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The formidably muscular warrior pushed his way imperiously through the crowded streets of Athens. Those observing his approach stepped hastily aside and the unobservant that he shoved out of his way made no complaint when they observed his stern mien.
To his surprise, he felt a sudden tug at his sleeve. He halted abruptly and glowered down at the presumptuous, not to say foolhardy, assailant who had had the temerity to impede his progress. He was amazed to observe that the owner of the hand was a slight boy, with huge azure eyes and a tangled mop of golden curls. Dressed in little more than rags, he was clearly one of the all too numerous, homeless, little street rats that roamed Athens, begging and stealing.
Deciding to let the brat off lightly, the man merely glared and attempted to shrug off the restraining hand. However, the boy's grip was surprisingly strong and, if anything, it tightened.
"What do you want?" the man demanded, in a voice that made the bravest soldier quake, his face thunderously dark.
"Please, I-I wondered ... I wondered ..." His voice faltered, his beautiful eyes pleading.
"Well, spit it out!"
"I wondered if ... if ... if you had any use for me?"
What do you mean?"
"T-Tonight. I-I'll do anything you want."
"You're a bit young for my tastes, boy. How old are you? Twelve? Thirteen?"
Stung, the youth protested, "I'm *not* a kid. I'm sixteen!"
"Sixteen? Did you forget to grow?"
The little blond glared at him, his eyes flashing blue fire, and started to turn away, only to have a large hand settle on his shoulder. "Wait, I'll find you a couple of dinars," the man said, surprising himself with his uncharacteristically charitable impulse.
The man opened a bag at his waist and held out a couple of coins. The boy held out his left hand and it was only then that the man noticed that he had his other arm held awkwardly to his chest. "What's wrong with your arm?"
Surprised at the interest implied by the question, the youth replied, "I don't know. I think my wrist might be broken."
"You think? What did the healer say?"
"Healer!" the boy exclaimed incredulously, too stunned by the stupidity of the question, to mind his tongue. "How in Tartarus do you think I could afford to pay a healer?"
Taken aback by the boy's temerity in using a tone of voice that nobody else ever dared to use when addressing him, Marcus asked, "Isn't there any one who would treat you and let you pay later."
"In this city? You've got to be joking! I *need* the money first."
Hearing the emphasis and looking at the scrawny youth, the man asked, with surprising gentleness, "And things are getting pretty desperate?"
The boy squared his shoulders and manfully said, "No!" However, he then winced involuntarily and his shoulders slumped. "Yes," he admitted reluctantly, his voice low.
"Your wrist's paining you?"
"And you're hungry?"
The man made a decision. "Okay, what do you usually charge for your ... ah favours?"
"Favours?" The boy looked confused.
"Sex," the man explained.
"Ah ... um ... it depends on ... um ... on what the man wants."
"Okay, we'll negotiate later. I'll take you to a healer first. Do you know where the nearest one lives?"
"Yes, but it might cost too..."
The man cut him off. "It won't. Just lead the way."
"Okay. Follow me."
"Perhaps we'd better introduce ourselves. You can call me Marcus."
"How did you hurt your wrist anyway?"
The youth hesitated, clearly debating what he should say.
"The truth, please," Marcus said rather sternly.
Iolaus ran his tongue over his dry lips and then hurried into his explanation, concerned to get it over as quickly as possible and hoping desperately that it would not put Marcus off helping him. "I'd been with a man and when he'd finished he said he didn't have his money with him and he'd have to pay later. The next night I saw him in a bar and I asked for the money. I hoped he'd be embarrassed and pay up to get rid of me. All his friends were laughing because he'd been with me, and that got him really angry. He said I was lying and got hold of my arm and he just kept twisting it and demanding I admit I was lying, but I wouldn't. The pain got real bad, but I was so mad at him for trying to cheat me I wouldn't give in. Then my wrist made a funny cracking noise and everything went black. They must have chucked me outside when I fainted because the next thing I knew I was lying in an alley."
To the little blond's relief, the man listened without comment to the brief narrative and then simply said, "I thought it might have been something like that."
A few minutes later, the youth stopped and indicated a large residence. "This is where the healer lives." He made no move towards it, clearly feeling he would be unwelcome.
"Come on then," Marcus said, pulling him by his good arm. He knocked loudly on the door.
Surprisingly, it was the healer himself, rather than a servant, who answered it. A plump, self-important, old man, he glared at the pair who had had the temerity to disturb him, and demanded, "What do you want?"
"The boy has hurt his wrist and ..."
"This isn't a charity concern. You'll have to take him elsewhere."
"We're not asking for charity. I'll pay."
The man nodded and said, "I'll take my fee now. It'll be forty dinars." As he spoke he smirked complacently, clearly anticipating that the sum named would be well above Marcus' purse.
Iolaus' mouth fell open. There was no way that the man would pay a huge sum like that. He turned away, but Marcus put out a hand and clasped his shoulder, drawing him back. "It seems rather excessive," Marcus commented dryly.
"You must realize I am one of *the* leading doctors in Athens, indeed in the whole of Greece," the healer said loftily. "If you can't pay ..."
"I can pay," Marcus interrupted, opening his moneybag and tossing the coins onto the table just inside the door with a contemptuous gesture.
The healer looked surprised, but hurriedly scooped up the coins. "Follow me," he ordered. "And you keep your thieving hands away from my possessions, boy," he added, glaring at Iolaus.
He led the way into his consulting rooms and then turned to Iolaus. "Give me your arm," he snapped.
Iolaus hesitated, fearful of what was to come and not reassured at all by the man's manner or tone of voice, both completely devoid of compassion.
"Hurry up, boy. I can't spend all day waiting for the likes of you."
Iolaus gingerly extended his arm, wincing as he did so. The healer grasped the wrist none too gently and manipulated it. Iolaus went white and gritted his teeth, but made no sound.
"When did the injury occur?" the healer asked.
"A week or so back," Iolaus replied.
"You should have come here sooner. The bones are setting wrongly. I'll need to break it again."
Iolaus gulped and bit his lip and even Marcus felt slightly green.
"Can you give him something to help with the pain?" Marcus asked.
"Yes, but it will cost ten dinars more."
"Just do it! I've paid you plenty."
There was a note in his voice that chilled the physician. He opened his mouth to object, but then thought better of it and so bustled off. He returned shortly with a herbal concoction. "Drink this," he instructed.
Iolaus gulped it down, pulling a wry face at the bitter taste.
A few minutes later, the healer announced enough time had passed and ordered Iolaus to give him his arm again.
The little blond started to extend it, but then withdrew it hastily clutching it to his chest. "N-No, I-I ..."
"Iolaus!" Marcus said reprovingly. "Stop being a sook. Give him your arm!"
"Perhaps you could break it," the healer said, looking at the man's muscular physique. "It will need a bit of force. I'll show you where to hold the arm."
Placing his hands as instructed, Marcus glanced at the boy's pale face. "Ready, Iolaus?"
"No, but just ... just do it please. I c-can't ..." His voice broke off and he closed his eyes tightly. He screamed as Marcus took action to align the bones properly, and then fainted.
After that the healer hurriedly set the arm as he was in haste to get rid of the pair. The kind of clientele he dealt with would not have been impressed to see him treating what was clearly a little street Arab on the instructions of what seemed to be some sort of dangerous mercenary.
However, he did not find it so easy to get rid of Marcus, who announced that they would not be leaving until the youth had recovered consciousness. "You can't expect me to carry him through the streets," he said.
"I don't really know why you're bothering with the brat at all."
"And here I was thinking all healers take a Hippocratic oath," Marcus observed sarcastically.
