DISCLAIMER: Young Hercules and all the characters that lie within the T.V show, regrettably, do not belong to me. And believe me, I would love to lay claim to Dean O'Gorman, especially wearing Iolaus's leather pants. Yow. But I digress - this is purely for entertainment purposes only, so don't sue - you didn't really want the lint in my pockets anyway. We college students generate a lot of lint.

RATING: R - if you're not a fan of graphic descriptions of violence turn back now.

FEEDBACK: Anyone who knows me, knows that feedback is my addiction! Constructive criticism is indeed welcome but flamers will be attacked by my pet Squirtle, my right-hand pokemon. (did they have pokemon in Ancient Greece? Ooooh! Cross over time!!)

Yes, Shadowcat. I know it's been done. I remain in awe of your talent.

NOTES: I really am a fan of H:TLJ and X:WP shows - I thought Young Hercules was some lame idea to over-saturate the market and boost ratings. Well, I ate my fair share of crow after watching a couple of eps, and the one thing that struck me was the friendshup the writers carefully cultivated between Hercules and Iolaus. Since that's a big part of both shows, it's a big part of my story. Capiche? No? Too bad. Deal with it.

Also, this is in response to a challenge set out by Athena001 on the posting list. Read and cast thy votes accordingly!

ADDITIONAL: Thoughts shown by use of: (_ _)

Part 1

_Apollo must be putting in some overtime_, Iolaus thought wryly, raising an arm to wipe the sweat from his brow. Squinting up at the blazing sun, he snorted at the thought of the conceited young deity doing actual work. _That'll be the day_. Smiling, he headed back to the Academy, the jingle in his moneybag music to his ears. Who would have thought working at Kora's Tavern would be so profitable? Especially since he had finally learned that the dishes were meant to be handled carefully - that way they wouldn't break. He nodded wisely to himself - learning that little rule had almost doubled his paycheck. He began to whistle, increasing his pace until he was almost bouncing instead of walking. He'd been kind of surprised that neither Hercules, nor Jason had shown up at Kora's for dinner - the cooking there was ten times better then what the Academy cooks dished up for the cadets. He should know - Kora had warned him again about sampling tidbits from the plates of customers before sending them to the tables. Iolaus grinned widely. _Much tastier_. Iolaus rounded a corner along the path and came into sight of the Academy. The huge stone walls, built for protection, gave the Academy the image of a prison, especially with cadet sentries posted on the roof, bow and arrow at the ready. Iolaus shuddered slightly - he knew what prisons were like. The Academy was no prison. Sometimes Iolaus marvelled at the twists and turns of fate that had led him here - instead of a prison cell. In his former life as a thief, he'd never imagined that life could be like this. He had a warm bed every night, three square meals a day, was in training to become a warrior, and for the first time in his young life, he had friends. Real friends. Not like Cradus and his gang. Iolaus's eyes darkened slightly at the memories of his former associates coming to the Academy to rob the place blind. But they had been stopped, he reminded himself. Stopped by Hercules. A smile lit up his face at the thought of his best friend. If there was one person Iolaus knew he could always count on to back him up, it was the young demi-god he'd befriended back in Thebes. Hercules, half-god, half-mortal, the son of Zeus, was his best friend. And his other friend was Jason, Crown Prince of Corinth. _You know what they say about friends in high places_, he smiled to himself. As he walked up the Academy's main gates, he suddenly noticed the lack of students, milling about the grounds. Training exercises were done for the day, and students had the time before curfew to spend as they wished. But there was no one in the main yard. " Hmmm.." he murmered, crossing his arms in perplexetion. He glanced back up at the wall - the cadet perched there had waved him in but Iolaus had barely acknowledged him. Now though, the small blond studied the weary frame held rigid as the sentry cast his eyes about nervously, as though he were expecting an attack. About to call to him and ask what was going on, Iolaus was rewarded with the sight of Jason leaving the stables and heading towards him, a slight limp in his steps. Dirt marred his princely features and exhaustion was written across his face. His eyes though, relaxed at the sight of Iolaus. " Iolaus - glad you're back. We could use the help."

