At first, Hercules visits Iolaus regularly. Then not so regularly, as the demands of his godhood catch up with him.
Iolaus tries not to notice, because Hercules doesn't seem to. He tries not to flinch when Hercules appears modestly out of thin air, without even a shower of sparks or a crackle of lightning, to walk next to him, or sit across from him at a campfire. Just like always. Yet even in firelight Hercules' eyes are unnaturally bright, and he shimmers when he moves, like water in sunlight.
Hercules doesn't talk much about Olympus or the other gods, and Iolaus doesn't ask. Sometimes, when it thunders, he looks up and wonders if Hercules and Zeus are having one of their little discussions, or if Zeus is just trying to separate Hercules and Ares again.
On one of his visits, Hercules mentions that Zeus wants him to marry Hebe, a goddess Iolaus has never even heard of. Apparently she used to pour the nectar for the gods before Zeus kidnapped Ganymede. Clever of Zeus, really, to find a goddess for Hercules who is as alone on Olympus as he is, but Iolaus will eat his boots before he believes that Hercules is in love with her. He knows the signs, and he hasn't seen them when he speaks of her.
Iolaus looks at Hercules over the rim of his wine cup. They are having a late lunch, sitting on wooden benches outside a little tavern near Epidauros. The sky is overcast, but sunlight catches highlights in Hercules' hair and makes his skin glow, and his plate is still full even though he's been eating steadily. The other patrons are pretending not to notice, or possibly they really don't notice because they can't see him to begin with. Iolaus isn't sure; Hercules has never made himself invisible to him.
That you know of, he thinks, and tries to stop the thought, but he can't. It would be so much easier for Hercules to sit at his campfire, watch him eat and sleep and hunt, and not have to show himself, talk, pretend. It's what gods do.
Apparently he looks at Hercules a little too long, a little too intently, because Hercules begins to fidget and absently changes his fork into a tortoise. It creeps slowly across the wooden table, and Iolaus cups a hand to catch it before it can wander off the edge.
"Iolaus," Hercules says, quietly.
The tortoise's little nails prick Iolaus' palm. "No," he says.
Hercules closes his eyes briefly. "I didn't ask you yet." The exasperation is so familiar, and Iolaus would be pleased with that if it weren't so telling. Hercules doesn't understand why he keeps refusing. Once, Hercules knew what it was like to be scraped and bruised and cold and not want to trade your lot with anyone, why Iolaus would rather starve in a desert with his best friend than eat ambrosia on Olympus. A lot has changed since Alcmene died and Hercules dropped his mortality like a bad habit.
The tortoise scrabbles against his palm, and Iolaus sets it free. It wanders over to Hercules' plate and starts nibbling on a leaf of spinach.
Hercules takes a deep breath, clearly preparing to ask again -- he never did know when to give up -- and Iolaus sets down his cup. "The answer's not going to change, Herc."
Hercules' shoulders ease a little when he says it, but Iolaus knows that it's because he used the nickname, which is as much a lie as the easy way Hercules stretches out his long legs beneath the table.
"I saw you fight that gang of slavers yesterday," Hercules says, pretending to change the subject.
That was four days ago, Iolaus doesn't say. You used to be able to tell time by the color of my bruises. And then the rest of Hercules' words catch up with him, and the food in his stomach changes to stone.
"You were watching?" That was a close fight, seven against one. The odds aren't what they used to be, and Iolaus is still limping, though only if nobody's around. But he never knows who's watching, now.
Hercules looks embarrassed. "I wasn't there, but Zeus has this scrying wall--" The tortoise is near the edge of the table again, and Iolaus pushes it back gently, not wanting to look at Hercules just then.
It's not that Iolaus wants Hercules for himself. Hercules belongs to himself, and to the world, and Greece has never been so prosperous. Sure, there are still occasional wars and plagues, monsters and mad kings, enough to keep Iolaus busy, but already people are calling it the Golden Age, and the temples and cults are springing up everywhere.
