Comfort and Joy 1-6
Hercules had heard rumours, all over the castle, ever since he and Iolaus had turned up, there had been rumours about his brother's new lover. Whispered words that told him his brother was sleeping with a God. All anyone knew about Iphicles' new lover was that he was dark haired, and he made the King laugh. His loyal staff could forgive anything, since their beloved King had started smiling again. Not so his brother, he had his own suspicions as to the identity of Iphicles' mystery lover. Even if it meant his brother being once more broken hearted, Hercules felt it imperative that he break up this relationship.
A dark haired God, as far as anyone knew that was the entire description of Iphicles' unknown lover. As far as Hercules could see it meant but one thing, but one God, Ares! Ares was twisting things, pretending to love Iphicles, it was all a plan to get t o him. If he could figure out what Ares would achieve by this relationship he would know exactly how to break it up!
That need to know had brought Hercules to his current vantage point. Hidden in the castle walls, spying on his own brother. Standing in a dark, spider ridden gap in the wall, alone, Iolaus having shown a greater sense of decency and had refused to play voyeur at Iphicles' expense. So Hercules waited alone.
Finally his patience was rewarded, the room he was observing lit with the tell tale flash of a God making an entrance. A tall figure wearing leather, fine, supple, split leather, sporting large Hephaestian metal loops, apparently holding the leather together, arrived.
Not Ares! That was Hercules' first surprise. Instead of his brother arriving, his nephew had instead. Maybe he was playing go between, delivering a message of some kind for the evil God of War.
That was his second shock. Strife walked over to Iphicles' chair as the King sat by an open window, reading his state papers. The Mischief God bent his head to touch his lips to the King's.
"Oh, baby!" The God groaned against those welcoming lips. Hercules assumed that was what he said, his voice was somewhat muffled by Iphicles' lips as his brother returned Strife's deep kiss.
Finally the kiss ended, and when it did, Hercules could breath again. He had never seen such a look of profound happiness on his brother's face, ever.
"I need a bath, care ta' join me?" Strife asked, his voice soft, gentle, not a tone Hercules was used to hearing from his mischievous nephew, not that he actually talked to the God of Mischief much, if ever.
"Sure, I could do with a soak myself. Hercules arrived for one of his occasional visits." Iphicles shuddered, the spying hero could not believe his brother thought his visits so onerous, was this Strife's doing, or mearly for his benefit?
"Don't tell me, he knows shit about running a country, the needs of diplomacy or even fiscal accounting, but you are not doing it right. You don't give the people enough freedom, you tax them too much, you haven't painted every second peasants chickens green. Other stupid, piddlly grievances, huh?" Strife created a wide, deep, steaming bath. He stripped off his clothes, one item at a time and laid them on the ottoman chest at the foot of Iphicles' bed.
Iphicles too stripped, and he too added his clothes to the heap on the chest at the foot of his bed.
King and God climbed into the bath, both sighing.
"You better believe it!" Iphicles said, finally answering Strife's question. "I take it, from your tone, you've been in my position then?" Iphicles teased the young God.
"Damn right I have. Ares, need I say more? I'm always so damn busy helping him these days that my own duties are being neglected. And even then, I can't seem to do things right, accordin' ta' his grand plan!" Strife created a wash cloth and soap, he then proceeded to wash Iphicles. The sight confused the watching hero.
There, before his very eyes, a God, a being he had spent his life decrying as
manipulative and evil incarnate, was washing his brother, as if he were there to serve his brother. More than that, his brother was just laying back, against the side of that great big bath, letting Strife serve him. Iphicles was even enjoying it.
"You need some gentle loving, poor baby!" Iphicles suddenly sat forwards, took the cloth and soap from the God's hands and began to wash him.
It was then that Hercules realised that, as far as Strife and Iphicles seemed to care, theirs was a relationship of equals. He felt acutely embarrassed by his spying on them. Had it been Ares, what then? He was at least honest enough with himself to admit he didn't have an answer to that question.
Hercules received another shock as he realised that the skin that Iphicles was washing turned a light honey colour, the pale, alabaster tone was washing off!
"I could always do with your lovin' ya' know that!" Strife nuzzled into Iphicles' neck, first one side then the other. Iphicles laughed as he washed the God's hair, rinsing the soap from it, mussing it from lying flat against his scalp to lying there in crinkly waves.
"When do you have to go back? When will Ares be shouting on you next?" Iphicles stood, looked around the room, then back at his guest. "Towels would be nice." He said, quite without rancour.
"Towels you shall have!" Strife's voice dropped his accustomed high pitched squeak and he rose to stand beside his lover. The body that was finally revealing itself to their audience was another revelation. Hercules could not recall ever having seen Strife naked before, he was always fully covered in his odd leather outfit, and little wonder! His body was criss crossed with dark purple marks, slowly fading back to silver. Strife's body was a mass of scar tissue. The nimble God vaulted out of the bath and held his arms wide, suddenly a large, warm towel was between his hands, and Iphicles climbed out to join his lover once more.
Behind them the bath vanished, unnoticed, unlamented, uncommented on.
Once Iphicles was wrapped in his towel the King nudged the God and Strife created another one for himself.
"Happy now, my King?" his voice was definitely lower in tone, a tone that had a distinct effect on both brothers listening to it.
"Always, when you're here." Iphicles smiled, a happy smile. "How long can you stay? You never did say."
"Probably several days if you could stand having me around that long." Strife tied off his own towel, the better to free his hands to rub Iphicles dry.
"How come?" Iphicles' voice sounded both startled and delighted. "What on Earth has happened to make bossy drawers give you that amount of free time." The way Strife laughed left Hercules in no doubt that he knew who 'bossy drawers' was. Ares, no doubt!
"He's learned a valuable lesson and is even now secreted away, practising it." Strife laughed, that too was deeper than his accustomed giggle. "He's learned to say sorry without choking on the words, so he has been forgiven!" That Strife and Iphicles both knew who had forgiven Ares was so self evident to Hercules that he couldn't ignore the fact that his brother was obviously privy to a lot of Olympian gossip that he himself wasn't.
"How on Earth did he manage that? I mean, Ares, God of War, apologising?" Iphicles' voice reflected his brother's startlement, even if he was unaware of that same brother's scrutiny.
"He actually dropped to his knees, right there in front of me as a witness, and he looks up, in to Joxer's eyes and says those magic words 'Joxer, I've been a fool, forgive me? Please?' and Jox looks down at Ares, then up at me and I shrugs, there's nothing I can really say now is there? Anyway, Jox finally looks, I mean really looks into Ares' eyes, and wham, I know he's lost, he's going to forgive Ares. 'Well, of course I do, I might be annoyed with you, that doesn't mean I don't love you!' He says, and then he helps Ares to his feet and hugs him, hard." Strife wiped his eyes, as if wiping away a tear or two. From his vantage point Hercules couldn't see if he was or wasn't, but he gave the God the benefit of the doubt either way.
"So you're going to stay all night this time?" Iphicles looked so hopeful. "And all day tomorrow, and tomorrow night?" The King stepped closer to the God.
"If you want me to." Strife replied, calmly.
"Damn right I do!" Iphicles reached out and touched his lips to Strife's, both God and King groaned and reached for the other, holding their lover close to themselves.
"What about Hercules?" Strife finally asked, breaking the kiss, but not letting go of his lover.
"Fuck him, if he can't take a joke. And the joke is, he's going to be so damn shocked that I let a God into my bed, and it isn't Ares, and there's not a damn thing he can do about it!" Iphicles laughed, taking away any sting his words might have for Strife, but letting them sting his brother even more, especially because he didn't know he was there. This was the truth Hercules was hearing.
"Let's hope Ares doesn't fuck things up with Joxer this time!" Strife kissed Iphicles again. "'Cause I'm really looking forward to the next couple of days."
"You hungry?" Iphicles asked, drawing a single finger nail down over Strife's chest, exciting the nipple he dragged it over.
"Actually, I am, why do you ask?" Strife's voice sounded strained, his breathing ragged.
"Why not get dressed and join us for diner then?" The King suggested.
"I just got washed!" Strife almost sounded like his normal whining self to Hercules, until he realised that the God had been wearing white make up over his skin, hiding his scars, and he obviously didn't want to reapply it for diner.
"So? I love you as you are, Strife, not for what you look like in other's eyes. Join me, and my guests, for diner, sit at my right hand as my Queen would have. Be mine." Hercules saw such a look of love, not just in his brother's face, but in his whole demeanour, even he was touched by it.
"You would have me be your consort? Is that what you're saying, asking?" Strife's voice shook with a nervous tone, Hercules could only feel sorry for his nephew, Iphicles was indeed an intimidating sight.
"Damn right I am!" Iphicles stood back, giving Strife room, and time, to think.
"Iph?" Strife attracted the King's attention.
