Mirror Image

By JJ

Don't own 'em, just like to mess with their lives a little bit. I'll give 'em back when I'm done. No monies made.

Many thanks to Euphonious for all the editing help.

"What have you done to him?!" Iolaus screamed, lifting Hercules' head into his lap. The hunter could feel the demigod breathing, but he was out cold.

A dark laughter filled the air. As Iolaus scanned the area, ready to protect his fallen friend, the laughter grew louder.

"I have taken the wind out of the mighty Hercules' sails, little mortal." The laughter returned, then there was only silence. Iolaus looked down at his best friend.

"Come on, Herc, wake up," the blue-eyed hero coaxed, gently patting his friend's face.

Iolaus looked around. They were in an unfamiliar area, out in the open, and Hercules had just been hit with a powerbolt from a pissed-off god. Well, they couldn't stay here, he thought. There was a grove of trees not too far away. That was better than nothing.

"You know what, big guy? You're a lot heavier than you look," Iolaus muttered to the unconscious man he was carefully dragging. "And you look plenty heavy." Panting, he sat down to rest for a moment. Incongruously, he giggled, but in reality, he was very worried. He'd seen Herc take some abuse from the gods, but he had never seen him knocked cold by one shot before.

After deciding to make camp, he sat at the fire watching Hercules and thinking. They were on a mission; some warlord was planning to take over a town around here. They were traveling incognito, at the king's request. In fact, Damon had located them on the basis of their physical descriptions alone. Iolaus was not happy about having to take his amulet off, but Herc had convinced him.

The demigod hadn't moved since Iolaus had rolled him into the bedroll. What was he supposed to do now? He decided he would wait, and if Herc didn't wake up tomorrow, then he would figure something out then. He laid down in his bedroll and stretched out, watching the stars through the trees, slowly falling asleep.

The next morning, when Iolaus woke up, he was surprised to find Hercules staring at him. He slowly sat up and looked around.

"Morning," he said uncertainly, running a hand through his disheveled hair.

"Morning," Hercules replied. "What happened yesterday?"

"Hera."

"Oh, wonderful."

"Yeah. How you feeling?" Iolaus asked.

"A little fuzzy. Are you sure it was Hera?"

"Positive," Iolaus replied. Hercules looked around, grimacing as he rubbed his forehead. "Uh, Herc, Hera said she'd taken the wind out of your sails. Are you sure you're okay?"

"Like I said, I feel a little fuzzy, but next to that I think I'm okay."

Iolaus had to leave it at that, but he was far from satisfied with his friend's response.

They broke camp and started walking. Iolaus watched Hercules closely. Except for being a little jumpy, the demigod appeared to be okay.

"IOLAUS!"

Instantly, the golden hunter was on his feet, knife in hand before he was even awake, ready to face any attack. The camp appeared peaceful. It was just before daylight.

"What?!" he demanded quietly, scanning the surrounding area for signs of danger.

"I -- I thought I heard something."

Iolaus blinked several times in disbelief. "Excuse me?" he asked, sitting down.

"I thought I heard something."

"Herc, we both know a possum moving around would wake me up." He looked around once more. "Okay, there's nothing out here. Whatever you heard has moved on." He looked at the other man, who was still glancing around nervously. "You okay?"

I think so. I just woke up with a feeling --" The big man shook his head and tried for a smile, starting to seem more like himself again. "Yeah, I'm fine, buddy. Sorry I woke you up that way."

"That's okay. We can get an early start. We ought to be at the town by -- what, tomorrow?"

"Yeah, good point. Let's get moving."

But Iolaus continued to watch his companion closely. He still wasn't certain what Hera had done to him, but he knew it couldn't have been good. As the day wore on, Iolaus would have sworn he was traveling with Salmoneus. The demigod whined, jumped at every little thing, and seemed to be having memory lapses. When they stopped by the river they had been following, Iolaus asked carefully,

"Herc, you sure you're feeling okay?"

"Still a little fuzzy, but okay. I guess."

That wasn't exactly the firm "Hey Iolaus, I'm fine, quite worrying" he had hoped to hear. They traveled on.

"Hey, look! A cave. Let's stop there," Iolaus said, as the sun sank toward the horizon.

"I don't want to stop yet. Come on, we can make a few more miles," Hercules said, shouldering past his partner.

"Come on. You got me up early this morning and I'm tired," Iolaus wheedled, putting a slight pout in his voice.

"No."

"Why not?" he asked, catching up to the demigod.

"There may be a bear."

Iolaus stopped walking and started laughing. "Hercules, be serious. A bear?" Iolaus looked at his friend and saw he wasn't joking. "Okay, I'll check." He ducked into the small cave and searched the semi-darkness perfunctorily.

"All clear," he announced. "Come on in."

The demigod started walking towards him, his head down, obviously muttering something. Iolaus was really beginning to get worried, but he tried to convince himself that maybe Hercules was just as tired as he was and not at his best.

They sat around the fire in silence that night. If it was Hercules' being tired that was causing his reactions, Iolaus figured he needed to sleep for about a week.

"Hey, Herc, it's me, Iolaus. You know, buddies for life, back to back friends, that kind of thing?" he finally ventured. "Talk to me." The silence continued for a long time.

"Iolaus, I'm scared."

Scared? Herc had just said he was scared? The blond warrior could hardly believe his ears.

"Well, having Hera after you --" he offered uncertainly.

"No! I mean I'm scared. There's this fear rising up in me and I can't seem to shake it."

Okay," Iolaus agreed slowly. "Maybe that's what Hera did to you, made you afraid. Can you get it under control?"

"So far, but it's getting worse." Hercules drew in a deep breath. "Yeah, I think I can control it. Let's get some shut-eye." Iolaus watched in surprise as Hercules moved his bedroll closer to his, but he said nothing.

The next morning, Iolaus awoke first, then went to the river to wash and catch breakfast. As he returned to the cave, Hercules almost smashed him with a huge rock.

"Hercules!" he screamed as the rock hit the far wall of the cave. "What in the name of Hades do you think you are doing?!"

"Protecting myself!"

"From what?"

"I didn't know it was you. You didn't call out, you weren't whistling, none of the usual stuff you do."

"I didn't want to wake you up," Iolaus replied, beginning to regain his calm. "Look, buddy, we gotta talk." He sat down on his bedroll. "We're planning to go up against a warlord who's raising an army to take over a town, right?"

"Right," Hercules said sitting down.

"So we're probably going to have to fight, right?"

"Right."

"So -- you need to--?" Iolaus prompted.

"Get a lot of rocks?" Hercules suggested, smiling.

"No," Iolaus said, with his head down, missing the smile completely. "Come on, Herc. When we were kids and something scared us, what did we do?"

"We faced it. I know." Hercules' calm voice was a welcome sound. Iolaus looked up and smiled back. "I was teasing you, buddy."

"Are you sure? You're getting me worried here."

"It's just sudden things that get to me. I'm feeling better today, clearer," Hercules said. Iolaus glanced meaningfully at the small boulder that had greeted his entry to the cave.

"I sure hope so."

They headed out again, moving slower as they noted evidence of more activity. Iolaus was distracted with the signs, but he did notice Hercules was not doing much better in the fear department. They didn't make the time they had hoped, so they again camped out. Hercules kept moving closer and closer to Iolaus after the sun went down, until he was sitting right by him.

"Come on, pal," Iolaus said. "What do you want to do, climb in my lap?"

Oh, sorry." The big man moved back about a handswidth, but soon went to his bedroll, which he had set down right alongside his partner's. The blonde stared uneasily into the fire as Hercules tossed and turned.

Great, Iolaus thought, they were going up against a warlord and Hercules was acting like a frightened child facing a hydra.

He finally laid down and tried to sleep. He woke up to movement. Iolaus surreptitiously glanced around. Hercules sat a short distance away, leaning against a rock, his head in his hands.

"Herc? You okay?" he asked sleepily.

"There's a snake in my bedroll," came the response in a frightened voice.

Iolaus sat up slowly. He knew full well that Hercules was not afraid of snakes. This was getting serious. He went to his life long friend and knelt down beside him. He could sense the fear.

"Buddy, we gotta get this straightened out." He slowly moved his hand towards the frightened man. "It's okay, come on. I'll build the fire back up." He stroked Herc's arm, gently coaxing him back to the fire. "Talk to me, big guy." Hercules sat with his head down for a long time. The hunter waited.

"I don't think we can do this. I can't face an army right now and I won't ask you to face an army with me acting like a total idiot."

"Well, Herc, I appreciate that, but we have to. We promised Damon we would help."

"But we could get hurt. You could get hurt."

"Calm down, buddy," Iolaus said, sensing, but not heeding the panic rising in the other man.

Suddenly, Iolaus found himself encased in Hercules arms, trapped against his chest.

"No, don't you understand?! I can't face this world without you again!"

The hunter couldn't have taken a deep breath if he had wanted to, let alone moved. "Easy, Herc, easy," he soothed. "Put me down, come on. Let go before you break something!"

"I can't lose you again. I can't." Hercules tightened his grip on the smaller man, burying his head in Iolaus' shoulder, forcing the rest of the air out of the hunter's lungs.

"Ribs, Herc, ribs," Iolaus gasped.

Finally, the demigod let go and Iolaus found he could breathe again. He opened up some room between the two of them and they stood there for a few minutes.

"What is going on?!" Iolaus demanded at last.

"I know you're going to get hurt or killed again and I can't deal with that."

"Herc, I'm mortal. I will get hurt and I will die one day," Iolaus said quietly. "You're going to have to accept that. Besides, for all we know, you can die too."

"Well, I can't deal with it. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, imagining my life without you and that thought scares me worse than my own death."

"Same here, pal, but you can't let it rule your life." The blonde hunter went to his friend, and put his hand on his arm. "So what do we do now?"

"I don't know." Hercules sat down on the rock, looking despondently up at his friend. "I guess I can stay away from things that frighten me. Trying to face it is making it worse."

"Yeah, and I can stop breathing." Iolaus looked around with his hands on his hips, trying to think. "Herc, that's what we do. We face things that frighten people, that frighten us. I mean you are brave; you can't just stop."

