He was lost. Much as he hated to admit it, he didn't have the least idea of where he was. In Greece, for sure, somewhere in Messenia that he knew, but beyond that, it was anyone's guess.
He had decided to land in Pylos rather than sail round the peninsula with the cargo of timber, and onto Corinth. He felt restless and unsettled, and thought the ride overland would help him clear his mind.
He was also delaying getting home, well, Corinth anyway--and his mother. She was around much too often, visiting Jason. That's when Jason wasn't visiting her. He felt like the proverbial third wheel with those two.
Officially, she came to visit Iphicles, who more or less lived in the palace when he wasn't traveling. In reality, she spent her time with Jason, while Iphicles provided them with a cover story. It was bad enough he had to dupe Jason's people, and that unspeakable slime-ball Patronius, but he was also expected to keep Hercules in the dark about his mother's affair. Luckily, he wasn't around much; their relationship was awkward enough as it was.
After the death of his family, Hercules had become even more unapproachable, keeping a cold, almost hostile distance between them. Only his promise to stay in Greece prevented Iphicles from getting on the first ship out of Corinth and staying away for good.
He took all the trips he could reasonably justify for the work he did for Gaius. When he wasn't in Italy, he was in Piraeus, or Argos, anywhere where there was a high demand for timber. Anywhere where he wasn't likely to run into his brother.
Well, he wasn't likely to run into him here.
The sky had been overcast all day and that was his excuse for getting lost. That and the unexpected density of the woods in this valley. There weren't many places left in Greece with so much untouched timber. Probably the land belonged to some temple--Apollo's or Artemis'. Both divinities were fond of trees.
He could always call Ares to come to his rescue, but he'd never hear the end of it. He would be teased for months about this, then Ares would suggest with a smirk that maybe Iolaus could give him a few basic lessons in how to find the location of north and south. No thanks.
That had been a bit of a surprise: Ares and Iolaus. Another thing he had to hide from his brother. Great. At this rate he wouldn't dare open his mouth for fear of letting one of the many cats out of the bag. Like the fact that Jason planned to make him his heir...
"I know your mother would like me to offer it to Hercules, but you and I know that he would hate being tied down to a job like this." Jason didn't add that he wouldn't make a good king either. They both knew Hercules did not number administrative skills among his virtues.
"Offer it to him. You know he'll refuse and mother will be satisfied." Iphicles had suggested.
Jason's face had lit up. "That's true, he'll get all bashful and then decline it with many apologies, looking worried that he'll have hurt my feelings." He shared an amused laugh with Iphicles. They understood Hercules better than he realized, and loved him all the same.
But it was just one more secret Iphicles had to keep from his brother.
But that was trivial compared to the fact that Iolaus had become Ares' lover. Every time Iphicles thought about it, he felt a little sick with foreboding, And he felt desperately sorry for Iolaus. Hercules would be furious if he knew that Iphicles and Ares had been friends for years, but that would be nothing compared to his finding out about Iolaus. He certainly didn't want to be around for that.
Life just seemed to get more complicated each day. The Fates certainly had a warped sense of humor. Or they had it in for Iphicles.
He looked around the darkening woods and noticed a faint, overgrown path leading to a less densely wooded area.
Iphicles decided to follow it, hoping it would take him to a woodsman' s hut where he could spend the night. He could smell rain in the air, and wasn't too keen to be caught out in the open when the clouds overhead released their watery load.
The path did lead to a hut, though he was doubtful it would provide him with much protection. The dampness in this low lying area and the years had taken their toll and the place was ready to collapse into a pile of rotten boards and beams given the least nudge.
He was debating whether to push on or take his chances with the unstable little hut when he heard the pounding of hooves coming rapidly towards him.
He loosened the sword in its scabbard and waited grimly for the appearance of the horse and rider. He was still very much a soldier and he knew those sounds brought trouble his way. What were the odds.
A horse burst through the undergrowth and reared sharply as the rider tried to change direction on catching sight of him. Iphicles caught a flashing glimpse of a pale, frightened face before the rider lost control, and tumbled to the ground with a cry of distress.
Iphicles caught the reins of the rearing mount before it could gallop off and brought it under control. Looking down at the fallen rider, he realized it was a woman.
Cursing softly, he quickly dismounted and tying the reins of the two horses to a convenient branch he went to help her.
He extended an arm to lift her up but she shrunk away from him, her expression both frightened and defiant.
"It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. Come on, give me your hand." He spoke in a low, soothing voice, trying to reassure her.
After staring at him for a few moments, she seemed to come to the conclusion that he spoke the truth and allowed him to help her to her feet.
He watched her movements carefully, but she was obviously uninjured, simply a bit shaken by the fall.
"You shouldn't be riding like that in this fading light. It's..."
They both heard the approach of more riders at the same time. "They're coming." She cried, instinctively moving closer to Iphicles.
"Are they after you?"
She nodded vehemently, "They're my father's enemies. They ambushed my party, but I managed to escape." She explained rapidly in a slightly trembling voice.
"OK. Hide behind those bushes and let me take care of them."
It was getting quite dark by now, the sun had just set and the clouds brought the night on faster than usual, so wrapped in her dark cloak, she was able to disappear into the spring growth of sweetbrier and wild buckthorn bushes.
Iphicles mounted again and waited, hand ready at the pommel, but looking quite relaxed otherwise.
Three riders reached Iphicles and stopped, looking from him to the mount belonging to the woman.
"Where is she?" demanded the rider in front.
"She?" inquired Iphicles with raised eyebrows.
"The rider of that horse behind you." snapped the other man.
"There was no one on that horse when I found it. It was wandering around and I was waiting to see if the rider would appear."
"You're lying," the man said with a snarl.
Iphicles calmly gazed into his eyes then shrugged. "Believe what you want, but there's no one here but me."
The three men began to look uncertain. In a less aggressive tone the man demanded, "Where did you find the horse?"
"Not far from here, I was making my way to this clearing when..." A sneeze interrupted his reply. Oh shit. Well, so much for that.
Before the men had done more than straighten in their saddles, Iphicles had his sword out and had pierced the first rider through his shoulder.
The two other riders surged towards him but were hampered by the horse of their leader. Iphicles tackled the man nearest to him and saw the other turn and make for the bushes where the sneeze had come from. Desperate to stop him, Iphicles plunged his sword into his opponent and cursed when it stuck in the man's chest, entangled with his cuirass.
Letting go, he wheeled his horse and galloped towards the other rider. As he was now unarmed, he threw himself on the other man, tumbling both of them to the ground. Lightning reflexes and long years of fighting against the huge men of the North gave Iphicles the edge and he knocked the sword from the other man's grasp, punching him on the jaw before he had recovered.
But the Thracian style helmet he was wearing protected the man from the worst of the blow and he managed to roll away from Iphicles and stand ready for the next onslaught.
He was a decent fighter, but not strong enough to beat the attack that Iphicles launched at him. Putting all his force behind his fist, Iphicles hit him so hard, the poor man flew backwards and crashed against the walls of the rickety hut.
He had been right, Iphicles thought, as the wall collapsed under the man's weight, followed by the rest of the structure, which proceeded to disintegrate around the unconscious body. The hut wouldn't have given him any protection. Good thing he hadn't tried to go into it.
"Gods, you're so strong." A woman's voice sounded behind him.
"Not really, he wasn't all that big a man..."
"But you destroyed the whole building!" she exclaimed with awe. "No one but a god, or Hercules could do that. And you're not a god, so you must be Hercules"
Iphicles laughed with amusement, peering through the gloom at the admiring face gazing up at him. "Yeah, that's me, Hercules."
She clasped his hand. "Thank you, Hercules, I'm so grateful for your rescuing me. I've heard that you're always helping people and I can see it's true."
"No, wait, I'm..." The sound of more riders approaching Interrupted his denial. "Shit. Not another lot." he muttered and desperately looked around for a weapon.
He had just found the sword dropped by the man under the ruins, when a group of five riders appeared in the clearing. Iphicles didn't fancy his chances with so many, and on foot to boot.
But the woman run forward to the front rider. "Father!"
The man quickly dismounted and caught her in his arms. "Rena! Thank Zeus you're all right. I was worried sick when you didn't get back home."
"I'm fine father, all thanks to Hercules who came to my rescue." She pointed at Iphicles, who had watched her greeting the riders, and had began to relax until her last comment.
"Now look..." he began.
"Hercules? You were saved by Hercules? This is an unexpected honor, I can't tell you how much I'm in your debt for rescuing my daughter."
"It was nothing, but look I..."
"He pulled the whole building down fighting with one of the attackers." Rena told her father, who was busy shaking a very uncomfortable Iphicles by the arm.
"It didn't take any strength, the hut was..."
"Yes, yes. I've heard you're also very modest, and I can see it's true." he interrupted Iphicles again, then added with a friendly smile, "I don't know where you were heading but I would be honored if you accepted my hospitality tonight. The rain's not far off, and we can't have our great hero out in this weather."
Fuck it, thought Iphicles. If they wanted to believe he was Hercules, let 'em. If anyone had the right to be mistaken for him it was his own brother. Besides, it was only for one night, after all. Tomorrow he would be on his way and no harm done.
"Thank you. It's good of you to put me up for the night." he smiled ruefully. "I wasn't looking forward to spending it in the open."
"Good, then it's settled. By the way, my name is Gorgus. Forgot to introduce myself in the excitement."
"Nice to meet you, Gorgus." Iphicles smiled at his host.
"Likewise." Gorgus replied, then turning slightly to the man at his side, he commanded, "Pallaeus, clear up this mess and bring the horses back with you, and anyone alive. I want to know who's behind this attack."
