Having His Cake

By Aramis

Set after the episode "Let the Games Begin" and before "If I Had a Hammer"

DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to MCA/Universal and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.

Hercules sighed in mild exasperation as he spied the hunter sitting on the edge of a market table happily munching a cake. He strolled over and demanded, "What do you think you're doing?"

"Playing phaininda! 1 What does it look like?" came the cheeky reply and the blond grinned infuriatingly at him.

"Iolaus, if I've told you once ..." the demigod started only to be interrupted by the middle-aged woman behind the stall.

"What's the matter?" she asked bemused. "Blondie is only trying a sample to see if he likes them."

"He likes them all right. He's never met a cake he didn't like."

"So, what's the problem then?"

"The problem is that people usually sample with the possibility of buying in mind."

"Yes, of course."

"And that wasn't what you had in mind, was it, Iolaus?"

The hunter had the grace to blush, but said, "I was thinking of it, Herc."

"Oh, yes, and what were you going to use for money?"

"I use dinars like everybody else."

"Let me see them." The demigod held out a hand.


"The dinars. Let me see them."

The incorrigible hunter made a show of searching his person and then announced, in a tone of innocent surprise, "I seem to have mislaid my pockets."

The demigod could hardly believe the effrontery. He seized the hunter by a wrist. It was all he could do not to shake him. "Apologise to the lady, Iolaus."

The little blond hesitated, clearly trying to think of some other way out.


"S-Sorry, it was a *very* nice cake. I really would have liked to buy one, but ..."

"Enough!" The demigod turned back to the stallholder. "How much does he owe you?"

"Ten dinars," she replied.

"What? For one cake?"

"No, for several. He sampled more that one sort."

"In other words, he stuffed his horrible, little body."

"Hey, I resent ..."

"Be quiet, Iolaus!" the demigod snapped. He fumbled for his money pouch with his free hand, while keeping a tight grip on his recalcitrant partner. "Here." He handed over the money.

"Thank you. Don't be too hard on him."

"That's good advice, Herc, you should ..."

"Shut up, Iolaus! C'mon!" He started off, nearly jerking the hunter off his feet, totally oblivious to the interested looks he was getting from various villagers as he pulled Iolaus after him. Fortunately, he also missed the wave and grin the hunter was giving the cake-seller behind his back.

Once back in their room he proceeded to scold the hunter. "Iolaus, this has got to stop. You're always scrounging food and drink."

"I was hungry."

"You're always hungry. Anyway, that's not the point. You misled that woman. You never had any intention of buying anything."

"I wanted to."

"Iolaus, you knew you had no money. You *never* have any money."

"I can't help it if I'm impec ... impec ... poor."

"No, but you can help obtaining goods under false pretenses."

"Aw, Herc that's not ..."

"That's exactly what it is, Iolaus. You know taking things without giving anything in return is really stealing."

"But I *do* give something," Iolaus protested.


"Look, Herc, the ladies enjoy me teasing and making up to them. They don't really expect I'm going to pay. They know it's a game, just a bit of fun."



"What about that woman in the market at Corinth?"

"Oh ... her."

"Yes, her I seem to recall her screaming abuse at you."

"But, Herc, that was just an act."

"An act?" Hercules asked in disbelief.

"Yeah, her husband had just turned up and ..."

"And that's *another* reason why you are going to stop. I don't know how you've survived this long. You must have annoyed half the married men in Greece."

"Thank you."

"That was *not* a compliment, Iolaus," the demigod remonstrated.

"It sounded like one," the blond observed, grinning provokingly.

"Look, Iolaus, I'm serious. You are *not* going to continue like this."

"Am I not? How do you propose to stop me?" asked the incorrigible hunter.

Hercules nearly retorted, "I'll tan your backside for you", but fortunately managed to stop himself uttering such an unbelievable threat. He decided to go for a tried and true method of playing on the hunter's conscience. "Iolaus, you know I worry about you. I couldn't stand it if you got hurt or into trouble with the authorities and," he produced his ace, "think how upset my mother would be. You know how much you mean to her."

"That's dirty tactics, Herc."

"But true nonetheless."

"It was only a cake."

"Cakes plural ... and ale and other people's wives, sisters and daughters."

"So I'm not allowed to buy any more cakes. That seems a bit extreme."

"Iolaus, stop trying to twist the argument. Anyway, I doubt if you've ever *bought* a cake in your life."

"What if I get some money?"



"But you hate to work."

"Yeah, but you seem to want me to either slave away or starve."

"I want you to starve??? Who bought you dinner last night and breakfast this morning?"

"I don't know, but I seem to recall the man was more pleasant than you, although you certainly look alike."

"Iolaus!" There was now a definite note of warning in the demigod's voice.

Recognising that he had driven Hercules to a point where he was going to blow his stack, the hunter decided a strategic withdrawal was in order. "Sorry, Herc, I can't stop to talk to you now or I'll be late for work."

Hercules started, "Iolaus, you haven't ..." but the hunter had grabbed his sword and carry-bag and was out of the door before he could add "got a job."

The hunter had a pretty good idea where he might get some work - the blacksmith in a nearby village would probably give him a few hours work if he made up to her. Atalanta was a friend of Hercules and so, although she did not know Iolaus, she would probably be favourably disposed towards him.

In any case, he was keen to meet her. Hercules had casually mentioned her a few months previously, but had said nothing about her major attributes. 'Knowing old Herc he probably didn't notice them,' Iolaus considered, giggling to himself. Little did he know, the lady had actually defeated Hercules in an arm-wrestling match by diverting his attention to certain facets of her anatomy not to be missed, at a crucial stage in the contest. 2

A couple of nights before, three of the locals had described the woman in detail to the interested hunter. The thought of a statuesque, blonde beauty, with rippling muscles and a penchant for skimpy, virtually backless, black leather outfits was very *interesting* indeed.

