The characters belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.
You can find more stories by Aramis at Nephele's Herculean Slash page.
Chiron's favourite dagger had gone missing. It was a very distinctive short-bladed knife, with an intricately carved handle. It had considerable sentimental value for him as it had belonged to his grandfather. A small, leather bag containing a handful of coins had gone as well, but it was the knife's disappearance that had really upset Chiron.
The centaur was virtually certain that a youth from the Academy must be responsible as the culprit had stolen the item during the morning and, not only had no stranger been seen on the premises, the person must have had some knowledge of his movements to carry out such a cheeky theft. Accordingly, he had his two assistants, Thyestes and Pandarus, order the youths to stand by their dormitory beds while a thorough search was conducted.
Iolaus, Hercules and the other youths all watched the proceedings with interest. Everyone was apparently mystified and there had been much speculation among the boys until Chiron testily ordered them all to hold their tongues.
Thyestes and Pandarus were systematically stripping the beds and emptying all cupboards. They had just tipped Hercules' possessions onto the floor and were pulling Iolaus' meagre possessions out. "Is this *all* you own?" Pandarus queried rudely.
A flush rose to Iolaus' cheeks at the instructor's tone. "Yes," he muttered.
Some of the boys from the better off homes sniggered and Iolaus glared at them and clenched his fists. A certain group had picked on him since his arrival at the Academy and he'd had numerous scraps with them.
Pandanus then yanked the mattress off the bed and there for all to see was the missing knife and the bag of money. The little blond went chalk-white at the sight and Hercules' mouth gaped open with shock.
"Come with me!" Chiron ordered.
"But But I didn't " Iolaus stammered.
"Please, you can't possibly believe that " Hercules started.
"Be silent!" Chiron ordered brusquely. He turned to Iolaus, who hadn't moved. "To my rooms! Now!" he barked.
Pandarus and Thyestes ranged on either side of Iolaus ready to use force if necessary. Iolaus glanced at Hercules, despair plainly written on his face, and reluctantly moved to obey. The youth wasn't fast enough for Pandarus, who gave him a vicious shove in the back. "Hurry up!" Normally the feisty little blond would have reacted adversely to such treatment, but he was still in a state of shock and so merely increased his pace.
Hercules moved to follow, but Thyestes, perceiving his intent, said, "The rest of you remain here and tidy up this room."
As soon as the four had disappeared, a hubbub broke out as the boys speculated about what had happened and, more importantly, what would happen next.
"He's bound to be kicked out," Ogmius, a large, solidly built youth, said, with a smirk at the thought.
"And so the little bastard should be. The last thing we want is a thief in our midst," Acilius said
"Iolaus wouldn't have stolen that knife," Hercules protested.
"Rubbish!" Cadmeus said, "I know for a fact he spent a year thieving on the streets of Athens. I don't know why Chiron accepted a scruffy, little nobody like that here in the first place. There're always heaps of well-born citizens' sons wanting to get in."
"I heard his father was a general," Velinium put in.
"Yeah, I'll bet! If his father was somebody, how come he's got no money or anything."
"His father *was* a general," Hercules said.
"So he's *told* you!" Acilius jeered.
"He was! I've met him!"
However, nobody was interested in Hercules' opinions. They were like a pack of wolves waiting eagerly for the kill. Even those who had been reasonably friendly towards Iolaus were distancing themselves from the blond and pretending that they had always disliked and mistrusted him, while the group of bullies were having a field day.
The members of this clique had greatly resented the fact that Iolaus had shone in all aspects of combat and could best all the other youths in single combat with the exception of Hercules. Of course, none of them could defeat the demigod either, but being beaten by the son of Zeus was no disgrace, while being defeated by a pretty little blond, a good six inches or more shorter than all the other boys, was quite different.
There had been several occasions when the group had ganged up in an attack on Iolaus and, although he'd always emerged victorious, with Hercules' help, he'd been quite badly knocked around on two or three occasions. The demigod had suggested they talk to Chiron about it, but Iolaus would have none of it. He liked to deal with his problems himself. With a non-supportive and abusive father, he'd learnt to rely on himself at a very early age and to distrust authority figures.
