I Will Remember You
Iphicles raised his sword, blocking a swing from his opponent. They circled each other, every now and again making an attempt to break through the other's defenses. Finally, his opponent thrusted his sword, putting his entire body into the effort, and Iphicles smoothly stepped out of the way, leaving his opponent sprawled on the ground. He held the tip of his sword to the man's throat.
He looked up at the sound of clapping. "Well done, Iphicles. You may rise up the ranks yet."
"Lord Janus!" Iphicles and the other men who made up the training circle around him and his opponent stood at attention. His opponent brushed the dirt off himself and stood with the others.
"At ease, men. Iphicles, come with me. The rest of you, keep practicing." He pointed at Iphicles' defeated opponent. "Especially you." Lord Janus walked towards his tent and Iphicles followed.
Walking towards the tent, Iphicles thought of the last few months he'd spent with these men. For years after he'd left home, he searched long and hard for somewhere to belong, picking up skills along the way. Eventually, he found his way to Janus' army. Janus was a warlord who lived not too far outside Corinth, who happened to be raising a large army. Every day it seemed Iphicles' skills improved, and all the men treated him as an equal. He was extremely grateful for the privilege of serving Lord Janus.
Once inside the tent, Janus motioned to a seat and Iphicles followed the unspoken command.
"Iphicles, have you enjoyed your time with us?"
"Yes, Lord Janus. I am very grateful for the time you and your men have spent teaching me."
"I'm glad. You see, since we have done so much for you, I was hoping you could return the favour."
"I will do anything you ask, Sir."
"Good. Next week, I will be returning home to visit my family. I would like you to come with me and stay there for a time once I am gone."
"For what purpose, Sir? Does your family need protection?"
Janus laughed. "No, they have enough protection as it is. However, I would like you to serve as mentor for a time to my three boys. They have been taught in the arts of war since they were very young, but their skills could use some refinement - well, two of them anyway. The third is absolutely hopeless and is of more use as a doormat than a soldier."
"They do not have a mentor now, Sir?"
"No. The last one left quite suddenly." Janus rose from his seat and Iphicles did so as well. "We leave in one week. I will see you then."
Iphicles nodded. "Yes, Sir."
Janus watched as Iphicles left the tent and headed back for the rest of his soldiers. "Let's see if you last longer than the last one, Iphicles. I don't feel like digging yet another grave."
* * *
Iphicles stopped his horse behind Lord Janus. A number of servants came out of the large door to help the men off their horses and escort the beasts to the barns. Janus turned to one of the servants.
"Larsis, this is Iphicles. He will be the boys' new mentor. Show him to his room."
The servant came up to Iphicles, head bowed respectfully. "Please follow me, Sir."
Iphicles followed the man into the house. It was magnificent. There were tapestries and candelabras everywhere. Lord Janus certainly liked to live in style. Larsis led him up a stairway, then down a long hallway.
All of a sudden, the servant stopped and looked around, making certain no one was around. He then pulled on Iphicles' arm so that they stood face to face. "If you know what's good for you, get out of here immediately."
"What are you talking about? I'm just here to tutor some kids."
"Hmph! Some kids. They're fifteen-year old harpies if you ask me. Better yet, visit the grave of their last tutor and ask him. Come on."
Iphicles followed as Larsis led him to his room. Their last tutor's grave? He must be exaggerating. What could three fifteen-year old boys do?
* * *
Iphicles waited patiently in the courtyard. Today was his first tutoring session with Lord Janus' boys and none of them had arrived yet. He stretched, loosening all of his muscles, then started checking all the weapons he planned on working with. He looked up as he heard voices coming from the door to the main house.
Two of the boys had arrived. To Iphicles' surprise, they were completely identical. They both had short brown hair and deep brown eyes, were both only slightly shorter than he was, and both were wearing comfortable brown leather pants with lighter brown shirts. Either they or one of their parents must have liked brown a lot. He did notice some difference between the two, however. The one was slightly more graceful than his brother, and tended to speak with his hands. The other's eyes, while the same shade of brown as his brother's, were harder, on the verge of being cruel.
"Boys, over here. I'm Iphicles, your new tutor." The boys simply stopped in front of him. The more graceful one seemed to be examining his hand as if looking for dirt. The other one stared at him as if trying to learn all his secrets. "We'll get started as soon as your other brother gets here. Where is he by the way?"
