Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Hercules, Iolaus, Callisto, and most of the other characters belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures and were used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended, and no financial profit is anticipated. :-) Please check with me before archiving or distributing.
This story takes place some time after my story The Dark Side of my Soul and takes place in the same continuity as Never Let Me Down Again and Forced Revelations (which was co-written by Ruth).
Starting with my story . . . But We're Not the Same, I'm essentially creating an alternate timeline, which branches off after the events in 'The Debt' (Parts 1 and 2). In this timeline, Hope has sort of conveniently vanished, and Solan is still living with the Centaurs.
It's rated NC-17 for graphic sex of every variety--f/f, m/m, and m/f, most of it very kinky. If bdsm or any of those gender combinations offends you, by all means don't waste your time--stop now. If, however, you have a taste for polymorphous perversity, please read on. It's not essential that you read the other stories in the series first, but they will provide some insight into what's going on here.
Many grateful thank-yous to Ruth, Mike, and Blade for beta-reading and encouragement.
The other stories in the series and my other XWP and HTLJ stories can be found at Giffstein Productions.
Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Idylls of the Conqueror: Part One
The God of War paced around his temple, fuming. It had been months since Xena and his goody-two-shoes half-brother had humiliated him, but Ares could be very patient in holding a grudge. If he was going to get revenge, he was going to do it right, and this required careful planning. And he *was* going to do it right.
His glance idly slipped to the naked warrior, sleeping spent on the floor, his young body already adorned with the badges of battles fought in Ares' name. He had been amusing himself with this one, as he did with so many others, but the release of tension was only temporary. He had worn this one out, fucking first his mouth and then his ass, then casually, offhandedly, stroking him to orgasm because, after all, the boy had tried hard to please his god, and he was attractive, his battle scars so pleasingly defined against his skin. But now the boy was asleep, and the God of War's mind had returned, obsessively, to the same track, one that carved deeper ruts with every circuit around his mind.
He smiled to himself. Yes, Hercules and Xena deserved to be punished, but he had learned a lot during Xena's recovery from her captivity by Callisto. The most important piece of information was just how deeply, ineradicably in love his pathetic half-brother still was with the warrior princess, despite his relationship with his blond boy-toy, Iolaus. The other thing he had learned was how deep Xena's commitment was to doing good. Ares finally had to admit, reluctantly and with no small degree of disgust, that her essential goodness had been a part of her all along, buried deep inside, and she'd been unfortunate enough to meet mentors who drew it out--and Hercules would have to pay for that as well. He knew that if his plan for revenge was going to work, he had to appeal to her integrity as well as her dark side. But he was forming a strategy to deal with that obstacle as well. He laughed to himself. If he pulled this off, it was going to be very, very satisfying. And he *was* going to pull it off.
Meanwhile, he decided to check on the objects of his contemplations, adding fuel to the fire of his desire for revenge. Removing his attention from the displays of weapons that bristled around his temple and from the sleeping warrior, he called up a window with which he could view events at a distance . . .
* * *
Xena and Gabrielle were indulging themselves with a night in a nice room in an inn. A tasty dinner, some wine, and a hot bath had inflamed them both, and they were determined to make the most of the comfort of their surroundings. Gabrielle had seen more and more of Xena's playfulness and lust return over the months. She was no longer adverse to pinning Gabrielle's hands down while she explored the bard's body, or tying her up while she teased her lover relentlessly, bringing her close to orgasm and backing off again and again, until Gabrielle was nearly mad with lust and frustration. Gabrielle craved nothing so much as having Xena's entire hand inside her, rocking and pumping her into an explosive climax. Xena, for her part, marvelled at the greediness of her young lover, determined to give her bard everything she wanted or needed.
Gabrielle had been the soul of patience during her recovery. Xena knew she'd been frustrated when she seemed better, but then spiralled down again into an abyss of terror and despair. Her second encounter with Callisto had relieved her of her soul-wrenching fear of the blonde goddess, but had sent her into spasms of guilt and self-loathing about her warlord past. But a series of opportunities to do good, and Gabrielle's patient loyalty and reassurance had eventually pushed Xena's self-flagellation back to its usual background level. It was a continuous stream coursing through her mind, pushing her to do good and disallowing her self-forgiveness, but it was no longer the raging river that drowned out any other thoughts. She could laugh again now and play, and her own lust for her insatiable lover flamed up anew.
Sometimes they ran across Hercules and Iolaus, the two of them more harmoniously comfortable together than any time since Hercules' misguided and tragic marriage to Serena. Xena would smile to see how proudly Hercules showed off his ownership of the golden-haired hunter, noting that he reassured Iolaus at the same time with his gestures of possession. The four of them would share a meal, and Hercules would lightly rest his hand on the back of his lover's neck, and Iolaus would inevitably shudder with pleasure. Xena couldn't deny that Hercules still looked at her with an unfulfilled longing, and she certainly felt a measure of desire for him, but they both knew it was just going to have to stay unfulfilled. Life was pretty good right now, and you can't have everything.
So Xena mused as she soaped her strawberry blonde bard in the tub, pausing for a swig of wine now and then. Her hands glided over taut muscles and lush curves, moving from Gabrielle's back to her abdomen, to her thighs, then up to her breasts. Gabrielle was squirming and the wine was only stoking her inner fires. "Be. Patient," said Xena, firmly, but with an undertone of amusement in her rich voice. "I like to make you wait. Got it?"
"Yes," muttered Gabrielle, as Xena's words shot a bolt of desire into her groin. It was delicious to surrender to the warrior's control, and the frustration made it all the more piquant, but some part of her still rebelled and wanted to assert itself. When they got out of the tub, the rebellious side took over, and she gave in to an irresistible urge to pinch the warrior's rear end, rather hard.
Xena whirled, her blue eyes blazing. "Oops," giggled the bard.
"Oops, indeed!" snapped the warrior, fighting to keep a grin from breaking out on her face. "You'll have to be punished for that. Of course, since you obviously want to be punished, maybe the perfect punishment would be not to punish you."
Gabrielle stood, naked, her hands on her hips and said defiantly, "Well, then, Xena, you're saying I can keep pinching you and get away with it. I'd suggest you watch your back."
"I'd rather watch yours," purred the warrior menacingly, suddenly scooping the bard up in her arms. She sat down on the bed, flipped Gabrielle over on her lap, grabbed Gabrielle's wrists with her left hand, holding them at the small of her back, and smacked her legs apart with the right.
"Xe-na!" squealed Gabrielle in surprise.
"So this isn't what you want?" asked Xena casually, lightly stroking the firm buttocks of the squirming bard flung over her lap. A finger experimentally slipped inside Gabrielle, and Xena noted, "This certainly *seems* to be what you want. That isn't bath water in there."
Gabrielle growled and squirmed harder, as Xena lightly stroked between her lips, drawing out more of her dewy secretions. "You're going to have to tell me you want it; you know that, Gabrielle," said Xena.
Xena was always scrupulous in securing Gabrielle's consent when they played; even slightly intoxicated, she kept a leash on her dark passions. She knew Gabrielle craved the games they played together, but Xena did not want to violate her lover's trust or go one step beyond pleasure into anything that would cause Gabrielle real pain or terror or humiliation. She knew how those felt, and she would lacerate her own flesh before she inflicted such on Gabrielle.
"I want it, Xena, please," begged Gabrielle, embarrassed, yet trusting, and fully aware of her lover's scruples.
"I can arrange that." The darkly smooth voice of the warrior flowed over the helpless bard, and Gabrielle felt more moisture seep from between her lips.
She drew in her breath sharply with a gasped, "Oh, yes!" when Xena's hand first came down on her needy buttocks. She raised herself up to meet the descending smacks, which made her bottom tingle and flush warm. Gabrielle sighed happily, secure in the feeling of safety and trust that rushed over her. She offered herself to her warrior, body and soul, again and again, and each time she was thrilled that Xena accepted the gift. And Xena felt awed and humbled by such trust, and her desire to keep it motivated and inspired her every day.
Xena was happily admiring the wriggling body sprawled over her lap, while she delivered measured spanks to the bard's firm buttocks. Gabrielle was in perfect condition, but Xena effortlessly held her down and smiled as she monitored the way Gabrielle's squeaks and yelps of pretend protest began to transmute themselves into ragged and shuddering breaths. Once the warrior was satisfied that her victim's cheeks were nicely warmed, she again slipped her fingers between Gabrielle's legs. "You *did* like that," the warrior remarked.
"Uh-huh!" gasped Gabrielle. "I like what you're doing now, too!"
"Really?" asked Xena, raising her eyebrows slightly, as her fingers deliberately probed and explored her lover's center.
Gabrielle was too aroused to mind being teased, and the teasing only made her whole body flush even hotter. It was indescribably enticing to be in the control of someone as powerful as Xena, someone she could trust not to abuse that power. She knew that Xena could readily do whatever she wanted with Gabrielle, but she also knew that Xena's first priority was her pleasure and safety. And Xena truly did have many skills. Gabrielle began to pant, as Xena formed three fingers into a wedge and began slowly sliding them in and out of the receptive bard.
"Oh harder, please!" begged Gabrielle.
"Didn't I say something earlier about being patient?" returned the warrior. Xena released Gabrielle's wrists, so she could gather a breast into her free hand and toy with it. Now Gabrielle had to contend with a finger circling her nipple, seeming to harden it further on each pass, as well as Xena's fingers entering her and slipping out at a maddeningly deliberate pace. Gabrielle was now groaning with frustration, but when Xena neatly tucked her thumb into her anus, Gabrielle emitted a sudden squeak. It was a sound the warrior adored, and she laughed appreciatively. Figuring that her lover would soon be just about overwhelmed with stimulation, she squeezed and released the breast she held captive in an increasingly faster tempo, while speeding up her penetrating strokes inside Gabrielle accordingly.
"Ohyeahohyeahohyeah!" exclaimed the bard inarticulately, as Xena brought her to a convulsive climax.
Xena pulled her up into a sitting position on her lap, kissing her repeatedly and murmuring, "How I love you, Gabrielle. I don't know what I did to be so lucky, but I hope I keep doing it."
Sated and limp, Gabrielle returned, breathlessly, "Right now, Xena, I feel like the lucky one."
* * *
"That was very entertaining," muttered the god of war, "but couldn't you lose the sappy endearments? Yecch! Good thing I won't have to put up with *that* much longer."
Next he turned his attention to the other object of his plans . . .
* * *
Hercules and Iolaus were camping out, on their way back home from stopping a small war that Ares had had an interest in. Hercules was contemplating his lover's golden hair and skin by firelight. Iolaus grew embarrassed under the demigod's hungry scrutiny (unaware, of course, that there was another watcher), and grinned self-deprecatingly and looked away.
"Look at me," ordered Hercules calmly. Iolaus looked back at him and squirmed slightly. Even after all their time together, first as friends and then as lovers, the demigod's possessive gaze still aroused and embarrassed him. Admiring the play of firelight on Iolaus' body, Hercules had an idea. "I want you naked; I want to see all of you."
"Herc?" asked Iolaus.
Iolaus pulled off his boots, then nimbly leapt to his feet to pull off the rest of his clothes. Hercules was lying on his side, one arm supporting his head, and he showed no signs of undressing as well. "Now come here," he ordered. He grabbed Iolaus' wrist and pulled him down onto his knees. He grasped a handful of golden hair and pulled Iolaus' head toward his mouth, staking a claim to it with easy confidence. Iolaus moaned as Hercules' tongue invaded his mouth, while a finger and thumb simultaneously began tugging at his nipple.
"Tell me," demanded the demigod, breaking the kiss and repositioning Iolaus with one hand, so he was sitting back on his heels, knees wide.
"I'm y-yours," stammered the blond, fully aroused and already aching with need.
"And this?" asked Hercules, wrapping a possessive hand around Iolaus' cock.
"It's yours. All of me is yours, Herc."
"That's right. Now, I've had a long day, and I want to be entertained. I want to watch you pleasure yourself. Perform for me."
"What?" asked Iolaus.
Hercules smiled, his eyes glinting with amusement in the firelight. "You heard me. Over there--where I can see all of you." Iolaus, stunned, moved automatically where directed. Hercules fished in a nearby pack, pulled out a vial, and tossed it to his companion.
Iolaus' reflexes were independent of his conscious mind, and he automatically caught the vial, while his thoughts raced and tumbled in confusion. On the one hand, he was surprised this had never been asked of him before. On the other hand, he wasn't sure he could do something so private in front of an audience, even if that audience was Hercules.
Very quietly, Hercules said, "Tell me what you're thinking, Iolaus."
"You want to know what I'm *thinking*?" Iolaus blurted in surprise. "Since when?"
Suddenly he found himself being dragged by the ankle and flipped over. Two hard smacks landed on his buttocks, and he was released. "I told you to tell me what you're thinking, not to talk back."
Iolaus' erect member throbbed at these words and at their calm delivery. Hercules mastered him in his own quiet way, never raising his voice, but reinforcing his position periodically with a brief, but convincing, display of his strength. Iolaus loved it. Something in him yearned to be used and owned and appreciated in only the way an owner cherished a prized possession, which was one reason Xena had had her way with him so easily.
He hadn't even realized at the time how much he had been inwardly hoping Hercules would claim him as more than a friend. He had been initially struck by Xena's beauty, but watching her fight had pushed him over the edge. This was someone who had a strong hand, and he was overwhelmed with realizing how much he had craved being subject to such strength.
But that was all past and forgiven, if not forgotten. Right now, he was in the humiliating position of having to talk about his feelings about Hercules' demand that he perform for him. "I dunno, Herc. It's scary, I guess. I've never let anyone watch me do that before. I . . . uh . . . well . . . it makes me kind of squirm when you look at me. And doing that . . . "
"Good," said Hercules decisively. "I'm going to like that. Now go ahead and remember you're doing this for *me*."
"Yes, Herc," murmured Iolaus. He lay on his back and reached for the vial of oil, then started, as a strong hand pulled his legs wide apart.
"Wait," said Hercules, getting up to roll up a blanket and pillow it under Iolaus' head. "I want to see your face too."
Iolaus flushed, and his hand shook as he coated himself with oil. He realized that being manhandled in Hercules' usual effortless and impersonal manner actually allowed him to distance himself from what was going on. He was vulnerable, but matters were, he convinced himself, out of his control. Now he felt exposed in a whole new way.
Hercules had returned to his reclining position, settling himself in an exaggeratedly comfortable manner. "Eyes open," he said abruptly. "If this were easy for you, what would be the point of it?"
Iolaus opened his eyes and looked into the smiling face of his lover. He took a deep breath, then circled his shaft with his hand and began sliding it slowly up and down. He groaned and automatically closed his eyes, but remembered and popped them open again. "Take your time," said Hercules smoothly. "I'm enjoying this."
