Vengeance is Mine
It was already well past nightfall when Hercules walked into the bar, looking for Iolaus. The older man was still in the habit of heading off in search of a pretty face at the drop of a hat. Though, these days his wanderings didn't take him very far. Due partly to his age, and due partly to the chaos and violence Ares' loss of power had loosed upon the world. He scanned the crowd as they drank, fought and fucked with their omnipresent air of desperation. Much as he had always decried Ares, now he always lamented his absence.
He continued to look around the bar, not sure if he wanted to find Iolaus in that melee or not.
What he didn't expect to see was one of his brothers, his half brothers. He appeared to be sitting, nursing a goblet of wine. Although his hands were shaking too much for him to drink it. Although that didn't appear to stop him trying, red wine seemed to have liberally splashed his brother's fingers.
He had heard about Ares' sacrifice. Who hadn't? It was talked about from one end of Greece to the other. The War God who gave it all up for love, and still didn't win the heart of the woman he loved. Ares was a common laughing stock. Luckily, very few people knew what Ares really looked like, so he didn't get laughed at to his face. Yet, his brother looked like he needed someone who knew his name. Even if that someone was him.
He picked his way around the undulating heaps of mortal flesh as he approached his brother's table. As he moved, Ares picked up his passage over or around the people fighting everywhere. He looked up at Hercules and didn't really see anything. Hercules realised his brother was in shock, not drunk. That the colour staining his hands was blood, not red wine as he had first thought.
"What happened?" Hercules whispered his question as he slipped into the chair beside Ares.
"I killed them." Ares told him, pain filled eyes looking at his still youthful, immortal half brother. "I gave it all up for them, and I killed them." Ares tried to make his brother understand. He saw the pain and hatred flash in Hercules' face and saw that his brother did indeed believe him. "I've gotta go... somewhere." He threw the raw wine back, squinting his eyes shut at the sharp sting and the evil burn as it made its way to his soured belly. He pushed himself up onto unsteady legs and looked at Hercules. "I knew you'd never understand. You never liked him anyway. But they shouldn't have done it. They shouldn't have laughed, ya' know?" and so saying nothing that was understandable, Ares tried to walk past his brother.
"Liked who? Young Virgil? Joxer? Who Ares? Who did they hurt?" He suddenly realised he wasn't absolutely sure that Ares' idea of 'they' was the same as his. "We are talking about Xena and Gabrielle here, aren't we?"
"They should never have laughed at my boy's death. Never laughed about how they would dance a jig on his grave when they over took Olympus. Now they never will." He tried to pull free. He failed, he was no longer a match for Hercules' strength. "An' the worst of it is, after what I gave up for them, they shouldn't have laughed. Not over my boy." Hercules' shock loosened his grasp and Ares pulled free at last.
Slowly the hero began to understand. Ares had always had a reputation for being an overly defensive father. No matter what he had said to Nemesis and Iolaus. Hercules had long since learned that just because he said something was so, didn't mean it was. That lesson he'd learned the hard way. Obviously a lesson neither Xena nor Gabrielle ever bothered to learn. Don't challenge Ares where is immediate family were concerned. Yet, Xena wouldn't have laughed over Deimos or Cupid's deaths in front of Ares. Would she? Was Cupid alive or dead? All the news he got came third or fourth hand. After he had killed Zeus none of the Gods talked to him any more.
"Which son did they laugh at?" He kept his voice as calm and low as he could.
"My Strife. My first Godly child to die." Ares sat back down and sighed deeply. "I brought him up. He wasn't my child, my son, but he might as well have been. He grew up as one of mine. And they laughed about him, about Callisto killing him. How his death gave them the idea to kill us all off."
"That doesn't sound like Xena. What had happened to her? What did you do?" Hercules found he couldn't look away from the blood dried in-between Ares' fingers.
Before Ares could answer one of the fighters crashed into the table and knocked the almost defenceless former God to the floor. Ares just lay there, not making any move to stop the man as he advanced on a new victim.
Hercules came to his brother's rescue.
