Rules For the Tragic Poet
by Thamiris
Rules For the Tragic Poet
by Thamiris

In a careful, Gothic script, Caesar wrote:  "The beautiful war god Iphicles gazed with longing at Iolaus..."  Then, letting out his breath in a frustrated hiss, he dropped the pen back in its case and gnawed on a ragged fingernail.  With seven ruined sheets of parchment behind him, he couldn't afford to waste more on this wretched story.  Father Autolycus was angry enough, and Caesar didn't want to endure another humiliating public crawl the length of the abbey's church, in front of everyone; his knees still showed faint, yellowish bruises.  But this ancient tale defied him:  allegorical subtext of souls and saviors aside, the myth itself was entirely too disturbing.  Of course, if he complained to the abbot it would mean another painful crawl and an even more painful lecture on figural versus literal meaning.

Now seemed the time to examine the monastery's new copy of Joxer's On The Art of Poetry, although how-to guides usually only caused more aggravation.  Pushing back his chair, he walked to the nearest bookcase, running his fingers over the bound manuscripts until he found the slim volume.  Back at his desk, he carefully separated the leaves, muttering unhappily about demanding patrons, unusual commissions and writer's block.

"In putting together his plots and working out the kind of speech to go with them, the poet should as far as possible keep the scene before his eyes.  In this way, seeing everything very vividly, as though he were himself an eyewitness of the events, he will find what is appropriate, and will be least likely to overlook inconsistencies."

Even more annoyed, he tapped the toe of one sandaled foot against the wooden bar beneath his desk. All very well for Joxer, the great philosopher-critic, to extol the virtues of poetic imagination.  But a quick glance at the library shelves didn't reveal the complete masterworks of Joxer, the famous poet.  Mainly because there weren't any.

Those who can't do, write.  Those who can't write, produce annoying treatises.

Caesar read on, adding the sound of tongue clicking against teeth to the annoyed beat of his toes.  Then: "Wait a minute!"  Now this part actually made sense:  "As far as possible, too, the dramatic poet should carry out the appropriate gestures as he composes his speeches, for of writers with equal abilities those who can actually make themselves feel the relevant emotions will be the most convincing--agitation or rage will be most vividly reproduced by one who is himself agitated or in a passion."

Exactly! He needed inspiration.  After all, locked away here, what did he know about passion, especially the desperate kind Iphicles and Iolaus shared?  In the decade since his parents abandoned him to the brothers' care, he'd been alone.  Oh, there'd been one or two fumbled encounters in dark corners, but he never kept anyone's attention for long.  Not sensual enough.  And, unlike one or two of the others, his worship of things divine remained lukewarm at best.  Nothing to match the fevered love between the copper-haired war god and his mortal favorite in this cursed story.  And he certainly didn't have an appropriately obsessive personality: he was much too quiet, much too self-contained.  Proudly so.

A darkly-beautiful figure appeared before his eyes, but he suppressed the vision, pushing his glasses back up to reread the text's elaborate red lettering.  "Feel the relevant emotions..."  Yes, some stimulus would help him wax semi-lyrical, especially since the deadline drew near.  A descent to the crypt seemed in order.  His unusual visit below, he assured himself, had nothing to do with the new monk, the tall, dark one who'd been sent there this morning by the abbot for the gruesome and unavoidable task of digging his own grave.  "Memento mori," admonished the dour Autolycus.  "Live each day in memory of death."

For Caesar, the crypt reeked of memory:  at thirteen, new to the abbey, confused and scared by his morbid task, he'd slipped while digging, tumbling into the deep hole, and spent a few panic-ridden hours clawing at the worm-threaded earth before the brothers rescued him.  Needless to say, he subsequently avoided the sepulcher whenever possible, but, in the interest of good poetry, he'd venture down again.  If Ares were there, well, that couldn't be helped.

The thought of Ares ignited a warm shiver, but Caesar blamed it on the library's stuffy heat.  He'd been denying his blatantly physical response since first seeing the other monk a few days earlier.  Then, arriving late to the gatehouse where the monks congregated to welcome the newcomer, Caesar gained only a general impression of height and darkness until a path opened between the brothers, and he saw Ares clearly for the first time.  His body's reactions startled him:  a furious blush and a painful hardness...Caesar shook his head.  Enough of that: he had a story to write.

Returning the manuscript to its proper place, he left the dusty library, his black robes swirling around him.  He cut across the quadrangle, despite the heavy rain, then hurried along the arcaded cloister to the abbey church.  A row of brothers stood in the choir, prayer books in hand, chanting ‘Pantheon abluitur'.  Ignoring them, Caesar turned into the south transept, passing under the arched doorway to the grey steps leading below.

He slowed near the bottom as the old fear returned.  Ahead of him loomed painted columns supporting the low, vaulted roof and neatly dividing the shadowy space.  At the room's far end stood a stone altar dedicated to the church's murdered founder, who lay buried beneath it.  On the altar, flanked by fat white candles, in an open gold reliquary, rested the abbey's greatest treasure: a dagger, its handle decorated with a motif of snakes entwined around swords, its blade still stained with the martyr's blood.

As he inhaled death's earthy breath, Caesar's gut rolled, and he nearly retreated. Then the sound reached him, the soft thud of wet dirt being pitched.  For art, he told himself, and stepped forward.  A dozen steps took him to the altar, where he touched the knife for luck, then took a sharp right turn.  Twenty-four orderly graves appeared.  There, digging the twenty-fifth, was the new monk.

Ares' robes lay piled nearby, leaving their owner naked except for high black boots and a breechcloth knotted over his thighs, his skin not skin but wet gold under the wavering light, while his hair, blacker than the rich soil he dug, hung in damp curls.  Placing one booted foot firmly on the shovel's head, he drove it deep into the black earth.

"Do you do everything that forcefully?" Caesar asked without thinking, then blushed.

The dark head, bowed in concentration, turned up, and equally dark eyes assessed him.  "Ah. The librarian."

What a waste to give that decadent mouth to a monk. "I prefer ‘poet.'  The library's a job, the poetry's a--"

"--calling.  Yeah, that's what they all say."  With his strong shoulders, Ares pushed the shovel even deeper, then lifted the heavy load, depositing it into the large pail beside him.

Caesar watched the beautiful body, felt his own uncontrolled response, and wondered if Ares had already taken a lover.  It seemed likely, even though he'd just arrived a few days earlier from the mother house in the north.  Brother Borias, a smile on his handsome face, had eyed the newcomer with interest at breakfast, and rumor whispered he could suck cock with truly heroic vigor.  If he ever got his lips on this vision, this fantasy, he'd leech him dry.

"Did you want something...Caesar, isn't it?"

