By the very nature of hurt/comfort prompts, a lot of my recent fic has been a bit dark and angsty. So I thought it was time for something a little more fun and fluffy. And then this happened...
Title: Identity Crisis
Pairing/characters: Jason, Pythagoras, Hercules
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Urban Myth Films own them.
Word count: approx 5151
Summary: Jason had a horrible suspicion that it was going to be one of those days when he woke up with a pounding headache and his hands tied behind his back.
AN: Rather late birthday fic for stealingpennies, who wanted, ‘something more friendshippy in Atlantis with an emphasis on the trio or Py/Herc.’ I think I ended up attempting to fulfil *both* of those options! Thanks to clea2011 for the beta.
AN2: Also fills the hc_bingo ‘Mistaken Identity’ square on my hurt/comfort bingo card.
AN3: Set some time during series 1, before it all got horribly serious and before Pythagoras became a kickass fighter.
cross posted to AO3
Jason had a horrible suspicion that it was going to be one of those days when he woke up with a pounding headache and his hands tied behind his back.
Hands tied. Okay, that was not good. He lay still for a moment, and mentally replayed his memories. He had been in the market with Hercules until his friend wandered off somewhere muttering about the baker’s daughter, and then Jason had noticed a couple of men loitering on the corner and remembered wondering idly if it was his imagination or if they were watching him. He had picked up the bread and cheese for that night’s dinner, started for home... and then there was a big painful whacked-on-the-back-of-the-head blank.
Yes, definitely one of those days.
He idly wondered what had happened to the bread and cheese. Pythagoras was going to be pissed at him for losing it. Although possibly not as pissed off as Hercules would be when there was nothing for dinner.
Jason carefully cracked an eye open. He was lying on his side on the floor in what appeared to be a small store room. There were crates piled up around the walls, but apart from that he could see nothing that was immediately identifiable. There was no sign of anyone else in here with him, there was one door out, and there was only one very small window, very high up in the wall.
Arguably, he had been in worse situations than this, but usually he at least had some idea of why he was in peril. Right now he was drawing a complete blank.
The door opened and before Jason had time to decide whether to close his eyes and play possum, someone had walked in and seen him. Oh, to hell with it. Jason wriggled and shoved his way into a sitting position and glared up at the man.
“What’s going on? Where am I? Who the hell are you?”
The man had ‘hired thug’ written all over him, and Jason noted he was armed with a sword.
“I think I liked you better when you were unconscious,” the thug said with a scowl. “Do you always ask this many questions?”
“Do you always kidnap people off the street?”
“Only when they happen to be close friends of a man who owes my employer money.”
Jason suddenly had a very bad feeling about where this was going.
The thug smirked.
“I see you’re beginning to understand. Your friend Hercules messed with the wrong man when he defaulted on his gambling debt. So it’s quite simple. Either he pays up, or we start sending you back to him. One piece at a time.”
Jason was going to kill Hercules. Slowly.
He tried a surreptitious look past the thug into the room beyond. He couldn’t see much, but the low table with two cups and a scatter of dice suggested there was at least one more guard out there.
“I don’t suppose there’s any way we can discuss this like reasonable people?” Jason tried. He needed to keep the guy talking until he could figure out a way to escape, or at the very least work out what the plan was. “I’m sure we could pay your employer back in instalments?”
The man shrugged. “Not my call. I just do what I’m told, and he told me to keep you here until Hercules paid up. So you’d better hope your fat friend gets the money from somewhere, because you’re going to have difficulty drawing triangles when you’ve got no fingers.”
And suddenly Jason understood. They thought he was Pythagoras. It was obvious now he thought about it. Pythagoras was Hercules’ closest friend; if you wanted to get to Hercules, the best way to do it was through Pythagoras. The hired goons must have seen him in the market with Hercules, and they had grabbed the wrong man.
Jason opened his mouth to speak, and then snapped it shut again. No. If he told them the truth, that wasn’t going to help at all. In fact, it might just make everything worse. If they learned they had got the wrong man, it wasn’t as if they could just say, oh, sorry, our mistake, and let him go free again. In fact, they might even decide that he was useless to them as a hostage, and kill him. And what about the real Pythagoras? What if they tried to go after him once they realised they had messed up? What if they actually succeeded on a second attempt? Jason wasn’t prepared to put his friend in danger like that.
