Written for hc_bingo May challenge, and that's four out of four amnesty challenges completed! \o/ Huge thanks to clea2011 and celeste9 for the mutual
Pairing/characters: Hercules, Pythagoras, Ariadne, Jason (Pythagoras/Icarus)
Spoilers: Everything up to 2.12 – The Queen Must Die. Specific spoilers for that episode.
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Urban Myth Films own them.
Word count: approx 3045
Summary: “All the years that we’ve been friends, Pythagoras. Did you really think I didn’t know?”
AN: Written for the hc_bingo May Challenge, for small fandoms, using one or more prompts from, ‘Homesickness’, ‘Rejection’, ‘Bites’, and ‘Heat Stroke’. I used Rejection.
AN2: Thanks to clea2011 for the beta. This fic is my headcanon missing scene for what happens after Pythagoras tells them all the truth about Icarus, because there is no way Hercules is not going to go after him after that conversation. The first few paragraphs of dialogue are taken directly from the episode.
Cross posted to AO3
“Cilix will seek to find out if the offer is genuine. The only way he can do this is through the person who has been betraying us these past weeks.”
For a moment Hercules wasn’t sure he had heard Pythagoras correctly.
“What are you talking about?” Jason asked.
But in that moment, Hercules knew. The look on Pythagoras’ face, the way he’d been the last few days. There was a cold, awful feeling in the pit of his belly, and he knew before Pythagoras spoke.
“Icarus. He is a traitor.”
There were murmurs of dissent, his own voice among them, but Hercules barely heard what was said. All he could focus on was the pain in his friend’s voice, the devastation in his eyes. Pythagoras was breaking right in front of him, and there wasn’t a bloody thing he could do about it.
“As much as it saddens me it is true. Perhaps now we can use his betrayal to our advantage.”
Before anyone could react or argue, or ask for any more details, Pythagoras pushed his way through the group and walked away. Jason and Ariadne both looked stunned, but Hercules suspected neither of them knew the half of it. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, but they had both been so wrapped up their own things recently they hadn’t noticed the way Pythagoras had gone so quiet and closed off. They hadn’t heard him crying in the night when he thought that everyone was asleep.
“Is he...?” Ariadne looked to Hercules, the shock on her face rapidly turning to worry. “Should we go after him?”
Pythagoras was already up the slope and heading beyond the boundary of the camp. No doubt he wanted to go away by himself and not bother any of them with his pain. Hercules felt the first stirrings of protective anger at that thought. No bloody way was he letting Pythagoras deal with this alone.
“No, let me talk to him,” Hercules said to Ariadne.
The last thing Pythagoras needed right now was a crowd.
Hercules found him a little way outside the camp, gathering firewood.
“Put that lot down and talk to me, Pythagoras.”
Hercules had expected this. He was prepared to take as long as it needed.
“Hercules, I do not want to talk right now.”
“Do I look like I’m going to take no for an answer? Do you honestly think I’m going to stand by and let you go through this by yourself? Because if you do, I’m going to have to seriously re-evaluate how well you know me.”
Pythagoras stopped picking up useless pieces of wood and stood with his back to Hercules for a moment.
“I just want to be alone.”
There was no mistaking the way his voice was on verge of cracking.
“No. You really don’t,” Hercules said gently.
He sat down on a fallen tree and waited. After a few moments, Pythagoras put down the branches and turned to face him. His eyes were red, but he was not crying. Hercules suspected it was only a matter of time. He patted the log beside him and Pythagoras finally gave in and came and sat next to him.
There was no easy way to start this conversation, so Hercules got straight to the point.
“How sure are you that Icarus is betraying you?”
“Sure enough.” Pythagoras stared down at his hands in his lap. “I can’t think of any other explanation. And trust me, Hercules, I have spent much of the last few days trying to think of any other explanation. Anything but that. Anyone but him.”
“When did you start to suspect?” Hercules was pretty sure he knew the answer, but he needed to get Pythagoras talking. He needed to know what was going on in his friend’s head if he was going to stand a chance of helping him.
“When we were ambushed at the arena.”
Pythagoras paused and breathed deeply. Hercules let him take his time.
“There was no one else who knew. There is no other way that Goran could have known where we were and what we were doing. And that made me wonder about the other times that we have been followed or attacked or ambushed recently. There are other possible explanations for those, but Icarus is the one common factor on every occasion that it has happened. Logic suggests that if he is responsible for one, he is likely responsible for them all.”
Hercules nodded. No matter how much he didn’t want it to be true, he couldn’t fault the logic there.
Now to the really important question.
“How long have you known that you’re in love with him?”
Pythagoras looked up at him, his eyes wide.
Hercules just gave him a look.
“All the years that we’ve been friends, Pythagoras. Did you really think I didn’t know?”
Pythagoras shook his head, and went back to staring at his hands.