Yeah, well, I'm not usually frightened by snakes either." Herc rubbed his forehead. "We aren't going to come up with anything tonight, so let's get some rest." He started back towards his bedroll. "Uh, Iolaus?"

"Hmm?"

"Would you make sure the snake is --?"

Iolaus looked skyward but checked. "No snakes," he said, stepping back.

"Thanks." Hercules got in, then looked up at Iolaus. "You don't mind me sleeping here do you? I feel safer close to you."

"No, I don't mind."

Hercules smiled and laid down.

The next morning Iolaus awoke to a strange sensation. He was -- he was wrapped up in someone's arms. He looked around.

"Uh, Herc?"

"Hmm?"

"What are you doing?"

"Oh, well I woke up again last night, and I was -- well--"

"You were scared."

"Yeah. And I looked over at you and it helped, so I figured if I held you, I -- I might feel safe -- and so--" He let the awkward sentence die away.

"Okay," Iolaus replied, resigning himself to being held. He waited a few moments "Uh, Herc?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you scared now?"

"No."

"Then you can let me go," he suggested, sitting up as the other man loosened his hold.

Okay, Iolaus thought to himself, this was getting weird. Anyone who knew Iolaus knew he would do just about anything for Hercules, but this was pushing it, in more ways than one. He had given up hoping that Hercules would ever see him as anything other than a friend and this sudden attack of togetherness was making life unbearable. To be held and touched by the man he wanted so much was rapidly driving him insane.

"What are we going to do?" Iolaus looked at the demigod and shrugged.

"You're the planner. I take it on the wing and try to think of something." There was a moment of silence between them.

"So think of something," Hercules said at last.

Iolaus covered his mouth with his hand, as he was wont to do in stressful situations. If there was ever a time he had considered hitting his friend, it was right now.

Later as they walked, he finally got Herc talking.

"What's the name of the warlord again?"

"Uh - Calamitus," Hercules said "They think he's taken over an old castle to the north of the city. We shouldn't run into him or his men for some ways yet."

But their standard luck held and out of the bushes came about 15 men. The two heroes went back to back, as the bandits attacked. These were not your usual roadside thugs, they were skilled. However, when Iolaus looked over to see how Herc was doing, he was amazed to see the demigod on the ground, with a sword at his throat, his hands raised in surrender.

"Hold or he dies," a man called harshly.

Iolaus gave them a disgusted look but stopped fighting. His hands were quickly tied behind his back and he was led over to kneel beside Hercules.

"What are you doing here?" one of the thugs questioned them.

"Visiting an old friend," Iolaus replied snidely. He was slapped across the face, hard enough to knock him to the ground.

"Don't hurt him!" Hercules cried angrily.

Iolaus quickly schooled his features from amazement to neutrality. As a man reached for his hair, Iolaus saw Hercules rise to his feet. Hercules shoulder butted his attacker, but when he looked around and saw the men circle and begin to close on them, Iolaus could see the fear overcome his friend. The blond hunter struggled to his feet. As the circle closed, Hercules reacted. He snapped the ropes holding his arms, his big hands became fists, and swords were drawn against him. That gave Iolaus an idea.

Oh, gods let Herc catch on! he prayed silently.

"Stop! All of you just stop," Iolaus cried, getting between Hercules and the others. "Easy does it, big guy," Iolaus soothed, catching his partner's eyes. "No one's going to hurt us." He looked over his shoulder at the leader. "Let me get him calmed down, and he won't hurt anyone. Call your men off."

The leader of the goons eyed him warily.

"Stop now. I mean it," Iolaus warned. A quick nod from the leader, and swords were lowered. The men all stepped back a pace.

Hercules was pale, sweating profusely and breathing rapidly. His blue eyes were panicked. He shifted nervously watching the men behind Iolaus.

"Easy. Look at me. Deep breaths." Iolaus was doing his best to get past the panic. The sudden attack had obviously pushed the other man over the edge.

"It's okay, Delphon," Iolaus said, emphasizing the name. It was the first one that had come to his mind. Delphon was the son of a couple who had put them up a few nights before. The darker blue eyes met the lighter and began to calm down. "Good, keep breathing deep. You okay?" There was a shaky nod. "Good. Now look at me. I'm okay, no one is going to hurt me. Just do what I tell you. Stay with me and everything will be fine." He continued in a calm voice until Hercules was breathing evenly.

"You okay now, Delphon?" repeating the name for clarity between the two of them.

"Yeah, I'm okay." Hercules had finally responded to the soothing voice.

"Don't rush him," Iolaus said to the guard as they stepped up. Herc's head had snapped up. "Easy, calm down. Okay, just stay calm." Iolaus looked at the leader. "Rush him and he will attack or run. Why don't you just let me take care of him?" He looked back at Hercules and ordered, "Sit down over there."

The demigod nodded and did what Iolaus said.

The guards looked at the leader. He walked up to Iolaus and very distinctively said, while shaking a finger in Iolaus' face, "He does anything he shouldn't and you die." Then he looked past Iolaus to Hercules. "You understand me, giant? Act up, just once and he dies."

Hercules nodded.

"Let's move out!"

Iolaus found himself surrounded by the warlord's men.

Hercules gathered their gear and they started walking. All day they walked. It gave Iolaus a chance to think. Herc hadn't been acting. He had lost it, and it appeared that Iolaus getting hurt or killed was what sent him over the edge. Well, that was what Hercules had said last night. What was he going to do now? He had to talk to Hercules, and find out what was going on.

When they finally stopped, the leader pushed Iolaus down to sit on a rock. Hercules tried to approach them, but was stopped at blade point.

"Don't," a guard threatened. Hercules glanced at Iolaus with a look of near panic in his eyes.

"I just want to give him a drink," he said, holding up the water jug.

"Let him," the leader ordered. The blade was instantly withdrawn. "My name is Tamaron. What are you two doing here?" he asked, standing in front of Iolaus.

Meanwhile, Hercules held the jug to Iolaus' lips. As he drank, their eyes met. Iolaus definitely didn't like the look in his friend's eyes. They seemed glazed and dull.

"Thanks." Iolaus turned to Tamaron. "Like I said, visiting an old friend."

"And your friend's name?"

Iolaus took a chance. "Calamitus." There was a knife at his throat in a heartbeat.

Suddenly Tamaron was on the ground some 15 feet away, and a very angry demigod was striding after him.

"No!" Iolaus called. "Stop!" He went so far as to trip Hercules. Swords had been drawn. Iolaus gently stood up. "Don't hurt him. He's just trying to protect me." Iolaus cast a hasty glance at Tamaron.

The man, still lying on the ground, looked up belligerently.

"What do you know about Calamitus?" Tamaron asked getting up slowly. Hercules also climbed to his feet.

"I know he's looking for swords," Iolaus replied carefully.

Tamaron came up to him, still keeping one eye trained on Hercules.

"Come here, big guy. Sit down," Iolaus said calmly, remembering that being close to him made Herc feel safer. "Me and Tamaron are just gonna talk." Hercules nodded shortly and sat beside him on the rock. Iolaus noticed that Herc's head was down. He looked at Tamaron, who still watched them intently. "If you'll untie my hands, things will go smoother."

"I don't think so."

"Look, he's only dangerous when he's scared or if you threaten me. He could have killed you and he didn't."

"Yeah, right, and you must think I'm stupid."

"No, we were coming to find Calamitus. Isn't that right, Del?" Hercules nodded. Well, at least he had caught on to what Iolaus wanted. "If we wanted to leave, believe me, we would leave."

"Okay, I'll give you that much, little man." He cut the ropes binding Iolaus' wrists.

Iolaus rubbed his arms for a moment, and then touched Herc's arm. "You okay?" he asked gently. Hercules nodded again. Iolaus turned back to Tamaron. "So I'll assume you are with Calamitus?"

They talked for a while, and Hercules stayed right where he was. As darkness fell, everyone began to get set for the evening. Iolaus felt that they had been accepted by Tamaron. They were fed and given free roam of the camp.

Iolaus pulled Hercules off to the side as he got his gear and began to set his bedroll up.

"How are you doing?" he asked Hercules very quietly.

"Not very good," was the answer as Herc set his bedroll next to Iolaus'.

"So that's the way it is," Tamaron said, from off to the side.

"Would you believe me if I said he got scared at night?" Iolaus asked, with that half smile denoting embarrassment.

"No," Tamaron laughed shortly, then sat down close by. "So what's his story?"

"We were friends as kids. Del kept other kids from picking on me. I promised his mother to look out for him," Iolaus said, running along the edge of the truth. Hercules was sitting beside him. Tamaron stared at the darker-haired hero and Iolaus watched Hercules drop his head. What was going on now?

"You talk?" Tamaron asked Hercules

"Yeah, I can talk," he responded dully.

"You two been together for a while?"

"Since we were kids."

"Is he your friend?" Hercules nodded. "You watch out for him?" Herc shrugged this time.

"I don't do a good job at it. He keeps getting hurt." Herc looked at Iolaus. "But I try." His eyes were full of pain, and Iolaus realized Hercules wasn't acting.

"I know you do," Iolaus said gently, trying to soothe and comfort his hurting friend. He started to arranged his bedroll. "Let's get some sleep." They both stretched out and Tamaron left.

"What's going on?" Iolaus asked.

"I -- I can't think right," Hercules whispered.

"Great. Look, just stay close to me, I'll -- I'll think of something." He was getting tired of saying that.

The next morning, Iolaus woke with his head on Hercules' shoulder and wrapped up in those strong arms. He allowed himself to enjoy the warmth and strength around him, keeping the world at bay for a moment. However, reality came crashing in. He opened his eyes and stared at Herc's face. He liked to watch him when he was asleep, he looked so peaceful. The blond hunter reached up to smooth a strand of hair out of that beautiful face. He found himself trapped against Herc's chest, staring down into fully awake eyes.

"Easy, buddy. It's just me," Iolaus whispered. He saw the blue eyes focus and recognize him. "How you feeling today?"

"Scared and stupid."

"Stupid?" Iolaus asked. He tried to move, but Hercules wasn't letting go.

"Stupid." Hercules repeated. Slowly, and for what reason he wasn't sure, he reached up and touched Iolaus' face. How many times had he wanted to do that? Touch his face, kiss his lips, run his hand through that glorious mop of spun gold. Their eyes met and for once neither one of them hid what they felt.

