A Sure Thing
By AramisDisclaimer: The characters belong to MCA/Universal and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.
The two were in the middle of a major argument.
"I've had enough of you ordering me around, Herc!" Iolaus insisted.
"Iolaus, be reasonable! I only tell you to do things for your own good."
"It's *you* that's being unreasonable. Stop telling me what to do! I don't need a nursemaid," Iolaus protested.
"You need someone to check on you. Look at all the trouble you get yourself into," Hercules shouted, heatedly.
"No one's asking *you* to do anything," Iolaus snapped. He shoved Hercules so hard that the demigod, caught unawares, actually stumbled. "Get the hell out of my way! I'm going out!" He stormed out of the room.
The air immediately began to shimmer. "Oh no, that's all I need," Hercules said.
A beautiful blonde, clad only in diaphanous draperies appeared. "Why were you yelling at poor Sweet-cheeks, big brother?" Aphrodite demanded.
"Just a minor disagreement."
"It didn't sound minor to me. You shouldn't be so rough on Curly."
"Rough on Iolaus? *Me*? Look, Aphrodite, you should consider what I've had to put up with lately."
"How can I?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if you don't tell me what's been going on, how can I consider it?"
Hercules hesitated as discussing Iolaus seemed to be a bit of a betrayal. However, Aphrodite *was* family and he did want to talk to someone. He certainly couldn't talk to the hunter. *That* was certain. All recent attempts at communication had developed into shouting matches.
"It's just that Iolaus' womanizing has been causing even more problems than usual lately. We were at a festival last week and two women came to blows over him. They turned up at our inn each claiming he'd invited her to attend the festival with him. There was a real cat-fight. I was busy trying to separate them and I'd just got them calmed down when, of all things, Iolaus turned up with a third woman. You can imagine the scene that followed. I'm amazed either of us survived it. Then, a couple of days ago, I got pulled into a scrap Iolaus was having with the three brothers of a girl he'd been making up to. Those incidents were bad enough, but last night was the final straw."
"I was sleeping peacefully when the door of the room was kicked in by an irate man demanding to know where his wife was. I have to say he was quite apologetic when he saw me. He said he'd been told that a little blond, that people had seen with his wife, had rented the room."
"Where was Iolaus while this was going on?"
"Unfortunately lying on the floor on the other side of the bed nearly killing himself trying to suppress laughter at my expense. You see we were sharing a bed and he was on the far side from the door. Anyway, he was apparently awake when the man arrived and he dived out of the bed as the door caved in."
Aphrodite couldn't suppress a chuckle herself as she imagined the scene. "What happened next?"
"As soon as the man had gone, I got up and grabbed Iolaus. He was still giggling, but not for long I can tell you. I was absolutely furious. The other incidents had been annoying enough, but chasing after another man's wife was *it* as far as I was concerned. I shouted at him. He tried to argue that the woman had been the one doing the chasing, but I'd had enough. I gave him a damn good shaking and told him so. He continued to argue so I hit him."
"You *hit* Sweet-cheeks!" Aphrodite exclaimed in dismay.
"It wasn't *that* hard," Hercules protested, guiltily aware that it nearly had been *very* hard, but somehow he'd managed to pull his punch at the last. "It only laid him out for half an hour or so."
"Well, I think it's disgusting. You could have damaged Sweet-cheek's face and it's way too pretty for that." She waited, and since Hercules didn't seem to be going to proceed, asked, "What happened next?"
Hercules had actually spent that half hour in a state of fear, wondering if he had hit the hunter too hard and so, by the time he recovered consciousness, the demigod was sufficiently worried that he was prepared to forget all of Iolaus' transgressions just as long as he was okay. Unfortunately, Iolaus was not prepared to let the matter rest. Once his world had stopped spinning and his eyes had finally focused, he had reopened the argument with a vengeance.
Finally, Hercules had had enough. "Iolaus, for the last time, be quiet!" he demanded. "I want you to get back into that bed and go to sleep. We'll talk this over in the morning."
The hunter made no attempt to obey. Instead, he drew breath to speak again. Hercules shot out an arm and grabbed his right wrist, pulling him to him and twisting the arm up his back. He used his other hand to cover the hunter's mouth so painfully the latter was all but choking beneath the force of it. Iolaus tried to use his free arm to prize Hercules' hand off his face, but couldn't manage it and so, in desperation, bit him hard. Hercules winced and tightened his grip. "Are you going to be silent or not? I am quite prepared to smother you for as long as it takes either for you to agree or until I can no longer contain the urge to throttle you, which ever comes first."
Since Iolaus' most urgent concern was to breathe again, he nodded his head.
Hercules released him. "Don't even *think* about speaking, Iolaus, because, believe me, you will not enjoy it if you do."
Iolaus fought the treacherous thought that he would probably enjoy extending the argument very much and glared hotly back. He did not quite dare speak.
"That's better. We'll discuss this tomorrow. Now get back in the bed!" Hercules ordered.
Iolaus reluctantly decided that obedience was probably the safest option. He *was* rather sleepy and anyway, he thought, ' Herc will hopefully have calmed down by tomorrow and will be able to see how funny tonight was.' He hugged himself tightly and tried not to laugh as he recalled the demigod's stunned reaction when the door fell in and the man ordered him to produce his wife. It had been well worth the aching wrist and the sore jaw.
However, the next morning, he found Hercules was still angry about the incident and Iolaus' other little problems with the ladies. He started on one of his lectures and Iolaus wasn't able to resist answering impudently and joking about the last incident. This got the demigod really stirred up and he made some very cutting remarks. The discussion soon became the argument that ended with Iolaus' rapid departure. It was at this point that Aphrodite had appeared.
Having listened to her brother's catalogue of woes, Aphrodite observed, "I don't know why you are wasting time complaining, big brother, because if anyone can solve this problem you can."
"I'd like to know how. Nothing I've tried so far has worked."
"But the answer's so simple: let Iolaus have the person he loves and then he'll stop all this frantic skirt-chasing and won't be interested in second-best any more."
" 'The person'? Do you mean there's a particular woman he wants?"
"Aphrodite, you're talking in riddles. What on earth do you mean?"
