In life, Achilles had been a weapon, one that man and god would have wielded for a single purpose alone, had Patroclus not had anything to say about it. But within Patroclus was humility, patience, tenderness, compassion—qualities that he insisted were somehow in Achilles as well. When Patroclus was by his side, Achilles nearly believed him. The best of what he had been, they had been together—even Achilles’ final moment of glory was tied up in Patroclus’ name.
Without his beloved’s anchoring presence, Achilles became his spear alone, became pure rage, unbridled destruction itself—nothing else mattered except his pain, except revenge. And when he died, his fury burned out, and he arrived in the House of Hades feeling not much like anything at all.
But Lord Hades handed him a parchment with Patroclus’ name on it, promised that his beloved would be kept well, in exchange for his service. Achilles knew that he was not suited to serve, but for Patroclus, he would, and did. He dedicated every act to his beloved’s safety, took solace in remembrances of their joys together and forced these memories to fill in the part of him that was missing with Patroclus’ absence. Knowing that Patroclus was in paradise, likely doing much the same, was enough, he tried to tell himself (it was not).
He teaches Zagreus with Patroclus in mind and in his very words, remembers the kindness with which Pat had treated the younger soldiers, and keeps Patroclus in his heart by pretending that he can do the same. It works—to Achilles’ surprise, Zagreus learns, grows. The prince is tender, compassionate, speaks Patroclus’ words as his own, even though he doesn’t know it.
Perhaps Achilles shouldn’t have been as shocked then when Zagreus does actually speak Patroclus’ words back to him: when he is told to risk it all.
He barely has enough time to process hope before Zagreus returns, announcing triumphantly that he had amended the pact. It is remembrance for what they were together that allowed him to persevere, but he had never allowed himself to imagine a present or future where Patroclus was no longer only a figment of the past.
When Achilles arrives in Patroclus’ glade for the very first time, he gives little thought to anything other than the fact that Patroclus is there.
He would not have been able to describe a single feature of the chamber, apart from the melancholy of Patroclus’ eyes, as he sat reclined by the River Lethe, the way in which those eyes widened at his approach, and how he stands right away to get a better look over the bridge.
Achilles does not remember the desperate speed that brings him to his beloved’s side, or how he ends up kneeling before Patroclus, hands grasping at the edge of his cloak, wordlessly begging for forgiveness. He does remember though the moment that Patroclus lowers himself to join him, raises both hands to each side of Achilles’ face, and speaks his name for the very first time again in so long, that sadness melting into tears that were caused by another emotion completely. He remembers how they held each other, entangled themselves in each other’s arms, how no words were needed, how no words could have adequately described this feeling that filled his heart so full it felt as though it would burst. He remembers that it instantly feels like home.
He does not remember the confusion that had flickered ever so briefly across Patroclus’ features when their eyes met for the first time, the way Patroclus had hesitated, just barely, before settling into Achilles’ arms and the way in which he had struggled to speak Achilles’ name.
It becomes more clear the meeting after. Achilles rushes to wrap Patroclus in his arms again and Patroclus greets him with a smile that rivals the sun in its warmth. Patroclus pulls at Achilles insistently, and they sit. Patroclus runs both his hands along every feature of Achilles’ face with wonder, and Achilles laughs, leaning into his touch, and allowing him to explore as he wanted, simply enjoying the caresses. They had spent ages apart, after all, and Achilles expects that his beloved is eager to feel his skin again.
“How strange,” Patroclus murmurs.
“Your eyes.” Patroclus gently traces a finger just under his brow. “I thought they were green.”
Achilles blinks at him, and chuckles belatedly, thinking this to be one of Pat’s jests. Because of course Patroclus would have thought of little but the quality of Achilles’ eyes, much as Achilles had done in turn. Because they had spent ages while alive staring into each other’s eyes, and because Achilles could recite the poetry of Patroclus’ soft gaze by memory alone.
It made no sense except as jest.
“I would have thought you knew the colour, for how often my eyes are fixed on you.”
“Oh.” Curiously, Patroclus’ expression closes completely—he retreats, as though something has spooked him. This was not something that Achilles had seen in him before.
“I simply tease, my love,” Achilles murmurs, kissing him softly on the lips. “As you do.”
“Yes, of course.” Patroclus gives him a shaky smile, and resumes petting.
And then, it is other small things.
Achilles mentions Odysseus’ name, and Patroclus gives him a blank look, not seeming to recognize it. While Patroclus always preferred to listen, he now seems only to listen, and when he does speak, only mentions his time in Elysium, not before.
At first, Achilles thinks it must be intentional—perhaps having dwelled on the past by himself for so long, Pat was simply eager to hear Achilles’ account again. But Achilles has spent ages with memories of Patroclus alone, only recognizes his beloved in them—only recognizes himself in them. A fear creeps during his weakest moments—he looks to Patroclus and begins to question who it is he truly sees. But every time Achilles falls into his arms, Patroclus melts into him and Achilles feels whole, and his worries lessen in the comfort of his beloved’s embrace.
