Take Me Home - Raven

Take Me Home


By Raven


"Could you whisper in my ear.
The things you wanna feel.
I'll give you anything to feel it comin'."
-Goo Goo Dolls

He could hear a voice somewhere in the distance. A low, monotone voice he heard often and trusted. But as he sat staring out the classroom window, Cheiron's voice meant nothing to him. The thick grey clouds converging outside were mesmerizing, drawing him in like a blackhole. The sensation was almost tangible. He could feel the brewing storm sucking his attention into it's event horizon. It was only his friend Jason tapping him on the arm, that brought him slamming back to reality. He felt something inside him snap. Not like a twig. Not like a rubber band. More like an invisible force yanking him back to his physical existence. With a violent shudder, Hercules grabbed Jason's hand, throwing it off his shoulder.

"Whoa, hey," cautioned Jason, meeting his gaze. "It's only me."

Hercules focused on his friend's face, trying to break the still lingering trance. "What just happened?" he breathed.

Jason flicked his eyes towards Cheiron as the front of the class. Then he leaned towards him, cupping a hand over his mouth. "I don't know, buddy," he replied. "But you were completely out of it there for a minute."

"I feel like I just woke from a dream," Hercules said, drawing a hand down his face. It was wet, and he dried his palm on his thigh.

"I'm sorry," boomed Cheiron's voice. "Am I interrupting you two?"

"Well, sort of," replied Jason, with a sheepish grin

Cheiron braced his hands on his hips, glaring, and Hercules felt his mouth go very dry. "You've just earned yourself a detention, Jason. And you too, Hercules."

The two cadets slumped down in their seats as Iolaus led the rest of the class in a chorus of 'oohs' and 'aws'. It took Cheiron several minutes to regain control of his class, and Hercules knew this only agitated the centaur more. The sound of the bell echoed throughout the school, sending the other students clambering and clawing for the door, but he and Jason remained in their seats, awaiting their punishment.

"You two may leave," Cheiron said after only a few minutes.

Hercules and Jason didn't wait around long enough to contemplate Cheiron's sudden generosity, bolting from their chairs as soon as the words were spoken. Outside, they met up with Iolaus waiting by the front gate. He looked to Hercules as if he were about to burst, just waiting to unleash his barrage of wisecracks and jokes. Hercules smiled wryly, waiting to be assaulted. But Jason cut Iolaus off before he could begin.

"Herc, man," he said, shoving him to the side. "What happened to you in there? You gave me a detention!"

Hercules looked at his friends and frowned. "I don't know. I guess I was just daydreaming or something," he shrugged. But he had a hunch it had been more than just a simple daydream. Deep down, Hercules had a feeling this was not something he wanted to discuss with them. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something felt wrong. Wrong with him, wrong with the approaching storm, wrong in the air, he didn't know. Just that something had happened in that classroom, and he couldn't shake the feeling that whatever it was, it was just beginning.

"Yeah, well, you better not get caught doing that again," warned the young prince.

"Cheiron's class isn't the best place to be taking a nap, Herc..." reprimanded Iolaus, wagging a finger.

"Guys," he interrupted, pushing them out the gate. "Let's just forget about it and go to Kora's. I'm starving." Iolaus and Jason dropped the subject and started towards the Inn. They chatted amicably as they strolled down the path, discussing the day's classes, the upcoming fair in Corinth, bag ball, and anything else that came to their minds. By the time they reached Kora's, Hercules was feeling more relaxed.

"Hey, boys," greeted Kora, sliding past, carrying a tray full of food. "I'll be with you in a minute."

Hercules followed Jason and Iolaus to a table. He thought maybe by now he would actually be hungry, but he wasn't. Food was the last thing on his mind. He frowned and looked covertly over his shoulder. Then, with slow, cautious moves, he looked over his other shoulder. He recognized a few patrons; cadets, farmers, but some he had never seen before. No one was paying any specific attention to him, but Hercules still shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Shrugging the paranoid feeling away, he turned his eyes back on his friends.

"Are you gonna have those dancing girls back this year at the fair?" Iolaus was asking, shrugging his eyebrows.

"I don't know," replied Jason. "We better. I just hope the coordinators can find them."

"If they're gonna be there, then count me in," added Hercules enthusiastically.

Jason feigned contempt, drawing a smile from Hercules. "Oh... I see. You'll only grace Corinth with your presence if girls are there?"

"Not just any girls," stated Hercules. "Those dancing girls from last year."

"You're as bad as Iolaus."

"Hey," blurted Iolaus. "You're just as bad as the two of us. I see you primping each morning in front of the mirror. And you can't tell me that's for us... Cause we don't care that you look like a hind's hind."

"Ha! You're funny...!"

"You guys ready to order?" interrupted Kora stepping up to the table. "It's kinda busy, so could ya make it quick."

Hercules listened as his friends ordered their usual. "Nothing for me, thanks," he said, when Kora got to him. She shrugged and hurried off to the kitchen to fetch the food.

"I thought you said you were starving?" reminded Iolaus.

"I guess I lost my appetite."

"Lost it where?!" asked Jason. "We only walked from the Academy."

Hercules didn't have an answer. He really hadn't been hungry then either, and had only wanted to change the subject. "You know what, guys," he said, pushing out of his seat. "I think I'll head back to the Academy. I, uh, I got some homework I should be doing." He wondered why he had just lied as he headed through the door.

*** *** ***

When is this storm gonna hit? Thought Hercules, standing just inside the Academy walls. Above him, the dark ominous clouds were still hanging low, surging in a violent expanse. And he couldn't tear his eye's away. It was like a force pulling him, unrelenting and gradually gaining momentum. Something vague and familiar began manifesting in his mind. It was the same feeling as earlier in the classroom. His thoughts began to coalesce, sucking him deeper into a trance.

Then the voice started. He recognized the voice, at least, he thought he did. It taunted him, it's urgency building with each new sentence. But it was speaking nonsensical and Hercules couldn't make out the words. He just knew somehow that it was calling him. He closed his eyes, focusing all his concentration, but something reeled him back. Back to the Academy courtyard where someone was now standing next to him.

"Mesmerizing, isn't it?" asked Cheiron, when Hercules looked at him. "It's quite curious how the clouds are meshing together."

Hercules could feel his cheeks burning. He shifted uncomfortably beside his mentor, wishing he hadn't just been caught daydreaming again. "Uh, yeah," he stammered. "Why is that? Curious, I mean?"

Not turning, Cheiron crossed his arms over his chest. "Haven't you learned anything in my class?" He pointed to the sky. "Clouds like this usually accompany thunder. Do you hear any?"

Hercules shook his head, looking back up at the clouds. They were silent. No thunder. No wind. And no voice. He looked away unsettled. "Well, I should go hit the books. Got some studying to do," he said, again with the lies. He took a few steps towards the building then turned back. "Are you coming?"

"No. I think I'll watch this for awhile," smiled Cheiron, leaving Hercules to retreat to the Academy alone.

