Author: Athea (
Series: War God I, part 18


Ares listened with his earth hearing until he could be sure that the others were not coming back. With a sigh he turned to Joxer and opened his arms. The dark warrior flung himself into them, almost knocking Ares over.

"At last. I thought they'd never leave." Ares sighed against the tempting lips before parting them and dipping into the sweetness that was Joxer. Gently, he stroked the mobile tongue that entwined with his own. Enjoying the blend of spices that burst across his sensitive lips. Just a hint of the cinnamon from the fish provided a nice counterpoint to the tart lemon tang.

Joxer pulled back just far enough to begin untying Ares' vest. "Thanks for splitting us up. Will they be able to hear us?" He looked a little worried.

Ares pulled up a shield of silence at three different points on the island. He could feel their companion's connection to the earth but he set that aside so he'd only feel it if they came back towards this camp.

"Not now, they won't." He looked down and found that Joxer had already finished undoing his shirt, the soft folds sliding down his upper torso and arms in a silky caress. "In a hurry?"

"To get you naked? Yes." Joxer grinned and ran his fingers teasingly along the sensitive stomach muscles. "I need you to fuck me until I can't walk ... then I'll return the favor."

Ares felt his blood heat instantly, flicking his fingers, he made their clothing vanish and pulled Joxer in tight. Skin to skin, they touched and caressed each other to aching hardness. Tongue mated with tongue in a banquet of mingled spices. Lips lingered lovingly on sensitive patches of jangled nerve endings while teeth nibbled at succulent nipples.

Once again they merged into one being. Ares no longer knew or cared whose skin he was in. Every touch fed his hunger and appeased his need to feast on the man in his arms. Breathing in the clean, minty scent of his lover's skin, he lapped at a hint of salt behind one ear. Running his tongue down the long throat to the joining of neck and shoulder, he imbibed the sudden sheen of sweat like a fine wine.

Lovingly, he trailed his hands down the hard muscled back to the downy soft cheeks that guarded the entrance to Joxer's body. Brushing his fingers across the puckered opening, he felt more than heard his lover's sigh of longing deep inside. A sudden thought made him pull back mentally.


//He's in the orchard.// Joxer rubbed his lower back with strong fingers while his teeth gently tugged at a nipple. //I explained that all of us needed some privacy for grown-up things. He just giggled and flew off. Do you think he knows what we're doing?//

Ares arched into the kneading fingers. //It's hard to tell since I haven't a clue how old he is. Zephyrus and Chloris are always having children. We'll have to ask Zeph when he comes to collect Bax.//

Joxer stilled and brought his head up so he could make eye contact. He looked a question.

Ares smiled and spoke aloud. "It wouldn't be fair to take him into danger. If I could pack the lot of you off out of harm's way, I would. But you're all adults and can make your own decisions. He's still a child."

"I'm not leaving you. Ever." Joxer matched his smile, pulling loose from his embrace but keeping a firm hold of his hands. Backing towards their bedroll, he tugged Ares down to the soft linen.

They wriggled into a comfortable position, Ares on top with Joxer sprawled wantonly beneath him, legs splayed on either side of his lover. Ares rasped his tongue across the delicate skin behind Joxer's ear, enjoying the shiver that shook the dark warrior's body. The silky black hair tickled his nose and he blew gently, imitating Bax.

Joxer's foot began a slow slide up his leg, triggering the hot spot behind his left knee. Reaching hurriedly for the oil left from dinner, Ares poured some into their hands. Joxer smiled and began to leisurely stroke their cocks to aching hardness while Ares stretched the tight muscles into loosening for him.

They both knew when the moment was right and Ares pulled Joxer's right leg up over his shoulder while the left went around his waist. He slowly slid into his lover until he could go no further. Leaning in for a kiss, he tenderly licked Joxer's lips before plunging inside and mimicking his movements below with a slow intense in-and-out that tightened the nerves and sent shock waves through their bodies.