"A youth like this isn't worth your money or my time. There are too many of the little troublemakers roaming our streets already. He'll come to a bad end so why worry about him?"
Iolaus stirred and groaned. "Is it done?"
The boy sat up, pale and groggy. "Can we go now?"
"Are you sure you're ready?"
"I'm always ready to leave places where I'm not wanted."
"You were listening?"
Marcus helped him up and kept a supporting arm around his slender shoulders as they moved out of the house and along the street. He knew that Iolaus was in pain, but also that there was no way the stubborn, little blond was going to admit it.
A few minutes later, Marcus called a halt. "Here we are," he announced, gesturing towards the nearest house.
"Is this your home?" Iolaus asked, looking with awe at the imposing structure, that would have dwarfed that of the physician.
"Yes, it is one of mine."
"One," Iolaus echoed, his voice disbelieving.
Marcus led the way into the house, ignoring the hovering servants, and into an inner room. He closed the door behind them and then sat down looking at the boy. "Okay, now about our terms..."
Iolaus interrupted hastily. "That's not necessary. I heard what that bloody healer asked for. I'd *never* have dared to ask anything like that amount. You tell me what you want and I'll do it."
"Okay, the first thing I want to do is bath you." He couldn't help grinning at the stunned expression on Iolaus' face. "You *did* say anything and I do like a clean bed-partner. It will be all ready." Realizing that the youth was staring at him in confusion, he hastily added," While you were out to it I sent a message to my servants to prepare it."
He led Iolaus along to a sumptuously appointed room, with a large marble bath as its central feature. "Take your clothes off."
Iolaus fumbled awkwardly to remove his clothing and then stood, blushing rosily under Marcus' intent scrutiny, waiting for further instructions.
Marcus regarded the lithe naked form with a mixture of surprise and approval, his eyes riveted on the groin. Clearly the youth was closer to the sixteen summers he claimed than the man had thought possible. The nest of golden curls, only a shade darker than those that rioted on his head, was irresistible and its contents were those of a fully adult male and a well-endowed one at that.
Iolaus obeyed. Fortunately the sweetly scented water was fairly shallow so he could hold his bandaged wrist against his chest, but out of the water. He sat leaning against the end of the bath.
Marcus picked up some soap and began to wash him, while Iolaus watched in some surprise and apprehension. None of the men who had previously 'employed' him had acted like this. Normally the whole thing was over quickly. He would be ordered to strip and would then be quickly and roughly impaled. It would be painful, but at least he knew what was expected of him. Now he was unsure.
The sensations were not unpleasant, indeed anything but. However, he could not relax as he waited for what the man would do to him. After all, all the little blond knew of sex was that it damn well hurt, but could pay reasonably well *if* one was lucky.
Marcus ran his hand down a soap-slippery flank as he feasted upon the golden bounty before him. "Open your legs a bit more," he ordered and then ran his hand down the soft white flesh of the youth's inner thigh.
Iolaus shivered. He couldn't understand why this felt so ... good. However, he knew the unfamiliar sensations would not last. He wished Marcus would just get it over with as he felt rather like a mouse when a cat is toying with it.
To his surprise and embarrassment, he felt himself starting to grow hard under the teasing caresses. Without thought he reached out his good hand and tried to push Marcus' hand away. A strong hand seized his wrist and he flinched, clearly expecting a blow. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean ..." he started desperately.
"Just put your hand on the bath edge and leave it there," Marcus ordered.
Iolaus found himself holding the bath rim with a death grip as his body tensed under the maddening stroking. Marcus lathered his penis and balls and then slipped a soapy hand beneath him and slid a finger down the crevice of his arse.
Iolaus could no longer keep still and was squirming and unconsciously whimpering under the caresses. Then Marcus stopped abruptly and told him to get out. He then stood the youth in front of him and slowly dried him.
Iolaus was almost beside himself. The new awareness of his body and it's sudden needs was driving him mad, yet every time he tried to slide his hand surreptitiously to his erection Marcus batted it away and carried on with his self-appointed task. Iolaus could not believe that drying him could take so long. "Please, I can't ..." he began.
Marcus grinned. The smile was almost predatory and sent a shiver of fear down the youth's backbone. "Do you want something, boy?" he asked casually.
Iolaus could have hit him, both for the hated noun and the question itself. Of course he wanted something, but the truth to tell he didn't know what. He was desperate for Marcus to stop his teasing caresses and yet ... and yet he had never experienced anything like what Marcus was doing to him and wanted him to continue. His emotions were in turmoil. His whole body was shaking and he could feel tears welling. He screwed his eyes tightly shut and willed them not to fall.
Marcus was fully aware of all the emotions the beautiful youth was suffering. He smiled to himself. The tender torture would get worse. He would see to it. Without warning, he reached out and swept Iolaus into his arms.
Iolaus' cerulean eyes flew open with shock as he felt himself lifted and then effortlessly held as though he was no more than an infant. The thought did not appeal, so he started to struggle, but to no avail. Arms of steel crushed him against Marcus' massive chest and rendered all his squirming futile. "Put me down!" he protested. "I hate being carried like a kid."
The big man parted his lips in another feral smile and ignored him.
Pushing the bathroom door open with one knee, he strode down the corridor carrying his unwilling burden and into what was clearly the master bedroom. He dropped Iolaus into the centre of the massive four-poster bed. Iolaus immediately started to sit up, but a large hand on his chest forced him back. "Lie still and put your hands above your head. Come on! Do as you're told! Remember you promised you'd do what I wanted."
Iolaus was apprehensive, but he knew he had given his word and he was also very conscious of the fact that the powerful man could do anything he wanted and there was no way Iolaus could stop him anyway. Slowly, he raised his arms as instructed.
"That's right!" Marcus approved. "Now just lie there and spread your legs," he ordered. "I'll be joining you in a moment."
Iolaus lay there surreptitiously observing Marcus under lowered lids. The big man sat on the bed, pulled off his boots and flung them into a corner of the room. Iolaus winced as they thudded into the wall. In his tense state, all his senses seemed to be working on overtime.
Next Marcus removed his shirt, revealing a massive chest, darkly tanned and covered with thick, black hair. That made Iolaus *very* envious. All that he had on his chest were a couple of wisps of pale hair by one nipple. 'I wish I looked like that,' he thought.
Marcus turned away to place the shirt on a nearby cabinet and then removed his trousers and placed them there as well. That done he turned back to the bed.
Iolaus looked at him in wide-eyed horror. He had thought some of his previous clients had been well hung, but the sight that now met his eyes far exceeded them. 'Oh, gods, how can I ... I can't ...' he thought frantically, trying to sink through the bed, his legs closing rapidly.
Marcus observed the wide eyes and pale face. He knew exactly what had caused the reaction. It wasn't the first time a potential partner had shied away from him. He reached out and gently, but firmly parted Iolaus' thighs again, ignoring the little blond's attempts to push his hands away.
Iolaus tried to shuffle up the bed, but a large hand closed over each thigh and held him in place.
Marcus then clambered onto the bed and positioned himself between Iolaus' legs. That done, he moved his hands to Iolaus' hips. "Put your hands back where you were told and don't move them again."
"Please, I ..."
Marcus cut him off. "Do it or I'll tie them there," he growled.
Recognizing the hopelessness of resistance, Iolaus raised his hands again. The tears he had suppressed to this point began to trickle unbidden down his pallid cheeks. He closed his eyes again trying in vain to stem the flow. He could feel Marcus moving back down the bed and expected to be flipped unceremoniously onto his stomach at any moment and then ... and then ...God's it was going to *hurt*.
