Two Gods and a Guy
Since my best friend is the half mortal son of Zeus, I'm sort of used to odd things happening in my life. I've met lots of the gods face to face, I've been dead more than once, traveled through time, done things that most people can't even imagine. Even for me, though, what I came across that day in the clearing by the road was unusual.
Hercules was off visiting Iphicles, trying hard to be brotherly. They love each other, those two, and care about each other but they also annoy the Tartarus out of each other. When they are trying to be friendly, I try to be somewhere else.
I was planning on working around my house. It's not much of a house, two rooms, with a falling down barn, and forge in somewhat better repair out back, the roof leaks, the garden patches have all gone to weeds, and the inside is a mess but it's as close to home as anything I have. I spent a couple of days, puttering around, patching the holes and making a half-hearted effort to tidy up. Then I woke up early one morning, with a tremendous itch to be out and about, going somewhere, even if I had nowhere to go and had told Hercules I'd be at my house when he and Iphicles decided they were ready to avoid each other again.
Knowing what I do about the gods, I should have gotten a clue right there but I was bored and didn't want to face mending my sheets, the next task on my endless list, so I tossed a few things in a carry sack, buckled on my sword and headed out, letting my feet guide me without any conscious plan in mind.
I ate out of my pack at midday and kept walking. I found myself on a narrow, rarely used track that lead into the forested foothills. There weren't many farms about, I was past the nearest settlement, heading up into the mountains, apparently on my way to go hunting, even if I had left my bow at home, when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a fight.
Leaving my carry sack tucked under a bush, I slid my sword out of the scabbard and headed towards the sound.
I found half a dozen or so filthy, ragged men, the usual sort of highway thug I expected, attacking two men who seemed vaguely familiar, although I didn't register who they were at first. One of them, the smaller, slighter, fair-haired one, was cringing against a tree, clutching his arm. He looked terrified. The other man, taller and broader, with dark hair, was going down under all the attackers.
Since I love to fight against overwhelming odds, I jumped in to rescue the two men under attack. The attackers were armed and the attackees weren't so I got nasty and used my sword a few times. It was the usual fight, a bunch of big guys surprised to find out that I am a lot more dangerous than I look. While the fair-haired guy, whose arm appeared to be broken, kept out of the fight, the dark-haired man, once I had evened things out a bit, fought like a demon.
In the end, as usual, the thugs beat a retreat, dragging their wounded with them. I turned around, a big triumphant grin on my face, and saw who I had been defending. As I recognized him, he recognized me and we said the same thing at the same time.
Ares. God of War. Former God of War, though, from the looks of him. I'd heard a story of how he was made mortal once and, if I hadn't trusted the storyteller, would have thought she was lying. Now I saw that it must have happened again.
For starters, he wasn't all dressed in black leather, with that big, nasty sword of his at his side. He wore a plain linen shirt, torn and bloodied now, coarse woolen trousers and a long sleeveless coat. His hair was a mess, he had dark circles under his eyes, needed a shave and was bleeding.
While Ares and I stared each other in shock, the fair-haired man came forward. He was pale, his face sheened with sweat, and I was now certain that the arm he cradled against his belly was broken. While his hair was blonde, his eyes were dark.
"Father?" He was addressing Ares which made him either Deimus, Phobus or Eros. Because he hadn't been fighting and looked sick now, I voted for Eros, better known as Cupid, God of Love and Desire. Only now, since his arm was broken and he was missing his famous wings, I guessed he was mortal, too.
Ares shot him an annoyed look. "I'm fine," growled the former god of war, just before his knees buckled and he dropped to the ground.
Cupid and I dropped next to him. Ares tried to push me away but I'm strong for my size. I pulled the hem of his shirt up and saw the wound across his ribs. It was a long, deep cut, not a thrust into his vitals, but it needed attention. He glared at me as I made a quick check and found a few other, minor injuries.
"Wait here," I said, sheathing my sword after giving it a quick wipe. "I'll be right back."
"Don't bother," was Ares snarled response. I ignored him. Even if he could get by with that cut, Cupid needed his arm set.
When I returned with my pack, Cupid was leaning against a tree, eyes closed, while Ares cautiously examined his arm.
"Who's first?" I asked, knowing that while Cupid might be in more pain, Ares was losing blood and needed a bandage at the very least.
Ares gave me another dark look but answered, in a calm voice, "Cupid. I'll get some branches for splints."
I shook my head as I pulled a length of cloth provided by Hercules' mother for just such occasions out of my pack. "Fine, but let me at least get some pressure on that cut."
Ares opened his mouth but Cupid beat him to it. "I'd trust Iolaus. He knows more about this than we do."
Now Cupid got that look from Ares but, to my surprise, Ares acquiesced. He raised his arms and looked away while I wrapped the bandage around him, cinching it tight.
"This should be cleaned and salved properly," I said as I tied the knot.
"Later." He stood up, wincing. "I hate pain," he muttered as he pressed his hand against his side, frowning as it came back stained with blood. "Take care of him."
Cupid, who really looked like he was going to either faint or throw up, gave me a weak smile. "Thanks, Iolaus. Good thing you came along when you did."
"Yeah." I took his arm as gently as I could. Poor guy had probably never felt pain in his whole life. I'd had broken bones, I knew what to expect, but Cupid had never had so much as a hangnail. "Funny thing was, I wasn't planning on coming this way at all but this morning, I woke up and just had to."
"Probably Mom," he gasped. I found a stick and gave it to him to bite. He still mumbled around it. "She knew what happened."
"So, what did happen?"
The voice that came from behind me sounded disgusted. "Zeus. What did you think? We woke up this morning and said, hey, for something different, let's become mortal and get the shit kicked out of us by some half-assed idiots who don't understand the concept of bathing."
Cupid rolled his eyes. Ares, who had selected three straight, sturdy sticks, slipped around behind his son and wrapped a strong arm across his son's chest.
"I'll hold him," Ares instructed, in command as usual. "You set the bone."
I did. Cupid gasped and fainted. Ares held his son rock steady while I set the bone and wrapped the splint around it. It wasn't a bad break, only the smaller arm bone, and it hadn't broken the skin. I said that to Ares as I worked. He grunted in response but said nothing.
"There." I stepped back as Ares eased his son onto the ground. "He'll be fine in a few weeks. Now, I'm going to get some water and take care of you properly. Can you build a fire?"
To my surprise, Ares didn't snap back at me. He just sat down heavily next to the unconscious Cupid, running his hand back through his hair. I almost laughed. As a god, all that heavy dark hair stayed in place. As a mortal, it was falling in his face, soft and unruly. Since my hair had the same habits, I knew just how he felt.
"No," he said after a pause. "I mean, I know the theory but I've never built a fire in my life." He held out his arms. Instead of his jewel-encrusted gauntlets, he had plain cloth bands wrapped around his wrists, the kind many workmen used for protection. "And nobody ever gave me anything that strikes sparks." He was referring to the bracelets forged by Hephaestus that Hercules wore over his gauntlets. In a pinch, Hercules could strike a spark off almost any stone with those.
"Fine." There was something very discomforting about a sad, injured Ares. "I'll do it when I get back."
"I've got a better idea." Ares lurched unsteadily to his feet. "Give me your waterskin. I can figure out how to fill that."
I wasn't sure that he wouldn't pass out in the stream but shrugged and let him go. While he was gone, I got a small fire started, just enough to boil some water when Ares returned.
"Ares?" It was Cupid, stirring.
"He's getting water." I helped Cupid sit up. "What happened?"
Cupid let me arrange him against a tree, finding some leaves to help cushion him. I tied on a sling that I had made for him, moving his arm as carefully as I could. He still gasped a couple of times but didn't faint again.
