Second Chances


The author does not own the characters from the series. They belong to MCA/Universal. We all know that. We're not making any money from this. We're just having fun. Okay?

Iolaus sat at a table in Athens, watching the people of the city. This was not his favorite town in the world. Hercules was supposed to have met him here, but he wasn't here yet and the golden hunter had intentionally arrived late. Iolaus sighed heavily. Well, at least he would have a bed to sleep in. That would be a nice change.

The next day, Iolaus woke up early and went out into the street. He watched the market area begin to come alive. The merchants setting up their booths, women coming to buy supplies. He noticed a robed figure off to one side, back in the shadows, but a crash and screech of voices drew his attention. He saw a woman and a merchant arguing over a spilled basket of vegetables. He turned back to the figure, but whoever it had been, had moved on.

"Street people," Iolaus muttered, as he moved back into the inn.

Throughout the day he kept an eye out for his partner, but as of yet, no demigod. Later in the early evening, he went to buy some supplies. Iolaus had decided that something had delayed his lover. The hunter's mind drifted back to their last night together, some two weeks ago. They had spent a passionate night in each other's arms, not caring that they would be exhausted. They both knew the exhaustion would help them sleep without the other's presence. The next day, at the crossroads where they planned to part, Hercules had pulled him close in a passionate kiss that left Iolaus breathless and clinging to his lover.

"Be careful, Iolaus," Herc had admonished, while he stroked the tangled blond hair.

"You, too," the hunter had warned, looking up into warm blue eyes. Another kiss, holding each other.

Iolaus turned a corner on his way back to the inn and literally ran smack dab into the path of a running figure. However, the cloaked figure was considerably lighter than him and ended up on the ground, with Iolaus' supplies scattered around her. It was the mysterious bystander he had seen that morning in the market, but now he knew she was a woman.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the hunter said, extending his hand to help her up. "Here, let me --"

But she scooted backwards, away from his hand. Iolaus watched as she climbed nimbly to her feet and ran down an alley. He began to pick up his things scattered on the ground, wondering where in Tartarus Hercules was. More feet rushed in his direction.

"You!" a guard demanded. "Did you see a woman run this way, wearing a heavy cloak, about this tall?"

Iolaus looked at him and the 8 guards with him and decided the odds were a little too one-sided. "Uh, no."

"Darn her thieving hide to Hades!" the guard yelled, to no one in particular. "Split up. I want her found!"

Iolaus watched amused as they split into three groups and headed down the alleys. So, she was a thief, he thought, as he gathered the rest of his things. Iolaus wasn't above helping one of his own kind out, especially a young woman stuck on the streets. He glanced down the alley she had gone down and watched her appear out of the shadows.

"Thank you," came a gentle voice. She came to the end of the alley and glanced down the main street. She tried to brush past Iolaus, but he touched her arm.

"What's your name?" In the ensuing silence, while she looked at him, he tried to see past the shadows concealing her face.


"Diane, I have a room if you--" He caught her hand before it made contact with his face. "-- want a place to relax. Maybe take a bath." She pulled away from him and moved down the street. "The inn by the blacksmith's shop," he called, as she melted into the shadows and the crowds. The golden hunter shook his head and went back to the inn, wondering once more where Hercules was.

He was dreaming of his lover, when they had been stranded in a cave. Hercules was holding him immobile as he teased the hunter before him.

"Please, Herc," he had begged, as the demigod slowly ran his hand up and down Iolaus's aching cock.

"Tell me, Iolaus," came the deep command.

"I love you. More!" He cried, thrusting into his lover's hand.

"Go on."

"I'm yours, Herc, there's no one else. You know that," Iolaus had panted, as the demigod ran his finger over the opening to Iolaus' body. "Hercules!" He heard the demigod groan just before his mouth closed over Iolaus' cock and he slowly began to press his finger into him. The hunter was groaning, bucking, desperate for completion.

He woke up quite suddenly. Oh man, he was aching, but he also knew someone was in the room. Whoever it was had come through the window. He glanced around and tackled the person instinctively. There was a light wrestling match; he disposed of the knife as it appeared. Then Iolaus realized who it was he had pinned to the floor.

"I didn't mean in the middle of the night," he growled, getting up.

She looked just as angry, as he sat down on the bed and pulled the sheet over his naked form.

"Well, unless you wanted me bringing half the Athenian guard with me, I came when it was clear!" she hissed back.

"I doubt you can get a bath at this hour," Iolaus said, perturbed.

"You -- you were serious?"

"Of course I was. What? You think I wanted to bed you?" the hunter asked, realizing that's exactly what she thought.

Diane laughed as she stood up. "Now, that's a first!" She arranged her cloak. "By the way, here." She threw something to Iolaus, who caught it instinctively. It was his money pouch. He stared at it and at her, as she shrugged "You have less than I do."

Iolaus shook his head. She was good; he hadn't even missed it. The hunter realized she was staring at his dinner, or what was left of it.

"Go ahead," he said, and as she sat down with her back to him, he pulled his pants on. "I'd get you your own, but I think the kitchen is closed." He sat down on the far side of the table from her. "You can take your cloak off if you want to." Iolaus noticed her hands were also wrapped, as she hungrily stuffed food in her mouth.

"I don't think so," she replied with a full mouth.

The hunter looked skyward.

"Look, I've been on the streets, I understand. I know what it's like out there. I was just trying to be nice." She looked up and the firelight caught the edges of her features. Iolaus was surprised to see just how young she was. Hades, she was practically still a child! "How long have you been out there?"

"Since I was a kid. My folks dumped me, I guess."

He watched as she completely cleaned his plate, not that he had left much.

"Do you have a place to sleep?" He saw the impish smile come to her lips, but it was soon lost in shadow.

"Yeah." She stood up and moved back towards the window.

Iolaus wondered if she slept in an abandoned building or under a bridge.

"You could use the door."

"Steps squeak. Thanks."

And she was gone.

The next morning, Iolaus slept a little later than usual. He went to the window and looked out. His first thought was of Hercules, hoping today was the day he showed up. The second was of Diane, hoping she was okay and could get out of this life. He remembered the -- depravity of the life, the loneliness, the dangers and he had been a boy, how much more so for an attractive young woman.

He turned to get dressed, and a flash caught his eye. There was a dinar sitting next to his plate. Diane, it appeared, was an honest thief. He laughed, but realized she had been right. If he was going to have to wait for Hercules, he'd better do something about his financial situation.

The hunter went and spoke with Kevon, the blacksmith. He agreed that Iolaus could sleep in his barn and help around the forge. It wasn't much, but it would him busy until the big guy showed up. He spent the day doing grunt work, working bellows, cleaning up, but he got a home-cooked meal out of it and someone to talk to.

At the end of the week, Kevon invited Iolaus to come to a small street festival. The hunter agreed on the grounds that he was bored and was beginning to get worried about Hercules and that would hopefully get his mind off the demigod. He decided if Herc hadn't shown up in two more days, he was going looking for him.

