The panicked sound pierced Hercules' light sleep and he bolted upright to find his friend sitting up, eyes unfocused, panting with exertion. Moving swiftly to Iolaus' side, he placed his large hand on the other man's sweat-glistened shoulder.
"Iolaus. It's all right. I'm here. You're safe."
The frantic panting eased somewhat. "Herc?" Iolaus blinked in the dim light of their fire.
"It was just a dream," Hercules assured his friend. "Everything is all right."
"Not a dream," Iolaus contradicted, gulping a breath. "A nightmare."
Hercules lowered himself next to Iolaus, then stirred up the fire. "Are you ready to talk about it? You know it would help."
"I don't know if I'll ever be able to talk about 'it'," he mumbled.
"It" was their last adventure. Iolaus had been taken by the Minotaur and was used to wage war against Hercules. Hercules had managed to kill the man-beast, rescuing his friend and several others in the process. After returning as a hero to the open arms of the townsfolk who had wanted to kill him only hours earlier, Hercules had repaired the "back door" he had made in the inn while Iolaus and the other victims had scrubbed away the "grime" in the rushing water of the river.
After a few hours of sleep, they had taken their leave to return home. Iolaus had been uncharacteristically quiet on the journey, a fact that Hercules had quickly noticed. Not wanting to pry, he allowed his friend some space.
But now, the time had come to talk. Hercules laid down the stick he used in prodding the fire and turned to face Iolaus. "Tell me about it." The words were spoken softly, not as an order, but as a plea.
Iolaus hesitated for only a moment. "I don't know how to describe it. Everything happened so fast."
"I know," Hercules replied. "When...when I realized you were being pulled under, I tried to stop it from happening. The force was too powerful."
"I know. I had no control. The ground began to tremble and I started falling. I tumbled down a large hole into...that thing's den. He was an ugly son-of-a-sword, wasn't he?"
Hercules stared into the fire. "Yeah, he was," he quietly replied, still not resigned to the fact that he had killed his own brother. "What did he do to you?"
"Well, I arrived at the same time as that townie who wanted to do you in, so we picked ourselves up and looked around the cavern. We didn't see anything at first, but soon...I could hear him breathing. I couldn't find a weapon, so we moved together toward the sound.
The beast jumped out when we rounded a curve and grabbed us both. He was just...playing with us like we were animals. I've never felt strength like he had when he picked me up. I mean, well, I know you're strong, but his arms were massive - and powerful."
"What was the purpose of that gunk all over you?" Hercules asked. "You smelled pretty ripe."
"I don't know what it was," Iolaus replied, "but the smell wasn't the worst part of it. It burned my eyes and I couldn't see, then I felt like I was suffocating. He pushed me into something that felt like mud and I couldn't move to stop him. After that, I could hear faint sounds, but it didn't feel like time was passing. I was just...existing. When he pulled me out, I managed to fill my lungs with air. Until then, I don't even know if I was even breathing. Like I said, I felt like a furry little animal in the jaws of a lion."
"He had turned into the animal, Iolaus," Hercules reminded him. "He was nothing more than a wild beast. I...I don't think there was any humanity left."
"You think he was human?" Iolaus asked.
"No." Hercules hesitated once more, then decided to fill Iolaus in on the whole story. "He wasn't human...he was a god. A son of Zeus...my half brother."
"Son of Zeus? Come on. What happened to him? And how long have you known about this?" he turned around, accusation in his tone at the knowledge Hercules had kept from him.
Hercules explained, "He led a revolt against Zeus and was banished to live below the mountain. And I just found out last night. Zeus came in at the end of the fight."
"I remember him being there," Iolaus replied. "I thought he was just helping you."
"Zeus begged me to kill him," Hercules revealed. "It was the one thing he could not do... kill his own son. Even though the son wanted the father's kingdom."
"Hercules, he was trying to kill you. You had to defend yourself."
"I fought him to save you and all the others. He wouldn't have stopped until everyone was dead. I couldn't let that happen."
"Then I thank you," Iolaus replied, punching his friend on the upper arm. "For whatever your reason, I am grateful."
"Greed and the thought of power had made him insane," Hercules added. "Death was the only option. I-I want to think that he would have wanted death rather than the existence he was living."
"I'm sure you're right," Iolaus agreed, then stifled a yawn. "Sorry."
"Think you can get back to sleep?" Hercules asked, looking to the sky to check the moon's progress.
"Yeah," Iolaus replied, hiding another yawn behind his hand. "But let's get an early start home. I've got to get the weeds out of my corn. And I miss my little boy."
"You know," Hercules agreed, "that little plot of ground I've tilled is beginning to look better all the time. And I can't wait to tell the kids this story.... parts of it, anyway."
"So...is your wanderlust over?" Iolaus asked.
Hercules thought for a moment, before replying. " I think so. I realize that what I've missed isn't so much the journeys we've been on, but our comradeship. We've got to stay in touch more often than we have. Farms and vegetables and manure can't take the place of conversation with a good friend."
"You've got a point there," Iolaus agreed. Holding out his hand, he offered it to Hercules. "Let's make a pact to stay together...no matter what."
Hercules grasped Iolaus' arm. "Agreed. No matter what."
"But Herc?" Iolaus questioned. "You think maybe we could just go fishing the next time?"
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