"As Ares said, Zeus happened." He swallowed and I hoped Ares got back soon. Poor guy needed a drink to help overcome the shock. "A woman prayed to me. She was Zeus' latest." A smile flickered across his face. He was handsome. No surprise there. His father was Ares, his mother was Aphrodite. "Or rather, he wanted her to be the latest. She wasn't interested. So, I told her how to avoid giving in to the old goat."
Cupid paused, closing his eyes, but I heard Ares approach and wasn't surprised when he picked up the story.
"Smart kid," said Ares. "Told the woman to ask Zeus to grant her one boon. Zeus said fine, whatever you want, and she said, I want to remain a virgin."
I grinned at Cupid as he again opened his eyes. Yeah, he was Ares' son all right. I recognized those dark eyes.
"That was sneaky," I said, taking the waterskin from Ares, who didn't so much sit down as collapse next to his son.
"Yeah." Cupid managed a weak smile as he took a drink from me. "Zeus wasn't so impressed."
"Zeus," said Ares, "was pissed. Old goat has no sense of humor."
"So," I said as I forced Ares to let me examine his wound, "he decided to make Cupid mortal. So how did you get here?"
Ares winced. "Miscalculation. Stepped in a second too soon and caught the blast as well. Shit." The last word was in reference to my poking him. "I hate pain. I hate pain. I hate pain. How you mortals stand it is beyond me."
I pulled the edges of the cut together. It was still bleeding sluggishly. I wondered if I should try to stitch it. I had a curved needle and some sheep gut thread but I doubted if Ares would take to my ministrations.
"We don't have a choice. Unlike gods, we plain old mortals just have to eat the shit that is shoveled our way."
Ares frowned. Cupid paled. I don't think my choice of words impressed them.
"So," I continued, dipping a rag in the hot water, "how long are you stuck here with us mortals?"
"I don't know!" Ares sucked in his breath sharply, then looked down. "You're going to have to stitch that, aren't you?"
God of War. He'd seen a few injuries in his time. I nodded and dug in my pack for what I needed.
Cupid spoke. "Zeus didn't specify. He just said, 'this will teach you to interfere' and tossed a blue bolt at me. Next thing I know, I'm standing here with Ares." A tear rolled down one cheek. "No wings. No godhood."
Ares grunted. "Those wings would be useful now." When Cupid looked at him, Ares grinned and flapped his arms. "A nice cool breeze."
Uh-oh. It wasn't that warm. As I pulled the edges of Ares' wound together, I realized that the heat coming off of him wasn't entirely natural. That was fast. Usually, it took several hours for a wound to fester. I glanced at him. He was staring off into the forest. Maybe, since he had no resistance to disease, it was hitting faster. Or, even worse, he had just contracted some passing fever. There had been a lot of sleeping sickness that summer. Great, one former god with a broken arm and one former god with a nasty cut and a fever. Just great. I should have stayed home and sewn up my sheets instead.
Ares made a couple of annoyed noises while I cared for him but didn't flinch. After I rinsed out the bandage and rewrapped it, I made him lie down. He didn't protest, beyond mumbling, "What is that smell?"
"It's Alcmene's salve. Good stuff. It's saved me more than once."
No answer. His eyes closed. Cupid watched as I laid my hand against his cheek. Ares was either asleep or unconscious because he didn't react as I laid a damp rag across his forehead.
"I think he has a fever."
If possible, Cupid went even more pale. "Fever? But surely wounds don't go bad that fast."
"They don't." I tried a reassuring smile. "I think it's just a touch of heat exhaustion. He's not used to fighting in the heat and having it effect him." That wasn't a complete lie. It was a warm day and Ares wasn't used to noticing the temperature. Still, I suspected it was worse than a touch of heat exhaustion.
Poor Cupid, looking utterly miserable, leaned back against his tree again. I'd never actually met Cupid, although I had heard about him. Like his father, he was dressed in rough mortal clothes, grey woolen trousers and a white linen, short-sleeved tunic. Ares, even mortal, was still pretty impressive physically. While Cupid was a good-looking man, in good condition, he looked absolutely helpless as he sat, biting his lip, twisting a lose string on his sling.
"He's lying," Cupid said suddenly.
"What?" I was dipping the rag in cool water again before laying it on Ares face. He was definitely feverish. "Lying about what? Didn't Zeus do this?"
"Zeus did it. He's lying about stepping in the way by mistake. He stepped in front of me on purpose." Tears welled up in Cupid's eyes as he drew a shuddering breath. "He was trying to protect me."
"I was not." Ares didn't open his eyes or move but he said, very clearly, "I could protect you a lot better as a god. I had no intention of getting my godhood ripped out."
I looked at Cupid, who shook his head. Although I hated to admit it, I suspected Cupid was right. Ares didn't miscalculate.
"I live near here," I said, giving Cupid some more water. "It's too late now but in the morning, we can walk to my place."
"I hate walking." Ares again. "I hate being mortal."
"I've never walked very much," said Cupid quietly, his head bent. "It might take us longer than you think. Maybe we should just stay here until Zeus forgives us. Me."
Ares snorted. Ares had been mortal before. He knew mortality involved eating and sleeping, getting wet and getting tired. "I'd prefer Corinth. Your mother has some big temples there, nice beds, nice attendants."
"Yeah, but we're three days from Corinth." I amended that. In their condition, maybe five or six, if we made it there at all. "Maybe we should just aim for Thebes now."
"Fine," said Ares.
I stared at Cupid for a moment, who looked mournfully back at me. He was completely lost.
"I'm going to go find something to eat," I said, standing up. "There's water here to drink. I won't go far so holler if you need anything."
Cupid nodded. Ares flicked at a fly but said nothing. Fine.
I didn't plan to hunt but there were wild grapevines near the stream. I caught a few fish and filled up my vest with grapes. It wouldn't be ambrosia but it would get us through until morning. As I walked back, I heard Cupid saying, his voice distressed, "Ares. Ares, I feel funny."
"I don't know! Burning and full."
I picked up my pace at the panic in Cupid's voice. What if he was getting sick, too?
Ares, the unsympathetic bastard, laughed.
"Bodily functions," said the former god. "Help me up."
They were both gone when I arrived at our campfire. I collected more wood, wishing Hercules was here to help, when an embarrassed Cupid and a snickering Ares returned from the bushes.
Poor Cupid. He looked as if he were hoping the earth would swallow him up. A mere mortal had been witness to his humiliation. His first piss. Ares was cheerfully telling him about other functions he'd have to look forward to.
"I can't do this," he said, sulkily. "I am a god. I'm not supposed to have to do these disgusting things."
Ares, who sat next to me, still chuckling, replied, "Oh, this is nothing. Let me tell you about hangovers."
"Let's not," I said, reaching for my knife. As I started to gut the fish, poor Cupid gasped. He turned and sprinted back into the bushes, where we heard him emptying his stomach.
"Hum." Ares cocked an eye towards the shrubbery. "Guess there are other reasons mortals throw up."
"He might be sick," I suggested. What did I expect from Ares?
"Nah. He's just delicate."
"You look a little delicate yourself." He did.
"Yeah, well, I feel like shit." He managed to sound defensive and pitiful at the same time. "You're the expert. How do you know when you're dying?"
"Trust me, you're not dying. Drink this. I put some herbs in it. Should help with the pain and fever."
"If it makes me throw up, you're dead. Again."
Cupid returned. His eyes were red.
"I should apologize to Zeus," he said. "Say I'm sorry and. . ."
"Over my dead body." Ares glared at his son. "You were answering a prayer. He's got no business interfering with your worshippers." Cupid's eyes were filling with tears. Ares dropped his voice as he said, "Zeus will come around. We'll be fine until then." A grin flickered across his face. "Besides, can you imagine what life is going to be like with both of us out a commission? A bunch of impotent mortals running around picking fights and running away as soon as they start them. Should be hilarious."
