The first part of this story takes place directly after the end of the episode "Twilight." The second part is set about a week after the episode "Reunions."
Part One: Everything Is Broken
Alcmene was dead. Hercules was gone. Iolaus and Jason drifted through the day in a dazed stupor, unable to rest, unable to find anything constructive to do. The house seemed oppressively silent, but neither one of them could think of anything to say. It felt like the morning after a particularly nasty battle, Iolaus thought. The same sense of unreality, the same cold numbness masking emotions too powerful to acknowledge.
They sat down to lunch because they knew they should, but the food tasted like sawdust, and the wine brought no relief.
"I can't believe they're both gone," Jason whispered, pushing a piece of bread absentmindedly around his plate. It was the first time he'd spoken in hours.
"It's not like Hercules is dead," Iolaus pointed out. But he, too, felt the same blank disbelief, and Hercules seemed as lost and far away as Alcmene.
Hoofbeats thundered outside, unbelievably fast. One minute they were barely audible somewhere in the distance, the next moment they were right outside. Then the door flew open, and Iphicles was there, swaying with exhaustion and clutching the frame for support.
Jason and Iolaus both jumped to their feet, and moved forward to steady him as he staggered inside. They hadn't been expecting him to arrive for at least another day. Iphicles' face was streaked with dirt and sweat, and his clothes were filthy. He looked as if he hadn't slept in days. After two steps his legs buckled, and they had to practically carry him to the nearest chair.
"Are you all right? How did you get here?" Iolaus grabbed his mug, still half-full of wine, and pressed it into Iphicles' trembling hands. "We thought you were at sea."
"I was." Iphicles' voice was a dry croak. He coughed, gulped some wine, coughed again. "I came back. How's Mother?"
Iolaus closed his eyes, suddenly wishing he was someplace, anyplace else. I don't want to tell him. Say something, Jason. Don't make me tell him. He opened his eyes again. Jason was staring at the tabletop, unable to meet his stepson's gaze. And Iphicles was watching them both with stricken realization in his eyes.
"I'm too late, aren't I? Again..." Iphicles shivered, and bowed his head, so that his hair fell forward to hide his face. His hands clutched the wine mug with a white-knuckled grip. His eyes were dry when he looked up, but the look in them broke Iolaus' heart.
"Iphicles, I'm sorry--" Iolaus reached out to him, but Iphicles drew back, and Iolaus let his hand drop back to his side again.
"It's all right," Iphicles whispered. "At least... at least she wasn't alone. I'm glad you two were with her. And--" He looked around the room with a puzzled frown. "Isn't Hercules here, too?"
"He was." Iolaus swallowed, unsure of the best way to break this particular bit of news. He decided the fast-and-simple approach might be best. "He left with Zeus. To be a god on Olympus."
"A god." Iphicles spoke the word as if he wasn't entirely sure what it meant. "He's gone off to be a god. With Zeus. On Olympus." He closed his eyes and bit his lip, as if fighting back tears. But it wasn't tears that came bubbling up when his control finally broke. It was laughter. Mirthless, convulsive, painful-looking laughter. The mug fell from his hands, spilling a dark red puddle across the floor.
"Iphicles." Iolaus grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, lightly at first, then harder. "Iphicles, stop it."
Iphicles didn't seem to hear him. He gripped Iolaus' wrists, but made no move to break away, just hung on with a drowning man's desperate strength, while the laughter shook him.
Iolaus looked up and met Jason's concerned gaze across the table. This was getting scary. He'd never seen Iphicles like this. As gently as he could, given the strength of the other man's grip, Iolaus disengaged his right wrist from Iphicles' fingers.
"I'm sorry," he said, and slapped him hard across the face.
The laughter cut off abruptly. Iphicles drew in a shuddering breath, and rocked back slightly, letting go of Iolaus' other wrist.
"Sorry," Iolaus said again.
Iphicles shrugged. There was a red handprint on his cheek where Iolaus had struck him. "Forget it," he muttered, pushed himself out of the chair, and staggered outside.
Jason and Iolaus exchanged worried glances and followed. They found Iphicles in the front yard, dragging the saddle off a trembling, foam-flecked horse. He was limping as he moved, obviously still not completely healed from his injury in Golgoth a few weeks ago. He shouldn't have been riding, Iolaus thought. And he definitely shouldn't be walking now.
"Iphicles, let me do that." Iolaus took the saddle from him. "Jason, take him inside."
"No, I'll do it," Iphicles protested weakly, but he didn't resist as Jason put one arm around his shoulders, and steered him back toward the house.
Iolaus took down Iphicles' saddle bag, brushed the horse down and covered it with a blanket, fetched a bucket of water, and watched to make sure that the animal did not drink too much or too fast. When he was reasonably sure that the horse was not going to drop dead any time soon, he went back inside to find Jason sitting at the table alone.
"He's asleep," Jason said in reply to Iolaus' questioning glance.
"I'm not surprised." Iolaus sighed. "I felt tired just looking at him. Did he tell you anything?"
"Yeah. He turned the ship around as soon as he got my letter, but a storm forced them into port in Athens. Iolaus, he rode here straight from Athens, stopping only to change horses. I'm surprised he can move."
And he still didn't make it in time. First Rena, then Alcmene. Sometimes, Iolaus thought, the Fates were the cruelest of all the gods.
"I think I'll go sit with him. Make sure he's all right."
"He's not hurt, just tired. I doubt he'll wake up before morning."
"I know. But just in case."
Iolaus could feel Jason's curious stare on his back as he went into the bedroom. He couldn't blame the man. He himself wasn't exactly sure where this sudden upsurge of protectiveness was coming from. It had made more sense in Golgoth. Iphicles had been in real, immediate danger then. But here, in Jason's house? Iolaus shook his head. All he knew was, he wouldn't feel easy unless he could see that Iphicles was safe.
He took extra care to be quiet as he opened the bedroom door and tiptoed across the room to get a chair, but saw quickly that it wasn't necessary. Iphicles had succumbed to the deep sleep of utter physical exhaustion. Iolaus could've marched a herd of elephants through the room without waking him. His clothes were on the floor next to the bed. Iolaus picked them up, carried them to the window, shook the dirt and dust out as best he could, and left them folded on the dresser. Then he sat, and readied himself for a long wait.