Something of it must show in his face though sometimes, for Achilles finds Patroclus often examining him closely with concern. Whenever Achilles’ thoughts run from him, Patroclus would press a kiss softly to his lips, raise a hand to draw Achilles towards him by the neck as Achilles had always loved, or try to press away the furrow in Achilles’ brow firmly with his fingers. Achilles would feel foolish then, and the anxiety in his heart dissipates, as it had always done under Patroclus’ care.
A few visits later, Patroclus gathers the largest spread of fruits and vegetables that Achilles has seen since he died. He stands beside it proudly, and gestures towards it after their usual tender greeting.
“I thought that perhaps you’d not eaten in a while, now that we don’t have to,” He says, bashful. “Elysium is bountiful in a way that I guessed the House of Hades is not.”
“This is…thank you, Pat.” Achilles presses a kiss to his lips, genuinely moved by the sweet gesture. It was not necessarily a rare one: Patroclus had often tried to surprise him as such while they were alive, and Achilles took joy in these moments every time. “You’re right, of course. You do know though that I would have been happy with a basket of these alone?”
Patroclus nods, and gives him a thoughtful smile. “Yes, of course. Figs.”
Something about the way he says this bothers Achilles, fits too well with a series of incongruities that has now become pattern.
They sit together to enjoy some of that which could be eaten raw. Achilles notices that Patroclus is observing him closely, almost as though he were taking note of the things that Achilles reached for. Patroclus listens with rapt attention as Achilles describes the last time he had eaten each food, and the types of dishes that he misses the most. It tugs at an ancient memory: Patroclus had proven himself an accomplished observer early in life, and had leveled all of his considerable skill towards learning about Achilles from the moment they had met. While this felt much the same, it shouldn’t have been at all: Patroclus should already know. Achilles decides to try something.
“There are no onions,” He observes.
“No, there are not.” Patroclus furrows his brow and looks troubled.
“…could you not find any?” Achilles asks, deciding that this could later be written off as teasing.
“Everything is plentiful in Elysium,” Patroclus frowns, not necessarily upset, but looking as though he were reaching for something that was just beyond his reach. “It just didn’t seem right.”
“And why would it not seem right?” he asks carefully.
Patroclus turns his sharp eyes towards Achilles, and tilts his head. It is intense, and sends all the right sort of chills down Achilles’ spine: he is being examined, picked apart by Patroclus’ considerable insight, and this always turned out in Achilles’ favour. He fears he knows its purpose though in this moment.
“Because you detest them, of course.” Patroclus answers so naturally that it seems like it must be memory and not calculation. He looks so wounded that Achilles cannot bear to pursue this further.
“Yes, of course, my love.” Achilles leans in to kiss Patroclus on the forehead, although he is not yet content that this is over. “Thank you for remembering.”
There is a basket of figs waiting for Achilles upon his next return, and he finds the small courtesy both sweet and unsettling. The question that Patroclus poses does not put him at ease either.
“Tell me, beloved. What is your favourite memory of us?” Patroclus asks as he runs his fingers through Achilles’ golden hair in his lap. This was one of Achilles’ favourite ways they settled into each other, and he had been in fact trying very hard not to think about memory at all.
“What is your favourite memory?” He asks instead.
“When you returned to me,” Patroclus answers right away, as though the reply were already prepared.
Achilles twists fitfully in place to look up at him and frowns. “You mean most recently? Or another time?”
“All the times.” Patroclus smiles down fondly at him. “Each and every.”
This charms Achilles, warms his heart so much that he almost forgets his previous suspicion. Patroclus leans in to give him an upside-down kiss, as though to push those worries away further, and Achilles nearly succumbs to it.
“And yours, my love?”
And yet, he cannot. Achilles leans into the caresses that feel exactly as he remembers, but cannot shake the doubt that something just isn’t right. He needs to know.
“When you first confessed that you loved me,” he replies, and Patroclus’ expression fills with such joy that Achilles almost falters in his plan. Patroclus leans down again and presses a kiss to his forehead.
“Tell me again,” he whispers, eyes wide with interest, and Achilles’ heart hurts and hurts at what he is about to do.
“You remember, don’t you?” Achilles asks lightly. “That evening. On the beach.” He says this knowing full well that it had neither been evening, nor on a beach.
“Yes,” Patroclus breathes, nodding eagerly.
Achilles purses his lips. Patroclus’ face falls, and Achilles’ heart falls with it. He sits up.
“You don’t remember.”
“You tricked me.” Patroclus blinks at him with a mix of disbelief and confusion. He backs away, closes his shoulders and legs in on himself, as though by doing so, he could physically prevent Achilles deciphering him further. Pat’s pain had always been a silent thing, invisible to most, but Achilles had always known, and he knows now.
Achilles’ lips twist at the accusation. His confirmed fears wrestle anger from his own control, so that he responds to Patroclus’ word alone and ignores the rest. “You were trying to trick me.”
Patroclus can’t finish his sentence, and steels himself behind that blank expression that Achilles does not recognize and has already come to hate.
The rest of the signals catch up to Achilles, and he sighs and forces his own expression to soften. He reaches forward to grasp both of Patroclus’ hands. “Help me understand. What’s happened, beloved?”