Iolaus can't have Hercules at all, not even the little that the people in the temples have, because the Hercules he loves isn't there anymore, and it kills him to sit here talking to his shade.
Hercules touches the back of his hand briefly, hesitantly, and the tingle of power raises the hair on Iolaus' arm. "I still watch your back, Iolaus. That hasn't changed."
"Yeah, nothing's changed except you could turn those guys into ash with one well-placed thunderbolt," Iolaus says, trying to keep his tone light.
Hercules smiles, or tries to. "Hey. Just say the word."
Iolaus really hopes he's joking. "I'm not coming to Olympus with you," he says, to drive the point home.
Hercules' shoulders sag, his mouth tightens, and the light playing about him seems to dim. "Will you let me heal you, at least?" It's the pleading note in his voice that keeps Iolaus from beating his head against the table.
"Fine," he says, giving in even though it's a bad idea, and a heartbeat later the stabbing ache in his leg has gone, and so have the bruises on his arms. His heart remains just as heavy.
The tortoise wanders toward the edge of the table again, and this time Iolaus doesn't do anything to stop it. It teeters on the edge, hind legs scrabbling on the wood, and then it falls.
Halfway to the ground, the tortoise changes into a fork again, and when Iolaus looks up, Hercules is gone.
Iolaus orders his henchmen to take Zeno to a healer and Thanatos' body to the catacombs, then enters the Prancing Satyr alone, warily. When nobody jumps him, he exhales and closes the doors behind him. Then he starts to grin.
"You comfortable up there?" he calls, looking up.
A pause. "Not very."
The ropes creak as the fishing nets sway, but they hold. It's hard to see in the gloom, but Iolaus catches glimpses of a yellow shirt and strands of long brown hair.
"Sorry about that," Iolaus says. He turns the winch and watches the bundle of nets descend until they hit the floor with a muffled thud. "Better now?"
Hercules' expression, what Iolaus can see of it, is surprisingly unruffled. Iolaus notices that he hasn't even tried to free himself, and his good mood begins to evaporate. Why did he even waste a trap on this guy?
"I'm not your enemy," Hercules says just as Iolaus opens his mouth. "I just want to talk to you, help you remember."
"There's nothing I need to remember," Iolaus snarls. Fed up, he draws his sword, but it's the same thing all over again. He can't even aim it at Hercules without getting the shakes, and Hercules just lies there, entangled in rope and looking up at him with a stupidly trusting expression.
Iolaus hefts the sword, whirls it round, and slices through the netting, nearly getting his sword stuck in the wooden floor from the force of the blow.
"Thanks," Hercules says with a small smile, and untangles himself with suspicious ease. Iolaus stands there watching him, sword pointing at the floor, and tries to look like he has some idea what to do next.
"Look," Hercules says, his hands at his sides and looking as unthreatening as a guy his size possibly can, "I know you have trouble believing this, but you're my best friend, and we've been together since you were fifteen." He sighs at Iolaus' look, and adds, "And Fortune took your memory away so you don't remember any of that, but it's true."
Iolaus can't picture it. Well, part of it he can picture, but he's trying not to distract himself. Apparently his body remembers a thing or two about Hercules, even if he doesn't. That makes Hercules' story a lot more likely, except for that idiotic bit about Fortune. The guy must be really superstitious; a lot of hitmen are. Probably Iolaus just got hit on the head or something, and they got separated for a while.
"So we work together, and clearly you're the muscle and I'm the brains of the outfit," Iolaus says, stroking his chin as he tries to work it out. Hercules is looking at him somewhat oddly, but at least he has the sense not to interrupt. "We got hired to protect the gold, and I threw a spoke in the wheel when I lost my memory and signed up with Zeno instead. Well, you delivered the gold, so that part's taken care of, and now we can finish the job for Zeno and get it back."
