Author: Kelly
Story Title: Detested Sport
Characters: Ares/Autolycus, Iolaus/Autolycus
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Hurt/comfort. Iolaus and Autolycus must deal with the aftermath of Ares' cruelty.
This rating is for explicit m/m sex, bdsm, sexual violence, and rape.

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

This story contains explicit descriptions of male/male sex, bdsm, sexual violence, and rape. Do not read this story if any of this disturbs you.

You can find more stories by Kelly at The Joxerotica Archives, at Ksmithares, and at her own site Court of Slashqueen.

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Detested Sport
by Kelly

"Detested sport, That owes its pleasures to another's pain." --William Cowper

Autolycus and Iolaus were sitting together at the local tavern, the Shattered Spear, having an argument. The people around them smiled; they'd heard the argument before, and usually with the same outcome, both deciding it was the other's fault.

"Well... if *you* hadn't stolen the bow from Discord..."

"And if *you* hadn't turned her into a chicken, Ares wouldn't have gotten so pissed at you! And I don't know *what* I could've done to earn the enmity of the great God of War!"

"Yes, but I've never run afoul of the God of War before," Autolycus protested, sending Iolaus into a fit of giggles. "What? What did I say?" Then, as his words sank in, Autolycus began to laugh as well.

A black-cloaked figure stood at the back of the tavern, face hidden in shadows. The mouth curled into a sneer of half disgust, half anger at the laughter, luscious lips parting to show the white gleam of teeth. An almost offhand motion with one silver-ringed hand, and all motion in the tavern stopped. The figure threw off the cloak to reveal Ares, God of War. "Laugh at me, do you? Have sport at my expense? I don't think so." He walked through the stilled tavern to put his hands on Autolycus' and Iolaus' shoulders. "You boys need to come with me," he said, temporarily fighting the urge to slap the smiles from their frozen faces. He took in the still tavern and said, "They were never here." A repeat of the offhand motion brought the tavern to life at the same time he vanished with his captives.

He teleported them to a dark underground dungeon. Iolaus and Autolycus woke the instant they arrived, both stunned for a brief moment. That brief moment was enough for Ares to cause the shackles on the wall to snake out and clamp around Iolaus' wrists, pulling him helpless against the wall. Ares kept his grip on Autolycus.

"You, my cunning little thief, are *not* going to escape me this time." Ares proceeded to search Autolycus, removing his hook, ropes, and other tools secreted on his person. "Now... where might they be *hidden*?" Ares tightened his grip on Autolycus' shoulder, and suddenly the thief's clothes vanished, leaving him naked. Iolaus swallowed hard at the sight, afraid of what Ares would do to Autolycus in that vulnerable state.

Ares conjured a set of stocks, and roughly threw Autolycus into them, locking them tightly around the thief's neck and wrists.

Iolaus swallowed hard around the lump in his throat, feeling the same lump in his pants at the sight of Autolycus' body revealed completely like this. At the same time, he was revulsed by his attraction to the helpless man.

Ares turned to Iolaus. "Now you, my pretty blond hunter," he said, unclamping and then fastening the shackles tighter around Iolaus' wrists. "Just so you can't worm your way free," he said. Surveying the bound men, Ares vanished with no further explanation.

Iolaus watched Autolycus closely as the thief struggled to swallow and breathe. Iolaus guessed that either the stocks were too tight, or Autolycus had the same lump of fear stuck in his throat that Iolaus did.

"Don't worry, Autolycus. Hercules knows that we were supposed to meet him there at the Shattered Spear, and when we're not there he'll come looking for us." Maybe, Iolaus thought, if he hasn't picked up on the fact I've wanted to screw your brains out, and just decided I carried you off.

"Yeah, sure, Iolaus... but where? This is a dungeon, in case you hadn't noticed. Ares probably has millions of them all over Greece! And how would he even know that it was Ares? For all he knows, we could just be late!" Autolycus' voice sounded a little frightened to his own ears.

Iolaus looked at the bound thief in front of him. He tried to think of something else that he could say to reassure him while trying to ignore his own rising fear. And that's not the only thing rising, is it, Iolaus? he asked himself. "The people at the Shattered Spear will know that we suddenly vanished out of their midst. They'll tell Hercules. You can't lose faith, Autolycus."

Iolaus watched Autolycus shift uncomfortably as the cold water trickled down onto the thief's back, and rolled down, tracing the cleft between the bare cheeks. Iolaus' eyes were caught by the rolling drops, following each one, oblivious to both his own increasing dampness and Autolycus' eyes on his body, watching him as he was watching the thief.

"Right. I'm not worried. I'm just kneeling here locked in this contraption with no clothes on in a dungeon waiting for one pissed God of War to come and kill me. No, no reason to lose faith," Autolycus said after a moment, tremors in his voice betraying the fear he tried so cavalierly to conceal.

"Come on, Autolycus... look, Ares wouldn't risk making Hercules angry by killing his best friend and the King of Thieves, would he? You can't just go around killing royalty, can you?" Iolaus tried to smile at the withering look Autolycus gave him. "What did I say?"

"Iolaus, I really appreciate what you're trying to do... but you're lousy at it. Just go ahead, admit it... we're gonna die."

"We're not going to die, Autolycus!"

"Not immediately, anyway," Ares said, reappearing between them. His vest was gone, leaving him bare from the waist up. "Although you might wish you had." Ares looked from Iolaus to Autolycus and back again, his expression darkly sensual. "Oh, where to begin?"

Ares studied both men carefully, and Iolaus felt the heat of Ares' gaze on him. "You're both so deliciously helpless... but I think I'll save you for last," Ares said to Iolaus, stroking the hunter's chest before moving back to stand in front of Autolycus.

Ares grasped a handful of Autolycus' hair and turned his head to look at the opposite wall. Iolaus saw a flicker of discomfort fly across Autolycus' face when the hand twisted tighter in his hair, but said nothing.

Ares snapped his fingers and a row of torches over the wall sprung to life, throwing their dancing light over the tools hanging on the wall. There were whips of all sizes... lashes, some barbed, some simply knotted. There were knives... serrated, curved, and smooth. Clamps of all sizes, firebrands... then lower down were simple things; straps, ropes, and chains. There were many more things that Iolaus couldn't--or wouldn't-- put names to; they were too horrible.

Ares began a whispered litany to Autolycus. Iolaus had to strain to hear the throaty words. "This is my favorite room in the Temple," Ares said. "This is my workshop. Only very... special people get to come down here with me, and see what kind of toys I like to play with. Tell me something, Autolycus... which of those toys do you want to play with?" When Autolycus didn't answer, Ares tightened his grip again in the silky hair. "You want me to choose? You won't like the one I pick."

Ares released Autolycus' hair and his head sagged back down to its normal position. Ares walked over to the wall and began by selecting one of the barbed lashes from the wall. He snapped it experimentally several times, as if reacquainting himself with its use. Iolaus could see Autolycus flinching at the sound of the lash, the thief's eyes involuntarily blinking with each crack.

Ares looked at Iolaus. "Beautifully crafted, isn't it?" Ares asked, almost conversationally. "Look at the quality of the leather--only the finest, of course." Crouching down beside Autolycus, he continued, "You see, the end of each fringe is capped with a small metal point," Ares explained, forcing the thief's attention onto the lash. "Handcrafted by one of my best warlords as a personal offering to me." Ares rose fluidly and moved to stand behind Autolycus.

Iolaus watched as Autolycus tensed, waiting for the first blow to fall. Iolaus' body tensed as well, a sympathetic gesture that added to the strain on his shoulders and soon had his stretched body aching.

Ares watched closely as well, and when he saw Autolycus' body relax, Ares sent the lash whistling through the air to flay the skin of Autolycus' back.

Iolaus tried to yell, to warn Autolycus of what was coming, but he was too slow. His warning was lost in the screams pouring from Autolycus' throat.

The first cut of the lash drew blood... as did each subsequent cut as Ares slowly and rhythmically brought the barbed whip down on Autolycus' bare back. Iolaus could imagine the pain Autolycus must be suffering--the sting of the lash and the warm stickiness of the blood, then the burning of the metal biting into the bloody welts.

Iolaus watched, fists clenched, as Ares continued to beat Autolycus unmercifully. He bit his lip, trying to escape the shackles before Ares killed Autolycus. When Autolycus' blood began to spatter onto Ares' bared chest and arms, Iolaus found himself yelling at the god. "Stop it! Ares, you're going to kill him!!"

Without stopping the measured strokes of the lash, Ares looked sideways at Iolaus' struggling body, a slightly amused expression crossing his sensual features. "Did I neglect to mention that is my intention?"

Autolycus' screams were growing hoarser and weaker. Finally, a gore-spattered Ares dropped the lash and surveyed his handiwork. Autolycus' shoulders, back, buttocks and legs were crisscrossed with bloody welts, and his screams had died down into hoarse pants. Coiling the lash, Ares ignored Iolaus' whispering voice.

"Autolycus? Come on, buddy, talk to me."


"That's right, it's me. Come on, Auto, stay with me."

"Damn," Autolycus sobbed. "Gods, it hurts. Make it stop, Iolaus. Make it stop."

The hurt and need in Autolycus' voice ripped into Iolaus' heart and lashed his conscience worse than Ares had Autolycus. It made his stomach roil. He struggled harder to break the chains. "Don't worry, Autolycus, you're gonna be okay," Iolaus said while silently cursing his inability to break the shackles open. Too bad I'm not Herc, he thought. If I were... we wouldn't be here.

Autolycus didn't answer; out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Ares coming back, and his body flinched at the god's nearness, sending new pains screaming through him.

Ares approached Autolycus and the thief flinched again. Ares laughed and ran a heavy hand over Autolycus' injured back until it was slicked with blood. Fresh stabs of pain caused Autolycus to sob, and feebly attempt to move away.

Iolaus watched Ares prod the deep gashes back into oozing life. "Dammit, Ares, stop it!" Iolaus yelled, almost unable to stand more of Autolycus' sobs. "Take your hands off him!"

Ares' head perked up at that. "Ah yes... hands." Iolaus' stomach clenched again at that silken whisper.

Dear Gods on Olympus, no..., Iolaus thought, trying desperately to undo the shackles, skin chafing against the metal, ...don't let Ares do this.

Iolaus watched helplessly as Ares' large hand covered Autolycus'. Iolaus knew what was did Autolycus, if the bright flare of fear and panic in his eyes was any indication.

"Ares, no, please, don't--not my hands. Don't do this, please," begged the thief. "Please don't."

Iolaus watched in horror as Ares grasped Autolycus' right index finger. As the thief's pleas got more frantic, Ares smiled maliciously, and snapped the finger backwards.

The sickening crunch of bone snapping, coupled with the animal-like howl that ripped from his friend's throat made Iolaus' stomach churn, and he fought the urge to retch.

With each snap, memories of Autolycus swam in front of Iolaus. The first sight he'd had of the thief, a flash of green and mustache swinging away into the trees overhead. Then, his later return to the castle to confess all, and to rescue Iolaus. The visions were punctuated by hoarse, animalistic howls as Ares continued his mission.

Iolaus screwed his eyes shut against the sight. He conjured more images of Autolycus. Drunk and in love with Cupcake. Working his magic and stealing the sandals of his own patron god, Hermes. Fighting back to back with Iolaus against Colchis' men in the village square, the thief's lithe body pressed against his. When he ran out of memories, he turned to his dreams. Autolycus' hands on his shoulders, drawing the blonde toward him. Autolycus' hands skimming over the broad planes of his chest.