"Yes?" Iphicles prompted the suddenly nervous God.
"If he starts a fight, this'll be one outburst of trouble you're NOT blaming on me, deal?" The God laughed at the surprised, but delighted, expression on his lover's face. "And after diner? You goin' ta' take me ta' bed and consummate our new relationship?"
"Damn right I am, I'm going to fuck you into the middle of next week!" Iphicles took his lover in one last bruising kiss. "Now get dressed, in something other than your shapeless leather thing. Something that shows of those shoulders, and that slim waist. Not to forget tight enough to show every line of you delectable butt!" Iphicles finished ordering Strife around when he realised his lover was doubled up, laughing hysterically.
"No wonder I love you!" The God finally managed. Yet, as he sobered up, he created new clothes for himself, clothes that did just as Iphicles had asked.
Looking at his nephew, and his dressed again brother, Hercules finally saw what Iphicles saw in Strife, he was beautiful. That honey coloured skin, those piercing blue eyes, that mass of wavy hair. Even the cut marks on his skin lent him a kind of brutal maturity.
To his final, utter shame, as Iphicles and Strife headed for the banqueting hall, Hercules felt himself getting hard at the idea of trying to take Strife from Iphicles. After all, he had taken every other lover, bar one, from his brother, why not his God too? He dashed along the hidden corridor, diner was suddenly looking a lot more interesting.
As Hercules hurried through his ablutions, readying himself for dinner with his brother and his other guests, the hero didn’t realise he was whistling. However, Iolaus did notice and commented on the source of his friend’s happiness.
“So, I take it, it wasn’t Ares that turned up then?” The hunter laughed at his friends antics. Iolaus knew that Hercules wouldn’t be this confident if he were indeed facing Ares’ interest in Iphicles.
“Erm, no, it wasn’t Ares. Seems Ares is involved with, of all people, Joxer!” Hercules laughed, the mental image of Ares being intimate with Joxer danced before his eyes.
“Yeah, well, I can see that. I defy any one not to want Joxer, not once they’ve been with him. I didn’t realise he was involved with Ares now though.” Iolaus shrugged, remembering his own dalliances with Joxer. “Lucky Ares, I hope he appreciates what he’s got there.” The hunter’s eyes focused on his own feet, remembering, so he failed to notice Hercules’ startlement at the idea of Iolaus and Joxer... together!
“Are you saying that you, and Joxer have.. you know?” Hercules blushed at asking his very best friend such an intimate question. He was well aware that they had each, in their time, had may male lovers, but, it was always just too personal a topic even for them to discuss.
“Well, yeah, I take it you’ve never listened to the girls at Meg’s place. Not a word of a lie, I can tell you. But it was just a bit of fun for both of us, talented fun none the less!” Iolaus’ somewhat saddened expression made way for a delighted one, obviously a reaction to memories playing out before his inner eye.
“Aren’t you even curious as to who did show up, since it wasn’t Ares?” Hercules gave up subtlety and asked his friend, bluntly, if he were at all interested.
“Oh, sorry, got side tracked. Ares and Joxer, who’d have thought it? So, who was it then?” Iolaus looked at Hercules’ face and recognised the predatory look there. Whomever it had been, the hero had obviously decided to get him, or her, for himself.
“Strife.” Hercules said, watching every nuance of his friends expression as he digested the latest news.
“Strife? And you’re going to make a play for him?” Iolaus did indeed know his friend very well indeed. Hercules grinned and nodded. “Don’t, please Herc, just don’t ok?” The hunter turned away from Hercules and walked to the door, pausing when he reached it to glance over his shoulder. “Time to go eat, I think.” He opened the door and left the room and Hercules standing
there, alone. Without even attempting to explain himself Iolaus headed for the main stairwell and the dining hall.
“Iolaus?” Hercules called out as he rushed to catch up with his friend. “Wait up!” He caught up with the blond man half way along the corridor, he pulled on his shoulder to halt his progress. “Why shouldn’t I show my brother just how unloyal the Gods are? And Strife? Don’t you think Iphicles could do better than a second rate Godling?” Hercules worked hard on believing his words himself, yet, he could see he had a long way to go to convince Iolaus though.
“What I think is immaterial. Strife and Iphicles are happy together, leave them alone. Doesn’t your brother deserve a little happiness? What with all he has gone through in his life?” Iolaus broke free of Hercules’ grasp and headed once more towards the main hall.
Silently, Hercules followed. Not convinced Iolaus was right, not willing to give Strife the benefit of the doubt, not willing to pass up taking his brother’s Godly lover from him. He was, after all, showing Iphicles that the Gods just couldn’t be trusted! Wasn’t he? Yet, he wouldn’t even try to imagine what his forthcoming attempt at seducing his own nephew said about his own morals.
Everyone was sitting in their allotted spaces, suddenly a fanfare blared and announced the King’s arrival; as one the dinner guests stood and turned to face the door. Also as one they gasped as Iphicles came into the room with an unknown, to all but two of the on lookers, dark haired man by his side. A man Iphicles placed in the traditionally unused right hand seat. Rena’s seat.
Every eye tracked them as they moved to their chairs and stood facing the gathered courtiers and family members. Iphicles spared a quick look for his personal guest, then turned to face his assembled court.
“My good Lords and Ladies of the court, I would have you bid welcome Strife, God of Mischief, and my personal guest!” Then he watched every eye turn from him to the God at his right hand. When he looked at Stife, he regretted his grandstanding as he saw the God’s stance become more, and more, defensive at the scrutiny he was receiving. “Now, sit everyone and let us eat!” He lead the way by sitting and indicating that the others there should do the same, which they did.
Iolaus looked at Strife and felt for him, he knew that the God of Mischief hated to be under close scrutiny, Godly or mortal. He was fortunate to be sitting on Strife’s right, diagonally facing Hercules, and able to interfere with his friends plans to disrupt Strife and Iphicles’ relationship. Or so he hoped.
Hercules looked at his Godly nephew with an intense look on his face, Strife took it to be hatred, as usual, Iolaus saw it as the desire it was. He wondered what was going to happen, dreading the outcome of living through this meal. Sometimes he recalled the peace in Hades’ domain with a hunger.
“How have you been, Strife, since your return?” The hunter asked the young God.
“Quite well, and yourself? Things going well, all things considered?”
“Yup!” Iolaus smiled, then he laughed, gently. “I’m still ahead of you though! I’ve been Hades’ guest, what twice, the light, once? You’re still on your first return.”
“Nah, ya’ been three times with Hades, just that Grandfather changed time the first time so I don’t know if that’d count against ya’ or not.” Then Strife thought of something, something he simply had to ask. “When you were with Great Unk H did Persephone annoy the life, or rather the death, outta’ you too?”
Strife and Iolaus shared a look and both giggled, an alarmingly similar giggle.
“She did!” Iolaus finally told the young God. Every eye was turned to the God and the mortal by his right hand, even the King smiled indulgently at the two giggling diner guests.
“What did she do that was so annoying? I’ve always found her sweet.” Hercules asked, both his friend and his nephew. He was startled when his brother laughed, harder than ever.
“You’d be quicker asking what didn’t she do?” Iphicles told him. This was obviously something else they had talked about. It made Hercules wonder just how long Strife and Iphicles had been together? He realised he couldn’t come out and ask either of them just yet, they’d wonder how he knew in the first place! It was such an odd question to ask when you’ve supposed to have only just found out about a relationship, or was it?
“So, what brings you here, nephew?” Hercules asked, keeping his voice light, but reminding all present that he was related to the Gods, and was a generation above their honoured guest. It was also a slightly different tack from bluntly asking how long they’d been screwing each other.
“I came to visit Iphicles, Uncle, he at least enjoys my company.” Strife smiled, still using that deeper voice Hercules had heard him use earlier. He too put emphasis on their relationship.
“Of course I do!” The King patted Strife’s left hand and was rewarded by the God of Mischief turning his hand over to grasp the Kings right hand.
Strife smiled, shyly, at Iphicles. A smile that had an effect on almost every one at that table. Not least Hercules who was facing his Godly nephew. He looked at his nephew once more, then he noticed the earring Strife was wearing, an intricate design of an entwined rope and a snake.
“That’s a nice piece, did Heph make it?” He pointed to his own ear, indicating the object of his interest that way. Strife lifted a hand to finger the little piece of jewellery he wore in his ear.
“Yes, Uncle Ares had Uncle Heph make it for me on my return.” He was forced to look at his Uncle Hercules as he spoke to him. Finally conversation fell away and stopped as the servants brought the first course of the meal in.
As they ate Iphicles watched his brother, and realised what he was doing, what he intended to do. He intended to try and take Strife from him. Whereas he had allowed himself to get angered at his brother’s attitude to his lovers in the past, this time he had faith, faith in his God, that he wouldn’t fall for Hercules’ false interest.
