This story is not intended to violate any copyrights held by MCA, Universal Studios, or Renaissance Pictures concerning Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This story is for fun and no money was made from it.
Author's note: This chapter contains sexual situations and mild violence, but they are not graphically described and are no worse than what is typically seen on the series.
To read a summary of the previous chapters, click here
Iolaus was exhausted and darkness had fallen, but he couldn't stop. Not when he was so close. Acheron was only a few miles further, and he could not rest for the night until he reached the big stone house.
He had gone to Mycenae and had met up with Cimon, but Elissa was nowhere to be found. Her brother wasn't too worried, and actually neither was the hunter at first. They both had assumed that the healer had been sidetracked along the way by someone needing her help. Iolaus had retraced his steps and had checked all the small villages along the road, but no one had seen her. He widened his search until he had covered half of Greece, but still had no luck. The only things he'd found were slavers.
The hunter began whistling to quell the fear that gripped his heart in a cold, iron grasp. His one last hope was that she had returned home for some reason. If she wasn't in Acheron, well, Iolaus didn't want to think about what could have happened to her. He'd witnessed the slave trade firsthand, along with many other horrors along the road, and the thought of her suffering something like that almost drove him mad. Despite his fatigue, he quickened his pace and tried not to think about it until he had to.
In no time he reached the path that led down to the stone house that the healer called home. Iolaus paused to look at the tree that sprouted from the boulder at the head of the path. Elissa always told him that it was a sign of luck. The hunter took a deep breath and climbed the boulder to break a small twig from the tree. If ever he needed luck, it was now. He leapt gracefully down and began to sprint down the path. It was so familiar to him, he would have been able to navigate it easily in the dark even if the full moon hadn't been lighting his way.
Iolaus reached the house and began to pound on the door. Nobody answered, but he distinctly saw light shining from the cracks in the window shutters. His heart fluttered, but he warned himself not to get too excited just yet. The hunter pushed the door open, and although he found no one inside, he saw Elissa's satchel on the table. He let out a big sigh of relief as he realized she was here and she was safe. Iolaus knew she wouldn't have gone far without her bag, so he left the house and went out back to the garden.
She was sitting on the bench by the fishpond. The moonlight surrounded her, mixing with the soft glow of goodness that always emanated from her. Iolaus had never seen anything so beautiful in his life, and he just stood and stared for several moments. She had her back to him, and did not hear him approach.
"Elissa," he said softly. The healer jumped up, startled, and spun around to face him. He immediately saw that she had been crying. "What is it?" he inquired. He came forward and was surprised when she took a step back.
"Iolaus, what are you doing here?" she asked , brushing the tears away and ignoring his question. "Is anything wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong," he assured her. "But what are YOU doing here? I've been looking for you everywhere. Why didn't you go to Mycenae?"
"I just needed to come home for awhile," she whispered. She hadn't been able to stop the tears and Iolaus was starting to worry. He advanced again, and again she took a step back.
"Elissa, you're crying. Please tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help you." She shook her head faintly. "Why did you need to come home?" Iolaus asked softly. He managed to catch her hands in his, squeezing them gently when she tried to pull away. "Please, Elissa, talk to me."
"It's you," she said softly.
"Me?" Iolaus was stunned and let go of her hands. The healer turned her back to him again, but began to explain.
"When I was very young, my father saw I had the spirit of a healer, so he began teaching me. He taught me about plants and medicine, and how to comfort and read people. But he also taught me about life. He wanted to make sure that I could take care of myself after he was gone, so that I wouldn't feel I had to rely on a man to get by. I was taught to be strong, self-reliant, and independent."
Iolaus wasn't quite sure where all of this was going, but he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the healer, and this time she didn't pull away.
"This is how I was raised, and this is how I've lived. I've always been able to take care of myself. I've always been able to get by. I've never needed a man." Elissa turned to face the hunter. "But I NEED you, Iolaus. When I'm not with you, I'm scared and empty and lost. I need you with me. When I left you in Lenaea, I started for Mycenae, but I felt like I just couldn't go on. My heart felt like it had been ripped apart. So I came back here. This is my home, and I've always been comforted here, but when I returned I still saw you everywhere I looked." She clung to him as he stroked her hair, but then she stepped back.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I know this is hard on you and I promised myself I wouldn't put you in this position."
"Elissa," he began, coming forward. She put out a hand to stop him.
"Iolaus, I don't think we should see each other again. I love you more than you know, but I can't go on like this. I just can't."
"I can't either," the hunter told her, grabbing her arm as she tried to run by him. "Elissa, that's why I was looking for you." He turned her to face him. "I can't do it anymore, either. So I don't think we should." Iolaus looked into the emerald eyes that were brimming with tears. His soul was shinning back at him, as plain as day. How had he never recognized it before?
"I love you and I want to be with you always. I promise never to leave you again." She almost yielded at these words. Almost.
"What about Hercules?" she asked in a trembling voice.
"It doesn't matter," Iolaus told her. "You and I are soulmates and there is nothing in this world that can come between that." Elissa came to him then, and he took her tightly into his arms.
"You knew that, didn't you?" he asked. He felt her nod against his chest. "You've always known, haven't you?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to realize," he said softly.
"We can't do this, Iolaus," she began, although she didn't push him away. "I can't let you do this. I won't come between you and Hercules."
"You won't," he said forcefully. "I'll talk to him, make him understand. Elissa, you are a part of me. You're my world. Nothing will ever take me away from you again, not even Hercules."
