A sequel to Out Into the Daylight and Repercussions
The story contains some references to the episodes "Love Takes a Holiday" and "The Mother of All Monsters".
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to MCA/Universal and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made
Once Iphicles had learnt that Phylides was behind the raids on his territories, and was using them to soften-up his enemy before undertaking an invasion of Corinth, the king had been able to launch a pre-emptive strike that annihilated both the warlord and his forces. Two weeks had passed since then and things had settled back to normal in the kingdom.
Iolaus had not been able to participate in the fighting because of his broken right forearm and fingers. The healer, Pyretus, had, at the demigod's suggestion, bandaged his arm securely to his body to prevent him using it at all, and this frustrated him no end. The fact that Pyretus was pleased with his progress to date was no compensation for missing out on a fight or for having to put up with the immobility and, frankly, he was getting very bored and irritable.
He was also very aware of an undercurrent of tension in the air. He had assured Iphicles that he had no intention of revealing his attempted sexual assault to the others, but he knew Iphicles still felt some unease in his presence. He also felt Hercules was suspicious that he had not heard the whole story and he hated keeping anything from his lover. He had never been a good liar, and had the demigod chosen to ask some direct questions, would have had difficulty in covering for the king. Alcmene was coping quite well with her knowledge of her son's new relationship with the hunter, but Jason was clearly ill at ease.
As a result of all this, Iolaus felt it was more than time for Hercules and him to move on. The trouble was there was no trouble. Nobody had sent any messages for help and so that could not provide an excuse. Further, in his present condition, Iolaus could not go hunting or fishing and so a suggestion of a recreational break was also out of the question. 'What excuse can I make for leaving?' he wondered, thinking that it was unfortunate that the demigod seemed happy to be with his relatives and showed no sign of wanting to go.
Then it hit him. Relatives! Hercules seemed to think visiting one's family was a good thing, so he should have no objection if the hunter proposed a visit to a relative.
On a previous occasion, while Hercules had been visiting Corinth, Iolaus had found his way to the village of Cyllabos. The God of Fire and Smiths, Hephaestus, had frozen the village in time, for fifty years, because a local widow, Leandra, had refused his romantic advances. At the time of Iolaus' visit, the god had been in the process of giving her a chance to change her mind. Leandra had turned out to be the mother of Skouros and, hence, Iolaus' grandmother.
Iolaus had been overjoyed at the discovery. Having a relative was wonderful. He didn't say anything to Hercules at the time, but had hugged the news to himself. The vast majority of the demigod's relatives, those with gods' blood in their veins, caused Hercules endless trouble and the hunter didn't think he'd really understand how happy the hunter had been to find a relative of his own. He also remembered how hurt he had felt when Hercules had been going to save Alcmene from Demetrius and Echidna, the Mother of All Monsters, and had told him it was family business when the hunter had said he was going as well. Sure, later on, he had told Iolaus he was family too, but the damage had been done and Iolaus had never quite forgotten the incident.
It was great to have someone of his own, who loved him unconditionally, although it had been awkward when she asked him about his father. He had stressed that her son had become a great general and had managed to keep off anything that might have revealed that he was also a lousy father.
Anyway, having thought of visiting her, Iolaus immediately put the idea to the demigod. "Herc, there's nothing much I can do here. I thought I might go to Cyllabos to visit my grandmother."
Hercules stared at him in surprise. "What grandmother? Don't be ridiculous, Iolaus, you haven't got a grandmother."
"Yes, I have! Leandra is my father's mother."
"So how come I've never heard of her before?" His voice was disbelieving and that nettled the blond.
Iolaus was about to tell the demigod the story, but in a lightning decision, decided not to do so. After calling the hunter ridiculous, he deserved to be kept in ignorance for a bit. "I don't know. You probably weren't listening to me when I've mentioned her."
"Where did you say she lives?"
"I've never heard of it."
"It's about ten miles west of Navpaktos."
"But we've both been all over that area and I don't recall a village of that name at all."
"Well it *is* there and that's where I'm going or, at least, near there. She doesn't live in the actual village now." After the situation with Hephaestus had been sorted out, Leandra had moved to a small farm some five miles or so from the village. She had not been happy to remain too close to neighbours who had been willing to hand her over to the God of Fire to save themselves.
"Am I invited?"
"Why do you want to come?"
"I'd like to meet your grandmother."
