"Hello, Alcmene," the blond man said, stepping slowly through the open door.
The older woman smiled, her face bright. "Come in, Iolaus," she said, holding out her hand.
Iolaus walked across the bedroom, and took her hand, sitting on the edge of the bed. "How do you feel?"
"Oh, I'm fine," she said as lightly as she could manage. "The three of you really shouldn't mother me so."
Laughing softly, Iolaus replied, "I think after so many years, I owe you something along those lines." He paused for a moment, smiling at the woman who he had long known as a second mother. "Herc was hard enough to raise, taking me on was just plain cruel."
"A challenge, maybe," she smiled. "Cruel, never." She took a deep breath, much weaker than she would like to have let on.
Iolaus looked at Alcmene, his brow scrunched in concern. "I should let you rest," he said.
Alcmene smiled, but nodded.
For a few moments Iolaus sat there, watching Alcmene sleep, knowing her time was growing short. A gentle smile on his face, he squeezed her hand softly and whispered, "Thank you, Alcmene."
Alcmene's soft eyes opened, and she looked up at Iolaus, "Whatever for, Iolaus?"
Taken by surprised, Iolaus jumped slightly. "I'm sorry, I thought you were asleep, I didn't mean to wake you again."
"I've known worse, Iolaus," she kidded. "Tell me, what were you thanking me for?"
The hunter smiled sadly. "Everything. For caring enough to help straighten me out when everyone else thought it was a waste of time . .."
For days in Thebes, gossip had been circulating about the incident that had occurred in the marketplace. It wasn't long after Hercules had returned from stealing an urn from Ares that he and Iolaus had almost managed to destroy the heart of the town; not to mention themselves in the process.
At the moment, it was midday in the busy marketplace and Iolaus was watching an overloaded fruit cart. Pushing an unruly lock of hair behind his ear, Iolaus paid close attention to the short, pudgy man that owned the cart. He was waiting for the right moment for a quick run and grab.
Watching the people mill around the square, Iolaus realized that he hadn't seen Hercules since he had tried to grab the strange urn from him. The scrappy youth remembered hearing something about the town goody-goody going away to some academy.
'Oh, well,' the blond thought. 'He was only good for ruining my fun, anyway.'
Iolaus blinked his eyes, bringing himself back to the present. A quick glace over his shoulder revealed another member of the Lowacks gang not far away. Iolaus knew many of the gang members were making their way stealthily around the market.
He was just about to make his grab off the fruit cart when he noticed a merchant making his way through the crowds. A quick glance at the man revealed him to be fairly well off, and Iolaus decided to take a chance picking a pocket and earning a hard dinar, rather than picking up lunch.
Moving quietly along a stone wall, Iolaus shadowed the man for a short time before making his move. The young man was unaware, however, that his victim had seen him less than a minute earlier.
When Iolaus walked up behind him, as silently as a few years on the streets had long taught him, he was unprepared for the merchant to be awaiting the strike. Just as Iolaus' hand reached the merchant's money pouch, the larger man's own hand reached out and grabbed Iolaus'.
"Little runt thief," the man muttered through broken teeth.
Iolaus tried to pull his hand free but couldn't. When he saw the man reach for the hilt of his sword, Iolaus looked at the people who were nearby, hoping that someone might intervene. He wasn't surprised, however, when no one did.
"I'll teach you a lesson about stealing, boy," the man glowered. Before Iolaus even had time to flinch, the man's sword was free of it's sheathe and he was brining the hilt down onto the blond's head.
The last thing Iolaus saw as consciousness faded was the merchant standing over him, grinning evilly, and several members of the Lowacks fleeing from the market.
The sight of a teenager being knocked to the ground by a visiting merchant wasn't all that common in Thebes, and soon several of the townspeople had alerted the magistrate. In the time it took the magistrate to arrive on the scene, with several guards accompanying him, neither had Iolaus stirred, nor the merchant left.
"What happened here?" the tall magistrate asked, looking at the merchant who still clutched his sword in his hand.
The man looked at the boy laying at his feet. "I caught this runt trying to rob me."
The magistrate nodded, looking closely at the blond who lay still in the street. "Yes, he's one I'm familiar with," he said wearily. Glancing over at a guard, the magistrate waved a hand toward Iolaus. "Take him to the jail."
The merchant nodded, "Thank you."
"No harm done," the magistrate said to the merchant. "I've been wanting to teach this one a lesson for some time now."
