Hercules had been able to easily find his Mother, Iphicles and Falafel and give them the pieces of apple that ended the fearful madness they had being going through. This left Iolaus and Jason. The small group headed out together to the west wing of the castle in search of them. It took only a short time to find Jason, busy swinging his sword at imaginary enemies. Between Hercules and Iphicles, they were able to finally grab Jason and subdue him long enough to give him the bite of apple. Immediately Jason was back among them. Iphicles released the grip he had held on Jason. Jason breathed deeply as if just coming out of a trance. He looked up surprised, just as all the others had done, when they had come out of this madness.
"Hercules, where did you come from? Your Mother's been worried about you."
"I know, I know!" Hercules explained briefly what had happened to all of them. Then with a worried look Hercules asked Jason: "Where's Iolaus?"
Jason looked confused. "I don't know. I don't remember having seen him since we were all in the main hall together."
Suddenly Alcmene noticed what no one else had paid attention to. "Oh, Jason, your sword!!"
Jason slowly raised the sword up at arm's length and they all saw what she had seen. The sword edges were covered in fresh blood.
Hercules turned pale. "No!" he breathed while a stab of pain shot through his heart.
Jason had also turned pale at the thoughts of what this meant. There was no other person in the castle that he knew of. There was only one person whose blood this could have been. He looked sick. "Hercules, I ...."
Hercules pulled out of his shock. 'Iolaus was in the castle somewhere, possibly hurt and bleeding, or ....' He stopped his mind from going any further. He refused to accept any other thought. "There's no time now, Jason. It wasn't your fault. Right now we just have to find him. Mother, Falafel, you go with Iphicles, take that hallway down there. Jason and I will go this way," pointing in the opposite direction. "Come on, let's hurry."
They all took off running.
As Jason had been eating the apple slice, Iolaus had regained consciousness. He felt pain shoot through his head, arms and chest and his vision was slightly blurry.
After he had slipped out of the bedroom and away from Jason, he had run blindly, not knowing where he was going. But before he had gotten very far, Jason had appeared from another hallway and blocked his retreat. Jason swung his sword and put a second gash in Iolaus' arm. The fresh blood mingled with the blood of the first wound. As Jason swung yet again, Iolaus jumped back, but was not quick enough to avoid a superficial cut across the chest. The sword had just barely sliced through the skin, but blood started trickling from it. Confused and hurting, Iolaus hesitated too long in turning to run and Jason swung his sword one more time and caught Iolaus squarely in the right side, this time leaving a deep and bleeding gash. As Iolaus doubled over in pain, Jason brought the hilt of the sword up and struck Iolaus in the right temple, knocking him unconscious.
Jason eyed the man on the ground before him with a vengeance. He raised the sword up in the air, preparing to bring it down into the heart of the 'enemy' laying before him. But before he could follow through, he heard 'another sound' coming from behind. He turned around, looking in all directions. He suddenly did an about face and went tearing off, forgetting completely about Iolaus.
As Iolaus regained consciousness, he slowly and painfully rose. He did not know what had happened before, or how he had been hurt. The pain in his head and chest throbbed. He looked down and was surprised to see the blood flowing from his two wounds. His vision cleared slightly and he looked all around. The pain in his side felt like fire burning through him. Holding his side he turned and slowly stumbled down the hallway, not knowing where he was going. He fell once and slowly, painfully got back up. Then he heard a voice from behind him calling his name. As he turned he saw Hercules before him.
"Iolaus, I've come to say goodbye to you."
"Goodbye?" Iolaus questioned.
"Yes, I've crossed over to the other side."
"No! You, ... you can't."
"I'm sorry, Iolaus, I have to."
"But, but ... we, ... we promised to die together. Battlefield heroes. Don't you remember?"
"The warlord, Talus came for me. You weren't at my side. I didn't have any protection."
Iolaus dropped painfully to his knees, his eyes brimming with pain and tears. "I'm sorry! Hercules??"
"I'm afraid it's too late, Iolaus."
He looked up pleadingly at Hercules. "No! It can't be too late." A spasm of pain shot through him and he doubled over, breathing heavily. He slowly brought his head up. "People need you. Your family needs you." Iolaus struggled up and reached out to Hercules, tears running down his face. "I need you." But his hand went straight through Hercules' arm. "You ... you got me back from the other side. Tell me what to do!!"
"There's only one way."
"Tell me." He swayed in pain.
"Hades will let me come back, but only if someone else takes my place."