"You don't even think she exists, do you? I'm not lying, Hercules." His expressive eyes reflected his hurt.
The demigod *had* thought just that. He had assumed that Iolaus was just making an excuse to leave, but seeing his face and hearing the hunter's use of his full name, something he only did when upset or angry, convinced him otherwise. "I'm sorry, Iolaus. I didn't mean to upset you." He reached out and gently pulled the blond into a hug. "I really would like to go with you, if you don't mind."
That was true. His curiosity was fully aroused. He was certain Leandra had never been mentioned before and wondered why, while the village was another puzzle. Further, if the village was near Navpaktos, the journey would take at least five days and he was reluctant to let the hunter undertake the dangers of such a journey with his sword arm out of action. However, he knew if he voiced that concern, the fiercely independent hunter would refuse to allow him to accompany him.
"Okay, Herc, I would like you to meet her. I think she'll surprise you." She certainly would. Because of the freezing of the village, she was still a woman in her thirties.
The decision made, they took their leave of Iphicles, Alcmene and the others. Salmoneous dropped a few broad hints about being invited, but Iolaus ignored them. He was still not best pleased with the way the celebrity biographer had treated him.
The journey went smoothly. Hercules kept a surreptitious watch on his lover to see that he was not over-taxing himself, but the blond seemed to be back to his old energetic, bouncy self. Indeed, he seemed to be overflowing with excitement. He must have told Hercules at least half a dozen times that his grandmother was wonderful.
Hercules smiled indulgently at his friend's enthusiasm. However, the smile was tinged with sympathy. If, as it appeared increasingly likely, the grandmother actually existed, part of the reason for Iolaus' excitement was that he had at last found a relative that loved him. When he thought about it, it did seem unfair that the hunter had not had loving parents like he had. Zeus had not been a reliable parent, but even though they were frequently at loggerheads, Hercules knew his father loved him and, of course, there was no doubting the strength of Alcmene's love for her son.
It was very pleasant to be away from other people again. They enjoyed being alone together and their love-making en route. All the tensions they'd been experiencing in their relationship had gone and they found new joy in each other's arms. Hercules wished, somewhat selfishly, that they could just journey on like that forever, but he knew how much the hunter was looking forward to his reunion with his grandmother.
On the third day Iolaus could contain himself no longer and he told Hercules the story of how he had met Leandra. Hercules listened with interest, but shuddered inwardly as he envisaged the dangers Iolaus had faced from the metal men and the cat. As usual, the hunter had made light of the difficulties, but the demigod was aware that it was a rare mortal who could have defeated the creations of Hephaestus.
They were a couple of miles from their destination, when a man hailed Hercules. He was an old friend that Hercules had not seen for years and so the demigod was keen to stop for a chat. However, he was aware that Iolaus was itching to move on, so he said, "Why don't you go on ahead, Iolaus? You can warn your grandmother that I'm coming to visit. I'll not be long behind you."
Hercules felt that this would give the hunter a short time alone with his grandmother, and as she was not expecting the visit, would give her some warning of a stranger's approach. He knew, from his mother's behaviour, that ladies often liked to pretty themselves up to make a good first impression on a new acquaintance. So, all in all, he considered the delay would work out nicely. He had never been more wrong.
Iolaus hurried on. As he approached the house, he heard coarse laughter and loud voices. Given the somewhat isolated nature of the dwelling, any callers were unusual and these did not sound like the kind of visitors his grandmother would welcome. He twisted his sword-belt around to the right side of his body, so he would be able to draw his sword with his left hand, and quickened his pace. Even so, he was not prepared for the scene that met his eyes when he burst from the bushes.
Several rough-looking men were gathered around the doorway of the house, laughing, drinking and watching something going on inside. At that moment, a piercing scream emanated from the building. A cold hand clutched his heart.
Iolaus drew his sword and plunged forward, heedless of the odds. He cut a swathe through them, murder in his heart. Three men were down, two dead and one dying, before his momentum was checked. Then he was surrounded and fighting for his own life.
A sword slashed viciously across his left forearm, cutting right through his wrist-guard. Blood ran down onto his hand making the sword slippery and hard to hold. He lowered his guard, as he desperately tried to wipe the hilt on his vest, and immediately felt a shock of pain in his chest as a sword bit deeply. He cried out and fell to his knees. Someone kicked him in the face and he collapsed.
