The Log and the Pyre

by Owlharp

WARNING: This story contains very rough language.

"That'll do it!"

Hercules gave a final tug on the knot in the heavy rope that encircled a massive log, and climbed back up the steep river bank. Dusting off his hands, he commented to Iolaus, "If we can get this one pulled out of the way, the rest of the jam should break itself up!"

The log in question was on the downstream side of a thick tangle of timber and rock which choked the mouth of a narrow, steepsided canyon. Traces of waterweed and stained rock showed where the Reka River would flow under normal circumstances - racing through the canyon like a team of mad white horses and plunging over falls to land in a rocky pool a hundred feet below before running headlong on into the blue distance. But now only a feeble trickle made it through the wall of logs and stones.

Iolaus nodded, "Let's hope so! I've had enough of hauling logs and boulders to last me the rest of my life!"

The village of Zabylo had nearly been destroyed by the very river which provided its livelihood. The massive spring landslide which had blocked the narrow canyon caused the water to back up and flood the upper valley where the village stood. The villagers had been forced to retreat to higher ground, and it was there that Hercules and Iolaus - on the road back to Thebes during a rare break from Cheiron's stern tutelage - had found them. And that was how the two youths had spent the last several days, along with the men and some of the women of Zabylo: pulling, pushing, hauling, shoving and dragging a whole forest-full of logs and a mountain's worth of boulders out of the riverbed.

"Once the jam is gone, the river will go back to its proper course", added one of the villagers.

"We'll be able to get our houses dried out!" laughed another.

The eldest villager nodded a shaggy grey head at Hercules and Iolaus. "We're grateful to both you boys for all your help!"

Iolaus grinned, "Thamyris, you'd better wait and see if it works before you thank us!"

"Oh it'll work!" Hercules assured them. "We all just have to pull together! Everyone got a good grip on that rope?"

The villagers nodded. The rope encircled the huge log - as big around as Hercules was tall, with huge branches, big as tree trunks themselves. It ran up the steep side of the riverbank, over a crude framework of logs, and back down to where the folk of Zabylo stood in a line, ready to haul. Hercules stood closest to the edge to take the initial weight, with Iolaus at the far end of the rope.

"Ready?"

There were shouts of "Aye!"

"Heave! ....Heave! ...Heave!"

The rope grew taut as everyone strained to move forward, feet digging into the dirt, sweat pouring down faces. For what seemed like an hour, they pulled and tugged, but the log was not about to be moved. Finally Hercules called out "Rest!" Most of the villagers collapsed panting on the ground.

Iolaus came running back to the edge of the cliff. "That thing's not going anywhere!", he said, pointing down at the log.

"Oh you noticed?"

"Very funny!" Iolaus crouched down and peered down into the canyon. "Look - see that big white boulder there? I think that's our problem - it's resting on the end of the log and holding down a couple of the biggest branches."

Hercules looked to where his friend was pointing. "You're right. If we can just lever that rock up, I think that'll do the trick. Come on!"

Casually he snatched up a tree-trunk six inches in diameter and twelve feet long, balanced it on his shoulder, and headed down the steep bank to where the giant log lay half submerged in the river. The water rushed loudly and furiously through the tangle of logs and boulders that tried to block its way.

Hercules reached the log and walked nimbly across the top of it to where the boulder sat.

A sudden sound broke through the voice of the water. He looked up. Ranged along the clifftops were all the villagers, shouting and cheering.

"Go, Son of Zeus!"

"Hurray for Hercules!"

"Save our village!"

He was suddenly filled with pride and confidence. THIS was what he was meant to do. THIS was the proper use for his strength. What did it matter, if his Father ignored his very existence? He could use his divine heritage to help people like this and let their gratitude fill the nagging, gaping hole in his heart.

He abruptly felt a tingle throughout his limbs and body, giving him a feeling of power, like he had never felt before.

