Returning Home

by Ceryndip

Iolaus woke feeling weak and sick. He'd slept fitfully and couldn't seem to get warm even though it wasn't a cool night and the fire hadn't gone out. His throat felt scratchy when he swallowed and he figured he had a fever.

He was supposed to meet Hercules at the Delphi Crossroads this evening, that destination was still a full day's travel. Iolaus doused the fire from his waterskin and refilled it at the nearby stream. He splashed cool water on his face in the hopes of it making him feel better without result. He sighed and headed down the path.

The way his stomach felt, he didn't dare eat anything. He felt weaker and less steady on his feet as the morning wore on. The bright sun made his eyes hurt. He reached a crossroads leading to Corinth and paused.

If Alcmene had still been alive, he wouldn't have hesitated. She would've taken one look at him and bundled him off to the bed he craved. She'd have filled him full of warm soup and put cool cloths on his forehead soaked in wonderful smelling herbs. Yes, he'd have gone straight...home. There was no other word for that eternally warm place. But her light had left this world, Iolaus felt lost. His head swam with the fever and he knew he really needed to find a bed.

Corinth was only another hour's travel. Jason would be there, at least Iolaus hoped he would be. Alcmene's death had brought him closer than he ever remembered being to Jason. Iolaus set out for Corinth. He'd send a message to Hercules. He ached all over. His head hurt. He needed a bed and he wanted it now.

It had been several months since Alcmene's death and Iolaus felt awkward knocking on the door. He was used to just opening it and yelling, "Anybody home?" He wasn't sure where he stood now. If this house still meant "home" or not.

The garden looked good. Jason had obviously been caring for it. Alcmene's grave was still bare. It bothered him. Iolaus was distracted by the door opening.

"Iolaus!" Jason's face lit. "Come in." He looked beyond Iolaus, "Hercules isn't with you?"

"No, we were to meet at the Delphi Crossroads tonight. I need to send a message to him."

Jason took his first good look at Iolaus. "You look terrible. Do you feel as bad as you look?"

Iolaus shrugged and nodded with a slight smile, "How bad do I look?"

"You don't want to know." Jason took his sword and pack. "Let's get you into a bed and then I'll see about finding a messenger." He led Iolaus into the smaller bedroom and immediately opened the window.

"Sorry about it being stale in here. I never know when you two are going to show up and I suppose I don't air it as often as I should."

"That's ok." Iolaus sat on Hercules' old bed and laid back across it, "This is all I've thought about for miles."

Jason walked around the bed and pulled off Iolaus' boots. Iolaus turned and slid up the bed as Jason lifted his feet up. Jason opened a cupboard and tossed Iolaus the soft old blue wrap he slept in when he stayed here. More than once Alcmene had threatened to throw it out rather than mend the worn spots. Iolaus stared at Jason in wonder. Was there anything she hadn't told him?

"Thank you."

Jason knew he meant more than the cloth, "Iolaus, this is your home. Alcmene didn't want that to change just because she's gone."

Iolaus nodded, his thanks shining in his red-rimmed eyes.

"Don't lie on top of that bed, get in it. I'll go send your message." Jason paused a moment and fingered the edge of the blanket. "Is this going to be warm enough? Nevermind, you know where the blankets are if you're cold." Jason waved on his way out.

Jason returned to find Iolaus sleeping peacefully under a heavy down comforter from the cupboard. He set about starting a soup stock in the kettle over the fire. Jason ventured out into the garden and gathered a few herbs he'd need for flavoring and for fever. He was grateful that Alcmene had shared that knowledge with him. He meant to keep his promise to provide a home for their family.

Iolaus woke that evening to a sweet smell and a cool sensation on his forehead. He sighed and opened his eyes to find Jason instead of who he'd expected sitting by the bed.

"Sorry, it's just me," Jason smiled sympathetically. "Feeling better?"

Iolaus blushed, embarrassed that Jason had so easily read the disappointment in his face. "A little better. Get the message off?"

"Yes, Hercules will probably be here in the morning, I tried not to worry him but."

"But, he's an old mother hen." Iolaus smiled and stretched. "I should probably have had you tell my mother I was here."

"Your mother? How did that visit go?"

"A little rocky but I promised I'd try and let her be a bigger part of my life again."

"I have to go to the market in the morning. I'll let her know."

"Thanks. How are you doing?"

"Ok, one day at a time. I fixed the roof and that garden is more work than I ever imagined it would be. I have promises to keep and that garden is one of them. She saw to it I stay very busy. "

Iolaus nodded, glad Alcmene had provided for Jason as well. Both he and Hercules had worried that Jason might go back to drinking as he had done after losing his first wife. It seemed that Alcmene had a beneficial effect on everyone she loved.

