reluctantly met his eyes, clenching his fists. *Relax.*
Instead, Iolaus tensed even more, terror pouring off him. "Please finish this." Only Ares heard the nearly inaudible whisper.
*Relax.* Ares ordered again.
Ares heard the desperate litany running through Iolaus' mind, 'Hercules, I can do this for him, I just have to live through it and then I can be with him and ... it should be Hercules, not him. I'm sorry Herc.' Rage filled him and he pushed forward, fiercely pulling the hips to him, entering Iolaus in a single agonizing thrust.
The single shriek echoed and rebounded through the temple. Iolaus arched desperately against the pain, only the chains and Ares' hands kept him on the altar. Ares felt every muscle in Iolaus' body contract against the painful tearing within, as the boy tried desperately to push him out. He maintained a firm grip on Iolaus' hips holding his ass to him. A jagged crack echoed as a wrist broke when Iolaus wrenched it too violently against the chains. As the second, lesser pain shot through his body, Iolaus fell back against the altar moaning. Ares sent soothing waves of heat and healing through him, forcing Iolaus to relax his body. The bruises healed first, then the cut. Next the torn tissue in his rectum healed and Ares willed a thick slick layer of lubricant to surround his cock. Finally, the broken wrist healed, bone knitting back together.
Ares waited as the pain eased. Gradually, the body beneath him relaxed, Iolaus' pained shudders slowly dwindling and his breathing gradually steadied. Ares suppressed his desire to rock his hips; instead, he changed the waves of power and flooded Iolaus' nerves with pleasure. His hands relaxed their grip, gently caressing the cupped hips. He waited, using the link to measure and increase Iolaus' arousal. Gradually, Iolaus began trembling again, but this time passion flowed through him. Slowly his cock filled, hardening. Finally, a low gasping moan escaped Iolaus and he tightened his ass around Ares' cock, rocking down and panting.
*Good boy,* Ares whispered the praise into Iolaus' mind, while rocking forward just enough to brush his cock against Iolaus' prostate, sending waves of pleasure through him. Ares continued the slow gentle rocking, thrusting against Iolaus' prostate with each inward thrust. He carefully measured Iolaus' arousal, pushing deeper and faster as it increased. He reached deeper into Iolaus' mind letting echoes of his pleasure cascade into Iolaus, pushing him closer to the edge.
All the while, he continued whispering into Iolaus' mind, encouraging his passion. *That's good, Iolaus, feel this...* he thrust deeply in, pouring white hot pleasure through Iolaus, *revel in it.* Shuddering on him, Iolaus pushed up, moaning as Ares' cock again brushed his prostate. *Good ... sweet ... pull me in that's right. Oh yes ... that's good.*
Ares moved a hand to Iolaus' cock, brushing across the head lightly, whispering more praise into Iolaus' mind as he arched, moaning. Ares slid his thumb back and forth across the wet slit as Iolaus twisted, trying to increase the friction.
"Uh, ahhh," Iolaus gasped as he neared the edge. "Ares, please..."
Ares pushed deeper, caressing Iolaus' body with both hands until all that remained in Iolaus was blind screaming lust, the urgent need to come. Sweat poured from him as he twisted on Ares' cock panting, "Please, please, please..."
Ares brought his hands back, pulling firmly on Iolaus' cock until, with a scream, he convulsed and his seed flooded out, covering Ares' hands. His body contracted, squeezing Ares' cock. As Iolaus relaxed slightly, Ares pushed deeper, striking once more on his prostate, sending pleasure blazing through the boy as Ares released into him. Sliding his hands from Iolaus, Ares braced himself on the altar until he felt ready to remove himself from his young lover. He cleaned them both, freeing Iolaus from his shackles with a glance and whisper of power.
Ares felt desire chill in Iolaus as he gathered himself up to crouch on the altar, shivering in shock. Confusion, self-disgust, and revulsion took passion's place causing waves of nausea. The war god followed the boy's wide staring eyes to Skouros, feeling the last small ties of attachment shatter, as Iolaus watched his father furtively wipe cum sticky hands against his cloak. Iolaus swayed at the sight gagging, falling forward on the altar. Ares reacted swiftly, grabbing his arms, gently pulling him up, and gathering his new bed companion to his chest. Iolaus strained against his imprisoning arms, twisting slightly, moaning. Ignoring his struggles and without a word to his worshipers, Ares vanished with Iolaus, reappearing in his bedroom.
