Surprise (Reprise)

by Ishtar

Hercules looked around him, searchingly, pieces of apple in his hand, "Where is Iolaus?" Jason who sat on the floor, holding Alcmene close to him, relief clearly written on his face, pointed towards the spiral stairwell leading to the battlements, "He ran that way, I think. And I also think I may have hurt him..."

Hercules flashed a shocked glance at Jason, and then let his eyes follow towards the indicated direction, as he made a quick decision. He cut a piece of the apple off and handed it to Jason, "Find Iphicles and Falafel, and give this to both of them. I'll go after Iolaus."

With that he tucked the rest of the apple into the front of his shirt and reached down to give his mother's hand a quick squeeze. She returned the gesture, and looking up to reassure Hercules that they would be all right, she smiled her love at her son, and then turned to her husband, snuggling into his arms.

Hercules nodded to Jason, and dashed towards the stairs. There was blood on the stairs, and Hercules cringed at the sight, doubly afraid of what he might find above. Taking the steps three at a time, he reached the top within seconds. He pushed open the trapdoor, and a cold wind hit his face. Taking another few steps brought him to the southeast corner of the battlements, and here he halted briefly to get his bearings, and to look for Iolaus.

When he saw his friend, standing on top of one of the parapets, only inches away from the edge, his heart almost stopped, and he gasped in anxious surprise. His first instinct was to run forward, and try to grab Iolaus before his friend could do something he might not live to regret. Of course, Hercules did not know what Iolaus was seeing in his poison induced delusions, and his rushing towards him might be the exact action to send Iolaus over the edge -- literally. Hercules was torn, but knew he had to get closer to where his friend was, to have any chance at all to prevent a tragedy.

Iolaus was turning in a circle, seemingly looking for something or somebody, his face a mask of fear. That awful laugh still rang in his ears, and he knew that the demon who looked like him, was still after him. It had to have been a demon, because old men were not that fast and accurate with a sword, and Iolaus could still feel the pain, where the blade had sliced his arm. He had never been this afraid in his whole life, and his only thought had been to get away from this hideous face that seemed so much like his own, yet was so different. The demon-Iolaus was crazy and vicious, and though he wore the same outfit the hunter was wearing now, that did not reassure him, but made Iolaus fear him even more. If he could only run fast enough, he might manage to escape his fate.

Hercules moved forward with slow deliberate steps, trying not to act hastily and startle Iolaus. Inwardly, he felt like screaming, and his heart was racing, as he kept his eyes fixed on his friend. Silently pleading with him to stay where he was, Hercules went closer and closer to where Iolaus was turning on the parapet, trying to speak in a soothing voice, and to sound calmer than he felt. "Iolaus. Listen to me. Everything is all right. Whatever it is you are seeing is not real. I am here to help you. Just listen to my voice."

Iolaus looked all around him. There, by the stairwell. The old man had caught up with him. How was this possible? There was nowhere else to run. The demon was talking to him, trying to lull his senses, overpower him. Listen? The offer of help? Iolaus became more and more desperate, his arm throbbing with the pain, and the blood running down unchecked. The thoughts in his head were moving in circles, but always focused on "don't listen to him; he is trying to trick you." The old man, who was a twisted frustrated demonic Iolaus, was crazy and wanted to kill him, to prevent his own existence. Of this Iolaus was certain, and he tried not to listen to the ravings of his pursuer; if he listened he would be lost.

Hercules could see that his words did not have the desired effect; Iolaus seemed more agitated than before, and kept looking at him in fear, and then down to the ground almost 75 feet below. He could not believe that his friend would actually step off the parapet, but could not take that chance. His arms outstretched, he inched forward again, trying to implore Iolaus to stay where he was, "Come on; don't do anything stupid." He kept on talking, more to calm himself than in the hope that his words might have any effect at all on Iolaus, and slowly made his way towards his friend.

