|Primary Characters:||Hercules, Iolaus, Xena, Gabrielle, Aphrodite|
|Warning:||m/m sex implied|
|Description:||Aphrodite wants to play with Hercules, but he turns her down. The goddess isn’t pleased, so she thinks of an insidious revenge.|
Aphrodite was bored. The Olympos didn’t offer much by way of distractions. Especially not of the kind the goddess was partial to. So she cast her divine gaze down towards Earth. And what should she happen to spy, but the aspect of a very beautiful young man. Ah, yes, Hercules was highly pleasing to the eye, even the discerning eye of the love goddess. That sport might prove satisfying.
As Hercules was of partially divine ancestry, Aphrodite decided to visit him in her true guise, and not use the shell of a human body. When consorting with mortals, she normally had to resort to that device, lest her own divine form prove too much for the man.
In the minds of the gods, thought and action are one. The very moment of making the decision, she was beside the stream where Hercules was bathing that lovely morning when the world was young. Young and lovely as he was. Aphrodite didn’t bother wearing any clothes. They would only impede her movements.
Adopting the pose she had been born to, Aphrodite approached her prey. To her disappointment and anger, the young man didn’t react at all the way she had been anticipating. Instead his alluring face clouded over. Hercules wasn’t fond of his divine relatives.
“What do you want now?”
“Aren’t you at all pleased to see me, Hercules?”
“Did Zeus send you?”
“No. I came to see you all on my own.”
“Well, now that you’ve seen me, you can go back up to the Olympos.”
“That isn’t the way you should greet me, dear cousin.”
“Oh, alright, but half-brother doesn’t sound at all appealing, somehow.”
Aphrodite pouted slightly, and arranged her perfect limbs in a different way. She moved even closer. So close that he wouldn’t be able miss her distinctive scent. That never failed to provoke the desired reaction in her prey. But today Tyche didn’t smile on her divine relative.
Hercules pulled back and was walking away. He reached the shore and began gathering his clothes. Even the back and rear end of him was as enticing as the rest. Now Aphrodite’s temper was boiling. When a goddess is angered, real thunder clouds gather over her head. Within seconds, one of the worst thunder storms that had occurred in years, threatened to break out.
“Are you serious, Hercules? You refuse me?”
“I most certainly do. As far as I’m concerned, the gods should stay among their own kind.”
“You don’t find me attractive at all?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“I knew that you wouldn’t disappoint me. If you don’t tell anyone, I won’t.”
“Our father Zeus or my husband Hefaistos, or my lover Ares.”
“Tell them what you like. I can’t oblige you.”
“You will pay for this.”
“Save it. I have business to take care of.”
Rendered speechless by the audacity of the semi-mortal, Aphrodite remained standing in the water until a hunter chanced to walk by, and catching sight of the perfect form of the goddess cried out in surprise. About to obliterate the presumptuous mortal, the goddess turned. But when she realized that this young man too, was passably attractive, she quickly adjusted her features to suit the new situation.
The hunter couldn’t believe his luck. A woman this beautiful was smiling at him so invitingly. He wasted no time in shedding his own garments and joined her out in the river. Aphrodite took all he had to offer, and afterwards dealt with him the way she did with most of her mortal lovers. She struck him blind, and rendered him insane. Wandering around, naked and mad, he soon succumbed to the wild beasts he had used to hunt.
The goddess returned to the Olympos, temporily satisfied, her mind clear enough to plan her revenge in a controlled but no less malicious manner. Looking down on the man who had dared to spurn her advances, she saw him walking through the woods, alongside his constant companion and close friend, Iolaus. What would be the most insidious revenge she could dream up?
Yes, Aphrodite remembered the intolerable Xena, a most unpleasant warrior princess, who was also the one Hercules had chosen to give his love. What would be most repugnant to Xena’s eyes, and thus render Hercules unattractive to her? Aphrodite might strike him with an uglifying sickness, but that would rob her of a sight to rest her eyes on, whenever she turned her divine gaze down to Earth. Or she could of course kill him outright, but that too would prove unsatisfactory in the long run.