Between the first and second course, general conversation resumed.
“Have you seen Joxer of late?” Iolaus asked the Mischief God. Strife turned away from his Uncle’s troubling gaze to face the hunter. He gave the blond man a conspiratorial smile.
“Just earlier today in fact. He’s with a new lover these days.” Strife’s grin grew even wider as he wiggled his eyebrows at the blond man sitting at his right hand, Iolaus grinned right back.
“So, you going to tell or is it a secret?” Iolaus prompted. Strife leaned over and whispered, his secret talk lasted longer than would be required to say a single name. He was obviously explaining something to his dinner companion that he didn’t want the table to know. Every eye and ear strained to find out what the God was saying to Iolaus. When he finally finished his explanation, Iolaus burst out into a loud fit of giggles. Which, in turn made Strife giggle and blush, that flush of colour showed up, quite clearly, each and every cut leading up from his chest to his face.
“Oh, Strife, what happened to you?” Hercules leaned over the table towards his nephew, however, his brother also leaned in, preventing Hercules from touching Strife. “Iphicles, this is family, he’s my nephew and he’s been injured!” The injunction was made implicit in his tone, he would call his brother on this if he pushed it.
“Damn right it’s family, he might be your nephew, brother dear, but he’s my Consort, so back off!” Iphicles whispered at his brother and stared the hero down, for the first time in their lives, Iphicles won out over his younger brother. The King had the grace not to gloat however.
“If you must know, Uncle, your beloved father, my Grandfather did it. He went to hit Cupid, a punishment for some mischief he’d pulled on him. I got in the way and took the brunt of the blast. It’d have ripped Cupe’s wings off if it’d hit him.” Strife looked away from both of them and saw every mortal eye on him, all watching, listening, looking at him. “I didn’t mean to be the hero, I was five years old and wanted to play with my big brother!” he tried to down play his act, only to make things worse as the mortals all broadcast such a wave of sympathy towards him, and hatred towards Zeus.
Strife knew there would be Tartarus to pay on his return to Olympus.
“Shit!” He swore, under his breath but within Hercules’ range of hearing.
“What’s wrong?” The hero asked his embarrassed nephew, suddenly realising that Strife was getting too agitated over what would seem ancient history. Then Hercules began to think it through, working it out for himself. Looking at his fellow mortal guests he could clearly see their feelings as regards the young God, and he could guess at their unspoken words to the God in question.
“Nothing.” Strife mumbled, looking down at his plate, all appetite flown, he focus his will and vanished the food that he had left sitting before him. “I’m not very hungry.” He mumbled, claming up, withdrawing, emotionally, from the room full of mortals.
“Remember, you’re not going back, not tonight, not tomorrow. How long does he need to calm down?” Iphicles retook Strife’s hand, forcing the God to look up at him, by will alone. Again demonstrating to his own brother just how much he knew of the day to day goings on with Olympus and its Godly occupants.
“With me? Oh, about a life time, like my life time.” Strife smiled, shyly.
“Well, his loss is my gain!” The King declared, stating his intention to keep the God with him, always. “You can stay here, with me, for a life time. You know you’re more than welcome.” Iphicles met, and held, Strife’s mercurial glance, the heat between them could be clearly be seen. The tension in the room grew exponentially.
Strife laughed, a surprisingly deep resonating laugh from such an apparently slender frame. It served its purpose however, it broke the tension, and changed the focus of the mortals around the table. He realised nothing could deter Hercules, but he’d long since learned to live with his annoying uncle being around. Finally he looked at his lover.
“I do know, and thank you.” He lifted Iphicles’ hand to his lips and kissed it.
Just as those seated at the table thought the King would drag the God into a deep, passionate kiss, the kitchen doors opened and the second course was presented.
There was a deep, collective groan at the interruption.
This time there was an even greater silence as the diner guests rushed to get the second course over, to get to the interval all the quicker. All of them wanting to see what would happen next between the King, the God and the hero!
As Strife settled down once more, he began to nibble delicately at the steamed fish that was placed before him. He smiled, quite evilly, as he pealed back the skin of the creature to reveal the tender pinkish white flesh inside. Lifting a small portion of that delicately flavoured fish, he slowly took it into his mouth, forming a near perfect kiss with his lips as he cleared the tines of his fork. Eyes closed, he just tilted his head back
slightly, savouring the flavours that burst out onto his tongue.
Everyone at that table sat in perfect silence, watching the God eat his fish. They hardly dared breath lest they disturb him. Even Hercules was spell bound by the sheer sensual beauty of his nephew's actions.
"Man, that is good!" Strife exclaimed as he opened his eyes and captured Iphicles with his glance. He also noticed that Iphicles hadn't even tasted his fish yet. "You should taste this fish, whoever your chef is, you sure ain't paying him enough!" So saying he took another bite of flesh from the plate before him, leaned over towards Iphicles and kissed him. Very obviously passing his morsel of fish to the King for him to taste.
As they kissed every eye watched the King savour the kiss and the fish. As the couple parted, slightly, tongues could clearly be seen retreating, eyes glazed the God and the King continued to look only at each other, licking their lips.
"You're right, it is good. Yet, I'm not so sure if it's the message or the medium I find most appealing here?" Iphicles' eyes danced with their own brand of mischief, delighting his lover and frustrating his brother. Strife mock pouted at him. "Okay, it's the medium.." And he kissed the God again, slower, longer.
Until Hercules coughed, apparently clearing an obstruction from his throat, if not an obstruction from his brother's mouth. The hero looked not at Iphicles but at his nephew, and wondered what those lips would feel like, against his own, or indeed any other part of his anatomy. If it were possible to get harder, he did.
"Don't choke now Unc!" Strife turned to his uncle and smiled, the other guests saw it as his concern for his uncle, and applauded his concern in their minds and hearts. "Ya gotta remember when ta' swallow and when ta' spit!" He only just finished speaking when Iolaus burst out laughing at his choice of phrasing. Strife looked to his right and grinned at his table companion. "See, Iolaus knows when ta' spit an' when ta' swallow!" Which
again set off Iolaus, laughing harder than ever. Slowly the rest of the table saw the joke, they too laughed, with the God, at Hercules' expense. Much to the hero's annoyance.
All around him people settled into eating the fish so highly recommended by the God of Mischief. To many, the creatures would never be seen the same way again. Oral sex with a dead, cooked fish and Hercules. It was too much, and the chuckles continued long after Strife had changed the subject by turning away from Hercules and Iphicles too and began talking quietly with Iolaus.
The blond man emphasised his points with the fork in his hand, Strife found himself mesmerised my the lump of fish dancing back and forth before his face.
"It was, oh, a good eighteen months, maybe longer since me an' Joxer last spent any quality time together, if you catch my drift?" He was asking if he had stepped on Ares' toes. It was clear to Iphicles and Hercules both, but how the hero knew, that thought led the God to peek into his uncles memories, that exercise left him disgusted. He'd always thought that, annoying as he undoubtedly was, Hercules was at least honest and trustworthy. That he so evidently wasn't changed things entirely. From what he could glean from Hercules' uppermost memories he couldn't say what his uncles intentions were any longer
Dinner had just taken on a whole new, darker, dimension.
"Ah, well, that was before.." He nodded, and saw that Iolaus understood his meaning very well indeed.
"Good, I'd hate to spoil things for him, he's a good man." Iolaus finally ate the, now cold, piece of fish from off his fork. As he watched the hunter, Strife continued to eat his own meal, thoroughly enjoying the new game that seemed to be developing. It wasn't quite what he had had in mind when Iphicles had originally invited him to sit at his right hand and dine with him, as his consort. Recalling that part of their conversation he excused himself from Iolaus and turned back to his lover.
Strife held Iphicles' hand and exerted a little power, he created two identical gold rings, he hid the action from all around them, even Hercules was unaware. He looked at the King, all but willing him to understand, which he was over joyed to see that he did!
Iphicles with drew his hand, fumbled at his belt a moment and replaced his hand on the table, palm down. Just as he was about to say something the servants re-entered the hall and once more cleared the table. Not once did Iphicles move his hand to make that job easy for them.
The King looked to the Footman by the door and a slight 'come hither' gesture, summoning the young servant to his side.
"Philip, run and pay our honoured guest's compliments to Marcus, let him know that we all enjoyed his most delectable fish!" He made a shooing motion with his left hand and saw, with no little satisfaction, the footman's eyes skip over the hero and settle on the God. Philip turned tail and ran from the hall.
In the kitchens the chef was unaware for whom he was cooking, he was marshalling his staff like the greatest of generals. Into his organised chaos came the frantic Footman.
"Chef, I've to tell you, our special guest liked the fish, he liked it a lot!" he gasped.