In desperation Iolaus looked over the edge, and tried to concentrate on what lay ahead of him. His vision was blurred, and his head spun, as distances kept changing, the ground below and objects around him moving in and out of focus. Staring at the courtyard below he was mesmerized by the sight as it moved up to meet him. It wasn't very far down at all; only a couple of feet actually; he would be able to jump it, and thus escape this monster that was after him. He stepped down.

Hercules lunged forward, throwing himself flat on his stomach, blindly grabbing for the tumbling figure falling away from the wall. The finger tips of one hand made contact with a piece of clothing, and he hung on for dear life, his face pressed against the cool stone of the battlement. Praying to the gods that Iolaus' vest was of better quality than it looked, he pushed his other hand towards the struggling body, pulling on the fabric with all his might.

A scream came from Iolaus, a scream that did not sound like him at all. Hercules closed his eyes, and concentrated on keeping his grip on his friend's vest. He felt himself being pulled forward -- in his struggle Iolaus swung wildly, and the swinging body exerted quite a downward force on Hercules, and he could not brace himself against the pull. Then he felt his arms being grabbed in an iron grip. Iolaus tried to pry Hercules' hands off of him, and used his considerable strength to detach himself from what was holding him.

Hercules gritted his teeth in an attempt to ignore the pain in his chest, as it was slowly dragged across the rough stone, and in his fingers, as Iolaus expertly tried to break them to release their hold on his clothes. A muffled "Let go of me you slimy monster." could be heard from below the edge.

Hercules, losing his patience and his grip, grunted and swore under his breath, "Iolaus, you idiot, don't fight me. I'm trying to help you. If you don't come to your senses soon, we'll both end up as piles of bones on the ground below."

Then he felt teeth on his left hand, and pain shot up into his arm. In a last desperate effort, Hercules let go with his right hand, and brought it down hard where he assumed Iolaus' head to be. A moan from below and the swinging movement stopped. Hercules hoped for a second that he had not hit the hunter too hard, but that was something he really had no time to worry about at the moment.

With his free hand he got a hold of Iolaus' leather belts, and thus a secure grip on his friend, and breathing heavily, his legs wide to feel for any support to brace against, Hercules allowed himself a brief rest and a quick sigh of relief. He then concentrated all his strength into his arms, and with a mighty heave dragged Iolaus over the edge and to safety.

Iolaus was dead weight, and Hercules checked his friend quickly to make sure he was still alive, and not seriously injured. The cut on his arm was nasty, and blood was everywhere, but Hercules had seen a lot worse, and was more worried about the bruise that was spreading around Iolaus' left eye. Apparently he had hit the other man a bit harder than necessary to just knock him out, and he would end up with a black eye. Hercules cringed, but after all he had prevented Iolaus from falling off the parapet. He retrieved the apple he had tucked away before, and got a piece ready. Turning Iolaus over onto his back, he shoved a slice into his friend's mouth, and then shook him rather roughly to wake him up. Then he sat back on his heels beside him, nursing his hurting left hand, and searching Iolaus' face for signs of recognition.

With a moan and several grunts Iolaus came to, and in reflex chomped on the piece of apple in his mouth. With a yelp of pain he held his eye, and slowly sat up. Still chewing, a confused look on his face, he sprayed apple juice all around him, "Herc -- you are here! Why did you hit ... oh, I -- oh, my..." As memories sorted themselves out, and came flooding back into his head, Iolaus sank back down, and just looked at Hercules in helpless confusion, "Please tell me this was all a dream!"

Hercules slumped a bit as the tension left him, and he sighed in relief. "Don't talk with your mouth full! And it definitely was no dream. Come on, we'll get that arm of yours looked after, and I'll tell you what happened." He got up, and extended his hand to pull Iolaus to a standing position.

Iolaus smiled and clasped his friend's arm. "Gotta tell you one thing, Herc, you throw a mean party ... the surprise was definitely on us. Happy birthday!"

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


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