The hut was dirty and extremely hot. Flies buzzed mercilessly about them as Iolaus and Autolycus stood stripped and bound together at the wrist in the centre of the floor. Another manacle was around each man's leg. Chains ran from these to a bar at the side of the wall.
"I just don't believe this," Iolaus grumbled. "For once in my life I trusted you, and where did it get me? I am going to die I am going to sweat to death, stripped naked, WITH YOU!" he finished angrily.
"Will you please stop whining. No wonder Hercules dumped you," Autolycus needled.
"Herc DID NOT dump me!" Iolaus was seething. "We simply went our separate ways for a while so that we could sort out some 'personal' problems."
"What's wrong, you make a pass at him and he said no?" Autolycus sneered.
A smile crept across Autolycus' face.
"Ooh, did I hit a nerve there Iolaus?"
"Why don't you drop dead!" Iolaus knew his face had betrayed him. It was deeply annoying that with his intended sexual slur, Autolycus had almost hit the nail on the head.
"Probably will quite soon, but until then tormenting you will have to do as entertainment. " Autolycus grinned. "So how close was I? Did you ask him or did he ask you?"
"May the gods blight you with a deeply unpleasant disease."
"Did you say yes? Did he? I know Hercules has a taste for blondes but PUHLEEEEEASE!" Autolycus chuckled gleefully.
"Autolycus, we are going to die. I really don't want my last conversation in this life to be this one." Iolaus had lost the will to argue, even with Autolycus.
"What do you suggest then? You want to talk about women?"
"No, of course not."
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I guess I'm just a little..."
"Yeah," Autolycus whispered.
"Me too, " Iolaus confessed, "I suppose I just never imagined dying like this."
"You mean buck naked and bound with me? Well, I wonder why not?" The sarcasm was for once lost on Iolaus.
"You know what I mean. I imagined my last moments would be in combat by Hercules side, fighting a particularly heroic battle," Iolaus sighed, "That way at least I could have said goodbye."
"Iolaus, what happened between you and Hercules?"
"Nothing," Iolaus insisted "so why can't you change the subject?"
"Okay. Are you a natural blond?"
Despite himself, Iolaus found himself smiling.
"Yeah…you a natural idiot?"
"Oooooh! Impending death has obviously made you tetchy," Autolycus niggled, "and would you please stop sweating so much, you're making me hotter."
"I think you'll find it's all the hot air coming from your mouth making you hotter." Iolaus twisted slightly to relieve the discomfort coming from his wrist. "Why did this have to be made of leather? The temperature is making it tighten. And the lock is digging into my wrist. Who in Hades' name makes leather manacles with locks on?"
"What? You and Herc not into leather?" Autolycus grinned
"Would you drop it!" Iolaus growled.
"Is that what it was? He likes leather, you don't?"
"Or maybe you prefer to be tied up with something else?" Autolycus was on a roll.
"One more word an' I'll…"
"What? Kill me? How? Perspire me to death!"
"By the gods, I hate you!"
"You're not alone."
"Right now, I could KILL you!"
"Get in line," Autolycus grumbled, "and listen. This is going to be a short lesson, but one you'll remember for the rest of your life…..LIFE STINKS!….you can trust no one, 'cos. no one gives a damn!"
"Herc cares!" Iolaus insisted, feeling the need to stand up for his absent friend.
"Yeah, so much that you're about to die, here with me!"
"That's not his fault!"
"Then whose fault is it?"Autolycus needled. "He walked away and left you in one of the most dangerous areas in the kingdom. Some friend!"
"It wasn't Herc that walked away. It was me."
"Why, a spat over who was the cutest?"
"Because I was ashamed of myself for forcing my attentions on him." Iolaus tried to pull back the words as they spilled from his lips.
"YOU forced yourself on HIM?" Autolycus laughed. "The dwarf versus the demigod huh?"
"What did you do, Iolaus, drug him, tie him up and ravish him?"
