Gifts

By Rudy

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?

As Hercules is on his way back to claim Iolaus from Hades after defeating the second Enforcer, Apollo stops him - - - -

Hercules stopped in his tracks. He stood on a sunny mountain top, facing a god of unsurpassed beauty.

"Apollo. Listen, I'm in a hurry; I've got to get back to Hades by sunset, or I'll lose Iolaus to the Other Side."

Apollo motioned gracefully, and Hercules' tumbled words stilled.

"I'm aware of the bargain you've struck, and the battle you've won. I've come to ask you to release Iolaus to me. Let him come to me."

Hercules stared at his shining half-brother, baffled.

"What ... what do you mean? Let him go to you? To Olympus? Why?"

Apollo smiled, his beauty as sharp as a sword.

"To Olympus. I've wanted Iolaus since you were boys. You are a good man, Hercules. But, the truth is not in you, when it comes to your faithful friend. You no longer deserve his company. He's died for you three times, now, yet still you do not value him as you should," Apollo cast a bright look upon Hercules as he sputtered in protest and fell silent once again, "I am the God of Truth, Hercules. Of Light. And, I tell you, you do not value him as you should. Why should you keep him hanging on, for the rest of the tiny span of his mortal life? I can make him happy, now."

Hercules felt panic grip his heart, and forced his voice to be calm as he answered.

"What do you mean, I don't value him as I should? He's my best friend; my most trusted companion. I love him like a brother."

"Like a brother? Hasn't there ever been a time when you loved him as something more? Loved him as he has loved you for more than half of your lives?"

"As something more ..." Hercules' face became abstracted.

"Let me help you to remember."

Apollo gestured, and they were suddenly standing in a moonlit grove of laurel trees, by a lake. Two boys in their early teens were lying side by side on a thick blanket, warmed by a crackling fire. One boy was brown-haired and strongly built; his icy blue eyes were trained on the distant stars, and a frown marred his face. The other was slight and tanned, with blond hair waving past his shoulders to midway down his narrow, bare chest. His eyes were closed, one arm crooked up behind his head.

"Do you recognize them?" Apollo asked, in a voice like warm honey.

"Iolaus," Hercules said softly, a strange pain passing through him, "he always refused to cut his hair when we were kids. And, me."

"Do you remember this place? This night?

"Not this particular night, but we used to come here to fish. We'd take a couple of days; it was a big adventure to us, then." He smiled reminiscently.

"An adventure. Yes. Watch them." Apollo fell silent.

Hercules' younger self sighed heavily, and turned on his side, propping himself up on one elbow to gaze down at Iolaus. Iolaus' eyes opened.

"Herc? What's wrong?"

"It won't go away." Hercules grumbled.

"What won't go away?"

The young demigod blushed and gestured with his eyes to his groin. An impressive erection was straining against the thin cotton pants which were his only garment.

Iolaus looked, and blushed in turn.

"Does ... does it ever happen to you?" Hercules asked.

"Of course it does."

"How long does it take to go away for you?" Hercules squirmed uncomfortably, "This time it's taking forever."

Iolaus ran a nervous hand through his gleaming thicket of hair, braiding a lock of it absentmindedly.

"Sometimes it doesn't go away by itself," he mumbled.

"What do you mean? It just stays there, forever? How could that be?"

"No, it doesn't stay there forever. You have to ... touch it."

Hercules' young face was a study in innocent confusion.

"Touch it?"

Iolaus sighed.

"Just wait a while longer; it'll go away. Think about ... uh, think about mucking out the barn."

Hercules laughed unsteadily.

"Why does it have to happen?" he asked, his voice filled with frustration.

Iolaus laughed up at his young companion, his beaming face smooth and sweet.

"Well, if it didn't, we wouldn't be here!"

"That's true. But, still, it's not like I'm ready to have a kid or anything. So, why is it happening now?"

They were silent for a moment, Iolaus still smiling sweetly, the younger Hercules staring down at him intently.

"Iolaus? Have you ever, you know, done it with a girl?"

Iolaus blushed, and turned his head away.

"No. I've never really wanted ... and, well, girls don't like me. I think it's because I'm small. They like boys to be big, like you," he laughed and turned back to Hercules, "Aletia especially likes you."

"Yeah, I think she does," Hercules smiled, "but, I don't know why she'd like me and not you. You look better than I do."

