by Ingrid and Beckers
Love looks not with the eyes, but with mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil'd.
- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
They were on vacation but Hercules, as always, had to leave. A Cyclops needed to be tamed near the city of Cressida and the skinny little red-haired man who ran to the demigod, begging for his help, just looked so pathetic and desperate. What was a hero to do?
Peeved, recalling the scene which took place yesterday - all the whining, begging and crying - Iolaus mumbled distractedly over his ale while he leaned against the bar in a local tavern. How many times had Iolaus told his best friend, “Just say NO, Hercules.” only to be ignored? “Whenever we go on vacation you never vacation!” He had bellowed once again as the demigod was pulled and pushed out of Corinth, to go where danger was prevalent. Sure, a hero’s work is never done but - sheesh - this is ridiculous!
No, Iolaus was determined, he was not going with Hercules this time. This was a vacation and - send it all to Tartarus! - this hunter-warrior was going to relax! With a sigh of disgust, Iolaus put his tankard down, tossed a dinar on the bar and walked from the tavern.
If only relaxing by ones self wasn’t so dull.
It was one of those inevitable things, Iolaus thought. After all, as Hercules constantly reminded his pal: “Helping people is its own reward.” Maybe, but it certainly put a crimp in their social lives. Hercules, of course, didn’t see this. There were times when Iolaus wanted to just reach up and choke the demigod...
He heard a call from across the dusty street. Female. He was instantly interested. He peered for a moment, seeing nothing but a row of ramshackle legal building, when he suddenly spotted her. How could he have miss this exuberant woman with those flashy clothes, big smile, sparkling eyes and dark hair piled on either side of her head in odd but fashionable twists. She radiated like the morning sun on a clear day.
“Dirce!” Iolaus cheered and felt good for the first time that day.
She trotted across the street to meet him, smiling her brilliant smile and hugging him, excited by their reunion. “I’m so glad to see you because I need you!” she declared rather abruptly.
Iolaus paused for just a moment, considering the possibilities of such a statement. He smiled carelessly. “It’s good to be needed.” He flirted.
“My father’s in trouble,” she said quickly, “I’ve been schooling here in Corinth, learning a few new legal maneuvers, when it came to me by messenger that he and our kingdom are in jeopardy!”
Of course. Disappointed, Iolaus sighed. He had to keep reminding himself that Dirce was a royal princess although she was less like royalty than any woman he had ever met in his life. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m not really sure, but I need to go home.”
“To Scyros?” Iolaus grimaced, recalling his last nearly fatal visit to Dirce’s hometown. Deliberately, he put a hand to his throat and rubbed it gently.
“Yes, and I want you to go with me.”
“Why, me?” Iolaus dropped his hand.
“Because, whatever it is must be serious, something only a hero of your caliber can deal with.” she said with determination, slipping her hand into his.
Iolaus smiled, his ego boosted by the young princess-lawyer’s praise.
“And besides that,” She hesitated a moment considering, moving to start their journey out of Corinth, “Hercules isn’t around.”
Iolaus’ smile drooped. You’d think I’d get used to this sort of thing by now. He thought but, instead of voicing his disappointment, Iolaus concurred, "I'm glad you happened to catch me. We’ll walk together and do a little catching up."
It would take them at least two days by foot to get to Scyros from Corinth. Dirce nodded enthusiastically then, biting her lip, considering something else: "Let's pick up something for the road, Iolaus..." She leaned in boldly and held him closer, "I know how hungry you get." She vamped.
Iolaus nervously giggled and reluctantly let go of her. If King Manelaus thought it justice to have a prisoner’s head removed for robbing the royal treasury then what would the king consider removing if he thought a cad was taking advantage of the Princess of Scyros?
Unconcerned with such thoughts, Dirce quickly walked ahead and Iolaus turned the corner to follow her.
It had been a long day and seemed to be growing longer by the minute.
That song. That whistle. His voice. It was driving her insane.
