|The Human Way
"He did not love in the human way." --Stevie Smith
There were rules to heroism, all neatly stacked like building blocks in his head. Stuff Hercules learned as a kid playing Spartans and Athenians, ingrained now, effortlessly right. Good guys won. Bad guys went down with a few punches, a stern warning, maybe jail for the real hard cases. Easy to tell them apart: good guys glowed a little, like the moon on a cloudy night. A trained hero's eye could spot them without even squinting. He was born for it.
Then along came Fortune in a very bad mood, did some wheel spinning, and this. His brothers. Together. Not just together. Naked together. That's why he didn't charge or hit or make very sarcastic remarks. Okay, not just the missing clothes. The hardness. The whip. Ares, who held it, glowing the wrong way, his bare skin shiny with new sweat and something else, something creamy that had dried in thin moon-colored streaks on his stomach, down his thighs. Uncalm. That's how he looked to Hercules' squinting hero's eyes.
His spine crunched in a jolt of non-recognition as Ares' heart (Ares had a heart?) visibly struggled under his chest. This had nothing to do with heart things, like love or whatever. At least he didn't think so. With one finger, Hercules absently outlined the curved bone that guarded his own heart, and looked at Ares' lips. Usually tight in a smirk or a scowl, they looked warm, full and too red, like they'd been kissed for hours.
Hercules' trouble-sensor, already sputtering, ground to a halt as light from candles bleeding whitely fell over the red lines tattooed across the backs of Iphicles' thighs, over his ass and the hollow between his shoulders. No blood, just those skinny lines, like the sun's rays had snapped off and fallen on his brother. What did a hero do? Rescue Iphicles from Ares' clutches, like he was a maiden or a virgin? Although virgins, in his experience, didn't usually end up tied naked to a wall, getting off on a little smack and tickle. Where did that expression come from? Iolaus? Next he'd be squeezing barmaids' round asses down at the inn and telling jokes about Hestians and cucumbers. This wasn't him.
The whole kinky thing scrambled around in Hercules' head looking for a safe place to lie down, chased by the repulsive idea of Ares as a sex object. Not that he didn't look good, but the guy was evil incarnate, after all. Iphicles was blinded by the muscles and the face that, if you squinted in shadowy light, looked like his. Just a demented, narcissistic encounter between two people who lived to piss him off.
From the atrium's doorway, exposed, vulnerable and entirely invisible, Hercules watched and assessed.
Maybe because he glowed, too, Iphicles didn't get lost against the fresco, where Ares stood on a hill circled by a cheering crowd. Only they weren't soldiers, and it was a trial, not a battle. Old, old story that Hercules barely remembered, wasn't even sure how he know, about Poseidon's son raping Ares' daughter, Ares hacking off the guy's head in revenge. Look hard enough, and the head was there, upside down on the ground beside a clump of dogwood. Oh right, Hercules thought. A symbol. Damned if he knew what it meant, but it had that musty old symbol smell.
Iphicles stood in the midst of this, his face resting against Ares' shiny painted lap, his wrists tied tight, the rope looped into a hook on the wall, with enough pull that he could twist around. He only did it once, then the whip went up, and Iphicles whirled back. No fear, just protection (Aha, thought Hercules, who'd happily figured out the symbol. Ares, his violent psychopathic brother, was trying to tell Iphicles that he would protect him. Only Iphicles wasn't so good with symbols).
Other emotions showed up on Iphicles' face; it told more stories than Sophocles. Fury sliding down under his eyes, lust around his mouth. Something else, desperate and intense, that was everywhere and so strong it had to hurt.
Was that why Ares hit Iphicles? Because it came then, a high-pitched slice through air before the whip bit. Iphicles tensed, but didn't cry out, even when another bright red stripe flamed on the right cheek of his ass. Hercules breathed and hurt and clenched his fists. No one noticed. He could die and they wouldn't notice. Which was a crazy thought, because he wasn't dying, or a drama queen. Only this was throwing things off balance. Him off balance. Like he was on the wheel and it was whirling fast. He preferred to be the linchpin and was oddly reassured when Ares said his name, sneer and all.
