Title: Gifted (part 1 of 3)
Pairing/characters: Pythagoras/Icarus, Daedalus
Warnings: Wing!fic AU
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Urban Myth Films own them.
Word count: approx 17,316 (part 1 - 5,890)
Summary: “No one can know who the gods may choose to bestow their gifts upon, or why. All we can do is make the best of them.”
AN: Written for hc_bingo, fills the ‘Mutation’ prompt on my h/c bingo card
AN2: Thanks to celeste9 for the beta.
AN3: Wing!fic! This is an Atlantis X-Men fusion/AU, but if you are coming here looking for an X-Men fic I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. It’s an Atlantis story set in the Atlantis world with the Atlantis characters. The only difference is that it is an AU in which mutants with superpowers exist. Except, of course, this is Atlantis, so they don’t think in terms of ‘mutants’ and ‘superpowers’, they think of them as gifts (or curses) from the gods.
Gifted on AO3
Pythagoras had barely rapped twice on the door when Daedalus wrenched it open and pulled him inside. Daedalus passed the errand boy a couple of coins, and quickly closed the door behind Pythagoras.
“Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Pythagoras had been mentally rehearsing any number of worst case scenarios in his mind ever since the small boy had come to his house with a message from Daedalus requesting his healing skills urgently. Now he was here he could see that Daedalus himself looked fine, so that only left one option.
Daedalus nodded, but grabbed his arm before Pythagoras could take more than a step into the house.
“I trust you, Pythagoras, and I know Icarus trusts you. That’s why I sent for you and not any other healer in the city. But I need you to swear that what you are about to see will not be spoken of outside these walls.”
“Swear it, or leave now and forget all about it.”
Daedalus was squeezing his arm so hard it almost hurt. Pythagoras had seen the inventor angry before, but this... this was not anger. It took him a moment to realise the truth; Daedalus, the most rational, sensible, intelligent, and unflappable man that Pythagoras had ever known, was scared.
He placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“You have my word, Daedalus.”
Daedalus held his gaze for a moment longer, and then led the way upstairs to Icarus’ bedroom. He tried the door without knocking, but it wouldn’t open.
“Icarus? Open the door.”
“No,” came the reply from within the room.
“Icarus open it, now,” Daedalus demanded. “Pythagoras is here.”
“Stop being ridiculous and let us in.”
“I told you not to fetch him. I don’t need a healer. I don’t want-”
The words broke off but Pythagoras heard a quiet gasp, and he knew that Icarus was in pain.
Daedalus looked like he was about to start banging on the door again, but Pythagoras grabbed his arm.
“Let me try.”
Daedalus hesitated, and then stepped back.
Pythagoras knocked on the door, just two quiet raps.
“Icarus, please let me come in. I want to help you.” He hesitated. “I promise I won’t tell anyone, whatever it is.”
He glanced at Daedalus when there was no response, but for once the older man seemed at a loss.
Pythagoras turned his attention back to the door.
“Icarus, if you will not let me in as a healer, then please, let me in as your friend.”
He was beginning to wonder what to try next when he heard a scraping sound behind the door, and then it opened a fraction. Pythagoras glanced at Daedalus, and then opened the door enough to enter.
As soon as Pythagoras was in the room Icarus immediately closed the door again, and jammed a seat back against it, blocking Daedalus from following.
“Icarus.” There was a warning tone to his father’s voice.
“It’s alright,” Pythagoras said out loud to Daedalus. “Just give us a little time.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Daedalus said, “I will be downstairs.”
Pythagoras listened to the sounds of his footsteps receding, but his eyes never left his friend.
Icarus backed away and sat down on his bed. His chest was bare, his tunic abandoned on the floor, and while there was no obvious sign of injury, Pythagoras could see blood on Icarus’ hands, and bloodied rags on the table beside the bed. And, strangely, a scatter of small, dark feathers on the bed.
Pythagoras wanted nothing more than to go to him and hold him, comfort him, and fix whatever was wrong. Instead he stayed by the door, giving Icarus as much space as he could in the small bedroom.
“My father should not have sent for you.”
“He is worried about you. I don’t think I have ever seen him so worried, in fact.”