"It's in a vault by now," Hercules says, as if that means anything. Iolaus sheathes his sword meaningfully, then crosses his arms and stares him down.
"Sorry," the big guy says meekly. "I'm sure you've got a plan. After all, you're the one with the brains."
There's something off about his tone, and Iolaus stares at him very hard -- he can't have his partner mocking him, no matter how many years they've supposedly been together -- but Hercules' expression is as bland as milk.
"I'll think of something," Iolaus says, and begins to pace. "You just watch my back."
"I usually do," Hercules says, watching him with a fond smile.
"So where were you when I got hit on the head and lost my memory?" Iolaus shakes his head at Hercules' surprised look. "Never mind, just don't let it happen again. And don't put too much trust in Fortune, okay? You make your own luck."
"Is that right?" an unfamiliar female voice says, and the air shimmers with falling gold.
Iolaus' mouth drops open, and he stops pacing. "Who in Tartarus are you?" The woman is decked in gold coins and red brocade, her hair wound in outlandish braids, and she's sitting on top of the bar like she has a right to be there, let alone appear out of thin air.
"I'm Fortune!" the woman says, sounding like an outraged aunt. Her expression softens when she looks at Iolaus. "Ohhh, that's right, you don't remember. Well. I'm here to help with that, so don't you worry."
Iolaus sneaks a glance at Hercules, who looks surprisingly wary.
"Fortune," Hercules says, his brows drawing down, "are you sure about this?"
The woman -- Fortune -- lifts her chin. "Sure I'm sure!" She pauses, tapping a finger against her upper lip. "I think. Yeah. Sure! What could go wrong?"
Hercules winces, but Fortune takes no notice. She spins a coin up into the air, and the glimmer of it is mesmerizing as it spins up and then down, end over end, smack into her palm.
"That's done it," she says, looking satisfied.
Iolaus waits for a heartbeat, but nothing happens. "Done what?" he asks.
"What just happened?" Hercules asks. He looks from Fortune to Iolaus, frowning. "I'm sorry - do I know you?"
"Uh-oh," Fortune says, and vanishes.
Getting the gold out of the Nemean council's vault is surprisingly easy, especially after Hercules deviates from Iolaus' plan by picking up a guard in each hand and using them as clubs to hit the other guards with. They make a good team, Iolaus thinks as they amble back to the Prancing Satyr, Hercules carrying the sacks of gold on his broad shoulders. No wonder Fortune tried to split them up.
Well, Iolaus isn't going to let that happen, and he's not going to let a little memory loss stop him from taking over Nemea, either. The town's ripe for it, the magistrates as rotten as all the rest, leaving too many kids starving in the streets. Iolaus remembers what that's like all too well, and almost wishes Fortune had taken those memories away, too.
The Prancing Satyr is still deserted, and Iolaus makes sure the doors are locked before he shows Hercules the hidden cellars where Zeno and he keep the books.
"What are we going to do with it?" Hercules asks as he dumps the jingling sacks onto the stone floor, looking at them as if he's never seen that much money in all his life. Iolaus has to grin. He probably hasn't, and even if he has, he doesn't remember it. Iolaus has a suspicion, though, that Hercules and he had fallen on hard times recently, even before Fortune tried to split them up. It would explain a thing or two.
"First?" Iolaus says, stepping closer to run a hand over Hercules' deerskin vest, "We need to get you better clothes."
Hercules looks perplexed and a little huffy. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
Iolaus quirks a smile at him. "First of all, it's yellow, and it stands out a mile. You're big enough as it is without turning yourself into a dartboard. Second, what's with the tassels?" He tugs at one of them, and Hercules gives him a bemused look. "Third, you've got the body to carry off the mad, bad, and dangerous look in a way Thanatos never could, and as my lieutenant-"
"Your lieutenant?" Hercules raises a brow.
"My captain," Iolaus amends instantly. "My friend. My sword arm, my right hand. Okay?" He holds his breath.
