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 and rape. Read at your own risk.
You can find more stories by Aramis at Nephele's Herculean Slash page.
Vacation time! It was hard to believe, but the demigod and the hunter were finally going to manage some time to themselves. A friend of the pair had loaned them his well-stocked and furnished cottage, about five hours walk from the nearest village.
They had just had an incredibly busy few months and both were feeling ready for some relaxation. Even Hercules was feeling tired and the hunter close to exhaustion, although he hid this as best he could, never liking to admit that a mortal could not keep up with a demigod under any circumstances. However, Hercules was fully aware that the blond was often moving on adrenalin alone.
When Velanius had made the offer of the cottage, Hercules had accepted with alacrity for them both. Iolaus had merely smiled and said, "Good idea, Herc, you've been looking a bit frayed around the edges lately. You could do with a break." The fact that the blond had confined himself to such a comment and hadn't bounced with his usual excitement at the prospect of uninterrupted hunting and fishing was a measure of just how worn out he was.
Unfortunately, two minor crises had then arisen simultaneously and the pair had been forced to separate to deal with them. Before they'd parted, they had made a definite date to meet at the cottage and had sworn that *nothing* was going to intervene to stop them making the rendezvous. *Nothing.* Neither fire nor flood, not warlord nor monster. *Nothing.*
In the event, Hercules had actually been ready to set out a couple of days ahead of time and had decided to do so to ensure all would be perfect for his lover's arrival.
Knowing that the hunter preferred to travel light and was too impecunious to buy much in the way of provisions anyway, he had made a point of purchasing a number of bottles of good wine and a range of tempting foodstuffs to carry with him.
It was autumn and the weather was unsettled so he decided to travel prepared for early frosts. He dressed himself in the bearskin coat that his mother had made for him the previous winter. The hunter had tracked and killed the gigantic animal, which had been responsible for many local stock losses, and had presented him with the skin, commenting cheekily that it was the first skin he'd ever seen that would be big enough for a coat for such an overgrown person.
The demigod had responded by throwing the pelt over him and nearly smothering him. After a mad tussle, they'd made most enjoyable love lying on the soft fur and, as he donned the coat, Hercules decided another bout in a nest of furs would be a pleasant holiday interlude. Accordingly, one of his first tasks on reaching the cottage was to pile several pelts, from around the floors and beds, by the fire.
The day before the one they were due to meet dawned cold and wet, after a night of torrential rain. An icy wind had come up and was soon howling through the trees. Fortunately, the cottage was sturdily built as one or two gusts might otherwise have threatened the roof.
'I hope it's cleared up by tomorrow,' the demigod thought, as he consumed a leisurely lunch, or Iolaus will have an uncomfortable tramp in.
*That* was just what the intrepid hunter *was* having. Also ahead of time, he had decided to brave the weather and head for the cottage, as his inquiries had elicited the information that Hercules had already passed through the village. He couldn't afford to book a room at the inn to wait for the storm to pass and was too impatient to be reunited with his lover after their week's separation anyway.
'Gods, I must be mad,' the bedraggled blond thought, as he pushed his way through drenched bushes. He'd had several near misses from falling branches, was soaking wet and the wind felt like it was cutting its way right through him. Unlike the demigod, the hunter had set off with minimum preparation as always and was just wearing his usual leathers.
The ground was treacherous and he was plastered with mud having slipped on several occasions. 'I'll bet Herc is lazing in front of a roaring fire,' he thought, enviously. 'Still there can't be more than about five miles to go now,' he comforted himself, 'and Herc will soon warm me up. I expect I'll get one of his lectures for setting out in weather like this, but he'll really be pleased I did even if he won't admit it.'
At that moment, there was a particularly strong gust of wind. He heard an ominous cracking noise and he realized a tree was falling on top of him. His chilled body reacted slowly and, as he attempted to fling himself clear, he lost his footing in the slippery mud. He landed flat on his back and the tree fell across him.
Hercules lay lazily back in the nest of thick furs he had made in front of the roaring fire and thought about his beloved hunter. He didn't know how he was going to wait another whole day. If only he was here now. He took a sip from his goblet of wine, closed his eyes and imagined the scene ...
'I'll be lying here and he will be naked. He'll stand in front of me waiting for me to make the next move. His body will glow with a golden aura from the flickering firelight behind him. I'll just look at him for a while. I'll just feast my eyes upon that incredible golden bounty, knowing that any delay will make him more delightfully impatient than ever. Then I'll slowly get to my feet and pretend I'm about to embrace him, but will take hold of him roughly and throw him down into the furs. Then I'll drop down over him, squashing him into them, and stopping him from scrambling up to answer my challenge.'
Iolaus might as well have been naked for all the protection his sodden leathers were giving him. His body was tinged blue with cold as the merciless rain poured down and the icy wind chilled him to the bone. He struggled to extricate himself, but the weight of the fallen tree pushed him relentlessly down into the mud.
'I'll climb astride him and pin him down so I can torment him at will. I'll seize his wrists and bind them and then I'll suck and nip and tickle until he writhes with desperation and begs me to take him. I can just hear him pleading, "Please, Herc, I need you."'
The tree held him down. His left arm was free, but his right was trapped and, from the excruciating pain, probably broken. He tried frantically to push the crushing weight from him with his free hand, but lacked the strength. 'Gods, Herc, where are you when I need you?' he wondered.
'I'll begin by burying my face in that tangled mop of curls and then I'll kiss his eyes closed and make my way to that sweet mouth. He'll probably be complaining about the rough treatment, but I'll ignore him. We both know he prefers it like that. Anyway I'll soon kiss him to silence.'
Iolaus' hair hung in sodden rats' tails over his pale face. He brushed it aside with his free hand and closed his eyes against the driving rain. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably with cold. The pressure of the tree upon his broken ribs caused him to gasp in agony, but there was no one to heed his plight.
'I'll move my attentions to his throat and kiss my way around it. The sensation always gets to him. He'll arch his back and cry out as I find those sensitive pleasure spots. He'll start thrashing about given the chance, but I won't allow much movement. I'll hold him firmly in position and make him 'suffer'.'
Iolaus tensed, gathering his resources and arched his back trying to heave the tree off his body. Pain knifed through him and he cried out. It was hopeless. The damned thing hadn't moved at all. Ignoring the pain, he tried to wriggle free, but to no avail. He was stuck fast and in agony.
'He'll soon be trembling with need, but I'm going to take my time. I'll latch on to one of his nipples and torment that for a while. That always gets to him. I'm not going to be rushed even if we get a few tears of frustration. I've the perfect counter for those. A touch to his ribs will have him giggling hysterically in no time.'
Iolaus was shaking with cold. He didn't know how long he'd been trapped, but it seemed an eternity. His chest and ribs were so sore. A few tears tricked down his already wet cheeks. He could feel panic rising. He fought to suppress it.
'I'll pour some of the wine onto his stomach. Inserting a tongue into his belly button always drives him wild. He'll be so hot for me by that stage, every nerve should be tingling. He'll be moaning with need and ready to abandon his pride and beg. "Please, Herc," he'll say.'
Water was pooling on his exposed stomach. He didn't remember ever feeling so mind-numbingly cold. To his shame, he realized he was whimpering. "Herc ... Herc ..."
'I'll spread his legs and raise them and prepare him at my leisure. He'll try to thrust against me, but I won't allow that. He can wait upon my pleasure. He knows that and the thought that I can, and might, deny him turns him on more than ever.'
With a feeling of near hysteria, the hunter ignored the pain and bending his legs he tried to gain some purchase in the soft ground to push himself from under his burden, but it was no use. All he did was sink further into the mire. 'I'll never get this damn thing off me and Herc will never find me in time,' he thought, despairingly.
'When *I* am ready, I'll thrust hard and I'll soon have him screaming.' He smiled. He'd never had such a vocal lover, but then he'd never used a lover like he used the hunter. His previous lovers, all female, had gone for the soft, romantic and gentle approach, but the blond liked it rough. Hercules had been astounded to find that that requirement sparked a corresponding desire in himself to dominate, to subdue, that was wholly alien to his feelings and behaviour in the outside world. He had frequently pondered the paradox that the one he most loved was the one he handled most roughly and the even more confusing paradox that his willful and independent hunter wished to be forced to surrender to his strength in the bedroom.