Now, Hercules feared, this mistrust looked as if it was going to be justified, as he didn't think the men were going to give Iolaus a fair hearing in the face of the evidence before them. Pandarus, in particular, was already biased against Iolaus, sharing as he did the snobbery of some of the wealthy boys towards the impecunious blond in his old, much-patched clothing.
About twenty minutes later, Iolaus appeared, paler than ever and limping. All eyes were upon him as he moved awkwardly towards his bed. Hercules went to speak to him, but Iolaus shook his head indicating the listeners.
He gathered up his few possessions and headed for the door. A couple of boys sniggered and a few made derisory comments, but he ignored them and just kept walking.
Hercules followed. Iolaus kept his head down and ignored him, so the demigod fell into step alongside him, waiting for him to break the silence.
However, half a mile or so later, he decided he'd have to be the one to speak first. He put a hand on Iolaus shoulder to stop his progress. He hadn't exerted any real force so he was surprised to hear his friend give a hiss of pain.
He moved around in front of Iolaus. The blond had his head down so all Hercules could see was a mop of tangled golden curls. He put a gentle hand under Iolaus' chin and raised it. Iolaus' beautiful, azure eyes were deep wells of unshed tears.
Embarrassed, the blond sniffed hard and surreptitiously wiped a hand across his eyes. That didn't help and a tear escaped and trickled down his ashen face.
Hercules didn't know what to do. How he wished his mother was present. She always knew exactly what to say or do if he was upset or hurt. Then without conscious decision, he acted as Alcmene would have done. He wrapped his arms around Iolaus and held him to his chest.
It seemed an odd thing to be standing in the road cuddling his best friend and he knew the boys at the Academy would give him hell if they saw it, but he didn't care. Iolaus needed him and nobody was, or ever would be, as important to him as his best friend.
Finally, Iolaus pulled back from the embrace. His face was now well and truly streaked with tears. "Th-Thank you, Herc," he managed.
"Iolaus, what did they say?"
"Chiron's kicked me out. He said th-there was there was no place for thieves in his Academy. I t-tried to tell him I d-didn't take it, but he wouldn't listen. Pandarus told him he sh-should take me to the magistrates, but he said he'd punish me himself."
"He told me to take my c-clothes off and then and then Pandarus and Thyestes held me while he g-gave me a b-beating with his belt."
"Oh, gods!" He reached out and eased Iolaus' shirt off his shoulders to disclose bloody stripes and weals.
"It's not fair, Herc, I didn't take it. I didn't!"
"You don't have to convince me, Iolaus, I *know* you didn't."
"Yeah, *you* know, but nobody else does."
"You're wrong, Iolaus, somebody else does."
"Wh-What do you mean, Herc?"
"Whoever set you up knows."
"You're right. I should have I c-can't seem to th-think straight."
"Well, you need to do so, Iolaus. You can't just go rushing off blindly. Where did you intend to go just now?"
"I don't know. I j-just wanted to get away in case Chiron changed his m-mind about the magistrate. Pandarus kept telling him I sh-should be locked up. I c-couldn't st-stand that, Herc. I'd rather die than be shut in."
"Look, Iolaus, will you wait here while I go and collect my gear?"
"What? Herc, you *can't* leave," Iolaus protested. "Your mother's been so proud of how well you've been doing."
"I can't stay without you. She'll understand."
"No, Herc, you can't leave because of me. I know you love the Academy."
"Not any more, Iolaus. Not after the way you've been treated."
"Please, Herc, I'll be okay. I've survived by myself in the past."
"No, Iolaus, either we both stay or we both go."
"But I can't stay."
"Not in the Academy, but you could stay nearby."
"What are you thinking about, Herc?"
"Well, you wouldn't like to see whoever did this get away with it, would you?"
"No, I'd like to smash his face in for him."
"Yes, I thought you might and, on this occasion, I'd probably help you. There must be some way we can find out who it was."
"A few possible names come to mind."
"Yes, but that's not proof. If only we'd told Chiron earlier how some of the boys had been treating you, then he might not have been so ready to blame you."
"That was my fault, Herc. *You* wanted to tell him, but I thought I could handle it."
"Maybe if I tried telling him once he's calmed down."
"No, he won't listen. He'll think you're making it up to defend me."