"Oh, and what does Hercules think I'll do with his scant praise? Do tell me, did I over cooked the food, I used too much salt?" It was obvious that the chef did not know who Iphicles' special guest was and that he didn't like the King's brother much either.
"Oh, he's here alright, but his majesty's guest is Strife .. The God, Strife! Heard of him, have you?" The Footman waited a second or two to let the first piece of information sink in, then added his coup de grace. "He complimented you, he liked his fish.."
The chef was all but fainting at that news, he determined to present nothing but the choicest cuts of meat to the God. After all, he had had the grace to compliment him on his skill, he deserved no better than his best efforts in return. A small prayer went up to Olympus complimenting them on such a wonderfully mannered young God as Strife so obviously was, most certainly a credit to his Grandfather's line!
It mitigated the earlier, negative feelings, a direct prayer counted for so much more with the Gods than any wave of vague mortal emotions.
Iphicles sat back in his chair and looked up as Philip re-entered the hall and nodded to the King, his task was completed.he knew is own chef, knew what he would do in response to Strife's praise, Marcus was so predictable!
Strife caught the tag end of the chef's prayer and looked at his sneaky lover, he grinned at him, shaking his head slightly at the King's machinations, but loving him for them all the same. He reached for Iphicles' hand once more and displayed such believable surprise at finding it held some thing so precious in it.
"What is this?" He asked, turning the King's hand over, displaying the rings within the King's grasp for all to see.
"I told you, I want you as my consort, mine, avowed to me!" Iphicles held up one of the rings, knowing that if it didn't fit him, it had to be a perfect fit for his Mischief God. "Do the whole with this ring bit.." He put the ring to the tip of Strife's finger, and before he could go any further a voice from the other end of the table cried out to him.
"Stop, Sire, please. You can not marry your God, no matter how wonderful he is. Corinth needs an heir. He is no doubt a wonderful lover but he can never give you sons .. not even daughters." The elderly advisor that had spoken thought his days were ended, when Iphicles scowled at him. Even when the King's own brother looked so relieved at his words he still feared for his life and trembled.
"Well, Strife?" Hercules challenged his nephew to dispute that fact.
"Well what, unc? Well I can't give him children? That's garbage for a start. I am a God, even if you don't like to call me that. I can, with a little help, carry children. I can also ask one of the other Gods or, better yet, Goddesses to do it for us.. carry the baby that is." Strife looked at Hercules and saw such a look of absolute disbelief that the Mischief God decided to prove his point. He called Cupid, his favourite expert on loving
possibilities for mortals and Gods alike.
"Yo, bro, you called?" The disembodied voice of the Love God filled the hall before he appeared himself. The arrival of a second, and in the courtiers eyes, prettier God, caused quite a stir. His greeting was almost ignored in the spectacular that was his entrance, almost, by everyone except Hercules. Though he kept his observation to himself, for the moment at least. He waited to see why Strife had called on Cupid.
"Yeah, see, Iphicles, this is Iphicles, he's King around here, he wants me to be his consort, sorta' like married, but this lot say he can't marry me because he needs a baby. I know you know more about this than I do, so how do Iph and me go about having our baby?" Strife's face blushed bright red, showing Cupid every scar the younger God still bore, having saved him from their Grandfather.
"For you, anything, as always." Cupid stroked Strife's face, touching his scars, showing no revulsion at them. Smiling, evidently happy that Strife had found someone to love him, the Love God closed his eyes and seemed to lose a little substance, flickered, then reformed.
Before anyone could say a single word another God formed, or rather a Goddess, Aphrodite stood beside her son and grinned at Strife."Way ta' go studmuffin!" She squealed, evidently delighted at Strife's news. "An' go on ahead an marry your Kingy, babies is so easy ... Oh, wait till I tell your mom!" And before she could be stopped she vanished.
"I take it our engagement is official then?" Iphicles drew Strife into a deep, passionate kiss, watched by everyone in the room, including Cupid, who just stood there and grinned like a maniac. The King's own brother broke their joyous kiss.
"Far from it, Strife is a God, he'll need to get Zeus' permission to marry a mere mortal." Hercules informed his shocked brother.
"Now that is enough!" The shouted interruption came from Iolaus. "You are talking shit, and you know it! Leave them alone." He stood at Strife's side, face blazing red with rage.
"What's it to you what I say about this match, you know as well as I do that Iphicles can do so much better than Strife." Hercules also stood, as did Strife and Iphicles, a confrontation brewing and being seated was possibly the last situation to be caught in.
"What's it to me? Family is what it is!" Iolaus faced his best friend over the table.
"Family? What family? We're talking about my brother and my nephew.." Hercules was interrupted, by Iolaus.
"And my father! So be a good uncle and sit down and shut up!" The blond man stood beside his father and faced his best friend, sure that he would think of him that way for the last time. Unless Hercules backed down.
"Your father?" Hercules questioned the blond man. "Iph's just three years older than you, so it can't be him. Strife is your father? What about Skuros?" The hero looked confused, but for his part Iolaus felt no sympathy for him, none what so ever. The hunter stood slightly closer, if that was possible, to his father, and looked Hercules in the eye as he told him impossible, unbelievable, but undoubtedly true, tales.
"I am pleased to announce that I will never grow into as sick and twisted an individual as Skuros became. And before you start, Strife is a damn sight more stable than Skuros ever was. Further more, I never told you simply because I knew you'd over react, like a bad actor in a worse tragedy. Strife told me after my first real death, after I made peace with Skuros, ironically, but there you have it! Seems I was too much of an Olympian to
forget being dead and moving through time. I'd thought I was slowly going mad, like Skuros, then after the enforcer.. well, Strife realised someone had killed one of his children and wasn't too happy, but his grief doesn't mean anything to you, does it Herc? Because then you'd have to admit not knowing the Gods as well as you think you do." Iolaus held Hercules' eyes, not letting the bigger man look away, knowing if he did the hero would simply deny this conversation ever took place.
"Ya' know, I've always wondered why you bitch about all our by blows and half breeds when you're one yourself. Let's not forget the dozen or so kids you've never bothered to support, after getting their mothers pregnant!" Cupid made a gesture with one hand, a dozen little pockets of light burst into life over the table top, each one showing a different mother and child. The children were all different ages, ranging from just months old to twenty years, or there abouts. "Like, duh, didn't ya' ever connect spunk in a cunt, with babies?" Cupid was getting vicious, to the mortals it was unbelievable, but to Strife it was almost expected behaviour. Cupid would always defend his brother, with a passion!
"Wonder if he'll realise about that oldest one!" Strife murmured to Iphicles, looking at the oldest child, a twenty-ish year old woman, a tall, dark haired beauty.. and the woman Hercules had been 'interested' in the previous month.
"She's my daughter, and never said anything?" Hercules pointed at the very woman Strife had wondered about.
"She doesn't know, you never told her mother your name after all, just seduced her after a battle.. seduced, such a mild word." Cupid leaned over the table, disturbing the images, and stared at his uncle.
"Cupe, back off." Strife put his hand on the Love God's shoulder and pulled him back to stand beside him. "What's with you?"
"I'm just sick to my back teeth of his sanctimonious, holier than thou, attitude. He sneers at Iolaus' dalliances, yet has indulged in his own fair share of them over the years, fathering his own crop of bastards as he went.. or came rather." The Love God looked at Strife, wiggled his eyebrows and made his young brother giggle.
"Dispel the globes." Strife pointed at the offending items, never looking away from Cupid's face.
"For you bro' just about any thing." Cupid cleared the air of images.
"That's twice you've called him bro.. your brother; so you're another of Ares' bastards then, Strife?" Hercules glared at the God that wanted to be his brother's consort. What he wasn't prepared for was Strife, Cupid, and Iolaus all bursting out laughing. "Cupid, Ares is your father isn't he?" He demanded, relieved that at least Iphicles wasn't laughing at him.
"Well, duh!" A voice erupted from directly behind Hercules. Spinning round to face his sister and glared at her.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were going to talk to Discord?" Hercules was aware that he was over reacting, but was, somehow, unable to help himself. "Some mother she is, can't even be here to support her son?"
"You what?" An angry voice challenged him from directly behind him once more.
"This is a conspiracy!" The hero complained, swinging his head from one Goddess to the other.
"Mother, down, leave him alone and come meet Iphicles." Strife was laughing at the tag team, hero bating going on before him; but he didn't want Iphicles to change his mind about their relationship, it meant too much to him, to let his relatives challenge his future happiness. He had to distract his mother before she did something he would end up regretting, probably for the rest of his current life. Despite his concern, that thought made him smile.
"Iphicles, King of Corinth, meet my mother, Eris, Goddess of Discord, and mother, meet Iphy!" Strife gestured from one to the other. Seeing the slow, pleased, smile that crept over Discord's face as she looked the King over, from head to foot, the Mischief God began to worry, again.