Hercules looks thoughtful, and Iolaus rocks onto the balls of his feet, grabs Hercules' hair to pull him down, and kisses him.
"Ow," Hercules says after a little while, and Iolaus lets go of his hair, but doesn't stop kissing him until he forgets to breathe. Then he falls back a step, flushed and tense and hopeful, and Hercules smiles at him. "Okay."
With Hercules' help, Iolaus runs the five rival gangs out of the city by the end of the year. Many of the men sign on with him instead. So do all the street kids, whom Iolaus calls his new recruits. They're invaluable spies: they can go everywhere, see everything, and they know Iolaus was once one of them, so they even trust him a little.
The city council never steps down, but Iolaus doesn't want them to. Let the citizens of Nemea go to the council with their petty complaints about their neighbors or the war tax or the price of hops; Iolaus doesn't have time to deal with it, and bribes the council to do it for him. Zeno sits on the council too, these days, looking very much the part of an elder statesman, and keeps the rest of them in line. After a while, when everything is running smoothly, Iolaus begins to get bored, and his recruits begin to get restless.
The Prancing Satyr is very crowded, as it is every night, and Iolaus sits at his table in the back, brooding.
"What's on your mind?" Hercules says. The ring of Iolaus' bodyguards parts for him, and he sets two mugs of ale and a bowl of salted almonds on the table and sits down next to Iolaus. Hercules isn't wearing armor tonight, just a dark blue silk chiton and a white wool chlamys, and he's a warm, solid presence at Iolaus' side.
Iolaus takes a sip of the dark ale. "Mycenae." He doesn't explain; with Hercules, he never needs to.
"They say the walls of Mycenae were built by Cyclopes." Hercules doesn't look worried by the prospect.
Iolaus nudges his shoulder. "Or maybe we should take Corinth first. You think?"
Hercules shakes his head. "Not if Jason's still king there."
Iolaus looks at him. "And who's Jason?"
"A guy I was in the Academy with," Hercules says, in that forcedly casual tone they both use when they talk about the few memories they have left. Typical of Hercules, to never even mention that he knows any kings. That could come in handy, later.
"All right. Not Corinth, then." Iolaus lifts his mug and toasts Hercules with it. "Mycenae."
"Mycenae," Hercules echoes. "And then?"
Iolaus grins. "And then the world."
The caves of Taenaros are cold and damp, and the stalactites' long shadows dance and leap in the flickering light of Iolaus' torch. It's been at least three days and Iolaus still hasn't reached the end of the caves. He's pretty sure that he's under the sea by now, but he doesn't want to think about all that weight of rock and water pressing down on him.
Iolaus doesn't want to think, period. He keeps moving, climbing over wet, slippery rock and twisting his body through narrow crevices. He doesn't even know if he's going in the right direction, but instinct tells him to go down, ever deeper, until he finds himself in Hades' realm. It's not like he can miss it, really; if he dies in these caves, he'll just get there sooner.
At the end of what may be the fourth day, his last torch gives out and he stumbles into a river. His boots soak through with the chill water, but he hardly notices, because he's staring at a swaying light in the distance. It's coming closer, nearly blinding him, and he blinks until his eyes adjust.
"Comin' through, comin' through," a harsh voice croaks, and Iolaus stares.
A ghostly boat slides toward him, rowed by what looks like a basilisk covered in mold and lichen until it lifts its head and looks at him. "Are you deaf?" Charon says, baring disgusting teeth to snarl at him. "Get outta my way, I got places to go, shades to deliver."
The boat slides closer, and Iolaus waits until its prow is within reach. Then he sets his hands on the bow like a bull dancer, pushes off with his feet, and vaults on board.
Charon drops his oar. "Hera's tits, what do you think you're doing? Get off my boat!"
Iolaus grins at him. "What, and capsize the boat? Very cold, this river." He shudders a little, not entirely for effect.
