Probably the last fic that I'll post in 2015, and it appears that I'm ending the year in the same way I started it - with an Atlantis hurt/comfort bingo fic.
Poor Pythagoras, whumped again. But for a change, this fic is all about the comfort and less about the hurt, so that's probably an improvement on most of the other h/c bingo fics I've written this year. Probably.
Title: Somebody to Lean On
Pairing/characters: Hercules, Pythagoras.
Warnings: Permanent serious injury
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Urban Myth Films own them.
Word count: approx 5439
Summary: Neither of them needed to mention how many times Pythagoras had been the one who did this sort of thing for Hercules or Jason when they were injured. Hercules couldn’t imagine not doing this for Pythagoras now.
AN: Thanks to clea2011 for the beta.
AN2: This is a postage stamp square extra filling the hc_bingo ‘washing/bathing someone’, ‘cages’, ‘septicemia/infected wounds’, and ‘protecting/losing precious object’ squares on my hurt/comfort bingo card.
AN3: Set sometime mid series 2, before everything goes to hell in the city.
fic on AO3
Hercules knew the moment when Pythagoras woke up because he had been watching and waiting for it. He had worried that his friend might panic on waking, but in fact it was marked by little more than a subtle change in his breathing pattern, and then a slight scrunching of his face, putting lines where the skin ought to be smooth.
Hercules waited a moment to see if this might just be a brief interruption in his friend’s sleep again. When Pythagoras made a soft sound and started to fidget Hercules got up and measured out the medicine into a cup and then added water, like the physician had showed him.
“Pythagoras?” he prompted when he was sitting back at his friend’s bedside.
Pythagoras turned his head in Hercules’ direction, but he didn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t, not with the thick dressings and bandages covering his eyes and hiding the damage wrought by Pasiphae’s soldiers.
He tried to say something that might have been Hercules’ name, or might just have been a quiet whimper. Hercules decided that he was probably awake enough, and slid his free hand beneath Pythagoras’ head and shoulders and lifted him until he was upright enough to drink without spilling it everywhere.
“Here, drink this. Trust me, it’ll help.”
Somewhat to his surprise, Pythagoras did as he was told and drank almost all of it without protest or question. Hercules helped him to lie back down again, and then set the cup aside out of the way. When he turned back, Pythagoras’ long thin fingers were tentatively probing the bandages.
“Leave that alone,” Hercules said. He tugged Pythagoras’ hands away, trying to avoid touching the raw wounds around his wrists.
“Where...? Am I home?”
Hercules didn’t like how quiet and frightened he sounded. It was just wrong in place of his usual confidence. Hercules tried to keep his own voice normal and light-hearted when he replied.
“Yes, you’re home. You’re safe now, so don’t worry.”
Hercules winced. “Jason is fine. He’s with Ariadne. They’ll probably be discussing strategy against Pasiphae or something.”
That was a blatant lie, but Pythagoras didn’t need to know the truth. Jason was fine, but he was also pissed off and completely failing to accept what had happened to Pythagoras. They all knew that Jason didn’t deal well with sitting idle, he needed to be doing something, but for the last few days there had been very little they could do other than wait. Jason had eventually lost patience waiting for Pythagoras to wake up, and simply walked out of the house with no explanation a few hours earlier. Hercules intended to have several pointed words about that when their housemate returned.
Not that Hercules didn’t understand Jason’s point of view, of course. Truth be told, he wanted nothing more than to go and find the bastards who had done this and make them very, very sorry they had ever thought that hurting Pythagoras was a good idea. But vengeance could wait. Right now his priority had to be taking care of Pythagoras.
Pythagoras looked like he was going speak again, but then just licked his lips and swallowed.
“You want some more water?”
When Pythagoras nodded, Hercules poured another cup and propped him upright again and held the cup for him until Pythagoras wrapped both hands around it and asserted control. Hercules let him, but kept a hand at his friend’s back to support him until he had finished drinking.
