Pythagoras had barely rapped twice on the door when Daedalus wrenched it open and pulled him inside. Daedalus passed the errand boy a couple of coins, and quickly closed the door behind Pythagoras.
“Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Pythagoras had been mentally rehearsing any number of worst case scenarios in his mind ever since the small boy had come to his house with a message from Daedalus requesting his healing skills urgently. Now he was here he could see that Daedalus himself looked fine, so that only left one option.
Daedalus nodded, but grabbed his arm before Pythagoras could take more than a step into the house.
“I trust you, Pythagoras, and I know Icarus trusts you. That’s why I sent for you and not any other healer in the city. But I need you to swear that what you are about to see will not be spoken of outside these walls.”
“Swear it, or leave now and forget all about it.”
Daedalus was squeezing his arm so hard it almost hurt. Pythagoras had seen the inventor angry before, but this... this was not anger. It took him a moment to realise the truth; Daedalus, the most rational, sensible, intelligent, and unflappable man that Pythagoras had ever known, was scared.
He placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“You have my word, Daedalus.”
Daedalus held his gaze for a moment longer, and then led the way upstairs to Icarus’ bedroom. He tried the door without knocking, but it wouldn’t open.
“Icarus? Open the door.”
“No,” came the reply from within the room.
“Icarus open it, now,” Daedalus demanded. “Pythagoras is here.”
“Stop being ridiculous and let us in.”
“I told you not to fetch him. I don’t need a healer. I don’t want-”
The words broke off but Pythagoras heard a quiet gasp, and he knew that Icarus was in pain.
Daedalus looked like he was about to start banging on the door again, but Pythagoras grabbed his arm.
“Let me try.”
Daedalus hesitated, and then stepped back.
Pythagoras knocked on the door, just two quiet raps.
“Icarus, please let me come in. I want to help you.” He hesitated. “I promise I won’t tell anyone, whatever it is.”
He glanced at Daedalus when there was no response, but for once the older man seemed at a loss.
Pythagoras turned his attention back to the door.
“Icarus, if you will not let me in as a healer, then please, let me in as your friend.”
He was beginning to wonder what to try next when he heard a scraping sound behind the door, and then it opened a fraction. Pythagoras glanced at Daedalus, and then opened the door enough to enter.
As soon as Pythagoras was in the room Icarus immediately closed the door again, and jammed a seat back against it, blocking Daedalus from following.
“Icarus.” There was a warning tone to his father’s voice.
“It’s alright,” Pythagoras said out loud to Daedalus. “Just give us a little time.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Daedalus said, “I will be downstairs.”
Pythagoras listened to the sounds of his footsteps receding, but his eyes never left his friend.
Icarus backed away and sat down on his bed. His chest was bare, his tunic abandoned on the floor, and while there was no obvious sign of injury, Pythagoras could see blood on Icarus’ hands, and bloodied rags on the table beside the bed. And, strangely, a scatter of small, dark feathers on the bed.
Pythagoras wanted nothing more than to go to him and hold him, comfort him, and fix whatever was wrong. Instead he stayed by the door, giving Icarus as much space as he could in the small bedroom.
“My father should not have sent for you.”
“He is worried about you. I don’t think I have ever seen him so worried, in fact.”
“He isn’t worried about me. He is worried about what people will say when they find out. He is worried about his reputation.”
The bitterness was evident in Icarus’ voice.
Pythagoras shook his head. “I do not think that is true.”
No matter how disparaging Daedalus might be about Icarus so much of the time, he was still his son, and Pythagoras had seen for himself how Daedalus worried when Icarus got himself into scrapes, and he knew that worry came from love, not shame or embarrassment. He just wished sometimes that Icarus knew that.
“What is it, my friend?” Pythagoras asked softly.
Icarus hesitated, and then stood up and turned around.
Pythagoras couldn’t stop a sharp intake of breath. There were two raw, bloody wounds on Icarus’ back, both right below his shoulder blades. At first Pythagoras couldn’t tell what had caused them, and his initial thought was that someone had beaten Icarus. He came closer and realised that was not it at all. There was something very wrong with Icarus’ back; lumps and bulges where the skin ought to have been smooth, and those two bleeding wounds. It looked like the skin had been torn and broken, but not by any weapon or blade Pythagoras had ever seen.
He reached up and touched one of the wounds, the barest brush of fingertips, and Icarus flinched away with a hiss of pain, as if Pythagoras had hit him.
“Can you...” Icarus hesitated, and Pythagoras heard the fear in his voice for the first time. “Can you fix it?”
“I don’t even know what ‘it’ is. Who did this to you, Icarus?”
“I just wanted to make them go away. To stop them growing before they got any bigger.”
“Make what stop growing?”
For a moment Pythagoras was not sure he had heard correctly. He looked up, but Icarus was staring down at the bed, and Pythagoras followed his gaze to the pile of dark feathers, each of which, he now saw, was broken and smeared with blood.
Then he understood.
“Icarus, did you do this to yourself?”
Somehow, the thought that Icarus had willingly done this much damage himself was even more shocking than the possibility that he might be growing a pair of wings.
“Can you fix it? Can you make it stop?”
“I can treat the wounds, yes, but beyond that...”
Icarus turned around and looked at him, and all Pythagoras could see in his friend’s dark eyes was fear and desperation.
“Please, Pythagoras. I know you have healing abilities beyond simply herbs and bandages. Surely if you can close the wounds and heal the skin it will stop them growing back?”
“I do not think it works like that, I’m afraid.”
Icarus closed his eyes, and Pythagoras could not stop himself from closing the last of the distance between them and tugging his friend into a careful embrace, his hands staying well clear of the open wounds. For a moment Icarus seemed to resist, and then he dropped his head onto Pythagoras’ shoulder and let himself be held.
“I am sorry,” Pythagoras said. “I will do whatever I can to help, but if this is what I think it is, I do not believe that stopping them from growing is within my ability.”
“I was afraid you might say that.”
Pythagoras held him close for a little while longer, and then let go and held Icarus at arm’s length so he could see him. Icarus glanced up and met his eyes for second, but his gaze immediately skittered away.
“Turn around, let me heal the damage.”
Icarus did as he was told, his shoulders slumped and his head hanging in defeat.
Pythagoras examined the wounds again, and then put his bag of medical supplies down on the bed and rummaged until he found a flask of fresh water and a clean rag. He began by cleaning the wounds, dabbing away the smears of blood until he could see clearly what he was dealing with. The skin was torn and scratched, but now he looked closer he could see tiny holes that could only correspond with the quills of feathers, and, worse, the snapped off ends of quills still embedded in his friend’s upper back.
Icarus was obviously trying to hold himself still, but couldn’t help flinching away occasionally. Much as Pythagoras wanted to comfort his friend and stop his pain, he couldn’t help feeling the first stirrings of anger. Why couldn’t Icarus have asked for help before he did this to himself?
“Icarus, tell me what happened,” Pythagoras eventually said. He needed to know, to help him understand what was going on here, but also he wanted something to concentrate on, something that would distract him from his growing anger at his friend.
“I have been noticing strange aches and pains in my back and shoulders for a few weeks. Lumps that feel like bruises but I have no recollection of how I might have received such an injury.”
“A few weeks? And you did not think to mention this earlier?”
“I did not think it important. I assumed I had perhaps pulled something while helping my father fetch and carry for his latest building project. Until this morning.”
Satisfied that the two wounds were as clean as he could get them, Pythagoras took a jar of ointment from his bag and began to dab that around the injuries. Icarus immediately hissed and flinched away.
“Sorry, I should have warned you. This is necessary to prevent infection.” He paused to let Icarus recover, and then began again. “This morning?” he prompted.
“I woke up and as soon as I moved I felt... them. They had appeared overnight. At first I had no idea what they were, but when I finally managed to angle a mirror I saw the feathers. They were wings, Pythagoras. Actual wings. Small and stunted, like a baby bird, but actual bloody wings.”
“So then what did you do?”
“Honestly? I panicked. And I hid. And when I had stopped doing both of those things I decided to get rid of them.”
“Oh, Icarus. Why? Why did you not call for me before you did something so foolish?”
“I did not want you to see. I did not want anyone to see. But my father walked in on me and saw what I was doing, and when we’d had enough of shouting at each other he disappeared and, I assume, sent for you.”
Pythagoras put down his healing equipment and studied his work. The wounds were still open and raw, but the bleeding had stopped, at least. Now for the real reason why he was here.
“Please try to keep still. This may feel a little strange.”
Pythagoras placed his hands above the wounds, first touching with his fingertips and then gradually placing his palms flat. He closed his eyes, and breathed deeply, and waited for the moment when something deep within him connected. In his mind he saw the damage Icarus had inflicted on himself in intimate detail; the snapped quills, the torn flesh, the ragged edges of skin. And when he had seen all of that, he began to concentrate on fixing it. He pictured the broken ends of quills loosening and falling out so that they would not cause infection and block the way for new growth. He formed a mental image of muscles reforming around the new and unfamiliar bone structures in Icarus’ back and shoulders. And finally he imagined the skin knitting back together, growing once more and covering everything.
When Pythagoras opened his eyes and slowly moved his hands away, there was fresh pink skin where there had been open wounds, and snapped off quills fell out of his palm.
Of course, as soon as he stopped concentrating the pain hit him. For a second it felt like he was being stabbed in the back, his muscles wrenched and twisted, and he barely stopped himself from crying out.
He heard the concern in his friend’s voice, but there was no possibility of answering right then. Pythagoras stumbled the couple of steps to the bed and sat down. He leaned forwards, his elbows resting on his knees and his eyes squeezed shut.
“I will be fine. It just makes me a little light-headed sometimes,” he said, glossing over how bad it really was.
Icarus sat down beside him and Pythagoras felt him fussing, his hands skittering over Pythagoras like he wanted to hold him, perhaps to make sure he did not slide off the bed, or perhaps just to comfort. Pythagoras focussed on the pain until his abilities got to work and it faded to a dull ache.
