WISHES




Hercules opened his eyes. The ground was hard beneath him, and the early morning chill had caused him to burrow under his blanket. He lay curled on the right side of his body and snuggled deeper into the slight warmth of the blanket. He inwardly sighed and wondered just what had possessed him the day before.

He'd been tired, he admitted. It seemed he and Iolaus couldn't walk more than a league without running into some mercenary or warlord just looking to make a name for themselves by eliminating the son of Zeus and his partner. After more than a week of this, he'd just been so tired both physically and mentally.

For once, they entered a village that was peaceful and quiet. Hercules was looking forward to a couple of days of sleeping in a warm bed and eating food not cooked over a campfire. Not to mention wanting to soak in a tub of steaming hot water for a couple of hours.

But Iolaus had still been full of energy. Most of the time, Hercules was appreciative that Iolaus' high energy level enabled the hunter to keep up with him. But there were times, he would have liked to just rope and gag his partner in order to get some peace and quiet. Yesterday had been one of those days. Then Iolaus had begun flirting with the barmaid. That wasn't unusual. In fact, Hercules would have been worried if Iolaus hadn't been flirting. This time, however, the girl's very jealous fiancé walked in. Just in time to see Iolaus kiss the girl on the cheek.

The next thing Hercules knew, he and Iolaus were defending themselves against the girl's fiancé and several of his very large friends. Not long after, they were leaving the village...the warm bed...the cooked food...the soak in a tub of steaming hot water.

To make it worse, Iolaus hadn't minded. Nine days out of ten, he preferred sleeping outdoors and living off the land. They hadn't walked very far before Iolaus' laughing recollection of the fight had snapped the last nerve Hercules possessed. Just for once, he wanted Iolaus to see the other side of things...HIS side.

Before Hercules knew it, harsh words had passed between them quickly flaring into a rare argument. Surprised at first, then angry in return, Iolaus gave as good as he got. Truth be told, he gave better than he got. Iolaus had a nimble brain and tongue. And when he lost his temper, he used both with a fervor that left his opponents smarting.

Hercules inwardly sighed as he slowly stretched cramped muscles. 'Gods, did you really think you could win an argument with Iolaus? And over what? Sleeping indoors and a hot bath?' Carefully listening, he heard no movement from Iolaus who'd sullenly flung himself down on the other side of the fire to sleep. Either the hunter was still sleeping or was foraging for breakfast.

Hercules felt his face flush as he remembered some of the words he'd flung at his best friend in anger. Horrible words he would have given much to have never thought much less uttered. 'Iolaus was just being himself. And the girl was flirting with him more than he was flirting with her. He had no way of knowing she was promised to someone else. And when did you EVER know Iolaus to back down from a fight?'

Slowly flinging the blanket away, Hercules decided to forage for breakfast if the hunter was still sleeping. It would be a start on his apology.

Sitting up, he glanced across the smoldering campfire. Then quickly stood. "Iolaus!" he shouted.

There was no sign of his partner. There was no sign Iolaus had slept there the previous night. His sword, his carrysack...everything that belonged to Iolaus was gone.

Stunned, Hercules looked around. 'He couldn't have been so angry that he...left after I fell asleep. Could he?' Remembering some of the accusations, he'd thrown at his friend the day before, he wasn't sure. He knew there had been times Iolaus had been close to punching him for the words the demi-god had thrown at him. But the hunter had kept rein on his temper. 'No, Iolaus wouldn't leave on his own. He'd stay and make me pay for what I said.'

"Iolaus!"

Even as his voice echoed around him, he was kicking dirt onto the embers of their fire. Suddenly, he felt a faint prickling on the back of his neck. Spinning around, he reached out and grabbed...'What in the name of Zeus is this?'

"Lemme go! Lemme go!"

Hercules stared in surprise at the small form in his hands. In height, the creature was no taller than perhaps a six-year old boy. But the face was that of an adult man. Dressed in green with dark hair barely touching his neck, the creature wiggled and twisted. Several small scrolls fell from the pack on his back.

"You're killing me! Help!"

"Stop that!" Hercules firmly ordered. "Quit struggling, and you won't be hurt!" He stared at the creature. "What...who are you?"

"I'm Levi." The creature tried to stretch his small body to look taller. "I'm a sprite."

"A sprite?" Hercules frowned. "What's a sprite?"