Pallaeus saluted sharply, and giving Iphicles an unfriendly look, he hastened to follow Gorgus' orders.
Iphicles had had every intention of leaving the following day, but it was still raining, so he stayed. It rained for nearly three whole days, and by the time the Spring clouds had brightened into sunny, rainbow-clad blue skies, Iphicles didn't want to go.
He had found the whole situation amusing at first, but now it was becoming a curse. Gorgus' step-daughter was beautiful, bright, clearly attracted to him--and thought he was Hercules.
It was to late, much too late to rectify the situation. Gorgus had made it clear--he had practically pushed Rena into his arms--that he would be delighted if he married his step-daughter. And Iphicles was more than willing. But there was that problem.
However, it looked as if the whole charade was coming to an end. Iphicles contemplated the large beam that had fallen from the half-finished building and mentally shrugged. This was where they discovered he wasn't Hercules.
The workmen erecting a new wing to the palace had lost control of the pulleys that were raising one of the supporting beam into place, and now it lay on the ground, one of its ends poised daintily on the stomach of a marble caryatid that lay stricken on its side. Gorgus had decided to model the new addition on the Parthenum in Athens. The man certainly didn't lack for ambition.
They were all standing around, waiting to see the great Hercules do his stuff. They were going to be disappointed.
Iphicles placed his hands on the beam end and pushed, not expecting much to happen. But the damn thing began to rise, lifting slowly as everyone ohh'd and ahh'd.
"Ares." Iphicles muttered from the corner of his mouth. "What the fuck are you up to?"
There was a rumble of laughter near his left. Ares appeared next to him pushing the beam, invisible to everyone else. "Giving you a hand. What else.?"
"They'll think it's me doing it."
"That's the idea." Ares was in a great mood.
"They believe I'm Hercules." Iphicles informed him gloomily.
"I know. It's great." the god smiled evilly.
"It's not great! it's a disaster." Iphicles was not amused.
"Not for me!" Ares gave an extra shove, held the beam with Iphicles while the workmen tightened the pulley ropes once more, and giving his morose friend a toothy smile, he disappeared again.
He visited Iphicles that night.
"You have a knack for getting into impossible situations, don't you?" He commented as he leaned on his elbow, gazing at the dismal expression of his friend.
"Thanks, I work hard to get into them just to amuse you." Iphicles declared sarcastically.
Ares laughed. "You do that all right. I'll say this much for you--you can be really irritating sometimes, but never boring."
"I'm blown away by your flattery. Any more and I won't be able to stand myself." Iphicles sighed heavily. "How in Tartarus am I going to get out of this one."
"Easy, just walk away."
"But then I'll lose her." Iphicles groaned and rubbed his face in despair. "What am I saying--I'll lose her anyway. Fuck!"
"Good idea." Replied Ares, making a grab for him, but Iphicles shoved him off. "Cut it out Ares, I'm not in the mood for it."
Ares growled in annoyance but didn't insist. Instead he run an idle finger over Iphicles' drooping mouth and commented. "You've fallen for her then."
"Yeah, as you so romantically put it, I've fallen for her."
"Fine. Then marry her and tell her afterwards. But fuck her a few times first. Then she'll be so pleased with her new husband she'll forgive you anything."
Iphicles couldn't help laughing. "I'm not that good."
"Sure you are. Best in Greece." He thought about it. "Except for me, of course--and Iolaus."
Iphicles' gaze was heavily ironic. "My, I'm honored to be compared with a god--and Iolaus. Thank you."
Ares waved a regal hand. "You're welcome." But there was a gleam of amusement in his hard eyes. "You want me to--"
"No. Thank you, but no. I've got myself into this mess, and I'll get myself out of it. Somehow." He sighed, thinking of the inevitable outcome. Not a happy one.
"Fine. Have it your way. Now can we fuck?"
Iphicles looked at him for a moment and then smiled. "Why not?"
Of course, Hercules turned up not long after.
If Iphicles had had any intention of admitting fault, it evaporated like water on molten iron after meeting his brother.
The pompous, self-righteous, smug... Iphicles fumed, wanting to kill him--or at least punch his contemptuous, patronizing face. But he would probably just break his hand on that steel jaw, and Hercules would simply blink and shake his head pityingly.
Iphicles knew he was in the wrong; but this had been his chance to have some kind of stab at a normal life. A wife, children, a real home. However, his brother, his nemesis, was determined to snatch it away. Would he ever stop paying for his mistakes?
Gorgus demanded he should kill his brother. He couldn't do it, of course, anymore than he would cut off his own hands. So, once again, Hercules decided his life for him.
This time though, the Fates were merciful. Rena, in spite of her disappointment at his deception, professed to love him still.
Iphicles kept expecting the whole thing to unravel at some point. He didn't trust his good luck, something would go wrong sooner or later.
All through the wedding ceremony, through the feast, all through the ride in the bridal car to the palace, through the bride-song and while he carried her in his arms as Iolaus and Hercules went before them opening the doors, he was expecting something to happen, for the whole thing to come crashing around his ears.
But finally they were alone and she was still there, a little pale and nervous, but that was to be expected from a bride.
He took her very gently into his arms; this was a woman, delicate, fragile, soft. He hadn't had a woman lately. Prostitutes didn't really expect much gentleness, though he had always prided himself on treating all women with care and consideration. And the sophisticated Roman wives that had invited him into their beds had more interest in experiencing his varied and extensive knowledge of sexual techniques, than of being treated gently. Some, in fact, had wanted just the opposite.
But he had not been with a virgin since--a long time. He had sworn to himself he would never make that mistake again. The price had been too high.
However, this was his wife and he owed her every consideration. He brushed her mouth softly, deepening the kiss very gradually until he felt her yielding body melting into his. His arms tightened around her hips and he lifted her higher, his body responding to the feel and taste of her.
He broke the kiss and lifting her in his arms, walked to the bed, fragrant with the scent of lavender rising from the fine linen sheets. He set her down among the rose petals strewn over the surface, which released their sweet perfume as they were crushed by their weight.
As he bent down to kiss her again she put a hand against his chest.
"Iphicles." she sounded nervous.
"Yes?" He murmured gently, reassuringly.
"Iphicles, there's something I have to tell you." she stopped, swallowing convulsively, now tense and, he would swear, afraid.
Here it comes, he thought, waiting for the ax to fall. "What is it? don't be afraid. You can tell me."
"You're not...there was..." She closed her eyes. "I'm not a virgin Iphicles."
He waited for further revelations, but when she said nothing more, simply waited fearfully for his reaction, he finally answered. "Nor am I."
Her eyes snapped open, staring at him with shock.
"Is that all?" He asked smiling at her.
"You, you don't mind?"
"Do you love me Rena?" he asked her.
"You know I do."
"That's all that matters. Now, can I carry on?" He smiled warmly, his sensual, husky voice working its magic as she visibly relaxed and put her arms around his neck.
"Carry on my lord."
He was no less gentle, but something in him relaxed. Removing the pins holding the wedding shift at her shoulders, he lowered the silky fabric to reveal her creamy breasts, which swelled under his hands as she moaned with pleasure and arousal. She cried out in passion and arched into his hands as he caught the rosy-pink nipples between his fingers, and then his mouth as he took the tight, erect flesh and teased first one then the other nipple until her moans of pleasure had him breathing harshly, his own desire now pressing on his swollen cock.
But this was her night, so he focused on her needs to the exclusion of his own. His hands and lips roamed over the soft, pliant curves, watching as she lost control, little by little, her pale skin growing flushed and sweaty, her cries and soft moans tightening his own body with urgent need.
He gently parted her legs and tasted the glistening blood-engorged entrance to her body and settled into her rhythm, letting the movement of her hips dictate the pace. Her soft cries echoed in his ears as she climaxed, tightening around his fingers and mouth.
He adjusted his touch to allow for the increased sensitivity and carried on, bringing her to a peak again. The second time he almost came himself, caught up in her ecstasy.
Lying between her thighs, he eased inside her, parting her soft, slick flesh, filling her slowly, moving gently, caressing her with his hands and body, rocking deep within her.
This time, when she tightened around him, he let his own urgent need free rein and buried himself deep in her, again and again, until convulsing with a hoarse cry, he spasmed violently, intense pleasure gripping him like a vice.
Later, as he held his sleeping wife, it struck him that Rena had also practiced her own deceit, waiting to reveal her secret until the last moment.
No wonder she had been so understanding of his own deception. They were well matched indeed. He was shaken with a silent laugh. Ares would enjoy the joke.
* * *
Iphicles stood by the window, indifferent to the rain that the vicious easterly winds hurled into the room, and onto his clothes.
Two years. He had had barely two years of normality as men judged such things.
Of course, not every man became a king, or had his mother's wedding gate-crashed by a sea-monster--or have the bridegroom and bride's favorite son swallowed by said sea-monster And how often did the servants at these happy occasions turn out to be a band of hired killers?
None of this was considered unusual in his family, as his wife, Rena, had soon found out. Just as no one seemed unduly surprised when innocent looking girls dropped in at their Birthday parties and tried to poison them.
Yet it was not any of these things that had brought about his wife's death.
When he learnt she was with child, his child, he really thought his life had finally settled into the traditional pattern that other men took for granted. He had a loving wife, a fulfilling if demanding job, relations with his brother had improved somewhat, and now he was to be a father. But he should have known it wouldn't last. He had become too comfortable, too complacent.
He should have remembered that sooner or later he lost every one he loved, anyone he cared for.
