Divine Intervention

by Fyresong

Author's note: TIIC (The Idiots in Charge) have rewritten the younger years of Hercules and Iolaus more than once with several, often conflicting versions. I have decided to pick and choose and interpret events from a number of episodes and movies, as well as inspiration from other bards to write this tale and not stick to one particular version wholly. Hence what you read is not a contradiction but my synthesis of a varied number of versions. Enjoy!

Alcmene sighed softly as she watched her growing son turn and slip into his room. Blowing out the lamps she looked around the dark house and wondered what it would feel like with Hercules gone off to the Academy.

*Empty, so very empty.* she mourned. Wrapping her shawl tight around her slender shoulders she slipped outside to gaze up at the heavens.

It was for the best she reasoned. Hercules was becoming reckless in his obsession about his father, and try as she might she could not ground him again. Her son was gifted with great strength, but it was still untempered and unteathered from purpose. She hoped he'd find that purpose at Cheiron's Academy. There was little else she could do for him.

She thought back to the events in the marketplace of Thebes that day and her mind latched onto Iolaus. The blond young man and Hercules had been inseparable in their youth, they were a balance, complementing each other and bonding stronger than she had ever seen two friends do. But they had drifted apart.

*Be honest Alcmene* she scolded herself *It was Iolaus' tenuous family life, his father, that had driven a wedge between the two boys.*

*And now Iolaus is a thief; lost, angry, and alone in the city. And Hercules,* she thought glancing behind her at the now darkened window of her son's room, *Hercules is just as lonely, just as misguided.*

It had been second nature, instinctive of her to tell Hercules to help Iolaus. Instinct born out of years of childhood scrapes that Iolaus had rushed into headfirst without thinking, Hercules as always, right behind him.

Her son, destined for great things, Alcmene recalled with a smiled.

How long ago that was when she was pregnant, kneeling at her husband's grave when she was attacked by that leather-clad fire goddess. She'd been rescued by a man named Iolaus back then, she thought fondly, with the same wild golden hair and expressive blue eyes that shone when he'd spoken of his love for her unborn son, his "brother."

*"I was hoping for a girl"* she had replied. And he had ducked his head and suppressed a giggle of merriment. An all too familiar laugh.

She had told him once he had pulled her out of the burning barn, rescuing her and her son that *"There's a two year old in the village called Iolaus. He's always stealing pastries."*

He'd shook his head and denied it with a cock-sure smile, mischief alight in his sapphire eyes.

*"Different guy altogether."*

But Alcmene was certain, *certain* that the once sunny, trusting boy who used to play with her son for hours, who now scrounged and stole to live in the city was the same courageous man who had been willing to sacrifice his very life for the love of his friend.

*"I am one of the people whose life he changed. One of the many."*

"And how did you change my son's life Iolaus? How much did your love and friendship aide and guide Hercules onto the right path?" she whispered to the stars hugging herself tightly. "If only I could grant you that chance, for Hercules' sake, for your sake. If only."

Alcmene's silent plea did not go unheard. And far above the mortal world, someone who always tried to watch and listen in on that little corner of Greece heard her words and listened.

"Hermes?"

The call was soft in the large expanse of the room, but there was iron underneath it prompting immediate response. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes." Zeus turned back to the window he'd called up to watch the mortal realm and with a wave of his hand closed it before the winged messenger could peek at the scene. "I want to talk to you about one of your followers."

"Who?" Hermes asked a little surprised by the subject. "A politician? A-a merchant? One of the shepherds?"

"One of your thieves." Zeus clarified not looking at his son.

"One of my children? Why? Which one?"

The king of the gods sighed and walked past Hermes and into his throne room. "One of your 'children' as you call them, who runs with a gang in Thebes."

"Thebes is a large city father. I have many doing my work there."

"You know who I'm talking about Hermes," Zeus said tiredly, patience obviously strained as he sat on his throne. "Indeed, all of Olympus knows."

Hermes laughed nervously, clutching his caduceus so tightly that it hissed in annoyance. "Oh that." he answered weakly, not meeting his father's gaze. "Well I didn't force him to be one of my own. If anyones to blame it's Ares' fault. Artemis has no right to be angry--"

"I've heard this before Hermes, lets not waste eternity rehashing old news." Zeus broke in waving off the explanations with his free hand.