Surprisingly, Iolaus found that he was enjoying it too. He came to a sudden decision to flaunt his status as prized possession. He stroked his cock with slow, smooth motions, letting his whole body writhe in response to his increasing arousal. If the big man wanted a show, then that's what he was going to get. His other hand moved to his chest, rolling a nipple between thumb and forefinger. Hercules smiled and nodded approvingly. Iolaus gathered some of the fluid seeping from the opening onto his thumb, and stroked the head of his cock in hard circles before grasping the shaft again tightly and returning to moving his whole hand up and down. His mouth was slightly parted as his breathing became more rapid, the pressure of his own fingers on his nipple grew harder, and his hips pumped into his own hand. The sheen of sweat on his body enhanced the gleam of firelight on his skin, and Hercules reflected that this had to be one of the most amazing and beautiful spectacles he had ever witnessed.
"I'm close!" gasped Iolaus, instinctively knowing he should ask permission to come.
"Go ahead," said Hercules generously. Iolaus stroked and pumped faster and harder, and his body convulsed as he spurted a fountain of semen.
His chest was heaving with his ragged breaths, and his entire body had gone limp and fluid on him. He noticed Hercules standing up, pulling off his own clothes. He reached out his hand, and, understanding the signal, Iolaus tossed him the vial of oil. While Hercules quickly anointed his own erection, Iolaus grinned and panted, "So, was it good for you?"
"Yeah, it was," answered the demigod with a conspiratorial smile, and his characteristic easy shrug. "And this is gonna be good for me too." He easily picked up the smaller man, and slowly and carefully impaled him on his own eager cock, while Iolaus wrapped his legs around his back and grasped his strong shoulders. "Oh. Yeah. I. Like. That," said Hercules, backing up carefully and bracing himself against a nearby tree. His large hands encircled and supported his lover's waist, and he began lifting Iolaus up slowly and pushing him back down on his erect member.
"Gods . . . " gasped Iolaus. "You're so deep inside me." Hercules was showing off, of course, but it was a gift to Iolaus, who never ceased to be enticed by displays of his lover's superhuman strength. Watching Hercules fight still drove him wild with desire; sometimes he would drag the demigod to the nearest private place afterward, begging, "Please, Herc, fuck me now!"
Hercules grimaced with the exertion, his teeth bared. He tightened his grip on Iolaus and began driving into his delicious burden. Iolaus moaned happily, as he could almost feel the bruises forming where Hercules' fingers dug into him. The demigod came with a ferocious growl, shooting liquid lightning into his lover's body. He carefully disengaged himself and swung Iolaus around into his arms and pulled him up for a long, breathless kiss. He thought of Iolaus stroking himself to completion, writhing and rocking and exposing himself entirely to his demanding lover. Hercules murmured in his ear, "Thank you for sharing your self with me. You're beautiful. I love you."
"I love you, too, Herc," Iolaus responded contentedly.
* * *
*Can't you people engage in a good fuck without all the love talk?* the god of war thought to himself irritably. Still, he was in a remarkably good mood. He had enjoyed Iolaus' performance immensely, and it had given him an idea, another dimension to add to his plan. It would require a little more tweaking here and there, but it would be worth it for the pain it would cause his half-brother and the pleasure it would give himself.
He was coming to realize that he was going to need some help, and he knew exactly where to get it. Asking his mother for help wasn't usually his style, but trying to pull off something this big required that his pride make some concessions. And he knew the queen of the gods would delight in the opportunity to render her stepson invisible and unimportant, and she still held a grudge against Xena for her role in helping to free Prometheus. Having Hera to run some intervention with Zeus would help too. Ares chuckled to himself and flashed out of his temple to arrive at Olympus.
A few days later, Hercules woke up, stretched, then leapt to his feet, realizing that something was wrong. In fact, more than one thing was wrong. Iolaus was missing, and he himself had woken up somewhere other than where he had gone to sleep. "Iolaus?" he called out, but there was no reply. He scouted around and emerged from the woods where he'd woken up only to see Ares' temple. But it was different--much bigger and more imposing. *What the . . . ?* thought Hercules to himself. Everything seemed subtly different, but except for the change in Ares' temple, which was inexplicable in itself, he couldn't put his finger on it.
The doors to the temple swung open, and a figure emerged. A blond figure. A blond figure with curly hair. He had a broom and was sweeping the temple steps and whistling contentedly to himself. "Iolaus?" asked Hercules and ran for the steps. "Iolaus!" he exclaimed. "Boy, am I glad to see you!"
Iolaus looked puzzled, and asked, "How do you know my name? And who are you?"
*Great. Just great,* the demigod thought to himself. *He's lost his memory again and doesn't recognize me.* "I've known you for a long time," he began carefully.
"Nope. You must have the wrong person. I've never seen you before."
Hercules was starting to notice the differences in his lover's appearance. Iolaus' hair was longer, extending just below his shoulders, and he wore tight black leather pants and no shirt. His face had fewer lines, and he didn't hold himself with the edgy alertness that Hercules was so used to.
"I don't get how you know my name," the blond continued, "and we haven't been properly introduced."
"Huh. Doesn't ring a bell."
Hercules was having a sinking feeling that something much bigger was going on than a mere memory loss on Iolaus' part. Memory loss wouldn't account for the changes in Iolaus' appearance. "Why are you sweeping the temple?" he asked, genuinely puzzled and trying to focus on something small to help counter the rising wave of disorientation that was threatening him.
"I'm the priest here. Have you come to make an offering to the god of war?"
"Not likely!" snapped Hercules. He directed his glance skyward and yelled, "ARES! What in Hades is going on?"
The god of war materialized on the top step of his temple, chortling, and laid a possessive hand on Iolaus' ass and squeezed. The blond seemed somewhat embarrassed by this public display, but he leaned into the god's touch as if he were very familiar with it.
"Why are you harassing my priest?" demanded Ares, a malevolent smile glinting behind his eyes. He pulled the blond toward him and idly began pulling at an erect nipple.
"Get. Your. Hands. Off. Of. Him," enunciated Hercules through clenched teeth.
"Who *is* this guy?" asked Iolaus incredulously, pressing closer to the god.
"Him? He's nobody," said Ares dismissively. "An acquaintance from another time. Another time! Hah!" he laughed.
"I see," said Hercules, still gritting his teeth.
"Well, you always were a little slow on the uptake," said Ares casually. He gave Iolaus a friendly smack on the rear, saying, "Finish up out here. I have to talk to my old friend inside. *Don't* come in until I call you--no matter what you hear."
"Yes, my lord," answered Iolaus and went back to sweeping, while glancing at Hercules and shaking his head.
Ares beckoned his half-brother inside and firmly closed the door. Just as the door closed, Hercules was on him from behind, an elbow firmly locked around the god's neck. "Whatever you've done, change it back NOW!"
"Oh please," said the god, driving an elbow into Hercules' gut and freeing himself. "Get real, little brother. Do you really think I'd make it that easy?"
Hercules roared with fury and leapt into the air, one foot driving into the god's chest. Ares flew back, then recovered, rematerializing in front of Hercules, and flipping him over his back. Hercules held on, pulling Ares over the same way. Then he whirled around, kicking the god solidly in the side. Ares grunted slightly, then smacked Hercules so hard in the face that the demigod felt blood oozing from the inside of his mouth. He swung his arm, hitting the god across the chest, and Ares fell into a short column holding a large amphora, which tumbled to the floor and smashed. "You're just creating more work for him you know!" yelled Ares as he leapt to his feet.
Hercules grabbed his half-brother and began throttling him, but he was too angry to have much control, and Ares easily brought up his arms between Hercules' and shoved them apart. "Listen to me!" exclaimed the god. "I can't change it back--I fixed it so I couldn't change it back on my own."
Hercules stopped fighting, and drooped, looking defeated. Ares relaxed, and Hercules suddenly lashed out, striking him a blow in the jaw. "That's for Iolaus," he muttered, before stalking several steps away.
"Oh Iolaus is the *least* of the surprises you'll find in this time," gloated Ares, rubbing his jaw. "But you'll be glad to know I haven't hurt him or coerced him. He's here because he wants to be." The god laughed heartily. "That's almost worse isn't it for you? Than my forcing him? He's happy, but it's oh-so-hard for you to see it. You'd almost rather I hurt him rather than see him give himself to me willingly. I always knew you were a selfish brute, brother of mine!"
Hercules smashed another amphora, then sagged. He didn't want to make things harder on Iolaus. "Tell me what's going on," he demanded wearily.
"What's going on?" asked Ares innocently. "Oh, you must mean *besides* the fact that I own your golden-haired boy and can fuck him whenever I please. Well, that, dear brother, is for me to know and for you to find out." Hercules charged Ares again with a furious growl, but the god vanished. Hercules sank to his knees and put his head in his hands.
The door opened, and Iolaus came in, rather hesitantly. "He said it was all right for me to come in," he explained. He went over to the nearest smashed vase and began cleaning up.
"I'm sorry. I'll help you," offered the demigod.
"No thanks," said Iolaus quickly. "I'd rather take care of it myself."
Hercules watched his efficient movements with a brush and dust pan, took a deep breath and asked, "Forgive me for prying, but does he treat you well? Are you happy?"
Iolaus looked up with an innocent, unselfconscious, sunny grin, and said, "Yeah. On both counts. Why do you ask? And if you don't mind my asking, what was all that about outside?"
Hercules felt his heart cracking inside him. Carefully hiding the catch in his voice, he said, "Case of mistaken identity. You remind me of . . . someone I know. May I ask how you ended up here?"
"Sure," said the blond. "I don't mind some company. I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid--stealing, that kind of thing. One day he just appeared and offered to make a warrior of me. He brought me to the Conqueror's training camp--back when she first started to put an army together--and I learned fast. I fought in her army for several years, and he kept coming back to check on me. I think he was probably protecting me in battle, y'know. He asked me to be his priest . . . and to be his. Like I was going to refuse? He's incredible--being with a human doesn't come close."
Hercules shook his head slightly, amazed at Ares' skill in bringing this off. It was apparent to almost anyone that Iolaus had a craving to be owned and to serve, and he was enticed by strength and power, and if Ares was treating him as well as he said, it wasn't surprising his devotion should be so complete. Hercules reminded himself that this Iolaus had never met him before; he didn't want to think about whether he or Ares would win in a straightforward competition for the blond warrior. Something else Iolaus said had struck a chord. "You said something about the . . . Conqueror?"
"Yeah, the Lady Xena," said Iolaus in a tone that implied any fool would know that.
Hercules' breath momentarily left him, and he gasped, but forced himself to remain calm. "Excuse my ignorance," he began. "I've travelled from a long way from here."
"Yeah, you must have if you haven't heard of Xena the Conqueror," snorted Iolaus. "She pretty much has all of Greece under her control now, except for a few cities holding out. She'll defeat them in time. Good thing too."
"Why is that?"
"Julius Caesar. If not for her, we'd be part of Rome by now. Her methods are pretty harsh, but she has good cause. Any weakness, and Caesar's armies would devour us. We're lucky to have her; my lord has never had a finer protege," said Iolaus with satisfaction.
"I see," said Hercules faintly. His head was spinning with the shock of all he had heard. He stood up and added, "Thanks for the information. I'd better be going."
Iolaus nodded, then said, "Hey, you've travelled a long way. I've plenty of food here. Would you like to take a few things for the road?"
Hercules' stomach recoiled at the thought of accepting Ares' hospitality, but he knew he needed to eat. "Sure, thanks, I appreciate it." Iolaus brought out a bundle and a skin full of fresh water.
"Good luck on your journeys, friend," he said. "And take my advice--don't piss off my lord again."
"I can't promise that," said Hercules grimly, as he left the temple. He sought out a quiet spot in the nearby woods and sank to the ground. Ares' alteration of the timeline had been thoroughly planned and was fiendishly clever. He apparently made sure that Xena and Iolaus at least were doing nothing that violated their essential natures. Iolaus was serving a master who treated him well and helped protect his country against invaders, and Xena could give full expression to her dark side, while yet engaged in a good cause. Hercules had to admit that Ares' scheme was pretty damned breathtaking. *And why am I here? And why do I remember the other time?* he asked himself, then smacked himself on the head. *Of course, he wants me to witness it all and not be able to do anything about it. He wants me to see Iolaus as his possession, and he wants me to see Xena unredeemed and fulfilling the role he has always wanted her to play.* Hercules sighed in frustration and said quietly, "Shit."
He forced himself to eat some of the bread and cheese and dried fruit Iolaus had packed for him, but it was hard getting it past the lump forming in his throat. He roughly brushed tears out of his eyes, but he couldn't stop thinking about how contented and *serene* this Iolaus had been. *Damn,* he reflected, *he's happier than he ever was with me.* He kept thinking about Iolaus serenely going about his duties and quietly deferring to his master. Then it finally dawned on Hercules that this really wasn't *his* Iolaus--his Iolaus was full of fire and passion and pure orneriness. His Iolaus hadn't lived under a fond god's coddling protection. *His* Iolaus would never be happy like this. He felt somewhat better and ate more of his food. There was someone he had to see, but he still felt a duty to this Iolaus, and he intended to keep an eye on him for a while longer to make sure that Ares was, in fact, treating him well. Then he would be able to put that concern behind him and work on restoring things to the way they should be.
At night, he crept back toward the temple and found a window where he could see the interior unobserved. Ares was sprawled on his throne, in his usual indolent pose, stroking the golden curls of a kneeling and naked Iolaus, who held his hands clasped lightly behind his back. Hercules' heart sank when he saw the tattoo of a sword, matching Ares' earring, on one buttock. "You were made to be the possession of a god," Ares purred throatily.
"Yes, my lord," Iolaus answered with a quick flash of a smile. "I'm glad *you* think so."
"All, all mine," mused the god. His fingers trailed along Iolaus' neck, down one arm, then drew light circles around his stomach before moving to his chest. Ares carefully traced the curve of each pectoral muscle. "You're a good boy," he crooned; "you've been working out every day."
"Yes, my lord," said Iolaus, blushing slightly. When Ares suddenly twisted one nipple, he didn't flinch or start, but merely opened his eyes a bit wider.
"And so well-trained," mused the god, twisting and pulling on Iolaus' nipple, before ministering to the other one in the same fashion. He then reached down and began lightly squeezing the blond's balls and running one finger up the underside of Iolaus' erect and quivering cock. Iolaus' face was soft and vulnerable, and the god growled, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling him forward for a bruising kiss. Hercules was trembling with jealousy and rage, but he managed to remain silent. He thought of the times he had let Iolaus down, most recently by marrying Serena, and he made a silent vow, if he ever restored the original timeline, never again to take his lover and companion for granted.
With a glance at his own crotch and a slight gesture of his hand, Ares indicated that Iolaus was to unbuckle his belt and unfasten his pants. Iolaus deposited a reverent kiss on the tip of the god's freed and resplendently erect organ and proceeded to service Ares with his mouth, licking his cock in long strokes, moving down to bathe his balls in his mouth, one at a time, then taking the length of the god's member in his mouth and sucking on it until Ares stopped him with a quick gesture. With a wave of the hand, the god created a nest of pillows on the floor, and Iolaus quickly positioned himself there on his knees and elbows. The god waved away his own clothes, then materialized a bowl of clear oil, efficiently and unhurriedly lubricating the blond's anus with his fingers. With a quick coating of oil on his own cock, Ares pushed inside the tight opening, and Iolaus pushed back against him with quivering eagerness. Ares thrust hard, growling, gripping Iolaus' hips tightly with his hands, and Iolaus moaned in delirious ecstasy. The god climaxed with a primal roar, but then pulled Iolaus close with tender affection, stroking his muscled arms and combing through the riotous mane of blond curls with his fingers. He then teased Iolaus by running his fingertips up and down his still-unsatisfied organ, then dipped his hand in the bowl of oil, and closed it around Iolaus' cock, bringing him off with vigorous strokes. Iolaus cried out in his climax, then curled into the god's protective embrace.
