Sometimes the Serpent Wins

by Ceryndip

The tiny boat rocked on the waves. It's occupants were a weary, battered assortment of sailors and passengers. Their ship hadn't withstood the force of the storm two days earlier. They were tired, hungry and dreadfully thirsty.

"We should be sighting land anytime now if our position was correct when the ship went down," the first mate reiterated yet again.

Iolaus sat, perched on the stern of the rowboat while Hercules sat in the bottom, minding the rudder and leaned back against his friend's legs to anchor him in the boat. Each time the tiny craft bobbed to the top of a swell, Iolaus would stretch his neck to glimpse any sign of land.

Iolaus leaned down to whisper in Hercules' ear, "Does he think if he keeps saying the land is there, he can make it appear?"

"Maybe he needs the reassurance of hearing his own voice. No one else is going to comfort him, not the way he's been behaving," Hercules replied.

The first mate had been a taskmaster since claiming command of the few survivors. They had been too tired to argue with him about it after riding out the storm. The other crewmen whispered amongst themselves about the voyage being cursed and thinking they'd never see land again. Iolaus gathered it had something to do with the captain upsetting Poseidon and the sea god vowing revenge. Iolaus reasoned that since their captain went down with his ship, they ought to be alright now, that and Poseidon had a certain fondness for Hercules. However, the superstitious sailors were having none of it.

The little boat bobbed up the side of the swell. The sailors continued to row. Iolaus stood and scanned as far and as fast as he could. He thought he saw a hint of something on the horizon but that was secondary to the series of humps moving toward them from the north.

"Herc!" He whispered. "I think we've got a visitor."

Hercules glanced back at his friend questioningly. Iolaus tossed his head toward the starboard side of the boat, "Unfriendly humps, at least three."

Hercules leaned forward, releasing Iolaus' legs from behind his back, "Get back down in the boat." Iolaus complied, lifting one leg over his friend's head and sliding down beside him.

"Everybody hold on," Hercules called.

"Hold on for what?" One of the sailors asked.

"Company."

"I knew this voyage was cursed. We're all gonna die now, serpent breakfast." he said, resigned to his fate already.

"We'll have none of that talk, men. We'll change course. It's probably not coming after us specifically. We're just in it's path and we need only to move out of it. Which way was it coming from?" The mate asked.

Before Iolaus could answer, they were thumped from beneath making any answer he could give irrelevant.

"Hand me that oar," Hercules commanded.

"We'll need that to row with." the first mate argued.

"You won't be rowing anywhere if we're all dead." Hercules broke off the blade on the oar and wielded the shaft like a spear as he leaned over the side, watching for the next pass.

"Be careful, Herc." Iolaus took a firm hold on the waistband of his pants, trying to anchor him.

"Yeah, you too." Hercules glanced back and saw that another sailor had taken a hold on Iolaus.

As the serpent passed beneath them a second time. They all leaned over the side to look. The men got a feel for how big this thing really was.

Iolaus glanced over the side, "Hey, we've seen this one before. Look at that scar on it's head. How long do these things live anyway?"

Hercules had already seen the familiar marking. Familiar because he'd put it there long ago. He nodded and gauged his throw. Hercules lobbed his makeshift spear into the water. It hit the giant serpent dead center in the eye. They were not prepared to ride out the creature's rage. It surfaced and the tiny boat rocked precariously. The men tumbled inside the tiny craft, holding on to each other and whatever they could find. Finally, the boat tipped and they were dumped into the churning seas.

Iolaus came to the surface spluttering with the others. They clung to the row boat's underside and carefully flipped it over again. They all piled inside. Iolaus realized in a panic that Hercules was not with them. He had assumed that his friend had been clinging to the other side of the boat. He stood and scanned the calming sea.

"What are you doing? Trying to tip us?" the first mate called. "Sit down for Zeus' sake."

"Zeus had nothing to do with it, unfortunately. Hercules is missing. Anybody see him?"

The three remaining sailors all stood and joined Iolaus in his search, daring the first mate to try and stop them.

"There!" One of the men sang out.

