Disclaimer : We know these guys belong to renaissance et al, but we're just borrowing them for the purposes of this story and we will give them back ... maybe. Maybe they don't deserve 'em after what they've done ...


By Cass

Hercules held his dying friend in trembling arms, the blond head cradled tenderly against his breast. Their bodies shook from his own ragged sobs and tears traced a path down his gaunt face as he stared disbelievingly into the beloved features.

"Iolaus, please ..." he managed, before another sob stole away his breath, and he raised one hand to wipe impatiently at the tears blurring his eyesight.

The smaller man swallowed, and opened his mouth to respond. However, no sound issued from his throat, made raw from the screams which had issued forth during the exorcism. Dahak had fought hard for his soul and his body had suffered terrible punishment from the demon's attempts to remain in this world. Excruciating pain flooded him as he moved slightly in the shelter of the demigod's protective embrace and he groaned, unable to suppress the sound despite his best efforts.


Hercules' panic-stricken voice sounded far away, although the sheer agony lacing the utterance of his name brought fresh tears to Iolaus' eyes, and he forced himself back from the brink of oblivion, forcing open eyelids which suddenly seemed so heavy, focusing on his best friend, his brother with vision which was frighteningly bleary. He tried to speak again, this time meeting with more success as a few rasping words left his dry lips, seeming to vibrate through his entire body, adding to the agony which seared it. "Herc ... Don't," he said. "I ... I can't stay..."

"You must!" came the instant response, as he had known it would. "You can't leave me again, Iolaus! I got you back. I have you here. See? I'm right here. We're back in Greece. We're home. Things will be better here. I can make sure that they are. You can't leave me again! I won't allow it! I won't!"

The demigod sounded like a petulant child, angry that his favourite toy was being taken away from him. But the man who knew him best, the friend who had been both brother and confidante to him for so many years recognised both the tone and the emotion behind it as fear and longing and need. Hercules was afraid of losing him again. He longed for their friendship - needed it badly. Iolaus wished with all his heart that he could give the demigod what he wanted. Gods knew, he didn't want to leave his dearest friend alone again. Especially not after all that had happened. But it seemed that he had no choice in the matter. His body was too damaged, his spirit all but exhausted. It had taken everything within him to fight and finally defeat the demon - together with the help of Hercules. The demigod's voice, his love and his strength had flowed into the blond warrior, restoring his will, rallying his courage and pride, and he had stepped into the battle with as willing a heart as he had ever had during those many fights, back to back, with Hercules, in the past.

But it had exacted a terrible toll on his mortal form and the organs within it were closing down, one by one. That accounted for the pain, although he was not sure how he knew this. He guessed it must be something to do with having had a powerful god taking possession of his body for a time, being able to recognise things within him which he had previously never known - in more ways than one.

He would never forgive himself for allowing the demon to wreak such terrible havoc on his home, nor for being weak enough to let Dahak hurt Hercules with words which he himself would never have uttered. Any resentments he had felt towards his friend during their lives together had long since been dealt with and buried. Yet Dahak had found them, feasted on them, brought them to the surface and revelled in hurling ruthlessly them at the man he had always called 'brother'. It was better that he die. Better that he leave Hercules now, for he was so ashamed of himself for still having within him the place where those old resentments resided - where the demon could seek them out and use them against the best man alive.

With an enormous effort, Iolaus managed to raise one hand to rest on Hercules' heaving chest and smiled weakly. "I'll - always be with you, Herc," he whispered. "I'll be in your ... heart and ... whenever you need me, I'll ... still be here. They say the dead can .... hear the thoughts of the living. Just ... think of me once in a while and I'll be listening." He coughed, the horrible wracking sound of it filling the room. Blood flecked at his lips and he felt Hercules' gentle fingers wipe the droplets away. "Course ... don't know if they'll ... let me into the Elysian Fields after all I've ... done." It was intended as a joke, although as he uttered the words, Iolaus realised that this was in fact the truth. Would Hades even permit him to go to the Elysian Fields now? Or would he be consigned forever to the dark pit of Tartarus for the evil he had done as Dahak?

Hercules, however, was appalled. He shook his friend, then was immediately horrified at what he had done, and hugged him tighter instead, laying his large hand on the other man's pallid cheek. "Of course you'd go to the Elysian Fields!" he told him. The rebuke was gentle and laced with tears. "But I'm not letting you go, Iolaus. Not this time. Not again. Just hold tight to me and we can stay here together. You'll see. We'll soon be wandering again - fighting bad guys, putting kingdoms to rights. You'll be chasing pretty girls and we'll go on that fishing trip we always promised ourselves ..."