"I came down here for the atmosphere," he said, oddly pleased that Ares remembered his name.  "I'm writing the story of Iphicles and Iolaus, and Joxer advises poets to experience what the characters felt to make the story more real."

"Iphicles and Iolaus--I've always liked that one.  But it doesn't seem like your kind of thing.  Too intense, obsessive."

"You're right."  The response came out stiffly, and he cringed.  Ares didn't need to know his comments stung.  "I don't often write about obsessive lovers--usually it's monastic history.  It's a special request for an important benefactor; I have no choice.  I guess... " he swallowed, "I guess to tell it right I'd need some help."

Ares stopped digging, a slow smile spreading over his face.  "A little research, you mean.  For the story's sake."

"Yes," he replied, cheeks still warm, "research. For the story's sake."  His cock was hard under his robes, and he kept his fingers laced in front of it.  The provocatively-handsome face and all that bronzed skin eroded his control in a way he found profoundly unsettling.  Ares could tell; Caesar knew it. He also knew what Ares would say next, could hear the smoky voice in his head, but still shivered when the words whispered through the tomb.

"Maybe I could help you out."

"I' that.  Some help for the story."

Laying the shovel against the wall, directly under the recently-excavated fresco depicting Hercules, lord of the dead, Ares stepped toward Caesar.  "So where d'you want to start the...research?  Here?"

"Maybe we could go where it started.  The cliff behind the monastery's supposedly the one where Iolaus nearly jumped."

"Why don't you go ahead?  I'll meet you there."


Ares sighed impatiently.  "If you don't want to, just say so."

"I do.  It's..."  But what could he say?  He couldn't explain this rush of lust, fear, and recognition

"Well?"  The thick lashes seemed to weight his eyes, even under the pull of raised brows.

God, I want you, he nearly said, most unmonkishly.  "I'll see you there."


Sweet, warm air fluttered against Iolaus' cheek, near his ear, and he hesitated.  Divine, but different.  Not Hercules--another god.  A new twist on the old torture?

"Don't do it," a low voice commanded.

Perversely, he wanted to refuse, even if the alternative meant his blood tarnishing the rocks below--even though he stood at the cliff's edge, ready to die for another god.  "Go away," he said, childlike with confusion.

"Look at me."

He turned, looking up at a face as smooth and young as his own, at gold-splashed brown eyes, a full mouth ripe like a peach, red-gold curls falling softly to broad shoulders.  Not one of The Ten.  Too young, still human.  At the nudge of memory, Iolaus understood.  The new war god.  "Iphicles."

"Yes."  A flash of teeth, dimples, at the recognition.

It hurt when Iolaus smiled back, and he stopped.  "What do you want?"

"What he did...My uncle Hercules..."

At the name, he nearly stepped over.  That's what death was, after all.  A small step over the edge.  The god's strong hand brushed his arm, but didn't hold him.  "I hate him," Iolaus said.

"I don't blame you.  I've seen what he's done.  Your whole family, dead. Your friends--"

"I don't need a list," Iolaus snapped.

"He loves you--that's why he wants you to die."

"He loves me...I guess it would look like love to a god.  It's got all the elements: murder, torture, pain.  I hope no one ever loves you that much."

"Look...I'm sorry.  That's why I'm here."

Iolaus laughed, turning again to the sea, and a gull shrieked back.  "You're a little late, Iphicles, god of compassion.  You could've helped when Hercules slit my mother's throat."

"He said you loved him..."

Another bird-like sound.

"I believed him at first," Iphicles continued.  "They all went to Elysium, just sooner than later.  He said he was sparing you and them more pain.  Everyone was suffering after your sister's death, and with your mother's illness...He kept saying you were teasing him.  That you liked having a god obsessed with you."

"So why are you trying to stop me?  One jump, then Hercules and I are together forever."

The god shrugged.  "It didn't seem right after awhile.  And today, when you came here--I thought I'd make sure.  If you jumped anyway, I'd know.  Are you still going to jump?"

"Why not?"  It sounded like a dare, and Iolaus wondered about that.  He also wondered why, if he felt so dead inside, this god--this war god--had him thinking about ripe peaches.  Everything seemed a little fuzzy right now, a little blurred, like it was raining, even though the sun shone.  "Really, what do you care?  Or are you going to tell me you want me for yourself?"

The body beside him stilled.  "Goodbye, Iolaus."

He grabbed his wrist before the god disappeared.  "Don't go."

"Why not? You obviously don't want me here."

"You're very sensitive for a war god."

"You're pretty touchy yourself."

Iolaus realized his fingers were still closed around the god's wrist; embarrassed, he let go, taking a step away.  That's when the edge crumbled, and he fell like Icarus to the hungry sea.

Cool, salt-thick air rushed over him, and the moss-covered rocks grew enormous.  He closed his eyes, then opened them, startled, as soft, grassy earth cushioned his back under the shadow of green-leaved branches.  Iphicles was leaning over him, and a stray copper curl tickled Iolaus' temple.  When he went to brush it away, his hand slid over the god's cheek, turning the gesture into a caress.

"That was close," Iphicles said softly.

"Yes.  Very close."

"I did the right thing?"

He managed a nod, and his mouth opened but that's because Iphicles was kissing him: soft lips against his, tongue surprisingly gentle and tasting of honey.

Then the god pulled away, sitting up.  "I'm sorry."

"It's alright.  Iphicles..."


"You're not like your uncle.  This feels right."

But Iphicles still didn't move, so Iolaus reached up, placing his palm flat against the back of the god's head, and drew him down.  Iphicles' groan rumbled through their bodies when Iolaus' tongue slipped back into that honeyed mouth.  An odd desperation tinged this second kiss: nothing mattered but Iphicles' mouth, his skin, his stroking hands...

Somehow the god's black vest opened, and Iolaus had to suck one tanned nipple.  The new moan erased doubt, and he pushed Iphicles on his back, moving over him.  His mouth closed over the other nipple, tongue flicking, and the body arched beneath him.  He tugged off his shirt, then kissed Iphicles again, swaying slightly so his stiff nipples teased the god's, while his tongue learned the contours of that delicious mouth.

He kept kissing until his lips turned tender, then licked a path along the curve of Iphicles' jaw.  At the earlobe, he switched to his teeth, lightly tugging, then alternated bites with licks over his lover's throat.  The god's hands, hot against his naked back, stroked encouragingly, and Iolaus, growing bolder with need, sucked the golden skin until it bruised and Iphicles ground his hips against him.

"Take everything off," Iolaus whispered hotly.  Both gasped as their sweat-slick skin touched fully, completely.  Then Iphicles wrapped Iolaus tightly in his arms, sucking lightly on his tongue, and they rocked together under the oak until creamy wetness smeared their thighs and bellies.

Another fall...But this time into a warm, healing sleep.