Hercules floated at the top of a swell a short distance from their position. The mate rose and declared, "He's not moving, must be dead. He's beyond our help now,"

Iolaus flashed angry eyes at him, "We'll see about that." He moved to jump into the water after his friend.

The mate stopped him with a hand on his arm. "We have to move on. We're going to loose the sun soon. We don't have time for this, that creature is wounded and still in the area. We have to get out of here. "

"I'm not leaving him." Iolaus jerked his arm free.

"Then, you act alone."

His men disagreed. "No, Iolaus, you go, we'll wait for you. If that creature's coming for us, we wouldn't be able to row fast enough anyway."

Iolaus nodded his thanks to them grimly and dove into the water. He swam as hard as he could and didn't look back. His whole focus set on reaching his friend and quelling the panic within himself. The mental image of the creature lurking in the murky water beneath him, haunted his mind, an irrational thought but a frightening one none the less. He pushed it away, "Please let him be alive."

Iolaus heard the sound of a large disturbance in the water and the splintering of wood behind him. He turned to see a giant tail disappearing beneath the surface, littered with tiny pieces of the boat and Iolaus didn't want to think about what else.

"So much for the ride home." Iolaus also knew the serpent was still here and still very much living and probably holding a grudge against them, now for a pair of wounds. So, he probably was not a happy serpent, not a good situation.

Iolaus grabbed for Hercules' shirt and pulled them together. Hercules was floating on his back, blood streamed into the water from a nasty gash on his head, but he was still breathing evenly. Hercules' shirt was already torn, Iolaus tore it the rest of the way and bound his head to stop some of the blood from dripping into the water. He got behind his friend and began pulling him toward where he thought he'd seen signs of land. He resisted the urge to swim as hard and fast as he could, knowing that he'd need to ration his strength and stamina to get both of them to shore.

The sun set turning the water black around him. Iolaus tried very hard to stay focused on his task at hand and not think about the unknown depths beneath him.

It was well after midnight by the time Iolaus drug his still unconscious friend onto the beach. He collapsed beside him and lay gasping. Iolaus knew his work wasn't finished. He rolled over and slid his kneed beneath himself and took a keep breath before he climbed shakily to his feet and headed into the trees to gather wood for a fire. He was already shivering in the cool night breeze. He found a small stream with a sheltered outcropping of rock nearby and built the fire there. Not taking time to warm himself, he headed back to the beach. Lifting Hercules by the shoulders, he drug his friend to the hastily erected camp. He placed Hercules as close to the fire as he dared and examined him for other injuries. Finding nothing but bumps and bruises, he rinsed the salt water from the bandage and cleaned the would before reapplying the damp cloth with a few herbs to prevent infection gathered from plants growing by the river.

Only after he'd done all he physically could for Hercules did he settle down to warm himself. His thoughts drifted back to lessons from an earlier age.

"Cheiron said to talk to people with head injuries. Well, you've got a doozy of a dent in your head, my friend." Iolaus thought about what he ought to say, "Remember the first time we met that serpent? That was right after you and Jason drown-proofed me, good thing too...I still remember how scared I was, how fast the water was moving, not knowing what was in the water with me. It still does scare me sometimes, especially when there are serpents around. But it's like any battle I guess, I'm too busy worrying about the serpent and bailing you out to think about anything else. I just do what I have to do and don't think about being scared... "

The cadets jogged between obstacles warily looking out for new additions to challenge their powers of observation and skill. Cheiron was constantly trying to surprise them and make sure they were paying attention. They suspected that something was up before they even began the course as Cheiron had staggered the more experienced cadets between the new arrivals.

It was a beautiful morning, if still a bit chilly. Spring had not arrived fully but the snow farther up into the mountains had begun to melt in earnest. The birds had returned joyfully singing to the sunrise. Iolaus found himself climbing over the old fallen tree with several brand new cadets. Hercules was traveling with the group just behind his and Jason just in front.

He reached the top of the gnarled old tree and slid down the other side to find the new challenge. He'd wondered how they were going to get across the river. The bridge had washed away in the recent rainstorm. In it's place was a single rope to walk on and two other ropes to hold onto as guides.

Jason's group was just finishing their crossing. Iolaus had his group wait until the first group cleared the bridge. The future king of Corinth climbed up the bank and stood next to Cheiron.

