Over Reaction 1-4
Hercules knelt down, beside Ares, arm going over his beloved's shoulders, lips kissing the War God's ear as his mind whispered his question.
"*So? Now what's happening?*" He licked the same, now well kissed, ear.
"Thus far he's had you kill dad, with mother's help. She attacked, and all but killed me. Although I think that final treat he's reserved for Xena, who is pregnant, with Callisto, by Gabrielle, no less! Not only that, but Solan, remember Xena's dead son? You do? Good, seems he runs Tartarus, not Hades. Oh, and Hades isn't Hades, he's some joker in a red velvet dressing gown. But, Xena, still pregnant, kicks seven level of fuck outta every one, dad's special guards too. Delivers her baby.. while fully dressed, and is ready seconds later.. because it only took her seconds, to go kick even more fuck outta the Gods!" Ares took his hand from Joxer's forehead, turned into his lover's embrace and kissed him hard.
"This is the second night he's been dreaming this, 'seriously bad drama'. What can we do, Ares? He's hurting so bad, he can't face the world with no Xena, no Gabrielle, nothing..." Hercules stroked his hand over the sleeping mortals cheek. "Now he's singing and dancing? No, wait! I think it's his brother.."
"What? Jett, singing? Dancing?" Ares' voice squeaked with his repressed desire to bellow with laughter.
"No, the other one, Jayce." The latest War God replied.
"Oh, him, Joxer never did like him much, did he?" Ares stood up, taking his lover with him, looking back down at the grief stricken mortal he sighed, deeply. "Let's leave him to sleep. He's going to need all his strength for his journey. I just wish he didn't have to make it alone. So, ok, we're following him, but as Gods, we can't actively help him." Ares looked up, away from Joxer to the cart just by the edge of Joxer's meagre camp. The cart that held Xena and Gabrielle's bodies, the empty shells Joxer had vowed to return to Greece, to their families.
"Wait here, I've got an idea." Hercules drew Ares into a deep, passionate kiss just before he winked out, leaving the slightly over balanced God of War to almost fall.
"I hate it when he does that!" Ares declared, but laughing all the same.
"Well, of course you do, it wouldn't be worth doing otherwise, now would it?" Ares spun around at the sound of a voice right behind him, only to come face to face with his father, smiling at him. "What's the latest with Joxer's version of events?" He asked.
"Other than you now being dead, by Herc's hand no less?" Ares grinned, rather wickedly at his father's aghast expression.
"What did I do? I didn't hurt you again did I?" The King of the Gods lifted a comforting hand to his dark, brooding son's shoulder.
"Only slightly, but no, you decreed that Xena's unborn baby was to die.. or it would be the 'Twighlight of the Gods' for us!" Ares didn't shrug his father's hand off, and Zeus saw that as the encouragement it was, Ares was closer than ever to allowing him back into his life, as a father should be.
"Where's Herc off to then?" Zeus asked, leaving his hand where it was, but looking at Joxer. "Is Morpheus certain we can't stop these dreams?"
"Oh, we could stop them all right, it'd just destroy his mind in the process. No, he's always been a loyal follower, we do this Morph's way. Anyway, it's kinda interesting, seeing us, as he sees us, as Xena taught him to see us, as fools, mindless thugs, as bumbling idiots, it's better than the Muse's annual drama fest!" On that note, Ares laughed, being displaced from Joxer's reality, just a little, let him roar with laughter and not disturb the sleeping mortal, still wracked in his Tartaran nightmare.
"Poor man." Zeus muttered, a smile playing around his lips at the happy sound of Ares' laughter. "So, where's Herc? You didn't say."
"I don't know, he had an idea, knowing him it could be anything, but if it's that Love God, I'll do them both some injury!" Ares threatened, and scowled at his father's amused expression. "What?" He barked.
"Your relationship with Hercules is having a profound effect on you my son, you're not as, oh, how would Joxer here put it, you're not as nasty as once you were." Zeus giggled as Ares' face turned red in embarrassment and anger.
"I..." He sputtered to a halt just as Hercules returned, with a shocked mortal in his arms. "What the.." He muttered, recognising whom Hercules had brought. "Oh, hi, Iolaus, how have you been keeping?" He asked his lover's best friend, trying very hard to contain his jealousy for the blond man.
"I've been fine, but it's Joxer we've gotta worry about. Herc told me what happened, about Xena and Gabs, I still can't believe it!" He looked from the sleeping man at his feet to the dark eyes of the War God before him.
"You just have to believe it, we all do." He nodded in the direction of the cart, loaded down with it's sad cargo.
"Oh, man, this sucks! What can I do to help Joxer then?" Iolaus asked, looking back towards the fitfully sleeping man.
"Travel with him. Be his friend. Listen to his dreams, protect him. Do whatever you can for him. This is a mortal journey, and even thought we can walk with him, we can't intervene with Joxer's lot, not until he's outta Roman territory at least." Ares looked at the hunter, saw the pain in his eyes and sighed. "Once in Greece, we can help. We hope. Just get him, them, there for us, please?" Ares very rarely begged a favour of anyone, and begging to Iolaus like that told the hunter all he needed to know, for the moment. His friend needed him, his Gods needed him. For the first time since his return from the land of the light, he felt he had something important to do. Someone who truly needed the support only he could give.
