by Ingrid

For ABL, who never stops believing.

“It’s raining.” He stated simply, turning from the entrance of the ancient cave. “Gods only know when it’ll let up. I think we’ll be trapped in here forever.”

Hercules couldn’t help let a chuckle escape his throat, “Iolaus, relax, we’ll be fine.”

The hunter tugged at the sides of the tattered plum-colored vest that settled with ease over bronze, toned shoulders. “Yeah, yeah, yeah...but why do we always get caught in storms?”

“Just lucky, I guess.”

Iolaus rolled his eyes, “Well, ha, ha, ha.”

Hercules leaned against the steep rock face of the cave’s west wall, glancing up at him. “Why are you so edgy lately, anyway?”

Iolaus abruptly turned back to him as if the half-god had slapped him. “Edgy?” Realization spread over him as quickly as he’d reacted to the words. “Yeah, maybe I have been a little... off lately.” He sat down next to his best friend and scanned the other side of the cave for anything that could strike a fire. Hercules leaned over to pick up a long piece of drift wood, quickly striking it against the rock face wall behind him. The hunter jumped up, startled.

“Geez, thanks for warning me, buddy.” Iolaus’ jittery nerves were less amusing now to Hercules. Trying to hide feelings was all too much like the hunter. There was just enough debris in the cave from the ocean’s high tide to keep a small fire going. He was thankful it wasn’t too wet considering how damp the land near the water had been lately. The small fire threw shadows that danced across both their faces. This was such a routine, simple ritual, together around a campfire, a storm raging outside... But Hercules knew how important - how almost sacred this was - to their friendship. This was part of them both. They’d shared the most significant and emotional of memories around a circle of flame. But the hunter was quiet on this occasion.

“Now we can talk.” Hercules said.

“Talk?” Iolaus asked, avoiding eye contact with him.

“About what’s on your mind?”

Hercules could swear Iolaus had cringed at the sound of the words. “It’s kinda hard to explain, Hercules. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea -”

“Iolaus, after all we’ve done together, nothing can be that hard to understand.” Hercules assured him, laying a supportive hand on his shoulder.

The hunter shot him an amused glance with his deep blue eyes, then back at the small fire. “Well, it’s about what we’re doing....and Morrigan.”

Hercules nodded. He knew what Iolaus was getting at. “You’re afraid of what she’ll think of you because she fought Dahak with me. Iolaus, she knows you’re my best friend and she knows that wasn’”

“So she’s supposed to forgive and forget just like that?” Iolaus brushed sun-bleached strands of blonde hair away from his face, clearly frustrated with himself.

“You still feel that way, don’t you? She doesn’t need to forgive you, Iolaus. You didn’t do anything wrong.” The hunter stood up and spun on one heel to the opposite end of their shelter.

“I knew it’d be hard returning to Corinth after all that happened...but to meet Morrigan, Nebula...” The last name was said in almost a whisper. Maybe even a regretful one. “I’m sorry, Herc, I didn’t mean to blow up on you like this, I...” His apologetic tone bounced off the cave walls.

The fire was their only comfort in that moment.

“I know,” Hercules said softly, “and I know things aren’t going to be easy, even though we want them to be. We both don’t want to remember what happened to you...but it’s something neither of us will forget for the rest of our lives.”

Iolaus stubbed a thin layer of dirt with a booted foot and looked toward the cave entrance. It was starting to get dark, and the storm wasn’t backing down any time soon.

“Iolaus, do you remember her?” Hercules asked, the question maybe a little unexpected to Iolaus. The hunter hesitated, knowing his answer had to be truthful.

“Faintly, I think so. When I was trapped, it was like someone put a blindfold over my eyes. I could only stand back and - and watch the bits and pieces of what he’d let me see...I had no control, no way to stop what was happening, and I’ll never forgive myself for what he'd done.” Iolaus wasn’t afraid to continue anymore. He could tell the man before him anything and he’d understand. “And Morrigan. She must be very special to you.”

“She is, and I hope she realizes that about you, too.” He watched Iolaus settle to the cave floor. “Guess we’re here for the night. I’m sure the next ship leaves in the morning.”

Iolaus nodded, muffling a yawn with his right hand. “Yeah...goodnight, Herc.”

Hercules smiled, staring into the dying embers of the fire. “Goodnight, Iolaus.”

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