"Jealous?" Iolaus' blue eyes twinkled.
Hercules snorted. "Sure, buddy," he grunted. "I'm SO jealous that I'm gonna go in your place." He tried to snatch the rolled scroll from Iolaus' fist only to see the hunter dancing back out of his reach. He frowned as Iolaus giggled. "Iolaus! I'm not joking!" he sternly warned.
Iolaus stared at his friend's solemn face and giggled again.
Hercules took a deep breath. "I know the priest gave you an amulet to get you to Olympus," he reasoned. "But..."
"Somebody up there's gonna be mad that a mortal gained access to Olympus?" Iolaus' blue eyes danced in merriment. "But I'm bearing a message from Zeus' own High Priest!"
"Zeus' High Priest is a ..... " Hercules closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Iolaus, please give me the scroll. I'll be back as soon as I can." He silently held out his hand.
"You're serious!" Iolaus eyes widened. "You're actually serious!"
"Of course I'm serious," Hercules nodded. "Now give me the scroll. This shouldn't take long. I'll just give it to Zeus and be back by sundown."
"Yeah...sure..." Iolaus muttered. He silently handed the scross to his friend. "You go to Olympus. I'll go hunting." He turned away but not before Hercules heard him mutter. "I should be able to handle a couple of rabbits."
Hercules hesitated. "Iolaus..." he began.
"You'd better hurry," Iolaus interrupted sneaking a glance at the sun. "I'll make camp in the cove about a mile away. You shouldn't have any trouble finding me."
Hercules winced at the underlying tone in Iolaus' voice. He suddenly realized how important this had become to his friend. Not for the first time, he wished Iolaus didn't joke about everything. It made it very difficult to discern when he was serious.
"Iolaus, I know you could do this," Hercules began. "It's just that..." His voice drifted off as Iolaus suddenly glanced up at him pinning him within the depths of his blue eyes.
"It's just...what?" Iolaus prodded. He braced himself as though expecting bad news. When Hercules hesitated, he snorted. "It's just that I'm a mortal, right? And you're not?"
"That's not true!" Hercules angrily snapped.
"Of course it is!" Iolaus snapped back. "I AM mortal and YOU aren't!"
Hercules took a deep breath resisting the urge to shake his friend...several times. "It's just...you THINK you know them, Iolaus," he finally answered. "But you really don't...and you don't want to." He saw Iolaus' frown and continued, "Did you stop to consider why Zeus' High Priest couldn't contact him and give him the message himself?"
Iolaus' mouth opened then closed as he considered the question. Finally, he shrugged. "I just figured it was a...God thing," he admitted. "You know, some reason the High Priest couldn't contact him."
"Yeah, well, there's a reason for that," Hercules muttered half under his breath.
Iolaus' eyes widened. Hercules seemed genuinely concerned. "Okay," he nodded. "They're your relatives and you know them better," he quietly agreed. "You take the scroll." He quickly handed both the scroll and amulet to Hercules and turned away.
Hercules studied his friend for a moment. Memories of how many times others had pushed Iolaus to one side to honor and congratulated him for the deeds both had accomplished flashed through his mind...memories of how Iolaus had good-naturedly laughed at Hercules' embarassment at the gratitude and accolades laid at his feet...memories of the times Hercules had seen flashes of disillusionment and pain in his friend's eyes as others had crowded around Hercules to honor him...
"Iolaus, wait," Hercules said suddenly realizing Iolaus had taken more than a dozen steps away from him.
Iolaus hesitated then turned around looking more than a little confused.
"Zeus' High Priest gave you the scroll for a reason." Hercules grinned at his friend's expression. "Who am I to question his reasoning?"
"He gave it to me because he couldn't find you," Iolaus shrugged as Hercules joined him.
"Well, he still gave it to you." Hercules reached the scroll and amulet to his friend. "You deliver it. I'll set up camp."
"Me? Alone?" Iolaus gingerly took the scroll letting the amulent dangle in Hercules' fingers. "I'm not going to Olympus alone!" He glared at the grin that threatened to break across Hercules' face. "I'm MORTAL! They'd blast me into nothingness before I'd have a chance to even deliver this!" He stared at his friend. "Are you trying to get me killed?"
"Never," Hercules chuckled seeing the merriment in his friend's eyes. He put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Just remember...I warned you," he said.
