through a glass divine - Chapter 10 - bonesandthebees (bonesandcacti) (2023)

Chapter Text

The day after the argument in the cafeteria, the Pythia woke up to a headache pounding behind his eyes, and anxiety twisting in his gut. He groaned and buried his face into his pillow, snippets of the conversation from yesterday bouncing off the walls of his skull.

”We’re never gonna be able to let him go. We all know that.”

“Killing him might be our only option.”

Then, his own words echoed in his ears.

”The answer is obvious.”

He still held that to be true. The answer was obvious. But at the same time, it wasn’t so simple. Because the Deathlings didn’t want a new Pythia to be chosen. Which meant that regardless of if they wanted him dead or not, killing him wasn’t going to be the solution they went with.

As far as the Pythia could see, that only left one option: purgatory.

That’s what this temple was for him. A purgatory where he couldn’t serve his Goddess, where the days were completely indistinguishable from one another, and where nothing ever changed. It was the same routine day in and day out. No matter what he did, what he said, nothing happened.

No he just- he had to hold on. He had to wait for Clara to show him another path. Even if he failed Her, She wouldn’t abandon him. He was Her Chosen for a reason. He was a piece of Her. She would guide him out of this purgatory. He just had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

In a way, it was almost ironic. His entire purpose was to interpret the will of his Goddess, but right now, he had no idea what she wanted from him. Normally, he would just wait for Her to send him another vision to follow. But the clock was ticking. The Deathlings weren’t sure what to do with him, but Tubbo and Sam were no longer keeping their opinions a secret. Even if Phil and Techno wanted to keep him alive to avoid another Pythia being chosen, someone else might take matters into their own hands-

Ice stabbed into his gut as a new realization washed over him.

Escape was impossible. The Deathlings couldn’t let him go, but they couldn’t kill him either. For as long as he was trapped down here with his heart still beating, the cycle of the Pythia couldn’t continue.

Maybe Clara wanted a rogue Deathling to take matters into their own hands and cut his cycle short. He’d considered the idea that his purpose here might be to die, but he’d viewed it from the perspective of the Deathlings deciding his fate as a group. However, it was clear the majority of the Deathlings didn’t want to kill him. But Tubbo and Sam did.

Tensions were rising in the temple. The argument yesterday had proven that. His presence was a constant pressure on the Deathlings, and the longer he breathed their air and ate their food, the stronger that pressure got.

Glass could only take so much pressure before it cracked.

The Pythia didn’t want to think that was Her plan. If She wanted him to die, why wouldn’t She just send him a vision telling him so?

Unless She didn’t trust him to follow through on a vision like that. After all, he was already so disconnected from Her just by existing in Kristin’s domain. Tommy had started to call him by that name again, and while bile rose in his throat every time he heard it, the bird in his chest perked up every single time as well.

He’d tried to suffocate that bird so many times now, but it refused to stop singing. Even now it sat behind his ribs, pecking at the bones and making his chest ache. Clara must’ve been able to hear the bird, and took it as a sign that the Pythia’s loyalty was fading. At least to the point where She might not trust him to fulfill his duties anymore.

The very idea that his loyalty to Her could be questioned clawed at the inside of his throat, making him want to scream. He’d devoted his very being to Her for all these years. His loyalty had been absolute. He was Clara’s, and that was a fact he’d accepted long ago.

But even then, the question still sat in the back of his mind, begging to be answered.

If Clara sent him a vision one day telling him to end the cycle so a new Pythia could be chosen, could he do it? Would he?

…the fact that it was a question at all was a bone-chilling realization to have. Because that meant Clara’s possible suspicions weren’t unfounded. There shouldn’t be a question at all, but there was, and the Pythia’s eyes burned when he couldn’t think of an answer.

His life wasn’t his own. It was Hers. The former Pythia had told him that long ago, and it was a truth he kept tucked close to his heart. If Clara wanted to take his life back, then he had to obey Her will. It shouldn’t be something he feared, because it would be the ultimate way to fulfill his purpose. Following Her guidance to the very end.

And yet, his throat began to close at the very thought of it. Because he was a fucking coward.

Face still buried in his pillow, the Pythia struggled to move air in and out of his lungs. He sucked in shaky breaths, trying to will away the burning in his eyes as the seconds ticked on. This was all speculation. He didn’t know if that’s what Clara wanted from him. There was no way for him to know unless She told him Herself. So until then, it was pointless to-


The Pythia flinched at the sound of Tommy calling out that name from behind their shared door. Once again, he refused to respond to it, and stayed buried in his blankets instead.