Patroclus blinks at him slowly, looking for hints of something that Achilles cannot fathom. He finds whatever it is that he needs, for the emptiness in his eyes fade, and he responds.
“It hurt, before you returned,” Patroclus begins, his voice soft. “There were days or nights where I could not bear it. So I took sips from the Lethe, thinking I could control that which I lost.”
Achilles’ voice dries up in his throat. He had been too late, had been gone too long.
“I realized belatedly that I could not.” Patroclus’ voice cracks, but he looks down at their fingers intertwined and seems to gather courage to look up at Achilles again. He gives Achilles a tentative smile. “But then you returned. And I am not the only one who holds those memories.”
Patroclus is speaking sense: Achilles knows this, just as Achilles knows that he is reaching for reassurance, and has laid himself open in order to do so. But the lie stings, and the truth stings. His beloved’s words had been in his every phrase, his memory in Achilles’ every action. If Achilles was nothing without his memories of his beloved, then who was Patroclus without any memories at all?
He struggles to find his voice. “Pat. How much do you remember?”
Patroclus stares at him, his face forced blank again, but Achilles can read the difference, and guesses that it is panic.
“Pat.” Achilles reaches forward for Patroclus’ cheek, his own hand shaking. Patroclus leans into his touch desperately, holds his hand in place.
“I remember that I love you,” he replies earnestly, his voice fragile. He looks to Achilles, his eyes brimming with that delicate hope. “For me, that is enough.”
Achilles doesn’t mean to pull back, doesn’t realize he has done so until he watches Patroclus’ heart shatter in front of him.
“Beloved,” Patroclus tries.
Achilles stands, looking now to Patroclus’ expression for something he recognizes, for his mind insists that this shade is now not one whom he fully knows. Some small part of him commands that he stay. Some small part insists that Patroclus is still here, does still stand in front of him, accuses him of running first every time something in their relationship threatens to break, under the guise of anger, but always in the name of fear.
“Achilles.” Patroclus tries again more insistently, standing as well and reaching a hand forward.
Achilles simply stares at it. His heart wills for him to take it, to offer his beloved some assurance, but his mind offers only doubt.
“I must go,” Achilles manages, scrambling for the exit. “We will speak again on this when I return.”
Behind him, he hears Patroclus call for him again, his voice breaking over his name, but he cannot bring himself to turn back.
Achilles stays away like a coward. Everybody notices.
Outwardly, the change is imperceptible—he continues to stand guard, continues to mind his duties as though a part of his heart does not now feel as though it is missing. Inwardly, it feels like loss even though it shouldn’t; he feels alone even though he isn’t. He doesn’t want to return to the glade until he has figured out what he needs to say, or what Patroclus’ revelation means, but he does not know either of those things, so he doesn’t return at all.
And so whether it is the less obvious look in his eyes, or the more obvious fact that he remains in the confines of the hallway or his quarters, they notice.
Zagreus has always been bolder than most and it is no surprise that he broaches the matter first.
“Achilles, sir,” The prince approaches him after returning through the Styx. “You’ve not visited Elysium recently?”
“No, lad,” Achilles shakes his head, and gives him a tight smile. “I’ve had some other pressing errands to attend to.”
“Hmm.” Zagreus doesn’t argue, but neither does he look as though he believes him. “I saw Patroclus again this run. He’s asking after you.”
“Ah.” Achilles swallows. “Tell him not to worry.”
“You should tell him yourself. Sir.” Zagreus adds the honorific belatedly, almost as though he forces himself to do it. Achilles wonders how much Pat has told him.
“I will once I am ready.” Achilles steels his voice in a way he has not done in some time and hopes that it brooks no argument.
“…alright,” Zagreus concedes with a frown. “Is there another message I could send to him in the meantime?”
Achilles opens his mouth and nothing comes out. Zagreus waits patiently, pleadingly, even, but in the end, there is nothing that Achilles’ tumultuous heart can properly compose.
“No, lad,” he rasps instead.
Zagreus’ face twists, and he clenches his jaw as though he were clenching upon words. “Okay,” he finally sighs, his expression turning mournful. “Well. I hope that you will see him again soon.”
Achilles grasps at his spear so hard that his knuckles turn white.
Megaera tries next. She is waiting for him when his next shift ends, and observes that he has made no attempt to teleport before approaching.
“Shade,” She barks. “A word.”
Achilles bows and steps forward.
“I’ve recently come across more contraband,” she says as nonchalantly as she can. “I’d like your help in disposing of it.”
“Ah. Well. Of course. Anything for the House,” Achilles nods, hoping that perhaps this will help him take his mind off things. It does not.
“Why aren’t you going to Elysium?” Megaera asks as soon as they have settled into their drinks.
Achilles’ throat closes as the question as it catches him off-guard. He takes a longer sip of his drink to buy time. “I’ve had some other pressing errands—”
“Bullshit,” she cuts him off, placing her drink on the table with more force than was necessary. “You’re avoiding him. Why?”
Achilles has no answer, and isn’t sure he would have voice to reply with even if he did have one.