When Hercules turned away, heartsick but assured that Ares was, in fact, treating Iolaus well, his last sight was of Iolaus lying on his side, with Ares behind him, caressing his back and buttocks, punctuating his caresses with an occasional possessive squeeze. Hercules kept trying to remind himself that this wasn't the same Iolaus he loved, but it was very hard to convince himself of that while watching *his* property so thoroughly and masterfully possessed by another, and that other being Ares. After all, if he couldn't succeed in changing the timeline back, this might be the only Iolaus in existence. Depressed, angry, and feeling helpless, he moved on toward his next destination.
* * *
The temple of Zeus looked much as it did in the original timeline. It was nighttime, and no priests were present. He pushed through the doors impatiently, then yelled "ZEUS! I need to talk to you now!" The king of the gods appeared soon thereafter.
"What is it, son?"
"Don't give me that, Zeus!" snapped Hercules. "You know what Ares has done! Why are you letting him get away with messing with the timeline that way?"
Zeus hesitated. "There wasn't much I could do. He had help. Working together, they're pretty formidable."
Hercules smacked his forehead. "Of course. Hera." He paced around the temple, having no outlet for his anxiety, frustration, and nervous energy. "Where do I fit in?" he demanded.
"Ares promised me you wouldn't be hurt," answered Zeus. "No one here knows who you are. I didn't think you'd mind the anonymity."
"You didn't think I'd mind . . . " Hercules' voice strangled in his throat, then he exclaimed, "Then didn't you think I'd mind losing my lover to Ares? Didn't you think I'd mind what happened to Xena?"
"Ah, Xena," said his father. "She's the focus of the change in the timeline. It all has to do with her. If she asks Ares to restore the original timeline, he has to do it. That's the one concession I got out of them. Ares is right that I have favored you over him--I thought it best to let him have his way this time."
Hercules was furious, "Zeus!" he snapped, making the name sound like an invective, "how is she supposed to ask that if she doesn't know about it?"
Zeus tried to keep his patience; he understood why his son was upset, and he felt vaguely guilty about it. "She might have dreams of the other time. She might realize something's wrong. Unfortunately, Ares planned this very well. She's protecting Greece from invasion--very effectively I might add. I guess it's not very likely she'd recognize that she's somehow not herself."
Hercules was gripping his hands together tightly, trying to stop himself from smashing something. He made a conscious effort to steady his breathing, then asked, "So he can't change it back unless she asks him?"
His father nodded. "Well, then," said Hercules, "I'm going to have to persuade her somehow."
"I can't help you there," said the king of gods gravely.
"Why am I *not* surprised?" Hercules stalked out of the temple without bidding his father farewell, slamming the doors behind him. His whole body still twitching with frustration, he drove his fist into a large boulder with a roar.
Almost immediately, he heard a voice call out, "Geronimo!" and his sister Aphrodite appeared in midair in a graceful dive and landed neatly on her feet beside him.
"What's up, big brother?" she asked. "The old man is really down. Did you two have another fight?"
He glared at her. "Do you know what Ares has done?"
"Yeah," she shrugged.
"Well, maybe you can figure out why I argued with Zeus!"
"Chill, big brother. What's the big diff?"
"What's. The. Big. Diff?" he repeated slowly and unbelievingly. "C'mon, 'Dite, even you should be able to figure this out. For one, Xena is a warlord now, Xena the Conqueror."
"This is a problem?" she asked.
"Yes. This is a problem. She's turning Greece into Ares' version of the New World Order. And the only way to change things back is if *she* asks him to. The other big diff, sister of mine, is that Iolaus belongs to Ares now."
"Leatherboy's doing Blondie? That's way uncool. OK, now I get what you're so tweaked about."
Hercules sighed. Talking to his sister was always frustrating, but it was particularly so now. "No, Iolaus is not *all* I'm 'tweaked' about. He's part of it." He began to pace again, ignoring Aphrodite, and talking almost to himself, "How am I going to be able to get close to her so I can talk to her?"
"Well, du-uh," said the goddess of love. "Get yourself captured by her as a slave. You've got all the right equipment. She'll choose you as her personal boy toy in no time."
"Xena keeps slaves?" asked Hercules, then sighed. "Of *course* she does. And why do you think she'll choose me for anything?"
"Exsqueeze me? Have you looked in the mirror lately? If you weren't my brother . . . "
"Don't go there!" Hercules interrupted her.
"Well, anyway, you want to get close to the warrior babe, that's how. Of course you'll have to make the slave thing convincing. You'll have to lose the 'tude, dude. But look at the bright side--you'll get a chance to do your old girlfriend. I've heard she's really hot."
Hercules briefly considered throttling his sister, but it was never worth getting angry at Aphrodite. It usually just washed right over her. "Thanks, 'Dite," he muttered with difficulty. "You've been surprisingly helpful."
"Good luck!" she called out, as she vanished. "Later."
After some inquiries, Hercules learned the location of Xena's headquarters, a heavily fortified castle outside Amphipolis. He also learned that she regularly sent out troops all over her territory, which was to say, most of Greece, to enforce order, to secure supplies, and to maintain military readiness. They would also capture slaves to serve the Conqueror and her officers and to perform menial labor. Now he just had to get himself captured and make it look convincing. He scouted for a couple of days and discovered a fairly large party of Xena's troops was approaching a village near Amphipolis. As several armed horsemen rode into the town square, Hercules had just been caught stealing a loaf of bread from a stall. Apparently oblivious to the presence of the approaching soldiers, he took a very carefully controlled swing at the stall owner, knocking him flat, but not doing much damage.
He then took off at a run, carrying his misbegotten loaf of bread. He was quickly surrounded by a group of soldiers. He resisted capture as realistically as he could, pulling his punches and kicking with only a small portion of his strength, while trying not to make it obvious that he was doing so. It wasn't easy for him to fight like an ordinary man of his size, but he managed, and was soon jumped and held down by enough soldiers that he could conceivably give up. He heard another horse approaching, and one of the soldiers said, "Look what we caught, my lady." Hercules looked up and could not conceal his astonishment. Callisto looked down at him from the back of a magnificent black horse.
"Well, well, well, what's this?" she demanded.
"A thief, my lady," answered the soldier.
"A thief," she repeated. "Not a very bright thief apparently." She rode up to Hercules, who was still being held by several men, and slapped him sharply across the face, then backhanded the other cheek. "Do you know what we do with thieves around here, stranger?" she demanded, while he glared at her sullenly, hoping he continued to convey the impression of someone not very bright. "We put them to work as slaves for the Conqueror, so they can be put to good use and kept out of trouble," she said casually, her voice deceptively soft. "My lady will be very pleased with *you*."
"Your lady?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yes," she said abruptly. "The Conqueror. You have the honor to have been captured by her second-in-command." She turned to the soldiers. "Chain him securely. I don't want him to be able to move a muscle." Hercules was almost oblivious to the lengths of chain being wrapped around his entire body, to his arms being firmly manacled behind his back, and to the various locks snapping shut that held the chains in place. Callisto was Xena's second-in-command? It was almost enough to make him laugh. Ares certainly did have a twisted sense of humor. He was deposited in a cart, not particularly comfortably, and left guarded while Callisto and her soldiers finished their business in the village. As a matter of course, he experimentally tested the strength of the chains binding him--if he had wanted to, he could have broken them, but, of course, he didn't. Then he was on his way to be delivered into slavery.
* * *
Xena's castle was suitably imposing. Once through the gates, he was dragged unceremoniously out of the cart and made to shuffle along through the castle, his ankles hobbled together, and the chains and locks clanking. *I'll make a wonderful first impression,* he thought, wondering if his sister's idea really had that much merit after all. Once he and some other newly captured slaves were brought into the Conqueror's presence, however, he could think of nothing else. The Conqueror exhibited a commanding and powerful demeanor, wielding it like a scepter, and Hercules found himself almost feeling that serving her would be a privilege.
She was sitting on a throne and wearing a long purple dress, trimmed with silver. A simple silver circlet adorned her head. Her legs were crossed, and he saw a hint of boots of the finest black leather. On a hassock next to the throne knelt Gabrielle, sitting back on her heels, her knees apart. She was dressed entirely in green, with a bodice and short skirt that, if anything, covered less than what she wore in the original timeline. The hassock was lower than the throne, and Xena had an arm resting on Gabrielle's shoulder, and a hand idly reaching into her bodice to toy with the closest breast. Otherwise she paid no attention to Gabrielle, who sometimes gasped silently or swayed slightly in response to her nipple being pinched or rolled between the Conqueror's fingers. Hercules was furious with himself because his first reaction was to find the scene undeniably erotic--he almost envied Gabrielle's position before sternly reminding himself how he felt about slavery.
Callisto stepped forward, knelt on one knee and bowed to Xena, casting a brief glance at Gabrielle. "My lady," she said, "these are the new slaves. The supplies we acquired are already being stored."
There were two other men and two women who had been brought in with Hercules. None were as securely bound as he was. Xena slowly got up from her throne, after giving Gabrielle's breast a rough squeeze. The slightest flash of alarm and recognition flickered in Xena's eyes when she noticed Hercules, but was instantly replaced by a studied brusqueness. She glanced at the women, turned to Callisto and said, "Kitchen or farms, wherever they're most needed." She then regarded the other two men and said, "Farms too or working on our fortifications if they have any talent for stoneworking. Take them away. *This* one," she indicated Hercules, "stays here." She appraised Hercules with cool deliberation, her eyes travelling his body.
She jerked her head at Callisto, "Get those chains off him. What was he up to when you caught him?"
"Stealing food," answered Callisto, unlocking the locks and removing the chains. "I don't think he's very bright--we caught him in the act."
"I see," said Xena, never taking her eyes off of Hercules. "How very foolish of him. I want a pair of manacles for his wrists forged of the strongest metal we have. Leave the chain between them long enough to give him some freedom of movement. He's no good to us if he can't work." As the last of the chains was removed from him, Hercules straightened slightly, grateful to have the pressure off his arms. Xena suddenly pulled a knife from her boot--he later learned that she was never without this particular accessory--and held the point to his throat. "On your knees," she ordered, "very carefully, and get your hands behind you."
Hercules knelt slowly, the point of the knife following him down, and he put his hands behind his back. "You're a slave now," said Xena calmly. "You'll be well-fed and have a place to sleep in return for your labor and absolute obedience. My question to you is, are you going to cooperate or not?"
"I'll cooperate," he said softly, the knife point moving with his throat as he spoke, but pressing against him with such complete control that it never pierced his skin. He then allowed an edge of bitterness to creep into his voice. "It's not as though I have anywhere else to go. I'm not afraid of hard work, and I'll more than earn my food and shelter."
"Good," she said shortly, letting the knife drop back into her boot in a swift and fluid motion. "You'll be chained, but that's mostly to remind you of your status. There won't be anything to stop you from running, but the manacles will identify you as my property. Returning escaped slaves to me is a popular activity in my territory--I have a generous reward system. What do you say to that?"
"I won't run, my lady," he said, bowing his head in what he hoped was a sufficiently respectful gesture.
"Well, Callisto," drawled Xena with satisfaction. "It looks like you've found me some valuable property. If he pans out, you and your troops will be rewarded."
Callisto simply bowed her head in acknowledgment.
Xena summoned her household steward. "Phideas, get him fitted for those manacles and get him a meal. If he's stealing food," she said, glancing at Hercules narrowly, "he's probably hungry. And show him where he sleeps. I'll put him to work tomorrow." She turned back to her new acquisition. "You may stand. Go with Phideas." Suddenly the knife was out of her boot and back in her hand. She tapped Hercules' chest lightly with the flat of the blade. "I don't want to hear of you causing any trouble, slave-boy."
"You won't, my lady. You have my word," he promised softly.
Xena began to turn away, then turned back, saying lightly, "Oh and take off that shirt and those gauntlets. You won't be needing them here." She grinned ferally as Hercules flushed, and Aphrodite's words echoed in his mind. He removed his shirt, and she plucked it out of his hand, watching him as he unbuckled his gauntlets, seeming to devour his chest and arms with her eyes, and remarking briefly, "Oh, that's very nice," before dismissing him and his keeper. As he left, she had returned to her throne and to her caresses of Gabrielle, and was conferring with Callisto. And Hercules had to confess himself feeling somewhat deflated at no longer being the object of that intense gaze.
* * *
If they did her bidding, Xena's slaves were actually treated quite well. The food was plentiful and nourishing, and he had a small private cell-like room to sleep in with a straw mattress. The male and female slaves slept in separate quarters, each with its own latrine and bathing facilities. The area where they slept was locked at night, but the individual rooms were not. He was put to work where his strength would be most useful, stacking wood, bearing heavy loads, helping with the continual repairs to the castle's fortifications and to the defenses around the villages nearby. For several days, he saw little of his new owner, but he wasn't surprised. Sometimes he caught a glimpse of her riding out in front of a body of troops. On these occasions she wore a leather garment and armor similar to the one he was familiar with, but all black, with gleaming metallic armor.
One day, when delivering loads of firewood around the castle, he came upon Callisto with Gabrielle in a well-travelled corridor. Gabrielle was facing the wall, her hands flat against it above her head, and Callisto's hand was moving between her legs. Callisto was making no effort to hide what she was doing, and Xena was not far away, so Hercules had to conclude that the Conqueror shared her personal slaves with her second-in-command. The thought brought him a momentary dismay, but he reassured himself that Callisto had taken next to no interest in him since she'd brought him in. He fervently hoped she was only interested in women. After storing the appointed portion of firewood in a couple of rooms, he emerged back into the corridor to see Gabrielle moaning and pumping her hips in rhythm with Callisto's thrusts. At the same time, Xena emerged from another room. She leaned gracefully against the wall, crossed her arms, and smiled, watching until Gabrielle yelped in climax. "Very entertaining, Callisto," she remarked lightly, before moving away in Hercules' direction. "I hear good reports of your work, slaveboy," she said. "Keep it up."
He bowed his head and said, "Yes, my lady," while inwardly cursing the puppy-like leap his heart had taken when she turned her attention on him. Before he moved off, he noticed Gabrielle on her knees in front of Callisto, reverently kissing her hand and then being made to lick the warrior's fingers clean. He wondered if this particular relationship was a planned part of Ares' scheme, or if it had just evolved out of the situation. Under Xena's rule, human beings were simply *used* in any number of ways, and they were controlled with an impersonal efficiency. What affection he saw given to slaves had a distant, abstracted quality, and punishments were meted out ruthlessly, but again impersonally, for the slightest of infractions.