Iolaus sat at the edge of the crowd, and talked with Kevon and his wife. He danced once or twice but mainly kept to himself, thoughts of the demigod running through his mind. He was taking a drink of ale when a young woman in a blue tunic approached him. She smiled shyly and held her hand out, gesturing towards the dancing area with her head. Iolaus smiled and took her hand, setting his cup down. She had long curly hair, engaging blue eyes, and was a very good dancer. When the song was over, Iolaus escorted her from the dance floor, threading his way through the crowd. A marching step caught his attention, and he stared at the guards standing at all the streets leading in and out. They looked around and then exited the area. Iolaus turned to the young lady he had danced with to ask her name, but she was gone. He shook his head and went back to his ale, commenting to himself that the people in Athens were really rather strange.

Kevon came back and sat down, so they talked for a while.

"Kevon, who is Diane?"

"The thief?"

"Yeah, I ran into her one night, and I heard something. I was wondering about her."

"Diane is a thief, but she's not mean or dangerous," Kevon said, with a strange smile on his face. "The guards have sworn to bring her in, the merchants hate her, and ... well, she's become a symbol for a lot of the beaten down people around here." The blacksmith finished his ale in a loud swallow followed by a louder belch. "But it's getting serious for her. If they do catch her, she's going to lose her hands. She needs to get out of this town."

"But the gates are guarded."

"True. Like I said, it's getting serious." The blacksmith stood up. "But come on. Enough talk. Let's go look at the scenery."

"And what would Druscilla say to that?" Iolaus asked impishly.

"Just because I'm married, that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the beauty we have been graced with this evening."

Iolaus smiled. "Be there in a minute."

The hunter sat and listened to the music, and thought on Kevon's words. Then he heard a soft voice from behind him say, "Hello."

"Hello, Diane," he replied, without turning around. He recognized her voice.

"What's your name?"

"Iolaus," he said, turning. There stood the young woman in a blue tunic who had asked him to dance. Now he knew why his dance partner never spoke and why she disappeared when the guards showed up. "Come to join the party?"

"No. You saw what my presence brings, but I do like to watch."

Iolaus nodded. "By the way, you're good." He saw Kevon salute him from the kegs, and smiled back.

"Kevon, he's a nice man." She put her hand on his arm and very seriously stated, "Iolaus, thanks for the other night. I really appreciated that."

"What, being tossed to the floor by a naked man who invited you to relax in his room?" He laughed, and so did she. He covered her hand with his. "You're welcome."

A woman screamed and Iolaus turned quickly, standing to check. He saw it was a scream of surprise, not one for help. "You know, Diane, if you need anything, let me know. I'll try to help you out."

"Iolaus, who are you talking to?" Iolaus turned

"Hmm? Oh hey, Herc, I was -- HERCULES!" Iolaus jumped and hugged the demigod. "You made it. I was getting worried about you."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to worry you." The demigod laughed at his lover's exuberant greeting. He stroked Iolaus' face. "Sorry I'm late."

"That's okay. You're here now." Then Iolaus straightened up, looking around the large body of his partner. "Diane," he called softly, as his eyes searched the shadows.

"Who's Diane?" The demigod asked, also looking around.

"She's -- oh, don't worry about it," Iolaus responded, realizing what it would take to explain it to him. He got that look from his lover.

"Another pretty young lady?"

Iolaus smiled and lowered his head. "No, well, yes, but -- never mind. Come on, there are some people I want you to meet." He led Hercules over to Kevon and Druscilla.

Late that night at Kevon's barn, Iolaus sat up and listened to the guards marching in the streets.

"What's wrong, love?" Hercules asked, rising up partially on one arm.


"Athenian Guard," Herc responded.

Iolaus nodded. "I'm worried about Diane."

"Isn't it about time you told me who she is?"

Iolaus sighed and told Hercules the story of the young thief, concluding with, "Herc, she's about the same age I was when I got caught, and Kevon said the guard had it out for her."

Hercules recognized the concern in his friend's voice. "We'll do what we can," he said, putting his hand on the hunter's shoulder. "But since it's been two weeks and since we are both awake --" He lifted his eyebrows at the hunter.

"Uh-huh?" Iolaus questioned, returning Herc's smile with his own coy smile.

"Come here" Hercules smiled back and lowered Iolaus to the blanket they were sleeping on.

A few moments later, the door to the barn opened. Hercules instinctively shielded Iolaus from the intruder's view.

"Uh, excuse me," he said sharply to the newcomer.

"Oh, Hades!" came a distinctly feminine response.

"Diane!" Iolaus exclaimed, sitting up.

"Iolaus?" came the amused response as Diane took in the amorous position. "Sorry," she mumbled "I forgot you were staying here." There was a pause. "You'd better get -- uh dressed. The guard is coming."

The hunter had the distinct feeling Diane was staring at both of them, and he grabbed the blanket to cover himself.

"What's going on?" Hercules asked, as Iolaus reached for his clothes.

"That's Diane, " Iolaus responded, handing Hercules his pants. They both began to dress quickly. Suddenly, a figure landed beside the demigod and he almost hit whoever it was until he realized it was Diane. She was quieter than Iolaus when she moved.

"We're surrounded. You two had best act like you don't know me. They'll probably let you go if you act like I just came in and surprised you."


"Or you could try to distract them, while I get away." She pulled her hood off and looked at them.

"This isn't the way to handle this," Hercules said sternly. "Iolaus, you know that."

"Herc, this is Athens," Iolaus said, with meaning. Then he turned to Diane. "Are you sure?"

"That we're surrounded?" She smiled brightly. "Yes. That they'll let you go?" Another smile. "No." Iolaus couldn't help but return the smile.

"Diane, you should turn yourself in," Hercules admonished.

"Ha!" she laughed. "And who are you, big man?"

"Diane, this is Hercules, my partner," Iolaus explained.

"Hercules? The Hercules?" She asked, with enthusiasm. They both nodded. "Cool. Nice to meet you, Hercules." She extended her hand and he took hers. She looked at Iolaus "Your partner. Right?"

Iolaus blushed lightly at her implied meaning.

"Diane!" came a shout from outside. "Give yourself up! The barn is surrounded!"

"Not a chance, Degos!" she screamed back. "By the way, he's clueless isn't he?" she asked Iolaus, obviously referring to Herc's comment about turning herself in.

"Uh, yeah, he is."

"Diane, I promise you a fair trial," came the call from outside the barn.

"Yeah, right!" She checked all 4 sides of the barn quickly. "This is not good," she commented to Iolaus, who had joined her.

"Just come out peacefully and I promise no harm will come to you!"

"Until after the trial. About the time you put my head on a spike, my hands hanging around it as a decoration with some sign about how The Athenian Guard always triumphs! Not on your life, Degos!"

"She's only a thief," Hercules whispered to Iolaus, concerned about the severity of the punishment she described.

"Herc, she has made these guys look like fools for two years," Iolaus answered, buckling his sword on. "Besides, they take thievery pretty serious here."

"Come out or I'll burn you out!"

"You two better go," Diane whispered. Then she raised her voice and called, "There are two men in here. Can they come out?"

"All of you are free to come out with your hands up!"

She smiled at them and then nodded at the door.

"We can't just leave you here," Iolaus protested.

