The author does not own the characters from the series. They belong to MCA/Universal. We all know that. We're not making any money from this. We're just having fun. Okay?
This story contains explicit descriptions of male/male sexual relations.
Check out Nephele's Herculean Slash page.
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This one's for Valentin.
He woke with a start, drenched in sweat. He looked over at the man on the other side of the campfire. 'Good,' he thought. 'I didn't wake him.' The blond man got up from his blankets and left the clearing.
A few minutes, and a quick wash in a nearby stream later, he returned to camp. He straightened his bedding and settled back down. It was useless. He couldn't get back to sleep. He couldn't even relax. He sat up, staring across the clearing at his companion, his friend. 'What am I going to do?'
He watched as the firelight played across the bigger man's sleeping form. The flames sparked highlights in his thick, honey-brown hair and bronzed his tan skin. He looked like a sculpture, like a talented artist's representation of perfection.
He felt himself growing hard, again. He groaned in frustration as he once again left the clearing.
Dawn. Another beautiful day. Hercules stretched out the kinks acquired during the night. He glanced over at the sleeping man on the other side of their camp.
"Iolaus, it's morning."
He walked over and nudged the smaller man with his foot. "Wake up, Iolaus. We've got to get moving."
The blond groaned and made shooing motions at his tormentor. "Go 'way."
Hercules chuckled, shaking his head. He reached down, grabbed a double fist-full of ragged vest and hauled his friend to his feet.
"All right already, I'm up!" Iolaus swatted his friend's hands away and knelt to gather up his things.
Hercules just laughed. "Good morning to you too."
They had made good time so far. Hercules was hoping to reach Volos before dark. It would be good to spend the night in an inn for a change and he was a little worried about Iolaus. The hunter had been unusually quiet all day and there were dark smudges under his eyes. 'I hope he's not coming down with something.'
For his part, Iolaus would have preferred a nice normal illness. He was going out of his mind. He hadn't been able to just sleep through the night for days. 'What's wrong with me?' He kept expecting to see Aphrodite appear in a cloud of laughter. That would at least make sense. He'd been attracted to Hercules for a long time, but it had always been a sort of background noise. Now it was standing right in front of him, screaming at the top of its lungs. He couldn't stop thinking about his friend. Day or night, all he could do was imagine the two of them together. He pictured them doing everything, everywhere, every how. Iolaus had a good imagination, too good. Aphrodite or not, something had to give soon or he'd go mad for sure.
When he heard the blond hunter groan, Hercules turned to him in concern. "Iolaus, are you all right?" He placed a hand casually on the smaller man's shoulder. There was nothing casual about the reaction he got. Iolaus jerked away with a startled yelp.
"Don't touch me!"
"Iolaus?" The demigod moved closer to his friend.
"No, don't...I can't...I'm sorry." With that the hunter turned away and fled. He left the road and headed into the surrounding countryside. It was a panic response. He had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get away. Iolaus ran as fast as his legs would go.
He was fast, but he was mortal. Hercules had been caught by surprise when Iolaus bolted. Now he was gaining on him. He had no idea what was causing this strange behavior but he had no intention of letting Iolaus just run away, especially when there was obviously something wrong with him.
Iolaus saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and veered away. Hercules was faster. The demigod tackled his friend and they both went down in a tangled heap. The smaller man continued to struggle, trying to get away.
"Iolaus, stop it!" Hercules straddled the hunter, pinning him to the ground. He grabbed the flailing arms. Leaning forward, he pressed Iolaus' hands to the ground. The blond continued to squirm, still bent on escape. His face was beet red from the exertion. He looked furious.
"Get off me!"
"Calm down, Iolaus. I'll let you up in a minute." Hercules tried to keep his voice calm. "Just tell me what's going on with you. And don't tell me you're fine. It's obvious that you're not."
The hunter had calmed somewhat, recognizing the futility of his struggle. "Herc, please. Just let me go."
"I can't do that, Iolaus. Not without an explanation."
"Please." Iolaus' voice broke.
Hercules was alarmed to see the tears on his friend's face. "Iolaus, talk to me."
"I can't, I..." He was sobbing now.
The demigod moved over and pulled Iolaus up into a hug. "Please, let me help you. I can't stand seeing you like this. I don't know what to do." He was pleading now. "Tell me what's wrong, please? Tell me how I can help."
The hunter put his arms around Hercules, accepting the comfort he was offering. He couldn't speak, not yet. The strain and fatigue of the past few days were flowing out with his tears. He held tight to his beloved friend and cried.
Hercules smoothed his charge's wild hair. He began rocking back and forth making soothing noises while Iolaus cried himself out.
At long last the smaller man quieted. Still, he clung to the demigod. Hercules didn't mind. He was willing to stay like this as long as Iolaus wanted. He just wished he knew what had caused the hunter's distress. Finally, Iolaus relaxed his hold, sagging against his friend's chest.
No response. Hercules drew back to look at him. He almost laughed when he realized that the hunter had fallen asleep. He set Iolaus down carefully then went about setting up camp right where they were. He was hoping that Iolaus would sleep through the night. He certainly looked like he needed the rest. Volos would still be there tomorrow, as would the inn. After all this, they were definitely spending at least one night there.
Iolaus' earlier attempt to run away had Hercules concerned. 'What if he wakes in the night and takes off again?' He finally decide the only way to prevent it and still get some sleep himself was to keep hold of his friend all night. He stretched out next to him and drew the smaller man into his embrace. He moved carefully, not wanting to wake the hunter.
Once he was sure Iolaus was settled securely in his arms, he composed himself for sleep. He was a little surprised at how good this felt. It had been a long time since he'd slept with someone he cared about snuggled against him. He slept well.
Iolaus was too exhausted to dream. He slept the night through. When he finally stirred, he saw that Hercules was already up and about.
"Iolaus." He came over and squatted next to him. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," the hunter sighed. "I'm sorry about all that yesterday. I don't know what got into me."
"You don't know what caused it?"
Iolaus couldn't tell him the truth. "I guess I was just tired. I haven't been sleeping too well lately."
The demigod looked skeptical but decided not to push. "We're almost to Volos. I was thinking of spending at least one night at the inn there. Maybe a night or two in a real bed will help."
"Sounds good, Herc. Breakfast sounds better."
Hercules laughed at that and went back to his cooking.
Iolaus' flight had taken them away from Volos. They didn't arrive until early afternoon. Their first stop was at a tavern for lunch.