Everywhere the firm hand of Xena's control was evident, although it was mostly administered through Callisto or Phideas. Hercules was horrified by what he saw and shocked at the thoroughness and pervasiveness of Xena's rule. Almost everyone he saw *wanted* to please her, to obey her. Her presence was as commanding as a god's, her will was law, and she wielded her personal influence like a finely honed and accurate tool, pulling a string here, nudging a lever there, keeping the entire system in orderly balance. Ares must have been ecstatic--it was what he'd wanted from Xena all along. And he found himself falling under her spell. His goal was to get close enough to her so he could talk to her about the original timeline, but he found himself responding whenever he sensed her eyes on him, standing straighter, making his movements more sure and fluid, trying to make the hardest labor look easy so his strength was apparent to the most casual viewer. He couldn't help trying to draw her attention--not simply because it served his original purpose, but because he yearned to be the focus of those intense blue eyes. He learned to move and work with minimal clanking of the chain hanging between his wrists, wanting to appear as graceful as possible; he hated the chain though, as it continuously reminded him of his lowly position.
He had noticed that Xena and Callisto were apparently good friends, but not lovers. They worked well together as Commander and Lieutenant, but he often saw them laughing and joking together. Callisto seemed to be one of the very few people with whom the Conqueror dropped her commanding demeanor. He learned from Phideas, who liked to talk, that Xena had indeed raided Cirra when Callisto was a young girl and had taken Callisto prisoner. Callisto had apparently admired Xena from the start and wanted to emulate her, and Xena had taken the chance of having Callisto trained as a warrior. Her abilities were superb, and she eventually earned the position of Xena's second-in-command.
One day Xena and Callisto had a picnic with Gabrielle in attendance, Xena apparently having chosen a spot where Hercules could see them as he worked rebuilding a crumbling wall. Gabrielle gracefully served out all the food and poured wine, then knelt between them, holding a wine goblet in each hand. The other women chatted and laughed, taking the goblet from Gabrielle's hand when they wanted a sip, then returning it, and sometimes popping a morsel of food into Gabrielle's mouth.
When he had to turn away for his work, he would feel Xena's eyes on him, creating a slight chill in the back of his neck, but when he turned back, she was always looking at her companions. The meal over, they apparently ordered Gabrielle to strip, and they stretched her out on the grass, Callisto holding her arms pinned above her head and toying with her breasts, while Xena's hand stroked the slave's parted thighs and then buried itself between her legs.
Just then Ares appeared before him, apparently invisible to the others. "How do you like this world, brother?" the god taunted. "Perfect order, and everyone knows his or her appointed place. Including you. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist coming here. I can't tell you how much I enjoy seeing you like this. It gives me so much satisfaction to fuck my golden-haired boy and know that you're in chains. They suit you." Ares chortled triumphantly.
Hercules felt a fury rising in him, and even with the manacles and chain between his wrists he could have probably made Ares at least uncomfortable for a while, but he was not going to make himself look absurd by fighting an invisible god in front of Xena. He steadfastly ignored his half-brother, pouring all of his concentration into his work.
"Very well," said Ares. "I have to talk to your owner any way." The god disappeared from Hercules' view, then reappeared in front of the three women. Xena glanced at him, but he said, "Carry on," with a grand wave of his hand. When Gabrielle thrashed and cried out, Xena turned her attention to Ares, who talked to her softly and urgently.
Hercules was apparently the subject of their conversation. Xena laughed dismissively, her voice carrying. "So you know him, and he's a habitual liar? Well, you don't need to worry about what he might say to me, Ares. It's not as though I kept him for his conversational skills."
* * *
The next day Hercules had seen Xena and Callisto ride out with a body of troops. Gabrielle brought him his lunch, as she was sometimes sent to do. He had noticed she had a serenity about her similar to what he had seen in Iolaus at Ares' temple. This time, he gently asked, "Are you allowed to stay for a while and talk? I don't get a lot of company."
She gracefully settled herself on the ground beside him and laughed. "You will soon enough. She has her eye on you."
In between eating his bread and cheese, he asked, "Does that bother you?"
"No," said Gabrielle, shrugging. "If I were the only one she ever took to her bed, she'd wear me out."
"How . . . um . . . do you feel about being here?" he asked, embarrassed, but curious. "I mean, yesterday, was that hard for you?"
Her eyes gleamed with mischief. "No. I liked it. It's pretty flattering to have both of them focused on *me*. I like being here." Her voice took on a dreamy tone. "She's just so . . . amazing. From the first time I saw her, I knew I wanted to be lost in her, give myself to her. She's the most powerful person in Greece-- how could I not want to please and serve her?"
Hercules nodded despite himself; he had noticed that feeling growing in himself, but he didn't like it. "What about Callisto?" he asked.
Gabrielle laughed ruefully. "She pays more attention to me than the Conqueror does. Xena always keeps her distance. She doesn't let anyone get too close to her. Callisto lets me in sometimes. Xena never does." She shrugged. "It makes me feel good to please them. And I hate it when I make mistakes. I never want to disappoint them. Of course, I don't like being punished either."
"I can imagine," he murmured.
"It's pretty brutal," she agreed. "But it works to keep people in line, and it's only happened a couple of times, and not for a long time. I'm very careful. But not just to avoid pain. They have important work to do; I want to do whatever I can to smooth whatever part of their way I can."
Hercules was torn by conflicting feelings. Part of him wanted to shake Gabrielle out of her complacency. Something about their lives in this timeline had exaggerated both her and Iolaus' desire to please, to subsume themselves into something larger. But it had erased the spark and energy and stubbornness that made them who they were. The Gabrielle he knew would sacrifice almost anything for Xena, would follow her till the ends of the earth, and would do almost anything Xena told her; but she would also speak up when she disagreed with Xena, she could fight with courage and determination, and she would have talked the ears off anyone who would listen about the evils of slavery and war.
Gabrielle stood up, saying, "I really should get back."
"Thanks for the lunch--and the conversation." Yes, part of him raged inside at her serene acceptance of her status . . . but part of him envied it too. There *was* something about this Xena that drew him, something the Xena he knew kept carefully contained and controlled. This Xena would have never let her army get out of her control the way *his* Xena had. She could have unleashed her personal magnetism and gotten control of Darphus and her men, but even then something had prevented her from exerting the irresistible influence over others that she was capable of. Perhaps she didn't trust herself to control it, and even at her most savage, she was afraid of giving her power full rein. That was one of the reasons he had been able to see her potential for good. As cruel and murderous and vicious as she had been, she had known there were lines she shouldn't cross. This Xena had no such scruples, but he felt himself drawn to her, despite despising her methods. It troubled him that he couldn't figure out if that feeling was simply an artificial result of her charisma being brought to bear on him, or whether it originated within himself. It didn't occur to him until later that perhaps those possibilities did not mutually exclude each other, that the feelings Xena inspired in him and others *were* real and that was what made her so dangerous. He did know that he craved to be singled out by her, and that Gabrielle's casual "She has her eye on you" had unleashed a wave of hope in his heart.
At the same time, he recalled Gabrielle's information that Xena never let anyone close to her. Hercules *had* to get close to her to accomplish his goals, but he also desperately hoped the bond he had with *his* Xena would have some meaning in *this* world. As he worked, mechanically setting the stones in place and mostly succeeding at keeping the chain out of his way, he realized what disturbed him so much about Gabrielle and Iolaus' manner. It was their glassy serenity. They both seemed to enjoy and find fulfillment in their roles, and they obviously derived sexual satisfaction, but both seemed to lack *passion*. They were graceful, obedient, and responsive, but it was as if their responses were more conditioned and automatic than spontaneous or *alive*. His own passion for Xena had never died and never would, even as they had allowed an enduring friendship to grow between them. He felt an unaccountable desire to break through the invisible wall the Conqueror kept around herself, and he somehow knew that if he had any chance to do so, it would be by distinguishing himself from Gabrielle and the other slaves. He wanted this Xena to recognize him as a part of her soul, and he wanted to melt her detachment into something resembling the passion and intensity of the Xena he knew.
A few days later, Hercules found an opportunity to bring himself to the Conqueror's attention, although it would not have been his first choice of methods. He was bringing a load of wood inside, and Gabrielle was approaching the room where Xena held conferences with her generals. She was carrying a tray with a carafe of wine and some mugs. Suddenly and inexplicably, her grip shifted on the heavy tray and she dropped it. Reacting on instinct, Hercules sped down the hall to her side, dropping his load of wood heavily. He said to Gabrielle, with all the authority his voice could muster, "*Don't* say anything!" As the door slammed open, and an angry Conqueror stalked out, he dropped to one knee, his head bowed, and said, "I'm sorry. It was my fault, my lady; I accidentally bumped into her."
Xena pulled his head up by the hair and looked him shrewdly in the eye. Her gaze seemed to say, "I know you're lying," but what she said out loud was, "That was a very expensive wine, slave boy, and you disrupted my meeting with my generals. I can't take that lightly."
"Yes, my lady," he murmured, shocked at his own feelings of awe. Much as he disapproved of her methods and everything *this* Xena represented, he couldn't help but be intoxicated by her aura of power and authority. And he quailed inside at the thought that he'd angered her, although he knew it wasn't his fault, and he was pretty sure she knew it too. "I can't tolerate that kind of carelessness," she continued, her voice like ice; "you'll have to be flogged. Be in my throne room at sunset."
"Yes, my lady," he answered, angry with himself for the slight quaver in his voice. Still holding on to a handful of his hair, she slapped him once across the face, and he felt utterly naked, as if the heat of her hand striking his cheek had instantly melted his clothes and several layers of skin, leaving him exposed in a way that was entirely unfamiliar to him.
He gazed up at her, lips slightly parted in astonishment, wondering just what he *wouldn't* do at her command. Her icy blue eyes seemed to lance into his, noting and gauging the depth of his surrender to her authority. One side of her mouth quirked slightly in a glimmer of a predatory smile; then she turned her attention to Gabrielle, who was standing nearby, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Get us some more wine and help him clean this up," ordered Xena before returning to the conference room.
Gabrielle scurried off to fulfill the first order, while Hercules mechanically went to fetch cleaning supplies. When Gabrielle had safely made her delivery, and was helping him clean up, she gasped, "Why did you do that? Do you know what's going to happen to you?"
"Yes," he answered quietly, with a slight smile. "I remembered what you said about being punished. I think I can better take a flogging than you. I have a pretty high pain tolerance."
"Oh, she'll make sure it hurts," insisted the blonde slave. "She'll probably have Callisto do it, and she's deadly with that whip. But I can't have you take a punishment for *me*."
"Yes. You. Can," he said firmly. "Will it make you feel better to know I also had my own reasons for wanting to come to her attention?"
"It helps a little," Gabrielle said softly. "Whatever your reasons, thank you. I owe you."
"No you don't," he returned. "I took this on myself."
* * *
At sunset Hercules was dutifully waiting in the throne room, on his knees, head bowed. Part of him was still tugged by an urge to submit and surrender to Xena, and part of him held a hard determination not to break, but rather to give her the best show he could. He realized suddenly that his urge to submit and his desire to perform for her were part and parcel of the same impulse. Resistance was out of the question--it would utterly thwart his reason for being here. Breaking down would be intolerable and make him a failure in the Conqueror's eyes. Dignified submission seemed the only option. He hoped he could muster it.
Xena swept in, followed by Callisto who was carrying a long, coiled whip with a single tail. Several household slaves and attendants followed, as well as some of Xena's generals--Hercules was to be made an example of, and all watching would know that Xena ran her household, and by extension her territory, with an iron hand. Xena sat on her throne, and her generals dispersed themselves around her, while the slaves, including Gabrielle, were off to the side.
Xena's voice echoed in the large chamber. "Slave boy! Go stand with your hands against that column. I expect you to keep both hands there until I tell you to move them."
"Yes, my lady," he answered in clear, firm voice.
He walked over to the column she indicated. It was wide, and he placed his hands flat upon it and apart, the chain from his cuffs dangling between them, his legs wide for balance.
Xena spoke to Callisto: "Give him twenty, ten on each side, in a feather pattern. I want his whole back striped. And he looks pretty tough--make them deep enough that he'll be feeling them for a few days. Draw blood."
"Yes, my lady," answered Callisto, with a hint of delighted mania in her voice. So she wasn't entirely unlike her other self, thought Hercules, as he tossed his hair back impatiently and waited. Callisto came up behind him, saying thoughtfully, "Oh yes, that's very nice. The marks will suit you, slave boy. I think we'll start . . . here," she noted, as she traced a line along his shoulder blade with her finger, then traced the identical line on the other side, while he struggled not to recoil visibly at her touch. "And then here," she added, moving her finger down, "and then the other stripes will be longer until we get down . . . here," she ran her fingers along his lower back, "when they get shorter again. It's really quite an attractive pattern. My Lady Xena has good taste." She moved around to his side and in a suddenly hard voice, ordered, "Kiss it!" She brought the coiled whip to his lips, and he bent his head and kissed the black leather, trying not to show that he was actually a little afraid. Her voice returned to the almost childlike quality it had had earlier: "And you'll be glad to know I have *perfect* control."
He tossed his hair again, restlessly, and he caught a glimpse of Xena watching with intense focus. Yes, he had certainly brought himself to her attention. The thought steeled him, and he took a deep breath, focusing his attention, and consciously relaxing his muscles. The preparation helped a little, but the first crack of the whip took his breath away. It was like a line of icy cold fire on his skin, followed by almost unbearable rush of pain from the wound's contact with open air. The line followed the identical path Callisto had traced with her finger, and he could feel a tickle from drops of blood beginning to drip from the stripe, while it still burned and throbbed with a sharp ferocity.
Callisto paused, wanting Hercules and all the watchers to absorb the impact of the first stripe before she laid down the second. With a deafening crack, she sliced open his flesh on the other side, with apparently the same length stripe, and the same depth as the first. Another pause, and another blow on the first side. This time the line of fire was slightly longer. He gasped with each blow, but refused to cry out. By the sixth stripe, he had to concentrate to keep his now sweaty hands in place on the column. From what Gabrielle had told him, slaves were *always* bound during a flogging, and the fact that he wasn't, he realized, meant that this was a very serious test. He had no intention of failing.
But it was hard, oh, so hard. The stripes grew longer as they moved in perfect precision down his back, each one angling up from his spine to the outside. The sharpness of the pain brought tears to his eyes, and he had to battle down a surging impulse to whirl around, rip the whip out of Callisto's hand, and break her neck--or at least drive his fist into the column which supported him, bringing it down. There was something about this quality of pain that sent bolts of energy surging through him--he *had* to move, he had to release some of the pain--and he couldn't. He thought of *his* Xena, her back marked by Callisto's knife, and his own back repeatedly opened up under this Callisto's whip, and his mind whirled with confusion. And his blood welled out of each slice from the whip, and it suddenly occurred to him that it was an offering to the Conqueror. He carefully repositioned his slippery hands, fought back the low growl that was rising in his throat, and surrendered himself.