Never in his wildest dreams had he contemplated what happened next. A hot mouth descended over his penis causing him to gasp with shock, embarrassment and some fear. The gasps increased rapidly in volume and frequency as Marcus proceeded to show him just what pleasure could be had from that activity.
Then, to his consternation, the youth realized that he was about to come. Fearfully, he lowered his hands and tried to push Marcus away, while stammering a warning, but the man's only reaction was to seize his hips to anchor him in position.
Then it happened. Expecting at least a cuff, Iolaus was horrified and apologetic but, to his extreme amazement, Marcus seemed to find the taste totally pleasurable.
He finally raised his head and said reproachfully, "Hands!"
Iolaus hurriedly flung them back above his tousled head.
Iolaus reluctantly obeyed, his body tense. "OW!" he exclaimed, as a large hand slapped him across the arse. "What was that for?"
"Relax your body."
"Yes, you can. It'll hurt more if you don't."
However, he could see Iolaus' muscles quivering as he looked down the smooth back to the beautiful rounded buttocks, one slightly red from the slap. As much as he desired to take the youth, he found himself hesitating. Iolaus was so small and this was going to hurt him badly unless Marcus could get him to calm down.
He started to run caressing hands down Iolaus' back, leaning in to nibble at his neck and earlobes. Iolaus writhed under the teasing motions and muttered incoherent protests into the pillow. He ran his hands down the blond's rib cage, causing him to giggle and twist in an effort to escape.
That silly giggle did something strange to Marcus' heart. It would never do. The youth was having too much effect on him, but yet he could not bring himself to take the blond with the violence with which he was all too capable.
His erection was now pressing against the firm buttocks and seemed to be developing a mind of its own, but Iolaus seemed unaware of it in his preoccupation with trying to avoid those tickling fingers. He squirmed and bucked against Marcus making the latter harder than ever if possible.
Again Marcus debated whether he should proceed. *That* was definitely out of character. Normally he gave little consideration to a partner's needs except in so far as they impinged on his own enjoyment. Now, oddly reluctant to inflict pain, he found himself wondering if, for Iolaus' sake, he should tell the youth he had changed his mind about the sex. However, he had already seen enough evidence of the boy's fierce pride to know that he would resent this. Iolaus might be frightened, but he clearly was the sort that valued his word and paid all debts.
Making a decision, Marcus reached for a jar of oil alongside the bed and liberally coated the fingers of his right hand while continuing to torment Iolaus with the left. Then without warning, he pushed one digit into the blond.
Iolaus froze and cried out, more in surprise than pain. He twisted around trying to see. "What are you doing?"
Marcus withdrew the offending finger. "I would have thought that was obvious," he observed, not without a trace of sarcasm. "I'm preparing you."
"Preparing me?" Iolaus asked in confusion and trepidation.
"I thought you said you'd done this before?"
"Y-Yes, but ... but they didn't do *that*. They didn't do *any* of the stuff you've been doing. They just ... We just ... just had sex," he finished lamely.
"Are you telling me they didn't stretch you or use any lubricant."
"They definitely didn't stretch me, but ... but I'm not ... um I don't exactly know what you mean by loobri .... loobri ... whatever you said."
Marcus silently cursed the unknown men. No wonder the boy was so scared. "Okay, Iolaus, let's pretend you've never had sex before and let me tell you what to do. It won't hurt nearly as much as it has before if you do as I tell you."
"But it will still hurt?"
"Yes, a bit, but you'll enjoy it so much you won't care."
"Enjoy it?" Iolaus echoed, in tones of disbelief.
"Yes, enjoy it. That's why men do it you know."
"Well, I know one person enjoys it, but ..."
"Both should, Iolaus."
The youth looked at him dubiously.
"I'll show you. Okay?"
Iolaus bit his lip, but nodded. "I trust you," he whispered. He lay still, the moonlight silvering his lithe, naked body. Marcus looked down at him and, to his amazement felt his heart miss a beat. The youth was so beautiful, but it was that murmured "I trust you" that had got to him. He tried to tell himself that it showed the boy's foolishness and that having lived as he had he should know better, but a strange feeling of protectiveness washed over him, threatening to engulf him. 'Gods, what have I got myself into?' he wondered.
He finished his careful preparation of Iolaus. "Breathe out, Iolaus," he instructed and then pushed slowly into him. He heard the little blond grunt with pain and saw his muscles tighten involuntarily. He stopped. "Relax. You'll be fine. Relax," he whispered, his voice almost hypnotic.
Somehow, Iolaus managed to keep still and quiet until Marcus was fully sheathed, in spite of his fear and pain. "Now just lie still and get used to me," Marcus whispered, slipping a hand beneath Iolaus to stroke his balls.
Iolaus lay there trying to come to terms with the unusual and confusing sensations that were flooding through him. Never had he been so helpless, so vulnerable, so frightened. He felt this man could rip him apart and yet he *did* trust him. He had a strange contradictory feeling of being absolutely safe, completely protected, that what he was doing, or rather having done to him, was right.
Torn between these normally mutually exclusive states of mind, he could wait no longer. He *had* to experience this. "Please, go on," he whispered.
Marcus partially withdrew and then rocked slowly back in, gradually establishing a rhythm. As he sensed, Iolaus' adaptation to this, he gradually picked up the pace.
Meanwhile, the blond was thinking, 'This isn't as bad as in the past, but it still hurts. I don't know how I'm supposed to enjoy this, but after what he's done for me I suppose the main thing is that *he* does. If I only can keep from crying out I can pretend it didn't hurt, but if he starts thrusting much harder I don't know how I'm going to."
However, at that very moment, Marcus did thrust harder and the pain forced an involuntary cry from Iolaus' lips. Once that had happened, he found he could hold back no longer and at the next thrust he gave a stifled scream of pain and panic.
He heard Marcus gasping reassuringly, "Just a little more, Iolaus. It's okay."
How could it be? He opened his mouth to protest the statement and, at that instant, Marcus hit the prostate and Iolaus screamed loudly in incredulous pleasure/pain.
Waved after wave of sensation washed over him, draining his strength, reducing his nerves to quivering inactivity, his brain to mindless acceptance of sheer sensuous pleasure. He lay supine, helpless under Marcus' passionate invasion and waiting in desperate hope of again experiencing that exquisite agony.
Gradually, Marcus picked up his pace, breathing harshly. Then suddenly it was no longer enough. Iolaus roused and began to lift his hips to meet each thrust with a new ferocity of his own. "Harder! Harder! Please!" he begged, hands clutching frantically into the mattress. Elated at the response, Marcus complied, sliding one hand beneath Iolaus to grasp his penis.
Then, the world exploded for both, disintegrating into darkness, illuminated with flashing starbursts. Marcus had, of course, experienced this before, although even he felt a new intensity in the experience, but Iolaus was completely overwhelmed.
For some glorious, frightening minutes, he thought he was actually going to die, that he would never emerge from the swirling pleasure, and that the world was well lost. He never even noticed Marcus' careful withdrawal.
He finally roused when Marcus gently rolled him over and began to wipe the sperm from his stomach. Somehow he found his voice. "I never knew," he whispered, awe-struck. "Thank you, Marcus."
The big man was shaken by the gratitude and, to his embarrassment, felt tears form in his eyes. He hurriedly blinked them back and pulled Iolaus into his arms. He was not normally one for post-coital embraces, but this seemed so right. The fluffy curls tickled his chin as Iolaus nuzzled his neck. Marcus ran gentle hands down the youth's smooth back and finally drifted off to sleep lulled by his own rhythmic stroking of the boy.