With a nod, the merchant took his leave of the magistrate and his men. A guard, Simnian, then proceeded to pick Iolaus up off the ground and drag him across the marketplace to the building which housed the jail within its depths.
"Did you hear what happened earlier today?" one woman asked, standing near a jewelers cart.
Another, well-dressed woman, replied, "Only that one of those awful gang boys was finally picked up off the street."
"Picked up is right," the first woman scoffed. "He was completely out according to Evenia, she saw the whole thing. He tried to pick a pocket and the man turned on him with his sword. Then the magistrate ordered him tossed into the jail."
A grim smile on her face, the second woman nodded. "Sounds like he could use learning a lesson or two."
The first woman had just nodded in agreement when a young fair-haired woman walked up to the two gossiping women. Interrupting with a smile, she asked, "Did you happen to hear who it was, Naria?"
Naria smiled cooly at the woman. "The little one who helped your son cause that horrible windstorm not long ago."
"Iolaus?" she asked.
Shrugging, Naria said, "That sounds right. Although I can't admit to knowing the name of every scruffy little boy that runs around on the streets."
Only half-listening to the woman's harsh words, Alcmene quickly thanked Naria and hurried across the market to the jail. She paid little attention to the two guards that stood near the door to the magistrate's office. Striding purposefully into the room, Alcmene walked up to the magistrate.
"I want to see Iolaus," she said, a fire burning in her eyes.
The magistrate shook his head. "He is being detained, Alcmene."
Holding her head high, Alcmene pressed on. "He's just a boy, Jargus."
"Hardly!" the magistrate sneered. "He's a menace to Thebes is what he is."
"And how does that justify your throwing him in jail when he was already unconscious?" Alcmene pressed. "You wouldn't dare if his father was here."
Jargus laughed, "His father is well aware of how his little one has turned out, Alcmene." He paused, looking at the stubborn woman before him. "I am led to wonder, however, why it is you are so interested in him."
"Someone needs to be," she responded, her voice hard, "and with Erythia away for so long with her sister's illness, it might as well be me."
The magistrate sighed. "You're not going to leave until I let you see him, are you?" Smiling, Alcmene shook her head. "I thought not," Jargus continued.
"So I may speak with him?" she asked.
With a wave of his hand, the magistrate ordered Simnian, the guard who had taken Iolaus into the prison in the first place, to open the doors that led to the lower cells. "By all means, Alcmene," the magistrate finished.
Simnian walked beside Alcmene through the dark hallways that led to the cells, and looked curiously at the fiery woman who had stormed into the magistrate's office to plead the case of a street rat. However, the guard kept his silence until they reached Iolaus' cell.
"He's in here," he said, unlocking the heavy door and standing back. "I'll be out here when you're ready to leave."
Alcmene nodded at the tall man, but her attention was focused on the youth inside the small prison cell. "Iolaus?" she called out softly, walking in and forcing herself not to flinch when the door slammed shut loudly behind her.
When a moment later Iolaus had yet to reply, or even move, she crossed the room and sat down on the flimsy cot beside him. It took only a glance to see that he was still unconscious. Alcmene could see that he was shivering in the cool interior, and a hand on his forehead revealed that he was burning up with a fever.
"You did manage to get yourself in deep this time, didn't you Iolaus?" She said, mostly to herself. Looking at the dusty blood that had smeared on her hand when she felt his forehead, she shook her head in disgust. Alcmene then carefully bushed several strands of curly hair away from the viscous cut.
She was aware that Simnian could hear her in the hallway, and called out, "This boy needs a healer."
A moment later the door swung open. "You'll have to tell the magistrate."
"Jargus is as stubborn as a mule," Alcmene said quietly, looking at Iolaus' shivering form. "Go tell him that if he doesn't allow me to take Iolaus to the healer, he won't have anyone to teach his lessons."
Simnian shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and glanced down at Iolaus, uncertain. "I can't just leave you down here."
"Yes you can," Alcmene said quickly. "Just lock the door if you feel like you have to. It's not as if I can carry him anywhere on my own."
"All right," the guard said, again glancing at Iolaus. "I'll do as you ask and speak with the magistrate."
Alcmene nodded, "Thank you."
Nodding, the guard left the cell. Although he closed it behind him, he didn't relock the heavy door. Alcmene had been sitting with Iolaus for several moments when the door again was pulled open. "What is this nonsense that Simnian is telling me, Alcmene?" Jargus asked from the doorway.