And he hadn't been there for her. He had promised. He had sworn to be at her side when the time came for the child to be born. He knew full well she was terrified of suffering the same fate as her mother, and die in childbirth. And she had.
Another person who had loved him and died because of him.
He felt his presence even before the bright blue flash announced his arrival.
"So, you heard?"
"I heard." The deep voice sounded close to his ear. He leant back into the rock-solid support of the God of War.
"I killed her." Iphicles announced in a deadened voice.
"No, you didn't." Ares said forcibly. "She died as women often die. Don't assume responsibility for everything that goes wrong, Iphicles."
"She was carrying my child, and it killed her." he pointed out with determined logic.
"So now every man who gets a woman pregnant is a potential killer?" the god snapped sarcastically.
Iphicles sighed and bowed his head. "I suppose not. But she was so afraid, and I wasn't there for her."
Ares wrinkled his nose in annoyance when he put an arm around his human and encountered cold, clammy fabric and skin. Shaking his head with irritation, he moved Iphicles away from the window, drying him at the same time.
"I know it's hard for you to accept this, but you're not the only one to lose a wife like this. It's the common lot of humans, Iphicles. You wanted a normal life, well this is as normal as it get." Ares' brand of comfort was bracing, not to say unique. The simple fact of his offering it was unusual enough.
Iphicles choked back a sobbing laugh. "Thanks Ares. That makes me feel so much better."
"I knew it would." The god murmured into Iphicles' hair, relieved. He had expected his friend to be wallowing in a deep depression; this wasn't too bad.
Iphicles relaxed into the god's strength and closed his bloodshot eyes. He hadn't slept in over two days. "I'm tired."
"Then rest." Ares transported them to the bed and tucked Iphicles' head on his shoulder, brushing his lips over the tense forehead. "Come on, relax, you'll feel better after a good sleep."
"It was the fault of those dammed soldiers. They're coming back in droves and causing trouble. I was trying to prevent a riot in the South when she died...that's why I wasn't here for her. They're the ones to blame!"
"There you are. Not your fault after all." Ares murmured absentmindedly, debating whether to send Iphicles into a dreamless sleep or let him talk himself out.
"What am I going to do with them? I'm sick of hearing about the fights they start, the trouble they cause." Iphicles grouched tiredly into the soft, velvety skin of Ares' neck.
"Send them away somewhere where they won't cause any trouble." Ares was enjoying the warm brush of those full lips and was fast losing interest in the conversation.
"Like where, for example?" Iphicles' breath caressed the sensitive skin below the god's ears, making him hum with pleasure.
"Don't know--how about that island where you send your trouble makers?" He was running his hand under Iphicles' shirt now, enjoying the warming flesh, the flat little nipples that automatically tightened at his touch.
"Golgoth? Hmm. That might be a short-term solution, until I can think of something better. " he sighed deeply as hot, knowing hands kneaded his tense back. "It will do them good to experience some discipline. They deserve it."
"There you are, problem solved." the deep, husky voice was soothing, and the lips caressing his eyes, his jaw and the corners of his mouth had Iphicles unconsciously melting into the heated flesh he could suddenly feel under his hands.
"Ares, what are you doing?" Iphicles asked, just before a hot, sensual mouth took possession of his.
"Getting you relaxed so you can sleep." Ares breathed into his mouth, before taking it again, undressing them both with a thought and sliding his body between the firm thighs that parted for him before Iphicles had thought better of it.
"Shouldn't be doing this." Iphicles moaned as their cocks rubbed gently, then harder as Ares rocked into him faster and faster, then slowed down as he felt Iphicles approaching orgasm, then speeded up again, over and over until Iphicles was sobbing with pleasure and frustration, his body slippery with sweat, so that their swollen cocks, heavy with blood, slid sweetly against each other.
Finally, when Iphicles was coming to the end of his strength, and Ares was ready to explode himself, he ground his hips into the body beneath him and let Iphicles come, bucking and writhing until he fell back drained, while Ares let his own body convulse in searing pleasure, roaring out an ancient war paean that hadn't been heard in a thousand years.
"Are you relaxed?" panted Ares, voice raspy and gruff after all his hard work.
"Can you sleep now?" Ares whispered into Iphicles ear. But there was no response.
The god smiled at the sleeping human, inordinately pleased with himself.
"Am I good or what?"
* * *
Unfortunately, Iphicles' short-term solution had turned into a full scale disaster.
As he lay down in his cell after Hercules' departure to fetch the ransom demanded by his captors, Iphicles wondered again how he could have allowed the situation get out of hand so quickly.
Perhaps it was because he had been trying to get over the deaths of his wife and his unborn child, and the problems of the returning soldiers kept intruding into his life, threatening the stability of his kingdom, and giving him no peace.
Or perhaps it was because he hadn't been the king of Corinth long enough to feel confident in his position. When troubles arose, he felt obliged to deal with them as quickly as possible, afraid of losing the support and confidence of his subjects.
Hence his determination to come up with a quick solution, without really taking the time to find out if it was a workable idea or not. He really should have realized that sending the returning soldiers to Golgoth was a mistake. As soon as he had seen the place for himself and discovered what had been going on, he had understood the full extent of his blunder.
The intransigent, imperious attitude adopted by Ajax hadn't helped, of course. The man had rubbed him the wrong way from the start. Then he had lost his temper--they had both lost their tempers, and the rest, as they say, was history.
The broken leg hurt abominably, and his brother's accusing looks had not helped. He knew he had fucked up. Again. And his brother had come to rescue the situation. Again. They really had to stop meeting like this.
Hercules had been magnanimous, forgiving, disappointed, disapproving. The usual. At least he hadn't stood at the opposite end of the cell, not all the time anyway. It had taken a broken leg and having his life threatened to get Hercules to touch him. Iphicles didn't think he could afford the price
It had been good to see him all the same. He really hated the idea of ending up as fish bait. It would have been the final irony.
Nonetheless, he hadn't been really surprised to learn he wouldn't be leaving. He suspected Ajax meant to kill him, regardless of his assurances to the contrary. At least he had got to see his brother one last time.
Iolaus came into the cell and stood looking at Iphicles, his face full of guilt. "I'm sorry Iphicles that I got you into this mess."
Iphicles waved his hand dismissively. "No. I got myself into it. You're not to blame for trying to make things better, and you're not responsible for my mistakes. But you shouldn't be here."
"Right! Like Hercules--or Ares would ever forgive me if I left you here to fend for yourself." Iolaus grimaced and shook his head. "I'm not leaving without you, so forget it."
Iphicles smiled at the determined, stubborn look in Iolaus' eyes, then declared with a serious expression. "And they wouldn't forgive me, nor would I forgive myself if anything happened to you because of me."
Iolaus turned away at this. "Don't worry about me, I can take care of myself." He turned back and laughed cheerfully. "Besides, I don't usually stay dead for long. I think Hades refuses to let me into his place again; says I'm too much trouble."
"Well, I used to think he must feel the same way about me, but it looks as if he's changed his mind, because I don't think I'm getting out of this one."
Iolaus looked worried, but he hastened to contradict him. "Hercules will get you out of here, just give him a chance."
"Iolaus," Iphicles said softly, "Ajax means to have my blood and you know it."
Iolaus was silent, gazing into Iphicles' eyes for a long moment. He sighed and admitted in a low voice. "He's changed. He's not the man I knew. I think he's not in his right mind just now. I'd like to think that's the reason for his behavior."
"So, what's my excuse?" Iphicles turned away and murmured sadly, "You must despise me, the way I've treated those men."
Iolaus smiled ruefully. " I must admit, I lost faith back there. Hercules never did." he added, knowing how much that meant to Iphicles.
Before he could reply, Ajax came into the cell and proved Iphicles right by condemning him to death.
But in the end, it was not Iphicles, but Ajax who ended up as shark food saving Iphicles' life, trying with that act to put things right.
And Iphicles could do no less. He knew he was at fault too, and he had to do his part, bring about a reconciliation and find a place for those men in his kingdom; do what he should have done in the first place. Live and learn.
And once again, Death had turned her back on him and taken someone else in his place. The story of his life.
Ares turned up just after Hercules and Iolaus had departed for some small village that was having trouble with an unspecified monster.
Iphicles was having problems falling sleep; every time he fell into a doze, any movement of his broken leg would jolt him awake with the pain.
The blue flash blinded him, for it was a dark night, the moon a mere sliver of silver that provided no light.
"Got yourself into another interesting situation I hear." Ares strolled through the darkness and sprawled on the bed next to Iphicles.
"You mean I fucked up again. That Golgoth idea was a really bad one."
Ares shrugged unseen. "You're human, you're supposed to make mistakes." he said nothing about the fact it had been his suggestion in the first place.
Iphicles didn't remind him. It wasn't Ares' fault he hadn't done his own job properly. "Well, I nearly didn't walk away from this one." His leg gave him a twinge. "Come to think of it, I didn't. More like hobbled away."
Ares looked at the bandaged leg. "Hurting?"
"What do you think?"
"I'll take care of it." He waved a hand and Iphicles felt the hot rush of energy surging through the injured tissue and bone. Then the nagging ache was gone.
He waggled his leg gingerly but there was no sudden jolt of pain. "Thanks. But how in Tartarus am I going to explain my miraculous recovery?."
"Don't." Ares never bothered to explain, unless it gained him some advantage.
"I'm not you," retorted Iphicles, "People will expect an explanation from me."
"Fine. Wear the bandages for a while longer, and pretend it still hurts. Humans don't really keep track of someone else's injuries, so you shouldn't have to do it for too long."
