A few days later, Hercules woke up, stretched, then leapt to his feet, realizing that something was wrong. In fact, more than one thing was wrong. Iolaus was missing, and he himself had woken up somewhere other than where he had gone to sleep. "Iolaus?" he called out, but there was no reply. He scouted around and emerged from the woods where he'd woken up only to see Ares' temple. But it was different--much bigger and more imposing. What the . . . ? thought Hercules to himself. Everything seemed subtly different, but except for the change in Ares' temple, which was inexplicable in itself, he couldn't put his finger on it.
The doors to the temple swung open, and a figure emerged. A blond figure. A blond figure with curly hair. He had a broom and was sweeping the temple steps and whistling contentedly to himself. "Iolaus?" asked Hercules and ran for the steps. "Iolaus!" he exclaimed. "Boy, am I glad to see you!"
Iolaus looked puzzled, and asked, "How do you know my name? And who are you?"
Great. Just great, the demigod thought to himself. He's lost his memory again and doesn't recognize me. "I've known you for a long time," he began carefully.
"Nope. You must have the wrong person. I've never seen you before."
Hercules was starting to notice the differences in his lover's appearance. Iolaus' hair was longer, extending just below his shoulders, and he wore tight black leather pants and no shirt. His face had fewer lines, and he didn't hold himself with the edgy alertness that Hercules was so used to.
"I don't get how you know my name," the blond continued, "and we haven't been properly introduced."
"Huh. Doesn't ring a bell."
Hercules was having a sinking feeling that something much bigger was going on than a mere memory loss on Iolaus' part. Memory loss wouldn't account for the changes in Iolaus' appearance. "Why are you sweeping the temple?" he asked, genuinely puzzled and trying to focus on something small to help counter the rising wave of disorientation that was threatening him.
"I'm the priest here. Have you come to make an offering to the god of war?"
"Not likely!" snapped Hercules. He directed his glance skyward and yelled, "ARES! What in Hades is going on?"
The god of war materialized on the top step of his temple, chortling, and laid a possessive hand on Iolaus' ass and squeezed. The blond seemed somewhat embarassed by this public display, but he leaned into the god's touch as if he were very familiar with it.
"Why are you harrassing my priest?" demanded Ares, a malevolent smile glinting behind his eyes. He pulled the blond toward him and idly began pulling at an erect nipple.
"Get. Your. Hands. Off. Of. Him," enunciated Hercules through clenched teeth.
"Who is this guy?" asked Iolaus incredulously, pressing closer to the god.
"Him? He's nobody," said Ares dismissively. "An acquaintance from another time. Another time! Hah!" he laughed.
"I see," said Hercules, still gritting his teeth.
"Well, you always were a little slow on the uptake," said Ares casually. He gave Iolaus a friendly smack on the rear, saying, "Finish up out here. I have to talk to my old friend inside. Don't come in until I call you--no matter what you hear."
"Yes, my lord," answered Iolaus and went back to sweeping, while glancing at Hercules and shaking his head.
Ares beckoned his half-brother inside and firmly closed the door. Just as the door closed, Hercules was on him from behind, an elbow firmly locked around the god's neck. "Whatever you've done, change it back NOW!"
"Oh please," said the god, driving an elbow into Hercules' gut and freeing himself. "Get real, little brother. Do you really think I'd make it that easy?"
Hercules roared with fury and leapt into the air, one foot driving into the god's chest. Ares flew back, then recovered, rematerializing in front of Hercules, and flipping him over his back. Hercules held on, pulling Ares over the same way. Then he whirled around, kicking the god solidly in the side. Ares grunted slightly, then smacked Hercules so hard in the face that the demigod felt blood oozing from the inside of his mouth. He swung his arm, hitting the god across the chest, and Ares fell into a short column holding a large amphora, which tumbled to the floor and smashed. "You're just creating more work for him you know!" yelled Ares as he leapt to his feet.
Hercules grabbed his half-brother and began throttling him, but he was too angry to have much control, and Ares easily brought up his arms between Hercules' and shoved them apart. "Listen to me!" exclaimed the god. "I can't change it back--I fixed it so I couldn't change it back on my own."
Hercules stopped fighting, and drooped, looking defeated. Ares relaxed, and Hercules suddenly lashed out, striking him a blow in the jaw. "That's for Iolaus," he muttered, before stalking several steps away.
