Author: Athea (
Series: War God I, part 17
Gathering of Allies

Iolaus opened the door to his third bar of the morning. Nothing I like better than going from seedy bar to seedy bar, listening for wild stories about the Aegean Sea. He approached the bar to order another ale, hoping against hope that this batch had been aged over an hour.

"Iolaus!" A light feminine voice sounded from a table in the shadows.

Peering that way, he felt a grin break across his face. "Gabrielle, it's good to see you." He forgot about the beer and went to give her a hug.

"It's been months. What are you doing here?" The petite strawberry blonde brushed a kiss across his cheek. Looking inquisitively up at him, she led him back to her table and the dark companion who waited there.

He nodded at Xena and sat down, accepting the goblet of water from the pitcher on their table. "We're looking for stories of weird doings all up and down the coast. Did Hecate get a hold of you?"

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a considering look. The warrior princess nodded again, her husky voice reaching only as far as Iolaus' ears. "We've been concentrating on seaports from the northern part of the coast to here."

"Yeah, we've worked our way up to here from the south. Herc's tracking a rumor of a sea monster in some islands just west of here." Iolaus smiled and drank down his water.

"We've got an acquaintance who lives near here. He's coming into town today to talk to us. He sailed these water for ... a while." Xena smiled enigmatically while Gabrielle giggled.

Iolaus wondered if he knew the 'friend'. He also wondered if these two knew about Joxer. "The guy who found me for Hephaestus was an old friend. Somebody I hadn't seen for a few months. Joxer."

Gabrielle sat up straighter. "How is he? For a while there, we couldn't go anywhere without tripping over him. But it's been ages since he's crossed our path."

Xena leaned a little further forward. "We heard some interesting stories about two months ago."

"Yeah, so did I. But he's not wearing dresses and he's in great shape. We fought to a standstill." Iolaus grinned at their frowns. "A little misunderstanding. I thought he was one of a war band that was following me. He's in a new relationship. Seems to be doing well."

Should he say more?

"Really? Well, that's ... interesting." Gabrielle looked rather taken back at the news.

"Here's Hercules." Xena spoke quietly from her position facing the door.

Iolaus turned to see his lover silhouetted in the afternoon sunlight. His sandy hair glowed like a golden halo. His body looked like a masterpiece of art sculpted to perfection. Iolaus sighed wistfully. It would probably be hours before he could get him to bed. Standing, he beckoned him over.

Hercules nodded pleasantly to the two women. Iolaus knew he still felt a little uncomfortable with Xena. The golden warrior had come to terms with their twisted history. He never had liked to hold a grudge. Iolaus smiled to himself. After all, I ended up with the demigod.

"That's a very smug smile, Iolaus." Xena's husky drawl brought his attention back to the table. Gabrielle and Hercules were nowhere to be found. "They went to order dinner and something a little stronger than water ... Is there something you'd like to tell me before they get back?"

Iolaus hesitated. He really didn't want to be the one to tell her about Joxer and Ares. I wonder about that rumor I heard about the Furies and Ares.

"I do but first there's something I've been dying to ask you. There was a story making the rounds a few months ago about the Furies and you. And Ares."

Xena sighed and leaned forward, speaking quickly. Iolaus listened in fascination to the unfolding story. Making up his mind, he took a deep breath. Might as well get this over with.

"Joxer's new companion is Ares." Iolaus watched her eyes go wide. He spoke quickly to counter one argument he was sure she would make. "He knows what he's doing. I couldn't believe it when I saw them together but it's been going on for some time because the other gods seem to have accepted them as a couple. He's on a first name basis with Aphrodite and Hephaestus."

"I can't believe it. Ares' a devious bastard. He's using Joxer for some reason. I don't believe he's got a sentimental bone in his body." Xena said through gritted teeth.

Iolaus shook his head. "Ares told me that Joxer brought him joy and laughter. He said that Joxer was everything Ares was not but wished to be."

"No. It's not possible. Ares has none of the gentle emotions." Xena leaned forward and slapped a hand on the table with controlled violence.