A few seconds ticked by.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, you’re just refusing to answer me again, aren’t you?”

Despite the cavern inside his chest, the Pythia couldn’t help but snort at the annoyance in Tommy’s voice.

“Fine. I’m coming in then.”

So caught up in the dozens of emotions spinning around his head and anxiety twisting in his gut, the Pythia didn’t register that there was a very good reason Tommy shouldn’t open the door yet. Not until the door was already swinging open, and Tommy’s voice was right behind him.

“Well good- wait, shit, are you asleep?”

No. No, the Pythia wasn't asleep, but he wished he was because now he had another problem to deal with. Tommy was right behind him, but so was his blindfold.

Tommy was here, and he wasn’t wearing his blindfold.

“I- I’m awake,” the Pythia stammered, his voice muffled by the pillow he was now using to hide his eyes. “But- fuck, I need to put on my blindfold.”

The sound of approaching footsteps stopped dead in their tracks.


For someone who was one blink away from being cursed, Tommy didn’t sound very scared.

Squeezing his eyes shut, the Pythia kept his back to Tommy and sat up from his bed, blindly reaching behind him to try and find the blindfold. His fingers brushed blankets, pillows, and then stone, but he couldn’t seem to find-

“It’s here,” Tommy said, and suddenly there were fingers brushing against his own as familiar silk was dropped into his palm.

Without thinking, the Pythia jerked away from the touch. His hands shook as he brought the blindfold up to his face, still keeping his eyes squeezed shut as he tied the familiar knot behind his head.

He brought his fingers up to his face, tracing the edges of the blindfold to make sure it was completely in place. Once he determined it was, he breathed out a sigh of relief, his heartbeat starting to slow as he blinked open his eyes for the first time that day.

The haze of magic was there. It pounded against his temples, but he ignored it as he turned around, jumping when he found himself face to face with Tommy.

Tommy had sat on the ground right next to his bed. He was leaning against the wall, knees pulled up to his chest and something thoughtful flickering in his eyes as he gave the Pythia a weak smile.


The Pythia ignored the way it felt like Tommy’s eyes were piercing straight through the blindfold, and gave him a small nod. “Morning.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything. The air between them was heavy with the weight of what happened the day before. The weight of how adamantly Tommy defended him from the others. The weight of his own words, pointing out that there was no reason for them not to kill him.

Despite the heaviness, there was no tension. For now, he and Tommy were just existing in the same space.

“Look, I-” The Pythia paused, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. “I don’t want to see… other people today.”

It was something he decided the moment he woke up. No matter how much Tommy nagged him, he couldn’t leave his cell. Not so soon. He couldn’t stand to feel all those eyes on him again. Eyes that viewed him as both a threat and an object of pity. After all, there was more than one way to worry about something.

Tommy didn’t seem surprised by this. “Yeah, uh, I figured.” His eyes darted around the room. “So you just wanna stay in here all day?”

The Pythia nodded. “I guess so.”

“Fair enough. I wouldn’t wanna leave either after that bullshit,” Tommy huffed, shifting like he was going to get to his feet.

He paused then. His eyes flickered between the Pythia and their shared door, his brows furrowing before he settled back down.

“Can I keep you company?” Tommy then asked, raising an eyebrow at him. “You’re gonna be bored as shit in here if you’re just alone all day.”


The Pythia hadn’t really thought about what he would do after Tommy left. Given the anxiety spiral he’d gone on just a few minutes ago, staring at the wall all day with nothing to distract himself probably wouldn’t be great for his mental state. But at the same time, the only alternative had been to leave the cell, which he knew he didn’t want to do today.

He hadn’t even considered that Tommy might stay with him.

Maybe the Pythia should’ve said no. But he knew there were a lot of should and should not’s he didn’t follow when it came to Tommy, so he found himself nodding as he leaned back against his pillows.

“Yeah. You can.”

Tommy’s weak smile grew a bit brighter at that.

“Well that’s good, because I already asked Techno to bring us breakfast,” Tommy said, smirking now as he slumped against the wall.

Before the Pythia could ask what he meant by that, there was a knock on the door that led outside the cell. Tommy immediately jumped to his feet, bouncing on his heels as he unlocked the door and swung it open, revealing a very tired-looking Techno on the other side.

“Look at that! Room service is here,” Tommy declared, the smugness practically radiating off of him.

Techno didn’t seem very amused. “Don’t go thinkin’ this is gonna be a regular thing from now on,” he said, shoving one tray of food into Tommy’s hands, and walking towards the bed where the Pythia was sitting to hand him the other. “I only did this because yesterday was a mess.”