"So . . . what do you want with the mortal?"

"I want you to relinquish your claim to him."

"What?! You can't be serious!" Hermes forgot fear and respect in outrage, and stepped up to the throne more than a little mad. "I've been grooming him for months now. He's absolutely perfect! He's quick, cunning, handsome, agile, silver-tongued-- he's perfect!"

"I know that, I've been watching him." Zeus replied, unthreatened by Hermes' show of anger. "But you have others."

"No." Hermes spat shaking his head. "None like him. None like him anywhere! I won't give up my claim on him to Artemis."

"I'm not asking you to give him up to Artemis, you will turn his life over to me."

"To you?" The trickster blinked in surprise. anger draining quickly. "Does Artemis know? What do you want with him?"

"Never mind what I want. Artemis doesn't know, but she should already be here." Looking around impatiently, Zeus stood and called out his daughter's name.

Before the echo had begun to die, a flash of light heralded the Huntress' arrival. She was sweaty and filthy, splattered with blood come fresh from the hunt at her father's call.

"Father." she greeted, before glancing over at the messenger god. "I take it since Hermes is here you're finally deciding the mortal's fate?"

"His fate is not spun by me, and like all mortals he has free will." Zeus reminded her archly. "I simply ask that you relinquish claim on him."

"To HERMES? You would have him be a dishonorable thief when he could be the best tracker and hunter in all of Greece!?"

"There is nothing wrong with being a thief! It is better that the blood sport you revel in!" the trickster said glowering at his sister.

Artemis fumed, stamping her foot. "You would have him waste his life--"

"Enough, both of you!" Zeus silenced. "Hermes shall not have him either. He shall not follow any god or goddess of Olympus."

"Mortals are ours to do with as we please!" Artemis countered hotly. "If neither Hermes nor I have him, Hephastus will want him for his skill, or Aphrodite-- once he's older-- for his golden beauty. Even Ares might claim him one day through his father, though he's oblivious to the boys potential now. He is gifted! He must have a patron!"

"You dare to lecture me on the rules of the universe?" the king of the gods asked, anger dangerously close to surfacing. "He will be under my protection to assure the balance of power, though I require little in the way of obedience of him."

"Why the sudden interest in him?" Artemis asked. "His war-loving father drove him away from home; he has always found solace in the woods."

"Ares was ultimately responsible for his childhood grief simply because the Fates have destined the boy for greatness, not as a thief or a hunter, a blacksmith or a lover but something more." Zeus sat back down slowly, voice quiet but commanding "I will see that potential fulfilled."

Furious, yet smart enough not to challenge her father, Artemis whirled around and vanished in a explosion of light. Hermes, thoughtful, stayed.

"Its about the child of that . . ." Hermes quickly remembered not to speak *that* name in Olympus, the walls had ears after all "mortal woman isn't it?" he supplied quickly.

"Your brother. My son" Zeus reminded softly, eyes distant. "Since birth his life thread has been of interest to me. His thread and those most intimately connected to it."

Rising, the king of the gods left the throne room leading Hermes to the distant corner behind the shimmering curtains to where the Fates sat spinning, measuring, and cutting the lives of mortals. The three women: maid, mother, and crone neither acknowledged nor denied the king access to their work. Gently Zeus ran his hand over a particular thread. Hermes leaned closer and realized it was really two intertwined so tightly it was difficult to see where one ended and the other began.

"Your son." Hermes breathed, understanding. "The mortal is joined to your son."

"I did not watch carefully enough. I grew too distracted." Zeus admitted as he closed his eyes and gave silent apology to Alcmene, to Hercules and to the lost young man who unknowingly was a vital player in a much larger game.

"And Ares' influence over the boy's father pushed him away from your son. Ares knew about this." the trickster gestured at the threads. "If I didn't know better I'd say he was jealous of your half-immortal son."

Zeus left out a flat laugh. "Not only Ares knew. The mortal's family, the marriage fell apart under my Queen's watchful eyes." Zeus admitted darkly. "She has little love for my half-mortal son, and separated from the thief he is vulnerable, they both are."