"Iolaus likes women, but it's a man he wants."
"Iolaus??? Are we talking about the same Iolaus? A little guy, with a mop of blond curls, about this high." He held out a hand about shoulder height. "The one that chases all women, regardless of their age, marital status or their number of large, aggressive male relatives?"
"Aphrodite, you're being ridiculous."
"You're a fine one to talk! Surely you *must* have realized that Sweet-cheeks loves you, big brother."
"*What*? Impossible! No-one likes women more than Iolaus does."
"True! *Likes* them, but *loves* you. He always has and always will. He enjoys women's company and whatever else they're prepared to give him, but he'd give them up like that," she said, snapping her fingers, "if you showed an interest in him."
"Aphrodite, this is far-fetched even for you."
"What do you mean even for me?"
"Well you are the Goddess of Love but, I think, the job's getting to you."
"You don't accept that because I'm the Goddess of Love that I have a knowledge and expertise in these matters that you lack?"
"Not in this case. I know Iolaus too well. He'd be the last person to be interested in another man.
"I don't suppose you'd be confident enough to have a little wager on that?"
"I am, but it's hardly something one should bet on."
"So you're not really confident, are you?"
"Of course I am, but you couldn't prove it if we did wager."
"Yes, I could. It would be easy."
"You show Iolaus some affection and see how he responds."
"Do you mean try to seduce him?"
"If you want but, knowing you, I don't expect you're prepared to go that far. A few hugs and caresses, a few kind words, just low key stuff like that should be enough, without committing you to anything. You just watch for his response. I trust you to report his reaction honestly."
"I don't know ..."
"See! You know I'm right, don't you?"
"Prove it then."
"Okay, I will." The words were out before the demigod could stop them.
"And, if I'm right, you'll tell Athena that you think I'm the brainiest one in the family."
"Well I have to get some return for winning and I'll enjoy seeing her face when you make your announcement."
"I suppose I don't have to worry about perjuring myself as you can't possibly win. What's my reward for victory?"
"You mean beside that of knowing that the most beautiful mortal around is absolutely besotted with you?"
"Yeah, beside that," Hercules retorted, sarcastically.
"All right, I'll tell Athena, who will remember my words and is bound to use them against me, that you know more about love and romance than I do."
"Okay, you're on!"
"Deal! A week should be heaps of time, I'll see you later." She vanished.
Hercules began to suffer immediate misgivings. When he came to think of it he didn't think he stood to gain anything from the bet. After all, he didn't know that he particularly wanted to claim to know more about love than Aphrodite. It didn't quite fit with the image that he hoped he had. However, he supposed he could excuse Aphrodite from having to make the statement when he won and he had no doubts that he *would* win. If nothing else, his victory would discourage his overly imaginative sister from making such absurd claims. He decided he'd better go in search of Iolaus.
He finally found him down by the river, not fishing as he might have expected, but sitting staring at the water and cradling his right wrist. "Iolaus," Hercules said, softly.
The hunter swung around and jumped to his feet. To Hercules' surprise, his eyes were red and his cheeks damp. "H-Herc?"
"I wondered where you'd gone." He glanced down and realized that the hunter was holding his right wrist awkwardly across him. "Give me your arm."
"Let me have a look at your arm."
Iolaus immediately went to shove it behind his back, but the demigod caught his forearm, causing him to wince in pain. The wrist was dark with bruises. "Did I do this?"
"It's nothing, Herc."
"Did I do this?"
"I know you didn't mean to."
"I'm sorry Iolaus. I shouldn't have yelled at you and I certainly shouldn't have hit you or done this."
"No, I can't. I need to be more careful."
"Come on, Herc, a couple of little bruises don't matter."
"Yes, they do, but it's not just that."
"What do you mean?"
"You've been crying."
"Crying? *Me?* Of course not! My eyes have just been watering from looking into the sun, that's all."
"Yeah, that happens when you sit with your back to it. Now come here!" He still had hold of Iolaus' forearm and he pulled him gently but firmly into an embrace. He held the hunter against him. The soft, golden curls tickled his chest and he felt an inexplicable urge to bury his face in them. He blinked at the thought and pushed it aside. "Listen, Iolaus, we've been friends too long to start lying to each other now. If I hurt you, you *must* tell me. I don't always control my strength too well and you can be annoying."
"I know I can. I'm sorry, Herc," the hunter muttered.
"I'm sorry too. I over-reacted." He stroked a hand up and down Iolaus back as one might caress a pet and then patted his curls. "Am I forgiven?"
"Sure?" He put a hand under Iolaus' chin and raised it. The azure eyes were shining at him. "Okay now?"
"Yes!" Iolaus smiled one of his breath-taking smiles that lit his whole face. This was the first time in days that Hercules had been kind to him, instead of scolding him.
Hercules was mesmerized. 'He's so incredibly beautiful when he smiles,' he thought and then inwardly did a double-take. 'What the hell am I thinking of?'
"Come on, Iolaus, let's go back to the inn."
"Couldn't we stay here for a while, Herc?"
"If you want."
They lay companionably in the sun. Hercules stripped off his shirt and undershirt and sun-baked. He lay pondering the wager and wondering what he could say or do to test Iolaus' response. Whatever it was it needed to be safely ambiguous so that, if necessary, he could provide an innocent explanation for it. However, he was really certain that Iolaus was not remotely interested in him sexually and would therefore not be looking for any deeper meaning in anything he said or did. He was still thinking about his best move when the hunter, who had never been one for inactivity and soon became restless, said, "Let's go swimming, Herc."
"No, I'm comfortable here in the sun. Anyway that water looks cold."
"Nah, don't be a sook, it'll be great!" He stripped rapidly and plunged in. A few moments later, the demigod's eyes flew open as water rained down on him. "Iolaus, stop splashing!"
"If you don't, I will and then you'll be sorry."
"You'll have to catch me first," the hunter laughed, swooshing more water in Hercules' direction.
With that, Hercules was up and into the water, regardless of trousers and boots. The move caught the hunter completely off guard. He tried to twist away from the demigod's grasping hands, managed a couple of steps and gave a cry of pain. Blood pooled around him.
