Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream


By Patty


Rating: PG (mild violence)
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Renaissance Pictures, USA Studios and Fox Kids. I am making no money for writing this story.
Summary: The cadets rally to help prevent Jason from succumbing to an evil spell.
Author's Note: This story takes place after Jason's father's death, but before he is crowned King of Corinth.


Iolus was hyper with excitement. The cadets had been training very hard for an especially grueling obstacle course test set up by Cheiron. The training had paid off, and every cadet had passed the test. Tonight was a night to celebrate!

Spying Hercules and Jason in the courtyard, Iolus decided to share the joy. In what could only be called the opposite of a sneak attack, Iolus whooped a war cry and launched himself at the backs of his two unsuspecting friends. Herc and Jason quickly glanced at each other, then stepped to each side. Iolus fell on his face in the space where the two had been a moment before.

Iolus rolled to his back and grinned at the two young men laughing down at him. Jason offered him an arm up, and Iolus sprang to his feet. He threw an arm companionably around each of his friend's shoulders and began to gush. "Just think of it. A whole night off, with no duty tomorrow. A dance in town, with p-lent-ty of available girls."

Jason got caught up in Iolus' fantasies. "I intend to *find* one of those available girls and occupy her time for most of the evening." He said this with a smirk and a wink to his friends.

"Too bad Cyanne isn't here, then even Hercules would be joining in the fun." added Iolus. Jason jabbed him sharply in the ribs. Iolus just never knew when to quit when he was ahead. But mentioning Cyanne the Amazon Queen didn't seem to darken Hercules' mood. "I intend to have plenty of fun. I might even ask Kora to dance." The blonde tavern keeper had caught Hercules' eye, and she seemed to admire him back.

"KOR-aaa.." chorused Jason and Iolus, and the three of them walked off together with much pushing, shoving and general merriment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hercules wandered around the edge of the group dancing around the bonfire. The party was winding down, but it had been a great success. It seemed like every cadet and every townsperson had made their way to the dance tonight, and everyone was having a wonderful time. Hercules spied Jason dancing with a very attractive young woman; he'd been dancing with her all night. Hercules smiled at his friend's good fortune.

Iolus had also been fortunate. He'd hit on just about every available woman at the dance, and was never lonely for a partner, though he never settled on just one. He was having the time of his life. Hercules was a little envious of his friend's easy way with women, or maybe he was jealous of the fact that Iolus has so few inhibitions. Hercules could never be as forward with a girl as Iolus was, though he *had* worked up the courage to ask Kora to dance.

Thinking of Iolus seemed to make him appear. With a cup of cold cider in hand, Iolus came sauntering up to Hercules. "Hey Herc! Are you only going to have one dance?"

"Don't worry about me, Iolus. I'm having a fine time." He winked conspiratorially at his friend. "Doesn't look like you're having any problems finding someone to dance with..."

Iolus grinned smugly. "With dancing feet like mine, who could resist?" He waved his cup grandly at the crowd. "So many girls, so little time. Have you seen Jason?"

Hercules scanned the crowd. He looked to where he had last seen the crowned prince of Corinth, but Jason and his new friend seemed to have disappeared. "He *was* over there with that dark haired girl, but I don't see him now."

Iolus gave a chuckle. "Good for him! Did you see that girl he was with?" He whistled appreciatively. "She's been hanging on him all night. I think our friend may get lucky..."

"And why not?" responded a voice from behind them. Hercules and Iolus turned to see Jason standing behind them, looking very happy with himself.

Iolus immediately started to pepper him with questions. "Who was that girl? Where did the two of you go? And *what* were you doing?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, so Jason ignored him.

Hercules, having a little more respect for his friend's privacy, didn't pry as much. Instead he concentrated on asking about a new charm Jason was wearing. He knew the prince hadn't been wearing it when they'd arrived at the dance. "Is that a gift from your new *friend*?" Herc asked pointedly.

Jason looked down and fingered the charm he wore. The gold charm was an intricate design of whorls and vines. It glowed warmly in the firelight. He looked up with a smile. "Athena says it's a charm to bring pleasant dreams. She says it will help me dream of her tonight."

"Dream of her?" Iolus was outraged for his friend. "All you get to do is dream? That's just wrong!"