I wasn't really paying attention, being busy trying to cook the fish on hot stones, when one word Ares had said registered. "Impotent?"
"Yeah." Ares lay back down, folding his hands over his stomach and closing his eyes. "I channel the aggressions of mortals, control and direct it. Feather boy does the same thing with sexual desire and lust. No sitting god of war, people start fights but are afraid to finish them. No sitting god of desire, everybody wants it but nobody gets any."
"Ugh. Like when Aphrodite took time off and women weren't interested in love." I thought about it. "In any form. So. . ."
"Mom is more in charge of romantic and emotional love. I'm more in charge of sex."
"No God of Desire," I said with dawning horror. "No desire."
"Yup." Ares sounded delighted. "Nobody can get it up or get it off. Between the undirected aggression and the undirected lust, Greece should get mighty unpleasant. Bet nobody will be taking the time to make offerings to Zeus or anybody else."
Cupid leaned forward, putting his hand on my knee. "Don't panic. You wouldn't be as affected."
Ares answered. "You are a warrior used to controlling your temper, controlling your fear. Like Xena that last time I put up with mortality, you'll do fine. And Cupid here still has some residual lust hanging around so your dick should keep working. For the time being."
Cupid and I exchanged doubtful looks. On the one hand, I sort of agreed with Ares, that Cupid had protected one of his petitioners from Zeus so Cupid was in the right but still. . . .
Cupid and I ate the fish and grapes. Ares shook his head when I offered him fish. He took some grapes and water. He really didn't look good. He was sweating and shivering, every now and then, his hair sticking to his forehead. After eating very little, Ares laid back down, curling up on his uninjured side.
After we finished, Cupid and I walked down to the stream to wash and refill the waterskin.
"Will he be all right?" he asked me, jerking his head back towards the clearing.
I thought about lying but decided Cupid was an adult and could handle the truth. "I don't know. I don't know what is causing the fever, if it's the wound gone bad or something else. He's strong but he's never been sick. . ."
Cupid was crouching, cradling his broken arm in his lap. Two tears ran out of the corner of his eyes. Poor guy looked so tragic, I found myself putting an arm around his shoulders.
"C'mon, Cupid. Zeus might jerk you two around but do you really think he'd let Ares die of some mortal disease?"
"I don't know." Cupid wiped his face with this good hand. "Zeus has let Ares suffer before."
That wasn't reassuring. I put on my best face, patting Cupid on the shoulder. "He may let Ares suffer but I can't imagine Zeus will let the world go without a god of war for too long. Or a god of desire."
Tilting his head, Cupid gave me a weak smile. "Eventually, even the gods will start to suffer. They turned aggression over to my father and desire over to me. Given time, they'll start fighting and . . ."
I had to laugh. "And Zeus' dick won't work!"
"Yeah." The smile turned into a genuine grin. "I know he won't be able to stand that!"
I had blanket in my pack, which I tried to spread over Ares. He shrugged it off with a snarl. I cut a few pine branches to make a bed for Cupid and gave him the blanket. Then I collected wood and built up the fire. Cupid was soon soundly asleep, the events of the day catching up with him. I didn't know if Ares was asleep or not but I didn't care. I lay down and fell asleep myself.
I don't know what woke me up but I found myself staring at the smoldering coals of the fire and a dark shape poking a stick into the coals.
No answer. Oh, well. As long as I was awake, I took care of some of those mortal bodily functions. When I came back, he was still sitting there.
"You should try to sleep," I said, keeping my voice low.
"You should mind your own business."
"Look, I know you and I aren't exactly best of friends but I have to admit, I'm with you in this. Cupid did the right thing." "And your miserable mortal opinion should matter to me because. . ."
"Because I saved your miserable mortal life."
"Maybe." Ares shifted. "I'm not so sure about that."
I leaned forward, trying to look into his face but he turned away.
"If something happens," he said softly, "take him to Aphrodite's temple in Corinth. She'll see he gets back on Olympus."
"Ares, you're not gonna die. Yeah, that cut probably hurts but. . ."
"Know where I was yesterday? Syracuse."
"So, there is a plague in Syracuse." His whole body was suddenly wracked with shivers.
My mouth went dry.
"I'm not Apollo," he continued, his voice quiet and matter-of-fact, "but I know the symptoms of major diseases. I've got 'em. Fever, chills, head feels like its about to explode, joints ache, mouth tastes like metal, ringing in my ears. I've got bone fever and it's fatal about half the time in adults. What with the blood loss and all, I figure I'm not doing so well."
"Shit, Ares! Can't you get some Olympian help? Aphrodite, maybe?"
He laughed hoarsely. "Oh, yeah, blood and disease. She'll be here in a flash. Sorry, Sunshine. Nobody goes against the old man but me and mine." He sighed. "And I'm sorry about mine."
"Ares, we're not that far from Thebes. If I can get you there, there is a good healer and Herc's mom is a wonder. . ."
He laughed again, then caught his breath and doubled over, hands wrapped around himself.
"Mortality," he gasped as I helped him lie down, "sucks."
He had a raging fever. I poured water over him all night, amazed that I was sitting by the side of the God of War, worrying about him. If Ares died, I found myself thinking in an exhausted daze, who'd get his job? Strife? Discord? Deimus? I had bone fever as a child and all I remember is drifting in and out of a painful, feverish haze, finally waking to find my older brother dead from it and my father angry with me for being the survivor.
As soon as the sky started to lighten, I woke up Cupid and gave him a few quick instructions as to how to care for his father. Ares was delirious, muttering about battle plans on the field at Troy, thrashing out when I tried to wipe his face.
"There's a farm at near here. I know the owners. I'll borrow a couple of horses. . ."
"I don't know how to do ride." Cupid was squatting next to Ares, shivering in the chill air. I had checked him for fever and, so far anyway, he was still healthy. "I've never ridden a horse. When I want to be somewhere, I fly."
Crap. His eyes were tearing up again. He was right, though. Ares couldn't sit a horse, either. Fine, I'd borrow a wagon.
I ran down the hill. Years of practice keeping up with Hercules meant I could maintain a steady lope for quite some time. Years of hanging around with Hercules also meant I wasn't inclined to praying, either, but I made an exception. Aphrodite, I thought, if you are around, get your cute little butt here and help.
No answer. See why I don't pray? I wasn't even asking for myself but the Goddess of Love ignored me. Maybe she figured Ares could protect Cupid or maybe, she didn't want to cross Zeus herself. Either way, I was on my own.
I could hear the farmer and his wife arguing even before I saw the fence at the outskirts of their property. They were having a nice, loud row on the subject of his sexual failings. They had a couple of kids and a farm hand and as I approached, I saw all of them arguing, the children throwing mud at each other, the farmhand squawking at his employers. Great.
"Um, hello," I called out breathlessly as I walked up the lane. "You remember me. I'm Iolaus, Hercules' friend, we helped you when the river rose a couple of years ago. I was wondering. . ."
"AH HA!" cried the wife, pointing at me. "I bet the women don't complain when they are with him."
"Him!" Her husband retorted. "That shrimp. I bet his dick is the size of my little finger."
Oh, yeah, this was just wonderful. Thank you, Zeus. Screw this. I turned around and walked away, which no one seemed to notice. And if no one was paying attention to me, then I would just take advantage of the situation.
The cart was conveniently full of straw, which would make it more comfortable for Ares and Cupid. While I really wished Hercules was around to help, I was rather grateful he wasn't here just now. I considered it borrowing in an emergency but he might take a darker view of the matter.
It was nearly midday when I arrived back at our campsite. Cupid dashed out to greet me, pale and miserable looking.
