DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to MCA/Universal and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.
Iolaus ran through the gateway to Alcmene's house. "W-What's wrong," he gasped breathlessly, as Alcmene came hurriedly out to meet him. A neighbour's young son had arrived at the forge to tell him that Alcmene needed to see him urgently, but the lad did not know why. Iolaus had dropped the sword he was working on and had run as fast as he could to Alcmene's home.
Hercules' mother's normally serene countenance distorted with agitation and concern. "It's Hercules! Something's happened to him."
Iolaus' heart contracted. "What? Where is he? Is he hurt?" He knew he was babbling, but nothing scared him as much as the thought of anything happening to the demigod.
"What do you mean? Where is he?"
Iolaus started for the door, but Alcmene grasped his arm tightly. "No, let me explain first, Iolaus."
"Okay." He stopped reluctantly, wanting only to reach his friend.
"I don't know what has happened, but he's behaving very oddly. He's talking and acting like he did when he was two years old."
"What???" His mind had been filled with jumbled images of injuries, destruction and death and this was so unexpected, he thought he must have been hearing things.
"It sounds ridiculous, but it's true. At first I thought he was playing some kind of weird joke, but he's been like this for half an hour now."
"And you've got no idea what happened?"
"No, he was outside weeding my vegetable garden for me. I went outside to see how he was getting on and to take him more fruit juice and I found that he'd pulled out all the plants. I asked what on earth he thought he was doing and he said he'd got rid of the vegetables because they were nasty. He used to hate eating vegetables when he was a toddler. We used to have major battles over them. Anyway we had a very confused conversation. As I said, I thought it was some sort of silly joke at first and told him off and said I wasn't finding his childish behaviour funny. He said he wasn't a child, but a big boy and that he was two years old. I started to realize it wasn't an act. I didn't know what to do. I was on my way to fetch you, but then I saw a neighbour's boy passing and I asked him to take the message as I thought I'd should stay and keep an eye on Hercules."
"We'd better go in."
"Yes, but be careful," Alcmene warned.
"What do you mean?"
"He's got all his adult strength and a two year old's willfulness. When I originally decided to go to fetch you myself I thought I'd better leave him inside the house for safety's sake. I took him by the hand and tried to lead him in, but he just stood his ground and absolutely refused to budge. Fortunately, I remembered my old solution to that sort of behaviour and just went inside without him. He was after me in moments actually sobbing a bit about being left.
"I thought I was going to have to take him with me to your home and I didn't really want to do that. I was worried what might happen if we met anyone or if he took it into his head to run off. Fortunately, I spotted young Brias passing and called out to ask him to tell you I needed you. I didn't like to give him details. Hercules is going to be embarrassed enough about this when he's back to normal without outsiders knowing about it."
The two entered the house.
As soon as he saw them, Hercules beamed and hastened forward with his eyes riveted on the hunter. "Pretty," Hercules said and reached out to caress Iolaus' golden curls.
"Leave Iolaus alone please, Hercules," Alcmene ordered.
"No! Pretty! Mine!" With that he dragged the startled hunter into his arms and hugged him tightly, with all the fierce possessiveness a two year old has for *his* favourite toy.
"OW!" Iolaus exclaimed, grimacing as Hercules enthusiastically crushed him to his chest, one arm around the blond's neck and the other around his back.
Hercules began squeezing harder. Iolaus was starting to fear for his ribs. "P-Please, H-Hercules, you're hurting me," he gasped.
"Yes, p-please let go." Iolaus did not know what to do. Pleas were clearly falling on stony ground. He considered trying force, but knew he lacked the strength to wrestle his way free. A sudden punch might have caught the demigod off guard and surprised him into relaxing his grip, but the hunter hated the thought of hitting the demigod. Further, Alcmene had warned him about two year olds' wilfulness and he feared that, in Hercules' present state, any such move was likely to set the demigod off into a tantrum and then anything could happen.
Alcmene starting tugging ineffectually at her son's arm. "Hercules, let Iolaus go!" Then she remembered one appeal that used to work with the toddler Hercules. "You'll make him cry."
"Cry?" Her son looked at her with worried eyes.
"Yes, he will cry if you hurt him."
Hercules relaxed his hold so that the hunter could breathe again, but did not release him.
"That's a good boy," Alcmene approved. "Now let him go and we can go and have some lunch."
"No! I want him! Pretty! Mine!"
"Iolaus can come and have some too."
"Good!" He headed for the table, dragging the hunter with him. It was clear that there was no way he was going to relinquish his new possession. He sat down and pulled the little blond onto his knee. Embarrassed, Iolaus tried to climb off, but was held fast by an arm tightly wrapped around his waist. "No! Sit still! Hercules will smack," the demigod warned.
"Hercules, I've told you you're not to hit people," Alcmene remonstrated. She looked apologetically at the hunter. "I'm sorry, Iolaus, he *might* hit you if you try to move. He went through a bad stage of hitting at that age. He'd just discovered his strength and was testing it out. Of course, he was nowhere near as powerful as he is now."
"I s'pose it could be worse," Iolaus managed to joke, "I mean he could have expected me to nurse him."
They had a very awkward lunch. Hercules insisted on feeding his friend and Iolaus was forced to consume several items that had been bitten and rejected by the demigod.
At first, he had tried to avoid this, but the demigod was not deterred by firmly closed lips and was clearly prepared to push until Iolaus ate, while chanting encouragingly, "Open wide here comes the wagon." Face liberally smeared with food and desirous of keeping his teeth, Iolaus had finally given in.
