Last month began what was one of the best and worst periods of my life. "How is that possible?" you might ask. Well, it wasn't easy. It started out quite typically. To alleviate some boredom, I sent some warlords out to Corinth to stir up a little trouble. Unfortunately for me, I forgot to check where Hercules was at the time and as the Fates would have it, Hercules was visiting his brother at the time. He was making quick work of them, so of course I had to step in and we fought as usual, with Hercules winning that particular battle after a particularly hard punch he delivered to my abdomen, which hurt a great deal more than usual. Hercules must have been upset at something prior to our confrontation. I made a mental note to go and investigate this further as this could be used for future purposes before leaving the furious demigod.

Wounded, but invigorated I retreated to my temple in Thrace. Battles with Hercules always put me in a better mood regardless of the consequences. I was in the middle planning an upcoming battle when Zeus appeared. Apparently he heard about the fight I'd had with his favorite son and was not pleased. I expected to hear the hundredth retelling of lecture number 13 on why we should be nicer to our demigod half-brothers, as this was the usual punishment for such offences. However, on that day this was not the case. Instead, Zeus said that since his usual punishment didn't work, a new one would be in order. A thunderbolt flew toward me unexpectedly and the next thing I knew I was lying on my back staring up at the sky. This was definitely something new. The thing that bothered me was that I didn't feel any different. I had the feeling that there was definitely more to the lightning bolt than just blasting me to this place, but what it was escaped me.

Looking around I saw no one except a lone figure sitting by a nearby riverbank crying. Out of curiosity, I decided to investigate further and found that the figure was none other than my mongrel brother Hercules. What could have happened to cause such anger in him this morning and tears now? He usually wasn't the weepy type so whatever it was had to be fairly serious. I hid in some bushes behind Hercules to observe and find out just what was going on here. Opportunities like this didn't come along very often.

After about a half-hour, I saw Hercules pick up a piece of parchment beside him that I'd failed to notice before with a drawing of a woman on it. I saw the face for a moment. It was Deianeira, Hercules' first wife. It must have been some special day for them.

I shook myself out of my reverie as Hercules moved to head toward town. He seemed to have gotten whatever it was that bothered him out of his system. Normally, I would have left or figured out some way to pester him for fun but for some reason that day, I couldn't. Instead I was drawn to him. He looked up at me suspiciously as I walked toward him.

"What do you want, Ares?" he says with more than a little annoyance in his voice.

My normally dry scathing remark vanished as my gaze met his. "I felt bad about this morning and you looked like you could use a little cheering up, so here I am." Did that just come out of my mouth? What in Tartarus did Zeus do to me?

"Why? Don't you have someone else to torment today? I'm not in the mood for more of your games."

"I'm your brother, Hercules. It bothers me when you're upset." The look on my face must have mirrored the horror I felt as realization dawned on me. Zeus had turned me into a 'nice' person.

"Ares, please just say whatever it is that you came here to say and go away."

"Please, Hercules, I need your help."

"Help! You, the God of War needs my help?" Hercules responded incredulously.

"Yes, please! You're the only one who can help me." Things got worse for me then as for some reason the damned spell almost made me burst into tears.

"What happened?"

If I had been capable of doing so at that moment, I would have surely killed Zeus for doing this to Hercules and myself, and also anyone who saw me like this. However, I value my life and despite my ramblings to the contrary, there is no way I'd even attempt to take Zeus on directly. My indirect attempts haven't had much luck either. With most of my potential allies dead or allied with Zeus, there's little chance of an indirect assault being successful either. At the time I thought, Zeus might be persuaded to undo this 'niceness' spell if I got Hercules to ask on my behalf so I resolved myself to convincing him to help me. It was not easy, though.

"Let's just say that Zeus and I had a minor disagreement."

"I'm not helping you, Ares. Go find someone else to plead to Zeus on your behalf."

Damn. This was going to be more difficult than I thought. A new strategy was in order.

"Look Hercules, I know we haven't had the best of relationships in the past."

"Well, whose fault is that? Who is the one who has been tormenting me all these years?! I'm not helping you, Ares. Zeus can send you to Tartarus for all I care."

My brother walked away, but thanks to that damnable spell of Zeus' I was drawn to helplessly follow.

Hercules angrily turned to me "Will you stop following me! I told you to leave me alone."

Once again I try to say something in line with my normal character or simply leave. I find that I can do neither.

"I can't leave you alone!"

"Why? So you can bully me into helping you?"

"Because I love you, dammit!" Oh gods! Did I say that? Did I just blurt out the one thing I could never openly admit even to myself but always knew? Could that day possibly get any worse?

Hercules was just staring at me in open-mouthed disbelief. This was the one answer I don't think he was expecting.

"How long?"

"What?" Now I was the one thrown for a loop. I expected something along the lines of 'You're not capable of love,' or Hercules reacting violently or simply leaving. Did Zeus put a spell on him as well?

"How long have you felt this way?" Hercules asks again.

Hercules' gaze was too intense for me to bear. Looking down at the ground, I find words to answer him. "For a while, now. However, I didn't realize just what was happening until the time we met after Zeus killed the hinds."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I am the God of War. I don't do nice. I don't feel nice. And yet every time I looked at you it seemed to be calling to something in me. And for the briefest of moments, I wanted to be nice for you. But those feelings were alien to me. Lust, anger, war those I understood. Love was something I didn't understand and it frightened me. Therefore it had to be removed."

"Which is why you've tormented me all those years. You couldn't deal with your emotions so you'd rather destroy the cause of them? Life doesn't work that way, Ares. It took me a long time to figure that out, but it's true. It only makes things worse."

I took a minute to absorb all of what Hercules said. It made sense, but I wasn't ready to admit that just yet.

Sensing an opportunity, Hercules moved closer to me and to my surprise kissed me gently on the lips. It was the most wonderful thing I'd ever felt in my life. Thankfully Hercules seemed to feel the same was as he deepened the kiss, continuing his wonderful exploration of my mouth.

A loud cracking noise behind me shocked me into the realization that the entire episode had been a very detailed dream on my part. I was still lying on the ground alone, thankfully, but I heard whatever it was that was making the noise moving closer to me. I tried to leave the area as I was definitely not in the mood for dealing with anyone. Unfortunately, Zeus seemed to have relieved me of my ability to translocate so I had to settle for hiding behind some bushes. I made a mental note to myself to definitely start several wars near Zeus' temples. I know it's petty, but since Hera reconciled with Zeus and everyone else who had issues with him dead or trapped in the Pit of Tartarus, it's the best thing I can come up with.

As the fates would have it, my visitor was none other than the real Hercules. He was apparently upset at something and had decided to destroy trees to act out his feelings. Well, this would be the perfect opportunity for me to act out some frustrations of my own. After all I could always say that a tree just happened to fall upon my dear brother through no fault of my own.

Whatever actions I thought of dried up as our eyes met. All I saw was the crystal blue of Hercules' eyes as he looked at me like he never had before. Love, anguish and hope all shone back at me from two bottomless blue pools and I was lost in them, all hatreds forgotten. The next thing I knew, we were kissing--hard and brutal, yet sweeter than anything I'd ever experienced. We ended up making love for the rest of the afternoon on the forest floor until we fell asleep in each other's arms too deliciously tired and sated to move.

I awoke few hours later. Hercules, thankfully was still soundly asleep. I took a moment to watch him sleep and contemplate the day's events before rising to walk away from my paradise. I was still feeling emotionally raw and I had to take a minute to center myself again. I took a few breaths to try to calm myself before sitting down to try to figure out just how to get myself out of my current predicament. I had only been there a few minutes when I heard soft footfalls behind me. It didn't take any godly intuition for me to figure out who or what was going on.

"I'm not going to let you do it," said a voice behind my still naked form.

"Do what?"

"Try to deny to yourself what you felt when we made love back there. Lock your feelings back behind that wall of yours and pretend it never happened or worse yet hate yourself for not denying them and me for inspiring them."

"I can't. I'm the God of War. I don' that sort of thing!" I know it sounded lame, but faced with the sight of Hercules' body, it was the best I could do.

Hercules sank to his knees beside me. "I once thought that too. But tonight, you showed me otherwise. You are more than the God of War. There is a person inside here," he said placing a hand over my heart, "a person that you've denied far too long. Doesn't that person deserve a chance to live as well?"

"No!" I angrily reply. "I am the God of War. It's all I can afford to be." This was true. Emotional attachments can be crippling weaknesses for anyone in my line of work.

"I know you think being involved with someone in other than a casual fling is a weakness, but have you also considered that it is also a strength?"

Damn his logic. Why did you have to be smart and beautiful at the same time? This would be so much easier if he were one or the other, but being both is weakening my defenses. I hope my silence will send him the message that I'm not interested because I'm not sure I have the strength to tell him that in words.

After a few minutes of this standoff, Hercules moved over to snuggle closer to me. "I'm not leaving, not until you tell me how you really feel," he said defiantly.

"I can't."

Hercules contemplated something for a moment before he continued. "I love you, Ares. Sometimes I wished I could deny it, but it's true. It has been for a long time. I had always secretly hoped that you would one day feel the same thing for me. I know you feel something for me, but if you can't tell me now, then I will just have to respect that. Maybe one day you will be able to open up and share who you are with me again."

I sat there in shock during that entire speech. No one had ever spoken to me that way before and I wasn't exactly sure of how to deal with it. Hercules, interpreting my silence as unwillingness to open up got up at that point and began dressing himself again. "You know where to find me if you want to talk to me, Ares," was all he said before he left, walking back in the direction he had originally came from.

I sat there watching the ground silently clinging to the hope that once Hercules left, I would begin to feel like myself again. I sat there for an hour before giving up that fragile hope. I felt worse than before and I was still angry with myself for letting any of it happen. Determined to somehow get all of this love nonsense out of my system I got up and headed for my temple. Strife and Deimos would likely be there and I could beat them to a pulp to make myself feel better.