"No ..."

"Iolaus ..."

"Herc ... please ... don't do this ..." Iolaus begged his friend. A lone tear tracked its way down into his hairline, glistening wetly on the golden curls. "I ... I have always loved you, my friend. Please don't think ... too badly of me ... I'm ... sorry...."

As Hercules watched, the hunter's eyes flickered twice, then finally closed, and his hand fell limply away from the big man's broad chest, his head lolling to one side as Iolaus slipped quietly and almost serenely into death.


It was a scream he had heard before. Hades glanced upward as it echoed through the cavernous walls of his domain and he sighed. It looked like it was finally time to have a serious talk with his nephew. Closing his account books with an audible 'snap!' he rose from the ornate chair in which he had been seated and strode into the outer room. It was at times like this that he wished Persephone could be here 12 months of the year. But she was with her mother on Olympus and not due to return for another 8 weeks. He could have done with her counsel, not to mention her gentle persuasive powers right about now.

"Oh well," he muttered to himself. "Looks like I'd better get it over with."

The next instant, Hercules appeared before him, still clutching the broken body of his best friend. His face was marked with the tracks of tears and he looked as though he hadn't slept in weeks. He was thinner, too and somehow seemed smaller. As though his life had been leeched out of him, which, reflected Hades, glancing at the still figure in his arms, was not far from the truth.

As the demigod realised where he was and who was in the chamber with him, he half-turned. A resolute expression darkening his grief-stricken features he took one step toward the God. "Bring him back, Hades," he demanded.

The Greek God of Death shook his head sadly. I'm sorry, Hercules," he said. "This time I can't do it."

"What?" The demigod sounded outraged and Hades suspected that had it not been for the precious burden in his arms, he himself would have been hurled halfway across the chamber by his nephew. "Hades ..."

"I'm sorry," the God repeated. He shrugged helplessly. "It's the rules, Hercules."

"Break the rules," Hercules ground out.

"Oh, sure. Everyone else has to abide by them, including Hera - even though she tried to bend them every once in a while but you - great demigod, son of a god and a mortal, want them broken." Watching Hercules' expression change from belligerence to distress, Hades relented slightly. "Look, Hercules, I'd love to help. Really I would. But Iolaus has already had several reprieves, including, theoretically, this one. By rights, he should have been dead when Dahak took possession of him but we couldn't allow that. He had to redeem himself. Any other mortal would have been allowed to die, but Iolaus is special. We knew that. So we gave him the chance to undo what Dahak had done, create good where evil had been and with your help and his
immense strength of will and courage, he did that. Now he's dead. Permanently. But - he will be going to the Elysian Fields. He doesn't belong in Tartarus. He never did."

"He belongs with me!" Hercules ground out, stepping backwards as Hades approached him, tightening his hold on the limp body of his dearest friend and companion. "I need him, Hades! I can't do this without him! I tried!"

"I know."

Hades' sympathy was almost more than Hercules could bear. Another tear traced its way down his cheek as he stared down at Iolaus. The blond warrior looked so peaceful, so serene. It seemed that he was only sleeping. That he would awaken any moment. But that was not the case. Hades was not going to back down this time. Hercules could sense it. Still ... He re-examined what the god had said moments before and came up with a question. "Who's 'we'?" he demanded.

Hades shrugged again. No reason why Hercules shouldn't know. It might even help him. "Your father and myself," he replied. "We value Iolaus. Your father loves you, Hercules, although I know you might not believe that. And I have a lot of respect for you - actually, you're my favourite nephew. You do irritate the Tartarus out of me but you're not half as much trouble as the rest of your siblings. And Iolaus has always been a big part of what and who you are. We both value him for that if for nothing else. But he's a hero in his own right. He's helped both of us in his own way, without even realising it. That's why I had you brought down here with him. It's why I'm meeting you instead of letting him cross the Styx with Charon - made myself really popular with him as well, I can tell you. I know you need him, Hercules. I know how important he is to you. But he's done his part now. It's time for him to journey elsewhere. Be happy for him. He'll be with his wife, his son - he'll be able to look after Dieaniera and your kids will have their Uncle Iolaus to play with again ..."