"How's Ares?" I asked I swung down from the wagon.
"Wishing he were either a god," came the grumbling reply, "or dead. Hades is a bore but at least death doesn't feel this shitty."
"I dunno. Death doesn't feel all that great."
He might be mortal and he might be sick but Ares still knew how to sneer with the best of them.
"You could be right. Unlike some people, I've never been dead."
Sick, mortal and still sarcastic. Oh, yeah, Aphrodite. I'm really happy with you for this one.
I checked Ares' wound. He might be mortal but he had a constitution like Herc's. He was healing nicely and if it weren't for the fever, he'd be doing fine. He kept up a steady stream of obscenities under his breath as I helped him up into the wagon, calling Zeus a "goat-fucking whore monger" among other things. I had to laugh. Ares said those things with such absolute conviction. He glared at me, which just made laugh more. There was something about Ares, with his hair in his eyes, that struck me as funny, especially when he blew a few strands out of his face as he tried to sneer back.
I tucked the full water skin next to Ares, then helped Cupid up. He was going to sit beside me until Ares said, "You'll be better off back here. Rest your arm on the hay. The bouncing is going to hurt."
I told them to drink lots of water, which got another glare from Ares, then started us moving. There was a sharp gasp from Cupid at the first bump but other than that, we rode in silence for some time.
"I should apologize."
Cupid's voice was soft and, I knew, not meant for my ears. Ares response was equally quiet.
"No, if anybody apologizes, it should be me."
"For raising such a smart kid."
Damn. I was starting to like Ares. I found that very disconcerting.
We stopped a couple of times to get water or get rid of it. As the day wore on, Ares slid back into the fever. I was mostly asleep, letting the horse follow the path. I did wake up every time someone can near us but that was because I could hear the argument before I saw anyone.
Once, I glanced back at my passengers and saw that Cupid had curled up next to Ares, his broken arm across his father's belly, his head resting in the hollow of Ares' shoulder. Ares was conscious because he was holding his arm up and stroking the back of his son's head. The God of War giving comfort. And I thought that alternate world with the Sovereign was strange.
All of Thebes seemed to be fighting. As we rounded the curve that lead to town, I heard shouting and cursing, watched objects flying through the air, saw people who I knew to be peaceable by nature throwing punches. When I saw the town doctor getting whacked over the head with a pot by his normally gentle wife, I decided I'd head straight for my place, then see if Alcmene could help. She was great with fevers and injuries.
I have never been so grateful to see my house and, even better, Hercules standing next to it. He was bruised and disheveled, his shirt torn, his expression bewildered.
"Iolaus," he exclaimed, running up to me, "What in Tartarus. . ."
Cupid sat up. "Hello, Uncle Hercules."
I gave Herc the quick version of my day as I helped shove Ares into Herc's arms. Boy, was I glad Hercules was here. He could carry Ares' deadweight with no difficulty, where as I would have been trying to rouse him enough to get him to walk into my house.
Herc dropped Ares on my bed while I staggered off to the rain barrel on the north side of my house. Ares fever was up again and he was mumbling something about jars. I have no idea what he was talking about. Maybe he put up fruit preserves in his spare time. I was exhausted and noticing my own temper fraying, as I snapped at Cupid when he got in my way.
"My father," Herc muttered through clenched teeth as he helped me undress Ares, "is an idiot. Everybody in Greece is fighting because of this."
I didn't mention how Cupid's mortality was affecting people. Now wasn't the time. I just stood there at the foot of my bed, suddenly aware of how exhausted I was and how weird it was to be staring at Ares, naked, lying on my torn sheets. If I had known I was getting company, I would have mended them. Washed 'em, too.
Hercules gave the basin to Cupid, after a cursory examination of his nephew's arm. Like his father, Cupid seemed to be healing much more quickly than an ordinary mortal. Cupid kept bathing his father's face.
I stared stupidly up at Hercules.
"Why don't you get something for you and Cupid to eat while I brew up some tea. Do you still have any of the willowbark tea Mom made for you?"
"Um, yeah. There." I pointed. While Hercules brewed, I grabbed some bread and apples and took them into my bedroom.
Hercules had pulled my blanket up to Ares' waist. Herc is a modest kind of guy. Cupid accepted an apple, although he tried to keep wiping his father's face.
"He'll be fine," I said. "Eat something. Herc will be back in a minute."
Cupid sat back, resting his bad hand on Ares' shoulder. He nibbled at the apple.
"C'mon, Cupid. Surely Zeus won't let anything really bad happen to you or Ares. I mean, he might get mad but I can't imagine he'll let Ares die."
It was Ares weak, hoarse voice that answered. "It's not so much that he'll let it happen as he won't even notice. For the moment, I'm an unimportant mortal and the old man isn't interested in some ordinary mortal dying."
Cupid sniffled. "Hades might notice."
"Yeah." Ares managed a chuckle. "I have to admit, showing up down there should be worth a laugh. Hey, Blue Eyes, promise to bury with me with a coin. I don't want to have to suck Charon's flabby cock to get across the river."
I looked up to see Hercules standing in the doorway, a mug of steaming tea in his hand. I expected him to be offended by Ares' remark--Hercules is a sweet guy and incredible in bed but he has his mother's standards for conversation, which was kind of tough on him during those years at the Academy and on the Argos. Instead, he looked, I don't know, sad, maybe.
"You're not going to die." Hercules said that firmly. "You're going to feel lousy for a few more days but you're not going to die."
I left the bedside so Hercules could kneel there and offer Ares the tea. Ares wrinkled his nose, turning away, but Herc's arm around his shoulder stopped him. I could see Ares wanted to toss a ball of fire at Hercules but now, mortal and ill, all he could so was gag down the tea. When Hercules dosed me, he always put in some poppy and honey to cover the bitter taste. From the expression on Ares' face, I suspect he was getting the stuff straight.
I pulled a couple of blankets out of the chest in the corner and spread them out in front of the hearth. Hercules had built a small fire to heat water. There was still a copper cauldron full of water simmering over it, along with a bar of tallow and lye soap and my knife on the mantle. Hercules must be planning on doing laundry. He was always washing stuff for me, since I avoided it.
"I can't believe Zeus." Hercules was muttering as he stomped around my kitchen, occasionally stepping over me to shave soap into the cauldron. "Cupid only answers a prayer and look what happens." He gestured with the knife and sprayed soak flakes around the room. "Cupid was protecting some poor woman and now. . ."
"Now," I said, "I have two former gods in my bed and I'd like to get some sleep."
"Oh." Herc was straddling me, one foot on either side of me. He looked down at me and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. Long day. And I'm feeling sorry for Ares, which is disconcerting."
I sighed. "I know how you feel."
"You look beat. Good night, Iolaus. And sorry about my family getting you involved. Again."
"Used to it," I muttered and rolled over, closing my eyes. I drifted to sleep to the smell of soap.
When I woke up, I was surprised for a moment to realize I was sleeping in front of my kitchen hearth. Then I remembered. Oh, yeah. How could I forget.
I slid my hand into the front of my trousers. Usually I woke up with a serious case of morning wood. Today things weren't as perky as I expected. I gave myself a couple of tugs. No change. Yikes. Concentrate, Iolaus. I needed an image to focus on. That was easy. I pictured a sweaty Ares spread out naked on my bed. If I assumed he was sweating because we had been up to something frisky rather than from his sickness, that made for a very stimulating image. I pulled a little harder. Well, it wasn't up to my usual standards but everything seemed functional so far.
After confirming Cupid's loss hadn't been my loss. . .yet. . .I headed out for the privy and saw laundry on the line; Ares' mortal garb, a couple of towels, my tablecloth. I'd forgotten it was that color. The stuff was dry so I brought it inside. I was spreading the tablecloth out, admiring it, when Hercules barged in the door. He looked worse than he did yesterday. He had a new bruise along his left cheekbone and his pants were torn at the knee.
