Protégé Two

By Aramis

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

This story is a sequel to Protégé

Iolaus, returning to Chiron's office with the cadet who had been detailed to show him around, was just in time to spot Marcus leaving the premises. Panicking he broke into a run, calling out desperately to his lover.

At first, it appeared that the big man had not heard him or, more likely, given the noise that Iolaus was making, had decided to ignore him, but then he stopped and turned to face the youth. In truth, he had been dreading the parting and had, uncharacteristically, decided to take the easy way out and avoid it altogether. However, he found himself unable to resist Iolaus' entreaties for him to wait.

The little blond ran straight up to him and was hard pressed not to throw himself into Marcus' arms although he knew the man preferred to leave overt displays of affection to private occasions. Of course, he was not to know that his benefactor was anxious that nobody should see that the God of War was besotted with a scruffy, little mortal. It did not fit the image and, in any case, might have exposed the boy to some danger from those among gods and men who had reason to hate the dark god. However, since Iolaus knew him merely as 'Marcus', the warrior who had befriended him in Athens, he could not explain that to the youth.

Now Iolaus stood before him, head up and manfully trying to hold back threatening tears. "You were going to leave me without saying goodbye," he accused.

"Yes," Ares admitted, "I thought it would be easier on both of us."

"Well, you were *wrong*," Iolaus declared. "I know you have to leave, but I don't want you to go ... certainly not before ... before ..." To Ares' horror, tears began to roll down Iolaus' pale cheeks. The youth raised a hand and tried to surreptitiously wipe them away, but more took their place.

Without intending to do so, Ares gathered the slight body into his arms and held him tightly to his chest. He knew that it was the wrong thing to do. There would be bound to be other cadets watching and they would give Iolaus hell about it, but he couldn't stop himself. In truth, his eyes were moist too.

He gently stroked Iolaus' back and then disengaged the clutching hands, holding him at arm's length. "This won't do, Iolaus," he murmured. "Other people will be watching."

"I don't care!"

"The other cadets might make fun of you if you make too much fuss," Ares warned, glancing around in search of prying eyes.

"I don't care! If they do I'll bloody well ..."

"No, Iolaus, you will *not* get straight into a fight on your first day here. I know, sooner or later, you're likely to get kicked of here for your misdeeds, brat, but day one is a bit early even for you. Now, c'mon, calm down and make me proud of you."

Iolaus sniffed loudly, but looked as if he was likely to dissolve in tears again at any moment.

As much as he hated to raise the subject of Hercules, having heard far too much about that person over the previous few weeks, Ares seized upon him as a possible means of cheering Iolaus up. "What about your friend, Herc? Was he surprised to see you?"

"I haven't seen him yet," Iolaus replied dejectedly.

"Well, he must be somewhere around. What would he think if he saw you making such a fuss?"

"He'd be surprised."

"Yes, I guess he wouldn't have seen you cry before."

"No," Iolaus corrected, "he'd be surprised that I was letting someone other than him see me cry. He's always specially kind if I'm unhappy."

'Damn,' Ares thought, 'another point in favour of that annoying friend, although I should be pleased in this instance that he's here to provide my little street rat with emotional support.' "Okay, well I suggest you go back to Chiron's office to see if he has any instructions for you and then you go and find your friend."

"I s'pose so, but ... but ..."

"But?"

"You *will* come back to see me, won't you, Marcus?" The beautiful azure eyes were pleading.

Ares' resolve melted. "All right, brat, I promise I'll call back in about a month's time to see how things are going."

"Less or more?"

"Less or more what?"

"Less than a month or more than a month?"

"I can't tell exactly, Iolaus. If you only knew how busy I am ..."

"How can I when you don't tell me anything about what you do?"

Ignoring the question, Ares said, "It will be as close to a month as I can make it. I'm sorry, but you'll have to be satisfied with that. Now I really have to get going."

Iolaus nodded. "Okay, thank you, Marcus, I-I'm sorry I was so ... that I made
s-such a fuss." As he spoke he moved forward, and wrapped his arms around Ares' neck drawing his face down for a kiss.

Ares could have resisted, he knew should do so, but he wanted it as much as the little blond did. It was brief, but anyone watching would have had no doubt that it was not the kiss of a fond father or affectionate guardian.

The God of War then moved hurriedly off. He could feel Iolaus' eyes upon him, but deliberately did not look back, lest his resolve fail and he have to take the boy with him.

As soon as he was out of sight of prying eyes, he disappeared to materialize again on Mount Olympus, a place he had rarely visited since he met Iolaus. Time to see how the various conflicts he had initiated were progressing and to start more as both men and gods would have been wondering why the world had become considerably more peaceful over the previous two months or so. 'Still, Hades for one should be pleased,' he reflected. 'The lull should have given him time to catch up on his paperwork. Anyway, he'd better be up-to-date, as I'm going to make up for lost time. Throwing myself into my work will help distract me from thoughts of the brat.'


Meanwhile, Iolaus had followed Ares' instructions and was now standing uneasily in Chiron's office listening to a lecture about just what was and what was not expected of a cadet. There seemed to be an inordinate number of rules and Iolaus doubted whether it was in his power to remember half of them, let alone obey them.

In his turn, Chiron was observing the pale, tear-stained face and wondering, 'What in Tartarus can Ares be thinking of? The boy's not old enough to be away from his mother. There's no way he'll fit in here.' He wished he knew what the dark god was playing at. He could not accept that Ares' motives were altruistic, but there was no other obvious explanation offering either. He would have to keep a close eye on the little blond.

Although the boy looked nothing like the god, he decided to check out that possibility first. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand your relationship to ... ah ... to Marcus. Is he your father?"

"No, just a friend."

'Since when did Ares befriend mortal youths?' Chiron wondered cynically, while he asked, "Am I right to assume then that you are an orphan since boys are usually sponsored by their parents?"

"No."

"What do you mean 'no'?"

"I have parents," Iolaus admitted with some reluctance.

'It's like pulling teeth to get information,' Chiron reflected. "Well, I'll need your father's name for the records."

Iolaus hesitated, thinking quickly. If he refused to give a name, Chiron might be suspicious and decide to check whether his father had given permission for him to be there and the last thing he wanted was for Skouros to locate him. "His name's Skouros," he replied unhappily.

Unfortunately for Iolaus, the name was very familiar to the centaur. "Not General Skouros?"

"Yes."

The centaur's stern face broke into a rare smile. "Well, that is good news! I've known him for years. If you turn out to be half the soldier your father is you'll be doing well. I'm just sorry he didn't bring you here himself. I'd have liked a chance to talk over old times."

"He's busy," Iolaus muttered, silently adding 'he's *always* busy and he would *never* have let me near this place in case I disgraced him. He would have seen it as a waste of money to send me here.'

"Yes, that would be him. He was always a go-getter. I must say you don't look anything like him. Take after your mother, do you?"

Iolaus shrugged his shoulders, but did not reply. In truth, his hated lack of height and his golden beauty were not obviously attributable to her either. If his mother had not been so devoted to his father he would have sworn she had cheated on him. Iolaus would not have blamed her a bit and would have positively welcomed a different sire.

He came out of his brief reverie to an awareness that Chiron was now regarding him with some disfavour.

In truth, the centaur disapproved of the boy's apparent casual disregard for a father that, he assumed, any boy should be proud to acknowledge. He would have expected most youths would have been more than happy to talk about a father of such military eminence. He tried again, "Where is he serving at present?"

"I don't know," Iolaus admitted, his face flushing with embarrassment at his lack of knowledge.

"And don't care?" Chiron asked sharply.

"Yes .... No ... Look I just *don't* know where he is." Iolaus was getting flustered. He knew what he should be saying to impress his father's friend, but he just couldn't say it, not even if his chances at the Academy depended upon it. In fact, all he wanted to do was walk out, to go after Marcus and say he had made a mistake and to beg him to take him with him. "I shouldn't have come here," he muttered and turned dejectedly towards the door.

"Iolaus! You will wait until I have dismissed you," Chiron said sternly, more confused than ever and wondering, with a degree of trepidation, how the war god would react if the youth walked out of the Academy. When Ares had expressed a wish, it would foolhardy not to try to cooperate with him and Ares had clearly expected that Chiron would do his best with the boy, even if he had to beat him into obedience. To allow the youth to leave immediately might well rouse his wrath and no warrior wanted to be on the wrong side of the God of War.

The blond hesitated, clearly debating what to do. Of course, he did not know that Marcus had not paid the large sum required for entry to the Academy and feared that the latter would be angry if he left. Also Marcus had made that crack about day one being early even for Iolaus to get kicked out and then, far more importantly, he had added "make me proud of you". It was that last comment that had got to Iolaus. He had never had someone who had been proud of him and he desperately wanted to please Marcus. Yet, the way things were going, Chiron would probably throw him out anyway.

He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and turned back to the centaur, forcing himself to meet the stern gaze.

Chiron looked at the tear-bright eyes and white face, the golden curls and the slight frame and yet he looked beyond these. He knew many of the youths feared him, but he was conscious that this boy did not. Iolaus was clearly upset and ready to walk out, but he was not afraid of the centaur. No, the cause of his distress was different and he doubted that the youth would confide it suspecting, quite rightly, that too close a questioning, would lead to Iolaus saying or doing something that would make it impossible for him to stay.

He tried another tack. "I believe you have a friend among the cadets."

That sparked a happier reaction. Iolaus' eyes shone at the mere mention of his friend. "Yes, Hercules! I was looking ..."

Chiron interrupted. "I'm afraid he is not here at present. He has gone to Corinth, to accompany its ruler, King Jason, who is also one of our cadets."

"There's no trouble, is there?" Iolaus asked, sounding quite agitated.

"No, Jason had some routine administrative business to attend to and I prefer the cadets not to travel alone although the country has been unusually peaceful of late."

"That's okay then. I-I worry a bit about Herc," Iolaus admitted. Then realizing that sounded like he was putting the demigod down, added, "He can take care of himself, of course, but I like to be there just ... just in case."

Another, less perceptive than the centaur, might have laughed at the presumption of a pretty, little blond thinking to protect a demigod, but Chiron looked at the sturdy figure before him and could not help but recall Ares' words "He's as brave and tough as they come." Appearances *could* be deceptive.

He had been somewhat surprised when he had met the demigod. Expecting Hercules would probably be a brash youth, only too well aware of his godly inheritance, and probably keen to use his strength to overawe as well as overpower the other cadets, he had been surprised to find the demigod to be quiet, unassuming, gentle and shy.

The youth had been very homesick at first, confiding that he missed his mother and his best friend. Seeing beyond Chiron's gruff exterior, to a heart that was concerned about his pupils' well being, he had told him about some of the things that he and the friend had done. Admiration and deep affection for his friend rang in his voice as he talked about their boyish exploits and laughed about some of the scrapes his friend had led him into.

Now here, apparently, was that friend and there could hardly have been a greater contrast between two sixteen year olds. Yet, both from the demigod's stories and from Iolaus' words, the pair was clearly devoted to each other. Chiron correctly surmised that the little ratbag encouraged Hercules to enjoy life and not think just about duties and responsibilities, while the demigod obviously provided a restraining impulse on Iolaus' wilder tendencies and provided some much needed stability in his life.

Hercules had made a few new friends and had settled into the Academy, but Chiron knew that he was lonely at times as, being strongly moralistic, he found himself disapproving of some of the other cadets' excesses, such as drinking, and so stood apart from them. Perhaps having Iolaus there would be just what he needed.

"Hercules should be back in a couple of weeks. You should be well settled in by then."

"You mean I can stay?" Iolaus asked incredulously.

"As long as you abide by the rules I have outlined to you. You had best go and put your gear in the dormitory now. The evening meal will be in half an hour's time."

"Thank you."

The centaur then went to the door and summoned the youth, who had previously shown Iolaus around the grounds, to conduct him to the dormitory.


Topazus showed the new cadet to his bed in the dormitory and then moved to his own bed. Nobody seemed disposed to speak to Iolaus so he sat down on the bed somewhat ill at ease.

Several youths were idly observing the newcomer. Finally, one spoke. "How come a visitor is sleeping in here with us, Topazus?" he asked, as though Iolaus was not even present.

"He's not a visitor. He's a new cadet."

"What? You're having me on?"

"Nope."

"That pretty, little blond is a cadet?" Fadus, a solid, muscular youth of eighteen, scoffed in disbelief, while the other cadets laughed.

Iolaus froze. He knew he should not get into trouble as soon as he had arrived. That centaur would probably kick him straight out. Somehow he swallowed a rude rejoinder, a most unusual achievement for the normally outspoken youth.

"Are they taking children as cadets now?" Diomus, a tall, pock-marked cadet, inquired smirking.

"Sure looks like it. It seems even little girls are welcome. I mean look at these pretty curls," Erbessus laughed, moving across to Iolaus and reaching out a caressing hand.

*That* did it. Iolaus jumped to his feet and swung a punch into his tormentor's midriff. Erbessus buckled over coughing and swearing. The little blond then whirled around and flung himself at Diomus, who had been standing staring open-mouthed at the sudden retribution that his friend had suffered from such an unlikely source. Iolaus' shoulder hit the youth in the stomach and propelled him backwards into the arms of another cadet.

The blond moved forward intending to follow through his attack with a few solid punches, but Fadus moved in quickly and seized the collar of Iolaus shirt, dragging him away. The old, threadbare garment ripped, splitting halfway down the back as Iolaus twisted to confront him. He drove an elbow back into his assailant's ribs. Fadus swore and let go of the tattered shirt. He grabbed Iolaus by the wrist and flipped him across the room.

Iolaus slammed feet first into the wall and used it to launch himself straight back into the fray. He flung his arms around Fadus' neck and bore him to the floor landing on top of him, but losing his grip. The latter responded by flinging his arms around Iolaus' chest in a bear hug and starting to squeeze.

Gasping for air, Iolaus clawed at Fadus' face. Diomus and Erbessus moved as one, each securing a wrist and dragging them painfully up the blond's back. Fadus continued to increase the pressure.

Iolaus feared he was going to black out, but there seemed to be nothing he could do to free himself. The one thing he knew was that he was not going to cry out no matter how much they hurt him. He wasn't going to give them that satisfaction.

His face was against Fadus' neck. Without pausing to consider the consequences, he sank his teeth into it. Fadus screamed in agony and released his hold to try and push Iolaus away. Caught unawares by the piercing noise, the other two let go of Iolaus' wrists and the latter seized his chance and rolled off Fadus and against the nearby wall.

He turned back to face them and staggered to his feet wheezing painfully and waiting for the next attack.