In between the wagon's frequent visits, Iolaus and Alcmene tried to discuss the situation, but had no idea what could have caused the regression and how to deal with it. Unfortunately, the one thing that was abundantly clear was that the demigod had taken a fancy to the hunter and was not going to give up his new 'toy' under any circumstances.
As soon as he had eaten his fill, the demigod announced, "Hercules is going out to play." He then stood up, holding the hunter under one arm as though his friend was weightless.
The position was uncomfortable and Iolaus tried to wriggle free. The 'toddler' immediately carried out his earlier threat and gave him a series of stinging smacks on the backside with his free hand. "Bad! Bad!" he complained as he disciplined his 'toy'. Iolaus suspected he was in for a rough afternoon.
He wasn't wrong. He made several attempts to evade Hercules, but all failed and the demigod was quick to slap him for his 'naughtiness' and he had no idea of his own strength. Iolaus was relieved to find that his friend knew nothing about punching, as some of the slaps were just about enough to lay him out.
Further, Hercules had no real notion of how to pick up another without hurting and so the hunter was lifted or dragged by a wrist, a leg or even the scruff of his neck when the demigod wished to move him. Soon the hapless hunter was bruised and bleeding.
His ribs were aching and his lips were swollen and sore because Hercules was generally affectionate and could not seem to resist boisterously cuddling and kissing his pretty new possession.
Bruised and smothered as he was under the excess of affection, Iolaus reflected ruefully, 'I can't believe that I was ever stupid enough to want him to do this." He had wanted Hercules to love him for years, weaving various fantasies about it, but had always assumed that it would never happen. 'I guess all that longing tempted fate,' he thought.
Alcmene tried numerous methods of getting him to release Iolaus, but threats, pleas and bribes all fell on deaf ears. Hercules had exactly what he wanted and nothing was going to persuade him to hand Iolaus, or 'Dolly' as he had begun refer to him, over to his mother.
Finally, Alcmene produced a drink and persuaded Hercules to take a break from his games. He sat down under a shady tree and stretched out his legs, holding Iolaus face down across his lap and casually drumming his fingers on the hunter's leather-clad backside.
Trying desperately to ignore this latest activity, Iolaus seized the chance to inquire about his new cognomen. "Why 'Dolly'?" he asked Alcmene.
"I suppose it's because he used to have a favourite stuffed toy called 'Dolly'."
"Great, I look like a stuffed toy."
Alcmene could not help smiling. "I guess your hair is similar. Dolly had a mop of fluffy wool."
"Sorry, but it's true. However, I think the real answer is that in those days Dolly was the thing he loved most and I guess that's what you are now."
"You know what I mean."
In a few minutes, Hercules was ready for more games and was dragging Iolaus to his feet. Again, Alcmene tried to persuade her son to relinquish his hold on the hunter, but to no avail.
Jason arrived home mid afternoon. At first, he was inclined to treat the whole thing as a huge joke and could not resist laughing somewhat hysterically at the spectacle before him. "A st-stuffed t-toy," he stammered, as he tried to control his mirth. "I always knew you reminded m-me of something but I could never think exactly wh-what it was."
Iolaus glared at him, but managed to swallow a very rude retort, as the language was not such as Alcmene would tolerate in her home and, in truth, it didn't seem right to use the intended expression in front of Hercules.
However, a few terse words from his wife and a closer look at Iolaus' somewhat battered appearance cut short Jason's hilarity and he joined his appeals to those of Alcmene, but had no more success.
The evening meal was a repetition of lunch. Iolaus could see Jason was fair bursting to make some jocular comments. Finally, when Alcmene went out into the kitchen to fetch something he could resist no longer. "Why don't you give Dolly some nice parsnip, Hercules?" he suggested, knowing full well that that was one of the few foods that the hunter hated.
"Okay," the demigod replied happily.
"You'll be sorry for this, Jase," Iolaus started, "I'll ..." He broke off hurriedly and snapped his mouth shut as the detested vegetable was thrust at his face.
Alcmene entered the room to find Iolaus' face covered with squashed parsnip, Jason nearly rolling off his chair with laughter and a disgruntled demigod muttering darkly about smacks.
Realizing that Hercules was somewhat distracted by the lecture Alcmene proceeded to give to Jason, the hunter tried to surreptitiously extricate himself from his friend's grasp. For a moment, he thought he had made it, but a large hand grabbed him by the nape of his neck and pulled him back. In one swift movement, the demigod boxed both his ears. "Bad, Dolly!"
"Ow!" Iolaus could not suppress a cry of pain. Ears ringing, he leant dizzily against his captor, fighting not to faint.
Fortunately, the demigod took this to be a make-up cuddle and smiled affectionately, anger forgotten as fast as it had come.
Alcmene gasped in dismay. A vivid image was recalled to her mind of the toddler Hercules watching a woman in the market discipline her son in like manner and commenting to her, "Bad boy!"
Jason's mouth fell open in shock. Having known the gentle and loving demigod for so long, he had not really believed Alcmene's warnings that he might harm others in his current state. "I-I'm sorry, Iolaus, I never thought he'd ..." he started.
"It's okay, Jase," Iolaus gritted. "It was my fault. I shouldn't have tried to get off him. I think I'd better just give up on trying to escape him. He's bound to get tired eventually and I'll get away once he's asleep."
Unfortunately, Hercules proved to have all of his adult endurance and showed absolutely no sign of tiring. After dinner, he seized his mother's hairbrush and busied himself with Iolaus' curls, occasionally muttering about "bad fairies" as he struck a tangle. Iolaus winced, but endured the none too tender ministrations without comment, in the hope of avoiding any more of the more boisterous games he had 'enjoyed' that afternoon.