"I'll go. He can take me."
"Are you sure?"
"You know I would die for you, Hercules."
"Alright! Come with me then."
Iolaus eagerly started after Hercules.
Hercules and Jason ran down the endless hallways. But found nothing. They stopped for a moment looking about them.
"Where is he?" cried out Jason. The guilt he was feeling was about to overwhelm him.
"I don't know. Let's keep moving. He has to be here somewhere." Hercules' voice cracked as he spoke. His fear was about to choke him. He remembered Callisto's words when he told her he already had a partner. She had fired back at him, 'not for long.' No, she wasn't going to win. He wouldn't let her.
The others, having headed in the opposite direction, finally came upon the blood soaked carpet where Jason's attack had taken placed. The three were startled at the sight. They saw the blood on the carpet and saw the trail lead off in another direction.
"Falafel, go find my brother and Jason and bring them back here right away. I'll follow the trail." Falafel immediately took off running after the other two. "Mother, maybe you better stay here."
"No, Iphicles. We don't know what we'll find. You may need help and I want to be there."
Iphicles hesitated and then smiled. "Alright, Mother, but stay behind me."
She nodded and they started off, trying to keep their minds from what they might find. Alcmene was especially fearful of this. She had arranged for this surprise birthday party. She had wanted it to be so special for Hercules. And now she prayed that Iolaus wouldn't be lost to them, to Hercules, on what should have been a happy occasion.
The two followed the trail down several corridors and finally led towards a side door out to the main courtyard. As they came outdoors, they saw the trail of blood lead up a side stairway. As they looked up the stairway they saw Iolaus shakily climbing up to the ledge on the highest point of the castle. Alcmene and Iphicles stood frozen at the bottom of the stairs watching as Iolaus pulled himself up on to the ledge. He was kneeling on the edge and started to rise and fell back again. As he fell, Alcmene buried her face in Iphicles' arms afraid that Iolaus had gone over the edge. Iphicles held her tight, then releasing his held breath, he said: "It's alright, Mother. He's alright."
She looked up and saw Iolaus shakily balanced on the ledge. "Iphicles, we've got to get him down from there."
Hurriedly both of them climbed the stairs until they were just below the ledge. Iolaus swayed unsteadily before them.
In order not to startle Iolaus, Iphicles made some scuffling noises against the last stair. Iolaus turned and looked towards them.
"Iolaus," Iphicles smiled.
Iolaus saw Iphicles and Alcmene standing nearby. "Don't worry," he faintly smiled. "I'll bring him back."
Alcmene and Iphicles looked at each other confused. Finally Iphicles spoke again. "Bring who back, Iolaus? Why don't you come down off the ledge and tell us who you're talking about?"
"No. I, ... I can't. If I don't do this, Hercules can't come back from the other side." A spasm of pain hit Iolaus and he swayed unsteadily.
"Iolaus, no, wait!" cried out Alcmene.
Iolaus looked back toward her. "It's, ... it's my fault he's gone. But, he'll be back I promise." He clutched at the pain in his side.
Alcmene moved forward slightly. "Iolaus, please! Come on down. You're hurt. Let me take care of you."
As Iolaus looked back at her, the tears came into his eyes. "No, it, ... it doesn't matter."
"But, it matters to me, Iolaus," she smiled. "Please! Come on down."
Iolaus looked at her through his pain filled eyes. "I can't. I have to do this." He looked down over the edge. "It'll be okay. Hades promised he'd send Hercules back."
Alcmene and Iphicles turned to each other as Iolaus' words became clear to them. They turned as they heard hurried footsteps coming up the stairs. Hercules had seen Iolaus up on the ledge and panic had made him fly up the steps. Iphicles filled him in. "Somehow he thinks you're dead. That he's responsible. He believes Hades will send you back, if he replaces you in the underworld."
Jason had come up near Alcmene and had taken her in his arms. Iphicles moved back out of the way so Hercules could get nearer to Iolaus.
Iolaus turned at the familiar voice of his friend.
"Hercules!! I'm here. You'll be able to come back now." Iolaus wearily smiled.
Hercules saw how weak Iolaus was getting. If he didn't get him off that ledge soon, it wouldn't matter, Iolaus would collapse and fall instead of jumping. He watched as Iolaus turned and looked down.
"Iolaus! No, wait!"
Iolaus turned his head back towards Hercules.
Hercules raised his hand out towards Iolaus. "Wait! Iolaus, come on down. I'm not dead."