Once there, he dropped Iolaus to the bed, chuckling with satisfied good humor. Iolaus rolled off the bed, coming to his feet on the other side, looking around wildly, he gasped, "Where?"
Ares vanished, reappearing behind Iolaus, running his hands possessively over his body, before picking him up and dumping him back on his bed. "Now where would you think I'd take my lover?" he drawled teasingly, watching Iolaus flinch at the term. "This is my bedroom." Iolaus' eyes darted to the one door and Ares vanished, reappearing in front of him before he could start his dash. His hand darted out. grabbing his lover by the hair and lifting him slightly. Their eyes met and Ares allowed power to echo in them. "Iolaus, think," he ordered with irritation, "Look around you and think."
Ares released him, stepping around the bed to sit in his hearth chair, giving Iolaus time to follow his order. Still shivering, Iolaus took a defensive position on the bed, darting up to the furthest corner away from Ares. Once there, he placed his back against the headboard and brought his knees to his chest, curling his arms around them. Iolaus watched Ares warily for several long moments, taking in the god's relaxed position in his chair. Ares leaned back, he had plenty of time now and while a little smaller than his temple throne, his chair was comfortable and plenty big enough for what he had in mind later. For now, he sent several wisps of power through the room; removing his boots, hanging his sword over the fireplace mantel, summoning a fire, food, and dark blue shirt for Iolaus. Playing to the still watching Iolaus, he propped his feet up on a stool, wiggling his toes and stretching. Iolaus stared a moment, then his eyes finally darted around, looking through the room.
Ares allowed his mind to follow Iolaus' thoughts as he examined his room. The food; set out on the table by Ares, attracted his attention first, his stomach growling in reminder that he hadn't been fed for nearly two days. He bit his lip, trying to ignore it, remaining on the farthest corner of the huge bed; staying well away from where Ares sat he leaned against the wood of the carved headboard. He slowly uncurled his body, letting his hand steal out to stroke the bedcover. Ares felt his curiosity as he tried to identify the material. "It's silk," said Ares calmly, he nodded his head towards the shirt he'd conjured for Iolaus, "So is that." Speculation filled his eyes as he watched Iolaus look at the shirt. "And if you like that, wait until you feel satin," Ares teased, imagining Iolaus writhing, sweaty with lust, on the dark charcoal of his sheets.
Iolaus flinched at his teasing tone, catching the edges of Ares' lust through their link. He shook his head, trying to get rid of the pictures flowing from Ares. Looking up from the somber blacks, grays, and silvers of Ares' bed he found only more dark and somber colors. Ares laughed as he heard Iolaus' mental litany, 'Black and gray sheets, black wood, black walls, gray cushions, black mantel, gray hearth, silver plates. Doesn't he ever get tired of black, gray and silver?'
"At least the fire is red," Ares joked, letting Iolaus feel his humor.
Iolaus stiffened, snarling, "Get out of my mind." His face screwed up with determination and he futilely tried to throw Ares out of his head. Ares poured power into the bond, reinforcing it as a small portion of Iolaus' awareness brushed it. Punishing him quickly, Ares triggered the part of the brain that signals pain and Iolaus collapsed, screaming in anguish, his body plunged into a firestorm of agony. His muscles constricted and his body curled. Long minutes later he uncurled, still gasping, his entire body continuing to shudder until the agony gradually faded.
Ares scrutinized Iolaus, waiting until he finally pulled himself back up to sit against the headboard, his body still vibrating with shock. "Iolaus," Ares called, "Iolaus, look at me." Again Ares waited for him to comply before warning him gently, "Don't do that again, our bond can't be broken and that pain will happen every time you try. Do you understand?" Iolaus looked at Ares, his shudders becoming more violent. *Iolaus, do you understand?* Ares whispered the question into his mind.
"Yes," Iolaus mumbled, trying to stop shaking.
