Author's Notes: Set sometime after the whole "Way" fiasco, but before the baby travesty. Yeah, Hercules is stuck up. Prequel to Hereos Anonymous - which is on the Buffy page with its sequel.
Finding Your Path.
Jett looked around the simple temple, nearly smiling when he didn't see a hint of pink. That was unusual for one of Aphrodite's temples, but he appreciated it because that color made him nauseous. He walked up to the main altar and stopped to consider the painting behind it. "That's...nice," he decided finally. He hadn't known that most people were that flexible. He'd have to try that out on his next victim to see if people could actually get into that position. He heard the clearing of a throat and turned to find one of his brothers standing behind him. "Jace couldn't come," he said with a slight shrug. "Something about wagon wheels."
"I heard," Joxer said with a sad smile. "He doesn't approve."
"Well, no, probably not," Jett agreed dryly. "After all, we both thought that you'd be better off finding a wife and spawning." He looked his brother over, noticing the easiness with which he stood there. "Are you happy?" he asked finally.
Joxer nodded. "Very. I can make a real difference this way," he said as he moved closer. "It's a great honor to even be asked to be a justice. To be asked to be Justice, wow, that's just blowing my mind." He smiled. "But I'm okay with it. Even Ares has been great about telling me what I need to be doing."
"Good. I'm glad you're happy." Jett handed over a small, cloth-wrapped package. "From us." He took a step back as a flash happened behind Joxer. He knew who the God was, Ares' artists captured his image very well in all his statues and paintings. "So, you're making my brother a God?" he asked him, wanting to know. "Are you mental?"
Ares chuckled. "No. Believe it or not, among all those who the former God of Justice looked at, Joxer fit the requirements the best." He clapped Joxer on the shoulder. During the last month that he had been training with the young soon-to-be God, he had come to appreciate Joxer's outlook on life. "He's got the sensitivity to feel for his victims and to get angry when the situation calls for it. Then again, he's got the control to not let the anger rule him." He smiled at the young man. "Ready?"
"Almost." Joxer looked around. "Do you know where Xena is? She promised to be here."
Ares nearly frowned. He really didn't want to deal with her. He'd heard all about her fits in every tavern and inn on the trip to this out-of-the-way temple. "She's on her way, Joxer, but I don't know exactly where she is." He looked behind him as Aphrodite popped in. "Did you find Xena?" He noticed her grimace, and so did Jett judging by the look on his face.
"She's a few miles away." She clapped her hands and a gold chalice appeared on the altar. "Okay, Joxer, just walk up to it and take it, announce your intent, then drink. Got it?" Joxer nodded, giving her a bright smile. "Then go for it."
"Can't I wait for Xena?"
"Nope. Time's wasting," Aphrodite told him. "We've got to do this now because you've got a victim already screaming for you."
Joxer nodded and walked up to the altar. He put his hands around the base of the chalice. "When I drink this, I will take on the job of Justice," he said in a firm and loud voice. "Everyone has agreed, even the Fates." He lifted the cup and took a long drink from it, then put it down with a smile. "I don't feel different."
Aphrodite shrugged. "It was only a formality," she reminded him.
"Here, you'll need this," Ares said, handing over a long sword. "Just don't point it at me," he warned, getting out of the way. Just because Joxer had become a God didn't mean that he had stopped being clumsy. Had it only been yesterday that Joxer had accidentally stabbed him with an eating knife while trying to grab another serving of meat? No, that had been the day before Ares decided. His hand still hurt, however long ago it had been.
Joxer sheathed the sword and smiled at everyone. "Now what do I do?"
"Do you hear someone screaming your name?" Aphrodite asked. Joxer nodded. "Go fix it. Your first judgement call," she said proudly as he disappeared. She looked at Jett. "Okay, studly, I can feel your agitation all the way over here. What's wrong?"
"Something's off about him," Jett told her.
"Yeah, he's happy," she told him.
Jett shook his head. "No, he's not." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I know Joxer, have seen him happy and ruined a few of those times for him. That wasn't happy, or scared." He looked at Ares, then at the Goddess of Love again. "You might want to ask him later, when he's distracted."
"But he says he's happy."
Jett chuckled bitterly. "Yeah, I taught him that." He saluted them. "Later all. Tell him to come see me if he needs any inspiration for punishments." He started to walk out but was knocked down by a drunken warrior princess, who had strode into the temple like it was dedicated to her. "Gee, thanks," he told her as he got up.
"Shut up," she snarled. She looked at Ares and Aphrodite. "You can't let him become a God," she said, pointing at Jett. "There's no way he's God material." She smirked at him. "I know how to stop this from happening."
"That's Jett," Ares told her, sneering at her confused look. "You know, one of the brothers? Joxer's already been confirmed." He looked her over. "You need a bath and a long look at yourself, Xena. This isn't you." He turned his back on her.
She growled and pulled out her chakram, screaming as she jumped into the air to do one of her trademark flips. Before he could turn around to defend himself, she had gotten Ares across the back and he was bleeding. "Bet me," she told him, backhanding him.
"Whoa!" Aphrodite yelled, blasting at her. That shoved her back into Jett, who stumbled just enough to let Xena have an opening. "Oh, no you don't," she said, getting ready to blast her again, this time into death. Unfortunately, Jett was put in the way of the blast.
Ares blasted Xena, turning her into a smoking body on the floor. Barely alive and moaning, she had to watch as the Gods went to help Jett. "Nice shot," he told his former lover.
"I meant to hit her," she said, biting her lip. "Jett, pookie, are you all right?" she asked.
Jett grabbed her by the throat, barely able to hold onto her. "Don't call me that!" he whimpered.
She patted his hand. "I'm sorry, babe, I call everyone cutsie names." She looked up. "Yo, a little help here?" she called.
Iolaus ran through a hidden doorway and stopped when he saw the body on the floor. "Joxer?"
"Jett," Ares corrected. "Xena used him as a shield."
"Okay." Iolaus got between them and picked up the assassin, carrying him into the back. "We'll be in the baths checking him over."
"Make it a shallow one," Aphrodite called after him. She looked at Xena. "You are in such trouble," she told the woman.
Xena laughed. "Yay. At least he won't be another worthless God."
"That was Jett," Ares said as he stood up. He walked over to her and looked down at her injuries. "You still can't tell them apart, even after spending all that time with Joxer?" He sneered at her. "Well, let's see how well you learn other things." He pulled his sword and used the tip to remove the brass part of her breastplate. "You have no right to wear my mark, Xena, and you haven't in a while." He tossed the blackened bronze away, then looked her over. "I should let Joxer deal with you."
"Why? What did she do?" Joxer asked as he appeared. He looked from Xena, to the blood- stained Aphrodite, then to Ares. "What happened?" he asked calmly.
"She attacked us," Aphrodite told him, getting up with a sigh. She hadn't wanted Joxer to witness this; everyone knew that Xena was going to object to his moving on, but they didn't think she would have injured anybody. Joxer could tell if she was telling a lie so she didn't even bother trying to lie about what had happened. "I went for her while she was beating up your brother and she put him in the way of the blast."
Joxer frowned. "Is Jett okay?"
Ares nodded. "Mostly. A little singed around the edges. Iolaus has him." He pointed at the back room. "What about the victim?"
"It was solved easily." He smiled. "I just named my first justice-helper, woman's justice."
Aphrodite gave him a hug. "Good job, Joxer." She looked back at Xena. "What do you want us to do with her?"
"I don't know," Joxer admitted. "Send her to Hercules? Maybe he can figure out what's wrong with her."
Ares snorted. "I think he'll reinforce the problem, not become the solution." He pressed some energy over the cut on his back to stop the bleeding. It wasn't serious, just annoying.
Joxer shrugged. "Even if he does, she's not here." He looked over at the doorway as a shadow went across it and someone walked in. "Hercules," he said with a smile. "I was just thinking about sending someone to you." He pointed at Xena. "She attacked my brother."
"Joxer," he said stiffly. "What are you doing sitting on the altar?"
"Chill, I said he could," Aphrodite told him. She smiled at Joxer. "I'll be back after I check on him." She walked into the back of her temple to warn Iolaus. He had been hiding with her now for a few months. All he had said was that he and Hercules had a fight and he couldn't take it anymore. He had helped her a lot around the various temples, he even cleaned up after orgies. So it must have been pretty bad. "Hey," she said quietly. "Baby bro's out there."
Iolaus shuddered. "I'm staying back here," he told her.
She nodded and smiled sadly. "Thought so." She tipped her chin at Jett. "How's he?"
"Singed and burned on his thighs and a milder burn on his chest." He removed the wet cloth over the worst burn on his outer left thigh. "I was cleaning it and trying to ease the pain before I put on that burn cream you make."
She patted him on the head. "I'll talk to Apollo about getting him something better." She headed back to the main room, where everyone was still staring at each other. "Good news," she said, breaking into the heavy silence. "Jett's only got a few minor burns."
Ares grunted. "Good. Want me to take him off your hands? I've got some healers in for training in Sparta right now."
She waved a hand. "Not an issue. We'll be okay." She smiled at Hercules. "So, did you come to welcome Joxer to the family?"
Hercules snorted in derision. "As what?"
"Justice," Joxer said quietly. "I'm the one who took over for Justice when he wanted to move on." He slid off the altar, looking at the two heros. "Please take Xena and leave," he ordered. "She needs medical attention and you need to not give Aphrodite that look." He latched onto his favorite Goddess and led her back into the back area again. "Show me where he is?"
"Sure thing, sweetie." She smiled at him.
Ares nudged Xena with his boot. "She could probably use some time to sober up too," he suggested, disappearing from the temple.
Hercules looked down at his greatest work against evil, giving her a sad smile. "I'm going to have to pick you up," he told her. "We'll go to the local inn and get you a bath." He picked her up, thankful that she didn't scream in pain, and carried her out of the temple. "We'll come back later and fix this," he told her as they walked away. The locals watched, shaking their heads at the slightly charred figure being carried out of the Temple of Love. What had she done to upset the Goddess, who was usually so sunny and cheerful?
Joxer looked in on his brother, who was sleeping in the warm water. "How bad is it?" he asked Iolaus.
The blond hunter looked up at him and shrugged. "There's a few burns, but they're tricky things. They could be just fine and then suddenly turn and infect. Aphrodite said she would get him some good burn cream though."
"Good." Joxer smiled down at the two men. "Did you want to stay here? Hercules is still in town, so is Xena."
Iolaus shuddered. "I'd rather not, but I'm not sure if we can move him."
Aphrodite appeared, holding out a small wooden tub. "Put this on the burns once they're dry and cover it really well," she told him. She looked down at the burned portions of Jett's legs. "Those aren't going to heal for a while."
Joxer nudged her. "Can we move them somewhere safer? Away from the heros?"
"Ares offered space in Sparta," Aphrodite admitted, "but I'm not sure how we'd get Jett there."
"We can't just teleport mortals?" Joxer asked. She shook her head. "Huh. I thought Ares said we could."
"Only a very short distance," Iolaus told him. "Ares sent me about five miles one time, but that was at the peak of a fight against Herc." He put the tub aside and pulled Jett out of the bath, drying him quickly. "Bandages?"
