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We Were Like Gods

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Patroclus stood in front of his father, his backpack around his shoulders, his wallet with its pitiful college student budget in his pocket, a large suitcase by his left leg and a small duffel bag sitting on top of it. He bit his lip as his father’s always-disappointed gaze swept critically over him. He had driven him to the train station. That was all he would do.

“Well,” his father said.

Patroclus was silent.

“You’re decided then,” his father said.

“Yes.”

His father frowned. “Law would be better for you,” he said. “More respectable than going premed at some small college that no one has heard of. East Locris University would have given you a better future.”

Patroclus just kept his mouth shut and tried to tune his father out. It was the same speech he’d given time and time again, that going into law like him was more respectable than cutting into someone with a scalpel or dissecting corpses or any of that kind of bullshit. Of course, his father was ignoring that surgery saved lives, but don’t even bother bringing that up in front of him. His father didn’t care. The only plus side to his transfer was that he would be about seven states closer to home, but now that he was abandoning law, his father had made it perfectly clear that he didn’t give a fuck how close to home Patroclus was.

Not to mention that when Patroclus told him he was gay last April he didn’t take it very well, either. So it was a wonder, really, that he had agreed to even drive Patroclus to the train station that would take him to Boston and Phthia College, where he was going to study medicine. It was a small college, that was true, with only six thousand students, but for a solely undergrad school, it had one of the best premed programs in the nation.

It was almost a five-hour train ride from New York City to Boston. He would arrive late at night, two full days before students were allowed to move in, but his father had driven him to the train station on the other side of the city in New York City traffic, so he supposed there wasn’t much more he could ask of him.

He became aware that his father had stopped talking, and was looking at him expectantly.

Whoops.

He cleared his throat. “Uh, sorry, I missed that last part.” That was happening with alarming frequency nowadays.

His father sighed and ran a hand over his face, looking utterly exhausted and exasperated. That was also happening with alarming frequency nowadays. “I said goodbye, Patroclus. You need to get going if you don’t want to miss your train.”

Patroclus looked at his watch. Shit. His train was leaving in just over ten minutes, and he still needed to buy his ticket and find the platform.

“Right,” he said. “Yeah. I should go. Um, thanks for the ride, see you in May.”

He wouldn’t be welcome home for the holidays.

 

 

Patroclus just managed to get on the train before the doors closed. There weren’t many people on the train, and he found a seat for himself at the end of the cabin. He put his suitcase and duffel in the space overhead and sat down next to the window, debating whether or not he should work on the chemistry summer assignment he needed to finish for the first week of class. Something about pH and molecular structures and Lewis dot diagrams and such; all things that they would be covering during the semester, but Professor…Phoinix, was it? – wanted to assess how much they already knew.

He pulled the packet halfway out of his backpack before he paused.

He’d been working all of last night and the entire morning. He deserved a break. He put it back in his backpack.

He took out his phone instead and put in his earbuds, opening Spotify and scrolling through his playlists, passing by his old high school angst and weird country phase to settle on Troye Sivan. A fellow gay man who happened to make wonderful music that really deserved more attention.

Settling back into the hard seat as the train began to move, he watched the blackness of the underground part of Penn Station roll by and give way to white daylight and towering skyscrapers that made up his city. He hit shuffle play and Troye’s Ease filtered through the clanging of the tracks, the train speeding up until everything outside was little more than a blur unless he made a conscious effort to pick out individual objects.

He leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, letting the rhythmic rocking of the train lull him. The song ended and Blue came on afterwards, and he turned up the volume until the music drowned out everything else.

He didn’t want to think right now, and the music gave him something to focus on to stop himself from thinking about anything else. He stuck his ticket under the metal strip on the seat in front of him and closed his eyes.

There was nearly five hours of travel in front of him, after all. He might as well get some sleep.

 

 

It was dark when Patroclus woke, and train was pulling into Boston’s South Station. He blinked sleep from his eyes and opened his phone to check the time. Ten past nine. He paused the music that had long gone past the end of the playlist and took his earbuds out, stuffing them in his pocket.

He stretched, taking his luggage down from the overhead compartment, narrowly missing hitting himself in the head with the wheel of his suitcase, and getting ready to leave the train when it stopped. While he waited for the train to pull into the station, he called an Uber to take him to the Holiday Inn he would be staying at until campus allowed students to move in.

The train rolled to a stop and he hurried out of the station onto the street corner where, according to the app, a black Honda civic with the license plate SPOCK69 and a blonde woman named Betty would be arriving in two minutes to pick him up.

Betty was a very cheerful woman who wasted no time at all in silence.

“Hello, are you Patroclus?” she asked as she pulled up by the curb, completely mispronouncing his name. Her bright pink lipstick was smeared ever so slightly on the left corner of her lip, giving her smile a lopsided look.

“Yes,” Patroclus said, not bothering to correct her.

“Wonderful!” Betty exclaimed, stopping the car and running around awkwardly in her stilettos to open the trunk before rushing forward and taking Patroclus’s duffel and suitcase, struggling a bit as she lifted them into the back of her car but smiling through it all the same. “I’m so glad to meet you,” she huffed. “I’m assuming you’re traveling here for a while, since you have all this with you?”

“Yes, I –”

“Great!” Betty said cheerfully, not noticing how she had cut him off. “I could give you a tour of the city if you like, free of charge, of course! I just love showing people around, it really is a great city! I’m so glad you decided to come here, of all places! Oh, the river is absolutely beautiful, you must spend some time there and watch all the boats going by!” She had finished loading Patroclus’s things and closed the trunk, scurrying around to get back into the driver’s seat.

Patroclus opened the back door, but she waved him off.

“Oh no, honey, come sit in the front with me! We can talk as I drive you. Where are you headed?”

Very reluctantly, he closed the back door and opened the passenger door, climbing in. “Um, the Holiday Inn near Phthia College, please.”

Betty turned around and stared at him in confusion. “What college?”

Patroclus’s cheeks reddened. “East of Harvard.”

The woman’s expression cleared. “Ah, Harvard! I know that one! And that means I know the Holiday Inn you’re talking about; I’ll get you there in no time at all! I’ll certainly point out some landmarks along the way if you would like.” She put the car into drive and pulled out into the traffic with alarming speed; Patroclus clutched the armrest of the seat. “The river is my favorite, though, it’s just so beautiful! I would strongly suggest you – oh, sorry, I’ve already said that! Silly me; I’m getting old, so you must pardon my memory!”

She laughed, and Patroclus chuckled awkwardly with her.

“So what college did you say you were going to? F-something?”

“Phthia,” Patroclus said.

“Oh, dear me,” Betty sighed, somehow making it sound cheerful and dismayed at the same time, “I’m really losing it with the times. I’ve never heard of the place! Well, I’m sure it’s an absolutely wonderful college and I’m sure you’ll love it there and make lots of friends!” She stopped at a red light, and the relative silence of the engine made her chatter all the more obvious, and even Patroclus, who’d had years of practice tuning out his father during his self-important speeches, was finding it difficult to ignore her.