"Iphicles, we finally meet." Discord met the Kings eyes, after she tracked her own eyes all the way back up that regal body. "Now, who's the twit that thought Ares was Strifies dad?" She asked, ever so cheerfully, fully aware of the answer to her question, but asking it any way.
"This is turning into a disaster.. see, Iph, I told you there'd be trouble, and I didn't start it!" The Mischief God smiled, hesitantly, at his lover.
"I don't blame you, I blame Hercules." Iphicles looked at his brother and decided that this had gone long enough. "Everyone, be quiet!" He shouted his command, fully expecting to be obeyed, and he was. Everyone turned to look at the King, the King who loved Strife. "Now, can we finally get things sorted out here?"
"Yeah, sure.." Strife shuffled from foot to foot. Something told him that the truth about his birth was about to come spewing out, in the main hall of the Corinthian Palace of all places. And they'd be lucky if that was all that was revealed.
"Let's look at things one at a time." Iphicles looked around and saw the fear in his lover's eyes, he felt a wave of love and sympathy for him, but was determined to sort everything out. It was the only way he and Strife could be together. Despite Hercules' obstruction. Taking a deep breath he started listing things, as he saw them.
"One, Strife and I want to be together, when, where and however we like. Everyone clear on this? Two, you councillors want me to father a child on some brood mare of a woman you've dragged in to serve that very purpose. Three, Strife says we can have a child, Cupid has agreed with him, and even Aphrodite does too. Four, for some bizarre reason Hercules seems to want to come between me and Strife, in fact he seems to want Strife himself! Which, needless to say, he has never shown any signs of such a desire ever before!. Five, Hercules has some problem with Iolaus being Strife's son. Six, if I marry Strife, and adopt Iolaus, then I can make him my heir. Seven, Hercules
has, for some mysterious reason, decided it's his business who Strife's and Cupid's parents are." Finally the King ran out of things on his list.
"Feel free to add your own items!" Iphicles finished, somewhat sarcastically.
"No need, Kingy, you're doing fine." 'Dite smiled at Iphicles, even blew him a kiss and turned her eyes to Strife, her expression hardening as she checked out his surface memories. "I changed my mind!" She almost screamed. "Eight, Hercules watched you and Strife in the bath together."
Hercules blushed profusely, unable to meet his brother's hardened glance.
Then the servants came back into the hall, bringing the meat course to set before the company of diners, only to come up short at the sight of the extra Gods. They turned as one to Philip, muttering at him. The poor Footman looked as lost as the rest of the mortals in the hall, but he did his duty none the less.
"Your Majesty?" Philip bowed to his King. "The servants wish to know if they are to set more places for your additional guests?"
Before Iphicles could answer him, Aphrodite did. She looked at the table and extended it, sending Iphicles flying for safety as the end of the table rushed towards him. Three extra place settings appeared, along with exact copies of the food being presented to the rest of the company.
"Tell them, thank you but no need, if you would. Seems our new guests are more than willing to pitch in and lend a hand." Iphicles smiled at Philip, as polite as he always was to his loyal staff. Philip smiled back at his King, bowed, and retook his position by the main door, ready to serve Iphicles in any capacity the King should require of him. As he reached the other servants he relayed their King's message, and as one they all turned to look at the King and his lover.
"Please, everyone, please be seated, once more, and this time, let's keep things civil. That includes you Hercules!" Iphicles wasn't actually looking at his brother, he was looking at Strife, he just knew Hercules too well to assume the hero would retake his seat as calmly as his other guests. Iphicles was still standing, as was Strife, arms around each other, eyes locked, faces inches apart, audience agape as they waited for the inevitable kiss.
The King lowered his lips till they gently brushed Strife's, as that delicate touch ignited between them, the Mischief God gathered Iphicles into a tight embrace. Hands roamed over backs, bodies ground together. The kiss deepened, the hands moved upwards into hair, cupping a cheek, breathing shortened.
"Ah, boys, enough already!" 'Dite squealed in delight at the floor show before her.
"Think we'd better sit down now." Iphicles stood slightly away from Strife, but not too far, never breaking eye contact with his lover.
"Yeah, guess you're right." Strife smiled, such a delighted grin. Something about his body language really screamed maturity at the audience behind him and his King. The normally immature seeming God lifted a hand to cup Iphicles' face. "I love you, ya' know?" he turned away, almost deliberately, not looking at the rest of the rooms occupants, a faint blush showing off his scars anyway.
Iphicles stood a moment longer, watching his lover sit down at a table with their family members and his councillors. He smiled at the others sitting around the table, welcoming his new guests with a nod of his head, he too finally sat. As they all settled, all looking to the King for direction, Iphicles nodded at Philip and the Footman marshalled his troops to serve the next course of their meal.
"So, Curly, ya' finally told the big guy, 'bout your dad an' all?" Aphrodite grinned at Iolaus, who was sitting opposite her.
"You know full well I did, 'Dite, don't push it, ok?" Iolaus glared at her over the tines of his fork, gesticulating as he spoke. "I'm more worried that Iph just might adopt me and name me his heir! I don't think I could take all that staying put routine."
"Yeah, too much of your Grandparents in you." She smiled at him, thinking she would be teasing him with something he didn't know, only to see a look of profound horror in his eyes. She leaned right over, actually changing her outfit as she did so, no longer wearing her pink, chiffon creations, she wore a skin tight black leather catsuit. "You know?" She whispered so only Iolaus could hear her.
Iolaus just nodded, said nothing, but glared at her as he got on with his meal.
"Ya' know, all we need now is for Ares to go looking for us, and the grouping will be complete!" Eris grinned at her table mates, shrugging. "Mark you, as head of Strife's line he will have to consent to his wedding." She looked over her shoulder at Hercules who was sitting beside her, then she looked the other way at Iphicles who was once more at the head of the table, finally she looked straight ahead at her son, grinning at him.
"I was shouted down when I said as much!" Hercules muttered, looking no where
except at his plate.
"No, you said Zeus, not Ares." Cupid glared at the hero. "Ares is his boss, his senior, not Zeus. Zeus is only the King of the Gods, not our keeper. It's like Iphicles here, he rules the entire Kingdom, but he doesn't have to approve every change in duties all the palace staff go through. Nor does he have to approve every leave of absence said staff want, for honeymoons and so on!" The Love God was sitting directly opposite Hercules, so the hero couldn't help but seem either rude, or meet his nephew's eyes as he spoke. As he stopped talking the hero finally looked away.
Hercules sat, surrounded by Gods and Goddesses, wondering what might happen next, all his plans were crumbling around him. His aim to separate Iphicles and Strife seeming more and more like an impossible dream, let alone his half formed plans to seduce Strife into leaving Iphicles alone. As he sat, picking lazily over his plate, looking at no one, listening to no one, alone within himself as never before, he had to look at his responses to his brother's lovers. Maybe he had been wrong to take them away from him, but it was true, wasn't it, that if they had really loved Iph, they'd never have fallen for his 'I'm Hercules, love me' poses, now would they?
Eris turned her back on her half brother to face her son's lover, she had to admit, Strife had picked a good one in Iphicles. The King was looking away from her, talking to Strife, low, intimate tones, whispering every thing and nothing between them. It afforded her the idle opportunity to observe him, with out seeming to be 'coming on' to him. She might have a reputation for not caring about Strife's well being, it might be justified, but even she could see the love between her son and his King.
Cupid sat between Iolaus and Strife, separating father and son, but as always, he felt the need to be at Strife's right hand, protecting him. Like Strife had been there when he himself had needed protection from Zeus. The pain his brother went through, all those centuries ago, just because he'd been messing with Zeus, changing him into as many different animals, making him love any one and any thing he encountered.. Had it been worth it? It was hard to say, certainly it hadn't been worth the pain Strife had suffered, nor the agonies he'd have suffered if he had been hit, as was Zeus' original plan. Oh it was all well and good for all the rest of the Gods and Goddesses to insist Strife covered his scars! A lifetime, especially a Godly lifetime, of being told just how ugly you are will shatter any one's self confidence, especially someone whose own parents didn't recognise your birth. No wonder he stuck so close to Strife, it wasn't mortals he had to fear, just the rest of the Pantheon.
"So, you got both parent's approval for your chosen groom?" Cupid asked his brother, out right and in everyone's face. Every voice stilled, every fork paused, poised as they waited to finally hear who Strife's other parent was.
"I'm ignoring that stupid rule, mother approves, that's enough for me. You know who can go hang as far as I'm concerned." Strife's harsh tone spoke volumes of his hatred for his missing parent, the years of rejection clear to see, if you but looked, which everyone did, even Hercules, even Aphrodite looked at him, seeing the pain in his face.
"You tell 'em kiddo!" Eris smiled at her son, she acknowledged, to herself at least, that she was not the best mother on Olympus, but she had never really turned her back on Strife, they just fought, more like brother and sister than mother and son.
