Hercules carried Nemesis tenderly back to the barn. When he got to the doorway, Iolaus was already trying to get up from the makeshift bed. "What are you doing?" the demigod whispered trying to not waken the injured lady.
"Sh! Ow!" Iolaus grimaced as he tried to put weight on his swollen ankle. "I'm coming to help you get rid of the Enforcer, but it doesn't look like you need my help there...or do you? Is that heartless ..?"
"Yes, Iolaus, she's gone for good. But I'm not sure how much help you'd be at the moment. Would you lie back down?! I can't catch you while I have Nemesis in my arms," Hercules groaned. He didn't like the looks of his friend wobbling.
He could tell that Iolaus was trying to maintain some sort of balance, but it was only a matter of time before he came crashing to the floor. Suddenly, Iolaus lost all color in his face, and Hercules watched in horror as his friend crumpled to the ground.
As quickly, but as gently as he could, Hercules placed Nemesis on the bed and turned to tend to his friend. He knelt by Iolaus and scooped him up in his arms. When he touched Iolaus's arm, he was immediately alarmed. The heat was intense. The demigod realized his friend was much more injured than he thought. Laying him down next to Nemesis, his heart went out to two of the most important people in the world to him. His semi divine heart nearly burst at the thought that these dear people were injured trying to protect him.
Hercules went about drawing water, gathering herbs and salves, and set about making the barn more comfortable for these two. Nemesis regained consciousness first. She ran a shaky hand over her forehead and moaned. Hercules was by her side instantly. She allowed him to put a cool cloth over her eyes and said, "Mmmm. That feels a little bit better. Which cyclops pounded me with that hydra?"
She slowly moved her body into a sitting position and leaned against the hay. Hercules steadied her by slipping next to her and putting his arms around her.
"Just what would you like to say for yourself?" he whispered in her ear. Placing a tender kiss on her head, he continued, "I can't believe you put yourself at risk. After what she did to Iolaus..." Hercules stopped and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the demigod found his gaze fixed on his unconscious friend.
"Once I give you a thorough examination...," Hercules stopped to blush as he saw her grinning in spite of her pain. "Ahem! As I was saying, once I'm sure you're okay, I really need to get a healer in here for Iolaus. I think he's hurt a lot more than we originally feared."
Nemesis leaned back against his chest for just a moment before reporting, "Well, let's see. I have a couple of bruises in places we won't discuss in front of Iolaus. Yes, I know he's unconscious, but remember, I've seen him in action." Now it was her turn to blush.
Hercules looked quizzically at her and decided that he'd better drop this line of conversation. "Are you sure?" he asked narrowing his eyes.
"Hercules, I may be human now, but I think the "ripping godhood" away from someone kind of leaves a little godly residue. At any rate, I'll move a little slowly for a bit, but I'm okay. As for Iolaus...," tiny tears collected in her eyes, "I think he's in trouble. Hercules! Oh gods!"
Hercules grasped Nemesis close to him and spun turned her toward him, "What is it? Are you all right?"
She closed her eyes tightly and pointed to Iolaus. Hercules's eyes darted quickly over to his friend. He stiffened to see a small drop of blood trickling from his ear. The demigod released her and scrambled over to Iolaus. Hercules grabbed a cloth and dabbed at the blood. He'd seen injuries like this before.
He and Iolaus both witnessed the senseless death of a young cadet at the academy. They had been struggling in a mock battle when Hercules accidentally bumped into Locutious. The young man flew across the training room and hit his head on a thick pole. Hercules helped him to his feet, and the cadet seemed fine. In fact, he laughed about the demigod's slightly ungraceful move with his posterior. Later, though, Locutious grew more and more unsteady on his feet, and by night, the young man had lost all equilibrium. The next morning, Locutious never woke up. Chiron was grim the next day as they all watched the deeply sleeping cadet.
Finally, Locutious left this world with Hermes. It took months for Hercules and Iolaus to get over his death. Hercules in particular felt responsible even though it had been an accident. Now as he looked intently at his friend, he was terrified of losing him this way as well.
"I've got to get a healer," Hercules pronounced as he rushed out the door.
Nemesis tenderly brushed a curl from Iolaus's face and whispered, "Oh Iolaus, you've got to get better. He needs you." Tearfully she kissed his cheek.
In no time at all, Hercules burst through the door with Carmicus, the healer. The serious older man walked over to Iolaus and unceremoniously brushed Nemesis aside. He urged Hercules to call to his friend to wake him up, and slowly dripped cool water from a cloth that had been dipped into a bowl.
They all held their breaths as they saw long thick eyelashes begin to flutter. Taking the cold cloth, the healer carefully bathed the back of Iolaus's neck, and the hunter's eyes flew open. He tried to get up, but Carmicus shook his head and told him to lie still.
Iolaus was confused; he had been in a deep sleep when he felt shards of ice hitting his forehead. When he suddenly felt as if his neck had been clubbed by an ice eel. The pain was exploding all over his body, and Hercules was confusing him.
"Hercules, quit that!" he gasped.
"Quit what, Iolaus?" Hercules asked with a scowl.
"I mean it! It's not funny!" Iolaus grimaced.
Suddenly Carmicus moved to another part of the barn. Hercules continued to question a very confused Iolaus when the healer grasped a huge metal bucket and dashed it into the nearby trough. Hercules and Nemesis nearly jumped 10 feet. Iolaus, however, remained oddly still.
"What is going on?" he said in a shaky gasp.
