Prometheus - Unbound - missing scenes

by Melisande

As Prometheus shouted his defiance to the sky, Hercules swung Xena to her feet. She looked at him triumphantly and found the same emotion was mirrored in his ice-blue eyes.

"We did it!" she exclaimed. "And without having to strike the blow directly."

"We did, didn't we?" he replied, grinning. "I told you we made a good team."

All at once, he looked back toward the cave entrance, and the triumph in his face turned to worry. "But speaking of teams, I've got to get back to Iolaus." Suiting action to words, Hercules ran back to the cave entrance, and secured the rope back into place to make the climb down faster. Xena was right behind him.

"What's your hurry? Prometheus is free, so we have his gifts again, don't we?" she asked, panting, as they made their way back down the wall. "Iolaus should be well when we get back."

"No. I wish that could be the case, but I don't think it will be," Hercules answered, as he reached the cave floor. "Prometheus cannot change whatever happened to mortals injured or killed while he was bound. We can heal ourselves again now, but Iolaus has been this long without any healing to his wound. Even though it's small, he lost a lot of blood, because his blood never clotted. So that has made him weak, which will affect his ability to heal."

Xena reached the cave floor and dislodged the rope spike, catching it as it fell. Her healer's experience prompted her to add, "If that's the case, then also the disease humors will have had more time to affect the wound, and make it go bad."

Hercules nodded, a worried frown creasing his forehead. "Let's go." They walked for some moments in silence, but all at once Hercules began to speak, as though unable to hold the words in.

"If he's gotten himself sick, I'm going to kill him. Why does he have to be so stubborn? He could have told us back at the barn yesterday that he'd been hurt, and he could have rested there. But no, instead he had to push on with us, traveling hard all this way and using up the energy he needed to heal."

Xena recognized this tirade for the fear and worry it represented, but offered, "He had to come, Hercules. I saw his face when we began talking about what would happen to whomever struck the blow that freed Prometheus. You hadn't told him, had you?"

Hercules shook his head guiltily, his anger draining. "I knew what he would say."

Xena nodded. "He knew why you hadn't told him, but he also knew it was useless to tell you not to finish what you had started. But he had to see it through with you, Hercules. And if you had been the one to strike the blow, would it have mattered to him that he wouldn't heal?"

Hercules said nothing, but his jaw set and he began to walk faster. Xena followed, worried about both her friends.

When the fire had gone out, Gabrielle had been afraid -- not of the darkness but for herself and all other mortals left without the gifts of Prometheus. Fire and healing -- and much more. Everyone knew that all the gifts of civilization had flowed from the original gift of fire. What would happen to a bard in a world without story, without song?

Most of all thought, she was afraid for the man whose head lay pillowed in her lap. Iolaus had lapsed into unconsciousness before she had ever finished her last story, she thought. Now, he lay in a troubled delirium, his face and body burning with fever. She had called his name moments ago, and he stirred slightly, but he didn't waken, only mumbled in his fever-dream.

Abruptly, Iolaus' body spasmed briefly, as though he had been startled. His cornflower-blue eyes opened and slowly focused on Gabrielle's dimly visible face just above his, and he stared at her without recognition for a moment. Suddenly, remembrance came flooding back.

"Ah, Gabrielle," he said, with an assumption of gaiety. "How nice to wake up to you, especially after *that* dream."

"And what dream was that?" she asked gently, smiling as she smoothed back his damp blond curls.

Iolaus' long, thick eyelashes rested on his cheeks as his eyes closed against the memory. "A nightmare. I dreamed that Hercules struck the blow," he replied.

Gabrielle's eyes closed against the tears caused by the pain cracking Iolaus' voice, the same pain that tore at her own heart. "A terrible dream," she whispered. "I've been seeing Xena strike the blow in my imagination. I can't even hope for it not to be her, because if it's not Xena, it will be Hercules...and how can we do without either of them?"

