Pairing/characters: Pythagoras, Jason. Hercules (Pythagoras/Jason, Pythagoras/Icarus mentioned, Jason/Ariadne mentioned)
Warnings: Near non-con, language, violence, angst
Spoilers: Up to episode 2.2
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Urban Myth Films own them.
Word count: approx 7909
Summary: If this had happened last year there was no power on Earth that could have stopped Pythagoras responding. But not now, and not like this.
AN: Atlantis secret santa fic for girlwhowasn’tthere. Thanks to clea2011 for the extremely speedy beta.
AN2: Is also a cross square extra filling the hc_bingo ‘Fall From Grace’ and ‘Rape/non-con (wild card)’ squares on my hurt/comfort bingo card.
AN3: Set sometime after episode 2.2, possibly assumes a longer gap between the events of 2.2 and 2.3 because there is no mention of Telemon.
fic on AO3
“Is it done?”
The alchemist nodded. “It is exactly as you asked for, my lord.”
The nobleman followed the alchemist further into his workshop, skirting around tables covered in jars and bottles, trying to make sure his expensive robe did not fall foul of any spillage. He would have been far more comfortable having the alchemist come to him at his villa on the far side of the city, that was how he normally did business with craftsmen and service providers, but it was too risky. Nobody could be allowed to see him keeping company with such a man as this, and it would only take one idle-tongued servant to betray him.
The alchemist stopped at the back of the room and unlocked a sturdy looking chest. The nobleman briefly caught sight of scrolls and bottles and a smaller box within the chest, but almost immediately the alchemist closed the chest and turned to face him.
He held out a small glass bottle. The glass was darkened, but as the nobleman watched, something within the bottle seemed to glitter in the flickering lamplight.
“You are certain it will do what you said it could?”
The alchemist’s mouth curved into a smile that reminded the nobleman of a snake watching its prey come closer.
“Oh yes. This is no ordinary love potion. This is the most powerful aphrodisiac you will ever encounter. This will lower inhibitions, and sidestep morals. It will banish self-restraint, and cause arousal so uncontrollable the recipient will do anything, and I do mean anything, to couple with the object of their affections. Or, for that matter, anyone who happens to be available when their need reaches its height.”
The nobleman felt the first stirrings of hope. Finally, they might be free of this tiresome situation, and the oligarchy restored to its rightful place in the power structure of the city.
“And the extra component you said you could include?”
The alchemist nodded again. “Yes. That as well. It took rather more work than I expected, I have never tried mixing those particular reagents together before, but I believe it will do as you asked.”
“You believe?” The nobleman’s eyes narrowed.
“Potions that induce both sexual arousal and aggression at the same time do not have much of a market, as I am sure you can imagine. I had to build something from scratch, while making sure that the two aspects were not adversely affected by the other, an-”
“Will it work?” the nobleman snapped.
The alchemist inclined his head a touch.
“Yes, my lord. It will do what you asked for.”
The nobleman reached out to take it, but the alchemist drew his hand back.
“My payment, if you please.”
The nobleman tried to hide his irritation and retrieved the pouch of coins.
“Feel free to check, if you like. It is all there, as agreed.”
The alchemist hesitated, as if debating whether to check before he handed over the bottle or not, but then offered the bottle. The nobleman took it, his hand closing tightly around it once it was in his grasp.
“How do you plan to administer it?” the alchemist asked.
“You said that it could be added to wine without diluting the effect.” There was a touch of accusation in his voice. “And without the taste being noticeable,” he added. If the alchemist had lied about that, there would be consequences.
“That is correct. Although if it is diluted too much it will take longer to take effect.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
The nobleman turned to leave.
“Might I ask who you plan to use this on?” the alchemist asked. “You wife? A servant girl, perhaps?”
“Hardly,” the nobleman said, briefly considering his wife. There was a reason they slept in separate rooms these days. He slipped the bottle into his bag and made sure it was secure.
“Then who? Why?”
“Trust me when I say you will almost certainly be happier not knowing the answer to that.”
The nobleman did not look back once as he left the alchemist’s workshop.
Pythagoras hummed a tune as he prepared dinner. Working as secret operatives for the queen was dangerous, but Ariadne certainly made sure they were well rewarded, and for the first time in months their little household never seemed to be short of money for food or other essentials.
In fact, the only thing wrong with their lives right now was Jason’s despondency at being rejected by Ariadne. Rejection was a particular type of heartache that Pythagoras was all too familiar with, and he wondered what he might do to attempt to cheer Jason up. Perhaps after dinner, when they all had full bellies and no pressing jobs to do, he could get Jason alone and try to talk to him. Of course, there was nothing he could do to change the situation; no matter how much of a hero he was, Jason was not suitable marriage material for a queen (well, technically he was, Pythagoras mused, but no one could ever know about that, least of all Jason). Still, maybe if he could get Jason to stop bottling it all up then it might help his mood to improve a little.
