Fandom: Hercules: the Legendary Journeys
Summary: There were some who said, even as boys, that Iolaus balanced the halves of god and human in Hercules. And once he was gone there was no one to steady the scales.
Genre: tragedy, drama
Characters: Hercules, Jason, Iphicles, Niobe, Nemesis, the Fates, Persephone, Zeus
Warnings: season five AU, violence
"Come back! Even as a shadow, even as a dream."–Megara, Herakles by Euripides, trans. Anne Carson
His name is Hercules, meaning glory of Hera, a child named to honor those of Olympus, a futile attempt to pacify a vengeful goddess. His father is Zeus, king of the gods, and half his blood is that of the immortals. This you must know, to understand the irony.
There is no return from the underworld, no deals or bargains, no second chances. The gods of Sumeria have no more pity than those of Greece, and any who share Hercules's blood are distant and out of reach. Iolaus, for all his skill and bravery, was painfully, horribly mortal, and mortals cannot survive a heart cut in half and lungs drowned in their own blood.
He is not burned, in the way of the Greeks, because Hercules, guarding the body, shielding it from the pyre, will not allow it. Finally he lets him be preserved, shrouded in the way of the land, and there is nothing visible left between the tightly wrapped strips of cloth, nothing to identify him, as if every trace of Iolaus has been blown away and lost.
Hercules stands, the broken necklace in his hand, the other resting lightly on the corpse's forehead, as if stroking back an invisible strand of hair caught by the wind. Then his hand withdraws, curls at his side. He doesn't touch him again.
It isn't hard to make a monster.
The gods take the innocence, the joy, the happiest parts of someone, and simply peel them away, one layer at a time, slowly enough that each new agony can be felt, quickly enough that the layer below has not yet completely scarred. And when there is one thing left, the most important and cherished, the one whose thread is interwoven the tightest, they tear it free, violently, suddenly, senselessly, leaving every thread frayed and broken, slowly unraveling.
That is how a monster is born, in the blood of the final death, as grief spills through the torn threads and is replaced by anger, as anger is replaced by rage.
The Sumerian gods are the first to fall, and even then there's the briefest whisper of fear through the other gods.
He has lost too much, Nemesis says quietly, eyes heavy with sorrow. He has lost himself.
No one knows where the gods go when they die, only that they can be killed, can be brought down to the level of mortals and ground beneath the heel of one who has half their blood, the monster killing the creators.
Hera laughs, and he snaps the spine of her enforcer. Ichor runs into the streets and spills over his hands and she stops laughing.
He has suffered enough, the Fates whisper, holding out the frayed edges of their tapestry in despair, nimble fingers twisting the threads where Iolaus's strands were ripped free, eyes filled with despair as they tug at the knots and gnarled pieces twined into Hercules's life. Do not push him any further.
There is no champion for the people, not anymore. The gods die, slowly or quickly, with the cracking of bones that were never meant to break, and blood that was never meant to be spilled, until Lethe and Styx run scarlet. Olympus trembles, and Zeus turns his face. He does not stop Hera when she sends creatures to destroy his son, and his face is strained when all of them fail.
"I would have thought you would have demanded your family's souls. Or Iolaus's." Persephone whispers, face pale and frightened, when she goes to him, to plead for Hades' life, perhaps, or her own. He doesn't take either, makes no move to kill them. These two he spares, because there is always a place for death and those who love him.
"I don't remember their faces." He says finally, and his hands are scarred to the bone, blanched white with the layers of torn and healed flesh.
The people no longer call his name with cheering, no longer ask for his help. They turn their eyes when he walks by, hide their children, and whisper quiet prayers to the gods they once feared, as if he will turn on them next when there are no more gods to destroy.
He tears down altars and temples, throws the offerings into the dust, face and hands splattered with blood, features feral like one possessed.
There is no hate or anger, only hollow rage. He cuts his hands on the stones of Olympus as he tears down it's gates and doesn't staunch the blood, letting it spill down his arms and into the parched earth.
The world is reborn without the gods. Seasons come and go, love and grief return, and life goes on, even changed and distant. A new generation begins to grow who no longer remembers the gods and their ways, and those who do turn to mortals and heroes to worship, some inner need to replace what they have lost.
Hercules sees Iphicles only once, a brief visit. The king's lands are vast and rich. The remaining gods had bestowed wealth on him, a pitiful attempt to save themselves from his half-brother's wrath.
"They worship him in Sardinia." Iphicles says quietly, when the servants have gone and the food has been cleared from the table. There is no need to say who, but neither will speak his name. "The people who have nightmares go to his tomb to pray for bravery like his. They see him as a god."
"He was only human." Hercules says, and his voice is faint and hollow, echoes drawn from stone walls and darkened caverns.
Jason's hair is white and he is bent and withered with age, frail as the leaves that teeter at the end of their branches as winter overcomes autumn. He will not live long.
Hercules stands strong, undimmed by time, face little aged, not weakened by the years that overcome the strongest like waters of a flood. He is not immortal, perhaps, but close, blood and ichor flowing side by side in his veins, and there is no rest for the weary and wicked, for the Elysian Fields would not take him if he died, and Tartarus does not want him, so Hades leaves him alone, and there are no other gods left to claim him.
Jason doesn't say Alcemede's heart would have shattered to see what became of her son. He doesn't say how his own has broken.
In Hercules' travels he finds Niobe, older but still as beautiful. Her kingdom is as vast as Iphicles, peaceful and prosperous, but his eyes only go to the young man at her side with the gold curls and the eyes the color of the sky. He doesn't ask if Orestes unknowingly fathered a child before his death. He doesn't ask if the boy belonged to him instead. Niobe has known of his death for years, of course, because bad news spreads faster than good, and the rage of Hercules is whispered from mouth to mouth across all the land in fear and awe.
"I could always tell them apart." She says instead, and her fingers tighten on her son's arm, even as she doesn't speak his name. "Always."
He reaches, hand scarred but strong, hovers a breath from the boy. Then his hand draws back without touching, falls back at his side.
He goes away after that. Dies, some say, half hope, half prayer, although no gods are left to listen. Others say he wanders, unnoticed, strangely quiet, a strong man bent beneath a heavy weight. No one truly can say what became of him.
Stories spread and grow, of the madness and the anger, how he slaughtered his family, gods and half gods alike, how the half of him that was god, cruel and vicious, conquered the half that was human, mortal and good. They forget what he lost, and how those halves were once balanced, what might have been if he had found himself and the other half of his soul again.
Over time they forget him, the one who killed the old gods, a name falling from mortal lips to the ground, broken beneath the dust of centuries.
His name was Hercules, a name meaning glory of Hera, a child named for the gods who grew to destroy them. This is the irony, or at least part of it. Iolaus, mortal, so often overlooked and forgotten while alive by the people he saved, was remembered and honored in death, his name untarnished by madness and violence, merely a hero and not a fallen one the people are quick to forget.
The Fates are not cruel. But neither are they kind.