The boys looked at each other, then started counting from five to one. Just as they finished saying the last number, there was a loud clanging noise, accompanied by an equally loud scream. Iphicles looked back to the door in time to see another boy identical to the two who stood before him. He was holding some strange metal bowl in his left hand and holding eye with his right hand.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. The guy who built this place must have been such an idiot. He made all the stairs so steep."
Something told Iphicles this must be the boy Lord Janus thought was hopeless. "All right. Why don't you put down your bowl and join your brothers."
"It's not a bowl! It's a helmet!"
"It doesn't look much like a helmet."
"Well, that's because it isn't finished yet."
Iphicles nodded in mock understanding and motioned for the boy to join his brothers. The boy placed the bowl on his head and stood beside the others.
"All right. I'm Iphicles and I'm your new tutor. Why don't you tell me your names and your specialties."
The one with the bowl on his head and the one with the hard eyes looked at the third. He heaved a great sigh and began speaking.
"I'm Jace, and my specialty... well, let's just say it's a full contact sport."
His brothers laughed beside him and Iphicles looked at the middle one, silently telling him to go.
"I'm Jett. So far I haven't chosen a specialty, and I don't think I need to. There's a different way of killing a man for every situation."
Iphicles sucked in a breath. This one scared him. Perhaps he'd better take the servant's advice a little more seriously. He nodded at the last one.
"I'm Joxer, the Mighty." He stopped and pouted at his brothers who were laughing hysterically. "Hey, cut it out! Anyway, I don't need a specialty either. After all, what does a great warrior need a specialty for?"
Iphicles had a hard time keeping the smile from his face. While the kid was severely delusional, he was kind of endearing. At least he'd be good for a few laughs.
"All right. Now that we know each other, let's get started. Each of you grab a sword and follow me." He watched as the boys approached the pile of weapons. It was amazing how different they were when you actually paid attention to their mannerisms. Jace immediately grabbed a light sword and began swinging it in intricate patterns - it was almost beautiful. Jett selected a blade that was sharper than the rest, and slid a finger along the edge to make certain it was sharp. Joxer - well, the kid wasn't the brightest in the bunch. He took the first sword he saw, not paying attention to length or weight. It was so heavy, he practically had to drag it to the clearing Iphicles was leading them to. Hadn't anyone ever taught the kid how to choose a sword?
"All right. One at a time, come at me. We'll see what you know and what you have left to learn."
Once again, Iphicles was almost impressed with Jace's skill at swordplay and Jett's ferocity. The most he could do for those two was to spar with them to keep up their skills. Joxer, however, kept him shaking his head. He tried to talk the kid into using another sword, but he was too stubborn to listen. He tried teaching the boy how to hold the sword properly, but once again Joxer felt he was doing good enough. Iphicles hated failure, and was determined to find a way to teach him, somehow.
After a couple of hours training, they broke for the afternoon. It wasn't until suppertime that Iphicles saw the boys again. He entered the dining room and sat where Lord Janus motioned for him to sit. Once he was settled, he realized there were only five place settings at the table. Lord Janus sat at the head while the Lady of the house sat opposite him. Two of the boys arrived shortly after Iphicles; Jett sat opposite him and Jace sat at his right.
Lord Janus clapped loudly. "Bring in the food."
"Pardon me, Lord Janus," Iphicles was somewhat nervous speaking to the Lord, "but shouldn't we wait for your other son?" He heard the hiss of indrawn breath from the boy at his side.
"No. He will eat later." The expression on Janus' face said there would be no further questions, and the servants entered carrying numerous platters which they placed on the table. As they re- entered the kitchen, another figure came out carrying a large wine jug. It was Joxer. Iphicles could feel his jaw drop as he realized the boy was practically a servant in his own home.
Joxer gave Iphicles a half-smile as he came to the table and began filling everyone's wine goblets. He filled Lord Janus' last, and as he pulled the jug away from the table, he somehow caught it on the edge of the cup which fell, covering the floor with wine.
To his credit, the boy didn't cry or make apologies. He just hung his head, shoulders drooping, and awaited his punishment. Janus stood, his chair flying backwards, and called out to his servants. One came out, head bowed, and held out a black leather flogger, which Janus immediately took.
