And He Has Many Skills
Ares had been pacing, but when he heard Zeus' words, he stopped dead in the middle of the hall.
"You want me to what?"
"I want you to get down there and fix it!"
Ares barely reacted to Zeus' habitual roar. "Do I look like a relationship counselor, Dad?" Ares asked sarcastically. "Wouldn't it be better to give this little task to Dite or Cupid?" He snorted derisively. "They're the ones who believe love makes the world go round. Why would I give a flying fuck about the domestic harmony of my brother and his insipid little blond?"
"Things are going to Tartarus in a handbasket down there! Giants are running rampant over villages, the harpies and furies are doing pretty much what they please, and the warlords are having a field day." Zeus sighed with irritation. "All of which, I'm sure, makes you pretty happy, doesn't it, my boy?"
Ares grinned at Zeus. "You know it does."
"And that's exactly why YOU have to put it to rights."
"Sorry, Dad," Ares said, mystified. "You left me back there with the harpies and the warlords. Why is it ME that has to fix it?"
"If Hercules stops doing what he was born to do, then what do I need you for, boy?" Zeus looked at his son levelly. "After all, you and I know the human race is contentious by nature, correct?"
Zeus laughed coolly. "You KNOW it, Ares. And being contentious by nature, if the peaceful influence of Hercules disappears, then war and conflict reign unchecked. Without your instigation, and without your influence." Zeus relaxed in his throne. "You become unnecessary, God of War, when the scale tips fully to your side of the table. His abdication of the philosophy of we-can-work-things-out-by-talking makes armed conflict the rule rather than the exception." He paused to let Ares digest the unpalatable point, then smiled loftily at him. "You should thank me, Ares, for giving you the opportunity to protect your own interests."
Ares began to pace again, his arms locked behind his back. "Dad, all of that may be true. But what makes you think they would listen to me, anyway? If I'm in the position of trying to get them to kiss and make up, don't you think that would be the last thing they would ever do?"
His father laughed. "I wouldn't worry about it, boy. That charming attitude of yours will shine on through plain as day, and they'll probably get back together just to spite you." Zeus smiled evilly. "They really don't like you much, you know."
Ares whirled to face his father, impatience coloring his face and voice. "That's exactly my point, Dad. They'll both simply assume the kind of ulterior motive for which I'm renowned. In fact, the only way this makes sense is …"
"It only makes sense if you want them permanently detached from one another," Ares said slowly, his voice flat.
Zeus chuckled coldly. "My son, it is immaterial to me whether they fall into each other's arms and fuck like rabbits, or call it quits forever." He walked down the stairs from the throne and stood in front of Ares. "But the bickering, public and private, has got to stop. It's taking up all of your brother's time … and frankly, your mother is giving me fits with her constant cackling enjoyment of the whole spectacle."
He laid his hand on Ares' arm firmly. "Of course, there is a more important reason for you to do this."
Ares sighed. "And that would be?"
"Because I said so, godling."
Great, Ares thought sourly. Even by remote control, Hercules always manages to fuck up my day.
* * *
Hercules and Iolaus sat at opposite ends of the table, glaring at each other. Autolycus sat in the middle, nervously trying to get some food down his throat. It was not easy. The vibrations at the table were not conducive to good digestion.
"Auto, can you pass me the salt?" Iolaus said in a frosty tone. "Some people apparently don't like to share." Auto picked up the salt cellar next to Hercules' plate and handed it to Iolaus.
Hercules cleared his throat. "And some people like to share everything they've got. Including what belongs to someone else. Have you ever noticed that, Auto?"
"Thank you, Auto." He seasoned his stew. "See, I always try to thank someone when they've helped me with something. I just wish everyone else took the same trouble."
Hercules dropped his spoon in his plate, got up and left the tavern in a huff.
Autolycus wished he could be anywhere else. Somehow he had gotten pulled into this fight between Herc and Iolaus that just seemed to go on and on, and he wasn't even sure what they were really fighting about. But the sniping went on constantly, and it had gotten really ugly a few times, so he was a little leery about leaving them alone. Iolaus was strong, but if Herc ever really got pissed ... So Autolycus stayed. He hadn't had a decent meal, or a decent night's sleep, in three weeks.
He noticed Iolaus had stopped eating when Hercules left. He decided to try one more time, his expectations dismal.
"Iolaus, can you guys please get it together? Whatever it is, it can't be this bad!"