Tired as he was Iolaus could not sleep. He carefully extricated himself from Marcus' grasp and lay propped up on his elbows and watched the man sleeping beside him. The sex had indeed been a revelation to Iolaus. Prior to this night, he had been convinced that sex with a male brought nothing but pain for one of the partners, but now he knew differently. Sure he knew he would be sore in the morning, but that was nothing when measured against the ecstasy he had experienced.
Although all Marcus had intended was a proverbial one-night stand, that was the first of many nights that both were to enjoy.
However, it is impossible to spend all one's time in bed and the pair's relationship was not always so happy in daylight. The little blond was wilful and stroppy and caused more than his share of trouble, quickly becoming as accustomed to Marcus' corrective cuffs as to his caresses.
One morning fairly early in their relationship, the pair were out on the street, when Marcus became aware of a rather sour-faced, middle-aged man staring balefully at his companion.
The little blond must have also felt the man's eyes because he glanced over at him, gave a rude gesture and then laughed. The man looked like he might have an apoplexy. He went bright red and started forward, but Marcus glared menacingly at him and then gripped Iolaus' shoulder and hurried him away.
Once they were safely out of sight, Marcus stopped and swung Iolaus to face him. "Was that rudeness absolutely necessary?" he demanded.
"Yep," Iolaus replied, looking pleased with himself and not at all repentant.
"Who was that man anyway?"
"Oh, just one of the local magistrates. He's got a bit of a downer on me. He knows I'm a thief, but can't prove it. He's told me he's watching me and he'll see I really suffer for it once I get caught. He says he'll have me branded and then ..."
However, the image of that tender flesh under a hot iron caused Marcus to blanch and interrupt him. "You'd better stop then. There's no need now you're with me anyway."
"But I like to keep my hand in," Iolaus explained.
"Yes, *in* everywhere it shouldn't be," Marcus said. "Now, you listen to me, Iolaus, you are *not* to steal anything else. I want your word on that."
"Sorry, I can't give it to you because I value my word and, in this case, might be hard-pressed to keep it."
"That wasn't a choice, Iolaus, it was an order. Now promise me."
"Okay, well let me put it another way. I'll punish you myself if I find you stealing."
"You can *try* anyway," Iolaus said provocatively. Naturally audacious, he was growing more confident and accordingly more daring in his dealings with Marcus every day. Those who knew his keeper would have cringed at the likely consequences if he succeeded in rousing his benefactor to anger, but the little blond was oblivious to, or uncaring of, his danger.
"And be assured I always succeed in what I attempt," Marcus responded sardonically.
Iolaus just grinned in sunny unconcern. Marcus reflected, not for the first time, that, although it had been Iolaus' beauty that first drew him, it was the little blond's fearlessness and irrepressible spirit that continued to hold him. The little ratbag had wormed his way into a heart that many, including Marcus himself, had not known that he possessed.
The little blond smiled as he recalled the magistrate's impotent fury. Then an odd thought occurred to him. "How come you don't know people like him and the healer if you're so rich? All the rich bastards normally seem to stick together."
"I've only recently purchased my house here and less of the 'rich bastards', brat. Don't you respect anybody?"
"Nobody at all?"
Iolaus opened his mouth to say no, but hesitated and then said, "My friend Herc of course."
"And who's he?"
"Just my friend from where I used to live. Come on, let's get home, I'm starving."
"Don't tell me what I already know. You're *always* starving. You're like a stomach on legs."
That started a friendly wrangle and the subject of Herc was dropped, although Marcus would have liked to hear more as the youth rarely gave away anything about his past. However, if Marcus had known how tired he was going to become of that name, he would have felt he had had a lucky escape on this occasion.
On another occasion, they were passing one of Ares' temples when Marcus saw Iolaus glance at it. "Do you want to go in?"
"What? In there? Of course not! Why do you ask?"
"I thought you'd be a follower of the God of War, what with your desire to be a warrior." The blond might not talk about his past, but he had been *very* forthcoming on his hopes and intentions for the future. This idea seemed to Marcus to be way out of such a pretty, little thing's grasp, not that he had said anything to that effect. Dreams would not hurt the boy. There was plenty of time before he need accept that he would never be a warrior.
"Nah, I don't follow any god. They don't do anything for the likes of me so why should I do anything for them? Anyway, Ares would be the last one I'd worship."
"Why?" Marcus queried, surprised at the vehemence, to say nothing of the nerve involved in bad-mouthing the God of War right outside one of his own temples.
"My father is one of his followers."
"Is? You mean he's alive? I didn't think you had any family."
"I haven't really. None that want me anyway," the blond added, his voice bitter.
"But surely your father..."
"Would want me? To him I was just an annoying, little runt. He was ashamed to have me as his son. He told me that often enough, with both his tongue and his fists. No the only person that loves me is my friend Herc and *his* love is all I need."
Herc again! Still at least the brat had someone. When Marcus finally left him, and that time was coming as he had already wasted too much time on him, he wouldn't be without someone to go to.
However, the days marched on and Marcus found himself inexplicably remaining. It was almost as though the beautiful youth had cast some sort of spell over him. Every time he steeled himself to announce his intention to go, Iolaus would smile lovingly at him or make some cheeky remark, and Marcus' heart would betray him and he would keep silent.
Even though he knew Iolaus could survive without him and that that angelic countenance was only a disarmingly innocent cover for a sturdy, little hellion, Marcus still felt disturbingly protective towards him. It was quite ridiculous because he knew that Iolaus was the source of many of his own troubles and positively revelled in his disreputable activities.
Marcus was strolling along the street mulling this over when, as on several previous occasions, he chanced upon quite a scrap. The big man caught a glimpse of blond curls in the middle of the melee. Iolaus! It had to be. He had soon learnt that that damned little ratbag attracted trouble like carrion drew blowflies and, surprisingly enough, had shown himself to be tough and a skilled fighter for one of his years.
Indeed, Marcus had been forced to revise his earlier opinion that the brat would never be a warrior. The more he had seen of his fighting ability, the more he had come to realize that not only had the boy got the potential to realize his dream but, with the right training, he could well be an outstanding warrior. However, be that as it might, he was tired of Iolaus brawling in the streets.
Accordingly, he waded in scattering the already battered youths like chaff, seized the little blond by the scruff of the neck and propelled him back towards the house.
However, Iolaus' blood was up and he wasn't going to be dragged away from the fight if he could help it. "Damn you! Let go of me!" Iolaus cried, twisting in a futile attempt to break the hold. "Let go!" He even swung an awkward left-handed punch, but Marcus easily blocked it and grabbed his wrist.
Annoyed, he twisted Iolaus' wrist up his back, while hissing, "Isn't one broken wrist enough for you, you silly, little bastard?"
Iolaus glared at him, but fortunately looks could not kill.
Marcus frog-marched him upstairs to their room. Then he sat Iolaus down on the bed and began to treat his various cuts and abrasions with salve.
"All right, how did you start that fight?"
"I didn't! ... Well, I did throw the first punch, but they asked for it."
"They called me ... something."
"And for a bit of cheek you took on half a dozen youths when you've got one arm out of commission?"
"Yeah, but ... but I *had* to."
"No, you didn't! What would have happened if I hadn't come along?"
"I'd have creamed them."
"Don't be ridiculous, Iolaus. I must admit I was surprised to see just how much damage you'd managed to do, but *you* would *not* have won."
"Would," Iolaus muttered recalcitrantly, pouting.
"Iolaus!" The voice was disapproving and vaguely threatening.
"Well, I *might* have."
Marcus shook his head. "You're incorrigible, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not! I'm *not*!"
