Comfort and Joy 7-8
By Shamenka

Part 7

After a little more discussion with Joxer, Ares turned to Aphrodite and asked  her to stand before him.

"Why now, 'Dite, why demand to acknowledge him now?" The God of War looked at  her, neither angered nor sympathetic, just mildly curious.

"Because he wants to wed his King, needs a child and I can help them with  both of those things." She looked not at Ares but at her long denied son.  Strife looked at his uncle, ignoring his other parent as best he could.

"And you think no one else can help him? Is that it?" Ares' words were a  definite challenge this time.

"Well, duh! I know you can, Hera can, even Eris can to a degree, but non of  you can do what I can, not quite." Aphrodite looked at Ares, briefly, before  returning her glance to Strife. "As the top Love Goddess I can do a lot more  to help, please Strife, let me help you."

At her words Zeus stood and glared at her.

"Enough, 'Dite, do not speak directly to Strife, or indeed to Iphicles  either. You were asked a question, not offered the chance to grandstand." He  sat back down, but first he touched Strife's shoulder, gently, at which  comforting gesture the Mischief God shuddered, unsure whether he should fear  his grandfather, or simply ignore him as Zeus had ignored him all his life.  Zeus couldn't help but pick up on his grandson's feelings, and feel shame,  knowing they were justified. They had all ignored Strife, all except Ares.

"Might I ask a question of Aphrodite?" Hera stood and looked at her son,  keeping her expression calm and devoid of a smile, knowing full well Ares  wouldn't think her genuinely pleased to be working with him or Eris, or even  Strife.

"Go ahead, mother, everyone else seems to want to do their own thing, why  should you be left out?" Ares leaned back in his chair and glared at her. A  few muttered words from his lover had him looking at her again. "Sorry, that  was rude of me. Proceed!" He waved at the Goddess of Love, vaguely,  indicating his giving his mother the inquisitorial lead for the moment.

"Why now? And I don't think you need to try and convince us you are the only  one that can help, his aunts Hebe and Eileithyia would be of more use. So,  the question remains, what is so special about this moment that you feel you  must leave your house and enter Strife's house?"

"I was ashamed of my behaviour, what I said to Eris, when she told me she was  carrying Strife, only we didn't know what he would be at that time. I didn't  want anyone to realise I'd been that intimate with Eris. I didn't want anyone  to think it was rebound. I was young, foolish.."

"Oh, can it! You were amongst the oldest Goddesses around at the time, you  can't deny you're older than most of us." Strife was on his feet, yelling at  her, angered at her cavalier dismissal of his mother's feelings. "Anyway,  what's wrong with my mom? She's a damn sight more loyal than you've ever  been.." Then Strife was interrupted.

"Strife, enough!" Ares quelled the younger God's act of rebellion with the  look he gave him. Slowly Zeus managed to encourage the younger God to sit  back down, beside his lover.

"I have to agree with my young grandson there, you are by far old enough to  know better, so, it wasn't young and foolish what was it that drove you away  from Eris. This wasn't your first child, nor your last, so what is it you  find so repulsive about Strife?" Hera was in an unforgiving mood, she wasn't  about to let the flighty Love Goddess destroy the Gods themselves, nor would  she permit her to hurt either Eris or Strife any more, they had suffered  enough.

"All my other children I had, I chose to have, I was lumbered with this one  and expected to be glad about it? Puh-leeze! I never raised a single one of  my kids, I wasn't about to start with Strife." Aphrodite glared at the older  Goddess, alarmed that the Queen of the Gods had gotten so much of the truth  out of her.

"Did Eris ask you to raise the child, your child?" Hera didn't let her eyes  waver from Aphrodite's face.

"No, she didn't, I didn't give her the chance." 'Dite tried to look away, but  she found she couldn't, she too continued to lock eyes with Hera.

"So, again, why now, what is so special about now that you want to  acknowledge his birth?" What ever Hera had expected it was clearly not the  answer she received.

