"Then I believed that I could conquer love, conquer it with discretion and good sense. And when that too failed me, I resolved to die."-- Euripides
"Time to die," a guard said, and poked Iphicles' naked thigh with the tusked end of his spear.
Sometimes even Death couldn't make a good entrance.
His muscles screaming, Iphicles stood, twisting away from the wall where Actaeon died in open-mouthed agony from a dozen furious canine bites. He wore that goddamn image every day on his back, the stones tattooing him, and he'd chaffed his chained wrists trying to escape it. One of the perks of eternal darkness: Caesar couldn't tongue it any more or talk of tattooing it there for real, all steps in his petty payback. Had anyone fixed the dining room wall, or had Caesar left the gaping space as some sick reminder of the "insult"?
"Where's Caesar?" Iphicles asked the guard. "I want to see him." Today, his last, he could at least tell his imperial highness that the steady, punitive stream of Caesarian tongue and dick only confirmed Iphicles' original statement.
"He's around. Miss his cock already? It's only been a few hours."
"Where is he? Is he watching this?"
A jangle of keys, then the guard unlocked the chain binding him in place. Escape was impossible: while the blood rushed through his numb arms and his elbow joints screamed, Iphicles' hands were bound behind his back.
"Answer me, you big, dumb--"
The guard's hand cracked casually across Iphicles' cheek, and he let himself be led quietly through the palace's maze of opulent rooms. Fighting only made him look scared, and Caesar had already taken enough satisfaction. Today, at least, it would end. Didn't feel especially fatal, though, just routine, as they headed for the baths where a dozen slaves would wash and perfume him, their touch light and invasive. His cock twitched, and the swelling brought the familiar ache in his balls, while his nipples, stiff from the morning breeze that wafted between the thin columns, tightened even more against their new gold rings.
Some dark part of him hoped that today they'd let him come, that someone would screw up and suck him a second too long, or finger him a breath too hard, an orgasmic kiss-off before Hades became his new master. After weeks of constant teasing, it wouldn't take much to get him off. "Teasing"? When your kid brother took your marbles and hid them--that was teasing. This was more Tartarian, the sexual version of Tantalus' punishment. His body was so fucked up his cock wouldn't stop leaking and looked wet now in the lemon light as it swung between his thighs.
When the Fates smacked Caesar, he'd have a job waiting for him in the inner rings of Tartarus, Tisiphone's helper in charge of mind-fuck punishments. Who else would put something in Iphicles' wine to stop him from coming awake or asleep, so he could feel but never finish what they started? And Caesar had a whole hellish battalion working for him. The slaves. The guards. Ares.
*I'm going to die before I come.* Bad poetry, sure, but sometimes even cheap sentiment was ringed with truth. Iphicles started to shake, and his cock swelled more, hard and angry. One of the Praetorians snickered, and they paused outside the atrium for a quick session of king-torture, pushing him against a wall (not Actaeon here, just a fan-tailed peacock with emerald eyes) while they stroked him everywhere. Naked, hands bound and body quivering, Iphicles could do nothing even when repositioned with one guard on a red silk couch before him, licking the head of his cock, and one behind, using the oil they all carried now to grease his hole, pushing inside Iphicles' ass with a satisfied, bestial grunt. Hands reached around and thumbed the rings in his nipples, never too hard, because Caesar had promised death for any sexual pain, three hundred sestertii each for sexual pleasure.
His cock on fire, Iphicles thrust helplessly into the wet mouth, over and over, his skin purple with blood. After the first one came up his ass, licking his shoulder while the semen spurted in a hot volcanic flow, Iphicles was gently bent forward to take a newcomer, and he opened his mouth for the seated man's cock, sucking it hard, hating himself, while his ass was stretched and filled by the next guard, the Praetorian party-favor.
While the second one finished in his ass after fucking him with a whore's skill (that prick Caesar must've paid for free lessons at the local house for fallen Vestal virgins), Iphicles swallowed mouthfuls of come.
"Breakfast," one of the guards wittily noted.
"That's enough for now," another said, his voice a little wavery, worried maybe that Iphicles' fate was sexually-transmitted, and they continued through halls covered with colorful proclamations of Caesar's divinity, like the one outside a reception hall, with Caesar in full imperial garb, lean and wolfish, standing on a map of the world, while he smiled with supreme self-confidence from each diamond-shaped ceiling tile.
Outside the piscina, a bronze Caesar stood on a marble base inscribed with "the undefeated god," two fingers extended in a parody of mercy. Inside, a guard fixed an iron collar on Iphicles, the chain extending back to a wall where the emperor rode in procession, his chariot drawn by a team of prancing white horses. The metal hooked into a ring at the chariot's base, another of Caesar's self-serving little jokes. A week ago Iphicles had climbed down the slippery steps into the warm water, not sitting on the bottom one as a slave instructed but walking until the water covered his head, and his lungs swelled wider than his cock. He fought the men who tried to rescue him, bruising his hip, which had pissed off Caesar, who wanted him unmarked and, of course, alive.