With a smile and a wave to the watching crowd, he hefted the treetrunk in the air, and was rewarded with a deafening wave of cheering. He shoved the end of the tree-trunk underneath the rock and heaved. Nothing. He heaved again. The boulder remained stubbornly in place. Straining, until the muscles in his neck and back stood out like cords beneath the brown skin, he leaned his entire weight up on the lever, but the rock was unimpressed and stayed exactly where it was.

"Damn it!" He felt a sudden anger. People were depending on him - and worse, people were watching him.

"Hey Herc!" It was Iolaus.

"What?!" He was vaguely astonished at the annoyance in his voice.

"You really ought to be on a rope!"

"Huh?" He was studying the huge white rock intently. A darker spot under one edge looked promising ... if he just shoved the log in there -

"I'm bringing a rope down!"

Would Iolaus ever shut up and let him work? "Yeah. Whatever."

Nimbly Iolaus scrambled down the rocky bank, a rope wrapped around his waist, with one end anchored by several of the villagers. Hercules watched him for a moment, and went back to studying the boulder. Definitely, that shadow was the spot to try.

Iolaus reached the edge of the bank and stepped lightly out onto the great log, just as Hercules gave an experimental shove on his lever.

There was a loud grinding noise as the boulder suddenly slid down off the end of log. The log began to shift with the motion of the water. Hercules and Iolaus struggled to keep their footing as it rolled and pitched beneath them. Iolaus frantically snatched several lengths of the rope from around him and tossed the end in his friend's direction. With a desperate lunge Hercules caught it.

There came a sound like thunder.

With a violent explosion the river, released from its prison, forced its way through the log jam, hurling rocks and logs aside like straws, sweeping away everything that had held it back - including the great log where the two youths had been standing.

Screams of horror arose from the villagers standing atop the riverbank. Some of them began to run along the top of the bank in a desperate race with the churning wall of water that plunged between the canyon walls. The great log bobbed once to the surface of the boiling brown flood and then plunged under and disappeared. The noise was deafening - rocks and timber grinding and scraping together amid the roar of the newly-freed waters.

The men anchoring the rope hauled frantically on it, while others ran, heedless of their own safety, down the bank and grabbed the rope lower down. They threw their own weight against the force of the maelstrom that now roared through the canyon and over the long-silent falls, and little by little, the rope was drawn up.

A cry went up from the villagers closest to the edge.

One of the would-be rescuers, a young man , held up the end of the rope that had been pulled from the river. It was frayed and broken. Suddenly silent, they all gazed at it, and the young man burst awkwardly into tears.

Several villagers came panting back to Thamyris, the elder. "We've sent runners all the way down to the edge of the falls" gasped one. "But no one saw them surface... and all that stuff by now has gone over the edge and down to the rocks below!"

His companion shook his head sadly. "No one could live for long in that river - not even Hercules."

"If the river didn't kill them, the falls would," added another. "Even the son of Zeus ... there's no way...".

All of them went quiet and just stood there, staring questioningly at the elder, waiting for him to say what they did not want to hear.

Thamyris bowed his head for a moment as though crushed. "Send some of the young men to go down to the foot of the falls."

"Do you think maybe - ?" It was the young man who had wept.

Thamyris looked at him compassionately. "No", he replied. "They are right - not even a god could have lived through that. The best that we can hope is that we find their bodies, so that we may honor them properly". He touched the young man's shoulder gently. Then he raised his glance to his fellow villagers and spoke in a ringing voice.

"People of Zabylo! Our village has been saved by two brave men, a mortal and a half-god!"

The villagers bowed.

The elder continued, "People of Zabylo! The Son of Zeus and his comrade have died for our sakes! What can we do to pay this debt? Mourn them, as you would mourn your sons! Mourn them, as you would mourn a king! Mourn them, as you would mourn a god! Spare none of the rites, and let their names be remembered forever as the saviors of this village!"