Iolaus immeditely went to him and helped support him. Jason thanked him with a grateful nod. " What happened?"

Jason snorted. " Strife and Discord happened. Again."

Iolaus blinked. " Yeesh, again? What is that, the fourth time in nearly two weeks?"

" Something like that," Jason said. Iolaus glanced about the courtyard again, scanning for some sign of Hercules.

" Jase? Was Herc..."

" Huh?" Jason glanced at him and saw the worry on Iolaus's face. He shook his head. " Nah, Herc's okay. I guess. Since the attack ended, he's been running himself ragged trying to repair the damage. He feels responsible for it, even though we've told him it wasn't his fault."

" Ah, but you know the big guy." Iolaus and Jason reached the infirmary doors. " You gonna be okay? I want to go check on him."

" That's a switch - I thought it was you we had to babysit!" Jason chuckled as he went through the door, missing the playful swat Iolaus aimed at him by inches.

Iolaus headed back out to the main yard and went to the stables. After all, if Jason had been working there, that's the first place Herc would be, he reasoned. He quickened his pace. Hercules had a tendency to blame himself for everything the gods did, and therefore had to make up for whatever damage they caused. But even Hercules's unbelievable stamina had limits, and if Jason had said Hercules was looking tired, it had to mean he was exhausted but refusing to show it. Concern for his friend rose in him. It wasn't only that though. Hercules had been kind of...moody, for the past few days. Iolaus didn't know what caused it, but the demi-god had barely been eating, and his nights had been filled with restless sleep, tossing and turning in a vain attempt to find peace of mind. Asking him what was wrong, Iolaus had been brushed away with Hercules stating he'd deal with it. _He's my best friend. If he needs space, I'll give him space. But I'm not gonna let him drop dead from exhaustion_.

Reaching the stables, Iolaus stuck his head inside and was nearly hit with a bale of hay.

" Hey!" he yelped in mock outrage. Then he stopped. " Or should that be, `Hay' ?" He looked around to see if the joke had registered but there was no response." Hercules?"

" In here," a muffled voice answered him, and Iolaus made his way past bales of hay and piles of manure until he saw Hercules repairing the back wall of the stable, pausing long enough to reach down and toss another mini-haystack out of his way. " You missed all the fun."

" So I hear." Iolaus studied his friend intently. Dirt streaked Hercules's tunic and leather pants, soot blackening areas of his arms and legs. " Did you get burned?"

" Huh?" Hercules paused in his hammering. He glanced down as if just realizing the state he was in, and then shrugged. " Not really."

Iolaus scowled. " Does Cheiron know you've been burned?"

" It's not a burn, " Hercules snapped, patience wearing thin. Weariness was evident throughout him and Iolaus noted with concern, the faint trembling in his friends hands and limbs. Herc resumed hammering. " I just got a little too close to one of Strife's damned fireballs."

Iolaus stepped beside him. " Why don't ya let me finish this, and you take a breather?" He suggested casually, hand out to receive the hammer. Hercules gave him a faint smile.

" Thanks, but I got it." About to continue, hooves striking the ground reached both their ears and they turned to see Cheiron standing in the archway to the stables.

" Hercules, let Iolaus finish this part. I'd like to take a look at the wounds you sustained." The centaurs's tone was curiously gentle.

Hercules raked an impatient hand through his hair. " I said, I'll do it!" His voice was hard, but both cadet and teacher heard the note of desperation in his voice.

" What happened today, wasn't your fault," Cheiron said calmly, staring evenly at his student. Hercules snorted derisively.

" Oh, and I suppose Strife and Discord came here to attack you guys. It had nothing to do with me at all, of course!" Sarcasm laced his words, heavy and thick. Iolaus watched as his friend seemed to sway a bit on his feet and he subtley moved closer to offer his support should Hercules need it. Cheiron shook his head.

