Lightning II:
Beloved Stranger

Part 2

He arrived in late afternoon, just in time to see Maltis' bloodied troops break and scatter before the howling horde that descended on them. Iolaus was forgotten; he leapt to the back of a riderless horse and waded into the centre of the battle, his name becoming a rallying cry as the men came to
life at the sight of him.

It was full dark before their devastated foes retreated, his warriors' cries of triumph ringing in their ears. It was not a definitive defeat, but it had bought precious time until fresh troops could arrive. He slipped off his blown horse and tossed the reins to an exhausted, jubilant squire, finally permitting himself to seek Iolaus.

He found him motionless and covered in blood on a pallet in the makeshift hospital Maltis had set up in camp. He snatched the limp body into his arms, swallowing a cry of relief as he felt the life force undiminished in the small, filthy frame. Then those wondrous eyes were blinking into his, and a slow smile dawned as Iolaus recognised him.

"I'm okay," he reassured Ares, who hastily schooled his expression into sternness as he ran his hand over the compact body, looking for the source of the blood. "Really, I'm fine," Iolaus repeated, capturing Ares' hand.  "It's not my blood. I've been tending to the wounded, and-I guess I fell asleep."

"For the first time in three days," came a weary voice from behind them.  Maltis clasped Ares' arm, then indicated Iolaus with a jerk of his head. "He fights like a lion, that one. Stuck to me like glue, right in the thick of it. Finally told him he wasn't any use to me if he was asleep on his feet, so he came back to the encampment. Didn't go to bed, though; came here to help, instead. He did you proud, Ares."

"I expected no less," said Ares. Iolaus suddenly became aware that the sounds of battle had ceased, and struggled to his feet.

"Is it over?" he asked Maltis. At the general's terse nod, he continued, "Then I have to go; the doctor will need my help." He turned away from Ares, stumbling a little, and Maltis steadied him.

"Gently, lad," he said. "My lord Ares has brought doctors, medicine and supplies, and Hestes' battalion will be here by dawn. I think we can limp by without you for a few hours. We won, by the way."

"Of course," Iolaus said matter-of-factly, and Maltis laughed and saluted him, his mind already on the morrow's confrontation.

Ares' heart had finally slowed, and he looked Iolaus over critically. "When was the last time you had a bath?"

Iolaus grinned. "When was the last time it rained? I haven't had a real bath since we left Greece; they're not big on creature comforts around here."

"You smell like a goat," Ares informed him.

"I know; keeps the lice down." He scratched his head ruefully; the matted braids drooped against his back. "If I wasn't so bull-headed, I would have shaved this off, like everyone else."

Ares made a quick gesture. "Don't expect this kind of service on a regular basis," he advised as Iolaus stopped scratching abruptly and revelled in his sudden cleanliness. He unwound his braids and scrubbed his scalp joyfully; freed from months of accumulated dirt, his hair quickly resumed its natural state of chaotic untidiness.

"Come on," Ares said, and strode toward the field that surrounded the encampment.

"Where are we going?" Iolaus asked. Ares noted with no little gratification that he was still smiling, a smile that grew each time he looked at the god.  A small, drab tent appeared at the edge of the field, and Iolaus cheered.  "Clean! No mud, no lice, no rats, just a clean floor, a clean bed, a clean..."

His jaw dropped as they entered the tent. The space inside was far larger than the tent itself; its floor was thickly spread with rugs and cushions, hanging lamps glowed in each corner, and a simple meal waited at a low table. Iolaus turned to Ares in astonishment, and he shrugged.

"I'm a god, remember? I have no intention of sharing you with your lice, but I don't see any need to announce the fact to Maltis' entire army."

Iolaus dropped to the cushions by the table, popped a fig into his mouth and lay back, chewing with a look of comical ecstasy. "I'm glad you're here," he said to the ceiling. "I was beginning to think I'd never see you again."