Iolaus did not answer -- could not answer -- for a moment. He took a deep breath and swallowed convulsively, then finally found his voice.

"I don't know," he whispered. "Hercules has been my friend so long that I can't really remember life without him." His throat worked again, and his voice, though strained, was strengthened by passion. "It makes me so angry, sometimes."

"At the gods?" Her tone was puzzled.

"No, that's a given. At Hercules. He didn't tell me, you know. About the sword. The way it will destroy the one who strikes the blow to free Prometheus. He's always doing that ! Helping everyone, protecting everyone, even me, sometimes at a terrible cost to himself. I didn't understand why he was so mad at Xena for taking the sword, and it puzzled me. Wasn't like him. And rather than tell me, than include me in the situation, he lied to me."

"He didn't want to be forced to fight Xena *and* you for the sword," she replied gently. "He knew what you would do, what you would feel, knowing he might strike the blow. Besides which, didn't you do the same thing by not telling him about the wound?"

Iolaus' grimness melted into strained laughter. "Maybe so, but he did it first."

She laughed with him. "I know what you mean, though. It's really irritating sometimes. Xena does the same kind of thing to me."

He looked up at her, his blue eyes fever-bright. "Gabrielle -- if Hercules does make it, and I don't , please don't leave him for awhile, okay? He may say he needs to be alone, but don't leave him. He'll need you."

"Iolaus," she said, brokenly, "I don't think --"

"Ssh," he whispered gently, smiling. "Let me finish. I want you to tell Hercules something for me, when you think he's ready to hear it. Tell him ... tell him I've always been proud to be his blood brother. And tell him my love will always be with him."

Gabrielle could only nod; her voice was suspended by tears. Iolaus' eyes closed at her acknowledgment. She realized he was shaking with chills, and that they were growing stronger.

Suddenly, the torch flamed up. Gabrielle gasped and looked around at the flame. Iolaus dragged his eyes open, and looked up at Gabrielle with a slight smile. She smiled back reassuringly and her arms tightened around him.

"Prometheus is unbound," she whispered. "Mankind is saved."

Iolaus nodded, but his smile died. "Yes," he replied, wretchedly. "But one of our friends must be dead," he answered. His voice lowered. "And I don't know of any way it would not be Hercules." His cornflower eyes closed on tears as he was wracked by another great chill.

Gabrielle could not answer, though she felt the same way about Xena.Iolaus' head suddenly lolled weakly against her arm. "Iolaus? Please, Iolaus!" she cried, her tears flowing freely. "No, Iolaus! Please, no!"

But there was no answer.

Hercules and Xena strode as quickly as possible through the narrow, dangerous cave passages, silent now for fear the sound of their voices would trigger another fall of stones. Just as Hercules thought the way back had doubled in length, they turned a corner and saw Gabrielle sitting in a pool of torch light, with Iolaus' head pillowed in her lap.

"No, Iolaus!" Gabrielle was sobbing as she bent over the blond hunter's still form. "Please no!"

Xena, her own heart sinking, her a sharp intake of breath beside her. She turned to see Hercules reach out blindly to grab the stone wall next to him, as though he would fall if not steadied. His face went bone white and his ice-blue eyes were bereft.

"Oh, no," he whispered hoarsely.

"Gabrielle!" Xena said gently, striding to the pair. "Is he dead?"

Gabrielle looked up, her eyes streaming with tears. "I don't know -- I don't know! I can't wake him."

Xena knelt beside them. With a practiced hand, she felt for the pulse in the large vessel in Iolaus' corded neck. It throbbed weakly and rapidly under her fingers.

"He lives," she whispered, and smiled up at Gabrielle. She looked at Iolaus carefully, felt his face and hands, and checked the wound cursorily. "The bleeding has stopped, but he is very ill."

Xena looked back at Hercules, who had not moved, still staring in shock at Iolaus' still form. She stood and walked back to him. "Hercules," she said, gently, touching his arm. "Iolaus is alive."