"But I need him ..." reiterated Hercules, unable to suppress the sob in his voice.

Hades eyed him critically for a moment or two. "And I know someone who needs you," he replied.

For a moment, Hercules believed he had relented, until he saw the resolve burning in the dark eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said at length. "And I don't care."

"Have you ever wondered what became of the Jester when the Sovereign was trapped in the vortex?" Hades enquired, ignoring the demigod's words as though they had never been spoken.

Hercules had a very sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He also had a feeling he knew where this was going. "No," he said.

"Would you like to see?"

Before he could utter another negative, Hades opened up a window and the demigod could not help but glance into it.

Inside, a lone figure sat, sprawled on the throne in the Sovereign's palace. He was still garbed in the attire of a court jester but without the hat and his unruly blond curls tumbled over hunched shoulders. He looked the
picture of dejection.

"He's not happy," Hades remarked.

Hercules was forced to agree. He glanced down at the lifeless form in his arms then back up again and felt his throat constrict. Had he not known better he would have thought he was looking at his best friend through the portal.

"He needs direction." Hades was relentless. "Since the Sovereign was trapped in the vortex he's been rootless. He's no longer needed as a court jester. Joxer made the position redundant - thought he was doing the guy a favour. But it was all he knew. All he thought he could be. Now - he believes he's nothing. No-one. He needs someone to tell him differently."

The demigod stared at Hades in horror. "And that 'someone' is going to be me?" he demanded. "Forget it, Hades. It's bad enough I've lost my best friend. To have to be haunted by someone wearing his face, his form but without all the joy and life and courage which is MY Iolaus is cruel. It's not just cruel. It's outrageous and I won't do it."

Hades smiled sadly. "I'm afraid you don't have much choice in the matter," he said.

...The next instant, Hercules found himself back in the room where he had lost his brother; where his heart had been irrevocably broken, bereft of the weight in his arms. Standing before him was the figure of his friend - yet it was not his Iolaus. This was not the golden hunter and skilled warrior he had known all his life. This was a stranger.

They stared at each other for long moments. Hercules was too stunned to say anything and the Jester was too frightened. He recognised the figure before him as being the Hercules of the 'other world' - the one in which Ares had been God of War, and he realised that he must have somehow been transported to that other world. The reason for this was beyond him, however.

Hercules was angry. Angry at Hades, angry at Dahak for taking his best friend away from him twice and angry even at Iolaus for allowing himself to die. He realised he was being irrational. He didn't care. He wanted Iolaus. HIS Iolaus. If he couldn't have his Iolaus then he damn well wasn't having some pseudo image of him dumped on him by some well-meaning but idiotic God of the Dead.

The Jester watched the play of emotions cross the demigod's expressive face and flinched, stepping backward involuntarily. Although he had come to expect cruelty and unkindness from his world's version of the son of Zeus and had been pleasantly surprised by his first and only meeting with this world's version, he was still afraid of the man. He was a demigod, after all. He could kill a runt like himself with a swipe of his hand. The Sovereign, indeed, had tried on many occasions. Jester still wasn't entirely sure what had kept him tied to the man's side. It wasn't like there hadn't been plenty of opportunities for him to leave. But he had known nothing else. Had been close to no-one else. The relationship he had forged with the Sovereign had been self-destructive and one-sided, he knew, but the man had been the closest thing to a friend he had had.

"I ... I'm sorry," he began, then fell silent as Hercules focused on him, his eyes narrowing.

'I don't know why you're here,' Hercules wanted to say to the man. 'I don't want you. You're everything Iolaus was not - a coward, a buffoon, a man afraid of his own shadow.' But he said none of those cruel words. He couldn't. It would be a betrayal not only of himself but of Iolaus - HIS Iolaus' memory. He wouldn't do that. He couldn't defile his best friend's lifetime belief in him that way. Slowly, his anger dissipated, to be replaced by the compassion and concern which made him what he was - a hero. So, instead of ignoring the man who looked so much like his brother yet was not; instead of taking out his frustrations and his grief on the man who even now cowered before him, he held out his hand and managed a smile of reassurance. "Welcome to my world, I .. Iolaus," he said, as he laid that hand on the man's trembling shoulder. "It looks like you've found a new home."

