By Sarah Saint Ives
One Fine Saturday
Ares strolled along the aisles of merchandise, browsing through the fine silks, the sequined garments, the leather goods, the newest handtools for sale at the Saturday Market in Shalis. He had found nothing of real interest, very rarely did, but he enjoyed looking to keep abreast of the new fashions and gadgets mortals invented. It was also a way to break up the monotony of everyday life as the god of war.
He heard scattered cries from another part of the marketplace and unhurriedly sauntered over to see what was happening.
There, slumped in Iolaus' arms, nearly dead, was the mighty Hercules. He had evidently choked on something, the clue being his rolled-up eyes, quivering blue face and lips. He went down, unable to breathe, and Iolaus pounded desperately on his chest.
Ares stood watching, thoughtfully stroking his short beard, extremely entertained by his half-brother's plight, but the look on his handsome face was grim. He found himself horrified at the realization that Hercules would be dead when this was done, which was a strange reaction since Ares had hated his younger sibling since his birth.
Iolaus' blue eyes picked him out of the crowd. "Ares!" he cried. "Help him! Help him before it's too late!"
Ares came out of his short-lived state of reverie and pointed to himself. "Me? What do you want *me* to do?"
"Help him! He's dying! You can help him--you're a god!" Iolaus pleaded.
"Yes, I can. The question is..."
"Help him!" shouted the crowd around him in unison.
Reluctantly, Ares stepped forward and knelt beside the fallen demi-god. Hercules was no longer moving, no longer struggling to breathe. The only sign of life was a faint pulse at his neck. Heaving a long sigh, Ares forced the unconscious man's mouth open and thrust two fingers into his throat, located the obstacle and removed it. It was indistinguishable, so he pitched it aside. Then, with another equally bored sigh, he took the back of Hercules' neck in one hand, pinched his nostrils closed with the other and leaned over him to clamp his lips tightly on the dying man's mouth. With the power of war, he blew into his body, filled his lungs with air.
He drew up to listen to the weak exhale and repeated the process. The second blast of wind that filled him seemed to inflate Hercules' entire body higher on the ground. A spasm wracked the otherwise still form. Ares held him steady and breathed into him again and again.
Finally, when hope was dwindling, just as Ares' lips settled on him in a last frantic effort to save him, the blue eyes opened and focused on him. There was a moment of awkwardness, a moment of misunderstanding, and somehow, Ares' life-saving technique was transformed into an unintentional but very tender kiss. Both men were taken by surprise, mesmerized by the enchantment.
When Ares raised up from him again, Hercules gazed into his startled eyes, and for that moment, time stopped and all hatred between them was forgotten. A million ticks of the clock later, or perhaps only three ticks, Ares remembered that they were surroundedby the people of Shalis and got to his feet. "He'll be fine." he said, then, straightening his clothing, he vanished.
"Hercules, how do you feel?" Iolaus was anxious as he helped him to his feet.
"Weak." Hercules answered. "Very weak. Tell me, Iolaus, was I hallucinating or was that.....Ares who just saved my life?"
"That was Ares who just saved your life." Iolaus confirmed.
"Where did he go?"
"Back to wherever he goes when he disappears. I didn't even get a chance to thank him."
Weakly, Hercules sat down on a bench. The physical weakness was only part of the problem at the moment. He was frightened and confused, his emotions drained. He shivered. "I'll thank him." he said. "When I see him again."
A month later....
Ares had puttered, had tried new hobbies to keep the boredom at bay. He had taken up gardening as a distraction, and to some extent, his mind was taken off the lasting effects of that overpowering kiss he had shared with Hercules. He could not, for the life of him, understand thetrauma. Even Cupid or Aphrodite could not have caused such an emotional upheaval.
Corn was in straight rows, potatoes were in perfect mounds, tall sunflowers were top-heavy. Row after row, his godly garden was glorious and Ares was proud of it. He stood looking it over, wishing he could feel content again, wishing he could take pleasure in some bit of malice or mischief. Wishing he had not saved Hercules' worthless life. That had been the mistake of the millennium! He could still taste those lips, still feel their softness....