"No problem, I'll always help a friend." He smiled, somewhat shakily, at Ares and Hercules, even at Zeus. "You can count on me." And the Gods all knew that they could.
"Thanks, buddy." Hercules hugged his oldest friend close, then crossed to his father, and his brother. "Shall we get back, get things ready on our side?" At Zeus and Ares' nods, the three Gods vanished, leaving Iolaus looking at his troubled friend.
"Nothing to worry about, Joxer, I'm here now." He brushed the hair out of Joxer's eyes with gentle fingers, wishing he could do more, comfort him the way he wanted to, but as always, he'd settle for friendship.
Settling down, Iolaus went to sleep, curled up in the blanket that had suddenly appeared, in a heap of necessary supplies, a note attached in what he now knew was Ares' neat hand. 'Didn't think Herc would think of the practicalities - these should help. Sing out if you need us - A.' Folding the note, carefully, he stashed it away.
Sleep took over his eyes, and they closed, drifting him off to a happier dream world than Joxer slept in.
Morning came, but not soon enough for the grief stricken Joxer. His night had been wracked, once more, with dreams of what could have been. Tempting delusions of what might have been, had Xena and Gabrielle really came back from the dead. Yet, even as he found those dreams exhausting, he at least felt his friends were still part of his life, all that was left to him was his sorry task, Argo, and Iolaus sleeping beside him in his own bedroll.
"Iolaus?" Joxer squeaked in utter shock, wakening the hunter from his sound sleep.
"Oh, mornin' Joxer, hey, I was shocked to hear what had happened to Xena and Gabrielle." Iolaus stretched, pushed his thick, woollen blanket aside and got to his feet. He spent a moment or two searching through the things Ares had left him the night before, satisfied with his supplies he looked back at his still shocked companion. "You want breakfast?"
"I'm dreaming, you're not here, I'm going mad, that's what it is! I'm going insane!" Joxer looked close to tears, he obviously really thought he was slipping the last cogs of sanity.
"I am here, see!" Iolaus got up, crossed to Joxer's side and crouched back down to touched Joxer's shoulder, squeezing it gently, letting his physical touch comfort the distraught man. "I arrived after you had gone to sleep last night, Hercules brought me, he thought you might need a friend."
"Hercules was here? Why didn't he stay then? How could he bring you?" Joxer was full of questions, questions that Iolaus at least had answers for, which comforted the hunter a little.
"I know that Xena accused Ares of corrupting Herc, but Herc loves Ares, he really is a God. He used his God powers to come find me, he told me what had happened, and then brought me here to help you. When I arrived, with Herc, Ares and Zeus were here, watching over you as you slept. They were both worried for you. We all are, as a human being I am concerned for you, as your friend I want to help you. Anyway, as Herc told me it was him that did the corrupting, seems Ares had never, you know, before, with a guy, an' him not the one on top." Iolaus blushed a deep even crimson. As he figured out just what his companion had been muttering about, Joxer blushed too, and wisely decided to ignore Iolaus' last statement.
"Ares? AND Zeus? Why would they watch over me?" Joxer asked, trying to keep certain images out of his conscious thoughts, he succeeded through sheer will power alone.
"They like you. Tartarus, we all like you. Will you let me help?" Iolaus stood up, he had been squatting at Joxer's side, but his legs were going to sleep, it was move or fall over. Joxer noticed his companion's pained expression, and smiled slightly.
"Pins and needles?" He asked, also standing, and stretching. "Where did all this stuff come from?" He asked, looking at the cooking pots and other supplies that hadn't been there the night before.
"Ares sent them." Iolaus returned to the task of preparing breakfast. He founds some oats, fresh water, a little salt, a wooden spoon and of course, an appropriate cook pot.
"Ares? Why did Ares send this lot? Ares hated Xena and Gabrielle." Joxer looked slightly angry, although as yet, Iolaus couldn't figure out just why he was so angry with the War God.
"He sent this lot because Herc didn't think to. See, read it for yourself." He stood up once more and retrieved the note Ares had sent with the supplies the night before.
Joxer read the note, he too carefully folded it before handing it back to Iolaus, who had returned to preparing their breakfasts.
"I thought he hated Xena, you know, for leaving him and all that." He murmured, his anger fading as rapidly as it had sprung into being in the first place.
"Not as far as I know, he didn't hate Xena, in fact, he took a great deal of delight in winding her up. He knew all the strings to pull to make her react the way he wanted her to. You gotta remember that Ares is a God, he's beyond any mortal's full comprehension. I guess he needed her to do certain things to defend Greece, and making her think she did them to spite him was easiest and simplest, or even just simply the most fun." Iolaus grinned, stirred his pot, saw his oats thickening, cooking nicely, he turned back to Joxer. "See if Ares has been all Godly and all thinking, see if he's left us some bowls and spoons."
Joxer bent to his task, He found two bowls, two plates, two spoons, two knives, even too forks and two beakers.
"Seems he's thought of just about everything." He told Iolaus as he turned back to him, spoons and bowls in his hands. "Two of everything, how come he's so thoughtful then?"
"He's God of War, he's used to thinking about what his troops need in order to survive. Preparation is half the battle isn't it?" Iolaus served up their breakfast, covering each portion of hot oats with honey to sweeten it. "Now, if he had only sent some ice cold milk too, then he would have been outstanding in my view.." Before he stopped speaking a pitcher appeared, with ice cold mild, and another note. Iolaus handed his bowl to Joxer and retrieved the latest note.
