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Hercules looked down on his sleeping friend. He had been sitting by Iolausí bedside for hours and had refused to move in spite of the entreaties by Jason and some of the other cadets and the assurances by the healer that there was nothing seriously amiss with Iolaus.
He looked down at the beautiful face, temporarily marred by its collection of bruises, in its frame of fluffy blond curls, and thought about how deceiving looks could be. Seeing Iolaus in quiet repose it was hard to imagine the aggressive, troublesome, little ratbag that lurked behind that innocent façade. Indeed, he rarely got a chance to study Iolausí features as his quicksilver friend was seldom still.
ĎHeís so pretty,í the demigod mused, Ďand he looks so small lying there.í In truth, Hercules had never given much thought to either aspect of Iolausí appearance. Sure he was aware that Iolaus was smaller than he was, but the blondís incredible energy levels and feisty nature made the difference seem far less than it was. As for his looks, kids donít choose their friends for good looks and so Iolaus was just Iolaus, nothing special. Or was he?
ĎPerhaps itís time I *really* looked at him,í he thought. ĎIíve only ever seen him as my friend, but others are clearly attracted to him in a different way and he seems to like that Ö from Marcus anyway.í
He wondered about Marcus. Uncharacteristically, he found himself judging the man, who he had only seen from a distance, and deciding he did not like him. Sure Iolaus had said, "Youíd like him, Herc, heís been ever so kind to me", and that normally would have been true, but not in this case.
He knew that the man had been instrumental in stopping Iolaus from stealing and that ought, if nothing else, to have recommended him to the demigod, but the method he used was questionable to say the least. A vision of Iolaus facedown over the manís knee, trousers around his ankles and creamy arse exposed, leapt unbidden to his mind and the demigod felt an odd stirring in his loins. He blushed hotly, thankful nobody else was present, as he would have been unable to answer truthfully if someone had asked his thoughts at that moment. And he certainly would not have been able to explain just why that image had such an effect upon his anatomy. Ashamed, he felt himself no better than Marcus to be indulging in such imaginings.
It appeared that the man had then proceeded to debauch his friend and Hercules could not help feeling that that was what Marcus had befriended Iolaus for originally, that sex not compassion had been his motivation.
Of course, Iolaus had avoided telling Hercules about how he came to meet Marcus in the first place or about selling himself, and so the demigod believed that theft had been Iolausí sole means of support prior to that.
Hercules was just nodding off when he heard a faint moan from the blond. Iolausí lashes started to flutter and his eyes opened blearily. The sick room curtains were pulled and so the room was dark, but seeing the large figure alongside him, he smiled and said, "Marcus, youíre here!" There was no doubting the love in his voice as he held out his arms to his lover.
Embarrassed, Hercules was not sure what to say. He captured both wrists and gently but firmly tucked Iolausí arms back under the covers, while saying, "Itís me, Iolaus. Itís Hercules."
A look of confusion passed over the little blondís features, to be replaced by one of fear as he remembered the events of the previous night. "Herc, are you okay? I was so worried."
"Iím fine, Iolaus."
"Where are we?"
"Back at the Academy. Youíre in the sick room."
"Huh? How come? I feel okay."
"The healer says you are fine. You passed out on me last night, but he thinks it was mainly a combination of exhaustion and stress."
"Exhaustion and stress? Me???" Iolaus asked in a voice of total disbelief, with all his usual bravado.
"Yes, *you*. Youíre not indestructible you know. Mind you Ö" He broke off wondering whether to say anything about the previous night so soon.
"What? ĎMind youí what?"
Knowing Iolaus would persist, Hercules gave in and said, "That man that attacked you bashed you about a bit."
Iolaus barely nodded, but having opened the topic, the demigod continued, "Who was he?"
"I donít know. He said he was Marcusí nephew, but I think that was a lie."
"How did you meet him?"
"He told me Marcus wanted to see me."
"And you believed him."
"Not exactly. I hoped it was true, but I just Ö I donít know why, but I didnít trust him. He grabbed hold of my arm and I couldnít get free. He was incredibly strong, Herc. You wouldnít believe it. Iíll bet Iíve got bruises." He extended his arm and peered at it. "I canít see anything much as itís a bit dark in here, but it feels a bit sore."
"Yeah, well nothing to worry about though, youíre safe now."
"But what happened?"
Hercules found the question awkward as his father had said it he thought it was best if Iolaus did not know the gods were involved. The demigod was not sure why Zeus felt that way and, had he known it was basically to give Ares a chance to tell Iolaus who he really was, he would probably not have abided by the suggestion. However, he did not know this so he merely stammered, "I-I got free."
Knowing his friendís excessive modesty and inability to tell a good story, even if he just stuck to the facts instead of embellishing them as Iolaus did, the little blond assumed that Hercules had beaten off his attacker. "I wish Iíd seen it," he commented wistfully.
"There was nothing much to see," Hercules replied honestly.
"Iíll bet there was and I had to go and miss it." Then in a non sequitur, totally unsurprising for anyone who knew him and his priorities, he added, "I missed dinner last night too and I sípose Iíve missed brekkies today too."
"And lunch. Youíve been sleeping like a log for hours. I was getting a bit worried. I mean if even that ever-hungry stomach of yours couldnít wake you I thought something must be wrong."
"Iím *not* always eating."
"You would be if you could. If you didnít have hollow legs youíd be the fattest cadet here the way you pack it away."
"Nothing wrong with my legs. See!" Iolaus commented, suddenly kicking out at his friend.
However, the demigod was too familiar with the blondís tricks to be caught out and he simply seized the ankle and twisted it outwards and down. This had the effect of rolling Iolaus out of bed and he fell onto his stomach on the floor.
He was not hurt, but exclaimed "Ow!" on principle and lay still. Although he knew Iolaus was shamming, Hercules immediately regretted his action since he had not realized that the healer had completely stripped his friend and the creamy buttocks of his earlier fantasy were thus displayed for his perusal.
"Get up, Iolaus!" he ordered and immediately regretted his choice of words. Face burning, he was grateful that Iolaus could not see him.
"I canít," Iolaus complained.
Worried that he had really hurt his friend, Hercules squatted down to help him. "Are you all right, Iolaus, I didnít Ö" he started apologetically, but the next moment, he was sprawling on his side as Iolaus leapt lightly to his feet giving the demigod a hard shove as he did so.
"Iím fine *now*," Iolaus replied, looking down at his fallen friend and giggling at the sight.
Hercules was engrossed in a sight as well, as he looked up at his gloriously naked friend. ĎUnusual vantage point,í he thought, Ďbut I canít fault the view.í Then he did a double take. ĎGods whatís wrong with me?í he wondered in a panic. ĎWhy on earth did my father have to say things that have given me thoughts like these?í
He was not the only one thinking about Iolaus at that moment.
High on Olympus, Ares was also thinking about his mortal lover. With a supreme effort of will, he had forced himself not to check on Iolaus because he knew Hera was watching.
Zeus had returned and had merely given him a thumbs-up sign at a distance. Ares nodded his thanks and returned to his home to spend a sleepless night. He was consumed with curiosity as to what had occurred and longed to check on his lover, but decided it was safer for Iolaus if he asked Zeus what had transpired the next day.
When he finally approached Zeus, he found his father to be curiously reticent on the subject. "The boyís all right. Heís back at the Academy."
"Back? From where? What happened?"
"Nothing much. Just a little contretemps."
"Why was he so upset then?"
"Yes, I could feel Ö" He broke off wondering just how far to expose his feelings. Even though Zeus seemed fully conversant with what had been going on, the war god hoped his father had not realized just how besotted he was with the youth. It never paid to give any of his relatives a lever.
"Yes, feel what?" Zeus prompted, his eyes gleaming at his sonís discomfiture.
"The brat is very emotional," the dark god commented casually. "I was just aware he was stirred up about something. Knowing him I suspected it would be just a storm in an ale tankard and it really wasnít convenient for me to check on him last night, so thank you for doing so."
"My pleasure," the King of the Gods replied. *That* was true. He liked to watch the war god trying fruitlessly to disguise his feelings for the little mortal and he *had* greatly enjoyed watching the two together. The boy was beautiful and his slender, pale body and golden curls made such a pleasing contrast to the muscular, darkly tanned God of War. Yes, Zeus had lasciviously observed them for hours at a time. However, he did not want trouble between Ares and Strife and so avoided telling his son any details about the previous evening. Hopefully, Strife would not be foolish enough to try anything like that again.
Now his only concern was that trouble would develop between the war god and Hercules. Unfortunately, the little mortal was such a tasty piece that he could not see either giving him up easily. He would not mind having a bit of fun with the youth himself, but *that* would definitely alienate his favourite son and Ares would go ballistic. ĎI mustnít,í he thought, Ďbut I might.í He was too aware of his own lustful nature not to admit that given the opportunity, he would probably give in to temptation and damn the consequences.
Relieved that his brat was safe, but very curious as to what had been going on, Ares decided he would have to pay his little street rat a visit as soon as he could do so without calling the attention of either of his parents to himself. However, that time was not yet.
Hercules kept a close watch over Iolaus during the next week. He was very worried lest the youth suffer some delayed trauma after what had happened, but the little blond seemed his usual resilient self. In no time at all, he was rushing around, challenging the demigod to all types of combat, ever optimistic that somehow, someday he was going to manage to triumph over Herculesí superior strength by skill and cunning.
The demigod was relieved to see he was back to his old troublesome self and apparently determined to ignore the comments of Tibertus, Fadus and company. How long Iolaus would manage to keep his hot-temper in check was another thing and Hercules was amazed he had gone for a week without a major confrontation, as he stoutly ignored the taunts of Ďcatamiteí and Ďthiefí.
When Hercules finally commented how proud he was of him for doing this, Iolaus reminded him that the holidays were fast approaching and he did not want to get grounded.
The pair immediately began to make plans. Then Jason upset things slightly by inviting Hercules to Corinth and extending the invitation to Iolaus when he realized that an embarrassed demigod was clearly wondering how to gracefully decline.
In truth, the King was still a little jealous of the blond for his close friendship with the demigod, but he knew that he probably owed his life to him after the foiled kidnap attempt and he had felt sorry for the slight youth after his fatherís unpardonable behaviour. Further, he knew that how he treated Iolaus would have a big impact on how others did as many of the younger cadets admired him and followed his lead. Above all, he wanted Hercules to be happy and Hercules was definitely *not* happy if anyone was unkind to Iolaus.
The double invitation clearly delighted Hercules. He was so pleased his two friends were apparently starting to get along. Further, it belatedly occurred to him that it might well be a good idea to have a third party with him and Iolaus as that might help him keep his new feelings for the latter in check. Ever since Zeus had raised the issue he had found he looked at Iolaus through new and shamefully lustful eyes. The pure love he had always felt for his friend had definitely changed into something rather frightening and, unfortunately, having observed Iolaus and Marcus together, a certain unruly part of his anatomy had very clear ideas just what it wanted to do. His mind and heart tried to remonstrate with it, but they seemed treacherous too and he found himself indulging in daydreams about what he would like to do to Iolaus. Ď*With* not *to*,í he corrected himself, but that did not stop the thoughts that shamed him.
Iolaus rightly suspected that he was only being included in Jasonís invitation because of Hercules, but Jason had been making an effort to get along with him and he did not want to decline as that would upset Hercules.