"Oops," Aphrodite said, going to get some. She came back with a stack of them. "I've never been able to move a mortal more than about a mile," she told Joxer. "The reason Ares got him that far was because he used his anger as a power source."
Ares appeared behind her. "It was handy at that moment." He looked down at the burns. "Are you considering moving them now?"
"Hercules is staying in town," Joxer told him.
"I just got a volley of prayers from the locals hoping that I wasn't mad at them too," Aphrodite said with a grin.
"You could always order him to leave," Joxer suggested. "The only other temple in town is Apollo's and I doubt he's going to stick up for Hercules or Xena."
Ares nodded. "Probably not, but you never know." He winced and looked away as a bright flash happened beside him. "Blind me why don't you," he complained.
Apollo snorted and shoved Ares out of his way. "I got a prayer?" he asked, looking down at Jett. "Whoa, which one of us got you?"
"Xena used him as a shield," Aphrodite told him, putting her hands on her hips. "Who prayed to you?"
"I did," Jett said, barely raising a hand. He looked up at his brother. "She thought I was you."
Joxer shuddered. "Wow." He looked at Apollo. "Is there any way we can move him somewhere safer? I don't want Xena to get another chance to hurt him."
"Short of a carriage and horses?" Apollo asked. Everyone nodded. "Not as far as I know. Unless you bring them up to Olympus and then to a different temple."
"Little problem," Aphrodite butted in. "They're not priests."
"Oh. Well, that sucks then," Apollo told her. He looked at the new God. "A carriage and a horse."
Joxer nodded. "Okay." He looked at Ares, who he trusted to steer him right. The old Justice had worked with him quite a lot and had told him to trust Ares in most things. "Where should we send them?"
"Please, not on a ship," Jett pleaded. "I hate being seasick."
Iolaus smiled at him. "I thought that Joxer didn't get seasick."
"He's doesn't," Jett said grimly. "He's always been happier in the water." He looked at his care- giver. "Why are you helping me?"
"Because you need it. It's what I do," Iolaus reminded him.
"Oh, yeah, you're a *hero*," Jett said with a slight sneer. "So, why did you leave your big protector anyway?"
"Jett," Joxer said sharply. "Leave him alone. He's being nice and taking care of you so you'll be able to walk again."
Jett frowned but shrugged. "Sorry. I get bitchy when I'm in pain."
"No, really?" Apollo asked snidely. He pointed at the wooden tub. "Put that on, cover it, keep it dry. He'll have some pretty grody scars, but I'm sure he can make up a story about them if anyone ever sees them." Aphrodite smacked him hard, making him wince. "Hey! Easy on the tan!"
"He'll have a lover, a true lover who'll make him realize how wonderful life is," she told him.
"Eww," Jett told her seriously.
"Shut up," Joxer told him, grinning at him. "I'm going to tell Jace if you don't, and let him make you wedding outfit." Jett shuddered but he lay there quietly while Iolaus covered his burns.
Iolaus smiled up at Joxer once he was done. "I thought torture was his job," he joked.
Aphrodite chuckled. It was the first joke Iolaus had made since he had come to her. "Trust me, Joxie's got a wicked sense of humor when he wants to use it." She winked at him.
Ares groaned and turned to face the outer hall. "Hercules is back."
"Let him rot," Iolaus told them. Ares looked at him, faintly shocked. "What? After what he said to me? Let him rot." He stood up, helping Jett stand too. "I'm taking him back to the empty bedroom. We'll be hiding in there until you figure out where you'd like us to be," he told his Goddess. He smiled at Joxer as he walked past him.
Jett pinched Joxer on the arm as hard as he could. "No more humor," he told him. He slowly hobbled next to Iolaus. "So, what did he say?"
Iolaus shook his head. "Don't ask. Getting that pissed probably isn't good for your recovery." He closed the door behind them.
Ares looked at Aphrodite, it was her temple and she got to set the tone of any conflict in it. "Let's go talk to him," she sighed, going to do that, Ares and Joxer right behind her. "What?" she asked him.
"What did you do to her?" Hercules demanded.
"She decided to beat up my brother," Joxer told him. "When Aphrodite tried to help him, Xena used him as a shield. Fortunately, Aphrodite was in a forgiving mood because Jett's still alive."
Hercules grunted and looked at Ares. "And you had nothing to do with that I suppose?"
"No, she attacked me first," Ares told him. Hercules laughed. "Hey, I trained her well," he told his half-brother. "I expected it." He looked at Aphrodite. "I'm going to go home, unless you need me?"
"Only if you can find a way to move my brother," Joxer told him with a grin. "I'll pack tonight."
Ares frowned. For some reason, that didn't sit well with him. "Whatever," he said, scowling at his apprentice and the newest member of the House of War. "We'll deal with that later." He looked at his former lover.
"Go ahead. We'll figure out how to get Jett somewhere comfy to rest." Ares nodded and disappeared, but Joxer stayed. "I can handle him," she told him.
Joxer shrugged. "I don't have anything to do right now and I'm putting off packing." He grinned. "I don't feel like it right now."
She laughed. "Of course you don't." She turned back to Hercules. "Was there anything else?"
"Yes, I want to know why you did that to Xena!" he demanded.
"Because she attacked my brother and your brother," Joxer told him, using his normal tone of voice. Hercules' face turned purple. "You might want to breathe," he suggested mildly. The hero lunged at him and he moved, teleporting behind Aphrodite.
"Go," she told him, shooing him away. She glared at the baby of the family. "Don't you get it yet?" she asked. "She attacked without knowing who she was attacking. It sucks, but she was drunk and stupid. She got what she deserved." She disappeared too.
Hercules roared in rage and turned to the altar. He shoved hard and it toppled over, as did the roof support that it hit. Part of the roof caved in and buried him, making him pass out.
Zeus appeared, shaking his head at his son's stupidity. He waved the rubble away and bent down, squeezing some juice into his son's mouth. "There, now not even the harridan will be able to get you," he whispered to his unconscious, and now immortal, son. He smiled when he heard the thoughts. "Yes, I'll give you her as a present," he said with fondness. "I think she'd make a stunning immortal, and quite a diversion when I need one. Of course, she'll be grateful and all that," he said, leering as he disappeared. Another apple went into Xena's badly damaged body, healing her and turning her into an immortal too. She woke up before he could leave. "Just lie there, dear. You're fine now. You'll be fine for quite some time."
Xena snarled, "What did you do to me, Zeus?"
He laughed. "I'm giving my son a present. Someone to be with him for eternity." He winked and left.
She put her head back down, staring up at the ceiling. "Immortal?" She shuddered. "Why me?" She rolled onto her side and curled up to hold herself. This was horrible. She didn't even believe in these Gods anymore.
Iolaus opened the door slowly when he heard the crash. He sent a prayer out to Aphrodite, telling her about the strange noise. He snuck out to look into the audience chamber and witnessed Zeus's act. He shuddered and sent another thought to his guardian, going back to lock them in the room and barricade the door just in case. He turned and ran into Ares' chest. "Hey," he said nervously. "Did you hear?"
Ares nodded. "I heard. So I'm sending you as far as I can." He pointed at the empty bed. "Jett's waiting for you. Protect him. You're going to one of my lesser used temples, which is basically near the sea but nothing else." He smiled grimly. "It should be a week's travel." He handed the mortal a bag. "Here's the bandages and some food." Iolaus took it, hugging it to his chest. "Ready?" The mortal nodded and found himself in a wooded area, just off a small road.
"Jett?" Iolaus called quietly, just in case someone else was around.
"He's over here," Joxer called.
Iolaus walked that way, smiling at the young God. "Ares gave me the medicine." He looked over the carriage, and the piles of fabric lining the back. "Laundry?" he asked dryly.
Joxer nodded. "Yup, basically. You're to drop the cart off in the town. The temple's a days walk from there, due south." He handed over another pack. "Here's some clothes for you guys and my old traveling stuff." He smiled at his brother, whom he had knocked out. "Go now. It'll be hard on him, but it'll be okay." He disappeared.
Iolaus climbed up into the driver's seat, glancing back at Jett before taking the reins and clicking at the horse. It started off at a placid trot, only rocking the cart a little on the uneven road. He kept looking back at the body laying on the piles of fabric, making sure it wasn't in pain.
Joxer landed in front of Ares, giving him a smile. "Thank you for helping Jett," he said quietly.
Ares looked over at him. "I like Jett. He's useful," he told his student. He straightened up from looking over the map on the table. "No new calls?"
"No." Joxer shrugged. "I know that the old Justice said he handled about three calls a day, and only about a tenth of all them warranted his attention, but I've only had the one." He pulled out a chair and sat down. "I'm worried about Iolaus. He doesn't seem right."
Ares nodded. "Jett was worried about you, said you weren't happy." He crossed his arms over his chest. "Want to explain that to me?"
Joxer frowned. "Why did he say that?" He considered it. "I know I'm scared I'll screw up, and I'm worried that the old Justice picked the wrong person to follow him, but why wouldn't I be happy? I'm a god. I almost have to be happy because I'm a god." Ares snorted at that. "You're not happy?"
"Just because we're gods doesn't mean that we don't feel emotions. There's been plenty of times when I've been unhappy." He sat down across from him. "What's really bothering you? Not the doubts, but what's making you upset?"
Joxer shrugged. "I don't know. I thought I was happy." He put his arms on the table and laid his head on them. "I am happy," he decided, looking at his teacher.
"If you say so. Talk to Aphrodite if you change your mind." He pointed at the battle plans in front of him. "Expect a few calls from this region. There's an army marching through on the way to a battle and I'm sure someone will pillage."
Joxer took note and nodded. "Okay. When?"
"Tomorrow. They'll be in the mountains after that."
"Cool." Joxer grinned. "Can I have another lesson in using my sword? It feels really heavy."
"That's the weight of the job," Ares told him. Joxer frowned, not looking like he got it. "The heaviness of the sword is to remind you of the weight of your job. How you have almost as much power as the Fates over some lives and how you shape some destinies." Joxer nodded, looking like he understood it. "It'll feel like a normal sword when you're not holding it, but when you are, it's a symbol of your duty. Cupid's bow and my sword feel the same way."
"So it's like a reminder that this isn't a game?" Joxer suggested.
"Exactly," Ares agreed, giving him a smile as he stood up. "I can give you another lesson if you want it. You could probably use one anyway."
Joxer hopped up, remembering to push his chair back under the table. "Thank you," he said, following his boss out to the practice area.
Jett snarled as Iolaus helped him sit on the log. "I'm fine!"
"Sure you are," Iolaus snorted as he sat down across from him. He looked down at the knife that had landed between his feet. "Nice shot," he said, giving him a smile. "If I had something to give you for the pain, I'd give it to you," he offered. "I checked, there wasn't anything." The assassin stayed silent, worrying Iolaus. "Listen," he said finally. "I know this isn't what you were planning on doing for the next month or so, and that you've probably got a few victims waiting on you somewhere, but you can barely stand without screaming in pain." Jett continued to glare at him. "I just want to help. And hey, maybe you'll learn something new at Ares' temple."
