This routine they’ve fallen into is nice, in its own way. Elysium is a land of constant combat, and equally constant celebrations. Patroclus enjoys neither, and Asterius only the first, so they both have ample time to waste; lately, they’ve chosen to waste it with each other.
Fucking is only one part of it. Patroclus never thought he’d have a bull-man making love to him, but he supposes the world is full of surprises.
What was perhaps the most surprising of all was Asterius’ nativity, the first time. Patroclus had had no intention of seducing him and it later turned out that the feeling was mutual. Yet somehow they found themselves in the grass together, limbs entangled. Patroclus asked—and it felt odd, the asking after the last man he had made love to was the man he knew better than he knew himself—if Asterius might like to relieve some of his frustrations.
And Asterius admitted I don’t know how.
Patroclus didn’t know how, either; Asterius’ body was so very different from anyone else’s, and so there were a great many things they could not do. But they forced their bodies to fit together nonetheless, after some extra effort, and comforted each other as best as they could.
Though it was nothing like being with Achilles, Patroclus was content to touch, to caress, to stroke—and to have Asterius stroke him in turn, until they were calling names that were not each other’s.
“Do you think your Theseus would do this with you, even though you are a bull-man?” Patroclus asked afterward. He would if he had any good sense at all.
“He would not,” said Asterius. “I am surprised that you did, noble warrior that you are. It is degrading, is it not, to be caressed by a monster?”
“I’m not so noble. And you—you are not so monstrous.”
“I am. It isn’t an insecurity, but a fact.”
It is not a fact, but Patroclus does not deny Asterius. They both allow each other room to speak their truths in this little glade.
Love, he has realized, is a strange thing. It begins as something so small, the tiniest of stirrings in one’s heart. It stays within, at first unnoticeable to even the person who holds it, but it grows with each friendly clash of spears, each stolen glance, each night spent together in one’s tent under a starry sky. And soon, love is vast, encompassing.
It is no small wonder, Patroclus thinks, that wars are lost and won over love.
And love ends all at once. In death, all is lost, and lovers may never see one another again. Perhaps it is better to grow apart while you are alive, and can at least pretend that the other one is happy, somewhere far away.
“Not that I would know much about that,” he says with a laugh that flirts with bitterness.
(He doesn’t know where Achilles is, now. It’s doubtful that he’s happy.)
Beside him, Asterius nods. “You have been through many trials. I do not envy you.”
“I think you do, a little bit.”
Asterius declines to respond, and Patroclus doesn’t force him to. He places no expectations on the Minotaur; Asterius is free to speak as much or as little as he wishes during their trysts.
Patroclus shifts his weight, allows his cheek to press to Asterius’ broad chest. When he was alive he had not expected that the dead would have any body heat, since their hearts no longer beat; now, it is a welcome comfort that Asterius’ body is warm against his.
There is another, of course, that he would prefer to warm his bed. But Achilles is gone now, far beyond Patroclus’ reach—and so too is love lost forever, gone from his grasp. He has gained eternity here in Elysium, but without his partner, what does it matter?
To couple with Asterius is... unconventional, at best. But the Minotaur is kind to him, and surprisingly gentle—more gentle than Achilles liked to be. Patroclus cannot pretend that they are the same, not even when he screws his eyes shut and allows himself to be nostalgic, to remember the feeling of a wet, eager mouth against his, the tightness between Achilles’ supple thighs.
Besides being covered in fur, Asterius is much taller, and he snorts too much to be mistaken for Patroclus’ former lover. But it is nice nonetheless to have a companion in his bed for only a few short moments, and best of all a companion who can almost understand his sorrows.
“I do,” says Asterius, finally. “Envy you, I mean. Not for your partner’s loss, of course. But that you were able to love him, once. And he, you.”
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. A bit of a mess, Achilles. Always getting into trouble when he was a boy, and not much better when he was grown.”
“It isn’t so different for me.”
Patroclus has never met Theseus, but he’s heard endless tales from the other shades: that he ruled Athens with great wisdom and mercy, that even now he fights valiantly in the arena of Elysium alongside his partner. From Asterius himself he hears even greater praise. The Minotaur calls his King noble, kind, true. He speaks with great fondness of the time they crossed paths in Erebus, of the friendship they forged there in the heat of battle, of the way Theseus spent a hundred days and nights begging Hades to permit Asterius entry to Elysium.
Nobody can defy the lord of the dead; nobody, it seems, except for the greatest of heroes.