Betty hit the gas as soon as the light turned green, jolting Patroclus back from his pitiful attempts at tuning her out. “So, my dear, I’m sure you have a girlfriend or someone back at home, looking like you do! She misses you, I’m sure.” Patroclus winced at the heteronormativity, but she didn’t notice and plowed right on. “I remember when I was your age and had a sweetheart, but of course he was the one going to college and I was the one who stayed behind at home. That reminds me, I never asked. Where are you from? Ooh, wait, don’t tell me. You arrived on a train, so it must be pretty close, right? I mean, nothing like California or Florida or anything.”

Patroclus bit back a sigh and wished the bright green Holiday Inn sign would get larger at a much faster rate than it currently was.

“Let me guess, what about New Jersey? No? Well, you don’t have a Jersey accent. Oh, you know New Jersey is called the garden state, right? And they’re so famous for their cranberries, but you know what? When I went down there a few years ago, it was all full of corn! I was like, where are the cranberries? It’s a mystery, I know. Oh, but have you been there? It’s quite beautiful, really, at certain times of year!

“But I’m getting off track, where was I? Oh, right, trying to guess where you’re from! What about Pennsylvania? Not Pennsylvania? Well, that would make sense, I guess, all Pennsylvanians have a certain look to them, if you know what I mean.”

Patroclus didn’t. Betty, as usual, didn’t notice and kept talking. “Oh, what other states are there, Connecticut? New Hampshire? Oh! New York! It’s New York, isn’t it?”

“Yep, you got it,” Patroclus mumbled, and Betty cheered.

He had never been more grateful to arrive at a hotel in his entire life.

 

 

Patroclus was given a room on the fifth floor with a view that overlooked a parking lot. He pushed open the door, wrinkling his nose at the typical hotel room smell that wafted out, and flicked on the lights. The room was relatively nice, with one queen size bed taking up the majority of the space and a small TV on the opposite wall above a small desk.

He dropped his backpack on the floor and wheeled his suitcase in just far enough that he would be able to close the door, and then plopped onto the bed and opened his messages.

One text, from his friend Automedon. He was a coxswain on the men’s crew team at Phthia and a childhood friend of Patroclus’s.

 

              A: Hey Pat, text me when you arrive!

 

It was from three hours ago. Patroclus typed out a quick reply before switching off his phone and rolling over onto his back with a dramatic sigh that he felt could belong in the best of any of Shakespeare’s plays. Maybe he could go into theater and play all the grumpy characters.

His phone buzzed, and he peered over at it.

 

              A: Glad you got there safely! I’m coming up in a few days so lmk if you want me to show you around the place when I get there. Until then, I’m not sure what the food situation is at Holiday is but there are a bunch of places all around the city, and text me if you have any questions!

 

              A: I gtg now though, still haven’t packed yet :P see you soon!

 

Patroclus sighed again, though more fondly this time. Automedon was always cheerful, if a bit scatterbrained (hence the fact that he hadn’t started packing just two days before he was supposed to move in), and it was nice to know he would have someone from home here.

Two people, in fact. One was Automedon, the other was Briseis. She would be flying in from Chicago in a few days.

As if she knew he was thinking about her, his phone alerted him of another text.

 

              B: Gotten there yet?

 

Patroclus replied that he had.

 

              B: Great! Seen any cute guys yet? ;)

 

Patroclus snorted.

             

              P: I literally just got to my hotel

 

              B: Uber?

 

              P: Yeah. A super talkative blonde lady. I think she’d give you a run for your money

 

              B: Whaaat? That’s impossible xD

 

              P: I’m not kidding, she didn’t shut up once

 

              B: LOL

 

              B: Ok yeah maybe you’re right lmao

 

              B: You should sleep soon, gotta get up early to explore the city right? And lmk if you see any cute guys and I’ll def introduce you!!!

 

Patroclus rolled his eyes. Briseis and her obsession with getting him laid. Well, he supposed it was better than having a best friend who wanted him to stay a virgin until marriage.

His phone buzzed again.

             

              B: I know you’re rolling your eyes at me, Pat, but this is the year you’re gonna get laid and you’re going to have me to thank for it ;)

 

              P: Yeah right

 

              B: You’ll see. Go sleep now, I’ll talk to you later <3

 

Patroclus switched off his phone. It wasn’t even that late; not even ten. But despite his several hour-long nap on the train, he was still exhausted. He blamed Betty for sapping his remaining energy with her excessive talking.

With a groan, he pushed himself off the bed and to where his backpack lay discarded by the door, unzipping it and digging through it until he found a sandwich he’d packed away earlier.

It was soggy and kind of pathetic and could barely even be counted as a sandwich, with two small, thin pieces of bread and a single slice of ham, but it was better than going to bed hungry. He unwrapped it and bit into the sad piece of bread, making a face at the mushiness.

Whatever. He’d find a better meal tomorrow.

He finished the sandwich, washed it down with a few gulps of water, and then went bed.

 

 

He woke up fairly early the next morning; the clock read just past ten. That left him a good four hours to work on chemistry if he wanted to be back by two in the afternoon for a nap; it was the last few days of summer, after all, and he wanted to take advantage of all the time he had to sleep before classes started and that time inevitably ran out.

The stiff breeze ruffled Patroclus’s hair as he pushed open the doors of the Holiday Inn and turned towards the local Subway he’d seen down the street last night when Betty had driven him, his backpack slung around his shoulders and heavy with his laptop and chemistry assignment.

Considering it was Boston and Phthia College was situated basically in the middle of a bunch of other colleges that would also be starting soon, there were surprisingly few people on the street. He walked by a bookstore, tempted to go in but knowing that if he did, he would just end up reading instead of actually doing chemistry.

The Subway was on the other side of the street; he crossed and pulled open the doors. Cold air-conditioned air rushed into his face, blowing his hair back. He walked up to the counter and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu before turning to find a seat; not a difficult thing to do, since there was only one other person there.

Patroclus blinked.

One very attractive person.

He had a face that looked like it was carved out of stone in its symmetry and perfection, brilliant green eyes and curved-bow lips that Patroclus thought, before he caught himself, would be perfect for kissing, his nose thin and straight like an arrow between two high cheekbones. His eyebrows were dark and arched but his mussed-up hair was a brilliant gold, his skin sun-kissed but still a few shades lighter than Patroclus’s. He wore a simple white T-shirt that clung to his broad but lean shoulders and was looking down at his phone, one earbud dangling from his right ear; Patroclus heard the faint sounds of a violin drifting through the air.

Patroclus tore his eyes away and sat down a few tables away, biting into his sandwich – much better than last night’s – and pulling out the chemistry packet from his backpack, flipping to the page he was working on and resolutely not looking at the boy sitting a few yards in front of him.

He read the question he’d left off at; it came in multiple parts and was something about finding the subsequent pH of a solution if a certain amount of certain molarity hydrofluoric acid was added to a specified amount of distilled water.

Basic chemistry, basic math. At least to his brain. He just needed to do some manipulation of the exponents and turn them into logarithms and then solve the equation. Not difficult, just tedious.

With a sigh, he began to work.