He stood straight and listened. Someone was calling his name from the forest. He waited, listening.
"Ares! I want to talk to you!"
It was Hercules! Ares' immortal heart pounded. He dropped his hoe and looked himself over, brushed the dirt from his clothing. He was gorgeous, as always.
As a god, his talent for ‘popping out' was unmatched. He popped from the garden into the forest, appeared directly behind his handsome half-brother, who was standing beside an enormous oak. "You called, Hercules?" he said, amused that he had startled him.
Hercules turned to him. "I came to thank you for saving my life that day at the market." he said. His eyes could not hold. "And to ask you something.....Ares, what sort of spell did you put on me?"
Ares frowned. "What are you talking about? I put no spell on you. I had nothing to do with you choking. That was your own clumsiness."
"I didn't mean the choking. I meant the kiss."
Ares' dark eyes narrowed. "You have been suffering severe repercussions, I take it?"
Hercules met his eyes. "What is it? Just tell me."
"I don't know." Ares began to pace back and forth beneath the oak. "I can't eat, I can't sleep, I have to stay busy all the time. I have to think up new things to do to keep my mind off you. I don't know who's responsible for this, but when I find out, they're gonna pay dearly!"
"Maybe nobody is responsible." Hercules proposed. "Maybe it's something that's just...between you and me."
Ares considered it. He paused to gaze at him. "This is unbelievable. This isn't happening to me! I do not feel this way!"
"What do you feel, Ares?" Hercules asked.
"It's absurd! It's ridiculous!" Ares took him demandingly by the shoulders. "I do *not* want you!"
"You want me?"
"No, I do *not* want you."
"How do you want me, Ares?"
"Hercules, what did I just say?"
"You said you didn't want me, but you're lying."
"You think?" Ares dark eyes were stormy.
"Why did you save my life?"
"That's what I've been asking myself ever since it happened." Ares' hand slid from his shoulder to his chin. "I suffered a moment of insanity, that's all. Gods can be insane, too, you know. It happens to the best of us."
"Are you sure that you ‘suffered' from insanity?"
"Yes, I suffered." Ares took a step closer to him.
Hercules closed his eyes, lowered his face and touched his lips to the palm of the hand cupping his chin. "Ares, I think that insanity is contagious."
"You're strong, Hercules. Use your strength to fight it. Don't give in to it." Ares' hand dropped to his side.
"It's not something I can use strength against." Hercules turned his back and slowly began to walk away from him, shoulders sagging, head down. That he was leaving, that he was leaving without an ending--was maddening. Ares could actually feel his heart breaking.
He let the big man walk twenty feet before he went after him, caught hold of him and whirled him around. Ares threw both arms around him and embraced him desperately. "Don't you dare leave me now!" he whispered viciously in his ear. "You're never leaving, do you hear me? Never!" His arms were so hard they nearly crushed the mighty Hercules.
*Why be difficult when with a bit more effort, you can be impossible?*
"Ares, Ares...." Hercules' arms were around his neck. He brushed his lips across the war god's cheek, sought out his full lips and they shared a long, sweet kiss. It began slowly, simmered at the edge until Ares thrust his tongue deep into the warmth of Hercules' mouth. The simmer progressed into a rolling boil.
Hercules responded savagely, found himself being taken to the ground in dangerous, headlong passion.
"You will *not* walk away from me! You will go nowhere unless I allow it! Is that understood?"
As Ares rose from the kiss and looked down at him possessively, Hercules touched his dark hair with uncertainty. "Do you plan to keep me a prisoner?"
"If I must."
"Ares, you do understand the consequences of what you're saying?"
"I understand. I just don't care."
"You don't care?" Hercules was unsettled by his attitude. "You'll never change, will you? Ares, I have spent this past month trying to figure out what you did to me. You don't know what I've gone through because of that kiss! And now you want to keep me your prisoner?"
Ares kissed him again, gentler. "I don't see the problem." he said.
Hercules turned his face away to avoid his lips. "I can't stay, Ares. You know I can't. I have work to do."
"You don't have work. You're busy doing *nothing* all the time!" Ares kissed his throat. "Stay with me, Hercules. You know you want to."