His voice echoed over the receding waters of the river, and the women began to wail.

The Reka River swept on. Down through the canyon below the village of Zabylo. Over the edge of the great falls and onto the rocks below. Leaping out of the pool at the foot of the falls and rushing on further,widening out and calming itself. Rolling on, ever more slowly and majestically through great sweeping curves in the green countryside. And, bit by bit, ridding itself of the last vestiges of the rock and wood that had imprisoned it.

A mile away from the turmoil at the bottom of the great falls, the river took a particularly sharp curve. It was here that much of the debris floating along the river would end up, grounded on a huge sandbar that blocked part of the flow.

Like a great misshapen ship, a massive log slowly grounded itself on the sandbar. The root end, pushed by the force of the current, dug ever deeper into the ground, as if seeking to replant itself. Great branches reached into the sky on the opposite end. Tangled around these branches were leaves, vines, sticks and all the other trash that floodwaters will rip from the shore and carry away with them as tribute to their power.

Something else was caught in the branches also. It was the body of young man. His long arms and legs were threaded so tightly through the tangle of branches that he seemed to be part of the tree itself. His head hung limply back against the trunk, his hair caked with mud and blood, now drying in the hot sunshine. He was nearly naked, his body covered with cuts and scrapes that bled sullenly, leaving rivulets of red through the filth that covered him.

The great log shuddered as the current sought to tear it loose from the sandbar, but its one end was now buried too deep. The man stirred. The motion of the log caused his head to roll to one side. A gush of blood welled out from between his swollen lips. His eyes fluttered and a low moan came out, accompanied by another gush of blood.

After a long while his blackened eyes opened. Slowly and painfully he raised his head and looked around.

"Iolaus?" came a whisper.

The only answer he got was the hiss of the river water running through the tightly laced branches.

It hurt to breathe but he took a deep breath anyway.

"Iolaus!" ...

He cried the name again and again, but no one except the river answered him.

Finally he had no more voice, and he left off calling and began to try and disentangle himself from the branches that seemed reluctant to let him go. Dully he realized that, though everything hurt, nothing seemed to be broken.

Sitting up too fast was a mistake. Everything went black around the edges and he slid limply off the massive trunk and onto the wet sand, where he lay in a little heap, vomiting blood and river water.

More carefully now, he got on to his hands and knees and pulled himself up by one of the branches. His legs trembled violently, but held his weight, and he straightened up.

For the first time he was able to see the entire length of the treacherous log that had swept him away ... him and -

"Iolaus!!"

The scream tore its way out of his blood-stained mouth and he gasped for breath against the horror that met his eyes.

One long branch stuck straight up into the sky, like a defiant spear, and on that spear was impaled the body of his best friend.

The last of the sun was disappearing under the horizon when the folk of Zabylo gathered to pay tribute to their saviors. The long hot afternoon had been spent in gathering every bit of wood that was dry enough to burn. It was built into a huge pile on the edge of the cliff and covered over with flowers that the weeping young women of the village had picked on the steep mountain hillsides.

It was a pyre. Even though there were no bodies to consign to the flames, custom decreed that heroes must be remembered in the fire.

As the dark thickened, people gathered at the foot of the pyre, the men bearing torches, the women, garlands, each with a fold of their cloak drawn over their head in token of mourning.

Thamyris, torch flaring in the breeze of new-fallen night, stood before the pyre and raised his hand. Silence fell upon the crowd.

"People of Zabylo! I call upon you to remember the names of Hercules and Iolaus. Honor them as the saviors of our village. Speak of their deeds to your children, and your children's children. For our sakes, they acted, and for our sakes, they died. Let their memories be immortal, even as their bodies were not.'

'Raise the fire, that all may see how we honor them!

Raise the cry, that the gods themselves may know how we mourn them!'

He gave a sign, and two young men came forward. Each bore a wreath of laurel, to take the place of the bodies that were not there. They climbed the pyre and laid the wreaths on the top. When they returned to the ground, Thamyris nodded.