Two of the new recruits started off immediately, Iolaus hesitated, watching the churning water roll and boil beneath the wobbly ropes.

"Come on, Iolaus! You're holding up the works." Jason yelled.

Iolaus couldn't let Jason see how unnerved he felt, didn't Jason remember that he couldn't swim? Steeling himself for the attempt, Iolaus grabbed firmly to the ropes and stepped nonchalantly onto the single tightrope. He felt the rope give with his added weight. It shook beneath him with the slightest movement of anyone upon it. He slid himself toward the center just wanting to get to the other side as quickly as possible. He tried not to think about how low the bridge was sagging under the combined weight of the cadets. He didn't listen to the roar of the rapids beneath him.

He was aware of the cadet behind him. He seemed even more shaky than Iolaus and Iolaus didn't appreciate the additional threat to his balance. The kid was following too close.

"Hey, back off a little, will ya?" Iolaus asked.

Suddenly, the kid slipped and caught himself with a leg wrapped around the rope. Iolaus stopped and turned. He reached out one arm to help the younger cadet back up. The kid grabbed for him and pulled Iolaus off balance as well. Iolaus tried to hold on but lost his hold on the rope.

He felt the cool air around him, then, the icy touch of the freshly melted snow racing toward the sea. The cold water shocked and numbed his senses as he fought to find his way back to the surface. Air! He needed air! One quick gasp and he heard Hercules scream his name before he was pulled away and sucked under again by the current.

"Hercules, no!" Cheiron shouted as Hercules dove into the icy water.

"He had to, "Jason quickly explained, "Iolaus can't swim."

"Can't swim?" Cheiron replied incredulously.

They watched as Hercules' powerful strokes brought him near the struggling Iolaus. He hadn't quite reached him as they both disappeared around the bend in the river.

"Come on," Cheiron shouted to the cadets on the other side of the river. "We must start searching the banks down river. Search that side! Jason bring the emergency supplies."

Hercules caught Iolaus by a handful of vest and rolled him over on his back. Iolaus fought him in panic.

"Iolaus, it's ok, I've got you, breathe, just breathe."

Iolaus relaxed a little against his friend, entrusting himself to Hercules' care. He continued coughing and gagging on the river water he'd taken in. Hercules angled them toward the shore and out of the strong current. He half carried Iolaus out of the water. They both collapsed to their knees in the mud. Hercules alternated between patting and rubbing Iolaus' back as he coughed up large amounts of water, then, he began to shiver violently. Hercules hastily built a fire to warm them both in the shelter of a large tree. As his chills subsided, Iolaus curled up with his head pillowed on Hercules' thigh and fell into an exhausted sleep. Hercules rested a comforting hand on Iolaus' arm and waited for Cheiron and the others to find them.

Jason was the first to spot their fire. "Over here!" He bolted into the small clearing, dropped the bag and pulled out a blanket. He covered Iolaus with it and wrapped the rest around Hercules. "Are you both ok?"

"I think so." Hercules replied as Cheiron kneeled beside Iolaus. "He swallowed a lot of water."

Cheiron nodded, "I can hear it in his breathing. We'll let him sleep for now. When you're both fully dry we'll start back to the academy."

They took the walk back in easy stages. Cheiron sent the other cadets back and walked with Hercules and the blanket wrapped Iolaus himself. He sent Jason ahead with orders to prepare hot baths.

After a long soak, Cheiron ordered Hercules and Iolaus to bed with mugs of herbal tea. Iolaus fussed about the confinement but he and Hercules were both asleep well before sundown.

The next morning Cheiron woke both boys before the bell calling the cadets to morning exercises. He allowed Hercules to return to the normal routine but insisted Iolaus remain in bed as long as his cough persisted. Iolaus grumbled about it but could do little more as Cheiron brought him medicine and checked on him personally. The centaur even made sure Kora knew that he was ill, so Iolaus wouldn't be tempted to sneak out to his job at the inn.

Finally on the second day Cheiron allowed Iolaus to sit wrapped securely in his blanket and watch practice but it was the third day before he could participate at all.