Alcmene didn't bother to stand, and merely looked up at the official. "You can't hold him like this, Jargus," Alcmene said, gesturing toward Iolaus. "Even you must know that."
"He committed a crime . . ." Jargus began.
Alcmene lowered her gaze, and fought against exasperated laughter. "Yes, and it would appear that it was against your ego."
The magistrate's eyes opened wide at Alcmene's words. "Simnian?" he called over his shoulder, his gaze never leaving Alcmene's. "Take the boy to Humeos."
"Sir?" the guard asked, surprised by the magistrate's relenting.
Clenching his fists at his sides, Jargus growled, "You heard me, Simnian. Do it."
"Yes, Sir," the guard said. A moment later he was carrying the still unconscious Iolaus out of the cell.
After they left, Jargus and Alcmene stood facing one another in the small cell. "Thank you, Jargus."
The magistrate frowned. "Don't thank me yet. I just want him alive."
Alcmene almost smiled as she said, "You might convince most people, Jargus. Too bad I can see past your games."
"There are no games. Only the law," the magistrate said. "Now, go speak with Humeos. Someone will need to arrange for the thief's care."
"His name is Iolaus," Alcmene replied.
Jargus turned and began to walk out of the room. "He's still a thief."
Alcmene stared after the magistrate for a moment, and when he was out of hearing range, she said softly, "True, but he's going to be so much more."
The healer in Thebes, Humeos, had his home not quite on the edge of town. It was easily accessed from the road, which is where much of his business stemmed. He was mixing a poultice for an injured farmer when he noticed one of the magistrate's guards carrying a small figure down the road.
"What's this?" Humeos asked when Simnian entered the cottage.
The guard nodded to the healer. "A prisoner of the magistrate's."
Humeos glanced at the injured youth. "Place him on the cot in the back room." Only a few moments later, Alcmene entered the healer's hut. When Humeos saw her enter, he smiled, asking "What can I do for you, Alcmene?"
Glad to be away from the prison, even if for a short period of time, Alcmene smiled. "How is Iolaus?"
"I haven't had a chance to check on him yet."
Alcmene eyed the healer wearily. "He's hurt, Humeos."
The healer could see the concern written on Alcmene's features. "Okay, come to the back room and we'll see what we can do for him."
After a brief examination, Humeos turned to Alcmene, saying, "I can give him tea for the fever, and the cut on his head isn't that serious."
"Then why hasn't he woken up by now?" Alcmene asked.
Humeos sighed. "I would say a mixture of the head injury and not getting enough to eat."
"What?" Alcmene asked, surprised. "He looks fine."
"How long has his mother been away?" the healer asked.
Alcmene looked over at Iolaus, admitting, "Long enough for him to become involved with the Lowacks again from what I've been told."
"I've known Iolaus for a long time," the healer admitted. "I think he would be best served by getting off of the streets."
Alcmene laughed humorlessly. "If Jargus gets his way, he won't only be off the streets, he'll be in jail." She stopped speaking only to add, "I have to do something."
Humeos smiled warmly at the young woman. "I know Hercules recently left for Chieron's academy, Alcmene. Tell me, why are you going to such lengths for this one? He seems to have already chosen his path in life."
Alcmene smiled, looking at the young man with the wild blond hair. She was already seeing signs of the man she knew he was destined to grow up and become. "An old debt, I suppose," she said in a whisper.
"Debt?" the healer asked, confused by Alcmene's attachment to the young troublemaker.
Looking at Humeos, Alcmene's smile dimmed somewhat. "Nothing, Humeos. Will he be okay?"
The healer nodded. "I've bandaged his head already. I'll go make some tea to help against the fever."
Alcmene nodded, "Thank you, Humeos."
Helios' chariot had almost finished its trek across the sky when Humeos allowed Simnian to take Iolaus back to the jail. Wasting no time, Simnian walked across the now empty square carrying Iolaus, who was wrapped in a blanked from the healers. Next to him, Alcmene walked, keeping a close eye on the injured youth.
The blond stirred slightly when Simnian placed him on the worn cot that was his bed for the foreseeable future. The guard left the small room to take up a position in the hallway while Alcmene fussed over making Iolaus as comfortable as possible.