Fadus' friends were helping him to his feet and he was gingerly investigating his bleeding throat. "You're going to pay for that, you little bastard," he said, as the three moved towards Iolaus.

At that moment, another cadet called, "Watch out, everyone, Feducious is coming!"

With an ease born of long practice all but Iolaus scattered to various parts of the dormitory and assumed postures of innocence. The little blond was not certain what to do and hesitated too long.

Feducious' eyes immediately fell upon the dishevelled youth and the disdain in them was clear. "I was told there was a new cadet," he said, "but I didn't anticipate they were enrolling street urchins."

A snigger went around the room. Iolaus' face burned.

"Get yourself tidied up, boy, and then report to my office. I need to find out what, if any, academic education you've had. Hurry up! No dawdling!" With that, he turned on his heel and stalked out.

Iolaus moved slowly across the room and gathered his meagre possessions and put them in his bedside cupboard. Then ran a hand through his tangled curls and started for the door.

Cosmus, a tall, dark-haired youth of about nineteen years, one of the few cadets who had watched the antics of Fadus and Co with some disfavour felt obliged to intervene. He moved forward and put a hand on Iolaus' arm. The blond tensed, wondering what was to come. "You'd better change your shirt before you go to see old Feducious. He's a bit picky about such things," he explained hurriedly.

Iolaus hung his head in embarrassment. "I can't," he muttered.

Misunderstanding, Cosmus reassured him, "You've got time."

"Yeah, but no other shirt," Iolaus said, moving hastily out of the door.

He heard the comments starting up again. "Gods, are they letting street rats in here now," one said and others hastened to add their own six dinars worth.


Twenty minutes later, Iolaus walked slowly from Feducious' office, his head down again. The interview had not gone well. First, the man had berated him for his appearance and told him he did not want to see the tattered shirt again and then, even worse, his probing had quickly revealed that the new cadet had had little formal education. Iolaus had never enjoyed school and the need to hunt to keep food on his mother's table had provided a good excuse, and often a genuine one, for his frequent absences. Feducious had made it only too clear that cadets who failed the academic subjects were not permitted to remain in the Academy and seemed to feel that Iolaus would be sure to be in that group. Iolaus feared it was only too likely.

He entered the dormitory, expecting more trouble, only to find that the other cadets had all gone to take their evening meal. Not knowing whether late arrivals, especially ragged ones, would be rebuffed, he decided not to chance it and to skip the meal, in spite of his stomach's rumbling protest at such neglect.

He stripped off his shirt, sat down on his bed, rummaged in his carry-bag for a needle and thread, and did his best to cobble the offending garment together.


The following week was one of the worst of his life. Most of the other cadets were either standoffish or hostile and, if the latter, went out of their way to give him a hard time. Cosmus and a couple of others advised him to ignore their gibes, assuring him that if he didn't respond the main trouble-makers would soon tire of the game and move on to someone else. Iolaus tried to follow this advice, although it went right against his nature to take any insult.

However, it was difficult, especially when they ganged up on him, throwing insults or punches and went out of their way to 'accidentally' hurt him during training. He always seemed to be being jostled aside at best, if not shoved or punched.

Further, his lessons with Feducious were every bit as bad as he had feared. The teacher loaded him with extra work to enable him to catch up, telling him he would check this at the start of the following week, but the sheer volume overwhelmed him and he had no idea where to start.

At the end of a physically taxing day, all had academic work of their own to do. Nobody offered help and Iolaus could not bring himself to ask for it. He did what he could, but knew it would never pass muster.

He would arise each morning, bleary-eyed after hours of trying to make sense of his schoolwork and stagger through another interminable day. Often half-asleep, he failed to appear at anywhere near his best and the tutors were scathing in their comments and several of the youths far worse.

At last Saturday night arrived and he retired to bed early, falling into an exhausted sleep in spite of the noise in the dormitory.

However, a couple of hours later, he was awaked by someone shaking him. 'Gods, not morning already,' he thought, blinking his eyes open. To his surprise the room was dark, but his bed was surrounded by half a dozen of the youths, a couple holding candles.

"What do you want?" he demanded, hoping his voice did not betray his apprehension.

"Oh just a bit of fun," Diomus sniggered. "We're going to have a little initiation ceremony."

"Yeah," Erbusses added, "we always like to ... ah *welcome* new arrivals here."

Iolaus lay still, tense and waiting for what was to come.

"Get up!" Fadus ordered abruptly.

"No!" Non-cooperation was his only real weapon.

Hands immediately reached for him and flipped him over onto his stomach. His arms were tied tightly behind him and his protests stifled with a gag. Then, to his embarrassment, his only piece of clothing, his breechclout, was torn from him. Finally, he was dragged to his feet, kicking and struggling.

"Okay, now we're nearly ready for a nice, little walk in the woods," Fadus said. "You're going to have such fun trying to find your way back here before it's light. However, you're going to have to make a special effort as Chiron takes a dim view of cadets who break bounds and everyone else will get a great view if you have to walk in like this." A ripple of laughter went through the dormitory at this comment.

"There's just one thing missing ... a blindfold," Zacorus said, moving forward.
*That* was it. It was bad enough being bound, but Iolaus *hated* being unable to see and he began to struggle frantically. However, he was no match for six and soon his vision was totally obscured.

Then he was dragged outside.

A few minutes later, he was being forced through the woods by his sniggering tormentors, who were busily consuming alcohol and taunting him.

His feet were soon bruised and bleeding from unseen obstacles and both his knees skinned from falls. However, his attempts to slow his involuntary progress only led to more shoves or punches so he staggered on.

They had travelled more than five miles when Fadus called a halt. He brutally flung the blond to the ground and said, "We'll leave you now. I've left a knife for you. Have a pleasant journey back. C'mon, boys, let's have a few more drinks." They departed laughing.

Iolaus wasted no time. He crawled across the small clearing and located a tree by the simple expedient of moving until he bumped into one. Then he leant the side of his head against it and managed to push the blindfold up, scrapping his cheek quite badly in the process.

Fortunately, the clearing allowed the moonlight in and he spotted the knife immediately. He pushed it into the hard ground and sawed hard at his bonds, ignoring the cuts to his wrists.

In a surprisingly short time he was free.

Now he faced a dilemma. Should he head back to the Academy or seek revenge on his tormentors? With his uncanny, inborn sense of direction, he knew that he could find his way straight back to the Academy with no trouble at all, but that wasn't enough. The woods were his element and he knew that this was the best place for him to take his opponents on. However, the risk was that one of the teachers might do a dormitory check and find him absent. 'Too bloody bad,' he decided, 'My chances of passing Feducious' stupid work are nil so I might as well have some fun.'

He grinned at the thought and moved off at speed, too determined on his plans to pay any attention to his suffering feet.

As he had hoped, he caught up with the cadets about a mile on. He heard much drunken talking and laughing and crept up to find them all sitting around drinking.

He slipped silently past them and placed himself between them and the Academy and then threw back his head and howled. The blood-chilling noise, so close at hand, cut through the sounds of revelry like a knife. "H-Hell, what w-was that?" a shaky voice asked.

"Sounded like a wolf," another said.

"But there aren't any in this area," Fadus said. "The packs keep to the mountains."

"What in Tartarus would it be then?" Diomus asked.

Iolaus slipped swiftly and silently through the undergrowth, positioned himself some twenty feet from his original position and howled again.

"There's another one!" a cadet gasped, his voice shaking.

Iolaus then lobbed a sizeable stone back into the bushes in the area he had just vacated.

The cadets looked at each other in some fear. None had bothered with weapons. Since the woods had always been safe, they had all decided to carry a good supply of alcohol rather than burdening themselves with unneeded arms. Now all were regretting that decision.

As one they decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valour and that it was definitely time that they headed back to the Academy. However, try as they might they could not seem to skirt the beasts. The unseen animals seemed to have no fear of humans and an uncanny awareness of where the youths wanted to go, constantly cutting between them and the route back to the Academy.

Then Erbessus heard a particularly vicious growl a mere ten feet or so away from him. He screamed, dropped his candle and ran and that set the others off.

In a mad panic they ran, crashing through the dense bush, getting further and further from the Academy. Every so often one would tangle in the undergrowth or fall, and his cries would frighten the others further.

Iolaus pursued them for half a mile or so and then turned back for the Academy, smiling happily in spite of his various cuts and bruises. The trick had been far more successful than he had dared to hope.

However, the feeling of elation did not last past his arrival back at the Academy. Depression settled over him as he limped silently back through the grounds, eased open the door and slid into bed. Although very tired, after the night's exertions, he could not sleep. He could hear the sounds of the sleeping cadets that surrounded him and, in the midst of all those apparently hostile or, at best, uninterested, strangers, he felt as lonely as he had ever been in his life.

He lay there thinking about Marcus and wishing he were with him. The Academy was proving an unmitigated disaster. Nobody seemed to want him there and Hercules was off gallivanting with his new friend. Okay, he knew that was unfair because Hercules could not possibly have anticipated his arrival, but knowing and feeling were two disparate things. Only Marcus seemed to love him and gods he wanted his dark lover so much.

He imagined himself lying prone, with Marcus straddling his hips. He could almost feel the strong hands gliding possessively over his trembling body, stroking lightly down his sensitive ribs and teasing at the tip of his straining penis. He could hear the rich, velvet voice purring its desires into his ear and then the talented tongue inserted itself into that same ear. Iolaus' hips bucked, but Marcus was too heavy to dislodge. He laughed and moved his attentions to Iolaus' neck. Iolaus knew he was in for a long session of tender torment. Marcus could, and frequently would, play with him for what seemed like hours, thoroughly enjoying Iolaus' mounting desperation. He seemed to be able to keep his own desires perfectly in check while driving Iolaus wild. Then, once he had finally given into Iolaus' entreaties and had finally taken him, that would merely be the start of the evening's activities. No sooner had he ejaculated than he was hard again.

Iolaus could not believe Marcus' sexual stamina, although its reality was only too apparent the next morning. Some days, the little blond had seriously doubted his ability to walk. Usually though, unless Iolaus had displeased him in some way, Marcus would immediately give him one of his 'magical' massages and all the pain would disappear, leaving him feeling great. He wished he knew the secret of those massages.

He recalled another occasion when Marcus had used his talented hands to help him. He had been so sure that his wrist had been broken again during the encounter with the bandits en route to the Academy, but some manipulation by Marcus and it was as good as new, better even. It was really quite incredible.

However, he had no time to dwell on that now. His body was demanding attention and there was no Marcus to give it what it so desperately needed. He slid one hand to his eager erection and the other beneath him. He inserted a couple of fingers into himself and began to stroke his cock with his other hand, while thinking about a large, darkly handsome man, who held him helplessly pinned and took him firmly for both their pleasure. He bit his lip as he felt the tension building. He wanted to cry out but could not do so for fear of waking the other cadets and receiving their anger and ridicule. He twisted onto his side and bit down onto the pillow, managing to stifle his gasps and the cry that accompanied the gush of milky fluid over his stomach.

Then he lay in the cold, sticky mess, longing for Marcus and more depressed than ever. He debated sneaking out of the Academy to seek his lover, but had no idea where he would be and feared Marcus would be displeased with him for giving up on his dreams so easily. And, above all, he *did* want to see Herc again.

Meanwhile, a lonely and frustrated Ares, looked down in distaste at the aftermath of a particularly violent battle he had engineered. The smell of blood did not stir him as it was wont to do. The cries of the dying and wounded no longer sang in his blood, exciting him. The sight of the carefully orchestrated carnage was not a feast for his eyes or a joy in his heart. The whole enterprise seemed monumentally futile. What could be wrong?

'What could be wrong? I know damn well what's wrong,' he told himself. 'That bloody little street rat's done this to me. All I want is him. All else is as shadows, phantoms, meaningless.'

He debated checking on the brat. 'No, I promised myself I wouldn't. Seeing him will just make it worse. I wouldn't be able just to look and once I had my hands on him, that would be it. I'd never be able to let him go.'

He flung himself down on the black velvet counterpane of his bed and closed his eyes. Images of the little blond filled his head. There he was gloriously naked, smiling happily as he climbed onto Ares' leather-clad lap, snuggling into his lover and whispering seductive suggestions as to what the latter might like to do to him. Ares groaned and cupped those deliciously rounded buttocks, pulling the image even closer. He bent his head and nibbled at the dream Iolaus' sensitive neck. Iolaus flung his head back, his throat deliciously taut, allowing Ares to suck and bite and mark him for his own. He wriggled in ecstasy and the war god's cock fought to free itself from the tight black leather prison. Ares' frantically pushed one hand beneath Iolaus to liberate it, grasped it and began to pump hard. He came screaming Iolaus' name.

Then he lay, cursing his besotted state and fighting the urge to go to the Academy, seize Iolaus regardless of the latter's wishes, and return with him to Olympus to become a permanent fixture, willing or unwilling, in his palace. No, he must not do that. He must keep away from him for at least the arranged month. Surely, he wasn't so weak-willed that he could not manage that. If the brat ever realized the power he had over Marcus he would be bad enough, but what if he knew he had the God of War in his thrall?


The next morning, a weary Iolaus was awakened by the sound of agitated voices. Tibertus and Valgius had just been apprehended by Chiron, as they sneaked back into the grounds, and the centaur had sounded the bell that signified all were to assemble at once in the courtyard for a roll check.

Yawning, Iolaus rolled out of bed and hurriedly dressed, wincing as he gingerly pulled his boots onto his cut and bruised feet. Limping as fast as he could, he was still one of the last to fall in for the roll call and was aware of Chiron's disapproving gaze as he fell into line.

Soon Chiron had ascertained that four cadets were missing and was busy organizing search parties to look for the miscreants.

Knowing that the centaur would be mad enough about their breaking bounds, Tibertus and Valgius had told him a cock-and-bull story about a hunting expedition that had gone wrong. They had made no mention of initiations or alcohol.

Iolaus decided that he had had his revenge and so would keep quiet about his mistreatment. In truth, he was a bit concerned that his revenge had been more successful than he had envisaged. He had anticipated that all six would manage to find their way back under cover of darkness, forgetting that most people did not possess a fraction of his bushcraft skills.

Indeed, he was starting to get a little worried in case some accident had befallen them. They had been nasty to him, but he had not intended they should get hurt. Hercules had trained him too well with his caring ways.

Accordingly, he approached Chiron, out of earshot of the other cadets, and said, "I'll track them for you if you want."

"Thank you, but you've hardly been here long enough to know the area, Iolaus," the centaur replied, still looking at his roster. "I want to send some of the older, more experienced cadets."

