Armageddon Now Missing Scenes

by Chalciope

The blond man sank wearily to the ground, heedless of passersby. His face was a mask of despair. Nothing mattered to him now. Hercules was gone, had never been born. And it was all his fault, his failure. Not only had he failed to protect Alcmene and her unborn son, he hadn't even been able to avenge their deaths! He just let Callisto get away with it.

Iolaus stared that knowledge in the face and was lost. Most of his life had been spent in the company of his best friend. His life had revolved, in large part, around the demigod and his labors. Even when they were apart, Hercules was always present in his mind and heart. His decisions were often prefaced with the thought 'what would Herc do?'

Because Iolaus had failed, Hercules was lost, not only to him but to the entire world as well. Iolaus had always known that Hercules made a difference, an important one. Now he could see just how big that difference was. This wasn't the world he knew at all. It might have similar geography and be populated by many of the same people but those were cosmetic details. The heart, the very soul of the world was fundamentally different. Nothing he'd seen so far was a change for the better.

Now what? Life as he'd always known it was over. His other friends, if they still lived, wouldn't know him. Ares was happy in this new reality. He'd never help Iolaus go back and fix it now. There was no way he could undo this. Unless...

Hope told Callisto that all the gods could travel in time. Ares might like things the way they were now but surely some of the others weren't happy. Who should he try?

He'd no sooner thought the question than the answer came to him: Aphrodite. The goddess of love couldn't be happy with this world. The Aphrodite he knew was a friend. Of course, this reality's Aphrodite might be very different. The gods were immortal though and one generation of human change may not have made much difference to her. She didn't spend much time worrying about mortals anyway, except to try and increase her tributes. A world ruled by war probably didn't pay much tribute to love. Aphrodite may be a bit flaky at times but she wasn't stupid.

There was a temple of hers not too far away - or rather, there should be. In this world it might never have been built. If built, it could be dedicated to another deity. The only way to find out for sure was to go there and see.

Iolaus set off with a slightly lighter heart. He was relieved to be doing something at last.

That happier mood didn't last long. He was traveling through countryside devastated by years of war. Worse, the landscape was littered with crosses bearing the corpses of those brave or foolish enough to oppose Xena. All this death and destruction weighed heavily on Iolaus' soul.

The temple was there and based on the decorations, it was still dedicated to the goddess of love. It was the first thing that had gone right for the hunter since this whole mess began.

Iolaus watched the area from the cover of some nearby trees. There didn't seem to be any activity. He approached slowly noticing more detail as he drew closer. The temple was not in very good condition. The flowerbeds were infested with weeds and the steps were covered with dead leaves and dirt.

"Looks like I guessed right," Iolaus commented to himself. "She can't have very many worshippers if her temple is in this state."

The hunter stepped inside, confident now that his plan would work. He barely had a moment to glance around, noting the lack of gold or flowers, when he was attacked. It all happened in an instant. He'd heard a noise and started to turn toward it. The next moment he was flat on his back on the other side of the room with no memory of how he'd gotten there.

He sat up slowly still trying to catch his breath and figure out had happened when his attacker approached.

"Aphrodite?"

"You've got a lot of nerve coming back here!"

"It's not what you think," Iolaus hurriedly tried to explain. He didn't get any farther before the angry goddess interrupted.

"There's only one thing I want form you, shorty. Tell me where it is!"

"Where what is?"

"Don't get cute with me. My girdle, you stole it and I want it back. NOW!"

"Girdle?" Iolaus was thoroughly confused. "But you don't even wear a belt."

"You think this is a joke!"

Iolaus had never seen Aphrodite looking so angry before. He'd better explain, he thought, and fast. "I'm sorry. I'm not joking, really. I'm also not who you think I am."

Incredibly, the goddess' anger increased. "Do you think I'm stupid?" Her voice had gone shrill in her fury.