When he regained consciousness, a few minutes later, all was quiet. The men had gone, leaving him for dead. He was dizzy and disorientated and lay trying to gather his scattered thoughts and wondering what was causing the pain that was coursing through him.
Then he smelt smoke. He turned his head to see what was burning, and at the sight of the blazing cottage, his mind cleared. "Leandra!" he gasped. He rolled painfully onto his stomach and tried to rise, but it was hopeless. He began to crawl towards the house.
He reached the doorway and clung to the doorjamb to pull himself up. Smoke was billowing through the open doorway and he couldn't see a thing, but he staggered in without hesitation, calling his grandmother's name as he did so. About halfway across the room, he stumbled over something lying on the floor and fell to his knees, crying out as agonizing pain lanced through his chest.
He ran his good hand frantically over the object. It was a woman's body, but he couldn't tell whether she was alive or dead. He attempted to lift her, but with his various injuries, it was beyond him. In desperation, he began trying to drag her along the floor, while telling her who he was and begging her to respond. It was all too much for him. Blood-loss, pain and smoke inhalation combined to defeat him and he fainted.
Meanwhile, Hercules had enjoyed a somewhat longer chat than he'd originally intended, but had finally bidden his friend farewell and was now strolling at a leisurely pace in the direction of the cottage. He spotted the smoke from some distance, and realizing there was too much for a normal cooking fire, had begun to run.
As he broke through the bush into the clearing in which the house stood, he spied three bodies. Near one was Iolaus' sword, the hilt red with blood, and to his horror, he could see a trail of blood leading from the sword to the house.
"Iolaus! Iolaus!" he shouted, as he rushed towards the cottage. He burst through the doorway, took a couple of steps and nearly fell as he encountered the two bodies on the floor. In one swift movement, he reached down, swept up one in each arm and staggered out, coughing.
He placed the two down at a safe distance from the house and looked quickly at Leandra. She was dead and was a shocking sight. He pulled his blanket from his carry-bag and swiftly covered her. Then he turned to his friend. The hunter's chest was covered with blood and more was running down his left hand, but he *was* breathing. Indeed, he was starting to stir. "It's okay. Just lie still, Iolaus," he said, knowing that things were definitely anything but okay.
Iolaus' eyes fluttered open and peered blearily at him. The hunter tried to speak, but his lungs were full of smoke and he was assailed by a fit of coughing, which wrenched his chest and caused him to cry out in pain.
"Don't try to speak."
"W-What's happened?" the blond rasped, between coughs.
Hercules ignored the question. "I'm just going to raise you a bit to give you some water," he said.
"All right." But it wasn't. Sharp pain slashed through his chest, forcing a yelp of agony from his lips, so the demigod had to lower him again. However, he managed to dribble some water from his flask into the hunter's mouth.
Iolaus was still struggling to focus his thoughts. Then it hit him. "Leandra?" he asked in fear.
Hercules put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, my love."
"N-No! Where is she?"
"She's dead, Iolaus."
"No! Please ... she can't ..." He tried to struggle up, but was wracked by another coughing fit. He tried again.
Hercules gently but firmly held him down. "You must lie still, Iolaus. You're bleeding badly. I'm going to have to stitch you up."
"Not yet! I need ... I need to see her."
"No." Looking at the hunter's pale and distraught face, Hercules felt terrible denying him, but he was aware that not only was Iolaus bleeding dangerously, but his grandmother was in no fit state for his eyes. The demigod felt the priority was to tend to the blond's injuries and then to try to clean up Leandra to try to reduce the upset Iolaus would have upon seeing her.
Iolaus didn't understand Hercules' motives. He continued to struggle to rise, but Hercules held him down, his heart contracting at the sight of his lover's distress. Tears were starting to roll down Iolaus' face and he was trembling uncontrollably. Hercules had never seen his friend so anguished. He desperately wanted to pull Iolaus into his arms to try to comfort him, but he knew that would only exacerbate the chest injury.
He reached for his discarded bag with one hand, while holding Iolaus still with the other. It scared him to realize how easy it was to do that. He fumbled in the bag for his spare shirt and began to rip it up for bandages. He folded part of it into a wad. Then he cut Iolaus' bandaged right arm free from his chest. "There, my love, you've finally come up with a good enough reason for me to free your arm. Try to hold this pad over the wound if you can." He placed the wad of material on Iolaus left forearm, as he spoke and lifted the hunter's right hand onto it.