"Dad, I'd like to help out. I mean I don't have much choice." he added half to himself. "But he's a known thief, a criminal, and while I had no plans for him to be brought to justice anytime soon, for me to release him from my patronage would not help him or my half-mortal brother."

Zeus looked up, eyes sharp and demanding. "Find a way." he ordered the messenger. "I don't care how, but I want the boy free to follow his heart wherever he and fate may lead it."

"You did great today Iolaus! Great!" Cradus said laughingly as he grabbed a handful of necklaces and bracelets from the bag on the table. Propping his feet up next to his mug of ale the dark-haired leader of the Lowacks eyed his cut appreciatively.

"Yeah well, it went okay today." Iolaus agreed moodily.

"Sit down Iolaus!" Cradus motioned with his free hand to the seat next to him. "It went better than okay, the jeweler still thinks that he witnessed a murder not a robbery. Ha! Where did you come up with that idea?" Slapping Iolaus heavily on the shoulder he motioned to his second in command Neolun to bring the blond thief something to drink. Neolun scowled, jealous and angry at the attention Iolaus was receiving. He was Cradus right hand man not this upstart from the outskirts of Thebes.

Iolaus grunted noncommittally. "Hey what's your problem?" the leader of the Lowacks asked, good humor fading. He brought down his feet off the table and leaned closer to Iolaus. "You angry about the cut?" he questioned dangerously.

"No!" Iolaus snapped snatching the cup from Neolun. "You can have your cut, that's fine by me, I'm just not feeling like celebrating right now."

The gang *oohed* sarcastically descending into racous laughter. "What is it Iolaus? Some piece of skirt?" the Lowack leader laughed drinking deep. "Someone bothering you?" Cradus pressed his jocular tone becoming deceptively quiet and deadly.

"If someone was, I know how to take care of them." Iolaus responded with a wicked grin.

"You've been a quick study from the beginning Iolaus." Cradus announced with some pride. "You pick up things quick."

"He picks up anything not nailed down quick!" Nezzas joked from farther down the table bringing a chorus of laughs all around. Iolaus joined in shedding off his melancholy for a moment, drowning himself in the moment and in the company, forcing himself to forget the *why* of where he was.

"That's more like it." Cradus smiled and clasped wrists with Iolaus. "You've still got your take don't you? What do you say to a friendly game of cards?"

Blue eyes alight with mischief and possibility Iolaus eyed Cradus' sparkling cut of the day's adventure. "I'm game if you are. Lead the way."

Iolaus was in a foul mood. After ditching the Lowacks he moodily prowled the city's lower side. Indignantly the blond rubbed some newer bruises he'd obtained after that jaunt with the tornado and Hercules in the marketplace. He fingered his purse absently, heavier now after his success at the card table. The others had found partners for the night or gone out carousing to some of the "seedier" taverns that they could get into, but he had parted company then heading outside to stare up at the thin strip of stars and sky visible from between the rooftops of Thebes.

He had things to think about.

Over and over again he replayed the events in his mind. The breaking of the glass bottle, the whirlwind that was released and Alcmene ordering her son Hercules to rescue him. It had surprised him to suddenly see Hercules jump into the whirlwind to grab him. It reminded him of older times, when things were different, before his father had . . .

*Aw, what does Hercules need with me? He's the son of Zeus for Hades' sake. I'm just a thief. If his mom hadn't told him to he wouldn't have helped me at all!* he thought bitterly slamming his fist into a wall in anger and self-hatred.

*After all I was the one who broke off the friendship, no one needs a worthless crybaby around to muck up their great lives.*

Things had been going fairly well up till this morning. Iolaus had his place in the roughest most notorious thieves gang in Thebes, and was quickly rising in the ranks of the underworld. Cradus, leader of the Lowacks even favored him, had taken him under his wing and taught him how to flitch from the street merchants and defend himself against those who would bully his *earnings* out of him like Dorfus had. Iolaus had to admit he actually found some pleasure in the chase, the tricks; he almost felt as if he could live his whole life like that at odds with the law, surviving from day to day in ingenuity alone.

Until Hercules had rescued him.

Until he'd heard Alcmene's concerned voice calling out, brining the ugly truth about why he was where he was back to him.

*Admit it* he thought bitterly. *Your father was right all along, you still need protection, you're still just a worthless excuse of a man.*

Stomping along the alleys, ignoring the descending cold Iolaus walked for hours, sometimes blindly uncaring through the dangerous parts of town.

