Glancing down at her son's bloodstained shirt Alcmene's eyes widened in concern. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Hercules insisted looking away with a smile "I'm fine."
Alcmene turned to look at the blond that stood at her son's side, hands resting on his hips, glancing at the both of them sideways. "Iolaus couldn't you've--?"
"I tried, but you know what he's like." the hunter replied in exasperation throwing up his hands in helplessness. "Can we go home now?"
"Why, aren't you having fun here?" Hercules asked drily.
Iolaus shook his head and the three of the chuckled briefly. Hercules turned and started down the road, his mother and him linking arms.
"Hercules, you make a mother proud." Alcmene said with a fond smile at her tall son.
Iolaus ran a few steps to catch up to his friend, giggling. "Hercules, are you ready for a home cooked meal?"
"You mean, are *you* ready for a home cooked meal." Hercules pointed out slyly, suppressing a grin. "Y'know, sometimes I think you only hang around for the food."
Iolaus snorted irreverently. "Are you kidding? If I only hung around for the food, I'd live with your mother, not travel around with you trying to get you to take care of yourself once in a while!"
It was then that Hercules realized that Iolaus had led them slightly off the path. "Home is that way, Iolaus! Don't tell me that without the smell of food you can't find it!" he teased.
"Have you forgotten the wagon?" Iolaus reminded him archly.
"Hercules there is no way that you are walking all the way home with that wound!" Alcmene scolded as she led her son to the waiting wagon. "I still can't believe that you would go traipsing around the countryside after me, bleeding everywhere."
"What, you just wanted me to abandon my mother?" the demigod countered throwing up his hands and nearly loosing his balance. Iolaus was immediately at his side to steady him, grin on his face.
"Well enough heroics for one day Herc. Lets get you home and in bed where Alcmene can patch you up properly."
"It's not that bad, really. It's just a little messy." Hercules rationalized, gingerly touching his blood soaked shirt.
"Those big blue eyes may work on some people but you're all talk!" Iolaus told him with amused firmness as he helped Alcmene get his friend comfortable in the wagon bed. "You're running on a battle-high and you'll be as weak as a kitten once it wears off."
Hercules shot him a look, eyebrow raised.
"Well, okay!" Iolaus amended slapping his hands on his knees. "Weak as an ox A really, really-- strong ox. Geez, try to use mortal metaphors on half-immortal, stubborn, thick headed, patients . . ." the hunter muttered to himself, hiding a smile as he hopped over into the driver's seat. "
..... I swear I don't know *why* I bother sometime. . ."
Alcmene laughed silently at the blonde's tirade as she made herself comfortable at her son's side before beginning to peel away his yellow linen shirt to look at the wound underneath.
Hercules hissed between his teeth as she pulled the cloth away from his soaked bandage.
"How does it look?" Iolaus asked peering over his shoulder as the horses made a fair pace down the road.
"Not good." Alcmene replied, worry etched on her features.
"You know I am sitting right here!" Hercules interjected eyes wide at the conversation going on over his head.
"Some people just want to be the center of attention all around the sundial." Iolaus told Alcmene shaking his head in mock disapproval. Hercules rolled his eyes and shut his mouth. He refused to be baited.
She smiled at her "sons" briefly. "What type of arrow caused this?"
"One forged by Hephaestus. Usually they kill anything they're aimed at." the hunter replied darkly, brow knotted as he heard the scream of agony from his best friend echo in his ears once again.
Suddenly he felt a hand whap him lightly on the leg. "Hey." a soft voice intruded.
"Hey what?" Iolaus asked shortly looking down at his brother over his shoulder.
"Don't think about it. You saved my life." Hercules reminded him quietly as the wagon rocked in the ruts of the path.
Iolaus grunted non commitally and the demigod sighed. There was no talking to the hunter when he got it into his head that he had messed up. *Come to think of it, Hercules considered *that sounds a lot like me!*
They made good time, all things considering. Iolaus watered the horses occasionally on the way and Alcmene stripped some passing vegetation of their leaves to make a poultice for the arrow wound. Hercules drifted in and out, obviously exhausted from his long trek and the subsequent fight. Sometimes the demigod would come half awake to find his mother sadly staring at the passing scenery, and then no words were needed, he simply reached out and took her hand letting her know she was not alone.
When the demigod truly woke he found himself tucked in his own bed again, dawn of a new day breaking, brightening the room with stray rays of light.
Hercules felt as if he'd been through the wringer. His side ached fiercely, and he had to admit, getting up was not an act he looked forward to. He turned his head and was greeted by the familiar sight of his best friend, golden head resting on his arms ontop of a table sleeping deeply, breathing slow and peaceful.
Smiling at the still form of his partner, Hercules decided to ignore his body's numerous warnings and attempt to sit up.
Like someone had just struck him with lightning Iolaus jerked awake and glared at Hercules in disapproval that would have made even Alcmene proud.
"Just *what* do you think you're doing?" Iolaus asked archly as he pulled himself and his chair away from the table and closer to the edge of the bed. "I nearly break my back getting you into bed and now you want to leave?" Slapping his leg in mock exasperation Iolaus shook his head "Well that's gratitude for you!"
Hercules grinned at the tirade, knowing it was all in fun by the mischievous gleam in his brother's eyes. "I thought you were asleep."
"I was asleep."
"Then how did you--?" Hercules began slightly baffled.
"Old hunter's trick." Iolaus nodded sagely. "Contrary to *some* people's beliefs they *DO* work!"