There she had it. What if Hercules would be filled with a shameful desire for his best friend Iolaus? And to make the situation complete, why not do the same with Iolaus? If they were to burn up with a totally uncharacteristic attraction for each other, nothing would prevent them from consummating the act.
Aphrodite was happy with her own plan, but for it to succeed Xena would have to be present to witness the event, or at the very least the aftermath, when filled with remorse, Hercules and his lover of the moment would wake from their spell and realize what they had done. Yes, how perfect wouldn’t that revenge be? Now all she had to do was discover the means of infecting Hercules and Iolaus with her poison.
Having created the poison, Aphrodite made it appear inside the tankards her victims were that moment draining in a guest house down on Earth. Leaving it to take effect, Aphrodite now approached Hermes. If she could convince him to take a message to Xena, she would be nearing the fulfillment of her vengeance. But Hermes proved untractable. And as he so rightly pointed out, Xena would look with suspicion upon any communication from the gods.
Now Aphrodite regretted doing away with the young hunter. He might have been useful. But she didn’t let that stop her. Instead she thought of another means of relaying her message to Xena, and her insipid little companion, Gabrielle. Taking the form of an old crone, Aphrodite talked to a child, who promised she would deliver the message immediately. In gratitude, the goddess decided to bestow some measure of beauty upon the plain child.
There. All set for the scene to unfold. Aphrodite could see Hercules and Iolaus retreat to their sleeping quarters. Greatly fatigued by the long walk, they fell asleep almost as soon they lay down. Dreams began to move their sleeping forms, and before long they awoke, a madness clouding their minds.
Hercules opened his eyes. He had been dreaming. A most confusing dream. Before he was able to recall it, it was gone. There was a strange tingle in his body, and his skin felt as if it were on fire. He could remember feeling this way before, lately only with Xena, but with many different women, including his late wife.
Now, however, there was no woman present, but still his mind kept sending out these confusing signals. His first impulse was to leave the room, and find one of the hetaira, but he immediately checked himself. Betraying Xena was unthinkable. The sensation kept getting more and more intense. Soon all traces of coherent thought had vanished from his mind. The situation was getting more and more complex by the minute.
Now Iolaus sat up, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Even before he woke, Hercules’ glances had kept straying to the shapely body of his sleeping friend. Now he couldn’t keep his eyes off the young man. And what was more, Iolaus seemed to be looking back at him exactly the same way.
“Herc? What is this?”
“I don’t know. I feel -“
“Me too. Herc -?”
“Yes, my friend -?”
That was the last words either of them was able to utter. From then on, they hardly even thought, far less spoke. But they would always remember the intensity of their feelings. The power of their arousal took them by surprise and frightened them. Hercules had been with more women than he could count, but with them it had never been like this.
Iolaus’ experiences were far less extensive but since meeting Gabrielle, he had ceased to worry about that. He had no way of anticipating what was to come. Iolaus felt himself being engulfed by the strong arms of his friend. The embrace set him alight. His lips were crushed beneath the other man’s, and he was lost in a sea of new sensations.
Xena and Gabrielle were tired and dishevelled from their long journey. When the message had reached them, they had dropped everything and set out to help their lovers out of their strange predicament. Exactly what that was, had been unclear. The child was too young to be able to tell them clearly, or maybe the message had been that scant to begin with. But how could they refuse to lend their assistance?
It took them three days and most of the next night to get to the part of the country where they had been told Hercules and Iolaus were to be found. And the speed of their journey had all been due to the lucky chance of discovering a ferry and a ferryman that was willing to take them across. Even so, they only rested sparingly, and took as little food as possible.