Equations flew from the tip of his pencil and he finished the multi-part question with ease, flipping to the next page where the questions were about drawing Lewis dot structures of bonded atoms. More pretty basic chemistry, considering the most complicated molecules he needed to draw consisted of three atoms.

The boy sitting at the other table made a sound, a slight huff of laughter at whatever was on his screen. Patroclus did his very best not to be distracted, and just barely succeeded.

He had no idea who the boy was. He didn’t even know if he was in college, although he looked to be about that age. And even if he was a college student, there was no saying he was at Phthia. For all he knew, he could be a student at Harvard, or MIT, or Boston University, or Northeastern, or Tufts, or one of what felt like a thousand other schools all jammed into the same city. Or maybe he wasn’t even in college; he could be a high school dropout, for all he knew.

Stop it, Patroclus.

Chemistry. He needed to focus on chemistry.

He’d gotten through three pages – and the cute guy was still there – before his phone buzzed. He frowned at the interruption and peered over at his phone. A text from Briseis.

He unlocked the phone to look at the message.

 

              B: What’s up?

 

Patroclus typed out a reply.

 

              P: Nothing much, doing chem at subway

 

              P: Actually remembered to eat lunch today :P

 

              P: There’s a cute guy here

 

That last part was a mistake, which he should have known, considering Briseis was so eager for him to let her know when he saw anyone he might fancy in the slightest. Almost immediately, his phone exploded with messages of Briseis demanding to know in capital letters what he looked like and what his name was and, most importantly, if Patroclus was going to do anything about it.

 

              P: I have no idea what his name is, it’s not like I know anyone here

 

              B: ASK!!!

 

              P: He seems busy

 

(Who knows, maybe he was doing a summer assignment too? On his phone, but whatever)

 

              P: Plus I’m doing chem hw

 

              P: Also I have no idea if he goes to Phthia or not

 

              B: Who cares? Ask for his number or something! This might be your chance to get laid!!

 

Patroclus snorted. What, someone like him getting laid by someone who looked, quite frankly, like a god? Good one. The dude probably wasn’t even into guys. He typed out a reply conveying those very thoughts and again, almost immediately, received a reply. (Briseis texted faster than anyone he’d ever met.)

 

              B: What do mean, looking like he does?

 

              B: Omg is he hot??? Send me a pic!

 

Patroclus blanched. Sneaking pictures of hot guys was definitely not what he signed up for, but he really was cute, and maybe, just maybe, she knew who he was? There was no way he would be into Patroclus, of course, but maybe he could Facebook stalk him for a bit and then feel sad about his own love life. Stuff like that was becoming a favorite pastime of his at quite an alarming rate.

He took a deep breath and another bite of his sandwich, pretending to put his phone away but actually lowering it so that only the camera was poking up from behind the table. The cute guy was still using his phone and didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious as Patroclus took a picture and sent it to Briseis. It was a little blurry since he’d taken it as quickly as possible and then lowered his phone to avoid getting caught, but he sent it anyway. He should’ve known better; Briseis was a film major, and sure enough, criticism came quickly.

 

              B: What kind of camera skills are those??? Blurry AF, subject is weirdly to the side of the frame and super small which, in this case, isn’t what you’re going for

 

              B: But based on the poor-quality image you’ve given me, I think I know him but I’m not sure, you’re too far away

 

Patroclus frowned and grumbled to himself. What was he, paparazzi? But he took another picture, zooming in as far as he could and thanking God that his phone had a good enough camera that he could still get a clear shot by zooming in and wouldn’t have to creepily move closer.

He was just in the process of attaching the file to his text message when he noticed a flash.

He froze.

A flash. Like…a camera.

He risked a glance upwards to see the cute guy now practically hiding behind his phone and typing furiously. And was that…a blush, reddening his ears?

Patroclus gulped. There was no way. Absolutely no way. He couldn’t have been…

No.

He was making fun of him, that’s what it was. Probably saying something like ‘hey look at this pathetic little nerd sitting here doing homework and sneaking pictures of me while I lounge here like an absolute god’ or something. There was no way he was sneaking pictures of Patroclus for anything good. If he was sneaking pictures of Patroclus at all, of course. Which he probably wasn’t. Patroclus didn’t consider himself interesting enough to warrant attention, good or bad.

So yeah. There was no way this boy was taking pictures of Patroclus. Patroclus wasn’t interesting enough to be noticed, even to be made fun of, which he was usually perfectly content with, but this also meant that there was no way that he could ever have a chance with someone like this, which was significantly less fortunate.

He sent the picture to Briseis anyways.

She responded a few seconds later.

 

              B: I was right, I know him. Worked with him once on a project, he’s in theater. His name’s Achilles, and I’m pretty sure he’s at least not straight.

 

Achilles.

 

              B: So now that you know his name and that he’s probably into guys, are you going to do anything about it???

 

Oh, yeah. Definitely. He was going to Facebook stalk him for sure. He looked like one of the typical popular athletic guys at the college, which meant that he would probably have a bunch of pictures online that he could look at until he inevitably felt sad about his own love life. But that wasn’t the point; maybe if Patroclus was brave enough, he could even send him a friend request. Briseis had just confirmed that they went to the same school, after all. It wouldn’t be weird.

He grinned and turned back to his chemistry packet, completely forgetting to respond to Briseis until she texted him again a few minutes later.

 

              B: PATROCLUS!!!!! Where are you????

 

              P: Sorry lol, got distracted

 

              P: I really gotta do chem now though, ttyl

 

He silenced his phone and put it away, taking another few bites of his sandwich and knowing that Briseis would be absolutely livid that he’d silenced the phone on her, but he really did have to finish his assignment. Across from him, the boy – Achilles – was still on his phone, still texting or doing his summer assignment or whatever he had been doing.

Do your chemistry!

Patroclus picked up his pencil again. Achilles.

He smiled to himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Patroclus moved in two days later. He was in the same dorm as Briseis – Skye Dorm, right at the edge of campus and at the end of a line of dorms that looked all the same to him. He’d gotten a single like he wanted to, for which he was immensely grateful; he was proud to say that he was a bit of a social recluse, and he didn’t need a roommate making fun of him for it. Briseis did that enough. All in good fun, of course.

Briseis and Automedon picked him up later the same afternoon to take him on a short tour of the campus, which, despite how much he studied the online map, he could not find his way around.

His two friends vaguely knew each other from a collaboration between film and music students but were more excited to see him. To his great relief, Briseis said nothing about Achilles. Probably because Automedon was there. She wasn’t that keen on embarrassing him, thank God.

“Have you looked around yet?” Automedon asked as they headed out of Skye in the general direction of a large marble building.

Patroclus made a face. “I’ve tried, but I keep getting lost.”

Automedon laughed. “Fair enough. It took me some time to get used to the campus too. Not too many people here, but for some reason it’s sprawled all over the place.”

“Tell me about it,” Briseis muttered. “That’s the science building,” she said, pointing to a huge, modern-looking building across the street and a large grassy field. Its walls were a deep reddish brown and its huge windows were lined with black. “And the field there is where the soccer team practices. Helen told me they’re starting practice tomorrow.”