Iolaus closed his eyes and tightened his lips.
"Iolaus," he asked, in a voice filled with incredulity, "did you drug him, tie him up and ravish him?"
"It wasn't like that," Iolaus said weakly.
"Oh? How was it then? Do tell. I mean, its not as if we've got anything better to do at the moment."
Iolaus slumped to the floor, the bound wrist dragging Autolycus along with him. The other man landed on top of Iolaus.
"Or maybe we have got something better to do at the moment?" Autolycus quipped.
Iolaus gave an inarticulate yelp and pushed the thief off him.
"Ow! Joke! I was just kidding! I mean, I'd really have to be in a bad way before I could go for you!"
"Yeah, well you're not exactly my cup of ambrosia either!" Iolaus yelled.
"Ah, but we all know who is, don't we, Iolaus? Come on, you need to get it off your chest and I'm the only one here. It's not as if I'm gonna tell anyone, am I? Well, I suppose I'll probably be able to tell Hades soon. But that's a depressing thought and I don't really want to go there."
Iolaus sighed loudly. "You're not gonna give me any peace are ya? Okay, you're right.
I do need to talk to someone. By a process of elimination, I suppose that someone has to be you."
"I'm all ears."
"No, you're all mouth!"
"Come on, you're just putting it off. Any moment now we could be dragged out of here and killed."
"Okay, okay! Anything to shut you up..."
There was a pause.
"Out with it...the story, I mean! You were telling me how you drugged, tied up and ravished Hercules..."
"It was a love potion," Iolaus muttered.
There was a moment of blessed silence. Then:
"A love potion? A LOVE potion??? You gave Hercules a love potion?"
"Yep, stupid, wasn't it? I got it from Aphrodite. Said that there was this woman I'd fallen in love with. Aphrodite was a bit distracted at the time. She just gave me the potion......
..........It had been incredibly, unbelievably, easy. He hadn't really expected it to work. After all, when did things ever go right for him? He'd gone to Aphrodite's temple mainly to talk things through with someone sympathetic. But instead of a priest, he'd been greeted by Aphrodite. She had a load of scrolls in front of her and was making comments about each of them to her priests. He'd sat down beside her and talked in very general terms about this person he was madly in love with, who would never love him in the same way.
Aphrodite had stopped what she was doing and turned her full attention to him. She'd suddenly smiled and handed him a small vial with instructions. Iolaus had practically flown from the temple to the inn where he and Hercules were staying. Hercules was out, so Iolaus had had time to bathe and dress himself in the new clothes he'd bought earlier. He'd ordered food and drink to be delivered when Hercules returned. Then he'd waited.....
"So what happened? You can't leave me hanging here, Iolaus!"
"Okay, okay, I'm getting there..."
....Hercules had returned in a very strange mood. Firstly, he'd knocked before entering, and when Iolaus had called him in, he'd spent a few moments looking around him. Finally, he'd scowled at Iolaus and asked him if he was going out.
Iolaus had almost lost his nerve then, but at that moment there was a knock at the door, as a serving girl entered with the food and wine he'd ordered. Hercules had scowled again as he looked at the two goblets and the large amount of food on the serving tray. The scowl had faded when Iolaus had asked him if he wanted to wash before the two of them settled down to eat.
When Hercules went to wash, Iolaus poured out the wine. With suddenly trembling hands he opened Aphrodite's vial and poured its contents into one of the goblets. For a moment he stared at the goblet, battling the urge to tip out its contents. No! He'd gone this far. He couldn't, wouldn't chicken out now.
He raised his eyes only to see Hercules leaning against the doorway, watching him with an unreadable expression. Gods! How much had Hercules seen?
He'd waited, suddenly understanding the term 'heart-in-mouth'. But then his friend had stalked forward, a beaming smile on his face.
"Is one of those for me?"
Iolaus had blinked at the force of the smile.
