Iolaus paced nervously in the anteroom of the God of War's temple in Thrace. He really didn't want to go in there but he needed help in the worst way and he couldn't think of anyone else to ask. Girding his courage and thanking all the gods that Hercules had stopped to spend some time with Jason and Iphicles, he stepped into the darkened sanctum and went up to the large intricately carved throne.
"Ares. It's Iolaus. I need a favor." He put all his heart and soul into the plea, concentrating on the sardonic features that used to push all his buttons.
"Iolaus." The deep voice said his name with a puzzled note.
He opened his eyes and saw the god of war sitting forward in the throne. "Thanks for coming. I need ..."
"Whoa, Iolaus. Don't think so fast. All I'm getting is a jumble of weird impressions." The dark god rose and came down the three steps to his level. "You look terrible. Let's take this to a quieter setting. It's almost time for evening service and the priests will be coming in shortly. Olympus all right with you? I left a ... project half finished."
"Sure. Whatever." Iolaus would have agreed to Tartarus at this point.
Ares laughed and took his arm, flashing them both into the outer room of a very different temple. This was white and green marble with oak furnishings and soft drapes of green and blue. Iolaus felt his mouth drop open and when he looked at the dark god, he surprised him into a grimace.
"Joxer thought all black was depressing. And Mother picked out the curtains." He said with a sigh and a half smile that told Iolaus that he hadn't fought too hard against any of the changes.
"o-oo-oo-oo, Joxer. Don't stop there. Keep rubbing that spot."
Iolaus' head jerked around in astonishment. *That sounded like Aphrodite. Nah!*
Ares grinned and laid a finger to his lips before motioning him to the doorway of the inner room. They peeked around the corner and Iolaus felt his mouth drop open. The goddess of love lay on her side clutching a pillow to prop up her very pregnant front.
*Pregnant? The goddess of love is pregnant?*
Joxer was intent on giving her a back rub and she was purring with contentment. "Oh my, that's just the right spot, lover. How in Hades am I going to get through the next two months when I'm already as big as a cow?"
Ares drew him back into the other room and he followed in a daze, looking in disbelief at the god of war. They sat by the fire and Ares conjured up goblets of wine for both of them.
"The release of the Chaos energy sent the goddesses into hormonal overload, Iolaus. My brother is sterile and 'Dite asked us to father her next child. Right now, she's carrying twins. One of mine and one of Joxer's."
Iolaus felt his mind try to stretch around the concept. The goddess of love was going to have a child by two different fathers at the same time? Joxer was going to be a father. He felt a smile stretch across his face.
"Boy, are they going to be a handful." Was all he said.
Ares chuckled quietly. "You're probably right. But it's worth it. Boy or girl, they'll be raised with love from all of us."
Iolaus looked at him and saw contentment on the dark face, a joy that he'd never thought to see on the saturnine features. Sighing wistfully, he took a long drink of the wine in his goblet.
"What's troubling you, Iolaus? Something pretty bad for you to slip out to one of my temples without my little brother?" His voice showed his curiosity and the dark eyebrow quirked up while he waited patiently for him to speak.
Iolaus closed his eyes and sighed again. "The gods send mortal men dreams. Portents of the future is what I was always told. Morpheus lets us know what's coming. Even if they're not very clear sometimes. In symbols that have to be interpreted."
"Normally, that's true although all dreams are *not* from him. He says that some are from inside the mortal soul itself. Especially ones that mirror some fear or desire that the individual has." Ares frowned slightly and leaned forward. "Are you having dreams that you think are portents?"
"Gods, I hope not." Iolaus couldn't help a shudder of foreboding. "They're dark and full of death and blood and war." He looked at the god across from him with a shrug. "I wondered if maybe you . . ."
But Ares was shaking his head in denial. "Not me, Iolaus. I've been too busy to even pay attention to the border disputes in the East. Strife is handling them for me. Aphrodite and Joxer need all my energy right now." For a moment, Iolaus saw a quiet grief in the dark eyes. "Joxer is just getting over a sickness that sometimes strikes young gods. I don't like to be away from them for very long."
"And we don't like you to be gone, either." A pair of long arms hugged him from behind and Joxer's smiling face winked at Iolaus over his lover's shoulder. "Hi, Iolaus, nice to see you. You look tired."
This time, Iolaus felt his answering grin to be completely unforced. "Good to see you, Joxer. You feeling better?"
The young god settled beside Ares and took his goblet from him for a sip. "Hm-m-m, the good stuff. Yeah, Iolaus, I'm fine now. What's wrong?"
Iolaus sighed again. "Bad dreams ... really bad dreams. I die and come back possessed by an evil god from the far north. Dahok."
He watched Ares go rigid and a bleak look chilled his eyes into black pools of fire. Joxer set the goblet down and touched the still face. Iolaus had that odd feeling again that they were talking without words. But whatever it was, worked because his face softened and he turned his head just far enough to kiss the long fingers on his cheek.