(Patroclus knew a great hero once. He is not here.)
He thought at first that Asterius might be a slave, destined to be killed by the king again and again for his amusement. But Asterius speaks also of how kindly the king treats him, and he has no reason to lie. Not to Patroclus, and not to himself.
Asterius sighs Theseus’ name as he sinks his cock between Patroclus’ thighs, always. My king he whispers, you are so good to me, so tight for me, so beautiful and Patroclus says nothing. At least one of them deserves to believe their fantasies, to feel for a moment like he is with the one that he longs for.
It might be better if Asterius could forget about him, if he found another partner, one who could love him in all the ways that Asterius deserves. But he does not, and will not, and refuses to consider for even a moment devoting his life to anyone but Theseus.
His spirit is stronger than any storm, Asterius says. His gaze pierces right through me, eyes as beautiful as a pair of gemstones. When he smiles, I feel as though the whole world is brighter.
Patroclus doesn’t suggest he find anyone else. A pair of fools, he and the Minotaur are.
But he wonders sometimes, if there might be something more to it. Sometimes, Asterius is nearly silent; other times, he speaks endlessly of his king. Patroclus has no urge to play matchmaker, a pastime for silly young girls, and yet—
Well, there is no hope for him. There may be some for Asterius. And Patroclus has nothing better to do.
Today, he gets the sense that Asterius has something to say, though he does not encourage him to say it. Asterius knows that he can speak when he wishes, and he does, soon enough.
“I pleasured the king last night,” Asterius says. Blunt, as always. Patroclus, sitting beside him, feels his cheeks grow red (as though he himself has never pleasured a man through the night? nonsense!), and he wonders if cows are capable of blushing. It doesn’t appear so.
“Did he enjoy it?” Patroclus asks. “Did you?”
“I did, and he as well, I think. I hadn’t expected it, but you taught me well, and he is...” a pause. “He is experienced with men, it appears.”
“Not so uncommon. It’s a lifetime of companionship with a man that’s unusual, not the coupling itself. You are pleased, I take it.”
“I am concerned. He said nothing afterwards, only sighed and buried himself into my chest.”
Patroclus shrugs. “Sometimes there’s not much more to be said.” He certainly runs out of things ot say, most of the time.
“The king isn’t like you. He doesn’t stop talking very often.”
Ah, well. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s never met Theseus. Patroclus tires easily of men who don’t know when to shut their mouths.
“You made him speechless, then. Don’t worry too much about it.”
He knows Asterius will worry nonetheless. There’s not much of a way to stop it.
“He asked me for many things. Some that I had never done. To bend him against the bed, to service his ass with my tongue. It was... strange, but I liked it. And he called my name.”
Patroclus imagines Theseus bent over, his ass open and ready. He imagines the taste of him, the feeling of him twitching as fingers enter him, one and then two. Only instead of Theseus’ face it is Achilles, begging that he can take another. Bragging about it, as always.
“He asked me to kiss him, too, though our mouths didn’t fit together they way they ought to. He said it didn’t matter, not if it was me.”
And as the memories and the story and the fantasies blend together, suddenly it’s too much, and Patroclus’ throat goes dry.
“He seems to be more eager than you may have thought.”
“Perhaps. And yet why would he ask for such a thing? My my face, my tongue—none of it is like those of a man. He should not have a reason to want them. Some men enjoy the forbidden, I have been told. It is the taboo of it that they want. I fear that he does, too.”
“Is it wrong that I enjoy being used in that way? It is better that not being touched by him at all.”
There is a certain allure in the forbidden indeed, though Achilles has never felt forbidden to him in the way that Asterius must feel to Theseus. As long as they still had love for women—and oh, Achilles found a love for women in his youth—there was no reason for them to not make love as well. But they were friends, companions. Never enemies. Never did one of them kill the other.
Theseus, Patroclus thinks, must be a strange man indeed to slay a monster and then beg him to make love to him. But he has chosen a patient lover, and so he has chosen well.
“I can’t tell you what to do. I won’t even tell you to follow your heart, not anymore. But know this: you are your own free man now, and a good man.”
Asterius seems pleased enough by his response.
Asterius comes to him a second time, and it feels like it’s about a week later. There’s no way of telling time here, so it probably isn’t.
“Theseus told me something yesterday. I thought you might help me make sense of it,” Asterius says, chewing on the edge of a daisy thoughtfully. The two of them have not fucked recently, not since since that first time Theseus had Asterius service him.