Iolaus didn't know how long they stood in the garden like that. It seemed like days, as the flood of emotions washed over them. He had been so afraid that he'd never see her again, and now to hold her in his arms filled him with pure joy. Finally, she lifted her head to look at him.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"No," he lied. Iolaus had barely eaten while he'd searched for her, but he didn't want to lose the moment.
"Yes you are," she giggled. "I can hear your stomach. Come on, I'll fix you something to eat." The hunter cursed his traitorous stomach, but held on to her as she tried to go to the house.
"That can wait," he told her. "There's something else that can't."
"And what might that be?" In answer, he cupped her face in his hands and they shared their first gentle kiss. All of the passion for her that he had always held back came boiling to the surface and exploded into the next kiss. She returned it eagerly, and Iolaus gathered her into his arms and laid her down into the grass of the garden. The perfume of the surrounding flowers was heavy in the air and the bright moonlight cast a silvery luminescence over everything. The hunter remembered the night they had sat in this very spot after the festival to Demeter. There had been magic in the air, and he had so desperately wanted to tell Elissa how he felt and to take her in the grass. He had been given a second chance, and he was not going to waste it. But he had to make absolutely sure that his beautiful healer felt the same way.
"Are you sure?" he whispered hoarsely, hovering over her, shaking with desire. "I can still stop, but once we do this you'll never be able to get rid of me." In answer, Elissa reached up to him and pulled him down to her, kissing him fiercely. Iolaus knew his days of jumping into the icy stream were over.
When he opened his eyes in the morning, the first thing he saw was Elissa sleeping in his arms. The sight brought tears to the hunter's eyes. He never thought he could be so happy. Iolaus decided that if he couldn't wake up like this every morning, than he didn't want to wake up at all. Very carefully, so as not to wake her, he disentangled himself and rose from the bed. He went to the window and opened the shutters. The lateness of the day did not surprise him. After the adventure in the garden, Iolaus had carried her back to the house and they hadn't gotten to sleep until dawn was breaking. The hunter was still in awe over what they'd shared last night. He was very wise in the ways of women, but he had never experienced anything like that. Iolaus had not only joined physically with Elissa, but they had also been joined in mind, heart, and soul. The accompanying emotion, love, and feeling had been overwhelming. He heard her stirring behind him, so he turned and climbed back into the bed beside her.
"Any regrets?" she asked quietly, running a finger along his sculpted chest.
"Only that we never did this sooner," he replied, shivering at her touch. Iolaus took her into his arms, kissing her gently. She returned his kisses, until gentleness was replaced with fiery passion.
"I thought I dreamt last night," she whispered when it was over and they lay quietly in each other's arms. "I felt so devastated, and then I saw you by the window. You looked so strong and handsome I couldn't believe you were mine."
"Believe it," he murmured. He ran his hands through her auburn hair, enjoying the softness of it. "You are stuck with me forever."
"So your days of falling in love with every pretty girl you meet are over?" she asked, teasing. Iolaus turned serious eyes on her.
"I never knew what love was until I met you," he told her softly. They locked eyes, blue on green, as desire built up again. Elissa initiated the kiss this time, and soon they were back where they started.
"You may never eat again if we don't cut this out," she said when they were through.
"As long as I have you, I don't need food," he whispered seductively, kissing her neck. But she pulled away and jumped from the bed.
"No you don't," she laughed. "I'm going for a bath and then I'm fixing dinner. You need to keep your strength up. For later." These last words had cut Iolaus off in mid-protest, and he grinned at her as she went out the door. However, he soon decided that she had been gone too long, so he ambushed her at the stream. After that, she made him promise to stay put until she called him inside. Reluctantly, he agreed, and finished his own bath.
Elissa's cooking talents were even better than he had remembered, and he ate heartily. When the meal was through, he insisted on helping her clean up. It took a long time, as the hunter just couldn't seem to keep his hands to himself.
"I was thinking…" he began.
"What's the occasion?" Elissa teased. Iolaus made a face at her, and continued.
"If I cut down some of those trees on the right side of the house, it would make a nice spot for a forge." The healer raised an eyebrow at him.
"That sounds like you're planning on moving in."
"This is your home," he told her, pulling her down on the bench beside him. "I don't want to take you away from it. Besides, it's a lot nicer than my house. But I need to do something here. There's only so much wood I can chop. And I used to be a pretty good smith when I had my forge in Thebes."
"I don't doubt that," she said, smiling at him. "But aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself? You're talking about moving in here and building a forge, and we don't even know if this is going to work out between us. Maybe we should take a little time, get to know each other, before we start worrying about the long term."
"You don't really mean that, do you?" Iolaus asked incredulously. The healer looked into his deep blue eyes for a moment before responding.
"No, I don't. I know you, Iolaus, like we've always been together. I know what you're thinking, and how you're feeling. And I also know that I love you more than I've ever loved anyone, and that our love will only grow stronger as time goes by. But I don't want to rush you, or make any demands that you don't think you're ready face."
"Elissa," he said gently. "What do I have to do to convince you that I love you and I'm with you and nothing will ever change that? You are my soul, and I could never walk away from that. We're joined as one now. I never want to be apart from you. I CAN'T be apart from you. Do you believe me?"
"Yes," she whispered, hugging him tightly. He took her into his arms and inhaled the sweet fragrance of her hair. "But I still don't want you to build a forge here."
"Because you would hate that life. Your place is on the road with Hercules. You live for adventure and excitement and you would always be restless cooped up in a forge here."
"But I would be with you, and that's all I need to be happy. Besides, we can make our own excitement right here," he said slyly.