"You don't even know what the word means, do you?"
"Yes, I do!"
"It means ... um ... Well, I don't know exactly, but I know it's bad by the way you said it."
"Iolaus, words can't hurt you."
"Yes, they can!"
"What did those boys say?"
"They called me your catamite."
"That's it. There were other terms, but they amounted to the same thing. That was the one I didn't like."
"But why? It is just a word and it isn't really inaccurate, is it?"
"No, but I just don't like it. You see, my father used to say I was too pretty to be a boy and that all I'd ever be was some man's catamite."
His father again! That man had so much to answer for. "There's nothing wrong with having a male lover, Iolaus."
"I know, but that term implies there is. I couldn't stop my father saying it, but I'll damn well stop anybody else."
The thought struck Marcus so he asked, "Have you ever had sex with a woman, Iolaus?"
"Yes, of course! Only whores though," he added, honestly. "A couple of the older ones have let me when they haven't managed to get a paying customer. Anyway, I don't care about them now I've got you."
Greatly daring, he wrapped his arms around Marcus' waist and peeked up at him through his indecently long lashes. "Kiss please," he whispered.
"I don't kiss brats," Marcus retorted.
Iolaus pouted again. Marcus tapped him on the protruding lower lip. "That does nothing for your looks, Iolaus."
"Do you think I've got looks?" the blond questioned eagerly.
"Everybody's got looks."
"You *know* what I mean."
"No," Marcus lied.
"Well, my father said I was pretty. Do you think so?"
Misunderstanding, Marcus gave in and said, resignedly, "Yes, you're pretty. Now are you satisfied?"
To his astonishment, Iolaus' face fell.
"What's wrong now?"
"I don't want to be pretty. Girls are pretty! I want to be handsome."
Marcus was getting tired of the conversation. "Too bad, Blondie. You might as well accept that golden curls and that face put you in the category of pretty and ..." He paused.
"And what?" Iolaus prompted, although he knew he probably would not like the answer.
"That's how I like you." With that he swooped Iolaus up, tossed him over one shoulder and headed for the bedroom, ignoring the fists beating a tattoo on his back.
A scant few minutes later, Iolaus was too occupied to give a thought to what he hoped was his friend's unjust description of his appearance.
A few days later, Marcus entered the room to find Iolaus munching happily on a large pie. He had given the boy no money so there was only one possibility. "I thought I told you there was to be no more stealing?" he said.
"It's *only* a pie," Iolaus said, defensively.
"That's not the point. If you get caught you'll be lucky to escape with a branding and whipping. Anyway, you might get injured or even killed while they are trying to apprehend you."
"You worry too much. No one saw me."
"So you think."
"'Course they didn't! You're making a fuss over nothing." He took another large bite of the pie by way of emphasis.
"I told you that you were to stop stealing."
"And I'm telling you to butt out. I'll do what I want," he proclaimed defiantly, adding for good measure, "You don't own me you know."
"Right! That's it, you insolent brat! You're going over my knee."
Iolaus backed away, hands raised defensively, and protesting, "No, I'm not! I'm too old to be spanked."
But there was nothing he could do to stop Marcus. In a short time his trousers were around his ankles and he was over the big man's knee. Marcus effortlessly held Iolaus' wrists up his back with one hand and delivered a series of stinging slaps to the wriggling arse so tantalizingly displayed before him.
Iolaus struggled, threatened and cursed, showing an extensive, if reprehensible, vocabulary, but it got him nowhere and, indeed, served merely to convince his tormentor of the rightness of his actions.
Soon the creamy globes were a fiery red. Marcus stopped and lifted Iolaus to stand between his thighs. Angry tears were rolling down the blond's face. "It's *not* fair! I'm *not* a kid!" he cried, humiliated rather than physically hurt.
"I'm sorry, Iolaus, but you asked for it. In any case, it's got nothing to do with age. You might as well accept that with an beautiful arse like you've got, men are always going to find reasons for spanking you."
"W-What do you mean?"
"C'mon, my little street rat, you're not as innocent as that. Surely some of your clients have indulged in a bit of slap and tickle."
Iolaus blushed and hung his head, so that the tangled, blond mop hid his face. "Yeah, slap anyway, but ... but they were paying for it."
"So you want me to pay?"
"No, I don't mean ... You paid for the healer... I'm sorry I just hate people seeing me as a kid. Only Herc ever treats me as an equal."
Herc *again*! To tell the truth, Marcus was getting a bit tired of him. Once Iolaus was on the topic of Herc he could babble on endlessly about how wonderful he was and all about the fantastic Academy he was attending that would train him to be a great warrior. Actually, not just *a* great warrior, but *the* greatest warrior that had ever lived. It was all very boring and irritating. It wasn't that Marcus was jealous that Herc occupied a place in the little blond's heart that could never be his. Of course, it wasn't. After all, he was going to leave the brat soon as he'd wasted more than enough time on him already.
However, as Iolaus began one of his detailed stories about his incredible friend, Marcus' control snapped and he interrupted testily, "Tell me, what is this wonderful friend going to think about how you've been living. I mean stealing, whoring ..."
"I'm not a whore!"
It was a cry from the heart, but Marcus was in no mood to comfort. "What else do you call selling your body?" he demanded.
"I didn't .. It wasn't ... I didn't *want* to do it. I-I j-just ran out of options. I tried to get proper work. I *did*! It wasn't my fault people saw me as a kid and kept telling me to go home." He was rapidly working himself into a stew as Marcus' words hit home and he pictured Hercules' horror at the life he had been leading.
"So the same men, who wouldn't give you a job, didn't mind abusing a kid then?"
"Why don't you listen? I keep telling you I'm *not* a kid!"
"But you *were* to them."
"I s'pose so," Iolaus conceded reluctantly.
"And why me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why did you latch onto my arm like a limpet."
"I could see you were a warrior."
"Warriors are mostly freer with their money than merchants. They don't have to go home and account for money spent to their wives. Besides I like warriors more. *I'm* going to be one."
Marcus had, of course, already heard that numerous times. "You are dead set on that, aren't you?"
"Yes. Nothing else matters to me."
"Well, I guess I'd better do something about that then," Marcus found himself saying.
"What do you mean?"
"I'll have to see about getting you into that Academy your friend Herc goes to."
"Really?" Iolaus' face glowed, his smile blinding. Then, just as quickly, the joy vanished. "You're teasing me, aren't you?" he asked plaintively.
"No, I mean it," Marcus hurriedly assured him.
"B-But it's ... it's the b-best place and it's *very* expensive."
"I suppose if your friend Herc's father can find the money, then I can."
"Herc's father isn't paying and I don't think that Chiron is charging his mother."
"Why not? Has he got some sort of scholarship?"
"No, I think he's honoured to have the chance to train Herc."
"Why?" Marcus was bemused. If the boy was the son of a very important man, he would hardly have been allowed to associate with, let alone befriend, the scruffy and impecunious blond. "Is he the son of someone important?"
"Yeah, kind of. His father is Zeus."
"What??? Zeus as in 'King of the Gods' Zeus?" Marcus was absolutely flabbergasted.
"And he's only 'kind of' important?" he asked incredulously.
"Yeah. Well, you see he hasn't done anything for Herc himself. He's always too busy to have time for him. He's nowhere near as important in my eyes as Herc himself."
"Is 'Herc' the boy's full name?"
"No, he's really Heracles. I think Zeus named him that in an attempt to stop his wife taking some kind of revenge on him. You see it means 'Glory of Hera'. But everyone calls him Hercules ... 'cept me, of course."