“He isn’t worried about me. He is worried about what people will say when they find out. He is worried about his reputation.”
The bitterness was evident in Icarus’ voice.
Pythagoras shook his head. “I do not think that is true.”
No matter how disparaging Daedalus might be about Icarus so much of the time, he was still his son, and Pythagoras had seen for himself how Daedalus worried when Icarus got himself into scrapes, and he knew that worry came from love, not shame or embarrassment. He just wished sometimes that Icarus knew that.
“What is it, my friend?” Pythagoras asked softly.
Icarus hesitated, and then stood up and turned around.
Pythagoras couldn’t stop a sharp intake of breath. There were two raw, bloody wounds on Icarus’ back, both right below his shoulder blades. At first Pythagoras couldn’t tell what had caused them, and his initial thought was that someone had beaten Icarus. He came closer and realised that was not it at all. There was something very wrong with Icarus’ back; lumps and bulges where the skin ought to have been smooth, and those two bleeding wounds. It looked like the skin had been torn and broken, but not by any weapon or blade Pythagoras had ever seen.
He reached up and touched one of the wounds, the barest brush of fingertips, and Icarus flinched away with a hiss of pain, as if Pythagoras had hit him.
“Can you...” Icarus hesitated, and Pythagoras heard the fear in his voice for the first time. “Can you fix it?”
“I don’t even know what ‘it’ is. Who did this to you, Icarus?”
“I just wanted to make them go away. To stop them growing before they got any bigger.”
“Make what stop growing?”
For a moment Pythagoras was not sure he had heard correctly. He looked up, but Icarus was staring down at the bed, and Pythagoras followed his gaze to the pile of dark feathers, each of which, he now saw, was broken and smeared with blood.
Then he understood.
“Icarus, did you do this to yourself?”
Somehow, the thought that Icarus had willingly done this much damage himself was even more shocking than the possibility that he might be growing a pair of wings.
“Can you fix it? Can you make it stop?”
“I can treat the wounds, yes, but beyond that...”
Icarus turned around and looked at him, and all Pythagoras could see in his friend’s dark eyes was fear and desperation.
“Please, Pythagoras. I know you have healing abilities beyond simply herbs and bandages. Surely if you can close the wounds and heal the skin it will stop them growing back?”
“I do not think it works like that, I’m afraid.”
Icarus closed his eyes, and Pythagoras could not stop himself from closing the last of the distance between them and tugging his friend into a careful embrace, his hands staying well clear of the open wounds. For a moment Icarus seemed to resist, and then he dropped his head onto Pythagoras’ shoulder and let himself be held.
“I am sorry,” Pythagoras said. “I will do whatever I can to help, but if this is what I think it is, I do not believe that stopping them from growing is within my ability.”
“I was afraid you might say that.”
Pythagoras held him close for a little while longer, and then let go and held Icarus at arm’s length so he could see him. Icarus glanced up and met his eyes for second, but his gaze immediately skittered away.
“Turn around, let me heal the damage.”
Icarus did as he was told, his shoulders slumped and his head hanging in defeat.
Pythagoras examined the wounds again, and then put his bag of medical supplies down on the bed and rummaged until he found a flask of fresh water and a clean rag. He began by cleaning the wounds, dabbing away the smears of blood until he could see clearly what he was dealing with. The skin was torn and scratched, but now he looked closer he could see tiny holes that could only correspond with the quills of feathers, and, worse, the snapped off ends of quills still embedded in his friend’s upper back.
Icarus was obviously trying to hold himself still, but couldn’t help flinching away occasionally. Much as Pythagoras wanted to comfort his friend and stop his pain, he couldn’t help feeling the first stirrings of anger. Why couldn’t Icarus have asked for help before he did this to himself?
“Icarus, tell me what happened,” Pythagoras eventually said. He needed to know, to help him understand what was going on here, but also he wanted something to concentrate on, something that would distract him from his growing anger at his friend.
“I have been noticing strange aches and pains in my back and shoulders for a few weeks. Lumps that feel like bruises but I have no recollection of how I might have received such an injury.”
“A few weeks? And you did not think to mention this earlier?”
