"You didn't have to come, you know," Hercules remarked of his best friend as they made the trek towards Alturia. They were headed there based on the plea of a young man who claimed a monster had kidnapped his brother and was terrorizing the city. At first, Hercules had turned down the man's request, claiming his place was at home with his wife and children; however, Deianeira and Iolaus had both convinced him it was the right thing to do. Iolaus, it seemed, was itching as much as Hercules to get away from normal family life and *do* something more active than watching the crops grow.
"Well, what was I going to do?" Iolaus answered, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. Both men wore long coats against the nip of the mountain air; Iolaus carried his longbow and a quiver of arrows over his shoulder while Hercules, as per his norm, carried no weapons except his gods-given gift of strength. "Stay home and plant another row of cabbages? C'mon." He fell silent for a couple of paces, then added, "Besides, somebody's got to be there to bail you out."
"Bail *me* out?" Hercules queried.
The demigod started to chuckle. "You?"
"Hey, hey, laugh all you want, but you know it's true! Remember that time we went to Phoenia?"
"Obviously not the way *you* remember it," Hercules commented.
"Okay," Iolaus conceded the point to his taller companion, "what about the time Hera's priests jumped you in Teledon, huh? Huh?" He laughed. "You were in a lot of trouble when I arrived!"
"I wasn't in any trouble *until* you arrived! You started it all, remember?"
"Yeah," the blond agreed without hesitation.
"Yeah!" Hercules laughed and Iolaus joined in with his own happy chuckles. The son of Zeus glanced at his incorrigible friend. Gods, it was great to be doing this again! Especially with Iolaus by his side. He'd forgotten how wonderful it was to have his best friend with him on these adventures.
Hercules noticed the wide lake they were skirting on their way to Alturia. If his memory served correctly, it would be another full day at least before they reached the "Spice Capitol of the World." They were setting a pretty good pace for themselves, so they might even arrive abit ahead of schedule. Realizing this, and eyeing the lake beside them, gave the half-god a wicked thought as he recalled where their little 'battle' of the night before had ended.
Just as Iolaus was about to continue the conversation they were having, Hercules halted, holding up a hand. "Hold on, Iolaus. Let's take a quick moment to fill our waterskins."
The blond warrior eyed the body of water as he came to a stop. "Okay, why not?" Shrugging, he smoothly removed his bow and quiver and dropped them to the ground. Pulling out his waterskin, he popped off the stopper, then leaned over and topped it off. Hercules did the same. Almost simultaneously, they stood, resealing the skins.
As Iolaus reached down to pick up his weapons, he glanced at his best friend. Seeing the mischievous gleam in the demigod's blue eyes gave him pause. "What?"
"We still need to finish what you started."
"We never finished your little demonstration from last night."
"Last night? Oh, you mean, in the barn!"
"Yeah, in the barn."
Iolaus grinned as he shucked his long coat. "So, you enjoyed getting the stuffing beat out of ya, did ya?"
Hercules shrugged out of his own cloak and tossed it aside. "Well, it isn't the Eastern *fighting* techniques I was interested in continuing."
His handsome features marred by confusion, the compact blond paused as he flung aside the discarded article of clothing. "Huh?"
"I'm more interested in the Eastern swimming techniques."
"There is no--" Comprehension quickly dawned as Iolaus remembered the near dunking he'd received the night before by Hercules. "Ah, no! You won't get me a second time!"
"I wouldn't bet your life on that," Hercules grinned as he made a swift lunge towards his friend.
Caught off-guard, but only just, Iolaus backed quickly, then planted himself, grabbed his companion's out-stretched arm and, using Hercules' momentum, sent him stumbling. Or *thought* he was sending the bigger man stumbling. Unfortunately for Iolaus at that moment, Hercules was a quick student and had learned his lesson when Iolaus had tried the same trick the night before.
Hercules twisted his arm and latched onto the other's forearm with a tight grip. He dug his heels in to halt his forward momentum, a move that threw Iolaus totally off balance. It only took that quick moment of hesitation for Hercules to act. He shifted his grip, tugging the smaller warrior off his feet, lifting him into the air. His other hand gripped the black leather of Iolaus' breeches and, suddenly, Iolaus found himself held aloft, above his friend's head.
"Hercules!" The sternness he meant to convey was lost in a slight fit of laughter.
Looking up at his partner, the demigod smiled. "Now, about those Eastern swimming techniques..."
