Nine Tenths of the Law

By Rudy

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?

NOTE - This is a sequel to Libations, you may wish to read it first.

Ares watched, hidden behind the cloak of his godhood, as Hercules left the inn, with heavy shoulders and a downcast face.

It was good to see that his half-brother was suffering. Not suffering enough, though. He still had some sweet comfort to which he could turn, should he so choose.

Ares turned to let his gaze linger on Iolausí troubled visage, as the mortal watched his friend walk away. The lines bracketing Iolausí tender mouth, and surrounding his hurting, blue eyes seemed deeper now than they had been before he and Hercules had gone in search of the Hind. And, at this moment, they were joined by the deep furrows of worry in the broad forehead. As Ares watched, the toothsome mortal sighed audibly, and stared into his ale, too worn by loneliness and depression to summon the energy to drink.

The god of war allowed his eyes to travel the tempting terrain of Iolausí strong throat and molded chest, to rest upon the tousled, golden hair, to trace the well-made, callused hands which cradled the mug.


Ares rolled his eyes in exasperation as Strife stepped up beside him.

"Youíre still mooning over that mortal? Whatís up with that?" Strifeís tone was mocking, as always.

"It isnít fair. Hercules has stolen two lovers from me, now. Yet, still he has this prize waiting for him. Look at him, Strife. Surely, even you can see the promise in that body. That glorious coloring. All of that blonde bounty is wasted on Hercules. He doesnít deserve such good fortune; he probably doesnít even realize what a treasure he possesses."

"So? Take the mortal. Whatís the big deal?"

Ares tore his eyes away from Iolaus long enough to take Strifeís chin in an iron grip. Placing his face just inches away from the younger godís, he hissed:

"I intend to take him. But, it has to be complete. And, you have to help."

Strife tried not to let his relief show when his uncle released him.

"No problem. Uh, will I get to Ö?"

He subsided beneath the weight of Aresí glare.

"Perhaps. If Iolaus proves to be as good as he looks, though, I might just have to keep him all for myself."

Strife studied Iolaus with new interest. Yes. This could *really* be amusing.

Iolaus watched as Hercules made his weary way out of the tavern.

How long was long enough? How much suffering would Hercules have to endure, before the gods relented, and allowed him the peace which he so richly deserved?

It cut like a knife, standing by helplessly, as Hercules grieved for his second wife. Iolaus had known that Herculesí liaison with the property of Ares would inevitably lead to heartbreak for the demigod. If only heíd found a way to impress this truth upon Hercules. If only he hadnít allowed himself to be shot by the Hind. If only heíd foreseen all of this, and never thrown Hemnor at Herc in the first place. If only ...

Iolaus snorted at his own folly, and forced himself to finish his ale before rising and heading for the forge. Heíd sleep. Heíd forget, for a brief span of time. Perhaps his former lover would return to him in his dreams, bending over him, his honey-brown hair falling in a straight, sweet curtain about Iolausí face as they kissed.

His breath caught painfully at the vision thus evoked, and he carefully brought himself back under control. Those days were gone. If heíd been a good enough lover, if heíd been compelling enough, Hercules would never have looked at Serena twice. She would still be alive, Hercules wouldnít be suffering, and Iolaus wouldnít be alone.

He brushed past two invisible gods as he left the inn. Their hot smiles followed him until he was out of view.

Ares entered his room. The God of War stopped by the bed, lighting the candles with a thought, and staring down at his quarry. His golden prize lay flat on his back, a light blanket draping his lithe form. A slight frown marred his sleeping features, and he moved restlessly, caught by an uneasy dream. Ares laughed softly - his brother was such a fool. Heíd visited Hercules just a few minutes before, to gift him with another deep dream, straight from Morpheus, son of Somnus. The demigod had lain there, alone in his cold bed, already lost in nightmares almost as black as those about to be visited upon him by design.

Why? Why, when he could have been in the arms of this warm, willing mortal, did Hercules chose to languish, cushioned only by his bitter pain? Well, if it was suffering that his so-noble brother craved ...

Ares stripped the clothing away from Herculesí borrowed form before slipping into Iolausí bed.

He was prepared for Iolausí abrupt, violent awakening, and he caught the flailing arms easily, pulling them down and around his waist.

"Hercules?" Iolausí heavy eyes widened as they took in the unexpected sight of his erstwhile lover, "Whatís wrong?"

"Kiss me." The demigodís eyes were strangely intent, burning straight through to Iolausí soul.


"I said, kiss me." Ares claimed Iolausí mouth eagerly, savoring the immediate response, the strong arms surrounding him, the sweet lips opening under his, the teasing flick of an exploring tongue. Another kiss, and another, his hands wandering over the smoothness, the hardness, the soft, silky hair. A treasure, indeed.

By the time Ares released him, Iolaus was trembling with desire, his breath uneven. Heíd thought that he might never taste his loversí mouth again, once the demigod had lost his heart to Serena. To have Hercules seek his bed, barely a month after her death ...

"Herc. Are you sure about this? I mean ... I thought ..."

"You donít want me any more?" Ares moved his mouth to Iolausí throat as he spoke, teasing at the skin with his teeth.

Iolaus grasped for his scattered thoughts, fighting the impulse to give in to his desire.

"Of course I want you, Hercules. But, itís only been a few weeks. I donít see how you could possibly be ready for this. Oh. Oh, yes." Iolausí head rolled back and he moaned deliciously, as Aresí nibbled tenderly on his earlobe.

"Tell me that you want me. Tell me what you want." Ares caught a handful of golden hair, capturing Iolausí blue eyes with his own.

"Herc. We canít. Itís too soon. Youíre not ..."

Ares pushed Iolaus back against the pillow, looming over him, trapping the small, muscular mortal beneath his greater bulk.

"Isnít that why you came to my wedding? Werenít you telling me that you were mine? On my terms? Mine. Whatever I asked? Whenever I asked?"

Iolaus dropped his gaze, and Ares grasped his chin, forcing his eyes up again.

"Werenít you? Arenít you mine?"


The merest whisper. An admission which could never have been made by this proud soul, to anyone other than Hercules. Ares laughed harshly, triumphantly, his arousal growing to encompass the world. He was yours, Hercules. Now, I will take him.

"Pleasure me. Now. On your knees."

"Wha ..." Iolaus pulled away, but Ares brought him close again, kissing him, devouring his throat, his tender nipples, tasting the backs of his knees and the undersides of his arms. Tasting. Tempting. Until Iolaus was burning, moaning, lost.

"Pleasure me."

Ares arose from the bed, extending his brotherís hand to the sex-dazed mortal. Gods, what a sight. The swollen mouth, the burning eyes, the wild hair catching the candlelight. He held Iolausí eyes with his own, willing his unfamiliar features into an expression of loving need.

Iolaus came to him, gracefully leaving the bed and dropping to his knees before his lover. He buried his face in Aresí groin, inhaling the scent of his beloved Hercules.

"So long," he whispered against the demigodís flesh, "So long. Iíve missed you so. Iíve wanted ..."

Iolaus moaned and rocked against Herculesí powerful legs as he slowly swallowed the burning, rigid cock. The scent of Herculesí skin, the sound of his breath catching as he forced his fingers into Iolausí hair, the unreality of suddenly having what heíd feared would never be his again; all of these elements combined to leave Iolaus reeling, floundering in confused sensation. Hercules was behaving so strangely, but, ah, the taste. The lust. Gods. The lust.

Ares, in his turn, found his knees buckling as Iolausí tongue teased at his turgid shaft, as his mouth surrounded it, and took it in. The gasping god looked down through slitted eyes to watch that glowing head moving delectably as the mortal feasted. Herculesí golden lover, on his knees before the God of War.

A twinge, which caused his hands to knot cruelly in Iolausí hair.

The hunter didnít know he was pleasuring Ares. He was offering his lovely mouth, his silken body, his pride, his desire, his heart, yes. But, this incredible treasure was on itís knees before Hercules, not Ares. Ares pushed the thought aside, thrusting into the hot mouth, his hips rocking, his eyes remaining fixed on Iolaus.

This one was talented. So talented. A feast for the eyes, a staunch companion, and a skillful lover. Aresí eyes blazed with sudden anger, and he jerked Iolausí head away, pulling him to his feet in the same movement, and throwing him onto the bed. He dove onto the golden hunter, and held himself at arms length above the man who belonged to his useless, do-gooding, half-mortal brother. The smooth-skinned, gilded man who should be his, Aresí. Ares would taste him. Ares would take him.

He was between Iolausí legs, trying to thrust into him, before Iolaus could form a word either of pleasure or surprise. He grunted in frustration as Iolausí body resisted his efforts, tightly closed against his intrusion. Iolaus caught his angry face between gentle hands, kissing him lingeringly, drawing his attention.

"Herc. What are you trying to do? Thatíll never work. Wait just a second."

Ares was so mesmerized by Iolausí lithe movements as he quit the bed and walked over to the shelving against the far wall, that he didnít even think to protest. The play of the candlelight on the mortalís body was entrancing. The dance of muscles sliding under smooth skin, the easy control. So soon to be under Aresí hands, under Aresí power.

Iolaus pulled a clay bottle from itís shelf and brought it back to the bed. Was he deliberately doing that? That slight, graceful swing of his hips? The teasing, crooked smile lighting his blue eyes; was that calculated? Did he practice it? Somehow, Ares thought not. This was just Iolaus, sharing himself with his lover. The god shivered as the beautiful mortal rejoined him on the bed, pulling the cork from the bottle and pouring a slow stream of lightly-scented oil into his palm. He re-corked the bottle one-handed, and placed it on the floor by the bed.