"You can't do anything for me in here," she said, pushing him towards the door. "Testify at my trial."

"She's right," Hercules added firmly. "Come on."

They walked out the door and found 12 swords pointed at them. They both put their hands up.

"Why didn't you grab her?" a guard questioned.

"Uh ... she had a knife," Hercules temporized. Iolaus looked up at him as the guards moved back, and the demigod realized his next lecture, next several lectures, on lying were going to be completely ignored.

"Okay, Diane, we're coming in!" Degos called "Keep the door covered," he added to one guard.

Hercules and Iolaus watched helplessly as Diane slid out the door after the guards went in, only to be grabbed by the guard who had stayed outside.

"Hello, little thief," he said smoothly.

Hercules' hand closed on Iolaus' shoulder as he began to move forward. Then they both watched in amazement as Diane stomped on the guard's foot, drove an elbow into his ribs, and threw her head back into his nose. She was free.

"She's good," Hercules whispered. Iolaus nodded, smiling happily as Diane disappeared down an alley. She stopped to wave and then disappeared into the shadows.

The next day, Hercules and Iolaus walked in the market. Hercules was not happy with the way Iolaus had spoken with Degos the night before. Of course, Degos demanding to know why they hadn't stopped her, as if they were one of his guards, had even gotten under the demigod's skin.

"Iolaus," he chided, "if you continue to harass and insult the head of the Athenian Guard on Diane's behalf, is it going to help her chances when she gets caught, or will it hurt her?" That made Iolaus think.

"Okay, okay, but he really ticks me off." They barely even noticed the beggar sitting by the wall, but someone had.

Later that day, Kevon's son came running up to Hercules and Iolaus, who were wandering the main market area. He pulled apprehensively at Iolaus' vest and motioned for him to lean down so he could whisper something to him. Hercules looked on amused.

"What?!" Iolaus cried.

"Shhhh!" the boy pled looking around.

"Okay, I'll be there soon." Iolaus assured the boy, before the boy sped off again. "Come on, Hercules."

"What?" the demigod asked, confused at the sudden exchange.

"Diane's been arrested." Iolaus moved off resolutely through the crowd.

They were allowed to see her, and as they were led down into the prison, Iolaus felt a claustrophobia come over him. He could only see the damp walls, the distant clank of heavy iron doors, the squeak of locks being closed, the smell of old straw, human waste and death. A shiver ran up his spine. This was his fate, if not for Hercules and Chiron's Academy.

The guard stopped outside a cell.

"You got visitors, thief." The guard announced.

"You shouldn't have come." She said in a quiet voice.

"Can I help?" Iolaus asked, noticing how small and young she looked curled up on the straw pallet. He wouldn't want to have to stay in this place himself, so he knew she must be frightened.

"Nothing you can do," she said, moving towards him. There was a clink of chains and Iolaus realized she was not only in manacles, but also in ankle chains. "I'm guilty. If I'm lucky, I lose a hand." She smiled gamely, getting up and moving as close to where he was as the chains allowed. He stepped over to her and covered her hand on the bars of the cell, but was driven back when the jailer struck the back of his hand with the butt of his whip.

"Ya ain't allowed to touch 'er, just talk to er," he responded, as the three of them glared at him. Iolaus looked back at Diane.

"And if you aren't lucky?"

She shrugged and moved back to the straw pallet.

"I lose my head," she said, in a very empty tone of voice. "Go away, Iolaus, Hercules. Please. Thanks, but ... there's not much you can do." He knew the fear, the fear of what the next day would bring, the fear of loosing your hand, your life. He understood and reached through the bars and stroked her face. Hercules stepped in between him and the guard.

"We'll do what we can." he assured her.

That evening as they ate dinner with Kevon and his family, the door burst open. Degos, along with a large contingent of men, burst through the door.

"What is the meaning of this?!" Kevon exclaimed loudly.

Degos pointed at Iolaus.

"He's under arrest. Take him!" the captain of the guard ordered.

The first man was stopped cold by Hercules. "On what grounds?"

"Aiding and abetting a known criminal and assisting a criminal in escape."

"What are you talking about?"

"As if you didn't know. Diane escaped shortly after you two left. The guard said you got close to her," Degos accused, advancing on Iolaus. "What did you do, slip her a pick?"

"Diane escaped?" Iolaus repeated, trying not to let his happiness show. "No, I didn't give her anything. We only spoke for a minute."

"Yeah, right." Degos stared at Hercules. "Take him away." His look dared Hercules to raise a finger against him.

"Hercules!" Iolaus cried as he was dragged from the room.

"He didn't help her escape," Hercules said coldly.

"Tell it to the magistrate, tomorrow morning." Degos smiled, following his guards from the house.

Kevon looked at Hercules, but the demigod strode angrily from the room.

"I hate Athens," Iolaus muttered in his cell. "I am never coming back here for the rest of my life." He kicked angrily at the straw and then flopped down angrily on the pallet. "I hate Athens!"

At Iolaus' trial, Hercules presented his best case, but the magistrate wasn't listening. Iolaus knew he had lost. Since Diane wasn't there, someone was going to pay for what she had done, and it was going to be him.

"I sentence you to 3 years in the quarries--," the magistrate began.

"Wait!" Everyone turned to the small figure in the corner. A young woman stepped out into plain view. "He didn't help me escape. I always carry a lock pick with me." Several guards crowded around her, restraining her. Iolaus could see her fight to not pull away. "All he did was try to be my friend. His friend even tried to talk me into giving myself up." There was a tense moment as the magistrate looked at her.

"Why should I believe you, a known criminal?"

"Because I just turned myself in to clear his name," she responded in an irritated tone, but when she looked at Iolaus her expression softened. "Because he's innocent and because I won't let someone else be punished for what I've done."

Iolaus smiled at her and gave her an encouraging look. Hercules looked at the judge, proud of the young woman.

"That is a pretty high price to pay, wouldn't you agree." the demigod pointed out with a quiet pride in his voice, and a nod of approval to Diane.

"How do I know you won't try to escape once he's free?" Diane tried to move her hand, but a guard muscled it out straight.

"If Goliath here will let go," she said in an exasperated tone. The guard released her hand and she reached into her hair and withdrew a small piece of metal, and handed it to the guard. "You have my word." There was a long drawn out silence.

"Free him, take her back into custody, and make sure she stays there this time!"

The next day, they watched as 10 strokes were laid on her back for escaping the prison. The beating was done publicly in the town square. The hunter and the demigod both heard the sound of her tunic being ripped down to expose her back.

Iolaus cringed every time the whip met her back. He had been beaten this way and he knew the biting, all encompassing pain. He watched willing strength to her, but she cried out at the 3rd, her legs gave out on the 5th stroke and she passed out on 7th. The guards sadisticly threw water on her to wake her up. Hercules had to restrain Iolaus as she gasped and jerked as the water hit her back. The last three strokes were administered, and Iolaus was biting his own lip and his eyes were suspiciously moist as he stared at the limp body hanging heavily from the ropes on the platform

When the crowds had cleared, Iolaus drew a ladle of water and took it to her.