The sun was rising, and the chill in the air spoke of autumn when they finally arrived at their destination. Everyone appeared to be asleep still, and there was no sign of trouble anywhere. No burning houses, no smoke from campfires, no vultures in the air. What could have happened to their lovers here, in this peaceful place? Could the message be a ruse? Xena stared about her suspiciously. -Keep your eyes open. This could be a trap. -I know what you mean. No sign of any battle, and not much else either.
Both women drew their weapons and proceeded with more caution than before. Outside the house, they spread out and tried to look in through the windows. But they were all covered up against the night chill. Finally, Xena lost her patience, and pounded on the door. Her sword hadn’t left her hand. The slave who opened the door looked frightened as he stared at the unexpected caller. Women, or at least respectable women, were not frequent visitors at these guest houses.
“Is your master here, boy?”
“Yes. He is inside, just getting up.”
“Tell him to come to the door. Xena, warrior princess, wishes to speak with him.”
And when the boy still hesitated, she gripped the sword harder.
“Yes, your highness.”
It wasn’t many moments until a sleepy, half-dressed man stood in the doorway.
“I’m Xena, warrior princess. Didn’t your boy inform you of my presence?”
“Yes, he did. I was merely inquiring about your business here, your highness.”
“I’m looking for Hercules. Is he here?”
The man looked uncomfortable under her steely gaze and fidgeted nervously. She could see a lie forming in his narrow little mind, and she wouldn’t stand for that.
“Tell me the truth.”
“Well, you see, I think maybe Hercules and his friend have already departed. Androcles, isn’t it true that Hercules and his friend told us they were only spending a night or so with us?”
“Yes, master. They said so when they arrived.”
“What’s your name, man?”
“Hephaiston, son of Philippos, your highness.”
“Hephaiston – if you value your life, don’t try to trick me. I have no patience with this. Are they or are they not still here, and how are they?”
“I think perhaps -“
“Quickly now, or I will -“
“They are still here.”
“How are they? They aren’t ill, I hope? Or wounded?”
“No. They were, hm, fine, hm, when I last saw them.”
Seeing that the man was still trying to evade her question, Xena decided to leave him and see for herself. But something was nagging at the back of her mind. If the man was so reluctant to tell her the truth, what could be wrong? She sensed that something out of the ordinary must have occurred, and it struck her that maybe her lover was betraying her.
“Where is he? Is he and Iolaus alone in their room?”
“Yes, quite alone.”
“Tell me the truth, or I will cut you like a gelding.”
“Yes, your highness. They are quite alone.”
Relieved that her lover’s worst transgression might simply be the drinking of too much wine, Xena straightened up.
“Take me to their room now.”
“But your highness, this is no place for a respectable lady -“
“That’s not for you to worry yourself over. Are you going to show me the way, or will I have to find him myself?”
“N – No. Come this way, please.”
On their way to the finest room in the house, Xena and Gabrielle passed many men asleep on the floor of the hall, but also a few doors opening off the main hall. From inside those rooms came the sounds of men waking up. Her shouting match with the tiresome man at the door must have wakened them up.
Preceding those men out of their rooms came a number of scantily dressed young women, obviously hetaira. Xena loathed the sight of such degradation in any woman. She stopped, frowning.
“Ladies. Any of you who wish to leave this place can come with me, when I go. Under my escort.”
“But your highness -“
“Do you have a problem with that, my dear Hephaiston?”
The sight of her sword, glittering in the last remains of firelight dealt with whatever protest Hephaiston might have intended to voice. Two young girls approached Xena and Gabrielle timidly.
“Yes. Do you wish to come with us?”
“Yes, please. We were abducted from our homes and -“
“That is a total lie. No girls are here against their will.”
“Quiet. I will forget I heard that. Just come along with me and Gabrielle. I will speak to your fathers and if necessary offer them suitable compensation for your decrease in value on the marriage market. Unless you would like to travel to my home. We can always use two more recruits.”
“You mean become warriors like you and your friend?”
“Yes, if you like. Just be ready when we leave.”