“I did not think it important. I assumed I had perhaps pulled something while helping my father fetch and carry for his latest building project. Until this morning.”
Satisfied that the two wounds were as clean as he could get them, Pythagoras took a jar of ointment from his bag and began to dab that around the injuries. Icarus immediately hissed and flinched away.
“Sorry, I should have warned you. This is necessary to prevent infection.” He paused to let Icarus recover, and then began again. “This morning?” he prompted.
“I woke up and as soon as I moved I felt... them. They had appeared overnight. At first I had no idea what they were, but when I finally managed to angle a mirror I saw the feathers. They were wings, Pythagoras. Actual wings. Small and stunted, like a baby bird, but actual bloody wings.”
“So then what did you do?”
“Honestly? I panicked. And I hid. And when I had stopped doing both of those things I decided to get rid of them.”
“Oh, Icarus. Why? Why did you not call for me before you did something so foolish?”
“I did not want you to see. I did not want anyone to see. But my father walked in on me and saw what I was doing, and when we’d had enough of shouting at each other he disappeared and, I assume, sent for you.”
Pythagoras put down his healing equipment and studied his work. The wounds were still open and raw, but the bleeding had stopped, at least. Now for the real reason why he was here.
“Please try to keep still. This may feel a little strange.”
Pythagoras placed his hands above the wounds, first touching with his fingertips and then gradually placing his palms flat. He closed his eyes, and breathed deeply, and waited for the moment when something deep within him connected. In his mind he saw the damage Icarus had inflicted on himself in intimate detail; the snapped quills, the torn flesh, the ragged edges of skin. And when he had seen all of that, he began to concentrate on fixing it. He pictured the broken ends of quills loosening and falling out so that they would not cause infection and block the way for new growth. He formed a mental image of muscles reforming around the new and unfamiliar bone structures in Icarus’ back and shoulders. And finally he imagined the skin knitting back together, growing once more and covering everything.
When Pythagoras opened his eyes and slowly moved his hands away, there was fresh pink skin where there had been open wounds, and snapped off quills fell out of his palm.
Of course, as soon as he stopped concentrating the pain hit him. For a second it felt like he was being stabbed in the back, his muscles wrenched and twisted, and he barely stopped himself from crying out.
He heard the concern in his friend’s voice, but there was no possibility of answering right then. Pythagoras stumbled the couple of steps to the bed and sat down. He leaned forwards, his elbows resting on his knees and his eyes squeezed shut.
“I will be fine. It just makes me a little light-headed sometimes,” he said, glossing over how bad it really was.
Icarus sat down beside him and Pythagoras felt him fussing, his hands skittering over Pythagoras like he wanted to hold him, perhaps to make sure he did not slide off the bed, or perhaps just to comfort. Pythagoras focussed on the pain until his abilities got to work and it faded to a dull ache.
This was what he did not tell his friends about his ability. That somehow, when he healed another’s injury, he felt the ghost of that damage, and the pain associated with it. The worse the injury that he attempted to heal, the worse this echo was for him in the aftermath. He suspected if his friends knew the truth they would not let him use it so readily, so instead he had convinced them that it was simply a matter of feeling light-headed and exhausted afterwards. He wondered sometimes how much longer he could keep the truth from them, or even if they already knew. Hercules possibly suspected, but for the moment they seemed to accept his explanation.
After perhaps a minute he opened his eyes and gave Icarus a small smile.
“How do you feel now, Icarus?”
“Better. Thank you, Pythagoras. I did not know it would affect you like this, though.”
“I am fine.”
Icarus did not look entirely convinced, and Pythagoras sat up properly and tried harder to conceal his discomfort. This was the first time he had healed anything significant for either Icarus or Daedalus. They had known about his ability for years, and he had used it to heal small things before, but the after-effects were far easier to cover up with minor injuries.
“What will happen now?” Icarus asked. He may not have been in pain any more, but he was still worried, and, Pythagoras suspected, still more than a little scared.
“I do not know for sure, but what I believe will happen is that the wings will begin to grow back within a few days.” He reached out and took his friend’s hand and squeezed it. “It is a gift from the gods, Icarus, I am sure of it.”
