Downtime: The Mother of All Monsters Challenge

by Ziggy

Author's note: The Challenge asked to chronicle how Iolaus and Alcmene got a wounded Hercules home. I decided to handle just the first night on their way back to Thebes.

Hugging her tall son to her as they started down the trail towards home, Alcmene remarked, "Hercules, you make a mother proud."

Still chuckling, Iolaus scampered in front of the two, asking, "Hercules, ready for a home-cooked meal?"

"Anything's better than what you have to offer, Iolaus," the demigod teased.

"Oh, really?" the blond warrior remarked with feigned indignation. "Well, then, the next time we rush off on a rescue mission while you're wounded, *you* can do the hunting and cooking!"

Alcmene, arm still tightly around Hercules, chuckled. "Oh, Iolaus."

Iolaus smiled, but it faded as he regarded the demigod. He knew it had only been anxiety over his mother's welfare that had allowed Hercules to push himself beyond even his seemingly inexhaustible endurance to get to Echidna's cave. Iolaus had been lucky to get him to stop to rest or to even take a little longer break to eat on their way there. Now that the danger was past, the hunter knew it was just a matter of time before Hercules collapsed from exhaustion and his wound. Maybe now, with Alcmene's help, he could get the big man to rest.

"Hey," Iolaus remarked as he continued to sidestep in front of mother and son, "how about we stop for the night? We certainly won't make it all the way back to Thebes before dark and I think we could all do with some downtime."

Instantly knowing his friend's motivations for making such a comment, Hercules scolded, "You don't have to do this for me, Iolaus, I'm fine."

"Yeah, *you're* fine," Iolaus agreed, even though inside he didn't believe the taller man's admission for all the ambrosia on Olympus, "but some of us aren't half-god."

Alcmene caught the quick look her "chosen son" tossed her way. "Iolaus is right, Hercules. It *has* been a tiring day."

"Mother, I'm *fine,*" Zeus' son insisted, a low growl putting an edge to his voice.

"Don't you take that tone with me, young man!" Alcmene rebuked, fully on Mother Mode. "We are going to stop for the night and no argument from you!"

It was all Iolaus could do to keep a triumphant grin off his face. Only Alcmene could get away ordering the demigod around in that tone of voice and live to tell about it. He saw the look of resignation cross Hercules' face and knew they had managed to win this battle.

They left the main road, finding a small clearing to set up camp. After gathering enough wood, Iolaus got a campfire going as Alcmene got her son settled. Iolaus could see the flash of pain in the demigod's blue eyes as the adrenaline that had kept him going before now wore off. Thank the gods they'd gotten him to camp before he'd collapsed on the trail.

"I'm going to get us some dinner," Iolaus said, flashing a quick look at Hercules before giving Alcmene a reassuring smile, "I won't be long."

The hunter set off quickly, backtracking to Echidna's cave. Fortunately, they hadn't traveled far from the cave before stopping, so he didn't have to waste much time getting back there. After a quick search, he took a couple of items from the horseless wagon. He reflected on the loss of the wagon's horse, but when they'd chased off Hera's archers' mounts as a diversion, the unhitched horse had bolted with the others.

Fortunately, Hercules' wound was healing quickly, thanks in part to his demigod status, so the hike back to Thebes wouldn't kill him; however, he would still be weak and vulnerable for the next few days, especially now that the battle with Echidna was over and his mother was safe. With those thoughts in his mind, Iolaus quickened his steps, not wanting to leave mother and son alone for too long.

The blond warrior couldn't believe his luck when he practically stumbled upon the two quail in the brush. Swiftly, he dispatched the birds, adding a quick word of thanks to Artemis. It was just too coincidental that the quail had been there, especially considering the amount of noise the hunter had been making in his rush to get the supplies back to camp. Iolaus knew Artemis had a soft spot for her half-brother and, Hercules had once told him, Iolaus himself.

He made sure to make some noise as he approached the campsite. He didn't want to startle Alcmene, but he hadn't counted on the reception he received. He caught sight of the swinging branch just in time to throw himself sideways, shoulder-rolling back onto his feet as he dropped the items he was carrying. Hands up in a defensive gesture, he froze, dumbstruck, as he saw Hercules' mother hefting a large, dead tree limb.