“Thank you, your highness.”
That was as much time that Xena had to spare for her mission of mercy. Now she needed to see her lover. Hephaiston hurriedly indicated a door at the end of the main hall. Almost before Xena had caught the movement, the little man scurried off down the hall.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to.”
She didn’t spare him a second look. He was unimportant. Without bothering to knock on the door, Xena pushed into the room. In the half-light in there, it was hard to see anything clearly. Gabrielle approached the window and pulled away the cover. Now that the early morning sunlight flooded the room, Xena could at last see.
On the bed, two men were lying, the bedclothes partially covering them, but enough of them was visible, to tell that they weren’t wearing anything. They were lying so closely entwined, that there was no doubt at all what they had been doing until they had dozed off. So exhausted did they appear to be, that even the noise outside their door had failed to rouse them.
There was something drugged about that deep sleep, but for the moment, the fact eluded Xena. Her temper was notorious, and now an eruption was dangerously near. Furiously, she bent down to the bed and grabbed the end of the sheet.
That at last woke the two men. By now the poison had begun to wear off, and Hercules and Iolaus were once again themselves. It took them a few seconds to remember where they were. Faced with Xena’s fury, they were crushed.
“I don’t want to hear another word out of you. You have done quite enough. Is this how you stay true to me?”
“Please. I have never done anything like this before in my life.”
“Oh, well, there’s always a first time. And a last time. Take a good look at me, Hercules, because you will never see me again.”
“But I swear to you that I would never betray you. It’s you I love, and -“
“You have a strange way of showing your love for me. I’m disappointed with you. The least you could do is try and think of a better lie. How stupid do you think I am?”
“Wait, Xena. Don’t you think we should hear them out first? There may be some kind of explanation -“
“Yes, of course there is. They take us for fools. Can’t you picture them here, laughing at us? Would you look at that snivelling little fool? What you ever saw in that Iolaus, I’ll never understand.”
In truth, a few stray tears were glittering on Iolaus’ cheek. But Gabrielle’s reaction was a little different from Xena’s. Whatever her lover had done, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
“Let me talk to him alone, Xena. Perhaps he can tell me what they were thinking.”
“Oh, please yourself. I’m going outside for some air. The stink in here reminds me of -“
“Yes. I know. I’ll open the window.”
In disgust, Xena turned and marched out into the main hall again. She was going to make sure that rat Hephaiston didn’t try to detain those two girls. Men like him disgusted her too. In fact, sometimes all men did. Their weak, fragile little egos always had to be pampered and cosseted. All that was in stark contrast to their magnificent, strong bodies. How could you explain that paradox?
Inside the room, where Hercules and Iolaus were cowering, Gabrielle busied herself by opening the window, while giving the men some privacy to get cleaned up and dressed. Seeing that there was no water for washing, she called for the boy Androcles and made sure he brought hot and cold water before once again turning her back.
As soon as he was done, Hercules hurried after Xena. He had to find her and apologize, and if he could find one, he would come up with an explanation for his uncharacteristic behavior. But his mind was more or less a blank. Waking up the way he did, he had no doubts whatsoever what he and Iolaus had done, but why?
He didn’t have an answer to that question. In all his years of travelling with his friend, he had never felt drawn to him in any other way than as a friend. Yet now, judging from the way they had been lying together in bed, and from the few confusing snatches of memories, he knew they had become lovers.
“Yes. What was this all about?”
“I wish I could tell you. All I can remember is that we were really tired from walking all day. We came here, had some wine, fell asleep. Then we woke up, and after that – I don’t know. It was as if we were some other people. Or someone else was controlling us.””
“So you admit that you and Hercules – ?”
“I think so. As far as I can remember.”
“Alright. Do you have any kind of explanation?”
“You and Hercules. I can’t believe it.”
“How could you?”
“I don’t know. I swear I don’t know. It’s you I love, you know that.”
“You love me, and you do this?”