" You didn't ask for them to come-"

" You're right!" Hercules cut his teacher off in mid-sentence. " I didn't ask for them to come and attack the Academy. I didn't ask for them to come and hurt Jason and the other cadets. I didn't ask for THIS!" Hercules voice had raised with each word until he was shouting at his teacher. Iolaus watched, stunned, as Hercules abruptly sat down on a leftover bale of hay, and scrubbed his face with his hands. But when he looked up, there was no evidence of tears. No emotion showed from his face. Iolaus felt a twinge of worry at that. Like himself, Hercules's face sometimes read as a scroll, emotions written on his features as plain as day. But this time there was nothing. Only a great tiredness that seemed to envelope and crush him. Iolaus shook himself and walked over.

" Come on, big guy - time for beddy-bye," he grinned, hoping to ease the tension. Hercules gave him an exasperated look. " Don't do that - your face will freeze."

" Too bad your tongue won't," the demi-god muttered, but Iolaus knew he'd won that round. Hercules sighed as he allowed himself to be pulled up - it was impossible to be actually angry at Iolaus. Iolaus flashed Cheiron a quick look and then walked his best friend to the barracks. Cheiron watched the two of them, his face furrowed in thought.

_There is something more at work here_, the centaur mused. _But Iolaus is well-equipped to handle the problem. If Hercules will let him_.

* * *

Hercules laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his bunk, drawing in a deep breath. Holding it for a second, he released it shakily, in an effort to relax himself. It didn't work. Swearing under his breath, he sat upright and leaned forward until his forhead rested on his knees.

" You're losing it, guy," he muttered to himself. Closing his eyes brought back the events that had transpired and watched the scene unfold in his head, piece by piece. Strife and Discord had shown up. No elaborate plan or scheme this time, just good old-fashioned mayhem. They had appeared in a burst of light, scattering the cadets in the midst of their morning drills, and launched fireballs in every direction. Lighting up the sky in a brilliant display of colors matching anything the Rainbow Goddess Iris could dish out, the fireballs also caused some big-league damage. Hercules opened his eyes and stared at the far wall, counting in his head. Three damaged walls, one obliterated well, and four cadets in the infirmary, including the Crown Prince of Corinth. " Good thing Iolaus had been at Kora's else he would've been a target too."

" Target for what?" Ioluas appeared in the doorway, with some bandages in one hand, and a bucket of water in the other.

" Nothing." Hercules pressed his fingers to his temples, hissing as his aching arms protested at the movement, slow as it was. Iolaus nodded.

" Okay big guy - time to become the Academy's official mascot mummy!" he said gleefully, holding the bandages up to Hercules face. Herc pushed them away.

" I'm fine Iolaus."

" Um, no. You're not," Iolaus corrected him as he tossed the cloth at his divine buddy and placed the bucket at his feet. " Clean those burns carefully - unless you want a sponge bath?" He waggled his eyebrows with exaggerated suggestiveness. Hercules stared at him, until finally a smile cracked his somber face and he accepted the cloth. Dampening it, he began to rid the wounds of dirt and various debris. Iolaus sat down to observe.

" So what would I have been a target for?" he asked after awhile. Herc looked up.

" What do you mean? Everyone was a target." He gave a slight yelp as he wiped one particularly nasty bruise a little too hard. Iolaus shook his head sadly.

" Why do I get the feeling you're lying to me?" he asked mournfully. Then he became serious. " Herc, why won't you talk to me?"

Hercules chose to avoid the question, and tossed the cloth back into the bucket. Reaching over, he snagged the bandages and began to wind them around his arms. Iolaus helped tie them off.

" You don't trust me?" Iolaus finally asked, a slight note of hurt entering his voice. Hercules raised his eyes.

" You know that's not even an issue," he said flatly. Iolaus shrugged.

" Then what's up?" he pressed.