Today, twelve slaves, all young, male and dark--no blonds, not after what he said, not with Caesar's tight fist of a memory--followed him into the water, and the cleansing began. He stood quietly while the strigil scraped his flesh, then a razor, and tongues worked the hard-to-reach places. With three of them sharing his cock, the pleasure got so intense he fell, the water sweeping over him, and when, at a tug of the collar, he broke the surface, Ares and Caesar were there.
"Leave," Caesar said to the boys, who scattered like marbles. To Iphicles: "Are you ready to die?"
Caesar smiled. "Of course. That's why we're here. For one last use of you."
Naked, Ares was already walking down the steps, the solid mass of muscles rippling like waves in the pool. "Ready for it?" he asked in a deep low voice that always echoed. His cock, huge and hard, was already slick with oil, and he sat on a low step, pulling Iphicles onto his lap and filling him in one slick easy thrust. Ares, as Iphicles had learned, wasn't big on foreplay.
"He's always ready for it." His purple tunic draped over a chair, Caesar joined them, sitting beside Ares to cup Iphicles' balls, rolling them in his hands, as Iphicles rode up and down on that big cock, smarting with hated lust. Ares might be a violent psychopath, but he fucked with military precision.
"When he's dead, we'll head back to Gaul." Caesar tugged lightly on one of Iphicles' nipple rings, making him cry out. "I've heard a rumor that the Sequanii have offered their war god a hundred new temples and as many human sacrifices if he helps them defeat my army."
"Don't worry about Teutates," Ares said, his hips rising and falling. He looked bored, his head turned slightly toward Caesar so that Iphicles saw only his profile, not the endless blackness of his eyes. "I've got him busy in a skirmish to the North. Watch the Helvetii. They're making alliances with everyone."
Iphicles opened his mouth to tell them they were sick fucks--more depressing evidence that impending doom and wit were mutually exclusive, he was sorry to see--but Caesar reached for his cock, squeezing the head, and Iphicles only betrayed himself again with a moan, back arching, ass tightening around Ares' cock impossibly deep inside him. Ever since they'd started this torture, weeks ago now, he'd given into them, not least because the flare of lust overtook the fear. And given the circumstances, self-respect wasn't really an issue.
He could taste the orgasm, so close that every muscle in his body clenched and reclenched with a carpenter's rhythm, and maybe he was tasting it, all the come he hadn't spilled in weeks, filling him like a wineskin, until he was nearly bursting with it, a thread away, a breath, just one more thrust and...But the thrusts kept coming, and he never did, just shuddered and whimpered like a slut, like--
"Your mother," Ares whispered in his ear. "She was like this when my father fucked her. I know. I watched," and he and Caesar laughed while Iphicles moaned louder, wishing he could tear off his skin and free the come that way, then stab Ares and Caesar until their blood dyed the pool red.
"What about the little whore-king's wife?" Caesar asked, when the laughter melted. "Didn't she moan a lot while you fucked her?"
"No, she was pretty quiet. Just wrapped her legs around my hips and came more times than she could count. And she tried, after."
Ever subtle, Caesar increased his rhythm. "Tell me again how you seduced her."
"I didn't have to do much," Ares said with a smirk. "Just showed up while he was off with her stepfather and ordered her on her knees. The bitch loved sucking a god's cock."
Under layers of pleasure, Iphicles hated them both, really hated them. And he kept hating them as Caesar stood and held Iphicles' head for his cock, even while Ares fucked him harder, his hand replacing Caesar's, stroking him, if that's what you called a gesture without warmth or life. Not stroking, then. As Ares *did* him like he was some stage in a battle plan.
Ares turned back and looked into Iphicles' eyes. "Fucked his brother, too."
"Bet he had a tight ass," Caesar said. "The virtuous ones always do."
Caesar used to tell Iphicles he had a tight ass, back when they were lovers and pretend-equals, when they started fucking after that first banquet here two months ago. In the nights since their relationship changed, he thought that maybe Caesar had liked his ass too much, and that's why he was such a prick now, because Iphicles had seen that one private, human sliver.
Or maybe it was just ego. No one had an ego like Caesar. He focused on the anger, used it to direct his thoughts. "You're only doing this," Iphicles said, "because you fell in lo--"
"Shut your mouth, you stupid whore," Caesar snapped. "I'm doing this because it's what you deserve. Fucked and fucked but never able to come, especially after today. Unless Hades decides you're worth a fuck. Maybe he'll let Cerberus have you."