"I can't believe it out there!"
"Bad, huh?" I noticed he had a market basket. Good. We had finished off my stores yesterday.
He shook his head, setting the basket down on the table. I snatched one of the pastries I recognized as Alcmene's, which got him to smile weakly.
"Mother is all right, although she did snap at me a little. But it's impossible in town. Clovis, the greengrocer, he had two black eyes he got from his wife. His wife! I've never heard that woman raise her voice. He tried to start an argument with me over the price of his plums."
I wanted to laugh. Clovis was a head shorter than I was and built along the lines of a overweight house cat, complete with smug smile. I doubt if he had ever thrown a punch in his life.
"How are your houseguests?"
Before I could admit I hadn't actually looked in on them yet, Cupid came in. His eyes lit up when he saw the food.
Cupid shrugged. "He tossed and turned all night, fever up and down. He seems pretty quiet now."
Hercules paled. Sometimes, victims of bone fever fell into a coma before they died. He headed for the bedroom while I offered Cupid some breakfast. I heard Ares grumbling an answer to some question of Hercules' and relaxed. No dead former gods yet. Cupid and I ate a quick breakfast.
We had only been sitting there for a few moments when Hercules stomped out of the bedroom, obviously furious. Oops. Maybe his temper was starting to fray. Bizarre thought, that, that Hercules would become dangerously angry because Ares wasn't in place to keep him calm. Naw, Herc could control his temper still. If he were really mad, my house wouldn't be standing.
Hercules stormed out my back door and shouted at the sky. "Zeus! Zeus, get your sorry butt down here!"
Cupid's eyes went wide. I ate another pastry. After a few more shouts from Hercules, we went out in to the yard and found the King of the Gods standing next to my woodpile, looking mildly annoyed.
"Calm down, Hercules," Zeus said. "I'm not deaf, you know."
Hercules pointed a trembling finger at his father. "You cannot leave things like this! People are getting hurt without a sitting god of war to channel their aggression."
"A few mortals. . ." replied Zeus dismissively.
Apparently, Hercules was having problems controlling his temper because he lurched forward and grabbed Zeus by the collar. All Zeus did was brush his hands down and Hercules was thrown backwards.
Hercules, his teeth clenched, snarled, "Cupid was helping someone. If your ego can't accept that some people don't want your attentions. . ."
Zeus' calm words startled us. I saw Hercules blink.
"You are right. I shouldn't have taken Cupid's godhood from him. I over reacted."
Cupid was standing a few feet away from me, looking surprised. Poor guy was going to have that expression permanently pretty soon. Zeus gave his grandson a benevolent smile, which only confused Cupid more.
"Come here, boy," said Zeus.
Cupid gave Hercules and me nervous glances. Hercules shrugged, as did I. Straightening his shoulders, Cupid approached his grandfather. Zeus laid a hand on Cupid's shoulder, still smiling.
"I do have a bit of a temper, my boy." The King of the Gods shook his head and chuckled. "And your grandmother had been. . .well, you know. . .and I rather took it out on you. Mortals need you, lad, so they are getting you back."
Yeah, right, I thought. Mortals. Bet Zeus' dick wasn't up to its usual standards that morning, either. Still, the old fart was doing the right thing.
I closed my eyes and turned away, familiar with how bright things get around gods when they do something godly. There was a flash and a sound like trumpets. When I turned back, Cupid the God of Love was standing there.
I was impressed. Somehow, I pictured him as having those dumb little wings you see in statues. The sculptors needed to do some research. His wings were huge, curving over his shoulders up to the top of his head, then sweeping out and down until they almost touched the ground. As I watched, he spread them, up and out, and beat them a few times, lifting himself off the ground. Wow. They were more than white, they were silver and gold and flashed with the iridescence of a rainbow.
And, apparently, they radiated his power because I realized I had a world class hard-on. From the way Herc suddenly blushed and stepped behind the chair I kept by the back door, he was having the same problem.
"Oh, good, it's Dad."
Ares, a blanket wrapped around his waist, was standing in the doorway, leaning on it. If he had an erection, he didn't care. He looked as if just standing up were taking all his attention.
"Ares." Zeus didn't sound as happy to see Ares as he had been to see Cupid.
"Zeus." Ares wiped his hand across his forehead. His fever was still raging, I could see the sweat pouring off him and hear how labored his breathing was. The jagged wound across his ribs looked inflamed. I had to admit a niggling little respect. As sick as he was, I have no idea how he was managing to stand.
"As you can see, I have forgiven Cupid."
Ares nodded. A shudder ran through his body and he clenched his teeth. I stepped closer automatically, really expecting him to keel over any second.
"What about Ares?" Hercules said, keeping behind the chair, obviously still affected by Cupid. "People are suffering more from his absence than Cupid's."
Zeus looked at me and I looked at him and I know we were both thinking, 'speak for yourself.' Then Zeus got that superior look of his and nodded, sagely. Got to admit, he did that wise and sage look real good.
"It's true, mortals are getting a bit touchy without a God of War to keep things in check."
Uh-oh. From the look on Hercules' face, he figured out what Zeus meant a little before I did. Ares, whose eyes were closed, was obviously too concerned with not fainting to worry about the nuances of his father's speech.
Zeus flicked his fingers and Discord was standing next to him, in full smirk mode.
"Hello, boys," she drawled. Well, that took care of my erection. Hercules stepped out from behind the chair.
"Discord," intoned Zeus, "I hereby appoint you Goddess of Aggression and War."
I didn't get my eyes covered in time and by the time I could see again, Zeus was gone and Discord was standing there, a big old sword on her hip. She shrieked, "All right," pumped her fist in the air and vanished.
"Oh, shit," said Ares and he started to collapse.
I was on one side and Hercules was on the other, helping him to the chair. Cupid came over, frowning. I felt a stirring in my trousers and decided to give Ares and Cupid some space to have a private conversation.
Standing next to Hercules, who was shifting uncomfortably again, I said, softly, "Well, that was unexpected."
"Yeah," muttered Hercules, trying to find a polite way to fold his hands in front of his crotch without being obvious about it.
Normally, Herc with a hard-on gets my attention but this odd morning, I was watching Ares and Cupid. Ares' hands were resting on his son's waist. Cupid had his head bent down so his forehead was touching his father's. They were speaking softly, Ares smiling. As I watched, there was a flare of warm golden light from Cupid's hands as they cupped his father's face. The light ran over Ares' body. The wound vanished from his side as he started to sit up. Then Cupid stepped back, nodded, and started flapping again.
"I'm going to Olympus," he said, the remark directed to all of us. "I"m going to present your case to the Pantheon."
"Fine," replied Ares, waving his hand dismissively, "but you'll be wasting your time."
"I'm not leaving you here like this!"
"Don't worry, feather boy." Ares winked, looking his old self, except for his loose hair and his unshaven face. "I can take care of myself."
"Iolaus, Uncle Hercules, thanks for everything." Cupid looked grim, considering his line of work. "I'm going to get this straightened out." Then he spread those wings and took off.
I staggered back against Hercules, nearly coming. Wow. Being around Cupid was dangerous. I supposed I couldn't suggest a quick bit of release to Herc, not out in the front yard, although from the look Hercules was giving me, I think he was thinking the same thing.
Then we heard a voice calling frantically for Hercules. Great. One of the villagers came trotting up the road, panting and waving at us.
"Fire," he gasped, pointing back towards town. We could see the thin curl of smoke.
"Go," I said, "I can handle things here. Get the fire stopped."
Hercules nodded, gave Ares a very peculiar look, and then ran off towards the fire, the villager trotting along behind.