Iphicles felt a momentary panic for the boy. He'd always believed discipline to be very important when raising children, particularly after watching his mother coddling his younger brother for years. However, there was a line where discipline crossed into bullying and torture. Janus appeared to have crossed that line.
Janus motioned to the chair he'd knocked over, and the boy seemed to move on automatic, righting the chair and bending over the arm, holding onto the other arm for support. Iphicles turned away, looking at the food he'd placed on his plate. Unfortunately, though he could no longer see what happened to the youth, he heard every slap as the flogger connected with the boy's body. He lost count as the slaps continued, and eventually he no longer winced at the sound.
It took a few moments for Iphicles to realized the sound had stopped. He looked up to see Joxer right himself, his face wet with tears, and hold his hands out to his father, who then placed the flogger on them. The boy turned and headed back to the kitchen.
Watching the boy leave, Iphicles realized that during the whole experience, he had not once heard the boy cry out loud.
"Is our food not to your liking?"
Iphicles snapped out of his thoughts to see Lord Janus watching him. "No, Sir. It is excellent." He turned his attention back to the food on his plate.
The rest of the meal proceeded in silence.
* * *
Iphicles decided to turn in early for the night. He'd known that serving in a warlord's army would bring him face to face with some of the worst parts of humanity, but this had been different. He'd seen many a youth disciplined in his day, yet not once had he seen what he'd seen today.
Submission and acceptance.
He turned a corner into the hall that led to his room, but paused when he heard familiar voices coming from one of the bedrooms to his left.
"I said I'm fine."
"I know you did, but Mom asked me to bring you this tea anyway. Now drink it; it will dull the pain."
"Jace, I'm not a baby. I can take it."
*Sigh* "I know, Jox, but it doesn't mean you have to suffer."
Iphicles hurried out of sight as he saw the door open slightly. The boy, Jace, came out and closed the door slowly behind him. "Damn it, Jox, why can't you be more like Jett and me."
He waited until the youth was gone, then headed for his room. He lay on his bed, rubbing his sore and tired eyes. The boy's comment kept going through his head. *Why can't you be more like Jett and me.*
He closed his eyes and traveled through time. A young Iphicles was being teased and beaten up by a gang of children calling his mother a whore. Once the children were finished with him, he managed to make his way home where his mother, obviously disappointed, fussed over his cuts and bruises. "Getting into trouble again. Iphicles, why can't you be more like your brother?"
That was the last thought that passed through his mind as he fell asleep.
* * *
The next day, Iphicles walked out the back door to meet the boys for another training session and right into a fight. One of the boys was pummeling the other, with the third trying to pull the attacker away. He immediately stepped into the fray and managed to break them apart.
"What in Tartarus is going on here? One of you had better give me an answer!"
The beaten brother was holding his right wrist, and his left eye was practically swollen shut. The one who had attacked him just stared, daring his brother to say something. The third was the only one who dared speak.
"It was just a little fight. It's all right now."
"It's only all right if I say so. I want answers, and I want them now."
The attacker now glared at the third boy, but it didn't seem to have much effect. "Jett and Joxer simply had a little disagreement."
Iphicles didn't even have to guess which was Jett and which was Joxer, and somehow he wasn't surprised. He was about to say something when he heard a strange mewling sound. Following it, he found a tiny black and white kitten, crouched behind a water barrel. Looking up, he saw a look of fear cross Joxer's face. He picked up the animal and carried it over to the boys, scratching the back of its neck.
"Would I be correct in guessing that this is the source of the disagreement?" Joxer looked slightly panicked as Jett sneered. "Tell me what happened."
Jace, apparently used to being the triplets' spokesman, sighed. "Jett wanted to... play with the animal, and Joxer felt he was getting a little too... rough, so he set it free."
Set it free? Iphicles noticed for the first time an open wooden box lying on the ground. He could easily guess what kind of games the boy wanted to play. "Well, I don't think the poor animal could survive on its own. I've been a little lonely in my room, so I think I'll take care of him." He could see Joxer's face brighten significantly, though he still winced in pain from the beating he'd taken. "Joxer come over here."
Joxer looked a little scared but did as he was told. Iphicles reached out his free hand to check out his injured wrist, but the boy pulled away from him.
"Jace, Jett, grab your swords and practice for a few minutes. Joxer, let's go inside and take a look at that wrist."
"It's fine. It's only a little sprain. I'll live."
"Still, it should be looked at. Anyway, we have to bring this little guy in to his new home."