Levi sighed closing his green eyes. "Sprites are a lot of things," he explained. "I happen to be a wish sprite." He opened his eyes. "You know, we're Artemis' beloved creatures," he warned.

"You are, huh?" Hercules tightened his grip. "What say we call her and find out?"

"You can't just go bothering the great Artemis like that!" Levi interrupted.

"What's a wish sprite?" Hercules prodded.

"We grant wishes," Levi carefully explained. "What do you think we are?"

"What wish?" Hercules' eyes narrowed. "For who? Are you responsible for Iolaus' disappearance?"

"Your wish!" Levi snapped. "Look, I think it's silly myself, but we're supposed to let the wishee know his wish has been fulfilled."

"WHAT WISH?!" Hercules shouted roughly shaking Levi.

"Aphrodite! Save me!" Levi screamed.

There was a flash of pink and gold light. "Herkie! What are you doing?" Aphrodite demanded.

"I thought you were one of Artemis' beloved creatures?" Hercules eyed Levi suspiciously.

"Well, there's a small misunderstanding between she and I at the moment," Levi admitted. He widened his eyes at the Goddess of Love. "He's hurting me!"

"It's okay, Herkie," Aphrodite smiled. "You can let him go."

"Oh, no," Hercules shook his head. "Not until he tells me what he's done with Iolaus and how to get him back."

"Sweetcheeks?" Aphrodite frowned.

"It wasn't me!" Levi squirmed. "It was his wish!"

"Let me have Levi," Aphrodite suggested. "He won't run from me." She held out her arms.

Reluctantly, Hercules gave the sprite to her. The truth was, he knew he was holding the creature too tightly.

Levi snuggled against the blonde Goddess of Love with a happy sigh. He laid his head on her breasts and looked over his shoulder at Hercules with a smirk.

"It's okay, Levi," Aphrodite soothingly stroked Levi's back. "Now, what's going on?"

"It's his wish," Levi pouted. "All I did was what he wanted."

"That's not true!" Hercules argued as Aphrodite gave him an angry look. "I never NEVER made any wish! Especially one that concerned Iolaus!"

"Oh, yes, you did!" Levi argued. He reached over his shoulder into his pack. After a few seconds, he pulled one out. He looked angelically at Aphrodite. "I admit I've been lax about fulfilling wishes, but...I've been sick." He forced a cough.

Hercules gritted his teeth. "Aphrodite," he warned.

"You better explain, Levi," Aphrodite suggested.

"Well, it was after a fight with Talok and Maneus," Levi began.

"Wait a minute," Hercules interrupted with a frown. "Talok and Maneus? That was years ago!"

"I said I'd been a little lax in fulfilling wishes," Levi defended himself. After a moment, he forced another cough. Feeling Aphrodite's soothing hand on his back, he continued. "You said...well, actually you THOUGHT but it counted as a wish because..."

"Aphrodite!" Hercules roared.

"You wished Iolaus would go away and leave you alone!" Levi blurted out.

"Hercules!" Aphrodite accused.

"I...I...I was fifteen, Aphrodite!" Hercules shook his head. "Iolaus had been getting us into fights left and right. Anytime anything went wrong, people came looking for Iolaus just positive he was responsible...and I kept getting dragged into his messes as well."

"That's no excuse!" Aphrodite sniffed.

"I didn't wish this!" Hercules shouted. "It wasn't a wish...just an angry passing thought."

"You thought the words ‘I wish'," Levi pointed out. "It counts."

Hercules stared so intently as Levi that he squirmed in Aphrodite's arms. "You caused that argument yesterday," he accused.

"Not exactly," Levi denied. When Aphrodite looked at him in confusion, he forced another cough.

"Not exactly?" Aphrodite softly asked as she stroked his back.

"You just can't fulfill a wish without a lot of minor details that need attention," Levi explained. "Hercules wished for Iolaus to go away and leave him alone..."

"I DID NOT!" Hercules shouted.

"I just couldn't make it happen without a suitable cause. So I made them argue. REALLY argue." Levi laid his head on Aphrodite's shoulder. "I think I'm running a fever."

"He is not!" Hercules accused. "Aphrodite..." He shook his head. "What did you do with Iolaus?"

"Nothing!" Levi denied. "You wished for him to go away and leave you alone and he did!" He sniffed. "And I certainly don't blame him considering what you said to him yesterday!"