Ares studied him from the other side of the table. The boy had become a man in the last year. He was painfully lean-a diet of mouldy bread supplemented by the occasional purloined chicken, and seasoned with unremittingly hard labour, had had its effect-but he was hard and healthy, and carried himself
with a confidence that was at a far remove from the arrogance that had masked his self-doubt. This year had been a trial by fire, and he had come through the flames tempered and strengthened by them.

He watched, and listened as Iolaus told him of the past year, his hands constantly in motion; peeling an apple, slicing cheese, illustrating a story about Maltis' tactical genius, or the bravery and endurance of his troops.  He halted a tale in mid-sentence, arrested by the smile that tugged the corner of Ares' mouth. "What?" he demanded.

"I was just wondering what happened to the insolent child whose every sentence started with 'I want'," Ares explained, his smile broadening.

Iolaus studied his glass silently. "I hated you for sending me away," he said without looking up. "I nearly ran away a hundred times, but I decided I wouldn't give you the satisfaction."

"That wouldn't have given me satisfaction," Ares said quietly.

"I know." He paused, then continued, "After I stopped hating you I started wondering whether I would live through this. I thought my life was hard; I didn't have a clue, did I? I was an arrogant little bastard, and I don't understand why you put up with me for as long as you did."

"I thought of you as a work in progress," Ares answered. His tone changed.  "Maltis told me about Nathaneus; I'm sorry."

Iolaus nodded, his face darkening. "He was a good man, and he loved me far more than I deserved. Maybe if he'd loved me a little less, he'd still be alive."

"Don't waste energy trying to second-guess the Fates, Iolaus. He died because it was his time to die, not because of anything you did or didn't do. Or is it something else? Are you thinking that maybe he'd still be alive if you'd loved him a little more?"

The eyes Iolaus turned to Ares held pain, and regret. "I don't know anything about love. You were right about that, too. I wanted someone to talk to, to make the hard ground seem a little softer, to-" he shook his head. "To guard my back. I couldn't give Nathaneus what he wanted, so I gave him what I had.  I hope it was enough for him."

How could it have been? Ares wondered. Nothing less than all of this blazing soul could ever be enough. Disturbed by this dangerous thought, he stood abruptly.

"You'd better get back to your quarters."

Iolaus acquiesced resignedly. He paused at the entrance and asked, not quite looking at Ares, if he would see him in the morning. Ares opened his mouth to say no, then nodded.

The battle was joined just after dawn, and lasted till noon. Hestes' troops turned the tide in their favour, but Ares' presence lent the battle-weary soldiers new vigour. His dark, powerful presence made itself felt everywhere, offering encouragement, counsel and support, and Iolaus was never far from his side. Those who knew the God of War's golden shadow saw the link between them, and drew strength from it; those who fought them sensed it too, and understood that taking this blond prize would somehow weaken their enemies. They closed on Iolaus repeatedly; it seemed that for every one his blade dropped two came to take his place. His battle comrades saw his plight and moved to defend him, until he was part of a compact ring of warriors who wove a deadly net of bronze with sword and battle axe.

Ares roared at him, ordering him from the field; he shouted a cheerful obscenity and renewed his attack. The men around him cheered his courage, and his name became a battle cry, his flying hair a banner of victory.

It was several hours before Ares spotted that hair again, shining at the centre of a crowd of laughing, exultant warriors. He'd heard the whispers that Iolaus was the reason for the God of War's presence, had debated leaving immediately after his lengthy session with Maltis and his lieutenants; had left, in fact, only to return, sneering at his own cowardice. What was one more ephemeral more or less in the lifetime of an immortal? Take him; he's wanted it for years. Just take him, and then you can forget about him.

He shut his mind to any thought save that of pounding fiercely into the body that tormented him, and focused his intent, black gaze on the group before him. Finally Iolaus' head came up, and he searched over the heads of his comrades until he spotted the god's waiting figure. Their eyes locked for an
instant, and Iolaus began to extricate himself from the celebratory back slaps and hand clasps to make his way to Ares' side. "Hey, Ares, give him one for me," a man muttered, and was hastily silenced by his companions; but Iolaus was aware of nothing but the light in the hooded eyes that met his.

