Iolaus took a deep breath filling his lungs and let it out slowly. He opened his eyes, blue eyes. It felt as though he hadn't used his senses in ages. Everything seemed strange and unknown to him. There was grey stone above him, stone walls around him. Some kind of temple, perhaps. He was lying on hard stone. The cold radiated from it and into his body. The place appeared to be empty. He felt alone and isolated. Where was everyone? What happened? He was in Sumeria, wasn't he? This looked like Greece. It didn't make sense. It even smelled like Greece.
"Herc?" his voice croaked, raw and hoarse, cried out for the one person who would always be near. The one person who could explain.
There was startled movement at his feet.
The object of his request turned and stood at the foot of the altar, eyes wide with Nebula and another woman supporting him. Was he wounded in the fight? what fight? Iolaus knew his friend would be here. Hercules broke free of their grasp and staggered to his side.
"Iolaus, but, but," confusion reigned over Hercules' mind, "but you went into the light. Zarathustra said he was taking you where you belonged. How..."
Iolaus saw the confusion in his friend's eyes and searched his memory. Obviously Hercules couldn't provide the answers they both needed. He thought a moment and the memories came, vague and fleeting, but they came. "Someone was laughing at me, sounded like Hades, said I belonged at your side. That sounded right to me." Iolaus reached up to wipe the tears from Hercules' face and found he couldn't reach. He was chained to the cold, hard stone beneath him. "Uh, Herc, could you..."
Hercules broke the bindings on his wrists easily and Iolaus found himself suddenly scooped up into an embrace that threatened to crush him. He also found he lacked the strength to return it or defend himself against it.
"Herc, I can't breath," Iolaus gasped.
Hercules eased his grip a little. Iolaus felt confused. He wasn't sure how he'd managed to get here or even where here was and it was disorienting. He felt dizzy. The red-headed woman picked up his foot. She had a key and unlocked the manacles from his ankles. Iolaus felt so tired he couldn't fight back the whirling images in his mind anymore and let them wash over him without touching him. They could be dealt with later, for now, he was home and that was all that mattered. He relaxed in Hercules' easy embrace. Overcome by his own emotions, Hercules' body trembled. Iolaus gave what comfort his limited strength would allow and let his head rest against his friend's shoulder hoping the touch would be enough to soothe him.
"Iolaus?" another unbelieving but familiar voice. Iolaus held a hand out to Nebula. She looked pale and vulnerable as she grasped his hand, afraid that he wasn't real. He smiled at her.
"Hey, pretty lady."
She returned the smile, "Hey, yourself, Goldilocks."
Hercules came back to his senses and released his friend examining him visually from head to toe. "How do you feel?" He noted with pleasure that all the marks from the exorcism were completely gone. Miraculously healed.
Iolaus slowly tore his eyes from Nebula and back to his old friend, "Feel all shook up. Weak. Head's swimming, I don't think I can stand but I'm ok." He knew that Hercules needed to hear him say it.
"We need to get you back to mother's. The townspeople are going to wake up soon and I'm not ready to explain any of this. Hercules lifted Iolaus off the altar with ease and headed for the door. Iolaus tried to look around. He wanted to see the havoc he'd caused, to know how bad it was but his exhaustion got the better of him. He laid his head on Hercules' shoulder and closed his eyes.
Jason rose from the table as Hercules backed through the door with his burden. Tears streamed fresh down his face as he shared the news, "He's alive, Jason. He's alive."
Hercules carried Iolaus into the bedroom and sat him on the bed. Jason followed them, not believing what he was seeing. "Iolaus?"
Iolaus held out a hand, "Yeah, I don't quite believe it yet either." Hercules kneeled and removed the boots from Iolaus' feet throwing them through the door into the kitchen. He pulled the white robe over Iolaus' head. Hercules wadded it up with a vengeance and tossed it to Jason. "Burn that," he ordered. He wanted all evidence of Dahak's presence removed from his sight immediately.
Hercules turned back to Iolaus who was holding on to the last bit of blue cloth covering his manhood. "Uh, uh, I'm keeping this," and he giggled, the sound was music to Hercules' ears. Iolaus pulled back the covers and crawled under them. "Tired, think I wanna sleep now."
Hercules sat on the bed and tucked the covers around his brother before taking his hand. Iolaus gave him a weak squeeze and closed his eyes still smiling.
Nebula moved to the position on the other side of the bed and took the available hand. They held vigil, afraid to take their eyes off Iolaus for fear that he might dissolve to nothing before their very eyes. Finally, Nebula spoke quietly, "Who do I thank for this miracle?"
"I don't know," Hercules answered, "but I owe them big." Hercules and Nebula were content to sit and watch Iolaus sleep and take comfort in the steady rise and fall of his chest, neither ready or able to let go of his hands.