Since he had gathered his information, he been intending to so persuade Hercules to travel via that village, without mentioning Atalanta of course, and once there he would have ensured he met the lady, so his current move was not a major change in his schemes.

Accordingly, a couple of hour's walk found him outside her forge. He ran one hand through his tousled curls, which was the closest to a combing the mop ever got, and strolled in only to come to an abrupt stop at the delectable sight before him. The lady he was seeking was bending over gathering up some tools from the floor and if anything her clothing was even more revealing than his lascivious imaginings had conjured up. He had great difficulty restraining himself from caressing those tempting buttocks, but knew from both her appearance and reputation, he would be lucky to survive such a foolhardy action.

He cleared his throat. "Ah, excuse me, I'm looking for the blacksmith."

Atalanta stood up and turned around. "I'm the blacksmith," she said, with a certain defensiveness.

Iolaus knew the feeling only too well. Not only did people often question his claim to warrior status, but he had also met the same response from people when the very physical task of blacksmithing was required. No doubt as a female she was used to the same reactions he got because he was small. "Kewl, I hoped it would be you," he said, treating her to one of his dazzling smiles that made his whole face glow.

Had he not been watching closely, he might have missed the almost imperceptible start of surprise she gave on hearing the most unusual response to her occupation. "How can I help you?"

"My name's Iolaus," he said, holding out his hand.

"Atalanta," she replied.

Iolaus was glad he was prepared for the strength in her hand and so managed not to wince. 'She'd give old Herc a run for his money in the muscle department,' he thought approvingly. "Haven't you heard of me?" he asked with a slightly plaintive and carefully judged tone.

"Nope, should I have?"

"Well, we have got a mutual friend, though I wouldn't put it past Herc not to tell you about me. Too much competition for him probably." He fluttered long lashes at her, his beautiful, azure eyes sparkling with mischief.

"Herc?" She looked puzzled. "I don't know anyone of that name."

"Yeah, you do. He reckons you do anyway. Course he might be pretending to impress people. Herc's just my nickname for him. Most people call him Hercules. You might remember him - big guy, straggly, mouse-brown hair..." As he spoke, he ran a hand through his glorious golden curls by way of denigrating contrast.

Atalanta was hard-pressed not to laugh at his impudence. "Of course, I remember him. I know who you are! He *did* mention you." Mention him! How could she not have recognised the name? Hercules was absolutely full of the things *his* friend said and did. If it had been someone other than Hercules talking she would have said he was absolutely besotted and she strongly suspected that rumour was not lying and that the pair had a closer relationship than just friendship. Yet she was not surprised that she had not associated the larger than life hero the demigod constantly spoke about with this pretty, little troublemaker grinning cheekily up at her.

His azure eyes shone with pleasure. "Did he? What did he say?" he questioned eagerly.

"Nothing much," she lied. "I just remember he did mention you once or twice, just in passing."

Iolaus considered that briefly. He was not sure if he ought to be hurt at barely getting a mention or to be relieved that Atalanta was not forewarned and so forearmed against his wiles. However, he decided to be optimistic and go with the later.

"Anyway, how can I help you?" Atalanta asked.

"Well, actually I was wondering ..."


"I was wondering if you had any work I could do. I'm a bit strapped for cash at present."

"Do you know anything about smithing?" she asked, looking doubtfully at his slender form. Sure he was well muscled, but he was so small and pretty that ... She broke off the thought and mentally kicked herself. Here she was indulging in the same kind of prejudice that was so often directed against her.

"Yep, I certainly do!" Iolaus said confidently. "Give me a trial and I'll show you."

Well, Atalanta was not really in need of an assistant, but she was ashamed of her earlier thoughts and so she said, "No need. If you're good enough to keep up with a demigod I'm sure you're good enough for anything."

"I certainly hope so. You name it and I'll try it." He fluttered his indecently long lashes suggestively at her.

Unused to having a man flirt with her, especially after so short an acquaintance, Atalanta blushed and covered her confusion by shoving a hammer at him and saying, "Try this then."

Soon the pair was busily hammering away, Iolaus still managing to talk ninety to the dozen while matching her blow for blow. He was an amusing raconteur and Atalanta found it easy to persuade him to talk about his exploits with Hercules. It was so wonderful to hear about the person that Atalanta had fallen in love with on sight. She had managed to hide that love as she knew what Hercules felt for her was but friendship and as she had some doubts about his sexual interests. However, it was still pleasant to hear about his life, especially from someone else who clearly loved him enough to supply all the details she so wanted to hear without thinking her interest odd. It was abundantly clear that, even while Iolaus poked gentle fun at the demigod, Hercules could have no better friend than the little hunter.

The flirting that went with the constant chatter was also *very* pleasant. The teasing and ready giggle made her unusually light-hearted. Men tended to see her as a threat to their masculinity and often spoke patronizingly or critically to her or, more often, behind her back, but the little blond seemed to be able to accept her both as woman and equal. He made her feel attractive without ever suggesting that she was out of place doing the work she loved and it was a long time since a man had made her feel like that.

It was a hot day and, in an undeclared competition, the pair was going at it literally hammer and tongs. Iolaus tossed his vest aside and flung up one arm to wipe the sweat from his brow. Rivulets were trickling down his body. If he'd been alone he would have discarded his heavy leather pants long before. He surreptitiously loosened his belt and pulled the band of his trousers away from his sticky body.

Without breaking stroke, Atlanta said, with assumed casualness, "Why don't you get rid of those? You'd be more comfortable."

"Good idea!" Without hesitation he toed off his boots and peeled off the damp leathers, leaving himself clad only in wristguards and a small breechclout. Atalanta could not help feasting her eyes on his beautiful body. His skin looked like satin and her hands fair itched to touch him. She ran her tongue unconsciously over her lips. She wondered how she could love the demigod and yet lust, and there was no other word for it, after the little blond.