Panicking, he gave a sudden, forceful push and the pain that stabbed through him forced a scream of pure agony from his lips. Breathing was increasingly difficult because of the crushing pain in his chest. 'Where the hell are you, Herc? Don't you realize I *need* you? Can't you feel that I'm hurt?' Gods how he needed his lover's strength.
'I'll probably take pity on him at this point and give him a helping hand,' thought the demigod, smiling at the expression. 'He'll soon be gasping. I love to bring him to climax. He comes so violently. Gods, I remember the first time he fainted on me. How that frightened me!'
He began to struggle mindlessly, hyperventilating, grinding his tortured ribs against the unyielding log until the pain was too much and his world went black.
The following day dawned bright and sunny. Hercules' heart sang and his pulse raced as he anticipated his lover's arrival. He raised a radiant face to the warm sun and thought about the golden beauty of *his* hunter.
Iolaus lay still trapped and at best semi-conscious. He'd drifted in and out of consciousness all through the seemingly endless night. His pulse was erratic and his temperature was dangerously low.
By mid morning, the demigod was getting fidgety. 'How long is he going to be?' he wondered. Knowing the hunter, he would have set out at first light, which would have been about 7am at that time of year. 'It's still too early. He won't be here till midday at the earliest,' Hercules told himself, as he stretched out in the sun, eating bread and cheese. He wasn't hungry, but eating filled in time. Relaxing was really quite boring without the golden hunter beside him.
The hunter was having an agonizing coughing fit. He'd just spewed up what little food was in his stomach. Unable to turn aside, vomit was now added to the mess of mud and blood covering his shaking frame. Wracked with pain and cold, head swimming, the only thought that kept him going was Hercules. In his mind's eye, he saw his lover lifting the tree effortlessly, freeing him and holding him in a gentle embrace. But were those tears coursing down Hercules' face? He had kept to the rough track so even the demigod, with his relatively poor bush-craft should eventually find him, but in what condition?
About eleven o'clock, the demigod's impatience had overcome him and he had decided to go to meet his lover. There was a risk that the hunter might not have bothered to keep to the track, but Hercules considered that was unlikely because the path followed the most direct route. 'I'll just go two or three miles,' he decided, 'and then I'll wait to surprise him.'
He walked about three miles and then sat down in the sun. After ten long minutes that seemed more like twenty, he decided to forgo the joy of surprising the blond and walk on to meet him.
Another two miles on and he approached the fallen tree. 'Damn,' he thought, 'I'll either have to climb through it or leave the path and go into the bush and I'll get wet either way.' He nearly opted for the minor detour, but changed his mind at the last and headed for the tree.
Then, to his horror, he spotted the hunter's leather-clad legs. "Gods, no!" he shouted. "Iolaus!"
Somehow the noise aroused the blond. "H-Herc?" he asked, falteringly.
"It's okay, Iolaus, I'm here," Hercules cried, reassuringly, as he forced his way through the thick bush and around the fallen tree. He then flung himself on his knees beside Iolaus. "Don't worry, my love, I'll have that off you in no time."
"Herc," Iolaus gasped wearily, eyes fluttering open, "I-I'm s-sorry, b-but I think ...I think it's ... it might be ... too late."
"Nonsense, my love," said the demigod, with an assumed heartiness, "you'll be fine."
"C-Could you kiss me first. Please, Herc," Iolaus implored. He knew that his hold on consciousness was tenuous and he feared that he might not return from the gathering darkness.
Hercules leant down and kissed the icy face. "I love you, Herc," the hunter whispered.
The demigod felt tears stinging his eyes. "I love you too, Iolaus," he replied, husky-voiced, "but we'll have plenty of time to tell each other that later."
"I-I don't think so, Herc."
"Of course, we will," the demigod replied, not fooling either of them. He realized Iolaus' eyes were closing. He felt he had to try to keep his lover conscious. "Pay attention, my love, I don't want you dozing off yet. There's work to be done here."
"S-Sorry, Herc," Iolaus muttered, apologetically.
"If I lift the tree, do you think you're going to be able to move at all?" he asked, fearing the answer would be negative.
"I-I'll try, but I don't ... I don't ..."
"Don't worry about it, my love. I'll find something to prop it up." He began a rather frantic search of the immediate area. Endeavouring to keep Iolaus awake, he kept questioning him. "When did the accident happen?"
"That long?" The information really shook the demigod. All he could think of was the icy rain that had fallen since then. The miracle was that Iolaus had lasted this long.
"I-I tried to wait for you," the blond said, breaking in on his thoughts.
"You didn't have much choice, did you?" Hercules said, in a desperate attempt at levity.
"N-Not that sort of waiting. At first ... I hoped that ... I wondered if you'd find me in time to help, but ... but in the night I knew and I j-just wanted to see you before ... before ..."
"Iolaus, you're going to be all right! I need you with me. Please, don't give up. I can't live without you." Hercules was begging now.
"Herc, it w-was going t-to happen one day. If you're mortal you will be with me again in the Elysian Fields. Assuming I h-haven't annoyed Hades too m-much on m-my earlier visits and he s-sends me there," he added, with a flash of his old humour. "If you're not, I s-suppose he m-might let you visit sometimes."
"Iolaus, I'm not ready for this. Please, it's *not* your time. Please fight it."
"Try harder!" It was an order, but Iolaus knew the love that lay behind its harshness.
Hercules spotted a large boulder and picked it up. He carried it effortlessly back and placed it alongside the tree. "I'm going to pick the tree up and will try to get an end balanced on the rock. That'll give me enough room to pull you out. Okay?"
Muscles straining, Hercules raised the tree and placed it, ducking under it quickly so that, if it fell off, it would land on him not the hunter.
The pain that flooded Iolaus' body once the weight was gone was intense. He hadn't realized how numb he had been. He bit his lip and desperately tried to suppress a cry of agony for the demigod's sake.
Hercules knew he should check the blond's injuries, but decided it was better to drag him clear first. "I'm going to pull you clear, Iolaus. Ready?"
"N-No, but go ahead." He gritted his teeth.
The demigod acted quickly, but the hunter could not stop the scream that burst unbidden from his lips. Hercules forced himself to ignore this until he got his lover safely clear and then began a quick examination of the hunter. Iolaus' right arm was badly broken and so were several ribs, but what terrified the demigod was the thin trickle of blood from Iolaus' lips.
He tore off his shirt and ripped it to make a rough bandage for Iolaus' arm, but that was all he could do. As he worked, he frantically reviewed his options. The village was too far away. He was going to have to carry Iolaus to the cabin, but knew the medical supplies there were inadequate. However, in his heart, he knew that the best he could hope to do was ease Iolaus' passing. How could he reassure the blond about the future when his own heart was splintering in his breast?
'At least one question will finally be answered by all this,' he reflected bitterly. 'I'll find out if I'm mortal or not because I don't think I can face going on without him. If I can join him I will."
"I'm going to carry you to the cabin now, Iolaus."
He scooped the hunter into his arms. The latter cried out as his broken ribs jabbed into him. "I'm sorry, Iolaus," Hercules apologized.
"I-It's okay, Herc, it really d-doesn't hurt much."
"Who are you trying to kid?"
"B-Both of us hopefully."
'That's Iolaus all over,' Hercules reflected. 'Here he is in incredible pain and probably dying and he's worrying about me and trying to make me feel better. I'll never understand how I was fortunate enough to be blessed with a friend like him. There can be no one braver or more loving.'
He hurried onward. At first, he kept trying to keep the hunter talking, but finally the head lolled onto his shoulder and he could get no response. Tears began to stream down his face, but he kept going.
It was the longest and most harrowing five miles he had ever travelled, but finally his goal was in sight.
Hercules entered the cottage with his precious burden and stopped abruptly at the sight that met his eyes. The God of War was lounging in the furs in front of the rekindled fire and sipping from a goblet of wine.
"What are you doing here?"
"That's not the warm welcome I would expect from a brother."
"Ares, I haven't got time for this." As he spoke he gently placed Iolaus on a bed and began to search the cupboards for bandages and salve.
"Why bother? He's not got long with us. A regrettable end for such a tasty little mortal."