"Herc, you know how I hate being stuck in bed and Cheiron's potions were the worst, most vile tasting stuff. They did work really well though..."

Iolaus placed a cool compress against the lump on his friend's head and added wood to the fire before continuing his story.

"Of course, Cheiron decided that I had to learn to swim...

A couple of weeks after the incident at the bridge, Cheiron called Jason and Hercules over to him.

"I want you two to take Iolaus camping for a few days."

"Camping? Doesn't he know how to do that already?" Jason asked with a hint of sarcasm.

"It's warm enough now that I want you to find a calm inlet or pond and teach him how to swim."

"Have you ever tried to teach Iolaus anything he didn't want to learn?" Hercules asked. He was well acquainted with Iolaus' stubborn streak, especially where water was concerned.

Cheiron smiled, "A good teacher requires patience more than any other quality. Be patient with him, make certain that you know the whole situation before you begin and that your student is mentally prepared to learn. A reluctant student may have reason for their reluctance."

Hercules and Jason exchanged confused glances before shrugging their shoulders at each other.

Hercules, Iolaus and Jason made their way through the forest toward the river.

"I can't believe that Cheiron just let us do this. That is so bizarre."

"Well, he didn't exactly let us go." Hercules stated uncomfortably.

Jason did a doubletake, "You mean he doesn't know why we're out here?"

"Why what?" Iolaus stopped in his tracks waiting for an explanation.

"We've been ordered to drown-proof you," Jason slapped him on the back.

"You mean, teach me to swim?"

"Uh huh."

"Why would I need to know that? It's not like you can use a sword in the water."

Jason explained the logic to him, "No, but there are monsters in the water and your buddy here is going into the monster killing business and you're hanging out with him. So, by default--"

"I need to learn to swim."

"You don't sound too happy about that," Hercules observed.

Iolaus sighed, "I suppose it won't kill me."

"Maybe you'll like it." Hercules suggested.

Jason agreed, "Yeah, maybe we can get you to bathe more often, too." Jason ducked as Iolaus swung at him playfully.

They made camp at a small inlet just upstream from the sea late that afternoon. Iolaus maintained his usual banter through the ruckus involved in catching and cooking dinner. They rolled out their blankets and bedded down for the night.

Iolaus lay where he could see the inlet. He watched the moon shining off the ripples on the surface and contemplated the prospects tomorrow brought with it. Sleep was a long time in coming.

The next morning the three youths stripped down to their loin coverings and entered the water. Iolaus determinedly waded in stopping when he was waist deep. Jason dove in and began to swim around. Hercules demonstrated how to move his arms above the water. Iolaus mimicked him.

"And kick your feet and that's all there is to it."

Iolaus looked doubtful. Hercules knelt down in the water and pushed off the bottom. He glided away to show Iolaus how it worked. Iolaus nodded and hesitated. He splashed water on his arms and was about to follow Hercules when Jason came up out of the water behind him and grabbing Iolaus pulled him down under the water with him.

"First you have to get wet!" Jason laughed. Iolaus' scream of terror was drowned into silence by the water.

Iolaus thrashed about in sheer panic. Jason realizing something was wrong tried to grab him but couldn't get a hold on him. Hercules bodily lifted Iolaus out of the water and set him back on his feet. Iolaus was shaking all over and coughing. Hercules kept a steadying hand on him and guided his friend back towards shore. He shot Jason a look.

Jason shrugged in bewildered shock. This wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting. "I was just playing."

"I know," Hercules whispered back. "There's something else happening here. He was terrified."

Jason wrapped Iolaus' blanket around his shoulders and pushed him down by the fire. Hercules and Jason sat on either side of him.

"Iolaus?" Hercules asked gently, "Are you afraid of the water?" The question sounded so obvious at that moment but Hercules knew they needed to talk about it.

Iolaus stared at the sand in front of him and nodded miserably. "I can't help it. I can't stop it. I just go crazy."

"Have you always been this scared?" Jason asked.

