There's Always a Bigger Fish

by Ceryndip

***Note: This story takes place about a month after “My Best Girl’s Wedding.”

“Are you sure, Salmoneus?” Iolaus asked the vividly attired man he was walking along the docks beside. He wasn’t sure what color Salmoneus was wearing specifically but from the looks of the passersby, they couldn’t identify it exactly either.

“I’m certain, take my place. I’m not going to use it, not since they moved up Athen’s Fashion Week to next month. I can’t miss that. I have to know what’s going to be hot this summer and the best deals on merchandise are always had during fashion week. A good entrepreneur always saves a buck where he can.”

The pair continued to walk, passing ship after ship. Iolaus began to wonder if Salmoneus’s ship was even here. Before he could ask about it, the merchant paused in front of the gang plank for “The Fluffy Kitten.”

“Well, here we are.” Salmoneus called up the gangplank, “Take good care of him boys.” One of the brightly colored sailors waved back his assurance...

“If you’re sure?” Iolaus obviously wasn’t.

“I am and the passage is non-refundable so someone ought to use it. You can meet up with Hercules and get both of your lives back to normal much faster this way.” The salesman gave the hunter a shove up the gangplank, “And about time, too. Say hello to the big guy for me.”

Resigned to his fate, “I will. Take care Sal.”

Iolaus had never seen such a brightly colored ship. Each sail was a different color. There were large pillows scattered all over the deck around the various cargo boxes labeled, “Hats” and “Perfume” among other things. It certainly looked like the sort of ship Salmoneus would travel on.

Locating a quiet spot between a couple of crates marked “Tiaras” and “Shoes”, Iolaus set down his pack. He pulled over a pillow or two and made himself comfortable. The trip to the port of Medeon should take most of the day and it was looking like a beautiful day for sailing up the Straight of Corinth.

Iolaus had managed to have a nice, mostly quiet time visiting with family and friends but he was more than ready to meet up with Hercules and take on a few monsters. Salmoneus was right, it was time to get back to normal, but first, a nice nap.

Iolaus jerked up gasping, sending waves through the bedroom. Nautica rolled over and reached out to rub her new husband’s back, “Not another nightmare,” she commented soothingly.

The former Jester turned merman nodded and slid back down into his wife’s embrace, resting his head on her shoulder.

“Wanna talk about it?” She offered, stroking his hair gently.

“It was the same. There’s some sort of monster that I can’t quite see and Hercules is trapped, unable to defend himself. Honey, I know we’ve just settled into this cave and made it home but I have to go see if Hercules is okay. I’m not going to shake this off until I know for sure that he doesn’t need me. Will you be alright for a couple of days here without me?”

She laughed and it sounded like music to his ears, “Of course, silly. You’re the one I have to worry about. The ocean’s been my home all my life. You’re the one who’s the fish out of water now who doesn’t know where all the dangers are in your new world.”

Iolaus rose from the bed and swam over to begin gathering the things he might need above. Nautica watched him, concerned that he wasn’t thinking this through. “Iolaus, you can’t leave the water, how are you going to find, Hercules? You don’t have legs.”

“I don’t know, Darling, but I have to try. Maybe I can call on Aphrodite and explain the problem to her. She’s always helped before. I just have to make sure.” He finished packing his bag and turned back to Nautica. “I’ll be back before you know it.” He leaned down and kissed his wife passionately.

When they finally broke apart, she murmured, “If that’s your goodbye, I can’t wait to find out how you say hello.” He grinned in reply as he turned to swim toward the mouth of the cave.

“Be careful,” she called after him.

“I will, don’t worry,” he returned as he made for open seas.

“I’ll always worry,” she replied to herself as her husband was too far away to hear her already.

Hercules jogged down the path toward Medeon and hoped that Iolaus had gotten his message to meet there. It had been a long time since Hercules had looked forward to spending a couple of days fishing with his buddy so much. It was a beautiful day and the demigod planned on arriving early. Maybe he’d even have the first catch already on the fire. So the smells of roasting fish would greet his friend upon his arrival. Hercules stopped to pick ripe berries from a bush for his breakfast. He looked around for something he could carry berries in, planning on taking some with him for later.

As he bent over to pick up a piece of bark from the ground, Hercules heard someone calling his name. A tall, thin man came running towards him.

“Are you Hercules?” He asked leaning over to catch his breath. At the nod from the demigod, the man continued, “I’m so glad I found you. You have to come. There’s a hydra loose in the woods north of Phokis. You have to come help. Please.”