“Look,” she sighs through her teeth. “The last time, you prolonged both your misery and his out of fear. Do you really want to do that again?”
“I’m not afraid.” Achilles bristles. “It’s just…”
Megaera frowns at him, but waits. Not for the first time, Achilles struggles to put his feelings into words.
“Whatever you’re about to finish that sentence with hasn’t happened yet. That’s fear.” Her voice isn’t as blunt as it could have been. “Go talk to him.”
“He doesn’t remember,” Achilles says softly, eyes fixed on the drink in his hand.
Megaera’s eyes soften with pity. “Any of it?”
“I’m not sure,” Achilles admits. “He wouldn’t tell me.”
“He’s afraid to. And he has good reason.” Megaera’s voice is once again gentler than it could have been. “He must know you well enough to have predicted your reaction.”
Achilles realizes the truth of her words as she speaks them. Of course this was why Patroclus had kept the truth from him.
“But how much else of us has he forgotten?” Achilles asks. “How much can he have forgotten before he’s no longer—”
“That’s fear,” Meg cuts in again gently. “Go to him. Find out.”
Achilles takes another long sip from his glass, and speaks directly to it. “And what if he were only waiting for a hollow cause? Out of habit?”
Megaera shakes her head. “I’ve watched shades long before you were even alive. It doesn’t work that way. He was waiting because he loves you. Go to him.”
“If I have to say this one more time, I’m probably going to have to hit you,” Meg interrupts him again, and stares straight into his eyes. “And that’ll get me in trouble.”
“Sir!” Achilles hears Zagreus’ voice long before he appears, and his greeting saves Achilles from answering.
“In here,” Meg calls, as though they had meant to speak to him together all along. The amount of panic on Zagreus’ face seemed to surprise even her though.
“Sir, he’s gone.”
“What?!” Meg answers before Achilles could, for his entire body has gone numb.
“The glade. It’s empty,” Zagreus rubs at the back of his neck helplessly. “I searched Elysium, but couldn’t find him anywhere.”
“What did you say to him last?” Meg asks Achilles, her voice sharp.
Achilles doesn’t stay to reply. He grabs his spear and teleports away without another word.
His voice arrives in the glade before he does. The chamber is quieter than usual—he isn’t greeted by Patroclus’ quiet rambling, and it feels like a part of him is missing as well.
He runs across the short bridge to find Patroclus’ usual spot empty, and the fear and guilt gnawing at his chest nearly consumes him where he stands. This is his fault, his fault. Pat had been returned safely to his arms, and now he was gone because it was his fault that he turned away from his beloved just as Patroclus had needed him the most and had left him there.
Achilles searches every corner, every bush. He breaks every urn, knowing full well that Patroclus could not possibly be hiding in one, considers diving into the Lethe, until the fear of its waters shakes him from his foolishness.
He pushes forward into the next chamber, slaughters any shade that stands in his way without thinking (just like before, a small voice in his head whispers), and Patroclus is nowhere to be found. He pushes forward into another glade, and then another, and another, screaming Patroclus’ name, as ethereal blood spills down the shaft of his spear, and Pat is nowhere to be found. His voice breaks hysterically over Patroclus’ name, just as his heart breaks every time he enters a room and does not find Patroclus in it. Shades tremble at the sound of him, scramble to get out of his reach (just like before).
He finally returns to Pat’s glade, hoping perhaps that he had returned in his absence, praying to any god that would listen for this to be so, only to find it empty as before. His legs finally give out, and he sinks to his knees on the spot where they had sat together not so long ago. He folds in on himself, trembling, calling Patroclus’ name still until he goes hoarse. It’s how Zagreus finds him much later.
Achilles searches Elysium every chance he gets. He goes ten, twenty, thirty times before he loses track, several more before he finally gives up. The shades begin to whisper his name with just as much fear and reverence as they do Zagreus’, and Achilles realizes in passing that the violence he must be inflicting upon them must be of a similar scale to the prince. Once again, the similarity to Troy is too much, and it shakes the last of his resolve from him. After he gives up hope, he spends his breaks seated much in the same way that Patroclus had sat in his glade before they were reunited, although Achilles would not have known this.
He sits and hopes for Patroclus’ return, and the irony of the situation is not lost on him.
In doing so, he discovers that Patroclus wasn’t as alone as he had originally thought. Several shades come by looking for him, and seem to know him by name. They eye Achilles oddly, and Achilles wonders what else they might know, is tempted to use violence to find out. But they are acquaintances of Patroclus, and even in evoking his name alone, they evoke even the smallest modicum of calm and mercy, even though this reaction just makes Achilles even more aware of his beloved’s absence.
Zagreus runs into the glade every once in awhile, and Achilles provides him with the same rations that seem to appear from time to time for Patroclus. The lad sits with him and tries to lift his spirits, and while Achilles appreciates the gesture, Zagreus’ familiarity with the whole process only draws attention to how long Patroclus must have waited for Achilles, only to be failed in the end. In Patroclus’ absence, and in the absence of hope, Achilles finds himself retreating to some of his more sullen tendencies. He can see the concern in Zagreus’ eyes, but has no assurances to offer the lad.