Ares pulled Iolaus roughly to him the instant the tent's hanging closed behind them. Some part of his mind noted that Iolaus had evidently used some of his scarce drinking water to bathe himself again after the battle. He could have disappeared Iolaus' gear with a thought, but took savage pleasure in feeling the thick, stiff leather tear away under his hands. Casting the ruined garments aside, he yanked his own tunic off, nearly spending at the sight and feel of the small, eager hands that fumbled with his belt and the fastenings of his trousers.

"Kiss me," Iolaus told him, and Ares complied, diving into the mouth that opened against his. His breath left him in a grunt as Iolaus pressed against him, clutching Ares' buttocks to pull his cock tighter against his belly, and moaning with frustration at the disparity in their heights. He pulled Ares to the bed and fell atop him, capturing his mouth in another voracious kiss.

His almost desperate intensity finally penetrated Ares' own haze, and he caught Iolaus' face between his hands, drawing back a little to regard him with some concern. "Slow down, boy," he said lightly. "I'm not going anywhere."

Iolaus hid his face against the curve of his shoulder; Ares ran his hands down the pale back gently, soothing the tremors from his shaking body. "I've been dreaming about this for so long," he confessed, his voice muffled against Ares' shoulder. "How you tasted when you kissed me that time. How beautiful you are, and how you'd feel to touch. How you'd feel if we... and now you finally want me, and I'm scared to death I won't please you."

Ares was nonplussed. Iolaus had seemed so sure of himself; it appeared that anxious little boy lurked somewhere still. He cursed the nameless, faceless men that had taken their passing pleasure on that boy for the price of a meal.

"Is that how I seem to you? A customer who won't pay you if you don't give him his money's worth? Is that all you think there is to this?" he demanded, his voice rough with anger. As he spoke, he was aware some line had been crossed with this mortal, and he welcomed it. Iolaus raised his head and looked at him, shocked. "I told you a year ago, boy, if I wanted a whore, I'd find one."

Iolaus rolled off the bed and glared at him. "I'm not a whore!" he said angrily.

"That's what I just said," Ares pointed out. "So stop talking like one.  Scared you won't please me, my almighty ass. When did you start worrying about pleasing me? You've done nothing but order me around since the day I found you. Now get that luscious behind of yours back into this bed before I decide you're not worth all this trouble."

Iolaus' eyes snapped dangerously, then he loosed a sudden peal of laughter.  "I might as well, I suppose," he said, tilting his head to watch Ares' waning erection begin to stir again, "since you ruined my last set of clean clothes. I'll be expecting replacements." He climbed back into the bed as he spoke, and his hand closed gently around Ares' cock. "And by the way," he continued, his hand tightening just enough to make Ares gasp, "Don't call me boy."

"I've created a monster," Ares murmured, then his head fell back on to the pillow as Iolaus' mouth fastened over the head of his cock. He held himself motionless and allowed Iolaus to pull him slowly into that wet heat, hard teeth nipping at him, the soft cushion of his tongue pressing into the division at its tip. Then his thumb swirled there instead, and Iolaus was engulfing the twin ovals of his hard scrotum, rolling them in his mouth until Ares could stay still no more, and his hips left the bed in an involuntary plea.

Iolaus settled between his legs, pulling them over his shoulders, and slid his hands under Ares' buttocks to open them to his explorations, tasting, sucking, nibbling at his thighs, his cock, his achingly tight sac and the tender skin behind it, his fingers brushing Ares' anus teasingly until he ground against them, frantic to feel their intoxicating pressure.