Caesar avoided the cliff's edge.  Ares was no god, and he didn't want to feed the shoals of silver- backed fish in the blue waters below.  Instead, he leaned against an old oak at the forest's edge, a safe distance from the sea, and began, almost systematically, to worry.  What if Ares didn't show up?  What if even now Ares was in bed with Brother Borias, laughing at Caesar's gullibility as he spread those strong thighs for the other monk's questing mouth?

This was stupid. He should go back.  Let Ovid and The Amores free his muse, not some overly- beautiful, game-playing bastard.  Why did he always end up alone, eternally waiting? One day he'd leave this prison, find work as a scribe, fall in love.  Be normal, for once, instead of rotting in this grave--

"You're bleeding," Ares said, pulling Caesar's hand from his mouth and holding it to his own.  His tongue soothed one reddened tip, before he slid it between his pouted lips.

When the sucking began, the other man's tongue moving in a slow rhythm against his skin, Caesar froze.  No one had ever done this to him, and it overwhelmed his scorned flesh.  He quivered as Ares' thumb turned in teasing circles over his palm, while one by one the raw fingers were sucked into that hot, wet mouth.   His legs couldn't hold him anymore, and he sank worshipfully to the grass before Ares.  His fingers returned to his own mouth, and he sucked them greedily.

"What do you want?"  Ares asked.

"I'm not sure."  He wrapped his arms around those strong legs, letting his cheek rest against one thigh.  Even through the loose rough cloth, he could see Ares' erection.  Tentatively, unsure of the rules, Caesar covered it with his hand.  The moan reassured him, and he began stroking softly with the flat of his palm.  That wasn't enough, though, so he nuzzled the thick cock through the fabric, smelling wool and something muskier, darker.

"You're hungry for it, aren't you?  I knew you would be."

The words floated down to him, then the robes were lifted, tossed into the grass.  Caesar shifted, returning his hands to those strong thighs, and stared in awe at the swollen, blue-veined shaft shrouded in curling black hair, its rounded head silver with moisture. Anxiety crept in under the lust--the cock was so big, and he'd never done this before.  Almost, with Brother Lycias, but things hadn't worked out.  And pleasuring Ares seemed so important.

As he hesitated, Ares' fingers closed around the base, and he rubbed his cock over Caesar's lips, his cheeks.  Instinctively, Caesar's tongue went out to follow the salty tracks on his mouth.  Then Ares' cock was there: hard, wet and silken against it.   The musky scent was stronger--not unpleasant, just raw and earthy.  His own cock must smell like this.  And the taste--like the sea.  His tongue pushed into the slit for more, making the head slide half-way past his lips.

Another moan drifted down, a faint, "Yeah, that's nice."  Fingers tightened around his skull, hips moved, and the full head entered his mouth.  Caesar licked more aggressively now, mapping the smooth curves, feeling more blood fill the engorged skin.  The cock glided deeper, making the head unreachable by tongue, so he lapped along the length. The flesh hummed in response.

Rough fingers caught one of Caesar's hands, moving it from Ares' thigh to the heavy sac between his legs.  When he cupped them, the other man gasped, and Caesar glowed with pleasure.  He weighed the balls in his hand, rolling them, and Ares began thrusting into his mouth.  A surge beneath the skin, quivering tension in the thighs, a sharp cry--then the first, hot burst of semen.  A flood followed, and Caesar swallowed the bitter proof of Ares' desire.   Even after it ended, his tongue kept searching for more, stopping only when the monk sank to the ground beside him.

"Take off your robes."

Caesar obeyed, his tongue still darting around inside his mouth for more salt.  He lifted his head unquestioningly for the crumpled cloth, lifted his hips more cautiously for Ares' own robes.  "What're you doing?" he asked, as the man fumbled in a small leather pouch.

"We're not finished.  Just lie back and relax, Caesar.  Trust me--this won't hurt."

The wax seal broke on the small vial, and the smell of ripe peaches filled the air.  He watched as Ares knelt between his thighs, whimpering as the liquid splashed onto his cock.  When Ares began to smooth it on, Caesar's hips bucked, and he nearly came.

"Not yet.  Save it."

His cock was slick with oil when Ares finished.  "Please don't stop."

"We're doing something different now," the other monk said, straddling his hips.

Caesar's oiled cock nudged Ares' ass, and he watched as the man reached behind to hold it, then leaned forward, his dark curls brushing his lover's nipples.  When he leaned back, letting the long cock penetrate him, Caesar's heart stumbled.

"That's good," Ares said, his eyes closing.  "You like it?"

He couldn't answer, couldn't think, not when...oh god...not when...

"Tell me you like.  I want to hear you say it."  The god began to move, riding slowly up and down.

Caesar's mouth opened, and he tried to speak, tried as hard as he could, but broke under the sight of Ares' shining body, the semi-hard cock slapping his stomach, and the feel of that incredibly tight heat around him.  He was inside Ares.  Inside him.  Making love to him.  Fucking--

"Say it, Caesar, or I'll stop."

Desperation forced out the words.  " it."

"Touch me."

"Yes."  Ares' cock, still damp from Caesar's mouth, grew under the soft stroking.

"The harder you do it, the harder I'll fuck you."

"But you're not fucking me--"

"Oh yes I am," Ares said, slamming down on the cock inside him.  "I'm fucking you, Caesar.  Don't be fooled.  Now jerk me off hard."

Anything, he thought.  I'd do anything for you right now.  Just don't stop.  He realized he'd spoken only when Ares' eyes opened and a wicked grin appeared on his desire-warmed face.

"Just jerk me off, Caesar, and tell me how good you feel."

His fingers moved faster, trying to find the thrum that signaled orgasm.  "I want you to...come on me," he gasped, thrusting up.  "I need to know how good *you* feel."

Muscles tightened around him, and his lover smiled.   "You're a hot fuck, Caesar.  And..." his voice deepened, "now I'm going to show you how good it is..."

Semen spilled into Caesar's hand, onto his belly and chest, as Ares came, shuddering.  The writhing of that big, hot body was too much, and Caesar arched, grabbing the man's hips, and pulled him down on his cock.  "Ares..."

"That's it.  Come for me," he said, smearing his semen onto Caesar's nipples.

"Oh god...oh god..."  Shards of pleasure tore through him, ripping him open, killing him...Finally, they stopped, and he opened his eyes, at first confused by cloudy vision.  Tears.  He wanted to rub them away, but lead had replaced muscle in his arms.

"Next time, I'll come inside you."


Sunlight tickled his eyelids.  Still half-asleep, Iolaus instinctively reached out. His questing hand swept the silk sheet, found nothing, not even a lingering warmth.  No Iphicles.  He tried not to panic.  Think it through, he told himself.  Don't jump to conclusions.