"Age doesn't come into it," Iolaus replied confidently. "I'm good at tracking. I'll find them. If you get this lot out blundering around in the bush, they'll soon obscure any tracks there are. No, I'll do it."

Surprised by the note of authority and the questioning of his stated decision, Chiron looked up from his scrutiny of his list and saw Iolaus' scraped face. "What happened to you?" he demanded, gesturing at the injury.

"It's nothing. People were just ... just k-kidding around."

It was a lie and both knew it. Chiron took it as evidence more of the bullying he had warned Ares that he feared would happen when he enrolled Iolaus. He had known the youth's small statue and pretty looks would be an irresistible temptation to some of the youths who, for some inexplicable reason, associated manliness with a willingness to pick on those smaller and weaker than themselves.

The centaur had already noticed some of the training 'accidents' the little blond had suffered, but had decided not to intervene. He knew he could not protect Iolaus twenty-four hours a day and any indication that he was being singled out for special treatment might well make the bullies more determined. In any case, he had been impressed by the little blond's resilience and pride and knew the latter would be insulted if it appeared that he was not to be treated the same as the other cadets.

"What makes you think you can find them, Iolaus?" The fact that the boys who had been particularly unkind to Iolaus were the ones in trouble had not been lost on the centaur, but he could see no way that Iolaus could have engineered their disappearance. For a moment, he even wondered if their activities might have come to Ares' notice and the dark god had taken a hand in things, but then why would he have allowed two to escape?

"Like I said, I am good at tracking. If Herc were here he'd tell you. I'm sure I can find them."

Although still somewhat dubious about Iolaus' claims, Chiron found himself saying, "All right, but I want you to take half a dozen boys with you. If you haven't found any tracks in the next hour I'll send the other parties out. If you do find any, send a couple of boys back to tell me."

"Right. I'll take Cosmus and Topazus and perhaps you would like to name the others."

Again, the confident tone shook the centaur. This was a man speaking to him as an equal, not one of his cadets. He nodded and named four others.

The other cadets were in a state of amazement. Once Iolaus and his team had departed they broke into an amazed babble of speculation as to why the centaur had suddenly altered his plans and, even more amazing, had given command of the search party to the newest cadet.

However, it was soon apparent that the centaur's choice had been wise as two youths were back about forty minutes later to say, Iolaus and the others were following what Iolaus was sure was the trail of at least some of the missing.

The centaur instructed them to show him and a couple of instructors to the spot where they had left Iolaus.

By lunchtime, Iolaus had found all four. Bruised and battered, but apart from that in good condition, they were pleased to see the search party, until they realized who was in charge of it.

Cosmus asked what had happened and they told him about the huge pack of ferocious wolves, even describing the size of the animals.

"You saw them, did you?" Iolaus asked.

"Yes, we did. They were all around us," Erbessus said.

"Really? Did you actually see them?"

"Of course! You don't think we would run from mere noises, do you?" Fadus snapped.

*That* was too much for Iolaus and he giggled.

His bewildered search party stared at him and the others glared.

He couldn't resist. He threw back his head and howled in a perfect imitation of a wolf and then began to laugh uncontrollably.

His team watched him in bemusement, but his victims were only too aware of what he meant.

Fadus took his first opportunity to hiss, "You'll be sorry for this. We haven't finished with you yet."


Unfortunately, although Iolaus' locating of the missing cadets had impressed Chiron, his good opinion did not last, as over the next week or so, all he seemed to hear was complaints about the little blond.

An aggressive fighter, Iolaus was prepared to use any techniques no matter how unorthodox, to win a bout. When the other cadets complained about this, Iolaus argued that his relative lack of size made it necessary for him to seize any advantage that he could. They countered that although that was fine in a real conflict, this was only practice and there was no need to be so rough.

Iolaus had not said anything, but had ruefully regarded his own numerous cuts and bruises. Nobody seemed to notice these, or if they did, to care about them. In any case, once he was in a fight, no matter who his opponent was, his blood rose up and he *had* to win. Second was nowhere and he could not understand how the instructors and many of the cadets failed to grasp that simple fact and, even worse, complain to Chiron about him.

The centaur himself did understand Iolaus' motivation, but felt he needed discipline and so should keep to the accepted techniques propounded by the instructors. Like the other instructors, he unfortunately did not really understand that the little blond's stature and light weight meant that many of these methods were not suitable for him.

Unfortunately, this was not the only area in which Iolaus seemed to be causing problems. Feducious had, Chiron knew, thrashed the youth for his failure to do any of the assigned work, rejecting as lies Iolaus' protest, well founded though it was in actuality, that he had tried to do the work, but that it had disappeared from beside his bed.

Indeed, the centaur was considering doing the same to the blond because of all the trouble Iolaus seemed to be causing in all spheres of the Academy's life. Ares had, after all, given him carte blanche as far as that was concerned, prophesying "he'll give you no end of trouble" and admitting him to be "an incorrigible little ratbag."

Tutors and cadets alike all seemed to have stories to tell to Iolaus' detriment.
Wherever the boy was trouble seemed to occur and, although many of the tales were clearly exaggerated or secondhand, it seemed impossible to believe that at least some of it was not of his making.

However, the centaur was both fair and no fool and, as the week had progressed, it seemed to him that there were just too many incidents and problems for one youth to be responsible for them all. Too many even for one who had the dubious distinction of being the protégé of the God of War. So he decided to stay his hand and keep a close watch on developments.

He did not know that Fadus and his friends had started a concerted campaign to get Iolaus chucked out after the wolf incident, but he was aware that these youths had been bullying Iolaus since his arrival at the Academy. He decided to keep an eye on them as well.

Unfortunately, Iolaus had also gathered an even worse enemy. Bullatius, a middle-aged man, muscular but running to fat, was employed at the Academy as a maintenance man, looking after both buildings and equipment. He had had his eye on Iolaus from the day he arrived.

The youth's golden beauty was an irresistible attraction and he had become quite obsessed with him, taking every opportunity to watch him and fantasizing about holding him down and pounding into that lithe body.

Although some of the other cadets were also attractive to Bullatius, he was not such a fool as to approach them. He was not about to do anything to jeopardize his job by propositioning the son of a rich or important man.

However, Iolaus was another matter. It was clear by his shabby clothing and from the disparaging remarks he overheard from some of the cadets, that Iolaus was not of such parentage. Bullatius assumed he must be there under some kind of measly scholarship, which barely covered tuition fees and left no money for anything else. Bullatius considered that boy might well be prepared to grant him favours for some much needed cash.

Further, he was certain that the youth was used to selling himself and so unlikely to refuse out of moral outrage. He had observed Iolaus' tearful parting from Ares. The man had looked like some kind of mercenary and the boy was clearly a catamite he had grown tired off and, for some unfathomable reason, had decided to off-load at the Academy.

The man had tried to leave and the boy had run after him. He had watched the man arguing and trying to hold the youth off. Then he gave him what was obviously a token kiss before hurrying off without a backward glance. So, with his protector gone, the youth would no doubt welcome another.

He had been waiting his chances and had seized his opportunity when he observed the little blond carrying some equipment back to one of the storage sheds.

Iolaus had been seen punching Zacorus during a gymnastics session and, for punishment, the instructor had ordered him to put all the gear away at the end of training. The blond was resentful as the blow had been in retaliation for an 'accidental' kick in the shins that had gone unobserved by the instructor, and now he was likely to miss lunch as it started had straight after that class.

He slung the equipment carelessly into a corner and gave it a kick. At that moment, the room had suddenly darkened. He swung around expecting to see an annoyed instructor or some of his usual tormentors and, at first, was relieved to see the man filling the doorway.

Bullatius pushed the door closed behind him and said, "Your name's Iolaus, isn't it?"

Iolaus nodded, expecting to be reprimanded for not stowing the gear properly.

"I wanted to talk to you," he said, slowly advancing across the small room.

Iolaus felt unaccountably uneasy and started to back up, but there was nowhere to go. "W-What about?" he asked. The man was now close enough for the little blond to smell his rank breath.

"Don't look so worried, boy, I'm not going to hurt you." He reached out a large hand and ruffled Iolaus' hair.

Iolaus flinched. "No, don't ... please ..." he started, flattening himself against the wall.

"Your hair is so soft ... so beautiful. I'll bet your skin is soft too." As he spoke, he stroked his large, callused hand down Iolaus' cheek.

The little blond put up a hand and pushed Bullatius' away. "I'm sorry I'm not interested."

"But you haven't heard what I'm offering yet."

Iolaus wanted to say, 'I've seen you and that's enough', but instead managed to say, "Sorry, it will still be 'no'."

"Look, boy, you obviously need money and I'm prepared to pay you a few dinars if you'll let me have a bit of fun." He put out a large hand and clasped Iolaus' shoulder. The little blond tried to shrug it off casually, hoping not to offend, but the man held tightly, digging in his fingers painfully.

"I don't ..."

"Now you're not going to say you don't need money, are you?"

"I do, but not *that* much."

"What do you mean? Aren't I good enough for you?" Bullatius demanded, giving Iolaus a little shake.

His voice was ugly and Iolaus did not want yet more trouble, so he quickly said, by way of explanation, "It's just that I'm not interested in sex with men."

"You're a little liar, aren't you?" Bullatius said. "I saw you on the day you arrived throwing yourself at that dark-haired fellow. You like it all right and my money is as good as his."

Iolaus tried another tack. "Okay, I am interested in *a* man, but not men. I already have Marcus."

"Didn't look like it to me. He couldn't get away from here fast enough. Anyway, even if he was still interested in you, he'll never know. This will be our little secret."

"No!" He pushed a foot back against the wall and tried to launch himself with enough force to burst his way past Bullatius. The man did stagger back, but then flung his arms around the slender youth, pinning his right arm to his body.

Iolaus flung up his left hand and smashed him across the throat, but the angle was awkward and the blow lacked force.

Enraged, Bullatius flung him backwards into the wall. Iolaus cried out as he struck his head. He slid dizzily to the floor. The man stood over him, glaring down at him. "If neither my money or my person attract you, perhaps I can make another suggestion that you might 'like'. You get those clothes off now or I'll see the other cadets hear about you and that man."

'Gods, that's all I need,' Iolaus thought despairingly, 'but I'll be damned if I'll give in to blackmail.' He hesitated pretending to think it over and then said, "All right" and started to climb slowly to his feet, while beginning to undo his shirt.

Bullatius grinned triumphantly and was caught completely off-guard when the little blond stood on a coil of rope, appeared to lose his balance and toppled towards him. He put out his hands and grasped the boy's shoulders to steady him and Iolaus brought a knee up into his groin.

With a cry of pain and rage, Bullatius doubled over and Iolaus clipped him on the chin with a right hook and darted for the door. However, he had reckoned without Bullatius' speed. The man swung around and grabbed him by the back of the shirt. Iolaus' sewing gave way and the shirt ripped beyond repair, but Iolaus managed to twist free, fling the door open and dive through it.

He landed hard and sprawled full length, but staggered up and ran for the dormitory.

To his surprise it was empty, but then he recalled that all would be still at lunch. He sat down heavily on his bed and realized he was shaking with reaction. 'Get a grip, Iolaus,' he told himself, sternly, 'you can't let them see you like this.'

He picked up his pillow and hugged it against him. Where was Marcus? He wanted him so much. 'He ought to know I need him,' Iolaus thought. 'I don't know how, but he *ought* to. He'd know what I should do and, even though he doesn't approve of me fighting, he would want to help me sort out Bullatius and Fadus and the others.'

An image of Hercules came into his mind. 'It's funny,' he mused, 'how I'm thinking about Marcus helping me. For years, it's been Herc that I always turned to, but now everything seems changed. Perhaps all those dreams Herc and I had about being 'back-to-back' warriors were just kids' rubbish and it's time I faced reality and accepted it's never going to be that way. He'll be a great warrior, but I'm never going to make it and, if I stay here, I'll just ruin everything for him. I know he would want to help me against the other cadets and that would just make enemies for him. I'm bound to get kicked out sooner or later and there's no point in him being offside with people. Anyway, I'd be able to tell Marcus about Bullatius, but I couldn't tell Herc something like *that*. He doesn't have a clue about things like that.'

That thought brought a wry grin to his face as he contemplated Hercules' stupefied expression as he tried to comprehend what Bullatius wanted to do to Iolaus. Hercules was such an innocent. Alcmene had guarded him well, fearful that he might take after his father and, in truth, Iolaus had always found the demigod's innocence oddly endearing, even though it infuriated him at times. He knew that Hercules genuinely could not understand the unkind thoughts and selfish emotions others harboured and would have sworn that he was almost totally ignorant on sexual subjects.

The smile faded as the further implication of this hit him, like a direct blow to the solar plexus. What on earth would Hercules think about him if he heard about his relationship with Marcus? He knew that the demigod's immediate reaction would be disbelieving, but that he would feel obliged to tell Iolaus about the ugly rumour and would be expecting Iolaus to say it was a lie. If Iolaus said that it was, Hercules would accept his word, as they had always been honest with each other. However, Iolaus doubted that he would ever be able to do that as having Hercules' trust and respect had always been so important to him.

'I can't build a friendship on lies,' he thought and then reflected wryly, 'Not that there's going to be much of a relationship from hereon in anyway. However, whatever else happens, I'll have to try to keep apart from Hercules as I don't want him to have to suffer unpopularity because of his association with me.'

The sound of a bell broke in on his troubled thoughts and he automatically rose and peered around for his book.

Then he remembered that the next class was with Feducious. More trouble! He knew there was no way Feducious would let him attend class bare-chested and yet not to go was a definite invitation to another caning.

In desperation, he went to the cupboard that he knew belonged to Hercules, rummaged through it and appropriated the only shirt there, Hercules' best. It was a particularly nice shade of green and Iolaus had never seen it before. Of course, it swamped him, as it was far too big, reaching almost to his knees, but Iolaus felt he would be very unpopular with both Hercules and Alcmene if he cut off the extra length. However, it was too uncomfortable to tuck in, as it bunched up, and so he wore it out, although fully aware it looked ridiculous. 'Still it *is* a shirt and it's in good condition so Feducious will have to bloody well put up with it,' he thought, rebelliously.

He gave no thought to the fact that when faced with this new problem he had, in spite of all his unhappy thoughts about his future relationship with the demigod, or lack thereof, had automatically turned to Hercules, albeit indirectly, for help.

Neither had he considered that, in spite of his good intentions to try to distance himself from Hercules, for the latter's sake, he was, by virtue of the very distinctive shirt, clearly advertising his friendship with the demigod. After all, raiding a demigod's wardrobe and pinching his best shirt was something only a very close friend would be game to do.