Inside, the temperature dropped considerably and Hercules had to brace himself from the cold- which was strange for the middle of summer. It should have been hot inside the Academy, but Hercules could feel his sweat turning cold on his skin. He shivered, rubbing his arms to trap the escaping heat, but it didn't help. The shivers wouldn't subside, and Hercules couldn't control the muscle spasms. Wanting nothing more than to be warm again, Hercules ran down the hall towards the dorms. He was cutting through the mess hall when a voice brought him to a grinding halt.

He spun around searching for the speaker. The hall was dark, dim moon beams peeking through the windows casting the only light. Hercules couldn't make anything out except dark outlines and shadows. The hall appeared abandoned, but he could have sworn he had just heard a voice. Tentatively, he took a step forward. "Hello!" he called, his voice bouncing back to him. "Who's here?!"

No response.

His shivers intensified.

He felt like someone was watching him. Following him as he continued walking through the hall. Hercules whirled around, trying to catch whoever it was off guard, but he saw nothing. Nothing but the familiar, dark mess hall. Which now did not sit well with him. The mess hall should have been bustling with activity this time of day. Cooks and servers should be cleaning up after the evening meal. It had only been a short while since class had been dismissed.

But there wasn't a soul anywhere.

No hint that anyone had been in this room for some time- except him. Hercules couldn't take it anymore. The silence and foreboding feeling was begining to disturb him. With a shudder, Hercules back stepped, then ran for the doors at the end of the hall. He threw them open, charging into the hallway. There, he came to an abrupt halt as if he had just slammed into a brick wall. "Iolaus!" he cried, grabbing his friend by the shoulders.

"Holy, Tartarus, Herc!" exclaimed Iolaus, shaking himself free from the demi-god's grasp. "Don't you look before running out of a room?"

Both shock and relief were battling for control, leaving Hercules feeling disconnected. He swallowed hard, schooling himself. "I... I'm sorry," he stammered, blinking at his friend. "But, where is everyone?"

"Huh?"

Hercules looked down the hall. He and Iolaus were standing alone, shrouded in shadows. "Where is everyone?" he repeated, this time more persistent.

Iolaus shook his head. "What are you talking about," he stated, more than asked. "Where have you been? I haven't seen you since you ditched Jas and I at Kora's. And that was hours ago!"

Hercules was about to respond, but something about his friend distracted him. "Why are you dressed for bed?" he asked slowly.

"Uh- cause curfew was about an hour ago," informed Iolaus, eyeing him sideways. "What's gotten into you?"

Confusion and anxiety clawed at Hercules. His shivers had disappeared, but in it's place was nausea. Feverishly, Hercules retraced his steps in his mind. "No, that can't be right," he said, furrowing his brow. "After I left Kora's, I came straight here. It can't be lights out all ready."

"Suit yourself, Herc," shrugged Iolaus. "But if Cheiron catches you wandering around at this time, don't say I didn't warn ya. And, uh... If you do run into him, don't tell him you saw me either. I'm already on his short list."

Hercules nodded, but his mind was elsewhere. It had just been a short while ago that he had been talking with Cheiron out in the courtyard. "Hey, wait a sec," he said, catching Iolaus before he disappeared into the mess hall. "What are you doing up then?"

"Shhh," hushed Iolaus, a finger to his mouth. "I'm just sneaking a late night snack." Then he vanished behind the heavy hall door.

*** *** ***

He couldn't sleep. Hercules lay on his bunk, desperately willing his eyelids to stay shut. Iolaus had been right. When he had arrived in the dorm just minutes ago, the rest of the cadets were already tucked away. Hercules wished he could do the same, fall asleep and get as far away from this day as possible.

"Hercules..."

Hercules remained still, not sure if he had actually heard his name.

"Hercules..." repeated the voice, quiet yet obstinate.

He sat up this time.

"Hercu..."

He threw the covers off, swung his feet to the floor. No one else was up, or at least, not that he could tell. Iolaus was the first person he checked, then he moved quietly to check Jason. He wanted so desperately to find one of his friends awake. He wanted to believe it had been one of them who had called his name, but he knew they hadn't. The voice had sounded too far away, and had come from no particular direction. And Hercules had made some sort of connection with it this time. He was no longer able to control his thoughts, or actions, as he crossed the floor.

He found himself suddenly standing by the window. He didn't know how he got there, or even if he had carried himself. But he was there, his eyes drawn to the clouds outside, barely visible in the night's sky. "What do you want?!" he screamed heavenward. "Who are you?!"

The clouds churned.

Silent.

With no reply.

The voice was gone, and Hercules felt himself released from the spell. He turned away from the window feeling cold and vulnerable. Every time the voice spoke, or he stared at the mysterious clouds, it felt like a piece of him was being ripped away. The storm wanted him. And there was a part of Hercules, a small indescribable part buried down deep, that wanted to go and be with the voice. But that part of him was silenced by logic.

Quietly he returned to his bunk, trying not to disturb any of the other cadets. He had just lay down again when the morning bell rang throughout the academy. It only took a moment for the dorm to turn into a zoo, cadets bustling about, dressing and running for the washrooms. And Hercules lay in his bunk, stupefied, and wondering where time had decided to hide itself this time.

"Hey, Herc. Come on, buddy, you're gonna be late," Jason warned, as he walked past. Hercules watched his friend carry on towards the restroom, then swung his legs over his bunk and stood.

"Whatta ya do, sleep in your clothes?" asked Iolaus, coming up beside him.

Hercules looked down. "I guess I did," he replied slowly.

"Wanna get on Cheiron's good side, huh? Get to class early and all," mused Iolaus, giving him a playful punch on the arm. "It is Art class first this morning, isn't it?" he finished, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

"I don't know," replied Hercules, his patience wearing very thin. "You tell me." It seemed like just minutes ago that Iolaus had told him it was light's out. He spun away from his friend, throwing his arms in the air. "I don't even know what day it is today. It could be tomorrow, for all I know!"

"Huh?" replied Iolaus, but Hercules was already gone.

There was only one person Hercules wanted to see, Cheiron. And that's where he headed, straight to his office. He walked, his anger and frustration carrying him through the Academy towards the one man who might have an answer to what was happening. Hercules didn't bother to knock when he arrived, bursting through the door and catching the headmaster off guard.

"Something is seriously wrong here!" Hercules declared, standing firm, arms braced, in the middle of the centaur's office.

Cheiron cleared his throat and turned around. Hercules could tell by the Centaur's calculated moves, that he was more than just a little angry for being so rudely disturbed, but he didn't care. He stood his ground, watching Cheiron rub his chin, his eyes fixated on floor. But when the headmaster flicked his eyes up, staring him right in the eyes, Hercules felt himself falter. He drew in a deep breath and tried to think of a better plan of attack.

"Cheiron," he said carefully. "I'm sorry." He paused to analyze Cheiron's reaction to his softer tone. It hadn't changed. Hercules felt he had to continue anyway. "I really think something is wrong."

"With what?" asked Cheiron, his voice steady. "With you? With the Academy? What?"

"You know," replied Hercules, his frustration returning. "I don't even know myself. It could be me, yeah. It could be..." His voice trailed off as his peripheral vision caught a glance out the window. The storm clouds were there, unchanged and silent. But Hercules wouldn't let them get the better of him this time. He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it perched just above his ear, cutting off his line of sight.

"Are you ill?" asked Cheiron, his voice more concerned now.