Slowly they merged into one being, possessor and possessed. They climaxed together in a wave of heat and light that shook the earth. Ares groaned and buried his head in Joxer's shoulder. It took a few moments before he realized the earth really had moved. Deep below the island, the sea floor shifted and roiled in sudden turmoil. His hand on the bare earth beside their bedroll provided the link.

//Ares, what is that?// Joxer clutched his shoulders. //Is it an earthquake?//

The dark god touched him reassuringly and concentrated on his link with earth. He felt Joxer follow him deep beneath the island where they saw the floor buckle, heard the sharp pops as rocks snapped and tore, felt the rumble of shock waves flowing through the sea bed and watched helplessly while the creatures of the deep were buried under tons of stone landslides.

It was over almost before it had begun. Ares heard the keening of the life forms that survived and felt Joxer quiver in sympathy. Taking a last 'look' at the devastation, he traveled back to his body, tugging Joxer after him.

Opening his eyes, he saw the tear tracks on his lover's face. "Come back to me, love. Let go and come back to here and now."

"So many died." Joxer's brown eyes blinked rapidly to dispel the tears. "It was an earthquake, wasn't it?"

"Yes. It's not unknown to happen in this part of the world." Ares gently licked away the salty tears that continued to leak from the corner of Joxer's eyes. "But I'm beginning to wonder if there's not something a little more ominous about this one."

"Ate? Practicing with some of the energy she's stolen." Joxer asked hesitantly.

"Possibly." Ares shook his head. "I should be able to figure out what she's doing but ... I'm too emotional about her. I can't be rational when I think about what she's done so I can't see ahead and try to get ahead of her."

Joxer squirmed slightly beneath him and moved his head restlessly. "Is it because of me? Would it be better if I weren't here?"

Ares stilled in shock. Did Joxer want to leave him?

//NO!// Joxer repeated loudly in his mind, his hands coming up to cradle the bowing head. //Never! I never wish to leave you. Ever!// He scattered small kisses all over the tense face. //Never, never, never.//

Gradually, they both calmed down enough for Joxer's fear, that he was inhibiting Ares' ability to plan, to come to the surface and for Ares' fear of losing him to Ate to rise to the fore. Ares shifted out of his lover's body, at least physically, and they settled on their sides, facing each other.

"All right." Ares pressed a small kiss at the corner of Joxer's mouth. "We both have some fears eating at us but now that we know, we can move beyond them to some kind of solution."

"I don't think I'm the one you need to worry about." Joxer rubbed his hand in a comforting circle over Ares' hip. "I'm here with you and as safe as I can be. Some of the others aren't so lucky."

"Aphrodite hid Harmonia a couple of days ago. The Muses are staying together in the Archives. There's safety in numbers these days." Ares admitted.

"But do all the gods know about Ate and what she's been doing?" Joxer asked quietly. "Some of them may be vulnerable to her."

"I know. But that's Zeus' decision to make. We need time." Ares sighed. "Although time may be running out if that seaquake was an example of what she can do."


Ares tightened all his muscles, ready to explode into action just as soon as he spotted the intruder.

"Sorry, guys. But I've got a message from Tethys that you need to hear now." The apologetic voice came from the pond with the waterfall. Joxer twisted in Ares' arms and moved up to one elbow, which meant Ares had to sit upright to spot the speaker.

She sat cross-legged on top of the water, her only covering a diaphanous scarf strategically placed to barely cover her voluptuous figure. Her hair was a lovely shade of violet that matched her eyes. She was grinning and looking them over with an appraising eye.

Ares hastily clothed them with a snap of his fingers. She pouted but accepted the modesty with a twinkle in her eye.

"I'm Wanda-ral, the naiad of these pools. Tethys sent word that your mother is coming any moment with the latest plan." She smirked. "It's such a passion killer when Mom shows up unexpectedly."

Joxer sat up and his voice rose a little. "Thank you, Wanda-ral. Have you been in the pool all this time?"

"Oo-o-oh, yeah! You guys can come and play in my waters anytime. I learned a lot from you." She giggled and wiggled her torso suggestively.

Joxer groaned and hung his head. Ares was hard pressed to keep his laugher to himself.

