He won’t scream.
He won’t give them the satisfaction. That was the second promise he made to himself when the full extent of the situation became apparent. The first promise was that he will not betray his friends. No matter what Pasiphae does, he will not give up their location. After everything they have been through, everything they have sacrificed to get this far, he will not give them up. He will die before he betrays his friends.
Oh, but that thought, that word, hurts. When he allows himself to think of that, then he is forced to acknowledge a knot of pain and, admit it, anger, deep in his chest that has nothing at all to do with the blows of Pasiphae’s thugs. He can’t deal with that as well. He no longer has the energy.
He hears the clink of metal and looks up. The thugs come in and drag him to his feet and his manacled wrists are hoisted up on a chain again, all but immobilising him. No matter how many times they do this, he barely manages to stop himself fighting back at that. It is not just the physical discomfort; he has never felt so utterly exposed and vulnerable.
Pasiphae comes into the cell and approaches. She reaches up and strokes a hand down his cheek, and it takes all of his willpower not to flinch away.
“Are you ready to tell me what I want to know yet?”
He stares back at her, silent. His jaw is so swollen that he knows it will hurt to speak, but more than that, he fears that his voice will show her that he is weakening, and he cannot let that happen. So he says nothing, and just stares back into her cold eyes, and begins to assemble his psychological barriers.
Pasiphae barely looks surprised any more.
She steps back, and her two thugs take their places, and it starts again.
Pythagoras promises himself, again, that he will not scream.
“Pythagoras, how sure are you that this friend of yours is trustworthy?”
Hercules is watching him with a look on his face that Pythagoras does not like one bit. At least he has waited until Jason and Ariadne are asleep before he starts this conversation, but truthfully Pythagoras has seen the way Hercules has been looking at him all night, and he has been half expecting this sooner or later.
That does not mean he is in any way prepared to have this conversation. Not now, not ever.
“I trust him with my life.”
“Yes, but you’re also trusting him with all of our lives as well. And I can’t help but notice that you went to your friend, and then you got followed by Pasiphae’s men and led them right to us. And when you asked Aeson to trust your friend, we got ambushed on the way out.”
“No.” Pythagoras shakes his head.
“So either you got careless and we got unlucky,” Hercules continues as if Pythagoras hasn’t spoken. “Or there is an alternative explanation that includes the one common denominator. So I ask again, how sure are you that this man is trustworthy?”
There is no malice in Hercules’ words, just a dogged persistence that Pythagoras has come to know all too well in his friend.
“I trust him. Completely.”
Because I love him.
Pythagoras turns away and fusses with his blanket. He cannot look his friend in the eye any longer. He cannot let Hercules see the truth, not when he can still barely even admit it to himself.
“Go to sleep, Hercules.”
Pythagoras lies down and deliberately turns onto his side, facing away from his friend. There is a moment of silence, and then he hears Hercules sigh.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Hercules says in a quiet voice that suggests he may already understand far too much.
Pythagoras is beginning to wonder the same thing himself.
Several hours later, standing outside the door to Icarus’ house, he is still wondering if he knows what he is doing. One thing he does know is that his friends are going to bloody kill him when he gets back. Disappearing from the campsite in the middle of the night without telling anyone is not going to endear him to any of them.
But Hercules’ words have put terrible, unthinkable ideas in his head. He has to know.
When Icarus opens the door, Pythagoras pushes his way in. It’s not entirely just so he can get off the street and out of sight as soon as possible.
“Pythagoras? What... why are you here? What’s going on?”
The first thing Pythagoras notices is that Icarus does not immediately hug him. The second is that Icarus looks frightened, and that is not a good sign at all. Pythagoras is suddenly not at all certain that he wants to be here.
But he has to know.
“Where is Daedalus?”
That has been bothering him, he realises now. There is no way that Daedalus could have not heard him banging on the door. Fever or no, he would have come to investigate.
Icarus’ eyes flicker to the door.
“You cannot be here. Pythagoras, it’s dangerous. Please, you have to go.”
“Why? What’s going on, Icarus? Tell me.”
Please, Icarus, please tell me the truth.
Icarus grabs him arm and propels him towards the door.
“I think I am being watched. If they know you are here... Pythagoras, you have to go. Now!”