Each man cast his burning torch into the dry wood, and each woman tossed her garland upon the pile and began to wail.

The dry wood caught immediately and the pyre went up with a whoosh. Thick white smoke began to crawl in a column up into the sky. The brilliant golden light cast the villagers' shadows black and heavy upon the ground.

Thamyris began to chant, "Hercules! Iolaus! Hercules! Iolaus!" and all the men of the village took up the rhythm while the women continued to wail. The noise was deafening, but a sudden shriek cut across it.

One of the women was staring out into the void beyond the firelight, and scream after scream fell from her lips as she pointed with a shaking hand out into the dark along the cliff.

Another scream joined hers, and another, until the chanting was drowned out and then suddenly all was silent - the silence of sheer astonishment and maybe terror.

For into the dazzling light of the burning pyre walked one muddy, bloodstained figure carrying the body of another on his shoulders.

For the longest time Hercules' world had shrunk to only two things.

The first was the shallow, ragged breathing coming from the limp body balanced across his own aching shoulders.

He had almost been sick again, this time with relief, when he had discovered that Iolaus was alive - gashed and unconscious, but alive. The branch had not impaled him. Instead, when Hercules had scrambled back along the length of the log to where Iolaus was, he found that the sharp end of the branch had caught the rope that was around Iolaus' waist and threaded him like a pendant on a cord. The loose end of the rope had wrapped itself around him, effectively binding him to the branch. This had probably saved Iolaus' life when they went over the falls, Hercules realized dully. Nevertheless, the force of the water had embedded the rope deeply into the flesh, and blood was oozing sullenly down his lower body. With trembling hands, Hercules raised Iolaus' drooping head and saw a bleeding gash along his hairline. But at least his friend was breathing.

Normally it would have taken Hercules no effort at all to snap the rope that bound Iolaus to the branch, but he felt a dim pang of surprise that it took almost a dozen heartbeats before the strands parted and Iolaus' dead weight sent them both sliding back down onto the muddy sandbank. Another hundred or so heartbeats had passed before Hercules had gotten the smaller man up onto his shoulders - much as Iolaus would have brought home a deer after a successful day's hunting - and set off slowly back towards the village of Zabylo, listening for each labored breath from his friend.

The only other thing which he was aware of was the guilt. With each painful step it battered and twisted him far more brutally than the wild waters of the river had done. This whole situation was HIS fault. He'd acted like a fool. He'd been showing off for the admiring crowd instead of paying attention to what he was doing. This was exactly the sort of thing the Cheiron had warned him - had warned ALL of them - about. Iolaus had been right - he should have been on a rope - and when Iolaus had been about to do something about the situation, Hercules had been far more interested in being a hero ... and now look what had happened. He had injured his best friend. Maybe he'd even killed him. He waited for the sound of Iolaus' breathing, but even that did not comfort him. Iolaus could die at any minute - and it would all be Hercules' fault.

He was more than half certain that if he turned his head he would see the Furies hot on the trail of the bloodstained footprints that he was leaving as he stumbled wearily along the top of the cliff towards the village.

In such a state of mind, Hercules had no idea how long he had been stumbling along, when he suddenly realized first, that it was getting dark, and second, that there was a bright glow of firelight not far ahead. He fixed his bleary gaze on it and trudged on. If he had been concentrating on any sound but his friend's breathing, he would have heard the sounds of people chanting his name and Iolaus'. But he heard nothing ... nothing, until the woman's scream that pierced the air as he staggered from the darkness into the light - and promptly collapsed on the ground and back down into the merciful, pain-free dark.

The people of Zabylo stood frozen in shock for several heatbeats. Then a sturdy older woman flew across the clearing to the huddled bodies and knelt beside them.

"Aglaia, what are you doing?" demanded Thamyris.