"Isn't it possible that Joxer might have a gentling influence on him? None of us ever took the time to do more than accept him as an amiable klutz that we had to put up with occasionally." Iolaus spoke quietly, trying to get through to her thinking side. "Ares has accepted him as a warrior and he's patiently training him to be a better one. None of us ever took the time to do that."

Xena sat back and glowered at him across the table but was obviously thinking. Iolaus poured some more water and let his words sink in. "At some point, we're probably going to meet up with them. I just wanted you and Gabrielle to be prepared."

"Gods, how is Gabrielle going to feel?" Xena grimaced.

"I thought she just tolerated him. It wasn't a secret that he had feelings for her but she had none."

"Well, she's always liked him. I do as well." Xena shrugged and toyed with her glass.

"Like a puppy. Lovable but sometimes irritating?" Iolaus smiled.

Xena smiled back somewhat begrudgingly. "Let me tell Gabrielle, all right?" Her eyes went over his shoulder. "Oh good, here's Cycrops." She beckoned someone over and Iolaus turned to watch a tall dark sailor cross to them.

Iolaus felt his eyes widen. Cycrops was as tall as Hercules, his stance proud and free. His dark hair fell in long black braids over his shoulders. The broad smile on his golden brown face greeted them.

"Xena. It is good to see you." He gave her the warrior's grip and acknowledged her introduction of Iolaus with a considering look and a nod.

"Cycrops!" Gabrielle appeared and hugged him, her arms barely reaching around him.

"Greetings, little one. I trust you are well?" His deep voice sounded like a bell in the noisy tavern.

"We're fine but we need to pick your brains about some of the islands. Oh, this is Hercules. Hercules, this is Cycrops." Gabrielle looked like a child between the two men who towered over her. They nodded to each other.

Iolaus had finally figured out who Cycrops was and he settled down to enjoy his stories. The serving wench unloaded her tray onto the table, the steaming platters of roast lamb and vegetables and several dusty bottles of red wine taking up most of the available space.

"Aphrodite stopped me this afternoon and mentioned the Cyclades. It seems there are reports of water spouts there." Hercules spoke softly and began to eat.

Cycrops nodded, his long fingers holding a roast potato. "That area has always been a bit unstable. Earthquakes, odd hot spots that bubble sulfurous smells, steam rising from the waters. All sorts of oddities. Sailors don't like sailing among the islands and very few of them are inhabited. Even the Cretans avoid them and they're not afraid of anything. Superstitions run rampant among mariners and the Cyclades are full of ghosts, according to the men I've talked to."

"You don't believe in ghosts?" Xena smirked.

The sailor shook his head gently, setting some of the braided beads to dancing. "No, but behind every ghost story is a kernel of truth that bears looking into. I think the seismic activity and the changing currents are behind some of the stories."

"Steam could appear to be ghosts rising from the waves." Iolaus suggested. Hercules smiled at him from across the table.

Gabrielle spoke up. "The sulfur smell would remind people of the Underworld, leading to more fears."

Cycrops smiled. "Very good suggestions. But even with the legends explained away, there is still something not quite right about the islands of the Cyclades. If you are headed that way, I would suggest that you be very careful. I have sailed these waters for three hundred years and even I do not take the waters of the Cyclades lightly."

They continued to pick his brain while they ate and drank. He promised to send them charts before taking his leave with a smile. Iolaus admired his ability to control his curiosity. He had answered all their questions yet asked none of his own. A good man.

"Excuse me, is one of you, Iolaus?" The serving wench was back to clear the empty plates.

"Here." Iolaus raised his hand.

"Garus, the blacksmith, sent word he'd like to see you."

"Thanks. Herc, do you want to come along?"

The demigod nodded. Xena and Gabrielle decided to take advantage of the bathhouse before it got busy. They agreed to meet the next morning for breakfast. Iolaus sighed silently in relief when they said their good-byes and headed out. Maybe, he wasn't quite as easy with Xena as he'd thought. Asking directions, they soon arrived at the blacksmith shop.

