An Equal and Opposite Reaction
Hercules was many things, strong, half God, resourceful. One thing he was not, was overly stupid. He was facing greater odds than even he could easily face, so being fond of living, he turned around and ran. That was one more thing in his favour, he was fast on his feet, for such a physically big man. Running from the heavily armed warriors behind him didn't really sit well with Hercules, but he was trying to get ahead of them to start picking them off in ones and twos.
Realising he was close to one of Ares' shrines, he thought the irony of fighting his foes there somewhat funny. Especially as his enemies weren't Greeks, judging by their armour they were Northern Barbarians, and judging by their power in battle, they were travelling with their God. The best way for a mortal to fight a War God was with another War God. Which was where his brother would come in, hopefully.
Keeping a good few minutes ahead of his pursuers Hercules made it to Ares' shrine, praying to his brother as he ran, and fell over the threshold into Ares' waiting arms.
"Well, well, well, little bro needs me. I'm touched Herc, truly, deeply touched!" The sarcasm dripped from Ares' tongue, the false bonhomie cast his face in a bitter parody of brotherly love.
"I'd save it for them." Hercules pointed back the way he had come. "These guys have brought their very own Ares wanaa-be with them..." He was interrupted by a suddenly serious Ares.
"They have a War God with them? Are you sure about that? Absolutely sure?" The Greek War God waited for both his brother's reply and his opponent to show up.
"Absolutely." Hercules crossed to the doorway where he stood side by side with Ares and looked out at the approaching enemy. "Why?"
"Because, brother dearest, their War God is travelling with his followers, a group of very strong powerful followers who believe in him implicitly. I'm facing him with you, who doesn't actually believe in me, now do you?" The look on Ares' face caused something to tighten in Hercules' belly.
"How can I not believe in you? Your here by my side, see!" He reached out and grabbed his brother's arm.
"Oh, you believe I exist but not in my power or my place in the world. That might cause us a few problems." Yet, before he could explain further the war party had arrived, with it the War God they had been referring to. "Well, looks like I'm on." Ares turned to face his half brother. "You take the soldiers, I take big bad and Godly, wish me luck?"
The truth of Ares' words struck home with Hercules, and for the first time ever he wondered at his affect on his brother every time he persuaded a follower to stop following. What had it done to his brother?
"Good luck is for amateurs, you are, if nothing else a professional. Just be careful, don't go getting yourself ..." Hercules paused, looked at Ares' opponent then back at his brother. "Can he harm you?"
"Harm me? If he wins, he can kill me! Not that he probably would, after all there are conventions between the Gods about these things." Ares looked at his opponent. "I only hope he's read the bloody things!" So saying he stepped out of the sanctuary of his temple followed by a quietly chuckling Hercules. "What's so funny little bro?"
"Even in the face of your own possible death, Ares, do you ever stop with the wise cracks?" Hercules wasn't angry, anyone listening to him would know that that was as far from his mood then as possible, under the circumstances. He had just never fought with Ares as an ally before, not shoulder to shoulder, facing their deaths together like this. That Ares was still being less than serious was a cover for the Gods true feelings, that was what upset him, that Ares didn't trust him as his ally, his brother, or possibly didn't trust his belief in his abilities was closer to the truth.
"Least of all at a time like this bro, lest of all." Ares winked at him, produced his sword and Hercules knew it was Ares' emblem of power, that sword. There was a warm surge of power around him, somehow the hero knew this was the touch of is brother's power. Not knowing what to expect he looked around and saw weapons, of all shapes and sizes, scattered around the battlefield. "Oh, they can't see them, only those with God blood in their veins can. Greek God blood at that, I'm not entirely stupid you know? No matter what you want to believe." Ares smiled, bitterly, and walked forward.
"I am Ares, God of War, who desecrates my lands?" The voice that boomed out from his big brother had a wonderful effect on the warriors opposing them. It terrified them, truth be told it rather unnerved Hercules too. He suddenly realised that he had never faced all the Ares was, in any of the previous run ins. It made him determined to find out just who and what the real Ares was.
"I, Vraxis, God of the Valyan people do challenge you. Mortal combat!" The God stepped forwards and took up a battle stance.
"Who?" Hercules asked. "'Mortal' combat? As in killing each other?"
"Never heard of him or his people. Either they're new, like really new or really, really lost! Ya know, I swear, that if ever dad gives up his throne to me, the first law I'm gonna pass is that every damn God an' Goddess learns to read a bloody map! As for the 'Mortal' bit, he's welcome to it."
Hercules couldn't help himself he burst out laughing, which was Ares' intention. It drew the eye of every warrior to his little brother and away from their God. The change in the power flow around them told Ares that this was a relatively new deity and that his followers were more concerned with Hercules' apparent blasphemy than the God facing their God.
"He's a real newby!" Ares grinned, and watched the dinar drop as Hercules caught on to what was going on.
"You take the wimp and I'll take his wimpettes, big brother!" Hercules stepped forward to take up a battle ready stance.
"Certainly, little brother. Witness, father, our victory!" Ares called out both verbally and mentally to their father, in their peripheral vision they saw their father appear.
"Go on then my boys, fight!" Zeus was smiling, which made Ares smile, all it did for Hercules was worry him. Not Zeus' smile, but Ares' bitter expression, he was more and more certain that there was much about Ares that he simply didn't know.
"You want to join in father?" Hercules offered.
"Why should I, when you're gonna win. Off you go son, enjoy yourself, it's not often that you and Ares get to play together." Zeus further undermined the new God's followers belief in him, further weakening the new God Vraxis. Hercules saw this for what it was, a tactic against Vraxis, or whomever he was, not the active support of Ares that it seemed to be.
The fight commenced. Hercules was actually enjoying himself, he found the battle did actually skirt each and every location that Ares had placed a weapon for him. As he picked up each weapon, apparently from thin air, the troops facing him lost more and more of their faith in themselves, and their God. The constant loss of power seemed to more than just annoy Vraxis, he fought like a Berserker, one of the Norse fighting styles Hercules had seen in the far off, cold northern lands of the Vikings and their Gods. He didn't recall seeing or hearing of any called Vraxis though. Ares pressed every advantage. The odds were still in the enemy's favour though. He had his believers whose faith was renewed at every successful stroke and was tempered with the defeat of every failed stroke.
Ares had his little brother and his father on his side. Someone really ought to have told Vraxis that the truest belief comes from within and within the family. If he had had the time Hercules would have liked to have just stood and watch Ares fighting.
Hercules dispatched another warrior to the arms of Hades or wherever these falling warriors would go.
"Behind you Hercules!" Zeus' voice was filled with warmth and delight at the sight of his two favourite sons fighting side by side. Hercules stepped forwards slightly, spun and despatched another enemy. "Go on, you've got him Ares!"
Ares was pressing home every advantage, his sword wrung out against that of the challenger. The clearing before his temple was turning red with blood and the dust was almost blinding as it was kicked up into the air.
"Dad, do something about the dust, would you?" Ares spoke in a conversational tone. Not pressed for breath, not under any strain. The effect on Hercules' opponents was amazing. Their God had not spoken since the battle had begun and Ares the Greek God of War was calm enough to 'chat' with his father. A father who believed so strongly in his son's abilities that he let them fight without his direct intervention.
"Certainly son, here you go." Zeus did something, Hercules wasn't sure what though, and the dust settled as if a fine rain had washed it out the air, only it wasn't wet.
"Thanks dad." Ares cheerfully cried out to him.
"You are very welcome, my boy. Now finish this and we can get home for dinner before your mother comes looking for us, you know how upset she'll get if we're late!" Zeus chuckled. It was the last straw for the warriors, those that could, turned and ran, leaving their God to fight their battle for them.
Ares was prepared to call it quits but he realised that his opponent wasn't going to back down. This had gone from a territorial skirmish to a fight to the death. The idiot had meant it when he had talked of 'Mortal' combat. So be it, if Vraxis wanted death, then that was what he'd get. Ares redoubled his efforts, actually making an effort for the first time, or so it seemed to observers. Zeus realised that his son was tiring, not as much as Vraxis was though, but the fight had to end soon. He stepped away from the fight to give Ares more room for whatever he was going to do, to end this.
Hercules, however, moved in closer, behind Ares, backing him up in whatever he was going to do. Believing in his brother's abilities, feeding him in the most basic way you can for a God. In the end it was not what Ares chose as the end, but Vraxis' choice. The failing God of the Valyan edged closer to Ares' shrine and ran in, followed by both Ares and Hercules. Zeus remained outside, not wanting to crowd his sons out.
Zeus never knew what happened next. There was an explosion and the temple collapsed. No one, not mortal child, not Godly child was left behind.
"Ares! Hercules!" He screamed to no avail, they were simply not there to hear him. A few of the other Gods arrived at the sound of his grief, Apollo, Hephaestus and Asclepius and all they could do was look at the rubble that had been Ares' temple.
"What did this? A weapon?" Apollo looked at the mess before him and indicated for his son to see to Zeus. Asclepius stood by his grandfather's side and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"Come grandfather, return to Olympus with me?" Zeus allowed himself to be lead slightly away but refused to leave the site.
"No weapon did this. A God died here, the energy signature is unknown to me, but the power is considerable! What happened?" Then slowly Zeus told Hepheastus and the others all that had happened there.
Inside the temple Ares soon had Vraxis pinned against his alter, where a normal, intelligent God would give up and regrouped for another attack Vraxis chose the
other, stupider, option. He expended all his energy at once, blowing himself and the temple apart. Once he realised what was about to happen Ares spun around, grabbed Hercules, and tried to transport them out of there, but he was too late, and Hercules too mortal. They were picked up, mid transport, by the wave of raw power and thrown, thrown beyond their world and out into a whole new reality.
Eventually, they picked themselves up out of the dust and looked at the rubble that had been Ares' shrine. Moss covered it. The explosion hadn't done this damage, time had.
"Where are we, when are we? Did we get to the Sovereign's world?" Hercules looked at the image of Ares carved in the rocks before him, the face had a beard, so unless Ares, the God of Love had changed his image, completely, he knew the answer to his own question.
"No, not there. Hades' shit!" Ares clutched his head and collapsed to his knees once more. Immediately concerned that his brother might be injured, Hercules crossed to his side.
"What is it? Ares are you hurt?" Unsure of what he should do, Hercules did nothing, not wanting to face rejection, or misinterpretation of his actions.
"Noooo!" Ares managed to gasp out, then after a few moments he regained his internal balance. "Oh, damn it all to Tartarus." Unsteadily he regained his balance enough to once more stand up.
"Ares, what's going on here? Where is here anyway?" Hercules couldn't keep the concern, or the fear, out of his voice.
"We're in your 'dream world' Hercules, a world where, it would seem, I do not exist. A world without a Greek War God, hope it makes you happy!" Hercules looked at the pale, shivering figure before him and took a deep breath, not having realised he had been holding his breath since his brother had collapsed.
"Which means what? Are you gonna die, what?"
"Would you care?"
"Of course I would, damn it. Even after all you've tried to do to me over the years, you are my brother, and these days, I don't have that much family around that I can afford to lose any more!" Hercules again took a deep ragged breath, and tried to calm himself. Ares smiled at him, pointing a less than steady finger in his general direction.
"See, it's happening to you already. You gotta accept your anger, or you're gonna lose it altogether, ya know!" Ares stood a little straighter, a little steadier and smiled. "No sitting God of War, welcome to your dream world little brother."
"Can you get us back?" Hercules was recalling the last time he had experienced his brother's loss of power. It hadn't lasted too long, the damage was contained, but it hadn't been a pleasant experience for any of them. "Are you still a God?"
"Yes, that's why I .. you know!" Even in these circumstances Ares was not about to admit to a weakness in front of Hercules. Hercules just nodded, hoping Ares would go on, which he did. "I picked up a lot of this world's aggressive energies, but even I have my limits. This has been going on for years, not days. All that anger, wow, what a bummer ride, ya know?"
"I can imagine." Hercules replied, dryly, but he could, indeed, imagine it and that picture was less than pleasant. "So how do we get back?" He finally asked, hoping for an inspired answer.
"I don't know, yet. But I will find out!" Ares looked around him, obviously looking for something Hercules simply couldn't see, and finally settling for a particular direction he set off with Hercules left to follow on behind.
"Where are we going?" The hero asked, hopeful.
"To find this worlds Ares and find out what's gone wrong and sort it! Just general Hero work but, what the hay, I can slum it for a while." Ares kept looking around them and refining their path, like he had some kind of invisible link to this worlds Ares, and was following it, right to him.
"How do you know where to go?" Hercules asked, feeling for the first time in his life like Iolaus probably did. Tagging along with the great hero, not knowing where or what or why!
"Because I'm a God, even here I'm a God. It's a God thing okay." Ares waved at him to be quiet while he followed his invisible string or what ever it was.
"Can you tell me how far we're going?" Hercules again had to fight for inner calm.
"Not exactly, but not too far, less than three days travel I'd say." Ares thought as he walked and finally, reaching a decision he produced some travel rations for Hercules. At least, if he were eating he'd be less prone to talking, leaving him free to follow his alternates path more accurately.
Ares was silent as they walked, Hercules tried to think of something to say, some topic of conversation that he could discuss with Ares with out them fighting. Step after step he walked with his silent brother and failed to find any common ground in all their dealings with each other. He tried to think of any interests Ares might have outside of War, and failed. Hercules had to finally admit to himself that he simply didn't know as much as he thought he had about his brother.
Having thought of nothing to talk about, and having found no common ground in their lives, Hercules remained silent. He resigned himself to a silent journey when he felt and almost heard a sound from his brother, turning he saw Ares now walked beside him wearing linen trousers and a cotton shirt. The sword was the same though.
Finally Hercules had an opening for a conversation with his brother.
"Why the change of clothes?"
"You know, sometimes I get really sick of your constant assumptions that I'm stupid!" Ares sighed deeply and stepped away from Hercules, only to have his irritating brother step up beside him again.
"I didn't say you were stupid. All I asked was why you changed your clothes is all. I don't think I've ever seen you wear anything other than your leathers. Black, white, either way it's leather, leather, leather. Ares is synonymous with leather!" Despite his best efforts Hercules laughed, especially when he caught the look of abject horror Ares wore when he heard mention of white leather.
"Don't mention him in front of me ever again, hear me?" Ares did look ready to kill.
Hercules could see that there would be no furthering this conversation. He sighed, deep to the soles of his boots, he wondered how he was ever going to survive this journey into the unknown with Ares. He also wondered why Ares hadn't killed him yet, why Ares had changed his appearance in the first place.
Changed his appearance? Was it that simple. Who did Ares look like now? Well, like him, like a travelling man, like any other mortal man in fact. Ares was right, he did tend to think of him as stupid and unsubtle, looking at him in this new light he wandered what else he had missed. What schemes had Ares put into operation, while he was out stomping all over his brash and bold schemes for world domination. Hercules finally realised that Ares had had several hundred years to perfect his Art of War, while he thought himself so much the wiser with his thirty years plus.
They walked on in silence again. Ares unwilling to explain himself to his mortal half brother, and Hercules unwilling to apologise.
They saw no one on the road until they entered a small village around lunch time. When they entered the little outcropping of civilisation they found the buildings mostly in ruins, the people mostly dead, the few who survived all looked at them as if their woes were their fault.
"Strangers?" The oldest man around them half asked, half accused them of nothing more criminal than being strangers, but the way he said it left chills dancing on Hercules' spine.
"Yeah, what of it? You're strangers to me? We're just passin' through on our way to our brother's place out west aways, where we'll be less strangers than here. The world has gone mad, an' I don't want to go mad with it." Ares answered for them both. His voice sounding like he had come from this village, like he belonged around there, where ever there was.
"Aye, it has that. When the madness came we fought tooth and nail, and defeated them from the village over the north end of the valley. We fought them man ,woman and child till they were all dead. Every man, woman an' child. Then the madness leaves an' all that's left behind is the ..." He clamed up, unable to speak further.
"When the passion goes, the remorse remains, but in this madness, the remorse leaves the passion behind it!" A woman of no more than twenty spoke up, crossing to stand with her fellow combatant.
"That's the worst madness. I wish I could grant you peace from it. I truly do!" Ares looked around the winners of the local war. There were six men, about twenty women and maybe as many children. If they had truly annihilated their neighbouring village then the death toll would be enormous. Looking around he could catch traces of control, but a very tight, cold control. Not touching the actual passions that drives war.
As he looked around the village, half listening to Ares' benediction of peace he saw the villagers eyes de-glaze, he saw life and remorse and guilt take up residence. He saw realisation of what they had done, to their friends and neighbours, strike home and take up residence in their hearts.
"We have food, you are welcome to share, strangers. I am Apollina, my husband used to be the inn keeper around here. I guess, what with him gone, I am now. I'm ashamed of this sorry welcome, please come inside and we'll find some seats and some food. Be welcome!" She wandered into a slightly less wrecked building than the others, and having nothing else to do at that moment, Ares and Hercules followed.
"What's going on around here?" Hercules whispered, so low only the Godly ears of his brother could hear him speak.
"Total War. Something I have never, ever sanctioned, but something you've longed for all your life. Get used to it Hero, until I can figure out how to get us back from where ever here is, you're just gonna have to get used to it."
"Total War?" Hercules had never heard that description of a battle before, but felt sure he knew the exact meaning, deep in his bones, and his bones didn't like the answer he was about to get.
"Total War. When even the babes at their mother's breast fight to kill 'the enemy' where the 'enemy' is everyone not of us! I have always prayed to never see this again, but here it is, and here I am. I hope you are enjoying it."
"Where did you see it before?"
"Not where, when, dear brother. This is what all our world was like before I took up my sword, since then .... you should know!" Ares was looking weary again, like he had when they had first arrived in this world.
"What's wrong? Are you ill?" Unable to help himself he put an arm around his brother and lead him to a table, easing him into a chair he sat facing him, hoping for a reply.
"I've got a link to our world, and all the energy I usually absorb, day to day. It's how I'll lead us back. But here, here I got their passion too! Like more than double the load I bare. This is old passion, years old .." Ares tipped his head back, closed his eyes and just stopped talking. It wasn't rudeness Hercules realised, but exhaustion. His brother was a God, but a God of their world, now facing the duties of two worlds. No wonder he wanted to find this worlds Ares and re-establish his own order.
Hercules sat quiet and thought about all the passion that would be needed to drive entire villages to this level of mutual destruction. He shuddered.
"They're calm now ..." He saw Ares' eyes look at him, as if looking at a fool. A judgement he realised that might be appropriate. "Because you're here?" He questioned. Ares nodded. "You said our world was like this, how long did it take you to control those passions?"
"About a hundred years, give or take ten." The exhaustion could be heard in his brothers voice, Hercules looked around for their hostess and saw her standing behind her bar, watching them. No, he realised the truth, she was watching Ares, not him. She was looking vacantly at his brother, feeding her 'passions' directly to him. As if on some instinctual level she knew he was a War God. Suddenly he resented her adding to his brothers burden.
"Do you have any wine left?" His voice was perhaps a little sharp, she jumped, both frightened and guilty at being caught staring at her customers for no apparent reason.