"Did you have something to do with this?"
"No, it was just an accident. I'm merely enjoying the aftermath."
"All this fuss and worry over an insignificant little mortal who was bound to die sooner or later."
The word 'mortal' recalled Hercules to his senses. As a god, his brother could heal, even if it was out of character for the God of War to do so. "But it doesn't have to be *now*. You could save him."
"True, but why should I?"
"Please, Ares, save him and I'll do anything you ask," the demigod appealed desperately."
"Anything? I wonder ..."
Ares smiled reminiscently. "You know, thinking back, I did have fun with him that time he fell into my hands. I really hadn't finished *playing* with him when you so rudely snatched him back."
"Please, Ares, just tell me."
"Okay, here's the deal. I'll cure his injuries. He'll wake up to find himself approaching the cabin with no memory of the accident."
"Wait until you've heard the whole deal. You are to tell him we've reached an agreement to share him."
"What???" Hercules was aghast at the suggestion.
It won't be as difficult as you think, little brother. I've been keeping an eye on you. I know how you relationship has developed. He's relinquished control to you. You tell him what the new situation is and order him to accept it."
"How long is this to go on? I don't think ..."
"Don't worry, only a few hours. I've got several wars in progress so I can't waste much time on the pair of you, but he's not to know that. All he needs to know is we've come to an arrangement and that he has to do as he's told."
"And you'd better make it convincing. He wasn't at all cooperative when he was with me. I'm sure he thought you'd turn up to save him. This time he'll know better. I'll enjoy bringing him to heel. With your help I'll train him properly this time."
"I don't know ..."
"You'd rather he died? Okay, that's no skin off my nose. Just decide quickly. I don't think Hades will be keen to part with him again. Once he's there that'll be it."
"I haven't got a choice," the demigod said wretchedly.
"Of course you have. I've just outlined it. However, I think you'll find you enjoy yourself. We're not as different as you might like to think. Oh, and another thing, he might get a bit battered in our fun and games, but I'll fix him up *physically* when I leave." The emphasis on the word physically was lost on the frantically worried demigod.
"Ares, please, can't you offer different terms?" he implored.
"Nope, I'm afraid that's all that appeals to me at present. Decide *now*. Take it or leave it."
"I'll take it," the demigod muttered reluctantly.
Thus, Iolaus suddenly found himself approaching the cottage. He felt rather light-headed and very confused. He had no recollection of the last part of the journey. However, he thrust the worrying thought aside and hastened inside in search of Hercules.
Spotting his lover, he rushed up to him and flung his arms around the demigod. "I've missed you so much, Herc. It seems more like a month than a week since we were together."
To his surprise, there was no answering hug. The demigod clasped his upper arms and gently, but firmly, moved him back, breaking his embrace. "We have company, Iolaus."
Hercules stepped aside so the blond could see the war god still lying in the nest of furs. "Ares! Wh-What's he doing here?"
"He'll be joining us."
"What do you mean, Herc? Are we going somewhere?" Iolaus asked in some confusion. 'Damn,' he thought, 'not another crisis.'
"No, he'll be joining us *here*."
Iolaus stared at him. A dreadful suspicion was forming in his mind as he observed the God of War's lascivious and triumphant grin. But that was impossible. Hercules wouldn't agree to *that*, surely he wouldn't. After all, the demigod knew full well how Ares had hurt the hunter when he'd had him in his hands.
However, his suspicions were immediately confirmed when the God of War said, "Bring him to me," and Hercules moved towards him apparently to obey.
Iolaus started to back up.
The demigod drew nearer. "Calm down, Iolaus. It's okay." His tone was gentle, but the blond was not reassured.
The hunter raised his hands ready to fend him off. "Don't come any closer, Herc. Just tell me what's going on."
Hercules continued his advance.
"No! Keep back!" Iolaus moved to put the table between himself and Hercules, while glancing furtively towards the door to estimate his chances of getting out.
"Iolaus!" There was a touch of asperity in the tone now. "Just calm down. Come here and I'll explain the situation to you. There's no need to make all this fuss."
"Herc, why are you acting like this? How is Ares making you do this?"
"Iolaus, it's not like that. You will be pleased to hear that my brother and I have reached a new understanding."
"Well, *I* don't understand and, until I do, you keep your distance."
"I'm getting rather tired of waiting," Ares commented, in bored tones, knowing only too well that the demigod would recognize the threat implicit in the statement.
Looking at the blond's wary stance and distrustful eyes, Hercules knew he'd have to try another tack. Reasoning hadn't worked. It was time to assert some authority. "All right, Iolaus, that's enough! Come here!" he ordered, gesturing imperiously.
"No!" The hunter stood his ground.
"Iolaus, I'm running out of patience. Come here *now*!"
To his surprise Iolaus nodded, appearing to capitulate, and took a couple of steps towards him. Hercules was so relieved that he was caught completely off-guard by what happened next. He was flung backwards as the hunter's feet hit him in the chest. Over-balancing, he sat down hard, while the blond somersaulted agilely to his feet and then sprinted for the door.
Ares couldn't suppress a guffaw at the sight. "After him, brother," he urged, "you can't let him get away with that. You know the consequences," he added, ominously.
Hercules leapt up and raced after the hunter.
Iolaus hadn't gone far. He was too concerned about his friend to leave, but he felt safer outside. His style of fighting relied on a fast attack and just as rapid a retreat and so required more room to manoeuvre than the cottage had allowed. He didn't have the physical strength to grapple with the demigod. Thus, he was standing about thirty feet from the house waiting for Hercules to emerge.
Hercules was getting very worried. He knew he had to make Iolaus cooperate one way or another, but the thought of what he was going to have to do was tearing his insides apart. 'It's the only way I can save him,' he reassured himself. 'He'll be upset at the time but, when I can finally tell him why I had to do it, he'll understand. He's *got* to!'
He gradually moved towards the blond, speaking reassuringly as he did so, and had begun to feel that perhaps Iolaus was going to be more 'reasonable' but, when he got to about ten feet from his quarry, Iolaus announced, "That's close enough."
"Please, let me explain, my love," Hercules pleaded, hoping Iolaus would let him close enough so he could make a sudden lunge for him.
However, the wily hunter would allow him no closer and began to back away.
The distance was too great, but Hercules dived for the hunter anyway. He hit the ground hard, but was back on his feet immediately and after the blond.
Iolaus was fast and agile and used the trees as shields between himself and Hercules, so the latter's longer strides were of no avail. He constantly entreated Hercules for a proper explanation, while carefully keeping just out of reach. At another time he would have enjoyed the chase, especially when Hercules slipped and measured his length in the mud. Even under the distressing and confusing circumstances, a somewhat nervous giggle escaped him at that sight.
It was at that point that Hercules finally started to lose it. Irrationally, he was beginning to get annoyed with the hunter for not behaving reasonably. 'Why does Iolaus have to question everything? Why can't he just obey?' he asked himself. After all, time was pressing and Ares was not known for his patience.
Hercules was absolutely determined to make the recalcitrant hunter obey him. Frustrated in his intention and without conscious thought, he seized a fist-sized rock and threw it, making sure it was just high enough to sail over the blond curls, and it deeply embedded itself in a tree about five feet behind Iolaus.
Iolaus' face went white as he felt the wind of the missile's passing. He couldn't believe what his friend had just done, although he was aware that if the demigod had intended to hit him he would have succeeded. Voice shaking slightly from reaction, he tried again, " Please, Herc, tell me what's going on. If I have to submit to Ares to protect you in some way I'll do it, but I want to *know*."
Hercules recognized the loving heart that offered the sacrifice, but did not dare to take the easy way out and pretend that Iolaus had stumbled on the truth. He was aware that the God of War had followed them both outside to watch the sport and was standing within earshot, invisible to mortal eyes, and grinning broadly. "Iolaus," Hercules said sternly, "I've told you all that I intend to. You've told me several times that you are mine and will do whatever I want, so now is the time to prove it."
"Herc, you know I meant anything with *you* as my partner. I didn't mean with other people. You *must* know that," Iolaus argued desperately, his eyes full of anguish.
"You never made any qualifications," Hercules insisted, inching forward.
"Herc, if you'd only *talk* to me. If you'd only explain what's going on, maybe I'd ..."