"He died. He was, is, my child, my son, First Lieutenant to the Head of the  House of Mortals, an important role, even if he never saw it as such, and he  died." Aphrodite shuddered. "I still remember when Ares came back to Olympus  and told us he was dead. I remember hearing the words and walking out of the  Assembly Hall, I walked, I don't know where I walked, everywhere I think. But  I ended up outside Strife's temple doors and I tried to enter. The doors were  locked against me, and I stood there, looking at them, wondering what was  behind them. What my son wanted to keep secret so badly he would bar me." She  shuddered again, this time Iolaus stood up, crossed to her side and put an  arm around her shoulders, lending her his warmth and his support. "I called  Hephaestus to come open the doors for me. He did, he never asked me why I  wanted in there, he just opened the doors and let me enter. So I did." This  time she stopped talking all together, she was shaking so much her teeth were  chattering.

"Enough, can't you see how distressing this is?" Iolaus lead her back to  their table.

"Exactly child, that is the point, she has to tell us the truth. You were  told the truth about Strife's relationship to you, you chose to keep it  secret, but both you and Strife knew why and agreed on it. Aphrodite has  never, to my knowledge, spoken of this to anyone. It is a secret too long  kept, it's not surprising it's so painful, if it weren't it wouldn't be worth  digging for. Trust me, child, I know what I'm doing." Hera smiled at Iolaus,  a gesture he had never envisioned being on the receiving end of, not ever.  Yet, it was something he found enormously comforting

"What did you discover? What was he keeping so secret from you?" Hera  actually knew the answer, it was finally obvious to all there, except to  Aphrodite, so she answered anyway.

"Nothing, he was just keeping me out of his home, his life, his death. He was  rejecting me." She wept, very quietly, but continued her narrative. "I looked  all over his home temple. I was full of things, of toys and games and weapons  and pieces of art, of scrolls of favourite stories, it was so brightly  coloured, the walls, the hangings, the bedding. All bright colours, except  for his clothing There was a portrait on one wall, of Eris, him and Ares.  Strife was a child and they were all together, playing. And I remembered the  day that image was captured, it was during a festival when he was about four,  before he took Zeus' blast in his face, he had been running all over,  screaming, laughing, he had run up to me, stopped in his tracks, looked at  me and ran back to Ares screaming in fear. Fear of me, his parent, fear that  I'd do what? What had Eris told him I'd do? And as I stood there, looking at  that picture, I remembered how it triggered something in me, a dream that I  would never see come true, not now, not when he was dead. There would be no  great reconciliation, no great meeting of our souls, he'd never run to me the  way he had run to Ares that day. And I finally knew, my son was dead, and I'd  left it far too late to tell him."

"But, you knew that he knew, surely, we all did?" Hera pressed on.

"But I had never said, Strife, you are my son, and I'm proud of you!"  Aphrodite cried, openly, looking at her own hands, clasped in her lap.

"Were you? Proud that is. What had he ever done that made you look at him and  see something to be proud of?" This time it was Ares who asked the question,  cutting in on his mother with a blush and a quick glance in her direction.

"He survived, in the face of all the hate, the scorn, the disgrace his  unacknowledged birth brought him, he never once resented Cupid, he didn't run  and hide, he saved Cupid's wings, and I don't doubt he saved he his sanity  too." She looked from one son to the other and back to again, leaving herself  looking at her younger son, her Strife.

"Why didn't you speak up? If you were that proud of him? Especially when he  was hurt, he was only five years old, and you left him to us to look after."  Ares was angry, it was so clear, he was angered that she expected them to  believe this shit, that she had ever felt a single ounce of pride in Strife.

Even Cupid, as their official record keeper let his disdain for his mother  show in his body language.

"I never was much good with kids." It sounded like such a lame excuse, even  to her own ears. "Anyway, even Zeus never apologised, did he?" She counter  attacked, she had had enough of feeling cornered and like any wounded animal,  she went on the attack.

"No, you are quite right, I didn't. And it was wrong of me, but my lack of  action doesn't justify your actions." Zeus stood up, and turned away from  her, from all of them, he faced his grandson and moved around Iphicles to be  by his side. Strife was left sitting, staring at him, like a startled rabbit.  "It was wrong of me to not tell you how sorry I am, that I let you suffer, to  ensure Cupid would feel the maximum guilt over his actions and your hurt. I  never meant to hurt you. I never realised, until it was too late, just how  angry I was with your brother, then, with you injured like that, Cupid did  feel remorse, he finally understood his actions would have an effect on so  many other people. Like so many others in your life, I let you down so badly,  little one. But I am sorry, child, sorry I caused your laughter to end, sorry  I changed your nature forever, sorry I ever left you marked like that." Zeus  reached out and took Strife in his firm grasp, drawing the stunned God to  his feet, bathing him in a golden light, healing him. Doing what no other God  could do, undoing what he himself had done. Finally.