"You love him. Hercules."
"Of course I do." Iphicles looked over his shoulder, shaking his head to unstick the sweat-soaked hair from his eyes. "He's my brother."
"He's my brother, and I don't love him."
"That's because you're not human, Ares. You don't love anyone." Iphicles faced the wall again, his neck bending, and missed the look on Ares' face.
Hercules saw it from his vantage point. Disadvantage point, since he didn't wake up this morning with plans to see his brothers do their weird naked thing, and frankly could live without it. Still, even watching Ares through his usual hate-coated resentment, he had to admit that this was no ordinary nude whipping session. Ares, who snarled, growled and hissed at Hercules between punches and fireballs, couldn't even see him, blinded like Iphicles was the sun. Even his usual angry mask had melted, and under it, Ares looked open and raw, a few centuries younger, with a few layers of cynicism peeled away. A mixture of how people looked at funerals.
Ares. Loved. Iphicles.
Hercules' brain went tripping backward. Since when did Ares love anyone? Why Iphicles? How did this happen? And how did he, Hercules, fit into this? As he kept watching, his stomach doing little startled flips, Hercules realized that he didn't. Matter. This relationship or whatever it was might have started as revenge, brotherly payback against him and his heroic ways, but not any more. Now it was just them. Too many clues screamed this, even beyond the softened expression that belonged on anyone but a war god. Like how Ares always kept one hand on Iphicles, no matter what, touching, stroking with a reverence usually reserved for his sword.
No talking, though, no confessing like normal people. Just fighting and denying. Like now, with the whip hurtling down. Did Ares think he'd stop loving Iphicles if he hit hard enough?
"Then it's Iolaus," Ares said, fake-casual as a teenager, thinking no one could see his desperation. "You love Iolaus."
Hercules itched to hear this come from Ares' mouth, this flood of need, and knew something was up when Iphicles missed it. He resurrected a rule from his collection: no one was deaf like a lover.
"What's your problem, Ares? What do you care?"
"I don't care." A vicious crack with the whip across Iphicles' left flank. "I own you, that's all."
What a liar, Hercules thought. And what was the point? Typical Ares. Always did things ass-backward, just so he'd be the one with the power. Even when it cost him. These two needed a translator, or a pimp.
"Iolaus is a friend. And he's in love with Hercules. You've seen them. Even you have to know love when you see it."
"Then who is it?"
But Iphicles wouldn't say. Stubborn ever since he was a kid. Got an idea in his head, and it was nailed there. Ran in the family, as Iolaus liked to point out. "There's no one." A lie so obvious it bounced around the room like an echo. How else do you hold your own against a god?
Ares missed it all. "Right. So you turned me down after months because you're not in the mood? You're always in the mood. You come in your sleep just thinking about me. I've seen it." Ares reached around and took Iphicles' hard cock in his hand. "You're hard for me. You're always hard for me."
Blood shot to Hercules' cheeks, and he was sweating now, his vest stuck to his back. Still, what had he been expecting? A handshake? It wasn't just Ares' hand on Iphicles' cock, either; it was how he touched it, slowly, lewdly, possessively. And how Iphicles reacted, arching and moaning before he gulped in some air and lied some more.
"It doesn't mean anything."
"Who else does this to you?" Ares stroked him, base to head, his body pressed against Iphicles' marked one.
"Just because I didn't bend over one goddamn time doesn't mean there's someone else." Iphicles, playing his own power game, refused to thrust into Ares' hand, but couldn't talk without making little gasping sounds between each word.
"I'm your god. You have to worship me."
Was Ares like that with him, saying only half the truth? Hercules shook his head, trying to knock the thoughts into proper order. It was like having a skull full of marbles.
Iphicles, he noticed, seemed to have the same problem, and shook his messy head again. "I don't have to do anything, Ares. You don't need me."
"No, I don't. Hundreds of others like you. But since you're here..." An open bottle appeared in Ares' free hand, and he threw the liquid contents on Iphicles' back. The rest he poured between his own legs. The bottle fell to the floor, shattering, as Ares used his whip-hand to push Iphicles forward.