Keeping his eyes locked with Aresí, Iolaus rubbed his glistening hands together, then reached for Aresí aching shaft. Ares arched his back, pushing up into Iolausí skillful touch as the mortal very thoroughly coated his partnerís erection with the oil, squeezing, stroking, then pumping the turgid flesh until Ares could bear the sweet torment no longer.

He wrapped his arms around Iolausí tight waist, reversing their positions, then slipped between Iolausí legs again, seeking and finding his warm goal. He closed his eyes and savored the moment, as he slowly buried his slick shaft in Iolausí body, taking that which Hercules had dared to consider his own. Iolaus shifted, spreading his legs to accommodate Aresí bulk, and the god groaned with delight. If only Hercules could see ...

Even as he thrust deeper, relishing the tightening of Iolausí body around him, the strong legs rearing up to clamp around his hips, as he felt the gathering of his release cresting, threatening to overwhelm him. Even as he heard Iolausí panting, growling sobs, as he gathered the sweet mortalís hot, throbbing flesh in an eager hand and milked it dry, the thought remained. Grew.

Hercules *would* see.

Hercules felt as though heíd been asleep for a black lifetime. He was lost in horrible dreams of his own mortality, savaged by the weakness which haunted him. The simplest acts - opening a door, chopping wood - had become a taunting torment, reminding him of just how helpless he was without his divine heritage. He had always known that Iolaus was courageous, but heíd had no conception of how deep that courage ran. How had Iolaus faced the perils of life at Herculesí side, trapped in that delicate shell of mortal flesh? Delicate flesh. Sweet, golden, heatedÖ


His dreams lingered on visions of Iolaus walking away from him, their partnership at an end. The tears brimming in Iolausí loving, blue eyes as Hercules confessed his love for Serena, his plans to marry her. The thickness of Iolausí voice as he bid his lover farewell.

Herculesí heart. Sun-crowned, walking sturdily away, leaving the son of Zeus in darkness.

Herculesí guilt now took center stage, embodied by Serenaís death. He had used her, and sheíd died for it. Guilt. He was swimming in it. For, guilty he was.

Heíd never been able to put the thought of his golden lover aside, even after heíd married Serena. Heíd been haunted by his memories of Iolausí body, Iolausí scent, his blazing passion, both waking and sleeping. And, by another guilt. One which he refused to face.

The dreams spat up another image, and he groaned, writhing.

Ares smiled lazily, curling and re-curling a lock of golden hair on his index finger.

Never had he taken such pleasure in mere sexual union. Such a double-edged feast; the deep, lingering kisses, the whispers of desire, of love, the urgent, half-shouted pleas. The blue eyes swimming with unabashed lust, the luscious mouth and nimble hands; the complete openness of the mortalís need. All offered up to Ares on the altar of that golden body. A tender sacrifice.

He was almost tempted to join with Iolaus for a third time. To kiss the mortal from his slumber and take him slowly, gently. To ride the ever-growing desire to itís fevered crest, then to drift slowly downward. To hear that shaking, loving voice in his ear, again.

He pictured the Hind, standing before him, confessing her love for Hercules. He pictured Xena, fighting at his half-brotherís side.

He imagined Herculesí pain as he saw Ares demonstrating his possession of the most precious treasure of them all.

His mind sent the call forth, his fingers never pausing from their gentle play in the mortalís silky hair.

"You rang?" Strife popped into existence next to the bed, grinning lasciviously as he took in the sight of Iolausí glistening, nude body, curled around Aresí assumed Herculean form. The mortal was drifting in sated slumber, one leg hooked over Aresí thigh, one hand limp on Aresí chest. His head was pillowed on Aresí shoulder, his mouth slightly open, as though still seeking kisses, even in his dreams.

"Keep your voice down, fool," Ares whispered, "Iíve decided to go ahead with the plan. Take the second dream to Hercules, and bring his vision here."

"Youíre gonna go for it, huh? Cool. Can I watch?"

"Of course you can watch. Youíve got to bring Hercules. Besides, I might want your help."

Strife reached out to rest his hand lightly on Iolausí gleaming buttock.

"My pleasure."

"If you behave. Now, hurry; heís bound to awaken soon, and I donít want Hercules to miss a moment."

Strife vanished, and appeared beside Hercules, deftly planting the second spell of Morpheus, and chuckling happily as the demigod shuddered, falling deeper into the abyss of the blackest of dreams.

"Hercules. Open your eyes."

Herculesí clouded, blue eyes opened, and focused on Strife, still caught in a dreaming trance.

"Itís me, son; Alcmene. Come with me. Let your spirit follow me. Iolaus needs you."

Strife could hardly contain himself; he hugged his ribs with glee as Herculesí eyes rolled back in his head, and his powerful form became rigid, paralyzed. It was working. The demigodís inner eye would follow Strife now. Let the games begin.

He returned to the little room behind Iolausí forge, darting quickly through the deserted streets, Herculesí presence a strong heat at his side.

Just in time. Iolaus was beginning to stir, his hand wandering over Aresí chest. He nuzzled his face into Aresí shoulder, mumbling something, smiling softly. Ares noted Strifeís arrival, and his heart raced as he began kissing Iolaus, hard-pressed to suppress his triumphant laughter when the mortal slowly awakened, moaning into the godís mouth as his consciousness returned, with arousal in itís wake.

Ares took Iolaus into his arms, holding him close and turning them both in the bed. The mortal laughed drowsily, nipping lightly on Aresí lower lip.

"Where are we going?"

"Just a little change. Thereís something Iíve been wanting to do." With a powerful pull, Ares brought the nearest lavender bed hanging down, quickly tearing it into strips as a bemused Iolaus watched.


Hercules watched, fighting the paralysis encasing him. Where had his mother gone? Why was he seeing himself with Iolaus, in the hunterís room, on the hunterís tumbled bed? Why was Strife at his side, grinning slyly as he watched the lovers?

He listened, as his other self spoke softly to Iolaus, caressing him slowly, nuzzling at his neck.

How well he remembered the taste of that skin. The scent of Iolausí hair.

Perhaps, this vision was a gift, rather than a curse. A dream made half of memories, half of unfulfilled wishes.

He tried to make himself awaken, to shake the numbness from his limbs, but he only seemed to fall deeper into the spell of the sights before him. The loverís voices were clearer now. He could hear Iolausí erratic breathing, hear his own hands slipping over the hunterís heated flesh.

"No, Herc, I want to be able to touch you." Iolaus was protesting softly, his lips against Herculesí chest.

"I want this, Iolaus. You can touch me later. We have all of our lives for touching one another. Right now, I want this. I want you to give yourself to me, completely. I want your surrender. Give it to me, Iolaus." Herculesí hands wrapped themselves around Iolausí wrists as he spoke, holding his arms away from their bodies.

"Herc." Iolaus twisted slightly.

"Give it to me." Hercules whispered, "Trust me."

"Trust you?" Iolausí expressive eyes darkened, searching Herculesí impassioned face, "With my life."

The demigod watched himself turning Iolaus onto his stomach, securing one of his wrists with a purple length of the hanging, claiming the smaller manís mouth and swallowing his dwindling protests. In moments, Iolaus was bound to the bed. He had enough play to rise to his hands and knees, but no more.

As Hercules watched, his dream self rose, to stand before Iolaus.

"Pleasure me."

Awkwardly, deprived of the use of his hands, Iolaus nibbled and licked at Herculesí hard cock, gradually gaining his bearings, and capturing the full length in his mouth. The watching Hercules felt fear rising in his heart, as he watched his other self rocking into Iolausí mouth, deeper, further. Too far. Iolaus was trying to draw back, but Herculesí hands knotted in his gleaming hair, holding him captive as his mouth was roughly penetrated.

Moaning, Hercules quickened his pace, then froze, pushing himself as far down Iolausí suffering throat as possible as he climaxed. Iolaus swallowed painfully, choking and coughing as Hercules pulled out, still holding his hair in a cruel grip. He forced the mortalís watering, questioning eyes up to meet his face, and grinned.

Impossibly, the vision Hercules was already hard again, his shaft thicker, longer than before. He dropped Iolausí head abruptly, and climbed up behind him, settling between his legs and pulling his hips back impatiently. One hand slipped between the taut buttocks, his index finger pushing roughly into Iolausí body. The other hand snaked itís way around the mortalís waist, teasing at his nipples, dancing over his shivering abdomen, finding and encircling his semi-erect penis.

As though a hand had disturbed a clear pool of water, the vision Herculesí image wavered, shifted. His hair darkened, and curled. A carefully-groomed beard appeared around full lips. His eyes grew wider, and deepened to gleaming brown. Ares.

Hercules renewed his struggles as his immortal brother laughed harshly, pulling his hands away from Iolaus. He coated his ever-lengthening shaft with oil from a clay bottle which Hercules recognized with a sharp pang, then slowly, deliberately, sank into Iolausí body. Iolaus moaned, pain, confusion, and desire clouding his eyes.

Ares soon found a rhythm which pleased him, bending forward to bite at Iolausí shaking shoulders, then rearing back up. He pushed his hands into Iolausí wild hair once again, pulling his head back so that the watching Hercules had a perfect view of his former loverís face, yet preventing Iolaus from seeing that he was being taken, not by Hercules, but by the demigodís enemy and brother.

Strife moved into Herculesí view, biting his lip and watching avidly as Ares pounded into the small, muscular mortal with increasing savagery, until Iolaus began crying out harshly, unable to suppress his reaction to the pain of the merciless invasion.

Ares began a quiet monologue, still using Herculesí voice, emphasizing his words with his brutal thrusts.