"That hurt," she whispered, as he held the drink to her lips under the watchful eyes of the guards. She met his eyes. "I mean, that really hurt."

"I know."

She flexed her shoulders and then winced and cried out at the pain. He surveyed the damage done to her back, nothing that would even really scar, but the guard had been skilled, if you could call it that. Each mark of the whip crossed another, breathing would hurt, let alone movement. He considered covering her back up, but until those scabbed, it would be better to leave it exposed.

"What now?" he asked, crouching down beside her, wiping the tears from her face.

"Wait for the trial," she whispered, trying to breath shallowly. He watched as she tried to get her feet back under her. Iolaus gave her another drink, but noticed her stare and followed her gaze. Degos stood across the square, staring at them. "Thanks, but you should go." He nodded and slowly they left the square

Iolaus wandered around, never sitting for long. He knew it was because of Diane.

"Iolaus?" Hercules gently asked.

"Yeah, Herc?" the hunter responded. "I know, it's just -- Hercules, I keep seeing me. That could have been me, but I chose that life, I wasn't abandoned."

"I know," the demigod smiled gently, gathering his hunter to him, touching his face and stroking his hair. "Although, I have to admit, if it were earlier in our relationship, I would be jealous." Iolaus nodded understanding. "But not now. I know you're concerned for Diane." Hercules moved away from his partner. "And -- she does remind me a lot of you. She has your spirit, fire and," the demigod sat down and looked up at his friend's smile "I see the same thing, you instead of her."

"Hercules, can we stay for her trial?"

"If you want to." The demigod watched quietly as the hunter paced.

"She doesn't deserve this. No one does."

"Iolaus, she's a thief. That is the punishment for stealing."

"She was dumped on the streets by her parents as a child. What was she supposed to do?!" Iolaus demanded angrily.

"Love, I'm not saying the situation is right, or that she deserves it, but -- she could have done something else."

"You know, I hate to say this, but you are so naive sometimes!" The hunter strode angrily from the barn.

The next day, Hercules and Iolaus were working in the forge, Hercules more to keep an eye on Iolaus, and Iolaus, to keep his mind on something other than Diane. Then Kevon came in, and Iolaus knew something was wrong.


"They had her trial."

"What?! Why wasn't anyone told?"

"They didn't want anyone there," Kevon replied, and then looked at the floor.

"What's the punishment?" Hercules asked, with a sense of foreboding.

"Both hands," the blacksmith said quietly.

"Oh gods, no!" Iolaus cried, leaning on the anvil. He felt as if someone had knocked all the wind from his lungs. Hercules put his hand on Iolaus' shoulder and Iolaus covered it. "Herc, what is she gonna do. Her hands!"

"When?" the demigod asked, suddenly aware of the preciousness of the ability to touch.

"Tomorrow morning, in the square."

Iolaus stood there for a moment and then he reached for his vest, which he had stripped off due to the heat. He looked at his lover.

"You coming?"

"Yeah," the big man replied, getting his own shirt.

They were led to her cell, and found her lying on the pallet on her stomach, with her hands tied firmly to the bars above her head. Iolaus crouched down and she rose up as best she could to meet his eyes.

"Hi," he said, quietly.


"How you doing?"

She looked around but when her eyes met his, they were full of tears. He sat outside the bars, leaning his head against them.

"I suddenly want to learn how to play the harp, take up pottery." She blinked and cleared her throat. "And I wish I hadn't been so darn proud. I never should have listened to Mariah. She's such a romantic." She flexed her fingers and they both looked at them. It was the first time Iolaus had seen them clearly without her hands wrapped in rags. He understood why she wrapped them, her fingers were long and slender, graceful. He covered her hand and fought off tears.

"I'm glad you were." He smiled, knowing Hercules would stop the guard if he tried to interfere.

"What do you mean?" Hercules asked.

She and Iolaus smiled. "Clueless," Iolaus said quietly.

"Hercules, there was always work available for me. Only problem was, I would rather be a thief than a whore," she explained. "Or at least I thought I did. This has kinda changed my perspective on things. Now it's not even an option." She laughed bitterly. "What do you think, Iolaus? Would you be interested in a whore with no hands?"

"Anything we can do?" Iolaus asked, completely dismissing the question.

"Scratch my nose." He did and she sighed. "I know it's only because I can't touch it." She looked around and her eyes settled on her hands again. "Guess I'm going to have to get used to asking people to do that -- and brush my hair and --," She put her face down and they both heard the ragged inhale. "By the gods, what am I going to do?"

Iolaus gently stroked her hair. He spoke her name, hoping it would bring some comfort. He looked at his partner, who shook his head. Iolaus wanted him to break her out and fight their way out, but they both knew they wouldn't make it. Iolaus wound his fingers through hers and he too was struck by the preciousness of the gift of touch. She held his hand tightly.

They left soon and when they were clear of the prison, Iolaus turned to Hercules.

"We have to think of something."

"What?!" he asked, lifting his hands. "Iolaus, she is a self-proclaimed thief. What can we do?"

"You saved that guy on the prison ship."

"They were going to kill him, and besides, he deserved another chance."

"And she doesn't? Herc, she's a kid!"

"I know, love, but aside from just going in and breaking her out, there isn't much we can do. I know it isn't right, and I know you want to help her, but what can we do?" Iolaus stomped off. "Oh yeah, tonight is going to be real fun." Hercules mumbled following the angry hunter.

Iolaus moved away from Hercules. He couldn't get to sleep and he knew his constant tossing and turning was disturbing Herc's sleep. He moved to the window and let the night air cool his body. He stroked his hair back and then paused. Every time he used his hands, his fingers, it reminded him of Diane.

How close had he come to this fate? How close, if it hadn't been for Hercules and Chiron giving him a second chance -- that was it. He knew what he was going to do. He quietly moved around the barn. He considered talking to Hercules about it, but he knew his lover would not approve and so he went by himself.

By the time he got to the prison, he was -- frightened. The ramifications of what he was doing had become all to clear to him as he had moved through the back streets of Athens. He felt like he was 15 again trying to avoid the guards, but Diane deserved this he told himself. He waited for the break and scaled the wall to the prison.

When he reached the sleeping guard, a well placed blow to the back of the head with a handy piece of wood ensured the man's silence. He liberated the man's keys and made his way to Diane's cell.

"Who's there?" came a very frightened voice

"Shh," came his short, quiet response.

"No!" she cried softly, as she recognized the form. "Are you crazy?! They'll kill you for this!"

"Only if they catch us," Iolaus whispered in her ear, as he knelt by her bunk and cut her hands free. Then he lifted her ankle to what little light there was and released the locks. "Eat your heart out, Autolycus," the hunter chuckled. He pulled Diane to her feet and began to lead her to the door.

"I can't. I promised."

Iolaus grabbed her hand. "If you ever want to hold hands with someone again, I suggest you break that promise. Now move!" He pulled her through the door.

Iolaus was heading for the main wall. Diane pulled on his arm, shook her head and almost reversed their direction. He followed her assuming she knew the best way. She had broken out after all.