"That's better!" He winked at her and her heart did a flip. He turned away to get another sword and her gaze fell upon his creamy buttocks, the breechcloth stretched taut between them. It was all she could do not to fling herself upon him. Somehow, she forced herself back to the task at hand.

Half an hour passed. The hunter was surreptitiously watching the blacksmith. He had not missed her reaction to his disrobing and was busy planning his next move. Well aware of how efficacious a little tussle could be in leading to other even more enjoyable physical activities, he casually reached for the water dipper and then flicked some water at her, giggling as he did so.

That was all it took. She reached purposefully for the bucket seeking retaliation and he danced in front of her to intercept her. She grabbed for him, but he laughed and darted out of the forge and into the stable. Abandoning the bucket she followed, knowing that once in there he was trapped as she had put bars on all the windows to prevent intruders.

However, he was nowhere in sight. She glanced hurriedly around and then heard the faintest rustle from the pile of loose hay. Without hesitation she dived into the pile and grasped hold of the wriggling hunter. They rolled backwards and forwards, Atalanta gasping and Iolaus giggling.

She was, he noticed with pleasure, physically stronger than he was. Sure he knew various nasty little tricks that could have resulted in her defeat in a real fight, but he certainly had no wish to use them. *This* was much more fun. It was kind of like being with the Warrior Princess again, but without the element of danger and, more importantly, without the guilt of betraying Hercules.

Indeed, Hercules should be pleased with him as he *had* been working and this lady definitely was single and apparently without annoying male relatives.

Finally, they came to rest with Iolaus flat on his back and Atlanta on top of him, pinning his wrists on either side of him. He looked up at her and grinned. "Lucky fall," he teased.

"Oh, yeah, get up if you can."

"Don't worry, I'm intending to," he replied, giving her the most lascivious grin she had ever seen.

As he hoped, this provoked her into responding in kind. "Don't be too sure of that, Curly."

In a swift move, she adjusted her position so that now his wrists pinned under her knees, thus freeing her hands so she could remove her belt. She squeezed his groin and his cock strained against the constricting breechcloth. "Down, boy, you're not needed," she said, smiling and patting his crotch, which made him harder than ever.

Then, keeping his right wrist trapped, she raised her knee to free his left, only to recapture it and bind it with her belt. She then pulled it across his body, released his other wrist and tied the two together. Iolaus put up a bit of a struggle, but was careful not to try too hard as there was no way he wanted to escape her.

She then secured his wrists to a stall post and then sat back on his thighs to admire her handiwork. "Right, what am I going to do with you now?"

"Free me?" he suggested, hoping against hope that she intended no such thing.

"No way, Curly. Flicking water at the boss is definite insubordination. I can't let you get away with that. Who knows what you'll try next?"

"Who me?" he said, his eyes wide and his face too innocent for belief. "I didn't mean to splash you. It was a complete accident."

"Lying now?" she said, responding to his game. "I'll definitely have to punish you." As she spoke, she began to toy with his nipples, tracing her finger around them and gently squeezing. She lowered her head and flicked her tongue across one. Her long blond hair trailed over his chest.

Iolaus flung his head back and she nuzzled at his taut throat and then at the sensitive junction of neck and shoulder. Iolaus tried to twist away, but that encouraged her to more tender torment. She began a leisurely exploration of his body, deliberately seeking out his most sensitive spots, while ignoring the one part of his anatomy that was most desirous of attention.

She knew what she wanted to do. Something she had never done before and, indeed, had never considered doing until she first laid eyes upon that delectable arse. She wondered how he would react. She did not want to offend him, but in her mind's eye all she could see were those creamy buttocks.

"Iolaus, would you mind if I ..." she started and then blushed and broke off unable to continue.

"Do whatever you want," he whispered huskily back. His eyes were almost black with lust.

To his surprise, she then jumped up, said, "Back in a minute", and hurried out of the forge. She was as good as her word, returning quickly carrying a small leather bag.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Wait and see, Curly." She gently rolled him onto his stomach and began to run a finger lightly under his breechclout, while her other hand teased at the soft white flesh of hid inner thighs. The hunter's heart leapt with joy. He had hoped that she might do this, but had hesitated to ask lest she find the act repulsive.

He remembered how shocked he had been the first time it had happened to him. It had been the first time the Warrior Princess had taken him to her bed. She had stripped him naked, while retaining her leathers. That had been a major turn-on in itself. Then she had played with him until he was frantic for release. He had finally got so desperate that he had tried to take himself in hand. Then she had snapped at him, had batted his hand aside and had ordered him to stand up. He had clambered awkwardly to his feet and she had then pulled him down across her knee and had proceeded to finger-fuck him.

Gods, that had been incredible. At first it had been so painful he had bitten through his lip trying to suppress his gasps of agony and then ... well, he still wasn't exactly sure what happened, but he had such a rush of exquisite pleasure that he screamed and nearly fainted. The next moment she flipped him onto his back on the bed, swung herself astride him and lowered herself onto his cock.

She almost rode him raw that night, but her influence was more than that. Previously his partners had been soft and yielding and he had taken the lead and both had enjoyed themselves. However, Xena had shown him something he had never suspected, that he enjoyed being the one 'done to', that a little pain could lead to a lot of pleasure and that being firmly held and controlled was what he most desired.

This woman was even more physically powerful than Xena. Iolaus was in ecstasy. Then an unbidden, but not unfamiliar, thought popped into his mind: 'If only this was Hercules all would be perfect.'