"I could do that, I suppose." Iphicles mused. "It will give me a good excuse for not accepting these invitations I'm getting from all the hopeful parents with young daughters." He sighed with irritation. "It's been less than three months since Rena died and they're already trying to marry me off again."
Ares' laughter rang in the darkness, "Of course they are! All those ambitious nobles that hang around you like horse flies think they can get more power if their daughters marry the king."
"They want me to insure there's an heir when I die. They don't want another Jason." Iphicles had felt like a prize bull when his ministers had not so subtly pointed this out. His near-death in Golgoth hadn't helped at all.
Unseen by Iphicles, Ares' expression had grown grim. "I nearly lost you in this little adventure of yours." he sounded annoyed.
Iphicles turned towards his friend. "You'll lose me eventually Ares. Even if no one kills me, I'll grow old and then I'll die. So get used to it."
"Hmm." Was all the God of War said. "Are you thirsty?" He asked abruptly.
"I suppose," Iphicles replied agreeably, thinking Ares didn't want to dwell on his death. As he didn't either, he was perfectly willing to change the subject.
"Try this. Iolaus seems to like it." A goblet suddenly materialized in Iphicles' right hand.
"Well, if Iolaus likes it, it must be good." Iphicles murmured teasingly, but he obediently took a sip, and found it to be some kind of fruit juice, both tangy and sweet.
"Hmm. Iolaus is right. It's good."
"You like it?" Ares sounded pleased. He liked his gifts to be appreciated.
"I like it. Very refreshing." Iphicles replied firmly. He knew his friend well.
"Goes well with apples. Here, have one."
Iphicles found he was holding an apple in his left hand. He wasn't all that hungry, but bit into it good-naturedly. It's flesh was crisp and sweet; actually, it was the best apple he could remember ever eating
"This is a great apple. Where did you get it?"
"Oh, from a place I know." Ares remarked off-handedly.
"Well, it's the best apple I've ever eaten. Maybe you can get me a seedling and I can grow them in my garden."
There was a rumble of laughter. "Nah, this farmer is very possessive about his apples. Doesn't want others to grow them."
"Oh. Well, I can understand that. He's got a great product and doesn't want others to compete with him."
Ares was grinning sardonically, "Something like that. Now finish it all, you don't want to waste it."
"I'm eating, I'm eating. There, it's all gone, even the core." Iphicles swallowed a laugh. Ares was like a kid sometimes. "Can I leave the stem, or do I have to eat that too?"
"No. You don't have to eat the stem." Ares replied in his customary growl, but Iphicles could tell he was in good mood. "Have some more orange juice. The fruit comes from Chin."
"Orange juice?" Iphicles asked intrigued.
"Iolaus calls it that, because of it's color." Ares told him with heavy sarcasm.
"Ares, it's almost pitch dark in here. I can't tell what color it is." Iphicles pointed out patiently.
"So it is." The room was suddenly lit by hundreds of candles and Iphicles was dazzled by the myriad flickering tongues of light.
Eventually his eyes grew accustomed to their brightness and looking into the goblet, he saw that the juice was indeed bright orange.
"Huh, it's really orange." He murmured musingly.
Iphicles suddenly frowned and rubbed his skin, which felt very peculiar. "Has this juice got something in it? "
"Not that I know. Why?"
Iphicles lay down, feeling a little dizzy. "I feel weird, light-headed. Don't know, different."
"Maybe it doesn't agree with you. Why don't you go to sleep? You'll feel better afterwards." The god suggested softly, surreptitiously slipping a wisp of energy into Iphicles, who immediately yawned.
"I think I will, I haven't been sleeping very well lately 'cos of the leg." He turned a suddenly sleepy face to his friend and pointed at the candles.
"No problem." The room was plunged into darkness.
"Thanks." murmured Iphicles, and he was sleep.
Ares contemplated the relaxed features of his friend. He had forgotten Iphicles was a mere mortal, but this business had reminded him that he could lose his friend at any time, and he wasn't prepared to let that happen.
Well, he had taken care of it. Iphicles would eventually find out, but not for some time, and though he would be furious at first, he would come round.
How would Hercules react?
Ares laughed silently; that promised to be fun.
* * *
Iphicles had come to the conclusion that he was a source of entertainment for the Fates.
Just when he had become resigned to the idea that he was destined to lurch from disaster to disaster, his life had suddenly settled down into an uneventful routine of kingly duties and family life--well, sort of.
He glanced at the other three men sitting at the dinner table and marveled anew at the twists and turns the Fates liked to put him through.
After Alcmene's death, instead of seeking solace in wine as Iphicles had feared he would, Jason had sought his company for comfort, and Iphicles had been happy to oblige, for he was fond of his step-father. Therefore, Jason, when not busy with farming tasks, spent most of his spare time in Corinth with Iphicles. So much so that he had his own permanent suite of rooms in the palace. As had Hercules and Iolaus.
It had surprised Iphicles when those two took to dropping in on him at regular intervals, eventually making Corinth their base and his palace their home. He had expected his brother to live in their own family home with Jason, but it seemed as if there were too many memories for Hercules in that house, too many ghosts.
He suspected Iolaus had played no small part in this decision. Iphicles and his friend's lover had become good friends, drawn together by the two men in their lives that meant so much to them both. And Iolaus never gave up trying to bring Iphicles and Hercules closer. Faint hope. But it did provide them all with some semblance of a family life.
Only a semblance though; Hercules might spend time in Corinth, but never with his brother. They took care not to be alone together, for then the uncomfortable silence and yawning distance that separated them became only too obvious. The stale smell of the past hung around them like woodsmoke, never mentioned but ever present, tainting every word, every expression exchanged. Hercules had never forgiven Iphicles, had never forgotten his betrayal. That was one mistake that Iphicles would be paying for to the end of his days.
Another reason that Iolaus enjoyed Iphicles' company was the fact that he was the only person with whom he could talk about Ares.
Iphicles found himself acting the part of peacemaker every time these two unlikely lovers had one of their clashes. Ares' imperious manner and Iolaus' stubborn independence and unswerving loyalty to Hercules would cause inevitable friction between them, which Iphicles would be expected to smooth over. He was very fond of the two men, but sometimes they tried him sorely.
Take this business of Sumeria. Hercules was determined to go to that land in order, according to Ares, to meddle in what didn't concern him. Iolaus agreed with this but refused to stay behind and let Hercules go alone, as his lover demanded.
There had been a shouting match that luckily no one but Iphicles had witnessed, and then Iolaus had walked out in a huff, while Ares had rearranged parts of his palace. Iphicles was used to having walls tumble down and reassembled on a regular basis.
"He drives me crazy," Ares raged, as he replaced the table he had just blasted into splinters with a fireball.
Iphicles contemplated his new table of shining ebony and sighed. "Ares, you can't order him about like that; that's not the way to get him to do something. You know how independent he is."
"He's twice the trouble you were when we were lovers." Ares fumed as he prowled Iphicles' study.
Iphicles shook his head, "We were never lovers."
"We weren't?" Ares glanced at him smirking. "I have a distinct recollection of fucking you into oblivion on several occasions. We gods have a perfect memory you know."
Iphicles waved Ares' comment aside with a dismissive arm. "That didn't make us lovers." He observed the god's dark eyebrow rise questioningly. "We fucked each other and eventually became good friends, but there was never any question of that kind of love between us."
"A fine distinction." The god observed.
"But a telling one." Iphicles looked at his friend and added, "We wouldn't have made it as lovers. Too much alike in some ways, the important ways. We would have torn each other apart, or rather, you would have. Iolaus is the lover you need, not someone like me." He finished with a wry smile.
Ares regarded Iphicles with a thoughtful, affectionate look that only his friend and his lover ever got to see. "And what do you need from your lover?"
Iphicles looked blindly into the black eyes regarding him, and thought briefly of blue ones, full of love and admiration. "Me? Why a nice, healthy woman who will supply me with the heirs my subjects expect me to produce."
Focusing again on Ares' frowning face, he advised gently, "Ares, don't push him to choose between you and Hercules. He won't do it, he can't do it. You'll only end up hurting him, and yourself."
Ares stalked away and looked out of the window. "This trip is a bad idea and it will only bring trouble. He should trust my judgment."
"I'm sure he does, and that's precisely why he's going."
"What?" Ares frowned at Iphicles.
"He's worried about Hercules. He won't let his friend go into danger alone. You know how he is, or you should by now."
"Hercules, always Hercules!" Ares raged. "I'm sick and tired of having your brother meddling in my affairs."
"He doesn't know he's doing it, and he's your brother too." Iphicles pointed out tiredly.
"Don't remind me." snarled the God of War.
So Iolaus went around looking unhappy. Hercules put it down to his misgivings over the whole venture, and didn't give it much thought. But Iphicles knew better. He had listened to Ares' furious diatribe on stubborn pig-headed lovers and bastard brothers till his head ached with it. Then he had heard Iolaus' side of the story.
Iolaus hadn't shouted or blasted the walls with fireballs, but his pain and resentment was just as acute. Neither of them would give way this time.
"He's always trying to run my life." Iolaus told Iphicles one evening just before sailing for Sumeria.
"And Hercules doesn't." Iphicles commented sardonically.
Iolaus flushed. Then he sighed in frustration. "They're both as bad as each other. They always seem to think they know best what is good for me. As if I couldn't make up my own mind."
"They both love you, Iolaus."
"I know. That's what makes it so hard." Iolaus had admitted sadly.
So Hercules and Iolaus left for Sumeria and life carried on with the usual routine of ambassadorial visits, meetings with advisors, open court for his subjects, and visits to the nobles who were allied to Corinth and the Crown. The typical life of a king.