This was what he did not tell his friends about his ability. That somehow, when he healed another’s injury, he felt the ghost of that damage, and the pain associated with it. The worse the injury that he attempted to heal, the worse this echo was for him in the aftermath. He suspected if his friends knew the truth they would not let him use it so readily, so instead he had convinced them that it was simply a matter of feeling light-headed and exhausted afterwards. He wondered sometimes how much longer he could keep the truth from them, or even if they already knew. Hercules possibly suspected, but for the moment they seemed to accept his explanation.
After perhaps a minute he opened his eyes and gave Icarus a small smile.
“How do you feel now, Icarus?”
“Better. Thank you, Pythagoras. I did not know it would affect you like this, though.”
“I am fine.”
Icarus did not look entirely convinced, and Pythagoras sat up properly and tried harder to conceal his discomfort. This was the first time he had healed anything significant for either Icarus or Daedalus. They had known about his ability for years, and he had used it to heal small things before, but the after-effects were far easier to cover up with minor injuries.
“What will happen now?” Icarus asked. He may not have been in pain any more, but he was still worried, and, Pythagoras suspected, still more than a little scared.
“I do not know for sure, but what I believe will happen is that the wings will begin to grow back within a few days.” He reached out and took his friend’s hand and squeezed it. “It is a gift from the gods, Icarus, I am sure of it.”
Icarus shook his head. “It cannot be that, surely? I am not... important enough for that.”
“And I am?” Pythagoras shot back. “When I first became aware of my gifts I was a nobody in a tiny village where nothing ever happened. Even now, when I am being dragged on yet another insanely dangerous mission with Jason and Hercules I find myself wondering, why me? Why would the gods choose me for such a power? No one can know who the gods may choose to bestow their gifts upon, or why. All we can do is make the best of them.”
Icarus took a deep, shaking breath, and Pythagoras squeezed his hand again.
“The wings will grow back and this time you must let them grow. Please, Icarus, promise me you will not try to pull them out, or damage them, or prevent them from growing.”
Promise me you will not hurt yourself again.
“It appears I do not have a choice,” Icarus said in a quiet voice.
It wasn’t exactly the resounding reassurance that Pythagoras had been hoping for, but he suspected right at that moment it was the best he was going to get.
Finally sure that the after-effects had worn off enough that he could get up without immediately falling over again, he stood up, still holding Icarus’ hand, and tugged him to his feet.
“Come on. Now we must explain all of this to your father.”
Icarus made a face that suggested he would rather face an entire herd of bulls in the arena than face his father with this news, but eventually he nodded.
Pythagoras let go of his hand and pulled him into a hug, wrapping both arms around Icarus and holding him close. Icarus instantly returned the hug, burrowing his face into Pythagoras’ shoulder.
“I know it is frightening. Trust me, Icarus, I know. But I promise I will be here to help you with this as much as I can.”
“Thank you,” Icarus said, his voice muffled against Pythagoras’ tunic.
Pythagoras inhaled deeply and somewhere beneath the strong herbal scent of the ointment he had used to treat the wounds, there was the familiar scent that was simply Icarus, warm and earthy, and it was only then that Pythagoras registered that Icarus was still shirtless. For a second he was torn between wanting to let go and move away as fast as possible or simply taking the opportunity to stay there and hold him close for as long as he possibly could. In the end it was Icarus who let go, although his hand remained on Pythagoras’ arm. Pythagoras concentrated quite hard on keeping his eyes on Icarus’ face and not letting his gaze stray any lower.
Icarus gave him a small smile.
“Will you come with me to face my father?”
“Of course I will.”
It was another three days before Pythagoras managed to visit Icarus again, mostly due to an incident involving Hercules, a game of dice, and an exceptionally obstinate goat that kept all three of them occupied until they managed to find a sensible solution that didn’t involve anyone being arrested.
That didn’t stop Pythagoras thinking about Icarus, and worrying, so the first available opportunity found him walking over to Daedalus’ house again, with his bag of medical supplies just in case.
Icarus’ wings were a gift from the gods, he was absolutely sure of it. He hadn’t elaborated on this at the time because his friend had already seemed frightened enough, but Pythagoras had known the moment he had used his power to heal the wounds.
Pythagoras could not fully understand or explain it, even to himself, but when he used his powers to heal, for a brief time he made a connection, a bond that went beyond purely physical contact. One thing he had learned over the last several years, since coming to Atlantis and becoming friends with first Hercules and then Jason, was that those touched by the gods were different to normal mortals.
And he had sensed that about Icarus three days earlier. What was stranger was that he did not remember sensing it on the one previous occasion that he had used his power to heal Icarus, a little over a year ago. It was possible that he had simply missed it, but Pythagoras didn’t think so. It was odd, and it was only adding to his worry.
There had always been those favoured by the gods, of course. Legends spoke of many great heroes in times past who had abilities beyond those of most mortals. But it seemed to Pythagoras that in the last generation or so, such individuals seemed to be becoming more prevalent in society. Or maybe, he supposed, he was only aware of more gifted people since he had moved to Atlantis, because for some reason they seemed drawn to the city. And not simply drawn to Atlantis, but drawn to each other.
Hercules’ gift was great strength, of course. Jason’s unnatural agility was undoubtedly god given, but Jason also displayed many other strange abilities, abilities that even Jason himself did not appear to be aware of until they manifested themselves. That was why Pythagoras spent so much time keeping an eye on his friend, cataloguing his powers, and trying to keep Jason safe from others and from himself. With the addition of Pythagoras’ own healing gift, it wasn’t hard to see how the three of them had become such an effective team, or why they had been drawn together in the first place.
And now, it appeared, yet another of his friends had been chosen by the gods.
Daedalus looked annoyed when he opened the door, but that immediately changed to relieved when he saw Pythagoras and ushered him in. It was a reaction that did nothing to ease Pythagoras’ worry.
“How is he?”
“Somewhere between denial and sulking. And still stubbornly resistant to the obvious,” Daedalus said.
“The obvious what?” Pythagoras asked, but the inventor was already heading back to his workshop and Pythagoras trailed after him.
“It’s alright, it’s Pythagoras,” Daedalus called out, and then simply went back to work on whatever his latest project was.
There was no sign of Icarus until he eventually appeared from the direction of the kitchen. He looked thoroughly miserable.
Pythagoras went to him immediately.
“How are you doing?”
He wanted to hug Icarus, but wasn’t entirely sure how it would be received in his current mood, so settled for grasping his arm instead.
“They are growing back. And before you ask, no, I have not tried to prevent them from doing so since last time.”
“That doesn’t actually answer my question,” Pythagoras said gently. He offered Icarus a tentative smile. “I did not ask about your wings, I asked about you. Are you alright?”
There was a momentary flash of surprise on Icarus’ face, and then he managed a small smile. He looked past Pythagoras to where his father was working, and then he nodded in the direction of the kitchen and eating area, and Pythagoras followed him. From behind, he could see that even though Icarus was wearing a large, loose-fitting tunic, it was hanging awkwardly, and utterly failing to conceal the two lumpy protrusions on his upper back.
“I am fine,” he said, sounding anything but. “My back and shoulders hurt, but before you start worrying, it is more a feeling of discomfort rather than serious pain.”
“That is not entirely surprising,” Pythagoras said, although since he had never in his entire life come across anything like this, he had to admit he had no idea what to expect.
Icarus brought two cups to the table and poured them both some water, and sat down. Pythagoras sat opposite him and smiled again.
“I’m sorry I could not get here sooner. Hercules has kept me busy, as usual. Is there anything I can do?”
Icarus shrugged, and then winced. “Like what? You have already said you cannot stop them from growing.”
The underlying hint of anger in his voice was unmistakeable. Unease curled in Pythagoras’ stomach.
“Icarus, you should not say such things. I know this is not something that you wanted, or would ever have asked for, but it is a gift from the gods. If you continue to reject it, you may anger them.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Icarus snapped. “Your gift is easily hidden. Your gift does not stop you from sleeping at night, or prevent you from going to the market without people staring. Pythagoras, already I dare not leave the house for fear someone will discover them. What happens when they get even bigger? Must I choose between being a prisoner in my own home, or being a freak in public? This does not feel like a gift, Pythagoras. This... this feels more like a curse.”
“Icarus, no,” Pythagoras breathed.
He had feared this, but hearing Icarus say it out loud was heart-breaking. Icarus couldn’t even seem to look at him, and his gaze dropped to the table. Before any conscious thought entered his head, Pythagoras got up and walked around the table and knelt in front of his friend, and took both of his hands in his own.
“Listen to me, Icarus. I know how it feels to be afraid of discovery. Yes, my gift is more easily concealed, but that does not mean that the danger was any less real. For years, all through Minos’ reign, I lived every day in fear that the king would find out about my ability, and force me to serve him and Pasiphae as their own personal physician. Or worse, that I might be forcibly conscripted into the army and made to work as a battlefield medic.”
He paused, the familiar clench in his gut returning at the thought, even after all this time.
Icarus stared at him, his eyes wide at Pythagoras’ confession.
“But Ariadne knows, doesn’t she?”
“Yes. But Ariadne is not like her father. She treats those who serve her with respect. I trust her not to abuse my abilities. We all do.”
Icarus held his gaze a moment longer, and then it dropped to where Pythagoras was still holding his hands in Icarus’ lap.
“The queen might understand, but I doubt the rest of the city will accept it so easily.”
“Then we will find a way to hide your wings.”
Icarus looked up again at that, surprise and disbelief in his eyes.
That was a good question. But now he was seriously considering it, Pythagoras’ mind was already whirling with thoughts and possibilities.
“Well, birds are able to tuck their wings right up against their bodies. Perhaps when they are fully grown you will be able to do the same with yours. Perhaps right now the only reason they are sticking out in such an obtrusive manner is because they are still only partially formed.”
Icarus snorted in disbelief.
“I am not a bird, Pythagoras.”
“No, but the principle may be the same.” He saw another objection forming on Icarus’ lips and cut him off before he could speak. “And if that is not the case, then we will find a way to hide them. Perhaps... perhaps some sort of harness or strapping that would bind them close to your body. We would have to wait until the wings are fully grown, of course, before we can plan anything in detail, but I am sure there will be a way. Between the three of us we will think of something.”
Icarus closed his eyes, and when he opened them again there was no disguising the hope that had appeared in place of despair.