Iolaus looked at him, affronted. "Me? Why don't you tell him? He's the one being a total jackass!"
Autolycus rolled his eyes. "Iolaus, Herc says the same thing about you." Oh, shit, he thought, open mouth, insert foot.
"You're on his side, aren't you? Like always!"
"Iolaus, I'm not on anybody's side." He dropped his head on his arms. "I just want to eat in peace and maybe, just maybe, get a little sleep without worrying about the two of you killing each other!" He raised his head, his eyes bloodshot. "Iolaus, you and Herc have been together too long, been through too much, for it to get to this point. Have you guys even tried talking to each other?"
"You try talking to someone whose favorite form of conversation is the lecture and see how far you get, Auto."
"You don't have to live with it, Auto. Gets real old after awhile." Iolaus sat back, his arms crossed tightly across his chest. "And then there's everything else …"
Autolycus bit his lower lip to keep himself from responding.
"We should get going." Hercules stood at the end of the table, hands on hips.
"Right." Iolaus got up, glaring at him. "The Man Has Spoken. We must obey."
* * *
"I asked for some kindling. Too much for you to grasp?"
"I said just a minute." Iolaus looked for a place to set the two skins of water and the bedrolls. "I've kind of got my hands full here."
Hercules looked at him witheringly. "Anywhere is fine, Iolaus. You only have the whole clearing to choose from."
"Here." Autolycus handed the demigod two handfuls of twigs.
"Thanks, Auto." Hercules sprinkled them among the pieces of wood. "Nice to be listened to by someone," he muttered under his breath.
"What was that?" Iolaus asked tightly. "I think I missed that, not having the perfect hearing of a demigod." He scowled. "I'm sure I should apologize for that, too."
"Iolaus, roll it into a tight cylinder and shove it up your ass, okay?" Hercules gently coaxed the flames to catch on the kindling.
Iolaus stared at his lover with narrowing eyes. He laid down the bedrolls and one of the waterskins. The other waterskin he deliberately emptied onto the fire.
Hercules stood up slowly, his fists clenching. "That does it! Let me explain something to you --"
"Oh, save it, Your Majesty! I'm not in the mood to be educated right now!"
"Guys, please!" Autolycus pleaded.
"Auto, stay out of this." Hercules and Iolaus spoke in unison. Autolycus threw up his hands and flopped down on a log, his chin resting on his fist.
"What is this "Your Majesty" crap?" Hercules bellowed. "All I did was --"
"All you did was get ready to start riding me again!"
"Trust me," Hercules said flippantly, "riding you is the last thing I want at this moment." He laughed meanly. "If I did, I'd probably have to elbow somebody out of the way, wouldn't I?"
The roar of deep laughter came abruptly, echoing through the night, followed by blue sparks as Ares materialized. His head was thrown back, the lion's mane of black curls shaking with his humor.
"Ares," Hercules shouted, "get the fuck out of here! Your timing stinks!"
Ares' laughter subsided to throaty chuckles. "I'd say my timing was excellent. I haven't enjoyed anything this much since the last massacre." He gestured nonchalantly at the soaked firepit. "What happened here?"
"It got wet." Autolycus murmured.
"Oh." Ares ignited it with a glance. Then he looked at Hercules and Iolaus expectantly.
Hercules spoke slowly, fury in his voice. "Ares. Nobody called you. This is none of your business. I am asking you to leave."
Ares sat down next to Autolycus, stretching his long legs out in front of him. "Actually, I'd like nothing better. Domestic problems bore me. But, unfortunately for both of us, this IS my business." He glanced at Autolycus. "And what's your place in this, Thief?"
"Innocent bystander," Autolycus mumbled.
"Bystander, maybe," Ares smirked, "but innocent?" Ares stood up, brushing off his leathers. "But I digress."
"Ares, I'm warning you …"
Ares fixed Hercules with a stern look. "Don't even go there, pretty boy. Like I said, this IS my business. Daddy Dear MADE it my business." He draped one arm around Hercules' shoulders, the other pulling Iolaus next to him in like fashion. "Zeus is tired of listening to the two of you, and I'm here to make sure that you boys go back to playing nice."
"I don't believe you," Hercules said flatly. "Why would Zeus even care?"
"Because, to quote the Old Man, 'things are going to Tartarus in a handbasket' down here." Ares looked at him steadily. "Thanks a lot, brother dear. You're not doing your job, so I have to get you back on track. Lucky me, huh?"