The tray was loaded up with bread rolls, a few plastic containers of different jams and jellies, and a plate of artbake. The Pythia gave Techno a nod of thanks as he took the tray and set it on the ground, his stomach growling as soon as the smell hit his nose.

“Yeah, you can say that again,” Tommy muttered, sitting back down on the ground next to the bed, balancing his tray on his lap. “How’re the others doing?”

Techno shrugged. “I think everyone’s just trying to pretend it didn’t happen.”

Tommy rolled his eyes. “Tubbo’s acting normal?”

“I mean, seems like it to me, but I haven’t talked to him. You’ll have to ask him yourself if you wanna find out what’s going on with him.” Techno paused then, his bright red eyes flickering back over to the Pythia. “Are you doing alright?”

The Pythia blinked. “Huh?”

“I’m asking if you’re okay after yesterday,” Techno clarified, raising an eyebrow at him. “It, uh, seemed like things got a bit intense towards the end.”

Techno was… worried? About him? That didn’t make sense.

But there was genuine concern swirling in those unnatural red eyes. His brows were furrowed, the lines of his face seeming deeper than usual as he met the Pythia’s blindfold like he was searching for something.

“I’m fine,” he said carefully, shrinking under Techno’s intense gaze.

“Considering you pretty much agreed with Sam and Tubbo about the whole ‘killing you’ thing, I’m kinda inclined to think you’re lying to me,” Techno pointed out.

The Pythia stiffened. “You already settled the discussion, so what does it matter?”

Another beat passed. The longer the silence stretched on, the more the Pythia felt like he’d given Techno the wrong answer. Like this conversation was a test. One that he was failing.

After what felt like an eternity though, Techno sighed and looked away. “I suppose you’re right. You’re sticking around, so Tubbo and Sam are just gonna have to deal with it.” He stood up again, the rings along his fingers glinting in the electric glow of the candles scattered around the room. “Tommy, I’ll be right outside so shout if you need me, okay?”

The smile from earlier had completely disappeared from Tommy’s face, but he gave Techno a grateful nod nonetheless. “I will. Thanks Tech.”

With a small hum, Techno turned on his heel and left the cell. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving the Pythia alone with Tommy once again.

The Pythia wasn’t sure what to make of that. Techno had no reason to be worried about him, let alone worried about the fact that he agreed with Tubbo and Sam. If anything, that should’ve been relieving. But it didn’t seem like that was how Techno viewed it.

Another minute passed, and the Pythia glanced over to see Tommy munching away at his breakfast. It was only then the Pythia remembered his own meal, and began to pick at his bread, the warmth from the roll seeping into his fingers and making his shoulders slump.

The two ate in silence. Again though, it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. There was no string pulled taut between them, just waiting to snap. There was no tension sliding down their throats. It was just… quiet.

Tommy was never quiet.

“Are you okay?” The Pythia found himself asking before he could think twice.

Tommy, who was halfway through a stick of artbake, froze. “Yeah? Do I not seem fine?”

The Pythia shrugged, heat rushing to his cheeks as his eyes fell back to his tray. “You’re not usually this quiet.”

Another beat. The Pythia risked a glance up, and could plainly see a silent debate playing across Tommy’s face. His brows were furrowed as he stared at the Pythia, eyes darting at the tray of food, to his hands, and then back to his face as the gears turned in his head. The Pythia was getting better at reading Tommy, and he’d spent enough time with the boy to recognize when he was about to ask him a question.

“I actually was, uh, wondering something,” he said after a moment, eyes falling back to his own food. “Well, I’ve been wondering about it for a while, but I’m just thinking about it again.”

The Pythia tensed. “Like…?”

Tommy broke a piece of artbake in half before shrugging. “How long were you on the streets for when you were a kid?”


The question wasn’t as much of a slap in the face as the Pythia thought it would’ve been. Even still, he found his heart picking up speed as his shoulders curled inwards.

Tommy seemed to notice his sudden nervousness.

“You weren’t subtle, Wilbur,” Tommy then added, fiddling with the sleeves of his orange sweater. “Like, talking about the park on Alabaster and Berry? There’s no way you would’ve known about the sprinklers unless you slept in that park like I did.”

Shit. Yeah, the Pythia knew he’d fucked up with that one.

The Pythia considered the question. If Tommy had asked him that a week ago, he probably would’ve ignored it. But there wasn’t an explicit rule saying he couldn’t talk about his life before he became the Pythia. It was just that… no one had ever bothered to ask.