One particularly boring afternoon, Iphicles was presiding over an informal meeting of the upper echelons of Corinth Society. It was an opportunity for the heads of the principal aristocratic families and wealthy men to meet and socialize, keeping an eye on their king, while he kept a watchful eye on them and carefully observed the creation of alliances and the breaking up of them.
He blinked at a sudden flash of light and found himself sitting in his study instead, feeling dizzy and nauseated.
"There's trouble." Was the abrupt reply, as Ares paced his study looking angry and...disturbed.
"Hello to you too. What's up?" Iphicles sat back on his chair and prepared himself for a diatribe, probably about Hercules.
"It's your damn brother, he's done it again." Ares ground out in a murderous voice.
Yep, the usual. "All right." Iphicles sighed. "What's he done this time?"
"He nearly got Iolaus killed, that's what." Ares was livid.
"Again?" but Iphicles sat up. This was bad.
"Yes. Again. Well, it's the last time he does it." The god was fairly vibrating with anger.
It was really bad. "What happened?"
Ares paced some more, trying to calm himself down and resist the temptation to blast something. It annoyed Iphicles and he needed his help right now.
"Not content with making our lives, his family's life, impossible, the stupid bastard goes and tangles with some Sumerian demon who wants to conquer the world." Ares ground his teeth in anger, "Now as far as I'm concerned, he can pick quarrels with the whole Egyptian, Sumerian and every fucking pantheon of gods combined. But not when he drags Iolaus along with him. This Dahak creature would have taken Iolaus and never let him go."
Iphicles frowned, "How do you mean?"
Ares sighed heavily and straightened up, then admitted with a slight flush. "Last time that fool got him killed, I decided to make sure I wouldn't lose Iolaus again, so I made him immortal."
Iphicles blinked in surprise. "Does Iolaus know?"
"Yeah, of course he knows." Ares answered impatiently.
"Then--" remarked Iphicles looking perplexed, "--I don't see why you're so upset. Even if Herc gets Iolaus killed, he won't stay dead."
"That's just it. This Dahak would have taken over Iolaus' body--an immortal body, which would make it impossible to destroy the demon, or drive him away. And Iolaus would have been forever trapped by him. Now do you understand?"
"Oh. I see." Gods, why did things always have to be so damned complicated? "So, where do I come in on this?"
Ares shot him a quick glance then glared at a hapless urn, which crumbled into a neat pile of colored dust. Oops. Ares hurriedly conjured up a new one--twice as large--in blackest basalt. Iphicles regarded it with a jaundiced eye; the place was slowly filling up with assorted ornaments, all black. Ares sometimes lacked imagination.
"I want you to have a word with your brother." The god announced in a calmer voice.
"About?" Iphicles was beginning to get a really bad feeling about this.
Ares paced restlessly around the room and then turned to the frowning king, admitting with a pugnacious glare. "I lost my temper." Iphicles rolled his eyes, so what was new. "And I told my brother he wasn't going to get my lover into any more trouble. Then I took Iolaus with me."
Ooh boy. So, the cat was out of the bag and spitting mad, he'd bet. "How did Hercules take it?" Iphicles asked quietly, though he knew the answer.
"Not well." acknowledged Ares. That was an understatement. Hercules had gone nuts, once he had got over the shock.
"Uh huh." Iphicles murmured dryly.
"I don't care how he takes it." The god declared with brutal frankness. "It's Iolaus that worries me. He's not happy." Ares revealed.
Iphicles could well imagine. He would be feeling devastated. First he nearly gets killed by some demon, then he gets hit with Hercules' shocked rage and accusations of betrayal. He had to be feeling like shit. Iphicles knew the feeling only too well.
"And you want me--" of all people, "--to tell Hercules...what?"
Ares looked somewhat apologetic but determined nonetheless. "I want you to tell Hercules to give Iolaus a chance to explain."
"Ares, I don't think I'm the right person..."
"You're the only person who Hercules will listen to." Ares interrupted. "He damn well won't listen to me."
With that Iphicles had to agree. They would almost certainly end up beating each other to a pulp and resolve nothing.
"Ares you know the history..."
"That's why. He'll listen to you because of that, if nothing else." Ares gazed at the disturbed king with an uncharacteristically vulnerable expression. "Iphicles, I'm asking you for Iolaus' sake; he's your friend and he needs your help."
"You're my friend too." Iphicles pointed out in a softened voice.
"Yeah, well." Ares regarded him with unguarded eyes for a long moment.
Sighing heavily in defeat, Iphicles got up and stood before his friend. "All right, I'll have a word with him when he returns to Greece..."
"No. You have to talk to him now." The God of War said impatiently. and waved his hand.
"Ares, no!" Iphicles scarcely had time to quietly swear before he was enveloped by a blinding light, felt a sickening sense of vertigo, as if he were falling down a dark, bottomless abyss, and suddenly he was looking at sun-baked sand dunes and desert scrub, instead of his usual view of the sun-kissed shimmering waters of the Bay of Corinth.
* * *
He scarcely had time to take stock of his surroundings before he heard the familiar voice say with surprise,
"What in Tartarus are you doing here Iphicles?"
"How did you get here?" Hercules frowned, perplexed at the sight of his brother.
"Ares brought me." The hardening of his brother's face told Iphicles this wasn't going to be very pleasant.
"He wanted me to talk to you about..."
"Why you?" Hercules cut him off sharply.
"He had this idea that you might listen to me." Iphicles snapped, "Stupid idea, I know. After all, when do you ever listen to me? I told him it was a waste of time. But he doesn't listen either. Must be the way I say things." Iphicles finished bitterly.
"I listened to you once." Hercules said bitingly. "My mistake." He observed Iphicles' infinitesimal flinch with savage satisfaction. "And since when does Ares come to you for anything?" he asked with suspicion.
Iphicles swallowed, knowing beforehand what his brother's reaction to his reply would be. "Since we've been friends."
"Friends!" Hercules spat out the word with venom. "Friends. You are friends with Ares." He laughed harshly, turning about the room with hasty, furious steps. "Well, why not? Iolaus is his lover, so why not have you as his friend? Gods, but I've been blind. Don't tell me, you all get together and have a good laugh at Hercules, simpleminded, blind, trusting Hercules. Fuck." He suddenly drove his fist into the column next to him, knocking the middle stones out into the center of the hall.
"Hercules!" Iphicles lunged forward and held on to the powerful arm with all his strength. For a moment he thought his brother would shake him off like a terrier shaking off a rat, but he controlled himself with a mighty effort and stood still.
"Let go Iphicles." Hercules said through gritted teeth.
"You're not going to destroy your host's palace, are you?" gasped Iphicles.
Hercules laughed sharply then shook his head. "No, Nebula doesn't deserve that. It's ok, no more temper tantrums, I'm fine now."
Iphicles doubted that but he let go, breathing deeply. He walked away from the stiff, somber figure and stood by the wide balcony, looking out into the desert. "No one's laughing at you Hercules. And there's no conspiracy against you. I met Ares at a time of my life when I... wasn't doing too well. He helped me get through it and we got to know each other." Iphicles told him quietly.
Hercules stood silent for a long moment, then he said, "Can't imagine Ares being friends with anyone."
Iphicles smiled crookedly. " You'd be surprised. I guess we found some common ground. Neither of us make friends easily--we're better at making enemies. And neither of us is very trusting. I suppose we understand each other."
"Fine." Hercules said grimly, "Can't say I think much of your choice of friends but that's your business." He approached the balcony till he was standing next to his brother, and folding his arms in a gesture eerily reminiscent of Ares' typical stance, he bit out. "Well, say your piece. That's what he brought you here for, didn't he?"
Iphicles looked at the implacably hostile expression in his brother's face and felt the familiar sense of pain and resentment take over. He closed his eyes and commented with bitterness, "Why bother, when you're not going to listen. You're going to throw away a life-long friendship, the love of a man who's stood by you through everything; has proven his loyalty over and over,"
Opening his eyes again, he gazed accusingly into the slowly whitening countenance of his brother. "How many times has he died for you? because of you? would have died again here," This time it was Hercules who flinched and looked away. "But that doesn't count for anything does it? He's fallen in love, and guess what, it's not with someone you like. So that's that. Friendship over. "
"His lover happens to be my worst enemy." shouted Hercules with bitterness.
"Come on, Hercules. Do you really think Ares is your greatest enemy? When did he last try to kill you? Or do anything to you except have a fist fight when you interfered once too many times with his affairs? He is the God of War, and you never lose an opportunity to mess with his job."
"Job? You call war a job?" exclaimed Hercules contemptuously.
"Yeah, it was mine until not so long ago. Remember?" Iphicles pointed out quietly. Hercules flushed and stared at his feet, faintly ashamed.
"As for Ares, it's the job your father gave him, and he's tried to do it to the best of his ability; not that anyone's interested." Iphicles pointed out grimly. "I know you think we humans only go to war at his instigation, but guess what? We don't need any encouragement to kill each other. Humans are only too ready to go to war given the least provocation." He swept a restless hand through his long hair. "I spend half my time trying to avoid it nowadays, so I should know."
"He betrayed me." Hercules muttered bleakly.
"Did he? How?"
Hercules looked up into Iphicles' eyes with shocked outrage, "How?" He spluttered, "Well, he..." He came to a stop. Then his eyes filled with pain. "Why didn't he tell me?"
"Why?" Iphicles smiled crookedly, "You tell me. Why wouldn't he tell you?"
Hercules stared into the amber depths of his brother's gaze and finally turned away. "I guess I wouldn't have taken it very well."