Hercules stood up abruptly, causing Iolaus to yelp as his stool tipped back. Flailing his arms wildly, he and the stool fell to the floor.

" Warn me when you're gonna do that," he muttered as he rubbed his hip. Hercules extended his hand and pulled him up.

" Sorry."

" Answer the question."

" What do you want me to say?" Hercules finally snapped at him. He ran his fingers through his blond mop in agitation. Iolaus merely blinked at him, not impressed by the dramatics. He could sense that Hercules was trying to keep something from him, something that was eating him up. And if his behaviour from the last few days was any indication, it was something that had been festering for awhile. Iolaus found himself wishing that Herc would give in to the anger and go punch his hand through a wall or something, rather then let the rage build up. _The problem with Herc is that he doesn't know how to vent properly_, Iolaus decided. _And if he thinks I'm gonna let him slide, then he's got another think coming!_

" I want you to stop dancing around the issue. What. Is. Eating. You?" he said, drawing his words out slowly and clearly, as though Hercules were a dense child.

Suddenly, all the energy seemed to seep out of Hercules, and he sank down on the opposite bunk. " It's my fault," he mumbled quietly. " Everything that went down today, was my fault."

" How do you figure?" Iolaus punctuated that question with a puzzled look. Herc stared at the wall, eyes distant.

" Discord and Strife came specifically to hurt everyone but me today," he admitted, once again immersed in the memories of the day. " The only reason I got burned was because I tried to put out a fire near the stables." He rubbed his face tiredly. " They know they can't kill me, and so they were just passing time until they can come up with a new scheme to try and take me out without bringing the wrath of my father-" he spat the word out as though it had a foul taste. "- down on their heads!"

" Herc, you can't blame yourself because two dimwitted gods got bored and decided to cause trouble."

" Yes I can. They caused the trouble here." Herc suddenly looked right at Iolaus. Iolaus shuddered at the intense pain and guilt within. _At least the mask is gone_, he thought. Hercules continued. " If I hadn't been here, the Academy would still be in one piece. Do you know how many injuries there have been because of the gods, how many things we've had to repair, since I became a student here?" Ioluas didn't know what to say. " It would have been better if I'd never come here at all." _Or ever been born_, an inner voice told him accusingly. Iolaus stood up and looked at his half-mortal friend.

" That's bull, Herc, and you know it." He crouched down in front of Hercules, trying to look him in the eyes. " You've done a lot of good since coming here, and besides, what would me and Jason do if you left? What would I do? You're my best friend!"

" And that automatically makes you a target!" Hercules shot back, and stood up. " Look, I need to go for a walk, do some thinking."

" Need some company?" Iolaus asked, hoping Hercules would say yes. But the demi-god shook his head.

" Thanks for the offer but I need some space. See ya later, okay?" With that, Hercules whirled around and stalked out of the barracks. Iolaus stood up and hesitated, debating whether or not to follow his stubborn friend. Finally he sighed, turned and picked up the discarded cloth and bucket, determined to knock some sense into Herc's head when he came back.

* * *

" Oh this is too much! " Strife squealed in excitement. Discord smiled haughtily at him, agreeing.

" Poor baby brother," she sighed. Then her eyes lit up with fiendish glee. " We should pay him another visit tomorrow!"

" Good idea!" Strife snapped his fingers and a bowl of succulent fruit appeared before him. Snatching up a banana, he crammed the whole fruit into his mouth at once and struggled to chew. Discord watched him, disgust mingling with amusement on her pale features.

" Watching you eat is like watching a chariot wreck - disgusting and horrible, but at the same time, a source of entertainment," she mused as a crystal goblet appeared in her hand. Taking a sip of the golden liquid ambrosia, she watched as Strife succeeded in swallowing the banana before turning to her and sticking out his tongue. " Oh, that was mature."