With each crack of the whip, he gritted and bared his teeth, trying not to let a sound escape, and he tossed his head, his flying hair being the only part of his body he was allowed to move. He was shattering and dissolving with each strike, his will seeming to seep out of him with his blood. Despite all of his problems with his father, so much of his sense of himself was bound up in being the son of Zeus. Now all that was slipping away, so that all he was was a slave whose body no longer belonged to him, but was subject to be used and even flayed open at the will of another. The pain never got more tolerable, and in fact, each successive blow built up the pain across his entire back even more. It was more unbearable each time the whip laid his flesh open with perfect accuracy, every time his back erupted in that sharp-edged flash of fiery pain. After what seemed like hours, it was over, the twentieth stripe laid down with the same exquisite precision as the first. His back both burned with pain, all the wounds flinching from the open air, and itched ferociously--both the deep, quivering itch of the wounds themselves and the tickling sensation of numerous tendrils of blood making their way down his back.
He remained in position obediently, waiting for permission to move. "You may move now," said Xena calmly, "and thank her who gave you your deserved punishment." Gabrielle had prepared him for this, and the thought sent a wave of nausea through him. He carefully turned around, got down on his knees, and bent his head down to kiss Callisto's boot. She emitted a slightly manic giggle, and he wondered if she had any idea how close she came to being flung bodily across the chamber. Then he stood up, squared his shoulders despite the pain, and walked boldly and with his head high toward Xena's throne. There, he again dropped to his knees, again bent over to kiss her boot, noting the pain as the skin on his back stretched open the slashes from the whip. He murmured, "Thank you for correcting me, my lady."
She simply nodded coldly and said, "I trust you won't earn yourself another flogging, slave boy," then directed Gabrielle to tend to his wounds, dismissing them both.
Gabrielle was crying as she led him to the castle infirmary, where wounded soldiers were normally treated. "I . . . I've never seen a whipping like that. Oh gods, and it should have been me!"
"No," he hastened to reassure her. "I knew what I was doing when I stepped into that. *Please* don't blame yourself." He cupped her jaw gently in his hand and tipped her face up to look in his eyes. "Listen to me, Gabrielle. It was *my* choice." He knew Xena had chosen Gabrielle on purpose. She couldn't flog her for dropping the wine, but she could certainly make her suffer his flogging vicariously.
Gabrielle let herself be consoled; she was used to others telling her what to do and think. She prepared a salve, explaining, "All I'm allowed to put on your back is something to prevent infection." Hercules nodded; of course, Xena wouldn't want it to heal any faster than necessary. If, as he expected, floggings were usually administered to set an example to other slaves, she'd want the reminders to last, and the stripes were deep enough that even his faster-than-normal healing ability wouldn't get rid of them soon.
He ceased to pay attention to Gabrielle's gentle touch on his back, as he pondered his own reactions to the flogging. Nothing had shaken his unwavering belief that slavery was an absolute wrong, but something in him had thrilled at the knowledge that Xena had ordered and was witnessing his punishment. His abasement was all the more complete in that she'd ordered another to administer the flogging--that it was Callisto was an irony that he couldn't even begin to get his mind around at the moment--and in that he'd essentially consented to it by not being bound. He gestured slightly and realized he was getting used to the clinking of the chain that dangled from his manacled wrists; much of the time he forgot it was there. And feeling Xena's eyes devouring him as the whip landed, he had felt an overwhelming desire to please her. He flushed, bowing his head so Gabrielle wouldn't see as she continued her ministrations to his back. Who was he becoming, he wondered.
* * *
Hercules had even more trouble than usual falling asleep, worried that he might roll on his back and still troubled by his responses to the whipping. Sleep had used to come so easy to him, but not here. He had become so used to having a warm body, a particular warm body, to enfold into his embrace each night, that he was uneasy sleeping alone. He forced himself not to think of Iolaus when Xena was around; he had to be alert and focused. But at night, or during the days when he had seen the Conqueror riding off on business, his thoughts invariably made their way to the blond hunter. He imagined himself twining his fingers in the tangle of curls; gazing rapt into those bright blue eyes which signalled surrender and submission and a knowing sense of mischief and complicity at the same time; feeling his heart skip a beat when one of those dazzling smiles flashed onto Iolaus' face; plunging his tongue into the warm cavern of Iolaus' mouth; watching that mouth sucking on one of his fingers, Iolaus' eyes closed in dreamy bliss; stroking his hands possessively along the muscled arms and legs and over the blond's chest and abdomen and back; sinking his fingers or teeth into the round, taut buttocks; and bringing the hunter's nipples to life with his rough ministrations. He usually had to stop his remembering at this point. Whenever he thought of Iolaus offering his mouth or his ass to be penetrated by Hercules' cock, the demigod invariably had a vision of Ares using Iolaus the same way, and his stomach would clench in hopeless fury. Enthralled as he was by the Conqueror's magnetism, he wanted his lover and friend and property back.
The next day Hercules was back outside repairing fortifications. Xena was sparring with Callisto, whose moves were as lightning fast as he remembered, but Xena eventually disarmed and overpowered her with solid kicks and blows. Xena's war cries and Callisto's shrieks rang in the air, as both women flipped and whirled, trying to get an advantage. When Xena had Callisto pinned to the ground, she let her up and dismissed her with a friendly pat on the rear.
He straightened momentarily, stretching and wiping the sweat from his eyes with his forearm, careful not to hit himself with the chain that dangled between his wrists. He winced, for the sweat stung the cuts in his back, but he'd been too busy to notice it until now. He felt her eyes upon him again and turned around. "Slave boy!" she called, walking toward him. "Do you have any fighting skills?"
Hercules replied matter-of-factly, "I've been told I have some abilities in that area, my lady."
"Really. And how are your reflexes?"
He suddenly reached up and caught the knife she had thrown just as it was whizzing past his ear, and answered dryly, "Fine."
She grinned, "I see. Well, as you see, I'm sorely in need of a challenging sparring partner. Are you willing to volunteer?"
"I don't want to hurt you, my lady."
"So sure of your abilities, are you?" she laughed. "Well, think of it as doing me a favor. Even Callisto's too easy an opponent, and my skills are getting rusty. And I prefer to improve my chances of surviving the next battle any way I can."
"Of course, my lady," he answered, remembering a time when *his* Xena had demanded he practice with her. He easily leapt the portion of wall he had been working on and approached the Conqueror. He returned her knife and dropped to one knee before her and bowed his head, his honey-colored hair falling forward. "However I can be of service, my lady."
"Stand up. Hold out your wrists." She unlocked his manacles and tucked the key back into her bosom, saying, "Don't get used to being without those. They suit you."
"As you wish," he answered quietly, wondering to himself, *Why does she trust me? I could easily break her neck and run. Is it so obvious that I've surrendered my will to hers?*
"Turn around. Let me see your back," she commanded lightly. He complied. "Callisto does lovely work, don't you think?" she asked.
"I can't fault her technique, my lady," he answered mildly, while she indicated that he could turn back and face her.
She laughed. "You are a genuine prize, slave boy." She grabbed a sword from a small cart filled with weapons and tossed it to him. "So show me what you've got," she challenged. "And don't think of holding back, or I'll *really* lay your back open for disobedience."
He didn't bother to explain that he rarely used his full strength in fights with humans. As it was, remembering his experiences with *his* Xena, he knew she would prove a challenge, even to *his* strength. They came together in a clash of blades, attacking and parrying. Hercules wondered if she knew that every move pulled and reopened the gashes in his back; he concluded she probably did and that this was another test. Of what? The extent of his submission? He knew she was more skillful than he was with a sword, but he took advantage of the fact that he could move considerably quicker than she would have expected, given his size. And Xena was being cautious, aware that he had no protection for his lower arms. Their movements evolved into a controlled dance, Xena attacking, and Hercules parrying. She whirled around, slashing downward toward his sword, and he spun backward, bringing the sword up with the strength of both arms above and behind his head. "You're not bad, slave boy," she muttered.
Eventually, she saw an opening, and with a carefully controlled blow, she sent his sword flying away from him. He was actually relieved--this was more familiar territory for him. She advanced on him, her sword flashing, but he readily avoided her blows, sometimes ducking under and sometimes jumping over her slashing sword, then threw himself into a sudden roll, knocking her off her feet and onto her back. She arched her back and jumped into a standing position, exclaiming, "*Good* boy!" As she raised the sword, he charged her, grabbing her wrist and throwing her. She flipped and landed on her feet and took a flying leap to strike him in the chest with a solid kick. As she spun around to kick him again, he caught her foot in his hand, upending her. She was up again immediately, but was breathing more heavily.
"Is this the kind of thing you were looking for, my lady?" he demanded, as she came up behind him, and he drove an elbow backward into her stomach, which sent her flying backward.
"Yes it is!" she panted, flinging her body into a roll, leaping to her feet, and charging him. He was about to grab her and simply pick her up and toss her, knowing she wouldn't get hurt, but she was quicker and managed to hook a foot around his ankle, bringing him down hard on the grass. He winced as the blades stabbed into the wounds on his back, almost all of them bleeding again and stinging excruciatingly from sweat. She pointed her sword at his throat, but he clapped his hands on the blade. Their eyes locked, and for a moment he thought he saw a gleam of recognition there. They had been there before, and he wondered if any memories from the original timeline were seeping through. As it was, she was distracted for a moment, and he wrested the sword out of her grasp, flung it aside and rolled up to his feet.
Mad at herself for letting her concentration waver, she took it out on Hercules, driving him backward with a series of solid, well-placed kicks to his chest and stomach. "C'mon slave boy!" she taunted. He ducked under a backhanded swing to his jaw, and scooped her into his arms. She flipped herself over backward and out of his grip, struck him a blow in the jaw that spun him around, then locked her arm around his neck from behind, yanking his head back by the hair with her other hand.
"Am I allowed to surrender, my lady?" he gasped, knowing he was perfectly capable of dislodging her arm but not positive he could do so without breaking it.
"Normally, I'd say no," she said, releasing her grip on him, "but I think your back's taken enough punishment." His back was streaked with blood, and strewn with clinging blades of grass. She reached out her hand and clasped his wrist firmly, treating him for a moment, as almost an equal. "That was impressive, slave boy. Best workout I've had in a *long* time."
He bowed his head, then dropped to one knee, surprised at how naturally this gesture was coming to him. "My privilege and my pleasure, my lady."
"Flatterer," she laughingly accused. "Stay there." She retrieved his manacles, then fastened them back on him, musing, "you seem to have a lot of ways of making yourself useful. Take those weapons back to the castle, then get yourself cleaned up and get those gashes looked at again. I want to see you and Gabrielle in my chambers at dinner time. It's time for you to learn some new duties."
"As you wish, my lady," he replied.
She looked down at him, where he remained kneeling, traced one finger in a path over his cheekbone and along his jawline and thence to his lips, where he lightly kissed it. "You're turning out even more useful, not to mention entertaining, than I anticipated, slave boy. *Don't* disappoint me." She turned around and walked away, collecting her sword as she went, neatly flipping it up into her hand with her foot. He got up slowly and rather painfully and set about fulfilling her orders.
* * *
As he moved toward the slave's quarters to get cleaned up, Gabrielle came running toward him. "She wants me to take care of your back," she explained.
He nodded. "Just let me wash up a little first."
The cold water was excruciating on his back, but he was glad to flush all the sweat and grass and dirt out of the gashes from the whip.
"What did she do to you?" asked Gabrielle, applying a salve that would prevent infection.
"Target practice," answered Hercules, and he shrugged self-deprecatingly and smiled.
"She wants you to wait outside her chambers; I'll bring her dinner later. She'll let you know when you're wanted," explained Gabrielle.
Hercules waited outside the Conqueror's chambers, as ordered. After a while, the door opened, and she looked out. "Come in, slave boy." As he followed her, he noticed that she was wearing a long black robe, tied with a sash, with apparently nothing underneath.
"Let's see your back," she said abruptly. He turned around, and her fingers very lightly inspected him. "You'll do. They'll heal. Now--I'm assuming that strength of yours is good for more than carrying firewood, repairing fortifications, and flinging me around the practice field." She smiled almost warmly, before resuming her abrupt tone. "How are you at giving a massage?"
He grinned, saying, "I've been told I have some abilities in that area."
"Good. Prove it." She unlocked and removed his manacles, then walked over to a kind of padded table, opened the top of her robe and pulled her arms out of the sleeves, then lay face down on the table, her back bare. Hercules had caught a glimpse of breasts, breasts he had caressed and worshipped and suckled. What this Xena had in common with *his* Xena was an utter lack of self-consciousness about her body. Xena could be just as intimidating nude as she could in the severest armor.
"As you wish," he whispered, and began rubbing her neck, thumbs firmly rotating at the base of her skull. Any flexing of his muscles made his own back throb and ache; Callisto had laid stripes across every possible muscle group. But he was overcome again with an intense desire to please this cold warlord, and not only as a ploy to achieve his goal of restoring the original timeline.
"Oh, that's good," she purred, as his strong thumbs made their way down her neck. "You just got yourself another job, slave boy."
"I--I hope to please you, my lady," he stammered.
"Well, keeping working at it," she returned. "You've made me a good deal sorer than I've been for a long time."
His hands moved to her bare shoulders, and he began to probe them deeply with his fingers, using his strength to coerce knotted muscles into submission. "Is this too hard, my lady?" he asked as his thumbs worked deeply into her shoulders.
"No. I'll let you know if it's too hard, slave boy."
"Yes, my lady," he answered, somewhat abashed. But he took pride in his task, and relished the feeling of the tense muscles yielding to his pressure. He didn't exactly know what such a massage would feel like--no one he knew was strong enough to really liquify his muscles like that, although his Xena had come close--, but he knew from experience that a Herculean backrub was a prized commodity. Iolaus in particular would congratulate himself on having a half-god as a lover, when Hercules would give him a massage. No, best not to think of Iolaus now. Satisfied that the shoulder muscles had loosened sufficiently under his hands, he placed them on Xena's upper arms and began working his way down. She allowed herself a small sigh of contentment, and Hercules smiled to himself.
Suddenly he noticed faint lines radiating across her back. Transfixed and momentarily forgetting himself, he traced one with his finger. "Yes," said Xena abruptly, as if reading his mind. "I don't mete out any punishment I haven't experienced myself. I wasn't born the Conqueror, you know. Now get back to work, slave boy."
"Yes, my lady." Silently wondering about *this* Xena's past, he found a sore spot immediately under her shoulderblade, a hard knot of tension. He began rubbing it gently, then harder, seeming to dissolve it under his fingers. He moved down her spine, with sweeping outward strokes of the heels of his hands, and then worked his thumbs into another area of tension in her lower back.
He returned his hands to her shoulders, for another long and deep massage, until she said, "Nice work, slave boy." Xena sat up, pulled on her robe, then gestured to the manacles. Hercules brought them to her and held out his arms while she locked them back on. Then she said, "Gabrielle will be bringing my dinner soon. Go kneel in the corner there out of the way. Watch and learn."
He flushed, but moved quickly to his appointed place. He had a pretty good idea just what he would be watching and learning, and a tangle of confused emotions whirled in his brain. On the one hand, he found his position both embarrassing and humiliating. Embarrassing because he would be watching Xena making intimate use of Gabrielle; humiliating because he was being made to watch. At the same time, he had a flash of hope in his heart; if he was to watch and learn, then presumably Xena would be wanting him for the same purposes. Yet he also felt absurdly jealous of Gabrielle. How did the Conqueror have this effect on him?
