"Hercules, I've gotta go after him! Thanatos will kill him if I don't!"
"All right, Iolaus, I understand. We'll get him away from Thanatos and see that they both face the courts for their crimes."
"What?! I know this has gotta be real hard for you to understand Hercules, but Xeno is a friend. He may not be candidate for Man of the Year, but he IS a friend. And I'm not gonna stand by and let him be thrown into some prison! When I get him away from Thanatos, I'm going to let him walk away!" And with that the blonde hunter spun on his heel and swept out the tavern door like a gale force wind. The demi-god had to jog to catch up with him. Things had been going from bad to worse ever since Fortune intervened. Hercules knew she was only trying to help Iolaus forget what happened on the bridge, but, as the bards say, the road to Tartarus is paved with good deeds! Iolaus had lost all memory of his partnership, and friendship, with Hercules. In a desperate attempt to grasp hold of something he knew, he had joined forces with the crime lord Xeno and his gang. And now, he was on his way to let the ringleader go free.
"Iolaus! Listen to me," Hercules said as he caught up to his friend on the path toward the lake where Xeno had been taken. "You know you can't do this!"
"How do you know what I can and can't do?" Iolaus challenged turning to face Hercules with a determined flash of light in his deep blue eyes.
"Right now, you have no idea what I'm capable of. You barely know me."
"I know you couldn't kill me, Iolaus. Even though your memory's gone and you feel lost in someone else's life, you still felt deep down inside that it would've been wrong."
Iolaus glanced at him dubiously as he continued down the road. "My concentration was shot--that's all."
"It had nothing to do with concentration, Iolaus!" The demi-god countered as he followed the hunter. "I've seen you in situations that would scare the Tartarus out of a hydra, and your concentration has always remained intact. No, this isn't a question of concentration, but of conscience."
Iolaus halted once more, hands on his hips. He sighed and let his gaze drop to his boots.
"You are still a good man, Iolaus. You always have been. Nothing can change that. And a good man doesn't let evil go unpunished."
The hunter's head snapped up and his gaze locked with that of the demi-god. "But Xeno's not evil Hercules. He took me in when I had no where else to go. He gave me a job--he put his trust in me!"
This time it was Hercules' turn to let out a frustrated sigh. "Iolaus, will you listen to yourself? He took you in all right--to be one of his minions. And yes he gave you a job--center stage in his circle of thieves and robbers. Are you really that thankful for his trust? What good is the trust of a thief?"
If Iolaus remembered anything, it was that he himself was a thief. He turned away from the demi-god and muttered, "I guess what goes for evil in your world is different than in mine."
"But that's just it, Iolaus! You don't belong to this world of crime and intimidation. You're a hero, a warrior, and…a friend."
"You forgot 'thief'," Iolaus replied still looking away.
Hercules placed his hand on the hunter's shoulder and turned him to face him. "You got into trouble when you were a kid. We all did! But you left this life for a better one. And I'm so thankful that you did. I can't imagine my life without you by my side. Iolaus. You're not one of these people anymore."
"Then why do I feel like I'd be betraying Xeno if I let him go to jail?" the hunter implored, torn between his perceived loyalty to the crime lord and what this man was telling him about another, better life that apparently was his.
"Because that's who you are Iolaus. You try to see the good in everything and everyone. And that's not a bad thing. I wish I didn't see everything so cut and dry. You have the ability to analyze and find the best in even the very worst. If you turn Xeno over to the authorities, you probably will feel guilty. Because in this horrible misadventure, he was the one who saw what was really inside you."
"What do you mean?" the hunter questioned, a weary expression overtaking his usually bright eyes.
"Do you like this way of life Iolaus?" Hercules asked pointedly.
"Don't you think that if Xeno could've chosen a different road he would've taken it?"
"Maybe. But what if he had no other choice? What if this life was all he ever knew and he had no choice but to answer its calling?" Iolaus countered.
"Then show your appreciation towards him by doing what you know is right!" the demi-god pled. "Xeno knows you're not like Thanatos and the rest of that rabble. If you asked him for career advice, I'm fairly certain he'd tell you to find another line of work!"
Iolaus let out his breath slowly. He sunk down on a log that lay haphazardly on the edge of the path. He rested his head in his hands as he said dejectedly, "Somehow I don't think he'll see it that way."
Hercules moved to sit next to his friend. "Perhaps not. But this might be the way out for him too. On the outside, if he quit the business he'd be dead in a week. If he's the friend you say he is, he might even thank you for giving him this chance to change his life."