"Since I was little. My dad decided on one of his rare visits home, that he would teach me to swim. He put me in a boat and we rowed out to the middle of the lake. He told me to swim and threw me in. I went under and couldn't find my way back up. I panicked and nearly drown before he reached in and pulled me out. He didn't even get wet. After I'd coughed up half the lake, I started crying and I couldn't stop. I held onto the side of the boat and wouldn't let him throw me back in. His face turned red and he yelled and called me 'crybaby' and 'no good' but I wouldn't let go. No matter how hard he pulled on me and tried to pry my fingers from the side. Finally, he gave up and rowed back to shore. He got out and went back to the house. I still couldn't let go. I don't know how long I sat there with my hands clamped to the side of the boat. I wanted to let go but I couldn't. I was too scared. Mom finally came when it got dark and wrapped a blanket around me and got me out of the boat.

Jason shook his head, "I'm sorry."

Iolaus looked up at them. "I don't know if I can do this."

Hercules put a hand on his shoulder, "We'll take it slowly, a little at a time." He met Jason's eyes. "How about we have lunch before trying again?"

Jason nodded, "Iolaus, you take it easy alright? Herc and I'll go check the snares."

Iolaus nodded and sighed. When they returned, he was sleeping curled up in a ball on top of his blanket. Hercules shook the sand from his own blanket and lightly covered Iolaus with it.

"How can he sleep?" Jason wondered.

"I don't think he slept much last night. I think he was worrying about this."

"You think that's why Cheiron told us that stuff about being patient with him?"

Hercules nodded, "I think he suspected it was something like this. We should teach him how to float first and get him used to being in the water then we'll try swimming."

Jason agreed, "Yeah, ease him into it. We need to be careful about his head going under, that's when he panics."

By mid afternoon Iolaus was fed, rested and game to try again. Jason and Hercules stood on either side of him as they walked out together into the water up to their waists.

"Ok, this part's going to be hard because you have to relax." Hercules squatted down in the water and leaned back, "You just lay back and let the water carry you."

"Let it carry me?" Iolaus watched with doubt. "People sink."

"Not if you relax, your head will stay above the water." Jason tried to sound convincing.

Iolaus watched Hercules float a moment, "But what if I sink?"

Hercules stood. "You won't. I'll hold you up. Come on, try it." Hercules put his hand on Iolaus' back as he eased down into the water. He lay back but he was too stiff and went under. Hercules lifted him back up.

"I thought you were holding me!"

"I am, you have to relax, first. Pretend you're lying on the beach in the sun. This won't work unless you can relax."

"That's easier for you to say, than me to do."

Slowly, Iolaus tried again.

"Take slow, deep breaths." Hercules suggested.

This time his head stayed up and his body felt buoyant. Hercules held him with a hand under his neck. Iolaus naturally spread his arms as he relaxed further and floated. He closed his eyes.

"Herc?"

"Yeah?"

"This is nice."

"Yeah," Hercules and Jason traded smiles. They let Iolaus have some time to get used to the feel of the water. Slowly, Hercules removed his supporting hand and Iolaus didn't even notice until Jason tapped his shoulder.

"Ok, you've got the hang of it, time to move on to lesson two."

Iolaus stood reluctantly and followed Jason over to a rocky area where the boulders were sticking up out of the water. Jason bent over bracing himself between two rocks.

"Take a breath and put just your face in the water and open your eyes."

"Just my face?"

"Uh huh."

"In the water?"

"Yes."

Iolaus braced himself as Jason had and took in all the air that his lungs would hold.

"You're not going to shove me under are you?" He squinted warily at Jason, mistrust plainly written on his face.

Jason, understanding Iolaus' mistrust, took a step back out of range, "No, I won't touch you, just do it."

Iolaus watched him a moment to make sure he was going to stay away before taking another deep breath and plunging his head under the surface. He opened his eyes and was surprised to find that it didn't hurt or anything. It just felt kinda weird.

Iolaus found himself seeing into a whole new world. There was a school of minnows darting about and several brightly colored anemones waving in the current. Iolaus surfaced grinning at his friends, waving a crab he'd caught.

"Dinner!" He proclaimed and tossed the crab to shore before wading out to where Hercules and Jason were, "Ok, what's next?"

"You swim. You kick your feet and move your arms like this," Jason demonstrated dog paddling above the water and then dove in surfacing a short distance away in the deeper water. "Now, swim to me."