Yesterday he'd given up, drained by Hercules' constant assault on his life.  A long, hard look around had revealed no reason to keep living.  With friends and family dead, only Corinth was left, and Iolaus had severed that relationship on his own, through a series of bloody mistakes: his refusal to accept advice from a group of sneering but experienced courtiers,  and the misplaced philosophy that a single life equaled the state's.

He'd stayed alive for his mother, but when Hercules took her, too, Iolaus started to believe the death-god was right, and he'd be better off as a shade in the Underworld.  Maybe things wouldn't hurt so much in Tartarus.  Maybe dead flesh would dull the pain.

So yesterday, during a grueling council meeting where his arrogant steward preached yet again about social rules, he gave up.  It was easier than he'd thought: Demetrius' inane comments cut a cord long-frayed, separating him from hope in an ugly parody of birth.

The walk to the cliff passed quicker than a cloud over an autumn moon.  Suddenly there he was, staring out over water blue as his mother's eyes.  Maybe it was the afternoon sun glinting on the foam-topped waves, or the gulls cresting on the sea breeze, but instead of falling into her embrace, Iolaus hesitated, until the air stirred beside him, and Iphicles appeared at the cliff's edge.   Fate can take strange forms.  Gold light.  A black-tipped wing.  A tall, beautiful god of war.

It was too perfect.  Another trick of Hercules': give him happiness for the first time in months, then wrench it away.  He felt sick, despairing, then forced himself to be rational.  Would Hercules actually let another god touch him after those jealous rants?   And Iphicles seemed so sincere...

Iolaus glanced around the bedroom, waiting for the war god to appear and reassure him.  Nothing happened.  Swinging his bare feet over the bed, he splashed water on his face from the washbowl, dressing quickly.  He had to know about Iphicles.  He had to know--

Then a god did appear.  But this one, while tall and wearing black, had golden-brown hair and clear, hard blue eyes.  "Iolaus, I've missed you."

His stomach churned, rough like the sea, but he stayed quiet.  He'd already said everything he could.  Nothing changed.  Nothing ever cracked the perfect surface of Hercules' obsession.  Not screams.  Not threats.  Not logic.

"I hope you didn't think I was neglecting you--the Spartan war's kept me busy.  I hated not being able to see you.  That's why I think it's time you joined me in the Underworld.  No more games.  We both know it's what you want."  The god extended one large hand, obviously expecting him to take it.


Hercules sighed.  "You're still refusing me?  I'm getting a little impatient, Iolaus.  I've given you plenty of time to admit your feelings.  I've made sure that you'll feel welcome there--"

"By killing everyone I love!"

"I did it for you.  You know that.  And they're all waiting for you. Your mother cries every day because she misses you so much."  Stepping closer, he ran his fingers tenderly down Iolaus' cheek, not noticing the flinch.  "And *I* need you with me.  I dream about you every night, of making love to you.   Feel what you do to me."  His grip nearly crushed the small bones in Iolaus' hand as Hercules placed it effortlessly over the hardness between his thighs.  "I can't wait to be inside you, and I know you can't wait, either."

For the thousandth time he tried to deny it, but the god cut him off.  "I'm looking forward to the day when you come, calling my name."   He pushed Iolaus back against the wall, holding the man's wrists above his head.  "I just want to make you feel good."  With a beatific smile, Hercules reached down and freed the man's limp cock.  Flesh being flesh, it responded to the fondling, growing hard and thick with blood.  "Look how much you want me."

His empty stomach heaved, but gave up nothing.  "I hate you, Hercules.  You disgust me.  Why can't you understand that?"

"Tease."  Another affectionate smile.  "But I can't finish this now. And maybe," he added, squeezing, "I'm learning how to tease back.  I don't think I'll play this game very well, though--I want you too much."  A soft kiss, then he vanished.

The rest of the day passed in a blur.  He thought about Iphicles, but understood that yesterday was a dream, and that he couldn't expect more than pain and humiliation in life or in death.  At least in death he could reassure his mother.  Only Iolaus didn't return to the cliff.  Soon, he told himself.  When the meeting's over.  After I speak to the Messalian ambassador.  As soon as I'm finished eating.

He did leave the palace after the meal, only not for the rocky cliffside and the beckoning blue sea.  Instead, Iolaus saddled his horse and rode north to the new temple of Iphicles in Sicyon.

Scaffolding obscured the front door because the stonemason hadn't finished carving the scene of the young god's ascension.  In the fading light, Iolaus could still make out Gabrielle, goddess of peace, seated on her throne, one hand resting on the bowed, curly head in front of her.  In the downward curve of an eyebrow, the hint of lines outlining eyes and mouth, the artist had captured the goddess' sorrow at a world grown violent beyond her control.  Beside her, Xena, ruler of the gods, looked on approvingly as her handsome son accepted the once-symbolic sword.

He took a last look, before walking through the arched doorway.

The temple's interior was finished: all burnished black marble, except for the stark white frieze behind the altar depicting key stories in the god's relatively-short life.  Iolaus knew a few of them.  As a boy, Iphicles challenged the sun goddess to a chariot race, and lost, some said, only because Semele put a spell on her nephew's horses, making them so desperate for the sun they ran into it.  As a teenager, when petty Hephaestus, god of love, cursed the city of Argos for their lax worship during a terrible drought, vowing that rain would fall only if they answered an impossible riddle, Iphicles, disguised as a peasant, solved it himself.

The most famous story was his role in the war between Olympians and Titans.  Unprepared for battle, split by internal strife, the ruling family had been easily defeated.  Chronos offered them a choice: eternal suffering in the Field of Sorrows, or positions in his new pantheon.  All agreed except Xena, Iphicles, Aphrodite, Gabrielle and her twin Hades.  Not long afterward, Iphicles called for Chronos, told him he'd changed his mind, and became god of healing in the new order.  Then, one night while Chronos slept in the arms of his latest conquest, Iphicles appeared in the god's chambers, a sickle in one hand.  Later, in Tartarus, he handed the bloody excised flesh to his mother, who ate it.  The Olympians soon returned to power.


The war god stood before him, face unreadable.  "Iolaus."

Not the greeting he expected, and his planned speech evaporated.

"Did you want something?"


"Tell me."

Iolaus heard something under the neutral tone--a subtle invitation?--and decided to speak.  After all, he had nothing left to lose.  "I"  When Iphicles stayed still, he knew he'd made a mistake.  "I'm sorry."  A half-turn, and the god was there, arms circling him.  "You were waiting for this," Iolaus said, dazed.

Iphicles' answer was lost in a kiss so hot it burned away the edges of Iolaus' fear, his emptiness.  But he needed more, needed to be filled so completely that Hercules and every evil act he'd ever committed was banished, even for a little while, and he told this to his lover.