"Are you always this sunny?"
Iolaus considered it. Then he nodded. "Yup, as long as I'm not being put down, forced to act like a worshiping high priest for Hercules, or nobody's calling me 'that little guy who follows Hercules around'." He smiled sadly. "I really wish he hadn't barged in that way," he admitted quietly.
Jett shifted some, grunting in pain. "So, was it your sex drive, which is supposedly legendary, or your stomach, which is even more legendary?"
Iolaus snorted. "Oh, it was a bit of both that time."
When he didn't elaborate, Jett tossed a small stick he had picked up off the ground at him. "If we're going to be together for at least a week, we might as well talk." Iolaus looked over at him. "It'll pass the time. It's that or I'm going to have to dream up ways of cutting you up to make you a pleasing corpse." That got a small laugh. "Really. If I don't have a distraction, my mind will naturally start decorating you using my favorite thumbnail-thick blade." He pulled it out to show off. "This one." He looked at the spotless and sharp surface. "We've had a lot of good times together." He looked up, and smiled at the shocked look. "Sorry, it's a hazard of the trade, ya know?" He put the knife away. "Did Joxer or Ares send any meat?"
Iolaus rummaged through the packs, coming up with some jerky. "Just this." He handed half of it over. "If I'm right, there's a town somewhere ahead of us tomorrow. I've got some dinars and we can stock up then." Jett nodded, biting into the tough, bitter meat.
"S'old," he noted as he chewed.
Iolaus shrugged. "I've probably had worse." He bit into his own piece and chewed slowly. He had lost one tooth in the last few years, he didn't need to lose another one. He nodded as he chewed. "I've had worse."
Jett chuckled. "I'm sure." He finished his first piece as he slid down to rest against the fallen log he had been sitting on. "How did you want to do this?"
"What this?" Iolaus asked, looking confused.
"You know, the sleeping thing and the camping thing? I'm not much good at camping, prefer a nice, cozy inn if I can find one, but I'll do what I can."
Iolaus waved a hand. "Don't worry about it. I doubt you can do much of anything with those burns. I'll deal with the camping stuff, I'm used to it."
"The great Hercules doesn't lay fires?" Iolaus shook his head. "Does he at least gather wood?"
"Yeah, he gathers wood, and even breaks it."
"Gee, how nice of him to use his muscles," Jett said snidely. "Do you make him carry water too?"
Iolaus shook his head. "We split carrying water." He looked the other man over. "You know, you're different than I expected," he said, trying to deflect the conversation from his old partnership. "I'd heard you were more cold and taunting."
Jett nodded. "Usually." He sipped some water out of the canteen Iolaus handed him. "But I also know how to make the best out of a bad situation. Prison does that to one." He handed the canteen back. "Since we're going to be together for a while, I might as well be pleasant to you. Otherwise I'll have to talk to myself and I'll end up crazier than Joxer." That got a small smile from his companion. "You wouldn't believe some of the conversations he's had with himself, or with Jace."
"How is Jace?"
"Fine. The queen has set up shop in a small province on one of the trade roads. She said it never gives her a stale crowd, whatever that means." He shrugged. "The theater is something I've never been fond of, especially his sort."
"It can be okay." Iolaus looked up with a naughty grin. "As long as Gabrielle didn't write the play."
Jett snickered. "Yeah, I met little miss perfect a while back." Iolaus laughed. "She couldn't tell the difference between Joxer and me either."
"Hey, if you only look at the outsides, you look a lot alike, especially if you get Joxer out of his old armor." Jett laughed, grabbing the burn on his chest. "Sorry," Iolaus said quickly, coming over to check on the burn. "Looks like it's time for some more cream. Let me get it." He walked over to the cart and grabbed the wooden tub, which had been shoved between some of the clothes for easier access earlier. He came back and sat beside the other man, carefully peeling off the bandages to look at the burn. "Hey, it looks better," he said before slathering some on. He put the bandage back in place and covered the tub. "Do I need to look at your thighs?"
"I'm not taking off my pants," Jett told him.
Iolaus sighed. "I promise, no matter what you've heard, I'm not going to take advantage of you. You're sick."
"Thank you," Jett said with a smile. Iolaus glared at him. "Hey, beats pity," he pointed out.
"Yeah. I guess sarcasm does beat pity." He handed over the tub. "You can do your own thighs if it makes you more comfortable."
"It might, but getting out of these pants is a pain. Why did Ares put me into leather?"
"Because that's all he wears?" Iolaus suggested, starting to smile again. "I'm not sure Ares knows that there are other fabrics. I mean, have *you* seen him in anything else?"
Jett thought, then nodded. "He had on some funky robe a few years back at some function I attended so I could watch a target. But you're right, he's always in leather."
"Maybe something in the cart will fit you," Iolaus suggested.
Jett shook his head. "Those are clothing donations to widows and orphans. I'm not touching those. Ares gets *real* pissed when someone interferes with the only charity work he does all year."
"Yeah, I heard about the last guys," Iolaus said with a faint tint of green. "I heard you can still find pieces of some of them in that wood."
Jett nodded. "I found a nose. Ares' priest at the nearest temple gives a dinar if you find a piece. They've got enough to make almost a whole person now." They looked at each other and laughed.
Iolaus went back to his side of the fire. "I guess we'll have to look for pants for you at the next town. The clothes Joxer sent won't fit you."
"How much money do you have?"
"Enough," Iolaus said firmly. "Don't worry about it. We're okay." Jett just nodded. As they sat there in silence, the woods natural noises started up again.
"So," Jett said finally, fed up with the chirrups and creaking coming from around them. "What did he say?"
Iolaus shook his head. "I don't want to think about it." He pushed some more of the scrapings from their campsite into the small fire between them. "Why don't we turn in?"
"Are you coming over here or staying over there?" Iolaus looked up at him, turning faintly pink. "Sorry, but it's chilly tonight and I wondered if you wanted to share a bedroll."
Iolaus shrugged. "If it wouldn't bother you, I could do that," he offered. He saw the look of comprehension on Jett's face and sighed. "I promise, I won't touch you."
"Not the issue," Jett told him. "I've been touched before and hopefully will again. As long as you don't bump into my burns, we'll be fine and you'll wake up tomorrow." Iolaus smiled. "What?"
"You're not that scary," Iolaus told him. He grabbed the bedding from the back of the cart and spread it out near the fire. He helped the other man to the bed and let him lay down first.
"I'm not scary?" Jett asked.
Iolaus shook his head. "Sorry, I've seen scarier."
"Guess that would be part of traveling with Hercules," Jett agreed. Iolaus looked at him. "What?" he asked, trying to look innocent.
Iolaus put the blanket over them and laid down. "You should see him when he hasn't slept for three days." He closed his eyes and pillowed his head on his arm. "Good night."
"Night," Jett agreed, staring up at the stars. "He's a dick," he said quietly after a few minutes.
Jett turned his head. "I know human nature, it's part of the job description. He'll never change his views. The only thing he can see is his righteousness, and you touching another man isn't part of that. It makes him look human."
Iolaus rolled over, facing away from Jett. "If you say so."
"No, I know," Jett told him. He reached over and patted Iolaus' back. "He'll show up once he figures out that he gets more attention when you're around, or he gets lonely, and you'll act like nothing happened until that first lecture. Then you'll either suck up the punishment and go with him, or you'll walk away again."
Iolaus turned to look at him. "You don't know me and you don't know him," he reminded the assassin coldly. "I'm not one of your victims."
"No, you're his." Jett shifted, crossing his feet. "Whatever happened that he saw, with whomever it was, put a dent in his image. He thinks that you're tarnishing his statue, but he'll eventually give you a chance to prove that you've learned his lesson. You see it a lot with other powerful people. Even the Gods. Look at Hera and Zeus after Hephaestus was born."
Iolaus sighed. "Whatever. Just go to sleep." He laid back down, facing away from him again, and closed his eyes. The world's counselor was an assassin. Just what he needed.
Jett closed his eyes. He knew he was right. That's how humans were, especially ones with big egos and ones who were heros or had powerful positions. He'd give it a month before Hercules found them. He fell asleep thinking about what he could do to Hercules when he showed up to save Iolaus that sort of pain. He liked the little guy, enough to want him around for now.
They finally made it to the small temple, after a week of traveling bumpy tracks and a day of very slow walking. Jett decided on a bath right away and headed for the natural pools in the rear of the temple. Iolaus decided to sit down and look over the temple's defenses. The only priestess was a very old woman, though she did have a helper who came in to weed the garden and take care of the animals for her. It was the least he could do since they were going to be creating more work for her. He found out the map was old and decided to do some repair work. It'd give him something to do during the day while he watched over Jett and hid from Hercules. He decided to start with an old stone wall that had fallen over. Hard labor always cleared his head and gave him time to think.
The subject that was stuck in his mind wasn't pleasant, but he had to decide what to do about him. If only someone he trusted was there to talk to. Jason would understand. Hercules had all but abandoned him when Jason started to use his status as a king to get women by the dozen every week. Had Jason changed his ways so Hercules would talk to him again? Iolaus stopped rebuilding the wall and turned to sit on it, thinking back to their days as young men. Yes, he had. He had made his liaisons much more subtle and Hercules had started talking to him again. After a very long lecture if he remembered right. It wasn't a happy time in their lives, but he had continued to talk to Jason, even when their best friend had stormed off in a snit. Jett had been right after all. He shook his head and went to get some water from the well. He had been building for the last few hours and deserved a break. He found the hot pools first, and gave the sleeping man a smile. "Jett?" he called out quietly. Jett opened an eye. "Maybe you shouldn't soak the burns. The minerals in the water might make the burn creme less effective."
Jett shrugged, opening both eyes. "It numbs them. I'll pay for it later." He patted the water. "Come dip yourself, you look sweaty."
"I am, but there's still time to finish the wall today." He pointed at the well. "I just came over for a drink." He walked away, ignoring the picture of the thin, lithe body resting in the water. For some reason, it stuck with him while he continued to build the wall. By dusk, he couldn't get that image out of his head and the wall wasn't that much more complete. He walked over to the pools to clean up for dinner, going to dinner sweaty would only piss off the priestess and he was sure she could probably kick his ass since she was dedicated to Ares. A quick dip and then he went in to dry off.
Jett was sitting on a stool in the kitchen, stirring a big pot of something. "Soup's on," he told the other man as he walked past him.
"Give me a few to dry off," Iolaus called back, continuing to his room. He found a dry towel and wiped himself off quickly. He was hungry. He put his vest back on and wandered back to the kitchen. "Need help?" he asked, grabbing the bowls Jett was trying to reach. Jett shook his head. "Want to put back on the creme after you eat or just before bed?"
"Can we do both? I ache," Jett complained.
"Sure." Iolaus pushed the assassin back onto the stool and ladled out soup for all three of them. "Where is she?"
"In the temple, praying. She said she'll be back soon." Jett tossed some stuff sitting on the counter into his bowl and smooshed it with his spoon. "To help me heal," he said when he caught Iolaus looking. "She pulled out some of the store of herbs and made me a pain killer."