"I told you, there's no such animal!" Iolaus tried hard not to struggle, though he doubted Hercules would drop him unless it was his intention, which was what Iolaus was afraid was going to happen... right into the frigid-looking waters of the lake.
"That's okay, we'll just make this up as we go." He took a couple steps closer to the water.
"No! Hercules, c'mon!"
Iolaus' protests fell on deaf ears; Hercules heaved the smaller man, who hit the lake's surface ungracefully with a loud *splash!* A few seconds later, a sputtering Iolaus broke the surface. "Ah, damn it! This is *cold!*" he protested loudly, shaking his head as he tread water. He pointed at his land-bound companion. "You! I'll get you for this!"
Hercules grinned widely, undaunted by the threats just uttered against him. "Is that it?" he queried, the tone conveying extreme disappointment. "I really expected more from a technique learned in the East!"
"Very funny!" Iolaus retorted in a tone suggesting it was anything but. The blond started to swim towards shore. As he dragged himself onto the muddy edge, he spied Hercules' out-stretched hand. Grabbing it, he allowed the son of Zeus to help him to his feet. The hunter shook his head again for good measure, then punched his friend in the right bicep.
"Hey! What was *that* for!" Hercules rubbed his arm.
"I told you I'd get you!" Iolaus walked a couple of strides, then stopped. He rung water out of the bottom corners of his blue vest then gingerly picked up his right leg. "Argh! I'm *not* walking to Alturia in wet leather!"
"Oh?" Hercules stated matter-of-factly. "Iolaus, I'm not waiting around until your pants dry."
"You should, you threw me in there."
"We don't have *that* kind of time to waste."
"Oh, fine! I have to suffer because you had to be cute and give me a real dunking! I'm not wearing wet leather!" Iolaus shook a booted foot, spraying water in every direction.
"And what do you propose to do, go without?"
Iolaus' face lit up. "Hey..."
"No, Iolaus, you can't."
"Well, why not?" The blond looked up at his friend, a stern question written across his handsome features.
"It was just a joke! You can't go running across the countryside in your loincloth!"
"Like we're going to run into anybody else out here in the middle of nowhere!" Iolaus gestured about them at the rugged landscape, far from any human habitation. "The sun's shining, they should dry pretty quickly."
Knowing it was pointless to argue once his friend got his proverbial teeth sunk in, Hercules held up his hands in surrender. "All right! All right! Do what you will, you'll do it anyway."
"Right." The smaller man nodded firmly. He sat down and, with Hercules' help, he slipped off his calf-length boots. "Ya know, I could give you a boot in the back end right now."
"You do and you won't live to see Alturia," Hercules promised.
Grinning, Iolaus stood and quickly loosened the laces at the top of his pants. He wiggled out of the breeches, the wet leather making the going slow. Throwing the pants aside with a wet *plop*, the smaller man poured the water out of his boots then tugged them on before gathering up his things. He put on his knee-length cloak, slung his quiver and longbow over his shoulder, then picked up his breeches and positioned them over his other shoulder.
Hercules watched his friend preparing to continue the journey. Stifling a chuckle, he just shook his head in amazement. Mentally throwing up his hands in surrender, he picked his own cloak. He figured if walking around with no breeches on didn't bother Iolaus, it shouldn't bother him. Throwing his coat on, he gave Iolaus a quick look. "Can we go now?"
They started off again, both partners remaining silent for a short while. Suddenly, Iolaus broke the silence. "Okay, here's one--the sea snakes in Thrace."
Hercules let out an exasperated sigh. Leave it to Iolaus to continue a conversation that had been interrupted! One track mind, that's what he had!
"You were up to your neck in serpent slime, buddy," the blond continued, unaware of his friend's thoughts, "until Guess Who arrived to save the day."
"All right, all right! I admit it! You saved the day!"
"See, see, I'm always there when you need me, Hercules."
*Yes, my friend, you are.* Hercules thought, but he wasn't about to let Iolaus think he was getting too easy to please. "So where were you the time I had to face Gargon the giant?"
*The rest, as they say, is history...*
Disclaimer: Iolaus suffered no ill effects from running around in his loincloth while his breeches dried. However, several Iolausians, including the author, experienced heart palpitations at the thought of what that cloak blocked from view!
"Legal" Disclaimer: I used direct quotes from the movie "Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur" at the beginning and ending of this story. I mean no infringement of copyright; I just wanted to set the scene for the readers.
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