More than anything, the ordeal from yesterday had exhausted the Pythia. Not just physically, but emotionally. He was worn out. Even though his past was meaningless, the bird in his chest had perked up once again and it was jabbering away, begging him to tell Tommy about the memories spinning in his head.

In a way, they weren’t even his memories. They belonged to the person he used to be before he became the Pythia. But for some reason, he wanted to talk about them anyway. And he was too tired to come up with an excuse for why he shouldn’t.

“Well, I was in and out of group homes since I was a baby pretty much, but eventually I ran away and lived on my own out there for about… two years I think?” The Pythia admitted, the words slipping out without him even needing to think about them.

For a moment, Tommy was silent. When the Pythia glanced up, he realized Tommy’s eyes had been blown wide, like he was shocked the Pythia had answered at all.

After a second though, Tommy blinked and shook himself off. “Uh, shit, two years? But you’d been in group homes your whole life before that?”

The Pythia nodded. “Yeah. Never got to meet my parents. I was one of those, ‘left on the doorstep’ type of kids.”

“Ah, yeah, we had a few kids show up like that in my group home,” Tommy said, leaning further back against the wall. “Most either got adopted out or foster approval pretty quickly. Sometimes they didn’t though.”

“Yeah, that was the case with me,” the Pythia told him. “I think it was just because I was a weird kid. I didn’t talk till I was, like, four or something. Which I think creeped a lot of people out.”

“So you just grew up in the group home?” Tommy asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Pretty much. Until I had the same realization you said you did about preferring to take your chances on the street instead of getting your teeth knocked out for soyeggs. That’s when I decided to leave.”

Tommy snorted. “It’s always the soyeggs.”

“That’s the only shit they have there,” the Pythia pointed out, something almost like a smile ghosting over his face. “Where did you sleep your first night?”

“Me?” Tommy blinked. “Uh, in a bush at a park.”

The Pythia winced. “Ouch. Bushes hurt to climb out of.”

“They really do. I nearly poked my fucking eye out,” Tommy agreed, shuddering at the memory. “What about you?”

“My first night? Uh… I think it was next to a dumpster in an alleyway,” the Pythia explained, scrunching his nose up as he remembered the smell.

Tommy grimaced. “That’s worse than the bush I think.”

“It really was. But it was a bit more dry so it had that going for it,” the Pythia said, thinking back to the feeling of cold concrete under his head. “A few months into it I found this mechanic’s garage, and he would forget to shut the door all the way some nights. I started sneaking in there to sleep, but that was always stressful because I had to be out right around dawn so he wouldn’t see me.”

“Holy shit, for real?” Tommy asked, his eyes going wide. “That’s insanely lucky. Especially if he never found out.”

“Oh, he found out,” the Pythia clarified. “Chased me out with a stick a few times, but still didn’t double check to make sure his garage door was shut. So I just kept doing it.”

“I mean, hey, it’s his fault for not closing the door,” Tommy huffed, eyes drifting up towards the ceiling. “I remember my mum but, like, barely. I was four when she died, and I think my dad was out of the picture before I was even born, so I pretty much grew up in the group home too.”

The Pythia winced in sympathy. “I’m sorry. That must’ve been rough.”

Tommy shrugged. “It’s fine. I don’t really remember most of it, except for learning what death was and all that.”


“Was this when you first felt a connection to Kristin?” The Pythia asked, tilting his head at Tommy.

“Uh, yeah, it actually was,” Tommy told him, something wistful flashing over his face.

The Pythia waited for him to continue. The silence stretched on, and after a few seconds, Tommy’s gaze fell back on him. It was then the Pythia noticed the uncertainty dancing in his eyes, and realized Tommy wasn’t sure how he would react to hearing him talk about Kristin.

Again, if this was a week earlier, the Pythia would be silently pleading that Tommy didn’t go on to talk about his connection to Kristin. But today was different. Today, the Pythia was just… curious.

“What was it like?” He asked after a beat. “You said you didn’t learn anything about Kristin worship until Phil found you, so how did you feel her?”

Tommy’s surprise was obvious, but he did his best to hide it as he furrowed his brows, as if he was struggling to find the words to explain.

“After my mum died, some social worker or something sat me down and explained to me what happened. She told me what death was and all that shit, and I think she was expecting me to either be confused or start crying? I’m not sure. But- I dunno, I guess it just made sense to me. It was just a thing that happened to you,” Tommy told him, his eyes having glazed over with the memories. “And once I just accepted that, the air around me got colder, but not in an uncomfortable way. And something just told me that this was okay. That this was how things were supposed to go.”