"Of course it's fucking cold, it's the river of fucking woe!" Charon says, splashing his oar in the water again with a roll of his eyes. "Hey, hang on, shades don't feel the cold--"
He narrows his eyes and peers at Iolaus. "Oh, great. I got a moldy knee, a boss who barely gives me the time of day, a job where even the stiffs try to stiff me, and now I got a live one in my fucking boat."
"Just get me over to the Elysian Fields," Iolaus says, "and I'll talk to your boss for you. I need to see him anyway, might as well put in a good word." He smiles his widest, most guileless smile.
Charon spits over the side with a noise like a hydra coughing up a hairball. "Yeah, right. The boss is going to kick your ass topside the moment he sees you. What in Tartarus -- heh heh heh -- are you doing here anyway? Trust me, eternity is long enough that you don't need a fucking preview."
Charon keeps rowing during his diatribe, so Iolaus sits down on the slimy bench. "Hercules," Iolaus said. It's hard even to say his name, right now, and he really doesn't want to elaborate. His vest is still stiff with Hercules' blood.
"Oh yeah? Hearda him. One of Zeus' bastards, am I right or am I right?" Iolaus doesn't answer. "Yeah, I'm right, he was in last week's deliveries. Arrow stuck right through him, size of a fucking tree. Friend of yours?"
Iolaus nods, staring out into the dimness.
"So what's the big idea here, you were busy eating lunch when he croaked and now you want to say you're sorry?" Charon smacks his lips. "Mmm. Maybe you were having some roast chicken, some lamb with garlic... Did you bring any food with you?"
"I'm going to bring him back," Iolaus says.
Charon's mouth drops open, and then he laughs until the caverns echo with it. "You and what undead fuckin' army?" He's stopped rowing again.
"Shut up," Iolaus says softly.
The boat wobbles as Iolaus stands up from his bench. Charon opens his mouth and closes it again, but he doesn't say anything when Iolaus takes his oar away from him and begins to row.
It's nearly midnight when their ship docks at Piraeus, and none of their friends meet them at the dock, so there's nobody to notice that Hercules is looking a little pale, though not as pale as Iolaus. The shipmaster doesn't look at either of them, he just takes their dinars and clutches a belaying pin tightly in his other hand until they leave the ship.
They make their way out of Piraeus quickly and head for the slopes of Hymettos, where the pines grow thick and dark.
"We should make camp," Hercules says, when the birds start singing paeans to the dawn.
Iolaus pauses, half-hidden in the gloom. "Oh. Yeah."
They fall into their routine quickly enough: Hercules gathers firewood, Iolaus digs a fire pit, and Hercules unpacks their stuff while Iolaus goes deeper into the woods to hunt. When Iolaus comes back with a brace of cleaned and dressed rabbits dangling from his sword belt and bright spots of color in his cheeks, Hercules breathes out, trying to feel relieved.
The roast rabbit tastes pretty good with some wild onions. Iolaus has his portion raw, and he doesn't eat much, but neither of them mentions it.
After dinner, Iolaus pokes at the fire in a desultory way while Hercules lays out their bedrolls.
"What are we going to do when someone asks for your help?" Iolaus says at last, his voice so casual that Hercules knows he's worried.
"We'll go," Hercules says, sitting down on his own bedroll. "Like we always do."
Iolaus snorts. "Yeah, right."
Iolaus whips around, bares his teeth like a cat. "Oh, yeah? What about these?"
"You can retract them. Stop being so difficult."
"Oh, now I'm being difficult. Well excuse me, but if you had killed me like I asked you to, none of this would be a problem."
Hercules takes a deep breath. "Can we not discuss that again?"
"You only say that when you know I'm right," Iolaus says, but he's bending down to stoke the fire and his voice is low enough that Hercules can ignore him.
Hercules doesn't fall asleep for a long while; it's hard to ignore the birdsong, the bright blue sky far above the pines, and the way Iolaus keeps rolling over in his bedroll and muttering to himself.
