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I don't get sick. It's a half god thing I suppose. I can be hurt - I have been, sometimes pretty seriously. Even then, my wounds don't get infected. It makes it easy for me to help out whenever a plague is sweeping through an area. I just plunge right in and go to work. I never have to worry about exposing myself to the disease. I know I won't catch anything.
Sometimes I feel a little awkward around sick people. It's almost like I should apologize for being healthy. Silly, but it's how I feel. I don't get that way during big epidemics. There's no time. When it's just one person, I feel funny. Part of that is that there isn't enough to do. When dozens are sick there's always someone who needs attention. When it's only one, I spend most of the time watching them sleep and wondering if there's something more I should be doing.
When mother is sick I can be a real basket case. Though in that I think I'm normal. We grow up with our mother's taking care of us. It can be a bit of a shock the first time they need us to take care of them. I'm not much better when it comes to the other people in my life. Maybe it's just because I have no personal experience. I've seen plenty of illness but I've never felt it. For me, it's not normal and I just don't understand it.
Iolaus hardly ever gets sick. I don't know, maybe the way he's always moving around so much makes it hard for a disease to catch him. Whatever the reason, I'm glad it's so. It can make me careless though. He's so tough, I sometimes forget he's mortal. I drag him into situations he shouldn't be in. Far too often, he gets hurt as a result. I think it would hurt him more though, if I tried to leave him behind. Maybe I'm just being selfish. I don't want to leave him behind.
So, like I said: he hardly ever gets sick.
A couple of days ago, we were on the road. We weren't really going anywhere, just traveling. I noticed that Iolaus was unusually quiet. I asked him what was wrong, but of course he said he was fine. He can be so stubborn. Other than being quiet he seemed fine, so I let it drop.
That night we camped out in the open. We hadn't found any usable shelter. That's normal enough for us though. I just built the fire a little bigger and we turned in.
The next morning I was surprised to see that Iolaus was still sound asleep. Normally if he's not up before me, he wakes up as soon as I start moving around. He falls asleep easily and wakes up just as easily. I've always envied him that. I couldn't resist this opportunity to tease him a little. I nudged him with my boot, all set with a line about how long I'd been awake waiting for him. Trouble is, he didn't wake.
I think I was half expecting him to be playing a joke on me when I knelt to check on him. I wish he had been. He was burning up with fever.
I managed to rouse him enough to get some water down his throat. There wasn't much else I could do just then. It wasn't right the time of year for most of the herbs I needed and I had been lax about replenishing my supplies of the dried versions. The best I could do for him now would be to get him to shelter and hopefully a healer.
The last village we'd passed was a few days behind us, so I decided to go forward in the hope that there would be something closer. At any rate, the next village wasn't likely to be any further. It seemed like a safe bet.
I threw together a travious from some of the saplings near the road. They'd been too small to offer any shelter last night but they were perfect now. Iolaus woke enough to complain about it when I was securing him. He insisted he could walk on his own, but since he couldn't even undo the knots that held him in place... I wish he could have. I was really worried.
I was right about the direction I'd chosen. We reached the next village an hour or so before sunset. Unfortunately it looked like some raiders had reached the village several weeks earlier. The place was deserted. Most of the buildings were nothing but burnt out shells. I picked the best looking of what was left and carried Iolaus inside.
He was getting worse. When I roused him to give him some more water, he seemed confused. He didn't know what was going on.
After getting him settled, I decided to search the ruins for anything that might help. I found a couple of blankets. Horse blankets probably since I found them in the stable, but I wasn't going to complain. I also found what had obviously been the healer's home. It was a mess but I found a few jars intact. Nothing was labeled, but there were a couple of things that I was sure of. Things that would help Iolaus. There might have been some even better choices amongst the debris, but I wasn't willing to chance misidentifying something. I hurried back with my finds.
I tucked the blankets in around Iolaus and turned to the next task. I had a bit of a problem. I needed to heat water to make a medicinal tea from the herbs I'd found, but the hearth was cracked. It probably happened when the village was burned. In any case, it might be safe to use but the risk wasn't worth it. What I needed was something portable, like a brazier.
