"Hercules, the Enforcer. She's alive."
Hercules was horified by his friend's appearance as he collapsed to the floor. Iolaus looked like he'd been nearly beaten half to death. He was covered in bruises and gashes. Hercules quickly pulled on his pants as Iolaus painfully turned away so Nemesis could clothe her dignity as well.
"I'll get some water," she said after quickly fastening her tunic. She grabbed a bucket and left hastily through the still open door.
Hercules helped Iolaus to lay down gently on the blanket in the hay. He pulled over a feed sack for him to lean against.
Iolaus breathed a sigh of relief at finally being able to rest. The frantic search to find Hercules had been agony and he regretted having to find him. "Sorry, Herc, I didn't mean to interrupt. I know you don't...very often."
"Don't even think about it. I don't know what I thought I was doing. I should've been in the village."
Iolaus sighed, "Herc, you didn't know. It's a festival--"
"If I'd been there, you'd--"
Iolaus wasn't about to let Hercules blame himself. "You already killed her once. You can't be everywhere and I'm glad you were here *with her,*" emphasizing the last two words as Nemesis returned.
Hercules didn't want to argue, "Okay, hush now and let us take care of you."
Nemesis kneeled beside Iolaus and put a cool cloth on his swelling eye while Hercules began examining his wounds.
"Nemesis, I need something to stop the bleeding in these deeper cuts. I saw some plants outside. I'll be right back." He handed her his cloth.
She had Iolaus lay back against her arm as she began to gently clean his wounds. "You have the courage the God's lack, Iolaus."
"Yeah, I would've won, but she's not human."
"She's of the Gods."
"Yeah, under her flesh was water. She's made of water."
Hercules returned in time to hear the end of the conversation as he pulverized a root with his bare hands and mixed it with water in a small bowl. He crawled back onto the hay and held the bowl for Nemesis to dip the cloth in.
"That's why she didn't die, when I fought her. She fell off a cliff and disintegrated. I thought she was destroyed but she must've reformed in the ocean."
"How are we gonna defeat her?" Iolaus asked.
Hercules pondered it, "Water's the most powerful force on earth. It can move mountains, sink continents, but everyone's got a weakness."
"Whatever you want to do, I'm there for you, Hercules." Nemesis offered.
"No, not now, not when you're mortal. You could wind up like Iolaus or worse."
"You're not the only one who has a bone to pick with Hera."
"Nemesis, you could die. I won't take that risk."
Seeing there was no reasoning with him, Nemesis let the conversation drop. Hercules bandaged the wounds. Then, made a small fire and brewed some tea from the remaining herbs he'd gathered outside. He made Iolaus drink it to ease his pain.
Nemesis collected the empty cup and other things as Iolaus genuinely thanked her for caring for him. She moved to the door and leaned against the wall letting the two men take care of each other. It seemed to be something they were accustomed to and she didn't want to intrude. She had other business to attend to.
"You know, Hercules, it's not your fault that I got hurt. I mean, I chose to fight her." Iolaus tried to assume the blame that was rightfully his, but knew, Hercules wouldn't accept it.
"Don't worry," Hercules gave Iolaus' shoulder a gentle, reassuring squeeze. "I'll get her."
"Maybe you shouldn't." Iolaus held a cloth to his still bleeding nose.
"Why not? She's not going to stop coming after me. Nemesis, stay here with..." Hercules looked around, turning back to Iolaus in a panic, "She's gone after the Enforcer."
"Go, go." Iolaus waved him off. He knew there was nothing more he could do in his condition. He'd be more of a liability than a help. Still, he worried about his friend. Hercules was strong, he wasn't invincible. The Enforcer was unrelenting. Iolaus slid down and lay against the bag of feed. He tried to stop it but closing his weary eyes felt so good. What was in that tea, anyway?
The Enforcer was dead.
Hercules picked up Nemesis and not knowing where else to go, took her back to the barn where they'd left Iolaus. He carefully placed her in the hay near his friend. He laid a hand on her cheek. She didn't stir. He turned to Iolaus who was still sleeping. He moved over and gave him a quick once over. Hercules frowned at how swollen Iolaus' left ankle had become. He loosened the lacings on the boot and probed the ankle gently. It wasn't broken but Iolaus would not be able to put any weight on it for awhile. He'd need a crutch.
Seeing that neither of his friends would be regaining their senses anytime soon, Hercules quietly stepped outside. He leaned heavily against the outside wall of the barn for a moment and took a deep breath letting it out slowly. He could have lost both of his friends so easily today and was very lucky he hadn't. He took another deep breath and pushed off the barn heading into the woods.
After Hercules had found a suitable branch about the right length for Iolaus' crutch, he ventured back into the village and bought some fruit and vegetables and a little chicken to make soup with. He doubted either of his charges would be feeling up to anything more solid this evening.
Nemesis was not hurt that badly as far as he could tell but she wasn't used to being mortal and it was going to be an adjustment for her.
He opened the door to the barn and set the crutch against the wall. He turned to find Iolaus leaning up on an elbow, looking at Nemesis. He shifted his attention to Hercules, giving him a questioning glance.
"Is she ok?"
Hercules nodded, "I think so. She hit her head is all. I guess it's not as hard as yours. "
Iolaus grimaced at that, "And the Enforcer?"
"How?" Iolaus swallowed dryly.
Hercules fetched the bucket and dipper as he explained. "I got her too near the fire in the forge and she went up in steam."
He handed Iolaus the dipper, "Thanks, good plan."
Nemesis moaned and Hercules moved to her side. "Take it easy."
She reached for her head, "I'm ok, I think." She looked around, "How'd I get here?"
"I carried you."
"I killed her for good this time."
Nemesis slowly sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees. Hercules frowned his disapproval.
"Hercules, I'm alright, really, don't fuss. Mortal or not, I'm not that easy to break."
Iolaus spoke up as he struggled to sit up painfully, "You can fuss over me, if you'd like."
Hercules was shocked, "I can?"
Iolaus half smiled, "Well, I'd like another drink."
Hercules refilled the dipper for him, then, began preparations for the soup.
Iolaus slowly laid himself back down after he'd handed the dipper to Nemesis. Hercules was thankful that he didn't seem to be in any hurry to move around too much. Nemesis seemed to follow his lead and took her time as well.
Hercules got both of them to have a bowl of soup before bedding down for the night. He felt exhausted but remained up watching over his two friends for a long while before crawling between them and succumbing to the healing ministrations of sleep himself.
The next morning Hercules woke to find Iolaus sitting on the edge of the hay loft smiling at him eating an apple.
Hercules sat up, "You look better."
Iolaus nodded, "Feel better, sore though. I don't think there's a part of me that isn't bruised but I'll live, if I don't move too fast. You must've been tired, it's midmorning."
Hercules stifled a yawn, "Fighting monsters will do that to you." He looked over to check on Nemesis only to find himself alone in the hay. "Nemesis?"
"She went for a walk, said she had some thinking to do. Maybe you should join her. I would but this ankle won't let me get too far."
"I made you a crutch." Hercules retrieved it and handed it to him.
"Thanks," Iolaus laid it in the hay beside him. "I'll meet you outside after you two have had a chance to talk. Then, we need to hit the road." He tossed his friend an apple.
Hercules flashed him a grin and headed out to find Nemesis.
Written 2 November 1998
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