The hand let go immediately. "Come on, Iolaus, hold it tightly! Do as I tell you! I need to concentrate on your chest wound. The sooner I've done this, the sooner you can see her." The words sounded harsh and unfeeling in his own ears, but he had to get the hunter's cooperation.
He mopped the blood from around the chest wound and prepared to stitch it. He wished he had something to give the hunter for the pain, but his meagre medical supplies were limited to a needle and thread and some ointment.
Hercules took a deep breath and tried to steel himself for what he had to do. He always found it stressful enough to watch a healer work on his friend, but to have to doctor Iolaus himself was far worse. Every time the hunter winced he felt the pain himself. "Ready?" He glanced at the blond's face. Its extreme pallor was in sharp contrast to the bloody chest.
He was about to insert the needle when the hunter spoke. "I'm so damned useless." His voice was a mere whisper.
"What do you mean?"
"I ... I c-couldn't stop them ... and then ... and then when they'd gone I tried ... I tried ... I couldn't ... I couldn't carry her ... and now she's d-dead."
Hercules knew he might have to say what he had been trying to keep as long as possible from the hunter. "Iolaus, she was already dead when they set fire to the house."
"You don't ... You can't know that."
"Yes, I do, Iolaus, they'd made sure of it."
"W-What do you mean?"
"Look, Iolaus, I don't think you're up to this yet. Please just trust me, she *was* dead."
"Herc, please ..." He was struggling to blink back his tears, but they continued to fall against his will. "Please let me see her. Please, Herc, I *need* to see her." He started to try to get up again.
Hercules' own cheeks were wet, but he felt he had to stand firm. "Iolaus, I promise you you'll see her as soon as possible, but you *must* obey me now. Just lie still!"
However, the hunter would not or could not obey. Hercules was forced to scoop him up as gently as he could and to carry him to the nearby trees. He used the blond's belts to tie his legs to one and then had to straddle his upper body to keep him as still as possible while he stitched the wound. It was difficult, as he had to keep his weight off the hunter's arms. He was half way through the sewing when, to his relief, the hunter gasped and fainted. He quickly completed the task and bandaged the wound. Then he removed the hunter's left wrist-guard. To his relief, the cut was relatively shallow and did not warrant stitches. He bound the wound and then untied Iolaus and covered him with his blanket.
He then went over to Leandra's body. He was not sure what was the best thing to do. He would have preferred to bury her, but knew he had promised Iolaus he could see her. He straightened her clothing and tried to clean the blood from her face and neck. However, there was little he could do to make her a less upsetting sight for the hunter as the bandits had not only cut her throat, but had also slashed her face. Looking at her mangled features made him feel quite nauseous. How much worse it was going to be for someone who had known and loved her. Trying to push the thought aside, he used part of the blanket to wrap around the throat wound.
He was wondering despairingly what else he could do, when he heard a gasp of pain. He swung around to find that Iolaus had somehow managed to roll over and was trying to drag himself towards the body. Hercules rushed to stop him and gently rolled him over onto his back, heedless of his muttered protests. All his work to close the chest wound had gone for naught. Some of the stitches had given way and blood was seeping through the bandage.
"Look what you've done!" the demigod exclaimed.
"I-I'm sorry, Herc," Iolaus managed.
"You've started the wound bleeding again."
"It's okay, Herc, it's not as b-bad as it looks. It d-doesn't hurt much."
"Yeah, I can imagine," the demigod responded, disbelievingly. "Over the years I've noticed the worse you're hurt the more you deny it." He reached for the bandage.
Iolaus tried to bat his hands away, insisting, "B-But it really is okay th-this time, Herc."
However, the demigod knew him too well and persevered, unwrapping the bandage. His heart contracted when he saw what lay beneath. "I'm sorry, Iolaus, you've done it this time. I've got to get the wound closed. I'm going to have to cauterize it."
"N-No! Please ..."
"There's no choice, Iolaus, you're losing too much blood." He could see the fear in his friend's eyes. Iolaus had experienced cauterization before and knew just how much it was going to hurt. "I'll be as quick as I can, Iolaus, but it has to be done."
"Can't I ... Can't I see her first?" Iolaus pleaded. He knew that he would be very likely lose consciousness during the cauterization and was scared that the demigod might decide to bury Leandra while he was out to it.