Hercules sighed, but he shouldn’t be surprised. It always seemed to happen this way. Just as he had made personal plans some monster goes on a rampage somewhere. Then Hercules grinned, maybe his life was finally settling back to normal after all. And maybe Iolaus would have the first fish on the fire when he arrived. Well, he could hope so anyway.

“Phokis, you say? Isn’t that on the way to Medeon? Hercules asked as the two men resumed jogging down the path. At least he was still heading in the right direction.

Iolaus woke as the first rain drops began pelting the deck of the Fluffy Kitten. “Whoa, where’d this come from?” he asked as he surveyed the dark and roiling skies above the ship. Lightning streaked and thunder rumbled. The small ship rocked with the larger, wind churned waves.

The hunter ran to help take in the sails and was surprised to find the crew had matters well in hand. Maybe Salmoneus had better taste in transport ships than he thought. Iolaus walked back to pick up his bag. He slung it over his head and shoulder and spun around at a shout of, “Look out!” Iolaus looked up just in time to be hit in the head by the yardarm. He was thrown backward hitting the rail. Iolaus tried to grab for the railing but all he could see were stars dancing before his eyes. His last thought before everything turned dark was to wonder why he was in the water. The deck hand had seen him go over the side but by the time he reached the rail, their passenger had sunk beneath the waves.

“Aphrodite! Please Aphrodite! I need your help!”

Iolaus had swam as far up river as he could. He could feel the mud oozing between his fins. He was in danger of getting beached if he went any farther. It was time to get out and walk but he’d been calling and calling and the Goddess of Love had never taken so long responding before. “Aphrodite! Please! I thought you were my friend. I really, really need you!”

The merman sighed in relief as a familiar shower of sparkles erupted in front of him wearing sparkles and not much else. He averted his eyes. He was a married man now.

The Goddess of Love rolled her eyes at his reaction, “Okay, okay. What’s the problem? Did you have a fight with the wife or what? And make it fast, you have no idea what a mess Fashion Week causes in the love business and they just moved it up a month on me. I’m not ready.”

“No, every thing's great with Nautica. Really great. Better than I ever imagined but it’s Hercules I’m worried about.”

She knelt down by the water’s edge, “Aw, that’s sweet, but my bro can take care of himself, don’t worry.”

“But, I’ve been having dreams about him. I just know he needs me. If you could give me some legs so I can go find him? Help him?”

“All right, but I don’t have time to be changing you back and forth all the time. Here’s the deal, you wanna be amphibious? Okay, you dry off your tail, you get legs. You get your legs wet, you get a tail. You have to return to the sea once every three days or the legs are permanent. You can keep the tail as long as you want. Can you handle those rules, Sweetie?”

“Yeah. I’d be able to help Hercules whenever he needed me. That’s great, terrific! Thanks ‘Dite.”

She raised her hand and showered him with warm sparks, “Okay, done, good luck finding my bro and remember, get wet every three days.”

“I’ll remember. You should bath at least every three days anyway. It’d be unhygienic to go any longer. Thanks, ‘Dite. You’re a peach!” Iolaus threw his pack onto the shore and pulled out his pants to let them dry. Then, he heaved his tail out of the water and settled in the sun to let it do it’s thing.

Nautica playfully chased a school of mackerel. She really wasn’t that hungry, so she was only half-heartedly hunting. It was boring at home without Iolaus there. If she stayed busy, she wouldn’t worry. They both owed Hercules a lot and she knew Iolaus’s nightmares wouldn’t end until he was assured that the demigod was alright. But she missed her husband. The mackerel had led her toward the surface. She could see that it was very choppy. “Must be a storm up there,” she mused. Hoping that Iolaus was all right.

She saw the keel of a ship above her bobbing in the waves and beside it the body of a man sinking in the water. Knowing the man must be in trouble and her caring husband would want her to help, she swam toward him. As she drew closer, she could begin to make out features. His shape and blond curls looked awfully familiar....Iolaus! It was her husband floating there unconscious and there was a small cloud of blood in the water around his head. He must be hurt. She swam faster. And he had legs! What was he doing in the water with legs? This didn’t make sense but if he had legs then he was an air breather again. All of this spurred her on even faster.

She grabbed his head with both hands and planted the mermaid’s kiss firmly on his lips and was relieved when he responded. He hadn’t swallowed too much water yet but he tasted different and there was something missing from his kiss. “Well, he is unconscious,” she told herself. “You can’t expect fireworks when he’s unconscious and hurt!”

Nautica inspected his wound as they floated in the water. There was a gash in his forehead above his right eye that would need tending. How could he have gotten in this much trouble so fast? He only left a few hours ago. She fingered the patchwork vest he was wearing “We’d better get you home and where did you get these clothes? I’ve never seen these before? Though I must say, the shirtless look suits you.”