Iolaus took a couple of deep breaths and though he didn't just dive in, it wasn't a bad effort. Then, he turned around and awkwardly kicked his way back to Hercules, grinning like a fool.

Iolaus spent the rest of the afternoon refining his techniques. Hercules taught him a more efficient stroke. He made it a point to splash water at Jason at every opportunity, tempting him. Jason sent huge waves back, always being careful not to send Iolaus under. They had him on the right track and didn't want to jeopardize their progress.

Slowly, they eased into deeper water but always made certain that Iolaus could touch the bottom. By sunset the three friends were tired. Though Iolaus was far from proficient, he was a lot more comfortable in the water. They had even managed to catch a few more crabs.

Iolaus boiled water in one of their carrybags and they dropped the crabs into it. Soon, they were feasting on their rare delicacy.

"These are good, but man, they are hard to eat!" Jason complained as he took a rock and pounded his dinner.

Iolaus grinned, tossing his empty shell on the pile, "You're just used to having a servant to crack them for you." Iolaus yawned as he lay back on his blanket, "This swimming stuff is exhausting."

"It can be," Jason agreed bedding down himself.

Hercules decided to walk off the crab feast and wandered downstream the short distance to the shore. He perched himself on a rock and watched the surf roll in and the stars emerge as the glow from the setting sun faded. In the darkness he thought he glimpsed something large break the surface off shore but by the time he blinked and took another, more serious look, there was nothing there. Hercules shook his head and wandered back toward camp dismissing the shadow as a phantom in the night.

The next morning found the three cadets wading back into the inlet. They went deeper this time where they could barely touch.

Hercules led the first lesson, "Ok, when you get thrown in, like when you fell from the bridge, you go under and you don't know how deep it is. First, you can't panic. You've got to stay calm. If you panic, you drown." Hercules wanted to be sure Iolaus understood and knew what to do. "Then, if you can't find your way to the surface, just relax and let yourself float. Usually, you'll feel yourself moving whichever way up is."

Jason inched the group a little deeper, "Once you break the surface, you need to be able to stay in one place, say until you get your bearing or the ship can get a boat out to you. You just kick a little and move your arms back and forth."

Iolaus picked his toes up off the bottom and gave it a try. With a little practice and a few mouthfuls of water, he was able to keep his nose above the surface.

Hercules continued, "If you're caught far from shore, don't try to swim all the way at full speed. You have to pace yourself or you get too tired and that's dangerous." Hercules swam around behind Jason. "Remember, how I pulled you from the river last month?"

Iolaus thought, "Sort of, you were behind me, holding me up and we didn't go straight to shore we angled our way out of the current."

"Right, if the person you're with is injured or unconscious." Hercules motioned for Jason to raise his arms. He lay back and let his body go limp in the water. Hercules continued, "You pull them to shore by their chin or an arm around their chest." Hercules demonstrated, "Got it?"

Iolaus nodded and Hercules continued. "Now if they are panicking. There is not much you can do because they are liable to pull you under with them and then you're both in trouble. Wanna try?"

"Yeah." They each took turns being the victim. Then they went even deeper and played a game diving to fetch a shell from the bottom.

Over lunch Jason commented, "You picked this up faster than planned."

"Thanks."

"So, since you were such a quick study how about we take that old boat over there and go fishing this afternoon?"

"Jason, that is the best idea you've had all week."

The three friends sprawled in the boat, their lines slack, dosing in the sun.

Something thumped the bottom of the boat.

Hercules looked over the side and saw a serpent's tail gliding through the water.

"Jason, give me your dagger."

Jason handed it over, "What do you want it for?"

Suddenly, Iolaus' line jerked, "Hey, I've got one!" he yelled as he held on to his pole fiercely. The boat began to move, pulled by the serpent who surfaced as it drug the tiny boat through the waves.

Iolaus' eyes had grown to saucers, "That's the biggest fish I've ever caught!"

"You haven't got it yet!" Jason yelled.

"Iolaus! Let go of the pole!" Hercules tried to wrestle it from him.

The serpent roared leaping into the air and dove deep. Iolaus released the pole but they were caught in the whirlpool created where the serpent disappeared.