Alcmene decided it might be best to revert to the routine they had followed when Hercules was a child and so, after dinner, she had put water on to heat. Now she said, "Bath time, darling." In truth, after all his gardening he could do with it. And she hoped the hot water might relax him and make him more amenable towards early bed.
Hercules pouted. "Don't want to. Dolly doesn't like water," he announced stubbornly.
"You know I always imagined Herc would be a model child. Was he really always this difficult?" Iolaus inquired.
"No, though like any child he had his off days. I'm afraid though he got stubborn when he was over-excited and getting his dolly back seems to have done that. He did love that doll. Mind you, the poor old thing used to come in for more than its share of blame. Whenever I scolded him for some misdemeanour I used to be informed, "Dolly did it"."
"I guess Dolly and I have more than a bit in common. As Herc recalls it, virtually all our childhood scrapes were the result of me leading him astray."
"And there would be an element of truth in that," Alcmene said smiling reminiscently.
Iolaus grinned. "Maybe a little," he admitted. "What happened to my unfortunate ... ah ... predecessor?"
Alcmene looked awkward and then said slowly, "I'm not certain you want to know."
Iolaus shivered at her words and tone, but he had to ask. "Tell me."
"Hercules threw a tantrum one day and ripped it to bits. Some older boys had been teasing him about having a doll like a little girl. He *was* very sorry afterwards though."
"Th-That reassures me no end," Iolaus said ruefully. Deciding to try another escape, he turned to the demigod. "Your bath will be getting cold, Hercules. You go with your moth ... with Mummy and I'll wait here for you."
"Bath?" Hercules asked, as though the subject had not been previously broached.
"Yes, Mummy's got it ready for you."
"Hercules will bath Dolly," the demigod announced happily, leaping up and dragging Iolaus after him.
Iolaus was aghast. "No!" He tried to pull away, but steely fingers dug into his arm. "I-I'm not dirty," he protested, but it was no use. It was a case of going willingly or having his arm dislocated and going anyway.
"Let Iolaus go, dear," Alcmene appealed, but Hercules had made up his mind and there was no stopping him.
In moments, he had Iolaus lying on his back on the bathroom floor and was sitting on top of him tugging off his boots.
Alcmene did not know what to do. She did not want to embarrass Iolaus by staying and yet she feared what might happen next.
Tossing the boots into a corner, Hercules clambered around to undo Iolaus' trousers, casually but forcefully batting the hunter's hands aside as the later tried to stop him. Hercules managed the belt okay, but started fumbling roughly with Iolaus' codpiece. "Stuck!" he complained. "Hercules will pull." With that he grasped the waistband of the tight leather trousers and started to try to pull them off forcibly.
"Ow!" Iolaus complained. "Don't do that, Herc! It hurts."
"They won't come off like that."
"Off!" the demigod announced happily as the seams started to give way as the material was dragged down the hunter's suffering hips.
Iolaus hurriedly grabbed for the codpiece and opened it himself, anything to stop the process.
"Thank you," Hercules said cheerfully and proceeded to remove the trousers. Then, in a swift grab, Iolaus' breechclout was gone too.
Iolaus was flat on his back with the demigod still on top of his legs, but Hercules was no longer moving. He had spotted something interesting and was starring transfixed at the hunter's groin. "Fur!" he announced excitedly. "Dolly's got fur." He reached out a caressing hand and gave Iolaus' golden curls a quick tentative pat. "Springs!" he chortled and reached out again.
The hunter could never recall being so embarrassed. His face felt like it was on fire. To his relief, he heard the door click as Alcmene beat a hasty retreat in an attempt to spare his blushes.
Moments later, the door opened again and Jason shuffled reluctantly into the room on the orders of his wife. "That's enough, Hercules," he reprimanded. "Get off him!" he ordered in his best Captain of the Argo's voice.
Surprisingly, Hercules immediately obeyed and climbed off the hunter. Iolaus grabbed for a towel and scrambled up as well, hurriedly wrapping it around him.
Pleased with his success, Jason said, "Now get your clothes off and get into the bath, Hercules."
Obediently, the demigod began to strip, toeing off his boots and quickly pulling off his trousers. As he pulled his shirt over his head, Iolaus seized the opportunity, scooping up his clothes and starting to sidle towards the door, but Hercules spotted this and reached for him, yanking him back by the hair.
"Ow!" the hunter complained. Strong arms swooped him up again and then, to his horror, he heard Hercules say, "Bath Dolly," and realized he was about to be chucked unceremoniously into the bath or at least in its general direction. Frantically, he flung his arms around the demigod's neck and clung tightly.
"Dolly's cuddling," Hercules announced approvingly. "Dolly loves Hercules." With that he began to hug the hunter, crushing him to his chest, raining yet more kisses on him.
"Jason, help me!" Iolaus appealed desperately.
"Put him down, Hercules," Jason ordered, but instead the demigod strode forward and stepped into the large bath. He sat down with Iolaus on top of him.
"Wash Dolly," he said, reaching for the soap.
The hunter spotted a large scrubbing brush. Fearing what damage the demigod could inflict with that, he hissed, "Jason, grab that bloody brush. Quick!"
The ex-King seized the item just as Hercules reached for it. The demigod pouted, but then began to soap his friend, happily commenting about "bubbles" as he did so. His hands ranged all over the writhing hunter, embarrassing him more than ever. Fortunately, Hercules quickly became more interested in washing Iolaus' hair than in other parts of his anatomy. Iolaus' eyes were soon stinging as soap dripped down his face.