Hercules knew that hydra was here somewhere. He could feel the tingling in the back of his neck and knew that it wasn’t just the rain. He grasped the tree branch he was carrying more tightly. Hunting a hydra in the rain, how stupid was he? And how was he going to burn it in this pouring rain? That was the real question. He kept hoping that by the time he found it, the rain would have stopped. Maybe he could knock it out and restrain it until the rain stopped and everything dried out?

The hair stood up on the back of his neck and he spun around to face a three-headed serpent. “Well, at least it’s a small one.” Hercules stepped forward swinging the branch. The hydra took a step back, putting a tree between it and the demigod.

Lightning flashed blinding them both as it struck the tree between them. Hercules tried to shield his eyes, took a step backward, his foot sliding on the mud. He hit the ground, flat on his back and something large and warm crashed on top of him. He heard the hydra scream a few feet away and then something crash a little farther away.

Hercules tried to slide out from under whatever had him pinned to the ground. Pain shot through his left leg. All he could see was the white flash before his eyes.

It became quiet, just the sound of rain falling through trees. Hercules closed his eyes a moment and allowed the flash to clear. When he opened them, his vision had greatly improved. He was lying beneath the huge tree trunk, alone in the woods. The lightning must have scared the hydra off. Hercules tried to get a hand under the trunk intending to throw it off of him but try as he might, he couldn’t get any leverage. He, again, tried to pull himself from under it but the pain in his leg was too great. Gasping for breath, the demigod realized that he was well and truly stuck.

Hercules lay back in the mud and berated himself for going after a monster alone. How many times had Iolaus told him that one of these days something would go wrong and he’d have no one to rescue him. Well, it looked like today was the day the mighty Hercules would get his I told you so.

Hercules sighed and wondered how far the hydra had ran and if it would be far enough....

Iolaus woke, at least he thought he was awake, maybe not. This was all too weird to be real. “I must still be unconscious,” he thought.

He was under water and yet he could still breath somehow. He was in a bed. There was furniture in the room; a chair, a mirror and table. What looked like carpet on the floor could well be some sort of sea weed? But he was definitely under water. He watched a small fish swim by the foot of the bed. His head hurt. He found a bandage wrapped around his forehead.

“You better leave that alone. We need to keep it covered.”

Iolaus nearly jumped out of his skin. He’d heard about them. Everyone had if they’d ever talked to an old sailor. “A mermaid?” he sputtered. “You’re a mermaid.”

“Of course, I am, silly and you are, too. A merman, that is.”

Iolaus lifted the covers immediately and was relieved to see his legs.

Nautica settled herself on the edge of the bed, “Well, until Aphrodite gave you your legs back. How long will you have them? Or do we need to call her to come change you back?”

“Change me back to what? How did I get here? and who are you? And where is here?”

“What do you mean?” Nautica was suddenly serious, “You don’t know me? What did that goddess do to you?”

“Look,” Iolaus tried to be reasonable, it wasn’t good to upset a mermaid. He’d heard stories about some of them being evil. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m Iolaus and I was on my way to meet Hercules.”

Nautica sighed in relief, “Well, at least it’s not total amnesia. You remember your name. Did you find Hercules? Was he alright?”

“Is something wrong with Herc?” Iolaus asked growing more confused by the minute.

“I don’t know. That’s what you were going to find out.” Nautica adjusted his water soaked bandage.

“I had a message to meet him at our old fishing hole outside Medeon and that he had some surprising news for me. But there was a storm and I must’ve hit my head and been knocked overboard.”

“You mean you were on that ship?” She asked surprised.

“Yes, but who are you?” Iolaus asked.

That question terrified Nautica, her own husband of just a few short weeks, didn’t know her, but she didn’t show it. She didn’t want to alarm him. He was hurt, that must be it. “I’m...I’m Nautica.”

“Did you rescue me?”

“Yes.” She finished retying the bandage.

“And you’re a real mermaid?” Iolaus asked with a smile.

Poor thing must not remember anything about their life together. “Yes, I’m a mermaid, a real mermaid.” She pulled up the covers and tucked him in. “You’re confused now. You need to rest. It’ll be better in the morning, I promise.”

Iolaus felt pulled down into sleep but he had one more question he had to ask, “But how can I breathe?”

She floated beside the bed and laid her hand against the bandage on his forehead, willing him to sleep. “Because I’m here, Darling, because I’m here.” She couldn’t leave him in the water alone. Her presence was the only thing keeping him breathing and she had to go for help. She couldn’t handle this on her own.