"But why you?" Hercules looked perplexed. "Why not, I don't know, Aphrodite? Or even Cupid?"
"Ours is not to reason why, ours is just to -- do what we're told, I guess." He sat down on the log again, crossing his arms loosely. "So: exactly WHAT is going on with you two?"
"You wouldn't understand."
He yawned. "Probably not, but tell me anyway."
A moment later he held up him hands. "SHUT UP!" Dead silence ensued, Hercules and Iolaus pausing in mid-vituperation, staring at him. He smiled mildly. "One at a time, please. Iolaus, you go first."
"Why him first?" Hercules looked like he was going to pout. Ares stifled a laugh.
"Well, the convention of 'ladies first' has always irritated the shit out of me, so I'm reversing the order." Ares grinned at the way Autolycus bit his lip to keep from laughing at the flush of color that crept up Hercules' neck. "But, ultimately, it's because I like him better than I do you. Admittedly, that's not much of an advantage, but … Anyway. Iolaus?"
Iolaus looked at Ares dubiously. But he took a deep breath and began.
"Well, to start with, nothing I ever do seems to meet with his approval anymore. If I buy the bread, it's stale. If I choose the place to camp, it's damp, or the ground is uncomfortable, or the nearby water source is stagnant." Iolaus threw his hands in the air. "I'm sure if it's raining, that's somehow my fault, too." He looked at Hercules. "Where you got the idea that I lay awake nights trying to make your life hard, I have no idea. But I'm tired of listening to your fucking whining about it!"
Hercules opened his mouth, but Ares stopped him with a flash of sparks. "Down, boy. You'll have your turn." He turned back to Iolaus.
"Then there's the money thing. Mr. Miser here apparently wants to take it to his grave. It's not my fault if I need new boots because of holes in the soles, since he refuses to stay in one place, and wants to walk miles everyday looking for good deeds to do." Iolaus braced his hands on his hips. "Not, of course, that we can ever accept any offered rewards for any of these good deed. Oh, no! Not even a good meal. According to him, their thanks should be enough." Iolaus looked at Autolycus. "Tell Ares what happened yesterday."
Autolycus was already shaking his head in the negative, having noted the stormy look on Hercules' face, when Ares laid his hand on his upper arm, exerting gentle pressure around the muscle.
"No, Iolaus. Why don't you tell me?" Ares returned his attention to the hunter.
"Well," he began, "we were in Tormus, just passing through, when the eldest sons of the two ruling warlords in the area apparently decided to eliminate each other, and they managed to pull most of the townsfolk to one side or the other. The three of us got in between them and managed to stop it without any bloodshed." Ares grimaced lightly. //So that's why that didn't happen. I should have known.//
"The town elders were thrilled. They offered to put us up in real style: a cushy room in the inn, a feast, and 250 dinars. Not to mention a party in our honor." He shot Hercules a dirty look. "Needless to say, we slept in the woods last night. He --" jerking his thumb in the direction of the demigod -- "wouldn't hear of it. He told them we were just doing THE RIGHT THING." Iolaus was breathing hard, his face reddened. "Would it have been such a crime for us to accept their hospitality, you self-righteous prig?"
Hercules was visibly twitching, but Ares stilled his fidgets with a look.
"Take a deep breath and let it out slow, Iolaus." When he had shakily complied, Ares said, "Go on."
Iolaus thought for a moment. "Ah, gods, how could I forget?" He slapped his forehead in melodramatic emphasis. "He has this thing about me even talking to anyone. Man, woman, doesn't matter." He picked up the waterskin and took a long drink. "To give him credit, he doesn't seem to care if I talk to children. But anyone else -- no, that's not allowed!" He glanced at Hercules, smiling sourly. "No, I'm wrong. He doesn't care who I talk to -- so long as I don't look like I might be enjoying the conversation. That's when it's unacceptable." He looked at Ares, a pleading tone in his voice that set Ares' teeth on edge. "I mean, come on! How do you live the way we do without ever talking to anyone else? I'm supposed to go into a tavern, drink a tankard, and not say a word to anyone while I'm doing it! Is that reasonable? I ask you, is that even sane?"
Ares shrugged carelessly. "Not my call."