The thug was frowning at him. He looked suspicious.
“Um, no, I guess not,” Jason muttered. “I’m sure Hercules will pay up. And for the record, I quite like my fingers attached to my hands.”
The man sniggered.
“Well, that’s up to Hercules, isn’t it? Now shut up, and if I hear anything that sounds like you attempting to escape, I’ll start by cutting off something a bit more sensitive than a finger.”
Jason gulped, and nodded.
The thug walked out, and Jason heard the sound of the door being locked.
He was definitely going to kill Hercules. But first, he had to get out of this.
Pythagoras was putting away the freshly cleaned sheets when he heard footsteps on the stairs outside.
Finally! He had been wondering what on earth was taking Jason so long at the market. And typical, he had managed to take just long enough to avoid helping to fold the larger sheets. Pythagoras had long since given up asking Hercules to help with that particular job – the sheets usually ended up more crumpled and dusty than they had been before they were washed.
He finished putting things away and stacked the laundry basket in the corner, and then it occurred to him that Jason hadn’t actually come in yet.
Pythagoras glanced at the door, which was still firmly closed, and that was when he noticed a folded piece of paper had been slid underneath the door and into the house.
He frowned and wandered over, picked it up and quickly scanned the handwritten note.
For a second he stopped breathing.
What the hell?
After a moment of paralysis his brain kicked back in and he yanked the door open and ran onto the landing. There was no sign of anyone on the stairs, but the door onto the street was swinging open.
He raced back across the house to the outer room and leaned out of the window to look up and down the street. If the mystery note-deliverer was there, then they were doing a very good job of blending into the normal street crowds.
He headed back into the main room in time to meet Hercules coming out of his bedroom.
“What are you shouting about?”
“Look! Look at this.”
He thrust the note into Hercules’ face.
“What is it?”
Hercules already sounded impatient. To be fair, he probably thought it was something to do with triangles. Pythagoras had to admit that’s what it normally was when he was waving a piece of paper around and shouting.
“How am I supposed to read it if you won’t keep still? Just calm down and tell me.”
“Someone is threatening to kidnap me because you owe them money!” He paused. “No, hang on. It says I have already been kidnapped. That can’t be right.”
Pythagoras frowned. Then he had a rather horrible thought.
“Where is Jason?”
“You’re making no sense at all, Pythagoras. And last I knew, Jason was at the market.”
“Yes, that was several hours ago. Even Jason doesn’t usually take that long to buy bread. Unless he has been arrested again. Or has been dragged off on another rescue mission. Or-”
Thankfully, the interruption got his thoughts back to the matter at hand. Not that he would admit that to Hercules.
“My point is, he should be back by now. This note says that I have been kidnapped and am being held for ransom, which is clearly not possible because I am here. So what if they have taken Jason by mistake?”
Pythagoras forced himself to slow down and read the note properly.
“That’s... rather a lot of money that you owe to Diocles. And he wants an extra fifty percent on top for late payment.”
“Ah, yes, about that, I was going to-”
“I didn’t know he was going to kidnap Jason!”
“Well apparently he has. And he wants the money by dusk tonight, or else there will be ‘consequences’.”
Pythagoras did not like the sound of that at all. He took a moment to consider the situation.
“Do you have even remotely enough to pay him back?”
“What do you think?”
“No. Right. Of course you don’t.” He sighed, and then came to a decision. “Bring all the money you have in here. I’ll see how much I’ve got, and if necessary we will have to raid Jason’s stash as well.”
Normally Pythagoras wouldn’t dream of touching his friend’s money, but this wasn’t exactly a normal situation. He consoled himself with the thought that Jason would probably understand, given the circumstances.
They split up and spent the next several minutes scraping the house clean of every scrap of loose change that they could find. All the while Pythagoras was fighting to remain calm and in control, when all he really wanted to do was give in to panic that it ought to have been him who was taken, to anger at Hercules for getting them into this situation, and to the almost overwhelming fear that they might not see Jason alive again.
Their money, when they eventually pooled it on the table, looked even more pathetic than Pythagoras had expected.