But then he reminded himself ruefully that Xena always *had* had this effect on him, if not in such a dramatic way. The day before the battle with the revivified Darphus he had fallen hard, although he suspected it first happened when he held a sword to her throat, and she had glared at him, courage and defiance blazing out of those blue eyes. But that day before the battle--when poor Iolaus had gone off to scout--and he had watched her bravely confronting her new life, he had realized in a flash why Iolaus had been so dangerously infatuated with her. Hercules willingly handed her his heart on a platter. He had hoped she did care and that she was, in some way, reciprocating his feelings, but he already knew they weren't destined to be a couple. But he also realized it didn't matter what she felt--he was willing to give her anything she wanted, even if she was just using him.
Despite all the pain that had come later--his own hurt feelings about her entirely expected departure, Iolaus' hurt feelings about his betrayal, and Ares' subsequent assault on Iolaus which finally forced the friends to confront their feelings about each other--he had never regretted that time. Desire had flared between them, white-hot, pure as silver, and incandescent. His hands had burned where they touched her body, his muscles had melted when she touched his, their mouths had fused in drought-quenching kisses, and when she had guided his cock inside her, she had locked him to her with a strength and force that freed all of his own. He was surprised they didn't consume each other in the heat and friction of their powerful bodies.
From that point on, a part of him had belonged to her, even as he was forced to realize his love for Iolaus, even as he later betrayed that love with his own impetuous foolishness in marrying Serena. When Hera had bound Prometheus, Hercules' first and only thought was that he had to stop Xena from striking the fatal blow. When Ares had framed him for Serena's murder, she had brought him back to himself, and in a few quiet words she had made him see his own mistakes with utter clarity. He had had to take time to mourn, but it was the memory of Xena's words that finally sent him back to Iolaus, apologizing the most abject way he knew how. And when Callisto had taken Xena captive, leaving her hurt, terrified, broken, and shattered, he had dedicated himself to putting her back together. Which, of course, had gotten them into this mess. They might have known that humiliating Ares would have future repercussions, but they both couldn't resist.
And here he was, kneeling on a stone floor, his wrists manacled, waiting for a demonstration in the proper methods of serving as a personal slave of a violent and ruthless warlord, while his lover was quite happily serving as the plaything of the god of war. Hercules' musings were interrupted by a light tap on the door and the entrance of Gabrielle.
She carried a heavy tray and deftly set the dishes and platters on the Conqueror's table, barely acknowledging Hercules' presence. Her job was to please her Mistress, and if her Mistress wanted him there, then that's how it should be. She poured a goblet full of wine, then stepped back. Xena gestured at the blonde slave's clothes, and Gabrielle took them off, folding them carefully and putting them on a low stool. She knelt, naked, near Xena's chair, and Xena said, "You need some adornment, girl." She pulled something that glinted out of a pocket in her robe. It was only when she began to attach them to Gabrielle's nipples that Hercules realized it was a pair of silver clamps, linked with three light chains. He winced slightly in sympathy, as Gabrielle silently gasped, her lips parting but making no sound.
"Have you already eaten?" asked Xena brusquely.
"Yes, my lady," whispered Gabrielle. Hercules and Iolaus had played with such toys before, and while he was usually the one applying them, not wearing them, they reversed roles on occasion. He remembered the sensation quite vividly--an intense, shooting pain that burned and throbbed its way directly to his cock. He couldn't help wondering how it would feel with a woman's full breasts, and then he was horrified, but not entirely surprised, to discover that his cock was beginning to swell inside his tight pants.
"Good," said Xena, "because I want some entertainment while I eat." She was seated at the head of a long wooden table, and she directed Gabrielle to get up on the table, lying down at the other end out of the way of Xena's dinner. "Spread your legs wide, girl," she ordered. "I want your fellow slave to have a good view. Now play with yourself. I want you dripping wet by the time I finish eating, but I don't need to tell you not to come."
Hercules flushed a deeper red, but no one was looking at him, and he couldn't help watching with rapt attention. And he couldn't help remembering when he had ordered Iolaus to perform in a similar fashion for him. Gabrielle positioned herself as directed, spread her legs, and began playing with her own pubic hair, twisting the reddish curls around her finger. She then slid her finger along her center, parting her lips. At first she circled the entrance to her vagina with one finger, occasionally sliding it inside. Hercules glanced at Xena. He couldn't see her face, but her pose reminded him of nothing so much as a large bird of prey, focusing intently on its victim. She ate her dinner abstractedly, her attention on Gabrielle.
He was getting increasingly aroused and was disturbed at his own reaction. There was no question that the situation was highly erotic, but it made him deeply uncomfortable at the same time. And Gabrielle was so matter-of-fact about what she was doing. She was obviously becoming more aroused, particularly as her now slick finger began circling her clitoris, but from what he could see of her face, she seemed neither humiliated by nor passionately involved in what she was doing. He might very well be in her place soon, he thought, as he watched her spreading her lips wider with one hand, and stroking her own increasingly engorged clit with the other. Would he be able to obey the Conqueror's every command, no matter how personally humiliating he found it? Would he be able to please her? Would he be able to distinguish himself from Gabrielle and the other slaves enough to earn her confidence and accomplish his mission? And would be able to move her enough to melt some of the ice from her eyes and her heart? He knew his desires were no longer entirely related to his mission; he knew he had to reach *this* Xena somehow in order to accomplish it, but he also wanted to reach her because he was captivated by her. And much to his own discomfiture, he was captivated by the idea of *serving* her.
Xena finished her dinner, and ordered Gabrielle to stop what she was doing and clear the table. Gabrielle obeyed instantly and gracefully, not a hint in her facial expression to indicate that she was frustrated. She cleared the table, taking the heavy tray outside, but leaving the wine, which she brought into Xena's bedroom. Xena beckoned to Hercules, and he got up and followed her. She pointed to a stool in the corner of the bedroom, saying, "Over there. You've probably had enough of kneeling on a hard floor for now." Hercules was a bit surprised at the Conqueror's taste for luxury as he sat down on the stool and looked around him. The bed had a very sturdy iron frame, undoubtedly useful for securing bed-mates, and was draped by a canopy of rich purple velvet which matched the coverings on the bed. A few iron rings jutted from various points along the wall or hung from the ceiling, making the Conqueror's propensities very apparent.
Xena directed Gabrielle to pull the coverings off the bed, and then she took off her own robe. Her body was as perfect as Hercules had remembered, strong, muscled, and yet rounded in all the right places. He desperately wanted to taste those nipples again and to fill his hands with the contours of those breasts. Gabrielle scurried to put the robe away, and then Xena said, "Hands and knees. Middle of the bed." Gabrielle obeyed, positioning herself on her hands and knees, legs spread wide. Hercules suddenly noticed a variety of chains and cuffs hanging from the corners of the bed frame. Xena selected the length she wanted and buckled the leather cuffs onto Gabrielle's ankles and wrists, so that there was a length of chain extending from the slave to the corners of the bed. Xena carefully maneuvered herself between the chains at the head of the bed, sitting in front of Gabrielle with her own legs parted. "Please me now, girl," she ordered. Gabrielle crouched lower, kissing her Mistress reverently between her legs before proceeding to pleasure her with her lips and tongue.
*Watch and learn; there are rituals here I'm supposed to be picking up,* thought Hercules to himself, shifting slightly to accommodate his increasingly uncomfortable erection. Xena caught his eye as he shifted, and let a knowing half-smile reveal that she knew exactly what was making him uncomfortable. Then she returned her gaze to the strawberry blonde head moving between her legs. Hercules was momentarily rocked by a surge of jealousy, and he was sure Xena had read that too in her momentary glance. He deeply envied Gabrielle at the moment, wishing it was his tongue tasting the Conqueror's essence, his tongue giving her pleasure. And he knew, without any self-inflation, that his strength made him better at providing that particular pleasure than almost anyone. Still, Gabrielle must have known what she was doing, for Xena soon took in her breath sharply, her body jolted in climax.
"Good girl," she purred, stroking the slave's blonde hair. "Would you like to come, girl?"
"If it pleases you, my lady," answered Gabrielle, back up on her hands and knees.
*The rote answer,* thought Hercules grimly. *Watch and learn, indeed.*
Xena retrieved a vial from a table next to her bed and positioned herself behind Gabrielle. "Get on your elbows," she ordered softly, and Gabrielle lowered herself again, and Hercules couldn't help admiring the way the pose made the slave's buttocks stand out while exposing all the treasures that lay between her legs. Xena pushed Gabrielle's legs a little farther apart, then poured oil from the vial over her hand. She spent a few moments stretching Gabrielle's vagina with three fingers, but was satisfied the slave was sufficiently prepared, and made her hand into a fist and pushed it inside. Hercules gasped at the same time that Gabrielle did. Gabrielle had obviously been entered this way before, and Xena's hand passed the muscled opening easily. Hercules had never seen anything quite like it, for all of the experimentation he and Iolaus had done. Seeing Xena's fist vanish into Gabrielle's body, seeing her wrist tightly gripped by those strong muscles was one of the most powerfully and intensely erotic sights he had ever seen. It gave him ideas, and he glanced at his own big hands, now marked with manacles and wondered two things: if such a thing would be possible with Iolaus, and if he'd ever have his Iolaus back to try it.
Xena began moving her hand, rocking it slightly, then increasing her tempo, pulling her fist out part of the way and pushing it back in. Hercules pretty much forgot how to breathe, and he watched Gabrielle seeming to pull Xena back inside her. Xena's fist drove faster, and Gabrielle shrieked and bucked in her climax. "Good girl," murmured the conqueror, leaving her fist where it was. With the inside edge of her other hand, she began rubbing the slave's clitoris hard in a sawing motion. Gabrielle came again almost immediately.
"Thank you, my lady," she gasped breathlessly. "My lady is too good to her slave."
Xena only smiled and unbuckled the cuffs. She pulled Gabrielle into her arms, carefully removed the clamps, and held her while the slave came down off her shattering climaxes and gasped with pain from the clamps' removal, gave her some gulps of wine from her goblet, then dismissed her gently. As Gabrielle had reported, the Conqueror slept alone. Gabrielle obediently went to the outer room to gather her clothes and departed. Her body radiated all the signs of someone who had been thoroughly fucked, but her face maintained its usual placid expression.
Xena carelessly pulled on her robe and tied the sash as she crossed the room to where Hercules waited mutely. "And did you learn, slave boy?" she asked.
"I trust . . . I did, my lady," he answered carefully. His condition was all too apparent, and his cock had been ready to burst out of its leather restraints for quite some time now.
Xena rested her hand lightly over the obvious bulge in his pants. "You're frustrated, aren't you, slave boy?"
"Yes, my lady," he answered, his voice strained and his face flushed.
"Good. I'd like you to stay that way for a while--until I give you permission to come. I won't know what you're doing alone in your sleeping chamber, obviously, but I'm asking you not to take care of it yourself."
She could see by the defeated sag to his shoulders both that he was going to obey her command and that he wasn't at all happy about it. "As you wish," he murmured, bowing his head as he felt both shame and frustration flood his cheeks.
Xena reached out and gently ruffled his hair, to soften the blow. "It's obvious you're not accustomed to slavery, boy," she said. "You're not like the others here. Yet that gives you the potential to be all the more valuable to your owner. I can see your willingness to suffer for me and to obey an order that I can't possibly enforce. That pleases me, slave boy."
"Then I am more than rewarded, my lady, " he answered, and he meant it.
She grinned and dismissed him. He walked rather uncomfortably to his sleeping quarters, and it was a long time before his erection subsided enough for him to get to sleep. Yet the thought of bringing himself relief was no longer even a remote possibility, and he realized he had submitted himself utterly to the Conqueror. No one but himself would know if he stroked himself to climax, but he wasn't even tempted to disobey Xena's command.
Hercules woke up in the morning with his back itching ferociously; it meant that it was beginning to heal with his usual rapidity, but it wasn't comfortable. Before eating a quick meal and heading out to his work, he went to the infirmary in search of some kind of salve that would keep the cuts from drying out even more and cracking open again. He ran into Gabrielle on the way, and she offered to help. Hercules felt acutely self-conscious, remembering the night before, but Gabrielle's serene demeanor was unchanged. She applied salve to his back gently and efficiently, then returned to her other duties.
Hercules spent the morning chopping and stacking firewood for the castle. The chain dangling between his wrists made the job extremely awkward, and he could feel various muscles getting sore from the effort of trying to swing the ax without hitting himself with the chain. And he was troubled by his experiences the night before--by Xena's treatment of her slaves and by his own undeniable reactions to that treatment.
Suddenly he stopped in mid-swing, feeling the unmistakable mental twitch of sensing one of his divine family members nearby. He turned around to see Ares watching, his arms folded across his chest, and a wide grin leering from his face. "It's good to see you settling into your new lifestyle, brother," he mocked.
"This isn't over yet, Ares!" snapped Hercules, his voice hard.
"In your dreams," laughed the god. "You're just a body to her, a piece of particularly well-prepared *meat*. And she's content in this time in a way she never was before--no conflict, no internal struggles. I don't know why I never thought of this before. If you really think she's going to listen to your stories about another time, you're deluding yourself."
Hercules glanced around. Xena and Callisto had ridden out that morning, and no one else was around. With a primal roar he flung the ax at the god, striking him in the chest. Ares looked vaguely surprised at the ax blade buried in his chest, then pulled it out and threw it back with a roar of his own. Prepared for this move, Hercules sidestepped and caught the ax by the handle, tossing it aside.
Ares charged him, but Hercules clasped his hands together and swung out, catching the god in the stomach. Ares staggered backward, but charged again, grabbing the chain and yanking Hercules forward, then giving him a solid knee to the groin. Hercules took in his breath sharply and gasped, "you must be worried that Xena *will* listen to me, or you wouldn't be here trying to convince me otherwise." He punched Ares in the jaw with a sharp jab, causing the god to let go of the chain.
Ares kicked Hercules in the stomach, sending him flying backward. The hard landing on his back opened several of the gashes, and as he jumped to his feet, he could feel the shock of air, and grass, and sweat stinging the wounds. "Wrong again, brother," taunted Ares. "I just hate to see you wasting your time and energy in a lost cause."
"Your concern is touching," muttered the demigod, biting off his words sharply.
"You should work on some acceptance issues," said Ares with mock sincerity. "You could do worse than to be the Conqueror's favorite pet."
"What's the matter?" asked Hercules calmly. "Jealous?"
Ares' face twisted in a brief spasm of rage, and the fight resumed, with Hercules silently cursing the chain that limited his movements. He managed to grab the front of Ares' leather vest, however, and haul him forward, kicking his feet out from under him. He straddled the god, bringing his wrists together, and swung the chain in a vigorous swipe across Ares' face. "Gotcha, didn't I?" said Hercules with a lethal smile.
Ares roared and shoved the demigod off him, rolling up to his feet and taking Hercules down with a jab to the solar plexus. "What you haven't figured out, brother," sneered the god, "is that I win either way. If I lose Xena to the original timeline, you lose her too, and I *know* that however much you want your golden boy back, you're gonna miss what you have here." Ares' eyes were bright with triumph, and a predatory grin slashed his face. "And you'll spend the rest of your life knowing how much of a slave you are and . . . " Ares vanished, with his voice trailing off, "knowing that *I* know it too."