"No, you wouldn't. You would have made Iolaus choose between the two of you, and you would have broken his heart." Iphicles' voice faded away, memories assailing him.
"Broken his heart." Hercules laughed harshly. "What do you know about broken hearts?."
Iphicles rounded on him, goaded beyond endurance , and grated out, "I know more than you think, dear brother. I lost a friend who gave his life for me. I've lost a wife who died without me, a mother who didn't seem to remember she had two sons. Did she remember me at all I wonder? and I lost you...never mind." He finished abruptly, and turned hastily away, eyes dark with anguish.
Hercules latched on to the last statement. "Lost me? you didn't lose me, you threw me away." He suddenly grabbed his brother by the arms and all the pain and bitterness he had held inside for long years spilled out in his voice as he hissed into Iphicles' face, "Do you know what you did to me? I loved you, more than I've loved anyone else before or after. I gave you everything, and you tossed me away when you got bored like it was nothing. You broke my heart Iphicles, you broke my heart, damn you."
"Well, I tore mine out, if that's any consolation." He answered in a low, shaking voice, his shadowed eyes as tormented as the anguished blue ones gazing at him.
"What...what do you mean?" Hercules whispered.
"Nothing." muttered Iphicles trying to free himself from his brother's unbreakable grasp.
"Tell me, damn you!" Hercules shouted, tightening his hold.
"I did it for you!" Iphicles burst out," I set you free to become the great hero, the champion of the people. I didn't want to ruin your life."
"What? Ruin... how could you have ruined my life?" Hercules cried in honest bafflement.
"You would have wanted to be with me, and what was I? A simple soldier, making my living from war, something you despise; and you would have become one too. Wouldn't you?" Iphicles asked
Hercules stared into the pain-filled eyes in shock, trying to comprehend what Iphicles was telling him. "You did this to me--to us, because you thought I should become some kind of hero?"
Iphicles shook his head tiredly, "No, I didn't want you to be a hero. But it was made clear to me that I wasn't doing you any favors by holding onto you."
"Who had the...Cheiron!" Hercules exclaimed, "He was waiting for us that morning you were leaving for Potidaea...that's when everything went wrong. I didn't see of hear from you until I..." Hercules shook his head, still feeling the searing pain of betrayal when he had found his brother in someone else's arms. "What did he tell you?" He asked Iphicles more calmly.
"The truth. That if I didn't let you go you would never fulfill your potential." Iphicles laughed mirthlessly. "How did he put it? 'You'll drag Hercules down to your level. You'll ruin him.' He made it very clear what he thought of me."
Hercules gazed at his brother, realizing how hurtful and destructive those words must have been, and enveloped him in a tight embrace, damning his teacher and mentor for the incalculable harm he had done them both in his determination to help him become someone.
"You shouldn't have listened to him." Hercules whispered into the coppery hair brushing his face. "Just because he..."
"He wasn't the only one."
Hercules held his brother at arms length and asked, "Who...? Mother!"
Iphicles slowly nodded. Then smiling wryly he said, "You were always her blue-eyed boy. She had such dreams for you! And she was afraid that I would kill them all, kill you if you followed in my footsteps." He looked at his brother and admitted with unsparing honesty, "And they were both right. I would never have let you go--I loved you too much. I would have kept you by my side and you would never have become the great hero that you are. So you see, they were right. And I did the right thing." He looked down and murmured, "Though it felt like death; worse than death, because I was still alive."
Hercules stared with wide eyes at his brother, the man he had loved and hated with equal passion all his life. He was stunned and shaken to his very soul to find out that his brother had not betrayed him as he had thought. The courageous fool had been convinced to give him up, sacrificing his happiness because he had been persuaded to believe himself of little worth by the very people who should have been trying to support and encourage him.
"Gods, Iphicles. I don't know what to say. I can't believe that mother would..." But he did believe it, that was the pity of it. He knew his mother had been ruthless when it came to protecting him, even if it meant sacrificing her other son. Not that she would have seen it that way, of course. Alcmene would simply have thought that Iphicles could follow in his father's footsteps, but Hercules would not. She never forgot, or let Hercules forget that he was the son of the King of the Gods and something great was expected of him.
And all he had wanted was his brother's love.
Iphicles was finally able to free himself from his brother's slackened hold and turned away, staring out once more into the shimmering distance. "It's ok, ancient history and all that. I guess it worked out after all. You're who you are," he laughed a little unsteadily. "And I'm the king of Corinth, and not too bad a king I think, hard to believe though it may be."
"You're a very good king, Iphicles." Hercules said in a low voice, laden with emotion. "The people of Corinth are lucky to have you for their ruler."
Iphicles shot a quick, grateful glance at his brother and laughed shakily. "Thanks Herc. That's...thanks."
"Nothing but the truth."
They fell silent, both feeling numb and exhausted by the tempest of emotions that had swept over them in such a short while.
"So." Iphicles said finally. "About Iolaus..."
Hercules sighed heavily. "Yes, Iolaus." He shook his head wearily. "It's ok. I'm not going to do anything stupid. I can't say that I'm happy about it," He looked at his brother sadly, "But I'm not going to tell anyone, least of all someone I care for, who they should love. There's been enough pain caused by those who have."
Iphicles nodded. "I'm glad you..."
"Hercules, you have to...Oh!" Nebula came to an abrupt stop. "Iphicles? How did you get here?"
The two brothers smiled in unison at her astonished expression. Hercules answered for them both, "Long story Nebula. What's up?"
Nebula dragged her eyes away from the unexpected sight of the king of Corinth in her palace and answered somewhat absently, "Someone's trapped under a stone slab that's fallen over and we need you to move it before the poor man's crushed to death."
"Ah, a hero's work is never done." Hercules quipped, but there was an undertone of bitterness in his voice. "So, where is this trapped man?"
"Down in the Lion courtyard. They're trying to repair the damage my...my brother did." Her face twisted into a grimace and Hercules patted her shoulder in sympathy.
"It's ok Nebula. I'll take care of it." He turned and exchanged a long, indefinable look with his brother and said, "I suppose you must get back to Corinth?"
Iphicles nodded and answered with a rueful expression. "Yeah, they won't know what's happened and they're probably in full panic mode, wondering where I've got to."
Hercules nodded. "I'll see you when I get back to Greece then."
"I guess." Iphicles agreed, face now expressionless.
"See you later."
"Later." Iphicles watched his brother move swiftly out of the chamber, but not before he had replaced the stones he had knocked out, giving Nebula an apologetic look as he did so.
Nebula gazed from one unreadable face to the other and wondered what she had missed. Hercules wasn't brooding any longer, so that was good. But she would have loved to know what these two had said to one another. She had the feeling it was something big.
"I'm honored by your unexpected visit Iphicles, and no doubt one day you'll tell me how you managed it and why. But right now my duties as the new queen of Sumeria require my presence elsewhere." She smiled wryly, "No doubt you know exactly what I mean."
Iphicles smiled at her in perfect understanding. "I know only too well; your life is not your own any more. Don't worry, you'll get used to it." He added when he saw her face fill with dismay.
"Do I have your word on that?" She asked with a mock frown.
Iphicles laughed. " Well, it doesn't get any worse, that I can promise. And there are compensations to being the top dog."
"I really hope so, because right now all I can see are the problems, and precious few benefits."
Iphicles nodded, his eyes warm with sympathy. "It's not much fun at the beginning, is it?'
"I'll say." Nebula answered with emphasis.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light and Ares was standing by Iphicles' side. "Well?" He asked imperiously, ignoring the Sumerian queen completely.
"Get me back home Ares, and I'll tell you." Iphicles told him with impatience, irritated by his high-handed manner. Sometimes Ares could be such a pain.
"Good idea. Your people are running around like headless chickens and praying to all the gods like fools. Really Iphicles, you've got to train those idiots to keep their heads..." The god's voice faded away as the two figures disappeared.
Nebula contemplated the spot where the god and Iphicles had disappeared, and thought with bemusement that life was always interesting, not to say dangerous when one was around Hercules. She could understand Iolaus' addiction to it. How many people got to fraternize with kings and gods on such a regular and familiar basis?
Iphicles also seemed to be in the thick of it. And not only did he have Hercules as brother and evident protector, but he was obviously on very friendly terms with the Greek God of War. A king with powerful allies, and one worth cultivating.
She would have to make certain her minister, what was his name? Whatever, she would get him to send the King of Corinth some suitable gift and an offer of friendship and commercial dealings. Her country was going to need a great deal of help to get back on its feet, and this would be a good start.
Iphicles opened his eyes with trepidation, unsure if his stomach was going to behave itself after the last gut-wrenching trip from Sumeria, but forgot about his nausea when he found himself surrounded by a hysterical crowd of assorted ministers, guards, courtiers and panicky servants who thought they had lost their king for good.
It took him a while to calm them down, helped in no small measure by a deafening bellow from the God of War who impatiently ordered them all to shut the fuck up and go about their stupid mortal business, as he wanted a word with their king.
The crowd dispersed remarkably quickly after that, all his people more than eager to get away from the fulminating glare of the God of War. Iphicles couldn't help being secretly amused at the sight of his more grand and pompous advisors scurrying out of the council chamber in an undignified scramble to get away. All the same...
"Really Ares, you have to stop terrorizing my people, or soon no one will want to work for me."
Ares snorted with contempt. "Those toadies? They're probably boasting right now how The God of War is a great buddy of their king, and basking in your reflected glory."
Iphicles acknowledged that he was almost certainly right. "Maybe so, but all the same, try to curb your temper around them. They're not used to you."