Naturally, his particular enemies had a field day making fun of his new garment and made a few comments to the effect that others ought to watch their possessions with the blond around.

Iolaus protested that Hercules would not mind, but that did not deter Fadus from carrying the tale to Chiron. The latter confirmed Iolaus' assertion and sent Fadus away with a flea in his ear for tale bearing, which further increased his enmity towards Iolaus.

However, the incident added to Chiron's suspicions of Fadus and his friends.

However, the whispering did not stop after Chiron's confirmation of Iolaus' story of his friendship with Hercules and Iolaus surmised, correctly, that Bullatius was also adding fuel to the various rumours about him


Three long and lonely weeks had passed since he had first arrived at the Academy, when, to his joy, Iolaus saw a familiar form approaching, deep in conversation with another youth. "Herc!" he shouted, all his good intentions of trying to hold back and establish a more distant relationship vanishing as he spied his beloved friend.

Hercules looked up in disbelief at the cry. "Iolaus!" he responded joyfully and ran towards his friend.

Both stopped, suddenly shy and waiting for the other to make the first move. Finally, Iolaus, unwilling to embarrass his friend, extended his right hand for a warrior's shake. Hercules responded and, contact made, pulled him into a firm hug.

Then he released his friend and looked at him. He immediately did a double take. "Hey, that's my best shirt!"

"Sorry, Herc, mine got ripped and old Feducious wouldn't let me into class without a new one. You don't mind, do you?"

"Course not, but we'll have to get you another, you're swimming in that one."

"Yeah, it's a bit big."

"A *bit*? You'd fit three of you in there, though the gods forbid that there's ever more than one."

Iolaus grinned. Even the references to his size did not bother him, not from Hercules. He knew that Hercules did not count his small stature against him.

"Seriously though, what on earth are you doing here?"

"I'm a cadet now."

"You? How did you persuade your father?"

"I didn't. He doesn't know."

"But how can you afford it."

"A friend is paying for me." He had not wanted to have this conversation so soon, although he had known that the topic would eventually arise.

"Really? Who? I didn't think you knew anyone who'd be able to afford to do that for you."

"Oh, he's someone I met in Athens. His name's Marcus and he's a warrior. You'd like him, Herc, he's been ever so kind to me."

"If that's true, I certainly would," Hercules smiled.

Jason had been standing back impatiently watching these proceedings and wondering who the boy was who had called in to visit Hercules. Now he interrupted. "C'mon, Hercules, we'd better report in to Chiron. You can talk to the kid later."

Kid? Hercules could feel Iolaus bristle. "Not now, Iolaus!" he remonstrated, holding up a warning hand, ready to intercept the fiery, little blond in the very likely eventuality of him throwing himself at the unwary king. "I'll see you later." He hurried off after Jason, leaving a seething Iolaus. Not only did Hercules seem to have a new friend, he seemed to have chosen a particularly objectionable one. "It's a wonder he didn't chum up with Fadus,' he thought, jealousy adding to his anger at being called a kid.

The pair was with Chiron for sometime and Iolaus had had to leave for a class before the emerged, so he did not get another opportunity to speak to Hercules that afternoon.

During the afternoon, a group of soldiers arrived and the leader asked to speak to Chiron. They were admitted and, soon after, a cadet called Carmantium was summoned to join them.

Not long after that one of the instructors entered and gathered up the latter's possessions and soon the youth rode off with his escort, his face set and white. The other cadets spent the afternoon in fruitless speculation as to what was going on.

That night, after the evening meal, Chiron addressed the cadets. "I am aware that this afternoon many of you observed the departure of His Majesty, King Carmantium ..."

Hearing the title, a babble of surprised voices broke out.

Chiron held up his hand. "Be silent!" he boomed. "As you may have been aware, Carmantium's uncle was the King of Prikkala and his father the heir apparent. Both have been assassinated. Carmantium's younger brother is endeavouring to hold the kingdom for him against the rebels and has sent the soldiers for him.

"Unfortunately, this does not seem to be an isolated occurrence. Reports are reaching me from all over Greece of an inexplicable upsurge in violence. War, banditry, riots and rebellion have been spreading through the country for the last three weeks.

"Some of us have remarked how uncharacteristically peaceful the last two months or so have been. Well, it seems Greece is paying the price of that respite now.

"You will be aware that King Jason and Hercules rejoined us today and their experiences bear out what I am saying. Their trip to Corinth was completely without incident. People were quiet, happy and peaceful. On all sides, people were commenting how the world seemed to have changed for the better. However, they had no sooner reached Corinth than all Tartarus seemed to break loose.

"Fortunately, Jason has a strong and trustworthy nobleman who can act as regent in Corinth while he is here or they would not have been able to return. As it is, they had a rough journey back here, encountering groups of bandits and mercenaries and numerous conflicts.

"Until things settle down, we are going to mount a guard on the compound at night and you will all need to take extra care if you leave the premises.

"Are there any questions?"

"Do you have any explanation for what is happening?" a cadet asked.

"No. Perhaps only the gods know." A thought struck him and he looked at Iolaus. "What interpretation would you put on this?"

Iolaus started. "Huh?" Surely the centaur was not asking his opinion.

"What do you think is the cause of all this sudden unrest?"

"I-I don't know," he admitted, blushing, as he was aware that all eyes were on him. Not knowing his sponsor's identity, he could not fathom why he had been singled out in this way. He had absolutely no idea that his charms had been responsible for the God of War's total neglect of his 'duties' during those halcyon two months.

A couple of cadets sniggered at his discomfiture, but Chiron silenced them with a glacial glare. He said no more to Iolaus, but he was aware that the strange change had taken place simultaneously with Iolaus' arrival at the Academy. Of course, it was probably just a coincidence, but with the war god involved who could be sure. He was not to know that he had hit the proverbial nail on the head and that an unhappy God of War had indeed been working overtime.

The cadets were dismissed and as soon as they were outside, Iolaus approached Hercules. "Why do you think Chiron asked me that, Herc?"

"He was probably just checking to see whether you were paying attention."

"Do you think so? It just ... It felt more ... more personal than that ... kinda like he thought I had something to do with it."

Hercules laughed at the absurdity of the thought. "You must have really been misbehaving yourself here, Iolaus, if you've got a guilt complex like that," he teased.

"I haven't," Iolaus protested.

"So everything's going well?"

"Yes! Yes, of course! Everything's okay! Yes, things are great! Couldn't be better!" he babbled. He was determined not to burden Hercules with his problems. Anyway, many of the pushes and punches *could* have been accidents, though he *knew* they weren't.

"Are you sure?" As he spoke, Hercules reached out and ran a gentle hand down the fading marks on Iolaus' face, which still remained from when he had used the tree's rough bark to remove the gag, by way of emphasis.

A strange tingle ran through the little blond at his friend's touch and his heart seemed to skip a beat. He did not have time to deal with the implications of that, so he shoved the thoughts about the odd sensations aside, and said, "The Academy is a great place", silently adding 'for some.' He then quickly changed the topic. "Tell me about your trip back. It sounds like it was exciting," he prompted.

Hercules was concerned. The assurances had been too emphatic and the facial injury unexplained. However, he would try again later. In the meantime, he launched into a tale about bandits that, even told in Hercules' low-key, modest manner, got Iolaus' blood flowing as he imagined the scene. "I wish I'd been there!" he enthused.

"You?" a contemptuous voice cut in. "It was no place for a kid your age. You'd have run a mile."

Iolaus swung around to find Hercules' new friend, Jason, had been eavesdropping.

"No, I wouldn't!"

"Listen to the kid!" Jason jeered and two nearby cadets laughed.

"Herc," Iolaus appealed, " tell him I ..."

"You'd probably have fainted at the sight of blood," Jason persisted, mockingly.

"No, I wouldn't! I killed a bandit on my way to the Academy." He caught Hercules' eye and saw that even he was looking doubtful at this assertion and was wondering if it was some sort of odd joke. "I did! My sword went nearly right through him. Fortunately, it came out easily enough so I was ready for the next one."

"Kids these days are amazing," Jason proclaimed from all his superiority of nineteen years. "They make up the most incredible stories."

Hercules looked at Iolaus' face and realized his eyes were blazing with fury. He could also see the white of Iolaus' knuckles as he clenched his fists. Jason was lucky that the little blond was unarmed or he might have made close acquaintance with the aforementioned sword. As it was the little blond was clearly debating giving him a knuckle sandwich.

In fact, he was no longer doing this. Iolaus had hesitated, knowing that Hercules would not approve of him hitting Jason, but he had now decided enough was enough.

The speed of his attack, caught Jason off-guard. Iolaus launched a right to his stomach and, as he doubled over, followed it up with a left hook to his chin. The King of Corinth found himself sitting ignominiously on the ground. "Are you going to apologize or do you want more?" Iolaus demanded, hovering menacingly over the fallen monarch.

Hercules grabbed Iolaus around the upper body to restrain him, pinning his arms to his sides and lifting him off the ground to hold him suspended. He did not want his friends to fight. Both were likely to get hurt and he had so hoped they would like each other.

"Let me go, Herc!" Iolaus protested, trying to wriggle free.

"No! Calm down!"

"Damn you! Let go!" Iolaus drove his boot heels back into Hercules' calves as hard as he could.

"Ow! Stop that, Iolaus!"

"I'll stop him, Hercules," Jason said, as he climbed to his feet. As he did so, he was unbuckling his belt. "The kid needs some manners. I'll put him over my knee."

"Both of you listen to me!" Hercules appealed, but it was clear neither was going to do so. Hercules tried to adjust his grip, intending to hold Iolaus with one arm, while fending Jason off, but Iolaus kicked again just as Hercules was trying to do this. The demigod lost his grip on him and the little blond flung himself upon the king.

Both went down in a fighting, cursing heap. Jason was considerably heavier and stronger than his opponent, but Iolaus had not lived on the streets without picking up a range of nasty moves and so Jason found himself up against a formidable opponent.

However, eventually sheer muscle power seemed to have won out and he had Iolaus flat on his stomach and was lying on top of his squirming form, with one arm wrapped around Iolaus' head. Then he sat up suddenly, astride Iolaus' hips, while shouting, in surprise and outrage, "Ow! The little bastard bit me!"

*That* was enough for Hercules. He stepped forward and, ignoring the complaints of the other cadets, who had gathered eager to watch the scrap, he dragged Jason off Iolaus and then grabbed Iolaus by the shirt collar with one hand and by his belt with the other, and swung him off the ground.

Choking, Iolaus twisted frantically and the borrowed shirt ripped. Concerned at the destruction of his much-prized new shirt, Hercules let go. The blond landed hard, facedown on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. Before he could scramble up, Hercules dropped down across his hips, pinning him with his weight.

"Get off, Herc!" Iolaus protested, "It's not fair! He doesn't need your help."

"I certainly don't," Jason confirmed. He was now on his feet and was examining his tender forearm, which was oozing bright blood from sharp teeth-marks. "Let him up, Hercules."

"Not until you both promise to listen to me. I don't want you to fight."

"I won't hurt him ... much," Iolaus insisted.

Even Jason grinned at the addition.

"You won't hurt him at all, Iolaus," the demigod scolded. "Now promise you'll stop. I'll sit here until you do."

"No! You can sit there all bloody night as far as I'm concerned," Iolaus announced recalcitrantly.

"What if I don't just sit here," Hercules said. "What if I ..." He dropped his voice and leant forward to breath a word into Iolaus' ear that only he could hear.

"No! You wouldn't!"

"I would! You *know* I would."

"All right," Iolaus conceded reluctantly. "I promise." It was to be many years before Hercules and Iolaus satisfied Jason's curiosity and told him that Hercules had threatened the thing that Iolaus always feared most, tickling.

Hercules clambered carefully off and stood up, pulling Iolaus with him. He then stood holding the little blond in front of him, because he did not fully trust either of his friends not to reopen the fight. "Jason, this is my friend, Iolaus, that I've told you about."

"Him? But he's just a k-"

Hercules cut him off quickly. "Cadet! Iolaus is a cadet here now."

"A cadet?"

"Yes, and I would really like you to apologize to him. If Iolaus says he killed someone, it will be true."

"Okay," Jason extended a hand. "Sorry." He was still dubious, but had decided to play along for Hercules' sake. Besides he had just had a long and tiring journey and his bed held far more attractions for him than a scrap with the little blond. Unlike Fadus and his friends, he did not consider fighting with such a slip of a youth added to his own consequence and felt Iolaus was both literally and figuratively beneath his notice.

Iolaus looked at the proffered hand, hesitated and then took it briefly, no more reconciled than Jason was.

Jason then headed for the dormitory and the other cadets, disappointed at the apparent truce, drifted off, leaving Hercules and Iolaus alone. The latter looked in dismay at the damaged shirt. "I'm sorry, Herc."

"You will be when my mother sees it. She put a lot of work into that shirt."

"I'll try and fix it."

"Fix it? *You*? Iolaus, my mother is never going to mistake your sewing for hers." He couldn't help grinning at the thought of the little blond trying that one. "Look, I think we had better just make the best of things. Now it's ripped, a bit more won't hurt, so why don't you hack it down to a better length for you."

"You mean it?" Iolaus asked, struck as always by his friend's generosity of spirit.

"Yeah, you just don't suit a dress," Hercules teased and was rewarded by a quickly smothered grin in return.

"I was making a new fashion statement," Iolaus corrected.

"Well, I for one would prefer not to hear it," Hercules riposted and both laughed.


The two headed companionably into the dormitory to see what their combined sewing skills, which were virtually non-existent, could do for the shirt.

As they entered the room, Hercules asked, "Did you really kill a bandit?"

The tone was designed to encourage the telling of the story rather than to express doubt and Iolaus knew it so he replied, amicably, "It is true and I've got a witness. Marcus saw me."

Erbessus, who was lounging on his bed, overheard Iolaus' mention of Marcus. "Are you talking about your protector, runt?" he asked nastily.

Hercules asked, "What do you mean 'protector'?"

"Hasn't the little catamite told you about it."

"What the hell are you on about, Erbessus?" Iolaus demanded, knowing quite well, but hoping to bluff it out.

"Don't try to deny it. Bullatius tells me he saw you blubbering all over him and kissing him that day you arrived here."

"He's just a friend," Iolaus said dismissively, adding, "I was just saying goodbye to him, that's all."

"Oh, yeah, that's just how warriors farewell each other, I don't think."

"No, you don't *think*! Well, perhaps if I smash your teeth in for you, it will give you something to dwell upon."