"No!" Iolaus couldn't help cringing just a little. "I know better. You're smarter than you let on. Please, just let me explain?"

"Make it quick and make it good."

"I'll do my best but it's kind of complicated. See I'm not the Iolaus you're mad at. I'm from, well... an alternate time, I guess. I'd better tell it in the order it happened to me or I'll get it all confused. It all started when Hope sent Callisto back in time..."

"...And that's how I ended up here. I was hoping you could send me back in time again so I could straighten things out."

"What makes you think you can? You didn't do so hot last time."

"Yeah, but this time I already know what Callisto is going to do. I can get there ahead of her." Iolaus looked up at Aphrodite with a hopeful expression. "Does this mean you believe me?"

"I didn't say that," the goddess cautioned him. "But I do know you're not the guy I thought you were. You're missing some scars for one thing."

"So, will you help me?"

"You're going to have to help me first. Get my girdle back."

The hunter sighed. "Okay, I understand you want it back. But, you know, if I go back and change things it won't get stolen in the first place, right?"

"Maybe so but you still have to get the girdle first. Otherwise, no deal!"

"All right, all right. Where can I find this time's Iolaus?"

"Duh! If I knew that I'd go get it myself." With that she turned and began walking away. She hadn't gone very far when she paused. Looking back at him, she said, "try south." Then she disappeared.

"South," Iolaus repeated. "Great. Big help. Thanks a lot Aphrodite."

Iolaus stepped outside and looked around. There was still a few hours of daylight left. He sighed and started off, heading south.

Some hours later, an exhausted hunter stopped for the night. He'd continued until it had gotten too dark to see. Actually, he'd gone on for a bit after that. He'd only stopped when common sense warned him that he might miss something important in the darkness.

Now that he'd finally stopped, he crashed -- hard. He'd been running on emotions and adrenaline ever since the vortex closed, trapping Hercules inside. With nothing to distract him, the fatigue and fear hit with a vengeance. Iolaus dropped to the ground right where he was. He curled in on himself as the tears finally came.

With the Sovereign once again out cold, Hercules had a chance to check the viewing pool. His thought turned immediately to his friend.

At first, when the pool cleared, he couldn't see anything. For one heart-stopping moment, he thought that Iolaus must be dead. Then the image lightened and he saw a familiar form huddled on the ground, shaking with the force of his sobs. He felt the sting of tears in his own eyes as he watched. Hercules ached with the need to reach out to Iolaus, to comfort him.

"It'll be all right Iolaus, somehow. I know you'll come up with a plan. I have faith in you my friend."

As if he'd heard the demigod's words, Iolaus uncurled slightly and relaxed into weary slumber.

"Sleep well Iolaus. You've earned it."

Iolaus woke with the dawn. Last night's tears had been cathartic and he felt ready to continue the fight. His timing was perfect. Just as he was about to set off again he heard the sounds of people approaching. He had just enough time to duck into the cover of some handy bushes.

The group that came into view looked like a band of mercenaries. There were eight men in all. One or two of them looked vaguely familiar but Iolaus couldn't put names to them. Fortune smiled on him again as the men began talking.

"Where were we supposed to meet him?" Asked one of them.

"Iolaus said he'd be at the cave," was the reply.

The hunter had almost started out of hiding when he heard his name. He realized just in time that they must be referring to the other Iolaus, the one he needed to find. It looked like all he'd need to do is follow this group and they'd lead him right to the guy.

Convenient to his intentions, the mercenaries headed off the road. They were following what looked like a game trail. With all the noise they were making and the forest cover, Iolaus was confident he'd be able to follow them undetected.

About two hours later the men reached their destination. Iolaus got another lucky break when 'the cave' turned out to be a narrow crack in the rock face. It was unlikely that any of them would have fit inside and they didn't try. Instead, they settled down in a nearby clearing.

The mercenaries seemed completely at ease. Several of them pulled out things to do or eat while they waited. Iolaus moved around to a better hiding spot away from the trail and settled down to wait. He just hoped he wouldn't have to wait too long. He was getting hungry.