The screams had finally--mercifully--dwindled to shrieking sobs when Iolaus dared to open his eyes again. Tears spilled down his cheeks as he looked at Autolycus' mangled hands. Beautifully skilled hands that had been utterly destroyed by Ares.

Iolaus steeled himself to look into Autolycus' eyes; and sobbed softly when he saw the dull, vacant look where sparkling, lively mischief used to be. The vibrancy was gone, the life driven from them by the pain and humiliation. Only the noises issuing from Autolycus' throat assured Iolaus that the thief still lived.

Ares. Iolaus searched the room for Ares, and found him staring contemplatively at the horrid display on the wall. "Haven't you done enough already?" Iolaus hissed.

"I haven't even begun."

Ares turned to face him, the god's clothing vanishing, and Iolaus gasped. "Ares, no! Even you have limits!" He swallowed, hard, choking down enraged screams. "He's almost dead, leave him alone! You'll kill him!"

"As I believe I mentioned earlier, that is my intent." Ares went to stand behind a kneeling Autolycus. Iolaus could see the god's erection, watched him coat the hard shaft of flesh with blood from Autolycus' wounded back, then he parted Autolycus' cheeks and shoved in. Autolycus' body jerked in pain, and Iolaus closed his eyes, refusing to witness Autolycus' rape.

" your eyes." Ares' tone was commanding.

"No. I won't watch you violate him."

"If you don't open your eyes, I'll snap his neck," the god said, his voice emotionless.

"You're going to kill him anyway; might as well make it painless," Iolaus bluffed.

A cry from Autolycus snapped Iolaus' eyes open. Ares was completely buried inside the humiliated thief, and he held Autolycus' neck twisted just to the breaking point. Any more pressure, and Autolycus would be gone.

Iolaus forced his eyes onto Ares. He tried to ignore the grunts and sobs being forced from Autolycus as Ares deliberately and savagely thrust into him.

Iolaus' fists balled as Ares pounded the thief, one hand grinding a nipple painfully, rolling it between powerful fingers while the other prodded the still oozing marks across Autolycus' torn back, pressing the tender flesh around the cuts, spreading the cuts open to force more blood to flow.

The sound of Ares' body connecting with Autolycus' buttocks filled Iolaus' ears.

Iolaus wanted to close his eyes against this assault but didn't dare. Instead he let more tears blur his vision as he fought to recall the unbroken beauty of the thief's body chained to his by a golden chain. But he couldn't, not without seeing what it had become.

Ares was thrusting faster and faster into Autolycus, and Autolycus had become strangely silent. Iolaus was very afraid that the proud, brilliant mind had finally shattered beyond repair when his thoughts were interrupted by Ares' hoarse scream of orgasm.

Something snapped inside of Iolaus when he saw Ares' blood-coated cock pulsing and spurting semen onto Autolycus' shredded flesh, white droplets flecking the slick redness of Autolycus' buttocks and back. Iolaus gave a furious tug with everything inside him, and the shackles holding him finally gave.

Iolaus' momentum carried him forward to attack the surprised god, knocking Ares back against the wall. He was leading with his fury and his fists, almost missing Autolycus' weak call of his name. "Iolaus," came the bare whisper.

Iolaus was at Autolycus' side immediately, falling to his knees beside the thief, shielding him from Ares for the moment. "I'm here, Autolycus." His hand tenderly stroked Autolycus' hair.

"Get me out of here," Autolycus asked, voice almost pleading in its intensity. "Please, Iolaus, get me out of here! Don't leave me here."

"I won't," Iolaus said. "I promise."

Iolaus tried to shatter the silver lock holding the stocks in place. He heard Ares' mocking laughter behind him.

"You'll never be able to break that, mortal. He doesn't go free unless I wish it."

"Hermes!" Iolaus shouted. "Hermes!! Help him!!" Iolaus cried.

In a shower of red and gold sparks, Hermes appeared in the dungeon at Iolaus' call. "Ares... let them go."

"Not on your life! They're both going to pay for what they've done to Discord!" Ares snarled moving to stand almost protectively in front of the sobbing thief.

Hermes said nothing for a moment, only stared at Ares, not letting his eyes falter from Ares' dark glower. "No. On your life. On your freedom, to be more precise. I gave you your freedom from the sons of you must give me Iolaus and Autolycus' freedom."

Ares' gaze narrowed in fury. "All right," he snarled. He looked at Iolaus, seemingly memorizing the blond warrior's every feature. "You... We're not done yet." With that, Ares disappeared again.

The silver lock holding the stock down sprang open. Iolaus wrestled the upper block up, and pulled the bigger man's body into his own. Hermes reached out to help Iolaus carry the taller man's weight, but Autolycus flinched away, moving in closer to the warrior. "Don't..." Autolycus whispered, clinging to Iolaus.

Iolaus was worried about Autolycus' state of mind, and was scared by the fact that the thief was clinging to him... not that you object, a small part of his mind observed.

Hermes watched as Iolaus slid Autolycus' arm around his shoulder and Iolaus put his arm around Autolycus' waist. Hermes extended a hand toward Iolaus and a silver goblet appeared in it. "It will help with his pain."

Iolaus gently reached up and tilted the goblet to trusting lips. Autolycus swallowed the potion without comment, apparently trusting in Iolaus not to harm him.

Iolaus handed the goblet back to Hermes and watched as it disappeared. "Why didn't you come before, Hermes? Surely you're not still angry about the sandals?"

"No...actually, I found that whole incident highly amusing. But you are in a Temple of Ares; I cannot enter without permission or invitation. When you invoked me, I could enter, and did so."

Iolaus' stomach clenched. If I'd thought to call Hermes earlier... this is my fault, he thought, cursing himself. Hermes extended a hand toward the intertwined men, and they reappeared on the plain in front of Ares' Temple. Iolaus noted that Hermes had clothed Autolycus in a loose robe.

The god soon appeared beside them. "That's better," Hermes said, smiling. "Now I can do my stuff." Hermes moved closer to Autolycus, explaining, "I need to touch you so I can heal you."

Iolaus felt Autolycus' arm tighten around him and felt his body tense. "I don't think that would be a good idea, Hermes." Hermes stopped in his approach, but Autolycus didn't relax until Iolaus had guided them several small steps backwards.

Hermes sighed, and Iolaus got the distinct impression that Hermes wanted to cry. You've been in that dungeon too long, Iolaus thought to himself. Gods don't cry.

"I will send you to the Temple of Asclepius. Perhaps a gentler god will have more luck."

"Hermes--thank you," Iolaus said.

The god nodded. The two men vanished from the plain, and reappeared outside the entrance to a large white building that Iolaus recognized as Asclepius' Temple.

Iolaus led Autolycus inside, and was met by one of the acolytes. "We were told to expect your arrival," she said. "There is a place ready for you and your companion." The acolyte led them to a spacious curtained off room with a large bed and walls lined with medical supplies. Iolaus led Autolycus over to the bed, and tried to get him to lie on his stomach on the soft mattress.

Instead, Autolycus curled into a fetal ball, apparently oblivious to any pain he might be feeling. When Iolaus rose to speak to the acolyte, Autolycus' whisper caught him. "You promised you wouldn't leave me."

"I'm not going anywhere, Autolycus. I'm just going to talk to her for a moment, and I'll be right back."

"Please?" Autolycus whispered, and Iolaus melted. He couldn't leave Autolycus like this. He sat back down beside the thief on the bed.

"Better?" Iolaus asked, again stroking Autolycus' hair. The gesture seemed to comfort him.

The acolyte gave Iolaus a sympathetic smile. "I need to see your wounds, both of you."

Iolaus looked up, surprised. "But I have no wounds," he said. "Only Autolycus was injured." He turned, and helped the acolyte remove the robe covering Autolycus' injuries.

Autolycus hissed and moaned as the fabric left his body, pulling newly forming scabs with it. "Do they go all the way down his body?" the acolyte asked. Iolaus nodded. "Then I need to call Asclepius himself... this is beyond my knowledge." She walked past Iolaus, laying a hand on his shoulder. "First we heal your friend... then you." She left, leaving Iolaus to wonder what she meant.

Autolycus' quiet crying brought Iolaus back to himself with a start. "Autolycus?"

Iolaus' heart withered at the unfamiliar look of humiliation on the thief's proud features. "My hands, Iolaus..." Iolaus couldn't speak around the anguish closing his throat. "Why? Why did it have to happen?"

Because I let it, Iolaus thought. Because I was scared myself and couldn't think. Because I'm not as good as Hercules. "I--I don't know."

Autolycus tried to curl tighter in on himself, to make himself as small as possible, but the marks on his back and legs wouldn't let him. Iolaus didn't consciously think about what he was doing... he kicked off his boots and climbed into bed beside Autolycus, holding and comforting the bigger man.

The acolyte came back into the room, and Iolaus heard her pause at the door and speak to someone with her. "He says that his friend is the only one injured... but Hermes said that both were injured."

A softly masculine voice answered, "There are different kinds of injuries, Mavia. Some you can see, and some you cannot. Leave us now, and return when I call you." Iolaus listened to the footfalls crossing the room, and a gentle hand rested on his shoulder. "Welcome to my Temple, Iolaus. Release your friend, and let me see the damage that my uncle has caused." Reluctantly, Iolaus released his hold on Autolycus and moved out of the way. He wanted to wipe the terrified expression from Autolycus' face as the gentle god came nearer him.

Asclepius drew in a hissing breath when he saw the extent of the damage to Autolycus' back. "Don't forget his hands...Ares didn't," Iolaus said bitterly, noticing the god's gaze was on the lash marks. When Asclepius saw what was left of Autolycus' hands, the gentle healer's face darkened.

"Ares did all this? Let me see the rest of the injuries." Asclepius prepared to make the coverings hiding Autolycus' body disappear.

"No!" Iolaus nearly shouted, seeing the cringe that the sweeping gesture caused. Then more calmly, "Let me do it. That's how Ares started..." Asclepius nodded.

"Say no more. I understand." Iolaus moved back to Autolycus' side, slowly uncovering him, sliding the coverlet gently over the wounded backside and legs. He winced when he saw the dried blood between Autolycus' legs, not knowing if it was from damage Ares caused with his penetration, or from the blood Ares had used to lubricate himself. His teeth gritted at the thought.

Autolycus didn't fight him, just moved or rolled as the blond dictated. It was as if Autolycus had no will, no initiative. Iolaus threw the blanket to the side with the robe and boots, and showed Asclepius what Ares had done.

"He needs to be bathed. I will call Mavia and others to bring water to bathe him with."

"No," Autolycus whispered weakly. "Just let me be."

Iolaus whispered gently to his friend. "But he's right... you need to get cleaned up. A bath will make you feel better." Liar, Iolaus thought to himself.

"I... I don't care, Iolaus. I don't want anyone seeing me, touching me... not like this. I don't want you seeing me like this, but I can't bear to be alone right now either, and you're the only one I trust."

Iolaus swallowed hard. "I'll make you a deal. How about you let me give you that bath, okay? No one else, just me."

Autolycus nodded, and Asclepius left to find Mavia and tell her to ready the bath, along with a strong painkilling potion.

Iolaus turned back to look into Autolycus' eyes. They were still lifeless, pools of dark brown that seemed endless. Autolycus simply lay there, as if waiting for someone to remind him to breathe. He turned his head away from Iolaus' sharp blue gaze, and Iolaus was left staring at his back again. I lied to him, Iolaus thought. I told him that Hercules would come, that things would be all right. But he didn't, and they weren't... no wonder he can't bear to look at me. Iolaus didn't realize that his own eyes were hurting, filling with tears.