So they had begun to make plans, only to have Feducious announce, on the Monday of the second to last week, that there was no way Iolaus would be going anywhere as he still had so much work to do.
Iolaus announced with a show of confidence he was going to get the work finished, but really considered he had no hope in Tartarus of doing it.
Accordingly, very late on the following Friday night, Iolaus was sitting dejectedly in the library. It was long after official closing, but he had sneaked in to have yet another try at his long outstanding work. He started as he heard the door open, fearing that one of the tutors had somehow spotted the light of his single candle, but kept his head down over his book hoping that being caught actually working, albeit after lights out, would not earn him a punishment.
To his relief, a deep velvet voice purred, "Well, wonders will never cease, my little street ratís working."
Iolaus swung around, his smile blazing. "Marcus! Youíre back! I didnít expect you so soon," he exclaimed joyfully.
"Yes, Iím back. Does that please you, brat?" The question was quite superfluous as the blond was already on his feet, hugging the black leather-clad figure and trying to pull Aresí head down for a kiss.
"Of course it does!"
"I believe the Academy is having holidays soon and I thought we could go somewhere together."
To his surprise, the youthís face fell.
"Whatís the matter, Iolaus? Have you made other plans?"
"No." At least, that wasnít exactly a lie. He had so wanted to go with Hercules, but knew he could not. "Old Feducious says Iíll have to stay here and catch up on *all* my work." He pouted. "I guess that means Iím *never* ever going to leave here."
"Surely itís not as bad as that, brat?" the God of War asked, fighting down the urge to run a finger along the protruding lip.
"It is! I thought this place would be fun and weíd just be learning all about important stuff like fighting and weapons, but we have to spend *ages* learning all sorts of junk out of books and Ö and I just *canít*."
"Iím sure you can if you try, Iolaus."
"No, I canít. I havenít even heard of half the people, places and wars Feducious drones on about."
"But surely the wars are interesting."
"Wars are good if youíre *in* them, but theyíre real boring in books."
"And youíve been in enough to judge?" Ares teased.
"Aw, Marcus, you *know* what I mean," Iolaus protested.
"Would you like me to help?"
"Do you know anything about wars?"
Ares stiffened and frowned. "More than you do, brat," he growled.
"I didnít mean it like that," Iolaus protested hurriedly, aware that he had given offense. "I mean dates and strategies and casualties and junk like that. I know you know about fighting, but Ö but Feducious says that usually only the generals know the whole picture and most of the soldiers just follow orders."
"So you have listened to something?"
"A bit, but heís *so* boring. I keep nodding off and then Herc gives me a jolt in the side with his elbow." He rubbed his ribs reminiscently. "History is painful as well as boring," he complained.
Ares grinned at the petulant face. "Anyway, what makes you think I am just an ordinary soldier?"
"Iíd never heard of you so you must be," Iolaus said promptly, hoping that at last his friend would be goaded into revealing some personal details.
"I thought you hadnít been listening to Feducious?"
"Yes Ö I mean, No Ö Well, he talks about real old stuff not men today, but my father always goes on about campaigns and generals to his friends when heís home and he never mentioned you."
"Iíve not made a habit of mentioning him either," Ares said, dismissively.
Iolaus giggled. "I try not to as well," he confided. "Anyway, at least I donít have to see him again."
"Why not? Has he died?" Ares questioned. He had not been aware of Skourusí demise and he certainly should have been.
"Nope, he disowned me."
"When did this happen?"
"He turned up here just before your last visit and he was really furious when he saw me here. He tried to make me go home with him, but I wouldnít."
"Why was he angry?"
"At first he thought he was getting the bill and he also thought it would be a waste of time me being here and Iíd put him to shame and then Ö and then Ö" He trailed off reluctant to continue.
Iolaus hung his head. "Thatís all," he muttered.
Strong fingers firmly, but gently, forced his chin up. "Itís not all, is it?"
"I donít Ö I donít want to talk about it."
"But *I* do." His grip on Iolausí chin tightened warningly. "Now tell me, brat."
"I-Itís okay, I d-didnít tell him any details about you except for your name and Ö and Marcus is a common name so he wonít Ö."
Ares interrupted the babble, "I wouldnít care if you had. He doesnít scare me. Now *what* did he say?"
"That I was your whore. He shouted about it and lots of people heard him."
"He was hitting me and trying to make me admit it, but I Ö I ran away." The last was in a barely audible, shamefaced whisper.
Ares reached for him and pulled him in to his chest, hugging him tightly. "That was all you could have done, Iolaus," he reassured. "You couldnít hit your own father."
"Thatís what Herc said."
"And he was right," the God of War said, hating to have to say the words. Fearing he might be in for another session of how wonderful the demigod was, Ares decided it was politic to get back to the important topic. "Anyway do you want my help or not?"
"Yes, please, Marcus, only Ö only Ö"
"Iím not very Ö not very good at this. Youíll probably think Iím stupid."
"Then that will just confirm my long-time opinion," Ares teased, enjoying the expression of outrage on his loverís face. "Come on, Iolaus, you know I donít mean it," he added hurriedly as he could see Iolaus was both a bit hurt and also desperately trying to concoct a suitably rude rejoinder that would probably lead to an argument that would distract them both from the task at hand. "Címon, you open your books and Iíll explain while you write."
So they began and afterwards Iolaus wondered how on earth Marcus had done it. His rich hypnotic voice had seemed to fill the room as he described the scenes so vividly that Iolaus literally saw the history unfolding before him. He was unaware that he was writing, so absorbed was he in the fascinating action before him.
When Ares finally announced, "Thatís it! All done!" Iolaus felt like he was awakening from a trance. His eyes snapped open and he stared down at his copious notes in amazement. How could he have written so much and how incredibly clear it all was in his mind. It was almost as though he had been present at all the events Marcus had described, had witnessed everything, had even been privy to the generalsí innermost thoughts, sharing their hopes and fears, triumphs and defeats.
"H-How d-did you do that?" he stammered.
Ares ignored the question, gesturing towards the window. "Itís almost dawn, brat. Youíd better get to bed if youíre going to get any sleep at all. I have to go. Iíll see you in a weekís time."
"Thank you, Marcus, but I still want to know how Ö" However, Marcus captured his lips in a kiss, thus preventing further questions. Iolaus always found it hard to think clearly when that talented mouth was busy with his.
Then suddenly the contact was broken and Ares was hurrying from the room. "Next week, Iolaus," he said and was gone.
Iolaus sat there staring after him, still bewildered by the nightís events. How could he, an indifferent penman at the best of times, have written so much and so quickly? How could Marcus know so much? He was such a mystery. He never told Iolaus any details about himself and Iolaus *did* want to know. It hurt a bit to feel that he was not to be trusted with any of Marcusí secrets, to feel shut out from such a big part of his life.
ĎIíve told him everything about me. Well, lots anyway,í he thought. Then it occurred to he had not mentioned the man who claimed to be Marcusí nephew. I wonít tell Marcus about him,í he decided. ĎThatíll be something he doesnít know.í
Having made that decision, he immediately felt a twinge of guilt. How could he be having such thoughts after what Marcus had just done for him? ĎI just wish I knew how he did that,í he mused.
However, the important thing was that the work was done and now he could go on holiday with Ö ĎGods, Herc will expect me to go with him,í he thought, Ďand I canít, not after all the help Marcus has given me. Trouble is Hercules saved me from that man who attacked me and heís been so kind to me since and I know he does want me with him so I hate to disappoint him.í
As he headed for the dormitory, his head whirled as he tried to think of a way around the new dilemma.
The war god was also thinking things over. Even as he was leaving, Ares had realized that he had forgotten to ask the little blond about the cause of his upset of a few days past. He knew it could not relate to Skourusí visit as Iolaus had said that had occurred before he last saw Iolaus. He almost turned back, but then thought, "No, heís clearly okay now. I can ask him next time I see him." However, he had a very uneasy feeling that he *needed* to know what had happened in case of future trouble.
Iolaus had finally lighted upon what he considered to be a very clever plan. He would hand the work in to Feducious at once so that the teacher would have time to mark it and to okay his departure, but he would pretend to work each night so Hercules and Jason would think he still had plenty to do. After the pair of them had departed for their holidays he could join Marcus and they would be none the wiser.
This did not prove as easy as he had anticipated. Both Hercules and Jason offered to help and seemed taken aback when he insisted virtuously that he wanted to do the work by himself.
Hercules watched his friend head into the library each night and felt very sorry for him. He was trying so hard and it didnít look like he would be finished in time. He did not know the little blond was sitting there for hours, bored stiff as he pretended to be studying hard.
Finally, the evening before they were due to depart the demigod decided to approach Feducious to try to appeal to his better nature.
"Feducious, I was wondering if I could ask you something," he said hesitatingly, aware that the teacher could be touchy.
The teacher nodded.
"Itís about Iolaus."
"Whatís he done now?" the man inquired testily.
"Nothing! I mean nothing bad. Iolaus has been working really hard and I know you said he couldnít go on holiday if he wasnít finished, but Ö"
"Heís free to go," Feducious said.
"Is he really? Thank you!" Hercules cried joyfully, rather surprised at the easy victory. "Iíll go and tell him."
"But he knows."
"What? But Iíve just been talking to him and he said there was no way he would be finished."
"He must be having you on. He handed all the work in a week ago. I must say it surprised me, but he did it."
Actually surprised wasnít really the word for it. Absolutely flabbergasted would have been more accurate and *very* suspicious. He had immediately decided that the work had to be of very poor quality given the speed with which Iolaus had worked. However, half an hourís reading had changed this opinion drastically. The boy had come up with information that even Feducious had been unaware of, but which was probably correct give the accuracy of the rest.
He decided that someone other than Iolaus must have done the work or, at least, dictated it, as it was clearly all in Iolausí untidy scrawl. Accordingly he had summoned the youth and had interrogated him in detail re the contents. To his amazement, Iolaus clearly understood and recalled it all.
His next stop was at Chironís office. He explained what had happened to the centaur, who guessed at once the source of the material, but could not break his promise to the God of War about keeping his identity secret. "The main thing is, I suppose, that he has learnt the material," he opined.
"Yes, he certainly knows it," Feducious conceded, albeit reluctantly.
"His father was here recently," the centaur said, suddenly thinking of a way to satisfy the teacher, without having to actually lie.
"Yes, General Skourus. Youíll have heard of him, I imagine."
"Of course, everyone has, but I didnít realize Iolaus was his son. I suppose he must have given him some help," he said, reaching the conclusion that Chiron had hoped. "What a depth of knowledge that man must have," he added admiringly. "Itís a pity the boy isnít like him."
Chiron did not respond. After the display of uncontrolled temper Skourus had put on during his visit, he had revised his opinion of the man quite radically and now understood why Iolaus had been less than enthusiastic about his father upon the day the youth had arrived at the Academy. Things had clearly not been easy for the boy and it was probably remarkable he was still motivated to try to become a warrior after the treatment the general had meted out.
Satisfied, Feducious had bustled off to tell Iolaus he would now be able to go on holiday.
So to have the demigod approach him nearly a week after permission had been given was most odd. He could not understand why the normally over-talkative blond had not told all the other cadets that he was permitted to go, let alone his supposed best friend.