"Iolaus! What have you done!" Hercules' heart was in his mouth.
"Careful, Herc, there's something damned sharp here." He reached down and came up with both hands full of fish-bones, the remains of a group's riverside meal. "Look!" Hercules' still had his boots on, so that was no worry. He scooped Iolaus up and carried him to the bank.
Iolaus' left foot was badly cut and was bleeding in several places. Hercules extracted a few sharp pieces of bone with some difficulty, both because the only available instrument was Iolaus' hunting knife and as it was difficult to see the pieces because of the blood. Iolaus lay back wincing and occasionally swearing. "Well, divine retribution! This should teach you it's unwise to splash demigods," Hercules joked, as he used his undershirt to wrap Iolaus' foot. He then helped the hunter into his trousers and right boot. That done, he swung the hunter into his arms once more.
"No need to carry me, Herc. Just grab me a stick to lean on."
"What and have you completely ruin my undershirt by trailing it along the ground? No way! I'm carrying you and that's that. Now lie still." Iolaus immediately wriggled. "Did you hear me? *Still!*"
Iolaus wriggled again. "C'mon, Herc, let me down."
"Okay, it's over the shoulder then." He shifted his grip and flipped the hunter from the relative comfort of his arms, to the discomfort of being head-down over a shoulder. "Now stay still!" To emphasize the command, he gave the hunter a sharp slap on the backside.
"Ow! You're not supposed to pick on invalids. Anyway, you said you were going to treat me better."
"Don't push your luck."
As he walked, Hercules pondered the situation. 'This could work out quite well,' he thought. Now he had a legitimate excuse for pampering the hunter. He could touch him and do things for him and the actions would be safely ambiguous. If Iolaus chose to read more into his actions than was there that was up to him. If his behavior was questioned, Hercules could always claim he was merely *helping* the 'invalid'. Anyway, that *wouldn't* happen because Aphrodite was wrong.
Meanwhile, Iolaus lay uncomfortably over Hercules' shoulder and thought over the recent events. He dwelt particularly on the hug that Hercules had given him when he saw the hunter had been weeping. It certainly wasn't the first time that his friend had hugged him, but he had sensed something different in it. Certainly the petting that had gone with it was new but, he feared, unfortunately not sexual. 'After all these years I should be realistic,' he thought, 'Herc's never going to love me like I love him. I wish I could be content with just having him for a friend. Having a demigod for a friend should be enough for any mortal, but it's not. However, I should try to cause him less trouble than I have lately.' Unfortunately, that virtuous thought immediately conjured up an image of the irate husband and the blurry-eyed, confused Hercules trying to figure out what he'd done to warrant the intrusion. Iolaus began to giggle at the memory.
"What is it now?" asked Hercules, suspiciously.
"You don't want to know," Iolaus managed between chuckles.
A heavy hand swatted his backside again. "I *do* know! You're thinking about last night again, aren't you?"
"No!" the hunter lied.
Another, harder, slap. "Honesty is preferred!"
"Okay, I was, but it *was* funny, Herc." He sensed Hercules was about to dispute the point or, more likely, to swat him again and so added defiantly, "Well, it was! You should have seen your face." He began to shake helplessly with laughter.
"Iolaus, do you want to go over my knee and be spanked properly?" the demigod asked, threateningly.
Iolaus hesitated. He had a strong urge to call Hercules' bluff and say "Try it." The trouble was the demigod might just do it and that could have consequences that the latter had never dreamed of. Hell, he could feel himself growing hard at the thought. He desperately wished he was in another position. He just hoped Hercules wouldn't notice. 'I must think of something else quickly.' But images of himself lying naked over the demigod's' knee kept reoccurring. In his mind's eye, he could then see Hercules lifting him onto the bed and climbing on beside him and then ... 'Damn! Just how far is that bloody inn?' He didn't want to risk trying to twist around to see. "Please, Herc," he managed, "Could you put me down for a moment. This is really uncomfortable."
"No! There's not far to go now." Fortunately, this turned out to be the case.
Hercules carried the hunter upstairs and dumped him unceremoniously on the bed. "I'll just go and get some salve and bandages."
Iolaus lay back shaking slightly. Thank the gods, Hercules hadn't noticed. It would have been embarrassing for both of them.
Hercules was soon back. He cleaned and dressed the cuts, stitching the deeper ones. The hunter was actually grateful for the pain as it helped him to push aside his wayward thoughts.
"I'll go and get us some food now," Hercules said. "What do you want?"
"I'll come with you."
"No, you stay right there! That foot's been bleeding badly. You need to stay off it. I'll look after you."
And boy did he prove a man of his word. For the next three days, he was at Iolaus' beck and call. He insisted that the hunter stay in bed and even provided a back massage when the latter tried to use an imaginary stiff back as an excuse for getting out of bed. That had the effect of transferring the 'complaint' to another part of the hunter's anatomy but, fortunately, this was concealed by the soft mattress. Also, with his bruised wrist, Iolaus found shaving awkward, so Hercules did that for him. Iolaus enjoyed that as well, though he had great difficulty forcing himself not to reach out for Hercules. Indeed, countless other small attentions assumed a much greater importance than they warranted because the bored hunter had started to fill in the time by pretending that the demigod was his lover and the gentle care was part of the fantasy.
Mind you, Iolaus didn't really want a gentle lover. Sure, he'd be overjoyed to have Hercules under any circumstances, but he really wanted an assertive lover who would handle him firmly. *That* would certainly surprise Hercules. The idea that the willful and disobedient hunter wanted a lover who would take charge in the bedroom would stun the demigod. He smiled at the thought.
Hercules saw the smile. "You're not still thinking about that man looking for his wife, are you?" he demanded. He had actually long forgiven the hunter for the incident and could recognize some humor in it, but he wasn't about to let Iolaus know that.
The voice suddenly cutting in to his thoughts made the hunter start guiltily. "No!" he said, quickly.
Iolaus decided to change the subject or, more accurately, to reopen one he had been raising at intervals since the accident. "Herc, can't I get out of bed? Three days in bed with a cut foot is ridiculous."