Hercules blinked and looked down at her with eyes like aquamarines through the jeweled lenses of tears. "You're sure?" he asked, quietly, wonderingly.

She nodded. "He has a high fever, though, and I think the wound is going bad. He's not out of the woods yet."

Hercules swallowed convulsively, forbidding the tears to fall. Then he straightened and nodded. "What do you think we should do?"

"We need to get him closer to the entrance of the cave. There's a spring outside. We'll need the water and the shelter the cave will provide. We may be here for a while."

Hercules walked past her to kneel beside Gabrielle and Iolaus. He studied Iolaus' face for a moment with an expression on his beautiful face from which the young bard had to look away, it tore at her heart so much. When he raised his head, Gabrielle turned back and found him smiling gratefully at her.

"Thank you for taking care of him, Gabrielle," he said, with simple sincerity. She nodded, unable to speak over the sudden thumping of her heart. Hercules gathered up Iolaus' compact but muscular form with ease, and stood.

"Lead the way," he said tersely. Gabrielle caught up the torch and the three of them made their way back through the remainder of the tunnel.

When they reached the large chamber near the entrance, Xena said, "I'm going to get water and start a fire. Gabrielle, gather some pine and eucalyptus boughs and make Iolaus a bed. He doesn't need to lie on this cold, hard floor." She exited the cave.

Gabrielle looked at Hercules, still somewhat uneasy around him. "I'll be back in just a moment." She ran outside, blinking in the sunset brilliance, located the proper trees and cut the boughs with her belt knife. She reentered the cave with her arms full of the fragrant bundle and stood for a moment on the threshold, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimness. As they did so, she glimpsed a picture that wrung her heart with pathos.

Hercules had found a resting place on a ledge that jutted from the cave wall. He sat , cradling Iolaus in his arms. Iolaus was sweat-slicked and mumbled occasionally in delirium. His head rested on Hercules' broad shoulder, and the demigod's sun-kissed brown head rested against the tousled blond waves. Hercules' eyes were closed and he was murmuring, "Ssh," as though to a sleepy child, as he rocked his friend gently back and forth. Gabrielle felt as though she had trespassed upon holy ground. She backed up quietly and made more noise just outside the cave as she entered.

This time, though he still cradled Iolaus in his arms, Hercules head was erect and he looked at her with a smile as she entered. "I'll put them over here against this far wall where he'll be sheltered from the entrance and be warmer." As she put the boughs in place, she continued speaking. "I'll try to arrange them so he will be the most comfortable, then now I'll go out and get one of our blankets from Argo's saddlebags --"

As Gabrielle jumped up, still babbling, Hercules' deep voice stopped her. "Gabrielle?"

She looked at him and saw a bemused smile lighting the ice-blue eyes. But all he said was, "You're doing well. Thank you."

She took a deep breath and smiled at him, feeling much less intimidated. "You're welcome, Hercules. I'll be back in a moment." Gabrielle ran out of the cave, passing Xena kneeling beside a fledgling fire, and reached the place where Argo was tethered. She opened a pack and retrieved two blankets. Returning to the cave, she spread one out over the fragrant branches.

"Ready now," she told Hercules. The big man stood and carried his unconscious friend to the makeshift bed and stooped to lay him gently down upon it. When Iolaus was settled, Gabrielle spread the other blanket out over him -- just in time, because Iolaus was beginning to shiver with chills again.

After helping Hercules tuck the blanket tightly around Iolaus, Gabrielle said, "I'm going to go out and see if Xena needs help. Is there anything else I can do for you, Hercules?"

"No ... wait, yes, there is. I need some leaves from those witch hazel bushes growing in the clearing and a root from the echinacea plants nearby. Also, strip some bark from those willows and elders growing by the spring. Can you remember all that?" he asked smiling up at her as she rose to follow his instructions.

Gabrielle nodded. "Witch hazel leaves, echinacea root, willow and elder bark."