Herc's grip on the smaller man loosened up and Iolaus lifted a hand to touch him in return. Gently, their lips met.

"Oh, Hercules," Iolaus whispered, lifting his head. "How long?" he was almost sad because the one kiss had told him that Hercules felt the same way for him as he did for the demigod. He stroked the big man's face and Hercules lifted his gaze once again.

"Years," came the ragged reply. Iolaus saw everything in his eyes, the fear not just generally, but also of losing Iolaus again, the deep love. Iolaus gently kissed his best friend again. Hercules whispered his name, pulling him into a gentle hug this time.

"Yeah, he just gets scared. Right," came a taunting voice. Herc's arm, still around Iolaus' waist, flexed in fear, bending the other man's spine to an uncomfortable angle.

"Easy," Iolaus grunted. He raised himself up, when Herc's arm loosened. Hercules lowered his eyes. He knew what he was making Iolaus look like.

"Tamaron, he doesn't like strangers. Warn your men off!" Iolaus said firmly, but with his eyes he tried to promise Hercules that he would see him through this, that they wouldn't be apart again, and that he could trust him no matter what.

"I love you," Herc whispered, with tears in his eyes. The words almost broke Iolaus' heart when coupled with the love and trust shining out of his friend's eyes.

"I love you too," he replied stroking the silken hair away from his beloved's face. 'And I can't even say your name right now,' he thought sadly. Hercules released him and Iolaus got up, noticing the stares directed at both of them. He pointedly buckled on his sword and looked down at his friend. "Come on."

They went to the river, and cleaned up.

"What are we going to do?" Hercules asked.

Iolaus started to refill his jug. He was getting awfully tired of hearing that.

"I don't know. What's going on with you?"

Hercules worried his hands as he tried to answer. "I don't know," the demigod replied, frustrated. "I kept trying to think of a way out and the more I tried, the less sense I made."

Iolaus kept his fears to himself, because it occurred to him that maybe Hera had messed with far more than the big guy's courage. This was not good.

"What about the fear?"

"It's getting really bad." There was silence as Iolaus capped his water jug. "Did I do the right thing?"

"Yeah, you're doing good. Just play along."

"No, I mean about us?"

Iolaus crouched down besides him and again touched his face, lifting the downcast visage.

"Hercules, I have loved you since the academy. I was afraid if I told you, you would say no and walk away. I wish this had happened years ago."

Hercules nodded in agreement. "Me too."

"Of course, in our present company, life is gonna get real uncomfortable, real quick," he laughed lightly. "But, yeah, you did the right thing." Hercules stood up and turned towards the camp. "Aren't you gonna get some water?"

"Oh yeah. I forgot," the demigod replied to Iolaus' question.

During the morning, as he and Herc walked with the rest of the group, Iolaus reviewed the situation. Hercules was quickly getting to the point of jumping at his own shadow, he was losing his ability to reason and think, they were now pegged as lovers in a group of hostile men, and they hadn't even met the warlord yet. And for some reason, Iolaus' conscience was giving him a hard time about the situation with Hercules. If this had happened prior to Hera messing with him, he would have never had a second thought, but now? Iolaus had to consider that Hera might have done this to him.

The information they had received turned out to be correct. Calamitus was based in an old castle. Iolaus and Hercules were taken to him and questioned at length. Calamitus had tried to question Hercules, but Herc's answers had made less and less sense the more he was badgered.

"Where are you from?" Calamitus asked Hercules.

"From? We came from uh...Sparta. Wasn't it there, Iolaus? The man who told us about the army?"

"Yeah, Del," Iolaus responded, staring at Calamitus, who demanded,

"Who told you about us?"

"The man in Sparta. He said you were starting an army."

"Who?"

"Um -- I -- I don't remember his name."

"Where else have you been?"

"Oh, we've been lots of places."

"Such as?"

"Uh -- Corinth, Thebes, Thrace, uh ... Athens, Thermopa ... Thermopylae."

"Do you fight?"

"Yeah."

"Who have you fought with?"

"Uh -- fought with?" Hercules asked. Calamitus nodded. "Uh -- Xena, Jason -- Iphicles." Iolaus almost smiled. Those were indeed the people Hercules had fought with, not against, but most certainly with.

"Have you ever been in an army?"

"Uh huh." Hercules nodded.

"Which ones."

"Mycenae. Um ... uh -- Iolaus, what armies have I been in?"

Then Iolaus understood something. He also realized he had just let Hercules reduce himself even farther. The more the demigod thought, the less he remembered or the less he could think. Oh man, Hera had done a job on him for sure!

"Leave him alone. I'm the one interested in joining up. He just travels with me."

Calamitus eyed both of them, and then it happened. Iolaus saw the man run at him and rolled away, coming to his feet, he drew his sword. But instead of having to meet an attack, he saw Hercules had stepped in and grabbed his opponent by his sword arm. The man dropped his sword and was reaching pitifully for his arm, which was caught in Hercules' grip.

"Delphon, no!" he cried, sheathing his sword. "Let him go."

"He was gonna hurt you."

"No, it was a test." Iolaus grabbed Herc's arm, trying to get him to let go before he crushed the guy's arm. "Del," he said strongly, catching the blue eyes. "Not until I need you. Now let him go."

Hercules released the man, who fell to his knees.

Iolaus looked at Calamitus. "Sorry, he's a little protective."

"I can see that," the warlord said, staring at Hercules speculatively. "Brenner, come here."

Iolaus looked hard at Hercules. "Don't interfere this time."

The demigod nodded and stepped back, staring balefully at Brenner. Brenner glanced at the man still on his knees cradling his arm to his chest, and then back at Hercules and finally down at Iolaus.

The fight was short and sweet. Iolaus won easily. He sheathed his sword and turned to Calamitus.

"Well?"

"Most people ask."

"I am not most people." He smiled brightly as Hercules came up to him. "I'm fine, big guy."

Calamitus stared at both of them for several moments. "Okay, you're in, but if he causes problems, you won't like the consequences," the warlord said, pointing at Herc.

"He'll be fine as long as we're left alone."

"Brenner, take them to a room."

Iolaus followed Brenner and Hercules followed Iolaus. As they left the hall, Calamitus looked at Tamaron.

"What do you think?"

"I've seen stranger, but not by much."

Hercules and Iolaus were finally in their room and both of them sighed with relief.

"How you doing?" Iolaus asked as he dropped his gear and collapsed onto the bed.

"It's hard, Iolaus, real hard." Hercules sat on the far side of the bed. "If they figure out who we are, they're gonna turn us into fishbait." Iolaus looked at Hercules. The big man was staring at his hands. "I'm losing control."

"Control of what?" Iolaus asked, concerned.

"Myself. I almost crushed that guy's arm and I'm not doing good."

"What's going on?" Iolaus asked, rolling over and sitting by Hercules.

"It was a test, right?" Iolaus nodded. "I should have known that, right?" Iolaus nodded, but Hercules shook his head. "Well, I didn't. All I saw was that guy coming at you with a sword, and I nearly crushed his arm." Hercules stared into Iolaus' eyes. "I can feel it all slipping away, buddy. I'm losing this fight."

"It's okay, Herc. We'll get through this," Iolaus said, with as much comfort as he could muster.

Suddenly, Hercules gathered Iolaus into his lap, burying his head in the smaller man's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I'm trying, but whatever I do seems to make it worse. I am so scared." Iolaus stroked his hair. "I'm turning into a stupid --"

"Shh," Iolaus soothed. "We'll get through this, I promise."

"Iolaus," Hercules said brokenly, "hold me." He gently covered Iolaus' lips with his own. Iolaus thought he needed the comfort and the contact, so he returned it, but then he felt Hercules become more demanding. The demigod deepened the kiss, and Iolaus answered him with years of pent up desire. They both groaned as Hercules laid back on the bed, pulling Iolaus on top of him. "Oh gods, Iolaus, I want you. I need you."

"I'm here, Herc," Iolaus responded, gently running his finger over Herc's cheek. He leaned down and kissed Hercules, tasting, learning, touching. He felt Hercules, hard against his leg, while his own swollen member strained painfully at his codpiece.

Gods, how he wanted this! His hands began to travel over Hercules body, pushing the shirt open, while his mouth, lips and tongue continued to invade, tease and learn. He kissed and bit at the strong jaw line, while his hands traveled from the light brown hair, to cupping Hercules sculpted face, to a none too gentle pushing against Hercules for some gratification for his aching cock.

"Iolaus," Hercules whispered pulling him even closer, as the hunter began to bite at his neck and ear. Hercules whimpered as his hands too traveled over Iolaus' body. Then the demigod found a purchase on the hunter's ass. He began to push and thrust, as his entire world centered in his groin. With each nip of Iolaus' teeth, with each thrust of Iolaus' hard cock against Hercules belly, with every hiss and groan, the fire, the sweetest pain he ever knew, grew and grew in the pit of his stomach.

"Easy. We'll get there," Iolaus mumbled as he moved down to explore Herc's chest. But as their leather-clad erections met, Hercules lost all control. His breathing became hoarse, his hands pinned Iolaus against him and he started pushing. Iolaus heard Hercules moan and begin to chant, "More, more. I want you, I need you. I love you!" It was too much! He took possession of Iolaus' mouth, stroking against him furiously. Then he cried, "IOLAUS!" and his body arched.

Iolaus took several deep breaths to keep from following Hercules over the edge. He moved up and laid beside Herc to soothe and comfort him. Seeing the tears flowing down the sides of his best friend's face, he gently kissed them away.

"I'm sorry, Iolaus, I am so sorry."

"For what?" Iolaus smiled. "For loving me that much?" He stroked Herc's face. "Shh, lover, it's alright."

He was about to continue when the door slammed open. Iolaus spun off the bed, ready to meet whoever this was. He faced an angry Calamitus and 6 guards.

"Don't ever do that again!" Iolaus challenged. "You want my sword? Then that's my first rule. Don't come through that door without knocking first!"

"Who are you to give me orders, runt?"

"Don't call him that!" Hercules said angrily from the bed.

"I am probably the best swordsman you got!" Iolaus responded "Now what in Tartarus do you want?"