He started forward, but the demigod seized his arm. "Forget him, Iolaus. He's talking rubbish. Chiron will come down hard on you if you start getting into fights."

'Start?' Iolaus thought ruefully. 'If Herc only knew ...' However, he was not about to get Hercules embroiled in his troubles, so he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I guess you are right, Herc. No sense paying attention to his drivel and getting into trouble."

The calm acquiescence worried the demigod more than ever. His Iolaus was not the sort to calmly ignore an insult or to worry about trouble. No, the Iolaus he knew would have totally disregarded his suggestion and smashed into Erbessus regardless of the consequences. Something was definitely wrong.

He hurriedly collected a needle and thread from his locker. "C'mon, Iolaus, let's go outside where the light's better," he said, ushering his friend to the door.

"Just make sure you keep your back to the wall, Hercules," Erbessus called. A general snigger went around the room.

Hercules frowned, turned and started to head back in, but uncharacteristically, this time Iolaus was the peacemaker. He tugged as hard as he could on the demigod's arm and Hercules reluctantly followed him. The blond did not want Hercules to hear any more.

The pair settled down on a bench some distance from the dormitory. Iolaus slipped off the shirt and made a big show of concentrating on the sewing, but that did not deter the demigod. "What was that all about?" he asked.

"Oh, that Erbessus has just got a big mouth. Someday someone will fill it with a fist."

"And it was nearly me. I still think I should have ..."

"After what you said to me?"

"Yes, I probably shouldn't say so, but I shouldn't have stopped you."

"No, you were right, Herc. People like him love a reaction. If they don't get one they get sick of the game."

"But why say something as ridiculous as that? *Nobody* would believe it. And to say Bullatius told it to him! That also gets me angry. I think I'll go and tell Bullatius what Erbessus is saying and let him deal with it."

"No, please don't, Herc. Just forget it." The last thing he wanted was for Bullatius to get a chance to pour his poison into Hercules' ear.
.
"You might be prepared to, but Bullatius has a right to know lies are being spread under cover of his name."

Iolaus swallowed and ran a nervous tongue across his dry lips. He knew he had to say something to stop Hercules. "It's not exactly a lie," he whispered.

"Not a lie? What on earth do you mean?"

"I-I was a b-bit upset when Marcus went to leave and he *did* give me a hug."

"And there's nothing wrong with that," Hercules said decisively. "Next they'll be saying that because I gave you a hug when I greeted you that we ... that we ..." He trailed off unable to put the thought into words.

"Are lovers." Iolaus supplied.

"Um ... Well ...yes," Hercules said, blushing with embarrassment at the notion and quickly adding, "and anyone should know how ridiculous that idea is."

Iolaus nodded reluctantly. "Ridiculous," he echoed, suddenly feeling very empty inside. The image of Hercules running his hand enquiringly down his scraped cheek leapt into his mind and his heart contracted.

He had always known he loved Hercules, but *not* that way. *Never* that way. Now, by his very act of rejecting the concept, Hercules had made Iolaus recognize the truth and gods it hurt.

He felt he could dissolve into tears and desperately resisted the impulse. Never again would he be free to cry on Hercules' shoulder or seek comfort in those strong arms. Not now. Not knowing his true feelings and, even worse, knowing Hercules' opinions on the subject. No, to seek his embrace would be like using the demigod, even if the gesture was made without sexual intent on Iolaus' part.

Using? He thought of his benefactor and that made things worse. Marcus loved him and how could Iolaus respond honestly to him now?

'Perhaps the sex will be enough for him and he won't even realize anything's changed,' Iolaus pondered. Even as he thought that, he realized nothing ever seemed to escape Marcus.

'Maybe I could even tell him how I feel about Herc and he might advise me what to do,' Iolaus thought, immediately rejecting the notion. 'No, I can't. He'd be mad as he doesn't like Herc and I know he wants me all to himself, so it would be unfair to ask.'

Although he had pretended not to notice Marcus' less than enthusiastic response when he had talked about Hercules, he had been aware of it. 'Maybe he realized that I loved Hercules in this way, even though I didn't know it myself, and he was jealous. Perhaps he isn't even coming back.'

That last thought was devastating. Iolaus desperately needed love. He always had. Now his relationship with Hercules was going perforce to have to become more distant, he did not know how he was going to cope without a loving embrace.

No, somehow he was going to have to make a clean breast of things to Marcus and then beg, if necessary, for forgiveness and understanding. If Marcus could only give him time and love perhaps his heart would eventually turn to the dark man.

He felt eyes upon him and looked up to see Hercules regarding him with concern. "Are you all right, Iolaus? Please don't worry. Nobody who knows you would believe such filthy stories about you."

Iolaus sniffed hard. "I'm fine, Herc," he lied.


A few days later, half a dozen cadets were out for an early morning run. Jason was part of the group, but Hercules was not.

That would have pleased Iolaus. In spite of Hercules' hopes, the two had not become friends, but were merely tolerating each other. In truth, both felt some jealousy for the other's friendship with the demigod.

Iolaus could not help but compare himself to Jason, and the result of his comparison was definitely not in the blond's favour. He looked at Jason's superior height and solidly muscular physique with envy. A body like that, the attractions of a maturity of nineteen years and a kingdom to boot! How could he hope to compete with someone with all those advantages? He could not help but feel that Jason was a far more suitable friend for a demigod than he could ever be. After all, he was only an under-sized thief and catamite, who could not even make his own father love him.

He would have been stunned to know that the king, in turn, feared his ability to compete with Iolaus for the demigod's friendship. He resented the fact that their long friendship meant they could communicate by a mere look and that odd words or phrases would send the pair off into gales of laughter or excited talk as it sparked memories that he did not share.

Jason was actually thinking, somewhat resentfully, about this as he jogged along.

Unbeknownst to the cadets, a group of about a dozen bandits was watching for their approach. Bold in the new atmosphere of chaos and war that the lonely war god had promoted, and knowing that most of the cadets came from rich and important families, they had decided upon kidnapping a couple of them.

However, the gang members were not to know that even sharper eyes were watching them.

Iolaus was out after rabbits. Having evaded the Academy's new guard, he had slipped out at daybreak. He had spotted a glint of sunlight as it struck a sword. Curious as always, he had crept noiselessly forward to investigate and was eavesdropping on the men.

The bandit leader was going over the plan to ensure that no mistakes were made. The group had decided to snatch two cadets and to kill the others to ensure no immediate hue and cry was raised and also to clearly demonstrate to the fathers of those kidnapped that the bandits were more than capable of slaughtering them unless all demands were speedily met.

One of the bandits was still convinced that it was better to seize three boys as that would make for another ransom and he was still prepared to argue the toss at this late stage.

Obviously the group had taken careful note of the trainees' routine as finally the leader said, amicably, "That's enough, Verus. They'll be here in ten minutes. The original plan stands. Take up your places. Remember to let the first two past. We'll get them after we drop their friends."

Half of the bandits hurried across the track to take up their positions.

The cadets would be caught in the open, weaponless and in a crossfire of arrows. Iolaus knew he had to do something. He started to cat-foot back into the bush, planning to circle around and head towards the Academy to intercept the cadets before they came into the men's sight.

Unfortunately, on that day of all days, the cadets were slightly ahead of time and, to his horror, he saw the first youth appear. The cadet was about a quarter of a mile away, but was running smoothly and would be up to the next road bend, where the ambush was set in no time.

Iolaus quickly pulled an arrow from his quiver, fitted it, pulled the string back as far as he could and loosed in the cadet's direction. As he did so he screamed a warning and turned back towards the bandits, while pulling out a second arrow from his quiver.

The arrow had landed a few feet in front of the cadet. At the unexpected sight, and hearing the shout, he skidded to a halt. The other cadets rounded the corner and all but crashed into him.

He began to shout and point.

The bandits, realizing that the trap was sprung, emerged and began to run towards the youths, brandishing their weapons and shouting for them to stop.

Iolaus let fly a second arrow and dropped the first man in his tracks. He grabbed for another and fired. A second man fell.

A quick glance showed him that the cadets had not run, but were actually advancing to meet the attack. It was foolishness as they were outnumbered and weaponless. Iolaus loosed another of his precious arrows in the boys' direction, while screaming at them to run.

In his haste he had fired further than he intended and the arrow nicked one youth's ear. He gave a startled cry and turned to run. Four others went to follow, but Jason stood his ground.

Iolaus literally screamed with frustration. "Get the hell out of here, Jason! Get help!" he added as an incentive.

To his relief, he saw another cadet grab Jason's arm and pull him away. Then all six took to their heels.

Iolaus breathed a sigh of relief. His own situation was poor but, at least, he could now concentrate on trying to save his own skin.

The bandits had a fairly good idea where he was because of his shouting and now, as one, they closed on that spot.

Iolaus took the first one he saw through the throat, but was now down to three arrows. He started to back up slowly and then froze as he heard a noise in the bush behind him. Clearly one of the bandits was circling around to cover his retreat.

He would have to sacrifice stealth for speed if he was not to be caught like a rat in a trap. He began to run.

He heard a bandit cry out in triumph as the man spotted him and heard the men crashing through the undergrowth.

Then the man he had heard previously appeared in his path, pointing an arrow directly at him. "Stop right there, boy," he ordered.

Iolaus skidded to a halt and immediately swung to his left heedless of the danger, but another bandit appeared and he realized he was surrounded. He reluctantly dropped his bow.

"At least we've got one of them," one man said.

"This boy?" another scoffed. "Can't you see he's just a kid. He's too young to be at that Academy."

"Not too young to pay for interfering in others' business," the gang leader announced.

"But ..." one man started. For all his crimes, he had never harmed a child.

However, the bandit leader knew him all too well and cut him off with a curt, "No arguing, Tethys! Two of our men are dead and one injured because of this little bastard. No, we're going to have to see the boy fully regrets his actions before we kill him."

"But shouldn't we at least find out if he's worth something?"

"These ragged hand-me-downs he's wearing show he's not. No, I want to hear him scream. Any ideas?"

"I've got one," another man said. "A pretty boy like that gives me all sorts of *pleasant* ideas." He pulled a vicious looking knife from the heath at his waist. "He won't be quite so pretty after I've amused myself doing a little carving on his face."

"Yeah, I like that! We can all have some fun. I'll cut a bit lower down and help him keep his lovely singing voice," another suggested. "Not that he'll have a use for that for long."

Iolaus stomach lurched and he feared he was going to disgrace himself by being sick. He fiercely fought the nausea down.

Tethys tried again. "I still think ..."

"Shut up!" his leader interrupted. "I think we had better take him with us as those cadets will probably be back with help. Hold out your wrists, boy," he ordered, as he brandished a length of rope.

In response, Iolaus pulled his hunting knife and backed against a tree. He knew the odds were hopeless, but he hoped he might die in the fight. 'Ares,' he prayed silently, offering the first supplication to the God of War he had ever made, 'please help me to die like a warrior and not in the way they are planning.'

The men closed in and one easily struck the knife from Iolaus' hand with his sword and then, for good measure struck the boy on the side of his head with the flat of his sword. Iolaus went down as if poleaxed.

Then, to the amazement of all, a tall black-clad figure materialized, standing astride the fallen boy and glowered menacingly at the bandits.

"Who the hell ..." one started.

"Lord Ares," another gasped, falling to his knees in terror. Hearing the dread name, the others quickly followed suit.

"How dare you threaten one of my own," the god growled.

"W-We d-didn't know. We didn't! How could we? Please, we *didn't* know," the bandit leader protested.

"And what you don't know *can* hurt you," the god said, raising his hand. Bolts of lightning flew from his finger tips and one after another the bandits screamed in agony and vanished.

When all was quiet, a kneeling Tethys opened frightened eyes to find he was the only one alive. "Why?" he ventured to ask.

"You tried to help my little street rat."

Tethys blinked at the odd description, but wisely refrained from comment.

"The cadets will be returning soon with reinforcements. I suggest you make yourself scarce and take care never to bring yourself to my attention again. Be warned, you are to speak of this day's events to no one and you are never to mention the boy to anyone or you will suffer my displeasure ... my *intense* displeasure. Is that clear?"

"Y-Yes, Lord Ares. Th-Thank you." He stood up shakily and then ran into the woods.

Ares bent over Iolaus. The cadet was still unconscious and had clearly suffered a hard blow with possibly life-threatening consequences. Ares placed a gentle hand on the injury and ensued that all would be well. He made certain that a bump and some blood remained, to explain the loss of consciousness. Then he gently kissed his lover's lips, unbuttoned his shirt and ran loving hands down the smooth chest. He knew it would be the work of a moment to revive the boy, but to do that would be to reveal the truth about himself to the brat and he wasn't ready to do that yet.

However, merely looking at that smooth ivory body was a sore temptation and he had great difficulty leaving the little blond behind. Unfortunately, in his preoccupation with his feelings, his normally acute senses let him down and he did not realize he was not alone.

His precipitous departure from Mount Olympus had not gone unseen and he was under observation. Interested eyes watched the proceedings and feasted upon the little blond. 'Well, well, well, caught out at last, unk,' Strife thought. 'I guess this explains that odd period when you disappeared from sight for those couple of months. It's so unfair of you not to share your little treat with your favourite nephew. I think I'll just have to help myself.' He grinned lasciviously at the thought and vanished.

Moments later, an unsuspecting Ares followed suit.

Then Jason arrived with other cadets, all fully armed. They conducted a thorough search of the area and finally stumbled upon Iolaus just as he was stirring.

Jason had thought he recognized the voice of the archer and so the discovery of their saviour did not surprise him greatly, but several other cadets hastily revised their previously unfavourable opinion of Iolaus.


The next couple of days went quite well for Iolaus. Chiron congratulated him on his saving of the cadets and only made a brief mention of the fact that the hunting trip had been undertaken without permission. Further, several of the youths, who had previously tended to disassociate themselves from Iolaus, although without showing active hostility, were now making some friendly overtures.

So in some respects things were looking up.

However, on the downside, Iolaus was only too aware that Marcus was overdue for his promised visit and that was worrying him a bit, both in case Marcus was not intending to return and in case something had happened to him.

He scolded himself mentally for being so pessimistic and tried to concentrate on what was going well, reminding himself that he could not keep a man like Marcus at his beck and call. Determined to be more positive, he was caught completely off-guard by what happened next.

Strolling around a building chatting to two of the cadets about the morning's exercises, Iolaus was brought to an abrupt halt at the sight before him. Standing right in front of him was his father. "W-What are you d-doing here?" he managed to gasp.