He heard rapid footsteps coming up the stairs to the house. Speaking of Jason, that was definitely too quick to be Hercules.
He glanced up and smiled at Jason when he opened the door.
“You’re back. Did you get the bread I asked for?”
Pythagoras focussed his attention back on the vegetables he was chopping without even waiting for a reply. The stew needed to cook for several hours to get the best results, so even though it was barely past lunch, he had wanted to get started on it. The others might tease him about being fussy or domestic, but neither of them ever seemed to complain when they had the resulting meal in front of them.
Jason came in and put something on the table, but it made a heavy clunking sound, and Pythagoras looked up and frowned when he saw an expensive-looking wine flask. He was about to ask about the bread again when Jason walked around the table to him, wrapped his hand around the back of Pythagoras’ head, and kissed him.
Pythagoras gave a breathless squeak. Jason took the opportunity to force his way deeper into Pythagoras’ mouth. His fingers tangled in Pythagoras’ curly hair and tugged his head back to hold him in place.
Pythagoras’ brain just stopped. For a moment the only thing that existed was Jason; Jason’s hands, Jason’s mouth, Jason’s body pressed against his. When his thoughts did start up again it was just a constant beat of Jason, Jason, Jason, in time with his racing heart.
Jason’s teeth nipped his lip when he finally stopped and pulled back. The look in his eyes was greedy, and Pythagoras barely contained a quiet whimper. No one had ever looked at him like that before. It had been a very, very long time since anyone had kissed him like that. And Jason... Jason didn’t...
Through the sudden confusion of desire and pure physical reaction it began to occur to Pythagoras that there was something not right here.
“Jason... what was that for?”
“I’ve been thinking about doing that all the way home. That, and other things.”
“But you don’t...” Pythagoras tried to shake his head but Jason was still gripping his hair. “Ariadne.”
Jason’s eyes darkened, and Pythagoras felt the mood change.
“Fuck Ariadne,” Jason growled.
Pythagoras tried to take a step back, but Jason was still there, holding him fast.
“Jason, are you... have you been drinking?” Now he thought about it, there was a sour taste in his mouth.
“Guy in the market gave me some wine. Kept going on about how Ariadne would be in the temple. You know what? Fuck her, if she thinks she’s too good for me. If she doesn’t want me.” Jason’s gaze dropped to Pythagoras’ mouth, and then lower. “She might not want me, but you do.”
Pythagoras’ breath caught in his throat.
No. Jason couldn’t know that. Pythagoras had worked hard to make sure he would never know.
Something of his panic must have shown in his expression, because Jason suddenly smirked.
“What? You thought I hadn’t seen the way you look at me? You thought I hadn’t worked it out? You want it, Pythagoras.”
Not any more, was the first thought that went through Pythagoras’ mind. If this had happened last year there was no power on Earth that could have stopped Pythagoras responding. But not now. He glanced at the wine flask again. Not now, and not like this.
The way Jason was looking at him, it took all of Pythagoras’ self-control to keep his voice as calm and sensible as he could.
“Jason, you’ve been drinking. You’re upset. I don’t think this i-”
Jason pushed him backwards until his back hit the wall and suddenly Jason was right there in his face, his eyes hard and angry.
“What’s the matter? Don’t know what to do with me now you’ve got me? Well don’t worry, I know exactly what I want to do with you.”
He pressed against him, closer, and Pythagoras turned his head to avoid being kissed again. That was when Pythagoras felt the unmistakeable hard length of Jason’s cock digging into his hip.
Oh dear fucking gods.
Something was very, very wrong here. For both their sakes, he couldn’t let this go any further.
“Jason stop. You’re drunk. You’re not thinking straight.”
Pythagoras put his hands flat to Jason’s chest and tried to push him away. Jason batted his hands away and shoved him back against the wall.
“Fucking little tease, Pythagoras. All these months giving me those looks, all those wet dreams I bet you had. What are you scared of? Having a proper cock inside you?”
He ground against Pythagoras again and Pythagoras was horrified to feel his own cock responding. Jason’s hand ran down Pythagoras’ side and came to a stop on his hip.
“Jason, you’re drunk...”
Pythagoras focussed on his face and the words died on his lips. Jason had been drinking, yes, but he wasn’t drunk. He was too alert, too focussed. Pythagoras knew what Jason looked like when he was drunk. When they drank socially he was a happy, cuddly, affectionate drunk. On the few occasions he had been attempting to drown his sorrows he had merely become quiet and morose and incommunicative. He was never violent. Pythagoras knew what violent drunk looked like; he knew that far too well. And this... this wasn’t it.