Iolaus stared up at Hercules for a second, obviously speechless.

"Are you blind?" he burst out. "You're beautiful! By the time you've grown up, you'll probably be the most beautiful man ever."

Hercules' younger self snorted contemptuously.

"You're the one who's blind. I'm too slow and clumsy. Not quick like you, and you're ... what does my mother call it? Graceful. You're graceful. And, my hair is straight, and it looks like mud. Your hair is so wavy, and soft. It's a nice color, too. I think girls like you, but you just don't realize it."

"Herc, you just think I look good because I'm your friend. Everybody knows that you're beautiful; your mother is so pretty that it practically hurts to look at her. And your father ... well, he's a god."

"Yeah."

Another silent moment.

Apollo turned to the demigod at his side.

"Do you remember, now?" he questioned softly.

Hercules blushed, an echo of his younger self, then met the god's piercing gaze.

"Yes. I remember. I confess; I'd completely forgotten about this night. I still don't remember exactly what happened, but the basics ... yes. I remember," he repeated.

"I know that you had forgotten. You are a fool, Hercules," Apollo glanced back at the golden-haired youth at their feet, "Iolaus has never forgotten. He hasn't lost a single word or the simplest gesture. This was one of the defining moments of his life, and he's kept the memory close to his heart. I tell you again, my brother; you don't deserve him."

The younger Hercules stirred, and the two turned back to watch once again.

"How about with a boy?" the young Hercules asked, hesitantly.

"What?" Iolaus squeaked.

"Have you ever done it with a boy?"

"No."

"Have you ever thought about it. With a boy, I mean?" Hercules asked.

Iolaus was silent for a long moment, his face turned away from his friend. Hercules and Apollo could see his expression clearly; his face was transfused with desire and sadness. The glow in the clear, young eyes cut through to the watching Hercules' soul.

Without turning, Iolaus said softly: "Yes, I've thought about it."

The youthful Hercules stared at the back of that shining head, and swallowed audibly.

"Who did you think about doing it with?"

Iolaus turned back to Hercules, and the youthful demigod caught his breath as he saw the expression on his face.

"Iolaus. Did you think about doing it with me?"

There was a long pause, during which both the elder and younger Hercules' held their breath.

"Y ... yes. You're the only one I've ever wanted to do it with," Iolaus looked up into Hercules' eyes, "the only one. Please, don't be mad at me."

"Mad at you? Because you want to do it with me? Why would that make me mad?"

"Because you don't want me back." Iolaus' voice was almost inaudible.

Hercules was silent, thinking. Then,

"I do want to. With you. Do you know how?"

Iolaus started.

"Are you sure? You really want to? You mean, now?"

"Yes. Now. With you."

Iolaus smiled, nervously.

"Well, I'm not really sure how."

He reached up and touched Hercules' face gently, tracing his lips with an unsteady finger. Hercules bent down, and their lips touched, awkwardly. Then again, and again. Iolaus sat up and pulled Hercules into a tender embrace, kissing him again, leaving his lips against Hercules', lingering. He moaned softly, and tangled one hand in Hercules' brown hair.

The watching Hercules felt the tears coming, and allowed them to flow freely as he watched Iolaus earnestly learning how to kiss his younger self.

The kisses became more urgent as they became deeper; finally, Iolaus tentatively slipped his tongue into his friend’s mouth. Hercules gasped, and quickly reciprocated, pulling Iolaus tightly against him, instinctively pushing his aching erection against the blond boy’s pliant body. Iolaus slid his hands to Hercules’ hips, pushing back with a burgeoning erection of his own.

Both of them shuddered as hardness met hardness, burning through their clothing. Iolaus’ eyes, which had been closed as he concentrated his attention upon kissing Hercules, flew open, and he pulled away from Hercules’ eager, clumsy mouth. His expression was one of heated wonder, and the grown Hercules felt arousal stir as he remembered how he had felt when those trusting blue eyes burned into his with unabashed need.

Indeed, he *saw* how it had felt, as his younger self drew a ragged breath and pushed the soft, golden mane away from Iolaus’ face, devouring the smaller boy’s features with hot eyes.

"Iolaus," he murmured, then moaned as Iolaus began nibbling carefully at his throat. Hercules' hands abandoned Iolaus' hair, allowing the silky curtain to spill around both of their faces as he ran trembling fingers down Iolaus' spine to cup his buttocks tenderly.