Icarus shook his head. “It cannot be that, surely? I am not... important enough for that.”
“And I am?” Pythagoras shot back. “When I first became aware of my gifts I was a nobody in a tiny village where nothing ever happened. Even now, when I am being dragged on yet another insanely dangerous mission with Jason and Hercules I find myself wondering, why me? Why would the gods choose me for such a power? No one can know who the gods may choose to bestow their gifts upon, or why. All we can do is make the best of them.”
Icarus took a deep, shaking breath, and Pythagoras squeezed his hand again.
“The wings will grow back and this time you must let them grow. Please, Icarus, promise me you will not try to pull them out, or damage them, or prevent them from growing.”
Promise me you will not hurt yourself again.
“It appears I do not have a choice,” Icarus said in a quiet voice.
It wasn’t exactly the resounding reassurance that Pythagoras had been hoping for, but he suspected right at that moment it was the best he was going to get.
Finally sure that the after-effects had worn off enough that he could get up without immediately falling over again, he stood up, still holding Icarus’ hand, and tugged him to his feet.
“Come on. Now we must explain all of this to your father.”
Icarus made a face that suggested he would rather face an entire herd of bulls in the arena than face his father with this news, but eventually he nodded.
Pythagoras let go of his hand and pulled him into a hug, wrapping both arms around Icarus and holding him close. Icarus instantly returned the hug, burrowing his face into Pythagoras’ shoulder.
“I know it is frightening. Trust me, Icarus, I know. But I promise I will be here to help you with this as much as I can.”
“Thank you,” Icarus said, his voice muffled against Pythagoras’ tunic.
Pythagoras inhaled deeply and somewhere beneath the strong herbal scent of the ointment he had used to treat the wounds, there was the familiar scent that was simply Icarus, warm and earthy, and it was only then that Pythagoras registered that Icarus was still shirtless. For a second he was torn between wanting to let go and move away as fast as possible or simply taking the opportunity to stay there and hold him close for as long as he possibly could. In the end it was Icarus who let go, although his hand remained on Pythagoras’ arm. Pythagoras concentrated quite hard on keeping his eyes on Icarus’ face and not letting his gaze stray any lower.
Icarus gave him a small smile.
“Will you come with me to face my father?”
“Of course I will.”
It was another three days before Pythagoras managed to visit Icarus again, mostly due to an incident involving Hercules, a game of dice, and an exceptionally obstinate goat that kept all three of them occupied until they managed to find a sensible solution that didn’t involve anyone being arrested.
That didn’t stop Pythagoras thinking about Icarus, and worrying, so the first available opportunity found him walking over to Daedalus’ house again, with his bag of medical supplies just in case.
Icarus’ wings were a gift from the gods, he was absolutely sure of it. He hadn’t elaborated on this at the time because his friend had already seemed frightened enough, but Pythagoras had known the moment he had used his power to heal the wounds.
Pythagoras could not fully understand or explain it, even to himself, but when he used his powers to heal, for a brief time he made a connection, a bond that went beyond purely physical contact. One thing he had learned over the last several years, since coming to Atlantis and becoming friends with first Hercules and then Jason, was that those touched by the gods were different to normal mortals.
And he had sensed that about Icarus three days earlier. What was stranger was that he did not remember sensing it on the one previous occasion that he had used his power to heal Icarus, a little over a year ago. It was possible that he had simply missed it, but Pythagoras didn’t think so. It was odd, and it was only adding to his worry.
There had always been those favoured by the gods, of course. Legends spoke of many great heroes in times past who had abilities beyond those of most mortals. But it seemed to Pythagoras that in the last generation or so, such individuals seemed to be becoming more prevalent in society. Or maybe, he supposed, he was only aware of more gifted people since he had moved to Atlantis, because for some reason they seemed drawn to the city. And not simply drawn to Atlantis, but drawn to each other.
Hercules’ gift was great strength, of course. Jason’s unnatural agility was undoubtedly god given, but Jason also displayed many other strange abilities, abilities that even Jason himself did not appear to be aware of until they manifested themselves. That was why Pythagoras spent so much time keeping an eye on his friend, cataloguing his powers, and trying to keep Jason safe from others and from himself. With the addition of Pythagoras’ own healing gift, it wasn’t hard to see how the three of them had become such an effective team, or why they had been drawn together in the first place.