"I'll remind you of that! And I hear all, shorty... A." Laughing, he turned the note around to let Joxer read it for himself. He lifted the pitcher and poured the milk into each bowl.
"I don't know if I should be happy, or down right scared, you know? Knowing Ares is paying this amount of attention to me, to us." Joxer began to eat, actually hungry for the first time since his lonely, sad, journey had begun.
"At least he can cut down on the cost of fresh food stuffs as we travel." Iolaus too ate with gusto.
After they broke camp, the packaged up everything, placing it in Argo's saddle bags, which still hung around the horses neck. They rehitched the cart, with its sad cargo and headed north once more. Up and out of Roman territory, eventually, days, weeks ahead, yet out of there even if it was on foot. It felt like something, something positive.
"Can't we take a boat?" Iolaus eventually asked.
"Not for this journey, where it can be done on foot, it should be done on foot, like a pilgrimage." Joxer fell silent for a moment. "This is so unlike my dreams. I've been dreaming they're still alive, fighting demons, fighting the Gods themselves. Real strange stuff." Then he fell silent on the subject, and no amount of cajoling would make him comment further on his dreams.
They journeyed on, in relative harmony, in peace at least. The songs of birds and the wind in the trees the only sounds around them. Iolaus was wondering how he could reach Joxer, offer him the comfort he wanted to, and Joxer, he was wondering how he could possibly face a life without Xena, without Gabrielle.
Elsewhere in the Roman Empire, Hades stood before the main gate to the Roman Underworld. Looking around him, at the mortal dominion, he had to admit Avernus was nicer than any of his own gates, but then again, he did actively try to discourage such visits. Little ventured, little gained, he stepped forwards and into the realm of Pluto and Orcus. He sent forth word, casting his mind before him, requesting a meeting between himself and Pluto. Pluto he could deal with better than Orcus, whereas Pluto was a Roman incarnation of himself, the closest he had ever had to Orcus was Strife. While he was dead, Strife had been very useful; but now he was alive again, and while he did miss his great nephew helping out, he was just as happy to see him in Olympus, with his father, causing no end of mischief up there, as he had down beside him.
As he ventured deeper into the omnipresent gloom, he fingered two crystals dangling from a leather thong around his neck. His steps echoed, hollowly, as if this path had never been taken by any one else before him. If he were mortal, he would by now be feeling somewhat intimidated, unfortunately he employed similar methods to deter visitors back home, resulting in him feeling more at home than threatened. So he walked on, calmly, confidently, each measured stride taking him closer to his target.
With the bottom of that long slope finally coming into view Hades did not speed up, he did not slow down, he continued at that same measured pace. Heading straight for the figure waiting before him. It was like walking up to a mirror, they were that alike. Once, long before, they had been the same being. Then the Roman's forefathers had somehow captured the essence of several of the Greek Gods and shaped them to become their own Gods. It was a parting none of the Greek Gods forgot, or forgave, not the romanised Gods, they had no choice, it was the theft by those early Romans they did not forgive. None of them.
"Hades, welcome." His own voice came back to him, spoken by his own lips, his own eyes meeting his.
"You look well Pluto, as handsome as ever." Hades smiled and stepped into that familiar embrace.
"You too. As if we could look otherwise. So, to what do I owe this pleasure? This is going to be a pleasure, isn't it?" Pluto released Hades slightly, stepping a half step back to look at him better.
"A little bit of business, and a lot of pleasure." Hades lifted his hands, suddenly bare of his habitual black leather gloves. He drew his finger tips down Pluto's face, resting them briefly on those so familiar lips. Hades leaned forwards, almost touching lips to lips. "I have missed you, my soul." He whispered as he finally closed the distance between them, kissing the Roman God deeply, passionately, exactly as he knew the God wanted to be kissed, as he himself wanted to be kissed.
"And I missed you, my heart." Pluto whispered as he broke the kiss, then rejoined in kissing Hades once more.
Finally, their greeting over, both Gods breathing heavily, they stood slightly apart, just looking at each other, looking in the only true mirror of their inner being.
"So, what business do you have down here?" Pluto asked, rubbing a thumb pad over Hades' kiss swollen lips. Hades repaid him by sucking that thumb, nipping the pad with exquisitely sharp teeth.
"I want to watch the judgement of Julius Caesar." Hades told him, quite bluntly, and as far as Pluto could see, quite honestly too.
"Why?" Pluto asked, genuinely puzzled.
"He killed a member of my family, okay, she was a Demi-God, and to be honest, I don't know if she were a niece, a sister, a daughter or a cousin... One of us fathered her, if only we could figure out which one of us did it. Now we might never do that, seeing as your Julius Caesar killed her." Hades looked a little angry, a little perplex, a little amused. Not one definable emotion Pluto could fix on.
"If she's dead, then ask her yourself." He pointed out, quite logically he thought.
"I would if I could, but she didn't die in Greece, and since Julius Caesar didn't die there either, so much for family vengeance. Witnessing his final downfall will have to suffice. After all, the pompous ass thought he was destined to be a God of all things!" Hades laughed, a dry, throaty chuckle that Pluto echoed exactly.
"Well, if it's family business, welcome, come watch." Pluto stood shoulder to shoulder with his progenitor, and stroked his black leather clad ass with light caresses of his finger tips.