Iolaus noticed that Marcus had sat down heavily on the bed and was looking rather stunned. "Are you okay?" he asked. "You look a bit green. You're not feeling sick or anything are you?"
"N-No, I'm fine. I was just a bit surprised. I didn't realize you moved in such exalted circles."
"That you had a demigod for a friend ... especially after your rather derogatory comments about gods."
"Aw, Herc's okay. He doesn't act like he's something special, though *I* think he is. He's my best friend in all the world and we're going to be 'back-to-back' heroes. That's what we've always planned."
"I guess we'd better get organized if we're going to get you into that Academy then," Marcus said, ruthlessly thrusting down the regrets that were assailing him at the thought of parting with Iolaus.
He started to rise, only to find himself knocked back flat on the bed as Iolaus flung himself upon him and wrapped his arms around his neck. "You *did* mean it!" Iolaus cried joyously. "Thank you! I'll pay you back! It might take a while, but one day I'll have money and I promise I'll pay."
Marcus struggled into a sitting position, with Iolaus facing him on his knee, and clasped the blond's upper arms so he could disengage the crushing grip. "Don't worry about that, Iolaus. I think you will find I'm not without influence with Chiron myself. I don't think he will charge me."
"Really?" The voice was disbelieving. "Why?"
"Never you mind, my little street rat. Now get yourself ready and we'll be off."
"Are we really leaving right now?" Iolaus asked, smiling happily and wriggling off Marcus' knee to snatch up his meagre possessions.
"We've got one stop to make first."
"Do we have to?" He was all impatience to be get going.
"I thought you might need a decent sword and a new knife."
"A sword!" Iolaus' eyes lit up. "That would be great, but my knife's fine."
"I thought it looked a bit roughly made."
"No ... Well, I guess it's not the fanciest knife in the world, but it's special. You see, it's the first knife Herc and I ever forged and he let *me* have it."
"I might have guessed Herc had something to do with it."
"Yeah, you wait until you meet him, you'll ..."
"I'm starting to feel I know everything about him already. You do mention him rather a lot."
"I s'pose I do, but he's my ..."
"... best friend in all the world," Marcus finished. "Yes, I've got the general picture," he added rather dryly, but Iolaus was too excited to notice.
"You could do with a new shirt too," he observed, looking at the threadbare and much darned garment with some distaste.
"No, this one's fine. It's an old one that Herc grew out of. I like to wear it as it's kind of like having him with me in a way. I s'pose you think that's stupid."
Marcus did, but he had too much sense to say so. "A second shirt wouldn't go amiss though, would it?"
"No, thank you, Marcus. That sword cost a lot and you're paying for the Academy. I'd feel bad taking more from you." Clearly he had not believed Marcus' comment that Chiron would be unlikely to charge him.
Soon, although not soon enough for Iolaus, they were on their way. Fair bouncing along in his excitement, Iolaus did not notice that Marcus seemed particularly preoccupied. The little blond was too busy taking swings at imaginary monsters with his prized new sword and babbling about what a great time he and Hercules were going to have, to notice that Marcus was very quiet and seemed to be in the throes of kind of internal debate.
Finally, Marcus called a halt for the night, although his charge would have pressed on. "Can't we go a bit further, Marcus, there's another hour of daylight left and there's going to be a full moon so we could keep ..."
Marcus interrupted, "If you are about to suggest that we keep walking through the night don't waste your breath, we are stopping right here. I'm not walking another step."
"Are you tired? I'm sorry, I tend to forget how old you are," Iolaus said provocatively, hoping to make Marcus declare himself fit to go on.
However, Marcus wasn't falling for that ploy. "You'd be surprised if you knew just how old I am," he commented, "but, be that as it may, *this* is where we are spending the night. Anyway, we'll see who's too tired to walk tomorrow after the strenuous night's activities I've got in mind," he added, grinning lasciviously.
Iolaus flicked the tip of his pink tongue across his lips in shameless anticipation. His eyes glowed and a wicked smile curved his shapely lips. He held out his arms.
"Don't tempt me to start yet," Marcus remonstrated. "Let's get the camp set up first, brat. I wish you hadn't hurried me through that last village. I should have bought some more food, after your interminable snacking there's not much left."
"That's okay. I'll just get us a couple of rabbits. I won't be long."
"No, you'd better not. It'll be dark soon and I don't want you getting lost. We can make do with the food that's left."
"*You* might be able to, but I've got a proper appetite. Don't worry, I won't get lost, bush-craft is one thing I do know about." Then, before Marcus could make a move to stop him, he literally melted into the bush.
The big man blinked in surprise at the sudden, silent exit. 'I thought my little thief belonged to Hermes,' Marcus mused, 'but perhaps he's one of Artemis' favoured ones.'
This suspicion seemed to be confirmed when Iolaus was back in next to no time, proudly carrying a brace of rabbits.
"You weren't kidding about your hunting skills, were you?" Marcus said. "Who taught you?"
Iolaus looked confused. "Nobody," he admitted, "I've just always been good at hunting. Just as well too as, with my father away so much, someone had to put food on the table." He grinned and then said, "I always seem to know directions and things like that, not like poor old Herc. I tell him he'd get lost in his own backyard without me there."
"You mean there's something the perfect Herc can't do?"
Iolaus didn't seem to notice the sarcasm. "Oh, there's a few things I can do better. I'm also better at fishing, though he won't admit it. You have to be patient to be good at fishing."
Patient! That was one of the last words Marcus would ever consider using to describe the little blond. It was too much for Marcus. He broke into fits of uncontrollable laughter and ended up literally rolling on the ground in his mirth.
"What's so funny?" Iolaus demanded, standing, arms akimbo, over him.
"Y-You! P-Patient!" Marcus finally managed to gasp. "Oh, g-gods are you trying to kill me, brat?"
Iolaus looked offended. "I *can* be patient when I *need* to be," he said, huffily.
That voice and his affronted expression set Marcus off again and soon he was wheezing and complaining about a sore stomach."
"Serves you right," Iolaus said sternly, although, in truth, he was finding it hard not to laugh at the sight of his normally serious friend reduced to a shaking heap of mirth. A snigger escaped him and then he was lost. He began to laugh as well. Marcus pulled him into his arms and they clung helplessly to each other, both wet-eyed and giggling.
Marcus had often experienced all-encompassing rage, but never something like this. 'How in Tartarus can I part with my little street rat?' he asked himself.
Then he pushed the thought aside as Iolaus, anxious to begin the night's promised activities, began to cover him with eager kisses.
On the second day, the pair was walking along a rather isolated stretch of road, Marcus, who disliked walking and was increasingly dreading the end of their journey, had fallen some distance behind the little blond. Iolaus saw a group of about ten roughly clad men heading towards him. He glanced back for Marcus, but the latter was nowhere in sight. Aware that boldness often serves one well, Iolaus did not deviate from his path.
Smiling confidently, he wished them good morning as they neared. The men were clearly thrown by his nerve and a couple started to actually step aside, when their leader intervened. "Hold it right there, boy," he ordered.
Iolaus stopped and stood looking boldly up at the man. "What do you want?" he asked, still smiling.
"Turn out your pockets, boy."
"This is a joke, right? You don't seriously imagine I've got any money?"
Meanwhile Marcus' had caught up with Iolaus. Alerted by the voices before he rounded a bend in the track, he had taken to the bushes and was now observing events, his mind racing. An exceptional warrior, he had no doubt he could fight off the men, but he was concerned about endangering the little blond.
"Give us that shiny, new sword then."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Now hand it over!"
Iolaus hesitated, playing for time. "Do I have to?" he asked, glancing surreptitiously at the nearby bushes, the slightest movement of these having alerted him to Marcus' presence.