"Um," I said, taking a deep breath.
Ares gave me a slow grin, standing up and hitching the sheet around his waist. I looked away, at my roof, and realized I had missed a spot when I was patching.
"Where are my clothes?"
"Huh? Oh. Inside. On the table. Herc washed them."
Ares was shaking his head. "He is so domestic. He should have been a girl." He gave me a wink. "Then the two of you could have had a dozen blue-eyed babies."
He disappeared inside. I stayed outside, taking deep breaths. Concentrate, Iolaus, I told myself. Redirect the blood flow. When I had myself under control, I went in the house.
There was no sign of Ares in my kitchen but I could hear him muttering in the bedroom.
"Damn it all!"
I stuck my head past the curtain. Ares was sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to wrap the piece of fabric around his wrist.
"How the fuck am I supposed to do this?" He held out his arm. "It takes two hands to tie a knot!"
I wanted to laugh but the poor guy really did look a mess, sitting barefoot in my bedroom He even had his shirt on inside out. I wondered how often he had ever had to dress himself.
"What?" He was holding one end of the string in his teeth as he tried to wrap the other around with his free hand.
"What are you going to do?"
"I was trying to get dressed."
"I don't know." He yanked the wristwrap off and tossed it aside, then ran his hands through his hair. "Get a haircut. Hire out as a mercenary. Kill myself so I can get to know my grandfather better."
Uncertain about sitting on the bed next to him, I leaned against the wall, crossing my arms and trying to look casual. Being concerned about Ares was still a strange feeling.
"If you decide to be mercenary, you'll need a weapon. And you'll probably need to practice some fighting techniques."
"Practice!" His head came up. I almost flinched. Normally, if I got that look from Ares, he'd be tossing fireballs at me. "What the fuck is wrong with you? I'm the. . .I was the God of War for over a thousand years! I don't need practice!"
"Yes, you do. Don't look at me like that! I've seen you fight. You don't defend yourself. Your stance is too open."
Ares opened his mouth, then shut it. For a moment, his face had that lost expression again, the one he had had when I asked him if he could build a fire.
"Granted." He smiled grimly. "I've rarely had to worry about someone attacking me. Maybe I'll skip being a mercenary. Too much work. I know, I'll work in one of Aphrodite's temples." The grin widened. "I bet I could do well there. I can stay up all night."
I shifted. Damn. Now that Cupid was back on the job, the boys were perking up and calling for attention.
"Yeah, well, the same rules apply for fucking as for fighting. You're mortal."
"Oh, crap." He flopped back on my bed, frowning. "How many times a night? A dozen?"
I laughed. He raised his head, glared at me.
"Half a dozen?" Now he looked downright tragic.
I shook my head, chuckling. "Sorry. Once for most guys, twice on a good night, three is usually my maximum. Four is for very special occasions, when you have a lot of time." At his look, I added, "Recovery time. You have to wait before you go again."
Ares pounded his head on the bed. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Mortality sucks." He rubbed his hands across his face. "So, being a temple prostitute might be as much work as being a mercenary."
"Probably hurt less, though."
"Yeah." He lay there, staring at the ceiling.
"I've got an extra sword around here somewhere," I said, just to break the silence. "It belonged to my father. It's a decent weapon, although it probably needs sharpening. You can have it."
He didn't move. "Not like you're real sentimental about your old man."
"No. Not really."
"Hercules doesn't understand that, does he? He assumes that fathers are supposed to love their children."
Now what was I supposed to say to that? Another odd thought crossed my mind: Ares and I had that in common, a judgmental and impossible to please father whose love would never be given unconditionally.
"What?" He sat up, sighing.
"You did step in front of Cupid on purpose, didn't you? To try to protect him."
"Want to know the truth? I'm not sure why I did it." He was twisting the hem of his shirt, head bowed to watch his hands. "I didn't think it through, just saw Zeus on the windup and saw Cupid in the line of attack and. . ."
'Tried to protect your son."
"I guess." He looked up at me, giving me his best attempt at his usual grin. He fell short but it was a good effort. "Worked in the long run. At least with Cupid's godhood back, he could cure me. Being sick sucks."
I laughed, although the thought running through my head was, with Cupid back, all my body parts were in working order.
Ares reached for his wrist guard, sighed again, and started trying to knot it.
"Here." I sat next to him, taking his arm. "By the way," I said as I wrapped the coarse fabric around his wrist, "your shirt is on inside out."
Ares, who had been watching my hands as if he had never seen anyone tie a knot before, sounded distracted as he answered. "Really? Never happens when I do it the god way."
He tugged and I let go of his arm. While I looked around for the other wrist guard, Ares pulled his shirt off.
Oh, bother. As a god, Ares had a perfect, cold beauty, bright and sharp-edged. As a mortal, he was still handsome but less perfect. Aside from the way his hair kept falling in his eyes and his ragged beard, his eyes were softer. They didn't look as if they were carved from obsidian any more but were warm brown, flecked with gold and green. While I could admire Ares the god from afar, I could want Ares the mortal up close.
From the way he leaned back on the bed as I kissed him, I knew he felt the same way.
I know, I know, what about Hercules? Well, what about him? He and I have been lovers on and off since we figured out how our dicks worked. Sometimes it is silly fun between us, sometimes it's intense passion, sometimes it's just something to pass the time. Yeah, we love each other but we both know that monogamy doesn't really suit either us. All right, me, mostly, but no matter who else we're with, we still love each other and fucking someone else isn't going to change that.
Actually, I was thinking that it's too bad Hercules got dragged off to fight that fire. He loves a good threesome.
Then Ares made this low moan, wrapped his fingers in my hair and started kissing me like he meant it. I returned the favor. For years, I have wondered if Ares' lips were as soft as they looked. They are.
Ares twitched, then swore. I t took me a second to realize he had tried to take our clothes off using powers he no longer had. Taking clothes off the plain old mortal way was annoying him. Fortunately, I am an expert at getting clothes off without stopping whatever else I am doing.
All Ares had on was a pair of trousers. I had him unlaced in a heartbeat, then leaned back and yanked his pants off, tossing them aside. He laughed and shook his head while I got my clothes off. That waistcoat of mine comes off quick for a reason. Then I was all over him.
He didn't seem to mind, just laid back and let me, not doing much beyond resting his hands on my ass, squeezing the muscles under his fingers, and moaning occasionally.
I started on his lips again, running my tongue over them, biting the lower lip and sucking it into my mouth. Then I ran my tongue around in his mouth, dueling quickly with his, before I start kissing across his face, along his jaw, to catch his earring between my teeth. It wasn't a dangling sword anymore, just a plain silver loop, but that didn't stop me giving it a few sharp tugs.
A couple of nibbles on his nipples didn't get much reaction so I bit down. That he liked, arching up a little. I worked across the swell of his pectorals, then followed the dark trail of hair that pointed the way over his belly and down between his thighs.
Oh, yeah. I could see the family resemblance between Ares and Hercules then. I had an old trick that made Hercules crazy and I tried it on Ares, tugging up his foreskin and very gently rubbing it over the exposed head. I know from experience it feels silky and adds a certain, very pleasant tension. Ares made this sound that let me know he also appreciated that technique.
Years of practice on Hercules have given me pretty good control over my throat muscles. I started with a few long licks of Ares' cock, couple of times around the head, although that seemed a little too intense, back down to tease underneath, then a sudden deep swallow.
Ares reared up off the bed with a shout, his hands clamping down on my shoulders. He liked hard suction and just a touch of teeth, right under the head, just like Hercules.
Between my legs, the boys were beginning to complain a bit. They hadn't gotten any action for a couple of days besides a quick rigidity check this morning and they wanted to get in on the fun. I wasn't too sure how Ares felt about reciprocating but I was game to try.