"Tell me something, Cheiron," demanded Hercules, ignoring the question. "Do you remember speaking to me yesterday? Just outside, when we were looking at the clouds."

Cheiron nodded. "Yes," he replied. "It was just before dinner. I was remarking on how there wasn't any thun..."

"Before dinner?"

"Yes, that's correct," affirmed Cheiron, eyeing him sideways. "After we spoke, we went in to have dinner. And if I remember correctly, you and Jason caused quite an uproar in the food line."

"No!" yelled Hercules. "No! No! No! That did not happen! I never went to dinner with you!"

Cheiron covered the short distance between them, placed a hand on his shoulder. "Yes you did, Hercules," he said gently. "What's going on..."

Hercules threw off the arm with a little too much force, and Cheiron was left holding his shoulder. "No! That's not what happened yesterday," he continued, backing towards the door. "I went to Kora's after class. I ditched Jason and Iolaus. I never went to the food line!" He raised a finger for each sentence to make his point clear. Then he jabbed his finger in Cheiron's direction, throwing all his weight behind it. "I left you standing alone out there! And I got all freaked out in the mess hall cause it was empty... And someone was watching me! And... And... It was early. Then it was late. Then it was... You know what?! Forget it! Forget I said anything!"

"I will not forget it," asserted Cheiron. "You come barging into my office, then you start ranting, abusively may I add, with this absurd story. You did have dinner in the mess hall last night. And you certainly ate with Jason."

"Is this some sort of joke? Are you all in on some sick, perverted prank to get me back for something?" demanded Hercules. Then his eyes flickered. He couldn't control the reflexive action. The one thing he was trying to avoid looking at, was now in his direct line of sight. The clouds. And suddenly he wanted to be with them more than anything. He knew that was physically impossible, but he felt like he had to try. He spun on his heel and ran out of the office, leaving behind a very confused Centaur.

Hercules was well outside the Academy's walls when he finally stopped. He began spinning around, trying to decide which way to go. For no other reason than he happened to be facing that direction, he headed west. After a moment his brisk walk turned into a full out run. He was sweating profusely, his muscles ached, and he had no idea where he was going, yet he continued through the forest. He had no idea how long he had been running. He didn't even recognize his surroundings anymore. But he didn't care. Unable to control the powerful urge, Hercules kept running.

He was at the side of a rushing river when he finally stopped and collapsed to the ground, panting. He rolled onto his back, staring through the branches overhead at the sky and clouds.

"What do you want from me!!" he screamed, not expecting an answer. "Who are you?!" And those were his last words before his world went black.

*** *** ***

Wet, that's what he was feeling. Damp, cold and uncomfortable, lying on the ground. He could also hear rushing water behind him, but he was too tired to open his eyes. Then he felt a sting, like a hand swiping across his face.

"Hercules! Come on , buddy. Wake up!"

His eyes flew open when he recognized the voice. "Jason?" he croaked, seeing his friend's face hovering above him.

"Yeah, it's me," replied Jason, breathing a sigh of relief.

"Me too," added Iolaus, his head popping up behind Jason's. "We've been looking for you all day. Why'd you take off like that? You had us all worried."

"The clouds," he mumbled, rubbing his head as he sat up. He looked around and noticed it was not only raining, but it was dark. He had been asleep all day, or at least he thought he had. With the way things were going for him lately, he wasn't sure if he had only been asleep for just a few seconds.

Jason and Iolaus helped their friend to his feet, steadying him as he stumbled. "You don't look so good," pointed out Jason. "We should get you back to the Academy."

Hercules pushed them away, backing closer to the river's edge. "No... No... I'm fine..."

"Hey! Watch it!" warned Iolaus, grabbing Hercules before he could fall into the river.

But Hercules, still in a daze, wasn't seeing things clearly. He didn't see Iolaus as trying to protect him, rather, as someone trying to attack him. He swung his left arm out, countering the attackers hand and shoved him with his right hand towards the river. Iolaus was caught off guard and hurled towards the rushing water. Jason tried to catch him, but he was too late. Iolaus was already in the river, speeding away with the current.

"What the HELL is wrong with you!!" cursed Jason, shoving Hercules. Then he took off down the riverbed after his friend.

Hercules stood there confused. But, he was... Oh my god! "Iolaus!!!" he cried, realizing what he had done.

He ran after Jason along the riverbed, watching as his best friend was carried away by the current. He was weaving his way behind Jason, but the rocks were slippery and there were branches jutting out over the river's edge making it difficult to maneuver. His foot slid on a rock, but he was able to catch himself on a tree trunk. He carried on, but he couldn't seem to move fast enough. Jason was well ahead of him, and Iolaus was moving faster than them both.

"Get him, Jason!" he called, brushing his matted hair from his face. The rain had picked up, making it even harder to see in the dark. But he kept going, pushing himself harder than he had before. Finally he caught up with Jason at a clearing where the river calmed. Jason was scanning the water, looking for any sign of Iolaus.

"I don't see him!" reported Jason.

Hercules, his heart pounding, squinted, trying to spot his friend in the dark murky water. There were several rocks scattered throughout the river, and he couldn't make anything out. And he couldn't hear anyone either. No screams for help. No desperate splashing. Nothing but his own breathing. Then he saw something. A flash of white contrasting against the black water. It disappeared as fast as it appeared, and Hercules kept his eyes trained on the spot as he ran for the river. "Iolaus!" he called before diving under the surface.

He swam, struggling to keep his head above water. He couldn't see him anymore. When he arrived at the spot where he had thought he saw him, he began splashing around in the water, calling his friend's name.

"Can you see him?!" came Jason's desperate voice from the shore.

"I don't see anything!" he called back, before diving under again. He couldn't see, but he could feel his way under the surface. Sticks and reeds brushed against him, throwing him hope that he had found Iolaus, only to be disappointed. When he couldn't hold his breath any longer, he resurfaced for more air and dove back under. This time he felt something solid and large. It was no reed or floating branch, it was covered in material and had two arms and two legs. He grabbed hold of the body, and with one swift kick he and Iolaus surfaced.

"I got him!" he called to Jason, as he swam to the shore. When he reached the shore, he deposited the body beside Jason and stepped away. Bent over, his hands braced on his knees, he tried to catch is breath. He watched closely as Jason examined Iolaus' still form.

His face paler than snow, Jason turned towards Hercules and said something inaudible.

"What?" prodded Hercules, now standing and breathing heavily.

Jason didn't blink. "I said, he's dead."

"No. No, he's not dead," replied Hercules evenly.

"Herc, he's dead."

Hercules shook his head, frowning. "No. Iolaus is not dead. Iolaus doesn't die," he replied matter-of-factly.

"Whatta ya mean Iolaus doesn't die?!" spat Jason, holding his friend's head in his lap. "What are talking about?!"

"He's not dead, cause I say so!!" screamed Hercules, his face turning red with anger. He locked his eyes on Iolaus's body. "Get up," he ordered.

Iolaus remained still.

"Get up!" Hercules ordered again. When Iolaus didn't respond, Hercules marched over and stared down at his friend. "Didn't you hear me?! I said get up!" he screamed, kicking his friend in the side. The body shifted with the force, but did not flinch. "GET UP!" he ordered again. "This isn't funny anymore! Just get up!"