In actual fact, Hercules didn't really disagree with this opinion, but keeping Iolaus in bed allowed him to look after the hunter, while safely testing Aphrodite's theory. And, so far, he was happy to say she couldn't have been more wrong. Why even the back massage had failed and, if the truth be known, he himself had experienced a few unusual feelings when he'd had his hands on that beautiful, satin skin. "I don't think you should get up yet, Iolaus. Your foot hasn't healed yet and you've got nothing else you have to do at the moment, so you might as well be in bed."
"But it's so boring! It might surprise you, Herc, but I don't like just lying about."
"That's hardly news."
"Well, I might just have to be disobedient, for a change." He peeked up at Hercules, through thick, lowered lashes. In truth, he had actually started to hope that his fantasy might have, at least, some small basis in reality since Hercules had been so painstaking in his attentions since the accident. He had begun to wonder whether he could test the demigod without giving away his own feelings and had finally decided to go for it.
"For a change?" Hercules spluttered, trying desperately not to laugh. "Iolaus, how can you say such a thing with a straight face? Anyway, you can't get up until I say so."
"Can't I? Just watch me!" 'Just watch me' was right, Hercules couldn't help but do so. When Iolaus flung back the covers, revealing his smooth, ivory body, and began to swing his legs over the edge the demigod's eyes were riveted. 'What the hell is wrong with me?' he wondered. 'I've seen Iolaus naked hundreds of times.'
To Iolaus' disappointment, the demigod's reaction was firm, but anything but lover-like. "No way, Iolaus!" Hercules said, reaching out and grasping his shoulders. He pushed the hunter onto his back and then hooked an arm under Iolaus' legs to lift them back onto the bed. He couldn't help but feast his eyes on the golden thatch between Iolaus' legs. He nearly reached out a hand to see if it was as soft as it appeared.
Unaware of Hercules' well-concealed thoughts, the frustrated hunter decided he might as well gain something from the situation and succeed in getting out of bed if nothing else. "C'mon, Herc, let me up! I'm fine!" Iolaus protested. He suddenly twisted and rolled quickly towards the other side of the bed. Hercules dived for him and found himself with one hand clutching Iolaus' right shoulder and the other between Iolaus' thighs, clutching the left one.
Iolaus looked down and flushed bright red as his cock began to react. However, a thought shot like lightning into his mind, 'At least, this will definitely make Herc's attitude clear one way or the other.' It did. An embarrassed demigod immediately released his hold. Any small hopes that Iolaus still nurtured plummeted at this clear rejection. He wanted to weep. Seizing one of the blankets, that he'd thrown aside, Iolaus pulled it over himself. He then twisted over onto his stomach and buried his face in the pillow. 'How could I have been stupid enough to think that Hercules might be finally starting to show an interest in me as a lover after all these years?' he wondered, miserably.
Hercules could see his shoulders shaking. Misinterpreting the reason for Iolaus' distress, he put out a hand and squeezed one gently. "It's okay, Iolaus."
"N-No, it's not!"
"Don't be silly. It could happen to anyone."
"Well, it didn't! It wouldn't have happened to you, would it?" he blurted. 'Why the hell did I say that,' he wondered, mentally kicking himself. Hercules would be bound to seek an elucidation of the comment.
Right on cue, the demigod asked, "What do you mean?"
'Damn, I'll have to say something,' Iolaus thought, 'but what?' To his horror, he heard himself speaking the truth, "If our situations had been reversed, it wouldn't have happened to you because ... because you d-don't love me."
"Of course I love you, Iolaus," the demigod responded.
"Not the way I love you. Not like I want you to love me."
In spite of what Aphrodite had said, Hercules couldn't really believe what he was hearing. He'd been so sure that she was wrong. "Iolaus, are you trying to tell me that you want me to ... to ..." He trailed off, unsure how to put it.
"To fuck me." There was a note of defiance in the hunter's voice. There was no going back now.
That had been, in effect, what the demigod meant, but to hear the hunter put it so bluntly really threw him. He stared at Iolaus in shock. "How long have you felt like this?" he finally ventured.
"But you've *never* said anything about it. You've never even hinted." Hercules was almost babbling.
"No, I didn't dare. I thought you'd be disgusted and you are, aren't you?" Iolaus asked unhappily.
Seeing his friend's distress, Hercules hastened to reassure him insisting, "No, Iolaus, definitely not that," and then ruined the effect by adding, "To be quite honest, I'm somewhat stunned. I'm not really sure how I feel."
"Do you want me to leave?" the hunter asked despondently.
"Of course not. You're still my best friend."
"But I can't be more?" There was a note of entreaty in his voice.
"Iolaus, I don't really know what to say. I've never thought about any male in a sexual way." Even as he spoke he knew that wasn't quite true. He *had* been aware of Iolaus' body ever since Aphrodite had raised the issue of Iolaus' sexual preferences. He tried to tell himself that, had his sister not spoken, these thoughts would never have surfaced while he had been caring for Iolaus. However, there was a small nagging doubt, recognized, subconsciously, by his choice of the verb 'surfaced', which implied they had been there all along but suppressed.
Even now, when he looked at the hunter's pale, tear-streaked face and disheveled curls, he had an urge to take Iolaus into his arms to comfort him. But that *wasn't* sexual, was it?
"Herc, I want to get dressed and I'd like you to leave while I do, please," the hunter said quietly.
"Okay, Iolaus. I would like to be alone to think things over. Would you promise to wait here until I return, please?"
Hercules had only gone a few steps from the inn when Aphrodite appeared. "From the worried look on your face, I guess I win the bet, big brother. There's no doubt Iolaus loves you, is there?"
"Yes, you win, Aphrodite," Hercules admitted, sadly, "but I wish you'd been wrong though."
"Iolaus is so upset now that he's told me and I don't know how to comfort him. I can't even hug him now because it doesn't seem right. And I certainly can't say what he wants to hear. I don't know what all this is going to do to our friendship." He paused and then said, "Come on, let's go and see Athena and get it over with. I want to get back to Iolaus as quickly as possible." 'Though I don't know what the hell I can say or do to help him,' he thought. He hadn't felt as worried and confused in years.