Iolaus trailed his mouth down to shyly lick at Hercules' nipple. Emboldened by Hercules' gasping response, he nipped lightly, then moved to give the other nipple the same treatment.

The watching Hercules drew a breath as ragged as the brown-haired boy before him had.

"No one else has ever done that to me." He whispered in a choked voice. "How could I have forgotten? It felt so incredible; his lips, his teeth, so steady and careful. How did I manage to forget?"

Apollo said nothing, but he offered Hercules a small smile before returning his gaze to Iolaus, as the boy kissed his way to the waistband of his larger friend's pants.

He raised his golden head, then, and placed his mouth against Hercules' once more, teaching his friend what he had just learned with feather-light bites on Hercules' soft lips, and darting explorations of his mouth with a nimble tongue.

He reached between them to place his hand against Hercules' swollen shaft, causing him to jump with lust-filled shock.

"Let me show you how to touch it," Iolaus murmured huskily, pulling Hercules' pants below his knees with impatient hands. Hercules kicked them off, then tugged Iolaus' pants off in turn, his mouth searching for Iolaus', starving for that sweet taste. Iolaus surrendered it gladly, their tongues dancing together, as he reached down once again, to take Hercules' aching cock into his small, callused hand. Hercules broke the kiss, throwing his head back and hurling a wordless cry to the stars. He strained against that sure hand as it surrounded him firmly.

Iolaus gave a sobbing laugh.

"This, I know. I've just never done it to someone else before. Does this feel good?"

He pumped the shaft strongly, then ran a quick finger over the tender head before returning to his stroking.

"Good. Oh, yes, it's good. So good." Hercules babbled, craning his head to watch as Iolaus brought him to the very edge of ecstasy.

Gradually, Iolaus slowed his motions, capturing Hercules' lips and swallowing his frustrated moans. Then, he pulled away, fingertips barely brushing his suffering friend's burning length. His eyes on Hercules' face, he picked up the pace again, nibbling at the young demigod's nipple as he did so. Hercules' hips jerked off of the blanket, and he began thrusting mindlessly against Iolaus' grip, grunting hoarsely with each stroke. Within moments, he stiffened, his hands clutching the air, his seed spurting over Iolaus' pumping fist and his own abdomen. Caught in the throes of the most exquisite sensations of his young life, he didn't notice that his friend was trembling wildly against him, gasping his name sweetly, watching his face with intent, heavy-lidded eyes.

The watching Hercules wanted to turn away from the naked adoration shining from Iolaus' beautiful eyes as his younger self's ejaculate washed over his hand. Not allowing his own orgasm to upset the motions, Iolaus stroked gently, then relinquished the softening member with patent reluctance. He brought his hand to his mouth, and with that same expression of pure love, he traced out his pink tongue to taste the sticky stuff.

"Apollo, please. Let me go. It's too much."

"You must watch."

Helplessly, Hercules watched his younger self reach for Iolaus, pulling him to cuddle against his wildly-pounding heart. He reached for his slight friend's erection, and found it covered with creamy liquid.

"I ... I finished, too." Iolaus whispered, almost ashamed.

The eyes of the adult Hercules were riveted on Iolaus.

"I didn't even need to touch him," he whispered.

The two boys nestled together, and the young Hercules was soon asleep, curled on his side with his head pillowed on Iolaus' naked, brown shoulder. Iolaus remained awake, staring at the stars with liquid eyes as he stroked Hercules' wild brown locks tenderly.

"Apollo," he whispered, causing the grown Hercules to jump in alarm, "Apollo. I know that you loved Hyacinthus, so I was hoping you'd understand. He was a mortal, and you are a god. Please, for that love, hear me. I know Hercules doesn't love me the way I love him. He doesn't want me so much that he can't breathe. He doesn't dream of me each night, or wake up eager to dress and seek me out, just to hear the sound of my laughter. But, he loves me as a friend. Please, don't let me lose that. Let me be there for him. At his side. Please, don't let him turn away from me because I was weak, this once."

A shimmer, and another Apollo appeared, standing before the gilded stripling.

Iolaus blinked in awe.

"Apollo?"

"You called me, Iolaus. I am here."

"Apollo. Was it like this, with Hyacinthus, I mean? Was it like his heart would burst with love?"

"For both of us."

Iolaus gazed at Apollo, sympathy in his eyes.