Hercules whimpered at the sensations as Ares nibbled on his earlobe. "Maybe I could stay for....for a little while."
"Yes, you can. You can stay for a little while." Ares rose to his feet and gave him a hand up. Again, he took him into his arms. "We'll go to my place. I'll show you my bed chamber. You'll like it. It's all decorated in black."
"Black is definitely your color." Hercules looked around the dimly-lit room, black leather, velvet and silk that lined the walls and covered the bed.
"I'm not into frills." Ares led him to a window, pulled back the ebony drapes and showed him the garden view. "Except for the few flowers that grow there."
"Flowers, Ares? How domestic of you."
"I like sunflowers. I like beautiful, simple things."
"Then why the black bedroom decor?"
"Because it's basic and beautiful."
That's your opinion."
"It's *my* bedroom." Ares ran the tips of his fingers up and down the long muscles on his back. "But I'll share it with you. If you don't like the black, we'll spice it up with some red. Or maybe yellow. You look good in yellow."
"No." Hercules perched on the windowsill, his back to the garden. "It's perfect the way it is."
"Are you saying the black is good, or that you won't share it with me?"
Hercules looked down. "I can't stay long, Ares. Iolaus is waiting for me in a village just outside the forest."
"Let him wait. What else does he have to do?"
"Ares, be fair."
"Be fair! Me?" Ares laughed and the sound rang musically in the dark room. He took Hercules' face in his hands and raised it. When their eyes met, the delight in Ares' expression suddenly dissolved. "Oh, I'm sorry. You're serious?"
"Ares, you know I can't stay long."
"Because of your little friend out there?" Ares said contemptuously.
Hercules eyes saddened, and the war god quickly kissed him to make amends. "Just stay tonight." he whispered. "You can spend the night, can't you?"
"If I stay this night, you won't detain me in the morning?"
Ares kissed him again, then took his hands and tugged him toward the bed. Slowly, he stripped off Hercules' flimsy yellow shirt and shoved him onto the pillows. He bounced on top of him, kissed him tenderly again. "Ask me that question again in the morning." he murmured.
The Morning After
Ares propped himself up on one elbow and looked down into the quiescent, sleeping face of the man in his bed. He had been incredible. Of all the beautiful women Ares had bedded, none could compare to Hercules. He dropped a kiss on the tranquil lips and rolled out of bed to visit the lavatory. There, he washed himself, gazing thoughtfully
into the full-length mirror at his splendid naked reflection.
It was eerie that he still felt Hercules' fingernails digging into his back, could still taste the sweetness of his kiss, could still hear his moans of ecstacy. Ares closed his eyes and relived it. The memory was too much for him. Wholly aroused, he strode back to bed, climbed in and took Hercules in his arms.
"Ares, what..." Hercules was disoriented, not ready to be awake.
"You can sleep later." Ares said, kissing him hard. "You have the rest of your life to sleep. Right now, you're going to give me what I want."
Hercules yawned and hugged him. "I've already given you more than you deserve." he said.
"I need you again." Ares kissed him over and over, pressing his superior advantage until he had his full co-operation.
"You *need* me?"
Ares paused, thought of denying the statement, of altering it to fit his 'god of war' image, but the hunger was stronger than the humiliation. He slid his fingers gingerly along the demi-god's jaw-bone and placed another kiss on his warm lips. "I need you."he repeated. "Now."
"Any other confessions to make?" Hercules teased, looking all-too-comfortable in the compromising position.
"What? Confessions! We don't have time for anything as useless as *confessions*. You have limited our time together, so I have to make every second count."
"I thought maybe you had something special to tell me first." Hercules said, raking his back again. In the short period of time they had been intimate partners, he had already discovered Ares' weak spots, had learned how to use them against him. "Are you sureyou don't have something you want to say to me?"
Ares drew in a fiery hiss and pulled the black silk over them. "Yes, I do. Something I want to say to you." He could wait no longer. "I'm going to screw you within an inch of your life!"
Hercules sighed. "Then it's a good thing you are so well-versed in that amazing life-saving kiss." he said. "You can repair the damage once you're finished with me."
