BIRTHDAY





"Are they gone yet?" Iolaus impatiently asked as he half rose to his feet.

"Get down," Iphicles hissed pulling at the hunter's vest. "They'll see you."

"They will not," Iolaus hissed back with an irritated look.

Hercules put a hand on Iolaus' shoulders and urged him back to his knees. "No need to take chances," he mildly added. They were well hidden in the trees overlooking Alcmene's farm, but his mother seemed to have the eyes of an eagle where her children were concerned.

"What's taking so long?" Iolaus grumbled. "You know, what we have to do is going to take time."

"He's right," Iphicles surprisingly agreed. "What could Mother and Jason be doing all this time?"

There was several seconds of silence. Hercules and Iphicles exchanged sudden embarrassed looks then looked away. Iolaus tried hard not to giggle...but failed.

"Shut up, Iolaus," Iphicles warned.

"Yes, Your Majesty," Iolaus snickered.

"That's enough," Hercules mildly ordered. "Both of you try to behave. This is Mother's birthday. Remember?"

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"What a wonderful idea, Jason," Alcmene smiled. "I love picnics."

"I know, my dear," Jason grinned as he finished packing the basket. "It'll take a little time to get to the falls, but it looks like a good day."

"And the trip will take me out of the house long enough for my sons to prepare my surprise," Alcmene casually added.

"Excuse me?" Jason asked in confusion. "Hercules and Iolaus are in Thrace. And Iphicles..."

"Was seen in the village yesterday," Alcmene tried not to grin. "The King of Corinth is not exactly inconspicuous. But I imagine they thought he'd be less likely to be spotted than the other two."

Jason sighed. "They'll never believe I didn't tell you," he grunted.

Alcmene comfortingly patted his arm. "I promise to look surprised," she promised.

"You will be if this works," Jason chuckled. "They intend to cook you dinner."

"Really?" Somehow Alcmene managed not to look over her shoulder at her spotless kitchen. "How...nice of them."

"I really did try to talk them out of it," Jason grinned.

"I'm sure it'll be fine," Alcmene assured him. She was proud her voice didn't waver. "Shouldn't we get going? I'm sure they're waiting for us to leave."

Jason opened the door with a smile. "I figured they could wait a while," he admitted. "After all, I needed to give you my present, didn't I?"

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"Finally," Iphicles muttered when he saw his mother and Jason leave the house.

Hercules grunted and muttered something about the sun being up for several hours.

Both of them glared at Iolaus who was trying very hard to stifle his giggles.

They impatiently waited until Jason and Alcmene disappeared down the path. Then they broke cover and ran towards the house.

"I hope Jason remembered to write down all the instructions on preparing Mother's favorites," Iphicles said as they dumped their supplies on the kitchen floor.

"I just hope we can read Jason's writing," Iolaus grinned. "He never had neat handwriting."

Hercules snorted. "You should talk," he muttered. He found a rolled scroll behind the bread. "This must be it." He unrolled it as the other two crowded him to read it.

"That doesn't look hard," Iphicles hesitantly decided.

"This'll give me a chance to try out that new cooking pan Salmoneus was talking about," Iolaus grinned.

"Are you sure you want to try that, Iolaus?" Hercules dubiously asked. "Remember, Salmoneous said it hadn't been perfected."

Iolaus glared at him. "I'll keep an eye on it," he promised.

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Two hours later, Hercules was sure they were all dead men. If Alcmene returned early before they'd cleaned her kitchen, their next stop would be to Hades' realm. He'd busied himself chopping wood, bringing in water, and generally trying to make sure Iolaus and Iphicles didn't make more of a mess than necessary.

Iphicles had twice ordered him to leave him alone.

Iolaus had threatened to skewer him with a large knife if he didn't leave him alone.

"Iolaus, should that...thing be making that much noise?" Hercules pointed to Salmoneus' cooking pan.

"The water heats inside the pan and steams the vegetables. As long as the lid stays on, it'll be fine. And it's on tight." Iolaus patiently explained. "You tasted the ones he gave us. They were great."

Hercules nodded. He saw Iphicles warily eyeing the shaking pan. When he again began trying to clean up around the other two, they suddenly stopped sniping at one another and united against him. Throwing up his hands in defeat, Hercules turned towards the cupboard where Alcmene's best dishes were stored.

"Be careful with those!" Iphicles snapped.

"I will!" Hercules snapped back slamming the door with his shoulder.

Iphicles gave him a warning look. "If Mother's cake falls..." he warned.

Hercules glared at his brother just as disaster struck.

Salmoneus' pan shrieked. All three men looked at it with various degrees of worry. Then the pan exploded.

The lid flew towards Iolaus striking him in the upper forehead. The hunter dropped to the floor without a word.

Steaming hot vegetables flew towards Iphicles who managed to turn partially away before yelling in pain.

"Iolaus! Iph!" Hercules yelled as he dropped Alcmene's best dishes.