He would have felt even worse had he known what was going on in the room he'd just left. As soon as he had gone, Iolaus had clambered despondently out of bed and had hobbled painfully across the room to get his clothes. He was reaching for these when a voice, right behind him, said, "Hello, Iolaus."
He swung awkwardly around. "Strife! What are you doing here?"
"Great to see you too," the god said, sarcastically. "I just called in to see who won the bet."
"What bet?" asked a mystified Iolaus.
"The one Aphrodite and Hercules had."
"I still don't know what you're on about."
"Didn't they tell you afterwards? That wasn't very sporting of them, especially since you were the object of the wager."
Iolaus was getting very exasperated both because he couldn't follow Strife and because he couldn't manage to dress standing up as he couldn't support himself on his injured foot, while lifting the other, as it was still too sore. He limped over to the bed and sat down to pull on his leather trousers. "Strife, say what you've come to say and go, I'm not in the mood for this."
"Well, I think that petulant little outburst makes it fairly clear who won," sniggered Strife, "but if you *really* don't know I'll tell you. Aphrodite bet Hercules you were in love with him. Of course, as you can imagine, he was *disgusted* by the suggestion," he added, twisting the knife and enjoying the sight of Iolaus flinching at his words. "He was sure it *couldn't* be true. To prove it either way, they decided he would be extra nice to you to see how you'd react."
"You're making this up," Iolaus insisted, desperately.
"Nah! You ask Hercules. He'll tell you. He won't lie to you, whatever else he might do. Anyway, I must dash, Uncle Ares is waiting to hear who won." He vanished, laughing at Iolaus' distress.
Iolaus felt absolutely numb. Tears trickled unheeded down his face. He couldn't believe Hercules would do this to him. Actually wagering on his affections! What had happened previously had been bad enough, but this was unbearable. He forced himself to finish dressing, removing the bandages from his foot so he could get his boot on. He then gathered up his few possessions and limped painfully towards the door. He was leaving. He had no idea where he was going, but he *was* going. He was reaching for the handle when it opened to reveal Hercules.
"Where are you going? You promised to wait."
The hunter kept his head down, to hide his face, and tried to push past him, but the demigod caught his arm. Iolaus tried to pull free. "Let go, Hercules!"
The demigod started, both at the anguish in his voice and at the use of his full name rather than the usual affectionate diminutive. "Iolaus, what's wrong?"
"I trusted you. I thought I meant something to you, not all I was stupid enough to want to mean, but *something*. I never thought you'd use my feelings as something to discuss and laugh about with others and *never* something to wager on."
Hercules could hardly believe that even his often tactless sister would have told Iolaus about the bet, especially after he'd told her how upset the hunter was. "It *wasn't* like that, Iolaus, and I don't know why Aphrodite would pretend it was."
"*She* didn't say anything, Strife told me. I wonder how many others are laughing at me."
"Iolaus, please listen, we shouldn't have made the bet, but it was supposed to be just between Aphrodite and me, and we didn't mean to hurt you. I never thought for a moment that she was right when she said you loved me."
"I know. Strife told me how the suggestion disgusted you."
"Iolaus, it doesn't."
"Why should I believe that? Why should I believe anything you say? You know, I trusted you completely," he said, with a bitter laugh. "You must think I'm so gullible. Gullible *and* disgusting! Well, you won't have to put up with me any longer because I'm leaving now. So let go of my arm!"
Hercules had forgotten he was still grasping the hunter. He did not relax his grip, but appealed, "Please, Iolaus, give me a chance to explain."
"*No!* Just let me go!" He started to struggle frantically, dropping his sword and carry-bag so he could push against Hercules.
"Iolaus, please just calm down and listen!"
"*No!* Damn you, let go!"
At that moment, Strife reappeared. "Whatcha doing to your dear, little playmate? He seems a bit uptight about something. Didn't he find your wager kewl fun like Uncle Ares and I did? How sad!"
"Go away, Strife!" Hercules ordered, "You've caused enough trouble even for you."
"Dear me and I did so want to help. The bet was such a buzz."
An enraged Hercules released the hunter and flung himself at Strife. Iolaus seized the opportunity and limped as rapidly as he could out of the room.
As soon as he had cleared the village, he left the road and headed into the wood in search of a branch to use as a staff. He had not gone far when Ares materialized in front of him. "Having trouble, pretty one?"
Iolaus went to push past him. God of War or not, he'd had more than enough of Herc and his relatives. Steel fingers grasped his right shoulder and swung him back to face their owner. "I'm talking to you, Iolaus. It's not polite to ignore me and I don't take it well." He tightened his grip and pain surged through the hunter's shoulder. "Am I hurting you? It's nothing to what I can do." He squeezed harder. Iolaus blanched and bit his lip to stop himself crying out. "Some very nasty things can happen if you are not cooperative."
"What do you want?"
"I've decided to take pity on you. I know my stupid brother has disappointed you so I'm offering you myself in his place. You wanted a strong lover, you've got one. I'm going to use you, Iolaus, at my leisure and for my pleasure and there's nothing you can do about it so you might as well submit with good grace." His smile was chilling.
He towered over Iolaus menacingly. Iolaus gazed up at him, eyes wide with apprehension and unrelieved misery. Taking Iolaus' chin in his hand, Ares looked into their swamped but defiant azure depths. He then lowered his head and kissed the blond so hard, with a violence so shocking, that Iolaus stumbled backwards into a tree. Ares' mouth never left his as, one hand on either side of him, he trapped the hunter against the tree. He pinned Iolaus hard against the tree with one fierce thrust of his hips. The rough bark cut into his back. Ares thrust a leg between the hunter's thighs. Iolaus pushed despairingly against his chest. The God of War grasped his wrists, imprisoned them in one large hand and pulled them above the hunter's head effortlessly lifting him off the ground. He pushed Iolaus' wrists against the tree and held him suspended there. The casual show of strength was intimidating and Iolaus knew there was no way he was going to be able to stop Ares from doing whatever he wanted to do.
Ares began to undress the hunter with his free hand. He opened the hunter's codpiece and fondled him roughly.