Iolaus' hand blindly reached for Autolycus' shoulder, seeking one small place untouched by Ares' whip. He was surprised to feel a light pressure on his hand, and realized that Autolycus had pressed his lips to it briefly before turning his head back again. For some reason, that made Iolaus feel worse, not better.

One of the curtains was pulled back, revealing Mavia and the other acolyte who were bringing in the basin of steaming water. Iolaus drew the sheet over Autolycus' body, knowing that the thief would not want the acolytes to see him in his present condition. He stayed out of the way while they worked to prepare the bath.

Once it was ready, Mavia brought a vial of liquid over to Iolaus. "Asclepius said to give this to you, and to have him drink it before the water touches his wounds."

"What it is?"

"It is a pain draught, a decoction of Cimicifuga racemosa, Piper methysticum, Scutellaria laterifolia and Valerian officinalis. It will help relax him and relieve his pain, especially when the warm water hits those cuts."

"Thank you," Iolaus said, accepting the vial and waiting for the women to leave. When they'd gone, Iolaus urged Autolycus to sit upright, and the thief did so without help, flinching as he put his weight on his abused buttocks. The mere fact that Autolycus sat up on his own gladdened Iolaus slightly. He tipped the vial and the thief drank, swallowing the disgusting potion down in several gulps. "Come on... let's get you cleaned up."

Autolycus rose on his own, and Iolaus merely steadied him as he moved across the room to the soft cushioned chair. Iolaus was glad that he was finally moving and doing on his own, then he looked more closely at Autolycus and frowned. The thief was moving so...mechanically, so detached from what he was doing. Iolaus shook his head and wrote it off to the pain draught.

Autolycus sat down on the chair and hissed, the weight stinging the welts. Iolaus winced in sympathy. He carefully used a gentle oil to wet one of the white cloths left by the basin and started to wash the cuts carefully. Iolaus' hand touched the cuts right above his hips, and he realized those were the deepest, most painful wounds Ares had inflicted. He washed those marks as gently as he could, but Autolycus couldn't stand even that gentle touch...he passed out.

But before Iolaus could call, Asclepius appeared. "Excellent."

"What is going on??" Iolaus demanded.

"Valerian officinalis. It's a mild tranquilizer. Like Hermes, I can heal your friend, but I must be able to lay my hands on him. Awake, neither you nor he would permit that. May I do it now, while he is asleep?"

Iolaus swallowed. "Of course." He moved aside and allowed Asclepius to lay his hands on Autolycus' chest. A golden glow enveloped both of them, and when Asclepius took his hands away, the thief's physical wounds were gone.

"His body is healed...his mind is another story. As is yours, my friend. I will leave you alone... if you need me, simply call for me, and I will come."

Asclepius left the pair alone, and Iolaus took the opportunity to finish bathing Autolycus now that he was healed. Iolaus scrubbed away the crusted blood, gently washed away the tracks of Autolycus' tears.

And he studiously ignored his own growing erection. He finished washing Autolycus, then wrestled his body out of the tub. Iolaus knew he could call for help and chose not to. Autolycus wanted no one touching him but Iolaus, and he would respect that.

He hoisted Autolycus' unconscious body onto his shoulders. As he moved towards the bed, Iolaus flashed back to when they had been chained together by Ares, to the point in their journey where Autolycus had eaten the goosenberries. His body had seemed so heavy then; now, it seemed like nothing. He gently tucked Autolycus into bed, pulling the sheet over his body.

Iolaus sighed. His erection was hard and throbbing from being so close to Autolycus. His hand slid downward, and Iolaus pumped himself while remembering the satiny smoothness of Autolycus' skin under his hands as he bathed the thief. The warmth of Autolycus' body against Iolaus' still lingered, and Iolaus imagined that it was Autolycus standing behind him, his arms around Iolaus' shoulders, drawing him into a passionate embrace.

His hand quickened its pace as Autolycus' imagined hands slid down Iolaus' chest, and lightly brushed Iolaus' own hands. Then, as Autolycus' warmth faded, Iolaus recalled Autolycus as he'd seen him in dreams--warm and welcoming, arms spread open to receive Iolaus' embrace, mouth open to accept--. His orgasm left him shuddering.

Iolaus cleaned himself, then called one of the acolytes, asking them for food, for himself and Autolycus.

While he waited, Iolaus sat down and began to write to Hercules. He tried to explain what had happened and begged his friend to stay away, for Autolycus' sake. He knew the respect that Autolycus held for Hercules...and for the demigod to see him in this shape was something that Iolaus knew that Autolycus might not recover from. He reassured Hercules that he hadn't been hurt at all and that Autolycus had been physically healed... it was just his mind that needed the healing now. He closed the letter with a promise to return to Hercules' side once Autolycus was healed. He still needs me, Herc, Iolaus thought to himself. I can't abandon him.

The acolytes had brought in the trays of food and left silently, seeing the blond deeply concentrating on his scroll. Iolaus looked up from his letter and saw the food waiting. After checking on a still-sleeping Autolycus, Iolaus ate, then called another of the acolytes. "This needs to get to Hercules, in Corinth, as soon as possible."

The woman nodded. "We are taking medications there tomorrow; I will deliver your letter then," she said, accepting the scroll Iolaus gave her, then left.

Suddenly exhausted, Iolaus climbed into bed, still fully clothed, and snuggled into Autolycus' comforting presence. Like this, Iolaus could almost believe that Autolycus didn't hate him. He fell asleep, and straight into nightmares.

Iolaus dreamed. They were back in the dungeon, Autolycus still being raped by Ares. "Iolaus, open your eyes," Ares commanded.

"No. I won't watch you rape him."

"If you don't open your eyes, I'll snap his neck."

"You're going to kill him anyway; might as well make it painless," Iolaus bluffed.

Iolaus heard Ares chuckle. "Maybe... or maybe I'll just twist his neck far enough to keep him alive but in crippling pain." Iolaus' eyes rested on the god, and to his horror, Ares grasped both sides of Autolycus' head and twisted savagely. Iolaus heard the snap, and Autolycus' head fell limply to the side as Ares continued to rape his body.

Iolaus woke himself with a strangled scream. He bolted up in bed, and it took several seconds for him to realize where he was. He reached out, and encountered Autolycus' shoulder, and sobbed. It seemed so real, he thought. The rustle of a curtain drew his attention to the door, and he saw Mavia looking in. He shook his head silently, and she nodded, letting the curtain fall back into place. He rolled Autolycus onto his back, and Iolaus laid his head on Autolycus' chest, letting the steady beat of the thief's heart lull him back into a light slumber.

Iolaus woke early the next morning. His dreams had woken him up several times during the night, but not screaming like the first nightmare. Autolycus was still sleeping, and Iolaus began to worry that it might mean that something was still wrong with him. He looked around the room, and noticed that the basin had been refilled with clean water, and that a small fire under it had kept the water steaming. The tray from last night had been taken and replaced with fresh fruits, cheeses, and breads. Autolycus' clothing had obviously been cleaned, and folded over a nearby chair, and their boots had been polished.

Iolaus reluctantly left the warm bed and stripped his soiled clothing off. He washed himself quickly, keeping an ear out for Autolycus. When he was clean, he dried off with one of the cloths and slipped his trousers back on. The vest he left on the floor, and his medallion felt cold against his skin. "Asclepius," he said softly, and the god appeared before him. "Is there anything wrong with Autolycus? Why is he still sleeping?"

Asclepius smiled, hearing the concern in the blonde's voice for his friend. "Fear not, Iolaus. There is nothing wrong with Autolycus. He is merely sleeping a healthy sleep. I knew that he would not sleep otherwise, so I used a fair amount of Valerian in the pain draught. He will sleep for a while is likely the last untroubled sleep he will have for a while. And you, Iolaus... has your sleep been untroubled?"

Iolaus considered lying, but decided to be honest. "No. Last night... first I had a nightmare. Ares killed Autolycus, snapped his neck and raped his body. Then later... another dream where Autolycus was drowning, and I couldn't save him." Iolaus was hesitant to talk about these dreams, but the god was so inviting, so easy to talk to. "I know that I failed him. I should have been able to get him out before anything happened to him. But I didn't, I couldn't."

"And is that your fault, truly? You're only a mortal, Iolaus. Your opponent was one of the most powerful gods on Olympus. You did what you could, the best way that you could."

"Yes, but Hercules wouldn't have had that problem. He'd have taken care of Ares immediately, and that would have been that."

"Do I need to point out that you're not Hercules? You aren't Hercules, Iolaus. You can't expect that you can do everything that he can the way that he would do it."

"I know... but I failed. Hercules would expect me to look after Autolycus... Auto's not a fighter, he's a thief! A good one, I have to admit. He's best at cutting and running. Yes, he can fight, and he can fight well, but it's not what he does like it's what Herc and I do."

"So you're blaming yourself for what happened?" Asclepius asked, his brow knitting into a frown.

"There's not anyone else," Iolaus replied, wondering why Asclepius was frowning so.

"Iolaus, you must believe me when I say that nothing that happened there is your fault. There was nothing that you could have done."

"Yes, there was. I could have broken loose, gotten him out," Iolaus repeated. "But I didn't. I was afraid. And look what that cost."

Asclepius sighed, something finally falling into place for him. "I see. Well, Iolaus, you and your friend are welcome to stay here for as long as you need. I must go now, I have other injured people who need my attention as well. But if you need me, I will be here." Asclepius vanished, and left Iolaus alone with his thoughts. Iolaus was quiet, staring out the window at the herb gardens below, letting his mind run rampant. That's when he heard Autolycus wake up.

He was at the thief's side instantly, ducking the flailing arms carefully, trying to get close. "Autolycus! Autolycus! It's me, it's Iolaus!"

At the sound of the familiar voice, Autolycus seemed to calm, and he struggled to open his eyes. "Iolaus?"

"That's right, Iolaus. Come on, don't hit me again," Iolaus said, trying to laugh. It didn't work.

"I hit you?"

"No--you almost did, flailing around like that."

"I'm sorry," he said. Then, "Where are we?"

"We're at Asclepius' Temple, remember?"

"Ah--a little. I remember... Hermes, and something about a bath." Iolaus laid a comforting hand on Autolycus' shoulders as he closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. Then, as something penetrated, he slowly held his hands out to Iolaus in questioning. "What happened?"

Iolaus sighed. This was going to be hard. "Asclepius healed you."

Autolycus cringed in on himself, and Iolaus ached to see it. "You mean he touched me?"

"He had to, Auto. You were hurt so badly, he had to put his hands on you to heal you."

"And you let him?" Iolaus saw the hurt as Autolycus spoke. "I-- I trusted you. And you let him... how could you?" Autolycus folded in on himself, sobs racking his body.

Iolaus moved to take Autolycus into his arms, and Autolycus moved away. Yet another thing for him to hate me for, Iolaus thought to himself. He didn't stop, he moved forward a little more and finally Autolycus allowed Iolaus to embrace him.

Autolycus' tears seemed to scald Iolaus' skin where they fell onto his shoulder and chest. Iolaus didn't realize that he had been talking or rocking Autolycus until Autolycus' tears had started to taper off. "I'm sorry, Autolycus. I couldn't bear to see you in so much pain. I--I had to do something about it. And when he could heal you, I let him. I promise you, he didn't touch you anywhere but here," Iolaus said, laying his hands on Autolycus' chest where Asclepius had touched him. "Nowhere but there."