"Better than he deserves," Ares said, and did that thing with his cock where it hit him right in his center, over and over, until his thoughts fragmented and crumbled, and he was just this slick, hot, overwhelmed hole.
More blinding thrusts in his mouth and ass, a strangling weight of pleasure, then Ares and Caesar both came. From a cloudy distance, under their grunts and his cries, Iphicles envied them, his body straining toward orgasm, desperate for it. Afterward, Ares simply picked him up and tossed him back into the water, and when he was tugged up by a guard, the two were gone, and the servants back.
Iphicles barely noticed as they guided him to a low table and smeared him with perfumed oil, a touch of red ochre on his nipples, lips and asshole. He was speechless now, even his eyelids throbbing, blurring the room with its arcaded row of statues, the sober, pretty faces of the boys, while the hands fluttered around him like...
*He's the god I'd fuck.*
Emphasis on "I". Slap in the face with "he". Insult with "god" ("I'm a god, you Greek bitch"). All because of a vivid dream the night before inspiring the "fuck" part, Cupid kissing Iphicles everywhere, sweet and soft, tender, come on the sheets in the morning. Lots of it. A single throwaway sentence--wasn't it?--and Caesar, who had been fucking Iphicles all over Rome with a single-mindedness that started to read like love, smashed the Corinthian-Roman alliance, vertical and horizontal forms, tossing the treaty in the fire and Iphicles in chains.
So much for Iphicles' power-fuck, his break from reality after his wife's death.
Caesar also had his elite Praetorian guards on their knees, paring knives in hand to gouge yellow and white stones from a dining room wall, removing all traces of the offending story: Cupid's chastisement. They left Ares alone, whip in hand, Aphrodite weeping at his side, but Cupid, curled on his side, vulnerable, naked, strong white wings bursting from his boy-man's back, ended up a pile of rubble.
"You're ready," one of the slaves said in the rough Latin they all spoke, that he spoke, too. No one belonged here.
A guard, foreign like they all were, this one from Egypt or Lybia, detached the chain from a wall but kept the collar around Iphicles' neck. "We're off to the Forum, bitch," he said, and forced him to walk ahead of them, out of the palace, through the courtyard. Was that Rena at the window, a pale elegant ghost haunting the palace? But she had her revenge, too, even if she didn't ask for it. Anyone who'd ever known Iphicles now had their revenge as he was paraded naked, hard and rouged through the Roman streets, past wine shops and jewelry stores, through triumphal arches and over bridges. Revenge worked for Caesar only if everyone saw it.
As the people taunted him, Iphicles thought about his wife, who tried to love him, and his mother, who tried even harder, and his brother, who tried the hardest and failed the worst. He was alone here, more alone than ever. Even Caesar might feel distinctly unlovable in Iphicles' place, being paraded through the crowds, a fallen king, with no one to blame but his own weak ego, too impressed with Rome, with an emperor, with anyone and everything but his own abilities. At least his lust was finally fading, crushed somewhere between shame and regret, which were hitting him low and hard so that every step was like a whip-strike, and at least, at last, he understand why Cupid attracted him, even when Caesar was stuffing diamonds up his ass.
*I should pray to him.* Like that would help. Even if Cupid had nothing better to do than rescue doomed kings, he'd never go against his father. Ares would hurt him again, more payback for the humiliation of being netted in flagrante delicto (a phrase he'd picked up from Caesar, who liked the servants to watch his imperial cock slid into Iphicles' just-a-king's ass).
The crowd's noise hurt his head. The sun didn't help, bright as a gold coin, glinting off the bronze statue to his left, Remus, Romulus and the she-wolf foster mother who suckled her boys to violent manhood. He stared at the wolf, whose features shifted until her face became Caesar's, cunning and brutal. There was another statue, too, outside the temple of Jupiter, just left of the steps leading up to the portico. More wings, but not Cupid, just plain Victory looming over a fallen soldier. The poets called that foreshadowing, only it wouldn't be Victory looming over him in an hour or two, but a big satiated lion with a bloody mouth and paws big as clubs.
There were garlands hanging between the pillars of the portico, and he remembered how as a kid Hercules always got excited at the festival of Apaturia, figuring that this year, finally, Zeus would drop by on this festival of fatherhood and make up for all the teasing Herc endured whenever he walked into the village. And Iphicles, older, more knowing, more insensitive in that special way adults had, that he had, would tell his little brother that the king of the gods would not be popping in, divorce decree in hand, wedding ring in the other, to make Herc legit and their mom respectable. Herc would cry. It seemed like Iphicles had spent most of his life trying to make him cry, even when his brother was too big for tears and substituted a kind of wooden blankness that maybe was Iphicles' fault.