Iolaus had been waiting impatiently for hours. He was tired of waiting, was worried about his closest friend. Hercules had gone trustingly into the forest, had made himself vulnerable to Ares in his own territory. Hercules had fought him many times, but since that Saturday in Shalis, the hero had not been quite himself, had not sufficiently hated his most unethical half-brother. Iolaus did not even want to think about all the dangers at hand. Strapping on a sword, he headed into the forest, a small, mortal man, intent on rescuing his friend from the god of war.
He found the trail that led through tall trees, along a winding river and followed it to an enormous oak. There, the trail ended. "Hercules!" he shouted. "Hercules, can you hear me?"
Ares groaned at the image of blonde hair in the blue water in his reflecting fountain. Iolaus! He was calling from the forest. Ares popped out to greet him, appeared face to face with the brave little hunter. "What do you want?" he growled.
"I came for Hercules! What have you done with him?" Iolaus was not intimidated by the bigger man.
Ares gave him a smug look. "He's in my bed, if you must know, where he's been all night. What's it to you?"
Iolaus' mouth hung open. "I want to see him."
Ares gave it all the consideration it was worth, perhaps five seconds, then shrugged. "Okay. Come on." He led the way into the dark castle.
Inside the Castle
"Don't wake him. He's had a rough night. He needs his rest." Ares cautioned.
Iolaus was distressed. "Is he alive? For all I know, he could be lying there dead! Let me get closer!"
Ares rolled his eyes and gestured dramatically as Hercules turned over in bed, exposed bare flesh when the black silk fell aside. "Look, moron, you can see he's alive."
The blonde stared. "He's not wearing anything!"
"Iolaus, in your limited vocabulary, does the word ‘duh' come to mind?" Ares closed the door, took him by the arm and walked him down a long, echoing hallway.
"What's going on with you and him? Did you put a spell on him? He wouldn't willingly be naked in your bed, not Hercules! What have you done to him? Where are you taking me?" asked Iolaus. "I want to talk to Hercules."
"You're beginning to get on my nerves." Ares said warningly as he came to an abrupt halt. He opened a heavy iron door to an expansive room that hosted a bubbling whirlpool. Bowls of fresh fruit, sweetbreads and fine wines were set out on decorated tables. Standing around the tables were several scantily clad women. "You can wait here until Hercules is awake."
The hunter's blue eyes scanned a dark-haired woman who smiled seductively at him from the pool lounge. She stretched out long fingers and beckoned him toward her. Iolaus gave an awkward shrug and a loopy grin as he stepped inside the room. As he approached the woman, Ares slammed the door behind him.
He had found a brighter room, one that allowed him to clearly see his reflection in the mirror. Hercules stood staring at himself in disbelief. "What have I done?" he mumbled to his image.
"Having regrets, dear brother?" Ares was close behind him. "Sit down. Let me fix your hair. You look frightful this morning."
Without a speculation about the stool that appeared beneath him, Hercules sat and met his eyes in the mirror. "We're brothers, Ares. What have we done?"
Ares began to brush his hair, concentrated on a tangle at the back of his neck. "Why can't you just accept it? Nobody forced you. You came here of your own accord. And don't pretend you didn't want it! You were very good, Hercules. Very good."
"Ares, I'm not blaming you. I'm blaming myself."
"Why do you feel the need to blame *anyone*? Can't you just admit how good it was between us?"
"Okay, Ares! It was good between us, but there was something missing! Something very important."
"Hercules, you can't have everything! Where would you put it?" Ares quipped, bending to kiss his neck. "Surely you don't have complaints."
Hercules' lower lip trembled. "I have to get back to the village."
"Why? Your little friend isn't there, any more."
"Where is he?"
"He's here. He's in the pool."
"Ares, you didn't hurt him!"
"No, as tempting as it was, I didn't hurt him. I told you, he's in the pool."
Hercules leaned on the dresser before him and covered his face with his hands. "Let me go." he said.
"No!" Ares closed his eyes in anguish. "I can't." he said. "Because if I let you go now, I will never get you back."
Part 6 No Escape
"Hercules!" Iolaus rushed up to greet him as he entered the room. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Hercules answered, glimpsing around the room in confusion. "Iolaus, what are you doing here? How did you get here?"