Iolaus groaned as the world stopped spinning around him. He gingerly opened his eyes.
"Take a couple of deep breaths," Hercules advised sympathetically. He kept his hand on Iolaus' shoulder as the smaller man gradually regained his equilibrium.
"Is it always like that?" Iolaus grumbled rubbing his eyes.
"It gets easier," Hercules admitted. When he saw Iolaus' eyes focusing again, he grinned. "I suppose it's worse on mortals."
"Very funny," Iolaus grumbled sneaking a look around. "Herc? Why is everything white?"
Hercules shrugged. "Zeus likes white," he answered. "Most of the gods do. Well, except Ares and company."
Iolaus suddenly giggled. "And Aphrodite," he pointed out.
Hecules grimaced. "C'mon," he urged. "Let's get this over with."
Iolaus silently followed his friend who seemed more than a little familiar with the surroundings. But then, Hercules HAD been to Olympus quite a few times, he recalled. "Hey, Herc?" he quietly called. "Why is it so...clean?"
Hercules glanced over his shoulder and tried not to laugh. Iolaus was almost tip-toeing to avoid leaving tracks on the pure white marble floor. Iolaus saw his expression and glowered. "What?" he demanded.
"This isn't Mother's floor," Hercules pointed out. "It doesn't matter if you get it dirty." He shrugged. "Watch," he advised.
Iolaus watched as Hercules suddenly stomped his foot on the floor. Despite himself, he winced as dirt flew from his friend's boot and lay scattered on the floor around him.
Hercules glanced at Iolaus to make sure he was watching.
Iolaus' eyes widened as the dirt slowly disappeared. He glanced up at Hercules.
"Zeus likes cleanliness," he shrugged.
Iolaus studied the floor for another couple of seconds then straightened his shoulders. "Well, then, let's get going," he announced.
Hercules grinned as his friend firmly planted his feet on the floor as he strode forward. "Right with you," he muttered.
Iolaus paused as the hallway branched into two different corridors. "Which way?" he asked over his shoulder. "Hey!" he suddenly turned to face his friend. "Why haven't we seen anybody?"
Hercules took a deep breath. "Because today is special," he admitted. He shook his head. They'd come too far to go back now. Besides, Iolaus would probably never forgive him if he didn't take him all the way. "Remember..." he started to say.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Iolaus impatiently nodded. "I asked for it. But what is it?"
Hercules placed a hand on his friend's arm and pulled him forward. He stared at the white marble wall ahead of them and took a deep breath. "This," he muttered stepping into the wall and dragging a stunned Iolaus behind him.
Iolaus stiffled a groan catching his head between his hands. "You said this was going to get easier!" he snapped.
"Sorry," Hercules apologized as he steadied his dizzy friend. "Take deep breaths."
Slowly the dizziness passed and Iolaus was aware of voices...they seemed familiar...yet not familiar. He angrily shook his head to clear it groaning again as another wave of dizziness washed over him.
"Iolaus, stop that!" Hercules' hands tightened on his shoulders. "Just take deep breaths, okay?" he advised more gently.
After a few minutes, Iolaus' eyes cleared. "I'm okay," he slowly nodded. His eyes widened as he stared past Hercules at the surrounding forest. "Uh...Herc...where are we? Is this Olympus?"
"Not exactly," Hercules admitted. "But sorta." He shook his head. "Come on," he muttered. "I can't wait for this to be over."
Iolaus followed his friend towards the sound of the voices that had tantalized him. He took a deep breath expecting to breathe in the crisp cool aroma of the forest. Instead, he gagged and choked as a horrible smell filled his lungs. He bent over coughing in a vain attempt to get the foul odor out of his body and yet keep more of the same from entering again.
Hercules sympathetically pounded his friend on the back. "Take shallow breaths," he advised.
"What...." Iolaus looked up at him tears filling his reddened eyes. He fought the impulse to breathe deeply. "What is THAT smell?" he finally wheezed.
Hercules hesitated. "Road kill," he finally answered. He held up his hand. "Don't ask," he urged. "And whatever you do...don't eat anything!" He saw Iolaus had recovered and turned away. "Come on," he urged. "It's not far."
"What's road kill?" Iolaus asked as he followed.
"To be honest, I don't know," Hercules admitted carefully stepping around the underbrush. "I never asked because I don't WANT to know."