Joxer nodded and reluctantly followed Iphicles to his room. Once the boy had passed through the door, Iphicles closed it behind him, then went to lay the kitten on his bed. Sitting down, he patted the spot next to him. After a slight hesitation, Joxer sat down too.
"You knew your brother would hurt you, didn't you." The boy only nodded. "You know, what you did was very brave. Stupid, but brave."
Joxer looked at him with wide eyes. "Really?"
"Mmm hmm. Now, let me see that wrist." Joxer let out a breath, then passed his injured limb to Iphicles. "You're right. It's only a small sprain, but we should still wrap it up so it heals properly." He reached under his bed for a small box of emergency supplies, then took out a roll of material and wrapped it around the boy's wrist. "There. How does that feel?"
"Okay, I guess."
"You guess. Is this the first time you've been injured like this?" The boy shook his head. "Hasn't anyone ever taken care of your injuries?"
"Not unless it's, like, broken or something. As I said, I'm fine. I heal real quick."
Iphicles wished he could do more for the boy, but there was nothing he could really do. He stood and started for the door. "Come on. Your brothers are waiting."
Joxer leaned over the bed and patted the kitten on its head, then moved to follow Iphicles. As he closed the door behind the youth, he whispered into his ear. "He'll be safe in here. You can come visit him any time you like."
For the first time since he'd met the boy, Joxer smiled a real smile. "Thank you."
Joxer's smile was contagious. "No problem." Iphicles placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder and led him back outside.
* * *
That evening at supper, Iphicles noticed Joxer was no longer wearing the bandage on his arm, and was doing his best not to show he was hurt. Luckily, the swelling in his eye had gone down and it had not turned blue.
Going back to his room, Iphicles gave a silent prayer of thanks to the Gods that Joxer had done nothing to gain his father's wrath. He placed a few pieces of meat he'd snatched from the dinner table on the floor for the kitten to eat, and settled in reading some scrolls, learning as much as possible about battle tactics and warfare. When the sun went down, he lit the table-lamp and continued to read. After a while, he felt a slight nudging at his shoulder, and reached up to stroke the kitten's fur. For the first time in days, Iphicles felt truly relaxed.
His moment was broken by the sounds of yelling in the hall. Iphicles jumped out of his bed and started opening his door, but held it closed most of the way, leaving only a small space to see from, once he saw the scene outside.
Lord Janus loomed in the hall holding a coiled whip as his son cowered at his feet. His wife was pulling on his arm, trying to convince him to put the weapon down. Iphicles noticed that neither of the other boys were to be found. He didn't have to guess which triplet this was.
"Please, Janus," the woman begged, "leave him alone. He had nothing to do with your defeat in Thrace."
The man suddenly turned on her and gradually uncoiled his whip. "Shut up, woman, or take his place!"
"No!" The boy rose from his crouch and ran in front of his mother. "It's ok, Mama. I'll be fine."
Iphicles could almost feel the sting as the first lash struck the teen's arms. The woman, tears falling down her face, turned away and leaned against a nearby wall. This time, Iphicles didn't allow himself to look away. He watched helplessly as lash after lash struck the boy, tearing away at his clothes and slicing into his flesh. Janus only stopped once the boy was nothing more than a quivering wreck on the floor.
"Come, woman." Not daring to look at the results of her husband's anger, the woman followed Lord Janus to their bedroom.
As the couple made their way down the hall, the figure on the floor slowly made it onto his hands and knees. Iphicles waited until the boy's parents were out of sight, then rushed out of his room to his side.
"Oh Gods, Joxer." He wanted to help the boy to his room, but was afraid to touch him. He was so covered in deep red welts that any touch could mean only more pain.
Doors opened behind him, and he turned. Jett stood in his doorway looking over the scene as Jace raced to Joxer's side. "Slide his arm over your shoulder and help me pick him up."
"But we might hurt him more..."
"That's not possible." Iphicles saw the look in his eyes and nodded. They helped Joxer to his feet and all but carried him to his bed. They lay him on his front, the least injured part of his body, then Jace left, reappearing after several moments with a bowl full of water, a cloth, and a small box. Iphicles watched as Jace slowly and carefully washed the cuts on his brother's body.
When he was finished, Jace opened the small box and took out a bottle and some scraps of cloth. He poured some of the contents of the bottle into his hands, then generously coated Joxer's injuries with the strong smelling lotion, after which he covered them with the scraps of cloth.
