The room over the wine shop was cold and dark. Hercules stepped inside, dropped his bedroll in a corner, and turned brusquely, colliding with Iolaus. For a moment he expected Iolaus to let out an indignant 'Hey!' and thump him in the chest, but Iolaus just walked past him to throw open the shutters, not even looking at him.
The reddish light of sunset filled the room, making dust motes dance against the whitewashed walls and wooden floor. Empty amphorae lay stacked against the far wall. They would sleep on the bare boards, if they slept at all.
Iolaus stood at the shutters, his back toward Hercules, as still as stone. Was Iolaus just looking at the small garden below, or waiting for him to leave?
"You want to get something to eat?" Hercules asked, and swallowed. His voice was still rough from the smoke and the yelling, and they were both filthy with soot and dust. The question didn't matter; what mattered was seeing if Iolaus would respond.
"Later," Iolaus said. He didn't turn, and the set of his shoulders was tense. Hercules nodded, even though Iolaus couldn't see it, and went downstairs.
The wine merchant waited for him at the foot of the stairs, armed with apologies for the unfurnished room, garbled thanks and worried inquiries as to whether he needed anything. Hercules nodded vaguely through most of it, then said, "I'd like to wash." More apologies, more questions, more words Hercules did not have the patience to sort through, and then finally he was directed to a waist-high stone cistern in the backyard, given a clean cloth, and left to fend for himself.
He shed his grimy clothes without even looking around. If the neighbors wanted a look at him, they could have it. He darted one look up at their floor, at the open shutters, but the windows were empty.
The water was cold and clear, and he wished he could jump into the cistern and wash the dust out of his hair, but that would be unconscionable; this was rain water, drinking water, and the villagers didn't have enough of that as it was. They had thrown most of it on the fire.
He scooped out handfuls of water and scrubbed himself clean as best he could. It was getting cold as the sun sank further down, but he eyed his crumpled, stained clothes with disfavor. Instead he dried himself with the cloth and tied it around his waist, slinging his clothes over his left shoulder.
This time the hallway was empty, and he walked up the wooden stairs unhindered.
When Hercules came into the room, he saw that Iolaus was standing near the window, head bent forward, sawing at his hair with his boot knife. The light struck a red gleam from the blade.
For one heartbeat Hercules stood still, one hand on the doorframe. In the next, he crossed the room and caught Iolaus' wrist.
"Let me," he said. The words stuck in his throat and he coughed, but Iolaus' hands stilled, and he shook back his hair to look up at Hercules. The smell of burned hair was strong in the room.
"What, I can't trim my own hair now?"
"I didn't say that."
"Yeah? Then what are you saying?" At least Iolaus was talking to him again, and that faraway look was gone, replaced by belligerence. He had only managed to cut half his hair, leaving him with a lopsided, ragged mop of curls.
"I'm saying you look like a sheep that had a shearing accident." It was an effort to get all that out, but the results were worth it. Iolaus flung the knife neatly between Hercules' feet, where it stuck quivering in the floorboards, and jumped him.
Hercules fell on his back with a thump and let Iolaus pummel him for a moment or two until Iolaus snarled, "Fight me, damn it."
Iolaus hit him in the chest once more, hard, and sat up, straddling his hips. "Because you'll break me?" he said, his voice flat.
Hercules closed his eyes, very aware of Iolaus' warm weight riding on top of him, leather against bare skin. "Because my knuckles hurt," he said, and heard Iolaus snort. Hercules had punched through several stone walls to get to the children's bedroom, and the last wall had been load-bearing. In a day or two, he would probably be able to think it funny.
He opened his eyes again when Iolaus shifted atop him, his weight lifting, and put his hands on Iolaus' thighs. "Don't go."
Iolaus cocked his head, looking down at him with a frown, and for a moment he thought that Iolaus would get up and walk away, or maybe hit him again, but then Iolaus bent lithely forward and kissed him. A quick kiss, light, questioning. Hercules wove his fingers through Iolaus' hair and kissed him back, tasting smoke, not letting him go until his head fell back against the rumpled bedroll and he shuddered, gasping into Iolaus' mouth.
