Iolaus covered his ears with his hands and tried to block the sound of Gabrielle's screams but they penetrated his mind none-the-less. He ran along the street attempting to escape the terrible reality back at the square. This world was insane. There had to be something else he could do! Iolaus thought frantically. He had to be able to make this right. This whole crazy world was his fault. His fault because he had failed to stop Callisto. How could he live with himself? He was the cause of Hercules never having been born. This world hadn't had the chance to benefit from Hercules' example. Iolaus didn't think he could live here under the circumstances. He had to find a way back, he just didn't know how.
He slowed and looked around trying to gauge where he was in the city. Everything was so different. So much the same, so much changed, skewed into new combinations. The street was sparsely occupied by a few merchants and shoppers, a couple of men were standing nearby. One was tall and dark-haired. He was bending to listen to something the smaller man was saying. The second man had his back to him but he was Iolaus' size, dressed in brown leather pants and a green jerkin. He turned to glance warily down the street and Iolaus was astounded. He'd had the experience once before with his cousin, Orestes, but nothing could ever prepare him to face, himself. The hair was a bit longer but there was no doubt that this was himself. The self that grew up without Hercules as his best friend and partner Iolaus stepped into a doorway and watched discretely. Curious, in spite of himself.
Iolaus took another look at the tall man. He had an all too familiar manner and an eye patch over his left eye but he was unmistakably Autolycus.
"Now, what am I doing with that no good, jerk?" Iolaus mused. It was obvious the two were old friends and it was equally obvious that they were up to something.
Iolaus followed the seemingly unlikely duo down several busy streets before they casually stopped in the shadows across from a jewelers shop. Iolaus slid into a chair at a tavern two shops away. He was so involved with watching his alter ego that he didn't hear the barmaid come up to take his order. He hadn't eaten in hours. He should be famished but the thought of food turned his stomach. Everything good he knew in the world was gone. He was still reeling from the barn explosion and then the encounter with Xena and Gabrielle. He couldn't eat and the churning of his stomach told him that he didn't dare try the ale, no matter how badly he needed a drink.
"Could I have some water?" he asked hoping it would settle his insides. She nodded and poured it from the pitcher she carried with her.
"Are you alright?" She asked as she set the glass down.
Iolaus thought a moment. He didn't think he'd ever be fine again.
"I'm ok, thanks," he forced a smile for her benefit. Gratefully, Iolaus took several swallows of the cool liquid and returned his attention to the goings on at the jewelers. The scenario was vaguely familiar from days long past and it disturbed him.
Autolycus had entered the shop and his 'partner' waited outside and strolled in a few moments later so it wouldn't appear that they were together. .
Iolaus slipped across the street and peered in the window. The two men were asking about a variety of items and confusing the poor clerk. Iolaus saw them passing objects back and forth behind their backs as they chatted amiably as though they were total strangers. Through a variety of methods of slight-of-hand, items were slipped into pockets as others were set back upon the table. They thanked the clerk graciously, no magnanimously, and exited the shop.
Iolaus slid into the shadows as they passed his position.
"Well, that wasn't so hard," Autolycus commented.
"I told you, you could do it. You're a natural. We'd better split up in case he figures out what happened. They won't know which of us to chase that way. See you at the cave. I'll check the snares for dinner on the way back."
"Ever the hunter, huh? In the city and the wilds, They are all your prey. Right, I'll have the fire waiting for you. Nice apprenticing with the best, boss." They shook hands for show as though new acquaintances were parting. The other Iolaus turned on his heel and strolled bold as brass right back in front of the jeweler's shop, waved through the window and headed down the street and out of the city gate.
Iolaus' eyes had grown wide with the shock, "Boss?" he spluttered when he was finally able to gain enough control to make sound. "I'm not Autolycus' sidekick...in this world, I grew up to be the King of Thieves! What do you know, I did have a career in the making."
Iolaus suddenly realized he'd placed himself in a precarious position. After all, he shared features with a known and probably wanted criminal and beat a hasty exit down the ally still muttering to himself, "I was probably lucky Xena didn't recognize me! I've got to get out of here and bring Herc back. I've got to. I can't leave myself with that second-rate thief for a sidekick the rest of my life. Herc, where are you?"
2 Feb 1999
Disclaimer: No theives or alternate realities were harmed in the writing of this tale. However, the bar maid with the pretty smile was sorely disappointed.
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