"Oh. That's great," Iolaus said happily. It had bothered him that Jett had done without anything for the pain for the last week. No one deserved to be in constant pain, no matter what they had done. Torture was not healthy for anyone. He ate a bite of his soup and grimaced. "Onions," he said, blinking.
Jett nodded. "It's all that's ripe right now," he said between bites. "I told her I'd go look at the garden tomorrow."
Ares appeared, already shaking his head. "You're going to stay indoors and rest," he told the assassin. "Or else I'm siccing Joxer on you." Jett shuddered. "Thought so." He looked at Iolaus. "Hercules is heading this way looking for you. Someone at that town you visited told him you were bringing the shipment of donated clothes and he figured it out." Iolaus nodded and took another bite of soup. "Are you going to see him?"
"Not if I can help it," Iolaus said simply. "I think I've had enough. I'm more than ready to settle down somewhere and grow a vegetable garden or farm." He put down the bowl of soup, handing the priestess hers as she walked in. "I'll be finished with the wall tomorrow," he told her.
She patted him on the side of the face. "That was very nice of you, Iolaus." She smiled at her Lord and Master. "He's spent most of the day repairing the wall that the centaurs knocked down after sailing here."
Ares grimaced. "Seasick centaurs, not a favorite image." He smiled at her. "Did you need anything?"
"Only if you be generous and ripen more than the onions," she told him with a smirk. He laughed, she was old and allowed to say things like that to him. "Otherwise, I think these two will be a great help around here."
Ares shook his head. "Jett is to rest, Liana. His burns could go bad at any time if he doesn't." She nodded, bowing slightly to show she would obey. "Iolaus, after the wall, can you work on the garden? I know there's more ripe out there, I can smell something rotting."
"That's the compost heap," Liana told him. "The wind's blowing the wrong way today."
He shrugged. "Make a list and I'll leave money for you to go to town with," he told her.
She smiled. "Thank you, Lord Ares. You remind me why I chose to serve you." She kissed him on the cheek then put her soup aside. "I'm going to rest. I'll see you both in the morning."
Iolaus watched her go. "Wow. She's really strong for a woman her age." Jett nodded.
Ares snorted. "She's fifty. I'm amazed she's still walking." He held out a hand and a bag of coins appeared. "Give her this tomorrow and take her into town, Iolaus. Jett, find somewhere and sit down tomorrow. Apollo will be in during the afternoon to look at you. He's training a new physician and he's bringing him around to use you as an instruction tool." Jett nodded. Ares' nose wrinkled. "That soup is very strong," he told them, waving a hand. It was diluted with meat. "You'll need it. The yearly storms will start next month. Iolaus, since you're here...."
Iolaus put the bag of money onto the counter. "I'll check the roof and make sure everything's ready for the storms," he agreed without having to be asked. He liked the old priestess and she shouldn't have to worry about the temple falling on her head. "How's Joxer?"
"He's the reason I'm here instead of eating my own dinner. He was so worried he accidentally sent himself to Gabrielle's camp. He came back very quickly and started to worry about you again, Jett. I'm doing this so he can concentrate on his work. He's had close to seventy calls today." He shrugged. "It saves an accident." He disappeared.
Jett looked at Iolaus. "I can help," he offered.
"Once you can climb a ladder and not wince," Iolaus told him with a grin. Jett groaned. "You need to heal and I can do this. I'd be doing this at my own house this time of year, and hey, it's only a temple. The last time I did this sort of work, it was rebuilding a village. A temple is nothing compared to building thirty buildings and seventeen paddocks."
"Why were you rebuilding a village?"
"Some giant had walked through it on the hunt for Hercules. He tripped and fell so Hercules volunteered us. Hercules went off to fight whatever creature the giant was worried about and I helped the rebuilding crews. By the time Hercules got back, it was partially done so he stepped in and helped finish." He put down his spoon and drank his soup. "That was good." He put his bowl into the sink. "Can you handle doing dishes?"
"Of course. I can sit and do that."
Iolaus grinned at him again. "Good. Then you can handle that part while I check the building tomorrow and go to town."
"Can you look for something for me?" Jett asked. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it over. "I've been looking for one of those for about a year now."
Iolaus looked at the drawing. "I know someone in Corinth who sells these." He handed it back. "If I see one, I'll talk to the vendor for you." He smiled and walked away.
Jett watched the tight butt, not sure why, but it was an interesting view. He could take the time and appreciate it for a while. He was making the best of the forced inactivity.
It was two weeks after Iolaus and Jett had come to the temple and Jett had spiked a fever the night before. Iolaus had been up all night tending to the hot man, trying to make him feel better and not let him die. It was getting very hard not to shriek and ask for some help, but he knew there was an outbreak of disease in another part of Greece so Apollo would be busy. The student physician had shown up but he couldn't suggest anything other than reducing the fever and bathing the burns, which were starting to look infected. This was getting pretty bad. Iolaus broke down and called on someone who probably wouldn't be so busy. "Joxer?"
Joxer appeared a few minutes later. "Hi." He gave Iolaus a hug and looked at the burns. "He's not okay?"
"He started to infect yesterday," Iolaus said quietly. "His fever's still too high."
"Why haven't you called Apollo?" he demanded.
"Because there's an outbreak of sleeping sickness near Thebes," Ares said as he appeared. He looked at the man lying on the bed. "Let me go find a battlefield healer, maybe they'll know more." He smiled at Iolaus. "Good work on the roof, but you missed a spot."
Iolaus nodded. "I'm waiting for the hay to dry," he told him. "Then it rained again." He shrugged. "I'll get to it as soon as I can, Ares. I don't want to leave him though."
"I understand," Joxer told him, giving him a hug. "Go stretch your legs, I'll sit with him." Iolaus left him alone with his brother. "Stubborn, you've got to get better," he sighed, scooping up a cloth out of the basin of water so he could bathe his brother's face with it. "Do you want Jace to be here?"
Jett moaned and shook his head. "No, please. He'll fuss."
Joxer smiled. "So do I and so does Iolaus. Get over it. You need to be fussed over."
"I hate you."
Joxer laughed. "Good, that means you still want to live. When you're better, I'll even let you try to beat me again," he offered.
Jett looked over at him. "God or not, I can still beat you."
Ares reappeared with a young man dressed in red robes. "This is the highest of my healers I can find right now. He's got infection," he told the healer.
The healer pushed Joxer rudely out of the way and bent to work on his newest patient. "I've seen worse," he announced. He looked at Ares. "I'll need whatever he's been given and a list of everything he's taken."
Iolaus walked in and smiled at him. "The priestess made him a painkiller with herbs, including that little purple flower, and we've been using the stuff in the tub beside the bed. He's also been soaking in the hot pools outside."
The healer looked at him. "Is your partner here too? I wouldn't want him to knock down the building on my head."
Iolaus shook his head. "Just me. He's in town, staying far away from here by his father's order." Ares looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "He accosted your priestess in town yesterday and ordered her to send me to him."
"Ah," Joxer said, nodding. "I think I'll go have a talk with him." He disappeared.
Ares followed him fairly quickly, just to make sure Joxer didn't take down the town as well. The guy was really protective of his brothers. They were still finding pieces of the woman who had upset Jace and made him cry.
The healer looked at the tub of creme, reading the symbols. It looked like the average creme. "Pain killers?" he asked.
Iolaus handed over the small cloth bag that the herbs were stored in. "He's been taking it in his food at breakfast and dinner." He sat on the foot of the bed. "And he's been spending a lot of time in the mineral pools out back."
The healer looked at him. "Mineral pools?" Iolaus nodded. "Heavy metals?" Iolaus looked clueless. "Where are they?"
"Through the kitchen," Iolaus told him. "I can lead you."
"Not necessary, all temples are built on the same plan." He hurried away, coming back about ten minutes later. "That does explain some of it," he said happily. "I think I can cure the infection." He crushed the herbs in the bag and spread them over the burns. "I need some bandages, some clean water, and some infection fighting syrup. Can you get that?" Iolaus nodded and hurried away. "Jett," he said quietly. "What happened?"
"Xena used me as a shield while protesting Joxer's Godhood. She got us confused," he wheezed, then started coughing. "Ow."
"I know. I'll make you feel as good as I can. I won't let you die." He smiled at his former lover, the one who had pushed him to become a healer. "I'm going to mix some of these painkillers into the burn creme." A flash happened beside the bed. "Lord Apollo," he said, bowing deeply to him. "The burns have infected."
"I heard," he sighed, leaning down to look at the dark red, angry burns. "Those look nasty."
"He's been spending a lot of time outside, in the heavy mineral pools," Ares' healer told him. "I think something in there started off the infection." Apollo nodded. "I've sprinkled the pain killing herbs over the burned areas, am about to put on more of the burn creme, and then I'm going to set up a potion to help him fight off the infection."
Iolaus walked in, carrying a basket with the required items, and a pail with water. "Fresh from the well," he told him. "As pure as we can get it without boiling it first." He smiled at Apollo. "I did my best, Lord Apollo."
"I know you did," Apollo told him with a smile. "You've never really been one of mine though." He patted Iolaus on the head, handing over the supplies. "Go worry in the hall or something."
Iolaus backed out of the room. "I'll be up fixing the roof." He hurried away, letting them do whatever they want.
Apollo smiled at the other healer. "He's a very smart man. If he'd only leave the lout for good."
The healer shrugged. "He said Hercules wasn't allowed here and that the idiot was on the outs with him. Hercules *summoned* him by grabbing Ares' priestess."
Apollo whistled. "Ouch. No wonder Joxer went after him. I'd hate to be him when Joxer catches up to him." He washed his hands and grabbed the syrup to start making it stronger. "Dude, you are so lucky that I heard Ares' grumbling and came."
Jett nodded. "As long as you don't fuss," he whined.
Apollo laughed. "Treasure it, dude. Most guys don't get to be spoiled by someone like Iolaus. I hear he's excellent at it. Very devoted when he takes care of someone."
"How much longer do I have to go through with this?" Jett asked. "Can't I please disappear and heal in private?"
Apollo laughed. "No! Joxer would have my head. You have no idea how scary that guy is. He nearly took out Hera this morning by sneezing." He shook his head. "Fortunately, she forgave him for being clumsy and for sneezing."
"Only him," Jett sighed. "Clumsy, painfully sweet, and too caring for his own good." He grunted as his left thigh was touched. "Can you not do that?"
"Dude, we're going to have to scrub it tonight," the healer told him. He smiled at Apollo. "Can you have him searched first, my Lord?"
"I'm having Joxer and Iolaus hold him," Apollo told him. "That way they'll be in the way of the weapons."
"Won't save you," Jett panted, then he kicked out at Apollo, who was trying to spread creme on his chest. "Ow!"
"If you do it again, I'm taking away the painkillers," the healer warned him. Jett whimpered. "So behave!" Apollo laughed.
Jett pulled out his best begging look and turned it on the God. "Please make it stop."
Apollo nodded and leaned down, knocking him out. "It'll go faster this way," he told the healer, who nodded.
