The way Ares had twisted when Hercules' foot impacted in his stomach caused him to crumple up on himself in an ungainly heap. He had fallen hard and now lay still. Unnaturally still. His right arm was trapped beneath him at such an angle Hercules knew it had to be hurting him. Yet Ares didn't move, he didn't stir.
"Enough Ares, give it up, you won't beat me, you know that." Hercules approached with care as he turned his brother with a tentative tap from his booted foot. As Ares rolled over on to his back Hercules' heart leapt into his mouth, he dropped unheeding of any discomfort to the hard rock floor, to his knees, to Ares' side. "Ares?" He questioned, feeling at his brother's neck, wondering if he should be able to feel anything anyway. Ares turned heavy lidded dark eyes to him, a strained smile playing on his lips, or was it a grimace of pain.
"It burns .... ah!" On an in drawn breath Ares died. Nestled in his youngest brother's arms, the life that had stretch for more than a thousand year ended. No great death side speech, no self proclaimed eulogy. Just the sound of pain, and its ending.
"Ares." Hercules whispered, nudging him, trying to wake him. "Stop fooling, enough!" He pushed harder, the knife that was still sticking out of his brother's belly waving at him like some grotesque third hand.
"I ... I ... I think he's dead." Iolaus, former Jester to the Sovereign, inched forward, touching Hercules' shoulder. "I don't think he'll be waking up."
"Ares?" Hercules stroked the ever wayward hair from his half brother's still open eyes. "You shouldn't have died, not like this. You're the God of War, you can't be dead, you just can't be." Hercules lifted his brothers shoulders a little higher, the better to rest his cheek on the impossibly soft ebony curls that adorned his brother's head.
"Hercules?" Iolaus shook the hero's slumped shoulders once more, finally getting some acknowledgement that he was there. Even if all it was, was a shrugging away from him. "Hercules, what's gonna happen now? You've still got to rescue your Gods and your world. And we have to mourn our Ares." The thought suddenly hit him, that the God who had been massaging his tense shoulders that very afternoon was now dead. The owner of those impossibly gentle hands was lying dead somewhere.
"Your Ares? Your Ares is dead too, just like mine. I killed both Ares' didn't I?" Hercules turned tear filled eyes to the man who looked so beguilingly like his own lost Iolaus. "We've got laws, I can't kill a God. What'll happen is I'll be put to death, that's the penalty, death." He tightened his grasp on his brothers corpse imagining it getting colder, much colder than it actually was. "He's cold, Ares is cold. He's a God, he shouldn't feel cold." He began to rub at the exposed skin on Ares' arms.
"You've gotta get a grip, come on, what do I do now? How can I help you? We could get you to the portal, you can escape back to your own world. Come on, upsy daisy!" Iolaus tried to haul the hero to his feet, but his grief more than weighed him down, it had him paralysed.
"If I go back, I go back to a world with no War God. I've seen it, a couple of times. It's terrible. Ares has such a hard job." Again he smoothed the wayward hair, kissing the brow. "I never made his job any easier, sometimes I risked our entire way of life just to oppose him. I'm sorry Ares, I never truly hated you, just your job, and you could never be anything other than the God of War. You were born to it."
"He's dead, Hercules, dead and can't hear you. You have to act, to get away!" Iolaus crouched beside the strong decent man that had shown him where his own inner strengths lay, hidden. He was worried for this man's sanity, worried for his own. He could feel the desire to punish him building. He remembered this feeling.
"A year or two ago, our Ares lost his powers, don't know why, but everyone got so crazy, crazy mad with hate. I can feel it, it's happening again. This time, though, there's no Ares to take back control. So you see, you really ought to get out of here while you still can!"
"Ares lost his sword. It was stolen. I remember that time. I laughed at him, when I was told what had happened to him. I laughed. Then the world went mad. All the passions and anger he took from mortal man went nowhere. War and Love. Without each of them the world goes crazy." Hercules nodded his head, rubbing his forehead against the still form of his brother at the motion, causing the dead Ares to appear as if agreeing with him. "Yeah, Ares knows this, see he can't be dead. How do I tell his sons?" He looked at Iolaus, meeting his eyes with the empty, soulless orbs of someone right on the far edge of sanity.
