Iolaus giggled as he hugged his friend. "Amazing, huh?"
"Come on in," Jason urged. He glanced down the path. "Where's Hercules?"
Iolaus took a deep breath as he stood just on the inside of the door. The house was the same. He'd wondered if Jason would have made changes, but he could still feel Alcmene's presence even though she'd passed to the Other Side more than a year ago.
"Huh? Oh, Herc. He'll be along," Iolaus smiled. "We split up. I wanted to see my mother, and Herc was gonna take care of some mercenaries."
Jason's eyebrow rose in surprise. "Really?"
"Yeah," Iolaus answered with a defensive smile.
"I'm surprised," Jason admitted.
"I'm shocked," Iolaus teased. He laughingly shrugged. "Jason, you know how he is. And with everything that's happened, I was really surprised he let me go off on my own without much of an argument."
"I'm glad he did," Jason softly nodded. "I think it's good for both of you."
"I suppose." Iolaus slightly frowned. "Still, I figured he'd be here before me."
"Oh, that's just to prove that he's not being over-protective," Jason pointed out with a wave of his hand. "Go take your stuff upstairs. I was just getting ready to eat." He laughed as Iolaus quickly bounded up the stairs.
Iolaus dropped his sword and carrysack on one of the beds. He looked around. In his mind, he heard Alcmene's voice telling him to get that dirty carrysack off the bed. With a flush, he dropped it to the floor. He was home.
Although he loved his mother dearly, Iolaus had found more acceptance and love at Alcmene's house than at his own. Despite being reconciled with his mother, Iolaus never felt her home was his. This house had become his home especially after Ania and his son had died. And Alcmene had been his second mother for a great deal of his life.
He'd wondered if that feeling would survive Alcmene's death. It felt good that it had.
After lunch, Jason watched as Iolaus walked into the garden and sat by Alcmene's grave. It was his first visit since his return from the Light. Jason would have given a great deal to hear the conversation Iolaus was having, but he busied himself in the house giving Iolaus time.
When he emerged, Iolaus was sitting on one of the benches. He smiled as Jason joined him accepting the juice the former King of Corinth handed him. "The garden looks good, Jason," he smiled.
"I did manage to learn the difference between a flower and a weed," Jason ruefully pointed out.
"It still feels like home," Iolaus quietly admitted.
"Did you think it wouldn't?" Jason curiously asked.
Iolaus shrugged. "After all that's happened...I wasn't sure," he said lowering his head. "Jason, you don't know how sorry I am for..."
"Don't you dare apologize for Dahok!" Jason firmly interrupted. "You had nothing to do with what he did to me or to anyone else. That was Dahok's doing, and he's the one responsible for it. Not you."
"I know...I guess," Iolaus mumbled with a shrug. "I just feel like I should keep apologizing. To make up for it, you know?" He forced a grin. "I guess it's a good thing I'm not as important as you and Hercules, huh? Then I'd really have some apologizing to do."
Jason made a sudden decision. He had the feeling Hercules wouldn't like it but then Hercules wasn't likely to be objective about it anyway. "Come with me," he ordered getting to his feet. "There's something I think you need to see."
It would have amused Iolaus but not surprised him to have found out Hercules had stopped by his mother's village just to see if the hunter was still there. It had been years since Hercules had spoken with Erythia. She still seemed somewhat in awe of him. Her husband, Pandion, took the presence of the demi-god more in stride. Both had convinced Hercules to stay for the mid-day meal.
As they ate and talked, it seemed Erythia couldn't get enough of the stories about her son. While not the storyteller that Iolaus was, Hercules went out of his way to make Iolaus shine and glossed over the more gory aspects of their adventures. He silently wondered how his friend's childhood would have been had the gentle poet been Iolaus' father rather than the militant Skouros. 'But then he wouldn't have been Iolaus,' Hercules reminded himself with a smile.
"Jason, where are we going?" Iolaus asked.
"You'll see," Jason quietly smiled. "Just enjoy the walk." He slowly counted to twenty.
"Yeah, but where are we going?" Iolaus impatiently asked. Then he grinned. The look Jason shot him reminded him of the days when Jason commanded the Argo.
"I want to ask you something that's been bothering me." Jason changed the subject. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
Iolaus instinctively stiffened. "Sure, Jason, what is it?"
Jason stopped forcing Iolaus to halt. Slowly Jason reached out and touched Iolaus' amulet. "You're only wearing half of it. Why?"