There is a noise outside. That is all the warning Pythagoras gets before the door bursts open and soldiers pour in. He doesn’t even get chance to go for his sword, they are on him in seconds. Held at sword point, he is helpless as they strip his sword and bag from him, and all he can think is that this is all his fault. He has repeatedly endangered Icarus and Daedalus for his own purposes, and he has brought them to the attention of Pasiphae’s soldiers, and this is all his fault.
The words are on his lips to tell the soldiers that Icarus was not involved, that he forced his way into the house against Icarus’ wishes, that he threatened Icarus to force him to comply. In the confusion he manages to turn around and look back, and that is the moment when he realises that something is not right. Icarus has been shoved back by the soldiers, but he is not being held, he is not being arrested. In fact, the soldiers appear to have no interest in him at all, despite the fact that he has just been found in the company of one of the most wanted men in Atlantis.
Icarus’ eyes are locked on Pythagoras and even from this distance Pythagoras can see he is fighting tears. Icarus’ tongue may lie, but his eyes do not.
The truth leaves Pythagoras numb.
He does not fight as the soldiers take him away. He does not fight when they throw him in a cell in the deepest, darkest corner of the palace prisons. He does not even fight when he is stripped to the waist and his wrists chained. He can’t. All the fight left him when he saw the truth in Icarus’ eyes.
Finally alone in the dark, Pythagoras allows himself to have a moment of weakness.
By the time Pasiphae comes for him he has long since given up on such self-indulgence. There is no room for weakness now. He promises himself that he will be strong. That he will not betray his friends. That he will not break. That he will not scream.
Then it begins.
Pasiphae’s thugs are called Adrastes and Demarchus. In a corner of his mind that is still thinking academically about such things, he wonders if knowing their names ought to make it easier to bond with them, to form some sort of relationship. If they see him as a real person and not just a prisoner, perhaps...
He knows it is a pointless thought. Besides, they have already bonded intimately. Adrastes appears to be particularly fond of Pythagoras’ chest. He has cracked at least three ribs, after all, and left some fairly spectacular bruising.
Demarchus, on the other hand, seems to prefer his face. Demarchus is responsible for the fact that the entire left side of his face is so swollen his eye won’t open. Pythagoras wonders, briefly, if he ought to point out to Demarchus that the entire point of this is to encourage Pythagoras to give Pasiphae lots of information about his friends and where they are and what their plans are. So damn near breaking his jaw, thus making it more difficult to speak, is actually counter-productive. Of course, pointing that out would involve speaking, and given his current feelings about that, Pythagoras concludes that he is not destined to bond with these two men.
Demarchus is using the very tip of a blade to paint razor thin lines of red on his collarbone when Pythagoras is distracted by movement beyond the bars of his cell.
He glances up, and all thoughts of what Adrastes and Demarchus are doing to him are overwhelmed by what he sees at the far end of the corridor.
Icarus is with someone, and it takes Pythagoras a moment to work out that the man Icarus is supporting is his father. Daedalus looks... Daedalus looks like a man who has spent many days in a prison cell.
Icarus looks up and their eyes meet, and in that moment Pythagoras understands.
Adrastes’ foot slams into the back of his knees and his legs buckle. All his weight is suddenly suspended by the manacles on his wrists, and a spasm of pain shoots through his shoulders.
Pythagoras squeezes his eyes shut and tries to breathe.
By the time he is back on his feet again, Icarus and his father have gone.
He very quickly loses track of how much time has passed. This deep under the palace there is no day or night. The only measure of time he has is his own hunger and thirst. He has had no food at all since he was arrested, and he is starting to realise that they are deliberately only giving him just enough water to keep him alive, without ever being enough to properly quench his thirst.
Through his knowledge of healing and medicine he knows what dehydration does to the human body. Just as he knows that there is only so much prolonged physical assault and blood loss that the human body can deal with before it begins to shut down.
It is times like this that Pythagoras wishes he did not know so much.
The other measure of time, of course, is the visits from Pasiphae and her thugs. So far they have restricted themselves to purely physical punishment. From what little Ariadne has spoken of her own ordeal, he knows that is not the worst that Pasiphae can do. But it seems for the moment, at least, they are not resorting to that.