"I'm serious," she said, twining her fingers through his. "You need to be out there for yourself and for Greece. And for Hercules. And it's not like I don't travel myself. If I couldn't leave Acheron when I got the urge, I'd probably be restless, too."
"Then it's simple," Iolaus said. "We can travel together. When you want to come home, we'll come home."
"My home is with you," she said softly. "Wherever you are." Elissa slipped her hands inside the hunter's vest to caress his warm flesh.
"Let's go to bed," he whispered.
"It's not even dark yet," the healer protested.
"I didn't say anything about sleeping," Iolaus said mischievously.
As night fell and she lay in her brave warrior's arms, Elissa couldn't help voicing her worries.
"I hate to keep bringing it up, but what ARE you going to do about Hercules?"
"I don't know," Iolaus told her after a long pause. "I'll send him a message to meet me in a few days and I'll just have to try and explain everything and hope he'll understand. But I just want some time alone with you first. We have a lot of lost time to make up for." Elissa couldn't help agreeing with him and they went to work making up for that lost time.
As it turned out, they didn't get as much time alone together as they would have liked. Once Acheron realized that its healer was home, Elissa was busy with people asking for her help. She had taught Iolaus quite a bit on their earlier meetings, and he was able to assist her many times. He wanted to help, but he also wanted to be close to her. The hunter quickly found that he didn't like being away from her for very long, and when they were together they were constantly touching. They both needed to be continuously reassured of each other's presence.
Their privacy was also greatly reduced when Cimon paid a surprise visit. Iolaus was distinctly nervous upon his arrival. Cimon was always very friendly with him, but that was before he'd known that the hunter was sharing a bed with his sister. To his surprise, when Elissa told her brother of their relationship, the bard had merely turned to him and asked what had taken so long. Iolaus felt relieved, but it was short lived. Cimon took him aside and told him to watch out for their other brother. He was a sailor with a quick temper and was very protective of his little sister. Iolaus tried to console himself with the fact that he at least was spared a mother-in-law.
Cimon soon realized that the couple were uncomfortable displaying affection with him in the house and decided to make himself scarce to give them some privacy. He kissed his little sister and told her he was happy she was with Iolaus. The bard knew she'd always been able to handle herself, but she hadn't seen a lot of the bad that was out there and he felt better now that he knew she was protected. Once Cimon left, Iolaus and Elissa made the most of their days together, but soon it was time to meet Hercules.
"It's a day and a half journey to Hellespont," Iolaus told Elissa as they cleaned up the kitchen after their evening meal.
"So you're leaving tomorrow?" she asked.
"Yes, but I want you to come with me," he said, sweeping under the table.
"I thought we agreed it would be better if you talked to Hercules without me there," she reminded him.
"I know, but I don't want to leave you."
"Iolaus, it's only a few days. I'll be fine."
"I'm not sure I'LL be fine," he told her, putting down the broom and embracing her. "I don't want to be away from you for even one day. Please come with me."
"All right," she said, kissing him gently, secretly relieved that they would not be separated.
"I'm going to bed now," he grinned. "Please come with me."
"Well, now you're pushing your luck," she teased, then squealed as he scooped her up into his arms and ran for the bedroom, pausing only to blow out the candle on the table.
They left for Hellespont at dawn. Although they both were dreading the confrontation, they were in silent agreement that they wanted to get it over with, so they walked quickly and kept to their journey. The couple was uncharacteristically quiet throughout the trip; each lost in their own thoughts but taking comfort from the other's presence. Monotony was broken in the afternoon, as Iolaus had to fight off a band of thieves after his money and his woman. He didn't have any money, and he certainly was not going to give up Elissa. Their crudeness and lechery toward her only served to anger him and helped ensure his victory. The rest of the trip passed without incident, and they found a place to camp for the night just as the sun was beginning to set. Iolaus had acquired fish from the nearby stream, and Elissa had brought more than enough to complement their meal. After they had eaten, the hunter sat next to the fire and watched his lady nervously fidget with her supplies.
"I'm not taking you to the slaughter, you know."
"What?" She had been far away, and looked up, startled.
"We're just going to meet Hercules. You don't have to be so terrified."
"I'm not," she protested.
"Yes, you are," Iolaus told her, moving next to her. "I can see it in your face. You don't know how to hide your feelings."
"I'm sorry," she began, but the hunter cut her off.
"Never apologize to me for who you are," he whispered, pulling the healer into his arms. "Your openness is one of the things I love best about you."
"I didn't want to make this any harder on you than it already is," she told him, leaning back against his strong chest.
"If you're upset about something, then I am too," Iolaus told her, resting his cheek against her silken hair. "You can't hide your feelings from me, like I can't hide mine from you. We're too connected for that."
"I just have a bad feeling about tomorrow," she whispered, running her fingers along his arm.
"I'm not going to let anything happen to you," he reassured her. "I promise. Hercules may have a strong sense of justice, but he isn't going to kill me to take you back to Pylos. And that is what he'd have to do."
"That's what I'm talking about," Elissa said, sitting up and facing the hunter. "I don't want to come between you two, and that's just what will happen."
"No, it won't." Iolaus reached out and pulled her back to him. "We'll work it out. And if we can't, then it will be Hercules that comes between us, not you. If he asks that I chose between the two of you, then I chose you, because you've never demanded that of me. I don't want to lose him, but I WON'T lose you."
"He's really not going to take this well, is he?" she asked.
"No, I don't think he will," Iolaus answered. "But don't worry. We'll work it out. Herc can never stay mad at me for long. It's my irresistible charm." Elissa rolled her eyes in disgust, but secretly she had to admit that she never could resist him.
