He heard them before he saw them. Jason picked himself up from his bed as Hercules and Pythagoras stumbled up the stairs and through the door, Hercules muttering and complaining all the way.
“You’re back,” Jason said, no doubt winning the ‘stating the obvious’ award for the day.
Pythagoras was too busy supporting his very drunk friend and holding him upright to give Jason more than an eye roll in response to that comment.
Hercules, on the other hand, seemed to finally notice that Jason was there, and he focussed on him for a disconcertingly long time.
“You!” Hercules suddenly pointed at Jason. “This is your fault.”
“What? What’s my fault?” Jason was bewildered.
“Hercules, don’t do this,” Pythagoras said. He seemed to be trying for a soothing, placatory tone, but mostly he just sounded tired and resigned. Jason wondered just how long he had spent trying to talk sense into his friend that evening.
Hercules ignored Pythagoras.
“You knew. Even before we found Medusa, as soon as you saw the statues you knew. You warned us not to look at her. But then in the cave, you looked at her and nothing happened.” Hercules staggered forwards, pointing at Jason. “Just who the hell are you, Jason?”
Jason stepped backwards until he hit the wall, his eyes wide and his stomach churning. He had known that one day they would ask, but he still wasn’t ready for it.
Pythagoras grabbed at Hercules, failed to slow him, and then practically planted himself in front of Hercules and stopped him with a hand on his chest.
“Hercules, that’s enough!”
“I might have known you’d take his side!”
“Hercules, I’m not-”
“Don’t you care, Pythagoras?” Now Hercules anger seemed to be tinged with despair. “Don’t you want to know where he came from? How he knows all this stuff, and yet doesn’t even know the most basic rules of society?”
Pythagoras hesitated for the briefest of moments, but Jason heard it nonetheless. His heart sank.
“Right now, all I care about is you,” Pythagoras said. “It’s late, you’re tired, and you’re upset. Go to bed. We can talk in the morning.”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m a child,” Hercules snarled.
“Then stop acting like one!”
Pythagoras wasn’t a shouting type of person. They were all momentarily silenced by his outburst.
Hercules pushed past him and headed for his room and slammed the door. Pythagoras took a deep breath and then pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. He looked exhausted.
“Are you okay?” Jason asked, reaching for his friend.
Pythagoras removed his hands and looked up at Jason, and in that moment Jason could see all the questions in his friend’s eyes. The ones they had all very obviously not been asking until tonight. Jason’s hand fell away and his stomach twisted again.
Then the moment passed and Pythagoras sighed and indicated the other room. Jason led the way and went to lean on the balcony overlooking the street. The night air was fresh and cool, and he breathed deeply. He wondered if this might be the last time he would look out of this window.
“I’m sorry about that,” Pythagoras said eventually. His voice was quiet, and came from somewhere behind Jason.
“Of all people, you have nothing to be sorry for.”
Pythagoras came and leaned his shoulder against the edge of the balcony frame. Jason could feel Pythagoras’ eyes on him, but for the moment he continued to look down into the street.
“He doesn’t really blame you, you know. In the tavern, before we came home, he spent a long time blaming me, saying it was my fault for not finding a cure, or for not telling him what it truly said on the box. He didn’t really mean that, either, any more than he meant what he said to you.”
Jason did look up at that. Pythagoras appeared to be sincere.
“Perhaps,” Jason said, knowing he did not sound convinced.
“Trust me Jason, he didn’t mean it. Right now, I think the person he really blames is himself. Anything else is just the wine talking.”
Jason wished he could believe that, but Hercules’ words were still echoing in his head, and if he looked hard enough, even in the semi darkness of the room, he thought he could still see the questions in Pythagoras’ eyes. Whether he wanted to or not (and Jason very much did not want to), he knew the time had finally come when they could no longer ignore those questions.
“He was right though, wasn’t he? And you are thinking the same thing. The only difference is you aren’t asking the question.”
A sad smile appeared on Pythagoras’ face for a moment.
“I cannot deny that I have wondered more than once about who you are, and where you are from. But I also know, perhaps better than anyone, that sometimes there are things in a person’s past that they wish to keep secret.”
“You say that, but I can’t believe for a second that it doesn’t bother you.”
Pythagoras held his gaze for what felt like an eternity. Then he suddenly seemed to come to a decision.
“I’m going to tell you something, Jason, and it is late at night and I am very tired and it is probably going to come out sounding stupid. But I think I need to say it, because I think you need to hear it.”
Jason mentally braced himself.
“I trust you, Jason. I trust you with my life. I know that no matter how much trouble you get us into, you would never knowingly put the people you care about in danger. I know that you are brave and loyal, and you are my friend. Jason, I would follow you into the depths of Hades itself if you asked me to. And yet I know absolutely nothing about your life before the moment when I discovered you hanging off this very balcony.”
Jason could only hold Pythagoras’ gaze for a moment after that. He looked away into the street below and swallowed. He wished he knew what it was that made Pythagoras so utterly trusting, in spite of everything. Jason didn’t think he deserved that level of trust or devotion. Not after what had happened to Medusa.
“I wanted to tell you,” he started. “I would have done. But on that first day, when I went to see the Oracle, she told me that I shouldn’t tell anyone who I was or where I was from. She told me that I had enemies here in Atlantis, and that if they knew who I was it would be dangerous. And everything was so new and strange and I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know who I could trust.”
He looked up and saw the look on Pythagoras’ face, and immediately regretted that last part.