His confusion was nothing compared to that Hercules felt and his bewilderment was overlaid with hurt and jealousy. Clearly Iolaus had not wanted to be with him and so had made up the story. ĎIíll bet heís going with that bloody Marcus,í Hercules correctly surmised, employing a most uncharacteristic, but deeply felt, adjective.
The demigod returned to the dormitory, grateful that Iolaus was in the library again, as he did not want to see him. He threw himself down on the bed, deep in thought. Then it occurred to him that perhaps Iolaus was indulging in one of his jokes and intended to announce at the last moment that he was able to go with them. Well, that might or might not be the case, but if it was Hercules was just angry enough at Iolausí duplicity to upset that plan.
Accordingly, as soon as Jason entered the dormitory, he said, "Iíd like to get an earlier start than we planned tomorrow, Jase. I thought we could get away at first light, rather than waiting until breakfast. We can get some food en route."
"Yeah, I suppose we could, but why the rush?"
"Iím just keen to get going. Iíve really been looking forward to the holiday."
"Yeah, well dawn is okay with me."
So, the new day saw the pair rising and dressing in the dark. Hercules could have sworn they made no sound, but one cadet heard them and awoke Ė Iolaus.
"What are you two up so early for?" he asked.
Hercules and Jason both started at the unexpected question. "Be quiet, Iolaus," Hercules hissed. "Youíll wake everybody. Go back to sleep."
"But why are you up now? You said you were going after breakfast."
"We changed our minds."
"You didnít tell me," Iolaus complained.
"And why should we? Youíre *not* involved in our plans."
Even Jason was taken aback by the venom in the demigodís voice. Hurt, Iolaus started, "But, Herc, I Ö"
"Just shut up, Iolaus. Címon, Jason," Hercules said, grabbing up his gear and storming out.
Shrugging his shoulders, the king followed him.
Iolaus stared after him. What on earth had he done now? Surely Hercules could not have found out about Marcus as he had not confided in anyone. He suddenly felt very cold and very, very alone. How could he have considered going off with anyone but Hercules even out of gratitude? No, he could not in conscience go with Marcus now. And yet, how could he tell Marcus he was staying at the Academy having agreed to join him? ĎGods, how do I always get myself into such difficulties?í he wondered unhappily.
Meanwhile, Jason had caught up with the rapidly striding demigod. "What was all that about?" he asked.
"Iolaus has been playing me for a fool," Hercules replied. "Heís not staying at the Academy. He hasnít got work to do. Heís heading off with his so-called friend Marcus."
"But he *did* have heaps of work to do," Jason said, "otherwise Feducious wouldnít have told him he was to stay. And he *did* tell him. We all heard it. I thought, at the time, it was a bit unfair to make the announcement in front of everybody."
"Yeah, I heard it, but somehow the devious little ratbag has done it and some days ago too."
"But how? And why didnít he tell us when he knew we were concerned for him?"
"Iíve no idea how, but it seems heís been lying to us. Iím so damn gullible, I made a fool of myself last night by going to see Feducious to ask him to change his mind and let Iolaus go with us. Feducious told me that Iolaus handed in the work a week ago."
"But how could he possibly have finished it?"
"Iíve no idea and I donít care. He can go to Tartarus as far as Iím concerned and he can take his bloody lover with him. Now, come on, letís pick up the pace."
ĎLover?í Jason said nothing, but his mind was racing. He had heard all the rumours about Iolaus, heard, believed and given them little more thought. Whether Iolaus was someoneís catamite or not was a matter of supreme indifference to him, although he doubted that Hercules would see it that way. He had anticipated that the moralistic demigod would either totally disbelieve the stories or, if he did not, would be horrified at his friendís proclivities. What he had never in his wildest dreams suspected was that Hercules would be wildly jealous and he had no doubt that that was the emotion dominating the demigod at the moment, whether Hercules realized it or not. ĎI guess that this holiday is not going to be a great one,í he mused as he anticipated sharing three weeks with a moody and unhappy demigod.
Fortunately, he had no idea just how bad the holiday was going to become. Herculesí upset would pale into insignificance by comparison.
Ares arrived at the Academy a few hours later to find a strangely subdued Iolaus. "Ready, brat?" he asked.
Iolaus ran a nervous tongue over dry lips. "Marcus, I wondered Ö I wondered if youíd mind if Ö." he started.
Ares was aware something was amiss, but ignored it and went on, "Iíve brought a couple of horses for us."
"Horses?" Iolaus perked up. He loved horses and was an excellent rider, but rarely got the opportunity to do exercise his skills.
"Yes, you know I detest walking. Come and see." He flung a proprietary arm around the little blondís shoulders and Iolaus found himself being gently, but firmly, propelled to the door.
Ares led the way to the stables and tethered outside were two powerful coal-black stallions. The slightly smaller of the pair had a white star-shape on his forehead, but apart from that the black was unrelieved. Their coats were shining in the sun and they stamped their hooves eager to be off.
Iolaus was enchanted. How he longed to ride one. "That oneís yours," Ares said gesturing at the starred horse.
"Really?" Iolaus could not believe it, but then his heart contracted as he realized he had to decline the wonderful gift.
Ares saw his face fall and, knowing his brat, immediately said, "That is *if* you think youíre man enough to ride him."
Iolaus was lost. He could never ignore a challenge like that. In an instant he was untying the horse, in the saddle and away. He let the horse have its head and it did not disappoint him. He had never been on a horse that could match the beast for speed and stamina. It took every obstacle like a bird and Iolausí heart sang as the miles zoomed by.
He was miles from the Academy when he heard a sharp whistle and the horse immediately slackened its pace and drew to a shuddering halt. He swung down to the ground.
Scant moments later, Ares appeared alongside him. Iolaus had not been aware of his presence at all and to his amazement, while his horse was breathing hard, the otherís mount looked as if it had just stepped out of its stall. He could not understand how fresh it was, especially considering the greater weight of rider it had been carrying.
"Well ridden, brat," Ares commended. "Iíve brought your bag and sword. You left them behind. I must say Iím really looking forward to this holiday."
Iolaus opened his mouth to say he had left the items, as he did not intend to go with Marcus, but could not. Marcus looked so happy and had been so generous, he did not see how he could disappoint him. ĎBesides,í he thought, ĎHercís already mad with me so I guess it will make no difference. Anyway, at least Marcus will be happy.í
So, having reached that decision, he managed to say, "So am I."
"Címon then, letís go!" Ares cried, urging his mount onwards, determined to allow his brat as little time for reflection as possible.
A couple of hours of hard riding found them at a snug cottage beside a small lake. "Here we are," Ares announced, swinging out of the saddle. He held out his arms to Iolaus and the blond slithered down into them.
To his surprise, Ares did not put him down, but clutching him possessively to his muscular chest, headed for the cottage. "Wh-What about the horses?" Iolaus protested as Ares kneed the door open.
"Theyíll be fine."
"But they should be unsaddled and rubbed down after a run like that." Although often irresponsible about other things, Iolaus could never bear to neglect an animal.
"I said, ĎTheyíll be fineí."
"No buts, brat, thereís only one thing Iím going to Ďrub downí." With that he dropped Iolaus onto a large bed and began to deftly undo the blondís codpiece.
Iolaus tried to push his hands away. "Marcus, I want to see to the horses first."
"And *I* donít," Ares snapped, capturing his wrists in one large hand and holding them none too gently.
Ares looked at the pleading face. *That* was a mistake. He could not bear that look. "Go on then," he snapped, furious with both himself and the boy. "I can see where I come on your priority list." As he spoke, he released Iolaus and stormed out to the kitchen.
He stood staring pointedly out of a side window and did not turn around as he sensed Iolaus cross the room and then heard the door open.
When Iolaus returned some minutes later, he was sitting at the table drinking. The blond stood in the doorway, clutching his sword and carry-bag that had been tied to his saddle, and regarding Ares with apprehension. Ares studiously ignored him.
"I-Iíve finished, Marcus."
Still no response.
"Iím sorry." A sob nearly obscured the words. After the pain of Herculesí departure, this was too much. Iolaus turned and stumbled outside, tears starting to blur his vision. He moved blindly off down the track by which they had approached the cottage. In truth, he had no plan of action. Now he had alienated the second of the two people he loved, he just wanted to leave.
He turned off the track into the bush and pushed unseeingly through it. Ignoring the scratches from the thick undergrowth, he scrambled on, until finally he caught his foot on a root and fell. He lay on the ground and cried brokenly.
Then he heard the familiar deep, velvet voice, "Iolaus."
He started at the sound. Even in his distress, he should have been able to hear the big manís approach, but there had been nothing. He bit down on his forearm to try to stifle his sobs, but did not look up.
A gentle hand stroked his curls. "Come on, brat, thereís no need for such a fuss."
He should have been relieved that his lover had sought him out, but in his distressed state the caressing tone just agitated him further. He didnít deserve Marcusí love and concern, and had not done so since that dreadful day when he had finally realized both the true nature of his love for the demigod and the hopelessness of ever having Herculesí return his passion.
He began to shake and Ares realized that there was no point in trying to reason with the boy in his condition of near hysteria. He placed his hands on Iolaus and the youth slid into unconsciousness.
When Iolaus finally awoke hours later it was dark. He was aware that strong arms were enfolding him in a loving embrace and he snuggled into Ares needing the comfort without exactly knowing why. He had a confusing feeling that something had happened, but could not quite recall what. Ares had successfully wiped all memory of their arrival at the cottage from his mind.
The war god was aware that such tampering could harm a mortal and so had skimmed swiftly in and out of his loverís mind, thus failing to acquire details of Herculesí precipitate departure or of Strifeís attack.
The following morning, Ares took him with all the skills at his command until the blond was screaming in ecstasy and begging him to thrust harder, deeper, not to stop, *never* to stop.
Afterwards Ares took Iolaus into his arms and gently pulled the boy on top of him. He held the blond tightly to his chest, nuzzling his face into the fluffy curls and reflecting, not for the first time, how the youth had changed him. Until he had met his brat, sex had just been sex, an enjoyable act forgotten almost as soon as he withdrew and certainly never followed by the cuddles and caresses the boy seemed to crave. If he was honest, he had to admit that he had come to enjoy these too, but he sensed they were of equal importance to the act itself in the eyes of the love-starved little blond.
Lost in his thoughts, he started as sharp teeth found a nipple and nipped him. In atonement, a teasing tongue immediately began to minister to the small hurt.
Ares stroked his hands down the youthís back and cupped his firm buttocks, squeezing gently. Iolaus wriggled in response. Ares moved one hand between the boyís legs and stroked and tickled his soft inner thighs, while moving his other arm up and across Iolausí lower back to pin him in place.
Iolaus began to twist and gasp, "No, Marcus, please. <giggle> No! <giggle> Donít! That tickles! <giggle> Donít!"
"Shall I do this then?" Ares asked, removing the offending hand and moving it up to Iolausí ribs.
"Ah, no!" Iolaus began to struggle frantically to avoid the tormenting fingers, shrieking and laughing helplessly. "Itís not fair!" he managed to protest. And it wasnít. Iolaus had no chance against those iron muscles and, since what was offered was in fun, could not legitimately hit out in what would anyway have been a futile attempt to free himself.
However, fairness had never been a concept adhered to by the war god at any time and certainly not when he was so enjoying himself. He suddenly rolled over, pinning his lithe victim beneath him. He really wanted both hands free.
