by Erin
July 2007

The fence Iolaus and Hercules had put up the year before was mostly half-burnt kindling now; one of Ares' fireballs had taken it out early on. The north side of the house was more than a little singed and the edge of the roof still smoldered beneath the steadily falling rain. The barn had a gaping hole in one side where Ares had gone flying through it, and another where he'd kicked his way back out. The stone wall was missing an entire six inches off the top where Hercules had gone flying clear across it. The path of destruction wound its way from one side of Alcmene's place to the other and back again, and if the fighting had gone on much longer, there might not have been anything left standing.

But there hadn't been a single show of godly power for some time. The air was filled with strained grunts of exertion, the meaty sound of flesh impacting flesh. The full-out brawl had turned into something that resembled a wrestling match more than an actual fight.

They rolled across the rain-slicked grass, hands sliding across wet skin, grappling for leverage. Leather ripped under grasping fingers; Hercules had already lost his vest and Ares' was rent straight down the back. He shoved away, out of Hercules' grasp just long enough to shrug off the ruined leather, then balled up his fist and swung at Hercules -- who caught it, yanked him forward. They rolled again and this time Hercules came out on top, soaked hair plastered to his face as he leaned in close, pressing his arm down across Ares' throat.

Choking, Ares bared his teeth, hands clawing at Hercules' arm, gripping his gauntlets, ripping them away but failing to move Hercules' arm even an inch. Hercules' smile was triumphant -- but it disappeared with a grunt of pain when Ares' knee caught him in the side and flipped them over. Sprawled beneath Ares now, the weight of him pressing Hercules down into the rain softened ground, he had to use that arm to push him back, keep him from closing too much. Ares' hair, heavy with water, fell across his upper arm, stuck to his chest as Ares forced himself closer with a toothy grin, hands sliding around Hercules' neck.

Not letting Ares get that grip, Hercules rolled them again, grabbed at Ares' hands as they moved, yanked at his dripping hair because it was close, grinned at the breathy curse that got him. Ares tried to stop their movement, feet kicking out, heels scrambling at the increasingly muddy ground, but they picked up speed, rolling faster down the rain-slicked incline. His boots caught on something, yanking free with a wet popping sound. There was a squelching splash as they hit the large mud puddle at the bottom of the incline.

Mud covered everything, sliding into everything. Hercules' boots slipped in the mess and finding no traction, he struggled to kick them off, grunting as the left stuck and Ares' elbow slammed into his side. Finally kicking free of the boot, he dug into the mud with his toes and found leverage enough to swing his fist into Ares' stomach. But the swing cost him his leverage and he slid down hard on top of Ares, nose to muddy chest. Gasping for air at the impact, Ares still made a grab for him, found his hair, and used it to flip him over. Mud splattered high around them.

Hercules couldn't get a knee up in time before Ares landed on him, knocking the breath out of him, but not stopping all movement. Things were too wet, too slick with rain and mud for Ares to keep him pinned like that. He wiggled half way out from under him despite Ares' hand, sliding over his arm and chest, trying to grip and hold. But Hercules did find something to grip. One hand sliding down Ares' back, his fingers bumped up against Ares' belt, and he worked his fingers beneath it, grabbed it, and yanked hard.

It pulled Ares right off of him, sent him sprawling to the side -- minus his belt and half the back of his pants. Pushing himself up onto his elbows, rain and mud dripping down his face, Ares snarled wordlessly, then launched himself right back at Hercules. There wasn't enough time to do more than drop the belt and get his hands up, mud dripping between his fingers, and then Ares was on him again. Hercules grunted at the impact but managed to hold him off. He tried to use his own weight to roll them over, but Ares' leg slid between his, trapped him, stopped him mid-roll, locked them chest-to-chest, hands grasping and sliding as they strained and writhed against each other.

Iolaus, standing at the top of the incline, barely felt the rain, or the chill of the breeze that worked its way through his soaked clothes. He couldn't seem to spare much attention for anything except...that. Logically, he knew he should go down there and help, do...something to distract Ares, give Hercules a chance to get the upper hand -- that hand that was slipping in the mud, plunging down what was left of the back of Ares' pants. Logic...really wasn't working.

Ripping, the sound of more leather tearing, and it was Hercules' pants that gave way this time, the leather splitting down the back as Ares yanked at the waist, trying to pull Hercules away.

A high-pitched whimper and Iolaus blinked, frowning. That hadn't come from him. Somehow he forced his eyes away, just enough to glance to the side where Strife stood next to him. Strife. Oh, right. He'd forgotten. There actually had been a second part to this fight. At some point. Back in the distant past. Iolaus had taken on Strife, kept him out of Hercules' way, until...until... He didn't remember when that had stopped, only rain and skin and more skin, and he hoped he didn't look too much like Strife, standing there, eyes wide, mouth hanging open even wider.

"Hey, um," somehow Iolaus managed to get the words out through a throat that felt dryer than a desert. "Shouldn't we..." More ripping leather, another whimper from Strife. "Aren't we supposed to be fighting?"

Strife said nothing, didn't take his eyes away from the scene below them. But he did reach out, one finger extended, and poke Iolaus in the arm.

Iolaus looked at his arm a moment, looked at the hand that had dropped back to Strife's side, then reached out himself and poked Strife in the neck, one of the few places actual skin was showing.

"Oh. Ouch. The pain. The pain," Strife said tonelessly, gaze never once leaving the men below them. "You're too strong, Iolaus. You win."

More ripping, rending, and a loud splat as something landed at their feet, mud splattering on both their boots.

Iolaus' hand fell limply to his side as he realized he was staring down at both Ares' and Hercules' pants.

"Works for me," he said, breathlessly.

Strife's only response was another whimper, even higher-pitched this time.

Iolaus could only nod in agreement.