Iolaus seemed to be back to normal. Hercules decided to risk leaving him alone while he went to the inn to arrange for their night's lodgings. That accomplished, he returned to the tavern.
He could hear the voices while still a good distance away. The shouts and laughter of several men were easily identified. The demigod rushed in, more than half expecting to find Iolaus in the middle of a fight.
He was in the middle of a crowd, all right. A noisy group of men had gathered around the hunter, but not to fight. Hercules was relieved to discover that his friend was simply entertaining the crowd with one of his stories.
The way Iolaus exaggerated, it took the hero quite a while to recognize which of their adventures was being related. When he finally did figure it out he laughed along with the other listeners.
The afternoon passed pleasantly. The other patrons of the tavern cheerfully kept them well supplied with ale in order to keep Iolaus talking. For once, all the belligerent people had stayed home. It made a nice change.
Both men were yawning hugely by the time Hercules decided they should call it a night. Iolaus had just settled back after finishing his last story.
"Come on, Iolaus."
"What 'come on?' I'm tired, Herc."
The demigod draped an arm across his friend's shoulders and smiled. "I know, that's why I got a room for the night. I think it's about time we go make use of it."
The hunter let Hercules lead him over to the inn, his mind filling up the time imagining alternate meanings to what he knew had been an innocent statement. At the inn, Hercules steered him up the stairs and over to their room. Once in the door, however, Iolaus froze. 'Oh no,' he thought. 'There's only one bed. I can not do this!'
Oblivious to the smaller man's distress, Hercules moved on into the room. He dumped his things in a convenient corner and headed toward the bed. Sitting on the edge, he started removing his boots. He'd just gotten the second one off when he realized that Iolaus was still standing by the door. He looked over at the hunter and was alarmed by what he saw. Iolaus had gone pale and, even from across the room, Hercules could see him trembling. He was at his friend's side almost before he'd decided to move.
"Iolaus, are you all right?" He put a hand on the blond's shoulder, only to have that shoulder jerk away from his touch.
"You don't look fine. You're not acting normal, either." He reached out again, taking a firm hold this time. Hercules pulled Iolaus over to the bed and pushed him down to sit on it. He knelt down and started unfastening the hunter's boots. "You just need a good night's sleep, Iolaus. I'm sure you'll be fine tomorrow." He wasn't sure at all.
Iolaus felt like he was going to jump right out of his skin. Hercules had his boots off and moved as if he meant to start on his belts. That was too much. He scooted back across the bed. "I'm not a baby, you know. I can undress myself!"
Hercules looked baffled at the outburst. "Fine then, go ahead." The demigod moved between his friend and the door, just in case, and finished getting ready for bed.
After a short pause, Iolaus slid off the bed and removed the rest of his clothes. As soon as he'd finished, he slipped under the blankets. He moved as far to one side as was possible and turned away from the room and Hercules. When he felt the bed shifting under the demigod's weight he tried to move even further away.
"Iolaus, what's wrong? Talk to me, please?"
"I'm fine, I'm just tired. Goodnight, Herc."
Hercules sighed in frustration. He knew something more was going on, but for now he let it drop. In the morning, though, he'd make Iolaus talk to him. Until then, he'd just make sure the hunter didn't try to run off again.
Despite his intentions, Hercules almost missed it when Iolaus crept out of bed a few hours later. If the demigod hadn't had such a tight grip on the blankets, he might have slept through it.
"Iolaus?" Hercules grabbed an arm, halting him. "Where are you going?"
"Sorry, Herc." The hunter kept his eyes turned away. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"Obviously. Why were you sneaking off?"
"I just...I wasn't tired. I thought I'd take a walk or something."
Hercules took hold of his friend's shoulders and pulled him around until they were face to face. "Iolaus, a couple of hours ago you were too tired to talk to me. Now you're too awake to stay in bed. What's going on?"
"I'm sorry, Hercules."
"I don't want an apology, Iolaus. I want an explanation!"
"I know." The blond dropped his eyes, unable to meet his friend's worried gaze. Unfortunately, his new view was even more disconcerting. Iolaus quickly shifted so that he was looking off over Hercules' left shoulder. "Look, Herc, I know I haven't been acting exactly normal lately."
The demigod snorted at that understatement. "So tell me what's wrong. Let me help you."
"I can't. It's not something you can help me with, not this time. And," he added softly, "if you knew, you wouldn't want to help."
"Just leave it, Herc." Iolaus slipped free of his friend's grasp and slid back into the bed, back to the room and Hercules again.
Hercules had had enough. He'd been patient, waiting for Iolaus to talk to him. It was clear now that he was going to have to force the issue. He grabbed the other man's arms, pulling him up and around.
"Iolaus," he began once they were face to face. "You are going to tell me what's bothering you and you're going to do it now!"
The hunter struggled briefly, but Hercules was not giving in this time. "You really want to know?"
"Yes!" The exasperation in the demigod's voice was obvious.
Iolaus leaned forward and kissed Hercules full on the lips. After a stunned moment, the demigod reacted. He pushed Iolaus away, to surprised to hold back on his strength. The smaller man hit the wall with all the force from Hercules' shove. There was a loud thump on impact, then Iolaus collapsed forward.
Hercules stared at his friend for a moment, still caught up in the shock of that kiss. Until he realized that Iolaus wasn't moving.
"Iolaus? Gods, no!"
He reached out and felt for a pulse, not daring to breathe until he found it. Once reassured that he hadn't actually killed his best friend, he took the time to find and light a lamp. Now that he could see more than shadows, Hercules turned back to examine Iolaus.
Blood stained the golden hair. The demigod wiped it away gently. The wound that was revealed was thankfully very small. He bandaged it anyway, just to be safe. Hercules then turned Iolaus over onto his back and straightened him out on the bed. There didn't seem to be anything else for him to do, so he settled back. He would just watch over Iolaus until he woke. While he watched, he had time to think over what had happened.
Hercules had been caught completely by surprise by that kiss. He had had no idea that Iolaus felt that way. No wonder his friend had been uncomfortable, especially sharing a bed. They hadn't had that problem before, though. 'I wonder what changed?' he thought. 'And why?' He'd have to wait for Iolaus to wake so he could ask those questions.