Jason jumped, letting Iolaus's head fall to the ground, and approached Hercules. "This isn't a joke, Herc," he said calmly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "He must have taken on a lot of water..."

Hercules shoved Jason away. He couldn't control his anger. "He's kidding around with us!" he cried, jabbing a finger in Iolaus's direction. "He-is-not-dead!" Then he cocked his head so he could see past Jason. "Get up you, son-of-a-bitch! Get up!"

But Iolaus didn't move.

Hercules and Jason stood in the rain, staring each other down, each waiting for the other to falter. Behind them, Iolaus lay on the ground, his head twisted at an odd angle, lips blue and clothes soaking and tattered. Hercules refused to believe he was actually dead. It couldn't be true. That would have been too much for the demi-god to handle.

Fed up, Hercules wedged his way past Jason towards Iolaus. A voice, the voice, echoed in his ears. It was calling his name again. Hercules spun back to Jason, his face frozen in fear. "Did you hear that?" he asked.

"Hear what?"

His stomach reeled as if it were a whirlpool. Hercules clutched his stomach, bending over. Jason ran to his side, but Hercules pushed him away. "I gotta get away from here," he stammered, not sure where the words came from. "Leave me alone!" he screamed, then ran from the river's edge.

Jason had just entered the forest after him, when Hercules' knees decided they couldn't carry the burden any longer. They gave way beneath him and Hercules fell to the ground, pausing only briefly when his knees hit the earth. Then he collapsed forward onto his hands, hyperventilating. And Jason was helpless in stopping him from slipping unconscious. Hercules lay limp in Jason's arms.

*** *** ***

"Do you wake up on your own, and wonder where you are.
You live with all your faults."
-GooGoo Dolls

The place was warm. Comfortable. And familiar. Hercules was no longer lying on the cruel damp floor of the forest. Actually, he didn't know where he was, but he knew opening his eyes would mean facing reality. And for him, facing reality was too unbearable. He wanted to stay where it felt like a warm blanket, soft and reassuring, was wrapped around his body. Even the smell was comforting, he didn't want to lose it. He didn't want to return to where he was cold, wet, disjointed, and Iolaus was dead. The memory of his friend's death leapt into his mind.

Suddenly Hercules was no longer in his safe place.

He began tossing, slowly at first, swinging his head back and forth. Then, gradually, his movements became more rapid. He thrashed about under the now constricting blanket. The only thing that stopped him from jumping out of his skin was a voice. But not the distant voice that had been calling him before. This one was corporeal.

And it was close.

He tried to open his eyes, but they were heavy. He lay still and let the voice coax him awake. The voice, she, was saying his name. Then Hercules felt something touch his forehead. Every bad feeling in him, every horrible memory, every pain in his body melted away at the touch. It was a hand, soft and smooth, and very familiar. He felt it brush across his forehead, then run down the length of his face. He reached his own hand up to catch it, and hold it against his cheek. He didn't want to let go.

"Hercules," said the voice. "Wake up, dear."

Mom? His eyes flew open. Alcemene's face was smiling down at him. "Mom?" he asked, his voice barely escaping his lips.

"Shhh. Don't speak," she said, tucking the covers around his chin. "Just relax. Everything is all right now."

"No, no," he protested. "Iolaus..."

"I'm right here, buddy," came a voice from over Alcemene's shoulder. Then he appeared, waving his hand and smiling.

Hercules bolted upright in his bed. "What?" Then he saw Jason standing next to him. "What... What's happening? What's going on? You're..."

His mother eased him back to the bed. "Relax, Hercules," she said. "You're home now. Jason and Iolaus found you and brought you home. You have a bad cut on your head, but I think you'll be all right."

"If you stay in bed," said Jason, wagging a threatening finger at him.

Hercules raised a tentative hand to his forehead, felt the bandage. He looked at his mother. "What happened? The last thing I remember, I was at the side of a river and it was raining, and..." He noticed Jason and Iolaus share a confused look.

"Well, it was raining," began Jason. "But we found you on the way back from Kora's. You weren't anywhere near a river."

"You must have tripped or something," added Iolaus, stepping closer to the bed. "You left Jas and I to head back to the Academy, but I guess you didn't make it. We found you at the side of the path just outside Kora's, completely passed out. You must have been lying there for at least a few hours before we came by."

Hercules shook his head slowly, closed his eyes briefly. "It seemed so real," he said cryptically, waning strange looks from those around him. "I made it back to the Academy... And Cheiron was there... we talked. Then everything was all strange, like time had been mixed up..."

Alcemene brushed the hair off his forehead. "You must have been dreaming, Hercules. You have a pretty bad bump on your head. You've been asleep for hours, and you've got a bit of a fever from being out in the rain for so long."

This made sense.

It had all been a dream.

A nightmare.

Hercules drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. His muscles began to ache again and his mouth had taken on a metallic taste, but he didn't care. As far as he was concerned, he felt great. He was home, and everything made sense. He had been on his way back from Kora's when he had fallen. Everything after that had been a dream. No one was following him. The clouds weren't calling to him. And most importantly, Iolaus was alive. He hadn't just killed his best friend. Everything was as it should be.

But was it?

He couldn't remember falling. He couldn't remember anything happening on the way back to the Academy. He pushed the questions to the back of his mind. He didn't want to think about them. He looked at his mother and smiled. "It must have been a dream," he replied, more to himself. Then he felt the heavy strain of sleep pulling at him. He shifted under the blanket, drawing himself closer to his mother. Draping an arm over her lap, he nestled his head against her thigh. As far as he was concerned, he couldn't get close enough. He wanted, he needed, to feel her. She made him feel safe. He knew Jason and Iolaus were still in the room, probably snickering and making faces, but they were of no concern to Hercules at this moment. With his mother stroking his forehead, Hercules let himself drift away.

*** *** ***

In spite of a night of tossing and turning, Hercules crawled out of bed the next morning feeling refreshed. He didn't feel stiff, feverish, or tired at all. Smiling, Hercules left his room, following the sounds coming from the main living area. "Mom?" he asked, seeing her hunched over a broken chair in the corner of the kitchen.

The house was in complete disarray. The table was turned over, shards of broken glass and pottery were scattered across the floor, curtains were torn and there was even a small fist sized hole in the wall by the door. "Mom," he said again, crossing the floor.

She jumped when Hercules put his hand on her shoulder. When she faced him, he could see dark circles under her eyes and he could tell she had been crying. "Are you all right? What happened here?" he asked, looking back over his shoulder.

Alcemene stood slowly, removing his hand from her shoulder tentatively. "How are you feeling?" she asked with a scrutinizing frown.

"I... I'm fine," he replied, a slightly confused edge to his voice. "But what happened here?" He waved his hand, indicating the shamble around them.

Alcemene took a deep breath. "It was a rough night last night," she replied. "But if you're feeling better now, that's all that's important."

Hercules raised his eyebrows. "Rough?," he asked. "This mess seems more important than me. I mean, I was just feeling kinda sick last night, but..."

"Sick," repeated Alcemene, baffled by his nonchalance. "Is that what you would call it?"

There was no question in his mother's voice, but Hercules answered anyway. "I was feeling..."