She was about to leave when Iolaus stirred, and fever-glazed blue eyes peeked at her from behind drooping lids. His mouth moved as if to speak, but before he could, he was again asleep. Alcmene smiled, and brushed his hair away from his face.
"I'm not the one who's wrong about you, Iolaus," she whispered. "Now I just have to make sure you have the chance to show them."
The first thing that Iolaus was aware of was being wrapped up in a thick blanket. After a few seconds, he managed to free his arms from the wool confines. He sat up quickly, regretting it when the room spun. Closing his eyes till the feeling passed, he opened them again to look around the small room.
"Just great," he muttered. Dim moonlight filtered in through the barred window that was high in the outside wall. Touching a hand to his forehead, he was surprised to find a bandage there. "Never would have thought Jargus to be the concerned type," he said, wincing.
The last thing he could remember was trying to rob the traveling merchant. A fuzzy memory flashed through his mind of Alcmene watching over him, but he brushed it aside. Iolaus couldn't imagine why she would have been there.
Taking a few steps around the room, Iolaus recognized it as the same cell Jargus had tossed him into a few years earlier. That time his mother had managed to convince Jargus to release him. This time, it appeared as if he wouldn't have such an easy way out.
Iolaus pulled the cot along the wall, so that it sat directly under the cell's solitary window. Standing on top of the cot, Iolaus was able to see through the window, and out into the moonlit night beyond. The wall faced away from the market, instead bordering a road that lead to several of the local farmhouses.
Pulling on the bars, the youth hoped in vain that he might be able to squeeze through the small opening. However, the bars held tight, and he dropped to sit wearily on the old cot. The room was spinning less, but his head had yet to stop bothering him.
"There has to be some way out of here," Iolaus muttered, his eyes constantly roving over the stone walls.
The only way that Iolaus could see out of the cell, the door that led into the hallway, didn't have a window, but rather a sliding door that could only be opened from the outside. During his previous incarceration he had learned not to pull on the heavy door. That would only serve to attract unwanted attention from any number of the magistrate's guards.
"Come on, Iolaus," the youth said. "You've gotten out of tougher scrapes than this."
Another glance around the cell and he added with a disgusted laugh, "Just wish I could think of one."
The night passed slowly for Iolaus. He tried to sleep, but ended up tossing and turning. The prospect of going to jail, which he knew Jargus would love to see happen, was unappealing to say the least. However he knew his chances weren't very good no matter how he looked at it.
The day was young when the door to Iolaus' cell was pulled open. The noise shook Iolaus from the light doze he had managed just before dawn. Looking up he saw a guard he recognized from Jargus' men.
"Get up, you have a hearing before the magistrate," Simnian said.
Iolaus sat up, stretching his shoulders. "Just don't ask me to dance," he kidded.
If Simnian thought the statement funny, he gave no sign, and merely stood next to the door waiting for Iolaus to stand. A moment later Iolaus stood and walked past the guard into the hallway.
"You coming along?" Iolaus asked, looking at Simnian.
The guard shook his head slightly, the behavior of the boy surprised him. Simnian walked just behind him through the passages that led to the courtroom above. He had expected a night in jail to have made him a little less cocky. "Don't worry about me," the guard said roughly. "You are the one with the hearing."
"That's odd," Iolaus smirked, just before entering the hearing room. "I thought I was here for the poetry reading."
Although not planned, his comment carried through the silent courtroom. "Your stale humor will not help you here, Iolaus," Jargus said coldly.
"Huh," Iolaus said, glancing around the room. "Definitely not a poetry reading."
"Bring him forward, guard," the magistrate ordered. Once the youth was standing in front of him, Jargus continued. "You have been accused of theft."
"I didn't steal anything from that merchant," Iolaus disagreed.
Jargus smiled bitterly. "Only because he was quick with a sword. This was simply my good fortune to catch you."
"I didn't do anything wrong," Iolaus pressed.
Laughing, the magistrate asked, "Do you really believe that? I can't see how."
Iolaus stood proudly, responding, "If you're going to send me to jail then just do it. I think I've had enough of being forced to listen to you gloat."
"Such arrogance," Jargus muttered, stroking his beard absently.
"Listen," Iolaus began, not caring that he was digging himself in deeper with each word.
Before he could finish his statement, he was interrupted by a voice from the back of the room. "Iolaus, stop talking before he locks you away forever."
"Alcmene," the magistrate growled. "Didn't you meddle in the affairs of this little one enough yesterday?"