Pythagoras had been mostly unconscious for the last three days, and the physician had warned them about dehydration. They had tried to get Pythagoras to drink every time he had been even remotely conscious enough to not choke on it, but those occasions had been far too few since they had got him home. The mild fever he had developed for a day or two almost certainly hadn’t helped, but that, at least, seemed to have passed now.
“Thank you,” Pythagoras said when he had finished.
“You want some more?”
He shook his head, and Hercules took the cup and put it aside again. Pythagoras seemed to be growing more alert with every minute, and Hercules dared to think this might finally be what they had been waiting for, and not just another brief interlude of semi-consciousness. Typical, Jason had missed it by mere hours.
Pythagoras pushed himself up onto his elbows and seemed to be trying to sit up. Hercules briefly thought about telling him to lie down, that he needed to rest, but decided against it. If Pythagoras was awake enough to know his own mind, then Hercules wasn’t going to argue with him over the little things. Instead, Hercules simply reached over and propped the pillows up so that Pythagoras could sit back.
“Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”
Pythagoras hesitated but then shook his head again.
“No, thank you. I am hungry, but I don’t think I can face it at the moment. Not yet.”
Hercules frowned at that, but let it go for now. Pythagoras probably hadn’t eaten for five days, he had to be starving, and he needed to get his strength back if he was going to heal. And Pythagoras was practically skin and bone already before all of this happened. Hercules decided he would try again later. Maybe the smell of food would get Pythagoras’ appetite back.
“What was in that first cup? It wasn’t just water.”
“The physician said to give you that. It’s supposed to help with the, uh...” Hercules tailed off, wishing he hadn’t bothered to add that last part. Unfortunately, it seemed Pythagoras knew him too well. Or maybe he recognised the taste.
“It’s supposed to help with the pain.”
“Yes.” Hercules paused. “So, is it helping?”
Hercules suspected he wasn’t the only one giving slightly evasive answers, but he didn’t push it. It wasn’t like there was anything else they could do for him.
Pythagoras reached up and touched the dressings over his eyes again.
“Am I blind?”
Hercules was startled by the directness of the question. He had known they would have to talk about it sooner or later, but he had rather hoped it might be ‘later’.
“Hercules?” For the first time there really was a note of panic in Pythagoras’ voice, and that pushed Hercules out of his thoughts.
“No. If the gods are merciful then no, you’re not.”
Hercules sighed and decided he may as well just get it out of the way. He should have known Pythagoras wouldn’t let it go so easily.
“But, your left eye is gone. The physician said it was damaged beyond saving, and he took what was left of it out. But your right eye is fine. We just covered it to stop it getting infected. Gods willing, in a few days time you’ll get your sight back in that eye, at least.”
He waited for a reaction, but Pythagoras didn’t immediately reply. Hercules saw his knuckles were almost white where he was gripping the blanket.
“Is that true, Hercules? You’re not lying to make me feel better?”
“No. And I’m insulted you would think I’d do such a thing.”
Pythagoras took a deep breath and his grip loosened.
“Sorry. I just had to know for sure.”
“I know.” Hercules put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and gently squeezed. “Are you all right?”
“I don’t know. I knew it was bad, but I’d hoped maybe...” he breathed, and then quietly, on the exhale, “Oh, shit.”
Hercules didn’t reply, but he knew exactly what Pythagoras meant. He had felt the same when the physician had told them what he intended to do. Maybe it made him a coward, but Hercules hadn’t even been able to watch as the physician had removed what remained of the damaged eye, and treated the other eye with potions and salve-soaked dressings in an attempt to protect it from becoming infected. When Pythagoras had become feverish the following day they had all feared the worst, but the physician had changed the dressings yesterday and claimed the signs were good.
While Hercules had every faith in the healer, this was too important to simply leave in the hands of one man. The day before, Hercules had left Jason watching over their friend and gone to the temple to make an offering to Poseidon. If it came to it, Hercules was prepared to sacrifice everything he owned if that was what the gods demanded to save what little was left of Pythagoras’ sight.