"We'll need to go and see Morpheus. Since they're your dreams, he'll have to tell you where they are coming from." His voice was grim and Joxer exchanged a questioning look with Iolaus. "It's part of the rules. If another god has asked him to send you these particular visions and you can get to the god of dreams, he has to tell you who. Then, we can go ask he or she, why."
Iolaus shivered at the almost feral tone in the soft growling voice. But at least it was promising answers and that was why he'd come. "Lead the way, Ares."
"Let me get Harmonia to come and watch her mother." Joxer
suggested. "I don't want her waking up alone."
"Good idea." Ares got a far away look in his eyes and the blond teenager who Iolaus remembered from the southern island popped in.
"Hi, guys. Wow! Iolaus!" She grinned all over and gave him a hug. "Just as gorgeous as ever."
"No you don't, princess." Ares shook his head. "No playing with mortals until your first century. Remember the rules. We need you to be here for your mom. Joxer just put her to sleep with a back rub."
She pouted at his admonition then grinned at Iolaus, winking the eye away from her two fathers at him. "Sure, dads. Where you going?"
"To pay a little visit to Morpheus." The grimness of her father's voice sent a little frown over her pert face. Iolaus watched, fascinated by the looks that crossed her face in rapid succession. She was indeed her mother's daughter.
"Okay. I'll see you later then. I've got a new scroll to read anyway. The pharins will be bringing dinner in a couple of hours. Will you be back by then?" Her tones were ingenious and Iolaus suppressed a smile at her fishing.
"Perhaps." Ares kissed her cheek and gave her a gentle push in the direction of the inner room. "If we're not, you two can eat without us."
Joxer had taken Iolaus' hand and Ares joined them both within a golden flash that brought them into a cave of velvet darkness. Iolaus blinked and wished for a light, feeling Joxer's hold on him tighten. Suddenly he remembered that the young god had once been afraid of the dark and he returned the squeeze to let him know he was not alone.
"Morpheus. I've brought you a mortal who's come to ask you about some dreams you're sending him." Ares' voice didn't echo in the stygian blackness so Iolaus wondered if the room was smaller than he'd thought.
Silence. But gradually, the blackness began to lighten and what looked like stars began to appear all around them. But none of them were familiar constellations, more like tiny lights that sometimes moved around each other like fireflies only smaller.
"Ares." The voice was a light tenor that sighed with what sounded like resignation. "You know they are supposed to get to me on their own."
"He took a short cut. Now, I'd like to know who is sending these visions to him as well."
"I may only tell him."
Iolaus was tired of being talked about as if he wasn't there. "Then please tell me why I'm dreaming of death and Dahok."
The air quivered about them and the little lights all vanished instantly. Iolaus felt a cool hand touch his forehead and suddenly the last dream was playing across his mind in full color. The rocks and altar. Nebula and Hercules and the spear speeding through the air. The pain of being staked through the heart and dying in Hercules' arms. He shuddered at the memory and prayed that it never became a reality.
"Not one of mine, Iolaus. This vision did not come from me or any god on Olympus." The voice was puzzled. "Ares. Does Dahok have the power to reach this far?"
"I hope not." Ares' voice was cold as ice and Iolaus shivered. "If he does, then we're all in deep trouble. Can you tell anything about this one?"
"It is very complete. In every detail. Sight, sound, touch. Well done, actually." Morpheus sighed. "More complete than I usually have to do. One of the senses is normally sufficient. But where ever these are coming from ... well, they are like actually living the actions. Rather painful, I expect. Tell me, Iolaus, how often do you dream these visions?"
"Every night for the last moon. It's getting so I try not to sleep."
"Oh dear. That's not good for mortals. Tonight, you will not dream. That much at least, I can grant you." Morpheus touched him again and Iolaus felt heat flow through him like mulled wine. From head to toe, he tingled with a pleasant warmth.
"You're very welcome, Iolaus." The hand disappeared. "Ares, what will you do next?"
"Tell Zeus and check with the archives."
Then they were in a quiet room in what looked to be a small cottage and Joxer was leading him to the fire. "Ares went to Zeus' study. Sit over here, Iolaus. I didn't think you'd want to go there. Hera sometimes sits with him and I know she has kind of a bad reaction to you."
Iolaus snorted and allowed Joxer to pour him some more wine. "That's the least of it. Where is this place?"
"It's a little hideaway for the two of us. Only Hestia and Harmonia know about it. Are you hungry? The pharins usually leave us something to eat once they know we're here." Joxer brought over a bowl of grapes and Iolaus began to eat them one by one while he gazed about the cozy room.
The large bed took up most of one wall and the cupboard beside it had one door ajar so he could see the sleeves of several shirts. The soft greens that covered the bed made his eyes droop with relaxation. He felt Joxer's warm hand on his shoulder.
"Morpheus promised that you won't dream. Why don't you take a nap? I promise to watch over you and wake you up if it looks like you're dreaming. But I trust him when he says you won't." His voice was soft and gentle and Iolaus looked longingly at the bed.