Ares waved his hand dismissively and demanded, "Never mind about that. Tell me how it went."
Iphicles sighed heavily, rubbing his aching forehead absentmindedly. "It went OK. He's not going to turn his back on Iolaus." He smiled sadly. "Doesn't want to make that particular mistake. But he's not exactly happy about the whole thing. You're going to have to give him time to get used to it."
Ares smiled brilliantly and slapped Iphicles' back with delight. "I knew you could do it."
Iphicles winced lightly, but merely said, "Yeah, well--what are friends for, after all?"
The dark eyes regarding him were full of rough affection. " Iolaus will be grateful, and...so am I." Ares finished somewhat uncomfortably. He didn't do niceness well.
Knowing full well how much those three words had cost the God of War, Iphicles smiled warmly at the dark figure of his friend. His friend; Hercules might find it hard to believe it, but in spite of his often high-handed manner and imperious ways, Ares was a good friend. Better than many humans he could mention.
"Thanks, Ares, you can tell Iolaus that I was happy to be of some help. And now I've got to get on with the business of being a king, so if you don't mind..." Iphicles waved his hand suggestively.
Ares raised an eyebrow at the obvious note of dismissal in Iphicles' voice, but he was feeling too elated with the way things had turned out to argue. So all he said was." Yeah, I've got things to do myself, so see you later."
"Later." Iphicles agreed with relief. "Let me know how things turn out." He cried after the departing god. He trusted Hercules to keep his word, but he knew that his brother would have problems adjusting to the situation. He would not enjoy sharing Iolaus with his brother Ares, not now he knew.
* * *
Ares did keep him informed, which is how he knew that after making peace with Iolaus, Hercules had sailed away for parts unknown, apparently to sort himself out, and had eventually turned up in the far northern lands.
Ares had told him with a look of amazed irritability. "Your brother, not content with picking fights with his own family, is busily turning the Norse gods on their heads, and getting some Irish godling killed by his lover. He's an utter menace."
"He's your brother too," Iphicles had pointed out. "And I think he gets all that aggression from your side, not mine."
"Ha! Speaks the man who spent most of his life on the battle field." Ares had smirked.
Iphicles conceded the point but retorted, " I never quarreled with the gods. In fact," He grinned with a knowing look, "I've been known to be very friendly to some of them."
Ares drew an invisible line in the air, acknowledging the hit. "Well, at least we're assured some peace while he's harassing other gods. You never know, one of them might beat some sense into him."
They regarded each other for a long, telling moment. Finally Ares sighed and murmured pessimistically. "Yeah, and Zeus might become a faithful husband. Not!. As Cupid would say."
He knew in the same way when Hercules got back to Greece, but heard nothing from the man himself. He wasn't sure what to make of it. Had Hercules decided to ignore what had happened in Sumeria? Or was he finding it difficult to face him because of it? With Hercules, it was hard to say.
So Iphicles was totally unprepared for his sudden appearance.
It was one of those mornings when Iphicles wondered if he had been in his right mind when he accepted the crown of Corinth. He was holding open court for his subjects--they brought him their problems and grievances and he was supposed to resolve them with wisdom and fairness.
All well and good, but what happened when all he wanted to do was to run his sword through his subjects, as he was fantasizing of doing to the particularly loathsome specimen droning on about some incredibly petty and pointless complaint? His subjects wouldn't appreciate it, but he would enjoy it immensely. Maybe he could sick Ares on this pompous little merchant; he could tell the god that the man was cheating his warlords. Come to think of it, the idiot probably was. Well now...
There was a commotion by the main doors to the hall and suddenly an achingly familiar figure stood there, dwarfing the people that surrounded him.
Iphicles tried desperately to maintain a composed front, not easy when his heart was trying to jump out of his throat. He sent grateful thanks to the long dead king who had demanded his main hall should be longer than the norm, for it gave him time to pull himself together while the hero of the people steadily made his way towards him, stopping here and there to greet his adoring fans, bless their fawning little hearts.
Finally Hercules reached the dais and Iphicles stood up to greet him, confident his legs would hold him upright--he hadn't been so sure a few moments before.
"Hercules, this is a pleasant surprise." His voice didn't wobble either, thank the gods.
"Hello Iphicles, nice to see you too. You're looking well." The words were no different from their usual greeting, but the expression that accompanied them was.
There was no cold judgmental gleam lurking behind the surface friendliness, no tiny but significant hesitation before clasping his arm.
Iphicles took a huge breath and asked with admirable composure, "Are you staying long or just passing by?"
"I thought I'd stay for a while. I've been doing a lot of traveling lately and I could do with a rest. If you don't mind?" Hercules finished questioningly.
"No! no, of course I don't mind. Stay as long as you want." Stay forever.
"Great. Thanks Iphicles, I appreciate your hospitality." Hercules was suddenly formal. Then he smiled and added, "Actually I just came to say hello before going to visit Jason. But I'll be back this afternoon. Maybe then we could have a chat, catch up on what's been happening lately. That ok with you?"
Iphicles cleared his throat. "That's fine. Great, I'd like that." Gods, he was babbling like a brook. "Give my regards to Jason; tell him he owes me a visit."
"I'll do that. Right then, I'll be on my way. See you later."
"Later." Iphicles nodded and watched as his brother gave him a little smile, turned on his heels and left as abruptly as he had appeared.
The king of Corinth sat on his throne looking thoughtful and majestic as the interrupted complainer er, petitioner droned on, and on, and on. At the end, the king nodded judiciously and declared he would meditate on the matter until the following day--and then dismissed everyone.
Iphicles sat alone for a few precious minutes before the next lot of kingly torture known as the meeting of advisors, and relived the short encounter with his brother over and over in his mind.
He had been friendly--which was good, but he had gone almost immediately to see Jason--which was bad. Ah, but he had come to see him first, that was very good. And he had said he would be staying for a while, which was a good sign--but he hadn't said how long, which could mean anything from a month to a day. That would be very bad.
The meeting was a great success as far as his ministers were concerned. the king listened without interrupting, and had nothing negative to say about their suggestions for the upcoming visit of the Roman ambassador; actually, the king didn't have anything to say at all, which was very unusual, but a welcome change from the customary searching questions and critical analysis that Iphicles treated them to.
Suddenly the doors to the king's study opened and Hercules' head appeared. "Hi Iph, sorry to interrupt, but are you going to be much longer?"
"Er no, no, not at all. As a matter of fact, we were just finished, weren't we?" Iphicles turned a menacing scowl on his advisors that Ares could not have bettered. After a moment of stupefaction, they all meekly agreed their business was concluded and trooped out like good little servants to the crown.
Iphicles waved his brother into the room, while he did mental whoops and somersaults. Hercules had called him Iph. He hadn't done that since that fateful day when...since that day. Everything was going to be all right. Finally, finally they could be brothers again, and not the polite strangers they had been for these last miserable years.
Hercules came in, sat on one of the vacated chairs and looked around the room, then at his brother. "I see you've made some changes. Got rid of all those weapons hanging from the walls."
Iphicles grimaced, declaring dryly, " I've seen enough weapons in my previous job to last me a lifetime. I prefer to look at something more cheerful nowadays." The wall was covered with a mural depicting the Corinthian Bay. A very atypical gift from Ares, who had created it after blasting a hole on that same wall in a fit of temper.
There was a long silence. "So, how's Jason?" Iphicles asked.
Hercules smiled fondly. "Same as ever. A bit more gray but otherwise unchanged. He'll be coming to see you in a couple of days. He's been busy with the calving, or something of that nature." Hercules had never been interested in farming. Not much call for it in his line of work.
Iphicles nodded. "I look forward to it. He's good company and always willing to listen with commendable patience to my rants." He made a wry face. "Only someone who's done this job can understand the importance of having a willing listener."
"Don't you have advisors and ministers who'll do that?" Asked his brother with apparent interest.
"They're the last people you can tell how you feel about anything. They'll use it against you at the earliest opportunity. You have no idea how much I have to watch my words with them."
Hercules looked amused and commented, "Well, I don't know much about being a king, but you're welcome to rant all you want and I'll listen, and sympathize."
Iphicles looked into the amused blue eyes of his brother and felt light-headed. Maybe he hadn't eaten enough at lunch, his appetite destroyed by the shock of his brother's visit.
"Thanks. I'll keep it in mind next time I'm in the mood for a good moan." Then he remembered the letter that had arrived that morning.
"Maybe you can help me with this instead. It's from the Queen of Sumeria." He explained as he rummaged around the cluttered table until he found a large, finely bound scroll.
"Nebula has written to you?" Hercules asked curiously. "What does she want?"
"Read for yourself." He handed the scroll to his brother, who unbound the fine linen ties, carefully unrolled the expensively cured parchment and began to read with interest.
Iphicles took the opportunity, while his brother's attention was engaged elsewhere, to take a good look at him. He seemed to be more relaxed and at peace than he ever remembered seeing him. There had always been an underlying air of sadness and repressed bitterness about him, a look of disillusionment he hadn't managed to conceal, that had made him appear older than his years, older than his brother even. But they weren't there now.
Hercules looked up, and Iphicles was instantly scarlet, as though he had been dipped in boiling water. Through the confusion of his darkened eyes and drumming ears some enormous bulk seemed to overshadow him. Then his eyes cleared. Hercules was riveted upon the scroll again, but he breathed as though he had been running.
So, Iphicles thought, it's happened. But it had already happened long ago. The only new thing was that this time he knew what it was. No point in deceiving himself that this was nothing more than brotherly affection. And Hercules must know it too. But apparently he refused to admit it. Well, that would make it easier to pretend everything was as usual, whatever that was now.