*Maybe I deserve this.* He stumbled then, on the sun-baked road, his ankle twisting, and the Romans loved it, like he was a clown performing for them. Maybe he'd picked the wrong profession, and instead of accepting the Corinthian crown from Jason should've gone into the theater. Maybe Hades had an opening in the all-Tartarian revue.
The amphitheater blocked the sun the way only a theater of death could, and Iphicles stopped breathing, just stopped, his heart frozen and dull, but hot, holy Zeus it was hot, and sweat poured from him, stinging his eyes, dazzling him, which was a good thing, since he could walk into this huge mausoleum, this place where his soul would be eaten from his body, and not scream or faint. Time speeded up, like Zeus had broken his sun dial, and the guards marched him down narrow dark corridors until they came to...
Tartarus already? But he wasn't dead, only there were animals and gods everywhere, huge heads grinning, snarling, a tiger to his right, a nymph to his left, three satyrs ahead, fur, feathers and silk dripping from the ceiling, the colors and textures of nightmares. If not the Underworld, the inside of a lion's belly.
Except a small thin man hurried forward, with eyes so round and shiny, and a nose so beaked it seemed as though he wore one of his own masks. "It's this one," he said, unhooking a life-sized horse's head from the wall. "Caesar was very specific."
It looked eerily real, with a long soft nose and liquid dark eyes. Iphicles scratched the velvet ears and tugged it on. Caesar's final jab (horse equals mare equals "I ride you and that's all your worth"), but somehow he found the dead face comforting, and a glance in a handheld glass offered the relieving sight of a placid animal, not a mortal failure. He'd tried a few masks in his time, including his own brother's, but this was easier, even if another lie, and he kept looking, one hand absently stroking not his new equine face but a cloak made of long white feathers, softer than a lover's hand.
Another tug, and he left the animal room, back to the dank serpentine corridor, twisting and turning, a horse now at the Circus Maximus, snorting and galloping, and...
Brilliant glare as a blast of light hit an expanse of sand. Struck blind, he froze, blinking against intense white nothingness. Clickclickclick of locks, then a grunted "Move, you worthless bastard" from behind, and a foot to his spine, sending Iphicles stumbling forward. He caught his balance with one hand in the sun-warmed sand, and grabbed the spear a guard tossed beside him.
A shout, a foreknowing roar from a hungry crowd, who'd put aside the meaning of men in the ring, shifting it from a lesson in honor and virtue to a bloody him-not-us-thank-the-gods punishment, encouraged, of course, by Caesar himself. Beautiful if silent irony that for a long moment the sun eclipsed Caesar, and Iphicles needed another minute to orient himself, to see the box above the weeping Vestal virgins, with their lacy hypocrisy, because they never tried to help him, to the purple-draped box where Caesar sat. Caesar, with a real god holding his hand or his dick, however you saw their relationship, was unstoppable. Everyone knew that. He sat now in his purple robes, stiff and pristine, Brutus and Cassius at his side. Ares stood in the background, but looked bored, and left seconds later in a flash of blue sparks.
"Begin," Caesar said, with one of his tight little gestures.
How can he be alone with the crowd circling him, hundreds of men and women shrieking like devils, fists raised, starved for death? Iphicles made his own little gesture, a one-fingered salute that had the crowd hissing, and,
*I ask for it.*
The revelation sucker-punched so hard that Iphicles almost missed the iron grate rising. Another irony: cluing in just as a huge, black-gummed, yellow-coated, white-fanged lion leapt from its prison, spittle flying, claws huge and curved like scimitars. A dozen words spun through his head, mostly four-letter ones, because what do you say when Death shows up in a ravenous, leonine form, and you have a spear slightly smaller than Caesar's dick?
The shadow fell and the crowd gasped just before he decided on a five-letter word, a chance, because it wasn't the time to be sullen and withdrawn, not with whiskered Death slobbering toward him. The audience thought it was part of the show, more Caesarian theatrics, a truly flamboyant and breathtaking spectacle, when this beautiful guy, winged like Pegasus, naked, with his father's strong muscles, swooped from the sky on invisible pulleys and yanked Iphicles away from teeth and claws and a splattered end as cat food.
"Cupid," Iphicles said, forgetting for a second about his horsehead, which muffled the declaration, and pulled it off, dropping the mask to the sandy floor a few dozen feet below. (Just to make sure Cupid got it right, and didn't accidentally rescue Iphicles, former king of Corinth, when he'd been aiming for some Christian). It landed beside the lion, who stared at it, startled, then began to bat the air with a massive paw as Iphicles' nipple rings fell past him.
Hovering above the amphitheater, with the crowd outroaring the lion, Cupid smiled and drew an arrow from his bow, shooting the animal in the heart. "I never did like cats."