"Are you hungry?" Jason asked, "I made soup."

The birds sang outside the window while Jason made his usual small breakfast. Iolaus was still asleep when Hercules burst through the door. Jason had tried to assure him in the message that it was nothing serious but nothing he said was going to stop Hercules from worrying. Who could blame him? Hercules had lost too much in his life not to worry about an under-the-weather Iolaus if he wasn't there to care for him.

"Shhhh, you'll wake him."

Hercules leaned back on the door, took a breath and let it out slowly. Everything was as it should be here. Everything was calm, nothing to get excited about. He pushed away from the front door and pointed questioningly at the closed door of his room. Jason nodded.

Hercules slowly opened the door and looked in on his sleeping friend in relief. He felt Jason behind him and opened it further for him to see.

"Thank you for taking him in."

Jason shook his head. Were they both really this dense? "Hercules, we're family, we are all we have left and this is our home. Your mother saw to that when we were kids. If we were hungry or hurt or lonely, we knew we had a place we would never be refused. That always included Iolaus...and me, too. She wanted us to take care of each other. "

Hercules nodded solemnly.

"I'm going to the market. I don't keep enough food here for three. Iolaus wanted his mother to know he was here. I may bring her back with me. Don't wake him up. There's soup if he's hungry or if you are for that matter." Hercules smiled and watched Jason pick up a basket and leave.

Hercules washed his hands and wet a cloth to wipe off the dust of the road. He sighed and closed his eyes drinking in all the smells and sounds and sensations of home. The place still smelled like her, he was afraid it wouldn't. Afraid he'd come home and there would be no trace left of her. Instead, he felt her all around him. This place was still full of her, not empty as his house had been after Deianeira and the kids were so violently taken from this world. He still found comfort and solace here.

Iolaus was terribly pale but he seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Maybe he felt the same security and tranquillity here. Hercules couldn't resist pulling the covers up more snugly as his friend shivered a little with a passing chill. Iolaus stirred and opened his eyes.

"Hi Herc."

"How are you?"

"I'll live in a day or two. I'm just glad to be home."

Hercules nodded, "Yeah, I know Jason said the place would still be here when we left but a part of me just wasn't sure."

Iolaus pushed himself up and propped his pillow behind him. "It isn't exactly the same. Never be quite like that again, but it's still home. Where's Jason?"

"Went to the market and your mother's."

"Good. I hope she comes. She cooks better than Jason does."

"He said there was soup if you were hungry."

"Yeah, I don't want any more of it." Iolaus made a face, "Let's just say my stomach refused it and leave it at that, ok?"

Jason finished the shopping and headed for the other side of town. He found his heart filled with warm purpose. It was good to have someone to look after for a change. He was getting concerned about himself after he'd realized he was talking to the plants in the garden. He'd taken the revelation philosophically, as long as the plants didn't start talking back.

Iolaus had provided excellent directions. Jason knocked on the door and introduced himself to the couple. They were both a little uneasy about meeting their former king. Jason still got this reaction from time to time and found it passed faster if he just went about his business.

"I'm a friend of your son's."

"He's alright, isn't he?" Pandion asked.

"Yes and no, he's not been injured or anything serious. He is ill. He has a fever. "

"Fever?" his mother asked.

Jason nodded, "You know; aches, chills, nausea, sore throat that sort of thing. He'll be fine in a couple of days. He wanted you to know. He wants to see you."

She glowed, "He asked for me?"

Jason nodded. She turned to her husband.

"Go woman. I'm perfectly capable of fending for myself. Take as long as you need."

"Sore throat, you say? Bad stomach? I have something for that. Give me a moment. I'll be right with you."

Jason opened the door for her. Hercules was sitting at the table contemplating a bowl of the soup Iolaus had warned him about. Hercules stood to greet their guest. Erythia didn't even give Jason a chance to introduce her.

"Hercules, Iolaus has told me so much about you. I feel like I know you already." She reached up and hugged him. Hercules was surprised at her warmth. He hadn't expected it from the way Iolaus spoke about his childhood. Of course, that was mostly about his father. He had never mentioned much about his mother. Hercules could certainly see where Iolaus got his smiling eyes from.

"My, you are tall aren't you? Where is my son?"

Hercules pointed to the open door. "Napping last time I checked." She set down her basket on the table and quietly entered the room. She sat on the bed and took Iolaus' hand.

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. Then, he opened his eyes, "Hi Mom."

She brushed the hair from his forehead and felt it for fever, "Hi, yourself. How do you feel?"