"Oh Iolaus is the least of the surprises you'll find in this time," gloated Ares, rubbing his jaw. "But you'll be glad to know I haven't hurt him or coerced him. He's here because he wants to be." The god laughed heartily. "That's almost worse isn't it for you? Than my forcing him? He's happy, but it's oh-so-hard for you to see it. You'd almost rather I hurt him rather than see him give himself to me willingly. I always knew you were a selfish brute, brother of mine!"
Hercules smashed another amphora, then sagged. He didn't want to make things harder on Iolaus. "Tell me what's going on," he demanded wearily.
"What's going on?" asked Ares innocently. "Oh, you must mean besides the fact that I own your golden-haired boy and can fuck him whenever I please. Well, that, dear brother, is for me to know and for you to find out." Hercules charged Ares again with a furious growl, but the god vanished. Hercules sank to his knees and put his head in his hands.
The door opened, and Iolaus came in, rather hesitantly. "He said it was all right for me to come in," he explained. He went over to the nearest smashed vase and began cleaning up.
"I'm sorry. I'll help you," offered the demigod.
"No thanks," said Iolaus quickly. "I'd rather take care of it myself."
Hercules watched his efficient movements with a brush and dust pan, took a deep breath and asked, "Forgive me for prying, but does he treat you well? Are you happy?"
Iolaus looked up with an innocent, unselfconscious, sunny grin, and said, "Yeah. On both counts. Why do you ask? And if you don't mind my asking, what was all that about outside?"
Hercules felt his heart cracking inside him. Carefully hiding the catch in his voice, he said, "Case of mistaken identity. You remind me of . . . someone I know. May I ask how you ended up here?"
"Sure," said the blond. "I don't mind some company. I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid--stealing, that kind of thing. One day he just appeared and offered to make a warrior of me. He brought me to the Conqueror's training camp--back when she first started to put an army together--and I learned fast. I fought in her army for several years, and he kept coming back to check on me. I think he was probably protecting me in battle, y'know. He asked me to be his priest . . . and to be his. Like I was going to refuse? He's incredible--being with a human doesn't come close."
Hercules shook his head slightly, amazed at Ares' skill in bringing this off. It was apparent to almost anyone that Iolaus had a craving to be owned and to serve, and he was enticed by strength and power, and if Ares was treating him as well as he said, it wasn't surprising his devotion should be so complete. Hercules reminded himself that this Iolaus had never met him before; he didn't want to think about whether he or Ares would win in a straightforward competition for the blond warrior. Something else Iolaus said had struck a chord. "You said something about the . . . Conqueror?"
"Yeah, the Lady Xena," said Iolaus in a tone that implied any fool would know that.
Hercules' breath momentarily left him, and he gasped, but forced himself to remain calm. "Excuse my ignorance," he began. "I've travelled from a long way from here."
"Yeah, you must have if you haven't heard of Xena the Conqueror," snorted Iolaus. "She pretty much has all of Greece under her control now, except for a few cities holding out. She'll defeat them in time. Good thing too."
"Why is that?"
"Julius Caesar. If not for her, we'd be part of Rome by now. Her methods are pretty harsh, but she has good cause. Any weakness, and Caesar's armies would devour us. We're lucky to have her; my lord has never had a finer protege," said Iolaus with satisfaction.
"I see," said Hercules faintly. His head was spinning with the shock of all he had heard. He stood up and added, "Thanks for the information. I'd better be going."
Iolaus nodded, then said, "Hey, you've travelled a long way. I've plenty of food here. Would you like to take a few things for the road?"
Hercules' stomach recoiled at the thought of accepting Ares' hospitality, but he knew he needed to eat. "Sure, thanks, I appreciate it." Iolaus brought out a bundle and a skin full of fresh water.
"Good luck on your journeys, friend," he said. "And take my advice--don't piss off my lord again."
"I can't promise that," said Hercules grimly, as he left the temple. He sought out a quiet spot in the nearby woods and sank to the ground. Ares' alteration of the timeline had been thoroughly planned and was fiendishly clever. He apparently made sure that Xena and Iolaus at least were doing nothing that violated their essential natures. Iolaus was serving a master who treated him well and helped protect his country against invaders, and Xena could give full expression to her dark side, while yet engaged in a good cause. Hercules had to admit that Ares' scheme was pretty damned breathtaking. And why am I here? And why do I remember the other time? he asked himself, then smacked himself on the head. Of course, he wants me to witness it all and not be able to do anything about it. He wants me to see Iolaus as his possession, and he wants me to see Xena unredeemed and fufilling the role he has always wanted her to play. Hercules sighed in frustration and said quietly, "Shit."