Hercules looked into the healer's eyes. "Hercules, Iolaus isn't in danger of losing his life; however, he has lost his hearing. Iolaus is deaf."
"Wait! There must be some mistake! He was hearing perfectly just a few moments ago. He can't have lost his hearing in the blink of an eye," the demigod reasoned.
"Hercules, I don't believe he was hurt in just a blink of an eye either. The blow to his head when he fell from the ladder could have caused a small rupture somewhere. A high fever can sometimes usher in permanent silence. Then again... he didn't hit his head again after the fight, did he?" Carmicus asked with squinting eyes.
Hercules looked at the ground and remembered his friend lying crumpled there. Nemesis moved slowly next to him and softly placed her hand on his strong arm. Iolaus, realizing that this was not just a trick, began trying to read the lips of those frantic people around him. His world began to silently fall apart. Closing his eyes, Iolaus felt utterly completely alone. He let himself drift off into oblivious sleep again.
"Carmicus! He's unconscious again!" shouted Hercules. Nemesis groaned at his high volume level.
"Hercules, calm down. He's just sleeping," Nemesis said weakly.
"Are you a healer? Just where did you get your training...The Academy of Ex Gods?" snapped Hercules. He was panicking and didn't realize how close he was to being slapped by an "ex god". However, he regretted immediately his harsh words. "I'm sorry, Nemesis. I'm just...please, Carmicus. Can't you do something for him?"
"Son, your lady friend here knows more than you think. He needs rest, but to be on the safe side, it would be smart to check on him every so often. Make him wake up to make sure that he can. Looks like you've got all the right medicines he needs anyway. These," Carmicus remarked as he picked up the herbs Hercules had gathered, "and your care will help him deal with this."
"Deal with it? You sound as if there's nothing that can be done for him," muttered the demigod.
"Well, the chances are slim that he will get his hearing back. Pretty much impossible. Still, impossible things have been known to happen. I heard tell of a man brought back from the dead after the she-demon. But of course, that was just rumor. Maybe Zeus could, but I can't see that happening, can you?" asked the older man as he packed up his bags. One last look at the brave man, and the healer said his farewells.
"Zeus help. That's a laugh!" grumbled Hercules. He checked on his friend one more time then walked over to the opposite wall, placed both hands against it, and pushed away. Nemesis could tell that he was trying to relieve some of the tension growing within him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her aching head against his back. She felt him sigh and let his head drop.
"Nemesis, you don't understand. If he doesn't have his hearing...if he doesn't...; this will just kill him."
"I know," she whispered. Hercules turned toward her and returned the hug resting his chin on her head. "He'll be all right, Hercules. He'll be alive."
"Alive? Will he be alive when he realizes that he'll never hear the birds of the forest sing? Will he be alive when he realizes that he's lost one of his senses that makes him the great hunter that he is? Will he be alive when he knows that he can no longer travel with me?" He asked as he held her at arms length.
"Hercules," she said searching his eyes, "who will really suffer when he can't go with you?"
"I know, I know. So much has happened, Nemesis, I just can't think about it now. I'm so tired," the demigod sighed as he sank to the floor. Resting his head on his arms propped on his knees, Hercules forced himself into a restless sleep.
Nemesis crept over to Iolaus again and stretched out alongside him. She saw the futures of two men hanging precariously in the balance, and two tears raced silently down her cheeks.
Suddenly the room was filled with a brilliant light, and Zeus appeared at the foot of the makeshift bed. He looked down at her and his son's friend; then, he looked over at his tormented child. Turning back to the two on the bed, he was not surprised when Nemesis looked to him pleadingly.
"Child, you meant to save my son. By refusing to bow to Hera and by fighting her Enforcer, you've proven yourself worthy to be back on Olympus. Come now, child. I haven't much time before 'she who would be obeyed' discovers I'm gone," he said with a wickedly playful grin.
"How can you smile when these two brave souls are in so much pain? I can't stand this. Just leave and take your godhood with you!" she sneered.
"Well, if you don't want a reward...," Zeus said as he was about to go.
"Wait! Reward? Okay, then, I'll claim my reward. Restore Iolaus's hearing, and why don't you just heal all his wounds while you're at it!" she insisted.
"The reward was for you; are you saying that you would give up Olympus for this mortal? As worthy as he is, he IS just a mortal, and one day he'll be gone anyway. How can you give up everything you've known for someone about which you know so little ?" asked the King of the Gods.
"How can you look on the anguish of your son and not be moved? Yes, I'd give it up so that Hercules is complete again. Make Iolaus well!" she demanded.
With a wave of his hand, Zeus disappeared. She looked back at Iolaus to find clear trusting eyes looking up at her. She frowned at the cuts and bruises evident on his broken body and sighed. His eyes cut instantaneously to her.
"You heard me?" Nemesis asked incredulously.
"Wow," he said weakly as he thought it was all a terrible nightmare. Nemesis reached down and kissed him full on the lips. He jumped at first remembering the history of two men in love with the same woman. "What did you do that for?" he asked.
"It's a goodbye kiss, Iolaus. The goodbye kiss is crucial in developing a good relationship," she whispered.
"Who's leaving?" asked the hunter.
"Just rest friend. I have something to say to Hercules," Nemesis whispered.
Iolaus complied without argument and fell into a sweet dreamless sleep. "Thank you, Zeus," she said softly as she walked quietly over to Hercules. Resting her tender hand on Hercules's soft hair, she said, "Hercules, we need to talk."
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