She poured two large beakers of wine and handed them to Hercules, he dug around in his money pouch and found a couple of coins, more than enough to pay for their wine and a meal. Silently he paid her and returned to his brother's side. By the time he got there, the other survivors had come into the inn, better to be close to their one source of comfort. Their faces grew a little lighter as his brother's face grew ever more drawn and grey.
"We leave as soon as we eat!" It was a statement, not an invitation, Hercules was brooking no argument., but he was going to get one anyway, he could see it in his brother's eyes.
"Why, I would have thought that you would have wanted to stay and help these poor unfortunate, war ravaged mortals?" Ares scrubbed a hand over his face, as if he was trying to wipe away his fatigue.
Hercules sat heavily on to his chair and stared at his brother. He could see himself doing exactly as Ares had said, in another life perhaps, this time however he could see being around these people creating more problems.
The woman, Apollina, put two platters of cold meat and cheese before her customers with a separate plate of dry biscuits. As soon as the food was before them they began to eat, in silence, a heavy silence. Each trying to get some semblance of control over their emotions. Ares was fighting the double load of passions he normally fielded, Hercules was trying to control his own rages. While Hercules attacked his meal with something akin to gusto, Ares picked at his, not actually eating much.
"Sirs, might I ask you a question?" The man from outside was standing by their table, looking at Ares with a passion.
"What question?" It was Hercules that cross questioned the man.
"When you go, to your brother's place, like you said, could we, might we go with you? There is nothing here for any of us, but the ghosts of what we have done. For the children's sake, can we go with you?" He was still looking at Ares and pleading with his heart and soul for the peace that radiated from the stranger. Ares couldn't look away from the desperate mortal.
"No, we go alone!" Hercules pushed his chair noisily away from the table and jumped to his feet. Ares' attention was drawn from the villagers back to his brother.
"What?" He asked, sounding so tired, so confused.
"They want to leach onto you, they want to follow you to Ar... our brother's place." Hercules whispered. so close to his brother's ear that the villagers, recently released from their madness just by Ares' proximity, couldn't hear them.
"They want to be close to their God!" Ares stated, the fatigue so evident in his voice, little more than a whisper.
"Yeah, well, they want their God, they're not getting mine!" Hercules grabbed Ares' arm and pulled him to his feet. "We're getting out of here, now!" His own emotions were in turmoil, boiling madly within him as these villagers were calming down.
"Please!" The man pleaded, begged for salvation.
"Hercules, this is my job!" Ares found himself begging his own mortal brother.
"Wrong, this is HIS job, your only job is protecting our people, not these ... villagers!"
Ares said nothing more, he was too tired, too in need of sleep. He just looked at Hercules and pleaded silently. Hercules could take anything but that look, the one he had used himself so often, the one that said why, that said, please, that was the key to his own self control.
"They're killing you, let them find their own control. Please!" Hercules almost screamed in joy when his exhausted brother nodded slowly, dropping his eyes.
"But the world needs me." Ares whispered into his chest.
"No, our world needs you, I need you, they can't have you!" Hercules lifted his exhausted brother to his feet and helped him out into the open air once more. By the time they reached the village boundary he was all but carrying Ares, but with each step they took away from those people he saw the life returning to his brother, and Hercules felt the rage dying within him.
"What's happening here Ares? Don't lie to me." Hercules finally let them rest, deep in the forests that hugged the valley walls around them.
"They don't have any of me and you've got twice as much of me. And, you got all your own rage. I can't take any of it here, I don't know why, but you're on your own here." Ares managed to look at Hercules but his little brother could see his eyes defocusing. Ares needed rest, now!
"Rest, Ares, it'll be okay, we'll be okay!" Hercules sat them both down and held him against his own body for warmth. Almost as soon as he felt that heat Ares was asleep.
As he held his brother while he slept, Hercules tried to make sense of what Ares had been saying, having him, not having him, not taking his rage? Was there so very much that he simply didn't understand about Ares, and his place in the world? He had to conclude that there was. Maybe, once he had rested, Ares might be a little more coherent. Unconsciously, Hercules drew his brother closer to him, sharing his body heat, protecting Ares as he slept.
Ares slept for a full hour, held against Hercules' body for warmth all the while. He woke suddenly, one moment his breathing was slow, deep and even, the next he was drawing in a sharp, quick breath, and he pushed against Hercules as he tried to regain his personal space and freedom..
"I slept, I actually slept. How long?" He twisted to look at Hercules. A look of complete surprise on his expressive face, a face Hercules had spent his time watching while Ares had slept.
"About an hour I'd reckon. What's so bad about sleeping?"
"Mortals sleep." Ares scrubbed his hands over his eyes, then looked at them, closely, as if he had experienced sleep for the first time.
"And Gods don't?" Hercules knew this was not so, he just wanted to hear Ares' response.
"I know, you know, we all know, Gods sleep. We are living beings, we need to recharge our energies, but for a God to sleep so deeply, that's not natural. I slept the night through no more than three nights ago. I shouldn't need to sleep at all for at least, oh two more days, possibly as much as four." Ares yawned and had such a surprised look on his face the Hercules found himself grinning at his brother.
"Well, looks like you could do with more rest." Hercules patted Ares' shoulder, gently. "Care to translate that less than clear explanation you started to give me before you fell asleep?"
Ares laughed. His memory of his explanation replaying itself, and even he couldn't fathom what he had been trying to say. As he thought, he alternately bit his bottom lip and let the very tip of his tongue stick out from between his clenched teeth. Once decided on his approach he signalled his readiness by rubbing his left hand over his already dry lips.
"Okay, try this. In our world, I absorb all the passionate energies that would otherwise be spent on war. I take in the energies that would otherwise go into driving mortals towards annihilating each other, that sort of thing. That's what I told you about total war, okay?" Hercules nodded his understanding and Ares continued. "Here, where ever here is, there is no sitting God of War, or if there is, they're not absorbing those passions. Mortal rage and anger is not being tempered, just left to its own devices. As a sitting God of War from a world enough like this place for this world to recognise me, as soon as I turned up it started shovelling the emotions onto me. Just like there was no tomorrow." Again he stopped to gauge Hercules comprehension. Again he continued. "A world, any world, is a living, breathing being, we are just part of it, it will regulate itself one way or another. Either, I get the emotions, or the world gets rid of its troubles the way a dog gets shot of fleas. The world will kill as many mortals as it takes to re-establish order. Lose too many mortals and we Gods cease to have meaning anymore. Even Gods need to regulate their passions, and guess who gets to do that too?"
"You?" Hercules asked and was rewarded with a nod of Ares' head.
"Here, this world has latched on to me, it doesn't care that I have a world of my own to look after, it can't afford to care. The anger, the aggression, the passion in this world is reaching flash point. What ever is going on here has been going on for years. This is no 'oops I misplaced my sword, let's go find it Xena'! I suspect there are major differences here, from what we know as our world." Ares fell silent as he saw Hercules take in, and finally realise, just what it was he did in their world
"You see, brother, this world is stagnating, if they have a War God then who ever it is, isn't doing their job right. No innovation. Too many are dying for there to be any innovation, you stop fighting to think, your a dead man, woman or child."
"That's why you want to put their Ares back in his rightful place?"
"Exactly! There is no other God able to do it, I was born to do it. I was born with the knowledge, the meanings of all the emotions mortals generate, a complete understanding of War, of passion, of , of, of being me, if you will!" Ares shrugged, eloquently. Unable to explain in mortal words the concepts he had lived his entire life, just knowing.
"So why did I get so, so angry, when those villagers were giving you their passion, their anger? And why did you all but collapse under the burden?" Hercules paused to think, while forming his thoughts he absentmindedly bit on the end of one finger. "How come I'm calm now?" He mumbled around the nibbled tip of his finger.
"If we take the last point first, you are calm, brother dearest, because you have the undivided attention of your very own War God. Whether you acknowledge me or not, every time you lift a hand in battle, to kill or not, you are asking for my benediction and getting it. Every flash of anger and despair, every thought to hurt and kill, all come to me, all the time and I take them and make them part of me, changing them from the desire to kill to plain old fashioned being pissed with some one, from a killing frenzy to a slap in the face. And I do it all the time, here I'm forced to do more than twice the work, there is such a well of anger that when mortal minds are near me, they can't help but react to me. The instinctive parts of their minds will give me worship and their anger. I can only deal with so much at any one time. Too much anger, too much rage, and even I pass out. I need to focus all that energy into wars just to burn it up. Here we have a world that can ill afford the kind of war it would take to bring the energy levels back down into a more manageable level." Ares was looking exhausted, still. Hercules tried to deliberately think calming thoughts, to steer away from the anger that was building in him at the very idea of all those mortals who were leaching from his brother.
Sympathy for Ares? Hercules had to conclude he did want to protect his brother. From being the God of War, if from nothing else.
"Then we stay clear of villages and mortals for now." Hercules looked back the way they had come. "What'll happen to those villagers back there?"
"They have found a God who can take their anger, they will calm down and then try to follow me. Not pray to me, but be where I am, finding me is gonna be the trick for them though." Ares stood up and stretched, his joins popped, he snarled loudly, and finally Hercules realised, that though Ares took the worlds anger and rage he had no real vent for his own feelings. Little wonder then that he would build his rage and then look for a vent for that Godly emotion. And these last three decades that vent had been him. Of all the times he could actually have done him real harm, Ares had always let him escape, until the next time he was needed.
"Lets get out of here, which direction? You're the one with the direct link!" Hercules stood too, and crossed to stand shoulder to shoulder with his brother.
"That way!" Ares pointed, if Hercules but knew it, in a straight line, directly to this world's incarnation of himself. Silently, they set off, walking again. The lack of conversation didn't bother Ares. The War God had often wondered at the mortal predilection for idle chatter, and had put forward the theory that if they shut up a bit more often, they wouldn't try and kill each other quite so often. Hercules welcomed the silence as it gave him a chance to think about all Ares had told him.
Ares was trying to figure out just why he had been so honest with Hercules. It was not his normal tack on these matters, not that he actively lied, quite the contrary, just that he normally said nothing rather than try and tell an outright lie. For his part, Hercules was wondering what kind of man this world's mortal Ares would prove to be. He had never met the mortal Ares either time he had lost his powers, but had heard from Xena and Gabrielle that the mortal Ares was, of all things, a sweet man. Prone to complaining but basically a good human being. Worse than some, but by far, better than most.
They walked in silence for the rest of the afternoon, until Hercules heard, rather than saw, Ares stumble a few times more than would be normal. He looked over at his brother and saw just how weary Ares was, and remembered once again the double burden he was carrying.
"I think we should find ourselves a place to make camp and settle for the night. I am hungry, what about you?" Hercules wondered if Ares was about to launch into one of his famous barrages against the weaknesses of mortals, and was alarmed when all his brother did was nod his head. Then Ares further amazed Hercules when he exerted his powers and created a very comfortable camp site for them, minus tents though.
"What no comfortable tent Ares?" Hercules hoped that his exhausted brother could hear the humour in his voice, and know he was not complaining.
"To tell the truth, I hate tents. But if you need one, have one." And Ares lifted his hand and prepared to create the tent for Hercules.
"No, this is fine, I'm not fond of tents myself. So what do you have against them anyway?"
"They keep the stars away." So saying, Ares sat on the ground and stared at the fire, the dancing flames held him entranced.
"Yeah." Hercules sat beside Ares and looked into the flames too. "I see dancing trees, see there!" He pointed in to the flames where the images did dance.
"I see Hepheastus, in every flame I see Hepheastus." They fell silent again, there was nothing Hercules could say, nothing that wouldn't sound false or trite. Ares provided their every need, food, warmth, bed rolls. And he couldn't even provide him with conversation. For the first time in many years, Hercules felt useless.
Two figures sat outside Ares' collapsed temple and looked into their own fire. Father and son sat waiting for their family to return to them.
"Ares?" The younger, much shorter of the two whispered into the night.
"What is it Hepheastus?" His father asked, worried that perhaps he might lose a third son to what ever was going on.
"Oh thank the flame. They're safe, Ares is safe and I knew he would keep Hercules safe, come what may."
"How do you know, son?"
"Because the flames tell me, every time Ares looks into a flame, the flame whispers to me that he is there. Always has, always will!" Hephaestus looked deep into the flame and pushed with his own power, slowly two figures appeared in the flames, sitting quietly, side by side. One face looked worried, one looked drawn and weary.
"My sons, thank you for this sight of them." Zeus drew his deformed son into his embrace. "They are settled for the night, and this cold hard ground is not good for you, come, let's go home." Zeus helped Hepheastus to his feet and back into his arms before he transported them both back to Olympus.
Obeying the silent command of the Fire God, the flames died and went out, still showing the image of Ares and Hercules.
In their small clearing Ares and Hercules ate, almost absentmindedly, each consumed by their own thoughts. Hercules was by turns wondering what else he didn't know about Ares' role in the world, and wondering what he might find out next. All the while he was pondering these mysteries, Ares was wondering what was happening in their own world. If he was balancing this world too, he feared his world would sink into the confusion and chaos rife in this world.
He might talk about a world conquered by war, but that world was always calmer, more peaceful, he knew if he could expend enough energy in war then the world would become a much easier place to control. Not that he thought anyone would understand. Then there was his decrees, oh, he had said Xena could take credit, but he was the one that drafted them. Rights and privileges the mortal peasants didn't have under the current system of chaos. Would he ever get the credit that was rightfully his? Somehow Ares just couldn't see it, not in his life time, the entire immortal length of it!
Ares laughed and relaxed.
"What's so funny?" Hercules asked, distracted from his own thoughts
"Just idle thoughts and ideas. The usual things that pass through the mind when tired." Ares smiled, it was a genuine smile, no edge to it, no hidden message.
"Why do you see Hephaestus in the flames?" Hercules felt the burning need to change the subject, away from Ares' thoughts, thoughts he suspected were best left alone. He found himself inexplicably frightened of what ever Ares might have been thinking, what thoughts could make the God of War laugh?
"Because we are friends! Believe it or not, I don't really care, but Heph and me are the best of friends. He likes to make stuff, an' I get to use a lot of it when planting new ideas." Ares stretched out and pulled a blanket around himself, suddenly he was exhausted. "I gotta sleep, again!" The way he said it, Hercules would think his brother was swearing. Though in his eyes, he probably was.
"Then sleep Ares, sweet dreams." Hercules stretched out and looked at the stars. "Have you noticed the heavens? Are they the same or different?" He tried to bring an image of the stars he knew only too well to mind and failed.
"I never thought about it." Ares did take time to look. "About the same I'd reckon." Ares finally announced, after staring at the stars above them for some considerable time.
Still gazing at the stars, the God and the mortal fell asleep. In their sleep Ares rolled into Hercules' arms, where he found a haven from the chaos driving that world.
Next morning Hercules woke first, gently disengaging himself from his sleeping brother. He watched Ares, aware that he was being given the privilege of watching his older brother sleeping. Aware too that Ares would never let another mortal see him sleep. In repose Ares' face was softer, gentler, the image of .. what had Xena described him as? Hercules could definitely see the sweet man he had been told about, but had never really seen as a possibility before. Now he wondered how that 'sweet man' survived the trials of being the God of War, all the time!
Ares stretched, his hands and feet curling, arms and legs ramrod straight, shoulders almost becoming one with his ears, finally his eyes opened and took in the image before him.
"You'd think you never seen someone wake up before." Ares shook his head, yawned and shrugged, finally and unequivocally awake. "Ready for breakfast?"
"Uh, yeah, sounds good. You sure you're a God?" Hercules loved the surprised look on Ares' face.
"What?" Ares arched his eyebrows, worried that perhaps this alien world had driven Hercules insane, a distinct possibility in his mind, he had never really thought the Demi-God all that sane to begin with.
"Well, the way you stretch, you look more like a cat than either a God or a man!" Hercules laughed at the shocked looked on Ares' face.
"Miaow!" Ares replied.
"If I scratch behind your ears will you purr?" Hercules risked his life, he reached over and scratched Ares right behind his left ear.
"Ah, oh, scratching ... hmm." Ares rolled forwards so that the scratching fingers fell onto his now naked back. "Okay, I concede, maybe I am a cat, a cat God, like Bast perhaps?" Hercules laughed too, but indulged his brother and continued scratching his back.
"You said something about breakfast?" Hercules prompted, eventually, yet he did not rush to stop scratching Ares' back. Though he did wonder, would their own world know a more lasting peace if they could find someone willing to spend an eternity doing just this one simple act for the War God?.
"Hmm, I did, didn't I?" Ares groaned, moved away from Hercules indulging fingers and sat up, he swept a hand before him and food appeared. With another thought Ares was dressed once more. Again in the rough shirt of a common man, but he wore the face of a contented God.
"Hedonist!" Hercules laughingly accused his brother.
"Every one ought to have a hobby." Came the calm reply causing Hercules to laugh and spit out his half chewed mouthful of food. "Ah, brother dearest, you're supposed to swallow not spit. You're thinking of something else entirely, I think." Ares grinned at the momentary blank look followed by the brightest and biggest blush he had seen in a long time.
Taking a half hearted swipe at the War God, Hercules found he was laughing so easily in Ares' company. It left him wondering why he felt this relaxed, this calm. He had been ready to kill those villagers the day before, but now?
"You are getting my almost undivided attention, especially when you're willing to scratch my back!" Ares grinned, almost evilly, at the astounded hero. "You're face always was a dead give away for your thoughts." It further confused Hercules when Ares started to laugh, gently.
Hercules' considered and articulate response was to throw the bread he had been eating at his laughing brother. Breakfast was completed in a companionable silence. When finally ready to meet the road once more, Ares simple vanished everything with a flick of his hand.
"Very convenient." Hercules observed, smiling.
"Isn't it just!" Ares looked so much better that morning than he had the previous night, Hercules wondered what the day ahead would bring them, whatever came his way, he hoped he and Ares would finally reach some common ground. The idea of befriending his own brother cheered him.
"Which way, oh wise and Godly one?" Hercules bowed, let Ares see the grin on his face, and swept out an arm before him.
"Good, finally learning your place I see! This way ..." Ares walked towards the mortal Ares he sensed ahead, a good couple of days walk away still, but getting closer all the time.
"Why don't you just zap yourself there?" Hercules walked beside his brother today.
"Because I can't 'zap' you there too, you're just too mortal for that." Ares spoke without thinking and for once told Hercules a truth he couldn't believe. That he chose to walk with Hercules, rather than abandon his brother to that war torn world.
"Oh!" The hero fell silent and they walked on, one step after another, getting closer all the time, to their destination and ironically, each other.
In the castle that was their destination, morning was following what was obviously a time honoured routine. The bulkier of the two occupants of the bed, in the master bed chamber, woke first and watched his beloved wake, slowly.
One strong finger stroked down a relaxed, bearded cheek, along the jaw line and up onto the relaxed lips. Lips that had just the night before driven him to the heights of passion, then over into the depths of love. He smiled as his slighter built lover kissed that questing finger tip.