Iolaus leaned over the edge of the roof, peeking down on Apollo as he splashed himself from the mineral pools. "Is he better yet?" he asked quietly.
Apollo looked up at him and shook his head. "Not yet. His fever's down and we've scrubbed the burns, but it'll be *weeks* before he's really better. Are you volunteering?"
Iolaus thought about it, then nodded. "Yeah, I need something to do."
"What about the big guy?"
Iolaus smiled. "I think I'm safe enough here; if not, hopefully Jett will be able to be moved." He shrugged at the shocked look. "He did something that I won't put up with." He rubbed his aching shoulder. "Besides, I'm getting old and I should settle down." Apollo laughed. "Seriously, I've been broken, hurt, and bruised so often it's nice to not be hurt. I think it's time I start to settle down. I'm even starting to slow down." He grinned. "I can only eat one pie now."
Apollo smiled at him. "Good. Most warriors don't know when to quit."
"It's the ideal of dying in battle in a glorious manner," Iolaus told him. "I don't want to die like that, I've done that before. I'd like to die in my own bed, in my own home, and with my family standing around me next time."
Apollo laughed. "I'm sure Hades would appreciate not seeing you for a few years." He looked back inside, then up at Iolaus again. "You sure you can handle this?" Iolaus nodded. "Then come on down and I'll give you instructions." He watched as the mortal slid down the ladder. "Nice form."
Iolaus grinned at him. "I'm known for being light on my feet."
Apollo clapped him on the shoulder. "I heard about the fight, dude, and I totally agree with you. Light on your feet or not, his attitude sucks ass. You're right to leave him." He led the way back inside, explaining the new routine to him as they walked back to Jett's room.
Ares looked out across his audience chamber as he heard the outer doors open. "Aren't you supposed to stay away from here?" he asked quietly. Iolaus was in the kitchen and he didn't want to upset him. Iolaus and Jett had fought yesterday and was a thing of beauty to the God of War. Strong, smart, and deadly, the both of them, and it had shown. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to Iolaus," Hercules told him, sounding firm and righteous. "Where is he?"
"Right here," Iolaus said from the doorway. He looked at Ares. "I finished fixing the stove. The pipe's clean."
"You're doing errands for him?" Hercules asked incredulously.
"Yes, to pay him back for the space Jett and I are taking up while Jett heals."
"You and Jett?" Hercules asked. Iolaus nodded. "Why are you and *Jett* together?"
"Do you remember the scene in Aphrodite's temple?" Hercules nodded, his eyes narrowing. "Xena thought he was Joxer and decided to stop Joxer from becoming Justice. She used him as a shield when Aphrodite tried to hit her with a ball of energy. He's burned horribly."
"Oh." He looked at his feet, then around the room. "When will you be done nursing him?"
"Hercules, I'm not coming back. You don't respect me." Iolaus walked away, going out to the garden. There were plenty of things he could do, including toss the extra rocks from the wall off the cliffs into the ocean. He decided to do that, it'd make him feel better.
Ares leaned down. "Hercules, everyone has heard about the fit you threw." His half-brother sneered. "And not from Iolaus either. He refused to say anything bad about you. We found out because Hermes heard you. And personally, if I had been him, you'd be dead by now. You're lucky your *friend* is nicer than the rest of us."
Hercules pulled himself up to his full height. "You can't hurt me. Father made sure I can fight you back on your own playing field."
Ares looked the human over, then shrugged. "Yay, you're immortal. And? You don't have powers and you don't have anyone else here with you."
"Xena's waiting on me. Father gave her to me as a present."
Ares burst out laughing. "Really?" Hercules nodded. "Then I wish you luck controlling her and lots of fun dealing with her mind." He stood up. "Iolaus is safe here and you're not welcome. Go away."
"You can't send me away, Father said I could come get my friend from you. Father!"
Zeus appeared. "Yes?" he asked.
"Iolaus doesn't want to see him," Ares told their father. "And he's nursing one of my followers back to health."
Zeus nodded. "Then let us hear it from his mouth." He waved a hand and Iolaus came flying backwards through the door, landing in front of him. "Are you leaving my son's side?"
Iolaus stared at him in shock. "Stay out of it!" He looked at Ares. "Is Jett awake?"
"Not yet. It'll probably be another hour or so." He waved a hand. "Tell them, not me. I know how you feel, but they're convinced that you're going back."
Iolaus shook his head. "Zeus, your son said something so cruel that I'm never going to travel with him again. Even if I didn't feel old and wasn't ready to retire to a normal life, I'd never travel with him again. For all I care, he can die." He looked at Hercules. "It's amazing, a lot of people don't feel like you do about my *activities*. Some of them even acknowledge that I'm not less of a man for how I am, and no one has made fun of me for being all that I am." He sighed. "Hercules, even if I wanted to go back to you, I wouldn't because you don't see me as a human being. To you, I'm some appendage that will always be there and will always follow you around like a dog. I'm not a dog, I'm a man."
Hercules glared at him. "If you're a man, act like one."
"I do," Iolaus hissed. "I act like the man I am, the same as I always have." He crossed his arms and shifted his weight. "In case you didn't know, I've been - as you put it - peddling my ass since we were in the academy. I've had male lovers most of my life and I enjoy the hell out of it. The same as I do the women I've slept with. As a matter of fact, I've enjoyed almost every single time I've had sex, with the exception of being captured and having to perform to get you out of trouble." Hercules' mouth opened. "You mean you didn't know how we got out of Sparta that time? We got out because I gave in to the pressure and kept you from being executed." He looked back at Ares, who was nodding, he had known about that. "I don't care what you think about my life, or who I sleep with. I'm not some groupie that's following you around for the hell of it. I've fought by your side since we were fifteen. It's up to you whether to not we remain friends." He turned away and saw Jett leaning against the doorframe. "What are you doing out of bed?" he shrieked. "Back to bed!" He hurried over to help Jett, but the assassin stopped him from dragging him away.
"Hercules," Jett said quietly. "Go away. Go corrupt Xena to your way of thinking, but quit trying to mess with the rest of our heads." He let Iolaus steady him as he stepped further into the room. "Personally, I've seen the damage you cause when you come to someone's rescue. I'd hate to be a villager when you come to save my village because you tend to destroy the monster and the village usually. Iolaus is mine and I will protect what's mine."
"Jett," Iolaus said quietly.
Jett looked him in the eyes and smiled. "You're the first person I don't mind fussing over me and you haven't made fun of me yet."
Iolaus grinned. "Why would I make fun of you? You're one of the best assassins, even though you're not scary. I wouldn't want to not wake up one morning."
Jett smiled. "Good. Want to settle down with me? We can farm and grow vegetables." Iolaus laughed. "I'm serious," he said quietly, losing his smile. "I don't think I'll ever get back into my former shape. Besides, having a God for a brother has made me see exactly how mortal I am. And since I don't mind having you around, I thought we might be able to try and live our short lives together."
Iolaus smiled and leaned in, kissing him gently. "I'd like that. We'll figure out where later, but for right now, you have to go back to bed or you'll never get better. And then I'll have to carry you everywhere." Jett snorted. "Just think about meeting up with Autolycus again if I have to carry you around."
Jett shuddered. "I can already hear the laughter about the burns slowing me down. Never do that to me."
"I only laugh with people," Iolaus said with a grin. "It's much nicer that way." He smiled at Ares. "Can we continue to take up space?"
"Sure," Ares said calmly, waving a hand. "Put him back in bed." He watched the new couple walk away, then looked up at the ceiling. "Okay you two, that was cute and touching, but really."
Aphrodite and Joxer appeared, grinning identical grins. "But it was necessary," she told him. "They deserve each other."
Joxer nodded. "He makes my brother happy and calmer. I'd do anything to see my brother happy." He continued to smile as he looked at Hercules. "Get between them and you're going to deal with me. My family will always come first." Zeus's mouth opened. "Try it. I know what you did last month with that blonde. She's begged me for justice to make you take the child when it's born." He faded out.
Aphrodite giggled. "That was *so* cute," she told Ares. She looked down the hallway. "Watch them for me, 'kay? I think we're going to see great things from those two." She disappeared in a flash of light.
Zeus looked at Hercules. "It looks like you've lost him, son."
"Bet me," Hercules said, starting toward the hallway. Ares blocked his path. "Let me go," he snarled. "You can't expect me to believe that Iolaus would do that on his own."
Ares sat down on his throne. "Ask Zeus, he can tell you none of us manipulated them. I think Joxer and Aphrodite showed them what they wanted, but no one messed with them beyond that." He looked at his father. "Well?"
"He's right," Zeus sighed. "Son, he's made his choice and it's not you. You have Xena, you don't need him. She fights much better than the young man ever will."
"That's not the point!" Hercules shouted.
"No, the point would be that someone did something you don't like and now you're acting childish," Ares noted calmly. Hercules growled at him and took a step toward him. "Try it," he warned. "If you attack me, I can fight back and kill you."
"Ares," Zeus warned.
"No. If he attacks me again, I'm going to defend myself. I won't go down and pretend to lose to him anymore, Zeus. If you want to keep him from dying, keep him from attacking people for no reason. Me, Iolaus, or Jett. Jett will kill him and have fun doing it. Iolaus will defend Jett, and I will defend myself." He stood up. "Leave my temple, Hercules, and never enter one again. They're closed to you." He disappeared, but made sure the hallway was still blocked off.
Zeus looked at his favorite son. He hadn't known his son was so high-strung and pushy. Maybe he needed to pay more attention to him. "I can't remove that, Hercules. He can refuse you entrance to his temples and he has the right to defend himself. Go back to Xena, son, and be happy with her." He faded out slowly.
Hercules huffed and left the temple, slamming the door hard enough to break it free from the hinges and crack it down the center. No one did this to him! He would get Iolaus back, one way or another.
Inside the temple, Jett watched as his friend's former partner left in a huff. He was already making plans. All he needed was a little bit of help from an older friend. "Hermes," he whispered. "Can I have your son?"
Iolaus walked the priestess through the marketplace, carrying her purchases for her. He respected her a lot. She knew a lot of things, and was willing to share them. She even told great stories about her naughty older days. He felt a hand brush his vest and turned, staring at his friend. "Autolycus?" he asked. The King of Thieves nodded and handed back the dagger he had lifted from him. "What are you doing here?"
"I heard a rumor about you and Jett taking refuge in Ares' temple," he said, putting arm around the priestess's shoulder. She elbowed him hard. "Sorry, sister."
She laughed. "I am not your sister," she told him. "As a matter of fact, I'm more than old enough to be your mother. Save your smoothness for the younger women and the barmaids." She smiled at Iolaus. "Should I plan on another visitor for a few days?"
"Please," he agreed with a smile. "He tells great stories that have nothing to do with the truth."
Autolycus frowned at him. "They do so."
"Ha! I was there during some of them and I don't ever remember you breaking us all out of jail."
She laughed. "I can tell this will be fun. One more stop then we're heading home, young man. You may walk with us." She led the way to the herb stall, picking out what they would need to help Jett.
Autolycus pulled Iolaus a few feet away. "I heard you were nursing Jett. How is he?"
