The Heart of A Hero

by Ceryndip

The bell rung long and loud in the clear early morning. It was answered by moans and groans from the cadets as they rolled off their bunks before dawn.

Hercules slipped into his clothes and nudged the still unmoving Iolaus. Mornings were frequently tough for his sparring partner. Iolaus had no trouble rising with the sun. It was this before the sun stuff that gave him problems. He insisted it was unnatural to get up while it was still dark.

"Come on, Iolaus. Time to move."

"No."

"You don't want Chiron to have to come for you. I think that would be infinitely worse than getting up."

"I can't move." His eyes were still closed. He moaned and curled into a ball, "I don't feel good."

"What do you mean," Hercules stepped out of the way of the other cadets as they passed, "you don't feel good? Are you sick?"

"I feel awful."

Hercules sat on the edge of the bunk and felt Iolaus' forehead. "Well, you are feverish. I'll tell Chiron."

"Great. Now be quiet."

The cadets were already engaged in their morning routine of exercises and stretching. Hercules walked up to Chiron.

"You're late."

"I know. It's Iolaus. He won't get up. He says he's not feeling well."

Chiron appraised Hercules critically, "Do you believe him or is he pulling a fast one on you?'

Hercules swallowed, knowing this for the test it was. "I believe him."

"Why?"

"He went to bed early last night, he was restless all night and he has a fever."

Chiron nodded, "Alright, I'll check on him. You start practicing, join another group in the meantime."

Hercules nodded and wandered off into the throng. He kept a watchful eye on Chiron none-the-less. The centaur finished up whatever he was doing and directed the group in a defensive exercise. Then, finally, Hercules noticed he had disappeared.

"Iolaus, wake up."

Iolaus groaned miserably.

"Open your eyes, Iolaus."

"No, the light hurts." Stubbornly, Iolaus kept them closed.

"Hercules tells me you are ill. Explain."

"My head's pounding, stomach's churning."

Chiron noted the small ball he was curled into. "Are you cold?"

Iolaus nodded, "Sometimes cold, sometimes so hot I can't stand it. Then, my teeth start chattering all over again."

Chiron reached down and felt his forehead and cheek. "You do have a fever. Come."

"Huh?" Iolaus raised his head and finally opened his eyes to squint at Chiron like he was a nutcase, "Where?"

"Somewhere else. If you are catching, I don't want the other cadets near enough to you to spread it to them. Assuming they haven't already been exposed. I'll make up a pallet for you in the storage room. You'll like it. There are no windows. Come."

Iolaus wearily drug himself up out of the bed, shivering. Chiron picked up the blanket and draped it around Iolaus' shoulders. He swayed unsteadily on his feet as they walked. Chiron stayed close enough to catch him if he should stumble but allowed him to walk on his own.

When they reached the kitchen, the centaur sat Iolaus at the table and put on water to heat. Iolaus miserably put his head down on the table. Chiron made a pallet of soft blankets on two old benches he pushed together in the storage room. He returned to the kitchen and mixed a powder in a mug of the hot water. He tapped Iolaus on the shoulder and handed it to him.

"Drink."

"What is it?"

"Something that tastes terrible. Drink."

Iolaus smelled it warily.

Chiron was amused, "Does it smell bad?"

"Can't smell anything." Iolaus shrugged and sniffled. He took a sip. It wasn't as bad as he thought it would be.

Chiron waited until Iolaus had drank a little more than half of the mug, "That's enough. Come lie down." Iolaus sank gratefully onto the pallet. "Rest now, I'll be back to check on you later."

Hercules broke with his partner and walked up to Chiron immediately upon seeing his return.

"How's Iolaus?"

"As you said, he has a fever. He'll be alright in a day or two, once the fever breaks. Hercules, I'm surprised. Such concern for someone you act like you can't stand being around." Chiron smiled, "Back to work, Hercules."

Iolaus stared mesmerized by the ceiling, watching it spin and shimmy above him. He snuggled deeper into the blankets as he was overtaken by a sudden chill. His throat had begun to hurt and the coughing didn't help.

Chiron checked on him frequently. By lunch Iolaus had developed a deep cough. The centaur mixed some honey in the tea to soothe his raw throat.

"I hate being sick." Iolaus' voice was hoarse already.

Chiron was concerned by how much weaker Iolaus had become in so short a time. He had to steady the mug so Iolaus could drink from it.

"Save your voice or it will be gone by evening. Pain and illness are a part of being mortal, we must all endure it from time to time."

"Easy for you to say," Iolaus croaked.

His fever still raged. Chiron added another blanket to the several which already covered him. After lunch Chiron asked Hercules about his health, wondering if his divine nature would give him some protection against Iolaus' illness. Hercules contended that he was rarely ill. So Chiron assigned him to sit with Iolaus in the afternoon. He doubted that Hercules' mind would be on his lessons anyway.

He took Hercules into the room. Iolaus didn't even acknowledge their presence, yet his eyes were open. Chiron handed Hercules a bowl filled with cloudy water.