"You know, this is a beautiful place," Iolaus said after a moment. "It doesn't smell so bad here."
Hercules nodded. "That smell is just around the road kill," he admitted. He grinned over his shoulder suddenly realizing Iolaus' love of the outdoors would attract him to his place. "It's not exactly Olympus but close," he admitted. "It's called Almost Heaven."
"Why is it Almost Heaven?" Iolaus asked. His eyes drifted to the nearby tree-covered mountains. He was almost salivating at the thought of hunting in this place.
"Because it's not Olympus." Hercules chuckled at the expression on Iolaus' face. For a few moments, he thought of bringing his friend back for an extended fishing trip...not to mention riding the wild rivers where the whitewater would test anyone's ability to stay afloat....he mentally shook his head. Once here for any length of time, it would be difficult for Iolaus to leave.
"Come on, Iolaus!" Hercules snapped. "I want to get this over!"
Iolaus' eyes drifted towards his friend then focused. "Oh, sorry, Herc," he mumbled. "I was just thinking..."
"I know." Hercules gently pulled his friend back to the path. "Let's find Zeus and get out of here."
Iolaus noticed his friend getting more and more uneasy as they got closer to the somewhat-familiar voices. "Herc, what's wrong?" he finally asked. "Why are you..." His eyes widened as they stepped into a nearby clearing.
"This is why," Hercules sourly answered.
"No, no, no! It's like this!" A young blonde-hair woman stamped her foot. "Don't break my heart, my achy-breaky heart, I just don't think he'd understand, and if you break my heart, my achy-breaky heart, it must might blow up and kill this man! Whooo-ooooo!" The young woman sang in an off-key voice that brought grimaces to the faces of the others in the clearing. She shuffled her feet jumping from one to the other in a rhythm that apparently only she could understand.
Suddenly the woman glanced up. "Herkie! Sweetcheeks!"
"Aphrodite?" Iolaus looked stunned.
The usually immaculate, if scantily dressed, Goddess of Love was clad in what would have been some sort of woven pants...if they hadn't ended just past her very upper thigh. Some sort of red and white plaid shirt was tied just under her breasts. She skipped across the clearing managing to throw her arms around both of them.
"Aphrodite?" Iolaus repeated looking at Hercules in stunned astonishment.
"We're here to deliver an important message to Zeus from his High Priest in Athens," Hercules quickly explained. "He couldn't contact Zeus and so..."
"He'll be here shortly," Aphrodite assured them pulling them into the clearing. "Artemis! Put some more kill on the grill!"
"NO!" Hercules sharply interrupted. "We won't be here that long," he quickly amended. He gave Iolaus a quick glance hoping the other man remembered his warning about eating.
"What's HE doing here?" Ares suddenly demanded.
Iolaus spun around seeing the God of War appearing from around...he frowned and stared past Ares...just what was it? he silently asked himself.
Ares took a deep breath. "Close your mouth, Iolaus!" he snapped. "It's just a larger version of what you saw Hades have to view the mortal realm."
"It's...bigger," Iolaus managed to reply.
"Yeah, Ares ALWAYS has to have it bigger!" Athena snickered.
Iolaus glanced over his shoulder to where Athena and Artemis were cooking something over what he supposed was the grill Aphrodite had mentioned. Like Aphrodite, they were similarly clad except Artemis was barefoot.
"Shut up and get me a brew!" Ares demanded.
"Herc?" Iolaus whispered. "What's going on?"
"Remember I said today was special?" Hercules quietly answered. When Iolaus nodded, he took a deep breath. "Today is the day of the Daytolus 500."
"Apollo! Hermes! Get your butts out here!" Ares shouted as he grabbed something metal that Artemis threw in his general direction. "It's about to start!"
"What's the Daylolus 500?" Iolaus asked as Apollo appeared from the nearby forest. He tossed something towards Athena who caught it with a whoop and threw it on the...grill? He instinctively stepped back as he caught a whiff of the unpleasant odor that had assaulted him when they'd first arrived.
"Chariot races," Hercules quickly explained then shrugged. "For some reason, the Daytolus 500 is special."
"But, Herc....are you sure these are your relatives?" Iolaus quickly glanced around. Not only were the goddesses dressed strangely, but Ares and Apollo were wearing some sort of blue pants. They each wore some sort of shirt with writing on it. Iolaus squinted.