"I guess you're right, Anyway, back to what I was thinking about. I reckon if I stay at the Academy I might be able to find out something and if you stay near at hand we can keep in touch and decide what to do. The weather's still reasonably warm for autumn. You could sleep in the woods and I can smuggle food out to you."
"That wouldn't be necessary. It'd be a poor day if I couldn't catch something," Iolaus observed confidently. He'd supplied all the meat and fish his mother's house had seen for years, having been a skilled hunter and fisherman long before he entered his teens.
"Yeah, but you'd have to be careful in case you got spotted. It'd be better if you just lay low because some of the boys might see you."
"Unlikely and, even if they did, they'd never catch me in the woods."
"True, but if the thief heard you were nearby he would be extra cautious and it might be harder to trap him."
"Okay, we'll try it your way. You know this might even be fun." He grinned. The old irrepressible Iolaus was already starting to reassert himself.
"Right, we need to decide on a time and place to meet. It'll have to be before lights out as I haven't got your skill for sneaking out of the dormitory at night," he said, recalling the numerous occasions when the blond had crept out to hunt, fish or do heavens knows what, while Hercules lay fearfully wondering if he'd be caught by Chiron this time.
"Yeah, you're too big to be properly sneaky."
Hercules smiled. Iolaus was definitely recovering his old spirits. Iolaus always enjoyed suggesting he was far too large and that the blond was just the size real people should be. Watching his friend's agility over the years, Hercules had actually almost agreed with him for a while, but now he was at last growing out of the clumsiness of youth he was able to argue back more confidently or just to simply dismiss such cheek. "Thank you for the vote of confidence. Okay, you name the time and place to meet."
"Eight o'clock tonight under the big oak by the river *if* you can get out. If you can't, come at that same time the first night you can."
Hercules nodded, "I'll try." He didn't have to ask how the blond would know the time. Iolaus seemed to have an internal clock that worked with equal efficiency to his directional skills. "Okay, and I'll bring some food and I'll try to get some salve for your back," he added, belatedly recalling its painful state.
"Don't risk the salve. If you got caught with that they'd know I was still around, but everyone tries to pinch extra food."
"Okay." Hercules held out his arm and Iolaus took it in a warrior's grip. "Back to Back Heroes," the demigod said and Iolaus echoed him. It had been their private motto and statement of intent for years.
Then Hercules turned and headed back towards the Academy, while Iolaus stood watching him until he was out of sight. His shoulders slumped a little and the pain of his back became more insistent without the comforting presence of his friend. He mentally reprimanded himself, Don't be such a wimp, Iolaus,' and headed into the bush. As Hercules returned to the Academy, he wondered how he should act. He knew it would probably help if he appeared to have doubts about Iolaus and to be willing to admit there was a chance that the blond was guilty. But could he carry off such a role? An innately honest boy, telling falsehoods never came easily to him. Iolaus seemed to have a natural talent for inventing stories or twisting the facts to try to cover or excuse their childhood misdemeanours, but often Hercules had proved the weak link in his friend's plan, being unable to convincingly carry out Iolaus' instructions as to what he should say or do.
Mind you, as Hercules reflected sadly, Iolaus had far more reason to become practiced at such things for, whereas Alcmene might lecture Hercules, Skuros would thrash his son unmercifully if the misdeed was found out on one of the rare occasions he was actually at home.
It was a particularly vicious beating that had finally driven the then fifteen year old Iolaus from home and onto the streets of Athens. Acceptance into the Academy had been his chance to put that year behind him and that was one of the reasons why it was so important to prove his innocence.
So, no matter how difficult Hercules found it to dissimulate, he knew that he had to try because there was no other way to gain the others' confidence and hope that one of them would eventually let something slip.
At first the other boys kept away from him, but later in the day, a couple of youths who had been friendly towards him in the past, finally approached him.
"Has he gone?" asked Levinus, more as an opening for the conversation than because he had any doubts about it.
"What do you think he'll do?"
"I suppose he might go home. He didn't seem to know."
"It's probably just as well."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he didn't really fit in here, did he? He was always getting into fights."
It was on the tip of Hercules' tongue to retort that the conflicts were none of Iolaus' making, but he bit the comment back and said, "Yeah, he's always got into lots of scraps."