He wasn’t sure if that thought just made him even more scared of what was really going on here.
“Jason, listen to me, something is wrong with you. You would never do this if you were in your right mind.”
Jason’s hand slid under his tunic and tugged at the waistband of his trousers.
Dear gods he needed to stop this now before Jason did anything else.
He caught hold of Jason’s wrist. Tried to stay completely calm and rational.
“Jason, please. Just stop. I don’t want this. Not like this.”
He couldn’t possibly make it any clearer than that. If Jason was in there, if his friend had any vestige of control at all, he would stop.
Jason didn’t stop.
Suddenly his hand was touching skin and that finally forced Pythagoras into action. He tightened his grip on Jason’s wrist and yanked his hand away. For good measure he shoved Jason hard enough to make him back off a step.
“Stop it. Now.”
Jason immediately crowded back into his personal space, pressing him against the wall again. His mouth curled into a sneer.
“What’s wrong? Gone off me now? Too busy making eyes at that pretty-boy friend of your instead?”
Pythagoras suddenly became very still.
Did he... did he mean Icarus? How the hell did he know about Icarus?
Now Jason was smirking.
“What? You thought I hadn’t noticed the way you look at each other? It’s nauseating. Really, Pythagoras, I don’t know what you see in him. Oh wait. Handsome, dark curly hair, nice bit of leather armour. No, I can’t even imagine what you see in him at all.”
“Shut up,” Pythagoras said, his voice suddenly quiet and angry.
“Mind, the way he looks at you, I bet he lets you top, doesn’t he? Is that really what you want, Pythagoras? I don’t think it is. I think you want someone who’s strong enough to hold you down and fuck you. I think you want me.”
Pythagoras felt Jason’s hand on his cock again.
“Get off me.”
Jason leaned close, so close Pythagoras could feel the sour breath against his face.
“Your pretty boy won’t give you that, and you know it. I bet he’s begging for it. I bet he’s a screamer.”
He grabbed Jason’s tunic in both fists and shoved as hard as he could. Jason took a step back, then his fist flew out of nowhere and punched Pythagoras in the face. Pythagoras’ head snapped back and hit the wall and for a second his head spun.
“What the hell!”
Jason was immediately back in his face, hands everywhere pulling at clothing. Pythagoras took a wild swing at Jason and was easily batted aside. When he tried again Jason grabbed his wrist and pinned him to the wall. The moment he was distracted, Pythagoras rammed his knee into Jason’s groin.
For a second the stunned looked on Jason’s face was almost comical. His mouth opened but no sound came out.
For good measure, Pythagoras punched Jason as hard as he could in the side, right where he knew the arrow wound was still healing.
Jason slowly collapsed to the floor.
Pythagoras stepped around him and ran to his room. He went straight to the top shelf where he kept all his most potent potions and remedies, grabbed the seaweed sedative and poured as much of it as he dared onto a wadded cloth. Too much would kill him, and no matter what else was going on that was not Pythagoras’ intention. But at the same time this was Jason, and they all knew he had a much stronger constitution than most normal men. He added another few drops, and then ran back into the main room.
Jason was still curled up. He hadn’t even reached the whimpering stage yet. That must have been a good hit with the knee. Pythagoras knelt over him and pressed the wad of cloth over Jason’s mouth and nose. Jason’s hand came up and grabbed his wrist and tried to fight him off, but Pythagoras just pressed harder. Jason’s other hand was still cupped around his crotch and the feeble resistance stopped after another ten seconds.
Pythagoras held the cloth in place for a little while longer, just to make sure he wasn’t faking. When he pried one of Jason’s eyes open, he knew it had worked.
He stood up and looked down at his unconscious friend.
For a second the enormity of what had just happened threatened to crash in on Pythagoras.
No. Not yet. He couldn’t panic yet.
Pythagoras thought for a moment. Then he went to find some rope.
He was examining the contents of the wine flask when Hercules finally came home. Pythagoras had positioned himself at the table so that he could watch over Jason where he was tied by the wrists and ankles to his own bed, and see the door at the same time. Pythagoras knew he had done a good job with the knots, but even so he had spent the last half an hour jumping every time there was a noise, and glancing up at his unconscious housemate every thirty seconds or so. Just to be sure.
Ironically, Hercules had bought bread, and he gave the abandoned half-chopped vegetables a disappointed look before he seemed to notice that anything was wrong.
“Don’t go near him. Don’t wake him up,” Pythagoras said in a quiet voice when Hercules’ gaze finally fell on Jason.
Hercules hesitated, and then turned his full attention on Pythagoras.
“What’s going on?”
Pythagoras had spent a significant amount of the last half hour working out in his head how he was going to explain it to Hercules, preferably in a way that wouldn’t make him either laugh or kill Jason.