Alcemene silenced him with a hand on his mouth. "Look, son," she began, locking eyes with him. "What happened to you last night scared me. It scared me a lot. And I don't ever want to see that side of you again. I understand with what happened..." her voice broke off, as if she didn't want to continue. After a pause, she opened her mouth again. "I'm glad your back to yourself this morning, but I think what's best is if you leave for awhile."

"What...?" blurted Hercules, taking a step back.

But his mother stopped him, placing a hand on his arm. "I just mean take a walk or something. The fresh air might do you some good."

"Maybe you're right," he replied, biting his upper lip. He looked back over his shoulder with a frown. He really wanted to know what had happened, but fresh air was too tantalizing. "Are you going to be all right?"

Alcemene nodded, gave her son a kiss on the cheek. "You go. I'll be fine. I've got some cleaning to do."

Running a hand through his hair, Hercules conceded. "I think I'll head to the Academy," he said, heading for the door.

"Are you sure you want to go there?" asked Alcemene, her voice soft.

"Yeah. I wanna thank Jason and Iolaus for yesterday," he replied, stepping outside.

"Iolaus...?" asked Alcemene, but Hercules was already gone.

*** *** ***

Hercules had not looked up. He hadn't noticed the clouds. He passed through the gates to the Academy still feeling good about the day. It wasn't until he noticed the barren courtyard when his feelings changed. Not a cadet, not a teacher, not even a sound filled the front yard of Cheiron's Academy. "I can't be late," Hercules said, raising an eyebrow. Then he ran for the entrance, hoping to sneak into class before anyone noticed his absence.

He ran down the front hall and skidded around the corner, bumping into Cheiron. "Sorry," he rushed with an innocent smile. "Late for class. You understand," he called over his shoulder as he continued down the hall.

"Hercules!" came the headmaster's voice. "What are you talking about?"

Reluctant to pause, he spun back, his arms spread wide. "Class," he replied. "You know, the place I'm supposed to be right now?"

Cheiron crossed his arms and looked at him blankly. "There are no classes today," he said. "You of all people should have been aware of that. Iolaus was your best friend."

"I don't understand," Hercules responded. Then he snapped his head around, hearing someone's approach. Jason came around the corner, stopping in his tracks when he saw Hercules.

"Hercules...?" he said, his eyes darting between his friend and the headmaster. "What are you doing here?"

Hercules bit his lip, retracing the day's events. Yes. He thought. I'm supposed to be here. It's not a holiday. "Why shouldn't I be here?" he inquired mildly.

"It's all right, Hercules," Cheiron said softly, his eyes conveying a certain understanding. "No one expects you to attend classes today after last night. And because Iolaus was also a cadet here, I've decided to cancel classes in his honour."

"Probably the best honour you could bestow on the guy," muttered Jason, composing himself after a reproachful glance from Cheiron.

Hercules pressed his lips into a thin line. Once again, he was missing something. Things weren't making sense, and he was beginning to feel that that was normal. Frustrated, he shook his head. "What exactly happened last night that I should know about?" he asked, resigning to the possibility that what he thought happened, had indeed, not happened.

"Well, you should know," stated Jason, furrowing his brow. "You were there. Well, um..." his eyes darted to Cheiron as if asking if he should continue. "You pushed him into the river."

There was a certain finality to Jason's last statement that left a bitter taste in Hercules' mouth. He could feel bile rising in his throat. He opened his mouth then closed it again. He tried again to speak, but nothing came out. Running his hands through his hair, he closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. "Iolaus is dead, isn't he?"

Neither Cheiron nor Jason responded. And they didn't have to. Hercules already knew, felt, the answer. He had killed his best friend last night by the river.

*** *** ***

"When everything feels like the movies,
And you bleed just to know you're alive."
- Goo Goo Dolls

Hercules felt a chill wrapping it's fingers around his gut- a combination of guilt and confusion. Composure, like pride, tended to evaporate when your world seemed to be falling apart around you, and Hercules lost his. What else could he do? One minute he's here, the next, he's there. One minute it's now, next, it's then. Iolaus dead. Iolaus alive. And on top of the this, he had to contend with the voice calling him.

Several deep breaths later, he let the feeling he'd been trying to harbor surface. He regarded his friends with uncertainty and fear, and said, "I'm going crazy."

The words hung in the air, simple, unquestioning, and Jason suddenly found the floor at his feet fascinating. Cheiron regarded him evenly, his brow creased with lines. And Hercules knew he was in for one of his quick remedy quotes. The ones that never made sense at first, but later revealed themselves to be words of wisdom. He braced himself, not wanting to hear them.

"Recognizing one's own insanity," began Cheiron, calmly. "Is a sign of sanity."

"But there's no other explanation," replied Hercules, his voice rising defensively. "How else can you explain what I've been going through.!"

"Herc," started Jason, shaking his head. "We'll get through this- together. Iolaus was my friend too..."

"This isn't about that!" exclaimed Hercules, angered. He didn't need platitudes, he needed for them to understand. But how could they? He thought. It had to do with him. Him and the voice. Him and the time continuum. Him and... him and the storm clouds. Hercules flinched, a hand darting to his head as if to hold in the thoughts forming- stopping them from flowing out.

"He is too deep," came Cheiron's voice, breaking the stand-off Hercules was having with his conscious.

Confused, Hercules looked up. "What?" he asked, staring at the Centaur.

"I didn't say anything," responded Cheiron, an eyebrow raised.

"Yes you did," challenged Hercules. "You said 'He is too deep.' What does that mean? Who's too deep?"

"I said no such thing," replied Cheiron quietly, but with determination.

"...find his own path..."

"Find his own path..." repeated Hercules, watching as he heard Cheiron say the words, but not mouth them.

"Find what path?" asked Jason, confused. "Who has too find a path?"

"Me," replied Hercules, stunning his friend with his abruptness. "I have to find my own path."

Concerned, not with who was speaking the words, but with their meaning, he spun away from his friends, marching down the hall defiantly. He was going to find his path away from here. And he didn't care that they were following him as he headed down the corridor and out the front door. He had to get away before he did any more harm to his friends. And failing that, at least have some privacy when he completely lost all control of his mind.

Outside, Hercules cast a weary glance at the sky overhead where the dark clouds churned silently with their menacing and dangerous intent. They were the cause of his troubles. He could feel it. Somehow, he felt they were controlling his world, his mind, his inability to grasp reality. He didn't know how they were doing it, but he could feel their beckoning embrace. He'd felt it back in the classroom. He'd felt it outside the Academy, and when he stood at the window that night. He had felt it by the river- and he could feel it now.

But he wouldn't let them have him.

If he left now, while he still had some grasp of the real world, he might be able to escape them. Hide. Maybe.

Crunch

Hercules spun at the sound. Jason and Cheiron were slowly walking towards him.

"Come on, buddy," came Jason's voice, distant, muffled and urging.

"Come on, buddy," came Jason's voice, near, precise and compassionate.

Great, thought Hercules sardonically. I may not be seeing double, but I'm definitely hearing double.