"Wash me!" the demigod instructed happily.
"What?" Iolaus hoped he had misheard.
"Wash Hercules." The demigod thrust the tiny surviving piece of soap into the hunter's hand and lay back waiting.
The little blond gulped. This was awful. Bathing with the demigod had long been one of his pleasant fantasies, but not like this. Parts of his friend that he had so longed to touch were now freely on offer, but with his present mental state it would be like child abuse. Also he dreaded to think how the demigod would react when they finally found a way to return him to normal. What had happened so far had been bad enough and the hunter had had no choice in the matter, but for Iolaus to touch him intimately back was different.
He couldn't do it and yet he knew he had to do something as the demigod was waiting impatiently and was likely to take action soon to force Dolly to co-operate with his wishes. "Mummy will wash you," he said, glancing at Jason in mute appeal.
Jason hurried out and returned with Alcmene. "Please let Iolaus out now, darling," she said. "I'll wash you while he gets dry."
Surprisingly enough, Hercules nodded and Alcmene held out a towel to the hunter.
He wrapped it around his waist and climbed awkwardly out. "I'm sorry, Iolaus," Alcmene apologized. She could not help but notice his extensive collection of scrapes and bruises and she could see by his movements that his ribs were sore.
"It's not your fault, Alcmene. I've usually got a few bruises on me. I don't s'pose he caused most of these."
"You're not a good liar, Iolaus, but thank you for trying."
He gathered up his things and moved out into the living area.
"You'd better take off home before he gets out here," Jason said.
"I can't do that, Jase. You know I can't leave Herc when he's in trouble."
"The way he's going you'll be in more trouble than he is. Look what he's done to you already."
"That doesn't matter, Jase. Whatever or whoever did this to Herc might still be around waiting to really hurt him and so I've *got* to be here to look after him. A few little bumps and scrapes are nothing."
So, when Hercules emerged a few minutes later, he found a yawning Iolaus preparing to climb into the spare bed in his room. He climbed into his own and demanded a story from Alcmene. She obliged and was secretly amused to get demands for more details from both her 'boys' during the tale.
"Okay, last one."
She had no sooner finished that one than the demand came, "Another last one!"
"All right, but this is the real, real last one," she said, the words from long ago automatically returning to her lips.
She was half way through when, seeing Hercules' eyelids drooping, she stopped and bent to kiss him. Then she reached out to extinguish the candle.
"You *can't* stop there," came a sleepy protest from the other bed. "I want to know what happened to the frog."
Alcmene smiled. "You know what happens. All children hear these stories."
"My mother didn't tell me any."
Alcmene could have kicked herself. She had spoken without thought. In truth, she could not imagine Iolaus' careworn mother even thinking of telling stories to her son. "I'll finish it tomorrow," she promised and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for looking after Hercules, Iolaus," she said. "He's so lucky to have you for his friend and after what you've had to endure today, I ..."
"Don't worry about it," he assured her hurriedly. "It's been kind of ... um ... interesting to see Herc hasn't always been as perfect as he makes out."
"I don't think Hercules has ever claimed to be perfect," Alcmene said.
"No, I s'pose not, but better behaved than me anyway."
"That would still leave a big gap before one hit 'perfect'," Alcmene commented, her fond smile removing any possible sting from her words.
"You know, I think, you know me too well. I can't get away with saying or doing anything when you're around," Iolaus complained.
"But it's never stopped you trying, has it?" She hurried out before he could dispute that.
Iolaus sighed and stretched out. He had had an exhausting day. He was just on the verge of nodding off when the covers lifted and a heavy weight descended on the bed. "No, Hercules," he remonstrated sleepily, trying to push him away, but the demigod merely shoved him across the bed and settled himself. He then pulled the hunter right on top of him. "More cuddles," he whispered lovingly.
"I want to sleep," the hunter protested, embarrassed by their position, especially given that both were naked.
"Sleepy cuddles," Hercules responded, nuzzling his face into Iolaus' hair and falling asleep almost immediately, while still retaining an unbreakable hold on his friend.
Once more the blond recalled all his fantasies about Hercules, mentally kicking himself. Weary as he was, it was a long time before he too fell asleep
The next day found Iolaus still tired and sore and the demigod brimming over with energy. As soon as breakfast was over, he dragged the hunter outside for a vigorous ball game.
The game was, of course, designed for a number of players and, with but two, passing was impossible, not that worried the demigod , as he had no desire to share the ball. He was enjoying tackling his hapless opponent and, even more, scoring for his 'team'.
Indeed, it soon became *very* clear that he expected to do *all* the scoring, as he became annoyed when Iolaus managed to elude him and dive across the goal line. He picked Iolaus up, one hand clutching a shoulder and the other his belt, and shook him roughly. "No, Dolly! Hercules does that!"
After that, Iolaus knew he was simply there to be tackled when he had the ball or shoved over as the demigod pounded for the line. Soon there were new bruises on his old bruises, scrapes on both of his elbows and his stomach and he was limping from a slightly twisted ankle.
The only saving grace was that Hercules got bored with the game after half an hour or so and, slinging his friend casually over his shoulder, moved on to other activities.
By mid afternoon, Iolaus was almost out on his feet after the entertainments of the day and was no closer to discovering what had caused the reversion in his friend.
He might not have been happy, but someone else certainly was. Strife was fair rocking with mirth. Indeed, his sides were aching from laughing so much. His little trick was working out better than he could have ever dreamt when he had added a few tasteless, but potent, ingredients to the fruit juice Alcmene had left for her son to drink while gardening.