Iolaus looked confused for a minute. Hercules cautiously moved closer, with his hand outstretched to Iolaus.
"Please! Come on down." he quietly said to Iolaus.
But as Hercules moved closer to him, Iolaus moved a step backwards. "No! I can't."
Hercules stopped dead still as Iolaus moved closer to the edge. "Alright! Alright, Iolaus, just ... just don't move." Terrified Hercules held up his hands and backed off a little. He watched helplessly as Iolaus closed his eyes from the pain.
"Iolaus, please!" he cried out once more. "Please, I don't want you to do this."
Iolaus opened his eyes and looked over to Hercules, with a loving look. "I know, but I have to, Hercules. You said I wasn't there to protect you. I let you down."
"My friend, you've never let me down. You've always been there for me."
Iolaus watched him for a moment without speaking. "But, you can't come back unless I cross over into your place. You said Hades wouldn't let you come back without me taking your place." Hercules was scared and frustrated, Iolaus had either not heard him or didn't believe that he was still alive. He closed his eyes for a second and breathed deeply. Iolaus wasn't responding to this, he would have to try another approach. The answer was to go along with it. This had to work. He didn't know how Iolaus had managed to stay upright on that ledge as long as he had. Iolaus was losing blood, he had to hurry.
"Iolaus!! Look, I've changed my mind. I don't want you to take my place. It'll be alright. I'm fine. You don't have to die for me. Just come on down here." Once again he moved a step closer and extended his hand.
"No! I don't want to stay here if, ... if you're gone. I couldn't stand the loneliness without you. Let me do this, Hercules. You're needed here."
"You're needed here, too."
"No, no! Without you I'm nothing."
"Iolaus, that's not true."
"I have to do this, Hercules." He turned back and Hercules knew he was ready to step off.
"Alright! Alright, I'll let you do this."
Iolaus smiled at him and nodded.
The others braced themselves. Iphicles slowly moved closer up the stairs just behind his brother. Alcmene and Jason watched on, hardly breathing. Every step closer to the edge brought a new fear to their hearts.
A sudden spasm of pain caused Iolaus to lose his balance and he fell to his knees barely missing going over the edge. Hercules panicked and started to reach out for him again, but stopped at Iolaus' clear voice. "Now, Hercules. I'm coming now."
"Iolaus, no wait, not that way."
Iolaus looked up.
"I don't want you to die like that, Iolaus. I couldn't stand the thought of coming back and gathering up your broken body down there. It would hurt me too much!"
"But, I ... I don't know ..."
Hercules reached inside his shirt and pulled out the last remaining piece of apple he had saved for Iolaus. "Here, take this," and he reached out his hand.
Iolaus looked at it confused. "I don't understand?"
"I want you to eat this. It contains poison. It'll be fast and painless, you won't suffer."
Iolaus looked at Hercules' pleading face. "Please, do this for me!"
Iolaus looked at the offered piece of apple once again. With total trust in his eyes, he nodded. Hercules slowly moved towards him. Iolaus reached out for it, but in doing so lost his balance again. Iolaus tried to catch himself, but this time was unable to correct his balance and slipped over the edge. Hercules, with one desperate moved reached out and caught Iolaus by the hand. In doing so the last piece of apple slid from Hercules' hand and fell over the edge. Because of the blood on Iolaus' hand, making it slick, Hercules started to lose his grip on the hand. Leaning over the edge he reached with his other hand and grabbed Iolaus by his gauntlet. Moving his other hand also around the gauntlet, he now had Iolaus securely with both hands. But Iolaus cried out in pain as Hercules started pulling him up by his injured arm. Iphicles, who had moved in next to Hercules, was finally able to reach Iolaus' other arm. Together the two men pulled Iolaus up and over the edge and into the safety of Hercules' arms. He sat there for a moment with Iolaus cradled in his arms. Iolaus was dazed from the pain and laid unmoving, his eyes unfocused.
Falafel, who had been down at the foot of the stairs was ordered to find the last piece of apple that had fallen to the ground outside the castle.
Hercules finally came to himself and carried Iolaus into the castle and placed him in one of the bedrooms, while Jason went to get the medical supplies. Alcmene stood silently, fearfully watching as both Hercules and Iphicles tried to hold a struggling Iolaus down.
"No. Hera!" Iolaus yelled.
Hercules watched as his friend was drawn off into a different 'madness.' He was evidently now seeing Hera, another torment in the life of the two men.
Falafel solemnly came into the bedroom.