"Admit that you *wanted* to kneel and pleasure me. Youíd do anything for me, wouldnít you? No matter how humiliating, no matter how painful. No matter how much it debased you. Admit that you love it, admit that you want me to take you, bind you, master you."

"No." Iolaus shook his head, and was rewarded by a particularly violent pull on his hair, coupled with a well-timed twist of Aresí powerful hips. Iolaus cried out.

"How did it feel, when you knew I was with Serena? Did you picture us together? Did you feel my hands caressing her? Did you die inside because it wasnít you in my bed, in my arms? Yet, still, you waited for me. Youíll accept anything from me, wonít you? My words are burning you, arenít they? Yet, still youíre hard, still, youíre gasping."

Ares took Iolausí cock into his hand once again, laughing with delight when it jumped hotly against his grasp.

"You want me so much that youíd do anything, say anything, just to have me inside you. Just to have me fucking you. No, not yet," this as Iolaus moaned, closing his tear-filled eyes and thrusting against Aresí encircling hand, "You donít release until Iím ready."

"Hercules. Please, stop. Donít do this to me. To us. Please." Iolaus gasped the words out, his body trembling violently as Ares continued driving into him ruthlessly.

"Stop? Youíre on the very edge. Youíre about to explode in my hand. Why would you want me to stop?" Ares flashed a feral grin, pulling Iolausí head back further and pumping his weeping shaft with the other hand.

Iolaus shouted incoherently, writhing beneath Ares. Hercules cried out voicelessly, his heart twisting within him.

"Stop. As you love me, stop. No more." Iolausí words were an anguished scream.

"Now." Ares spat the word as he expertly twisted his hand and Iolausí seed shot, spattering onto his chest, the bed, the floor. The god of war groaned as Iolausí orgasm sent spasms through the mortalís body, causing him to clench with an almost unbearable tightness on Aresí plunging shaft. He thrust wildly for a few moments, then pulled out, sending the streams of his own release onto Iolausí shaking, sweat-streaked back. He dropped forward for a moment, resting against Iolausí body.

Hercules pleaded with the cruel Fates to allow him to awaken from this horrible nightmare, as Strife laughed throatily beside him.

Ares raised his head.

"Show yourself, Strife. Show yourself to our little feast." Ares spoke with his own voice, and Iolaus started.

Strife stepped forward, shedding his concealment and standing before Iolaus as Ares slipped off of the bed and glided around to stand next to his nephew, laughing down into Iolausí disbelieving face.

"Ares." Iolausí horrified whisper rang through the room like thunder.

"Iolaus. Itís been a distinct pleasure. And, weíre only just beginning, my sweet sacrifice."

Hercules was dizzy with grief, with revulsion and anger. With hatred. How many lifetimes had passed while he wandered in this foul dream? Bodiless as he was, helpless to intervene, unable to even make himself heard; why couldnít he be sightless as well? He couldnít turn away, or hide his eyes. He simply was. This was his reality. This cesspool. Doubly paralyzing, that this horror should be taking place in the room which had contained some of the sweetest moments of his life.

He no longer doubted that the dream had been sent by the gods. Now he only doubted his ability to survive it. And, Iolaus ...

Thanks to the gods that it *was* just a dream. Iolaus was ...

Strife slapped Iolaus across the face. He turned away in disgust when he received no response.

"This is getting old. Letís blow."

Ares stepped up and lifted one of Iolausí eyelids, then nodded.

"Yes. Heís finished. Just one small detail. Bring me that knife."

Hercules screamed without sound once again. Strife picked up the knife. That knife. The knife which Hercules and Iolaus had forged together. Ares accepted it with a nod, and turned in Herculesí direction. The demigod started; it was the first acknowledgment of his existence which Ares had made during the entire nightmare.

"Dear brother. Have you been enjoying the spectacle? I must compliment you; he is delicious. Incredible. Pity that you didnít remain true to him. Well, a pity for you, anyway; Iíve enjoyed myself immensely. I think that he is worth ten each of Xena and Serena. To each his own, I guess." He raised the blade, and Hercules strained to break free of the dream before he was forced to witness Iolausí death.

Ares laughed.

"I can imagine your expression, brother. Donít worry; Iíll be keeping my sweet sacrifice close at hand. Eventually, heíll regain consciousness. Iím sure that my appetite for him will return tenfold, once those wonderfully expressive blue eyes open again. I just want to leave you a little remembrance of your *former* lover." Ares cut a lock of Iolausí hair, and held it up, gleaming, before him.

"I love this hair so much; but, you *are* my brother. Iíll give it to you. Hold it close to your heart, Hercules. Iíll keep itís source close to mine." Ares cut off the rest of Iolausí hair as he spoke, handing the glistening bundle to Strife. He sliced through Iolausí bonds and lifted his limp, bleeding form, vanishing in a sparkle of golden light. Strife followed, his gleeful laugh lingering in the deserted room.

Hercules felt himself falling backward, and awoke abruptly, sitting up in his own, sweat-dampened bed. He shook his head blearily, blinking in the bright sunlight. How long had he spent, trapped in that torturous dream? He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, preparing to rise, but, a gleam caught his eye.

He shuddered with horror.

There, on the pillow. A soft, silken heap of golden hair.

It had actually happened.

The dimness of the forge was a relief after the pitiless heat of the afternoon sun which had seared him in the streets. Heíd been asleep since early the previous evening. How much of that time had Iolaus spent in Aresí power?

He knew that he would find the little room behind the forge empty. The air rang with Iolausí absence. He realized, with sudden irrelevance, that he hadnít been in the forge since he and Iolaus had returned to the village after Serenaís death. He hadnít wanted to face that room, and the memories which it contained.

He pushed past the curtain, and was met by the thick stench of vomit and blood. His stomach turned as he approached the rumpled, bloodstained bed; the vomit lay in a coagulated pool at the foot. Hercules cried out quietly as he remembered the sight of Iolaus retching violently as Strife tore into his bleeding, battered body. The hunter had barely been conscious, by that time, his eyelids had fluttered a constant, helpless tattoo, the filtered light from the window sending the long shadows of his lashes skittering darkly across his bloodless cheeks.

Hercules captured a stray curl of gold from the bed. It gleamed, unstained, a soft kiss in the palm of his guilty hand. He brought it to his lips, dropping to his knees to lean weakly against the bed.

ĎDonít worry; Iíll be keeping my sweet sacrifice close at hand.í


Aresí hand holding Iolausí head as he hacked away at the flaxen wealth of hair. His voice, throaty and gloating, Iolausí sweet blood staining his immortal body. Hercules growled, his fist clenching around itís silken burden.

ĎHold it close to your heart, Hercules. Iíll keep itís source close to mine.í

The temple was half-filled with grizzled campaigners and strong, fierce-eyed young warriors. They watched the incense slipping skyward, praying for blood, praying for victory.

A sudden flash of golden light flared about the hematite altar, resolving itself into the pitiless God of War, a tawny, sculpted form clenched against his leather-clad chest. His victimís head rolled back as Ares placed him on the altar, and the worshippers began whispering quietly.


The golden warriorís name flickered through the crowd uneasily, slipping across sun-roughened lips and harshly-whiskered cheeks, twining with the incense offered to the dread god of battle, shredding into the dusky shadows cowering above.

Ares smiled malevolently, trailing a lazy hand across Iolausí gore-encrusted thighs.

"Hercules took that which was mine." His fingers slipped through the cropped sunlight crowning Iolausí head, "Here is the forfeit. I now own that which was Herculesí. Any man who touches my prize, dies. Any man who attempts to aid him, dies. He is mine to take, mine to kill."

He laid Iolausí limp arms above his lolling head, wrists widely separated, then spread his bloody legs. A flick of Aresí hand, and black serpents twined about Iolausí wrists, waist, and ankles, binding him to the altar with writhing, hissing glee.

Ares bent and kissed the unresponsive mouth, running a casual finger across one crimson cheekbone.

"Soon, manling. Very soon, indeed."

The worshippers stared at the altarís beautiful, bloody burden long after Ares had vanished. Not one of them noticed the scarred veteran slipping from the temple, his eyes dim with tears, and with memories of a blazing golden man and his legendary companion.

Hercules started, sitting up, gasping against the bloody bed.


He leapt to his feet, ready to confront whoever had been foolish enough to disturb him in his grief, and found himself staring into the creased face of a warrior whom he hadnít seen in years.


"Hercules. Gods. Then, you know?" The veteran paled as he studied the wreck around him.


"About Iolaus. Why arenít you helping him? Surely, Aresí threats wouldnít stop you?"

Hercules stared at the other man with wild eyes, trying to make some sense of what he was saying. He reached out and grasped his shoulders, searching his face.

"Ascenius. How did you know about what happened to Iolaus?"

"I saw him."

"You *saw* him! Where? When!" Hercules didnít realize that he was shaking the other man until Ascenius began protesting.

"Hercules! Listen to me, I was at Aresí temple, in Cernaia. He appeared before the altar, with Ö with Iolaus. He bound him to the altar, said he was a sacrifice. He said Ö" Ascenius looked away.

"He said? Tell me!"

"He said ĎHercules took that which was mine. I now own that which was his.í He said that heíd kill any man who tried to help Iolaus."

"Iolaus was alive, then?" Herculesí voice was shaking.

"Barely, looked like. He wasnít conscious, but, I think that I saw him move. Besides, Ares said that Iolaus was his to kill."

"Ascenius. Head as far in the opposite direction of Cernaia as you can get, and forget about offering incense to Ares for a while. I can never repay you for this."