"I have explained! I *told* you that my brother and I have reached an agreement and you *will* cooperate with me on this."
"Because I'm telling you to do so."
"That's not good enough, Herc, I need a real reason. Please, try to understand. Don't you remember how he treated me that other time?"
The demigod ignored the question. "Iolaus, my patience is running out. I'll catch you sooner or later and I'll make you sorry for it if you continue in your obstruction."
"You'll have to catch me first and you won't," the blond retorted, with a show of bravado he was far from feeling. Then he turned abruptly and darted into the denser bush.
Now Hercules was frantic. He knew he'd never be able to find the wily hunter in the thick bush. He turned a despairing face to Ares, who shrugged helplessly, enjoying the anxiety on the demigod's face. "Please, Ares, if you don't help me I'll never find him and then *you* won't get to enjoy him."
"Oh, well, I'm enjoying *this*, brother."
"Maybe, but you know you'd enjoy *that* more."
"Possibly," the god conceded. "Okay, I'll give you a hand, but he's not to know of my part in it. He's to think this is *all* your doing."
With that, he casually gestured and Hercules found himself standing right behind Iolaus. He shot out a hand and grasped the hunter's shoulder. The latter gave a startled cry and tried to pull free.
Then, realizing he was not going to break that iron grip, he fought down his fear, demanding, "How in Tartarus did you manage sneak up on me?"
"I guess you must have taught me a bit more bush-craft than you thought," Hercules replied.
"Not *that* much," Iolaus retorted suspiciously. He gave a sudden violent twist, hoping to catch the demigod off guard, but the fingers just dug more deeply into his shoulder until he could no longer suppress a gasp of pain.
"Right, Iolaus, we're heading back to join my brother now." He raised his free hand and clasped the nape of the hunter's neck. "Lead the way!"
Iolaus shuddered. The hand on his neck was Hercules' way of reminding him about what was expected of him in their sexual relationship. Normally the possessiveness and control excited him, but now the gesture was nothing short of frightening.
He started off, only to have the hand tighten and shake him viciously. "The right way, please." The tone was chilling.
He changed direction. Hercules breathed an inward sigh of relief. He'd guessed correctly. Knowing the blond so well, it had been a simple matter to anticipate that Iolaus would try a trick like that and hope that Hercules had been so intent on his capture that he would have paid little attention to their route. In fact, because of the method by which he had arrived, the demigod had indeed had no idea of the correct direction, but the blond wasn't to know that.
He now propelled Iolaus roughly, forcing him to move at some speed. After all, time was of the essence if he was going to complete his bargain with Ares and thus save his lover.
Iolaus could feel tears brimming up. He had absolutely no idea why Hercules was treating him so cruelly. However, mixed with his feelings of betrayal was a stronger emotion. He was so worried about Hercules. What on earth could Ares have done to him make him behave like this? To his shame, he could feel himself shaking slightly with anticipation as they approached the cottage.
The door was open. Until this point, Iolaus had still found it hard to credit that Hercules was actually going to take him back to Ares, but now he began to resist in earnest. He seized hold of the door jamb and braced his feet against it to try to stop his inexorable progress, but his muscles were no match for those of the demigod, who simply shoved him hard between the shoulder blades propelling him violently into the room.
The grip on his neck gone, the blond tried to swing around to face Hercules, but another vicious push nearly sent him sprawling. Hercules knew he had to put on a 'good' act to placate his brother for the delay. He then moved forward and grasped Iolaus' upper arms forcing him over to stand in front of the lounging war god.
"I think it's time for an apology for wasting our time, don't you think, brother?" the latter drawled. Then he snapped at Iolaus, "On your knees."
The hunter didn't move. He glared at Ares as defiantly as he could, while hoping his fear was not obvious.
"Hercules, see to it please," Ares said, casually, as though it was the most natural thing in the world for Hercules to force his best friend and lover to abase himself before his brother.
Hercules' hands moved to Iolaus' shoulders and pressed relentlessly down, compelling Iolaus to kneel. Unseen by his victim, his face was a picture of wretchedness at what he was compelled to do.
Ares looked on with a feeling of exhilaration. What pleasure it gave him to manipulate his oh-so-moral brother into acting in a manner completely contrary to the normal way he treated others. And what joy it was to humiliate that pretty little mortal, who not only had no taste in lovers, but also had had the temerity to scorn the war god's advances on the last occasion of their meeting.
The blond hung his head so all Ares could see was a tangled mop of golden curls. "Look at me!" the God of War commanded.
Iolaus ignored him. Disobedience was the only weapon he had and he wasn't going to cooperate no matter how dearly it cost him.
Ares reached forward and seized a handful of the soft hair and jerked the hunter's head painfully up. Hostile azure eyes locked with threatening black. "Well, my pet?"
"I'm waiting to hear you apologize and ask my pardon for the display of willfulness to which you've just treated us both."
"And you can go on bloody waiting!" Iolaus retorted obdurately, to the demigod's dismay.
"Iolaus!" The threat in the god's voice was unmistakable.
"It'll be a cold day in Tartarus before I apologize to you for anything," Iolaus announced resolutely.
"Well, my pet, I think you need a little reminder just what the situation is." He waved a hand and Iolaus' vest disappeared, while a thick, studded leather belt appeared in the god's hand. He then stood up, towering menacingly over the little blond.
Hercules winced inwardly. 'Why couldn't Iolaus have just humbled himself for once?' he wondered despairingly. However, he knew all too well that no one could be more stubborn than the hunter could once he'd determined upon a course of action. The memory of Iolaus allowing the Fire Enforcer to beat him to death rather than endanger Hercules by revealing his whereabouts came forcibly into his mind and the recollection of Iolaus' unhesitating self-sacrifice made him feel worse than ever.
"Move back please, brother," Ares said, keeping up the pretence of amity between them. He then brought the belt down upon the creamy shoulders.
Iolaus gasped, but managed to repress a cry. He twisted around slightly and glanced up at Hercules. His eyes were huge and they looked at the demigod with a mixture of sorrow and confusion. His lips moved slightly as he mouthed his lover's name in mute appeal. There was no recrimination in his face. He clearly still believed or, at least, clung to the faint hope that Hercules was acting under duress.
Hercules looked away quickly, schooling his face into an impassive mask. He couldn't afford to meet that gaze. He couldn't confirm Iolaus' suspicions, and thus impart a crumb of comfort however small, for fear of retribution from the God of War. His guts twisted. Treating his beloved hunter like this was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.
The belt fell again and again, the studs cutting into the satin skin and streaking it with blood.
Hercules shut his eyes tightly, unable to watch, and willing Iolaus to bend his stiff neck and beg the war god's pardon. However, he knew Iolaus would cling to his pride and would not submit.
Still the hunter knelt quietly, huddling in on himself, doing no more than wince and bite his lip. His eyes were now squeezed shut. He couldn't stand to see the apparent indifference to his plight on his lover's face. That had seared his soul, hurting more than the savage lashes raining down upon him.
Ares muttered a curse under his breath. The annoying little mortal was going to spoil his fun if he could. At the least, he should have given some cries of pain to further distress the demigod and enliven proceedings. Well, Ares would show him what happened to those who defied the God of War.
"It's your turn, brother," he said, smiling.
Hercules stared at him helplessly, his mouth dropping open. Surely Ares didn't expect him to continue the beating. He *couldn't* do that.
Then he felt a moment's relief, when Ares flung the belt aside rather than handing it to him. However, that feeling disappeared when the dark god added, "Let's enjoy a bit of variation. Take him to the bed and put him over your knee."
The demigod reluctantly seized Iolaus under the armpits intending to pull him to his feet. At first, the hunter appeared to be going to resist being lifted as he scrunched down lower than before, but then he suddenly sprang to his feet and, in the same motion, aimed a vicious kick at the war god's crotch.
Ares twisted aside and took the numbing kick on his thigh muscle. He staggered slightly and cursed.
Hercules dragged Iolaus backwards before he could try another kick and lifted him off his feet. It was like trying to contain a whirling dervish. Iolaus' arms and legs were flailing in all directions. In between his attempts to kick Ares, the heels of Iolaus' boots were rapping painfully against the demigod's lower legs. It was all Hercules could to hold him.