Two and a half hours later, Strife stumbled out of the main room of my temple, followed by a crawling Deimos. Considering the pounding I had just given both of them, I should have felt wonderful. Instead, I only felt mildly better at that point. I decided to resume my battle planning in the hopes that a good war somewhere would help. I looked into my scrying pool to decide which of my two final locations would be the best place to start when I had an urge to see what Hercules was up to.

Hercules had returned to his brother's palace and was currently speaking to Iphicles about something. What struck me was the depths of sadness in Hercules' eyes. The hurt in his eyes when he left me had grown into something resembling defeat. I felt myself beginning to slide back down into pit of despair I was in earlier but I was still compelled to watch (probably a result of Zeus' spell).

Then there was a flash of blindingly white light. When it was over, Hercules was gone and I'm certain that Iphicles and I both had identical expressions of shock on our faces. I flashed in myself to investigate and found a trace of a very familiar power signature--Zeus. I was furious. Zeus is doing this to torment me and it would seem that even his favored son isn't above being used for his little game.

Iphicles yelled out in anger at the disappearance of Hercules, attracting the attention of Iolaus who happened to be in the area. Both were baffled as to the identity of the kidnapper (Hercules being kidnaped was something they both seemed to be certain of.) and also as to where to begin the search. Admittedly, I too, was baffled as to where to begin searching. Zeus was a master at hiding things when it becomes convenient for him. We all suspect that Zeus probably has had a lot more secret rendezvous with mortals, nymphs and other creatures than we can possibly imagine. It was just blind luck on Hera's part (or the Fates' intervention) that she found out about the affairs she did know about.

To my surprise, Iolaus and Iphicles call upon Hephaestus to help them. Heph, like Aphrodite seemed to have a soft spot for Hercules and Iolaus (although Heph leaned more towards Hercules while Aphrodite liked Iolaus better). Heph looked a little worried once the situation had been explained to him. This meant that he knew something about this that none of us did which didn't bode well for Hercules.

I was seething by this point, but I knew better than to openly reveal myself at this point. I suspect Heph knew it as well as he didn't say anything to alert Iphicles or Iolaus to my presence.

Hephaestus took a deep breath before beginning. "I think I know what happened here, and possibly how to save Hercules."

"Well, what happened?" asked an impatient Iphicles.

"A little while back, Zeus came to me and requested that I build a machine for Aphrodite as a gift for helping him out of a jam with Hera. The purpose of the machine was to help people discover if they were soul mates before they got married, which would take some of the love load off of Aphrodite's back. She found out about it before I finished and asked me to stop, so I did. I was having a hard time working the kinks out of the machine anyhow. Zeus found out about the device and asked could he have it. I told him he could take it, but that I didn't have time to fix it right away. He insisted that he wanted to do some 'special' modifications to the machine and that he could do them without my help. Zeus always liked to tinker a little bit anyhow so I thought nothing of it except that he'd be bringing it back when he finished for me to fix then."

I was definitely not liking the direction this conversation was taking. Heph's devices can trap gods and cause them great harm when used improperly (or properly depending on who you speak to). Who knows what kind of damage this contraption Heph built can do now that Zeus has altered it?

"Why would Zeus do such a thing? I thought he liked Hercules," asked a confused and angry Iphicles.

'He's doing this to destroy me,' I thought to myself.

"Zeus does like Hercules. He is likely using Herc as a tool to get back at someone else," Heph answered. "Rumor has it that Zeus has some gods he wants to get rid of, and he's going to alter Herc somehow to do it since the no kill rule doesn't apply when he kills another god, but does if they kill him."

Iolaus jumped in at this point. "Is there anything you can do to free Hercules? I mean, you did build the device originally."

Heph sighed. "I will do what I can. Herc's my friend. I owe him that much and more, but the thing is I will probably need the help of the one the Zeus has most likely targeted."

"Ares," said an furious Iphicles. "He and Hercules have been battling for years and everyone knows how much Zeus hates Ares. With Hera reconcile with Zeus after her stay in the Pit of Tartarus, Ares is the most likely choice isn't he?"

Hephaestus looked them both straight in the eye with his answer "Yes."

Heph's answer was exactly what I didn't want to hear. I desperately wanted to keep any involvement I had in this secret or as low key as possible. If Iolaus and Iphicles tag along, then all my hopes of low key anything would be thrown out the window.

I choose to leave at that point anyhow. There was no need for me to continue to torture myself further by listening in on something I wasn't going to be participating in if I could help it. This was a trap, an elaborate trap Zeus had made to get rid of me indirectly since he wouldn't do it himself. Well, this son of Zeus wasn't falling for it!

For the next few days I buried myself in a number of minor skirmishes and finalizing the battle plans for my next war. Then Hephaestus arrived.

"I have something for you," he said, looking at me with an expression of almost pure hatred. "You knew what we were going to do, and yet you did nothing to help. I thought it only appropriate that you now face the consequences of your actions."

I was furious that Heph would choose now to come and throw all of this into my face. I looked at him as if he were mad until I noticed Iphicles and Iolaus behind him holding an unconscious Hercules. I almost gasped in shock when I realized who Hercules was.

"Admiring your handiwork, Ares?" Hephaestus continued. "I'm glad. You know, if it were up to me, I'd kill you and Zeus both for doing this to Herc. He didn't deserve it. But, seeing as Zeus isn't going to clean up his mess, then that leaves you. Hercules' life is in your hands. Thanks to Zeus, you are the only one who can save him. If he dies, then you are the one who will face the consequences."

Iphicles and Iolaus were uncharacteristically silent through Hephaestus' tirade, but the scathing looks they gave me would have made me proud on any other day. They laid Hercules across the altar before turning to leave.

"What do you think you're doing?" I ask. "You can't leave him here!" This whole thing was becoming infuriating to me.

"Yes we are leaving him here so you can see him suffer. That is what you wanted to do isn't it? See him suffer so you could feel better about yourself."

"Get out!"

"I hope you're happy," was all I heard as they turned to leave.

I looked at the altar trying to figure out who I could get to baby-sit Hercules and coming up with no one who would be willing. I decided to try everyone I knew and could tolerate in my present mood. For the next two hours I tried to talk someone into taking Hercules off my hands. No one would do it, no matter how I threatened them. Zeus had already promised everyone some unknown dire fate for any action that could help me. With a heavy heart, I returned to my temple only to find Hercules hadn't even moved since he'd been placed on the altar earlier.

"Get up!" I yelled at him with was no response. I walked over to the altar to get a closer look at Hercules. He was pale, and his breathing quick and shallow as if he were in some sort of pain and he felt cold to the touch.

Suddenly Hercules jerked slightly as his eyes began rapid movement back and forth. I shook him again to try to wake him up, but all I accomplished was to cause slow, silent tears to flow from his still shut eyes.

"What did Zeus do to you?" I asked aloud as I pondered what to do next. I couldn't kill him, or get rid of him and I had little experience with healing people.

"It's terrible, isn't it?" asked a voice behind me.

I wheeled around to see Aphrodite standing behind me with a bleak expression on her face.

"What do you know about this?" I asked making no attempt to hide my anger at the situation.

Aphrodite looked even bleaker as she replied to me, "Only that whatever Zeus did is slowly poisoning Herc's mind with despair. If you don't do something, Herc's mind will collapse and he'll die."

"And what can I do about that? I'm the God of War, not a relationship counselor. That's more in your area of expertise."

"If I could save him, I would but Zeus has said that if any of us interfere, he would strip us of our powers. I'm putting my butt on the line for just being here."

"So why are you here?" I asked with more than a little curiosity.

"To tell you to get over yourself and go save Herc!"


"You have to go into Herc's mind and fix whatever Zeus did to him. It's the only way either one of you can be happy, Ares."

This was definitely not what I wanted to hear. "I was 'happy' before when everyone left me alone!"

"As if! And I suppose the next thing you'll say is that you've never pulled your punches so you'd lose to Herc either. Everybody on Olympus knew you had a hard on for Hercules but could never admit it!"

Damn. Dite is a lot smarter than she looks or acts. Her remarks were definitely hitting close to home. I had to get rid of her before she said something else to rattle me. "Dite, it's not that I don't appreciate your effort, really I do, but go home."

"Ar, I'm trying to help you here!"

"Unless you're here to take him away," I said pointing at Hercules, "I don't need your help! Now get out!"

Hercules chose that moment to go into another one of his fits, which caused Aphrodite to run to his side. "You have to do something, Ares. If you won't do anything to Herc directly, then go to Zeus and..."

"Get out!" I yelled as I threw a fireball at Aphrodite. I just couldn't take it any more. After I calmed down, though, I realized she was right and that I was also afraid. What was I going to do?

I couldn't do anything because I knew the guilt I'd feel at destroying Hercules in the way Zeus chose, and the anger at myself for feeling guilty would destroy me eventually. On the other hand, did I really want to set myself up for public and private humiliation should any of this get out?

Hercules' next fit answered my question. I had to do something. My guilt was already getting to me more than I'd care to admit. I'd theorized by that time that if any of it came out, I'd say that I wanted to save Hercules in order to destroy him myself in a manner of my own choosing. After all an enemy in debt to you, is a good thing. It will keep him guessing as to your true motivations. Looking back, I know it sounded a little lame, but at the time it sounded great to me and with the right tone of voice I could convince most people of almost anything.

Secondly, I knew Iphicles and Iolaus wouldn't stay away for long no matter what they said earlier. Sooner of later they would turn up with Hephaestus and/or Aphrodite, both of whom had a decent amount of pull with Zeus. The last thing I needed was to make my situation worse by irritating them (not to mention what Aphrodite could do to my love life if I pissed her off.).

