The Dance of Fire

by Ishtar

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This little story was written as a consequence of the "Warrior or Poet" discussion some time ago. You may notice the ideas from the Solstice ep blatantly stolen and incorporated here, too, but they were so darn handy...

The dialogue at the end is wrong - as far as the "Maze of the Minotaur" is concerned, but what they were saying in the movie just didn't fit, sorry.

Also, I humbly apologize to anybody who knows more about martial arts than I do; I made stuff up as I went along, and whatever knowledge I have is mostly based on movies and the teachings of Caine, lol.

Hercules and Iolaus were sitting in the corner of a small inn, two days away from Thebes, after deciding to wait out a thunderstorm under a roof, and with good ale, rather than under a tree, with stale water. But this was not turning out as pleasant as Hercules had envisioned when they made that decision. Iolaus had been uncharacteristically quiet, ever since they met at the crossroad outside of Kaltros, where he had visited his mother, stepfather and younger sister. Hercules had tried to get him to talk, but no prodding or prying had loosened his friend's tongue, and in the end he had decided that a few drinks might be necessary to soften Iolaus' resolve. The thunderstorm, and the inn had come just in time.

About an hour ago, things had finally begun to happen, when Iolaus entered the common room, plopping down on the bench opposite Hercules, and without conscious thought, grabbed Hercules' mug, downed the strong ale in a single draught, and started to complain about how insignificant his life was.

"I couldn't write verse to save my life", Iolaus sighed into the drink, and generally looked miserable.

Hercules tried to suppress a smile. So this was the problem: Xanthion must have written a new masterpiece for Iolaus to be this depressed. Whenever his friend was in this kind of a mood, it was best to indulge him, and wait until it passed; laughing at him only prolonged the agony. He patted Iolaus on the shoulder, and poured another ale for himself from the pitcher on the table. "My friend, nobody asks you to write poetry. You have to walk your own path, and be true to yourself. Why are you torturing yourself with this? You go through the same insecurity about your life every couple of years or so - usually after spending some time at your mother's house - and it's not doing you any good."

"Ah, Herc, it's different this time. What am I doing in this life that is of any importance? My father was a general, and they are naming cities after him, and sing songs about his battles. My stepfather is a poet, who writes the most wonderful poems, and sings like Orpheus. And me? I like to fight, sure, but I would never want to make war my life. I would much rather be a poet, and write something, people will sing when I am long gone. But I can't make a poem to save my life!" Iolaus dropped his head on his arms, closed his eyes, and sighed again.

Hercules began to worry now; they were coming full circle, and the drinks he poured into his friend seemed to help very little. Iolaus' depression appeared deeper than at other times in the past.

"Well, so what - neither can I", Hercules shrugged, and laughed somewhat forced. Iolaus looked up briefly, and for a moment, his usual self shone through on his face, "I know that Herc. But - ", the shadow of his sorrow and insecurity came back all too soon, "- you knew what your purpose in life was even before I ever knew you. But who am I - what am I doing here other than passing time? This has bothered me for a while, but I chose not to think about it. But when I went to visit my mother's house, with all the memories attached to that place, I could not ignore it any longer." Iolaus barely lifted his head to say those words, and groped for another drink.

"Oh, come on Iolaus. Don't be ridiculous. Passing time? You are my best friend, one of the bravest and most honest men I know. We fight side by side against injustice and evil in this world - you call that nothing? We have already helped a lot of people who needed our help, and where would they have been without us? That should be purpose enough for anybody."

"It's easy for you to say, Herc. You are the son of Zeus, and half a god yourself. People look up to you, and admire you. They build statues to you all over the place, for crying out loud", Iolaus spread his hands in slight exasperation. "You already leave something behind in this world - literally." Iolaus' speech was slightly slurred by now, and as he made a sweeping motion with his hands, to point out the general direction of Hercules statues that were everywhere, he almost fell off the bench. "What do I have to show for my being here?"

Hercules calmly looked into Iolaus' eyes, and held his gaze, "You have a son, Iolaus."