I'd seen a small temple at the far end of the village. It seemed like a good place to start. I told Iolaus I'd be right back, but I doubt he heard me.
I was in luck. There were a pair of braziers in the temple. Both had been damaged in the fire and mayhem, but one just had bent legs. I was able to straighten them out well enough. All of this had taken quite a while. When I got back to the house we were using, the light was almost gone.
I got the brazier set up and a small fire started. I found a clay bowl that wasn't too badly damaged and used it to heat water. Once the tea was brewed, I roused Iolaus again and made him drink as much as I could. When I settled him back down among the the blankets, I noticed that he was shivering. The night was turning cold and the lone brazier didn't do much to heat the room. It didn't help that the walls were full of gaps and the shutters were missing from the windows.
I needed to keep him warm so I did the only thing I could. I stripped off all our clothes and climbed in with him, sharing body heat skin to skin. His fever was so high I started sweating right away. I could live with that though, as long as he did. I didn't even want to think about losing him. Naturally then, I couldn't think of anything else.
Finally my own fatigue and stress caught up with me and I fell into an uneasy sleep.
When I awoke, it was still dark. There was a quality to the darkness though, that told me dawn was not far off. Iolaus was still hot against my side but, I thought, not as hot. I disentangled myself and retrieved the rest of the tea. It had been sitting on the edge of the brazier all night and was still warm. Iolaus finished it off this time.
By the time I got back under the blankets I was shivering from the cold. I pulled Iolaus close perversely grateful for the heat he gave off. He snuggled closer still, murmuring softly in his sleep.
I'd only just started to doze off when he woke me. He wasn't trying to. I'm sure he was just dreaming, but he was...kissing me. Little feather light kisses along my jaw and all down my neck. It felt nice, really nice.
I was embarrassed and a little angry. I'm still not sure who I was angry with though, myself or Iolaus. His kisses were... Well, I was becoming aroused and I couldn't do anything about it. Here he was dreaming about one of the women he'd been with probably and I was getting all hot and bothered. I tried to imagine his reaction if he woke up at that moment. I decided he'd be embarrassed too and just try to laugh it off.
About the time I'd decided to go take a walk or something, he started talking. The words were soft, mumbled, but I understood them well enough. They shocked me into stillness. Five little words. He'd said: 'love you, love you Herc.' It was that last word that got to me of course. I guess he wasn't dreaming about a woman after all.
I was surprised by how pleased I was at that idea. I'd never thought of Iolaus in those terms. We'd been friends for so long, I'd just settled into that relationship and never considered changing it. I was considering it now. I wouldn't do anything while he was still sick. Once he was over this and no longer delirious with fever, we'd have to talk.
I had another thought just then. He was delirious. What if he didn't really feel the way it seemed? I felt the need for a little reassurance. I shook him a bit, just to be sure he'd hear me. Then I asked him if he loved me. He snuggled closer kissing my neck again and said: 'always Herc, always love you.'
I think I'm glad no one saw the goofy grin that I must've been wearing when I heard that. I told him I loved him too and soothed him back to sleep. I soon followed.
It's funny how quickly things can change. I'd honestly never thought about Iolaus in that way. Now, that I had... That's all it took, just the thought. Now I'd do whatever it took to win him. Defeat was not an option, I didn't even consider it. Of course, his murmured words did give me reason to think I wouldn't need to. Regardless, I needed for this to work out.
When I woke again a few hours later, he was still snuggled securely against me. This time I was sure the fever was really down. I had a feeling that by tomorrow I'd have trouble getting him to rest. He's always been a lousy patient. He hates lying around doing nothing.
By the time he woke, around midday, I had more tea and some broth ready for him. True to form, he complained but he drank everything I gave him and was back asleep soon enough.
I didn't say anything then. He was still weak. It wasn't the time to start a possibly long conversation. Next time he wakes up though... I can hardly wait.
Continue on to the sequel Fever Dream Two