"Are you Iolaus of Thebes?" Iolaus heard Hercules gasp.

"And if I am?"

"Then you are a dead man -- because that means he's Hercules."

Iolaus looked at Calamitus and started laughing. He started belly laughing.

"Oh yeah, and he's fought with Xena. You must not listen to the bards too often, my friend. Iolaus of Thebes is dead."

"Yeah, I heard that story," one of the guards said. "It was a couple weeks ago, but yeah, boss, Iolaus of Thebes is dead. Hera sent some kind of fire monster after him."

"Shut up!" Calamitus ordered. He walked up to Iolaus and pulled his vest open to expose a bare chest, clearly expecting to find the characteristic talisman Iolaus was known to wear.

"What's your name, boy?" Calamitus asked Hercules.

"Delphon," Hercules responded, backing away from Calamitus farther onto the bed. Iolaus almost sighed with relief when Herc had answered that one right. If Hercules messed up now, they were dead men.

"And if we were Hercules and Iolaus, why would we be up here, instead of downstairs kicking your butts?" Iolaus asked, drawing Calamitus' attention back to him.

"To trick us, get on the inside, find out the plan."

"I already guessed the plan. Wait a while, probably two weeks, scope out the town, send some men in to open the gates and then -- Surprise!" Iolaus sat back down on the bed. "Am I right?" he asked, meeting Calamitus' furious gaze. "Next question?"

"I'm keeping an eye on you two."

Iolaus felt Hercules move behind him. "Suit yourself," he said "Just knock before you come through that door again or you won't like the consequences." Iolaus' eyes were deadly serious.

Calamitus stormed out, slamming the door again.

"They're gonna catch us and kill us," Hercules mumbled.

"No, they aren't. Listen to me," Iolaus said, catching Herc's face and meeting his eyes. "I am only going to call you Delphon or Del. You are not to answer to Hercules. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, I understand." There was a pause and then Hercules asked hesitantly, "Don't we need to -- uh -- take care of you?"

"No, Calamitus did that for us. I'm too mad right now. But I imagine you need a bath," he said as he met the blue eyes of his best friend. "Tonight, Herc." He sat back down and Hercules drew him into his lap and held him.

"Uh -- You aren't supposed to call me that, are you?"

Iolaus looked up at the serenely innocent face of the demigod. Then he felt Hercules shift under him.

"And I guess I do need that bath."

Iolaus giggled and got up. Hercules went to the door, but looked back longingly.

"It's okay, Del," Iolaus smiled. "I'll be right here when you get back." As the demigod nodded and left, Iolaus collapsed backwards across the bed. Gods, what was he going to do?

Later the door opened and Hercules came in, wrapped in nothing but a towel.

"I forgot clean clothes," the big man said sheepishly. He went to their packs and got what he needed. Iolaus paced the floor, trying to think. He turned to ask Hercules a question and froze.

The other man was getting dressed, and Iolaus found he couldn't look away as Herc stepped into a clean pair of pants, his breechclout barely covering his nakedness. Iolaus wanted nothing more than to reach out and caress that beautiful, tight ass. He watched as the muscles in the other man's arm rippled and moved with every effort he made to get his pants up his still damp legs.

Hercules hands went to his waist to close the pants. Iolaus' previously-denied manhood quickly pointed out there was an opportunity to ease its quickly growing need. He blinked and saw Herc had noticed. His eyebrows were up and Iolaus had to clear his throat.

"Uh -- we need to talk."

"Okay. What about?" Hercules sat on the bed with only his pants on.

"I think I've figured this out," Iolaus said, rubbing his hands and trying to figure out exactly how to tell him. "Everything that you fight to be, it's not going to work."

Herc looked confused.

"Like being brave. You only got more scared right? The more you tried to think, the less you could."

"How do you know?"

"I've been watching." Iolaus moved near him and continued, trying to keep his hands off that enticing expanse of bare chest. Hercules shrugged in what seemed to be resignation.

"Herc, this is serious. Think of all the things you try to be. Gentle, compassionate, brave, intelligent, how you have to fight to control your temper, your strength, your passion."

"Iolaus, I already suspected it. Like I said, I could feel me slipping away. The only thing I can do is stop fighting. Try to stay where I'm at."

"But Herc, what about us. I can't do this if this is all because of Hera."

"Number one: stop calling me Hercules unless you want to check out that fishbait theory of mine." He smiled and so did Iolaus. "Two: I haven't lied to you. What Hera did just broke down the barriers we had set up to keep our friendship intact. And I hope it sticks in her craw that although I may turn into an idiot, I finally admitted I love you." He drew Iolaus into his arms. "And I do, more than my own life."

Iolaus wrapped his arms around Herc's waist and held him tightly, tears of happiness filling his eyes.

"I love you too," he managed to reply.

When they were called to dinner, they sat at a table off to one side, where Iolaus would be able to watch the others. They introduced themselves to the men already sitting at the table, three younger men obviously excited about being part of this.

"So where did you learn to fight?" one of them asked Iolaus.

"Sparta."

"What? You went to the school there for --" another one who had said his name was Altonian, asked.

"No, on the streets." Iolaus laughed. He looked at the kid. "Luckily, I was a quick learner."

"I bet! I've heard the only place that's rougher is Athens," put in the one called Grotus.

"I avoided Athens. The guards are too fast there." Iolaus laughed and the others caught on.

"You're a thief?" Altonian asked.

"Ex-thief." He held his hands up "And not a half bad one at that."

"Have you ever been in jail?"

"Once or twice," Iolaus responded vaguely.

"How'd you keep your hands?"

"Benevolent guard." There were nods from around the table.

"So, big guy, what do you do?"

Hercules looked up in surprise. Up until then, he had been left out of the conversation.

"Do?" he repeated. "I do whatever Iolaus tells me to do."

"Oh, he's a gem," Grotus replied. "Where did you find him?"

"Really it was the other way around. He found me in the middle of a fight and for some reason he decided to save me. Started tossing people around, telling them to leave me alone, then he dragged me home like some sort of puppy. His mother looked at me like he had just brought home another stray, but she was a good woman. She fed me and took care of me, gave me a place to go when the streets got too rough." Iolaus began to spin a tale, like any other. "Then Del started following me, and life got real dangerous, real fast. He was just too big, and since I couldn't hide him, and I knew sooner or later he was gonna get caught. Well, I couldn't keep him out there and I knew he wasn't going to leave me alone. So, I took him back to his mother's and stayed with them for a while." Iolaus shrugged and smiled brightly. "She asked me to look out for him and basically, we've been together ever since."

"Tamaron said he's really strong," Altonian interjected.

"He is, so don't get him upset or scare him. He's faster than he looks." Iolaus glanced around the room and found Calamitus staring at him. He stared back.

Altonian leaned over closer to Iolaus and said confidentially, "Watch out for the boss man over there. He's killed four men, just for crossing him."

"Thanks for the warning." He looked at Hercules. "How you doing, Delphon?"

"I'm not feeling really good."

"Then why don't you go up to the room and get some sleep?" Hercules nodded and stood up to leave. The demigod paused and turned back to Iolaus. The blond hunter smiled gently, touched his arm and reassured him "I'll be up shortly." Iolaus watched as the demigod left the hall.

"That is one big man," Grotus said, staring after him.

"How did something that big and that beautiful end up that dumb?" the third man asked. "Is he any good?"

Iolaus turned to face him. "The last man that tried anything ended up with a severely dislocated shoulder."

"From him or you?" Grotus asked.

Iolaus' eyes met his. "I killed the last one I got a hold of."

"Iolaus, Calamitus wants to talk to you," Brenner called. "Now!"

Iolaus went to the main table. He spent some time there, talking to the warlord, but he felt like he was being questioned, and left as soon as he could. When he got to their room, he found Hercules curled up in front of the fire.

"What's up, Herc, er, Del?" he asked, sitting on the arm of the chair.

"I'm getting stupid."

"What makes you say that?"

"I got lost coming back." Blue eyes met blue. "I tried to remember and --"

"-- it got worse," Iolaus finished for him in a defeated tone. Hercules nodded. "How'd you get back to our room?"

"That guy that brought us here found me." Iolaus stroked Herc's hair. The hunter's heart ached for his friend. This must be torture for him.

"Iolaus, I'm going to say this now, because it's important to me for you to know." The darker haired man looked into the light blue eyes that had meant so much to him. "I love you. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm sorry I've caused you so much pain, that I've hurt you. If I could make it up to you I would." Hercules voice was getting ragged. "You always have been my friend and so much more. Through all of this, it's you that's been my focus. Even if I do become an idiot, I will always be at your side. Always. That is, if you'll have me."

"Herc -- Del," he said correcting himself. "Look, we will get through this," Iolaus said, stroking the side of his face. "And I know, I feel the same way about you."

"Don't let Hera win by stopping what we're doing. Keep fighting the good fight, Iolaus." Herc pulled the smaller man into his lap and held him. "I love you." He began to stroke the tangled blond hair. "I should have told you all of this years ago. I thought I was stupid now. No, I've been stupid for years, taking you for granted."

"Herc --"

"Delphon -- " he corrected kissing the top of Iolaus' head, and stroking his face into the blond glory. "Feels right, doesn't it?"

"Yeah - it does."

"Glad we finally got here."

From then on, Hercules was on a downhill slide. He had become the persona Iolaus had set up. A very big, very frightened, very dumb giant who followed Iolaus around like a puppy. One day he found 4 men backing Hercules into a corner by just poking him, laughing at the demigod. Iolaus intervened quickly, they were Calamitus's cronies, bullies, but Hercules had cowered from them.

One afternoon while at a mandatory practice session, Hercules had been coaxed into a wrestling match by another man. Iolaus had been too busy with his opponent to notice Herc strip his shirt off and begin wrestling. When he had his opponent at sword point and the match ended, Iolaus looked to where Herc usually watched from, but he wasn't there.

"Over there," Altonian said, gesturing with his head.

Iolaus took in the situation and saw his friend doing well, major surprise. He began to towel dry, admiring the play of muscles, when a thought occurred to him. The more control Herc used - the less he would have. Oh Hades, his strength!