"Always glad to be of service, Wanda-ral. Did Tethys say when my mother was due?"

"Just said soon. And since you were ... resting, I figured the time was ripe."

"Did you feel the seaquake earlier?" Ares was curious to see if all the water elementals felt the disturbance.

For the first time in their conversation, the naiad looked uncomfortable. She shivered and stroked the water beneath her. "Indeed, I did. It wasn't just here, either. I felt the echoes of my sisters all across the sea. Nereid and naiad, we all felt the earth shift and stir our waters."

"Damn." Ares cursed quietly and felt Joxer touch him reassuringly. "She is getting stronger."

"Who is? Why would someone hurt our mother the sea?" Wanda-ral tilted her head in bewilderment.

Ares opened his lips to answer and felt his mother shimmer into solidity beside the fire. He and Joxer scrambled to their feet and accepted her greeting kisses on their cheeks.

"Good evening, my dears. I've brought you a little something for desert." Hera smiled benignly on them, acknowledging Wanda-ral with a gracious nod. "Joxer, are you eating enough? You look peaked. Ares, here is the candied ginger that Hestia made up for you. Remember to take it before you get on the ship and then take some every two hours. It should help."

"Thank you, Mother. Am I going to need it soon?" Ares accepted the leather bag.

Hera was busy feeding Joxer a small cake with a candied leaf on top. His lover was trying to eat it and politely fend off the two others she had waiting. Ares smirked and bit his lip at the wild look Joxer threw his way.

"Mother. I'm sure Joxer will enjoy the other cakes but I need to know why you're here. We were expecting Zephyrus."

Hera patted Joxer's bulging jaw and turned to smile at her impatient son. "He's busy, dear. Besides, I wanted to see how my two boys were doing. I hope you're not getting too much sun. It causes wrinkles, you know."

"I know, Mother. Tethys said something about a new plan." Ares knew Hera would take forever to get to the point and he wanted her gone before she discovered Hercules was on the island. She always reacted so badly to him.

Hera watched Joxer bite into the second cake with approval before answering. "We've narrowed it to two islands very close together. Thira is the larger of the two. But they both show signs of power. If we go in using elemental energy she'll be able to detect us, so since you have the mortals ship here, you're elected to sail in stealthily and pinpoint which it is."

Ares nodded, thinking ahead to what they might find and how they would handle it. Coming back to the present, he found Joxer fighting off his mother's third cake.

"Really, ma'am, I'll eat it for breakfast. They're very good but we had a big dinner. Ares and I caught some grouper and Xena and Gabrielle cooked it quite nicely." Joxer held it determinedly down at chest level.

"Mother, did Father say anything about how we're to signal you once we determine the island." Ares crossed to Joxer and hugged him close.

Hera looked at them approvingly and nodded once as if they had answered a question for her. "Zephyrus suggested that you send Bax home the moment you're sure. That way the little zephyr is out of danger but he doesn't feel left out of the adventure."

"Some adventure!" Ares snorted. "We're hunting one of our own, Mother. Probably to her death."

"She will have a chance to refute the evidence." Hera's eyes went cold. "Then judgment will be passed. Death is one of the options. She can not be allowed to kill anymore. She has terrified and destroyed her last village."

"Agreed." The god of war met his mother's gaze with a little coldness of his own. "But I want our mortal allies and the younger immortals to be as safe as possible."

"Hear, hear!" Wanda-ral agreed quietly.

Ares cast her a quick grin but decided that his mother had gotten the point about the younger immortals when he saw her cast a quick glance at Joxer.

"I think I speak for all of us when I say that our young will be well protected in the coming battle. Harmonia is quite safe and so are the little zephyrs. All the children have been sent away and are guarded by, well, let's just say they're well guarded." Hera smiled a smile that reminded her son of a shark he'd met once.

"Good. Was there anything else, Mother?" Ares was suddenly impatient for their little chat to be over. "Joxer and I need to get some sleep tonight if we're to sail tomorrow."

