Iphicles woke to a splitting headache, the world moving unsteadily around him. Weird. He didn't remember getting drunk, but now he seemed to have a hangover. That, he decided, was completely unfair. He hoped he'd at least had fun. Opening his eyes, expecting to be stabbed by the light, he found that he was bathed in shadows, comforting darkness.
Unfamiliar darkness. Not good. Not his bed, but a thin, uncomfortable cot. And the more he thought about it, the less his headache felt like a hangover. In fact, it felt suspiciously like he'd hit his head. Iphicles sat up and reached back, gingerly probing at the back of his skull. He hissed in sudden pain as his fingers found a robin's egg sized lump that was still very tender.
Yup. Someone'd whacked him over the head and thrown him here. Wherever here was. And since he wasn't hungover, Iphicles could only assume he was on a boat and the world really was moving unsteadily around him. Felt like they were in choppy waters, but nothing too bad. Now that he was paying attention, he heard the water lapping against the sides of the boat, the sound of seagulls, smelled the salt in the air. And heard something that sounded suspiciously like a snore.
So. So much for his guards. Someone had waltzed in, bonked the king over the head and kidnapped him. This was just going to be so much fun. He really hoped that Hercules didn't end up rescuing him again. That had been one of the most embarrassing moments of his life.
Wait. Hercules. Memory flooded back, and he knew exactly who had had the balls to knock out and kidnap a king.
"Iolaus! Jason! Get your asses down here right now!" Iphicles tried to bellow in a commanding way, but it just came out as a snarl. Good. Let them know how pissed off he was.
"Wha...?" The snore was cut in half, and Iphicles sighed, running his hands through his hair. Great. Just great. He should've recognized the snore. After all, he and Herc had shared a room for years. He'd spent way too many nights with a pillow clutched over his ears, trying to ignore his brother's demigodly snores.
"Wake up, Sunshine," Iphicles said grimly. "We've been kidnapped."
"Huh?" The sound of cloth moving, followed by a loud thud and a few muffled curses.
"I hit my head. Ouch."
"That's what you get for being too tall."
"Shut up, Iphy."
"Don't call me Iphy, Toad."
The silence was broken only by muttered grumbling, hesitant steps, and then a warm body plopped down on the cot next to him.
"Why am I naked?"
Iphicles was glad his brother couldn't see him blushing. "How would I know?" He decided bluffing was the best course of action just now.
"My head hurts," Hercules whined. It sounded like the drugs hadn't quite worn off. Iphicles was grateful - when he remembered, figured out what was up, all Tartarus was going to break loose. "I feel all oogy."
"No. Just yucky." Hercules yawned and leaned against him, and Iphicles' arm was suddenly around his brother's warm shoulders, holding him close.
"It'll be okay. I promise." He stroked Hercules' hair, pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead.
Hercules made a noncommittal sound and snuggled deeper into Iphicles' embrace. It felt nice. Until he started snoring again, this time almost in Iphicles' ear.
Iphicles had no clue how he managed to sleep through the racket, but he did.
This time, when he woke up, Iphicles had a pounding head, an aching back and a severe crick in his neck. And his brother had drooled all over his shoulder. Gross.
"Herc." He wiggled his shoulder a little. Hercules' head bounced, his snore hitched a little, then resumed. "Herc." This time he spoke louder, wiggled more aggressively.
"What?" Hercules said petulantly, finally moving his head.
"Time to get up."
"Where am I?" This was getting boring. Iphicles really hoped he hadn't overcalculated the dosage of the drugs and fried his brother's brain. "What happened? Oh." Sudden comprehension. "We, um...."
"Wow. It's been a while."
"So. Um. I think I'm missing some pieces here, Iph. Help me out."
"I said forget it. This is enough of a mess as it is. Remember on your own."
Hercules drew in a breath, no doubt to argue, but let it out when a square of sunlight appeared in the darkness, a shadow moving down a ladder toward them, unidentifiable in the glare.
"Finally. I thought you two were gonna sleep all the way to Alexandria."
"Iolaus?" Iphicles winced and moved as Hercules yelled in his ear. "Sorry, Iph. What's going on?"
"Jason!" Iolaus bellowed toward the sunlight, completely ignoring the question, "They're awake!"
"Finally!" Came the reply from above. "Are they hungry?"
"Are you hungry?"
"We heard the question, Iolaus," Hercules replied testily. "Now what's going on?"
"You know, I'm hungry," Iolaus said quickly.
"You're always hungry. What's going on? Where are we?" Hercules was like a terrier with a bone sometimes, Iphicles thought. He was going to be really pissed once he put all the pieces together. Yup. And a certain mortal brother was going to be the main person facing the wrath of Hurricane Hercules. He'd have been better off back in Corinth.
"On the Argo. Jason had her all spiffed up. Whaddya think?"
"Needs more light," Iphicles said. "Now, back to the question. Why are we on the Argo?" He emphasized the word 'we'.
"Because we kidnapped you."
"Duh." Iphicles couldn't help himself. He'd been prepared to be noble and self-sacrificing and lost the opportunity. So much for his one chance to go out a hero. Now he felt justified in being snarky.
"Sorry." Iolaus sounded completely insincere. "And sorry about knocking you out."
"Can we have our clothes?" Iphicles nodded in agreement with Hercules, then stopped when he realized no one could see the motion in the darkness.
"Well, there was this problem...." Iolaus hedged.
"You didn't bring our clothes?" Iphicles couldn't believe this.
"Well, you're both pretty big and it took longer than we thought to get you out of the castle, and there wasn't time to go back for the clothes or anything."
"You kidnapped us naked?" Hercules sounded absolutely horrified.
"Hey, it's not like we've never seen either of you naked before."