The hunter let out a mirthless laugh. "Right! Hey Iolaus, thanks for sending me up the river!.. I can hear it now."
"Hercules…I understand what you're saying, I really do. But I can't turn him in."
"Why not??" Hercules replied, desperation now creeping into his voice. Iolaus was silent for a moment, watching the fallen leaves on the path get caught up in little whirlpools of wind. "Hercules, right now, the only memories I have, the only world I know is what I've been through here, with Xeno and those that followed him…"
"So what, now you're gonna take up for Thanatos?" the demi-god broke in.
"For Zeus' sake, the man's name means death!"
"Of course not!" Iolaus replied matter-of-factly. "Thanatos is a psycho--even Xeno realized that. What I mean is that, if I turn him in, what does that make me? You've called me friend several times--do you really want a friend who's a turncoat?"
Hercules sighed and ran a hand through his brown locks. "For the love of…. Iolaus, are you telling me all this is about honor among thieves? Gods, if only you had your memory back! How can I convince you that doing what you believe to be the honorable thing in this case is not only wrong, but will haunt you the rest of your life if you go through with it??"
"You can't. I'm just like Xeno."
"No you're not Iolaus! You are not anything like Xeno!"
"We're both thieves!"
"You ONCE were a thief--and a petty one at that!" Hercules replied frankly. "You think you're like Xeno? Just how many people have died because of you lately??
"That woman on the bridge."
"What did you say?" Hercules asked in shock as he looked at his friend.
"I dropped her and she died because of me," the hunter replied dully.
"Iolaus!" Hercules exclaimed, grabbing his friend lightly by the shoulders. "Are you saying…Is your memory back??"
"No…it was just a flash, nothing more, it's gone now," Iolaus shook his head and rubbed a hand across his eyes trying in vain to dislodge the fog which had settled around his mind. "Hercules, what was I doing on a bridge like that anyway?"
"You were trying to save that woman's life," the demi-god answered, pride evident in his voice.
"Me?" the hunter looked up at him questioningly.
"Yes, you're a hero! I've been trying to explain this…"
"Obviously not a very good one--she's dead," Iolaus replied, just a hint of sarcasm in his words.
"Iolaus--that wasn't your fault!" Hercules said immediately. "You don't remember, but she panicked and she struggled even though you plead with her not to. There wasn't anything more you could've done. I hope with all my heart that you can accept that and move on, because nothing can change the fact that you are the most noble, bravest and honorable man I know. And as soon as Fortune can return your memory, you'll see that. Do you also want to see that you let one of the biggest crime lords in Greece go free, when you had the chance to see that justice was served? And maybe, just maybe, in the process be the turning point in Xeno's life?"
Iolaus sat quietly for a few moments before he spoke again. "No… no I don't."
Hercules didn't miss the change of tone in his friend's voice as he said this. Did he dare call it acceptance?
"Somehow," Iolaus continued, his eyes downcast, "I get the feeling that you're the only reason why I didn't stay a thief…why I haven't been living this kind of life all along."
The demi-god opened his mouth to protest but Iolaus plowed on: "No Hercules, I was ready to let him go free. Really I was. Because I had no faith in myself, and if I turned him in, I would have nothing…be nothing. Just a thief turning on another thief. But apparently I'm not that thief I thought I was. As it turns out, it looks like I've got quite a lot. Not the least of which is a pretty damn good friend."
"And you ARE a friend Iolaus," Hercules replied, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth. "The best a man could have."
The two friends sat silent a little longer.
"A hero, huh?" Iolaus mused, and to Hercules' delight, he actually giggled--that wonderful, beautiful, infectious giggle.
"In the truest sense, my friend," Hercules replied, squeezing his friend's shoulder.
Iolaus nodded, and his eyes told his friend that he would do the right thing.
"Well, we'd better get going," the hunter announced as he stood up from the log. "I want a few moments to try to explain to Xeno why I'm doing what I'm gonna do."
"I'm sure he'd appreciate that," Hercules said with a smile as he joined his friend and partner on the path once more. "Who knows? He might even be proud of you."
"Yeah?" Iolaus laughed. "I don't know about that Hercules. I just hope he isn't as hardheaded as I am."
"Not possible my friend," Hercules kidded his partner as they headed for the lake, and in return was rewarded with his friend's familiar warm smile.
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