"What does it look like, husband?" she answered, seeking the pulse on Iolaus' throat with a practiced hand. "This is no longer a funeral. Get some of the men to help carry them into whichever house is driest." She looked up at him and her brief smile shone in the firelight. "We have two live heroes here, and we need to make sure they stay that way!"

Hercules' faint lasted only a few moments. He swam back to consciousness when he felt himself being lifted, and began to struggle.

"Easy, son, easy!" shouted the villager, twisting away from a blow that would have flattened him.

"Let me down! I can walk!" He looked around wildly. "Where's Iolaus? What have you done with - "

"Calm down, Hercules!" Thamyris was suddenly there. "We're taking you to him now!"

"Is he dead? Oh gods, is he dead?"

"No. No, of course not. My wife Aglaia is tending him now. We'll take you there, but let us carry you. Your feet are cut to ribbons - I don't know how you made it all the way back up here..."

There was more, but Hercules did not bother to listen. They carried him into one of the nearby houses, and there, on a pallet before the hearth, lay Iolaus. The remains of his mud-caked clothing lay in the corner. He was naked and clean, and wrapped from armpits to his knees in linen bandages.

Aglaia looked up from where she was kneeling over his friend's body.

"Ah, good. Lay him over on the other pallet, Thamyris, and I'll get to him in a moment -"

"No!" burst from Hercules' swollen lips. "What's happening with Iolaus? Is he going to live? This is all my fault!" He suddenly felt a wave of weakness come over him and his head sagged, "This is my fault", he whispered again, but this time he did not fight as they laid him down. "Is he going to live?"

"He's still unconscious, but yes - he'll live." Aglaia gave a firm tug on the linen strips wrapped around Iolaus's body. "I've bound up the rope burns with yarrow to stop the bleeding. This will keep everything in place until they heal". She turned to her husband."Thamyris, hold his head while I clean his face".

"I'll do it!"

Thamyris put a heavy but gentle hand on Hercules' shoulder. "Don't be a fool, son! Stay in bed. You're in no condition - "

"No!" Hercules scrambled clumsily to his bleeding feet and stood unsteadily, mutiny written all over his bruised face. "It's MY fault he was hurt! I've got to do SOMETHING!"

"Very well." Aglaia's voice was quiet and firm, but it cut across Thamyris' protest. "Come here and do what I tell you".

She handed him a rag and a bowl of warm water. "Wash his face and hair. I'm going to have to stitch up that cut on his forehead - he's a handsome boy and it would be a shame to leave a scar".

While she boiled a length of linen thread and cleansed her thinnest bronze needle in the fire, she watched as Hercules, with shaking hands, sponged away the crusted blood and mud.

A faint moan came from Iolaus and Aglaia frowned.

"I want to get this done before he comes to. All right, Hercules, you hold his head steady. Thamyris, take hold of the boy's hands. Ready?" She began to take tiny stitches, drawing the edges of the cut together. Suddenly Iolaus cried out.

"Hold him still!" snapped Aglaia, and Hercules took a firmer grip. She pretended not to notice the tears trickling from his blackened eyes. Swiftly she tied off another stitch. Another whimper came from the injured youth.

"It's OK, buddy," whispered Hercules."Lie still. It'll be OK".

"Last one", murmured Aglaia. "You're doing fine. Both of you". She crushed a handful of yarrow, laid it over the wound and bound it into place, just in time, for a sharp intake of breath told her that Iolaus had finally come to.

His eyelids fluttered and slowly opened. "...What..?..." he whispered hoarsely, and reached for the bandage on his forehead. Aglaia caught his hands gently.

"No, leave that alone. You've been hurt, but you'll be all right soon. Do you remember falling into the river?"

Iolaus thought about it for a moment. "...Yes... Did it work?"

Thamyris spoke. "Yes. The logjam is broken and the flood has subsided, thanks to you and Hercules".