He picked up the crazed man by one arm and swung him back into the fighting mass. Then he scooped up his brother and carried the almost catatonic former God out of there. The rapid deterioration in his brothers mental state lead Hercules to the inevitable conclusion that Xena's death was a very resent event. Not least being the evidence of the dried blood on his brother's hands.
He eventually lowered his brother to his own two feet a little way from the home he shared with Iolaus. They silently walked on together. Hercules showed Ares into his house, past Iolaus' bedroom with much giggling and ooh's and ah's coming from within.
"The wanderer returns." Hercules chuckled softly as he looked at his friends firmly closed door.
"What?" Ares asked, confusion clearly seen in his face.
"Iolaus is back. I went out looking for him, but then I found you." The hero lead the way towards the warm kitchen and the kettle that sat to the side of their iron range. Always ready. He poured some of the warm water into a large wooden bowl and put out soap and a towel. "Let's get you cleaned up a bit and then you can tell me your story, okay?" he indicated the bowl with a broad sweep of one arm.
"All right." Ares stripped off his ragged vest and shirt and began to wash. He was as muscular as ever he was, and as tanned. Hercules couldn't help noticing his physical shape hadn't changed. But his emotional one most assuredly had.
Finally washed and dried Ares looked around for the clothing he'd removed earlier only to find one of Hercules' shirts waiting for him.
"Your stuff's filthy, it needs washing too. Wear that for now, ok?" Hercules pushed the fresh shirt closer to Ares, finally his brother conceded and put the garment on. Hercules indicated the two chairs by the range and crossed to take one. "Come and sit down Ares, tell me what happened." He waited patiently, finally Ares seemed to know where to start his story.
"After I foolishly brought Gabrielle and the blessed Eve back from the dead. My biggest mistake ever, by the way. Xena bearly managed a simple thank you. Anyway, they moved on the next day, they left me behind. Went while I was sleeping. I woke up and was alone. After all I did for them, they didn't even say good bye." Ares looked into the fire light, not at his brother.
Hercules, however, watched Ares like a hawk, assessing his words for the truth, and heard it in every one of them. Which saddened him. If Ares had done what he had for Xena to save Iolaus, he'd be at his side giving thanks every damn day. How could Xena cast such a profound gesture back in his face like that?
"Anyway, I... I adapted. What else was there for me to do? So, I wandered about, looking for something, someplace, I don't know, inspiration or something. And I was out in the woods near here. Hunting small game, I'm getting quite good at it these days. Hunger's a powerful teacher. Xena, well, Xena and her merry little band of idiots were in the woods too. I heard them laughing and joking and even bickering when one or other of them lost control. I almost walked into their camp and demanded to know why they didn't even say good bye, ya' know?" Ares flicked a glance at Hercules and saw his brother nodding quietly. "That was when their talk changed. They stopped joking with each other. They started laughing at all the Gods they'd killed. How they got you to kill dad. How it was all Callisto's inspiration anyway. Then they started laughing about Strife. They took his life apart. They ridiculed him from birth to death." Ares took a few calming breaths. Slowly the renewed rage settled.
"I didn't know they'd seen much of Strife, enough to be able to judge him like that?" Hercules knew they had encountered Strife when the younger God had killed his wife. But other than that he couldn't recall them meeting Strife, not face to face.
"They hadn't. But, when have you known ignorance to stop a mortal from making clear his or her opinions. You yourself wanted rid of me all your life. Now I'm no longer a God are you any happier?" Ares challenged his brother to tell the truth just by looking at him.
"I can't say I am. I didn't know, honestly, I didn't! I didn't know that you stopped all this violence and killing. Not until you were gone." The hero wanted desperately to change the subject but let Ares take it at his own pace. It was the least he could do.