“I’m pretty sure Jason has been drugged,” he eventually said, and felt quite proud of how steady his voice was.
“That doesn’t explain why he’s tied up.” Hercules appeared to think for a moment. “What sort of drugged?”
“I don’t know. But he was... he was violent. I had to subdue him. And sedate him.”
Hercules stared at him for a disconcertingly long time, and then came over and sat down opposite Pythagoras.
“Right, that was the short version. Now give me the proper story. Starting with are you all right?”
“He said a man in the market gave him wine. I assume he meant this.” Pythagoras held up the flask. “It’s mostly gone, but from what little there is left, I’m certain something has been added to it. I’m just not sure what. Or why.”
“What did he do?”
“I had to sedate him. And I tied him up for good measure, because I’m pretty sure the only reason I managed to overpower him at all was because I surprised him.”
“Pythagoras, what did he do to you?”
He should have known Hercules wouldn’t let it go so easily. Just for once, it would have been nice if Hercules could be less perceptive.
“I’m fine, Hercules. He didn’t get chance to do much of anything before I stopped him.”
“Right, so what did he try to do?”
Pythagoras stood up.
“We’re wasting time. Now you’re here I need you to stay and watch over him. I have to go to the library and see if I can work out what was done to him. I need to know if there’s anything we can do other than just wait for the effects to wear off.”
Hercules also stood up, and walked over to Pythagoras and caught hold of his chin and carefully turned his head. Pythagoras jerked away and took a step back.
“That bruise wasn’t there when I left,” Hercules observed.
Pythagoras shook his head and went to get his bag from his room. Hercules followed him.
“If it helps at all, I think I actually did more damage to him than he did to me,” Pythagoras said, trying to inject as much light-heartedness into his tone as possible.
“If that’s true, then it really doesn’t help at all. We both know that in a straight fight you stand no chance against Jason. So something else happened, not just a fight. Tell me, Pythagoras. Or would you rather I ask Jason when he wakes up?”
Hercules was blocking the doorway and Pythagoras had nowhere else to go. Shit.
Pythagoras forced himself to look at Hercules when he spoke.
“He kissed me. And made it clear that he wanted to do more than just kissing. He didn’t like it when I said no.”
Several emotions flitted across Hercules’ face. He finally settled on shock.
“He didn’t. He didn’t do anything because I didn’t give him chance,” Pythagoras said, anger spilling into his voice. “Now get out of my way and let me go. And for the love of the gods, Hercules, do not do anything that we will all regret later.”
Without waiting for a reply, he pushed past Hercules and walked out of the house. He thought Hercules might try to stop him, or come after him, so he moved as fast as he could without actually running.
As soon as he was out of the door, Pythagoras knew he really hadn’t handled that conversation well. Hercules was probably going to jump to all sorts of conclusions, imagine something that was ten times worse than it had actually been. He should have either told him nothing at all or the full story, not the half-tale he had given his friend.
He was so lost in his thoughts he almost walked into a man who was standing at the corner on the end of the street. Pythagoras caught a brief glimpse of long, straggly hair before he muttered a quick apology and quickened his pace to get away. He didn’t stop for breath until he was within the familiar walls of the library.
With the exception of their home, the library was probably one of Pythagoras’ favourite places in the whole city. He knew it made no logical sense, it was merely a building like any other, but there was something about the library that made him feel calm, optimistic. A sense that there were few problems that could not be solved by the accumulated knowledge within these walls. He didn’t like to admit it, but the library was his sanctuary. It was the place he went to when Hercules was being particularly annoying and overbearing, or Jason’s misery over Ariadne soured the mood at home, or when he just needed to get away and be alone and do something for himself for a while. The library was his place. But more than anything, the library was safe.
He went straight to the section on herbalism and medicine and potions. Unsurprisingly, it was a part of the library that Pythagoras knew very well, and he had spent many hours in here when he first came to Atlantis. Less so in recent years as his own knowledge and notes had accumulated to the point where he only needed to use the library for particularly obscure topics of research, but he still knew exactly where to go to begin his search.
As he browsed along the shelves, picking up scrolls here and there, it occurred to him that the last time he had been right here in this section of the library was when he was trying to cure Medusa after Hercules had used that stupid sirens jar on her. It was a little over a year ago, and yet it felt so long ago. So much else had happened since then, so much had changed.
Pythagoras suddenly stopped, a scroll in his hand. What if Jason was also under a magical enchantment? If it was more than simply a potion then how would they fix it? What if the effects didn’t just wear off with time? What if they just kept getting worse?
If it was magic that might explain Jason’s actions. Magic could make people do practically anything, whether they wanted to or not. A simple potion or brew using only natural ingredients could make people more susceptible to doing things, but he didn’t think it could force someone to do something that was utterly against their will. A particularly potent potion might make someone lose all sense of themselves, perhaps, but that wasn’t the same.