"But... he touched me. I don't want anyone touching me."

Iolaus took Autolycus' face between his hands, and tilted it up to look into his eyes. "I know, Autolycus. I know that you didn't. Which is why I didn't leave you, not for a second. I knew that you didn't want to be seen, to be touched. I knew." Iolaus gently touched his lips to Autolycus' and let Autolycus flinch away. "I know. But I couldn't stand it, seeing you in such pain. You were hurting so badly, almost dying. And it was killing me. When you passed out from the water touching your wounds, that's when Asclepius healed you. Then I finished your bath, and brought you to bed."

Autolycus blinked. "You finished it? Like you promised, just you?"

"Just me."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Iolaus tightened his arms around Autolycus, then released him. "Now... you need to eat."

"I'm not hungry."

"You still need to eat something... you've not eaten or drunk for the past three days."

"We've been here that long?"

"Just for two... but we left to meet Hercules at the tavern before we ate, remember? You've got to be hungry."

"I'm not. Just... I think that I want to be alone."

Iolaus turned in surprise. "Alone?"

"If you don't mind."

"And what if I do?"

"Then there's nothing that I can do about it." Silent resignation met Iolaus' gaze, not the usual sarcastic, witty expression.

At least they're not dead eyes, like they were before. "I don't like the idea of you being alone, Autolycus... but if it's what you want."

"It's what I want," Autolycus said. Iolaus got up, and tossed Autolycus' clothing on the bed. Autolycus ignored them.

"Do you need help?"

"No... I--I don't want to wear them."

Iolaus mentally kicked himself. Of course he wouldn't, not after what happened. "How about just putting the pants on?"

"All right," Autolycus said, not wanting to argue. He swung his legs out of bed, pulled the pants on, and stood, pulling them up to his waist, and sat back down.

Iolaus watched to make sure Autolycus was going to be steady on his feet, and when he realized he would be, Iolaus left. He walked out of the room, out of the temple, and into the gardens nearby. Alcmene's garden is as beautiful as this one, Iolaus thought to himself. Her gardens always make me feel better... maybe this one will. Iolaus was lost in his thoughts, and didn't notice Autolycus watching him from the window. And he didn't notice when Autolycus left the window, padded across the room and pulled his boots on, then walked out the door, too.

Iolaus was surprised to hear someone crunching down the graveled path behind him. He moved silently to the side to let the other person pass, but turned to see who it was when they stopped right beside him. "Autolycus!" Autolycus was silent, taking in the sun beating down on his bare chest. "What are you doing out here?"

"You were smiling out here... I thought that if I came out here, I might be able to smile," Autolycus whispered. "I can't close my eyes, Iolaus. Every time I do, I see... him." Autolycus couldn't even speak his name. "I close my eyes and it's dark, and I see him coming to get me again. And when someone touches me... it's his hands that I feel...except when it's you. When someone talks, it's his voice that I hear... except when it's you. This afternoon when I woke up, I woke up alone... and I thought that he was going to be there, because you weren't."

They had started walking again, the sounds of their boots crunching the stones under their feet almost drowning out Autolycus' quiet whisper. Iolaus took Autolycus' hand and held it a moment, and Autolycus didn't pull it away. "He's not coming back for you, Autolycus. He won't hurt you again."

Autolycus shook his head. "I wish that I could believe that. But... Iolaus, the things that he did to me," he said, his voice breaking even more, becoming even softer. "He likes to hurt people... it gives him some kind of sick pleasure... and he liked to hurt me. He'll come back."

Iolaus wished that there were something he could say to refute that, but he couldn't. "Yes, what you said about Ares is true... but he won't risk coming after us again."

"But he said he wasn't through with us yet."

Iolaus searched his memory, and remembered Ares saying that he wasn't through with him yet. He damned Ares for saying that. "Autolycus, he wasn't talking to you, he was talking to me. He was trying to frighten me, telling me that he wasn't through with me. Not you, buddy. Me." When Autolycus didn't answer, Iolaus sighed. "Come on, let's get you back inside." Autolycus was silent as he followed Iolaus back into the Temple, then back into their room.

Iolaus' vest was no longer on the floor... it had been cleaned and draped over the back of one of the room's chairs, and Autolycus' shirt was draped over the back of another. There was also a fresh meal. Iolaus sat down at the table, and when Autolycus didn't join him, he carried the food over to him. "If you won't come to dinner, dinner will come to you."

"I don't want it, Iolaus."

"You have to eat something, Autolycus."

"No, I don't."

"If you don't eat something, you're going to starve yourself to death."

"And if that's my intention?"

Autolycus had managed to shock Iolaus. "Say again?"

"What if it's my intention to starve myself? I don't want to eat, Iolaus, and I don't want anything to drink. I just want to lie here, alone, and not deal with anyone."

Iolaus heard what Autolycus was saying, and he decided to try and goad him out of his suicidal tendencies. "Why don't you just fall on your sword? It'd be quicker and a lot less painful. Or surely you could charm one of those beautiful acolytes out there to give you something to take? Wouldn't be nearly as drawn out. Or if you like, I can lend you my knife long enough to slit your wrists. Point is, there are a lot easier ways to kill yourself than starving yourself."


"Well, isn't that what you're talking about doing? Killing yourself?" Iolaus was ruthless, making Autolycus face that this soon, and he knew it. Much more of it, and Iolaus knew he'd be sick to his stomach again. "If I'm wrong, please say something and I'll apologize. If I'm not... either take one of the options I suggested or eat something."

Long moments passed in which Iolaus stared into Autolycus' eyes, watching the battle he was fighting to simply stay alive. Finally, he reached out for an apple slice and began to chew it. Iolaus sighed in relief. This minor crisis was over; but what about the next one?

The rest of the evening passed in silence, Autolycus refusing to meet Iolaus' eyes. The thief bathed himself this time, and Iolaus watched to make sure he didn't drown himself in the tub. When he got out, Iolaus rubbed him down with the towel and got him into bed. Autolycus had pulled the blanket from Iolaus' hand and turned with his back against the wall. Iolaus blew out the candle's flame and the room fell into darkness. Iolaus had made himself comfortable on one of the larger pillows on the floor when he heard a soft voice call his name. "Iolaus?"


"Aren't you going to sleep?"

"In a few moments, I am."



"Would you... I don't want to sleep alone."

Iolaus quietly got up and climbed into bed beside Autolycus, the thief pulling him over and burying his face in Iolaus' mass of golden curls. Iolaus' chest tightened at the intimate contact. He wanted to turn over, press his lips against Autolycus', wrap his arms around him, but he didn't. Instead, he closed his eyes and snuggled closer to Autolycus as he slept.

Iolaus was awakened several hours later in the night by Autolycus thrashing and whimpering, caught in the throes of a nightmare. He reached over, and picked up the candle to light the torch beside the bed. He saw that in the middle of the nightmare, Autolycus had pushed him away, and had curled into a ball, as if trying to protect himself from something. He was rocking and flinching rhythmically, as if being beaten by something. He moved closer to the thief, and heard him whimpering in his sleep.


Iolaus grabbed Autolycus' arm, and tried to shake him awake. His eyes opened, but Iolaus could see that he was still trapped in his dream. Iolaus did something that he would never have done under ordinary circumstances... he slapped Autolycus. Hard.

He winced at the sound of his hand connecting with Autolycus' face. It sounded far too close to the sound of a cracking whip. But it seemed to work, because he could see Autolycus' eyes begin to clear. "Autolycus?"

"Iolaus?" Autolycus reached out a hand, and stopped himself before it encountered the blond's face.

"You were dreaming, Autolycus, that's all. Just dreaming."

"Dreaming?" he asked, as if still not sure of his surroundings. His hand remained frozen in midair, and Iolaus clasped it, bringing it to his face. Autolycus' touch was feather-light at first, but it grew heavier as Autolycus seemed to be reassuring himself that Iolaus was real. "I was dreaming?"

"Yes. You were begging someone to stop something."

Autolycus shuddered, and let his hand drop. Iolaus fought the urge to pick it back up and kiss the palm. "Ares. He...I...we-- I can't do this, Iolaus. I can't stand this any more."

"Tell me about it, Autolycus, please? If you feel like talking."

"We--we were back there," he started slowly. "Only this time... we were switched. And when I told him to stop, to leave you alone, he started on me... and then it was like it was before, with me... and you on the wall. I--I tried to protect you, and I couldn't. I couldn't even help myself." A strangled sob forced its way out. "I can't stand this any more, Iolaus. Every time I close my eyes, I know he's going to be there."

Iolaus felt horrendously inadequate for this. Autolycus was sitting quietly across from him, waiting for reassurance, for something. "Yes, he's going to be there, Autolycus. He's going to be in your dreams for a long time because of what happened. I can't stop that... I wish that I could. I wish that there were something that I could do to make it all go away, but there's not. I can only promise you that I will be here for you, as long as you need me, and I will do what I can for you."

Autolycus put his hand back on Iolaus cheek, and Iolaus turned into it. He almost missed the softly whispered, "I love you, Iolaus."

Iolaus turned back to Autolycus, not sure he'd heard him say what Iolaus thought he'd said, but when his expression hadn't changed, he decided he was imagining things.

* * * * *

Half a year passed like that, more or less. During the day, Iolaus and Autolycus would walk in the gardens around the temple, or in the woods nearby. Slowly Autolycus was learning to be around people again, first only nodding to the people that passed them, then speaking a few words of greeting. He was also learning not to flinch from everyone.

His only setback occurred when a wounded warlord came to the Temple for help. He staggered towards the first people he saw, Autolycus and Iolaus. His hand closed on Autolycus' shoulder the same time he collapsed, bringing the thief down with him.

Autolycus panicked, flashing back to the dungeon and Ares' hands on him. He froze and tried to wiggle out from under the man, and by the time Iolaus rolled the warlord off Autolycus, he'd retreated back into a shell. But with Iolaus' tender care and reassurances, it didn't take Autolycus long to gain back the ground he'd lost.

Autolycus' nightmares still woke Iolaus up,and Iolaus still shook Autolycus out of them, reassuring him that he was fine, sometimes holding the thief's shaking body against his. As the time passed, Iolaus began to notice that Autolycus was looking at him strangely during their walks in the gardens or the woods.

All Iolaus could see is that while Autolycus seemed to be getting back to himself, there was still something clouding his friend's eyes, something that he didn't want to talk about. Iolaus felt worse and worse seeing that cloud, knowing that he was still failing Autolycus somehow, and his guilt brought his nightmares back.

Finally, it was Asclepius, observing this from his Temple, that decided to put a stop to this. He appeared in front of the two men, startling them into dropping their interlaced hands and look slightly embarrassed.

"Hello, Autolycus, Iolaus. Autolycus, I'm pleased to see you looking so well today. Iolaus, you don't look like you've been sleeping well lately," Asclepius said.

"I've been sleeping fine," Iolaus said with a frown. He noticed Asclepius' eyes boring holes into Autolycus, who was doing quite a good job at avoiding the god's eyes. "Haven't I?" he asked, but the question was addressed more to Autolycus than to Asclepius.

Autolycus raised his eyes to meet the god's hard stare head on. Iolaus got the idea that there was some kind of communication going on when Autolycus subtly shook his head at the god. "Is there something that I should know about?" Iolaus asked.

Asclepius looked at the hunter. "Don't ask me, ask Autolycus," he said, and vanished.

