torch, July 1999

Disclaimer: These fictional characters are not mine. Strictly speaking, I don't think they belong to anyone, but the universe is more Renaissance Pictures than ancient Greece. Do not archive this story without permission.

As day follows

The darkness was warm and gentle behind his closed eyelids.

Somewhere along the line, over the years, as time went by, the lines between comfort and discomfort had become blurred for him, one turning into the other at the slightest provocation of word or thought. The discomfort of sleeping on the hard ground was the comfort of rejecting luxury and special treatment. The pleasure of Deianeira's embrace was the anguish of remembering her. The pain of injuries was the joy of fighting for a good cause. The comfort of...


Right here, right now, in this bed in this palace in this city, with his head pillowed on a muscular shoulder, he was as comfortable as he'd ever been in his life. And with his eyes closed, in the dark, he could pretend that that didn't terrify him, that love did not invariably mean loss.

"You're not asleep," the softest of whispers, but still it startled him. "Why aren't you asleep?"

"I'm just..." Reluctantly he opened his eyes, tensed muscles to raise his head. "You're not asleep either."

"No." Strong fingers wound into his hair, rubbed at the back of his neck. "I'm just thinking. But you should sleep."

"Why me?" he said, with the contrariness of childhood bickering. "I'm not the one who has to get up and be a king tomorrow."

Iphicles chuckled, but there was a hollow sound to it. "You're the one who has to get up and be—"

Fumbling in the dark, Hercules dragged his fingers over skin and stubble before he managed to cover his brother's mouth. "Don't." He traced the curve of the full lower lip. "We can stay another couple of days." Somewhere else in the depths of night, Iolaus was hopefully deep in slumber and out of trouble. Hopefully.

"Unless something comes up." Carefully neutral words. In the dark. In the dark, they were so close, body to body, arms curved to hold, to shelter, but the words couldn't... Something tore, and the deep voice ran red with blood. "Until something comes up. And I'm left wondering when you'll come back. If you'll come back. If I'll see you again."

Terror lay with safety as he lay with his brother, close, so close. The lines blurred. They always blurred. "I'll come back, I'll always come back," and he wondered if time would make a liar of him, knew it would, eventually, "I won't—"

"No, you won't." Heart's blood spilled on this altar, a sacrificial offering, and the knowledge granted in return far too bitter. "But I will, Herc. I'll die, and I can't—"


It hurt, more than the blade that sliced flesh to ribbons, more than the club that splintered bone into fragments. He tightened his arms, felt the life he was holding, felt Iphicles' fingers dig into his shoulder and back with the same crushing urgency. It was all he could do to breathe. And then Iphicles hit his shoulder with a clenched fist and he knew he was holding his brother too tightly, too desperately. And no matter how hard he held on, it would never be—

"It's not enough," echo in a beloved voice, "I can't love you enough."

"Yes," there could be no truth in that, "you can. You do. You have." If this was how it was going to end, then it had to be said, and he closed his eyes again.

"No." Soft brush of lips against his forehead. "If I had a thousand years. If I had a more generous heart. I try to love you enough when you leave, I try to love you enough when I'm alone. I try to love you enough that I don't wish you would stay."

"I can't." The words were like rocks in his throat. He shifted and levered himself up on one elbow, against the pressure of Iphicles' hands. Too dark really to see anything, to know if their eyes met or not. But close as they were, skin spoke to skin.

"I know. And I can't go with you. And tomorrow I'll get up and be a king again."

"And what are you now?" he whispered.

"Yours." The hand in his hair tugged him down into a slow kiss, sweet as honey, bitter as rue. Mine, my brother, my lover.

And everything was all right, the lines blurred as they should; how could happiness like this not be painful, it was inevitable. Everything was as it should be. He was as comfortable as he'd ever been in his life, and the darkness was warm and gentle, and he was loved, and it was enough. It would have to be enough.

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