"Err....yeah," he managed, handing the goblet to Hercules.
He watched as the demigod swallowed the its contents in one large mouthful.
"Shall we eat now?"
Iolaus' voice had trailed off as his friend had moved very close to him. One large (but elegant) hand stroked Iolaus' face tenderly.
"Oh, I think we can think of better things to do than eat, can't we, Iolaus?"
Hercules' mouth fastened on to Iolaus again. Then he moved, kissing the smaller man's chin and neck. His hands moved down, one stroking Iolaus' back, the other grasping his buttocks, pulling him closer.
Then he broke off with a groan.
Iolaus, all but lost in his growing passion, blinked up at him. But almost before he could register the loss of Hercules' hands on him, the other man grabbed him again, this time moving him towards the bed.
Iolaus found himself pushed down on to the bed, his partner's hands pulling and tearing at his clothes. A part of him, that part of him that had never submitted to anything in his life, began to struggle. Then a more urgent, needing, part of him took over. What in Hades' name did he think he was doing? This is what he had wanted for so long, wasn't it? He looked up into the passion-drugged face of his friend, his lover. He quietened, lay back and let Hercules finish stripping away his clothing.
Soon, however, his own nature began to reassert itself. He managed to roll Hercules over on the bed and began to remove the demigod's own clothing. At first it was a struggle as the larger man resisted Iolaus' hands in an attempt to explore his partner's body further. Then, with a suddenness that was almost shocking, he felt Hercules relax. He let Iolaus remove the remainder of his clothing, his eyes closed, his body co-operating without further protest.
Iolaus remove the last item of clothing that had kept Hercules from him. Then he knelt up on the bed, breathless at the beauty and strength that lay in front of him.
Hercules opened his eyes, his face breaking out into a lazy, charming smile.
"Breathe, Iolaus," he said, gently, then followed his suggestion with a caress of his hand that caused Iolaus to gasp. He gasped again as Hercules' hand travelled lower, brushing the head of his erection gently, teasingly. Then he felt himself pulled down next to Hercules, felt the larger man's other hand cup around his head, drawing him closer. Lips met lips. Mouths opened and tongues duelled. Then Hercules' began to stroke him, softly at first, then harder and harder as Iolaus moaned and begged, pushing against his lover. Iolaus' own hands were moving frantically over Hercules, trying to feel all of him. Finally, his hands settled, one on the demigod's large, impatient erection, grasping and moving as Hercules writhed beside him, the other hand clasping hold of his lover as if he never intended to let go.
Iolaus could feel the sensations begin to run away with him, felt the growing urgency near completion. No, he though, want to make it last, want it to last forever. But his body had other ideas. Hercules was crying and moaning into his neck, teeth nipping at the tender skin. Then he stilled, pushed one last time, and screaming Iolaus' name,
came in his friend's hand. The sound of his name on Herc's lips sent Iolaus reeling over the edge, spiralling out of control into ecstasy.
Later, he'd moaned and begged as Hercules had first prepared him, then entered him, making their two bodies one. Experienced as he was in the art of lovemaking, still, nothing had ever made him feel like this before. He'd felt as if he were flying, soaring into the heavens, climbing higher and higher towards the sun, burning in its fiery heat. And when he came, it was if he had become one with the sun itself.
"Okay, that was good. Yep, that was good. You know, you're a natural storyteller, Iolaus. You really made that come alive. I could almost have been there..."
"Well, you know what I mean! Did you ever consider becoming a bard?"
"Is it me or is it really getting hot in here?"
"Do you want me to finish?"
"Yes, go on. Sorry, I just got carried away there for a moment."
"Yeah, yeah. Now, where was I?"
Morning came far too soon. And with it came cold clarity.
He was wrapped in Hercules' embrace, the demigod's face buried in his neck, his hair falling across Iolaus' chest. Carefully, Iolaus extricated himself from his friend's arms and got out of bed. He stood for a moment looking down at the only man he had ever loved or could ever love.