Hermes watched, unseen as his protege stumbled around like a blind man, lost despite all his gifts, and realized that Zeus was right. Iolaus was an unparalleled thief and could be as vicious and cold as Cradus if someone crossed him, but he was like half a person, missing something intangible, something as important to him as air.

He'd already looked in on his half-brother; the reckless, unfocused young man filled with a strength and a birthright he didn't understand. Iolaus could shoulder those strengths, share the burden with his brother, even as Hercules would bolster Iolaus' long-time wounded spirit and soul in ways Cradus couldn't even begin to.

Cursing his luck, Hermes fluttered off, his crafty mind already trying to figure out how to get his brother and his student together again.

It was hunger, hunger of the little ones, street urchins still too small to keep what they flitched that had Iolaus agreeing with Neolun's iffy plan. A few of the other Lowacks, high off their success at the jewelers cart, decided to hit the supply wagons bound for the Academy.

Twice a month, like clock-work the wagon of food and supplies headed out of the city. Usually it wasn't guarded heavily since it carried no money.

"But this time there were a few dinars left over from the sales," Neolun explained to the gang shadowed by a doorway. Iolaus sat a little ways off from the others, half listening, his mind silently planning what he would take, not willing to risk hitting the wagon on the word of some unidentifiable source of Neolun's for mere money. Hades, Cradus wasn't even joining them today, he probably didn't even know about it.

Money was all well and good but food was a different matter altogether. Iolaus knew from experience that you go hungry for a few weeks and food becomes the most important things in the world. When he saw the little ones, boys and even girls abandoned on the streets even younger than him with no one to look out for them Iolaus felt the need to help them just as Cradus had once helped him. *Especially the girls, given the taste some of the adults on the lower side had* he thought with an unsurpressed shutter. Food wouldn't have been a problem if he'd been back home. If he'd been out in the woods . . .

"Guess horse-face and his cadets have loot to spare so they won't mind us taking some off their hands."

The other boys agreed loudly, grins evident. *They'd probably already splurged what they'd gotten from the jewler* Iolaus thought in disgust. *No sense of the future, no matter how bleak, no foresight.*

"Yo, Iolaus!" Neolun called out challengingly. He might be the second in command of the Lowacks at the moment, but Iolaus could easily take over if he wanted to, Neolun knew that and so did Cradus. This needed to go well; he had to prove to Cradus he could still pull off the big hits by himself like Iolaus could. "You in?"

"'Course I'm in Neolun." Iolaus replied with little emotion in his voice as he stared off at the bustle of the Thebian street. "I'm the one that's planning the thing!" Iolaus hopped off his perch and started to make his way through the streets not looking back to catch Neolun's darken features.

From a pre-selected vantage point Iolaus scanned the area. No guards, only the driver. The usual businessman was talking to someone Iolaus couldn't make out inside his storehouse. Deciding to press the advantage of distracted and unwatched goods, Iolaus made a quick motion with one hand and slid down off the porch roof he'd been hiding in the shadows of and snuck over to the wagon.

Already, the planned distraction had alerted the driver but not the men inside. The driver, curious and anxious at the ruckus of a fight and the sound of a crying child, tied the reins and jumped off the wagon. He was a fussy man, immaculately dressed with what was left of his hair curled across his bald head.

Neolun wasted no time tearing through the contents of the wagon for money. Iolaus grabbed one of the bulging sacks and looked inside. Bread, fruit, vegetables, some fancy cooking spices he could sell. Satisfied he shouldered his bundle.

"Where's the money?" Neolun hissed. "Where is it? It should be here."

"I guess your sources were wrong!" Iolaus announced rather distractedly, casting a glance over to where the fussy driver of the wagon had disappeared to. From the yelling he heard, he guessed that the whole operation was going south and fast. *Those idiots must have tried to cut his purse!*

"Damn." Iolaus turned to look back at a frantic Neolun. "Scram, get out of here!" he hissed. "There is no money, now beat it before we're caught!"

"But-but my source *couldn't* have been wrong!"

"Just GO!" Iolaus ordered pulling the other boy off the wagon angrily and shoving him.