Iolaus slowly fingered the amulet. Then he sat down with a sigh. After a moment, Jason sat next to him.
"When I stepped in front of Nebula, Gilgamesh's dagger went through the amulet. Splitting it in two," Iolaus slowly began. "Hercules left one half around my neck. He took the other half." He ruefully smiled. "You gotta understand. Herc's never told me this. He doesn't know that I know about it."
"Just how do you know about it?" Jason asked.
Iolaus hesitated. "After I went into the Light, Michael showed me," he explained. After a moment, he shrugged. "Well, he showed me after I accidentally saw part of it." He leaned forward. "They had these mirrors, and you could see things in them." He stared into Jason's eyes. "Herc tried to get me back, Jason. He didn't know about Dahok. So he challenged the remaining Sumerian God who was holding some souls." He weakly grinned. "Can you believe him doing that?"
"Actually...yes, "Jason nodded.
Iolaus smiled. "Anyway, Herc wound up giving his half of my amulet to Nebula when he left Sumeria."
"Why did he do that?" Jason asked. "Don't get me wrong. I understand how things were between you and Nebula, but..."
"I'm glad he didn't keep it," Iolaus grimly interrupted. "Dahok used it to get through to Nebula. Because she had it in her possession, he was able to use it and get into her mind and trick her." He shook his head. "With the shape Herc was in, Dahok could've really hurt him if he'd kept the amulet."
"Hercules told me that he dreamed he was pulling you out from a grave he'd dug, but it wasn't you," Jason slowly recalled. "He later realized it had been Dahok."
Iolaus nodded. "Dahok was able to do that because Herc had the amulet," he sighed. "Dahok figured he would keep it in memory of me."
Jason saw the shadows in his friend's eyes. "Well, it wasn't the first mistake Dahok made." He reached out and touched the dark stone. "But why..."
"Do I only have half?" Iolaus grinned. "When I first went into the Light, I had the complete amulet. It was how I remembered it." He shrugged his fingers playing in the grass. "When I saw what Herc had gone through, I broke the amulet. I was so angry." He ruefully smiled. "I really tested Michael's patience for a while."
"Well, why should he have been any different?" Jason asked with a straight face.
Iolaus grimaced. "It felt...like only part of me was there." He struggled to explain. "Herc and I...Jason, you know how close we are. I just didn't feel whole." He glanced at his friend. "I didn't feel whole without you, either."
Jason nodded as he got to his feet and glanced at the sun. "Come on. It's not far." Silently he counted to twenty.
"Jason, where are we going?" Iolaus asked.
It was mid-afternoon when Hercules got back on the road. He made a mental promise to either come back this way more often or see that Iolaus visited on his own. The short visit with Iolaus' mother only brought the loss of Alcmene into sharper focus.
'Iolaus would laugh his boots off if he knew where I've been,' Hercules ruefully admitted. There'd been no real reason for his detour except a nagging worry about Iolaus' safety. A nagging worry that refused to die no matter what he said, did, or thought.
Shrugging the matter off, he began running. If he pushed himself, he could be home well before dark.
"What is this?" Iolaus asked in a hushed tone.
"A memorial to you," Jason simply answered. "Hercules forged it after you went into the Light. He brought it up here." He glanced at Iolaus' pale expression. "Your friends gathered here when he raised it to remember you."
"Me?" Iolaus whispered looking at Jason in surprise.
"Yes. You." Jason smiled. He carefully walked to one side allowing Iolaus some space. "There was a time I thought Hercules would take up permanent residence here." He felt Iolaus' eyes on his back. "It took time for him to let go, Iolaus. To be honest, I'm not sure he completely ever did let go. But no matter where he went, he always came back here sooner or later. When I knew he was back, I'd give him some time then come up here to get him." He shrugged. "Sometimes it helped. Sometimes it didn't." Jason glanced over his shoulder to see Iolaus hadn't moved. "Here. See this?"
"What is it?" Iolaus' curiosity finally got his feet moving. He stared down at the base of the memorial to see a depression in the stone. Kneeling, he examined it closer. It looked like...a fist? He glanced up at Jason who nodded.
"He was really angry that day," Jason explained. "I thought he was going to bust the whole monument into pieces." He sighed. "But after he hit the stone, he came to himself. Got himself under control." He stared at the stone. "He said he was going to fix that." Then he put a hand on Iolaus' shoulder. "But maybe he didn't feel whole either."
"Jason, would you mind..." Iolaus murmured.