“Please, Gabrielle. You have to believe me.”
“I’m trying, but seeing you and Hercules together like that -“
“Alright. Let’s see if we can understand this. Are you saying this is some kind of magic spell you were under? Think.”
“It has to be something like that. But I don’t know -“
“Go back over the past couple of days. Did anything unusual happen? Was there anyone who – “
“Of course! Aphrodite!”
“She came to see Hercules a few days ago.”
“What did she want with him? No, wait. I think I know what she wanted. Did he oblige her?”
“Of course not. All his love is for Xena alone. You ought to know. That’s how I feel about you.”
“I see. This has to be her doing. Her revenge. Of course. Come on, we have to tell Xena. Are you dressed yet?”
“Yes. I’m coming.”
Outside, while waiting for the two girls to join her, Xena was pacing around irritably. She didn’t want to admit to herself how enfuriated this new discovery was making her, but Hercules meant the world to her, and now he had betrayed her. Unconsciously, she was swinging her sword back and forth. No one who saw her would have dared to approach.
That is, no one but Hercules. Only partially dressed, and unarmed, he walked up to his lover. His one and only love. Whatever had happened between him and Iolaus, he knew that the feelings he had for his friend weren’t the same as those he had for Xena. If only he could make her see that.
“Xena, please. Let me try to explain to you -“
“You want to try and explain to me? Go ahead, be my guest. This ought to be good.”
“I don’t know why this happpened, but you must know that I love you.”
“Oh, really? And this is how you show it? Nice.”
“I swear to you, it’s only you I love.”
“You only love me? So what was that I just saw? How you and Iolaus take care of your physical needs? How long has this been going on? Ever since you and I became lovers? For longer? From the time you and Iolaus began your travels together?”
“No. It’s not like that. I told you, I don’t know why we did this.”
“Oh, please. It just happened, just like that? Without you or Iolaus having any say in it?”
“I know how it must sound.”
“Xena, I beg you, don’t throw away what we have. Let me try and make it up to you, somehow.”
“How? Right now I just want to cut you limb from limb. No, don’t get any closer. I don’t know what I’ll do to you.”
And she really was swinging her sword in a very menacing way, only inches from Hercules’ perfectly shaped body. He stopped in his tracks but kept looking at her entreatingly. Pleadingly. So she wouldn’t be swayed, Xena stubbornly looked away from him. Those eyes, that face, the entire body affected her, in ways she didn’t want. Not now. Not after what he was guilty of.
“Oh, there you are, Gabrielle. Are you ready to go?”
“Wait. There’s something you need to know.”
Iolaus and Hercules waited yards apart, not daring to even look in each other’s direction, both of them hanging on the women’s every word.
Gabrielle walked up to Xena, and when the sword kept on swinging, dangerously close to her face, her hand shot out and held Xena’s arm down. Xena shot round, staring angrily at her friend, but seeing the logic of what Gabrielle was trying to hint, she let her arm hang loosely at her side.
“Hercules had a run-in with Aphrodite a few days ago.”
“Oh, really? This keeps getting better and better.”
“No, you don’t understand. He didn’t do anything. And that’s why Iolaus and I think that what happened is her revenge.”
For a second it was as if Xena hadn’t listened to a word her friend had told her. Then a glint of comprehension showed in her eyes. Her entire posture changed, and she relaxed a little.
“Aphrodite? Yes, I can believe that. This would be so like her. And that message, of course. Hercules, Iolaus, forgive me. I should have listened to you. And Iolaus, you’re not a snivelling fool. That’s just my temper. Where are those two girls? If they’re coming, it had better be now.”
“Yes, I can see them now. Over by the house.”
Gabrielle turned and waved at the two girls, shyly waiting by the door. They walked over and joined the group out on the road. Hercules offered to go back for their packs and Iolaus gratefully accepted. Anything to avoid looking at each other again. How would their friendship survive this?
