Setting Up For The Fall
Part One: Dahak
"Iphicles?" Ares kept his voice steady against the Hephaestian blade's whisper caress of his spine. "Iphicles, you're not behaving rationally." He licked his lips and raised his head but could see nothing through the thick tangle of his own black hair; he could only feel the warmth of a heavy mortal body over his waist, pinning him to the mattress as surely as the Hephaestian chains secured his wrists and ankles to the bed frame. "Are you listening?" He tested the chains for the thousandth time and felt the slight prick of metal biting his skin, drawing blood. "You could hurt me with that damn knife. This isn't a fucking game."
"Oh, I know it's not a game," Iphicles giggled, the soft weight of his balls rubbing against Ares' back. "This is deadly serious." The blade kissed once more.
"You're sick, Iphicles." Ares yanked the chains. "You've got some kind of mortal mental fuck up. Let me go. Release these chains now!" He paused, listening. Iphicles had grown still above him, holding his breath. Maybe this was his chance to--
Then Ares felt it, the crushing, heady presence that had been haunting the fringe of his senses for weeks: Dahak.
"Iph, listen to me." Ares took a steadying breath. "Dahak is here. I don't know how, but he's here. You've got to release me now or we're both dead."
There was no response.
"Do you hear me?" Ares thrashed. "Dahak is--"
"Standing right beside me," Iphicles returned evenly. "He's looking you over right now. I think he likes what he sees."
Ares whipped his head to either side but could only catch glimpses of Iphicles' bedchamber through the suffocating mass of damp hair. "No, Iphicles--"
"It's alright, Ares."
"Yes, my pretty godling." Time froze but Dahak's viper tones continued. "Everything is fine. I've kept my eye on you, my arrogant one, my bold little war god. I watched you with Hope my daughter, my misbegotten daughter. I see now that she was too weak for you. Her children, pathetic." Cruel fingers prodded Ares' bloodied back. "I see now where the true salvation of the world lies. You were very naughty, hiding yourself from me, hiding your potential." The fingers were suckled noisily. "Our children will hold the world in terror."
"You're mad." Ares tried to jerk away from the icy fingers running down the insides of his thighs but found himself restrained by Iphicles' merciless weight. "If you think I'm going to--"
"Oh, I know you're going to." The air shifted in a small flex of godly power, replacing the familiar feel of Iphicles' body with a lighter mortal frame.
"Iphicles?" Ares strained to see around him. "What have you done with him?" He spat salty hair from his mouth. "Where is he, you bastard? He's nothing to you."
"I'm here, Ares," Iphicles replied in a voice nearing his usual earnest tones.
Dahak hissed a chuckle as his rough, greedy fingers explored the curves of Ares' back.
"Get off me!" Ares bucked against the slimy licks along his shoulders then growled at the sickeningly soft strokes down his arms.
"You're mine now, sweet godling, and I'm going to take you." Dahak's hot breath branded Ares' neck and his insides were immediately slick with oil.
"You're going to fuck me from inside a mortal corpse?" Ares gulped the thick air. "What's the matter, Dahak?" He kept his voice strong as Dahak settled between his splayed legs. "Can't you get it up on your own without dead boy's help?"
Dahak hissed another chuckle. "That's what I always liked about you, Ares God of War." Cold fingers and hot tongue gloated over Ares' ass. "You have spirit. Even as the perfect sacrificial lamb you still have a fire in you." Ares jerked under a hard sucking bite. "I do appreciate that. Believe me. It's a pity that fire will have to be extinguished for you to fulfil your destiny, but I'll make sure this sweet flesh remains undamaged."
As his hips were grasped and raised with a bruising force, Ares bucked and snarled, all thoughts of reason lost in the maelstrom of disbelieving horror tearing at him with the pressure of a dead mortal's cock.
Dahak's hiss of anticipated pleasure was suddenly engulfed in the deafening explosion of splintering of wood.
Air blasted over Ares' back and Dahak's mortal form was driven away to hit the floor with an ungodly gasp of pain.