“Please, speak, but I can promise you nothing.”
Asterius nods. “He told me, ‘Asterius, you fought bravely today, as bold as any hero. I am honored to have you by my side.”
It sounds like something the king would say, and though Patroclus is still staying put in his little glade, far away from the places where Theseus spends his time, he feels as though he’s gained a good picture of him from Asterius.
“’Our bond runs deep,’” Asterius continues, still quoting Theseus. “’And you are the most valued companion I have had, better than any in life. Tell me, dear Bull--if you wish to deepen our relationship, just say the word.’ It was something like that. What did he mean?”
Patroclus furrows his brow. “What did you tell him?”
“I said thank you,” says Asterius, as though it is obvious.
“Right. Of course. Blunt as ever.”
“It’s all I can manage, even though my companion speaks in such fine poetry.”
“Poetry, is it?” Patroclus says. Or is it nonsense, a string of flowery words that mean little?
Asterius notices none of the dryness in his words. “I never had much of a chance to appreciate the poets when I was alive, but if the king’s words are not poetry, nothing is.”
Love is blind, and Asterius’ is blinder than most. Young lovers are easily taken in by these sorts of words, and though he’s not sure how old Asterius is, he is earnest as a boy. Patroclus wonders if he was like this, when he was young. He’s not sure if he wishes to know the answer.
“Some people would consider that a sufficient declaration of love,” Patroclus says, finally. “Others, one of friendship. What does your Theseus mean by it, I wonder?”
“Then you do not know, either.”
Patroclus does not, though he’s beginning to have his suspicions. And yet something stops him from saying as much, some urge to protect Asterius. It is hard, sometimes, to learn how to love. Harder when your other friends stick their noses into your business.
Still, Elysium doesn’t need two men pining for their brash, foolish heroes in it.
“Did your Achilles ever say anything like that?”
“My Achilles... well, it’s different. We were brought together as children through somewhat unusual circumstances, though not half as unusual as your own. We ended up becoming lovers as soon as we had an interest in that sort of thing, and we always knew that we were each other’s home.”
“I see,” says Asterius.
“But no, we were not particularly romantic in our words for each other. We never needed to be.”
“He does not speak in the same way that the king does,” Asterius confirms, understanding.
“He would say it was an honor to fight by my side, though. And he said it often. In that way they have much in common.”
He wonders if he ought to meet Theseus. They share a lover now, apparently, though whether Theseus is aware of it he can't say. It seems that Asterius would tell him anything, if he asked. The question then becomes whether Theseus would bother to ask.
Achilles certainly would not have, were he in Theseus' place. He took other lovers, men and women alike, in their youth and did not mind when Patroclus did the same. They both understood that mattered not, so long as it was each other who was home.
He smiles fondly at Asterius' descriptions sometimes, the way that Theseus' hair is like sunshine, and his spirit is like a lion's. Theseus, it seems, is brash, bold, unyielding. He revels in the endless combat that Elysium allows, and takes pride in having Asterius by his side. Slowly, Asterius has learned that indeed he is something to be proud of.
If Achilles were here, he might be the same way. Patroclus certainly sees something familiar in Asterius' eyes when he speaks of their latest victory.
But to win in Elysium is meaningless. Patroclus knows now that there is only glory to be found in war, not happiness. He does not attempt to explain this to Asterius, who has now found the only happiness he’s ever experienced
Patroclus is not the sentimental type, but even with his heart frozen over, he can tell that Asterius deserves to be happy, and that it is Theseus who brings him this joy.
Theseus, Asterius says, saw goodness in him when nobody else was willing to try. He has never feared the Minotaur, not really, only treating him as a rival and, later, a companion. He is stubborn to a fault and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
He... stood before Lord Hades and begged and pleaded and insisted that Asterius be allowed passage into Elysium. As far as either of them knows, Theseus is the only man who has successfully earned someone else a place in this paradise, and all in exchange for guarding the exit, which he would have gladly done anyway.
“It’s important to the king that Elysium is protected,” Asterius explains. “And he would do all that was in his power to keep it safe either way. That’s just the kind of man that he is.”
With all the words of praise that Asterius speaks of him, Patroclus finds himself falling a bit in love with Theseus, too.
“You should tell him,” he says one day.
Asterius does not ask what he means; they either talk about Theseus or not at all.
“Why now?” the Minotaur responds. “I do not disagree, but... I am unfamiliar with how such things typically occur. Is there a particular reason?”