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"I don't believe this happened!" Jason irritably mumbled as he tried to keep his weight off his wife.

"It's not your fault, Jason," Alcmene soothed as she steadied him. "Those apples looked so delicious. I shouldn't have wanted one. It was too high for you to climb."

"It was not!" Jason stoutly denied. After a moment, he added, "The branches must have been rotted."

Alcmene didn't answer. "We'll be home soon, and I can see about that ankle and knee you twisted."

Jason grunted. "That's assuming the others don't kill me for letting you come back early."

"Don't be ridiculous!" Alcmene replied. "You're injured! They couldn't possibly expect you to hide this injury from me for hours! Or think I wouldn't bring you back!"

Jason grunted. Even though the day had started out so very pleasantly, it now had disaster written all over it. Looking over Alcmene's head, he realized it wasn't going to get any better. Smoke was billowing out from her kitchen window.

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"OWWWW!!!"

"Stop it, Iphicles," Hercules demanded. "You've got some nasty burns. This ointment will help."

Iphicles snorted. He sat on the floor of the kitchen with his back against one wall. He remained silent as Hercules spread the ointment on his neck.

"You're lucky," Hercules pointed out.

Iphicles shrugged. He hurt too much to feel lucky.

Iolaus, his head pillowed in Iphicles' lap, began to groan.

"Lie still, Iolaus," Hercules gently ordered.

Iphicles removed the bloody bandage from Iolaus' forehead. "It's almost stopped bleeding," he said. "He'll have a Tartarus of a headache though."

"He's lucky, too," Hercules grunted as he finished with the ointment.

"Who hit me?" Iolaus mumbled.

"Salmoneus' cooking pan," Iphicles said with a hint of a smile.

Seeing that smile, Hercules frowned at his brother.

"I'll kill Salmoneus," Iolaus groaned. He tried to sit up.

"Easy," Hercules advised supporting his friend.

The three men sat quietly looking at the once-spotless kitchen. Half-steamed vegetables lay on the floor, stuck to the walls, and even a few on the ceiling. Hot water dripped from the cupboards. Alcmene's dishes lay shattered on the floor. The ruins of Iphicles' cake sat on the counter as smoke wafted out the open window.

"We are SO dead," Iphicles muttered.

"Toast," Iolaus glumly agreed.

"We'll never be able to come home again," Hercules added.

"WHAT'S HAPPENED TO MY KITCHEN?"

"Mother?" Hercules and Iphicles both looked up in surprise.

Iolaus groaned and closed his eyes.

Alcmene stared in shock at her kitchen. Jason, trying not to lean on his wife, also stared at the destruction with a look of stunned surprise.

"Mother..." Iphicles began.

Alcmene shook her head. "Never mind," she ordered. "We'll discuss this later. Right now, Jason's hurt."

The three men quickly got to their feet as Jason slowly flushed.

"Iphicles, you and Jason help him to our bedroom and get him undressed," Alcmene briskly ordered. "Iolaus, get me some water. I'll get my medicine box."

They quickly scrambled to obey.

Jason looked at his step-sons as they helped him up the stairs. "Do I dare ask what happened?" he muttered.

"No," Iphicles firmly answered. "Don't ask."

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Iolaus carefully poured water from the well into a bowl. He glanced at Alcmene as she brought her medicine box into the kitchen. He saw her look of irritation.

"Ummm, Herc needed some stuff from there," Iolaus admitted. "That's probably why it's in a mess. He was sorta in a hurry."

Alcmene looked around the kitchen. "I take it he was in a hurry because of what happened here?"

Iolaus ducked his head. "Iphicles got burned," he admitted.

Alcmene saw the cut on his forehead. "And you?"

"Look, Alcmene, this is really all my fault," Iolaus admitted.

"Really?" Alcmene questioned.

"I thought about all times you've fed me and stuff and just wanted to do something for you so Jason was gonna get you out of the house while Herc and Iphicles and I made you all your favorites for dinner and they thought it wasn't a great idea and all but I talked them into it and you know I can talk them into stuff 'cause I've done it before so don't get mad at Herc or Jason or Iphicles 'cause this is my fault."

Iolaus took a huge breath.

Alcmene stared at the hunter in awe as he spouted his explanation without drawing a single breath. "I see," she managed to answer. "We'll talk later." She turned and walked upstairs.

"Dead, I am so dead," Iolaus muttered as he began to clean the kitchen.

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Alcmene met Iphicles at the top of the stairs. "What happened to Jason?" he asked.

"He fell," Alcmene briefly answered. "What happened to my kitchen?"

Iphicles took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. "I'm the one responsible," he admitted. "We wanted to do something special for you and somehow cooking your favorites for dinner is what got decided."

"And how are you responsible for that...mess downstairs?" Alcmene asked.

"Mother, Hercules and Iolaus are very good at what they do," Iphicles pointed out. "But this wasn't one of those things. I should have kept better control of events. I'm the one you need to be upset with."