Hercules tried to shut Iolus up with a glare; Jason seemed to be genuinely interested in this girl. The last thing he needed was to have Iolus ragging him about it. But Jason again took the high road and refused to rise to Iolus' bait. "I may be dreaming of her tonight, but we've arranged to meet again, day after tomorrow." He fingered the charm again and a soft smile came to his face. The soft affection was quickly replaced with a grin, "I won't be dreaming then." Iolus didn't seem to catch it, but Hercules didn't miss the honest attraction Jason seemed to feel for the girl.

Sensing a need to change the subject, Hercules interjected. "We won't be doing any dreaming unless we get back to the Academy. We may not have duty tomorrow, but we still have curfew. Cheiron will have us cleaning the stables again if we're late."

Jason tried to stifle a huge yawn. "Herc's right, it's time we headed back."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The cadets headed back to the Academy in a big group. Most of the cadets were still pumped up by the evening, and chatted excitedly as they walked home. Jason hung back a little, and Hercules slowed his stride to match him. Jason seemed in an unusually reflective mood, and Hercules guessed he didn't want to share with the group. "You still have Athena on your mind?"

Jason nodded. "It's really strange, Herc. I've only known her a few hours, and I feel like... I don't know. There's something about her. She had the most wonderful sparkling eyes..."

Herc gave silent thanks to Zeus that Iolus had walked ahead with the other cadets. If he'd been in on this conversation he certainly would've gone off on the "sparkling eyes" comment. But Jason seemed serious, so Hercules just listened. "She is so beautiful and smart. And as far as she knew, I was just another cadet, not the crowned prince of Corinth. That can get to be a real drag sometimes."

Hercules nodded. He knew that Jason took his duties as crowned prince very seriously. And he wasn't the kind of guy to lord his position over the other cadets. They followed his lead because he was strong and smart. Probably the best warrior out of all of them. He would make a great king one day. But Hercules knew that it bothered him when girls suddenly paid more attention when they found out he was a prince. Not that he didn't play it up occasionally, but he was looking for someone to love him for who he was, not what he would eventually be.

"So you're pretty serious about this girl?"

"I guess... I don't know. But I guess she must like me. She gave me the charm and everything." Jason stifled another yawn as he reached down to touch the charm around his neck. "That must count for something. Plus, she's a great dancer."

"She'd have to be to keep up with you." answered Hercules. With the mood lightened, the young men picked up the pace, and caught up with the tail end of the pack of cadets heading for home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a still well of water, the images of Hercules and Jason faded from sight. A hooded figure turned away from the well. His hunched form was more an indication of subordination than old age. "It all goes according to plan, my lord."

A heavily armored man stepped out of the shadows. "I don't like this. And I don't like you. But if this will get the baby prince out of my way, I'll do it." He fingered his sword unconsciously. "I'd rather kill him outright, like a man."

"Patience, my lord, patience. Why kill the prince outright and start a war, when it can be done with a trace of mystery? No one will ever be able to trace his death back to you, and the Corinth won't be able to start a war with you, until you are ready to bring it to them." The wizard spoke in a simpering tone that was completely irritating to the warrior.

"If this doesn't work, Mycene..." the warrior left the threat hanging.

"It cannot fail, my Lord Tracius. He has no indication that he is in any kind of danger. The charm he now wears around his neck has already begun to zap his strength. All he has to do is fall asleep...then he will never wake."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hercules settled himself on his bed, and listened as his friends made themselves ready for bed. He was mighty glad they didn't have to get up in the morning. Everyone was worn out - Iolus and Jason must be exhausted, they danced almost every dance. The room slowly quieted, and as Iolus blew out the candle by his bed he called out sweetly, "Pleasant dreams, Jason."

The sounds of quiet breathing filled the room. The silence lasted only a moment.

The alarm bell shattered the stillness, and in the dark, Hercules could hear the feet of every cadet hitting the floor at a dead run. They all knew the drill, Cheiron had pounded it into their heads. The alarm bell was the signal for every cadet to drop what they were doing and assemble in the practice room. In case of an emergency, they would have easy access to weapons, along with whatever weapon they managed to grab on the way there.

"A drill? Now?!" Iolus' voice was shrill. "First he gives us the night off with no duty, then he pulls this? That's just cruel." In spite of his complaining, Iolus was running just as fast as anyone, and had managed to pick up a wicked assortment of daggers along the way.

