Iolaus fought for his life, sending fiery blows towards his attackers but the predominance was overwhelming. Six warriors had attacked him for the usual reason, money!! He had one of the men down with a blow to the solar plexus but had to handle two more at his side. Desperately he tried to fight back the exhaustion that began to creep over his hurting body. His face was swelling rapidly, blood from a dozen cuts and contusions ran freely down his brow and from his lips. "Hey, Herc," he thought deep in his mind "This would be a great moment to show up and help me."
Finally he managed to get rid of his last attackers, not without taking a deep wound in his shoulder. He tried to cover it as best as possible and struggled down the road to reach the next village. He had to find a healer. But after a few steps managed by pure willpower he dropped to his knees, fighting dizziness and nausea. Breathing fast he forced himself to control the pain, but wasn't finally able to escape the blanket of darkness that let him slip to the ground, unconscious.
"Iolaus." He felt something cold on his forehead, stirred and tried to open his one unswollen eye to focus through his blurred vision on the face bent over him. "Iolaus, please wake up."
The voice seemed familiar. "Gabrielle?" he mumbled through his cut and swollen lips.
"Yes.. sssh I am here" she smoothed wiping at a trickle of blood running down his cheek. "You must have been in a hell of a fight."
"Only six," Iolaus whispered struggling against the blankets. "I have to..."
"No, stay put," she said pushing him gently back to the ground she had covered with another blanket to make it as comfortable as possible for him. "You have lost a lot of blood."
Iolaus reached with trembling fingers over to the clean bandage covering his shoulder wound and winced as the pain set in by the sudden movement. Sweat was running down his forehead and he felt nauseous again, as he slowly eased himself back with Gabrielle's help. After a few moments his labored breathing steadied a bit and he bit away the pain.
"I am fine," he smiled weakly.
"Yeah you are..." Gabrielle gently bathed his face. "My hero!" "Rest Iolaus.. I will take care of you..." The hunter nodded, closed his eyes and drifted into sleep.
As Iolaus came to some hours later he felt better, although the dizziness hadn't passed completely and the pain still throbbed in his shoulder. He carefully scanned his surroundings and realized that he lay in a kind of cave. As his eyes got used to the darkness which was only lighted by a small fire glowing next to him he recognized through his blurred vision that he wasn't alone.
"Welcome back Iolaus." A gentle hand reached for his trembling cold fingers and squeezed them tightly. "I am glad you are finally awake. You scared me." He felt the hand slip to his burning forehead. "You are running a high fever but it seems to be breaking finally." She gave him an reassuring nod. "How do you feel?"
"Fine" he managed and tried to maneuver himself in a more comfortable position. "You did a wonderful job."
"Here let me help get some liquids into you. You haven't drunk anything the last hours." Iolaus moaned as she gently lifted his head to make him able to drink. The cold water brought Iolaus' spirits up and despite his own pain he noticed the worried sad voice of his Samaritan.
"Hey, Gabrielle... don't worry. I am gonna be all right... you will see... Pretty soon I will be on my feet again. You are a wonderful healer," he smiled as she stroked away a soaked stray of hair from his face. "Xena taught you a lot, didn't she??"
Gabrielle nodded in silence and turned her face so he couldn't see her eyes. "What's the matter, Gabrielle...?" He continued recognizing her sudden hesitation. "Has something happened to Xena?? Please look at me," he pleaded, his voice croaked from exhaustion.
Slowly Gabrielle faced the hunter again, worried to upset him even more. "Xena is all right, as far as I know. I left her three days ago in Therias..."
Her voice broke and some trembling fingers found her shoulder. "Why did you leave her??"
"No, Iolaus...you should rest...lay down and try to sleep again. You will need the strength..." Gabrielle stumbled, desperately trying to hide her tears from the hunter.
"I am fine", Iolaus stated, "tell me what's bothering you. That's what friends are for, you know??"
Gabrielle gazed down at the still fever filled blue eyes and knew he wouldn't rest until he had found out the truth.
"Iolaus, you wouldn't understand why I left, Xena."
"Try me." Iolaus reassured her and winced as another wave of pain hissed through his shoulder. "I am famous as the best listener in the whole of Greece." He managed a weak painful smile.
"I am useless, Iolaus. I am useless and a real danger for everyone, especially Xena. You can't understand me, Iolaus. You are a warrior, a real partner for Hercules in his fight against monsters and bandits. You can take care of your own and don't need anybody to babysit you. With me it's different. I am always a burden for Xena, she gets in danger to protect me, risks her life to save mine. I am not that worthy, Iolaus, I left her so she didn't have to worry for me any further to bring her in trouble." She didn't try to hide the painful tears slipping down her cheeks.