"No," Jason smiled. "I'll head home." He squeezed his friend's shoulder. "I'll see you there."
Iolaus silently nodded his eyes still fixed on the monument.
Jason was almost to the main road when he heard someone calling his name. Turning, he smiled. "Hercules! We were wondering when you'd show up!"
Hercules shook Jason's hand automatically peering over his shoulder. "We? Then Iolaus made it?"
"Yes, he made it in one piece," Jason laughed. "He's up there." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards a grove of trees on top of a hillside.
Hercules casually looked in that direction. 'Was he hunting? Not much game up there. In fact, the only thing that's up there is...'
Jason knew from Hercules' expression the exact moment it all came together. When the demi-god turned a stunned face towards him, Jason held up his hands.
"He needed to know, and you weren't going to tell him." Jason defended his actions.
"I can't believe you did that, Jason!" Hercules angrily replied. "After all he's been through..."
"After what everyone's been through," Jason firmly interrupted. "Both you and Iolaus. And me, for that matter." He waited until Hercules calmed down. "Now get up there, and the two of you talk this out. It'll be good for both of you." He turned towards the house. "And don't come back until it's done," he ordered.
Hercules stood watched as Jason calmly walked away. Reluctantly, he turned and began walking up the hill. "Still thinks he's Captain of the Argo," he irritably muttered under his breath.
It didn't take long to reach the path that led to the top of the hill where Jason had left Iolaus. Hercules hesitated then stopped unsure of what to do. 'Just what am I supposed to say, Jason? And what's Iolaus going to say to me?'
Reluctantly, Hercules stepped onto the path and slowly put one foot in front of the other. As he approached the crest of the hill, he raised his head.
Iolaus stood for a long time after Jason's departure just staring at the monument. He knew, even without Jason saying it, that Hercules had worked on the monument with his own hands, brought it up to this point on the hillside, and set it into the ground. It had been the final act of respect and devotion for his best friend.
It was peaceful and serene on the hill. From this point, Iolaus could see the rolling wooded hills below. He and Hercules had known every tree and blade of grass at this spot from the time they were children.
In his mind's eye, Iolaus could see the two of them as children running through the trees chasing imaginary foes...always winning...never losing. This had been their refuge. This had been where their dreams were spun. This had been where they'd clasped hands and swore undying friendship...to die in battle back-to-back.
Iolaus shook his head as tears began to form. He slowly sat with his back against the unyielding stone of the monument. Despite the serenity around him, he felt the monument radiate other emotions. Grief. Anger. Pain. Guilt. Gods, the guilt was so strong Iolaus believed he could touch it.
'How many times did you come here, Herc, before you found any sort of peace?' Iolaus closed his eyes and silently wept.
Hercules saw Iolaus sitting with his back towards the monument staring at the sloping hillside. He didn't turn his head as Hercules approached.
Silently Hercules sat with his back against the monument staring back down the path he'd trod. He stretched out his legs in front of him. After a few seconds, he glanced over his left shoulder at his partner. He opened his mouth then closed it. He turned to look back down the path.
"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Iolaus finally asked.
Not turning his head, Hercules shrugged. He found himself studying the leaves of grass suddenly in his fingers. "It never came up," he finally answered.
"Never came up?" Iolaus glanced over his right shoulder at Hercules then settled back against the monument.
Hercules sighed. Iolaus wasn't going to let this one go. "There are some things I don't want to remember," he quietly spoke. "This is one of them."
"Why?" Iolaus asked.
"Why?!" Hercules snapped glaring over his shoulder. "My best friend was dead! I didn't even have a body to bury! All I had left of you was this piece of rock!" By this time, the demi-god was standing angrily glaring down at Iolaus.
"And memories," Iolaus gently reminded him. His eyes were focused on the horizon.
"They weren't enough," Hercules angrily muttered as he began pacing.
"Herc, why didn't you keep my amulet?" Iolaus suddenly asked. "I mean, it's better you didn't. That's how Dahok got to Nebula. But why didn't you keep it?"
Hercules hesitated. He suddenly realized that Iolaus had yet to look at him. "The amulet?" He shook his head in surprise at the change in conversation. "I failed you, Iolaus. I failed both of us. I...didn't think I deserved it." He uncomfortably shrugged. "Besides, I knew how you felt about Nebula."
"You didn't fail anyone," Iolaus objected. "Look, if anything happens to me, I want you to have the amulet. Understand?"
"Nothing's going to happen!" Hercules shouted.