He spends a few more breaks in the glade before the champions come to visit. They arrive loudly—at least, Theseus does—not so much in his manner, but definitely with his words.
“Ah! Well-met, my fellow hero!” Theseus booms far too loudly for Achilles’ current state. “How goes it, this day or night?”
“King,” Asterius snorts, like a reminder.
“Oh.” Theseus sobers, and Achilles wonders whether all of Elysium knows by now. “Of course. Ah!” He brightens again. “I have just the thing to lift your mood! You will like this.”
Achilles is sure that he won’t.
“Recently, Asterius and I came across a new acquaintance. A brilliant philosopher.” Theseus looks too smug for this to be not about him.
“He described to me a new thought exercise that the greatest minds of the time have named in my honour!”
Ah. There it is. Having no patience for these games right now, Achilles stands to leave.
“No, wait!” Theseus reaches to stop him, but thinks better of it as Achilles turns to give him a sharp glare.
“It’s just…I found this problem to be a good diversion,” Theseus tries.
Achilles remains silent, and Theseus takes it as encouragement.
He sits, uninvited, and leans forward. “Imagine for a moment, my friend, a ship. My ship, in fact.” He puffs his chest proudly at this proclamation.
Achilles sits again as well and pulls at the grass at his feet with great violence. Theseus pretends not to notice.
“It is a magnificent ship,” Theseus continues. “A full 30 oars on each side. Made of the choicest fir. Pure white sails, always billowing, blessed of course by my father, Lord Poseidon.” Theseus’ face darkens slightly at these details, but it is uncertain which part of the description has upset him. The look disappears just as quickly as it came.
“Imagine for a moment that to keep the prestige of the vessel, decaying planks are replaced with fresh wood over time. The question becomes,” Theseus is vibrating with excitement. “Is this restored ship the Ship of Theseus still?”
There is a long pause, during which Achilles himself suspects that he might not answer. But Theseus doesn’t seem likely to leave without one, and although Achilles is reluctant to admit it, it is in fact a distraction.
“It is your ship, correct?” He says at last.
“Yes.” Theseus nods eagerly.
“Then it will be your ship always, as it bears your name. Regardless of mending.”
“Ah!” Theseus’ eyes flash, as though he had expected this argument. “But what of now, that I am dead and buried and properly exalted in Elysium? Say they were to continue this tradition of replacing the ship piece by piece, so that the ship is less and less itself, long after I have left the mortal world and am forgotten. What then?”
“My King, perhaps this is not the best timing,” Asterius huffs.
“But why not, Asterius?” Theseus demands. “I am simply trying to distract our fellow hero here from…oh.” His face falls, as the parallel to Achilles’ situation abruptly falls into place.
Achilles stands to leave again. “Then it is your ship no more. You should abandon it, for time has worn it away, and all joy is lost.”
“Now listen, Achilles—” Theseus begins.
“Do you have an argument against?” Achilles interrupts.
In a rare occurrence, Theseus falls silent.
“In the future, champion,” Achilles hisses this word. “You might consider thinking more and speaking less.”
“Golden one. A moment.” It is Asterius who addresses him, and this surprises both Achilles and Theseus, leaving him space to talk.
“I am Asterius, am I not?”
“What of it?” Achilles asks, answering because he is unsure where the bull means to take this.
“And in life, I was Asterius still?”
“I fail to see your point.” Achilles narrows his eyes and grasps his spear more tightly. Behind Asterius, Theseus scowls and does the same. He takes several steps forward as if to defend Asterius if needed, although he continues to remain quiet, having learned more recently to grant his love the space to speak his piece.
“My king,” Asterius turns his attention to Theseus. “Would you not agree that the Asterius you met while you were alive is little like the Asterius I am today?”
“What?!” Theseus sputters. “Why Asterius, you should not denigrate yourself so! The extraordinary specimen that you are today can barely be compared to—”
“Please answer the question, my king,” Asterius interrupts with a huff.
Theseus blinks at him and swallows the rest of his words (of which there appeared to be many). “No,” he admits, and Achilles finally begins to understand Asterius’ meaning. “You are not alike.”
“I do not remember my life in clear detail,” the Minotaur admits. “As I had little understanding of the world. Yet I was Asterius then, and am Asterius still,” the Minotaur continues. “Then is Patroclus not Patroclus still, without this clarity? As long as he bears you in his heart, is that love not still true?”
Theseus and Achilles stare at Asterius, and he shrugs. “I have discovered that I enjoy puzzles.”
Theseus’ expression is full of adoration. “Then we shall seek out the philosopher for conversation again! What true champions we shall be, both of the stadium and of the mind!”
Achilles ignores him, as realization crests like a wave and threatens to consume him whole. He thinks upon his time with Patroclus, how his beloved had approached him with affection right away. He remembers how Patroclus had tried to relearn Achilles, to relearn their relationship, while never doubting that their relationship was worth relearning for even a moment. His grasp on his spear loosens as he remembers the way Patroclus’ embrace had felt like home, the way in which Achilles was the first to doubt, as he always was.
