With a sigh, Iphicles leaned tiredly against the door frame, running his hands through his hair. The flickering candlelight smoothed some of the lines of strain bracketing his mouth but only deepened the shadows under his eyes. Knowing from experience that he wouldn't accomplish any work tonight, he surrendered the attempt.
The bed behind him called to his exhausted body, but its emptiness only deepened the ache in his heart. When Rena was here, filling the silence with her sleep-soft breathing, nights like this were just a good excuse to catch up on his reading. His advisors were always impressed at how much he was able to accomplish in a day. `Amazing what you can do when you don't bother with minor things like sleep,' he thought. Hell, even on a good night he generally only managed four hours or so. He didn't remember the last time he'd had a good night.
Unable to stand the memories in the chamber, he stepped out into the private gardens attached to the royal apartments. The moonlight leached all color from the scene, leaving the world stark and cold. With the ancient stone walls of the palace preventing any of the omnipresent sounds from the city reaching him, it was easy believe that he was the only person left alive in the world. The familiarity of that sensation was almost. . . comforting. It formed some of his earliest memories.
<Pushing open the door, he was careful not to make any noise. Mustn't wake up Momma or the baby. Clutching his favorite blanket, he curled into a small huddle on the front step. Stoically waiting out the long night. When the first rays of morning appeared over the trees, he returned to the house. Momma didn't like it when he was awake all night, so it was just better to pretend. He didn't want her to send him away again.>
As an adult, Iphicles could understand just how difficult a child that only slept a few hours a night must have been for Mother. Especially once she was pregnant with Hercules. For her own health, she couldn't afford to be up with him at all hours. It got even worse once the baby was born. The strain of two very young children, the gossip surrounding Hercules' birth, and lingering grief for Amphitryon wore heavily on Alcmene. He'd soon learned not to wake anyone up when he couldn't sleep. He just waited out the long nights alone. For a long time, he was haunted by the fear that one night the morning wouldn't come, that he'd be alone in the dark forever. Sometimes, he thought that still.
As if in answer to his silent thoughts, the shadows in front him swirled, battling with the revealing moonlight, before finally blending into a figure encompassing both.
An elegant half-bow acknowledged the king. The god didn't say anything and they simply stared at each other for a timeless moment. Iphicles should have felt at a distinct disadvantage, with his bare feet and unbuttoned shirt, but he was half-convinced that this was just a dream born of his loneliness and pain.
But what a dream. An unearthly handsome face dominated by fathomless ebon eyes. A perfect body accentuated by tight, silver-studded leather. Intriguing hints of. . . approachability suggested by long, tousled curls and a sensually full lower lip. A suggestion made implicit in an outstretched hand.
His rational mind trumpeted that this was the God of War while his soul bleed from a past full of countless broken dreams. But the watching eyes promised refuge and his aching heart cried out in need.
In terror mixed with trust, Iphicles reached out to Ares.
Warmth. Radiating from their clasped hands, it drew him to the waiting god. Ares' free hand slid around his waist, coaxing Iphicles even closer, before starting a soothing caress up and down the tense back. Slowly relaxing into the offered embrace, Iphicles slid his hand tentatively over the leather-clad chest, relishing the strength and solidity of the man holding him.
Responding to his shy delight, Ares brought their entwined hands to his mouth, feathering kisses on his king's wrist, the sensitive bend of the inner elbow, the curve of the shoulder, the hollow of his throat, not seeking to arouse but to cherish.
They were both trembling now.
Dazed, god and king stared at each other in amazement and dawning fear. Emotion-dilated eyes exposed their vulnerability to the touch of the other. Their breathing quickened, deepened, as they fought the temptation to take refuge in passion. Before the moment could shatter under the weight of yearnings that neither knew how to express, fate intervened.
Music drifted into their private world.
Unconsciously, they began to sway in concert with the faint melody. Nearly inaudible, it wove its way between them, soothing the intensity while providing an outlet for the tenderness. Undirected at first, their movements steadied as each registered the response of the other man. Tentative smiles were exchanged as they settled back into each other's arms.
Iphicles luxuriated in the feeling of the strong body pressed to his, responding to each subtle shift and twist. A heavily muscled thigh sliding between his own. Lean hips swaying to the sensuous rhythm. Strong arms cradling him close.
It was almost perfect.
Wanting, needing, to be closer, he pulled back just enough to get his hands between them. The massive sword, seat of the power of War, was casually tossed to the damp grass, closing followed by the silver-studded vest. A teasing rub of a bare foot over a booted calf and the leather vanished, leaving them on equal footing. Lastly, he carefully tugged the medallion over the dark head, dropping it on top of the discarded vest.
Smoothing the raven curls back into place, Iphicles contentedly curled back into the waiting embrace. How long they danced, he would never know but gradually he became aware that they'd stopped moving, the music having faded away. An almost imperceptible shiver shook him as he waited for Ares to pull away, for this impossible dream to end.
"Feel your breath on my shoulder
Braced for rejection, Iphicles didn't respond at first when that magnificent voice started to sing softly in his ear.
"As we move into the night I get crazy
A smile ghosted across his lips as he realized that Ares didn't want
this to end either. Pressing his lips to the warm skin, Iphicles
resumed their dance, filled with dawning joy.