"Your Ares has sons too? Our Cupid, our War God, he's one of our Ares' sons. He's not gonna take this too well, you know. He's not too stable at the best of times, and this isn't anything near the best of times, see, he adores his father. Ares was the only one who would hold him. I seen them at court once. The Sovereign was holding this big do, forcing the Gods to do what he wanted, as usual. Cupid was so mad, so ready to kill and Ares came in to the room. You know, all 'where's all the love, an' feel the love' same as usual, but Cupid just calmed right down. I've never seen the blond madman calm down so quickly before. You really have to get out of here. Cupid will know his father's dead by now and he'll be on his way. Hercules are you listening to me?" He got no response.
"Hercules!" He pleaded. A sound echoed by the Gods still trapped in the sphere, they knew, even in their prison, they knew what had happened.
"Hercules........." The sound of their ethereal voices echoed around the labyrinth.
"Cupid is Ares' boy too. He's our Love God. He will be so disappointed in me. I was his favourite uncle. I helped him get married. He'll never love me again, see, I killed his dad."
"It was an accident!"
"No, it wasn't. I kicked him, I kicked him to make him fall, so he fell, on the knife. I killed my brother. And I killed my nephew's father. How can I let them out? They're gonna know it was me? How can I look at my father in the eye and say, hi dad, guess what I did today, I killed Ares! Didn't I do well?" Hercules slowly reached out a shaking hand and touched the hilt of the knife still protruding from Ares' belly, once he had reached it, he slowly closed his hand around it. "Maybe if I pull the knife out, there might be enough Hinds Blood still on it, enough to kill me?"
Iolaus looked at him, wondering if maybe he should try and shock him out of his grief. He'd heard somewhere that confronting someone with the real consequences of there actions provoked a positive reaction. But then again, he might have heard nothing but bull shit. He had had no education to speak of, he was no philosopher. Should he try it? Did he have any options?
"Well, it'll save you some pain, but what about the rest of us?" Hercules did look up, the struggle to think clearly showing in every line of his face.
"Why, why should I be spared pain? Who would hurt you?"
"Cupid? My nephew? Why would he hurt you?"
"Not your nephew, Hercules, but the sovereign's nephew. Our War God, you have hurt him, and he doesn't handle pain at all well!" Iolaus wondered if he had gone too far when Hercules looked back to the knife.
"If I use the knife on your Cupid, will my nephew be safe in that sphere, do you reckon?" His hand tried to gently ease the knife out the grotesque sheath it nestled in, in his brother's belly. He had to pull harder and tore more of Ares' flesh as the knife cut its way out. "I'm sorry Ares, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you any more..." He rocked the body again, pumping more and more of his brothers blood out the gapping belly wound. Reaching out to it, like some fanciful ruby belt he let the red warmth slowly dry on his hands.
"Gods bleed red, just like us." Hercules crushed his bloodied hand into a fist, closing over the hole in Ares' belly, as best he could, holding the edges together. "They've all gone."
"Who has, your Gods are right here. Who has gone?"
"My wife, my children, my friends, and now my brother. See, if I let them out, our Cupid will try to stop your Cupid from killing in his grief." Hercules paused, briefly. "Maybe he wouldn't though, I've killed his father, and even though he worked for his mother he was closer to his father. I envy him that, I hardly ever saw my father my entire life. Ares was always there for his children. And now I've killed him. Ares, you greedy, manipulative bastard, why did you leave your children alone? Don't you know what it's like to have your family die on you? Did you want them to be left alone?" Hercules drew back his arm and punched his dead brother, his hand followed the path it knew and sank into the gapping hole in Ares' belly, bathing the anger in fresh blood.
"I never told him I loved him. I hated him, I told him that, but I loved him. He commanded so much power and kept to his own rules." Hercules raised his bloodied hand to grasp at Iolaus' jesters outfit, it had plenty loose pieces, just right for an angry audience to grasp at. Briefly, Iolaus wondered if this was why it had been designed that way? As he was drawn toward Hercules' face he tried very hard to not show his fear. "He never let children on his battlefields. I saw him rip a man apart for daring to bring a child to War as his 'shield barer' he knew though, knew he was shield more than barer." The drying blood smelled so sickly sweet under Iolaus' nose that the jester fought the urge to throw up. Fearing he would disgrace himself on Ares' dead body, and fearing what Hercules would do if he did, he pushed away, jumping to his feet.
In so doing he lost his balance and the silver globe began to shudder. It rolled slowly, like it had its own time, separate from his world, and inched its way to the edge. All sounds of breathing stopped as both men watched. The Globe seemed to almost hesitate as if it had to decide what to do, and settled right there, on the very edge of the pedestal.