In the meantime, Xena and Gabrielle looked the girls over, appraisingly. How fast would they be able to walk? It was no use worrying about it. Now that the offer was made, they would have to match their pace after the hetaira’s. It wasn’t long before Hercules was back carrying his and Iolaus’ packs. Without another word, they set off together. But that only meant postponing the real, painful discussions until later.
It took them the better part of five days to escort the girls to Xena’s kingdom. Resting there overnight, Xena and Hercules finally had some time alone together, just like Gabrielle and Iolaus. Also, the two men needed to talk things through. They both knew it, but were trying hard to put it off. Not that their first time alone with their true lovers was any less awkward. Both women knew what they had seen. That would take some time to forget.
“Good night, Xena. Don’t be too hard on Hercules.”
“Why not? Oh, alright. I suppose it wasn’t his fault.”
“Exactly. Just think of poor Iolaus. He had nothing to do with Aphrodite, and she still used him to get to Hercules, and to you. So incidentally she got to me as well. But you know what? I think they looked adorable together.”
“Are you serious? Oh, I know. They did, didn’t they? I’ll be sure to tell Hercules you said so.”
“Go on. And I’ll mention it to Iolaus too. Do you think he’ll be pleased?”
“He should. How many women would be able to take what we just saw, do you think?”
“Not many, I suppose. But we know it wasn’t the boys’ fault.”
“No. When I see Aphrodite -“
“It’s no use. If you challenge her, she’ll turn you into an old crone or something.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. Good night, Gabrielle. See you tomorrow. And don’t treat Iolaus too gently, I don’t think it’s good for him.”
“Alright. Calm down. I didn’t mean you should thrash him with the broadside of your sword.”
“Good, because I wouldn’t. He hasn’t been that bad.”
“Go on. Take care of that man of yours. I’ll do the same with mine.”
When Xena entered the room, Hercules was waiting in the shadows beside the fireplace. Hearing her come in, he turned and faced her. There was such a stricken look in his eyes, she winced at the pain that was reflected there. And belatedly, she was filled with remorse at her initial refusal to listen to his explanations. Didn’t she owe him better than that? Perhaps she was in the habit of judging people too quickly.
“There you are, Hercules. We need to talk.”
“I know. Can you ever forgive me? And do you think Iolaus ever will?”
“Forgive you? No. It’s the other way around. I need to ask your forgiveness. Even after seeing you in that situation, I should have let you explain. I should have accepted your word. Instead I made things worse. For both of you. I’m really sorry. As for Iolaus, I don’t know. If I were him, I would, but that might not mean much.”
“You’re too generous to me.”
“Maybe. But I am very fond of you, you know. No, it’s more than that. I love you. But if I ever see that Aphrodite again -“
“Xena, no. Don’t. Mortals can’t fight gods. You know that.”
“I’d still like to give it a very good try. Not much fight in her, I’m willing to bet. But you’re right. As long as she stays away from us humans.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“On the other hand, who can blame her for being partial to someone as beautiful as you?”
“You’re mocking me.”
“No. I’m not. You’re absolutely perfect.”
“Would you love me if I were all human?”
“I’m sure I would. Or are you saying your good looks are solely due to your divine ancestry?”
“Maybe not. My mother was very beautiful.”
“I swear, I would love you even if you were a mere human, like me. There. Does that satisfy you?”
“That’s more than I have a right to expect.”
“Now, are you going to bed or not?”
“As you command, your highness.”
“That’s better. And about Iolaus, I really think you might talk to him, later. He’ll get over it.”
“I hope so.”
In Gabrielle’s and Iolaus’ room the atmosphere was very much the same. Iolaus was on his knees in front of the fire, warming his hands. The mundane task was in marked contrast with the somber thoughts inside his mind. He didn’t even notice Gabrielle walking into the room, until she put a hand on his shoulder. Startled, he looked up, with such longing in his eyes, she drew in breath sharply.