"Joxer, please!" Gabrielle cried, shoving the lanky warrior-wannabe away from her, "PLEASE stop with the song! I'm not your sidekick, and I'm not fighting with a ‘little stick’! For the gods' sake, write a new verse!"
Joxer pouted, a bit offended that "Gabby" didn't share the same affection for his valiant warrior song as he. "But - blood, valor, victory, Gabby! It's our song!"
She continued walking, trying desperately to ignore his voice.
"Fine...” Joxer called, watching Gabrielle move ahead of him, “I'll find Xena and sing it with her!”
"Not if she knocks your block off with her chakram first..." Gabrielle muttered.
"I heard that!" Joxer yelled then unexpectedly tripped over his own feet, landing in the crisp gravel of the path they were following, his legs getting tangled in his father’s sword.
Gabrielle, silently thanking the gods for intervention, doubled her pace. Joxer would be all right and he could meet her in Scyros, where Xena was waiting for them. Right now she just had to get away from him and this constant attention. Ever since Joxer had told Gabrielle he was in love with her, she and the warrior-wannabe hadn't been the same. He made her uncomfortable. Even more than usual. She wished, for his sake, she could return just a little of his affection, because it meant so much to him, but she just couldn’t and it was time he accepted it.
Still, he was a friend and a nice guy and, concerned for his welfare, Gabrielle quickly looked back over her shoulder to double-check, making sure he was well and to see how far ahead of him she had progressed.
Iolaus had just begun rounding a corner, a large bush obstructing his view, attempting to catch up with the quick on her feet Dirce when he looked behind him, startled by the call of a grain seller that looked remarkably like fast-food merchant, Falafel.
A young woman ran right into him from out of nowhere, the collision knocking both of them to the ground. Her small leather tote and its contents went flying, scattering across the ground.
He helped her up and at the same time picked up her bag, shoveling its contents - scrolls it seemed - inside. "You know, nobody should be in this much of a hurry to -- "
It was at that moment that he looked into her eyes, expecting a stranger, instead finding himself grinning - and speechless. "Iolaus?!" Gabrielle finally managed, also having a hard time believing it.
Her hair was shorter and her clothes had changed - boy, had they changed - but he’d know those clear, intelligent eyes and that pretty face anywhere, "Gabrielle!" He immediately accepted her offer of an embrace.
"What has it been...two winters? Gods, Iolaus, I can't believe you're here!" she laughed, honestly delighted. The last time she’d heard about Iolaus was when he and Hercules went to Sumeria ... Well, it didn’t matter now.
Still holding onto her, reluctant to part, Iolaus closed his eyes and sighed. "Nothing like meeting an old friend, is there?" he said over her shoulder.
"No...there isn't.” Then, because she knew politeness demanded it, “Where's Hercules?"
They finally pushed back and let go of one another.
Iolaus peered over Gabrielle's shoulder, wondering what had become of Dirce. "Playing hero. You know, saving humanity yet again from monsters and other evils. I'm on my way to Scyros. I'm needed there."
Gabrielle’s smile widened. She then noticed his distracted look, "Are you traveling with someone else?"
He nodded. "Yeah, The Princess of Scyros. Dirce and I go a long way back. She helped saved my life, you know."
Gabrielle nodded, recalling. "I think Autolycus told me that story, but in his version he's the legendary hero."
"Figures...” Iolaus spotted Dirce a bit ahead of he and Gabrielle. With her was a bedraggled man that could be none other than Joxer, The Mighty. She seemed to be brushing dust from his clothes and talking about something he was enthusiastically agreeing with. “Come on,” Iolaus took Gabrielle’s hand and pulled her with him, “I'll introduce you to Dirce."
Far above them, on Mount Olympus, gazing through a gently cascading fountain that served as a mirror to the mortal world, Cupid watched, sighing. He loved when soulmates such as these met up. It made him realize that just because his mother was more concerned with her hair, make up, clothes and surfboard than her duties as the love goddess, that things like this could still happen on their own. Just like he and his beloved Psyche...