"If you don't want to get hurt, you do. A kid your age shouldn't have one anyway, you might cut yourself." The other men laughed.
"I s'pose I might," Iolaus conceded, as he started to draw the sword slowly, "but I'm more likely to .... CUT YOU!" As he shouted, his sword flashed out and he lunged forward, putting all his weight behind the movement.
The sword pierced straight into the bandit's stomach. Blood gushed and he collapsed screaming.
Iolaus quickly twisted the sword and yanked it free, holding it in front of him, while drawing his knife with his left hand. "Who's next?" he hissed, his eyes narrowing to slits of ice.
Leaderless, the men hesitated. The pretty boy had acted with such deadly speed and precision they had all been completely caught off guard. Now somehow he appeared so much older and quite formidable.
"Well, come on, are you all chicken?" the youth taunted.
Like the bandits, Marcus had been stunned by Iolaus' actions, but he realized that it was time for him to get involved as the cocky, little brat was definitely biting off more than he could chew.
He stepped forward, glowering menacingly. "Leave some for me, Iolaus," he purred, as he ranged alongside the little blond.
More than one of the bandits recounted later that he felt icy shivers down his spine as he looked at the disparate pair, alike only in their coolly controlled ferocity. That fear proved well justified as the two moved forward as one. In moments, three had fallen beneath the deadly blade of the black-clad warrior and two were suffering bloody gashes from encounters with the little blond.
Then, stepping back to evade a wild swing from one of the enemy, Marcus slipped in a patch of blood and fell heavily. The man raised his sword and rushed forward. Marcus waited calmly, never doubting his ability to counter the coming stroke.
However, like quicksilver, Iolaus darted in front of him, lifting his sword to meet the downward slash. The force of the blow jarred his whole arm, but he swallowed the cry of pain that rose to his lips, managed to hold steady and tried to push back. He did not have the strength to force the man's sword up and so a dangerous impasse developed, perilous in that if one of the other bandits had seized the opportunity to go for Iolaus the blond would have been completely vulnerable.
Seeing the danger, Marcus leapt up ready to confront anyone who might dare. Then one of the as yet uninjured bandits, who had been hanging back nervously awaiting an opening, caught Marcus' eye and recognized his foe. "Oh, gods, I know you, you're ..." He broke off in a strangled gurgle as Marcus' dagger took him through the throat.
It had all happened so quickly that Iolaus, who had glanced at them when the bandit had started to shout, had not even seen Marcus draw the weapon. 'I must ask him how he did that,' he decided, as he turned back to his foe.
However, the bandits had had more than enough and moments later broke and ran, leaving four of their number dead.
Marcus turned to Iolaus, who was wiping his blade on his already filthy shirt. "What in Tartarus did you think you were doing challenging those men?" he demanded. "You wouldn't have had a hope against them."
"You surely didn't expect me to hand over my sword after what it cost you? They thought they were dealing with a kid and so I figured I could surprise them. Anyway, I knew you couldn't be too far behind me, so I'd just have to hold them off till you caught up to me."
"And what if I had been delayed?"
"I guess I might have had a bit of trouble."
"Well ... a fair bit," he conceded reluctantly. "But I *would* have won," he added.
Marcus shook his head in disbelief at the assertion. The brat was irrepressible, but he was even starting to feel that perhaps the youth might have somehow have succeeded. If sheer nerve counted for anything he would be unbeatable.
Then Marcus noticed that Iolaus was surreptitiously rubbing his right wrist. It had been healing well, but should still not have been used in a fight. "Have you hurt your wrist again?" he asked.
"No, it's fine," Iolaus lied, fearful that an injury might rule out the Academy for the present.
"I said it's okay." He tucked the offending limb behind him. "Let's get going, we've wasted too much time here."
"Iolaus! Show me!" Marcus commanded sternly. "We're not going any where until I've checked it for you."
The blond reluctantly extended the arm. "See it's fine."
"Let me feel it."
Marcus took hold of the wrist and manipulated it gently. Iolaus winced and sucked in his breath hoping against hope that Marcus would be too intent upon the wrist to notice.
Then, to his amazement, he realized that the wrist did feel better. A lot better.
"Okay?" Marcus inquired.
Iolaus twisted it around and grinned happily. "It feels great. I don't know why you bothered taking me to that stupid healer when you can do things like that. What did you do to it?"
"It wouldn't have been so easy if you'd broken again. You'd just jarred it."
"I thought it was broken again," Iolaus confessed.
"Well, it seems that you were wrong. Mind you, if you thought it was broken, why the reluctance to let me see it?"
"I thought you'd say I couldn't go to the Academy until it was right and I can't wait to get there and see Herc."
"And, if it ever came to the crunch, which is more important: Herc or the Academy?"
"Herc! Always!" the blond replied promptly. "I want to learn to be a warrior, but being his partner is a big part of that."
"And if Herc decided he wanted to be a farmer or something, what then?"
"You're sure about that."
"Yes, it's always been our dream. I don't know that we want to do it for exactly the same reasons though," he admitted.
"What do you mean?"
"Herc wants to help people."
"What do you mean?"
"To save people who are threatened by warlords or bandits."
"Well, I guess I want to do that too, but mostly I just want to be able to fight. I want people to see me as a warrior, not just a useless, little kid."
"'People' being your father?"
"No! I *don't* care what *he* thinks!" The very vehemence in his voice gave a lie to his assertion, but Marcus forbore to take issue and just waited for what was coming next. "I s'pose you think Herc's got the best reason."
*That* at least he could answer. "No, I don't think so at all, Iolaus. You answered honestly and I'll bet lots of warriors would have started with a similar motive." In truth, Herc sounded like an insufferable prig, which was rather surprising given who had fathered him. He couldn't help but wonder how the contumacious little blond could put up with, and even apparently admire, all that goodness. 'A case of opposites attract, I suppose,' he mused, 'but I wonder how long before they drive each other mad.'
Then he realized Iolaus had said something. "Sorry, I was thinking. What did you say?"
"I just asked if *you* are okay. I was so worried when you fell. If anything had happened to ..."
"Nothing will happen to me. I slipped in some blood that's all. I wasn't hurt. I should have thanked you for stepping in to protect me, even though I'd much rather you concentrated on looking after yourself."
"That's the same thing. You are important to me you know."
"Yeah, I'm your key to the Academy," Marcus said sardonically.
To his horror, Iolaus looked stricken. The little blond was so physically tough, he tended to forget how sensitive and easily hurt he was. "I didn't mean that," he protested, clearly worried that Marcus was serious.
"Iolaus, I was joking." Marcus reached out and pulled the youth into a hug. "Surely you've got used to my sense of humour by now. C'mon, look up, I hate talking to that bird's nest you call a hair style." Iolaus looked up, pouting. "Ah, there's the bird perch to go with the nest," he announced, running a thumb over the protruding lip. "Now don't smile whatever you do, you know I love you when you sulk."
*That* was so patently untrue, that Iolaus could not suppress a small smile. Seeing the response, Marcus swooped down and captured the sweet lips in a possessive kiss, pushing them apart with his tongue and exploring the honeyed cavern behind them. Iolaus melted against him, pushing his small hands under Marcus' shirt to stroke the hard-muscled back.
Marcus reached down to cup the youth's buttocks and lifted him into his arms. He carried him into the long grass by the side of the track and sank down with him. Clearly a lot more travelling time was about to be lost as he surrendered again to the addictive delights of that glorious creamy body.
