Iolaus blinked several times shoving the fear and darkness back by sheer strength of will. He peered out of the damp cave at the steady drizzle that had been falling for the better part of the last two days.
Taking a deep breath, he glanced at the unconscious form of his partner then began feeding the small fire. The fever that had gripped the demigod for the past two days showed no signs of abating. But it wasn’t getting any worse either.
The wound had been so inconsequential. Hardly more than a graze from a flashing knife blade wielded by what seemed to be a desperate bandit. The local harvest had been exceptionally poor causing more than one normally honest man to turn to banditry to survive.
But the knife had been coated with some sort of poison...a poison that had taken effect late the next day when they’d been far away from any village or healers. By the time they’d taken shelter in the cave from the oncoming storm, the demigod had been shivering with the aching chill that comes from a high fever.
Iolaus had quickly lanced the now-infected wound before dosing his partner with every herbal concoction he knew about. Then he tried dosed him with some he made up on the spot as the demigod’s fever climbed higher and higher. Now, two days later, the hunter had a collection of impressive bruises from attempting to keep the demigod quiet.
The hunter’s head swerved. “Hey, Herc. How are you feeling?”
The demigod’s fever-bright eyes looked past Iolaus. “Where’s Deaineira and the kids?”
Iolaus struggled not to looked away. “They’re at home. We had to take shelter because of the storm.”
“Yeah,” Iolaus gently smiled. “Bad storm. Really bad storm.”
“Oh. Okay.” The demigod closed his eyes.
“Here. You need to drink this.” Iolaus quickly dipped a small cup in the kettle. “You’ve been fighting a fever.”
“What?” Hercules’ eyes slowly opened when Iolaus helped him sit up. Obediently, he drank the tea only grimacing slightly at the taste. “Where did you say Deaineira was?”
“At home, buddy,” Iolaus softly answered. “Safe at home.” He gently lowered his friend back onto the ground and tucked the blanket around him.
Hercules smiled and closed his eyes. “She’s probably with Ania coming up with all sorts of work for us to do when we get home,” he mumbled.
Iolaus was thankful his partner’s eyes were closed. He couldn’t fight the painful tears but managed a deep breath. “Yeah. I know they’re together, Herc.” He let his hand rest on the demigod’s chest for several minutes until he was positive Hercules had fallen asleep.
Brushing the hot tears away with both hands, he resolutely got to his feet. He grabbed a larger bowl and held it the cave entrance filling it with cold rainwater. Going back to his friend’s side, he sat down and began bathing his partner in yet another attempt to bring down the fever.
“I guess this is what you do, huh, Herc?” Iolaus muttered. “Usually I’m the one flat on my back and out for the count. I never thought about what you do when that happens. Guess you sit around and worry, too.” He frowned. “Do I talk about...the past? If I do, I’m sorry. It must be awful to just sit there and listen to me babble about...you know, stuff that happened...about people...”
The hunter took a deep breath. “Got to admit. Now that I’ve seen both sides of this sort of thing...I really think I prefer being the one flat on my back and out for the count. I don’t know how you keep doing this for me, Herc. Sitting...wondering if you’re doing the right thing...wishing there was more you could do...”
Tucking the blanket back around the demigod, Iolaus lay down next to his partner and briefly closed his eyes. Gods, he was tired...so terribly tired. He reached out and closed his hand around the demigod’s wrist. Feeling reassured by the pulse, weakened though it was, the exhausted hunter told himself he’d only close his eyes for just a minute...well, maybe two...
Hercules slowly opened his eyes wondering why he felt so weak. Blinking, he cautiously looked around realizing he was in a cave. He heard the dripping of nearby water. Squinting at the small amount of light coming in from the cave’s entrance, he saw it was raining outside.
He turned his head to the other side and saw Iolaus curled up asleep next to him. Curious, he lifted the blanket to see Iolaus’ hand encircling his wrist, fingers almost on the pulse point. He gently lowered the blanket and studied his partner in the dim light. Whatever was going on, Iolaus looked like a man who’d spent a week in Tartarus. He also looked cold.
The demigod gently shifted the blanket so it covered his partner. As gentle as he tried to be, the movement awoke the hunter.
“Herc?” Iolaus suddenly sat up. “Herc?!”
“Yeah,” Hercules quizzically answered.
“Hey, the fever’s broken!” Iolaus quickly felt his partner’s forehead then grinned. “It’s about time. Semi-divine blood my...”
“Fever?” Hercules questioned.
Iolaus sobered. “Remember that fight a few days ago? The bandits? The one that grazed you was using some sort of poison on his blade.”
“Well...that explains why I feel weak,” Hercules admitted. “But you...Iolaus, you look like a bad day in Tartarus.”
Iolaus casually scratched the three-day growth of beard on his chin. “Yeah, well...you don’t look so great either, buddy.”
The two suddenly grinned.
“You be okay for a while?” Iolaus asked as he got to his feet. “I’m gonna see if I can scare up a couple of rabbits. You can use the broth, and I can use the food.”
“Sure,” Hercules nodded. “Take your time.” He took a closer look at his partner. “I’ll be fine.”
Iolaus nodded. He ran a hand through his unruly hair and stretched. “You know. I came to a decision last night.”
Still studying the hunter, Hercules automatically frowned. “What’s that?”
Iolaus flashed him a reassuring grin. “Next time...you sit up with me. I like being flat on my back and out for the count.” He chuckled at the demigod’s puzzled expression.
Hercules watched his partner leave, whistling as he walked down the path. He slowly shook his head wondering just what he’d missed while feverish. Sometimes, he really didn’t know what got into Iolaus.
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