“I think…I have made a grave error,” Achilles says at last, his voice crackling over the words.
Theseus and Asterius exchange a look, and seem to be miming to each other in a language only they know. Finally, Asterius huffs a breath again, seeming to come to a decision.
“If you are ready to speak with him as Patroclus, we know where he might be found.”
“You…knew?” Achilles advances with a white-hot rage, but neither Asterius nor Theseus back away.
“We only came across him recently,” Theseus says defensively. “Elysium protects those who do not want to be found.”
Of course, that made sense. The Fields were the final resting place of all great heroes, and often, these heroes had fought each other while alive. Although time would cure some of these antagonisms, it made sense that Elysium would hide those who wanted to hide. Still, something in Achilles burns, perhaps in anger, perhaps in self-loathing.
“He allowed you to find him, and not me?” he growls. “Not Zagreus?”
Theseus scoffs. “The hellspawn cannot be trusted with secrets. He would have told you right away. And, well…” He trails off.
“The quiet one told us he no longer wished to wait for a day that will now never come,” Asterius says after a longer pause.
Shame ignites deep in Achilles’ chest, knowing that he had caused Patroclus to give up hope altogether. In all his time alone, Patroclus had never doubted Achilles until Achilles had returned. He clenches his jaw, unable to abide by this. “Where is he?”
“Now hold on, fellow hero,” Theseus cuts in. “Are you certain you are ready to speak with him?”
Without doing him further harm went unspoken. Theseus was trying to protect Patroclus from him. It was ridiculous.
“Where is he?” Achilles repeats with more force.
“What do you intend to say to him if you were to meet?” Asterius asks.
Achilles slams the butt of his spear into the tile so hard that the stone cracks in half. He takes a step forward with menace. “Where. Is. He.”
To their credit, neither of his opponents are cowed.
“What will you say?” Asterius asks again, more softly this time.
Achilles blinks, and remembers himself and his cause once more. He pulls himself back, and his shoulders slump.
“I was wrong,” Achilles replies. “He loves me and I was wrong. He is Patroclus still.”
Theseus and Asterius exchange glances again.
“Come with me, golden one,” Asterius snorts. Theseus still looks uncertain, but seems to trust his companion’s judgement. Achilles pulls his spear from the ground and they go together.
They fight their way across several glades—the temptation to challenge both the champions of Elysium and the mighty Achilles proves too much for some of the denizens of Elyisum to ignore. Together though, they make easy work of the shades. It even helps Achilles to work off some of the raw energy coursing through his body.
They eventually arrive at a smaller door, one that Achilles can’t remember ever seeing before. Theseus pushes them both aside.
“I will enter first!” He announces grandly. “It was I who decided to bring you here, after all.”
Achilles is about to correct him of his arrogance when he realizes that Theseus intends to take the blame for himself if Patroclus were to be angry, even though Asterius was the one who had made the decision. Asterius looks disgruntled, but defers to him as usual, and grips his axe out of nervous habit.
As the door opens, Achilles hears the sound of water flowing and panics. It isn’t the Lethe, however: they’ve entered a small fountain room, with crystal clear waters that do not belong to the main river that cuts through the other glades.
“Friend Patroclus,” Theseus calls out. “We have brought a visitor.”
There is the sound of shuffling from one of the far corners of the room, and Achilles sees him, seated against the wall, knees drawn tightly to his chest, and Achilles’ heart clenches. It takes everything in him not to run to Patroclus’ side right away, to instead give him space in his own territory.
They look at each other for a moment, both of them in shock, even though Achilles did not expect Asterius to have lied.
“You would take this from me as well, King of Athens?” Patroclus’ voice sounds hollow, accusatory as it echoes through the small chamber. “This last respite of mine?”
Theseus looks abashed, so Asterius answers instead. “We think you should talk.”
There is a silence, during which Patroclus’ eyes never leave Achilles’. Achilles tries to stand firm, tries to communicate his apology through his gaze alone, but Patroclus does not comment on it.
“Very well,” Patroclus says instead. “How much more could it possibly hurt?”
Theseus winces. Asterius snorts, and pulls at his shoulder. “We will be outside, if you need us.”
“Yes, of course,” Theseus adds uselessly. Achilles clenches his teeth at the idea that they would think Patroclus would need protection from him. He begins to wonder though whether they are right.
The door closes and they are alone.
Achilles takes several steps forward, and props his spear up against the nearest wall.
Patroclus watches his every movement warily, trying to determine his purpose. Achilles settles on the floor a few feet away.
“Pat,” He begins, his voice breaking even at this one syllable.
“I owe you a better answer, I think,” Patroclus interrupts, looking away from him.
“You owe me nothing.” Achilles shakes his head. “I—”
“Please.” Patroclus raises a hand, his eyes still fixed on the floor.
Achilles swallows hard and nods.
“You asked me what I remembered,” Patroclus continues. “It is hard for me to say. My memories of us are as distant as a dream, and I dream of us every time I close my eyes, whether or not sleep comes for me, and I can no longer discern that which is real.”
“The only thing I remember with stark clarity is that I love you. And that was not enough.”
