Disclaimer - these characters are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures and no attempt is made to infringe the copyright thereof. We are just borrowing them and will give them back at the end of the story!


By Cass

Hercules was unaware of the passage of time as he sat atop the cliff, brooding over his most recent, tragic loss, when he became aware of another's presence behind him.

"How long have you been there?" he enquired, softly, knowing instinctively, without turning around, the identity of his observer.

"I ... er ... not long," came the hesitant reply, accompanied by the sound of dislodged pebbles as Iolaus made his way down the steep, rocky incline toward his friend. "I just wanted to make sure ... that is, I was worried ... I ..." His voice trailed away as he fought for the right words and found none.

Hercules smiled briefly. Didn't his friend know that his mere presence here, the love which brought him to the demigod's side, was comfort in itself? The waves of concern which he could feel emanating from the other man went a long way toward slowing the copious bleeding of a heart which had been sliced into a million pieces with Serena's murder. At the same time however, the devotion of his friend only served to emphasise the bond between them and itself filled him with a raw terror, adding new layers to the walls he was carefully erecting around his raw emotions. Everyone he loved died. The Gods saw to that. Deianera, his children and now, Serena. It was a miracle that Iolaus had survived as long as he had and that only because he himself had intervened on at least two occasions to retrieve his best friend from the jaws of death. Hades would not be so accommodating next time and Hercules knew that he had nothing left with which to bargain should the unthinkable happen and Iolaus was killed.

He would never survive the pain of his best friend's death. He knew that. Serena's untimely demise had left a gaping wound which would never fully heal and their love, although short-lived, had been as intense and as bright and brilliant as the stars themselves. How much deeper, then, how much more intolerable, would be the pain of the loss of the one person who had been there to comfort him during every other loss? The person upon whom he depended more that he would ever have thought possible. The man who had been not only his best friend, comrade-in-arms and constant companion since childhood, but was the brother of his heart. It was impossible, he knew, to stop caring about Iolaus - to stop loving his friend. But perhaps it would be better if he sent him away, out of danger, far out of reach of the vengeful Olympians, who would seemingly stop at nothing to rob Hercules of everyone he held dear.

Quickly on the heels of that thought, however, came the realisation that Iolaus would never allow him to do this. His friend was nothing if not stubborn. He would dig in his heels, balk at Hercules over-protectiveness, assert his authority over his own individuality and the right he had to be at the demigod's side no matter what the consequences. Nothing and no-one would be able to sway him nor deter him from his course of action, let alone tear him away from his rightful place beside his friend, through whatever fate, or the Gods, threw at them. And, if Hercules was honest with himself, then, despite the danger, despite the constant threat, he had to admit that to lose his friend's companionship voluntarily would be almost as bad as losing him to death. For that was what it would seem like to him, deprived forever of his best friend's presence beside him. He needed Iolaus. He needed his vitality, his sense of fun, his eternal optimism in the face of overwhelming odds, his agile mind and fighting heart and the compassion and caring which made him who he was.

"Hercules?" The anxious voice of the friend who had been the object of his most recent contemplations interrupted his thoughts, and set to rest, for the time being, the constant dilemma which was uniquely his. Glancing up, he managed to smile at Iolaus, the warmth of their friendship setting in motion the healing of his broken spirit, and melding together the splinters of his shattered heart.

"I'll be all right, Iolaus," he said, sincerely, motioning for the other man to join him, which Iolaus did, sitting on the edge of his sword as he did so, eliciting a yelp from the blond-haired man and widening Hercules' smile. The Son of Zeus placed a gentle hand on his companion's arm and squeezed it fondly. "Thank you."


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