Suddenly, a bedroom replaced the temple's atrium.  Iolaus had a vague impression of green and blue, like a forest, of mountain air on newly-naked skin, before he pulled Iphicles down onto sheets slick as water.  They lay side by side, heads resting on soft pillows, so close their cocks touched, so close he saw that the god's long eyelashes were tipped with gold, so close a deep breath would bring their lips together.

He breathed deeply.

Lying face to face turned their actions languid and so intense that a cloud-light stroke against his nipple made Iolaus cry out.   When Iphicles reached down and took both cocks in one big hand, pressing them together, while his tongue traced his lover's mouth, Iolaus thought, ‘I love you.'   To the god, he said, "I need you inside me."

"Not yet."

"I can't last; I'm so close already."

"So come," Iphicles whispered.  "I'll make you do it again and again.  I want to see your face."

His hand, now oiled, began to move, and Iolaus gasped, holding the god's steady gaze as his semen spilled onto Iphicles' cock and fingers.  Even after the pulsing stopped, he kept shaking, but he wanted to share the pleasure.  His lover stopped him, though, when Iolaus tried to slide down the bed.

"I can wait.  Let me do everything.  It's what I want."

So Iolaus let the god roll him onto his back before Iphicles climbed between his legs to lick up the creamy liquid.

"You good."

Only when he heard the slight catch, felt the small shudder run through that big, bronzed body, did Iolaus realize the extent of the god's control. Propping himself up, he watched Iphicles encourage more semen from his spent cock, saw the tip of the god's pink tongue dip into him, emerge smeared with cream.  The blissful look on his lover's face excited him as much as his actions, and he imagined Iphicles' lips and cheeks shiny with come. Blood flowed downward, and the god dimpled, then sucked sweetly on the head until the skin turned full and dark red.

But, still hollow, he opened his legs further.  Iphicles responded, licking downward along the underside of the veined shaft before moving lower, over the ridged sac and along the sensitive line beneath until his tongue teased the tight ring.

"More," Iolaus moaned, raising his knees.  The god's warm hands spread him, and that hot tongue plunged deeper.  Incredible, but still not enough.  "More."  Then emptiness, until a finger, long, oiled, entered him, and Iphicles' mouth returned to his cock.  He was so hard now, so ready.  "Now."

The god again reacted at once, getting to his knees, huge, swollen cock jutting out, and eased Iolaus onto his side.  Moving behind him, broad chest against smooth back, Iphicles bent his lover's leg, letting him feel rigid pressure without penetration.

He'd deliberately chosen, Iolaus understood, a position that enforced achingly slow sex.  A gift to him.  "Now," he repeated hoarsely.  As the pressure increased, consuming lack, he turned to the god, saw the half-closed eyes, the tense body.  All for him.  As Iphicles pressed deeper, his grip bruised the man's thighs and hip, but Iolaus said nothing, wanting the marks.  And when the god tried to stroke him, his lover returned the hand to his hip.  "Your cock will make me come."

Finally, when nothing separated them, Iphicles kissed his shoulder, keeping his hips still. "This is right," he said.

Then the god began to thrust, and it *was* achingly slow, but so good:  Iolaus could feel his body accepting the imprint of that thick cock, of every ridge and curve, tightening around it.  Each complete, bone-melting stroke took an age, climaxing in a prism of sensation before beginning again.   Hi skin turned wet and briny, like he was underwater, swimming, or maybe drowning, because he couldn't breath through the thick desire.

"Iphicles..."  Even as he spoke his lover's name, the quivering intensity of Iphicles' strokes, the god's lips on his neck under his damp hair, the brocaded emotions inseparable from the pleasure, made him come swiftly, harshly.  Then Iphicles was whispering his name, chanting it like a prayer, while he filled Iolaus' body with hot, hot semen.

Afterward, Iphicles wouldn't let him move, and they stayed locked together, while each confessed sins and virtues, fragments of intimate history.  The god saw the scar on Iolaus' right ankle where, as a boy, he'd been bitten by a stray dog,  heard how he fought with his friend Jason the day before he was run down by a wagon on a busy Corinthian street.  Iolaus learned of Iphicles' teenage crush on Gabrielle, even after he caught her in bed with his mother, and of how he'd nearly betrayed Xena by remaining on Olympus with the Titans.

And as they talked quietly, there came the third fall: from death, to sleep, to love.


Caesar couldn't sleep, his mind chaotic with memories of Ares and their encounter under the tree.  And, truth be told, his body was equally confused.  His cock refused to soften, staying thick and hard under the breech cloth.  Giving up, he rose, walking across the tiny cell to the chest against the wall, where he found his scourge.  At the window, he got to his knees and began to discipline his treacherous flesh under the dull moonlight.  It was all a matter of control, of restricting impulses.

The leather ends stung his thighs, his lower back, and Caesar began to sweat even in the cool night air.  Caught up in his punishment, he didn't notice the oak door opening, the padded footsteps.

"Do you want some help with that?"

Startled, he dropped the whip, which fell with a rustle to the stone floor.

Ares retrieved it.  "Stand up and grab the sill."

He did, fingers closing over the wooden ledge, more confused than ever, especially when the other monk tugged off the cloth around Caesar's hips, freeing his erection, and he heard the sound of Ares' robes landing on the floor.  This ritual was supposed to be mortification, but with Ares naked behind him, his own skin hot and bare, it felt...erotic.  But, he consoled himself, surely when the flagellation started, pain would override desire.

The first strike came swiftly, landing smartly on his right buttock, like a bite, like Ares had sunk his sharp teeth into the fleshiest part of Caesar's ass.  He went rigid, and his hard cock brushed against the cool stone beneath the window.  One hand left the sill, dropping between his legs.

Another crack of the scourge--harder this time, digging deeper.  "Both hands on the sill," came the caution.

Caesar listened to the husky voice, staring blindly out the window at the star-embroidered black sky, seeing only Ares' wanton face.  At the next strike, his fingers flew back to rub away the delicious pain on his right buttock--only to have his wrists grabbed.

"I told you not to move."  Ares used the discarded breech cloth to bind Caesar's hands behind his back.  "That's better."

The scourge bite again, just beneath his fingers, on the crack of his ass, one leather strip almost penetrating him.  He thought it hurt, but wasn't sure, only knew he needed more, and shuddered as more whip-bites came, nipping at his thighs, buttocks, back, shoulders.  None broke the skin, just fell like fiery rain with rhythmic precision over him.

By the time Caesar noticed the familiar scent of peaches, his limbs were quivering, and he let the other man bend him over the sill.

"This is going to hurt," Ares said.  "But you need it."

His cheeks were spread by strong male hands, and the oiled head of that big cock pressed against him.  "No," he said, as pressure threatened to blossom into pain, as he struggled unsuccessfully to free his hands.  "I'm not ready."