"This is to help cool his fever," he demonstrated on Iolaus' arm, " expose a small portion of his body. Keep the rest of him covered and warm. Dampen the area, not dripping wet, just damp, dry him off and cover him before moving to the next area. when you've finished bathing all of him, if the fever hasn't dropped, start again. Make him drink as much water as you can when he's awake. I've given him something that will make him sleepy, so don't be alarmed if he drops off mid sentence. Any questions?"

"What's in the bowl?"

"Water with lemon and barley, both are known for their fever reducing properties." He handed Hercules the soft cloth and pulled a chair to the bedside for him. "Call me if there are any changes."

Hercules sat a moment and studied his partner. He didn't like what he saw. His friend had fallen fast. Iolaus' eyes were open but he didn't seem to be looking at anything.

"Iolaus?" he waited a moment for a response before trying again, "Iolaus, are you in there?"

He seemed to take a long time to focus on Hercules.

"Herc?"

"How do you feel?"

"Awful. Do I look awful?"

Hercules smiled, "you look pretty bad, my friend."

"Friend?" Iolaus repeated with a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, "Never called me that before." His eyes slowly closed.

Hercules began dampening Iolaus with the cloth in a vain attempt to calm the fever. Iolaus teetered on the edge of consciousness most of the afternoon. He would sleep awhile then become restless, shifting on the pallet. Sometimes with his eyes open and conscious and sometimes not. Hercules was worried. He'd bathed Iolaus completely twice with no change at all in the level of fever. If anything, he seemed to be a little worse.

"Come on, Iolaus, you can fight this. What happened to that stubborn little thief that I used to know?"

"Thief?" Iolaus croaked. "I haven't stolen anything in months."

"Oh, so you're an ex-thief now? So, what are you if you're not a thief?"

"I don't know, must be something else for me to do. Maybe I'll be a hero. Hero's get lots of girls."

Hercules lifted his head and gave him a drink of water.

"Herc?"

"Yeah, buddy?"

"Stay here with me. I don't like being sick."

"I'll be here as much as I can but I don't think Chiron will let me stay all the time."

Iolaus nodded his understanding and closed his eyes again, "Thanks."

Chiron relieved Hercules at supper time despite his desire to stay and remain with his friend through the night. Iolaus was never openly delirious but Chiron had to restrain him more than once to keep him from lashing out at fever dreams and kicking off the covers.

His fever continued to rise and Chiron's concern slid into worry. They had been bathing Iolaus with a cool herbal solution for hours and he was still loosing ground. It was time for desperate measures. His fever had to be brought down. Iolaus was barely conscious when Chiron stripped him of his clothes, wrapped him in a warm blanket and carried him out to the river. He immersed Iolaus in the cool water and let it force the fever to relent. After a time, he wrapped Iolaus again in the warm blanket and held him near the fire in the kitchen until his hair and body had dried completely before tucking him back into the makeshift bed. He seemed to finally be sleeping peacefully.

Iolaus' fever had dropped dramatically. It hadn't completely broke but at least he had a chance to get some respite from it. Chiron breathed a sigh of relief and as the sun peaked over the horizon he went to wake the cadets late for morning exercises.

Hercules, already dressed, was out of bed at the first clang of the bell. He walked with Chiron toward the large room the cadets trained in.

"Do you want me to sit with Iolaus?"

Chiron placed a reassuring hand on Hercules' shoulder, "His fever has fallen considerably. I think he can manage to sleep quietly without our presence for awhile. I'll keep an eye on him." He saw the disappointment in the cadet's eyes, "Hercules, I do appreciate the offer."

Good to his word, Chiron kept frequent check on Iolaus, waking him periodically to take a few sips of tea. As predicted his voice was little more than a whisper.

"Well, at least we know how to keep you quiet now." Chiron gently teased. Iolaus made a face.

"Sleep."

"Sleep, sleep, all I do is sleep," he whispered.

"You feel up to doing something else?"

"No."

"Sleep, Iolaus." Chiron closed the door quietly. He was concerned. The fever was slowly rising again.

The cadets continued their lessons in the practice rooms of the old fortress. The sky had become overcast just before noon and the threatening rain had driven them inside.

No one was aware of the two men hanging around outside.

"Are you sure no one's around?"

"Naw, they are all training in the other end of the building. Chiron puts those kids on a schedule and nothing changes it. No exceptions."

"Well, we're about to put a major kink in their itinerary. Let's go. We don't poison the food, we don't get paid."

Iolaus lay listening to his head pound and he continually wiped his stuffy nose with a cloth. Chiron had propped him up with an extra pillow. He did feel better, at least he did when the fever was down. It had been coming and going as it pleased all day. He wasn't well by any means but he was better. No thanks to Chiron's teas which tasted worse with each cup.

A quiet movement in the kitchen drew Iolaus' attention. He assumed Chiron was back with more vile brew but it didn't sound right. This person was trying to be quiet. It was too early for the dinner crowd and whoever had cooking duty would not be trying to be quiet. It must've been one of the cadets, Iolaus couldn't resist the urge to catch them in the act, whatever the act was.