"Like I said, they ripped Strife apart. He's been dead nearly thirty years now and they couldn't let him lie in peace. I had to do something. Had to stop their lies. They had him down as... as... some kind of animal molesting, child killing madman. He was God of Mischief, he loved kids. Was more or less an over grown Godly kid himself. His worst tricks he saved for adults. He never harmed a child once. That was why I had Discord help me try and get Evander from Nemesis. Strife refused to take the child from his mother. Ok, I was livid with him at the time, but I got over it. Strife was allowed his own freedom of thought. And they tore him to shreds. I had to make them pay!" Ares looked back at the fire, remembering the entire night. "I knew I couldn't challenge them all together. Maybe when I'd been a God I would have. But not as a mortal. They'd kill me with out a moment's thought. So I lay in wait." Ares stopped his story again. Looking into the dancing flames.
"So, what did you do?" Hercules prompted him, sure he knew what Ares would say next. Sure in his heart that it was something Iolaus would have done too. Sneak attack on a stronger opponent.
"I waited for them all to go to sleep." Ares looked up, briefly, and saw realisation in his brother's face. "Yeah, I snuck into their camp. Livia, or Eve rather, was closest to me. I'd spent my waiting time cutting these little wooden pegs. Pegs to hold their blankets in place. I didn't want to be lying on top of them when the time came. That would be messy, clumsy and a slower kill. They were going to die, but it would be a far quicker death than the one they had left me to. So, when the time came, I crawled over to her bed roll and pegged her to the ground by her blanket. It only had to hold a few seconds, a minute at most. I put a hand over her mouth and pulled her face up and towards me. Then, with the full throat exposed I severed her jugular vein, her wind pipe, all of it. No way could she call out! It took her less than a minute to die. As she lay there I moved onto the next one." Ares began sweat, he found it hard to catch his breath too. Hercules saw his brother's distress and tried to comfort him as best he could.
"You don't have tot tell it all at once, if you don't want to. Tell it your way, at your pace." He reached over to touch Ares' clenching and unclenching hands. Once his brother looked up at him he tried to smile as reassuringly as he could. Ares continued his story, almost as if he were unable to halt its telling even if he wanted to.
"The next one was Xena herself. I was slower this time. I pegged her in firmer. All I needed was that thirty seconds startlement and she'd not arouse attention. Either way, she'd be dead, which was my main objective. Again, I pulled her head towards me, covering her mouth as I did so. She opened her eyes, tried to struggle. She saw me, saw my hand descend, saw the knife. The look of surprise as I actually slit her throat. She never thought I'd do it. But I did. She died quietly, not in her sleep. I left her there and made my way towards Gabrielle. Oh, I pegged her in slow too. Not taking care, just savouring it. I was determined to enjoy this one. I have hated that whining bitch since the first moment I ever set eyes on her! I did her exactly as I did the other two. She died but didn't know it was me who killed her. This time there is no coming back! What I gave them - I took back from them! It was wasted on her and that amoral bitch, Eve. Xena was just a bonus. I showed them they shouldn't have laughed about my boy." Ares was shaking. As a God the deaths of mortals didn't touch him. As a man he had never gotten used to killing.
"Would you believe I loved it and hated it? I left Virgil. He'll be in for one God awful shock in the morning, but at least he's alive." Ares looked at his hands this time, checking yet again to see if they were truly clean.
"Why did you leave him alive?" Hercules asked. He shocked himself, his voice was firm and stable. Not squawking in outrage.
"He's Joxer's son." Ares replied quite simply, as if that explained everything that need be said on the subject. Seeing Hercules' confusion he continued anyway. "Just like Joxer would have, he pointed out that they shouldn't mock the dead, be they Gods or not." Ares looked at his brother, finally. "He was innocent, why should I kill an innocent?" The trembling in his limbs finally became obvious to the hero.
"How many people had you personally killed before them?" He didn't know whether to reach out for him to comfort him or punish him.
"One, almost. I thought I'd killed him but he was only wounded. Xena killed him finally." Ares clasped both hands tightly together, trying to stop the shaking.
"But all those battlefields, you killed on them, didn't you?"
"Sure, but I was a God then. Doing my duty. Calming the world for the ordinary mortals. It's different when you're an ordinary mortal. You've not been one anywhere near as long as me. You were always immortal, right from the start. You really don't know about being an ordinary mortal."