From where he stood, Iolaus looked back and forth between Alcmene and Jargus. He was at a loss to understand what was happening. He recalled the strange memory from the night before. The youth couldn't believe that it might possibly have been real. No matter how he looked at it, Iolaus couldn't figure out why Hercules' mother care what happened to him.
"Jargus, I ask to speak with you. Alone," Alcmene said while Iolaus was still trying to understand the situation.
"Alcmene . . ." the magistrate began.
The young blond woman sighed, "It will only take a moment, Jargus."
The tall man nodded reluctantly, saying "All right. I will give you your moment. Guard, watch the prisoner while Alcmene and I speak in my office."
Simnian nodded, "Yes, Sir."
Iolaus watched as Jargus motioned for Alcmene to enter his office and the two disappeared from his view. "What's she doing here?" he whispered to himself, lost as to the sudden turn in events.
"Doing you a favor would be my guess," the guard said in response.
Iolaus jumped slightly, he hadn't intended for anyone to hear his comment. Glancing over at the large soldier, he asked, "Why would you say that?"
The guard laughed, "Do you have no memory of yesterday?" At Iolaus' blank look, Simnian continued. "She stormed in here a few hours after the magistrate ordered you to be thrown into a cell. Demanded to see you."
The youth shook his head. The more he learned, the more confused he became. "Why would she bother doing something like that?"
"I don't know," the guard shrugged. "Confused me, too. Still, she fought Jargus to have you taken to see the healer. Stayed with you the entire time Humeos checked on you."
Iolaus looked at the door that Alcmene and Jargus had walked through. "Do you think she was hit on the head during the cyclone?" he asked, only half-joking.
"At least that would make sense," Simnian offered.
Iolaus rolled his eyes, looking at the guard. "Gee, thanks, buddy."
Their conversation was interrupted when first Alcmene reappeared from the magistrate's office, and then Jargus too walked back into the courtroom. Taking his seat, Jargus looked down at where Iolaus was standing. He waited until Alcmene had walked over to stand next to Iolaus before speaking.
"Alcmene has presented me with a proposal, Iolaus. For your future," the magistrate said.
Iolaus glanced over at Alcmene, who smiled at him warmly. "I don't understand," he said.
Jargus shook his head, "For once we are in agreement." Looking at Alcmene, Jargus continued by saying, "Because I don't understand either."
"So," Iolaus said. Looking between the two adults. "What proposal?"
The magistrate closed his eyes, struggling to be patient with the insolent youth. "You have a chance for probation. Attend Chieron's Academy, near Corinth, or go to jail."
"What?" Iolaus asked disbelieving. His gaze again switched back and forth between the two adults that were deciding his future. "They would never accept me."
"You don't know that, Iolaus," Alcmene said.
"Do you want to go to jail?" Jargus asked, disbelievingly. "That can easily be arranged, I assure you," he said, his voice rising.
The young man, ignoring the magistrate, turned to face Alcmene, saying, "I appreciate what you're trying to do for me, Alcmene. I just don't think that . . ."
"Jargus?" Alcmene interrupted Iolaus for the second time that morning.
The magistrate sighed. "Yes, Alcmene?"
"May I speak with Iolaus in private?"
Rubbing a hand over his eyes, Jargus muttered, "You're turning my court into a circus."
"I'd rather visit a circus rather than a funeral, wouldn't you, Jargus?" Alcmene countered.
Nodding curtly, Jargus relented. "You may speak with him, but then he must return and make his choice. I've given in enough, there will be no more stalling."
"Thank you," Alcmene said with a nod of her head. Taking Iolaus by the elbow, she led him to a small room just off of the courtroom.
Once inside the small waiting room, Alcmene pulled the door closed behind them. For a moment, the option of escape crossed Iolaus' mind, but was dispelled when he noticed that this window was also barred.
Iolaus waited for Alcmene to sit down before he asked, "Why are you doing this?"
"Does it matter?"
Iolaus shrugged, trying to play it cocky. "I suppose not."
The woman smiled. "You try so hard to act tough, don't you, Iolaus?"
"Who says it's an act?" Iolaus asked, doing his best to sound offended.
"You do," Alcmene replied.
Iolaus looked at Alcmene, surprised, "What?"
Laughing softly, Alcmene rested a hand on Iolaus' arm to calm him. "It's in your eyes."
"My eyes?" Iolaus scoffed. "I think you've forgotten that I'm a thief, Alcmene. That usually entails lying."