Hercules sighed. "They're called t-shirts," he explained. He quickly raised a hand to forestall Iolaus' next question. "I don't know why they're called t-shirts." He glanced at Ares. "Great," he mumbled. "He's wearing his Megadeath shirt. He'll be ready to fight in an hour or so."
Iolaus mouthed the word "Megadeath" then shrugged. That actually made sense, he decided.
Ares glanced in their direction and spat a stream of something brown to one side. "You never mentioned what HE'S doing here," he reminded Hercules.
"Zeus' High Priest gave him a message to give to Zeus," Hercules shrugged.
"I'll take it," Apollo reached out a hand.
Iolaus stared at the t-shirt. "What's that mean?" he asked pointing at it.
Apollo glanced down at his chest. "Beastie Boys?" he fondly smiled. "That's a retro group..."
"Shut up, Apollo!" Ares yelled. "They're linin' up!" He glanced over at Aphrodite. "Your pretty boy's goin' into the wall!"
"You leave my cutie-patootie alone!" Aphrodite shrieked. "You know the rules!"
"Yeah!" Ares spat again. "They're made to be broken!"
"Iolaus!" Hermes squealed as he suddenly appeared from a nearby tent. "You came!"
"What!?" Iolaus screeched.
"Here...you came here." Hermes gave him an innocent look as Hercules struggled not to laugh. "Oh, you're going to enjoy yourself so much..." He took Iolaus' arm dragging him towards a blanket thrown on the ground in front of the large viewer.
"Get away from me!" Iolaus hissed in a half-whisper. He jerked his arm free and stared at Hermes' chest. "Have a nice day?" he asked.
"Of course," Hermes almost purred patting the writing on his chest. "Why would anyone want to have a not-nice day?"
"I mean it, Ares!" Aphrodite stood toe-to-toe with the God of War. "You better not have interfered in this race!"
Ares laughed. "I don't have to!" He crushed the metal object Artemis had thrown to him and tossed it aside. "Pretty boy's got it comin' to him!"
"Don't throw your trash around!" Artemis picked up the metal object and shook it in Ares' face. "I'm tired of picking up after you!"
"Go to Hades," Ares snarled.
"Where IS Hades?" Hermes looked around. "He's going to miss everything!"
Athena laughed. Iolaus saw her flip whatever lay on the grill and heard a sizzle. "He and Persephone are shooting the rapids," she answered. "Poseidon said since he'd not given them a wedding present, he was going to make the rapids really bad."
"That's a gift?" Iolaus asked Hercules in a small voice.
"Persephone will love it," Hercules assured him in an equally small voice. "Hades, however, will probably get as sick as a...."
"Hey, Ares, you gettin' the 'rasslin' later?" Apollo shouted.
"It's the War Games event," Ares snarled at his brother. "I'm going to BE there!"
"Don't you dare interefere!" Aphrodite punched Ares in the shoulder. "You let whatever happens happen!" When Ares smirked at her, she bunched up her fist and shook it in his face. "You leave Chrisus Benoitus alone!"
"You do like the pretty boys, don't you?" Ares snarled.
"WHERE IS ZEUS?" Hercules suddenly shouted.
The various gods and goddesses looked at him in surprise.
"He's opening the Daytolus 500, Herkie," Aphrodite patiently explained. "He'll be here in a few."
"A few what?" Iolaus muttered sinking to the ground. "Minutes? Hours? Days? Years?" He glanced at Hercules who wearily sat next to him. "Herc, what's happened to them?"
Hercules shrugged. "This is them, Iolaus," he reluctantly admitted. "At least on this day." He played with the grass in his fingers.
Iolaus studied his friend for a few seconds then leaned towards him. "You know, I'm REALLY glad you're not like them," he whispered.
Startled, Hercules looked at his friend and smiled at the twinkling he saw in Iolaus' eyes. "Me, too," he admitted.
"Dite! Dite, I have a surprise for you!"
"Coming, Heffie!" Aphrodite gave Ares one final glare then disappeared into a nearby tent.
"He's really whipped," Apollo quietly laughed. Hermes snickered. Ares grunted and spat onto the ground.
"NO! BY ALL THE GODS, NO!"
Every head turned towards the nearby tent as Aphrodite's shrieks echoed around them. Hercules and Iolaus quickly got to their feet then hesitated as none of the gods seemed to be concerned. Interested, yes. Concerned no. Hermes giggled earning a stern look from Athena.
