Surprise (Reprise)

by Jane

"It makes them susceptible to their wildest imaginings. By tonight, they'll all be quite mad, if they haven't killed each other, first."--Callisto

Iolaus was frantic. He'd lost Jason what seemed like hours ago. He'd been searching the halls of the castle, looking for Jason, and it was hot, so hot. He called out for Jason, but got no answer. It was as if Iolaus were the only person in the castle.

"Iolaus, help me!"

"Hercules? I hear you. Where are you?"

"Help me, Iolaus! I need you!" The cry for help reverberated throughout the empty halls. Iolaus ran to first one door, then another. Hercules was nowhere.

"Herc, I'm coming! Where are you?!"

Another call came, weaker this time. "Iolaus, hurry!"

"Herc? Hercules? Where ARE you?!"

Iolaus raced down the hall, checking each room. Still, no Hercules.

Finally, in the last room, at the darkest end of the hall, Iolaus found his friend. Hercules was sitting alone in the dark.

Iolaus slowly walked up to him. Something wasn't right. "Herc, here I am. What do you need?"

"It doesn't matter anymore. You're too late. I'm dead, Iolaus. I called for your help, and you didn't come. I needed you, and you weren't there. I thought you were my best friend, and you failed me."

Iolaus' heart jumped into his throat. "Herc, what are you talking about? I heard your call, but I couldn't find you. I looked everywhere. Why didn't you tell me where you were? What do you mean, you're dead? You certainly don't look dead!"

Hercules stood up, and began to walk toward Iolaus. As he walked into the light, Iolaus' heart practically stopped. Hercules looked like a ghost. There was no color at all in his face. There was a terrible, bloody tear in his neck, as if someone had tried to behead him. His eyes were cold and unloving, staring straight at Iolaus. "I am dead, Iolaus, and it's your fault. I depended on you, and you failed me. Where were you--trying to charm some woman, or telling one of your lies of greatness to some stranger? Somewhere other than my side, where you belong. Now, I must go to the Other Side. Alone, still alone."

Iolaus' heart felt as if it were breaking. Tears sprang to his eyes. "Herc, don't leave me! I tried to find you. I tried my hardest. I came running as soon as I heard your call. You must believe me! I would never intentionally desert you. I'm so sorry. Please, is there something I can do to make it up with you? Maybe I could plead with Hades, as you did for me. Please, Hercules, tell me how I can reach Hades."

Hercules looked down at Iolaus, his eyes still cold and hard. "There's only one way you can reach Hades. You're just a mortal--there's no way he'd come to your call. You'll have to die to be able to see him on the Other Side."

Iolaus was making no effort to control his tears. They streamed down his face as he told his dearest friend, "Then I'll kill myself. You can't die, Hercules, the world needs you too much. Please, will you forgive me, then?"

"I will consider it. If you can convince Hades to spare me, I WILL consider it," answered Hercules.

Iolaus wiped the tears from his eyes, and began to search around the room. "What are you looking for?" asked Hercules.

"I'm looking for a sword, or a spear, or some sort of weapon. I thought there might be something hanging on the walls. I need to find something to, use on myself," Iolaus answered while he searched in all the corners and nooks of the room.

Hercules gave a derisive laugh. "I figured as much. You're trying to worm out of your commitment to me. You think that if you can't find a weapon, you can get out of your promise. I knew you weren't really my friend."

Iolaus stopped, and gave his best friend a stricken look. "That's not true, Hercules! Why are you doubting me? I've told you you're like a brother to me. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you!"

"THEN PROVE IT!" Hercules screamed. "Prove to me you haven't just been riding along on my coat tails all these years. Prove you love me! Do it now!"

Iolaus put his hands over his ears, and ran out of the room. He could still hear Hercules' voice, though. "Prove it! Prove it!"

Iolaus raced out into the courtyard of the castle. Tears were streaming down his face again. He had to save Hercules from an eternity in Hades. He owed his friend. He glanced around frantically.

"Here, Iolaus, come this way." It was Hercules. He was standing on the stairs leading to the castle parapets. Iolaus ran toward him, and saw his form gradually fade away.

"Hercules, wait!" Iolaus ran to the stairs and began to climb them. From above, on the walkway, he heard Hercules' voice again. "Come, Iolaus, come this way."

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Iolaus panted as he took the stairs two at a time. When he reached the walkway, he searched around for Hercules, and couldn't see him.