"Iolaus, it would be better if you didn't. Just remember her as she was when you saw her last."
"They've ... They've used a knife on her and ..." His voice trailed off.
"Please, Herc, I need to see her to ... to say goodbye."
Hercules was in a quandary. He couldn't deny Iolaus, yet felt he should. "All right. You lie here and I'll carry her to you." He went and picked up the body. "I warn you, my love, the sight is going to upset you." He raised the hunter slightly and then lifted the blanket from the body. Iolaus stared in stunned horror. "Help me get closer, Herc," he gasped faintly. He managed to lean forward to kiss her, but then turned his head aside and was violently sick. The pain in his chest was intense and some of his tears were now the result of physical agony as well as emotional distress.
Hercules held his shoulders until he had finished being sick and then cuddled Iolaus to him. Iolaus curled into him, clinging desperately with his left hand and sobbing uncontrollably. Hercules buried his face in the mop of soft, golden curls and cried quietly as well. He could feel his friend's warm blood soaking through his shirt. He had to do something or Iolaus would be joining his grandmother.
"I'm sorry, Iolaus, but I'm going to have to deal with your injury now," he murmured.
"No ... Not yet ... Please ..."
He gently prised Iolaus' grip loose and laid him down. He drew the hunting knife from Iolaus' sheath and went to the nearby woodpile. He carried some pieces of wood to the smouldering house, kindled a new fire and put the blade in to heat. He then turned back to the hunter.
Iolaus was pale and shaking and his face was tear-stained. Hercules retrieved one of the hunter's belts from where he had dropped them. He handed it to Iolaus. "Here, you'd better bite on this." He then got the knife and forced himself to apply it to his friend's chest. Iolaus bit down hard and fainted. The smell of singed flesh made Hercules feel ill again, but thankfully, the bleeding ceased. Hercules then bandaged it again.
That done, he looked around for something with which to dig a grave. Leandra had had a flower garden and her spade was alongside it. He used the garden itself as a burial plot.
Iolaus was still unconscious, and as the afternoon progressed, began to become feverish. He raved and tossed in delirium all night. At times, Hercules had difficulty holding him still enough to prevent him opening the wound again.
When morning finally dawned, the demigod felt absolutely exhausted. He had had no sleep and, from the condition of his friend, he did not expect to get any in the near future. Iolaus was deathly pale and was bathed alternatively in hot and cold sweat. The only thing that seemed to comfort him was being held in the demigod's arms and so Hercules sat nursing him and murmuring words of comfort to him.
About midday, Iolaus became particularly restless and began to thrash about. Hercules held him tighter. "It's all right, my love."
Suddenly, the hunter's eyes flew open. They were clouded with pain, but he was conscious. "H-Herc?"
"I'm here, my love."
A look of puzzlement passed over the hunter's features. "Where are ..." he started. Then frightening images began to crowd into his mind. His bottom lip trembled and he buried his face into Hercules' chest. Hercules' caressed his shoulders and back as he felt him beginning to weep again. "I'm sorry, Herc."
"It's all right, Iolaus. Go ahead and cry. I think you need to."
Four days dragged past. Iolaus couldn't keep food down and didn't feel like eating anyway. Hercules didn't know if the latter was good or bad. The retching was obviously incredibly painful because it wrenched the hunter's chest, but he was also weak from blood loss and needed nourishment.
To his surprise, late in the evening of the fourth day, the hunter announced he would be ready to travel the next day. "Where do you want to go?" Hercules asked. "Cyllabos may be too small to have its own healer, but Navpaktos is about ten miles from here and I can't see you getting that far yet. I suppose we could go to Cyllabos and see if we can get a horse for you to ride to Navpaktos because I would like to get a healer to check your injury, though I think it looks all right."
Iolaus stared at him. "I don't want to go to either of them."
"Wherever my grandmother's killers have gone."
"Iolaus, you can't possibly go after them in your condition. Anyway, if we go to the village, we may find someone who can give us a lead as to their possible identity. Once you've recovered, we can go after them."
"No! They'll be long gone by then. They've got four days start on us already."
"Iolaus, be realistic! You can hardly walk. How can you expect to track bandits? And what could you possibly do if you found them?"
"I d-don't know ... something."
"Yes, but what?" Hercules persisted.
"Don't you see, Herc? I've got to do this. Not just ... not just for Leandra, but to stop them doing this to anyone else."