"Oh, it's just a finger!" And he pouted, opening one dark eye and spoiling the image by smiling in delight at the sight of his lover looking down at him.
"Tease!" The bulkier man tried to snarl, but it fell short of anger by a long margin.
"Isn't that part of the reason you love me so much?" The slighter built man wriggled, enjoying the touch of all of his body against his lover's, pulling him down to cover him. "Seems a pity to waste these early morning gifts form Aphrodite, doesn't it?"
"I could stay here all day, just you, me, a jug of oil and a flask of wine." The bigger man took his weight on his elbows, not wanting to risk any hurt to his lover. Little bothered by the fact that his lover would be regarded as a very well built man by any yardstick, other than him. "I love your taste. All of you." He lowered his lips again kissing his beloved, deeply. Feeling those very gifted hands running up and down his spine, nails dragging up to his delight.
Breaking the kiss his lover looked up into the eyes of the larger man.
"All day?" He challenged, a warm laugh hiding behind the otherwise insecure sounding question.
"All day!" The larger man confirmed, leaning over and lying on his side, the better to stroke his lover's strong body.
"Even when the guys get back?" The slighter build man laughed aloud at the look of horror his lover's face displayed.
"Shit!" He hissed, not angry with his lover, but with his own distraction. "I forgot, entirely, damn. When are they due here?"
"Dunno! Just sometime today. Come on, you'll enjoy seeing Iolaus again, wont you?" He cajoled his lover as the bigger man moved to the edge of their bed. "Even if he does bring Mister Goody-Goody with him?"
"You know that's what I called him?" He looked over his shoulder at his beloved.
"Well, of course. I might not be a God but that doesn't make me deaf, ya know!" The words were accompanied by a warm, hearty chuckle.
Drawing on his clothes he stood up and turned to face his lover, taking in they fact that his lover's ribs were showing, a little, but that was still too much. He knelt back down and cupped a hand around his lovers waist. Unable to stop himself counting the ribs his large, gentle hand covered.
"I know, so listen to this, and listen good. Stay in bed, rest, you're looking so tired, I can see your ribs." His hand moved up the flank, drawing his lovers attention to the fact that he was now underweight. "You need to eat more!" He demanded.
"I know, look Herc, you know I don't enjoy eating, but for you, I'll try, really try. Anything to take that worried look off your face, okay?" He smiled up at Hercules.
"Good, I'll keep you to that promise. You can count on it! I can't lose you too Ares, I just can't!" Hercules' eyes filled with tears at the weight of memories pressing in on him.
"Oh, Herc, I'm sorry, I never thought .. I'll do better. One day, I will get a grip on this eating like a mortal bit, honest." He knelt up to face his lover, took his face in both of his hands and very gently touched his lips to those down turned lips before him.
Hercules crushed the ex-God of War to him, holding him to his body, trying to protect him from the world. Finally satisfied that he had imprinted his love onto Ares' body he broke the kiss.
"All the same, I'm gonna bring breakfast to you and you're gonna stay in bed till Iolaus and mister I'm-so-peaceful-I-can-walk-on-water get here." Hercules really let his dislike for Iolaus' lover show.
"I'll stay, but only if you come back to bed with me?" Ares was still kneeling up, still naked, still semi erect, still as sensual as always.
"You tempt me, you really do, damn it Ares, one of us had better do the work around here?" Hercules let his eyes take in his lover's body, his face. He loved his half brother with a passion beyond words. Not just for his gloriously sensual body, but for his loving, sweet nature.
Ares just laughed, gently, it caused his semi erect penis to bob up and down, almost as if it were waving to Hercules. Not that Hercules could take his eyes off it.
"Be tempted!" Ares said, finally. "I love you, you love me, the animals are in the fields, it's been quiet around here for weeks. Take the day off, be with me, love me?" Ares didn't care that he was begging, once, long ago, a lifetime before .. was it only four years? He would have minded, would never have let himself sound so desperate for a lover's companionship. Now, now he didn't mind, he knew in his heart that Hercules loved him and wouldn't turn his trust and love against him.
"Okay, you persuaded me! I love you, you manipulative bastard!" Hercules crushed Ares to him again. Holding on as if his life depended on it, if not his life then his heart and soul.
"Hey, I'm not the bastard around here!" Ares protested.
"No, you're not, but she's not here to answer for her crimes." Hercules replied, waspishly.
"Drop it, drop it right there Herc. I don't want to go through that again. Today is for you and me, got that? Because we love each other, nothing is going to get in the way of my loving you, not today, not tomorrow, never, okay?" Ares held Hercules' face cupped firmly in both hands, forcing his lover to meet his eyes. "Okay?" He demanded. Letting his feelings show clearly in his eyes, his face, his whole body showed Hercules how much he loved him.
"Okay." Hercules confirmed. As a reward Ares let their lips meet and passion rekindled between them. He loved this strong, quiet man, but as much as Hercules tried to protect him from the mortal world, he had to try and protect Hercules from himself.
"I love you!" Ares whispered. They were the three strongest words that Hercules had ever heard, and coming from the former God of War somehow made them all the more potent.
"And I love you!" No matter how often they said these words to each other, they never lost their power over them. It was like a marriage ceremony, every time. And Hercules would never let it lose that power, no matter what.
"Go get breakfast and hurry back." Ares let go and sat back on his heals, still smiling. That was something else Hercules would fight to protect, Ares ready ability to smile, and mean it. His beloved Ares' happiness was so precious to him.
"You got a deal." He smiled back and slowly turned away, not wanting to miss a moment of this newest gift Ares had presented him with. A whole new smile, just for him.
Back on the path through the forest, two men walked, making their way forwards one step at a time.
Elsewhere in the same forest a troop of horse soldiers were making their own way to the castle.
It was almost inevitable that the warriors on horseback would meet the men walking the path before them. What Ares couldn't foresee was the effect it would have on him. Whatever they had been doing, they had had to fight, recently, and their anger was raw and heavy on his soul.
When they rode up, stopping just before the men on foot, one of them had collapsed. Seeing the to men before them, one in evident distress, the leader of the troop of horse soldiers, held up a hand and stopped his troops.
"Hercules?" He queried. "That you? What you doing out here? Who's that with you? What's wrong with ..." Then recognition struck. "Oh, sweet Gods, Ares!" Obviously he liked Ares, he dropped from his horse and ran to his friend's side and help him lower the comatose form of Ares to the ground.
Hercules spared a glance for the man helping him to ease his brother to the forest floor but failed to take in the man's face. He couldn't spare him any attention, not when Ares needed him.
"Ares, what can I do? How can I help?" Hercules held his brother close and rocked him. Finally he looked up into his benefactor's face, and recognised Joxer.
"Joxer?" He queried.
"Yeah, we're on our way to your place. Here, let me help." Joxer reached for Ares but had his hand batted away. Quite painfully, Hercules didn't moderate his strength, not when protecting Ares.
"No, don't, please don't touch him. He can't take you touching him. Take your men and get away from here. Go where ever you are going, just leave us here." As he spoke a shadow shielded Ares from the early morning sunshine.
"Herc? What's wrong buddy? Has something happened to the castle? Why are you here?" Hercules looked up to see the concern in Iolaus' eyes. It cheered him to know that even in this world he and Iolaus were, or at least had been, friends.
That gave him the strength to tell this Iolaus and Joxer the truth.
"It's your troops, you fought recently, didn't you?" He questioned Joxer, who somehow seemed to be the leader of these men.
"Yes, for the last three days, we were running refugees from Elis to Thebes. Why?"
"This isn't your Ares, he lost his powers, some years ago. Didn't he?" Hercules looked directly into Joxer's eyes. "And I'm not your Hercules. This isn't your God this is my God, and currently he's taking the passions of our world and every bit of your world that he encounters. Look at your men!" He nodded his head in the direction of the troop of fighters. Every one of them was staring fixedly at the fallen God of War. Joxer looked at the collapsed God in Hercules' arms and back at his men.
"Draco, take the men to the castle, leave us a couple of spare horses, we'll meet you there later." He stood when his soldier didn't respond. He crossed to stand before the transfixed warrior. "Draco!" He shouted, breaking the hold this alien Ares seemed to have over his warriors.
"Sorry Joxer, two horses was it?" He turned and shook his men out of their reverie. In short order Joxer's men were once more on their way, feeling so refreshed, so renewed, that in next to no time their voices could be heard, raised in song rather than crying in lament.
"Until he wakes up, can you hold him on a horse?" Joxer asked. "That way we'll make better time to our Hercules and Ares' castle." He and Iolaus helped Hercules get the still unconscious Ares onto a horse, sitting behind him Hercules held his brother to him.
"So, he's taking our worlds troubles on too?" Iolaus drew his horse to one side of Hercules, leading the forth horse until it was needed.
"Yes, and I don't like it." Hercules held Ares tighter, if that was at all possible.
"Well, that's hardly surprising is it?" Joxer asked, smiling at Hercules and then at Iolaus.
"What do you mean?" Hercules challenged.
"I don't know about your world, now do I? But, judging by how tight you're holding on to him, you are just as married to him in your world as you are in ours. Love will out, you know!" Joxer saw the look of horror, the look of shock, the look of rage as they all crossed Hercules' face, one after the other, and knew he had made a basic error. "You are not married to him then?"
"NO!" Hercules shouted, his own rage burning wild, he tried to calm it down, for Ares' sake. Ares' arms twitched, just a little. Hercules turned all his feelings towards willing his brother's recovery, if he could. "Ares, come back to me." He whispered, not noticing the glances that went between Joxer and Iolaus, too intent on holding on to his unconscious brother.
Finally, he felt Ares twitch.
"I feel sick." Ares whispered. "Why am I in a boat?"
"You're not, your on a horse with me?" Hercules whispered back.
"Oh, that's nice." Ares rolled further towards Hercules and fell into a natural sleep.
"He's asleep. He'll sleep away his exhaustion now." Hercules told his astounded audience. More or less demanding their silence, to allow his brother the rest he needed to recover, as well as gaining Hercules the time to figure out how to break the news. The news of their alternates marriage to Ares in such a way as wouldn't get him fire balled.
They moved ever deeper into the shade of the forest, as the world around him grew colder, Hercules drew his brother ever closer to him. In an attempt to keep his brother warm, and himself, sharing their body heat. Even though he was asleep, and Hercules knew full well his brother was asleep, yet Ares' arms went around him, holding on to him.
It was some time after they had begun their horse borne journey that his comforting hold on his sleeping brother was broken. Not by his doing, nor by Ares' actions. This world, that they found themselves in, fought hard against his best efforts to protect Ares from it. It conspired to have Ares all to itself, and he vowed to fight it, every step of the way.
The sudden movement of a startled rabbit caused Hercules' horse to bolt forwards. Grasping his brother and his horse's reigns, he lunged forwards, both slowing the horses panic and waking his brother into the bargain.
"What the..?" Ares asked, less than pleasantly, due largely to his shock at being so close to Hercules, on horse back no less. Life, as far as the God of War could see, just didn't get any worse. Unless he had woken up on a boat, he really didn't like boats these days. He extended his mind and calmed the horse.
"Sorry, the horse bolted, I didn't mean to wake you up." Hercules apologised to Ares, the War God seeing it as an honest apology, nodded his head in acceptance.
"No doubt you didn't. Well, do I have a horse too or do we buddy ride where ever we are going?" Ares looked up at Hercules and leered at him. Not able to hold the expression too long, Ares began to laugh, when he laughed so did Hercules. It was impossible to ignore the tremors the laughter set up through Ares' large frame anyway. Hercules was surprised to discover he liked the sound of his brother's laughter, when he wasn't the butt of the joke.
Their conversation had been whispered, a fact that Ares was grateful for after he realised that they did indeed have company. Their laughter had been heard though. Ares almost jumped out his skin when he suddenly heard two or more horses gallop up along side them. Instinctively, Hercules held him closer, and the God let him, taking some comfort from that action.
Hercules had slowed the horse to a walk and then stopped. That allowed Iolaus to come along side and greet the War God, finally.
"Welcome to our world Ares, got a horse for you, I assume you know how to ride?" Ares looked at the hunter's honest earnest face and back at Hercules, then back at Iolaus again.
Slowly, Ares stretched and eased his muscles as he climbed down from in front of his brother, then he remounted his own horse after walking out the stiffness in his muscles. All the while he was thinking, as fast as any God could. Trying to assimilate this new revelation from this world, this Iolaus was alive, while theirs was dead?
"It's good to see you alive Iolaus." Ares kept one eye on his brother, the other on this worlds version of his brother's best friend, as best he could.
"Alive? What does that mean?" Iolaus looked at Ares, and wished the words unsaid as he saw the amusement gleam from those ebony eyes, so much like his own best friend's lover.
"Normally it means not dead. I assume it means that here too?" Ares leaned towards Iolaus, away from Hercules and felt rather than saw his brother shiver. Either feeling the cold or fighting his emotions, for once Ares took pity on Hercules, he produced a thick woollen cloak for his brother and one for himself too.
"Yeah, it does ... oh, shit!" Realisation struck the hunter, a look of profound sadness filled his expressive blue eyes, as he flicked his gaze from Ares to Hercules and back. "How?" He whispered.
"A God, not Greek, called Dahok." Ares looked for any recognition and saw none.
"Never heard of him, but if he's that good I'll mind and avoid him, if ever I hear of him." Iolaus smiled at the other world representation of his friend's lover, his friend too for that matter. "I take it Herc took it bad?" The sympathy for the visiting Hercules clearly seen in his now clouded eyes.
"Ah ha!" Ares murmured.
"No wonder he wouldn't talk to me while he held you. He took it just as hard as I would, if ever I had lost him." Iolaus shrugged, blushing slightly under the God's scrutiny.
Ares looked around and saw one other rider, and recognised him. Joxer, in this world Joxer rode with Iolaus, he vaguely recalled other horse soldiers ... staring at him.
"Where are we heading? We're still on course for your world's Ares, that much I can tell." Ares looked from Iolaus to Joxer, hoping one of them would volunteer the information.
"We're going to their Ares all right, and his lover, seems he married this world's Hercules." Hercules was blunt with the information, Ares could feel the embarrassment flowing from his brother. They were in company again, and he was no longer touching Hercules, little wonder his brother was losing control of himself again.
"Well, their Hercules shows remarkably good taste!" Ares laughed and moved his horse closer to Hercules, once there he reached out and took his brother's hand.
"I thought you and he .. weren't .. you know? Herc said so.." Iolaus blushed himself to a stand still.
"You don't understand Iolaus, Herc needs to touch me to control his emotions, I need to touch him to help me control yours." Ares was being open and honest with these men, Hercules had never seen his brother this open with anyone. He wondered if it was this world, or just that they would need help restoring their Ares to his rightful place that had his brother being so honest? Either way, he concluded that he simply didn't have enough information yet to decide.
"What do you mean, control our emotions?" The hunter looked to the hero and the God, riding side by side, holding hands, but it was his own lover that supplied his answers.
"He is what this land has been missing for the last four years, a sitting War God; with all the duties and responsibilities that that entails. He's no doubt still linked to his own world, just as Hercules said, and is now linking to our world. He needs the physical contact with someone from his own world to balance the two conflicting sets of emotions. Am I right?" Joxer looked at Ares, not Hercules, and not their linked hands.
"You're right, you know, you sound just like Xena, is she still alive around here?" Ares looked at two very confused faces.
"Who's Xena?" Iolaus asked.
"Warrior Princess from Amphipolis, used to head one of my greatest armies, now fights against me, most successfully, unfortunately." Ares was still looking at their companion's faces, as was Hercules.
"No, never heard of her, Joxer fits that description though. Do you have a Joxer in your world?" Iolaus asked.
"Erm, yes we do, he's a friend of mine, and of our Iolaus, and the woman Xena Ares mentioned. Nice guy." Hercules tightened his grip on Ares' hand, he was finding talking to this version of his friend so hard, so painful, and through the physical link, Ares knew that too.
"He's a blood innocent in our world." Ares supplied, allowing them to think that their Joxer was not a fighter in any way, hoping they'd let the subject drop.
"What? He's never been an assassin? A warrior? Head of the biggest army Greece ever saw?" Iolaus was not proud of his lovers past, but didn't shy away from it either. He was proud of his lover turning away from that path, for no other reason than Iolaus had asked him to. Ares could feel it, almost taste it, in the emotions that flowed through and around him, and through their physical link so could Hercules.
"No, his brother, Jett, is the assassin in their family, and Jace is reasonably good at commanding men. Not as good as his father though." Ares was still dancing around the one truth he knew for a fact that Hercules didn't want to tell them. Why was he so willing to protect their Joxer and his Hercules' feelings?
"I don't have any brothers." Joxer stated, quite calmly.
"Well there you go, our Joxer never needed to fight, his family owns a lot of land, someone has to mind the home. And you never had the choice. Add to that you don't have a Xena, and I suppose you don't have a blonde bard from Potedaia called Gabrielle either?" Ares smiled, glad for small mercies, though the smile faded as he realised his joy was to be short lived.
"Oh, we got Gabby, she's Draco's wife. Great little fighter, great story teller too, gets all the gore and feeling of action in her stories." Joxer obviously like their Gabrielle, as did Iolaus judging from their smiles.
"That's more than ours ever did. She can't, and here I quote, simply can't write action scenes. She uses really stupid, flowery descriptive passages instead 'Xena burst in, in a blaze of glory, raining blows down like a storm from the heavens.' Believe me, I do quote!" Ares was looking at his brother rather than their travelling companions.
Finally Hercules laughed. As Ares had spoken he could see and hear Gabrielle speaking too, he absolutely knew his brother was telling the truth. He also got a flash of fear as Ares recalled being powerless at that time.
"It's true!" He added, and laughed harder when Joxer screwed up his face in utter disgust.
"How long till we reach our destination?" Ares suddenly asked, changing the subject with neither flare nor finesse. Hercules could feel the residue of the fatigue in him.
"Galloping while holding hands is gonna be difficult, don't you think?" He asked.
"What, for a hero and a God, who just so happen to be brothers, sharing the same blood, the same connection to their world? Huh? Don't you trust your big brother, baby bro?" Ares raised their linked hands and shook them in Hercules' line of sight.
"You, here, I trust, it's the horses I can't vouch for." Hercules did indeed look very uncomfortable on horse back.
"Don't worry, I'll have a word with them and they'll see things my way." Ares' nose crinkled up at the sides as he spoke, showing dimples in his cheeks, as it always did when he was teasing someone. Hercules was startled to recognise that fact, after being on the receiving end of that self same look that he had, for a lifetime, called snide.
"Do we need to gallop?" Hercules asked Joxer and Iolaus.
"If you want to reach the castle today, then yeah, we need to gallop." Joxer smiled, the look was strange on the otherwise familiar face. A smile that spoke of understanding, of a sharp intelligence, of Xena. And on Joxer's face!
By the middle of the day Draco and the rest of the troops arrived, noisily, at the castle. The cacophony of iron shod hooves on the courtyard cobbles would have wakened the dead, if they could ever be close enough to hear them. They did, however, wake Hercules and Ares. The lovers had fallen asleep again, after their morning of loving.
