The One That Got Away

A Tale of Young Hercules and Iolaus

by Ceryndip

Two sets of boots lay piled on the shore, abandoned by their owners who stood, poles in hand, in the middle of the river.

"Hey, you got anything yet?" Iolaus whispered loudly from downstream.

"No. Be quiet. You'll scare the fish."

"Only if there are fish to scare. I haven't even had a nibble in ages. Your mother won't think much of our fishing skills, if we don't, at least, come home with a story about the one that got away."

"Mother didn't even want to let us come. She just couldn't say no to all your begging and pleading".

"What can I say, I'm irresistible to women. They can't turn me down."

"Yeah, right."

"Besides, we can take care of ourselves. We're old enough. Why shouldn't we go fishing?"

"Because my mother is responsible for you while your parents are at the poetry festival in Athens. And you have a knack for getting into trouble, my friend."

"Since when?"

"Since, all the time, and mother made me promise to keep you out of harm's way."

"Hey! Quiet! I think I got one." A strong tug on the line nearly pulled Iolaus off his feet. "Yep, I do, feels like the big one!"

"Want some help?" Hercules watched as Iolaus struggled to keep his pole, his balance and the fish under control.

"Nah, I can handle it," He risked a quick glance toward Hercules. "You could come a little closer, though."

Hercules began wading over in the thigh-deep water. Iolaus was in nearly to his waist. The fish was putting up a fierce struggle.

Suddenly, Iolaus jumped back.

"Hey, something just bit me! Here." He handed Hercules the pole, "Don't lose the fish."

Iolaus dove into the water and came up a few feet away holding a struggling snake. He began wading toward shore, hands still firmly around the snake's head.

"Iolaus?" Hercules was immediately alarmed.

Iolaus looked back at him, "I gotta take care of this. Don't lose my fish. I mean it."

Iolaus proceeded to shore where he bashed the snake's head on a rock and flung it a few yards away. Then, he sank to the sand and began rolling up his pant's leg.

Hercules bent the pole down and grabbed the line which he began to reel in by hand. The fish was no match for Hercules' strength and he quickly waded ashore with the catch. Hercules dropped the fish and took a look at the snake before moving to Iolaus' side.

"Terrific, just terrific!" Iolaus fumed.

Hercules took a look at Iolaus' leg. The two puncture wounds were already red and swelling on his calf. Iolaus had tightly tied a strip of fabric around his leg above the bite to stop the flow of poison.

Hercules nodded his head toward the snake. "That's poisonous, isn't it?"

Hercules was getting better at surviving in the wild but he needed confirmation from Iolaus' superior range of experience. Iolaus may not be good at school work, but living off the land, he excelled at.

Iolaus nodded, his face pale. A shiver went through him. Iolaus tried to hide it. Hercules didn't know if it was fear or the poison already in his body and he didn't want to find out which.

"I'll have to draw the poison out."

"I know."

Hercules took out his dagger and put a firm hand on Iolaus' leg just above the knee. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then, he looked at Iolaus.

"Ready?"

"Do I have a choice?"

Hercules leaned over the leg and quickly made a small cut over each puncture. He glanced at Iolaus who watched him intently. Iolaus nodded, reassuring him as he bit his bottom lip to hold back the pain.

Hercules bent and placed his lips over the bite and sucked as hard as he could. Iolaus moaned as Hercules turned to spit out a mouthful of blood. By the time Hercules completed his gruesome task and removed the tourniquet, Iolaus had laid back and turned his face away, tears streaming from his eyes.

Hercules put a shaky hand on his shoulder, his own eyes tearing in sympathy for his friend's pain. Iolaus turned back toward Hercules.

"Thanks."

Hercules nodded and patted Iolaus' shoulder, "I'm going to go make camp. It'll be dark soon. Stay here. I'll be right back."

Iolaus looked at the snake, picked up a rock and threw it at it.

Hercules turned and walked backwards, "What was that for?"

"Rotten snake, ruined a perfectly good fishing trip."

Hercules practically ran to the grassy area they'd chosen for their campsite. He started a fire and laid out Iolaus' bedroll close to it before heading back to the shore. Hercules put his arm under Iolaus' shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Iolaus stood holding his left foot up behind him. Hercules bent down and scooped Iolaus up in his arms.

"Hey, I can walk, or hop, or something."

"I know you can," Hercules made no move to put Iolaus down. He just kept walking toward the camp.

"Herc, this is embarrassing."

Hercules finally smiled. "There's nobody here to see," he replied as he gently set Iolaus down on his bedroll.

"Don't forget the fish. Go back and get my fish."

"OK, OK." Hercules chuckled as he went back for their boots, poles and fish. He shook his head at Iolaus' one track mind. "Don't lose my fish. Get my fish."

Hercules arrived at the waterline and there was no fish waiting for him. At once Hercules realized his mistake. In his haste to get to Iolaus he'd set the fish down too close to the waterline. The fish had flopped itself back into the river. He hadn't taken the time to add it to the string of much smaller fish, they'd caught earlier in the afternoon. They still had the other fish. They wouldn't starve, but Hercules still felt badly about having to disappoint Iolaus.