"That's right," Hercules confirmed, and Gabrielle sped out of the cave. At the fire, Xena was waiting for water to boil in the small kettle while she examined the contents of her small medicine pouch spread out on a clean strip of linen.

"I'm collecting some herbs for Hercules. Is there anything you need ?" Xena nodded. "Yes. I think we passed some hollyhocks in bloom in that field just beyond those trees. Please dig up one of the plants, roots and all and bring it also."

"Hollyhocks, right." As Gabrielle hastened away, Xena saw that the water was boiling. She carefully poured a small amount of the water into a bowl, chose another small bowl and a piece of soap root, and wrapped them in a length of linen. As she rose from the fireside, Hercules appeared at the cave entrance, looking for her with worry etched into his face.

"His fever must be rising again," he told her as they entered the cave together. "His chills are terrible, but his skin is hot and dry."

She nodded. "Sounds like it. The ill humors are affecting his wound. Normally this would be too soon, but without any defenses at all, Iolaus was obviously at greater risk."

They reached Iolaus' side and Xena saw that Hercules had understated the case. Iolaus' chills were almost convulsive. His face was gaunt and his lips were dry and parched.

"The things you sent Gabrielle after -- some of them I recognize, but some I don't. You know a lot about this." She glanced up at him as they knelt on either side of their unconscious friend.

As she laid out supplies, he stated, "Some. It seems you do, too."

Xena shrugged. "Mine is really just a battlefield understanding."

"That's a good place to start. What do you think we should do first?"

"Clean the wound with a solution from pounded soap root. I've seen terrible battle wounds that healed well as long as they were kept clean. There seems to be some magic in soap the disease humors can't stand."

"That sounds right to me, too," Hercules agreed. "I'll hold him up, you get his vest off."

For the next half hour, Xena and Hercules worked on cleaning Iolaus' wound and preparing medicines from the plant material Gabrielle soon brought back. The wound was larger and deeper than Iolaus had let on, which made Hercules at once angry at his friend's stubborn self-sacrifice but at the same time proud and amazed at his strength and courage.

As Xena finished washing the area with the soap solution, Hercules instructed Gabrielle to bring him the solution he had made from the witch hazel leaves. "It will help fight the disease humors, but it will sting like hell." As they cleaned the area Iolaus stirred and moaned.

"Now we've got to pour some on the inside," Hercules said, handing the bowl to Xena. "Disease humors seem to be pulled out by witch hazel, but it's really going to burn as it goes in. He'll probably waken and struggle. Gabrielle, if you'll hold his legs down, I'll hold his upper body and keep him in position. Xena, make sure as much of that gets inside the wound as possible."

Xena nodded. With a practiced hand, she pulled the lips of the wound apart gently but firmly and poured the aromatic liquid in and around it. A pink-tinged white foam bubbled out of the wound and Iolaus cried out and struggled against Hercules and Gabrielle. Hercules held him tightly and murmured softly to him.

Iolaus' eyes flew open. He looked up at Hercules' face with an unfocused, fever-bright gaze and blinked as realization dawned. He stopped struggling.

"Herc?" he whispered, staring up at his friend as though he couldn't believe his eyes. "This is not just another dream is it?" He reached up and touched his friend's face in wonder.

Hercules caught Iolaus' hand and squeezed it with a small portion of his great strength. "Okay, I'm convinced," Iolaus laughed weakly, fighting another chill. "You're real !" Clearing his throat, he spoke more clearly. "Y' know, I don't feel so good."

Hercules looked at him with some sternness. "That's partly your own fault, my hardheaded friend. You might be feeling a lot better if you had told us about your wound back at the barn."

Iolaus' voice strengthened a bit. "Oh, like you told me about the effect of striking the blow to free Prometheus?"

"Uh..." But before Hercules came up with an answer, Xena's continued work on his wound made Iolaus groan. Hercules took this opportunity to turn the subject. "Your wound needs some attention and we're taking care of that, now."