"Trouble sleeping?" Hercules says, when Iolaus rolls his way again.
"The light hurts," Iolaus mutters, and Hercules sighs.
"We could start sleeping indoors more," he offers. "Caves. Inns."
"Palaces?" Iolaus' grin is forced, but Hercules is still glad to see it. "Sure."
Iolaus pulls the edge of his bedroll over his head. "Corinth, here we come."
It's easier in Corinth, where they can stay indoors during the day and sleep at night like normal people, though it's awkward having to explain to Iphicles, and far too many people give them worried looks that remind Hercules of the looks he got when he was traveling with the jester.
At dinner, Hercules wonders if Iphicles ever has a quiet meal with a couple of friends instead of dozens of courtiers and a visiting king or two. He can barely see Iphicles, hidden as he is behind the elaborate headdresses of the Parthian king's sisters, but he can feel his brother glowering at him and Iolaus all the way across the room. Ignoring him as best as possible, Hercules sips his wine, a very good Cretan red that goes down like velvet, and spears another quail egg. At least there are some advantages to life at court.
Iolaus is seated between the Parthian king's youngest sister and his master of horse. Both tower over him, and their headdresses clash together when they bend to catch Iolaus' whispers, making him giggle. Hercules smiles, watching Iolaus flirt with them both between bites of rare roast beef. Iphicles can glower all he wants, but Iolaus is clearly not doing anything to hurt the trade talks with the Parthians. In the candle light, Iolaus' pallor is barely noticeable, and his eyes are as bright as ever.
After dinner, Iphicles asks him to stay behind and talk to Arsakes, the Parthian king, who calls him Herkles and wants to know if he can breed his horses to Hercules' famous flying stallion. It goes pretty much downhill from there, and after a while Iphicles proclaims that Hercules must be very tired and lets him make his getaway.
When Hercules finally climbs up the stone stairs to their bedchamber, he's a little surprised to find Iolaus already there, alone and clearly not in the best of moods.
"Iphicles thinks I'm going to bite someone," Iolaus says, sitting on the edge of the feather bed and stripping off his gauntlets with jerky movements. "I can tell." One of the straps won't budge, and he curses between his teeth. Those claws aren't handy for everything, Hercules thinks, careful not to say it out loud.
Instead, he sits down on the bed next to Iolaus. "Here, let me." Iolaus looks away from him as he deals with the stiff leather.
The gauntlet falls to the floor. "Thanks." Iolaus is still looking the other way, his hair a curtain between them.
"Why are you mad, exactly?" Hercules asks.
Iolaus snorts. "Who said I was? It's not like anything disturbing happened to me recently."
"Look at me," Hercules says. Iolaus shoves away from him, nearly falling off the bed, and then finally turns his head. He looks feverish, his eyes burning, his lips nearly white.
Hercules exhales. "You're hungry." Hungry is a mild word for it; Iolaus looks one step away from violent stomach cramps followed by unconsciousness.
"Yes," Iolaus hisses, "I'm hungry. So what?"
Hercules eyes him. "You had all that roast beef for dinner." Iolaus always had the appetite of a pack of hunting dogs, but he shouldn't be this hungry, this soon. Unless...
Iolaus catches his look, pales further, and is nearly out the door when Hercules tackles him.
"You should have said something," Hercules says, pinning Iolaus to the floor. Iolaus twists beneath him like an eel, but he manages to hold on, watching Iolaus' claws flex as he tries to free his wrists without ripping into Hercules.
"Like what?" Iolaus bucks beneath him, and then twists his hips one way and his knees another way, and suddenly he's the one on top.
"Oof," Hercules says as Iolaus elbows him in the stomach. "Like... It's not working?"
Iolaus closes his eyes. "Fine. You got it. Eating meat's not working. If I don't go out and kill something every day, I'll probably starve to death. Which is the best solution anyway." He opens his eyes, staring down at Hercules challengingly. "Happy now?"