Ares leaned back finally, picking up his wine and sipping. "Come here," he gave the order quietly, keeping his body relaxed and non-threatening. When Iolaus didn't respond, he leaned forward slightly. "Iolaus, you swore to be my bedmate. You gave your oath by the Styx. My warriors stood in witness, and we consummated it with pain and blood on my altar. Come here." Ares gave the order a second time, sending a warning flicker of pain through Iolaus at the same time.
Iolaus looked down at the bedspread then reluctantly uncurled, finally reaching for the shirt, pulling it on as he got off the bed. The boy paused as he discovered that the shirt had no fasteners and only came to mid-thigh; then his feet hit the cold stone floor, causing him to shiver violently. "Why is it so cold?" he asked apathetically. Ares felt the lack of interest and desire to stall, but decided to play along.
"We're deep underground and the sun doesn't heat the earth this far down ... and you're in shock. Of course, it is warmer by the hearth." He waited as Iolaus hesitatingly walked toward the hearth, the shirt sliding along his body, stopping when he got to its edge, still a few feet from Ares. "Iolaus," Ares whispered softly, silk in his voice, "I know you're hungry ... cold ... tired. I hurt you before..." Ares held his hand out, beckoning him gently. "...But we both know that once you were sworn to me, I had to take you and you know that there must be pain and blood on my altar. Come here and eat. I have sweet wine. It's warm ... and I won't hurt you again."
Iolaus swayed, trying to fight past the seduction of Ares' voice. "Iolaus, come to me, let me warm you." Ares banked his desire, letting only the smallest seductive wisp flow through their bond. "Remember the pleasure," he flashed an echo of Iolaus' earlier orgasmic ecstasy into the boy's mind, "Come to me ... let me teach you."
Shaking his head, Iolaus stepped back. "You're manipulating me."
Ares stood, letting his power mantle him, pushing it out so it washed over Iolaus, holding him still. *Yes,* Ares whispered in his mind, joining the word with images of them together and the sensations of his lips on Iolaus' body. Iolaus shuddered, his cock filling and poking out. Ares held out his hand, his voice whispering like silk in Iolaus' mind, *I'm manipulating you ... seducing you. Take my hand, Iolaus. Take my hand ...now ...* his seduction abruptly stopped, becoming warning, "... or would you rather I chain you to the altar again?" Ares stopped holding his hand out, using their bond, sending sensations; the heat and moisture of his lips on Iolaus' nipple, the musky scent of cum and sweat, the tightness right before orgasm. Iolaus moaned, biting his lip and swaying, his cock hard and red.
Finally, with a frantic cry he took Ares' hand.
Ares carefully kept his triumph contained within his own mind. Gently, he pulled Iolaus to him, moving them back to the chair. "You made the right decision, Iolaus." He captured the boy's mouth briefly in a gentle kiss as he sat, pulling Iolaus onto his lap. *Relax.* Ares caressed his arm, moving his hands up to Iolaus' shoulder, gently kneading knots out, until Iolaus relaxed against him. Another series of shivers shook him. "Drink this." Ares offered the wine cup, letting Iolaus drink deeply.
Iolaus blinked, startled by the powerful wine, as warmth coursed through him. "What?"
"Dionysus' best," Ares said, offering the cup again. After the second gulp, Iolaus' shivers finally started easing. Ares shifted, reaching for the plate of food that he'd conjured earlier. Selecting a small sliver of cheese, Ares fed the boy, holding it so Iolaus' mouth had to work around his fingers to get to the food. He continued feeding Iolaus, letting his cock harden under the boy's buttocks, until a flare of tearing pain screamed through his body and Iolaus abruptly turned his head, refusing food. Ares froze, letting the pain run its course, as Iolaus' memory of his earlier claiming of his body echoed through their link.
"Ouch," Ares murmured into Iolaus' ear, "I'm going to have to do something to replace that particular memory." Iolaus looked at him, startled. "Yeah, I felt that." He shifted slightly, pulling Iolaus around to face him. "Here. Straddle me ... knees here." He patted the chair seat on either side of his hips. "That's right," he encouraged as Iolaus knelt, straddling him, trembling a little. "I want you to relax." He offered the wine, letting Iolaus drink another good gulp. Assessing him, Ares decided to accustom Iolaus to touching his body. He offered up a gauntleted wrist. "Take off my gauntlet." Ares felt Iolaus' nervousness increase and a slight tremble as he obeyed, taking off first one, and then the other when Ares wordlessly offered his other wrist. "Now, that wasn't so bad was it?" he teased.