They dressed on the run as they hurried out to greet the new arrivals. Hercules was immediately worried when he didn't see either Iolaus or Joxer with the troops.
"Where are the others?" He quizzed Draco while Joxer's second in command saw to his horse.
"Coming." Draco looked back the way they had come, then at the hero, the ex-hero. "Look Hercules, there's something you ought to know." He pulled Hercules to one side, away from Ares who was talking to Gabrielle, helping with the horses. "We met a couple of men, they'll be coming with Jox and Iolaus, one of them's you and the other is Ares. An Ares with all his powers. I felt it, the calm as he drained us of all our anger and aggression, but something's wrong, see, he collapsed!" Draco tried to let Hercules know just how worried he was. "All the men were standing there, couldn't move, all of us pouring out our fears and what have you at him. And they're coming here, I think."
Hercules looked back at his lover and watched him as he laughed gently at something Gabrielle had said. He shuddered at the prospect of another Ares, an Ares who was still a God. A God that wanted something from them! From his Ares!
"Get the men barracked and fed, if they settle in their quarters maybe this God won't notice them too much. Any idea what he wants?"
"None what so ever, we just met them walking in this direction. I'm just surmisin' a lot here." Draco shrugged and then grinned over Hercules' shoulder at his wife's laughter, she was amused by something Ares had said to her. The contrast hit him so hard. "You know if he's a War God, then he's probably doing what ever it was that Ares did, before you know who took charge. And not just for us either." He shrugged, again. "Hey, I've got quarters to go to, with my wife, so if you'll excuse me, I'll go rescue her from your beloved over there!" Draco laughed at the sight behind Hercules, and he pushed past him gently and went to retrieve his wife.
Hercules heard them clear the court yard, not just Gabs and Draco, but all the men. As he heard the last of the horses clip clop their way towards the stables, he slowly turned to Ares. His lover saw the confused, strained look on his face and walked over to join him. He gently cupped Hercules' face and smiled, sweetly, into the now shadowed eyes.
"What's wrong Herc? What did Draco say that stole the light from your eyes?"
"Oh, Ares!" Hercules cried out, softly, and crushed Ares to his chest. Not sure why, but so very certain that their next load of visitors would bring chaos and the end of their happy life together, and have everything come crashing down round their ears.
"Now you're scaring me, what did Draco say to you?" Ares pushed gently against Hercules' chest, getting a little distance between himself and his worried lover. Looking at the tears almost falling from his lover's eyes, again Ares cupped his cheek in a warm, mortal hand. "I love you, and if you're upset, then I'm upset."
Hercules looked deeply into the eyes of his beloved Ares, seeing the worry in those beautiful, dark pools.
"Seems Joxer and Iolaus are bringing another Hercules and Ares with them. An Ares with his powers intact." Hercules watched Ares' face for reaction, and saw just a warm smile and laughing eyes looking back at him.
"Poor Ares then." Ares' smile tightened, and Hercules knew he was remembering what it was to have his powers.
"Why 'poor Ares', huh?"
"Because, little brother, he'll be doing double duty here. His job as well as mine ... " Ares trailed off, abruptly turned away from Hercules and started to walk back towards their home.
"Ares?" Hercules tried to get Ares' attention.
"Ares!" He shouted after him, alarm colouring his voice, the pain and fear finally got Ares' full attention.
"Leave it Herc. Just don't go there, okay?" Ares turned to look at his brother as he spoke and spun away again, as soon as the last word was said. All Hercules could do was nurse his own guilt and pain as he watched Ares disappear into the dark interior of their home. He turned and looked at the castle gates, walking slowly towards the outside world he didn't hear the returning footsteps echoing in the courtyard.
"Hercules?" Ares' voice sounded as if it were coming from miles away. "Hercules! Please, don't leave me!" The fear caught his attention, quickly he spun and looked at his distraught brother, his lover, his husband if they would but say the words.
"I ... I ... I'm not going anywhere, just looking." Even to his own ears it sounded forced, as if he didn't really believe it either.
"Look, it's no use tearing each other apart, not like this, we shouldn't be arguing like this." Ares ran across the courtyard to stand at the threshold of their gate with his lover. "When, if, they get here, we'll find out what they want, how they got here, and what we can do to help them get home. Until then any and all speculation is worthless. Don't tear us apart over ancient history." Ares tried a smile, it was shaky but warm, warm enough to thaw the immediate guilt from Hercules' heart.
"I never want to lose you Ares. I love you way too much, more than I ever loved anyone else, ever, ever." Hercules slowly embraced his lover, savouring Ares' collapse against him as his tightly held emotions gave way to a flood of relief.
"Then you won't lose me. I wish I could make you believe it. Just once!"
"Hey, you said enough of that for now."
"True, I did, but when have you ever known me to stick to my own rules, huh?" Ares grinned, in so doing he gifted Hercules with the sight of twin dimpled cheeks almost hiding the two most beautiful ebony eyes he had ever had the privilege of gazing in to.
"That's true." Hercules laughed at the affronted look Ares gave him. "Come on, let's leave the road to its own business and you can eat some lunch!" A possessive hand stroked up Ares' ribcage. Reminding the ex-God of their earlier conversation on his eating habits, and reminding him of his promise to try harder with his eating habits.
"Did anyone ever tell you, that you are a bully?" Ares smiled, not wanting to offend Hercules, their emotions too raw to really be teased and toyed with.
"Me? A bully? I'll have you know I'm a great hero, so I've heard. Not a bully!" Hercules held Ares in both his arms, cupping his hands together behind his lover's back, the better to hold him close like that. Then he kissed him. Gently. Briefly. A butterfly kiss, promising so much for later.
"And I am Paris of Troy!" Ares laughed at Hercules' strange look.
"No, you are definitely not Paris, you are far more beautiful than he ever was."
"But you, you are my hero!" Ares kissed him, savouring the sweet words he had spoken.
"I wish I could be, Ares, I really wish I could be!" Hercules gave his oath as he broke the kiss, smiling sadly at his beloved.
"I give up, Herc, truly, I give up! Let's go eat before we start to fight again, and I really don't have the strength for another round of that particular fight." Ares sighed wearily, giving way to a gasp of surprise as Hercules swung him up and carried him back to their home. Ares could either struggle and not be guaranteed his freedom, or he could laugh and enjoy the ride. He laughed.
Joxer and Iolaus looked knowingly at each other as they watched the alternate God of War and Hercules get down off their horses with out letting go of each other. It involved a lot of mutterings and not a little laughter from both of them. Yet, finally there they were, walking their horses to rest them from the hard galloping they had had to do.
Ares looked at their hands, still firmly clenched together, then at his brother, whose emotions he could feel quite clearly through their physical link.
"Feeling calmer now then, little brother?" Ares didn't know why he felt like talking with Hercules, it was after all not normally on his list of favourite things to do, not at all, let alone top of that list.
"Yeah, much .. big brother." Hercules smiled at Ares and then let his eyes drop away to their hands, the sight of his hand firmly in the grip of Ares' made him laugh. He really did feel like the God of War's little brother. As if their father had told him to take a hold of his brother's hand and not let go! Hercules began to swing their hands back and forward. In big arcs too.
"What are you doing?" Ares asked, the very epitome of 'big brotherness' to Hercules' strained way of thinking. After all, he had had Iphicles to practice on, he was good at being a little brother. Even if he did say so himself!
"Being a good little brother, not letting go of big brothers hand, mustn't get lost after all!" Hercules laughed to himself with absolute delight at the totally confused look on Ares' face. "You see, I'm well versed in all things little brother. I've done all this before, with Iphicles. Mother would tell me to take a hold of his hand and not let go. No matter how much he swung our arms about, I never let go. We would go round the market, the farm, and I'd be swinging from the end of his arm, all snotty nose and bad attitude. I was four, I could look after myself!" Some of that ages old resentment surfaced, Ares could clearly feel it. It found an echo in his memories.
"Start skipping and you die!" Ares promised his brother.
Hercules laughed at the mental image that warning conjured up.
"How would you explain that to dad?"
"Simple, I just tell him the truth ... he skipped! No one would hold it against me." Ares smiled, quite evilly.
"You're quite safe then, we're leading the horse and horses don't skip." Hercules was chuckling at the mental image when a small spark of something frizzed through their link and warned him that Ares was about to do something.
"Oh yes they do!" Ares and two horses proceeded to skip down the trail, dragging Hercules with them.
Giving in Hercules skipped too, laughing like a very little, little brother.
Watching them with an indulgent smile playing around his lips Iolaus looked to his lover and asked.
"So, do you buy into the 'we're not lovers crap' Herc 2 there is trying to peddle to us?"
Joxer looked at the God and the hero as they and their horses finally stopped skipping, both men were laughing. Together, and the body language told him that this might be the first time in their lives that they had just simply been silly together.
"Yeah, I do actually. They're not lovers .." He turned and looked at his own lover. "Not yet at least. But, I'll tell you what .." He paused for dramatic effect, that and he simply knew it would annoy Iolaus.
"What!?" Iolaus demanded on cue.
"They're becoming friends. Ares 2 is still a God and they're becoming friends." He smiled at Iolaus and was rewarded with a big grin in return.
"There's hope for them yet then?" Iolaus observed.
"True." Joxer looked at his lover, how the sun that reached them through the dense trees made his hair gleam like precious stones. "Give them time and they'll figure it out for themselves ... but a good example never hurt anyone!" And so saying he kissed Iolaus
As Hercules walked beside his brother, both of them smiling, still letting loose the occasional chuckle, he heard a tell tale noise from behind them.
"Are they kissing?" He asked Ares.
"Yes." Ares replied, quite shortly.
"What's wrong?" Hercules didn't think Ares could be jealous of Joxer and Iolaus being together. Ares simply wasn't interested in either man that way, was he?
"They were discussing us. They don't think we're lover ...yet!" The 'yet' almost drove Hercules to break Ares' hold on him.
"What do they mean, yet!?" He demanded.
"I don't know, you said their Ares and Hercules were a confirmed couple, married I seem to recall you saying. They're just projecting that relationship on to us. Don't let it get to you." Ares shrugged and tried to smile reassuringly at Hercules, it came out more as a conspiratorial grin. "That and we are holding hands." His timing was perfect, Hercules went fifty shades of purple before settling on bright red and bursting out laughing.
"Could you imagine dad's face if he could see us now?" Hercules finally asked, between bouts of laughter.
"Worse still, could you imagine my mother's face?" Ares asked, dead pan.
Hercules' incredulous expression set Ares off, he giggled. He couldn't help himself, he giggled, a high pitched sound, of true abject amusement that Hercules had never heard so freely expressed by Ares before.
"How could you Ares? And with him too!?" Hercules squeaked his voice to make it sound screechy enough to do a passable impersonation of the Queen of the Gods.
It was too much for Ares, he stood still and laughed. He laughed until tears fell from his eyes, he lifted their joined hands and wiped them away. Hercules was mesmerised. For the first time in his life he felt Ares' tears on his hand. Tears of laughter and joy, granted, but he wouldn't wish tears of sorrow on anyone, not even Ares. Something in him blossomed, fed by those few tears. His brother was as capable of being as human as any man he had ever encountered. And somehow he knew that Ares was genuinely amused, that he was honestly enjoying their silliness, and that helped that spark of something grow.
"Remount, and we'll be there in a an hour!" Joxer's voice called out, breaking the spell, but not the connection.
"This'll be fun!" Hercules observed as Ares stood beside him, holding his hand while he remounted his horse.
"Not really." Ares said and was suddenly sitting on his own horse still holding Hercules' hand. "You know, I do think that you tend to forget that I might be your brother, little bro, but I am a full God, ya know?" Ares was both joking and serious.
"Didn't you know miracles are par for the course from big brothers? Every little brother expects his big brother to be capable of miracles, why should I think less of you? It's just the miracles I expect are harder than any I ever dreamt Iphicles could perform." Hercules felt a sharp stab of guilt when he thought about his mortal brother, Ares felt it too, and for once remained silent and left his own mortal brother to his own sorrows.
The horses, however, thought they were both quite mad.
By late afternoon the usual group, or rather half the usual group were sitting around Ares and Hercules' kitchen table. They were quite deliberately not discussing the imminent arrival of a God from another world. Nor were they talking about the fight they could not have failed to have witnessed between Hercules and Ares.
What they were discussing was the menu for that nights dinner. What would be a worthy meal for a sitting War God, and despite Ares having been a sitting War God, no one was taking his suggestion of nothing seriously. And that was annoying him immensely.
"Look will you listen, just once. Believe me, he will prefer nothing over anything we could give him." Ares was not shouting, he very rarely shouted these days, but there he was, stomping up and down the length of the kitchen, all but pouting.
"Why must you be so convinced he'll be rude. Just because you were a right rude bastard Arry, doesn't mean to say he will!" Draco could not quite hold back the mirth at the mental image of his friend Ares as he had been, back when he had been his God.
"It's hard to explain, mortal food just doesn't sit well with Gods, even ex-Gods." Ares smiled, remembering the same times Draco was. He had spent so long, too long of late, remembering his Godhood, what it meant to be a God, what it cost him to be a God. What it had ultimately cost him to lose his Godhood, what it had cost Hercules, by far a greater cost than any he had paid. "It's part of my own trouble with eating, I don't like the taste, I have no idea what it tastes like to you, I have no terms of reference as to what it does to me. What it'll do to him, and he's still a bloody God, for fuck's sake. Let him feed himself!"
"And this other Hercules?" Gabrielle asked, all the while she watched their Hercules for a reaction, and she got one.
"If he's with his Ares, then let his Ares take care of them both then. Why do they want to come here anyway?" Hercules slumped deeper into his chair and was immediately attended by Ares, crouching by his side, holding the nearest of his lover's hands in both of his.
"Look, why don't we wait until they get here? We can't second guess anything, please Herc? For me?" Ares turned the hand he held captive over and placed a slow, loving kiss in its palm and folded it closed, as if to hold in the kiss, for ever.
"We could leave if you really want to have wild sex on the kitchen table?" Draco offered and was instantly slapped by his wife.
"Pig!" She decried him.
"Oink!" He replied, pulling her over to sit on his knees, burying his face in the side of her face and "Oink!" made more, louder pig noises right in her ear.
"That's it, you die!" Gabrielle shot to her feet and searched the room for a suitable weapon, finally she settled for a wooden board used to knead bread on, then she whacked him with it, not gently either.
"Ow!" Draco was shocked and surprised, his wife had actually intended him harm. "Gabs, what's got into you?" She hit him again and stopped mid way through her third swipe.
"Draco?!" She squealed, dropped the board and took his battered face in her hands. "What's got into us today?" She begged the whole world for an answer, and got her prayer answered, by the ex-God.
"Ares has, his presence has triggered a landslide in your emotions, if he doesn't control them you'll find yourself exactly how you were four years ago." He smiled sadly at his lover and their friends. "So now we gotta hope he is coming here." As if on cue the room echoed with the clattering of several horses in the courtyard.
The four mortals got up, almost as one, and went out to greet whatever, whomever the day had brought them.
The castle was achingly familiar to Ares. He risked a glance at Hercules and saw that he too recognised where they were headed. After all, they had fought there, Ares had seen his youngest son there, for the last time. As his father anyway.
"I do care for him, in my own way, in a way that I can keep him safe, or so I thought. Safe from the machinations of our family. You saw how Eris reacted, and she's my twin sister, imagine how Artemis would have reacted?" Ares shrugged, unsure if Hercules was even hearing him.
"I know, and I'm sorry I've kept you apart." Hercules felt a sudden shudder in their link, like nothing he'd ever felt before, then he realised what it was. Ares' mental laughter. "What's so funny?" He challenged, quite angry at being laughed at.
"Keep me from my son do you? Never wondered who the magic Milos is?" Ares saw the dawning of comprehension in his brother's eyes. "Since you wouldn't let me be my son's father, I'm his best friend in the whole wide world, ever!" Ares spoke in the tone of a young child prone to over dramatisation.
"Did you really walk along the seabed looking at the dolphins swim by?" Hercules was somehow actually relieved that the mythical Milos was real and was actually Ares. Evander would be safe in Ares' hands, he knew that, through the link, he knew Ares was right about loving Evander, about how their family would put him at risk. All of it was true.
"Yeah, we did. It was something I hadn't done in a lot of centuries, not since Cupid and Strife were kids in fact." Ares' eyes clouded over, he lost his ready smile. And Hercules knew it was Strife.
"You miss the mischief maker?" He asked, gently, with a soft smile playing around his lips and eyes. "Truth be told, I kinda miss him myself. There seems to be something missing in the world without Strife stirring things up." Their link filled with twin memories of the Mischief God and his infectious, inane giggle.
"I more or less brought him up. Eris, Discord, abandoned him as soon as he was born. Since we don't know who his father is, Eris won't say, and whomever it is won't admit it, well, someone had to take him in. Not that I had much option, it was either me or Zeus would have had mother raise him, and I couldn't let that happen to another child. Not after .. that's ancient history now anyway." Ares smiled, a warm, friendly smile, as he remembered the early years of life with his nephew running about, filling his life with childish laughter. He had been a little a bit younger than his son Cupid but not by much. The boys were more brothers than cousins, and some times more trouble than they might be considered worth by the other Gods. Yet Ares' memories overflowed with the sounds of their laughter, and the screams of outrage, as they pulled another prank on one of their fellow Olympians.
"You actually like having young children around, don't you?" Hercules had an epiphany with regards to his brother, Ares actually did enjoy the company of children. Yet, knew he had to be careful of protecting them from his enemies.
"With all the scum and filth of mortal, or indeed immortal, life that I have to deal with on a daily basis, children and their innocence are a refreshing change. Guilty as charged, little brother." Ares looked up and saw they were getting ever closer to that dark castle where his alternative self was living, and indeed loving with the alternative Hercules. "I know you don't believe me, but I am capable of loving someone, you know?" Not at all sure he even wanted to know why it was suddenly imperative that Hercules believed him.
"I know. I do know that you are." Hercules said simply. Then silence fell between them, not oppressively, and they remained quiet until they dismounted in the castle courtyard, with as much of a pantomime as they had while walking their horses in the forest.
As Ares looked around he let his hand fall from it's safe haven in Hercules' grasp. Then, unprepared for the sudden crushing weight, and the unremitting onslaught of feelings and passions, he fell first to his knees, clutching his pain ridden head. Then blackness took him and he was falling into unconsciousness, even as he heard the faintest whisper of his name.
Hercules saw his brother clasp his head, he saw him keel over. He screamed his name as he ran the few short steps to his brother's side.
"Ares!" Just as his brother's head would impact with the cobbles Hercules caught him, and held him close. "Ares, you should never have let me go. I should never have let you. I'm sorry!" He rocked his brother against his chest. The sooner they did what Ares wanted to do for this world, the sooner they would find the way home and he could take care of his brother. "Shh, now, everything's gonna be all right, you'll see!" He smoothed the sweat soaked hair from his brother's face and finally looked up into the troubled blue of his own eyes.