Morning broke and they resumed their travel, and all too soon they arrived in Hellespont. Iolaus peeked in the door of the tavern and saw the demigod's form at one of the tables.
"Give me a minute," he told Elissa nervously. She squeezed his hand, and waited outside as he went in.
"I was beginning to think I'd never see you again," Hercules greeted him. "Obviously, you've found her."
"I found her," Iolaus confirmed. As anxious as he was, he couldn't keep the happy grin from his face as he thought of the last few days.
"Well, where is she?"
"She's outside," the hunter replied, sliding into a chair next to his friend. "She'll be in soon. I just wanted to explain things to you before you meet her."
"I know you have this idea that I won't like her for some reason, and that's why you've been so afraid to tell me about her. But Iolaus, whatever this big secret is, it doesn't matter. If you love her, that's good enough for me."
Iolaus shook his head and chuckled, but there really wasn't much humor in his laugh.
"I just hope you'll still feel that way once you meet her."
"Well, then let me meet her!" Hercules was losing patience. They had been playing this game for far too long and he wanted answers. "Just drop the big mysterious act and introduce me to her."
"Actually, you've met her before," Iolaus began, but Hercules wasn't listening. The demigod had stood up abruptly, and the hunter followed his gaze to the door where Elissa had just entered. Hercules looked at the girl, then back to Iolaus. Everything suddenly fell into place as he saw his friend's expression, and he sat back down with a groan. Elissa approached the table nervously.
"I'm sorry to interrupt but I was getting propositioned out there." She couldn't keep the nervousness out of her voice. "Hello Hercules."
"Elissa," he said evenly, glaring at his partner.
"I was just telling Hercules about you," the hunter told her as she sat down close to him and took his hand under the table.
"How long has this been going on?" The demigod was calm, but there was anger in his tone.
"I met her about two years ago. We've seen each other a few times since then, but this is the first time we've ever been together."
"And what now?"
"We don't know," Iolaus told his friend. He didn't like the way this was going. "But we're together now, and we're going to stay together." He wanted to be very adamant on this point.
Elissa sensed that Hercules was holding back a lot of the things he wanted to say because she was present, so she excused herself and went to sit at the bar. Normally she didn't drink much, but now she felt justified in ordering a cup of wine. While she couldn't hear what Iolaus and Hercules were talking about, she could see them getting angrier with each other.
"I can't believe you are doing this again," Hercules told his friend. "I've been trying to get this woman back to Pylos for years now, and you show up with her on your arm. You're not going to be happy until you get taken in by every woman in Greece, are you?"
"It's not like that…" Iolaus tried to explain, but he was interrupted.
"Did you ever think she might be using you to protect her from me? So you would stop me from taking her back to trial?"
"Did you ever think we might actually love each other?" Iolaus shot back.
"Iolaus, you fall in love every other day. This one's no different. She's going to use you, break your heart, and tomorrow it will be somebody else."
"You're wrong, Herc. This is the real thing. She is not using me, and we do love each other."
"Just like Xena?"
Iolaus had been waiting for him to make that point, but the words still made him flinch. And even though he'd been waiting for it, he thought it was in poor taste for Hercules to bring that up.
"Ok, you want to talk about Xena? Let's talk about Xena. I noticed you weren't in any big hurry to turn her in for her crimes. Guess that rule only applies to the people YOU fall in love with."
Hercules wasn't used to having Iolaus throw his arguments back in his face. He took a deep breath and tried to speak rationally.
"Iolaus, you know I trust you. But you have to admit, you do have a history of losing your head over woman. I just don't want to see you hurt again."
"You're right," Iolaus conceded. "But that was the past, Herc. Try to understand that it is different this time. I'm with Elissa now and forever. I didn't set out to betray you. That's why it took so long for us to get together. I didn't want to do this to you. But we couldn't deny our feelings anymore. I love her, Herc, and I need to be with her. Can you understand that?"
Hercules looked away without answering, which was all the answer Iolaus needed.
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked tightly.
"Nothing," the demigod told him, still refusing to look at him. "I'm not going to fight you over this. But you can't expect me to be happy about it."
Iolaus nodded and rose from the table. He went to the bar and took Elissa's hand and led her outside.
"What happened?" she asked. The hunter didn't answer, but his face told her everything. "You can't leave it like this," she told him.
"I don't know what else to do," Iolaus said sadly. "He doesn't believe that our love is real and he feels like I'm betraying him by being with you."
"Let me talk to him," she said suddenly. Iolaus looked at her, confused, but she was already heading back to the tavern. "Wait here," she called over her shoulder. The hunter was skeptical that she would convince Hercules of their sincerity, but then again, she had always come through before. He'd learned never to doubt her abilities, so he sat to wait and hope that she could make it right.
Hercules watched the girl approach his table cautiously.
"Can I talk to you for a moment?" she asked. He gestured for her to sit. "Hercules, I want to turn myself in. And I want you to be the one to take me back to Pylos."
The demigod stared at her in surprise. That was the absolute last thing he'd ever expected to hear from her.
"Why?" he stammered.
"Because I love Iolaus, and he loves you. This is the only way this thing between you will be resolved, and he'll be miserable if it isn't."
"You don't have to do that," Hercules told her. "I'm not going to come after you anymore, and in time Iolaus and I will work it out."
"You are a man of your word," she said, smiling. "You made a promise to King Laomedon that you would bring me back, and if you don't, that will always be nagging you in the back of your mind. I want to do this. I'm tired of running and I'm tired of hiding. I want to go to Pylos, and when it's over, Iolaus and I will be together and you'll be able to be happy for us with a clear conscience."