“Helen?” Patroclus asked.

“Yeah. Best friends with what she calls the men’s team’s best player, though how accurate it is, I don’t know. His name’s Paris. They’re pretty much dating but tell everyone that they aren’t. She’s ace, and Paris is totally into her but he respects her boundaries – oh don’t worry, Pat, she’s out to the whole campus and if I didn’t tell you now you’d find out the first time you met her. Anyway, Paris is a decent guy, you know, once you get to know him. Menelaus on the other hand…”

Automedon snorted. “Him and his brother. What a pair.”

Patroclus looked at them in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Briseis rolled her eyes. “Menelaus hits on Helen all the time. She’s made it clear that she’s not interested and wouldn’t be even if she were into anyone that way, but he keeps saying that she and Paris would label their relationship if they were really into each other, so obviously they’re not. He’s disgusting.”

“Yeah, sounds like it,” Patroclus mumbled. “I’ll stay away from him.”

They kept walking down the rows of dorms. “Creta, Andro, Mykon, Milos, not to be confused with Minos, one of our freshmen dorms, and Nax,” Automedon said, pointing down the row. “And of course you know Skye all the way back there. Freshmen dorms are by the main dining hall. There are a bunch more upperclassmen dorms all around the rest of campus including the one that the crew team has so awesomely taken over, but this is what they call Island Row since there are a bunch of dorms here kind of in the middle of nowhere at the edge of campus.”

“Like islands,” Briseis offered helpfully.

“Right.” Automedon nodded and pointed at the marble building they were headed towards. “That’s the music building. There are a bunch of practice rooms in there as well as our smaller performance hall, where solo and jazz concerts are held. There’s a larger hall further away called Athens Hall, and that’s where theater productions are put on. It’s technically a theater building, but orchestra and choir use it for concerts too since it has great acoustics.”

“You can’t miss it,” Briseis said. “Giant building, really ornamented and over-the-top, but that’s theater for you.”

Automedon snickered and shook his head. “Anyway, something I forgot to mention about the science building – those are just the classrooms in that section of the building I showed you. All the labs are underground. Pretty cool, huh? Someone premed like you will be spending a lot of time in there.”

“And that road over there is Trojan Way; the gym is down there with a pool, a bunch of equipment, an indoor track, even an archery range, and a smaller café that has a bunch of healthy options,” Briseis said, making a face as she talked about the healthy options. Back in New York, she’d eaten everything except healthy food; Patroclus was mystified as to how she stayed thin.

“The boathouse is down there too,” Automedon quipped. “Trojan Way and Island Row wrap around a bend in the river.”

“Where’s the main dining hall?” Patroclus asked. “What’s it called, West Aegean, or something?”

Automedon nodded with a grin. “Yup. We’re actually headed there now since it’s more-or-less at the center of campus, and we can grab a bit to eat if you’re hungry. The food is actually pretty good; I think they’re making salmon today, but there are a bunch of other options if you’re not into that. Salads, pasta, soups, omelets, a vegan and vegetarian side, other random things, and desserts, if you want to live on sugar. We even have a sushi bar!”

Hm. Not bad. East Locris had a bunch of dining halls since it boasted a student population of twenty thousand, but none of them had been anything spectacular. In fact, most of them left much to be desired.

“What’s that?” Patroclus asked, pointing at an area of open grass with a bunch of wooden structures forming some sort of roof, with no walls.

“That’s the amphitheater,” Briseis said. “We don’t use it much, except for commencement and stuff. Sometimes some clubs use it for performances, but otherwise it’s just a nice area to chill, or study, if you’re into that.” She grinned. Patroclus wasn’t surprised. She hadn’t been the studious type back home, either, but somehow still managed to have a perfect GPA all while taking some of the hardest classes their school had to offer.

“The arts building is behind it,” Automedon said. “Big and weird, in my opinion. They used concrete on some parts and wood on others. Supposed to be artistic, but I don’t see it.”

Briseis made a face. “Speak for yourself. I think it’s quite nice.”

Automedon laughed. “Whatever. Anyway, it’s where all the film, photography, and art classes are. There are a bunch of studios, some of them underground, some of them outside around the building. Dance classes and some language classes are also there; the language rooms are upstairs.”

“Some languages?” Patroclus asked.

“Yeah. The main ones like French, Spanish, Chinese, German, and even Latin are in another building nearby, but all of the other languages are in the arts building. Japanese, Russian, Swedish, Ancient Greek, Arabic, stuff like that.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows. “Ancient Greek?”

Briseis shrugged. “It’s pretty popular, actually, to the point where they’re deciding whether or not they should move it to the main languages building. Dunno how they’re going to do it, though; there’s barely enough space there as is. It’s an old building, used to be a gym when the college first opened.”

They turned left down a main road towards the dining hall. “Where are the other food places?” Patroclus asked. “I know there’s two more dining halls and some cafés and snack bars and stuff.”

“Right,” Automedon said with a nod. “The other two dining halls are actually part of the first floors of two dorms: Pelios, which is the one the crew team occupies, and Thracia, which is where most of the seniors who are writing theses go. The cafés and snack bars are in most of the main academic buildings. The biggest one is in the poly-sci building over there. They have prepackaged sandwiches and salads and cheap supermarket sushi, as well as a pretty decent selection of drinks and snacks.”

The dining hall loomed up in front of them; it was a two-story building that sprawled over an impressive area of ground. Students were walking in and out of it.

“So, what do you say?” Briseis asked. “Shall we go inside? I’m starving and could definitely use a dessert waffle or something.”

Patroclus snorted. “You do you, Bri. I want to keep looking around.”

Briseis shrugged. “Alright. See you later then, Pat.”

Automedon turned to him and grinned. “Want to see the crew dorm? I can introduce you to a few people if you want. Not all of them are on campus right now and some of them who are don’t even live with us, but you can meet some of them.”

Patroclus hesitated. He’d never clicked well with athletes, mainly since his high school had stuck remarkably well to movie stereotypes, with the athletes being all buff stupid white people making fun of the poor scrawny nerds. He himself wasn’t particularly scrawny, but he wasn’t particularly buff either, which made him slightly less appealing but still appealing enough to pick on. Automedon had been an exception, but they’d been friends since childhood, long before Automedon joined crew. And at East Locris, the school had been big enough that he’d been able to avoid the athletes altogether.

“Patroclus?”

Patroclus started. “Oh. Sorry. Uh, sure, yeah, I could meet some people, I guess.”

Automedon gave him a bright smile. “Great! Follow me. I know Ajax is here – he’s the captain of the team, and he’s super cool. Phoebe totally has a huge crush on him, but don’t say anything about it. I don’t think Ajax likes her in that way.”

“Who’s Phoebe?”

“Oh, she’s on the women’s team. Bow seat of the women’s first varsity eight – basically, she sits at the front of the best women’s boat that fits eight people. She’s a junior.”

Patroclus nodded. “I’ll try to remember that.”