What he saw there made him stop moving, he saw anger, anger directed at his Ares, and he saw sympathy, and he saw an echo of an old hurt, an old fear. Looking away he met the open gaze of Ares, the mortal Ares of this world. His eyes were filled with a painful understanding of what his Ares was going through, for his world, for their own world, for him.
"Everyone back off!" Ares commanded. And everyone did just that. The courtyard cleared. Joxer and Iolaus took their own horses away, Draco and Gabrielle took Hercules and Ares' horses away with them. That left Hercules and Hercules looking steadily at each other over the fallen body of the still unconscious Ares.
"Now Herc, help .... Herc bring Ares inside, please." He smiled at his lover then at Hercules. "Now this'll cause a lot of confusion." He noted, still smiling. "He'll be fine, once we can get him in a calm environment."
"Well, that'll not be our world then." The mortal Ares' Hercules observed. "Might as well go right on home then!"
"I would if I could. If I had the knowledge, the ability, I'd take Ares so far from here, leave you to rip your world apart in Total War, so fast, it'd leave your head in a spin. This place is hurting my brother, possibly even killing him! I don't know, but would you want to risk your brother like that?" He challenged the resident Hercules.
The resident Hercules just stood there, looking at the fallen Ares and his brother, then he looked at the worry in the eyes of his own brother, his lover.
"I'd do exactly the same." He finally said, quietly, calmly. "Come on, let's get him inside. Ares can be a right pain if you don't do things his way, but I guess you know that?" He looked at his twin and laughed. In all honesty, Hercules didn't know why, but he laughed back.
"Yeah, but not as well as you do. We're, Ares and me, we're not together, not like you." Hercules blushed himself to a standstill as he followed the other Ares to a bed chamber where he could lay Ares down, and lie down beside him, letting the God of War ground himself once more.
"We'll talk later." Ares observed, not really giving him the chance to gain say him.
As he held Ares once more, Hercules drifted off to sleep, almost as if his sleeping would lessen his brother's burdens.
Outside their bedroom, back in the kitchen in fact, that worlds Hercules looked at the strained face of his own, precious Ares.
"Well, that was unexpected." Hercules' voice was forced, desperately trying to sound friendly.
"Not really. Even I can't .. couldn't deal with the weight of passions he's dealing with. I expect he'll deal with some it while asleep, and be more able to cope once he's finished sleeping." At least, if he didn't believe it himself he seemed to have reassured Hercules. Once calmer in himself, Ares saw that his own precious Hercules was calming down too.
"Lucky we already have an expert in being Ares around then. I wonder what he wants?" Hercules put his arms around his lovers waist and snuggled in close to him. Burying his face in the mass of curls adorning Ares' head, he breathed in the scent of his beloved, in long, slow breaths.
"I've no idea, but I guess their Hercules wants to get home, with his brother in one piece." Ares emphasised his speech with an elaborate shrug, almost pushing Hercules away, but not quite.
"Yeah." Hercules agreed, retaking his former position nestled against Ares. "I know I would, an' he said as much to me outside. He'd leave us to rot if he could." Hercules wasn't too sure if he was angry because the other Hercules' words were harsh, or because they were true, or just because they were justified.
"His Ares wouldn't let him." His own Ares smiled, turning he took him in his own arms and snuggled back in close, burrowing his own face into the crook of his neck.
"How do you know?" Hercules' voice rumbled in Ares' ear, it caused the ex-God to laugh, softly.
"I used to be omniscient, remember?" he laughed aloud at the echoing good humour from Hercules.
Together they went about their daily tasks, waiting to see what their new arrivals would bring in their wake. Something, no doubt, that they would share with them
once they were awake and alert again.
Ares awoke first. The knowledge that he was sleeping once more in Hercules' embrace did little for his comfort. Indeed, he felt supremely uncomfortable knowing that it was touching Hercules that allowed him to function. He also knew, through their growing link, that Hercules was uncomfortable about it all too. Though strangely, it was also a great comfort to him, both of them. He just hated to be faced with a paradox, they gave him a headache
He rolled over, still within the sanctuary of Hercules' arms and watched his brother sleeping. His eyes were still, his breathing even, he was not dreaming, probably about to wake up anyway. Thus suitably convinced he was not going to unduly wake him up, he shook his brother awake.
"Hey, sleepy head, wake up!" His hand closed around Hercules' left shoulder and he rocked him back and forth, gently. Finally Hercules gave in and opened his eyes, slightly. Only once he had processed the information telling his brain that Ares was only a couple of inches away from him, in bed, did he sit up with a start.
"My thoughts exactly!" Ares smiled, sitting up beside him. "Oh, my head hurts!" Sitting up that quickly might have been an error, Ares' skull still throbbed. So he lay down again.
"Do you remember where we are, what happened?" Hercules lay back down, side by side with Ares, once more holding his hand.
"Kinda, we reached the castle and then we saw them, the pain hit me like a herd of charging elephants, and then I woke up in this bed, with you. Did I miss anything important?"
"Not really, just their Ares directing their me to bring you in here, with me, he helped me. Oh, shit Ares what do we do now? If I have to touch you all the time it's gonna get real old, real quick, you know?" Hercules stopped talking, thought over what he had said and shrugged. "Now I'm even sounding like some cross between you and Strife." He groaned, but Ares just laughed at him.
"And this is a bad thing, why?" He asked, still chuckling away to himself.
"Ask me that again when you start to stop wars and right wrongs and defend the mortal world from the capriciousness of the Gods? Then we'll discuss it." Hercules was cross at being laughed at, but saw Ares' point of view too. It was like complaining he was breathing out and in, rather than in and out!
"Ah, better get ready to open up to me. To feel what I'm feeling here, 'cos, guess what? I've gotta stop wars, write a terrible wrong and put the Gods back in their accustomed places. Then we can go home." Ares looked sideways at Hercules. "And then we might get to stop for lunch!" He said that last part so emphatically that Hercules was almost convinced it was a real statement, but his brother finally laughed. Recalling his thought the day before, that this must be how Iolaus had felt, as his companion.
"Make me curly and call me Iolaus!" Hercules was surprised to realise he had spoken aloud, Ares, however, was highly amused.
"Ya know, it's a good job for you that I'm not Aphrodite! She would make you look like Iolaus, just for the fun of it!" Ares saw realisation strike Hercules, as he saw that Ares was speaking the truth.
"So now what? How long did we sleep anyway?" He knew Ares would have the answers he wanted, needed, didn't know how Ares knew, just that he did.
"We've slept a couple of hours; and we get out of bed and go get some thing to eat,
then find out what is really going on in this world. Unless you have a better plan." Ares sat up, slowly, feeling no pain this time he broke contact from Hercules and crossed to look at the world as framed by the bedroom window. A slight breeze blew in, making him shiver.
"Careful, you don't want to go through all that pain again, do you?" Hercules also got off the bed and crossed to stand behind Ares, pulling him back against his own body. Sharing his warmth, and what protection he could offer from that world's passions.
"I'm okay like this, when no one can see me. It's always like this with mortals and Gods. Out of sight, out of mind. Everyone seems to be involved with their own tasks, not thinking about us at all. Just as it should be." Ares sounded resigned to being either the centre of everyone's attention or totally ignored, and through their link Hercules suddenly knew what that lack of attention did to the Gods It sapped them of energy, of strength, of their sense of self. That was why they did most of what they did, an attempt to get attention from mortals, to feel alive. And when Ares got too much attention - he collapsed in abject agony.
"Okay, but if it gets too much, take my hand, okay?" Hercules squeezed his brother, enjoying the feel of hard muscular flesh beneath his hands. He knew too that Ares took as much comfort from that action as he himself did.
"Okay!" Ares agreed, not readily, but at least honestly.
"Right, now that that's settled, shall we go looking for food?!" Ever practical, Hercules was once more thinking with his stomach. Sounding, even to his own ears, so very like Iolaus.
"Sure, come on, this way!" Ares lead the way, taking a firm hold on his brother's hand, just in case they encountered one of the castle's seemingly endless supply of residents.
Hercules followed Ares, just as much as Iolaus had spent so many years of his life, acting as his silent companion with whom he could talk out problems, this now seemed his lot in life.
They passed several other bed chamber doors on their journey to the kitchens, and through their growing link Hercules could access Ares' senses, and hear what was going on behind those doors. The cacophony almost made him collapse, until Ares sorted out all the different sounds and conversations. Such as they were.
Ares and Hercules found them selves in a corridor, surrounded by rooms in which people were having sex. Not necessarily wild sex, loving sex would be closer, it just made for very strange conversations when they could mix and match the voices Ares could hear for them.
"Ares, Ares, Ares my own, beautiful Ares!" Hercules could hear his own voice chanting and blushed a very deep red.
"In me Jox, in me deep!" Even though he knew it was Iolaus' voice it sounded like Joxer was the one pounding into Ares ... assuming Ares was being pounded and not pounding. God and Demi-God found that they could not move, not even twitch. And looking at each other was definitely out!
"Ha, ha, ha Drrrraaacccooo, now!" Gabrielle would never look the same again, in either of their eyes ever!
"My love ..... AAARRRGGGHHH!" And Draco came, with all the grace of a bull elephant in full charge.
"YYYEESSS!" Gabrielle did too, they were evidently well matched. "Stay in me?" She pleaded.
"For ever if I could, sweet, sweet Gabrielle. No wonder I love you so very much..."
His voice was interrupted by another shout.
"Sweet Gods of sex and violence! Where DID you learn THAT?" It was Iolaus again.
Followed by a low chuckle and a whisper they still heard quite clearly.
"I spent some time 'studying' with Minya in her brothel." Joxer must have grinned because Iolaus laughed.
"Studying?" he quizzed.
"Studying!" Joxer confirmed, but Ares and Hercules didn't believe him either.
"Faster, harder, stronger. Oh sweet glory Herc. I love you, I love what you do to me, I looooovvveee, Aaarrgghh!" And Ares did blush as he and Hercules listened to Hercules taking Ares to a loud, long and very satisfying orgasm.
"Oh, my God, forever, Ares!" Hercules then roared, loud enough to ring through the hallways.
"Do you always come that loudly?" The God asked his brother, still holding his hand but steadfastly not meeting his eyes.
Hercules looked at him, blushed, grinned and whispered back.
"Only when properly inspired!" Hercules could feel the heat radiating from his brother's face, or was it the heat radiating from his own?
"Shall I make us supper then?" Ares changed the subject and pulled Hercules away from that emotionally charged corridor.
"That would be nice." Hercules and Ares walked the length of the corridor, both physically affected by all they had heard, still holding hands.
"I could have lived with out hearing all that." Ares observed.
"Me too." Hercules agreed.
"Damn!" They both said together.
They were sitting in the kitchen, Ares had indeed made them supper, he had created all the food that now lay before them.
"Ares, there's bound to be food around here, why 'make' it?" Hercules shrugged and indicated the banquet now laid out before him.
"Don't you like my 'cooking' for you? Do I use too many strong spices? Not enough?" Ares laughed, so free and easy was his humour, in front of Hercules, that the Demi-God was not really surprised at finding its echo in his own soul.
"No, your food is the greatest food I've ever tasted. Even better than dad's occasional creations." Hercules thought about the few times Zeus had created food for him and shuddered at the memory. "Actually Joxer's gravy is better than dad's food? If you're so good at it, how come he's so bad at it?"
"Because he's never eaten that much mortal food. I can't eat mortal food, it makes me sick to my stomach. The couple of times I've been mortal in the past I swear it wasn't just the .. what's it? The hangover. I can't explain it, it's the taste. I've never encountered something that vile. But knowing what I don't want it to taste like, I can create food that tastes as I know it should taste, like it would in a perfect world. Do you understand any of that? I could show you, if you like?" Ares grinned and shrugged.
"I got the bit about showing me how bad mortal food tastes to you. So how would you do that?" The mortal son of Zeus watched the mischief playing behind Ares' eyes, and saw it for what it was, an older brother teasing a younger brother. "Why do I get the distinct feeling that I'm not going to like this? Huh?"
"Wait and see." Ares stood up, away from his seat at the table, pushing it out of his way slightly, and stood beside Hercules. He closed his eyes and transformed into a shimmer of blue and gold light. The hero finally knew that this was Ares' true state, he could feel the joy in his brother through their link, even more so in his pure form. Then Ares flew at him. No, Hercules realised, not at him, into him. He felt Ares in the very fibre of his body, every nerve, every muscle, every bone, all was both Hercules and Ares. Then that which had been Ares, God of War, asked that which had been Hercules to find mortal food and eat it.
So Hercules did. He found a joint of roasted lamb and tore a small piece off of it. He put it in his mouth and all but spat it in the kitchen fire. He could not clear the taste of decay and putrefaction from his mouth, he felt sick to his stomach. Ares manufactured a glass of strong flavoured fruit juice for his little brother.
*Here, this will help!* The thought wasn't his yet it was, and Hercules complied and drank the fruit juice. As he washed the disgusting taste out of his mouth he thought about his brother Ares. Who was he, what was he, other than the plain fact of his being the God of War? Suddenly, Ares couldn't hide it from him, all that Ares was filled his mind, the confusion at the flood of images almost causing him real physical pain.
*I'm sorry, Herc, let me go and the pain will fade.* Ares' whispering mental voice spoke to him.
"Let you go?" Hercules asked out loud, too used to speaking to cope with the sudden change to thinking his conversations.
*If you push me out of your mind, my energy will leave your body too. Then the pain will go away. You are mortal, you can't take the weight of knowing War, help me leave?* Ares' mental voice sounded sad to Hercules' mental ears, and he knew too that Ares was sad, saddened that no one, God or mortal, had ever taken the weight of knowing War. He finally knew how truly alone his brother was in life. All his long, long life.
Rather than close his mind, he deliberately opened his mind, and his heart, to Ares. Letting Ares know who and what he was, what motivated him, what inspired him.
*Hercules, please, this will hurt you, damage you!* But the hero ignored the advice of the God in his soul.
Ares saw the futility of fighting Hercules verbally, and for a second he wondered if exposing him to his very worst memories would shock his baby brother into setting him free. As soon as he thought, even vaguely, about those memories they rushed to the fore to be recognised and catalogued by Hercules.
And the hero witnessed one of Ares' worst memories first hand, as if it were happening to him.
The God of War had gone to Zeus to beg him for help in stopping the Trojan war. He had tried to break up the combatants, single handedly, and Godly and mortal warriors had beat him. Injured him greatly, and one of the worst had been Hercules himself, crazed by the battle he had cut deep into Ares' flesh. Hercules could feel those wounds as his own. In fact they were becoming his own hurts, memories.
And Zeus had turned on him too. Just because he dared to decry their glorious petty squabble as just that.
"Look, why of all the Gods on Olympus should I help you? You're the ugliest of all my children, you are by far the stupidest God in the heavens. All you want is War, War, War..." Ares had tried to plead his case.
"But I want to stop this so called war. It's a slaughter, no one will win, an entire city will be destroyed ,and a few of our own States will collapse too with the loss of men and revenues."
"Don't interrupt me!" And Zeus had physically punished Ares. The memory of the flames on his skin was as fresh as the moment they had burned him. And Hercules felt every blow and beat of those flames right along with him. "You are just as ugly, as foul, as that whore, your mother! If I could change one moment in time, I'd go back and rip out her cunt, with my seed still in her. No one would bread from that pustulant, festering cancer. No more Hera, no more you!" And Zeus had 'winked' out, leaving Ares knowing yet again how much he was hated, by his father, by all the Gods, the mortals, every one.
Little wonder he plotted their downfall so often. A God's lifetime's desire for revenge filled Hercules, then he realised it wasn't Ares' desire for revenge, it was his!
All he felt from his brother was his humiliation that Hercules now knew what their father thought of him. Feeling Ares' pain, he drew his brother even closer to his innermost being and wept for him, eventually Ares and Hercules drifted apart and Ares was still in his brother's arms. This time, physically.
Hercules looked at the dark head, bowed in misery before him, and vowed that no one would ever again hurt his brother the way their father had. All those stories Zeus had ever told him, about Ares' nature and deeds, he now knew which were true and which were lies. So many of them were lies, such hideous lies. He was almost tempted to ask why Zeus hated Ares so much, but as he thought the question the answer filled his mind. Zeus feared his son, the most powerful of the Gods on an individual basis, feared his son would do to him what he had done to his father.
"But he has been good to you too, worried about you. Cheered you on in your fight with Vraxis or whatever his damn name was." Hercules had two distinct pictures of Zeus in his mind now. The loving father and the hateful father, which one was the real one, which one was Ares' father, which his?
"And I never know which one will greet me." Ares observed, answering Hercules' unspoken question and observation. "Oh, shit, you never spoke!" Ares looked into Hercules' eyes, expecting to find revulsion, what he did find was understanding.
"The link's getting stronger, isn't it?" The hero hated stating the obvious, but, sometimes it was called for.
"Worse, I think it might be becoming permanent. I've never had a link with anyone, God or mortal, that was this strong, never." Ares closed his eyes, tilted his head back and shot to his feet when he felt warm, gentle lips on his cheek. "What did you do that for?"
"You needed to be close to someone, and that someone looks like it'll be me. And Ares, in case you didn't notice, I don't mind." Hercules could see the struggle in Ares' soul and in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, I just wanted you to taste mortal food as I taste it. Not expose you to the horrors of War." Ares sat back down, and slowly, very slowly, he took Hercules' hand once more. Hercules finally saw the sweet man Xena had tried to convince him actually lived, lost in Ares' soul. Only, now, with Hercules' soul linked to his, Ares would never be able to hide that gentle nature from him ever again. He wondered how Ares could survive as the God of War, and still have even a shred of that sweet nature remain intact, let alone all that he could now see of it.
Hercules lifted their joined hands to his lips and kissed them, causing Ares to try to pull himself free of the hero's grasp.
"Sorry, you take your time, I'll be there, a thought away." Hercules lowered their hands to lie on top of Ares' thigh, slowly Ares lowered his head until they sat together, the War God's head resting comfortably on his brother's shoulder.
"Do you still want something to eat?" Ares finally asked.
"Yeah." Hercules agreed, getting up he crossed back to the table that had been moved in their earlier joining, repositioning it to within easy reach, he passed some wine to Ares and retook his former position as his brother's support, both physical and emotional. They stared quietly into the flames of the kitchen fire until Hercules saw, at the exact same moment as Ares, the image of Hephaestus looking back at them from the hearth fire.
"Heph looks a bit worried, doesn't he?" Hercules observed of the Fire God's face.
"I think he was born worried, but with his life, I guess he has call to be." Ares smiled at the Fire God and slowly Hephaestus smiled back. It was also obvious that he was shocked and surprised at finding them sitting like that, Ares snuggled into Hercules' side, resting his head on his shoulder. "Do you think I should sit up then?" he asked his mortal brother.
"No, you're not heavy, you could never be heavy to me, you're my brother, the other half of me now." Hercules realised something, that Hephaestus could hear them, or read their lips. "Can he hear us?"
"Probably, the flame tells him everything. Hi Hephy, is Dite okay?" Ares asked in a quiet conversational tone.