"I'm the one who should be asking that but, if you must know, I have been detailed to settle the civil unrest in this province. I called in here to get the views of my old friend, Chiron, on the local situation and, to my considerable surprise, he mentioned you. He seemed to be under the misapprehension that I knew you were here. Well, not for long. Get your things, boy, you're coming home with me," he ordered abruptly.

"Why?"

"I don't know how you wormed your way in here, boy, but if you think I'm paying for it you've got another think coming. There's no way I'd waste my money on you. Now get your stuff!"

Iolaus gulped. He knew the inevitable consequences of trying to stand up to his brutal father and he had been thinking of leaving, although the affair with the bandits seemed to have improved things for him, but now, faced with his furious father, staying at the Academy was suddenly important to him. "No." He had meant it to sound firm, but his voice failed him and it was a mere whisper.

"What did you say, boy?" Skouros demanded, towering over his son and sinking iron fingers into the little blond's shoulder.

"I-I said 'No'. I'm *not* leaving. D-Don't worry, *you* d-don't have to pay for me."

"How in Tartarus can you be here then? They'd never give a scholarship to a useless, little runt like you."

"Marcus paid for me."

"And who the hell is he?"

Iolaus hesitated. He did not want to repay Marcus' kindness by giving any details of him to his father. At the very least Skouros would slander him and he might even seek some kind of retribution. "J-Just a man I met."

"So you ask me to believe you simply met someone and he paid for you to attend Greece's top academy?"

"Yes," Iolaus muttered in trepidation, fearing what was to come next.

"That's how it is, is it? I always thought it would come to this. You lay back and opened your legs for him, didn't you? Well, didn't you?"

As he spoke, he started to shake Iolaus viciously. The youth tried to pull away, but his father was too strong and Iolaus dared not try to hit him, lest worse follow.

"Answer me, you little slut! C'mon! Answer me! You whored your way in here, didn't you? Didn't you? Didn't you?" He backhanded Iolaus across the face to punctuate each question. Blood began to trickle from the blond's nose.

A group of cadets had gathered, drawn by Skouros' loud voice. All were uncertain what to do.

Some were frankly enjoying the entertainment and Skouros' accusation seemed, to their excitement, to confirm Bullatius' story. If that was what his own father thought it *must* be true because who would know the blond better than a parent?

Others did not like what was happening. They knew that Skouros had every right to punish his son, but could they stand back and watch it?

Jason moved forward. "Let him go," he commanded, using his most regal tones.

Skouros swung to face him, still clutching his hapless son. "Stay out of this, boy, it's got nothing to do with you."

"It's got everything to do with me. You're hurting one of my friends."

"He's been whoring to you too, has he?"

"You bastard!" Jason started to launch himself at the general, but a couple of other cadets moved to restrain him. "Damn you, let go!"

"Jason, you can't attack him," one protested. "You know the law lets him ..."

The King of Corinth continued to struggle, swearing at his captors.

Skouros turned his attention back to his son and raised his hand again, but Iolaus managed to pull free and he ran for the woods.

His father bellowed for him to stop and the noise brought Chiron hurrying from his office. He hurriedly ushered the general inside and then listened quietly to the man's diatribe on his son's worthlessness.

Chiron had always held Skouros in high esteem and he could hardly believe the way he spoke about his own son.

When Skouros finally quieted, Chiron endeavoured to tell him about Iolaus' finding of the missing cadets and his thwarting of the kidnap attempt, but it was clear that the general had no interest at all in hearing about Iolaus' exploits.

"I disown him," Skouros announced. "Don't expect any money from me. That bloody protector the little whore has found can come up with the money. More fool him!"

Chiron wanted to tell him that Iolaus' friend was none other than the God of War. Surely, he thought, that would have some impact on the soldier. However, Ares had said his identity was to be kept secret. Also, the general was just irate enough to make some rude comments about the god's real reasons for his interest in the boy and the centaur did not want that to happen. The dark god could be very vindictive and a soldier needed him on his side.
.
So, he said nothing and the general was soon on his way.

Meanwhile, Iolaus was sitting in the woods, cursing his father and hoping that anger would stop the threatening tears. Feelings of rage, hurt, humiliation and futile yearning warred within him. Somewhere deep inside, he had harboured the scarcely admitted hope that maybe, some day, he would be a warrior and his father would be proud of him at last. 'How bloody ridiculous,' he berated himself. 'You're so bloody pathetic, Iolaus. After all these years how could you hope for something like that?'

The first tear tricked its way down a pale cheek and he angrily brushed it aside. 'I won't weep. I won't!' he insisted and then flung himself facedown and began to sob uncontrollably.

He had cried himself out, but was still lying there shaking when Hercules found him. He sat down beside him and put a companionable hand on a thin shoulder. Iolaus did not have to open his eyes to know who was with him. Hercules had been so much a part of his life, he always knew his touch. "Leave me alone, Hercules," he muttered, without looking up.

Taking no notice, the demigod began to stroke the silky mane of blond curls in a soothing motion, much as one might pet a cat. Gradually calming, Iolaus wished he could sit up and let Hercules gather him into his arms, but now knowing the nature of his love for his friend, felt he had to deny himself that comfort.

Accordingly, he sniffed loudly, wiped a sleeve across his bruised face and muttered, "I'm okay now, Herc."

"Take your time, Iolaus."

"No, I mean it. I'm fine," he lied. As he spoke, he rolled away from the demigod and stood up, swaying slightly, his face dirty and smudged with tears.

Hercules got to his feet and wrapped a strong arm around the little blond.

Iolaus pulled away. "I said I'm fine. People will think I'm enough of a sook without you holding me up."

"They won't think anything of the sort, Iolaus. They wouldn't expect you to fight your father."

"I should tried though. Tr-Trouble is then he'd really s-smash me. I'm just not ... not strong enough."

Hercules had not been present during Skouros' assault on his son, but Chiron had sent for him immediately after the general's departure. The centaur had quickly filled him in on all that had transpired, including Skouros' disowning of Iolaus, and had then sent him to find his friend. Now, wondering if it was the best time to tell him, Hercules said, "You won't have to worry about him in future, Iolaus."

"What do you mean, Herc?" His heart was in his mouth. Surely the demigod had not attacked his father. He was not worried for Skouros, but if the general was dead Hercules would be in big trouble. "Did you ... Did you ..." he started, fearing the worst.

"Did I what?" asked the confused demigod.

"Hit him?"

"No, he was gone when I arrived or I probably would have."

"Why did you say I don't have to worry then?"

"He told Chiron that ... that ..." He trailed off. He so longed for a close relationship with his own father that it was hard to tell his friend what Skouros had said.

"That?" Iolaus prompted.

"I'm sorry, Iolaus, but he's disowned you."

To his amazement, Iolaus smiled. "That's great news, Herc," he said, "I wish it had happened years ago." Silently he added, 'At least, it would have saved me all those years of trying hopelessly to win his love and all those beatings for never being what he wanted.'

"You don't mind?" Hercules asked incredulously.

"Nah! I think it's great," Iolaus lied, wondering why it was not true and how he could be such a wimp as to still wish for a love that would never be his. 'I guess I was stupid to hope for his love,' he thought. 'I should grow up and learn to get along without it.'

The only good thing to come out of Skouros' visit was that the cadets now knew that Iolaus really was the son of a famous general, though a number privately considered that they were glad not to share the distinction having seen the man in 'action'.


A few days later, Tibertus returned to the Academy after a week at his home in Athens. He was full of news and could not wait to impart it. He had told his father about recent events at the Academy and, in the course of the discussion, had mentioned Iolaus by name and had spoken about him as a trouble-maker.

The name acted like the proverbial red rag to a bull. The magistrate had said, "It must be the name. There's a little thief of that name in this city that I've been after for some time. I've not been able to pin anything on him yet, but I'll get him."

Tibertus, in turn, reacted to the word 'little' and it soon became apparent that they were discussing the same miscreant. They then had a most enjoyable time dissecting his misdeeds.

Now back at the Academy, the magistrate's son was only too ready to repeat his father's scathing words about Iolaus.

Iolaus could feel the condemnation radiating from the other cadets. 'Damn them!' he thought, clenching his fists. 'They're all sons of wealthy men, what do they know about being hungry and homeless.' Then, to his surprise, he felt an arm settle round his shoulders.

"Iolaus," the voice was gentle. "Come with me."

Iolaus wondered if he should refuse. It could be doing Hercules no good to be associated with him. He had imagined that they would have a great time at the Academy but not only was he blowing it he was ruining the demigod's time there as well. "It's okay, Herc," he said, trying to shrug the arm off, but the grip on his shoulder was firm.

"No, it's not, Iolaus," Hercules replied. "Now come with me please."

Realizing resistance would probably only make things worse, the little blond allowed himself to be led outside. Hercules took him into the gymnasium, which was deserted at that hour. He glanced around to check that no one had followed them and then swung Iolaus to face him. At least, that was his intention, but Iolaus hung his head, using his mop of hair as a shield to hide his face.

"Look at me please."

The golden curls shook in refusal.

"Iolaus, look at me!" There was a slight edge to the demigod's voice now and Iolaus winced at the change, but kept his head down.

Spying a fallen tree, the demigod steered Iolaus across to it and sat down so his head was on a level with his friend's. He looked at the blond's pale face with concern mixed with affection and exasperation. "Was any of that true?"

"What?" Iolaus stalled.

"C'mon, Iolaus, you know what I mean. Did Tibertus have any real reason to call you a thief?"

Shamefaced, Iolaus muttered, "Yes."

"But why?"

"I c-couldn't get work."

"But why didn't you come home," Hercules asked, perplexed. "You know we all wanted you there."

"All?" Iolaus' voice was disbelieving and rough with the effort to hold back threatening tears. "My bloody father didn't. It took days for the marks of that last beating he gave me to fade."

"Was that why you left? I wondered if you'd had an argument with him."

"'Argument' isn't the word, Herc. I don't know how you didn't realize then, but surely you know now, after his little performance here, that there was no hope of disputing things with him. He never thought of giving me any say. He'd just be straight in with his fists or belt and that was it."

Hercules looked stricken. "I didn't ... I should have ... I'm sorry, I ..." he faltered.

Iolaus immediately felt guilty at upsetting his friend. "It's okay, Herc. You couldn't know how bad it was. I always tried to keep other people from knowing."

"But, Iolaus, I'm not *other* people. Couldn't you have told me? I might have ..."

"There was no point. You couldn't have done anything. The law was on his side and anyone interfering would have stirred him up worse than ever."

"But ..."

"Look, Herc, I didn't want you to know. I wanted to forget about him and when I was with you I could."

"When you finally left home, why didn't you come to us? Mother would have let you live with us."

"My father might have made trouble for her. It was better for me to get right away."

"So you went to Athens?"

"Yes."

"And became a thief?"

"No! Well ... yes ... but ... but not straight away. I *wanted* to work, but no one would employ me and ... and so ... Tibertus was right, Herc. I'm just a bloody thief! You shouldn't bother with me."

"No!" The demigod was on his feet and pulling Iolaus into a tight hug. "No matter what you've done, Iolaus, you're *my* best friend and that's not going to change."

"But I'm ruining everything here for you, Herc. The other cadets don't want me here and I'm scared they'll start to treat you badly too. I don't want to wreck your chances here."

"And you won't. Sure stealing is wrong, but I guess you must have been fairly desperate."

"Yeah and I *did* stop doing it."

"Did you get work?"

"No, I met Marcus and he was kind to me and he told me I was to stop."

"And what did he do when you disobeyed him?"

"Huh? How did you know I did that?"

"I know you. You hate being told what to do. Even if you really agree with an order you always dispute it on principle." He grinned as he spoke and was rewarded by a faint smile as Iolaus acknowledged the truth in that. "So what did he do?" he asked.

"He ... um ... er ... He ..."

"What?" Hercules asked. He had been expecting to hear that the man had given Iolaus some money or food, as an act of charity and to remove any possible justification for continued theft, as he himself would have done, and was curious as to why Iolaus was having difficulty admitting this. "There's no shame in accepting help, Iolaus."

Iolaus blushed. "I wouldn't exactly call it *help*," he managed, hoping the demigod would drop the subject.

That was a forlorn hope. Tenacious as ever, Hercules persisted. "What would you call it then?"

"P-Punishment."

"You mean he hurt you?" Hercules asked, his concern clear.

"N-Not really." His voice dropped to a whisper. "He just ... just spanked me," he confessed.

"What?" Hercules was sure he must have misheard.

"Spanked me!" Iolaus repeated, slightly louder and in some agitation.

"Spanked you? And he's still alive?" He was well aware Iolaus had a fiery temper when angered.

"Well ... ah ... yeah ... um ... he had been nice to me *apart* from that. I *did* get a bit mad, but I knew he was doing it because didn't want me to get into trouble. Anyway, he was a bit stronger than me ... and probably than you too."

Hercules laughed at the last sentence. "Now we are getting to the truth of the matter," he teased.

'Not if I can help it,' Iolaus thought.

"It still seems an odd thing for a man to do to someone our age," the demigod observed and Iolaus winced at his innocence.

"I s'pose so," he conceded, and then quickly tried to divert the conversation by adding, but let's get back to our current problem.

They discussed the issue at length, but there seemed to be little they could do. As Hercules pointed out they could not, in all honesty, actually deny the accusation although they could say that Iolaus had never been convicted of or even charged with theft. Further, he hoped that having spent time with Iolaus the other cadets would not believe Tibertus, but Iolaus felt that Fadus' group in particular would believe, and try to persuade others to as well, any accusations of any kind made against him. Another worry was how Chiron would react if Tibertus took the tale to him or the magistrate decided to contact him about it.

Hercules tried to be optimistic, but even he was worried, and Iolaus was certain his days at the Academy were definitely numbered.

That night, when he flung back his bedcovers, Iolaus found a brief note on his pillow. To his joy the missive was from Marcus, suggesting that they meet later that night.

He wondered briefly who had delivered the message for Marcus, but that did not matter. What mattered was Marcus had not abandoned him. He hugged the knowledge to him and thought how he had missed his lover... at first.

A wave of guilt swept over him as he recalled how he had pushed thoughts of Marcus aside when Hercules had returned and he had realized that he loved the demigod as more than a friend. However, he knew that Hercules did not feel the same way and hoped that Marcus could forgive his wayward thoughts and help him to learn to love where it would be returned.

He was standing, clutching the note and deep in these worrying thoughts when Hercules entered the dormitory. "What have you got there, Iolaus?" he asked.

"N-Nothing, j-just a note to remind me about ... about something I have to do," Iolaus stammered.