"I see," Alcmene answered. "I need to see to Jason. We'll talk later."

Iphicles slowly walked downstairs. "Dead, I am so dead," he muttered.

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Hercules was just closing the bedroom door when Alcmene joined him. "He's not in a very good humor," Hercules apologized.

"I imagine not," Alcmene answered. "He was in a lot of pain by the time we got back here." She eyed him closely. "Would you care to explain that disaster downstairs?"

Hercules flushed then lowered his eyes. "Mother, I am so sorry," he apologized. "It's my fault."

"Your fault?" Alcmene questioned. "Why is that?"

Hercules hesitated. "You know how Iolaus is," he explained. "He never does anything simple. And Iphicles...well, he sometimes thinks he has to outdo Iolaus for some reason." He shrugged. "Mother, the first thing I knew it was decided to cook you this huge meal. The next thing I knew Salmoneus' cooking pan exploded, Iolaus is bleeding, and Iphicles is burned." He lowered his head. "And I broke your best dishes." He took a deep breath and raised his head. "I should have known better than to let them even try something like this. Please don't be angry with them."

"I see," Alcmene replied. "We'll talk after I've seen to Jason."

Hercules nodded and quickly walked away. "Dead, I am so dead," he muttered.

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Jason irritably looked up when Alcmene quickly closed the door behind her. He watched as she tried to stifle the laughter boiling inside her. "I'm glad someone's happy," he grunted.

"Oh, Jason, I'm sorry," Alcmene apologized. "It's just...all three of them apologized and took the blame for that mess downstairs."

"They all should take the blame," Jason retorted.

"But they all took the blame completely on themselves," Alcmene explained.

"And this surprises you?" Jason questioned with a slight smile.

"Not really," Alcmene admitted. "Now, let's get you comfortable."

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An hour later, Alcmene quietly walked downstairs. She hesitated when she heard soft voices from the kitchen.

"Hercules, I told you. There are plenty of exquisite dishes at the palace in Corinth," Iphicles said. "It's not a problem to replace the broken ones. There are dishes there I'm sure Jason doesn't even remember."

"Alright, you do that," Hercules agreed. "Iolaus and I can fix the kitchen. These walls need to be repainted."

Iolaus glanced at the ceiling. "Ceiling, too, Herc," he added.

"And new curtains," Iphicles answered. "We'll never get the smell of smoke out of them. I'll get some material in Corinth and have them made."

"We can refinish the cupboards, you know." Iolaus' blue eyes sparkled. "Hey, we can even make her new ones!"

Alcmene smiled at the tremor in Hercules' voice.

"Iolaus, that's how we got into this mess to begin with," the demi-god pointed out. "Let's keep this simple."

"But we don't really know a lot about cooking," Iolaus pointed out. "We do know about fixing stuff."

There was silence.

"You have a point," Hercules finally admitted. He glanced around the stained kitchen. "We do owe it to Mother."

Iphicles cleared his throat. "Just how much trouble are we in?"

They stared around the kitchen then at each other.

Iolaus groaned and lay his head on the table.

Iphicles nodded and sighed.

"Dead, we are so dead," Hercules pronounced.

"You'll be happy to know Jason is resting comfortably," Alcmene announced as she stepped into the kitchen.

"What happened to him?" Hercules asked. "He wouldn't tell us."

"A slight accident," Alcmene answered glancing around the kitchen. "Just like this was a slight accident."

The three men looked around the kitchen.

"Mother, this wasn't a slight accident," Hercules shook his head.

"It was an unmitigated disaster," Iphicles added.

"Don't argue with your mother," Iolaus frowned. Then he winced when the other two men hit him on each arm.

"Iphicles, let me look at those burns," Alcmene briskly said. "Then, Iolaus, I want to look at that cut. Hercules, were you hurt?"

"No, Mother, but..." Hercules began.

"I'm very proud of all of you," Alcmene continued as she sorted through her medicine box.

"Proud?" Iphicles asked.

"Mother, how could you..." Hercules began a second time.

"Don't argue with your mother," Iolaus repeated. He quickly moved to avoid being hit a second time.

"You made a mistake, but you're working to correct it," Alcmene explained finally finding the ointment she needed. "And you each were willing to accept full responsibility for what happened so I wouldn't be angry at the other two."

The three men quickly exchanged surprised looks.

"I'll look forward to getting the new curtains and dishes," Alcmene smiled. "And the new cupboards and painted walls...and ceilings." She glanced upwards for a brief moment then smiled at her three children. "But next year? Don't go to any special trouble."

"It's never any special trouble for you, Alcmene," Iolaus assured her with a wide smile.

Alcmene reached across the table and patted his hand. "I wasn't asking, Iolaus," she assured him. "That was an order."


NOTE: Any semblance to the above disaster and stories about my mishaps in the kitchen are wildly exaggerated, have no basis in actual fact, and are completely false...maybe.


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