"Look, I've heard all of his stories about a hundred times. I've listened to the man's philosophy on life about a thousand times. And frankly, a lot of the time, I'm so bored with the same old shit that I could fucking scream!" Iolaus looked sideways at Hercules. "Occasionally I like to hear a different story, in a different voice, from a different point of view. Sometimes I might just like to be by myself, talking to no one! But I can't shake the guy -- he's always there!"
Iolaus looked into the god's dark eyes. "No. It's all just more of the same, anyway." He stopped, misery on his face.
"Somewhere along the way we just starting looking at things differently." Anger mixed with the misery, his blue eyes darkening. "Or he started looking at them differently. I'm the same as I've always been. It's just that NOW I'm no longer good enough for him." He sat down, his back turned to Hercules.
Ares studied him for a moment, his face inscrutable. "So, to summarize: He finds fault with everything you do, you believe that he thinks you're extravagant, and that he's jealous of your spending time with anybody else. You think he's overcritical and a tightwad, and you feel smothered. Does that about cover it?" Iolaus nodded.
He inhaled and turned his attention to Hercules. "Okay, sport, your turn."
Hercules stood up, pacing back and forth. "I can't do this, Ares. These things between Iolaus and me are private. They don't involve you, and in my opinion, they don't involve Zeus, either."
Ares shook his head. "Not your decision, I'm afraid. He's involved if he says he's involved, and you know it." He stretched, craning his head back. "You have no choice, Hercules, and you should consider yourself lucky -- you could be dealing with the old man yourself. Not a pretty picture, as mad as he is."
Hercules said angrily, "You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" He took a step toward his brother, fists clenched. "This just makes your fucking day complete, doesn't it, you bastard!"
Ares rolled his eyes, shaking his head slowly, and said sarcastically, "Sure, babe. I have nothing better to do, of course. This is exactly how I want to spend my time -- listening to Frick and Frack bemoan their existence at each other's hands." He gave Hercules a patient stare. "Let's get on with this, shall we? Or have you nothing to say in response to Iolaus' claims?" He materialized a goblet of wine. "You're leaving me no alternative but to assume that everything he said is true."
"It's not. Not by a long shot!"
"Enlighten me, then. Before I fall asleep from the anticipation." He noticed Autolycus looking thirstily at the goblet. "Can I help you?"
"Well, Ares, you know, all we have is water, and …"
Ares waved his hand and a large wineskin and three goblets appeared. "Knock yourself out." He turned back to Hercules, sighing heavily. "Whenever you're ready, bro."
Hercules went over and sat back down on the rock. "I'm not sure where to start."
"He says you find fault with everything he does."
"It's the other way around. I can't open my mouth without him making some smart-ass remark." Hercules looked at Ares. "I mean, I know he's a smart-ass. It's part of his personality. It's one of the reasons I … love him." He blushed. "I wouldn't care what he said to me, but … I hate it when he pops off with that kind of shit in front of other people. Autolycus is bad enough, but he does it in front of complete strangers, too. Nothing personal, Autolycus." He stopped, looking at the ground, seemingly lost in thought.
Ares chewed his lower lip, waiting. Finally, with ill-concealed irritation, he prompted, "And?"
Hercules looked up, startled.
"See, there he goes again!" Iolaus waved his hand in the air. "Hey, earth to Hercules! Are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm here." His nostrils flared as he looked at his lover. "And while we're at it, I think I've heard enough from you about what's wrong with me. So why don't you just do me a favor and shut the fuck up?"
"Oh, really, you've heard enough? Well, there's a lot more I could add, like --"
"IOLAUS!" Ares' voice held a warning. "You had your say. Now sit down and be quiet." Ares got up and walked over to Hercules. "Come over here." Hercules followed him to just outside the clearing.
"Okay. Listen to me. You don't want to do this, and neither do I. But we have to." He lifted Hercules' chin so that their eyes met. "I know you love the guy. Do you want to work this out with him or not?"
"Yes, but …"
"No buts, Herc. Yes or no?"
Hercules sighed heavily. "Yes."
"Fine. Let's go." They walked back to the others.
"All right," Ares said. "Iolaus, keep your mouth shut while he talks, or I'll make it so you can't talk at all. Understood?" Iolaus nodded resentfully. "Go on, Hercules."
Hercules took a deep breath. "Okay. This is how I feel. I am tired of him bitching at me. The shit you listened to earlier is pretty much what I get from him at every opportunity, and since he never shuts his fucking mouth, it's almost constant. All he wants to do is have a good time, and I think that's great, but there's more to life than having a good time! We have a job to do, but he doesn't want to do it anymore. Unless there's money involved, right?"