His hands clenched in Iolaus' hair as he sucked his fingers, eyes locked on Ares', and slowly withdrew them, glistening, from his mouth. He ran them over the weeping head of Ares' cock, then touched them to his tongue again, smiling wolfishly at Ares' bitten-off groan.

The world narrowed to his need as that hot, talented mouth closed on him again, and slick fingers slipped into him, sending jagged bursts of pleasure through him. He needed more.

"In me. Now," he gritted through clenched teeth, and Iolaus released his cock lingeringly, then looked around. Ares held out his hand, and a bowl of salve appeared in its palm. "Now," he repeated, and turned over, pulling one leg up and watching as Iolaus caught his lip between his teeth, then stroked
the salve on himself in a few hurried movements. He dug his fingers into the bowl and slid them back into Ares, who surrendered to his orgasm with a groan, only to be yanked back by Iolaus' hand drawing his scrotum away from his body.

"Not yet, my lord Ares," Iolaus chided, and removed his fingers. His teeth closed on Ares' back as his cock eased past the strong entrance of him, then pressed deeply inside him, moving slowly, inexorably, till Ares felt the tickle of his wild gold thatch against his scrotum, still held firmly in Iolaus' grip.

Iolaus rested against him, waiting, and Ares felt, or heard, or lived the other's heart hammering, his blood rushing through his veins, as if it was his own heart he listened to. "Iolaus," he said, and in that perfect moment he wanted nothing, except to say the name. Iolaus slid his hand from Ares' balls to his cock, moist from Iolaus' mouth and his own pearl flow, and Ares again tried to be still as Iolaus moved on him, and in him.

He reached behind himself to grasp a slim hip as it thrust into him; his hand clenched on it involuntarily as he found that jagged place again and could no longer bite back his cries. He tightened around Iolaus' cock, wanting to memorise every nuance, every surge and pull, as Iolaus filled him
and shattered him with each twist of his hips. His hand on Ares' cock was moving strongly, almost roughly, and Ares heard his voice saying yesyesyes, and that wild crescendo in his cock and his ass burst over him so brightly it was almost pain. Iolaus' hand stripped him, his cock suddenly hard and
still inside him, and he rode his orgasm against the flesh that impaled him and the flesh that held him, until Iolaus shouted his name and erupted into him. Molten spill, blazing in him.

Ares relished the slight weight that covered him, and debated with himself whether turning over to hold Iolaus in his arms was feasible, given the monumental effort it would take in his current condition. He decided the pleasure would be worth any amount of work, and rolled over heavily, dumping Iolaus to the bed beside him. Iolaus protested drowsily until Ares pulled him into his embrace, then melted against him. "Cover," he mumbled, and a soft sound of contentment escaped him as a silky blanket settled over them.  He muttered something else incomprehensible, already deep into sleep, and
wrapped an arm and leg around Ares, burrowing into him.

If he granted this ephemeral immortality, they could stay like this forever.


Iolaus moved through the forest, his dun-coloured leathers disappearing against the shadow-dappled foliage. The burdens of his office weighed more heavily on him with each passing year, each battle, and the time between campaigns was a time of renewal for him.

The last few times, though, there had been no renewal; just an increasing sense of exhaustion, and dread at the thought of the next, inevitable contest. He had intended to tell Ares last night that he wouldn't continue as head of his army, but the sight of his lover after so many months had driven all else from his mind. This morning Ares had beguiled him with memories of their first time together, and they'd ended up making love again before Ares vanished to mediate between two warring kings in the south.  Iolaus sighed. Ares was not going to be happy about his decision.

He could hear Ares' retainers to his left, and frowned. The damn fools would scare off any game long before they got close enough to shoot it. Then came the twang of a bowstring, followed by shouts of triumph; maybe they weren't completely incompetent, after all. He moved toward the sound, picking up his pace as they shouted his name.