He hauled himself off the bed and stood a moment on shaky feet until the world stopped spinning and tilting. Then, he made his way to the door, cracked it open and peeked out. The light dazzled his eyes and it took a moment before he could see anything other than big, bright shapes.

There was a man Iolaus had never seen before. He was leaning over the pot of simmering stew. The cadet who had been attending it was unconscious on the floor. Iolaus watched a moment to assure that his chest was rising and falling regularly.

Another man stepped into Iolaus' line of sight and handed the first something which was poured into the pot.

Another wave of dizziness washed over Iolaus and his eyesight blurred. He closed his eyes a moment until it passed. When he opened them the men were gone. He felt hot. Maybe the fever was making him dream again. He'd been having strange dreams. He looked again and the first man was back, stirring the pot now.

There was a third man watching. He looked strange. There was a glow all around him. Iolaus opened the door a little more to get a look with both eyes. The glowing guy looked familiar. He was wearing a lot of black leather. Iolaus' foggy brain finally kicked in, "Ares."

The man at the pot didn't seem to know Ares was there. He must be up to no good. Iolaus had to stop whatever was going on.

He opened the door slowly and stepped out on weak knees. He picked up a bucket and lobbed it at the guy by the fire. In his weakened state the bucket barely reached him. The second man stepped into view. Iolaus had forgotten about him.

"Hey, you said no one'd be in here."

"Don't just stand there, get him!"

Iolaus tried to yell for help but barely a squeak came out of his mouth. He ran behind a shelf storing pans and plates and putting his back against it, he shoved with all the strength he could muster. The shelf tipped and crashed over the two shocked men.

Iolaus turned in time to see Ares shaking his head and vanishing in a disgusted burst of flame.

Then, Chiron and the cadets rushed in to see what the crashing had been all about.

"Iolaus, what is going on?"

Iolaus' knees finally gave way and Hercules caught him and held him up.

He pointed and whispered, "They did something to the stew."

Chiron stepped over the rubble and examined the pot, "It's been poisoned. Alright, lets get them dug out." he ordered the cadets to work and turned to the two who were supporting the cadet on kitchen duty. "Is he alright? Better let him lie down on his bunk awhile. I'll be along." Chiron, then, called a smaller cadet and sent him for the magistrate.

"Herc," Iolaus croaked, "Ares was here."

One of the men was pulled roughly to his feet, "Ares? Are you crazy kid? Wasn't anybody here but us. Ares! Ha, now that'd be something."

"I saw him. He was all blurry and glowing but I saw him."

Chiron stepped over to them and felt Iolaus' forehead with the back of his hand and looked questioningly at Hercules.

"That's sort of what the gods look like when they don't want mortals to see them." Hercules shrugged.

"Perhaps the fever allowed him to see?"

Hercules nodded, "Maybe."

"Put him back to bed, I'll make more tea and dispose of that stew."

Chiron left Hercules to tend Iolaus. His fever was spiking again. He put extra yarrow root in the tea and tried to cover the bitter taste with yet more honey. It seemed to be finally doing the trick. He passed the mug of tea to Hercules and went to check on the injured cadet.

The centaur shuddered to think what would have happened had Iolaus not heard the invaders from the storage room. He would have to look into firming up the Academy's defenses immediately. One never knew from which direction danger would come and it was best to be prepared. Perhaps he should start listening to his own lessons. He owed a debt to young Iolaus, he would remember that as well.

Iolaus' fever finally broke during the hastily prepared dinner. Needing to sleep himself, Chiron gave in and granted Hercules' request to sleep in the storage room with his friend.

The next day found Iolaus looking much improved. He was still weak but better. The day was sunny and clear. Chiron ordered all the cadets outside including Hercules for the afternoon session. Chiron was surprised to see how protective he was of Iolaus. The two made much of their arguing but strong bonds grew beneath it. Hercules' desire to stay by his friend proved that. Yes, partnering those two had been a good idea for both of them.

Chiron was not surprised to see Hercules leading a blanket-wrapped Iolaus outside and spread another blanket under a shade tree for him. Iolaus kept a hand sheltering his eyes. The light still bothered him.

Hercules could attend the training session and keep a watchful eye on Iolaus at the same time. Chiron approved, the sun and warm breeze would do Iolaus good, now that the danger of fever had passed. After Chiron taught the lesson and had everyone started practicing, he casually strolled over to where Iolaus lay. His eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply. Chiron believed him to be asleep.

"Hi, Chiron," Iolaus squeaked. His voice was returning slowly. His eyes were still closed. He hadn't moved.

"How did you know it was me?"

"Not many four hoofed people around here."

"What if I were a horse with an evil warlord astride me?"

Iolaus shook his head chuckling, "Smell is different. Warlords smell better than centaurs."

Chiron laughed, "Good, you recover your wits quickly that will serve you well in the future." Then Chiron became serious, "I should thank you, Iolaus, for what you did yesterday. You saved your fellow cadets."

Iolaus waved him off, "It was nothing."

"No, it wasn't. You are not a thief anymore. You will do the right thing when you have to, I think you always have. You have the heart of a hero, Iolaus, remember that."

~~~Finis~~~

Written 24 July 1998

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