“It’s only for a few days,” Hercules said again, trying to inject some optimism into his voice. “You just need to drink plenty of fluids, have something to eat and get some rest. Let us look after you and give yourself time to heal.”
It was never that straightforward when it was Jason who was injured or ill, he was so bloody stubborn, but Hercules hoped Pythagoras, at least, might be different. That he might be more sensible. The trouble was, in all the years they had been friends, Hercules couldn’t remember a time when Pythagoras had been seriously hurt. Minor things, and occasional illness, yes, but nothing really serious. He had no idea what sort of patient their resident healer would make. He wasn’t particularly looking forward to finding out.
“What physician was it?” Pythagoras said, interrupting his thoughts again. The tension in his voice had subsided, and he sounded something like his usual curious self.
“Philoteus, I think his name was.”
“Philoteus? The palace physician?” Now he sounded faintly incredulous.
“Yep, that’s the one. Ariadne herself sent him when she heard what had happened.”
“That was generous of her. We weren’t even on palace business when I was taken.”
“We didn’t need to be. She was worried. Between you and me, I think she cares about us more than just as useful operatives.”
“No, not just Jason.”
In fact, Ariadne had sent a messenger twice in the last few days for news on Pythagoras. She had even offered to have him moved to the palace so that he might receive better care, and have Philoteus near at hand should anything happen. By that point, though, they had already got him settled in his own bed, and while Hercules had been appreciative of the offer, secretly he had been glad when they decided to keep Pythagoras at home. He suspected his friend would have been far more frightened and disoriented if he had woken up blind in a strange place. Their house might not be much, but it was home, and right now Pythagoras probably needed all the comfort and familiarity he could get.
It took Hercules a minute or so to realise that they had both fallen silent, lost in their thoughts.
“Pythagoras, do you remember much of what happened to you?”
“Are you going to tell me any of it?”
Pythagoras hesitated. “I don’t want to talk about it. Not yet, anyway.”
“Fair enough. So is there anything you do want?”
Pythagoras breathed deeply, and wrinkled his nose a little. He breathed in again and then pulled a face.
“Right now, I think I want to take a bath.”
Hercules chuckled. “Well, now you mention it, I think for once it’s fair to say that you smell worse than I do.”
“That is not possible,” Pythagoras protested. It was the most energetic response Hercules had seen since Pythagoras had woken up, and that by itself was enough to make Hercules hopeful.
“I’m afraid it is, but at least that’s one thing we can do something about.”
Hercules stood up and immediately Pythagoras groped for him and grabbed hold of his arm.
“Where are you going?”
There was that panic again, barely there, probably not something that anyone else would notice, but Hercules knew him well enough to recognise it. He gently patted Pythagoras’ hand.
“I’ll only be gone a minute, I promise.”
In truth, by the time Hercules had fetched water from the well and warmed it over the hearth it was somewhat more than a minute, but it seemed that as long as Pythagoras could hear him moving about and doing things he remained calm. Once he realised this, Hercules provided a loud running commentary on what he was doing from the other room while he worked.
Eventually Hercules had a large bowl of warm water. He paused and then went to his room and rummaged around until he found the scented oil. He had bought this to impress Medusa, what seemed like a lifetime ago, but only had chance to use it once. For a moment the memories threatened to overwhelm him and he almost put the oil back on the shelf. No, he was being ridiculous. Besides, he had paid good money for this stuff; he may as well use it before it spoiled. Hercules added a few drops to the warm water, and then carried the bowl and a towel and some washcloths through to Pythagoras’ room.
“It might not be a proper bath, but it’s the best we can do until the bandages come off,” Hercules announced.
Pythagoras sniffed, and then smiled. “Scented stuff as well? I really must smell bad!”
Hercules forced himself to chuckle.
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything...”