As soon as he was sleeping soundly, she moved him to the grotto and lifted him out onto the bank pushing him far enough from the water’s edge that he wouldn’t roll back into the water. This little air-filled grotto was why Iolaus had wanted to move into this cave. It gave him a place to work on his inventions that needed air or would be ruined in the water. She retrieved his pillow and made Iolaus as comfortable as she could. Then the mermaid swam for the surface as fast as her tail would take her.

Iolaus never was so glad to see it stop raining. It was a nuisance to have your legs turn into a tail when it rained. He just had to sit there and wait it out. Then, once he’d gotten back on the path, he had run into the messenger who told him that Hercules was around here somewhere hunting a hydra by himself. Of all the stupid things. Powerful the demigod may be, but indestructible he was not.

Realizing that it probably wasn’t safe in the area, Iolaus had been extra careful. He had glimpsed the hydra twice but seen no sign of Hercules. Ever resourceful, Iolaus had set a few traps for the hydra, himself. Who knew hanging out with Nautica’s uncle would come in so handy already. Iolaus had learned much from the aquatic hunter and some of the tricks could easily be adapted to a land environment.

He had strung his fishing net across a gap between trees and set up a trigger. Now all he needed to do was lure the monster this way. He pulled out the fish he’d brought along for lunch and began waving it in the air, spreading the scent of it around. It didn’t take long for at least one of the three heads to catch wind of a potential meal.

Iolaus caught sight of it behind a tree. “Hey! You big freak! This way!” The hydra was cautious, the last human he had been near had somehow blasted a tree. It wavered indecisively. Iolaus waved the tempting fish harder, “Yeah, you want to eat me don’t you? I look nice and juicy, huh?” He had it’s attention or the fish did. He began backing under the net. “Come on, just a little farther.” Iolaus stepped out of the danger zone just as the hydra stepped under the net. Iolaus pulled the rope and the net crashed down around the monster.

He stepped forward to take a closer look at his captive. “My you are an ugly one, aren’t you?” The hydra screamed in reply. “Now what did Hercules say about hydras...fire, that’s right.” Iolaus rummaged around in his pack and pulled out a water proof, oilskin bag. He opened it. “Ah, here we are, nice and dry still.” He removed his fire lighter and returned to the screaming, frustrated hydra. He paused a moment. “Just so you know, this is a brand new net that I’m about to sacrifice. Oh well, I can make another one.” Iolaus bent forward, flicked his lighter and whoosh, up went the hydra in a rush of smoke and flame.

Iolaus brushed some dirt off his hands, “That wasn’t too hard. Now, what did you do with Hercules?”

Nautica broke the surface of the water calling, “Aphrodite! Aphrodite!”

“Oh what now?” the sparkles announced, “I so, do not have time for this.”

“Oh, Aphrodite! It’s Iolaus. He’s hurt and he doesn’t remember me or being a merman and he has legs and can’t breathe the water. I don’t know what to do.”

The Goddess of Love materialized a surf board beneath her and settled down, “You mean he’s underwater and he’s still got legs?”

Nautica nodded affirmatively.

“That’s not right. The deal was when they are wet, they’re a tail.” She sighed, “I guess the mess will still be there when I get back. I just hope there aren’t too many divorces. Show me where he is. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else,” the Goddess grumbled.

“Hercules!” Iolaus shouted. “Are you all right?”

“Iolaus?” Hercules shifted to get a look at his rescuer’s legs, and there were legs. “But you’re supposed to have a ...”

“A tail?” Iolaus grinned. “I had a feeling you needed help so I got Aphrodite to zap me back.” Iolaus looked over the trunk.

“Be careful,” Hercules warned. “There’s a hydra around here.”

“I know. I took care of it. Won’t be bothering anyone anymore. Let’s see. I’ll need my pulley and some rope. Maybe a big stick for a lever and we’ll have you our of here in short order.”

Hercules wasn’t ready to move on to the next problem yet. “You took care of the hydra?” he asked.

“Yep, used a fishing net on it, then burned it up with my lighter.” Iolaus rummaged around in his pack for what he needed. Then, proceeded to climb a tree to tie on the pulley and set the rope. “That was a very good net. I was proud of it.”

“So, how do you like married life?” Hercules asked.

“I wish I’d gotten married years ago, it’s everything I’ve always wanted but then I hadn’t met Nautica yet.”

“Good. I’m so glad you’re happy,” Hercules replied. “You deserve to be happy.”