"That's Cheiron for you." was all Hercules answered. The cadets were quickly assembled. Hercules was surprised to notice that Jason was the last to arrive. And he looked winded. Jason quickly filled in between Iolus and Hercules. "Guess the dance took more out of me than I thought."

Before Hercules could reply, Cheiron stepped before them, along with Detrion, another teacher at the Academy. They scanned the faces of the young men and woman before them. Cheiron nodded his pleasure at the group. "You assembled quickly, as you were taught. I will see Jason now, the rest of you may return to your beds. No more drills tonight."

With some grumbling about being sent back to bed with no explanation, most of the cadets returned to the dorm. After exchanging a glance with Iolus, Hercules hung back to see why Cheiron needed to see Jason. He was Jason's friend after all, and if he was in any kind of trouble, Hercules wanted to help. If nothing else, Hercules and Iolus would be able to vouch that Jason had been at the dance all night.

Jason looked perplexed. "Cheiron? Is there something wrong? Is everything in Corinth all right?"

The centaur answered. "The city is fine, Jason. But, how are you feeling?"

Hercules and Iolus crept closer to hear. "I'm fine, Cheiron. Just a little tired from all that dancing tonight."

Detrion nodded grimly. "That's what we were afraid of. Where did you get this?" He pointed to the dream charm that Jason still wore around his neck.

"A girl gave it to me, at the dance." Jason moved to take the charm from around his neck so Cheiron and Detrion could have a closer look. "NO!" they shouted simultaneously. Jason froze.

Hercules stepped forward. "What's going on? Why can't he take it off?"

Detrion had stepped up to Jason and held the charm in his hand. "This is evil. Evil magic." Jason started to look alarmed. Detrion let the charm fall back against the young man's chest. "I've only read about this kind of charm. It's a good thing we have wards set up to alert us to hostile magic or we wouldn't have caught this in time."

"Caught this? Caught what?" Iolus moved in closer to stand on the other side of Jason. Though the boys did it unconsciously, Cheiron was proud to see them close ranks to try and protect their friend. He would need their help before this was all over.

Detrion's voice took on a lecturing tone. "This charm Jason is wearing is filled with insidious magic. As soon as he put it on it began to drain his strength. If he had taken it off right now, it would have taken all his strength at once and killed him outright." The three young men looked horrified, and Cheiron looked grave. "What we have to do now is make sure Jason stays awake long enough for Cheiron to find a sorcerer who knows how to counteract this spell. I don't know enough to do it myself, and if the counter spell isn't enacted correctly, the mistake could kill Jason too."

Clearly not wanting to, Jason asked, "What happens if I *do* fall asleep?"

Detrion replied somberly. "You will never wake."

Cheiron clasped the young prince's shoulder. "I will leave now. I have a friend who lives about a day's run from here. I believe he knows enough magic to counteract this spell." Jason nodded numbly. Cheiron turned his attention to Hercules and Iolus. "I will need you two, along with the other cadets, to help Jason stay awake until I return."

Iolus, being Iolus, in spite of the situation was unable to hold back from cracking wise. "Well then, I guess that lets you out of Master Petrion's class for now...he always puts you right to sleep." No one else seemed to appreciate the humor.

"Don't worry, Cheiron. Jason will be awake when you return. We won't let you down." Hercules said this last to his friend. Jason nodded his acceptance and thanks. With no further discussions, Cheiron headed for the door. The cadets could hear the sound of galloping as soon as he made it to the courtyard.

"Don't worry Jace, he'll be back in no time." The three men stared at the empty doorway as if to speed Cheiron on his way with their thoughts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The image of the three young men was shattered as Tracius slammed his fist into the water. "What is this, Mycene?!" His face was a mask of rage. Mycene simpered and groveled his way around the well, keeping the edges of the fountain between him and his enraged lord. "You promised that the baby prince would be sleeping his way to death by now! That no one would be able to detect your charm! Well here he is, awake and still not dead. And that half-breed centaur is on his way to get help. Tell me just how your plan has been successful, sorcerer?"

"My lord, my lord. The plan has not yet failed." Mycene was trying frantically to calm Lord Tracius, and cover his own butt in the process. "The prince will still die, only it will be a more painful process. But the time he gives in, he will have wished he had died in his sleep."