Automedon turned down a smaller road that lead to another cluster of dorms. “Pelios,” he announced as they approached the largest one. “This used to be a frat house before Phthia banned all frats and sororities. Something about hazing, I think someone had to be rushed to the hospital a few years ago. But we’ve taken over it by now. It’s not just crew; there are about eighty of us and there’s enough space for about a hundred in this building, but some people brought in boyfriends and girlfriends and all. Nice to have everyone in one place, though.

“So you know how I said one of the main dining halls is part of the first floor of this place? Well, it is, but it’s not connected to the dorm. At least not directly; you can get into it from the dorm but you have to swipe back in to get into the dorm from the dining hall. It was originally just a kitchen for the old frat, but then they figured they needed more food places so they expanded it to be a dining hall. Still, West Aegean has the best food, I think.”

Patroclus watched slightly apprehensively as Automedon swiped in with his ID; Patroclus had picked his own up earlier when he moved in, but while ID’s could get anyone into any of the academic buildings or libraries, they could only get you into the dorm you lived in. “I always thought Phthia could use a bit more security,” he commented as he led Patroclus past the first-floor common room towards the elevator. “Seeing as it’s in the middle of the city instead of somewhere in the middle of nowhere like Williams or Amherst, I feel like they should have a bit more security than just swiping in with our ID’s. I mean, what do you do if some weirdo creep steals someone’s ID to get into the dorm, y’know?”

Patroclus nodded in agreement, even though he thought a weirdo creep would have a hard time making off with anyone from the crew team, if the people he’d seen lounging in the common room were anything to go by; even if they just sat there, they were tall and compact, and that was a lot of muscle to pick up.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened, and Automedon stepped inside and pressed the button for the third floor.

“I’m in a two-room double,” he said. “My roommate’s name is Diomedes. He’s two seat in my boat – the openweight men’s four.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said.

“Basically, he sits second from the front in the boat for four dudes that don’t qualify for lightweight rowing,” Automedon explained. “We’re the best four on the team. Out of three, so it’s not really that impressive, but we also have the best rowers in my boat,” he said proudly.

The elevator opened on the first floor, and a tall, lean girl stepped in, raising an eyebrow at Patroclus. Patroclus was by no means short; he was six foot and half an inch, thank you very much, but she was about as tall and looked twice as intimidating.

“Hey, Hippolyta,” Automedon greeted.

“Automedon,” Hippolyta said with a nod. Her voice was soft but held quiet confidence and authority. She glanced at Patroclus again.

“Oh, this is Patroclus. He’s a transfer student from East Locris, and I’m just showing him around.”

Hippolyta nodded again, pressing the button to the fourth floor. “Nice to meet you.”

“Hippolyta’s seven seat of the women’s first varsity eight,” Automedon said.

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Hello.”

Automedon kept chattering away about various people on the team, especially a girl named Marpesia on the women’s team. Patroclus got the feeling that he thought she was super pretty, and he saw a small smirk playing at the corner of Hippolyta’s lips before the elevator dinged on the third floor.

Automedon stepped out and turned right, still chattering away and pausing only to give a quick wave to Hippolyta. Most of the names slipped away from Patroclus’s mind as soon as he’d said them, so when they reached the common room where a few people were sitting, Patroclus had no idea who any of them were.

Except for Ajax.

Ajax was dark, tall, and brooding, with long, thick black hair that surrounded his face in tight curls and deep eyes which Patroclus couldn’t tell if they were hazel or green. He stood and stuck out a hand for Patroclus to shake as Automedon introduced them; his grip was strong.

“Glad you’re here,” he said, his voice a rich baritone. “Hope Automedon’s being a good tour guide?”

“Yeah, he’s been showing me around.”

“Not around enough, he hasn’t met me yet,” a loud voice called from the corner of the room; Patroclus turned to see a handsome boy leaning against the wall casually, his light blonde hair cropped short and his eyes a piercing blue. He had been in conversation with another boy lounging on one of the cushioned seats nearby.

“Shut up, Odysseus, he barely just got here,” Automedon shot back. He turned to Patroclus. “He’s the blonde one. The other one is Diomedes, my roommate.”

Patroclus greeted each of them in turn.

Automedon went around the room, introducing him to everyone else there. Only a few names stuck in his mind; Phoebe was one of them, and Patroclus noted that she was sitting very close to where Ajax had been before he’d stood up to greet Patroclus. Echion was a second, apparently famous around campus for his cheerful and enthusiastic greetings and long, flowing blonde hair, and Antilochus was a third, memorable for the particular friendliness of his smile. Not to mention that Patroclus also thought he was particularly cute.

“Alright, gotta go,” Automedon announced once everyone had said their hello’s and nice to meet you’s and, in coxswain Echion’s case, waddup bro’s. “Get back to whatever it was you were doing; I’ve still gotta show him the rest of campus.”

They turned to leave.

“You’re coxswain of the men’s four,” Patroclus said as they headed back down the hall. “I’ve met three of them. Who’s the fourth?”

“Oh, right,” Automedon said. “Forgot to tell you. Achilles lives off campus.”

Patroclus felt his heart skip a beat at the name, and bright green eyes and golden hair flashed through his mind. “Achilles?”

Automedon gave him a look, his eyebrow arched. “What, you know him?”

Patroclus tried very hard to hide a blush and failed magnificently. “No,” he muttered. “No, I don’t know him. Briseis told me about him though.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, it just wasn’t the whole truth.

“Uh huh,” Automedon said. “Well, you know I don’t swing that way, but I gotta admit he’s pretty cute and I totally see why Deidameia thinks he’s smoking hot.”

Patroclus’s heart sank. “Deidameia?”

“Yeah. She’s in theater with him, and she’s all over him like one hundred percent of the time. It’s really gross, actually.”

“What, are they…together?”

Automedon snorted. “No, are you kidding? I mean yeah, she’s hot, but she’s manipulative as fuck and pretty arrogant and if he were into her they would’ve gotten together ages ago. I’m pretty sure she’s had the hots for him since orientation at the beginning of freshman year.” He gave Patroclus a look, a grin spreading over his face. “Why, are you interested in him? I could try to introduce you two. I know he’s into guys too.”

“No thanks,” Patroclus said, too quickly, even though his heart thudded at a second confirmation that Achilles wasn’t straight. “I’m good. I mean, I’m sure he’s nice and all, but it’s fine.” No need for extra embarrassment. No need to get his hopes up for nothing, since Achilles would never be interested in someone like him anyway.

Automedon shrugged. “Suit yourself. Anyway, he lives off-campus. His dad’s super rich but I guess he’s still going through his rebellious teen phase since he doesn’t want anything to do with what his dad does and he refuses to be dependent on him or anything, so he’s got an apartment nearby. Says it’s him being independent or whatever.” He shrugged again. “Doesn’t matter to me, people can live wherever they want.”

Wow. So he was an athlete and a rebellious teenager. Great. Of all the people to crush on.

Automedon showed him around the rest of campus, including the library which Patroclus instantly fell in love with, and then dropped him off back at his dorm. “Let me know if you have any more questions or get lost,” he said with a grin.