"We?" Iolaus' head turned in the direction of Hercules' nod and his eyes met Xena's. "Xena," he said slowly. "But I thought... one of you ...."

He turned to look back at Hercules. "I thought were dead," he said, in a voice of pain and wonder. "The torch flamed up again ... thought you'd struck the blow." A tear rolled from the corner of one eye and into his hair. "I thought you were gone, and there was no reason I shouldn't just follow."

Hercules shook his head, his throat working. A detached part of his mind pondered what he could have done to deserve such loyalty and love. Gabrielle wiped her eyes surreptitiously, and Xena set her jaw more firmly as she worked.

When Hercules could control his voice, he replied, quietly. "We were able to strike the blow with a different technique. Neither of us actually held the sword when it struck Prometheus' bonds."

"Would've liked to've seen that." Iolaus smiled faintly, despite another wracking chill. "Where's Gabrielle?"

"Right here!" the young bard replied, having regained her composure. She slid around Xena and into Iolaus' line of sight. Iolaus released Hercules' hand and caught hold of Gabrielle's.

"Thanks for staying with me," he told her, smiling with groggy sweetness. Looking back at Hercules, he said, "I don't think I could've made it without Gabrielle."

"I know," Hercules smiled at the blushing girl. "I've already let her know how grateful I am."

"I was just glad to be able to help," the young bard said happily. "Now everything will be all right."

Hercules glanced up to see a quick shadow of fear and worry pass over Xena's face at Gabrielle's optimism. His arms tightened involuntarily around Iolaus as though he could hold the smaller man's soul in place by force alone.

"I think the wound is as clean as we can make it, Hercules," Xena said after a moment. "Should we try to stitch it?"

After a brief discussion, they decided to leave the wound open, for fear of the inflammation that might need to drain. Over the wound they placed a poultice Xena had made from the hollyhock root, which would continue to draw out the poisons. Then they wound the bandaging cloth firmly around Iolaus' chest and tied it, a process that left him sick, faint and biting his lips to keep from crying out in pain. Xena patted Iolaus' shoulder and started to get up to help Gabrielle put supper together.

Iolaus caught her hand. "Thanks, Xena."

Xena squeezed his hand. "Hercules did most of it."

Iolaus shook his head, "No ... I mean, thanks for taking care of me, too. But mostly for making sure Herc didn't strike the blow."

Xena smiled at him gravely. "What are friends for?" she asked quietly, then released his hand and rose, leaving Hercules at Iolaus' side.

"Thanks for patching me up, Herc," Iolaus said, through another wracking chill. "I'm really glad it's over though."

"I knew it would really bad, so I made you some medicine." Hercules' voice was light, but the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth spoke volumes about his own pain.

"Not another one of those awful-tasting brews of yours," Iolaus whispered, with an attempt at his usual banter, but his eyes shut tight against the spinning dizziness in his head.

"Oh, but Gabrielle added some honey to this one." Hercules gently raised Iolaus' head and put the cup to his lips. Iolaus obediently swallowed the tea, brewed from willow and elder bark and echinacea root.

"Amazing," he said, as Hercules eased him back to the bed. "Not too bad."

"Thanks for your approval." Hercules tucked the blanket around him closely. "Now rest." The big man spoke lightly, but worry still lurked in his eyes.

"Good idea, Herc," Iolaus murmured. Hercules thought he was beginning to drop off, but in a moment Iolaus' eyes opened, and slowly focused on him. Iolaus said nothing, just looked at him, as though memorizing his features.

"What is it?"

"No good night kiss?" Iolaus said, sleepily, an irrepressible dimple appearing.

"Go to sleep, Iolaus," Hercules sighed, unable to keep from smiling.

Iolaus grinned, his eyes closing, and soon was asleep.

Xena awoke out of an uneasy doze in the depths of the moonlit night. Not certain what had wakened her, she glanced at Gabrielle, but the young bard was sleeping deeply nearby.