A few weeks after the incident with the Warrior Princess, Iolaus had been involved in one of his favourite pastimes, namely stirring the demigod. As frequently happened on such occasions, a tussle had developed, with the inevitable result of victory for Hercules. Not that Iolaus ever went into such little skirmishes expecting to be defeated, indeed he was ever optimistic, but it always happened. However, this time there had been an unexpected consequence. Iolaus was lying facedown in the dust, with the jubilant demigod sitting astride his thighs, crowing over his victory. Full of bravado, the hunter had announced the victory a mere fluke and Hercules had slapped him on the rump and scoffed, "Do something about it then."

"Right, I will," the hunter had announced. He had given a sudden violent twist and had actually almost dislodged the demigod, but almost was not good enough. Hercules had celebrated his win by shoving Iolaus' vest up his back and tickling his ribs unmercifully, as he had frequently done when they were boys, announcing this would continue until the blond agreed to acknowledge his great victory.

Helpless, Iolaus had squirmed and struggled and shrieked with laughter ... and had grown the hardest he ever had in his life. If only his surrender had been followed by the demigod taking possession of the 'territory' he had conquered all would have been perfect.

But, of course, all was not perfect. Accepting Iolaus' submission with only minor gloating, Hercules had swung quickly to his feet and announced he was off to the nearby river to clean up.

Iolaus had been left gasping in the dirt. At least the rapid exit of the demigod had meant he could take his problem in hand and deal with it on a temporary basis at least. However, whereas since his encounter with Xena he had only known what he wanted, he now knew who he wanted to do it to him. *That* was never going to happen. The super-moralistic demigod was *never* going to agree to something like that. Anyway, there was no way that he was ever going to pluck up the courage to make such a suggestion. He might be many things, but suicidal was not one of them and he would have bet anything that the demigod would go ballistic at the idea.

So now he lay there pretending that the long tresses trailing across his body belonged to the demigod, that the strong callused hands caressing his buttocks and thighs belonged to the demigod and that soon more than a finger was going to sheath itself inside him.

In the event, something more did. He gave a yelp compounded of shock and pain as a larger than anticipated object was pushed into him. "OW! What in Tartarus?" he exclaimed, trying to pull away.

Atalanta stopped pushing, but did not remove the item. "Sorry, I've never done this to someone else and you're a bit tighter than I am."

"Wh-What is it?"

"Just a olisbos." 3

"A bloody big one by the feel of it."

"Not really. You need to relax a bit. You're too tense."

"I just ... um ... I-I didn't expect something *that* size."

"But surely ..." She bit back what she had been about to say, namely "Hercules is bigger than that." Perhaps she had been wrong and, given her own desire for the demigod, she hoped she had. So instead she continued, "Do you want me to stop?"

He nearly said yes, but the thought flashed through his head that this should, at least, tell him whether he liked this enough to make it worthwhile to keep trying to pluck up the courage to suggest it to Hercules. If it was too painful he could give up on that whole idea and the demigod need never know he had even contemplated it. "N-No! I said you could do what you wanted."

"Perhaps I should have used a finger to prepare you first," she mused.

"I think perhaps you should," he gritted, "but please just get on with it."

"Okay!" As she spoke, she snaked her right hand between his thighs to fondle his balls and then took hold of his shaft. Soon she had both hands moving in a steady rhythm, while Iolaus moaned and writhed beneath her and tried to suppress gasps of pain.

She had admitted that she had never used the olisbos on another and the death grip on his cock suggested that she had probably never jerked a man off either. He was just about to tell her to desist when she gave a harder thrust with the olisbos and hit the prostate. Iolaus screamed in pleasure-pain and ejaculated hard.

As he lay in confused black mist, punctuated with spots of coloured light, he was vaguely aware that she was speaking. Her voice sounded anxious, but he could not pick up the words. Then he was brought back to earth, hissing with pain, as she hastily withdrew the olisbos, fearful that she had really hurt him.

She hurriedly cut his wrists free and he became aware that not only was she apologising, but there was a sob in her voice. "I'm okay," he reassured her. "I'm *more* than okay, that was great."

"Are you sure? That scream sounded like you were in pain."

"Nah, I'm always a bit noisy on these occasions. It was great." Okay, maybe it hadn't been *great*, but he could see that it could be with the right person.

He reached for her. "Trust me, I'll make you scream in pleasure too," he purred as his lips located a nipple. And, a few minutes later, he had her doing just that.

More than a couple of hours had passed before the pair made their way from the barn to her bed and then finally to sleep, in spite of Iolaus' desire to resume their earlier activities once in her room.

Atalanta woke early the next morning as was her wont. She lay propped on an elbow looking affectionately at the little blond. He was beautiful. There was no other word for that face. And how innocent he looked, sound asleep with his face framed in the tousled, golden curls.

She smiled at the thought. Well *that* certainly was not the word for him. She had never had anyone make love to her like he had, taking care to ensure that she enjoyed the act to the full. *Acts* was more like it. The tricks that little ratbag knew! And the stamina he had! Why, in her wildest fantasies, she had never envisaged that even Hercules ... She broke off the thought realising that her passion for the demigod might well have suffered a setback. However, she was realistic enough to realise that there would be no future for her with the mischievous, little blond lying beside her either. Still she *had* enjoyed what he had shared with her.

She leant over and gently stroked his curls. "Aw Herc," he muttered, "I was having a lovely dream. It *can't* be time to get up yet."

*That* comment confused her again. After his apparent inexperience with anal sex and his clear enthusiasm for making love with a female, she had more or less decided that her suspicions about him and Hercules were groundless, but now this. Okay, it would not be unusual for men to have to occasionally share a bed while travelling, but how many would awaken their partner with a caress?

So, if the demigod really was his lover, perhaps Iolaus might have some regrets about the night's activities. She wondered how she should treat what had happened and decided it would be easiest for them both if she passed it off as of no great importance. Accordingly, she got up and dressed and then gave the hunter's shoulder a firm shake. "Wake up, Iolaus, you'll be late for work!"