"Hey, Unk, I see you found Blondie," a gleeful voice intervened. "Okay if I watch? I have been helpful, you know."
"Yeah, sure. Just don't chatter too much. It gets on my nerves."
Meanwhile, a certain goddess was having misgivings. Aphrodite tended to float through the world with a remarkable emotional detachment, considering she was the Goddess of Love, and little appreciation of others' problems and concerns unless they impinged on her in some way. However, she had always found herself inexplicably fond of Hercules' scruffy, little, blond friend and she couldn't help thinking about what Hercules had said. 'Drat my big brother, he had no right to throw a guilt trip upon me,' she thought. 'I expect he was exaggerating, but I suppose I ought to go and check on my little Sweet-cheeks.' Besides, unbeknownst to Hercules, she had a vested interest in what happened next between him and the hunter.
So Aphrodite concentrated her thoughts on Iolaus and materialized near where he was. She was not prepared for the sight and sounds that assailed her senses.
By this time, Ares had enlisted Strife's assistance to strip off Iolaus' boots and trousers and had swung him to face the tree, while still holding him suspended. To Strife's delight, the God of War was now fucking Iolaus ruthlessly. Iolaus had bitten through his lip trying to stifle his screams, but the pain had got beyond him and he could suppress them no longer. Besides his lip, he was bleeding in several places as Ares' brutal thrusts slammed him into the rough bark of the tree.
A horrified Aphrodite stared at the scene and then disappeared in search of Hercules.
The demigod was back at the inn. He had tried to find Iolaus after Strife had left. He had bypassed the point where Iolaus had turned off into the woods, but people he met soon afterwards had not seen the blond. He knew then that Iolaus was in the woods and that he would have no hope of tracking the elusive hunter. His only hope was that Iolaus might decide to return to the inn to retrieve his abandoned gear. Thus, he had elected to wait there, for a while, in case.
He was *not* pleased to see his sister. "Please, Aphrodite, the only person I want to see at this moment is Iolaus and I don't know where he is."
"Well I know and he needs you, big brother."
"Needs me? I'm the last person he wants to see at the moment. He couldn't get out of here fast enough."
"Hercules, be quiet and listen! Ares has him."
"They're in the woods. Ares is ... hurting him." Though the Goddess of Love, as usual, she felt more comfortable with a euphemism.
"Take me there!"
The two immediately vanished. Hercules found himself in the clearing behind Strife. His blood boiled at the scene. Nobody was allowed to hurt *his* hunter. Nobody! He announced his presence with a roar of fury.
Strife turned and laughed. Now there'd really be some action. He'd enjoy this.
Ares also looked around. He withdrew rapidly, forcing another cry from his victim, and let go of Iolaus' wrists. The hunter fell to his knees, sagging against the tree.
"Did you want something, brother dear?" the God of War inquired calmly. Strife shook with joy. Uncle Ares was so 'kewl'. Nobody else handled a situation with such flair.
However, what happened next was totally unexpected. Aphrodite appeared right in front of Ares and struck him across the face as hard as she could. She might be the Goddess of Love, but she was still a goddess and could pack a solid punch when she was roused. Caught wrong-footed, Ares actually staggered back with a sharp cry, compounded of pain and surprise. "You had no right to touch Sweet-cheeks!" she said, advancing on him ready to deliver another blow.
Ares recovered himself and grasped her wrists. In her enraged state, it was all he could do to hold her off. He didn't look nearly so classy now, Strife considered, as he watched his uncle trying to protect himself from his enraged sister. However, he was still finding it all vastly entertaining.
Hercules had also been taken aback by the unexpected attack. He'd been all set to try and rip Ares apart himself. Having had his function usurped, he ran to the hunter instead. He put his hands on the shaking shoulders. "Don't touch me. Please don't touch me," Iolaus gasped.
"Iolaus, it's me, Hercules. It's okay."
But Iolaus merely huddled closer to the tree. He seemed to be in a state of shock. Hercules pulled the unresisting hunter into his arms and cuddled him to him, murmuring words of comfort and endearment. Still eliciting no response, he began to dress the blond.
Meanwhile, Ares was in a cleft stick. If attacked by anyone else, he would have had no hesitation in flattening them, but hitting the Goddess of Love, Zeus' favorite daughter, was another thing. However, he wasn't about to stand around listening to her self-righteous criticism, to say nothing of the physical attack that accompanied it, either, especially as he considered her the initiator of the events that led to the present situation. He decided it was time to beat a strategic retreat. "Well, sister dear, I have enjoyed myself, but I've *had* all I wanted and so, with your gracious leave, I think I'll be off now. It has been a pleasure." The words were casual and calculated, but a slightly higher than usual voice betrayed the fact that the God of War had been shaken from his usual sang-froid. He vanished.
"Boy I love my relatives! They can always be relied on to provide 5-star entertainment," Strife sniggered.
"Why are you still here?" Aphrodite demanded.
"I'm gone, Auntie!" Strife disappeared, laughing.
Aphrodite turned to Hercules. "How is my little Sweet-cheeks?"
"Not so good, I'm afraid. Aphrodite, could you get us back to our room, please. I don't want to have to carry Iolaus through the village with everyone asking what's happened."
A moment later all three were in the room. Hercules deposited Iolaus carefully on the bed and started to undress him.
"If you'll excuse me, big brother, I'll go. I'm not very good with injuries. Blood always makes me feel dreadfully nauseous. I'll see you later." She vanished again.
Hercules finished stripping the hunter and then covered him with a blanket and went to fetch hot water and salve. He then washed the blood off the hunter, silently cursing his brother. Iolaus still hadn't spoken. His eyes were wide and glazed and his skin cold. Hercules could see him shaking.
Hercules tucked him into bed and then decided to join him. Some body warmth might help. He pulled the hunter to him and cradled him in his arms, settling the blond head on his shoulder. A couple of hours passed with no movement from Iolaus. Hercules finally dozed off. Some time later, he awoke with a start, conscious of a weight lying on top of him. For a moment, he wondered where he was, but then he remembered. He realized that the hunter had rolled over and was now lying partially on top of him, with his face against his chest. He was also aware that his chest was damp. Iolaus was crying quietly against him. He wrapped his arms gently around the hunter, stroking his back. "Iolaus," he whispered, "are you awake?"