The room grew steadily darker as the sun crept lower in the sky. After a while, Iolaus pulled off his boots and fetched a cushion to prop up his back in the chair, prepared to stay all night if he had to. He watched the sleeping man intently, taking in every detail. Six weeks after Rena's death, Iphicles was obviously still not used to sleeping alone, for even when he stirred restlessly in response to whatever visions Morpheus was sending him, he kept to one side of the mattress. His hair was tangled, and one stray lock curled across his cheek like an upside-down question mark. Relaxed in sleep, his face looked unexpectedly young, though Iolaus knew they were the same age.
Shortly after dusk, Jason came in, lugging a bedroll and a blanket.
"If you won't leave, at least keep comfortable," he whispered, squeezed Iolaus' shoulder for a second, and left again. Iolaus spread the bedroll out on the floor, stripped down to his breechclout, and lay down, but it took him nearly two hours to finally drift off to sleep.
He wasn't sure, at first, what woke him up. The night was cool and quiet. The full moon spilled silver light through the open window. Iolaus lay perfectly still, absorbing his surroundings with a hunter's sharp senses. Something had woken him...
A moment later, he heard it. A muffled sob, barely louder than a breath, coming from above. Iolaus sat up.
Another sob, louder this time. No other answer. Iolaus got up, and padded over to the bedside table. There was a candle here somewhere... yes, there it was... he lit it, moving slowly and cautiously in the dark, and turned around.
Iphicles' eyes were still closed, but he was tossing restlessly, the covers tangled around his legs. Iolaus hesitated. He didn't want to wake him. But then, some dreams were worse than no sleep at all, and this looked like one of them. Finally he reached out and shook Iphicles gently by the shoulder.
Iphicles jerked awake, flinging his hands out to grip Iolaus' arms. His eyes were wild, unfocused. He was trembling. Instinctively, Iolaus gathered him into a hug and held him, stroking his dark hair, making soothing noises. Slowly, Iphicles stopped shaking and relaxed into the embrace, resting his head on Iolaus' shoulder. Then, a moment later, he tensed again and pulled away.
"Iolaus. Sorry. I... it was a bad dream."
"It's all right," Iolaus muttered awkwardly. He was trying not to think about the way Iphicles' hair had felt like silk beneath his hand, or the way that hard-muscled body had fitted against his, like two pieces of a puzzle coming together... With what he hoped was an unobtrusive movement, Iolaus pulled the corner of the blanket over his crotch. Dammit, why did his libido always have to assert itself at the most inappropriate moments?
Iphicles seemed fairly composed now, and somewhat embarrassed at his show of weakness. "I'm okay," he said gruffly, but when Iolaus tried to look him in the eye, he turned away. "Really. You don't need to baby-sit me."
"I'm not baby-sitting. I just thought... I thought you might not want to wake up alone, that's all."
"I've been waking up alone for over a month now," Iphicles said bleakly. His face twisted in pain. "You'd think I'd get used to it. But it hurts... Gods, how it hurts..."
"I know," Iolaus said softly. "But it doesn't hurt forever. Not like this."
"And now Mother is gone," Iphicles went on as if he hadn't heard. He was shivering, even though the room was warm. "And Hercules..." His voice broke on a sob. "Couldn't he, at least, have waited to say goodbye to me?"
There was no possible good answer to that, so Iolaus said nothing. He knew that Hercules' abrupt departure was in no way intended as a slight to his brother. That's just the way Herc was sometimes, too full of big concerns to keep track of the small ones. But it wouldn't be helpful to try and explain that to Iphicles now.
Iphicles lowered his head. A single tear trickled down his cheek.
"Everyone leaves me..." he whispered.
"I'm here." Iolaus reached out to brush the tear from his face.
With a quick, jerky movement, Iphicles caught Iolaus' hand in his, and pressed a kiss into the open palm.
The unexpected touch coursed through Iolaus' veins like fire, from his hand straight to his groin. Suddenly, the thin blanket was not enough cover to mask his arousal. With his free hand, he stroked Iphicles' hair again, winding the dark strands around his fingers, drawing the other man closer.
Iphicles drew in an unsteady breath, but made no move to pull away. He watched Iolaus' face with wide, glittering eyes. His lips were parted slightly, just begging to be kissed, and who was Iolaus to say no, after all?
Iphicles melted into the kiss, clinging to Iolaus with an intense, desperate neediness. Don't do this, an urgent voice whispered in Iolaus' mind. He doesn't know what he wants, he's just clutching at straws. But, aaah, Gods, the lush lips pressing against his, the strong hands on his back, the long, muscular legs entwining with his... Iolaus rocked forward without breaking the kiss, using his weight to carry them both down until Iphicles was on his back, with Iolaus on top of him. He could feel Iphicles' erection pulsing against his thigh, as hot and insistent as his own. Then Iphicles wriggled his hips, sliding the two cocks against each other, and Iolaus nearly came right then and there. He clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms, the small pain distracting him just enough to regain control. Then he braced his hands on the pillow on either side of Iphicles' head, pushed himself up to his hands and knees, and looked down at the body beneath him.
Gods, he was beautiful. Perfect. Smooth bronze skin stretched over hard muscles, gleaming in the candlelight. The strong jaw, the chiseled cheekbones, the impossibly sensual mouth... Iolaus lowered his head, and claimed that mouth again, exploring it with his tongue, savoring the taste and texture of it, chuckling silently at Iphicles' moans.
He might've stayed in that kiss forever, but there was all the rest of that amazing body to discover. Iolaus closed his eyes, and let his other senses take over. He pressed his hands flat against Iphicles' chest, and felt its rise and fall with every breath, the rapid heartbeat under his palm, the slickness of sweat on the warm skin. He found the nipples by touch, and rolled the erect tips between his thumbs and fingers, gently tugging and pinching. Iphicles made a soft, breathy sound and squirmed against the sheets. He put his hands over Iolaus', and guided them lower. Iolaus went along with it, stroking his way down Iphicles' broad chest and flat stomach, feeling the muscles quiver in response to his caress. Suddenly, touching was not enough anymore. Iolaus bent down, and let his mouth follow the path of his hands.
He sucked each nipple in turn, flicked them lightly with the tip of his tongue, nibbled with his teeth, and nearly got thrown off the bed as Iphicles arched his back with a cry.
"Oh, Gods... Iolaus... please..."
"I'm getting there." Iolaus murmured, and finally opened his eyes again.