If he was being ruthlessly practical about it, Pythagoras didn’t want it to be magic, because if it was magic he might not be able to fix it. And yet, there was a niggling thought that kept telling him if it was magic then it wasn’t Jason. Magic meant he wasn’t responsible for his actions.
If it was not magic, then somehow they had to accept the possibility that Jason had known what he was doing all along. That Jason thought so little of him and his feelings that he could say such things. That Jason had no respect at all for Pythagoras. That Jason was capable of doing... that.
Everything that Pythagoras had been trying to suppress could no longer be held back, and Pythagoras felt himself lose grip on his control. He realised he was shaking as he stumbled to the corner behind the shelf shack and sat down on the floor. He curled up and hugged his knees and hid his face.
Thoughts and memories crashed over him and Pythagoras let himself be overwhelmed. The way Jason has looked at him, the way he had spoken to him. The things he had said about Icarus. The way Jason had touched him. The way he had responded, because yes, even now there was a part of Pythagoras that still wanted Jason, even though he had accepted long ago that he could never have him. But not like that.
He felt the hot tears coming, and along with them the familiar rush of shame.
Gods, he was pathetic. He was supposed to be a man, a hero of Atlantis, no less, and yet he was sitting here like the frightened little boy he had once been hiding from his father. Damn it, he was past this, he was better than this.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, something occurred to Pythagoras. His father. Perhaps he had been wrong about the power of non-magical potions. Alcohol was entirely natural, and look what that was capable of doing. How it made people change. Made people do things they would never, ever, normally think of.
He pressed his forehead to his knees and breathed. Once. Twice.
Pythagoras scrubbed at his face with both hands. Then he picked himself up and got to work.
It was almost dark by the time Pythagoras got home. The streets were quieter now, which made it all the more obvious that the man he had walked into on his way out was still standing there. Now he had moved across the road and was partially concealed in the shadows of a doorway.
If he was a thief, planning to rob the houses of this street when everyone had gone to sleep, then he was doing a particularly bad job of not drawing attention to himself. Another time Pythagoras might have challenged him, but tonight he just wanted to get home.
Hercules was eating the bread with some cheese when Pythagoras got in, and the sight reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He looked across at Jason first, though. Jason didn’t appear to have moved much since he had left. Pythagoras sat down opposite Hercules and broke off a small piece of cheese, and a rather larger piece of bread.
“So?” Hercules asked when he hadn’t spoken.
Pythagoras finished chewing and gathered his thoughts before he replied.
“Honestly, I don’t know. From what I can gather, there are many, many varieties of potion that can act as an aphrodisiac, some more potent than others. There are only a few, however, that are powerful enough to make people completely lose control, and those are difficult to make, even for skilled practitioners.”
“So whoever did this is a skilled potion maker. That’s definitely your area of knowledge. Can you think of anyone who might be able to do it?”
“None who would admit it.”
Pythagoras was friendly with a number of the people who had an interest in herbalism, particularly those whose interests leaned towards the medicinal and healing uses for such potions. He knew there were other, more specialised, potion makers and alchemists who made expensive perfumes and cosmetics, and there were rumours of rather more potent and specialised potions for the right price, but for the most part these were not people that Pythagoras knew to talk to. Of course, there was also the possibility that it had come from a trader or merchant from outside the city, and if that were the case their chances of ever finding them were slim to non-existent.
“What I don’t get is the aggression,” Pythagoras said between mouthfuls of bread. “Some aphrodisiac potions might have something that is supposed to enhance masculinity, but aggression is counterproductive to the effect you want to achieve. So I think it’s possible that something else was deliberately added to it. It’s the only thing that makes sense of his behaviour.”
Hercules was silent for a moment, which was always a bad sign.
Sure enough, he leaned forward and pinned Pythagoras with a determined stare.
“Speaking of which, are we going to talk about what actually happened?”
“No. I’m not going to give you all the details. I don’t want to talk about it.” He heard the anger in his voice and tried to keep control of himself. Of all people today, Hercules was the last person who deserved his anger.
“You need to deal with it sooner or later.”
“I am dealing with it. That’s what I’ve been doing all afternoon in the library. This is me dealing with it, right now.”
“No, you’re not. I know you, Pythagoras. This is you doing everything you can possibly think of to avoid dealing with it.”
“Damn it, Hercules, do you think this is funny? I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to relive how bloody humiliating it felt to have him saying those things and doing those thing and not being able to fucking stop him.”
Pythagoras was on his feet and shouting by the time he finished, and he and Hercules stared at each other in shocked silence for several seconds.