As I slid up his body, he caught hold of my ass again and started grinding his now slick cock against mine. Fine with me. Sometimes the basics are the best, especially when you're both eager and don't know each other all that well.
Besides, I got to wrap my hands in all that soft, heavy hair and give those lips of his a very thorough going over as we rubbed against each other, groaning and panting, backs arched and legs spread.
We found a rhythm and went with it, our cocks trapped between our bellies, his hands pulling me tightly to him. It didn't take long before he turned his face aside from mine, caught his lower lip under his teeth and I felt the hot wet pulse of his orgasm. Mine followed an instant later as I buried my face in the warm spot where his strong neck met the swelling muscles that ran across his shoulders.
Ares wasn't used to pausing and I am pretty quick to recover, so when he rolled me over on my back, I didn't stop him. We did some slow kissing and caressing while we caught our breath.
"How long," murmured Ares in my ear as his tongue played with my earring, "until we can get it up again?"
I wanted to laugh. Nobody had ever asked me that question before but then, I'd never been with someone who was used to having an almost permanent erection.
"Depends," was my panting answer. His ass felt really nice in my hands, lusher and fuller than Hercules'. "on how enthusiastic you are."
He raised himself up on his arms, grinning down at me maniacally, before he started to demonstrate his technique. And, oh, mama, did he have one! I suppose a thousand years of practice helped.
His hot tongue did to me what I had done to him, traced a path slowly down my body. His hands slid under me, lifting me up, my back bowed, as he worked his way to my cock.
The boys were jubilant! Everybody got attention from that rough tongue, along with soft, unintentional caresses from his hair. I wanted to tell him not to cut his hair, if he went to work for Aphrodite, but I wasn't up for much conversation. Instead, I just grabbed the sheets, ignoring the sound of a new tear, and moaned.
Lips, tongue, teeth, hair, hands, and he had me hard and writhing. He used his lips to pull my foreskin over the head of my cock, with swirls from his tongue in between, while his hand worked rhythmically up and down my shaft. His other hand slipped between the cheeks of my ass.
I pulled away from him, reaching almost blindly for the jar I kept on the bedstand. He sat back on his folded legs and looked at me, grinning. His cock had perked back up as well. Amazing how much it resembled Herc's. I tossed him the jar and he opened it, sniffing a little suspiciously.
"This smells like the stuff you put on my wound."
I grinned back. "Alcmene thinks I get cut up even more than I do."
Good thing I'm used to big, impatient lovers. Ares wasn't much for preparation beyond a finger full of salve up my ass and and a smear over himself before he tossed the jar aside. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he lowered himself over me and slid his cock inside.
Ow. He wasn't going slow. I shifted, growling a little, which made him smirk. It must have worked for him, too because he pulled back, then slid all the way home.
He smiled at me as he rocked over me, holding himself up on his arms. I know what he was doing and I cooperated, arching my back until every deep thrust hit me just where I wanted it to. I know it showed on my face because he threw his head back and laughed, which made me gasp.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on relaxing as he rocked slowly back and forth. As the pleasure started to override the pain, I shifted again, sliding a pillow down under my back. I've had lots of practice getting fucked by someone bigger than I am. I have lots of practice in the reverse, as well, but I didn't think Ares was interested in that just yet. Maybe if we went a third round.
He started to make little gasping sounds as he pushed in. I opened my eyes to watch. It was a nice view. His eyes were closed and his face had that look of utter concentration that you get when fucking. While he thrust, I ran my hands up his arms, over his chest, down to his waist, where I grabbed on because he was starting to get more serious.
Oh, yeah. I lifted myself up to catch each thrust. We had a good rhythm going. I slid one hand down to my own cock and started working it. If Hercules had been ignoring it the way Ares I was, I would be insulted but I figured Ares was more used to being concerned with his pleasure than with his partner's. Then again, just getting fucked by Ares was pretty nice all on its own. I mean, he wasn't the god of war anymore but he was Ares. In my fantasies, I had pictured us together but never, ever in real life.
Ares was slamming into me, moaning and gasping, my hands were busy on my cock, and life was good. Then, he caught his lower lip in his teeth again and I nearly laughed. Hercules always got this totally blank look just as he came. I know that my jaw dropped and my mouth opened an instant before my climax. Now I know what Ares did when he came. He bit that lush lower lip. Made me want to do the same thing. Before I had a chance, he slumped forward, I squeezed my cock that extra little bit and we were both crying out as our bodies surged towards each other in orgasm.
Hercules knew better than to drop his full weight down on me but Ares wasn't as considerate. I shoved at Ares, gasping as his cock slipped out in warm gush. He rolled over with a grunt.
"Not bad," he muttered, turning on to his back. He was using the edge of my sheets to wipe himself off. Hercules better be in the mood for more laundry when he got back. "Not as good as I'm used to . . ."
I bristled. "What is that supposed to mean?"
He looked at me. "If I want to, I go into the mind of the person I'm fucking and feel it from their point of view as well."
I tried to imagine what that would be like. Fucking and fucked at the same time. Double orgasm. Sounded good to me. I was going to ask Ares for more details when I realized he was dropping off, his eyes closed, his breathing soft and regular. Typical.
I got up. Maybe I should just try to get the dinars together and buy new sheets.
Picking up my clothes, I headed back into the kitchen. I got dressed, ate a some of the bread and cheese that Hercules had brought and sat in the chair by the fire, trying to decide how I was going to tell Hercules what Ares and I had been up to. Hercules hadn't been too happy the first time he found out about Iphicles and me but once the three of us got together, one drunken afternoon out in Alcmene's barn, things had been pretty good between us. Among us? Some old grammar lessons from my childhood drifted into my head. I leaned back, intending to close my eyes for just a moment, and fell asleep.
The sound that woke me was Ares swearing again. I wondered if gods ever got their mouths washed out with soap.
"Fucking horse faced Hermes!" he was muttering. "What goat-snogging lame brained son of a bitch. . ."
"Problem?" I called out cheerfully.
He came through the curtain, holding his wristguards. "How in Hades' halls am I supposed to tie these on with one hand?"
"That's why most mortals have partners, in one way or another." A thought struck me. "Don't bother. I have an old pair of gauntlets left from when I broke my arm. I had to have one that fit over the splint. Should fit you. We can cut it it half and. . .what is that?"
I pointed. Ares reached behind his ear and pulled out a white feather. An iridescent white feather.
"Cupid," said Ares, although I couldn't tell if he was happy or not about the discovery.
"So that's why we went at it like rabbits."
"Yeah. He probably thought it would cheer me up."
Ares gave me a dark look. "I could only go twice. I could only feel what I was feeling. And I fell asleep afterwards!"
"Oh. Well, I had a good time."
We glared at each other for a moment. I considered a nice sulk but decided Ares had a point. The fucking was fun but it only served to emphasize that he was mortal. He tossed the feather aside as he rummaged through the basket of food. When his attention was diverted, I scooped it up. Soft, soft as down rather than a regular feather, and just holding it made me hard. I casually slipped it onto the mantel. Ares might not appreciate it but I did.
Honey cake in hand, Ares followed me out to the forge. He poked around a little while I found my father's old sword and the extra gauntlets.
"Hey!" He pointed at the sign of Hephaestus I had inscribed above the door. "I thought you didn't worship us."
"I don't." I handed him the sword and belt. "But I know when to thank the proper authorities."
"Ha. You never thanked me and the only reason you aren't a craven coward is because I channeled courage your way."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because you're a warrior."
"Yeah, but I'm your enemy."
"Doesn't matter. Any warrior in Greece, no matter whose side he or she is on, some of their skill, the bravery, comes through. . . " He stopped, blinking. "Came through me."