She stopped by a grating and struggled to lift it, Iolaus added his brawn and it lifted with a quiet groan. They both made faces at the noise and stench that rose up to greet them but dropped into the fetid water and followed the current.

The scary part was traveling under the walls, Iolaus had that strange claustrophobic feeling as they were surrounded by stone. He heard rats skittering - not his favorite animal in the world and much too reminiscent of his times in dungeons and prisons and ships. He shuddered again, but soon they emerged outside the prison and they climbed out of the rank water.

"Why not follow this out of town?" Iolaus suggested, pointing to the wall of the city

"There's a huge grate at the wall and once you're caught against it, the current pins you and you drown."

"Good reason," he said as he followed her.

Diane motioned for him to be quiet and led him into the derelict section of the city. She took them to a stable and they began to clean up in a trough.

"Are you nuts? If they catch you, you are a dead man!" she declared quietly to Iolaus, jumping between terror and joy.

"I am getting you out of this city. I got a second chance and you deserve one too!" he stated emphatically.

"You can't get me out. The guards know me, and they're watching all the gates. You just signed your own death warrant!" she said, almost in tears. "Don't you understand? Sooner or later, they would have captured me. All you've done now is endangered your own life."

"No. Hercules and me, we'll get you out." They were silent for a moment. Then Iolaus saw a light and began to move, but Diane stopped him.

"Who's there?" a voice asked.

"It's me, Silas," she responded quietly.

"Diane?" The stranger stepped up in greeting, but stopped when he saw the blond man.

"He's a friend."

"What's going on? I heard they caught you." Diane pointed at Iolaus.

"He got me out. We need clothes." The man nodded and then left the area only to return with more clothes. "Thanks, Silas. Thanks for all your help."

After they were clean, they slowly moved towards Kevon's barn. The closer they got, the more guards they saw. As they stood across the street, they both looked around, and noted multiple guards in doorways. Then they heard Hercules voice from inside.

"Degos, I'm telling you I don't know where they are. He was here when I went to sleep!"

"Tartarus!" Iolaus whispered loudly. Diane led them back the way they had come. They both knew the guards were looking for them now and they were going to have to be careful. As they made their way down an alley, he heard movement. He crouched, prepared to run, when suddenly he was yanked back into the shadows,

"You survived on the streets?" she asked incredulous, after the troop of guards went past the darkened doorway.

"It's been a few years." he admitted, realizing his old hunter's tricks were about useless in the city. He had to become a streetwise kid again, if he wanted to survive.

"Come on," she instructed, after checking the streets.

Iolaus lambasted himself firmly for pulling such a stupid, mindless stunt. He reminded himself he wasn't Iolaus, hero, friend of Hercules right now, he was Iolaus - criminal, fugitive. He shook his head and followed Diane.

They slowly made their way through the streets. At one point in time, they were caught out in the open, nowhere to go. This time, Iolaus saved the day and pushed Diane up against the wall and pushed his body fully against her, capturing her gasp of surprise in a deep kiss. He wasn't really surprised when she went stiff as a board at first.

The guards laughed and said something about breaking it up and kept moving. When they were gone, Iolaus stood back.

"Sorry about that," he smiled apologetically.

"That's okay." Diane panted breathlessly. "It worked. I'm sure my heart will slow back down -- soon."

Finally Diane turned into a darkened courtyard and knocked on a door. The door opened but there was no light.

"Who's there."

"Me, Mariah."

"Diane, get in here!" The two fugitives found themselves rapidly bustled into a kitchen that was barely lit. "Who's he?"

"Mariah, this is Iolaus. He's the one that got me out."

Mariah held a candle up to his face and Iolaus saw a heavy-set matronly woman, who stared at him with a jaundiced eye.

"Hi," he said, flashing her the smile he knew could win a woman's heart.

"He looks honest enough. Stupid, but honest."

"Hey!" Iolaus objected, as Diane smothered a giggle.

"Honey, you break her out of prison, and since you're here, I'll assume you had no plan whatsoever, and now you expect me to be impressed?!" The woman responded. "Wake up and smell the pita, boy. It was brave, but you're still stupid."

"Mariah," Diane pleaded. "Help us out."

"You know I will." She studied Iolaus thoughtfully. "And this pretty boy of your's just may be your ticket out. Alethia!" she called quietly to someone in another room.

"Yeah, Mariah."

Iolaus turned and saw an overly made-up woman come through the door. She had a sway to her hips that said one thing: for sale. Diane had obviously brought them to a cathouse.

"By Charon's balls!" he exclaimed softly.

"What's a matter, Blondie? Never seen a lady before?" Alethia asked

"Ooookay," he responded, lifting his eyebrows. He walked over to the fire and made a show of warming his hands at the flames.

"Alethia, go find out what's going on out on the streets."

"Check on Hercules at Kevon's barn," Iolaus instructed. "If you can get to him, tell him we're here."


"Yes, Hercules," Iolaus snapped. He was getting tired of their attitude.

"Calm down, Iolaus," Diane whispered, next to him. "They just don't know you."

"Yeah, well, they could give me some credit. I did get you out of prison."

"For which I am very grateful."

"Honey, we're all grateful you got her out, we just wish you had gotten her all the way out," Mariah responded. "Now I have an idea. Diane, go find Felice and ask her to help you get all dolled up, like you were a lady with a permanent gentleman." Diane looked at her dubiously, but Mariah was staring at Iolaus. "And I'll work on the gentleman."

Laughing in sudden comprehension, Diane giggled as she headed for the doorway.

"Oh goody, I get to play dress up again.

"Yeah, but no peeking this time, girl!" Mariah called laughing. She looked Iolaus over again with a practiced eye. "Strip."

"Uh, what do you have in mind?" Iolaus asked, backing away.

"Don't worry, honey, by the time I'm finished with you, your own mother won't recognize you." She led Iolaus into a back room. Someone pulled his vest off his shoulders and commented, "Ooh, nice!"

"Mariah!" Iolaus cried, as the door closed behind the older woman.

Later, Mariah was putting a temporary dye in Iolaus' hair. While they were waiting for it to set, Mariah looked at the hunter.

"This is for Diane," she handed him a small pouch. "To help her get started."

"Mariah, why didn't you get her out?"

"To what? I couldn't bring myself to let her work here. I don't know anyone outside these walls," Mariah responded. "Send her out into the woods? Diane may be street smart, but she is not a huntress."

"Okay, I see your point."

"And you -- don't you go breaking her heart. I know your type," Mariah said, shaking a finger in his face.

Iolaus smiled. "Maybe a few years ago, but I have someone now and Diane -- she knows it."

Mariah stared at him again. Laughter filtered from upstairs.

"Okay, but you be careful with her, she's special." Mariah said turning away from the hunter.

"Tell me about her, Mariah."

Mariah remembered the day she had found Diane, probably all of 7 years old, eating out of the trash bin.

"She was a baby, all dirty and eating out of our trash bin, just as thin as a twig." Mariah said barely above a whisper. "We sort of took her in. Kinda funny, a houseful of us raising her not to be -- like us." The laugh coming from the woman was lacking humor. "She hung around the house a lot, and unfortunately had a real talent for being light-fingered. The customer's thought it was cute, at least when she gave them the money back, one or two were not amused, but we dealt with them. And Diane, she was so pretty, all those curls and the sweetest disposition. She used to dress up in the girl's clothes and pretend to be a lady, but after I caught her peeking in one of the rooms, I brought that to a halt, real quick."