With that settled, I began to mentally prepare myself for the task at hand. The mind is a very dangerous place to be at when you are not fully in control of the situation at hand. It is one thing to go into someone's mind to produce illusions. It is another go to into a mind to fight them. One wrong move and both Hercules and I would be lost forever to the world or severely crippled (mentally, that is). I decided what I was going to do was still preferable (despite the risks) to being destroyed slowly by guilt or by whatever Zeus would do to me if Hercules died. I straightened out Hercules on the altar, threw a blanket over his body, placed my hands on his head and focused my power until I lost consciousness.

I am not sure how much time passed before I regained consciousness.  I looked around noticing the different surroundings and immediately concluded my journey was successful.  The world of Hercules' mind was one of death, darkness and destruction.  All around me there were remnants of some village that looked like it had been recently plundered and destroyed by warlords. In the distance there were rising columns of smoke indicating another village was being destroyed.  The sky was dark and filled with ominous clouds.  Nothing at all like I imagined the world of Hercules' mind would be.

I saw no sign of Hercules in my immediate area, so I headed for the smoking village to look for clues.  I'd been searching for a short time before I heard the sounds of wood breaking.  Moving toward the sound, I saw Hercules breaking beams in an attempt to make some weapons.

"What happened here?" I asked.

Hercules spun around.  "Come to admire your handiwork, Ares?"

I had to smile at that.  It was just like Hercules to assume the worst when I appeared to him.  If the old fire was still there, then there was hope. "No, believe it or not, I had nothing to do with this, although I must admire the style of whomever did."

"Say what you want and leave.  I have no time to deal with you."

"Believe it or not, I'm here to help.  Whatever it was that did this," I said indicating our surroundings, "has interfered with my affairs.  I want it stopped."

Hercules looked at me suspiciously.  "Why should I believe you?  All you care about is death and destruction."

"That's not completely true," I began as Hercules pushed past me with his supply of weapons.  "I do have other interests."

"Really?" was the response I got as Hercules ventured out into the darkness. I ran out after him but quickly lost the trail.  What I did find was trouble in the form of a large purple blob.  The blob, which appeared to be sentient, floated over toward me before reforming into the shape of a man.

"Are you here to challenge my authority as well?" it asked me coldly.

"I am Ares, God of War and I am here to battle the one who interferes with my affairs!" I replied in my best God of War voice.

The blob man laughed.  "Well, little god, I think it's time we were properly introduced.  I am Gatius and you are going to die!"

Gatius wasted no time in carrying out his threat.  No sooner than he had finished threatening me did he materialize a scythe to throw at me, followed by a dagger.  It took all of my reflexes to dodge his onslaught.

"A challenge!" I shouted.  "I like that.  Makes things more interesting." Gatius wasn't impressed.  He rose up to prepare another attack.  I was better prepared this time and was able to leap out of the way while launching a counterattack of my own with a fireball.  Usually this is effective, as the enemy doesn't have an opportunity to prepare, but in this case it was not.  I had scored a direct hit with no effect.  I couldn't help but be surprised.

"Fool!" Gatius roared at me.  "Your puny powers don't work here!"

Gatius look as if he were preparing to attack again.  I attacked again, this time using my sword with the same results.  With no effective offence available to me, I was forced to retreat (something I loathe under most circumstances) to rethink my strategy.

I hid among some ruins to buy some time to think.  Fortunately for me Gatius' night vision was poor and to him I blended into the shadows of the ruins.  Energy from Zeus' spell is obviously how Gatius initially obtained his power.  In order to keep them, Gatius would have to be getting them from Hercules' subconscious mind, most likely by intimidation.  Therefore, in order to even out the odds of my success, I would have to employ a similar strategy and get Hercules to believe in me instead of Gatius. With that thought I set out to find Hercules again.

The sounds of battle led me to both Hercules and Gatius.  They were fighting  outside of a ruined castle, which reminded me of King Iphicles' castle (if it had been destroyed).  I could see that Hercules was having as much success with Gatius as I was.  He looked tired and defeated while Gatius looked like he might have gained some strength.  Hercules would be killed soon if I didn't do something.  Time to jump into the action.

"Hey blob boy!" I shouted.  "Remember me?"  I launched a well-placed lightning bolt at Gatius' eyes. I ran up to Hercules. "Come on!  We need to get out of here to regroup while he's distracted." A confused Hercules and I made our escape out the back of the castle.

"Why did you do that?"

"What do you mean 'why did I do that?'  I did it to save your sorry ass." Just what was going on in Hercules' head?  Can't he just accept that I saved him?


"Besides, you are the best foil I have.  I need you around to help me keep my skills sharp."

"You have Xena.  You don't need me."

"Yes, I do.  You are the one who inspired Xena, by example, mind you, to become a better warrior than she already was under my guidance.  I would be loath to loose such a warrior."

"I'm not one of your warriors," Hercules shot back.

"All warriors, regardless of which side they are on belong to me.  This includes people like Xena and yourself no matter how annoying you are to me personally.  Your battles are what bring me glory," I explained.

"What about your warlords?  If you are so into the glory of battle, then why keep them around?"

"The better to inspire you to fight, brother.  Their purpose is simply to cause fights with people like you and Xena.  Most of them couldn't win a water fight without a lot of help on my part."

Hercules and I both laughed at my remark before a companionable silence fell between us.  "Here," I said handing Hercules a flask of wine.  "Drink this. It will help you feel better."

Hercules accepted the flask without comment and slowly drank its contents. I gave him a few moments to rest and to allow the wine to take effect before I could continue with my plans.

"I think I have a solution to the problem of Gatius."  Hercules looked up at me, hope and confusion written across his face.

"How can we defeat him?  Nothing works against him." Hercules queried.

"That is the crux of the problem.  Why is it that Gatius is invincible? It is because he is tricking you into believing in him.  The power of your belief gives him the strength he is using against you.  Put your faith in something else and Gatius will fall."

"And what would that be?"

I smiled.  "Us.  Together, our power will become an unstoppable force in this land."  Pausing a moment for dramatic effect I added, "The forces of evil will fall at the feet of the mighty Hercules." Don't let anybody tell you that I can't give a motivational speech when necessary.

"Ares, that's wonderful if you really feel this way, but I can't help but feel that there's something else to all of this, isn't there?"

Dammit!  Why couldn't you keep your mouth shut for once, Hercules? Sometimes you think too much for your own good.  Besides, my body was thinking of other things besides thinking and those things were definitely appealing to me.

Fortunately for me, I did have the ability to control myself (at least for the time being) enough to continue with Hercules.  "What could there possibly be?  There is nothing else here to gain for either of us."

"Oh."  Hercules shivered and yawned at that moment, reminding me of the present situation out in the real world.

"Lay down.  You need to be well rested before we can do anything."

Thankfully, the wine had taken effect and Hercules didn't protest my orders. I could hear Gatius still searching for us in the distance but the deepening shadows ensured us that we had plenty of time before Gatius could find us.

This also meant that I had plenty of time to think.  I'd been under the influence of Zeus' spell for a long enough time that I was now reacting to it without a conscious thought.  How else could I explain the fact that I was guarding the now sleeping Hercules, or that I was trying to rescue him in the first place?

I sighed and looked over at my would be lover.  He looked nearly as bad here as he did out in the real world. Something told me that Zeus' spell really didn't matter in this case.  I still would have wanted to help him.  The compulsion to do so just would have been a lot weaker than it was this time around.

I also came to the conclusion that perhaps, within the safety of this entire dream adventure, I could safely dare to tell Hercules how I really felt about him.  After all he would think this entire sequence was a dream if he remembered it at all, and I could get everything I was keeping bottled up out in the open. Maybe for a little while I could share in Hercules' little dream world of happiness and light for everyone.

Three hours passed before Gatius figured out that he must have missed seeing us somewhere (Gatius obviously wasn't the brightest torch out there) and returned to start searching again.  I heard his approach, or rather his laughter as he approached and quickly shook Hercules awake.

"Where are you, little god?  Playing house with the would be hero?" Gatius proclaimed as he floated in our general direction.

I saw the ghost of fear beginning to rise in Hercules' eyes and knew what was happening.  "Snap out of it!" I yelled at him.  "You can't let him win without a fight!  Believe in us and we will win."

Hercules looked at me with sadness his eyes.  "I wish I could, Ares.  But how can I believe in you when all you've done in the past is try to destroy me?  Who's to say that you won't do the same thing to me if we are successful in killing Gatius?"

I was a bit surprised by that remark but I could see now what I needed to do to gain Hercules' confidence.  "I realize," I began slowly, "that we haven't had the best of relationships in the past but something happened recently that made me realize just how wrong I was for doing that.  You told me a few days ago that there was a person inside me I was denying.  A person I was ashamed of because of what he represented.  I was afraid of what would happen to me if I took the leap and told you how I really felt even after you had told me all of what you felt."

I paused a moment to swallow before I continued.  "If you die here, now, that part of me which I always depended on but could never acknowledge will die with you.  If that happens, then what would be left for me to live for? Lending my aid to incompetent kings and warlords who are more interested in greed than the glory of victory?  Becoming a shell of my former self. No, my love, I'd rather die here with you on the battlefield.

"Now if you will excuse me," I said walking past Hercules, "I have a battle to attend."

I strode away quickly not wishing Hercules to see me after I made my confession. Gatius either heard my approaching footsteps or saw me moving because he turned from the direction he was facing and floated toward me.

"Back for more?" Gatius taunted.

"Back to be victorious!" I replied.  I threw a fireball at Gatius hoping against hope that it would work.  It didn't and I ended up being knocked on my ass while ducking the spear Gatius threw at me.  I quickly got up, this time selecting a large rock to use as my weapon.  Gatius materialized a hammer, which he threw to destroy the rock before it could cause him any harm. Hercules stared in disbelief at the scene unfolding in front of him. It appeared as though what I said and my current actions were starting to get through to him.