Grinning at the thought, he grabbed the edge of a sheet and began to cocoon Iolausí arms and upper body in it. Realizing what his tormenter planned, Iolaus fought even harder, but to no avail. In moments, his arms were tightly bound to his chest rendering him helpless against Ares onslaught.
Ares then settled in for a long session of tickling, licking, nipping and stroking, ranging all over Iolaus from his feet to his ribs, but carefully avoiding the by now painfully erect penis. When he finally gave a hand to that desperate member, Iolaus came hard at the first stroke and promptly fainted, scaring the god no end.
Ares staggered to his feet and looked down at the boy, placing a shaking hand on his heart.
To the war godís relief, slightly hazy blue eyes opened a few seconds later and their owner managed a rather wobbly grin and a shaky "Wow".
Ares realized he had been holding his breath. "You scared me there for a minute, brat," he confessed, though admitting to any weakness was quite alien to his character.
"Did I? I wish Iíd seen it," Iolaus grinned. "I didnít think anything could scare you. I must keep that in mind for future Ö"
"No way, Iolaus," Ares interrupted. "If thatís what happens to you when we have sex perhaps we had better not Ö" He trailed off, smiling inwardly as he watched Iolausí jaw drop. "Itís okay, brat, donít you know when Iím teasing you?"
He reached out and ruffled the tangled mop of curls affectionately. Reassured, Iolaus scrambled to his knees and flung his arms around the godís waist hugging him tightly.
Ares leant forward, gently broke the blondís hold, and gathered him into his arms. Iolaus wrapped his arms around the godís neck and snuggled against him almost purring in pleasure. Then he realized Ares was moving.
"Where are you taking me?" Iolaus demanded.
"The lake. You need a good wash, brat, youíre as sticky as hell."
"And whose fault is that?" Iolaus asked, adding, "Itís too chilly for a bath though, so put me down, Marcus, Iíll just get a bowl of water."
"Course itís not too cold," Ares replied cheerfully. "Donít be a wimp, brat."
With his burden fighting him all the way, Ares strode purposefully to the lake. When they reached the bank, Iolaus suddenly stopped trying to pull free and clung like a limpet, one hand firmly entangled in Aresí hair. "Ow! Let go, brat!" Ares protested, trying to dislodge him.
Iolausí response was to grab more hair with the other hand, pulling it over the godís face.
Ares knew the best solution. He dropped his hands to Iolausí tender ribs intending to tickle again and Iolaus, who had been waiting just for the moment Aresí grip was relaxed, immediately let go of the sable locks and fell.
He hit the ground and flung himself straight into the godís thighs, toppling him backwards into the cold water.
Ares surfaced spluttering and swearing to see his brat literally rolling on the ground in hysterics. He flung himself out of the lake and dived for a slender ankle, but the boy twisted away and leapt to his feet.
"You really needed that," he shouted cheekily. "Somehow youíd got all sticky." With that he darted into the bush, heedless of branches scratching his naked body.
Surprisingly enough, he heard no sounds of pursuit. ĎPerhaps Marcus has decided to dress first,í he thought.
He sat down on a fallen log, shivering slightly. The sun was still low in the sky and it was chilly as the bush was still dew-damp. His stomach growled. It never appreciated having to wait for a meal and clearly considered itself overdue for breakfast.
ĎMaybe I can circle back and get to the cottage without Marcus seeing me,í Iolaus thought.
With him, to think was to act and so he immediately moved stealthily off, unaware that all his bushcraft availed him nothing when a god was involved.
Ares had used his powers to dry himself and dress and now was standing, invisible to mortal eyes, watching the little blond. It was all he could do to keep his hands off the beautiful youth, but he managed it as he felt his revenge would be best served if he allowed his victim to think he had successfully reached his goal.
Hence, he did not materialise until Iolaus was actually stretching up to open a cupboard in search of food.
Iolaus gave a cry of surprise as strong arms encircled him and dragged him back against an unyielding leather-clad body. It was not the first time ĎMarcusí had managed to sneak up on him, but he still could not credit how quietly the big man could move. "I donít suppose I can have breakfast first, can I?" he asked resignedly.
"No, sorry, brat," Ares responded.
"Yeah, you sound really upset about it," Iolaus said sarcastically, fully aware that his friend was going to relish his dunking and that this time there was unlikely to be any chance of escape.
And there wasnít.
The morningís fun seemed to have set the tone for a few happy days, however, and the pair settled down hoping to enjoy the holiday.
Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly for long. Try as he might, Iolaus could not keep thoughts of Hercules out of his mind. How he loved and missed the demigod and what would he not have given for that love to be returned, but it never would be and it seemed he had also lost Herculesí friendship. ĎI should forget him,í he thought sadly. ĎI should just be content that I have Marcus and should concentrate on trying to make him happy because heís been so good to me.í
However, it was not easy, and with his thoughts constantly returning to the demigod, it was not surprising that a couple of nights later Iolaus had a nightmare about Strife. Of course, he did not know it was Strife. To Iolaus the latter was just that frightening figure that claimed to be Marcusí nephew. In the dream, the man did not heed Iolausí frantic pleas not to touch Hercules and began to strip the bound and unconscious demigod. "NO! DONíT TOUCH HIM! HERCULES! HERCULES! WAKE UP!" Iolaus shouted, rudely awakening the war god from a much more peaceful slumber.
Ares seized the blondís shoulders and shook him roughly. Iolausí eyes flew open. Confused and still caught in the grip of his nightmare, he did not recognize Ares, seeing only the shadowy form of the large man. "Please," he begged, "Donít touch him. Iíll do what you want. Iíll do *anything*. Just please donít touch Hercules."
ĎHercules? That bloody half-breed again,í Ares thought. He had hoped that the friendship was ending, especially since hearing the moralist demigodís contemptuous words to Iolaus after Hercules had observed ĎMarcusí and Iolaus having sex. "Wake up, Iolaus," he snapped, "youíre dreaming." He shook the boy again, none too gently.
"M-Marcus?" the youth ventured, his voice shaking.
"Who the hell else did you expect?" Ares demanded. ĎWho else?í Belatedly he wondered just who else had been in that dream. He was aware that Iolaus had been hiding something from him, but didnít know what. For a moment he was tempted to go into the youthís mind again, but resisted, knowing the dangers of that. Hopefully the boy would tell him himself.
However, the blond had resolved not to tell him, because ĎMarcusí kept so much of his life hidden from him, and so even now Iolaus was not willing to say anything. "Nobody," he lied. "It was just a bad dream."
"You were dreaming about Hercules," Ares persisted.
"So? I canít help that," Iolaus responded with no little belligerence.
"You keep thinking about him, donít you?" Ares questioned, recalling the several occasions on the previous couple of days when the boy had been lost in what appeared to be disturbing thoughts.
"Not all the time."
"But you have been."
"Yeah, I-Iíve just been wondering Ö been wondering what heís doing. I know itís silly, but I like to know where he is and that heís okay. I sípose itís j-just weíve been friends for so long that I Ö"
"When are you going to realize heís got other friends now?" Ares asked nastily. "That Jason is a looker and heís got a bloody nice body on him."
"Donít, Marcus! Donít say things like that! Hercís not like that!" Iolaus protested, thinking how embarrassed and angry Hercules would be at the suggestion.
"Not like us, you mean?" Ares continued ruthlessly.
"No." It was a whisper, more like a sob than a word.
"No, but youíd be on your back with your legs spread wide in an instant if he showed the slightest interest, wouldnít you? Well, wouldnít you?"
"You said that not me," Iolaus prevaricated.
"Yes, but itís true, isnít it."
"Marcus, itís *not* going to happen. Please canít you stop this? Canít we just enjoy what we have?" Iolaus appealed.
Ares nodded. "We can try," he said cryptically. He flung out an arm and hugged the little blond against him. "Itís late. Letís try to get some sleep, brat."
Iolaus snuggled against the muscular form, hoping against hope that ĎMarcusí was going to let the incident go.
However, Ares had come to the end of his patience. The holiday would have been idyllic had Iolaus not been preoccupied with thoughts of that bloody demigod. It was time to get rid of that bastard once and for all. It seemed that the only way to stop Iolaus longing for his rival was to dispose of the latter permanently.
So, the next day, while Iolaus was busy catching some of the largest freshwater fish he had ever seen, thanks to the war godís judicious stocking of the lake, Ares secretly disappeared for a short time to put his plans in motion.
Iolaus never even noticed he was gone.
That evening, Ares announced that he had some business to transact and so they would have to leave the cottage.
Normally, Iolaus would have been reluctant to leave when the fish were biting so well, but curiosity overcame this. Ever since he had met Marcus, the latter had been cagey, not to say downright secretive, about his occupation and now here was an opportunity to find out more about his mysterious lover, so he made no complaint.
To his surprise, a few hours riding found the pair at a small village a few miles from Corinth, which seemed a rather remote place for Marcus to be transacting business of any kind. However, the latter informed him that he had arranged to meet someone there and they settled down in the inn to wait.
They had been there a couple of hours when a man burst through the door. Wild-eyed and covered with blood, he gulped down a mug of ale while gasping, "King Jasonís castle is under siege by a warlord. The situation is desperate. Heís sent a group of us out to the surrounding villages to call for reinforcements."
The king was obviously popular as evidenced by the way men grabbed for weapons and headed for the door.
Iolaus went to follow them, but iron fingers closed on his arm. "Where do you think youíre going?" Ares demanded.
"No way, Iolaus," Ares corrected firmly. "Youíre not getting involved in that."
"But Herc and Jason are in danger," Iolaus protested. "I *have* to go." He tried to pull free, but Ares was too strong and drew him in against him, holding him pinned against his chest.
"And I say youíre *not*. You are staying right here with me."
"No, Iím not! Donít you understand, Marcus, I *have* to help them."
"Help Hercules you mean."
"Yes! What does it matter? Please, Marcus, I have to go."
"No, brat, youíre not going anywhere. I donít Ö I donít want you getting involved."
"I *am* involved. I have to help Hercules. Let go! Damn you!" He was struggling hard now, pushing against Aresí chest and kicking his shins.
Ares had had enough. All the jealousy he felt for his brother bubbled to the surface as he inwardly cursed the messenger. The brat was not supposed to have heard about the attack until it was all over. Then the god would have kindly escorted his sorrowing lover to the castle ruins to allow him to bury the bodies and to close the door on that part of his life. Now, seething with fury at the disruption to his plans, he was no longer thinking rationally. In one quick movement he swung the blond over his shoulder and headed up to their room.
He flung Iolaus down on the bed and snarled, "Iíve had enough of what you want, this is what I want." As he spoke, he began to strip Iolaus, ripping Herculesí shirt from the slender body and tossing it into a corner.
The youth cursed and hit out at him, but the dark god blocked the blow and backhanded him across the face, splitting his lip.
He dragged one of Iolausí belts off him and used it to secure Iolausí wrists to the bed head and then pulled off his boots and leathers. He then stood back to admire his handiwork.
Iolaus was twisting and pulling, desperately trying to free his wrists.
"Stop that!" Ares commanded.
Iolaus ignored him.
"I said ĎStop thatí," Ares repeated, "or Iíll give you a thrashing before I ...."
"Before you rape me?" Iolaus asked defiantly.
Rape? The ugly word hung in the air between them and sobered the god.
"It wonít be rape. You know you like it."
"Not now! If you donít let me go to Herc, that will be the only way you ever have me again," Iolaus warned.