"No, my dears. That was it." Hera smiled and stepped forward to pull them both down for a kiss. "Remember, Ares, take the ginger before you get on board and then every two hours. Joxer may need some as well, the seas have been rough lately. But there's enough for both of you."

"Thank you, ma'am. I'm usually a pretty good sailor." Joxer smiled down at her.

"Just in case. Take care of yourselves, now. I'll see you soon." Hera smiled at them both and shimmered out of sight.

They stood there for a long moment before Joxer sighed. "Is she really gone?"

"Yep. She's really gone." Ares looked at him appraisingly. "What's wrong?"

"Those cakes are sitting in my stomach like rocks. They tasted so ... fizzy. Can you put liquor in cake?" Joxer rubbed his stomach gingerly.

Ares took the third cake and bit into it. Joxer was right, it did taste like it had a rich liquor in it. Brandy? Something with plums?

"It tastes all right to me but rich. Very rich." He finished the cake and shrugged. "If you still feel queasy in the morning, we'll both try the ginger cure."

"Wanda-ral, thank you for your warning. And for sharing your pool with us." Ares smiled at her. "But I think we'll be turning in now. Perhaps we'll stop back this way after our journey."

"You're always welcome, Ares. Bring Joxer back and he can practice in my pool while he's learning water." Wanda-ral leered at them and vanished beneath the surface of the pool with a flick of her hand.

Joxer smothered a laugh in Ares' shoulder. The dark god just sighed and hugged him closer, combing his fingers through the dark curls at the nape of his neck. They stood there comforting each other until the fire popped and startled them.

"Let's get some sleep, love. I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to come very early." Ares whisked their clothes away and let Joxer to their bed.

This time, they settled down side by side with only a thin cover over them. Joxer snuggled his head onto Ares' shoulder and hugged him close while Ares pulled him tighter to his side with a small sigh of completion.

"Night, Arry. I love you." Joxer sighed into his skin with a small kiss.

"Sweet dreams, Joxer. Love you, too." Ares closed his eyes and feathered a soft caress with his mind to Joxer's presence in their bond.


Iolaus lay on Hercules' chest and listened to the steady beat of his heart. They'd made love rather hurriedly the night before, unsure if they were really shielded from the others. Herc had gotten uncomfortable about an hour after they'd settled down, restless and vaguely fearful about the island. They'd both felt the rumbling of the earth a few moments earlier so chalked it up to that.

But now Iolaus wondered if perhaps the gods had sent a messenger to Ares and Hercules had picked up on it. Cautiously, he raised his head from his comfortable pillow and looked down at his friend. Dawn was still an hour away and the last few stars were beginning to fade. But there was enough light to see the beloved features, still and calm in the predawn.

The worry lines were smoothed out from between the wide set eyes. The eyebrows feathered out like wings above them. He looked very pale in this almost light, not at all the bronzed warrior that Iolaus was used to seeing. He worried too much, about Iolaus, his family, his friends and just about everyone else in the world.

Iolaus smiled tenderly and gentled a kiss onto the sandy curls that pillowed him. One day, he was going to get Herc away from all the turmoil and trouble of the world. He'd take him someplace where they could just relax and forget about the rest of humanity and concentrate on just the two of them.

Hercules stirred and licked his lips as if they were dry. Iolaus grinned and leaned up to trace them with his tongue ... lightly ... gently ... teasingly. Herc's whole body shivered with that caress and Iolaus began a determined assault on each and every hot spot he'd found on his lover's sensitive skin.

His lover responded with twitchings and soft sighs, his head beginning to move back and forth restlessly. Iolaus sucked a little harder on his nipple before biting gently with his strong white teeth. Herc arched helplessly under the tender attack and he moaned.


"Right here, big guy. Just relax and let me take care of everything."

The big blue eyes opened in disbelief. "Relax? With you making a meal of me? You must be kidding. Your touch would wake the dead."