"I came looking for you. Ares brought me in and locked me in here with these beautiful women. I've been looking for a way out, but there was none. No windows, no other doors but that one. Does he mean to keep us prisoners here forever?"
"No, he can't. He won't." Hercules slid his fingers down Iolaus' shiny bicep and inspected the oily substance covering his skin. "What's this?" he asked.
"Oh, Laurissa did that. She rubbed that all over me."
"I see." Hercules took his hand and showed him the smooth nails. "Who did your manicure?"
"That was Karesia. She's very good." Iolaus' cheeks were pink.
"You've really been a house afire, haven't you, Iolaus? You sure there are no windows?"
"There are no windows!" Iolaus said indignantly. Then, he softened his tone and searched the bigger man's face. "What's going on between you and Ares? Tell me, Hercules. Why were you sleeping in his bed?"
The hero's blue eyes darted away. "I can't explain it, Iolaus. I think I've lost my mind."
"You can't see that he put a spell on you?" Iolaus gazed at him.
"No, he didn't."
"How can you be so sure about that?"
"Because he told me."
"And you believe him? You believe *Ares*?"
Like he said, Iolaus," Ares came through the door and put an arm around Hercules. "He's lost his mind. Whatever caused it, it's something we share.....this insanity."
"Insanity?" Iolaus looked at the war god as if he wanted to spit in his face.
"Yes. Hercules suffers from it. But me? I don't suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it." Ares leaned to place a light kiss on his lover's shoulder.
Iolaus' face went dark. "Hercules, we have to get out of here," he said.
Possessively, Ares tightened his one-armed embrace around Hercules' muscular frame. "Okay, visit's over. Come with me, now, Beloved, and IÆll show you the rest of the castle."
Reluctantly, Hercules allowed himself to be drawn out of the room. He caught Iolaus' apprehensive eyes as the door was closed again.
"Ares, you cannot keep him a prisoner! He's my best friend!"
Ares pushed his back against the stone wall, moved in and kissed him roughly. Hercules' arms circled him, pulled him closer as he returned the kiss with wild abandon. "Prisoner? He's not a prisoner. The women of this castle have free reign. They go where they want, do what they
like. Iolaus has the same right. He can leave if he wants to. But *you*.....*you* must stay."
Out of breath, feeling far too much warmth, he whispered, "Ares......"
Ares' trademark indifference had melted into a heartrending plea. "I need you. I'll do anything you want."
Hercules studied him before he kissed him again. "Anything, Ares?"
"Yes, anything." Ares was emphatic. "Anything to keep you, my love. Anything."
Part 7: Goodbye
"What do you want from me?" asked Ares. "Tell me what it will take to keep you. Whatever the cost, I'll be more than happy to pay it."
"Ares, you can't buy me. I wish it were that simple. This is the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with! I'm actually in love with the god of war! I cannot believe my own feelings!" Hercules broke away from him and walked to the end of the hallway to lean out an open window. "I don't know how this happened to us, Ares. Is it possible that one of the other gods cast this spell on us? It's a wicked spell, if it is."
"If it's a spell, I never want it to wear off. For the first time in my wretched life, I felt happiness! I felt excitement! I felt warmth and gentleness instead of vengeance and hate! But you can never forget the past, can you?" Ares joined him at the window, heaved a great sigh as he looked out over the garden. "Hercules, I realize I can't keep you here. I want you to stay. I've done everything in my power to *make* you stay, and you're still going to leave me. All I can say to you is that I will miss you terribly when you've gone. I can only hope you will return to me some day."
Hercules turned into his ready embrace and sobbed into his ear, "I love you, Ares! I'm sorry."
Ares turned his face away, his dark lashes spiked with hot tears. "Hercules, just go. Don't make it worse than it already is. Please, just get your little friend and go."
Hercules clung to him another minute, then, without facing him, tore loose and hurried down the hallway. Reaching the pool room, he yanked open the door, fetched Iolaus and, without looking back, he strode from the castle as fast as he could walk.
Ares, watching his departure from the window, did not wipe away the tears that streamed down his godly cheeks.