Entering, Iolaus spotted a familiar figure. Aphrodite sat on a bench, laughing at the god of fire who was wrestling to keep a large draft horse still while a stocky blacksmith tried to fit a shoe to the upraised hoof.

"Hey guys, join me while Hephae finishes up. Did you like Cycrops? He's such a stud." She sighed and rested her cheek on Iolaus' shoulder. "One of Athena's favorites. As if she'd know what to do with a hunk of man like that."

"Don't be catty, love." Hephaestus said indulgently, still trying to keep the animal from knocking him over. Hercules stepped up to the horse's nose and stared deep into the velvet brown eyes of the nervous stallion. He quieted immediately.

"Cool, big brother. That's quite a talent. Does it work on Iolaus?" Aphrodite giggled at the affronted look he sent her.

"He has no problem keeping me in line, Aphrodite." Iolaus said wryly. Sending a loving look Herc's way, he watched with a professional eye as Garus finished off the last horseshoe. The farrier nodded to his visitors before leading the horse away and leaving them to their conference.

Hephaestus leaned wearily against the anvil, rubbing his scarred arm against the ache of holding up that massive hoof and leg. Aphrodite left Iolaus and fitted herself into the god of fire's side, their arms going around each other tenderly. Hercules joined Iolaus on the bench.

"Has there been a development?" Hercules asked quietly.

"Another atrocity on the island of Rhodes. A seaport was destroyed by a tidal wave preceded by a whirlwind that pretty much flattened the town of 200. There were no survivors." Hephaestus sighed. "She's getting stronger. Every life she takes feeds her power."

"How do you know it's her? Couldn't it just be a natural disaster?" Iolaus asked.

The two gods exchanged a long look. Then Hephaestus began to explain about power, energy and elements. Iolaus listened in complete fascination to the reasons for the gods constant interference in the lives of mortals. It was almost too much to take in but one thing came through all the words. He felt Herc lean forward and stop Hephaestus.

"Excuse me. Are you saying that the negative emotions are more powerful?" His tone was unbelieving.

Aphrodite rested her head on her husband's shoulder, her blue eyes steady on her half brother. "Joxer told me that if we could just get a hundred lovers together, he thinks we could raise the same energy levels as a battle with a hundred warriors. But normally, death releases more energy than passion. Not fair, I know but true just the same."

"That's why Ares starts all those wars." Hercules muttered under his breath.

Hephaestus shook his head. "Ares doesn't usually start them. He doesn't have to. Mortals are more that capable of starting their own wars. He does go in and link to the energy released to bring it back to Olympus and share with the other gods. He's the only one strong enough to handle all the power."

Iolaus laid a gentle hand on Hercules' arm and brought his eyes to him. "Remember what we talked about earlier? People seem to have a propensity to violence and destruction. Is it really so difficult to imagine that the gods might use that?"

Aphrodite softly sighed. "Herc, you of all people should know that your strength makes you a target for those less strong. And puts you under an obligation to help those weaker. Why wouldn't Ares be the same?"

Silence fell while Hercules struggled with the information and feelings. Iolaus exchanged a look with Aphrodite, wishing he could tell her of the bad memories that his lover had been harboring all these years. But he couldn't, so he sat quietly and decided he could live with the new knowledge of the gods. He even felt a little better about Ares and his belief that the dark god really might love Joxer.

"I'm going to have to think about this." Hercules sighed and looked up with troubled eyes.

"We need you to ship out tomorrow on the dawn tide. Ares and Joxer are already on an island about half way to the Cyclades. You'll need to join up with them." Hephaestus nodded understandingly. "Think about it, Hercules. You could be a big help to us. Fighting Ate will take everything we have. She's already proven that she will show no mercy."

Aphrodite crossed over and knelt before the brooding demigod. "Herc, Ares does love, you know. We have a daughter, Harmonia. He's a good father and a tender lover. He and Joxer have gone through so much to be together. Ask them about it before you make up your mind."

