(This story takes place immediately following the episode 'Mercenary')
Hercules was tired. The last few days were catching up with him. A quick trip to escort a murderer to Sparta had turned into a fight to survive after the prison ship they were traveling on, capsized in a storm.
He'd felt like stopping and making camp hours ago, but he was already two days late meeting Iolaus in Kalavrita. He didn't want to worry his friend unnecessarily, so he'd trudged on, hoping Iolaus hadn't gone looking for him.
Hercules pushed open the tavern door and was relieved to see a familiar blond form waving at him from a back table. He was also surprised to find Iolaus wasn't alone. Xena and Gabrielle were sitting on either side of him. Iolaus rose and met him halfway across the tavern.
"What kept you? We were about to send out the search parties. You look awful."
"Thank you," Hercules replied sarcastically. Iolaus was oblivious and bubbling over with news.
"Look who I ran into outside of town."
Hercules smiled weakly and nodded to the ladies as he wearily slid into Iolaus' seat at the table. He picked up Iolaus' mug and downed the contents to wet his dry throat.
"Hey, get your own," Iolaus protested as he pulled up another chair and straddled it backwards.
Hercules' smile broadened at the outburst. He told them briefly what had happened. How he'd hurt his arm, the deserted island with no safe drinking water, the sand creatures, the pirates, the deal he'd made to let his prisoner see his family one more time, and ultimately sending him back home to become a farmer.
"I take it back, it sounds like you could use a drink. I'll get it." Iolaus stood.
"I'll come with you," Xena said, "I could use a refill."
Iolaus caught the bartender's attention and ordered the ales.
Xena held up her hand to stop him, "Make one of those water for tea." The man nodded and began filling glasses.
"Tea? You want tea?"
"It's for Hercules."
Iolaus was baffled, "Herc wants tea?"
"He's still dehydrated, he's been walking all day. Ale is the last thing he needs. That's why I want you to disappear with Gabrielle for awhile."
Iolaus played along like he understood, "So you can give Herc some tea."
Xena smiled wryly and explained, "So, I can get him upstairs, take a look at that arm and put him to bed before he drops. He's not far from that now."
Iolaus turned and looked at Hercules across the room. He was sitting with his head resting against the wall behind him. His eyes were closed while Gabrielle chatted on about something. Iolaus nodded his agreement to Xena's plan as she dropped a handful of brown powder into the mug and stirred it.
They made their way through the crowded tavern back to the table, but Iolaus didn't sit. He stood with his ale by a nearby window, foot propped up on the chair and proclaimed what a lovely evening it was out.
Gabrielle sat up straight and peered out the window, "It does look nice."
"Good, let's go watch the sun set."
"OK," Gabrielle was surprised but took his offered hand and they headed for the door.
Iolaus called back, "Our room is the last on the right, don't wait up."
"Don't plan to," Hercules replied.
Iolaus motioned to the bartender that he'd bring back his mug later.
Hercules sensed something afoot. He thought Iolaus' ploy was a little transparent, but he let it go and chose to examine the mug Xena set in front of him instead. It didn't smell like ale.
"Drink it. It's better for you than the ale."
Suspicious, Hercules took a sip. When the taste wasn't bitter, he took a bigger swallow. The locals had started a knife throwing contest on the other side of the room. They were getting loud and rambunctious about it. Hercules and Xena half watched as they sipped their drinks in silence.
When Xena thought Hercules had drank enough she leaned forward and spoke quietly, "Let's go upstairs where it's quieter and let me change that bandage."
So that was it. Hercules nodded.
Xena stopped by her room to pick up the bag of medicinal supplies she and Gabrielle kept. Hercules left the door open for her and she closed it behind herself. He had already laid down on the nearest bed. She picked up the basin and poured water in it. She mixed in a powder from the bag and left it sitting on the table while she loosened the laces and pulled off Hercules' boots.
He nodded, eyes only half open, "Thank you."
"Let's see that arm," she gently unwound the bandage. The wound was still red and a little irritated but there wasn't much swelling. "Your prisoner knew his stuff. This is healing nicely." She brought the basin over to the bed and gently lowered his elbow into it.