Quickly raising his hands palms-up, he stated, "Whoa, easy, Alcmene! It's only me!"

Dropping the limb with a sigh of relief, Alcmene said, "I'm sorry, Iolaus! When I heard something coming through the brush, I wasn't sure what to think!"

Chuckling, the hunter answered, "And here I thought I was making all this noise so I *wouldn't* scare you!"

"Oh, Iolaus, I *am* sorry," Alcmene very contritely apologized again.

"It's all right," Iolaus assured with an easy grin. "At least, I didn't have to worry so much about leaving you alone." He picked up the field-dressed quail and held them out. "Want to start on dinner?"

"Of course, dear."

Walking towards Hercules' obviously sleeping form, he queried, "How is he?"

"Sleeping. He's exhausted."

*I know the feeling,* Iolaus thought, though he wouldn't voice this assessment. His own muscles screamed for a rest and his jaw still ached where Demetrius had hit him, but he pushed aside his own discomforts. Plenty of time to rest when they got Hercules back home and safe.

He knelt by his friend's side, carefully lifting the bloodstained yellow jerkin to examine the freshly rebandaged wound underneath. There was no sign of fever and, for that, Iolaus was grateful. Picking up one of the two blankets he'd found in the wagon, the compact warrior covered Hercules with it before turning back to help Alcmene fix dinner.

Iolaus set down his half-eaten dinner. Even "roughing it," Alcmene managed to whip up a delicious meal, but it was everything the warrior could do to keep his eyes open. Hercules had insisted they travel the entire night to get to Echidnaís cave and Iolaus had pushed himself beyond his own high levels of endurance to stay with his friend. Elbows on his knees, he rested his chin on the palms on his hands and stared dreamily into the softly crackling fire. Slowly, his eyelids descended.

"Iolaus?"

The soft questioning voice startled him; Iolaus jerked upright, blinking rapidly to clear his blurring eyesight. "Huh?" He found himself staring into Alcmeneís concerned face. "Oh, Alcmene, Iím sorry."

"You two traveled all night to rescue me, didnít you?" It was more a statement than a question and Iolaus knew better than to deny it.

"Well, you had quite a head start on us," Iolaus admitted. "We barely made it in time as it was."

"Youíre as exhausted as Hercules. Even wounded, his immortal blood gives him a strength most mortals canít keep up with. He shouldnít have pushed you so hard!"

"He didnít!" the hunter corrected quickly. Seeing the startled look his friendís mother gave him at the sharp tone, he added, less harsh, "I pushed myself. I couldnít let anything happen to you, either. Youíre family to me, as well."

Alcmeneís features softened as she gazed at Herculesí best friend. As she had done so many, many times in the past, she thanked the Fates for putting this brave and loyal man in her sonís life. She reached out and gently touched Iolausí cheek. "The feeling is more than mutual, Iolaus."

A moan forestalled whatever comment the hunter would have made. Quickly, they both moved to Herculesí side as the demigod opened his eyes.

"Well, look who decided to rejoin the living!" Iolaus commented.

Shifting, Hercules opened his mouth to retort, but it turned into a hiss of pain as the movement affected his wounded side. Gritting his teeth, he silently accepted Alcmeneís worried ministrations as she felt his forehead and cheeks for fever.

"Youíre still in pain, arenít you?" she asked unnecessarily.

"Iím fine. Is that quail I smell?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"Yes, are you hungry?"

"For your cooking, Mother, you bet!"

Iolaus straightened. "How do you know your mother cooked and not me?"

Hercules eyed his friend dubiously. "You? You donít cook. Besides, it doesnít smell burnt."

"Thanks," Iolaus muttered, slightly peeved.

Alcmene smiled at the hunterís reaction; however, her attention fell back to Hercules as she saw her son prepare to get up. "No, Hercules, you rest. Iíll bring dinner to you."

"Iím fine, Mother, really," the bigger man insisted as he tried to get up. Alcmene grasped his shoulder tightly and pushed him back down. The surprised look on Herculesí face made Iolaus giggle.