Gatius materialized a sickle that would have made Hades proud and was preparing to throw it at me when a large boulder came flying at him, knocking him off balance.

"It's about time someone put you in your place, Gatius.  My brother and I are just the people to do it!" said Hercules behind me.  "I believe in us, Ares."

I don't think I've ever been so happy to hear a simple sentence such as that.  It was invigorating to me even before I felt the power of Hercules' belief wash over me.  Gatius must have felt it too as he began to try to quickly attack again before we had the advantage over him.  Unfortunately for him, he was a few moments too late.

Hercules threw another boulder at Gatius, knocking him to the ground.  I kicked him hard in the abdomen in retaliation for all those objects he threw at me followed by a kick to the groin for good measure.  Gatius howled in pain and I reveled in the sound of it.

Gatius tried to escape, but Hercules grabbed him, saying "Leaving already? Let me give you a hand!" He then threw Gatius off into some sharp boulders using the full power of his strength (something he rarely does) before saying to the crumpled entity, "That was for everything you've done here."

I turned to Hercules.  "I'm impressed, brother.  I wasn't sure you had it in you."

Hercules smiled.  "Thanks to you I have a chance to be free of that monster."

"Speaking of which," I began as I turned to Gatius, "It's time for you to die." I unleashed a lightning bolt (the likes of which would have made Zeus proud) at Gatius, vaporizing him.

I never thought I'd be saying this, but thank you, Ares."

I turned back to face Hercules. "Let's just say that I was repaying a favor, OK." Hercules nodded.  I looked up into the distance to see something resembling people emerging from the ruins.  "Well, time for me to go, Hercules.  Wars to start, people to heckle, sacrifices to accept. That sort of thing."

I turned to leave before I could say or do anything that could further damage my reputation.  Once out of Hercules' eyesight, I began to concentrate on returning to my own body in the outside world until the blackness overtook me once again.

I regained consciousness cramped and slumped over Hercules' body.  I pulled myself away taking a few moments to stretch my protesting muscles. Hercules was still unconscious, but his color was beginning to improve and he was breathing much more normally.  I moved him to my private chambers under the temple for the time being.   I seriously considered laying down with Hercules myself as I was quite tired from such an exertion of my powers, but I couldn't give in to that need yet.  Iolaus and Iphicles would be likely to return to my temple, with either Heph or Dite in tow to check up on me.  I know they didn't believe that I would do anything to help Hercules without a little nudging or threatening from them and I intended to have the last laugh in this situation.  A wicked idea brought a smile to my face at that moment.  It would be fun to have them thinking that I actually did something to harm Hercules only to have Hercules show up safe and sound in his bed in Iphicles' castle.   A short time later I felt a disturbance outside.  A quick peak in my scrying pool showed Iolaus, Iphicles and Aphrodite all arguing over the best way to approach me.  I popped into my throne, making myself invisible to Iolaus and Iphicles to await the result of their argument.   I was not disappointed.  The looks on their faces when they came into main hall and saw the empty altar was priceless.  Dite stared daggers at me when she saw what I had done.   "Alright, Ar', where is he?" she asked.   "Where's who?" I asked innocently.   "Hercules, that's who.  Now where is he?"   "You all left him here on the altar.  I did with him as I pleased and disposed of him."   Iphicles' eyes widened.  "You monster!  How could you do such a thing?"   Iolaus jumped in at this point.  "Even you couldn't be so cold hearted as to kill someone in Hercules' condition."   "What makes you think I killed him.  Considering the shape he was in when you left him here, it's a wonder he lasted as long as he did.  There wasn't much point in me taking the effort to kill him.  I just sat back and watched him suffer, then got rid of him.  It was really quite interesting." I paused for dramatic effect.  "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a war to plan."   I popped out at that moment to enjoy my victory.  No doubt that Iphicles would try to lay waste to my temple (he and Hercules are more alike than either would care to admit) and Iolaus and Aphrodite would be more than happy to help.  I decided I'd better rectify that oversight before it cost me too many statues and weapons.   While the destruction was at a minimum, I popped in with my warning.  "Oh, and by the way, if any of you do anything to further damage this temple, before you can blink, there will be a war outside each of your doorsteps and I will make no guarantees as to how long it will last or how many casualties there will be."   Satisfied that the destruction would be over for the time being I returned to Hercules.  He was still asleep, but his eye movements and breathing indicated that he would be waking up soon.  I decided to move him to his old bedroom in Iphicles' castle at that moment to maximize my enjoyment of the situation and to lengthen the amount of time it would take for Hercules to realize the true extent of my involvement here.   Dite used her powers to transport Iphicles and Iolaus back to the castle so they arrived only a few minutes after I did.  They marched straight up to Iphicles' private apartment (which was near Hercules' bedroom) along with the newly arrived Hephaestus to prepare for whatever retaliation they could think of for my terrible acts.   Hercules did indeed begin to wake up, but he didn't make too much noise so I carefully knocked some items off a bedside table to alert the others before popping into an adjacent room.  I almost fell over laughing when they came in to see a dazed Hercules waking up.   "Herc!" chorused four voices in unison.   Iolaus, Iphicles and Dite all ran over to check Hercules over as if he were a piece of fine pottery from Chin.  Hephaestus remained a step behind the others contemplating the current situation.  Hercules was still fairly weak from his ordeal so there wasn't much he could do in the way of protesting the attention he was receiving.  Satisfied that the worst was over, I watched the happy reunion scene for a few minutes before hardening my heart against the pain I would feel and leaving the castle.   Back inside my temple, I half-heartedly resumed planning my next war.  I quickly abandoned that idea in favor of practicing with one of my swords. I figured I needed something to take my mind off of what had happened, and the war just wasn't doing that for me.   "I'm glad you decided to do the right thing," called a voice from behind me.   "Whatever do you mean, Hephaestus?  What 'right thing' could I possibly do?"   "Drop the act, Ares.  You and I both know that you were the one who saved Hercules."   "And what if I did?  Why didn't Hercules come here himself instead of sending you to speak to me?"  I knew the answer, but I wanted confirmation from Hephaestus.   "Hercules has been confined to bed by the healer.  He asked me to bring a message to you to come to him.  He has something he wishes to talk to you about."   I considered Hephaestus' words for a moment.  I had no doubt that Hercules had been told exactly what was going on in the outside world during his coma and that he had pieced together what had happened.   For his part, Hephaestus looked as if the only reason he were standing here in my presence was because of Hercules.  Heph has been a good friend to me and I still need him to be friendly to my point of view so that I may continue to receive new weapons from him.   "Tell Hercules," I began, "that I will consider his request."   Hephaestus left silently in a flash of light leaving me alone again in the temple.   It took me until well past nightfall to work up the courage to go to Hercules.  Being nice was still fairly new to me.  I had hoped that Hercules would be asleep so I could get in and out without any conversations.   It appeared that I was in luck when I arrived.  Hercules was asleep, although his breathing indicated it was only a light doze.  I'd have to be careful to be quiet so I wouldn't disturb him. With the nightmares gone, medicine and a good meal, Hercules looked considerably better than he did earlier even in the darkness of nighttime.  As I turned to leave, I heard a soft voice call out to me, "Wait. I would like to speak to you."   I stopped and turned around to face Hercules. "About what?"   Hercules looked at me curiously as he answered.  "Everything, but especially today."   "Well, make it quick.  I was busy when Heph gave me your message, so I came when I could."   "Iph and Iolaus and Dite told me all about what happened after I got captured by that contraption.  They said they took me to you because they felt you were the only one who could help me."   "I just put you in here after they dumped you on my altar.  I did nothing."   "Ares, I may not remember everything that happened to me, but I do remember a dream I had while I was still out of it.  The world was dark and there was nothing but death and destruction around me.  No matter where I turned I couldn't escape it.  Then some...blob thing came after me and tried to destroy me and there was nothing I could do to stop him.  I tried, I really did but I was so tired and he was so powerful.  I was tired and frustrated and I'd almost given up when you came to me.  You just appeared out of nowhere.  I thought you were there to give the final blow and I was angry.  But you didn't try to kill me.  You helped me.  I didn't believe you at first, but then you started trying to defend me. You told me you were defending me to save me and a part of yourself.  We worked together and defeated the evil."   Damn.  Herc remembered.  "An interesting dream.  What does that have to do with me?"   "Iph told me that when they brought me to your temple, I was in such terrible shape that they feared for my life and my sanity if I survived. When they next saw me, I was considerably better."   "So?" Please don't go there, Herc.  I've had enough warm and gushy moments lately to last a lifetime.  You are coming dangerously close to causing another one for me.   "'So?'  What do you mean, 'so?'"  Hercules sat up with the force of his anger.  "It means the dream was real.  Somehow...somehow you got into my head and saved me and for some reason you are listening to your damned pride and denying it!"   "Is that all you wanted to say?  If not, then make it snappy.  I have other things I have to do besides listening to your constant prattle," I snapped, irritated at this turn of events.   "No."  Hercules' voice had dropped considerably.  "I wanted to say thank you."   "You're welcome," It was all I could think of to say.  Being a god of war doesn't exactly prepare one for situations like the one I was currently in.   "Are you alright?" Hercules must have noticed my discomfort.   "It's nothing.  I'm just a little tired."   "Then why don't you rest a moment before you leave.  I'm sure whatever it was you were doing can wait for a little while."   Actually, it could wait a long while.  I wasn't doing anything all that important anyhow.  The real question was whether or not I felt comfortable being around here for a long time without plans for violence.   Hercules interpreted my silence as indecision.  "No strings.  Just sit here and keep me company.  Nothing else.  Everyone else has gone to bed if that is what you're worried about."   Against my better judgement, I stayed with Hercules the entire night. Herc's got a wonderful sense of humor buried under that thick skin of morality he wears.  He did keep his word and nothing happened between us the entire night, although I half-heartedly wished Hercules would try something.  We ended up doing a lot of talking until we were both worn out.   Morning came all too soon for the two of us.  Bright sunshine intruded on our dreams and slowly brought us back to wakefulness.  I bent to kiss Hercules goodbye but Hercules had other ideas on his mind and began to try to deepen my kiss.  Noises approaching from the hallway stopped us from going any further.  Neither one of us wanted to face the inevitable questions which would arise from being seen together after the previous day's events, but Herc said he was feeling better and wanted to continue what we started and would come to me at the temple later or call me.