"Spying on someone again?" Aphrodite’s sweet but rather obnoxious voice filled the room.
"Chill, Mom. I'm not spying on anyone. I'm witnessing what should have been...and what could still be."
Aphrodite glanced at the mortals displayed in the pool but couldn’t see them clearly. One thing she did know was that they were heroes; she sensed it with inherent goddess abilities. Aphrodite then rolled her eyes, "Don't be stupid, Cupid! Like, you know very well that my little bro and that Warrior Princess babe can never be together! I mean, it would be like a total --"
"I'm talking about Iolaus and Gabrielle, Ma!"
"Aha!" She laughed, shaking her head, amused. "My son, the matchmaker. That's my job, Sweetcheeks, you just shoot the arrows.” She looked into the water and could see them all clearly now. Four mortals, all right. Curly, Xena’s tag-a-long, Joxer the Mighty Lame and Dirce, Princess of...something.
"They belong together, Mom! Gabrielle knows it herself! She's just scared and won't tell Iolaus how she feels."
The goddess picked up another petition from one of her temples. “I don’t blame her. What was that little girl thinking when she did that to her hair...” she murmured.
Cupid sighed as she exploded into a fit of giggles.
Reading the scroll, "Hey, this one's in love with Ares! Can you imagine?” Aphrodite gestured with a finger in her mouth, "Blecch!"
"Are you sure I'm related to you?" Cupid asked, deadpan.
Ignoring his sarcastic remark, she put down the scroll and looked again into the small pool of water that the fountain had created. "Give it up, Cupid. I'm telling you, Iolaus and Dirce were made for each other! He just looks at her and gets these big puppy dog eyes and...ugh! Honestly, Goddess of Love or not, it makes me sick!"
"Mom, you know that dude never has luck with royalty. Nebula, Niobe...” he stopped a minute, pondering, “and what's with him and women with names that begin with 'N,' anyway?"
For a moment she looked as if she was seriously listening to him, "Yeah, you know, I always wondered about that, too. Even the Curly from the Swirly fell in love and married Princess Nautica...” Aphrodite then shook the thought from her mind. She missed that little guy. “...but this Gabby thing is not happening, Cupid. She and the Warrior-babe are cut from the same cloth. You can see the sign on her forehead: 'No Men Allowed'."
"You're wrong, Mom." Cupid insisted.
She smiled, "Whoa -- that sounds like a challenge, boy of mine.” Simpering, looking slyly at her son, Aphrodite balanced her hands on shapely hips, “Well, why don't we make it official? I bet you she and Curly won't last half way to Scyros with Dirce tagging along. Someone’s gonna to blow!"
Cupid set his jaw, knowing that it was against his better instincts. Every time he let his mother have her way, something chaotic happened. But he had to prove her wrong. "Bet's on, Mom. If I win, you let nature take its course with these two. No interfering. And if you win..."
Aphrodite smiled, “I get an entire week alone with my grandson!" she said quickly, bouncing on her heels, “With no interference from either you or Psyche. He’s mine, all mine!”
Cupid nodded but knew he'd just been had, by his scatter-brained mother no less. Psyche was going to kill him.
Dirce talked on and on, unaware that she was monopolizing the conversation. “...so, when Joxer here told me he and his girlfriend were going to Scyros too I told him, ‘Well, yes. We should all walk together.’ It’s safer that way. He agreed with me and...”
Gabrielle eyed Joxer with disdain. What was with him, telling the Princess of Scyros that she, Gabrielle, was his girlfriend? The warrior-bard was now very happy that she had left ‘the way of peace’, that which had been taught to her in India, behind because she now had no qualms about asking Xena to thump him hard upside the head. As a matter of fact, Gabrielle would really enjoy doing it herself if she could reach up in time and not have Joxer skitter away like some possessed jack rabbit. As it was, he was trying very hard to keep a space between them, bringing up the rear of their group. He said he was watching for highwaymen.