"What did you say to Sweetcheeks?" Aphrodite demanded.

Hercules flushed. "A lot to apologize for," he admitted. "A lot that was instigated." He fixed his angry gaze on Levi. "Now where is he?"

"I don't know," Levi shrugged. "You wished for him to go away and leave you alone so he got up and left."

"Quit saying that!" Hercules demanded. He ran his hand through his hair. "Aphrodite, I was fifteen! Iolaus and I...we were still finding ourselves! You KNOW I'd never wish for this!" He took a deep breath. "Aphrodite, you know better."

"Yeah," Aphrodite slowly nodded. "Go find him, bro. He'll understand once you explain." Levi squealed and wrapped his arms and legs around Aphrodite all while managing to keep his face close to her chest.

"Levi, what is it?" Aphrodite soothingly asked.

"Apologies won't help," Levi muttered. Slowly he raised his head. "I mean, when somebody wishes for good health, they don't want it for just a day, do they? They want it for forever."

"You mean..." Hercules took a deep breath. "No matter how much I explain, no matter how much I apologize...Iolaus will still go away and leave me alone?" When the sprite nodded, Hercules felt his hands clench. "Well, change it!" he shouted.

"You can do that, Levi, can't you?" Aphrodite quickly asked. She'd never seen Hercules this close to losing complete control.

"Well, yes," Levi reluctantly admitted. Reaching into his pack, he pulled out another scroll and opened it. "I should be able to get to it in...three years."

"What!" Hercules exploded. "No! Now!" He looked at Aphrodite as Levi tried to cling closer to her. "Aphrodite, you know what Ares will do if he finds out about this. Not to mention Discord."

"Levi, can't you do this one right now?" Aphrodite slowly pulled the sprite's head back and smiled. "For me?"

"Oh, I'd do anything for you," Levi assured her with a wide smile.

"We'll go find Iolaus," Aphrodite said with a glance at Hercules. "Until this is straightened out, he can't..."

"I know," Hercules wearily held up a hand. "I'll stay here." He gave Levi a stern look. "I want things between Iolaus and me back the way they were before we entered that village yesterday. Understand?"

Levi gulped. "I believe I know how to do my job," he sniffed.

Aphrodite smiled reassuringly at Hercules then vanished with Levi.

Hercules stared at the empty camp then irritably kicked more dirt onto the ashes of the campfire. "This is NOT my fault," he muttered. "I was fifteen."

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They found Iolaus sitting on the bank of a nearby lake idly tossing rocks into the water.

Aphrodite took one look at him and sighed. "You stay here until I call for you," she told Levi. "Don't go anywhere."

"I won't," Levi happily nodded. He liked being around the Goddess of Love. She understood his sensitive soul.

Aphrodite materialized close to Iolaus who wearily turned his head at her appearance.

"Hi, ‘Dite," he mumbled.

"Kinda casual, aren't you?" Aphrodite teased as she walked closer. "What if I'd been Discord?"

To her surprise, Iolaus shrugged.

"I know what's been going on, and it's not what you think." Aphrodite settled down next to Iolaus.

"Isn't it?" Iolaus eyed her closely. "Herc made it obvious what he thinks about me."

"Iolaus, that was the result of a wish sprite," Aphrodite explained. "You see, back when he was a kid, Hercules was upset with you one day and sorta wished you'd go away and leave him alone..." Her voice trailed off. "Iolaus?"

"You think that helps?" Iolaus angrily asked. "That he thought about it as a kid?! He still thought it!" He paused. "What's a wish sprite?"

"Levi!" Aphrodite called.

Iolaus' blue eyes widened in surprise as Levi appeared sitting on Aphrodite's lap. He listened quietly as Aphrodite finished explaining.

"So you see, this has been just a horrible misunderstanding," Aphrodite concluded.

"Or finally the truth," Iolaus mumbled.

"You can't believe that," Aphrodite frowned.

"Look, ‘Dite, I appreciate you telling me this." Iolaus took a deep breath. "But Herc thought it when he was fifteen. And he was probably thinking it again yesterday. And he's probably thought it a lot of times in between." He sighed. Just for once he wanted Hercules to see the other side of things...HIS side.

Aphrodite glanced at Levi who suddenly took an intense interest in how the sunlight bounced off the water. "You know, you both said some pretty awful things to each other," she pointed out.