Not only was the demigod causing trouble for his family, he was hurting that annoying, little, mortal friend of his. Even better, Strife was learning some facts about the demigod that he was sure Uncle Ares would find both amusing and 'useful'. He had anticipated that the demigod would show all a two year old's self-centred willfulness and destructive ability, but he had never imagined that he would also reveal a hitherto hidden truth. Two year olds tend to tell it just as they see it or want it to be and it was clear that the demigod loved the hunter with an all-encompassing and possessive love. Sure everyone knew that he loved his friend, but it was clear to Strife that this affection went deeper than mere friendship. Of course, there was nothing deliberately sexual in the way that the toddler Hercules was handling his friend, but the God of Mischief knew it was there in the adult's sub-conscious mind and hugged himself with glee at this new knowledge.
The moralistic, holier-than-thou, demigod was infatuated with a male! Yes, he was! Even if he had never admitted it even to himself, he was! How he would hate that information to become public knowledge. It would do his goodie-good reputation no good at all. Strife could hardly wait for him to revert to normal to see his reaction when his little secret was revealed. However, there was still plenty of enjoyment to be had from watching Hercules and his reluctant toy.
At the moment, the demigod was busy picking flowers for his mother. It was a kind thought, but Hercules' ideas of picking blooms were grab and pull and so a number of plants were now lying crushed and dying.
""Don't do that, Herc," Iolaus remonstrated, as he observed the destruction of Alcmene's beloved garden. "You've got enough."
"No!" The hunter reached out a hand to try to stop his friend only to have the demigod grab his wrist and squeeze hard. There was a horrible snapping sound as bones broke. Iolaus screamed in agony.
Hercules did not like that noise. He knew if Iolaus made that sound his mother would hear and he would be in trouble for hurting Iolaus. Accordingly, he said, "Dolly quiet," and clamped his free hand over Iolaus' mouth, pulling him into his arms.
Iolaus panicked. The large hand was not only effectively cutting off his scream, it was also pressing against his nose and he could not breathe. He tried to pry it loose with his left hand, but Hercules just pressed harder.
Watching the hunter's desperate struggle to break free, Strife could not help himself. This was even better. That stupid demigod was going to kill his friend. How would he be able to live with himself once he came to his senses? The God of Mischief cackled with laughter. Doubled over, with eyes streaming, he did not see the demigod's head shoot up at the sound of his mirth.
In his state of hysteria, he had moved from behind the concealing tree. Even though he was still invisible to mortal eyes, he was no longer hidden from the demigod.
Hercules glared at him. He *hated* people laughing or pointing at him and he was not going to put up with it. He dropped the hapless hunter and strode straight over to Strife. "Nasty man," he announced and kicked him as hard as he could.
Unfortunately for Strife, bent over as he was, Hercules' boot caught him full in the face. He was propelled right across the yard to smash into the stone wall. The impact caused the wall to crack and the god collapsed unconscious on the ground.
With his loss of consciousness, he also lost his invisibility and Iolaus, who had been staring bemusedly after Hercules and had been wondering who the hell his friend was addressing, exclaimed, "Strife!"
The hunter staggered to his feet. Although the god was unconscious that would probably not last long and he had to get Hercules away from him. His friend had no idea what a god was and was likely to get hurt if Strife chose to use his powers. Normally Hercules could cope with Strife, but not in his current state.
Iolaus limped over and grasped Hercules' arm with his good hand, "C'mon, Herc," he urged. "Let's go inside." It was like trying to move a large and preternaturally stubborn rock.
"Yes, come with me. I think we might find some biscuits inside," Iolaus tempted, while thinking, 'Gods there'll be a tantrum if Alcmene hasn't got any."
"Yes, lovely bikkies."
"Okay. Pick up!" He reached for the hunter.
Iolaus resignedly allowed himself to be scooped up and once more felt Hercules burying his face in his golden curls. "Soft. Nice. Love Dolly," the demigod murmured affectionately.
"I love you too," Iolaus responded quickly, "but let's get those bikkies." He had to keep his friend moving.
As soon as they were inside, he managed to wriggle out of Hercules' arms, while Hercules enthusiastically ransacked the cupboard searching for biscuits, and called urgently for Alcmene.
Hearing the note of near panic in the hunter's voice, Alcmene hurried in dreading what she would find.
"Alcmene, I think I know who is behind all this. Strife is outside. Keep Hercules in here. I've promised him some biscuits. I'll go out to try and deal with him." He picked up his sword wondering what use it would be left-handed and against a god.
"Iolaus, be careful." As she spoke, she grasped his wrist and he hissed with pain. "Iolaus, your wrist! What's happened to it? You can't g ..."
"I have to," he interrupted. "Just try to keep Hercules in here."
He hurried out to find the god was in the act of climbing to his feet. Iolaus went straight over to him, while inwardly wondering what the hell he could do.
Strife looked at him and the dazed look left his eyes, to be replaced by one compounded of malice and glee in equal parts. "Did you want something .... Dolly?" he taunted.
"You've had your fun, Strife. Turn him back!" Iolaus demanded.
"Why? I think he makes a great kid, much more fun than the insufferable goodie-good he became."
"Turn him back!" Iolaus insisted.
"No way, Blondie. In fact, I think I'll just zap off and tell my dear old uncle what's going on. He'll get a real kick out of this."