"I shouldn't ... but I am a little tired." He raised his heavy eyes to the young god.
"I know." Joxer pulled him gently to his stumbling feet and kept an arm around his shoulders while guiding him to the bed. He removed the cover and knelt to remove the hunter's boots.
"I can do that." Iolaus felt odd, floating in this safe place with the cool sheets calling his name like a siren's call. He didn't feel connected to anything and he watched while Joxer tucked him in beneath clean smelling sheets and the feather light cover settled over him.
"Sleep, Iolaus. I'll keep watch."
Iolaus closed his eyes and fell.
Fresh baked bread.
Iolaus' nose twitched while he slowly came awake. The feel of the silk sheets was unexpected and the sound of the two voices speaking quietly near by was too.
"Father says we'll need to be on the alert for a break through of the barrier that keeps our realms separate. He's going to ask for any odd dreams that have come to us lately. Hm-m-m-m, that tastes good."
"Are the Muses searching the Archives for other incidents like this one? Try some of this."
Iolaus slitted his eyes open a crack and turned slowly towards the voices. Ares was sitting on the fluffy rug in front of the fire with Joxer between his legs. The young god had a plate of food in his lap and he was currently feeding his lover a piece of flat bread smothered in some kind of white sauce.
"Good. A little fishy but good. I like the touch of dill in it. Another Cycrops' special?" Ares finished chewing and leaned over for a soft kiss.
Iolaus felt a tingle go up his spine and blushed to think that watching the two of them together was making him hard. It seemed like forever since he'd held Hercules in his arms. But when he remembered the dreams, he wondered if he ever would again.
"Yep. He's pretty much revolutionized the kitchens on Olympus. His recipes come from all over the sea. Are there barriers between us and the Egyptian gods as well as the northern ones?" Joxer asked the question that Iolaus had been pondering.
"So far, yes. We seem to have divided up the world into domains that each have a hierarchy of gods. It's been suggested that eventually we'll all become one family over the millennia. But I leave the theorizing to the philosophers. If we come to it naturally, fine. But I won't allow someone like Dahok to take any of us by force."
Ares' frown was ferocious but for some reason it only made Iolaus feel safer. He watched Joxer touch his cheek tenderly and whisper something only the dark god could hear. But what ever it was made him smile and draw his lover closer into a sizzling kiss that Iolaus could feel from across the room.
*Zeus!* Iolaus closed his eyes tight and held on to the thought that soon he'd be with Hercules and this nightmare would be resolved.
"Um, guys? I'm awake." He kept his eyes shut.
"Oh, Iolaus." Joxer must have pulled away. "Good. Dinner's ready if you are."
He risked a peek at the fire and found Ares smirking at him while Joxer fixed another plate at the table. Slowly, he sat up and stretched a little to get the kinks out. He must not have moved once he fell asleep. "How long did I sleep?"
"A day." Joxer brought him a heaping plate of food that tantalized his nostrils with the aroma of fish.
"What! A full day?" Iolaus stared at Ares and watched him nod. "I was supposed to be on my way to Corinth to meet Herc."
"You still can, Iolaus. In fact, we're going with you so it will only take us a moment." Ares grinned at him and pulled Joxer back down to his lap. "It's time we find out some answers. Did you ever think that maybe Hercules is having the same dreams? Athena is searching for Nebula to see if she is part of this. There has to be a reason that you are the one dreaming."
Iolaus gulped. *How will Herc react to me showing up with two gods? He'll be pissed that's what he'll be. I should have told him when I started dreaming.*
"Cheer up, Iolaus. He won't be that mad when we show. Especially if he's having them too." Joxer patted his hand and went back to feeding Ares some of the feta-smothered bread. "Besides, his brother will be there and Jason. They can help us figure this out."
The blond hunter shook his head resignedly. *I've lost control of this little problem and I'll just have to deal with the fallout. Besides, it will be good to see Herc again. Even if he's mad.*
They finished their meal and Joxer showed Iolaus where he could go to clean up. He listened to them squabble in the front room while he washed up and ran a wet hand through his hair, looking longingly at the spa and wishing he had his lover here to share it with him. The bath at Corinth was in the lower levels and shared by the entire castle staff.
Taking a deep breath, he went out to face the music. Joxer had changed clothes and Ares was slowly lacing his vest while they kissed tenderly. *Herc. Need Herc. Now.*
Ares broke the kiss and turned his head slightly to smile. "We're on our way, Iolaus. We'll get to the bottom of this soon. Come here."
Reaching out a long arm, he gathered the hunter into a three-way embrace and when Iolaus opened his eyes again, they were in the throne room at Corinth and Hercules was gaping at them from his other brother's side.
"Ares, what are you doing here?" Iphicles sprang to his feet and glared at them.
*Great. Not quite how I pictured this meeting.* Iolaus sighed and prepared to talk fast. Luckily, that was something he was very good at.
End of chapter 11