Patroclus shrugs. “You’ve been like this for how long, now?” Neither of them knows the answer to that. “And you’ve never told him.”
Risk it all.
“I see. When one is in love for long enough, he should confess. It makes a certain kind of sense.”
“It’s not just the length of time, but-- well, it’s good enough, in this case. Your affection for him is clearly unwavering, and he seems to feel similarly, though he’s got an odd way of showing it.”
“Would your Achilles have wanted you to tell him how you felt, under the same circumstances?”
“He wouldn’t have disliked it, at least.”
“I wish I had told him,” Patroclus adds. “More clearly, I mean.”
Asterius says nothing, and places hand firmly on his shoulder. In its own way, it’s reassuring.
“I told him.”
“He stared at me for what felt like an eternity, and then he began to cry.”
Asterius pauses, then: “He said thank you, after he finished.”
“That’s good.” Patroclus thinks it’s good, anyway.
“He is very open with his emotions, always.”
“I can see that. So are you, in a different way.”
So was Achilles, in the same way. He was about as sentimental as Patroclus, which is to say not very, but-- he might weep too, in the right circumstances.
(When Patroclus imagines him coming back, he imagines him weeping, if only just a bit.)
“Though I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the whole thing, I’m glad that I told him.”
An embrace would be nice now, to stop Patroclus from getting lost in his own memories, but to ask Asterius for it would seem uncouth, so he does not.
Patroclus thinks little of it when doesn’t see Asterius for a while after that. In Elysium, time has little meaning, and it is easy to lose track of the days, months, even years. That Patroclus rarely, if ever, leaves his little glade makes him even more illusive, ironically: since Elysium is never arranged the same way twice, it’s easy for someone who always stays in the same place to be oeverlooked entirely
There’s no doubt that as long as the Minotaur has his hero, he’ll be just fine without another lover taking up his time and potentially making things more complicated. And ah, love is a complicated thing, and though it should be simple it can easily lead to hurt and jealousy.
(He’s never asked if Theseus is the jealous type, but Achilles certainly was. Even though he tried to be above such things the fact remained that he was willing to fight a war over passion and try to end it over passion lost.)
But one day or night, he sees them: Asterius, standing proud and tall as he always does, and an equally proud but decidedly more standard-sized man that can only be Theseus.
Admittedly, Patroclus has always filled in the blanks of Asterius’ descriptions with Achilles, but he’d gotten a clear enough picture of Theseus that the man seems more or less like he’d imagined: hair a striking shade of gold and decorated with laurels that match Asterius’ own, a body that could have been sculpted by Apollo himself, and a wide, confident grin on his face as he chatters away to the Minotaur. He is not half as radiant as Achilles, of course, but he has a handsomeness to him nonetheless, and he’s as polished as Patroclus expects from royalty.
It is not mere coincidence that they are here, and they walk toward him. He nods as they approach, but does not stand; Asterius doesn’t expect him to and Theseus... well, he can get used to it, if it bothers him.
But if Theseus thinks that one ought to stand for a king, he says nothing about it, and indeed his eyes seem to shine with excitement when he begins to speak. “You must be Patroclus! My dear, dear friend Asterius has told me all about you!”
“Has he?” Patroclus says with minimal enthusiasm. Theseus appears to have enough of that for all three of them.
“I have told him a bit,” Asterius allows. “Nothing particularly personal.”
And Patroclus cannot help but smile at that, because he already assumed as much but Asterius is kindly enough that he wants to reassure him anyway.
“And you know me, of course,” Theseus continues.
“First king of Athens, great warrior who slay the Bull of Minos, and Asterius’ partner. Is that about right?”
“I’d have you order it differently—Asterius’ partner, first king of Athens, and then slayer of beasts—but the words ring true, so I shall allow it!”
“Will you allow it? How generous,” Patroclus replies, unimpressed. He hadn’t expected Theseus to be so... showy.
“I am, of course. But no, I have not come to talk about myself! Indeed I must thank you for what you’ve done for Asterius and I. He tells me it was you who encouraged him to approach me with words of love, even when he had no confidence in himself. He says that without your companionship, he’d never have found the courage to reveal to me what lies deep within his heart!”
“Oh. It went well, then.”
“He spoke gentle words of praise to me— and then he said what I’d always known in my heart, but never been able to put into words. And he did it so concisely, so wonderfully. That we are not destined to be merely companions, or partners, or even lovers, but that on top of all of this, he feels a deep romantic passion for me!”