I returned to my temple in good spirits and I was even able to concentrate once again on planning a war, but not the one I had started earlier.  I came up with a deliciously wicked idea of how to get back at Zeus for what he had done (despite its outcome).  I had spotted a band of barbarians traveling toward the general area of several of Zeus' temples about a week earlier. By this time they had gotten closer I went to their leader in a dream and "suggested" that he go and pillage the next town, called Olympia, and ransack it.  Now unless some of the Proxidicae were around, there would be some major damage done to the temple. (Did I mention that the Olympia temple is one of Zeus' favorites because of the statue made by Pheidias of Athens ?)   With that out of the way, I moved to retire for a nap (I needed my rest just in case Hercules showed up) when a flash of light announced a visitor that I didn't want to see.   "Hello, Ares."   "What are you doing here?" I asked.  "Come to see if I've gone insane yet, dad?"   "No.  I've come to congratulate you.  You and Hercules have both passed my test."   "Test?" I cannot believe the arrogance of Zeus sometimes.  No wonder half the family is so fucked up.  We inherited it from him.  "This whole thing was a test?"   "Yes," answered Zeus with a calmness that unnerved me.  "I wanted to see if you two could learn to work together and to make you both face yourselves-especially you."   I had to count to ten in five languages slowly in order to calm myself down enough to give an answer that wouldn't get me fire balled.  "Hercules and I were both dragged through Tartarus by your little experiment!  I may only be the God of War, but I'm sure there are other ways you could have dealt with this problem, as you see it.  You're the King of the Gods.  Why couldn't you think of one?"   "I suppose I could have used other methods, but they wouldn't have been as effective on you.  You're a very hard person to get through to sometimes."   "Now that the experiment is over are you going to remove this spell so we can all go back to normal?"   Zeus picked up a sword and briefly examined it before replacing it on the wall.  "The spell ended as soon as you decided to save Hercules. Everything you did since then was all your doing."   "What?"   "The rescue, going to see Hercules last night, your feelings now are all yours.  There was no spell on you at all."   I decided right then that Zeus' temples in Athens and Pergamum would be next on the list of places I would see damaged.  There are a lot of Persians that do not hold Zeus in high regard.  They would be more than happy to come and "redecorate" for Zeus.   "What about Hercules?  You didn't need to do what you did to him to get your point across."   "Hercules will get over what happened to him.  Like I said before, I had to take extreme measures to ensure the lesson was learned.  You will understand someday when you're older and wiser," said Zeus as he vanished in a flash of light.   "And crazier," I added under my breath.   Another voice interrupted my thoughts.  "Ar', are you alright?"   I turned to see a concerned Aphrodite standing there with a sad look on her face.  "Nothing that a little time away from Olympus won't heal," I replied.   "I stopped by because I wanted to congratulate you on saving Herc yesterday. Zeus was majorly out of line for pulling that little stunt but you came through and it looks like everything will be alright."  Aphrodite paused a moment to look at me more closely.  "You look really bummed out. Wanna talk about it?"   "No, but thank you."  I did feel a little better knowing there was someone on my side.   "Well, if you wanna talk or anything, let me know."  With that, Aphrodite vanished in her typical poof of pink sparks.   I sat and brooded on my throne (invisible to mortals) for the next few hours while the worshipers dropped off piles of mostly insignificant trash in an attempt to convince me to help them.  I waited until they all left and picked up the entire lot of weapons and sent them as a gift to Hephaestus to melt down and use for his experiments.  Hopefully that will ease some of the anger he has toward me.   Hercules came to me during the evening with a mischievous look on his face.   "I would have come sooner, but Iph and the others wouldn't leave me so when they left I sneaked out before they had a chance to come back. They don't know I'm here yet."   I had to lift an eyebrow on this.  Honest Hercules doing something normal mortals do? "You sneaked out of Iphicles' castle?  I think we need to write this day down in the annals of history.  Hercules finally does something less than perfect."   Hercules scowled at that.  "That's not true and you know it."  Smiling, he continued, "But I can forgive you."   I laughed out loud at that.  This is exactly what I needed.  Two or three centuries of that kind of cheer-me-up type of humor and I think I might become a changed man.  But, I'll worry about that when the time comes. Right now all I wanted was to pick up where we had left off in the morning.  Herc agreed with me when I began kissing him. We quickly ended up in my bedroom where we spent most of the night pleasuring each other in many different ways (and lets just say I know now why Deianeira never once strayed during all the years she was married to Hercules.).   Reluctantly, in the morning, I returned Hercules to Iphicles' castle and thus began the routine we settled into for the next week.  Herc did stop sneaking out of the castle, after the first night, though.  I guessed that neither Iphicles or Iolaus were stupid enough to risk the anger of Hercules and myself for interference in our business and/or they hoped Herc and I would get over ourselves and end it.   On the eighth day, I was worried that my theory might have been correct. Hercules didn't come to my temple and when I went out searching for him, he wasn't anywhere in the immediate area.  I was about to begin searching outlying areas in the hopes that Herc had simply gotten a call for help and couldn't tell the caller "no" when I felt a hand on my shoulder.   "You're not going anywhere this time, Ares.  You are staying here.  I will not have you interfering with Hercules' fate."   Zeus was definitely getting on my nerves by this point.  "What on earth are you talking about?  How can what I am doing interfere with Hercules' fate?"   "You would have helped him if he hadn't finished his task in order to get him into your bed sooner.  It's bad enough you two are still at it.  I won't have you spoiling him that way."   I shook my head in disbelief.  "You, the greatest adulterer in all of Greece is telling me not to sleep with someone?  Um...I don't think so! If you were so concerned about Herc and I being together, then why in Tartarus did you go through all the trouble to set us up?  Why not just have a Cupid of Aphrodite whip up a spell to have us work the lust out of our loins and go our separate ways? I don't have time for this.  Goodbye."   "Stop!" Thunderclouds rolled in quickly.  Zeus was definitely upset with what I said.  Unfortunately for me, I was too angry to care.  "I see another lesson is in order, Ares.  Perhaps after this you will learn not to be so arrogant."   I braced for another thunderbolt but instead Zeus just sent me back to my temple.  There was only one problem.  He'd chained my leg to my throne with one of Heph's chains designed to imprison gods.   Zeus appeared before me.  "You don't seem to learn things the easy way, so you are going to stay here and learn the hard way.  You are going to stay there until Hercules returns and while the chain is there, the most you can do is watch Hercules as you did before.  I know you don't like what I'm doing, but one day you'll thank me for this."   If Zeus is anything like Cronos and Uranus, I can definitely understand why their youngest sons overthrew them.  Unfortunately, that title belongs to neither myself or possibly not even Hercules (Zeus was bound to have at least a few more...male offspring with something in the years since he knocked up Alcmene.) .   Then I began to think in earnest about Zeus.  What could he possibly be up to?  Almost everything he does (including some but not all of his affairs) are part of some master plans he has.  The question of the day was just what the plan was.   For example, I have come to the conclusion that part of the reason Zeus is still King of the Gods is due to a strategic plan of his executed slowly over many years.  It all started about a year before Hercules was born. Zeus and Hera had a huge argument that could be heard all over Olympus. Zeus had left Hera there and wandered into the mortal world where he ran into Alcmene.  Zeus, being Zeus liked her immediately and began watching her and beginning to set up his plan to rid himself of Hera.  When Hera got upset with him yet again a short time later, he deliberately and openly set out to seduce and impregnate Alcmene to further humiliate Hera.  As a result, Hera plagued Hercules' life (She also encouraged Apollo, Discord, and me among others to do the same.) but couldn't kill him due to Zeus' protection.  When Zeus found out from the Fates (whom he visits often) that Hera was planning to kill Hercules' family he allowed it to happen so that Hercules would have reason to want to destroy Hera later when he became a god.  With Hera gone, so was the treat to Zeus' power since none of his children could or wanted to move against him.   Since I was going to be stuck in my temple until Hercules returned, I brought forth a scrying pool to observe just what was going on with Hercules that required me to stay here.  I searched for a while until I found him along with Iphicles, Iolaus and some of the Corinthian guards helping out villages that were plagued by flooding from the recent storms.  Typical hero-type work, although it was a little tricky since several people were trapped on top of their houses by the sudden appearance of flood waters.   I know Zeus knows I'm not stupid enough to keep Hercules from helping people.  That's just asking for trouble.  The most I would have done is perhaps alter the weather a little to make it more favorable and even that would have been done behind the scenes.  All that would have done is speed things up a little so that Hercules would come back to me sooner.  He'd been gone two days and I missed the sex, the conversations, everything terribly.   On the third day, I saw the beginnings of what looked to be a pretty impressive rescue.  A woman had fled to the trees to escape the floods but there was no way for her to escape without potentially drowning.  Iolaus and Hercules were holding up a support system while a guardsman named Arlis was trying to grab the woman.  They had just gotten the woman to higher ground when lightning stuck a nearby tree.  The force of the strike knocked Hercules, Iolaus, Arlis and the woman back into the river.  Then my pool went black.   "Mortals don't sit back and watch their lovers all day," came Zeus' voice behind me.   You would be one to talk about watching lovers, wouldn't you Zeus. "Did you make it your life's mission to torment me?  And don't deny that you were the one who sent the lightning bolt to Hercules just now and destroyed my view.  Does it bother you that much that for once, I might be happy!"   "You still have much to learn about life, Ares.  You won't do that sitting in front of a scrying pool all day."   "What could I have left to learn?  How to thoroughly hate you more than I already do?  What kind of game are you playing with us?  You know if you really want me out of the way, why don't you just kill me now and save everyone all the trouble, huh?"   "I can see now is not the time to talk to you.  I'll return when you've calmed down."  With that, Zeus left me alone in my temple with only my increasing anger to comfort me.