And now, it appeared, yet another of his friends had been chosen by the gods.
Daedalus looked annoyed when he opened the door, but that immediately changed to relieved when he saw Pythagoras and ushered him in. It was a reaction that did nothing to ease Pythagoras’ worry.
“How is he?”
“Somewhere between denial and sulking. And still stubbornly resistant to the obvious,” Daedalus said.
“The obvious what?” Pythagoras asked, but the inventor was already heading back to his workshop and Pythagoras trailed after him.
“It’s alright, it’s Pythagoras,” Daedalus called out, and then simply went back to work on whatever his latest project was.
There was no sign of Icarus until he eventually appeared from the direction of the kitchen. He looked thoroughly miserable.
Pythagoras went to him immediately.
“How are you doing?”
He wanted to hug Icarus, but wasn’t entirely sure how it would be received in his current mood, so settled for grasping his arm instead.
“They are growing back. And before you ask, no, I have not tried to prevent them from doing so since last time.”
“That doesn’t actually answer my question,” Pythagoras said gently. He offered Icarus a tentative smile. “I did not ask about your wings, I asked about you. Are you alright?”
There was a momentary flash of surprise on Icarus’ face, and then he managed a small smile. He looked past Pythagoras to where his father was working, and then he nodded in the direction of the kitchen and eating area, and Pythagoras followed him. From behind, he could see that even though Icarus was wearing a large, loose-fitting tunic, it was hanging awkwardly, and utterly failing to conceal the two lumpy protrusions on his upper back.
“I am fine,” he said, sounding anything but. “My back and shoulders hurt, but before you start worrying, it is more a feeling of discomfort rather than serious pain.”
“That is not entirely surprising,” Pythagoras said, although since he had never in his entire life come across anything like this, he had to admit he had no idea what to expect.
Icarus brought two cups to the table and poured them both some water, and sat down. Pythagoras sat opposite him and smiled again.
“I’m sorry I could not get here sooner. Hercules has kept me busy, as usual. Is there anything I can do?”
Icarus shrugged, and then winced. “Like what? You have already said you cannot stop them from growing.”
The underlying hint of anger in his voice was unmistakeable. Unease curled in Pythagoras’ stomach.
“Icarus, you should not say such things. I know this is not something that you wanted, or would ever have asked for, but it is a gift from the gods. If you continue to reject it, you may anger them.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Icarus snapped. “Your gift is easily hidden. Your gift does not stop you from sleeping at night, or prevent you from going to the market without people staring. Pythagoras, already I dare not leave the house for fear someone will discover them. What happens when they get even bigger? Must I choose between being a prisoner in my own home, or being a freak in public? This does not feel like a gift, Pythagoras. This... this feels more like a curse.”
“Icarus, no,” Pythagoras breathed.
He had feared this, but hearing Icarus say it out loud was heart-breaking. Icarus couldn’t even seem to look at him, and his gaze dropped to the table. Before any conscious thought entered his head, Pythagoras got up and walked around the table and knelt in front of his friend, and took both of his hands in his own.
“Listen to me, Icarus. I know how it feels to be afraid of discovery. Yes, my gift is more easily concealed, but that does not mean that the danger was any less real. For years, all through Minos’ reign, I lived every day in fear that the king would find out about my ability, and force me to serve him and Pasiphae as their own personal physician. Or worse, that I might be forcibly conscripted into the army and made to work as a battlefield medic.”
He paused, the familiar clench in his gut returning at the thought, even after all this time.
Icarus stared at him, his eyes wide at Pythagoras’ confession.
“But Ariadne knows, doesn’t she?”
“Yes. But Ariadne is not like her father. She treats those who serve her with respect. I trust her not to abuse my abilities. We all do.”
Icarus held his gaze a moment longer, and then it dropped to where Pythagoras was still holding his hands in Icarus’ lap.
“The queen might understand, but I doubt the rest of the city will accept it so easily.”
“Then we will find a way to hide your wings.”
Icarus looked up again at that, surprise and disbelief in his eyes.
