For Love's Own Sake

For Love's Own Sake

By WynonaRose (Darla P.)

Hercules and his family had left over a week and a half ago to attend the wedding of a niece. Iolaus had stayed behind in Corinth to help some of the townspeople with repairs after an out-of-season storm. With Iphicles gone, Iolaus had the run of the castle and was making the most of the quiet, but was avoiding Falafel's food as much as possible.

Iolaus wasn't too worried about how long they'd been gone, until the family showed up without Hercules. Iphicles said that Hercules had been traveling with the family, but had received an urgent message and left the group hurriedly without giving anyone a destination. That had been three days ago.

Now, Iolaus wasn't only worried, he was mad. Hercules should have let them know where he was going so Iolaus could join him there.

Iolaus left with Jason and Alcemene the next morning for their home in Thebes. The weather was strange for the middle of summer. The sky was dark and gray, the air chilly. Jason pushed the horses just a little faster. He didn't want to get caught in a storm. As they rode, Alcemene filled Iolaus in on the details of the wedding and the parties that had followed. He could see the worry in her eyes when she told him of the strange messenger who had approached them seemingly out of nowhere. He wore all black, with a deep cowl, just like an executioner would wear. She said that Hercules wouldn't discuss the note, but went immediately with the stranger. Iphicles had asked Hercules where he was going, but he replied that it was better they not know.

After another week staying at Jason's, Iolaus couldn't stand it anymore. He was worried sick, and so were Alcemene and Jason. The weather was depressing, the fireplace burning all the time to keep the unusual cold at bay. He told Jason he was going to trace their route and see if he could tell where Hercules had broken off from them. He could see the fear in Alcemene's eyes. The hug from Alcemene and the handshake from Jason lasted longer than usual. They all had an unshakable feeling of foreboding.

The wind against him all the way made travel slow for Iolaus. It took him two days to reach the spot that Jason had said to look for. He found Hercules' footprints striding confidently away from the trail. The odd thing was, there were no footprints for the messenger! Pulling his cloak tighter and trying to shake the terror that was beginning to build inside him, Iolaus set off after the single line of prints.

The next day he entered a hilly canyon, the rocky ground making it almost impossible to follow the trail that was blowing steadily away. Finally, Iolaus had to admit that he no longer had a trail he could follow. He sat down, worry eating at him.

He jumped nearly out of his skin when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. He spun and had his sword unsheathed before he even realized he'd done it. The dark figure in front of him had to be the messenger. He fit Alcemene's description exactly.

"Where's Hercules?" Iolaus demanded.

The hooded head turned to face up the mountainous trail, but no sound was made. The dark specter started walking. Iolaus had no choice but to follow.

Several hours later the man-thing stopped and indicated a deep indentation in the rocky walls then disappeared right in front of him. Iolaus was exhausted, hungry and angry. He assumed he was meant to spend the night in that hole, and since a freezing wind was blowing through the narrow cliffs he decided that would probably be a good idea. He sat down and took out some dried beef and cheese that Alcemene had packed for him three days before. His waterskin was almost drained and he hadn't seen any source of water since he'd left the trail the day before. He knew Hercules probably had no food or water with him when he'd left his family.

Iolaus slept fitfully, cold and uncomfortable, anxious to be on his way to find Hercules. At the dawn's first feeble ray of sunlight the specter stood before him and again motioned him to follow. Iolaus was upset and reached out to grab hold of his untalkative host. He staggered when his hand and arm went right through the cloaked figure. He looked at his hand wonderingly. He clearly remembered the creature had touched him on the shoulder yesterday. This thing could touch, but not be touched.

His guide kept going as if nothing had happened, so Iolaus, too, kept walking. 'This is strange,' he mumbled to himself. 'This is very strange.'

They climbed until nearly dark. That is, Iolaus climbed. The messenger seemed to glide up the high rocks.

Again they approached a place with a small protected spot. Again the specter was going to leave him. "NO!" Iolaus shouted angrily. "I have to know what's happened to Hercules!"

At first he thought he would receive no answer, but after several moments the figure waved a skeletal hand in a large circle. Within the circle was a vision. It was Hercules. He was lying chained to the top of a huge rock. He wasn't moving.

"Why?" Iolaus asked, again not expecting an answer. The hand made another circle, this time showing Iolaus himself. He was being beaten senseless by a group of man-shaped beasts. Hera's peacock eyes were visible in the sky above him. Iolaus watched the scene unfold with scarcely a breath.

He saw himself broken and bleeding. There were many spots where the skin had been stripped from his body. He could see deep wounds where the horns of the beasts had impaled his stomach and legs. He could hear the beasts grunt and snort, and he could hear his own moans and cries of agony.

Then he saw Hercules follow the black-garbed figure into the clearing. He saw Hercules beat off the last of the beasts, but not before a horn pierced Iolaus' eye. Still, Iolaus was conscious. The healthy Iolaus saw Hercules kneel tenderly next to him with tears streaming from his eyes as he looked up at Hera with all the hatred he had ever felt. Iolaus heard a heart wrenching 'NOOOOO' issue from his friend's mouth. He then heard Hera's response.