"I don't see what's wrong with being paid for it, especially when it's offered out of gratitude!"
"Gratitude?" The demigod yelled. "Gratitude? Don't you understand that these people are used to dealing with warlords and paid protectors who never do anything without a price attached to it? Is that us? Do we go from place to place offering our services to the highest bidder? Have we ever? Of course they offer money -- but it's money that they can't afford, most of the time. It's what they have been accustomed to doing by the society in which we live. And I won't take advantage of them that way."
Iolaus shook his head. "Don't you understand that it makes them feel better to be able to show their thanks?"
"They didn't ask for our help. They shouldn't have to pay for it." He folded his arms across his chest.
Iolaus rolled his eyes. "Gods, everything is so fucking black and white with you!"
Hercules glared at Iolaus. "I'm not a whore getting paid for services rendered!"
"Good thing," Iolaus sneered. Then his face went blank. "Are you saying I am?"
"If the shoe fits, buddy --"
"WHOA!" The expression on Ares' face was almost mild. "I think that's enough 'communication' between you boys." He turned back to Hercules. "Address your remarks to me. And YOU," he said pointedly to Iolaus, "for the last time, keep your mouth shut while he's talking. Am I making myself clear on this?" Iolaus nodded.
"All right." Ares settled himself back on the log. "Hercules, you still have the floor, I believe."
"Give me a minute, okay?" The demigod stood, eyes closed, taking deep breaths and trying to calm down.
Finally, he faced his brother. "Look, you have known me all my life, and you know that I have always felt this way. Contrary to what he said, nothing has changed. I can't not help people when I see they're in trouble. I have to step in. I know you think that's a stupid way to live, but --"
"Don't bother justifying yourself to me. This is about you and Iolaus." Ares rested his arm on an upraised knee. "Does Iolaus think it's a stupid way to live?"
"Not before, but now … I don't know." Hercules rubbed his hands on his thighs. "It seems to irritate him to no end. Like what happened yesterday."
"Okay. What else?"
"I don't think he wastes money. You don't really think I begrudge you anything I have, do you?"
"Uh-uh," Ares said sternly. "Let's not have a repeat of the previous entertainment. If you two could talk to each other, I wouldn't have to be here. Talk to me, not him."
"Well, I don't think he wastes money. We just have a limited amount of it, that's all. It doesn't make sense to spend it all on an evening's entertainment in a tavern. It should be spent on food and the things we need to survive. And, incidentally, the essentials do include boots. The only thing I said was, it's cheaper to get the old ones resoled rather than buying new ones." Hercules stared fixedly at the ground between his feet. He seemed to have run out of energy.
Ares waited, his patience fraying rapidly. It's like pulling fucking teeth, he thought, taking a deep breath. He smiled tightly. "Hercules, can we possibly keep the tempo on this moving at least at a snail's pace? I have a life to live sometime in the future."
He looked up sheepishly. "Sorry."
Ares dug his tongue into his cheek. "Anything else?"
"I can't think of anything."
Ares looked at him with surprise. "Nothing else comes to mind?"
Hercules looked puzzled. "I've said everything I wanted to say. Except … Iolaus, I love you. I really do."
Ares slid his body from the log to the ground, crossing one leg over the other knee. He leaned back against the log, his arms stretched out to their full length. "Are you jealous?"
"He said you get mad whenever he talks to anyone else. I read that as jealousy. Is it?"
A dark look came over Hercules' face. "I AM NOT JEALOUS … of who he talks to. He's totally wrong about that."
"Then why would he feel that way?"
"How should I know?" Hercules' voice was tense. Very tense.
"Is he jealous?" Ares asked, turning to Autolycus.
"You're asking me?"
"We've never discussed it, to tell you the truth," he said flippantly.
"You have eyes. You've been with them for the past few weeks, haven't you?"
"Yes, I have." Autolycus looked from Iolaus to Hercules. "But my opinion's not relevant here. Apparently I'm just a whore." He looked at Hercules with irritation.
Ares groaned inwardly, thinking, Oh, good going, Bro!
"Auto, I wasn't saying that!"
"Yeah, I know you weren't, Herc. But if you'd be a whore for taking money when you earned it, what does that make me?" He smiled frostily at the demigod. "By the way, I should probably point out that the food you ate for dinner was paid for with money I lifted from a merchant's pocket. So I guess that would make you a whore once removed, huh?"