Iolaus could see this.

Mariah continued with an anger, a sorrow in her voice. "Then that first night she was caught by one of the gangs. See, she still lived on the streets most of the time, and she drags herself in the back way, all bloody and bruised, crying, saying they had hurt her." Iolaus felt his own eyes mist at the thought of a small girl dragging herself to the only safe place she knew after a street gang had raped her. Mariah turned away suddenly again. "They told her she should know how to do it, because she spent so much time with us." Anger at herself was heavy in her voice.

"Mariah --" Iolaus started, but the matron cut him off.

"We tended her the best we could. She was maybe 10, and she seemed to come out of it okay, but," Iolaus looked at the Mariah. He was willing to bet that Mariah had seen a lot in her days and to see tears in her eyes told him something. "But then that brute caught her in the kitchens. I don't make my girls do things they don't want to, and one of the girls had said no and sent him on his way." Mariah seemed to age in front of Iolaus. "We found her the next morning in the storage room, it was a while before she let any man get near her." Then her eyes got a malicious light in them and she checked Iolaus' hair again. "He paid for what he done - that's for sure." She met Iolaus' eyes and he saw her come back to the present. "Well, from that moment on, Diane moved to the streets, and did reasonably well. She was mad at me for not letting her work here. That child had the dirtiest mouth, said things I never even heard. I knew as time went on and when she started coming back, she understood, but Iolaus, I just couldn't let her work here. She deserves something doesn't she?"

"Yeah, she does," Iolaus said quietly, understanding how a half-grown thief had gotten him in this position. "And I plan to see that she gets a chance to get it."

Mariah met his eye and they both nodded.

"I don't believe this." he said later staring in a mirror.

Mariah had been true to her word. Hades - Hercules wouldn't recognize him. He looked like some land owner in a dark black shirt and matching pants, high lacing boots, and fine black gauntlets. Mariah opened the door into the kitchen and they met a group of 'ladies'. There was laughter and Iolaus had his butt pinched more than once, although he managed to fend off most of the frontal attacks. Two more came in the room and one of them paused and whispered.

"Iolaus?" He looked surprised to hear Diane's voice call his name out of this voluptuous figure standing in front of him. It was only her eyes that gave her away. She put a jeweled hand to her painted lips and giggled.

"Diane - I have told you a 1,000 times --" Mariah began.

"Ladies don't giggle." the woman in front of him responded.

She reached out and touched his hair, which was know a dark brown. Iolaus remembered to shut his mouth. She was richly dressed in a fine linen dress of a deep green with gold accessories, that dipped quite daringly in the front, but covered all of the whip marks on her back. Her hair, although pulled tightly away from her face, was piled and spilling down her shoulders and back. She wore bangles and bracelets and showed a good deal of leg when she walked.


"Oh, good job, girls. Good job."

The back door opened and Alethia came in.

"There are guards everywhere out there. I got stopped three times," she whispered, and then stopped. "Diane?" The young woman nodded. "By Aphrodite's nightie! Girl, I barely recognized you."

"What's the word?" Mariah asked

"I got to your friend and he said something about the old abandoned house," Alethia said, looking at Iolaus.

"Good. I know where he's talking about." Then he turned to Mariah.

"So now what? We just walk out the gate?"

"Yep," Mariah replied. "Diane, do you know how to ride a horse?"


Mariah sighed heavily. "That's okay. I could see you riding in his lap."

"Excuse me?"

"A gentleman of his quality doesn't walk, dear," Mariah said. "Come, sit down and I'll tell you how you're going to do this." The man and woman sat at the table across from Mariah and set to work.

Early the next morning, Iolaus and Diane walked to Silas's barn. Diane quietly explained where they would leave the horse. Silas nodded and got the richest-looking horse he had.

"Watch it, he's skittish," he cautioned, as Iolaus pulled himself up. The horse pranced for several moments until Iolaus got him settled.

"We need some gear to make it look good," Iolaus said. Silas packed up a set of saddlebags with some rags and gear and food that Mariah had sent with them, and their clothes. Iolaus secured it behind the saddle and slid his sword into the rigging. He extended his arm to Diane. She pulled back slightly.

"Are you sure about this?"

"It's okay," he soothed. He explained how to mount, but Diane was rather surprised when he set her in his lap instead of behind him.

Silas shook his head, but said "Good luck -- to you both."

Iolaus moved the horse out of the barn and towards the main gate to the city. As they were about to turn on the main street, Diane turned and gave the hunter a very quick kiss, then looked down.

"Thanks, Iolaus."

"For what?" he chuckled.

"For giving me a second chance. For helping me out," Diane responded, staring at her hands, playing with the rings. "I never really wanted to be a thief. But by the time I realized it wasn't a game, it was too late." Iolaus lifted her face and gently kissed her in return.

"You're more than welcome." He chirruped to the horse. "Now, let's get you out of here."

They approached the gate and the horse became skittish at the number of people. Mariah had told them that all but the main gates were closed and the line was pretty long. As they got close to the inspection point, Diane began to get nervous.

"Remember, if it goes wrong, run outside the gates. I'll find you," Iolaus whispered in her ear. She nodded. "Now giggle."

"Giggle?" she asked quietly, looking up at his face.

"Yeah, giggle." Diane jumped and gave out with a laugh as Iolaus tickled her. She threw her arms around his neck for support. He kissed her again, much less primly than she had kissed him.

When he let her go, she stared at him guardedly.

"What was that for?" That kiss was enough to set off every warning signal she had.

"For the guards edification," he whispered, kissing her ear. "Remember the part you're playing."

"Oh, yeah." She smiled seductively at him. "Better?" she asked with wide-eyed innocence, running a finger down his face. Iolaus raised an eyebrow and nodded. "How does one acquire a more comfortable position when sitting in another's lap on top of a horse?" she asked with a wicked gleam in her eyes.

Iolaus laughed heartily and lifted her higher into his lap. "And you can lean on me if you want to." She did. "Cock your knee and catch the edge of the saddle." Then she relaxed somewhat. "Better?" he asked wrapping an arm around her waist to support her.

"Yeah, but watch my back, would you." Iolaus had forgotten and adjusted his grip on the slender woman.

They moved forward. "Here we go. Remember who you are," he whispered as he nuzzled her hair.

Diane was having a hard time with this situation. The horse was fighting the reins, and it would be a long fall from the saddle. The guards, her face exposed, the strange clothes, a man's arms around her, the way his whisper seemed to echo down to her very toes. While she had to admit she wasn't innocent, she had never taken that course of action willingly. She had always kind of wondered why Mariah's girls seemed happy in their work. Maybe this was the reason. It was getting hot out here, she thought to herself, as sweat slid into the wounds on her back.

A guard grabbed the horses bridle, and it began to prance, drawing Diane back to the present.

"Where you headed to?" the guard inquired, looking at both of them. Diane tightened her grip as the horse shifted nervously.