A laugh.  "You've been ready forever.  Now relax and let me get inside you."

"Please, Ares--it hurts.  You're too big."  He was being stretched impossibly wide by the thick head, unnaturally wide, and he whimpered.

"I told you: relax. Otherwise I'll have to force my cock in, and you don't want that."

Caesar willed his muscles to unclench, and finally the head slid in completely--burning pain followed by sweet relief.

Ares grunted behind him.  "That's it--let me into that tight virgin ass."  A real bite on his lover's shoulder, a thrust that drove his cock deeper.  "I can't believe you've never been fucked, Caesar.  I wanted you as soon as I saw you."  He pressed his hot body even closer.  "You were standing away from the others, a little off to the side, and you couldn't take your eyes off me."  Another grunt, and his cock slid in the last few inches, bringing his balls firmly against the other monk's ass.

"You beautiful," he managed.  Even though Ares wasn't actively moving, with every breath, he brushed against a spot far inside Caesar's body, sending shockwaves of pleasure straight to his cock.  The conflicting sensations defied his experience, and panic surged again.

"Don't fight me--just enjoy it.  I'm not untying you, and I'm not stopping until you come."  He drew back until his cock was nearly free, but when Ares penetrated him the second time, it was with a fluid thrust that made Caesar cry out.  Thrust followed sweet thrust, so many he lost track, so many his bones turned liquid and the stars vanished from the sky and nothing existed anywhere except Ares and his hot, hard cock.

His orgasm had no beginning or end: an endless fall into a sea of pleasure.  Or maybe it wasn't one orgasm but several: afterward Caesar noticed that the wall beneath the window was drenched with semen.  He could only lie against the sill, deafened by his heartbeat, almost missing Ares' moaned "Now you're mine," as a molten stream flowed into him.

Even when Ares untied the cloth at his wrists and stood back, Caesar couldn't move: pleasure still ran through his nerves.  But embarrassment also stilled him: he'd responded to the other monk like one of the abbot's greyhound bitches, and couldn't convince even himself that this was all in the name of good poetry.  It seemed important to move, though, to say something, to admit freely what he felt, how much he wanted Ares, that from the first some primitive need existed between them.

But when he turned finally around, semen running down the backs of his thighs, his lover had disappeared.  Something constricted inside him, and his ghosts wailed ‘abandonment.'  But he and Ares could hardly spend the night together: if Father Autolycus found out, they'd be banished from the monastery.  That's why Brother Cupid left the community a few weeks earlier, followed by a young lay-gardener's dismissal.  Everyone knew that Cupid was having an affair: the slut reeked of sex, even during matins.  But the gardener was new; he'd had another lover before that.

He'd seen Cupid whispering to Borias outside the chapter house, standing indecently close.  Cupid spotted him, nudging the other monk, and both laughed before walking off.  He followed them outside, but as they headed to the orchard, Borias glanced over his shoulder, then approached him.

"You want to watch us, brother?" he asked with a mocking smile.  "Or maybe join in?"

Mortified, stumbling over his weak excuse of prevention, Caesar finally said, "I'll tell the abbot."

Borias raised his eyebrows.  "Tell him what?  That we're off to pick peaches?  Autolycus already knows; he'll be overseeing us later."

"You're lying."

"I always wonder about men who see perversion in others.  It says so much, I think, about their own desires."  With a wink, Borias returned to his waiting lover, leaving Caesar alone.

Like he was alone now.

But this time was different: this time he'd been one of the lovers, not the outsider.  The bruises, tears and welts on his body--not to mention the semen drying on his thighs--proved Ares' feelings once again.  And those words, ‘Now you're mine..."  Finally, he belonged.  It'd be him and Ares standing outside the chapter house, whispering, while another monk--Borias!--watched enviously, pathetically trailing them to the orchard.  Only Caesar wouldn't issue any snide invitations; he'd only shake his head sadly at the lonely monk's jealousy before going off to make love under the fragrant peach trees.

Pleased with his fantasy, he washed quickly, then lay on the straw-stuffed pallet, falling into an exhausted, dream-filled sleep.  He awoke repeatedly throughout the night, fingers worrying his tender skin, remembering the feel of Ares' cock stretching him, the sounds Ares made as he came.

At dawn, the tower bell roused Caesar from his bed.  He passed a few brothers moving groggily toward the church, but not the one he wanted.  Even in the choir, surreptitious glances didn't reveal Ares.  But plenty of the monks skipped the early morning prayers, preferring to sleep in; even Father Autolycus missed lauds on occasion, as he had today.   That didn't smother his disappointment, though, the sick, green twist in his stomach--especially when Borias didn't appear.  Pure coincidence, he told himself.  It meant nothing.  Ares had been with Caesar last night, and he'd see him soon enough at breakfast.

Caesar arrived in the refectory before the others, taking a seat at the long table along the east wall, chosen for its prime view of the doorway: he sat in shadow while the early morning sun pouring through the stained glass above him lit all newcomers to the hall.

While a servant filled his mug with water, Caesar took an apple from the wooden bowl before him, polishing it on his sleeve, his eyes never leaving the hall's entrance.  The brothers were trickling in, but still no sign of Ares--or Borias.  Father Autolycus arrived, and sober brother Apollo began to read from Scripture.  His quiet voice foretold of fiery hell and torment for sinners while the refectory filled.

Still no Ares or Borias.

The apple lost its tartness, and he dropped it too quickly on the table's polished surface, where it rolled to the edge and fell to the tiled floor beside him.  Ignoring the amused stares, Caesar bent to retrieve it.  When he sat up, Ares and Borias were entering the room, heads pressed closely together, whispering.  They strolled over to an empty table in the far corner, completely focused on each other, even though silent now in deference to the reading.

Shooting to his feet, nearly tripping over the bench, Caesar abandoned the hall for the library.  The desks for the scribes thankfully stood empty, and he hurried past them until he reached his own at the room's end, hidden, like the others, behind a tall bookcase.  The chair creaked as he collapsed into it, covering his face with a sticky hand that smelled sweetly of apples.

In the decade since he'd been here, Caesar had experienced a nagging, never-ending sense of loss, a kind of dull, blunt pain he accepted mostly without question.  That now tore open, became a hot, gushing wound, like he'd been stabbed in the heart.  His skin seemed on fire, his burning eyes ready to melt.

I can't stand it, he thought.  I can't stand to live anymore.

But he didn't die.  Instead, Caesar picked up a quill, opened a small bottle of ink, and wrote the final chapter in the story of Iphicles and Iolaus.