"Hang on, brother, I'll grab his legs," Ares said. He moved in. The blond was able to land several kicks to the war god's chest and arms before the latter managed to seize his ankles. Now they had the hunter suspended horizontally between them, but he continued to twist violently trying to break their holds.
"Not the most tractable mortal I've ever encountered," Ares observed casually, trying to hide how surprisingly difficult he was finding it to keep his grip on the little blond. "C'mon, brother, let's get him to the bedroom."
They moved awkwardly across to the bedroom, with their unwilling burden fighting every step of the way.
Once there, the war god dropped the hunter's legs and Hercules then sat down as instructed, still holding Iolaus in front of him. He went to turn Iolaus to pull him across his knees. As he did so, he relaxed his hold.
"No!" Iolaus cried, jerking suddenly so one of Hercules' thumbs was forced back and he lost his grip with that hand. Iolaus then flung himself sideways, trying to wrench free from the demigod's other hand. He all but made it. However, Hercules managed to hang on and, once he'd adjusted his hand position, to drag the blond back.
"Come on, brother, stop playing around," Ares said. "We haven't got all day, you know." The last was a clear warning.
Hercules hurriedly tugged the hapless hunter to him and over his knee. Iolaus continued to struggle, kicking and punching at the demigod's legs. Some of the blows were painful and Hercules felt that same flash of temper he'd experienced when chasing the blond. "That's enough, Iolaus!" he said sharply, but the hunter paid him no heed. "Stop it!" he ordered and, to his shame and without prior thought, slapped the blond across the arse.
"Now you're getting the idea, brother," Ares approved. "Here let me help." He moved forward and, with difficulty, caught hold of the thrashing legs again. "Now you grab his wrists. Get them up his back."
In moments, the demigod had the hunter's wrists squeezed tightly in one large hand and forced uncomfortably up his back.
The indomitable hunter continued to wriggle, ignoring the pain shooting along his arms and shoulders, still trying to get free.
"Now that's a nice sight, isn't it?" the war god commented, feasting his eyes on the rounded buttocks straining against the tight black leather. He reached forward and squeezed the hunter's backside.
"Damn you!" Iolaus gasped. "Leave me alone!"
"Quiet, pet! No one asked for your comments."
"You're going to bloody well get them though," the blond retorted, recklessly.
"Well, my pet, we'd better give you something worth commenting about then. As much as I love black leather, I think it definitely has to go." With that Iolaus' trousers and boots vanished, leaving him clad only in wrist-guards and breechclout. "Yes, that's even better," the god opined.
To Hercules' intense discomfort, he realized that Iolaus' wriggling was having a marked effect on a certain portion of his anatomy. He hoped the hunter would be too preoccupied to notice his shameful reaction to his lover's distress.
He watched in horrified fascination as the war god spread Iolaus' thighs and moved between them, reaching to push the breechclout aside and then to part the creamy globes and run a finger down between them. He felt the hunter shiver and sensed rather than heard his desperate whisper, "No."
"Get on with it, little brother."
"Wh-What?" Mesmerized by the war god's actions, he had momentarily forgotten the earlier instruction.
"The spanking! C'mon, he's been asking for it."
Ares deliberately misinterpreted his hesitation. "First things first! There's plenty of time for us to take him later. Don't rush things. You've obviously neglected to punish him enough in the past. You'll find he'll be a lot more amenable after a bit of corrective discipline. Go on!" Now that things were going just as he wanted, the war god was prepared to allow proceedings to slow so that he could savour every moment.
Hercules began to spank the hunter. It wasn't the first time he'd laid a hand across that delectable arse. A little bit of slap and tickle was a regular part of their lovemaking and he had even occasionally used it as a method of quick correction when the hunter had been particularly obstreperous. However, he'd always felt somewhat guilty as to just how much of a turn-on he found the whole business. It didn't seem quite right to enjoy hurting the one he loved beyond all others even if, as he correctly surmised, the blond normally enjoyed it too and often deliberately provoked the demigod into taking a firm hand to him.
However, this was *very* different. Iolaus' face burned with humiliation as he felt the God of War's lascivious gaze upon him and heard his comments. The slaps were stinging. His heart seemed to have a cold clamp squeezing it and he felt his eyes welling as he thought of Hercules' betrayal of his absolute trust. He blinked the tears back as best he could. Whatever happened to him, he did not want Ares to have the pleasure of witnessing him weep.
After only a few minutes of this, Ares had become so hot, as he watched the creamy skin changing to an angry red, that he could wait no longer and so interrupted proceedings. "Right, brother, that will do. I think I'll take him now. You just hold him steady and I'll fuck him as he is," Ares instructed, undoing his codpiece as he spoke.
He yanked the hunter's legs further apart and positioned himself between the slender thighs. Then, to Hercules' horror, the dark god plunged deeply into the hunter without bothering with any prior preparation.
What followed took on the aspect of nightmare for both the demigod and the hunter. Iolaus was screaming in agony at the knifing pain, as the war god buried himself deeply with thrust after savage thrust. He could feel muscle tearing and knew he was bleeding internally. Each time Ares would almost withdraw completely and, as he prepared to drive brutally in again, Iolaus would try desperately to pull away, but the demigod held him completely immobilized. The hands, that usually caressed him so gently, were like bands of iron.
A seeming eternity later, Ares finally climaxed and withdrew, but that was not the end of it. Through a mist of swirling pain, Iolaus heard him say, "I think I'll have him on his back next. Chuck him onto the bed."
He was so sore he couldn't make much of a fight of it this time. When the demigod stood up with him in his arms, it was all he could do to push against his chest. Even that was difficult as his arms were aching from his struggles when the demigod had had them twisted up his back and his wrists felt as if they had been crushed. Unwittingly, Hercules had been squeezing these each time he winced as Ares slammed into the blond.
Not quite following instructions, Hercules simply placed him down on the bed. Then, on a nod from the war god, he seized the suffering wrists and pulled them above the tousled head.
This time it was more difficult for Iolaus to conceal his distress. Okay, his screams of pain had been impossible to suppress, as much as he would have liked to do so, but at least his mental torment had been private. His face down position had, at least, meant his facial expression could not be seen. Clearly the same thought had occurred to Ares because he commented, "Ah, that's better. I like to watch the enjoyment on your pretty face, my pet."
It was also more of a problem for Hercules. Previously, the hunter had been unable to see the demigod's face and so could only imagine his reactions. As a result, Hercules had not had to school his features and his anguish at what he was having to do and his loathing for his brother had both been clearly etched on his face, much to Ares amusement. Now he had to somehow adopt that mask of harsh indifference, that he had been forced to assume during the beating, once more.
He sat on the edge of the bed, his left-hand pinning the hunter's hands, and deliberately faced down the bed as though absorbed in Ares' actions. At the most, Iolaus would only see part of his profile.
He need not have worried. The hunter's hold on consciousness was so tenuous that he was now only seeing blurred shapes floating in a mist of agony.
Ares lifted the hunter's legs and forced them up and back, relishing the groan that Iolaus could not suppress.
Iolaus was praying silently for unconsciousness. To ask anything more would be hopeless. He didn't know of any god that would listen anyway and certainly none that would stand up to the God of War.
Then the dark god was on him once more.
Anger was always the best antidote to tears and so he was gathering his resources to scream out his hatred of Ares, that being the only method of resistance that remained to him. Then it struck Iolaus that the best thing he could do was to taunt Ares into increasing his tempo. Hopefully, that way he would lose consciousness quickly. *Anything* was better than breaking down before his tormentors and begging. *Anything*.
"A-Ares?" he managed.
"What?" the war god questioned, slowing slightly and wondering if the hoped for point of submission had at last been reached.
"Is that the best you can do?" he asked, hoping his voice wouldn't break. "I've had plenty of mortal lovers who've had a more powerful thrust than that. Are you worn out already?"
"What?" the war god repeated, unable to believe what he was hearing.
Hercules listened in horror. Gods did Iolaus have a death wish? Had they driven him that far between them?
"I-I suppose it's partly that you're not that well endowed. I'd have thought a god would ..."
"Shut up! I'll show you, you little bastard!" Ares snarled.