The thought of Jason suffering slowly seemed to catch Tracius' attention as Mycene knew it would. The idea of anyone suffering always brought him pleasure. As he slowly calmed, Mycene kept talking. "No matter that the centaur has gone for help. They will have to keep the boy awake for almost two whole days, which is next to impossible for a person at full strength. He knows he cannot take off the charm, so it will continue to drain him. The more active he is, the faster the charm will work. But if he sits down to conserve his energy, he will be more inclined to want to fall asleep."

Tracius was nodding with a satisfied smirk as Mycene continued. "Not only will the boy suffer, but his friends will be in agony knowing that they tried to save him in vain. And on top of all that....we have a secret weapon."

Mycene gestured to the shadows. Forward stepped a beautiful young woman who was clearly ensorcelled. Mycene gently touched her head, and caressed her hair as a loving father would do to a favored daughter. "I believe our princeling may have lost his heart along with his strength. I'm sure he will try to see her again in spite of his predicament. And when he does..." he chuckled coldly, "Athena will kill him."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hercules was worried. It has been almost a day since Cheiron left and if luck was with them he should be on his way back to the Academy. But the situation with Jason was not good. Even Iolus was beginning to show signs of serious concern, and for something to get his attention like that, it had to be grim.

The first night wasn't so bad. Hercules, Iolus and Detrion had remained awake the rest of the night with Jason. Since they had stayed out very late the night before at the party, dawn wasn't long in coming. When the other cadets rose, Detrion explained the situation, and the cadets came up with a schedule - they would take turns making sure Jason didn't fall asleep.

They quickly uncovered a flaw in their plan. They had counted on being able to keep Jason occupied with drills and exercise, but it became apparent that the harder he worked out, the faster he became exhausted. Letting him settle in one place for too long was bad too; he had a distressing tendencyto want to relax, and that would lead to sleep. By the end of the first day,everyone was on edge and afraid that they would be the one who let Jason fall asleep. Nerves were raw, and no one was more on edge than Jason.

Jason was aware, but unable to express his appreciation for the effort his friends were making for him. He was trying just as hard as they were to keep a positive attitude, but his thoughts were beginning to get muddled, and he was finding it hard to think straight. Everyone seemed to be speaking to him from far away, and what they were saying had begun to stop making sense. Every fiber of his being screamed for sleep; and he was almost to the point of welcoming oblivion. He would have done it too, if he didn't know that he would let everyone down if he did.

It was Hercules' turn to stay with Jason. A part of Jason's mind wondered from far away where Iolus was. He knew the other cadets were sleeping in shifts. And someone had lay down a strict rule that no one could yawn or otherwise demonstrate sleepiness in front of him. Hercules was trying to keep Jason occupied with a series of geometry questions, but Jason had never been a fan of math, and the theories of Pythagorem kept eluding him.

Jason rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Ugh, Herc! No more geometry. It's not like I'll every use it in real life. Ask me something different."

Hercules was glad to get a response out of Jason. It was getting harder and harder to keep him focused. He silently prayed that Iolus would return soon. Maybe their secret weapon would be able to help. "Okay Jace. Let's go through the Kings of Corinth from the founding. I *know* you're interested in that."

Jason nodded his assent. This was a subject near and dear to his heart. He studied the history of Corinth very seriously and intended not to repeat the mistakes of foolish kings from the past. He began to recite the kings and what they accomplished during their reigns. Hercules took hold of his arm, and led him in a slow walk around the courtyard. He began to notice that Jason was mixing the kings up, and the deeds he attributed to each one were way off the mark. Hercules was alarmed when he noticed Jason's head beginning to nod even as he was speaking.

He gave a yank on Jason's arm, and the prince's head snapped up. He gasped in alarm at how close he had come to dozing. "Sorry Herc." He shook his head as if to clear it. "I just...I was...what was I doing?"

Hercules tried to hide his anguish. "The kings. You were reciting the kings of Corinth. Try it again."

"Okay. Kings of Corinth. Right." Jason took a few steps forward. "Just let me sit down for a minute, okay?"

"No!" Hercules hauled on Jason's arm, bodily keeping him on his feet. "No Jace, we need to keep moving. Walk with me."