"Iolaus, be reasonable. What could you do to help him? Youíre just one man. Youíd be cut down like those stupid peasants will without getting near him. Even if you did get inside the castle, youíd be just chucking your life away."
"You donít understand! I couldnít live with myself if I didnít try to help Herc."
"But itís suicidal, Iolaus, Jasonís garrison doesnít have a prayer against Luciusí men."
"I donít care if I die with Herc. Weíre not stupid. We didnít think it would be so soon, but we always knew Ďback-to-backí heroes might die together. If anything happens to Herc, I want to be with him no matter wh-" He broke off and stared at Ares as the dinar dropped. "What did you just say?"
"I said it was suicidal."
"Not that! You named someone."
"Yeah, Lucius, but what does Ö."
"You know!" Iolaus accused. "That soldier didnít name the attacker, but *you* know who it is."
"And what if I do?"
"You already knew about the attack, didnít you? And you werenít going to tell me."
"No," Ares admitted, "not until it was all over."
"Iolaus, I was just thinking of you. I didnít want you hurt."
"You werenít bloody thinking of me at all. You want me, but you donít care about what *I* want. Youíve never liked Herc just because Ö because Ö" He broke off. He was so used to trying to hide his feelings to avoid hurting his lover that it was still hard to say.
"Because?" Ares prompted
"Because I love him."
"And you donít love me?"
"I do Ö I did," he corrected, "but now youíve done this I canít Ö not now."
"Liar! Youíve never loved me," Ares accused. "Youíve played me for a fool. Youíve been fucking that so-called friend and I Ö"
"I have *never* had sex with Hercules," Iolaus retorted. "*Never*"
Ares could hear the sincerity in his voice. "But you *wanted* to."
"Yes," Iolaus admitted, "but Ö but he thinks Ö he doesnít like Ö"
Perhaps all was not lost after all. "But *you* like it, donít you?"
"Yes Ö Marcus, *please* let me go to help him. I promise Iíll come back to you if you do."
"No, brat, you would be in no position to keep that promise, but Iíll let you make another."
"You promise that from now on you will give up all thoughts of Hercules as your lover and do exactly what I tell you when I tell you and Iíll stop the attack and save him."
"But how can you?"
"I donít understand how you can Ö"
"Promise! Timeís running out."
"All right. If you save Hercules, I promise Iíll do whatever you want, Marcus."
Marcus grinned triumphantly and suddenly the room filled with blinding light and he was gone.
He reappeared at the side of Lucius, a grizzled giant of a man in his late fifties. "My Lord Ares," Lucius greeted cheerfully, "youíre just in time to watch the final assault."
"Thereís not going to be one," Ares said. "You are to order your men to withdraw now and are not to return to this city."
"What?" Lucius clearly thought he had misunderstood.
"You heard me! Withdraw your men," Ares rapped testily.
"But why? The city will fall on the next attack and that Hercules you told me of will be dogsí meat."
"Are you questioning my orders?"
"No Ö well, yes. How can I pull out now? What about my reputation?"
"Your reputation?" The god spat contemptuously on the ground. "Thatís all your reputation would be worth without my favour all these years. Do as I tell you."
Lucius stood his ground, trying not to show his very real fear of his master and yet wondering if he was being tested in some bizarre way. The gods were always capricious. "What about my men? How will they react if they miss out on the plunder Iíve promised?"
"Who cares! Thatís your problem and, if you know whatís good for you, youíd better deal with it."
"My Lord, Iíve always served you well and Ö"
"And now is not the time to stop," the dark god retorted glowering menacingly.
Then a rough voice yelled, "Whatís the bleeding hold up, Lucius, weíre getting tired of waiting."
Ares raised a hand. Lightning bolts flew and the foolhardy soldier disintegrated with a piercing scream. The god smiled inwardly. There was an object lesson for Lucius. The man *had* always been a useful servant and would have been a pity to have to dispense with his services. He listened to Lucius hurriedly shouting out his orders for the withdrawal. He was not meeting with any protest either. Too many had witnessed the God of Warís action or were currently hearing of it from awed friends.
"Whatís happening, Jase?" Hercules asked. He was sitting, wincing as a healer endeavoured to extract an arrow from his left shoulder.
"I donít know exactly," the King replied. "They appeared to be massing for an attack, but now they seem to be rushing around in all directions." A trickle of blood from a deep cut ran down his forehead into his right eye. He rubbed at it impatiently. "Damn, I wish this would stop bleeding."
"Youíd better see to him first," Hercules said to the harassed healer.
"If your Majesty pleases Ö" the man started.
"No, thereís no time and itís only a scratch. See to Hercules first," the king ordered. He grinned and added, "Heís not being noble. Heís just trying to put his little operation off as long as possible."
"I wasnít the one complaining about my injury," the demigod retorted grinning back. "You wait until he starts to stitch that cut and see how you like it then."
"It wonít worry Ö" Jason started and then broke off and started to clamber up onto the battlements for a better view.
"Get down, Jase," Herculesí warned, tugging at an ankle. "Youíll get an arrow in you next."
"No, I wonít. Herc, theyíre leaving!"
"What? Why?" The demigod pushed the healer away and lurched to his feet. He peered over the battlements. "Youíre right, Jase, but why on earth are they pulling out? They had us cold. I doubt we could have with stood another assault after the casualties weíve had."
"I know, but perhaps they misjudged our strength."
"Could be a trick."
"Perhaps. Weíd better sit tight and see. Anyway, if they give us a few hours, those reinforcements I sent for from King Triodus will be here and weíll be okay then." He turned to the healer. "Youíd better get on with your job, Milyas."
"And youíll be next," Hercules promised as he reluctantly sat back down and surrendered himself to the healerís none too tender ministrations.
He glanced down and saw the flaxen head of one of the castle boys. ĎI wonder where Iolaus is?í he thought.
It was not the first time the little blond had sprung into his mind during the desperate fighting. He knew it must be wrong to wish his friend in danger, but it had not seemed right not having Iolaus at his back. How he missed the cheeky comments and cheerful presence of his long-time friend. When it had seemed all too likely that the castle would be overrun all he could think of was heartless way he had parted from Iolaus. Sure he had been mad with the blond, but maybe Iolaus had had a good reason for his behaviour and the demigod had never given him a chance to explain. All he could think of was the hurt in those expressive eyes when he had brusquely ordered their owner to shut up and had stormed out that morning.
No, it wasnít *all*. He still thought of that gorgeous face and the beautiful lithe body he so longed to touch. How could he have condemned Iolaus for anything when he was guilty of such thoughts? How could he ever have treated so badly the one he loved so desperately?
Meanwhile, a stunned Iolaus lay blinking and confused. In his distress he was obviously hallucinating. Marcus *couldnít* have just disappeared. He couldnít have done.
Yet a few minutes later, Marcus reappeared as dramatically as he had departed Bewildered or not, Iolaus knew which question he had to ask first. "Marcus, is Herc Ö." he started.
"Give me my proper name," Ares demanded, bristling at the priorities the half-voiced question implied.
"Wh-What d-do you mean?"
"You still have no idea, do you?"
"You once told me you had no time for any of the gods. Cheek like that could have had nasty consequences since we were right outside one of my temples at the time."
He watched the little blond thinking that one over, his expressive face changing rapidly from confusion, to enlightenment, to apprehension. "Ares?" he ventured.
It explained so much. The seemingly miraculous ability to heal, the incredible knowledge of all that seemed to go on, the mysterious life that Iolaus had not been permitted to share, the ease with which he had got Iolaus into the Academy. The list went on and on. ĎHow could I have been so blind,í Iolaus wondered and yet he still could not understand why the god had chosen to get involved with him in the first place. The powerful God of War could have virtually anyone he chose, god or mortal, so why had he selected a scruffy, little thief?
However, out of these tumbled thoughts one still emerged. He *had* to know that Hercules was okay. "Please, is Hercules all right?"
Ares glared at him. "You promised yourself to me."
"Yes, but Ö but I j-just need Ö Please, I need to Ö to know."
"My bastard brother and his royal friend are fine. Lucius has withdrawn his forces. There will be no more trouble. Now, that topic is closed. Understand? You are not to speak his name again *ever*."
"Right, now where were we? Thatís right, you were about to beg me to fuck you hard."
Iolaus paled, but obediently opened his legs. "Please, Marcus Ö Ares," he corrected, "please fuck me Ö hard."
The war god was only too pleased to comply, but was not so happy when he finally withdrew. Iolaus had obeyed him, not that he had much choice with his wrists still tightly secured to the headboard, but that was all. Ares had found little pleasure in the blondís reaction. Screams of pure pain apparently did not seem to have the same effect on him these days. Sure Iolaus was always loud during sex, but usually his cries also reflected his intense enjoyment of the act, but today there was none of that. ĎOkay,í Ares reflected, Ďhe was tense and upset and I didnít exactly go out of my way to make things comfortable for him, but he deserved some punishment. Heíll get over it. Why should I let him make me feel guilty?í
He waved a hand and the ropes dropped from skinned wrists. Ares felt another twinge of guilt when he saw the blood. However, he said coldly, "This wouldnít have happened if you hadnít struggled and it wonít happen again, will it?"
Iolaus shook his head.
"Right, give me your wrists."
The blond held them out and Ares grasped them. The pain vanished and they were healed. Iolaus thought ruefully back to all those earlier occasions when ĎMarcusí had apparently shown an almost miraculous healing power. Why had he never suspected the truth?
"C-Can I get dressed now?" he asked.
Ares inclined his head.
Iolaus reached for his leathers and pulled them on awkwardly. It seemed Ares wasnít going to remove all his pain and he was not going to ask. He dragged on his boots and looked around for his shirt. Spotting it, he was reaching for it when Ares snatched it up.
"I donít want to see you in this old rag any more, Iolaus."
Iolaus opened his mouth to protest.
Ares waited for it. He knew exactly why Iolaus wanted that shirt. It belonged, or at least had belonged since its owner was hardly likely to want it back in its torn and dirty condition, to his bastard half-brother.
Iolaus bit back his protest and hung his head. He seemed to hunch in on himself.
To the war godís surprise, he found himself tossing the offending garment to the youth. "Just get it out of my sight. If I see it again itís gone."
Iolaus hugged the shirt briefly against him and then quickly seized his carry-bag and shoved it inside. He then turned back to the God of War awaiting further instructions.
In truth, Ares had not really given any thought to his next move. The upset to his plans for the demigod made things very awkward. There was now no way that he could just deposit Iolaus back at the Academy safely out of harmís way when he was too busy to devote time to him.
He thought quickly. It was clear that he was going to have to find some place to keep the blond when he could not have him at his side. Still, an immediate decision was not necessary and he reasoned that the resilient little blond would probably snap out of his upset soon enough given the right circumstances. He had been reasonably happy at the cottage so why not head back there for a few days?
"Right, weíre going back to the cottage," he announced, adding, "At least now you know we donít have to bother with those bloody horses."
He gestured and they disappeared to materialise beside the cottage.
He looked down at the boy and saw he looked more upset than before. "Now whatís the matter?" he snapped.
"What about them?"
"We just abandoned them. What will happen to them?"
"I do." He raised tear-bright eyes to meet scowling black. "I-Iím s-sorry, but I do. I c-canít help Ö"
"All right," Ares exclaimed in exasperation. "Iíll send them to one of my temples to be looked after."