The longer Tommy went on, the larger the lump in the Pythia’s throat grew. Because he never felt anything like that with Clara. When he ran away from the group home, he was terrified of the future. He had no idea what was in store for him, but knew that staying wasn’t an option anymore. Any kind of reassurance—even just a feeling—would’ve been enough to help him sleep through that first night.

He shouldn’t be thinking that. He shouldn’t be jealous of Tommy’s connection to Kristin, because he knew his connection to Clara was something far greater. But even still, there was a question burning in the back of his mind.

Why didn’t he feel Her before he was chosen?

The Pythia must’ve fallen silent for too long, because Tommy spoke again before he could respond.

“How did you get caught?” Tommy asked, resting his chin on his knees.

The Pythia blinked. “What?”

“You said you were on the streets for two years after you ran away from the group home. I was asking how you got caught and brought back,” Tommy clarified.


“Uh, I didn’t get caught. At least not by the group home,” the Pythia said, twisting his fingers into the blankets pooled around his legs. “That was actually when I got chosen to become the Pythia.”

“Wait, you went straight from being fucking homeless to becoming the Pythia?”

The Pythia nodded. “Yeah, I did. I was playing some kind of kickball game with a few other kids out in the street when the palace guards showed up out of nowhere, and said I had to come with them. Wouldn’t tell me anything except that Clara had chosen me for something.”

Tommy frowned at this, and the Pythia could practically hear the gears turning in his head. He glanced between the Pythia and his own hands a few times, before finally sighing and meeting the Pythia’s blindfold once more.

“So you were a kid when you became the Pythia.”

It wasn’t a question. There was something angry in Tommy’s words—something that wasn’t directed at him, but was underlying his voice all the same—but there was no question.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. As a vessel-”

“Your age is meaningless blah blah blah, I know,” Tommy huffed, cutting him off. “But you were a kid, at least physically or however the fuck you wanna say it, when you were chosen to be the Pythia.”

The Pythia stayed silent, and apparently that was answer enough for Tommy.

“Fucking Death, this makes so much sense,” Tommy muttered, dragging his hands down his face. “And you’re probably not gonna tell me how old you were when you got chosen, right?”

This time, the Pythia shook his head, and Tommy sighed.

“Wil, look-”

“Can we just change the subject?” The Pythia asked, cutting him off. “I- I don’t want to get into a debate or any of that shit, okay? Just not today.”

He was too tired for this. He was too tired for arguments. He was too tired to hear the points he already knew Tommy was going to try and make.

His exhaustion must’ve been obvious in his voice, because after a moment, Tommy nodded and slumped back against the wall.

“Fine,” he muttered.

The Pythia ignored Tommy’s pouting, and decided to change the subject with the first thing that popped into his head.

“Did you ever try moontane?”

Sure enough, that made Tommy jolt like he’d been electrified.

“You know what fucking moontane is?” Tommy asked, his eyes wide.

The Pythia scoffed. “Anyone who’s been to a night market knows what moontane is.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Tommy snorted, his sour mood already lifting. “But, like, I dunno, man! It’s just weird to hear you mention moontane so casually!”

Rolling his eyes, the Pythia loosened his grip on the blanket in his lap. “When I was a kid, there was this group of older teenagers that had aged out of the group homes and all moved in together. A few of them had come from my group home, so they knew me and a few other street rats in the area. I dunno who taught them, but somehow they learned how to make moontane, and set up their own stand selling it at the night markets. They also sold food, and sometimes they’d give me and the other kids some leftovers since they knew us. But other times, if business was slow or they were just bored, they’d give the younger kids a bit of moontane to try.”

“You did not fucking try moontane.”

“I did,” the Pythia said, nodding at Tommy.

Tommy gaped at him. “How in Kristin’s name are you not dead?”

The Pythia snorted. “It was only a tiny bit. Barely enough to cover the bottom of one of those little paper cups all the market stands have.”

“That shit is made from gas, Wilbur!” Tommy exclaimed. “Alcoholic gasoline! People go blind from drinking it!”

“Only if the person making it didn’t know what the fuck they were doing,” the Pythia shot back, smiling at the memory. “Anyway, I was, like, ten at the time and wanted to be ‘cool’. I wasn’t gonna just say no.”

“If someone offered me moontane when I was ten I would’ve said no,” Tommy told him, giving him a pointed look.