During the next few weeks, Hercules and the Jester became more acquainted with one another. They even managed to build a relationship, although neither could have definitively defined what it was. Jester, with his limited experience, would have termed it almost a 'friendship', although he couldn't imagine what a hero like Hercules would see in a snivelling coward like himself. Hercules, on the other hand, felt responsible for the little man and tried to take care of him in Iolaus' name. He definitely would not have termed what they had a friendship. His loss was too raw, too recent, and travelling the land with this exact replica of his dearest friend beside him was both difficult and painful. Time and again he forgot who the other man was and would turn to him with a reminiscence of times past, or a remark which his Iolaus would have understood in an instant, only to remember, belatedly, that this man had not shared his past. He did not know the demigod's thoughts nor his heart and was not and never could be HIS Iolaus.

Iolaus, meanwhile, seemed happy enough in the Elysian Fields. As Hades had predicted, he spent time with both his own beloved family and appointed himself guardian of Hercules'. But he missed his friend terribly. More than he himself could have even imagined. He missed their adventures together, the fights and scrapes in which they found themselves embroiled. He even missed the bad guys. But most of all, he missed Hercules. He missed his friendship, his love, his easy acceptance, their conversations - everything which had made their relationship so special.

Despite his outward demeanour, his easy-going attitude and cheerful countenance, all who knew him could tell that Iolaus was sad. It was evident in his smile, which never reached the blazing blue eyes. Therein lay a loneliness which only one person's company could assuage, and it saddened both his family and friends, knowing that they could do nothing to help.

Hades was not blind, however. Neither was Zeus. They were watching both Hercules and the Jester and Iolaus and his 'family' and both realised that something had to be done.

The Jester was cooking the evening meal. It was a talent he had discovered within himself since the Sovereign's disappearance and he had taken what little joy there was to be had in it. He had a vague recollection of learning this particular skill during his brief but wonderful marriage to one of the Sovereign's serving wenches, Ania, and found that honing it made him miss her more and more. Despite the seeming friendship he had found with this world's Hercules, he was sinking deeper into melancholy, knowing that his place was not really here, beside the demigod, acutely aware that he was here under sufferance because Hercules was a compassionate and kind man and realising that he would never take the place of the man's best friend - his double; now residing in Hades' realm. He almost longed for some kind of release, but was too much of a coward to take his own life.

Unbeknownst to him, he was being observed.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That depends. What are you thinking?"

"Well, it seems to me that one wants to be here whilst the other wants to be elsewhere."

"You're not suggesting ...?"

"Why not? Looks like the perfect solution to me and it wouldn't be much trouble. Plus I wouldn't exactly be breaking the rules."

"You realise that if you do this now then the next time is permanent."

"Oh, don't worry. I know that. Believe me, I've thought long and hard about this. But it seems to me to be the best thing to do for all concerned."

"Very well. It's up to you. I won't interfere. But .."

"There is no 'but', brother. We do this. *I* do this. This is the last time."

Later that night whilst those both above ground and in the Elysian Fields were asleep, dreaming under the star-lit canopy of the night sky, the God of the Dead carried out his plan then, with a smile, left the participants to discover what had taken place.

The Jester was the first to awaken. He looked around. The sky was a beautiful, amazing shade of azure, the sun blazing out from it with a brilliance which he had never before noticed. The foliage around him seemed greener than before, with unusual flowers dotted around in a myriad of different hues. It was the most gorgeous sight he had ever seen and he was mesmerised by it.

He was more than mesmerised as a hauntingly familiar figure walked toward him.

"Ania!" he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet and swallowing hard. She looked every inch as beautiful as the day he had lost her and he felt his eyes fill with tears as he watched her approach.

Iolaus' wife smiled kindly. Hades had taken them all into his confidence and they had been grateful for his mediation into the worsening situation. She was here to ensure that the man who had been so unhappy and so unwanted in the real world - in both real worlds - was made doubly welcome down here. Here he was to be introduced to the family, made to feel a part of it and nurtured so that he could come into his own and finally emerge from his shell into the man he should be.

"Take my hand," she said, softly.

He reached out, felt her warmth and familiarity and knew that he had come home.

Meanwhile, Iolaus awoke under the canopy of a morning such as he had never seen. Everything felt fresh and alive. HE felt alive. It was a glorious, if slightly unfamiliar feeling. He glanced over at his friend and smiled. Herc was nothing if not a late riser - especially when he was brooding about something. "Hey! Herc!" he shouted, leaning over to give the demigod a shove. "Are you gonna get up now or do I catch the fish myself?"