Of course Pythagoras knew that he had guessed the truth; Hercules had already tried to talk to him about it once, the night before on the way to the temple of Hecate. This latest revelation explained why Pythagoras had been so quick to cut off that conversation, but if it was true that he had only realised the truth of Icarus’ betrayal in the last couple of days, that didn’t explain why he hadn’t mentioned the other, arguably more important, issue before then.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say anything?” Hercules tried not to sound hurt
“I had barely even admitted it to myself, Hercules. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone else. Not even you.”
“And what about him? Does he feel the same? Are you two... you know?”
Pythagoras made a sound that might have been a laugh if it wasn’t so utterly angry and derisive.
Hercules found himself waiting again. He knew Pythagoras well enough to know when to push and when to wait him out, and this was too important to let him get away from it.
“No, we are not,” Pythagoras eventually said. “But... even I recognise that something has changed between us these last months. When we are together there is... I don’t know how to describe it. But I do know that no one has ever looked at me the way he does. I had started to believe that Icarus did return my feelings. Or perhaps I had started to hope. I should have known better.”
There was something in his voice at that comment that Hercules didn’t like in the slightest. A self-contempt that he had never, ever, heard from his friend.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I would have thought that was obvious. You have commented on it often enough. That I have no knowledge of love, that I have always been alone. There is a reason for that, Hercules.”
“I was joking,” he tried.
Pythagoras looked at him again, and Hercules saw the anger in his eyes.
“Were you?” he spat back. Abruptly he turned away and shrugged. “Either way, you were at least partly right. I have always been alone, that part was right. But you were wrong that I know nothing of love. I have been attracted to people over the years. I had even believed I was in love with them, sometimes.”
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Because it was never requited.”
Hercules closed his eyes for a moment. Oh, bloody hell. How had he not known any of this?
“No one wants someone like me, Hercules. I am not handsome or athletic or heroic. I am not rich. Most people are bored by the things that I find fascinating. You were right about that, at least. It took me a surprisingly long time to realise it, though.”
He paused, but before Hercules could even begin to form a reply Pythagoras was speaking again. It was as if now he had started he needed to say everything, whether Hercules wanted to hear it or not.
“Before then, when I was young and naive and still had hope, there were many occasions when I made the mistake of admitting my feelings to the person involved.” Pythagoras stared intently at his hands, his fingers twisting a loose thread until it snapped. “I was always rejected.”
Pythagoras’ words hung there between them. So few words to describe a lifetime of hurt. For the first time Hercules thought he might understand his friend’s heart.
“I suppose some of them were more gentle about it than others, but the end result was always the same. So eventually I stopped trying. Whenever I caught myself falling for someone I simply accepted that it would never be, and I pushed it to the back of my mind until the attraction withered and died.”
Hercules couldn’t listen to this any longer. He placed his hand on Pythagoras’ back but Pythagoras flinched away from him.
“Pythagoras, you can’t spend your life like that.”
“You find it so easy, don’t you, Hercules?” Pythagoras was looking out into the forest, deliberately avoiding Hercules’ gaze now. “You have so much confidence with women. And I suspect that confidence is at least partly why you are so successful. I am not like you. I can’t swagger and boast. Give me a logical problem to solve and I have all the confidence in the world. But with someone I am attracted to, all I have is a lifetime of rejection, and the statistical probability that they are going to throw it back in my face and laugh at me.”
The urge to go and punch the shit out of someone on his friend’s behalf was almost overwhelming. Hercules realised his hands were curling into fists, and he forced himself to stay calm. Right at that moment he wasn’t even sure who he was most angry at – the people who had done this to Pythagoras, or himself for not having realised.
“I’m sorry,” Hercules said. “I didn’t know.”
“No, because I have expended a great deal of effort making sure that you did not know.”
Why didn’t you trust me? Hercules knew that was the real question he wanted to ask. He was surprised by how much it hurt that Pythagoras had never told him any of this before.
“Why do you think?” There was an edge to Pythagoras’ voice now. “There is only so much mocking and patronising that I can take.”
Hercules briefly closed his eyes. He wasn’t entirely convinced that he deserved that. He had never, ever intended to truly hurt Pythagoras with his jokes and comments. If he had known. If he’d had any idea about any of this...
“I didn’t know. I would never hav-”
Pythagoras looked round sharply, and Hercules could see the apology in his eyes.
“I didn’t mean that. I know you wouldn’t have. I just... I didn’t want your pity. I didn’t want you trying to help. I didn’t want you to know how useless I am at this stuff.”
Hercules held his gaze and thought about all the times he had made comments and jokes, all the times he had boasted about his own romantic conquests while making not so subtle insinuations about Pythagoras’ lack of the same, and okay, maybe he had deserved it a little bit.
Pythagoras managed something like a smile for a brief moment, and then he looked away again.
Hercules sighed. Sometimes these boys made him feel old. Or maybe sometimes he just forgot how young Pythagoras really was.
“So that’s why you didn’t act on it when you fell for Icarus?”
“Something like that. Oh, I dressed it up in all sorts of sensible, logical reasons. That I needed to wait for more evidence that he really did feel the same. That with everything that was going on in the city it wasn’t an appropriate time. That it wasn’t worth risking our friendship if it didn’t work out. But I knew they were all just excuses. The reason was simply because I was too afraid.”