Iolaus turned a blue gaze on Autolycus. "Well? Just what was all that about?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

Iolaus was surprised. There hadn't been anything that Autolycus had refused to talk to Iolaus about recently, and it scared him that now there was. "Don't want to talk about it? Don't you think you should, if it involves me?"

"Yes. But you're not the only one involved in it, and I don't think that I'm ready to talk about all of it yet."

Iolaus rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm confused."

Autolycus looked down at the smaller man beside him, at the setting sun highlighting the golden curls with fire. "Do you trust me, my love, when I say that I'm not ready to talk about everything this soon, but I will when the time is right?"

Iolaus didn't notice the "my love." He only heard that Autolycus was refusing to talk to him about something. "Yes, I trust you, but you've got to know that keeping it inside of you isn't going to help you."

"I know, Iolaus."

They were silent as they made their way back to the room they continued to share. Iolaus had once brought up the idea of him leaving, or at the least getting another room, but Autolycus had panicked so at the thought that Iolaus had let it go. Being so close to Autolycus was driving Iolaus slowly crazy, and he was fighting his attraction for everything that he was worth.

There was a tension between them, and it finally boiled over that night at dinner.

It was Iolaus who finally broke the silence. "I gave up trying to figure out what you and Asclepius were talking about out there... but if it involves me, I want to know about it."

Autolycus sighed. "Don't push me, Iolaus, please."

Iolaus shook his head. "Push you about what?"

"To talk about what happened."

"What does that have to do with me?"

Autolycus sighed, and laid down the fruit he'd been picking at. "You haven't been sleeping well, Iolaus. You've been having some kind of nightmares yourself."

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

"I'm trying to explain. I know I've been having them because I can remember them in excruciating detail. I've been waking up screaming from them at times. But not you. Yours are so quiet. But it's always the same thing. You're crying softly in your sleep, and you're muttering softly. Autolycus, please forgive me. Forgive me for failing you. And you never wake up. Not when I pull you close, not when I whisper to you. You just quiet back down and go back to sleep."

Iolaus was in shock. He hadn't known that this was happening... and it hit him that this is probably what Autolycus didn't want to talk about... because it reminded him of what Iolaus had allowed to happen. "I'm sorry... I didn't know."

"It's all right, Iolaus."

"No, it's not all right! Gods how you must hate me, Autolycus!" Iolaus hadn't meant to let that slip out.

It was Autolycus' turn to be shocked. "Hate you?"

"I'm not surprised," Iolaus said. "If I were in your place, I would hate me, too."

"Iolaus, what are you talking about? I don't hate you. Why would I?"

"Because of what I let happen!" Oh, that felt good to get that out! Iolaus thought. Iolaus couldn't stand being around Autolycus any more, being a reminder of the ordeal, and he shoved back from the table, sheathed knife bumping against the table. He ignored Autolycus' pleading voice calling him back, pleading with him to wait, not to go. He ignored Autolycus' faltering footsteps trying to follow him.

He shoved out the door, past the people in the hallways who tried to speak to him, out of the Temple and into the deep forest behind the Temple. A sudden rainstorm pelted Iolaus with stinging drops as he ran.

He couldn't run fast enough to escape the demons that were chasing him. Guilt nipped at his heels. Finally, when he felt like his lungs were about to burst, he stopped, and dropped down underneath a tree.

"No wonder he hates me!" Iolaus said aloud. "I let it happen!" His head fell forward onto his knees as thunder shook the base of the tree he was sitting at.

Iolaus' mind kept screaming in a vicious circle... he'd failed Autolycus, his guilt brought on nightmares, his nightmares made Autolycus feel badly again, and his guilt would come back. He searched for a way out of that circle, and came to one conclusion. "I have to get out," Iolaus said to himself. "It's the only way. I have get out of it, so Autolycus isn't reminded every time he looks at me."

Iolaus picked his drenched body up off the soaked ground, and made his way deeper into the forest, slaughtering a couple of quail he found and butchering them for later.

Deep in the woods, Iolaus found a cave. "Perfect." Iolaus huddled against the damp stone, and realized he was exhausted. His head dropped onto his chest, and he fell asleep. And he dreamed.

"Iolaus!" Autolycus was standing beside him, looking down at tousled blond curls. "Iolaus, please, look up at me."

Iolaus raised his head and saw Autolycus. "Auto!"

"Iolaus. Why are you here?"

"I'm here because you hate me."

"I don't hate you, Iolaus. I couldn't. I need you to be with me. I need you to help chase the nightmares away."

"With my own?"

"No, with your presence. With your golden hair and blue eyes that radiate sympathy and love and caring so bright it blinds me sometimes. With your chases away the darkness."

"How could you not hate me? I hate myself."

"Iolaus..." Autolycus opened his arms and Iolaus went willingly to them. "Iolaus, I don't hate you. You did everything that you could. I don't blame you, please stop blaming yourself."

"How can I not blame myself? There's no one else to."

"Then don't blame anyone at all...or blame Ares for doing it. You're not responsible for anything that happened to me."

"I am, because I couldn't stop it."

"Neither could I," Autolycus reminded him, still stroking Iolaus' blond curls.

"But I'm the hero. I'm Iolaus, Hercules' sidekick. I should have been able to do something."

"You did do something," Autolycus reminded Iolaus gently. "You saved my life. Ares admitted that he was going to kill us both...and you saved me. Saved us both, in fact. You had the presence of mind to call my patron god, something that I wouldn't have thought of, not in my state. You've saved my life several times, took me out of that dungeon, you wouldn't let me kill myself, and you've given me my life back by helping me to find the strength to work through what Ares did to me. If not for you...I wouldn't be here."

"That's right... you wouldn't be. You'd be off happily spending the money you were stealing when Hercules and I caught you for taking Artemis' bow."

" you really think so little of me?" Autolycus chided. "Do you think that I would honestly have let Ares and Discord do that to Hercules and not try to stop it?"


"Iolaus...please come back. I still need you...there's so much more I have to do, and I can't do it alone." Autolycus started to fade out.

"Autolycus!" Iolaus' head jerked upright and his eyes snapped open, taking in his surroundings. "A was a dream," Iolaus whispered. He looked out at the cave opening... the sun was shining, and the moist air was oppressive as he tried to breathe. He'd slept through the night.

He stayed in his cave for a month, venturing out only to hunt or find water.

The second night he was gone, his nightmares returned. They were back in the dungeon, and Ares was beating Autolycus again. Iolaus was still chained helplessly to the wall and Ares' broad bared chest was splattered in bright red blood. Heedless of Iolaus' screams, the lash continued to fall, drawing more blood from the thief's torn flesh and more screams from the tormented throat.

"You're killing him!" Iolaus shouted.

"I know," Ares replied, a ghost of a grin slipping across his lips. The lash fell over and over again, until suddenly Iolaus noted that Autolycus was no longer screaming. He closed his eyes and prayed that it was unconsciousness...only blessed unconsciousness, but when Ares dropped the whip on the stone floor and laughed, Iolaus knew it was death. A bright flash penetrated his eyelids, and his arms fell to his sides, suddenly freed.

He opened his eyes and Ares was nowhere to be seen. Iolaus fell to his knees beside Autolycus, stroking the lifeless face. "I'm sorry," he said, fighting the tears welling up. "Forgive me, Autolycus. Forgive me for failing you." Iolaus wrapped his arms as best he could around the mutilated body. "Please forgive me."

Iolaus woke to a muffled sobbing, after a moment realizing that it was his own. This time, he recalled every moment of the nightmare. "Autolycus..." he whispered. "No wonder you didn't want to speak to me about it. How this must have hurt you..." Iolaus fell back into a fitful sleep.

Every night was the same for Iolaus...a nightmare, waking up alone, falling back into a restless slumber. He wished for Autolycus' soothing heartbeat, Autolycus' familiar warmth beside him...but he'd given all that up when he'd left.

The second week, he began to wonder about Autolycus, to worry about how the thief was coping without him. The half of him that wanted to go back to him warred constantly with the half that refused to continue hurting someone who had already been hurt so much.

The third week, he began to worry about himself, because his own dreams were getting more intense and more frightening. He wanted Autolycus' calming presence with a longing that was almost physical in the pain it caused. He hadn't realized before how much he had come to depend on Autolycus being near him, and that was painful. It was also yet another thing for Iolaus to feel guilty about, because he'd been depending on Autolycus instead of being there for him. His funk was nearing a serious depression.

The fourth week was the last week he'd spend in the cave. The depression had set in, and Iolaus was to the point of slitting his own wrists. The only thing that held him back was that his knife had lost a lot of its sharpness, and he wanted it quick and painless. Although, he reflected, drawn out and painful would be more what Autolycus had gone through. He'd looked and looked, and finally found a decent whetstone, and started to sharpen the blade. Not looking forward to the night's dreams, he was reluctant to put his task aside, but sleep claimed him anyway.

Iolaus was lying on the floor of a darkened cell, with light streaming in only one window. He tried to move, but his arms seemed bound by invisible bonds. His head thrashed, but was stopped by a hard warmth at the back of it. His legs were weighted by the same hard warmth that imprisoned the rest of his body. He tried to roll, but the bonds held him in place.

As his eyes slowly opened, he realized that the bonds weren't part of the dream...nor was the light coming in the cave opening. A hard body was behind his, arms held him tightly and a leather-clad leg was thrown over his in familiarity. His breath caught in his throat as the much-missed scent of Autolycus washed over him.

"Hello," Autolycus whispered, sensing Iolaus was awake. Iolaus could have cried with relief that he was here.

"H--hello," Iolaus whispered back. He tried to disentangle himself from Autolycus, then shrugged. Why am I bothering? Iolaus thought to himself. It's what I've been wanting. He simply snuggled closer to Autolycus.

"Iolaus...I thought you might be dead. You never came back. I waited for you to come back, but you never did."

Iolaus' gut tightened. "I--I know. I'm sorry, Autolycus."

"Don't be." Iolaus felt Autolycus' arms tighten around him. "It took my mind off how I was feeling and made me start thinking about how *you* were feeling."

"Me? You shouldn't have been worrying about me! I'm's you that I'm worried about!"

"Iolaus...I had to worry about you. You left without a word to anyone, and you're gone for a month...what was I supposed to think? I thought you might have been killed, that you might have been hurt badly...I thought all kinds of horrible things. Then I had to wonder what would drive you out away from me like this. Then I remembered what you said about hating you, what you let happen. I realized that something was eating away at you, something that you didn't want to burden me with."

"I was...I didn't want you feeling responsible for my dreams," Iolaus confessed.

"We'll talk about it later. Iolaus...please come back."

"I can't."

"I need you."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do. I need to know that you're by my side, to help me through whatever the next obstacle is. I need you there to talk to when the memories threaten to overwhelm me."

Iolaus did roll this time to look at Autolycus. "But I'm the reason those memories are overwhelming you, Autolycus. Me being there is nothing but a constant reminder of the things that happened to you. I...I can't do that to you. I can't go back."

"Then at least talk to me. Tell me what's been bothering you. I think I know, but I'd like for you to tell me."

"Autolycus, I can't. Look at you...look at how far you've come! I can't do something that I know is going to drive you back and make you lose everything you've gained!"

"Iolaus, you not being there with me is what's doing that! I thought that you were the one person that I could depend on, that understood that I needed them to be there! I guess that I was wrong, wasn't I?" Autolycus pulled away from Iolaus and got up. "About a lot of things."