He turned his thoughts to questions that he needed to answer. How did he feel about Iolaus now? That one was easy. He loved his friend, always had and he always would. Did he love him that way, though? He wasn't sure, maybe. Why, then, had he reacted so violently? He went over that moment in his head, analyzing what he'd felt at the time.
It was shock, pure and simple. Hercules had spent the last couple of days worrying about Iolaus. He'd thought the hunter was sick or perhaps being bothered by some god. He'd expected to have to drag the information out of Iolaus, force him to talk. Instead, his friend had kissed him. He'd been so surprised he'd just shoved, not even thinking enough to control his strength. He was lucky the other man hadn't been more seriously injured. Hercules could have killed him.
That was a frightening thought. He knew he'd be devastated if the hunter died. How much worse, then, if it was by Hercules' own hand? He wouldn't have been able to live with himself. It would have ended his life, too.
He shook himself, trying to clear those morbid thoughts. 'It didn't happen,' he assured himself. 'I didn't kill him. I couldn't.'
He looked at the man beside him, just watching. Iolaus was breathing more deeply now. He looked like he was just asleep. Hercules reached out, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Iolaus?" He gave that shoulder a gentle shake. "Iolaus, wake up. Please?"
The blond came awake instantly. He cast about for a moment as if looking for danger.
"Iolaus, are you all right?"
"What?" Iolaus seemed confused at first. A moment later his eyes cleared and he turned to his friend. "Herc, I'm sorry. I...I shouldn't have done that. Can we just forget it ever happened?" The last was spoken with a hopeful lilt.
"I don't think so."
Iolaus' face fell at those words and Hercules hurried to reassure him. "Don't worry. I'm not angry. I just don't think we can ignore this. Unless, you didn't mean it?"
The hunter wanted to grasp the straw Hercules offered him, but it would be a lie. He couldn't do it. He turned away without saying anything.
Hercules settled back next to Iolaus. He took one of the small, strong hands in his, needing to keep that connection. He used his free hand to turn the blond head around until their eyes met. There was pain in the other man's eyes. Pain and apprehension.
"How long have you felt this way?"
Iolaus considered not answering, but knew it wouldn't solve anything. Either he'd destroyed their friendship or he hadn't. It would be best to find out for sure. >"I guess I've always been, I don't know, attracted to you. It's just that lately I can't stop thinking about it, about you and me together. I'm sorry."
"You don't have anything to apologize for. If that's how you feel, then that's how you feel. There's nothing wrong with it."
"But," the hunter interrupted, "I shouldn't have acted on those feelings."
The demigod sighed. "Well, I'll admit you surprised me. I'm just glad I finally know what's been bothering you. You had me worried, my friend."
"Am I still your friend?"
"Never doubt it." Hercules pulled the other man into a hug.
Iolaus held himself stiffly at first, afraid to return the embrace. Gradually, he relaxed. They stayed that way for a while. Iolaus was the first to pull away. "What happens now, Herc?"
"I'm not sure. You've given me a lot to think about. What do you want to happen?"
"I don't want to lose you. Our friendship is the most important relationship in my life."
He pulled Iolaus in for another quick hug. "I wouldn't want to lose you either. So, that's what you don't want. I still want to know what you do want. Pretend this is just a dream and you can say anything you like."
"I want to love you...to make love to you."
"That's what I thought." Hercules was silent for a moment, thinking. "Is this a one-time thing, Iolaus? Remember, this is still a dream. You can say whatever you want."
"I love you, Hercules. I don't think that'll change any time soon."
Hercules leaned over and extinguished the lamp. "I need to think about this for a bit, sleep on it. Don't worry, though. Whatever I decide, we'll always be friends. Try and get some sleep, okay?"
"I'll try." The hunter didn't sound to hopeful about his prospects. Any of them.
Hercules hadn't slept at all. He looked at Iolaus, the weak light barely illuminating him. The hunter had been tossing and turning for hours. Sometimes it just looked like restlessness. Other times, he was obviously dreaming.
It had taken Hercules most of the night, but he'd finally come to some conclusions. He loved Iolaus. There had never been any question about that. He had never before considered turning that love into something physical; not consciously, anyway. Now that his friend had forced him to think about it, though, he found the idea appealing.
While he'd been thinking things through he'd come up with an explanation for some of his own behavior. He always gave Iolaus a hard time about all the women the blond flirted with. Everywhere they went, it seemed, he found beautiful, willing women. Sometimes Hercules' teasing went a little too far, became hurtful. Now he realized that it was because he was jealous. And not because he wanted the women; the one he wanted, was afraid of losing, was Iolaus. He wanted Iolaus.
He scooted closer, pulling the smaller man into his arms. "Iolaus, wake up."
He'd been dreaming. Actually, it was more of a nightmare. Hercules had turned him away. He'd told Iolaus he never wanted to see him again. Then it all changed. Someone was holding him, calling to him. He woke to find himself wrapped in the demigod's arms. 'I'm probably still dreaming,' he thought, snuggling closer.
Hercules turned the hunter's face to his with one hand. When their eyes met, he smiled. "I love you," he whispered then leaned forward for a kiss. This time, both sides were more than willing, if a little uncertain.
'If this is a dream,' Iolaus thought, 'don't wake me!' Hercules, his Hercules was kissing him. He shivered slightly when he felt the other man's tongue brush across his lips and dart into his mouth. Suddenly that tongue seemed everywhere at once. Hercules was probing every corner of his mouth. When the demigod's tongue found the ticklish spot just behind his teeth, he couldn't help squirming.
'Ah,' thought Hercules. 'I found a sensitive spot.' He ran his tongue across it several more times. He wanted to memorize the exact spot and determine just how much pressure to use. He practiced a couple more times just to make sure he had it right. Iolaus squirmed every time. He pushed the hunter down on to his back and followed, still kissing him, hoping to find more sensitive spots.
When Hercules finally pulled broke that first kiss, Iolaus was flushed and panting. "Gods," he breathed. "If that's how you kiss, I don't think I'm going to survive anything more!"
"I better stop, then," the demigod teased.
"Don't you dare!" Iolaus pulled him back for another kiss. This time Hercules was the one squirming. While they kissed, the hunter's hands began exploring the body that lay half on top of him. He'd waited so long for this. He wanted to savor every moment, but he didn't think he was going to be able to last long enough.