For the next three days I sat there, invisible to mortals with random bits of my worshipper's conversations my only link to the outside world.  They confirmed that Hercules had indeed fallen into the river, but King Iphicles was refusing to give up the search for Hercules.

On the afternoon of the third day, some surprise visitors came to my temple. A tired and worn Xena accompanied by an equally tired and worried Gabrielle came into my temple and approached the altar.

Xena spoke.  "Ares, we need your help.  Look, I know you're here.  I can feel your presence.  Appear to us."

Hiding my chain behind me, I appeared before Xena. I had thought of an idea to free myself, but I had to more slowly in order to get it to work.  Zeus isn't the only one capable of playing someone like a lyre.  "Why are you here?  I thought you didn't like help from the gods, especially me."

A brief flash of anger appeared in Xena's eyes, but it was quickly replaced by more sadness which disturbed me.  "Hercules is missing. He fell into a river three days ago but no one has been able to find a body anywhere.  We think one of the gods must have taken him when he fell in the river."

I had to fight to keep my emotions in check.  "So why are you telling me this?  If Hercules is dead, then good riddens to him."

Gabrielle spoke up. "Aphrodite told us what happened." I looked over at her sharply. "About you saving Hercules' mind after he was kidnaped."

"You people give me entirely too much credit.  I merely put him back to get him out of here."

Gabrielle continued, "Aphrodite also told us about your affair."  Leave it to Dite to have a big mouth.

"There's a lot more going on here than meets the eye.  None of the other gods will talk to us about this for some reason.  So we've come to you. Now unless you want me to take out all those warlords of yours in Sparta, I suggest you and I have an honest conversation for once."

That's Xena for you.  She usually doesn't mince her words on serious subjects.  Therefore, I decided to be equally blunt with her.

"I can't help you.  Zeus has forbidden it," I began.  "And to make sure that I didn't interfere, he has forbidden me to leave this place.  So you see, I can't help you."

"Forbidden you?  Is Zeus finally punishing you for your evil?"

I laughed at that, but amusement was the last thing I felt.  "Gabrielle, I am the God of War.  You may not agree with what I do, or my methods but it is for the good of the world.  And if the fact that I don't buy into your 'peace is the way' crap makes you think I'm evil then so be it!"

Xena meanwhile had been studying me.  "You do know what's going on here, don't you?"

"Alright, if it will get you two to leave, I'll tell you.  Zeus did this to Hercules to teach the world a lesson about something.  What exactly is beyond me, but that's what's going on.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other things to do." I made myself invisible again at that point and waited for their reaction.

Xena turned to leave, but Gabrielle stopped her.  "Do you think you're the only one who's hurting here?  Hercules may not have been my lover, but he was my friend.  And I'm not giving up on him like you seem to have."

I flashed back, adopting an attitude of not caring if they saw my chain or not.  "How dare you say I gave up!  I tried.  And you know what I got in return?   This!" I picked up my chain and shoved it right in Gabrielle's face.  "I am chained to my own temple because I wanted to help."  I said a little bit more than I originally intended, but I did get my point across.

Xena examined my chain and gasped when she realized where it had come from. "This is one of Hephaestus' chains.  You were telling the truth."

"Thank you for the vote of confidence.  I told you before that I don't lie. I guess now you'll believe what I say."

Xena looked slightly embarrassed at my remark.  "Well can you at least show us where Hercules is?"

"I wish I could," I begin softly, "but Zeus has seen to it that I am without that ability until further notice.  As long as I'm chained I can do nothing. I'm sorry."

Xena considered my words for a moment.  "If I use my chakram to free you, do you give your word that you'll help Hercules?"

Gotcha!  One ticket to freedom coming up.  "I'll do it.  Anything to be free of this," I said shaking my chain for emphasis.

I had to fight to contain my glee as Xena's chakram cut through the chain. I always knew having Xena around would come in handy someday.

We met up with Iolaus and Iphicles at the river a short time later.  They both looked at me and then to Xena and Gabrielle silently demanding an explanation for my presence.

It was Xena who spoke up for me.  "Zeus is the one behind all of this.  We just rescued Ares from his own temple.  Zeus had trapped him there against his will."

Iolaus and Iphicles both looked shocked at that.  Iolaus looked at Xena as if she'd gone mad.  "What do you mean, Zeus did this?  Didn't he do enough with kidnapping thing?"  Iolaus stopped but then his eyes grew larger as another idea came to him.  "You don't think that someone in the other world did something to Zeus and it's causing our Zeus to go mad, do you?"

I hadn't thought of that.  Although it was possible, it was unlikely.  Zeus would have gone mad years ago if that were the case.  I shook my head in response to Iolaus.  "Not likely.  Zeus would have gone mad when the other Zeus went mad after Hercules was born.  Although..."

"Although what?" asked Iphicles.

"What if the alternate Zeus was the real one behind this?" I asked.  "What if what he wanted was to punish us for what happened in his world."

"Or what if he wanted to punish you for killing his son.  Hercules told me what happened when he went to the other world."

"Alright," said Xena.  "If what you said is true, then why is our Zeus allowing it to happen?"

"Probably just to piss me off.  Maybe even to convince him to knock off me or any other god he doesn't like, like Atreius."

"Atreius?  Who's he? I never heard of him." asked Gabrielle.

"An unfortunate brother of mine who entertained notions of overthrowing Zeus long ago.  Zeus couldn't bring himself to break his precious rules, so he got Hercules to do it for him."

Iolaus seemed to remember at that point. "The minotaur.  I remember now. Zeus got angry with him and punished him by changing him into a form as ugly as his heart.  When he didn't change his ways, Zeus tried to kill him but couldn't.  Hercules wouldn't have either if Atreius hadn't have tried to kill me.  But if he drove Hercules mad..."

"Exactly." I said.

"So how do we stop this from happening?  Zeus isn't going to give up easily if he's determined to go on with this insane plan of his," asked an obviously ready for battle Gabrielle.  I am still amazed at how much Xena as changed her since they met.  Almost like night and day in some areas. But, I digress.

I looked everyone into the eye with my answer.  "We go to Zeus' temples and look for clues there.  If we find nothing, then we might be forced to venture into the alternate world."

"That won't be necessary," came a voice from behind us.  The voice was right.  Zeus had come to us.

"Zeus!" was the group response from the mortals present.

"I came here to put an end to your little game of Put-the-blame-on-Zeus. Despite all the little scenarios you've come up with, there is no way that I would deliberately set out to do to Hercules what you would think."

"So where is he?" asked Xena.

"I don't know.  Despite popular belief, I don't keep track of his every move."

"Bullshit!" I offered.  "Everyone knows Hercules has been your pet project at least ever since he was a teenager.  Probably a lot longer than that if the truth were told."

Zeus choose not to comment on my statement, preferring to address the mortals assembled instead.

"And I suppose you agree with him?  Do you think that I'm the cause of Hercules' disappearance?"

Xena met Zeus' gaze with once of her ice queen stares that I really loved. "Even if you don't know the whole story, I believe you know something.  Why else would you show up here now?  Why not just ignore us?"

"I see," replied Zeus.  "Well, since you all seem to agree with each other, answer me this: what would I have to gain by doing this?  Why would I destroy my son?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but I was cut off by a surprise entry into the discussion. "To rid yourself and the world of Ares so you won't have to do it yourself."

Everyone turned to see the surprise entrant was none other that Hercules himself.  He looked as though he had just dragged himself out of a sewer of some sort, but otherwise he appeared to be in decent health.  The expression on his face was anything but the usual mixture of weariness, excitement and hope that had been Hercules' usual reaction to Zeus.  All that had been replaced with cold, unfeeling anger.

Hercules continued with his tirade. "Everyone knew you and Ares didn't get along.  You called him evil, spiteful, bloodthirsty and inept on many occasions publicly."

"So what if I did?  It's true.  Ares is the God of War and yet he is defeated easily by the other gods and mere mortals even.  The bloodthirsty warriors are the only ones who seem to like to worship in his temples.  The average warrior shies away from Ares like the plague under most circumstances.  It's no wonder why I am displeased sometimes."

"But you're his father!  Why are you trying to destroy him instead of helping him?" asked a confused Gabrielle.

"I am helping him."

"By nearly killing Hercules twice and imprisoning Ares in his own temple? If that is your idea of helping, I'd hate to see your idea of not helping."

"Your idea of helping is exactly what I don't want.  And I'm sure Ares doesn't want that either, right?"

I nodded in response.  "Personally, for once I would like to be left alone."

Everyone nodded in agreement with my statement.  Zeus looked furious, but he was holding his temper to keep some semblance of the self-image he liked to present to Hercules.

"And if you truly think of yourself as being a good father, then you'll not meddle in our affairs, now will you, father?" I added.

"You think you have the answer for everything, do you?  See how long you all get along without my help.  But I think we're ignoring the real issue here. We've spent so much time talking about how I feel about Hercules, but no one has asked you just how you feel about him."

Damn Zeus!  All eyes turned to me after that little speech of his.   I was definitely uncomfortable in my present situation and Zeus knew it too.  My mind raced for an answer that would get the focus off of me.

"I feel the same way I always have toward Hercules."

"And that is?" prompted Zeus.

"None of your business."

"Maybe so, but I'm sure Hercules would like to hear the truth from you."

