"WHAT?!" Iolaus jerked. He heard the snickering from the other cadets.
"Are you okay?" Hercules eyed him closely.
"Uh...well...yeah, I guess so," Iolaus stammered. For some reason, he felt uncomfortable lying to Hercules. Now lying to Cheiron (or trying to) was a challenge. But with Hercules, it was almost like taking advantage of him.
"You guess?" Jason laughed.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Iolaus blustered. "Why all the questions?"
"You just looked...uncomfortable or something," Hercules muttered.
"What's to be uncomfortable about?" Iolaus demanded. "All we gotta do is show Cheiron we can save people who are drowning, right? So what's to be uncomfortable about?" He grinned. "Tell you what...I'll even play victim. You guys can save ME."
"Now there's a challenge," Jason rolled his eyes.
"Oh...and don't think I'm going to make it easy on you either," Iolaus flung the words over his shoulder.
Jason glanced at Hercules and shrugged.
Hours later they were at the river. Cheiron had split them into teams. He saw Iolaus fidgeting as he watched the others. When Iolaus spied the centaur eyeing him, he grinned. "Maybe we should have a designated vicim for everybody," he suggested.
Iolaus was up to something, Cheiron nodded to himself. He just wondered what it could be. He ignored the boy and concentrated on the group in the water.
Hercules eyed his friend closely. "Iolaus, are you sure, you're okay?" he pressed.
"Will you stop mother henning me?" Iolaus grumped. "I'm fine. I'm just planning my strategy on how difficult it will be to rescue me."
"Keep up with that attitute and it will be hard," Hercules grumbled.
"Fine!" Iolaus suddenly snapped. "Go save somebody else!" With those words, he got up and walked away.
"Iolaus!" Hercules shouted. He shook his head when his friend kept walking away.
"Is there a problem?" Cheiron quietly asked.
Hercules hesitated. "No, sir," he shook his head. "Iolaus is...well, he's trying to get into the role of helpless victim." His face reddened and wondered how Iolaus managed to spin far more outrageous stories with a straight face.
"I see," Cheiron drily replied. "Perhaps you'd better explain to him it might be more difficult for YOU to play the part of helpless victim."
"Yes, sir," Hercules gratefully turned away to find his friend.
'This is ridiculous', Iolaus told himself as he threw a rock into the still water. 'All you have to do is jump...no walk into the water...you know Herc won't let anything happen to you.' He sighed heavily wondering how he was going to manage facing his friends once they saw him panic. Once his head got beneath the water, he knew he would panic. He always did. He recalled his father screaming at him when he'd tried...NO!...forget about that!
"WHAT?!" Iolaus angrily spun around. "Will you quit sneaking up on me like that?"
"I wasn't sneaking!" Hercules denied. "I've been calling your name for at least a half minute!"
"Sorry," Iolaus mumbled. "Look, let's just get this over with, okay?"
"Iolaus...please tell me what's wrong," Hercules quietly asked.
"There's nothing wrong," Iolaus stubbornly denied. "Now can we just get this over with?"
"Fine," Hercules grumbled. If that was how his friend wanted to be, then so be it, he decided as he followed Iolaus back to the others. Let him work it out himself. He knew he was being childish but...Iolaus was supposed to be his friend and friends let friends help one another. Why did Iolaus have to be so....stubborn all the time?
Cheiron glanced at them as they returned. Jason was in the process of diving into the water after a younger recruit who was splashing around in the water melodramatically calling for help.
"When did THEY get here?" Iolaus hissed to Hercules.
'Oh, so now you want to talk, huh?' Hercules mentally shrugged. Sometimes Iolaus had more mood swings than...
"And who is SHE?" Iolaus pointed at a small dark-haired girl standing in the crowd.
'That's Phoebe," Hercules answered. "She's not exactly a cadet. Her father's an old friend of Cheiron's. He asked Cheiron to keep an eye on her while he's away at war. Seems her mother's dead and she doesn't have any other family."
Iolaus sighed. Well, that killed that romance, he ruefully acknowledged. He doubted Cheiron would let him within 50 feet of the girl.
"Very well done, Jason," Cheiron called approvingly. He glanced to one side. "Iolaus! You seem eager to play the victim."
Iolaus threw Hercules an angry look. Hercules flushed and half-shrugged.
"Get into the water," Cheiron ordered. He waited two seconds then continued. "Not you, Hercules."
"What?" Iolaus spun around in surprise. "But...but..."
"The two of you have been paired a lot lately," Cheiron said consideringly. "Phoebe! Why don't you try rescuing Iolaus?"
Some of the cades, Jason included Iolaus was sure, began snickering. Phoebe's blue eyes lit up at first then she looked a little doubtful. "Me?" she quietly asked.
"Yes, you," Cheiron nodded. "Let's see how much your father has taught you."
"But...but..." Iolaus stammered. "Uh, Cheiron." He took a few steps closer to the centaur. "I don't mean any disrespect but...she's a girl."
"And?" The centaur crossed his arms over his chest.
"Uh...well...nothing." Resigned, Iolaus turned around and began trudging towards the water.
"Cheiron," Hercules quietly spoke. "I don't know what's wrong with Iolaus but..."
"Then he should have told you," Cheiron firmly interrupted. "Sometimes Iolaus' pride gets in the way of his good sense."
"What good sense?" Jason muttered. He flushed when Cheiron's eyes flickered in his direction.
Iolaus took a deep breath as the water covered his knees. 'Maybe I'll just go ahead and drown', he miserably thought. It wouldn't be any worse than screaming in panic in front of Hercules and the others when the water got over his head. In spite of himself, he shivered as the water reached his chest.
Hercules frowned. "Jason, Iolaus isn't kidding," he whispered. "Something's wrong."