“Good for you. Go film an anti-drinking PSA then,” the Pythia deadpanned. “And for the record, I think drinking it that young was actually exactly what I needed to make me never wanna touch the stuff again. It tastes exactly how you imagine it would.”

Tommy grimaced at this. “So it tastes like gas?”

“Yup. I spit it out immediately,” the Pythia explained, remembering the way it burned in his mouth before he spit it onto the concrete. “I’m pretty sure that’s why the older kids gave it to us. Because it was funny for them to watch us freak out.”

“Sound like wrong’uns to me,” Tommy grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.

“I mean, I still got food from them sometimes, so they weren’t all bad,” the Pythia shrugged, looking back at the wall. “Did you go to the night markets much when you were a kid?”

Tommy shook his head. “I used to go a lot, but when I got older the puppy dog eyes act wore off, so I stopped getting free shit from the vendors,” he explained, snorting a bit. “I tried stealing, but right when I was getting good at it they all started remembering my face, so I pretty much just got banned from the market all together.”

The Pythia raised his eyebrows behind his blindfold. “You got banned from the whole market? How much fucking food did you steal?!”

“Not that much!” The Pythia gave Tommy a doubtful look, and after a beat, he sighed. “Okay, well, I did steal a lot. But it was mostly candy.”

“Candy doesn’t even fill you up that much,” the Pythia pointed out.

Tommy buried his face in his hands with a groan. “I know it was fucking stupid! But I was, like, ten, man. I didn’t exactly make the best survival choices.”

“And you’re criticizing me for drinking moontane,” the Pythia muttered.

“Okay dipshit, there’s a difference between me stealing candy as a kid and you drinking literal gasoline-”

“It was one time!” He argued.

“Gasoline!” Tommy repeated.

The Pythia rolled his eyes again, although he couldn’t hide the small smile spreading over his face anymore. It was strangely… enjoyable, to just talk to Tommy like this. To talk about the lives they’d both left behind. The memories they shared, and the ways that they differed.

A minute passed by in silence. Both their smiles faded, and the Pythia tried to ignore the way Tommy’s eyes roamed his face, as if he was searching for something.

“Do you think we ever could’ve met?” Tommy then asked, his voice soft. “Even just, like, in passing or something? Because I ran into a lot of other street kids while I was out there.”

The Pythia considered this. Could he and Tommy have met before? It wasn’t likely, but it wasn’t impossible either. How ironic would it have been if they had crossed paths before all this happened. Back when their lives weren’t the complete polar opposites of one another like they were now.

“How old were you when you ran away?” The Pythia asked.


The Pythia tried to ignore the disappointment that popped in his chest like a balloon. “We couldn’t have crossed paths. You would’ve been too young.”

Tommy frowned, and the Pythia had a feeling that he was experiencing the same inexplicable disappointment he was.

“I wish we could’ve,” Tommy mumbled, his eyes falling to the ground.

The Pythia struggled to swallow the lump in his throat again because Tommy said exactly what he was thinking.

“You would’ve liked him, I think,” the Pythia admitted quietly. “The person I was before.”

Tommy’s gaze flitted back up to his blindfold. “I’m sure I would’ve but, y’know, I like the person you are now.”


And the bird in his chest shrieked at this. Because there was so much wrong with what Tommy had said, and he didn’t even realize it. For one thing, calling him a person wasn’t accurate, but that wasn’t something Tommy would understand. It would just spark another debate if he tried to correct him.

Another thing though was that Tommy… Tommy had to be lying. There was no reason for him to like him. Ignoring his botched escape attempt, he’d been nothing but rude and petty ever since he got to the temple. While he still felt his behavior was justified given the situation, he wasn’t going to delude himself into thinking Tommy might genuinely enjoy being around him despite it.

“I tried to kill you,” the Pythia pointed out, as if Tommy had forgotten.

Tommy shrugged. “Eh, like Jack said, what’s a little attempted homicide between friends?” He joked.

The Pythia didn’t smile. “Seriously, Tommy, you don’t have to lie to me. You’re not gonna hurt my feelings calling me a prick or something because I know I am.”

“I’m not lying though,” Tommy shot back, straightening up against the wall. “Sure, you’re fucking annoying sometimes, but you’re not that bad to hang out with when you’re not trying to be a dick.”

Wrapping his arms around himself, the Pythia went quiet, unsure of what to say to that.

Tommy took that as his cue to keep going.

“I know you probably hate me-”

“I don’t,” the Pythia interrupted without thinking. “I don’t hate you at all.”

Now it was Tommy’s turn to look confused. “I kidnapped you.”