"That's all we can do. He'll be very stiff in the morning, but he'll be all right."
As Jace turned to go, Iphicles reached out and grabbed his arm. "How could he do this?"
Jace looked down at his feet. "When Dad gets into one of his... moods, we're all targets. Jett and I usually have the sense to stay as far away from him as possible. But Joxer... He won't listen to us."
Iphicles nodded and let the boy go. Jace closed the door behind him, leaving Iphicles with Joxer. He felt a slight tugging on his sleeve and leaned down close to the boy.
"They're better fighters - not as tough. Jett, Jace, Mama - can't take it. I can."
Iphicles nodded, finally understanding. He rose to his full height. "Good night, Joxer. Try and get some sleep."
"I always do."
Those last words gripped his heart, and for a moment he almost couldn't breathe. He finally gathered the courage to go back to his room and try to get some sleep himself.
Luckily, the next few days were comparatively uneventful. Iphicles kept up his lessons with the boys, taking extra time with the still healing Joxer. All went fine until the night before Lord Janus was to return to his troops.
It was much like that first day. Joxer accidentally tipped over someone's wine goblet and received a strong flogging as punishment.
Before he headed back to his room for the night, he met with Janus for some last-minute instructions for the boys, with a special mention to not spare Joxer what he was due. Iphicles successfully kept the disgust from his face during the conversation and was rewarded when Janus wished him goodnight.
As he opened the door, he was momentarily startled by another presence in the room. The boy sitting at the head of his bed was even more surprised and immediately let go of the kitten in his hands.
"I-I'm sorry, I-I-I..."
Iphicles closed the door. "It's all right. I said you could come visit anytime you wanted to, and I meant it." He sat at the foot of the bed and reached out to pet the kitten. "So, have you thought up a name for him yet?"
"Not really." Joxer took a long piece of string from his pocket and dangled it in front of the kitten, who immediately began batting it with its paws. Gradually, a small smile made its way onto his face.
Iphicles felt almost privileged to witness the rare event whenever it happened. This wasn't the smiling mask Joxer often wore that matched the words he spoke most often: "I'm fine." This was one of those goofy smiles that was unique to Joxer.
"I guess you must be glad your Dad's going back to his army."
The smile fell off his face. "Nothing changes much around here. Dad goes and Jett's in charge. Dad comes back. That's the way it is." He could see the boy was trying to fight the tears that threatened to fall.
They both looked up at the door. "Oh man, gotta go." Just before Joxer reached the door, Iphicles stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. They exchanged a look before Joxer finally left the room.
* * *
Lord Janus left on his horse the next day, and Iphicles was determined that while he was gone, Joxer wouldn't suffer another day. He made his move at dinnertime. Before the food was served, he walked into the kitchen.
"Joxer, come out here and eat with us."
"Oh, no, I shouldn't..."
"No. I can't. It's not my place."
Iphicles grabbed the boy and all but dragged him into the dining room. He sat him in the seat where Jace usually sat, at his right, and they waited for the others to arrive.
Jett was the last to appear, and when he did he was furious.
"What is he doing here? Get back in the kitchen!"
"No!" Iphicles stood and walked over to him. He pushed down the fear he felt at the crazed look in Jett's eyes, reminding himself he was only a teenager. Before he knew what was happening, he was grabbed, his arm pulled behind his back, and a dagger was placed at his throat.
"Did ya want to say that again?" He was met by silence. "I've killed before. Don't think I won't kill you."
"No!" Both looked up in surprise. Joxer rose from his seat and came to lay a hand on his brother's arm. "I'll go. Just let him go."
Jett nodded and released Iphicles. Joxer returned to the kitchen, sparing a glance for Iphicles, then the others ate their meal in silence.
* * *
Iphicles looked up from his scrolls at the knock on his door.
Joxer's head peered around the door. "Am I disturbing you?"
"Not really. I was just looking over some scrolls." He motioned for the boy to come in. Joxer closed the door behind him, then stood uneasily before Iphicles. He looked at the youth questioningly. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh yeah, yeah. Everything's fine. I just... I..." He took a deep breath. "Why?"
"Why are you so nice to me?"