Ascenius remained, staring at the red, reeking ruin of Iolausí room, long after Hercules raced away. He remembered the battlefields which he had shared with the demigod and his dauntless companion. Heíd never thought to see either of them defeated. And, now he stood on a different battlefield. He contrasted the fierce, laughing, brightly shining warrior heíd always seen as Herculesí good right arm with the small, battered bundle that Ares had placed on the altar. Iolaus had always dared any odds, but, being beloved of Hercules was apparently more than any mortal could survive.

He turned and left the forge, with the scent of Iolausí blood still lingering about him.

"Ooo, good. Youíre awake. Wow; you look like shit! Did we give you a little more than you can handle the other night?" Strife flicked at one of Iolausí nipples, smiling down into the mortalís furious, blue eyes.

The temple was almost filled with worshippers; the word had spread that Iolaus had been taken by Ares as a punishment for Herculesí marriage to the Hind, and the curious from the town had flocked to see the vanquished warrior. The appearance of Strife had caused a ripple among the watchers, which had stilled when he began to speak to Iolaus, as the villagers strained to hear his words.

"Nah. It wasnít anything much. Youíre ..., well, I hate to disappoint you but, youíre overestimating yourself just a bit, Strife. If you know what I mean." Iolausí voice was still rough from that scream-filled night, and he was burning with a dizzying fever which told him that his injuries were just as severe as they felt to be, but he spoke as loudly as his weakness would allow, and his words carried throughout the temple. Several of the watching warriors laughed appreciatively; Herculesí comrade-in-arms hadnít lost his spirit, that was certain.

"You know, itís not a good idea to fuck with me, mortal."

"I think itís a great idea. Come on, get a bit closer; Iíll take another bite out of you."

Strife smiled evilly.

"Thanks for reminding me."

Their eyes locked, sharing the memory. Ares was savagely violating the mortal, while Iolaus struggled to keep from screaming out his pain and rage. Strife had watched Iolausí sweat-sheened, humiliated face, growing more aroused at each half-suppressed gasp, at the tears rising in the blue eyes. He had seen Iolausí mouth, forming the name, ĎHerculesí; as a prayer? As a curse? It had been too much for Strifeís always nebulous self-control.

He had taken Iolausí hair in one hand, and pressed his throbbing erection against Iolausí mouth. The mortal had looked up at him, something unfathomable had burned in those blue depths; humiliated arousal? Iolaus opened his lips, and reached for the godís shaft eagerly. Strife had known a moment of pure bliss, as the mortalís hot, wet mouth surrounded him, pleasure striking through him like a heated blade at the unexpected capitulation. Then, he doubled over, splintered by blinding pain, as Iolaus bit into Strifeís penis with all of his strength. Strife had howled with agony, caught in a living trap. Ares had howled as well; with laughter. Once heíd recovered from the laughing fit, the god of war had caught Iolausí jaw hinge with powerful fingers, forcing the mortalís mouth to open and release his nephewís suffering member. Ares had then pulled out and moved aside, finally allowing Strife to use the mortalís body, as a sop for his wounded vanity. Strife had done everything in his power, as he took possession of that coveted prize, to repay pain for pain.

"You paid for that, didnít you? But, youíll pay again." A twist of Iolausí nipple, and Strife ran his hand down to capture Iolausí manhood. He fondled Iolaus roughly, bringing his other hand up to his face, and sucking at his fingers. He smiled around the small feast, watching the panic rising in Iolausí eyes. Even if Ares allowed Iolaus to survive the next few days, Herculesí innocent lover was gone, forever.

He removed the fingers from his mouth, and thrust two of them into Iolausí body, thrusting forcefully past the ripped muscles, pushing as far as he could reach. He pumped them furiously, and Iolaus could not bite his screams back; they bled hoarsely into the ears of the onlookers. Strife laughed, and bent to chew savagely at one of Iolausí nipples, a tiny red river threading itís way down the hunterís ribcage, pooling on the altar.

He lifted his head, and cast a red grin at Iolaus as his fingers continued their brutal work.

"Hercules saw it all, you know. I brought him with me. He watched us fucking you, mortal. He saw you taking Ares into your hot, little ass. He saw you taking me. He saw every fucking moment. How do you like that?" Iolausí bleak eyes met Strifeís, and the god laughed.

Strife withdrew his fingers, and held his hand high. The smoky light trailed across his bloodied fingers, and one of the watching warriors growled with frustrated rage. Strife laughed again, leaping lightly onto the altar, opening his codpiece, and watching Iolausí horrified face gleefully. A ripple of disbelief ran through the watching crowd as Strife knelt between Iolausí spread thighs, lifting the mortalís hips as high as the hissing snakes would allow.

"Strife!" A voice formed of pure rage boomed through the temple. Strife jumped back to the ground, fastening his codpiece as his adversary rushed forward.

"Hercules!" Iolausí voice broke, "Ares?"

Hercules was at the altar, touching Iolausí face with a trembling hand.

"Iolaus." Pain shredded his voice, as he saw the fear and doubt in Iolausí eyes, "Itís me. Really."

"Is it? Can you ever be sure, mortal?" Strife laughed, caressing Iolausí genitals with a lavish hand. He laughed coldly at Iolausí ineffectual attempts to writhe away from his touch, and winked broadly into Herculesí furious face.

"Donít. Touch. Him." Hercules reached forward to twist his hand in the black leather covering Strifeís narrow chest.

"Why? You said I could!" Strife whined loudly, his fingers now encircling Iolausí unresponsive penis, gently squeezing.

"Let go of him. Now." Hercules shifted his grip to the young godís throat, tightening slowly, inexorably, until Strife released Iolaus to claw at Herculesí hand desperately.

Hercules flung him away, and turned to Iolaus.


He stripped a handful of serpents away from Iolausí right wrist, then from his other arm, pulling him close. The hunter stiffened against him, bringing his newly freed arms up to protect himself. Hercules felt grief ripping through him, and slipped a trembling hand through the close-cropped blonde hair, turning Iolausí face up to meet his beseeching glance.

"Iolaus. Itís me, I swear it to you. Here ..." Hercules released his hold reluctantly, his fear for Iolaus growing. The hunterís skin was searing to the touch, his face grey.

A blow from behind sent Hercules stumbling, and he reached forward to catch Strife as he threw himself at the demigod once again. Rage broke over him, and he slammed Strife against the stone wall repeatedly, until he hung limply in Herculesí hands. Still, Hercules continued beating him, his mind filled with the images of this ... this ... this *monster* pushing, grunting with pleasure, into Iolausí helpless body. In violating Herculesí lover, he had violated Herculesí own flesh.

"Hercules. Stop."

Hercules dropped Strifeís limp body, turning to meet Iolausí pained eyes. The mortal was struggling weakly with the vipers binding his waist, heedless of their hissing response.

"Herc. Help me get loose. Heís done."

"Not quite yet." A languid laugh, and Ares appeared, running a negligent hand down Iolausí chest. The mortal threw a punch into Aresí midsection with all of his strength, and the god caught his wrist easily, still laughing.

"Now, now, little pet; be still. You might hurt yourself, and thatís *my* job. You just lay back and look beautiful." He pushed Iolaus down, and new serpents reared up to grasp the mortalís wrists, pulling them to the altar once again. Iolaus grunted with frustration, twisting against the bonds, his struggles slowing as his weakness overcame the adrenaline which coursed through his system.

A glance, and the two sons of Zeus met. A bolt of light shot from Aresí hand to impact against Herculesí chest, but, the taller man barely registered the blow. His hands caught in Aresí tunic, and he threw the god straight up into the air. When Ares landed, it was on Herculesí back, and they tore into one another with the eagerness of winter wolves. The worshippers scattered as the entwined gods tumbled into their midst, then separated momentarily, before flinging themselves together again. First Hercules gave way, falling under a heavy rain of blows. Then, Ares wavered, as Hercules recovered himself and hurled him to the ceiling once again. Then, they were locked together again, bones creaking with their efforts to destroy one another.

"Hercules! No!" Iolausí despairing voice broke through the battle, as Hercules drove a heavy candlestick against Aresí neck. Hercules dropped the makeshift weapon, turning to face Iolaus, wiping the bloody sweat away from his eyes. Ares laughed.

"Afraid that he might hurt me, little one? You like my face the way it is, donít you? You like my body as it is, also. Face it, Hercules," Ares smirked, "Youíve already lost. Iolaus is mine, now. Just ask him. How long has it been since youíve touched him? Kissed him? Taken him? If you did so now, youíd find my essence still lingering, deep within him. Heís mine, brother," Ares disappeared, reappearing immediately beside the altar. He touched Iolausí face, tenderly, and bent to kiss his penis, "Youíve never come so hard, as you did for me, have you? As you did when I bound you, and used you? Admit it, Iolaus. You loved it."

He sank his teeth carefully into the flaccid flesh beneath his lips, and Iolaus cried out.

"No! Liar!" Iolausí raspy voice was shaking with rage, and he twisted under Aresí cruel mouth.

Hercules roared, running toward Ares, ready to join battle once again. Ares leapt over the altar to meet him in the middle of the temple. They both stopped, blinking, as a shaft of light blazed at the altar, surrounding Iolaus, and sparking cold fire from the silver-grey stone. The mortal glowed in the nimbus, the serpents binding him bursting into flame and dropping away, leaving him free, undamaged by the spectral fire. The light dimmed, and a figure appeared behind the altar.

Hercules stepped forward, ready to defend Iolaus, then stopped, his eyes wonderfound.