"His burns aren't infected anymore, but we're having to do some painful cleaning every day to keep them that way. Aphrodite got him good."
"Aphrodite got him? I heard it was Xena."
"No, Aphrodite was going for her and she used Jett as a shield. Aphrodite's been great though," he admitted with a grin. "She's helped me a lot."
Autolycus squeezed Iolaus' arm. "I heard about the fight too, Hermes told me."
"Does anyone not know?"
"As far as I know, it hasn't made the bar rounds," he said lightly. Iolaus frowned at him. "Sorry, bad joke. But you really left Hercules?" Iolaus nodded. "What did he do?"
"I thought you had heard."
"I heard that he yelled at you because of who you were sleeping with... someone other than him."
Iolaus laughed. "I never slept with Hercules. He yelled at me because he caught me with a man. And I won't put up with it anymore." He looked in the direction of the temple.
Autolycus' mouth fell open. "You and Jett?" he breathed. Iolaus looked at him again and nodded slowly. "You two are going to kill each other."
"Actually, he understands me," Iolaus said with a shrug. "Come on, she's almost done and he'll be waking up soon." The thief followed him back to the stall and Iolaus took the bag of herbs. "It's smaller this time?"
"He's nearly healed. He's scarring over." She patted him on the hand as she took his arm to steady herself. "Come along, young man, we'll see how your friend is feeling today." She walked slowly back toward the track. She was feeling every bit of her age today. As they walked back, she listened to the rakish young man's hilarious story about the Hestian Virgins and a gemstone.
Autolycus tapped on Jett's door and walked inside, closing it behind him. "You called?" he asked quietly.
Jett looked over at him. "Hercules is going to try something to get Iolaus back," he said.
"Iolaus can protect himself."
Jett pushed himself up until he was sitting, with a little help from his friend. "He's blind to it. He thinks it's settled and it's not. Hercules is looking for vengeance because his prejudice was shoved in his face. I watched him leave and he'll be coming back."
Autolycus sat on the foot of the bed. "What do you want me to do about it?"
Jett gave him a grim look. "Until I'm better, I can't protect him."
"Good point, but I'm not that great of a fighter."
Jett smiled. "No, but you do awfully good at sneaking into windows and leaving presents," he told him. Autolycus smiled and nodded for him to go on. "I'd like to do something like that, just enough to warn him off. I need you to stay around until we can disappear again too."
"I'm your man," the King of Thieves agreed. "How long?"
"Maybe two more weeks. Oh, and if you want to help, Iolaus has been fixing up the old temple."
Autolycus looked shocked. "You want me to do manual labor?"
Iolaus tapped on the door and walked in, shaking his head. "How would he ever live down the ruin of his reputation," he said dryly. He smiled at the pair of them. "He won't be coming back. He left the town."
"Good, but I still don't trust him," Jett told him. Iolaus rolled his eyes. "You know what I think."
"Yeah, and I agree his feelings are hurt, but he's not vindictive."
"Ha!" Autolycus said in derision. "He's shoved my job in my face plenty of times when I've shown him up. I'm surprised you got to walk away." He stood up. "Tell me what you want put in there." He nodded at Jett. "You hurt him and he'll come crying to me," he warned.
"I didn't know you cared," Jett said snidely.
"It's appreciation for another person at the top of his profession," Autolycus said with a smirk. He left them alone.
Iolaus slid onto the bed next to Jett, giving him a hug. "It'll be fine. He won't come for me."
"Do you remember that night in the woods?" Jett asked, running his fingers over the back of Iolaus' neck. His friend nodded. "Wasn't I right then?" Iolaus nodded again and shivered because of the fingers. "I'm right again. He will try something, but it might take him a while. Right now, he's off licking his wounds and convincing himself he's more upset, that he has to do something about you betraying him." Iolaus looked up at him. "You'll see, I'm almost always right."
"You're so modest," Iolaus teased.
Jett smiled. "Yeah, I am, aren't I."
"What were you wrong about?"
"Joxer not doing anything with his life."
"That took all of us by surprise so don't feel bad."
"I don't, but I decided I should watch important people harder." He teased the back of his future lover's neck again. "I think I'll keep you chained to the house for a while."
Iolaus smiled. Jett thought he was important. He wasn't a sidekick to Jett. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He yawned. "I think I'll nap again." He grabbed Iolaus when he tried to move. "Where do you think you're going?"
"You said you wanted to nap."
"And you can't stay here why?"
"Because you can't sleep with someone else in the room," Iolaus offered. Jett shook his head. "You always wake up when I walk in."
"True, but if you're already in here, then it's all good. I can sleep with you curled up around me. It's ...nice. Eww, did I just say that," he sighed. Iolaus nodded, smiling happily. "Well, it is, even though I don't *ever* use that word."
"I won't expect to hear it from you," Iolaus told him as he helped him get comfortable. "Are you sure?"
"If you move, I'll have to get up and stalk you all over the temple until I manage to snare you. Then I'd have to get mean and make you pay." He gave him a short kiss. "I'd get you horny and then fall asleep on you."
Iolaus looked grave. "That would be a horrible punishment," he agreed. Then he burst out laughing. "You're so bad."
"Thank you," Jett said smugly. His eyes started to drift shut. "Stay or else."
Iolaus snuggled in. "I'll stay just so you don't have to hunt me down."
When Autolycus came to call them for dinner, he found both men sleeping and both of them looking like they were peaceful, something he hadn't seen in either of them before.
Iolaus and Jett turned to wave at the priestess, then continued down the path to the village. They had agreed to catch a ship there and head back to Corinth. They both had roots in the area and wanted to settle down near there. Plus, there were a lot of friends in the area for both of them, in case Hercules did something. They entered the village and headed for the docks, stopping only to get some food for the three-day trip. Jett let Iolaus haggle for their passage, he was better at it. Besides, Jett had to work on keeping his stomach settled, he hated being in a boat. He looked around, frowning when he saw a few sailors looking him over. He nudged Iolaus, nodding at the people watching them.
"They're fine," Iolaus said quietly. "Kill them if they attack, not before." He smiled, then turned back to the Captain. "My friend is getting over burns, I'm taking him back to his house. I'll be the one working."
The captain looked him over. "Just space to sleep?"
"Yeah, we've got our own food," Iolaus told him. "We won't impose on the crew and I've done the work before."
The captain nodded. "Fine. You can have a corner of the hold." He looked Jett over again. "He looks strong enough."
Jett turned slight and pulled up his shirt, showing off the new scars. "I was released from Ares' temple this morning."
"Oh, you're *him*," the captain said with a smirk. "We heard about you. Brother's the new God of Justice?" Jett nodded, looking grim. "Not a problem then. Heard your brother's fair." He shook hands with Iolaus. "Better get on board. Those lot over there look hostile."
Iolaus took Jett's hand. "They usually are," he agreed. He led Jett down to the hold and settled him onto a small bed of their traveling clothes. "Stay down here, you shouldn't get too sick on this journey, we're staying near the coast."
"Where will you be?"
"Working with the crew," Iolaus said with a smile. "Doing the rigging mostly, that's what I agreed to since the captain just lost his rigging person." He winked. "You sleep, we'll be off at tide." He walked away, going to help get the ship ready to leave. The faster they left, the easier they would get away from Hercules. He'd tell Jett later that they were getting off at a different port. He agreed, Hercules was going to do something so they were going directly to Corinth to visit an old friend and an ally.
Jett looked up as one of the crew walked up to where he was lying. "What?" he asked quietly. Everyone else was sleeping around them.
"Are you an assassin?" the crewman asked, sitting next to him. Jett nodded. "Still?"
"It depends on how much I heal. I'm getting over burns."
"Oh." The man nodded. "How did you get into it? I'm askin' because my brother thinks he wants to be one."
"He can either find a teacher and apprentice himself, or there's a small school over near Rome he can attend. I wouldn't recommend starting off from scratch." The man's mouth opened. "My master taught me a lot of things that have helped me in my job that I never thought were necessary. Things like politics and thieving. It's actually a very intricate field." And if he could he'd discourage this guy's brother; a smaller field was always better. Fees were higher when it was the elite doing the job. "I'd suggest he find a teacher and apprentice himself. You'll learn a lot more about style that way."
"Every one of us does things differently. Some of us have specific methods we use. Some of us leave certain things as a trademark. With a master, you're obligated to pick up on his trademark and make it your own. It saves a lot of fumbling to gain recognition within the field. Your reputation is everything to an assassin."
The crewman nodded. "I never thought of that. I'll tell him next time I write." He smiled, showing off three missing teeth. "Are you going back?"
"Like I said, it depends on how well I finish healing. I can't climb right now and if the scars continue to hurt, it might not ever get better."
"Would you take on a student?"
Jett thought about it. He had no desire to teach, but he knew he had a lot of pass on. "I'd think about it, but it would be my first student so I'd be very cautious. My own master is still living, he's Argamethanon in Syria. You can tell your brother to write him, maybe he's taking on a student."
The crewman laughed. "You don't think Iolaus will let you?"
Jett grimaced. He hadn't even considered that. This living together stuff was going to take some getting used to. "I don't know. I never talked about it with him."
Iolaus walked up behind them. "I wouldn't be opposed to it. You have the right to pass on your skills." He sat down next to Jett. "Maybe, if we end up with a child somehow, you'll teach them to do it, but to be ethical in who they choose."
"Just to take out warlords and tyrants?" Jett suggested with a smile. Iolaus nodded. "You're serious?"
"Very. There's been plenty of tyrants that people have tried to have killed. I've helped bring down a few of them myself. If there was an assassin who specialized in that area, with a very strong sense of ethics, then they could make a lot of money."
"And it would be an unused speciality," Jett agreed, thinking about it. He paused. "Children?"
Iolaus blushed. "I've always wanted a kid, Jett. But I won't push it."
"Hey, knock up some woman and bring one home, but you're taking care of it," Jett told him seriously. "I will not change a diaper."
Iolaus nudged him. "I won't make you change diapers," he promised. "But if the kid wants to grow up like you, then you have to give it ethics lessons. And lessons in logic."
Jett shrugged. "Fine." He smiled suddenly. "If you do, can we not have a little girl?" Iolaus nudged him again. "Little girls are complicated creatures. My sister showed me that I never want to have a daughter."
"You have a sister?" Iolaus asked.
"Had. She died when she was eight of a fever. Father was not happy, she was a better fighter than we were."
"Older or younger?" the crewmember asked.
"Younger by three years. She was more insane than Joxer and Jace and tougher than me." The guy shuddered and moved on.
"I didn't know that," Iolaus said, resting against his side. "Joxer never mentioned her."
"Joxer *adored* her, she was like a doll to him. He was devastated when she died. He tried to leap on top of the coffin and be buried with her." He took Iolaus' hand. "It took Father, Mother, and Jace to pull him off. He never talks about her." He squeezed the hand. "So no daughters if we can help it, okay?"
"I think a daughter would be wonderful," Iolaus said with a naughty grin. "A little hellion to run us ragged and make us pray for a sex change?"
Jett snickered. "I have no doubt I'd start the day she was born. Boys are simpler."