Hercules jerked from a doze and Nebula risked glancing at him. "Hercules, you're exhausted. You need to sleep, too."
He shook his head no.
"You don't have to let go, just crawl in beside him. Iolaus won't mind."
Iolaus took a deep breath and drank in the intoxicating smells of home. He opened his eyes. The room was bright with the late afternoon sun. He tried to stretch but found that he couldn't move. Hercules was snoring softly on one side of him and Nebula was curled around him on the other. Their bodies held the blankets tucked around him securely immobilizing him. Iolaus didn't want to wake them and glanced around the room at what was within his line of sight.
Morrigan rose and approached the foot of the bed as their eyes met. She'd been sitting in a chair at the end of the bed. "Well now, you must be Iolaus."
"I think so," he answered quietly. "This all feels kind of strange. I'm sorry, I don't know you but I think you helped save me, thank you."
"I'm Morrigan and yes, I did have a hand in it."
"I don't recognize that accent, where are you from?"
"Eire, an island far to the north of here. Hercules helped me out of a bad situation."
Iolaus smiled, "Yeah, he makes a habit of doing stuff like that. "The genuine affection in his voice was unmistakable.
"Can I get you anything?"
Iolaus considered, "I'm thirsty more than anything and I think I'd like to take a bath." He began gently wiggling up from under the covers. Carefully avoiding disturbing his sleeping companions. "There are some clothes in that drawer over there."
She pulled out a soft blue tunic and matching brown pants that looked about the right size. She averted her eyes as he climbed over the footboard and slipped into the pants. He pulled on the tunic as they walked to the kitchen. Iolaus drank greedily from the dipper in the water bucket.
"He went into town to see what's happening."
Iolaus nodded and again felt a little responsible for causing so much trouble. He opened a cupboard and picked up a towel before moving toward the door.
"Will you be alright by yourself?"
"Yeah, I think so. I just wanna wash all this off of me. I feel dirty."
Morrigan nodded her understanding and made note of which way he headed toward the stream. She wondered how long she should give him before checking to see if he was all right. Hercules would never forgive her if she let anything happen to him. Yet, she also understood Iolaus' need for some time on his own. Time to begin healing. She started preparations for dinner, They could all use a good meal.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the golden head returning through the woods from the kitchen window. He didn't come back inside though. Morrigan watched with interest as he stood in the middle of the garden and performed some sort of exercise. It appeared to be half fighting and half dancing, slow, controlled movements. She thought it looked very meditative and wondered if it would be easier than what Mabon tried to make her learn. She made a mental note to ask him about teaching her if the opportunity arose. When he finished, Iolaus walked over and sat on the ground next to the grave. Jason told her that it belonged to Hercules' mother. Iolaus must've been close to her as well judging from the way he tended the flowers planted there as he talked to her.
Iolaus did, indeed, seem much improved when he returned to the house. There was a bounce in his step that hadn't been there before. He sniffed the air appreciatively, "Smells good."
"It'll be ready in a little while. So, are you hungry then?"
"Are you kidding, I'm starving." Iolaus plopped down on the bench and tore a piece of bread from the loaf on the table. He stuffed it in his mouth as Jason walked in.
"Iolaus, you're looking better."
"Feeling better," he smiled back at his old friend.
"Good," Jason pulled up a chair at the head of the table, "Can you tell me what happened? Morrigan and Nebula don't really know either and Hercules, well, he's been sleeping for the last two days, same as you."
"I don't know how much I can help. How are things in town?"
"Everybody's coming out of a daze, but settling back to normal."
Iolaus nodded, glad to hear it and told what he knew from the beginning; how he'd jumped in front of the dagger meant for Nebula and how Dahak had tricked him into using his body. How he and Hercules had defeated Dahak together. How he had walked into the light and woken up on the altar. As to why and how Iolaus was alive, he really didn't know how to explain it. "This is where I belong," Iolaus said simply and shrugged his shoulders.
Jason gave Iolaus' shoulder an affectionate squeeze, "I agree. This is where you've always belonged."
Morrigan reached across the table and took his hand, "Hercules has been lost without you."
Iolaus blushed uncomfortable with the attention, "I'm gonna go sit with Herc awhile. I should be nearby when he wakes up."
Hercules couldn't feel Iolaus beside him. His eyes flew open, "Iolaus?"
"It's ok. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."
Hercules sighed with relief and lay back on the pillow. "Don't you ever scare me like this again. I don't think I could live through it."
"Nah, we're both back where we belong. Together. Here. It's like I tried to tell you before we left for Sumeria. I'm not sorry we went though. I am glad to be home."
Hercules nodded and repeated a childhood promise made in the forest where they used to play, " We'll fight back to back and die together, battle field heroes."
Iolaus clasped the offered hand, "We die together, a promise."
"Together forever." They finished in unison. They were finally home again.
30 March 1999
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