"You know it doesn't have to be that way," Hercules says quietly.
Iolaus glares at him. "Yes, it does. If you think I'm going to--" He looks away again.
Hercules swallows. "I don't mind."
"Well, I do."
Hercules touches Iolaus' shoulder, gently. "Does it sicken you, to feed?" He can imagine it all too easily. What kind of monster is he, anyway, trying to force Iolaus to drink his blood?
Iolaus mutters something.
"I said, no."
Hercules stares at him. "No, what?"
Suddenly Iolaus presses close, blazing eyes staring into his. "No, it's not sickening, it's just..." He bites his lip. "It's really, really good. You-- your blood, the way you taste--" He shudders, his nostrils flaring.
"Take it," Hercules says, and leans his head back, offering his throat.
"Peace and love, brother," Iolaus says to the stranger, and kisses him lightly. At first the stranger's lips are numb beneath his, but then the stranger grabs his shoulders and holds him close, and Iolaus sinks into the kiss with a moan. He is glad he was chosen to bid this one welcome.
The man tears himself away, looking into Iolaus' eyes. He appears to be in the grip of a negative emotion: he frowns, his eyes widening, his hands clench into fists.
"What did they do to you?" he asks in an undertone.
"I have found the peace of Lorel," Iolaus explains, happy to share. "Soon, you will understand." He tries to kiss the man again -- he smells of leather and wood smoke, not flowers and incense, but Iolaus finds he likes it -- but the man pushes him gently away.
"Do I displease you?" Iolaus asks. Perhaps Kamaros should have chosen one of the women after all. The man makes a noise in his throat, then shakes his head. Iolaus smiles at him. Perhaps he is just shy.
"I've been looking for you for days," the man says urgently, as Iolaus' brothers and sisters come closer. "You look... Do you even know who you are?"
"I am brother Iolaus," Iolaus answers, smiling still. He touches the stranger's chest, careful not to startle him, as he seems upset. "Do you know who you are?"
The stranger closes his eyes. "I'm Hercules," he says, and opens his eyes again to stare intently at Iolaus.
"Welcome, brother Hercules," Iolaus says, glad to be back on track; it can be difficult to hold onto your thoughts, here, and the part of him that sleeps is struggling. He pushes his sleeping self back and links arms with Hercules, who looks down at him oddly but permits it, and draws him deeper into the main cavern. Along the way, others greet their new brother with kisses and touches, but Iolaus doesn't relinquish him yet.
Then Kamaros blocks their path, smiling affably at Hercules. "Ah, the son of Zeus, welcome! Please enjoy our hospitality. If there's anything I can do--"
"You could let these people go," Hercules says, his voice mild.
Kamaros' smile doesn't change. "My dear friend, what makes you think they want to leave?" He strokes Iolaus' cheek, and Iolaus leans into the caress. Hercules' arm tightens around Iolaus' arm.
"Brother Iolaus," Kamaros says, "do you want to leave?"
Iolaus shakes his head urgently, and Kamaros spreads his hands. "You see?"
Hercules doesn't answer, but Iolaus can feel the tension in his muscles.
"Have you had dinner yet?" Kamaros asks. "No? Brother Iolaus, please show our guest the bounties of our city. Make him feel welcome."
Iolaus smiles at Kamaros, and Kamaros answers him with a bruising kiss. Hercules makes a growling noise; perhaps he is hungry.
Hercules denies it, though, when Iolaus shows him the feast prepared for him, and refuses even a sip of wine. Finally Iolaus gives up and takes him to one of the pillow rooms. There are others there -- brother Andros and sister Elina -- and they help Iolaus undress their new brother. His clothes are rough to the touch, very unlike the silks they all wear, and difficult to remove, but Hercules stands still for them patiently.
Hercules naked is a sight indeed; Iolaus runs a hand over the planes of his chest admiringly, then slides out of his silks. The sleeper inside him tries to flail awake when Hercules' eyes meet his, but he pushes it away ruthlessly and reaches up to catch Hercules' neck, drawing him down into another kiss.