"When'd you see Iphicles naked?"
Iphicles buried his head in his hands. This was going to be so embarrassing. He was saved when a Jason-shaped shadow descended from above. Finally, an adult. As long as Hercules didn't think to ask if Jason had ever seen his brother naked.
"Want to come up topside for some sunshine and fresh air?" Jason asked, sounding way too chipper.
"Oh, I noticed. Don't worry - it's not like we've never seen either of you naked before."
"Jason? When'd you see Iph naked?"
"I think I'll go get that food for you," Jason said as he scrambled for the ladder.
"I'll come with you." Iolaus dashed past Jason.
"I think I'll catch some rays." Iphicles took off after the other two.
"Hold it." Hercules said, an edge in his voice that made all three stop in their tracks. "What. Is. Going. On," he said through gritted teeth.
There was a sudden flare as Iolaus lit a lamp, finally allowing everyone to see each other. Hercules pulled the edge of a blanket over his body as Iphicles sat down on the far end of the cot. Iolaus and Jason looked helplessly at each other, while Iphicles contemplated the planks below his feet, wishing they'd spread apart and swallow him.
"What do you remember?" Jason took the lead, speaking gently.
"Just...flashes." Hercules chewed on his bottom lip, forehead creased as he concentrated. "Dinner with Iph. And..." He looked at his brother and blushed while Jason and Iolaus rolled their eyes. Iphicles continued to stare at the planks. He considered his chances of bashing a hole in the floor before Hercules' memory came back.
"Iph, are you sure you didn't give him a little too much of that drug in the wine?" Iolaus had obviously decided he wasn't going to be the only scapegoat.
"Iph? You drugged me?"
So much for the 'sinking the Argo' plan. Maybe, if he ran fast enough, he could get on deck and jump overboard before Hercules caught him and strangled him.
Hercules started scratching his head. "I'm remembering more flashes. Something about a dungeon, I don't know where."
"It was clean, at least," Iphicles muttered.
"Yeah. A fairly nice dungeon. Wait. You threw me in a dungeon?"
"No, I did not throw you in a dungeon," Iphicles said, offended. "You waltzed in and made yourself at home. I offered you the tower, but you insisted on being locked in the dungeon."
"Okay. I moved into your dungeon." Hercules concentrated harder, as Jason and Iolaus edged toward the ladder.
"Hold it," Iphicles said, using his best kingly voice, and they both retreated. "You're not leaving me to take the rap for this by myself."
"That's what you planned to do anyway, wasn't it?" Jason's voice was soft.
"That was different."
"I disagree." Jason breathed deeply, obviously preparing for a long and in-depth dialogue, when Iolaus stomped on his foot.
"I think we need to let Herc remember what happened. And make sure," he stared at Iphicles, "that someone didn't fry his brain."
"Like anyone'd notice," Iphicles grumbled, settling back and crossing his arms across his chest.
Hercules, meanwhile, had been muttering to himself. "Wait, I think I've almost got it." He looked up, and Iphicles could tell he remembered. Finally. "I'm supposed to be in Corinth."
"Well, you're not," Jason stated calmly.
"Take me back."
Hercules tried to glare at Jason, but found it was completely ineffective.
"I agreed to the trade. I die, Athena keeps the rest of the gods under control."
"Tough," Iphicles interjected. "We didn't like the trade-off."
"I can't believe you'd do something like this, Iph. You're the king. What about Corinth? What about Greece?"
"Fuck Corinth and fuck Greece." Iphicles' anger simmered again, remembering the crowds waiting to watch his brother die like it was some kind of entertainment. Food vendors had been setting up stalls, people had camped out in order to get a good view. It made him sick. "Let them rot. They're getting what they deserve."
"You're wrong. There are plenty of good, innocent people who'll die if I don't go back."
"If you go back, we all go back. And they'll make sure we never leave again either," Iolaus said, obviously speaking for the group. "And it's not just us. We've got Niobe, Dirce, Atalanta, Autolycus, Salmoneus, Deric and plenty of others on board. They were all willing to risk their lives to help you. Including Iphicles."
Hercules turned to his brother in amazement. "Really?"
"He's exaggerating." Iphicles refused to look at Hercules, instead checking out his own biceps. Looked like he needed to work out more often. More push ups, definitely.
"Come on, Iphicles. Tell him all about how you planned to stay and hand yourself over in his place," Jason said, an odd gleam in his eye.
"Iph?" Hercules looked completely shocked.
"Yeah, right. I love you so much I'd die for you." Iphicles snorted. "Get real. You're an annoying little toad."
"How about you look at me when you say that?"
"No." Iphicles took a deep breath. "Besides, if you go back to Greece, we'll all go back, and if I get killed because of you I'm telling Mom." He left off the 'So there'. It felt like overkill.
"How about we leave you two to talk this out," Jason said, heading for the ladder again.
"How about you get us some clothes?" Iphicles suggested snarkily.
Jason ignored him as he and Iolaus climbed up, into the sunlight.
"We could just go after them."
"Yeah, well, everyone's probably seen you naked anyway, right Iph?"
The brothers sat in silence.
"You know, if you were part of this plan, why'd they knock you out and kidnap you? Why didn't you help them get me to the boat?"
"You really were planning to stay, weren't you? Iph?"
Iphicles stared at the flame in the lamp. The way it jumped, dancing in the air currents, was endlessly fascinating to him. Especially compared to having this conversation with his brother. He jumped when Hercules' warm hand closed over his own, the thumb caressing his wrist.
"Because it was the right thing. Because I needed to make the right decision for once. Because more people need you than me. Lots of becauses."
"Did you ever think that maybe I need you?"
"I do." Hercules paused. "I love you."
They blew out the lamp.