That was true. He didn't know anyone who attracted trouble like Iolaus. Certainly, other boys often saw him as a potential target because he was so small, but Hercules was all too well aware that Iolaus positively enjoyed a good fight and entered a brawl on the slightest provocation.
"I expect things might be a bit more friendly here now," Byrrhus ventured.
"I hope so," Hercules replied. That was true as well. This dissembling wasn't going to be as hard as he had feared.
That comforting thought was immediately swept away when Cadmeus said loudly, "I guess we don't have to keep such a watch over our personal possessions any more" and then proceeded to make a show of casually dropping his own money bag on top of the low cupboard beside his bed and wandering off.
Hercules clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms. He longed to throw himself at Cadmeus and knew that, if Iolaus had been there, the little blond would have already knocked his tormentor to the floor. Somehow he kept his temper under control.
"C'mon, Hercules," Byrrhus said, "it's nearly time for dinner. You might as well sit with us."
That actually undermined part of the demigod's plan. If he had been seated apart, taking extra food would have been easier, but he could hardly shove it into his shirt with people right alongside him. He did not see it as theft as he considered Iolaus had a right to it, but others would see it as stealing for himself and he felt uncomfortable with that.
Meanwhile, Iolaus was sitting at the rendezvous point with his blanket wrapped around his shoulders. For all Hercules' comments about the warm weather, the nights were starting to get nippy and his clothes were threadbare. He leant back against a tree without thinking and immediately swore as the rough bark dug painfully into his sore back. It definitely was not going to be the most comfortable camping out he had ever done.
To add to his woes, his stomach began to complain loudly about his neglect. He had not eaten since breakfast time. He wondered if Hercules would turn up. He strongly suspected that the demigod would not manage it.
In the event, he was correct, although not from want of trying on Hercules' part. Unfortunately, both Byrrhus and Levinus decided to chum up with Hercules because they figured he would be feeling lonely without Iolaus and he could not shake the pair off. He knew his non-appearance would not surprise Iolaus, but he felt incredibly guilty for letting the latter down. However, there was no way he could ditch his new friends without arousing suspicion.
Iolaus spent a restless night, but awoke at dawn and went hunting as he reasoned the cadets were less likely to be about at that hour than at dusk. Unfortunately, he had no luck and, as the sun rose higher, he gave up and crawled under a tangled mass of bush to hopefully sleep the day away.
Chiron worked the cadets particularly hard that day, to ensure that they had no time to gossip about recent events, and even Hercules was flagging by the end of it, especially as he had lain awake much of the previous night worrying about Iolaus. After dinner, he lay down on his bed, intending to merely rest for a few minutes and fell sound asleep. He did not wake until the noise level rose as the rest of the cadets entered the dormitory to prepare for bed. Hercules cursed inwardly himself, but could do nothing.
Iolaus had managed to get some sleep during the day, but had woken feeling ravenous. Accordingly, he decided he could not rely on Hercules arriving with food and crept out at dusk to fish. He caught a couple and ate them raw as he could not risk a fire.
Chiton kept the cadets hard at work over the next three days and, what with this and the attempts of some of the friendlier youths to include the demigod in their out of class activities, the demigod found no chance to get out to join his friend.
Hercules managed to sneak out on the fifth night, but had to confess he had made no progress in discovering the perpetrator of the crime. Aware that the demigod was feeling guilty at his lack of success, Iolaus tried to make light of things. "I'm certain he'll make a slip and give himself away eventually," he lied and added, "Anyway, I'm having a pleasant break away from old Chiron's stupid rules and regulations."
"Are you sure you're okay, Iolaus?" Hercules inquired doubtfully. "If you decide you want to go home just say the word and I'll be with you."
But that promise was just what was stopping the blond leaving. Okay, revenge would be sweet, but he didn't like the demigod's chances of exposing the villain, so left to his own devises he would have been long gone. However, he felt in his heart that the Academy's training was just what Hercules needed.
Unbeknownst to the pair, Cadmeus had observed the demigod leaving the dormitory. He was no fool and immediately suspected the cause because Hercules had never transgressed against the rules before.
The next day, he confided his suspicions to his cronies and suggested that a search might be in order.