Iolaus shuddered, while hoping it wasn't too obvious. He dreaded to think what the God of War might decide to do when his enemy was so vulnerable. He would never have humbled himself in the face of any threat to himself, but he had no pride when Hercules was endangered. "No .... Please," he begged.
The God of Mischief grinned wider than ever. "Sorry," he said insincerely. "Must rush!"
Iolaus desperately grasped his arm and a blast of electricity shot through him, hurling him onto his back. The hunter lay gasping in pain as the god disappeared, his laughter echoing behind him.
Alcmene and Jason hastened from the house and the latter eased the little blond into a sitting position. "He ... He's g-g..." Iolaus started.
"No rush, Iolaus," Alcmene soothed. "Just get your breath."
"N-No time ... He's g-going to ... to tell Ares."
"Y-Yes. Strife thinks it's all a big fuc..." Iolaus started, belatedly recalling who he was addressing and hastily amending his comment to, "I m-mean he thinks it's very funny, but Ares might ... he might ..." He broke off unable to complete the thought.
"We'll worry about that later," Alcmene said. "We'd better get you inside first. I want to look at that wrist."
The bellow of anguish from the house had Iolaus on his feet immediately and he was running frantically for the door, only to sag against the jamb in relief as he saw Hercules was alone in the kitchen.
"Bikkies gone!" the demigod announced in a peevish tone, waving the now empty jar at him.
Feeling more than somewhat faint after the energy bolt and his rapid dash, the hunter sucked in a couple of deep breaths to steady himself, as Alcmene and Jason crowded in behind him to see what was amiss. "He's okay," he managed as his legs started to give way.
Jason hurriedly flung his arms around his chest and lowered him to the floor.
"Dolly's sleeping," Hercules observed. "Bad Dolly to sleep on the floor. Hercules will wake him up." He moved purposively towards the unconscious hunter.
Jason quickly stood up to endeavour to intercept him. "Dolly is feeling sick," he said hurriedly.
"Hercules kiss and make better," the demigod said, as he started to push past.
"No, Hercules, Mummy is going to give him a bandage to make him better," Alcmene said firmly. "You be a good boy and get my medicine box."
"Okay." He hurried off and was quickly back, brandishing the box. "Bandage for Hercules too," he said.
"After I've bandaged Iolaus," Alcmene promised.
Hercules pouted and clutched the box to his chest. "Now!"
"After I've bandaged Iolaus. Be a good boy, Hercules."
"Do you want to come and feed the hens, Hercules?" Jason asked, trying to think of something to distract the demigod.
"Yes! Dolly too." He reached for Iolaus.
"No, you carry the egg basket," Jason said, grabbing the basket and thrusting it at his stepson.
"Okay." He dropped the box and took the basket.
Alcmene breathed a sigh of heartfelt relief as she saw the pair retreat and began to examine her patient. As she had suspected, Iolaus' wrist was broken, but a quick examination revealed no other breaks. However, his extensive collection of deep bruises and cuts made her heart contract. Not only did she regret the injuries for Iolaus' sake, she also knew Hercules would be devastated when he returned to normal and saw what he had done, albeit without intent.
Iolaus' lashes fluttered and hazy blue eyes looked at her in confusion. ""Is ... Is H-Herc okay?" he ventured in trepidation.
Iolaus smiled. "Good."
Alcmene felt her eyes misting with tears. How often Iolaus had made her feel like this over the years, with his selfless devotion to her son!
Seeing her face, Iolaus raised a gentle hand and stroked her cheek. "He'll be all right," he reassured her. "I'll find some way to reverse the spell, I promise."
A couple of tears rolled down her cheek at his misinterpretation of her distress. "Thank you, Iolaus," she managed, "but I'm more worried about you at the moment."
"Me?" The surprise in his voice was genuine and it wrung her heart. "There's no need to worry about me," he insisted, "I just ... um ... I just got up a bit fast after Strife zapped me, that's all." He hesitated and a look of concern flashed across his features. "Where is Strife?" he asked anxiously.
"He's gone, Iolaus."
"Maybe, but I think he'll be ..." He broke off, unwilling to continue in case of distressing her more.
"Back," Alcmene finished.
He nodded. "I'd better find Herc. I'll need to keep an eye on him."
He started to rise, but Alcmene put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back. "After I've bound your wrist, Iolaus."
"Oh, that. That could have happened when Strife hit me with that energy bolt."
"Yes, it *could*, but we both know it didn't."
"Iolaus, I saw you wince when I touched it before you went out to face Strife."
"It might have been a bit bruised, but ..."
"Iolaus!" Alcmene exclaimed in exasperation. "Stop trying to spare my feelings! I *know* Hercules did it. He didn't mean to, but he *did* do it. Be sensible! He's likely to hurt you more before this is over and you *must* tell me so I can help you. I want your promise on that."
"Okay," he conceded, "but he doesn't mean ..."
"I know that, I just hope he realizes that it wasn't his fault when he comes back to himself," she said, voicing one of her fears.
"Let's get him back to normal first and worry about that then," Iolaus said.
She nodded and started to bind his wrist. "I wonder if I should give you a sling."
"Nah, I don't need one."
"Hercules might be less inclined to pick you up by the wrist if you were wearing one."
He grinned ruefully, "He doesn't have much idea about how to do that, does he? I'll never look at a stuffed toy again without feeling sorry for it."
"Iolaus, I'm sor-"
"I'm only joking, it's not that bad. Really it isn't."
"I wish I could believe you."
"Would I lie?" His expressive eyes twinkled at her.
"Yes, you damn well would!" she exclaimed, smiling inwardly at the stunned look on his face as his mind registered her most irregular choice of word, and hugged him tightly to her.