"But more trouble," Iolaus pointed out.
"Exactly, that's why I don't want any. No child is easy. I'd prefer an easy life."
Iolaus nodded. "Okay. If it happens, it does."
"If it happens, it does," Jett agreed. He saw the look of sadness and almost gave in, but he really didn't like children. He hadn't liked being one, much less raising one. But maybe, in time, he would let Iolaus wear him down about it. And if they did have one, he could teach it to do his job. That was always a plus. The kid wouldn't be one of those idiots who bragged and they would be very well trained. They would become a credit to his career. Maybe he could stand that. Sometime far in the future. He noticed Iolaus had fallen asleep on his shoulder and moved carefully to lay them both down. His future lover had worked very hard today.
Jett stumbled up onto the deck, looking out at the coastline. "I thought we were landing today," he asked Iolaus, who had seen him and was walking toward him.
"Later today," Iolaus said with a smile. "In Corinth itself."
"Ooh," Jett said with mock awe. "Going to visit someone important?"
"The King?" Jett asked. Iolaus nodded. "You know the King of Corinth?"
"And the last one too," Iolaus pointed out. "But we're going to talk with Iphicles because he hates his brother and the pushiness he epitomizes."
"Who's his brother?" Jett asked calmly.
"Ah." Jett nodded. "Fine. Can I stay at an inn while you guys talk?"
"No, but you can visit the healers at the castle while we talk," he said with a smile.
"That rigging's not going up by itself," the captain called.
"Going," Iolaus called back. He gave Jett a short kiss and hurried away to put up the rigging so the sails could go back up.
Jett leaned against the railing, watching his lover work. He slid down the railing when he realized he was in the way, continuing to watch his future lover work. He was really very quick, it was stunning. Iolaus would have made an excellent assassin, ethics and all. He smiled as the captain walked up to him. "Can I stay here for a bit?"
"Sure," he said happily. "Too bad you're getting off today. I'd like two more like Iolaus on full time." He nodded at Jett's chest. "How are you feeling?"
"Stiff and sore. The scars don't stretch and it still hurts," he said in a bland voice. He didn't know this guy and wouldn't ever be seeing him again. Plus, he was going into hiding, it would be fine.
"You don't remember me, do you?" Jett shook his head. "I'm the student who left a few weeks after you got to Master's house."
"Oh." Jett nodded. "And you're on this ship?" he asked with a frown. Coincidences weren't usually a good thing in his line of work.
The captain shrugged. "I like the sea better, though some of the training is still very useful." He smiled. "Retiring?"
"Probably. I can't work like this. I can't even climb right now." He sighed. It was odd, he had run into three other students of his teacher recently, and two of them had died right afterward. "Did you hear about the two that came after me?"
"I heard both were killed. One was caught and the other died in an accident."
"An accident with a hero," Jett agreed. "It's odd, most of us have died already. I think I'm the longest lasting so far of all of us."
The captain shrugged. "I only lasted about three kills. I like the sea more." He smiled as the sails finished rising. "Yeah, I'd like two more like Iolaus all the time." He looked at Jett. "Protect the little guy. There's plenty of us who would love to get him to get back at his partner."
"He and Hercules split because Hercules became an ass. The hero is with Xena now."
"Oh, really?" he asked with a smile. "I'll be sure to pass that on." He clapped Jett on the shoulder. "Be safe, you'll need it." He walked away, going to check on the navigator.
Iolaus slid down the mast and came jogging back. "Have a good talk?"
Jett nodded. "He trained with my teacher too." He took Iolaus' hand to hold. "We really have to go to the castle?" Iolaus nodded. "We can't have this meeting at a tavern?"
"No," Iolaus sighed. He nudged Jett lightly. "Iphicles can't go into a tavern, people mob him and start to complain about stuff he doesn't have any control over. The last time he was in a tavern, a guy asked him to stop his daughter's marriage to a tailor because he wanted her to marry a farmer, but *his* father had decided that she was to marry the tailor." Jett snickered. "We weren't even in Corinth, and the guy wasn't Corinthian."
"Ok," Jett agreed. "No taverns then. The garden?"
"You don't like the castle?"
"It's big and I won't know all the exits."
"Oh." Iolaus shrugged. "I know most of them. Jason and I used to sneak out to meet women through them all the time." Jett looked at him, giving him an incredulous look. "What?" he asked innocently.
"You used to go whoring with the former king of Corinth?"
Iolaus nodded. "We went to the same training academy. The three of us were best friends. As a matter of fact, Jason married Hercules' mother a few years before she died. Made her really happy too." He squeezed the hand in his. "Don't worry, no parties this time."
"There had better not be," Jett told him. "I'd probably run into someone who hired me and then I'd have to defend myself against them."
"That would be a party mood breaker," Iolaus agreed with a smile. "Just a few more hours and then we'll start for the farm."
"Do you have a farm?"
"Yeah, but I've never done anything with it. There's a small one room building on it, but nothing else."
"So, you'll be building more buildings?" Jett asked. Iolaus nodded. "That's cool. I might help." Iolaus pinched him with his free hand. "Okay," he sighed. "I'll help you build stuff."
"Good. I'm sure we can con Jason into helping too. He probably needs something to do." He winked. "You'll like Jason. He's a great guy."
"If you say so." Jett gave the hand another squeeze. He was starting to feel seasick. He leaned over the railing and threw up.
"Eww," Iolaus told him. "Just a few more hours," he soothed, rubbing Jett's back. His hand was brushed off. "Okay, I won't make you feel better. It's not like I know anything about the pressure points in your back that would make you less nauseous." Jett glared at him so he smiled. "What?" he asked innocently.
"Not in front of people."
"Okay." Iolaus turned and looked up at the sails, letting him get sick in private. This was going to be an interesting relationship.
Iphicles looked up from the map he was studying, giving them a smile. "Iolaus, what do you think about this line?" he asked, pointing at one line of warriors.
Iolaus walked over and frowned at the map. "Another war?"
"We're about to be attacked."
Iolaus pointed at a small ridge. "What about putting heavy weapons up there? It'd save foot soldiers for a more defensible position."
"Here," Jett added, pointing at a small pass into Corinthian lands. "A small troop can hold that."
Iphicles looked up at him. "You're Jett?" Jett nodded. "Thank you. I didn't realize assassins knew about large scale troop movement."
"My father was, and is, a warlord."
"Oh." Iphicles smiled. "Even better." He clapped Iolaus on the back. "Keep him safe, I'd hate to have to hunt you down and kill you if something happened to Iolaus."
Jett nodded. "Not an issue. Can you stop your brother?"
"Hopefully he won't show up and tell me I can't defend my borders," Iphicles snorted. He looked at Iolaus, who blushed. "At least you're standing up to him now."
Iolaus nodded. "Now. I am sorry about that incident."
"Not an issue as your mate said." He smiled at them both. "So, what can I do to help you stop the rampaging idiot?"
Jett coughed. "You don't like him?"
"At all," Iphicles agreed. "He's self-righteous. He actually told me once that I should cheat on my wife to have a son."
Iolaus opened his mouth, then shook his head. "I'm not even touching that. I would have screamed and thrown a fit."
"I had him thrown out of Corinth with instructions to keep him out if it wasn't going to endanger lives." He led them to a small table, watching how Jett sat. "The rumors are true? You got injured that badly?"
"Aphrodite was aiming for Xena and got me instead," Jett told him. "I'm mostly healed."
"But I'd like the castle healers to check on him. It's been nearly a week since anyone looked at the burns," Iolaus added.
"I can do that," Iphicles agreed. He reached over and pulled on a cord, ringing a bell somewhere. A female servant came running. "Would you get my personal physician in here to look at Lord Jett?" he asked. She nodded and backed out of the room, running to do as he had ordered. "You'll like her, she's very nice. Has cold hands, but I think that's a healer trait. Something that they identify them with at birth."
Iolaus laughed. "Maybe. I've only met two healers that didn't have cold hands. And one of them was Xena."
"Not true healers then," a woman said as she entered the room. She bowed to Iphicles. "Is your stomach bothering you again, my Lord?"
"No, nothing of the sort. This is Iolaus and his mate Jett. Jett has some severe burns that need looked at."
"Of course, my Lord. If Lord Jett will come with me?" she asked. He stood up and walked away with her. "How long ago were you burned?"
"Nearly two months now. They're scarred over."
"Good." She led him into a room and closed the door. "If you'd disrobe, I'll look them over for you." She heard something heavy hitting the bed and looked down at the pair of daggers. "Ah, you're him," she said with a smile. "Lord Apollo said I might be seeing you soon." She sat down in a chair, watching him get undressed.
In the main audience chamber, Iphicles was grilling Iolaus about his new relationship and his plans. These two were the talk of the temples. Joxer had bragged about the couple to anyone who would listen. Ares had even put forward his protection for Jett since he was retired.
Jason met Iolaus and Jett at the gate. "Not tonight," he said quietly. "Go away now."
"He's here?" Jett asked. Jason nodded. "Then we'll be at Iolaus' house." He pulled his lover away. He wasn't ready for a battle with Hercules yet.
"He won't do anything in front of Jason," Iolaus complained.
Jason nodded. "Yes, he will. He asked me to help." He pointed at the road. "Go cross country," he said with a wink. He headed back into the house, slamming the door.
Iolaus showed Jett the path he used to come over from his farm. "Hopefully Hercules doesn't know about this one," he said quietly. They snuck off into the woods. Halfway through, there was a cave they had to pass through. As soon as they stepped into the entry of the cave, they were transported to a temple. Joxer was sitting on a throne smiling at them. "Hi," Iolaus said. "You wanted to see us?"
"No, I wanted to save you. Jett, Hercules wants you dead. Ares putting his protection on you just made it a firmer desire." He closed the portal behind them. "I just figured out how to do that," he said happily, grinning at them.
Jett shook his head. "Always the goof," he sighed.
Joxer nodded. "And I'm happier this way. Just like you are with him." He slid off his throne and walked over to them. "You're in my mortal temple in Thebes, I'll send you home as soon as it's clear."
"As long as there's no more boats," Jett told him.
"No, no boats, just a portal." He led them back to a small room, sitting them down at a table. "Eat, you guys. I'll be right back. Got a call." He disappeared in a flash of light.
Jett picked up a pheasant leg. "You know kings and I know a God or two," he said with a smile.
"And they're all strange," Iolaus agreed. Jett nodded. "You really didn't like Iphicles?"
"I liked him quite a lot when he hired me, but now that he's a king he's a little more respectable." He took a bite of the leg, chewing slowly. "We should compare notes about friends. We might know more of the same people."
Iolaus tossed his napkin at him. "I doubt we know them for the same reasons, Jett. If you like him, why didn't you want to see him?"
"Because assassins don't form long-term bonds with our employers. Most of the time, the employers would like us to disappear so we can't tell anyone about what they hired us to do." He pointed his pheasant leg at his friend. "I always have to worry that one of them will try to kill me to keep their secrets."
"It's happened before?"
"And then the woman tried to hire me again a few months later," Jett added with a faint grin. "It's the nature of the business." He took another bite. "Eat."