Iolaus watched Autolycus leave with a fist-sized lump in his throat that wouldn't go away. To have him here and then to have him leave again... Iolaus wanted to run after Autolycus, to go back to Asclepius' Temple and just be with Autolycus, but he wouldn't let himself. He stubbornly refused to dwell on the fact that he might be hurting Autolycus more by not returning.

After being with Autolycus in the cave, Iolaus couldn't bear to stay there any longer. He left immediately after Autolycus did, stopping only long enough to kick out the embers of the fire.

Another two months passed before Iolaus heard anything about Autolycus. What he heard made his stomach crawl. He'd walked into a tavern on the edge of the village near Asclepius' Temple, and sat down to order a drink. He heard several of the acolytes talking, and against his will, he began to listen to them talk.

"You know, he hasn't been out since he came back."

"Has he said where he went when he left?"

"No, he hasn't spoken to anyone except Asclepius since he returned. He's closed himself off in his room."

"Poor man. I wonder if his blond friend will ever come back to him. That's why he's pining away, you know. The man--Iolaus, I think his name was--left one night, and hasn't been heard from since. Autolycus had thought he'd dropped off the face of the earth."

"Apparently he did."

"No, Autolycus found him. And he refused to come back."

"So that's why he's been so down lately. It's almost like he was when he came, not talking to anyone."

"I know. I feel so bad for him, but there's not really anything that we can do."

Iolaus leaned back in his chair, unaware that he was gripping the tankard with a crushing grip. Autolycus... he thought. What have I done to you?

Iolaus pushed back from the table, and left the tavern. He headed straight for Asclepius' Temple, and tried to enter. Asclepius barred his way. Iolaus hadn't seen Asclepius so angry before. "What do you think you are doing, Iolaus?"

"I'm coming to see Autolycus."

"He's asked to see no one... including you. He's even asked that if you came, you be turned away. As long as that is his wish, you will not be allowed in." Asclepius turned away from Iolaus.

"How is he, really?"

"How do you think he is, Iolaus? At the time he needed you the most, you leave him. You don't tell anyone where you are, and you let him worry until he's ill. Then when he comes to look for you, against the advice of myself and every other healer here, you refuse to return with him."

"He was ill?"

"He was. He would not eat, he would not sleep. His only thoughts were of you, of how you might have been injured or killed. And he would not listen to my reassurances of your safety. He became ill from that, and when he recovered enough strength to move about, he decided that he would come after you."

"How is he, Asclepius?" Iolaus repeated, more firmly and a little more urgently.

"He is not well. As I said, he will see no one except myself and Mavia. He eats very little, sleeps less. For weeks, no one could walk before his door without him sprinting to see if you'd returned. Now, he's asked that you be turned away. He rarely stirs from his room, and has asked that a shutter be placed over the window so he doesn't have to see the gardens below."

"Does he sleeping well?"

"No. The nightmares haven't stopped, nor have they lessened in severity. If anything, I would say they've grown worse. And he refuses medication to help him sleep, and I am unwilling to drug what little food he eats in fear he will stop eating entirely again."

Iolaus felt as if someone had dropkicked him in the gut. If Asclepius is trying to make me feel worked, Iolaus thought. "How can I help him?"

"Do you really care?" asked Asclepius. "I wouldn't have thought so."

"Of course I care," whispered Iolaus. "It's why I left."

"I see. You're saying that you left Autolycus alone, and made him utterly miserable because you care about him? Strange way of showing it."

"Asclepius, if you've got something to say to me, say it. Otherwise, let me in."

"All right, Iolaus. I DO have something to say to you, but I seriously doubt that you're going to like it. When you and Autolycus came here, Hermes said that both of you were hurt. I didn't believe it at first, not until I got a chance to look at you. You were hurt, too, Iolaus. You were hurt by being forced to watch helplessly, and that scarred you, Iolaus. But you didn't acknowledge that, didn't try to work through it. Then, when it was brought to your attention, you run off instead of trying to work through it with the one person who knows what you went through and could offer you the love and the support that you need. You're being a coward, Iolaus. You're running, and you're hiding, and you're not thinking about anyone else."

Iolaus blinked at the tirade delivered in the god's soft voice. Angry retorts flew to mind, but Iolaus tamped them down. "You're right." Iolaus half-smiled at the god's wondrous look. "You're right," Iolaus repeated. "I didn't want to face it. But I have... in the time that I've been alone, I tried to face it myself. And I can't do it. I can't do it alone, and I know that now."

"Did it occur that now is too late?"

"Yes. It had." Iolaus dropped his head. "I've thought of that. But after hearing what your helpers said about Autolycus... I couldn't live with what I'd done."

"So again, it's come down to you, to what you can't live with."

"Are you going to let me see him?"

"Wait here." Asclepius vanished in a shower of gold sparks, leaving Iolaus alone. He was gone for many long moments, and Iolaus was preparing to leave when Asclepius reappeared to him. "You remember the way?"

"Yes." Iolaus walked past the god. He wound his way through the halls, feet slowing as he approached the hall where their room--no, his room, now--lay. His boots were almost soundless, Iolaus was treading so lightly.

His hand rested on the door for a long moment before opening it, and a soft voice filtered through to him. "Come on in, Iolaus. I know you're standing out there."

Iolaus pushed the door open, and gasped. Autolycus had lost weight in the month since they'd last seen each other. His goatee was shaggy and his mustache was unkempt. His cheekbones were hollow and covered with a light stubble. His green and purple tunic hung lightly on the smaller frame and the leather pants didn't fit quite so tightly anymore. "Hello, Iolaus."

"Autolycus." Iolaus couldn't think of what else to say. "How are you doing?" Stupid question, Iolaus, he thought.

"It's been rough, but I think I'm doing all right. How about you?"

"I've been better." This is ridiculous, Iolaus thought. We're talking like we haven't seen each other in months. Then again, we haven't...

Autolycus smiled. "Awkward, isn't it?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Please, sit down, Iolaus. Make yourself comfortable."

Iolaus sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed. "Thanks. They said...they said you've been having trouble."

Autolycus nodded. "So have you, from the looks of you."

"That's not important right now. Autolycus...why did you ask them to keep me away?" Oh, that's good, Iolaus thought. Corner him right away. Smooth.

"For the same reason you didn't come back, I'd imagine. You didn't want to see me, and I didn't want to see you."


"Don't say it, Iolaus. Don't say it."

"Don't say what?"

"Whatever it is you've concocted as a salve to your conscience and mine. I don't want to hear it. I don't want you to lie to me. You made yourself clear before." Iolaus could hear hurt layered in Autolycus' voice.

"No, I didn't...Autolycus, I didn't make myself very clear or we wouldn't be having this conversation. I didn't want to hurt you, and in trying not to do that, I'm afraid that I hurt you even more."

"No, you did make yourself clear, Iolaus...whether you knew it or not. You made it clear that you wanted nothing more to do with me. And it took me a while, but I decided that I wanted nothing to do with you. Iolaus...I still don't want to see you. I don't want to need you again, and then have you leave me."

Iolaus grimaced. Autolycus was right. "I'm sorry, Autolycus. I was...I know that I hurt you, terribly. But I didn't think that I would."

"Didn't think that you would hurt me? What color are the skies in the world you're living in?"

"'ve got a right to be bitter. Gods know you do. But can you let me back in? Can you?"

"Why? So you can hurt me again? So you can abandon me to the darkness?"

"No. So I can help you drive it away. So I can try to make up to you for what I've done." Iolaus moved closer to Autolycus, and laid his hand on the thin shoulder. He cringed when there was a slight flinch. "Please."

Autolycus moved from under Iolaus' hand. "All right. Do what you want." Autolycus brushed past Iolaus, and left the room, door closing heavily behind him.

"Not what you expected, Iolaus?" asked Asclepius. "No."

"You honestly thought that he'd be happy to see you?"

"I don't know what I thought."

"You're doing the right thing, Iolaus, whether it feels like it or not." Asclepius clapped the blond's shoulder. "He really is glad you're here, whether he'll show you or not."

"Yeah, right."

"You don't believe me? Look." Asclepius indicated the mirror hanging on the far wall. The mirror wavered, then cleared. Autolycus was moving through the Temple with more life than he'd shown since Iolaus had last seen him. He stopped in the middle of a hallway, and turned, heading out to the gardens. "It's the first time he's been outside."

"He's just running from me."

"Maybe. But look where he's going, Iolaus. He's going to the gardens right outside the window. Where you used to go together."

Asclepius gestured and the shutter closing the window disappeared, and Iolaus looked out the window. Autolycus was looking up at the window, and acknowledged Iolaus and the god looking down at him.

"Should I?"

"I would." Asclepius vanished, and Iolaus made his way down to the gardens. Autolycus met him.



Autolycus turned silently and began to walk, Iolaus falling into step beside him. Iolaus thought that it almost seemed like the way it was before, the two of them walking together in the bright sunshine. "I'm glad that you're here, Iolaus."

Iolaus forgot to breathe for a brief moment. "So am I, Autolycus."

"Will you let me help you, Iolaus? The way that you helped me?" Autolycus stopped, and Iolaus saw the look on his face. "Please? It...hurts me to know that you're hurting because of me."

Iolaus looked into dark, sparkling eyes. "Only if you'll let me help you...we'll help each other." And when Iolaus reached for Autolycus' hand, Autolycus didn't pull it away. Iolaus' heart soared...there was hope!

The rest of the night was spent in a quiet treaty...neither said anything that might upset the other. At dinner, Iolaus watched as Autolycus ate, and cheered silently when he laughed at a comment one of the acolytes made about his suddenly-returned appetite.

Iolaus watched Autolycus as he shaved, bathed, and prepared for bed. Asclepius appeared beside him, invisible to all but Iolaus. "I'm surprised, Iolaus. You've changed him in a day."

"I don't think that it's just me...I think it's something inside him that won't let him be anything other than..." Iolaus trailed off, not sure what he intended to say.

The god nodded once in understanding. "I know," he replied, and vanished.

Iolaus watched Autolycus go through the motions of preparing for the night. A candle was left burning by the bed, and the window was again blocked. Iolaus said nothing about these preparations, only availed himself of the tub and hot water as Autolycus moved about the room, doing his routine check.

Autolycus was in bed by the time Iolaus got out of the tub and dried himself off. Iolaus wanted to get into the bed beside Autolycus, to snuggle back against the thief's warm body and be held by familiar arms...instead he made himself comfortable with the large lounging pillows on the floor. He was getting ready to reach up and extinguish the candle when Autolycus' voice stopped him. "Leave it."

This is a new development, Iolaus thought, but did as Autolycus asked and left the candle burning. Both fell into a deep sleep, reassured by the other's presence.

Iolaus was woken by a piercing scream. In a heartbeat, he was at Autolycus' side, holding and rocking Autolycus as the nightmare gripped him. The door was flung open, and Mavia entered. Iolaus looked at her. "Nightmare," he said.

"Can you..."

"For now," Iolaus said, and the woman left. Iolaus looked down at Autolycus, now weeping quietly in his arms. "Autolycus? Come on, wake up." Iolaus took one hand and gently wiped the tears away. He gently patted the thief's cheek, trying to bring him out of the nightmare's grasp.

Iolaus held tightly as Autolycus' body jerked, and his eyes opened. "Iolaus?"

"You were dreaming. Screaming, then crying."

"I'm sorry that I woke you," Autolycus said, trying to turn away and face the wall.

"I'm not," Iolaus said. "We agreed to help each other, didn't we? So let me help." Autolycus sighed, but didn't try to move away from Iolaus again. "Do you remember what it was about?"