"It might have fallen, be careful Iolaus, I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm sorry!" It was the most rational sounding speech Hercules had made in some time, Iolaus thought to press his luck and try to reach this rational part of Hercules. Unfortunately he chose the wrong question.
"Why did Ares want to keep them in the sphere?" He pointed to the ever changing surface of the glittering silver ball.
"Because he wanted power." Hercules was neither enraged or grief stricken, he sounded empty. Delivering facts and that was all.
"Why? He was a War God what else could he want?"
"To be worshipped, adored, loved, respected. If he changed the world to suit himself he could have had all that. He told them about Dahak, and they ran away." Hercules almost sang the words 'ran away' then he looked at the sphere with real emotion, real, genuine hatred. "They ran away and left him to deal with a God they wouldn't, couldn't face. Our father left him alone in our world to fight, all alone." Hercules picked up the globe in his blood smeared hand and shook it violently. "Why did you leave him alone? Did you hate him that much, father, huh?" He shook the globe again and again, the thin wispy voices taking on real fear as they were hurled around into and through each other. "If you loved him, you would have fought with him, for him, and his love would never have turned to hate. You are so pathetic! I loved you, you ignored me. Ares loved you, you ignored him. Me you ignored for almost forty years, him you ignored for a thousand years or more!" His voice was shrill with his venting rage. Punctuating his list of great hurts with heavy shakes of the globe imprisoning his family, his Gods. "You Gods have taken everything from me, my wife, my kids, my best friend, and now my brother. What did you ever give me in return? HUH? Lesson after lesson in grieving, well no more!" Hercules gave the globe one last almighty shake and threw the sphere against the nearest wall, where it shattered. In a trance he watched the coloured lights that were his family, the Gods of his people, dance free of their confinement. He listened as they laughed and sang and fell around each other in their bid to shake off their confinement.
Iolaus knelt there, next to Hercules, but too afraid to touch him, to offer the physical comfort he knew the hero needed. Feeling his grief, having heard way too much to just leave him to what ever fate his Gods decreed for him. He looked at this great man's Gods as they rejoiced in their freedom from captivity.
"I see why he would hate them." It was a calm statement, and Hercules nodded his agreement. "Not one of them has bothered with his body." Even as he spoke he saw one of the lights slow down and come to land beside Hercules. As it coalesced it took on a very familiar shape, but the madness he had always seen in those very familiar green eyes was missing, they showed only grief.
"Father?" The voice shook, as if experiencing the backlash of his counterparts rage. "FATHER!" He screamed.
All the lights stopped dancing, slowly one by one, they all took shape. Aphrodite, tears cascading down her cheeks, Hepheastus unable to offer his wife and stepson the comfort they needed, his own grief too blinding to the needs of others. Apollo, shocked at the carnage before him. At the sight of Hercules' bloody hands. Hera, her face so pale, it echoed Ares' lifeless, waxy complexion. As she tipped her head back and screamed other's coalesced, unable to aswage her grief.
"No!" She raged to the labyrinth roof. "It should never have been this way. He was my baby!" Then she collapsed against her husband as Zeus finally looked at his dead son.
A calm voice filled the centre of that Tartaran nightmare.
"We too have to deal with our loss, but we don't have to, do we? Nothing need be final if we wish it different." Aphrodite, Queen of the Gods looked at her counterpart and saw little in common there, she scanned the faces looking for the knowledge she knew had to be there. Finally Zeus and Hera both met her questioning gaze.
"There will be consequences!" Hera pointed out calmly.
"Aren't there always?" Aphrodite answered, just as calmly.
"He's a God, he'll remember." Zeus added.
"And if that's the worst of it? What then?"
Slowly the Gods dissolved back into beings of light and the song they sung was discordant. Their shell rebuilt itself as their prison and they gladly flew into it. The sphere bounced away from the wall and instead of reaching Hercules' hand it began rewriting its own history. A history written with tears, not only would Ares remember, but they all would remember what they had seen of this world. Ares lying dead in Hercules' arms. Iolaus, and probably Hercules too, would be spared this memory.
Hercules' kick connected, knocking Ares off balance, but he recovered, regaining his balance, yet still loosing the fight as the globe shattered.
Trying to transport himself a memory of something that never happened filled his mind, and he succeeded in getting away with his second try, smiling at the irony of it, and wishing, for once, that Hercules could remember it all.
There would be a memory to share.