Iphicles' jaw dropped slightly. He didn't know how to answer the question because he didn't know the answer. He said as much. Joxer's head fell, chin dropping to his chest. Iphicles couldn't stand seeing him looking so sad, so dejected. He did the first thing that came to his mind: he got up from his bed and wrapped his arms around the youth, pulling him to his chest. After a few moments, Iphicles could feel Joxer wrap his arms around his waist as his tears fell. He held the shuddering teen until his sobs passed.
Iphicles loosened his grip to let Joxer breathe, but the boy only tightened his grip on his waist. So few have shown him kindness, Iphicles thought, I bet even fewer have ever shown him any genuine affection. He raised a hand to stroke the hair on the head that was burrowed into his shoulder.
Holding Joxer, Iphicles felt a little less helpless. He wanted to help him so much, but what could he do? He wished he could get him out of this place, to a family that would love and care for him. He wished he could prevent every beating that risked killing the gentleness in his eyes. He wished he could show Joxer that he was loved, appreciated, and far from worthless.
Iphicles had been looking off at nothing as his thoughts passed, and when his awareness returned, he saw Joxer was looking at him.
"Do you feel better?"
He nodded. "A little."
"Good. Are you ready for bed yet?"
Joxer looked away. "I don't want to go back."
"You don't have to go back if you don't want to. You can stay here tonight."
Joxer's eyes met his. "Thank you."
Iphicles nodded, pulling away and smiling reassuringly. He picked the scrolls up off his bed and placed them on a nearby shelf. "I've only got the one bed, so I hope you don't mind if we share."
Iphicles lowered himself onto the bed and moved up against the wall. Joxer followed his lead and soon his back was pressed against him. He blew out the lamp and settled into the mattress. After a few minutes, he could feel the youth moving, turning around so that they were facing each other. He didn't protest as Joxer slid an arm around his waist and tucked his head into Iphicles' neck. He put an arm around him, holding and comforting the young man.
Iphicles didn't fall asleep until after he heard the even breathing of the body next to him.
* * *
He placed a trail of kisses down the long neck before him, murmuring gently to his partner. His hands roamed the body beneath him, tracing every scar and indentation that was a testament to the life this person had lived.
"Why not? You're beautiful."
"No, I'm not."
He moved back up to his partner's lips and kissed them. "You are beautiful, Joxer, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
* * *
Iphicles awoke still trembling from the sheer eroticism of his dream. He quickly controlled his breathing so as not to risk waking the youth lying nestled against him.
Why had he had that dream? This was his boss' son. This was one of the boys he was mentoring. This was a boy - that he'd come to care for.
He felt Joxer shift next to him in his sleep, lost in a dream that didn't appear to be very pleasant. He tightened his grip on the boy, letting him know he wasn't alone.
He decided to set his thoughts aside for another time as fell back asleep.
* * *
The next few days seemed to pass with a set pattern. Iphicles would work on the boys' skills during the day, and after supper, he and Joxer would retire to his room to talk and play with the kitten. And as that first night, Joxer would sleep nestled against him.
He'd already noticed a positive change in the boy. His concentration was getting better, which meant he was finally learning some of what Iphicles was trying to teach him. However, the most positive change was the smile that appeared much more often on his face.
One day, as Iphicles was demonstrating the basic use of the crossbow, a messenger arrived with a message from Lord Janus. Iphicles was expected to leave tomorrow to join the army to the North. Joxer looked disappointed at the news, but quickly hid his feelings from his brothers.
After dinner, Iphicles and Joxer retired to his room as usual, but Joxer was much quieter than usual. Joxer sat on the bed and picked up the kitten, setting it on his lap as he stroked its fur absently. Iphicles sat next to him.
"I wish I didn't have to leave tomorrow, but this is my job." Joxer just shrugged his shoulders. "If I play my cards right, I may actually be up for a promotion." There was still no real response. "Come on. Talk to me."
The youth looked up and their eyes met. "I don't want you to go, but I know you will anyway. That's the way it is around here."
"Come on, Joxer. Don't be like that. I'll write you a scroll every now and then. We'll keep in touch."
Joxer shrugged again. Seeing the sad look on his face, Iphicles felt a strange sense of desperation, a need to do anything to bring back that smile he'd so enjoyed seeing. He reached over, wrapping his arm around the boy's shoulders, and pulled him up to his side.
"Can I ask you something?"
"You know you can ask me anything, Joxer."
He paused a moment before he spoke. "Do you like me?"