"Iolaus would never let me do it."
"Yes he will. I'll talk to him. Shall we leave in the morning?" Hercules reluctantly agreed and they decided to meet in front of the tavern at dawn. Elissa left and rejoined the hunter by the road.
"Well?" he asked. She took his hand.
"Walk with me."
"What happened? What did he say?"
"Everything's worked out," she told him as they began strolling down the road.
"Yes. We're going back to Pylos in the morning." The words stopped Iolaus in his tracks.
"You can't be serious!" He turned to stare hatefully at the tavern.
"Iolaus, listen to me carefully." She turned his head back to look at her. "This was my idea. Hercules even tried to talk me out of it. I want to do this. I want to be free of this once and for all."
"But if you go back there they'll execute you," he protested.
"It's been so long," she reasoned. "Maybe Alcestis isn't even there anymore. Without him, no one would find me guilty. They might not even try the case. You know that Hercules gave his word to bring me back and he will never be fully comfortable with me until this is settled. I told you, I'm not going to come between you two."
"But he…" Iolaus was cut off as she pressed a finger to his lips.
"I'm going to Pylos in the morning with Hercules. I'm ending this now. And I really need you with me. Will you come?"
"Of course I will," he told her. As his clear blue eyes locked onto her emerald orbs, he felt the anger drain from him. Her eyes always had the power to calm him.
"Everything is going to be all right," she told him, and he believed her. "We've got tonight. Let's not waste it." Waves of love washed over the hunter. He didn't know what he had done to deserve this amazing woman, but he sent a little prayer of thanks to Aphrodite all the same.
In the morning they met Hercules in front of the tavern. Iolaus was still upset with his friend, and things were a little strained. As they began to walk, he let the demigod go ahead and kept Elissa with him a few paces behind. Things went on like that until a bend in the road revealed an ambush.
"Hello, Hercules. Nice day to die, don't you think?" the gang leader sneered.
"Old friends of yours?" Elissa inquired.
"Let me introduce you to Sinis," Iolaus whispered to her. "He used to rob travelers in Sparta. His favorite trick was bending two pine trees to the ground, tying an arm to each one, and letting them go. Hercules and I put him in prison last year."
"How did he get out?" Iolaus shrugged and moved up beside Hercules, pulling Elissa behind them. He quickly evaluated Sinis's gang and made a few mental notes.
"Ares set me free," Sinis was saying. "Apparently he liked my style." The man's grin was demented and he seemed to ooze evil. "And I have his gracious permission to kill you."
"Doesn't this ever get old?" Elissa sighed.
"No," Iolaus told her. "It keeps us young." He flashed a grin at Hercules and leapt for the thug that was closest to him. Hercules shook his head as he grabbed one guy and swung him at another. Whatever was going on between them, he could always count on his partner to watch his back. Elissa backed away from the melee, and when one of the men rushed at her she got him with her weapon. He fell to the ground screaming as the bag saturated with the stinging solution made contact with his eyes. Soon the fight was over and Sinis was dead, accidentally run through by one of his own men. The three regrouped as the area was filled with a bright flash of light and an angry god of war appeared.
"Ok, it just got old," Iolaus whispered as he moved protectively in front of Elissa. Ares glared hatefully at his half brother as he surveyed his fallen men.
"This isn't over, Hercules," the god growled savagely.
"Why don't you wake me when it is," he answered sarcastically. Ares vanished, but not before sending a ball of light barreling toward the demigod. The force of its impact sent Hercules flying backward. Elissa and Iolaus ran to him.
"Are you all right?" Elissa cried as she helped him sit up.
"I'm fine," Hercules groaned. He shook his head to clear it. "Happens all the time."
"Herc," Iolaus began, pulling his friend to his feet. "Do you have the feeling that Ares gave up a little too easily this time?"
"He took Sinis with him," Elissa told them, taking the hunter's hand. Hercules looked around, but she was right. The body was gone.
"We'd better keep moving," the demigod suggested, suspicions aroused.
They were on guard for the rest of the day, but nothing else had happened by the time they stopped for the night.
"We should reach Pylos by tomorrow afternoon," Hercules remarked as he carefully placed twigs on his budding fire.
"Hercules, I have to know," Iolaus said suddenly. He paused in cleaning the rabbit he'd caught and watched Elissa digging for tubers across the clearing. "Do you really think she's guilty?"
Hercules studied the girl for a long time.
"No, I don't think she killed King Neleus," Hercules said finally. He could see it in her eyes. This girl was not capable of murder. "But it doesn't matter what I think. I gave my word that I would bring her back for trial."
"I know," Iolaus said. "I just wondered if you thought she did it." He turned back to the rabbit, and as he worked he began singing a song that was a bit off-color.
"I hope you don't sing that in front of Elissa," Hercules admonished.
"Who do you think taught it to me?" Iolaus asked with a wink. Hercules added some more twigs to the fire, and he wished that he could just be happy for his friend and forget this mess. But Elissa had been right. He had promised the king that he would bring her back, and he'd never broken a promise before in his life. If he were to let the matter drop, that would always bother him. And secretly, he still had his doubts that this passionate love affair was different from all of Iolaus' others. He didn't doubt that his friend loved the healer, but he wasn't so convinced that it was as permanant as the hunter assured him.