“You really think so?” he asked.
Pythagoras smiled and gently squeezed his hands.
“I cannot promise, but I will do everything I can to help you.”
Icarus finally offered him a smile, small and tentative, but a smile nonetheless, and Pythagoras’ heart tripped. He knew right at that moment he would turn the library upside down to find a way to help him if it meant that Icarus would smile at him like that again.
“Thank you,” Icarus said.
“Oh, I see,” Daedalus said loudly as he wandered in.
Both Pythagoras and Icarus jumped in surprise, but when Pythagoras tried to withdraw his hands, Icarus held on. Daedalus barely raised an eyebrow at the sight of Pythagoras on his knees in front of his son, but he did level a particularly sarcasm-laden stare at Icarus.
“I’ve been telling you for the last three days that all will be well and we’ll think of something, and you refuse to listen. But as soon as Pythagoras says the same thing you believe him?”
“That is because Pythagoras has actually suggested something practical, instead of insane ideas about disguises, and calculations of potential flight speed.”
“Flying?” Pythagoras blurted.
Daedalus just gave him a look.
“Well of course. What else did you think he was going to do with them?”
“I... I hadn’t...” It seemed obvious as soon as he said it, but Pythagoras had spent so much time thinking about it as simply a practical and medical problem that he had not even considered the possibility until now. He looked back at Icarus, who was giving Pythagoras a curious look. “You will be able to fly,” he breathed, his voice full of wonder.
“Perhaps,” Icarus muttered, a flush creeping into his cheeks. “But not if they stay like this. They’re too small to do anything other than get in the way at the moment.”
Pythagoras couldn’t contain his excited smile, and he squeezed Icarus’ hands again.
“This is going to be incredible.”
Daedalus cleared his throat, and Pythagoras looked up in time to see the older man roll his eyes. Pythagoras felt the heat rising in his cheeks and decided it was probably time to get up.
“I don’t know about incredible,” Icarus muttered. “Incredibly dangerous, perhaps.”
“No sense of adventure, that’s your problem,” Daedalus said.
The all too familiar hurt look flitted across Icarus’ face before he shook his head.
“One of us has to be sensible. You have enough sense of adventure for both of us.”
Daedalus looked like he was going to say something else disparaging, so Pythagoras interrupted.
“Well, as you say, there is no chance of flying until the wings are fully developed, so let’s not worry about it just yet.”
There was a slightly awkward moment, so Pythagoras decided a complete change of subject was in order.
“You said you were feeling some discomfort? I might be able to help with that. Obviously there isn’t much I can do about the new growth, but I have ointments that might ease any muscular pain at least.”
“Of course.” Pythagoras gave Icarus what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“You would do better to give him a sleeping draught,” Daedalus commented. “He can’t get a decent night’s sleep with those things getting in the way every time he turns over.”
“What?” Daedalus shot back. “If anyone can help with that it will be Pythagoras.”
“Is that true?” Pythagoras asked, directing the question at Icarus himself, rather than let his father keep speaking for him.
“Yes,” Icarus admitted.
“Then tomorrow I will bring something that will help you sleep. In the meantime, do you want to let me see if I can do anything to make you a little more comfortable right now?”
“You do not need to-”
“I am here and I have brought my medical supplies with me. It is not like I am going out of my way to do this. I said I would do everything I can to help you with this, Icarus, and I meant it.”
Daedalus’ gaze seemed to flicker from one to the other, and an amused smile played on his lips.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” he said, and headed back towards the workshop, still smiling.
Pythagoras wasn’t entirely sure what all that was about, but at least Icarus seemed to relax a little more once his father had left.
Pythagoras searched his bag until he found the appropriate jar, and when he turned back Icarus was struggling to tug his tunic off. It seemed to catch on the wings and Icarus had to manoeuvre it carefully over his head and away from his shoulders. For the second time in less than a week Pythagoras was faced with a semi-naked Icarus, which, while undoubtedly nice, was extremely distracting when he was supposed to be providing medical assistance.
“Um, can you turn around? And maybe sit down.”
Icarus did as he was told, and Pythagoras got his first proper look at his friend’s wings.
With only three day’s worth of new growth, the dark feathers were small and still a little fluffy-looking, but there was no mistaking the fact that they were actual wings, complete with new supporting bones and muscles that were growing out of Icarus’ back.
He must have remained silent for too long.
“I know they must look strange and wrong,” Icarus muttered.
“No. Icarus, they look incredible. Speaking as someone with an interest in anatomy, this is fascinating.”
“So now I am just an interesting science project for you both. Wonderful.”
“That is not what I said,” Pythagoras replied, trying to hide his irritation at Icarus’ constant negativity.
Icarus breathed deeply and then twisted to look over his shoulder at Pythagoras.
“Sorry. I know you are only trying to help. The last few days have not been easy, and lack of sleep is making me irritable.”
Pythagoras gave him a reassuring smile.
“Then let me do what I can to make it easier for you.” He reached for the ointment. “Is there anywhere in particular that is causing you discomfort?”
Icarus shrugged, and the wings moved with him, the muscles of his back and shoulders flexing with the new additions.
Pythagoras smeared a dollop of ointment onto his fingers and began to rub it gently into Icarus’ upper back and shoulders, all around the wings, gently kneading and rubbing the muscles as he worked. After a few moments of initial tension, he felt Icarus relax under his touch.
“There was one thing I was wondering about, that you might know,” Icarus said after a few minutes.
Pythagoras was concentrating on massaging what appeared to be completely new muscle groups on Icarus’ shoulder blades, his mind focussing on the anatomical and medical science as a way of distracting himself from the fact that he was touching Icarus in such an intimate way. He had not anticipated the effect it would have on him, and it belatedly occurred to Pythagoras that this had possibly not been such a good idea.
“Why have they only appeared now? From what I have heard of these gifts from the gods, they normally come to people when they are much younger.”
Pythagoras frowned a little as he thought about that one. Icarus had a good point.
“It is true that most people with such gifts claim that they appeared during or shortly after puberty. I know I first became aware of mine when I was fifteen. But that is not always the case. I believe Jason did not begin to manifest any of his abilities until he arrived in Atlantis last year. And at the opposite end of the scale, Hercules claims to have had great strength ever since he was a baby.”
“But it is generally not normal for them to come so late in life?” Icarus persisted.
“Perhaps the gods waited until you were ready,” Pythagoras suggested. Yes, the more he thought about it, the more that made sense. “If these wings are truly going to grow to a size capable of allowing you to fly, then perhaps the gods waited until you were physically mature enough to handle them. Imagine what chaos would be caused by a child unable to control their wings and trying to fly.”
“You always have far more sensible ideas than my father,” Icarus said.
“You father is quite brilliant, but yes, even I have to admit that sensible is not a word I would normally use to describe him.”
He finished rubbing the ointment into Icarus’ shoulders and stood back.
“It might take a little while for you to notice a difference, but that should help.”
“Thank you, Pythagoras. Right now, knowing that I have your support is one of the few things that is making this entire situation bearable.”
He looked round and the warmth and gratitude in his eyes did something funny to Pythagoras’ insides, and he suspected a flush was creeping across his face and neck. After a moment he had to look away and busied himself putting the lid back on the ointment jar.
“It was my pleasure.”
He hoped Icarus would not guess just how much that was true.
“You were right,” Icarus announced without preamble almost three weeks later.
“They do fold up close to my body. Now they’re fully grown, they actually tuck in pretty neatly. See?”
Icarus seemed to concentrate for a moment, and then his upper body tensed and his shoulders flexed and the wings half opened and then folded in on themselves until they could barely been seen from the front. It was pretty impressive considering just how big they had become. Pythagoras hadn’t actually seen them fully extended, but at a rough estimate he would guess that each wing by itself was almost as long as Icarus’ full body height.
“That is excellent news,” Pythagoras smiled. He meant it as well. Of all the issues that had arisen since Icarus’ wings had begun to appear (and there had been, and still were, many) he knew that the visibility and obtrusiveness was one of the things Icarus had been most worried about.
Pythagoras had been out of the city with Jason and Hercules, on a mission for Ariadne for the last week, and when he wasn’t busy trying to keep himself and his companions alive, he had spent much of that week thinking and worrying about Icarus. He had barely been back home for two hours and as soon as all the urgent jobs were done he had come straight over.
He knew his intentions were not entirely altruistic; the simple fact was he wanted to see Icarus and spend time with him. The wings just gave him an excuse. When he thought about it at all, Pythagoras only felt a tiny bit guilty about that.
“It’s not perfect,” Icarus admitted as he led the way to the workshop. “But your idea about a harness also proved to be a good one. Although we are still working on it.”
“We’d have already got it right if you hadn’t been so awkward,” Daedalus said loudly, from where he was, as usual, leaning over one of the workbenches and tinkering with something.
“I told you there was no point devising anything until they had stopped growing,” Icarus argued. “We would only have to keep adjusting it to the new shape and size.”
“But you have to admit the fact that we started early meant we got a lot of trial and error, with emphasis on the error, out of the way a lot sooner by doing it my way.”
Icarus hopped up onto a seat and sat on the table, and rolled his eyes at Pythagoras with a grin.
“Did you just admit you are capable of making errors?” Icarus said.
Daedalus glanced up and gave him a look, but there was that familiar twinkle in his eye.
“Making mistakes during testing is a widely acknowledged necessary stage of scientific endeavour.”
Pythagoras watched the good natured argument go back and forth between father and son, and smiled a little. It made a nice change to see them both like this.
Of course, Pythagoras had to admit, that was not the only thing he was appreciating right at that moment. One side effect of the appearance of the wings was that Icarus had been forced to spend much of the last few weeks shirtless, as most normal tunics could not accommodate the wings, especially once they had grown larger. Icarus had not seemed overly self-conscious about this, which was probably a good thing because Pythagoras suspected he would have felt far more guilty about how much he was enjoying this state of affairs if Icarus had not been comfortable.
As it was, if an exceedingly handsome young man was going to wander around shirtless then Pythagoras certainly wasn’t going to object (in his more shallow moments, he had to admit that was one of the perks of sharing a house with Jason). And if that man just happened to be Icarus... well, no matter how much Pythagoras prided himself on his rational, logical intellect, he was still a man with wants and needs and desires. Although, he had to remind himself frequently, he probably shouldn’t be thinking about such things right in front of the object of those desires, not to mention in front of his father.