Iolaus passed the time trying to imagine what this other him would be like. He'd always believed that his friendship with Hercules had been his saving grace. Now he'd have a chance to find out for sure. This time's Iolaus had never even heard of the demigod. Iolaus wasn't expecting much.

So it was with something akin to shock that he viewed the other Iolaus' arrival. He was reminded of the time Artemis had tried to bribe him, offering to make him the world's greatest warrior. This fellow wore black leather instead of a white chiton but he had the same confident, arrogant bearing. It quickly became clear that he was the leader of this bunch.

Iolaus listened with half an ear as the mercenaries gave their reports. He concentrated instead on studying his counterpart, wondering how to proceed. What did this guy want with Aphrodite's belt?

That's when he noticed it, the one incongruous element in the other's attire. He wore sleek black leather, similar in cut to Ares' usual outfit but without all the silver ornamentation. So what was he doing with that delicate rope of gold fastened around his waist? It didn't belong. It looked more like something a woman would wear -- a woman or a goddess.

Now all he had to do is figure out how to get the belt away from the other Iolaus, preferably without getting clobbered by all those other men.

As if they wanted to cooperate with him, most of the mercenaries gathered up their things and left. There were only three people left in the clearing, one of whom was his counterpart. The hunter waited long enough to be sure the other men were really gone. Then he made his move.

Iolaus leapt from cover screaming like a Bacchae. He was on them before they'd had a chance to recover from the sudden surprise. The two mercenaries rallied quickly and put up quite a struggle but when the dust settled, Iolaus was the only one standing.

The victorious warrior looked around for his black-clad alternate. Then man was nowhere in sight. While his men fought, he'd fled the scene. Luckily he'd left a clear trail. Iolaus hurried after him, hoping to catch to other man alone. Fortune once again smiled on the golden hunter. Iolaus caught up with his counterpart just as the other man found himself trapped at the edge of a cliff.

As Iolaus approached, his quarry turned to confront him. The arrogant mask slipped a little as he finally got a good look at his pursuer but it was back in place in an instant.

"You're not a bad fighter," the cornered man commented in a superior and slightly bored tone. "I could use a man like you in my organization. If you've got what it takes."

Iolaus just shook his head. "I can't believe I'm such a coward," he said with undisguised disgust.

"You're a coward? Well, I withdraw the offer then. If you get out of my way I won't have to hurt you."

"Not me - me, you - me," Iolaus attempted to clarify. It was clear that the other man was only more confused. "Never mind. Just hand over the belt and I'll be on my way."

The other Iolaus almost double over, he was laughing so hard. "You want to rob me? You must be crazy!"

Iolaus had been through far too much over the last few days. He didn't have any patience left. Consequently, rather than continuing to argue, he hauled off and hit his alternate. One punch to the jaw and the man folded. All the arrogance and superiority fled in that instant. The man now resembled the coward he'd already proven himself to be.

"What do you want?"

"I already told you, the belt."

Iolaus' counterpart nodded sadly, unclasped the gold chain and handed it over. As soon as he did there was a startling change in his appearance. The pristine black leathers suddenly looked scruffy and dirty. The well-tamed hair was now a disordered mess. The scars Aphrodite had mentioned were now very much in evidence. All in all, he looked a good deal less impressive. He looked small and insignificant.

"Don't worry," Iolaus assured him. "It'll get better."

The hunter looped the chain through his belts a few times and departed. The sooner he got back to Aphrodite the sooner he could get things back to normal. Then he could forget all about that other Iolaus.

"How did he -- I end up like that?" He couldn't help wondering. "And how the heck did he ever have the courage to steal from a goddess?"

He moved quickly through the forest, anxious to get back to Aphrodite's temple. Even so, Iolaus' mind was moving faster. He couldn't stop worrying at the puzzle of how the other Iolaus turned out the way he did. It wasn't until he stopped for the night that he thought of a possible start to it all.