Hephaestus nodded slowly and turned his head to speak to someone, lifting his good arm he drew his wife to him. Aphrodite looked into the flames and saw her brothers sitting there, then she knew what had happened, and she smiled. Such delight for them, for their new closeness, she whispered something to Hephaestus and the flames slowly danced out her message.
Her words were written before the God and Demi-God in flames.
"Are you lovers?" She looked so hopeful that Hercules felt Ares' sadness at having to disappoint her, he also felt so cold as Ares sat up, away from his comfortable perch.
"No Dite, we aren't lovers. Just brothers ..." He was interrupted by Hercules.
"Just brothers who have shared as deep as any brother could. It's all right Dite, I truly understand Ares now. Everything you ever tried to explain to me and so very much more." Hercules smiled at Ares, not their sister.
Ares saw Dite grin when Hephaestus told her what Hercules had said, Hercules saw it through Ares' eyes too, but it didn't distract him from the vision before him. Ares, smiling, relaxed and happy in the firelight, and right there beside him. It was all the hero could do to keep his hands to himself.
Ares felt the effort of will Hercules was imposing over himself, it was little wonder that his mortal brother could take the weight of knowing War, his mental reserves of strength were phenomenal. And all directed to his protection.
A dark shadow flickered over the flames as Zeus arrived at Hephaestus' forge. Obviously invited to see his sons alive and together, safe. The King of the Gods looked into the flames in Hephaestus' forge and saw the same thing Aphrodite had, and more besides.
He saw the hatred in Hercules' eyes, and the sorrow in Ares' and the connection between them. He saw that Hercules now knew the truth about his damaged relationship with Ares.
Zeus could exert a measure of control over every aspect of the powers of all other Gods. It was basically his job to control them in their excesses, it had also been his delight to twist Ares' powers into keeping his dark son isolated and too weak to move against him. He could twist the flames to send his message to Hercules and Ares.
"Hercules, I keep trying to tell you, there are more colours in life than black and white. Don't believe everything Ares tells you about me." And that was Zeus' biggest mistake. He could see it, only it was now too late to recall his words unseen.
"Why you ..." Before Hercules could give vent to the rage in him, and have it directed at the root cause of his life's miseries, and Ares' miseries, Ares covered his lips with gentle fingers and made shushing noises at him.
"Don't. He can see we are close, closer than he ever wanted us to be, he'll never love me and none of your words and grief will ever make it so. I know this, have always known it, just accept it, please?" Ares had eyes for no one else but his brother, his Hercules.
"Then he doesn't know what he is missing." Hercules took his brother into his arms once more. This time Ares didn't struggle or protest as Hercules kissed him, lightly, on his forehead. A non sexual gesture, that spoke to Aphrodite of so much more than brotherly affection. It spoke to Zeus too, of all he had lost by pushing his dark son away only to then pull him close. If he had been consistent, he now saw, he would have had such a loving son. A son who would have defended him, not plotted against him.
In Hephaestus' forge the Fire God and the Love Goddess heard his whispered question.
"What have I done?" And it was Aphrodite who told him.
"Lost them both pops, you've gone and lost them both." She didn't smile, didn't joke, she was as serious as she ever had been where defending Ares was concerned.
"But can I win them back?" He asked his flighty daughter, hoping against hope to hear the answer he longed for.
"Probably not, Ares no longer needs you. He's found someone that will accept him, just as he is, and has joined him heart and soul to his being. That which you denied him all his life is now his, and Hercules' and you know how slow Herc is to forgive." Dite pulled no punches, and Zeus asked no quarter. He just looked like a very old God all of a sudden.
"But I love them both, will they come back?" He looked at his daughter and asked the question of his crippled, unacknowledged son.
Hephaestus looked back into the flames and saw Ares was still watching the flames while Hercules was still watching Ares, stroking the side of his brother's neck.
He twisted the flames into his father's question, and waited for the answer.
Ares' fire whispered voice was clear to him, and he knew even Zeus couldn't help but hear the reply.
"This world is in chaos, there's no sitting War God controlling the passions, their Ares is alive, but mortal. Been there, done that, hated it! I want to try and put things to rights before we come home. As soon as this world got a hold of me, it began shovelling it's War passions on to me too. I still have control over our world and now this one too. Herc has been helping me, grounding me, letting me bleed off the passions and power through him. This world is about to rip itself apart, I can't leave it like this, after all, I don't know what repercussions that would have for us and our world. Oh, and it's divergent not parallel." Ares smiled and turned to listen to something Hephaestus only just heard from Hercules.
"You do realise that they'll think we're burning up all those passions in bed, given how close we are now?" The hero half brother to the Gods grinned quite wickedly at Ares' surprised expression.
"Deviant!" Ares scolded.
"Prude!" Hercules admonished.
Hephaestus controlled the flames one more time.
"Children behave. Come home to us, in one piece as soon as you can. Miss you, both."
Ares gifted him with a rare, genuine smile, full of warmth and love for his brother. Not the same as the love he could see might grow between Ares and Hercules, but a centuries old affection that had often warmed him in the cold of the night, when he had thought himself unlovable.
Hercules nodded and looked as contrite as he could. Which was not very. But as a consolation he also looked as if he would bring their Ares home, alive, well and his - if at all humanly possible. Hephaestus suddenly felt sorry for his beautiful dark brother. The odds were definitely not in his favour.
"We'll be home, as soon as we can. But not without setting things to rights here first." Ares finally confirmed. Zeus could hear his dark son's voice, had infact heard every word of his answer to Hephaestus and looked into his son's strained face, his tired eyes.
"Ares, my son, come home to us. I do love you!" Zeus' flames spelled out their message and he and Hephaestus both heard Ares' reply.
"And I don't believe you." Ares stirred the fire and broke the connection.
"At least they're both safe and well." Hephaestus pointed out, trying to break the growing tension.
"True." Zeus agreed. "But what have I done to Ares? What has he done to Hercules?"
"Everything and nothing. In that order." It was the Goddess of Love that spoke. She had seen Zeus with both her missing brothers a lot more than her Hephaestus had, and was finally in a position to let Zeus know what she thought about his treatment of Ares, and of Hercules. "You isolated your strongest son in favour of your weakest son. Hey, I was actually there when you had a go at Ar over the whole Trojan War shit, what you did then lost him forever. And, I kind of think that if I were to dig deep enough, I'd discover you were the one who sicced Cowface onto Herc's family to isolate Hera, and Ares, even more!" She had been bluffing until Zeus blushed.
Zeus and Aphrodite looked at each other, finally Aphrodite broke the silence.
"Daddy Zee, you make me sick!" She turned her back on him and refused to look at him.
Hephaestus looked at his wife's back and his father's face.
"She has a point Zeus."
"But how do I put things right?"
"I don't think you can. There are no quick fixes for broken hearts, and I don't think you'd ever find all the pieces of Ares' heart, even if you spent the next thousand years looking for them" Hephaestus put a protective arm around his beautiful wife and lead her away from the charged atmosphere around his forge.
"Where would I even begin to look?" Zeus asked the empty flames and left, a single tear on his check, for the sweet boy who might have been a sweet man had Zeus treated him with the love he deserved and craved ... and until he had found his own path to his brothers heart, had never known.
"Hera, love, Ares is safe ..." Zeus entered his wife's bedchamber, to tell her only good things of her son, only loving things, and saw he was offering too little, too late, with her too. And it left him wondering what could possibly be enough?
Back in the other world's Ares' castle, Ares and Hercules sat eating, slowly, drinking more of the strong fruit juice Ares had made earlier. Almost as if trying to take a very bad taste away that had little to do with the putrid taste of mortal food.
"What will Zeus do when we get back?" Hercules quizzed is brother.
"Follow me around for a year or maybe two, until I pretend I've forgiven him and he's happy to let it all slide for a little while. It's an age old routine, but I think this time he'll follow you around instead." Ares grinned at the feeling of horror that flooded through Hercules at the idea of Zeus stalking him for months on end.
"Oh joy!" Hercules dead paned.
Ares giggled, a light, young sound that brought a flood of joy to Hercules' heart.
After their meal Ares began to wonder exactly how much like his castle this one was. He pulled Hercules to his feet and urged him to follow him.
"But where are we going?" Hercules asked his brother who was now bouncing with anticipation.
"The main down stairs bathroom. It'll be disused now, come on let's go see if there is one." Ares pulled Hercules along behind him, like a reluctant mule teamed to a chariot with an Arabian stallion, all the hero could do was follow.
"Why would they not be using a bathroom?" Hercules was walking more in step with Ares, curiosity always won out in the end with the hero.
"Because it can only be made functional by a God, and no one here has that certain quality anymore." Ares headed for an ornate door and reached out for a handle that did not appear to be there until he turned it. "Looks promising!" He all but giggled.
Once through the door, lights sprang into being, water started rushing through pipes, flushing a stagnant latrine system, in a mater of moments though, the stale stagnant air had been washed away. Hercules looked around, the running water suddenly reminding him he had not relieved himself for hours.
"Wait a moment Ares." Hercules turned to the now functional latrines, so typical of Greek styling, you could hold a conference on that latrine.
"I'll let you into another secret, shall I?" Ares was laughing, inside his own mind and soul, and Hercules could feel it.
"What secret would that be?" Hercules was working the fastenings of his pants, getting quite desperate to relieve the pressure in his bladder.
"We Gods gotta pee too. We eat, we drink we gotta get rid just like mortals. Here, allow me?" And Ares released the fastenings on his own pants and Hercules'. Standing at either end of a row of six seats the God and his brother knew great relief.
"Damn, I needed that!" Hercules laughed, of all the things in life that he ever thought he'd be delighted to share with Ares something as trivial as a pee just didn't make that list.
"I know, I can feel it. Doesn't feel that way to a God. We can do it this way or just 'pop out' and leave it behind. I remember I did that once when dad had been really 'shity' to me. He beat me, I'd been injured in a war and was being looked after by mom when he got caught in one of his many fuck fests with a mortal woman. Way before your mom. And mom was only there to find out because she was worried about me. Anyway, I knew I was in for it, so I ate every thing I could think of to eat. I made meals no one had ever heard of before. Ate for an entire day! Can you imagine how stuffed my system was?" Ares was laughing so hard he could hardly speak, but Hercules didn't mind, he could hear the story in his own mind, feel it in his body as if it were him. "So when he beat me and then dismissed me I bugged out and left all that waste behind me. I didn't go back to Olympus for a month!"
Ares 'lost' his clothes and then 'lost' Hercules' clothes too.
"This way!" Ares walked over to the sunken bath where the water was warm, deep and a mass of bubbles. Ares walked into the bath, leading his brother by the hand.
"Oh, bliss!" The hero called out as he sank into the welcome luxury.
"So what did dad do after you got back?" Hercules sat shoulder to shoulder while his brother finished his story.
"Nothing, I took him a gift, a sweet mortal girl I bought in a slave market. And since I wasn't in Greece at the time, I didn't feel like arguing their local customs. Especially when I was low on power. Lack of believers in me there. So he was distracted and let me off. Mom 'fried' my ass with lightening bolts she'd stolen from dad's armoury." Ares laughed, less amused than before, more bitter.
"Well, if she had defended you from dad you'd not have had to bribe him with women. It's not your fault." And they fell quiet, a pleasant, relaxed quiet.
Until company arrived in the room, company in the shape of that world's mortal Ares.
"So, I was right. I thought I'd find you in here." He smiled at the Godly Ares and his Hercules before he leaned out the door and called in his own brother, his lover. "Herc, the big bathroom. Ares here has got it working!" The delight in the light, cheerful voice brought a smile to the already in place Hercules' face, but he felt the echo of Ares' awareness of the underlying sorrow from his link with his own Godly brother.
"Please, do join us. After all this is your bathroom, I just wondered if you had one too, I couldn't resist a soak!" Ares moved him and Hercules to one side and made room for the other two to join them.
That world's Hercules stood naked and looked around himself, never having seen it actually working before. Never actually having been able to get into that room before.
"Wow, nice room." He slipped into the warm, welcoming water and slipped his arms around his lover's body.
"So Ares, what do you want to know about our sorry assed world? Is it much like yours?" The mortal Ares pulled no punches, much as Godly Ares wouldn't either.
"What happened? How did you lose your sword? Why have you never tried to get it back?" Ares sat forward and looked into the mortals eyes, gauging what he saw there. Then he looked to his own brother, suddenly aware they were not in actual physical contact yet the link was still working, the flow of anger and passion was still flowing through him and into Hercules, ebbing back and forward until it was worn away.
Mortal Ares took a strained breath and calmed himself. A demon seemed to haunt his eyes.
"So much has happened Ares, too much. I had a big fight with Hades. I can't even remember why, or what it was about. Nothing. But he allowed a dead king, Sisyphus, to steal my sword. I approached Hercules for help. No one was able to control their anger." He noticed the Godly Ares sharing a look with his own Hercules. "Did that happen to you too?"
"Yeah, not one of my favourite memories. But I had an ex-follower I could go to, her name is Xena, she seems to be where our worlds diverge. So what happened to your sword?"
"Hercu .." Mortal Ares was interrupted by his brother. All the other two saw was the tightening of their clenched hands holding on to each other. What ever it was it was life changing.
"I found his sword. I held it before him. I laughed in his face, taunting him with the sword, then I threw it in the sea. Just like I did with everything I thought a God shouldn't have." He paused for breath and saw his counter part nod his agreement. "You do these blindingly stupid things too?" He asked their visitor.
"Yes, but 'blindingly stupid' isn't that a bit strong?" Hercules was truly puzzled, more so when their host Hercules burst out in such angry, bitter laughter.
"You didn't think Ares should have the Cronos stone, so you threw it to Poseidon instead, and he used it. Used it to do such horrible things. And blamed Ares for all the atrocities he committed. And I believed each and every lie. I bought them, hook, line and sinker. So when my brother came, begging me to help him, help him calm the world, I laughed in his face. Then I found his sword, and I tormented him with it before I threw that too to Poseidon. Of all the actions I bitterly regret, that one continues to haunt me. I rob the world of a War God who knew his duty, and did his duty. And much worse, I actually had part of picking his replacement. May history forgive me, should anyone remain alive to write it." Hercules broke down in silent tears, remembering all the pain and suffering his actions had cost. Both to their whole world and the world of their family.
"Hush, lover, it's over, it's done with an' we just gotta go on. Let it eat at you and it'll break us up eventually. You gotta forgive yourself eventually. If not for your sake, then for mine." Mortal Ares was holding his lover, their passion and love for each other written large in their eyes.
"I know, but until I can put it right, I can't forgive myself." Hercules held his lover so close they almost became one person. "And at such a price, I can't ever repay that price!"
They cried some more, but this was tears of mourning.
The God looked at his Demi-God brother, and knew that they both knew that that price was something, or rather someone irreplaceable.
"Can we, would you let us help?" Ares was so totally out of practice asking to assist another, Hercules could feel that, but he did genuinely want to help his twin brother from this world they were trapped on. His Ares desperately wanted to get home to safeguard their world too.
Hercules and his mortal lover released their grasp on each other. Ares sat beside his lover once more, looking at him with all the love he could ever feel for another being shining from him. It didn't take God senses to see it.
"After Ares was cast out, he was permitted to keep this castle. It's out of the way and it's not really a heavily populated area. Anyway I talked Zeus into giving Athena the sword. She had wanted it all her life, or rather all Ares' life. But she simply didn't understand, did she?" He looked at their counterparts and saw confusion in his counterparts eyes, but such sad understanding in the Godly Ares' eyes. "And as the madness grew I couldn't control my self, I grew as wild and as mad as the rest of the mortal world. And all that time of madness Ares was confined to this castle. Knowing what was going on and unable to do anything about it." He took a deep breath before continuing. "Then about six maybe eight months into the madness, I went to see, we, me and Iolaus went to see Nemesis. Why that day? Why then, I swear I will never really know. But when we got there Evander... " The tears blinded Hercules, his hands clenched over Ares' hands.
"Sh, sh, you don't need to say any more." Ares tried to get his beloved to stop talking, to stop hurting himself, torturing himself with these images. But it was to no avail.
"Ares, I must, I must, he has to understand. Has to hear it from me. It might mean nothing to him, to either of them. But to me it means the world." He looked away from the pain in his lovers face. "Ares had had a son by Nemesis, more God than Demi-God. When I walked into their house that day, I found, we, me and Iolaus found Evander finishing off Nemesis. Killing her, then he, when he was finished with his mother, he turned on Iolaus. He was burning his flesh from his neck. Killing my best friend. He had killed my lover, my first lover, he killed her, he was killing my best friend, my first friend. I couldn't stand it. The thought of losing Nemesis, of losing Iolaus. I lost control. Ares, forgive me, but I took Evander's life in exchange for Iolaus' life. I took Evander by the neck, and I squeezed and squeezed. Slowly one by one I felt those little frail bones go pop, pop, pop, and then he was dead and the madness still remained. I killed the child I had kept away from his father, because he couldn't trust, no, I couldn't trust his father. And he could trust me?" Hercules stopped talking and just looked into the pit of his own despair.
His lover's touch was brushed from his arm.
His own arms enclosed him. His own lips brushed a single kiss over his temple.
"Oh fuck!" Hercules could think of no other comfort to offer. This was a pain beyond all platitudes. All his easy comforts from previous encounters with grief had left him with nothing he could say, no panacea for this hurt. Just his desire to comfort.
"It was the madness Hercules. Not you, not me, not your Ares. If anyone is to blame it is Zeus and Athena. Focus on them."
The sounds of his own voice offering comfort was too much, and that world's Hercules finally broke down. Great heaving, wracking sobs tore through him as if his soul would break. And he finally faced all the grief in his heart and let it wash out of him until there was nothing left.
Ares and Ares just sat and looked at each other and their brothers. Unable to offer any greater comfort than Hercules could offer Hercules. To know that he understood his own grief, and could forgive it. In the light of his own closely controlled passions Hercules could find it in his heart to forgive Hercules the death of Evander.
Still Ares and Ares sat and watched.
Finally, slowly, that world's Hercules came out of his despair and grief and looked first into his own eyes then into his lover's eye. What he found there was way beyond forgiveness, it was understanding, acceptance, love.
They sat there, lost in a loving embrace until mortal Ares' stomach rumbled. The least romantic sound on the face of any world. They laughed and once the tension was broken, it would never return to haunt them. It was also at that point Godly Ares and his brother realised just how thin and frail mortal Ares was.
"What's wrong Ares? Are you ill?" Hercules' asked his twin's lover. Then groaned as the memory of how mortal food tasted to his Ares. "Does mortal food still taste putrid to you?" He asked gently. Ares blushed and nodded. "Well, it's a good job I got my Ares with me!" He turned to the man he was growing to love more and more with each new revelation of his soul and smiled, a warm puppy dog smile, and his Ares gave in with out even a fight.
"Of course I'll feed him, no problem. Here!" And he extended his powers to supply his own counterpart with the first actually edible food he had had in years. Ares fell on the tray like the starving man he was.
"Is that why you wouldn't eat unless I forced you? You let me bully you into eating when it tasted, what did he say? Putrid?" His Hercules was almost cross, but not quite.