"They wonít Ö They wonít Ö"
"Wonít what? Spit it out, brat!"
"Not unless they want to be next on the altar. Now shut up and stop worrying about them."
The next few days passed slowly and uneventfully. Iolaus kept scrupulously to his word, quickly and quietly obeying every command, no matter how arbitrary. Subdued and tearful, he had no spark to him, none of that cheek and spirit that had won the godís heart. He answered when addressed, but initiated no conversation. He complied with every sexual demand the war god made of him, but clearly endured rather than enjoyed what was done to him. Piqued, Ares employed all his skills in arousing the boyís treacherous body until he was desperate for release, but the brat clamped his lips shut and refused to ask, so an angry god frequently left him unsatisfied. Further, on a couple of occasions when he lay in the dark after his own ejaculation and felt the bed gently rocking as the quietly weeping boy sought his own release, the god had even brusquely ordered the youth to desist or his wrists would be tied.
Finally, it was time for Ares to return to his duties. If he delayed much longer, curious eyes would seek him out and discover his secret. But what could he do with the boy?
He was displeased with Iolausí behaviour, but was still confident that the boy would eventually give in and his old sunny nature would reassert itself. However, given the youthís state of upset he did not feel that he could leave him to his own devices in the meantime, so he reluctantly decided to take him to his palace on Mount Olympus.
He did not confide his intention to the youth, but simply took him there.
Iolaus peered around him with some interest. He had thought ĎMarcusíí Athens residence to be opulent enough, but it was nothing compared to this. "Where are we?" he asked.
Pleased that the blond had at last initiated a conversation, Ares smiled, "At my home on Olympus, Iolaus. I hope youíll like it here."
He then showed the boy through the palace pointing out the various treasures he had appropriated over the centuries. Iolaus could not help but ask questions, especially about some of the more unusual weapons. Indeed, by the end of the tour, the war god was feeling confident that his brat was getting back to normal.
He spent the next two days with the youth, going out of his way to be kind and loving. Iolaus was still preternaturally quiet, but at least was no longer tearful and seemed to be gradually accepting his new life.
He made no protest even when Ares said he wanted him to dress in a more pleasing manner and handed him a skimpy black leather g-string, simply stripping off his boots and trousers and donning the item without a word. The result so aroused the war god he had it off him again within minutes.
In truth, Iolaus *was* trying hard to accept his new life. ĎHe does love me,í he reasoned, Ďeven though itís sometimes difficult to believe and he *did* save Herc and I can never repay him for that.í
However, just when Iolaus was finally settling to his new situation, Ares announced that he had business to attend to and that Iolaus was not able to accompany him. "Youíre to stay here for your own protection, Iolaus," he explained. "Hera must not learn of your existence lest she try to harm you. My servants will look after you, but they have been instructed you are not to set a foot out of your room so donít ask that of them as they will suffer for any disobedience."
"But why canít I at least move around the palace?"
"Because I want you to remain in your room," the god replied, impatient at the questioning. In truth, he could not risk Iolaus roaming free even within the palace. There were too many potential exits and, in any case, his niece, Discord, and nephew, Strife, were in the habit of wandering in and out of the uncleís home more or less at will. He did not want either to chance upon the little blond and to forbid them their usual access would be to invite suspicion. Accordingly, he had deliberately selected a rather isolated room for Iolaus and had usually kept him in that rarely used wing of his home.
That night he made love to Iolaus with all the erotic tenderness of which he was capable. Lost in a sensual haze, Iolaus was ready to promise anything and so when Ares murmured, "The first sight I want to see when I get home is you lying here ready for me" he gave his word without hesitation or misgivings.
So Iolaus resigned himself to a wait, only hoping it would be of short duration, but it was not.
Two weeks crawled past. Then a third had followed and a fourth was almost over. The little blond felt as if he had been abandoned, that now Ares had him where he wanted him, he could do exactly what he wanted with him, including neglect him.
Iolausí room was cold, dark and sombre: black hangings on the walls and four-poster bed, black carpets, dark brown wood-panelling and furniture. There were no windows and the only light came from a couple of candles that never seemed to diminish all though they burnt continuously. Iolaus wilted like a flower deprived of sunlight. He yearned for the outdoors, for fresh air and warm sunshine, cool breezes and rushing streams. Stuck in the dreary, airless room day after day with nothing to do and nobody to talk to he was going stir-crazy.
Without Ares magnetic presence, his thoughts wandered continually to the one who really held his heart. He lolled listlessly on his bed between bouts of debilitating tears, that welled up every time he thought about the demigod. ĎAt least heís safe,í he kept repeating to himself, but he just wished he knew for sure. If only he could see Hercules and know for certain. He cuddled Herculesí old shirt against him, a talisman that was his only link with the demigod.
The only contact with anyone Iolaus had was with the servant who delivered his food and the man was either mute or instructed not to speak to him. He poked the food through a small panel in the locked door three times a day and ignored all the blondís attempts to start a conversation.
How he longed for someone to talk to and how he was about to rue that wish.
One afternoon, he was lying dozing on his bed when he heard the key rattle in the door. He staggered to his feet expecting to see the war god.
To his surprise and embarrassment, a young black-haired woman stood coolly regarding him. Iolaus snatched a blanket off the bed and hurriedly wrapped it around himself.
"Who are you?" the woman demanded.
"What are you doing here?"
"I might ask you that." He did not like the way she was looking at him or the interrogation.
She sniggered nastily. "But you wonít," she commented. She turned back to the door, leant out and shouted, "Hey, Strife, come here. I think Iíve found something that will interest you."
"What is it?" a male voice called.
Iolausí blood ran cold. There was no mistaking the cruel voice that had echoed through his nightmares.
"An explanation for Aresí secretive behaviour lately," The woman replied.
"Letís see." Strife hastened into the room and pulled up suddenly at the sight of the little blond. "Well, well, well, Unkís brought his little toy home with him and now heís gone off without it. I guess he wonít mind if we play with it while heís away. After all, he did say I could use it." As before, the lie tripped easily off his tongue.
Iolaus stared at Strife in horror. Another god! No wonder the man had been so strong. He backed up, but there was nowhere to go.
"I suppose I ought to introduce us," Strife said. ĎI was a bit too preoccupied when we last met for social niceties. Iím Strife and this is Discord. Right letís have a proper look at you."
Iolaus clung to his blanket, but the goddess moved forward and easily wrenched it from his grasp, leaving him naked, but for the g-string.
"Very nice," she purred, running a long nail down his chest to his navel, pressing just hard enough to leave a red line.
"Yeah, old Unk hasnít got bad taste, has he?"
"Not too bad at all." She smiled evilly. "You know I have a feeling thereís more to this little situation that we should know about. We might as well have a bit of fun now and Then Iíll just go and do a little check on things."
Iolaus fought, but against two gods the result was inevitable. In no time he was tied spread-eagled and naked and Strife was pounding into him, while Discord shouted her encouragement.
The rest of the week took on the quality of nightmare as the pair spent hours tormenting their victim. Torn and bleeding internally after Strifeís repeated and vicious assaults, Iolaus lay helplessly on the bed, unable to stand. He could not keep any food down and was lightheaded and very weak.
He jumped in fright when, without warning, the door opened wide, expecting it to be Strife and Discord once more. However, the war god strode in. "Iolaus?"
Shivering, Iolaus shrunk back into the pillows and said nothing. He was at the end of his endurance and not inclined to trust anybody. Further, he had come to believe Strifeís oft-repeated lie about acting with his uncleís permission. After all, surely even another god would hesitate to cross the God of War.
"What kind of a welcome do you call this, brat?" the god demanded belligerently, glaring through the bed-hangings at the small huddled shape. He had intended to be home long before this, but had encountered a number of problems, not least being his motherís sudden desire to spend time with him. ĎThe old hag is suspicious,í he thought. ĎShe wants to know whatís going on.í He had been forced to spend time putting her off the scent. As a result, he was not in a very good mood and Iolausí reaction, after his promise on that final night, was the last straw.
Iolaus shrank further into the pillows. In the dim light, the god did not see the marks of Discordís and Strifeís attentions upon him.
"I seem to recall we made a bargain," the god continued. "You agreed to do whatever I want and I want you on your stomach and spread wide *now*."
Despairing, Iolaus complied, rolling awkwardly over and opening his legs, a pale sacrifice on the black silk sheets.
The god did not bother to undress. He simply opened his codpiece. Then he perfunctorily inserted a couple of rough fingers into Iolaus in a travesty of preparation, before slamming into him. Iolaus screamed in pain as his abused body met with yet another merciless assault and tried to pull away, but a large hand on each hip held him immobile until the god had finished.
He withdrew suddenly and looked down in disgust at his sobbing victim. "Stop that bloody noise, brat, or Iíll give you something to cry for," he ordered. As he spoke he unbuckled his belt threateningly.
Iolaus buried his face into the pillows to try to stifle what he could not stop and waited for the blow.
ĎDamn! Damn! Damn! Itís not meant to be like this,í Ares thought. There was no pleasure in what he had done.
He had fallen in love with a incredibly beautiful, extremely troublesome, little mortal, a brat with the cheekiest grin and the most unruly tongue in the world, that could and would say anything, no matter how ill-advised, that popped into his head. A youth who had no respect for any authority and who had flirted with and teased him in a way none other had ever dared and who overflowed with energy and joie de vie.
And what had he made of that one who filled his days with love and laughter, not to say exasperation at both the boyís misdeeds and his own enthrallment? He had transformed him into a thin, little wraith that barely spoke, did whatever he ordered when he ordered, apart from stopping those apparently interminable tears, and showed no joy or spontaneity at all.
"Stop crying, Iolaus," he appealed. He placed a gentle hand on the shaking shoulders. "Iím not going to hurt you."
Iolaus raised his head. "Y-You already did," he managed.
"Iím sorry, brat. If youíd only Ö Look get up and come out into the dining room. We can talk there. Itís like a bloody black cave in here."
"I-I d-donít think I c-can."
"What do you mean?"
"What hurts? Come off it, brat, I didnít hurt you that much."
"No, b-but he d-did and *you* let him."
"Let who? What are you on about?"
"Y-Your nephew, Str-Strife."
"What? Strifeís been here?"
"He s-said you g-gave him permission to Ö to Ö"
"Thatís a lie! I did no such thing! He wasnít even supposed to know anything about you," Ares snapped.
"I-IĎm s-sorry," Iolaus muttered, cringing back into the pillows before the godís wrath.
Belatedly realizing that he was upsetting the little blond even more, Ares endeavoured to control his fury. "Iím not mad with you, Iolaus. Let me get some light in here." He waved a hand and the room was brightly illuminated, though from no visible source.
The god looked down at his lover and swore at the sight. Iolaus was covered from head to foot with cuts and bruises. His nipples were red raw and there were bite marks around his neck as well. Both his eyes were blackened and one was swollen shut. Deep fiery lines from talon-like fingernails scored the tender skin of his cheeks. The dried blood on his inner thighs told its own story of even worse abuse. "Iolaus, why didnít you tell me? Iíd never have touched you if Ö"
"I th-thought you knew."
"Surely you know Iíd never have let him Ö"
"He s-said youíd okayed it, j-just like he said that other t-time."
"When he c-came to the Academy."
"WHAT??? When was that? You never said anything."