Iolaus's expression became pained, and he squirmed under Hercules' stare like a fish on a hook, "Yes, of course, and Tel is the most important person in my life - but when he asks who his father is, what can I tell him, if I don't even know myself?"

Hercules thought for only a moment, "Alright, I'll come with you then." Hercules tried to think of a way to let Deianeira know that he would not come home for a while, since it did not sound like Iolaus had plans to drop by Thebes before going on his quest. He also remembered the new crop he had meant to plant early the following week, but then dismissed that train of thought right away. Iolaus needed him right now - the fields could wait. He felt Iolaus' hand on his arm, and when he looked in his friend's suddenly sober eyes, he could see the gratitude, love - and regret. Iolaus shook his head, "Thanks Herc. Your wanting to come along means a lot to me, but I have to do this alone."

There was nothing left to say, and the rest of the evening passed very quietly. Each of the two men followed his own thoughts, and Iolaus left early for his room upstairs. Hercules stared into his half-filled mug for another hour or two, without seeing the dark liquid, and then got up with a sigh, and went to bed.

The next morning Hercules awoke with an uneasy feeling. He could not put a finger on why he should be anxious about something, but when he came into the common room, and saw Iolaus sitting at a table, with all his gear ready to go, everything came back to him. Somehow he had hoped against hope that the conversation from the night before had only been in his dreams, and that today he and Iolaus would set out for home. His friend looked awful, with messy hair, the scruffy beginnings of a beard, and his hands around a mug of hot infusion that were shaking so much, that that alone explained the dishevelled look; Iolaus would have killed himself with his knife had he tried to shave. He looked up, and squinted through bloodshot eyes, unsuccessfully trying to force a smile onto his face. "Morning Herc. I'll never drink anything but water from now on - I just hope I won't forget..."

They looked at each other for a long moment, and Hercules realized with a sinking feeling that Iolaus had not changed his mind overnight.

"So, you are really going to leave, Iolaus? I just can't believe it!" Hercules sat down opposite his friend, and tried to imagine what life would be like at his homestead, without the assurance that Iolaus lived just around the corner, and was always up for a quick trek around town, or at least a few days of hunting and fishing, when farming life became too boring. "Who will be by my side when another hydra shows up in the neighbourhood?" Now Iolaus did manage a faint smile, "You make it sound like I'm not coming back. I just need a break from my past life, and find out in what direction my destiny lies. I don't know how long it will take, but if another hydra shows up here, you can count on me."

Hercules did not take the bait of levity, and tried again, "What about the kids? They will miss their uncle Iolaus, and his stories of wild adventures, and brave deeds...?"

"Hercules, it's of no use! I have to do this; there has to be something out there that is right for me alone. For Iolaus, not the son of Scorus, the warrior, or the stepson of Xanthion, the poet, or the guy who travels with Hercules..." He extended his right arm, and after a short hesitation, Hercules grasped his wrist, "I can't persuade you to stay then? Alright, I won't try; you have to follow your heart. Take care my friend, and I hope you find what you are looking for. And - come back soon." Iolaus nodded, and tightened his grip, "Say hi to Deianeira and the kids for me. Be well!"

He snatched his sword and carry sack, and quickly left the inn. Without looking back, he picked a direction away from Thebes, and tried not to think of Hercules left behind in the inn, or his baby boy whom he hadn't seen in such a long time, and who might not recognize him when he returned. He knew this was important, maybe the most important thing he had done in his life.

With new determination he quickened his step, and whistling at first, he soon began to sing an old song, Xanthion had taught him when he was just a child.

Weeks passed. Without making a conscious decision, Iolaus had traveled east, away from any places he had been to before. He avoided fights wherever possible, leaving himself open for a new direction in his life. At nights, alone beside the campfire, he tried to make up songs, and poems, but his mind was a blank, and the only images that came to him, were of his son, and Hercules in a long line of past adventures and travels. Once in a while he would spend a few days in a town, just to be with other people, and to maybe find what he was looking for.