Apollo paid him no mind; he bent, speaking to Iolaus, his words too soft to be heard by anyone else. After a moment, Iolaus reached out to the golden god, and Apollo cradled him gently, lifting him from the cold, bloody altar. The mortalís arms clasped around the godís graceful neck, and his shorn head rested against Apolloís bare chest.


Apollo looked up, meeting Herculesí frantic eyes with his quiet, grey gaze.

"Hercules. Do not approach. This mortal is dying."

"No." It was only a whisper, but it hung in the air like a blade. Hercules started forward, his hands outstretched, then stopped; he recognized the look in Apolloís eyes.

"I will care for him. I will seek you out, when I can."

"He canít die. Apollo ..."

"He is already dying. I have said that I will care for him. You will know whether he lives." Apollo turned his head, and regarded the God of War. "Ares. You do not want to engage me."

Ares didnít answer.

"Touch Iolaus again, and I will use my power against you. With whom do you think the other gods will side?"

"You would war with me, Apollo? Over this pretty, little mortal? How unexpected." Ares drawled.

"Yes. I will war with you." Apollo turned back to Hercules, "Farewell, brother."

"Wait! You canít ... please, let me say goodbye to him." Tears were standing in Herculesí eyes as he pled with his implacable brother. Something in his voice reached Iolaus, and the hunter turned, meeting Herculesí desperate eyes with a distant, pain-drugged gaze.


Hercules stepped forward, and Apollo allowed it. The demigod reached out, to touch Iolausí grey, clammy face with trembling fingers. Tears flowed from Iolausí eyes, and Herculesí own tears answered them.

"Iolaus. I love you. Forgive me."

Iolaus opened his lips, as if to speak, but, his strength failed him, and he let his head fall back against Apolloís chest as his eyes closed.

God and mortal vanished, leaving Hercules standing with his hand outstretched, and his face wet with tears. Ares gathered up Strifeís still-unconscious form, and vanished as well.

After a moment, Hercules touched the blood pooling on the altar, blindly lifting smeared fingers to his lips. He crawled onto the altar, and lay where Iolaus had lain, curling on his side and closing his eyes. He was still there when the last worshipper left, glancing over his shoulder at the son of Zeus, huddled against the cold stone.

Iolaus tasted tears.

Were they his own? He didnít remember having wept.

He smelled incense. Cold, rain-scented air brushed by, but the crackling warmth of a nearby fire bathed him soothingly. Soft music drifted around him.

He remembered, suddenly, remembered the agony, the humiliation, the rage. He remembered quiet, grey eyes, and healing hands. He sat up, opening his eyes, and the soft cloth that draped him fell away from his nakedness, to pool on the piled cushions that served him as a couch.

A marble pool of water steamed seductively at his side. Opposite the pool, marble columns rose, opening the large, fragrant room to the tree-filled landscape beyond. Soft, storm-washed gusts of wind caused the torches to dance and bow.

Apolloís temple.


His voice rang, strong and clear, through the sacred air. Outside, the rain increased, as Iolaus waited silently. He whiled away the time by studying his own body carefully. His injuries had healed, though he had only vague memories of the painful process, of the dark, weary passage of time. He sported no new scars; at least, not where he could see them. When he remembered what had happened, though, when he thought of Hercules, despair clawed his heart and his blood burned in his veins.

He pushed the painful images from his mind, and stood to roam the temple. He found a pile of folded clothing near his cushions; thick, woven pants and a soft tunic, both in a muted bronze. They fit as though they had been fashioned on his body, and the sturdy, leather boots fit just as perfectly. The thick soles hushed his steps as he prowled through the marble rooms, slipping through the incense clouds like a pale wraith, pausing before the sacred flames. He returned to the rain-sweetened room by the pool.

Apollo stepped through the columns, raindrops glistening on his hair and skin.

Iolaus offered him a smile.

"Youíll catch your death, hanging around in the rain, like that."

Apollo smiled in return, and dried himself with one of the cloths piled on a bench near the pool, before settling on the cushions next to Iolaus. His heart sang as Iolaus embraced him, then relaxed against him, trustingly.

"So. Youíve healed me. I should go back." Iolausí voice was even, but his heart pounded under Apolloís tender hand.

"Are you healed, then?"

Iolaus looked up and met Apolloís eyes. The god wanted to weep at the sight of the agony which greeted him in that broken, blue gaze. He had done what he could, using carefully selected herbs and tinctures, to keep the interminable agony of the period of physical healing from impressing itself upon the mortalís memory. Now, however, it was Iolausí soul which needed to be healed. For that, his mind would need to be clear, and each painful moment would leave itís mark upon him.


"Why, then, should you leave the temple?"

"Hercules Ö heíll be worried."

"Do you feel ready to see him?"

"I donít feel ready to see anyone. I want to find a dark place, and hide there, forever," Iolaus attempted a laugh, "Apparently, Iíve become a coward."

"You are courageous beyond words, Iolaus. You are simply damaged."

Apollo dropped a kiss on the top of Iolausí head, as the hunter turned his head to gaze blindly out at the rain-washed landscape. Apollo let the silence settle over them, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of Iolausí skin. The mortal had been in the temple for weeks; the fragrance of sacred incense permeated his every pore. When Iolaus had relaxed against him, and the hammering of the heart under Apolloís hand had slowed to a slow, strong rhythm, the god spoke again.

"Stay here, Iolaus. Keep the temple for me," Apollo pressed his lips against Iolausí bare shoulder, softly, "No one is better suited to guard the temple of Light, than you. When you are ready, you may leave. Just, please, tell me first. Allow me to take my leave of you."

"And, if Iím never ready to leave?" Iolaus felt a shiver commence in the depths of his being, as he voiced the words. The possibility was all too real.

"Then, stay. Stay, beautiful one."

Iolaus raised Apolloís hand to his lips, and placed a kiss in the palm.

"Does he know that Iím alive?"

Apollo didnít have to ask to whom Iolaus referred. He allowed the familiar pain to lance through his soul, then spoke.

"I will go to him, now, if you wish it. I have promised him that I would let him know if you lived."

"Please. Tell him that Iím alive. Heíll be blaming himself for what happened, and heíll be worried about me."

"I will." Apollo kept his own opinion as to Herculesí guilt to himself, and accepted the mortalís brief, grateful kiss.

Hercules lit the incense, and settled under his blanket for the night.

The curtains were drawn against the cold, but the room was fresh, and clean. He had kept it so, since his return from Aresí temple. He had removed all evidence of Iolausí suffering, save one. He had burned the bedclothes, the hangings, and the fouled rugs. He had scrubbed the walls and the floors, cleansed every corner of the room. Heíd brought in fresh, soft-woven goods to make up the bed, placed thick, new rugs on the polished floors. Heíd piled the bed with pillows, and filled earthen pitchers with citrus boughs and flowers.

He placed Iolausí hair in a delicate, ceramic bowl next to the incense, save for one, gleaming lock. He had tucked the remaining curl into a small, cloth pouch, which he strung around his neck, to dangle against his heart.

He tended the room carefully, cleaning it each day, refreshing the flowers, lighting the incense.

He slept on a pallet at the foot of Iolausí bed. He manned the forge. He waited.

Those who came to the forge treated him with great care. The common wisdom held that valiant Iolaus was dead, killed by Ares as a judgment against Hercules. Hercules didnít comment on the sometimes furtive, sometimes open pity, curiosity, and occasional condemnation he found in the townsfolk, and the forgeís customers. Jason and Alcmene came, pleading with him to go home with them. He kissed his motherís cheek, and sent her home with her husband. Iphicles came, asking Hercules to travel to Corinth with him, to help him run the kingdom. He told Hercules that Iolaus was dead, and that it was time for the demigod to get on with his own life.

If Iphicles had hoped to cause a spark of feeling in Herculesí beautiful, expressionless face, or to see some reaction in the blank blue eyes, he was disappointed. Hercules clasped his shoulder, briefly, and turned back to the blade that he was forging. The King of Corinth turned his face homeward, defeated.

Hercules could not allow himself to think that Iolaus was dead. Iolaus had to be alive. Surely, if he had died, Apollo would have come to Hercules by now. Bearing the truth in his elegant hands, transfixing Herculesí guilty heart with the molten silver of his eyes.

"I was trying to save you, Iolaus. I thought I could save you." Herculesí voice sounded small in the empty room.

He chided himself for the thousandth time. He had tried to evade the hand of the gods, and he had failed. Had he really expected any different?

He vividly remembered forging the first link in this hideous chain of circumstances. He had been kissing Iolaus, his hands splayed against the hunterís broad back, his mouth opened to Iolausí, breathlessly accepting the sweet forays of his loverís tongue against his own. His desire had grown, pounding through his blood, as Iolausí burning body shook against him.

He had buried his hands in the bright tangle of Iolausí hair, pulling away and filling his eyes with the heartbreaking beauty of his loverís face. Iolausí eyes were heavy and dark, yearning. Hungrily, Hercules studied each feature, each curve, each indentation. All of Iolausí face, all of Iolausí body - Hercules wanted to possess all of him. To taste all of him. To completely absorb him, and be absorbed by him in turn.

"Herc." Iolausí voice had been so sweetly urgent, "Herc, please."

Hercules kissed him, and the floodgates opened. Time shattered around him, as he sank between Iolausí eagerly parted legs and drove into him, never breaking the kiss. Impossible, that the kiss should be broken. The very thought was unacceptable, perverse. They should always be thus; Iolausí powerful legs wrapped around Herculesí ribcage, his arms around Herculesí neck, the demigodís stiffened shaft buried in the silken heat of his loverís body, their mouths locked together, sharing each breath. Impossible that this should ever end.