"You!" Dahak bellowed. "You dare interfere with my plans again?"
"Get the knife, Iphicles," Hercules yelled and Ares craned his neck towards the scuffling and cursing, trying to blink the stinging hair from his eyes.
"Get the amulet on."
"YOU PATHETIC CREATURES! DO YOU TRULY BELIEVE YOU CAN STAND AGAINST THE POWER OF DAHA--"
Then it was gone. The crushing pressure of Dahak's presence disappeared with a slight popping noise, leaving only the harsh panting of satisfied mortals.
"Iolaus?" Hercules' voice was soft, enquiring.
"Herc? Wha--what's going on?"
"It's over, Ares. We did it." Iphicles' familiar fingers finally pushed back the hair from Ares' face but there was nothing Ares wanted to see. "Dahak's gone." The air's cooling caress was exchanged for the most heated of kisses. "We had to wait until the last second before we could attack but we did it. We did it, Ares."
"Release me." Ares kept his gaze locked on the bead of sweat balanced precariously in the hollow of Iphicles' throat.
"Yeah, of course." Iphicles tried to meet Ares' eyes. "But Dahak is gone for good, Ares. We defeated him. Ares?" His thumb caressed Ares' cheekbone. "You weren't in any danger. I wouldn't have done it if you were. We had to do it like this. I'm sorry."
"I smell awful," Iolaus was giggling.
"You've smelled worse," Hercules returned.
"No, you've smelled worse!"
Ares watched the bead of sweat turn into a slow tear running down Iphicles' chest. "Let me go."
"Please, Ares, I wouldn't have let Dahak hurt you. You know that." Iphicles was crouching close now, tugging at Ares' hair. "It was the only way but I wouldn't have let Dahak hurt you. The chains are special, they release instantly when I say a word. I had the hind's blood dagger so we could immobilise Dahak before he hurt you. We had to do it this way but you were never in any danger, Ares. Believe me." Iphicles kissed his temple. "Please believe me. Tell me you understand."
"I understand." Ares listened to the pounding of a faltering pulse.
"Alcmene," Iphicles said, releasing the chains.
Ares released himself into the aether.
Part Two: Betrayal
Iphicles' breath was blown back over his cheeks by a small gasp of wind from the temple doorway. "I'm hear to talk, Ares," he spoke into the stale darkness, feeling a chill from the temple he hadn't experienced for a long time. "I need to explain what happened." His eyes scanned the dull cavernous room, finally adjusting enough to make out Ares' casual sprawl across the huge throne on the centre dais.
"I know what happened." Ares swung one leg, rhythmically kicking the grinning skull at the base of his throne. "You don't need to 'explain' anything."
"It's over, mortal." Ares let his head fall back against the high side of the throne. "Get over it."
"Your hair." Iphicles squinted through the gloom at Ares' profile, now strangely harsh without the luxurious fall of curls. "You've cut your hair. It's...short."
"It's all the rage on Olympus," Ares sniffed. "Now get out, you're being tiresome."
"Tiresome? Ares, don't be ridiculous."
The rhythmic thudding against the skull stopped for a beat, then, just as quickly, resumed twice as loud.
"I know you're angry." Iphicles walked to the foot of the dais under Ares' hooded gaze. "It was awful. I can't imagine, I couldn't... We had to lure Dahak out. He wanted you, he had Iolaus and Olympus wouldn't listen to you or Hercules. You said yourself that Olympus wouldn't to help us. It was the only option we had. You know that." He struggled to find the words that would make an impact on the unyielding figure before him. "He was going to hurt you. I had to do it, Ares. I couldn't be that strong for anyone else. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Only for you, I did it for you."
The rhythmic thudding stopped abruptly.
"I'm sorry I hurt you." Iphicles reached a hand out only to freeze under a harsh bark of laughter.