“Yeah,” Patroclus said. “Thanks, Automedon.”

 

 

Classes started four days later. Add-drop period would still be going on for another three weeks, but Patroclus was pretty much set on what he would be taking. He was premed, after all, and that didn’t leave many options.

Patroclus recognized someone from the women’s crew team in his chemistry class, even though he had long forgotten her name at this point and only remembered that she had been reading King Lear as she sat next to Echion in the third-floor common room the day Automedon had showed him around, and the class itself was just as easy as he had expected. Professor Phoinix was a wise-looking old man with short but thick gray hair and a beard to match, and he wore rectangular glasses low on his nose. Well, Patroclus didn’t think that part was intentional; he kept pushing them up every few minutes. He was kind, with a soft, gravelly voice, and noticed Patroclus’s proficiency at once.

He had the same professor for molecular biology and anatomy. Professor Chiron was, if possible, even wiser-looking than Professor Phoinix, but his voice was rich and clear. He was head of the biology department but specialized in human anatomy; apparently, he had been a surgeon but was forced to retire from that profession after an accident damaged the nerves in his right hand, rendering him unable to safely perform procedures anymore. His hair and beard were still mostly brown, but they were beginning to be streaked with gray, and he had kind, light brown eyes. Patroclus liked him very much. He liked his biology class, too, and spotted Phoebe from the crew team sitting with some of her friends on the other side of the classroom when he walked in the first day.

The fourth class he was taking was a political science class; he wanted to take a super cool sounding psychology class that also happened to fulfill a statistics requirement due to its extensive use of statistics in studies they would conduct, but it had been full and he’d just closed his eyes and pointed at the syllabus to pick a replacement.

He’d hoped he would enjoy it, but even though Professor Aella was kind enough, the subject really didn’t spark his interest. Plus, there was a super annoying kid named Agamemnon who acted like he knew everything and was entitled to everything.

“Narcissist,” he’d muttered under his breath as soon as the kid opened his mouth, earning a sharp look and a snort of laughter from the students sitting to his right and left, respectively. He recognized the girl who had laughed as Helen from when he’d scrolled through the members list of the Phthia College Class of 2019 Facebook group a few days ago, and indeed, she was proudly wearing an ace flag-themed T-shirt. Later, Briseis told him that the annoying narcissistic kid was Menelaus’s brother, and suddenly everything made sense.

Oh well. They did say branching out was important, so he might as well stick with it.

He hadn’t seen Achilles, and by the time Briseis came around to confronting him about it, he was doing pretty well at convincing himself that it didn’t matter, since Achilles would never notice someone like him. Achilles was a beautiful god-like boy anyway, and Patroclus had absolutely no chance with him, so he might as well give up now and just admire his looks from afar. He was probably already taken anyway.

But even though Patroclus had been trying to give up on him, Briseis had definitely not. She cornered him as he left the dining hall one afternoon with here eyebrow arched.

Patroclus winced as she approached. “Sorry, sorry, I know,” he said as soon as she’d opened her mouth, knowing just from her expression what she was going to say.

Briseis sniffed. “You always do this, Pat,” she said with a wry smile. “You text me a picture of a cute guy and then you chicken out when it comes to doing anything about it, and then you complain about not having anyone. How do you expect to find the love of your life this way?”

“The love of my life? Jesus, Briseis, I’m nineteen,” Patroclus retorted. “I have plenty of time.”

“Not with the way you’re going, you don’t,” Briseis said. She waggled her eyebrows. “If you’re too scared to do anything yourself, I could totally find you someone. I’m an awesome wing woman.”

Patroclus shook his head adamantly. “No way. You’ll just embarrass me.”

“Who, me?” Briseis wore an expression of mock indignation. She punched his shoulder. “Or are you just refusing because you have a certain someone in mind? You could get Automedon to introduce you two, you know.”

“Shut up.” Patroclus blushed and shoved at her, turning down the street that would lead towards his dorm. “Anyway, I gotta go, Bri. I have homework, I’ll see you later.”

Briseis kept walking with him, a bright smile on her face. “We’re in the same dorm, Pat.”

Patroclus gave her a look. “We both know you have class right now, and I’m not going to be the reason you skip it. You’re paying like seventy thousand dollars a year for this, so you’d better make the most of it.”

Briseis sniffed again. “Alright, alright. I’ll go, only because I’m paying for this shit myself and I don’t want to waste my own money, but this isn’t the end of this. I’ll find you someone yet, and I’m not ruling out Achilles.” She turned on her heel and went back the way they’d come towards the arts building, and Patroclus kept walking towards his dorm.

 

 

Skye Dormitory was right behind the Charles River, which made doing homework on one of the benches overlooking it quite convenient; he just had to step outside and walk around to the back. His professors hadn’t assigned any work the first week of class, but the second week, he started bringing his homework outside to do.

He was sitting by the river the second Monday afternoon since classes had started, working on his chemistry prelab, when he heard the faint sounds of yelling coming from the river. It must be the crew team; Automedon had told him they practiced during Activities Period which started at four in the afternoon.

A small grin played at the corner of his lips as he heard his friend’s voice, calling for a ‘focus ten in two,’ whatever that meant, and a moment later the boats rounded the bend and came into view.

The sheer power with which they moved through the water caught Patroclus’s attention; Automedon sat at the back of one of the white arrow-like boats, yelling into a microphone as four rowers pulled at the oars in unison, the blades cutting neatly into the water and propelling the boat forward with barely a ripple left in its wake.

On the other side of the boat was another boat; longer, with eight women instead of four men pulling it through the water; he recognized Phoebe and Hippolyta as well as another girl he’d seen in Pelios’s first floor common room but hadn’t met and the girl in his chemistry class who had been sitting next to Echion reading King Lear. The two boats were neck and neck and the rowers’ muscles strained with effort, their skin glistening with sweat in the early September heat. Not one of them looked anywhere except in front of them or seemed to hear anything except their coxswain’s calls.

And that was when Patroclus saw him, the hair so bright it looked like it was woven from gold.

The boy at the Subway.

Achilles.

He gasped softly; Achilles’s hair was plastered against his face and his uni was down around his waist, exposing his muscular torso. The afternoon sun shone against his face and his green eyes glittered like emeralds, his cheeks flushed with effort and his lips parted as he gasped for breath. His oar extended out to his left; his left wrist flashed, and the blade rotated so that it was parallel to the water as it rushed towards the bow of the boat and then flipped to become perpendicular just before it entered the water again. His muscles curved beneath skin, definition accentuated by the angle of the sun, and he was turned to gold.

Patroclus thought that he had never seen anything so beautiful, and despite his crush, automatically disliked him for it, the way he was effortlessly flawless like he was some kind of god or something.

Who the fuck gave him the right?

“Power ten in two,” Automedon called, as the boats drew ever closer. “One, two, power ten now! That’s one, legs down! Two, drive! Three, catch together, four, we’re gaining! Five, clean finishes, six, keep the focus, boys, seven, I’ve got eight seat, eight and lengthen in two, that’s one, keep it up, two, lengthen! Now keep up the power, boys, let’s beat the girls over there! Achilles, let’s bring it down to a thirty-four. Keep up that power – they’re trying to gain on us, let’s hold them!”