A quiet groan from the bed in the corner interrupted the moment, and they both looked across at Jason. His face scrunched up in an expression of pain, and he seemed to be trying to curl up, but the ropes tying his wrists and ankles stopped the movement.
Pythagoras and Hercules went over, but Pythagoras stopped a few paces from the bed.
“Ow, my head hurts,” he mumbled.
That was probably from the sedative. Having had it used on him twice, Pythagoras knew all too well the affects that stuff had.
A confused expression slowly found its way onto Jason’s face, and he eventually opened his eyes, and looked up at the ropes around his wrists. Then he looked right at Pythagoras.
“What the hell happened?”
“Do you remember any of it?”
Pythagoras wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted the answer to be.
“Why am I tied up? Come on guys, untie me.”
“Not until we know you’re safe.”
That was Hercules. Pythagoras glanced at him, and realised that Hercules had picked up his sword and seemed to be trying to position himself slightly in front of Pythagoras.
“Safe? What are you talking about? Of course I’m safe. Why would you even...”
He trailed off and his face creased in thought.
Jason’s eyes suddenly opened wide. He looked right at Pythagoras.
“Pythagoras, I’m sorry. Are you okay? Did I...? Fuck. Pythagoras, I didn’t... I wouldn’t... I have no idea why I did any of that. Shit, Pythagoras, I am so sorry.”
Pythagoras held his look for a long time until he finally nodded. This was no act. This was Jason, their Jason, and he meant it.
“Hercules, untie him.”
Even if he was wrong, there were two of them now.
Hercules untied his ankles, and then untied the rope from the bed, but he left it coiled around Jason’s wrists. Pythagoras almost told Hercules to stop being ridiculous, but something stopped him. Yeah, they could do this conversation like this.
As soon as he was able, Jason sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
Pythagoras took a step back.
“Don’t. Just stay there.”
Jason looked like he had been slapped in the face. He rested his elbows on his knees and put his head in his still-bound hands.
“What do you remember from the marketplace? You said someone gave you the wine flask. We need to know who, and why.”
“Was something in the wine? Is that why I did...? Shit, Pythagoras, I am so sorry.”
“I know,” Pythagoras snapped. “You already said that. Right now we need to know why it happened. Yes, we think something was in the wine. So who gave it to you?”
“Some guy. He just came up to me and gave me the wine and said it was a gift. Said it was a thank you for what I’d done in the battle for the city or something. I told him not to be silly, but he insisted. In fact, he insisted I drink some right away, and, well, it seemed rude not to.”
“And then what happened?”
“I don’t know. I drank some, and it tasted funny, but it was sort of more-ish, and the guy was encouraging me so I drank some more. And then I was thinking I’d save the rest and share it with you guys, and suddenly the guy started talking about Ariadne, saying she was in the temple at this time of day, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to go and see her. It didn’t make sense; I just wanted to go home. So I ignored him and did just that. I think he was following me, but I thought he’d get the message when I just walked away.”
Something in that ramble was important, Pythagoras was sure of it. Then it hit him. Then he knew exactly what had happened today.
“Oh, dear gods. Someone intended to make you attack the queen.”
Jason and Hercules stared at him, Hercules’ open-mouthed expression almost amusing.
Pythagoras started pacing, as his mind raced.
“Yes, they gave you something that would make you both aroused and aggressive, and then when your self-control was already compromised they tried, not very subtly, to put the idea into your head to go and see Ariadne. It’s no secret you and her have feelings for each other, people know that she favours you, and that you would do anything for her. Someone knew that, and someone tried to put you in a position where you would be unable to stop yourself attacking her once you were in her presence.” He paused for breath, still pacing. “Oh gods, it’s a bloody genius plan. If you had tried anything, her guards would have almost certainly killed you. If it had worked you would be dead right now, or arrested, followed shortly afterwards by dead. And Ariadne would be without her best protector. Damn, whoever came up with this knew exactly what they were doing.”
“Pasiphae,” Hercules growled.
“Perhaps. Rumour has it that she is still licking her wounds after being defeated in the battle. She’s nowhere near here. But she probably has agents in the city. People still loyal to her.”
He stopped and turned to face Jason again.
“Tell me about this man.”
“Scruffy clothes, long hair. I remember thinking it was strange, a man who looked like that being able to afford such good quality wine, and then giving it away.”
Scruffy clothes, long hair...
Pythagoras slammed a hand down on the table, making them all jump.
“You said he was following you? He’s been standing outside in the bloody street all day, watching our house. Shit! Come on.”
Pythagoras didn’t even stop to grab his sword; he just ran to the door and pelted down the stairs.
“Pythagoras! Wait!” Hercules bellowed after him.
Ignoring Hercules, he ran to the corner of the street and skidded to a halt. The man was still loitering in the doorway across the other side of the road. He straightened up and started to move off when he saw Pythagoras looking right at him.