In truth, they had done what they could to clean the worst of the blood and grime off Pythagoras when they had got him home, especially around the areas with open wounds, but there was only so much they could do with him while he was unconscious. The two days of fever and sweating on top of everything else probably hadn’t helped.
Pythagoras had already pushed the blankets off, but suddenly he looked unsure.
“What’s going to be the best way to do this?” he murmured, almost to himself.
It took Hercules a moment to work out what he was thinking.
“The best way to do this is for you to sit on the edge of the bed here and let me do it. No, hear me out. If you try to wash yourself like this you’ll end up getting water everywhere, and then you’ll spend the rest of the day complaining that there’s water everywhere, and that’s just going to get annoying.”
For a second or two Pythagoras looked slightly stunned.
“Hercules, you don-”
Pythagoras hesitated and then nodded.
Neither of them needed to mention how many times Pythagoras had been the one who did this sort of thing for Hercules or Jason when they were injured, or had been fighting in the arena. Hercules couldn’t imagine not doing this for Pythagoras now.
Pythagoras moved to sit on the edge of his bed and Hercules tucked the pillows and blanket out of the way to avoid getting them wet. Ideally it would be better if they moved away from the bed entirely, but there were far too many logistical issues with that, and he wasn’t sure yet how weak or unsteady Pythagoras might be if they tried anything complicated.
“Come on, let’s get this off.” Hercules tugged at Pythagoras’ tunic.
Pythagoras batted his hand away.
“I can do it. I’m not completely helpless.” There was an unexpected edge to his voice.
Pythagoras wasn’t a man with a lot of pride, but apparently what little he had baulked at being undressed by his friends. Or maybe after being held captive, he just wanted some semblance of control back. Either way, it wasn’t worth arguing over, especially not when Hercules knew he was going to need Pythagoras’ cooperation with the next part. Hercules backed off and let him get on with it.
Pythagoras managed to get his tunic off, and suddenly Hercules was looking at his friend’s chest. The sight was enough to make Hercules wince. Pythagoras was covered in bruises and scrapes, some of the patches of bruising so large they merged into one another. Hercules had known there would probably be more injuries; there was similar damage on both of Pythagoras’ arms and that hadn’t been hidden under clothing, but even so, he hadn’t expected this.
“Bloody hell,” Hercules breathed.
“It looks as bad as it feels, then?”
It looked even worse than Jason had after the pankration, but Hercules kept that thought to himself.
He dipped a cloth in the bowl of water and then took Pythagoras’ hand and held his arm out, and began to gently wash his shoulder and down his upper arm. He could feel the tension in his friend’s body, and glanced up to see he was biting his lip.
“Too hard?” Hercules asked.
Pythagoras shook his head.
“No. It’s fine. Sorry. I’m just not-” He paused and then shook his head again. “It’s fine.”
Hercules hesitated, not entirely sure what to make of that.
Pythagoras turned towards him and forced something like a smile.
“Really, Hercules. It’s fine. I’ll tell you if it isn’t.”
For a moment Hercules wished he could see Pythagoras’ eyes, to know whether he was speaking truthfully. The bandages gave nothing away, so he decided to trust the sincerity in his friend’s voice.
Then he mentally corrected himself. Not eyes. Eye. Singular.
He swore under his breath, prompting a frown from Pythagoras.
“What is it?”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Hercules said. He was quite surprised when Pythagoras didn’t push him. Probably he could guess, anyway.
Pythagoras took a couple of deep breaths and finally seemed to relax a little. Hercules carried on running the cloth along the length of Pythagoras’ arm, keeping his touch light where there were bruises.
Once he had done that, Hercules rinsed the cloth out and then hesitated before he began to dab gently around the raw, bloody scrapes at Pythagoras’ wrist. When they had found him, his hands had been bound behind his back, and either his captors had been particularly violent when they tied him, or Pythagoras had spent a great deal of effort trying to work his way free. Possibly both.
Pythagoras drew in a sharp breath. “Careful,” he warned.
Hercules couldn’t contain a low growl. “If I ever get my hands on the bastards who did this...”