"Make this quick, remember, no right to appeal!" Hades stroked Pluto's equally black leather clad crotch, "Then we can get onto the next stage in my visit." To make his point even clearer, he squeezed, gently, but firmly. Pluto gasped and pressed his hand firmer against Hades' ass, urging him onwards.
"This way." He hissed, leading his visitor to their first destination.
As they walked, Hades tugged lightly on the twin crystals he wore, breaking loose the leather thong they hung from. After a few more steps he let the thong, and its cargo, drop gently to the floor, cushioning its fall with a thought, from whence it vanished, instantly, completely, without sound or trace. Hades and Pluto walked on, chatting quietly, looking forward to the visit ahead of them.
Just before they entered into Pluto's fully shielded domain, Hades sent his last thoughts to his brother.
"*Stage one completed ... I'll be back, when I'm back...*" The fact that Zeus' mind filled with the happy images of Hades, Pluto and a big bed left little to the King of the Gods imagination. Not that he needed any help in that direction at the best of times.
Standing at the end of a long line of dead Romans, waited the souls of two Greek women. A tall, dark haired, warrior woman and her blonde, peaceable, companion. They waited their turn to face the God at the head of the long line, the God that now faced the man who had killed them both. It was a cold comfort to know he had not survived them.
"Good day, ladies!" A voice spoke from nowhere. A voice both women recognised immediately.
"Autolycus?" Xena looked around her. "Your luck finally run out? Where are you?" She whispered, not willing to disturb the silence that shrouded that place of judgement any more than was absolutely necessary.
"Not my luck Xena, but yours has definitely taken a turn for the better." Autolycus giggled at her shoulder. Turning her head towards the slight sound of his whispered words, she still saw nothing.
"Well, if you mean we're dead, and about to face eternity away from you, then I agree!" Gabrielle snorted in derision, simply facing forward, trying to put the disembodied voice out of her thoughts.
"No, I don't mean that, you blonde." Autolycus' voice sounded rather annoyed at Gabrielle's slight.
"Enough, both of you, what do you want Autolycus?" Xena wished she could see the thief, just so she could glare at him.
"I've come to help get you both out of here." The thief had wisely assumed that he had garnered enough fun at his friends expense.
"We're dead, remember?" Xena pointed out, enjoying the almost embarrassed silence from the invisible thief.
"Well, yeah, I had kinda heard that. Look, all they want me to do is get your souls outta' here, back to Greece, where you can be released into Elysia." Autolycus touched each woman's shoulder, granting a brief moment of human warmth to the displaced souls of his friends.
"Why should we go? We're dead either here or there." Xena was getting annoyed, she knew how much she was being upset by the invisible presence of the living thief, she could imagine how her friend was feeling. Whatever Autolycus' game was, she hoped he'd get on with it and leave them alone.
"Yup, you are dead, here, there, anywhere. So too is your son. If you come with me, then you will be reunited with him. Just as Gabrielle is going to be reunited with that mortal part of Hope's soul. That part that always remained her daughter. So, are you two coming or not? If not I can return this stupid helmet to Hades and tell the rest of the Gods to stand down and leave Joxer to go insane all by himself! After all, if you don't care, why should they?" Autolycus had hoped that being living challenged might have made his so called friends a bit more tractable. He was obviously mistaken.
"Solan?" Xena whispered the name of her dead son with longing.
"Hope?" Gabrielle whispered her daughter's name with shock. "There's some part of Hope that survived?"
Yet Autolycus noted than neither woman mentioned the prospect of Joxer going insane. Granted, they were both coming to terms with seeing their children again, but to ignore their living friend like that, really irked the thief.
"Yes and she's waiting for you, her and Solan, both of them." Autolycus took a deep, steadying, breath. Getting his own feelings under control, focusing on the job at hand, and nothing more, or so he hoped. "So, choose, do you want to go, or stay? Because, either way, I'm outta here. This is no place for the living."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, who returned her gaze steadfastly, both women nodded, almost imperceptibly, at the same moment.
"We go." Xena announced. "So, what's the plan?"
"Well, Hades has come over to distract Pluto, he's 'officially' here to witness Caesar's judgement and , well, help Pluto celebrate afterwards. While Pluto's otherwise occupied, and before he can try you two, we get out of here. Till then you have to wait, just in case you're needed to witness against ol' JC. Ok?" Autolycus' voice whispered, very quietly, as the dead women realised their line was slowly shuffling forward.
"Then what?" Xena hissed.
"I steal you away, of course!" The thief sounded so outraged, that they could doubt his skill, to question him.
"You steal us?" Gabrielle quizzed.
"I am the King of Thieves, and this is the ultimate theft, two souls from Pluto's Underworld. If I weren't famous now, I damn well soon would be after this one. No one has ever managed to get two souls from one underworld and sneak them out of the country and back into the other one. But, then again, no one ever asked me to do it before, did they. Shh, we're moving again. Just trust me, will ya'?" Autolycus fell silent, the women couldn't even follow the sounds of his breathing, it was almost as if they had imagined his voice, then he touched them. His living warmth comforting, where before it had been a sad reminder of what they'd lost.
"All right. I'll trust you, for now!" Xena whispered, and turned to face the two identical Gods of the Dead, lounging before her, facing Julius Caesar's sorry soul.