"Well, isn't that a tender picture," a deep velvet voice observed sarcastically, as the war god materialized. "Does my dear *young* brother know you two are so ... ah ... close?"
"What do you want, Ares?" Iolaus demanded, stepping protectively in front of Alcmene.
"Strife tells me that my brother is acting ... um ... rather unusually and, of course, I was concerned," the God of War replied with cloyingly sweet insincerity. "Where is he?"
"He's fine," Iolaus said coldly, "and, even if he wasn't, we don't need any help from you."
Nettled at the little blond's temerity in daring to address him in such a manner, the God of War dropped his 'loving relative' act and reverted to form. "I asked you a question, Blondie. I suggest you call your little playmate in here. NOW!!!"
"Go away, Ares! You're not wanted here."
"You're starting to irritate me, Blondie. That's not a very friendly thing to do and could have nasty consequences for you and Zeus' cast-off there." As he spoke, he gestured rudely at Alcmene.
Iolaus dived for him, but the god was anticipating the move and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him into the air.
Iolaus was choking and desperately trying to break the god's merciless grip with his good hand.
Alcmene screamed and flung herself at the god, trying fruitlessly to free the hunter.
Approaching the house, Hercules heard his mother's cry and stood stock-still. An odd look of extreme disorientation crossed his face. The realization that his mother was in some sort of trouble penetrated through the confused mist swirling in his mind. That was all he needed to know. Then he began to run. Without pausing to open the door he hit it with his shoulder and burst it from its hinges.
Ares swung to face him and smiled nastily. "Hello, Hercules," he said. "I'm just having a little fun with your Dolly." As he spoke, he thrust Alcmene aside and then casually tossed Iolaus across to the startled demigod.
Hercules caught the little blond and stared at him as if he could not believe what was happening. He quickly placed Iolaus on a chair. Then he shook his head and ran a hand over his eyes.
The dark god laughed at his bewildered expression. "Aw, the poor little kid doesn't know what's ..." he started, as Hercules walked unsteadily towards him.
Terrified for his friend, Iolaus struggled to his feet and grabbed Hercules' arm in an attempt to hold him back. "Let go, Iolaus!" Hercules said quietly.
Iolaus? The blond's heart leapt. Quicker on the uptake than the war god, the hunter immediately released him.
The unwary god let the demigod move right up close and only realized that all was not right, or more accurately all was back to normal, when a large fist took him with a vicious upper cut that lifted him right off his feet.
"Don't you dare to touch my family," the demigod warned, following up the blow with a sharp left jab to the god's stomach.
Ares gagged, but managed to splutter, "Strife!" in a tone that still brooked no refusal.
"Here, unk!" the God of Mischief, announced airily as he appeared. He tried to wipe the wide grin from his face as he took in the scene. "Dear me, I guess my little potion must've worn off, eh? Too bad. Never mind." Unable to contain himself any longer, at the sight of his over-bearing uncle being bashed by an irate demigod, he laughed.
"I'll give you "Too bad. Never mind"," the war god snarled and Strife hurriedly vanished to be followed by his vengeful relative.
"Can someone tell me what in Tartarus is going on? The demigod appealed plaintively.
Alcmene started, but the hunter interrupted. "Please, Alcmene, let me do it."
Iolaus took him aside and proceeded to give him a carefully expurgated and brief summary of events, that basically consisted of little more than the fact that Strife had used some potion to cause the demigod's mind to revert to that of a two year old.
"Aren't you going to tell him how he mistook you for a doll?" Jason asked grinning, not noticing Alcmene's frantic signals to be quiet.
"I did what???"
"You thought he was some old toy you had called "Dolly". You've had great fun dragging him around. It's a wonder he's got any stuffing left in him," Jason commented laughing.
Iolaus hissed, "Shut up, Jase."
However, it was too late. Hercules turned to his friend and observed his bruised face and bandaged wrist.
Iolaus spun on his heel and headed out the door. He did not want to have to cope with the interrogation he knew was coming, but the demigod followed.
"Iolaus, I don't know what to say ... I'm so sorry. I ..."
"It wasn't your fault, Herc."
"But I still hurt you. I mean look at you! You're one big bruise, to say nothing of your wrist."
"It could have been worse."
"It's bad enough."
"Nah, I'm fine. Forget it."
However, there was nobody as determined as the demigod and he wanted to hear it all, even though he strongly suspected he would not like what he learnt.
At intervals during the following day, he interrogated the hunter, his mother and Jason, but even the latter was saying little. The demigod took out his frustration in work: replanting the gardens and fixing the wall.
Tired and sweaty, he looked forward to a quiet relaxing soak in the bath. He was about to step into the bath when a vision assailed him of being in that bath ... with Iolaus.
Horrified, he wrapped the towel around his hips and shouted, "Iolaus!"
In moments, the door opened and the hunter was by his side. "What's wrong, Herc?"
"Iolaus, I just ... did I ... did I ... Iolaus, did we have ... Look, it sounds ridiculous but ... but did we have a bath together?"
"Um ... um ... why are you asking?" Iolaus prevaricated.
"Just answer the question please."
"Yeah, we did sort of."
"What do you mean "sort of"?"
"That's all there was to it. Just a bath! I-I didn't ... um ... didn't touch you, Herc," he added, guiltily remembering his fantasies and worrying just what the demigod might be thinking.
"In a bath that size?" Hercules asked, his voice frankly disbelieving.
"Well, I was kind of sitting on you, but you just ... you just ..."