That was a good question. But now he was seriously considering it, Pythagoras’ mind was already whirling with thoughts and possibilities.
“Well, birds are able to tuck their wings right up against their bodies. Perhaps when they are fully grown you will be able to do the same with yours. Perhaps right now the only reason they are sticking out in such an obtrusive manner is because they are still only partially formed.”
Icarus snorted in disbelief.
“I am not a bird, Pythagoras.”
“No, but the principle may be the same.” He saw another objection forming on Icarus’ lips and cut him off before he could speak. “And if that is not the case, then we will find a way to hide them. Perhaps... perhaps some sort of harness or strapping that would bind them close to your body. We would have to wait until the wings are fully grown, of course, before we can plan anything in detail, but I am sure there will be a way. Between the three of us we will think of something.”
Icarus closed his eyes, and when he opened them again there was no disguising the hope that had appeared in place of despair.
“You really think so?” he asked.
Pythagoras smiled and gently squeezed his hands.
“I cannot promise, but I will do everything I can to help you.”
Icarus finally offered him a smile, small and tentative, but a smile nonetheless, and Pythagoras’ heart tripped. He knew right at that moment he would turn the library upside down to find a way to help him if it meant that Icarus would smile at him like that again.
“Thank you,” Icarus said.
“Oh, I see,” Daedalus said loudly as he wandered in.
Both Pythagoras and Icarus jumped in surprise, but when Pythagoras tried to withdraw his hands, Icarus held on. Daedalus barely raised an eyebrow at the sight of Pythagoras on his knees in front of his son, but he did level a particularly sarcasm-laden stare at Icarus.
“I’ve been telling you for the last three days that all will be well and we’ll think of something, and you refuse to listen. But as soon as Pythagoras says the same thing you believe him?”
“That is because Pythagoras has actually suggested something practical, instead of insane ideas about disguises, and calculations of potential flight speed.”
“Flying?” Pythagoras blurted.
Daedalus just gave him a look.
“Well of course. What else did you think he was going to do with them?”
“I... I hadn’t...” It seemed obvious as soon as he said it, but Pythagoras had spent so much time thinking about it as simply a practical and medical problem that he had not even considered the possibility until now. He looked back at Icarus, who was giving Pythagoras a curious look. “You will be able to fly,” he breathed, his voice full of wonder.
“Perhaps,” Icarus muttered, a flush creeping into his cheeks. “But not if they stay like this. They’re too small to do anything other than get in the way at the moment.”
Pythagoras couldn’t contain his excited smile, and he squeezed Icarus’ hands again.
“This is going to be incredible.”
Daedalus cleared his throat, and Pythagoras looked up in time to see the older man roll his eyes. Pythagoras felt the heat rising in his cheeks and decided it was probably time to get up.
“I don’t know about incredible,” Icarus muttered. “Incredibly dangerous, perhaps.”
“No sense of adventure, that’s your problem,” Daedalus said.
The all too familiar hurt look flitted across Icarus’ face before he shook his head.
“One of us has to be sensible. You have enough sense of adventure for both of us.”
Daedalus looked like he was going to say something else disparaging, so Pythagoras interrupted.
“Well, as you say, there is no chance of flying until the wings are fully developed, so let’s not worry about it just yet.”
There was a slightly awkward moment, so Pythagoras decided a complete change of subject was in order.
“You said you were feeling some discomfort? I might be able to help with that. Obviously there isn’t much I can do about the new growth, but I have ointments that might ease any muscular pain at least.”
“Of course.” Pythagoras gave Icarus what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“You would do better to give him a sleeping draught,” Daedalus commented. “He can’t get a decent night’s sleep with those things getting in the way every time he turns over.”
“What?” Daedalus shot back. “If anyone can help with that it will be Pythagoras.”
“Is that true?” Pythagoras asked, directing the question at Icarus himself, rather than let his father keep speaking for him.
“Yes,” Icarus admitted.
“Then tomorrow I will bring something that will help you sleep. In the meantime, do you want to let me see if I can do anything to make you a little more comfortable right now?”