"I'm eating," Iolaus said, picking up some of the meat for himself. He preferred breast meat personally. "This was really nice of your brother."
"We love each other, even though I'm going to get him one of these days."
"You can try," Joxer teased as he reappeared. "All done. Hercules just asked me to get you for betraying him. I pointed out that you didn't betray him by not traveling with him anymore. He's presently throwing a fit and trying to destroy Jason's house."
"I guess we need to help him rebuild," Iolaus sighed.
Jett shook his head. "Let Hercules do it. He did the damage." Iolaus shook his head. "Then make him do it. I'm sure Jason can guilt-trip him into it."
Hades appeared, frowning at Iolaus. "Do you know how many people your partner has sent to me recently." The eating knife fell from Iolaus' hand.
"Jason?" Joxer asked with a frown.
"No, not yet. He's injured but living. Xena's taking care of him."
"I'm sending someone to arrest him," Joxer sighed. "I've had enough." He blinked and looked up at the ceiling, then smiled at Iolaus. "Iphicles had you followed. Some of his people just arrested them and called for reinforcements from the town. They'll wait to see if Jason wakes up to charge him." Iolaus nodded but he didn't look happy.
Jett reached over and touched him. "Even I'm not immune to the law," he said quietly. Iolaus looked over at him. "Hercules might be immortal, but he's not immune to the law either. If the law applies to everyone, it has to apply to him too."
Iolaus gave him a weak smile. "You make sense, but it still hurts." He looked at Hades. "Is Jason dying?"
"Not this year," Hades said with a smile. "Are you two happy?" The couple nods. "Then I won't be seeing you anytime soon?"
"Not unless Hercules gets him," Jett told him.
Hades waved a hand. "In that case, I'll send him back. The big oaf will probably come down looking for him if that happens." He smiled at Joxer. "I received your judged one today. That was cruel, but useful. Can I steal that idea?"
"Sure," Joxer said happily. "I thought it fitting."
"What happened?" Jett asked.
"A man beat his wife during labor because she woke him up. So he felt everything that she did; each pain, each push, and the ending of her life when he killed her. It killed him." Jett smiled at him. "I thought it fitting when I saw how it was going to turn out."
Hades nodded. "It'd work for a few of the people I have waiting for punishment too." He smiled as he faded.
"That was a thought worthy of me," Jett said happily. "Good job."
"I was thinking of you when I did it," Joxer told him. "I thought you might approve."
"What about the baby?" Iolaus asked.
"Her sister has him. She was in the living room waiting on the birth and volunteered to take care of the child." He patted Iolaus on the shoulder. "I like seeing my brother happy, Iolaus, and you do that for him. Continue that trend and I'll stay very happy with the both of you." He pulled some meat over onto his plate. "Eat. I can't eat all of this by myself and Ares stood me up." Jett raised an eyebrow. "We have dinner weakly so he can continue to train me in my gifts. We were supposed to have dinner tonight, but he had to go fix something Eris screwed with." He shrugged. "We'll do it tomorrow instead."
"Are you and Ares together?" Iolaus asked.
Joxer smiled sadly and shook his head. "Nope."
"Should I hurt him to make him see that you like him?" Jett offered. Joxer shook his head, but he was smiling. "Are you sure?"
"I don't think I need the help," Ares said as he appeared. He frowned at the mortal couple. "Why are you here?"
"Hercules *convinced* a band of mercenaries to capture them for him," Joxer told him.
"Oh, really?" Ares asked with a cold smile. "And which one were they?"
"That idiot that you told me never to mention in front of you again," Joxer told him. "He hurt Jason when he threw a fit because I removed them from the path of the idiots."
"Good," Ares said coldly. "Maybe they'll do something to him." He sat down at the other end of the table and grabbed the platter of meat to take some for himself. "Discord moved a whole army out of the way of a battle. Apparently there's another army coming to join the war."
Joxer grimaced. "Why? They're in an out-of-the-way area and shouldn't be bothering anyone."
"Because this general wanted to fight," Ares told him. "She did the right thing, he's bloodthirsty and will only muddy the reason for the war."
"Land claims?" Iolaus asked. Ares nodded as he took a bite.
"Again?" Jett asked. "Is this the group over the Scadian mountains?" Ares nodded again. "Why can't they just intermarry and solve that?"
"Because they're too stubborn. Hercules butted us in once and they all but killed us for getting involved."
"It's a war that's gone on so long they don't even remember why it started," Ares told him. "I'm trying to get them to join because there's another battle coming in a few years."
"Will this army make them form into one?"
"Hopefully. Discord and I both suggested that idea. They were fighting it hard, but the new army is three times the size of either individual army. It may work for a while."
"While they're fighting, can you intermarry the families?" Joxer suggested. "It would permanently fuse them."
"They're already intermarrying, that's what started the fighting," Ares told him. "We could try some more, but I can't guarantee that it'll solve the division." He grabbed some vegetables and dumped them onto his plate. "Maybe an outside force is the way to go, only on a more long-term basis."
"Scadia's about to get a new king anyway," Jett told him. "The contract was picked up last month from what I heard." Ares smiled at him. "I don't know who'd take over. One of the religious zealots that they breed up there paid for it."
"That's a good thing to know," Ares told him. "I can build on that." He looked at Joxer. "Have you heard anything from these zealots?"
Joxer shook his head. "Not a thing, but they don't believe in us anyway. The main God up there is some sort of raccoon or something like that." Ares snorted. "Apparently it's a raccoon that showed them the way to their present homes. When he died, they turned his body into a gold statue and built a temple around it."
"Wonderful," Ares purred. "I think I can work with that too."
"You might want to think twice about taking down the temple," Iolaus told him. "They're willing to let everything but that be destroyed. They will fight over their raccoon more fiercely than their own children. We stopped a war band from taking them over. They literally guarded the temple and let the warriors take their children."
Ares grimaced. "I'll look that fight up. If they're that bad, maybe they need to find a new raccoon to take them to a new home."
Jett chuckled. "Can you do that?" Ares nodded. "That would be fun to watch."
"You'll still probably be here," Joxer told him. "Do you want me to deal with the mercenaries?"
"No, let Iphicles do it. He's usually quite effective."
"He's working on stopping an invasion," Iolaus told him.
"Oh, really?" Iolaus nodded. "In the mountains?" Iolaus and Jett both nodded. "Then I might pop in on him tomorrow and discuss his plans. I don't know where that army came from but I never allowed it to happen." He stuffed his mouth with a roll. "Eat," he said through it.
Iolaus and Jett both ate a bite of dinner. This was kind of fun, having a normal dinner with the Gods. It was never like this with Hercules around.
*** Ten Years Later ***
Iolaus walked into the prison that was holding Hercules for his assault, giving the guards around his former friend a smile. "Hey," he said as he walked closer to the cell. "How are you doing?" He had come each month to check on Hercules.
"Fine," Hercules ground out. He hated how Iolaus taunted him.
"I came to give you good news. Aphrodite has granted our prayers to give us children." He smiled brightly. "She's doing a joining ceremony tonight."
"What's a joining ceremony?" one of the guards asked. He really liked this guy, he was calm and annoyed the overstuffed shit in the cell.
"She'll take part of each of us and create a child from it," Iolaus told him. "Jett's asked that it be a boy but she said she can't promise it." He smiled brighter. "She understands how much it means to us to have a child that's ours and agreed to help us. She and Apollo will be doing it tonight in town." He looked at Hercules again. "I'm having the family I always wanted," he told him.
"I'm happy for you," Hercules grunted, not meaning a word of it. "Will it grow up and kill people too?"
"No, she's taking our light side first. If we decide to have more, she'll have to take a more balanced approach, so one of them would end up like their other father."
"Other father?" the guard asked.
"My husband is Jett, former assassin," Iolaus said proudly.
"Wow. I heard of him. He was great in his day." He rubbed his forehead. "Why did he quit?"
"He got injured. We got together because I nursed him back to health." He smiled at Hercules again. "I'll send up a prayer for you tonight," he said, then he walked away.
The guard smiled at Hercules. "That's really nice of Aphrodite. She must favor them greatly."
"They'll still die one day," Hercules said, laying down so he didn't have to look at his jailors anymore.
The guard smiled. He might have to go offer a prayer to Aphrodite himself about this. Not only was it very sweet of her, but it annoyed the git in the cell to no end.
*** Ten More Years ***
Joxer looked down at his nieces and nephews. Their eldest daughter was now ten and more than strong enough to beat her Uncle Hercules if he showed up after he was released. Their parents were off at the market so he had dropped by. He looked up with a smile for his mate, Ares. "They're beautiful children," he told him.
"You want one?" Ares asked. Joxer shook his head. "Are you sure?"
"No, I've decided to adopt them as my own," Joxer told him, wrapping an arm around Ares' waist. Ares had mellowed over the years they had been together. It wouldn't have even occurred to him to make that offer twenty years ago. He looked over as the door opened and Iolaus limped in. "Is your knee bothering you again?" he asked, getting up so Iolaus could have the warm chair.
"Like it does every year around this time." He smiled. "Jett stopped to make an offering to Aphrodite. He'll be here soon." As soon as he sat down, their children scrambled over to hug him. "Hi, guys. I left the bags outside." Everyone but their youngest went out to carry things in. She was two and refused to do anything that would involve leaving her daddy alone. They had to sneak off if they wanted to leave the house without her. He was sure, when he and Jett died sometime soon, she would be sitting right beside him. Their other children would be standing around, but she would be sitting on his chest. He looked at Joxer. "What's going on?"
"Hercules gets out today," Ares told him.
"Oh." He kissed his daughter on the head and pushed her off his lap. "Go watch for the daddy." She scampered to the window to watch for him. "And?"
"He's still focused on making you die," Joxer told him. Iolaus nodded. "We're worried."
"If it's my time, then it is," Iolaus reminded him. He had never wanted to be immortal. He was happy with his life and if Jett was going to die, so was he. Hopefully they'd end up somewhere near the same spot in Tartarus.
"Elysia," Ares corrected. Iolaus opened his mouth. "I know, but Jett's made up for most of the bad things he's done." He patted the eight-year-old boy's head. "Just by having this one."
Iolaus laughed. "As long as he gets ethics as well as fighting, Ares."
"You wouldn't mind if I made him a favored warrior?" Ares asked.
Iolaus shrugged. "I've seen what's going on. It'll take a strong warrior to stop some of it. And our first son is nothing if not strong willed." The little boy grinned at him for it. "So yeah, you can have him once we pass on."
Ares smiled. "Thank you."
"Hey, realism is my thing," Iolaus reminded him. He started to get up and go help the kids put up the food, but Joxer pushed him back down. "I'm fine."
"Good, but you can also rest. Jett's almost here." Joxer walked into the kitchen to help put things up.
Ares walked outside to talk to the former assassin. He was training the youngest, and the second youngest part of the time, to follow in his footsteps. It wasn't a secret that the couple was going to die soon, and plans had to be made about the children. Joxer had volunteered them to help, but he had also picked out an alternate mother for the children. Now they had to get the couple to agree.