Fortunately, for his plans Chiron gave the cadets the afternoon off after the hard work had had put them through on the previous days.
The purposeful departure of the half dozen did not go unobserved and the word soon spread around the cadets that something was up. Others decided a little trip into the woods to see what Cadmeus and company were up to would be a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. As a result there was a sudden supposed interest in hunting, fishing and tramping as the other cadets followed on.
Unfortunately, Hercules was one of the last to hear what was afoot. He immediately suspected that the group were after Iolaus and decided he had to warn him.
His presence in the woods did not go unnoticed, especially as there was an uncharacteristically furtive aspect to it. A couple of youths elected to follow him instead of their original quarry. Unwittingly, the demigod led them straight to the sleeping Iolaus.
As soon as the later heard the reason for his friend's presence he feared the worst. Hercules was no bushman, skilled at hiding his tracks and aware of every sound and hence of followers. It came as no surprise when he heard an excited voice shout, "Hey, look whos with Hercules! It's Iolaus!"
Iolaus didn't wait to see who the owner of the voice was, but took off like a jackrabbit.
Hercules turned back to confront the approaching youth, but others had heard the cry and had taken it up as they flocked to see what would happen next.
Iolaus had been well concealed and the original group had actually passed his hiding place without seeing him and now, having heard the shouts, had turned back towards them.
Running towards them, the blond heard their approach and immediately turned ninety degrees and rushed on.
Unfortunately, in his haste, he failed to observe an exposed tree root and caught his foot on it. He sprawled full length, winding himself and wrenching an ankle as he did so. He lay gasping for a few moments and then, indomitable as ever, staggered up and hobbled onwards.
As he went, he desperately glanced around for a place to go to ground. The trouble was the undergrowth was fairly sparse. He wondered about climbing a tree, but his already swelling ankle tended to preclude that option.
Meanwhile, all the cadets were in a state of high excitement. Most had no real idea why they were pursuing Iolaus, but it was a great game and they entered into it wholeheartedly.
The blond stopped and tried to break off a small branch to use as a crutch, but it was springy and would not snap. He wasted precious minutes in this fruitless endeavour, before giving it best and limping on.
Then he heard the cry he most dreaded, "There he is!" Knowing that he could not hope to out-distance his pursuers now that they had him in sight, he put his back against a large oak tree and waited.
The first two youths that appeared were not the ones he expected. Brothers, Tiris and Hemodus, were the sons of a powerful warlord of northern Greece. Relative newcomers to the Academy, they had had little to do with Iolaus.
"Why are you following me?" Iolaus demanded, deciding to put a bold face on things.
Tiris shrugged. "Everybody else is," he said.
"That's no reason."
"Sorry, but that's it. I don't know why others are."
"I'll tell you why," a rough voice intervened. Acilius strode into the clearing, closely followed by Ogmius and Tholus. "We don't want a bloody thief hanging around here," he explained. He turned to Tholus. "Go and find Cadmeus and the others," he ordered.
In a short time, other youths began to appear.
Cadmeus and his cohorts closed in on Iolaus, jeering at him, tossing accusations, insults and occasional blows. The other youths hovered around, some encouraging the group, but others uncertain and rather apprehensive about what might be to come.
One boy had tried to suggest that Iolaus had been punished by Chiron and had every right to be in the woods, but Acilius shouted him down, suggesting that, if he was so keen to defend Iolaus, perhaps he knew more than he should about the theft.
Hercules arrived and pushed his way through the onlookers, voicing his protest about their treatment of Iolaus. They parted before him and he could see a dishevelled Iolaus standing awkwardly and clearly favouring one leg.
The demigod wondered what he should do. If it came to a fight, he didn't know how many would join in against him, but he *had* to do something. He was about to issue his challenge when Iolaus forestalled him.
The little blond had also been trying to calculate the odds. Above all else, he wanted to protect Hercules and he couldn't see either of them getting out of a free-for-all lightly. He made a lightning decision and said,"If you're so sure I'm guilty why not prove it. What about a trial by combat?"
"Iolaus, you can't!" Hercules protested, pointedly at his ankle.
"Course I can, Herc. I could take any one of these losers with two broken ankles."