The urgency in Hercules' voice registered with Jason, and he really did try to keep walking. But after a few steps he faltered again. "Just let me sit down a minute. Just a minute, then I'll be fine."

"No! Jason!" Hercules was pleading now, but he didn't seem to be getting through to his friend. Jason's right leg began to slide out from under him as Hercules frantically pulled on his left arm to keep him on his feet. "Just a few minutes, then I'll be fine..." Jason mumbled.

"Stand up straight young man!" A new voice cut across the courtyard.

Jason snapped to attention looking around in confusion. "Mom?" From the entrance of the Academy two figured hurried forward. Jason squinted his eyes and tried to make out the people approaching them. "Mom?" he asked again. "Is that you?"

"Close enough." replied the woman with a gentle smile. She took the young prince's face in her hands, then turned to Iolus. "Make up that tea for me, and hurry now, Iolus."

"Sure Alcemene. Right away." Iolus ran off to the kitchen with the basket of herbs from Alcemene's garden.

"Mom." Hercules said with relief, "Thanks for coming." Alcemene linked her left arm through Jason's right one and got him walking again. "You were right to send for me Hercules. You know I'll do whatever I can to help."

Jason, still confused and thinking he was speaking with his long dead mother, asked again. "Mom?"

"Yes dear." she patted his arm gently. "You were reciting the kings of Corinth. Why don't you start again."

Walking with Alcemene seemed to bring a new energy to Jason. "I've missed you, Mom. I'm glad you're here." He smiled and turned to Hercules. "Do you see my mom? I don't think you ever met her." Hercules just smiled and nodded. It pained his heart to see Jason so confused, but he was so grateful to Alcemene for arriving when she did.

Hercules leaned forward a little so he could see Alcemene. "Yup, looks like you've got the best mother there is." The two shared a secret smile and continued to walk Jason around until Iolus arrived with the tea.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With Alcemene's help keeping Jason occupied, and the strong stimulating tea she brought, they made it through the night. By the dawn, Jason seemed to have caught his second wind, and was slightly more coherent. Everyone was starting to feel the pressure. They had no word from Cheiron, but if fortune smiled, he would be on his way back to the Academy.

Jason was sitting with Iolus and Hercules. Though he was exhausted, his appetite didn't seem to be affected. He spoke between mouthfuls. "We need to do something. Just sitting here waiting is killing me." He grinned with black humor. "Literally."

Hercules grimaced. "Jason, there's nothing we *can* do. Our best bet is to stay here and wait for Cheiron to get back. We need to break the spell before we can do anything else."

"I want to find out who did this to me. And why. Of all the underhanded, cowardly things to do. And I want to find out..." he caught Hercules' eye, and Herc could see the pain there. "...why Athena was involved." He threw his fork down onto his plate in disgust. "I just can't believe she did this to me. I thought she really liked me."

"Weren't you supposed to meet her today?" Iolus asked.

Jason seized upon the idea. "Yes, I was. If I can go meet her, maybe we can find out who is behind this."

"I don't think this is a good idea." cautioned Hercules. "You're feeling better now, but we don't know how long it will last."

If we don't find her now, we may never find her." argued Jason. "This may be our only chance!"

"I agree with Jason, Herc. If we don't find out who's behind this, what's to say they won't try again?" Iolus added. Jason nodded feverently. In his confusion he could only see his desire to find out why the girl he thought he knew betrayed him.

"C'mon Herc. We'll be careful. We can take all the cadets with us if you want. I'll even ride into town to save my strength. But I need to see her." Against his better judgment, Hercules conceded. Within minutes, the cadets were assembled and headed into town.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lord Tracius was in a rage again. "Underhanded? Cowardly? Did you hear what that young pup called me?"

Mycene didn't bother to point out that the sleep spell *was* underhanded and cowardly. "My lord, my lord..."

But this time Tracius would have none of it. "I knew I never should have listened to you. I want that boy dead, and I want him dead NOW. By my hand."

Tracius turned to one of his guardsmen standing nearby. "Call my men together. We are heading into town. I will have the prince's head!"

"Yes, my lord." The guard ran off.

"Lord Tracius...there is really no need. By the time we arrive, Athena will have already finished him off."