"It must have been awful for you, when he died."

"It broke my heart," Apollo's whisper was steady, but his grey eyes were suspiciously bright, "I wanted to bring him to Olympus with me, but, he chose for his soul to move on."

The sleeping Hercules stirred, and Iolaus laid soft lips to the shining, brown hair, cradling him gently until he subsided. The golden head remained bent over the dark one for a few moments, then Iolaus raised glowing blue eyes to Apollo's face.

"I'd give up my soul any day if it meant staying at Hercules' side."

"Even though you know he doesn't love you as you love him?"

"He loves me as his friend. I can help him. That's enough for me. It has to be."

The elder Hercules' heart ached at the wistful note in Iolaus' sweet whisper. He longed with all of his being to force his younger self to awaken and turn his face into the small, brown hand which continued caressing his hair softly. To kiss the palm, then claim Iolaus' young mouth. To tell him that he loved him more than breath, and that he would never let him go.

Instead, he watched as the vision Apollo knelt by Iolaus and lowered his head to kiss those soft lips, himself. Iolaus leaned into the kiss after a moment, but his hands never left Hercules' brown body. Apollo finally straightened, pulling away after briefly caressing Iolaus' bright head.

"I will keep watch over you for the rest of your life. I believe that my brother will be your friend, always. This will bring grave danger to you. I ask you now; I will take you to Olympus tonight, and keep you by my side for eternity, beautiful one. You will be safe. Do you wish it?"

"Uh, thanks. It's tempting, but I belong to Hercules. I have to stay by his side."

The vision Apollo smiled sadly.

"I expected nothing else from you, but I wish your decision had been otherwise."

He faded slowly from view, leaving Iolaus to brush his lips against Hercules' hair once again, then settle back, his eyes on the stars, his hands holding Hercules close.

"He didn't sleep," Apollo whispered, "He held you all night, touching your skin, kissing your hair. He was so terribly young, yet, he knew that this might well be the only night you would spend in his arms, and he wanted to miss none of it. Do you remember what happened when you awoke?"

Hercules' tears became sobs, and he wept openly, broken-heartedly.

"Yes. I was embarrassed. I pulled away from his touch, and went to the lake to wash. I scrubbed all of the evidence of our passion from my skin, and Iolaus followed and did the same. Then, he dressed and went to the other side of the lake, and caught a couple of fish for breakfast. We never spoke about what had happened. When we got home, I began pursuing Aletia."

"And, he helped you in your pursuit, yes?"

"He helped me with everything I asked and countless things I didn't ask; then and always," Hercules' tears continued to flow freely, "Take him, Apollo. Love him. Let him be with you, strong and beautiful, for eternity."

"Is that what you truly desire?"

Hercules shook his head, running his hands across his eyes.

"No. I want to run to him, kiss him, beg his forgiveness for my cruelty, for the wasted years. I want to make love to him, worship him with my body, every day until he dies. To die with him, releasing my last breath into his mouth. But, he deserves to be at the side of a god who has never betrayed him. To be at *your* side."

A flash, and Hercules found himself standing beside the gold-draped divan in Hades antechamber, staring down at a sleeping Iolaus. His Iolaus, a man, strong and sure, with lines beside his eyes and bracketing his tender mouth. One arm was flung over his head, and his fingers were tangled in his flaxen mane. The sweet boy he'd been; the shining man he'd become.

"Gods. I've been blind." Hercules' whisper was a prayer.

He reached out carefully, lightly touching the golden hair. He barely suppressed a groan; so soft, so silky. He already knew the scent of it; Iolaus had been his closest friend for most of his life. Sandalwood. That was the scent of Iolaus. His hand drifted to trace the sleeping face, lingering over the soft lips. He stilled as Iolaus stirred under his touch.

Impossibly deep, blue eyes opened, found his. His dearest friend's sweet, tenor voice rang in the stillness:

"Herc? Did you make it?" Iolaus looked around, taking his surroundings in, "You're not ... you're not dead, are you?" Panic lit his expressive face.

"No, I'm not dead. I killed her in time. But, I was delayed in getting here, and I'm not sure ..." his voice drifted off; he was nearly overcome by Iolaus' abundant, golden beauty.