“It’s just about enough to cover the initial debt. But nowhere near enough for the extra charge on top. And there won’t be any money left for food for the next few days because that is literally everything we have.”
Even Hercules seemed to have finally realised the seriousness of the situation.
“So what do we do?”
Pythagoras thought about it. He couldn’t help but think that Jason was the one who usually drove all their mad missions and adventures; Jason was the one who made all the big decisions.
Pythagoras wasn’t used to this at all. But Jason needed them, and Pythagoras wasn’t going to let him down.
“We need a plan.”
Jason was bored. Being held hostage was desperately dull when it mostly involved sitting on his own in a room, waiting. The only time anything happened was when the hired thug occasionally came in to check that he was still there. Jason briefly contemplated waiting behind the door to surprise the thug, and then attempting to fight his way out, but the thug had refused to untie him, and Jason wasn’t sure he wanted to risk getting bits cut off if he tried to escape and failed.
He was absolutely certain now that there were two guards in the room beyond, he had heard them talking. But it was only ever the same one who came in to check on him. That had also been a consideration in his decision not to risk doing something heroic, because he had no idea what he might be facing with the other guy.
Still, it was becoming more and more tempting to try it, just for something to alleviate the boredom.
The hired thug came in, chewing on what looked like a bit of chicken. Jason glared. That just wasn’t fair! He was starving, and now the guy was eating chicken in front of him.
“Not long to go now,” the thug observed. He nodded towards the window. Jason couldn’t actually see much change in the light levels yet, but suspected that meant it was drawing towards evening.
He had learned from the thug in one of their previous conversations that dusk was the deadline, after which he was going to be intimately acquainted with the designated amputation knife if Hercules hadn’t come good with the money. Given that the chance of Hercules having any money at all was remote, Jason was not looking forward to dusk.
“Can I have something to eat?”
“If I don’t eat and then you have to have start cutting bits off me, I’ll die much faster, and then you won’t be able to use me as a hostage any more.”
The man shrugged. “I get paid either way.”
“Not if your employer doesn’t get the money.”
The thug laughed.
“My employer has more money than you can possibly imagine. I’ll get paid, don’t you worry about that.”
“So why is he so bothered about getting a measly amount from Hercules?”
“Principle of the thing, isn’t it?”
The thug looked him up and down.
“So, anyway. You and Hercules. What’s going on there? Because you’re not really how I imagined you.”
That’s because I’m not who you think I am, Jason thought to himself.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, look at you. Young, good looking, athletic. What the hell do you see in a big fat drunk like Hercules?”
“He’s my friend.” Jason said, a sense of loyalty and defensiveness rising within him almost instinctively.
The thug chuckled.
“He’s more than that, if the rumours are true.”
“What?” Jason was confused for a moment. When he got it, he rather wished he hadn’t. “No! No. I mean... really? Is that what people think?”
The possibility that people might be saying such things about his two best friends made him want to punch the thug. Really? He knew Hercules and Pythagoras were close, but not that close.
“Look, I don’t want to know the details. What two men get up to in the privacy of their own home is nothing to do with me.” He leered at Jason, leaving him in no doubt that he would actually quite like the details, and that said details would be all around the nearest tavern by nightfall.
“There’s nothing going on,” Jason insisted. He backed it up with a glare.
“Whatever you say.”
The thug shrugged and wandered off and closed the door again, taking his chicken with him, and leaving Jason with entirely too many mental images he really didn’t want.
“I say we go in now, and break Jason out. If we wait until dusk they’ll be expecting us. If we go in now we have surprise.”
Pythagoras looked like he was actually considering it, which Hercules hadn’t expected.
“We’ll have surprise, yes, but we’ll have very little else, and I’m not sure it will be enough.”
Pythagoras was still studying the warehouse across the road. It was the designated meeting place, one of Diocles’ many warehouses in the city. It looked quiet and innocuous enough from the outside, but in the hour that they had been lurking in an alleyway across the road watching, they had seen an armed man come out and head to the market and come back with warm pies, the smell of which had made Hercules start to salivate even from across the road. The fact that it was guarded by at least one armed man, however, was what had convinced them that Jason was being held there.