Herc nodded once and she kissed his cheek before moving back to her husband. Iolaus made a note of the ship name and where it was berthed. They walked back quietly to the inn where they'd left their things. Not for the first time, he wished that he could read Herc's mind. His lover wasn't a man who spoke his feelings easily. Or often.

They cuddled in bed all night, not saying a word just sharing their warmth. Iolaus held Hercules through two nightmares and the restless twitchings. Morning came all too quickly and they still hadn't spoken of what they'd learned the night before. Not surprising, they met Xena and Gabrielle at the dock.

Iolaus sighed. It's going to be a long trip. But it only lasted a day and a half before they anchored in a deep harbor on the south side of a verdant island. They were silent and tense while they searched for the pair they'd come to find. Xena had a tendency to finger her chakram with a scowl on her face. Herc's face was a blank. Iolaus and Gabrielle exchanged a worried look. Xena had told Gabrielle about Joxer and Iolaus had answered all her questions the best he could.

Laughter echoed from ahead of them. Iolaus was in the lead when a small shape darted ahead of him. They stopped and watched the little whirlwind dart from one to the other, a high pitched hum rising from it. When it darted away, they followed it, breaking through the trees onto a white sand beach. Stopping a few yards away from the surf, Iolaus watched in disbelief.

Joxer had just dunked Ares who'd grabbed him below the water and brought him up before throwing him backward with a splash. The dark god was almost unrecognizable, smiling and laughing. Joxer resurfaced with a snort and used the side of his hand to send a mini-tidal wave of water at Ares. The small whirlwind dashed right for them and Iolaus made a note of the tenderness with which Ares cradled it.

"What is it, little one? Did something scare you?"

Joxer's eyes met Iolaus'. "Um, Ares. We've got visitors."

Turning, Ares looked at them. Joxer moved to stand close and the small whirlwind hummed between the two of them. A long moment passed and when Ares turned his head to look at Joxer, Iolaus could have sworn that a question was asked and answer given. Ares disappeared, leaving Joxer and the whirling dervish behind.

"Hi, guys. Have you met Bax?" Joxer asked with a small smile. "Bax is one of Zephyrus' sons. Bax, this is Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules and Iolaus. They're friends." His eyes dared them to say differently.

Iolaus stepped forward. "Good to see you, Joxer. Nice to meet you, Bax."

The little guy whirled up to him and he heard a tiny voice trying to pronounce his name.

"Io, Io, Io. Good, good, good."

"Close enough, Bax."

By the time he'd greeted all of them, Ares had returned fully dressed. Stepping around them, he calmly held out a large cotton bath sheet for Joxer, effectively screening the naked body from them. Joxer wound it around himself and knotted it to one side.

"We need to talk." Hercules spoke calmly to his half brother.

"Our camp is over this way. Why don't you join us for lunch?" Ares too, was calm.

Iolaus had the feeling the explosion, when it came, was going to be a big one. Everyone was just too polite.

"Joxer, what's that on your chest?" Gabrielle sounded curious.
"The scar or the brand?" Joxer asked pleasantly. "The scar is where Ate stabbed me. The brand was a ... gesture on my part."

They were walking slowly towards the sound of falling water, Joxer and Ares close together in the middle with a pair on either side. Xena snorted.

"If she'd stabbed you there, Joxer, you'd be dead."

He smiled and nodded. "That's right, Xena. I died."


Iolaus wondered what Joxer meant. Died. He couldn't mean that. He looked in approval at their camp. Neat and clean. Only one bedroll. Yet another reminder of their relationship. Herc was still being stoic. He really wished he knew what the big man was thinking. Xena's silence was more ominous. Her eyes were narrowed and she looked over the camp like it was an enemy to be subdued.

Joxer gathered up some clothing and departed with a smile behind some bushes to dress. The little whirlwind stayed pretty close to Ares, his whisper coming occasionally to Iolaus' ears. It was a new side of the god of war that Iolaus hadn't thought of before.

"We could sit and be comfortable or we could stand around and be on guard for this conversation." Ares suggested dryly.