"What did I do to deserve your love, Iolaus? I've been so selfish; dragging you along on every dangerous quest, taking the woman who seduced and betrayed you into my heart and my bed. Always trusting that you would be there, that your love would never flag. Even when Xena had you under her spell, I was hurt and angry, but, I still knew that I would come first in your heart, once you stopped to think. Why? Why do you love me?"

All traces of sleep had vanished from Iolaus' gaze.

"'Dragging me along'? I choose to go with you, Hercules. I've chosen my life. I love you because of who you are. Because you are noble, strong, clear-headed. Because you are generous with your laughter and your friendship. Because you *didn't* doubt me when I doubted myself, when Xena was making a fool of me. With my help. Yes, it's been hard for me to see you with her; every time I see her, I remember her hands on me. I remember how she found my every weakness, and used them to turn me against you. But, she taught me that, overcome with lust or not, I will never fight on any side but yours again. I just ... never want her hands on me again. Even in friendship. And, I don't like to see her touch you."

"Why? Because she betrayed you? Betrayed both of us?"

"Partly. But, I know that she has changed. I'm just ... jealous." Iolaus dropped his eyes.

Hercules sat on the edge of the divan and took Iolaus' hand in his own. Still small, and callused. Strong, with slender, sensitive fingers. That hand ...

"Jealous. Of me? Or ... of her?"

Iolaus looked up again, startled.

'Yes, Iolaus. I remember. I had forgotten, until today. You have never forgotten, have you?"

"Remember what?" Iolaus' clear eyes were puzzled.

"I remember *us*. After I killed the Enforcer, Apollo came to me. He's never stopped loving you, Iolaus. He's watched you faithfully. He can take you to Olympus, now. You will be at his side for eternity, never hurt again, never in danger again. Go to him."

"Is that what you want?" Iolaus' whisper was an echo of Apollo's earlier question.

"Does it matter? It's what you deserve, my friend."

"Yes. It matters. Is it that you could never be my lover, is that why you're sending me away? Because, I accepted that years ago; just let me be your friend, Hercules. That's enough for me."

"No, that's not enough. Not for you. You are a passionate, beautiful man. I've been a blind fool. It's too late for mending, but, you shouldn't waste the rest of your life. Apollo is the most beautiful of the gods, and he wants you. You should be with him."

"Being your friend is not a waste of my life. And, I have managed to find some pleasure along the way, you know. I know that Apollo is beautiful, and I'm sure that it would be incredible to be his lover. But, I'm already in love. With you."

Hercules pulled Iolaus into his arms and buried his face in the golden hair, breathing in the distinctive scent of his friend. He drew back a little, and gazed into those beloved features, the scar on the forehead, the sensitive, well-shaped mouth. Impossibly blue eyes, meeting his hotly. Slowly, he bent his head, and their lips met. Sunlight made solid; laughter that could be tasted. And, Iolaus was answering the kiss, with a warm, firm mouth and the barest flick of a tongue.

Iolaus had learned a lot during the past twenty-odd years. He offered his experience like a gift, and Hercules trembled as Iolaus' tongue explored his mouth tenderly. A small hand buried itself in Hercules' hair, and a strong arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him closer. Hercules answered by reclining at Iolaus' side, holding him tightly, and tangling their legs together. He broke the kiss to bury his face in his best friend's warm, muscular throat, nipping his way up to find the hollow behind one ear, the golden ring tickling his nose. He smiled as the blond hunter moaned softly, then captured Iolaus' mouth again, bent on doing some plundering of his own.

The two broke apart at the sound of someone clearing his throat impatiently, and looked up to see Hades and Persephone standing by the divan. Persephone was pink, and Hades looked a bit flushed, himself.

"Well, Hercules, you've met the conditions. Iolaus is yours. And, I begin to see why you wanted him. Under the circumstances, I think perhaps I'll send you back to the land of the living at once."

Hercules blushed.

"Uh, yeah. Thanks, Hades. I ..." he was interrupted by Iolaus, who seemed to feel that further conversation was a waste of breath. He pulled Hercules' head back down, and claimed his mouth hotly.

Hades smiled, and gestured; the lovers disappeared.

"Hope the landing doesn't bruise them. You know, they make an interesting couple."

Persephone took his arm.

"Yes, they do. Both beautiful, completely devoted to one another. It's a wonder I didn't realize that they were in love a long time ago."

Unseen, Apollo smiled quietly.

"A gift, beautiful one. A gift for you, sweet Iolaus."

The End

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