He was remembering a day not long after he'd become friends with Hercules. They were both young. Iolaus hadn't quite turned ten and Herc was of course younger.

It had been another awful day. His father was home and had been for a few days. Long enough for Iolaus to have really annoyed him. Iolaus couldn't even remember anymore what he'd done that particular morning. He did remember the beating that resulted. He also remembered fleeing the house afterwards. He'd run into Hercules not long after and ended up going home with him that night.

At some point during the night he woke up hungry. Knowing Alcmene wouldn't mind, he decided to raid the kitchen. It never occurred to him to put his shirt back on for his midnight expedition. When she heard the noise and came out to check on it, Alcmene saw the marks Skouros had left on his son's body.

They'd had a long talk that night. They talked about what had happened and why. At first, Iolaus had defended his father. Insisting that he must have deserved the beating, that he wasn't good enough. It took a long time and many more midnight talks but gradually Alcmene convinced him that Skouros was the one with the problem.

The Iolaus in this world had never even met Alcmene. She'd died when he was only two. He grew up still believing his father's painful words. It made a little more sense now that he'd ended up a bully and a coward. He'd grown up exactly the way his father expected him to. There were doubtless other factors involved but it helped illustrate just how important it was that Iolaus set things right.

Iolaus made good time the next day and arrived at the temple mid-morning. It was all going to work out. He had the belt. Aphrodite would send him back in time and this time he'd stop Callisto. Then everything would be all right.

The hunter mounted the temple steps quickly, anxious to be on his way. He never even saw the blow that knocked him out.

Iolaus woke. He thought, for some reason, that he should be in pain but he wasn't. He was confused however. He opened his eyes carefully, still expecting the pain to show up.

He didn't recognize his surroundings at first. Once he looked past all the pink draperies, he realized he was in Aphrodite's temple. He didn't see the goddess anywhere but that didn't really mean anything. For all he knew, she was laying right next to him. That thought made him smile until he reminded himself he was here on important business.

"Aphrodite?" he called as he clambered of the pile of cushions and pillows. She materialized directly in front of Iolaus causing him to fall back into the bedding.

"Oops," the goddess giggled. "Sorry. How're you feeling curly?"

"Surprisingly good," Iolaus answered as he got up again. "What happened?"

Aphrodite curled her lip prettily. "Ares happened."

When he heard the war god's name, Iolaus immediately adopted a defensive stance looking about warily.

"Chill, sweetcheeks. He got what he wanted and booked."

"He's gone?"

"You got it."

The hunter started to relax when another thought occurred to him. "He took your belt didn't he?"

"'Fraid so, and that means our deal's off."

"Aphrodite, you can't!" Iolaus cried putting a hand out to stop her from turning away. "Please? I have to get Hercules back. Everything will be all right then. Please?"

"I'd love to help you, really I would but I can't do it without my girdle. Sorry."

"Is this one of your dumb rules or something: no helping mortals without making them jump through hoops first?"

"It's not that, curly. Heck, just knowing that it'd tick ol' 'blood and guts' Ares off is enough to make me want to help out. I just can't do it. I mean literally, I don't have the power."

Iolaus' face fell as the meaning of her word's registered. "This girdle of yours, it's like Ares' sword or Hades' helmet isn't it?"

"Kind of," Aphrodite nodded sadly. "If you ever manage to get hold of it, come see me. Until then... Be careful, okay?" With that the goddess disappeared in a faint cloud of golden sparkles.

"Thanks anyway." Iolaus muttered to the empty room.

He'd run out of options. The only thing he could think to do now was to return to Xena's city and look for an opportunity. At least, he'd be in a position do something to fight the conqueror. Maybe if he stayed near Xena he'd get a chance to retrieve Aphrodite's girdle from Ares.

He still had hope.

*THE END*

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