Spring turned to summer, and Helios slowed his chariot a bit more each day to view the wonders of the ever renewing world.

Iolaus had reached a small town close to the Persian border, as far away from the places he knew, as he had ever been. The women were beautiful, and he decided to stay for a few days, just to take a break from being on the move all the time. The people in the local inn were friendly, and welcomed him in their midst. It only took a short while and it was as if Iolaus had been here for years. He felt better than he had in a long time, and the friendly atmosphere and kind people almost made him forget why he had been roaming the countryside for the past few weeks.

As in the good old days, a small crowd was gathered around his table. Most of the patrons in the tavern were farmers, and they lived for moments like this, when somebody told them tales of adventure, monsters and heroes. Usually is was a traveling bard who told the stories, or sang the songs, entertaining the people for a few dinars or a bed and a meal. This guy told the stories like he had actually been there himself, and that made the tales so much more exciting. He was a liar of course, there was no doubt in everybody's mind, but a good one. Sure, he carried a sword, and had the stance and bearing of someone who could use it, but his tales told of him and Hercules, and though they had never actually met the son of Zeus, they all knew that Hercules traveled alone.

All of a sudden, an increase in background tavern noise indicated a commotion by the door. Iolaus, while keeping his audience entertained, still managed to crane his neck enough to get a look at what was going on. Four rough looking fellows, who looked like weightlifting was their main purpose in life, had got up from their table, and were facing a newcomer, who had just entered the establishment. They had been drinking quite a bit, but were not drunk. They had weapons tucked away under their table, and hanging from the backs of their chairs. Their whole attitude at the moment was one of contempt, and rejection, but it seemed to be deteriorating towards open hostility with every passing moment. Iolaus could not see who the object of their aggression was, but was by now intrigued enough to find out. He increased the speed of his presentation, and without interrupting the flow of words, got up. Picking up his sword, he sauntered closer to where the four thugs had also grabbed their weapons. The other patrons in the tavern had become aware of the imminent fight, and began to clear the area around the door, finally leaving Iolaus a clear view of the unwanted newcomer to the place. When he saw him, he was too stunned for the moment to continue his story, and stopped talking mid-sentence.

The man was thin and looked almost frail. Iolaus could barely believe it, but the stranger was even shorter than himself. He was quite old, a soft smile lit up his face, and he was holding his hands clasped together in front of his chest. He was dressed in loosely fitting pants, sandals, and a shirt that also looked too big for his frame. Iolaus felt instant pity; maybe the little man had just recovered from a serious illness, and weak as he was, he now was confronted by these thugs.This was going to be a massacre, and though Iolaus had nothing to do with the whole situation, he could not stand by, and let these bullies beat up on the little man, and maybe kill him in the process. Whatever their reason, they had to be in the wrong. Against the protests of his newly found friends at his table, as they tried to hold him back, he stepped in between the stranger and the leader of the goons. This guy was built like an ox, and looked about as smart. Iolaus did not think that talking to him would do anything at all, but after all those years traveling with Hercules, he just had to try. "Take it easy, friend. No need to get rough." Iolaus tried to keep his tone friendly, even though inwardly he felt almost nauseated at the cowardice apparent when four youths went against one old man.

"Stay out of this - this is not your fight." The bully barely looked at Iolaus, keeping his eyes on the older man. Now, the one thing Iolaus could not stand at all was being ignored. He stepped right up to the giant, and tapped him on the shoulder. "There are four of you, and there is one of him - that makes it my fight!" Before the giant had a chance to swat at him, Iolaus placed a few good punches in the general area of his kidneys, and got ready to kick him in the back of his knees. At that moment, without warning, one of the giant's friends grabbed Iolaus from behind, and pinning his arms to his side in a viselike grip, tossed him across the room. Iolaus found himself on the floor, in the remains of a wooden table. His chest and back felt as if they had been crushed, and the only thing in worse shape was his dignity. He meant to jump up, and go after the four bullies with a yell of rage, but he found that he was only capable of groaning loudly, as the pain of breaking a piece of furniture hit him full force. Iolaus did manage to free himself from the shattered mugs, that had been on the table, and then on him, but did not get further than onto his knees. From this vantage point, and breathing hard, he had an excellent view of the imminent destruction of the newcomer to the tavern.