Hercules glanced at Pythagoras again. Despite his outward bluster, Hercules did genuinely feel guilty at getting them into this mess. The thought of Diocles hurting Pythagoras because of him made Hercules want to rip the bastard’s arm off and beat him to death with the soggy end. The fact that they had taken Jason instead was almost a relief, and wasn’t that a terrible thing to think? But nevertheless, the thought was there.
Of course he was worried about Jason, but he couldn’t help thinking that Jason at least was probably better able to deal with such a situation. Pythagoras, on the other hand... no, Hercules didn’t want to entertain that thought at all.
“Need I remind you that we don’t have the money?” Hercules pointed out. “And if we turn up at the deadline without the money, we may as well not turn up at all.”
Not that Hercules was contemplating not turning up, even for a second.
“Who knows what they are going to do to Jason if we don’t turn up. At least if we go with part of the money we might be able to negotiate for more time.”
“More time for what? We both know there is no way we can lay our hands on that much money even if Diocles did allow us an extension, which I highly doubt he would anyway.”
“So we need an alternative strategy.”
Hercules rolled his eyes.
“That’s what I’ve been saying all afternoon.” His gaze travelled back to the warehouse. “I wonder if they have worked out that Jason isn’t who they think he is yet?” Hercules pondered out loud.
His attention snapped back to Pythagoras. Hercules didn’t like the sound of that, ‘oh’. When he saw the expression on his friend’s face, he liked it even less. It was an expression that suggested that Pythagoras’ frighteningly powerful brain was onto something.
“What?” Hercules prompted.
“I think I have an idea.”
“Diocles knows you, obviously. And he must know who I am to have decided to target me. But the fact that Jason was the one who was taken suggests that Diocles let his hired men do the dirty work.”
“And Diocles spends all his days in the tavern doing deals, so if he hasn’t been here to see for himself then chances are the guards still think that Jason is me.”
“Unless Jason has told them that he isn’t.”
Pythagoras looked like he was seriously thinking about that for a moment.
“If he had done that, then they wouldn’t have sent us the letter saying they had taken me, they would have sent us a letter saying they had taken Jason. It’s possible they may have realised their mistake since, but I think that’s a risk we may have to take.”
“Pythagoras, are you going to explain or do I have to guess?”
Pythagoras finally tore his focus away from the warehouse and met Hercules’ eye. The look on his face was entirely too calculating for Hercules’ liking.
“I’m not sure you’re going to like this. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I don’t like it. But it might just be enough to save Jason.”
The small room was becoming uncomfortably dark for Jason’s liking. Every time he heard a noise in the outer room he kept expecting the thug to come in with a knife, but so far there was no sign of him.
Jason hadn’t been idle while he was sitting there, and had already planned several possible escape options, most of which came down to taking the thug by surprise, possibly knocking some of the crates over to block the doorway against getting rushed by the second guard, and then winging it. Actually, he had to admit the entire plan largely hinged on winging it, but it was still a better option than getting his fingers cut off, at least.
There was a sudden sound of voices in the other room. Jason scrambled to his feet and crept to the door to listen. The voices were low, and he couldn’t make out the words, but he knew it wasn’t just the two guards out there any more.
“Not until we see our friend is alive.”
Pythagoras! His friends must have somehow got the money.
Jason was so distracted by the thought that he might get out of here in one piece after all, that he almost didn’t get out of the way in time when the thug walked over and wrenched the door open.
“It must be your lucky day,” the thug leered. Then the thug grabbed the front of Jason’s tunic and dragged him out into the room beyond his storeroom prison.
It was a larger room, and there were indeed two guards, the second one being only slightly less thuggish in appearance, and also carrying a sword. The table had been left in the middle of some sort of dice game, and was scattered with food that made Jason’s stomach rumble just at the sight of it. But that wasn’t what really caught his attention.
Hercules and Pythagoras had indeed come to rescue him, but that wasn’t what caught his attention either.
Pythagoras was wearing Jason’s breastplate.
He was also armed with Jason’s sword, but it was the leather breastplate that just looked utterly wrong on his skinny friend. For a start it blatantly didn’t fit properly; the straps had all been tightened as far as they could go and even then it sat awkwardly on his shoulders, and there was a large gap where it ought to have been snug around his slim waist.