Hercules stammered, "Auto, I didn't mean … I … I wasn't …"
Ares counted to ten. "Autolycus."
The thief looked at Ares, his face stoic. "Yes?"
The god sighed. "Let's deal with one misunderstanding at a time, shall we?" Autolycus nodded grudgingly. "Okay. You've been with them for weeks. Is Hercules jealous, or does he act that way? Does Iolaus have a reason to feel the way he does?"
Ares turned back to Hercules, meeting his brother's eyes evenly. "Looks like you're outvoted two to one." He sipped some wine. "So, you've got a touch of the green-eyed monster." Looking over at Iolaus, Ares asked, "All right. Let's assume you're correct: he is jealous, and he is therefore being a tad smothering. Now, my question to you is: does he have a reason to be jealous?"
Iolaus stared at Ares. "For my talking to someone? Ares, c'mon, I --"
Ares cut him off. "Not for talking. For doing."
"For doing -- what?"
Ares rolled his eyes in irritation, snapping impatiently, "Are you fucking around behind his back?"
"NO!" Iolaus said hotly.
"No, he's not fucking around behind my back," Hercules cut in icily. "He does it right in front of my face."
Iolaus sputtered, "That's not true! It's not exactly …" His voice faded away.
"What, exactly, then?" Ares said tersely.
Iolaus swallowed and ran his hand nervously through his hair. "I'm not … I mean …" He looked at Hercules. "It doesn't mean anything! You KNOW that!"
Ares started to laugh, shaking his head. "Iolaus, is that a yes?" He laced his fingers behind his neck.
Iolaus stopped playing with his hair. "Hercules … I thought you and I had an agreement."
"Yeah." Hercules was moving back up to a rolling boil. "Yeah, we have an agreement. You fuck whoever you want. And I put up with it. I always have, Iolaus. But you want to know what's getting to me? You sleep here less than half the time now! And even when you are here," his voice breaking, "your mind is … elsewhere. Gods, Iolaus, you do it RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!"
"All right! Maybe I do, but at least I'm honest about it!" He stared at Hercules defiantly.
"I don't sneak around. Can you say the same thing?" They faced each other, a bare two feet between the two men.
Hercules' mouth dropped open. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, yeah," Iolaus sneered, "that's good. Play innocent." He filled and drained a goblet, his eyes never leaving the demigod.
"Iolaus, I really don't know what you're talking about!"
Ares said softly, "He's talking about Iphicles, little brother."
Hercules turned on Ares, his fists clenched. "Don't help me, okay?"
Iolaus folded his arms tightly across his chest, rocking on the balls of his feet. "Yes. Let's talk about your favorite monarch. You know, Herc, the one you're always running off to … What's the word I'm looking for here?" Iolaus tapped his forehead. "Oh, yeah. HELP. The one you're always running off to HELP."
"Iphicles is my brother, Iolaus!"
"Yeah. He is. And I guess that makes it okay, right?" He smiled contemptuously at Hercules. "You bitch at me, night and day, about my little flings, and you know damn well they mean NOTHING! But I'm supposed to ignore the fact that you're in love with someone else -- yes, IN LOVE! -- and fucking him every chance you get, right?" He looked back at Ares. "Do you have any idea how nauseating it is to have him fantasizing about Iphicles when he fucks me?" He spun back to face Hercules, his eyes spitting fire. "I guess it's convenient that my cum tastes so much like his, isn't it? And, yes, baby, I know that for a FACT!"
With a roar, Hercules launched himself at Iolaus, flattening him with the impact. He drove his fist into the man's body and face, the full force of his arm behind the blows.
"Ares, do something! Herc'll kill him!" Autolycus looked frantically from the god to the two men rolling around on the ground.
Ares smiled coldly. "I wouldn't DREAM of interfering." As far as he was concerned, they could beat each other to a pulp. Ares was pissed off, and getting more so every second. The whole situation was ridiculous. Iolaus fucked everyone, men and women, if they caught his attention; and Hercules spent his time pining after Iolaus when he was with Iphicles, and longing for Iphicles when he was with Iolaus. It was a long-standing thing that had been going on for years.
"Ares, PLEASE!" Autolycus flinched as Iolaus' cheek split open. "At least keep them out of the fire!"