Alcmene stood, shaking her head. "Yes, but your eyes haven't learned how to be cold, yet. And until they do, lying will never be your strong suit."
"I've not done so bad on my own," Iolaus in his defense. "So you must be wrong about my eyes being cold, or whatever." He shook his head, shaking several locks of unruly hair from in front of his eyes.
She paused, looking at the cornered youth. "No matter." She sighed, her gaze fixed on Iolaus'. "Jargus is doing you a favor by agreeing to this deal, you must know that."
"I don't get it," Iolaus said, his stance less defensive. "He's been trying to teach me a lesson for years. Why would he pass up his golden opportunity?"
"Possibly because underneath his bravado, he has a good heart. Not unlike one scrappy young man I know."
While Alcmene was speaking, Iolaus stood and walked over to the window. "Do I know him?" he asked, looking out at the fast-awakening town. When he heard Alcmene let out a long breath, he added, "Oh. You meant me."
"Yes, I meant you, Iolaus." Alcmene crossed her arms. "Why do you fight so hard against someone trying to help you?"
"Why are you fighting so hard to help me?" he asked, avoiding her question. When she didn't answer, he turned and spoke. "Even if I went, they'd kick me out in no time."
"Why are you so sure?" Alcmene asked, surprised at the sudden uncertainty in his voice.
Iolaus shook his head. "The son of the legendary Skorous?"
Not quite sure she understood, Alcmene asked, "How would that hurt you?"
"I don't have legendary potential, Alcmene," the youth laughed humorlessly.
"And he made sure you knew it," Alcmene guessed. "Didn't he?" Iolaus nodded, but didn't say anything. "This is your chance to prove him wrong, Iolaus," she pressed.
Iolaus turned quickly, facing Alcmene. "Why do you care?" he asked, bitterness creeping into his voice.
"Because I believe in you," she said softly.
Shaking his head, Iolaus wondered aloud, "Why? I'm a street rat. Just ask good ole Jargus."
"You're wrong," she replied. "I've seen how you used to help your mother. How hard you worked to help out with your little sisters."
"That's different," the youth disagreed.
Alcmene smiled, "Hardly."
After being silent for a moment, Iolaus looked between the world outside the prison bars and Alcmene. "How would I pay for it?" For all his words to the contrary, he knew in his heart he wasn't ready to just give up roaming around in that outside world.
"We'll work something out. If I have to, I'll speak with Chieron." Alcmene paused, observing the young man. "I believe Jargus will be waiting for your answer by now."
Iolaus nodded. Alcmene pulled the door open and walked back into the courtroom. Standing next to the door, watching Iolaus, was Simnian. "Are you coming or not?"
"I just don't get it," Iolaus muttered under his breath, walking back into the courtroom.
Upon entering the courtroom, Iolaus glanced up to see Jargus looking down at him expectantly. "Have you made your choice?" the magistrate asked. With a glance at Alcmene, Iolaus nodded. "Well then, what will it be?"
"I'll take the academy, Jarg," Iolaus said, holding his head high to meet Jargus' gaze.
The magistrate's jaw clenched. "I shall be interested to see if you succeed there."
"I didn't have much choice," Iolaus mumbled under his breath, earning him an elbow to the ribs from Alcmene.
"If little else, maybe Chieron will teach you some respect," Jargus finished saying. Although he understood what the young man had said, Jargus asked, "What was that, Iolaus?"
With a half-shake of his head Iolaus replied, "What was what? Must have been the wind."
"Yes," the magistrate observed dryly, "That wind does seem to happen a lot when you're around."
Iolaus laughed, "I don't know, Jarg. Might not be me."
"Iolaus," Alcmene said, placing a hand on Iolaus' arm. "Try not to lose your probation before you have the chance to try it."
Iolaus held his head high, and smirked at Jargus, but nodded and lowered his gaze somewhat after glancing at Alcmene. "I'll try," he said sullenly.
"Well," she laughed, "I suppose that's the best we can do."
"Yes," Jargus said in the same dry tone as before. "We must take what we can get where you are concerned. I must admit, I'm not convinced that this arrangement will succeed."
Iolaus shook his head, interrupting, "Then why are you . . ."
"Alcmene, however," he pressed on, "seems to believe that you should have this opportunity. So, for the sake of argument, I'm allowing this chance."