I thought about it. "I think I'm still brave so Discord must be doing all right."
"Well, a certain amount is innate. I can't make someone like . . ."
Ares managed a smile and nodded. "Right. I can't make a total coward brave or take someone who is totally inept and make them a warrior but I amplify and direct those innate talents." His voice faded off. We both heard the unspoken phrase, not anymore you can't.
Infinite virility. Control over thousands upon thousands of warriors. Immortality. Invincibility. Even the power to get dressed without difficulty. Ares had lost all that and I could see it slowly sinking in. He'd put on a brave face for Cupid but I could see he was slowing coming to grips with the reality now. Maybe Discord was slipping up already.
I helped him adjust the sword belt. He complained it was too light but there wasn't much I could do about that. I told him to get used to it and he snarled.
"So," I asked as we wandered back outside, heading towards the house, "How do you think Discord is going to do at the job?"
"She is going to suck. Part of my job, whether you and baby brother liked it or not, was to pull forces together, to impart courage, to inspire men. All Discord can do is push people apart. You need a certain amount of cooperation to launch a major offensive and she wouldn't know cooperation if it bit her in the ass."
"So, lots of fighting but no major wars?"
"Probably. I just can't imagine her leading an army against, say, the Persians. You know, it might be to your advantage to learn Persian or Latin. With Discord in charge, they may win next time they attack."
"I speak Latin," I said, "and Persian."
Ares got that look again. "I used to. I knew instantly any language I encountered. Germanic. Egyptian. Saxon. Now. . .even my Greek sounds funny. Do I have an accent?"
"Well, I wasn't going to mention it but you've always sounded kind of Thracian to me."
That didn't seem to sit well with Ares. He was gnawing on his lower lip again.
"Better than Macedonian," he muttered, and started messing with his sword belt.
I glanced over towards the road and saw that Hercules was trudging back our way. Before I could point that out to Ares, there was a flash of light and Discord, Goddess of War, was standing in front of us.
"Ares!" she shrieked and we both covered our ears. Woman had a voice that could cut iron.
He straightened and put on his best smirking attitude. I had to hide a smile. The slump was gone from his shoulders and the sneer was back on his face. He might slip up and reveal his anguish around me but for Discord, he was going to be as close to godlike as a mortal could manage.
"What am I supposed to do about Echemus? I thought he was supposed to be allied with Iarbas but now he says he doesn't trust Iarbas and wants to set up a meeting with Pyrrhus!" She stabbed a long-nailed finger towards Ares. "Athena says you are behind her against Troezen but you told me. . ."
She ranted for a few minutes, waving her arms and screaming, rattling off all the complicated plots and plans that Ares had left behind, while Ares stood there, arms folded, hip cocked, half smile on his face. Ares, Mortal of War. Now that he wasn't plotting death and destruction against my best friend, I was really beginning to like him.
"Don't just stand there looking at me like that!"
He laughed. "Sorry, Discord, but the mess is all yours. You wanted the job, you got it. You can't handle it. . ." He shrugged, twitching his head and tossing his hair over his shoulders. "you deal with it."
Hercules was coming up behind us. I heard him suck in his breath, his reactions quicker than either Ares or mine. We didn't react.
Lightning fast, Discord drew the Sword of War and sprang forward in a rage. Ares, either because his mortal reflexes weren't quick enough or because it never dawned on him that now he had to protect himself against an attack from his former underling, never had a chance. Her aim was off and instead of skewering Ares through the chest, Discord slid the sword into his belly, just above his left hip, then yanked it back, grinning triumphantly.
Ares slumped backwards into my arms and I lowered him to the ground, horrified at the hot, wet blood I felt pumping out over me. He looked at his hand, pressed against his side, and said, in a suprisingly calm voice, "Stupid bitch. Can't even manage a clean kill."
"Discord!" Hercules eyes were wide. "What have you done?"
Discord grinned, licking the blood off the end of her blade. "Looks like I took care of a problem." She put on a fake pout. "What's the matter, Herkie, I thought you wanted Ares dead."
"I never ever said I wanted him dead!" Hercules was pale as he dropped to his knees beside me. We looked at each other. We'd seen enough battlefield injuries to know that Ares would bleed to death in a matter of minutes, no matter what we did to help.
"Hey, bro." Ares gasped in pain as he shifted against me. "Don't forget the coin."
Hercules' face was mask of sorrow as he watched Ares' eyes flutter shut. He may have disapproved of Ares' penchants for violence and bloodshed but Hercules still hated to see anyone die in pain. I glanced around, wondering if Thanatos or maybe Hermes or even Hades would show up for this soul.
"You've killed him," whispered Hercules. I didn't correct him. I could still feel Ares breathing but I knew death was only a few heartbeats away. "What will Zeus say?"
Discord shrugged, wiping her bloodied blade on her palm, and grinning. "Rules are against gods killing gods. Ares there is mortal."
"But he is still my son!"
Zeus appeared, in a flash of light and in full bellow, the sound making my ears ring. He wasn't doing wise and sage, he was doing vengeful and pissed. He looked about twelve feet tall and lightning was buzzing and flashing around him. He raised an arm and pointed it at me.
Then there were a few seconds of the chaos that I'm used to. Hercules grabbed the back of my waistcoat and pulled, rolling us over and away from Ares, whose body dropped unceremoniously into the puddle of blood on the ground. Discord shrieked again. Hercules curled himself protectively around me but I still saw a flash of light so bright that it was blinding and heard a sound that I don't think was ever intended for mortal ears.
When Hercules let me go, after I nudged him in the ribs, I sat up, blinking, trying to get my eyes to focus. By the time I could see clearly, there weren't any gods in my yard. No corpses or pools of blood, either.
Hercules wrapped an arm around me as he rested his head against my back.
"So," I said, "Ares is back in the saddle I take it."
"Looks that way." I could feel him laugh, weakly and a little hysterically. "My family."
"You know, I thought Zeus hated Ares but he seemed genuinely upset that Discord skewered him."
"Yeah. Same here."
Hercules slid closer, pulling me into an embrace, settling his chin on my shoulder so he could nuzzle my ear. Unlike yours truly, Hercules hadn't had any relief since Cupid flapped at us a few hours ago. I remembered the feather on the mantel.
"Come on, big guy," I said, sliding one of his hands down to my crotch, "let's go inside."
I don't know if it was the feather that I managed to sneak under the mattress or just the aftereffects of having Cupid around but I did pretty well, considering. Herc seemed happy, enough that he didn't even comment on the state of my bedding or that I had to scrabble around on the floor for the jar of salve. We were nodding off, a sweaty, soggy, thoroughly fucked pair, when the strangest thing happened.
I know, I know, what's stranger than finding Ares and Cupid turned into mortals and having to save their respective asses? I'll tell you. I was lying there, semiconscious, Herc's arms around me, his hot breath slow and regular on the nape of my neck, when something tickled my nose.
I swatted at the disturbance, too tired to even open my eyes. Then it happened again and suddenly, I wasn't tired any more, I was wide awake, hard as a rock and staring at the God of Desire, who was holding a feather in one hand.
"Hello," he said cheerfully, grinning at me. Definitely resembled his father when he smiled like that.
"Um, hello." Well? What else could I say?
Cupid leaned over and trailed the end of the feather over Hercules' ear and down his neck. Hercules sat up, his eyes wide, a startled expression on his face.
"I thought I should thank you guys properly." As Cupid said that, he waved his hands and his clothes disappeared and I could see another family resemblance.
"Wait a minute."
Hercules and I both turned to see Ares standing there, all black leather and perfect hair. He gave us a cocky grin and waved his hand. Since he stayed clothed, it took me a moment to realize what he had done.
"You can thank me later," he said as his clothes vanished and he joined the rest of us on my new silk sheets.