Pythagoras ran and hurled himself at the man, slammed into his back and wrapped his arms around the man and they both fell into the wall. The man shouted and Pythagoras felt his arm scraping raw against the building wall as the man struggled, but he refused to let go. He heard footsteps behind him just as the man rammed his elbow into Pythagoras’ nose. Pythagoras was thrown off and landed on his backside in the street.
When he looked up, his hands cupped around his nose to catch the blood, he saw the man was still lying on the ground. Hercules was standing over him with his sword at the man’s throat.
That’s him,” Jason said from behind Pythagoras.
The scruffy man’s eyes widened when he saw Jason.
Jason stepped closer, and Pythagoras put a hand out to stop him.
He was actually surprised when Jason did as he asked.
Pythagoras picked himself up and glared at the scruffy man.
“Look, I didn’t mean any harm,” the man babbled. “Someone paid me. Said he had a job he wanted me to do. Asked me to give something to the people’s champion as a token of gratitude.”
“Who was it? Who paid you?” Pythagoras demanded.
“I don’t know.”
Hercules pressed the sword harder until the skin dimpled around the point of the blade.
“Please! I don’t know him. He looked rich, though. He was dressed like he was trying to blend in, but the way he talked, the way he looked at everyone, he was rich, a noble. He had rings on his fingers. He was bald.”
Pythagoras nodded. He had a pretty fair idea who it might be.
“Why have you been watching the house all day? Why didn’t you just leave once you’d done it?”
“He wanted me to make sure he went to the temple, to see the queen. He only paid me half, said I’d get the other half once Jason had gone to the temple and seen the queen. I was waiting for him to come back out. Please, I was only doing what I was asked.”
Jason started to move forwards again and Pythagoras put a hand out to halt him again.
“Jason, just calm down.”
“You heard him. He did this.”
“No, someone else did this, and got this man to do the dirty work.”
Hercules looked round at him, surprised.
“So now what?”
“Now,” Pythagoras said the scruffy man. “Now you get up and you get the hell away from here, and you hope to the gods that none of us ever see you again. Do you understand?”
The man nodded, and as soon as Hercules released the pressure on the sword the man scrambled to his feet and ran.
“What are you doing? Why are you letting him go?” Jason protested.
“Let’s get back inside. I’ll explain there.”
As soon as he was back home Pythagoras grabbed a cloth and pressed it to his bleeding nose and sat down at the table.
The others joined him, Jason still with his hands tied.
“From the description, I would guess the person behind this is Cilix. He was known for cosying up with Pasiphae during Minos’ reign. No doubt he has pledged allegiance to Ariadne when she became queen, but from this it seems his true loyalties are elsewhere.”
“So we need to warn Ariadne,” Hercules said. “The only problem with that being that you just let our only witness escape.”
“Because our only witness is a common vagrant. If we made any formal accusation it would be his word against that of a noble, and I think we all know how that will go.”
“So we just do nothing? Let him get away with it?” Jason demanded.
“Of course not. Tomorrow we will go to Ariadne and tell her what happened.” Pythagoras glanced up at Jason and hastily added, “An amended version of what happened. We will tell her about the plot, and the intention, but simply tell her that Hercules and I intercepted you in time. We will warn her about Cilix. We may not be able to prove what he has done on this occasion, but at least now we know to be careful, and Ariadne can be on her guard for any further attempts against her.”
“You think that will be enough?”
“It will have to be.”
He prodded carefully at his nose and decided that it might be safe to remove the bloodied cloth.
Hercules winced. “You’ve got blood...” He gestured vaguely at Pythagoras’ face, and then got up and fetched a bowl of water and a clean cloth. Pythagoras managed a smile and took the cloth himself before Hercules decided to try to be even more helpful and attempt to clean it off for him.
“Thanks. And could you untie Jason now? It’s getting silly.”
Hercules muttered and grumbled about being bossed around, but did it anyway. Once done, he stood there between Pythagoras and Jason, looking from one to the other.
“Right. So. Dinner?”
Dinner was awkward. Jason kept starting to speak and then shutting up the moment he so much as glanced in Pythagoras’ direction. Since that was almost every five seconds, it meant he didn’t say a great deal of anything all through the meal.
Pythagoras was lost in his own thoughts, testing what he knew about Cilix and the council and the political alliances and rivalries between the noble houses to see if he could come up with any other possibilities of who might be plotting against Ariadne. He knew Hercules was probably right, and that he was only occupying himself with such thoughts because it was easier than actually dealing with the real issue. Nevertheless, they needed to have this prepared before they spoke to Ariadne, and it had to be the priority.
That left Hercules trying to keep up the conversation more or less by himself, and even he gave up after a while.