"DELPHON!! Stop!" But it was too late. Iolaus watched as the man rushed Hercules, intent on driving him into the wall. He drove his shoulder into Hercules' stomach. The demigod pushed the man back, reached down with one hand, and lifted his opponent by his throat to eye level.

"Stop trying to hurt me!" Hercules growled in a low rage.

"Put him down," Iolaus said coming up beside Hercules. The man was having a hard time breathing. "PUT HIM DOWN!" He touched the demigod's forearm trying to get his attention as the man's breathing became convulsive. Hercules looked at Iolaus. "Come on, Delphon, let him go." Iolaus gently pushed down on Herc's arm.

The big man lowered his opponent to the floor. The man collapsed, inhaling hoarsely, holding his throat, beginning to choke and gag. Iolaus soothed Herc back into the corner.

"He kept...he was cheating Iolaus. It was supposed to be...and he.." Hercules said confused, trying to explain.

"It was only a practice, you freak!" the man screamed hoarsely. "You almost killed me, you stupid fool!"

Iolaus advanced on him. "He is not stupid. You were to challenge him and even dumber to take cheap shots," the blond warrior hissed. He scanned the roomful of men staring mutely at Hercules. "He could kill any one of you without breaking a sweat." He continued to meet the eyes trained on Hercules. "Listen to me - all of you - STAY AWAY FROM HIM!" Iolaus grabbed both of their shirts and headed out the door, with Hercules following him.

"Iolaus?" Herc asked quietly.

Silence.

"Iolaus, what do you want me to do? You got mad when I didn't fight, you get mad when I do."

"Del, just be quiet," he said angrily. He was beginning to hate that name, he wanted out of here, and he wanted Hercules back. He handed the big man his shirt, put his own on, and began striding angrily down the hall.

"But --" Hercules was standing off to the side wringing his shirt in his hands. "I'm trying, Iolaus, really I am. I just don't know what you want me to do."

Iolaus stopped and looked down, ashamed of himself. He turned back to Hercules and saw the distress. "I'm sorry. It's okay, I'd rather see you fight than be picked on." Self-confidence was another area Hercules was now lacking in.

They went to their room. Hercules immediately went to the bed and pulled his knees up. Iolaus sat down by him. He tried to stroke his hair back, but the son of Zeus pulled away.

"I'm sorry." The demigod didn't turn. "I'm not mad at you."

"Yes, you are," he said, turning away from the blond hunter. "I don't know what you want, Iolaus. If I don't fight, you get mad, and if I do, you get mad. What do you want me to do."

"It isn't that," Iolaus tried to explain. "It's -- I'm mad at the situation. Look, I know we have to ride this out, but -- this isn't just hard for you." He gently rubbed Herc's back and the demigod slowly turned back to Iolaus.

"I'm sorry, Iolaus. Can I just stay in here? I don't get in trouble in here."

"No," Iolaus said, pulling Herc's hair back. "We tried that remember."

"Oh yeah."

"Just stay away from people okay. Don't touch, don't wrestle, nothing. Okay?"

"Okay," he responded "I really am sorry."

"I know you are." Iolaus gently ran his hands over Herc's shoulders.

Then there was a rough knock and the door flew open. Iolaus knew who it was and didn't even bother to leave the bed. Calamitus and his 'boys' came storming in. Iolaus turned and relaxed against Hercules' chest as the warlord said angrily, "I told you, you could stay as long as he didn't cause problems!"

Iolaus covered Hercules' arm to soothe the fear he felt rising up in him. "The fool never should have challenged him. Next to that, your boy was taking cheap shots. Tamaron, " Iolaus called to the man who held himself apart from the warlord's group of thugs, "did he cause a single problem when you left us alone?"

"Nope, only time there was a problem was when someone attacked you."

"Just tell everyone to stay away from him, and he'll be fine."

"One more problem and I'll put him out."

"Do it and you lose me!" Iolaus countered.

"You ain't that good!" Calamitus stormed back out the door.

Tamaron, however, stayed. He looked at the two men on the bed. Iolaus stared back. "What do you want?"

Tamaron pushed himself away from the wall he had been leaning on and closed the door. "I need to talk to you." He made a show of barring the door, before he turned back to Iolaus. "You don't remember me, do you?"

"Should I?"

"You are Iolaus of Thebes and he is Hercules," Tamaron said, gesturing to the demigod.

Iolaus felt Herc's arm tighten. "And how do you know that?"

"Do you remember the group of men with Iphicles when you came to get him for Jason's wedding to Alcmene?"

Iolaus thought for a moment and the realization dawned. "So you gonna turn us in?"

"No." Tamaron laughed. "We still work for Iph, we just maintained our less than savory characters and do -- shall we say -- some of the dirty work for the king. May I?" Tamaron asked, gesturing to a chair. Iolaus nodded, sitting up. "So what happened? Last we heard you were dead."

"I was. Long story. Why are you here?"

"The king sent us. What happened to Hercules?"

Iolaus felt the man in question getting more frightened.

"Stop calling him that. He's worried someone's going to recognize him. If you knew me, why did you take us that way?"

"All of the men traveling with us are not to be trusted," Tamaron explained. "Altonian's okay, and so are several others. I'll introduce you to them."

Iolaus nodded.

Tamaron stared at Hercules, and watched the man with the strength of 10, curl up on the bed, frightened.

"It's alright, he's a friend," Iolaus told the big man. He met Tamaron's questioning look. "This is Hera's doing."

Tamaron sighed and nodded. "How can we help?"

Tamaron looked at Iolaus. He sat on the edge of a bed, with the son of Zeus curled up behind him like a lost puppy. He had met them both at Jason and Alcmene's wedding, and Iphicles' coronation. Then the demigod had been strong, proud, not the cowering man on the bed. Iolaus however, was still the strong warrior he had seen at the wedding, but the joy seemed to be gone from his eyes. He somehow seemed to be the street smart warrior he claimed to be instead of the mischievous imp that delighted the guests at the party with outrageous tales.

"Iphicles didn't mention that you two were going to be here."

"Iphicles didn't know we were going to be here. We didn't know we were going to be here. Until you and your men caught us, we were going at it from the other side."

"Oh," Tamaron took in the scene before him. "So this is a cover, right?"

Iolaus shook his head. "No. Hera did something to him a few days before we ran into you."

"So, you are really lovers?"

"That's none of your business," Iolaus replied brusquely, but then he continued. "See, it didn't start until after Hera hit him, and -- I don't know -- I feel like I'm taking advantage of him." Iolaus paused, "Why am I telling you this?"

"Iolaus," Tamaron said, laughing, "if you doubt he loves you, don't. I saw it at the wedding. The way he looked at you, touched you. I suspected you two were lovers then, since you were acting the same way with him."

"Yeah, I was, wasn't I?" Iolaus responded quietly remembering that evening. He stroked the sleeping Hercules' hair.

Tamaron almost felt as if he were intruding on a private moment. He stood up.

"Tell you what. The men I introduce you to can be trusted. I figure we still have two weeks before Calamitus thinks he's strong enough to invade." Iolaus nodded. "I'll see you at dinner."

"Yeah, see you downstairs." Iolaus barred the door after Tamaron left and he laid down beside his best friend. "How much of you is left? And how are we going to get out of this one?" Hercules rolled over, pulled Iolaus into his arms and held him. Iolaus wished he could relax into that strength and trust those powerful arms to protect him and keep him safe again, but right now he knew he couldn't.

"Iolaus?" Hercules mumbled sleepily against his hair. "I love you."

"I love you too, big guy."

"Then show me," Hercules whispered. Iolaus stroked the demigod's arms and he felt Hercules nuzzle his hair. "I -- I -- Do you really?"

"Yes. I have for a long time," Iolaus replied, rolling onto his back meeting Herc's eyes. He stroked the light brown silk back from Hercules' face. "Yes, I love you," the hunter repeated with feeling. He kissed the larger man, "I just don't want to take advantage of you like this."

"How can you take advantage of me, if you love me?"

"That's very simple logic. There's more involved here, you know that."

"All I know is, I want to hold you and be held by you and --" Hercules eyes met his -- "to finish this."

"Shh," Iolaus soothed, stroking his face. "Look at me. Do you really want this?"

"Yes - more than I want anything else." Iolaus felt the big hand stroking his hair as Hercules hovered over him. Their eyes spoke to each other.

"Please Iolaus," Hercules pled, leaning down to kiss him.

Iolaus brushed the cheek with his thumb, pushing errant hair back from his best friend's face. "You've never even been with a man, have you?"

Hercules squirmed slightly, blushing. Then he shook his head.

"But you have," Hercules said quietly.

Iolaus nodded, still caressing Herc's face.

"Teach me, Iolaus."

Iolaus gently pulled Herc's head to his. "Okay, my love. I'll teach you," he whispered just before he brushed his lips gently over Herc's. The son of Zeus immediately tried to pull him close. Iolaus resisted by setting his hands firmly against Herc's chest.

"No. I teach, you learn." Again, he just brushed his lips over Herc's. "Lesson no. 1: take your time." Iolaus rolled Hercules onto his back and rose over him.

"Iolaus," came the childlike plea.

"If you want to stop, we stop," Iolaus whispered, as he began to lightly brush his lips over all of Hercules face, ending by breathing in his ear. "Do you know how long I have wanted to do this Hercules? The dreams I've had about you, the times I wanted to touch you, love you." Iolaus began to bite and draw on Herc's neck.

It was what he had dreamed of. Hercules moaned and turned his head allowing Iolaus more access to him.

"Yeah lover, let me teach you," Iolaus whispered in the other ear. Herc's arms started to come around him, Iolaus gently led them back to the bed.

"I want to touch you," Hercules whispered.

"Nope, you have the tendency to snatch me up. Hands at your sides," Iolaus answered, smiling to gentle the words. Then he kissed the demigod beneath him. "We'll get there. Trust me." Iolaus claimed the lips offered to him.

Their tongues met in two different styles. Hercules straining for sensation, Iolaus for sensualization. He felt Herc's hands come to his hair and those long fingers bury themselves. They both groaned as their lips met again and again; an exquisite need and heat building between the two of them. Then Iolaus pulled back and began to bite and kiss and suck at the neck displayed before him.

"You're beautiful, Hercules. I've wanted you since we were kids."