About to answer, Strife was cut off by the flash of light that signaled the arrival of Ares, the God of War. The black-leather clad god strode over to them and with a single strike, had both of them pinned to the wall with twin beams of energy. Discord heaved a sarcastic sigh.

" Now what did we do?" she snapped in exasperation. Ares shook his head.

" Little sister," Ares purred in his silky smooth tone. " Normally I'd congratulate you on a job well done. I mean, you're driving Hercules crazy - that's bonus points for you."

" And me too!" whined Strife. He whimpered as Ares glared at him. Discord scowled.

" Then what, exactly, is your problem?" she asked, gesturing to the energy beams pinning them to the wall of his temple. Ares chuckled, a dark sound that made even Discord nervous.

" My problem is, your idea about doing this again tomorrow. And again, the next day. Do we see a pattern here?"

" I still don't know what's got your tunic in a twist," she growled. Ares let the energy dissipate and the two smaller gods hit the ground with a thunk. As they slowly got to their feet, Ares sighed. As usual, he'd have to explain everything.

" Have you forgotten the fact that all mortals, to some degree, are under the protection of Zeus?"

" No," said Strife. " But we were just having fun!" He snickered at the memory of the fleeing cadets. Ares nodded.

" Fun." One quick blow and Strife struck the wall again.

" Ow," he complained, getting back to his feet. Ares sighed again.

" When you continuously attack the same mortals over and over again, you're just asking to draw the attention of Zeus. And since his beloved son, my worthless half-brother goes to that Academy, the odds of him seeing what's going on, increases. Do you understand yet?"

" Oh please," snorted Discord. " It's not like we've killed anybody yet."

" Not for the lack of trying anyway," piped in Strife. This time, it was Discord who struck the annoying godling, flinging him head over heels. Ares looked vaguely amused, but then, his gaze hardened.

" Zeus won't be happy with you if you destroy the Academy for no reason. Especially if Hercules is put into danger. And he'll blame me by association. Though I could care less, because they need me around for balance, I'd rather not run the risk of being out back on trial. Especially because of you two. Again." He eyed them dangerously.

" But that protection order keeps him from danger," Strife objected. Then he paused. " Doesn't it?"

" Yes, half-wit," Ares snarled. " To a point. He can be hurt - heck, I've hurt him a few times myself. But I can't kill him."

" And therein lies the problem," purred Discord, lazily running her hands over the armrests of Ares throne. An idea struck her and her eyes flashed devilishly.

" What's on your mind, sis?" Ares asked, seeing the familiar, plotting expression on Discord's face. " Share with the class." His gentle tone hid the tint of command, but Discord heard it loud and clear.

" What if Hercules voluntarily gave up his protection order?" she asked. Ares grunted.

" And for a minute, I thought you grew a brain cell. It only gets renounced if Zeus himself decrees it open season on our dear brother. And he'll never do that to his coddled favourite!" Anger stormed across his face. Then just as suddenly, the storm abated and his eyes took on a crafty expression that Discord and Strife knew all to well.

" If Hercules gave up his protection order it wouldn't do much. But if he pledged his life to me, I'd be free to do what I want to him, short of killing him that is." Ares smiled evilly. Strife looked slightly confused, and he raised his hand tentatively. At Ares glare, he shrunk back into himself with a yip, but he still spoke cautiously.

" Why on earth would Hercules pledge his life to you? I mean, the guy hates ya - and who could blame him?" Strife suddenly chuckled at the thought. " I mean, he'd have to be a complete idiot to-"

" That's enough!" Ares roared, backhanding Strife. The godling flew through the air and landed in Discord's lap on Ares throne. Then Ares shrugged, straightening his black leathers. " But you raise a good point. How to get Hercules to swear allegiance to me..."

Discord let out a peal of laughter and stood up, unceremoniously dumping Strife to the floor. " By letting me and Strife do what we planned!"

Ares looked at her. " You've got my attention, sis."

" It's so simple!" she insisted. " Hercules will do anything to spare the live of his friends. So we make him a deal - he becomes your willing slave, and in exchange.."