Iphicles' face was flushed, the hair on his forehead damp with sweat. His eyes glittered black in the dim light. He lifted one trembling hand to stroke Iolaus' cheek.
"Please..." he whispered again, his voice breaking slightly on the word.
He wasn't going to last much longer. And Iolaus wasn't sure how long he himself would last. His cock was painfully hard, the tip already slick with pre-cum. He wanted to turn Iphicles over and fuck that perfect ass until they both screamed. But he also wanted to prolong this for as long as he could. You only got one chance to make love to somebody for the first time, after all.
He scooted down until he was straddling Iphicles' legs, his mouth poised above Iphicles' cock. He ran his tongue along its length, wrapped his lips around the tip for a moment's suction, then licked his way back down to rasp his tongue against the scrotum. His own erection twitched against his belly, demanding attention, but he resisted the urge to stroke himself, instead using his hands to hold Iphicles' bucking hips down against the mattress.
Iphicles gripped Iolaus' shoulders, digging in hard with his nails. He writhed helplessly, gasping Iolaus' name over and over. A single pearly drop glistened at the tip of his cock. Iolaus licked it off with a quick flick of his tongue, eliciting another strangled moan, then lifted his head to look at his lover's face again.
Iphicles lay still, his breathing ragged, his hair fanned out on the pillow in a wild tangle. His face had a soft, slightly surprised look, as if his mind couldn't quite believe what his body was feeling. Iolaus grinned. If the man needed more convincing, he was more than happy to oblige.
He stood up. Iphicles reached after him, frowning.
Iolaus caught his hand and planted a quick kiss on the knuckles. "I'll be back in a moment."
It was hard to walk. Iolaus' legs felt weak and wobbly. *All* of him felt weak and wobbly, except for his cock. Somehow he made it across the room, and rummaged through the assortment of toiletries on the dresser, looking for something suitable. He picked a bottle at random, unstoppered it, and sniffed.
It was perfume. A soft, flowery scent, the one Alcmene always wore. Iolaus felt suddenly uncomfortable, for reasons that had nothing to do with arousal. I'm making love to Hercules' brother. In his dead mother's bed. Is there something wrong with this picture? He looked back over his shoulder at Iphicles, sprawled bonelessly on sweat-soaked sheets, idly stroking himself with languid fingers. No, he decided. There was nothing wrong with that picture at all.
He tried a small jar next to the mirror. Rouge. The next one held eye makeup. Gritting his teeth with frustration, Iolaus tried a third. This one was half-full of a cool white ointment that smelled faintly of aloe. Iolaus recalled Alcmene smearing on his back once, when he got sunburned after working shirtless in her garden on a particularly hot day. Good enough. He stripped the breechclout off impatiently, grabbed the jar, and returned to the bed.
He pushed Iphicles' knees up to his chest, and spread them apart. Iphicles closed his eyes and reached up to grab the headboard with both hands. Iolaus coated two fingers with the ointment and slid them into Iphicles' ass. He knew he'd found the right spot when Iphicles gasped and thrust his hips upwards. Iolaus crooked his fingers slightly, and was rewarded by a harsh moan, and by the sudden clenching of muscle around his hand. He added a third finger while his free hand scooped more ointment from the jar and smeared it over his cock.
"Ready?" He whispered.
Iphicles' reply was an incoherent cry, punctuated by another hard thrust of his hips. Iolaus took that as a yes. He pulled his hand out, and slid his cock in.
Ahh, yes, it was just as he'd imagined, tight and hot and slick and ohhh, Gods... Iphicles' legs were wrapped around his torso, Iphicles' hands gripped his arms, Iphicles' swollen cock throbbed against his stomach. Iolaus pumped it with his hand. He thrust faster, harder, and still he wanted more.
Then Iphicles drew his legs up higher, and threw them over Iolaus' shoulders, opening himself up completely, letting Iolaus in deeper than ever before. The world melted away. There was nothing left except the two of them, moving together in perfect unison until Iolaus was no longer sure where his own body ended and Iphicles' began.
Iphicles let go of the headboard and dug his nails into Iolaus' back. His mouth flew open in a silent scream as he came, spilling his seed over Iolaus' hand. His contractions clenched around Iolaus' cock like a velvet fist, pulling him over the edge too, and Iolaus threw his head back and screamed as his climax hit him in a wash of heat that nearly melted his bones.
Afterwards, they lay nestled together, waiting for the world to reassert itself around them. Iphicles rested his head on Iolaus' shoulder, and trailed his fingers over Iolaus' chest in lazy circles. Iolaus stroked his hair. He thought vaguely that he should say something, but he was never any good at conversation at times like this, and Iphicles seemed content to cuddle in silence, so he just held him until they both fell asleep.
Sunlight warming his face roused Iolaus to reluctant half-wakefulness. He turned away from it, burying his face in the pillow. He didn't want to wake up, he was too comfortable, his body didn't want to move, and his brain was definitely not ready to engage yet.
The mattress shifted with a squeak. An unmistakeably masculine body jostled against his. A strong arm rested across his shoulders. Iolaus scowled into his pillow. Typical. The fates must've thought they were being really funny, to give him a sadistic morning person for a best friend.
"Aw, come on, Herc," he muttered sleepily. "Five more minutes, okay?"
The arm withdrew with startling speed. Feet thumped on the floor, and suddenly Iolaus was alone in bed.
"Wha--" he lifted his head as the last remnants of sleep fled, and memories of the previous night came flooding back.
Followed by a cold, sinking feeling as he realized what he just said.
Shit! Iolaus sat up, fully awake now. "Iphicles--"
"Oh, you recognize me? I'm honored." Iphicles was on the other side of the room, pulling his clothes on with angry, jerky movements. His voice was flat, his face set into cold, hard lines. Only his eyes burned.
Shitshitshit... Of all the wrong names to mumble upon waking...
"Iphicles, it's not what you--"
"Don't." Iphicles pulled his shirt on over his head, and leaned against the wall to put on his boots.
"I said, don't! Look, it was great, okay? Best pity fuck I've ever had. I'll have my social secretary send you a thank you note. Just don't spoil it with excuses now."
Before Iolaus could try again, there were voices outside the door. A great many voices, and running footsteps, and a great deal of other noise. Someone pounded on the door.
"Guys?" Jason's voice. "You decent in there?"