He wonders if that means that Pasiphae thinks he is weak, and that it will not take much to break him. He wouldn’t blame her. It seems to be what most people think of him. Besides, if it means she is not using her dark magic on him yet, it is to his benefit to let her believe whatever the hell she likes.
It always begins in the same way; his wrist manacles are suspended from a chain and his arms are stretched above him. The pain in his shoulders from this is getting worse and worse as the days pass.
Pasiphae’s thugs are good at what they do. They know better than to cut him too much. Blood loss will kill him, and that is not the aim here. Instead, they leave bruises, they apply pressure, they occasionally crack bones. They wear him down, slowly and persistently.
Pythagoras always remains silent for as long as possible. He knows that sooner or later they will catch him out, and he will gasp, breathe sharply, even cry out, and from that moment on the two thugs exploit the crack in his resistance. Nevertheless, no one is more surprised than Pythagoras himself at how long he manages to hold out. He refuses to betray his friends, he refuses to even speak the vast majority of the time. And he will not scream.
Sooner or later, the thugs have to stop and let him down before they accidentally push too far and kill him. They all know that he is far more valuable alive than dead, and the thugs are probably even more afraid of Pasiphae than Pythagoras is.
When he is finally left alone for a few hours he tries to sleep, or to stretch his shoulders (as much as is possible with his wrists chained) to stop his muscles cramping. He tries not to think about how much longer he can withstand this. But most of all he tries not to think about Icarus.
There is only so much pain he can take.
It is bloody cold in the cell. He is curled up on the floor trying to sleep, but it is too cold and all he is doing is lying there shivering. He doesn’t remember anyone taking it, but there is no sign of his tunic in the cell any more, and even if there was, with his wrists manacled he wouldn’t be able to put it on anyway.
But for now, at least, Pasiphae and her two thugs have gone.
He knows exhaustion is one of his most dangerous enemies right now. Exhaustion will lower his mental defences, and will lead to him making a mistake. He needs to sleep while he has the chance, but it is not easy, even in these few hours of relative peace.
The voice is soft and unmistakeable. His heart stutters.
Icarus is standing on the other side of the cell bars.
Pythagoras drags himself to his feet and stumbles over to him. His hands grasp the bars and he hates the way the chain of the manacles swings and clinks against the metal. As if he needs another reminder it is there.
Icarus’ hands close over his own in a second, and his touch is warm and gentle and soothing. They are inches away from each other. A thousand miles apart.
Icarus’ eyes rake over him and in any other situation Pythagoras suspects he would feel self-conscious about his half naked body being on display to this man. Right now it’s the least of his concerns. Besides, Icarus’ expression suggests that ogling is the last thing on his mind. Horror, shame and pain, perhaps, but nothing like the way that Pythagoras occasionally catches him looking when Icarus thinks he is unobserved.
“Why are you here? How are you here?”
Neither of those are the questions he really wants to ask Icarus, but he needs to say something, and it is easier than the alternatives.
“Are you all right?”
Pythagoras can’t even bring himself to answer that, and Icarus looks like he knows he’s said something stupid the moment the words leave his mouth.
“I am sorry about what happened. I didn’t think they would...” Icarus pauses and then presses even closer and his voice drops to a whisper. “Do not worry. I am working to get you out. I have friends who can help. I will fix this, I promise.”
Icarus’ words at least acknowledge what he has done, and it suddenly occurs to Pythagoras that it is strange that he feels so calm. He is sure he ought to be angry, hell, he ought to be fucking furious with Icarus. He should want to punch him, hurt him. He should feel angry.
But he doesn’t.
No, that’s not entirely true. Pythagoras is angry. Perhaps if the circumstances were different he would already be shouting at Icarus by now. But there is a quiet little thought in his head that this will probably be the last time he ever sees Icarus. No matter how angry or hurt he is, he does not want their final moments together to be wasted on hate and blame. They have already wasted far too long.
He breathes the name like it is a prayer. He has no idea what he wants to say. Why did you do it? I trusted you. I love you.
Pythagoras rests his forehead against the bars, and Icarus does the same and they are so close he can feel Icarus’ breath on his face. So close. And yet.
“Icarus, you must be careful,” is what he eventually says.