Amazingly, the little man was not slaughtered at all. As a matter of fact he wasn't even touched. Iolaus had never seen anything like it, and was totally fascinated. The stranger barely seemed to touch the ground as he easily and gracefully evaded the charging bodies and limbs of his opponents. Whenever they seemed to have him cornered, ready to crush his frail frame between their hands, he seemed to flow around them. His arms lifted to the right, he kicked one of the brutes with a soft tap of his left foot, that sent him flying across one of the tables, all the while balancing elegantly on his right foot. He twirled around, his arms to the side, giving two of the fighters a slight shove from the wrists that had them writhing on the floor, holding their chests in pain. The little man smiled at his last standing adversary, and facing him totally immobile, he waited until the other man came charging at him, a war cry on his lips. At the last possible moment he crouched down, and as the attacker reached him, and the bigger man's momentum carried him over the obstacle in his way, he seemed to just stretch up like a cat might stretch its back, and the thug went flying into the nearest wall, and did not get up.

Iolaus was spellbound, and in amazement looked around the wrecked tavern, and at the groaning bodies on the floor. He even forgot the pains that were still raging in his own body, slowly got to his feet, and made his way over to the little man, who still stood smiling, and wasn't even breathing hard, or sweating.

"Hi - argh - my name is Iolaus, and I must say that I am impressed. I've never seen anything like the way you were fighting."

The older man eyed Iolaus from head to toe, and finally bowed slightly, never taking his eyes off him, "Thank you, and I also appreciate your attempt to help me. Nobody ever bothered before, because the leader of these four is the son of the local tyrant. He had this lesson coming to him for a while. My name is Sun Li, and I don't think I have seen you here before." He pointed to an unscathed table in the corner, and he and Iolaus walked over to it, and sat down. Within minutes everything was back to normal in the tavern, and regular business had resumed. Friendly customers had helped the four downed thugs to find their way to the door, unbroken furniture had been righted, and empty mugs refilled.

Iolaus and his newly found friend spent the rest of the evening discussing combat strategies, and the pros and cons of being short. He felt as if he had known Sun Li for a long time, and as the evening progressed, found himself baring his soul to the other man, and expressing the doubts he was having about the direction his life was going. Sun Li listened attentively, but said very little. Iolaus felt relief to be able to let the depression that had been festering inside him over the last few weeks, come to the surface, and kept drinking his ale without much conscious thought. By the time he noticed that his companion only drank water, he was too far gone to worry too much about it.

Iolaus came to, lying on a straw mattress, in what he recognized as one of the inn's guest rooms. The room was almost dark, but a candle on the table shed a flickering light on the sparse furnishing, and the little old man from before, who now was sitting cross-legged on the table, staring at the flame of the candle. Iolaus blinked twice to make sure he saw right, and then tried to get himself into a sitting position. His initial movement made his head throb like a woodpecker was inside, trying to get out, and with a groan, and holding his head together with both hands, he slowly righted himself.

Unperturbed by Iolaus' obvious discomfort, Sun Li looked up from the candle, and faced him, "You are awake. Good. I have been up for a while, and considered our conversation from last night. I have also been thinking about the way you were fighting last night." His voice was very even and soft. The gentle smile that seemed to be a permanent fixture on his face, was unwavering. "You are very strong and agile. But really, you are not using all the advantages you have. You fight like a man twice your size would. That is brave and noble, maybe, but there are other ways to take care of an opponent, ways to make your size work for you. Also, you are too impatient. Do not think that I am criticizing you in any way; I like you, and very much enjoyed our little chat. You seemed torn by the indecision of which path to follow in your life, but maybe I can help you. I haven't had a student in a long time, but you have potential, and and if you are interested, I would be willing to teach you the dance of fire. It may be a way for you to combine the two paths that are battling within you into the one that is your destiny."