Darkness had fallen by the time they'd eaten and cleaned up their campsite. Hercules was still feeling uneasy about the Ares encounter, and announced his intention of scouting around the area before they went to sleep. Just as he'd thought, he didn't find anything, but checking the area made him feel a little less vulnerable. It gave him something to occupy his mind and made him feel like he was in control. When he got back to the campsite, he expected Iolaus and Elissa to be asleep, but they were gone. Hercules told himself not to panic. There were no signs of a struggle, and he hadn't heard or seen anything unusual. But he quickly set out to look for them.
Hercules heard the couple before he saw them, and realized they were more than all right. Carefully, he began backing away from where they were entwined together, when a playful giggle in his ear almost caused him to jump out of his skin.
"I never knew you were a voyeur, Hercules. You always act so decent, but you do have a kinky side after all." Aphrodite enjoyed making her brother blush, and he was not disappointing her now.
"What do you want, Aphrodite?" he asked, heading back toward the campsite.
"I'm just checking on Curly," she said, giving Hercules a bright smile. "I've been waiting FOREVER for those two to hook up."
"So," he said, spinning around to face her. "This is your doing. I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner. Whatever spell you have over him, remove it now."
"Herc, you are sooooo cynical." The goddess tossed her blond mane in defiance. "I don't have any spell over them. They don't need it. This is true love, and I won."
"Won what?" Hercules was not convinced.
"Hephie and I had a little bet going. We've been keeping tabs on Curly since he helped us out. A lot of gods have it in for him, you know."
"I'm aware of that," Hercules said dryly. "So what about the bet?"
"Heph said that they would never be together because Iolaus wouldn't betray you. Something about a warrior code, or something. And I said love conquers all." Aphrodite spun around in a circle, delighting in her own cleverness.
"So what did you win?" As much trouble as his sister could be, Hercules had to admit she really was good at heart, unlike the rest of his immortal family.
"I'll tell you, but it will make you turn all red again," she said impishly.
"Never mind," he told her quickly.
"And I also wanted to tell you to go easy on them. They never wanted to hurt you, but this force bringing them together is too strong to ignore. You don't understand the power of two souls joining as one."
"What is that supposed to mean?" he demanded hotly. "Are you trying to say that I don't know what love is? That I didn't love Serena? Or Deianeira?"
"You aren't listening to me," she complained. "I'm not talking about ordinary love here. You can love lots of different people. But you only have one soul mate. I've been doing this love gig a long time, and I can tell you that most mortals never find the other half of their soul. It doesn't mean they don't love and it doesn't mean they aren't happy. But when two souls do find each other, they join as one and they are joined forever. Nothing can separate them. Their love becomes an energy. It fills the air, you can almost touch it. It's the most beautiful thing in the world. With my job, two people falling in love is no big thing, but two souls joining are still enough to make me take notice."
"So, who was my soul mate?" Hercules asked her. "Was it Deianeira or Serena?"
"Neither. You haven't found her yet," Aphrodite told him softly.
"Can you tell me who she is?"
"I don't know that," she said, shrugging. "I know if you meet, but I can't just pick her out of the crowd, you know?"
Hercules nodded. He had loved both his wives with all his heart, but apparently that was nothing compared to how Iolaus felt about Elissa. The demigod didn't want to believe Aphrodite, but he knew she was right. He'd often wondered how he could love Deianeira and Serena both so much. They were so different, but he loved them equally. Aphrodite told him that he would love his soul mate above all others. And he realized she was right about Iolaus and Elissa. He'd watched them as they sat by the fire. Iolaus was holding the healer in his arms and they were whispering softly to each other. The love coming from them had been like an electricity in the air.
"Give them your blessing, Hercules," the goddess was saying to him. "They are going to be together for the rest of their mortal lives and beyond." With a wave, she was gone in a shower of sparkles.
Hercules lay down by the fire, even though he wasn't tired. He lay thinking for a long time, pretending to be asleep when Elissa and Iolaus finally came back to join him. The truth was, he really did like Elissa. He'd liked her from the first time he'd tried to take her back for trial. He knew that she was everything that Iolaus said she was. Hercules had known all along that she hadn't murdered the king, and because he liked her, he hadn't made it a priority to find her and drag her back to Pylos. He wished again that he didn't have such a righteous streak. That accounted for his determination to take the healer back for trial, but didn't really have anything to do with his disdain of her being with his best friend. Maybe he'd just been giving them a hard time because she was one of the very few people ever to elude him, and he couldn't stand defeat. Or maybe, it was because she was someone that he could have fallen for himself. Well, that was no longer an option.
The demigod wrestled with his dilemma all night and for the rest of the journey. He suddenly began to feel that things were about to change for all of them and would never be the same again.
"We don't have to do this," Hercules said to them as they reached the edge of Pylos, a little surprised to find he truly meant it.
"Yes we do," Elissa said, looking at the walls of the castle. Iolaus just looked at her with sad eyes. He wanted nothing more than to drag her away from there, but she had made up her mind and he had to respect her. "It's not just about you anymore, Hercules. I need to do this for me, so that I can be free to live my life. But before we go in, I need you both to promise me something. If anything happens to me, I want you to promise to take my body back to Acheron."
Hercules promised, but Iolaus was staring at her in disbelief.
"Nothing is going to happen to you," he declared vehemently. But she refused to move until he promised her, so he gave his word.