Iolaus surreptitiously touched Herc, drawing those blue eyes to his. The golden warrior put all his love and belief in Hercules into that look and was rewarded by a faint smile.

"We might as well be comfortable." Herc led the way by sitting by the fire. Iolaus plopped down near him immediately. Gabrielle touched her companion's arm and they exchanged a long look before sitting as well.

Joxer emerged from the bushes, dressed all in white linen. The cloth made his tan glow golden. He joined Ares and they sat across from their ... guests on the other side of the fire. No one seemed to want to break the silence and Iolaus cast about for something to say. But the past kept getting in the way.

"Has something happened to send you out here?" Ares deep voice broke the quiet.

"Another atrocity at Rhodes. A village of 200 was wiped out." Iolaus volunteered.

"How? Fire, earthquake, what?" The dark god leaned forward.

"Whirlwind then a tidal wave." Hercules said quietly, his eyes never leaving his half brother.

Joxer seemed to relax. "Maybe, she really hasn't added fire."

Ares smiled faintly. "Air is her third element but we can't be sure about fire, just yet."

"Hephaestus explained about elements and energy last night." Hercules' tones were even. "Is it possible that she's mastered all four and could challenge Zeus?"

"Yes." Ares' dark eyes looked across the fire at them. Pushing back a lock of hair that had fallen on his forehead, he transferred his gaze to the fire. "We know for sure that she's mastered earth, water and air. We believe that she may have added fire when she ..."

Joxer finished his sentence. "... killed me. Unfortunately for her, Hestia had already fed me an apple of Hesperides, making me immortal." He spoke so matter of factly that Iolaus accepted his statement before he realized the implications. "But the damage had already been done. She stole Ares' grief and may have used it to awaken her fourth element."

Gabrielle leaned forward. "You're immortal?"

Joxer grinned. "Yeah. Cool, huh."

Hercules began to laugh and Iolaus began to relax for the first time since they arrived. It wasn't hysterical or out of control, just a deep chortle that brought an answering smile to Ares' lips and Gabrielle's as well. Xena's face had gone blank and she seemed deep in thought.

"Any other little surprises you'd like to spring on us, brother?" Herc shook his head and if they'd been alone, Iolaus would have kissed him. It felt good to feel the tension levels begin to subside.

Ares shook his head. "I promised Joxer, no more than one surprise a day."

"And you keep your promises?" A faint question hung in his voice.

"Always." "Always." Ares and Joxer spoke simultaneously.

Iolaus relaxed further when Joxer reached back and pulled forth a wine jug. Ares materialized some goblets and for the first time, Iolaus realized why and how the dark god was able to do that. To appear and disappear. He found himself staring at his hands and wondering how it would feel to be able to do that, to have that much power in his grasp.

"It's a lot of hard work, Iolaus." Joxer seemed to read his thoughts while he passed him a goblet of wine. "Ares is training me in the elements as well as how to be a better warrior. The elements are harder."

Iolaus smiled and passed the goblet on to Hercules. "Have you healed completely from being stabbed?"

"Oh, yes. It took time to get my strength back but I'm fine now." Joxer poured more wine and Ares passed it to Xena who had still not spoken a word. "I didn't even realize that I'd died, until Hestia confessed that she'd fed me the apple. Ares asked Zeus for permission and got it but we hadn't had a chance to discuss it when Ate stabbed me in the heart at a party."

"That must have hurt." Gabrielle's soft voice floated over the fire.

Joxer grinned. "I didn't feel a thing. Maybe some surprise."

"Not you. Ares." Xena's eyes were unreadable.

"Yes." The god of war passed the last goblet and returned Xena's look. "I went into berserker rage. Which is why Ate may have her fourth element."

"What gave her the third?" Gabrielle leaned forward. Iolaus was willing to bet that she was already writing her story.

"Her two year old daughter died. No one knows who the father was but he must have been mortal. Asclepius did everything he could but Ate brought the little one to him too late. She went mad when the little demigoddess died." Ares shook his head. "She disappeared and no one saw her for months. That must have been when she added air to her elements."