Iolaus' body felt as if it was going to split apart, such was the violence of the assault that followed and it was only a short time before the longed for oblivion claimed him.
Feeling his victim's body go limp, Ares withdrew and sat up. He knew it was time he got back to the wars that should have been occupying his full attention. It was most annoying. There could be days when nothing happened and he longed for a good slaughter, but having set these conflicts nicely in motion, he now found himself torn. He'd been enjoying himself so much and he really wasn't ready to leave yet.
The problem was his current plot had not run its course. He needed more time. It had been very successful in causing the demigod extreme anguish and in hurting the little blond badly both mentally and physically and he knew he had set things up so the 'benefits' of the psychological upset would continue after his departure and, he expected, destroy the relationship between his victims. However, the plot had not succeeded in one very important aspect. He'd failed to humble the blond and he had so wanted to do that after their previous encounter.
Sure he'd had him on his knees and he'd used him physically just as he wanted, but he'd only managed these through force. He had hoped to so cower the hunter, especially when the latter realized he no longer had the demigod on his side, that Iolaus would be broken and would surrender to his will. That hadn't happened, but given more time perhaps it would.
'No,' he mused, 'I should be realistic. Iolaus will die before that happens. He's just stubborn enough to do that.'
He shook his head in grudging admiration. It was hard to credit that a mortal could have such a spirit. "And so admirably devious too,' he thought, as he belatedly realized the purpose behind the blond's final taunts.
Then a thought occurred to him and he cheered up. Once the relationship between the demigod and the hunter was completely shattered there were possibilities.
Previously he had only looked as far as the devastating effect on his hated brother when he lost Iolaus. He had recognized that the little blond was the vital force in his brother's life and had never made the mistake, that many mortals did, of assuming that Hercules was the strong one in that partnership. He had dwelt happily on the demigod's expected unhappiness, his loss of zest for life and his reluctance to continue on his chosen path of do-gooding without the hunter at his side.
Now he realized that he'd never bothered to think about the hunter's situation after the break-up. Of course, until recent events had shown him that Iolaus would not surrender, he had fondly imagined him as a broken reed and of no further consequence. However, he now realized that the blond was a prize worth retaining for his own amusement. Once he had split from Hercules, it would be an easy matter to take him into his permanent 'care'. He smiled lasciviously as he pictured that feisty, little beauty as a permanent, and entertainingly unwilling, fixture in his home.
But that was in the, hopefully not too distant, future. First, he had to carry out his part of the bargain he had made with the demigod. He turned to his brother and handed him a goblet of wine. Hercules took it automatically and gulped it down, never noticing the slight change of taste the sleeping potion gave it. Indeed, such was his distress that he would not have even noticed if it had been straight hemlock.
The god then turned to the unconscious hunter and placed his hands on his victim's chest. An eerie red light enveloped the hunter and his body was restored to full glowing health, just as the god of war had promised.
He gazed down at the creamy body and was disconcerted to find that his hand had wandered down between the blond's thighs of its own volition. He hurriedly pulled it away. If he started that again he'd never leave. Iolaus was a dangerous temptation and could become quite addictive.
On an impulse, he bent and kissed the cold lips with a gentleness that surprised himself. "Later, my pet," he whispered, although he knew Iolaus could not hear him, and vanished.
When Iolaus regained consciousness, it was night. To his shock, he found that his physical injuries were healed. 'I suppose Ares is just getting me ready for another attack," he thought bitterly.
However, the God of War was nowhere in evidence and the demigod was lying on the bed alongside Iolaus sleeping soundly.
Looking in disbelief at Hercules' peaceful face, illuminated by moonlight, Iolaus suddenly felt tears beginning to run unchecked down his own face. His hard-held control was shattering. 'How could he do that to me?' he wondered. 'What on earth did I do to warrant that?'
He eased himself carefully off the bed so as not to awaken the demigod and then fumbled on the dark floor for his clothes. He couldn't find his vest. Somehow he managed to don his trousers and boots
Blinded by tears, his body shaking with sobs, Iolaus stumbled from the cottage. He had no idea where he was going. He had only with one thought in mind: escape. Escape from his shame and the bitter anguish he felt at his lover's betrayal.
The icy rain had started again, but he was unaware of it. Escape. That was all he could think of.
But how could he evade a god? Ares could find him again in a moment if he chose.
And what about the demigod? The pain in his breast when he thought of his erstwhile lover's betrayal of his trust was almost incapacitating. Normally, it was Hercules who opened comforting arms to him whenever he was hurt or upset. Even as a boy, Hercules had been there for him, providing the love that his critical and often violent father denied him. For over twenty-five years, he had built his life around the demigod, the one person he could always trust to support him in a frequently hostile world and now that prop was gone.
Under normal circumstances, the only other person he might have gone to for unconditional help and love would have been Hercules' mother. Alcmene loved him, but Hercules was her beloved son and he knew he could never try to interfere in that relationship. Sure she had treated him as a third son, much to his grateful amazement, but he could never tell her what Hercules had done. Even if she believed him, and she had always been fair when dealing with any minor disputes between her three boys, he could not tell her such a story. She didn't deserve to have to face such upset.
There was no one else he could turn to. No one.
He ran wildly into the bush, occasionally falling or being scratched by low branches and rough bark and yet oblivious of this in his near panic.
His heart was thumping painfully, as though ready to burst from his breast. That was fine. He had no more use for the damned thing. If he hadn't loved the demigod so much he would never have given it into his keeping and then he would never have been so bloody vulnerable.
Visibility was nearly zero under the thick canopy of trees and he never saw the exposed tree root that felled him, wrenching his ankle around with an ominous cracking noise. He staggered to his feet only to find it could not support his weight and he fell again.
Frantic, he crawled until he found a smallish tree and dragged himself upright against it. Then he seized a low branch and swung on it. It was supple and hard to break off, but he persevered and finally it snapped off and he fell again.
He lay gasping with pain and fighting to keep his tenuous grip on consciousness.Then he stripped the branch of twigs and leaves. It wasn't much of a staff, being far too pliant, but it was the best he could do. He limped painfully on.
Finally, exhausted from his exertions, he could go no further. He sat down wearily, crouching against the trunk of a massive tree. Cold, damp and desperately upset he didn't care whether he lived or died.
He had never spent a night like the one that followed. Aching with hurt, he felt absolutely shattered, wrung out. His emotions were in a state of near chaos. His nerves were stretched to breaking point. The slightest noise frightened him in case it portended the arrival of the God of War. A feeling of raw, cold vulnerability gripped him as he recognized that resistance to Ares was hopeless. He couldn't defeat him by himself.
Hercules awoke the next day, to the terrifying realization that he was alone. Had Ares taken Iolaus with him? He'd made no promise not to do so. Dressing hurriedly he rushed outside and, with relief, found Iolaus' footprints in the soft, muddy ground. At least, Ares had left the hunter and he did believe that the dark god would have carried out his promise to restore Iolaus ... *physically*.
The full significance of that word hit him like a hammer-blow between the eyes. He realized that his half-brother had been responsible for the deep sleep into which he had fallen. The war god had probably watched Iolaus' flight with amusement, knowing that by the time the demigod awoke the distraught mortal could be miles away.
He might never find Iolaus, never get a chance to explain to him why he had acted as he had done. And how desperate was Iolaus? What if he was so upset that he did something foolish? Hercules felt light-headed with fear and knew he was near to panic.
He went back into the cottage and gathered their gear. No matter where he found Iolaus he was sure that the little blond would not want to return to the cottage and he knew that he never wanted to go there again. The peaceful refuge from the cares of the world had become a place of nightmare for them both.
The only good thing was that, in his hurry, Iolaus had not had time to obliterate his tracks, indeed, his upset had been such that he never even gave it a thought. The soft ground showed a clear trail that even the demigod, with his indifferent bushcraft, could easily follow.
He knew the hunter had had several hours head start, however, so he was anything but sanguine about his chances of catching-up to him.
Three hours later, he could hardly belief his luck when he spotted Iolaus, huddled, small and bedraggled, his leather's wet from the rain, against a tree trunk.
The hunter's broken ankle had swollen badly during the night and he had found himself unable to go on. He had pulled his boot off to relieve the pressure, but could do nothing else for his injury.