As the fates would have it, Alcestis still had the position of the king's advisor, and he well remembered the girl who had escaped him before, ruining his plot to become the new king of Pylos. The man who had become king, Laomedon, was on a crusade, so in his absence and in his name, Alcestis ordered Elissa to be locked up for a dawn execution. Since he had missed his shot at royalty, he decided he could at least take his revenge. Iolaus watched as Hercules launched his "What's wrong with you people?" speech and demanded that she have a fair trial, but he knew it wasn't going to work this time. The guards seized Elissa and took her to the dungeon as the hunter went wild. The demigod had to hold him down until he could convince him that they could do nothing now, but would rescue her later.
"You can't help her if you're locked up too," Hercules hissed into his ear. Iolaus realized that he was right, and got himself under control.
Alcestis offered Hercules and Iolaus the royal treatment and rooms in the castle for the night for heroically returning the murderess of King Neleus, but they were forbidden to go near the prisoner, thanks to the scene that the hunter had made when she was taken away. But neither was taking no for an answer, and they argued until they were finally granted a few minutes with Elissa. Iolaus had to be sure that she would be safe until he could get her out. The guards had been sympathetic to their female prisoner and had put her in the best cell they had. It was fairly clean and vermin free and they had brought in straw and blankets for her comfort. Luckily, the cell was also the least secure, as Hercules quickly noticed. He went over the layout of the room and the details of the cell in his mind while the hunter talked softly to Elissa.
"Remember your promise, my brave warrior," she told Iolaus.
"I'm not going to let this happen to you," he whispered, squeezing her hands through the bars of her cell. They hadn't manacled her, so that would be one less problem to overcome. "We'll get you out of here."
The guards were insisting that their time was up and that they would have to leave. Iolaus wanted nothing more than to vent his anger out on them, but Hercules' hand on his shoulder reminded him to pick his fight carefully. They would only have one chance at this, and he couldn't afford to blow it now.
The hunter spoke to Elissa with his eyes, telling her how much he loved her and that he would be back for her soon. Her eyes told him goodbye. Leaving her in the dungeon and walking away took every ounce of his strength. Hercules could see that Iolaus was just barely in control, so he declined an offer of dinner and they went to their rooms to work out the details of the upcoming jailbreak.
Alcestis obviously did not trust them, as he had extra guards posted all along the way to the dungeon. It might have been a problem, but Iolaus was driven. Hercules had never seen him fight like this before. He quickly took out guard after guard without making a sound to alert the slumbering castle. Finally they made it to Elissa's cell. Hercules made short work of the guards and was searching the unconscious men for the keys when he heard Iolaus' frantic whisper. He looked up, and saw that Elissa was lying on the floor of the cell. She was crumpled in a strange position and just didn't look like she was sleeping. The demigod decided it was no time for formality and used his strength to pull the cell door out of the wall. Iolaus took the healer in his arms and called her name, but she was gone.
Hercules was outraged. Alcestis had examined her body and grudgingly admitted that the healer was dead, but had still wanted to behead her to have a momento for King Laomedon. The demigod drew the line and enforced it emphatically. As Alcestis glared at him, Hercules knew without a doubt that he had framed this gentle girl and had tricked Laomedon into demanding justice. Now she was dead, Iolaus would never forgive him, and it was all he could do to keep from ripping the advisor to pieces. Instead, he ripped the castle's most expensive tapestry off the wall and took it to cover the healer. He also insisted on taking a wagon and a horse from the stables. Alcestis called him a thief, but Hercules promised to return them when he came back to tell Laomedon exactly what his advisor had been up to.
Laomedon was a weak king. He wanted everyone to like him and wanted everyone to be happy. Hercules was sure Alcestis had been exploiting him the whole time. But that would change once he told the king what had been going on. Seeing Alcestis in that dungeon would be a welcome sight, but the demigod knew it wouldn't take away the guilt he was feeling. If it wasn't for him, Elissa wouldn't have come back to Pylos and she'd still be alive. No one was sure what had taken the healer's life, but Hercules knew that indirectly, he had.
Iolaus wrapped Elissa's body in the beautiful tapestry and placed her gently in the wagon. He climbed up to sit beside Hercules and they rode all day in silence. The hunter was in a state of shock and hadn't spoken a word since they'd found her. Hercules was faring only slightly better, overwhelmed with guilt and worry for his friend. When darkness fell, they stopped and made a fire. The demigod wasn't hungry and he was quite sure Iolaus wouldn't eat anything, but catching and cooking dinner gave him something to do. However, he soon ran out of tasks to occupy his mind.
Hercules had been sitting by the fire lost in thought when Iolaus suddenly bolted up.
"Elissa's not dead," he said, almost to himself.
"Iolaus," Hercules told him quietly. "She is."
"No, she's alive," the hunter cried, running for the wagon. Hercules followed him, his heart aching for his friend. Iolaus leapt into the back of the wagon and pulled the tapestry off of the healer's form, kneeling beside her.
"She's alive!" he shouted over his shoulder. Hercules was sure that Iolaus wanted it so much to be true, that he was delusional. He climbed up into the wagon, trying to think of how to deal with this. But to his utter amazement, when he examined Elissa, he saw that she was breathing.
"She's cold," the hunter told him through the tears. "Help me get her to the fire." They carried her back to the campfire and Iolaus sat down, cradling her in his arms. Hercules covered her with the tapestry and added more wood to the fire. He didn't understand how this could be happening, but Elissa was alive. They watched her intently as her breathing became more regular, and soon she opened her eyes. She was very dazed and disoriented at first. They gave her water and Iolaus held her tightly as she shivered uncontrollably. It took some time, but finally she came around.
"You weren't really dead, were you?" Hercules asked. She had been acting as if she were drugged, and he was starting to catch on. This girl was continuously outsmarting him, and he was quickly learning not to underestimate her.