"It'll help keep the joint from being so stiff in the morning. I mixed in some herbs to help fight off any remaining infection."
"And what did you put in the tea?"
She smiled, "Just something to help you relax."
"Well, it's working. I can't keep my eyes open."
"So, close them."
Hercules sighed and let blissful sleep claim him. Xena left him awhile until she was certain he was deeply asleep. She moved the basin and carefully dried off his arm. Then, she proceeded to pull off his heavy leather pants and roll him out of his shirt. She covered him with the blanket and after spreading a salve over the wound, wrapped a clean bandage around it. She blew out the candle by the bed and went back to her own room with thoughts of having a long, quiet soak herself.
Iolaus and Gabrielle sat on a fence at the edge of town. The sun reflected in pinks and oranges against the darkening sky.
"So, why did you really want me to come with you? Xena wanted us out of there, right?"
Iolaus chuckled, "Yeah, she wanted to doctor Hercules a little. Probably figured he'd go along with her easier if we weren't around."
Gabrielle nodded, "He did look really tired."
"So, what have you and Xena been up to?" Iolaus slid off the fence and leaned against it.
"Oh, traveling around mostly, saving a village here, stopping a warlord there. You know, the usual."
"Yeah, I know how that goes. I heard you and Xena were involved in stopping a war between the Amazons and Centaurs."
"Oh yes, that's where I..." she blushed.
Iolaus' eyes lit up mischievously, "Don't tell me, you ran off and joined the Amazons?"
"Well, I supposed you could say I have, sort of," she continued, "I was given the Right of Caste by an Amazon Princess before she died."
"Which makes you an Amazon Princess?"
She nodded, "Yes."
"So, if you ever decide to go live with the Amazons, you'll be Queen?" Iolaus asked.
Iolaus bowed deeply, "Forgive me, my Lady, I had no idea that I was escorting royalty."
Gabrielle giggled, "Like I know anything about being royalty."
"Oh, it's not that hard. It's just a matter of knowing when to wave and when to just nod and having a little common sense. That and putting up with people trying to wait on you hand and foot your every waking moment."
You sound like you're speaking from experience, besides, I don't think Amazon Queens bother with much of that."
"You're better off with us common folks anyway."
They were silent a moment, then, Gabrielle asked quietly, "So, are you going to tell me how you know about royalty?"
Iolaus looked down at the grass and thought a moment before replying, "It's not exactly for public consumption. Let's just say it's a state secret and leave it at that."
"Spy, huh?" she probed.
He shrugged content to let her think so, "Do you suppose if we start slowly heading back Xena'll have Hercules all tucked in by the time we get there?"
"Yeah, let's go. The show's over here anyway."
Iolaus gave her a hand off the fence and they started through town. A couple of blocks from the inn they passed a group of semi drunk men lounging against a wall.
"Hey, look at the pretty little girl."
"Oooohhh Baby, come over here and let me bounce you on my knee."
Iolaus didn't like the way they were leering at Gabrielle and slipped his arm around her waist protectively.
"Just keep walking. They're drunk," she whispered.
"Hey, fella wants her all to himself."
One of them stepped into their path, "She doesn't want to stay with you."
"Just get out of our way and there won't be any trouble." Iolaus warned.
"Oh, they'll be trouble, all right."
The others began to gather around, sensing some free entertainment.
The first man reached for Gabrielle. Iolaus slapped his hand and with the arm around Gabrielle' waist shoved her to the side out of the way.
"Hey! I can..." She stopped as the man continued to advance on the unarmed Iolaus. He swung. Iolaus easily blocked the roundhouse punch and followed through smashing his empty mug against the drunk's forehead. He fell like a stone.
His buddies became incensed, "Get him!"
"Is that all you guys can come up with? Get me! At least you could think of something more original."
Iolaus was surrounded and heavily outnumbered. Gabrielle frantically searched for something to fight with and wished she'd had the foresight to bring her staff.
Iolaus assumed, that since they were drunk, they'd be quickly dealt with. He was wrong. They didn't all go down as easily as the first. He shoved his foot into a stomach winding one, but he didn't see the vase about to be smashed against his head until it was too late.