The sound came again, and Xena turned in the other direction. Hercules, illumined by the faint light of the moon and the small, flickering oil lamp from her carry sack, still sat at Iolaus' bedside. As far as she knew, he had not left it, despite her offers to watch the sick man. Nor had he eaten, despite her warnings and Gabrielle's pleas, but had heated broth from the pheasant Xena had stewed to give Iolaus to drink. The smaller man had drunk a little, then fallen into a heavier sleep.

But Xena realized that the blond hunter was no longer sleeping quietly, but tossing and muttering incoherently, and Hercules was trying to get him to drink something again.

Xena rose and walked softly to them. "You should've wakened me earlier," she chided gently as the son of Zeus glanced up at her. "Let me help."

Hercules nodded and handed her the cup, then pulled Iolaus up to rest against his chest. Iolaus fought feebly and muttered, "No, leave me alone. Got to find them."

"We will, Iolaus, we will," Hercules told him gently and caught the flailing hands. "You've got to drink this first."

"Herc?" Iolaus' eyes opened, briefly, but Xena's rising hope was dashed when she saw the blue orbs unfocused in delirium. "Where's Ania? And Theron? Got to find them."

"Drink this first, Iolaus. Stay with me," Hercules pleaded, trying to keep his friend's head and arms still so they could get the medicinal tea in him.

"Who's Ania? And Theron?" Xena asked Hercules quietly.

Hercules glanced up at her, fear and worry lining his face. "His wife and son."

Xena's eyes widened. "I never knew," she whispered.

"They both died seven years ago, and Iolaus very nearly did, too, from grief. He never speaks their names now," Hercules said, watching Iolaus with a shadow of that grief in his eyes.

Xena nodded. "We're going to get this in him," she said, determinedly. Pitching her voice slightly higher , she placed a cool hand on Iolaus' burning forehead, and said, coaxingly, "Iolaus!"

Iolaus continued to struggle for moment against Hercules' hold. "Iolaus!" Xena tried again, slightly louder but still gently. Iolaus stopped struggling and turned toward her voice. His eyes slowly opened, blinking and trying to bring her face into focus.

"Ania?" he whispered.

"Iolaus, you're so thirsty," the warrior princess said quietly. Hercules had never heard her voice so gentle. "Drink this; it will make you better."

She placed the cup to his lips, and Iolaus drank, grimacing at the taste. Xena was able to get him to drink the entire cupful, stroking his face and talking gently to him. When the tea was gone, his eyes were closing again. Hercules laid him back down.

"Thank you," he said, looking at her earnestly, his hand outstretched.

Xena clasped his hand briefly in acknowledgment, but said urgently, "Hercules, he's on fire! We've got to get his fever down."

Hercules nodded, his face set, but his eyes desolate, as he watched his friend begin to mutter in delirium again. "That's why I wanted to get more of the tea in him. It should help, but you're right, we've got to do more. What do you think?"

"Cool him down any way we can until the medicine had a chance to work." She glance up at him. "I'm going to the spring with everything that can hold water. Strip him of the rest of this clothes while I'm gone."

"Right." Hercules began to obey as she hurried out of the cave.

The next two hours were terrifying, busy ones. Xena brought back the cold spring water and some of the large, velvety leaves of the borage plant. They dipped the leaves into the icy spring water and covered Iolaus' skin with them, replacing them when Iolaus' occasional thrashing knocked them off, or when they were warmed by his body heat. Xena worried for both Iolaus and his best friend, because the wordless anguish of the son of Zeus grew with the growing crisis of Iolaus' illness.

During one brief period when Iolaus was sleeping a bit more peacefully, Xena glanced up at Hercules, and saw him place the heels of his hands over his eyes.

"Don't you want to rest for a bit?" she asked. "I'll stay right beside him." Hercules moved his hands, glanced at her and shook his head. "I can't. Not until I know he's okay."

Xena replied, "I guess I'd feel the same if it were Gabrielle."