Hercules ran his hands down the smaller man's chest and belly, stroking and pressing every bit of him. The skin under his hands was like satin, smooth and soft. 'How did someone who lived as hard as Iolaus manage to have such soft skin?' he wondered. If the skin was soft, the muscle beneath was anything but. The demigod had touched his friend before, of course, but never when he was concentrating on the feel of him. It was a revelation. 'If he feels this good,' Hercules mused, 'I wonder what he tastes like?' He decided to find out.
"Herc!" It came out half cry, half moan, as he felt his friend's, no, his lover's tongue teasing at one of his nipples. Iolaus had almost lost it when Hercules began kissing and licking his throat. Then that wonderful mouth had moved further down and he gave up any semblance of control. The hunter's own hands and mouth were busy exploring. He wanted to do everything at once. It was more than a little overwhelming to finally be here. One of his hands strayed low enough to find clear evidence that Hercules was enjoying this as much as he was. Hard evidence. He couldn't help giggling at that thought.
Iolaus' giggle rippled through his belly just as Hercules' explorations brought his mouth down to it. He'd always loved the sound of Iolaus' laughter. Now he was enjoying the feel of it as well. He wanted more. That was becoming the theme of the day. Every new sensation he discovered in himself, every reaction he got out of his friend, he wanted more. While his tongue continued exploring the hard planes of Iolaus' abdomen, his hands began searching for ticklish spots.
'What's he doing?' Iolaus only had to wonder for a moment. 'Oh gods, no. He's tickling me!' He couldn't help struggling, trying to push those teasing hands away. It worked, too, but not for long.
Hercules stopped tickling so that he could catch the hunter's hands. Then the demigod transferred both of Iolaus' wrists into one large hand. The free hand then resumed its teasing. The smaller man's struggles were unbelievably exciting. Suddenly, Hercules couldn't wait any longer. >"Iolaus, I want you. I need you. Now!"
"Anything, Herc. I'm all yours."
He felt as if those words were the key, unlocking chains he hadn't even been aware of. Hercules growled low in his throat. It was the sound of pure animal lust. He released the blond's wrists and flipped him over onto his stomach.
"Herc, wait! We need..."
Hercules grabbed the lamp at the side of the bed and sniffed it. Olive oil, just as he'd expected. He poured some out into his hands as Iolaus watched, smiling.
The hunter rose to his hands and knees just as Hercules reached for him. The demigod's oil slicked hands took hold of Iolaus' firm ass, spreading him open. One hand quickly rubbed oil in and around the tight opening he'd uncovered. He touched himself with his other hand, oiling up in preparation. He was so aroused that his own quick strokes nearly brought him to completion.
He couldn't wait one more moment. He grabbed Iolaus' slim hips, pulling the smaller man to him and drove in. To far gone to be gentle, he slammed in, sheathing himself completely with the first stroke.
Iolaus screamed when Hercules impaled him. All his senses narrowed in focus to that one small part of him that now felt huge. Then Hercules began to move, and he cried out again.
Pain. Pain, pain, pleasure. Pain, pleasure. Pleasure, pain, pleasure. Pleasure, pleasure, PLEASURE! Iolaus screamed again as he came. Every nerve was on fire with pleasure so intense, it was almost pain again. His spasming muscles were Hercules' undoing as he too came with shout.
The fury of the demigod's orgasm spent itself quickly, leaving him drained and exhausted. He sagged forward, his weight pushing his lover flat onto the bed beneath. He couldn't think; he barely had wits enough to breathe. Hercules drowsed, lost in the afterglow of the most intense sexual experience he had ever had.
At first, it felt good having Hercules on top of him like that. It gave him a sense of safety and closeness as his muscles continued twitching in response to his violent orgasm. When he started to relax, the demigod seemed to grow heavier. Iolaus began to feel smothered and tried to turn over. Hercules was a dead weight on his back and he couldn't find the strength to shift him.
"Herc. Herc, get off me, will ya?"
The demigod murmured drowsily and snuggled closer.
"Hercules, I can't breathe! You weigh a ton. Get off!"
The sense of Iolaus' words finally reached his sex-fogged brain. He rolled away quickly, too quickly. The hunter hissed with the discomfort of that too-sudden withdrawal.
"Sorry, Iolaus." He reached out to stroke the blond's sleek back. "You're trembling! Are you all right?"
The hunter's eyes stayed closed, but he smiled a little. "I'm okay. That was just a little intense and maybe a bit too fast. I just need to calm down."
Now that his brain was functioning, Hercules thought over the past several minutes. He realized that he had been in a hurry. He'd also been entirely too rough with the smaller man. >"Are you sure you're okay? I was kind of rough on you."
This time Iolaus opened his eyes before answering. "Yeah, but I think we both needed it that way, this time." The satisfied smile never left his face. "And now, I need to sleep."
"I'll bet. You haven't been sleeping too well lately."
"I think I'll sleep okay now."
Hercules pulled Iolaus into his arms, the blond head settling on his shoulder. He pressed a gentle kiss into the golden curls, then composed himself for sleep.
He didn't sleep long. Judging by the angle of the sun, it hadn't been much more that an hour. It was enough. What he needed now was breakfast. He shifted, intending to wake Iolaus, but stopped when he caught sight of his friend's face. The signs of tension had faded, but the hunter still looked exhausted. Hercules decided to let him sleep. He'd go down and bring enough food back for both of them. He eased out of bed, careful not to disturb Iolaus, dressed quickly and headed off to find breakfast.
The sound of a door slamming woke Iolaus. He opened his eyes just in time to catch the clothes Hercules threw at him.
"Get dressed, Iolaus. We're leaving, now."
Iolaus saw the expression on the demigod's face and hastened to obey. Hercules looked furious. It didn't take much thought for Iolaus to decide why. 'He's mad about this morning.' This is what he'd been afraid of all along. That's why he'd fought so hard to control his desire. 'Why did I have to kiss him?'
While he was dressing, Hercules had gathered up their few belongings. As soon as he was finished, the demigod grabbed his arm, dragging him quickly out of the room.
"Herc, I'm sorry." He wasn't really surprised when he didn't get a response.
Hercules never heard his friend's apology. His mind was still on the cause of his current anger. When he'd entered the inn's common room, the jeers and comments of the other patrons shocked him. He and Iolaus had been louder than he'd realized. From the comments, everyone knew exactly what they'd been doing. Teasing he could have taken, but when that one man had suggested that...He got angrier just thinking about it.