"Your father protects you Hercules. But if you will give me yourself willingly he can do nothing. Swear your life to me and I'll let your friend go, whole and uninjured."

Iolaus heard his battered body draw a ragged breath. He listened carefully as the injured Iolaus spoke quietly, "No, Hercules. Don't do it. I'm already dead. Don't let her trick you." The words were painful for him, but he said them proudly.

The healthy Iolaus gulped and silently urged his friend to deny his horrible stepmother. But the desires of both Iolaus' were to be dashed as Hercules lifted his friend in his arms and said the words that made both Iolaus' shudder. "All right, Hera. You've finally won. Give my friend back to the world with his health intact and I'll pledge my life to you."

"No," the injured Iolaus cried.

"No!" the healthy Iolaus echoed.

The guide then disappeared and left Iolaus to cry alone in the alcove of the cliffs. By morning he had determined that he would fight Hera with every breath he had!

The deathly specter again appeared at first light and they continued up the mountain. By noon they had reached the summit. Iolaus could see the rock and chains that held Hercules captive. He ran forward but slammed into an invisible barrier so hard that he nearly knocked himself out. He fell backwards on the ground, crawled forward and felt the barrier. He followed it around the rock. Reaching as high as he could, and even trying to dig under it. He couldn't get in.

Hercules was awake now, looking around and trying to break the chains. Iolaus called to him but it was as if he were invisible, too. Soon, Hercules was able to release himself from the chains. His wrists and ankles were bloodied with the effort, but he was free. Still, he didn't seem able to see Iolaus.

Suddenly, the beast men were surrounding Hercules. As quickly as Hercules would dispatch one, a fresh one would replace it. The wounds on Iolaus' friend were becoming more and more grave as Hercules was worn to exhaustion by the never ending procession of tormentors. Iolaus pounded desperately on the barrier, but couldn't get in to help. Finally, a last lunge by one of the ferocious beings tore Hercules open from hip to chest. A fatal wound. A mortal wound. The beasts disappeared, so did the barrier. Iolaus ran forward ignoring the gigantic eyes looking at him from the sky, reaching from horizon to horizon. The dark specter just stood and watched while Iolaus tried to staunch the profuse bleeding of his dearest friend. Hercules looked him in the eye. Sorrow on his face. "I'm sorry to leave you alone, my friend. We always wondered if I was immortal. Now we know." A cough wracked Hercules' body with fresh pain while blood bubbled out of the side of his mouth.

Iolaus held his friend tightly and yelled angrily at the sky. "Why would you do this to a man who does only good? You stupid EVIL witch! You can't do this. Hercules is protected by Zeus himself."

The answer came from everywhere, and nowhere, at once. "Zeus himself allowed me this one opportunity. I would be a fool not to take it while I have the chance."

"Well, you can't have him," Iolaus screamed at her. "You can have me, but you can't have him! I'll trade you. I'll be your servant forever! I'll do anything you say, but you can't have Hercules!"

With those words the gray sky opened up into bright sunlight, the peacock eyes squinting in anger.

Hercules sat up, completely unhurt. The two friends looked at each other in shock. "You're okay," they both said at exactly the same time.

The black specter turned into Zeus, who waved his fist at the sky. "Game's over, Hera. You lost! I kept my end of the bargain, now you be a good little wife and keep yours!"

The furious eyes threatened the sky with dark angry clouds, but a wave of Zeus' hand blew them away.

Hercules and Iolaus just stared at Zeus. Hercules found his tongue first. "Game?" he stammered. "That was a game?"

"It was a gamble, son, and the stakes were high, but I had faith in both of you."

"You better start explaining yourself." Hercules warned.

"I was getting tired of Hera constantly picking on you two. So, I made her a deal, a proposition. I would let her have her way with you once and for all, unless...you BOTH agreed to give up your life for the other. It was love that saved you both. So we set up a little play-acting, got you both here, and the two of you did the rest. I know you both well enough to know that each of you would die for the other. Each of you would sell yourself into slavery for the life of the other. Now she has to leave you both alone."

"For how long?" Hercules asked suspiciously.

"That's not a point we ever agreed on. But hopefully a good long time."

"You actually think she'll keep her word?" Iolaus asked sarcastically.

"She swore in front of all the Olympians. She has little choice. Now go on home, you two, and breathe easy for a while." With a wave of Zeus' hand they were standing in Alcemene's garden.

"Were you ever really hurt?" Hercules asked Iolaus.

"No, were you?"

"No, it was all just an elaborate illusion."

"Ya know, it's kinda scary what your family calls games."

"Boy, don't I know it," Hercules agreed with an arm around Iolaus' shoulders as they walked into the house.

-- THE END --

Hercules and Iolaus belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. They were used without permission. No copyright infringement intended. No money was made.