As his scared flesh was made whole and finally he looked as the Fates had  intended, Iphicles saw the unmarred beauty in his face. The King was glad he  had fallen in love with Strife before he was healed, he'd have hated to have  Strife think him shallow.

"I could never doubt you." Strife finally spoke, not to his grandfather, but  to his lover.

Strife took Iphicles in his arms and wept, angry, bitter tears.

"What's wrong?" Iphicles asked him, holding tight to his distraught lover.

"Why now? Why did he heal me now, why not then? Why does she want me now? Not  when I needed her?" Strife was generating power, it was so clear to every God  and Goddess in the room. Ares darted forwards, vaulting the table with ease,  reaching for the young God. Zeus was reaching for him too, only to have his  hands knocked aside by his own son.

"Protect the mortals, if this fails they'll never survive the blast." Ares  pulled Strife from his lover's embrace and melded their bodies into one being.

Hera and Zeus dragged the stunned Iphicles and Joxer behind the barricade  they had created, separating the mortals from Ares and Strife. The power from  the angered God crackled around their joined form, blazing in a rainbow of  colours, a deadly rainbow.

"What's happening?" Iphicles demanded an explanation as he was pushed  backwards towards Hercules and the others. "What's wrong with Strife?"

"Losin' his self control." Cupid told him, it was clearly not the answer the  King had hoped for, or at least not the clear answer he had wanted. "See,  Strife's fully losing his control over his mortal body, he's turning into a  fully devine being, if dad can't stop him. The mortal world can't hold fully  devine beings without a kinda kaboom."

"What kind of a kaboom?" Iphicles asked, filled with a dread that he already  knew the answer.

"A big one." Cupid replied.

They both turned to watch as Ares tried to impose his will over two forms,  his own and his nephews.

Seconds crept into minutes, the minutes crawled by, eventually, a long and  frightening twenty minutes later, Strife was eventually calmed down, and Ares  released him back into his own being. Both Gods showed signs of exhaustion,  but Strife's rage had been dissipated.

"I'm sorry." Strife whispered into Ares' shoulder.

"No, there's nothing to be sorry for, you've been messed from pillar to post  all your life, it was inevitable somethin' was gonna' give." Ares yawned, the  effort in defusing Strife's emotional bomb had exhausted him.

"Iphicles, do you object if we were to create another floor to your palace? I  don't think this inquiry will be concluded tonight. I think you and Joxer had  better take your respective lovers to bed." Zeus had released the barrier he  and Hera had created, letting Joxer and Iphicles cross to the exhausted Gods.

"I don't mind, it'd save me the expense of ever having to extend the palace."  Iphicles laughed, slightly, at his lovers grandfather's practical suggestion,  practicality and consideration from the other Gods were rare commodities  where Strife was concerned, except from Ares.

"Okay then, Hera, my Queen." He turned to Hera and explained his idea to her,  she smiled at him and nodded. She gave up the power he needed to accomplish  his task. Hera and Zeus created, and furnished, another floor, with five  sizeable rooms for all the extra Gods. They gave themselves, and Joxer and  Ares the biggest two rooms and sent Eris, Dite and Cupid to a room each. The  mortals were all displaced, even Hercules and Iolaus had allowed themselves  to be transported to their room, though Zeus had his doubts that that action  was wise. Hera told him it was make or break time for their relationship, and  to leave them to work their way through it themselves.

"This tribunal will reform tomorrow morning, all who have business before  Ares, will present themselves then!" Zeus made sure every ear, Godly or  mortal, that needed to hear him, heard him. Then he sent Strife and Iphicles  to the Kings chambers and cleared the last people from room.

In their room, Iphicles took Strife in his arms and hugged him, running his  hands all over the sleepy God's compliant body, stripping him of his vest and  shirt, undressing him, slowly. He marvelled at the now flawless skin his  hands discovered, he kissed the once damaged chest and neck, finishing with  almost punishing force as he finally kissed his lover, driving all thought  from his mind along with all the air from his lungs.

It was lucky that Zeus truly understood lovers, he had placed them close  enough to the bed that a gentle push from Iphicles had Strife laying flat out  on their bed. Slowly, letting Strife see and delight in his actions, Iphicles  stripped his own clothes off. Revealing his body, and the healthy erection he  was sporting, for his lovers delight.