Ares rapidly cleared his mouth before he tried to speak.
"And what could you do about it? Call Strife every meal time for the last four years? Could you imagine the trouble that would get him into. I couldn't put him in added danger, it's bad enough he's my son, I couldn't put him at an even greater risk."
"Whoa, now that is one really major divergence. Strife is your son. Strife , son of Eris, Strife? He's your son?" Godly Ares watched as his twin slowly nodded. "Not in my world he isn't. In my world, in my world my nephew is dead. A rogue Goddess named Callisto killed him. In my temple. He died in my arms."
"And you miss him? Son or no son, you still miss him." The mortal Ares pointed out, smiling. "So who is his father then?"
"I've no idea." The Godly Ares replied.
"Then our worlds might be closer than you think then?"
"Perhaps, but, I hope they aren't that close. I've grieved for my nephew, still do. I don't think I could grieve for a son, not without knowing him as my son in life."
"And I never knew Evander as a son in life. I have never been able to get Hercules to understand that that is how I see things. Nemesis was my father's aunt. Evander might have been her child, to me that makes him my third cousin. I had no relationship with him outside that one."
"But I do. And I do grieve for him, like he was my son. But faced with that choice. I sure as shit stinks don't know which choice I'd make. My son or my brother. I don't fault your choice, I'd never fault your choice, I just hope I never have to face it myself." When the Godly Ares fell silent, nothing more was said for quite some time, mortal Ares continued to eat his meal, his Hercules by his side, their grieving finally allowed to begin for Evander.
All the while the other Hercules was strengthening his link to his God, his Ares. He filled that link with as much love and understanding as he could muster that it had an affect on Godly Ares. It embarrassed him and he blushed.
"Sorry." His not so sorry brother whispered, right before he sneaked another kiss on to his cheek..
Once the mortal Ares finished eating, he and his Hercules retired for the night. The big meal, on top of the emotionally draining conversation, on top of the physically draining loving they had shared earlier, it was little wonder he was exhausted. His brother too was wilting with his own fatigue.
That left the Godly Ares and his brother walking back to the room they had been sharing earlier. It also faced Godly Ares with a dilemma he simply wouldn't have believed possible just three days before.
He wanted to sleep in Hercules' safe embrace, but he didn't want to give his brother any signals that he was ready for a sexual relationship with him, if he ever would be? He could also feel the waves of exhaustion washing over him from Hercules. They were joined, soul deep, and he knew his mortal brother was taking a lions share of the extra weight of the war passions this world was feeding him. They both desperately craved the release sleep gave them.
It had been so many centuries since Ares had last worn anything to sleep in, and he couldn't really see Hercules as a night-shirt and sleeping cap type of hero. The whole idea reduced him to helpless giggles.
"Spill it, what's so funny?" Hercules asked, not really angry with him, and enjoying the feel of his Godly brother's realisation of his teasing.
"You, in a night shirt with a sleeping cap on!" Between bouts of near hysterical giggling he managed to let Hercules see the same inner image he had before his minds eye.
He couldn't help it, Hercules laughed too.
"And what about you in that get up?" The image only slightly delayed by the demi-Gods need to think out the process step by step.
Ares bit his hand in an attempt to not wake the whole of Greece with his laughter. Eventually the still hysterical God directed them back to their room.
"You are a wicked, wicked hero!" Ares admonished. Hercules just grinned at him and began to strip off his clothes ready to retire for the night.
Ares watched him, nervously, unsure of what he wanted to do, what he should do. He had never been this aware of another living creatures every movement before. He slowly became aware that he was licking his own blood from his much bitten hand, just as Hercules registered the taste of it as a memory in his own mouth. Hercules took the damaged hand and slowly licked it clean. He stood naked before his dark brother and ran his tongue all over the neat teeth marks that now adorned the back of Ares' hand. Ares stood frozen, like a startled Hind faced with the sudden eruption of a hunter into his range.
Hercules could feel the blood of a God trickling down his throat. Not just any God but his God, his private God. This aspect of Ares that no one would ever see, no one but him. His alone.
He turned the hand he held over and licked the palm, tracing each finger in turn, one by one. Sucking, almost mewling, as he took each strong, slender finger tip into his mouth, nipping the finger pads with his sharp front teeth. Feeling the shuddering vibrations coursing through his confused, lost brother.
"I want you Ares, don't ever think that I don't. The need for you burns in my soul. You know it does." Hercules kissed the palm of Ares' hand one more time, slowly closing those sensuous fingers around the kiss, that promise of passion to come.
"I ... I know." Ares whispered, unable to look away from Hercules' face. "But I can't..." He was interrupted.
"I can wait." Hercules calmly promised him and let his captive hand fall. Stepping away he continued to remove his clothes, not looking once at Ares but fully aware that his brother was watching his every movement.
Once he was disrobed he turned once more to face Ares, letting him see the desire he felt. Letting him see the nature of his arousal, the passion his body craved, his soul hungered for.
"Clothe me?!" He asked of his God, an image of a long silk sleeping shirt in his love clouded mind. Then suddenly the cool swish of the finest Chin silk kissing his over heated skin filled his awareness. He looked down and saw an ocean of bronze silk covering him to his feet, when he looked up Ares was removing his boots.
That held the hero spell bound, his brother was undressing, as a mortal would, piece by piece that body was being revealed for his delight. Boots off his brother stood once more and dropped his sword belt to the floor. Then Ares reached out and slowly unlaced his own pants. Slipping those leather tongs apart one by one. Easing his leather pants over his slim hips. Ares had to turn slightly as he lifted one leg out of the crumpled puddle of leather at his feet, then the other. Then he pealed back the first side of his leather vest, slipping his arm out, then he let it fall from his other arm. It too puddled on the floor, discarded. Finally he stood before Hercules, naked, his body quiescent yet radiating trust. Letting the mortal see his God for all he was.
"You are beautiful." Hercules whispered.
Ares blushed, like a virgin on her wedding night, that simple truth had such a profound effect on him.
"Thank you." He whispered. "You have a beautiful body, it reflects your nature, strong, dependable. Willing." Ares blushed once more. "Able." He whispered even lower, but Hercules heard him.
"Only for you, only ever for you now." Hercules reached out a hand and hesitated before he touched his brother's bare flesh. "May I?" He asked, his voice sounding so very calm, though Ares could feel the tension and passion in their link.
"If you wish." He replied, sounding as calm as Hercules, and the link denying that calmness just as much. There could be no secrets between them, not now, not ever again.
Hercules' warm hand cupped over the side of Ares' chest, his thumb brushed over a nipple, causing it to tense and pucker, as if reaching out to him. He let his hand fall, following the curve of Ares' tight belly muscles. Then suddenly rounding that open side to nestle in his lower back, pulling him towards his own clothed chest.
Standing there, hip to hip, chest to chest, face to face. Both breathing heavily, gasping out their tensions, neither too sure of the next move. Each amazed at the acceptance of that touch from the other.
"You might not be ready for me yet, but soon Ares, real soon, you will be." Hercules smiled at his dark, beautiful brother. Then Ares surprised him.
The War God leaned forward and took Hercules lips in, at first, a light kiss then, a soul deep kiss as the passions built and bounced between them. Those long, deadly fingers meshed in his hair and dragged sharp, manicured nails across his back. Then as suddenly as the kiss started, it ended. Ares was putting some distance between them, half an arms length, but it was enough.
"I gotta be sure Herc, I gotta be so sure. I could love you and I could destroy you!" Hercules understood Ares' confused words. That he could destroy anyone unlucky enough to be loved by War. That was so painfully obviously all Ares saw himself as.
"Ares the Defender, Ares the Peace Maker, Ares the Protector. All those old titles the people have forgotten, I remember and I invoke those aspects of you, as well as Ares the passionate God of War. You could never destroy me. I know all of you." And the hero smiled, a gentle loving smile. No hint of desire or sexual satisfaction was in that gesture gifted to the God of War, and that was his undoing.
"If you can love me, love me!" he cried out, like a lost child, a wandering soul.
"Ares!" Hercules said that name as if it was, in and of itself, the greatest benediction.
Ares removed the silk night shirt, up and over his brother's head, discarding it with the rest of their clothes. Leaving them both naked. Hercules toppled them onto the bed and began to explore his brother's body, inch by torturous inch. With lips and fingers and any other part of him he could get in physical touch with the glorious body beneath him.
As he stroked and kissed and tasted, so did Ares perform those self same acts of worship for him. He kissed, licked, touched, tasted. The feel of his mortal brother's body so close to his. The feel of hard, smooth muscle covering him like a blanket.
Suddenly Hercules dragged his nails up Ares' belly, through the mat of hair across his chest and over an over sensitive nipple, the War God hissed as he arched his body. Not sure if he was trying to escape that touch or make it harder, deeper, deep enough to mark him physically as Hercules' lover.
In retaliation he bit down on Hercules' neck, leaving the perfect impression of his teeth there for the world to see.
Hercules lowered his head to Ares' chest and bit down on the nipple he had just grazed with his nails. Not too hard, just hard enough to make his God squirm beneath his body. He moved to the other nipple and licked and bit that one too. He had never dreamed, ever, that his brother would be this willing a lover, this submissive of his desires. This generous with his trust. Or this beautiful when aroused.
He bit Ares' belly, big, wet, not too painful bite marks adorned that flat expanse of powerful muscle.
Finally he took the base of Ares' dick in his teeth and he growled, pretending to be some wild beast, though reassurance flowed throw the link from him to Ares and love flowed back, welcoming his loving games.
He licked all around the base of that hard shaft, then up the underside, until he reached the tip. It was a mark of trust when Ares didn't flinch as he forced the foreskin back with his teeth and licked the now exposed slit, slowly.
Ares' breathing was coming in gasps. The tensions in his body were building. Hercules could feel this as if it were his own body. And as if it were his own reactions he sought, he knew what Ares wanted, needed. To belong to someone, body and soul.
Hercules swallowed Ares' dick, as deep as he could and licked and sucked and teased and played. His fingers stroked and scratched, and tickled, and fondled. Never at rest. He worshipped that dark body with every ounce of passion he could.
And as Ares orgasmed, too strung out to last for long, he drank the seed as well as the blood of his God that night.
"We need oil, there is no way on this or any other world that I want your body to know pain from my touch." He whispered, once he had got his breath back. He had slid up that wonderful body to kiss him and let him taste his blood and his seed from him. To share that wondrous flavour that could only be Ares, God of Hercules' heart.
Oil appeared beside them in a shallow dish, already blood warm. Hercules smiled slyly at his own God's forethought. Coating his fingers in the warm oil he worked first one finger over his lovers' opening, slowly, letting Ares get used to the sure touch of he who loved him. As that first finger breached his body the knowledge slipped unbidden from the God to his brother, the knowledge that Ares had never let any one love him like this before. Where he had always taken he now gave, openly, freely, wholeheartedly.
Hercules was his first, his last, his all.
The hero almost rushed it in his delight and glory at that honour, and he almost broke off in his desire to protect his lover, lest he ever feel pain from his hand, or worse still revulsion at their actions.
"Love me!" Ares pleaded. It was all the bidding Hercules required.
A second finger slipped in. Stroking, slowly, lips kissing slowly, tongue licking the sweat from his brothers body, distracting him from any possible discomfort..
Hercules renewed the oil on his slick fingers and re-entered his brother's body, slowly finger fucking him. Then the third finger entered and Ares writhed on that bed, not sure if he wanted to run from these new sensations or throw himself onto those questing fingers.
Then Hercules found out that Gods have prostrates too. And Ares was too happy to care where he was, what they were doing, so long as Hercules just kept right on doing it.
The hero reluctantly withdrew his fingers, not wanting to hear the whimpers of loss that Ares made.
"Shh, my love, my Ares!" He whispered, barely coherent. And he oiled his own dick, ready to take Ares that last step. That last step that would make him his God, and he the God's own too.
Then he was in his lover. Sheathed in that perfect body.
"Oh, I love you! Never forget I love you!" And Hercules began to move. In, out, in, out. Slowly, surely, confidently. Totally aware through the link just what he was doing to Ares. He let his brother become familiar with the feel of his flesh slowly moving inside of him. He bathed in the love Ares felt for him, the sense of belonging, that for the first time in his long, long life, he felt he belonged, with somebody, to somebody.
The sudden ending of Ares' loneliness almost reduced to hero to tears. Almost? The tears fell anyway as he thrust in deeper, faster, harder. Giving all he was to Ares.
As he thrust one last time, triggering a second orgasm for Ares and his own at the same instant, he suddenly realised their bodies had timed it, through the link. They would enjoy perfect sex. Time after blissful time. Knowing exactly what his lover felt, every step of the way. He arched away as he came. A silent scream ripping through his throat, never to be heard, but Ares felt every note of it. It echoed through every fibre of his being.
Hercules collapsed on Ares' chest and slipped from his brother's body. Ares cried out at the loss.
"Perfect, you are so bloody perfect. Did I hurt you?" And even as he asked he knew the answer, he could feel every fibre of Ares' body as well as his every thought, as if they were his own. Ares hurt, but couldn't say either way if he felt pain or pleasure. Though he thought it was pleasure, he just didn't have enough terms of reference to make that choice.
"Why didn't you ever do this before?" Hercules wanted to hear the words from Ares' lips, to verify what he thought he felt from the God's soul.
"No one ever wanted to know War before. They wanted to rule War, to control War, to order War, never know me, not as me, for me..." Ares looked into Hercules' eyes and just let the feelings flow. The love, the joy, the need.
Hercules snuggled by his lover's side, holding him close, thinking his lover would need a blanket, and having his lover cover them, smiling at him, fulfilling his every desire.
"And no one will ever know you as I do!"
"Are you a jealous lover?" Ares asked, teasing.
"The worst!" Hercules confirmed as they both fell asleep.
The link got deeper and changed, the blood and seed of the God went deeper and changed. They changed.
Early morning woke them from a sound slumber. It woke them to the sounds of bird song and the castle coming to life again for a whole new day. It also brought with it a pair of healthy early morning erections.
"Would be a shame to waist such fine gifts!" Hercules whispered to Ares, stroking the dark God's erection, slowly, languidly. Teasing his lover into a higher level of arousal.
"Wouldn't it!" Ares agreed, and through their link he knew that this time Hercules wanted to be the one taken, not the taker.
Ares rolled them over, so he could lean over his brother, stroking his free left hand down over that bronzed torso that lay willing and ready before him. Lips followed hand as he trailed a path of lazy kisses all over his brother's body. Never tarrying in any one spot, always on the move.
"Oh, God, Ares, this is torture!" Hercules whispered again. Only to feel the answering puffs of hot breath as his brother laughed in response. Even that ethereal touch was almost too arousing, yet also, no where near enough.
It was obvious that the War God was not inclined to hurry.
Then again the hero was disinclined to rush him anyway.
Ares took Hercules' erection into his mouth and licked and sucked at the head for only a few seconds, just as he felt Hercules relax into the sensation he retreated and moved further up the body he was worshipping. Settling back to share slow open mouthed kisses with his brother. Tongues duelling for dominance, hands searching for a hold on the body before them. Each man moved, aligning their bodies for most friction.
Almost too soon Hercules was almost reduced to begging, Ares relented and slipped an already oiled finger into his brother's body. Still kissing, licking, giving little bites and sucks to Hercules' neck. He slipped in a second finger and kissed Hercules' tight shut eyes. As the butterfly touch of Ares' lips registered with the frantic hero's brain the eyes flew open and they lay there, frozen in that moment. So very aware of their link with each other, and what that link was.
Ares moved, wriggled his fingers still imbedded in Hercules' body. The hero groaned at the intense sensation and closed his eyes once more. Wriggling himself in desperation, trying to impale himself further.
A third finger entered the game and Hercules opened his eyes to watch the desire he felt fill his brother as it danced in his eyes. This time it was Ares who closed his eyes, unused to such close scrutiny, such acceptance and desire. No, the desire he could cope with, it was the love and trust he found hard to deal with.
The fingers were replaced with a well oiled, very erect penis. Then slowly that hard shaft entered Hercules. He begged through the link for Ares to give him more, faster, harder. All that was spoken out in the room was a quiet sigh that sounded almost like satisfied rest. Hercules had Ares in him, he could afford to rest, he was very satisfied. He had defeated War with War's own love.
Ares began to speed up his rhythmic thrusting. Drawing almost all the way out before ramming back into Hercules' body, into Hercules' mind and soul.
The hero dragged his nails down Ares' back, over and over, as if clawing his brother deeper into his body and soul, drawing blood in his uncontrolled passion.
The War God felt the salt of his own sweat sting in those raw wounds and knew he was alive, and awake, and not just dreaming that perfect moment.
Hercules came, bathing their bellies and chests in his warm, sticky seed, triggering Ares as those tight muscles contracted so powerfully around him. Ares threw his head back, eyes tight shut, mouth open in a silent scream, echoing the scream Hercules had kept within their link the night before.
Silent and spent, Ares collapsed onto Hercules' heaving and sticky chest. His brother just brought his arms up to enclose him and hold him there.
"That was powerful." The hero whispered, not in an attempt to keep things secret between them, just that he was exhausted for the moment. "Wonderful way to greet the dawn. Are you alright?" He asked, for forms sake if nothing else, the link told him his lover, his brother, was fine, just wrung out.
"Yeah, fine!" Ares finally gasped out and grinned lopsidedly at him. Then Ares shivered, the physical draining of their passionate love making leaving him a little cold in the early morning chill air.
Noticing this Hercules thought his brother needed a blanket over him, he thought Ares would look so good framed in a light coloured sheepskin, and just as the idea formed a large sheepskin shawled around Ares' shoulders.
"What the ..?" Ares asked, startled, then worried as Hercules froze beneath him. "Herc, you okay?" He asked, turning his brother's face to look at him and not what was currently on his back.
"What's happening Ares? I thought you needed something warm and there it was. But then, you were surprised so it wasn't you who created it. Is there another God in here with us? Watching us?" Hercules looked at his brother as he extended his power looking for another God. Then he saw the smile that burst open on Ares' face making his dark brother look so very young indeed.
"The only Gods in this room Herc, are you and me! You thought it, you did it. Now, isn't that strange. I've never heard of such a thing before. You have neither been awarded an emblem of Godhood, eaten Ambrosia nor suddenly acquired several million believers all at once. But here you are, a God." Ares rolled to one side, taking his sheepskin with him. This time Hercules shivered at the sudden absence of his brother's warmth. Ares shuffled some of the sheepskin over his brother too.
"But I don't want to be a God. What sort of a God am I?" Hercules looked at Ares, square in the eyes and was surprised to see them dance with such mirth.
"A very, sexually satisfied one?" His lover/brother suggested, grinning.
"Well, that's true, certainly. But how, why, when, what of? I still need answers." Hercules could feel the panic rising, so could Ares.
"Let's look at this logically. One, we were fighting Vraxis or whomever it was. Two, said Vraxis exploded and we ended up here. Three, there is no sitting War God taking in this world's passions. Four, this world dumped on me big style. Five, we came here to try find out what this world's Ares was doing. Six, we linked too deeply when I tried to show you how mortal food tastes." Ares was interrupted.