"Schoolwork? You are getting industrious," Hercules teased. "The old Iolaus I knew was happy to forget his homework."

"And risk another caning from Feducious? No thanks, once was enough."

Hercules had not heard about that incident. "Did he really cane you?" he questioned.

Humiliating and unjust though the punishment had been, Iolaus was happy to talk about it since it meant distracting the demigod from his letter. With his ability to mimic, he even turned the story into quite an amusing tale and had several listening cadets joining in the discussion to poke fun at the teacher. Indeed, all in all Iolaus felt more at home in the group than he had at any time since his arrival at the Academy.

Finally the bell sounded for lights out and Iolaus lay counting the minutes and longing for the hour that Marcus had suggested. Of course, he could have left earlier, but the later he departed the less chance that another cadet would be awake and would see his exit.

Finally, it was time. Iolaus slid out of bed. He stood quietly for a moment, but none of the other cadets showed a sign of stirring.

However, unbeknownst to Iolaus Hercules was awake. He knew something was going on. Although he had asked if the note was schoolwork, he knew his friend and so had never believed that it was. He was worried about what mischief Iolaus was engaged in this time that could not even be confided to a best friend, and so could not sleep. Thus Hercules observed his friend climb stealthily out of bed and hurriedly dress.

By the time Hercules himself was dressed and outside Iolaus was out of sight and the demigod feared he would not find him, but kept on anyway.

About half a mile from the Academy, he came to a sudden halt. He could not believe his eyes. There was Iolaus, his lithe body glowing in glorious nakedness in the moonlight, pressing himself into the welcoming embrace of a tall, dark man.

While Hercules watched transfixed, the man slid his hands down to cup Iolaus' creamy buttocks, lifting him effortlessly. Iolaus responded by wrapping his strong legs around the man's hips.

He knew he should not watch, but could not tear his eyes away.

He heard Iolaus gasp and saw him wriggling as the man inserted a couple of fingers into his anus. "Fuck me, Marcus. Please ... I need you ... Please."

"Are you certain that's what you want?" a deep velvet voice teased.

"Marcus! Please!" Iolaus begged. "I've missed this .... missed *you* so much," he hurriedly corrected.

But it was too late, Marcus had noticed the slip of the tongue. "Don't lie to me. Iolaus," he warned.

"I'm not lying! I *did* miss you!"

"Maybe a bit at first, but not a lot and certainly not after that friend of your returned. After that you hardly gave me a thought. Still I suppose that was to be expected as after all I'm 'only a friend'"

Iolaus felt a strong twinge of guilt. There was some truth in what Marcus was saying, but how could he quote Iolaus' dismissive words to Erbessus?

"I'm sorry," he said, "but I am happy to see you, Marcus. Please don't spoil it. I do want to belong to you."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Yes."

"All right, brat," Marcus conceded, "but, be warned, I'm still displeased so I'm not going to be gentle with you."

"I don't care. I just want you."

Hercules watched the man lower Iolaus to the ground and saw his friend spread his legs wantonly, while the man undid his trousers. Now was the time to slip away. He doubted that either would notice him.

As he moved quickly down the trail, he heard Iolaus cry out. It sounded like he was in pain and the demigod halted. Normally he would have run to Iolaus, but now he did not know what to do. Iolaus cried out again.

Hercules began to run, hands over his ears, back to the Academy, away from what had so shocked him.

Meanwhile Ares was pounding into Iolaus. As usual, he had stretched and lubricated Iolaus, and then entered him carefully, but once in he was not holding back and Iolaus accepted and even welcomed the pain.

In his guilt, Iolaus felt Marcus was right to be annoyed, especially when he remembered the off-hand way he had spoken of his benefactor when facing
Erbessus' accusations. In any case, he always enjoyed the sensation of being overwhelmed by the big man and was turned on by the control that the man he trusted so much could exert over him. Okay, this *was* a bit rougher than usual, but not excessively so.

When it was over, Iolaus snuggled into his assailant's broad chest and wept, repeatedly apologizing to him.

"I'm sorry too, brat," Marcus' said, hugging him. "I shouldn't have taken you like that."

"It's okay, Marcus. I deserved it and it didn't hurt much."

Marcus stood up and started to dress. Iolaus scrambled up and grabbed his arm. "Please, Marcus, don't go yet. It's been weeks since I saw you. Couldn't you stay a few more hours? Please."

"No, I'm rather busy at present, brat. I could hardly spare time to visit you at all."

"Marcus, could you take me with you? Please I won't be any trouble ... I'll *try* not to be anyway," he added honestly.

"What about the Academy and that wonderful friend of yours?"

"It's not really working out. I know it cost a lot, but ..."

"Cost doesn't come into it, Iolaus. I thought you had your heart set on becoming a warrior."

"I do ... I did, but ... things haven't gone too ... too well. Some of the other cadets ..." He trailed off, unwilling to say more.

"Yes? Some of the other cadets?" Ares prompted.

"No, it's me, I'm not ... not good enough. I can't do Fedacious' stupid work so I'm going to get kicked out eventually and I want to be with you, so I might as well go now."

Ares was in a quandary. He wanted nothing more than to take the little blond with him and yet he wondered if Iolaus would come to regret his choice. After all, by his own admission, Iolaus had dreamt for years about becoming a warrior and fighting alongside Hercules. If he tossed this chance away, he might come to blame Ares for the missed opportunity, especially once he learnt his lover's true identity and perhaps felt the latter had manipulated him in some way.

Ares shook his head mentally at himself. He could not believe that he could love someone so much that he could put that person's well being ahead of his own. "I think you should give the Academy another shot," he opined. "You've only been there a few weeks and the first couple of months in a new place are probably the hardest. We can discuss it again on my next visit."

"But I ..."

"No buts, brat. I want you to give it another try."

Iolaus opened his mouth to argue, but Ares bent his head and captured that sweet cavern effectively stifling the protest. By the time the war god let him up for air, Iolaus was light-headed, but that did not stop his nimble fingers from starting to work at the god's codpiece.

Ares captured the blond's wrists and held them firmly. "I told you I had no time for that, brat. Now are you going to give the Academy another go?"

"I s'pose so," Iolaus agreed reluctantly, "but you'll promise to take me with you next time if I want to leave, won't you?"

"I promise."

"And next time will be soon, won't it? Please." His voice was plaintive.

"All right as soon as I can. Now off with you." As he spoke, he swung Iolaus in the direction of the Academy and gave him a swift slap on the backside.

"OW! What was that for?" Iolaus complained, swinging around. To his utter amazement, Marcus was nowhere in sight. He could not believe how the big man could have vanished so fast and so quietly, but gone he was.

Iolaus made a quick search of the clearing, but there was no trace of his friend. 'Damn, I thought I was a good bushman,' he thought, 'but I couldn't do that. That's another trick I'll have to get him to teach me.'

Then the thought hit him. 'That's if he does come back.' After all, 'as soon as I can' was one of those phrases that could mean anything. Always an easy prey to self-doubts, Iolaus immediately began to fear that he had alienated Marcus because of his love for Hercules. He had no idea how the dark man knew anything about his thoughts re the demigod, which he had not confided to a living soul, but from what he had said, somehow he was aware of them.

'I'm making my usual mess of things,' he thought dejectedly as he limped back towards the Academy. He was feeling quite sore. Marcus had not provided one of his magical massages and that was probably another indication that he was really still mad at Iolaus.

He spent a largely sleepless night, tossing and turning and going over all the possible scenarios in his head, but every one seemed to end with him losing both Hercules and Marcus. If he had known that the demigod was also experiencing a sleepless night, having been shocked to the core by his friend's wanton behaviour, he could not have felt worse.


Iolaus finally drifted off to sleep a mere half-hour before the bell to get up was due and so he did not observe a bleary-eyed demigod dress and hurry off to breakfast with every intention of avoiding the blond.

After a night of troubled thinking, Hercules still did not know what he could say to Iolaus about what he had seen.

When Iolaus finally entered the dining room, the demigod hurried past him, with a mumbled comment about going somewhere. That set the pattern for the day. Every time Iolaus approached him, Hercules suddenly remembered somewhere else he had to be or immediately engaged someone else in conversation, either oblivious to or ignoring the blond's presence.

Iolaus was hurt by this and, high on Olympus, the God of War felt the distress emanating from his lover. Concerned, he decided to check out what was happening and had just arrived, invisible to Iolaus' sight, when, very late in the day, the blond finally managed to corner the demigod to ask what was going on.

Knowing that the demigod was able to see immortals, he stood behind a nearby tree to listen to the exchange and his heart sang at what he heard.

"Why aren't you talking to me?" Iolaus asked.

"Iolaus, don't!" Hercules warned, his tone curt.

"Don't what?"

"Just leave me alone," he ordered harshly.

"Herc, why are you mad with me? What have I done?"

"Just leave it, Iolaus." He started to push past the blond.

"No, tell me!" He grasped hold of the demigod's sleeve.

"Iolaus!"

"Tell me!"

Hercules' anger was rising. He had hoped to avoid this. "Erbessus and your father were right, weren't they?"

Iolaus' heart contracted. "What do you mean?" he ventured, fearing the answer.

"Don't play the innocent with me, Iolaus. I saw you."

"Saw me?"

"Yes, I saw what you were doing with that man last night."

"You were spying on me?"

"No, I saw you sneak out and I followed because I was worried about you. I didn't expect to see what I did. I'd *never* want to watch something like that. It was disgusting. How could you behave like that?" he demanded, his voice contemptuous.

Ares could not believe his luck. It had not occurred to him that the demigod might have observed them, but he could not have planned things better. With the moralistic, young prig telling Iolaus exactly what he thought of him, the little blond would know there was no chance of love in that quarter and so would be far less likely to harbour regrets and false hopes when Ares finally took him with him.

However, when he saw the tears gathering in Iolaus' beautiful eyes and the blond's head lowering to hide them, it was all Ares could do to stop himself betraying his presence and taking the delectable, little mortal into his arms.

Two things held him back. Firstly, the demigod had not recognized him for what he was the previous night, but might sense his godly status if he saw him clearly in daylight and Ares was not yet ready to reveal that to Iolaus. Secondly, he thought that if Iolaus was left alone to suffer his distress for a bit, it would become apparent that the demigod was not going to have second thoughts and so he would be all the more ready for Marcus and his plans for his future.

Accordingly, he vanished and did not hear Iolaus try to justify his relationship with Marcus, any more than the demigod did because the latter could not stand it and turned on his heel and walked off.


Feeling absolutely shattered, Iolaus headed into the bush. He always felt much better out in the wilds. The woods were his element and he drew strength and comfort from them. If all else failed, and it looked like it was going to, he always knew he could take off into the bush and live quite comfortably and far away from all his troubles. He knew the life of a hunter was one that he could always adopt ... if there was no hope of love.

Iolaus was thinking about this, when he felt a hand touch his shoulder. He whirled around to confront a dark-haired young stranger. "What do you want?" he asked, somewhat chagrined that the man had been able to approach him unheard.

"I believe you are my uncle's protege."

"You're Marcus' nephew?"

"Yes."

"Is he okay? Why are you here? Is he ..."

Strife interrupted. "He's fine. He told me to come and fetch you."

"But why has he sent for me so soon? I only saw him last night and he told me to go back and give the Academy another try. Are you sure he's okay?" Iolaus asked in concern.

"He's fine. I don't know why he's changed his mind. He didn't say. However, he wants to see you now. C'mon."

"N-Now?"

"Of course."

Something about the man made Iolaus uneasy and he hesitated, uncharacteristically saying, "But I can't just leave without telling anyone. I'll have to check with Chiron that it's okay."

"There's no time. Anyway surely you aren't some kid who needs permission to go anywhere?"

"No, but ..." Iolaus started. All his instincts were screaming not to trust this man.

"C'mon, then!" He grabbed Iolaus' arm and gave it an impatient tug, pulling him off balance. He then moved off at some speed dragging Iolaus after him.

Iolaus tried to twist free, but the hand merely clutched his forearm more tightly, fingers digging painfully deep, and he was forced to stumble after his captor, trying desperately to keep on his feet.

Although very fit, he soon gasping at the incredible pace the man set and, when he finally halted, about a mile from the place where they had met, Iolaus sagged against a tree panting heavily. His face was red from both the exertion and from his embarrassment at his weakness, especially as the man appeared unfazed by the journey.

"W-Where is he?" he managed to rasp.

"Who?"

"M-Marcus."

"Oh, he'll join us later. Meanwhile, my uncle said you'd entertain me." He grasped the front of Iolaus' shirt with one hand and lifted him effortlessly off the ground. "Okay?" He squeezed Iolaus' genitals with his free hand making it clear just exactly what he meant by entertainment.

Iolaus gasped at the incredible show of strength. He was in a quandary. If Marcus had told his nephew this was okay perhaps he should give in, since he owed Marcus so much. In any case, he wondered what choice he was really going to have in the matter given the man's incredible strength.

He supposed there was a chance that Marcus *might* have okayed it. For all his kindness to the little blond, Iolaus was aware that there was a darkness in Marcus' soul, a darkness that drew Iolaus strongly. He could feel and vaguely comprehend its power and it excited him. His blood tingled as it called him from the light.

Although there was often teasing and joy in their lovemaking, that was not what Iolaus yearned for. He had grown to crave Marcus' strength, and even his anger, and above all the combining of the two to force his physical subjugation. Okay, he did protest and struggle, but that was to provoke Marcus into further excesses.

For some reason, nothing made Iolaus' harder than the knowledge that he was helpless in Marcus' hands and that the dark man could do anything he liked to him.

Restraint, punishment, force, all were turn-ons, that set Iolaus' pulses racing wildly. To be held firmly across those muscular thighs, waiting for that first stinging slap, turned the little blond into a trembling jelly of desire.

He could not help standing back mentally at times and mocking himself for his glad surrender of all his fiercely protected independence and pride to his lover, with no more than a token struggle. Yet he knew all too well, that he would never have given this control to someone he did not trust, indeed, not to anyone apart from Marcus ... except ... maybe ... Hercules. The random thought made him shake his head ruefully. Hercules would never want this. Never! He would never see it as the gift that Marcus did.

Gift? The thoughts had rushed like lightning through Iolaus' brain and he was now sure. Marcus would *not* have told his nephew he could use him even if he was still mad with the blond. Anyway, there no proof that the man even was one of Marcus' relatives. Marcus had never mentioned him or, indeed, any relations.