"I love you." His words were simple, but true. "I want you."

"Then take me." Strife lifted his arms, welcoming his lover to lie with him.

Iphicles covered Strife's body with his own, his larger frame blanketing the  tired God.

"Let me do everything here." Iphicles kissed Strife before he could reply.  Dropping his weight onto his elbows, rubbing their bodies together.

In the second, newly created double bedroom, Ares was facing a concerned  Joxer.

"You look so exhausted." Joxer stroked his lover's face, helping him off with  his sword belt, his vest, revelling in the body being exposed, piece by  piece. Joxer kissed the broad chest as it was uncovered, nipping softly at  each nipple, eliciting a deep, resonant groan from his lover.

"Well, you'd better do all the work then, 'cos if you think you are not going  to finish what you started, you have another think coming to you. I swear,  Joxer, I really need this." Ares deliberately fell backwards, drawing the off  balance Joxer with him. "Love me!" Where once he had asked to be fucked, now  Ares could admit he needed Joxer's love, like he had needed nothing else in  his long, long life. He rolled them over, till he pinned Joxer beneath him,  rubbing their erections together

"As you wish." Joxer promised, freeing Ares' pants fastenings, slipping the  leather garment off those slender hips. Ares roused himself, focused his  energies, Joxer watched and hushed him. "No, save your strength, we'll do  this the old fashioned way." And he rolled his God over, lifted his feet, one  at a time, and discarded Ares' boots, then the leathers, Ares lay there,  before him, entirely naked, ready for him.

Quickly, Joxer discarded his own clothing, he fumbled on the table by the  bed, hoping that Zeus had had the foresight to place something to use as a  lubricant within easy reach. He was grateful when he discovered Ares' father  had thought of everything.

Next door, Zeus was sitting with Hera, both in bed, together for the first  time is so long a time that they had almost forgotten what it was like, to  lie together. Joxer's gratitude brought a deep blush to Zeus' face.

"What is it, Zeus?" Hera asked her suddenly red faced husband.

"Joxer just found the lubricant I created." He whispered.

"You know, there is something I always wanted to know about you." She pressed  her luck. "How can a God, as free with your pleasures as you are, always  blush so much when you know Ares is making love with someone. You don't do  that with any of your other sons, just him, why?"

"Because I wandered into his Earthly home once, and caught him in the act.  Unlike the others, I know exactly what he looks like when making love." Zeus  blushed and created a scrying mirror before them, when he activated it an old  encounter between Joxer and Ares filled the screen. Looking from the mirror  to Zeus, Hera saw he had his eyes tight shut. Absently he cleared the image  and sent the mirror away. Finally he looked at her. "See what I mean? Ares is  next door, being made love to by Joxer."

Hera blushed too at the mental image now firmly in place before her inner eye.

"Isn't our son a beautiful sight, when loving more so than ever?" He asked,  whispering the question to her.

"He truly is." Hera whispered back, turning her face to touch her lips to her  husbands cheek. "And Iphicles looks enough like him as to be just as  beautiful in the throws of passion." She kissed his cheek again.

"Damn, Hera, that is not the mental image I want to hold when sitting next to  Iphicles and Strife tomorrow." He chuckled, a deep rumble of amusement. Then  to prevent his wife from mentioning more beautiful sights, he kissed her,  fully, on the lips.

They settled together, loving each other as they had for all the three ages  of men.

Iphicles had Strife on his knees, hands braced against the headboard,  thrusting gently into him. Stroking his lover's erection in rhythm with his  thrusting.

"Easy does it Strife. Love you!" Iphicles was ecstatic, that he was going to  have Strife for the rest of his life, his consort, for as long as his mortal  life stretched. "Gonna love you as long as I live!" He began to speed up,  despite his best intention to take it slow.

"Oh damn, Iph, I love ya' too. Too much, I can't believe you are mine!"  Strife covered his lovers hand on his cock and they stroked together. "I  can't hold out, too tired, too damn desperate." Strife began to thrust  backwards, speeding them up again, getting Iphicles close to the point of no  control, and pushing him over. They came together, almost, Strife just a  shade before his lover.

Ares was on his side, Joxer filling him, comfortable in their easy loving.  They rocked back and forwards, setting up a comfortable rhythm. Ares groaned,  low, long, deep in his throat.