Achilles’s muscles strained as the bow of his boat cut through the water. Automedon yelled for a shift ten when he said there were two minutes left and when they happened to be right in front of where Patroclus was sitting. The boat surged forward, the rowers’ faces lined with effort, and the men crossed the line just seconds before the women, followed by what he assumed was the coach’s launch.

Patroclus looked forcefully down at his chemistry assignment. His Facebook stalking apparently hadn’t been thorough enough. He’d known Achilles was probably fucking beautiful shirtless; he was a rower, after all, and rowers were long and lean and had a body fat percentage of like negative two, but he didn’t expect him to be chiseled. And he certainly hadn’t expected Achilles to look like an absolute god while he was sweating and exhausted with the fucking sun in his eyes. Patroclus personally would’ve been squinting so hard his eyes would’ve closed.

That was beside the point. He had to finish this prelab. He could think about Achilles later. Or better yet, not think about him at all. It wasn’t like he had a chance with him anyway, right? So there was no point in pining over him.

Absolutely no point.

Still, as he read through the packet and scribbled down a procedural outline in his lab notebook, he kept looking up at the river, where Achilles’s boat – called the Ithacan, based on the blue lettering at its bow, had turned around and was rowing much more leisurely back upstream. The coach was saying something to them about what Patroclus was assumed was technique, although he didn’t understand any of the jargon he was using.

Patroclus shook his head forcefully, trying to rid the image of Achilles’s glistening body from his mind, seeing as it did absolutely nothing to help his productivity and this prelab would take another hour at least.

He flipped the page of the packet where the detailed procedure continued and kept writing in the lab notebook, resisting the urge to see what was going on when the coach called for another ten-minute piece, whatever that meant. He did not need Achilles to distract him again; once was more than enough.

And yet, he found that he couldn’t keep his eyes on his page.

 

 

Patroclus finished his prelab in twice as much time as it should’ve taken if he hadn’t had a super hot guy there to distract him. He really should’ve gone to the library or something since he had some other homework to do too, but he took it as a matter of pride to stand his ground.

He snorted. Stand his ground against a really hot guy who was totally out of his league. It was like David and Goliath, with his nerdy self as David and Achilles’s godlike self as Goliath, except this time Goliath won.

What could he do against beauty, after all?

He shook his head and stuffed his prelab back in his backpack, shouldering it and heading back to his dorm to drop it off before he went to dinner; Briseis would be waiting for him and said she’d introduce him to some of her film major friends.

He was looking forward to it. Anything to get his mind off of Achilles.

 

 

He walked into West Aegean, which he’d heard some other students abbreviate to “Aege,” and gave the cashier his ID to swipe in before joining the line for the main meal. Today it was bison chili; it sounded weird, but Automedon had told him that it was good and worth a try.

He got his meal, wandering around for a bit at the salad bar and adding some lettuce, red onions, and olives to his bowl, and got a text from Briseis.

 

              B: Sitting by the big window in front of the stairs

 

              B: Can you bring me a spoon?

 

Patroclus frowned and tsked, but grabbed an extra spoon anyway after topping off his salad with a few cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar dressing. He carried his tray over to the drinks and got himself a cup of plain water before carrying it over towards the stairs.

Then he saw Achilles.

He was sitting at a large table with a bunch of his teammates; Patroclus recognized Automedon and the rest of his boat as well as some other people he didn’t know but had seen when Automedon had taken him around Pelios. He was leaning back in his chair, running a hand through his golden hair casually, laughing at a joke Odysseus had made. He looked so much more human with his face split with a smile, his teeth flashing and the corners of his eyes crinkling.

And then he looked up and saw Patroclus.

It was just a second, just the briefest instant in which their eyes met, but Patroclus felt a jolt go through his body. It was as if Achilles had looked straight through him into his soul, if such a thing existed. Achilles’s smile faltered for a moment as if he were just as stunned as Patroclus, but that was impossible, Patroclus would never have that kind of effect on anyone, he would never

He tripped.

There wasn’t even anything to trip on, but that precisely was testament as to why Patroclus never went into sports. He caught himself, just barely missing dumping everything on his tray all over the floor in front of the most beautiful human being he had ever seen.

He straightened, cheeks burning, but Achilles had already looked away.

Anger rushed through him. Patroclus had been doing perfectly fine before Achilles, thank you very much. He hadn’t had to worry about being distracted while he was doing homework or about tripping over thin air in the middle of the dining hall before Achilles came into his life, and now suddenly he was making a fool of himself, all because Achilles had given him the slightest bit of attention.

No, not even attention. It was mere coincidence that their eyes had met, just two strangers who happened to be looking at each other at the same time. And yet, Patroclus had tripped. Over nothing.

He gritted his teeth, seething. What right did Achilles have to have this effect on him?

No right, that’s what.

He had absolutely no right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Okay, having a crush on someone was perfectly normal, and considering Patroclus was a sophomore in college and still hadn’t lost his virginity, it might even have been something to be encouraged. But this. This was not okay. This was getting completely out of hand.

Patroclus had found out, upon further stalking of the Phthia College Crew Facebook page this time, that Achilles was what was called stroke seat of the men’s first openweight four, whatever that meant, but it sounded good, and based on what he had seen at the river, it looked good too.

What was not good was that he kept finding himself doing homework by the river behind his new dorm just so he could see Achilles rowing by every afternoon during Activities Period.

This was a problem with a capital P.

And what’s worse, Briseis had noticed.

“Hey Pat!” she called as he was headed out of the dorm one afternoon, jogging to catch up with him. “Where are you going?”

“Um, just around back,” he said.

Briseis had caught up with him. “By the river?” she asked, panting slightly, her eyes shining. “What, to do homework? You seem to be going there a lot; I see you sitting there every day from my window.”

Patroclus flushed. “I…it’s nice out,” he said lamely. There was no way he’d let her know that he was really going to see Achilles. “I’m just coming out to enjoy the weather.”

To his surprise, Briseis tilted her head, not looking suspicious in the least. “Good point. Mind if I join you today?”

“What – to do homework? You?”

Briseis made a face and shoved him playfully. “Shut up. Even I have to do work sometimes to keep up my grades, you know. Homework is worth a full ten percent of my grade in art history,” she complained. “I mean, it’s an easy ten percent, but still, it’s so much reading.”

Patroclus snorted and kept walking. “Whatever.”

“I’m coming with you,” Briseis said, “but I gotta run upstairs to get my work first. See you out back in a bit!”

Patroclus made a noncommittal noise and headed to the river, sitting in his usual spot right in front of the bend where the boats would be coming around in about twenty minutes. (He hated that he knew that.) He had some poly-sci reading and his chemistry lab report to work on – the same lab that he had been working on when he saw Achilles coming around the riverbend for the first time except he was doing the report part this time instead of the prelab part, and he figured it would take about two hours for him to finish both assignments, factoring in the time he would be spending gawking at Achilles. And Antilochus, who was also really cute, but mostly Achilles.