On the way back Hercules thought about what he still had to do. He wished his mother was there to reassure him he was doing everything right.

He hung the string of fish from a low branch ever conscious of Iolaus' eyes on his back.

"Just don't ask. I did something really dumb."

"You put it down too close to the water and it escaped, didn't it?"

Hercules nodded, his back still to Iolaus. He didn't want to turn around for fear of how Iolaus was going to take it. There was silence.

"Are you mad at me?"

"No. I'll get him next time."

Hercules sighed in relief and turned around. At least Iolaus was taking it philosophically.

"But don't do it again."

"I won't. I promise. Never happen again."

Hercules washed the bite thoroughly and laid a cloth soaked in cold water over it. Then he took a quick walk and gathered the herbs he'd need to make a poultice that would further draw out the poison. He returned to the camp to find Iolaus trying to reach the string of fish.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?"

"I was gonna start cleaning the fish."

"No, you are not! You're going to lie there and be still, if I have to sit on you. Iolaus any poison still in your body will just spread faster if you move around. You are not as indestructible as you think you are."

"OK, OK." He flopped miserably back down. Iolaus hated being inactive. Hercules was constantly amazed at the amount of shear energy expelled by his friend. This whole situation had to be frustrating for him.

Hercules prepared the poultice and tied it in place with a piece of fabric torn from his own shirt. Then, he pulled a rock over and used it to elevate Iolaus' leg. Hercules sat back and surveyed his work.

"Well, that's the best I can do."

Iolaus nodded, "It'll be fine."

"Fine for you. You don't have to clean or cook the fish. And It was your turn."

"Don't rub it in. It's bad enough I have to eat your cooking again."

They ate quietly. Iolaus' mood had turned somber. There were dark circles under his eyes and his face was flushed. Hercules tried to start a conversation.

"Guess we'll have to head back in the morning."

"Uh huh."

"Good fish, nice flavor."

"Not bad."

Finally, Hercules asked, "How does it feel?"

"Throbs."

"It looks swollen."

Iolaus leaned around to view his leg from the side, "Yeah, it does."

Hercules disposed of the dinner remains and stored the left over fish. Iolaus fell asleep as Hercules built up the fire for the night. He sat and leaned against a tree. For a long time Hercules watched Iolaus sleep in the firelight. Slowly his eyes closed only to spring open as Iolaus moaned, he head rolling back and forth in the throes of a dream.

Hercules was at his side instantly. He put a hand on Iolaus' arm and called softly to him. Iolaus didn't hear. Hercules called his name more urgently and shook his arm gently.

Iolaus came awake with a start, gasping for breath.

"Easy, easy. It was just a dream."

"Dream?" Iolaus glanced around as he remembered where he was.

"Want to talk about it?"

Iolaus laid back down, still breathing heavily. "It was weird. This big snake was trying to eat me."

Hercules brushed a golden curl away from Iolaus' face. He didn't have a fever.

"Probably an effect of the venom. You still feel OK?"

Iolaus nodded, "Yeah."

"Think you can go back to sleep?"

Iolaus took a deep breath, "I think so."

Hercules went back to his vigil by the tree. He did little more than dose the remainder of the night. He was awake with Iolaus' first stirrings.

Hercules removed the poultice to find an ugly bruise beneath it. The area was still somewhat inflamed.

Iolaus sat up and inspected it critically, "Pretty, huh?"

"It's a beauty, alright." Hercules gently cleaned the wound and rebandaged it. "Think you can walk on it?"

"I'll get there without you carrying me." Iolaus replied with determination.

They breakfasted on the left over fish and Hercules made a crude crutch from a tree branch. He helped Iolaus into his right boot but the left wouldn't fit with the swelling. Hercules packed the boot in the bag with the rest of their stuff.

He helped Iolaus to his feet and kept a hand on his arm as Iolaus gingerly tried to put weight on his left foot. He grimaced with pain but remained silent. Hercules handed him the crutch with doubts.

"Are you sure you're going to be able to make it?"

"I said, I'll get there." Iolaus pulled away from Hercules and hopped off toward home.

Hercules picked up the pack and followed. "Iolaus, wait up."

They had to stop frequently to allow Iolaus to rest. Hercules didn't want him overdoing it. Iolaus didn't want to stop but Hercules forced him by taking away the crutch. Iolaus sat fuming on a boulder while Hercules leaned on the crutch.

"Well, you got your big story for mother about the one that got away, at least."

"You mean the one you let get away. That's if we ever get home. It'll take us all day at this rate," Iolaus complained.

"Then, it takes us all day."

"You're not my mother. You can't tell me what to do."

"No, I can't, but I still worry about you."

"I can take care of myself."

"I know. I just don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to you."

"Nothing's going to happen to me. Not as long as you're around to mother me and drive me crazy. Now give me that crutch."

Iolaus leaned forward and snatched the crutch away. He started madly hopping down the path.

"Come on, I'll race you!"

Hercules sighed, smiled and shook his head, "Who's going to drive who crazy? Iolaus, slow down! Iolaus!"

End
Written by Ceryndip in May 1997.

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