Iphicles, master of saying anything but what he meant, understood, and smiled into a handsome young face, with a pouty mouth and warm eyes that didn't care about cliches and secrecy but said all sorts of dirty, romantic things to him. Then Iphicles, a little embarrassed by what he was seeing, decided to chance another look down, saw a last look at Caesar's ubiquitous face, not controlled now, but spilling every emotion he usually vaulted somewhere under his hollow heart. Pathetic. Then they shot higher into the ether, and Caesar faded, while the earth shrank, just clumps of white, blue and green. "He's going to be pissed."
"So's my Dad."
That dimmed things a little, that he was a revenge project and not true love, but Iphicles nodded. "You better go into hiding."
"Shit," Cupid said. "I'm not doing this right. I never do anything right. Look, I say the wrong things. It's what I do. I open my big mouth and words come out all messed up. You're going to think I'm not in love with you, and that's so not true."
Iphicles wanted to hear more, but they were so high now, Cupid's wings flapping in great waves of white power, wind rushing past, that he decided to show this big, hot-bodied, blond bird-boy that he was open to the suggestion. Throughout their conversation, he couldn't help but notice Cupid's rock-hard cock pressed against his oiled ass, and put it down to a god-thing, perpetual virility, but now decided, in a rare display of self-worth, that maybe it was a little more personal. A little careful squirming, arms tight around Cupid's neck, legs wrapped around his waist, and the thick head of that cock began to slide into him.
Cupid's eyes went big. "Holy fuck."
"That's good, right?"
"I've just thought about this a lot, you know? Pretty intense that it's happening. I guess," he added cautiously, "that it's a big deal for you. After what they...You know. I tried to stop him, you know. My father. Because...Oh fuck, yes." His eyes closed and his head went back, his cock deep as it could go, and they sank a few feet, past a few wispy clouds.
"Can you fly like that?"
"Yeah. But talking...I think that better wait til later. This is...I'm not ready for it. Wow."
It seemed like a good plan, so Iphicles began to rock his hips, then remembered the drug. "I don't know if you can fix this, but they gave me something so I wouldn't come."
Cupid bent his head and kissed him, his lips soft and sweet like pears in wine. A current passed through him, a jolt like standing near the ground where lightning struck. "Nothing's stopping you now," Cupid said, and took Iphicles' cock in his hand. "I want you to come for me. Over and over again."
A few strokes of cock and hand, and Iphicles did come, yelping in a way that might be embarrassing if he weren't flying through an azure sky in with a love god's cock inside him, spilling semen all over Cupid's flat belly and his own. He was surprised when Cupid came right after him, since Ares always took forever.
"Fuck," Cupid said again. "Some god of love. I'm too excited. Guilty, too, for not stopping him. It's kind of throwing me off my rhythm."
"I know what you mean." As they climbed higher, so high the quality of light shifted, radiant and perfectly clear, Iphicles noticed the faint white lines over Cupid's body, and how the skin, transparent through the feathers under this pure sun, was blue-black. "He did that?"
"Hey, don't worry about it. Like I said, I tried to stop him. You know what he's like. I'll heal. It just takes a while when another god does it to you. It's okay. I fixed him good."
"How?" Iphicles asked, shivering now, because they were flying through the curving range of snow-topped mountains, purple and white below them.
"He's got it bad for Xena. Always has. She's the only one who ever left him, and I've made sure that no matter how much he begs, she'll never even be tempted. Ever. Just a little spell I cooked up. It's irreversible, too, so he can't beat me into changing my mind. Besides, he'll be busy for months--Mom freaked when she found out what he'd done, and arranged a war in every corner of Greece."
Iphicles' shivering reawoke Cupid's cock, still wet and hot inside him, hard now, and he took it slower this time, breathing the sharp mountain air and the musky smell of Cupid's body. "I want Caesar to die."
"Don't worry about him," Cupid said, as a swath of silky green fabric suddenly wove around them, warming their skin against Aeolus' icy breath. "Brutus and Crassius are really pissed at him for what he did to you. They're doing the public front thing, but when Caesar's not around...Let's just say that you might want to mark the Ides of March on your calendar. Oh wow. It's happening again."
They were sinking now, Cupid's wings slowing, more hot come, and a bone-melting lassitude. His eyes half-closed, Iphicles saw the blur of tall pines, snow drifts, swirls of pale grey smoke from village hearths, a grey wolf staring at them from a forest's edge, then a colonnaded temple with huge brass doors.
"Sorry we had to fly. Only the older gods can travel with a mortal." Cupid landed first, then let Iphicles regain his balance before stepping away, his wings folding behind him. "Let's go in."
The interior was all polished crystal that glimmered like ice, warm though under Iphicles' feet, with a round pool in the center, the water bluer than the sky. Music reached him, the disembodied lull of a lyre, and he just stood there, breathing air tinged with cedar and incense. "This is nice," he said sleepily. "A lot better than where I thought I'd be by the end of today. Fuck you, Caesar."