They were clustered around their prey; they moved aside as he approached, and he saw with cold anger that the target their arrows had found was a man.  One arrow protruded from his chest, the other from his thigh; Iolaus' experience told him that the ominous froth around the chest wound meant the shaft was lodged in his lung. He cut off their apologies and excuses brusquely. Cernaia was closer than the temple, and the village healer was at least minimally competent. Iolaus wished fervently for the skilled hands of his army physician, but Lukan had left for his own distant home the day before.

Naturally, the healer was attending to an emergency some miles away. Iolaus cursed and reluctantly directed the men to carry the litter to his home, where his unwelcome guest was deposited in his bedroom under the astonished eyes of his housekeeper. He dismissed the men and issued a spate of
instructions to her, then turned his attentions to the unconscious man on his bed.

The arrow in his thigh proved to be set shallowly in the flesh; working swiftly, Iolaus cut away his garments, eased it out gingerly, cleaned and bound the wound. He examined his patient's face and was surprised to see that his colour was fairly good, given the amount of blood he'd lost from the chest wound. That chest wound; how in Hades would he get that arrow out?  Of necessity, he'd developed some rough-and-ready skills as a surgeon, but his experience was largely limited to removing ruined limbs.

"Pull it out." He glanced up in surprise, meeting pain-filled blue eyes.

"I can't just tear it out, man; it's barbed. Zeus knows what that would do to you."

"Pull. The arrow. Out."

He opened his mouth to protest, but something in those eyes made him grit his teeth, grip the arrow in both hands and yank it from the stranger's body.

It came free in a crimson torrent. Iolaus cast it aside and snatched a cloth from his hovering housekeeper, pressing it heavily against the wound until his fingers cramped. Finally he eased it aside gingerly; the flood had reduced itself to a slow trickle. He sewed and anointed the wound, and held
the stranger's unconscious body to allow his housekeeper to wrap a bandage around the broad chest. He could do nothing for the wound that remained open inside his body; the stranger would probably die from bleeding into his belly anyway. He laid his head against the stranger's chest, relieved at the
sounds of a strongly beating heart and air entering both lungs. Evidently the gods had chosen to smile on this one.

Iolaus rose and went through what remained of his clothing, hoping to find some means of identifying him. Nothing, aside from a traveller's coin or two; he hadn't even carried a weapon. What had he been doing in Ares' sacred forest? Well, the healer should be back soon.

He was sharing a tankard and a few war stories with some old friends at the inn when his housekeeper's son told him the stranger had developed a high fever. No, the healer had not returned, and his mother was concerned; would the general condescend to look at the stranger himself?

Iolaus reached the stranger's side in time to prevent him from rolling off the bed in his delirium. Iolaus held him strongly until his thrashing and incoherent cries abated; Zeus, the man was powerful. Even in his weakened state, it was a battle to keep him on the bed. Iolaus was considering tying
him down when those riveting blue eyes focused on him again, and there was clarity in their depths.

Once again Iolaus held the man in his arms, urging him to drink the evil-tasting potion the housekeeper had brewed from his supply of herbs. The man drank a little, then grimaced and turned his head aside, but Iolaus bullied him into finishing the cup. The effort clearly exhausted him, and
his eyes were already closing as Iolaus laid his head gently back on the pillow. He forced them open again, and Iolaus had to bend to his lips to hear his barely whispered thanks. "I can't keep calling you 'that guy in my bed'," Iolaus said. "What's your name?"

"Hercules," the stranger answered, and his eyes closed again. Iolaus touched his face, and was alarmed to discover the fever was rising. He stayed by the stranger's side through the night and most of the next day, forcing sips of the tea past his lips and bathing his overheated body. He left the room only to answer the call of nature and get some fresh air; his presence seemed to exert an inexplicably calming effect on the man, who tossed restlessly until he returned.

The fever finally broke at sunset on the following day. Iolaus checked the wound again, astonished that it had remained clean, rebandaged it and fed him a bowl of broth. He kept up an inconsequential flow of small talk through the process, and was rewarded with a slow smile. "Do you always talk this much?" the man asked hoarsely.