“Do you want to look at the latest version?” Icarus asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“Yes, of course.”
Pythagoras hoped they hadn’t noticed his inattention. He was definitely interested in what they had been working on, he had just been a little distracted.
The ‘harness’ actually turned out to be a set of complex fabric straps that pinned the wings into a folded position and held them as close to Icarus’ back as was physically possible. They fastened over his shoulders and round his chest. It was truly impressive quite how much of a difference the harness made to the obtrusiveness of the wings.
Pythagoras watched as Icarus tightened the straps, glancing over his shoulder occasionally while Daedalus continually adjusted it at the back.
“Ultimately we need to design something that I can do entirely on my own, otherwise it’s just not practical,” Icarus said, still fiddling with a strap.
“This is excellent,” Pythagoras commented, giving Icarus an encouraging smile.
Icarus pulled it tighter and winced.
“Careful,” Pythagoras said. He touched Icarus’ hand to stop him.
Icarus shook his head. “It can go tighter. It’s a trade off between comfort and visibility.”
“If it is too tight is there not a danger you might damage the wings?”
Icarus hesitated. “They seem fairly resilient. Our tests so far don’t seem to have done much damage apart from a few bent feathers.”
“But how long have you actually worn it for in these tests?” Pythagoras pressed.
Over Icarus’ shoulder, Daedalus met Pythagoras’ eye and Pythagoras saw the sudden doubt in the older man’s eyes.
“About an hour,” Icarus said.
“More like half an hour,” Daedalus corrected.
“No, it was more than that.”
“Regardless, it was not long at all,” Pythagoras said. “We should beware of the possibility that long term confinement of the wings might cause serious damage.”
“He’s right,” Daedalus said. “We already abandoned the idea of using leather strapping because it was causing too much damage to the feathers.”
“If I cannot wear it all day then what is the point?” Icarus said. He suddenly sounded far more subdued.
“The theory is sound. Perhaps it simply needs to be adjusted slightly,” Pythagoras suggested, attempting to forestall an argument, or Icarus becoming too downhearted again. Considering today was the first time in weeks that Pythagoras had actually seen his friend happy, he did not want to be the cause of another bad mood.
Icarus seemed to be thinking for a moment. He released the strap a little, and rolled his shoulders a couple of times.
“Pass me my tunic.”
Pythagoras looked round until he saw it thrown on the table, and passed it across, sneaking one last glance at Icarus’ chest before it was covered up.
“How does that look?”
What Icarus actually meant was how visible were the wings, and they all knew it. Pythagoras took a couple of steps back and properly looked. No matter how much he wanted to cheer his friend up, he had to be completely honest about this.
“Not too bad. It is obvious there is something back there, but now they are covered it is impossible to say what it is.”
“You could try wearing a more loose fitting tunic?” Daedalus suggested.
“Oh yes, I’m sure that will look very flattering.”
“Or what about that leather top that you wear?” Pythagoras tried. “Perhaps with a few modifications it might disguise the altered body shape and make it appear that you are simply wearing bulky armour?”
Daedalus was already nodding.
“Yes. Yes, that might work.”
“And if your main worry is damage to the feathers, what about a thin layer of fabric between the wings and the straps?” Icarus suggested.
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Pythagoras said with possibly more enthusiasm than the idea actually warranted. The fact that Icarus was actively contributing and not simply arguing and finding fault with everyone else’s ideas made him want to be supportive, though. “Silk might be particularly ideal. It would be soft against the feathers but it is surprisingly tough and hard wearing. And plus it has the advantage of being very fine, so it is not adding yet another bulky layer to the assembly.”
“What did I tell you?” Daedalus said, looking extremely satisfied. “There is nothing that we cannot solve with the application of a little brainpower.”
The expression on Icarus’ face suggested that he would believe that when he had a fully functioning harness that properly concealed his wings from all but the most determined search, but at least his good mood from earlier seemed to be returning.
They spent the rest of the afternoon trying different designs and configurations. Despite Icarus deciding that he wanted to try wearing the current harness for a longer period of time to test if it really did have any side effects, they ended up taking it on and off multiple times as they experimented with different variations. Pythagoras was not entirely unaware that Icarus seemed to be experiencing some physical discomfort the longer this went on, but he kept insisting he was fine and needed to get used to it, and Pythagoras didn’t push it because he didn’t want to cause another argument. And honestly, Icarus was a grown man and it wasn’t Pythagoras’ job to nag him about this sort of thing.
He couldn’t ignore it any longer, though, when Icarus suddenly cried out in pain and stopped in mid-movement as he tried to take the harness off.
“What is it?” Pythagoras was at his side in an instant.
“I think it’s caught on something,” Icarus admitted.
Pythagoras went round the back and saw exactly what had happened.
“A strap has slipped underneath some of the feathers. Let go, I’ll untangle it.”
He very carefully worked the strap free, trying to avoid pulling any feathers out with it, or catching anything else with another part of the harness while he concentrated on that one strap. Despite all the practice they’d had that afternoon it was more difficult than it looked. Or maybe that was just because Pythagoras was suddenly more aware of the possibility that he might injure Icarus doing this.
After a few minutes it was free, but Pythagoras stayed where he was at Icarus’ back, casting an eye over the damage.
“I think that’s enough for today,” he said in the kind of voice that told his friend that it was not a suggestion.
“I think you’re right,” Icarus said. “It felt like it pulled some feathers out.”
“It looks like it nearly did.” Pythagoras frowned and ran his hands down the wings, smoothing the feathers where they were not lying straight. He felt Icarus become tense and immediately stopped.
“Sorry. Did that hurt?”
“It’s fine. It didn’t hurt. It just feels strange, that’s all.”
“How have you been taking care of them, Icarus?”
Now he was looking closely, he could see a lot of bent or twisted feathers, feathers not lying straight or flat, feathers that were dull instead of glossy.
“Icarus? You have been taking care of them, haven’t you?”
“It’s a bit awkward to reach them,” Icarus admitted in a quiet voice.
Pythagoras sighed. It would be nice if just one of his friends wasn’t such hard work to look after sometimes.
“Then will you allow me to do it?”
Icarus hesitated for a surprisingly long time before he nodded.
“We should probably go somewhere a bit more private,” Icarus muttered.
“Yes, get out of my way for a bit,” Daedalus said loudly as he wandered back into the room. “I do have other work to do besides this you know.”
Despite his words, there was an amused smile on his face as he watched the pair of them that Pythagoras couldn’t quite fathom given the context of the conversation.
“Come on,” Icarus muttered, and led the way to his bedroom.
After a bit of slightly awkward manoeuvring about, they ended up with Icarus sat on the edge of his bed and Pythagoras sat on the bed cross-legged behind him.
“Can you open your wings out fully?”
“I’m not actually sure there’s enough room in here to open both at once.”
Pythagoras was instantly intrigued.
“Is it possible to open one independently of the other?”
“I think the answer is technically yes, but I don’t have enough control over them to get it quite right yet.”
Nevertheless, before Pythagoras could ask any more questions, the muscles in Icarus’ upper back rippled and both wings opened out to about half their full span.
“Hang on,” Icarus said. He closed them again, and then the right wing opened fully, while the left stopped at half open.
“That’s about as good as it gets at the moment,” Icarus said. He glanced over his shoulder with a slightly apologetic look.
Despite the amount of time he had spent with Icarus over the past three weeks, this was the first time Pythagoras had seen the wings anything like fully extended. It seemed his estimate that each wing was as long as Icarus’ full height was more or less correct. But it wasn’t the size that made Pythagoras stare at the wings in awe. Icarus often spoke of them as if they were obstacles to be negotiated, but looking at them like this, all Pythagoras could see was elegance, beauty, and power.
“Icarus, this is amazing,” Pythagoras breathed. “You are amazing.”
He reached out and ran his fingertips down the surface of the wing right in front of him. This close, he was struck by how fragile each individual feather seemed, but at the same time he could see the strength and power in the wing as a whole, the way that each overlapping feather gave support and protection to those around it. It truly was a structural and engineering wonder. For the first time, the thought of seeing Icarus actually fly filled him with excitement instead of trepidation.
“Oh, Icarus, I wish you could see them as I do. These truly are a gift from the gods.”
Icarus turned away and ducked his head.
“Perhaps,” he allowed.
Despite his less than enthusiastic reply, this time there was no resentment or protest in his tone, and Pythagoras dared to believe that maybe his friend was finally beginning to accept the wings.
He must have been marvelling at the wings for longer than he thought, because eventually Icarus twisted round to look at him (almost smacking him in the face with a wing before he stopped in time).
“I thought you were intending to do something, Pythagoras?”
“Oh, of course. Sorry.”
Pythagoras felt himself flush, and offered Icarus a slightly embarrassed smile.
“What actually are you intending to do, by the way?” Icarus sounded curious.
“Well, I have been doing some research in the library on birds and their methods of grooming. And I have to admit I have found myself being distracted on more than one occasion watching birds fussing at their wings. It really is quite fascinating.”
“Yet another of the things that you find fascinating. I should make a list. Triangles would be at the top, obviously.”
“It’s funny you should mention that, because there was one study by an Egyptian scholar that claimed there were some very interesting mathematical formulas related to bird flight, particularly regarding the angles between their wings and their bodies for the most efficient forms of fli-” Pythagoras caught himself, almost hearing Hercules’ voice in his head telling him to shut up. “Sorry. Probably not the most useful thing I could be talking about right now.”
When he glanced up, though, Icarus was still looking over his shoulder and watching him with what could only be described as a fond smile.
“Pythagoras, if I am truly going to fly one day then your research and thoughts might well make the difference between me soaring like an eagle or crashing to the ground in an ignominious heap. Please, tell me all about what you have been reading.”
So Pythagoras began to talk, telling Icarus everything he had discovered, no matter how trivial it might seem. As he did so, he got to work on the wings. Of course, he had to admit to Icarus that despite all his research he still had very little idea what he was doing, and that he was mostly making it up as he went along (Icarus had glanced back over his shoulder with an extremely cheeky smirk, and commented, “Don’t you mean you’re winging it?” which got him a well-earned groan and eye-roll).