"No. I took aconite," she explained. She was still shaking and her voice was weak, but she was mostly recovered. "I always kept some in this." The healer fingered the silver pendant around her neck. "A high dose slows breathing and heart rate so much, it gives the appearance of death."
"Why in the name of Tartarus didn't you tell me you were going to do that!" Iolaus demanded.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, turning her emerald eyes to him. "But the dosage is very tricky. If I didn't get it exactly right, it would have killed me. I didn't want you to think I was going to be all right if I were really dead."
"We would have gotten you out. You didn't have to do this," he told her.
"I know you would have saved me," she said. "But then Alcestis would still be after me and you and Hercules would be in trouble, too. This way, we're all free. Please don't be angry with me."
"I'm not," the hunter said, hugging her tightly. "Just don't ever scare me like this again."
They decided to stay at the campsite for a couple of days. Elissa was still weak, and Iolaus wanted to give her time to get her strength back. Hercules stayed with them, and made his peace with the healer. He was still feeling guilty over the whole mess, but Elissa came to him and convinced him that it wasn't his fault. They talked for a long time, about what had happened in Pylos and other things. She took away the blame he had heaped onto himself, and set them on the path to becoming great friends. The demigod was suddenly very glad that she would be a part of his life. This girl was not only a healer of the body, but a healer of the soul.
Things with Iolaus were not going as well. The hunter had been avoiding him, acting coldly and giving short answers when asked a direct question. Hercules told himself that it was nothing, and tried to act as if everything were normal. Knowing Iolaus could never say no to fishing, he suggested they go down to the stream to try their luck, but the hunter refused.
"You're just afraid that I'll catch more than you and show you up in front of Elissa," Hercules taunted, but Iolaus wasn't falling for it. "Come on," he cajoled, grabbing his partner in a headlock. Iolaus was not in the mood and struggled, demanding to be released, lashing out when the demigod didn't comply. Hercules was stunned and let him go. The blow that had landed on him certainly did not have all of the hunter's force behind it, but it was by no means a playful punch, either.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked quietly.
"You," Iolaus spat, turning his blazing eyes on his friend. "All this is your fault. Elissa almost died because of you and your ego. You know how much I love her, and she could have been killed, thanks to you. You don't even care. You're walking around here like nothing ever happened. Why don't you just leave? We don't want you here." The hunter turned and angrily stalked off into the woods.
The words devastated Hercules. He stood in shock until Elissa came up to him.
"He didn't mean that," she consoled, laying a hand on his arm.
"I know," Hercules told her. "But maybe I should go for now. Give him some time."
"Let me talk to him first. Promise you'll stay here until I get back." The demigod couldn't say no to her, and agreed to wait. Elissa set off after the hunter and it didn't take her long to find him.
"Do you mind telling me what that was all about?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied. He took her hand and she could see he was ashamed of his outburst. "It's just… I felt so alone and afraid and helpless when I thought you were dead. It was so unfair after everything that had happened between us. I had just gotten you and then lost you all in a few days. I felt like I'd failed you. And I couldn't help thinking that if it weren't for Hercules and his overinflated sense of justice, you would still be with me. Even after you came back to me, I couldn't shake those feelings."
"That is my fault, Iolaus," she told him. "Take it out on me, not Hercules. You told me the other day never to apologize to you for who I am. Don't you think your best friend deserves the same respect?"
"I don't know why I said those things to him," Iolaus said, taking her in his arms. "The thought of anything happening to you just made me crazy. And I felt like everything was his fault. He's the reason I couldn't be with you when I wanted to. He's the reason I had to hide what I was feeling. And he's the reason that you almost died."
"If you're angry, be angry with me. I am sorry I didn't tell you what I was doing. I should have, but at the time I thought it was for the best. But I did NOT go through all of that so you could take it out on Hercules. The whole point of going to Pylos was so I wouldn't come between you two."
"I know," he told her. "And I'm not angry and I don't blame him. I'm sorry I said what I did. I'll go talk to him." He brushed his lips across hers and went back to the campsite. Elissa decided to take a walk and give them time to talk, but when she arrived back at the site she found Iolaus alone.
"He left," Iolaus said. "Don't worry, everything's ok. He wanted to go and give us some time alone together, so he took the horse and wagon back to Pylos. He'll meet us in a few days."
"Are you two really all right?" she asked.
"Sure," he told her. "We've been through a lot worse than this." Elissa saw in his eyes that he was being honest with her and felt incredible relief. She came into his arms and Iolaus felt the passion building.
"Do you realize," he whispered, "that we have nothing stopping us now. You are safe from Alcestis and we're ok with Hercules. We are free." She answered him with a demanding kiss that the hunter eagerly returned. Even through their time together in Acheron, Iolaus had been holding back ever so slightly. There was still the problems of Pylos and his partner between them, but now that was gone and they gave themselves completely to each other. They were free.
The electricity of their love crackled through the air. From the realm of the gods, Aphrodite beamed upon them and Ares glared hatred. The goddess of love was aware of Ares' presence and was sure that it could not be good. She vowed to herself to do what she could to protect them.
"Don't worry, Sweet Cheeks," she whispered to herself. "Love DOES conquer all."
Elissa and Iolaus were unaware of the divine happenings. The were unaware of anything but each other and the complete unification of the two souls that were really one. They were free, they were together, and they were one.
Disclaimer: Elissa was not harmed during the writing of this story. She is a trained healer and licensed to administer aconite. Kids: don't try this at home.
Chapter Five: Behind Blue Eyes
The Iolausian Library