Iolaus was so glad to have Hercules back in the real world that he just wanted to get life back to normal - not that total chaos wasn't unusual for either of them. The two friends headed down the path away from Ares Temple. Iolaus cradled his hand discretely not wanting Hercules to slow down their traveling on account of his injury. Iolaus wanted to get as far away from Ares temple as they could as quickly as they could.
They paused by a stream to rest and Iolaus couldn't help himself, the water looked so cool. He stuck his hand in and sighed deeply.
Hercules realized that there was something wrong. "What's the matter with your hand?"
"It got burned when Callisto zapped the knife away from me."
Hercules shook his head, "Why didn't you say something earlier?"
"Nothing to be done about it outside Ares' Temple."
"Let me see." Hercules moved to his side and gently examined his friend's hand. "Put that back in the water. I saw some lavender back up the road. I'll be right back."
Iolaus soaked and enjoyed the quiet of the evening. Hercules was gone a little longer than anticipated but he returned with the lavender and some clean bandages from a nice woman who owned the farm nearby.
Hercules suggested that they make camp here as he tended to the injured hand.
"No, Herc, I want to go on. We're still too close to Ares' Temple for my comfort. We've got a couple of hours of light left. It's my hand that's hurt not my feet."
Hercules looked at his mortal friend and realized the emotional toll this day must have taken. His own frustration had mounted as he had watched, helpless from the pool, but Iolaus had been there first hand. He'd witnessed Alcmene's death and through her his own that morning, saved young Callisto and then faced Xena and saved Alcmene in the same day. All in all his friend had been through the wringer and it told in the dark circles under his eyes. If Iolaus wanted to go on even after all he'd been through who was Hercules to try and stop him? So, he agreed grudgingly.
Hercules put Iolaus' arm in a sling.
"Aw, you know I hate these things."
"It'll keep the swelling down," Hercules replied. "Are you sure you want to go on?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Let's go."
They followed the stream until the light from the setting sun was nearly gone. Hercules stopped Iolaus with a hand on his arm.
"It's getting dark, we have to stop now."
Iolaus nodded and wearily sat down against a tree. Hercules gathered some wood and started a fire. He worried about his friend. Iolaus' eyes were glassy and he kept staring at nothing.
Hercules took the loosely tied bandages off by the firelight and told Iolaus to soak the hand in the stream while he caught something for dinner.
Hercules returned with a rabbit to find Iolaus lying on the bank asleep with his hand dangling in the water. Hercules quietly dressed the rabbit and put it over the fire.
The smell of the nearly cooked rabbit woke Iolaus. He sat up and yawned.
"Dinner will be ready soon, Hungry?"
"Famished, I haven't eaten all day, no time to stop and didn't feel like it when I did."
Hercules applied fresh lavender leaves and wrapped Iolaus' hand again.
"Herc? Can we go back to Corinth?" Iolaus asked quietly, "I need to see your mother. We don't have to stay long, I just need to see that she's really OK."
Hercules saw the haunted look return to his eyes and nodded solemnly.
They arrived in Corinth late the next afternoon. Alcmene saw them from the garden and walked up the path to meet them. She hugged Hercules and then Iolaus. She pulled away from him and held him at arm's length.
"Oh, you smell like smoke, been fighting fires?"
Iolaus laughed and nodded. She wondered a moment at the tears in his eyes.
She also noticed that Iolaus was unusually quiet at the dinner table. Hercules sensed that his mother wanted a little time with Iolaus, she'd seemed on the verge of saying something to him a couple of times and didn't. He thought it best if he made himself scarce for a little while and politely excused himself to take a walk.
After she had cleared the last of the dishes she sat beside Iolaus and put a hand on his arm, "It's happened hasn't it? You've gone back in time to save me."
Iolaus looked at her with surprise, "What? How'd?"
She smiled and brushed the hair our of his eyes, "The relief in your eyes when you saw that I was all right. The smoke smell must be from my barn? Goodness, it's just happened to you hasn't it? The last time you were here, I realized it must be soon. You *were* the man who'd helped me before Hercules was born. I still don't know how you got there but, thank you. I owe you my whole life and my son's. I've been waiting thirty-odd years to tell you that."
"You don't owe me anything, Alcmene." The tears were back in his eyes, "Everything I am is because of you and Hercules. I couldn't bear it if I had to live my life over without the two of you in it."
She reached over and put her arms around him. He melted into her embrace. "I was so afraid I'd fail the second time and lose you both forever."
"You didn't. We're all still here." She cradled his shuddering form and rubbed circles on his back to try and comfort him. "You were outside and the barn exploded with me in it, I know, I dreamed it. Then, you came back and made everything right again. Everything is alright now."
Iolaus took a deep breath and sat up, "Except I need a bath."
"There's nothing new about that." She grinned, "I'll heat some water. Then, you can tell me the rest of the story. I've been waiting thirty years for that as well."
"Alcmene?" There was a mischievous look in his eyes. "Are you glad Herc wasn't a girl?"
She giggled, "I guess, I got used to the idea. Oh, you didn't tell him did you? Please say you didn't tell him."
"Tell me what?"
Written 10 June 1998
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