"Falafel, where is it? Give me the piece of apple quickly."
"I couldn't find it."
Hercules released his hold on Iolaus and suddenly turned and grabbed Falafel by his shirt. "What do you mean you couldn't find it? It fell right below where we were. It had to."
"No, it wasn't there. I searched the whole area. I couldn't find it."
"It HAS to be there."
Hercules turned and ran from the room, but after searching the area, he also was unable to find any sign of the apple slice. He raced up the stairway to the top of the castle again and returned to the ledge above. He looked down and knew he had looked exactly where the apple should have dropped. Then suddenly his gaze caught a small outcropping of stones and there in a crevice, just barely visible, lay the precious sliver of fruit. However, before he was even able to think of a way to get to it, a pair of peacock eyes became prominent against the afternoon sky. Hercules looked up speechless and watched in total horror as a small bolt of lightning hit directly into the small outcropping. Laughter reverberated through the courtyard as the eyes slowly disappeared and Hercules watched helplessly as the small sliver of apple burned and disintegrated before his eyes. "Nooooo!" Hercules cried out and sank down on the inside of the wall. "No!" With tears streaming down his face, he realized the implications of what had just happened. He slowly rose up and stood there for a minute. Then he turned, a defeated slump to his shoulders, and went back towards the bedroom. As he entered, he saw the still struggling form of Iolaus on the bed. Iphicles and Falafel were pinning him down as Jason tried to treat the wounds.
"No, let me go. Let me up. She'll kill Hercules," cried out Iolaus lost in his new nightmare.
"Iolaus, no. It's okay. Hercules is okay," Iphicles tried to comfort him.
"I have to save him," struggled Iolaus. As he struggled against the two holding him, his strength finally gave out and he collapsed unconscious.
Hercules moved in next to his brother.
"Hercules! Where is the apple?"
"Hera destroyed it. She sent fire to destroy it," said Hercules trying to control his voice!!
The others just looked at him.
"What do we do now?" Jason asked.
"I ... I don't know. The tree and all the fruit, ... it was burned. Callisto set fire to it. There isn't anything there anymore."
Hercules sat down beside his friend on the bed. Watching helplessly as Iolaus tossed and turned back and forth, Hera's vision tormenting him.
"Hercules!!?" suddenly cried out Alcmene.
Hercules and the others turned to look at her, and she held out her hand. There in the palm of her hand was half of the piece of apple Hercules had given her.
She smiled. "I'm sorry. I was so upset and worried about Iolaus, that I forgot I still had this." She reached out and placed it in the eager hands of Hercules. Hercules turned quickly and lifted Iolaus up.
"Iolaus! ... Come on, Iolaus. Wake up."
Iolaus groaned and his head rolled back and forth in Hercules' arms.
Slowly Iolaus opened his eyes.
"Here. Eat this!" Hercules pleaded. Hercules put the piece of apple up to his mouth. Iolaus bit down on the apple and started to eat. Suddenly, as had happened with the others, Iolaus was pulled back from the dark world he had been trapped in. He looked up in surprise at the others gathered around him. "What happened?" He looked at his bandaged arm and chest. He reached up and felt the bandage around his head. "How did I get hurt?" he asked puzzled.
Breathing a big sigh of relief Hercules finally replied, "I'll tell you later, Iolaus. Right now just lay back, rest and heal." Hercules lowered Iolaus back down onto the bed.
Iolaus nodded and closed his eyes and was asleep almost immediately. Alcmene moved in and pulled a blanket up around him. She brushed some stray locks away from the bandages around his forehead and smiled. He would be fine. She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. Jason also breathed a sight of relief as he patted Iolaus' shoulder. Iphicles clapped his brother on the back.
"Thanks everyone," Hercules smiled.
The group left Hercules by Iolaus' bedside, while they went down to clear away some of the mess from the interrupted party. The party would have to wait until Iolaus was able to join them again.
Hercules sat down in a chair next to the bed so he could watch over Iolaus to make sure everything was okay. He rubbed his hands over his eyes. He was suddenly very weary. It had been quite a day, quite a birthday. He had been depressed earlier and not looking forward to celebrating his birthday. But his mind went back to the statement Iolaus had made earlier. "You know, you have to realize there are other people around who do care for you and want to celebrate with you. Alcmene, Iphicles, Me." If Callisto had done nothing else, she had helped him appreciate his remaining family even more. He looked over at Iolaus and smiled, all of his family. Their love and well being was all the gift he wanted or needed.
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