"Ah, my dear Xena and Gabrielle, do pay head here. It has been claimed that this individual has crucified you twice now? Well, you at least, Xena. All because he claims to have some destiny or another. Is this true?" Pluto asked, at least the women assumed he was Pluto, for he was identical to his guest. Then both women saw the sparkle in his guest's eyes, a degree of mischief that suggested that he was waiting for the fun to start.
"Yes, Lord Pluto, he first tried to kill me on the cross several years ago. He played me for a fool. Let me believe he loved me, tricked me, just so he could kill me. As I hung there, dying, he wanders up, smug grin on his face and starts talking about his favourite subject. His precious destiny." Xena glared at the dead Emperor. It was some very small comfort to see him standing there, not being a God, or any other special being.
"Did he tell you what that destiny was?" Pluto asked.
"No, I think he thought it shone from his bloody ass, blinding us all." Xena didn't let the dead man's shock sway her, on the contrary, it fed her desire for revenge. "He was very cheerful as he told his little soldiers to break both my legs."
Hades chuckled at Xena's blatant irreverence towards both the dead Emperor and Pluto's questions. Granted his, niece/daughter/sister, his relative, was being her own sweet self, but she did it so well, he felt almost compelled to applaud her. Instead he helped her along, he changed his habitual heavy black armour for a supple black leather vest, one that simply failed to meet over his broad chest. One that would have done Ares proud, or at least served to remind Hercules why he loved his brother so much. Pluto certainly seemed to be remembering lots more about his occasional visits, judging by the speeding up of his breathing.
"They didn't appear too broken as you walked among the living, it has to be said." Pluto turned away from Hades with an effort and looked at the dead warriors legs, looked through them, almost. "Oh, nice job fixing them. Where was that done? Asclepius' home temple?" He kept his eyes on the dead warrior, if he looked at Hades once more he would come where he lay. Slowly, he regained some control over his own body.
"No, the lands of Chin." Xena told him, clearly surprised at the Gods abilities.
"You always did under estimate all Gods didn't you." Pluto turned away from Xena to face his guest once more, his control tightened on his body's automatic response to Hades. "Are you sure you want to acknowledge her as a relative?"
"Oh yes, Ares, you remember my nephew, Ares? Well, he insisted we acknowledge her. Witness her murderers judgement. I have to warn you, he's not at all happy with Rome." Hades lay back and idly scratched his upper thigh. Drawing every eye to his full crotch. "And you know what he's like when he gets 'upset' with anyone. I'd make arrangements to do a lot of overtime real soon, if I were you." He laughed, gently, looking from Pluto to Xena and Gabrielle and back again, steadfastly ignoring the very quiet Caesar. "Mark you, Ares is magnificent when truly roused to such a fine rage."
"Oh, I remember Ares all right. He's not easy to forget, tall, dark, handsome, identical to Mars, in every respect." The dry drawl Pluto spoke in caused Hades to look up at him.
"You know the dear boy that well, to make that assumption?" He didn't know if he should be angered at the other God's presumption, or jealous of his hands on knowledge of his elusive nephew.
"I'm talking in general terms, soul of my soul. In the broadest of general terms." Pluto laughed, though it sounded more like a raw sexual purr than any normal sound of humour. "Mark you, that's not to say I wouldn't like to know him a lot better."
"Well that's an unfulfillable dream if ever I heard one." Hades laughed right back, rather relieved that Ares hadn't lain with Pluto, and unable to say why exactly. Hades pushed the introspection aside for another day, he had much more fun games to play.
"Why?" Now happily distracted from the pompous dead Emperor, Pluto leaned over the listen to what Hades wanted to tell him.
"His lover is absolutely the most jealous, possessive, God I've ever met." Hades paused for a moment, building the tension in the hall alarmingly, and deliberately. He was pleased to see even the dead Emperor craning forward to hear, as well as both Xena and Gabrielle. The curiosity almost burned out of their souls, like a blinding light. "Hercules is totally disinclined to share. And Ares is in no rush to cheat on him. The dear child always did have such odd ideas, only ever takes one lover at a time, one Godly lover that is."
"Hercules and Ares!" Gabrielle screeched out the names, shock clearly audible in her voice. "But Hercules hates Ares, what has Ares done to him?" Then she remembered, she was dead, standing before two living Gods of the Dead, and all that was depending on their getting away from there. Hope waited, Hope and Solan, and Joxer's sanity. Then she realised what Autolycus had said, let the Gods leave Joxer to go insane, if they didn't care then why should the Gods. Ares was insisting they be saved, that Caesar be punished, Ares! "No, I take that back, what's Hercules done to Ares?"
"No one has done anything to any one, dear child." Hades murmured, stroking his own belly, where it showed through the opening in his leather vest. "Ares is just being Ares. Ask anyone who really knows him, they'll tell you." He ran his hand up over an over sensitive nipple, drawing in a breath like the hiss of a deadly snake. Warning the dead woman. A warning she apparently understood. Xena however was far less subtle than Gabrielle.
"No, he's up to something." Xena responded automatically, then her common sense took over and supplied the answer, Ares was the architect behind their retrieval and release into Elysia.
"Ah, but you don't count. I said someone who knows him, and you simply don't know him. After all is said and done, you never met him until after you left his service and he had you framed for murder. Remember?" Hades glared at her, silencing her with a glance.
Xena had the grace to blush as she fell silent, and the surprised wince she made as Gabrielle kicked her dead companion in the ankle was a welcome bonus to Hades.