Hearing Hercules' cry of joy at his discovery, he twisted around and gazed at the demigod with wide-eyed apprehension, not to say fear.
Hercules saw the pain in Iolaus' eyes. He knew he had hurt him terribly. He reached out what was intended as a comforting hand, but the blond flinched and his eyes welled with tears.
"Please don't, Hercules." The hunter, who never begged was pleading now. "Please don't touch me. Please d-don't ... don't make me go back." His voice was broken and defeated, his eyes awash and huge.
"Iolaus, it's all right, Ares has gone."
"How can I ... W-Why should I b-believe you?"
"I've never lied to you, Iolaus."
"What about y-yesterday then?"
"I didn't lie, Iolaus. I *did* have an agreement with Ares. I just couldn't explain why."
"I n-never thought you'd ... I trusted ... Oh, gods, I never ..." He broke off as tears overwhelmed him again. He flung an arm up to hide his face.
Hercules put out a gentle hand to touch his shoulder and the hunter jerked away as if he'd been burnt. "No! Don't! I can't stand to ... Don't touch me! Just go away!"
"Iolaus, please listen to me. Let me explain."
"No, I-I don't want you n-near me."
"Iolaus, please! I didn't have any choice about what happened."
"If ... If you c-couldn't stop him, you still sh-shouldn't have ... you didn't have to ... to help him."
"I *had* to. There was no other way. Please listen to me."
"Hercules, j-just go. Please, just go! I c-can't stand this."
Hercules could hear the note of hysteria in his beloved friend's voice. There was no way that he could leave him like this. He tried another tack. "What have you done to your ankle, Iolaus?"
"Nothing! Why can't you just *go*?"
Hercules knew he had no choice. It was clear that the hunter could not walk or he'd never have caught up to him so soon. He couldn't leave him.
He opened his carry-bag and took out a blanket and went to wrap in around the blond's shoulders, but Iolaus pushed it off.
There was nothing for it. He was going to have to force the hunter to accept his help and constraint was the last thing he needed in his condition and was certainly not going to convince him of the demigod's good intentions. Reluctantly, he knelt down, flung the blanket around the blond and seized hold of him.
Iolaus began to fight ferociously, punching and struggling. Then, when the demigod had managed to pull him against his chest, pinning his arms to his sides, he leant forward and bit him. The sharp, unexpected pain so surprised Hercules that he let go of Iolaus and the hunter fell, crying out in pain as he landed on his ankle.
He would still not accept help, trying to crawl away when Hercules reached for him.
Hercules had to hold him down and take his belt to tie his hands. Then he ripped off a strip of blanket to use as a gag if necessary and wrapped the blanket itself around Iolaus. "I'm not taking you back to the cottage, Iolaus. I'm taking you to Parnon. It's the nearest village and should be big enough to have a healer," he said. "I promise I'm not going to hurt you, but if you bite me again I'll have to gag you."
He then gathered Iolaus into his arms and set off.
For most of the journey, the hunter lay quietly. Hercules could feel him wriggling slightly and knew he was working at his bonds, but was unlikely to succeed in getting loose.
He made no further attempt to reason with the hunter or to explain, fearing that that might stir Iolaus up again.
"Nearly there," he finally announced.
The hunter started at his words and then began to struggle once more. Hercules stopped and lowered him to the ground. He put his arms around him and stroked his hair, trying to soothe him.
"No! Don't! Wasn't yesterday enough for you? Don't make me go back to him."
"Iolaus, I told you Ares has gone. I meant we're nearly at Parnon. I told you we weren't going back to the cottage."
It was very worrying. For the hunter to be unaware of the direction they had travelled was a measure of just how confused and upset he was. Hercules would have staked his life, and indeed had done so many times in the past, on Iolaus' bushcraft.
He could feel the sturdy little body shaking as he picked him up once more and continued on.
In a very short time, they were at the village outskirts and a local was directing Hercules to the healer.
Anchimolius, an elderly man, showed him into the room where he conducted his surgery.
Hercules placed the hunter on the bed and then turned him onto his side to free his hands.
"Why was he bound?" the old man asked, looking at the dishevelled blond's red eyes and tearstained face.
"He's been a bit upset. He didn't want me to carry him, but I had to because he couldn't walk."
"You leave him with me and ..."
"I'd rather stay."
Anchimolius turned to his patient. "What do you want?"
"I want him to go. I d-don't want him ... near me."
"Right, that's it then. Off you go. I'll send a boy to tell you when he's ready."
Hercules had no real choice. "I'll wait at the tavern."
As soon as the door closed behind the demigod, the healer said, "We'd better have those wet clothes off."
Iolaus just stared at him, his eyes fearful and did nothing, so the healer reached for Iolaus' codpiece. The hunter pushed his hands away. "No! Don't touch me."
"Don't be stupid, boy. You'll catch your death lying around in them. Now are you taking them off or do I have to call your friend back to help me?"
"N-No! I-I'll do it."
He fumbled with the codpiece and opened it and the healer helped him slide them off. He gave the hunter a blanket to cover himself and then mixed up a herbal concoction. "Here, drink this."
"What is it?"
"It'll help with the pain when I reset your ankle." He did not mention that the drink would render his patient unconscious.
A few minutes later, Iolaus was out to it. The healer set his ankle and then looked for other injuries. His wrists were chafed from his attempts to free himself from his bonds and he had numerous cuts, scratches and bruises from his flight through the woods, but nothing serious, certainly nothing to explain the tears and the fear in his eyes when he looked at Hercules. Still something was clearly not right.
He knew it was none of his business, but he was a dedicated healer, who always tried to do the best he could for his patients so he decided to speak to the little blond before calling his friend back.
As soon as Iolaus began to revive, he was waiting to question him. "Iolaus?"
"No! Pl-Please don't! Don't touch me!" He flung up his arms to ward the person off. He had no idea who was speaking to him, but wasn't taking any chances.
The old man clasped his hands, showing surprising strength for a man his age. That got the blond more agitated than ever and he started to struggle.
Anchimolius let go with one hand and slapped him across the face. "Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you."
Iolaus flung himself off the bed and onto the floor, crying out with pain as he landed on his injured ankle.
Anchimolius hastened to the door and called out to a couple of his neighbours to help him get the blond back on the bed. They held him there while the healer strapped him down.
After they'd departed, he rechecked the ankle. Fortunately the fall had not done more damage.
Iolaus was breathing rapidly, hyperventilating. "Let me up! Please don't touch me!" he gasped, repeatedly.
The "don't touch me"s raised a suspicion in the healer's mind. He released one of the hunter's legs and rolled him onto his side, checking around his thighs and anus. There were no suspicious bruises, as Ares' healing had been thorough, but the scream of fear and the bucking of the blond's body during the examination suggested his worry was justified.
He lowered Iolaus onto his back and put a blanket over him. Then he said, as gently as he could, "Iolaus, my name is Anchimolius. I'm a healer. I'm trying to help you. I need to you to tell me what he did to you so I can help you."
"Who did you say?"
Anchimolius repeated himself and added, "You're safe now. I won't let him near you. Just tell me what he did."
Thinking that the healer meant Ares, Iolaus whispered, "Raped me." His voice was so low Anchimolius could barely make out the words, but it was enough.
"Don't worry. You're safe now. I won't let him back in here. Now I have another drink for you." Given the hunter's upset, he thought it best to put him out again.
Once the drug had done its work, he called his wife and told her to sit with the patient. He then headed to the tavern.
Hercules saw him approaching and headed out to meet him. "How is he? Can I see him now?"
The old man glared at him. "I don't know how you have the nerve to ask after what you've done to him. He doesn't want to see you and I've just come to tell you to clear off and leave him alone."
"But I need to see him to explain ..."
"I don't think you can explain away raping him."
"But that's ridiculous! I didn't rape him," Hercules protested.
"He says you did."
"He's confused. It wasn't me."
"So you do agree that he has been raped?"
"Yes, but ..."
"You'd better leave."
"Look, I *didn't* do it. It was Ares!"
"Ares? The God of War?"
"I don't know how you can stand there and expect me to believe such rubbish. You're either mad or you think I'm a fool. The gods have nothing to do with the likes of you and me. Now I think you'd better go."