At night, children huddle under covers, terrified of Death, that dark messenger of the god, with his black wings, skull's head and sharp sword.  But their fear is misplaced: Death can be conquered, hell harrowed.  Heroes, as we know, have done it.  Far worse is Fortune with a clawed hand always ready on her wheel.  Death, at least cares: he comes for you and you alone.  Fickle Fortune cares for no one: her wheel spins purely at whim, and those arbitrary flicks of her bony wrist cause the accidents of time, little tears in the fabric of life that lead to chaos and terrible suffering.

Iphicles, in love with his beautiful king, would surely have given Iolaus ambrosia, if only time permitted.  If only they'd met earlier.  If only Hercules had wanted someone else.  If only the war god had acted sooner.  So many tiny pieces of chance, like colored stones in a mosaic that might've depicted eternal happiness.

But this didn't happen.

After their night together, Iphicles reluctantly brought Iolaus back to the palace in Corinth.  Unknowingly, he gave the king the one of the last kisses they'd share on earth, then promised to return  that evening.

After the god left, Iolaus, exhausted but unable to sleep, wandered in a daze to his bedroom window.  I love Iphicles, he thought, watching the sun reflect off the sea's clear blue waters.  I miss the others, the ones the death-god stole, but I love Iphicles, and that changes everything.  And he felt more like himself than he had in months.  Invigorated.  Reborn.

When he turned back, ready to live, Hercules was there.

"It's time, Iolaus." His eyes shone with love.

"No."  This time, the word thrummed with conviction.

The god's smile died a little.  "You betrayed me."

"You just don't get it, do you?  There's nothing between us, and there never will be."

The blow knocked Iolaus across the room, and he landed with a sickening crash against the marble wall.  "It seems," the god said quietly, looming over him, "that you need to be taught a lesson."

Before he could react, Hercules' arm snaked around him, and the air swallowed them whole.  It spat them out on the bank of a bloody river.  To his right loomed an enormous black castle almost invisible against the dark green horizon.  The whole world glowed green, as though filtered through mossy water in a stagnant pond, and seemed to pulse with a silent thunder.

"I wanted you to see your new home."

Another jolting ripple through space, and they reappeared in a bedroom where even the flames from the torches cast a greenish light, illuminating furniture carved from ivory and onyx.  Iolaus, trying to breathe, concentrated on the carved ivory arm of a chair, saw snakes entwined around swords...And realized that ivory was bone.  He couldn't run or fight, though, because Hercules' iron hands were clamped over his biceps, holding him almost imperceptibly above the ground.

"You betrayed me," the god repeated. The hazy emerald light of Tartarus rimmed his blue eyes, tinged his skin, making him eerily beautiful, like an Oceanid.

"I didn't betray you, you crazy bastard!  I hate you.  Why can't you understand that?  I hate you.  Now send me back--the air here's choking me."

Hercules gave a little laugh.  "Iolaus, I've given up."

He wanted to cry with relief.  "It's about time."

"I'm not going to play your games anymore: you're staying here with me forever, just like I've always wanted."  A small green jar appeared in his right hand, although his grip on Iolaus' arm never loosened.  "Nothing you can do--nothing anyone can do--will change this.  We were meant to be together."  The god leaned forward, pulling out the crystal stopper with his teeth, spitting it onto the floor, where it shattered into a thousand glittering fragments.

A heady, bitter-sweet smell poured from the bottle, like rotten fruit.  The smell of death.

Hercules grabbed Iolaus' face, tilting it back, then pried his jaws apart, ignoring the desperate struggles.  "Fight all you want; it turns me on.  Oh--and don't think that Iphicles will rescue you.  He's busy on the field of war."

Cool liquid began splashing down his throat, and he gagged, trying to shake his head to stop the flow, kicking out.  It did no good: while some spilled onto his chin and chest, smeared on his cheeks, the rest coursed straight down into his stomach.

The bottle empty, Herc tossed it aside, then again closed his fingers high on Iolaus' arms.  "Welcome to Tartarus."  The green-ringed eyes locked on his eyes, waiting.

Then it began: a spidery heat crawling inside him, over organs, into his blood.

"You're dying," the god explained, brushing hair from Iolaus' eyes.

He screamed as his life ended.

Hercules kept stroking his hair, holding him, like a mother comforting an angry child. "It's what we both wanted.  I understand you're a little upset that I rushed things, but I know how to make you feel better."

"No."   How many times had he said that?  And nothing ever sank in.  He imagined splitting open the god's head, maybe with the candlestick beside the bed, and shoving the word inside.  Iphicles could help him.  Iphicles.  He'd be here soon, when he realized Iolaus was missing.  He'd know where to look, and he'd save him from this mad god.

"Still fighting me?  I think that's why I like you--you're a challenge.  And it's time for your reward."  With the same frightening ease, Hercules brought Iolaus to the bed, bound his wrists, and fixed them to a ring in the headboard.  His clothing disappeared, as did the god's.

"Don't fucking touch me," he said, prompting another quick smile from Hercules, who was settling between the man's thighs.

"I'm going to show you how good it'll be between us.  Just giving you a taste...And having one."  His mouth closed over the head of Iolaus' flaccid cock.

Despair rushed over him like a poisonous green wave, filling his nose and mouth, blinding him.  He couldn't breathe, didn't want to, couldn't do anything.  Helpless. Trapped.

The disgusting pleasure made it worse.  He hated his own body even more than he despised the evil bastard sucking him.  How could he respond?  It was repulsive, and Iolaus tried to will away his hardness.  But it didn't work: Hercules wanted him to come, was doing everything to make the experience good for him.  In his twisted mind, Iolaus knew, that's how he justified the force.

Sensation intensified, and he clutched the sheet, body tensing.  Hercules' mouth moved faster, and he added his fingers in a slow counterpoint to his quick sucking.

When Iolaus came, they both cried.

"You're so delicious," the god told him, lapping up the last few drops of semen.  "I knew you would be.  I'm so happy, Iolaus."

"If I could kill you, rip your fucking heart out, stab out your eyes, I would.  You're sick, Hercules.  You're evil."

"That's what Iphicles says, but he's just jealous of what we have.  He's been watching you for awhile, Iolaus.  Always telling me to leave you alone.  He'll be here later, trying to take you away from me."


Hercules sat up, moving beside Iolaus.  In one hand appeared a dagger, its blade coated with a dark-red liquid, like old blood but still wet, and a handle with the same pattern as the chair arm: snakes coiled around swords.  With his free hand, he stroked his erection.  "Iolaus, when Iphicles shows up to take you away, you're going to tell him that you *want* to be here.  That you love me, not him.  If you don't, then I'm afraid I'll have to use this on him.  And when the hind's blood kills him, he'll go to a place so deep in Tartarus no one'll ever see him again."  The fingers flew faster over the red skin, then the god's back arched, cum shooting like white lightening onto his belly.