All three were thrown violently from the splintering boat and the creature's tail smacked against the tiny craft.

Iolaus found himself under the water. He fought against the panic and the impenetrable darkness that threatened to smother him. He closed his eyes and tried to feel for the surface but couldn't make himself relax. He was running out of air. He opened his eyes and it was brighter to his right, he swam madly toward the light. Iolaus gulped air as he broke the surface and treaded water. He looked around. All was calm.

"Herc! Jason!" He couldn't find them. They weren't here. Iolaus panicked, looking around wildly. He found the shore. He was so far away, how was he supposed to make it that far? He was too far out. "Hercules!"

A body bobbed limply to the surface. Iolaus swam toward Jason's still form, biting back the panic. Jason needed him and panicking wouldn't help. He pulled Jason's arm to him and rolled him over on his back. He sighed with relief, Jason was still breathing. A nasty cut streamed blood from his forehead, down the side of his face and another on his arm which appeared to be broken. Part of the boat must've hit him or something. Jason moaned but didn't fully come to before losing consciousness completely.

Letting the injured arm dangle in the water, Iolaus took Jason by the chin and began slowly swimming toward the shore. He kept watching for Hercules but there was no sign of his friend.

Iolaus' arms and legs began to feel heavy and he realized that he was pushing himself too hard, he slowed down. It felt like it was taking forever to reach shore. Twice he thought he ought to be close enough to feel the bottom, but his feet couldn't find it. Finally, the sandy bottom brushed against his toes at last.

He drug Jason onto the beach and pulled him near the shelter of the treeline but left him in the warm sun. He gathered some wood and started a fire, all the while his eyes roaming the water for signs of Hercules.

Once he had the fire roaring warm enough to begin drying their clothes, he tore Jason's already torn shirt into strips.

"You can afford another anyway," he told his still unmoving friend.

He rinsed the strips in the freshwater stream and cleaned Jason's head wound before bandaging it. He bound Jason's arm to his side so it would remain immobile. Still, Jason did not stir. "Hey, buddy, I'm all alone here and I don't know how to find Hercules. I could use some advice. No? Ok, you take it easy then. I'll figure something out."

Iolaus walked back down to the water's edge, "Come on , Herc. Be out there." He watched awhile and tried not to think about the serpent who he hadn't seen since the boat was destroyed. He fervently hoped that his friend was not with the serpent.

Iolaus returned frequently to check on Jason who showed no signs of coming to. It caused Iolaus some concern as well. Iolaus debated whether or not he should leave Jason to go for help when his eye caught a glint of something reflecting from among the waves.

He craned his neck and stood on his toes for another glimpse. Yes, it was.

"Hercules!" he called as he ran into the water and began swimming out to meet him. Hercules was still farther out than he thought and it took him some time to reach his friend.

"Herc, you ok?" he asked as he neared at last.

Hercules waved weakly in response. "Have you seen Jason?"

"Yes, I've got him ashore with a pretty bad head wound. He's still out."

Hercules nodded and continued swimming wearily barely able to lift his arms out of the water.

"Herc, you're exhausted. Let me do the work for awhile."

Hercules stopped and looked at how far the shore still was and nodded. Iolaus moved in front of him and Hercules dutifully turned around and lay back against his friend. Iolaus put an arm around Hercules' chest and began pulling both of them toward shore.

"Bet you didn't figure we'd be using my new skills this soon, huh?"

Hercules smiled and lay his head back against Iolaus' arm and closed his eyes.

Iolaus wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer but thought he should ask. "Herc, where's the serpent?"

"I don't know, I got caught in his wake and pulled farther out to sea. He circled me a couple of times and I took a hunk out of his head with Jason's dagger, but I haven't seen him in awhile.

Iolaus wouldn't let Hercules drop in the sand. He supported him over to the fire. The sun was setting and the wind turning cool. "You stay here." Iolaus told Hercules who had no desire to be anywhere except snuggled up to the fire. Iolaus ran back through the trees to their previous camp and grabbed their carry sacks and blankets.

He made Hercules get out of his wet clothes and wrap up in a blanket. Jason stirred as Iolaus covered him and his eyes fluttered. He moaned and closed them again. Iolaus kneeled beside him.