Gabrielle saw Iolaus go down. She grabbed a broom from a doorway and leaped into the fray. Iolaus was still conscious but stunned and moving slowly. Gabrielle stood over him and took out the brawling fools one at a time as they charged at her. She wielded the broom with the hands of a seasoned expert. The idiots didn't even have time to be surprised that their "little girl" could fight.
Gabrielle knelt beside Iolaus who had struggled to a sitting position. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, sure, and here I thought I had to worry about you. You're the one picking me up off the road."
"It was very sweet of you, but I can defend my own honor, thank you."
"I guess I really should have expected it. Look who you're hanging out with," he smiled at her through the haze. "You were great! I was just in the way."
She gave him a hand up. He stood swaying, obviously dizzy. She slipped his arm over her shoulders, "Come on, Hercules isn't the only one Xena's gonna have to patch up tonight."
They stumbled up the stairs at the inn. Gabrielle, still supporting Iolaus with one arm, opened the door to their room with the other. Xena's hair was wet but she was dressed minus her armor. Obviously she'd just finished bathing. "Xena, I could use a hand here."
Iolaus waved weakly and managed a sheepish grin.
"We ran into a few drunks who wanted to get friendly."
"How was he hurt?"
"Vase to the back of his head."
Xena lifted Iolaus' chin and looked into his eyes. She ran a hand through his hair, checking for lumps, "You've got a harpy's egg coming up back here."
"Tell me about it. You shoulda seen them. Gabrielle tore them up!"
Gabrielle blushed. Xena smiled, "Is that so?"
"Yeah, she was terrific! OW!"
Xena let go of his head, "At least he's not bleeding."
"Just a little disoriented." Gabrielle grinned.
"I'll bet the conversation's been entertaining." Xena picked up the bag of supplies.
"Enlightening, to say the least."
"I'm OK, just a little stunned."
Xena appraised him critically, "Is that why you're standing like the room's tilted?"
"I'm fine," Iolaus pushed away and tried to stand on his own. He ended up leaning even heavier on Gabrielle. "I've got a hard head."
"I've noticed," Xena smiled and took his other arm, "Let's get him to his own room."
Hercules was snoring softly as they entered and deposited Iolaus on the far bed, "Take off his vest and boots." Xena whispered. Gabrielle bent down and picked up a foot.
Xena walked to the table and wet a cloth. She sprinkled it with the same powder she'd put in the basin earlier and returned to the bed. She put the cloth in Iolaus' hand and placed his hand against the lump on his head.
"Xena? Would you do me a favor?"
"There's a guy around here ringing a bell real loud. Now, don't hurt him. I just want you to go take his bell away."
"I think his bell will stop ringing by morning," She pushed him back onto the bed. He caught Gabrielle's hand in his on the way down.
"Xena? Did you know Gabrielle's an Amazon Princess?" He was obviously impressed by this.
"Yeah, I guess you would." Iolaus closed his eyes and let go of Gabrielle as Xena lifted his feet onto the bed.
"Head hurts," he mumbled.
"Gabrielle, turn your head," Xena said as she began undoing Iolaus' pants. she heard Iolaus giggle softly as she turned and faced the door.
"OK, you can look," Xena was still tucking the blankets in around him.
"Are we still moving on in the morning?" Gabrielle asked.
"And leave these two to fend for themselves? We'll at least make sure they're conscious before we go."
Gabrielle giggled, "Makes you wonder how they survive without us?"
Xena smiled as she adjusted the cloth against Iolaus' head, "We'll have to wake this one up a couple of times tonight to make sure he still knows who he is."
"I'm not sure he knows now." Gabrielle said as she held open the door for Xena, "He thought he was the King of Attica a little while ago."
"The king of what?" Xena asked. Their laughter fading as the door closed and the darkness blanketed the two weary heroes with peaceful sleep.
Written January 1998.
Disclaimer: Iolaus was not severely harmed in the writing of this story. However, some strange rumors have been circulated about the King of Attica being seen, drunk, in the company of a cute, blond girl. The Queen was not pleased.
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