Iolaus miserably nodded. "Another reason not to go back," he argued. "How do I know he won't..."

"Think it again?" Aphrodite smiled. "Sweetcheeks, after this, I can guarantee he'll never think anything like that again."

Iolaus shrugged. "I just think it's better if we have some time apart now." He took a deep breath.

"Are you sure?" Aphrodite slowly asked. "Levi can make it all go away. That's what Herkie wants."

Iolaus flushed. "So I'd never know how he feels?" he demanded. "That's not a solution."

"I don't believe he was thinking very clearly when he said that today," Levi spoke up. "He was VERY angry and violent with me."

"Hush, Levi." Aphrodite soothingly patted the sprite's shoulder.

"Herc?" Iolaus looked surprised.

Aphrodite shrugged. "He was afraid he'd lost you," she answered. "You know, ever since that Dahok stuff..."

Iolaus looked away. "I just need time, ‘Dite," he mumbled.

"Okay, sweetie," Aphrodite smiled. "I'll tell Herkie. You want him to stay put or meet you somewhere?"

Iolaus frowned at the implication. "I'll be in Corinth next month," he answered. He missed Aphrodite's frown.

"Be careful, Sweetcheeks," she cautioned. A second later, she and Levi disappeared.

Iolaus angrily threw another rock into the lake.

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"I think you'd better let me talk with Hercules alone," Aphrodite suggested.

Levi nodded in relief. "Thank you for rescuing me," he smiled. "How can I ever thank you? I'll do anything, you know."

Aphrodite laughed. "Just check with me first before fulfilling any wishes concerning either Hercules or Iolaus, okay?"

Levi nodded then frowned. "What about past wishes?" he asked.

"You mean Herkie's?" Aphrodite frowned.

"No," Levi slowly answered. "I'm really not supposed to divulge confidential information."

"But..." Aphrodite smiled showing her dimples.

"Well, there's this wish that Ares made a long time ago," Levi slowly explained. "Sort of a ‘If a certain action occurs, I wish this to happen' kind of wish."

Aphrodite crossed her arms over her chest as she thought.

Levi pouted.

"Now I understand Sweetcheeks' reaction," Aphrodite frowned. "Ares is SO mean."

"You aren't going to tell Ares, are you?" Levi fell to his knees in front of the Goddess of Love. "Please don't! He'll kill me! Even worse...he'll HURT me!" He buried his face in the softness of her thighs.

"Don't worry, Levi." Aphrodite patted his head. "He'll never know."

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Hercules had foraged for some food and was absent-mindedly spitting two rabbits on a spit when Aphrodite returned a couple of hours later. He jumped to his feet then frowned. "Where's Iolaus?" he quietly asked.

"We talked," the Goddess of Love slowly answered. "He needs some time to think about things."

"Oh." Hercules dropped his eyes then sat down. "How long?"

"He said he'd see you in Corinth next month." Aphrodite studied him closely.

"Next month?" Hercules took a deep breath. "Maybe he's right about thinking about things."

"What things?" Aphrodite asked.

Hercules shrugged. "He'll certainly be a lot safer not being with me." He forced a half-smile. "Maybe even Ares will forget about him if he's not with me."

"You know, you can't make that decision for Sweetcheeks," Aphrodite cautioned.

Hercules looked away. "Thanks for your help, Aphrodite," he finally said.

"Anytime, bro." The Goddess of Love nodded to herself as she disappeared. 'Two can play this game, Ares.'

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The moon had risen to its zenith when Aphrodite and Hades appeared next to a sleeping Iolaus.

"He's so cute when he's sleeping," Aphrodite smiled.

Hades rolled his eyes. "I still don't know why I'm helping with this," he grumbled.

"Because we both know if we don't stop what Ares has planned, one of them is going to get killed." Aphrodite pointed out. "And when that happens, the one remaining is going to come after you to bring the dead one back."

Hades nodded. "Been there. Done that." He shrugged. "What do you want me to do?" His eyes widened when Aphrodite whispered to him. 'I hope Hesphaestus never gets her really mad at him.' Hades hadn't realized the Goddess of Love had a mean streak in her.

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Iolaus came wide awake at the touch on his shoulder. Automatically reaching for his sword, he stared up at the face of the Lord of the Underworld. "Hades?!" he half-shouted rolling away. When Hades made no attempt to stop him, he glanced around relaxing only slightly when he saw he was still by the lake. Then he stared at Hades. "Aw, I'm not dead again, am I?"