Fuck. Iolaus dove for his clothes. "One minute!"
Jason, apparently, wasn't inclined to wait a minute. "I've got half the court of Corinth in here, having hysterics because their king rode off alone. Iphicles, will you please come out and show them you haven't been assassinated?"
"Coming." Iphicles tucked his shirt in, brushed his fingers through his hair, straightened his shoulders, and strode out of the room, looking every inch the perfect king, despite his rumpled clothes. Iolaus was left to dress alone, digging under the bed for his boots and calling himself names under his breath.
Over the years, Ioalus had gotten pretty used to people assuming that he and Hercules were lovers. Given the amount of time they spent together, and the obvious closeness of their relationship, it wasn't that unreasonable an assumption, even if it happened to be wrong. It put an occasional crimp in his love life, as he tried to convince potential bedmates that they weren't going to get pounded into the dirt by a pissed-off demigod the next morning. But other than that, he never really gave a damn what people thought on the subject. Until now, when it suddenly mattered a whole lot, and he had to go and make an idiot of himself...
There were at least a dozen people in Jason's front room, all milling around Iphicles and talking at the same time. The noise made Iolaus' head pound, but Iphicles seemed to somehow be tracking all the conversations at once, making the appropriate responses. Jason, looking rumpled, was pouring drinks. He gave Iolaus a long, searching look, but said nothing.
The morning passed in a blur. Iolaus wanted desperately to take Iphicles aside and talk to him, but somehow there were always several people between them, and Iphicles pointedly ignored his glances and gestures. And then the entire entourage was leaving, with Iphicles tucked away in a carriage surrounded by a cadre of mounted guards. A minute later there was nothing left to mark their presence but a trampled front yard and an extremely messy breakfast table.
Jason sat down at the table, crossed his arms over his chest, and glared at Iolaus.
"What in Hades were you thinking?" He demanded.
"Uh..." How did Jason know? Neither he nor Iphicles had had a chance to say anything to him. "What do you mean?"
"Don't play the fool, Iolaus! You think I couldn't hear you two in the next room? They probably heard you in Athens. I ask again, what were you thinking?"
It wasn't his waking slip of the tongue that had Jason mad, Iolaus realized. It was the fact that he'd slept with Iphicles at all. He opened his mouth, ready to tell Jason that he and Iphicles were both grown men capable of making their own decisions, but the words stuck in his throat as he replayed the events of the night in his mind. Yes, Iphicles had made the first move. But he had been physically and emotionally exhausted, drowning in grief and guilt, radiating loneliness. It occurred to Iolaus that if a woman had made a pass at him under the same circumstances, he would've turned her down gently, and felt very noble and chivalrous in doing so.
He remembered, with a mental wince, how passive Iphicles had been in their lovemaking. He had no way of knowing if this was typical, of course, but Iphicles had not previously struck him as the sort of person who'd just lie there and take it.
"Gods, Jason, I don't know..." Iolaus propped his elbows on the table and rested his head on his hands. "Maybe it was a mistake. But it felt so right at the time..."
"Did it really?" Jason asked skeptically. "Or did it just feel good?"
"Both." But there had been moments of doubt, he recalled. Moments when he hadn't been so sure that he was doing the right thing. And he'd let his cock override his brain each time. "Shit, why did those goddamn courtiers have to show up just then? If I only got a chance to talk to him--"
"So talk to him. You know where to find him."
"I'm not so sure he'll want to talk to me." Not after I woke up muttering his brother's name.
"You don't know till you try." Jason's face softened slightly. "Look, Iolaus, I care about both of you. I don't want to see you making each other unhappy. So go to Corinth, and work it out with him, all right? One way or another."
Iolaus sighed. "You're right. I'll go."
"Good. Now help me clean up this goddamn room."
END OF PART ONE
Part Two: Shelter From the Storm
He's not coming. Live with it.
Stop staring out the window every five minutes. Stop jumping every time you spot a blond head in the crowd. It's pathetic.
Not as pathetic as I was that night. Sitting there crying, then practically throwing myself at him... He probably fucked me just to shut me up.
Gods, he was amazing...
I heard Hercules is back from Olympus. Who can blame him, with a lover like that to come back to?
It's not fair. He has everything.
No, that's not fair. Hercules deserves what he has. And he's lost so much in his life, more than I have. If Iolaus can make him happy-- if he can make Iolaus happy--
I'm not going to think about it. I have work to do... This Merchants' Guild petition is full of shit. They can afford the road tax a lot better than they can afford to let the northern trade routes go unrepaired after those winter floods. And if they think I'm going to gut the treasury for their sake...
He's so beautiful... Hair like spun gold... Bluest eyes I've ever seen... Does he know how long I've wanted him? I thought I was over him when I met Rena, I never wanted anyone else when I was holding her. But I guess you never get over your first love, do you?
What does he think of me now? Is he thinking of me at all? Is he doing to Hercules what he did to me, with that mouth and those hands and that cock...
Shit. That was a mental image I did not need.
I should be happy. I got one night. More than I ever thought I'd get, right? Right?
Yeah, sure. It's like dying of thirst, and taking just one small sip of water.
Stop staring out the goddamn window. He's not coming. He's probably avoiding Corinth like the plague. Read the fucking petition and get on with your life.
Gods, I want him so bad...
I should go to Corinth. I promised Jason. I owe it to Iphicles.
Would he even want to see me? Couldn't blame him if he doesn't. Damn, if only we'd had a chance to talk that morning...
So much pain in his eyes... He thought he was all alone. I just wanted to show him that he isn't... It wasn't a pity fuck. I really wanted him...
And it wasn't just lust, either, no matter what Jason thinks...
When Ajax put a knife to his throat, I thought my own heart would stop...
Where did that come from? I've known him for twenty years...
A bit slow on the uptake, huh, Iolaus?
I have to talk to him, tell him it's not what he thinks. Except I don't know what he thinks.
What do I say to him? What do I say to Hercules? Hey, Herc, I fucked your brother on a night when he was too distraught to think straight, and addressed him by your name the morning after. You think maybe he's upset with me?
I have to see him.
I can't face him.
Gods, I want him so bad...
"Hey, Iolaus, your pants are on fire."
"Huh?" Iolaus looked up, startled, to find Hercules smiling at him across the campfire.
"Just checking to see if you were paying attention." Hercules chuckled. "You seemed a million miles away."