"Can we get back to Caesar here?" Pluto pointed at the still silent dead Emperor.
"Why of course, soul of my soul, what ever you wish." Hades leaned up and over the intervening gap between their couches, looking Pluto in the eye, letting him see what he was missing.
"I so wish." Pluto mumbled, looking at the flushed skin of Hades' torso, pulled tight over finely sculpted muscles. His own body enticed him, entreated him. He reluctantly pulled his face away. "Caesar, what is your destiny? To live forever amongst the Gods? To live forever amongst men? Come tell me, I could do with a good laugh."
"I was destined to rule the world, and I did!" Julius Caesar looked at the God of the Dead and dared him to say anything. What he wasn't prepared for was the two Gods of the Underworld to roll back on their couches laughing hysterically.
"Oh, you were so right!" Hades eventually managed. "It was a good laugh."
"Rule the world, the stupid maggot thinks he ruled the world. Shall we show him, heart of my heart?"
"Please do, his face will be an absolute picture, but first, let Xena and Gabrielle come up beside me, let them see this too, and, Ares, may I show Ares?" Hades begged his counterpart for those little indulgences.
"It's not normal procedure, but Xena is flesh of our flesh, I guess we can make an exception or two." Pluto let the souls of the dead Greek women mount the platform he judged from, temporarily letting them step outside the restrictions of the Underworld. "Ares, take heed!" Pluto also sent the images of his action, and the reasons for it, to his should be nephew.
"Look, this was your Empire, was it not?" And a map of all Rome had conquered appeared.
"Yes, so?" Caesar challenged.
"Silence maggot!" Pluto sent his power with the command, and Caesar showed fear, and Xena saw it and savoured it, as if she had been offered a banquet of Ambrosia and Nectar. "You conquered this part of the world. Xena travelled over this part of the world." And the map expanded to show as far away as the lands of Chin. "That's an awful lot of the world you didn't conquer, that you didn't rule. Millions of people who have never heard of you, or your tiny little Empire." Pluto paused, looking from the horrified expression on Caesar's face, to the joyous one on Xena's face, to the amazed one of Gabrielle's face. "And this is all the world, all the lands that even Xena has never heard of, seen, or even dreamt could exist." A perfect sphere materialised before them all, revolving slowly, showing lands and seas where even Xena had never dreamed there could be anything but endless oceans and monsters.
Caesar was horrified. His destiny was a joke, his life was a sicker joke, and all jokes were on him.
Finally, Julius Caesar was broken, and Xena savoured every second of it.
She had earned this moment, with her life, her friends lives, all those that had lost their lives to this failure before her, from the cabin lad on her ship, to Gabrielle by her side. She had finally seen justice meted out on their behalf, and was happy.
"It's so beautiful." Gabrielle murmured, looking on, in awe, at the revolving image of the world she had barely began to know before she had died. Now, at least, she was seeing it all, and knew this was a true image. Knew too that it was Hades and Pluto she should thank for this privilege. "Thank you, both, for thinking of us, and for letting us see this. Thank you." Before she could think, she quickly turned to Pluto, and kissed his cheek, the blushed at her presumption.
"Why child, thank you, and I think Hades was right, you deserved to see this." Pluto swept a hand out, disturbing the image, directing Gabrielle's eyes towards Caesar.
"You killed us, for that!" She pointed at the tiny patch of scarlet that indicated the Roman Empire, scorn dripping from her tongue. "You never were very bright were you? Always trying to kill Xena, and for what, a little splash of scarlet paint on a spinning ball bigger than even your ego. Not to say a lot prettier too." She turned back to the globe and simply watched it.
"Now, step out of the way." A voice whispered.
Gabrielle automatically followed that voice, she backed up a few steps, letting Hades move past her to Pluto's couch.
"And his punishment?" Hades asked, whispering in Pluto's ear, nuzzling it as he moved over it.
"Eternity in there!" Pluto pointed to the globe and a blinding flash of light swallowed it whole. It rematerialised around Julius Caesar, spinning, revolving around him. The tiny speck of scarlet flashing brightly before his eyes. "Well, he did so want to be centre of the world, now he is." Pluto laughed, only to have his laughter swallowed whole in Hades' mouth. And Pluto knew what it was to feel whole again, as did Hades.
"Come on, this way?" That oh so gentle voice ushered Xena and Gabrielle away from that place of judgement, up corridors only Gods should know. "Quickly, while they're totally distracted." Autolycus pushed the mental images flooding his mind to one side. He couldn't afford, more importantly, his friends certainly couldn't afford that distraction.
They ran. For as long, and as far as they could, they ran.
As Autolycus ushered the souls of Xena and Gabrielle away, Hades had Pluto take them to his private bed chamber. He smiled, slyly, as one of Julius Caesar's pet phrases came to mind, divide and conquer. Ah, but this would be such a glorious battle, one he was sure Pluto wouldn't mind losing.
Hades stroked his hand over what could almost be called his own flesh. Each and every reaction was identical to his own. He knew exactly what would please Pluto, for the same touch would please him. Every gasp was like his own voice singing to him in a sexual delight. It was almost the greatest gift he had ever been granted, to see himself, face to face, pleasuring himself as no other could. As he rubbed his body against Pluto's pliant frame, matching their erections together he looked down on Pluto's upturned face, not really seeing him, but a pageant of past lovers who had truly let him down, hurt him beyond tolerance.