Iolaus turned to dart in the other direction when the door of the storehouse opened and the businessman, Dramus caught sight of movement.

"Thief! Thief! Stop thief!" he roared trying to give chase.

Cursing, Iolaus dodged and ducked into the shadows unseen and ran away as fast as he could relieved he heard no footsteps behind him only the creaking of wagon wheels and the clatter of horsehooves.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see the faint shadows of the other Lowacks disappearing into the very dust leaving behind the driver, flustered and dirt stained. Scowling in anger Iolaus did not head back to their assigned meeting place choosing instead to head to his own little hideaway in the city.

Puffing the driver hurried to join the enraged businessman. "Those little thieves!" he cursed. "They tried to cut my purse."

Dramus, red-faced and scowling fumed. "Those ruffians! What were they looking for? There's no money on the cart."

Cheiron, the centaur did not echo their anger as he examined the wagon noticing the missing goods. "Dramus, if you could add a bag of foodstuffs to the wagon and to my account Fedutious will be on his way."

"But Cheiron! You can't just let those undisciplined hooligans get away with it. They tried to rob us!" Fedutious replied.

"I'll take care of it." the centaur assured the man absently, tail swishing. "Dramus, if you'd refrain from brining this matter to the Magistrate attention I'd be most obliged."

"But I know who was responsible! There's only one gang that would do this! They're the Lowacks, Cradus' gang!" the businessman interjected.

Cheiron thought in silence for a moment. "Then have the magistrate go looking for this Cradus."

"What about them?" Dramus asked angrily motioning in the direction of the now long gone thieves.

The centaur shook his head, as he began walking forward. "Leave that to me."

Twisting and turning, leaving a near impossible trail the blond thief was finally assure he'd lost whatever pursuit had been formed. He wished he felt the exhilaration of being free after such a risky operation but all he felt was a deep-rooted disgust in himself, in his companions.

Running his hands through his hair in frustration and then wiping away the sweat on his upper lip, he motioned quickly with his head towards a few of the children he met along the way. Silently, the hungry specters of childhood slipped away to meet him at his hideaway, nothing more than a convenient half finished cellar underneath one of the older structures in Thebes.

Entering his "home" cautiously he opened the sack, feeling the hungry watchful eyes of children on him. He handed out the spoils of the sour heist, trying not to feel or think as he watched tiny, filthy hands grasp eagerly at his simple offerings. Some of the children slipped quickly away and Iolaus knew they were heading to feed younger siblings, girls and younger boys who hid from the world and the cruel barbarity it would inflict on them if caught by a certain class of "grown-ups."

Suddenly, the hairs on the nape of Iolaus' neck pricked and wide eyed he shared a startled but knowing glance with the children. They could hear nothing out of the ordinary but they all knew through hard-earned lessons that sound didn't always matter. Someone was coming. "Damn!" Quickly distributing the few spice packets to those elder children whom he knew supported invisible siblings he shooed them away and darted for his "back door."

Crawling quickly through the tight passage, Iolaus emerged in an alleyway right behind a scrawny boy.

"Go on!" Iolaus hissed. "Run! Get outta here."

The child hesitated, casting quick and worried glances in the blonde's direction before scurrying away. Letting out a relieved sigh as he watched them go, Iolaus was unprepared for who stood behind him when he turned.

Eyes wide with fright and anger, Iolaus stumbled away from his pursuer leaping over the rubbish in his path agile as a deer. The centaur followed tipping over several abandoned crates revealing a watching street urchin clutching desperately at the bread he'd been given. *Not he * Cheiron realized as he halted midstep, more than a little surprised at the sight of the small one. *She, a little girl, obviously dressed as a boy out of safety.*

Iolaus, realizing that the horse-man's attention was no longer on him, but on the child, halted, disgust and fury swelling in his heart.

"Leave her alone!" he roared charging the centaur, aiming at the legs, the weak point in any horse.

Cheiron had not expected the thief to react so violently to his accidental discovery of the girl, nor to charge him. But the centaur was far from unpracticed in the art of war and managed to pin the blond thief against the grimy stone wall.

"Run!" Iolaus ordered desperately, knowing the centaur could not catch the child and hold him at the same time. The urchin needed no second urging and stumbling, vanished into the shadows.