Thank the gods for little favors. Gabrielle thought with a sigh but she was not content. Dirce was charming and very smart. Regularly Gabrielle would like talking to such an accomplished young woman, comparing notes about law and world views, but there was one little thing bothering her. Gabrielle really did not like the way Dirce’s pretty hand clung so greedily to Iolaus’. A little thing, really. They were friends, after all. But the more she watched them, saw how Dirce leaned into The Golden Hunter and giggled at the quiet comments he made, the more Gabrielle felt animosity. Perhaps there was a little more to this relationship than what she had been led to believe? Gabrielle’s mind raced. Could they be...lovers? Should she care?
“Okay, let’s stop right here.” Iolaus announced.
Gabrielle halted in her tracks, stunned for a moment. Did he just read her mind? He released Dirce’s hand and made a motion to a clearing, “It’s getting late and it's going to get dark. We need to make camp and gather some food.”
“I can make a fire.” Dirce volunteered.
Joxer looked off and listened, “There’s a stream nearby. I’ll get water.” He said with a goofy smile, pleased to be able to pitch in.
Iolaus nearly laughed, wondering how long it would take before Joxer fell into that lake.
“I’ll go hunting with you if you’d like, Iolaus.” Gabrielle offered, happy to be spending at least a little time alone with him.
“I’d like that.” he smiled and winked. He then walked off with her into the woods.
Dirce, watching them go, involuntarily found herself envious.
"He's supposed to be one of those," Joxer gestured with quotes in the air, “'great hunters’, so we should be eating good in no time.” At her thoughtful silence he continued onto another subject, “So...you're a princess, huh?"
Dirce smiled, quickly finding herself unaccountably shy around the new acquaintance. "But I’m a lawyer first.” she insisted, “Helping my fellow man against injustice is what’s important to me.” Then, throwing a few sticks onto the campfire, “Are you and Gabrielle having some kind of trouble?"
Her comment plainly caught Joxer off guard, "Um...we um... Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I don't know," Dirce pursed her lips, "Her avoiding you like the plague the whole day like she has usually isn't a good sign of a healthy relationship."
Embarrassed, Joxer abruptly stood - “I better go get some cooking water.” He said and moved off to the lake.
They hunted they talked quietly. Iolaus admitted to Gabrielle that he wasn’t much interested in either dramatic plays or reading but he did like a good story and music.
“Have you ever heard of “Beautius”? It’s an arrangement so lyrical and perfect that it has been said that the writer, Thexus, was inspired by the goddess Calliope." she mused. “It’s my favorite.”
“Mine, too.” Iolaus said and looked over at her, smiling as they walked.
“Really?” Her eyes widened slightly. “You’re not just teasing me? You really know of it?”
“I heard it during a party, at Queen Astraea's castle, while Hercules and I were in Crete last season. It’s an exquisite piece.”
Gabrielle’s heart unexpectedly fluttered. She doubted Iolaus would share this bit of information with just anyone. After all, the male sex of this age were supposed to be interested in manly pursuits like sword play, building, hunting, forging, practicing fighting skills and weight lifting. Then she smiled. Gabrielle realized she had been mentally listing items that Xena enjoyed engaging in her spare time.
“Then, I guess we’ll just have to call it our song.” she said with a small smile.
Iolaus gazed at her a moment as they walked then chuckled, “I guess so.”
Then they heard the snap of a twig. Food was near. They moved on ...
“You can shoot now. I'm sure it's not watching.” Gabrielle mused in hushed tones.
Iolaus was leaning against a tree trunk, peering over a patch of brush near the rushing water of the lake, about one hundred meters south of their campsite. "Yeah, I could... but a great hunter can catch his dinner with bare hands alone." He motioned for her to crouch down behind the thicket with him. Iolaus loved to show off and hoped he wasn’t being too obvious.
"I still don't see it...I don't even hear it! One rabbit isn't enough to feed four people, Iolaus."
He smiled, "How about if Joxer suddenly decides he's a vegetarian?"
Gabrielle giggled and placed a hand over her mouth. She didn’t want to scare the rabbit away.