They walked together to the water, and Iphicles dropped the green cloth, which instantly vanished. At the edge, he nudged the smooth blue surface with his toe, and felt a soothing heat, then lowered himself into the pool, while Cupid dove in, emerging a few feet away with his body gloriously wet, his wings extended behind him, his cock filling. Iphicles waited, his own body responding, but Cupid didn't move. "What's the matter?"
"When you're ready, Iphicles, I'd like you to fuck me."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I need some sleep and food first," Iphicles said.
"Oh, right. You stay here, and when you're done, just go through that doorway back there, okay? Or," he added slowly, "you can leave. Don't feel bad if you do. You didn't ask for this rescue mission." Cupid waved his hand, and a pile of neatly-folded clothes and towels appeared beside the pool. "There's some gold there, too, so you can get back to civilization. If you want. It's the least I can do." He gave a great shake, drops of water flying everywhere, then vanished.
Iphicles climbed into the water, letting it close over his head. He stayed there, eyes closed, lungs constricting inside his chest, then kicked off the bottom and broke in a rush through the surface, then did it again, and again, testing his limits, relearning his freedom, sloughing off the past. By the end, he could barely stand, his body clean but drained, his mind refusing to untangle anything else. Dressing in a dream, conscious only of warm soft fabric, sturdy boots, the weight of coins, he walked back to the brass doors, which opened easily.
The frigid night air burned his skin, but he didn't go back, instead following the narrow path that wound down the mountain to the village huddled in the valley below. The moon, full and yellow, lit the way, and Iphicles walked slowly, listening to owls call from the great trees flanking him, to a pack of wolves howling angrily in the distance, to the crunch of his own feet in the newly-fallen snow. His cloak had a hood, but he didn't use it, to catch every sound, every flutter of wings.
The sun was misty and virgin-pink over the treetops when Iphicles reached the first white-washed hut, and kept walking until he spotted painted grapes on a wooden sign. The doors were locked, but the innkeeper, his nightcap tilted over one puffy blue eye, his nightshirt huge and falling to his bare feet, let him in, giving Iphicles a room that overlooked a frozen lake, and vowed to send up some food shortly, right after he lit a roaring fire.
Iphicles, so tired his bones ached, fumbled with his clothes and got them off, dropping them in a heap on a chair. When the innkeeper returned, he was wrapped in a sheet, and stood quietly while the old man set the table with honey-soaked pastry, a compote of apples, pears and almonds, and a pitcher of cider with a pewter mug. With a bow, he left, and Iphicles ate the food at the window, licking his fingers between bites. Afterward, in the fire-warmed room, he kicked off the covers and lay naked on the mattress, his legs open, his cock hard and heavy against his thigh.
Nothing happened, and he fell asleep like that, dreaming of lions and bruised wings.
A week of sleep and honey later, Iphicles sent messages to his brother and his mother, giving them an abridged version of the story, so they'd know he was alright. Next, he borrowed a knife from Giovanni and went for a walk in the woods behind the little inn. Nothing happened here either, so he went back the next day, booted feet sinking into snow up to his knees, stomping between trees with claws for branches that cast mauve and black shadows, so the forest looked beaten and haunted.
Maybe it was.
As the sun began to crouch low and the shadows grew longer, he heard the sound, a shuffling that stopped and started with his own awkward steps. "I'm here," he said loudly, pausing in a ring of dead black trees. "Come and get me."
The wolf jumped, a fluid leap silent except for a thin rush of frosty air. But after a Roman lion, a wolf seemed pretty tame, and Iphicles calmly lifted his knife, so the animal landed heart-first on it, hot stinking blood spraying everywhere as they toppled backward into the snow. It weighted as much as a man, but Iphicles dragged the cooling grey body back to the inn, and gave it as a present to the innkeeper's wife.
"Any messages for me?" he asked.
When the wide-eyed woman shook her head, stroking the fur of her future coat, Iphicles called for a bath, then went upstairs.
That night, still naked and spread-eagled on the straw-stuffed pallet, he dreamt of Actaeon, who'd seen too much of a god, only now wolves chased him, laurel twinned in their fur. Actaeon ran, but fell, and the lead wolf, with endless black eyes, leapt on him, jaws red and wide, teeth long and wide as fence posts that bit deep into Actaeon's arms. But Actaeon didn't die: he changed into a bird and flew into the trees, the beating of his wings echoing like laughter through the shadowy woods.
Weird, Iphicles thought, as he woke for an instant. Who could make sense of those symbols? Why didn't dreams just make sense?
Francesca had cleaned his clothes, and Iphicles thanked her with a kiss on her wrinkled cheek.
"Go on," she said, blushing. "Save it for your lover."