"No," Hades coldly answered. "But you may be soon."

Iolaus relaxed. "What else is new?" he replied.

"This is serious."

Iolaus stiffened. He could feel the cold aura of death that now surrounded Hades. "What...what do you mean?"

"Ares has been watching," Hades explained. "For all I know, he's the real reason you and Hercules are apart."

"What's Ares got to do with this?" Iolaus demanded.

"He sent someone to Hercules asking for his help," Hades slowly explained. "Naturally, he went without asking many questions." He stared into Iolaus' blue eyes. "That's what you normally did, wasn't it?"

Iolaus squirmed under the gaze of the dark god.

"Hercules became trapped in a magic sphere," Hades continued. "It's trapped his soul. If anyone tries to get him out, they'll die." He saw the reaction in Iolaus' eyes. "And the longer he's trapped, the less likely anyone can get him out."

"Then how do I get him out?" Iolaus asked as he began kicking dirt onto his campfire.

Hades cocked his head to one side. "Are you sure?"

"Of course, I'm sure!" Iolaus snapped. "Why would you even ask that?"

"You two argued," Hades pointed out. "Ares made sure all of Olympus knew that Hercules wanted you to go and leave him alone and that you did."

"That doesn't mean I'm going to let my best friend die," Iolaus snorted. "Now how do I get him out?"

"By taking his place," Hades coldly answered. "But once you've done that, you're trapped there forever."

Iolaus froze staring into Hades' eyes. "No chance, huh?"

Hades silently shook his head.

"Why are you here?" Iolaus asked.

"To fulfill a promise I made to Hercules," Hades answered. "Ares will make sure you know about Hercules' predicament. He'll enjoy watching what happens next. Either you'll refuse and suffer the resulting guilt. Or you'll exchange yourself for Hercules and then he'll suffer that same guilt." He took a step forward. "I once promised Hercules if the two of you parted on bad terms that I would see you safe. Under my protection, not even Ares will be able to touch you."

Iolaus' eyes widened. "Herc...did what?" he whispered.

"Hercules wanted to be sure you wouldn't be tormented like this even if you weren't friends. It seems my nephew has a streak of paranoia in him to even imagine the two of you not being friends," Hades impatiently explained. "I can extend my protection to you if you wish it...but only if you wish it."

Iolaus swallowed hard. Then he reached for his sword. "Take me to Herc," he curtly ordered.

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"Hercules. Awaken."

Hercules' eyes flew open. He immediately sensed the presence of one of the gods and rolled to his feet. "Hades?" he asked in confusion. He felt a sudden stabbing pain. "Why are you here?"

"To fulfill a promise," Hades wearily answered. "It's Iolaus."

"What about Iolaus?" Hercules angrily demanded.

"Ares has him," Hades explained. "He saw the two of you had separated and trapped Iolaus within a magic sphere. It's slowly draining his soul."

"Not for long," Hercules growled kicking dirt over the campfire.

"It's not that easy," Hades cautioned. "The only way Iolaus can be released is for someone to take his place. And whoever does that is trapped forever." He saw his nephew's eyes widen and nodded. "Either way, Ares gets to watch one of you suffer."

"Why warn me?" Hercules asked. "Why are you involved?"

"As I said. To fulfill a promise I made to Iolaus a long time ago," Hades repeated. He held up his hand to stop Hercules' questions. "The circumstances of that promise don't concern you. I promised him that if the two of you were ever separated...as you are now...that I would put you under my protection if you wished. Ares won't be able to touch you."

"But I can't help Iolaus if you do that," Hercules finished.

Hades nodded. "Iolaus didn't want you in this situation even if you weren't friends." He sadly smiled. "I hadn't realized Iolaus was so paranoid."

"We're NOT separated, and we ARE friends!" Hercules angrily shot back. "This whole...mess is a misunderstanding. That's all."

Hades shrugged. "That's not how I see it," he offered.

"Can you take me to where Ares has Iolaus?" Hercules demanded.

"I can," Hades slowly nodded. "Are you sure?" He inwardly smiled at the look the demi-god gave him.

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Iolaus took a deep breath as Hades faded away. He stepped forward into the cave his sword clutched tightly in his grasp. There was a glowing white sphere in the middle of the cave. Iolaus squinted barely able to see Hercules lying on the ground curled in a tight ball.