Pretty obvious what was coming up, and Hercules turned, then paused. What if he left and Ares lost his temper and really hurt Iphicles? He had better things to do than watch his brothers get it on. Really, he did. He just couldn't remember what they were. So fine, maybe he was fascinated. Who wouldn't be? Two people he thought he knew, and didn't, doing and saying things that were private and real.
Real. He mouthed the word, feeling ten years old. He'd locked both of his brothers in this little closet of behaviors from years ago. Iphicles was the shit-disturber, the trouble-maker, the one who made Alcmene cry, coming home with a bloody nose or a black eye, sneaking out to sleep with the village girls. Except he was king now, with a dead wife and an undeniably surprising taste in boyfriends. Ares...Hard to believe he wasn't the same, unless he was, and Hercules just never knew, not really, what that was.
The black marble door frame felt punchable under his fingers. Hercules couldn't move, though, not now, not with Ares taking his own oiled cock in one hand and guiding it inside Iphicles' ass. It was so hot, so dirty and beautiful that Hercules stopped breathing and started again only when his lungs began to burn. His cock swelled, and he wished bodies listened to reason.
Not that reason was really operating anywhere in the near vicinity; this was the most unreasonable and generally screwed-up moment of his life. He felt almost proud. Iolaus, who thought Hercules was too good, would appreciate this. Not that he'd tell him, not now, not with his hand sneaking down over his hip and there, yes, there, where he was so unheroically hard from watching them.
Although Iolaus would appreciate that, too. Good old Iolaus, off helping Autolycus out of trouble while Hercules played fetch-the-king for a few worried councillors. Iolaus, who gave so easily, never twisted in denial like these two. Even now, with Ares thrusting into Iphicles--Hercules gulped a little and squeezed his cock unmercifully through his pants--even now, they both insisted on the nothingness of the fuck. Hercules wanted to tell them to shut up and just enjoy themselves. If he could figure out that they loved each other, him, who'd spent years being unpleasantly wrong about so much, then they could damn well let him indulge his once-in-a-lifetime moment of voyeuristic perversity and general revelation. But no.
"I hate you."
"I don't care."
"That the best you can do?"
Meanwhile Iphicles kept turning to see Ares' face, every muscle coiled, and Ares had long since dropped the whip to keep touching Iphicles with both hands, everywhere and desperate. Hercules got caught up in the frenzy and shoved his hand down his pants instead of on top of them. His cock was hot and a little damp, and it felt so good to touch it. Easy enough at this point to ignore the sudden blare of conscience, which had strong moral views on Ares, Iphicles and Ares doing Iphicles, but his cock shouted louder.
So he was failing heroism 101. Plenty of time to regret that later, when Ares' hips weren't slamming so hard and furious. When Ares didn't have one arm wrapped tight around Iphicles' waist, jerking him off, his left hand tangled in Iphicles' hair. When Iphicles wasn't moaning like a hungry bitch, no words anymore, just animalistic baying, slamming back on every stroke. When Hercules' own cock wasn't achingly stiff under his fingers, his balls tight, his brothers so beautiful and crazy for each other, rutting and wild and, yes, like that...
Only one thing missing. Not orgasm--no, that was happening all over the place, Iphicles splattering the wall and Ares' hand, Ares doing it deep up Iphicles' ass (Hercules knew because Ares went rigid, then, in that special backward language, told Iphicles that he didn't love him). No, Hercules wanted closure, a happy ending, insane and doomed though this relationship had to be. He blamed this nagging desire on his mother and the stories she told them as kids, and because he was a hero, and heroism was all about happy endings.
It didn't happen. He wasn't writing this story, so Iphicles kept his loud secret locked up, Ares substituted sex for love, and Hercules came in a series of half-blissful, half-empty spurts of pleasure.
"It's over," Ares said, his cheek against Iphicles' hair.
"Good," Iphicles lied, leaning back into him, still panting.
Hercules, his hand sticky and his conscience rumbling, slunk from the
temple and back to Iphicles' palace.