“And then you cried,” Patroclus says, recalling his last encounter with Asterius.
“Well, just a little of that. Wouldn’t you, if such a ravishing creature had such high praise for you?”
At this, Patroclus raises an eyebrow in Asterius’ direction, which Theseus appears not to notice. The Minotaur is about as red as he can be, under all of that fur, but he doesn’t seem particularly uncomfortable, which seems logical enough considering that Patroclus already knows everything Theseus is saying.
“And after that,” Theseus continues, “We made passionate love, the likes of which Elysium has never seen. Why, we ought to have made a show of it for all to observe! We—”
“King,” says Asterius.
“Ah,” says Theseus.
“Congratulations, Asterius,” says Patroclus.
Theseus, Patroclus decides, talks too much. He’s much prettier with his mouth shut.
This ought to be the end of it: Asterius has the happiness he deserves, Patroclus is the same as always, and Theseus can continue enjoying himself in whatever manner he sees fit.
Unfortunately, it so happens that the way Theseus sees fit to enjoy himself is to befriend Patroclus, and soon he’s approaching him often to talk about... well, mostly nothing. Asterius, most of the time, but while the Minotaur is an appealing enough topic of conversation, Theseus just talks so much.
A partial list of things that Theseus has told him about recently, all in great detail: the details of at least four separate victories he and Asterius have had in the arena, the pleasant flavor profile of some particularly tasty bread they enjoyed the previous morning, the time they went swimming (naked) in the Lethe together.
“...and though the foe had such evil in his mismatched eyes and called upon a demonic power in his wicked shield, I was able to fell him easily, and protect Asterius from grievous harm!”
His most favored topic, however, is his battles against the stranger from the House of Hades that has recently been journeying through Elysium, headed for the surface. Though the boy is clearly of divine blood, Theseus is fully convinced that he is a daemon dead-set on disturbing his peaceful life with Asterius.
Patroclus could correct him, but what’s the point? He’d just find something else to complain about, and at least the tales of Zagreus’ exploits are mildly interesting. The stranger seems to be getting closer to victory each time, and Patroclus wishes him well. (He deserves the title of champion more than Theseus, certainly.)
That the most engagement he’s able to get from Patroclus is a hmm and a nod and the occasional oh? does not deter Theseus.
“Do you remember all of the times I compared my Achilles to your Theseus?” Patroclus asks.
Asterius snorts. “Of course. A fearsome foe, a stubborn companion, a heart of gold—”
“I was wrong,” Patroclus cuts him off. “Your taste in partners is more eccentric than mine. Tell me, does he ever stop babbling?”
“He’s used to doing most of the talking,” Asterius points out. “And I enjoy listening to him.” That explains a lot.
Finding common ground with a bull-man is all well and good, but to compare their partners... well, one of them is far superior in all imaginable ways, and it’s not Theseus.
“He’s most compatible with someone who’s never had any other human interactions, I suppose. Nobody else to compare him to.”
Asterius stands up a bit straighter at that, all irony as always completely lost on him. “The king is truly incomparable.”
Through a series of complicated events, Achilles returns to him. He does weep, just a bit, and so does Patroclus, and then they commit themselves to relearning each other, body and soul, for however long they have this time.
Having Achilles, his Achilles, once more is fulfilling in a way that no other lover can ever be. Their bodies still fit together like two pieces of a puzzle, and they lose track of time even more than is typical in Elysium. The afterlife becomes an endless haze for a time, where they kiss and stroke one another and make love until they’re too tired to make love any longer and can only hold each other, naked and safe.
They’ve both matured during their separation: Achilles is less rash, more level-headed; Patroclus is more grounded.
“Some people stop maturing the moment they die,” Patroclus says, breaking the silence. His hair is still sweat-slicked and he holds Achilles close, chest to back.
“Are you talking about me?” Achilles says; his voice sounds like a frown.
“Absolutely not. Apropos of nothing, would you ever consider claiming the title of Elysium’s champion?”
Achilles chuckles, and brings their entwined fingers up to his lips to place a gentle kiss on Patroclus’ knuckles. “Those days are behind me, I think. Besides, he gives the lad all kinds of trouble, but the champion is a good man. Did you know he pulled the Bull of Minos out of Erebus?”
“Too well,” Patroclus grumbles, and pulls Achilles in for a deep kiss before he can ask any more questions.