"Work schmirk," he muttered, shrugging off her hand and turning his back to her.

"Iolaus, this is your employer speaking, get up now!"

For an answer, he merely snuggled further under the covers.

He looked so comfy that, for a moment, she nearly weakened and let him sleep, but decided such indulgence might suggest to him that the evening had meant a lot to her. It had, of course, but she was not going to admit that.

So she seized the blanket and sheet and suddenly pulled both from the bed. That was a mistake. She looked at the smooth ivory body with longing and stared in fascination at the golden hair surrounding his cock. She had not noticed that colour in the dim light in the stable.

As she watched transfixed, the hunter spread his legs wantonly and held out his arms to her. "Come back to bed," he urged. "It's too dark to get up."

Surprised, as it was full daylight outside, she glanced at his face and saw that he still had his eyes tightly closed. "Don't be ridiculous, Iolaus," she scolded, trying desperately to resist his lures. "It's light outside."

"Can't be. *I* haven't seen it. C'mon back!"

"No, I've got work to do and so have you."

"That's no fun!" He pouted, managing to look more delectable than ever.

Atalanta could not help but recall the old saying 'Everything becomes a handsome man' 4, but she pushed the thought aside and stated, "It's not meant to be. Anyway I thought you needed some money."

"Yeah, I did."

"Do you mind if I ask what for?"

"Cakes," he replied, and peeked out under his lashes to watch her reaction.

"What?" She was sure she had misheard.

"Cakes! Lovely honey cakes with raisins and almonds and pomegranate seeds and ..."

"Enough! You've reminded me that I'm hungry. We didn't have dinner last night and ..."

"Breakfast!" Iolaus' eyes opened and he smiled happily. "What are we having?"

"Those of us who have got out of bed will probably have bacon and eggs or maybe ... pancakes with honey 5," she added temptingly.

"I wish you wouldn't try to talk me into lying around in bed all day," Iolaus announced, hurriedly climbing out of bed. "I would go straight to work now, but I expect I should force a few pancakes down first ... just to keep my strength up."

In the event, Atalanta found herself amazed by just how many pancakes one small hunter could consume. She had anticipated several would be leftover, but all were eaten.

Then the hunter pushed his chair back, patted his stomach, which should have bulged, but had remained unaccountably flat as a board, and said, "Those were delicious. Old Herc should take a few cooking lessons from you. While you're at it you could also give him a few pointers about how much food a man needs. He seems to think I should live on air. Do you know, he doesn't even understand that cakes are a staple item of a proper diet?"

"I would have classed them as a treat."

"No, they are absolutely essential for good health and general well-being. In spite of that, Hercules even tried to stop me from having them at all." As he said that, he adopted a very sad and put-upon look.

"That doesn't sound like Hercules."

"Well, it's true! I wouldn't even be here with you if he hadn't stopped me eating cakes."

"Why on earth would he want to do that?" she questioned disbelievingly.

"Oh, contrary to popular opinion, Herc can be a bit of a tyrant when it comes to his nearest and dearest," Iolaus replied, unaware that his choice of expression, selected merely to emphasize how unjust the demigod was to one he should be kind to, had merely added to Atalanta's suspicions about his relationship with his friend.

She pushed the thought aside. "But why would he do that?" she asked again.

"I'll tell you." Iolaus launched into the story about the marketplace.

Atalanta could not suppress a smile as he mimicked the tyrannical demigod and presented the image of the sadly neglected hunter, near starvation. In spite of his commingled clowning, pathos and hyperbole, she could easily discern the truth of the situation. "You do know he was right, don't you?" she said when he had finished.

"Of course, I do," he announced breezily, "but what's that got to do with anything? He's almost *always* right. But if you tell him I said that, I'll deny it. He's insufferable enough already. He *needs* me to argue with him."

"Even when he's right?"

"Of course! It's not good for him to get things all his way. Ask his mother! She'll agree with me. Besides it's such fun to tease him." He grinned broadly and his eyes gleamed with mischief as fond memories of past pranks flooded his mind.

Atalanta shook her head in amused wonderment. "How did you manage to live so long, Curly?" she asked. "I'm sure if I was Hercules I'd have swatted you down by now."

"Nah, Herc would never do that to me. He'd never survive without me and he knows it. For one thing he'd not be able to go anywhere as he'd get lost."


"Yeah, the big guy's got absolutely no sense of direction. Let me tell you ..." He immediately commenced a humorous and exciting hunting story in which an incredibly heroic and preternaturally skillful hunter had to save a lost and forlorn demigod.

Atalanta could not resist either the little troublemaker's bardic abilities or his audacity in presenting the demigod in such an unfavourable light, especially as she was only too well aware that not only was he playing fast and loose with the truth, but that he expected she would know this and would, accordingly, disbelieve most of the story.

So what with all this, work started late that morning.

Around noon a group of about ten rough-looking men rode into the village and headed into the small inn. Watching from the doorway of the forge, Iolaus was worried, but noticed that the villagers seemed strangely unconcerned. He turned back to Atalanta and asked, "Who are those guys?"

"The leader's name is Cydus. I don't know the other men's names."

"Are they bandits?"

"I suppose so. Probably slavers too, but we don't ask."

"What do they want?"

"They call through here every two or three months when they need new weapons or want supplies."

"You're not going to supply them, are you?"

"Of course."

"But these guys are scum. You *can't* deal with them," the hunter protested.

"And what do you think they'd do to the people of this village if we didn't give them what they want?"

"But what about other people?"

"It's not just me. Others here provide food for them."

"I can see that, but I mean in other villages."

"What do you mean?"

"You supply them so they can attack other innocent villages."

"They'll do that anyway. We have to look after our own."

"But, Atalanta, you have to consider others."