Oh, gods! He'd ruined everything!
He'd wanted Hercules to fall in love with him and now he had. But it wasn't real.
Last night had been wonderful. Better then any dream he'd ever had.
But none of it was real.
Far too late Iolaus realised that he didn't want a false, spell-induced love.
Even if Aphrodite didn't find out what had happened and reverse the potion's effects, Iolaus would always know that Hercules' love was based on a lie.
And if Aphrodite did find out......and she was bound to find out...... and she did reverse the spell, then Hercules would probably end up hating him. Or pitying him. Pity would be worse that hatred.
Quietly, he got dressed. Then he went back to the bed. He halted an errant hand as it reached to brush Hercules' hair away from his face.
"I'm sorry, Herc," he whispered "I'm sorry I ruined everything. You know, you're the only good thing to ever happen in my life and I've messed it up the way I have everything else.
"I'll leave a message at Aphrodite's temple. She'll soon sort you out, get you back to normal. Then you can get on with your life without me screwing everything up. You'll be better off without me. Bye, Herc. I'll always love you..........."
........"So that's it? You just left him there?"
"Yeah, and then I had to go and meet up with you and fall for your 'Let's save the poor defenceless virgins from a 'fate worse than death'!"
"Well, we did, didn't we?"
"Oh, YEAH, we rescued them all right. You just forgot to mention that the 'poor defenceless virgins' happened to be carrying a king's ransom in jewels when they were captured. We'd have been fine if you hadn't stopped behind to 'liberate' all those jewels."
"How was I supposed to know they'd have three men on guard duty? What is the world coming to when bandits start getting efficient? Why do you suppose they took our clothes?"
"I dunno. Maybe they were so upset that we freed the virgins they thought that if they couldn't get them back we'd do instead."
"Oh, no! I'm too young and talented to be the sex-slave of some hairy bandit."
"Autolycus, why don't you shut up?"
"Oh, I like that! I've had to endure your whining about Hercules."
"You asked me!"
"Okay, so I did. And I still want to know why you just left him there."
"Well, what was I supposed to do? Wait for Aphrodite to take off the love-spell and then say 'Sorry, Herc, for making you fall in love with me. I've been a bad boy and I'll try not to do it again. Oh, and by the way, thanks for fucking me into the middle of next week. You were terrific!"
"Was I? That's nice to know."
"Herc!" Iolaus jumped up. Then fell back down when Autolycus didn't move fast enough. Hercules reached down and pulled the two men up. Then he went to break the manacles.
"Don't worry, Hercules, I've got them."
Iolaus stared as first his hand, then his foot, were freed from the restraints by Autolycus.
"You.......You.......How did you do that?" he gasped.
Autolycus grinned. "Always keep a lock pick handy, that's my motto."
"Euch! Gross! I don't even want to think about where you kept that lock pick!"
Both Iolaus and Autolycus started as the goddess of love appeared before them. Realising that they were both still naked they tried to cover themselves with their hands.
"Oh, come on guys. It's not as if you've got anything I haven't seen before."
She regarded the two naked men with frank appreciation.
"My, Sweetcheeks, I never knew you could blush all over. It's kinda cute, isn't it, big brother?"
"Okay, Herc, chill out. I can look, can't I?"
Hercules expression was forbidding.
Aphrodite sighed, waved a hand, and suddenly the two men were clothed.
"It seems such a shame to cover all that up. But I know you boys are so sensitive. Ah, well, I've got a few big bad bandits out there madly in love with me. I think I'll work on a few ways to cool their ardour.
She turned, looking over her shoulder at Iolaus with a smile that seemed both mocking and strangely sympathetic.
"By the way, Sweetcheeks, that potion was a waste of time and effort. Bye guys!"
Iolaus stared at the floor of the hut. He heard Hercules speak with Autolycus but couldn't summon up the energy or interest to work out what was being said.