Hercules concluded that Ares was right. He really didn't have the proper perspective to judge from. Iolaus would, and he'd probably have agreed with Ares' actions. If the enemy hadn't been Xena.
"What now, Ares?"
"The killing will cease. The Gods that are left will gather forces and regroup, rebuild, start again. If they can." Ares looked up at Hercules and laughed, a harsh bark of almost bitter laughter. "I can't stop shaking. Am I ill? Will I die too tonight?"
"No, you're not ill, it's shock, a reaction to the killing." Hercules stood up and crossed to Ares' chair. As he approached Ares cringed back, expecting a blow, his own death. The hero flinched at his brother's obvious emotional pain. He didn't condone what he had done, but understood why he had done it. He did allow that Ares was right about one thing. Maybe now the killing would stop! "Shh, Ares, everything will be all right. You're right, the killings will stop. The war with the Gods is over and you ended it. As a mortal, not a God. You did something no God, no other man could do." He pulled his brother close and felt the shakes slowly subside.
Ares had never before felt this need to touch another living being. He grabbed his brother close, when his arms would work. He pulled him in tighter than ever. Trying to make him part of himself. He was breathing in short, rapid gasps. His brother's breathing not much easier than his.
Hercules felt the power of his brother's mortal body relaxing into him. Then those arms came around him, pulling him closer. The trembling increased then slowly decreased. But the grip holding him there didn't ease off.
"Hold me?" The whispered, almost begging question sounded loud in the quiet kitchen. It was a plea too desperate for the hero to ignore.
"Of course." He put his own arms even more firmly around his brother's frame and hugged him close. He didn't move. He didn't want to move. The light touch of his brother's breath ran delicate air fingers over his neck. If he moved he'd lose that touch. If he moved, Ares would find out just how turned on he was. Oh, not by his story, by just holding him. The strong, needy embrace of another man was something he'd not had in a very long time. Not since he and a then much younger Iolaus had decided that they were better as friends than lovers.
Ares leaned in to feel the caress of Hercules' breath against his own face and neck.
"You feel so good, little brother. So strong." Ares rubbed his cheek against Hercules' and felt his brother lean into that caress. It surprised the former God, he had been fully expecting blows, not hugs.
"Shh, Ares. Hold on as tight as you need." Hercules stood up, taking Ares with him, still in their embrace. The hero lifted his brother into his arms and walked towards his own bedroom. "Stay with me tonight? We can face destiny, and history, tomorrow morning, okay?"
"Okay." Ares replied. He knew what was going to happen. He had done this himself often enough. Comforted someone with his body, rather than his words. Words really weren't his strong point anyway. They didn't seem to be Hercules' either.
Putting his brother down on the side of his bed, Hercules knelt before him and slipped the borrowed shirt off his shoulders. He looked into Ares' comfort hungry face and smiled, softly.
"It will be good, you'll see!" And he removed Ares' boots. Standing up, he pulled Ares to his feet and unfastened the leather pants his brother wore. He eased them off those slim hips, slowly, gently caressing the flesh beneath as he did so.
Ares busied himself pulling Hercules' shirt free, unfastening it and waiting to slip it off his brother's broad shoulders. As he waited he stroked the chest hidden from view by that flimsy garment.
"Let me. Lie back. Relax." Hercules swiftly stripped himself. Letting Ares watch him as each item of clothing was discarded. Finally, naked, he leaned over Ares as he reclined on the bed. "I want you." He watched his words have their desired effect on his brother.
"I want you too." He managed, finally. Ares lifted his arms to encircle the hero's neck, pulling him down till he could capture those lips in their first kiss.
Nothing more was spoken. All that need be said was said by strong arms, gentle hands and two bodies understanding each other, finally.
Hercules stroked Ares' flanks, discovering his brother's tickle spots as he went.
Ares dragged his finger nails up Hercules' back. The sharp quick pain making the hero gasp and tremble with desire.
Moving downwards, Hercules discovered Ares' much neglected nipples. He licked them, sucked on them, blew cold air over them. He enjoyed watching them draw up in little peaks. All the while he did that, Ares was slowly and carefully carding his fingers through the hero's hair. As he stopped playing with Ares' chest the hands holding his head drew him back up for more kissing. More tongue fucking.