Hercules groaned deep holding Iolaus close. The demigod moved his head, facilitating Iolaus' stimulation of his body.

"I want to throw you down, I want -- I -- More!" Herc cried, as Iolaus pushed the unfamiliar shirt aside, exposing the lightly furred chest.

The hunter almost laughed evilly at the feast laid out before him as he began to torment and arouse his innocent lover, his hands, his mouth finding each sensitive spot and torturing his beloved with sensation after sensation, and knowing the sharp pleasure being inflicted on him would soon have Hercules achingly hard.

Iolaus was delighted to find Hercules' nipples were extremely sensitive, as was his belly. Iolaus nipped, sucked, laved, drew on the brown rings until they were hard nubs and the demigod was fighting, grabbing Iolaus. The hunter's hair brushed and delighted Hercules' sensitized skin as his lips and tongue explored the tanned ribs and stomach.

At one point, Hercules forcibly drug Iolaus up his body, kissing him deeply. Iolaus drew Herc's tongue into his mouth and sucked on it, as he planned to do to that gorgeous straining member pushing against him. Iolaus almost lost control of the situation as Hercules tried to roll him over, his grip on Iolaus' arms was painful.

"Hands on the bed, Herc," Iolaus instructed, setting an elbow to stop being rolled under the larger man.

Iolaus decided that asking Hercules to control himself in this their first time together, would be unwise, but to preserve his own health, he had to keep Herc's hands off him. Iolaus had to maintain control. Every other time, the demigod had lost control, rolled Iolaus over, and pushed and stroked at him until he had reached completion. Iolaus understood that Herc wasn't trying to leave him unfulfilled, but to Iolaus it was frustrating. However, it had solved the problem of Iolaus' conscience.

But today, today Iolaus wanted something more. He lovingly looked into Hercules' face, letting his feelings show. Iolaus calmed him until he was able to put his hands on the bed, murmuring love and encouragement to his lover.

"Iolaus," Hercules groaned but complied. "I --"

"Don't fight me," he said, with a gentle smile. "Trust me." Iolaus stroked the brown hair back. "Soon, my love, soon."

He reached down and unbuckled Hercules belts, and opened his pants. As Hercules lay exposed before him, Iolaus kissed Hercules one last time. Then he took Hercules weeping member in his hand and began slowly running his hand up and down Hercules.

"Beautiful," he whispered, as he gently fondled and touched the sac below. "You are beautiful." He looked up and saw Hercules' neck arch.

"Iolaus," came a half groaned, half hissed plea.

Iolaus returned his attention to Hercules' huge member and gently took it in his mouth. He heard the sharp inhale of breath from the demigod. The blond hunter explored the taste and texture of Hercules. He ran his tongue up and down both sides of his shaft, lightly flicking at both the head and the juncture of the shaft and head. Hercules thrust up and his fingers sank deeply into Iolaus' hair.

"Easy," the smaller man cautioned, as he gentled the big hands to the bed. Iolaus returned his attentions to Hercules' cock. He drew the swollen head into his mouth and began to suck. His ministrations were met by groan after groan as Hercules' hands gripped the covers convulsively.

"Oh, Iolaus. More!" Iolaus let the demigod push himself deeply into his mouth. He heard the groan, and Herc's hands slid to the base of his shaft and his balls. "Good, more. I need more." Iolaus chuckled, his best friend wasn't holding anything back. "Gods, touch me!" The blond did just that, as he continued to lick and suck on the magnificent strength of Hercules' manhood.

Iolaus ran his nails over the flat ridged stomach, gently pinching a nipple his questing hand found, eliciting a hiss from his partner. The hunter gently massaged the joining point of Herc's leg and pelvis, with his thumb, as he built a suction around his lover's aching shaft. Then Hercules began to stroke himself.

"Hands down, big guy," Iolaus instructed, after a parting lick and kiss to his lover's cock. He gently helped Hercules put his hands down on the bed. The big man was almost delirious with the need to feel. Iolaus returned to Hercules lips and began to excite and inflame the burning desire.

When Hercules tried to roll them over again, Iolaus deftly avoided the grasp and rolled from the bed. Then he removed his shirt, slowly as Hercules watched hungrily.

Iolaus realized he had pushed the big man as far as he could. He stripped the rest of his clothes off just as slowly, and watched with a smile, as Hercules, without any prompting did the same thing. Then Iolaus reached into the nightstand beside the bed.

"On your stomach, Hercules," he bid, but Herc reached out to him and pulled the smaller man against him gently. The feeling of flesh on flesh was almost both of their undoing. Iolaus lifted his face and Herc kissed him, cradling Iolaus' head in those giant hands. Then, when the demigod began to use his strength, Iolaus redirected him to the bed. Hercules laid down on his stomach.

"Listen to me, love. This is going to hurt at first, but I promise the pain will end," Iolaus explained, as he rubbed Hercules' muscled back. "Trust me, big guy. Trust me."

"I trust you Iolaus," came the answer. "Teach me."

Iolaus rubbed his hands together and then applied it to his own throbbing member, biting back a groan. He reached around his partner's body, and began at a slow place. Then he ran his other hand between Herc's cheeks, and applied a slight pressure to the opening of his body, slowly the hunter increased the pressure on both. As Herc began to thrust, Iolaus slid a finger into him, and Hercules lurched.

"Easy love," Iolaus coaxed. "Relax for me." He continued to stroke Herc's cock, until he heard the moan and respond, then he began to open him gently.

Iolaus was painfully hard. He himself groaned as Herc rose up on his knees, wanting to experience more. He had sworn to himself he would not initiate this, but when Hercules had asked, the look in his eyes ... well, he knew Herc, and those eyes couldn't lie to him. Iolaus' own cock hung hard and aching as he slid a second finger into Hercules, his head tilting to one side as Hercules moaned and pushed back onto his hands and knees, opening himself to Iolaus completely. Iolaus wanted to push himself into that gorgeous ass and possess it, to drive deep into Hercules and drive all else from his mind.

"Iolaus, yes, more, please," Hercules panted. Iolaus began to angle his thrusts, until Hercules tensed and cried out. Iolaus felt a tightening in his own gut and had to fight coming at his lover's reaction.

"There it is, love," Iolaus soothed. He released Herc's cock and began to work a third finger in. "Breath and relax."

Iolaus heard the wordless moan as he massaged that spot over and over. Gods, he could come right now. He fought down the urge to touch his own aching erection.

"Anything, just ... oh Iolaus, please finish this," Hercules cried, with his head on his forearms.

Iolaus gently withdrew his hand, and leaned over his best friend, his lover, his soulmate.

"Okay, Herc, this is where it hurts a little. Relax, breath and push." Hercules nodded his head. Iolaus gently began to push inside Hercules, and as his cock slid abruptly in, they both jumped slightly. "Oh, by the gods..." Iolaus gasped, his fingers digging into Hercules hips as he paused.

"It hurts!" Hercules cried, twisting slightly. Iolaus restrained him from pulling away.

"I know, I know." Hercules struggled at the intrusion, and Iolaus was fighting for control. "Be still."

Hercules stopped struggling.

Iolaus took his partner's cock in his oiled hand and began again, forcing himself to be still. He waited until the demigod began to respond. Then the hunter slowly, gently began to move. Hercules' tentative responses to his manipulations brought on a deeper, harder stroke from Iolaus, but still very controlled. He wanted this to be ... special, even if it killed him.

"I love you," he whispered, against Herc's back. Then he began to stroke himself in and out of the demigod's tight channel. Iolaus couldn't fight back his own groan. His concentration centered on the heat, the friction. He heard and felt Hercules response, pushing back. Iolaus twisted his hips slightly and hit that spot.

"Iolaus!" came the strangled cry of pleasure, followed by an inarticulate plea for completion, love, understanding. Iolaus' hand closed again over the massive member of his companion, as the noises continued to emanate from Hercules. He heard harsh breathing and realized it was his own, laboring in and out of his lungs.

"Hercules!" he cried, driving harder, deeper, needing more. He wanted to hear Hercules scream his name, he wanted to come in this body, fill it with his seed. Hercules was moving, writhing, meeting him instinctively. Iolaus saw Herc's fingers digging into the pillows around his head. That beautiful head thrown back, neck arched, and the light brown hair fanned across the muscles of Herc's sweat dampened shoulders. There was a tightening, and Iolaus strove for that spot inside Hercules, his hand tightening and milking the glorious flesh. Then his lover's head twisted, his body tensed and then froze.

"Iolaus!" he cried loudly. Iolaus felt the hot seed of his lover spill over his hand, the tightening as he came and Iolaus, with a loud groan, drove deep into Hercules body and released his essence with a deep throated cry.

Afterwards, slowly he soothed the man beneath him. They lay together. As Iolaus' softening member slid from Herc's body, Hercules, with a groan, rolled over and gathered the hunter in his arms.

"I'm yours, Iolaus. You are my life, " he murmured into the golden hair, as Iolaus drew his arms tightly around him. "Without you, my life isn't worth living."

His simple heartfelt words brought tears to the hunter's eyes.

"Heard Calamitus gave you an earful," Altonian said at dinner.

Iolaus shrugged. Then Brenner came to the table.

"Calamitus wants to see you."

Iolaus looked at Hercules. "Stay here!"

Hercules nodded. Iolaus started towards the head table and found Calamitus staring in his direction, but the gaze was directed at someone behind him. He sat down, kicked his feet up on the table and met Calamitus's angry gaze.

"You wanted to see me?" he asked, intertwining his fingers behind his head.

Calamitus raised an eyebrow. "Next week, I'm sending a reconnaissance party out." Iolaus nodded. "You are going with them."

"Not a good idea."

"Why?"

"He's a little hard to hide," Iolaus said gesturing towards Hercules.

"He'll stay here."

"I don't think that's a good idea either." Iolaus remembered Herc's panic at the thought of Iolaus leaving him. "He'll panic and I don't think you want to deal with that."

Calamitus leaned forward angrily. "No, it's you who doesn't understand. I said you are going with the reconnaissance party and he would stay here. Now if you can't follow orders, you will spend the rest of your time in the dungeons. Do you understand me?"

Iolaus met his eyes. Calamitus was too close to an attack to allow them to leave, but he knew if he left Hercules behind, there would be trouble.