Iolaus squeezed her hand. "Nobody has to babysit me, huh?? Looks like it didn't work this time."
Gabrielle glanced down at the blond hunter. How brave he is, she thought, despite his own pain he tries to comfort me.
"But" Iolaus continued. "How can you call yourself useless?? You are a great healer, a wonderful person and a true friend for Xena. " He searched for words in his foggy mind. "You are Xena's friend, to protect you is something friends are for, Gabrielle, and I am sure she didn't blame you for not being such a skilled fighter as she is. You have other qualities, Gabrielle...your kindness, your humor, your trust...that's something Xena needs more than anything else, more than a fighter at her side she needs a true friend who is listening to her and on whom she can depend on when times get rough." His voice trembled as pain and exhaustion seemed to overwhelm him. "You have to go back to her...she needs you...you..." He closed his eyes, catching for breath. "Go back to her..." A soft blackness smoothed over his aching body and let him drift away.
Gabrielle tugged a second blanket over his still cold body, watching his beautiful face. "Wish I could be like you Iolaus." Gently she placed a kiss on his forehead before she went outside to get some more water to bath him with to drop the fever.
A terrible scream brought Iolaus back to the world. Still dazed he tried to prop himself up on his elbows as he felt a hand at his side to help him up.
"Iolaus, please we have to run. I know you hurt but maybe with my help you can manage to walk. We have to hurry..."
The hunter, unsteady, struggled to his feet, clenching his teeth against the pain and the dizziness. "Gabrielle...what's wrong...why...?" He was interrupted by a roar that didn't seem to belong to the mortal world. Oh, not again... he thought, pleading desperately that his aching mind didn't play tricks on him. His vision cleared and gazing towards the cave entrance, he recognized the shadows of something he didn't want to face in his whole life again. A Hydra... "Gabrielle, where is my sword?" He struggled from her support and managed the few steps towards their camp to pick up his sword. It felt terribly heavy in his hand and he swayed from weakness. "Stay behind me, Gabby. I will try to fight it."
"Iolaus..." With fearful eyes, hiding behind a huge rock she watched Iolaus stepping bravely forward to fight the monster. He danced around the creature and landed some good blows, but wasn't able to reach her head.
"I have to make it, have to save Gabrielle." he thought, desperately trying to avoid the sharp teeth that were trying to get hold on him. He stumbled, collapsed heavily on the hard ground and hissed a sharp cry of pain as his bandaged shoulder wound started to bleed again. He felt the burning breath of the Hydra above him and prepare himself to get on the journey to the Underworld as somebody jumped next to him, taking the sword out of his hands.
"Get away from him!" Gabrielle screamed. "Hey, you lousy monster, get me if you can. Try to catch me..." The sword in a tight grip, she turned and ran to the opposite side of the cave to turn away the creature from the hunter. The monster, startled by the sudden movement, sent out a fierce boom and attacked the Bard, who tried to protect herself with some blows she directed towards the Hydra without hurting her. Iolaus struggled to get upright but drove back to his knees. He fell down again, unable to move any further, catching for breath and unable to help his friend anymore.
"GABRIELLE!" he screamed "Watch out...Gab..." He passed out and sank to the cold ground, unable to hear a sudden yell that filled the air, a yell that promised help.
"So, I guess this will fit even for our worst patient." He heard a familiar voice and opened his eyes. Expecting some of Hades' creatures in front of him he was greeted by Gabrielle's bright face.
"Hi Iolaus.. Promise to rest this time, ok?? Or I will tie you down to the bed, I am not kidding."
Iolaus grinned at the pretty face above him and nodded.. "Promise, if there isn't another Hydra showing up this time...Gabrielle...how.. how did you manage to get rid with her??"
"Well..." Gabrielle smiled "Actually I had a little help...from a friend." Another face showed up next to the hunter.
"Yeah.. I killed the monster, don't worry. I was looking for Gabrielle and showed up to save her, but as far as I saw she had things quite well in her hands."
"Yeah," Iolaus stated "She is a great warrior. I wouldn't be alive without her. Never seen somebody braver in my life." He closed his eyes for a moment to fight back the pain.
"Rest Iolaus...and let my partner Gabrielle watch over you. I will go back to the village to buy some herbs to fight your fever. Gabrielle doesn't need any further protection, I guess." Xena smiled, glancing towards the Bard. "She can take care of her own."
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