"Wait!" Cheiron called out after the girl, but quickly turned his attention back to the youth who struggled mightily under his iron grasp.

"Save your breath!" Iolaus hissed. "You'll never find her!"

"And what do you think I would do to her?" Cheiron asked curiously, face impassive.

"I don't wanna know, but you're all the same!"

"You mean all centaurs are the same?" the Academy master pressed, eyes narrowing in anger.

"All adults are the same! Why should centaurs be any different?" Iolaus spat, eyes flashing in fury. "You think the little ones are nothing but street trash to be used and then disposed of in any sick way you want! But you'll never catch her or find her brothers and sisters! So go ahead and beat me! Drag me off to jail, I don't care!"

Iolaus breathed heavily after his lengthy outburst, too angry to catch the sudden paling of Cheiron's features and the softening in his brown eyes. Street life was hard. The lessons it taught, painful and brutal and almost uncomprehenable for "decent" folks to accept much less witness daily. But this boy had been feeding the younger ones, looking out for them though it ment his own incarceration. The way he spoke, the way he fought, with passion and conviction and with much more than a little skill in the Spartan fashion touched something inside of Cheiron, something that whispered to him that it would be a crime to leave one such as this to this life when he could do so much more to help others given the opportunity.

Silently making his decision, Cheiron released his pinning grasp and took iron hold of the boy's wrist and the back of his vest and led him firmly along the streets of Thebes towards the Magistrate wordlessly.

Iolaus contemplated his cell absently. He felt drained, exhausted, but somehow proud, proud that he'd been at least able to do *something* worthwhile with his life before it came to an end, one way or another.

His thoughts, following the well-worn tracks of time drifted back to what his father might say about him helping the urchins. But as always the constant harsh voice of Skouros that seemed to reside permanently in the back of Iolaus' mind berated him, insulted and cursed him until he leaned forward from where he sat and buried his face in his bound hands.

*So much for running away from him.* Iolaus thought with a humorless laugh. *I carry him with me everywhere.*

Cradus wouldn't have approved either unless the young ones could carry their own weight in the world.

*And what of Hercules?* something else nagged *your friend* it barely whispered to his heart. *Would he have berated you, hit you, despised you for what you did? Or would he have smiled, slapped you on the back, and joined you like he had so long ago?*

"I guess I'll never know now, will I?" Iolaus asked the dank walls of his cell.

"Already talking to yourself whelp?" a harsh voice replied unexpectedly. Iolaus stiffened but did not look at the guard as the keys jangled near the lock and the door opened with a creak. "Come on, on your feet." he prodded not too viciously. Iolaus was well known by the guards and though he made them look like fools on a daily basis.

Wordlessly, eyes cold, Iolaus stood and held himself ridged and tall as he was pushed painfully down the hall.

A but of a spear shoved Iolaus through a door and into the torchlit main hall that served as the courtroom and workplace of the Thebian magistrate. Blinking, Iolaus noticed that the centaur and the Magistrate were watching him and not Cradus who stood defiantly before them.

"I don't know what you're talking about." the leader of the Lowacks replied in a board rude tone.

The Magistrate's eyes snapped away from the blond thief to eye the dark-haired boy with rank disapproval.

"We both know who you are and what you do. Tell the truth! I won't ask you again." the magistrate threatened.

Cradus snorted as he smirked at the man behind the desk. Slowly and with contempt he folded his arms across his chest. "I don't know anything."

Snarling and barely containing his temper the Magistrate motioned viciously to the guard. "Come on you!" the uniformed man ordered, his anger evident as he began to shove Cradus out of the room. The leader of the Lowacks shrugged off the meaty hand and straightened his sleeveless coat, brushing away invisible dust from his arm.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful Magistrate." Cradus murmured as he strode past Iolaus with only a passing glance.

"We are ready to pass sentence." the magistrate informed the room and especially Iolaus, sternly after sharing a glance with the centaur who still stood impassively as ever behind the table.

*Great, not trial, just execution of sentence. That's what I get for speaking my mind! Bloody vultures!* he cursed internally, eyes narrowing as he hunched his shoulders defensively.