"Youíre enjoying this, arenít you?" Hercules stated, giving his friend a dark look.

"What?" Iolaus tried unsuccessfully to keep a smile off his face.

"This," the demigod gestured to his prone, blanketed form.

"You bet!" Iolaus grinned widely.

"You know where you can go," Hercules remarked, scowling, "though I donít think Hades wants you either!"

"If you were fully functional, I *might* be worried," the blond shot back.

The son of Zeus looked at Alcmene and mock-whined, "Mother, heís picking on me."

Alcmene laughed. "Will you two stop already?" The twinkling in her eyes took the edge off the command in her voice. "Now, you *rest,*" she ordered her son. She wagged a finger at Iolaus. "And you, stop picking on him! I will not be held responsible for what he does to you after heís back on his feet!"

For once silent, Iolaus just nodded his head in resignation.

Hercules, however, objected. "Mother!"

"Hercules!" she shot back, using the same exasperated tone as her son.

Again, Iolaus giggled; however, he beat a hasty retreat beyond armsí reach as his best friend shot him another threatening glare. He withdrew to the sanctum of the fire and got Herculesí share of their meal warmed up. He grinned as, behind him, the demigodís protests became fewer as Alcmene convinced him of the wisdom of her ways. Not even the gods had anything on Alcmene in full Mother Mode.

Hercules ravenously finished off his dinner and reluctantly allowed Alcmene to fuss over him--checking his wound, making sure he wasnít feverish, tucking the blanket around his large frame to keep him warm. His weak protests fell on deaf ears, but, deep down, he had to admit it was a nice to be cared for so adamantly.

Iolaus remained scarce for the rest of the night, allowing mother and son to have some time alone. He slowly finished his own meal and chewed thoughtfully as he stared into the campfire. A couple times he caught himself on the verge of dropping off to sleep, but forced himself to remain awake. Approaching footsteps drew his attention from his inner thoughts and he smiled a greeting as Alcmene settled beside him.

"He's finally sleeping again," she answered his unspoken question.

Brushing dirt from his hands, the hunter replied, "Not a bad idea. We should do the same."

Alcmene gazed into the blond warriorís tired eyes. "Iolaus, Hercules is very grateful to you for coming along. He appreciates your help and so do I." She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You are my third son."

Iolaus briefly met her gaze before quickly looking away, though not before Alcmene saw the brightness of tears filming his eyes. He stretched over to grab the second blanket where it lay in a heap, then held it out to his best friendís mother.

"What about you?" Alcmene asked.

"Iím used to sleeping without. Go on," Iolaus shook the blanket to re-enforce his order, "take it!"

Slowly, Herculesí mother took the wool blanket. She smiled at the hunter. "Thank you." She stood and walked over to Hercules. She checked on her son one last time before lying down a short distance from him. Wrapping the blanket about her, Alcmene rolled onto her side and soon fell asleep.

Iolaus smiled at the two people he cared most for in the world. He blotted his eyes on one of his gauntlets before hugging his arms around his chest. The air was nippy and its coolness penetrated his sore jaw, making it ache. Yawning, he eased himself down until he lay on his back. Eyes half-lidded, he stared through the break in the trees at the starry sky above. Sparks from the fire danced briefly in the air before vanishing forever.

Sighing contently, Iolaus nestled his chin into his shoulder, closed his eyes and allowed Morpheus to claim him.

4/17/99

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


Some images, characters and other things used in these works are the property of others, including but not limited to Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. Everything else remains the property of the artist or author. No money will be made on anything appearing on this webpage and no copyright infringement is intended. This site was created by fans for the enjoyment of other fans.

For information on reprinting text and/or artwork (including privately owned photos, photo manipulations, and other images) from this website, please contact Ceryndip , who will assist you in contacting the original creator of the piece. Do NOT reprint, republish, or in any way link to items on these pages without obtaining permission from either the original creator of the piece or the webpage owner. A written one-time use statement may be issued to you at the discretion of the artist or the author. Please respect the legal and artistic rights of our contributors.