“Just goes to show everyone’s got hidden talents.” Hercules hid a smile as he stared down at this partner. “By the way, you don’t...mime, do you?”
“Mime?” Iolaus’ confusion was obvious. “Why would I mime?”
“Never mind,” the demigod grinned. “Just never do it around Ares. Makes him nuts.”
“You mean more than usual?” Iolaus snickered.
“Oh, yeah. WAY more than usual,” Hercules assured him.
The two men were walking along the edge of a lake near Ares’ temple. The shadows of the afternoon sun were lengthening and while they would have preferred to camp farther away from the temple, they realized both were immensely tired.
Iolaus studied his friend carefully. Two knock-down drag-out fights with Ares in one day was enough to tire even Hercules. “So...you gonna do what Aphrodite suggested?”
“And what would that be?” Hercules quietly asked.
Iolaus knew an evasion when he heard one. “You know what...to go and see Zeus.”
“Zeus knows where I am if he wants to see me,” the demigod evenly replied. “But somehow I don’t think he’s gonna show up and thank us.” He gave a short laugh. “From what you’ve told me about that other world, it sounds like Zeus is pretty much the same sort of father in that world that he is in this one.”
Iolaus inwardly winced at the unusual bitterness in his friend’s voice. “So maybe you just need to...”
“Iolaus!” Hercules irritably snapped. “Just...drop it. Ok?”
In spite of himself, Iolaus flinched. ‘Gods, he sounds like...the Sovereign.’ “Sorry,” he muttered, quickly looking away.
“No...I’m sorry.” The demigod stopped and ran a hand through his hair. “I guess...I’m just...tired.” ‘That’s great, demigod. Now you’re scaring Iolaus.’ He suddenly frowned. ‘Scaring Iolaus?’
“No problem.” Iolaus forced a smile as he looked up at his friend. “It’s been one of those days.” He shaded his eyes then pointed. “That looks like a good place to camp.”
Lost in his own questioning thoughts, Hercules absently nodded. He watched as Iolaus led the way along the lake shore. After a few minutes, he noticed the hunter was moving a little stiffly. “Iolaus, why don’t I go hunt up something to eat while you make camp?” He almost laughed aloud at the look his partner threw over his shoulder. “Hey, I may not be the intrepid rabbit hunter you are, but I think I can manage.”
“Sure, Herc,” Iolaus nodded. “You sure you don’t want me to catch some fish? Just in case?”
“Very funny.” The demigod lightly slapped his partner on the shoulder before striding away.
Iolaus winced at the sting and gingerly moved his left shoulder. “Wish there was some hot water around here,” he sighed. “I guess I better catch some fish first.”
“Ah-HAH!” The demigod triumphantly caught the rabbit in his hands. “Gotcha.” He sat back on his heels studying the squirming animal. “You know, you’re gonna save me a lot of teasing from Iolaus. I almost didn’t get you.”
The animal stared up at him with almost human resignation.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” Hercules frowned. “And why am I talking to a rabbit?”
Sitting on the ground, he carefully held the rabbit on his lap. Absently petting the creature, he stared at the brilliant colors of the setting sun.
‘He’s a tyrant...a psycho...a monster.’
The demigod shivered remembering how the Iolaus of the other world had described the Sovereign...described HIM. Then he remembered how Iolaus had flinched when he’d snapped at him earlier.
Sighing, he looked down at the quivering rabbit nestled in his lap. “I’ll never hear the end of this,” he muttered. He carefully sat the rabbit on the ground. “Go on. Get outta here.”
The rabbit stared up at him...not moving.
“Go on! Shoo!” The demigod ordered. He smiled when the rabbit quickly disappeared into the underbrush. Brushing off his leather pants, the demigod slowly got to his feet. “Iolaus is gonna just LOVE this.”
‘How did he know to do that?’ Half in irritation, half in amusement, the demigod stared down at the roasting fish nestled in the embers of the campfire. Hands on hips, he glanced towards the lake where he heard sounds of splashing. “Don’t you think we have enough fish?” he yelled.
“Some of us are bathing, thank you very much.” Iolaus’ voice held more than a trace of laughter.
Hercules slowly walked down the path to the lake. “I thought we were having rabbit for dinner.”
“Did you get a rabbit?” Iolaus yelled.
Hercules hesitated. “Uhhh....no.”
Iolaus appeared from behind some trees. Using his vest to dry his chest and hair, he grinned up at his partner. “That’s why we’re having fish.” With a snicker, he walked past his friend.
Hercules started to follow then stopped. “Iolaus.”
“What?” The hunter quickly turned around, his eyes flickering in wary confusion.
Frowning, the demigod put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and gently turned him around.
“What?!” Iolaus asked, trying to look over his shoulder.