"Fuck me Jox, take me with you." Ares rocked back onto Joxer's cock, filling  him, leg locked, as best he could manage, over Joxer's upper leg, holding  them together. Joxer had one arm under Ares' neck and the other snaking under  the top arm, stroking and tweaking the sensitive areas he could reach.

"Always, Ares." The mortal changed the rhythm of his rocking and brought Ares  ever slower to climax. This was torture he could keep up for what always  seemed like hours to the strung out God.

As Zeus tickled his wife, she giggled, a high pitched sound so reminiscent of  their Godly son.

"So, who is your God?" He laughed at her, straddling her slim waist,  remembering when it had been filled with his babies. "Tell me, my Goddess,  who is your God?"

"You are!" She finally managed to speak, through near hysterical laughter.

"Just as well." And Zeus lay over his wife's body. "My wife, my Goddess." He  touched her face, her body, remembering what he had almost lost to his  philandering ways. "I don't think I could go on if you didn't forgive my  hurtful ways. I do love you."

"And I you, but that doesn't mean I like you all the time." She dragged  sharpened nails up her husbands spine. "Show me how sorry you are."

"My pleasure." Zeus chuckled, they almost managed to forget Ares' activities  next door, until Ares' cry of pleasure echoed round his parents room. "And  Ares' too it would seem.." He blushed and laughed. Kissing his wife again.

Part 8

Iolaus sat at the breakfast table looking somewhat the worse for wear. Hercules was nowhere to be seen. Sitting beside their great grandson were Hera and Zeus, sitting close, intimately. They whispered, they smiled and laughed together, until Iphicles and Strife entered the room just ahead of Ares and Joxer. When the two couples entered they were met with the perplexing sight of the King and Queen of the Gods blushing to the roots of their hair. It even drew Iolaus' troubled attention.

"What's up?" He asked, not caring if either of them fried his ass. He was too tired to care anymore.

"It's a parent thing." Zeus murmured and turned his face to the plate before him. Hera nodded and followed her husbands lead. Then they both giggled. It wasn't a laugh, it was an out and out giggle. "Sorry." Zeus murmured again, it was as if his voice had lost all volume in the night.

The four new arrivals entered the room properly and claimed their shares of the breakfast fare. Sitting they each looked around at the empty room and wondered where everyone else was. It was Strife who spoke out however.

"Where's Hercules?" He asked his saddened son. Reaching out he clasped a gentle hand over Iolaus' nearest wrist. "He didn't take it any too well did he?"

"No, he sat up all night, in an armchair. I pointed out to him that he had had every intention to seduce you away from Iphicles. That I'd have normally let him. Just stepped aside and waited for him to come back to me as he always did, like I always did too." Iolaus dragged in a ragged breath, as if he had to fight his own body for survival. "He looked at me, like I was some hideous beast he had to destroy and accused me of lying to him." Iolaus looked up at his father, eyes bright with unshed tears. "He, who'd have lied to you, accused me of lying to him!" His grief was changing into a burning rage. "So, he walked off, outta the castle at some point before dawn. I had fallen asleep, he just left, no note, not even a goodbye. Just off and away." Iolaus looked at his great grandparents too. "He always does this, if he doesn't want to deal with something he just walks off into the sunrise. Calls it adventuring.  Running away is more like it, if you ask me." He fell silent as he looked around the table, watching each face as the individual digested his news.

"That's it. This is the final straw." Zeus stood up, touching both his grandson and his great grandson he smiled at them, as reassuringly as he could muster. "This time he obeys me, no arguments." He pushed out with his mind, the most powerful mind the world held. King of the Gods of Olympus, the ultimate hand behind all Godly powers drew on all his children, all his brothers and sisters, every God and Goddess was tapped for some small gram of power.

Eris and Aphrodite ran into the room together, eyes wild with concern. They had felt the touch of Zeus' demand for their powers and had panicked. Giving that energy up to their King but following it's trail to his side hopping something hadn't happened to Strife or Iphicles. Echoing each other's concern if they but knew it.

Hera made a hushing gesture as she saw their precipitous entry, she motioned them to sit, a feral gleam in her eyes.

"Mother, what's happened?" Eris whispered.