Hercules sagged momentarily, staggered by the truth of Ares' jeering words. But he took a deep breath and forced himself to return to his work, all the while shaking inside. There was nothing he could do about what he was discovering in himself, and there was nothing to do about Ares' knowledge of it. It would just be another weapon against him in the god's arsenal, but Hercules wasn't without his own collection of Ares' weaknesses. The never-ending contest would just have another layer of bitterness added to it. His only consolation was that if he *did* succeed in restoring the original timeline, Ares would probably be too humiliated by his defeat to blurt out embarrassing facts about Hercules to Iolaus and Xena.
He spent the rest of the day in a haze of self-pity, doing his work automatically, while cursing the fact that he would never be let alone, never be able simply to live his life without worrying about his loved ones or himself being targeted. Then he thought of Iolaus moaning under his hands and mouth, his blue eyes brilliant with desire. Hercules fell to his knees, his face in his hands, awash in memories of his life with the blond hunter. There were plenty of rough edges where they rubbed against each other, sometimes irritatingly, sometimes painfully, but where they did fit, they fit so well. Waking up next to Iolaus gave Hercules a peace that he hadn't felt since he lost his family, but at the same time, Iolaus inspired in him a consuming lust linked with a desire to possess that he had never felt with anyone else. And Iolaus gave himself--freely, willingly, completely, with a fierceness and strength that let Hercules know that Iolaus was going after what *he* wanted just as ruthlessly as Hercules was. And that knowledge freed the demigod to love Iolaus with a driving passion, claiming the hunter ever more surely as *his*.
He got up with a sigh, preparing a load of firewood to bring into the castle, unaware that he had been watched by two women on horseback, one dark and one blonde. "There's more to him than meets the eye," mused Xena to Callisto, "although what meets the eye is certainly enticing. I can't help wondering what it is that he left behind."
* * *
While Hercules was distributing firewood inside the castle, Gabrielle came running up to him. "She wants you tonight after dinner; she's having a dinner meeting with Callisto and some of the others. You're to wait like last night."
Hercules nodded. "Thank you, Gabrielle. I'll be there."
When he was done with his chores and had eaten supper, he cleaned himself up, not happy about the twinges and stinging across his back. He would have felt a lot better if he hadn't been fighting with Ares, and he gritted his teeth in a momentary spasm of fury. He reflected that this was probably not the best mood in which to greet his Mistress, remembering his sister's pithy advice to "lose the 'tude, dude." But he was both depressed and angry and didn't know if he could hide it.
His body strung tight with tension, he took himself to his appointed place outside the Conqueror's chambers. After about ten minutes, he saw her approaching down the corridor. Just watching her walk, he felt the aura of the magnetism she emanated, and his earlier mood thawed into an irresistible drive to please and serve. "Slave boy," she said matter-of-factly, then simply jerked her head toward her door, indicating that he was to follow her.
There was a bath filled with steaming water waiting in the main room. Xena turned to look at Hercules and asked, "So how are you at washing a woman's hair?"
"Pretty good, I think," he answered with a shrug and slightly raised eyebrows, thinking of the time when he'd been called to wash a shattered and bruised Xena's hair after her ordeal with Callisto. And Deianeira had loved for him to wash her hair.
"Good," she said. "Help me remove my armor."
"As you wish," he said quietly and unbuckled her armor, removing it, and sliding the bracers off her arms as she held them out to him. She sat down, indicating her boots, and he knelt in front of her, pulling them off.
She stood up and took off the rest of her clothes and said, "Go get that tray." The tray held soap, a sponge, and some vials of fragrant oil. He brought it over to the tub and shook a few drops from one of the vials into the water. "Very good," she said as she stepped into the tub. "On your knees, slave boy. I'll let you know when I need your help." Hercules kneeled by the side of the tub watching the Conqueror as she languorously soaped herself, drawing the sponge along the length of first one, then another bronzed, muscled leg, then along her arms. As the sponge in her hand swept in circles around her breasts, he felt his neglected cock beginning to stir. His eyes were riveted by her glistening skin, the taut curve of her neck, the slope of her breasts, and the alert nipples responding to the touch of the sponge and the difference in temperature between the water and the air.
Xena suddenly tossed the sponge back over her shoulder, saying, "Think fast, slave boy!" Hercules reached out and caught it, reacting even before the words were spoken. "Wash my back," she ordered, leaning forward to give him access.
"Yes, my lady," he answered, wrapping a loop of the chain around one arm so it wouldn't swing against her and complying quite willingly, sliding the sponge across the hard planes of her back. His fingers just ached to reach around and cup a slippery breast, and he figured she knew it, but he obeyed her scrupulously, not venturing with even a finger outside the selected territory.
She sighed in relaxation, then said, "Now my hair."
Hercules rubbed the soap between his hands, working up a lather, then began rubbing the soap into Xena's hair. His fingers massaged her scalp with exquisitely controlled pressure, and she exhaled slowly, saying lightly, "When Callisto brought you in, I knew you were special, but I didn't imagine you'd be useful in *so* many ways. I can't wait to find out what *else* you're good at."
Hercules flushed, but continued working his fingers through her long hair, feeling it slide like wet silk between his fingers. There was a pitcher near the tub, and he filled it, carefully rinsing Xena's hair, entranced by its sleek fall away from her forehead as she tilted her head back. "Towel," she said as she stood up gracefully, rivulets of water glittering as they flowed down her body. He wrapped a large towel around her, then used another to soak up water from her hair. She sat down on a chair, still wrapped in her towel and told him where to find a comb. Hercules combed Xena's hair dexterously, then brought her her robe as ordered and helped her into it. She turned to him, tracing the shape of his lips with one finger.
Xena draped herself in a large armchair, letting her robe fall open. "You have a lovely mouth, slave boy," she remarked; "come here and show me if you're as skilled at giving pleasure as you look."
Hercules raised his eyebrows slightly and moved to kneel before her chair, his mouth quirking in a half-smile. Feeling reckless, he asked, "Would my lady like it quick, or should I draw it out?"
Xena grabbed a handful of long honey-colored hair, yanking hard, but the slight twitch of her mouth showed her amusement. "Draw it out, slave boy. In fact, I don't want to come until I tell you I'm ready. And keep your hands to yourself."
"As you wish," answered Hercules quietly. This was something he was both good at and loved to do, and he had no doubt about his abilities to read her signals and hold her off until she was ready. And he had an advantage she didn't know about--experience, however brief, of pleasuring Xena's body before. Remembering how Gabrielle had started, he kissed her lightly at the very point of the upside-down triangle of her dark curls. He then parted the already-moist lips with his tongue, tracing a path along her center with a featherlight stroke. His strenuous tongue danced over her contours and along her folds, probing, licking, stroking, teasing, and swirling. Sometimes he toyed with the entrance to her body with the tip of his tongue or used it to tightly circle her clit. He would steadily increase the pressure of his strokes, as Xena's breathing grew more rapid, and her grip tightened in his hair. Then he would back off, exploring her with the lightest of touches as her breathing reluctantly slowed.
He pushed inside her with his tongue, fucking her with voluptuous deliberation, probing the slick passage, using his strength and skill to keep raising the level of her arousal without taking her over the top. Then he drew long ovals with his tongue up from her entrance and around her clit and back down, while her breathing grew increasingly ragged. Hercules wondered if he could push the Conqueror to demand to come, and he closed his lips around her swollen clit, flicking it with his tongue. "Now, slave boy! Now!" she growled roughly, and Hercules smiled to himself, lapping at her clit with vigorous broad strokes that brought her shuddering to her peak and over it into waves of convulsive climax.
She released her grip on his hair as her breathing slowed, and he sat back on his heels, tossed his hair back, and looked steadily into her eyes. "I'm impressed," she said coolly, and he marvelled at how quickly she mastered herself. "You're looking pretty pleased with yourself," she continued, "and don't think I don't know what you were doing there, boy. I wouldn't want you to forget your status, and that's why I will go to bed satisfied tonight, and *you* will not. Understand?"
"Understood, my lady," he answered, his eyes shining with the knowledge of having pleased her. His cock was demanding attention, but his own satisfaction really didn't seem that important at the moment.
Xena pulled him toward her by his hair, thrusting her tongue roughly into his mouth to taste herself there and kissing him roughly. Then she released him and said "You're dismissed, slave boy. Perhaps I'll have more use for you tomorrow."
He bent over to kiss her hand and murmured, "Thank you for letting me serve you, my lady," then got up and walked out of the room, about as uncomfortably as he had the night before.
* * *
This time Xena summoned Hercules herself, after a day spent conferring with Callisto and efficiently and briskly directing groups of men who were moving weapons and supplies. She watched him work for a while, her lips involuntarily quirking into a smile as she admired the play of muscles under his sweat-sheened skin. She observed the way he compensated for the annoying presence of the chain between his wrists, the way his biceps bulged as he lifted the heavy boulders he was using to repair her fortifications, and the way he tossed his long honey-colored hair off of his face.
Finally she approached him, saying peremptorily, "Slave boy! I have use for you tonight. Get yourself cleaned up and come to my chambers."
"As you wish," he answered, with a slight bow of his head.
Newly bathed, he took himself to the doors of her apartments. The guards outside let him in with a knowing wink. She was at a table, looking at some parchment documents, and wearing the black silk robe she'd worn before. "Down," she said, pointing to the floor. He knelt near her feet, silently, and waited, his head bowed and his hair falling forward around his face. She licked her lips and went back to her work, until there was a knock at the door. "That'll be my dinner," she said. "Go get it and bring it inside. Set it up here." She cleared the documents off the table, while he went to the door.
Hercules accepted a tray with covered dishes and a carafe of wine. He carefully set the table for her, moving as smoothly as possible to prevent the chain from clanking against things. "Very nice," she said. "Now, down."
"Yes, my lady," he answered and knelt again near her feet. She began eating, then offered him a piece of food. He flushed for a moment in anger, but opened his mouth and took it.
She laughed. "I knew some indignity would get to you, slave boy. Well, too bad. I *like* feeding you, and I like seeing you on your knees."
"As you wish, my lady," he answered, not very effectively concealing the edge to his voice.
She laughed again and offered him a sip of wine from her cup, and the meal continued, with the Conqueror feeding Hercules from her hand, treating him as nothing so much as a prized pet. His jaw and the cords of his neck tightened in anger and humiliation, but he had resolved to earn her trust, and if she wanted to feed him like a pet, then he would submit to it. When she finished her dinner, she said, "Take the tray outside. Someone will clear it up. Leave the wine." He carefully replaced the used dishes on the tray and took it to the guards outside.
"Now come here," she ordered, "and bring the wine." He carried the carafe and the goblet to the bedroom where she beckoned him.
"As you wish." Hercules nodded questioningly toward a low stool, and she gave him an answering nod in permission with a brief flick of her hand. He sat down and began to take off his boots. She poured herself a glass of wine and sat down on the bed to watch. He stood up and let his belt fall to the floor. She raised her eyebrows slightly and nodded at him to continue. Her scrutiny made him uncomfortable, but he found it enticing as well. He knew others admired his body, but he had never given it much thought. Now, being treated as a desired object, he was pleased at the impression he made. He unfastened his leather pants and pulled everything off, standing before her naked.
She looked him up and down appraisingly, as a smile began to spread across her mouth.
She pushed herself back on the bed, so that she was leaning on a pillow that rested against the iron bars at the head of the bedframe and patted the bed in front of her. "Come here. Sit facing away from me. And lean forward a little." He obeyed, and she began lightly tracing the cuts in his back with her fingertips and lightly stroking the muscles which stood out. "What a magnificent plaything you are," she remarked. "If the gods designed you as a pleasure toy, they couldn't have done a better job."
Her voice was like dark honey laced with spice, and it insinuated itself around all his nerves, while her fingers played across his back. "I want you to answer my questions," she said in a harder voice.
"As you wish, my lady," the demigod answered.
"Why did you take that whipping for the girl? I hope you realize that what I was punishing you for was your presumption in intervening. I knew right away that the accident wasn't your fault."
"I figured that, but I wanted to spare her punishment, my lady. I thought I was more capable of enduring a whipping than she was."
"I see. And if you figured I saw through your ruse, what made you think I would go along with it?"
"I hoped the prospect of seeing me whipped would prove entertaining enough that you would spare her," answered Hercules very quietly.
"And so it was," the warlord remarked, drawing her finger with slightly harder pressure along each cut. "Was it so for you?"
"If you're asking if that kind of pain excites me, my lady, no it doesn't. But I will admit to wanting to make an impression on you, to please you."
"And so you did. How about this? Would *this* excite you?" He heard her reach for a knife, pull it out of its sheath, and then he felt her drawing it lightly over his back. She didn't break the skin, but merely skimmed the surface with the blade pressing just enough for him to feel it. The knife would leave faint lines, but not draw blood at that rate. "*Does* this excite you?" she demanded.
"It would be obvious to you that I was lying if I said it didn't, my lady," said Hercules, ruefully regarding his stirring cock.
She laughed. "And what if I decided to hurt you with this?" She pressed the point slightly into his shoulder blade. "What if I wanted to watch your blood oozing out of your skin? Would you try to stop me?"
"No, my lady."
"I want to please you." His voice trembled slightly.
"That's hard for you, isn't it?" Xena purred, continuing to play with him, now drawing circles and spirals with the very point of the knife.
"Yes and no," he answered. "Obeying *anyone* does not come easy for me, but I can't help wanting to serve you, to . . . submit to you."
"I've noticed. It's one of the things I like about you, slave boy. You do it even though it's hard for you. It's been a long time since I've bothered summoning a man to my bed. Frankly, I prefer that little slave girl you protected so nobly. But there's something very tempting about you." She tossed the knife aside carelessly, got up and ordered, "Lie down with your hands above your head."
He complied, and she wrapped the chain around his wrists, pulling them together, then reached for a lock on the table next to the bed and locked the chain to the lowest of the iron bars of the frame. His arms were stretched above his head, and his erection was impossible to conceal. "Oh, that's lovely, that really is," she murmured. "Chains become you, slave boy. What *is* it about you?" She raked her nails down the the underside of his arm, from his elbows to his armpits, leaving faint red lines. "I just look at you, and I want to abuse you," she continued. "And you're splendid, undeniably, but it's not just your looks that draw me."
"You flatter me, my lady," he remarked, smiling up at her, while thinking to himself, *Perhaps you sense that I love you, love you even though you tried to murder me and you betrayed my best friend, love you despite your crimes and your dark soul. I ache with love for you--did I fall when I held a sword to your throat, and you offered it to me, expecting me to kill you? Or did I fall later when you changed? Ah, it's not you anyway, or is it?*
She smiled. "May-be," she drawled, tracing a finger down the line of his jaw, "it's because those blue eyes of yours seem to beg for it whenever you look at me."
*Admit it, Herc,* he thought to himself, *it's *this* one you want to be with right now. It's *this* Xena who makes you want to submit and serve.* He gazed up at her, eyes glowing with desire, and said, "Is it so obvious that I need you to use me?"