Iolaus felt their cocks begin to harden and swell with each caress. Reaching for the oil that was never far from them, he shifted off Herc's body and with a touch, rolled him to one side. "When this is all over, the two of us are taking a vacation." He slid one oily finger deep inside his friend, tickling the tight channel into loosening up. "Maybe, we'll come back to this island and tell the ship to come back in a couple of weeks." Two fingers were now scissoring back and forth wringing a groan from his tormented lover. "Just think, no companions, no problems, no one needing any help." Three fingers completed the enjoyable ritual of stretching and Iolaus kissed his way down the strong spine to the gentle curve of the delectable buttocks.

Using his tongue, he feather licked along the sensitive tissue making Herc jerk and moan louder. Replacing his fingers with himself, he slid home in one swift impalement, coming to rest with his tightening balls flush to the firm white cheeks. Sliding his oily hand over Herc's hip, he joined with his lover in stroking the iron hard cock that was already weeping.

"We'll run around naked all day. Swim when we want to. Lay on the beach. I'd like to suck you when your cock is dripping with salt water." Iolaus made love to him with his voice while he began the long, slow slides that would drive Herc insane. "You can fuck me in the bathing pool, under the waterfall. Then, I'll take you gently on your knees in the sand on the beach, where anyone sailing by could see."

Hercules went totally still before pulsing out his climax in a steady stream over their hands. Whoa! Hit on a good one. Iolaus thought triumphantly, speeding his own thrusts to take advantage of the inner contractions that were driving him to his own insanity. Herc quivered under the pounding and moaned again when he was bathed in Iolaus' seed.

They rested, replete with satisfaction, Iolaus still caressing the now limp manhood between his fingers.

"Where did that come from?" Hercules twisted a little so he could peer back over his shoulder. "It was so ... so erotic."

Iolaus eased gently out of the satiated sheath and encouraged Herc to move back to his back. "I don't know. I've always been a bit of an exhibitionist." He chuckled at Herc's mock 'you, never' look. "I guess I kind of enjoy other's knowing that you and I are together. Ares never batted an eye when I tried to ask him if there was a way to be ... shielded from the others."

"He just accepted that we'd want to be alone." Hercules nodded, a thoughtful look crossing his face.

"What? You're pondering something."

Herc's eyes met his. "Was Ares always like this or has Joxer changed him somehow? I have such mixed emotions about him. They're all jumbled up inside me like six different colors of yarn that a kitten has gotten tangled in."

Iolaus laughed and kissed him lingeringly. The taste of unfiltered Hercules first thing in the morning had fast become one of his addictions. "Nobody is black and white, Herc. Ares is just like the rest of us, a mixture of good and bad ... love and hate . . . serious and funny."

"Yeah," Hercules rubbed his arm, "I guess so. It would be nice if we weren't enemies. Although, I don't know if we can be friends."

"That's okay, Herc. Joxer and I will be friends and you two can filter your relationship through us." Iolaus sat up and began to think about breakfast. "It'll be dawn soon. We should get ready for the day. I'll go see if the others are up."

Bouncing to his feet, he shrugged into his clothes while Hercules stretched and watched him fondly. "I'll be right back."

Iolaus moved cautiously up to the dying camp fire. No one was in sight but there were waves in the bathing pool and he had a sudden vision of them under the waterfall ... Don't go there, Iolaus. Leave them some privacy, can't you?

"Hey, Ares. The water is glowing again. I can feel the water like a distant heart beat."

"It's a lot brighter than last time." Ares deep tones sounded surprised. "You're channeling the energy beautifully, Joxer. How do you feel?"

"Great! Really full of energy like I'm drinking in all the power from the pool." Joxer laughed and Iolaus heard Ares groan. Joxer's voice went deeper and more seductive. "I'm willing to share some more."

"I can feel that." Ares' tones were laughing. "Come on and give it to me. All of it. Make me feel it, lover."

Iolaus blushed all over and hesitated, this was way too personal. Should he go see if the others were up or should he just go back to Herc? Trying not to hear the moans coming from the curtain of water, he started back to Herc.

"Um, Iolaus?" The feminine voice wasn't familiar and he turned to see who it was.