Iolaus winced when Hercules' fingers dug ever harder into his arm. He was getting frightened. He already figured that their long-standing friendship was at an end. Now he was beginning to wonder if his life might be too. Hercules looked like he wanted to kill someone, and Iolaus was the obvious target.
They entered the common room. Hercules headed straight for the door, pushing Iolaus in front of him. There were a dozen or so men in the room. Most of them were gathered together on one side. The largest of these men stepped into Iolaus' path.
"Where are you going so fast? I thought we were gonna share." His voice matched the leer on his face.
Hercules didn't hesitate, didn't think; he just swung. His free hand caught the other man on the jaw and dropped him like a felled tree. The demigod continued without pause, dragging Iolaus outside and out of Volos.
They had been walking for over an hour. Neither man had said a word since leaving their room at the inn. Hercules was still fuming. Some of the comments he'd overheard that morning had been hard to ignore. That those men knew he and Iolaus'd had sex he could live with. It was true, after all, and they had been a bit noisy. Then that oaf had the nerve to accuse him of forcing Iolaus, raping him. That was ridiculous, wasn't it? Okay, he'd been a little rough, he admitted that, but Iolaus had consented. More than that, Iolaus had kissed him first!
He stopped dead in the middle of the road when he remembered what had come next. 'Yeah,' he thought. 'He kissed me and in return I knocked him unconscious.'
"Herc?" Iolaus' voice was soft and uncertain.
For the first time since dragging him out of the room this morning, Hercules looked at his friend. Iolaus was pale, he saw, and he looked worried. 'No,' he realized. 'Not worried, frightened. Of me.' Hercules finally released the arm he hadn't noticed he was still clutching.
"Gods," he muttered. "It's true."
"Herc, what's true?"
He didn't even hear the question. He was staring at the smaller man's arm, at the bruises that were already beginning to show. 'I did that,' he realised. 'That's from my hand.' He met his friend's eyes and saw exactly what he expected in them.
He couldn't stay. He couldn't risk hurting Iolaus again. He had to leave. He'd protect his friend by staying away from him. At least until he could trust himself again. Hercules turned without a word and fled down the road.
Iolaus watched his beloved friend's rapidly retreating back, too stunned to move. he wanted to go after Hercules, to explain and try to apologize. He couldn't. The look in the demigod's eyes before he'd run away had cut Iolaus to his soul. It was clear that Hercules wanted nothing to do with him ever again. Looks could kill. That look had killed the hunter's heart.
He was lost, numb. Iolaus couldn't think. He had no idea what to do. Finally, because he was still tired, he moved off the road and made camp. He didn't really expect to sleep, but the activities of the last several days had completely exhausted him. He was asleep the moment he laid down.
He ran for hours, but he couldn't outrun his feelings. He carried all the guilt and anguish along with him. The sun was slanting toward evening before he finally exhausted himself enough to stop.
He moved off into the trees and dropped to the ground, not bothering with his usual evening preparations. He was asleep almost before he closed his eyes.
He was dreaming. Somehow, he knew that. Somehow, it didn't help. He kept seeing that beloved face, those beautiful blue eyes. Eyes that looked at him with disgust and loathing. He would do anything for his friend, the other half of himself, his love. The only thing Hercules wanted from him now was to never see him again. It broke his heart, but he would do what Herc wanted. Maybe, in a few years, they could be friends again. Not like before, never like before, he had destroyed that forever with his lust. Perhaps his own feelings would change, mellow and he could meet Hercules' gaze without upsetting either of them.
He didn't wake until late the next day. When he did, he rose and started down the road. He was heading back to Volos, where everything had changed so disastrously. He didn't want to go there. He never wanted to see that place again. Especially the inn where, for one brief moment, he had known complete joy, right before everything fell apart. No, he didn't want to go there, but he had to. It was the opposite direction from the one that Hercules had taken. He owed it to his friend to stay away from him, far away. Iolaus was so distraught, he didn't even notice the tears that were streaming down his cheeks.
He was almost through town when he was suddenly surrounded. He cleared his eyes, gazing about in bewilderment. It was the men from the inn, and they didn't look friendly.
"So," the ringleader began. "He let you go. Or did you run off? Doesn't matter, you're here now and we've got plans for you."
Iolaus probably could have taken them if he'd really tried. He fought back but his heart wasn't in it. He knew he'd brought this on himself. He deserved it. After what he'd done to his best friend, this was justice.
Hercules woke with a start. Someone was calling him, needed his help. He listened, scanning the area, but there was nothing. As the fog of sleep cleared, he realized the voice he'd heard came from his dreams. No one else was here. He was alone, and he deserved to be. He lowered his eyes, regret sweeping over him.
His new view brought him something else to regret. On the ground beside him were all their possessions, his and Iolaus'. He'd forgotten he was carrying everything when he fled from his friend. He had both of their carry sacks, blankets and what little money they bothered with. He also had Iolaus' sword.
"It's not enough you hurt him like that," he berated himself. "You had to run off and leave him with nothing!" Iolaus had been so obviously frightened. Who knew what would happen to him out alone like that? "I have to go back. I have to make sure he's all right."
He set off, not running headlong like the day before but at a steady, ground-devouring pace.
It was late afternoon by the time he reached the spot where he'd last seen Iolaus. A quick search of the area led him to the hunter's camp site. Hercules searched the area carefully. It looked like his friend had only left a few hours ago, at most. There were no indications that he'd taken off cross country and Hercules hadn't passed him on the road. So, he must be heading back to Volos.
That idea gave him added cause for concern. If Iolaus ran into those men...He was back on the road, running before he could even finish the thought. He kept hoping he'd catch Iolaus on the road, but he reached the town without spotting him.
He went to the inn first. Iolaus wasn't there; neither were those men. When asked, the innkeeper said he hadn't seen Iolaus since they'd left the day before. Hercules wasn't sure he was telling the truth but didn't want to waste time convincing him to talk.
His eyes swept the crowded streets, searching without success for that familiar blond head. He saw someone else he recognized, though: one of the men from the tavern where Iolaus had told his stories. Was it just two days ago? It seemed so much longer. So much had happened since then.
Hercules approached the market stall where the man, Ninus if he remembered correctly, was at work. "Excuse me, Ninus?"
The man turned and smiled brightly when he saw who it was. 'He hasn't heard,' Hercules thought.
"Hercules! What can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for my friend, Iolaus. We got...separated. I thought he might have come back here. Have you seen him?"