Iolaus was pushing against him now, clasping Hercules' shoulders to support himself, and the grinding of his hips was almost enough, almost--
"Let me--" Iolaus slid his hand down between them. "Ahh, Herc--"
Hercules thrust wildly against him, unable to speak, to think, until the wave of feeling carried him upward and the world went white.
When he opened his eyes, Iolaus was sitting up, struggling to unlace his pants and boots. Hercules watched, not trying to help. He felt like he was floating.
Then Iolaus settled himself on top of Hercules' thighs again, hands tangling in his hair, pulling him forward, and he wrapped his arms around Iolaus, feeling the strength and the heat of him. Hazily he thought that he was making Iolaus do all the work, but he couldn't bring himself to let go.
He just held on while Iolaus thrust and pushed and wriggled and swore, until the sounds Iolaus made changed into rougher, gasping breaths and the occasional swearword, and Hercules closed his eyes, imagining doing this for hours and then having Iolaus roll him over and fuck him. The thought made him groan, and in that moment Iolaus spent himself against his stomach.
When Hercules lay back at last, Iolaus curled against him, occasionally shivering with aftershock, and Hercules dropped his arm around Iolaus' shoulders and held him close.
"I think you need another bath," Iolaus observed after a while, lifting his head to flash him a small grin.
Hercules looked down at himself, at the streaks of soot and ash on his chest and the sticky cloth half-falling from his hips, and decided that he didn't care enough to get up at the moment. "Later. And you need a barber." He tugged at Iolaus' singed curls; it was easier, now, to look at them.
Iolaus' mouth tightened. "I was doing fine until you interrupted me." He sounded tired now, resigned, and for some reason that cut deeper than his anger.
Hercules took a deep breath. He wasn't sure he could put anything into words yet, but he knew he had to try. "Listen, when I yelled at you to get out-"
Iolaus twisted away from him, onto his back. He folded his hands behind his head, staring up at the whitewashed ceiling. "Those kids were still inside, and you thought I would just go?" His voice had gone distant again, and Hercules clenched his teeth.
"You did the right thing," he said, hoarsely, willing Iolaus to understand. He closed his eyes, but that didn't make the images disappear.
He saw Iolaus slipping away from him again, vanishing in smoke and flame as Hercules yelled at him and was left holding up the roof beam, unable to move, desperate. The high, shrill cries of the children, the smell of burning hair and flesh, stones falling, dust and smoke rising until he couldn't see his own hands, couldn't breathe, and everything around him was consumed by fire.
"I wasn't sure," he managed to whisper. "If the kids were real. It was just like--" He couldn't go on.
"If they were real? What in Tartarus -- Oh. Oh." Iolaus paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was more gentle. "C'mon, Herc. Breathe."
He was breathing. Wasn't he? Something hit him, and he coughed and opened his eyes.
Iolaus leaned over him, managing to look both worried and relieved. His hand rested on Hercules' chest, above his heart.
"Easy," Iolaus said, and then, "You thought it was Hera."
The words helped. Hercules breathed in, slowly. "I'm not sure I was thinking at all. Just--"
"Yeah." Iolaus stroked his chest, as if gentling a horse, and shook his head. "I should have realized."
Hercules gave him a wry look. "What, that I'm crazy?"
Iolaus smacked him. "No. That you have...issues."
"You're welcome," Iolaus said, grinning, and Hercules had to smile back.
"It's not going to happen, you know," Iolaus said, after a while. "She doesn't dare go after you directly anymore. Not after you started pulling down her temples."
He looked intently at Hercules, as if daring him to disagree, then yawned, and settled down against Hercules' shoulder.
"Maybe not," Hercules said softly, stroking Iolaus' ragged hair. And she definitely isn't going after you. Not while I'm alive.
He listened as Iolaus' breathing slowed into sleep, and watched the light that painted the walls fade into smoky grey.