"Dance of fire?" Iolaus was doubtful.

"Yes. It is a fighting technique from the East. It is very old, and very effective."

Iolaus considered the possibility of learning the flowing and graceful way to fight he had observed Sun Li use the night before, and an excitement he had not felt in years, gripped him, together with the hope that he had found what he had been looking for. He did not know what to say, but kept looking at the other man.

"Give me four months, and I will teach you the basics. It takes years to perfect all the moves, and to gain total control over your mind and your body of course, but with what I am going to show you, together with what you already know, you should be able to practice and learn on your own."

Iolaus thought about the proposal, but deep inside he knew that the decision had already been made. Gratefully he smiled at the man, he already considered his teacher, and slowly nodded his head, "Yes, I would like to learn what you can teach me. I am anxious to get back home, to my son and all the people I love, but I have not accomplished what I set out to do yet. Therefore, I am willing to give you the four months you are asking for, and learn all I can."

Sun Li slowly got off the table and moved over to Iolaus, "Good! But I need your total commitment to this. If you cannot commit to it fully, with your whole heart, then do not even bother to begin the training. You have to trust me blindly, and follow my instructions without questioning them. Can you do this?"

Iolaus shrugged, "Sure, why not. As long as you teach me how you handled those guys yesterday, I'll do what you ask of me."

The other man nodded, and folded his hands over his chest, "Alright, then, let us begin. Sit down over here, and look at this candle." Curious, Iolaus got up and walked over to the table, eying the candle from all sides, "What's wrong with it?"

Sun Li laughed, "No no, there is nothing wrong with it. I want you to really look at it. Think about nothing else - see nothing else."

"And then what?" Iolaus began to doubt Sun Li's sanity, and reconsidered his decision. Committed to this strange learning experience or not, this had nothing to do with any training he had ever witnessed. But then he remembered how the other man had fought, and how wonderful it had looked, and he decided to keep an open mind, and give it a try.

Sun Li moved a chair so that it faced the candle, and patted the seat, "Sit, Iolaus." Iolaus hesitantly sat, and doubtfully eyed the candle, and then his new teacher.

"The main thing you will have to learn is to concentrate, and the easiest way to concentrate is to focus on your breath. In the beginning it will be difficult for you to do that, so you will use this candle to help you out. Relax your body - now look at the flame, and see nothing else."

Iolaus got up again, and frowned, "Wait a minute - you wanted to teach me how to fight, uh dance", he waved his hands in a vain attempt to find a word for the special mode of fighting he wanted to learn, " - in that - that weird way you did. Shouldn't I be using my sword or something?"

Sun Li pushed him down again, and shook his head, "No. Using a weapon means that you are the attacker. The dance of fire is a defensive technique. It is powerful enough to kill an opponent, but it is not meant to start a fight. If you want to be a soldier, this is not for you."

"Aaaaah, I see..." Iolaus did not really see, but he thought he caught a glimpse of what his teacher was trying to say. He settled down on the chair, relaxed as much as possible, and looked at the candle. The light irritated his eyes, and after a few minutes they began to hurt, but Iolaus was determined to follow Sun Li's instructions.

"Listen to your breath. Is it hasty and irregular like a rat in a trap, or steady and calm like the candle's flame. Your body will do what your breath does; control your breath, and you control your body; control your body, and you will control your mind. Once you control your mind, you will be able to look into an opponent's eyes, and see the move he will make, even before he is aware of it himself."

The flickering of the candle was beginning to become very soothing to Iolaus. The pain in his eyes had stopped, and his thoughts which had been wandering in every possible direction before, became muffled and slow. The pain in his head was hardly noticeable, and then he began to see strange shapes and forms in the flame.

"The candle helps you to focus your mind, and concentrate all your efforts on one particular task, but later on you will not need the actual object any longer to accomplish the same goal. You will be able to close your eyes, and see the flame in your mind."