"No, sorry, can't say that I have." Hercules had started to turn away when Ninus spoke again. "Hang on a moment." He left his stall calling to another man. When he returned he had that man in tow.
"Hercules, you remember Babrius?"
He didn't, but that wasn't what mattered right now. "Babrius, have you seen Iolaus today?"
The newcomer looked at him carefully as if he was judging him. He seemed satisfied by what he saw. "No, but I heard some men talking. They said they were going to go..." He hesitated before continuing. "Now, I'm just telling you what they said, so don't get mad at me."
Hercules nodded, gesturing for him to continue.
"They said they were going to go get a piece of Hercules' little blond whore." Babrius flinched a little expecting, to be hit.
Hercules certainly wanted to hit someone, but it wasn't Babrius. "Did you see where they went?"
"Yeah. They headed north on the road to Larisa."
With a hasty thank you, Hercules took off. He was running flat out.
He slowed once he was out of town. He didn't dare move too fast. They could be off the road now. He kept his eyes and ears open, searching for any sign of Iolaus or his pursuers.
Hercules' mind was in turmoil. He'd run away from his friend to protect him. Now it looked likely that Iolaus would be hurt even worse precisely because he'd left. He could only pray he'd be in time to prevent anything from happening.
He froze. He'd heard something. Hercules tried to calm his breathing and heartbeat. How could he hear anything over the thunder of his own heart? There it was again. Laughter? He started toward the sound, listening carefully.
He followed the noise off the road and into the woods. There was no trail here but the underbrush had been trampled recently. Hercules could hear voices now, male voices. He couldn't make out the words, but the tones were taunting and cruel. He moved faster.
Hercules came upon the scene suddenly. One moment he was surrounded by trees and brush, then without warning, he broke out into the open. He could see them clearly. The sight froze the blood in his veins, and in the next instant brought it to a boil.
It was the group from the inn, and they had Iolaus. The hunter was bent over a fallen tree and two of his captors held his arms, pinning him in place. The others were gathered around. Their leader, the loudmouth, was kneeling right behind Iolaus. The blond's pants were pulled down around his knees and there was no sign of his breechcloth.
The leader appeared to be fumbling with his own clothing. Hercules didn't waste another moment. He charged in, shouting incoherently.
One look at the insane anger on the demigod's face convinced them that now would be a good time to be elsewhere. They scattered. The ringleader wasn't fast enough; Hercules caught him with a powerful fist. The blow shattered the bone in his jaw. There was enough force behind that punch to toss the man off his feet and into the trees. His flight was stopped when he hit one of those trees, hard. He crumpled to the ground, lifeless.
Hercules never saw it. As soon as the path was cleared he rushed to his friend's side. He knelt down and gently gathered the battered body into his lap. Iolaus was bruised and bleeding, barely conscious.
"Iolaus, Iolaus," Hercules whispered the name over and over, rocking gently.
Iolaus was dazed. He'd taken some pretty hard punches during his recent fight. Even so, he knew something had changed. He felt safe and warm. He struggled for full consciousness; he needed to know what was happening. It took a while, but he finally heard something. A voice whispered his name over and over again, like it meant something more. The voice was familiar; it made him feel safer, protected. Instinctively, he snuggled closer to the source of that voice.
When he felt Iolaus shifting, Hercules was brought out of his grief and back to the present. He checked the hunter over, examining all his injuries. The most serious was a gash on his forehead. He also had some deep bruises down one side of his torso that could indicate more severe damage beneath the skin. He set Iolaus down, careful not to disturb him, and retrieved their things from where he'd dropped them earlier.
He cleaned and bandaged the bloody gash first. Then he turned his attention to the bruised area. No ribs were broken. The marks still worried him, though. If Iolaus was bleeding inside, it could kill him. There was nothing Hercules could do to about it. Nothing, that is, except hope. At least it did look like he'd been in time to prevent the intended sexual assault. So far, he was the only one who had raped his friend. He couldn't help grimacing at the thought.
Having done what little he could for his injuries, Hercules straightened the hunter's clothes and wrapped him up in both of their blankets. There was nothing to do now but wait. He settled back to do just that when he caught sight of a stray bit of color in the nearby brush. With a quick glance at Iolaus, he rose to investigate.
It was the loudmouth. Hercules felt an overwhelming rush of hatred as he looked at him. He was dead, his skull caved in from where he'd hit the tree. The only thought that crossed the demigod's mind at this realization was 'good.' He left the body where it was and returned to Iolaus.
Hercules needed to get the hunter away from here. Those men could come back with friends. Iolaus would do better indoors anyway. He could make a travois, but that would take time. He wanted to get out of here now. Hercules needed to put this place and the whole of Volos behind him. 'Well,' he thought. 'We're already on the way to Larisa.'
He carefully gathered the injured man into his arms and headed back to the road. Once there he turned north, traveling as quickly as he could. He knew he wouldn't make it all the way to Larisa in what was left of the day, but there might be a village near enough. Failing that, he would just find a place to camp. And that's exactly what he ended up doing about an hour later.
Iolaus had started fidgeting. It was making him difficult to hold on to. He wasn't awake, Hercules saw. It looked like he was dreaming, or more likely, having a nightmare. Hercules decided to stop for the night before the hunter's struggles caused him to drop his friend.
As close to Volos as they still were, Hercules decided to move well away from the road. He found a good spot, a rocky outcropping that provided a sheltered corner. He settled Iolaus as close to that corner as he could. Hercules would be better able to protect the injured man if someone found them. He moved quickly, gathering fire wood. He didn't want to leave Iolaus alone any longer than necessary.
Once the fire was going nicely, Hercules sat down next to his once again quiet friend. He reached out a hand, gently smoothing back the golden curls. Iolaus' bruises had darkened in the last couple of hours. One eye had swollen so much he probably wouldn't be able to open it for days. "I've fouled things up so badly," Hercules told himself. "I don't know what to do, how to fix it. I'm not even sure if I can fix it, but I'll do whatever it takes."
The sound of his friend's voice penetrated Iolaus' sleep. He stirred, not entirely awake but definitely not asleep. "Herc?" His voice was barely a whisper, but the demigod heard.
"Herc, I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Hercules was astonished. What did Iolaus have to be sorry for?
"I messed everything up. I didn't mean to. I should have controlled myself." He was more awake now, thinking. "I managed all these years. I don't know why I suddenly lost it like that. I'm so sorry, Hercules. I'll understand if you hate me, if you never want to see me again."