Iphicles stared resolutely out of the window and watched the screaming seagulls drifting on the air currents of the Bay. But he was conscious of his brother's every movement, of every breath he drew; Iphicles seemed to be separately connected to every bone in his body.
And when at length Hercules spoke, he thought he would never confuse his brother's voice with any other.
Hercules looked up from the scroll, and letting it roll closed, he handed it back to his brother.
"Very direct, like Nebula, and very friendly. It's a fair offer."
Iphicles looked at the scroll, then at his brother, "Yes, but can I trust it, and can I trust her?"
Hercules smiled, knowing Iphicles was thinking of her past existence as a pirate. "She'll drive a hard bargain in any deal you strike with her, but she'll keep her side of it, if that's what you want to know."
"That's fair enough. I can do business with someone like that." He grinned suddenly and added, "I can always threaten her with you should she think of breaking her word."
Hercules looked surprised for a moment and then laughed. "You can do that, but I don't think she'll be very frightened. Nebula doesn't scare easily; she's a tough lady."
Iphicles shook his head, and said gently, "I think she's fully aware of what you're capable, and would think carefully before making an enemy of you."
The recent events in Sumeria were still fresh in both their minds. What had nearly been a tragedy, with Gilgamesh's betrayal of Hercules, and his attempts to kill his own sister and Iolaus, had instead been the means of breaking down the walls of pain and resentment that had separated the brothers for so long.
Hercules' face hardened as he relived those event, then slowly softened, and he looked at his brother with an enigmatic gleam in his eyes.
"Are you very busy tomorrow?"
Iphicles looked puzzled. "Not specially; I have the usual amount of boring duties and meetings with my advisors and government officials."
"But nothing you couldn't put off?"
"No. Nothing urgent. Why?"
"I thought we might go fishing."
There was a long, electric silence.
"Fishing?" Iphicles' voice sounded strained.
"Yeah, thought you might like to spend the day with me, fishing."
"Fishing." Amber eyes stared into glittering blue.
"Wouldn't you like to?"
Iphicles smiled slowly as he saw the warm promise in his brother's gaze.
"Yeah, very much."
"Then it's a date."
Iphicles nodded. "It's a date."
It struck Iphicles then that the most important moments in one's life, such as this one, were hardly ever marked by any fanfare.
* * *
Iphicles looked at the moon smiling brightly down on him through the open window and thought the night would never end. Two hours, he had been lying there for two hours watching the night crawl by with snail like pace, in no hurry to reach the dawn.
He wanted to go fishing. Not that he had any intention of catching anything piscine, no. He hated fishing. He had bigger prey in mind: a certain demigod who had indicated in the clearest of unspoken terms that he wanted to be caught.
But he had to wait for the dawn.
Or maybe not.
His heart thumped noisily in his ears as he watched the door of his bedchamber opening and a familiar bulk fill the shadows with his presence.
"Here." Iphicles' voice sounded strange to his ears.
Hercules approached the bed and looked down at the powerful body lying among the soft linen bedclothes. The moon was bathing it in silver gilt, so that it gleamed like polished marble, shadows emphasizing the hard curves of muscle and bone.
"I couldn't wait." Hercules admitted quietly.
Iphicles silently opened his arms and his brother slid into them with a sigh of relief.
"Iph..."Hercules whispered yearningly into his brother's neck
"Yes." Iphicles answered simply and gave himself to Hercules.
He lay back against the sheets in a sweet, submissive mood, and let Hercules seduce him, which he did, exercising every bit of the technique he had learned, first from him, and later from others.
He made Iphicles wild and soothed him back to gentleness three times, until the beautiful, pliant body was quivering and sheened with perspiration, cock empurpled with the pressure of blood beneath the fine, delicate skin, the big vein throbbing beneath Hercules' palm, balls swollen and stirring with a life of their own. Still, Iphicles kept silent, not asking for anything, just letting Hercules take whatever he wanted--Hercules wanted everything, and took it.
At last, when he bent to kiss the swollen, glossy crown of his tortured cock once more, Iphicles caught Hercules' head to stop him.
"No, babe. Any more and you'll finish me. Give me a moment."
"All right," Hercules panted, sitting back on his heels. His own balls were aching ferociously and he could use the time to get a grip on his own control . He gazed hungrily at the body he had yearned for those many years, though he had refused to admit it to himself. It was still as beautiful and as sensual as he remembered it, still with the power to make him want it with a violence and craving he could barely control. And now it was his again.
Slowly Iphicles' eyes cleared, but his breath hitched and faltered for a moment when he caught sight of the savage hunger and possessive look in his brother's eyes.
He came to his knees with a sensuous, provocative stretch, kissing Hercules' shoulder on the way. Then he turned round and offered himself, opening his legs wide to allow the trembling fingers to prepare him. The almond oil felt cool and slick and Hercules' touch inside him made his mind spin. The soft linen sheets caressed his face as he waited, and he could hear the husky love-words from far away, as his brother took him, gently at first, then deep and hard as they left behind any kind of conscious control.
Afterwards, they lay loosely entwined, letting their bodies cool as they gazed their fill on what they had looked at for years, but hadn't allowed themselves to see.
Finally Hercules sighed and tracing his brother's face with a careful finger he faced a time he had refused to think about for twenty years, though it had haunted his dreams just the same.
"When I went back to the Academy, there was so much pain inside me," Hercules murmured, "That it hurt to breathe. I kept looking at my chest, expecting to see a Knife, or an arrow sticking out, something to explain the agony I was feeling."
"I kept seeing you lying there, with your lover--"
"He wasn't my lover, not then." Iphicles interrupted. "That was the first time Phaedo and I..." He stopped, swallowed, then continued, "He was trying to help me forget. I was missing you so much, trying to make myself give you up."
Hercules stared at him, stone-still with astonishment. "You mean...?"
Iphicles nodded, his face sad as he thought of his lost friend. "It was a lie."
Hercules closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. When he opened them they glowed with unbounded love.
"What happened to him?"
Iphicles' face was bleak; the loss of his friend remained a constant ache that nothing would ever quite erase. "He's dead. Killed saving my life."
Hercules gently caressed the sorrowful, beautiful face of his lover--his lover. "Then I'll be forever grateful to him." grimacing, he confessed, "I hated him at the time, I had never wished anybody dead before, until I saw him in your arms." he gently kissed Iphicles' unhappy mouth. "But now, I'm glad you had him with you. I'm glad you weren't alone."
"He was a good friend. I miss him." Iphicles refused to hide his feelings for his old lover.
Hercules nodded. "We'll both remember him and honor his memory."
Iphicles' eyes were bright with love and gratitude. "Thanks Herc. You would have liked him. He was the most generous person, but so matter-of-fact and reserved that people didn't realize it or appreciated it. I know I didn't. Took it too much for granted. I didn't deserve him."
"Shh. Yes you did. I'm sure he knew it too. But I wish I had been the one there, and not him. I 'lll always envy him for that."
"No, you wouldn't have liked it. I was a mess, completely fucked-up."
"But would you have been if we had stayed together?"
They looked into each other's eyes, both thinking how different their lives could have been. Then Iphicles shook his head smiling sadly. "We can't erase the past, we are who we are because of it. And anyway, do you want to also erase the experiences you've had? the people you've loved? the good you've achieved?"
Hercules thought of his wife Deianara, his children, Serena. So many people in his life that he had loved--and lost. Would he want to wipe them out of his life?
"I suppose not. But it all came with a high price. And the pain of losing you remained with me all the time; even if I wouldn't acknowledge it--it was there like a constant ache, an emptiness I could never fill."
"Not even with Deianara?" asked Iphicles with surprise. "I thought you really loved her?"
Hercules shook his head. " I loved her with all my heart, and my children too. But she never got the whole man, too much of me was missing."
"Missing?" Iphicles asked perplexed.
"Yes, missing. When I left you that day, part of me stayed with you, I never got it back. Then, back at the Academy, I was so full of pain and hate, so humiliated by what I thought was my stupidity in believing you had loved me, that I turned my back on that boy, the one who had loved you. I built a wall between us, piled the stones so high that eventually I lost sight of him."
He looked into his lover's understanding gaze, and added with a voice heavy with self-contempt, "I ended up losing myself. I think I've been half a person for the last twenty years. I cheated everyone,cheated myself, hiding from what I couldn't deal with. I've been a coward most of my life."
Iphicles wrapped his arms around him in a fierce, comforting embrace. "It's ok babe, you and me both. We've fucked up in our different ways, but it's over now. It's over." He murmured into the fine, silky hair, rubbing his face in it's remembered softness.
"Yeah, I got all the pieces back again. Finally." Hercules, brushed his lips over his brother's collarbone. "Now I have to put them back together again."
"We'll do it together. "Iphicles promised, happiness rising within him like a welling spring, bubbling madly through his veins as the knowledge finally sunk into his heart that he had regained his brother's love.
"Together." agreed Hercules. Lifting his head from Iphicles' shoulder, he gazed with passionate eyes at his brother. "I lost you once. But I'll never let you go again." It was a promise.
"You never lost me Hercules." Iphicles' smile was faintly sad. "I seduced you, but it was you who took me. And you've never let go since. I've been yours all this time, whether you knew it or not."
He was blinded by the sudden fire that blazed in the radiant blue eyes.
"Show me." Hercules whispered huskily.
So Iphicles did.
And as he skillfully re-wove the fabric of their tangled hearts with expert silver stitches of ecstasy and glittering golden threads of love, Iphicles was king once more of the lands that once had been his, and the tapestry of their love was finally whole and remained so ever more.