"Hurt me?" Ares sat forward with a vicious grin that made Iphicles recoil. "What makes you think you could possibly hurt me, mortal? Don't you know what you are?" Ares' voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "You're nothing but a corpse waiting to happen, an insignificant jumble of chemical reactions that will eventually just cease to spark. Your whole kind was an accident, an exercise in what not to do with a lump of mud. You're nothing. You mean nothing. You will amount to nothing. You. Are. Nothing."
Ares settled back in his throne, a cruel smirk twisting his face into the mask of a god Iphicles didn't recognise.
"That's not true," Iphicles sputtered automatically, then his voice grew stronger with the memory of Ares' words to Dahak. "If I'm 'nothing but a corpse waiting to happen', why did you care about Dahak hurting me? If I'm just 'an insignificant jumble of chemical reactions', why did it matter if Dahak made me 'cease to spark'?" Anger flooded him. "Enlighten me, Great Ares."
In less than a blink, Iphicles was choking, clawing helplessly at the hand crushing his throat. Then he was flying backwards, tumbling through the dark until finally hitting the far wall and crumpling to the floor. Pain screaming through his body, Iphicles lay gasping on the cold marble, trying to breathe deep enough to-- "Ares don't." He struggled to sit up, struggled to focus on the shadowy form stalking him.
"'Ares don't' what? What do you think I'm going to do?" Ares loomed, sneering and reaching -- only to stumble, knocked backwards by a massive, whimpering shape.
"Graegus, no!" Iphicles cried out as the dog jumped to take hold of Ares' arm, tugging his master away. "Don't--"
Graegus hit the floor with an ear-piercing yelp, rolled to his paws and scrambled from Ares' fury.
"Here, Graegus," Iphicles whispered urgently while Ares stood as stone, studying the deep gash on his forearm. "That's a good boy." Iphicles leaned up against the wall, hissing breaths and holding his injured shoulder as Graegus limped towards him. "Good boy." He rubbed his knee against the heaving canine ribcage, watching Ares silently contemplate the blood dripping from the accidental bite.
"He didn't mean it," Iphicles mumbled, unsure which of them he meant. "I--"
"Get out," Ares' voice refused to echo. "Both of you."
Part Three: Dionysus
"I'm sorry." Iphicles kissed Graegus' velvet ear then rested his forehead on the big domed skull. "This is all my fault."
Graegus rumbled agreement, his tail waggling in the lush riverbank grass while his head cocked at the colourful splash of a hunting kingfisher.
"What are you complaining about?" Iphicles shifted uncomfortably against his canine prop. "At least you heal quicker than I do." He adjusted his immobilised shoulder, hastily secured by his belt, and looked up to the distant battlements of Ares' temple. "You deserve that at least."
"You don't seriously think you deserved that beating?"
Iphicles whipped around at the flash of light that heralded the appearance of a god, immediately regretting this reaction as his broken collarbone broke into full wail again.
"That Ares. He's always been that way." Dionysus shook his black mane and schooled his smooth olive face into a mask of sympathy. "Handle him the wrong way and he'll explode in your face like ten of Zeus' thunderbolts." He drew his green cloak around him and settled down on the grass. "I'm surprised you're still alive, actually."
Continuing to pet Graegus with his good arm, Iphicles made no response.
"It's his trust issues." Dionysus canted his head back and closed his eyes against the sunshine that immediately appeared from behind a cloud for him. "Ares' trust issues, that is. As soon as he realises there is no such thing as trust, not even between him and his own mutt, he'll be a lot happier." The bastard actually smirked.
"Get lost, Dionysus." Iphicles stomped to his feet and started back down the path to Corinth, Graegus grumbling alongside him.
"Now, that isn't very grateful." Dionysus paced Iphicles with a fluid grace. "Especially when I've come all this way to help you."
"Help me?" Iphicles turned on the god. "How the fuck can you help me? Why would you help me? Last time I met you, you were trying to kill me."
"A little misunderstanding." Dionysus shrugged easily, his green eyes sparkling gold flecks. "I'm here to help you because I feel guilty over that unfortunate...episode. I want Ares to be happy. He's been banned from Olympus until his bad mood stops killing all the plant life. He's already turned most of the West Gardens into mud hole."