"Yes, but *not* yet."
"No, Iolaus, there's no way I'm going to let you do this until you're well, so you might as well accept that."
Iolaus looked as if he was going to argue, but his eyes flooded with tears instead. The emotional stress meant they were always near to the surface. He rolled over and buried his face in his arms. Hercules reached out a hand and touched his shoulder in what he had intended to be a gesture of comfort, but the hunter jerked away.
Hercules sighed. He got up and went to collect more wood from the woodpile for the fire. When he turned back, to his horrified amazement, his friend had disappeared. "Iolaus! Come on! Where are you? Stop playing around!" He did not know how the hunter had managed to find the strength to get up, let alone to move so quickly and silently into the dark woods.
The hunter knew that there was a small shrine to Aphrodite just outside the village of Cyllabos and that was his initial goal. Five miles did not sound like much, but in his condition, it was a daunting challenge.
Clutching at the trunks of trees for support, frequently falling and occasionally losing consciousness when he did so, he dragged his aching body through the night. Sheer guts kept him moving, that and a burning desire for revenge.
At first light, he stumbled into the small clearing and made his painful way to the tiny stone shrine. Aphrodite had always seemed fond of him. All he could hope for was that she would be aware of a petitioner at such a humble shrine. Kneeling in front of the simple altar, he fixed his thoughts on her and implored her help.
He could hardly believe his good fortune when the air shimmered and Hercules' most beautiful half-sister appeared. "Sweet-cheeks!" she exclaimed, smiling and then faltered as she looked at him.
Dishevelled and dirty, with bandages around his chest, both arms and one hand, and numerous scratches from unseen branches, the little blond was swaying, grey-faced with fatigue. Aphrodite knelt down beside him. Had it been anyone else, she would have kept her distance, having a great aversion for both blood and mud, but this was Iolaus. Insofar as she loved any mortal, she loved Sweet-cheeks, as she had dubbed him. She wrapped her arms around him and held him against her. "What happened?"
Iolaus could hardly believe his luck. Not only had she shown up, but she was behaving in a way calculated to summon the god that he really wanted to see.
"M-My grandmother was ... she was ..." He could not continue. He buried his face in her glorious mane of hair and wept, clinging to the goddess as if she were his demigod.
Aphrodite was stunned. She was no good in such situations and would have been the first to admit it. "Where's my big brother, Iolaus?" she asked. Hercules would know what to do.
"No!" he gasped, "I d-don't want Herc, I want ..."
"Not me presumably under the circumstances," a deep voice rumbled, as the God of Fire appeared. 'How many times have I found my 'Dite with you?" he demanded sternly.
"Actually it w-was you I wanted to s-see," Iolaus gasped, as he staggered to his feet with Aphrodite's support.
"What???" both Aphrodite and Hephaestus chorused.
"Yes, I c-couldn't ... I didn't know how to c-contact you and, I th-thought even if I found a sh-shrine to you, you wouldn't ... you'd ignore me, but I-I hoped you'd come looking for Aphrodite."
"You're right! I have no desire to see you and I thought I'd made it clear you were to keep away from my Aphrodite. So take you're hands off her."
Iolaus tried to move away from the Goddess of Love, but she kept a protective arm around his shaking shoulders, aware that he was exhausted and near collapse. "P-Please listen to me, Hephaestus, the hunter implored. I-I know you d-don't like me, but this is about my g-grandmother, Leandra, and I kn-know you liked her."
"Leandra? What about her?" the scar-faced god asked.
"She's d-dead ... murdered." He could feel tears welling in his eyes again.
"Murdered?" The God of Fire looked distressed.
"Yes. I k-killed three of the bastards that did it, but there's at least six more. I need ... I hoped you m-might help me find them."
"I-I can't do it by myself. Herc wants ... he wants me to wait until m-my wounds have healed and I'm s-scared the trail will be c-cold by then."
Hephaestus locked eyes with the Goddess of Love. He knew she wanted, nay expected, him to help the little hunter. Further, Leandra had meant more to him than any other apart from Aphrodite and he was not one of the gods that loved easily. However, he could see that Hercules was right. Iolaus was in no condition for taking on one bandit let alone six. He nodded. "For her," he murmured and vanished.
Misunderstanding, Iolaus turned anguished eyes on the Goddess of Love. "I-I th-thought ... I hoped he'd help."