"You think...maybe he can't swim?" Jason's eyes widened in surprise.
"I don't know," Hercules shook his head. "Why wouldn't he have said something? It's not a big deal."
"This is Iolaus we're talking about, remember?" Jason hissed. "Look, if he gets in real trouble, I'll dive in. Iolaus and I'll tell Cheiron it was a muscle cramp or something."
"I'll go in," Hercules argued.
Jason gave him a pitying look. "You? Lie to Cheiron?" he shook his head. "You'd never get away with it."
"Neither will you and Iolaus," Hercules hissed back.
Iolaus hesitated as the water reached his chin. Slowly, not moving his feet from the mud, he turned around. He quickly closed his eyes so his friends wouldn't see the panic in them. Why did he have the feeling that Hercules knew he was in trouble?...the water reached his chin and his arms flailed in panic. "HER..." he screamed as he disappeared under the water.
Hercules wanted to smack the heads of those who laughed what they perceived as Iolaus' antics. He glanced at Jason who looked like he wanted to do the same.
"HE..." Iolaus shouted as his head briefly appeared above the water.
Hercules started for the water ignoring Cheiron's command to stop. He felt Jason moving behind him.
Suddenly Phoebe flashed past both boys diving cleanly into the water.
Hercules saw a flash of Iolaus' golden hair beneath the water as Phoebe dived under. He glanced at Jason who stood with fists clenched closely watching the water.
Suddenly both Phoebe and Iolaus shot to the surface. Phoebe was having difficulty holding onto Iolaus. Lost in a sea of panic, Iolaus was trying to climb over Phoebe to get out of the water. Arms flailing, he fell back into the water with a loud splash and disappeared. Phoebe quickly took a deep breath and dove after him.
Cheiron briskly ordered the laughing cadets to be silent.
The sunlight flickered off the calming water. Hercules knew the water at this point was really deep. He glanced at Jason silently hoping the other boy could see something he couldn't. Jason's eyes were fixed on the water, his face a study in grim worry.
Suddenly Phoebe shot to the surface. She quickly began to swim towards the shore floating a dazed Iolaus behind her. Not waiting for Phoebe to get to the shore, Jason and Hercules ran into the water to help.
Exhausted, Phoebe staggered up the bank where her friends began drying her off with extra towels.
"Iolaus? Iolaus?" Hercules muttered as he and Jason lay Iolaus on the ground. To his relief, Iolaus began coughing to catch his breath.
Jason caught a towel that Cheiron tossed to him and began drying Iolaus' head. "Breathe normally, Iolaus," he advised.
"Easy...easy...for you...aww..." Iolaus coughed.
After a few minutes, he allowed his friends to help him to his feet. He glanced up to see Cheiron staring at him.
"Tomorrow, Iolaus," the centaur quietly ordered. "You WILL learn to swim."
It was all Iolaus could do to nod. Maybe, he thought, he would be sick tomorrow. After all, he'd been in the water a long time...
"Why didn't you say something?" Jason hissed. "You could have drowned!"
"Easy, Jason," Hercules advised seeing the expression on Iolaus' face. "It doesn't matter. We can teach him."
Iolaus turned around to find Phoebe launching herself into his arms. "Uh...Phoebe?" he glanced over her shoulder relieved that Cheiron's attention was elsewhere.
"Iolaus, that was the nicest thing ANYONE has ever done for me!" Phoebe gushed. Hugging him again, she sighed. "It's so WONDERFUL to see a man who isn't afraid to let a woman be strong!"
"It is?" Iolaus' eyebrows rose.
"A man?" Jason turned away before he laughed out loud. It didn't help that Hercules' face was turning a bright shade of red as well.
"Yes," Phoebe nodded. "You LET me rescue you. You didn't feel it would degrade you to allow me to rescue you."
"Well..." Iolaus half-flushed. "I'd never...you really feel that way?"
"Oh, yes!" Phoebe laughed. "Oh, Iolaus...you're WONDERFUL!" She shyly kissed him on the cheek and ran back to her friends.
Iolaus watched her with a delighted smile.
"I do NOT believe this," Jason muttered. "You nearly drown, nearly scare US to death by nearly drowning, and SHE thinks it was all your idea to begin with!" He glanced at Hercules. "I think we need to tell her the truth."
Iolaus glanced over his shoulder and laughed. "Maybe it was my idea all along," he taunted.
"Let's toss you back in and find out," Jason's eyes glittered dangerously.
"Jason," Hercules put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "She'll find out."
"How?" Jason demanded.
"Yeah...how?" Iolaus echoed. After a second, he continued. "I mean, what makes you think there's anything to find out?"
Hercules shrugged. "She looks like she enjoys the water," he winked at Jason over Iolaus' head. "So, she'll probably want to go swimming again." He tried not to smile at Iolaus' worried expression. "And you heard, Cheiron. He KNOWS you can't swim." He clicked his fingers and smiled at Jason. "I think Phoebe should teach him."
"Excellent idea!" Jason grinned.
"No! Bad idea!" Iolaus grabbed his friends by their arms. "Look, guys...fun's fun, right? You wouldn't do that to me? " He watched as Jason and Hercules turned to walk back to the main group. "Hey, c'mon, guys. Just a couple of lessons, that's all I'll need. You know I'm a fast learner." He couldn't believe it. They were walking away. "I'll introduce both of you to her."
Jason stopped. Hercules took another couple of steps then turned back. Jason looked like he was actually considering it. Then he saw Jason's wink. He waited.
Jason slowly turned around. "You got a deal, Iolaus," he agreed. "But it'll take more than an introduction."
"Like what?" Iolaus asked with a frown.
Jason threw an arm around his friend's shoulder and winked at Hercules. "Let's talk about stable detail, shall we?"
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