Hercules and Jason watched from the table in the next room and talked quietly. Iolaus and Erythia had a long visit. Erythia bathed his forehead and face as his fever reached the breaking point. Iolaus fell into an exhausted sleep, feeling warm inside for the first time in days.

Hercules entered the room quietly and sat on the opposite side of the bed, "His color is better."

She nodded, "Yes, fever broke a little while ago." They sat in silence for a moment, then, Erythia turned to Hercules. "Hercules, Iolaus has told me many stories about your adventures together, but he tells very little about himself."

Hercules nearly choked.

She smiled, "I assume that means he tells them differently in the taverns? Tell me, is he really the hero everyone says he is?"

"He is more of a hero than they know."

"Please, tell me all the stories I've missed because I didn't go out and find him and bring him home, because I waited years for him to come home on his own.

"Let's let him sleep." Hercules led her from the room, "Jason, the lady wants to hear some stories about her son, the hero."

Jason had a mischievous gleam in his eye, "Some of those stories get pretty rowdy."

"This is Iolaus we are talking about, I wouldn't expect less."

They sat at the table and Hercules began with the most flattering and heroic tales he could think of. Jason took it upon himself to tell all the really embarrassing moments he could remember and there were quite a few. So Hercules countered with telling her of Ania and the baby and Iolaus' valiant attempts at single parenthood. Hercules doubted that Iolaus would speak comfortably of those times even to his mother. He spoke of them to no one.

They laughed and cried a little and laughed some more. Erythia wiped the tears from her eyes still giggling, "Purple? What an image. Gentlemen, I thank you. For being my son's friends and his family when he didn't feel he could come to me. He has a good and full life. No mother could wish for more for her children. Now, the least I can do is make dinner for the four of us. It's getting late.

Jason insisted on helping her. Hercules enjoyed watching the mess Jason made in the kitchen and hoped he'd pick up a few tips. His soup needed some help. Hercules nearly fell off the bench at the table from laughter when Erythia wrinkled her nose at the contents of the kettle and promptly pitched it into the back yard. " No wonder he didn't keep it down."

Erythia heated some broth for Iolaus and Hercules was stunned that Iolaus suffered through her spoonfeeding it to him without so much as a complaint. Hercules pointed it out to Jason.

"I supposed it's because he's so grateful that he doesn't have to eat my soup."

Hercules put his arm around Jason's shoulders, "Your heart's in the right place, we've just got to get you some cooking lessons."

"Alcmene tried, I'm hopeless."

"She never said that."

"No, but she thought it. I could tell."

As Hercules walked Erythia home, she promised to bring better soup and some of Iolaus' favorite sweet bread when she returned the next afternoon.

Hercules woke to the sun streaming through the window and rolled off the pallet on the floor to find the bed empty. He opened the door, Jason was slicing fruit for breakfast but there was no sign of his friend.

"Have you seen Iolaus?"

"No, isn't he asleep?"

"No, he's flown the coop."

Iolaus' fever had broken the afternoon before but he shouldn't be up and around yet. Hercules sighed a long suffering sigh, slipped on his pants and headed outside.

There was a rustling on the far side of the garden. Hercules found Iolaus digging up flowers and transplanting them on Alcmene's grave.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Iolaus sat back panting with exertion. "Something we should have done months ago, making this the prettiest spot in the garden.

Jason had followed Hercules outside, "I was waiting for the three of us to be here together. I thought we should all have a hand in it. "

Hercules nodded his agreement, "Yes, but today is not the day. One of us isn't strong enough yet." He scooped up a protesting Iolaus and threw him over his shoulder and carried him back into the bedroom.

"Herc, I'm.."

"You are not fine. Yes, you feel better, but you're still weak and you have no business working outside today. You'll make yourself sick again."

Hercules deposited him unceremoniously on the bed, pulled off his vest and began undoing the lacings on his boots.

"You are going to rest today if I have to knock you out." Then, Hercules softened, "We'll work on the garden before we leave, I promise. It's a good idea. Mother would like it."

"I wanna put some of those purple flowers there."

Hercules pushed Iolaus back into the pillows, "Go to sleep."

"She helped me plant those for Ania. They stay green all year."

Hercules threw the covers over his friend, "Go to sleep."

"Some yellow ones would be pretty mixed in with them."

"Go to sleep!"

Iolaus smiled, "Ok, Herc, calm down. You'll blow a blood vessel or something." Iolaus snuggled into the blanket and rolled over on his side, giggling.

"Hey, Herc?"

"Yeah?"

"Sure is nice to be home, huh?"

Hercules took a deep breath, "Yes, it is. Go to sleep!" He slammed the door on the giggles.

finis

written 8 June 1998

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