"Only when I'm trying to get someone to do something they don't want to do," Iolaus answered cheerfully. "Now go to sleep. It'll be your turn to talk when you wake up."

He waited until he was sure the man was asleep, then stood up, staggering a little from exhaustion as he made for the pallet his housekeeper had set up by the bed. As he weaved he was caught up in strong arms, and a dry voice said, "So. I leave for two days, and find another man in your bed." Ares' arms loosened as he stared over Iolaus' head at the sleeping man, finally releasing Iolaus and approaching the bed to examine his features.

"You know him," Iolaus said. It wasn't a question. Ares nodded.

"He's one of my father's by-blows," he said with an edge of bitterness.  Iolaus looked at him incredulously.

"He's your brother? No wonder he's healing so well. With that wound, he should have died." He glanced at Hercules with new interest, looking for some faint resemblance to his lover, and finding none.

"He should never have been born," Ares responded, and left the chamber.  Iolaus followed him into the outer room, his fatigue temporarily forgotten.  Zeus' habit of impregnating his mortal conquests had always infuriated Ares, who believed it an outrage against gods and humans alike.

"He seemed normal enough when he wasn't delirious," Iolaus offered. "At least he's not a minotaur or a maniac." Iolaus had not been at Ares' side for so long without having had experience of some of Zeus' half-mortal issue, and he understood Ares' revulsion. Maybe, though, this one was an exception. Iolaus hoped so; there was something about Hercules. Something in the eyes.

"This one's better than most," Ares admitted grudgingly. "He uses what he inherited from Zeus to help people from time to time. I haven't heard his name mentioned in the last few years. Enough of him," he said suddenly, pulling Iolaus into his arms. "I expect more than one night with you every six months, mortal. Thank you for your enthusiasm," he added with an ironic quirk of his lips as Iolaus tried to stifle a yawn.

"Well, I haven't slept at all since the night before last, and I didn't get much sleep that night, either, you'll recall," Iolaus pointed out, and this time his yawn was huge and unconcealed. He thought longingly of the bed in the pavilion.

"Come back to the temple with me," Ares said, with that uncanny ability of his to sense Iolaus' thoughts. He swore it was no godly gift, just his bond with Iolaus, and Iolaus chose to believe him. It still unsettled him occasionally.

"I can't," he said reluctantly. "I sent Retia home to get some rest, and I can't leave him alone. Let me get the blankets from the bedroom and make up a fire. Gods, I'm tired."

"You get the blankets, and leave the fire to me," Ares told him. "Why do you insist on maintaining this hovel when you could be living in a palace?"

"It's not a hovel," answered Iolaus, stung. "And you know why." Ares could have anything he wanted simply by desiring it; he would never understand how important it was for Iolaus to have something that was his alone, that he had earned and not been granted by a careless wave. He might not spend more than a dozen nights a year in it, but this small, snug house was significant to him.

Ares was sitting on a pillow-strewn couch in front of the fire when he returned. He offered Iolaus a mug of hot mead and Iolaus sipped it gratefully, relaxing against Ares' shoulder. His weariness was bone-deep, but his mind wouldn't disengage. Another son of Zeus. Most people went their whole lives without encountering any gods at all. Or demi-gods, for that matter. And here he'd been thinking that he might have a thing or two to teach Asclepius about medicine. Well, the faster Hercules healed, the faster Iolaus' life could get back to normal. Should he tell Ares of his decision now? He yawned hugely again, and shuffled around on the couch until his head was in Ares' lap. Ares' cock stirred under his cheek.

"When exactly do you expect your housekeeper to get back?" his lover's voice inquired from over his head, and he grinned and closed his eyes.

Ares stared into the fire, his fingers moving in Iolaus' hair of their own volition, until the flames died to a red glow. Finally he moved Iolaus' head gently to a pillow and stood, lighting a candle and silently entering Iolaus' bedroom to regard its occupant. Hercules' eyes opened as though the
weight of Ares' observation had pulled him from sleep and he tried to lift himself in the bed, subsiding with a bitten-off gasp of pain and returning the god's stare.