“But you said you thought it was mutual.”
“Yes. I had started to believe that this time it would be different. That Icarus was not like everyone else. Instead of being sensible and backing off and forcing myself to forget about him, I just let myself keep falling.”
Hercules tentatively put a hand on Pythagoras’ back, and when he didn’t flinch away this time, he started to rub small circles. He felt rather than heard when Pythagoras dragged in a shaking breath and sighed.
“Before the arena when we were hiding from a patrol, despite the danger, for those few minutes I felt... I never wanted it to end. I didn’t want to have to part from him. And the way he looked at me, Hercules. In that moment I convinced myself that he really did share my feelings. That it might be real. And against all rational thought I promised myself that when all this was over I would stop being a coward and just take a risk for once.”
He hung his head, and Hercules saw Pythagoras’ hand clenching against the tree trunk they were sitting on.
“How can I be with him, if I can’t trust him? How can I trust him now I know he has betrayed me?”
“It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“Oh, yes. Because nothing says, ‘I love you,’ like a knife in the back.”
“Maybe he has a good reason for what he’s doing. Maybe he’s being coerced in some way.”
“It had better be a bloody good reason.”
Hercules wasn’t even entirely sure why he was defending the bastard. Icarus had almost got them all killed, and more importantly, he had broken Pythagoras’ heart. There was a part of Hercules that wanted to strangle the little shit. But at the same time, if there was even the slightest chance that Icarus could make Pythagoras happy...
“All I’m saying is maybe you should talk to him before you judge him.”
“Perhaps. But whatever the reason, we nearly died because of him. On more than one occasion. I don’t know if I can forget that, no matter how I feel about him.”
Hercules considered carefully before he spoke.
“It’s surprising what you can forgive someone for if you love them.”
Pythagoras breathed deeply again, and Hercules felt the way his ribs started to hitch. He kept rubbing his back and waited for what he knew must finally be coming.
A tear slipped down Pythagoras’ cheek.
“If this is what love feels like, I do not want it.”
Pythagoras’ words almost took Hercules’ breath away, and for a second he couldn’t react. Pythagoras wasn’t even trying to stop himself from crying any more. Hercules recovered himself and wrapped both arms around his friend and tugged him close. This time Pythagoras did not resist.
“Pythagoras, no.” Hercules held him and stroked his hair. “No, this isn’t what love feels like. This is what getting your heart broken feels like.”
“I know far too well what that feels like,” Pythagoras managed between broken breaths. “And it has never been like this before.”
“That’s how you know you really do love him.”
“I don’t want it. I don’t want this. I can’t-”
“You can. I know you can. Pythagoras, listen to me. I know you. And I know how you’ve been lately whenever you talk about him. I bet you don’t even realise the way you smile when you say his name. That look you get when you’re thinking about him. So remember that. Remember the way you felt about him before you knew that he was a traitor. That’s what love feels like. Not this.”
Pythagoras sniffled, and Hercules just held him tighter and resisted the urge to rock him like a baby.
Gods, he hadn’t done this for years. He hadn’t needed to. Pythagoras was the mature, sensible one. Pythagoras was the one who was always calm and in control, no matter what was going on. Jason was the one who threw mood swings and acted impetuously. Hercules was the one who let his heart rule his head. And through all of it, Pythagoras was solid, dependable, rational, practical; the rock in the centre of everyone else’s chaos. Pythagoras was older and wiser than his years might suggest. He was stronger than most people gave him credit for, but Hercules recognised Pythagoras’ strength, and he relied on it, perhaps more than he had any right to.
Hercules forgot, sometimes, that even the steadiest of rocks could break if it was battered for long enough.
He was surprised when Pythagoras started speaking again.
“Just seeing him smile made me happy. His touch...”
Pythagoras hesitated, and scrubbed at his face with one hand.
“He made me believe in impossible things. He made me feel as though I could reach up into the heavens and bring a star down from the sky if he asked me to.”
Hercules almost chuckled. If Pythagoras was getting poetic he really did have it bad.
“Remember that, and maybe you’ll be able to forgive him.”
Pythagoras didn’t reply, and for a selfish moment Hercules was glad about that. The memory of Medusa was too strong, the hurt still too raw. Hercules wished he could take his own advice.
He wrapped his arms a little tighter around his friend and they just sat there together, Pythagoras occasionally snuffling quietly.
Eventually Pythagoras pushed himself away and tried to sit up, and Hercules had to let go of him
Hercules waited a moment but nothing more appeared to be forthcoming. Pythagoras wiped his face with his sleeve and made a visible effort to calm down.
“You’re going to be okay. It might not feel like it right now, but I know you are.”
Pythagoras made a noncommittal noise.
Hercules patted his shoulder and stood up.
He felt Pythagoras’ hand on his arm, and stopped and looked down at him.
Pythagoras managed a tiny smile.
“Will you... can we just... stay here? Just for a while.”
Hercules returned his smile and sat down again, and put an arm around him. For Pythagoras, he would stay forever.
“Course we can.”
And here is the banner for completing it