"Hi, I'm Wanda-ral, the temporarily displaced naiad of this pool. They wouldn't let me watch." The voluptuous violet haired beauty sat by the side of the pool and pouted. "But that's okay. They should be done pretty quickly. Not even Joxer can get it up four times running. Although, I've got to admire his stamina. I never knew fish was that much of an aphrodisiac."

Iolaus blushed so hard, he was pretty sure his toes had turned red. This was really more than he needed to know about Joxer. "Good morning, Wanda-ral. Could you tell them I stopped by? When they're done. I mean when they're ready to eat. I mean ... have breakfast."

"I got the picture, sweetie. Run along to that awesome hunk of yours. Oh, by the way, you're shipping out today. Might want to pass on the message to the captain." Wanda-ral smirked at him. "Word came from the big Kahuna himself. Zeus. I have it on excellent authority that the surf's up." A muffled shout came from the curtain of water. "Not the only thing that's up, of course."

Her peals of laughter followed Iolaus away from the camp. He tried to blank his mind but the pictures just kept welling up. Of Joxer fucking Ares. Of the dark warrior pinning the god of war up against the wall of rock and pounding into him. He ran full tilt into a dressed Hercules and grabbed his shirt to yank him down to his mouth. All the visions faded under the allure of those beloved lips.

The kiss was long and lush with Iolaus searching every crevice of his lover's mouth with verve and finesse. Hercules was whimpering by the time the golden hunter let go for a much needed breath.

"What ... was that?" Herc panted.

"I heard something I shouldn't have." Iolaus shook free of the last of the fantasy visions. "And if I wasn't pretty sure that in very little time we're going to be on our way, I'd take you back to bed and fuck you into next week."

Hercules' eyes lit up. "All-l-l-l right! I'll hold you to that when this is over."

"Yes." Iolaus let go of the soft vest that he had in a strangle hold.

"Hercules. Iolaus." Gabrielle's voice came from behind them.

She walked up to them with a knowing smirk on her face and her backpack over one shoulder. The little zephyr Bax whirled above her head. "Time to push off. A messenger came last night with the target island. Xena and the others will be along in just a moment." She smiled slyly. "Everyone seems well rested. Right, Bax?"

"Sleep, sleep, sleep. Gabi, Gabi, Gabi."

"It would have been nice if the night had been 24 hours longer." Iolaus said wistfully while he stuffed the bedding into his own pack.

Gabrielle's eyes softened. "I know just what you mean. But time and war waits for no one. I'll see you on the ship."

They'd finished packing when the others joined them. Iolaus was glad he'd been bending over dousing the fire when he first saw Ares. It explained his red face while he surreptitiously watched the god of war move not quite as gracefully as normal. Luckily, he was bringing up the rear and had time to get control over his suddenly fervid imagination before they boarded the ship.

Ares had a quick word with the captain who poured over a chart for a few moments before briskly nodding and shouting commands to the crew. They were underway before too many moments had passed. Bax flew up to the crow's nest and rode the winds above the billowing sails. Iolaus noticed that the god of war had a white knuckled grip on the side railing. Not far away, Gabrielle practiced her own death grip. Behind their backs, Xena and Joxer exchanged a look of complete harmony while they quietly rubbed the backs of their respective lovers.

"It's ... not so bad." Ares said through gritted teeth.

"Yeah ... it's fine." Gabrielle watched an overhead cloud determinedly.

"Did you both take the ginger that Hestia sent?" Joxer leaned against the railing casually.

"Yes, Mother." Ares seemed to relax a little while casting a sheepish look at the dark warrior.

"Actually, I think it's working very well." Gabrielle took a deep breath and actually let go with one hand to brush back her hair. "Oh, look, Xena. Dolphins."

Iolaus and Hercules joined them at the rail while a school of the sleek blue-gray mammals leapt and danced about the ship's wake. The sound of their clicking laughter echoed in the clear sea air. One of them was a much lighter color and Iolaus looked more closely as a white dolphin swam closer to the ship. Every once in a while one of them would leap high out of the water in what seemed to be the sheer exuberance of living.