"..we promise to leave his little friends alone!" Ares finished with a chuckle. He eyed his sister appreciatively. " You know, sometimes it's worth the aggravation, keeping you two around."

The three gods began to laugh as their plan began to take shape and grow before them.

* * *

" Jason!" Iolaus clapped his friend on the back lightly. " Good to see you on your feet. Sort of. What is that?" He pointed at the strange walking stick Jason seemed to have wedged underneath his arm. Jason looked at it.

" Huh? Oh that - Cheiron made it for me, to help me walk. The little armrest here makes it more comfortable. He calls it a crutch."

" A crutch, huh?" Iolaus eyed the deformed walking stick. " Well, you know those crazy centaurs."

" Ha! Hey - have you seen Hercules?" Jason scratched his head absently. " I haven't seen him since you dropped me off and left me in the hands of Feducious." He shot Iolaus a dangerous look. " Thanks, by the way."

" Hey, Feducious IS a healer you know," Iolaus chuckled. " I'm just glad it was you, and not me!"

" I'll bet."

" I haven't seen Hercules," Iolaus continued, abruptly changing the subject before Jaosn could carry on. " I tried to talk to him earlier but he's got himself in a funk and left for a walk. I haven't seen him since."

" Funk? And you call centaurs crazy...."" Jason grinned as he shifted his weight slightly. Then his face grew a little more serious. " He hasn't come back yet?"

" No." Iolaus stopped smiling and raked a hand through his mop of tangled curls in a rare display of uncertainty. " He wouldn't admit that what happened wasn't his fault."

" Well, you know how he is Iolaus," Jason objected, a faint frown on his face. " He probably just needs to let off some steam. He'll be all right."

" Will he?" Iolaus asked him, head quirked to the side. " I don't think Herc knows how to let off steam. He's wound tighter then lacings on quarter staffs."

Jason smothered a laugh that threatened to erupt at the analogy. " True."

" Hey - you don't think he'll do something stupid, do you? Challenge Ares or something? " Iolaus suddenly asked, worry tinting his voice. Jason shook his head.

" Nah. He's too smart for that." Stifling a yawn, Jason blinked sleepily. " Look, I'm gonna turn in early tonight."

" You go ahead. With your crutch!" Iolaus giggled at the weird device once more before turning around. Jason stopped him with look.

" Where are you going?"

" Here and there," he gestured vaguely. Under Jason's pointed stare, he wilted and admitted sheepishly, " I'm gonna see if I can find Herc and knock some sense into him. Geez, you've got that I'm-the-King stare down pat, don't you?"

" Part of the job my friend!" Jason chuckled before waving him off. " Go bring him back, Iolaus. If anyone can find him, you can."

" Yeah," Iolaus agreed. " Besides, with his tracking skills, Herc's probably lost in the woods by now, waiting for us - or should I say ME - to come to his rescue!"

A final clasp of hands in a warrior's handshake, and Iolaus set off into the woods, the twilight fading away from scarlet reds and brilliant yellows, to the dusky purple's and blues of the night.

* * *

" Can't you do ANYTHING right?" Hercules seethed at himself, clenching his fists angrily. He closed his eyes tightly, and took a deep breath, trying to calm the rage that was coursing through him. He's never felt so frustrated and isolated before. Knowing that what had happened at the academy was his fault had caused a wellspring of guilt to form in the pit of his stomach and seeing Jason battered and bruised hadn't helped. And now, he was LOST! Hercules didn't know whether to laugh or bang his head against the nearest rock. He wanted to scream, he wanted to cry. He wanted to berate himself for getting lost when the last thing the Academy needed to do was send out a search party. He wanted to apologize to Iolaus for sounding like such a jerk. He wanted to curse his father for protecting him, and at the same time he wanted to thank his father for keeping Ares and his little followers from being able to kill him. Then guilt for knowing that he was spared and the others were at risk, nearly choked him.