"I'll have him stay with the horses," he offered.

"No! You are going into the city, and I won't risk everything on a half-wit!"

Iolaus put his feet on the floor, and leaned forward. "Don't call him that," came a growled warning.

"I'll call him anything I please. Now do you understand?"

Brenner and several others put their hands on their swords. Iolaus looked around, considering standing up.

"Delphon, no. Sit down," came Altonian's voice.

Iolaus looked back and saw Hercules on his feet, but he also saw two archers aiming at Hercules.

"If he moves, he will die," Calamitus threatened. "Now, do you understand?"

Iolaus turned back to the warlord, their eyes met for a moment, but Iolaus leaned back in his chair. "Yeah, I understand. Call your boys off."

Two days later, Hercules came back to their room from the baths. Iolaus had almost gone with him, but he needed time to think. He explained to Hercules that he would be gone for a couple of days, and Hercules had appeared to be able to deal with that. Iolaus was, however, concerned about when he actually rode off. There was something about this that wasn't right. He had met the group that were going in, and most of them were tight with Calamitus. That bothered him a lot.

Herc came in the door, wrapped in a towel.

Iolaus looked up. "Del, stop running around like that. It's an open invitation."

Hercules stopped and looked at him. "Invitation for what?"

Iolaus looked skyward, Hercules had obviously been trying to think lately. It was easy to tell when he had done that; the effects were devastating.

"For men to touch you," Iolaus said, moving towards him.

Hercules looked at him and then nodded. "Is that why they were staring at me?" Iolaus nodded. "Okay. I'll try to remember."

Later, there was a knock at the door. It was Altonian.

"Hey, how's it going?" Iolaus shook his head.

"Hi, Altonian," Hercules said, from where he sat on the bed in only his pants.

"You know you can leave him with me. I'll make sure he's okay," the young man offered. "Tamaron thought it was a good idea."

"I may have to," Iolaus said. "There's just something about this that's bugging me."

"Everything about this bugs me," Altonian said, wandering around the room. "I hate it when we have jobs like this."

"That'll teach you to work for Iphicles," Iolaus said, laughing.

The night before Iolaus had to leave, he took Hercules in his arms. "Remember I have to leave tomorrow."

"We're leaving?"

"No, I am."

Hercules tensed. "Why?" Iolaus ran his fingers lovingly through Herc's hair. Gods, if this was permanent, could he deal with Herc like this?

"I'm leaving tomorrow to go see the town, and I'll be gone for a few days. I'll be back, and in the meantime," Iolaus explained, for the twelfth time, "you're going to stay with Altonian and Tamaron. I'll be back. Okay."

"You promise?"

"I promise," Iolaus comforted.

Then Hercules turned and kissed Iolaus. "I did better last night, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did much better." Iolaus smiled. The night before when they made love, Hercules had been able to control himself up until the very end. However, Iolaus had a collection of bruises from the previous 3 days where he hadn't.

"Iolaus?"

"Hmm?" Iolaus responded as Hercules rolled onto his side, cuddling Iolaus close.

"Can I do it to you?"

"Do what?" Iolaus asked, as Hercules covered his lips with his own.

"I'll be gentle, I promise," Hercules whispered, laying Iolaus down on the bed. Then he set out, and with an amazing skill at mimicry, Hercules began to tease Iolaus the exact same way Iolaus had tortured him. He had bit and sucked at Iolaus' neck until the hunter was writhing, panting, hard in his pants. Then he had moved lower and explored Iolaus' chest, sucking on his nipples, running his lips over the skin so gently. Iolaus ran his hands over Hercules, into his hair, drawing the demigod's face to his and kissing him.

The honey haired hero loosened Iolaus pants, and took him in his mouth. Iolaus had groaned and sank his hand into the silky hair. He felt Herc's hair on his thighs, Hercules' lips, his tongue.

"Lover," he cried gently, as Hercules began to suck on him. He pushed up into Herc's mouth. Iolaus realized that Herc was not experienced at this and fought down the urge to stroke deeply.

This was what Iolaus had dreamed of. He looked down and saw Hercules giving him head and it was almost enough to make him come. Over and over Hercules drew on him, driving him insane. All the blood in his body arrowed into his cock, pushing him so close to coming. The hunter groaned, and pushed up, but Hercules pulled away.

"Can I?" Hercules asked innocently.

Iolaus looked at him for a moment. "You have to be gentle. You could hurt me without even wanting to." Iolaus saw visions that took the edge off his desire.

"I will, I promise. Please?"

Iolaus nodded, stroking Hercules face. He was rewarded with a large smile from Hercules. He handed Hercules the oil, and rolled over. 'Oh gods, be gentle Herc,' he thought, looking over his shoulder at the demigod who was holding the jar of oil. He looked at Iolaus.

"Put the oil on yourself and your hands," Iolaus instructed and Hercules did. "Use your hand first, slow Herc, really slow and easy. You've got to be gentle."

"I will."

Hercules put his hand on Iolaus ass. Iolaus was tight with fear, he drew a deep breath forcing himself to relax. As Herc's finger entered him, he groaned, feeling the heat rebuild.

"Yeah, around," he grit out. "Gently!" he hissed. Then he felt a second finger. "Oh, gods, Herc. Yes!"

Then a third finger, and he wiggled against the invasion, trying to find his own pleasure center. He felt Herc's fingers touch it and he almost screamed. His cock quickly swelled, screaming for release.

"There?"

Iolaus could only nod as Hercules stroked it over and over.

"Slowly, take your hand out," Iolaus whispered. "Make sure you have enough oil on yourself." Slowly, too slowly, Hercules removed his hand, but Iolaus wasn't complaining about him being too gentle. He inhaled sharply as he felt Hercules' cock come to rest against him.

"Gently, Herc, slowly. Push." He panted. Although Iolaus wanted to do nothing more than impale himself on that gorgeous length behind him. Iolaus was fighting the tension building in his body - he had to relax. He took a deep breath and forced himself as Hercules began to push. It was rough, but not too bad. "Easy, love. Give me a minute."

Iolaus was amazed as Herc's hand covered his cock just as he had the first time. Hercules hand was sure and firm. Soon Iolaus was pushing back against Hercules. "Go, go!" he cried, and Hercules began stroking into him.

"So tight!" Hercules moaned. "Iolaus!"

"Good, yes, more Herc, please more!" Iolaus cried. He groaned and started to meet Hercules strokes. 'Gods, he was huge, so deep.' Hercules was still drawing on his cock and Iolaus felt the gathering in his balls driving him closer. "Oh, yes love, yes!" he cried, just before he came in Herc's hand. Then Hercules buried himself in Iolaus' body and cried out.

Hercules collapsed on him and began to bite at Iolaus' shoulders. "Did I do it right? I didn't hurt you did I? Iolaus?"

"Shh, lover. We're here, we made it," Iolaus panted, trying to support the massive bulk on his back. Then Hercules straightened up and pulled back. "No!" Hercules froze. "Gently."

Instead Iolaus felt the demigod lean forward, wrap an arm around his chest, gather Iolaus to him and then laid them both down, staying inside Iolaus. Iolaus felt utterly content as he drifted to sleep in his best friend's arms.

The next morning, Iolaus once more explained to Hercules that he was leaving. Hercules remembered this time.

"Yeah, you're going to go look at the town and then come back."

"Yeah," Iolaus said, pushing his hair back. "And you're going to stay with Tamaron and Altonian."

Hercules nodded. "Uh huh, and I'm supposed to do what they tell me."

Iolaus nodded and gently kissed his best friend.

"I did good last night, didn't I?"

"You did great, love," Iolaus encouraged, with a smile. Although he had decided sitting in a saddle all day was not going to be pleasant. Hercules hugged him. There was a knock at the door, and Altonian came in.

"Hey Del," he said, greeting Hercules first. Then the younger man looked at Iolaus. "You ready?"

Iolaus nodded, he had a note he was to deliver to the King at his first opportunity. He grabbed the last of his gear and Altonian said, "Come on Delphon, let's go see Iolaus off."

As Iolaus went to his horse, he pulled up into the saddle with practiced ease. He settled himself carefully into the saddle. Oh yeah, riding was not going to be pleasant. Hercules crowded close, "Easy, Del. Four, maybe five days. Do what you're told and keep your hands to yourself, remember?"

"I remember, Iolaus. Be careful and," the dark blue met the lighter blue and Hercules put his hand on Iolaus' leg "please come back."

"I will. I promise," He said covering Herc's hand. Altonian and Tamaron approached, Herc's hand tightened on Iolaus' leg.

"Easy." Iolaus jumped at the pain. "I'll be back. Go with Tamaron and Altonian. They'll take good care of you."

"Come on, Delphon. Let's move back," Tamaron said, reaching for him. Herc almost spooked the horse as he moved closer to Iolaus.

"Easy, he's scared," the blond warned, knowing he was going to have a new bruise on his leg to add to the set.

Tamaron stopped and wisely lowered his arm. Iolaus settled the prancing horse

"Don't go."

"I have to," Iolaus responded. He leaned down and gently kissed Hercules. "I'll come back, I promise. Now go with Tamaron. Remember, do what you're told."

Hercules nodded and went with Tamaron. Tamaron and Iolaus' eyes met, Tamaron nodded. He stood by Hercules as Iolaus rode away. When he was out of sight, Altonian gently said,

"Come on Del, let's go eat breakfast.

They turned to see Calamitus and his 'boys' behind them.

"You, Delphon, come with me."

"Calamitus, I told Iolaus I would take ...." Altonian started, but grew quiet as swords were drawn by Calamitus' men. Hercules moved towards Tamaron and Altonian.

"Tamaron?"

"It's okay, Del. Just stay calm," Tamaron stalled, stepping between Hercules and Calamitus' men. He met the warlord's eyes and realized what was going to happen. His stomach turned, as he realized this was why he had wanted Hercules left behind. He thought fast. The men started to move closer to them.

"Boss, you want us to get him?" Calamitus looked at Tamaron.

"Your choice," Calamitus told the man. "Either way, I get what I want."

"Del -- do what Iolaus told you. Don't hurt anyone and do what you're told." Tamaron said, turning to the demigod. May the gods forgive him, he thought. He had just betrayed Hercules.