“You do not need to-”
“I am here and I have brought my medical supplies with me. It is not like I am going out of my way to do this. I said I would do everything I can to help you with this, Icarus, and I meant it.”
Daedalus’ gaze seemed to flicker from one to the other, and an amused smile played on his lips.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” he said, and headed back towards the workshop, still smiling.
Pythagoras wasn’t entirely sure what all that was about, but at least Icarus seemed to relax a little more once his father had left.
Pythagoras searched his bag until he found the appropriate jar, and when he turned back Icarus was struggling to tug his tunic off. It seemed to catch on the wings and Icarus had to manoeuvre it carefully over his head and away from his shoulders. For the second time in less than a week Pythagoras was faced with a semi-naked Icarus, which, while undoubtedly nice, was extremely distracting when he was supposed to be providing medical assistance.
“Um, can you turn around? And maybe sit down.”
Icarus did as he was told, and Pythagoras got his first proper look at his friend’s wings.
With only three day’s worth of new growth, the dark feathers were small and still a little fluffy-looking, but there was no mistaking the fact that they were actual wings, complete with new supporting bones and muscles that were growing out of Icarus’ back.
He must have remained silent for too long.
“I know they must look strange and wrong,” Icarus muttered.
“No. Icarus, they look incredible. Speaking as someone with an interest in anatomy, this is fascinating.”
“So now I am just an interesting science project for you both. Wonderful.”
“That is not what I said,” Pythagoras replied, trying to hide his irritation at Icarus’ constant negativity.
Icarus breathed deeply and then twisted to look over his shoulder at Pythagoras.
“Sorry. I know you are only trying to help. The last few days have not been easy, and lack of sleep is making me irritable.”
Pythagoras gave him a reassuring smile.
“Then let me do what I can to make it easier for you.” He reached for the ointment. “Is there anywhere in particular that is causing you discomfort?”
Icarus shrugged, and the wings moved with him, the muscles of his back and shoulders flexing with the new additions.
Pythagoras smeared a dollop of ointment onto his fingers and began to rub it gently into Icarus’ upper back and shoulders, all around the wings, gently kneading and rubbing the muscles as he worked. After a few moments of initial tension, he felt Icarus relax under his touch.
“There was one thing I was wondering about, that you might know,” Icarus said after a few minutes.
Pythagoras was concentrating on massaging what appeared to be completely new muscle groups on Icarus’ shoulder blades, his mind focussing on the anatomical and medical science as a way of distracting himself from the fact that he was touching Icarus in such an intimate way. He had not anticipated the effect it would have on him, and it belatedly occurred to Pythagoras that this had possibly not been such a good idea.
“Why have they only appeared now? From what I have heard of these gifts from the gods, they normally come to people when they are much younger.”
Pythagoras frowned a little as he thought about that one. Icarus had a good point.
“It is true that most people with such gifts claim that they appeared during or shortly after puberty. I know I first became aware of mine when I was fifteen. But that is not always the case. I believe Jason did not begin to manifest any of his abilities until he arrived in Atlantis last year. And at the opposite end of the scale, Hercules claims to have had great strength ever since he was a baby.”
“But it is generally not normal for them to come so late in life?” Icarus persisted.
“Perhaps the gods waited until you were ready,” Pythagoras suggested. Yes, the more he thought about it, the more that made sense. “If these wings are truly going to grow to a size capable of allowing you to fly, then perhaps the gods waited until you were physically mature enough to handle them. Imagine what chaos would be caused by a child unable to control their wings and trying to fly.”
“You always have far more sensible ideas than my father,” Icarus said.
“You father is quite brilliant, but yes, even I have to admit that sensible is not a word I would normally use to describe him.”
He finished rubbing the ointment into Icarus’ shoulders and stood back.
“It might take a little while for you to notice a difference, but that should help.”
“Thank you, Pythagoras. Right now, knowing that I have your support is one of the few things that is making this entire situation bearable.”
He looked round and the warmth and gratitude in his eyes did something funny to Pythagoras’ insides, and he suspected a flush was creeping across his face and neck. After a moment he had to look away and busied himself putting the lid back on the ointment jar.
“It was my pleasure.”
He hoped Icarus would not guess just how much that was true.
link to part 2