"He's going to," Aphrodite assured him.
"B-But I wanted ..." As he spoke, he felt what little strength he had desert him and he sagged against the goddess. She lowered him gently to the ground.
She kissed his lips gently and whispered, "Sorry, Sweet-cheeks, you're staying here and I'm fetching big brother." She twinkled and disappeared.
She reappeared in front of a harassed looking demigod. Hercules sighed in exasperation. He had been blundering around in the dark woods for hours. The last thing he needed was a visit from one of his relatives to disrupt his frantic search for Iolaus. "I'm sorry, Aphrodite, I'm busy."
"And good morning to you too."
"Aphrodite, I'm trying to find Iolaus and I haven't got time for ..."
"So you'd prefer me not to tell you where Curly is? Fine, I'll be off then."
"WAIT!" He clutched at her arm in desperation.
"I'm sorry, dearest sister," she said expectantly.
He gritted his teeth and ground out, "I'm sorry, dearest sister."
"And so you should be," she observed tartly.
"I've been searching for Iolaus for hours and ..."
She waved an elegant hand. "Come with me," she said and both vanished.
The next thing the demigod saw was the hunter lying unconscious in front of an altar. "Is he d ..." he started, but broke off unwilling to complete the terrifying word.
"No, and I'll see what I can do to heal him," she promised.
She reached out and ran her hands gently over the hunter. "I wish Sweet-cheeks would try not to get such nasty icky injuries," she commented. "He should know how much I dislike them."
Hercules smiled faintly. That was his sister all over. For the Goddess of Love a hangnail was a major disaster.
His smile broadened as a glow enveloped the little hunter and his various injuries healed. However, Iolaus did not wake.
The demigod looked questioningly at his sister, worry clear in his face.
"I thought it would do Curly good to sleep till Hephie gets back," she explained.
"Hephie ... I mean, Hephaestus gets back?" he asked bemused. "From where?"
"He's gone to deal with those men that Sweet-cheeks was after. He loved Leandra too, you know."
A few minutes later, the God of Fire and Smiths appeared.
"Got them, Hephie?" Aphrodite asked.
"Yes, they're all dead. I'd have been back sooner, but I didn't want it to be too fast or too easy after what they'd done."
Hercules regarded him with mixed emotions. Sure the men deserved to die, but the god's vindictive violence was out of character and was redolent of Ares. Hephaestus was normally associated with positive things like building rather than destruction, but this casual vengeance was a reminder, not that Hercules needed one, of just how dangerous any of his paternal relatives could be and he could not like it.
However, the god's behaviour clearly showed how much Leandra had meant to him and the demigod could not but be glad that Iolaus would not have to continue his search for the men, so he thanked the god sincerely for what he had done.
Aphrodite then stroked Iolaus' face and he opened confused blue eyes. "What's going on?" he queried.
"Hephaestus has killed the men who murdered your grandmother," Hercules said, reaching out a hand to help his friend to his feet.
The little hunter looked questioningly at the god, who nodded and said solemnly, "Slow and painful."
"Thank you." He held out his hand to the god, who took it in a warrior's grip.
"And you can thank me even more by staying away from my 'Dite," the god replied, a smile softening his words.
"I'll see to it," Hercules promised, wrapping possessive arms around the hunter's shoulders and pulling him back against his broad chest.
Hephaestus acknowledged the gesture with a satisfied nod and Aphrodite positively beamed. "So you finally wised up, big brother," she enthused. "I've been hoping you two would get it together for years. I even suggested Cupid might help out, but he said it wasn't necessary and it seems he was right. Guess the kid inherited my brains!"
There was not a lot the pair could safely say to that, so they were more than somewhat relieved when Hephaestus took her hand at that point and both vanished.
The demigod turned to the hunter. "How are you feeling now, my love?" he asked solicitously.
"I'm not exactly sure, Herc," the little blond admitted. "I'd kind of liked to have found those men myself, but Hephaestus probably punished them more than I could have."
"I'm sure of that," Hercules commented confidently.
"And I will miss her." A few tears began to roll down his cheeks. "I really wanted her to meet you. She would have loved you and, I think, you'd have liked her, Herc."
Iolaus looked at him in some confusion. "But you didn't get to meet her," he said.
Hercules pulled Iolaus into his arms and held him to his heart. "I didn't need to, I already loved her for the love she gave her grandson," he said.
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