“Don’t, Hercules.” Pythagoras suddenly sounded incredibly weary. “I’m really not in a fit state to come and rescue you if you get yourself into trouble.”
“Since when did I ever need rescuing by you?” Hercules blustered.
“How about the time when you nearly got caught by the city guards? Or the time you got caught by maenads. Or the time you got turned into a pig. Or the other time you nearly got caught by city guards. Or-”
“All right, all right,” Hercules interrupted. He decided he’d probably done enough on that arm, and finished off by wiping Pythagoras’ hand. He rinsed the cloth again before he started on the other arm. It didn’t escape his notice that Pythagoras seemed to become more relaxed when they were talking. Very well, then...
“Anyway, just for your information, I had nearly all of those situations under control before you got involved.”
“Of course you had. You didn’t need us at all.”
Pythagoras was sounding more like himself every minute. If he didn’t look up and see the bandages, Hercules could almost convince himself that everything was okay.
“Well, I maybe wouldn’t go that far,” Hercules admitted as he turned Pythagoras’ arm over and continued to run the cloth along it. “You do have your uses occasionally.”
“How very magnanimous of you.”
That had sounded more relaxed, but as soon as Hercules got anywhere near his other wrist the tension was back again. For someone who spent so much of his life talking and blustering and bragging, right now when he really needed to talk, to distract, Hercules couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.
He finished on that arm and wet the cloth again and contemplated what to do next.
“Sit up straight. Stop slouching.”
“You sound like my mother,” Pythagoras said, but did as requested.
“Oh, that’s nice,” Hercules muttered as he started at Pythagoras’ shoulders and began to wash his chest, mindful of the bruising.
“Thank you for coming to get me,” Pythagoras said in a quiet voice.
Hercules glanced up and saw how serious he had become.
“Of course we came to get you. We need you, Pythagoras.” Hercules paused, and then added, “Jason can’t cook worth a damn and I hate shopping, so where would we be without you, eh?”
Pythagoras actually chuckled at that, and the smile stayed even when Hercules couldn’t avoid a particularly nasty looking bruise on his ribs any longer.
“I see. You only want me for my domestic skills.”
“You’ve only just worked that out? I thought you were supposed to be a genius?”
The bruises made it difficult to tell what was actually dirt rather than just damage, and Hercules ended up running the damp cloth over his friend’s chest a couple of times before he was satisfied. It occurred to him that with anyone else this would have felt intimate, or awkward. But it was Pythagoras, and so it felt nothing but completely natural.
“Lean forward. I’ll do your back.”
Pythagoras shuffled to the very edge of the bed and then wavered and grabbed the bed frame. Hercules caught his shoulder and held him steady.
“Nothing. Just a bit light-headed.” Pythagoras paused and then gave a quiet sigh. “I’m not sure leaning forwards is a good idea. I might fall.”
Hercules moved closer.
“You won’t fall; I won’t let you. Here. Lean against me.”
Pythagoras braced himself against Hercules’ chest and rested his forehead on Hercules’ shoulder. Hercules used one arm to support Pythagoras, and with the other he reached around and started washing his back.
There were almost as many bruises there as on his chest. It had to hurt like hell. Either that was bloody powerful medicine the physician has given them, or Pythagoras was a lot stronger than any of them gave him credit for.
“Is Jason all right?” Pythagoras asked after a while.
Hercules frowned but carried on gently running the cloth over his friend’s body.
“He was last time I saw him. Why the concern?”
Pythagoras hesitated before he replied.
“It was about Jason. That’s why they took me. They wanted to know where he was and what his plans were.”
No great surprise there.
“So it wasn’t because they had a desperate desire to know about triangles, then?”
He felt breath against his neck when Pythagoras laughed.
Hercules didn’t want to ask the next question, but he could still hear the Oracle’s words in his head, telling him it was their destiny to protect Jason. He had to ask, even if he was almost certain he already knew the answer.