"I-I thought I wouldnít ... I d-decided not to tell you."
"Well, *tell* me now. No, wait a minute, let me get you cleaned up first." He reached an uncharacteristically shaky hand for Iolaus, who automatically pulled away. "Itís all right, Iolaus. Please let me help."
Receiving no response, he laid gentle hands on the little blond and healed his injuries.
"Now please tell me?"
Tears still falling in spite of his best efforts to check them, Iolaus related his previous encounter with Strife, concluding, "Then after he b-beat Strife off Herc g-got me back to the Academy and I woke up in bed there the n-next day."
Knowing that Zeus rather than Hercules had been responsible for dealing with Iolausí upset that day, Ares could not help asking with a touch of asperity in his voice, "Hercules told you about fighting Strife did he?"
"No, H-Herc hates talking about himself. Heís a hopeless s-storyteller, but thatís what m-must have happened."
"And why didnít you tell me about it?"
"Strife s-said youíd g-given him permission and Ö"
"And you believed him?"
"No Ö Not r-really, b-but you might have Ö I didnít think you would have , but Ö The main reason was a bit silly really I sípose."
"And that was?"
"You had lots of s-secrets from me, so I-I d-decided to Ö to have one from you."
Ares shook his head. Trust his brat to decide to do something as perverse as that. Of course, there had been no way the boy could have realized that he was making things easy for Strife to attack him again as he had had no idea that he was dealing with a god. "Not a smart move, brat," he commented dryly. "Now tell me whatís been going on here."
That made even more painful telling and Aresí ire increased even further as he learnt that Discord had been involved as well. The bitch was more intelligent, or at least more devious, than Strife and could really cause trouble if she put her mind to it.
Once Iolaus had finished his story, Ares said, "Iíd like you to stay here, Iolaus. Iím going to have a word with those two."
Then he was gone. So intent was he on his purpose, he had not stopped to offer any words or gestures of love or affection.
Iolaus stared tearfully after him. His physical hurts were healed, but he was still emotionally shattered. He needed Ares to stay. In spite of all, he still needed him Ö needed someone.
The God of War stormed to the palaceís great hall and then shouted, "STRIFE!!!! DISCORD!!!!" Aresí bellow echoed through Olympus.
Even those two were not game to ignore the summons.
"Yeah, unk, whatís up?" Strife inquired casually as they materialized.
"What in Tartarus do you think youíve been about? You had no right to touch my property."
My property! Unbeknownst to the furious war god, Iolaus had scrambled into his trousers and boots and followed him. He was now concealed himself behind a thick tapestry and was eavesdropping on the conversation. Tears began to trickle down his pale face again as he heard the description. Property! That was really all he meant to Ares.
He was not to know that the God of War was deliberately taking that line in the hopes of keeping the fact that he loved the little blond from his niece and nephew.
"What does it matter? Thereís plenty more mortals where that one came from," Discord said dismissively.
More in awe of their formidable uncle, Strife had intended to take a more ingratiating line, but now he followed Discordís lead. "Sheís right, unk. Blondieís nothing special. No point in getting your knickers in a twist because we had a little fun with him."
"The point is he *belongs* to me and I didnít give either of you permission to touch him."
"Belongs to you? How come? Who gave him to you?" Discord asked belligerently.
"Heís mine by his own free will, if you must know."
"Oh, I *know* more than you think, Uncle. Iíve had a cosy little chat with an old retainer of yours recently, a mortal by the name of Lucius. Does that ring any bells?"
"If you mean a warlord of that name, I know who you mean, but what in Tartarus has he got to do with anything?" Ares bluffed, wondering how his niece had got wind of that.
Sensing his unspoken question, Discord fair gloated. "Thatís my job, dearest uncle. Any little disagreement is of interest to me and I so adore fanning the flames so that a really nice argument develops and maybe even a teensy little war. You of all gods should appreciate just how, shall we say, arousing that is." As she spoke, her face was suffused with lust and she ran a pointed tongue over her darkly painted lips.
Both gods were staring at her in disgusted fascination. Strife was waiting eagerly for whatever revelation she was about to make and the God of War was wondering how he could circumvent Zeusí command against one god killing another, and strangle his niece.
"Go on!" Strife prompted and then abruptly stepped back a couple of paces as his uncle fixed him with a basilisk glare.
The look had no such impact on Discord. This was her element. "Old Lucius was a tiny bit disgruntled with you, uncle,í she purred. "It seems you made him lose face, to say nothing of loot, by telling him to break off on an attack on Corinth. He was particularly peeved since youíd ordered the attack in the first place and had called him away from a very profitable little conflict he had been involved in to make the assault on Corinth."
"So? Iím the God of War. *I* decide these things."
"True and what a lovely job you make of it," his niece opined with sweet insincerity.
"But what has this got to do with Blondie?" asked a bemused Strife.
"Youíll have to ask our dear uncle that," Discord said, smiling nastily, "but Iím betting thereís some connection with the fact that one of the defenders in that city was none other than his favourite brother, Hercules, who just happens to be a *very* intimate friend of our mutual little playmate."
Iolaus did not stay to hear more. Indeed, from the moment Discord had disclosed the fact that Ares had ordered the attack, he had not heard another thing. *That* was the final betrayal and the death knell of any love or even sense of obligation he had for the God of War.
He slipped swiftly and silently away. In truth, that was unnecessary as the three gods were now shouting so loudly and were so preoccupied with hurling abuse and accusations, that he could probably have walked right past them unobserved.
There were no servants in evidence. They had wisely made themselves scarce, having heard the War Godís shouts. No one was safe when Ares was displeased.
Iolaus ran out of the front door and kept running. He had no idea where he was going, but he did not care. His one aim was get as far from Ares as he could. It was irrational as the war god could find him in seconds if he chose, but Iolaus was past logical thought. Instinct said run and so he ran and kept running until his legs gave way.
He lay gasping for breath, his chest heaving painfully. Suddenly a pair of boots appeared in his vision. ĎNot black,í was his last conscious thought before he swooned.
When he finally regained consciousness, he was lying in a soft bed. Panicking he glanced around, expecting to see the war god. To his relief, an elderly man entered the room and smiled reassuringly at him. "Itís all right, boy, donít look so worried," he said patting Iolausí shoulder comfortingly.
"Where am I?"
"In my home."
"But how Ö"
"I found you by the road and brought you here. Iíve got something for you to drink. Here, take it!" He held out a cup.
"What is it?"
"Something to help you sleep."
"But I donít want Ö"
"Youíve been through a lot. You need to rest. Now drink." The voice held that same compelling, almost hypnotic note that Ares could adopt. On that basis, it should have frightened Iolaus, but instead he found himself obeying though his mind tried to stop his hand taking the proffered drink.
Soon he was out to it again.
The old man seemed to drop several years as he looked at the sleeper. He gently removed the blanket and stood feasting his eyes on the beautiful body, pale ivory after its sunless weeks in Aresí palace. The man was no stranger to beauty, but this youth surpassed any he had yet encountered, even among the gods. Even his beloved Ganymede suffered by comparison.
Zeus had never believed in resisting temptation and what a temptation the boy was! He ran his hands through the soft, dishevelled curls and over the smooth body and then carefully rolled Iolaus on to his stomach to stroke the creamy globes of that delectable arse. He wanted the youth, but he wanted him aware and laughing joyously in their shared lust and so, regretfully, he covered the gorgeous body once more and prepared to wait.
Aresí shouts for Strife and Discord had caused him to become aware that something interesting was going on in the war godís palace and he had eavesdropped with considerable interest on the resulting argument. He had learnt that Iolaus had suffered the less than gentle attentions of the younger gods and had watched Ares making one of his not uncommon misjudgments when he forgot Iolausí needs in his fury. Never one to miss a chance, he had then watched Iolausí flight and had carefully selected the moment to intervene.
He was still being careful. Knowing that Iolaus was in a very distressed state, he had painstakingly selected just the right ingredients for the drink he had given him. The drink would calm the little blond and would help distance him from his recent upset. He would still be aware of what had happened, but the edge would be taken off his distress. Still emotionally vulnerable, but no longer to the point of near hysteria, he would hopefully be very responsive to kindness and increasingly intimate caresses.
Finally, azure eyes fluttered open and gazed warily around. The beautifully sculpted mouth smiled sweetly when the eyes located the kindly man rather than the war god.
"Yes, thank you."
"Iíll find you some food."
"Please could you tell me first where I am?"
"In my home."
"But where is your home? Are we still on Olympus?"
"Yes," Zeus replied, watching the flicker of apprehension in the beautiful eyes.
"Are you Ö Are you a god?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes Ö a bit."
"Yes, Iím a god."
"An important one?"
The King of the Gods smiled at the question. To a mortal surely all gods should be Ďimportantí. After all, they all had considerable egos and it would be a foolhardy mortal who endeavoured to rank any as Ďnot so significantí even if it were true.
He decided to drop the verbal fencing and come clean. Although at times he would adopt a disguise to achieve his ends, as he had done when seducing Alcmene, he usually found most mortals were more than willing to allow the King of the Gods any favours he sought and the young were particularly susceptible in this respect. "You might say that. My nameís Zeus."
He had expected awe or fear, but he never anticipated an excited, "Wow! Hercís dad! Iím really pleased to meet you at last." Iolausí smile lit his whole face, his upset temporarily forgotten in the face of this development.
Hercís dad! Not ĎMy lord Zeus, King of the Godsí or some such high-flown title. No, just Hercís dad. Zeus was stunned speechless.
He pushed his lustful thoughts rapidly aside as he looked down into the glowing face. How could he proceed with his planned seduction now? He had been firmly, if unwittingly, reminded of the priorities in Iolausí life and felt an unfamiliar twinge of guilt as he considered how Hercules would have reacted to the betrayal he had planned. If only Hercules had not confided in him. But he had, so there was no way Zeus could proceed and later plead ignorance of his sonís desires.
He was aware the boy had asked him something. "Sorry, I was wool-gathering for a moment," he apologised. "What did you say?"
"Would you mind if I said something Ö um Ö er Ö a bit personal?" He knew he was speaking out of turn and that he might well enrage the god by his presumption, but here was an opportunity to try to do something for Hercules and he would dare anything for the demigod.
"Go ahead," Zeus said, wondering what was coming next.
"You know, Herc would really love to see you more often."
Zeus started, completely taken aback. Whatever he had expected to hear it was certainly not that. He could hardly credit that, after all the little mortal had been through, he could still put Herculesí interests way ahead of his own. He could have made a plea for protection for himself from Discord and Strife, but he had asked for something for his friend. "Does he say that?" he asked.
"Not exactly, but I *know* he would. He looks all wistful when other people talk about their fathers. You know that lost puppy look he gets? It would be really great if you could find more time for him. I hope you donít mind me saying this, but I hate it when heís unhappy."
Deftly evading the issue of paternal visits, Zeus asked, "How do you feel about my son, Iolaus?"
"I love him." There it was, direct and without a momentís hesitation. None of the ĎHeís my best friend" rubbish that the demigod would have trotted out. If Zeus had still harboured any amorous intentions towards Iolaus that simple statement would have shot them dead.
The King of the Gods looked approvingly at the little mortal. "Iolaus, Iíll try to give him more time, but I canít promise anything. However, at this stage of his life Hercules needs the kind of love you are offering to him more than he will ever need mine. He might not have admitted it to you as he has trouble admitting it even to himself, but he does."