Here was where I made the huge mistake of letting my anger control me. "Everyone knows how I feel about him," I began.  "He is an annoying goody-goody bastard who constantly refuses to see the merits of my new world order.  He constantly interferes with my business and you do nothing to him because he's one of your favorites.   You know, since we're on the subject of truth here, tell me why is Hercules your favorite and not me?"

Zeus looked at me coldly with his answer.  "Because you are the embodiment of much of what is wrong in the world and have no desire to change yourself. You revel in your evil, embracing it to your heart.  Your only loyalty is to yourself.  You would destroy your own family in order to advance your own selfish causes.  You deserve whatever you get."

And with that, Zeus vanished leaving nothing solved and everyone wondering just what would happen next.   I turned to see how Hercules was doing and found him missing from the scene along with Iphicles.  At the time, though, I had simply dismissed their absence as Iphicles taking Hercules away to have a healer look at him and left the scene myself to return to my temple.

Back in my temple, I brought forth my scrying pool and began observing Hercules again.  What I saw was not what I expected.  I found Iphicles, Xena, Gabrielle and Iolaus first in a room discussing this afternoon's events.  None of them looked too pleased.  Looking elsewhere, I saw Hercules.  He was still furious as he was busy demolishing an old shed as if it were made of parchment.  I popped in to join Hercules in relieving frustrations.

Hercules turned to me and the expression on his face told me something was seriously wrong yet again.  "Why are you here?" he asked.

"I came to join you."

"Why?  So you can further antagonize me?"

I was completely stunned.  "What are you talking about?"

"This afternoon.  Zeus asked you how you felt and you made it perfectly clear how you felt."

It was at this point that I began to  realize the impact of what I had said. Those few sentences may have done more to damage my relati onship with Hercules than Zeus ever could and he knew it too.

"I didn't mean it the way you're thinking," I began.

"And what way did you mean it?  You were using me for a cheap lay?  Or were you trying to find out something about me to  use against me?  What?  Tell me!"

That was a low point for me.  I felt truly ashamed of what I had done, which is a rare thing for me.

"I...I didn't mean it the way it sounded," I said slowly.  Apologies were something I received, not anything I gave on a regular basis.  "There was more to what I said earlier."

"Like how you wish I was dead?  Like how you tricked me into your bed?" Hercules was not pleased with me, and I honestly couldn't blame him for feeling that way.

"No, but..."

"But nothing.  Just leave here, Ares before I do something we'll both regret later."

I returned to my temple in one of the worst moods I'd been in a long time. I nearly vaporized two worshipers for looking at me the wrong way when they left their offerings.  I tried to meditate to focus my mind on other matters but I was failing miserably until Aphrodite arrived.

"I heard about what happened.  You look totally bummed out.  Anything I can do, Ar'?"

I was comforted by the fact that someone still cared about me.  "No.  Not unless you can make this whole mess go away."

"Take it from someone who knows about these sorts of things, you really aren't in that bad of shape, Ares.  If you went to Hercules and apologized to him, I'm sure he'll forgive you."

"I tried that.  He didn't want to be bothered."

"Well, he's mad and hurt right now and you know how stubborn Herc is when he's in that sort of mood.  You can't give up.  As long as you sit here brooding and feeling sorry for yourself, you're proving to Hercules that Zeus was right about you.  Are you going to let old bull balls win?"

I looked at Aphrodite in disbelief.  What she just told me sounded more like something I'd say rather than what she'd say.

Aphrodite looked impatiently at me.  "Well, are you going to get up or am I going to have to drag you over there myself?  There is no way I'm going to let Zeus stomp over into my territory and mess with my two favorite brothers."

If I didn't know better, I would have sworn that I had fallen into an alternate universe  with look alike counterparts similar to the Sovereign's world.  Aphrodite looked like she was going to follow through on her threat so I got up and popped back to the place where I last saw Hercules.  He wasn't around, but then again, it had been a while since our disagreement so I went back to Iphicles' palace to look for him there.

Hercules' room was empty except for a lone piece of parchment on a bedside table.  To my horror, the parchment was a note from Hercules stating that he needed to get away from everything to find himself again and that he'd return someday.

"Are you happy now?" asked a voice behind me.

"Where is he?" I asked back.

Iphicles walked around the room for a moment before answering.  "I have no idea.  Thanks to you and Zeus, he could be anywhere.  And we have no idea when or if he'll return.  You and Zeus have done terrible things in the past, but this whole mess tops it all.  Why did you do it?  Were you that desperate for entertainment that you decided to play another one of your vicious games with him again?  You know, I almost didn't leave that note there for you to find.  Iolaus talked me into it.  He said it would be better that way so we'd be rid of you should you decide to come here looking for Hercules to continue torturing him.  Who knows, perhaps some good will come out of this.  If you really care about Hercules, as he used to believe you did, then perhaps you will find him and bring him back to us alive. Otherwise, don't expect much in the way of offerings and devotions from anyone around here."

I stood there in shock at Iphicles' tirade.  How dare he speak to me that way!  Xena, Iolaus and Hercules' bad influence must have been rubbing off on him. "Toad!  How dare you speak to me that way.  Don't you know what I can do to you for your insolence?"

"And prove Hercules right? Go right ahead. Kill me.  Destroy Corinth. Prove your superiority."

As much as I hated to admit it, Iphicles had a point.  Herc and the people of Corinth would never forgive me if I killed Iphicles or if a war suddenly broke out for no reason.  That didn't stop me from telling Iphicles what I thought, though.

"You'll live for now, king because you are more useful to me here than dead. However, if I find that you know more about this than what you just told me, well, let's just say that you'll wish I'd killed you just now."

"Is that supposed to be a threat?"

I smiled at that.  Iphicles had a defiant streak that was most impressive at times.   "No, that's a promise."

I returned to my temple to begin the monumental task of tracking down Hercules.  I was angry that Hercules had taken the easy way out and ran away from everything.  I was even angrier that he had rejected me and I wanted retribution for that.   Although not much time had passed, Hercules could still be almost anywhere by that point.  Hercules inherited Zeus' ability to vanish almost completely from the world when he really didn't want to be found.  I thought about possible locations to begin searching. Sumeria didn't seem likely since that was where that pest Iolaus was killed by Dahak's servant Gilgamesh.  Nebula would wonder why Hercules was alone and without her beloved pest Iolaus. Norway was too cold at this time of the year and too full of nice Norse gods to be too attractive to a hero (all those people needed were things to keep warm over the long winter).  Eire didn't seem likely because of Hercules' history with Morrigan.  That left two likely places for Hercules to have gone: Rome or Egypt.

I began searching the ships headed toward Egypt since I knew that Hercules did get on rather well with Queen Nefertiti even after the whole incident with Ramses and the Necronomicon.  I sent spies to investigate any unusual happenings in Rome with special instructions to report back to me any Greeks that might be there matching Hercules' description.

For the first week my spies and I found many significant leads. Unfortunately, none of them turned out to be what I was looking for.  I was becoming more frustrated as to just where did Hercules vanish off too.  No one had seen or heard from Hercules.  On the eighth day of the search, one of my spies got a tip from a villager that a traveling man from Syracuse had been helped by a Greek named Alcaeus who was travelling in the area. I was leery of following this particular tip because of the travel time between Corinth and Syracuse, and considering all the other tips were dead ends. However, Aphrodite appeared again (gotta hand it to her, she's persistent when she wants something to happen) and "persuaded" me to go and see because "you never know what you might find out there."

I disguised myself as a plebeian named Hippios and teleported myself to Syracuse and questioned the travelling man who had seen Alcaeus.  Alcaeus' description from the travelling man did match Hercules' physical description.  Also, I remembered Hercules telling me once that his name would have been "Alcaeus" had Zeus not intervened and ordered Alcmene to name him "Hercules."  I quickly changed into my normal appearance and told my followers in the area to search for Alcaeus and send word back to me if and when they did.

It was another two days of dealing with ignorant villagers and stupid followers before I came across another plausible hint of the mysterious Alcaeus' whereabouts.  I had an healthy admiration for this Alcaeus no matter who he turned out to be.  Anyone who can be that elusive was definitely worthy of my attentions.

A follower of mine named Thucydides came across a man who fit Alcides' description while hunting in the forests outside the city.  Thucydides had been a fairly reliable spy during some wars with Athens so I decided to personally investigate this sighting.

Posing once again as Hippios, I entered the forest on with the cover story of finding game for my family's dinner.  It was not long before I found evidence of a small camp in an clump of trees.  I extended my powers and found Alcaeus, or rather Hercules in disguise returning from a hunt with a rabbit in his arms.  I was finally successful.

Now it was time to see just what mood was Alcaeus/Hercules in.  "Hello, friend!" I called out.  "I don't believe I know you."

"Nor do you want to.  Now leave me alone," said Alcaeus/Hercules with a darkness that unnerving.

"Just trying to be friendly, that's all.  Troubles bothering you that much?" I asked cheerfully.

"I said I don't want to be bothered."

The writing on the parchment was saying the friendly neighbor approach clearly wasn't going to yield much more information.  Therefore, it was time for me to make my departure.  "Well if that's what you want.  Good day."

I walked back to Syracuse to contemplate what I'd learned in out brief conversation.  First off, Hercules still didn't take rejection well and secondly, he was still quite furious with me.  Now my problem was to come up with a viable solution to dissipate Hercules' anger toward me.  Finding no other options to quickly resolve my problem, I decided to use the tried and true method of confronting Hercules directly as myself.

I flashed in with a greater than normal brilliance to Hercules' campsite. For a brief moment, his eyes sparkled with happiness as he recognized me. The dark coldness that had been part of his character when I encountered him as Hippios returned.  "Ah, there you are," I began.  "You know, you offer a real challenge sometimes when you try to escape me.  I still can't believe it took me this long to find you."

"I'll try harder next time," was the unenthusiastic response.