“And I tried to kill you,” the Pythia shot back, his voice low.

Understanding dawned on Tommy’s face, and he nodded to himself, something like relief flashing through his eyes.

“Even though I found out your name and keep calling you by it?” Tommy asked after another moment.

The Pythia clenched his jaw again, head dropping as he tried to ignore the bird pecking at his ribs. If there was one thing he should’ve hated Tommy for, it was that. Using that name when it went against one of the core tenets of Pythian tradition. And he could almost convince himself he did hate Tommy for that. If he lost himself in the frustration and the sound of the birds shrieks, then he could convince himself that the ache that had settled deep into his bones was one borne out of hatred, and not something far more complicated.

Almost. He was getting worse at lying to himself the longer he spent in this temple.

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t hate you for that.”

Another silence. The Pythia’s heart pounded in his ears.

“Can… Can I ask how you did it?” Tommy then asked, worry bleeding through his words. “How did you deal with being told you had to give up your name? Because if that was me, I would’ve freaked out.”

Taking a shaky breath, the Pythia curled further back against the wall, the bird growing louder in his chest.

“It was scary,” he confessed, his words soft but echoing off the stone all the same. “I didn’t get it at first. I didn’t get why I’d been dragged away from everything I knew for something I barely understood. I didn’t know why I had to give up my name. I didn’t-” his breathing hitched. “I didn’t want to be there. But you can’t refuse a calling from your Goddess. She understands things we can’t, and while it took some time, I eventually accepted that.”

He paused, knowing he shouldn’t say anything else. He had already admitted too much. Tommy was going to get the wrong idea. Tommy was only going to hate the Pythian tradition more than he already did.

But a dam had been opened, and the words kept spilling out.

“While I was still being trained, the former Pythia would sit me down and ask me what my name was. If I said that name, she would hit my hands with a ruler, or put this stuff in my mouth that tasted like soap. Which- I know that sounds cruel, but she was trying to help. Because the more I pushed back against what Clara had decided for me, the worse it was. Once I put my faith in Her and trusted the path She laid out for me, nothing was scary anymore. I knew what my purpose was, and I did my best to fulfill it as She intended.”

There was a storm raging behind Tommy’s eyes. His jaw was clenched, his hands curled into fists as the Pythia’s words settled in the air between them. He glanced between the ground and the Pythia’s blindfold, as if he wasn’t sure where to look.

Suddenly, Tommy was reaching out. His fingers—the nonmetal ones—brushed the back of the Pythia’s hand, and he flinched. The touch was burning. Far too warm, far too staticy for his frazzled mind to handle.

At least, that’s what he thought. Until Tommy pulled his hand back, and his own hand suddenly felt far too cold.

“Sorry,” Tommy said, wringing his hands together in front of him. “Touch usually helps, like, ground me and shit when I’m thinking about stuff I don’t wanna think about. But I know that’s not the same for everyone.”

The Pythia thought back to the day before. To how Tommy’s hand wrapped around his own felt like the only thing keeping him tied down. How the buzzing under his skin kept him present, when all he wanted to do was float away.

“It’s okay,” the Pythia told him. “It’s just- it’s been a while since anyone’s… done that.”

“Touched you?” Tommy asked, furrowing his brows.

The Pythia nodded. “Yeah. Like, sometimes a guard might put their hand on my shoulder in the palace to guide me somewhere, and obviously you drag me around by the wrist all the time, but anything else-” he cut himself off, unsure of how to phrase what he was trying to say. “I’m not used to it, I guess.”

Tommy took a breath, taking that in for a moment. “I get it. I was the same way when Phil and Techno took me in. Nearly bit Phil’s hand off the first time he tried to give me a hug.”

Although it was weak, the Pythia snorted at this. “Of course you bit people.”

“Well what else was I gonna use ‘em for?” Tommy asked, pointing at his teeth. “It’s a great way to get someone to let go of you.”

The Pythia laughed at this, the tightness in his chest that had formed in the past few minutes fading once more. Although the air was still heavy, the Pythia could breathe, and that was enough.

From there, they left behind the darker topics of conversation as Tommy rambled about anything and everything that came to his mind. They argued over the morality of giving moontane to a ten year old (the Pythia thought it was funny, while Tommy still didn’t see the humor in it), Tommy told him several stories of the times he’d been caught stealing from the night market, the Pythia pretended to berate him for his thievery before admitting that he’d been a great pickpocket back in his youth, which led to them sharing their own tips and tricks for stealing they’d learned over the years.