"He needs my love?" Iolaus questioned in disbelief. "But he doesnít even *like* me at the moment. He couldnít get away to Corinth fast enough."
"Surely you can recognize the symptoms of jealousy, boy."
"Jealousy?" Iolaus looked stunned.
"Certainly. The thought of you and Marcus was eating him up."
"He doesnít know Ares was Marcus then?"
"No, and Iíd rather he didnít. My family fights enough without that. He knows the gods were involved though as I had to intervene between him and Strife."
"But he never said anything about you being there."
"I asked him not to. I didnít tell him my reason though."
"I wanted to give Ares a chance to tell you his true identity. I wanted to be fair to him. He does love you, you know."
"I guess he does Ö kinda Ö Iím not sure he really knows how to do it though. I sípose itís not easy being the God of War, his priorities must get a bit twisted Ö and his methods," he added wryly, thinking of the war godís plan to dispose of Hercules.
"But *you* know your priorities, donít you, Iolaus?"
"Yes, Hercules comes first with me and he always will No matter whether youíre right about his feelings for me or not, Iíll always be there for him."
"I think youíd better go and tell him that. Heís back at the Academy."
Iolaus swallowed convulsively. He wanted nothing more than to see Hercules again, but he was afraid of how Hercules would react. In spite of Zeusí comments, he feared another rejection and he was not ready to face that. "Not yet! Please I donít know Ö" he started.
However, Zeus gestured imperiously and Iolaus found himself standing in the woods outside the Academy. His carry-bag, knife and sword, that he had abandoned when he fled from Aresí palace, were on the ground beside him.
He gathered these up and then glanced around as he tried to decide what to do next. Zeus might be King of the Gods, but was he always right? Would Hercules really want to see him? What if he had found out Marcus/Ares was behind the attack on Corinth? If he had, would he think Iolaus had known about it? Gods, what should he do?
As his thoughts whirled in confusion, he felt tears welling up again. He cursed his vulnerability. How could Hercules possibly love someone so weak? And how could he love someone who had been so stupid as to trust Ares?
He sank to the ground, clutching his carry-bag to his chest. Then recalled Herculesí shirt. Hurriedly opening the bag, he located the tattered rag and buried his face in it, crying brokenly.
Meanwhile, an unhappy Hercules was sitting on his dormitory bed thinking about Iolaus. He had been back at the Academy for about a week and every day had looked hopefully for the return of his overdue friend. It seemed that Iolaus was not coming back and the demigod felt that he was responsible for that.
ĎI drove him away,í he thought. ĎHow could I have spoken to him the way I did on that last morning? I should have asked for his side of things. Itís all my fault."
At that moment, the room filled with light and Zeus stood before him. "Father!" the demigod cried, leaping to his feet.
His awareness of such matters having been heightened by Iolausí words, Zeus could not miss the note of pleasure in the exclamation, guarded though it was after so many previous disappointments. Uncharacteristically, he opened his arms and embraced his son.
Confused, but only too happy to receive the evidence of his fatherís rarely admitted love, Hercules hugged firmly back until his father was forced to extricate himself from that crushing embrace to draw breath to enable him to complete his mission.
"Hercules, if you will take my advise, you will chose to go for a short walk in the woods. I suggest you head north. Someone is waiting for you there."
"I-Iolaus?" the demigod asked hesitantly, his heart in his mouth.
"Yes and a further piece of advice, donít waste time over words, they can come later, just Ö*love* him."
"Thank you, father." Hercules hesitated, clearly anxious to be off and yet not wanting to appear rudely ungrateful by running out on his father.
"Just go, boy. Donít dither!" Zeus ordered and Hercules went.
Somehow he forced himself to stroll casually until he was clear of the Academy grounds, as the last thing he wanted was to attract attention and possible followers. Once safely clear, he ran.
A few minutes later, he spotted the little blond. He skidded to a halt, suddenly shy and uncertain of his reception.
Iolaus was sitting, head down and clutching some sort of rag to his face. The colour looked familiar ĎMy shirt!í the demigod realized. Suddenly a wave of confidence swept over the demigod. He *knew* he was doing the right thing.
He moved forward slowly, wondering why the blondís normally preternatural senses had not warned him of his approach.
"Iolaus," he ventured tentatively.
The blond head shot up and Herculesí heart turned over as he saw the tear-streaked cheeks and reddened eyes.
"Come here," he murmured, reaching down.
For a moment, he thought Iolaus was going to refuse, but then the little blond grasped his hands. Hercules pulled him gently to his feet and then clasped him to his heart. He could feel the slender body shaking against him and the dampness of Iolausí tears against his chest.
The demigod leant forward, burying his face in the tangled mop of fluffy curls and dampened them with his own tears. "My love," he whispered into the hair. "My love."
He felt Iolaus stiffen and then, "Wh-What did you say, Herc?"
"Something I should have said a long time ago: "My love"."
Iolaus pushed against his chest. The demigod relaxed his hold a little, to allow him to move back slightly, but did not release it. Iolaus looked up at him and Hercules saw the beautiful azure eyes were glowing at him, the tears on the lashes merely adding to their brilliance. "I love you too, Herc. I always have," he said.
*That* did it. Hercules uttered a cry of joy and swooped Iolaus up into his arms and began to rain kisses upon him. Iolausí arms wound convulsively around the demigodí neck and he murmured words of love, until the penetration of Herculesí questing tongue into the honeyed cavern of his mouth stifled them.
Without awareness of doing so, Hercules sank to the ground and laid Iolaus on his back without breaking the kiss. His hands were then free to roam over Iolaus, gently caressing as they explored at will.
Iolaus felt the firm, sinewy hardness of Herculesí body pressed against him. He ran his hands under the Herculesí shirt, glorying in the muscled smoothness beneath.
The demigod began to kiss his way around Iolausí neck, exhilarated to discover places that made Iolaus squirm and whimper in pleasure. Smiling in remembrance of childhood teasing, he ran his fingers lightly over Iolausí ribs and was rewarded by some frantic wriggling and helpless giggles. How delightfully susceptible Iolaus was to that tender torture!
He increased his tickling, while simultaneously nibbling at the sensitive junction of neck and shoulder. Iolaus jerked his hands out from under the demigodís shirt to try to defend himself against those merciless fingers, but it was hopeless. In an instant, his wrists were pinned above his tousled head and Herculesí tongue was probing lightly into his armpits and flicking along his straining arms.
Iolaus giggled and twisted, raising his hips to try to dislodge his beloved tormenter and only succeeding in making both of them hard. Transferring, Iolausí wrists into one large hand, Hercules reached down to Iolausí codpiece and, after some minutes of fumbling which drove Iolaus wilder than ever managed to open it and insert questing fingers.
But then he paused.
Nearly mad with longing, Iolaus squirmed impatiently. Finally, he could contain himself no longer. "Please, Herc, please donít stop!" he begged. "Do something! I canít stand this."
"I-Iím sorry," Hercules faltered.
ĎOh gods, surely heís not having second thoughts,í Iolaus thought desperately. Somehow he forced himself to calmly ask, "Whatís wrong, Herc?"
Iolaus could have assured him he felt like doing anything but. He wanted to scream. "Tell me," he gritted.
"I-I havenít done this before. Iím not Ö you see I donít Ö I donít exactly know what to do," Hercules admitted, blushing furiously. "Itís n-not that I donít want to, but Ö" He broke off in embarrassment. He had never thought that he would wish that he had stayed to watch Iolaus and Marcus that night. If he had done so at least he would know how to proceed. General fantasies about himself and Iolaus were all very fine, but he was hell of a shaky on specifics.
Iolaus let out a breath that he had not known he was holding. He felt dizzy with relief. "Itís okay, Herc, just start by doing to me what you do to yourself," he advised, while pleading silently, ĎPlease, gods, donít let him say heís never masturbated."
"Okay." He released the blondís wrists and carefully eased Iolausí pants off his hips, before taking him in hand.
"Now push a finger inside me," Iolaus instructed, guiding Herculesí hand behind him.
"Are you sure?" Hercules asked doubtfully. "I donít want to hurt you."
"Yes Ö just *do* it Ö Please!"
There was no lubrication and, in any case, Iolaus felt it was probably not a good idea to shock his naïve friend too much by suggesting that he should go further than that. There would be plenty of other occasions to widen his knowledge.
As it was, after the insertion of that single digit, the hunter was so keyed up that a few strokes of his cock had him over the edge.
He shouted as he ejaculated and then lay gasping in pleasure, his eyes screwed tightly shut.
When he opened them he found Hercules peering anxiously at him. "Are you okay? Iím sorry I hurt you, Iolaus. I didnít mean Ö"
"Iím fine, Hercules," Iolaus assured him.
"But you cried out."
"And, if youíll let me, Iíll have you doing the same," Iolaus smiled. "Donít look so worried. Youíll enjoy it. Lie back and let me show you. Címon, trust me, Herc."
"Always." The simple word nearly had the little blond in tears again. How could he possibly be worthy of such love?
He gulped the tears down and eased the demigod on to his back. He pulled off Hercules boots and then deftly undid his belt and removed his trousers. He stifled a gasp when he saw the size of his friendís erection. ĎThank the gods I didnít decide to encourage him to do me without lubrication,í he thought.
Hercules was lying propped up on his elbows watching him. Iolaus gently shoved him in the chest. "Lie back, Herc," he ordered. He wanted to make this as good as he could and he did not want the demigod to realize what he was going to do lest he object in his innocence.
So at first, he merely stroked the massive penis, with a sure but light touch, enjoying the murmurs of pleasure from his lover. Then he leant forward and flicked his tongue across the tip. Herculesí body jerked. "Lie still, Herc," Iolaus crooned.
He moved so he was sitting alongside Hercules and then leant forward, using his back to screen his activities from Herculesí view. Then he began to nuzzle his way up and down the organ.
It was all Hercules could do to lie still and when the hot mouth unexpectedly engulfed his penis, he came hard, shouting Iolausí name as he did so.
As soon as his world had stopped spinning, he reached for the little blond and pulled him into his arms. Iolaus melted into him, tongue flicking teasingly at a nipple.
They lay like that for some time, simply glorying in each otherís beloved presence.
Finally, the sun slipped behind a tree and Iolaus shivered. "Weíd better head back to the Academy now, Herc," he whispered.
"We canít," the demigod replied.
"Why not?" Iolaus asked, wondering if Chiron had decided to expel him after his absence.
"Iím never letting go of you again, so thereís no way we can go anywhere," Hercules answered. "Iím afraid weíre stuck here for good."
"What no dinner?" Iolaus exclaimed in mock horror.
"Nope, Iím not hungry. I can feast my eyes on you and live on love," Hercules announced, with what, for him, was quite a poetic outburst.
"Maybe a little thing like you can, but we warriors need our dinner, " Iolaus said, wriggling out of his friendís arms. "And we donít want a search party coming out to look for you. Donít look so downcast, Herc, weíve got plenty of time to love each other. Iíll never leave you again. *Never*."
As the two walked hand in hand towards the Academy, an unseen God of War watched them, cold despair mangling his heart. He had never loved anyone as he had Iolaus and now he vowed that never again would he give his heart into anotherís keeping, never would he make himself so vulnerable again.
E-mail the author c/o Nephele at [email protected]
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