"Herc?" he asked, tentatively, his voice trembling.
"Yes, Iolaus." He tightened his hold and hugged the hunter to him.
"Where's Ares?" He tensed as he spoke.
"He's gone. Don't worry about him. I've got you. You're safe."
"Herc, he ... I couldn't ..." The distress in his voice pierced Hercules' heart.
"Ssh, it's okay. Don't think about it now. Just try to sleep. I'll look after you." He continued to hold the blond comfortingly while caressing his back and shoulders, until he felt him relax into sleep. Finally, he slept as well.
When he awoke the next morning, Iolaus was still asleep. He eased out of bed and dressed and then waited until his friend roused.
Iolaus was very subdued. He declined breakfast, although Hercules managed to persuade him to have a drink. However, most unusually for him, he showed no inclination to get out of bed. Indeed, he showed no interest in anything. Aphrodite appeared briefly and he told her he was fine, but he looked and sounded anything but.
Finally, in desperation, Hercules said, "Iolaus, do you want to talk about what Ares did to you?" In truth, the demigod wanted to avoid the topic, to push it away as if it had never happened. Every time he thought of it he felt such gut-twisting hatred for the God of War that he almost felt ill. That anyone should do *that* to Iolaus enraged him.
"No, I don't want to even think about it." The momentary relief Hercules felt when he heard these words, especially as part of the longest sentence Iolaus had spoken since the attack, was immediately extinguished when the hunter continued, "You'll be pleased about one thing, Herc, it's put me right off sex with a male. I didn't know it would hurt like that."
In honesty, Hercules felt obliged to dispute this. "I'm sure it doesn't have to, Iolaus. We've had friends who've had male lovers and they obviously didn't hurt each other."
But Iolaus continued speaking as though he hadn't heard a word. "Actually, it's rather put me off sex with anyone. I don't think I could stand having anyone touch me. So that should make you even happier. No more irate husbands or brothers for you to deal with." He tried to laugh as he said the last, but it was more like a sob.
"Iolaus, that doesn't make me happy. You *know* sex doesn't have to be like that. That was rape. It was violence, not sex."
However, he got no response. Iolaus wasn't listening. He was quietly considering what to do next. He was having trouble thinking calmly and clearly, as his mind was a maelstrom of emotions and conflicting thoughts. The trouble was he felt so upset and confused that he felt any decision he made was bound to be wrong. If only there was no choice or if someone else could tell him what to do.
He had still not forgiven Hercules for making the wager and could not understand how he could have done such a thing. Further, he was deeply upset about the assault. So, on one level, he still wanted to leave him, to leave everyone, to go off into the bush, as far away from people as he could, so that he'd never have to face anyone who knew his shame.
However, he was afraid that Ares might be waiting for him again.
Also, he knew he still loved Hercules as he loved no other. When he had woken and found himself to be in Hercules' arms, he had felt so safe, so protected. He desperately wanted to remain with his friend. But that wasn't enough. Sure he knew that Hercules loved him, but not in the way that he wanted. Once he had been able to deal with that but, now that he had confessed his feelings, they could never go back to that uncomplicated friendship.
Although he didn't like or trust Strife, he still believed that the god was right about Hercules' attitude towards Iolaus' sexuality. How could he possibly stay with Hercules knowing that the demigod was disgusted by his proclivities. Anyway, why would Hercules want him to stay? Obviously he wouldn't really want him to but, being kind and always trying not to hurt people, Hercules was obviously only pretending he wanted him to remain. Iolaus couldn't live with that.
So, after a few minutes, he climbed awkwardly out of bed and began to dress. His foot was still painful to walk on and he was still feeling discomfort from Ares' assault.
Hercules was watching him, his eyes full of compassion and apprehension. When he reached for his carry-bag, Hercules' worst fears were realized. "Iolaus, please, you can't just leave. Please talk things over first."
"Everything's been said already, Herc. I can't stay. I don't want to." Even as he said this, he knew that it wasn't true. He did want to stay, but it was impossible. He blamed himself for the situation. 'If only I hadn't said anything,' he thought. 'Why did I have to do so after managing to control myself for all these years? Why did I have to ruin everything?'
"Iolaus, I want you to stay. Please don't go like this," Hercules pleaded.
'Why must he make this so hard?' Iolaus wondered. "I have to," he said, hoping his voice didn't tremble. The saltiness of tears stung his eyes. He surreptitiously wiped them with a hand, as he headed for the door.
Hercules felt tears welling up in his own eyes. Since Iolaus got out of bed, thoughts had been flashing like lightning through his mind. What a fool he had been. How could he have ever allowed himself to make that stupid bet? How could he let the one person he loved most in the world leave him? Yet, how could he stop Iolaus? Sure he could use force, but that would make him no better in his way than Ares. What could he say? In his heart, he knew there was only really one thing that would prove that he was not disgusted with Iolaus, but could he do it? Could he really do "that" if it meant stopping his hunter from leaving? If it meant so much to Iolaus, surely he could.
He wasn't even aware of finally making a decision. His body took over and acted by itself. He heard himself saying, "Iolaus come here!" It was an order. He immediately regretted the tone of voice, but it had definitely halted Iolaus in his tracks. "Iolaus, come here now!"
Iolaus had been reaching for the door handle and had frozen at the first command. At the second, he turned. Someone else was making the decision. He didn't have to. If it was wrong, it wasn't his fault.
He moved slowly towards Hercules keeping his head down. When he reached the demigod, he forced himself to look up, raising his damp, anguished eyes questioningly.
The tear-bright eyes that met his, smiled reassuringly. Hercules reached out and pulled the hunter into his arms and held him firmly against him. Iolaus wrapped his arms around his friend and cried against his chest. He felt Hercules' arms tightening around him and gradually his sobbing abated and he felt himself trembling. Hercules was holding him so closely and the hunter was living for every moment.
Fortunately, he was unaware of the turmoil in the demigod's mind. 'What should I do next?' Hercules wondered. 'Can I really do this? I suppose if I pretend he's a woman it might be easier. Okay, well I suppose I ought to kiss him next. That's what I'd do if he was a woman.'