He watched as Hercules was led away by Brenner. Hercules looked back at Tamaron with a question in his eyes. 'Forgive me Hercules, but if we fight, they'll kill all of us.'

"Tam!" Altonian cried in disbelief. "What -- Why?!"

"Because it was either him or us," Tamaron explained, to the young soldier. "If we fought, we were dead men. At least now -- now Hades!" Tamaron cursed as the words rang false in his own mind. "Let's go."

Hercules was taken to Calamitus' room. He stood there looking around while Calamitus watched him.

"Where am I? This isn't our room."

"I thought maybe we could get to know each other a little better." Hercules just stared at him. "I've been watching you for a while, and I must say, you are one handsome man." Hercules continued to stare. Calamitus walked up to him and stroked his arm. "Very handsome." He found his hand in a vise-like grip. "Let go, you idiot!"

Hercules let go of him. Calamitus slapped him, but took a step backwards when Hercules didn't even react to it.

"Iolaus said not to let anyone touch me."

"Well, you can forget what your precious Iolaus has told you, because I am going to touch you."

That evening, Tamaron was called to Calamitus' room. Brenner and another man stood inside the door and two stood outside. Tamaron entered the room and the first thing he saw was Hercules curled up in a corner. He eyed Calamitus angrily and moved towards Hercules.

"Delphon, are you okay?"

"No," came a child's voice.

Tamaron gently knelt next to him and was appalled by what he saw. Hercules was covered in whip marks.

"He didn't like me touching him," Calamitus sneered.

"Del, I told you to do what you were told."

"He hurt me," Hercules said. "He wouldn't stop. Iolaus told me to stay with you, can I go with you? Please?"

"No," Calamitus laughed. "You'll be staying with me."

"What do you want with me?" Tamaron asked, striding towards the warlord angrily. Calamitus laughed. The two men by the door tensed.

"Unless you want to find yourself in the cells, I suggest you watch yourself." Calamitus poured himself another glass of wine. "Really I wanted to talk to you about our strength. Do you think we're ready to take the town."

Calamitus kept him there for about 30 minutes before he told him to leave.

"I said you could go, Tamaron," Calamitus ordered.

Tamaron went back to Hercules.

"Do what he asks, Del. Maybe -- maybe he won't hurt you." He gently put his hand on the man's shoulder. "Okay?"

"Okay."

Tamaron left feeling useless. He had given Calamitus a scathing glare when he left, but what good had that done? Gods, that was Iphicles' brother he had just sold out. He had to get Hercules out of there. He went and talked to his men.

Calamitus pushed himself away from the table, and rose to his feet.

"Delphon, you have a choice. Get on that bed or I'll beat you onto it." He watched as Hercules looked up at him. "If you behave, I won't hurt you or Iolaus."

"Don't hurt Iolaus."

"That is strictly your decision - behave and I won't." He watched as the man slowly climbed onto his bed. "Very good, now take your pants off." He watched, licking his lips as the demigod slowly removed his pants. "You two, outside."

"But boss..."

"Later!"

Hercules backed away as Calamitus stripped his clothes off and moved towards him.

"Please don't hurt me again."

"Shut up and bend over!"

Three days later, there was a knock at Tamaron's door. Altonian was in the dungeon for their failed attempt to rescue Hercules. Tamaron was still trying to figure out how to get them out, get all of them out. He opened the door and a bloody Hercules was drug into his room and dropped on the carpet.

"By the gods, what have you done?"

"The boss got tired of him. So did we!"

The guards laughed as they walked out the door. Soon, two of his other men came through the door. Tamaron was trying to figure out where to start. Hercules began to struggle.

"Don't!"

"Oh Tartarus," one of them whispered, as Hercules rolled over and they all got a good look at him. "What are we going to do, Tam?"

"Let's get him to their room and get him cleaned up."

Iolaus rode in with the other men. He was pleased, he had gotten the note to the king and hadn't been caught. He looked around the courtyard, expecting Hercules to be there.

Then one of Tamaron's men came up and took his horse's bridle. "I'll bring your stuff. You need to go to your room."

Iolaus dismounted and was about to ask questions, until he met the man's eyes.

"Go."

Iolaus ran.

He burst into the room and found Tamaron sitting on the bed, bathing down Hercules' body with a wet cloth. Iolaus slowly approached the bed, afraid of what he was going to find. He looked at Tamaron.

"Iolaus, I'm sorry - we were facing 6 swords before your saddle leather was warm," Tamaron said. "It was either let Calamitus have him or he was going to kill us and take him anyway." Iolaus just stared at Hercules back. It was covered in whip marks, bruised, ripped open.

"Tamaron, is he back?" Hercules asked, almost begging the answer be yes.

"Yeah, Del, he's back," Tamaron said gently. "Look." Hercules moved his head and Iolaus swallowed hard. Herc's face was bruised and battered, his lips were split, an eye swollen shut. Iolaus gently sat beside him on the bed.

"You came back!"

"Oh, Hercules," he whispered, as he reached to gently stroke the abused face.

"He said he was going to hurt you Iolaus. I tried, I did!" the demigod whispered. "I'm sorry, he hurt me, Iolaus. He wouldn't stop." Tears were streaking down Hercules' face.

"It's okay, Herc, it's okay. I'm here now. No one's going to hurt you." Iolaus' was having a hard time with tears. Then Hercules tried to get up, and Iolaus saw the wounds on his arms and chest. His mind cataloged knife and whip marks, massive bruises. He had been tied up, or at least restrained.

Iolaus soothed the demigod back to the bed, trying to avoid the open wounds. He stroked Hercules' hair until he began to calm down, murmuring gently to him. The hunter gently kissed the split lips, and tasted the salt of his best friend's tears.

"He said you weren't coming back for me Iolaus, but I knew you would. You said you would."

"I came back, my love. I will always come back for you."

With a smile, Hercules fell asleep.

"Iolaus, he raped him. I'm sorry. We tried to get him out. I swear. That's where Altonian is."

Tamaron watched Iolaus' face and for the first time, he saw an angry man with a closed face that he couldn't read. When Iolaus did meet his eyes, Tamaron knew he meant business.

"This ends. I got a message to the king, they know the plan." He turned to the door.

"Iolaus, wait! You don't stand a chance by yourself. Let me help."

His man came through the door with Iolaus' saddlebags. "Get the others. Meet here in 10 minutes."

In 20 minutes, 15 men stood in Iolaus' room. Tamaron quickly organized things.

"Siph, you and Thomas stay here with Hercules. The rest of you come with us."

Iolaus buckled on his sword and took one of the men's bows and his quiver of arrows.

They entered the main hall with their swords drawn. Calamitus sat at the head table with his sword across his legs. There were approximately 25 men standing around the hall.

Calamitus took a drink of wine and said calmly, "Don't even try it, Iolaus. He's not hurt that badly. He'll heal."

"You don't do that to another human being," Iolaus hissed, right before he launched himself at the warlord.


They were outnumbered and doing poorly. Iolaus was being held by two men while Brenner beat the crap out of him. His eyes stung from the sweat and blood dripping from the gash on his forehead. Inanely, he tried to think of where he had gotten that wound. Brenner's fist connected with his jaw. That reminded him that Brenner had a ring on. That's where the gash had come from.

He felt consciousness begin to fade, but the sight of Herc's abused body sprang to his mind, bringing on a surge of anger and energy. At the same moment, the hunter felt the two men loosen their grip and he fought loose. The hunter knocked Brenner back with a kick to his groin. He picked up the bow, wiped the blood from his eyes and dropped two of the men who were trying to gut Tamaron.

Sheer instinct told the hero there was someone behind him, and he turned in time to avoid the sword aimed for his head. He grabbed a sword and met the attack from one knee. He was being beaten down, his arm ached, and he was pretty sure he had a broken rib.

"Iolaus! Behind you!" someone screamed.

Instinctively, he swung his sword, making contact with a body. He opened some room up between himself and his first opponent but again had to wipe the blood and sweat from his eyes. They better do something quick, or Herc was right, they were fishbait. He took a two-handed grip on the sword.

Iolaus was trying to get to Calamitus, who still sat at the head table. He was holding his sword arm close, trying to hide the extent of his injuries. Brenner kicked him full in the chest and Iolaus cried out in pain as his arm hit the corner of the table behind him. Brenner slowly advanced on Iolaus smiling. Iolaus was pretty sure his arm was broken.

"Should have let it go, runt. Now he's ours."

That thought drove the exhausted hero to his feet. Iolaus was breathing hard, each breath causing a sharp jolt of pain to stab through his chest. He held his bad arm to his chest. His vision blurred, but he wasn't giving up.

"DOWN!"

After many years of hearing that word yelled at him, Iolaus ducked without thinking as a chair took Brenner out.

"Iolaus, you okay?" Hercules called.

"Do I look like I'm okay?!" he called to the demigod, very confused. Iolaus watched as Hercules strained to pick up one of the huge trencher tables.

"Delphon, stop or he dies," Calamitus called to the demigod.

Iolaus watched in despair as several newly arrived archers took aim at his heart.

"MY NAME IS HERCULES!!!" was the only reply Calamitus got as Hercules launched the table.

Calamitus died quickly, smashed against the wall by the table. Iolaus had rolled under cover at the moment's distraction. Calamitus' troops quickly fell without their leader, but it was Tamaron who did the clean up work. Iolaus tried to get to his feet, he had to get to Hercules. But soon strong arms gently lifted him clear of the floor; the gentleness hiding the strength behind them. He didn't even complain about being held like a baby.

"Herc, what brought you back?" Iolaus asked, touching the still-battered face, staring into clear, sharp eyes.

"The thought of you dying again," Hercules whispered. "For a moment, the only thing I knew was complete thoughtless, terror." He smiled gently at the broken hunter. "It pushed me back the other way. The moment of seeing you dead because of me again. The gut-wrenching fear of having to face tomorrow without you. The mind-numbing emptiness of never seeing you again. It was enough." Hercules kissed his hunter deeply. "I love you, Iolaus."

"I love you too, Hercules and it is so good to have you back again." They were both in tears.

"Not as good as it is to be back!" Hercules responded cradling his beloved partner to his chest.

 

The End

E-mail the author at 6604826@pager.mirabilis.com

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