“So what did you....?”
“I told them to go screw themselves. In less polite words.”
Hercules nodded in approval.
“I take it they weren’t too pleased with you, then?”
“Their response was to lock me in a cage and take turns at beating me. And then, when they got bored of that, their ringleader stabbed me in the eye with my own stylus. I think ‘weren’t too pleased’ is something of an understatement.”
Despite the bluntness of Pythagoras’ words, Hercules found himself smiling. That hint of sarcasm did more to reassure him that Pythagoras was feeling better than anything else he had said or done since he had woken up.
Realistically, Hercules had known all along that it would be about Jason. It always was. When they had finally found Pythagoras he had been locked in a cage that was barely big enough for an animal, certainly not big enough for him to stand up, or even sit properly upright. Not that he had been trying to move very much when they found him. Pythagoras had been curled up on his side, apparently trying to make himself as small and still as possible. For a terrible moment Hercules had thought they might have been too late, but the quiet whimper when he had used his strength to rip the cage door off its hinges had told him otherwise.
For a moment he had been relieved. For a moment, Hercules had thought they had, somehow, got away with it again. They had found Pythagoras without alerting the entire camp of enemy soldiers to their presence, and they had only needed to kill two guards to do it. As long as nothing happened on the way out they could be halfway back to Atlantis before the soldiers even noticed their prisoner was gone.
That was before they had seen the blood on Pythagoras’ face.
After that, the rest of the night was just a jumble of memories of their mad dash back to Atlantis, Hercules carrying his barely-conscious friend the whole way. When the physician had arrived it ought to have got better, but instead it just got worse.
No matter how much of a positive spin they tried to put on it, Pythagoras was half blind. Hercules had a suspicion he was going to spend the rest of his life wondering if there was anything they could have done to have got to him faster and prevented that.
Hercules realised he had been lost in thought for too long, and had probably just spent the last several minutes absently running the washcloth over the same spot. No wonder Pythagoras sounded confused. He quickly finished off what he was doing.
“How does that feel now?”
If Pythagoras noticed his deflection he didn’t comment on it.
“Better. A lot less... sticky.”
Hercules wrinkled his nose.
“I could have lived without that, thank you very much. Just ‘better’ would have sufficed.”
Pythagoras laughed again.
Hercules waited for Pythagoras until he eventually braced himself and pushed himself back onto the bed again. Once he was sure Pythagoras was settled, he dumped the cloth back into the bowl of now barely warm water.
He briefly considered asking Pythagoras to take his trousers off as well, so they could do the rest of his body, but quickly decided against it. Hercules suspected there was only so far that he could push Pythagoras’ pride before it pushed back.
Instead he dried his friend’s back with the towel and then passed it to Pythagoras to do the rest. He was still paler than usual, and quite obviously being careful of his injuries, but already Pythagoras did indeed look a lot better than he had when he had first woken. Maybe it was going to be okay after all. Hercules’ gaze strayed to the bandages around his friend’s eyes, and he tried not to think about what lay behind the heavily padded dressings. Maybe.
Pythagoras held the towel out to him, and Hercules swapped it for a clean tunic. Then he watched in amusement while Pythagoras spent a couple of minutes getting tangled up it before he got it on.
“Wrong way round,” Hercules commented when he had finished.
“I had noticed that already,” Pythagoras muttered, and spent another couple of minutes getting it the right way.
Eventually satisfied that he had got it, Hercules picked up the bowl and things and started to leave.
“Thank you, Hercules.”
The sincerity in his voice made Hercules pause for a moment. He was suddenly struck by the thought that he was glad that Jason wasn’t here. No matter how much they loved Jason, there was a bond and a history between himself and Pythagoras that Jason simply couldn’t share. If Hercules was being entirely honest, there was a selfish part of him that didn’t want to share it. Pythagoras was perhaps a little more generous in that regard, but even so, Hercules couldn’t help but think that Pythagoras would not have acquiesced so easily to any of that if there had been anyone else present to witness it.