Iolaus shrugged. "I guess not."
Ares arched an eyebrow, taking his hands and guiding them to his waist. "Now my belt." He caught the edge of Iolaus' desperation right before the memory echoed back through them again. Anticipating it this time, Ares intercepted the memory, blocking it, and replacing it with the memory of pleasure from the first time his cock had brushed Iolaus' prostate. Iolaus rocked automatically, his body tightening with lust at the remembered pleasure. "Remember that, instead," he told the, gasping boy. Moving his hands to the belt, Iolaus undid it, pulling it off and dropping it over the chair arm.
"Good, now let's get rid of my vest." Iolaus reached up to push the vest off, brushing against Ares chest as he did it. This time Ares finished, shrugging the vest off and dropping it to the floor. His hands reached out, pulling Iolaus up to his mouth and his lips latched onto a nipple.
"Ahhh," Iolaus cried softly.
Ares continued playing with the nipple until Iolaus moaned, arching. His mouth traveled to the other nipple, toying with it, then he pulled Iolaus back for a kiss. As they kissed, Ares ran his hands along Iolaus' sides, pushing the shirt off. Gradually, Ares broke their kiss, pulling Iolaus up, until his mouth could reach the boy's cock. He nudged the cock with his face, licking at it, his hands cupping Iolaus' backside as he bent back. Ares used one hand to hold him steady, grasping his cock with the other and bringing it to his mouth.
He inhaled the cock, sucking strongly, controlling Iolaus' body to make sure he didn't come immediately. Iolaus leaned forward, grabbing the chair back above Ares' head, clinging as Ares continued blowing him. Ares oiled his hands, massaging Iolaus' ass. Ares waited until he thrust helplessly into his mouth before moving his hands down to prepare Iolaus for his cock. Still preventing Iolaus' orgasm, Ares pushed a finger into him, twisting until he was in all the way, then he added a finger from his other hand, slowly working them, stretching the tight passage. Iolaus gasped, crying out with pleasure as a finger rubbed against his prostate. He rocked between Ares' mouth and hands, panting for breath, fingers whitening on the chair.
Ares sent a current of power flowing into Iolaus, uncurling his hands from the chair and making him arch back in ecstasy, pulling his cock from Ares' mouth. As Iolaus arched, Ares willed away his pants, pulling Iolaus down on his cock, sliding into the slick passage easily. Iolaus wrapped his legs around Ares' waist, screaming in pleasure as his cock brushed his prostate. His arms flailed, searching for purchase until Ares grabbed them, guiding them to the chair arms. Iolaus pushed himself down, sobbing for release, and Ares matched his rhythm, building upon it until he felt his balls tighten. As the first pulses of his seed erupted into Iolaus, he freed Iolaus allowing him to come.
Iolaus collapsed against him, letting his legs drop from Ares' waist. His head settled on Ares' chest as the god rubbed his shoulders and back. Ares continued rubbing Iolaus' back as he heard the echo of his heart under Iolaus' ear through their link. His cock eventually slipped from Iolaus, letting his seed run out of the boy's body.
*Remember this, Iolaus ... remember this sweet pleasure.* Ares stood, lifting him, walking through an archway and into a bathing chamber.
"Where'd that come from?" Iolaus asked, trying to figure out why he hadn't noticed it.
Ares laughed with delight, following his confused memory. "You never looked over here." Ares stepped down into the warm water. "You were too busy being afraid of pleasure." Iolaus didn't respond. Ares looked at him, seeing his head nod and eyelids droop. He efficiently bathed him, wrapping him in a towel to dry, then taking him back to the bedroom.
He settled on the bed, pulling Iolaus against his chest, kissing his mark, caressing the tangled hair, and whispering, "I'll have everything from you Iolaus, you're mine."
"No," Iolaus said softly, "won't be your warrior ... won't hurt Herc."
Possessive anger filled Ares at the quiet words. He stripped the towel from his body, ignoring Iolaus' moan of protest as the cool air hit his still damp skin. "You're my bedmate, I want to see you."