He had read somewhere about birds’ feathers being at least partly waterproof, so Pythagoras decided it would probably be best to keep water out of any attempt to clean the wings. That mostly left him using his hands, and on occasion a soft, very slightly damp, cloth to smooth and clean the feathers. There wasn’t as much actual damage as he had first thought, and much of it could be fixed by simply straightening individual feathers back into their proper alignment, although there were a couple where the feather itself was so badly bent it had partly broken. Pythagoras did what he could, but expressed concern that they might need to keep an eye on the broken ones, and perhaps remove them altogether at a later date if necessary.
Despite this slight worry, Pythagoras had to admit that once he got going and became confident that it would not hurt Icarus at all, he began to find it quite relaxing. The repetitive actions meant that his mind could wander and he could ramble on as he worked, encouraged by Icarus occasionally asking questions that indicated he was paying attention and not completely bored or annoyed by it all.
“Nearly done,” Pythagoras commented some time later. “I believe it only took so long because we have been neglecting the wings thus far. If we keep on top of it, it should not take so long in future. Five or ten minutes regularly will save us two hours if we leave it.”
Icarus chuckled. “That sounds like a line you have used on Hercules with regard to housework.”
“On several occasions, in fact. It never works,” Pythagoras said with a smile.
“I appreciate the idea, but I am still unsure how I am supposed to maintain the wings myself when I cannot reach much of them.”
“Then I will help you. It is not a failing on your part, Icarus. I have read there are some species of bird which groom each other, particularly in the areas that are hard for an individual bird to reach themselves. In fact, there are even some species which groom each other as part of their mating rituals.”
He realised what he had said the moment the words were out of his mouth, and Pythagoras felt himself flushing. When he risked a glance at Icarus, he saw his friend was similarly flushed, perhaps even more so. Wonderful, everything had been going so well, and he had to say something stupid and make it awkward.
Pythagoras refocused himself to the task at hand, paying more attention to what he was doing and keeping his mouth shut to avoid any further embarrassment. Perhaps it would be better if Daedalus did this in future? It would certainly provide fewer opportunities for Pythagoras to make an idiot of himself in front of Icarus. Even if it would deprive him of the chance to spend so much time with Icarus, to be allowed to touch him like this... Pythagoras closed his eyes and tried to ignore the thoughts and fantasies that were making themselves known now he was not concentrating on talking about his research. No matter that it might be for the best to avoid this sort of situation, no matter that his thoughts were entirely inappropriate, there was a selfish part of him that did not want to give this up.
He was brought out of his thoughts by a quiet sound from Icarus. It was not the first time; Icarus had been unable to contain soft sounds of contentment ever since it had started, but this was different. This sounded more like a whimper.
“Icarus? Are you alright?”
Icarus nodded, but he did not turn around. In fact, now Pythagoras was looking at him instead of the wings, he could see that Icarus’ head was down and he seemed to be staring intently at the floor.
“You do not sound alright. I am sorry if I have caused you any discomfort.”
Icarus gave a soft sigh.
“Pythagoras, it is not discomfort. Quite the opposite, in fact.” He hesitated. “Let’s just say that if this is how it feels for them, I can see why birds do this as part of mating.”
It took Pythagoras several seconds to work out what he meant by that. Then he began to notice the suddenly obvious tension throughout Icarus’ body, the increasingly flushed skin, the way he would no longer look at him at all.
Icarus abruptly closed his wings and got up and took a few steps away from the bed. Pythagoras tried to follow, but stopped when he glanced down and saw the rather more obvious evidence of just how much it had affected Icarus.
“I’m sorry,” Pythagoras said. “I had no idea. I wouldn’t have... you should have told me to stop.”
“Would it bother you if I said that I did not want it to stop? That I enjoyed it.”
For a moment Pythagoras wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. Or if he had, that it couldn’t possibly mean what he wanted it to mean.
He must have hesitated too long, because Icarus closed his eyes and turned away.
“Perhaps it would be better if we both pretended that I did not just say that. Please, Pythagoras. I... I did not... I don’t... please just forget it.”
He couldn’t listen to this any longer. Pythagoras went to Icarus and took his face in his hands and kissed him, so gently it was barely more than the touch of lips. It was enough to stop Icarus from apologising, though, which was more or less the desired effect. When Pythagoras opened his eyes and pulled back a little, Icarus remained where he was, his eyes closed and an expression of stunned bliss on his face.
“In answer to your question, no it does not bother me at all,” Pythagoras said, a smile playing at his lips. “In fact, I also found it very enjoyable.”
Icarus opened his eyes.
Pythagoras kissed him again, and this time Icarus responded, and Pythagoras felt arms wrap around him and tug him closer. Pythagoras found himself pressed against Icarus, so close that he could feel the evidence of Icarus’ arousal, and his own body rapidly began to respond. Icarus whimpered into the kiss and when they finally parted he was breathing heavily.
“Pythagoras. You have no idea how long I have wanted this.”
“You have?” It probably wasn’t the most appropriate response, but Pythagoras was so surprised it slipped out before he could stop it.
“You could not tell?”
“Any evidence that I might have seen, I convinced myself that it was my imagination. That I was only seeing things that I wanted to see.”
“I have wanted this for an embarrassingly long time,” he admitted.
“Then I am glad that I am not the only idiot,” Icarus chuckled.
Pythagoras smiled, and kissed him again, just because he could, he could, and because the reality of kissing Icarus was so much better than his imagination.
On the periphery of his vision, Pythagoras could see the wings moving, and in the part of his brain that was still capable of considering anything apart from having Icarus in his arms, he wondered if Icarus was even consciously controlling the wings, or if they were doing that of their own accord. It would be an interesting line of inquiry. For later. Right now, he was occupied.
Eventually the kissing stopped, although neither of them seemed to want to let go or move away, and Pythagoras could still feel Icarus’ breath on his lips every time the man exhaled.
An idea began to occur to him, and he felt what was almost certainly a mischievous smile forming.
“So,” Pythagoras said. “If I understand correctly, you find it pleasurable to have your wings groomed?”
Icarus seemed to sense where this was going, and he smirked.
His hands wandered lower until they were at the small of Pythagoras’ back, and then Icarus very deliberately tugged him closer, just in case Pythagoras might have failed to notice exactly how pleasurable it felt.
“In that case, speaking purely as a physician, of course, I believe that if you are going to actually fly, it will be incredibly important to keep your wings in good condition. So I should probably assist you with keeping them well groomed on a very regular basis.”
“Oh really?” Icarus wasn’t even trying to hide his amused smile. “And how regularly would that be?”
“Well, there are probably a lot of variables to take into consideration.” Pythagoras pretended to ponder for a few seconds. “Firstly, it depends on how badly the harness affects the feathers. And on how much you need to use the harness, for that matter. And also I suppose it depends on how much damage the wings can withstand before it begins to affect flight performance. But since that is something that it is inherently dangerous to test, I would suggest we start out by erring on the side of caution.”
“Which translates as how often?” Icarus prompted, still smirking.
Pythagoras let go of Icarus’ face and deliberately caressed the underside of the wings.
“As often as possible,” he whispered.
Icarus shivered and his eyes closed. He made a soft sound of pure pleasure as Pythagoras continued to stroke the feathers, and Pythagoras couldn’t stop himself from kissing Icarus again.
The door opened and Daedalus walked in.
“Dinner’s nearly ready if you’ve fini-”
Pythagoras and Icarus sprang apart and all three of them froze. There was an awkward silence that stretched on and on, and Pythagoras knew he ought to say something but his mind was oscillating between completely blank and slightly incoherent panic.
Abruptly, Daedalus grinned.
“Thank the gods! I was starting to think I’d have to shut the pair of you in a room with a set of instructions.”
“Father!” Icarus hissed, his face flushing a distractingly interesting shade of red.
Daedalus rolled his eyes.
“Yes, fine. As I was saying, dinner is nearly ready. If you’re not otherwise occupied, that is. Pythagoras, I assume that you will be staying.”
He left and closed the door behind him. As his footsteps receded down the corridor, Pythagoras could have sworn he heard Daedalus say, “Finally!”
They looked at each other and then both burst out laughing.
“I am so sorry about that,” Icarus said, still blushing furiously.
“Well, think of it this way; at least we don’t have to worry about how to tell him.”
Pythagoras couldn’t help himself, and pressed another soft kiss to Icarus’ lips.
“We should probably go downstairs,” he said.
Icarus grabbed the front of his tunic and tugged him back.
“Technically he said dinner was nearly ready. That probably means we’ve got another few minutes, at least.”
“You are a bad influence,” Pythagoras observed.
Icarus’ wicked grin suggested he intended to take that as a compliment. His hands found their way around behind Pythagoras’ back and drew him close again. Pythagoras threaded his fingers into Icarus’ thick fluffy hair and kissed him, still revelling in the novelty of being allowed to do this outside of his own fantasies.
Daedalus did not look the least bit surprised when they were late for dinner.
“Surely this is far enough?” Pythagoras asked.
At his side, Icarus finally paused, and Pythagoras took the opportunity to stop walking and catch his breath while they waited for Daedalus, who was trailing a little way behind.
Icarus looked back down the way they had come and threw Pythagoras a worried look.
“We’re still closer to the city than I would like.”
Pythagoras moved closer and squeezed Icarus’ shoulder.
“We will be fine. We are far enough into the woods that the city is out of sight. We are nowhere near any of the routes that traders take. And I fear that if we go much deeper into the woods then we risk running into bandits.” He gave Icarus an encouraging smile, and a very quick kiss. “Plus, I fear your father might not be up to walking much further,” he added in a low voice so as not to be overheard as Daedalus slowly caught up.
Icarus had finally given in to his father’s nagging that it was time for a test flight, although he had insisted that they do it where no one else would see, and refused to be moved on that point no matter what counter-arguments were made. Eventually, in an attempt to diffuse a discussion that had been going round and round for at least half an hour, Pythagoras had suggested the woods in the hills above Atlantis. He had been on enough adventures with Jason that he knew the area fairly well, and it had the advantage of being secluded but also close enough to home that they could return quickly if necessary.