Hercules laughed silently feeling much better already. *If Asclepius could bottle some of Iolaus' spirit, I bet it would be the best medicine of all.*
"Are you all right?" Iolaus suddenly interjected, filling the silence.
Hercules nodded and almost as one they both reached out and grasped each other's wrists tightly. It was only a sound from outside the room that finally pulled their eyes away.
"Hercules!" Alcmene greeted her son with a smile, coming in to the room and reaching over the bed to feel the demigod's brow for fever. "How are you feeling?"
"Better." Hercules announced watching relief replace worry in his mother's eyes. Slowly he began to sit up in bed, wincing slightly. Iolaus reached out wordlessly to help him and he was soon propped comfortably up against the headboard.
"Let me just get rid of this and I'll bring you that home cooked meal." Alcmene promised as she began to leave, winking at a suddenly alert and hungry Iolaus.
"Uh Mother? Where are you going with that?" Hercules asked pointing to his yellow shirt that she held balled up in her hand.
"It's blood soaked Hercules! No amount of washing will get this stain out!" Alcmene replied from the doorway gesturing in distaste at the soiled garment.
"So what are you doing?" Hercules pressed.
"I'm going to cut it up to make dishrags."
"No! Wait!" Hercules held up his hands to stop her and nearly swung himself out of bed if Iolaus hadn't pressed him back. "That's my favorite shirt!"
"I know, but you've got dozens like then Hercules." Alcmene said more than a little bewildered by her son's strange behavior and attachment to the shirt. "Wear another one. Or wear a different shirt for once. I swear anyone would think you only have one set of clothing." Alcmene mused aloud laughing softly.
Iolaus smiled and spread his hands expressively. "He does only have one set of clothing!"
"Iolaus!" Hercules hissed trying to shush his irrepressible friend.
"Oh really Iolaus!" Alcmene laughed thinking it was another joke. She glanced over at her son and saw Hercules avoiding her gaze sending obvious looks of displeasure at Iolaus, and her mirth faded "He's telling the truth?" she asked in astonishment stepping back to the foot of the bed. "Hercules! You've been wearing this for- for years!" she sputtered shaking the offending article of clothing at her shamefaced son. "No wonder it smells the way it does! How often do you even wash this?"
"Well . . ." Hercules began tentatively but not before throwing Iolaus a dirty look. The hunter was all too pleased with himself. He sat back in his chair, hand raised to cover his smile, his body shaking with laughter at the sight of Alcmene scolding the strongest man on earth.
"And your pants." His mother all but moaned in disgust as she snatched them off the nearby dresser before Hercules could reach out and rescue them from his mother's wrath.
"For the gods sake why didn't you tell me? I cannot have my son wandering around all of Greece in one set of clothing! Its bad for your health!" Alcmene stamped her foot trying not to hold her son's clothes to close to her. "What will people think Hercules? Your own mother not taking care of her son!!"
Hercules tried in vain to find some argument to placate his mother but no words would come and he finally gave up trying and shrugged weakly in defeat.
"Remember Hercules, you're not supposed to bleed all over Greece or wear the same clothes." Iolaus put in laughing.
Hercules swung around and glared at the hunter and slowly started to smile.
Iolaus didn't like the looks of that and sat up quickly and warily.
"Well it's not like Iolaus has ever changed his clothes either." Hercules defended himself, implicating his friend instead mischievously. "You've been wearing that vest for years and I don't think it was that color when you put it on."
Alcmene wheeled around to examine her son by heart closely and came to a rapid decision. "Iolaus! Take it off now!"
"You can't cut this one up!" Iolaus protested.
"I won't but it and you are going to wash up! NOW!"
"I just had a bath!" Iolaus said throwing up his hands. "And my vest's fine! It's more comfortable this way." he murmured hands fingering the patches.
Alcmene crossed her arms and began tapping her foot. "Are you going to give me it or do I have to take it from you!?"
Iolaus' look of disbelief and humorous chagrin at her threat was quickly replaced with an expression of astonishment as she put down Hercules' clothes and advanced on the hunter.
Backing up hurriedly with his chair scrapping on the floor he held up his hands in defeat. "All right, all right, I'm doing it, I'm doing it!"
"Rassum Frassum." Iolaus mumbled trying to ignore Hercules' amused smirk as he slipped out of his vest "Here."
"And the pants."
Alcmene pulled on his arm to get him out of his chair and then shooed him back. "Get behind the screen! Go on!"
Hercules saw his chance and reached out to snag his shirt and pants back. Despite what his mother said he was sure that he could get the stains out somehow. However Alcmene slapped him lightly on the wrist without turning around to face him.
"Stop moving or you'll open your wound Hercules." she said trying to hide the smile in her voice. "and don't think that I didn't know what you were doing telling on Iolaus!"
A hand shot out from behind the screen with the last piece of the hunter's clothing. "Thank you." Alcmene said graciously as if she hadn't had to practically wrestle the clothes off her boys' backs. "I'll have the water in a minute Iolaus just wait. Now if you will excuse me, I have three years of laundry to do!"
Iolaus peeked around the screen and watched as Alcmene left the room. Wrapping a cloth around his waist he went back over to his chair hesitating before sitting at the sound of Alcmene's peals of laughter.
Hercules found himself smiling, glad his mother was feeling better. As for Iolaus however . . .
"Thanks a lot Herc." Iolaus muttered in disgust but stole furtive amused glances at his injured friend from the corner of his eye.
"Hey," Hercules replied with a winning smile. "What are brother's for?"
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