"No...only that you were there."

"Don't worry...just go back to sleep, and we'll talk in the morning." Iolaus rocked Autolycus until Autolycus was asleep.

When Iolaus tried to slip out from under Autolycus to return to his pillows, Autolycus' voice stopped him. "You're not leaving again, are you?" His voice was quiet and small, almost childlike.

"No," Iolaus said. "I'm not leaving. I'm just moving to my bed."

"Stay with me," Autolycus asked quietly.

"All right...if you're sure." Iolaus slid back in bed beside Autolycus, and the thief moved in close, pressing his body close to Iolaus'. His arm draped over Iolaus' waist, and Iolaus listened as his breathing slowed to sleep. Iolaus remained awake the rest of the night, watching over Autolycus.

The next morning, a tickling sensation on the back of his neck made him realize he'd fallen asleep at some point. Iolaus' second thought was to find the source of the tickling...and the third thought registered the gentle exhalations of Autolycus' breathing. Autolycus' breath was tickling the back of his neck, and the thief was curled completely around Iolaus, down to their hands being interlaced. Iolaus rolled out of Autolycus' embrace carefully, trying not to wake him. He didn't succeed.

"Good morning," Iolaus said cheerfully, as Autolycus shaded his eyes from the sun.


Iolaus grinned to himself, mysteriously happy and inappropriately playful this morning. Autolycus had never been a morning person. "Come on, Auto! Rise and shine!"

"Mmmmmph!" The groan was louder, and Iolaus ducked the flying pillow. "Five more minutes."

"Only until I get out of the bath," Iolaus compromised. When he did get out, Autolycus was soundly asleep again. "Wake up, Autolycus!" Iolaus commanded.

He raised his head. "I hate mornings."

"Feed me, then we're taking a walk outside and we're talking."

"Feed yourself. The food's on the table, I'm sure."

Iolaus finally badgered Autolycus into waking, and then into breakfast. Finally, Iolaus dragged Autolycus outside into the morning sun, and down the path to the grapevines. "Sit," Autolycus said, and Iolaus sat down on the sun-warmed turf beside him.

"Autolycus...I want to talk to you. I want to tell you why I left." Iolaus took a deep breath. "I knew that you were having nightmares...and that both Ares and I were in them. In some of them, you told me that I was the one Ares was hurting and that you couldn't stop it. I...I should have known then that there was something not right...but I didn't think. Then much later, when you told me that I was having dreams, crying in my sleep, I didn't want to face that. I didn't want to think that I was the one hurting you and causing you to have more nightmares. I thought that if I left, and you weren't subjected to me and my dreams, then your dreams might stop, and you could get on with your life. I thought that since you knew how I felt, that I believed you blamed me...well, I was wrong. And came after me. You tried to tell me that you didn't blame me, but I wouldn't listen. I was hurt, a different way, but I wasn't dealing with it the way you were. I was burying my problem in yours. Then after you came, and I wouldn't go with you and you left again, the dreams...they came back, and they got worse. I left the cave because we'd been there together and I couldn't stand being there alone again. So I left...and I left you alone for three months while I felt sorry for myself. And in those three months, I think that I destroyed so much of the parts of yourself that you'd regained that I won't ever be able to forgive myself for that. It's been almost a year...and look. You're still having nightmares. You still flinch from strangers. Most of're still afraid. And that's my fault."

"Iolaus...listen to me. You opened, let me do the same. Some of what I'm going to say, you may not like...but it's how I feel. Yes...there is a part of me that hates you for leaving me when you did...but that part is overwhelmed by the rest of me that understands that you were hurting, too. None of me likes it...but I'm trying to understand it. I wanted so much to be able to hate you, to blame you for everything, right from the start. But I couldn't then and I can't now. You did everything that you could, and we both know that. In a way, I guess it was good that you did leave...because while you were gone, I realized that I had been depending on you for so much. That's why I went after you, you know. Because I didn't feel whole without you. And when you didn't made me have to become a whole person again. A wounded, scarred, and fragile whole person, but a whole person nonetheless. I got used to waking up alone, I got used to you not being there to chase away the dreams. But I couldn't get used to not having you with me. And that started in Ares' dungeon. Because if you hadn't been there, hadn't been a source of strength for me to look to...I don't think that I would have made it through with my sanity."

Iolaus couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Autolycus..."

"I don't want to talk about it anymore, Iolaus...not today, not right now. This is hard for me...I haven't spoken to anyone about it since you left, and I have all these things that I need to say, need to get out, but I can't, not at one time, because everything is so painfully connected to what happened!"

Iolaus put his hand on the other man's knee. "Then you don't have to, Autolycus. We've got nothing but time. Tell me what you want, when you want. I promise, I will be here to listen. Did I tell you that I got a letter from Hercules a few weeks back?" Iolaus asked, changing the subject. "Yes, he sent it to the tavern where I'd been seen..." Iolaus continued to tell Autolycus the insignificant details of Hercules' letter. Iolaus watched Autolycus out of the corner of his eye, and the thief's face eventually smoothed itself out of the furrows.

When Autolycus' face smoothed itself out, Iolaus got back up to his feet, pulling the thief up with him. "Come on...we're wasting a lot of daylight. How do you feel about fishing?"


"Fishing. You know, sitting on the bank of a stream, line in the river, worm on a hook, fish just waiting to be caught..." Iolaus was working hard to bring a smile...and it worked. "So?"


"Come on! You'll like it!" Autolycus didn't resist when Iolaus grabbed his hand and pulled him into the woods off the garden, down to a burbling stream. "Sit." Iolaus pushed Autolycus down while he rummaged around under some rocks. "Ah. Here, hold these a moment." Iolaus dropped some writhing worms into Autolycus' hands.

Autolycus shuddered at the slimy feel of the worms. He threw them aside, and scrubbed his hands on the side of his pants. Iolaus caught his arms. "Autolycus?"

"The worms...the slimy the water in the dungeon. Cold...slimy...dank." Autolycus' hands were unconsciously scrubbing all over his body now.

Iolaus once again caught the scrubbing hands. "Autolycus... you're not there anymore. You're here with me, remember?" Iolaus brushed hair out of Autolycus' eyes, and they blinked at him. "Remember?"

"," Autolycus said. "For a second...the feelings..."

"Don't worry about it," Iolaus said. "What do you say we skip fishing for right now? I forgot the hooks and line anyway."

"That sounds like a good idea," Autolycus said. "I think that I want to go back now." Iolaus and Autolycus made their way back to the Temple. Iolaus watched as Autolycus stopped one of the menservants. "Could you bring me a hot bath, please? The hotter the better."

"Autolycus? Are you all right?" Iolaus stopped Autolycus as he hurried on ahead.

"Iolaus...I can still feel that cold water on my skin...have to get it off...have to!" Autolycus' voice was low, intense. Iolaus led Autolycus to the room, where the steaming tub had been filled as he'd requested. "Help me!" Autolycus was tearing at his clothes, trying to get them off to get in the tub.

"All right!" Iolaus quickly pulled Autolycus' shirt off, and undid the belt. With Autolycus' recent weight loss, the pants slid off over the boots, and Autolycus kicked the boots off before soaking himself in the scalding water of the tub.

Iolaus watched as Autolycus scrubbed his skin raw with the washing cloth. Then, to Iolaus' surprise, Autolycus buried his head in his hands. "I thought I was over all that," Autolycus said, his voice muffled.

"Over what?"

"The sensory things. I haven't had one in so long...a couple of months. And it was...worms, of all things, that set it off."

Iolaus felt guilty. This is something I've missed, he thought, because I ran out. "What are you talking about?"

"Common, everyday things would suddenly remind me of something else, something tied in with what Ares did." Autolycus sighed, heavily. "Like the worms...the cold, slimy feel of them made me recall the feeling of the water dripping off the ceilings. And wouldn't go away. I couldn't get the feeling off my skin. I had to scrub it off."

"This has happened to you before?"

"Yes. You were...gone, and that's when it started."

"Because I was gone?" Iolaus was all prepared to feel bad again, to ask Autolycus to forgive him. Autolycus' reply knocked those words back down his throat.

"No. Because I had been repressing things...not wanting to remember. This was the way the memories came back. Asclepius and Mavia called them fugues, I think."

"Then it's normal for this kind of thing to happen?" Iolaus was worried, and relieved at the same time.


Iolaus shook his head to clear it. "Come on, that water's GOT to be getting cold." Iolaus handed Autolycus a towel, and Iolaus turned to pick up the thief's clothes as he wiped the water off his skin. "Now...are you going to be all right?" Iolaus asked while the thief dressed again.

"I think so...I'm not going anywhere for a while."

"How about lunch?"

"I'm not that hungry right now...but I'll eat fruit if that will make you happy!" Autolycus added, when Iolaus shot him a narrowed glance.

"Good! I'll be back in a while with lunch." Iolaus shut the door behind himself, and made a beeline towards Asclepius'' main room. "Mavia!" Iolaus called, seeing his quarry.

"Yes? Is there something wrong?"

"No...I just need to talk with you." Iolaus practically dragged the woman over to the side. "What are fugues, and why is Autolycus having them?"

"It's not a fugue, exactly...why, Iolaus? What happened?"

"We were outside, getting ready to go fishing. I handed him some worms, and he...freaked out. He said that you and Asclepius had called them fugues, when something ordinary reminded him of something that happened with Ares."

"Well...yes, we did, but we thought that he was over them."

"So did he, until he had one this morning." Iolaus' face clouded with worry. "Is that bad?"

"Not's more than likely just the last few things surfacing. I will ask Asclepius to check in on him later, and I'll warn you now, he will likely have nightmares tonight, especially about whatever memories the flashbacks brought back."

"Last few things?" Iolaus asked, lost.

"Yes, the last few things. Autolycus has remembered a lot, dealt with a lot of things while you weren't here, Iolaus," Mavia reminded gently. "It's been nine...almost ten months, now, and in that time, he's made progress. A good bit of progress, although there's still one thing that will take longer."

"What's that?" Iolaus asked, thinking he might already know the answer.

"His feelings for you," she said, before turning away.

That wasn't what he was expecting, and the surprise of that statement allowed Mavia to make a retreat before Iolaus could call her back. His feelings for me? Iolaus thought. What in Tartarus did she mean by that? Iolaus returned to their room, stopping by the kitchen, as promised, to pick up lunch.

Iolaus brooded over what Mavia had said to him. He brooded all through lunch, and was surprised when a fig hit him in the middle of his chest. He looked up to see Autolycus innocently munching on an apple. He looked back down, and another fig came flying across the table. This time, Iolaus caught Autolycus dropping the spoon and attempting to look innocent. "What did you do that for?"

"You've been brooding over something, and I've called your name three times and you didn't hear me. So I thought something else was in order to get your attention."

"'ve got it," Iolaus said, his brilliant blue eyes staring into Autolycus' dark ones. "What do you want?"

"Well, the first thing was to ask you what's bothering you. The second was to tell you that I'd like to try fishing know, do something normal."

What's bothering me? Iolaus thought. You really don't want me to go there. "Oh, really? all right!" Iolaus let his hands fall to his sides instead of wave around nervously. "I'll just need to hunt up the hooks...and make sure that we have fishing wire..." Iolaus continued to babble about fishing supplies until Autolycus laughed.

Oh...that sounds nice, Iolaus thought. I really missed that. "What's so funny?"

"You are. You're trying so hard to avoid talking about this that it's actually amusing!"

"About what?"

"Whatever is bothering you."