He had not expected Icarus to want to come quite this far, however, and Pythagoras really was concerned about the possibility of running into bandits if they ventured much further. He was armed, of course, and Icarus carried a sword as well, although Pythagoras had to admit he had never actually seen his friend use it in a fight. If it were just the two of them, he might have been less worried, but walking this far, on a mostly uphill gradient, had made Pythagoras realise, for perhaps the first time, that no matter how spry Daedalus’ mind was, he was not a young man any more. If they needed to make a quick escape... well, the simple fact was that they could not make a quick escape if anything happened.
Pythagoras had briefly entertained the idea of asking Jason and Hercules to come as additional backup, but had quickly dismissed the idea. It had taken long enough to get Icarus to agree to this in the first place, without adding anyone else into the equation.
When Daedalus finally drew level with them he rolled his eyes.
“I’m not sure which is worse; the months and months of inept pining, or the pair of you not being able to keep your hands off each other now.”
There was an amused twinkle in his eyes as he spoke that told Pythagoras it was not meant seriously, but even so Icarus moved away from him.
Daedalus had made it quite clear over the last few days that he had no problem with their relationship. In fact, Pythagoras got the distinct impression he was actually rather pleased with it. Although it was a little unfortunate that Daedalus also seemed to have taken it as an excuse to ratchet up the sarcasm and drop as many embarrassing, innuendo-laden comments into the conversation as he could. Pythagoras didn’t mind so much, he was used to that sort of thing from Hercules anyway, but Icarus seemed to feel the need to spend a great deal of time apologising for his father’s behaviour whenever they were alone. Time which Pythagoras felt could be more profitably spent on other, more enjoyable, activities.
“Well, are you going to get on with it, or are we just going to stand here?” Daedalus prodded.
Icarus looked to Pythagoras again, and Pythagoras gave him an encouraging nod.
“Alright,” Icarus muttered.
He swung the heavy cloak off, and then began undoing the ties on his leather top. There had been a brief moment when the guards on the city gate had given Icarus an odd look as they had left the city, probably wondering why he needed such a thick cloak on a warm day, but apart from that the disguise appeared to have worked and no one had seemed any the wiser as to exactly what was being concealed beneath his many layers of clothing.
They had improved on the design of the harness as well, and Icarus had been able to wear it for longer periods without causing too much damage. It had certainly succeeded in concealing the wings, but the limitations became apparent once again when it took all three of them to detach it.
“I hope I never have to take flight in a hurry wearing that thing,” Icarus commented when they finally removed it.
“Perhaps we need to design some sort of quick release mechanism for just such occasions,” Pythagoras said. It was an offhand suggestion, but when he glanced up he saw an expression on Daedalus’ face that told him the man’s mind was working on something already.
“Right,” Icarus muttered.
He stepped well away from them both to an area relatively clear of trees, and Pythagoras saw the way his upper body tensed as he opened his wings. For a moment the wings paused at halfway and rippled, as if they were enjoying being set free from the bindings. Then, for the first time ever, Pythagoras watched as Icarus opened both his wings to full stretch.
Pythagoras knew he was staring but he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Incredible,” he breathed, as Icarus opened and closed his wings, stretching them and quite possibly getting used to the feeling of having the open space to do this for a change.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Daedalus said.
Pythagoras wondered if Daedalus had been expecting something more intelligent, but either he was satisfied with the response, or he may have decided that just this once was not the time for sarcasm.
Icarus finally seemed to have stopped warming up and for a moment he just stood there. Then the wings rose up behind him, half folded, and opened out as they came back down. It was possibly the most tentative first flap that had ever occurred in the history of flight.
Icarus tried it again, faster, with slightly more determination. Even from several paces away Pythagoras felt the draught of displaced air against his skin. But Icarus’ feet remained firmly on the ground. He frowned, a look that Pythagoras knew meant he was concentrating, and kept trying.
The wonder of those first few moments gradually dissipated as nothing much seemed to happen. Icarus was clearly getting frustrated, and he also seemed to not quite know what to do with his arms and even attempted to flap those as well until the movement disrupted a wing and he almost stumbled as his limbs got tangled.
Pythagoras went over to him, aware that Daedalus was only a step behind him.
“Are you alright?” Pythagoras asked.
“What the hell are you doing?” Daedalus demanded. “You’re supposed to be flying.”
“It’s harder than it looks!”
“Alright, there’s no need to shout,” Pythagoras intervened. “We’ve barely been trying more than ten minutes. It was never going to happen straight away. Maybe you just haven’t found the right technique yet.”
Daedalus snorted back a laugh, and when Pythagoras looked he saw a smirk on the older man’s face. He mentally replayed back what he had said, and winced.
“Oh, please. Must you make an innuendo out of everything?” Icarus muttered.
“Only when you make it so easy. Innuendo aside, though, Pythagoras has a good point.” Daedalus paused, pondering for a moment. “Can’t you angle the wings so you’re beating downwards? Right now there’s more horizontal movement than vertical. That’s probably why you aren’t getting any lift.”
“That might help,” Pythagoras admitted.
“Fine, give me some space.”
It wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic response, but they backed off and Icarus tried again. There were a couple more experimental flaps, and then, between one movement and the next, Pythagoras became aware that something had changed. The wings angled back a little, and the next flap had far more downward thrust to it. A slightly startled expression flitted across Icarus’ face, only to be replaced by a determination that Pythagoras very rarely saw in his friend. The wings beat down again and with no warning at all Icarus’ feet left the ground.
He wavered just a little way up, flapping more and more urgently just to maintain position. After no more than about thirty seconds he dropped back down again and leaned over, his hands resting on his knees.
Daedalus was on him in seconds.
“See? What did I tell you? You were in the air! Admittedly, not very far in the air, but it was better than nothing.”
Pythagoras approached more slowly, but Icarus looked up and met his gaze when he got close.
“That was amazing,” Pythagoras said, almost reverently. “Are you alright?”
“It was exhausting,” Icarus admitted. He breathed deeply, and then as Pythagoras watched a smile began to form on his face. “It was also exhilarating.”
“I’m sure it shouldn’t take that much effort for so little lift,” Daedalus said, still sounding remarkably unimpressed.
“Perhaps it is simply a matter of you building your strength and stamina up,” Pythagoras suggested, unwilling to burst Icarus’ bubble so soon, no matter how much he agreed with Daedalus’ assessment.
Daedalus looked up and around, and abruptly he grinned. That slightly manic grin that Pythagoras had learned to be a little wary of.
“You’re trying to take off from the wrong place,” Daedalus announced. “You need to start from somewhere higher. Then you can glide, instead of all this ridiculous flapping.”
“Ridiculous? Oh, thanks very much.”
“You know what I mean,” Daedalus said.
“Perhaps we should let him get used to it from the safety of the ground first,” Pythagoras said, but he could tell by Daedalus’ expression that he was almost certainly wasting his time advising caution.
He glanced at Icarus and was surprised to see he was also looking up and around with an altogether too speculative expression.
“Icarus?” Pythagoras asked.
“I could launch myself out of a tree,” Icarus said, as if it was a completely normal and sane suggestion.
“I was going to say a tall building or a cliff, but I suppose a tree might be better for a first attempt. Plus we happen to have several trees conveniently to hand right now,” Daedalus said.
Somewhat belatedly, it occurred to Pythagoras that he had attached himself to a completely insane family. He had always known Daedalus was a little mad, obviously, but Icarus had generally seemed rather more sensible. Or perhaps he only appeared that way in comparison to his father.
“I’m not sure this is a good-” Pythagoras didn’t even bother to finish the sentence, because Icarus was already heading towards one of the tallest trees within sight.
Pythagoras picked up all the abandoned bags and clothes and trailed after them.
“Try to start from as high as possible,” Daedalus was saying when Pythagoras reached them.
Icarus finally seemed to notice Pythagoras’ hesitance, and gave him a reassuring smile.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it will be fine.”
Pythagoras looked up into the tree, and then back at Icarus.
“Just be careful, alright?”
“I’m not sure flying and careful can really go together, but I’ll try,” Icarus grinned.
That really didn’t do much to reassure Pythagoras, but he had to admit Icarus probably had a point.
Pythagoras gave Icarus a boost up the tree until he could reach one of the lower branches, and then he began to climb upwards with more agility than Pythagoras had expected. He eventually stopped about three quarters of the way up the tree, and Pythagoras could only assume that was because he had run out of branches sturdy enough to take his weight.
“Maybe you should back off a bit,” Icarus called down. “I don’t want to land on you if this goes horribly wrong.”
“Oh, yes, that’s definitely the most reassuring thing you could have said,” Pythagoras called back. “I’m not worried at all now.” But he and Daedalus did move back a little.
Icarus steadied himself by hanging onto a branch above his head with both hands, and slowly opened his wings. For a moment a wing seemed to become tangled on another branch, and Icarus had to let go with one hand and reach over to free it. Pythagoras began to wonder if they should have spent more time trying to find a more suitable tree, rather than simply the nearest. He was about to suggest that out loud when Icarus finally succeeded in spreading both wings wide, and then, true to his word, launched himself out of the tree.
For a second it looked horribly like he was about to plummet to the ground headfirst. Then he flapped once, caught the air, and Icarus swooped upwards, his wings outstretched.
He let out a joyful whoop as he glided through the air, the moment before he crashed straight into the branches of the next nearest tree. There was a startled cry, and a confused crashing of branches, and then Icarus fell out of the tree and hit the ground.
Pythagoras ran over and dropped to his knees at Icarus’ side, and quickly looked him over for injuries. He was lying face down, and Pythagoras immediately saw that the left wing was bent at an unnatural angle.
“Icarus?” Daedalus knelt beside them.
“Ow. Ow, ow, ow.”
“Try not to move, tell me what hurts.”
“Everything,” Icarus whimpered.
He tried to push himself into a sitting position, but the left wing seemed to be dragging, and it quickly became apparent that he was only using his left arm to push himself up; the right arm was cradled against his chest. Pythagoras and Daedalus both helped him to sit up, but when Pythagoras reached for his arm, Icarus curled away from him with another quiet whimper.