And then Jason’s day got even more surreal.
“Are you all right, Pythagoras?” Pythagoras asked him.
Jason gaped, unsure what to say. Behind Pythagoras, Hercules rolled his eyes at Jason, and then raised his eyebrows and stared pointedly at him.
Jason finally caught on.
“Um, yeah. I’m okay.”
Apart from the fact that his hands were still tied, and the thug was holding him at sword point, and he was utterly confused about what exactly was going on here.
“You’ve seen him. Now give us the money before we hand him over,” the thug said.
Hercules tossed the second guard a pouch. The guard caught it, opened it, and checked the money.
“This doesn’t look enough,” the second guard said, throwing Hercules a suspicious glance.
“It covers the debt,” Pythagoras said. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the thug who was still holding Jason. “Now, let him go.”
“Who the hell do you think you are, giving orders?” the thug sneered.
Pythagoras hesitated a moment, and then put his hand to the hilt of his sword.
“I... I am Jason, slayer of the Minotaur, champion of the arena, rescuer of... of people who need rescuing.”
Jason tried to clamp down on the massive grin that wanted to appear at Pythagoras’ words. Because, really? Also, was that really what his friends thought he acted like?
“You’re the famous Jason?” The thug did not look entirely convinced.
“If Diocles had done his research properly, he would have known that Pythagoras isn’t my only friend,” Hercules interrupted. He sounded far more calm and relaxed, and far more convincing, than Pythagoras. “And if I were you, I wouldn’t make him angry. I’ve seen him kill an entire pack of satyrs with his bare hands, so I doubt you two will pose much of a threat.”
The thug and the second guard looked Pythagoras up and down. Pythagoras glared back at them both, defiant and brave, and Jason’s heart swelled with pride.
“Yes, I’m the Jason of legend. And you would do well not to make me angry by kidnapping my friends.”
The second guard, at least, seemed to be looking a little worried.
“I heard he beat Therion and Kallides in the arena,” he said. “Maybe we should...” he nodded at Jason.
The thug actually looked like he might be considering it, and his grip on Jason’s tunic loosened a little. Jason let go of the breath he hadn’t even realised he was holding. He had no idea how, but it seemed like they were actually going to pull this off.
Then another figure stepped out of the shadows from a doorway on the far side of the room that Jason hadn’t even seen. He was tall and thin, and dressed in fine robes.
From the look of fear that flitted across Hercules’ face, Jason suddenly had a very bad feeling about this.
“Nice try, Hercules,” the thin man said. “But I think you’ll find that I am not so easily fooled.”
He circled around Hercules to stand near the second guard, and held his hand out for the pouch. The look of contempt he gave Hercules when he glanced up from the pouch suggested that he was not impressed with what he saw.
“Diocles-” Hercules started, but the man cut him off.
“I’ve heard enough of your snivelling, Hercules. And it appears you have not paid me back what I asked for.” He glanced at the two guards. “Now, just so we are all clear about what is going on here, the idiot with the sword is actually Pythagoras, and the man you two imbeciles have been holding captive all day is the famous Jason. Not so intimidating with no weapons and his hands tied, perhaps?”
“You’d be surprised,” Pythagoras said.
Jason saw that Pythagoras’ hand was still on the hilt of his sword. Their eyes met, and Jason saw the question and nodded.
Then all hell broke loose.
Jason swung round and head-butted the thug who was holding him. The thug staggered back and Jason tore away from his grip and kicked the sword out of his hand. The thug was still trying to reach for the sword when Jason ducked low and swung his leg in an arc, taking the thug’s legs out from under him and knocking him to the floor.
The sound of blades clashing grabbed Jason’s attention and he looked up. Pythagoras and the second guard were trading blows. There was an expression of intense concentration on Pythagoras’ face, and Jason was stunned to see that he was actually pushing the guard backwards with the force of his attack.
Jason saw movement and danced out of the way as the thug lunged at him from the floor. Jason spun round and kicked the thug in the face. Then he dropped to the ground and rammed his knee into his attacker’s throat. The thug choked and clawed ineffectively at Jason. Jason shoved his knee down harder, and the thug slumped.
