Half A Life
by Maya Tawi
epilogue"If it comes naturally
That's the way it ought to be
If it feels brand new
Just let it come, it's up to you
Don't look back
And don't look ahead"
"Don't worry, we'll get her there safely."
Iolaus hesitated. "We can go with you for a while. Just in case--"
"No, no, no." Agamede shook her head. "You guys need to get as far away as you can before they start looking. Don't worry, we can take care of ourselves." She slung an arm proudly over her fiancee's shoulder. "You've never seen Sileia fight."
Sileia just rolled her eyes and smiled.
Autolycus looked around at the impromptu camp. The girl, Gabrielle, was asleep next to the fire, stretched out on the litter they'd managed to make out of some branches and Sileia's bedroll. Every so often she would whimper softly in pain, and the thief's stomach would tighten. I caused that.
Because of his ambitions, one person was dead and another was probably crippled for life, all in the space of three days. It was almost enough to make a guy look into a different line of work.
Almost but not quite.
Because being a thief was all he knew. It was who he was.
And it had worked out, hadn't it? At least Gabrielle was safe for the time being. The entire rescue mission had hinged on his skills as a thief, and it had gone off without a hitch. It had been hitchless.
Well, the second one had, anyway.
He felt himself leaning against Iolaus, who was still arguing with the women about the best way to get Gabrielle to the Amazons. Iolaus paused for a moment, caught off-guard, then slid an arm around his shoulders, the one that wasn't strapped to his chest in a sling. Iolaus had finally let Sileia stitch up the cut in his left arm, but he could still put it to use.
"They're right," Autolycus said, closing his eyes. "We should split up."
"No buts," Agamede said. "You're outvoted."
Autolycus had to smile. "That whole protect-the-women thing is very cute, really, but trust me. Ags, at least, can take care of herself."
"And Leia knows everyone," Agamede added. "She's like that."
Autolycus cracked one eye open. "Oh yeah, she's very social."
Sileia rolled her eyes. Again.
"And don't call me Ags."
"You know you love it."
"I despise it."
Iolaus shifted slightly. "Still, I'm not sure--"
Autolycus turned his head to the side. His lips, as luck would have it, were exactly level with Iolaus' ear. "I can think of better ways to pass the time than playing chaperone," he said under his breath. "Unless you're into that kind of thing."
Iolaus's arm tightened automatically around his shoulders. "I'm convinced," he announced, a little too quickly.
I could actually... really like this guy, Autolycus thought, leaning in even closer. Scary idea. I should be running right about now... so why aren't I?
He sighed. The whole responsibility thing was a real bitch.
At least Iolaus didn't seem like the time to want to settle down.
Sileia stood abruptly and brushed off her dusty skirt. "We should get started," she said. "Now that that's settled."
Agamede looked bewildered. "But it's the middle of the night--"
Sileia nudged her with her boot. Agamede sprang up. "Oops. Right. Time to go. Sun'll be up soon."
Yeah, in a few hours, Autolycus thought, suppressing a smirk. Whatever else could be said about the girls, they certainly weren't very subtle. But if they wanted to leave him and Iolaus alone, that was perfectly all right with him.
He felt Iolaus turn, then, and thought he heard the other man murmur, "Sorry." Autolycus looked at him suspiciously. Sorry for what?
The comment, he realized a moment later, was directed not at him but at Agamede, and as he watched in growing confusion, she shrugged with forced casualness. "'Sokay. You had your reasons. I would've felt the same way."
"Excuse me," Autolycus said. "Um. Did I miss something important?"
"Yes," Iolaus and Agamede.
No further explanation was forthcoming, and he subsided with a grumbled complaint about annoying teenagers and irritating thieves.
The two women picked up their respective packs and each took one end of the litter, lifting the sleeping Gabrielle easily into the air. "Let's go," Sileia said.
Agamede nooded at the still-seated men. "Later, guys."
Then they were gone.
"Finally," Autolycus said. "Now we can have some fun. What?"
Iolaus was shaking-- laughing, he realized a moment later.
"What?" he repeated, annoyed.
"I don't believe you. All that about them being able to take care of themselves was just a ploy to get us alone, wasn't it?"
"Hey, everything I said was true," Autolycus pointed out, pretending to be affronted. "They're two very capable women, and they don't need us along to take care of them." Then he grinned. "Granted, I was getting a little sick of their constant presence. And getting you into my hands was certainly an added bonus."
"Me in your hands?" He could hear Iolaus's grin. "Looks to me like it's the other way around, buddy."
"Yeah, well--" Autolycus interrupted himself with a yawn. "Fuck. It's been a long day."
"It's been a long three days," Iolaus pointed out.
As if on cue, they both laid back, stretching out on their bedrolls. Iolaus sighed deeply.
"It's been a long ten years."
"Huh?" Autolycus gave him a blank look.
"Nothing." Iolaus hesitated. "Look, I understand if you don't want to talk about it-- what you went through and all, but--"
"I don't," Autolycus said, with a flat note of finality in his voice.
"Yeah. Well, if you ever do, I'll listen."
"If you do," Iolaus said, in a voice that dared him to contradict again, "I'm here."
"Sure," Autolycus said. "So why did you go east, anyway?"
"That's what you were talking about, right? The long ten years. Why'd you go?"
There was a moment of silence, and he started to think he wasn't going to get an answer. Then, in a low, emotionless voice, Iolaus said, "I woke up one morning and I killed someone. She turned out to be just a kid. And I realized I didn't much like the way my life was going. So I left."