"Herc's done a runner." Hera whispered back. "And your father is less than pleased at being ignored." She focused her attention on Zeus as he created a tightly packed nimbus of pure energy. It spun and reshaped itself constantly, swirling almost drunkenly on it's very personal axis.

"Seek, locate, apprehend and return." The energy globe pulsed in a deep purple shade then spun faster until the purple bleed into a deep red then a light pink, finally it was pulsing pure white.

In a blinding flash it was gone.

By the time the rooms occupants could see again Cupid had entered to room, amazed by the dazed, vacant expressions on his family's faces.

"Wha's'up?" He asked cheerfully.

"Herc's done a runner." Strife informed him. "Abandons Iolaus because, while he could envision fucking me, fucking my son is like some evil act or sum'thin' or other." The Mischief God was not happy at his son's distress.

Cupid made an odd sound, a sort of strangled gasp as he saw the information Strife had just imparted settle firmly in their shared mother's mind. He knew, from years of living with her, just what she'd do in the face of such a slight. Whereas he expected these interfering  actions he couldn't even guess at Strife's reaction to Aphrodite's overdue burst of motherly defence.

"Oh, he did did he?" Her voice could cut glass. She looked at her mother in law and saw the almost imperceptible nod she made as if it were a beacon, blazing against the night sky. "We'll see about that." She looked at Strife, still sitting beside his son. Trying his best to comfort her grand son. "No one messes with my family." She too stood up, followed swiftly by Eris, reaching out to pull her away from her son and grand son.

"They're not your family, they're my family, remember." She snarled at her former lover, then she thought about it. Aphrodite had never been her lover, just a fuck partner, only she had been too eager and naive to recognise the difference.

"Let's not get into that again, shall we?" Iphicles tried to regain command of the goings on in his own palace, but didn't try too hard. He could recognise a lost cause when he saw one.

"Excuse me, but I am dealing with this. So sit down, all of you!" Zeus very rarely really raised his voice to the Thunderer image a lot of mortals gave him, but this time it was called for. That he rather enjoyed the look on all their shocked little faces as a bonus. They at least fell silent.

"So what're you going to do?" Ares finally spoke up and asked the only reasonable question he could think of.

"Give him a long overdue lesson." Zeus smiled at his dark son, he tried to be reassuring but the smile faltered as he saw Ares tense as if waiting for a blow. Ares only expected hurt from him. That too was a situation long overdue for resolution. One way or another he would find solutions to all their troubles. Or resign from his position as King of them all.

The nimbus flew over Corinth's quiet countryside. It hugged the terrain, floating scant inches from the dusty ground. Not disturbing a grain of that dust as it whispered past everyone it encountered. Until it found its target.

Silently it approached Hercules, it neither sped up nor slowed down. It simply glided up to the hero and then swallowed him whole. Hercules tried to use his great strength against that flimsy looking captor. He struggled, pushed and pulled with all his might. All that happened was his return journey to his brother's palace; floating the same scant inches off the road as the globe had on its way out. He felt acutely embarrassed, that the people of Corinth should see him like this. He had been first choice as their King. If he had accepted, he could envision never being able to regain their love and support after being seen like this. Trapped in nothing more than an elastic ball of light.

He fumed, he swore, he dammed the creator of this evil device. He demeaned Ares and his entire line, so totally convinced that it had to have been his evil brother that had created such a monstrous weapon.

Eventually the ball of light lifted him up and into the palace itself. Through corridors, throwing open doors as it willed. Or as it was directed. Hercules couldn't tell if it were intelligent or just following an invisible line somehow. He didn't have to wait too long to be faced with the truth. The globe of light ignored Ares entirely, it swung passed the other Gods and came to rest at Zeus' feet. There it dissipated.

When the light faded Hercules fell the few inched between him and the floor. He was surprised at the brief fall, sufficiently surprised that he didn't notice how weak he felt at first. Then he did. He staggered to his feet, looked at his own arms, then at his father's face.

"My powers, what happened to my powers?" He roared his question, as if his mere mortal strength would intimidate the King of the Gods.

"Since when were they your exclusive right? What I grant I can rescind. Consider yourself fired. I disown you as a son and so I took back what I gave you." Zeus turned his back on the hero, disgusted at his own slow realisation how he had let Hercules manipulate his opinions about the rest of his children.