Strife looked at her and grinned.
"Mother, do you approve of my marriage to Iphicles, King of Corinth?" Strife asked his mother for her formal approval and blessing.
"Certainly I do, you have both my approval and my blessing." She reached over the table and squeezed his hand. "And officially, that's all you need. Seeing as you don't actually have an acknowledged other parent!" She grinned at him, delighting in his irrepressible sense of mischief.
"So, all that remains is Unc's blessing and we can go ahead with it. Will he give his blessing then, mom?" Strife didn't look at any one other than his mother, not even Iphicles.
"Hey, I approve of this match too, ya' know!" Aphrodite butted into the mother/son moment going on the other side of Hercules from her.
"Big of you, I'm sure." Strife replied, not actually looking at her.
"Look at me!" The Love Goddess demanded Strife's attention, he ignored her
"Why should I? I don't need your approval for anything, do I?" He asked her, finally he slowly turned his face towards the blonde Goddess, looking her in the eye. Showing no sign of respect towards her what so ever.
"As your parent I have every right to disallow this union!" There, she had finally said it, with witnesses.
"Actually, you haven't." Cupid whispered into the absolute silence that followed his own mother's statement of paternity.
"Strife is as much my son as he is Eris'- as well you know! So don't start denying it now!" 'Dite switched her glare from one son, to the other.
"No, I'm not denying anything, but since you never claimed him, before his head of house, that is Ares, as you well know, you have no rights in his life. Like you said, mom, we all know you and Eris had a 'thing' going on, an' when she fell pregnant, with your kid, you jumped ship and denied everything. So, like I said, you have no rights in this, or any other aspect of Strife's life." Cupid put a comforting hand over Strife's right hand, when he looked up at his younger brother he saw Iphicles held his left hand too. Cupid smiled at the King, approving Strife's choice of lover whole heartedly. "Why did you deny him anyway?" He asked, turning back to face his mother.
"Oh, I could tell you that!" Eris whispered, directing her voice at her son's half brother, and at her former lover. "See, it was a spite thing. Back then, well, I was Strife, not Discord, if you remember?" She watched Cupid for a reaction, slowly the Love God nodded his head. "Well, you might also remember the major league bust up 'Dite had with Ares?" Again Cupid nodded, encouraging her to continue. "You were living with Ares at the time, learning to handle weaponry. I, like the naive fool I was, listened to the words of love and romance your mother plied me with. Oh, she was good, took me right in, hook, line and sinker!" She giggled, a dry, bitter laugh. "I guess I should -have stuck with fishing, at least that I was good at!"
"That explains that habit then!" Iolaus smiled at his Grandmother, winking at her. "After all, it's a well known fact that Aphrodite hates fish!"
"Yeah, right, you got other skills from her though, lover boy!" Eris grinned back at her Grandson, his soothing brand of loving mischief just what she needed to finish saying her piece. "Anyway, as I was saying, she seduced me, made me think she loved me like I loved her. I so wanted to show her, just how much I loved her, that I fixed things with my mother so I could conceive her child. A product of our love for each other. When I told her I was carrying her son, she really let me know my place. Didn't you 'Dite?" Eris finally spared a withering glance for her long time ago lover.
For her part, the Love Goddess silently called Ares to the gathering, knowing time was well past the happy family reunion she had often dreamed of when she finally acknowledged Strife as her son. She knew, in her heart, that she was several centuries and two life times too late. She hadn't even mourned him when Callisto killed him.
"I admit I could have handled it better. I over reacted, slightly." Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, not 'Dite, flighty sister to Hercules, tried to rest on her dignity, such as it was. "I also admit that, by the time I calmed down, you had had Strife and had publicly denied any other deity as being involved with his conception. What was I supposed to do? Call you a liar?"
"Why let that stop you? You already called me a stupid fool, a liar and a whore! You even suggested I'd slept with, oh yes, I remember exactly now, you said, and I quote. 'For all I know, you could have fucked Hephaestus, he's ugly enough, and desperate enough to fuck anything that's willing!' unquote!" Eris looked over her brother's shoulders, as best she could, glaring at the Love Goddess. "Seeing as he's with you, I guess you were right about his desperation then! He certainly can't be all that fussy."
Iphicles laughed, he rather appreciated Eris' comment to the two faced Goddess of Love, as he saw things. The Goddess of Discord turned back to face the King who would marry her only child, questioning the source of his entertainment with a glance.
"I was wondering if anyone ever told Hephaestus his wife's opinion of him? I could just picture the poor shit's face, no doubt as pain filled as your was when she said that to you." Iphicles clasped Discord's closest wrist in a warm gesture of support, the smile still dancing on his full lips, and adding a startlingly demonic glint in his eyes. "After our marriage, and take heed all of you, Strife and I will marry. Anyway, afterwards, always remember my home is your home, mother?" He inclined his head to the Goddess he was welcoming into his home.
"No!" Hercules stood up and leaned over the table towards his brother. At the same moment Strife echoed the gesture, face to face with his uncle.
"Back off, uncle. It is his right to adopt my family as his family, after all, he doesn't have any blood relatives, other than you, does he? When we marry, our lines will join, and you can not stop it!" Strife didn't snarl, didn't pout, he just looked at his uncle with pure, unadulterated hatred in his eyes.
"Oh, but nephew, you're just a little bit wrong there, ya' know!" A bright light flashed in the hall, and Ares, with Joxer by his side, stepped into the room. "Iphicles has a lot of cousins, uncles, ok, they're more like great uncles or something, and true he's kinda short on brothers and sisters, but he does have a family all of his own. And I, as a member of it, would welcome our strayed lamb back into our fold. Oh, you are right enough in saying he can call your mother, mother, if he so chooses, and I can not fault your support of your betrothed, what moral being could?" The God of War sneered at
his half brother when he said those last few words.
Hercules fully stood upright, and Strife sat down, Ares' arrival had probably saved the Demi-God's life, and the God's too, had he killed Hercules, as would seem to have been Strife's intention. Hercules was not fool enough to not realise this, just stubborn enough to actively hate it, being saved by Ares, of all Gods.
"Ares!" Hercules turned to face his brother, a snarl twisting his face at the sight of his one time friend, and his new lover. "Oh, you've brought your fuck toy with you, how novel!"
"Sit down and shut up, and you might live through this day." Ares pointed a finger at his brother's chest and squeezed his heart, slightly, alarming the hero into sitting back down. "Oh, and you'd better learn how to behave, because, well, killing dad like that does kinda put a cramp in your protection order.. like it destroyed it. Granted, we got dad back, but he's still less than happy with you.." Hercules opened his mouth to make yet another snide comment, Ares just pointed at his chest once more.
Hercules clutched his chest, his lips turning blue, his lungs refusing to fill with the air they so desperately needed. Ares was ready to finally crush the life out of his oh so preferred brother, but a gentle hand stayed the killing blow.
"Ares, this isn't about him!" Joxer smiled at his lover, lifting an eyebrow in 'Dite's direction.
"You're right!" Ares pulled himself from his fun, and back to the task at hand, jerking Hercules one last time as he did so. "On to business." He smiled at Joxer, so obviously a purely sexual smile.
"Ah, Ar? Herc?" Joxer pointed and reminded the War God who he had dangling on his invisible line.
"For you, and only for you." Ares released his brother with no warning and no help in recovering either. Despite his determination not to collapse, he did just that, falling over Eris, who pushed him to the floor.
Iolaus was desperate to go to his lover, possibly his former lover given his view on Gods and secrets. Yet, as he stood to cross to him, Cupid held him back.
"Like Jox said, this ain't about him, there's more important things afoot, Jerkules will recover, sit, pay attention, this is about your father, not his, for once!"
Without a word, Iolaus sat back down and turned troubled eyes to Ares, sparing a tight smile for Joxer. He visibly relaxed when Joxer returned that smile with a happy, joyous one of his own, mirth and love dancing in his eyes.
"So, Aphrodite, you called me here, as Strife's Head of House, you said you had something you wanted my judgement on, what is it?" Ares turned his back on Hercules as the hero staggered to his feet once more. Ares faced his sister, almost certain he knew what she wanted, finally. Only, he was far less than confident he knew what to do about it all. Not that he let any of his disquiet show, that would never do, especially before a room full of mortals.
For her part, Aphrodite stood, still wearing her skin tight black leather, body covered. Ares saw her attire and stepped back, even more unsure just what his reaction was going to be, even more positive he knew just what was coming, and not welcoming it, not in the slightest.