For Iolaus, to think was to act. He brought his knee up into his assailant's crotch with all the force he could muster. Strife was caught completely off guard. He had been watching the play of emotions across the little blond's expressive face and had thought that Iolaus had believed his story. He gave a scream of commingled pain and fury and flung Iolaus to the ground.

Iolaus landed heavily, flat on his back, the wind whooshing out of him. Strife reached down and seized him by his shirt, pulling him up and slapping him viciously across the face. Blood gushed from Iolaus nose as it broke under the force of the god's blows. Iolaus cried out in pain and fainted, hanging limply in the god's cruel hands.

Then Strife cried out in surprise and lurched forward dropping his victim as a pair of strong arms grabbed him from behind.

Hercules had been worrying about Iolaus and had decided he had to check on him. He had tried to talk himself out of it. He greatly feared that he might be 'treated' to a repetition of the previous night's 'show' and he told himself Iolaus would not appreciate his concern after his harsh words, but he could not put aside his kindly and protective nature that always had to see others were all right

He was still mad with Iolaus and he still could not understand how the little blond could have acted as he did ... especially with a stranger. He did not pause to consider the implications behind the addition to that thought.

He had a guilty feeling that he had no right to reprimand his friend and yet surely a real friend should be able to say a few home truths for his best friend's good. Although he was still refusing to acknowledge the jealousy churning around in his emotional turmoil, he had decided that he had to see Iolaus was okay.

At first, he had doubted whether he was going to be able to find Iolaus in the bush, but then he had heard voices and had arrived on the scene just in time to see Strife leading, or more precisely dragging, Iolaus after him.

Normally he would have intervened at once, but after recent events he did not know whether to do so or not. Perhaps the man was merely another of Iolaus' odd new friends.

Accordingly he had elected to follow and had then, once the hurrying pair had stopped, stood listening to the man's comments about Marcus. At first, he was relieved that he had not made his presence felt as it appeared as if the little blond was going to acquiesce and the demigod's intervention would have been merely an unwelcome embarrassment, but then Iolaus had gone on the attack.

Hercules had been about to sneak away, so as not to have to see further evidence of his friend's debauchery, but swung back at Strife's scream of pain and rage. Observing the man's brutal treatment of his friend, the demigod had launched himself into the attack.

Hercules was strong but, as yet, had not attained the strength that would be his in full adulthood and he had no idea that the man he was attacking was a god. He was caught off-guard when Strife flung up his arms with incredible force to break his hold and then twisted around and hit him with a bolt of energy.

The demigod staggered backwards and Strife zapped him again, throwing him hard into a tree. Stunned, Hercules dropped to his knees and the god moved forward and smashed a boot into his chin. Hercules crashed onto his back and lay still.

The god waved a hand and ropes appeared, binding the demigod's arms and legs, while a gag settled over his mouth. Strife was not going to risk interruption.

Meanwhile, Iolaus, his face battered and bleeding was fighting his way to his knees. He did not know what Strife had done, but he could see Hercules lying bound and apparently unconscious.

Strife leered down at him and said, "You know, Blondie, that's a good-looking friend you've got there, I think I might just have a little fun with him before dealing with you." As he spoke, he started to undo his codpiece.

Iolaus was horrified. He *couldn't* let that happen. He couldn't let the man touch Hercules, especially knowing the repugnance the demigod felt for such things. "No, don't!" he cried, flinging himself forward to clasp Strife's knees. "Don't touch him. Please! I'll do whatever you want, just *don't* touch him."

Strife laughed evilly. In truth, the demigod did not attract him and he was aware that sexually assaulting Zeus' son was probably not a great plan. He considered it far more risky than taking his uncle's little catamite because, placing absolutely no value on mortals himself, he did not see that Ares would be particularly angry with his activities. Okay, he would probably rant and rave a bit, but Strife was used to being in his uncle's black books and was very adept at worming his way back into favour. However, it amused him to see the fear in the little blond's eyes.

That fear had not been there earlier for himself, but was all too apparent now. 'I wonder if old unk realizes he's got a rival in the half-breed,' he thought, filing the idea away for future mischief-making.

"Why should I take you when I could have him?"

"He's unconscious," Iolaus argued, desperately. "Where's the fun in taking a victim that's unaware of what you're doing?"

"True. Okay, but you had better make it worth my while or I'll rape him after I've finished with you. Now get your clothes off and spread yourself. C'mon! hurry up before I change my mind!"

Iolaus pulled off his shirt and tried to use it to mop some of the blood from his face and chest. "Leave that!" Strife ordered. "There's no aphrodisiac as potent as the smell and taste of blood." He ran a long pointed tongue across his thin lips and Iolaus nearly spewed at the sight. Somehow he fought down the nausea and sat back concentrating on pulling off his boots and undoing his trousers.

Strife stood watching him and enjoying the rush of lust that filled him as he saw the smooth, pale body. However, that was nothing to what hit him when Iolaus eased the trousers off his hips to reveal the nest of golden curls.

In one swift motion, Strife pushed him hard, so that he over-balanced and fell down onto his back, and then shoved his hand between Iolaus' legs, fondling him roughly.

Iolaus bit back a cry of pain and tried to keep as still as possible to avoid antagonizing the man further.

Strife withdrew his hand and then peeled the trousers off, to leave Iolaus lying naked before him. He then dropped Iolaus' legs, stepped back and frowned.

For a moment, Iolaus was puzzled. Then, recalling his instructions, Iolaus hurriedly opened his legs wide and waited, tense and frightened, his mind screaming silently for Marcus.

"That's better!" Strife said. He positioned himself between the youth's slender legs and then grasped them, pushing them up and back.

Iolaus clenched his fists and willed himself to stay still. He knew it was going to be rough. Even when angry, Marcus was always careful about how he entered Iolaus, but this man was just going to slam into him and would, no doubt inflict as much pain as he could.

It was like a nightmare, an evil dream from which he could not awake.

However, it was not his exclusive incubus. Two others were aware of what was happening and both were unable to intervene.

The demigod had actually recovered his senses scant seconds after Strife had bound him. Helpless in bonds placed by a god, he had listened in horror to Strife's comments about him and then to Iolaus' frantic pleas for his protection. He struggled desperately, but could not free himself, although the ropes should have given him no trouble at all.

Then the answer came to him. How could he have been so slow? The energy bolts and now these unbreakable ropes. Iolaus' assailant must be a god, but why was a god sexually assaulting his friend?

Although he had not got a good look at Marcus the night before, he knew this man was neither tall nor broad enough to be him. So how did a god get involved in all this?

Meanwhile, Ares himself had also realized that something was wrong.

He was visiting his mother, Hera, Queen of the Gods. Not one for social calls, especially upon relatives, he nevertheless deemed it politic to keep on his mother's good side, to the extent that any side she had could actually be described as 'good'.

Of course, he did not trust her any more than she did him, so he had taken care to keep Iolaus' existence in his life a secret from her. There was no sense in offering his little street rat as a hostage to fortune. He knew that his mother would take any opportunity she could to gain a hold over him. Threatening to hurt his lover would be just the sort of thing she would enjoy, although not as much as she would the excuse to actually carry out her threats.

Accordingly, although Iolaus' distress had been quivering along his veins, he had been ignoring it and presenting his usual calm exterior to his mother. He wrongly assumed that his emotionally vulnerable lover was still suffering from Hercules' harsh words of censure and rejection and did not immediately perceive that there was an additional reason for the distress the little blond was clearly experiencing. Indeed, he felt quite complacent about the whole thing. Sooner or later Iolaus would realize that the 'game' wasn't worth the candle and give up all thoughts of the demigod and then he would be Ares' completely and forever.

Suddenly, he was jolted out of this pleasant state, as Iolaus' fear and anxiety rocketed with the danger to Hercules. What on earth was happening to his brat? He wanted to check. He *needed* to check, but his mother's knowing eyes were upon him, reading his agitation and trying to divine its cause and how it could profit her.

"Is there something the matter, my son?" she asked, with syrupy sweetness that turned his stomach.

"Nothing ... at least not much. I was just ...ah ... thinking about one of my wars I need to check on."

"Well, don't let me detain you. Go and see."

However, that was just what he could not do, not knowing she was watching.

He strode from the room wondering frantically what he could do and bumped straight into his father.

Their eyes met. "You know?" Ares questioned, totally disconcerted.

"Of course I do," Zeus responded. He had been getting quite a bit of enjoyment from secretly observing Ares and his little mortal, after having felt a need to check why the dark god was neglecting his duties. Fully aware of his own behaviour when in the grip of his latest passion, he had then smiled indulgently at his discovery and decided to let things run their course, while keeping an eye on developments. Indeed, the observation was purely, if that word could be used for such an activity, voyeuristic and he was too honest, in his enjoyment of sexual activities of all kinds, to pretend otherwise for. However, it was the threat to his favourite son, Hercules, that had drawn his attention to Strife's latest misdeed.

Ares stared at him. When did the old man get the ability to read *his* mind? He did not realize that his uncharacteristic look of panic had been all Zeus needed to divine his thoughts. "Iolaus," he whispered helplessly.

Zeus nodded. He had his Ganymede and fully understood his son's fears re Hera. "I'll check," he promised and vanished.

He materialized in a spectacular flash of light just as Strife prepared to thrust into his victim.

The god twisted around, expecting to confront his uncle and was more than somewhat disconcerted to find himself confronting the King of the Gods and a very angry looking king at that.

"What in Tartarus do you think you are doing?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to say that Zeus should be the last person to have to ask something like that, but somehow he did not quite dare. "J-Just a bit of fun. You know how hot some of these mortals can be."

"And why is my son tied up?"

"Oh, he got the silly idea that Blondie here didn't want it and was going to spoil our fun. I was going to release him as soon as we finished."

"Now might be a good time."

"Yes ... Okay ... Sure," Strife burbled and the ropes fell from the demigod.

Hercules immediately rushed over ready to plant one on the god, but Zeus stepped in front of him. "Someone else needs you, my son," he said, gesturing at Iolaus.

Iolaus was still lying on the ground and was not moving.

"Is he ..." Hercules faltered.

"He's a bit battered, but he'll be all right." He turned to Strife. "I suggest you make yourself scarce, boy." The young god vanished.

Zeus turned back to his son and said, "I put him out to it. I thought it best if he didn't know the gods were involved in this." He did not say that he felt it was Ares' place to tell Iolaus the truth. "He'll come around after I go and you can tell him you got free and saw his attacker off. I won't take away all his aches and pains or he might get suspicious, but we don't want beauty like his marred so I'll just fix his broken nose for him. It'll still be sore, but he'll think somehow it wasn't fractured."

"Father, could you ... could you ..."

"Could I what?"

"Advise me what to do?"

"What do you *want* to do?"

"I don't know. I just don't know. Do you know what's being going on?"

"Some of it. You tell me."

"Well, my friend, Iolaus, has ... No, I shouldn't talk about him."

"Why not?"

"It doesn't seem right."

"Little shocks me and I can find out anything I want to know whether you tell me or not. Anyway, who better to ask than your father?"

Deciding to try a more neutral tack, the demigod asked, "Do you think a friend has a right to interfere in a friend's life if he thinks he's making a mistake?"

"It depends. Is the person certain it is a mistake or is he speaking from self-interest?"

"Oh, he's sure ... at least, he thinks he's right ... probably."

"Let's be more specific. Your friend Iolaus wants to do, or is doing, something you think is wrong?"

The demigod nodded.

"Why do you think it's wrong?"

"He's got ... um ... involved with someone and ... and ..."

"And you're jealous?"

"Yes! I-I mean no! I j-just don't think the man is ... is ... right for him?"

"And you've met this man?"

"No, but ..."

"How do you know then?"

"I just do! I just feel it's wrong."

"Because you've always loved Iolaus yourself?"

"No! Well, of course I love him but not like *that*."

"And you don't think you could, even if Iolaus wanted you to?"

"He doesn't! He only wants Marcus."

"Has he told you that?"

"No, but ... but I *saw* them together."

"Having sex?"

"Yes."

"And that means that Iolaus loves him, does it?"

"Well, I wouldn't ... wouldn't ..."

"Wouldn't have sex with someone you didn't love?"

"No."

" Or even with a man that you love and who loves you?"

"I d-don't know. I n-never thought about something like that."

"Perhaps it's time you did. Look, you admit you love Iolaus don't you?"

"Yes!"

"And you don't want him to go with Marcus?"

"Right."

"Then you need to show him there's some reason for him to stay with you."

"Do you think he would?"

"Who knows till you try, but I can guarantee you'll lose him if you don't." In truth, he sometimes wondered how he had ever produced a son like Hercules. He could understand Ares' behaviour, even if he could not approve it at times, but this moralistic youth was so difficult to comprehend. Yet, somehow this boy had a place in his heart that none of his other offspring had.

"I'll try."

"Right, then if you'll excuse me I've got things to do."

Zeus considered he had done his duty. He had tried to be encouraging, but he really could not envisage Iolaus choosing the somewhat tongue-tied, gangling, rather self-righteous youth over the smooth-talking, darkly handsome, attractively amoral God of War.

Further, he was rather worried about the consequences of his two sons fighting over the little mortal. "Don't underestimate Marcus," he warned, as a parting shot.

As soon as Zeus disappeared, Iolaus returned to his senses and immediately looked frantically around before realizing that the object of his concern was actually squatting right beside him. "Herc? Are you okay?" he asked, his voice full of anxiety.

There he was his eyes ringed by exhaustion and swollen by tears, his face bruised and bleeding and his hair even more unkempt than usual. He had just undergone a frightening experience, but as always, he was still more concerned for Hercules and this in spite of the way the demigod had treated him.

"I'm fine, you're the one we need to worry about," Hercules replied.

"Aren't you still mad at me?" the little blond asked hesitatingly, looking up through his tangled hair. He looked so vulnerable, so much in need of care ... and so very ... desirable.

Desirable? No, it *couldn't* be. His father *was* wrong about that. He *was*.

Yet Hercules' heart contracted and his throat seemed to have gone suddenly thick. Not trusting himself to speak, Hercules reached out for Iolaus and pulled him into his arms, cradling the slender form against his heart and gently running a hand through the disordered curls. The little blond was very cold and Hercules could feel him shaking. He hoped that Iolaus was not going into shock.
 
"I'm sorry, Iolaus," he murmured into the mop of hair. "We need to talk, but not now. I've got to get you back to the Academy."

So saying, he stood up with Iolaus in his arms and, somewhat surprised, not to say worried, by the latter's quiet acquiescence with being carried headed for home.

As he walked, his thoughts whirled in confusion. The one thing he knew was that he *was* going to persuade Iolaus to stay with him ... somehow.

The End

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

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