Hercules couldn't take it anymore. He gathered the battered hunter into his arms and, mindful of his injuries, hugged him close. "Shh, Iolaus, don't. I'm not mad. You're not the one who screwed up here. I am. I'm the one who needs to apologize. And I don't hate you. I, I love you, more than anyone."
Iolaus turned to look at Hercules. The eyes that met his were full of love, with just a touch of guilt thrown in. "You love me?" He sounded like he thought he'd misunderstood.
Hercules knew that words weren't going to convince Iolaus right now. He leaned down and gently kissed the other man. "Yes, Iolaus, I love you." It was getting easier to say. He drew the hunter close, planting another kiss among the golden curls.
Iolaus wanted to believe him more than anything. There were things that didn't fit, though. "If you love me, why did you run away yesterday? Why were you so mad at me?"
"You? Oh gods, Iolaus, I wasn't mad at you. I was angry at those men, the ones who hurt you today. They said some things to me, about you, us. It upset me."
"Because they knew what we'd been doing?"
"No, I don't care about that. They...What they tried to do today, they talked about yesterday. They thought I already had and the more I thought about things...I realized they were right."
Now Iolaus was thoroughly confused. "Right about what?"
"I hurt you, forced you. That's why I ran. When I saw how frightened you were of me, I knew it was true. I had to leave before I did it again."
"Hercules, look at me." Iolaus waited until the demigod's eyes were locked on his own before continuing. "You didn't force me. Believe that. It's true."
Hercules still looked doubtful. "Then why were you afraid of me?"
"I wasn't! Not exactly, not that way," he amended. "I thought you were mad at me for what we'd done. I was afraid I'd destroyed our friendship forever. All because I couldn't control myself."
"Oh, Iolaus," Hercules bent down, kissing him again. "This whole mess was just a series of misunderstandings, wasn't it? I'm sorry."
Iolaus couldn't contain his exasperated sigh. "What are you sorry about now?"
"If I'd just talked to you yesterday, we could have avoided all this. You wouldn't have been hurt today." Hercules realized he hadn't yet asked his beloved friend what exactly had been done to him. He didn't think the worst had happened, but he had to be sure.
"Iolaus, those men, I know what they intended. Did they?"
"Did they rape me?"
Hercules could only nod, holding his breath while he waited for the answer.
"No. You got there in time."
"Thank the gods!" He hugged Iolaus to him. "I was so frightened."
"No, not 'thank the gods,' just one god." Iolaus said softly. "Or, more precisely, one demigod. Thank you."
Hercules pulled back a little, searching the smaller man's face. There were no signs left of the fear and doubt he'd seen earlier. The only emotion he could discern in those blue eyes now was love. It drew him forward until they were once again joined in a kiss. A kiss which quickly became more passionate.
"Ow!" Iolaus couldn't help it. Hercules drew back so quickly, the blond almost laughed. "Sorry, Herc. I've wanted this for so long, but I think I'm going to have to wait a little longer."
The demigod brushed his fingers lightly across his love's bruised and cut lip. "I'll be here when you're ready," he promised. He pulled Iolaus into another warm embrace.
They spent the night wrapped in the warmth of each other's arms and love.
It took them several days to reach Larisa. Now that Iolaus was awake, he refused to be carried, and the hunter's injures kept them from moving quickly. It was frustrating for him, but Hercules didn't mind at all. The delay gave him time to think things over, to get used to the change in their relationship. It gave him a chance to realize just how happy he was.
When they got to town, they wandered through the marketplace for a while before seeking out an inn for the night. After a quick meal, they headed up to their room.
It was still early afternoon, but Iolaus was visibly fatigued. Hercules decided to take a nap. He knew that was the best way to get the other man to rest.
It worked like a charm. They were both quickly settled into the surprisingly comfortable bed. The demigod drew his friend into his arms and planted a kiss among the golden curls.
"Good night, Iolaus."
When he woke hours later, he was on his back with Iolaus sprawled across him like a blanket. It felt wonderful. Hercules felt wonderful, warm and loved. One hand strayed to the soft golden hair, playing with the curls. 'Why did it take me so long to figure this out?' He wondered. 'All the time we've wasted, I've wasted.' He vowed silently to make up for lost time.
His hand wandered lower, stroking the smooth skin of the hunter's back. He found an irregular patch and craned his head around to look. It was a scar. Hercules tried to remember when Iolaus had received that particular injury, but couldn't. That surprised him, the idea that Iolaus could be hurt badly enough to be scarred by it and he not remember. He'd have to ask about it later.
The hand continued its meandering caresses. Iolaus stirred, murmuring softly in his sleep. When Hercules felt the compact body moving against his, it sent a wave of desire rushing through him. He turned toward the window, trying to gauge how long they'd been sleeping. Iolaus moved again, one of his legs slipping between Hercules' own. 'Okay,' Hercules decided. 'We've slept long enough for now.'
He rolled over onto his side holding the hunter close. Iolaus grumbled a little, complaining in his sleep. Hercules took a moment to just look at his companion. He frowned when he caught sight of the fading bruises, but even those did nothing to hide the blond's golden perfection. 'I have wasted so many years,' he thought. 'All the while, this -- he -- was right there in front of me. No more.' With that he leaned forward and kissed Iolaus.
'Mmmm,' he woke with a pleased hum. When Hercules pulled back, their eyes met. "Hello," Iolaus smiled.
The demigod's answering smile was bright with love. "Hello yourself."
"That was a nice way to wake up."
"You liked that, huh?"
Iolaus nodded happily and leaned in for seconds. The hunter's lips parted, inviting Hercules to deepen the kiss. It was an invitation that he gladly accepted. His tongue drove deeply into welcoming warmth. He quickly found and began teasing that carefully learned ticklish spot. Iolaus' squirms were just as delightful as he'd remembered. Hercules felt an answering tightness in his groin. He wanted to devour the blond in a blaze of lust, but he'd done that the last time. He didn't much like the aftermath. He was determined to move slowly, be gentle this time.
Hercules pushed his lover over onto his back, giving himself better access. His hands immediately began exploring, charting new territory. His mouth finally broke its seal, allowing both men a respite in which to catch their breath. The demigod's lips then joined his hands in exploring the glory that was Iolaus.