"So?" Iphicles strode away. "I tried to talk to him and he wouldn't listen."
"You obviously didn't say the right things," Dionysus oozed understanding. "I know how hard he is to talk to when he gets like that. Scary. Even we gods can't do a thing with him so Zeus usually thunderbolts him." Dionysus sighed. "I bet you said things like 'I had to do it' and 'It was for your own good'."
"Yeah, so?" Iphicles paused.
"That's just what we say to Ares," Dionysus smirked, "when Zeus thunderbolts him."
Iphicles closed his eyes. "Well, that is just great. Is there any way to fuck this up that I've missed?" He looked down at Graegus who was sniffing his toes in apparent oblivion. "Terrific." Iphicles turned to walk on but was halted by a firm hand on his good shoulder.
"Perhaps words aren't enough," Dionysus smiled encouragingly. "Perhaps you need to do something to show Ares your devotion."
"What?" Iphicles fought the impulse to lean away from Dionysus' wine sweetened breath even as his good sense fought against his need for Ares and lost. "What can I do?"
"There is something Ares has wanted back for a very long time. It was taken from him when he was young but he has never forgotten it. It's nothing to do with power or conquest. It's a personal thing. Something Ares thinks he will never get back." Dionysus' long fingers began to pet Iphicles' shoulder. "If you can bring this thing back to him, you will be able to prove just how much he means to you."
"How can I do something Ares himself can't do?" Iphicles shifted out from under Dionysus' hand.
"He's a god." Dionysus shrugged easily. "God's aren't allowed in this place by pain of a languishing death in the depths of Tartarus." He smirked. "Of course, that didn't stop Ares when he first heard about his thing being taken. Zeus, Athena and Poseidon had to stop him making a fool of himself on that occasion."
"What is it, this 'personal thing' of Ares'?" Iphicles knew he should just walk away. He knew no good would ever come of this god's manipulations. He also knew he could never go back to Corinth knowing Ares despised him. "Can you help me get it?"
"Of course I'll help you." Dionysus grinned, pulling a small blue bottle from the folds of his cloak. "Drink this."
"I don't think so." Iphicles stepped back warily. "I've heard too many stories about gods and their potions."
Dionysus rolled his eyes. "And I assume that some of these stories are about Asclepius, God of Healing?"
Iphicles nodded. "But you're the God of Wine."
"So at worst this is a really good wine?" Dionysus brought the bottle to eye level and raised a sculpted eyebrow. "Poor mortal. This is actually one of Asclepius' drinks. It will set your bone in no time flat so your tedious little mortal body will be ready for action. Does that meet with your approval, King Iphicles?" He thrust the bottle into Iphicles' hand. "If I wanted to harm you I wouldn't need a potion to do it. Of that I assure you."
Judging this statement to be the only piece of truth Dionysus had uttered throughout their whole conversation, Iphicles weighed the bottle in his hand and glanced down to see Graegus chewing his tail, completely unconcerned. Beneath Dionysus' amused smirk, he unsealed the bottle and sniffed it suspiciously before swallowing its oily contents in one long gulp. It tasted of nothing in particular but hit his stomach like a block of ice.
"Off we go, then." Dionysus waved his hand like a royal salute while Iphicles coughed and spluttered. The woodland around them wavered then faded away.
Part Four: The Well of Forever
Ares closed his eyes tighter and buried his face in Poseidon's seaweed textured sheets, willing Strife to disappear with the echo of his whining voice against the sea damp walls.
Strife did disappear only to reappear in a subdued flash even before the fizzle of his impromptu departure had faded. "Unc, it's good. You know I wouldn't come down to old scaly's place if it wasn't. How can you stand it?" Strife's teeth chattered. "It's so wet and fishy and Pos looks more like a halibut every day. Is he really a good lay? Thank the fates for low lighting, huh, Unc?"
"Just spit it out." Ares scratched idly at the sucker marks decorating his lower back and ass.