Clean and guilty, Hercules sat with his knees spread wide on one of the blue couches in Iphicles' bedroom. The servants hated that, but he was too unwieldy to lounge. Besides, furniture broke too easily. A shift, a crack, then his ass would be thunking on the floor. Some kid had brought him a plateful of grapes, and he picked at them, missing Iolaus, who could toss a grape twenty feet in the air and catch it in his mouth, even if he had to run a few feet to do it.
Iphicles showed up near dark, walking stiffly. He kicked shut the door, then muttered, "Shit," when he saw Hercules. "Waiting up for me?"
"You were gone all day." Hercules dropped the grapes beside him. One broke free and slid to the floor, skidding over the red and black tiles. "No one could find you."
"I'm here now. And I will be here every fucking day and night from now on." Iphicles headed to the window and leaned out, breathing hard.
"Is there a problem?"
"Because we're brothers. We can talk--"
"There's nothing to talk about." He turned back, looking sick. "Not a goddamn thing."
"You seem mad." Hercules borrowed Iolaus' most disarming expression, and mentally kicked his conscience. He was doing penance; the damn thing could shut up already.
"I'm not. What's the point? It won't change anything. Besides, you wouldn't understand."
"Trust me, Hercules, you can't help." He moved to the bed, circling it, then walked away. "This is one fuck-up even you can't fix."
That was his cue. "Maybe you're right. I'm just sick of hearing you whine."
"What?" Iphicles stopped pacing.
"You know who you remind me of? Ares. Ares, the biggest whiner on Mount Olympus. Never happy. Just like you."
"I'm really not in the mood for this. Iolaus is gone for two days, and you start snapping off everyone's head."
"You have to admit that Ares whines. He needs to get over it. To stop being jealous of me. To start acting like a man instead of a little girl."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"You're defending that big pansy-assed excuse for a god? It figures. Like I said, you just like him. Complaining about everything. Never happy."
"If you don't shut the fuck up, Hercules, hero or no hero, I'm going to kick your ass."
"Like you could? Even Ares can't do it. What makes you think you can?" He pushed Iphicles and sent him crashing into the wall. "I'm so sick of both of you. Ares is a lame, useless, screwed-up, weak--"
"Shut up!" Iphicles jumped to his feet and butted him in the gut. They went crashing to the floor, knocking over a table. More grapes fell, rolling everywhere, while Hercules and Iphicles rolled with them. More furniture toppled over (you really couldn't trust the stuff), making a satisfying racket.
Iphicles' fist collided with his chin. "You don't know him."
Through stars fat and purple as grapes, Hercules snapped, "And you do? Like he'd even look twice at you, you miserable piece of--" He let Iphicles pin him to the floor.
"You don't know anything. He's nothing like that. He's--"
Hercules shoved hard, and Iphicles flew back. While he lay dazed, Hercules pinned him. "You got a thing for Ares?"
"It's not a thing."
"Sounds like a thing to me."
Iphicles struggled under him, but couldn't push Hercules off. "It's...I'm...Get off!"
"You sick fuck, you've got a hard-on for Ares?" Was it too late for a career-change? From hero to actor? Because, damn, he was good. And if his luck held, in a few more minutes he could really indulge the smugness that drove his brothers crazy.
"I love him," Iphicles shouted, "I love him, you stupid, smug son of a--"
So close, so close now. Hercules raised his fist, held it theatrically, and hoped this wasn't a big, stupid mistake. Fortunately, the fireball came a second later, blasting him between a chair's clawed feet. "Ares," he gasped, in a suitably surprised voice. "What are you doing here?"
Ares ignored him, watching as Iphicles stood, brushing himself off. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. I didn't need to be rescued."
"I know," Ares said, and kissed him.
Hercules, out of habit and maybe a lingering trace of voyeurism, stayed long enough to see Iphicles wrap his arms around Ares' neck and open his mouth for Ares' tongue. Neither of them noticed as he clambered to his feet and went to his own room down the hall.
He spent the night with a pillow over his ears, and, occasionally, with his hand between his legs, as Ares, with noisy enthusiasm, showed Iphicles how much he needed him. It wasn't his finest hour, Hercules admitted, but then again, it wasn't his worst. "You're only human," Iolaus would say. "Relax and enjoy it."
So Hercules did.