He moved slowly, learning, teasing and tasting every inch of his lover's delightful flesh. His lips began their exploration with the strong column of the hunter's throat. He made his way, licking and nibbling, from one ear down and across to the other. From the sound of it, Iolaus was thoroughly enjoying the attention.
While his mouth was thus occupied, Hercules' hands were making their own discoveries. One had tangled itself in the silky gold of the hunter's hair. The demigod had often felt the urge to play with those curls in the past, but had never dared. Now he intended to indulge himself, which reminded him of something else. He broke off kissing long enough to look down at Iolaus' hard chest. There it was, just at the bottom of his breastbone. That smooth little concavity. Hercules thought it was just the right size to comfortably hold the heel of his hand. He used his free hand to check this theory. Perfect fit. Regretfully, his hand left its new haven as his attention was drawn to the darker flesh of a nearby nipple.
Iolaus had waited so long, wanted this for so long that the first kiss was all it took to have him burning with desire. Hercules' slow, teasing seduction was driving him out of his mind with lust. It was torture, not that he was complaining, mind you. It was the sweetest torture he'd ever been faced with; effective, too. Hercules could have extracted any promise he wanted just by threatening to stop. Luckily for Iolaus, he didn't think of it.
Iolaus gasped as the demigod's mouth moved down to suckle and tease one of those small nipples. He worked at it until it hardened and peaked from the attention. Hercules then moved across to its twin, treating it to the same. Meanwhile, his hand moved lower, sliding down the firm abdomen until it encountered the hunter's other collection of golden curls.
He could feel the heat from the nearby engorged flesh, but he ignored it for now, moving, instead, down to the satiny skin of the smaller man's thighs. He alternated between gently stroking the soft skin of Iolaus' inner thighs and pressing firmly into the solid muscles that lay hidden beneath it. As he did so, Hercules gradually spread those legs apart. When he'd made enough room, he shifted, settling on his knees between them.
Hercules paused. He sat back on his heels and took a moment to admire the feast that lay before him. Iolaus was so beautiful. 'Especially like this,' he thought.
Iolaus was looking at him, he realized. The expression on his face was an amazing combination of love, lust and amusement.
"You just going to sit there and look at me or are you going to do something? I'm dying here."
Hercules chuckled, leaning forward to catch him up in another kiss. Iolaus was in agony of the best sort. He couldn't believe this was happening. It was so much like his dreams, and yet so much better. He had a hard time believing Hercules wanted him. In fact...
"Mmm?" Hercules nuzzled at that lovely throat again.
"Herc, look at me," Iolaus caught the demigod's head in his hands and tried to pull him up. "It's important."
The hands had been easy to ignore, but not the tone in his lover's voice. Hercules pulled back and met Iolaus' eyes. "What is it, what's wrong?"
"I just...Herc, are you doing this because you want to or because I want you to?"
"Iolaus," he sighed shaking his head slightly. "I may not have been thinking about this as long as you have. Now that I am, though, I promise you I do want this." He sealed that promise with another searing kiss. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some unfinished business to attend to." He leered comically, wiggling his eyebrows.
Hercules worked his way back down the compact form, marking his trail with nibbling little kisses. He quickly reduced the hunter to a moaning, quivering wreck once again. The time for thinking and talking was long past. It was time for doing, and what he wanted to do...'Ah, there it is.' Iolaus' erection stood proud, straining up from it's golden nest. 'And it's all mine,' was Hercules' last coherent thought. He reached out, gently wrapping one hand around the base of the heated shaft. Iolaus moaned at the contact, so long withheld. With that encouragement, Hercules continued.
Iolaus could feel the big man's hair sweeping against his groin and hips. It was delicious. Then Hercules kissed the tip of his cock, gently lapping up the moisture that had collected there. Iolaus gasped. He wasn't sure he could hold out much longer. Then he felt that warm mouth engulfing him and he found that he couldn't hold out at all.
Hercules swallowed quickly, pleased with the results of his inexperienced efforts. His body took that moment to point out that it had needs too.
"Iolaus, I want, I need you." His voice was almost choked off by the depth of his desire. Their eyes met again. Iolaus nodded once and started to turn over. Hercules put a hand out to stop him. "I want to be able to see you this time."
Another wave of lust swept through him when Iolaus drew his legs up, giving Hercules what he'd asked for. He reached down, groping for the clay jar he'd purchased earlier. Hercules poured some of the oil into his hands, setting the jar aside. One hand reached for Iolaus as the other spread oil on his own aching member.
The hunter squirmed a little, giving him better access. He carefully slid one oil-slicked finger into the welcoming warmth of the smaller man's body. Iolaus let out a moan at that invasion. A second finger quickly joined the first, gently stroking and stretching. When the third finger slid in, Iolaus' body rose to meet it.
Hercules twisted his hand around, searching. He knew he'd found his goal when Iolaus cried out. He stroked the spot a few more times watching the hunter grow hard again. Hercules pulled his fingers out and drew Iolaus to him. The blond's legs wrapped around him as he positioned himself and slowly pressed forward.
Iolaus cried out again when the tip of Hercules' penis pushed past the tight ring of muscle. His legs clamped hard around his lover, seeking to draw him further into his body. The demigod tried to resist that pull, wanting, needing to be gentle. In this instance Iolaus proved to be the stronger man.
Once he was fully sheathed in Iolaus' wonderful body, Hercules stilled. He waited, allowing the other man to grow comfortable with his presence. When the golden form began moving against him, he knew he'd waited long enough. He pulled back a little then plunged in again. He paused, then repeated the motion, pulling a little further out each time.
Soon Hercules was pounding unreservedly into the body of his lover. Iolaus was crying out, moaning and calling to him. If there were words in those cries, Hercules hadn't enough wits left to recognize them. He bent forward, stopping the other man's voice with kisses.
Iolaus arms flew around Hercules, holding him close. His legs were wrapped securely around the demigod's waist. It was undescribable. There were no words for how he felt. Pleasure so intense it was almost pain; lust, fear, love. His feelings were too numerous and too varied to reconcile. The pressure was building and he knew he was near the breaking point. Then suddenly he was there. He screamed with the intensity of his orgasm.
The spasming of his lover's body carried Hercules over the edge. He plunged in, burying himself completely as he shot his essence deep into the hunter's body. Mindful of their last encounter, he managed to land on his side when he collapsed, exhausted, to the bed. He pulled a spent Iolaus close to his heart, where he belonged. They slept long and well.