As he said the word loser', he deliberately looked right at Ogmius. He knew the youth did not like him and suspected he might well know who had framed him, although he didn't think he would have done such a thing himself. He had a few other names in mind as well, but reckoned Ogmius was the easiest opponent amongst his enemies and hoped to provoke him into taking up the challenge.
"I'll do it," Ogmius cried. The large, somewhat ungainly youth had always been bested by the little blond much to his chagrin, but now given the latter's injury, he saw the perfect chance for revenge.
"Knives!" someone shouted and others took up the cry.
Ogmius paled a little, but Iolaus merely smiled. "Knives it is, unless you're too chicken, Ogmius."
Of course that meant there was no way Ogmius could possibly back down.
Ringed by the other youths, the two combatants drew their knives and the duel began. Ogmius circled the little blond but, handicapped by his ankle, Iolaus merely turned unsteadily to keep his adversary in sight.
Ogmius pretended to lunge at Iolaus' right side, but the latter realized that movement was only a feint and simply leant away.
After some minutes of this, Iolaus took the initiative and started to advance. Ogmius kept backing up and was pressed back towards the spectators. Then, realizing that he had gone too far and was losing his room to manoeuvre, he desperately ducked and dodged to one side. Iolaus' knife caught his shirt and ripped it down the side without touching the skin.
Iolaus limped forward again. Suddenly a stone thrown by a spectator struck him in the face, opening one cheek. He swore at the pain and stumbled jarring his ankle, which nearly gave out on him.
That was enough for Ogmius to throw caution to the winds and to spring at him. Iolaus lurched to the left, but Ogmius' knife caught him in the right shoulder cutting him deeply. The wound immediately began to bleed copiously.
Ogmius started to grin in triumph, sensing victory.
Iolaus knew that the way he was losing blood he dared not prolong the fight, but Ogmius now only wanted to dance around, if that was the epithet that could be applied to the movements of his large lumbering body, tiring his foe until loss of blood made him an easy prey.
Finally, Iolaus stumbled and dropped to his knees. Hercules shouted desperately to him to get up, but his head was drooping and he did not seem to hear.
Ogmius started confidently towards him. He raised his knife and started to plunge it down, but was caught completely off guard when the blond twisted aside, while slashing at his descending hand. The resulting cut caused him to scream in pain and to drop his knife.
Iolaus tossed his own weapon aside and dived at him. His tackle knocked Ogmius' legs out from under him and he went flat on his back. Iolaus scrabbled up his body and crashed his left fist into Ogmius' face.
He then sat back astride his opponent's hips, sucking his bruised knuckles and wondering vaguely whether he had broken his hand. His face was white with strain and he was feeling rather faint. Blood was pouring down his chest.
"Finish him!" someone shouted and another youth moved forward and kicked Iolaus' discarded knife to him.
Iolaus picked it up and hesitated. Hercules' heart was in his mouth. Surely, Iolaus wasn't going to kill a helpless man.
The blond glanced up and caught his gaze. Their eyes locked. Hercules silently implored his friend to let his opponent live, but the blond's azure eyes, normally a clear mirror of his emotions, were unfathomable.
He turned back to Ogmius, who was starting to stir. He rolled off him and flipped him over onto his stomach in a fast, smooth movement that showed the surprising strength of his slight body. He then seized Ogmius' right wrist and began to twist it, while holding and pushing against the elbow of the same arm. "Tell me who put that knife under my mattress or I'll break it," he hissed, increasing the pressure.
Ogmius gritted his teeth and said nothing.
"Tell me!" He twisted harder.
Ogmius began to cry out in pain and then screamed, "No! Don't! It was Cadmeus! It was Cadmeus!"
"You bloody traitor!" Cadmeus exclaimed and started forward brandishing his sword. Whether he intended to dispatch Ogmius or Iolaus or both will never be known because the two youths guarding Hercules had lowered their blades upon hearing the revelation and the demigod hurled himself at Cadmeus.
His weight threw Cadmeus to the ground just in front of the combatants. Hercules then dragged him to his feet and flattened his nose for him, while clutching the front of his shirt to keep him upright for the next blow.