"Herc!" Iolaus shouted.

Hercules didn't look up. In face, he curled into a tighter ball. From the stiffness of his friend's body, Iolaus knew Hercules was in a tremendous amount of pain.

"So, shorty, you actually going to sacrifice yourself for him?"

Iolaus glanced over his shoulder to see Ares grinning at him. "That's the idea," he admitted.

"Even after what he said to you?" Ares walked to one side slowly shaking his head. "If it were me..."

"Well, it's not you!" Iolaus snapped. "Herc's gonna kick your butt from here to Athens when he gets out."

"Somehow I kinda doubt that." Ares spread his arms wide in mock defeat. "Go ahead," he hissed. "Sacrifice yourself cheap for somebody that doesn't even want you around. See if I care."

'No, not a cheap sacrifice.; Iolaus suddenly grinned at Ares then stepped into the sphere. 'That was one really dumb argument, Herc.'

----------------------------

Hercules took a deep breath as Hades faded away. He stepped into the cave his eyes quickly spotting the glowing white sphere in the middle of the cave. He shaded his eyes barely able to see Iolaus lying on the ground curled in a tight ball.

"Iolaus!"

His partner didn't look up. In fact, he curled into a tighter ball. From the stiffness of his friend's body, Hercules knew Iolaus was in a tremendous amount of pain.

"I knew you'd be a enough of a sucker to come here."

Hercules glanced to one side to see Ares grinning at him.

Ares glanced at the sphere. "The little runt wasn't coming back to you," he casually mentioned. "We both know that."

"No, we don't," Hercules calmly replied. "Whatever...lay between us would have been settled." He briefly smiled. "Just like always."

Ares shrugged. "You think he's worth all this? Go ahead. See if I care."

Silently, Hercules stepped forward into the sphere. 'Iolaus, that was a really dumb argument.'

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Hades appeared from the shadows as Ares turned into Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love shivered. "Ooooo, I HATE being Ares!" she muttered.

"Well, you've got them in there." Hades nodded towards the sphere. "What do you plan to do with them?"

"All taken care of," Aphrodite assured him. She stared at the sphere with a look of accomplishment. "All taken care of."

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As Iolaus touched his friend's curled figure, something strange happened. The coldness that had been deep inside him ever since their argument suddenly melted. He felt it replaced by a comforting warmth...and more. Iolaus felt the pride Hercules had in him...pride in what Iolaus accomplished without the benefit of being more than mortal. Iolaus felt the awe Hercules experienced at Iolaus' boundless energy...his tracking skills...even his fighting abilities. 'Awe? Of me?' Iolaus felt the almost desperate need Hercules had to keep Iolaus with him...and felt the stabbing pain of guilt and loneliness the demi-god had endured believing Iolaus to be dead and lost to him forever.

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As Hercules touched his friend's curled figure, something strange happened. The coldness that had been deep inside him ever since their argument suddenly melted. He felt it replaced by a comforting warmth...and more. Hercules felt the hidden steely determination of the hunter to be considered worthy of Hercules' friendship. 'Worthy? Iolaus?' Hercules felt the churning insecurities inside Iolaus that told the hunter he wasn't good enough...that he deserved to be shoved aside by others who praised the demi-god. Hercules felt the aching loneliness Iolaus still carried from his childhood no matter how many people or lovers the hunter surrounded himself with.

---------------------------------

Iolaus blinked as the sphere disappeared.

Hercules blinked as the sphere disappeared.

They stared at each other in surprise. Then Hercules grabbed Iolaus by the shoulders. "Are you okay?" he demanded.

"Are you?" Iolaus challenged his hands gripping his partner's upper arms.

They heard a giggle and turned.

"You are now," Aphrodite smiled.

Hercules saw Hades standing to one side. "Hades, what's going on?" he demanded.

"I'll let ‘Dite tell you," Hades half-smiled. He gave the Goddess of Love an enigmatic look. "But I suggest you don't stay here long. This IS Ares' territory, after all." He disappeared in a burst of energy.

"Come on," Aphrodite grinned. "I know a great place to relax."

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Aphrodite's great place was by the banks of a fast-running river deep in the woods of Corinth. To their surprise, their gear appeared with them and a campfire was already burning.

"Aphrodite..." Hercules looked around in surprise. Then he looked back at his half-sister. "What's going on?" he wearily asked.