He was mildly surprised when Autolycus walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. He gave the thief a sour look.
"So, why didn't you free us both earlier?"
Autolycus had the grace to look embarrassed.
"Well, first off, I thought I'd wind you up a bit, you know? Then I got so...er...involved with your story that I kinda forgot I'd got it. I'd have got us out before those bandits came for us, honest!"
"Yeah, whatever." Iolaus couldn't really be bothered. As far as he was concerned those bandits would have done him a favour if they just killed him when they'd caught him.
Autolycus squeezed his shoulder.
"Cheer up, Iolaus. It'll all work out. You'll see."
"Yeah, right," Iolaus muttered as the King of Thieves strolled out of the hut, "why do I have a problem convincing myself of that?"
Iolaus felt Hercules move near to him.
"Iolaus." Hercules' voice was uncharacteristically hesitant.
Iolaus refused to look at him, keeping his eyes downcast. He stiffened as Hercules drew closer. The demigod took Iolaus' chin in his hand, forcing the other man to meet his eyes.
"Aphrodite was right, you know. That potion was a waste of effort."
Iolaus felt his heart break.
"I know, Herc, it was a stupid, STUPID thing to do. I am so stupid."
"Gods, you must despise me, after what I did."
Hercules smiled. "I don't despise you, Iolaus. I love you."
Iolaus pulled himself from his friend's grip.
"Oh, no, Aphrodite forgot to remove the spell. Quick, call her, get her to remove..."
"Iolaus, shut up."
"No, listen Herc. We have to get that spell off...mufffmph."
He was forced to stop babbling as Hercules' mouth descended on to his.
For a moment he resisted but then his traitorous body began to respond. His mouth moved under Hercules', opening hungrily...
With the last sane thought in his head he broke away.
"Herc, please listen to me..."
Hercules just grabbed him, resting his head on top of his partner's.
"Iolaus, you...are...an...idiot," he enunciated clearly.
"Yeah, well, you don't need to tell me, Herc. I kinda worked that one out all by myself. Now, let's go and find Aphrodite."
Hercules sighed. "Iolaus, will you listen to me. For once in your life just shut up and listen. Aphrodite was right when she said that you were wasting your efforts in trying to make me fall in love with you. You didn't need to give me a love potion. I was....AM.....already in love with you, you idiot!"
Iolaus gasped, "But..."
"But nothing, Iolaus. I love you. As a friend, as a brother, as a lover! You're the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. The love potion had no effect on me. You can't cast a love spell on someone who is already in love with you. Do you think I'd have drunk it if I thought it would change the way I felt about you in any way? Ask Aphrodite. I'll call her if you like."
"You knew it was a love potion?"
"Yeah, 'Dite told me."
"You drank the wine knowing that I'd put the potion in it?"
"I was so happy, so relieved, so amazed."
"Aphrodite told me that she'd given you a love potion after you'd told her about this person you were madly in love with. I was so angry with her. So angry with you! I'd loved you so long."
"I didn't know."
"I rushed to the inn determined to stop you. All the way there I had visions of strangling whichever woman it was who'd taken you from me."
"And there you were, looking good enough to eat. And you weren't going out and there was nobody with you. And you'd got food and drink for us. Then I saw you put the potion in the wine. For me. It was as if everything I'd ever wished for had come true all at once."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you? You were lucky that I had enough self-control to get us to the bed. Believe me, the very last thing I wanted to do at that moment was talk. I know you, my friend. If I'd told you I'd have been deluged with 'Why? What? When? How much?' I was going to tell you in the morning, but you kinda stopped me from doing that by not being there. Why did you leave?"
"I was frightened. Ashamed. I wanted you to love me for me, not because of some potion."
"Well I do love you. And the potion had nothing to do with it."
"So, Iolaus, what do we do now?"
"Well, how do you fancy fucking me into the middle of next week?"
"Why not here?"
"You know, I can't think of any reason at all why not."