"To my home," Iolaus responded, trying to quiet the horse again and support Diane without hurting her back all at the same time. "A day's ride to the south."

"Why were you in Athens?" the same guard asked.

Then Diane saw Degos approaching them, and she hid her face in Iolaus' neck and whispered, "Degos."

"Not right now, my dear," Iolaus said quietly, and then stared at the guard with a knowing smile on his face. "Business," he responded with meaning.

Diane giggled nervously, unable to contain the tension in her body.

"Is that what they call it?" she asked saucily. Iolaus lifted her face and kissed her gently, staring into her eyes with a warning and comfort written all over his face. Then he looked back at the guard.

"Anything else?"

"No, go on." He released the horses bridle.

"Hold!" Degos called, and Iolaus pulled up. Diane was not breathing and her grip on his chest was like an iron bar.


"You!" Degos said. Iolaus turned and looked over, but Degos was not looking at them. Instead, he was looking at a man and a young boy. Iolaus gently kicked the horse into a walk and left the city of Athens.

"Am I allowed to pass out now?" Diane asked, after a few moments.

"Not until you can't see the gates," he replied, restraining himself from kicking the horse into a gallop.

Soon they reached the burned out building and Iolaus lowered Diane to the ground. She just stood there for a moment and then sat down on the edge of a well.

"We made it," she whispered in an awed voice. "I've never been outside Athens." She looked around.

The hunter dismounted and tied the horse off. "So besides getting past those gates, do you have any plans?" Iolaus asked, smiling as she wandered around touching things.

"No. I never thought I would make it this far," she said, looking back over her shoulder. He pulled their saddlebags down and tossed Diane, her clothes. She went into the tree line and changed. "So what do we do now?" she called.

"Wait for Hercules. He should be here soon, later today, maybe tomorrow. I want you to know, I am going to have to endure several very long, very boring lectures for this."

"I never asked you to get me out." Came a very saucy reply.

"Fine. Next time, I'll leave you in prison and let them cut your hands off."

"Okay," she replied flippantly, then Iolaus found himself enveloped in a hug, her head pressed against his chest "Thank you, Iolaus, thank you so much." Came her heartfelt thanks, but then she was spinning around in a circle, arms outstretched. "I'm free! I cant believe it! I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I'm free."

He watched with his arms crossed feeling her joy, a smile of amusement playing across his features. She was still very much a kid, he thought to himself

"Hey, are you hungry?" Diane shook her head. "Well I am. I'm going to go catch something to eat. You stay right here. If someone comes, hide."

"I can do that." She assured him, nodding her head vigorously.

"Can you start a fire?"

"Uh -- nope."

"Do you know how to start one with flint and steel?"

"Yep." He tossed her his and said he would be back within a half hour. He came back to a very frustrated Diane. She looked up as he came in and reacted angrily to his smile of amusement.

"Well, Mariah wasn't lying. You are no huntress."

She walked off.

"Come here and I'll teach you."

Iolaus showed her the basics of fire starting, including the use of dry kindling.

"Now, this is a rabbit. Want to learn how to skin one?"

"No, it's a bunny. They don't look nearly so cute in the butcher's shop," she replied, as she stared at the carcasses.

Iolaus sighed and began to skin the animals.

"It's dead, Diane. It doesn't feel a thing," he replied to the small sound she made as he removed the hide.

"Yeuch. That is disgusting."

"Yeah, but it sure is tasty." He smiled as he spit it and set it on the fire. "Diane, you have to make some decisions here. I know there are people that would be willing to let you stay with them until ... How old are you?"

"Best guess, about 15."

"Okay. Well, I guess Alcmene would take you in for a while at least. She'd be a good one to ask."

"Who's Alcmene?"

"Hercules' mother. She is a great woman. She's married to Jason, and we about grew up together. Well, we went to the academy together." He thought for a moment. "Or there's Perseus and Lillian, some people we know close by, but you may not want to stay that close to Athens."

"The farther away the better."

They talked for a while, and Iolaus took the opportunity to show her some plants that were edible and warned her against eating others. Then they both stopped. Judging by the noise, someone was coming.

"It may be Hercules, so be careful to look before you stab this time," Iolaus whispered, as he handed Diane one of his daggers.

She nodded. Diane felt her heart rate triple, as the footsteps grew closer. Then someone entered the clearing, and she realized it was the demigod. No one else was that big. She and Iolaus came out of the brush.

"Hercules!" Iolaus cried. He threw himself at the demigod, holding him close. Hercules held him for a moment and then removed the hunter's arms from around his waist.

"Iolaus, I don't believe you did this," the demigod said in a low voice. "Do you realize you are now wanted in Athens?"

"Good, I never really wanted to go there anyway That was your idea, remember? I don't even like Athens." Iolaus said, moving away from his lover. "Herc, I couldn't let them cut her hands off. I got a second chance ...."

"I know, and that is the only reason I am not paddling you at this very moment. Paddling both of you, in fact." His gaze took in Diane. She tried to mumble something, scuffed her slipper in the dust and wandered farther away from the big man. "What have you done to yourself this time, Iolaus?" Hercules asked lifting a lock of Iolaus' now-brown hair.

"Mariah did it. Don't worry, she said it isn't permanent. I wash it a few times, it should come out. Then you'll have my lovely blond locks to play with again." Iolaus smiled, with a seductive look on his face, but unfortunately, Hercules didn't rise to the bait.


"Uh, the matron of an establishment in Athens," Iolaus responded diplomatically.

"And what were you doing in a cathouse?" the other man asked, crossing his arms. He so rarely had the hunter on the ropes, he intended to enjoy this one.

"I took him there," Diane said, matter-of-factly, not understanding why Iolaus ran his hand over his face that way.

"He really doesn't need your help in the womanizing area," the demigod said coldly.

"Oh no, it wasn't like that at all! Mariah is my friend. She used to let me stay there when it was bad on the streets."

"Really? He looked skeptical. I thought you said--"

"Herc!" Iolaus exclaimed, knowing he was about to make a less than kind comment. "Mariah helped disguise us so we could get out of the city."

"And she did that how?" They both took a breath, and Hercules suddenly realized he didn't want to know. He held his hands up, "Never mind. Tell me about it later." Then he looked around at the remains of their campsite. "We probably need to get moving. I had the feeling I was being followed."

"Let's go then," Iolaus concurred.

They had begun to quickly gather their possessions when a group of soldiers stepped out of the trees.

"Degos!" Diane said in a frightened whisper. Her stomach fell. She knew it had been too good to be true.

"Hello, Diane. We missed you this morning. You missed the cook's favorite -- gruel." He walked into the camp. "And you, now I remember, the gentleman and his 'lady' on a horse. I'll get Silas for this."

"Silas had nothing to do with this. We stole the horse," Diane lied quickly.

"Paalease," the guard responded to her obvious ploy. "And you, -- Iolaus? Right?"

"We aren't going back with you Degos," Iolaus said, in a strong voice.

Degos turned to Hercules. "I will make you a deal. Let me have the girl and I'll let you and your friend go, and even have the charges against him dropped."