"If everyone let bandits do what they want no one is safe, surely you can see that?"

"I understand all right, but that doesn't mean others would back me."

"I would."

"Yeah, two against ten. Great odds!"

"But surely some of the others ..."

"No, I know these people. They just co-operate so as to be left alone."

"I could ..."

She cut him off. "No! The villagers won't want you making trouble."

"But ..."

"Iolaus, just keep a low profile. It's nothing to do with you. Anyway, as a stranger, you need to be careful as the gang might see you as a prize to take."

"They'd have their bloody work cut out for them if they tried."

"And what do you think a little thing like you could do to us?" came a sneering voice. Iolaus swung around to see a large man leaning on the doorjamb.

The hunter cursed inwardly. He had been so preoccupied with his argument with Atlanta that he had failed to discern the man's approach.

"Well, I asked you a question, little man. C'mon, tell me what you think you can do about us?"

Iolaus sensed Atalanta move behind him and her restraining hands clamped onto his upper arms in a vise-like grip. "Please excuse him," she said placatingly. "He's a stranger here and doesn't understand that you are all welcome in this village."

"I suppose he's all ready to apologise to us then."

"Of course he is. Aren't you, Iolaus?"

Iolaus said nothing.

"Aren't you, Iolaus?" She tightened her grip for emphasis, her fingers digging painfully into his biceps. He knew there would be bruises there.

"Iolaus, please," she appealed.

There was a note of desperation in her voice and Iolaus responded, albeit reluctantly, to it. "Okay, okay, I'm ... um ... very sorry" he gritted, adding 'that I can't smash your bloody face in' under his breath.

"Not good enough, Shorty," the bandit said. "My friends also need your apology. You come with me and give it to them." He stepped forward and grabbed Iolaus by the vest.

Not knowing what else to do, Atalanta hurriedly released her hold and gave Iolaus a hard push that effectively forestalled any intention he had of resisting the man.

In the event, the bandit only dragged Iolaus into the middle of the street and then shouted for his friends.

"What's going on, Xychus?" Cydus demanded, as he and his men appeared.

"Shorty here has been bad-mouthing us, Cydus, but he's had second thoughts and he wants to humbly beg our apology."

"Well, let's hear it and it had better be good."

Iolaus' mouth was dry. He knew he ought to apologise for the villagers' sake, but it went totally against the grain to let scum push him around. He steeled himself to force the hated words out.

However, even as he did so, one of the men exclaimed, "Hey, I know you!"

Hoping to prevent the revelation, Iolaus blurted, "I didn't mean ..."

However, the excited bandit cut him off. "Don't you guys recognise him?"

"Who is he, Pyrgus?" Cydus asked.

"I don't know his name, but he's that little blond that tags around after Hercules. I saw them together when I was in Corinth."

"You're joking!" one of the others scoffed. "What would the likes of him be doing with a demigod?"

"I can make a few suggestions," another laughed and made suggestive gesture.

"It's definitely him!" Pyrgus insisted. The men I was drinking with were talking about them both."

"Well, that *is* interesting, " Cydus mused. "I'm sure there'd be a few men, with a score to settle against Hercules, who would be prepared to pay well to get their hands on his little catamite." He grinned nastily. "Actually, looking at him, they'll probably have to bid high against those who want him for their personal use."

Iolaus had heard enough. He backed slowly away from Cydus, as though in fear, until he was up against another bandit. The gang was laughing at his seeming terror when he suddenly whirled around clutching the man's dagger, which he had just slipped from its sheath, and sunk it into its owner's chest.

Shocked by the speed of his action, the bandits lost precious seconds of reaction time. Iolaus used these to seize his victim's sword.

Recovering himself, Cydus barked out, "Get him!"

Still underestimating their opponent, in spite of what they had just observed, the men drew their swords and a couple advanced casually towards the little blond. In moments, they were disabused of any notion that this was going to be easy as Iolaus dived forward and sent one man's sword flying from his grasp and then slashed the other attacker in the neck.

However, soon weight of numbers began to tell and Iolaus was backed up against a tree. Blood was running freely down his face from a deep gash above his right eye and obscuring his vision. He was feeling sick and dizzy, but he had his sword at the ready and was calmly awaiting the next attack.

"Give in, Blondie. You haven't a hope against us. Surrender now and I'll spare your life," Cydus said.

"Go to Tartarus!" the hunter retorted defiantly, hoping his tenuous hold on consciousness was not apparent to his attackers.

"Not me, but that's where you'll be heading if you don't lower your sword."

"No way." He just wished the man would stop jawing and make the attack while he was still able to meet it.

Meanwhile Atalanta had hastened back into the forge to seize a weapon for herself. Although skilled at crafting such weapons and able to use them competently, she preferred to use her strength when it came to a fight, but now she had no choice. Shouting a challenge, she launched herself into an attack, which took the heat off the hunter as a couple of his foes turned away to face her. Indeed, although none of the villagers were apparently going to offer assistance, it looked as though the pair might succeed in taking out the bandits by themselves.

Realising this danger, Cydus turned to one of his men and hurriedly whispered something. The man nodded and strode off, to return moments later shoving a young boy of about six years ahead of him.

Cydus immediately pressed his knife to the child's throat and looked challengingly at Iolaus. Without a word, the latter dropped his sword and Atalanta followed suit. Two bandits immediately seized her arms.

Cydus shoved the child aside and one of his men grasped the boy. Then he moved forward and backhanded the little blond across the face, causing blood to gush from his nose, adding to the river of red already on his face, and rocking his head back into the tree.

Iolaus winced, but made no sound.

"You're going to be sorry you interfered, Blondie. I can think of a few men who'll pay well for a pretty, little thing like you."

"I don't think so," came a voice, chilling in its tightly controlled calmness.