"What are you talking about? Of course I like you. I wouldn't let you hang around so much if I didn't like you."
Joxer looked down at his hands and seemed to be trying to figure out how to express himself. "I m-mean, do you LIKE like me?"
"LIKE like? What do you..." Joxer's meaning was all of a sudden made clear as he reached over Iphicles' lap to take his hand, bringing it up to his lips and laying a kiss on the palm.
Iphicles' breath caught in his throat. "Joxer, I..." The young man looked up at him and he could see the vulnerability in his eyes. He was laying his soul bare before him. He knew he couldn't lie to him, not even if he thought it was to protect him. "I care about you. You've become very important to me."
He lay the palm of his hand against Joxer's cheek. He saw the tears well up in his eyes and wanted anything but to see them fall. He leaned forward and pressed his lips gently against Joxer's, savouring the sensation.
Encouraged by the older man's reaction, Joxer deepened the kiss. His lips parted as his tongue flicked out to taste the man who'd come to mean so much to him. Feeling the darting tongue on his lips, Iphicles let out a low moan and parted his lips, capturing Joxer's. The boy's hand snaked up around his neck, holding him close.
They were so absorbed in each other, they didn't notice the kitten jumping off Joxer's lap to lay under the bed.
Iphicles opened his mouth to Joxer, allowing him to explore as much as he wanted and exploring him in turn. Their tongues dueled, the kiss growing more and more passionate by the moment. Iphicles could feel Joxer's hand at the neck of his cotton shirt, questioning and curious. He placed his hand on Joxer's and moved it under his shirt over his heart. They paused their exploration of each others mouths as Joxer, wide-eyed, felt Iphicles' heartbeat beneath his palm. One by one, Iphicles undid the buttons on his shirt, displaying more skin for Joxer to feel, until he pulled the shirt off and threw it to one side of the room.
Joxer's breath stopped as he gazed upon the rich golden tan of Iphicles' skin. His hand acquired a mind of its own and began tracing the planes and muscles of Iphicles' chest. Curiously, he ran a finger over one hardened nipple and smiled at the hissed response. Getting braver, Joxer bent down to kiss the dark nub and was rewarded with a groan. He began kissing every inch of exposed flesh, tracing patterns with his fingers.
Iphicles reached down to cup the boy's face in his hands, and brought their lips together. He broke the kiss as he brought a hand to the opening of Joxer's shirt, his eyes begging permission to remove the obstructive clothing. Joxer's eyes held nothing but trust, and Iphicles felt honoured. It hadn't taken a genius to figure out that no one had touched Joxer like this, that no one had truly loved him or cherished him in this way.
Iphicles slowly removed Joxer's brown shirt, preparing himself for the sight that would meet his eyes. There were small scars scattered across his chest, some several years old, others more recent. He began tracing them with his fingers and noticed Joxer cringe slightly.
"Does this hurt?"
"You know, you have very beautiful skin." Joxer looked at him in disbelief. "It's true. You're so pale, so beautiful." His lips captured Joxer's once again as his hands explored his skin. He gasped when they came into contact with the skin on his back - the scarring there was much worse than on his chest and arms. He quickly got over his shock and began running his hands over Joxer's back, letting him know he did not find it repulsive.
Joxer broke the kiss and pulled back slightly, moving to lay down on the bed. Iphicles smiled at the young man's eagerness and moved overtop of him, claiming his lips again. From this position, they could feel how hard the other had become through the thin layers of material that separated them.
Iphicles wished he could make this last, but he knew the inexperienced Joxer would not last long. He broke the kiss and looked deep into Joxer's eyes. "Are you okay with this? Is this what you really want?"
Joxer smiled up at him, sending his stomach churning. "More than anything else."
Iphicles nodded and began moving down Joxer's body. He slowly undid the young man's breeches until the young cock sprung free. He pulled the pants off the rest of the way, then blew gently on the bobbing cock. Joxer began squirming at the sensations, so Iphicles placed a hand on each hip, holding him down. He started by leaving trails of kisses up and down the untouched cock, savouring every hiss and moan coming from Joxer's mouth. After a minute of that, he traced the same lines with his tongue. Once he thought Joxer had had enough, he opened his mouth and enveloped the head with his lips. He began moving up and down the shaft, applying a gentle suction as his tongue ran along the hot flesh. It didn't take much of that treatment to make Joxer come. He cried out Iphicles' name as the hot cum spurted into his waiting mouth.