Iolaus slowly rose, gesturing Gabrielle to follow him. "Ever shoot a bow?" He asked her, apparently completely serious.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena's the one with many skills.” she confessed. “And you don’t want to test me now, Iolaus. If we don't come back with something plump and succulent your hunter reputation could be in real danger." Then, finding humor in what she just said, Gabrielle playfully shoved him, not realizing Iolaus was resting his weight on his opposite foot.
He fell backwards onto Gabrielle, temporarily pinning her to the base of a tree. He then twisted about a little to be certain she wasn’t harmed, his face suddenly very close to hers. There was silence as they stared at one another, unmoving.
Gabrielle didn't know why she wasn’t pushing Iolaus away, hastily attempting to get back on her feet. Maybe it had something to do with the way he was looking at her and the warmth of his breath against her cheeks. Then there were those blue eyes, that tanned skin and the marvelous way the breeze about them blew tuffs of his thick blond hair this way and that.
Iolaus came back to himself first, "I'm...sorry." He took her hands and helped Gabrielle to stand, "I think we scared the rabbit away."
"There's plenty of them out here." Gabrielle reasoned, her voice gentle and unsure. She attempted to turn and pretend what just passed between them was nothing at all. But her eyes locked with his again, those incredible orbs that seemed to look right through her, and Gabrielle felt herself losing a brief battle with control. His gaze kept her where she was. She didn’t want to move away. She didn’t want to stop looking at him.
"Plenty of what?" he asked sensitively, unable to concentrate on anything but the softness of her upper arms beneath his hands and those lovely lips that were slowly inching closer and closer to his.
“Rabbit.” she said, breathlessly. Eager yet a little afraid.
Their lips very nearly touched.
A huge thunderclap interrupted the moment, followed by a sudden heavy shower that soaked them both instantly. Iolaus grasped her hand, throwing the sling of arrows back over his shoulder as they frantically ran for shelter - if they could find it!
“What...!” Gabrielle cried, “There isn’t a cloud in the sky!”
Worried about what this could mean, possibly interference of some kind from a wicked god, Iolaus replied, "Let's head back to camp and make sure Dirce and Joxer are all right!"
The storm lessened, and by the time they reached the other two travelers, it had completely stopped.
"Gods...some rain that was, huh?" Gabrielle exclaimed, drenched. She was smiling but out of breath from running. With an uncomfortable feeling creeping in, she looked from Dirce to Joxer. Why weren’t they wet?
"Rain?" Joxer echoed.
Dirce looked up at their two soaked friends. "Did you fall into the river or something?" she asked, much to Joxer's amusement.
Iolaus looked from a dumbfounded Gabrielle to the two seated figures. "What are you talking about? We got caught up in the...” Then it hit him as it had Gabrielle, “Why aren't you wet?" Iolaus then noticed the fire was still lit. There was no sign of rain water anywhere. He exhaled and rolled his eyes to the heavens.
I don’t believe this, Iolaus internally sighed, Hercules is gone, playing tag with a Cyclops, and now I’m stuck with all the weird stuff.
Could they never have a normal vacation?
Cupid was furious, throwing his hands into the air with exasperation. "Mom! That was like, totally harsh!” he accused, “I thought we agreed not to mess with any of them!"
Aphrodite hid her smile, though her son knew it was there, "Take a chill pill, okay? She was asking for it! Somebody had to cool her down! Later she’ll thank me for it."
"Looked to me like they both wanted that kiss to happen, Mom. Why do you always have to interfere with true love?"
Aphrodite arched a knowing brow, "Duh!" was all the goddess needed to say. He hadn’t seen nothin' yet.
Fish. It always came back to catching fish. Iolaus was tired of fish. He wanted rabbit stew. He craved rabbit stew. But it had grown too late to hunt, the sky now on the darker side of twilight, and the safest method of procuring dinner was from this stream. He’d have to leave the furry little beasts alone for another day.
Well, maybe when they finally got to Scyros the king would have a feast waiting for them. Especially if they managed to solve the problems plaguing Manelaus’ kingdom, whatever they might be. Then he and his friends could all settle down and relax.