“I mean, I trusted you guys, of course I did, especially with everything that happened with the Minotaur. But after what the Oracle said I thought maybe I should wait, give it a few days and see if I could work out who these enemies might be. And then, the more time that passed, the harder it was to say anything, because then I would have to explain why I never told you earlier, and I thought you would be angry that I hadn’t trusted you before. So it just got harder and harder to tell you.” He hesitated and then added, “I’m sorry.”
He risked a glance at Pythagoras. The man seemed to be deep in thought.
“If the Oracle warned you to keep your identity a secret then I understand why you chose to not tell us.”
No matter how long he lived in Atlantis, Jason still sometimes found it difficult to understand how such an intelligent man as Pythagoras could accept so many unfair or terrible things, simply because he believed it was the will of the gods. The genuine and everyday fear of gods who could intervene directly in people’s lives was still one of the major stumbling blocks to Jason fully assimilating into life in Atlantis.
The thought occurred to him that he could leave it at that. Pythagoras would accept the status quo simply because the Oracle had said so. It was the perfect get-out clause and would be ample excuse to allow Jason to keep his secrets. Instead, though, it made him inexplicably angry. Pythagoras deserved better than that. He deserved the truth.
Jason took a breath and tried to prepare himself.
“I’m from another world.”
Pythagoras’ only response was that his eyes widened in surprise.
“Where I’m from is like this world, but magic and the gods don’t exist. Or at least, the gods you know don’t exist, but there are different gods. And they don’t actually interact with the world like yours do. And it’s thousands of years in the future. And all of this, Atlantis, and Hercules and Medusa and the Minotaur are all mythological stories handed down from the ancient Greeks. It’s all fiction, or at the very least, it’s based on stories from way back in time.”
He paused for breath. Pythagoras seemed to be taking all of this quite well. Or, at least, he didn’t seem to be running away and calling for the city guards, which was a good start.
“It gets weirder. Because a lot of the places and people are myths, but you aren’t. You’re a real historical person who lived hundreds of years after all these myths were supposed to have happened, and you lived in Greece somewhere and you’re a famous mathematician. And when I first came here that was almost the weirdest thing. I could almost cope with all the mythical people and places, but the fact that it was a mixture of real historical people and fictional people just freaked me out completely at first.”
He paused for breath again.
“That’s what you meant,” Pythagoras breathed quietly.
Jason glanced up at him. “What?”
“When you took the black stone, you told me that it was my destiny for my theories to be known for hundreds of years. At the time I wondered how you could possibly know that. I eventually decided you must just have been trying to make me feel better.”
Jason studied his friend for several seconds.
“You’re taking this surprisingly well.”
“I admit there are parts that I am having difficulty with, but so far it all makes sense, considering what I do know about you.” He seemed to think for a moment. “How did you get here?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I was looking for my father, and there was a light and the sub crashed and suddenly I was here. I have no idea what happened, or how it happened.”
“Why did you not try to return home once the Oracle told you of your father’s fate?”
Jason looked up sharply and his stomach twisted again. Pythagoras must have seen something in his expression, because suddenly he reached out and put a hand on Jason’s arm.
“Whatever is going on in your head right now, stop it. You know I did not mean that to say that I wanted to you to leave and return to this other world that you came from.”
Jason was suddenly unable to hold Pythagoras’ gaze, and he looked back down into the street below.
“I know,” Jason interrupted.
“Clearly you do not know, because you have been keeping all of this a secret for months out of fear that we would reject you.”
Jason closed his eyes. Pythagoras certainly knew how to sum up all of his thoughts and fears and dilemmas into one succinct sentence.
He felt Pythagoras move closer.
“Jason, what did you really think we would do when we discovered the truth?”
“I don’t know.” He was embarrassed by how thick his voice suddenly sounded. “I thought you wouldn’t believe me. Or maybe I was afraid you would believe me, but that you wouldn’t want me around when you found out how dangerous it was to be associated with me.”
He paused and swallowed and tried to get his voice back under control. He still couldn’t open his eyes, though.
“You asked me why I didn’t try to find a way back home. I was telling you the truth that first day. I never really felt I belonged in that world. But here, with you guys... this feels like home. I didn’t look for a way back because I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t tell you the truth because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this home, or your friendship.”
There was a long silence. Jason forced himself to open his eyes and look at his friend. He wasn’t entirely sure what he expected to see. Anger, confusion, perhaps disappointment.
He wasn’t expecting Pythagoras to be watching him with a soft, fond, exasperated smile.
“Jason, I love you, but you are a complete idiot a surprising amount of the time.”
Despite his churning emotions, Jason couldn’t stop a chuckle escaping at that. Was it really that easy? Suddenly all his fears and worries over the last few months seemed stupid. But there was still one potential problem.
“What about Hercules? I’m not so sure he will accept it as easily as you seem to have done.”
“Perhaps not. But I suspect that when he learns that his name is still remembered and stories are still told of him in another world thousands of years from now, he won’t care about any of the other stuff.”
Jason laughed properly at that. He finally turned away from the balcony and sat down on the floor. Pythagoras sat down beside him, their shoulders touching, and Jason resisted the urge to lean against his friend and take comfort from the contact. Pythagoras had enough to deal with taking care of Hercules. He didn’t need Jason adding to that any more than he already had done.
“It will be all right, Jason.” Pythagoras offered him an encouraging smile. “After all, I am a famous mathematician, Hercules is a famous mythical hero, and you are the man from another world. What better three people to find a way to cure Medusa and discover who these enemies of yours might be?”
Jason let himself relax for the first time since his two friends had returned from the tavern. That had been less than an hour earlier, and yet now everything seemed different. Now he didn’t have to lie to his best friend any more.
“So,” Pythagoras said after a little while. “Will you tell me about the world you came from?”
Despite everything, there was only honest curiosity in his expression.
Jason began to talk.