Sun Li's voice seemed very quiet and coming from very far away. Iolaus was still aware of it, but did not really pay attention any longer.

"Iolaus?" Sun Li looked into Iolaus' face - then he slowly waved a hand in front of it. The eyes were open, but the even breathing and occasional snore emanating from the still figure were clear enough. Sun Li sighed, and gently shook his student's shoulder, "Iolaus! Wake up. You were supposed to concentrate on the candle, not take a nap."

Iolaus jerked awake, and looked around him, slightly disoriented, "What happened?"

"You are learning to keep your mind and body still, and that is very good. Now we have to try and keep them awake at the same time."

Iolaus grimaced and snorted softly, "This is a lot harder than I thought. Tell me again why I am doing this?"

Sun Li placed his hands on Iolaus' shoulders, and gave them a slight squeeze, "Come on. We'll work on this again later. Right now we will go for a run outside, and then I'll show you a few evasive moves."

They spent the rest of the day in the hills around the village, running, jumping, and practicing simple moves that seemed strange to Iolaus, but still appeared to have a very basic and logical structure. All of the moves were designed to take advantage of an attacker's weaknesses, and reflect an attacker's blows back to him; none of them were meant to be aggressive by themselves, and that was something totally new to Iolaus.

He was amazed at Sun Li's endurance. While he was totally exhausted and bruised by the end of the day, his teacher did not even seem winded. They repeated the concentration exercise, but Iolaus feel asleep again, never even getting to the stage his first attempt had taken him to.

Over the next several weeks, they repeated daily everything they had done that first day. Sun Li was a strict teacher, who expected complete adherence to his orders and suggestions. Iolaus grumbled a lot in the beginning, but after the first week, his body bagan to loosen up, and the pains due to strains and bruises, that had been almost constant during the first few days, were dull enough to be ignored.

They did a lot of strange things, like handstands on tree limbs, and standing on one foot for seemingly hours at a time. Whatever Sun Li asked of his student, he did himself first, so Iolaus stopped his complaining, and just tried to keep up. He learned to do a lot with his legs. Where he had used his fists before to fight an attacker, he was taught how to use his feet which allowed him more strength and a greater reach. His speed improved, and after a while he found that the daily concentration exercises did indeed make it easier for him to focus on a specific task. His biggest surprise came about three months into the training, when Sun Li had him stand on a rock, with his arms stretched out in front, his sword resting in his hands. After a few minutes Iolaus thought his arms would fall off, the pain in his muscles was that intense. His breath was ragged and gasping, and his thoughts were revolving around doing terrible things to his teacher. He refused to give up though, and began to concentrate on his breath instead, keeping it steady and slowing it down, seeing and hearing nothing else. The pain in his arms disappeared and time seemed to stop. He could have gone on for hours - and maybe did; he had no sense of time passing. When eventually Sun Li touched his shoulder to end the exercise, looking into his face with pride, Iolaus knew that he had at last glimpsed the nature of the dance of fire.

A wide grin spreading on his face, Iolaus stretched to relax his muscles. "That was amazing. Up until now I didn't really think it could be done."

Together they walked back towards town, and had almost reached the outskirts, when a group of young roughians barred their way. Iolaus recognized a couple from his first night in town, including the tryrant's son who had made such painfully intimate contact with the tavern wall. He had brought a few more friends this time, and they all moved sideways to surround them. Sun Li took his place back to back with Iolaus, and waited for the attack, his soft smile on his face, "Well, Iolaus, it looks like you may be able to try out what you have learned. Concentrate, and use your breath."

The fight was over, before it had really begun. The young thugs never even knew what happened, it was over so fast. Iolaus was fully focused, and he sensed his opponents' movements even before they made them. The young bullies moved slowly, relying on their strength alone, and they never expected their opponents to fight with hands and feet, and somersault over their head in order to change position.

After a few minutes, the ones that could still walk, had grabbed their fallen companions, and hightailed it back to their place of refuge.

Sun Li brushed himself off, and looked at Iolaus, who was staring into the distance, like he had been doing a lot during the last few days.