"It's so obvious, slave boy, and use you I will--for *my* pleasure. Whether you will be allowed satisfaction will depend on how well you please me."
"As you wish. But I have a name, my lady."
"No doubt. And what is it?"
"Hercules. Would you please indulge me by letting me hear you say it?"
"It can't hurt," said the warlord casually, as she drew her hands along his upper arms, revelling in the feel of the slightly straining muscles. Then in a much gentler tone than he'd heard her use yet, she said, "Hercules. Hercules. *My* Hercules."
He closed his eyes, and an identical voice from his memory came to his inner ear, saying, "Is this what it feels like to be you, Hercules?"
"So, Hercules?" she asked. "Why haven't you broken that chain? I know you can." Her hands still molded his upper arms, sometimes travelling to his chest.
"Yes, I can," he said simply. "I've *chosen* to obey you, my lady."
"I'm flattered," she said with a wry smile. "But why should I trust you not to change your mind and decide to escape . . . or worse?"
"You have my word," he insisted. "I will obey you and serve you to the best of my ability. And, frankly, there's not much you could do about it if I did decide to leave."
"That will have to do," she said abruptly. "You're just too delicious to resist right now." Her hands wandered over his chest, running her fingers through the hairs, and lightly raking him with her nails. She stood up suddenly, untied her sash, and let the silk robe fall off.
"You're beautiful, my lady," he said reverently.
She smiled, and walked across the room to retrieve her knife, well aware that he was watching her as she moved. When she returned, she suddenly mounted him, and he gasped as his cock was enclosed by her moist heat. She didn't move, but took the knife and began drawing patterns with its point on his chest. "Don't move until I tell you," she ordered, while she drew lines along his abdominal muscles with the knife, then moved it back up to his chest, tracing a spiral that radiated outward from first one nipple then the other. His nerves danced as the point of the knife travelled over his chest and abdomen. She drew a circle with it within the hollow of his throat and then a straight line down to his navel, and then etched icy-hot lines along the tender flesh on the undersides of his arms, one after the other. She was fascinated by the swell of his pectoral muscles, and traced them with the knife, sometimes pausing to press it harder into his flesh, but without drawing blood. He moaned softly; it was agonizingly delicious to be inside her, and it was maddening not to be able to do anything about it. "I know what you want, Hercules," she added, "but whether you get it or not will depend on your perfect obedience. And on *my* whims. A slave shouldn't count on having his desires satisfied."
"As you wish," he whispered.
"Exactly," she answered with a smile, and he dared to grin back. They both knew they had an unspoken understanding, as if they were reading each others' minds. But she didn't want him to be too complacent, and she pressed the point of the knife into one nipple with perfect control. He wouldn't get hurt, but the sensation was like a bolt of lightning straight to his groin. He groaned aloud, exerting all his willpower to prevent his hips from thrusting upward. While keeping pressure on one nipple with the knife, she reached for the other with her free hand, and began to pull on it and roll it between her fingers. Hercules had a double motivation not to move. He was genuinely afraid of displeasing her--and not because he feared punishment, but because he wanted her to be pleased--and he didn't want to jolt the knife point pressing into his nipple. The other nipple burned with her rough handling. He was consumed with desire, and the desire to surrender himself to her pleasure burned even hotter than the desire for his own release.
"Please, Xena," he begged her hoarsely. "Please let me use my hands."
She raised her eyebrows at his free use of her name, but decided to let it go because she liked the sound of her name in his pleading voice. "What for?" she asked coolly.
"To give you pleasure, Xena, my lady, please."
She put the knife aside and laid her hands flat along his chest. "Go ahead," she said. "Free yourself. Impress me."
This was a harder task than it would have been before, as he now had to cope with the chains wrapped around his wrists and the lock on the bed, but it would simply take more effort. He began to pull his wrists apart, straining against the metal. He clenched his teeth with the exertion, and Xena felt his entire body tense beneath her. He also had to concentrate on controlling himself--he hadn't been given permission to come yet. As he separated his hands, the chain began to creak and ever so slowly some of the links began to pull apart. "That's amazing," she said, despite herself. He pulled harder, his body flexing, and the muscles swelling in his chest and arms. The chain suddenly snapped, and the heavy iron lock that had attached it to the bar flew off. He reached up and snatched it out of the air and was left with the manacles on his wrists, and a length of broken chain dangling from each one.
"I *am* impressed," she said, grinning, her eyes sparkling. "Can you break off those chains so they don't get in the way? Leave the manacles--they look good on you."
"As you wish," he said, smiling back, his face alight with pleasure. He snapped the chain off each manacle, and again she enjoyed the flexing of his muscles beneath her.
"Now what did you want to do with those hands now that you've freed them?" she asked.
"Make you feel good," he said softly, "although apparently I already am doing so" he added with a slight raise of his eyebrows. Her juices flowed down around his stiff cock and down her thighs and lubricated his belly and hips.
"Yes, you can tell I liked that," she purred in a sultry tone. "Now, go ahead, make me feel even better."
He slid his large hands up along her rib cage until he cupped her breasts, then grasped them firmly and began to brush his thumbs over her erect nipples. "Yesss," she hissed, then added, "don't think you have to be gentle."
"As you wish," he said, with a wide smile. He began molding her breasts more roughly in his hands, then rolling the nipples between his fingers.
"Harder," she said through clenched teeth. "Use some of that strength of yours in a good cause."
"As you wish," he repeated, pressing harder, while pulling on her nipples sharply. With a rough squeeze, he brought her to her climax. She gasped and let out a sharp cry, and she pulsed around his aching cock. He held his body utterly rigid, willing himself not to come, and when the danger had passed, he looked up at his mistress, noting the sudden softness in her face and the gesture with which she pushed her dark hair off her forehead.
She gazed at him, her blue eyes piercing his own. Her lips twitched slightly in a knowing smile, which he returned. But what she said, in a devastatingly soft voice, was "Get your hands back over your head."
He obeyed, and she leaned forward, bracing herself on his arms, knowing he had the strength to support her weight. "Stay still," she admonished, and began to slide herself up and down on his cock. He gritted his teeth as the friction made his arousal all the more unbearable, and her fingers dug into the flesh of his arms. With perfect control, she raised herself almost all the way off him, then lowered herself back down, with a maddeningly slow pace. This continued for several minutes, and he tossed his head, growling softly with his teeth bared, unable to keep his body entirely still or his voice silent.
Suddenly, with one hand, she grasped a handful of his long hair, and wrapped it tightly around her hand, her fist now bracing itself on his arm. "You've been *very* *very* good. You can move now, slave boy," she whispered, "and you have permission to come, but you'd better give me a good ride." His hips rocked upward at her words, and he began thrusting into her slowly. She matched her motions to his, and he gradually moved his pelvis faster. "Go ahead, slave boy, show me how strong you are," she urged. "I *like* it hard and fast."
"As you wish," he gasped. It was actually an infinite relief not to have to be gentle and hold back as the world's strongest man had to with other female lovers. Given permission to go all out, he thrust into her with all his strength, and she clamped herself against him with all of hers.
Hercules' groans grew louder as his cock drove into her depths, and her breathing got faster and faster, until she came with a shrieked "YAH!" while yanking hard on her handful of his hair. His orgasm followed hers immediately, and it was as if weeks of tension released themselves in an overpowering flood. His hips high rose off the bed, lifting her with them, as he came, and he roared, engulfed with ecstasy. She collapsed against his chest, and he ventured to put his arms around her, and they lay together while the spasms of their bodies gradually slowed.
Tears were welling dangerously in his eyes, however, and he turned his head away, letting his hair fall over his face. Between the long-delayed physical release and his conflicting feelings about Xena and about his own submission, Hercules was overwhelmed. He felt as head-over-heels, foolishly in love as a teenager, beset with a desperate puppy love that thrilled at the least acknowledgment by the beloved. He felt deliriously happy to have pleased his Mistress and humiliated at his willing surrender at the same time.
As Xena carefully levered herself off his body, he quickly placed his hands back over his head. "You have good instincts, and I like that," she said softly, "but you can drop the formalities for *now*." He lowered his arms, and she brushed the hair out of his face, forcing him to reveal to her his tear-filled eyes. "You don't know how much I cherish those tears," she murmured. "My other slaves are so inured to their status that they don't really *feel* what it is to give of themselves. You give yourself willingly, and it's so very hard for you," she mused. She lightly stroked his arm as she talked, tracing the curve of a bicep, then she bent to kiss him. She parted her lips, and he accepted the invitation, letting her capture his tongue in her mouth and claim it as her own as she sucked on it forcefully, while her tongue twined around it in an urgent and compelling dance.
When she broke the kiss, she reached across him to the table next to her bed, rummaging in the drawer. She pulled out a key and unlocked the manacles on his wrists, saying gently, but with an ironic smile, "I don't think you'll be needing those any more, slave boy. Somehow I don't think you'll be trying to run away." Xena reached for the knife abstractedly, the way another person might toy with a toothpick and began tracing lines along the swell of his biceps.
He swallowed, his eyes still leaking tears, "That I won't, my lady."
"You came to me for a reason, didn't you?" she asked. "The minute I saw you I knew those chains couldn't hold you, and you must have let yourself be captured."
"You're very observant, my lady."
Xena smacked Hercules sharply on a nipple with the flat of the knife, saying, "I didn't get where I am now by being unobservant, slave boy."
His cock immediately sprang to attention, and he heard a throaty chuckle beside him. "One of these days, you're going to have to tell me where you're from and why you're here," she paused, "Hercules, but I haven't much time, and right now I want to amuse myself . . . with *this*." She touched the very tip of his cock with a finger, then drew it down its length, then shifted to sit between his legs. He felt the point of the knife press into his balls and gulped suddenly. Xena laughed and remarked, "I suggest you hold *very* still, slave boy."
"Yes, my lady," he breathed. With the flat of the knife, she weighed his balls, lifting first one, then the other. Then she delicately scraped the blade over them with a touch so light he felt no pressure, just a wisp of breeze as the knife hummed over his flesh.
"You trust me," she said wonderingly. "Any other man I know would have gone completely limp by now in fear."
"I have reasons to trust you," he said softly.
"Hmm. That's an intriguing thought, but I'll hold it for later." Xena tapped his cock with the flat of the knife. When Hercules moaned, his arousal rising in him again as if it hadn't been quenched, she tapped him harder, then slapped his cock on one side with the knife and then on the other as it swayed and quivered. Hercules' knuckles were white where he was gripping the bed frame above his head, as Xena proceeded to drag the point of the knife along the underside of his cock, and then, with an exquisitely delicate touch, she collected a drop of the fluid that was seeping out of the tip onto the knife and licked it off with a feral grin.
"Gods. What you do to me, slave-boy." She put the knife aside and moved up to the head of the bed. "I want you to pleasure me with that magnificent tongue of yours," she ordered, straddling his head. Hercules readily complied, placing his hands on her buttocks to help support her weight and probing her depths with his tongue, while her juices and his own seed spread along his cheeks and chin. Then he sucked her clit between his lips and closed his teeth on it, all the while sucking hard. Xena climaxed with a triumphant whoop, and Hercules felt the paroxysms of the muscles under his fingers. She shifted so she was sitting next to him and descended upon his mouth for a brutal kiss that left his lower lip bleeding from the ravages of her teeth.
"You're mine," she growled roughly. "Mine, slave boy."
"Yours, my lady," he murmured, awed by the intensity of her passion.
"You may not wear my manacles any more, but I want you to bear my mark, Hercules," she said fiercely. "And I want to see you bleed for me, up close."
"Wh-whatever you wish, my lady," he agreed, caught up in this moment where nothing else existed but Xena and his need to please her.
"On your knees," she said in a slightly calmer voice. He scrambled off the bed and knelt, gazing up into her blazing blue eyes from his own clear blue depths. She had the knife in her hand, and he noted how much the knife was an extension of her body, of her power and control. "Brace yourself," she said dryly, then with a few swift strokes, she carved her initial into his upper arm, slightly below the shoulder. "That will last for a while," she said with satisfaction as the blood began to well up, "and the beauty of it, is that I can always have the pleasure of doing it again."
She straddled him, impaling herself on his erection, then leaned forward to lick the blood from the mark she had carved. Then she kissed him, forcing her tongue into his mouth. Her voice low, she said, "Yes, taste yourself. Taste your essence, taste yourself opening up to me, giving me everything that you are, Hercules."
*Not everything,* he thought to himself as a wave of love for Iolaus washed over him, Iolaus who gave himself so willingly to *him*.
But then she whispered, "Fuck me, slave boy. Use your strength to lift your Mistress," and he was swept away again by his own desire to be possessed. He slipped his hands under her muscular buttocks, and she grasped onto his hair with both hands like reins. His head fell back, and the cords of his neck stood out while he raised and lowered her on his throbbing shaft, forcing himself to keep to a deliberate pace, until she ordered, "faster now."
Within a few moments she yelled, "Oh yes! *Good* boy*!" and she convulsed around him, triggering his own obliterating, shattering climax.
Spent and exhausted, he nonetheless managed to sweep her up in his arms and deposit her on the bed. She patted the bed next to her, and he lay down gratefully, lifting her hand to his mouth and pressing kisses on it. Xena ran her fingers through his sweat-soaked hair, pushing it away from his forehead, then ran her fingertips along his cheekbone and jawline. "I have to tell you something," she said after a while. "Caesar's preparing a force to sail toward the coast. He sends out these *feelers* now and then," she said disgustedly, "always hoping I'm somehow no longer in power or weakened. Or maybe he hopes these periodic skirmishes will wear me down. I have to defeat them convincingly--then he'll stay away for a while. We leave for the coast tomorrow."
"I saw the preparations," answered Hercules quietly. "Let me go with you."
"Why?" she challenged, her hand flat on his chest.
"You've seen that I can fight, my lady," he offered. "I can help."
"You're sooo transparent I can see right through you," she purred silkily. "You want to be there to try to defend me, don't you?"
He nodded. "I don't need protecting," she said harshly, but then her tone softened, "but I'll take you with me on *one* condition."
"Yes, my lady."
"You obey my every order without question--as a warrior, not as a favorite, not as a devoted slave. That means you go where I tell you, whether it leaves you in a position to defend me or not. Understand?"
"Yes, my lady," he answered, bowing his head. "I will obey."
"All right then," she smiled.
"If I may make a request," he began.
"My shirt and my gauntlets. I'll feel pretty silly going into battle without them."
"Of course," she laughed. "You'll have them in the morning when we ride. When we get back here, though, you give them up again. You're a slave, *my* slave first and foremost."
"I understand, my lady."
"Good," Xena said decisively. "Now go get some sleep. We'll be up early." She pulled Hercules to her for a prolonged kiss, then smacked him on the buttocks. "Now go, slave boy."
He dropped to one knee, kissed her hand, and whispered, "Thank you, my lady. F-for everything. I . . . "
"You don't need to say anything," she said gently. "I *know*."
He got up, pulled on the minimum number of clothes to make a decent exit, and headed for his own quarters.
Continue on to Part 2