"And Seven, we made love last night, linked. I licked your blood, your ... " Hercules didn't finish his sentence. He and Ares just lay there, side by side and realised the truth. Hercules had ingested his God's blood, his seed, knew his soul and woke up a God himself.
"I'm a War God, aren't I?" Hercules' voice sounded so strained that it tore at Ares' soul to realise that all his brother had said to him the night before had been nothing more than empty mortal words. He didn't want to know War, he had just wanted to use him, and had succeeded. Worse yet, he had let him, believed him, had even been a willing participant in his own destruction.
For his part Hercules felt Ares' heart begin to break and felt the pain of it flood him.
"No, I didn't lie, I do love you, want to know you, I just don't ever want to be a God, ever again. Immortal I could handle, being a God just isn't for me. Been there, done that, gave it up, remember?"
"Yeah." Ares' voice was little more than a whisper.
"If you need me to be a God, a War God of all things, then that is what I'll be, but once we get home I'll have dad remove the God powers again. So what's the first order of the day for a newly formed War God?" Hercules tried desperately to reclaim the warmth on the intimate sharing of their feelings that they had had, before his sudden outburst about Godhood.
Ares rolled away from him, still hurting in rejection. As he rolled to his feet he cleaned himself and got dressed before he turned to look at his brother, still snuggled under the sheepskin blanket.
"I'll bet dad will just fall over himself to separate you from me. Like he's always doing. That'll be no bother, till then I'll try and keep my disgusting feelings and nature to myself, okay?" It was such a pain-filled, bitter offer.
Hercules realised he had hurt Ares so profoundly, so close to his nature and his heart that platitudes would never begin to bridge the gap. Where words failed he had to rely on thoughts and feelings. Kneeling up on the bed, letting the sheepskin fall away from his muscular frame Hercules stretched up towards his brother, pushing out all his thoughts and feelings at him.
Ares was stunned, he couldn't move, Hercules was filling their link with such thoroughly erotic images that they robbed him of coherent thought and speech.
Images of them entwined in an embrace that Ares knew was wishful thinking, he had never held Hercules in such a fashion. Yet! Of them kissing, what it felt like to be kissed by War. What it had felt like to be the first to love War, to take him as no other ever had or ever would. Filling the link with a rage, worthy of Ares himself, at the idea of anyone, male or female, ever lying with his God, the other side of his balance. And that lead onto a new harsher rage, filled with bitterness and loathing as an image of their father came to Hercules' inner eye, and all that their father had allowed to happen to Ares, all the beatings and mistreatment. All the lies and hate that Ares had grown to think were all he deserved.
Ares knew that no one would ever be allowed to treat him like that again. Ever. He was Hercules' charge now, whether he wanted to be or not.
"Hercules the Defender, Hercules the Peace Maker, Hercules the Protector. All my old titles, all my old tasks. No one ever asks these things of me these days." Ares offered that compromise to his brother, his desperation not to lose what they now had causing his voice to sound thick and unused.
"Two sides of the same coin?" Hercules asked, then shook his head. "No, two beats of the same heart. I do love you, you know?" Hercules stood and cleaned and dressed himself. Showing such ease with his powers, this time he had not been offered Godhood, but if it was the required coin he had to pay to protect his lover, then he'd pay the price, as willingly as he could.
Ares just stood there, unable to look away, unable to fully believe anyone could love him that much, to willingly pay that sort of a price to be with him. After all, no one ever had before.
"Defend me, protect me, make peace with me?" Ares whispered, knowing how sexy his lover found that dark, honeyed tone.
"Just as soon as I finish making love to you!" Hercules took Ares into his arms, knowing full well he had finally defeated all of Ares' doubts, for that moment at least.
He took his brother's lips in a soul deep kiss, letting all his promises sink into Ares' very being.
Then his stomach rumbled.
Then Ares laughed, just before his own stomach rumbled in sympathy.
"Time to face the music and the other mortals in this castle. Time to plan our campaign and get this Ares' Godhood and sword back for him." Ares held Hercules' hand a little longer before he drew them both to the door, suddenly knowing they no longer needed to be in physical contact, they had a deeper link letting them balance the passions out between them. Yet, each wanted to be in physical contact.
"They're going to guess we're lovers, you realise. Especially if we sit holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes." Hercules turned Ares back towards him, just so he could gaze lovingly into those dark eyes. An action that made the War God blush, and made Hercules laugh, teasing his lover even more.
"Let them guess. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm in love with you, are you?"
"No, but their nosy questions will get in the way of your great plotting out of our upcoming War." Hercules kissed his brother's fingers as they nestled in his then let them go. "Well, at least 'Dite will be pleased with us. That's one ally we'll have when we get home." He looked down the corridor and shrugged. "Let's go conquer this world's Olympus, put the world to rights and get home. I feel a long and interesting honeymoon coming on." And Hercules laughed at the startled expression on his beautiful Ares' face.
"Honeymoon!?" The God squeaked.
"Didn't I tell you? I'm possessive."
"No, you only admitted to being jealous." Ares replied, wondering what his life now had in store for him.
"That too." Hercules put a hand to the base of Ares' spine and pushed him towards the stairs and the kitchen below.
"Oh, well, just so I know." And Ares ran ahead, causing Hercules to run to catch up.
"What are you up to?" Hercules quizzed.
"You're both jealous and possessive, by your own admission. Well, I'm a little bit of an exhibitionist and quite definitely a flirt. I admit it! So, you see, this might be a very short but incredibly intense relationship."
Hercules just groaned at the images Ares was filling his mind with. Retaliating he put the flat of Ares' hand over the growing bulge in his pants.
"So you think I should share?" He asked.
"Don't you dare!" Ares squeezed slightly, causing his brother to wince a little but letting him know how he felt.
"Define short!" Hercules challenged.
"Hmm, a thousand years I'd guess."
"That's short to you!!" Hercules was stunned to realise it was indeed what Ares thought of as a short period of time, for Gods.
"It's not even as old as I am, and I am the baby of the family you know!"
"Not any more you're not!"
Ares and Hercules finally headed to the kitchen, in silence. Each filled with the implications of Hercules' last statement.
When they arrived in the kitchen all the other residents of the main building were already sitting around the table. All of them were eating, except for the mortal Ares, he was just sitting there, watching his companions eating.
"That reminds me!" Ares murmured at Hercules. "Breakfast for three, you won't be able to eat mortal food if you're taking your nature from me." And breakfast for three appeared before the eyes of those sitting eating. They were further surprised when Ares, their Ares, began to eat a hearty meal. The first one most of them had ever seen him eat. That world's Hercules just smiled his thanks to the new comers.
"Thanks. Ar slept so soundly last night. Not kept awake half the night by hunger. Not that he ever admitted that that was the cause of his sleepless nights." That world's hero put his spoon down and pulled his lover towards him. "Just to know he'll be well fed, you know? Protected in a way I never will be able to." He stopped talking, it was obvious to the two Gods that the previous nights emotional storms were still having the occasional repercussion.
"My pleasure." Ares told him, susinctly, then he guided his brother to the table where they both sat and ate.
Joxer looked at them and smiled. His lover, Iolaus, saw that smile and nudged him.
"Okay, spill it, what's amusing you this morning." Every eye went straight to Iolaus and Joxer. Iolaus blushed, Joxer's smile just grew wider.
"Well, I guess we have another girlie, girlie Ares on our hands. Guess who's Herc's lover ... again?" Joxer read the body language of the Gods in question and laughed, softly. Ares just looked embarrassed, which got Hercules' protective instincts going full steam.
A small lightening bolt left his hand and connected with Joxer's nose, it caused the warrior to jump to his feet in alarm and not a little pain. In his haste he pushed his seat back, causing it to fall over, tangling him in its legs and he fell on his backside with a loud 'ow' and a thump.
"Keep your opinions to yourself." Hercules muttered, only to be stopped from further action by his Ares.
"Herc, when have you ever known a Joxer, in all the worlds we've encountered him on, to actually have the sense to keep his mouth shut. It's a universal constant, Joxer's an idiot!" Ares grinned. "Quite often a correct idiot, but an idiot none the less. I am not and never will be 'girlie' for you, or anyone else, any more than you would be for me." He giggled, a high pitched sound their table companions were obviously familiar with, then he continued talking, only to finish his question in a husky yet 'prissy' voice. "I mean, can you see me wandering about Olympus declaring 'I'm a Lover not a Fighter!' Huh?" That the phrase held some meaning for Ares, the God of War, and his Hercules was somewhat obvious, they were laughing, almost hysterically. Tears streaming down their faces.
As Joxer got his chair upright and sat back down he was roundly slapped, backhandedly, across his chest by Iolaus. Ares and Hercules saw this and Ares just couldn't resist. So with a suitably soft, effeminate voice he quizzed the room in general, and his lover in particular.
"Where has all the Love gone!" And he faked a swoon into his Hercules' arms. Hercules was laughing so hard he almost dropped his brother.
"What are you two on about? I thought you were a mortal Hercules, why didn't you tell us you were a God?" True to his universal nature, Hercules didn't like the idea of being lied too, especially by himself.
"We encountered yet another world in which Ares was not the God of War but the God of Love." Hercules saw realisation dawn on the faces around him. "Instead of it being Aphrodite, as in our world, it was him. So who is senior Love God here?" He was changing the subject away from his Godhood. He regretted displaying his abilities like that so soon, he really didn't want to share his new found Godhood with anyone other than his Ares.
"Our deep link is changing him. He's a Demi-God after all, well was a Demi-God. He needs to be a God to take the strain with me." Ares said everything and nothing as he defended his Hercules' dignity.
"Aphrodite is senior Love Goddess here too. Her and our son, Cupid, share the duties." Ares the ex-God of War answered.
"Same for us." Ares God of War confirmed. "So what will we do now for your world? We have to get your sword back for you. Get the passions under strict control again."
"I don't even know what's going on with the Gods and the Goddesses on Olympus these days. My kids aren't allowed to visit me, and I'm not allowed to leave this castle and its grounds. Not that that stops Strife and Cupid, but I don't like them taking those chances." Ares looked to his lover and they sat a little closer, their worry about their collective children so plain to see.
"Well, I suppose I have to go to them then." Ares, the God of War, looked at his Hercules. "I can always be a lost God of Love, looking for help and assistance in getting myself sorted out and getting home. Hey, you could always be my Sovereign?" Ares laughed at the scowl that crossed Hercules face, especially when it deteriorated into a laughing grin.
"I don't think it'll work, I don't think I could be that 'intense' all the time."
"Not even to protect your God of Love? There I'll be, at the mercy of all these strange Gods, oh, well, I'll go alone then." Ares was wafting a hand around, sounding so effeminate that Hercules, the newest War God, laughed and found himself agreeing to go along with his lover.
"Not with out me you don't!" He snarled. When mortal Ares looked up in alarm, he reassured his mortal brother and his other self. "Just getting into character." He shrugged and smiled a little diffidently. His Ares giggled again. Hercules liked that sound, liked it so much infact he hoped breakfast lasted for a very long time, he didn't want to stand up just at that moment.
Ares sat quietly as he enjoyed the simple act of eating, for once. Silently he wondered if this was a feed back from Hercules through their link. Not that that bothered him any. On the contrary, it filled him with a really odd, but none the less pleasant feeling. So he pushed aside his empty plate and thought about that feeling instead.
"It's called happiness Ares, and we're all entitled to feel it, even sexy War Gods!" His brother, his lover, whispered in his ear. Joxer looked as if he was about to say something; but judging from the pain that flashed across his face, Iolaus had second guessed his thoughts, and kicked him. Ares laughed, quiet, little chuckles.
"I did wonder." He whispered back. "Not much use for running Wars, but I guess it has uses all of its own that I'll discover, in due course."
"About running Wars, you wanted to plan out what you thought we should do here. Any suggestions? Other than turning up as Ares ... God of Love, Ares, that is?" This time Hercules spoke aloud, refocusing the group on their task in hand, namely, returning their Ares to where and what he should be.
"So, how would being that 'Love God' help you any?" Even as a mortal Ares managed to get an amazing amount of disdain into the words Love and God.
"Well, if I go up to Olympus and say, 'Hi, I'm new in town, I'm Ares, and I'm a War God, can I hang out here any?' they're going to get their collective backs up, so damn fast, they'll Doppler!" Ares, the God of War, looked at his counterpart as the other 'man' laughed.
"Doppler?" His counterpart's Hercules asked, a question which was obvious echoing the confused minds of those others around him, including Hercules the newest God of War.
"Never mind it's a relative thing. As in our relatives!" Ares, the mortal, replied both Ares' were now helpless with laughter.
"Gods, never could understand their idea of a joke anyway!" Joxer got up from the table and cleared away the dirty dishes, before either of the Ares' could fall on them.
"Anyway, I'll get a warmer reception if one, Athena isn't viewing me as a rival and two, if I appear to be no threat to the others either. But, in case they have some ideas about trying to take advantage of a weak frail God of Love, I'll take along my Hercules, a Big Bad God Of War!" Ares smiled so sweetly at his brother that Hercules the God felt a slight stirring of passion and fear in equal measures. "And if they expect Hercules to do War Goddish things, well, I'll be there to help him, and likewise he'll be there to assist me with Love things." Ares almost managed to not sneer the word love.
"Good points." His brother said, yet through the link Ares could feel Hercules worry.
"If we go in as a couple, as lovers then they'll not split us up. Visiting Gods and protocol are big bug bares with my mother. Mother! Shit Ares, how is your relationship with your mother and your father?" The sudden change of topic rang every alarm bell in Hercules' mind, only to have them calmed down once he realised his Ares' relationship with his mother was as strong as his own with Alcemene.
"Well, mother an' me, we get along fairly okay I suppose, but father an' me? Shit, just don't ask!" The mortal Ares slumped in his seat, no doubt thinking about all the horrors Zeus had perpetuated against him.
"Define okay then. Would she enjoy seeing her son thrown over for one of Zeus' bastards?" Ares was brutal in tone, but Hercules now realised he was trying to push through his own feelings of abandonment, all that emotional baggage he carried around with him, as momentoes from his own childhood.
"Well, I suspect Hera's thoroughly pissed off by it. She never did get on with Athena, any more than she ever got on with Dite or Artemis." Ares the mortal looked at his still Godly twin and saw something echoed in his counterpart's eyes he'd never wish to see in the eyes of another being, anywhere ... with the possible exception of Falafel, but he deserved anything he got. He had almost poisoned Hercules when his brother had gone off their grounds into the nearest town. " I guess it's much the same with you and your parents?"
"Pretty much." Ares coughed, and looked around the table, and suddenly realised something. "Where's Gabrielle and Draco?"
"In bed, making babies, I would imagine." It was Iolaus who spoke, two Hercules' blushed and as one replied.
"Iolaus!" Twin sounds of strained tolerance and decorum sounded out.
"Well, look Ares an' his Herc must be aware that you don't fuck like bunnies on the road, especially when times are as dangerous as the are now. So when you find a safe bed, in a safe house, you go for it!" Iolaus was unrepentant, until Ares the God asked a simple question.
"So why are you down here, not up there, what was it? Oh Yeah, fucking like bunnies?" The Godly Ares asked.
"We were, but unlike them we gotta draw a line somewhere, they ARE making babies, we can't ok?" Iolaus finally blushed.
"War'll do that!" Ares pointed out, calmly.
"War'll do what?" His lover asked right before he realised and couldn't call back the question. "Never mind, I get it, a war equals a baby boom, right?"
"Yup!" His lover confirmed his assumptions. What worried the group was the intense stare Ares gave Iolaus and Joxer. Unblinking for several minutes, he looked right into the very fabric of their being before he spoke again. "You know, I think I could turn one of you into a functional woman, if you wanted to slip off upstairs and fuck like bunnies making babies."
"Err, no thanks Ares, I'll pass." Iolaus didn't know if Ares was genuine about his offer or not, but he didn't want to risk it either way.
"Well, nice offer, but I'll pass too." Joxer got back up from the table and headed for the door. "I think I'll go see to the horses."
"Okay, but it's your loss!" Ares called after him, his own mortal Ares.
It was later, once Ares had created a store of Godly food for his mortal twin, that he and Hercules prepared to get into their characters. Hercules dressed as Ares, rather than his own evil twin, the Sovereign. While Ares was indeed dressed as Ares, God of Love, and like the original he was looking in the mirror.
"I hate to say this, but he was right, white does make our butt look big." Ares smiled, it looked so strange to Hercules, to see that warm grin appear from the bare face of his big brother.
"Eh, Ares, have you ever realised that you look like Iphicles when shaven?" Hercules walked to his brother's side and stood just behind his right shoulder, looking towards the mirror. "Look?!" He pointed into the mirror, and right beside Ares' reflection he projected an image of his other brother, Iphicles.
"Damn!" Ares looked at the mirror, then blushed and looked incredibly guiltily at Hercules' reflection. "I thought no one would notice." He smiled, a sad little smile, filled with regrets.
"You mean to tell me, Iphicles is your son?" Hercules was feeling betrayed and his anger was growing.
"Alcemene really didn't like Amphitryon, they never really got on, and after he gave up the Theban throne BEFORE they got married, she was well pissed with him. Look Hercules, your mother was a young, ambitious woman. She matured into a caring, loving woman. Your life is all my fault. If I hadn't been so happy to have a son by one of the most beautiful women of her generation, Zeus wouldn't have made it his business to take her from me. He fathered you and so put her way out of my reach." Ares watched Hercules as his lover reached his own conclusions, knowing he could read the truth in his words through their link.
To Ares' complete surprise Hercules started laughing. Tears of mirth streamed down his cheeks as he tried, and failed, to even form the words to tell Ares what was so funny.
Eventually Hercules calmed down.
"Iphicles is going to have to call me uncle Hercules. I could just picture his face. The words 'Not Happy' seemed to fit!"
Ares laughed too, the God of Love version of Ares stood before the War God version of Hercules and they reached an understanding about Iphicles' parentage. Then, as the humour faded, Ares took Hercules into his arms and they kissed. For the first time in many centuries Ares knew the feel of a bearded face against his own smooth skin.
"Come on, it's time to go." Hercules whispered as he broke the kiss.
"Yeah, you're right." Ares agreed.
"So, why doesn't Iphy have the same powers as I do?"
"I fathered him as an normal Demi-God, Zeus fathered you as a weapon, to be used against me and Iphicles ... but I guess he forgot about Iphicles, seeing as he never seemed to have you move against him."
"For which I am truly grateful, believe me." Hercules held his lover in his arms, not wishing to ever let him go. Then the flash of a memory troubled him briefly, was he supposed to have killed his own brother, his nephew, when he discovered someone was pretending to be him? Using and abusing his good name and reputation? Hercules felt Ares' arm tighten around his waste, offering comfort and refuge.
"Come on, let's go to Olympus and start sorting this mess out!" Ares pulled free from his lover's arms and pictured the main hall in Olympus for both himself and Hercules to lock on to and they zapped themselves out of Ares' castle.
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