Cydus swung around to find himself confronted by a tall, muscular figure. "Who the hell ..." he started.

"HERCULES!" Atalanta screamed with joy and wrenched her way free of the restraining hands.

The word caused a shiver of fear through the bandits, reinforced as they turned and saw the fury in the demigod's eyes. One man broke and ran before the latter had even started his attack and those who survived the carnage that followed wished they had had the foresight to follow his cowardly example for the demigod pulled no punches. The sight of his beloved friend, his beautiful face a mask of blood, had removed all of Hercules' usual scruples about using his full strength against mortals and he was seeking blood for blood.

Normally, on the few occasions when the demigod lost control in this way, the hunter, knowing the regrets that would be sure to follow, would recall him to himself, but the little blond had slumped to his knees and was fighting a losing battle for consciousness in a rapidly darkening world.

Seeing that Hercules had matters well in hand, Atalanta hastened to Iolaus' side, ready to shield him if necessary. She wrapped a supporting arm around him. "Where's m-my sword?" he gritted as he tried ineffectively to wipe the blood out of his eyes.

"Just keep still, Iolaus. Everything's okay."

"I n-need to h-help Herc."

"He's doing fine without you," she reassured.

"C-Can't be," he gasped. "Anyway, I-I can't let him th-think he can beat b-bandits without my ... my help." His lips twitched in a feeble attempt at a smile.

Atalanta shook her head in wonderment. Only the irrepressible little blond could joke under such circumstances. "I'm afraid he's going to have to manage somehow," she responded, keeping a firm hold on her charge.

That did not deter the stubborn little blond from making one last attempt to raise himself. The effort was too much and he fainted, sagging against Atalanta.

In fact in a few short minutes, Hercules had routed the bandits and was anxiously squatting in the dust beside them. "How is he?"

"He's got a nasty cut, but I think it looks worse than it is," Atalanta reassured, preparing to scoop the hunter into her arms. "I'll take him into my house and ..."

"No!" The abrupt interruption jolted her. "*I'll* take him."

She glanced at his face and was stunned by the look of fierce possessiveness. His whole being was focussed on the slight form of his friend.

The demigod's hands, that had just demonstrated the merciless power they could employ when dealing with evil, now gently lifted the little blond and cradled him against Hercules' heart.

Knowing, from his previous visit, where Atalanta lived, Hercules then headed for her home, while the blacksmith hurried for the healer.

When Atalanta and the old woman entered the house, they found the demigod engaged in gently sponging the blood from Iolaus' face. For a moment, Atalanta thought he was going to refuse to move aside for the healer, but he relinquished his place, only to stand hovering over her while she examined her patient.

"Could you move out of my light please?" Tolosa finally asked.

The demigod reluctantly shifted a few inches, but kept his eyes riveted on the hunter. "Is he going to be all right?" he questioned anxiously.

"Yes, it's a deep cut, but it should heal all right provided infection doesn't set in."

"Will there be much of a scar?"

"There will be one, but I'm neat with my stitches so it shouldn't mar his looks. 6 Your little lover will still be pretty."

Hercules blushed fiery red. "I didn't mean ..." he started.

"Yes, you did. Don't try to hide things from me, sonny, I've been on this earth too long not to know what's what."

"But I'm not ... he isn't ..."

"Rubbish! If you don't want people to know about your relationship you'll have to work to hide that besotted look. Now *move* yourself, I need space to work."

Hercules turned and moved to the doorway and stood, with his back to the bed, staring sightlessly out into the living area. His mind was whirling. Was he really so obvious? He wondered. He had thought he had always done an excellent job of concealing his infatuation and yet this old woman claimed it was obvious. How he hoped she was wrong.

It was not that he was ashamed of loving the hunter. What he feared was how Iolaus would react. Contrary to what might have been expected, he was not afraid that Iolaus would be so horrified by the idea that he would not even wish to continue their friendship. He had seen the little blond gently, but firmly, repel advances by men in the past with no sign that he was disgusted by their intentions. Indeed, Hercules was all too well aware that when the hunter particularly wanted to do something that he knew Hercules would disapprove of, or if he had acted completely contrary to the demigod's explicit instructions and felt a need to worm his way back into the latter's good books, he was likely to make an almost flirtatious approach to him. The long eyelashes would flutter and that delectable mouth would pour out all sorts of sweet words of insincere regret and promises of immediate reform, belied by the wicked twinkle in the shining azure eyes. However, he had never seen any evidence to suggest that Iolaus was anything but heterosexual. Indeed, any woman, no matter her age or marital status, appeared to be fair game as far as Iolaus was concerned.

So, he did not fear shocking and alienating the hunter, although he anticipated that Iolaus would not consider him as a potential sexual partner for one moment. No, what he actually was afraid of was that his contumacious friend would take even further advantage of him because of the admitted weakness. As it was, Iolaus seemed to take an absolute delight in disregarding his instructions, no matter how well-intentioned they might be and how much they were designed to protect the blond from the consequences of his own ill-considered actions and the animosity of others. Okay, a good lecture could curb him for a while, but if he knew just how much in his thrall the demigod was, there would be no stopping him.

No, no good could come out of an admission of love and yet how strong was the impulse to pour out his heart to Iolaus, particularly on occasions when the hunter was upset or hurt. How he longed to gather that lithe body into his arms and to bury his face in that nest of fluffy, golden curls. He knew instinctively that once he had done that there would be no going back and yet he already knew that he was passed the point of no return anyway.

Not that he had given in without a fight. For years he had tried to tell himself that what he felt was love, but that he was not *in* love with Iolaus, that he was confusing the symptoms. His body had known better. Why only a few months before it had nearly betrayed him.