He forced himself to eat some of the bread and cheese and dried fruit Iolaus had packed for him, but it was hard getting it past the lump forming in his throat. He roughly brushed tears out of his eyes, but he couldn't stop thinking about how contented and serene this Iolaus had been. Damn, he reflected, he's happier than he ever was with me. He kept thinking about Iolaus serenely going about his duties and quietly deferring to his master. Then it finally dawned on Hercules that this really wasn't his Iolaus--his Iolaus was full of fire and passion and pure orneriness. His Iolaus hadn't lived under a fond god's coddling protection. His Iolaus would never be happy like this. He felt somewhat better and ate more of his food. There was someone he had to see, but he still felt a duty to this Iolaus, and he intended to keep an eye on him for a while longer to make sure that Ares was, in fact, treating him well. Then he would be able to put that concern behind him and work on restoring things to the way they should be.
At night, he crept back toward the temple and found a window where he could see the interior unobserved. Ares was sprawled on his throne, in his usual indolent pose, stroking the golden curls of a kneeling and naked Iolaus, who held his hands clasped lightly behind his back. Hercules' heart sank when he saw the tattoo of a sword, matching Ares' earring, on one buttock. "You were made to be the possession of a god," Ares purred throatily.
"Yes, my lord," Iolaus answered with a quick flash of a smile. "I'm glad you think so."
"All, all mine," mused the god. His fingers trailed along Iolaus' neck, down one arm, then drew light circles around his stomach before moving to his chest. Ares carefully traced the curve of each pectoral muscle. "You're a good boy," he crooned; "you've been working out every day."
"Yes, my lord," said Iolaus, blushing slightly. When Ares suddenly twisted one nipple, he didn't flinch or start, but merely opened his eyes a bit wider.
"And so well-trained," mused the god, twisting and pulling on Iolaus' nipple, before ministering to the other one in the same fashion. He then reached down and began lightly squeezing the blond's balls and running one finger up the underside of Iolaus' erect and quivering cock. Iolaus' face was soft and vulnerable, and the god growled, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling him forward for a bruising kiss. Hercules was trembling with jealousy and rage, but he managed to remain silent. He thought of the times he had let Iolaus down, most recently by marrying Serena, and he made a silent vow, if he ever restored the original timeline, never again to take his lover and companion for granted.
With a glance at his own crotch and a slight gesture of his hand, Ares indicated that Iolaus was to unbuckle his belt and unfasten his pants. Iolaus deposited a reverent kiss on the tip of the god's freed and resplendently erect organ and proceeded to service Ares with his mouth, licking his cock in long strokes, moving down to bathe his balls in his mouth, one at a time, then taking the length of the god's member in his mouth and sucking on it until Ares stopped him with a quick gesture. With a wave of the hand, the god created a nest of pillows on the floor, and Iolaus quickly positioned himself there on his knees and elbows. The god waved away his own clothes, then materialized a bowl of clear oil, efficiently and unhurriedly lubricating the blond's anus with his fingers. With a quick coating of oil on his own cock, Ares pushed inside the tight opening, and Iolaus pushed back against him with quivering eagerness. Ares thrust hard, growling, gripping Iolaus' hips tightly with his hands, and Iolaus moaned in delirious ecstasy. The god climaxed with a primal roar, but then pulled Iolaus close with tender affection, stroking his muscled arms and combing through the riotous mane of blond curls with his fingers. He then teased Iolaus by running his fingertips up and down his still-unsatisfied organ, then dipped his hand in the bowl of oil, and closed it around Iolaus' cock, bringing him off with vigorous strokes. Iolaus cried out in his climax, then curled into the god's protective embrace.
When Hercules turned away, heartsick but assured that Ares was, in fact, treating Iolaus well, his last sight was of Iolaus lying on his side, with Ares behind him, caressing his back and buttocks, punctuating his caresses with an occasional possessive squeeze. Hercules kept trying to remind himself that this wasn't the same Iolaus he loved, but it was very hard to convince himself of that while watching his property so thoroughly and masterfully possessed by another, and that other being Ares. After all, if he couldn't succeed in changing the timeline back, this might be the only Iolaus in existence. Depressed, angry, and feeling helpless, he moved on toward his next destination.