Hercules gently touched the black and purple bruise in the center of his friend’s back. He drew back his hand when Iolaus winced.
“Hey, it’s nothing,” Iolaus assured him. “Just a little sore. Now, if I had a big tub of steaming hot water...” He giggled. “C’mon. I’m hungry.”
“Yeah.” Hercules stared at the bruise then down at this right hand. He slowly closed the hand into a fist then looked back at the shape of the bruise on his friend’s back. “He did that. Didn’t he?”
“Huh?” Iolaus looked over his shoulder. Then he sighed. “Yeah, Herc. HE did it. The Sovereign. Not you.”
“Is there a difference?” Hercules asked, walking past his friend.
“What?” Puzzled, Iolaus quickly followed. “What kind of stupid question is that?”
“Iolaus...you flinched from me earlier.” Hercules wearily sat next to the fire. “Now I know why.”
“Okay...when I flinched it was because you...sounded a little like him,” Iolaus admitted. “But you’re not him, Herc.”
“I could be,” the demigod muttered. “That could have been me.”
Serious, Iolaus sat next to his friend. “Yeah. It could have been you. But it’s not you.”
Resting his chin in the palm of his hand, the demigod turned his head to study his friend. “He didn’t hold back when he hit you, did he?” Before the hunter could answer, Hercules restlessly got to his feet and began pacing.
“Herc...if he hadn’t held back, I’d be dead,” Iolaus carefully pointed out. He studied his friend’s worried face with concern.
“Iolaus...” The demigod hesitated. “Is this going to change...” He took a deep breath. “Are you going to be able to trust me again?”
“When did I STOP trusting you?” Iolaus asked. “Herc. He is NOT you. YOU didn’t hit me.” The hunter took a deep breath. “He looked like you...well, except for the beard. But he didn’t act like you. And he didn’t talk like you. He didn’t use the same words you do. And he yelled. A lot, by the way.” He locked his eyes with the demigod’s. “I don’t look at you and see the Sovereign. Okay?” He saw the hesitation in his friend’s eyes and sighed. “Look, it works both ways. Do you still trust me?”
“What are talking about?” Hercules demanded. “Why wouldn’t I trust you? You didn’t hit me.”
“No, I only tried to kill the Sovereign,” Iolaus quietly reminded him. “And that would have meant your death. So...in a way...I almost killed YOU.”
The demigod saw the shadows in his friend’s normally clear blue eyes. “You did what you felt was right, Iolaus. I know that. Of course, I still trust you.”
“Then why wouldn’t I trust you?” Iolaus gently asked. “Understand?”
Hercules felt tense muscles suddenly relax...muscles he hadn’t realized WERE tense. Not knowing the words to say, he gave his partner a half-smile and nodded.
“Good,” Iolaus firmly nodded. “Can we eat now?”
Hercules glanced at his sleeping partner. He hated to disturb him but he knew...even if Iolaus refused to admit it...that the deep bruise on the hunter’s back was painful.
After eating, Iolaus had almost immediately stretched out on his side next to the campfire and fallen asleep. Hercules had quietly cleaned up the camp then found the small pot in their carrysack along with the few herbal packs they carried.
The cool water from the lake had been brought almost to a boil when the demigod had added one of the herbal pouches. Then he placed a thin blanket next to the fire to warm.
When the herbal pouch had steeped in the water, the demigod carefully removed it and allowed it to slightly cool. Taking the warm blanket in his other hand, he knelt next to his friend.
“Iolaus, roll over.” Hercules gently nudged his friend.
“Huh?” Sleepily, the hunter opened his eyes. “Wha...what?”
“Roll over.” The demigod nudged his friend again.
Confused, Iolaus rolled onto his stomach.
“Lie still,” Hercules softly said. Raising his friend’s vest, he carefully laid the warm herbal pouch on the bruise. “Easy,” he murmured when Iolaus hissed. “It’ll help.” Carefully placing the folded warm blanket on top of the pouch, he eased the vest back down.
Iolaus let out a deep breath as he felt the warmth ease his cramped back muscles. “Feels good,” he muttered.
Hercules gently stretched out next to his friend and slid his hand under Iolaus’ vest and over the folded blanket.
Iolaus sighed when he felt Hercules’ hand keeping even pressure on the herbal pouch. He sleepily smiled to himself. ‘Gods, I gotta do something about that guilt complex of his. Tomorrow...I’ll do it tomorrow. This feels too good to argue with him right now.’
“Go back to sleep, Iolaus,” Hercules murmured. He smiled when his partner muttered something then relaxed. He lay on his side watching his friend for a few moments, then closed his own eyes. ‘I really hope the other Iolaus finds his path. I hope he’ll be okay.’
RETURN TO HERCULES FAN FICTION PAGE