Now he knew he had to get away. And he had to act fast, before they had a chance to convince him otherwise. Under the pretense of defeat, Hercules stepped up to Jason. But as the Prince draped an arm around his shoulders, he swept his body underneath, stealing his sword in one clean swoop. Jason was left aghast.

Hercules backed away, brandishing the sword in front of him as a warning. He apologized to Jason for taking his weapon, but explained that he had to do it. He would need something for protection. "I don't have time to get my own," he said. "I have to leave now."

Then he turned and started running. As he crossed the field before the forest, he could hear them calling to him. Or was it the clouds- he couldn't be sure.

"Hercules..."

"Come back..."

"You're scaring me..."

Hercules didn't look back.

*** *** ***

He'd managed to put a great distance between himself and the Academy, but it had all been for nothing. He couldn't escape the clouds. They loomed above him, voices drifting down and filling his head. Hercules cupped his ears as he ran, trying to drown them out. It was hard running that way- a sword in one hand, hands at his head- but he stumbled ahead despite the inconvenience. And he couldn't resist stopping and glancing back over his shoulder every once in awhile, trying to verify his feeling that someone was watching him. But there was never anyone there.

Desperate for relief, he ran tripping and panting over the contours of the forest. Through the voices, his mind tried to think. Tried to figure out where he could go. Where he could hide.

But could he hide?

Could one hide from one's own insanity?

Hercules stopped. The question left him reeling. Tingling. His mind began to spin, forming a thick, unforgiving haze that clouded his reality. Every part of his body screamed for collapse. Fall to the Earth and sleep. He was so tired, and the voices had grown louder and more urgent. Shaking, he brought himself back to the forest where he stood alone, tired and armed with a sword. He had brought it for protection- just in case. But right now his only threat was himself, and what he might do if the voices didn't shut up and leave him alone.

Glancing through the thick rooftop of the forest, Hercules could see the dark clouds. He had been running a long time, but he'd not gotten any further away from them. And deep down, he knew he never could. His efforts to escape them, to regain some normality, were fruitless as far as he was concerned now. They would follow him where ever he went. They were relentless. Evil. Uncompromising. They wouldn't leave him be, and they wouldn't stop their incessant urging for him to come to them. There was only one thing that could stop them, one thing that he felt could end his torment. He just wasn't sure if he could do it.

He hated to do it.

His whole life he'd trained himself to never do it. Even Cheiron had invoked this lesson into him and the other cadets. But Hercules couldn't help it. He couldn't live this way. He was soo tired. Severed from the reality he knew, and liked. And he was sick of hearing the voices. They'd been calling to him for so long now he was starting to think he recognized the voices. Before, he had thought he heard Cheiron and Jason, but now he was hearing Iolaus, and that was enough to destroy Hercules inside. The memories of what he had done to him, no matter what state of mind he was in, were too painful. He could never absolve himself.

So he did what he thought he would never do in his lifetime.

He gave up on himself.

Dropping to his knees, he let out a cry, but no tears flowed. He cried out in anguish. In defeat. In hopes someone would hear him and end his misery. But no one came, so he turned instead, to the clouds above...

And surrendered himself.

They could take him, and do what ever they wanted with him. As far as he was concerned, nothing could be worse than living like this. But there was a small part of him that fought this decision. A part of him that screamed 'no'. So, in essence, Hercules did not fully surrender. Only, he wasn't aware of this. He didn't realize how stubborn his inner strength could be. So when he leaned forward on his hands, his head hung low, he didn't know the clouds weren't listening.

"Take me now," he muttered, his heart aching at the sound of his words. "Just take me now and end this nightmare..."

Nightmare.

Hercules blinked.

Nightmare.

What if?

Hercules eased back onto his heels, his eyes cast down, a hand hovering over the sword that lay on the ground before him. Slowly, he wrapped his fingers around the handle, drawing the weapon towards him until he was holding it upright. What if? The notion was reassuring, and he knew there was one way to tell. Lowering the sword slowly until the blade rested in the palm of his other outstretched hand, he took several deep breaths. "Oh please, let this all be a nightmare," he prayed.

Eyes squeezed shut, Hercules ran the sharp edge across his naked palm. The skin split, revealing a pool of dark crimson blood that slowly trickled down his hand. Droplets leaked over the side and fell- staining the earth. A warm sensation enveloped his hand, contrasting against the cold blade. He didn't have a chance to register the pain, if there had been any, before he melted into darkness.

*** *** ***

"No!!!!" he cried, his voice echoing in his ears when his new surroundings came into focus.

It was dark. It was raining. It was cold. Jason was before him, and Iolaus was on the ground behind Jason- still.

Hercules was back beside the river, his best friend dead by his hand. He collapsed to his knees in a harrowing panic. How could he be back here? The last thing he felt, were strong arms catching him as he fell back into oblivion.

*** *** ***

A stinging sensation on his cheek brought Hercules back to conscious. He was lying on the ground, Jason hovering above him, and Iolaus peeking over his shoulder.

"Good to have ya back," said Iolaus, his voice light and chipper. "You had us worried there for a minute. Why'd you go running away from Cheiron like that?"

Seeing Iolaus was enough to make Hercules repose, but not for long. He sat up, throwing his wet hair back with a flick of his head. Taking a moment to examine his hand- no wound, he pushed off the ground and found himself standing at the river's edge. When he turned to look back at his friends, they were standing casually, their arms crossed over their chests as if nothing was wrong.

But nothing was wrong- for them.

It was only Hercules who found the whole situation rather disturbing. But at least this time Iolaus was alive. That made this easier on Hercules. He was almost content to stay here, where ever here was, and live out his insanity where his best friend was alive and kicking. But other issues were presenting themselves in the form of a nagging voice in the back of his mind.

He's not alive.

Where are you?

When are you?

This is not real.

The last one hardened him. Anger threatened to take him over. This wasn't real. The blood in Hercules' veins began to boil, his stare became too hot for mortal eyes. The voices returned and he staggered.

Iolaus tried to catch him before he backed into the river, but Hercules pushed him away. Iolaus was thrown, flailing and panicked into the water. Then Jason said something- Hercules couldn't hear what, the voices were too loud now- but he did feel a shove before his friend disappeared after Iolaus down the riverbed.

Hercules was left standing alone in the rain by the river's edge. He had just killed his best friend- again. Or was this the first time? All he knew, was that Iolaus would not make it out of the water alive.

He began to run- which he had been doing a lot of lately. Running from... Running to... Running away. But there was one place he had not run to yet. A place where he always felt safe.

Hercules ran home.

*** *** ***

"Hercules! Would you just calm down."

His frustration was presenting itself as anger much too often for his liking- and it hurt even more when he misdirected it at his mother. Unwilling to meet her disapproving gaze, he turned away. She hadn't done anything wrong, only tried to talk to him, but that had only awoken his anger. He felt like a red giant before going super nova- the force of reality squeezing in, battling against the anger wanting to burst out. But he wanted to calm down. He wanted to be able to put things back into perspective. He wanted his life back. He wanted... He wanted to throw something.

And the chair beside him worked just fine.

"Why me!!" he cried, as the chair crashed into the window across the room.