“I have to know what’s wrong before I can heal it,” Pythagoras said as calmly as he could. He reached for the arm again. “I will try to be gentle.”
The arm was broken, that much was obvious as soon as he touched it. Looking at the positives, it was a clean break, and it hadn’t broken the skin, but there wasn’t much else to be put in the positive column. After checking that there were no other serious injuries that needed immediate treatment, Pythagoras turned his attention to the wing. That too seemed to be broken, although the bone structure was so unfamiliar it took him a while, and rather too much painful prodding, to work out exactly what the damage was.
“You can heal him, can’t you?” Daedalus asked. Pythagoras hadn’t heard that much worry in his voice since day he had discovered the existence of the wings all those weeks ago.
“Yes, but it isn’t going to be quick, or pleasant for anyone involved.”
“But with your powers-”
“Yes, my abilities mean that I can probably fix this in ten or fifteen minutes, instead of it taking several weeks and involving a splint or two. But it’s still not going to be pleasant.”
“It’s better than the alternative,” Icarus said between quiet whimpers.
Pythagoras took a small bottle from his bag and poured a measure out and handed it to Icarus.
“Drink this. It will help with the pain.”
Icarus downed it and pulled a face at the taste, but didn’t say anything.
“Do you always carry medical supplies with you?” Daedalus asked as Pythagoras took the cup back.
“Considering who I am normally travelling with, I have found it advisable to be prepared for injuries at all times.”
Pythagoras considered what he needed to do, and came to several decisions at once.
“Daedalus, help me to move him so he’s sitting against the tree trunk. It will be more comfortable for Icarus, and easier for me to get to the injuries.”
They helped Icarus to move, and managed it with only one pained whimper.
“Is there anything else I can do?” Daedalus asked.
“Honestly? The most useful thing you can do right now is get out of the way and let me work.”
In the normal power dynamics of their group, Daedalus was the undisputed leader in most things, but right now they all knew Pythagoras had taken charge and no one was going to argue with that, not even Daedalus.
He settled himself on his knees in front of Icarus and offered him a reassuring smile.
“I’m afraid this is going to take a little while, and I think it is going to hurt. I’m sorry.”
Icarus nodded. “I know. But it’s still better than the alternative.”
Pythagoras carefully placed his hands on Icarus’ arm right over where the bone was broken. Icarus hissed but managed to keep still. Pythagoras closed his eyes and concentrated and let it begin.
In his mind he saw a clear image of the two halves of bone, the tiny gap where they had come apart, and the bruised tissue surrounding the break. He formed an image of the bones moving back together until the two pieces fit against each other, and then he began to concentrate on fixing them, on new bone growing around the broken pieces and fusing them back together.
He heard Daedalus speaking and Icarus replying, but it was faint and on the periphery of his consciousness. If it were simple flesh he could have done it in moments, but bone was harder, tougher, and correspondingly more difficult to repair. Pythagoras let himself sink deeper into the almost trance-like state that was required for such a complex task.
When he was sure that the bone was stable and not in any danger of re-breaking, he turned his attention to the flesh and tissue surrounding it. There was a little damage, a few small tears where the sharp edge of bone had moved, and he set himself to repairing that, watched it knit back together and cocoon the bone in a protective cushion of muscle.
There was nothing more he could do for the arm. That just left the wing.
He let himself emerge back to awareness enough to move, but not enough to break his concentration. He couldn’t let that happen. Still holding the arm with one hand, he reached blindly for the wing. Instead he hit something that shouldn’t have been there and it was almost enough to jolt him properly awake.
“What are you doing?”
It was Daedalus.
“Daedalus, please for the love of the gods get out of my way right now.”
He opened his eyes enough to see Icarus shove his father back with his free hand, and then Pythagoras dived for the wing and grabbed it. Icarus cried out, but Pythagoras just concentrated hard on making the new connection, and as soon as he felt it he let go of the arm with his other hand and placed both hands over the broken wing and let himself slip back into the appropriate mind state.
The wing injury was different. The break had happened near the very tip of the wing, and at this extreme there was little muscle surrounding the bone. There was skin, though, and that was torn and mangled where it had become caught in the tree branch, and feathers had been ripped out and broken. Technically, it was simply a broken bone like the arm, but the intricacies of the anatomical structure were alien to him, despite the number of hours he had spent examining and studying the wings since they had appeared. He found himself mentally exploring the bones and the surrounding tissue simply to familiarise himself with what it should look like before he could even begin to repair it.
When he was finally certain he knew what he was doing, he focussed himself to the task of healing the bone, exactly the same as the arm, except this was slimmer, lighter, and unexpectedly hollow. The lack of familiarity made him slow and tentative. He was not willing to rush this, no matter what the consequences.
That done, he moved onto the torn skin and focussed his power until it was smooth and unblemished. He had no idea if he could fix the feathers with his ability, and when he tried he discovered the most damaged ones simply dropped out. For a moment he almost panicked until he realised with a certainty that he could not explain even to himself that new feathers would grow back.
It was only when he was absolutely sure that he had done everything that needed to be done that Pythagoras allowed himself to come back to consciousness. He breathed deeply, opened his eyes, and let go of the wing to break the connection.
Then he collapsed.
He had enough presence of mind to fall away from Icarus so as not to hurt him further, but that did mean he almost landed in Daedalus’ lap. There was nothing he could do about that, though. Pain ripped through his arm and shoulder (which answered the question he had been absently wondering about where the wing damage would manifest itself in this strange echo) and Pythagoras curled into a ball and whimpered as quietly as he could manage. He shut his eyes again and felt the wave of exhaustion come over him.
“What is it? What’s happening to him?” Daedalus demanded.
“I’ll be alright,” Pythagoras managed to say between breaths. “I just... need a minute.”
He felt a hand on his shoulder, almost certainly Icarus. He was vaguely aware that it was taking longer for the worst of it to pass than usual, but it was too late to worry about that now.
“Icarus? What is wrong with him?”
“It’s some kind of after-effect. He said it makes him light-headed and exhausted.”
“This doesn’t look like light-headed exhaustion to me.”
“Just give him some space,” Icarus insisted. “He was alright after a few minutes last time.”
“Last time? You knew this was going to happen?” Daedalus sounded more and more angry every minute.
Pythagoras breathed deeply and forced his eyes open.
“I’m alright,” he said. That was a lie, but he started to push himself upright, and both Icarus and Daedalus helped him to sit up. For a second the world seemed to spin, and he closed his eyes again until the dizziness passed.
Then he looked at his friends and offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“I’m sorry about that. I didn’t intend to worry you. I wasn’t expecting it to affect me so badly.”
“And what exactly was it?” Daedalus asked. He still looked angry.
“Like Icarus said, it’s just an after-effect of using my ability. The severity of it is directly proportional to the seriousness of the injury that I have healed.” He twisted round to look at Icarus. “And speaking of which, how do you feel now?”
“I am fine. A little sore, that is all. You, on the other hand, do not look fine.”
“It seems broken bones are more difficult to heal than flesh and skin. I will be fine, I promise. I just need to rest for a short while.”
This time it was not a lie. Pythagoras knew the worst of it was over, and the pain had faded. Now he simply felt exhausted, drained.
“Then perhaps it is time we stopped for something to eat,” Icarus said.
Their meal was a surprisingly subdued affair. It wasn’t much, just a little bread and cheese, but Pythagoras felt a great deal better once he’d had something to eat. Still, he was aware his companions kept throwing worried glances in his direction as they ate. He honestly hadn’t expected to be affected so badly, if he had he would have warned them beforehand. He also might have tried to find a way to hide the worst of the after-effect from them, but it was too late for that now. He had a horrible feeling that one, or even both, of them were going to want to talk about it before too long, and it wasn’t a conversation he was looking forward to.
“Do you feel ready to try again?” Pythagoras asked Icarus once the meal was finished. He was feeling a little guilty at having stolen the attention from Icarus, and wanted to get back to the reason they were here in the first place.
Icarus hesitated, and seemed to study Pythagoras for a few moments before he replied.
“No, actually. My wing still feels a little tender. I think we should rest for a while longer.”
It wasn’t even very subtle, and Pythagoras knew Icarus was only saying that for his benefit. He thought he would be annoyed, but in fact all Pythagoras felt was a rush of gratitude.
“Well in that case, I’ll leave you to watch over him, Pythagoras.” Daedalus stood up and brushed himself down. “I’m going to take a look at some rather interesting botanical specimens I spotted on the way in.”
He paused and then threw them a knowing look. “And do try not to engage in anything too strenuous while I’m gone. You are supposed to be resting.”
With that he wandered off, leaving Pythagoras staring after him and wondering how it was possible that he had found a man even more embarrassing than Hercules.
To his surprise, Icarus chuckled.
“I’m starting to wonder if I perhaps hit my head when I fell,” Icarus commented. “Because I am sure that I just witnessed my father displaying something like tact and discretion, and that surely cannot be right.”
“There is a first time for everything.”
Icarus leaned back against the tree and reached out to Pythagoras. As soon as Pythagoras moved close enough to take his hand, Icarus tugged Pythagoras into his arms. Pythagoras curled up against him, and rested his head on Icarus’ shoulder, careful to avoid putting any pressure on the wings. Icarus wrapped his arms around him and simply held him.
“Are you alright? Truly?” Icarus asked in a quiet voice.
“Yes. I am still a little tired, but I will be fine. I feel much better already. Besides, you are the one who had two broken bones not more than half an hour ago. It is me who should be fussing over you.”
“Two broken bones which are perfectly healed and are now little more than a slight ache.”
“Good. I am glad I could help.”
Icarus gently stroked Pythagoras’ arm, trailing his fingers up and down. Pythagoras suspected he knew what was coming, but right then he was enjoying the moment.
“You should have told me,” Icarus said eventually. “I had no idea how badly you would be affected. I thought it would be like last time, just a moment of dizziness. Not this.”
“And what would you have done if I had told you?”
“I would not have asked you to use your powers so readily.”
Pythagoras moved so he could look up at Icarus. He gave him a soft smile.
“And that is precisely the reason why I did not tell you.”