"Interesting little camp you have here," I continued.

"Go away, Ares before..."

"Before what?" I interrupted.  "Before I hurt your precious feelings again? What do you want?  An apology?  Well, you're not getting one from me.  I mean what I said back in Corinth then as well as now.  You are an annoying bastard."

Hercules let loose with a punch that would have killed me had I been mortal. This was exactly what I wanted.   This was what I understood.  I'd battle Hercules until he tired and then I could do what I wanted with him. Initially, I allowed Hercules to think he was getting the better of me. Fortunately for me, Hercules was not in top form because of his recent problems with Zeus, but nevertheless, I used my powers to pretend to recover and ended the battle quickly by pinning Hercules to a tree.

"What do you want?" Hercules may have been imprisoned, but he could still give scathing looks that ranked up there with the best of Xena's looks.

"I want to finish what we started back in Corinth.  You left before we were done, and this is one battle I am not going to abandon."  I turned Hercules around to face me.  "You and your high and mighty moral ways bought into everything Zeus said.  How can you claim to love me if would take off and abandon everything just because of a few words from Zeus no less?  Is that what you call love?"

"Well, considering who Zeus was speaking of, can you blame me?  I wanted to believe you had changed, I really did.  But when you said those things to me in front of everyone, I knew it was hopeless.  You're no liar, Ares. You meant everything you said back there."

"Then why am I here now?" I challenged.

"To celebrate your victory."

An idea came to me. "If I wanted to celebrate, I wouldn't be holding you prisoner against a tree," I said as I released my hold over Hercules.  "I'd do this."  I bent over and kissed him putting everything I couldn't say in words into my actions.  "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, but I'm not sorry about what I said."

"Why are you doing this, Ares" Hercules was clearly confused by me at this point.

"First, because I not about to let Zeus win."

"And second?"

"Because I liked things better the way they were before and so did you."  I kissed Hercules again to emphasize my point.

Hercules' breathing was ragged when I broke the kiss.  "We can't just go back.  It's not that easy."

Why do you insist on doing things the hard way, Hercules?  The next time I go down into Hades' domain, I must remember to stop by the Elision Fields and thank Alcmene for her efforts.

"You're still upset.  I can understand that.  But understand this: I'm the God of War.  I can't just deny that anymore than you can deny being a hero. It's who we are.  We're opposites.  We're bound to have some...disagreements."

"Maybe so, but so much has happened lately.  I needed...I still need time to sort through it all."

Hercules didn't yell at me or directly order me away.  Perhaps there is hope yet. "Perhaps we can sort through it together.  What do you say to that?"

Hercules sighed. "You're going to do what you want and end up watching me anyway so you might as well stay."

I smiled inwardly at that.  I was in, or so I thought.  Then Hercules spoke again.  "But that doesn't mean that I forgive you.  I'll only tolerate you. It takes more than words to prove your sincerity."

Another challenge.  This was working out better than I thought, although I hadn't expected the proof of sincerity clause.  That was no problem, though. A few good deeds here and there and I could whisk Hercules back to Greece and back into my bed.

The next few days proved to be more of a challenge that I thought they would be.  Hercules and I returned to Syracuse and he proceeded to have me (in disguise) help him do every good deed he could think of.  Helping build a new school, fixing homes for the widows, playing with children (which was the real test since the children I encountered made Discord look like an innocent and I am not exaggerating.).  I had to return to my temple several times to relieve my frustrations (and also to record the names of the children as future recruits).  Outside of our "good deeds" Hercules rarely spoke to me or even acknowledged my presence.

Out of sheer frustration one night I threw Hercules against a tree and demanded an explanation.  "How long are you going to do this?"

"Until you leave me alone!  Have you learned nothing since you've been here? I don't want to be bothered!"

"It's always about you, isn't it?  My hurts, my pain, my suffering.  Get over it!  What about me?"

Hercules punched me again and we got into a no-holds barred fight that destroyed most of the forest in the area.  We battled for what seemed like hours until I became aware of an all too familiar feeling--my arousal. Taking a quick glance at Hercules, I could see he was experiencing the same thing.

Taking a chance, I moved as though to give Hercules a head butt, but instead kissed him hard.  Hercules appeared stunned for a moment before beginningresponding to my advances.  I quickly transported us back to my temple bedchamber before Hercules could object.

Hercules broke away before I could continue.  "Is sex your answer to everything?  Fuck it to make your problems all go away?"

"No, but it served as a good distraction to bring you back here.  And judging by that," I said pointing to his erection, "you enjoyed it."


"Hey now!" I yelled in warning.  "We have been doing this your way long enough.  Now we do this my way.  It's more than your anger with me that drove you off.  What's really been eating at you all this time?  Is it Zeus? If it is, then let me tell you this: It doesn't get any better. You've just been treated to the 'kind old man' to keep you on his side. Now that he doesn't need you, you get the same crappy treatment the rest of us do."  I'd said a lot more than I originally intended.  But then again, my relationship with Zeus is like an old infected wound that never healed.  Yes, sometimes the pain did go away and you could forget, but there was always something ready to come up so that no matter what I did, I could never forget.  There was always more pain and gore ready to ooze out into my life.

My face must have betrayed my emotions because Hercules looked at me with an odd mix of anger, hurt and understanding on his face.  "That's why you did a lot of the things you did, isn't it?  The constant plotting against the gods was all because of Zeus wasn't it?"

"Ever since childhood I wanted revenge on Zeus.  He and Hera both hated me for being who and what I am.  Zeus tolerated me only because I could control the aggressive passions of the mortals and he didn't want to go through the trouble of finding a replacement.  All I knew was that I wanted him out of the way.  I couldn't do it alone, though.  Then Zeus must have found out because he tried to convince me he'd changed for the better.  He even paid attention to me for a while and I was happy.   Like a fool, I believed him until you came along and things went back to the way they were before with me as the hated son and someone else as the favored.  Now he's doing the same thing again.  Zeus won before, but he won't this time.  I won't let him steal my happiness."

"What are you saying, Ares?" Hercules asked.

"Will you bring my happiness back to me? Will you stay?"

Hercules looked into my eyes as he considered his answer.  He placed his hand on my chest over my heart.  "I have to know something else first.  I want you to tell me what you feel right now."

Typical Hercules.  Nothing is a simple "yes" or "no" when you want it to be. I took a deep breath, remembering an earlier time when I'd been asked the same question.  That time I denied what I felt out of fear and I almost lost something very precious to me.  This time I wasn't going to let my fears rule me. I took a deep breath and replied, "Love.  I feel love and I'm frightened of it."

"Then I will stay, Ares."  Hercules smiled at me with his reply.  "And I love you and it is frightening for me, too."

Well, to put it mildly, I was ecstatic.  For once, I wasn't on the losing end of something and it felt pretty good.  We ended up spending the rest of the day together so Hercules didn't make it to see Iphicles and Iolaus until the following morning.  I watched from my scrying pool and was surprised to see that after being told off twice by Iolaus and Iphicles for leaving, both were genuinely happy to see Herc back in Corinth.

A friendly voice (for once) interrupted my thoughts as I was observing. "See what happens when you take your big sister's advice?  Things work out!"

I had to smile at that. "Thanks Dite."

"Did you hear?  Old bull balls is up to his neck in hot water with cowface Hera again since he forgot his special date with her while he was tormenting you.  Then she caught him fooling around with Ganymede again. Hera threw a fit and changed bull balls' balls into stone balls.  He won't be up to doing much of anything for a while, if you catch my drift.  He'll probabily be spending the next century chasing after her to change him back.   Now if we can figure out who to fix up curly and Kingy with, everything will be totally cool.  Say, have you got any Amazons who want to get married or anything?  Warrior widows lookin' to get hitched again? We gotta get the ball rolling while everything's totally cool around here!"

"What?  Is this true?"  This was too good to be true.

"Would I pull your chain on something like that?  Of course it's true.  I set them up myself."

Mental note to self: NEVER cross Aphrodite.  I laughed out loud until I cried at Dite's comments.  "I haven't laughed this much since I set up Iolaus and Autolycus' circus adventure.  I don't know of any potential Amazons or widows off hand, but I'll tell you what I'll do.  Stop by later and I'll help you find potential love interests."

"Great!  Now I gotta pick up Hephy and get him ready for my festival.  See ya later, bro!"  With that, Dite vanished, leaving me alone in my throne room once again.

With Zeus temporarily occupied with other matters, Hercules and I were able to try to get our relationship started again.  That's not to say that we didn't have any disagreements because it seemed that we were forever arguing over this or that. Actually, in between the constant arguments over moral issues and the fistfights fighting, we're getting along fairly well now.  I guess it's the inevitable conflict of the war god in me vs. the hero in him. Iolaus and Iphicles still opposed us being together. I've observed them in my scrying pool from time to time plotting ways to get me to show my "true nature" as they saw it.  Dite and I are still looking for love interests to distract them.  I hope we find one soon. I'm getting tired of dealing with their little distractions.

As for Zeus and me, I gave him plenty to chew on with full-scale wars near all of his major temples and a Spartan invasion into Athens (to piss off his absolute favorite, Athena).  The carnage was at an all time high and Corinth benefitted on two fronts since Athens was weakened by the war (I made sure there were heavy Athenian losses) and the Spartan leaders came to Iphicles for supplies and weapons.

When this whole mess started almost two months ago, if someone told me that I'd be where I am now, I'd have flash-fried them on the spot for suggesting something so ridiculous but now, I can't see myself truly living if I wasn't.  The contradictions are still really confusing to me although Herc says that in time I may begin to understand some of it (I hope).

Well, I guess this is the end of my tale.  Hercules will be back here soon. He had to go to a dedication of some sort in Syracuse of all places and will be returning this afternoon.  I owe him one for the black eye he gave me before he left.  Wish me luck!