"Well, you both know about Levi and the wish," Aphrodite began.

Hercules quickly glanced at Iolaus expecting an angry outburst. To his surprise, Iolaus merely nodded.

"Well, when I sent Levi on his way, I told him to check with me first about any wishes concerning you two," Aphrodite continued. "Levi told me that Ares had a pending wish. That if the two of you ever argued badly enough to separate, then his wish was that you two wouldn't want to get back together. That you'd call it protecting the other. Or pride would interfere." She broadly smiled as both men glanced away in embarrassment.

"So you and Hades interfered?" Iolaus finally asked.

"I made a wish, and Levi fulfilled it," Aphrodite brightly answered. "But Hades helped too." She stretched. "I wonder if Heffie is still awake." She snickered. "If not, he WILL be in a few minutes." She vanished in a sudden burst of pink and gold energy.

The two men stood in silence for several moments. Then Iolaus knelt by the campfire and began unpacking his carrysack. "I'm hungry," he complained.

"Iolaus, about what happened..." Hercules began. "What I thought years ago was NOT a wish. Just an angry thought that never should have been there to begin with."

"Hey, it's not a problem." Iolaus looked up with a genuine smile. "I can be a real pain in the butt sometimes."

Hercules sat down by the campfire. "That's true," he teased. He relaxed when Iolaus laughed in return. "That doesn't mean..." He took a deep breath. "Iolaus, those things I said yesterday...those were things I'd never say to my worst enemy. Let alone to my best friend." He glanced at his partner. "I need you to understand that."

"I do," Iolaus nodded sitting down munching on an apple. "I said some pretty awful stuff too." He shook his head. "I can't believe I said that stuff either."

"Levi instigated a lot of it," Hercules recalled. "Part of making that so-called wish come true." He dropped his head. "I'm sorry, Iolaus. I never NEVER meant any of it."

"I said it's not a problem," Iolaus repeated with a grin. "You know, you can be a pain in the butt sometimes, too. Always seeing things in black and white."

Hercules smiled. "So I've heard," he admitted.

Iolaus flushed. "Guess this means we should be really careful what we wish for, huh?" he finally asked.

"Sounds like a plan, buddy," Hercules grinned.

'Well, I wish us to go out back-to-back like we promised.' Iolaus yawned. "I'm gonna turn in."

"See you in the morning," Hercules replied. 'I wish we'll go out back-to-back like we promised.'

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"Aphrodite! Aphrodite!" Levi stopped and looked around. He wiped his brow. It was hot this close to Hesphaestus' volcano-powered forge.

"What in the name of Tartarus?!" Hesphaestus angrily bellowed from the next room.

Levi's eyes widened in apprehension. He heard Aphrodite's soothing voice then a laugh from the God of the Forge. With a sigh, the small sprite sat cross-legged while floating in the air. It sounded like it would be a while before Aphrodite would be able to answer his question.

He had so many wishes to fulfill, and he WAS behind schedule. He'd never get back into Artemis' good graces this way.

But Aphrodite wanted to know about any wishes concerning Hercules and Iolaus.

Levi dramatically sighed. He re-read the scrolls that had appeared in his pack. Then he pulled out his scroll listing all the wishes to be fulfilled. Waving his small fingers over the list, two more wishes appeared at the bottom of the list.

"Zeus only knows when I'm going to get to these two wishes," Levi irritably mumbled. "Years and years at this rate!"

The small wish sprite smiled knowingly as he heard a deep masculine moan from the other room. "I guess I'll tell Aphrodite about this later," he decided.

Carefully putting his scrolls into his pack, he found a blank scroll and quill. Smiling to himself, he carefully wrote.

Dearest Most Beautiful Goddess of Love

I've received two wishes about Hercules and Iolaus. From them! You'd think they'd have learned their lesson! Don't worry. It'll be years at least before I can get to them. They'll just have to learn patience.

Call for me to explailn their wishes. They don't make much sense to me.

I'm at your beck and call, most breath-taking one. I'll come to you anytime. Anywhere. No matter how busy I am.

Please accept this as a token of my most humble adoration of your most enchanting self.

Levi

ps - My regards to Hesphaestus


Waving his small fingers, Levi conjured a single white rose. He carefully wrapped the scroll around the flower. Smiling to himself, he left the scroll and rose floating in the air.


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