Iolaus tried to pull away, but there was nowhere to go.  From now on, there was nowhere to go.

Later, when Iolaus sat on a black marble throne beside his rapist, looking down at Iphicles, those words rebounded through his head.

"I don't believe you," the war god said to his lover.  "He's holding something over you, isn't he?"

Iolaus thought of that beautiful body turning green in a forgotten quarter of Tartarus.  "No, he's not.  Hercules is telling you the truth: I've wanted him for a long time; I just wasn't ready to admit it.  But today, after he...after he made love to me, I knew we were right for each other."

"Listen to him, Iphicles.  If you could've seen his face when he came in my mouth earlier, you'd believe him.  He made this little moan--oh, you know it, do you?--when he started coming."  The death god, beatific as always, smiled down at his nephew.

Doubt slid over Iphicles' face, and Iolaus' heart shrunk in his chest.  "I'm sorry," he told the war god.  "But...these things happen."

"I know you're lying, Iolaus."  He shifted to face Hercules.  "There's only one way to convince me that he's telling the truth: you let him spend the night with me.  If, by dawn, he still says he's in love with you, then I won't take him out of here."

His uncle's gentle smile never faltered.  "I guess I can give you that.  But only if you agree never to contact him again when it's over."


Iphicles held out his hand, and Iolaus took it.  The green air swirled around him, then they were back where it started: the edge of a forest grove overlooking the sea.

"Tell me what's going on.  You're safe now."

But Iolaus saw a flash of golden-brown hair from within the forest.  "I told you, Iphicles: I love your uncle.  I just wasn't ready to admit it, so I...used you.  Like I said, I'm sorry."  The look on Iphicles' face, the flash of pain, cut him somewhere deep inside.

"Iolaus, I can't believe this.  Your reaction to me, to what we did--that was real.  I know it was."

"Just a physical response.  Didn't mean anything."

"I know you're lying," Iphicles said, and kissed him.

The kiss shut out everything, and he gave in to that hot tongue, to his need for one last time with this god who wanted to save him.  Their clothes fell away, and their hands caressed every inch of skin within reach.  Iphicles lay back, pulling Iolaus on top of him, and their tongues met again in the god's mouth, their hips grinding.  There was oil, and he spread it onto Iphicles' hard cock, before lowering himself down onto it, trapping the god beneath him.

Iolaus watched the thick lashes sweep down, the pink tongue dart over parted lips, and wanted more than anything to tell Iphicles how much he loved him.  But he traded his love for the god's life, and stayed silent, concentrating instead on Iphicles' pleasure, riding his lover's cock at an unhurried pace that had them both panting.  When the god's fingers closed over Iolaus' erection, he nearly stopped him, scared that he'd lose control.  It felt too good, but he knew it pleased Iphicles to hear him moan.

"I love you, Iolaus.  I know you love me."  He repeated it with every upward thrust, over and over again, shouting it when they both came.

Iolaus said nothing.

They sat quietly together in the misty hours before dawn, staring at the star-threaded sky, waiting for the sun.


Iolaus offered his silence as a gift for all that Iphicles had given him.

Iphicles took that silence and buried it deep within himself.  It took root, and his sun-red hair turned black, his eyes even blacker.  The god, who'd once been a healer and a savior, began to take pleasure in suffering and death, began to demand blood sacrifice.  Soon no one spoke his name, since to invoke the war god meant violence, plague and famine.

One day, there was a fourth fall.  Iphicles saw a beautiful woman beside a tree and whispered few words in her ear, offered her the sweetest fruit.

From death, to sleep, to love, to sin.


Caesar replaced his stylus, stretching his cramped back.  Finished at last.  Completing the story felt oddly cathartic, melting his terrible jealousy, even though he'd broken too many of Joxer's rules to satisfy the criteria for good tragedy.  Telling the tale, though, had sucked the poison from his own wounds, had healed him.  Ares had simply been talking to Borias, not arranging a meeting, not concluding one.  And he, Caesar, had acted like a schoolboy, running off at the first sign of trouble.  His lover deserved an apology, and he would give him one.

It was getting dark, so he took a candle and headed to the church, where the monks would be gathered for vespers.  Even now as he hurried along the cloister, the chanting reached him.  As soon as prayers ended, he'd follow Ares to his room, and they'd make love all night.  Because they were meant to be together.

But when Caesar scanned his dark-robed brothers, he couldn't see Ares.  And he counted only twenty-two heads bent over the prayer books.  Just coincidence, he assured himself, even as he scoured the monastery for the missing monks.  Upstairs, he paused outside Ares' cell, listening for the sounds of sex, stomach knotting, fists clenched, but he heard nothing--only his own labored breathing.  Still, Caesar pushed the door open to be sure, and it smashed against the wall, showing an empty room.

He did the same at Borias' cell...And still found nothing.  But still, he knew: they were together, with Borias pleasing Ares in ways beyond Caesar's experience.  There'd been something between the two since the beginning, something more profound than lust.  And now they were hiding somewhere, consummating or reconsummating the bond between them.

And he knew, then, where they were.  In the crypt.

Once again, Caesar glided down the smooth grey steps into the monastery's heart, then walked with measured steps past the painted columns, breathing in the dank, dead air.  The candles burnt low beside the reliquary, casting wavering shadows, glinting off the knife's silver handle.  He touched it again, for luck, but forgot to let go.  Then he made a sharp right turn, and twenty-five ordered graves appeared.  There, beside the new one, their arms wrapped tightly around each other, naked skin gleaming with sweat, were Ares and Borias.

Ares saw him first, pulling away from his lover.  "Caesar...I'm sorry."

Borias said nothing, but Caesar was sure he smirked.  And he wanted, more than anything, to wipe away that smirk forever, to cut away that taunting reminder of his loneliness, his inadequacy.  Blind with jealousy and rage, he charged, but his foot slipped, and he tumbled into the new grave, landing heart-first on the dagger's sharp blade.


At the funeral, Ares and Borias stood side by side, suspiciously close, but no one really cared.  Some things, after all, were meant to be.  Maybe if Caesar had looked up after Ares had come inside him, or confronted him in the refectory rather than fleeing, the story would've ended differently.  Everyone wants to feel needed, and Borias, with his hungry mouth and constant attention, gave Ares all he wanted.  Those like Hercules and Caesar never really understand the rules of love--one pushed too far, the other not enough.

Or maybe that's not it at all.  Maybe the answer, if this story has an answer, lies in Joxer's treatise On the Art of Poetry.  Father Autolycus thought so, and concluded the service with a quotation he found most apt:   "Hence poetry is the product either of a man of great natural ability or of one not wholly sane; the one is highly responsive, the other possessed."

The End

Author's Note: The excerpts, of course, are from Aristotle's Poetics, not Joxer's. ;-)

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