Hercules spoke up. "One of the tales that Cycrops brought us was that water spouts were much more prevalent now. Could be Ate practicing her element."

"It's why we're here." Ares nodded. "I can't investigate myself because she thinks I've gone insane with grief over Joxer's death. Some of the others are testing the area very gently. Too much activity would alert Ate to our interest. If possible, we'd like to pick the time and place for a confrontation."

"But she's obviously gathering power." Iolaus pointed out.

"The stronger she gets, the greater the chance that she'll take some of us with her when we battle." Ares nodded. "So, it has to be soon. I'm not willing to sacrifice any of the family to her madness."

"Does that include us?" Xena's voice gave nothing away.

"Yes." Ares met her gaze evenly and a strained silence ensued until Xena gave a short nod and dropped her eyes.

Iolaus saw Gabrielle relax and take a hasty gulp of her wine. "Hey, this is good. We brought some food with us. For the first time since we got on that boat, I think I'm hungry."

Ares perked up. "Do you get sea sick, Gabrielle? Hestia told me that candied ginger would help."

"Really. I haven't heard of that remedy." She looked like she'd like to whip out a scroll and jot it down. "Xena showed me a pressure point on my wrist that works ... but it has some side effects."

Iolaus wondered what kind of side effects would make the two of them look so tenderly at each other.

"Why don't I go back to the ship and bring back some supplies?" Iolaus offered. "We are staying for the night?"

"Until we hear from the others, I think this is as close as we can get." Ares rose and stretched. "I don't particularly want to use any of you as bait, which is what you would be if you sailed into the Cyclades."

Joxer reached up a hand and Ares pulled him up. "We've got fresh fruit growing nearby. Peaches and oranges. Does that sound good, Gabrielle?"

She jumped to her feet eagerly. "Great. Let's go pick some, Joxer. And you can tell me the rest of the story."

"Bax, why don't you come with us?" Joxer grinned at the small zephyr. "You can knock down the ones we can't reach."

Iolaus bit back a chuckle and watched while Xena rose gracefully to her feet and eyed Ares across the fire. Herc nudged him and they got to their feet. "Um, we'll just go back to the ship and tell the captain that we'll be anchored here for a while."

"Fine. I'll be here." Ares' dark eyes never left the almost identical eyes locked on his. Joxer touched his back tenderly and moved away, the silver whirlwind darting ahead of him. Gabrielle made the same gesture and left Xena.

Herc and Iolaus left the fire slowly. Iolaus wondered what the two had to say to each other.

"This is a very odd situation, Iolaus." Hercules stopped and looked back through the trees. "I almost feel like I need to protect Ares from her. Ares!"

Iolaus moved in and slipped his arms around the slim waist, nuzzling in the opening of the vest. Licking his way up to the hollow at the base of the strong throat, he lapped at the sweat that had pooled there. "He and Joxer make a good couple. You can see the caring between them. I never thought I'd see the god of war laughing and playing. They looked happy."

Herc moved his fingers through the hair at the base of Iolaus' neck in a gentle stroking motion. "I know. I remember when I was younger, he taught me to throw the javelin. I had the strength but not the accuracy. Ares took the time to teach me aiming and tracking of a target. He made it a fun game that made me practice the throws until I mastered them." He leaned down and feathered a kiss across Iolaus' lips.

Iolaus pulled him down into a firmer kiss that parted his lips and shortened his breath. He wrapped his hands across the broad back, rubbing warm circles into tingling arousal. Pressing into the pulsing groin next to his, he began a steady bump and roll that soon hardened the leather covered cock.

"We don't have time for this." Hercules tore his mouth away with a gasp and rested his cheek on Iolaus' golden curls.

"I know. I just wanted to remind you that I love you." Iolaus kissed the furry chest under his cheek.

"I love you, too." Hercules sighed. "I know just how Ares felt when he thought Joxer was dead. When the Enforcer killed you ... I wanted to die. I wanted to kill. I wanted the world to stop and time to run backward."