Patroclus pulls his knees even closer to his chest, and rests his forehead on them, too overwhelmed to continue.
“Pat—” Achilles extends his arms, ready to hold him, but Patroclus’ entire body draws tense. He lifts his head, but turns it away immediately so that Achilles cannot catch his eye. Achilles stills, and reluctantly falls back.
“So I suppose I owe you an apology as well, that I could not bear the pain.” Patroclus’ voice takes on a familiar inward bitterness. “For transforming myself into something you no longer recognize.”
Achilles never could take this—whenever Patroclus inflicted wounds on himself that Achilles was supposed to bear. He can’t stop himself and rushes forward again. Patroclus flinches, raises an arm against him to prevent the embrace, and Achilles’ heart shatters. He settles for collapsing at Patroclus’ feet.
“I am the one who owes you an apology.” Achilles looks up again to try to meet Patroclus’ gaze, his eyes pleading. “Of course you are my Patroclus still.”
“But I am not.”
The words are cold, and slice right through Achilles.
“I am no longer the Patroclus you knew, just as you are no longer the Achilles I knew.” Patroclus speaks to the floor. “The Achilles that I remember was arrogant, vainglorious, and stubborn as an ass.”
Achilles flinches, but says nothing. Patroclus isn’t wrong, after all.
“Despite the little I remember, I know he rushed headlong into danger without sufficient fear of the consequences, stood his ground on principle even though he knew he was wrong. And I fell in love with him anyway.”
Achilles suffocates on the words even though he is not the one who speaks them, and is reminded of Pat’s determination to love him even while they were alive. Patroclus’ eyes are wet, and still unfocused.
“But you are no longer that man.”
Of course Patroclus would have noticed, astute as he always is. Of course Patroclus would have identified the changes in Achilles right away, just as Achilles had in turn.
“No,” Achilles whispers. “I am not.”
“And I find I love you all the same,” Patroclus confesses as he closes his eyes. “But I do not hold it against you, that you no longer love me. I could never, having taken such foolish steps to ensure it by not being strong enough to bear the pain of your absence. I will continue to love you, and will drink no more from the Lethe. But you should not bear this guilt. It is my choice and I promise not to burden you with it.”
Patroclus had noticed the changes in Achilles despite not remembering him fully, but it had not mattered. Patroclus had never doubted. Achilles chokes on this realization, drowns in it.
“I was wrong,” Achilles insists, reaching forward to place his hands on Patroclus’ ankles, realizing the extent of his mistake now that Patroclus has explained it to him. Achilles had been so fixated on who Patroclus was that he had forgotten to look inward. Achilles had always had a solid sense of self in life, while Patroclus had adapted, like a river, to follow his course. In death, he had tried to do the same, which in itself is proof that he is Patroclus still.
Patroclus winces against the touch, but does not move away. Achilles presses his head against Patroclus’ feet. “I was wrong.”
They sit silently like this for awhile, Achilles’ shoulders trembling from the weight of his tears. He knew what Patroclus’ silences meant during their arguments. In the past, Patroclus would wait out Achilles’ rage, would weather it until Achilles himself burnt out from its excessive heat. Patroclus would then gather Achilles in his arms, and calmness would win. But this time, Achilles was not in a rage, and Patroclus’ arms would not be waiting for him if Achilles didn’t find a way to fix this.
Achilles gasps for breath, his mind scrambling for a solution. Certainly there must be some way to convince Patroclus his realization is genuine. He had never been good at words though—that had always been Pat’s domain. He thinks of their time reunited, sifts through his past doubt to find that which had remained true.
And then he finds it, just as he feels a gentle hand on his shoulder.
He looks up to find Patroclus leaning in, observing him with concern, although Achilles is certain that he has not even realized he’s moved at all—because Patroclus cannot help but go to Achilles if he needs him to.
Achilles thinks, realizes that once recognition had settled in, Patroclus had not doubted his own love for even a moment. He remembers how easily they had fallen together, how Patroclus had gathered him into his arms in exactly the right way each and every time, despite how Patroclus fought to remember the other details, which, honestly, now seemed far less important to Achilles.
They blink at each other—he has caught Patroclus off guard, and Patroclus moves to retract, but Achilles grasps his wrist firmly. Patroclus frowns down at where their skin touches and pulls harder, but Achilles is stubborn still, and will not let go.
“Pat. Let me…” Achilles trails off, moving slowly but steadily into Patroclus’ space. Patroclus balks instinctively, tries to back away, and Achilles stops. They look at each other again, but Achilles has not let go, and Patroclus has not forced him to. An unspoken understanding passes between them, and some of Achilles’ boldness returns to him.
He pulls at Patroclus’ hand, bringing it tentatively to the side of his own face. He finds it trembling against his skin, and yet Patroclus is stubborn too, perhaps more so, Achilles finally realizes.
Achilles leans into the touch, feels the familiar warmth of the caress, and his heart relaxes.
He realizes that Patroclus knows, and must feel it too, from the way that his breath hitches. Patroclus brings his other hand to cup Achilles’ cheek by his own will, once again holding him in place, once again peering curiously into Achilles’ eyes with wonder.