Icarus tries to smile, but it is nothing like his usual beautiful smile. His dark eyes hold more pain than even Pythagoras can imagine, and right now he can imagine a hell of a lot.
“Do not worry about me. Just stay strong. I will save you, I promise.”
Icarus lets go with one hand and reaches through the bars. His fingers caress Pythagoras’ cheek, and Pythagoras closes his eyes. He feels Icarus’ other hand let go as well, and he wants it back so desperately that he is almost willing to beg, but before he can open his mouth he feels that hand resting gently, so very gently, over his heart.
For the first time in days, Pythagoras feels warm.
He has no idea what the word even means to him any him. Name. Prayer. Plea. Need. Desire. Accusation. Love. Hurt. Anger. Betrayal.
He feels a tear slip down his cheek. Icarus’ fingers catch it.
There is a sound of scraping metal, and Pythagoras wakes on the cold floor. The dream skitters away from him into the darkness, but somehow his skin still feels impossibly warm where Icarus’ touch had been.
He has only a few seconds to swipe away his tears before Adrastes and Demarchus come for him.
His arms have been suspended above his head for hours and the pain between his shoulder blades is becoming unbearable. They did not take him down after the last session, and simply walked out of the cell and left him like that. He is not sure if this signals a new phase, or if he has annoyed them sufficiently to make them vindictive rather than professional.
Neither is a good sign. If Pasiphae has decided to escalate it probably means she is becoming impatient. If Adrastes and Demarchus are getting pissed off it might lead to them making a serious mistake and... Honestly, right now he is starting to think that might not be a terrible thing. It’s not a thought that Pythagoras entertains lightly, but the possibility that they might accidentally kill him is not something that frightens him any more. He has already accepted that he is going to die in this cell. The only question is when, and how much more he will have to endure before it happens.
If he regrets anything, it is that he did not say goodbye to Hercules or Jason. That his last conversation with his closest friend was full of implied accusation and suspicion. It is not how he wants Hercules to remember him. He thinks of Hercules’ infectious laugh, and his hugs, and his great big heart. He thinks of Jason and his bravery and his faith. He thinks of evenings drinking wine and talking and laughing until long into the night with the two people who are the closest thing he has to family, and he prays that he never betrays them.
He becomes aware of someone outside the cell. Pythagoras forces his head up and realises that Pasiphae is back. She is not alone, but this time it is not Adrastes and Demarchus. Instead she is shadowed by Medea.
Pythagoras is suddenly very afraid.
Pasiphae can probably see it on his face, because her mouth forms a cruel smile.
“Did Ariadne tell you about what Colchean magic can do?”
Pythagoras presses his lips closed and watches them both approach. Ariadne hadn’t told him much; in truth, he suspects it was too difficult for her to even talk about it.
“From what I have heard, you are not a stupid man, Pythagoras. You must know this is futile. Tell me where Jason and Ariadne are, and this can end. We do not have to do this.”
Pasiphae pretending to be reasonable. It would be funny if he wasn’t already trembling uncontrollably.
Pasiphae doesn’t even look surprised at his refusal to co-operate. She merely shrugs and steps aside to let Medea get close. Medea, surprisingly, does not look particularly happy about what she is about to do, but that does not stop her.
Without warning, white hot fire explodes inside his head.
He wakes to strange sounds and voices and urgency, but for several moments everything else is drowned out by the agony in his shoulders. He tries to see what is happening, but he hasn’t been able to open his swollen left eye for days, and now his right eye is almost glued shut, although he is not certain whether that is from blood or tears or both.
“Get him down!”
Abruptly the chains are no longer supporting his weight and he falls... no he doesn’t fall, because he is being held in strong, familiar arms.
“By the gods what has she done to you?”
Pythagoras tries to speak but his mouth is so dry the only sound that comes out is a croak.
Someone else manhandles his arms and he cries out at the spasm of pain that shoots through his shoulders again.
“Sorry. I have to do this. It’ll be over soon.”
Familiar. Warm. Safe.
He still can’t open his eyes. If this is another dream, it’s a damned realistic one.
For the first time in days his wrists are free. Before he can do anything else, he is lifted up in those strong arms and cradled against a broad chest... Hercules... it’s Hercules, and Jason is here as well... and he is vaguely aware that he is being carried like a child.