It would end, though. As Iolaus moaned into Herculesí mouth and convulsed around him, bathing Herculesí skin with his hot seed, Hercules knew that it would end. Despite the strength of the limbs clasping him, despite the living heat of Iolausí breath in his mouth. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ferocity of the mortalís courage.

Iolaus would die.

Iolaus had died.

Three times. Twice, in Herculesí arms. Twice, that melting warmth had stiffened under Herculesí hands into the unresponsive chill of death.

Iolaus was Herculesí life. He was Herculesí breath, his passion, his truth, his sword, his shield.

This blazing, fragile mortal. He was Herculesí world.

If the gods knew, they would take Iolaus away. They would leech the glowing life from his satin skin, sullying it with a pall of grey. They would dull the brilliant beauty of his expressive eyes, leaving unblinking stones in their places. If Hera knew Ö

Hercules pounded desperately into Iolaus, plunged into his loverís exquisite ass, as though it were the last time. His release was immediate, and bitter, and tears rose in his eyes as the last spurt left his cock. He lingered, wilting, unwilling to relinquish his possession of his loverís body. When they finally parted, he pulled Iolaus close immediately, burying his wet face in the hunterís strong neck. The salty flesh, the silken hair. Iolausí breathing, gradually slowing, Iolausí hands moving tenderly along Herculesí skin.

He was terrified. He couldnít allow himself to love Iolaus so deeply. He couldnít allow anyone to know how he felt.

He had begun pulling away from Iolaus, after that day. Perhaps his withdrawal had been unconscious, at first, but once he saw the beginning of pained wonder in his loverís clear eyes, it became deliberate. When he met Serena, and felt her soft body cleaving to his own, he knew what he must do. If he bound himself to another, the gods would never know how important Iolaus was to him. The target that glowed like a brand on Iolausí forehead each time Hercules gazed upon him would be removed.

He could protect Serena. She was a creature of legend, not a mere mortal. She was the last of her kind. Surely, the gods would not touch her. They would punish Hercules, perhaps, but not Serena. Besides, Hercules didnít love her. If he didnít love her, there would be nothing for her to fear.

Nothing for Hercules to fear, because Iolaus would be safe.

In retrospect, his blind, brutal selfishness was excruciatingly clear to him. He always swore that he was not a god; yet, he had behaved like one. He had moved both Serena and Iolaus as though they were playing pieces, trying to impose his own will upon the world. He had played the adoring lover to Serena, and her huge, dark eyes had worshipped him for it, even as Iolausí clear, blue eyes had wept over his betrayal.

Herculesí wedding night had been a nightmare.

He had cared for Serena, and found her beautiful. But, even as he kissed her, as he slipped the bridal garments from her soft body and made her his own, his flesh longed for Iolaus. He watched his hands touching her, and saw Iolaus kissing those traitorous fingers, lovingly. He tasted her skin, and felt Iolausí lips under his own. He entered his brideís body, lay upon her, and his heart shrank within him. He doubted that he would be able to find release, wondered if he would be able to stay hard long enough to bring pleasure to the innocent woman he had married.

Still, he had managed it, and the act became easier each time, more pleasurable, more real.

He had dreamt of Iolaus each night, and awakened with tears on his face.

When Serena was killed, he knew that he was to blame. He had used her, and she had died because of it.


The voice pulled Hercules from his reverie with a start, and he jumped to his feet. Apollo stood before him, regarding him expressionlessly.

"Apollo. How is he? Heís not Ö" Herculesí throat closed around the word.

"He has recovered, physically. His heart has yet to mend."

Hercules looked past Apollo, straining his eyes for the sight of Iolaus.

"He is not with me."


Apollo studied Hercules. The demigod was thinner, his tan had faded. New lines surrounded his mobile lips, and deep furrows of loss and care had etched themselves in his brow. His thick, brown hair was dull, and tangled, and dark stubble blurred the perfect outlines of his cheeks and jaw. Apollo turned away, viewing the lovingly tended room. When he once again met Herculesí eyes, what the demigod saw in that piercing, grey gaze stopped his breath with fear.


"He does not wish it."

"Does not Ö"

"He still needs time, Hercules. He needs to find his way."

Apolloís face was sad, though a hint of a sweet smile curved his lips. Hercules looked at the godís hands, knotted together, watched Apollo drinking in the sight of Iolausí room. The truth announced itself like a note of the purest music.

"You love him. Youíre in love with him." Hercules stated, softly.

Apollo *blushed*. Hercules had never seen Apollo blush.

"Yes. I love him."

Hercules nodded, and forced himself to ask the next question.

"Does he love you?"

"He would, if he could. Now, I have a question for you, Hercules. Why did you break Iolausí heart?"

Hercules blinked. He wrapped his hand around the little bag that lay against his chest in an unconscious gesture of protection.

"I was afraid. I was afraid of how much I loved him. I thought I could protect him if I turned away. And, I thought I could protect myself, as well, from what his death would do to me," Hercules dipped his fingers into a little bowl, and Apollo saw a gleam of familiar gold, "I was wrong."

"You turned away from him, and took a wife, to protect him? When did you and Iolaus first become lovers?" Apolloís voice made it clear that he would accept nothing less than the truth.

"After Ö after Xena. Two years ago."

"Two years. Youíve never openly acknowledged the connection. You married Serena after two weeks. Did you really think that Iolaus could just accept that?"

"I knew that it would hurt him. When I told him Ö listen, Apollo; Iíve said that I was wrong. Is there a point to this?" There was a glimmer of the old Hercules in the impatient question.

"I donít know, Hercules. Is there?"

Apollo looked around the room once again, then at Hercules.

"Tend to yourself, as well as to the shrine which you have built here."

Hercules put out a hand to restrain the god before he could depart.

"Wait. Please, tell him Ö never mind. Just, watch over him, Apollo. Please, keep him safe."

Apollo nodded, and vanished. Hercules sank to his pallet, and wrapped his arms around himself.

The word spread quickly; there was a Keeper at the temple. The neighboring villages had always thrived under the wise, gentle guardianship of the Healing God, and were grateful that he had found a Keeper; the last one had died many years before, and his duties had been fulfilled by villagers, as they awaited Apolloís will. The new Keeper was slight, golden, and silent. The temple gleamed under his studious care; even the grounds outside were carefully tended. The weeds were cleared, and the flowers and trees encouraged to blossom. There was a tender, new light about the place, and the villagers basked in it, even as they speculated about the stranger living there. He had certainly been touched by the gods, everyone agreed upon that; there was no mistaking the depth of his gaze.

After a few weeks of tending the temple, Iolaus began to venture out into the nearest village. It started when he helped an elderly woman repair a damaged fence, then he had to see to her barn, which required some attention. She needed wood, as winter was coming on apace, so he felled a tree, and split it for her, stacking the resulting firewood and gathering a good amount of kindling for her. Her sister, who lived nearby, needed similar help, and so it began.

Iolausí sunny, gregarious disposition began to manifest itself, tender buds of vivacity and warmth blossoming in his shadowed, blue eyes. He ventured the occasional spoken reply to the villagerís greetings, and initiated a few, brief conversations with the two old women. Soon, he became a familiar and welcome sight in the village, even venturing into the tavern to sit in the corner by the fire and listen to the ribald songs and tall tales, sipping a mug of mead. He gave no one his name, and that oddity was readily accepted; the villagers wouldnít have dreamed of questioning the Keeper of the Temple. They called him Keeper, and he answered to the title.

The outdoor exercise increased his appetite, and his body began to build back up to itís former, muscular beauty. The harmony of his daily existence even eased the lines which had grown in his careworn face over his last months with Hercules; years seemed to melt from his visage. The sense of purpose he found in his tasks at the temple, and in helping the villagers, lit him from within a bit more each day, and the time finally came when his blazing smile made an appearance or two.

Winter came, and he basked gratefully in the warmth of the temple pool, and the constant, sacred flames that he tended. Iolaus told himself that he was living a new life. That his old life was gone, as surely as though Ares had killed him. That all of his passion had flowed from him with his blood, and been left on the warrior godís altar as a dark offering. He felt the peace of the temple permeating his soul, and even the wildest of winter storms screaming beyond the pillars could not touch him. Iolaus was dead; he was the Keeper. The realization soothed him.

Far away, Hercules bowed his head over the flames in the forge, keen agony splintering the core of his being.

Iolaus visited the tavern more frequently, as the winter wore on, and occasionally dined with the old woman and her sister. They watched his blue eyes light with laughter, which only enhanced the sadness that would immediately swim back into the profound depths of his gaze. He would begin a tale, every now and then, only to break off abruptly, and listen to their recounting of their simple dayís quiet triumphs.

Such a beautiful man, they agreed, when he was gone, and they sat together over warmed wine. The way his breeches clung so lovingly to his slim hips, the drape of his soft tunic, which fell open as he moved, to reveal the beauty of his chest. His short, golden curls, and sinful smile. He didnít belong in a temple, this one. He belonged in bed, with an inexhaustible lover who would place him above all other things.

No one knew that the god Apollo, himself, visited the Temple quite frequently, these days. No one ever saw him, to mark the aching tenderness in his eyes when they lingered on the Keeper, or the slight tremble in the fingers which would sometimes dare to brush the mortalís brow.

Iolaus began to dream new dreams. He no longer writhed helplessly in Aresí grasp each night. He dreamt of temple flames, of fragrant smoke, of wind-whipped trees, and sweet, blessed rain.

He dreamt of Hercules, sleeping on the floor, curled around himself like a hurting child, with traces of tears marring the poetic beauty of his features. Iolaus would awaken from this vision, bathed in tears of his own.