A voice that was unmistakeably Pythagoras cried out, and Jason twisted round to see his friend buckling under the onslaught of the second guard’s counter attack. Jason got to his feet and roared a war cry and charged across the room. The second guard turned towards him, his face registering shock a split second before Jason slammed into him with his shoulder and sent the guard flying.
“That’s enough!” Hercules’ deep voice abruptly cut through the fighting. “All of you.”
Jason spun round. Hercules had the thin man, Diocles, pinned against the wall, his meaty elbow against the man’s throat and his sword pointed at Diocles’ side.
“So what do you intend to do now, Hercules?” Diocles still sounded far too smug and superior. “You must know that if you hurt me, no one in Atlantis will ever lend you money again. I have lots of powerful friends who can make your life very difficult.”
“I don’t intend to hurt you,” Hercules said. He stepped back and picked up the pouch of money and shoved it at Diocles’ chest. “I intend to pay you back what I owe you. That covers the debt. And you’ll get nothing else out of me.”
Diocles opened his mouth, but Hercules increased the pressure of the sword, and Diocles subsided.
“And one more thing,” Hercules said, his voice suddenly quiet and calm and more dangerous than Jason has ever heard. He leaned forward so that he was mere inches from Diocles. “I couldn’t honestly care what you threaten to do to me. But if you or any of your men come near either of those two boys again, if you touch them, I will kill you.”
Jason felt a shiver slip down his spine. He had never seen Hercules so serious, so angry, and in that moment he knew that Hercules meant every word.
Pythagoras cut the ropes tying his hands. Hercules finally let go of Diocles, and the man stumbled and leaned against the table, glaring at Hercules, but he made no move to stop them as the three of them left the building and stepped out onto the street.
“Are you all right?” Pythagoras asked. He already seemed to be looking for injuries on Jason as they walked away as fast as they could.
“Yes. I’m fine. Hungry, but otherwise fine.”
Pythagoras grimaced. “Unfortunately, that’s the one thing I can’t do anything to help you with.”
They rounded the corner and headed down the street with no sign of Diocles or his guards following, and Jason began to relax.
“That was amazing, by the way. Thank you. Both of you.”
“I think you took out more of them with your hands tied than I did fully armed,” Pythagoras muttered. He fidgeted with the breastplate and seemed to be looking anywhere but at Jason.
Jason grinned and slung his arm around his friend’s shoulder.
“You were amazing, Pythagoras, rescuer of people who need rescuing.”
Pythagoras blushed an impressive shade of pink, but Jason saw him smile.
“And thanks to you as well.” Jason dragged Hercules close enough to put his other arm around the man for a moment.
He expected Hercules to start boasting, quite possibly legitimately for once, but instead Hercules just shook his head.
“It was my fault you needed rescuing in the first place.”
There was a moment of awkward silence.
Jason didn’t like seeing his friend so serious, especially not when they ought to be celebrating. He desperately tried to think of something to change the subject.
“Hey, one of those guys in there, he said something about you two. He said that there was a rumour that you two were...well, you know.”
Hercules looked confused.
“No, I don’t know.”
“You know.” Jason suddenly realised that now he was the one who was blushing, and wished he had never mentioned it. “You know. Together. A couple. Ridiculous. Right?”
He looked at Pythagoras in time to see him throw Hercules a look, all wide innocent eyes and... And completely not shocked by the insinuation.
“Well, don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re not a couple,” Pythagoras said. “We just have casual sex every now and then.”
Jason’s head snapped around so fast he almost gave himself whiplash.
“What? No way!”
“You mean you hadn’t realised?” Hercules asked.
“Jason, I’m sorry, I thought you knew.” Now Pythagoras sounded concerned.
“What? But... I mean...you never... what?”
Pythagoras burst out laughing at the same moment Hercules’ poker face cracked into a grin.
“Got you,” Hercules chuckled.
“You should have seen your expression,” Pythagoras added.
Jason buried his face in his hands. He was fairly sure neither of them were going to let him forget this one in a hurry.
“I hate you both.”
Pythagoras’ arm came around his shoulders and squeezed.
“No you don’t.”
Hercules was still chuckling as they walked, and Jason smiled, despite himself.
Yep, it had definitely been one of those days.