Maybe then he’d find a few moment to be alone with Gabrielle, when they were both totally dry, and discuss what had happened out in the woods. No, not the weather but that very real sensation of warmth and tenderness that had gripped his soul and, he suspected, also touched her’s. He had to know if it was mutual. Was she feeling some of the things he thought he felt? If so, what should they do about it? Anything at all?
Iolaus sat by the stream, holding a fishing pole cut from a slim branch and leaned against a bulky tree by the water’s edge. The rain storm had been a freak thing, they all decided. Still, Iolaus couldn’t help thinking there were other powers at work. He looked upward, “Okay, which one of you are playing games?” he wondered aloud.
No answer. In a way, he was relieved.
Then he heard a rusting in the bushes behind him. Alerted, Iolaus slowly laid his pole down beside him then swung around and grasped the first thing that came his way -- which happened to be Dirce’s slender wrist.
“Hey!” she cried, “What are you doing?”
Iolaus immediately let her go, “Sorry.” He apologized as the young woman came forward and sat beside him. “Guess I’m just a little paranoid.”
“Oh?” with a teasing lilt to her voice Dirce sat and leaned in a little closer, “Do I make you nervous, Iolaus?”
The hunter-warrior turned a bit in her direction and smiled out the corner of his mouth, “Nervous no, breathless yes.”
She laughed and looked out at the water, “Actually, I have a question for you.”
“Ask away.” he said, picking up the pole.
“How well do you know Joxer?”
Iolaus straightened his shoulders and cast the line again. “Well, not as well as Gabrielle and Xena do, but I know him enough to say he’s a good guy. A little boastful maybe but decent enough.” Then he looked at her, “Why?”
“I think he’s kind of cute.”
Iolaus nearly dropped the pole, “Really?”
“I was talking with him while you and Gabrielle were hunting and you wouldn’t believe the adventures he’s been on and...he’s just so deep. And Joxer’s considerate and kind and heroic and...”
“Okay, I get it. You like him.”
“But he also has a broken heart.” Dirce folded her hands on her colorful skirt and looked suddenly sympathetic, “I think someone loved him and then just tossed him aside.”
“And you’d like to be the one to mend his emotional wounds.” Iolaus sighed and nodded, understanding the ‘tossed aside’ scenario all too well. Didn’t it just figure his own luck with women was running lean while Joxer the Mighty was on the verge of getting lucky. What a day!
“Joxer!” Aphrodite bemoaned, “She likes Joxer?!”
“I knew it!” Cupid gently slapped a palm on the rim of the fountain, “So kewl!”
Aphrodite looked at her son, pouting. Oh no, she thought, not if this Goddess of Love has anything to say about it!
“I wonder what’s taking them so long.” Gabrielle wondered, warming her hands against the campfire and trying to dry out her still damp leathers. The sun was nearly down.
“By this time Iolaus, that mighty hunter, should have caught enough fish to feed an army.” Joxer said, sarcastically. As far as he could see that little blond guy wasn’t such hot stuff and he didn’t know what Dirce and Gabrielle saw in him. Dirce... Joxer suddenly thought with a smile. She was awfully pretty and funny too. Then he frowned. Why did Iolaus get all the girls? “Oh, they’re probably out there rolling around in the grass together.” he brooded.
Gabrielle’s ducked head suddenly popped up and she looked at Joxer, wide eyed, over the campfire. She hadn’t really thought about that. Not after what nearly happened in the woods between the two of them. Gabrielle thought she had felt something exclusive in Iolaus, but... No, he wouldn’t. But he and Dirce did seem rather close and....
Abruptly, Gabrielle stood. “Wait here. I’m going to go check on them, just in case.” Then, she clarified, “Just in case they’re hurt or lost or something. It’s getting dark and...” She walked off, the rest of her words fading from the campsite as she disappeared from view.
Joxer sighed. It would be nice to have someone care that much for him.
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