Eventually, a new element entered his dreams. He would kiss Hercules awake, drinking his salty tears, and pulling the blankets away from his body, to lavish his loverís limbs with an eager tongue. Hercules would arch into his touch, moaning urgently, begging for more.

Iolausí own moans awakened him, burning with need, his erect cock throbbing between his shaking thighs. He had not felt sexual desire for so many months; even Apolloís breathtaking beauty failed to move him. He found the return of his bodyís demands to be an unsettling, unexpected event.

He took his weeping shaft into a strangely clumsy hand, spreading the glistening drops of fluid over the tender head, and slowly bringing himself to completion. He saw Herculesí face behind his closed eyes, and tasted his loverís flesh beneath the teeth which bit into his lower lip as he came.

Spring arrived, and his stirring blood reacted with a torrent of longing, increasing with each week that raced by. His elderly friends saw the soft, dreaming smile curving his lips, and the color painting his cheekbones when he recalled himself from his musings, and they toasted one another behind his broad back.

One day, he took his leave of them. He kissed their withered cheeks, then offered tender kisses to their wrinkled lips. They wrapped their arms around each otherís waists as they watched him walk away, with a lithe, swinging step, and the late spring sun catching gold fire in his hair. The gods best strengthen the lover he seeks, they agreed. This one is a glory come to earth.

That night he stood outside the temple, watching the blazing stars and listening to the crickets. A distant memory enfolded him like a warm blanket; as a child he had believed the cricketís song to be the sound the stars made as they twinkled. For a moment, he felt himself to be that child, as though the intervening years had never occurred, severing him from that wondering innocence.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he leaned back into Apolloís arms without turning his head.

"Itís beautiful," Iolaus murmured, and Apollo could only agree.

They stood for a long time, silently watching the stars. Apollo savored the warmth of Iolausí body against his own, and the heady scent of Iolausí skin. This precious mortal, so solid against him, yet so elusive. If only Apollo could rule time; he would freeze this moment. Or, perhaps, he would return to a certain loop of days beneath a circle of laurels, when he possessed this beloved man, and was possessed by him in turn. When he surrendered so much of his heart that none was left under his rule. Heíd known then, what his love would cost him. He knew now, that the glory of loving Iolaus was worth that price, many times over.

"Youíre leaving," he whispered, dropping the words into the charged silence like so many stones.

"Yes. Tomorrow. Apollo, I donít know what to say. Thank you."

"I will watch over you, as always. I wish Ö" Apollo couldnít complete the sentence. It wasnít necessary, anyway.

Iolaus pressed a gentle kiss into the godís palm, then turned in his arms, to look up into his brimming eyes.

"Iím not a proper consort for a god, Apollo. You know that. I wouldnít last a day on Olympus. I love you, though. I truly do love you."

Apollo pulled Iolaus closer, resting his chin against the tousled crown of his head.

"And, the truth beyond this one?" He finally asked.

"Hercules. Always, Hercules. Together, or apart; we are one being. Iíll remain a part of him until I die, perhaps even after," Iolaus shook his head, and grinned, "I canít be so serious for much longer; Iíll strain something. Can you forgive me?"

Apollo kissed him lingeringly for an answer.

"I love you. I will always love you." He whispered against the mortalís lips.

He didnít stay, to watch Iolaus depart.

Iolaus traveled quickly, as though he could make the past year melt beneath his feet if he moved at the right speed. It was long past dark, the third night out, when he saw the light of a fire ahead, and approached slowly.

A warrior sat before the campfire, with his shield-bearer at his shoulder. They greeted Iolaus with careful neutrality, but warmed when he held up a brace of rabbits, offering to share the food with them if they would share their fire with him. It was agreed, and the rabbits were soon dressed and roasting fragrantly over the fire. The three settled themselves on logs near the flames, and regarded one another.

"I am Tereus, and my companion is Alexandros. What is your name, friend?" this from the burly warrior, who placed his arm protectively around his shield-bearerís shoulders as he spoke.


"Another golden Iolaus? Who would have thought it?" Alexandros exclaimed.

"Another Iolaus? What do you mean? You know someone else named Iolaus?" Iolaus asked.

"Well, they say that Herculesí companion, the heroic Iolaus, is as golden as the sun," Alexandrosí dark eyes flashed, and a dimple danced in his rounded cheek, "and, here you are, with golden hair, as well."

"I *am* Herculesí friend, Iolaus," Iolaus replied.

Alexandros turned a confused face toward Tereus, who frowned and leaned forward.

"Golden Iolaus is dead. All of Greece knows it," Tereusí tone was slightly belligerent, "and great Hercules mourns him, moving about the world no longer. He stays at Iolausí forge, and speaks only to purpose, only about his adopted trade. He pines, and people say that soon he will join Iolaus in the Elysian Fields. You have treated us fairly, so I will warn you; Hercules and Iolaus are beloved hereabouts, as they are throughout Greece. Do not use Iolausí name lightly, unless you are prepared to defend yourself."

The strangely sweet pain which transfixed Iolausí heart upon hearing Herculesí name spoken by a stranger gave way first to worry, when he heard of Herculesí state, then to anger, at Tereusí thinly veiled challenge.

"I am prepared to defend myself, Tereus. I have no wish to fight you," Iolausí eager, glittering eyes belied his words, and he rose, lithely, "but, I will if I must. Ares did not kill me; Apollo healed me. Iím on my way to see Hercules, and soon Ďall of Greeceí will know that Iolaus still lives. And, Hercules will move about the world again, or Iíll hand him his ass!"

Tereus and Alexandros gaped at him for a moment, in stunned silence. Then, Tereusí handsome face split in a broad grin, and his laughter rang through the surrounding woods. Once heíd calmed down, he stood and offered his forearm to Iolaus in a warriorís clasp, still grinning.

"By Ar Ö by Apollo, I believe that you are Iolaus. Forgive me for doubting you. I feel for Hercules, if he tries to gainsay you. This calls for a celebration - we are sharing our fire with a hero returned from the dead! Alexandros, take Iolausí arm, then find that skin of wine we got at that tavern in Padraia. Itís the finest wine Iíve ever tasted, Iolaus; weíd be honored if you would share it with us."

"Youíre sure you donít want to fight?" Iolaus twinkled up at the big warrior, winking at Alexandros as he took the slim youthís arm, in turn, "OK, then; if we donít get to fight, we might as well drink!"

They spent the rest of the evening laughing, telling tales, and drinking wine. Iolaus found himself turning, as if to ask for Herculesí corroboration regarding this point or that, and his bright eyes would dim, a bit. Alexandros caught him at it a time or two, and he edged a bit closer to Tereus, as though to assure himself of his presence.

Iolaus awoke during the night to the song of loverís moans drifting from the other side of the fire. The aroma of sex surrounded him; the sound of flesh against flesh, the heated sighs and groans. His cock stirred, begging, and he closed his eyes, trying to send the arrow of his desire flying through space, to lodge in Herculesí heart in a sweet shower of arousal and completion. He finally drifted off, to dreams of Herculesí body covering his own.

Strife giggled and rubbed his hands together eagerly, as he stared down at the sleeping Iolausí golden head. Tereus lay snoring, wrapped around his slumbering lover.

"Iolaus is lookiní good. Apollo mustíve been treating him like gold." Strifeís voice could be heard only by an immortalís ear, and it was an immortal who answered him.

"I did."

Ares and Strife both whirled, to confront Apolloís quiet stare.

"Apollo. So, the little mortal left you behind, eh? Didnít quite have what he was looking for? Tell me, did he call my name while you were fucking him?" Ares smiled wolfishly, and ran his tongue along his lush lower lip.

"Iíve warned you before, Ares. Do not touch Iolaus."

"Youíre threatening my uncle Ares? Whatís up with that? Heíll kick your candy ass all over Greece, if you Ö" Strifeís voice trailed off, as the full weight of Apolloís quicksilver gaze fell upon him. Apollo returned his attention to Aresí fuming features.

"If I want him, I will take him. When *Iím* ready." Ares turned his eyes back to the golden warrior.

Apollo smiled coldly.

"Indeed? When you are ready, *I* will be ready."

He was gone.

Strife, seeing the dark frown marring his uncleís features, refrained from comment.

Ares knelt at Iolausí side, and reached an invisible hand to trace the mortalís face, and chest. Iolaus stirred slightly, with a quiet moan, and Aresí breath caught, his fingers clenching into a fist, which he rested against Iolausí exposed chest. He opened his fist slowly, and drifted a caress across one dark, puckered nipple, his eyes intent. Bending, he gently pressed his lips to the same nipple.

He rose abruptly.

"Letís stir up a war or three, shall we?"

Without waiting for his nephewís reply, Ares vanished.

Hercules was lost in a dream so beautiful, so poignant, that he would gladly have surrendered his miserable life to remain lost in it. Iolaus was holding him, touching him, loving him. Ah, gods, Iolaus was loving him, again. He was home.

Although he fought consciousness with all of his strength, his very desperation to retain the dream jolted him into bitter wakefulness. He felt heavy, weighted at shoulder, chest, and thigh. An earthy, evocative fragrance surrounded him. Sandalwood. Tears began behind his closed eyelids; it must be the beginning of yet another day. Hercules is weeping - time to get up.

He opened his eyes and turned his head slightly, and his vision was filled with a blurry mass of gold.

He had gone insane.

The weight at his shoulder was Iolausí head, that across his chest was Iolausí strong arm, and the sweet burden which suddenly caused his thighs to tremble was Iolausí leg, hooked across Hercules, carelessly. As always, Iolaus was an incurable snuggler.