The white dolphin leapt high in the air and changed before their eyes into a young woman clinging to the net that hung over the side of the ship. She climbed nimbly up and accepted his hand and help in getting over the rail.

"Hi, Uncle Ares. Mom says hi and thanks for not throwing up." She said pertly, her shimmering opalescent tunic drying in an instant. "Grandmother sent word where you're heading. Last minute update. They said for sure its Thira."

"Thanks, Richel. Tell your mother she's welcome. Could you pass the word that all the sea creatures need to head away from there?" Ares nodded.

The blond goddess sighed. "We're trying, Unc, but some of them don't want to go. It's their home and it's hard to explain it's about to become a war zone. Especially when we don't know for sure."

Ares tilted her chin up and looked into those seafoam green eyes. "Honey, you have to try harder. I know we can't guarantee that danger is coming but I have a feel for this and I say something very, very bad is going to happen. Sooner than we'd like."

Richel slipped her arms around the god of war and gave him a big hug. "Okay. I'll do my best."

"I know you will, honey." Ares returned her hug and then held onto her shoulders and looked her straight in the eye. "But, if after 12 hours goes by, I want you to promise me that you will take your school of friends and head as far away from here as possible."

"Ah, Unc, we were going to stay and help." Richel pouted charmingly.

"No. Promise me, honey. Your mom would have my head on a plate if anything happened to you." Ares quirked an eyebrow at her. "Not to mention how bad you'd feel if anything happened to your friends."

Iolaus watched in amusement at the silent tug of wills between uncle and niece. Making a little bet with himself, he bet on the god of war.

"Oh, okay. You win. I promise, I'll make sure we all leave within 12 hours." Richel frowned.

"Within 12 hours of right now." Ares reminded.

"I promise. 12 hours from now." Richel made a small moue of disappointment. "Plus we'll try to get as many of the others away as we can."

"Good girl. Richel, how much damage did the seaquake do last night?" Ares brushed her hair behind one ear.

Iolaus watched while the blond shape-changer shivered slightly. "It was bad, Uncle Ares. The currents have done a 180 all around the islands. Now, the sea floor is a mess and there are shoals where there's never been any before. O-o-oh, I should probably have a little talk with your captain. We need you guys to get there in one piece."

"Good. Point out where they are on the captain's chart and maybe you could have one of your friends be a pilot to lead us in. I promise, I'd send him right back out again." Ares suggested.

"Flip would love it. He's such a male." Richel rolled her eyes and grabbed her uncle's hand to pull him over to where the captain was trying to contain his curiosity.

Joxer grinned and stayed at the rail. Iolaus joined him.

"Uncle Ares?" He asked.

"Let's see if I've got it right. Richel is one of the fifty daughters of Doris who's a sea goddess daughter of Tethys who's the daughter of Gaea and Uranus." Joxer got it out all in one breath then smiled in triumph. "Probably more like second cousins or something but it's just easier to say uncle and niece. You can tell she's a handful but smart as a whip."

"Ares seems to be ... many different people." Xena said with a puzzled look at the god of war.

Joxer smiled gently. "Not really. He's always just ... Ares. Maybe you're just now seeing all that he is."

"Maybe." Xena shook her head and went back to watching the dolphins.

Iolaus exchanged a brief look with Herc. It looked like Xena might just be coming to terms with her father. Zeus! Ares and Xena as father and daughter. The mind boggles.

Ares and Richel rejoined them and the god of war introduced the others to her. She gave them all bright sunny smiles but Iolaus could tell that Joxer was the one that fascinated her. Probably trying to picture the two of them ... Don't go there, Iolaus. He fought free of the pictures that started to form again in time to see Richel dive over the side and change to dolphin-form before she reached the water.

The school raced away, leaving one dolphin to race ahead of them. He left an arrow of foam behind him that the ship tacked to follow. Iolaus leaned on his arms and looked out at the peaceful sea, wondering if it would still be peaceful in a few days. And if they'd all be alive to see it.

End part eighteen