"I think I'll have to as my presence is making Iolaus worse. I know you don't believe that I am innocent, but I'd like you to do one thing for me." He thrust a small bag of coins into the healer's hand. "Take your fee out of these and give him the rest. He'll need money for food, as he won't be able to hunt with that injury. Tell him it's a loan from you. He'll try to refuse it, but please insist that he takes it."
"All right." The healer looked at him in puzzlement. The gesture and the manner of the man made him doubt the veracity of Iolaus' story, but then the latter's upset was clear and he could see no reason for the little blond to invent such a tale.
"Thank you." The demigod turned on his heel and walked off without looking back.
Iolaus was with the healer for only four days. Against the latter's advice, he was determined to leave. Anchimolius felt he was in no shape physically or mentally to contemplate a journey.
The healer was absolutely convinced that the hunter had been assaulted. The words he babbled during his frequent nightmares had made that all too clear. However, what had really thrown Anchimolius was the fact that, from what he heard, Ares had indeed been responsible. However, the other man, 'Herc' seemed to be his name, had clearly been present and had helped the God of War, even if he hadn't actually raped the little blond himself. Perhaps he had given his assistance reluctantly, out of fear of the war god, but he had had some part in it.
Iolaus insisted that he would be happier heading home. He worried about the bill, but Anchimolius told him the demigod had settled it before he left and then he pressed the 'loan' upon the reluctant hunter. He had a hard job making him take it, but finally Iolaus gave in, promising to send him the money as soon as possible and inwardly vowing to spend as little of it as he could.
He decided to head for his home. He could think of nowhere else to go and maybe he could do some smithing to get money to repay Anchimolius.
The journey was long and taxing. He had to keep to known tracks and roads because his crutches were difficult to manage in long grass. This meant he was likely to meet people and he did not feel up to socializing. There was also more danger from bandits, who watched the roads preying on travellers. Although he looked anything but well heeled, some would rob simply for a good sword or knife and others would attack an apparently easy victim solely for the hell of it.
However, to his considerable surprise, he made the journey unmolested, although he had the strangest sensation that there were constantly eyes upon him, a feeling that he scornfully and self-deprecatingly attributed to shattered nerves. As far as the freedom from attack was concerned, 'Perhaps it's Herc who attracts the bandits,' he thought, recalling the numerous ambushes they had suffered over the years. 'I guess they don't think I'm worth bothering about.'
However, unbeknownst to the hunter he did have someone watching over him: Aphrodite.
After Hercules had left Anchimolius, he had made inquiries as to the nearest temple dedicated to Aphrodite and had gone to speak to her as one of the few of his relatives that he liked and trusted. He had told her the story and had asked her to keep an eye on Iolaus and to tell him where the hunter was so he could follow at a safe distance. Aphrodite was exceptionally fond of Sweet-cheeks, as she had dubbed Iolaus, and so had agreed to undertake the task for Hercules. Thus, on several occasions, potentially hostile bandits had been just on the point of attacking a certain little blond when, for some inexplicable reason, they had found themselves frozen in their tracks until he was well out of sight.
Iolaus was standing in his forge. He had been home for two weeks. Unfortunately, the familiar surroundings had not brought the comfort he had hoped. Too many things reminded him of Hercules. How could he fear the demigod so much and yet miss him and need him? His mood was one of absolute despondency and loneliness.
No, he really couldn't stay there, but the trouble was he had nowhere else he wanted to go. A kind of ennui had crept over him enveloping him completely. Even fishing and hunting had lost their appeal, while going anywhere he might meet people he knew was absolute anathema to him. They would be certain to ask after Hercules and would expect the hunter to be full of his usual stories of his friend. No, he couldn't face that.
Just when he was thinking that things couldn't really get much worse, he was aware of a presence behind him. He swung around and there was his worst nightmare, towering over him, with a sardonic smile on his dark features. "Good morning, my pet, you're not looking very happy. Have you been missing me?"
Iolaus took an involuntary step backwards, while trying to suppress his rising panic and mustering his resources to speak as defiantly as he could. Actually it was easier to do this without the demigod being present. With Ares he could concentrate on his pure hatred for the god, but when Hercules had been present the feeling of hurt, from the totally unexpected betrayal of his absolute love and trust, had undermined that emotion. "I'd miss bubonic plague before I'd miss you," he retorted, amazed that his voice rang out without a tremor.
"That's *my* little pet," Ares approved, "as stroppy as ever. I can see we're going to have a lot of fun together."
"What do you mean *together*?"
"I've come to collect you, my pet. Now that you've split up with my dearest brother, I won't have to worry about him seeking you out and he won't bother either of us again."
Iolaus was perplexed by the last phrase. "I thought you and Hercules had reached a so-called understanding?"
Ares grinned broadly. "That's what you were meant to think, my pet. Let me tell you a little story." Then, positively gloating at his cleverness, he told the hunter the true story of the events.
Iolaus listened white-faced, as he realized how he had misjudged his beloved friend and thought about what both Ares and he had made the demigod go through. "B-But why have you waited this long? Why d-didn't you just take me with you while Herc was drugged?"
"Ah, that was one of my more clever moves. If I'd done that, my annoying brother would have come after you and might even have succeeded, by some fluke, in snatching you back. This way, he won't even be looking for you. He knows you don't want to have anything to do with him and so, if he doesn't see you again, he'll just think it's because you're deliberately avoiding him. He'll probably assume you've gone bush or maybe even left Greece. I believe you've often told him about your travels in the East."
Iolaus knew that this was all too likely, but he wasn't going to go without a fight. With what he knew now, it was absolutely imperative that he see Hercules again. The latter might not want him back after all the fuss he'd caused, but he *had* to apologize and make sure that the demigod knew he was aware of the true story and no longer believed he had betrayed him.
Accordingly, he backed towards a table where a sword he had recently made was lying. Snatching this up, he brandished it towards Ares.
The dark god laughed. "That's the spirit, my pet. You're going to provide me with hours of entertainment," he said, as he carelessly waved one hand.
The sword flew out of the hunter's hand and buried itself deeply in the back wall of the forge.
Iolaus glanced around for another weapon. His crutches were the nearest and he tried a clumsy dive for them, but Ares simply appeared in front of him blocking his route.
"We might as well go now, Iolaus, since I can see you're keen to accompany me," he announced, smirking, and took a step towards him.
However, that was as far as he got. He found himself bumping straight into an immovable object as the demigod materialized in front of him, with Aphrodite beside him.
Hercules swung an iron fist into his brother's face and the God of War was flung backwards into the wall.
Aphrodite turned to the hunter and flung her arms protectively around him, clutching him to her breast and almost smothering him in the process. She was a goddess, but her beautiful form tended to make one forget she had all of her kind's strength as well. He'd never known her so demonstrative and could only hope Hephaestus was not watching. A forge was probably not the safest place to be embraced in by the lover of the God of Fire and Smiths.
He managed to turn his head to watch the fight between the two brothers. Surprisingly, the God of War seemed to be having a very difficult time. Iolaus could never recall having seen Hercules fight with such determination, not to say savagery. One wall of the forge had been shattered and the fight had moved outside.
Finally, the dark god threw up a hand and said, "That's enough, little brother. You'll appreciate that I have other 'engagements' to attend. I hadn't realized you were still interested in our little friend but, since you are, I'll leave him in your tender care ... for the moment," and vanished.
Hercules turned back towards Iolaus and Aphrodite and stood looking at his beloved hunter. Aphrodite released her grip on the blond. "Go to him, Sweet-cheeks," she said, giving him a little push.
Hesitantly, fearful of his reception, the hunter began to limp towards the demigod. The latter opened his arms and Iolaus literally fell into them. He might have feared being smothered by Aphrodite, but it was now more likely that he'd be crushed, so tightly was Hercules holding him.
The demigod swung him into his arms and buried his face in the soft golden curls. Iolaus raised a face wet with tears to find the demigod was weeping too.
With eyes only for each other, they were barely aware of Aphrodite's farewell. The demigod had the hunter protectively cradled against him and was already heading for the house, while Iolaus was snuggling into the embrace, with not one of his usual complaints about being carried. Iolaus was exactly where he wanted to be, which was just as well since the demigod had absolutely no intention of ever releasing his hold on *his* hunter.