"Ooh, harsh. Old halibut-face's tentacles pack a punch." The bed began to dip under Strife's bodyweight. "Do you want me to scratch anyplace for you?"
"Okay, okay." The bed jiggled with Strife's hasty retreat. "Spitting it out. I just came to tell you about Dionysus." Ares could hear the inane grin in Strife's fizzy voice. "He's bragging all over Olympus that he's got some idiot mortal to go into the Caves of Forever. No one believes him. I mean, even a mortal wouldn't be that dumb. Apollo bet him..."
But Ares had stopped listening, cold dread stealing over him. "When?"
"And Hermes -- what?"
"I said WHEN, you pointless little toad." Ares was up, clothed and holding Strife by the scruff of the neck. "When did the mortal go into the Caves?"
"Ab--a, I don't know." His pale eyes huge and round, Strife managed to cringe even while dangling a clean foot off the ground. "Not long, I guess. Maybe an hour or two."
Letting Strife drop to the floor, Ares flashed out of Poseidon's underwater kingdom to a craggy, cave riddled peak overlooking a raging Aegean Sea. Seabirds of all descriptions were suddenly fluttering all around him, screaming and squawking at the threatening storm.
As the mass of feathered bodies cleared, Ares saw the body of a giant lizard lying gutted by the maw of the largest cave. The birds had been feeding on its remains but its soft belly still carried the familiar marks of a large dog's canines. Graegus. Ares closed his eyes and welcomed the familiar bite of his sword hilt etching itself into his palm. With Graegus at his side, Iphicles still stood a chance of being alive. But the sky was darkening rapidly and Ares could feel the aethereal power building around him, ready to blast whoever had entered the Caves of Forever. The wind picked up, whipping at his leathers, making him grateful he had cut all that damn hair off as he glared down the mouth of the cave, willing Iphicles to appear. He didn't appear, so Ares chewed his bottom lip and considered his options. As long as he didn't actually enter the Well himself, Olympus couldn't find him guilty of any wrong worth sending him to Tartarus for. He was almost sure. Ares glanced up at the sky once more. At least he had plenty of experience dodging aether storms. He studied the cave's forbidding entrance a moment longer before striding into its depths.
The cave just seemed to plummet endlessly to its fiery pit as Ares jumped from one uneven outcropping to the next, a giant's spiral staircase with most of the steps missing. This must have taken Iphicles hours. Stupid mortal. At least, being a god, he could skip the majority of the stops on the way even if he couldn't use a burst of power to take him to the heart of the cave. No, he'd save alerting the entire living world to the knowledge he was creeping about the Caves of Forever until he had got hold Iphicles and Graegus. Why he wanted to reclaim a couple showing such immense stupidity he was at a loss to explain. Maybe he was getting soft in his old age. He misjudged the next jump and teetered on the edge before regaining balance. "Soft and sloppy," he cursed under his breath, eyeing the inferno far below; perhaps it was a shortcut to Tartarus? It seemed deep enough. Even with his godly vision, the light was far too intense for him to see to the bottom. Maybe a few of the old fire gods still lived down there? Ares shook his head free of such pointless pondering and made the last jump into the brightly lit tunnel that housed the Well of Forever -- and promptly collapsed to his knees.
Gasping the dry air, Ares leaned up against the sparkling wall that pulsated with multicoloured energy threads. The Well of Forever was a fancy name for something that was, basically, a power sink, and was currently eating his power up like a beggar at a festival banquet. Ares could feel his strength sapping, his energy draining away even as he regained his sense of equilibrium. Energy could disappear down the Well without a trace and what were the gods if not highly complex energy patterns. Ares hesitated. Even a god could disappear in here forever, forever lost in the myriad of colours rushing past beneath his fingers. Just like her. And she wasn't even a god...
"I can't, Graeg."
The panting voice echoed from just around the corner.
"Give me a moment to recover. Damn it. I'm not a fucking god. Or an immortal mutt."