"Jason?" he asked softly.

Jason moaned pitifully again, "What'd you do to me?"

"Nothing, it was a serpent, do you remember?"

Jason thought a moment, "Yeah, I think so. Whacked the boat?"

"Yeah," he raised Jason's head and held the waterskin so he could take a drink.

"My head hurts."

"I know it does. You've got a nasty gash there. Just take it easy and we'll get you back to your bed at the academy as soon as we can tomorrow, ok?"

"Sounds good." Jason closed his eyes.

Iolaus looked over the fire. Hercules was asleep already as well. He stripped off his still damp clothes and wrapped the third blanket around himself, settling against the trunk of the tree for the night. Exhaustion claimed him as soon as he closed his eyes.

The next morning Iolaus allowed both Hercules and Jason to sleep in. Unsure of how long or far Jason would be able to walk, Iolaus decided to rig a stretcher. When he returned with the poles, he found Hercules getting around slowly.

"Hey, you feeling ok?"

"Yeah, a little tired is all and a lot sore."

Iolaus nodded and tied on the poles to the sides of Jason's blanket. Jason stirred as Iolaus lifted the end of the stretcher.

"What are you doing?"

"Turning your blanket into transportation so I can pull you back to the academy."

"I can walk." Jason sat up and the whole world tilted at a sickening angle, "Ok, You can walk." He lay back down. Iolaus settled the straps he'd rigged up over his shoulders and began dragging Jason behind him.

"You want me to do that?" Hercules asked.

"Nah, I got it. You carry the rest of the stuff."

They stopped frequently for Iolaus to catch his breath and to let Hercules rest. They pulled into the academy courtyard late in the afternoon. The cadets were working outside. Cheiron spotted them first.

"What happened?" giving them all a critical once over.

"We had a little run in with a sea serpent." Iolaus replied matter-of-factly like that sort of thing happened every day.

Cheiron motioned a couple of cadets over, "Take Jason to the infirmary. Hercules? Are you alright?" Cheiron noted the dark circles under his eyes.

"I'm fine."

Iolaus begged to differ as he surrendered Jason to his fellow cadets. "The serpent pulled him out to sea. It took him hours and hours to swim ashore. He's exhausted."

"Was I really gone hours before you swam out to meet me?"

Cheiron stepped in front of Hercules and holding his chin, he looked deeply into his eyes gauging the speed of his reactions. Cheiron motioned toward the dormitory with a nod of his head, "Alright, off to bed with you. I'll be around to check on you later."

Cheiron watched Hercules slowly walk away. "Iolaus, am I to assume that you rescued both Hercules and Jason from the water?"

"Well, I pulled them both in to shore."

"Quite an accomplishment for someone afraid of the water, wouldn't you say?"

"Well, I just-"

Cheiron stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, "Iolaus, our fears are not easy things to overcome. I am proud of you. I think you could use some rest, too. You've had a busy couple of days. Why don't you follow Hercules. I'll send someone with dinner trays."

Iolaus suddenly realized exactly how tired he felt. He absently rubbed his sore shoulders and nodded his thanks.

Iolaus was roused from his doze by a moan of pain from Hercules who had obviously tried and failed to sit up.

"Easy, you've got a pretty nasty head wound."

"Is that why it hurts so much?" Hercules lay very still and willed the world to stop spinning.

"I'd say that you've definitely concussed yourself."

"That why you were telling me stories about swimming and serpents?" Hercules asked.

"You heard that?"

"Don't you hear when I talk to you?"

Iolaus smiled, "Yeah, I suppose."

"Well, I guess we can strike one more for the serpent," Hercules commented.

"Yeah, Hercules 2, Serpent 2, right?"

"Something like that. Where are we?"

"Somewhere near Attica, I think. I'll take a look around after sun up. Who knows, maybe you can meet my cousin, the King. I'd have to be inconspicuous but it'd be a good place for you to rest for a couple of days.

"I don't know if I can handle two of you, my head hurts already."

The end

No sea serpents were harmed during the writing of this story. However, both younger and older Hercules' did sustain minor injuries so that Iolaus could play the hero.

28 September 1999

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