Iolaus climbed down from the tree and wedged a strong branch under it beside Hercules. “Now I understand when people talk about living in bliss. The ocean is just the most amazing place to live. Hercules, do you think you can pull on this rope and lift the trunk off your legs? But not until I’m ready to shift it.”

Hercules reached up and took his end of the rope, “Yeah, I think so.”

Iolaus tied the other end of the rope around the trunk and pulled it tight. Then, he took up his position at the branch he was using for a wedge against the tree. “Okay, Herc. Ready.”

Hercules pulled on the rope with both hands just enough to lift the truck into the air. Iolaus leaned on his wedge and forced the tree trunk to move over just enough that Hercules could let go and the trunk dropped beside him at the edge of the path.

“That’s better,” Iolaus declared. He knelt beside the demigod. “Are you all right?”

Hercules shook his head, “I don’t think so. I think my left leg’s broken. We’ll need to set and splint it.”

Iolaus nodded, “I’ll need to rig up some crutches for you as well.”

“Thanks, I’m really glad you came along.”

Iolaus shook his finger at Hercules, “You shouldn’t be fighting monsters by yourself. It’s too dangerous. You could have been here for days.”

Hercules laughed, “I know. Actually I was on my way to meet Iolaus. How would you feel about a guys fishing weekend?”

“I’d love to but another time, okay? I’d better get back to Nautica. She’ll be worried about me.”

Hercules flashed him a knowing grin, “I remember what it was like to be a newlywed.”

The Goddess of Love kneeled beside the sleeping man, “Oh, Sweetcheeks, how’d you get down here?”

“Who? What’d you call him?” Nautica wasn’t about to stand for another woman even she was a goddess calling her man by such endearments.

“Easy, honey. This isn’t your husband.”

Nautica looked at the man and saw her husband, “Of course it is. That’s Iolaus. He remembered his name. He just didn’t...didn’t remember me.”

“Yes, his name is Iolaus but he’s not your Iolaus. When you gave him the mermaid’s kiss, did he taste like your Iolaus?” Aphrodite asked.

Nautica shook her head slowly, “No, he didn’t. It was different, but he..”

Aphrodite raised her hands to stop any further disagreement, “But nothing. Did your husband ever tell you about the other one?”

“Other what?”

“Of course he didn’t, you haven’t been married long enough to talk you have you? There are two of them. They look alike and they are both named Iolaus. It gets different from there.”

“My Iolaus has a twin brother named Iolaus?” Nautica asked with wonder at the thought.

“Uh huh,” ‘Dite nodded.

“And this is him?”

“Uh huh,” the Goddess confirmed. “Now, if you don’t need me anymore. I really have to get back and stop a few divorces and maybe buy a few dresses,” with that she disappeared in a shower of silver and gold sparkles.

The man moaned and opened his eyes which fell immediately on Nautica. He smiled, “You’re still here, I thought maybe it was a dream.”

“A dream?” Nautica asked. “Yes, a dream. It is all a dream. Just a dream. You’re confused, injured and you must be hallucinating.” She smiled sweetly at him, “Come on, we need to get you back to the surface. I am so, so, SO sorry for all this.”

“Hey, Herc!” The two friends exchanged waves across the small pool. Iolaus began to wind his way over to the seated Hercules. “I’m sorry, I’m late. I had some trouble with the travel arrangements. You will not believe what happened to me on the way here.”

“Sure I will. This is you, remember,” Hercules responded.

Iolaus made a face at the comment, climbed around a couple of rocks and caught sight of the splint on Hercules’s leg and the crutches leaning beside him. “Whoa. What happened to you?”

“I’ll be okay in a few days, I could ask the same thing about you.” The demigod pointed to the bandage on his friend’s head.

“Oh,” Iolaus touched the bandage on his head. “Long story ... It’s a loooong story.” Iolaus flopped down beside his friend.

“Well, we seem to have plenty of time,” Hercules commented.

“Okay, I’ll go first ...” said Iolaus and began his narrative with, “I ran into Salmoneus who was on his way to something called Fashion Week which has been moved up a month by the way ...”

The Goddess of Love remained invisible to both men as they caught up on their news and stories. It was so good to see them together again. Side by side, back to back, where these two belonged, together and everything was once again right with the world.

“You mean that whacked out mermaid was real?!! And she’s HIS wife?!!”

Hercules’s laughter could be heard all the way to Olympus as he slapped his brother on the back. “And he has a tail now, too.”

“A TAIL?!!”

finis

No heroes, bad guys or fish were permanently injured in the telling of this tale, except for the few who were eaten, providing much sustenance for all.

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