"I know you have been anxious to leave for a while - it's been getting harder and harder for me to keep your attention. Well, today you proved to me that you are ready to go on without me. There is a lot left for you to learn, but if you keep at it, you should be able to practice what I taught you on your own."

Iolaus meant to extend his hand for the final goodbye, but changed his mind at the last moment, and bowed to his teacher. "Thank you for everything. I won't forget you." Sun Li smiled, and bowed in return, "You were one of the best students I ever had, and I trained many. Go in peace - but be always prepared to fight."

Iolaus picked up his belongings, and his sword, and with a last look back to the place that had become his home for almost four months, he turned to the west, and started back towards Thebes.

He traveled straight for three weeks, and the closer he got to his home, the more he thought of his life before he had met Sun Li. Memories of his family, and old friends returned, now that he was not busy all day long. Though he kept up a strict regimen of meditation and exercise, he was so much looking forward to seeing his son again, and to show Hercules what he had learned, that he still managed to cover a great distance every day. At the last campsite before Thebes, he was so impatient that he could not sleep, and would have moved through the night, had not common sense finally won out. He used the focusing exercises to calm his body and mind enough to relax, and to find some sleep.

The next morning, Iolaus started out early, and after traveling all day, just as dusk was settling across the distant hills, he saw the farm on the rise, and the smoke coming from the chimney. The fields were lush and green, almost ready for the harvest. Iolaus wasn't quite sure what exactly was planted down below, but it looked good. For a moment he just stood there, with a smile on his face, and reveled in the view. It was good to be home, and it would be even better to see Hercules again. Iolaus had stopped by his neighbour's place on the way out here; he had been desperate to see his son again, and had to reassure himself that everything was all right. But only now did it feel as if he had returned home.

All of a sudden he laughed out loud. He just had a great idea of how to surprise Hercules. Surveying the whole area around his friend's farm, and finding it quiet and without a person in sight, he began running towards the barn. Keeping a row of trees between himself and the main house, he moved quickly, but as soundlessly as possible up to the side of the building. Crouching low, and continuously checking all around him, he dropped his gear and sword beside the barn wall, and carefully looked in the window. Hercules was inside, rubbing down the bay after a hard day on the fields, and getting ready to feed the animals.

Iolaus craned his neck to see as much of the inside of the barn as possible, as he decided on the best route to reach the loft without being seen by his friend. He snuck along the side of the barn, and like a flash moved past the door.

Hercules thought he had heard something, but when he turned to the opening behind him, all he could sense was the evening breeze rustling through the leaves. He dismissed his suspicions, and went back to talking to his animals, and enjoying the feeling of quietude and relaxation that was always present in this place.

Iolaus had reached the loft, and had a great view of Hercules moving below him. With a crooked smile he waited for the perfect opportunity to jump his friend from behind. Never mind about never attacking first; this was different.

Hercules came into view directly beneath him, and Iolaus pushed off his perch, and with a thud landed on his friend's back. The force of the impact pushed Hercules forward several feet, and shoved him headfirst into the straw. Iolaus sprang to a crouched standing position, his hands ready for defense, a big grin on his face. Hercules, not knowing what had hit him, turned around, ready to charge whomever had attacked him. As he swung around, murder in his eyes, he caught sight of Iolaus standing right in front of him. After the initial shock, he was overwhelmed by relief of seeing his friend back in one piece, and in an obvious good mood. A smile spread across his face, and he extended his arm in greeting, "Iolaus, it's good to see you again; it took you long enough. Where were you all this time? I was worried sick; we all were."

Iolaus grasped his friend's arm, and gripped it tightly, "It's good to be back. I was wondering the whole time how you would fare without me at your side."

Hercules smiled broader, and playfully punched Iolaus in the ribs, "So, tell me, where have you been? Did you find what you were looking for?"

Iolaus stepped back a few feet, bowed slightly towards Hercules, and clasped his hands in front of his chest, "My friend, let me show you..."

The End

1997 by Ishtar

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