Crouching down, he tugged mutely at his hair, fingers entwining the golden tendrils in an attempt to try and sort out his feelings. Memories assaulted him and the backlash of so much anger and guilt overwhelmed in such a brutal fashion that he screamed and lashed out, letting his fist fly into the boulder next to him. A sickening crack met his ears and when he opened his eyes, a pile of fine dust was all that remained. He stared at it in wonder for a moment, flexing his fingers gingerly.

" That hurt," he said, so-matter-of-factly that he had to laugh, a shrill noise that didn't sound natural. But it had felt good to finally release some of the pent up emotion and he found that while he still had the rage within him, he felt a little calmer. He now understood why Iolaus was always telling him to break things when he was upset. Suddenly, the sound of applause reached his ears and he whirled around, automatically falling into a defensive crouch. His eyes widened when he saw who it was.

" Ares," he breathed, hatred igniting his brown eyes with fire. " What are you doing here?"

" Just watching you, little bro!" Ares chuckled in a low tone. He stooped next to where the doomed boulder had once rested and sifted his hand through the gravel, whistling appreciatively. " Nice job."

" What do you want?" Hercules asked, his voice hard and cold. The God of War straightened and casually dusted his hands on his leather tunic.

" You."

" Huh?" Hercules stepped back. Ares laughed again.

" Oh come on bro - we're family! Lighten up!" His eyes flashed dangerously. " I'd hate to have to resort to violence during a family meeting."

" I'm not afraid of you Ares," Hercules snarled, fighting to keep from attacking Ares right then and there.

" Oh I know you aren't, little brother," Ares agreed with him. " But what about your friends at that little Academy?"

Ares words knifed through Hercules's heart, freezing him where he stood. Ares grinned.

" Ooh, that did it!" Another laugh. " I mean, seriously - what's to keep me from just incinerating the whole place, just to spite you?"

" You stay away from them, Ares!" Hercules growled, rage creeping into his voice. His knuckles white, he took a step forward, fists clenched. " Your fight is with me!"

" Oh I know that. But daddy's little protection order keeps me from having any fun," Ares said, curling his mouth into a mocking pout.

" I fight my own battles."

" No, you don't. Dear old dad does." Ares stopped for a second. " Try saying that three times fast!"

" Then what do you want?" Hercules asked, suddenly sounding defeated. Ares smiled, a sinister display devoid of any emotion, save hatred.

" I want you," Ares said flatly. " I want you to be my willing slave. I may not be able to kill you, but heck, I'll still get to have my fun. And in return, you get my solemn vow that I'll leave your precious Academy alone."

Hercules was silent for a moment. " If you want to hurt me, why go to all this trouble?" He finally asked, confused. " Why do you want me to come with you?"

" If you are my willing slave, agreeable to whatever I say, then Zeus cannot interfere, no matter what." Ares eyes lit up at the thought of torturing his meddlesome half-brother. " I just can't kill you."

Again, time dragged its feet as Hercules considered Ares words. Then he looked up, pale-faced but determined. " How do I know you'll keep your word not to harm the Academy?"

" I swear by Zeus and Hera - the Academey is safe from harm by me or my followers, so long as you remain my prisoner." A bolt of lightening from his hand struck the sky at his words, splitting the night air with a resounding clap of thunder. He held out his hand to his brother, power coursing through him, a mocking smile playing about his lips. " Seal the deal, bro."

Hercules raised his hand slowly to take the War God's. Just as his fingers touched the swirling energy, a panicked shout burst free from the woods, and Iolaus, battered and windblown, erupted into the clearing.

" No! Hercules, DON'T!"

Whatever answer Hercules was going to shout, was drowned out by the roaring winds. Just as he felt himself vanish with the God of War, his calm eyes met the frantic gaze of his friend's and he mouthed, _I'm sorry_. Then darkness swept over him, and he felt himself fall headfirst into oblivion.