"No, you're a fucking idiot." Ares strolled into the cavern with an arrogance he didn't feel. And that arrogance almost deserted him when he saw Iphicles lying flat on his back, gasping for breath, barely a foot from the churning black pit of power that was the Well of Forever.
"Ares?" Iphicles blinked in surprise.
"Tell me you didn't jump in the Well!" Ares pushed an excited Graegus to the side as he crouched by Iphicles.
"No, I didn't jump in." Iphicles struggled up on one elbow with a tired smile that turned into a glare as his eyes locked on Graegus. "Your mutt knocked me in. I always knew he hated me."
The Well began rumbling, forks of energy threatening to leap at them.
"Stop whining and get up, Iph." Ares pushed Graegus away with a pet and hauled Iphicles to his feet. The effort made him gag. "C'mon, Iphicles, at least try," he growled at the body flopping against him. "We need to get out before the Well erupts."
"I know that. Don't you think I know that?"
Iphicles still hung from his arms like a wet sack of sand so Ares began to drag the mortal over the stones. "Will you stand up, I'm fucking out on my feet here."
"You're out in your feet? I'm the one that got knocked into that, that thing getting you your fucking lost thing." Iphicles shoved a small red leather box in front of Ares' face. "You could at least say thank you, you selfish prick."
"Oh, I see, nothing works but your mouth?" Ares' vision began to blur as the tunnel began to quake around them. "Why don't I find that surprising." He dropped Iphicles to the ground with a little less care than perhaps he should, and felt the flow of aether ebbing around them.
"What are you doing?" Iphicles nudged at Ares' boot while Graegus began to growl back down the tunnel. "Ares, what are you doing? I think something is coming out the Well. Stop pissing around."
"I'm not pissing around," Ares hissed, listening to Graegus' warning growls deepen. "You can't just 'flash off' into an aether storm, Iphicles." Ares concentrated on feeling the writhing energy flows, tracing the safest path for their escape through the agitated aether. "They'll be picking bits of you out of the rocks for months if I don't get this right." He bent to take the small box from Iphicles' grasp then pulled the mortal into his arms. "And that would be a waste of a perfectly competent king." He sealed his mouth over Iphicles' lips, savouring the sweet taste freely given.
Graegus' growl built into a snapping snarl.
Iphicles' tongue thrust into Ares' mouth.
Splinters of rock began raining down on them.
A blast of power burst up the tunnel, charring the sparkling surface in its attempt to consume those who had violated the Well. In a flash, Ares had ridden out of the cave on the strength of that blast, its sheer force and lack of purpose completely masking Ares' power signature without leaving a trace.
No one could ever prove they had been in the Caves at all.
Part Five: Asterodea
"So, what's in it?" Iphicles panted against Ares' chest, his body slipping easily off Ares' to the mattress on the mixture of sweat and come that smeared them both. "You got your thorough fucking, so tell me what's in the box."
"Nothing." Ares stifled a grunt under a savage nipple bite. "Look for yourself." He reached over to the small table beside Iphicles' bed and picked up the red leather box to place it on Iphicles' out-stretched palm.
"So, what's in it?" Iphicles elbowed up, setting the box on Ares' chest and grinning through a heavy fall of unruly hair.
"Nothing." Ares tucked the hair behind Iphicles' ear so he could see the mortal's expression when he opened the box and found...
"Nothing?" Iphicles clambered to his knees. "There's nothing in it!"
"That's what I kept telling you." Ares grinned. Iphicles' cheeks were as red as the box. "Didn't you believe me?"
"It's not funny." Iphicles threw the box across the room and Graegus jumped to catch it in his mouth. "I could have died getting that fucking thing." Graegus tossed the box in the air then chased it across the floor.
"Graeg likes it." Ares shrugged as Iphicles dropped down beside him.
"I'm so honoured," Iphicles growled sarcastically then elbowed up to finger Ares' hipbone. "Why won't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?" Ares heard the defensive growl creeping into his tone and let it be.
"If you won't tell me what was in the box, at least tell me why you won't tell me." Iphicles was on the move again, this time to straddle Ares' hips.