"You're all heart," Iolaus muttered, but sobered after earning another long look from Alcmene. A moment later, he asked, "When do I need to be there?"
Jargus smiled, a mysterious half-smile. "A group of my men are escorting some merchants to Corinth, and they leave tomorrow at dawn. If you want to avoid jail, you will be with them."
"What about tonight?" Iolaus asked.
"Another night courtesy of my grand establishment," he replied, gesturing around the jail building.
Laughing, Iolaus muttered, "Well, the academy can't be any worse than this."
Jargus stood, saying, "I have other matters to attend to in town. Simnian, I leave him under your observation." When Simnian nodded, Jargus disappeared in a swirl of robes through the main door.
A moment later, Alcmene turned to Iolaus. She smiled softly, and squeezed his arm. "I'm sure you'll be fine at the academy."
Iolaus nodded hesitantly. "I wish I was as convinced as you seem to be."
"Some things a mother knows," she said mysteriously, a twinkle in her eyes.
Iolaus watched her wearily. "I don't get it. Hercules and I aren't even friends, Alcmene."
Smiling, she turned to leave, but paused long enough to say, "But maybe you should be."
Iolaus stood and watched her leave, a confused look in his blue eyes. A minute later he shook his head and looked over at the silent guard. He smirked, saying, "Well, Simnian, looks like this will be our last night together, buddy."
The guard fought a grin, replying, "And I was so growing used to your constant company, Iolaus."
"I know it will be hard," Iolaus grinned, "but Jargus will find someone else to pick on, I'm sure."
Laughing, Simnian replied, "Oh, I have no doubt."
The next morning, Iolaus stood at the entrance to the jail, waiting for the merchants and guards to get ready to leave. As he stood there, he looked past the busy street, searching for any sign of Alcmene.
He had decided that he wasn't going to see her again when the began to ride down the road that led to Corinth. They were almost out of sight of the few people who were beginning to mill around the marketplace when he saw her step out into the street and wave.
Laying back in the wagon, Iolaus popped a piece of hay in his mouth and began to chew on it as he mumbled under his breath, "Well, I can at least give it a shot. I can always leave if it's too much junk."
"Why did you do it?" Iolaus asked after a silent spell.
Alcmene smiled softly, and raised a tired hand up to rest on Iolaus' arm. "I was right, you were destined to be something greater." She paused a moment, seeing the confused look in Iolaus' eyes. "And you've proven me right beyond my wildest imagination."
Iolaus blinked, and shook his head as if to clear it. "How did you know? As far as anyone knew, I was just a 'runt thief'," he asked, repeating the words the merchant had used to describe him so long ago.
"I never forgot a certain crazy blond man from my own future," she said with a mysterious smile similar to that which she wore all those years before. "I knew I couldn't let him down, any more than he let me and my baby down."
Iolaus' eyes widened in recognition, "You remembered?"
"How could I not?" Alcmene asked, surprise echoing in her voice. After taking a steading breath, she continued, "It's only one of the wonderful things you've done that's touched my life."
Iolaus felt his cheeks begin to burn, and smiled uneasily. He had never been one to easily accept serious praise or recognition. "You should rest," he said, resting a hand on her forehead to feel for a fever. He could hear her breathing becoming strained.
Shaking her head, she continued, "No, there are a few more things I want to say. What I did for you back then, Iolaus," she paused, and smiled as she took a deep breath. "That was just my attempt at a thank you. It just happened that you needed to be bailed out at the same time I knew Hercules was already going to the academy."
"You meddled," Iolaus interrupted with a grin.
Alcmene nodded with a twinkle in her eyes. "Maybe I did, but I knew the two of you needed each other."
"You always knew what was best for us," Iolaus said, a grin on his face as he added, "even when we couldn't find it with a torch in a barn."
"Nothing a little guidance couldn't help," she said, smiling softly. "Iolaus, you grew to be like a son to me, so I must have done something right." Alcmene paused a moment before adding, "And I prefer to see it as scheming."
A noise from the doorway interrupted them, and they looked up to see Hercules and Jason standing there. "Scheming, Mother?" Hercules asked with a forced smile.
"Nothing, Hercules," Alcmene said with a smile, and gave Iolaus' hand a squeeze. "Just a few pleasant memories."
"Of taking chances," Iolaus grinned, but didn't explain.
Alcmene nodded in agreement and winked conspiratorially at Iolaus. "Chances that were worth taking."
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