“Are you ready to eat yet?” Hercules said. “We’ve got some soup. Won’t take more than ten minutes to heat it up.”
The knowing smile he got in return was one hundred percent Pythagoras.
“Maybe a little. I wouldn’t want you to have to eat alone.”
“Oh, I see. It’s like that, is it?”
Hercules went into the main room, grumbling and muttering and generally making a show of being affronted. He kept it up while he warmed the soup over the fire, and while he poured it into two bowls and carried them back into Pythagoras’ room. Pythagoras seemed to be trying to get up, and Hercules frowned at him.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“If we’re going to eat we should probably do it at the table.”
“You stay right where you are. It’s here now. Just get back in bed.”
“Much as I hate to admit it, me and a bowl of soup in here is probably just going to lead to soup all over the bedclothes,” Pythagoras said.
“Well, the blankets probably want changing anyway.”
Realistically, Hercules knew that sooner or later they were going to have to deal with Pythagoras trying to get up and about, but he wanted to put that off for as long as possible. The mental image of Pythagoras blind, struggling and frustrated, had been haunting Hercules’ thoughts far too much over the last few days. He knew he was stalling, and Pythagoras was going to realise that eventually as well, but Hercules wasn’t ready to face the reality of it just yet.
Hercules put the bowls down and shooed Pythagoras back into bed. He propped the pillows up and rearranged the blanket once he was settled.
“Right, here you go. The bowl is only half full, but there’s more in the pot if your appetite comes back. And I haven’t even bothered with a spoon. Best thing is probably to drink it straight from the bowl. Less likely to get it everywhere doing that.”
He wondered for a moment whether he had gone too far, but Pythagoras just gave him a wry smile and took the bowl in both hands. He always was the most practical one among them.
The meal passed in companionable silence. It took Pythagoras the same amount of time to finish half a bowl as it did for Hercules to finish a full bowl plus a couple of big chunks of bread, but he was satisfied to see that Pythagoras did manage to finish it all, and with surprisingly little spillage.
Hercules put the bowls out of the way and suddenly realised he had no idea what to do next. Ever since Pythagoras had woken up there had been something that needed attention. Now he had run out of ideas for what to do to assist his friend’s recovery apart from sending for the physician. That would involve leaving Pythagoras alone while he went to find a street urchin to run to the palace, though, and Hercules was not prepared to leave him even for a minute. Hercules had no desire to hear the fear that seemed to creep into Pythagoras’ voice every time he wasn’t entirely sure where Hercules was.
“So, what now?” Hercules said. “Anything else you need?”
“I will be fine, Hercules. And fussing doesn’t suit you, by the way.”
“Well you would know all about fussing like a mother hen, wouldn’t you?”
“Exactly.” Pythagoras smiled. He adjusted the pillows a little and settled back. “Just talk, Hercules. That’s all I need right now. Company.”
For all the times he liked to regale anyone who would listen with his stories, it was amazing how Hercules’ mind went blank the moment someone actually wanted him to talk.
“Are you sure you don’t want another drink? I could get some-”
“Why don’t you tell me the one about how you defeated Pelion’s pack of hunting dogs? You never did finish that story.” Despite everything, now Pythagoras seemed to be the one trying to reassure him. Somehow, Hercules wasn’t even surprised by that.
He nodded, and then remembered Pythagoras couldn’t see the gesture.
“Well, since you asked so nicely, I’ll humour you. Just this once.”
“Of course,” Pythagoras said. “Just this once.”
Hercules pulled his chair closer and adjusted the blankets again, just for the physical contact. He wasn’t entirely surprised when he felt Pythagoras’ fingers curl around his arm, preventing him from moving away. Pythagoras wouldn’t ask, would never admit out loud how much he needed the comfort of contact right now, but he didn’t need to. Hercules settled down at his friend’s side.
“So, there I was in the forest of Charnos, with only a sword and shield and my wits to save me...”