The hunter had been baiting him unmercifully and had absolutely ignored all threats of possible punishments. Finally, Hercules had lunged for him and a wrestling match had developed. After a short struggle, he had ended up sitting on Iolaus' thighs and, although helplessly pinned facedown in the dirt, the intractable, little blond had refused to acknowledge his defeat and had continued to make cheeky comments. In a moment of exasperation, Hercules had pushed his vest up his back and had tickled him into submission. The latter had come not a moment too soon as Hercules had then had to make a very hurried exit to the river, supposedly to clean off the dirt from the fight, but in reality to take care of the hardest erection he had ever had in his life.


The voice, though scarcely more than a whisper, broke in on his thoughts and he spun around.

"Damn!" Tolosa commented. "He's waking up and I haven't quite finished my sewing. Come here and hold him still."

"Hold him?"

"Yes, quickly now!"

Hercules moved towards the bed. This was something he always found hard to do. He stood at the head of the bed and put his hands on his friend's shoulders. He tried not to see the needle and thread, but could already taste the bile rising in his throat. He knew what the old woman was doing was necessary, but how he hated watching Iolaus suffer yet more pain.

"Herc? Herc? Where are you?"

"I'm here, my lo- uh ... Iolaus. Just keep still."

Iolaus raised a hand and Hercules clutched it like a lifeline. "It's okay, Iolaus, the healer's nearly done. Just hold still."

He watched the hunter bite his lip as he steeled himself. Iolaus was chalk white under the fresh trails of blood. Hercules squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

"All done!" Tolosa announced. "And a neat job if I do so say myself." She smiled knowingly at the demigod, but engrossed in his friend, he did not notice. Then she gestured to Atalanta, "Come out to the other room and I'll sort out some herbs for you to brew in case he's in pain later." The two left, closing the door behind them.

Hearing the door click, Iolaus said, "Ah, Herc, you can let go of my hand now. You're kind of crushing it a bit, Buddy."

Hercules started. "Sorry!"

"No worries. Wondering whether I was going to have any fingers left gave me a distraction from that needle."

Joking at a time like this! Hercules didn't know whether he wanted to slap him or kiss him. He sat down hurriedly in a chair as a wave of weakness assailed him. He was just so relieved.

"Are you okay? Herc, are you all right?" he could hear Iolaus' anxious voice and, after the mind-numbing fear he had felt when he had arrived and had seen the hunter's face covered with blood, the incongruity of Iolaus being worried about him got to him and he started to laugh helplessly, in a state of near hysteria

Iolaus slipped straight out of bed and wrapped his arms around his friend. "Hey, Herc, everything's okay," he soothed.

How it happened, Hercules never knew, but the next moment he was pulling Iolaus into his lap and clutching him to his heart. For his part, Iolaus wrapped his arms around his friend and lost himself in the sweetness of the embrace he had believed he would never enjoy.

He nuzzled his face against the demigod's neck and snuggled into the broad chest, as though he could never be close enough to him.

And it felt so right to both.

Neither spoke. Neither wished to break the spell of this wonderful moment. Hercules slowly moved one hand to beneath the hunter's chin and gently raised it, lowering his own face to kiss the honeyed lips.

Iolaus flicked the tip of his tongue out and the demigod opened to him as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be kissing his dearest friend.

Totally engrossed in each other, neither noticed when Atalanta eased open the door and had all her suspicions confirmed. She silently withdrew.

The pair was ready to depart two days later. Both were eager to go as they were longing to be alone together, but, as always, the demigod had insisted on waiting until the hunter was fit to travel and had firmly insisted that only he, and certainly not the blond, could be the only possible judge of that. Iolaus had, of course, argued the toss vehemently, but the demigod had discovered he now had a surefire way to stop that unruly tongue. It didn't manage to dispute at all well when he blocked it with his kisses.

"I should have done this long ago, if for no other reason than its effectiveness in shutting you up," he had opined to the apparently outraged hunter. Little did he know, he had just provided Iolaus with a perfect reason, not that he needed one. for initiating future disputes.

As they said their farewells, Atalanta shoved a large bag of cakes into the hunter's eager hands. "He tells me you don't feed him properly," she said to Hercules by way of explanation.

The demigod looked down sternly. Iolaus immediately adopted his most innocent face, eyes wide. "Herc, you *know* I'd never say such a thing .... unless it was true," Iolaus added with a giggle.

The demigod aimed a swat at his rear, but the little blond evaded him and darted off, calling back, "If you hurt me, I won't share."

Hercules looked at Atalanta with his long-suffering look and shrugged helplessly.

"You'd better go after him," she said. "The way he eats, he's probably scoffed half of them by now."

After they had gone, Atalanta looked around her lonely forge and thought about the demigod. Seeing him again had only confirmed the feelings she had formed for him at their earlier meetings. However, she was nothing if not realistic. She could see no way she could ever oust a certain cheeky blond with the face of an angel and the spirit of a warrior from his place in the demigod's heart. In truth, she knew she could never even cause the incorrigible little ratbag the upset such a futile attempt might cause as he had also found a place in her heart. Still, if she could not have the demigod, she could have the next best thing. She decided to sculpt her own metal statue of Hercules 7

The End

1 Phaininda was a sort of lacrosse and was very popular with Greek youth. (back)
2 See the episode "Ares" (back)
3 Olisbos was the Greek term for a dildo. Miletus, a wealthy commercial city on the coast of Asia Minor, was apparently the manufacturing and exporting centre for these. They seem to have been made of wood or padded leather and were anointed with olive oil before use. (back)
4 Diogenianus, III, 28 (back)
5 Pancakes, fried in olive oil, were a favourite Greek dish. (back)
6 Readers will be gratified to know that the healer was as skilled as she claimed and only the crescent shaped scar that we are all familiar with recalls this incident. (back)
7 See the episode "If I Had a Hammer"

E-mail the author c/o Nephele at [email protected]

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