Ares shrugged, but then lifted his index finger, erecting an invisible barrier. He let it go on for a while, enjoying the wrestling match. Due to his anger and the shot of adrenaline in his bloodstream, Iolaus was actually holding his own, and Hercules' face looked almost as bad as the smaller man's.
Finally, the god separated them, blue flashes dropping the two men on opposite sides of the firepit. Ares stood up, sardonic amusement in his voice. "THIS is what you've been fighting about? THIS is what's causing all the trouble?" His deep chuckles rumbled through the clearing. "Iphicles?" Angry laughter erupted from his throat. "Oh, man, this is RICH!"
Hercules and Iolaus both stared at him as they tried to catch their breath. Gradually, the war god's laughter died down to a murmur, and he looked at the two men pityingly. "For the gods' sake, why don't the two of you grow up?" He shook his head, disgusted with them, and angry with Zeus for inflicting this assholery on him. //But at least now I know the real reason why Zeus dumped this shit in my lap.//
"Why does it matter who he fucks?" he asked Hercules. "You know he loves you. Why he loves you, I can't say. But you do know that, don't you?" Hercules nodded, his face coloring. "Iolaus fucks around. Always has, always will. As you fucking well know." Ares' eyes narrowed, his eyes fixed on Hercules. "Or you used to know. If you've forgotten, I would suggest you remember it. And resign yourself to it."
"I don't want to hear it, Herc. What, after all these years, you've just decided to get mad about this? Haven't you been paying attention?" He flipped his hand in Iolaus' direction. "He has fucked just about everyone in Greece, little brother! Autolycus has had him -- I've had him -- yes, even Iphicles has had him. Then there's Xena, and Gabrielle, and Ephiny, and Meg --" ticking them off on his fingers "-- and let's not forget Joxer, and Jett, and fuck knows who else, and that doesn't even take into account various gods and elementals!" He stopped, sighing deeply. "And he keeps coming back to you, every time. Fuck if I know why." He poured some wine, his eyes meeting Hercules'. "That should count for something, Herc."
"It does, but --"
"Oh, shit, but nothing!" Ares' face hardened. "The man loves you. Sure, he can't keep it in his pants for five minutes, but he loves you. Aren't you the one who's always saying you have to take the bad with the good? Well," he said, smiling slightly, "welcome to the bad. Deal with it."
The god turned to Iolaus.
"And as for you: Iphicles was here long before he ever met you, toots. That's been going on since Hercules was 12 years old. That's between brothers, pal, and it really doesn't concern you. But even if it did, you have always known about it. It has been there since the day you met him, and you should have come to terms with it long ago. Just like he should have reconciled himself to your fondness for fucking anything that moved. Or didn't move too fast, that is." Ares snorted. "So I would advise you to get used to that."
Almost as an afterthought, Ares glanced at Autolycus. "And if I were you, I'd let them kill each other, if that's what they want to do. They're grown men. If they choose to act like children, that's not your problem." He peered closely at the thief. "And get some sleep, Auto. You look like shit."
He turned back to Hercules and Iolaus, a cool smile on his face. "Talk this out between the two of you. Fighting about who's fucking who is stupid. After all, you're both mortal -- life's too short." He picked up the goblet and filled it with wine. "I personally think love is a crock, but the two of you don't. So work it out. You'd better: the next time Dad'll come down here himself." He grinned. "And you don't want that, do you?" Ares walked out of the clearing and dematerialized.
* * *
"Ares?" He sat up, rubbing his eyes in the sudden lantern light. "What are you doing here?"
Ares slid under the satin sheets, nuzzling the man's neck. "I just felt like dropping in." He pulled back slightly. "Not a problem, I hope."
"Of course not! I just … wasn't expecting you." He kissed the god, sliding his tongue deep inside the warm mouth. They fought against each other, a sensual massage of body against body, and he gasped when Ares slid down and took his cock deep into his throat. The unexpected plunge into the heated wetness, coupled with three of the god's thick fingers skillfully massaging the pleasure gland inside his ass, triggered his orgasm, and he filled Ares' throat and mouth with his cum. It was fast and sweet and overpowering, and it drained him completely.
He slumped into the muscular circle of Ares' arm, his lips pressed against the war god's chest. "Is that what they call a quickie?" he murmured.
"Mmmm." Ares laughed softly, savoring the taste in his mouth.
"Something funny, lover?"
"No. I was just thinking," he said, turning to face the man in his arms, "you really DO taste like Iolaus." At Iphicles' mystified look, Ares started to laugh.