So, Iolaus felt a gentle hand raising his chin and, as his head lifted, Hercules captured his lips. To the demigod's surprised relief, those lips were as sweet as honey. His own lips parted infinitesimally and Iolaus tentatively inserted the tip of his tongue in delicate play. Blindly, Hercules followed his lead. Enticed by the sweetness, his lips opened further and soon that talented invader was roaming and teasing at will. He'd once heard a woman say that no-one kissed like the hunter, and he could well believe it. He'd never enjoyed a kiss like it. He'd never even imagined there could be a kiss like it. If that had been all the hunter required him to do he could have happily continued all evening, but he was aware that more would be hoped for and more would be necessary if he was to persuade Iolaus to stay with him.
Therefore, he ran his hands down the hunter's back and cupped his buttocks, gently lifting him while the latter kept kissing him. He placed Iolaus on the bed, pulling carefully and reluctantly back from the kiss as he did so.
'Okay, what next?' he thought. 'I suppose I'd better undress him. I've done that before. That should be easy enough.' Yes, he'd done that last only the previous night and he'd also done it on a number of occasions in the past when the hunter had been ill or injured. However, now things were different. As he raised Iolaus to enable him to slip off the leather vest, the hunter's hands started to caress him, slipping inside his shirt, tickling and stroking. One fondled a nipple, sending a pleasurable shock through the demigod. Undressing the hunter had never been so difficult or so 'interesting.'
Finally, he had the vest off and decided to give Iolaus some of his own back. His own fingers wandered lightly across Iolaus' chest and suddenly darted to Iolaus' ribs. He knew, from boyhood, how susceptible the hunter was to tickling and he soon had his friend writhing and giggling and begging him to stop.
It was the giggle that got to him. He could never resist that joyous sound and, lately, he'd heard it all too rarely. In his happiness at hearing it, he bent down and nestled his face into the hunter's neck. That contact elicited some other interesting sounds as he discovered that the hunter was also extremely sensitive to touch, particularly in the hollow behind his ears. Daringly he sucked an earlobe, delighting in the gasps this engendered.
He felt the hunter arching his back to press against him and found that, without being aware of doing so, he'd actually joined Iolaus on the bed and was kneeling across his lower body.
The rubbing was becoming insistent, so he knew he'd better do something about it. He sat up, moved back so he was kneeling over the hunter's thighs and started to undo Iolaus' belts. Normally this would have been an easy task, but he was so nervous that he felt his fingers fumbling. Opening the codpiece was even worse. He eased the trousers down to Iolaus' knees, gradually moving back as he did so.
He then reached for the breech-clout and removed it. It was now difficult, indeed absolutely impossible, to continue with his initial pretence of being with a woman. He reached tentatively for Iolaus' penis and began to stroke it. 'At least I know how to do this,' he thought. Unfortunately, he suspected that it wasn't going to be all that Iolaus would want and he was very unsure whether he could manage intercourse, even though he knew he had grown hard.
After far too short a time for the demigod's peace of mind, Iolaus was in the throws of a violent orgasm. Finally, the blazing blue eyes opened and the fierce love that burned there made Hercules' heart skip a beat. The hunter sat up and began to quickly lower the demigod's trousers. Hercules' instinctive reaction was to push his hands away away, but somehow he managed to suppress this urge and allowed the hunter to complete the task. Iolaus then pushed off his own boots and trousers. He then reached for the demigod's penis and coated it with his own 'come'. Iolaus then kissed him and rolled on to his stomach. "Please, Herc, " he whispered.
Hercules hesitated and then inserted a couple of fingers into the hunter, who gasped with pleasure and began to push back against them. The blond enjoyed this play, but soon wanted more. "Please, Herc," he repeated, a note of urgency in his voice.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, the demigod climbed between the spread thighs and thrust hard, sheathing himself in one swift movement. He hadn't anticipated the tightness and the scream of pain that Iolaus gave at the too sudden invasion unnerved him. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you," he apologized, starting to withdraw.
"It's okay, Herc," the hunter gritted, "Please don't stop." The pain had brought Ares back into his mind and he had felt a moment of absolute panic. 'This is Hercules. It'll be all right,' he told himself.
The demigod began to move again, gently at first but gradually increasing his speed and force as the hunter began to gasp with pleasure and to push back against him. His own excitement grew until he could no longer stop himself from slamming into the hunter and the latter no longer wanted him to stop. Somehow his hands found their own way to the hunter's renewed erection and he began to pump the hunter in time with his thrusts. Finally, Iolaus climaxed with a scream of ecstasy, that was echoed by that of the demigod as he collapsed over the hunter in the throws of the most violent orgasm he'd ever experienced. His last conscious thought was 'How could I have feared this?'
A few minutes later, he felt the hunter struggling beneath him and belatedly realized he was smothering his lover beneath his weight. He raised himself and withdrew carefully. He rolled the gasping hunter onto his back and then obstructed his air supply again, this time with kisses. When the demigod finally relented and allowed him to breathe properly again, Iolaus managed to gasp, "Thank you, Herc, I do love you."
Hercules murmured into the hunter's ear, "You are mine, Iolaus. You know that don't you?"
Iolaus replied without hesitation, "Oh, yes! Yours! Always."
They made love twice more before an exhausted hunter fell sound asleep, a happy smile on his face.
Hercules lay looking at the golden beauty of his lover and wondering why on earth he'd been so reluctant to take what the hunter had offered. He gradually dozed off or, at least hoped he was only dreaming, when he heard Aphrodite's teasing voice, "Remember you told me you knew Iolaus well, big brother? I guess you *know* him somewhat better now, don't you?"
But it wasn't a dream. Unbeknown to the lovers, two goddesses had watched the proceedings with interest. Now Aphrodite turned to Athena and smirked ,"Okay, sister, I win our bet. Hercules bedded Iolaus within a week of realizing Sweet-cheeks loved him just like I said he would. If I ever get tired of this Goddess of Love gig I could take up this betting lark full-time. I'm obviously a natural," she added, preening herself at her cleverness.
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