"Ares, God of War, Defender of Greece, Protector of the Innocent, Lord of Famine, Head of the House of Mortals, Lord of my son's line. I declare before you, that Strife, God of Mischief, First Lieutenant to the God of War, Champion of Innocence, a child fully accepted as of your House, is my son. Born of my life, in the body of his mother, Eris, Goddess of Discord, Keeper of Oaths, Guider of Mortal Steps and also fully of your House. I declare myself his parent, guardian of his soul, a supplicant of your House, if you so will!" She went down on one bended knee, head bowed, awaiting Ares' judgement.
Ares looked at his sister, kneeling before him, asking him, beseeching him, to let her switch her House Allegiance. It was every bit as bad as he feared, no, it was worse than he had ever imagined. He was being asked to adjudge a fellow God, over the parentage of his own, favourite, nephew.
"Why should I grant you this boon?" He asked, stalling for time, desperately calling on his father, pleading with him for help, this once in his life.
"My son would marry, a mortal, and it is required by his lover's laws that a child should be born of their union. I would carry their child. I would have their child born a child of the House of Mortals, as it deserves. I've denied my son half his birthright and would deny his child nothing, if it's within my power to achieve.."
"I plead for my son's rights. I am his avowed parent, his only avowed parent. I beg you, Ares, deny her. It wasn't her who declared Strife to the Pantheon, it was you! She's demanding rights she gave up before Strife was even born, rights you have always held. Deny her, please."
Ares still stood, staring at both his sisters, who both now knelt before him, each begging for the other to be denied their request. Still pleading his own case to his father for his support.
"Strife wants to get married? To a mortal?" Finally looking away from his sisters he turned to face his nephew. "Is this true? You would really marry Iphicles? You're not just jerking Jerkules' strings here?"
"I hold the rings we would wear!" Iphicles stepped forward, finally knowing that the only one whose opinion mattered here was the God before him. He held out his hand, palm up, showing the wedding rings Strife had created for them, letting the God of War see just how serious they were.
"I would marry him, a mortal, and I formally ask your permission, as Head of the House of Mortals, and beg for your sanction." Strife knelt before his uncle, Iphicles joined him, taking his hand in his as the knelt together. Ares' eyes darted from one kneeling form to the next, things were simply not getting easier, they were compounding themselves into a Gordian Knot, one he simply couldn't slice through with brute force and ignorance. So asking a hero for assistance was also out of the question! That slightly irreverent thought brought a brief flash of humour to his eyes, so brief that if you had not looked directly at them, you would have missed it. Only Joxer saw it, and he knew it for what it was.
Finally, another light filled the room, and Zeus himself stood there, face to face with Ares over the bowed heads of Strife and his lover.
"The ultimate judgement is yours Ares, I can't take this one from you, don't ask it of me." He didn't look at his half breed child, just at his own Godly son.
"So? Am I to take it that this means you won't even advise me on this?" Ares looked so resolved to yet another disappointment. "There's a surprise, not!" Ares turned away from his father, back to his sister who would change Houses, an act that would almost certainly have serious repercussions on Olympus, as well as in the mortal world. With one word he could change the balance of the Houses of the Gods in the Council. The child Iphicles and Strife needed, and desired, looked more likely to rip the Gods apart than the squalling brat Xena had.
"I didn't say that, Ares, but you are Head of House here. Especially as it concerns the marriage of a mortal and a God." Zeus walked around his grandson and his lover to stand beside his son. "Who is the mortal anyway?"
"Iphicles, your great, grandson!" Ares pointed to the King of Corinth. "Him, the King of these parts! Child of your grandchildren Amphitrion and Alcemene." Ares heard Hercules' sharp indrawn breath and enjoyed the impact his announcement had on the assembly. Even the courtiers were looking at Iphicles in a new light, almost as if he were finally acceptable, being of direct Godly decent.
"His what?" Hercules finally found his voice, if Iphicles was his father's great, grandson, then his own father had had sex with his granddaughter, not only was he the product of a mortal/Godly coupling, he was the result of incest too. He'd always felt so superior, that at least his parents weren't related, unlike Ares, his mother was his aunt, his father his uncle!
"Iphicles is my great, grandson?" Zeus grinned at Ares, an act so rare that Ares backed off from him, mistaking it for an imminent attack. "Oh, son, don't you see? This changes things? I can act as Iphicles' advisor, his counsellor on protocol whatever he needs. We might yet get out of this hole Aphrodite seems determined to bury us in!" Zeus reached out to Ares, the War God backed off further, still not trusting of his father's intentions.
With a sigh, Zeus dropped his hand, and looked at the son who had interrupted Ares.
"What are you doing here?"
"Iphicles is my brother! I have every right to be here, father," The disdain he got into the word 'father' impressed Zeus, not anywhere near the degree of contempt Ares could manage, but Ares had had so much longer to develop his version. And more cause too, something Zeus had only started to realise since his return from Hades' domain. If nothing else, it had forced Zeus to face all he had done to his son, and those images were going to haunt him forever.
"Oh, so now you remember. Fine, if Iphicles says you may stay, you may stay, but one word out of you and you're out of here, and I don't mean the palace, or Corinth, I mean this realm of existence, do you understand?" Zeus actually hoped Hercules would try something, he'd love to see his bastard son in Hades' hands, it didn't harm the idea knowing just how badly Hades wanted to get his hands on Hercules.
"But, if anyone should speak for my brother. It should be me?!" Hercules challenged his father's authority, what he didn't expect was Ares to laugh at his statement.
"You are an idiot, aren't you? You, and I, are Iphicles' great uncles, our father, that's Zeus here, in case you've forgotten, the one you killed, he's his great, grand father, direct line, ya' see? Dad has every right to speak on his behalf, you have no rights, no protection, nothing!" Ares swept one hand in a wide arc, clearing the banqueting table, moving seats and witnesses into ordered ranks. Creating ornate chairs for himself and Joxer. He lead his lover to the chairs and they sat down. "Is it ok with you, dad, if I take counsel from Joxer in this matter, after all, he is a mortal, more versed with their ways than even I am!"
"Fine with me, it seems sensible." Zeus created himself a chair, only slightly less ornate that Ares and Joxer's seats. He too sat, and indicated the two seats beside his. "Iphicles, Strife, if you'd take your seats, Ares can get this judgement under way." The God and the King stood up, took their seats and still held hands. Aphrodite moved back to her own chair, likewise Discord did the same. Once his charges were by his side he created a table for them all to lean on.
A hesitant hand rose from the ranks of courtiers witnessing this judgement.
"Yes?" Ares asked, trying to keep his voice even, hoping for a reasonable question, fearing a nonsensical one.
"Do you require scribes, you know, to record the pleas, statements and judgement in this case?" Ares smiled at the man, an actual honest to Olympus sensible question.
"You've got a point! Cupid?" He turned to his own son. "Will you honour us as scribe, for this case?"
"The honour is mine, father." Cupid created a desk, halfway between Aphrodite and Zeus, it held several cubes that glowed gently, as well as parchment, quill and ink. He looked up at his father and caught a smile there. Ares knew of is habit of only using quills from his own wings. Cupid smiled back.
"This judicial review is called to order!" Ares stood up, extended his powers and sealed the room from any who would enter or leave. "In the interests of fare play, Aphrodite, you can ask one member of this assembly to act as your counsellor, choose one now, if you so desire!" Ares waited for her response.
"I choose my grandson, I choose Iolaus!" She spoke with a steady voice, no squeaking tones, no affected mode of speech.
"Iolaus, do you accept?" Ares looked at the shorter of the two Demi Gods before him.
"I accept." Iolaus moved his chair over to Aphrodite's side. He then turned back to Ares, "But, only because I think it only fair Aphrodite has some help." As he spoke Aphrodite created a table for them too. Having something to separate him, physically, from Ares helped Iolaus relax, a little.
"Noted." Ares nodded at Cupid.
"So noted!" The Love God responded and wrote on his parchment, just after he
touched one of the glowing cubes before him.
"Does either side demand a restatment of Aphrodite's plea and Eris' counter plea or can we simply replay those moments and take them as true?" Ares looked from one side to the other, waiting for an answer.
Iphicles leaned over and whispered in Zeus' ear. The King of the Gods looked at his great, grandson, then turned to Ares with his charges question.
"Ares, Iphicles would like an explanation as to what the Houses are. If it's ok with you, might I explain?" The King of the Gods stood and faced his son, waiting for Ares to decide.
"Go for it, after all, you were the one that thought the houses up in the first place." Ares relaxed slightly, sitting back to indicate that his father had the floor.
As Zeus looked around at the assembled Gods, and mortals, in that room, he was struck by one thing, Eris was sitting alone. 'Dite had Iolaus to advise her, Ares had Joxer, even Strife and Iphicles had him, but his daughter sat alone, as usual. There was the flip side to his relationship with Ares, his relationship with Ares' twin sister was just as bad. Neither he, nor their mother, had ever had time for either of them, not as children and certainly not as adults. Surely this was something they could agree on, him and Hera, they could agree to treat their children better?