"Iolaus, what did I do?"
"Just soaped my hair ... mainly. That's all there was to it. Now if you'd got hold of that scrubbing brush it might have been a different story," he said grinning and hoping a laugh might ease the situation.
"Iolaus, did I ... did I do anything ... Damn it! Things are hazy, but I know you're keeping stuff back from me. " As he spoke, he seized the hunter's shoulders and peered intently at him. "Look at me and tell me the truth," he insisted.
"Herc, you didn't do anything. Hell, you were a two year old. Two year olds don't ... well they do do things, but they don't mean them ... not like that."
"So I did do something."
"Stop lying to me!" As he spoke, he started to shake the hunter in his anguish, digging steel fingers in to the hunter's shoulders.
"Ow! That hurts, Herc."
"Okay, you cuddled me a bit. Just that sort of thing. You thought I was a doll remember?"
"That's the bloody trouble" The employment of the adjective showed just how agitated he was. "I *don't* remember or, at least, I only remember bits. I want to know. I *have* to know. Iolaus *please* tell me. I need to know everything. These scraps of memory are driving me crazy."
Iolaus swallowed. The last thing he wanted to do was upset or embarrass his friend, but he was never good at lying and the demigod knew him too well to allow him to get away with any untruths. "Okay, Herc, I'll tell you what little there is to tell. You got me confused with some toy you were apparently very fond of. A few of the bruises you can see on me are only the result of you choosing some rather boisterous games for us to play and ... um ... er ... you showing me how much you ... um ... loved me. You didn't know your own strength and you just got a bit carried away with the cuddling, that's all."
"Just cuddling?" As he spoke, he reached out a hand and touched Iolaus' face, looking at the fading bruises.
"Yes ... well, sorta ..."
"A few ... kisses." He did not like to say it, but it seemed better to mention them than the odd slap.
"And where did the bath fit into events?"
"You just thought you'd wash me. My hair mostly!" he added quickly.
"But not only?"
"What does it matter, Herc?"
"I assaulted you, didn't I?" the demigod asked his face a picture of guilt. "That's why you're not telling me anything."
"No! That's not the word, Herc. It *isn't*! Look, Herc, you touched me, but ... but when a little kid does that it's not really assault. I mean there's no intent."
"I know that Iolaus, but I still did it. I must have embarrassed the heck out of you as well as hurting you."
"Herc, please forget it."
"How can I? It must have been awful for you having me mauling you."
"No! Herc, I-I d-don't mind you touching me."
"Not like *that*."
"I don't mind you touching me *any* way! Please believe me, Herc, you're my best friend and I love you and I *don't* mind. Please just accept that."
"I'll try." Even as he spoke he knew he *would* try, but he was *not* going to succeed.
Iolaus left him and he climbed into the bath. As he lay there, the words "Dolly's got fur" popped into his mind and kept repeating themselves. He supposed that must have been related to the hair washing, but why would Iolaus' hair have caused him to make the comment? 'Perhaps because it is soft and fluffy,' he mused. 'At least, I suppose it's soft and fluffy. It always looks like it is."
He finally emerged from the bath and joined the others for the evening meal. Conversation was strained, as every new topic seemed, somehow to call recent events to mind.
Hercules and Iolaus both opted to retire to bed early. Hercules just wanted to escape from his thoughts in sleep, but Iolaus was feeling exhausted, after his previous sleepless night and all the activities he had 'enjoyed' with Hercules.
The demigod had no sooner hit the sheets than another memory attacked him. He sat bolt upright. "Iolaus, did we sleep together?"
"We've done that before, Herc," the hunter replied, thinking of all the times they had been forced to share a bed in taverns because of lack of room or lack of money.
"Yes, but I've got visions of cuddling you."
"I've already told you we did that, Herc." He yawned audibly, hoping the demigod would take the hint.
"Not in bed! You said nothing about that."
"So? It was just cuddling like the other."
"It's *not* the same!"
"Herc, please let it *and* me rest," Iolaus appealed desperately. "I'm so tired."
"But I just want ..."
*That* was it! Iolaus lost it. "Look, Herc, if it will make you happy, let me tell you that for years I've longed for you to kiss me, to cuddle me, to ... to love me. N-Not just as a friend. The only really bad thing about what happened was I couldn't take advantage of the situation because you were just a kid. Now please LET ME SLEEP!!!"
The demigod was shocked into silence and the hunter came wide-awake with the realization that he had just blurted out the secret that he had managed to keep to himself for so many years. If their relationship had been strained by recent events, it had now been effectively shattered by his unruly tongue.
The hunter swung out of bed, tears stinging his eyes. He could not stay now. All he could think about was heading to his own home, distancing himself from Hercules.
To his surprise, he bumped straight into a large immovable object as the demigod had also jumped out of bed. Then to his even greater shock, that same object swooped him into his arms and clutched him to its chest. For a moment, he feared that Hercules had reverted again, but then Hercules said joyfully, "Iolaus, if you only knew how long I've wanted you."
Then he was flat on his back on his bed and the demigod was kissing him passionately and murmuring the words of love that Iolaus had long despaired of ever hearing from him.
When he could finally draw breath, the hunter said, "Love you too, Herc, but before we go ... ah ... any further I've just got one warning for you."
"Yes, my love?" the demigod questioned, wondering in some trepidation what in Tartarus the hunter needed to caution him about.
"If you ever try to force feed me parsnips again I'm going to kill you."
He then dissolved into a fit of giggling at the stunned look on the demigod's face.
E-mail the author c/o Nephele at [email protected]
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