"Now, wait a minute." Hercules reached out and grasped Zeus by the shoulder, he tried desperately hard to spin his father around to face him. Without his powers he couldn't affect Zeus' action at all. "Father!" He snarled at Zeus' retreating back.

"Oh, now he remembers." Zeus sat back down beside his wife and smiled at her, lifted her hand nearest to him to his lips and kissed it tenderly.

"Give me back my powers.." The 'or else' was inferred, but everyone heard it anyway.

"Why? Don't you despise everything to do with the Gods?" Zeus asked his apoplectic son.

"So, this just proves I'm right. You can't be trusted, any of you. Or your half breeds." He glared at his former friend and sometimes lover. Iolaus paled at that remark, shocked and sickened by the heroes attitude.

Ares, however laughed. He couldn't help himself. He found his half brother's remarks so damn funny. He looked at the perplexed faces around him, he pointed at the hero and tried to speak, in vain. He couldn't stop laughing long enough to actually form a sentence.

Eventually his mother had to read his mind to see what he found so funny.

It was the idea that Hercules regarded Iolaus as a God's half-breed offspring. Yet he saw himself as automatically being something better than that. Knowing what Ares wanted to say, she spoke for him.

"But, surely Hercules, you yourself are nothing more than the mongrel half breed of an oversexed God? Isn't this so? What makes you better than Iolaus? Iolaus has never once even tried to kill his father. On the contrary, he tried desperately to save him, and you, in his little quest through time. What was it that you did? Oh yes, I remember. You stabbed yours." She blushed at the memory of her status as accomplice in his crime. "And I helped you do that. You teamed up with your worst enemy and killed your father." She reached for Zeus' hand, glad that the God returned to her was more like the God she had wed so many centuries before. Rather than the shallow creature time had made of him.

"My powers set me apart from the ordinary mongrels you Gods scatter amongst the mortals of this world." Hercules stood, looking almost as proud as he always did.

Ares had finally stopped laughing. For that at least, the hero was glad.

"What 'powers' were they? Immortality, fine. But that's Godly interference in your squalid little mortal life. Can't allow that? Your strength. Your ability to bully everyone, from mother to me and down the line to the rest of the world. Why should you be allowed to do that any longer. I for one am sick of your incessant bemoaning of the Gods and their interference in the world order. Then do without them, and their gifts. And stop trying to bully me!" Iphicles glared at the younger brother who was finally on an equal footing with him.

Hercules opened his mouth to pontificate, yet again. Iphicles just knew it somehow. He forestalled him. He punched him from under the chin, knocking him off his feet, for the first time in his entire life, he physically bested his bullying younger brother.

"Just shut the fuck up!" He snarled at the felled hero. "I will marry Strife. We will have an heir somehow. There are plenty of Gods willing and able to help us. Hera will perform the marriage ceremony, if she so pleases. Zeus will give his grandson to me, for me to hold as my own. Ares will stand by me as my best man. Iolaus as his father's best man. Eris will have pride of place in the temple, watching me wed her son. Becoming my mother as well as being Strife's mother. I'll fully adopt Iolaus and have him recorded throughout history as my son, my beloved son. And you will shut up and leave us alone." He glared at the Gods, trying not to, but failing miserably. Not that the Gods  minded. "Will someone move him into a cell somewhere until my wedding is over?"

"Surely!" Zeus moved his furious son into a quiet cell he found. On Olympus. Even if by some miracle he got out of the cell, he'd never get back to the mortal world without help. A broad message warning all Gods and their acolytes and staff to leave the irate mortal alone made sure his escape wouldn't get Godly assistance.

"So, you feel better for that or what?" Strife finally asked his irate lover.

"Actually, I do. It's amazing. Finally being able to tell him just what I think of him." Iphicles took his lover in his arms and hugged him close. "I feel free, honestly. Can you believe that?"

"Oh yeah, I can believe that all right." Strife guided is lover back to the table and sat with him. "Now finish your breakfast, 'cos Unc's got his judgement to finish this morning." Strife rather enjoyed the deep, resonant groan that escaped from Ares' lips at the mention of his real reason for being in Corinth.

"Where is Herc?" Iolaus finally asked.

"Somewhere safe and out of the way." Zeus grinned at him. "Don't worry about him, he'll be left to stew for a while. Until he sees things a little straighter."

"So what you're saying is Iolaus will get his friend back in a century or two?" Hera grinned at her husband, daring him to argue.

