The Wrong Path Challenge

by Ceryndip

Iolaus walked away from his friend. It was hard walking away but he knew from experience that Hercules needed a little space in which to deal with his grief in his own way. Iolaus remembered that lost haunted feeling so well. He didn't recall much about the first few days after he'd lost Ania except the emptiness. He felt it again now in the pit of his stomach. Alcmene and Deianeira had been there to care for his son. Hercules had been there, too, doing whatever he could but most importantly, he hadn't pushed. He'd given Iolaus the time he needed to cope with it all. He'd been there through the whole terrible ordeal, lending Iolaus what strength he could; whatever Iolaus needed. When Iolaus needed to be alone, Hercules understood that too. It meant a lot to Iolaus just to know that his friend was there for him. The hunter intended to return the favor. He wouldn't go far, he'd be around if Hercules needed him.

Iolaus wandered down the path, automatically heading toward his own place. He stopped when he realized he wasn't paying any attention to his whereabouts. He didn't want to go home that wouldn't be good, all of this would resurrect too many memories. Iolaus couldn't afford to wallow in his own grief. He had to be strong for Hercules. Iolaus didn't think he could deal with both Ania and Deianeira's memories today. Best to deal with them one at a time.

He turned and headed into the woods. Iolaus went far enough that he wouldn't be disturbed by anyone on the road and sat down against a tree. Loosing his own family had left an emptiness that he didn't think would ever be completely filled again. Iolaus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he'd never have survived single parenthood without Deianeira. She had made things easier for him. She was always there with a helping hand and advice about teething, sore throats, diaper rash and just reassuring him that he was doing alright. So many good times, maybe not easy times but the stuff that good memories were made of.

Iolaus looked at the woods around him and smiled. He'd chased Ilaia though here just a few days ago. He closed his eyes trying to shut in the tears at the thought of never seeing that streak of blond hair and hearing that giggle again as Uncle "Eye-o-lus" swung her through the air.

He and Hercules had taken the boys fishing not far away. They hadn't caught a thing except colds from staying in the water playing too late in the evening. If Deianeira hadn't filled the children's pockets with fruit they'd have all gone hungry.

Iolaus slammed his fist into the ground. They were just babies, what did they ever do to deserve this? It wasn't fair. Hercules didn't deserve this, not all at once. Iolaus had been able to accept his own losses in stages. To lose wife and children all together would have been unbearable. Iolaus rose and headed back toward Hercules' home. He paused at the treeline overlooking Hercules' field. There was smoke coming from the house.

"No! What has he done?" Iolaus took a few hesitant steps and then saw Hercules exit the smoky interior. He walked purposefully toward the barn and slumped to the ground leaning against it. Iolaus' heart broke in sympathy as he watched his friend hold his head in his hands and his shoulders shake with grief.

Iolaus closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. His own grief threatening to overwhelm him. Now wasn't the time. Iolaus turned and headed back into the woods. He'd respect Hercules' wish and allow him to deal with his loss on his own terms for the moment. Iolaus wanted to help but his own emotional state was too close to the edge. He couldn't trust himself around his friend just then. He'd have to find other ways to help. He'd come back to get Hercules later and take him back to the forge tonight. He shouldn't stay here in the barn on his own. Iolaus turned toward town. He needed a drink to steady his own nerves. He needed to be strong for his friend.

13 Sept 1999

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