"Ares," he said at length. "I'm flattered; I didn't expect a welcoming committee."

"Don't be. I'm here for him, not you."

Hercules' eyebrows rose. "Then that's General Iolaus who's been force-feeding me tea and broth? From the stories I've heard about him, I expected him to be ten feet tall."

"He is," Ares told him. "What do you want from me?"

Hercules shifted in the bed, grimacing. "Oddly enough, I'm not here to see you, either. I came to find Iolaus. I've decided to join his army."

Ares set the candle on a table and summoned a chair, slouching into it and propping his feet on the side of the bed. "Why?" he asked bluntly. "You're a do-gooder, not a warrior. Although you don't appear to be doing much of that these days, either. Has rescuing kittens from trees lost its allure?"

"I was off doing good when thieves murdered my wife and children and torched my farm. When I got back, I went after them. It took me two years, but I finally caught up with them. They won't be killing anyone else." Hercules' face was bleak. "You might say I've been at loose ends ever since. Becoming a warrior seems as good an idea as any other, and if I'm going to do it, I might as well join the best. I didn't expect to be almost killed before the interview, though. When was the last time he shot an arrow?"

"He didn't shoot you, he only saved your life," Ares said, and stood up.  "He'll be waking up soon. Try not to need anything until then."

"Well, I do need to piss," Hercules told the empty air where Ares had stood, and looked around for the jug he'd been using since he regained consciousness. It stood just out of reach on the table, where Iolaus had left it after emptying it. General Iolaus, bedpan cleaner. He smiled and pushed off the bedclothes, easing his legs gingerly over the side of the bed. He could do this. He stood slowly, holding his arm tight against his side, and took two halting steps toward the table before measuring his full length on the floor.

The crash woke Iolaus, who bounded through the door to stare at him in astonishment. "Are you out of your mind?" he asked. "Who do you think you are, Zeus himself? Yesterday you were almost dead, and today you decide to go for a stroll?" He scolded Hercules back into bed, complaining about his
weight and the unmanageability of his limbs, and removed his bandage to check his wound over Hercules' weak protests. It was already overlaid with delicate scar tissue; if Iolaus didn't know better, he would have sworn the wound was weeks, not days old. The shallow tear in his thigh was completely
healed, with only a thin line of red to show there had ever been an injury.  He traced the faint scar with his fingers, and Hercules' flaccid sex stirred. Iolaus glanced up, amused.

"Don't take it personally," the demigod told him. "I was heading for the jug when I fell. Healing quickly is handy, but it really takes it out of me.  I'll be up and around by tomorrow afternoon. But in the meantime..." He held his hand out for the jug; Iolaus handed it to him and laughed when he
realised Hercules was waiting for him to leave.

"You don't have a body function I haven't cleaned up after," he said.

"I might have gone my whole life without ever hearing anyone say that to me," Hercules responded with a sigh. Iolaus relented and left him alone, returning a few minutes later with a basin of hot water and towels. Hercules watched with some alarm as Iolaus disposed of the jug and tucked several of the towels under his body, finally bringing the basin and a candle to the table by the bed.

"You're not planning on giving me a bath, are you?" he asked as Iolaus poured a fragrant unguent onto his hands, working it into a lather.

"You can wait till my housekeeper gets back, if you'd rather," Iolaus responded, and without waiting for a reply, spread the foam on Hercules' beard. "I don't do this for just anyone, you know," he continued, producing a razor. "In fact, I've never done this for anyone at all. Ares doesn't grow a beard unless he feels like it. You did say you heal fast, right?"