Shivering, Iolaus protested again, "It's cold."
Ares wrapped his arms around Iolaus, ordering, "Go to sleep," reinforcing it by sending a surge of drowsiness through their bond. Iolaus drifted off, still shivering. Sending a wisp of power to his fire, Ares built it up, letting it heat the room. He held Iolaus against his body, letting his warmth heat the youngster's shivering frame. Iolaus moaned in his sleep, still struggling against the imprisoning arms. Ares pushed him deeper into sleep, past the realm of dreams, and he sighed softly, finally relaxing against Ares.
Ares caressed his body, rubbing his hands along the sleek lines of Iolaus' back and hips, gently massaging his buttocks, feeling his cock harden to nudge Iolaus' groin. Ares ignored his arousal, letting it subside, instead pushing his awareness along their link, entering Iolaus' mind. He carefully examined his bond, smiling in satisfaction at its strength. Not quite complete, he mused, but nearly so and now that he had Iolaus, and had taken him, consummating their relationship, it could only strengthen. He reached his mind for a vial he'd traded favors for with Morpheus.
As the vial appeared, he felt his father's presence just outside his shields.
*Ares, I wish to speak to you.* His father's voice echoed angrily in his mind.
Ares snorted inelegantly. *Then speak.*
*In person ... now Ares.*
Shrugging, Ares lowered his shields allowing his father into the room. He continued cradling Iolaus to him, casually petting him, ignoring his father's pretended shock.
*Ares, stop playing with him and listen to me.* Zeus glared at his son.
Ares glanced at his father's robes, noting the giveaway tenting. "I'm listening. What's so important that you interrupt me now?" he asked impatiently, smiling at his father's barely concealed fury.
"Give me Iolaus, I'm taking him back to his mother," ordered Zeus, stepping forward to gather the boy.
"No," Ares challenged his father, "You want Iolaus then call council and explain to us all, why that particular half-mortal bastard comes before my legitimate claim on the boy." Ares watched anger and frustration chase across Zeus' face. "Your own rules Father, you know ... the ones you keep reminding me about. No one gets to take an offering. Skouros gave him to me. He swore to me, willingly, on my altar. I claimed him and I'm keeping him."
Zeus paced back and forth. "Willing, you tricked him ..."
"And you didn't trick Alcmene?" Ares asked sarcastically, "And Europa ...and Danae ... and Leda ... and Agenia ... and Antiope ... and, well it's easy to lose track of them all, isn't it, Daddy?
Zeus glowered at his son, scowling fiercely, "Damn you, Ares, Hercules is important ..." He glanced up, noticing the vial. "And you're using that?"
"Again, explain it to counsel. And as for Morpheus' potion, why do you care? It's not like you haven't used it yourself." Iolaus shifted, rousing slightly, Ares watched his father, silently challenging him.
Zeus took a deep breath, clenching fists then unclenching them. "Iolaus will go to Hercules, the Fates have written it, and you can't undo it, son. Using Morpheus' potion won't prevent this, not even gods can change the Fates' tapestry..."
Ares roared with laugher. "The Fates," he shook his head still laughing, sarcasm filling his voice as he finished, "The Fates, one of the two great illusions. Tell it to your priests. The Fates no more write the future, than gods can't be killed." He paused, caressing Iolaus' hair. "And don't try to sell me that fake concern." He glanced at Zeus' crotch. "You're hard as a rock, you'll leave here and go fuck you pet mortal, Ganymede. This has nothing to do with concern for Iolaus ... or for me. You're just playing another one of your games. You want to play - play with your own pet mortals. Iolaus is mine."
*All right, Ares, you can keep Iolaus. He swore to be your bed partner and he swore in this temple. That's what you get. He's your bed partner, you can fuck him whenever you want ... unless you choose to release him. But Ares, if he leaves the temple grounds ... I won't let you force him back.* Zeus vanished, leaving his son shaking in rage.
"Damn him!" Ares ground out the rage-filled words. "Damn him and damn his bastard!" Ares plunged his mind into Iolaus attuning his body to the shields surrounding the temple. "There, you won't be leaving, not until I can work my way around his arbitrary, high-handed, damn decision."