Iphicles crawled up Joxer's body and saw the blissfully satiated look on his face. Grinning, he bent down to kiss those full lips again. When he pulled back, he saw Joxer smiling up at him.
"I guess that means you enjoyed that."
"Mmm hmm." Joxer reached up to pull him down into another kiss. As their bodies pressed against each other, Joxer noticed Iphicles had a not-so-little problem.
"I-I want to do for you what you did for me."
"Are you sure?"
Joxer nodded and Iphicles moved onto his back. He kissed Iphicles on the lips, then began making his way downward. He eventually reached the older man's pants and clumsily managed to undo the ties that kept the front closed. He gasped as he saw Iphicles' cock for the first time. He reached out a finger and ran it along the slit, picking up a trail of pre-cum on the tip. He brought his finger to his lips to taste Iphicles, and smiled. He quickly rid Iphicles of his pants, then concentrated all his attention on the cock standing proud at attention. He thought back to what Iphicles had done to him and how good it felt, so he tried the same things, starting with soft kisses, moving up to long licks, and finally trying to take the cock into his mouth. He made the mistake of trying to take it all in at once and gagged slightly for his effort.
"It's ok, Joxer. You don't have to take it all at once." Iphicles ran a hand through the boy's hair in encouragement.
Joxer, ever determined, went right back, taking in only the head this time and using his hand to work the shaft as his mouth tasted the tip. With every moan from Iphicles' lips, Joxer was encouraged to continue until, finally, Iphicles' cock pulsed as his cum filled Joxer's mouth. Joxer pulled away, unused to the salty taste in his mouth. He wiped any extra cum from his mouth with the back of his hand, then looked up at Iphicles who was smiling at him with pride.
"You did wonderful, Joxer."
Joxer moved up next to Iphicles, kissing him and cuddling into his side. As Joxer began fading away, Iphicles grabbed one of the blankets and wiped what little mess there was, then allowed himself to fall asleep, Joxer nestled deep in his arms.
* * *
Iphicles urged his mount into a gallop, afraid to look back for fear he wouldn't have the courage to leave. He'd just managed to say goodbye to Joxer before mounting his steed. Not one tear fell from the boy's eyes, though Iphicles knew he was saving them for tonight.
The battle ended up being a failure. Most of the small army was decimated. An injured Iphicles found himself in Thrace where he eventually took up with a band of mercenaries. Not one scroll was ever sent to the manor of Lord Janus.
* * *
Almost fifteen years later...
King Iphicles of Corinth sat laughing with his brother and his brother's best friend. After many difficult years, they'd finally managed to set aside their differences and get along for once. The men were only spending the night in Corinth as they waited for friends of theirs to arrive. Iphicles suspected it was most likely the Warrior Princess, but he was never one to pry into his brother's affairs.
One of the palace servants came running into the room announcing that Hercules' friends had arrived. Iphicles followed the two men into the main hall where they greeted two women. From the corner of his eye, Iphicles could make out another figure standing behind the women, but still mostly out of sight.
"Brother, this is Xena, the Warrior Princess, and Gabrielle, Bard of Poteideia. Oh, and behind them is a friend of theirs, Joxer of Corinth."
King Iphicles' eyes grew wide as the man stepped out from behind his friends to greet him.
"It is an honour to meet you, Your Highness." Iphicles stopped breathing as their eyes met. He had grown up so much, yet he was still the awkward boy he remembered. He looked at the helmet on his head and smiled.
"You finished your helmet, I see." Iphicles was so focused on Joxer, he didn't notice the looks of shock on the faces of those around them.
Iphicles held out his arm to Joxer, which he took in a warrior's handshake. "It's good to see you again."
Joxer let out a long breath. "It's good to see you, too."
The moment was interrupted by a loud coughing behind Joxer. "Excuse us, but it's time that we leave. We have a warlord to capture after all."
Joxer sighed, letting go of Iphicles' arm, and turned back towards his friends. Hercules spoke for the group, thanking Iphicles for his hospitality and saying goodbye. As they headed out of the room, Iphicles called out. "Joxer!"
He turned around. "Yes?"
"Did you ever think up a name?"
"Of course. I named him Iphicles." Joxer smiled at him one last time before he followed his friends out the door.