They writhed together, rubbing flesh against flesh. Ares rolled them over and repeated the hero's actions on his own chest. The gasped almost giggles told the former God his brother liked it. He sat up and smiled wickedly at the hero. Then he dropped his head even further and licked the length of his brother's erection.
Hercules gasped in a ragged breath into suddenly air starved lungs. He pulled Ares around so he could do as much for his brother as he did for him. Matching lick for lick, touch for touch. The brothers were joined in such a fundamental way, niether could say which body was which. It was all comfort offered and comfort received.
Ares climaxed first, rather as the former God expected. Even a Demi-God would last longer than a mere mortal. When he realised that Hercules had backed away slightly and turned around to hold him as he rode the waves of orgasm, a new desire was born.
Hercules didn't resist when he was rolled onto his back, because Ares rolled forwards with him. The look in his brothers eyes was one of total worship. It caught the hero's breath tight in his throat. That gaze held him captive as Ares slowly raised himself to sit astride his brother's beautiful body. Hercules didn't even blink as he felt a strong hand enclose his still hard cock. He only broke the thrall his brother held him in when he saw his brother roughly impale himself on his dry cock. The pain registered on Ares' face, followed by a look of almost contentment.
The idea that Ares sought out the pain shocked Hercules. Then he saw the pain register again and knew his brother wasn't enjoying the act itself; but saw the pain as almost atonement for his crimes that night. Did he let him hurt himself like this? The decision was taken from him as Ares continued to raise and lower himself and Hercules' body overrode the higher functioning parts of his mind and started to lift up to meet Ares' downward strokes.
It didn't take long for Hercules to finally climax and fall away from Ares' bleeding and bruised anus. Seeing the blood that smeared his softening cock almost caused him to wretch. He lay his almost catatonic brother down on to his side and tried to comfort him. Somehow.
He went back to the kitchen and to the kettle, still naked, not caring if Iolaus' friend saw him like that. All he was able to care about was his brother. He cleaned himself up, so the sight on that bloodied cock wouldn't shock Ares. He took a basin of water and a couple of soft clean clothes back into his bedroom. He cleaned Ares thoroughly, one hand resting comfortingly on his brother's flank. Finally Ares registered his presence and moaned deep and low in his belly.
"Let me do this." Hercules had to encourage Ares to relax and let him care for him. He was relieved to see his gentle touch had lulled his brother into the first stages of sleep. Clearing the bowl and clothes away he covered Ares with the blankets and snuggled in behind him. Finally, held secure Ares moved into deeper sleep, Hercules right behind him.
Morning brought more than a new day. It brought new challenges too. When he woke up, Hercules found Ares still sleeping in his arms. He looked so calm, so at peace. Yet he had to disturb that blessed rest. He wanted to see to Xena and Gabrielle and Eve. To give them a proper burial. And to help Virgil over that shock, for Joxer's sake, he couldn't let his friend's son struggle with such a scene of carnage.
He eased out of the bed and recovered his brother with the fallen blankets. Once he had breakfast cooking would be time enough to wake his brother. This time he got dressed before he ventured out into the kitchen. He was cooking a large pot of oats, whistling idly to himself, when Iolaus and his friend of the night joined him.
"Hey, Herc, whistling? Who's the lucky girl then?" Iolaus teased his ever youthful friend. He knew he was on the right track when the hero blushed and scowled at him.
"There is no girl. All right?" Hercules turned back to the pot and tried to ignore Iolaus. Not an easy task when the older man thought he was on to a sensitive spot.
"Okay, no girl. So, who's the lucky man then?" He laughed at his friends affronted look. Especially when it was accompanied by a lightening quick glance to his bedroom door. "Shall we go peek?" He nudged his friend and the both laughed and ran for the door, throwing it open, startling the man curled up, safe in Hercules' bed.