"I don't have one," he told her. "It's better to be alone. Safer."
She laughed and swatted him with the dust cloth she always wore over one shoulder. "Only dead is really safe. And you don't want that. No wolf-killer wants to be dead."
"What about a lion-killer?"
Her brow furrowed in confusion, but she smiled at him, since he had given her that beautiful grey fur. "No, not a lion-killer, either."
She had a point, but he waited another eight days before acting.
He wasn't sure what the protocol was for entering a god's private hideaway, so Iphicles stood outside awhile, staring at the big brass doors, his breath silver vapor under the distant sun.
*Maybe they're locked.* A little tentative push, which was stupid because he was, as Francesca said, a lion-killer, and they swung open. The room glittered, reflecting the pool's clear blue water, and Iphicles wondered how anyone could live here, in this bright diamond-world. No music this time, either. So Cupid wasn't here. Why would he be? Like he sat around for weeks waiting for Iphicles to make sense of things. Still, he'd come this far, nearly a full day's journey up the hill. A quick check couldn't hurt. A swim, at least, to give Cupid time. Even though he wasn't there.
Shutting the doors, Iphicles stripped quickly, then slipped into the water, swimming lazily from side to side, watching the darkened doorway against the east wall. Nothing happened. Okay, but Cupid was a god. He couldn't just go barging into the back, naked, spouting words that always sounded much better until they hit the air. On the other hand, he couldn't hide in the pool like some fucking virgin, either. A conclusion lurked around here somewhere, and he had to find it.
His cloak draped across his shoulders, Iphicles padded through the doorway, and stopped dead. Even in the low, flickering candlelight he could see the damage, the cracks in the crystal walls, the upturned tables, the splintered chairs. Bowls of food lay upturned, their contents dry or moldy, with wine bottles shattered on the floor.
Ares. Even four wars hadn't stopped him.
"Cupid!" Iphicles jumped over the glass, his heart battering his chest, and looked around desperately, then saw the outline of a door along the south wall. A bedroom this time, the ceiling and massive bed draped with pale blue silk. Not sure what to expect, he flung open the curtain that hid all but the bed's clawed feet, and saw Cupid curled in a ball, his eyes closed, his wings flat and lifeless.
Iphicles leapt on him, his mouth open, the cloak falling to the floor. He saw Cupid's eyes flutter just as the kiss started, soft lips, hot tongues, then hands everywhere. Then Iphicles pulled back, rolling onto his side so they were face to face. "Did he hurt you?"
"I haven't seen him in weeks, not since before you. When I told him to leave you alone."
"Then what happened? The mess out there? Everything broken?"
"Oh, that," Cupid said, and smiled weakly. "That was me."
"You ruined your own temple? Why?"
"I told you, Iphicles: I'm in love with you. When you left, I went a little crazy."
"I don't get it. If you love me, why didn't you come after me?"
"You left of your own free will. What was I going to do? Zap you with an arrow and make you love me? That's not my style. I'm more of a love-encourager. I leave the force to my father. So," Cupid asked in a low voice, "why did you come back?"
"I killed a wolf," Iphicles said.
"That's a pretty weird metaphor."
"This is a pretty strange relationship."
Cupid's mouth opened again under his, and Iphicles licked the pear-wine tongue, one hand moving to the wings, stroking the feathers as lightly as he could. Cupid moaned, cupping Iphicles' ass and pulling their bodies closer, their cocks, both hard now, rubbing with a slow, hot friction.
"I want to taste you," Cupid told him, but Iphicles couldn't stop kissing him, fascinated by the slick sweetness of Cupid's tongue.
When Cupid's kisses slid lower, along his jaw, then over his neck, Iphicles didn't fight it, just kept stroking the cloud-soft wings, feeling the strong taut webbing under the flurry of feathers. He liked the sounds Cupid made, the rumble that he felt against his throat, then against his chest as Cupid licked him there, his tongue circling one nipple, then the other, before his lips closed and he sucked, back and forth, until Iphicles was thrusting up between Cupid's legs, his back curved in a relentless arch.
Cupid looked up, flushed and ruffled. "You look so good like this."
"So do you."
More sucking, until his nipples were sore and stiff, and Iphicles dropped the wings to tangle his fingers in Cupid's hair, urging him lower. No resistance, only another low moan and kisses down his stomach, over his hips, on his inner thighs, which were pushed wide.
Iphicles half-sat, staring down. "Do it slow. I want to watch." Not quite a test, to ensure that watching this word was safe.
Cupid curled his fingers around the base of Iphicles' cock. "Don't hold back, okay? I want you to come, over and over again. I want to taste mouthfuls of you."