Iolaus sighed. This was going to be way more difficult than he'd thought. 'You could've warned me, Jason.' "Just humor me, okay, Herc?" He heard his friend taking several deep breaths in an effort to regain control. "That why you punched this hunk of rock?"
"How did...Jason told you," Hercules sighed. He brushed his hair back from his face. "Yeah, I got mad one day." He sat back down against the monument. He suddenly laughed. "When I realized what I'd done, I started apologizing. To a rock, of all things!" He shook his head again. "I think I scared Jason a little," he softly added.
"Probably," Iolaus nodded. "Did you ever plan on telling me...bringing me here?"
"No," Hercules firmly answered. "I just wanted to forget."
"Jason said a lot of people came," Iolaus recalled.
Hercules laughed again. "Yeah, including half the women in Greece," he teased. "All sobbing and weeping. Even Autolycus was impressed."
"Autolycus!" Iolaus glanced over his shoulder. "Autolycus was here?"
Hercules nodded not meeting Iolaus' eyes. "Yeah. It seemed like everybody was here." 'But I was still alone.' He took a deep breath. "They didn't show themselves, but Aphrodite and Hesphaestus were here, too. They later told me Hermes was too grief-stricken to make an appearance."
Iolaus muttered something about "Hermes" and "Tartarus" under his breath as he turned away.
Hercules leaned back against the monument and closed his eyes. "I'd come up here and just...talk," he softly said. "Talk about what I'd done. Where I'd been. Who I'd seen. Just...stuff. I knew you weren't really here, but..." His voice trailed off. "It was all I had left," he finally whispered.
"That's why next time you take the amulet." Iolaus' voice was almost steady.
"Not gonna be a next time." Hercules shook his head fighting the tears.
"Just humor me, okay?" Iolaus teased. When his friend didn't answer, he added. "Okay?"
"Yeah, Iolaus, whatever you want," Hercules mumbled. He quickly wiped a hand across his eyes. He glanced over his shoulder to see Iolaus staring out at the countryside before him.
"I never expected this, Herc." Iolaus indicated the monument behind him with his thumb. "I mean...well, it is impressive."
Hercules took a deep breath. "I had to do something, Iolaus," he helplessly explained. "I just couldn't let you disappear...like you'd never lived." He shrugged. "It's hard to explain."
"I understand," Iolaus softly replied. "I really do, Herc. And...thank you. In a way, it explains a lot...about how things have been since I got back."
Hercules grimaced. "Okay, maybe I have been a little over-protective."
Iolaus grinned. "Nah. That's just an unfounded rumor."
Hercules shook his head and laughed.
"So, what do you plan on doing with this thing now?" Iolaus glanced over his shoulder at the monument. "I mean, I'm back. Remember? You just can't leave it here."
"Hadn't thought about it," Hercules admitted. "To tell you the truth, I haven't been here since you came back. I couldn't stand the sight of it." 'Too much pain. Too many tears.'
"Well, I was sitting here thinking..." Iolaus began.
Hercules dramatically groaned. "I hate it when you do that."
Iolaus snorted. "How about we take it to my forge?"
"Iolaus, I can demolish it right here," Hercules pointed out. "We don't have to drag it all the way back."
"Not demolish it." Iolaus shook his head. "Make it into a monument for all the fallen heroes." He glanced over his shoulder to meet Hercules' eyes for the first time.
"All the fallen heroes?" Hercules mused. He looked over his shoulder and stared at the monument. After several moments, he nodded. "Yeah. I think we could do that." He smiled and Iolaus saw the peace in that smile.
"Great!" Iolaus stood and brushed the dirt and grass off his pants. "We'll come back up tomorrow with a wagon."
"Can't bring a wagon all the way up," Hercules mentioned as he also stood. "We'll have to carry it part of the way down."
'Like you carried it up,' Iolaus thought. "We'll make Jason help," he grinned. "Maybe Pandion will compose something for it."
"Sounds like a plan," Hercules agreed. "You ready?"
"Yeah," Iolaus nodded walking towards the path.
To Hercules' relief, Iolaus didn't even look back. He did. One final look at something that had once been so important and necessary to him...something that was now part of a horrible memory. And thanks to his best friend, it now would become something important to others. He turned away to see Iolaus waiting for him, a look of understanding on his face.
Reaching Iolaus, Hercules gratefully squeezed his friend's shoulder.
Iolaus smiled up at him. "Hey, Herc, how come only half the women in Greece came up here?"
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