Eventually Pythagoras announced that he was tired and was going to bed, and retired to his room. He heard the others moving around, and low voices for a while, but after a while the house was quiet.
Pythagoras wasn’t sleeping. He was tired, but he knew he wouldn’t sleep, not with only a curtain between himself and Jason. He knew it was stupid, irrational. He knew in his head that Jason had been under the influence of a powerful potion, that it hadn’t really been him. But at the same time, it had been him. Pythagoras wasn’t sure he could ever forget that.
He was leaning against the window frame looking out at the stars when he heard footsteps. He turned to see Jason standing in the bedroom doorway. Jason looked about as wretched as Pythagoras had ever seen him, and that included all the times Ariadne had told him they couldn’t be together.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Pythagoras asked.
Jason shook his head. He seemed reluctant to come any further into the room, and Pythagoras was glad of that.
“Pythagoras, I know I keep saying it, but I am sorry for what I did to you.”
Pythagoras suddenly knew he couldn’t have this conversation. Not yet. But there one thing he needed to know.
“How long have you known?” Pythagoras asked instead.
“That I was attracted to you.”
It was difficult to tell in the semi-darkness, but he thought Jason might be flushing red.
“Um, not long. I sort of worked it out when you seemed to lose interest, actually. I saw the way you started looking at Icarus, and I figured out pretty quickly that you had feelings for him. And then I suddenly realised that you used to look at me like that. Sometimes, when you thought I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I hadn’t realised I was being so obvious,” Pythagoras said. He turned away from the window properly and moved to sit on his bed.
“You weren’t. Not really. It was actually Hercules who said something that made me see you and Icarus. And then the rest fell into place.”
“So everyone knows about Icarus. Wonderful.”
Actually, he had suspected for a while that Hercules probably knew. It was one of the downsides to having known each other for so long; it was surprisingly difficult to keep anything secret from each other.
“It’s not like we’re talking about you or anything,” Jason added hastily. “Well, we are a little bit, but only because we want you to be happy, not in a nosey gossipy sort of way.”
“Jason, its fine. I know what you mean,” he said more to stop Jason babbling than anything else.
He thought carefully before deciding whether to voice one of the things that was really bothering him.
“What I don’t understand,” Pythagoras said slowly. “Is why you didn’t go to Ariadne. Once you were under the influence you should have gone straight to the one you love. Or, depending on how desperate it was, at the very least to someone to whom you were even remotely attracted.”
Jason didn’t reply. When Pythagoras looked up at him and saw the anguish in his eyes he understood.
“Now you tell me,” he whispered.
“Pythagoras, I didn’t... I don’t know. I don’t want men. I love Ariadne. But you’re important to me, Pythagoras. I don’t think I realised how important until recently.”
Pythagoras swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. He knew that was probably the closest he was ever going to get to hearing Jason say how he felt. Now that it was far too late to do anything about it.
“Pythagoras, I don’t know exactly what was going on in my head when I came home today, but I do know that all I could think about was you. There was a moment when I did think about going to Ariadne. But then I remembered how angry I was at her, how completely pissed off I was about the whole situation. And I suppose some part of my brain that was still working knew that Ariadne would be surrounded by guards and people, and that I would never get to see her. But you, I knew that you would be here.” Jason paused. “You’re always here for me.”
“You only want me because I’m reliable. Great. That makes me feel so good about it.” He regretted the bitter sarcasm almost as soon as he had spoken.
“Pythagoras, please. I don’t know what I wanted. What I want.”
Pythagoras held his hand up to stop him.
“Jason,” he said, looking him in the eye and holding his gaze. “I think we both know that whatever chance we might have had has long gone.”
Jason stared right back at him for several seconds and eventually nodded.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Do something for me, Jason, and stop saying you’re sorry. I know you are. I know you don’t want to hurt me. Rationally, I know that you were not yourself.”
“But...?” Jason filled in the unspoken ending.
Pythagoras slowly nodded.
“But...” He couldn’t have put it into words, even if he wanted to. He probably didn’t need to. Jason wasn’t stupid. Pythagoras sighed in frustration. He gathered his thoughts and started again. “I’ll be all right. We will be all right. But not yet.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m mostly working this out as I go along right now.”
A ghost of a smile appeared on Jason’s face for a moment before it was gone again.
Pythagoras returned it, and his smile lasted a little longer.
“Get some sleep, Jason. Tomorrow we need to save the city again. We ought to at least make an attempt to look presentable.”
Jason turned to go, and Pythagoras lay down on his bed.
“Goodnight, Pythagoras,” Jason said in a quiet voice.
Pythagoras listened to him walking away. It was almost like a thousand other times they had spent talking together late at night.
Pythagoras wondered if it could ever be the same again.