Tracius gave Mycene a withering glance. "No other part of the plan has worked, why should I believe you now? No. The prince will die by my hand today. And tomorrow I bring war to Corinth."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The core of cadets marched into town singing at the top of their lungs. The more intelligent merchants saw them coming and quickly closed down for the day. Having the whole group arriving like that could only mean trouble. Jason dismounted in front of Cora's, wobbling only slightly. He held on to the saddle for support. That concerned Hercules. Though Jason seemed to be a little more alert, his body wasn't responding the way it should.

"Where were you supposed to meet Athena?" Hercules asked.

"Here at Kora's." replied Jason. "I don't see her yet."

"Maybe she's inside." volunteered Iolus. "I'll check." Iolus dashed into the tavern. The other cadets spread out throughout the town square, but Hercules remained close to Jason.

"Jace, what are you going to do?" Herc dropped his voice to ask attempting to allow Jason some privacy with this tricky problem.

"I don't know Herc. I just can't believe she's behind this. That she would betray me." He looked down sadly at the charm that weighed like an anchor around his neck.

"Jason?" a soft voice called. Hercules and Jason turned to see Athena standing by the side of the tavern. Jason approached her cautiously, with Hercules only a step or two behind.

Jason was torn between delight and anger. His mind knew that she was the source of the spell that was killing him, but his heart couldn't believe she did it of her own free will. "Athena." He held out his hands to her, then dropped them. "We need to talk."

"I know." she replied sadly, and turned to walk along the side of the building. Jason followed closely to hear her whispered words. "I had such a good time the other night. I really do like you..." Athena whirled, her eyes glowing a mad red, holding a small but sharp knife in her hand. She snatched the leather thong holding the charm around Jason's neck. He jerked back, but wasn't able to pull free.

In a split second Athena slashed at the cord cutting it cleanly. Jason began to gasp as the charm slid slowly off. Hercules kicked Athena knocking her away from Jason. He caught the slashed cord before it slid completely free and quickly tied it up in a knot. Jason looked drained, but he was still awake. The charm hadn't been taken from him, but even that instant of having it removed weakened him greatly.

By this time, Iolus had found the pair. He rushed to get Jason back on his feet. Hercules approached Athena angerly. "Who are you? Why are you doing this?" The girl's eyes still glowed madly. Hercules noticed she wore a charm, not unlike the one Jason wore. He reached out and snapped it off of the girl's neck. She gasped and fell back. When she opened her eyes, they were clear again, a normal brown.

"By Zeus! What have I done?" Hercules, sensing the danger was over, helped the girl to her feet. "Oh Jason...I'm so sorry!" She tried to approach the weakened prince, but he backed away into Iolus. Athena seemed to understand his reluctance. "I was under a spell placed on my by the sorcerer Mycene. He is working with Lord Tracius to kill Jason."

"Tracius?!" Jason spat out. "He is an enemy of Corinth and has been making trouble for years."

"The trouble has only just begun, princeling." snarled an evil voice from behind them. Jason and Iolus whirled. There before them stood Lord Tracuis. "Somehow I knew the girl wouldn't be able to kill you, and Iíll have to do it myself." Before he could advance further, Hercules gave a shrill whistle to alert the cadets of trouble. Young men seemed to pop out of the woodwork. Not to be undone, Tracius called his troops out. Soon there was hand to hand combat all over the square.

Hercules sent Athena into Kora's to get her out of the fighting. The cadets closed ranks around Jason. He stood at the ready inside the circle, adrenaline giving him the strength he needed. The clash of swords rang out from all around them. The merchants who hadn't closed up were now wishing they had as their merchandise was destroyed.

Tracius's men picked off the cadets to engage them one on one. Slowly the circle protecting Jason eroded. Iolus was holding off two soldiers, as Hercules engaged Tracius.

"I will kill you. Then I will kill the prince. You can't save him now."

Hercules responded as they fought. "You...can't...have...him." He rushed in and under Tracuis's guard and sent the man flying with a massive kick. Hercules turned back to see Jason fighting off a soldier of his own. Hercules ran back to join Jason. The two of them knocked the man out. Hercules then turned to fight off another advancing soldier. Soon the bodies of Tracius' men littered the town square. Tracuis picked himself up from where he had landed across the square. He rallied his men to him. The cadets once again closed ranks in front of Jason. All stood at the ready.

Tracius called out. "You cadets fight well. You may have won this battle, but I still got what I came here for." He pointed. Hercules and Iolus whirled to see Jason collapse against the wall of the tavern. "No!" was Iolus' anguished cry.