"What?" Ares tried to focus his eyes, but the pounding in his head robbed him of that facility at first. It gave the vague blob shapes time to back away from the door, closing it as they went. He decided it was time he got up anyway. The raised voices he could hear outside might develop into yet another fight. And he was heartily sick of all the domestic, civilian fighting going on around him.
Outside Iolaus was hissing at Hercules, demanding to know why Ares was in his bed?
"Ares, as in the God that gave it all up for Love? That Ares?" The woman asked.
"Well, what other Ares have you ever heard of?" Iolaus snapped at her. He was rapidly wondering what it was he had seen in her the night before.
"Well, I'm not staying here if the Gods know where you all are. You fight their fight, I'm off!" She headed for the door without looking back.
"He is my brother and has more right here than you do!" For some unaccountable reason Hercules was actually rude to the unnamed woman.
"Now, come on Her.." Iolaus got no further.
"No, you come on. He's my brother, he needed me, needed my help last night and I gave him what help I could!" He took a deep breath, the better to lecture Iolaus with when the door opened.
"I really don't like your taste in shirts. I don't think they suit me." He tried for humour. He had seen it work for Joxer for decades, redirecting the high emotions from dangerous to safe.
Hercules and Iolaus both stopped in the tracks and looked at the former God. He was right. Hercules' shirt did not suit him.
"You're right there. It looks terrible on you!" The hunter couldn't have stopped his comment if he had tried.
"What's the saying about beggars being choosers?" Ares saw his words were understood and grinned. "So, what were you fighting about? Breakfast, or me?" He was no fool, despite what was so often reported about him. He turned to the window and stood there, bathed in the bright golden light of the morning sun.
A whole new day had begun.
"Breakfast is ready if...." Hercules stammered to a halt. The light seemed to make Ares glow from within. It was truly a beautiful sight. Right up to the moment Ares convulsed and dropped to the floor.
Their fight forgotten both men ran to the former God's side. Hercules feared he might have hurt Ares more than either of them had realised. Iolaus wondered if this was how the Gods died. If this was yet another of Xena's mad fights. Had she poisoned him somehow?
As they reached him he rolled over. The strain had left his face, relief flooded it in its place.
"What is it?" Hercules asked as he helped his brother off the floor.
"Would you believe, peace?" Ares asked him, smiling a broad smile of equal parts sweetness and mischievousness.
"Come again?" Hercules demanded clarification. He didn't follow his brother's words at all.
"I'd love to, but I don't think I have the time right now." Ares laughed, a deep, cleansing, resonant laugh. Seeing the hurt and bewildered expression on his brother's face he sobered up, took pity on him and tried to explain. "What I gave them, I took back. Remember? Herc, I got it back!" He smiled, hopefully.
"What is he on about?" Iolaus asked, wishing someone would explain things to him in non cryptic phrases he had a chance of understanding.
"Peace Iolaus, an end to the civilian violence." Hercules looked from brother to friend and saw the confusion still there. "Ares has his Godhood back." He finally spelt it out for him.
"But what about Gabrielle and Eve and Xena. I thought Ares gave them it.." Then the hunter realised. "They're dead?"
"Very." Ares confirmed.
"But how?" Iolaus would not be deterred.
"They stopped breathing, their hearts stopped beating, and they asked one too many questions of the Gods.." Ares mock glared at the man.
"Ares?" Hercules drew his brother's attention.
"Hmm?" He looked at his brother, and saw understanding, for the first time in the hero's life, he understood the nature of the God of War.
"You have family to see, I have friends to see to." He cupped the War God's cheek, stroking those full lips with his thumb. "Stop by later, if you can, I don't think I'm gonna have such a good day." He smiled, sadly, at his brother.
Ares pulled him in close and kissed him hard, as hard as he had kissed Ares the night before.
"Of course, isn't that what brother's do? Help each other?" So saying he faded, still wearing Hercules' spare shirt.
"Well, he'll have to come back just to return your shirt!" Iolaus headed back to the range. "You said breakfast was ready, didn't you?"
"Help your self, Iolaus, help yourself." Hercules stood a moment longer, staring at the spot Ares had faded from before giving himself a shake. He had things to do today, before his brother came back. He'd better get on with them then.