“No, Icarus, listen to me. It is not normally this bad. Most times it is nothing more than a few moments of light-headedness and exhaustion, that is all. And when an injury is more serious, as yours was today, then that is when my ability is most needed. It took me no more than ten or fifteen minute to heal you. If I had not, if I had attempted to use conventional means, then it would have taken weeks, perhaps longer, and your arm would have been immobilised for the entire time. And I would not even know where to start attempting to splint a broken wing. As you yourself said, me using my ability was far better than the alternative.”
“But at what cost to you?”
“I have been given this ability by the gods, I believe for the purpose of helping others. I am not the kind of man who can stand by and watch people I care about suffer, not if there is something that I can do about it, no matter what the cost to myself.”
Icarus held his gaze for several moments, and then tightened his hold and kissed Pythagoras, soft and gentle, like he was afraid Pythagoras might break. Pythagoras let him, but when they parted he made eye contact and made sure he had Icarus’ complete attention.
“And just so we are clear,” Pythagoras said. “While I appreciate your desire to protect me, I will be extremely annoyed with you if I discover that you are deliberately not telling me when you are hurt or injured.”
Icarus hesitated, which pretty much confirmed Pythagoras’ suspicion that he had been planning to do just that in future. Then he nodded.
“I will tell you,” Icarus said. “And then we will decide together whether it warrants you using your ability or whether conventional means will suffice.”
Pythagoras smiled and nodded. “That sounds fair.”
He cuddled back against Icarus’ chest and after a moment Icarus nuzzled his hair. Pythagoras spent much of his life taking care of others in one way or another. This, having someone take care of him when he needed it, was nice. He thought he could get quite used to having Icarus take care of him.
“You know, much as I hate to admit it, I think my father may have been right.”
“I think I may need to take off from somewhere higher. Like the cliff top.”
Pythagoras frowned and lifted his head to look at Icarus. Icarus gave him an apologetic smile.
“I know what you are thinking, Pythagoras. You are worried that I should practice in a safe environment before taking such a risk. But just hear me out first. I was flying. For a few moments I was actually flying. But right here, the trees are too close, there are too many obstacles. Perhaps one day when I have more control I will be able to manoeuvre around such things, as bird and bats do, but right now I think what I really need is a large expanse of open air in which to get used to the basics. Does that make sense?”
Pythagoras considered carefully before he replied.
“Yes, it does make sense. That is not to say that I in any way approve of you throwing yourself off a cliff, but I do see the logic in your argument.”
Icarus squeezed him gently and nuzzled his hair again.
“I am not sure ‘throwing myself off a cliff’ is entirely what I have in mind, but are there not updrafts over the water? I am sure I have heard my father speak of such things, and surely that is how birds seem to swoop and glide over the sea?” He paused and absently stroked Pythagoras’ arm again. “The only problem, of course, is that the entire reason we came to the forest was to be hidden. There is far more risk of being seen out in the open.”
“Then we shall wait until nightfall,” Pythagoras said. “There will be no boats out in the bay after dark, and fewer people will be about. And even if you are seen, from a distance people may not be able to tell exactly what they are looking at.”
“You never fail to surprise me, Pythagoras. I thought you would try to talk me out of it, not come up with yet another brilliant idea to assist me in this madness.”
Pythagoras lifted his head again and looked Icarus in the eye.
“Just promise me you will not take any unnecessary risks. I understand that what you are attempting is inherently dangerous, I have accepted that. But please, just promise me you will be careful.”
Pythagoras stole a quick kiss, which unexpectedly turned into a longer, deeper kiss when Icarus slipped a hand behind his head and refused to let him go.
“So,” Icarus said, slightly breathlessly when they parted. “We have a few hours to wait until dusk.”
Pythagoras trailed his finger down Icarus’ chest.
“I can think of several rather pleasant things we could do to pass the time.”
Icarus looked surprisingly scandalised at that.
“My father might come back at any moment!”
Pythagoras just gave him a very mischievous grin.
“Then I suggest we do them quickly.”
Nightfall found the three of them on the cliff top. It was some distance from the city, and a little further around the headland, which Pythagoras hoped would be enough to keep their activities secret.
Icarus stripped off his clothes for the second time that day, and Pythagoras saw him shiver a little as they fiddled with taking the harness off again.
“Perhaps we also need to think about designing a tunic with some sort of holes or slits in the back for your wings. That way you would not need to be half undressed in order to fly. I will add it to the list.”
Icarus glanced up and gave him an entirely too cheeky smirk.
“I thought you enjoyed having me shirtless?”
Pythagoras flushed but rolled his eyes.
“At the appropriate time and place, yes.”
Daedalus cleared his throat unnecessarily loudly. “Yes, do continue to pretend that I’m not here and can’t hear you discussing your bedroom activities,” he commented.
Surprisingly, Icarus seemed to be in such a good mood that he did not even look embarrassed, for a change.
They got the harness off, and Icarus backed away a little. Then he spread his wings again. It was more exposed up here, and Pythagoras could see the way the breeze ruffled the feathers. Icarus slowly smiled, and Pythagoras saw a confidence in his stance that had not been there when they were in the woods.
“Pray that this works or it’s going to be a very short maiden flight.”
With that, Icarus ran to the cliff edge and launched himself into the air.
Pythagoras ran to the cliff edge after him. For a moment in the darkness he could not see Icarus, and terror lodged itself in his heart as he thought of the waves crashing against the rocks so far below. Then he heard a shout of delight and Icarus swooped upwards past them, his wings outstretched.
This time there were no obstacles, and Pythagoras could only gaze in open-mouthed awe as Icarus flew high in the air, up and out over the sea. He was mostly gliding, but every now and then the wings flapped and he shot upwards again.
He was so enraptured by the sight of Icarus flying that he did not realise Daedalus was standing next to him on the cliff edge until the older man spoke.
“Look at him. My boy is flying! This is incredible.”
Pythagoras managed to tear his eyes away from the sight of Icarus swooping and gliding and looked across at Daedalus. He was watching his son with an expression of awe and pride that Pythagoras had never, ever seen on his face in relation to his son in the entire time that he had known them.
“You should tell him that. When he lands, obviously.”
Daedalus made something that sounded like a gruff hmphing noise.
Pythagoras thought of all the previous times he had remained silent when Daedalus had been disparaging about Icarus, and decided he could not ignore it any longer.
“I hope I am not overstepping the bounds of our friendship, Daedalus, but I have to point out that you are always quick to tell him when you are disappointed. You do him a great disservice if you are not equally forthcoming when you are proud of him. Especially as it seems to happen so infrequently.”
Daedalus stared at him with undisguised surprise for a moment, but as he looked away Pythagoras saw a flash of something else in his expression.
“He knows,” Daedalus muttered.
“He does not know if you do not tell him,” Pythagoras countered gently.
Daedalus continued to watch Icarus, and after a brief silence Pythagoras returned his attention to the spectacle of his friend... lover... soaring over the sea. He knew Daedalus was a proud man and disliked admitting that he was wrong, but the fact that he was no longer arguing, or even commenting, probably meant that he had taken Pythagoras’ words on board, and Pythagoras had no desire to push it any further. He had made his point; the rest was up to Daedalus.
Icarus seemed to have got much further away while Pythagoras had been distracted. He was far out over the sea, and high, far higher than Pythagoras had expected.
“What is he doing?” Pythagoras couldn’t keep the worry from his voice.
“Enjoying himself, by the sound of it,” Daedalus replied, as another exuberant shout carried across the water towards them.
“Don’t go so far!” Pythagoras yelled back, unable to contain his fears any longer. This was supposed to be a practice run. If anything happened when he was so far out, no amount of god-given healing ability was going to help them if they could not reach him.
“Stop fussing,” Daedalus muttered. “What did you think he was going to do?”
“Honestly? When we talked about him ‘throwing himself off a cliff’ I did not expect him to mean it quite so literally!”
Daedalus tutted, but Pythagoras realised that Icarus must have heard him, because he had turned back and was flying towards them. Actually, the closer he got, the more it became apparent that he was flying very fast, directly towards them.
“Ummm, maybe we should get out of his wa-”
Icarus flapped at the last moment, possibly in an attempt to slow himself. Instead he crashed straight into Pythagoras in a flail of limbs and feathers and they both hit the ground and rolled backwards in what Pythagoras dearly hoped was a direction away from the cliff edge.
They eventually skidded to a halt with Pythagoras lying on his back and Icarus on top of him. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had probably just gained several new bruises and the ground was quite hard and stony underneath him, it was a position that Pythagoras thought he could find quite enjoyable.
“Are you alright?” he managed to ask.
Icarus pushed himself up and Pythagoras realised Icarus was grinning widely.
“That was incredible! Pythagoras, that was... it was so... it was amazing.”
Pythagoras felt himself beginning to smile as well. Icarus’ enthusiasm was just too infectious.
“That is excellent. The flying was truly impressive.” He paused. “But I feel I have to point out that your landing technique needs a little work.”
Icarus just grinned even more, and leaned down and kissed Pythagoras.
“Oh, please!” Daedalus complained loudly as he walked towards them from the cliff top. “Can’t you two stop doing that for five minutes? Or at least do it somewhere more private?”
They parted, but not very far, and Icarus grinned and rolled his eyes at Pythagoras. Pythagoras half expected him to get up, but instead Icarus frowned in concentration for a moment, and then flexed his shoulders. His wings arched up and over their heads, forming a cocoon around their upper bodies.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Pythagoras said, somewhere between impressed and amused.
“Neither did I until I did it.” Icarus flexed his muscles again and the wings rippled and settled around them both, enclosing them in near darkness. “So, do you think this counts as private?”
Pythagoras felt his mouth twitching until he could not contain his laughter any longer. He felt Icarus smirking against his lips, and then they were both laughing.
They kissed again, long and leisurely. Pythagoras wasn’t sure he had ever felt so happy and exhilarated. He slipped his arms around Icarus, underneath the wings, and ran his hands up and down his back, caressing his skin, and stroking the underside of the wings. Icarus shuddered and made a muffled sound of pleasure.
“Oh, yes. Thanks a lot,” Daedalus commented loudly. “Because obviously I have absolutely no idea what you’re doing under there now.”