Diane's breath caught in her throat. She couldn't help but wonder if Hercules would really turn her in to save his lover.

"No deal, Degos," Hercules responded. Diane sighed with relief.

"Then you all come back in. The mighty Hercules will be tried and hanged for helping a prisoner escape. Get them!" he commanded his troop of guards.

The fight was on. At first, Iolaus tried to protect Diane until he saw she was quite scrappy and was holding her own. He cringed when she nailed the one guy across the face with a tree limb. Between the three of them, it was over relatively quickly.

"Come on," Iolaus said, and they headed off into the woods.

They traveled for three days. At first, Diane was continually griping about the noise, the ground was gushy, her feet hurt. But soon she adjusted to it, and only the unusual night sounds got to her.

Iolaus was happy to discover she was as quick-witted as he was. Soon they were driving Hercules insane, although her incessant questions even started to get on the blond hero's nerves.

"Hey, Iolaus, answer a question for me," Diane said, walking down the path with them.

"I'll try."

"Do you think I would have done well at Mariah's?"

"What?" he asked, turning around to give her a look. "Well, I always wondered why Mariah wouldn't let me work there. I mean, am I really that ugly, or was she being serious that I should try to find the right man?"

"Mariah said that?" Iolaus asked, incredulous.

Diane nodded. Iolaus quickly schooled his features

"She was right," he replied seriously. "Wait for the right man."

"Okay," Diane said

"Hey, Iolaus?" she asked a few minutes later.

"What now?"

"Where did you learn to kiss like that? You know, when we were back at the gate? That felt -- good," she said.

Iolaus cringed at the look he got from Hercules. "Don't worry about it, Diane."

"Show me how to do it?" she asked. It was only then that Iolaus caught the evil grin on her face.

"I'm gonna paddle you," he threatened.

"Ooh, promise?" Iolaus covered his face, and Hercules chuckled. It appeared his beloved hunter had met his match.

At Perseus and Lillian's, Diane slipped into small town life relatively quickly. Both Hercules and Iolaus approved of the way she looked in a new tunic, with her hair brushed. She looked like she was 15 years old. However, her occasional wayward comments were not appreciated by Lillian.

Hercules and Iolaus had stayed to help them add a small room to the house, that would eventually be Diane's room. The night before they left, Diane came out to the barn where the three of them were sleeping. The two heroes on one end in a tack room, Diane in the loft on the other. It was the only way Lillian would allow it.

"I think we've been here before," Diane smiled, as she looked at Iolaus stretched out against Hercules.

"Yeah, but this time we have our pants on." Iolaus laughed.

Diane looked around nervously.

"Don't say that where Lillian can hear you," she said offhandedly.

Hercules gave Iolaus a reproving look, then assured the girl, "Don't worry. You'll get along fine."

"I know, they seem really nice. But I just wanted to thank you guys. I mean, other people tried to help me, but you two, you really did."

"Honestly, Iolaus did it," Hercules said, absently stroking the once-again blond locks of his partner. "But you can thank us by never stealing again."

"Diane, come here," Iolaus said. He sat up and kissed her. "Thanks for not letting me be sent to the quarries. You could have, you know." He stroked the side of her face. "Be happy and enjoy holding people's hands."

"You are such a tease!" Diane cried, as she ran laughing from the tack room, pressing her hands to her overheated cheeks.

"Iolaus! I ought to paddle you for that," Hercules said.

"Herc, she's been on the streets for a long time," he replied, settling himself comfortably on the demigods' shoulder. "You heard some of the things she's said!"

"You are so bad! What am I going to do with you. First, breaking people out of prison and then kissing a 15 year old girl like she were ---"

"Herc, where do you think I learned most of what I know?"

"In the east?"

"Nope!" the hunter replied.

"I don't care, she's a kid!"

"Quit being naive again and kiss me."

"Uh, Iolaus," came Diane's voice from just outside the door. She stepped into the doorway. "I hate to disappoint you, but uh -- well, except for the unwanted attentions of several people, and what I saw at Mariah's -- I'm pretty darn inexperienced. Mariah said I should keep it that way until I met the right man, remember?"

Iolaus sat up. "What about the night in my room?"

"Excuse me?" Hercules asked, staring down at his lover.

"I was just going to give your money back. How did I know you were such a light sleeper? Most people never woke up. I wasn't taking you up on your offer." She was wearing that evil grin again.

"I offered her a place to relax, Big Guy," Iolaus explained hurriedly. "To take a bath. That's all. Diane!" he warned, knowing she was egging Hercules on.

"That's right. He was behaving himself, right up until he pinned me to the floor, buck naked." she explained. They both saw the evil smile that time. "Okay -- I'll leave you alone. A place to relax and after Iolaus got over the initial shock of me sneaking in his window, he was a complete gentleman, even put his pants on. Sorry, I couldn't resist. I just wanted to say thanks again. You all risked a lot back there for me." She left the tack room.

"You are in trouble," Hercules said, quietly poking his lover in the chest with one big finger.

"I didn't know, Herc. How was I supposed to know? Ask? She ran into me on the streets, literally -- I just asked if --"

"Hey, speaking of asking--" Diane called down from the loft, somewhat louder than she needed to. "After what I heard last night, I have a few questions. Would you guys mind answering them?"

"I'd rather not," Iolaus called back, sinking lower under the covers as Hercules gaze promised him many, many lectures.

Hercules lowered his head and whispered in Iolaus' ear. "You are in so much trouble." He kissed the hunter, pushing him back onto the mat.

Iolaus pulled loose. "Don't listen, Diane. Just plug your ears or something!" he cried. Her giggle floated back to them. Iolaus caught Herc's face as it descended for another kiss. "I can't do this, Herc. I'm sorry."

"Oh, don't let me stop you," Diane called back. "I understand the basics, but ..." there was a pause. "Exactly how..."

"Diane!" came a warning from the demigod.

"Well, honestly, after that kiss, Iolaus, I think I might understand why Mariah's girls enjoyed their work so much."

"Diane!" came the groaned response from the hunter.

"Go to sleep," Hercules warned, watching Iolaus flush even brighter red.

"What I really want to know is --" she drew the pause out for a moment "-- how do I ever thank you?"

Iolaus relaxed, imagining the questions she might have asked. Hercules exhaled the breath he had been holding.

"You are evil, Diane, plain old evil!" Iolaus cried.

"I try, Iolaus, I do try," came the happy response from above.

The next afternoon, she waved goodbye to the two heroes as they prepared to walk off. She hugged them both before they left and thanked them yet again for their kindness, not knowing what else she could do.

"Remember, no stealing," Hercules admonished.

She nodded dutifully.

"You have a second chance, Diane. Use it well," Iolaus said, stroking the side of her face. She leaned over and kissed him, but Iolaus felt her tongue touch his lips. He quickly broke the kiss off.

"Sure you won't teach me?" she asked, as Lillian harrumphed in the background.

By now, he knew that evil grin quite well. He kissed her forehead and in a low warning tone only for her, he said, "Behave."

"I will," she promised fervently.

She smiled and waved as they cleared the hilltop and disappeared from sight.


The End

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