When he pulls away, Hercules' mouth is red, his gaze hungry, and his arousal obvious. Iolaus kneels easily, making sure Hercules is watching him, and takes his first taste. Hercules shudders, his hands winding into Iolaus' hair, and Iolaus strokes his corded thighs and takes him deeper. Andros and Elina watch him, stroking each other with lazy touches.
After a while, Hercules' hands slip from his hair and Iolaus lets himself drop down into the heaped silk pillows. Andros and Elina move closer, kneel next to him, and he spreads his legs, watching Hercules as their hands open him. Andros circles his nipple with a slick finger, and he moans.
When Andros transfers his attention to Elina's breasts, Iolaus bites his lip, still watching Hercules, and draws his legs up. Then Hercules is kneeling in front of him, lifting him up, and sliding slowly into him, his touch as sure as if they have been doing this forever. It's so good that Iolaus closes his eyes, but his hand finds the hilt of the dagger hidden under the pillows.
Hercules groans above him. It sounds like pain, and that shocks Iolaus' sleeping self awake.
"Herc-" he whispers, horrified, but Hercules' eyes are closed in pleasure, not in death. Iolaus grips the hilt beneath the pillows convulsively, some part of him still trying to obey Kamaros' orders, and then lets go.
Hercules' hair falls forward, hiding both their faces from the world, and he drives into Iolaus, lifting him with each stroke, until Iolaus bites his own arm and howls.
"Iolaus," Hercules says in a drawn out, shuddering breath, and comes.
After his breathing slows and his mind comes back to him again, memories hitting him like hailstones, Iolaus glances at Andros and Elina from beneath the fall of Hercules' hair. They are wound tight around each other, oblivious, and he relaxes. It's not the most comfortable position in the world, with Hercules half on top of him, but this may be the only chance they have to speak without Kamaros or others hearing.
"What happened? Can you talk?" Hercules whispers into his ear, and Iolaus smiles, loving his instant understanding.
"Lotus," he whispers back. It clouds his thoughts still, but he can master it for a while, now that the need is upon him, and he has Hercules to catch him when he falls.
He distills the ugly memories into quick, whispered sentences. His rescue of the child-goddess, Kamaros' attack as Iolaus and Moira were spiriting her away, the re-education room, being forced to take lotus or watch Regina die from the lack of it.
"Had to hide," he whispers. "To convince Kamaros. Had to go deep--" and Hercules kisses his neck.
"They found your clothes," Hercules breathes. "Told me you must be dead. I searched for days--" His breath hitches.
Iolaus strokes his eyebrow lightly with his thumb, and says, "You always were a terrible tracker."
Hercules tries to grin, then takes a deep breath. "So, without lotus--"
"Cramps, convulsions, death," Iolaus whispers, grimacing in apology. "Lorel took it for years. Most of them did. Maybe, if we lowered the dosage slowly enough..."
Hercules is white around the mouth, but he nods infinitesimally, his hair brushing Iolaus' cheek. "We'll find a way."
"Oh, and Kamaros wants me to kill you," Iolaus whispers with a wry grin, and tugs the pillow aside so Hercules can see the dagger.
Hercules doesn't even have the grace to look surprised. "Thought so," he breathes.
Iolaus stares at him. "So you thought you'd wait, see if I'd try to stick a dagger in you?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
Iolaus lets his head fall back into the pillows. "Are you sure you didn't eat any lotus?"
Nearby, someone moans, and Iolaus sneaks a quick look, but Elina is turned away from him, Andros' head between her thighs. It won't be long before others come in, though.
"Kamaros is mine," he breathes. No plan yet, but that part has to be clear. Hercules nods, and Iolaus kisses him one last time, for luck, then lets the haze of lotus sweep over him again. A good hunter takes on the scent of prey, and right now, Iolaus feels like hunting.