He fought a momentary battle with himself. Half of him wanted to remain perfectly still, so as not to disturb this precious phantom. The other half wanted to run his hands along that warm flesh, to bury his face in Iolausí hair, to sink into him and be forever lost.

Iolaus opened his eyes, and focused his bleary, blue gaze on Herculesí frozen face. He smiled, sleepily, and Herculesí inner battle was at an end. The demigod placed his lips against Iolausí and fell into a kiss which, on some blessed plane, lasted for the remainder of his life, and beyond.

Iolaus tasted familiar, yet slightly different. His kiss was so tender, so tentative, and it occurred to Herculesí that his kiss was the same. No longer diving in, and wallowing in gloriously familiar territory. Not hesitant, though; not shy. Testing. Tasting. He nibbled along Iolausí lower lip, and ran his tongue along the hunterís thin, delectable upper lip. Iolaus opened his mouth, slightly, and Herculesí tongue dipped into his mouth, finding Iolausí tongue, slipping across his teeth. Oh, more. More. Wait.

Hercules pulled away from the kiss, and clasped Iolausí face gently between his hands.

"Iolaus. Youíre here?"

Iolaus smiled shakily, snaking a curious hand into Herculesí tunic, and running it across the demigodís ribs, to rest against his lower back.

"Still sharp as ever, I see. Yes, Hercules. Iím here."

"But, when Ö? HowÖ?"

"Very late last night. I Ö" Iolausí gaze dropped, "I didnít want to spend the night on the road, when only a little more travel would bring me here. You were asleep; I didnít want to wake you. Besides, I was tired. So, I kinda Ö helped myself to a bit of your bedroll. I hope you donít mind."

"Mind. I donít mind. Iolaus. I thought you were gone. I thought Iíd never see you againÖ"

He moaned as Iolaus stilled his words with a kiss.

"I know. Can we talk about it later?" Iolausí tone was teasing, but his hands were quite serious. They traced along Herculesí skin, pushing his clothing impatiently aside, and the hunger between them built to an unbearable intensity within seconds.

Hercules had never kissed anyone like this. He had never touched anyone like this. His hands were an extension of his soul, an expression of his love. He felt no need for release; he felt only a sense of completion at the deepest level of his being. He allowed Iolausí small hands to pull his clothing away, then captured one, to press kisses against every inch of that beautiful member, to suck each finger into his mouth and taste it, sucking, nibbling. He tickled the tiny web of flesh between the fingers with his tongue, and sucked on the tender mound of flesh at the ball of Iolausí palm. He found his way thus to Iolausí wrist, and he could happily have spent the rest of his life treasuring the pulsing, blue veins that he found there, running his tongue along them, scraping his teeth along them, had Iolaus not taken exception to this plan, and freed his hand.

Hercules looked up at the interruption of his feast, and lost himself in Iolausí blue eyes. He was dimly aware that Iolaus had grabbed both of his hands, and had placed them on Iolausí chest. Herculesí fingers roamed willingly over this territory; then it occurred to Hercules that something was wrong.

Clothing. Iolaus was wearing soft, well-worn bronze clothing. Nice enough, Hercules was certain, but he would have burned it with a thought, if he had the power. It stood between him, and Iolausí flesh. It had to go. He fumbled with it, removing the tunic, and running his hands across Iolausí satin chest. So beautiful. The trousers, next. His hands stopped at the waistband, though, as his eyes drifted downward.

"Did you walk here barefoot?"

Iolaus blinked at the question, then gestured with his chin at his abandoned boots, lined up next to

Herculesí at the foot of the bed.

"Iím going to get in bed with my boots on? Not likely," Iolaus laughed softly, then squinted up at

Hercules, "Herc. Why arenít you sleeping in the bed?"

Herculesí thin, pale face seemed to cave in on itself.

"I couldnít. I just Ö not without you, Iolaus. Not after Ö" Hercules was afraid to refer to what Iolaus had suffered, "I just kept seeing what had happened, over and over. I couldnít Ö"

Iolaus remembered Strifeís hate-filled words, ĎHercules saw it all, you knowí, surprised to find that only a slight anger tinged his thoughts at the memory. He felt grief, though. Horrible grief, for Herculesí pain. Joy blossomed through the sadness, and burst through his soul. He could help Hercules.

He disentangled himself from Herculesí arms and stood. The demigod remained on his pallet, hurt and uncertainty written on his face. Iolaus smiled softly, and stepped out of his trousers, then settled on the soft, clean bed. He knelt, and held his arms out to Hercules.

"Herc. Please; come to bed. I need you."

Hercules pulled himself to his feet, and dropped into Iolausí arms. He opened his mouth to Iolausí kisses, opened his arms to pull him close, opened his heart to the burning, golden presence of his beloved.. It was happening again, and he lost himself to it, this time. Lost himself to the tender slide of flesh against flesh, tongue against tongue. He surrounded Iolaus, and Iolaus surrounded him. He knew the shuddering frenzy of completion, many times it seemed. It might have happened when he was treasuring Iolausí cock inside his mouth, or when Iolausí tongue was teasing softly at Herculesí anus. It might have been when they were kissing, with Iolaus laying on top of Hercules, so that every possible inch of each man was pressed against the other. It might have been any of those times, it might have been all of them. When he pressed the swollen head of his cock against the sweet entrance to Iolausí body, though, his awareness returned to him with crystal clarity. He was looking into Iolausí clear, loving eyes, as he slowly slid just the head inside, and froze. He was afraid; he was shaking with fear. He didnít want to hurt Iolaus. He didnít want to remind him Ö

Iolaus moaned, and wrapped his arms around Herculesí neck, his legs rearing up to clasp his loverís ribs. His eyes showed only love, only need.

"Hercules. I love you. Gods, I love you, please Ö please, now."

Now. He pushed his way in, and Iolausí body welcomed him, and it was like it had always been, and like it had never been, and like it should be, forever. He barely lasted long enough to measure his full length in his loverís body, before he was crying out, his seed leaving him in such a blinding burst that darkness followed, for a moment. Iolaus was shouting his name, writhing against him, and the glorious, wet warmth between their bodies made him want to weep, to laugh, to scream. Gods, Iolaus always. Such ecstasy, always.

He did weep, and he did laugh. Iolausí legs slid down against his, and he rested his body against the hard, smooth flesh beneath him, keeping his cock in his loverís body. Never leave. Never leave.

"Iolaus. I love you. I love you; never leave me. I thought you were mine, you know. I thought I owned you. I was wrong. You own me. I belong to you."

He kissed Iolaus, and his kiss spoke for him, of his love, his need. His surrender. Gods, his sweet surrender to Iolaus, at last. Iím yours.

Iolaus broke the kiss, at length, and Hercules lost himself in his loverís eyes.

"We donít own one another, Herc. We complete one another," Iolausí light, sweet voice was burdened with wisdom, a wisdom gained through suffering, and loss. His words reverberated through Herculesí being, and the demigodís heart swelled; he thought that his breath must still, for the poignant joy of the moment.

Hercules slipped from Iolausí body, and they curled around one another, drifting into sleep.

Iolaus pulled Hercules from the tumbled bed, at length, and harassed him into a bath, and then into his clothing.

"Food. Come on, Herc, get your boots laced! Iím starving! Besides, youíre making me black and blue; youíve got to get some meat back on those bones of yours. At last," this as Hercules stood, "You know, I donít remember you being this slow."

Iolaus smiled up at Hercules, and was immediately pulled into a fevered embrace, and a kiss which led to another, which led to the hunter climbing his loverís body, swearing that no, he wasnít really all *that* hungry. Hercules squirmed out of his embrace, and stood a bit away, surveying Iolausí beautiful, flushed face, and tumbled golden hair. He touched the bag around his neck, and Iolaus reached out to cover his hand with inquisitive fingers.

In answer to the question in Iolausí eyes, Hercules reached out and ran tender fingers through Iolausí golden curls.

"Itís a lock of your hair." He nearly held his breath, waiting for the pain of memory to wash across Iolausí face.

Iolaus bent, and pressed his lips to the little bag.

"I love you, Herc."

Hercules put his arm around Iolausí shoulders, and led him through the forge, and out into the street.

Iolaus pulled away from Hercules as soon as they left the door; Hercules had always insisted that Iolaus not touch him in public. The demigod winced to see Iolaus standing away from him, carefully casual, with averted eyes. Gods, such a fool heíd been.

The street was busy, and several people were already looking their way, amazed at the sight of Iolaus. Hercules smiled to himself, and reached for his beloved, capturing Iolausí hands in his own and pulling him into the middle of the street. Grinning at the almost comical look of shock on Iolausí beautiful face, Hercules placed his arms around Iolausí shoulders and bent to kiss him. Deeply. Lingeringly. Teasing Iolausí mouth open with a gentle tongue, then diving in, sucking on Iolausí tongue until he knew heíd either have to stop, or pull the hunter right back into the forge. He stopped.

Iolaus looked around, dazed. Everyone on the street was smiling; some were even laughing. All joy, all acceptance - lots of happy disbelief. Iolaus was back from the dead, Hercules was tongue kissing him in the streets; all was right with the world. He turned his gaze to Herculesí beaming face.

"I love you, Iolaus. You are my lover, by day, as well as by night. I want the whole world to know it."

He pulled Iolaus along, keeping their fingers laced together, then pulling Iolausí arm around his waist as they entered the tavern. Amazed well-wishers crowded close, and though the demigod and his heroic companion greeted them with smiles and jests, Iolausí arm remained around his loverís waist, as Herculesí arm remained around Iolausí shoulders.

By day, as well as by night.

The End

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