Iolaus was poked and prodded until he stood before Cheiron and the Magistrate. Silently they regarded one another, the youth openly hostile and contemptuous. The Magistrate motioned with a nod at the escorting guard who yanked Iolaus' bound hands forward. As Cheiron drew a knife, Iolaus bit his lip and then straightened his shoulders and stared defiantly into the centaur's eyes, showing no fear as the Academy master raised the blade and reached out with one swift movement to cut the rope that encircled his wrists tightly.

Blinking back his surprise, Iolaus rubbed his wrists ruefully as the Magistrate finally spoke. "You're being released into Cheiron's custody at his request. Given the lack of evidence; the fact that no one actually *saw* you at the scene of the crime though your reputation precedes you," the magistrate scowled at Iolaus as if to cow him into submission "along with Cradus, we've decided that . . . alternative methods should be used. Cheiron will met out justice in this case." The official eyed the blond with a healthy dose of curiosity in his eyes that confused Iolaus.

*Just what exactly was going on?*

Cheiron merely stared at the boy and then turned and began walking out of the room, obviously expecting the blond thief to follow.

Iolaus looked from the Magistrate to the centaur, even the guard for some explanation. Cheiron halted at the doorway and glanced back at the boy, tail swishing once. "Are you coming?"

"I . . . don't understand." Iolaus replied shaking his head in bewilderment "Aren't you going to-"

"I'll explain on the way." Cheiron informed him as he continued walking.

"What if I choose not to go?" Iolaus asked warily, not trusting the Magistrate or the Centaur; this could be just another trick.

"Jail" the magistrate said with the finality of a death knell.

"Well go on you young ruffian!" the guard ordered gruffly cuffing him lightly. "Best you leave now before you turn all my hair gray with your pranks!"

With a look of incredulousness vividly portrayed on his golden features, Iolaus slowly and warily walked out of the room following in wake of the centaur.

Hermes nodded in satisfaction as his prize student took the first steps on a new path. The trickster god was still more than a little angry at the loss of his wayward child, for his child Iolaus would always be, the perfect mortal thief and trickster.

Behind him he felt more than heard the appearance of his father. "Nicely done son."

"Don't look at me!" Hermes snorted in amusement. "All I did was give Neolun that false tip. The rest was all Iolaus' own doing. You were right Dad," he grudgingly admitted "there's . . . something about him, something . . . special."

Cheiron halted at the break in the trees and turned to regard his silent traveling companion. It was a lot to take in all at once, and he could practically hear the boy's mind whirling at the thought of the conditions of his probation. And he could practically feel the one question that radiated stronger than all others from Iolaus.

Why?

Cheiron wasn't even sure he could answer that question to himself. All he knew was that there was something in this boy that was more than worthy of being salvaged after whatever had so utterly destroyed his spirit in the first place.

"There it is Iolaus." he finally said as he stared at the blond thief gesturing at the stone building that rose up in the center of the clearing. "The Academy."

Taking a deep breath, Iolaus shot his new headmaster a wary look before stepping forward blindly and unsure into a new life.

It was nearly six months since Alcmene had sent Hercules off to the Academy. She'd heard that there had been serious trouble in Corinth with the death of the king and rumors of the Golden Fleece being found by the crown prince and some of his friends. She had sent an almost frantic letter to her son and had gotten back a soothing and calm reply that he was fine and that he was bringing a fellow cadet home for the later half of break once he'd taken care of some "business."

Now she knelt in her garden, carefully pruning her plants when she looked up and caught sight of two dusty figures making their way down the path to her house.

Smiling Alcmene rose to her feet and wiped her hands quickly. As the two boys came closer, her eyes widened in joyful amazement as she recognized the other cadet.

Iolaus practically bounced along the path at her son's side, laughter and light seeming to surround him. He was like a vision from her past and in every move and gesture Alcmene could see the man he would be, fearless, loyal, passionate, and strong. And Hercules, Hercules was smiling, the anger and the frustration she had seen previously in his eyes all but gone, replaced with a determined and glowing resolve. Alcmene swore she could almost see the new bond, newly forged, still warm between the two young men. Friends. *Brothers.*

Her sons.

Laughing in delight, she rushed to the gate to greet them.

And far above in the heights of Olympus, a father watched in pride as the two heroes, now complete with each other forever at one another's backs, enjoyed their homecoming.

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


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