"I was," Iolaus admitted. "You were saying something?"
"I was saying, we're less than a day's travel from Corinth. I was thinking of dropping in on Iphicles for a bit, just to see how he's doing." Hercules sighed. "I'm all the family he has left now. We should spend more time together."
Iolaus was suddenly grateful for the night, and for the uncertain glow of the firelight. With any luck, Hercules wouldn't notice him blushing.
"Uh... sure. Sounds like a great idea." His heart was pounding, and his hands felt suddenly clammy. It was nearly impossible to keep his voice steady. "We can go first thing tomorrow morning."
"Thanks... Are you okay, you sound a little shaky."
"Shaky?" Iolaus laughed nervously. "Don't be silly. I'm just... tired, that's all. In fact, I think I'll turn in right now." He turned away from the fire, hiding his face from Hercules' worried eyes as he spread out his bedroll. "Good night, Herc."
"Good night, Iolaus."
Iolaus lay staring up at the starry sky, and tried to feel relieved. The choice has been made for him, no more stalling or worrying. They were going to Corinth. He would see Iphicles, and explain to him, and Iphicles would--
He didn't know what Iphicles would do.
Iolaus closed his eyes and sighed. Just a few minutes ago, he was thinking that he'd known Iphicles for over twenty years. But the truth was, he hardly knew him at all.
The first time Iolaus had met Iphicles was shortly after he and Hercules had graduated from Chiron's Academy. They had gone to Hercules' house for a celebratory dinner, and found Iphicles at home, visiting with Alcmene. Iolaus knew nothing about him then -- he had left home a couple of years before, to join the City Guard in Thebes -- but he had been prepared to like him, just for being Herc's brother.
Iphicles, however, had proved hard to like. He was sullen and morose, a striking contrast to his family. He picked at his food, answered questions in monosyllables, and glared resentfully at Hercules, who pretended not to notice.
"What's his problem?" Iolaus had asked after dinner.
Hercules just shrugged. "Nothing. Just his usual self."
Their visit had lasted three days. Hercules and Iolaus spent the time hunting, fishing, and practicing wrestling moves in the back yard. They always dutifully invited Iphicles to join them, and he always refused. He watched them, though, from the windows or from the back steps, with an intense stare that made Iolaus slightly uncomfortable. On the morning of the third day, they woke up to find that he had gone, without a word to anyone.
With time, Iolaus began to get a pretty good idea of what Iphicles' problem was. He himself had spent most of his adult life in Hercules' imposing shadow, but it had been his choice, and despite the occasional moment of resentment, he had regretted none of it. Iphicles had lived that way since early childhood, with no say in the matter. It had been better since he married Rena three years ago. But Rena was gone now, and Iphicles' brooding temper seemed to be returning with a vengeance.
And I had to go and make things even worse.
Iolaus sighed again. It was going to be a long night.
They got an early start the next morning, and arrived in Corinth by midafternoon. Iphicles, they were told, was in the middle of trade negotiations with a delegation from Cyprus, and could not come out to greet them, but a servant conducted them to a luxurious guest suite, complete with a marble bathroom with a sunken tub that was big enough to swim in.
"I have to say," Hercules sighed happily as he sank up to his shoulders into the steaming water, "it's good being related to royalty. All the perks without any of the work."
The comment obviously called for a humorous reply, but Iolaus was in no mood to banter.
"Yeah, it's nice," he muttered lamely.
Hercules frowned at him. "Iolaus, are you feeling ill?"
"Ill? Me?" Iolaus forced a laugh. "Don't be ridiculous. I feel great!"
"No, you don't. When you feel great, you talk a mile a minute. You haven't spoken ten words all day. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Iolaus insisted, a little desperately. He hated lying to Hercules, hated keeping secrets from him. Yet it seemed as if that's all he'd been doing for the past week. When Hercules came back from Olympus, Iolaus and Jason had told him only that Iphicles had visited, and left the next day. Jason was as unhappy about the deception as Iolaus was, but had reluctantly agreed that it was best. Of course Jason didn't know the whole story either...
It was clear from Hercules' expression that he didn't believe Iolaus for a second, but he didn't press the issue. He just turned away, looking so hurt that Iolaus nearly spilled the entire story right there and then. He was saved by the arrival of two servants, bearing clean outfits for them to wear at dinner. The clothes actually fit, which Iolaus found pretty impressive, considering that neither he nor Hercules wore anything resembling a standard size. Did Iphicles have an assortment of clothes tucked away in a wardrobe somewhere, he wondered, selected to make sure that his bum friends and relatives were always presentable at meals? Just another thing he didn't know about Iphicles.
Hercules watched his brother across the dinner table, and wondered what in Hades was wrong. Over the past three years, he and Iphicles had grown steadily closer, still not as close as brothers should be, but comfortable and affectionate with each other. Hercules had truly believed that childhood jealousies and resentments were behind them. So why was Iphicles watching him with that old, familiar bitterness in his eyes?
Next to him, Iolaus was continuing his day-long sulk. He had spent the entire meal staring at his roast pheasant as if it was the most fascinating object he'd ever seen -- but not fascinating enough to eat, apparently, for he'd hardly taken a bite.
Hercules wanted to grab them by their shirtfronts and shake them and demand that they tell him what was going on. But there were two ambassadors and a minister present at the table, so he couldn't very well make a scene.
The meal dragged on forever, one endless course after another. Hercules began to think he was going to die of old age before the dessert made its appearance. But it did end eventually, and Hercules pushed his chair back with a sigh of relief. Now he would get some time with his brother, and hopefully find out what the matter was.
But Iphicles was deep in conversation with the Egyptian ambassador, something about shipping rights and harbor fees, and then a secretary scurried in with an armful of Very Important Missives that had to be looked at immediately, and some very polite but very insistent servants were ushering everyone out, and before Hercules knew it he was back in the guest suite, having exchanged no more than five words with his brother.
Wonderful. Kings led busy lives, of course, with unpredictable schedules. But why did he have the feeling that both the dinner and the events that followed it had been carefully orchestrated to keep him away from Iphicles?
He turned to share his suspicion with Iolaus, but Iolaus was on his way out the door.
"Thought I'd take a walk," he said in response to Hercules' questioning look. "Burn off some of that food." He patted his stomach with a sickly smile. "Your brother serves one heck of a dinner."