Autolycus was quiet for a moment, his muscles tensed. "Well," he said finally. "Well, that-- that'll certainly do it."
"And she wasn't the first person I'd killed, either. I'd been designated assassin for my gang of thieves for quite a few years. Ever since I was a teenager."
"That--" Autolycus hesitated. "Um. So why'd you kill the kid?"
"She saw me kill someone else."
Iolaus sighed. "I didn't know how old she was, or that she was a she. She was just someone in the shadows watching. So I throw a knife at her, and when I go back to get it, there she is-- not even ten years old, and dead because of me."
"It turned out she was the daughter of someone important," Iolaus continued, sounding far away. "So I figured I should leave. Yeah, it's a long way to run from the law, but I wasn't really thinking clearly. Or maybe I was and I knew that was the best place for me. Either way, I stowed away on a boat, ended up in the east, and then while I was there I found my way to these-- these guys. Monks. And I got some answers."
"Some," Iolaus said. "Not all. I didn't like the way things were going there either-- I guess there's a danger to knowing yourself too well. You kind of have to be comfortable with who you are. I don't-- I don't really think I am."
Autolycus turned his head to the side and stared at Iolaus's face, deceptively peaceful and remote in the flickering firelight, staring up at the stars. He looked almost like a ghost, one that would disappear if anyone got too close. Autolycus reached out and lightly touched his hair, somehow annoyed with the idea, intent on proving that Iolaus was still one of them. One of the living.
He didn't vanish, and to Autolycus, the world seemed a little bit more right for it.
"So do you still feel like there's a part of you missing?"
Iolaus turned and met his gaze, blue eyes luminous in the low light. He seemed to be searching for the right words to use.
"Yeah," he said finally. "A little. But a little less, now."
Autolycus felt his mouth twitch in a kind of half-smile. "You don't have to soften it up for me, you know. I'm not trying to be your soul mate, or the love of your life, or anything. I just thought--"
"I'm not softening anything," Iolaus said. "It's true, that's how I feel. I mean, I don't know what it means, but-- well, that's it. That's how it is."
"Oh," Autolycus said. Then, "Oh."
Iolaus smiled a little. "What did you think?"
"Huh? Oh, well, I just thought-- I thought we could have some fun together, you know?"
"That," Iolaus said, "we can definitely do."
"But nothing has to come of it, is what I'm saying, right?" He wasn't sure if that was what he wanted, or if it was the remnants of his instinct for self-preservation leaving him a way out. "It doesn't have to mean anything. Just two people having--"
"Fun, exactly. Whatever happens, happens. No expectations."
"If that's what you want to do, of course."
Iolaus's eyebrows shot up. "If? Look, Auto, I threatened a god for you. You think I do that for someone I'm gonna kick out of my bedroll?"
Autolycus grinned. "I certainly hope not."
"I'm just... not very good with relationships."
"Neither am I."
"As long as we understand each other."
"Oh," Iolaus said, "I think we do."
"How's that wrist of yours?"
"Oh, I can barely feel it."
"Are we just gonna talk all night?"
And then a longer, far more intense silence, as the night wore on and all talking ceased.
Later on, as they were making their way through the forest outside Corinth, Autolycus was thinking.
Iolaus hadn't pressed him to talk about the crucifixion, other than offering to listen if he wanted to, and Autolycus was grateful for that. He was trying to forget it. It didn't matter anymore. Hermes had healed him, however grudgingly; he didn't even have any scars.
Even so, every time he closed his eyes, he felt it happen again.
It had been like having his soul destroyed. Everything that made Autolycus who he was had been devastated in just the few seconds it took to shatter the bones in his hands. He'd never thought of himself as being particularly fragile, but now he knew that everything in life was precarious. It didn't pay to get too comfortable.
And things could never be the same again. Because even though he was healed, Tiro was still dead because of him. He was a thief and a murderer, now. He'd taken a life.
And then there was Gabrielle.
The nightmares of his crucifixion that still plagued him couldn't compare to knowing that he'd caused someone else to go through the same thing. Someone who didn't have a god on hand to heal her up afterwards. Someone who had been doing her best to make the world a better place, instead of just grabbing what she could in life and leaving everyone else to look after themselves.
Stupid but noble. And if that was how you got your kicks, well....
I hate having a conscience, he thought bitterly; and warped though it might be, it looked as though he were starting to develop one. And it made everything so much more complicated than it needed to be.
Forget it, he told himself. Let it go. You're still the King of Thieves, after all, you stole something from the Conqueror and that's as good as it gets. This is just a minor setback.
He wasn't so sure.
He stumbled, then, and caught Iolaus's waist to steady himself.
"What, again?" Iolaus said, turning with smirk. "Already?"
"Get used to it," Autolycus said with an answering grin, deciding immediately that it sounded like a wonderful idea.
Even if his life seemed to be going in a direction he didn't much like, one good thing, at least, had come out of the whole fiasco. Maybe having a partner wouldn't be so bad after all. At least he had someone along to keep him off the straight and narrow, and to have some serious fun with along the way. Someone he could maybe, possibly, love?
No, Autolycus decided, as he backed Iolaus up against a handy tree and leaned in for a long, intense kiss. He'd tried the love thing before, and honor and obey as well, and it hadn't worked out. It was too sappy, not to mention far too dangerous. The rest would be enough.
It had to be.
T H E E N D Prologue | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten | Epilogue