He grabbed the vial, holding it to Iolaus' lips and rubbing his throat. Iolaus gulped in his sleep, swallowing the potion. Ares followed the potion, tracing it passing through his mouth and throat to his blood then traveling through the blood to his brain. As it hit, Iolaus convulsed briefly in his arms. Within moments, Iolaus opened his eyes hazily looking around.
Ares suppressed his surge of anger, knowing that he had one chance at this, and one chance only. Morpheus' drug would keep Iolaus in a highly suggestible, waking dream-state for three days. Ares fully intended to own him, body and soul, by the end of that time. *Ares, I'm Ares, your lover.* Ares rolled him over, arousing him with mouth and hands. As he brought Iolaus to the edge he whispered into his drug-laden mind, *Ares. It's Ares you love ... remember me ... remember what I do to you.* He brought Iolaus to orgasm and held him when he collapsed, still pouring images of them making love into his mind. Ares repeatedly teased Iolaus, using his hands, his mouth, his cock, keeping him at the edge, then plunging him over. He learned every hot spot, every sensitive bit of skin, everything and anything that made Iolaus arch, cry, gasp, or moan. And he taught Iolaus to know his body, showing him how to give him pleasure, teaching him where to touch, where to lick, and where to bite. The entire time, he whispered into Iolaus' mind, attaching his voice, his touch, his face to Iolaus' passion.
During and in-between bouts of lovemaking, Ares sent his power deeper into Iolaus' mind, strengthening their link and blocking off memories. Carefully, Ares pushed Iolaus' childhood deeper into the inaccessible reaches of subconscious. Even drugged, a small portion of Iolaus fought to keep his memories, battling desperately with the god, in a futile attempt to retain his mother, uncles and grandfather, Alcmene, and Hercules. Each hour he lost more, until he lay shaking in Ares' arms, sweat glistening on his skin. Ares covered him, hooked Iolaus' feet over his shoulders and entered him with a powerful thrust. Iolaus bucked up to him with a desperate cry, trying to reach completion. Ares plunged his cock deeper, pushing Iolaus closer to the edge. The god tracked Iolaus' arousal with both his mind and body, letting the taste and feel of his cock pounding into the boy echo through the link. A last barrier shattered within Iolaus' mind and Ares followed it, discovering the few remaining memories. He felt the boy's rising desperation, as Iolaus' small frantic gasps and frenzied thrusts alerted him to the boy's impending orgasm. Ares pushed Iolaus' body still further, until with a scream he convulsed in orgasm and Ares' mind stabbed deeper, pushing the last memories down, leaving Iolaus with only vague impressions of love and friendship, overlaid with Ares' imprint.
Having won, Ares violently climaxed into Iolaus, momentarily collapsing onto the boy. He turned onto his back, pulling Iolaus onto him. Ares cradled him gently, while the boy continued to shudder from the after-effects of the violent orgasm and Ares' barricading of his memories. With a small sigh, Iolaus slipped into true sleep. Ares smiled. "Wow, now that ... that was good." He rolled out from under Iolaus, wrapping him in the blankets, cleaning them and the room with a thought. He looked around and left food and water on the table, and a hot bath waiting for Iolaus when he woke up. Dressing and taking his sword, he vanished.
Minutes later, a young boy slipped into the room, walking silently over to Iolaus. "I'm so dead," he muttered nearly inaudibly, scanning the room. "Well, I'm dead if I'm lucky, otherwise, I'm slowly tortured and wishing I was in Tartarus." He leaned over the sleeping boy, still muttering quietly. "'Do me a favor, Autolycus, you just have to give a sleeping boy a potion. You're my King of Thieves, Autolycus. It'll be a piece of cake.' You didn't tell me he slept in Ares' main temple. You didn't tell me he was in Ares' bedroom. And you, sure as Tartarus, didn't tell me he was in Ares' bed. Can you say conned Autolycus? Hermes, I'm going to be real irritated if this gets me killed!" He pulled a vial from under his belt, tilting it and popping the cork with one hand. With the other, he gently pinched Iolaus' nose shut, pouring the liquid into him when his mouth opened. Done, he quietly slipped back out.