*How would you know, you didn't eat any of it.* Hercules scowled. His brother was avoiding him, his best friend was lying to him. Normally, he would've offered to accompany Iolaus on his walk, but he knew exactly what would happen if he did that now, Iolaus would just turn him down with some lame excuse. Hercules could feel the frustration building inside him, and knew that one more lie would probably make him lose his temper completely, so he said nothing. Let Iolaus have his walk. It would give Hercules time to calm down. But afterwards, they were going to talk, dammit...
It was nearly an hour past sunset, but Iphicles hadn't bothered to light the candles in his room. He slouched in an armchair, and stared out the open window at the waning moon. Lately, it seemed as if he was spending every night that way. The armchair was not an especially comfortable resting place, but it was better than trying to sleep alone in the immense canopied bed he used to share with his wife.
Alcmene would've lit the candles for him, pulled up a chair, and asked him what was wrong. Rena would've kissed him, and told him to stop brooding alone in the dark and come to bed. But Rena and Alcmene were gone, and no one else gave a shit what he did with himself, so what did it matter?
He was wallowing in self-pity, and knew it, but couldn't make himself stop. Seeing Hercules and Iolaus walk into the dining hall together had felt like a blow to the gut, even though he'd been waiting for it. The two of them had looked so spectacular in their borrowed finery, Hercules in white and gold, and Iolaus in deep sapphire blue with silver embroidery around the high collar. They made such a perfect couple. How could he ever hope to compete?
It had been obvious during dinner that Hercules had no idea what had happened between his lover and his brother. Iphicles had come perilously close to blurting it out, just to see the look of hurt and betrayal on that handsome face, but he managed to restrain himself. It wasn't Hercules' fault, after all. Why shouldn't Iolaus love him? They belonged together. They had always belonged together.
Iphicles could recall his first sight of Iolaus with perfect, painful clarity. He had come home for a few days, only to find that his visit coincided with Hercules' graduation from the Academy, and Alcmene was deep in preparations for the celebration dinner. She had asked Iphicles to help, and he, of course, resented it. Later, he'd understood that this was Alcmene's way of including him in what she was doing, of making sure they got to spend time together. But he had been eighteen at the time, and determined to resent everything and anything that had to do with Hercules.
And then Hercules himself had walked in, accompanied by a blond companion Iphicles had never met before. They were laughing, punching each other playfully, laughing about some adventure they'd recently shared. They didn't even notice Iphicles was there. And Alcmene had recognized the newcomer, hugged him, fussed over him as if he was her son, too. Iphicles had watched them, laughing at private jokes he didn't get, gossiping about people he didn't know, and felt totally excluded. Even then, part of him knew that he was excluding himself, but he had pushed the knowledge aside.
The next morning, they had invited him to come fishing with them, but it was clear that they didn't really want him along, so he refused. Hercules had tried to insist, but Iolaus grabbed his arm and said, "let's go, Herc," and Herc went. As they reached the gate, Iolaus slapped Hercules on the back and whispered something that made them both laugh. And Iphicles, watching them, had felt a sharp, unexpected stab of jealousy that stopped his breath for a second.
The next two days had been torture. Iphicles couldn't stop watching Iolaus, even though seeing him made it worse. He'd had casual lovers before, both among his fellow Guards, and the women who hung around the barracks, but he'd never felt like this. He hated it. Hated Hercules, hated himself, hated the whole universe except for one person. Finally he couldn't take it any more, so he ran.
Afterwards, he avoided Hercules and Iolaus as much as he could, though he knew it hurt Alcmene to see her sons so estranged. Time and distance helped keep his emotions down to a dull, background ache, always present but bearable. Then he'd met Rena, who wanted him for himself, who didn't care that he wasn't Hercules, who knew how to make him laugh even in his blackest moods. For a short time, he'd been truly happy. He should've known it wouldn't last.
The sound of voices out in the corridor distracted Iphicles from his brooding. There appeared to be a scuffle going on, between the two Honor Guards posted outside his door, and some person or persons trying to get in. One particular voice rose in indignation, insisting that the speaker *had* to see the king, dammit, and no, it couldn't wait till morning.
Iphicles contemplated letting the guards handle it. But it would probably take more than two of them, and people might get hurt in the process. Maybe it was time he stopped delaying the inevitable, and got this conversation over with... Iphicles stood up, made his way cautiously across the dark room, and flung the door open.
"Come in, Iolaus," he said wearily.
Iolaus had walked in the palace gardens for over two hours, but the exercise had done nothing to burn off his restlessness or to ease his spirits. This couldn't go on. He was hurting Iphicles, hurting Hercules, straining the already fragile relationship between the brothers, and endangering the most important friendship in his own life. He had to talk to Iphicles, and work this out one way or the other. And then, whatever happened, he would tell Hercules everything. It would be unpleasant, but anything would be better than lies and silence.
Buoyed by this new determination, he marched back into the palace and right up to Iphicles' door, before being forcibly reminded that you couldn't just barge in on the King of Corinth whenever you felt like it. The two stonefaced guards at the door had been told that Iphicles didn't wish to see anyone, and they were not interested in debating the matter. Iolaus was in the process of trying to convince them otherwise, when the door opened.
"Come in, Iolaus," Iphicles sighed.
Iolaus got up from the floor and brushed himself off. The Guards did the same, a little more slowly. They began to stammer explanations, but Iphicles waved them off.
"It's all right, never mind. Iolaus, grab one of those candles and bring it in with you, please."
For the first time, Iolaus noticed that the room behind Iphicles was dark. Had he gone to bed already? No, he was still dressed... Puzzled, Iolaus took a candle from a sconce in the wall behind him, and followed Iphicles through the door.
Iphicles gestured him toward a chair, but remained standing himself. So Iolaus stood too, and the two of them stared at each other in increasingly awkward silence.
"Well?" Iphicles demanded after a while. "Are you going to say something, or did you fight your way in here just so you could stand around?"
"Iphicles--" Iolaus found that his voice was shaking. This was even more difficult than he expected. There were so many things to resolve... The most important thing first, he decided. "That night... did I, uhmm... make you do anything you didn't want to do?"
"What?" Iphicles looked genuinely shocked at the question, and Iolaus felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his chest. It was all right, then. Anything else was forgiveable, or at least explainable.