Always gone. Thrust!
With her mother. Thrust!
With Adonis. Thrust!
With anyone but her husband. Thrust!
Pluto writhed beneath his touch. Arching towards him, wantonly, demanding his pleasure, and sure of getting it.
"What do you want of me, Pluto?" Hades whispered, just the right tone, the one he himself found so enticing. Not since Strife had been released from his care had he heard that particular whispered tone. Until that moment he hadn't realised how much he had missed it, or his great nephew.
"I want you in me!" Pluto whispered back, tone for tone, delight for delight.
"I will be in you, soul of my soul." Pluto gasped in ecstasy.
"Heart of my heart." Hades pushed into Pluto's desperately pliant body, as if reaching towards that heart beating beat for beat with his own. "Flesh of my flesh." He stroked long and deep into Pluto's flesh, as if trying to reunite them.
"I want to belong!" Pluto cried out, dragging razor sharp nails down Hades' back, drawing blood, so familiar, as he stroked the back above him.
"Belong to what, to whom?" Yet, as he asked, he knew the answer, it was the same one he would have made.
"To you." Pluto arched, as best he could beneath the confining bulk of Hades' body. He reached up with one bloodied hand and dragged Hades' head down for a hungry, almost feral kiss. Hades did not resist. He kept up the pressure, the rhythm, the pleasure. He kept up the contact from within and without.
Until they came, together, as they should have been. One heart, one soul. Yet, if they were, they both realised, again together, if they were still one being they couldn't love like this.
As their breathing slowed down, Pluto rolled Hades, effortlessly, on to his back.
"My turn, again." He whispered, in that same tone he too delighted in. Whereas Hades had known it from his great nephew, Pluto only knew it from him.
Perhaps it wasn't the biggest difference there was between them, but that brief happiness was stretching like a gulf between them. Pluto was loving their time together. All it really did for Hades was to remind him of what he had lost, when he had let Strife's soul go so easily.
"I miss you." Hades whispered, meaning his now living again lover.
"And I you." Pluto replied, meaning he missed that once, long ago time when there had only been Hades and Pluto had not yet been stolen from his being.
The gulf grew a little wider, but not yet too wide to bridge.
"But if you were still with me, we couldn't do this, could we?" And Hades smiled, pushed maudlin thoughts aside and concentrated on helping Ares' plan work. He redoubled his efforts to distract Pluto till Autolycus got his stolen souls away.
"True, we couldn't. Nor could we do this." Pluto bit one of Hades' nipples, harshly. The senior God of the Dead squirmed in delight. His sole thought Pluto once more.
Pluto saw the shadow that had clouded Hades' eyes lift and vanish, content with his skills, he settled in, ready to pleasure Hades to.. well, Hades and back .. the irreverent thought made him chuckle, and since his mouth was still around that bitten nipple, it reverberated through Hades' chest.
"Think of a paradise neither of us has seen." Hades saw the puzzled look Pluto gave him as he raised his head to look at him. "And take me there." He finished.
Pluto did his best to comply.
On Olympus, a war was brewing. Ares' once quiet home resounded to the cries of his sons, Cupid and Strife, arguing with each other. If they didn't calm down they would soon come to blows. If they did that, one or other of them might fall fowl of their Grandfather's don't kill Gods rule.
The God of War wondered how exactly he was going to prevent war breaking out in his home.
"*What are they yelling about now?*" Hercules' warm mind voice caressed his lover's mind, soothing where it could.
"*Bliss, again!*" Ares thought back.
Hercules stroked Ares' bare arms, standing before his brother, his lover, his life now they were joined. He filled his mind with the most erotic thoughts he could recall, trying to distract Ares from his worries.
"You been talking to Iolaus again, or what?" Ares actually spoke, right before he started to laugh. In the background Cupid and Strife still fought.
"Okay, I've had enough of them. They're putting me off my stroke here." Hercules abandoned Ares' side and headed for the door.
"They're putting me off your stroke too!" Ares sighed, resettled his clothing and crossed to Hercules' flank position. "Lead on, oh God of Defence, and you'd better be ready to defend me, they sound dangerous."
Quietly the two Gods waked the corridors between their bed chamber and the room in the East wing that Strife used as his lounge. As they walked the noise got louder and louder, almost deafening.
"*So, do we do heavy handed fathers, or do we try peaceable, placid fathers?*" Ares thought to his lover, there was no way he'd have been heard otherwise.
"*This is getting out of hand, it's the same accusations and denials over and over again.*" Hercules shook his head, sadly, and smiled at Ares., also sadly. "*I think we have to break them out this cycle, heavy handed sounds about right. You take Strife and I'll take Cupid.*" He showed Ares what he wanted him to do, Ares silently indicated his compliance with his plan.
They entered to room, quietly, unnoticed by the brothers fighting inside the room.
"*NOW!*" Hercules mind shouted.
Two fireballs shot out, separating the Gods, sending them crashing into opposite walls, leaving dents behind them as they both slumped to the floor.
Peace broke out, painfully.
"Now what?" Ares asked.
"Now we get someone in to arbitrate. If someone is going to be caught in the middle of this fight, I'd as soon it wasn't you or me." He grinned at Ares, leaned over and whispered to him. "And if they are quiet and occupied, I can get back to my planed afternoon activities."
"Which were what?" Ares couldn't recall making any plans, not while Joxer was slipping the reins of sanity, granted he had Iolaus with him now, but still...