He hears fighting. Another voice he recognises shouts a warning, and then cries out in pain. Pythagoras’ heart stutters to a halt. No, not him, he can’t be here he can’t be hurt, not for me, please he cannot die. Everything is loud and confused and urgent. Somewhere in the distance there is an explosion.
Pythagoras has no fight left in him. He gives in and lets exhaustion take him.
“Pythagoras. Come on lad, wake up.”
He isn’t consciously aware of moving, but something must let them know that he is awake.
“Here, give him some water.”
That’s all the warning he gets before a hand slides under him and raises his head. The scent of leather is thrust under his nose and water splashes onto his mouth. He lurches up and grabs blindly for the water-skin and sucks greedily at the cool liquid. Much of it spills down his chin and onto his still bare chest, but after so long without he can’t stop himself.
“Hey, slow down. Sip it slowly. You’ll make yourself sick.”
Jason. That is Jason.
Someone tugs the water-skin away and Pythagoras whines and tries to hold onto it until another hand closes on his own.
“It’s okay, just take it slowly.”
Pythagoras finally forces his right eye open.
Hercules is the one who is supporting his head with his big, gentle hand. Ariadne is holding the water-skin, and looks more frightened than Pythagoras has ever seen her. He wonders how bad he must look to have put that expression on Ariadne’s face.
Jason must be on his left side, because he can’t quite see him, but he can feel a hand on his shoulder that isn’t Hercules.
There are other voices murmuring, further away. It takes him slightly longer to recognise them: Daedalus and Icarus. He doesn’t understand how they can be here in the forest, and wonders if he is hallucinating. Or dreaming. He prays he is not dreaming this time.
So many times in the cell he had imagined this; imagined what he would say, some smart comment, something sarcastic, something that would reassure them all.
Instead, all that comes out is a choked sound. He tries Hercules’ name and barely manages the first syllable. It is enough, though.
Hercules’ strong hands support him to sit up properly, and then Hercules’ arms wrap around him. Pythagoras buries his face in Hercules’ chest and clutches blindly at his shirt and lets Hercules hold him and rock him and murmur words of meaningless comfort.
Jason is still close. Pythagoras is vaguely aware that there are too many hands on him to be just Hercules.
It occurs to him that he ought to be ashamed of such a display, but honestly, he is too exhausted to care what anyone thinks of him.
Icarus’ voice is quiet, the word halfway between a question and a desperate plea.
Pythagoras breathes deeply, inhaling the comforting, familiar scent of Hercules. He steadies himself before he pulls away enough to open his good eye.
Icarus has taken Ariadne’s place and is on his knees beside them. There is a blood soaked bandage wrapped around his arm, but he is alive and he is here. When Pythagoras acknowledges his presence, Icarus reaches out and touches him.
Pythagoras flinches away. He doesn’t intend to, but it happens, and he can’t say he is entirely sorry when Icarus’ hand drops away like he has been burned. Icarus rocks back on his heels, putting more distance between them. Pythagoras doesn’t stop him.
“I think you should give him some space.”
Jason, who knows absolutely nothing about him and Icarus. Or maybe he does. Maybe they all know.
Pythagoras is too exhausted to care about any of that, either.
“Icarus. Back off.”
Jason again. Hercules apparently knows better and isn’t interfering, but he hasn’t let go of Pythagoras either. If anything, he is holding him closer.
There are tears running freely down Icarus’ cheeks now, and Pythagoras cannot make himself look away.
Icarus moves as if to stand and Pythagoras is suddenly afraid that if he goes now that will be it.
No one is more surprised than Pythagoras when those are the first proper words he speaks. Icarus drops back to his knees. His hands are clenched on his thighs, and he looks about as wretched as Pythagoras feels. Considering what he has experienced the last few days, that is saying something.
Pythagoras thinks he understands why Icarus did it. He will forgive him. He will.
But... not yet. It still hurts too much. There is still that cold, hard knot of pain and anger deep within him that won’t let him reach out and touch Icarus.
Adrastes and Demarchus have done their damndest to break his body. Pasiphae came close to breaking his will.
Icarus has broken his heart.