On the third and final evening, Marcus was particularly tender in his lovemaking. He even tentatively suggested Iolaus might like to take him for once, though Iolaus seemed shocked at the suggestion and hurriedly declined. "I-I c-couldn't do that, Marcus," he stammered. "I'd prefer you to fuck me. I like that."
When they had finished, Iolaus lay in the larger man's arms, snuggling against him. "Will you often come and visit me at the Academy, Marcus?"
"I am a busy man, Iolaus. These last few weeks have been very unusual for me. You can't expect to see me."
Iolaus looked stricken. "Oh, I-I wanted ... I hoped ..." His mouth trembled and he broke off with a stifled sob and buried his face into Marcus' hairy chest.
Marcus could feel the wetness of his tears. He stroked a hand down the shaking shoulders. "Come on now, little one, you'll have your friend Herc. You won't want me."
"But I *don't* want to lose you," Iolaus sobbed, clutching him tightly.
"You'll never do that, Iolaus, although," he added wryly, "there may be times in the future when you will wish you could."
"So, you're not just abandoning me then?" Iolaus raised swimming eyes to scan the beloved face.
"Of course not. You just won't see me often, but I'll always be there if you need me."
"Will you be at your house in Athens? How will I contact you?"
"You won't have to, I'll know, I promise you." He leant forward and captured the still trembling lips to forestall further questions.
Head swimming, Iolaus was lost in the intoxicating sweetness of it and all his doubts and fears fled.
That night it was Marcus' turn to lie awake watching his lover sleep. He gazed down tenderly at the slumbering youth, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest and trying to resist the temptation to suck on to the small brown nipples.
'So much beauty, passion and bravery in one small body. How was such a one produced by a union of mere mortals? He should have sprung from a coupling of Aphrodite with another god,' he mused. He grinned wryly at the idle thought. 'At least that would have given him the height he wants but, I think, he's perfect just the way he is. How on earth can I let him go? It would be so easy to keep him, with or without his agreement. Well, it might not be *that*easy, but it would be a challenge anyway.'
However, he knew Iolaus had his heart set on the Academy and on his reunion with Hercules. He could not bear to contemplate the bewildered hurt that would be fill the blond's expressive eyes if he was told that Marcus had decided against the Academy. He couldn't stand losing the trust Iolaus had in him, although he cursed himself for a fool and knew that he would be the laughing stock of his family if they learnt of his sentiments.
Iolaus stirred and murmured in his sleep, unconsciously rousing Marcus from his disturbing reverie. The riotous, golden curls framing the beautiful face gave him a deceptive look of innocence. The troublesome little ratbag, with the unruly tongue and all too ready fists, was nowhere in evidence.
Sighing, Marcus carefully lay down and gently rolled the youth into his arms. Iolaus roused slightly, instinctively snuggled in to the large form and drifted contentedly back to sleep. Poor Marcus spent a largely sleepless night.
The following day, Iolaus had recovered from his upset about the visits, or lack thereof, and was back to his usual exuberant self, fair bouncing along the road and speculating as to what the Academy would be like and what Hercules would say when he saw him. Marcus was relieved to see him in such high-spirits, but was still depressed at the thought of the coming parting and envious of the so beloved Hercules.
Again he asked himself how he could have become so helplessly enamoured with the pretty slip of a youth, with wilful ways and an impudent tongue. He tried to convince himself that the Academy was the best bet from both their points of view. Iolaus would be with his friend and would get the military training he so wanted, while being kept off the streets and under some much needed control. From his own point of view, hopefully a bit of distance would enable him to put his relationship with Iolaus in proper perspective. 'After all, it had only been a fling and nothing more,' his rational mind argued. 'I'm far too busy to continue to neglect my duties like I have been past weeks. Why the hell is it so difficult to leave him then?'
Finally, the Academy was in sight. Suddenly it occurred to Marcus that he had better warn Iolaus about Chiron in case surprise or curiosity led the youth to blurt out some cheek that would not help his entry chances. "Are you aware that Chiron, who runs the Academy, is a centaur?" he questioned.
Iolaus' head shot up and there was a speculative look in his eyes that boded no good. "Is he? That's interesting! I've often wondered about centaurs. I'll ask him ..."
"Stop right there!" Marcus interrupted. "You are *not* to ask him anything except about fighting and weapons."
"In fact, you should keep quiet unless he asks you a question or I tell you to speak," he ordered.
"Iolaus, you have the most unruly tongue of anyone I've met. You're likely to get yourself kicked out of the Academy before you're even signed up."
"Aw, that's not fair. I want ..." He got no further. A large hand clamped over his mouth. He tried to prise it off, but could not do it.
"If you want my help you'll do it my way. Nod if you agree," Marcus said firmly.
Aware that he had no real choice, Iolaus reluctantly nodded.
They continued inside. Marcus had his arm around Iolaus, in a firm hold that was meant to both reassure and control.
The normally imperturbable Chiron did a double take when he saw his visitor.
"You know who I am," the man said. It was a statement rather than a question.
"Yes. Yes, of course. How may I ..."
"Serve me? I've brought you a new cadet." He glanced down at the curly head, tucked against his side.
Until that point, Chiron had not consciously observed the slight youth in his preoccupation with the man. Now he found himself stammering, in his surprise, "Th-That boy? B-But isn't he a bit ... a bit ... ah ...young."
Ares felt Iolaus stiffen. He knew the little fighting cock was about to say something rude. He tightened his hand in a warning grip on the youth's shoulder and said, "He assures me he's sixteen."
"Sixteen?" Chiron echoed doubtfully.
"Yes. Anyway, if not, he must be somewhere near it. Will you take him?"
"If *you* wish."
"Good, that's settled. Perhaps you could have one of the other cadets show Iolaus around while we sort out the details."
Chiron summoned a youth and the pair watched as he and Iolaus headed off across the grounds. The cadet was head and shoulders above the little blond and Chiron felt all his initial misgivings return. "Can I ask why you are doing this?" he asked.
"Call it a whim. I wanted to help the boy."
"But why bring him here? He's not ... not exactly the ... er ... the kind of youth we normally get here."
"Don't be put off by his size. He'll grow ... a bit. That doesn't matter anyway. *I* tell you he is going to be a great warrior. That's what he wants to be and if any man can do that *he* can. Don't let those pretty looks fool you. He's as brave and as tough as they come. He'll be a credit to us both if he can curb his temper and channel his aggressiveness."
"He doesn't look like the aggressive sort."
"No, but he *is*. He'll give you no end of trouble. He's an incorrigible little ratbag and in a fight he'll take on any odds."
"I run a firm discipline system. There's no place for troublemakers."
"Fine, you beat him all he needs. You'll never break his spirit."
"One other thing concerns me. I don't know how he will fit in here. The other boys might not make things easy for him because of his size and looks."
"Don't worry, Iolaus can take care of himself."
"He might be a bit isolated though."
"Ah, but the main reason he wanted to come here is that his friend is a cadet."
"His friend? Who?"
"The son of Zeus is his friend? Then how come *you* are sponsoring Iolaus?"
Marcus grinned ruefully. "I got to know the boy before I realized the connection."
"And you still want to help him?"
"I'd given my word. My uncharacteristically charitable impulse might backfire on me yet, but that's a possible 'treat' in store. One thing, he doesn't know my real name and I would appreciate it if you keep it quiet. He only knows me as 'Marcus'. I'll tell him the truth in the future *if* he needs to know."
After he had gone, Chiron sat back and wondered just what he had let himself in for. It was hard to know what to expect. After all, no cadet had ever entered the Academy under the personal sponsorship of Ares, the God of War, before.
The End (though a sequel is underway)
E-mail the author care of Nephele at [email protected]
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