A faint smile crossed Iolaus's face. "Great..." he muttered and tried to sit up, only to fall back with a gasp.

"Stay still, man! You've got to lie still for a while!" Hercules said quickly.

Iolaus turned a disoriented gaze on him. "Hey buddy ... you look like nine leagues of bad road."

"Never mind," said Aglaia. "We'll take care of him. You just rest for a while."

"Good ... idea". Iolaus gave what was probably supposed to be a brave grin. "Feels like... I went ten rounds with ... a Hydra".

"Just one round with the river. But that's enough for now". Aglaia handed Hercules a cup. "Help him drink this. I'll be back in a moment - I need to get more water. Thamyris, come help me."

The older couple went out into the night.

Aglaia paused just outside the doorway, and looked back to see Hercules gently raising the cup to Iolaus' battered mouth.

Thamyris shook his head. "That boy is taking this all way too hard. It wasn't his fault the river swept them both away".

"No. But it WAS his fault that he shoved the boulder at the wrong time, without waiting for the rope. He was showing off - and he knows it". She sighed. "He's just a child still. Oh, he may be the son of Zeus and he's definitely a hero, but right now he's a boy who's made the first big adult mistake of his life. And he's finding out just how miserable it feels. Poor love - I imagine that hurts worse than anything the river did to him."

When Aglaia and Thamyris got back from the spring, they found Iolaus fast asleep and Hercules watching over him anxiously.

Aglaia set several pots of water on the fire to warm and turned to her reluctant patient. "Hercules, he's going to be fine. We need to take care of you now."

He looked at her and there was almost panic in his eyes. "No. No. I've got to watch him. This was my fault and I've got to -"

"Don't argue with me, young man." For a second, Hercules could have sworn he was listening to Alcmene. Aglaia softened the command with a smile. "Listen to me. If it will make you feel better, you may watch him tonight - but first we are going to wash you off, and you are going to have a cup of this tea. Strip those filthy clothes off and we'll get you clean". When he hesitated to undo the remains of his breeches, she rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. "Young man, you've got nothing there I haven't seen before - and better! Now, strip off!"

Her hands were as gentle as her words were tough. She stood him in a large basin and poured warm, herb-scented water over him. He gasped as the water stung every cut and scrape that the river had given him, and the basin filled with pink as wounds that had crusted over reopened.

"That's all right," Aglaia reassured him."We'll let them all bleed a little to clean them out. Here - drink this!" She handed him a cup of the same musty-smelling tea that he had given to Iolaus.

"What is it?"

"Something that will make things hurt a lot less."

He tried a smile. "That'd be good." It went down quickly and tasted awful, but before he could comment on that, the room began to spin.

"Thamyris, help him".

Strong arms caught him and there was the sudden softness of a bed beneath him. The last thing he saw before his eyelids were too heavy was Aglaia's smiling face as she knelt over him. "How about you letting us take care of things tonight, son? All right?"

Hercules was asleep before he could answer.

Afterwards Iolaus could never quite recall just how many times he awoke from heavy sleep to painful awareness, only that each time he did, there would be the sudden taste of Aglaia's poppy tea and another long slide back down into blackness. But finally he swam up into the grey light of dawn and realized that this time he didn't hurt quite so much. Which isn't to say that he didn't hurt at all - he still felt like his component parts had been ripped apart and resewn with a bootmaker's needle. But there was enough of an improvement that he didn't want any more of Aglaia's tea - at least for the moment.

A sound from across the room caught his attention. He moved his head just the tiniest bit, and saw his friend lying on a pallet. Even in the dim light, he could see that both Hercules' eyes were blackened and a truly impressive number of cuts and scrapes adorned his upper body. One foot sticking out from under the blanket was heavily bandaged.

"Herc?" Wow. His voice hadn't been used in a while. He cleared his throat. That was a mistake - the throbbing in his head increased.

"Iolaus? You awake?" There was a strange note in his friend's voice.