Although it took the Pythia a while to notice, over the course of the conversation Tommy had shifted closer to him. Their shoulders were almost brushing as Tommy’s words began to slow. The Pythia tried not to focus on the ghost touch though, instead picking up Tommy’s end of the conversation to tell him about the time he got so excited watching a hoverbike race he fell into the road and nearly got run over.

About three quarters of the way through the story though, a soft weight landed on his shoulder, followed by a low rumbling sound. The Pythia stiffened and glanced down, going silent the second he realized Tommy had fallen asleep.

The head resting on his shoulder burned just like his skin did every time Tommy grabbed his hand. It burned and sent waves of static through his head, but when he considered moving Tommy off of him, he’d hear another soft snore and find himself unable to move.

There were dark circles under Tommy’s eyes. It wasn’t as noticeable when he was awake, his booming voice echoing off the walls as he talked a mile a minute. But now, with his face slack and his eyes shut, it was painfully obvious how exhausted he was.

So the Pythia didn’t move. The minutes ticked on, and the static began to die down in his head. The burning faded to a warmth that was almost… comfortable, and the bird in his chest let out a soft croon that told him that for once, it was content.

Time passed. The Pythia stared at the wall, Tommy snoring away beside him.

Then, a chill ran down his spine when he realized what he could do here.

Tommy was asleep. His guard was asleep, and completely defenseless. It would be even easier than before. Tommy wouldn’t be able to fight back-

The revulsion that washed over the Pythia was so strong, it took all his willpower not to jolt and wake Tommy up. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t hurt-

…it wouldn’t make sense to do that. Because the Pythia still didn’t know the passcode to get out of the cell, and even if he did, Techno was waiting right outside the door.

Yeah, that was why he couldn’t do that. It didn’t make sense. If anything, it would just make his situation worse, because Phil and Techno wouldn’t let Tommy anywhere near him if he attacked him again—regardless of what Tommy had to say about it.

The Pythia clenched his jaw. Again, he’d never been good at lying to himself.

Even if the door to the cell was wide open right now, he wasn’t sure if he would do anything. Because every time the memory of Tommy gasping for air flashed through his mind, bile would burn in the back of his throat, and the only thing he could think was that he never wanted to hurt Tommy like that again.

The Pythia stayed perfectly still, the weight on his shoulder growing more and more familiar with each passing minute.

Finally, after nearly half an hour, Tommy woke up.

It was a slow thing at first. He stirred, blinking a few times and gently shifting against the Pythia’s shoulder.

Then he opened his eyes.

“What the-” Tommy yelped, scrambling away from the Pythia and fumbling in his pockets for his knife. His eyes were blown wide and filled with panic, darting around the cell before falling back on the Pythia’s blindfold.

Instead of feeling relief like he expected, the Pythia found himself missing the warmth on his shoulder.

“You- I- fuck, did I-” Tommy shook his head, still digging in his pockets before finally pulling out his knife. He pressed himself against the opposite wall, his hands shaking violently as he held the knife in front of him more like a shield than a weapon. “I fell asleep?”

Holding his hands out in front of him to show they were empty, the Pythia nodded. “You did.”

“How long?” Tommy asked hoarsely.

“I don’t have a clock in here so I can’t tell, but it felt like thirty minutes or so,” the Pythia explained, keeping his voice low so Tommy didn’t get more freaked out than he was.

Tommy considered this for a moment, his breaths slowing as the seconds ticked on. He looked around the room again, probably checking to see if anything was amiss only to realize there wasn’t.

Then, his gaze settled back on the Pythia’s blindfold. The fear in his own eyes faded, and he put the knife down.

“You didn’t do anything to me while I was asleep,” he said in a way that both was and wasn’t a question at the same time.

The Pythia shook his head. “No, I didn’t.”

Tommy frowned. “Why not?”

There were dozens of answers he could give. He could remind Tommy that Techno was right outside the cell door. He could point out that he didn’t know the passcode to get out of the cell in the first place. He could admit that even if he somehow got out of the cell and past Techno, he didn’t know how to get out of the temple.

Those were all perfectly reasonable answers. Tommy would accept any of them.

But that wasn’t why, and the Pythia had a feeling they both knew that.

“Why did you protect me from the others yesterday?” The Pythia asked instead of giving Tommy an answer.

And just like that, understanding dawned over Tommy’s face yet again.

It didn’t make sense. Not to himself, probably not to Tommy, and it definitely wouldn’t make sense to any of the Deathlings.

But for once, the Pythia felt like he and Tommy were on the same page.

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