Again, she was filled with useless anger towards the cold-hearted goddess. It wasn’t fair the way their petty, selfish games affected the lives of innocent humans on Earth. A world without gods would be a much better world, in Gabrielle’s view. All she wanted was to take Iolaus into her arms and hold him until that sad look left his eyes. She moved to act on that impulse, and again, she startled him, but this time in a nicer way. His sudden smile, warmed her heart.
“I can’t believe you still love me, Gabrielle. After seeing me like that. You must have thought -“
“Yes, I thought many things, but most of all, I wanted to hear an explanation from your own lips, before forming an opinion. As far as I’m concerned, you and Hercules are without guilt in this. So nothing further need be said about it, if you prefer. That’s up to you. I just want you to know, that I will never hold it against you.”
“But you will never be able to erase that sight from your memory.”
“No. But I don’t really care. You made a lovely picture together.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, but like I said, it’s nothing you need to think about again. If you can forget, so can I.”
“But Herc must hate me.”
“It’s Aphrodite you need to hate, not each other. Don’t let her win.”
“I suppose you’re right. What did I ever do to deserve such a woman as you? Wise, strong and beautiful. I’ll never know what you see in me, as Xena so rightly pointed out.”
“Don’t give it another thought. Xena was hurt and angry. And she did apologize.”
“I remember. But it doesn’t change the fact -“
“Oh, stop that. I wouldn’t think you were a snivelling fool, even if I didn’t love you as much as I do. Now come to bed. It’s late, and we’re tired and tomorrow we need to get an early start.”
And she took his hand, pulling him with her towards the bed. After the long and strenuous walk, they were both very tired. It wasn’t long before they were fast asleep, as closely entwined as Hercules and Iolaus had been on that fateful morning.
The next day, they were up early. Before the sun was high in the sky they were well under way. Towards midday, they stopped and rested. For an autumn day, it was quite hot and clammy. Xena and Gabrielle went down to a nearby stream to drink and bathe their feet. Knowing it was useless to put off their conversation any longer, Hercules and Iolaus remained by the campsite.
They both spoke at once and had to start over again. That did nothing to relieve the awkwardness of the situation.
Knowing his friend, Hercules could tell that it was up to him. So, clearing his throat, he began.
“I was hoping you’d be able to forgive me -“
“No. You have nothing to apologize for.”
“But if I hadn’t angered Aphrodite -“
“There was nothing else you could have done. So you think we will be able to stay friends?”
“If you can forget, I will try too. It wasn’t our fault. Aphrodite did this to us. We mustn’t let her ruin our lives. She’s done quite enough.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. You know how much our friendship means to me.”
Hercules smiled weakly. He had been telling the truth, but what he wasn’t saying was how long it would be before he would again be comfortable around his friend. But he suspected Iolaus already knew that as well as he did. At least, he now knew his friend didn’t hate him, and that was as much as he could expect so soon afterwards.
But he had known for a long time how helpless humans were in the hands of the gods. This was only a different way of playing with them, not a new situation in itself. What hurt the most, was that he had their accursed blood in his own veins. Part of him would always be like them.
He swore to himself never to abuse his strength the way his divine kin did. Iolaus would have had every right to hate him. It was only his friend’s kindness and loyalty that prevented him from turning away from their friendship.
“Thank you, Iolaus. I don’t deserve your friendship.”
“Yes, you do. No man could have a better friend.”
Their protestations of affection were interrupted by the return of their lovers. The women glanced slyly at them out of the corner of their eyes.
“Yes. Everything is fine.”
“That’s good. Are you boys ready to go?”
Xena gave her friend a knowing look. “I told you they would be ok“, she seemed to be saying. Gabrielle mentally shook her head. She was the one who had been sure about that, not Xena. Still, if that was the way Xena remembered things, it would do as well. All that really mattered was that their lovers were going to be alright. Despite the vicious attack from above. The vengeance of the goddess had backfired slightly, and that was their luck.