Achilles laughs lightly, and leans in to kiss Patroclus’ wrist. His hands move to encircle Patroclus’ waist, and he tugs so gentle that Patroclus could have easily broken free. Instead, Patroclus goes with him, falls against his chest, and kisses him soft on the clavicle. Achilles hums, and presses a kiss to the crown of Patroclus’ head, wrapping his arms more tightly around his waist. They fit perfectly together, as they always have. Achilles would stay like this forever. He has a point to make though, and so he presses Patroclus back, to his beloved’s very clear dismay.
Although in life, Achilles had been known for his impatience, secretly, Patroclus had always been worse. He demonstrates it now, by huffing a quick breath in frustration before pressing against Achilles again, nuzzling at his neck and just barely making contact. Achilles sighs, and lifts his head to give Patroclus more room, and Patroclus kisses him soft along it, leading up to the sharp curve just under his chin, pausing before reaching his mouth.
They look at each other again, so close, and Achilles waits. Patroclus huffs again and closes the distance, slotting their lips together exactly as they had so many times before, with such a passion that Achilles is dizzy from it, presses against his body so insistently that any other without Achilles’ strength would have fallen backwards. But Patroclus knows exactly what Achilles can handle, has always known, and Achilles knows just exactly how much to give in.
They have barely parted for air before Patroclus dives towards Achilles again, and Achilles does fall back onto his hands this time so that Patroclus can all but climb him, straddling his hips, and making his own hardness apparent.
Achilles arches an eyebrow and Patroclus blushes and is so beautiful that Achilles is breathless all over again.
“What?” Patroclus asks, tilting his head as though to turn away although he does not.
“You remember this, don’t you, beloved?” Achilles asks, lowering his head so that he can look up wryly at Patroclus through his eyelashes.
Patroclus bristles and misunderstands. “If you are suggesting that—”
“You remember how to touch me,” Achilles cuts in, bucking hard so that Patroclus gasps and falls onto his chest. “You remember how to love me.” Achilles reaches to pull Patroclus’ hand to the side of his face again, and smiles at its warmth.
“You can still tell when I need to be comforted. When I need you,” Achilles says more softly. “And you’ve tried your best to provide. It is I who have failed.”
Patroclus does look away now and hides the heat of his cheeks at Achilles’ neck.
“Forgive me, beloved,” Achilles murmurs. “For ever doubting you.”
Patroclus stills, and Achilles worries for a moment that he has failed again.
Patroclus pushes himself upward, so that he is sitting up, his hands propped onto Achilles’ chest. Achilles looks at him openly, and once again, waits.
Patroclus raises his hands to trace the lines of Achilles’ face, as he had done before in his glade. Once again, Achilles leans into the touch that feels so familiar, and so much like home that it makes his heart flutter.
“I had spent an entire afternoon picking figs for you,” Patroclus murmurs, and Achilles breath catches in his lungs as he recognizes this story immediately, “had meant for them to be a surprise. And you had returned and eaten the whole bunch without my knowing.”
“Not all of them!” Achilles laughs.
“The best of them,” Patroclus insists, shoving him playfully on the chest. “And then you said…”
Patroclus falters here, and his smile fades.
“’It wasn’t me’,”, Achilles supplies lightly.
Patroclus brightens. “Yes! But your hand was still—”
“—in the basket,” Achilles grins.
“And then I looked you straight in the eyes,” Patroclus’ expression softens and fills with such fondness that Achilles chokes again on his own breath, and tries to pass it off as laughter. “And I tell you that I love you. For the first time.”
“You remember,” Achilles breathes.
“I wasn’t certain,” Patroclus admits. “It feels like a dream. But a vivid one.”
“To this day, I cannot fathom why that was the moment,” Achilles chuckles wetly.
Patroclus smiles down at him and wipes his tears away with both hands. “Because you are secretly ridiculous. And only I get to see it.”
“I am,” Achilles nods. “Completely ridiculous still.”
“I am glad that you know now.”
“Pat…” Achilles says.
“Don’t,” Patroclus cuts in. “You’re making that face I don’t like. No apologies.”
“So you remember that as well,” Achilles smiles despite himself. “Alright. No apologies. From either of us.”
Patroclus looks as though he is about to protest, but bites it back. “Alright,” he agrees.
“Instead, we should spend our time remembering, together,” Achilles says, reaching for Patroclus’ cheek.
Patroclus beams at him, eyes glistening. “I would like nothing more. Well,” he amends, grinding downwards with intention. Achilles gasps, and twitches upwards instinctively to meet him. His hands fly to Patroclus’ hips to hold him in place. Patroclus leans forward to speak the words directly against Achilles’ lips. “There is one thing I would like more first.”
Achilles laughs and flips them over, so that he is exactly where he has wanted to be for so long. “Alright,” he murmurs, just a breath away. “Let’s remember this together too.”
He closed the distance between them. He feels before he remembers the touch of Pat’s lips against his, the way in which his beloved managed to find his skin expertly beneath layers of clothing—together, they feel and remember home.