Iolaus sighed. "It's nothing, really...just something that Mavia said to me earlier."

"Mavia? You're not sick, are you?" Autolycus asked, all concern.

"No no! Nothing like that...I just stopped to ask her if you were all right, and to let her know that you had another one of those... whatever you call 'ems."

"Ah. Let me guess...she told you everything was all right except for one thing."

Iolaus stared at Autolycus in shock. "Either I'm more transparent than I thought, or you can read my mind. Yeah, that's exactly what she said!"

"That's the same thing she told me while you were in the kitchen getting lunch."

"You mean...she was here?"

"Yes, she was here."

Iolaus stared at Autolycus, trying to gently feel his way around. "So...what did she say?"

"Just that you had stopped her, you were concerned about me, and that what happened was normal, and that it will still happen infrequently...nothing that I need to worry about. And that other than one thing, I was fine."

"Did she tell you what that one thing was?"

"Did she tell you?"

"I asked you first."

"Yes, she did."

"Then yes, she told me, too."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Only if you do." Iolaus wanted to giggle madly at the dance they seemed to be doing around each other.

"Honestly...I'm not sure that I do," Autolycus said, suddenly serious.

Iolaus looked at him. "Just so we know we're on the same wavelength...what did she tell you?"

"That I still had some feelings that I needed to work through."

"That's what she told me, too." Well....kinda.

"So...are you ready for this?" Autolycus asked. "I don't know where this is going to go."

Iolaus smiled. "I'm ready." Iolaus pushed back from the table, and went to sit on Autolycus' side. "Let's start."

"Iolaus...I wanted to hate you. I wanted to hate you for getting my hopes up, for telling me that Hercules would come and he didn't. I couldn't hate you, though, because you were clinging to the same hope that I was...that he would come and Ares couldn't really do something that...evil. But Hercules didn't and Ares did...and I wanted to blame you. I tried to, even, but I couldn't. Not when I saw you were beating up yourself enough for the both of us. But even while it was were strong. You didn't break, you didn't lose it, not like me. I broke...I begged Ares to stop, I screamed and I cried. I tried to draw strength from you...and I did. Enough to keep me sane."


"No, let me finish. Then, when we came were so attentive, so caring. I felt like I didn't deserve you because you were so...clean, so pure. And after what Ares did, I couldn't think why anyone would want to be around me. And then it came to me...pity. You felt sorry for me."

Iolaus made a strangled noise deep in his throat. "Pity?" No...not pity, my friend...

"It's the only thing that I could think of, at the time. And then, when you started having your dreams, it made me feel guilty, because I was holding you here. Then, Asclepius intervened...and when I tried to tell you, you left."

"I told you why."

"Iolaus...just listen. Yes, I know you did...which is why this is all such a colossal joke. When you left...I thought you left because you couldn't stand being around me any more. And I hated myself for driving you away. I kept waiting for you, and when you didn't come to me, I went to find you. The rest you know. Gods, we just assumed so much..." Autolycus' laugh was harsh, edged with tears.

"Anything else?" Iolaus had a feeling there was something else Autolycus wanted to say.

"No...not right now."

"Then it's your turn to listen. I wouldn't blame you if you did hate me. Like you said, I hated myself enough for the both of us. And no, I didn't feel sorry for you...I wanted to help you get over this, get through this. And I didn't want it because I felt like I had to. You've got to know that I care about you, Autolycus."

"I know," Autolycus acknowledged softly.

"And that's why I did everything that I did. I thought that I was doing more harm than good by staying."

Autolycus reached out for Iolaus. "You never did anything to hurt me."

Iolaus returned Autolycus' hug. "I was afraid that I did." He didn't make a move to pull away, and Autolycus didn't let him go. "Now...what else was it you wanted to tell me?"


"I know there was something else, Autolycus. Something you wanted to say but didn't." The taller man struggled against Iolaus' arms and Iolaus let him go.

"I couldn't...I can't."

Iolaus grasped Autolycus' chin when he would look away. "You can." He turned Autolycus' eyes to meet his own. "You can tell me anything."

"Not this, Iolaus...not this."

"Why are you pulling away from me, Autolycus?"

"Because I love you, Iolaus. I thought that if I didn't say anything, that it might just go away, and we could get back to normal, like nothing ever happened."

Iolaus was speechless. He leaned forward, surprising the thief, and drew him close, touching Autolycus' lips with his own.

But Autolycus drew away, and looked at Iolaus. "Don't. I don't want your pity, Iolaus. Not now. Not after what we've said."

Iolaus looked hurt for a moment, then got a little angry. "Pity? You think that was pity?"

"It had to be," Autolycus said, heartache creeping into his voice. "I had no right to say what I did, and then for you to kiss me, after what Ares did to me... no one could want that. Especially from me."

Iolaus felt a hysterical giggle bubble up from his throat. "Don't... couldn't want you?" Iolaus had to bite off the rest of the words before the hysterics started, because he was thinking of the almost constant erection he'd had every night after sleeping so close to Autolycus. Damn words anyway!

Autolycus' face went blank and he turned away from Iolaus, heart breaking. He walked back over to the bed, and sat down on it, facing the wall. He didn't register Iolaus' warm breath on his neck as the man knelt behind him. "Autolycus, turn around." Autolycus turned his head, and Iolaus captured it between his hands, placing a gentle kiss on Autolycus' mouth. He broke the kiss, then turned Autolycus back around to face him. "I want to show you something." Iolaus caught one of Autolycus' hands and brought it to the erection straining against the leather. "If I didn't want you, how could just kissing you do this to me? I wanted you before all this happened, Autolycus. I wanted you from the moment Ares chained us together and took our clothes."

Autolycus laughed bitterly, with an edge of tears. "Yeah. Before all this."

Iolaus pressed Autolycus' hand closer, let him feel the heat pulsing from him. "What about this? This is now, my friend. That kiss was now. And so is this," Iolaus said, letting Autolycus slowly explore the leather-bound flesh.

"How?" Barely a whisper, but to Iolaus, it sounded like thunder.

"Because... I love you, too, Autolycus." Damn, but that felt good to say that! And Autolycus' answering smile was more than exhilarating. "It's nice to see that back where it belongs," Iolaus said.

Autolycus was still hesitant when Iolaus' mouth pressed to his again. But he didn't push him away, only opened his lips underneath Iolaus', letting Iolaus' tongue slip into his mouth.

Iolaus relished Autolycus' surrender under him. He pushed Autolycus back, not breaking their mouths' connection. Autolycus' hands slowly moved from his sides to bury themselves in Iolaus' hair, pressing the blond's mouth closer to his.

Iolaus broke the kiss and looked at Autolycus' flushed face. "I want to make love to you, Autolycus. But I won't, not if you don't want me to."

Autolycus looked back at Iolaus, his Iolaus. "I don't know what I want," Autolycus said. "I only know I want you."

Iolaus climbed on top of Autolycus, bracing himself on Autolycus' shoulders as he positioned himself, straddling Autolycus' waist. Iolaus leaned in, and trailed gentle kisses down the side of Autolycus' jaw and snaked out his tongue to lick briefly at Autolycus' chin. He slipped down Autolycus' body and continued to trail them down Autolycus' throat, and then to the hollow at the base of his throat. When Iolaus' mouth moved to cover one of Autolycus' nipples, Autolycus shuddered and flinched underneath Iolaus. Iolaus lifted his head.

"Autolycus?" The thief's eyes were clouded with memories of Ares twisting and grinding the nipple. "Do you want me to stop?" Iolaus was silent, waiting.

"No... it's you, Iolaus. I know it's you this time." Iolaus put his mouth back on the nipple, and teased it gently, running his tongue gently over and around the tender bud, until he felt it pebble and harden under his mouth. Then he moved to the other one, giving it the same treatment.

Autolycus started to move a little under Iolaus, arching into his tender touch. Autolycus moved his hands over Iolaus' chest, coming to rest on his shoulders and drawing him back up for another kiss. Iolaus' throat closed as he remembered how he'd dreamed of Autolycus doing that, drawing him close to be kissed, and of how he'd used that vision to block out what Ares had been doing to Autolycus.

"Iolaus...what's wrong?"

"'s just...I've dreamed this so many times before. I dreamed that you would pull me against you and kiss me, just like you just did... and that dream was one of the things that I used to block out what Ares did to you," Iolaus admitted, before kissing Autolycus again. He felt wetness on Autolycus' lips and cheeks. He pulled back, and saw that Autolycus was crying. "Autolycus? You're crying..."

"Because of what you're doing to me."

"I'm not hurting you, am I?" Iolaus asked, all concern.

"No, no, nothing like that. You're just making me feel things that I didn't think that I could feel again. You're making me feel."

Iolaus moved down the bed, and took Autolycus' flaccid penis in his mouth. He gathered as much of the soft flesh in his mouth as he could, running his tongue over and over the flesh, slowly drawing his head back, letting the hardening shaft ease out between his lips. Autolycus' hands were knotted in the sheets as Iolaus sucked and licked the head of his shaft, then swallowed the length as much as he could, the head bobbing against the back of Iolaus' throat. Iolaus pulled his head back and purposefully pumped Autolycus' cock, and Autolycus came, crying out Iolaus' name and spewing hot semen on his belly and over Iolaus' hand.

Iolaus took his semen slicked hand and touched the small opening between Autolycus' buttocks. Autolycus tensed, and began to roll away. Iolaus wanted to beg Autolycus not to go, not to make him stop. "Autolycus?"

Autolycus rolled back under Iolaus, and stared into blue eyes that had darkened with need and desire. Iolaus watched as Autolycus raised a hand, and traced the contours of Iolaus' face, as if reassuring himself that it was Iolaus, not Ares. "Do it, Iolaus. I want it. I want you. But I'm scared." Iolaus knew what it took for Autolycus to admit to that.

He wet his fingers again in the semen from Autolycus' orgasm, and slipped one finger into that small ring. He carefully slid the finger in and out several times, and when Autolycus moaned quietly, he slipped a second finger in, stretching him more, and giving him time to become accustomed to the feeling. "Turn over," Iolaus urged, but Autolycus stopped him.

"I can't...I need to know it's you... I need to see you," Autolycus whispered.

Iolaus slicked his cock with the semen left on his hand and pressed the head carefully against Autolycus' anus. His head slipped in, and Iolaus pressed slowly and carefully until his entire length was buried in Autolycus' body. Slowly he thrust in and out, waiting for Autolycus to respond.

Finally, Autolycus' hips thrust up to meet Iolaus' thrusts, and Iolaus started to speed up his thrusts, moving faster and faster inside the tight hole, feeling Autolycus' muscles clench around him as he moved, and finally, Autolycus asked, "More, Iolaus. Harder."

Iolaus smiled as he began to thrust harder into Autolycus as Autolycus began to respond to Iolaus' loving attentions. Iolaus grunted as Autolycus thrust back against him, and Autolycus' hard cock bumped against him. He took one hand and grasped Autolycus' cock, pumping it in time with his thrusts.

Autolycus' cock twitched, and his orgasm shattered him as Iolaus' hand milked his cock. Iolaus shouted Autolycus' name as his orgasm came, shooting deep into Autolycus. He pulled out of Autolycus, and Autolycus drew him close, resting the blond head in the hollow of his shoulder. He whispered to Iolaus, words that, from the softness, the hunter knew he wasn't supposed to hear.

"Thank you," Autolycus whispered, twisting a blond curl around his finger. "Thank you for giving me my life back."

Iolaus heard the whispered words, and didn't react. You're welcome.

The End

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