Alcemene covered her head as shards of wood and glass came flying dangerously back at her. But Hercules didn't notice, already reaching for another chair. It had felt good to throw the first one, and he wanted to feel it again. Feel the release of the stress and pent up anger that had been hanging around his neck like an albatross. But this time as he raised the chair, a hand stopped him. He turned, his shoulders rising and falling with each quick breath.

"I don't think the furniture did anything to deserve this," said Alcemene, slowly lowering his arms.

Hercules dropped the chair to the floor, the thud breaking the awkward silence in the room. He kept his eyes locked on his mother, trying to draw from them their calmness and discipline. But he was walking a tightrope between too much adrenaline and too much frustration. And all that pent up energy had to be released. "Mom," he said, grabbing her shoulders a little to rough. "I'm sorry... I just don't know what to do." Then he walked away, knocking the table over with a sweep of his arm. It felt good.

"Hercules!" yelled Alcemne. "Son, you have to learn to control your temper- especially in my house," she said sternly. "I know what's happening to you is dreadful, but you can't expect others to put up with your destructive temper." Then she bowed her head, and added under her breath, "besides, it scares me."

Hercules was incredulous. "What?" he asked, spinning back to face her. "It scares you?! When did this become about you?! It scares me!" Rage clouding his outlook, he didn't notice how frightened his mother had become as he continued to lash out at her. "I have to live with this temper! I have to fight to control it everyday! How do you think I feel each time I get angry at one of my friends? Or when we're practicing drills and one of them gets in a good shot? Don't you think I worry about this? That one day I will hurt them? That when I get angry I can't release it and just let myself get past it?! One of these days, I'm gonna do something irrevocable! I'm gonna use all my strength and kill someone! And I have to live with that possibility everyday!" He punctuated his last words by spinning and throwing a fist through the wall by the door.

As he slowly retracted his limb, bleeding and numb, he let his head fall against the wall. Now the tears came. But they came slow, not allowing him the full release he needed. He dropped to the floor, curling into a ball.

"I did kill someone," he whimpered, burying his head in his arms. "I just want my life back- the voices to stop."

He felt an embrace, arms wrapped protectively around him in comfort. "Shhh," said Alcemene, resting her chin on top of his head. "It's okay..."

"No, it's not... I can't handle this..." he said between sobs. Now the tears came uncontrollably. It finally felt good to let go, no pretense or posturing, just unabashed crying. "I'm going crazy... There's nothing you or anyone can do about it... Nothing in my life is connected anymore... Iolaus is..."

"Get up, Hercules."

"No," he replied, not lifting his head. "Just stay here, mom. Don't let me go."

"I'm not going anywhere," said Alcemene, pulling back slightly. "Why did you just say no?"

"You told me to get up."

"No I didn't," replied his mother, lifting his chin to see his face.

"You did..." he began, then realized it hadn't been her. It had been the voice- and it had sounded like Jason this time. But he didn't bother to look around for him, knowing he wasn't there. Instead, he jerked his head away and buried it deep into the crook of his arm. He squeezed his eyes shut trying to ignore the voice, but it echoed in his head.

"Wake up, Herc... Wake up, Herc... Wake up, Herc..."

He jolted. Like a force had yanked him backwards, pulling him across a part of space not meant to be traveled. He could feel himself falling, carelessly and without destination.

Then he was sitting up on the bed in his room. Through the open window he could see the clouds taunting him. Sweat beaded his forehead, and his breath became ragged from the excessive excursion on his heart. Shaking, he threw off his covers and raced for the door. In the kitchen area was his mother, crouched over a broken chair on the floor. When she turned to look at him, he could see that she had been crying.

A knot formed in his stomach.

"I did this..." he breathed, remembering the last time he had been here, seeing this mess. "What have I done?" he asked himself, running a hand down his face. "What have I become? I've become a danger to my own mother, that's what," he finished, walking slowly into the main room.

"Hercules," said Alcemene, now standing. "How are you feeling this morning?"

The words meant nothing to him. He walked past her towards the front door, ignoring further inquests to his well-being. As he stepped through the door he paused to say something, thought twice, and kept going. He didn't look back. He just kept walking. Eventually, he figured, he would get too tired, too weak to continue and he would collapse and pass put. That was what he wanted.

Followed by the voices, there were several urging him now, he strolled down the path towards the forest. Somehow, they weren't bothering him anymore. It was as if he was used to them being there, almost like a companion. He didn't want to fight them any longer. A strange feeling came over him, one of serenity and tranquillity. It was uncanny. Where before they were menacing and incessant, now they were friendly and alluring. Sure, they were still urging him, but he wasn't afraid of them anymore. He was too tired to be afraid. And when he looked up at the clouds, they seemed pleasant in all their hostility and churning. They were no longer his enemy, but a part of him. He actually smiled, accepting them. His nightmare wasn't so scary anymore.

Nightmare.

There was that word again.

"That's it, Herc."

"You can do it, Hercules."

"Don't lose yourself, Hercules."

The voices had changed. They almost seemed excited. Hercules closed his eyes, concentrating, and letting them flow to him- through his ears and to his mind. He liked the sound of them now, and how he could recognize each one of them distinctively.

"Herc, buddy..." That was Jason.

"I think he's coming around..." That was Iolaus.

"Don't push him. He needs to do this on his own..." That was good ol' Cheiron.

"The fright might harm him..." And that was him again. Hercules smiled. Their voices were so clear now- almost tangible- and he wanted to reach out and grab...

Falling. He was falling again into oblivion. When his eyes flicked open it was night, and he was standing on the edge of his mother's property. He closed his eyes again, relishing in the sounds of the voices, letting them be his guide.

Falling. This time when he opened his eyes, he was at the Academy, standing in Cheiron's office. And the headmaster did not look pleased. Hercules smiled and closed his eyes before the Centaur had a chance to speak.

Falling. Now he was by the riverside. Jason and Iolaus were hovering over him, their hair wet and dripping from the rain. He closed his eyes.

One of these times he would get it right, he was sure of it. And he would feel it. When he opened his eyes, it would be like a weight had been lifted, the haze disappearing and leaving him aware and certain. He knew one of these times he would get it right. He didn't know where the feeling was coming from- maybe from his inner strength, maybe from his deep desire to go home- but he knew he would eventually get it right. Even if it took him a life time. And all the while he was searching for that right time and place, he heard the voices cheering him on. Hercules became a one man arsenal against his own sanity.

He was falling again, letting himself be carried by the mysterious force pulling him. This time he woke to Kora's Inn where he had gone with Jason and Iolaus. He was standing on the doorstep as the hostess rushed by carrying a tray. v Falling. Standing with Cheiron outside the Academy.

Falling. Alone in the mess hall.

Falling. But this time it was different. He was outside himself, watching as he ran through the forest carrying a sword. Closer. But not right.

Falling.

No. Flying. His body soared freely, peacefully over an endless field of golden wheat swaying gently in a breeze.

"Take me home," he said, as he closed his eyes, feeling the wind carry him, his arms outstretched. And when he opened his eyes...

He got it right.

*** *** ***
"I don't want the world to see me,
Cause I don't think that they'd understand."
-Goo Goo Dolls

This one felt different. Hercules felt a realism he hadn't felt in a long time, a certainty that couldn't be mistaken for anything else. And everything else, now that he was back, felt like a dream. A very vivid dream, but a dream none-the-less. A wave of relief flowed through him as he turned his attention to those around him. He was sitting back in Cheiron's classroom. Jason, Iolaus and his headmaster- amongst other students- were all staring at him. He was back where it had all began.