Hercules realised argument was futile and closed his eyes, relaxing as the razor swept firmly across his cheeks and chin. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting of the much-lauded General Iolaus, but it certainly wasn't the charming, talkative fellow who was currently shaving him. Hercules had never
been a particularly social animal-he still didn't know what Deianeira, who was as day to his night, had seen in him-and in the months following her death and the deaths of his children he had become morose and uncommunicative, preferring to keep his own company whenever possible.

And yet. Here he was, flat on his back after having almost been killed, being shaved by a stranger whose very intimate knowledge of him should have left him sullen and tongue-tied with embarrassment, and he was feeling... cheerful. He rolled it around on his tongue, testing its novelty. That was the word, all right.

He opened his eyes again as a soft towel patted his cheeks dry. He raised an appreciative hand to his chin; he hadn't shaved in days. "For a general, you make a pretty good barber," he said. "Maybe I'll let you give me a bath after all."

"Thank you very much," Iolaus responded with a soft chuckle. Hercules decided he liked the sound of that chuckle. He shifted slightly, grunting.  The fall had been painful and the soapy washcloth moving over his body was soothing, as was the soft tickle of Iolaus' hair brushing his chest and thighs as he worked. Gentle pressure on the back of Hercules' shoulder prompted him to roll ponderously on to his side; the cloth swept across his back and over his buttocks, and Iolaus pushed against the back of his thigh.  He bent his knee, sliding his leg up to allow Iolaus access to his genitals, rather touched at this nod to his modesty. It would have been easier for Iolaus to have washed him when he was on his back. His cock stirred again at the cloth's ministrations between his legs. On the other hand, maybe Iolaus was preserving his own modesty. He grinned at the unlikely picture of that
forthright man recoiling in genteel horror at Hercules' growing hardness.  For some reason, he was finding the anticipation of the unseen washcloth's next destination absurdly arousing.

Finally he rolled back on to the sheets at Iolaus' cue, and they both regarded Hercules' significant erection. "I know," Iolaus assured him.  "Don't take it personally." He gathered up the towels and basin and told Hercules he would return shortly with willow bark tea for his pain, cutting off Hercules' denials with scorn.

Hercules eyed his cock, and it twitched. "Oh, shut up," he told it, and pulled the covers over himself with a sigh.

He was in a great deal of pain, and Iolaus' sharp eyes apparently hadn't missed any of it; he just looked at Hercules until his protests wound down, then supported his head as he drank the tea. "I'm only doing this because it would be rude not to, after all the trouble you went to," he mumbled finally
as Iolaus laid him back against the pillows.

"You've been a superior guest in every way, as unconscious, bleeding people go," Iolaus assured him solemnly. "I'll be right here on the floor, just in case you decide to take another walk."

"I don't need to be guarded," Hercules protested. "Why don't you go to bed?"

"Because you take up too much room, and I bet you kick," Iolaus answered, making sure the jug was close by Hercules' bed before settling down on the pallet. "Don't start feeling guilty," he advised in answer to Hercules' stricken look; "there's a perfectly comfortable couch in the other room, but if I'm not in here I'll be sleeping with one eye open waiting for something to happen. It's a nasty habit I picked up on the battlefield. Just stay in bed, and I'll sleep like a baby." He blew out the candle; Hercules listened till the rhythm of his breathing told him he was asleep.

The sky was lightening faintly, and he turned on his side to watch the slumbering form. So, this was the mortal that had captivated the God of War for almost two decades. He would never have dreamed that his dark brother would have been drawn to a man like this. Iolaus had shed his loose shirt;
Hercules studied the broad back and pool of palely gleaming hair, and felt the phantom touch of Iolaus' strong, deft hands on his body. Gods knew he could certainly understand the attraction. His hand stole unconsciously to his once again annoyingly erect cock, and he jerked it away as if burned.
What in Hades was he doing having carnal thoughts about the consort of a god?

He turned away resolutely, and finally fell asleep with the memory of Iolaus' soft chuckle tickling at him.

to Part 3

to Table of Contents

to XWP and HTLJ index page