"Jason!" was Hercules' echo. Though they were only a few feet away, getting to Jason was like running in a slow motion dream. They reached Jason simultaneously, Iolus leaping over his fallen body to support his other side. His breathing was labored and he could barely lift his head to speak to them.

"Sorry...guys. I tried. Stop... Tracius. For... Corinth."

Jason closed his eyes and fell silent. Hercules shook him and called his name. "Jason. Wake up."

Iolus tried from his side. "C'mon, Jason. You can't quit now. We're so close!"

The prince didn't respond. He could no longer withstand the power of the spell, the fight having drained the last of his energy. His friends became more frantic.

"Jason, please. Wake up. Come ON." Hercules shook and jostled his friend, but to no avail.

Iolus bowed his head. "Oh ... no."

A somber silence filled the square as the cadets gathered around their fallen friend. Hercules squeezed his eyes shut tight, trying not to see the still form before him, trying not to cry. He could hear the shuffling of the feet of the cadets around him. Then a new sound. Hoofsteps. And a low chanting. Hercules could hear the cadets giving way to the new arrivals. He opened his eyes and looked up and Cheiron. "You're too late, Cheiron. We never should have come into town. I shouldn't have let him."

"We are, perhaps, just in time." It was then Hercules noticed the man sitting astride Cheiron's horse-half. Hercules had *never* seen Cheiron giving anyone a ride before. It just wasn't something centaurs did. But the man on his back did not seem to be fully aware of what was going on; he was the source of the low chanting.

"Florian and I made good time. As we approached the town we heard the sounds of fighting. Florian guessed that our assassin had run out of patience and was attempting to force Jason into a fight to drain his energy faster. He has been chanting the counter spell since we arrived. If we are lucky, we were close enough for it to begin to take effect before Jason lost consciousness."

Hercules' heart filled with hope. Cheiron moved in closer to check Jason's pulse. "He is still breathing and his heart is strong. I think we may have been in time." He bent down, and with his human half, lifted the sleeping prince as easily as he would have lifted a baby. Hercules marveled at the strength of the centaur as he turned to head back to the Academy. "Gather the cadets, and meet us back at the Academy." Cheiron set off at an easy gallop with Jason in his arms, and Florian on his back.

Iolus grasped Hercules' arm. "Do you think he'll be okay?"

Hercules allowed himself to hold onto hope. "I think maybe he will. Let's get going."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few days later, Hercules approached Jason's bed in the dorm. The prince was staring forlornly out the window. Hercules grinned. "Hey Jace. My mom sent you some soup."

Hercules placed the tray he'd been carrying down on the bed next to Jason. Jason looked over and took in a deep breath appreciatively. "Smells great. Alcemene is the best." He looked at Hercules seriously. "I have a lot of people to thank."

Iolus who had followed Hercules with a basket of bread, bounced onto the end of Jason's bed and made himself comfortable. "You sure do." He cleared his throat theatrically. "Thank you, Iolus..." he prompted in a sing-song voice. Jason straightened his legs off and shoved Iolus off the end of the bed.

Hercules laughed as Iolus made a show of being injured, then asked, "How are you feeling?"

Jason replied, "Well after spending almost a week in bed, I'm bored out of my mind."

Iolus having made himself comfortable again said, "Detrion says that's a good sign. You'll be up and around in no time."

Jason looked grimly out the window again. "In time to deal with Tracius." Herc and Iolus exchanged glances. "Why don't we get you on your feet first... we can deal with him some other time." Hercules suggested.

"I know you're right... but I know he's out there. I won't let him have Corinth." Hercules grinned. Now this was the Jason he had come to know.

"Well until you can stand up on your own, there's not much you can do. My mother sent orders for you to eat all this soup. And there's a whole pot of it left in the kitchen."

"A pot of Alcemene's soup? In the kitchen?" Iolus jumped up, pelting Hercules and Jason with bread in his rush to get moving. Jason ducked, then gathered up the bread that had fallen on the bed. "He's got his priorities hasn't he?" Jason laughed.

"We're just glad to have you back, Jason."

"Glad to be back, thanks to you." Jason reached out and grasped Hercules' arm in thanks. Then set down to eating some serious soup.


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