Hercules smiled faintly. "You know, Xena, I think she had been good for you. You told me once that I unchained your heart, but I think she's taught your heart joy."

Xena nodded, glancing back at the dimmer corner where Gabrielle lay in exhausted slumber. "You're right. She can be irritating and exasperating, and talk the hind leg off a donkey, but she's everything I'm not and she fills a hole in my heart."

"And you've only been friends for ...what is it now, a year?" Hercules asked and she looked back at him with a nod. His blue eyes returned to his best friend, who was again beginning to stir slightly. "Wait till you've been friends for more than twenty-five years."

"Is that how long it's been for you and Iolaus?" she asked in some awe.

Hercules inclined his head. "Since we were almost ten. We met helping each other out in a brawl, and we've been fighting back-to-back ever since." His voice lowered and roughened. "I don't know what I'd do without him."

His very heart was in his eyes. She swallowed hard and had to look away. Iolaus began to mutter and thrash again, and their confidences were forced to stop.

A couple of hours before dawn, Iolaus reached his worst. Hercules and Xena worked to try to keep his body cooled, but it seemed to take more and more of the re-moistened leaves much faster. Xena found she could hardly bear to look at the wretched fear in Hercules face now. It seemed as if Hercules might have to learn how to live without his best friend.

Xena left to go to the spring again, almost running in the bright moonlight on the way there, walking carefully but quickly back, fearing that the worst might happen while she was gone. But from the sight that met her eyes when she returned, it seemed her fear had been realized, and Iolaus was dead.

For Hercules sat, cradling his friend's suddenly still body, his face pressed into Iolaus' matted curls, strangled sobs catching in his throat.

Xena dropped the bowls of water, and walked to the huddled pair. She placed a comforting hand on Hercules' shoulder, and whispered, "Oh, Hercules, I'm so very sorry."

Hercules lifted his head and looked at her. Though his eyes were smeared with tears, they were ablaze with a fierce joy.

"No, Xena, it's okay," he said, his voice catching. "Just after you left, I was taking off the leaves that were too warm, and I suddenly realized that they were getting wetter. See -- look --"

He laid Iolaus' body down , and Xena saw the sweat pouring from him. She touched his body wonderingly, and his skin was cool against her fingers. His pulse was slow and strong.

"His fever's broken!" Hercules said, pulling her into a hug. "We did it !"

Xena laughed and hugged him back. As they pulled apart, they saw Iolaus beginning to stir. Hercules carefully covered him up again with the blanket that had been discarded. His eyes slowly opened and focused on them, and it was clear that the delirium was gone.

"Xena ... Herc," he said, hoarsely. Hercules caught his hand and replied, "Yes, Iolaus, we're here. Are you okay?"


Hercules' smile vanished, and his worried frown returned. "What's wrong?"

Iolaus looked at him with limpid, dark-ringed blue eyes, but Xena could see the dimple beginning. "I'm starving, that's what's wrong. When's breakfast?"

Hercules and Xena both began to laugh. "I'm going to get you for worrying me like that, when you feel better," Hercules promised Iolaus, wiping his eyes from tears that were now joyous.

A small, sleepy voice from behind them asked, "Did I miss something?"

They turned to see Gabrielle sitting up, as the rosy light of dawn began to filter into the cave. They laughed again, and it felt wonderful. Xena walked over and pulled Gabrielle to her feet, and brought her to Iolaus' bedside with an arm around her shoulders.

"You did miss something, but that's okay," Xena replied, indicating the awake and aware Iolaus.

"But you woke up for the best part," Hercules added, glancing at his friend, grateful to see Iolaus' eyes look back at him with clear understanding, and with laughter.

"Yeah," Iolaus looked at Gabrielle, then back at Hercules with a grin. "Breakfast!"

And now the laughter of all four friends filled the cave, brightening with morning. The sound reached the ears of Prometheus, at the top of the hollow mountain, and he laughed, too.

For the healing and light of humankind was always what he had desired, after all.

Go on to the next story in the challenge.

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