"Nice of you to join us again, Hercules," said Cheiron, his arms braced across his bare chest. Hercules smiled.

"That was pretty intense," came Iolaus's voice, loud, vibrant and alive. Hercules' smile broadened.

Cheiron motioned for everyone to take there seats, and with his stern words, the students rushed for their chairs. "Are you all right, Hercules?" he asked, turning his attention back to the cause of the disturbance in his class.

Hercules nodded, sitting back in his chair. "Yeah, I'm okay now," he said with assurance. "It got pretty weird there for awhile, but I'm okay now." He looked around the room, taking in all the staring faces, then he turned back to Cheiron. "I'm definitely okay."

"Good," replied the teacher, turning towards the head of the room. "Cause I'd like to continue with the class now."

Hercules didn't pay much attention to the rest of the class, and it didn't appear that Cheiron cared. Or at least he didn't show it. Which was all too fine for Hercules. He needed the time to gather himself, figure out how he was going to broach the topic with Cheiron after class.

The answer came to him as he made his way down the hall towards his office. He had told Jason and Iolaus he would meet them in the mess hall shortly, there was just a little something he wanted to speak to Cheiron about first. There was something nagging at him that he needed to clear up. He would just come out and bare all, tell Cheiron everything.

He knocked on the door to the office and poked his head in. "Hey, Cheiron," he said apprehensively. "I'd like to talk to you for a moment, if I could?"

Cheiron waved him in. "I thought you would," he replied, indicating to the chair. "Have a seat."

Hercules sat himself down tentatively, blowing out the breath he had been holding. "I wanted to talk to you about what happened in your class," he started, fidgeting in his seat. "While I was..." He paused, searching for the right words. "While I was, out-of-it, I kept hearing these voices." He turned his gaze upwards, locking eyes with Cheiron. "Incessant voices, urging me to come to them."

A look of intrigue swept across Cheiron's face. "What exactly were these voices saying?"

Hercules sat up straight in his chair. "Well, at first, they were faint and kind of disjointed. I couldn't really make out what they were saying. Just that they wanted me... Them and the clouds..."

"Clouds?"

"Yeah. The whole time there were these ugly, grey storm clouds in the sky. It was like they were there just for me. And near the end, I felt like they were a part of me. It was, well, weird." Hercules paused to let Cheiron speak, but he didn't. So Hercules continued. "And the voices, they eventually started to sound like you. Well, like you and Jason and Iolaus. They were saying things like. 'come on, Herc'. And 'you're starting to scare me.' At one point I heard you say 'he's too deep'."

Cheiron smiled. "That was us," he assured. "We did say those things when you were, out-of-it, as you call it."

Hercules looked at him shocked.

"It's true," continued Cheiron. "Iolaus said 'you're starting to scare me,' and I said, 'he's too deep.' We were trying to snap you out of it."

"So, my subconscious was hearing you the whole time?" asked Hercules, feeling rather stupid. "That whole time, that whole time I was afraid of the voices, I should have been listening to them instead of trying to shut them out? No wonder I started to come out of it when I learned to accept them."

Cheiron crossed his arms behind his back and studied the young man before him. "You may not have been ready to at first," he began. "You had to find your own path out of what ever was controlling you."

Hercules jumped in his seat. "Yes!" he cried, jabbing a finger at the Centaur. "I heard you say that! You said, 'find his own path'."

"And these clouds in which you speak of," continued Cheiron. "You said they were always there? And eventually became like a part of you?" Hercules nodded. "They just may have well been. The part connecting you to us, to the real world around you."

Hercules furrowed his brow, tilting his head. "You mean like my subconscious, a sort of physical metaphor?"

"It could be possible," replied Cheiron. "It makes sense, does it not?"

Hercules laughed. "Yeah it does, in a weird sort of way. But there's one other thing..." He took a deep breath. "You know when you wake from a dream?" he continued, leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "And suddenly all those vivid images and stuff just seem to disappear? You start to forget things in your dream that had once seemed so real?"

"Yes," replied Cheiron with a smile. "Dreams are funny that way."

"Well, I still remember everything," Hercules said, lifting his eyes. "I remember every image. Every feeling. Every landscape and place I went. And I'll never forget those clouds."

Cheiron tilted his head. "Maybe you weren't dreaming?"

Hercules pushed the notion aside. "Of course I was," he laughed. "I fell asleep in class. It's not unusual, ya know," he continued playfully. Then he sat back, taking a deep breath. "How long was I asleep anyway?" he asked, eyeing the Centaur skeptically. "I mean, if you guys were trying to wake me up- and I wasn't- weren't you guys starting to worry that something was wrong? I mean, usually I'm not that hard to wake up?"

"There was no need for concern.... yet," started Cheiron, stepping behind his desk. "Any longer and I might have been worried, but you were only gone for a moment or so."

Hercules' mouth dropped, his eyes widened. "That's it? Are you sure?" he asked, but Cheiron didn't have to answer, his expression was enough to convey his response. "So... What was this you were saying about my not being asleep?"

"The mind works in mysterious ways, Hercules," remarked Cheiron, his voice low and cautious as he entered fragile territory. "We can't always explain the things it does. How it works. Or how it controls us. We just have to accept it as a powerful tool and hope it stays with us till the end."

Hercules leaned forward again. "You think I had some sort of mental breakdown?" he asked, the words heavy on his lips. He didn't want to articulate the fact that at this point, it seemed very likely.

"That, you can only answer yourself," replied Cheiron. "It may have been a dream- they can come fast and furious with no sense of time. Or... It may have been something entirely different. Maybe life is not as casual as you and your friends make it out to be? Maybe this was a way for your mind to tell you to take re-stock of your life and how you approach it? I repeat, the mind works in mysterious ways. And this should not be taken lightly. Do you now how powerful the mind is? Do you know what we could be capable of if we could only harness it's strength? Are you sure you want to know?"

The weight of the questions were not lost on Hercules. He had contemplated the same things himself many times before, and he was pretty sure most mortals had also. No one really knew the extent of the mind and all it's mysterious powers. And in a small corner of his mind, he felt maybe that was for the better. He wasn't quite sure the human race was ready to understand life's cryptic capacities yet. Or at least, he knew he wasn't. And he also knew he wasn't going to mention any of this conversation to either Jason or Iolaus. There were just some things that didn't need to be shared. And, if in time, he figured out that he had temporarily lost his mind, he didn't need the rest of the world to find out.

With that to ponder, Hercules left Cheiron's office. There was one place he wanted to go, one thing he wanted to see. So he headed out to the courtyard, looking for the highest point possible. Deciding the wall was good enough, he made his way over and climbed up. Taking a deep breath, he turned his head skyward. The sky was blue, clear and refreshing. With a smile on his face he turned to jump down, but something stopped him. Something his peripheral vision picked up unconsciously.

His head darted to face the Academy, his eyes resting on the sky above the roof. In the far distance, floating away inconspicuously with the breeze...

Dark clouds. Churning silently.

~End~

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