"You brought me back. You gave me your love. You let me love you. That's enough." Iolaus hugged him tighter. "So long as we watch each other's backs, we'll be okay." He willed himself not to think of immortality. Tartarus! I've already died twice and come back. Can't ask for more than that.

"If I could, I'd feed you one of the apples myself." Herc read his mind. "But I don't know, I kind of enjoy being mortal. Knowing that I'll grow old and pass on, joining with family and friends who have gone before."

Iolaus sighed and leaned in to lay his ear on Herc's chest, listening to the steady heartbeat. "That sounds good to me as well. But if immortals never die then what do we do with Ate?"

"Good question. I expect Ares knows." Hercules threaded his fingers through Iolaus' hair in a comforting massage. "I also expect it will be harder than just fighting. Probably something to do with the elements."

They stood like that for a few moments until Herc's stomach rumbled and they broke apart to continue on to the ship. Coming back loaded with provisions, they found Xena and Gabrielle sitting by the fire sharing a peach. Xena tried to catch a dribble but missed and Gabrielle leaned in to lick it off her chin with a giggle.

Iolaus backed up quietly with Herc right behind him and they made a lot of noise before they arrived at the fire. Gabrielle jumped up and helped unload the provisions.

"Where's the dynamic duo?" Iolaus asked, dumping the string bag of onions.

"Back at the cove. They said something about catching some fish." Xena smirked.

"I'll go see if they need some help." Iolaus headed down, making a slight gesture to Hercules to stay behind. He had a question for the god of war. The sandy beach was void of life but two piles of clothes bore mute testimony of their presence. Out near the rocks that protected the cove, he spotted one dark head then another. Settling down on the beach, he waited for them to finish fishing.

The breeze blew their laughter back to him. He watched with a smile, Ares dunking Joxer. The young warrior rose sputtering and flung himself into the waiting arms. He could feel the intensity of the kiss from the beach. Dropping his eyes, he scooped up some sand and let it trickle through his fingers.

"If you keep distracting me, I'll never catch any fish." Joxer's laughing tones drifted to the beach.

"What's a fish or two when you can catch me?" Ares teased.

Iolaus looked up and caught Joxer tenderly cradling the dark god's head. "Oh, but I have you and I'm not sharing you with the others. The fish I'm willing to catch and split up."

"We've got four groupers. That should be enough." Ares ran his hands up and down the wet back, pulling Joxer closer.

Iolaus wondered why the water wasn't boiling around them. He went back to sifting sand and waited for them to come back to the beach. Only a few moments passed before Joxer sprinkled water on him. Squinting up at the naked warrior, Iolaus took the string of large fish.

Making sure he didn't look at Ares, Iolaus wondered if he dared ask his question. How do you ask a god whether he could ensure privacy for you and your lover?

"Joxer, why don't you take the fish back to the camp? I think Iolaus and I need to have a little chat." Ares finished pulling his white shirt over his head and combed back his wet hair with one hand.

"Sure." Joxer took back the string and smiled encouragingly at Iolaus who quickly rose to his feet to face the dark god.

Waiting until Joxer was gone, Iolaus cleared his throat. "Um, Ares. Is it possible to, uh, like put up an invisible barrier between, um ..."

"Good idea, Iolaus. I've been a little worried about our sleeping arrangements, especially with the ship and sailors just on the other side of the island." Ares smoothly interrupted him. "It might be a good idea to have you and Hercules camp near the anchorage. For security purposes, you understand. I can whip up a little invisibility shield that will also be soundproof. Then, if Gabrielle and Xena don't mind, they can camp here in the cove with their own shield. Xena said something about moonlight and Hecate. They probably need their privacy."

Iolaus smiled and nodded. Ares had solved the problem without ever mentioning the real reason why the privacy was needed. And if the glow in his eyes was any indication, Joxer was in for a good time tonight. But then he planned to love Herc right into insanity, himself. Soundproof sounded pretty good right now.

For all of them.

End part seventeen