Iphicles was still staring at him as if he had two heads. "What kind of question is that? After I practically draped myself around your neck, crying fuck me?"
Now it was Iolaus' turn to be shocked. "You did nothing of the kind! Look, I know you were a mess that night, who could blame you--"
"So you took pity on me. I get it."
"No you don't! Dammit, why is it so hard for you believe that somebody might actually want you?"
"Somebody?" Iphicles laughed harshly. "We're not talking about somebody. We're talking about you. And I know well enough who you want."
"No, you don't. Look, Iphicles, I may be a lot of things, and maybe some of them aren't very nice, but I'm not *total* pondscum. Do you really believe I could love Hercules and fuck his brother? Is that what you think of me?"
For the first time, the hard bitterness in Iphicles' eyes seemed to crack. Behind it there was-- hope? Fear? Desire? Some mixture of all three? Iolaus wasn't sure, all he knew was, he had to say this fast.
"Hercules is my best friend. I admire him more than any man I've ever met, I trust him implicitly, what's his is mine and what's mine is his, I'd die for him without the slightest hesitation. But we're not lovers. Never were." He reached up and cupped Iphicles' face in his hands, forcing the taller man to meet his eyes "Don't draw the wrong conclusion just because I woke up incoherent one morning."
Iphicles stood perfectly still, hardly even breathing. His face felt warm against Iolaus' hands, as if he was slightly feverish. He watched Iolaus' face with a desperate, searching gaze.
"All right," he whispered. "You're not lovers. Was that your decision, or his?"
"I have to know. I can't be second choice, not in this, anything but this, tell me, Iolaus, please tell me..."
"How about I show you instead," Iolaus said, and kissed him.
Iphicles felt his legs go weak as Iolaus' mouth pressed against his. He had never felt so afraid in his entire life. Afraid that Iolaus was lying, or would change his mind, afraid that if he moved too fast or made a sound, Iolaus would vanish, and he would wake up alone in a dark room. It couldn't be real. You couldn't spend your life wanting something, and then get it, just like that, without doing a thing to deserve it...
He slid his hands down Iolaus' back to his ass. Iolaus rocked against him, thrusting his tongue deeper into Iphicles' mouth. His hands left Iphicles' face to caress the king's chest, teasing the nipples through the thin fabric of his shirt. The slide of silk against the erect buds was almost too intense to bear. Iphicles groaned into the kiss, and leaned back until his shoulders met the wall, using it for support. Iolaus moved with him, arching his back so that their groins pressed together. Both men's cocks stirred to demanding life, straining toward each other through two layers of leather. This had to be real, Iphicles decided. His imagination wasn't that good.
Iolaus pushed one knee between Iphicles' legs, forcing them apart. A hard, leather-clad thigh pressed against Iphicles' crotch, and he had to break the kiss to gulp for air. Iolaus gave a quick nip at his lower lip before letting go, and proceeded to slowly kiss his way down Iphicles' throat, then back up again to nibble at his earlobe. He tugged at the laces of Iphicles' trousers with anxious fingers.
Iphicles grabbed his hands and pushed them away. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done in his life.
"Wait," he gasped.
Iolaus stepped back immediately, concern warring with arousal in his face.
"Is something wrong?"
Iphicles shook his head, not trusting himself to speak yet. He lifted Iolaus' hands to his lips, and kissed the strong, callused palms, then pressed them against his heart.
"Nothing's wrong," he whispered. "It's just that... you did all the work last time."
Iolaus' mouth twitched and the corners of his eyes crinkled as he tried to restrain a smile. "It was hardly a chore."
"I know. But let me... I want to please you."
"We should please each other."
"We will," Iphicles promised, and pushed Iolaus lightly toward the bed. "Just do this for me, okay? Sit down."
Iolaus did smile then, a slow, sensual smile that made Iphicles' head spin.
"Yes, my lord king." He bowed like a courtier, and sat down on the bed.
"I'm not the king here," Iphicles told him, and dropped to his knees.
He unlaced the cuffs of Iolaus' sleeves, kissing each wrist as it was revealed, then pulled the shirt off and tossed it aside. Iolaus leaned back to lie propped up on his elbows, his head tilted forward so that his eyes never left Iphicles' face. It was a good thing he was already kneeling, Iphicles decided, because his legs would've collapsed under the weight of that intense blue gaze. The candlelight gleamed off Iolaus' torso, highlighting the strong shoulders and broad, muscular chest, the flat, hard stomach. The shadows cast his cheekbones into prominent relief and made his eyes look hooded. He looked like a golden statue of some bright god, waiting to be worshipped. Iphicles bowed his head, obeying the image.
Please... Don't let this be a lie, or a game, or a joke... Don't feel sorry for me. Don't try to comfort me. Just lo-- just want me. Please...
He pulled off Iolaus' boots, then unlaced his pants and tugged at the waistband. Iolaus lifted his hips off the bed so that Iphicles could slide the pants off him, leaving him completely naked. He sat up, and started to tug at Iphicles' shirt, but Iphicles pushed his hands away again.
"Not yet. This is me pleasing you, remember?" He grabbed Iolaus' legs behind the knees, pulled him forward to sit at the very edge of the bed, and spread his thighs open to expose the erect cock and the tight, heavy sac behind it.
In the course of a misspent youth (and an equally misspent adulthood), Iolaus had been in some fairly strange places, and seen a great many unexpected things. But nothing in his life had prepared him for this moment. Sitting on silk sheets in a royal bedchamber, with the King of Corinth kneeling between his legs -- his wildest fantasies had nothing on this.
Iphicles braced his hands on Iolaus' thighs, and leaned forward to suck and nibble at the sensitive flesh above his groin. He nuzzled the soft blond fur, blew hot, moist breaths across the skin, licked along the crease between leg and hip. Iolaus moaned and gripped the edge of the mattress, trying to hold still, but unable to keep his hips from jerking forward. His cock twitched, wanting attention, wanting to know the inside of that gorgeous, clever mouth that even now was brushing feather-light kisses along his inner thighs.
"Yess," he gasped. "Ah, yes, please..."
A wet, warm touch brushed against his balls, and he couldn't stop himself from moaning. Iphicles licked upwards slowly, running his tongue along the underside of Iolaus' cock all the way to the tip, then ducked his head and did it again. A tingling warmth spread across Iolaus' belly. He had to bite his lip to keep from crying out.