However, before he could hit him again, the stentorian tones of Chiron rang through the clearing ordering him to desist. The centaur had become suspicious when so many had opted for outdoor activities. Normally most had their fill of exercise as part of the regular routines of the Academy and would use a half day off as an opportunity to sleep or to visit the local village.
There were now plenty of witnesses ready to speak up for Iolaus and within a matter of minutes the blond was en route to the sickbay to get patched up and Cadmeus was on his way home, having been expelled from the Academy.
The two were sitting by the river. Iolaus' ankle was firmly bound, his right arm was in a sling and his cheek where the stone had struck him was badly bruised, but he was in excellent spirits.
"What I can't understand is why on earth Cadmeus decided to try to get you kicked out," Hercules said.
Iolaus lowered his head so only his mop of tangled golden curls could be seen and vaguely muttered something.
"What did you say?"
"N-Nothing, Herc, don't worry about it. It's all over and he failed and that's all that matters."
That wasn't good enough for Hercules. The demigod reached out and grabbed the blond's good arm. "Tell me!"
"It isn't important, Herc."
"I *want* to know. Tell me!"
"Aw, Herc, it's it's a bit embarrassing."
"Iolaus, you *can't* leave it at that. I thought we didn't have secrets from each other." There was a note of hurt in the last statement.
"Okay, but it *wasn't* my fault. I *didn't* encourage him."
"Look, a couple of weeks ago he um he offered me some money to to Well, he propositioned me."
Hercules looked blank. "A proposition to do what?"
Iolaus rolled his eyes in exasperation at his friend's innocence, while simultaneously blushing furiously. "You know!" he insisted.
"No, I don't! Stop talking in riddles and just *tell* me. What did he want to do?"
Hercules stared at him in utter confusion and then the dinar dropped along with his jaw. "Iolaus, he didn't!" he gasped.
"But But he's always boasting about his success with the girls."
"Haven't you ever heard the idea that those who talk most do least. Anyway, there aren't exactly heaps of girls in the Academy and Chiron doesn't give us much free time to go out and meet the local talent."
"But why you?"
"I *told* you I didn't encourage him," Iolaus said, quickly.
"I didn't think you did. I just wondered "
"I don't know." He grinned wryly and added shamefacedly, "He did say he thought I was pretty so I suppose that was part of it."
"Why didn't you say anything to Chiron or to me?"
"Didn't seem any point. He hadn't done anything so why stir up trouble for him?"
"But something like that "
"Herc, it's not that big a deal. I lived on the streets, It's not the first time a male's approached me and I guess it won't be the last."
"Did he say anything when you turned him down?"
*That* was an awkward question. Cadmeus has actually made several remarks about Iolaus' relationship with the demigod and had suggested that he'd be a far better lover than Hercules was. The blond did not think his friend would cope well with the implications of that, although since the suggestion had been made it had provided Iolaus with a lot of food for thought and had made him only too conscious of the reality of some longings once only dimly perceived. "Oh um he was a bit annoyed about it, but I I thought he'd simmer down."
"He must have thought you were going to tell someone."
"I don't think so. After a couple of weeks he'd have realized he was safe on that score. I think he'd just wanted revenge on me for turning him down. You know how his family has spoilt him. He's used to getting whatever he wants and bein denied probably rankled with him. However, I guess we'll never know."
"Are you going to tell Chiron now?"
"Nope. He knows that Cadmeus tried to set me up and that's enough. There's no point in saying anything." In truth, he was still rather annoyed with Chiron, even though the latter had apologized and reinstated him to the Academy, and didn't feel like enlightening him.
"I guess you're right."
"Course I am, Herc. We wouldn't want other people hearing about it and getting ideas," he said, grinning. "I'm busy enough already fending off all the girls."
"Didn't you just say something about the people who talked most about such things," Hercules teased.
"Yeah, but in *my* case it's *not* true. Don't you know *anything*, Herc? I'm the exception that proves the rule," Iolaus retorted. "Now shut up or I'll forget I'm an invalid and chuck you into the river."
Hercules grinned and subsided.
Risking a glance at his friend's handsome profile, Iolaus could not help but wish he wasn't such an innocent. If only there had been some jealousy in his reaction to the blond's tale rather than bewilderment and anger with Cadmeus. Still, at least he had the demigod's friendship and, he told himself, that should be enough for any mortal.