"Yeah, man. You okay?

There was something that might have been a laugh from Hercules. "Oh yeah. Everything's healing. The worst is my feet - I lost my boots in the river and got cut up pretty badly. It hurts when I walk. But it's getting better. How are YOU doing?"

"I'm tired of Aglaia's tea. I think it's time to stay awake."

"Iolaus, listen. I gotta tell you something."

"What?" A sudden thought struck Iolaus. "Oh gods! Did someone else get hurt when the logs gave way? Was someone killed?!"

"No, no, no! No! Nothing like that!"

"Oh, good." He tried to settle himself more comfortably. "So what's up?"

"Iolaus ... ". His friend's voice died away suddenly.

"Yeah? ..."

There was no answer, but a strange sound gradually became audible.

Iolaus listened hard and tried to frown, but gave it up because it hurt too much. After a moment he recognized what was happening, or thought he did, to his vast amazement.

"Herc? ... You crying?"

For a while there was nothing but the sound of snuffling coming from his friend's side of the room.

Iolaus turned his head - very slowly and carefully, so that it wouldn't fall off and go rolling across the room. It felt like it might do that at any moment. But more important than his own pain was that of his best friend.

"What IS it, man? We're OK. We're even heroes! What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?! I almost KILLED you, man!"

"Whaddya mean, you almost killed me? That fuckin' TREE almost killed me! You had nothing to do with it!"

Gods, why was Iolaus being so dense? "Iolaus - I was the dumbshit idiot that pushed that tree loose, while you were standing on top of it!"

"Well ... your timing WAS a little off, but hey - that's OK! I don't hold it against you. We got the river unjammed, didn't we?"

"Yeah, but - Iolaus, you don't understand! I know you've taken some hits before, hanging around with me. But that's always been because of my step-mother or my half-brother Ares, or someone else who's mad at me! And OK, I can understand that YOU understand ... y' understand?"

"Not really," Iolaus muttered. "But keep talking!"

"But I can't blame this one on the gods. It was MY mistake! I got a swelled head and I was showing off - and you got hurt because of that. You could'a been killed, because I fucked up big-time!"

There was a long silence from Iolaus' side of the room.

Finally Hercules could bear it no longer.

"Iolaus?"

Iolaus took a very deep breath, which hurt quite a lot and gave an added impetus to his words.

"Herc - has anyone ever told you what a complete and total asshole you can be sometimes? No - you don't talk! It's my turn, and I'm gonna use real small words, so they'll get through your foot-thick skull! Yes. You got cocky and fucked up! Big news! Brace yourself for this, brother: it ain't gonna be the last time you do that, either! And if you're gonna tear yourself into little pieces every time you mess up, you might as well quit the whole business right now! Get this into your tiny brain: yes - I got hurt! Yes - it was 'cause you screwed up! And yes, I may get hurt again, 'cause you sure as shit ARE going to screw up again, and yes , *I* don't care, and that's MY risk to take, and *I* choose to take it!"

Iolaus paused to gasp for breath. Right now he would have been very happy for another swig of that damned tea. But there things that had to be said.

"Iolaus, I - "

"You shut up! I'm not finished yet! I'm telling you to GET OVER IT! Right now there isn't an inch on me that doesn't hurt like Tartarus, but YOU are the biggest pain of all!"

There was another long silence, this time from Hercules' side of the room.

"OK?" asked Iolaus finally.

" 'kay" came a muffled answer.

"Did I make myself perfectly clear, even to a clot-brained moron like yourself?"

"Yeah."

"OK, then."

"OK".

"Now I'm going back to sleep, 'cause I'm tired out from talking sense at some over-muscled dipstick with a hyper-trophied sense of guilt and the intelligence of a chamberpot. And if I hear any more whining, I'm gonna come over there and kick your miserable half-god ass! Do you understand?"

"Yeah."

"Night."

"Night."

And nothing more was ever said about it.

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


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