"Before I start my explanation, I want to do something first." Zeus smiled at his daughter and closed his eyes, not that it were really all that necessary, but mortals seemed to expect it from them. As he touched his wife's mind he told her all that was going on, about their daughter sitting alone with no one to take her side. He told her of Ares' judgement, about what 'Dite had asked their son to pass his judgement on. He begged her to support Eris.
As Hera materialised, beside Eris and the table that now sat before her she looked around the hall, taking in who was where, and seeing that Hercules was sitting in the audience of this assembly.
"I would advise my daughter, if she wills it!" Hera looked from her son, to her daughter. "What say you child? I was in on the beginning of this misadventure, shall I be in on its conclusion?"
Eris looked at her mother, shock clearly obvious in her face, she tried to figure her mother's angle in helping her like this, but struck a blank.
"Why do you want to do that? You haven't been there for me since Strife's birth, why start now?" Eris didn't look away. She couldn't have, even if her life depended on it.
"Because I should have been there child. Right from the very start, I should have been there for you. If I had, you and your brother wouldn't be facing this judgement now." Hera sat on the chair she had created, taking her daughter's hand in her own, she met her child's eyes, unwavering. "This is an important challenge Ares is judging, let us not make it harder for him by arguing. He mustn't have any choice he makes here seem devalued, simply because you had no one to help and advise you. Come, tell me, do you support 'Dite's claims and actions here today?"
"No, I most certainly don't. No more than I support yours, Father's or anyone else, except Strife and Ares. This isn't about any of you, it's about Strife marrying Iphicles, and them producing an heir or two to the Corinthian throne, that's all!" Eris withdrew her hand from her mother's shocked grasp. The elder Goddess had no idea she had damaged her own daughter so very much. To the point where none of her fellow Gods mattered, except her brother and her son.
"But the balance of the Houses, does this mean nothing? At all?"
"Not a jot!" Eris told her. "After all, when did I matter to the Houses, except the House of Mortals?"
"Always Eris, you mattered always, we just lost sight of you in the rush to inflict more hate and harm on each other." Hera looked over at her grandson, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the King he loved so much. "So, this is the King Strife loves?" She smiled warmly at Hercules' brother. "Is he a worthy match, Eris?" She looked from the King to her daughter.
"Yes." The brevity of Eris' answer left Hera in no doubt about her daughter's thoughts about her.
"Do you approve of him?" Hera asked, again looking at her grandson and his lover.
"Yes." Again the same brief answer.
"And what will you do about this baby they need?" Hera asked her last question, one Eris couldn't answer in one short word, but one which the answer would speak volumes. More about Eris accepting her counsel than anything else.
"I don't know, I could have the baby for them, you know, let one of them impregnate me, and since Strife an' me never did have that sort of relationship, it'd have to be Iphicles, an' I don't see him doing that, not to Strife." She too looked at her son and his mortal lover.
"Then we shall see what we can come up with together then." And finally Hera felt accepted, if not actually welcomed by her daughter. "Proceed, husband." She nodded towards Zeus, silently thanking him for this opportunity to be there for their daughter.
"Good, good." Zeus muttered, which didn't really surprise those that knew him, the mortals however were amazed at how almost mortal he seemed at that moment.
"Your explanation father?" Ares prompted his father and cast a cold look towards his mother. It was obvious that Hera was no more trusted by Ares than she was by Eris. Their mother turned her eyes from her son, and avoided her daughter's face too. She resolutely focused on her husband, awaiting his explanation of their Houses.
"Yes, you're right, my explanation of the Houses of the Gods." Zeus turned from his son to face Iphicles, and smiled. "You wanted to understand what is involved in Aphrodite changing from one House to another. Well, let me explain it to you. To all of you." He took a deep breath, closed his eyes for one more second then looked up at the assembled mortals and Gods and Demi-Gods.
"The Gods are ruled, in truth, not by me on my own, but by the council of twelve senior Gods. Each House has three seats on that council, each of those 'seats' has a specific sphere of influence. Those seats are grouped together to control certain aspects of existence, duties they are responsible for. There is the House of Gods, that is myself, and my brothers, Hades and Poseidon, we are responsible for organising the other Gods, as well as leading the three main domains in the world. Land, sea and the underworld. Then there is the House of Earth, Hera, my Queen." Zeus smiled a genuinely fond smile at his wife, the first in so many years that Hera blushed. "She is joined by Demeter and Artemis, they run the annual cycles of birth, new life, death.. from mortal childbirth, to livestock and game animals to plants and trees etc. Then we have the House of Light, Apollo, Aphrodite here and Athena. They deal with the emotional aspects of mortal life, music, love, thought, creative ideas are their main goal. Then, finally, we have the House of Mortals, Ares, Hephaestus and Hermes, the three Gods with probably the hardest tasks of all of us. The House of Mortals governs mortal expansion, population growth, new ideas for technology and social development, as well as population control, and peace. If it weren't for the control Ares and the other's exert over the mortal world, no one would ever know a days peace, not one!" Zeus smiled at Ares as he sat in his ornate chair, listening to his father tell the room about the Godly Houses.
"You all know Aphrodite has asked to move from her House, the House of Light, to Ares' House of Mortals? This would put the House of Mortals into a very powerful position, but not so the mortals on Earth I fear. This is what Ares has to decide upon, does Aphrodite get to move, or does she stay where she is?" Zeus looked at the Love Goddess. "Each House has a Head of House, myself, Hera, Apollo and Ares, we are each responsible for all that happens within our respective Houses. By both our other senior Gods and our junior Gods, like Strife. Strife is of the House of Mortals, as is his mother, Eris. Whatever results from their actions, Ares is the one that will take the blame or the praise." Again he turned to his son, sitting quietly, listening, on the ornate throne like chair he had created for himself. "This is Ares' choice to make." Zeus bowed his head to Ares, slightly, and retreated to his grandson, and the King Strife would marry.
"Thank you Father." Ares sat straighter and looked at the four tables before him. Then he moved his view over the assembled mortals. ""If I were to allow Aphrodite to move from her House to my House, this would cause a major imbalance to the rest of the Houses. If I refuse her outright, that too will upset the balance by allowing the House of Light to claim I did not adjudge her plea fairly." Ares hated sitting there, telling all and sundry his methods and means and motivations. He was so used to being at once among mortals yet distanced from them, that he simply hated the almost begging for understanding he was being forced into doing. He was so sure he wouldn't forgive Aphrodite for stirring up all this hassle, especially after all this time. Two lifetimes she had denied Strife his birthright, but now her favourite brother's brother was involved, she demanded full rights as Strife's parent.
But that gave him an idea.
"Hercules, come here." He waited as the hero walked towards him, silently pleased his half brother wasn't fighting him every step of the way. Once the hero stood before him, Ares continued. "Hercules, in all your dealings with our sister, Aphrodite, has she ever mentioned to you her parentage of Strife, God of Mischief?"
"No." Hercules answered simply, not wanting to get deeper involved, yet that desire clashed with his desire to protect his brother from the plotting and counter plotting the Gods seemed to enjoy.
"Has she ever mentioned any pride in his achievements?"
"No." Again the briefest of answers.
"Has she ever mentioned him at all?"
"No." Hercules faced Ares, he wouldn't look at the other Gods, not even his father.
"Have I ever denied a relationship to Strife?" Ares neither smiled nor scowled, he simply watched Hercules think about his response.
"No, you haven't." Finally a longer response.
"I don't know, I haven't ever heard her accept or deny her parentage of Strife." Hercules was above all, honest, even now he could lie and say yes or no, but even that untruth would have harmed his brother, and he wouldn't do that if he could at all avoid it. Even if that meant he might have to side with Ares to do so.
"Fair enough." Ares looked over at Joxer and they whispered together, Joxer looked quickly over at Strife and Iphicles, then back at Ares, more whispering followed before Ares turned back to Hercules. "We heard that you watched your brother and Strife together, while they were intimate with each other, to some degree or another. So, with what you saw in mind, do you believe they love each other? That this relationship is well established?"
"Yes, well, I suppose, I think it has been going on a while. Iphicles' servants said he had a dark haired lover, a Godly lover, someone that made him laugh." Hercules looked at the floor, he couldn't look at anyone, not in the face, not while he was having to admit these things. "I thought it was you that was his lover. Then I saw it was Strife. When I saw him, his face, his chest, his whole body, so badly scarred, and Iphicles was not repulsed by them, and I saw that he was so beautiful, for a little while I wanted him for myself, but I now know that they love each other, yes, this is a well established relationship." He stopped speaking, he sniffed quietly, clearing the congestion in his nose as he shed quiet tears. Tears of humiliation, not regret, and Ares could read that distinction quite clearly in his brother's thoughts.
"You may sit again." Ares indicated the heroes seat, dismissing Hercules for the moment.