* * *
The temple of Zeus looked much as it did in the original timeline. It was nighttime, and no priests were present. He pushed through the doors impatiently, then yelled "ZEUS! I need to talk to you now!" The king of the gods appeared soon thereafter.
"What is it, son?"
"Don't give me that, Zeus!" snapped Hercules. "You know what Ares has done! Why are you letting him get away with messing with the timeline that way?"
Zeus hesitated. "There wasn't much I could do. He had help. Working together, they're pretty formidable."
Hercules smacked his forehead. "Of course. Hera." He paced around the temple, having no outlet for his anxiety, frustration, and nervous energy. "Where do I fit in?" he demanded.
"Ares promised me you wouldn't be hurt," answered Zeus. "No one here knows who you are. I didn't think you'd mind the anonymity."
"You didn't think I'd mind . . . " Hercules' voice strangled in his throat, then he exclaimed, "Then didn't you think I'd mind losing my lover to Ares? Didn't you think I'd mind what happened to Xena?"
"Ah, Xena," said his father. "She's the focus of the change in the timeline. It all has to do with her. If she asks Ares to restore the original timeline, he has to do it. That's the one concession I got out of them. Ares is right that I have favored you over him--I thought it best to let him have his way this time."
Hercules was furious, "Zeus!" he snapped, making the name sound like an invective, "how is she supposed to ask that if she doesn't know about it?"
Zeus tried to keep his patience; he understood why his son was upset, and he felt vaguely guilty about it. "She might have dreams of the other time. She might realize something's wrong. Unfortunately, Ares planned this very well. She's protecting Greece from invasion--very effectively I might add. I guess it's not very likely she'd recognize that she's somehow not herself."
Hercules was gripping his hands together tightly, trying to stop himself from smashing something. He made a conscious effort to steady his breathing, then asked, "So he can't change it back unless she asks him?"
His father nodded. "Well, then," said Hercules, "I'm going to have to persuade her somehow."
"I can't help you there," said the king of gods gravely.
"Why am I not surprised?" Hercules stalked out of the temple without bidding his father farewell, slamming the doors behind him. His whole body still twitching with frustration, he drove his fist into a large boulder with a roar.
Almost immediately, he heard a voice call out, "Geronimo!" and his sister Aphrodite appeared in midair in a graceful dive and landed neatly on her feet beside him.
"What's up, big brother?" she asked. "The old man is really down. Did you two have another fight?"
He glared at her. "Do you know what Ares has done?"
"Yeah," she shrugged.
"Well, maybe you can figure out why I argued with Zeus!"
"Chill, big brother. What's the big diff?"
"What's. The. Big. Diff?" he repeated slowly and unbelievingly. "C'mon, 'Dite, even you should be able to figure this out. For one, Xena is a warlord now, Xena the Conqueror."
"This is a problem?" she asked.
"Yes. This is a problem. She's turning Greece into Ares' version of the New World Order. And the only way to change things back is if she asks him to. The other big diff, sister of mine, is that Iolaus belongs to Ares now."
"Leatherboy's doing Blondie? That's way uncool. OK, now I get what you're so tweaked about."
Hercules sighed. Talking to his sister was always frustrating, but it was particularly so now. "No, Iolaus is not all I'm 'tweaked' about. He's part of it." He began to pace again, ignoring Aphrodite, and talking almost to himself, "How am I going to be able to get close to her so I can talk to her?"
"Well, du-uh," said the goddess of love. "Get yourself captured by her as a slave. You've got all the right equipment. She'll choose you as her personal boy toy in no time."
"Xena keeps slaves?" asked Hercules, then sighed. "Of course she does. And why do you think she'll choose me for anything?"
"Exsqueeze me? Have you looked in the mirror lately? If you weren't my brother . . . "
"Don't go there!" Hercules interrupted her.
"Well, anyway, you want to get close to the warrior babe, that's how. Of course you'll have to make the slave thing convincing. You'll have to lose the 'tude, dude. But look at the bright side--you'll get a chance to do your old girlfriend. I've heard she's really hot."
Hercules briefly considered throttling his sister, but it was never worth getting angry at Aphrodite. It usually just washed right over her. "Thanks, 'Dite," he muttered with difficulty. "You've been surprisingly helpful."
"Good luck!" she
called out, as she vanished. "Later."
to Chapter 3
to Table of Contents
to XWP and HTLJ