"What kind of mortal logic is that?" Ares closed his eyes against the rapid thickening of his cock under the pressure of Iphicles' warm body.
"The only kind of logic this mortal has." Iphicles bent to nip Ares' collarbone, pressing his own heating cock into Ares' stomach. "Why not tell me what every god on Olympus, including that bastard Dionysus, already knows?" He began to rub his slick body against Ares, his tongue and teeth demanding.
Resisting the urge to thrust, Ares let his fingers trace the lines of tensing muscle along Iphicles' back. "Asterodea," he breathed, surprising himself at how easily the name tripped off his tongue after remaining unspoken for so long. "Asterodea's spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it, was in that box until we got out of the cave. Then it went to Hades."
Iphicles stilled his motion to sit up and meet Ares' gaze. "Who was she?"
"A great general, an unbelievable warrior." Ares stroked Iphicles' thighs. "She was the first mortal to make the other gods sit up and take notice of the power of war."
"What happened to her?"
"We had a slight disagreement." Ares eased Iphicles off him and sat up to lean against the headboard, sipping a goblet of freshly materialised wine. "I gave her immortality, she wanted to be a god. I caught her trying to steal ambrosia, we had a fight, she said rather die than be an immortal nobody, yadda, yadda. She threw herself into the Well."
"Sounds like a lovely lady." Iphicles reached up and took the goblet from Ares' hand.
"She kept it interesting."
"What are you going to do about 'you know who'?" Iphicles swirled the wine pointedly.
"Dionysus will be choking apologies out all over Olympus for being a lying sack shit because there will be no fresh mortal remains found in the Forever Caves." Ares grinned. "Gods can't abide barefaced liars. Sneaky, behind your back liars are fine, but barefaced liars imply stupidity on their part and gods hate looking stupid. Dionysus owes his next six batches of wine to Apollo and he'll have a reputation lower than pond scum for the next century with any luck."
"I'm going to be popular with him."
"Don't worry about Dionysus." Ares retrieved the goblet and refilled it before taking another drink. "I plan on making sure he doesn't bother you again and no one on Olympus will be inclined to stop me this time."
Ares took another swallow of wine while Iphicles scowled.
"There's one thing I don't get, Ares."
"Only one thing?"
"About that box. What was it doing floating around in a well of energy?"
"It wasn't." Ares watched Graegus chew up the box in question then spit it out in a puddle of drool on Iphicles' bearskin rug. "For a split moment in time you were at one with the power in the Well, almost like a god, and the energy at your command provided you with what you were looking for in a way you could understand it."
Iphicles frowned. "And that makes sense to you?"
"Yeah." Ares shrugged. "But I'm going to have to explain all this shit to Hades."
"But it'll be all right?" Iphicles searched Ares' face hungrily. "He won't tell Zeus what happened?"
"No," Ares answered carefully, puzzled at Iphicles' sudden intensity. "It's nothing to do with Zeus. Hades will be glad to get one of his lost ones back. That's all. He'll just want a few details for his scrolls."
In the silence that followed, Ares watched the emotions play across Iphicles' expressive face; he knew what was coming next.
"Ares, I'm so sorry. If I--"
"Forget it, Iphicles." Ares drained the goblet in one gulp, standing from the bed and flashing on his leathers in one, well practised motion. "I don't want to hear it."
Iphicles jumped off the bed and took Ares' nearest elbow. "But if we let this Dahak thing--"
"I said leave it." Ares pulled out of Iphicles' grasp. "Understand?"
Iphicles stood blinking at Ares. One more word, Ares watched Iphicles lick his lips, and he would flash out of there so fast...
A quick movement that almost startled him, and warm hands slipped around Ares' neck to cup the back of his head, surprising him at their heat through the new shortness of his hair. Iphicles' following kiss was hard and thrusting until Ares took control. Forcing Iphicles' head back, Ares licked the bead of sweat balanced precariously in the hollow of Iphicles' throat.