"If he's lucky." Zeus saw the look and smiled. He too was sick of his pontificating offspring. "I suppose he'd better get his powers too if he's going to wait around for him?"

"Now wait a minute.. if all that strength corrupted Herc I don't see me as being stronger than him, morally speaking." Iolaus tried to back up but couldn't move for Gods and Goddesses.

"How said your 'powers' were anything as simple and basic as mere physical strength?" Hera rather like the perplexed look on Iolaus' face. It rather suited him.

"What are my powers then?" Iolaus finally had to ask. He couldn't contain his natural curiosity any longer.

"Immortality goes with the turf." Strife informed him.

"Your ability to create chaos is straight from your father." Ares told him. "But for good as well as ill, just like Strife and Discord in fact. Only that talent will be amplified by quite a sizeable factor. " The War God rather enjoyed the look on Iolaus' perplexed face.

"Your skills as a lover come from your other grandmother's side of the family." Hera looked at the Love Goddess silently willing her to say nothing on that subject just at that moment. "Those too will be amplified. You certainly won't be bored waiting, that's for sure."

"Your ability to survive all that life throws at you also comes from your father and his mother. That ability to bend with the breeze or the hurricane is a special talent too. They are all your gifts, only now they'll be magnified. And the immortality will be activated. That should see you through. You're no Hercules, Iolaus. You never should want to be. You are you, and a better man that Hercules has ever been." Zeus held up a hand silencing his great grandson before he could speak in defence of his friend and former lover. "Each to his own, each according to his skills. Yours are different from his, and not less than his, and not more than his." The King of the Gods had planned a long speech proclaiming the joys in respecting ones differences when he caught sight of a bright light by his side.

He turned to watch his wife retake her natural form and push Strife out of the group. She compelled him to morph, to change and taking his smaller light in to her own, she removed them both.

Every God followed her path as she flew them both high in the skys over Olympus. Generating the energy that would have ripped the mortal world apart just the night before. But generating it where it could be safely dealt with and shaped.

"What's happening? Where's Strife?" Iphicles couldn't see what was happening. No more than Joxer or Iolaus could. "What is Hera doing to him?"

"You made love to Strife last night, didn't you? You took him?" Aphrodite looked at the man her estranged son would marry. "And again this morning, he's carrying your seed as well as his own in him.." She blushed. For the first time in many millennia, her face was a deep ruby red at the idea of her child having sex.

"So?" Iphicles challenged. He too was blushing profusely.

"I think mother is taking things into her own hands. Or into her womb rather. She's making your baby for you." The reassurance came from Ares. The Head of the House of Mortals managed to explain things with out blushing. In fact he was overjoyed at his mother's actions. "In fact, it's the best solution all round." He looked at the rest of the Gods left at the breakfast table and smiled quite maniacally.

"Ok, give? What's making you so happy?" Joxer teased his lover, knowing full well he was possibly the only one who could teaase him and live to tell the tale.

"We all know Dite 'fathered' Strife. That will be common gossip among the mortals by the end of the morning. No need for her to actually take up his 'paternal' rights. So that means there's no need for her to change Houses. No unbalancing the status quo. And with mother's actions, she makes sure that any baby they have will not affect the power of the House of Mortals either. Mother is responsible for fertility after all." Ares sighed deeply, as if refreshing his very soul. "So there's nothing left to judge, nothing what so ever." He sat back, folded his arms and grinned like a God possessed.

"But what about my relationship to Strife?" Dite wailed at her brother, at all the Gods present.

"That's between you, Strife and his mother. That is your bridge to mend." Ares looked at her, he leaned forward, getting a little closer to her. "And I'd suggest you set aside a very long time in which to do so."

"So we can marry then?" Iphicles couldn't believe al his hopes were to be realised.

"As soon as they get back. If you want." Ares informed him.

"Damn right I want!" The King growled, he looked to where he imagined Olympus to be and thought about their child. His and Strife's. And they'd be together for always. Until he died at least. Which was cause to celebrate, in his eyes at the very least.

Zeus followed the Kings thought. He followed the King's eyes as they imagined what he himself could actually see happening. Two bright lights becoming three. He looked at the King his grandson loved so very much. Quietly he began plotting his wedding gift to his great, grandson and by and by,  to his other grandson too.

All he had to do was remember where his wife had hidden her apples.

The End