He tightened his grip on the mattress, spread his knees wider, and leaned back a bit to give Iphicles more room to move. Iphicles took immediate advantage of the opportunity. He gripped Iolaus' waist with both hands and held him still, as he slowly lowered his mouth onto Iolaus' cock, deep-throating its entire length until his lips wrapped around its base, and his tongue darted out to rasp against Iolaus' balls.
Iolaus' breath caught in his throat. It was bliss. It was torment. He never wanted it to end, and he wanted release now. Iphicles bobbed his head, setting a rhythm, and Iolaus gave himself over to it until his whole body was throbbing in time to a primal, inaudible beat. He wanted to bury his fingers in Iphicles' hair, to pull him even closer, but he was afraid to let go of the bed.
Iphicles wrapped his thumb and forefinger around the base of Iolaus' cock and squeezed, while his lips slid up the shaft again and his tongue circled the tip. The warmth in Iolaus' groin turned to blazing heat. Sitting up was suddenly too much work, and he fell backwards across the bed, spreading his arms out to either side to grip the sheets, pumping his hips rapidly as he felt his climax building deep inside him. Iphicles' thumb pressed in, holding him back, preventing his release for several endless, perfect, agonizing moments, and then the pressure was gone, and he came, spurting his seed down Iphicles' eager throat, shouting Iphicles' name at the velvet bed canopy.
"Gods on Olympus..." he muttered when he could breathe again. "I'll never move again... Is that an inborn talent, or did you take lessons?"
"You inspire me," Iphicles told him. His voice trembled slightly.
Iolaus shivered. He could feel Iphicles' voice as an almost physical caress, a velvet finger down his spine. Despite his earlier words, he did move, propping himself up on his elbows again to watch his lover through lowered lashes.
Iphicles sat back on his heels and pulled of his shirt. A slow, sensuous smile spread over his face as he saw Iolaus watching him. He leaned back slightly, stomach muscles rippling, and stroked his hands down his chest. His movements were languid, deliberate. His left hand lingered to pinch and tug at a nipple while his right slid down to cup the straining bulge in his pants.
"Show off," Iolaus murmured. His body was responding to the sight, his cock began to harden again even as his heart was still slowing down from his last climax. "Come here."
"Be right there."
Iphicles found that his hands were shaking as he opened the drawer in the bedside table to rummage inside. Handkerchiefs, candle stubs, a broken quill... he really needed to learn to be more prepared on these occasions... ah, yes, there it was. He picked up the small flask of massage oil and climbed up on the bed to kneel between Iolaus' legs.
He poured some oil into his cupped palm, rubbed his hands together, and quickly stroked Iolaus' nascent erection to full hardness. Iolaus' breathing quickened. With a fast, unexpected motion, he caught Iphicles by the waist and pulled him off balance, toppling him face down onto the bed. The move was rough, but the words that followed were gentle.
"Are you ready, lover?" A warm hand traced the curve of Iphicles' back to rest lightly at the base of his spine.
Iphicles didn't trust himself to speak. He merely moaned into the pillow and spread his legs as wide as they would go.
A warm stream of oil trickled down between his buttocks. Two fingers followed, working the oil inward, lubricating the tight opening with gentle strokes. Iphicles groaned and started to push back with his hips, but Iolaus slapped his ass lightly and told him to hold still, so he held still, despite the waves of sensation rolling across his body. He was long past the point where he could refuse Iolaus anything.
Iolaus moved his hand, finding nerve endings Iphicles never knew existed. Oh, Gods, it was too much, more pleasure than a body could take, another second of this and he was going to scream...
Iolaus withdrew his fingers, and the scream turned into a sob.
"Shh. I'm right here."
Iolaus shifted forward to position himself between Iphicles' thighs. He held still for a few seconds, with the head of his cock pressed against Iphicles' anus, then slowly pushed forward. Iphicles' bit his lip against the brief pain, followed by pleasure so intense he thought his heart would burst. He clawed at the pillow and lifted his hips to meet Iolaus' thrust, completing the penetration.
The first time they made love, it had been too much like a dream, wonderful but not real somehow. He had drifted to sleep in Iolaus' arms, half-convinced that it would all vanish in the morning. And then it had -- or so he'd thought. But this, now, this was solid and real, a dream reclaimed into life. Iolaus' body rocking against his, Iolaus' voice gasping his name, Iolaus' cock impaling him over and over, staking claim to his body, his soul, his heart... All the darkness inside him, all the anger and doubt and jealousy seemed to crumble away, seared to ashes by the heat of their coupling.
His cock slid against the silk sheets, just enough stimulation to keep him on the cusp of release. He could've brought a hand down to stroke himself, but he didn't. He wanted Iolaus to come first, wanted to feel his lover's climax inside him.
It wasn't going to be much longer. Iolaus' breathing was growing ragged. He gripped Iphicles' shoulders and leaned forward, letting his weight drive him deeper on every thrust. Iphicles could feel his breath, warm against his neck. Warm drops splattered on his back, Iolaus' sweat mingling with his own. Their voices mingled, too, rising together in a single wordless cry. The steady, measured rhythm of Iolaus' movements grew wild, hips lunging uncontrollably as the first tremors of his orgasm took him.
Iphicles had to bite the pillow to keep from screaming as Iolaus' cock pulsed inside him. He could feel each shudder as if it was his own. One last thrust, and Iolaus fell forward, covering Iphicles' body with his own. The weight pressed Iphicles' groin harder into the sheets, and that alone was enough to shatter whatever remained of his control, and then he did scream.
Out in the hallway, Hercules froze, feeling a hot blush creep over his face. He had fidgeted in his room for hours, waiting for Iolaus to come back from his walk. As the hours passed, and the night grew dark, impatience turned to irritation, then to worry, until he'd abandoned all pretense of calm and marched down to Iphicles' door with the intention of enlisting his brother's help in a search.
But there was no need for a search, it seemed. It was blatantly obvious where Iolaus was and what he was doing. The two guards at the door showed no reaction, but presumably they were handpicked for their discretion. They certainly weren't picked for neatness of appearance -- their uniforms were rumpled, and the guy on the right was sporting an impressive black eye.
At least they weren't blushing.
Hercules spun around on his heels and headed back toward his own room, shaking his head. Iolaus and Iphicles... whoever would've thought it?
Wait till I tell Jason. Won't he be surprised...