"I'm up here Iolaus. Come join me." Iolaus looked up to see Hercules' dim, fading form standing on the top of wall. He was holding out his hand to Iolaus. Iolaus clambered to the top of the wall, to stand by his friend. He stood there, and looked down to the ground, many feet below. He then glanced again at Hercules.

"Prove it, Iolaus. Prove that you're my friend."

"I will, Hercules. I will," Iolaus whispered to the apparition as it faded from sight. "I'll see you again in Hades." Iolaus took a deep breath and looked again at the ground below.

"IOLAUS!" The cry split the solitude. Iolaus looked around to see where it came from. He thought he was alone. He looked again at the ground, and there stood Hercules. He had his arms extended up toward Iolaus.

"Iolaus, what are you doing up there? I want you to get down, this minute."

Iolaus was confused, and feeling a trifle unsteady on his feet. "I'm going to Hades to save you, Hercules. It's my fault you're dead, and I've got to right the wrong. I'm not going to fail you again, Hercules, I promise." Iolaus spread his arms and got ready to jump.

"Iolaus, stop! I'm not dead! I'm standing right here in front of you, fully alive and healthy. You've been drugged, my friend. Please, just stay there until I come up to help you. Do you hear me, Iolaus? DON'T MOVE until I get to you!"

Iolaus cried out loud. "I can't! I promised you I'd plead with Hades for your life. I'm not going to let you down again!" And with that, Iolaus leapt off the parapet.

It seemed that he fell forever. He wept as he fell. His best friend was dead, and it was his fault. He didn't want to live, if it meant living without Hercules, but living with the knowledge that it was his mortal shortcomings that caused Herc's death. Death would be bliss compared to that. He welcomed it.

WHUMP! Iolaus couldn't catch his breath. He thought there'd be pain, but he felt no pain. He just felt warmth and...and love.

"Come on, Iolaus, breathe. You're going to be okay. I've got you. Everything's going to be all right." Hercules put Iolaus gently on the ground and shook him until he was able to take a deep, gasping breath.

Iolaus looked up into the clear blue eyes of his friend. Hercules had his full color, and there was no horrible gash in his neck. He was smiling at his friend, and let out a deep sigh of relief. "Here, Iolaus, eat this." He put a slice of golden apple in Iolaus' mouth, and continued to hold him in his arms while Iolaus chewed and swallowed.

"Herc, what happened?" Confusion reigned in Iolaus' mind. He could slightly remember being completely heart-broken and guilt-ridden about something, but he couldn't remember what. He put his hand to his head. Why was he lying here on the ground, and why was Hercules holding him?

"Well, my friend, you just did a beautiful cartwheel off the wall there," Hercules pointed up to the parapet, "and I caught you before you hit the ground. You know, you're heavier than you look." Hercules gave a little laugh, and sat on the ground beside his friend.

"I did WHAT?" Iolaus sat straight up, and looked at Hercules incredulously. "Why in the world did I do that?" He put his hand up to his head, which was beginning to pound. "The last thing I remember is waiting for you to come to your birthday party, and drinking some punch. I guess I need to inspect Falafel's punch recipe. That man's dangerous when he goes messing around with party fixings." Iolaus shook his head, and promptly wished he hadn't. He groaned and put his head into both his hands.

Hercules couldn't help but laugh, he was so relieved to see his friend back. "It wasn't Falafel, Iolaus. You had an uninvited guest at the party, and she spiked the punch with a dangerous drug. I've had a dickens of a time finding all of you and repairing the damage." His expression became serious as he looked at Iolaus. "I almost didn't make it in time for you, my friend."

A puzzled look came over Iolaus' face. "Didn't make it in time? I seem to remember not making it in time for you, or something like that. Yeesh, I can't remember a thing!"

"It's okay, Iolaus. It was all the drug. Don't try to remember something that never really happened." Hercules stood up, and helped Iolaus regain his feet. They each dusted themselves off, and started back into the castle. Hercules put his arm around Iolaus' shoulders, and stopped him.

"Iolaus, before you jumped, you said something about 'failing' me. I want you to know, you've never failed me in anything, ever. I have, and always will, trust you with my life. Please, don't ever doubt yourself or our friendship. There's no one else on this earth who can take your place." Hercules saw the confused look in Iolaus' eyes, and slapped him on the back. "I just wanted to make sure you knew that."

"Herc, there never was any doubt!" Hercules put his head back and laughed loudly and happily, and he and his best friend walked back into the castle.

Go on to the next story in the challenge.

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