"But Dite...I thought...you like pink," Hesfestus' voice pled.
"That's my JOB!" Aphrodite shrieked. "How could you make this entire tent PINK! Change it back!"
There was a suspicious ominous silence from the tent.
"Heffie, do you know one reason I married you?" Aphrodite's voice was calm...too calm.
"Because you love me?" Hesfestus hesitantly asked.
"Because I knew you had no PINK in your forge!" Aphrodite shrieked. "And if you ever EVER plan on touching me again, you'll get this changed and NOW! Otherwise, I'll open the biggest can of whoop-ass you've ever seen and it'll have YOUR name on it!"
Iolaus' jaw dropped. He saw Ares, Apollo, and Hermes all move across the clearing. Hercules quickly pulled Iolaus closer and braced himself as the Goddess of Love exploded out of the tent. "Hasn't that race started yet?!" she demanded.
"They're doing driver introductions," Apollo hastily answered.
Iolaus glanced at the viewer to see a black chariot with six black horses being easily handled by a driver also dressed completely in black.
"EARNHARTUS!" Ares roared in approval.
"This is NOT going to be fun," Hercules muttered.
Hesfestatus glanced out of the tent flap. Reassured that Aphrodite was concentrating on the viewer, he sidled towards the grill. "Uh, Artemis...I'll be in the tent working," he managed to articulate. "Could I get something to take back with me?"
Artemis gave a very ungoddess-like snort and flipped something charred onto a plate.
Hesfestus gave Aphrodite a quick look and quickly ducked back into the tent.
"My cutie-patootie!" Aphrodite sighed. "Jeffus Gordonus!" She squealed. "Isn't he absolutely delicious?"
Ares snorted. "He's goin' into the wall," he promised.
Aphrodite started to answer him. Then her eyes grew wide in shock. "What happened?" she demanded.
Hercules and Iolaus glanced at the viewer both aware of the smirk that passed between Ares and Apollo.
"Just a little change in plan," Ares airily admitted. "It's SO boring to just watch them go in circles." He grinned at Aphrodite. "Can you say road course?"
"Who got drunk and designed this course?!" Aphrodite shouted. "What's with all those kiss-your-ass turns?"
Hermes snickered then quickly edged closer to Ares.
Hercules breathed a sigh of relief as a white flash heralded Zeus' arrival.
The King of the Gods clasped his hands together in anticipation. "This is going to be some race!" he shouted.
"Father!" Hercules interrupted. He could see Iolaus' eyes beginning to glaze over. He was, well if not used to his relatives at least he'd seen them like this. He wondered how angry Iolaus would be if he could somehow either dim or erase this memory.
"Son!" Zeus grinned. "I certainly didn't expect you here!"
"Only to deliver this," Hercules assured him. He prodded Iolaus who blinked then recognized Zeus.
"Oh...yeah...Zeus." Iolaus fumbled with the scroll tucked in his belt then thrust it towards Zeus. "From your High Priest in Athens."
"That sanctimonious little..." Zeus muttered as he accepted the scroll.
"You're welcome," Hercules sarcastically said.
"Hmmm?" Zeus glanced up in confusion. "Oh, yes, well, thank you, son."
"Iolaus," Hercules corrected him. "Iolaus was entrusted with the scroll." Suddenly remembering, he pulled the amulet from his shirt. "And with this."
"Oh, yes, I definitely need this," Zeus took the amulet. "Well, since you're here, why don't you stay and watch the race?"
"No, thank you," Hercules quickly answered. "But I would appreciate it if you could send us back. Using the amulet is a little....disconcerting."
Zeus' dark eyes flickered towards Iolaus and he smiled. "Got a little dizzy, did he?" He smiled at Hercules' flash of temper. "Very well, son. But you're gonna miss a hell of a race!"
As the trees around them began to swirl, Hercules grimaced as he heard Aphrodite shouting, "Heffie! Heffie! Get me a drink...NO TWO DRINKS! My nerves are gonna be shot by the time they get to lap 5!”
Disclaimer: No chariot drivers or their horses were harmed during the writing of this story. However, the author had to do some quick & fancy explaining to a die-hard race fan about making Daytona a road course and not even mentioning #2, Rustyus Wallaceus.
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