"Keep talking like that, and you will." Cupid's tongue slipped out, and the pink tip ran over the head of Iphicles' cock. "That's so good." He'd worried that it would remind him of the others, but it was so different with Cupid, who gave even a blow job a tender edge, licking and---
--sucking him with so much enthusiasm, real emotion, making those hot little moans that drove him crazy with lust. "You look so perfect with your mouth around my cock," Iphicles told him, and heard the crack in his own voice. "Can blow jobs be fated?"
A laugh against his cock, which was half-way down Cupid's throat now, the head caressing skin sleek as the crystal walls, but so much hotter, the shaft under a tongue that didn't stop learning him. Cupid's ass was rising and falling, a swell of gold muscular flesh framed by those strong white wings, and then the fingers tightened around him, the tongue curving, and Cupid started to shake, the wet sucking noises mixing with a muffled keening, and,
"Oh god," Iphicles said, somewhere between a prayer and a curse, because Cupid was coming just from blowing him, and that knocked him far, far over the edge, doing some flying of his own as Cupid's brows shot up, and he dimpled around the cock, his tongue scooping and dipping to catch every drop. "Oh god," all prayer now as his hips rose and he filled that beautiful, swallowing face. "I'm glad they didn't let me come," he finally said to Cupid, who was crawling up beside him, licking his lips. "I want you to have it all."
"I want that, too." Cupid kissed him, resting his head on Iphicles' shoulder. "Wanted it for months."
"Sure. Okay, maybe it was longer." He paused. "You don't remember, do you?"
"You were thirteen, and your father had gone to war--"
"And you couldn't sleep."
"Herc was a restless sleeper, and he was worse than usual that summer. I think he felt he'd driven my father away."
"So you decided to jerk off. Hand under the cover, trying to breathe real slow--"
"I'd never done it before, not all the way. I thought it would help me sleep--"
"And forget. I know. So you started doing it. I felt the...I guess you mortals would call them vibrations, and was vaguely aware of you, just the heat of what you were doing, and the loneliness."
"You do it harder, because it's starting to feel good, and it gets more intense for me, so I go to you. You don't see me, of course, but I stand over your bed, watching your face, feeling what you're feeling--"
"Oh god. I remember now."
"Yeah, you're pumping yourself, fucking your hand, kind of stunned by it, by how good it feels, and then--"
"I'm about to come, and you're right, it's so goddamn good, and I'm so close, about to explode--"
"And you say my name. That's the best part. The right part. You say my name."
"Cupid." Iphicles groaned it, his cock stiff again, remembering how he felt, the flash of pleasure and the face of a winged god he'd seen the day before in a temple, a mosaic on the floor.
"Fuck me," Cupid said, and a blue jar appeared in his hand. Dipping into it, he slicked oil on Iphicles' cock, smearing some between his own thighs.
Iphicles settled back and grasped Cupid's hips, slowly lowering him onto his cock. With each downward slide, Cupid's wings opened, protective and almost terrifying in their strength and size, and his cock, huge and tipped with fat silver drops, jutted out between his smooth thighs.
Cupid's eyes squeezed shut for a moment, then they opened, and he studied Iphicles' face. "I've never been fucked by a man before. Only gods. This is..." He bit his lip. "Better. Gods have something to prove. This is rawer. Rougher. Incredible."
"Just fuck me slowly," Iphicles said, gritting his teeth. "Your ass is tight as my hand was that first time. I won't last. I can't."
"I don't care. Don't you know that by now? Your cock inside me is enough. This is enough." His face was open as his eyes.
He started to shake, riding Iphicles' cock to a steady pounding rhythm, rain in a thunderstorm, his hole so burning hot that Iphicles didn't realize he was shouting until he saw Cupid smile, then felt the splash of semen on his chest, his face, then the searing burst between his legs as his cock exploded, and he lay there, writhing, for an orgasm that lasted so long he thought afterward that maybe he'd come a few times in a row.
They slept, talked and ate after that, chicken and figs, although Iphicles couldn't be sure, since he never looked down, just watched Cupid. At some point he swept the plates to the floor and bent between Cupid's legs to suck him, did it three times in a row because Cupid kept getting hard, and his come was spicy-sweet like nutmeg and cinnamon.
Later, when the air had a blue midnight feel, draped in that green length of fabric, then went outside. They kissed, sleepy and slow now under a moon like a round ball of snow, then Cupid flapped those giant wings and took them soaring upward. While Cupid touched him under the wrap, stroked his nipples and thighs, and Iphicles guided his lover's cock inside him, so that they fucked bumping into the stars.
Somewhere below them, behind a pine tree in the forest, a wolf howled. Iphicles knew a sign when he heard one, a symbolic blurt of truth from whoever was in charge of these things that life would go on, would still be complicated, messy and painful.
"I love you," he said to Cupid, because some truths mattered more than others.
*Invictus = unconquerable