"Leave me 'lone, Iolaus," grumbled the semi-conscious demigod, turning over to settle back into sleep. "You're too cheerful in th' mornin' - you know that?"

Iolaus smiled. Then comprehension dawned. At about the same time, it woke Hercules, who shot up from his nest of leaves and spun to stare at the hunter. "Herc?" he managed. "You called me 'Herc'? You ... Iolaus ... the other Iolaus ... I mean ... he NEVER calls me 'Herc'."

"Ah ... " Iolaus, for once, was lost for words. "Um ...."

"I .... Iolaus???"

"Um - yeah," said the hunter, as thoroughly confused as his friend. He looked down at himself, saw the Jester's costume and scowled. "Doesn't that guy have a change of clothing or what?" he demanded grumpily.

Hercules' eyes widened. "Iolaus?" he exclaimed. "Oh gods! It IS you!"

"I - guess so," the warrior replied. A grin lit his entire face, his eyes sparkling with merriment. "Hey, Herc, looks like I'm back - but ... how?"

"How?" Hercules echoed. "How? I don'r care how. I just care that you're back! Oh gods, Iolaus, you don't know how glad I am to see you!" As if to demonstrate the point, he threw his arms around the smaller man and hugged him hard. Iolaus returned the embrace, only too grateful to have his friend beside him once more, content to sit and listen to the beat of the demigod's strong heart and feel the pulse of life surrounding him once again.

For his part, Hercules was more grateful than he could begin to express to have the living, breathing form of his brother beside him once more. The body in which Iolaus resided was obviously the Jester's but they were so exactly alike in every respect that it barely made any difference at all. Briefly, he wondered what had happened to the other man and hoped that he had found peace somewhere. Somehow, he knew, deep down, that he had. But he was so glad for the return of his best friend, the one person in the whole world he trusted and loved above all others that every other thought left his head. He simply held on, almost afraid to let go lest this wonderful miracle turn out to be a dream.

*It's no dream, Hercules,* said a voice within his head.


*Iolaus missed you. The Jester missed things which Iolaus had in the Elysian Fields, without even knowing it. So we did a swap. Take care of him, nephew. This is the last time. When Iolaus dies again it's for good. Make the most of the time you two have together - go out and stop some bad guys together. Enjoy your lives. The two of you deserve it.*

Tears formed and spilled down the Demigod's cheeks, splashing into the golden hair beneath his chin. What he had wished and prayed for had come to pass. He had Iolaus back. He would not waste this opportunity. There would be no more careless mistakes, no more danger for his friend. Yet even as he made this vow he knew that Iolaus would never stand still for being protected. He was a warrior. More, he was Hercules' best friend and had vowed to fight beside him and back to back until they both met their fate.

*But I will keep you safe, Iolaus,* Hercules promised, silently as the two renewed their friendship, celebrating by deciding to spend the day fishing and talking. *I promise you that. I will not let you die again. Never again. I promise.*

And Iolaus, glancing into his friend's resolute expression, read into it as accurately as only he could and smiled sadly, knowing that, one day, in the future, they would be parted again. But until then they had this day, their lives and each other. It was another chance - one they had never believed they would get. And they would make the most of it.

Life was good.

Life was indeed very good.

Author's note: I wrote this prior to 'Darkness Rising', 'Let There be Light', 'Redemption' and 'Stranger and Stranger' being transmitted. Moreover, I wrote it before I had seen them, and (a) seen the REAl 'exorcism' which took place and (b) fell for the alternate Iolaus. So please forgive me and Hercules both for our rather cavalier way of treating him. I would never treat him thus now, and that is mostly due to Michael Hurst's wonderful portrayal of him as a poignant figure with hidden depths who is struggling to find an identity and is not the snivelling coward with which we were presented (at face value at least) in the first 'Stranger'episode. Jester Iolaus is smart, talented, loving and sweet. There is far more to him than most people ever expected, and it is a tribute to Michael that he has already grown popular with audiences. THIS IS NOT TO SAY WE DON'T WANT OUR IOLAUS BACK, BECAUSE WE DO!!! But we do not want this other Iolaus to be sacrificed in any way that involves death. We've been through that enough.

I thank you for your time and apologise for my verbosity in explaining things! Brevity never was my middle name!

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