"Making love to you, what else."
Ares just groaned, half shut his eyes and saw Strife getting back onto his feet and taking one lurching step towards his brother.
"Enough!" He snarled at the young War God.
"And you!" Ares turned as he heard Hercules snarl too, it was almost unheard of, outside their bed chamber, Ares had to force himself not to go there. Hercules continued speaking, luckily, distracting him. "Now, you have one short speech each to explain yourselves, make the most of it."
Both younger Gods spoke at once.
"Silence!" Ares yelled. It was often the way in their relationship, when a loud voice was called for, Hercules left Ares to do the shouting. He always told him he looked sexy, all red faced, angered, slightly out of breath if he had to shout for long, so Ares always forgave him. "Strife, this is your residence, you go first. What is all this about?"
"Bliss grew up, he chose to be an adult, Cupid is accusing me of seducing him." Strife looked at his father, no one else, least of all his brother.
"And did you?" Hercules asked, forcing the younger God to look at him.
"No!" Strife was genuinely shocked at the idea. "He's a great kid, got a wicked streak a league wide, but I never seduced him, haven't even kissed him, not that I want to!" He looked at both fathers, then stole a hungry look at his enraged brother. Both his fathers saw that look, Cupid evidently didn't.
"What makes you think he seduced Bliss?" Ares asked his question first again.
"Bliss was happy to be a little boy, my boy, until he came back, suddenly he wants to be an adult and work with Strife no less?" Cupid didn't look at his fathers, he glared at his brother, but failed to see what was before his eyes.
"Where is Bliss? Have you tried asking him what's going on?" Hercules cast his mind about, looking for any trace of any God that might remotely be the Godling he remembered as Bliss.
"And?" A second winged God appeared in the room, he eyed Strife with a mixture of hunger and sorrow, he eyed his father with abject annoyance.
"Bliss?" Hercules' voice squeaked, before him stood their grandson, wearing skin tight gold leather pants, a backless Gold leather vest, even the feathers on his wing tips had been dyed Golden.
"Like I said. And?"
A bolt of pure energy shot out from Ares' hand and sent the impudent Goddling flying into yet another area of wall.
"This is my home, and while here you will mind how you speak to your grandfather." He held the very much younger Gods eyes, Bliss shivered. "Do I make myself clear?"
Bliss was frightened, for the first time in his life a mischievous prank was well and truly back firing, and he didn't know what to do about it. As a child he just had to look cute and winsome and he was forgiven, as an adult, however, he was being held responsible for his own actions.
"Yes grandfather." For the first time since his change, he sounded like the child he had been.
"What do you want to know?" Bliss looked at Hercules as he spoke, he realised just how physically big his grandfathers were, even from his newly acquired adult point of view, and he felt the urge to bawl like a baby.
"Why did you want to grow up, instantly, why rush things?" Hercules asked that question, Ares just stood by his side and scowled his support.
"I love what Strife does, and he wouldn't let me join him until I was grown up. It doesn't hurt that he's real cute either.." Bliss shut up quite abruptly, he looked from his grandfathers to his father and saw Cupid's rage. Looking at Strife he saw his embarrassment and the hurt in his eyes as he looked at Cupid. "Not that he's ever done anything, I'm not the one he wants, I'm not that stupid as to not notice where his heart truly lies." He watched Strife as his uncle stiffened, glaring at him and flicking his eyes towards Cupid. Turning to his father he saw nothing but a blank look. Sometimes, or so Bliss thought, his father could be really thick!
"But you were supposed to be a Love God, it was decided just after you were conceived." Ares tried to explain things, calmly, but like his father and uncle, Bliss didn't seem to want to be calm.
"Oh, great, but no one asked me did they? Why can't I do both?" Bliss longed to work his own brand of mischief on the mortal world, and if he could work one act as a Love God, then he could do both Love and Mischief.
"Right, this is a question beyond my judgement. Wait a moment." Ares cast his mind out and summoned his parents.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Zeus asked his darker son, looking from one angered face to the other.
"Bliss?!" Hera's voiced squeaked every bit as much as Hercules' had.
"Bliss!?" Zeus looked at the tall, tanned, blonde God before him. He turned to Ares and grinned. "So this is why you called on us?"
"Bliss wants to change from being a full time Love God to a part time Love/Mischief God." Ares smiled, such questions were Zeus' after all, not his.
"Oh." There wasn't much either senior God could say off hand. "I suppose we'd better take this to my study?" Zeus looked at all the players. He too saw the hunger in Strife's face as he risked a glance at his half brother, he saw Cupid miss that look entirely.
"As you say, husband." Hera glared at Cupid, and Strife, she grabbed Bliss by one wing tip and snarled at him. "Let's sort all this nonsense out once and for all!" She vanished taking Bliss with her. Zeus followed her with Cupid and Strife.
"Peace at last!" Hercules noted, reaching for Ares' butt and squeezing slightly. "Ready for bed?" He transferred them both to their bed chamber once more. "Now, will you please get your act together and fuck me?"
"You say the sweetest things." Ares started to remove his clothing, one item at a time, eliciting a groan from his lover. Once he was naked, he lay over their bed, one leg pulled up, framing his erection for Hercules' inspection.
Hercules was naked in an instant and launched himself at his lover. Eliciting a raucous laugh from him for his efforts.