He settled into the seat, enjoying the feeling of the sun’s heat on his skin as he began working on his lab report, wanting to get as much done as possible before Achilles came around to distract him.

Briseis appeared a few minutes later with her backpack slung over one shoulder; she tossed it on the ground next to the bench and plopped down next to him, pulling out her phone.

Patroclus gave her a look. “I thought you were going to do homework?”

“Yeah, later. I just need to skim it, anyway, and that’ll probably only take about half an hour or forty-five minutes,” Briseis said casually. She leaned back and crossed her legs on the bench, looking far more comfortable than anyone had the right to be. Patroclus glared at her enviously and she gave him a bright grin in return. “Stop worrying about me and do your work.”

Patroclus huffed, but had to admit that she had a point. If he started his lab now, he could cut down at least half an hour’s worth of work before Achilles came around the bend and distracted him again.

Distracted him. Fuck.

Briseis was here. He needed to be mindful of where he looked; if she noticed that he was staring at Achilles, he’d never hear the end of it. Hell, he could marry the guy and she’d still make fun of him for what she’d no doubt call “gawking foolishly like a love-struck puppy.”

No. Stop. Chemistry. Do chemistry.

Patroclus forced his brain to focus on the page in front of him, where he had to do the analysis questions involving calculations based on the data he had collected in lab earlier this week. He took out his calculator and typed in the numbers, being mindful to keep track of significant figures as he copied the long decimals that made up the answers into his lab notebook.

Briseis leaned over, wrinkling her nose. “Ew,” she said. “I hate math.” She skimmed over what he was writing down and made a face. “I remember doing this lab last semester. It was so annoying. They get better, I promise; this was probably my least favorite one. Wait until you get to the titration one though – super annoying to do in lab but the report is easy.”

“Shut up and let me focus,” Patroclus grumbled.

Briseis raised her eyebrows and pointed at the answer to the second part of the question he’d written down. “Isn’t it supposed to be four sig figs? You wrote down five.”

“What? No, it’s multiplication so you – oh. You’re right.” Patroclus sighed and, because he was using pen, scribbled out the last digit.

“What was that about letting you focus?” Briseis asked haughtily.

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine. Thank you for catching my mistake, now I really need to focus so I don’t make other stupid mistakes.”

Briseis sniffed but looked back at her phone.

Patroclus went onto the next question, writing down the explanation that the answer required and was moving onto the next question when he heard the telltale sounds of boats coming down the river; Automedon and the other coxswain’s voices, the soft sound of the launch boat’s motor in the distance, the sounds of oars clicking.

Oh no. His twenty minutes of relative peace was coming to a fast end.

Focus.

Patroclus moved onto the next question, which also had several parts and was asking about some more calculations and accepted data that was collected by actual scientists in actual important labs. He got through them relatively quickly; it was just asking him to compare the data he collected to what the data should be, after all, and that wasn’t difficult.

He finished the next question, bringing him to halfway through the analysis section of the lab report, and looked up to stretch his neck.

That was a mistake.

The Ithacan was passing right in front of him, which meant Achilles was passing right in front of him as well. The women’s boat, called the Amazon, was right behind it. Both were at a much slower pace than when he had seen them the first time; they were doing what looked like technique drills, and the coach’s launch floated alongside. Patroclus watched the men’s four; the two rowers in the front of the boat just holding onto their oars and looking quite relaxed while the two rowers in the back – Achilles and Ajax – were sitting with their legs straight out in front of them and one hand behind their backs, the other hand grasping the oar handle. As Patroclus watched, they rowed slowly and deliberately, their blades perpendicular to the water at all times.

“Arms and body in two,” Automedon called, sounding much calmer than when the Ithacan had been racing against the Amazon the first day Patroclus had seen them. “That’s one, two, arms and body.” He counted in time with the rowers’ strokes, and after he counted ‘two,’ Achilles and Ajax began pivoting from their hips, leaning forward with their arms straight and placing the blade in the water with a soft plop before they began leaning back and bringing their arms into their bodies. The strokes were short and deliberate, their bodies forming parallel lines as they leaned forward at the exact same angle at the exact same time. Their backs were straight; not once did they hunch over.

They had rowed about another fifteen strokes, during which Patroclus’s eyes were practically glued to the way muscles and tendons shifted underneath Achilles’s ridiculously soft-looking skin, when Automedon spoke again. “Add legs in two, that’s one, two.”

The rowers did exactly that, adding the use of their legs into the stroke, and the boat began to move faster with the added power. Patroclus watched as the muscles in Achilles’s thighs flexed, doing his best not to think about just how strong they really were.

“Faster catches, Ajax,” Automedon said, nodding with satisfaction on the next stroke as he complied, though Patroclus couldn’t tell what he had done differently. “Watch your handle height, Achilles. Bow pair, you should be actively setting the boat; it’s down to starboard. Add feather in two, that’s one, two.”

The blades of the oar flipped, the same way Patroclus had seen them the first time, parallel to the surface of the water as they swept towards the bow before wrists flicked and the blades flipped to be perpendicular as they drove into the water and back towards the stern to propel the boat forward.

“Bow pair add in in two,” Automedon called. “That’s one, two. Bow pair in.”

The other two athletes joined in the stroke, following after Achilles effortlessly so that the four boys moved as if as one, and the boat picked up speed. They had been rowing for what seemed like another few minutes and were almost out of sight before Patroclus heard the coach, yelling over a megaphone to be heard.

Ithacan, let it run and spin!”

Automedon raised his right hand in acknowledgement and spoke into his microphone to his rowers. “Let it run in two, that’s one, two.”

The rowers stopped as one with their oar handles pulled into their bodies and their blades parallel to but off of the water’s surface; the boat dipped from one side to the other for a few moments before the rowers found the balance point; Automedon grinned, pleased.

“And down,” he said, and the rowers put the blades on the water. “That was good! Get a drink, stretch, and then we’ll spin.”

The rowers relaxed; Patroclus watched Achilles slide his seat backwards so his legs were straight and then lean forward to grasp his toes with his fingertips, stretching the backs of his legs, before he sat back up and leaned backwards, grinning coyly at Ajax as he invaded his space. Ajax swatted at him and said something Patroclus didn’t hear; Achilles’s muscles flexed as he straightened back up, pulling the straps of his uni from his shoulders and pushing it down so it bunched around his waist. He reached under his seat into the boat and pulled out a water bottle; his Adam’s apple bobbed as he drank.

“Dude, you’re practically drooling.”

Patroclus whipped his head around; Briseis was staring at him, smirking.

Oh, fuck.

Briseis leaned towards him, mischief and amusement glinting in her eyes. “Aw, Patroclus, you’re so cute! Look at you just staring at him like a love-struck puppy.”

“Shut up,” he snapped, feeling his cheeks heating up and resolutely looking anywhere except at the ground by his feet. “I’m not staring, I just –”

“Oh, really,” Briseis said sarcastically. “Not staring, no, definitely not. You just happened to be looking in his direction by coincidence for like a full fifteen minutes. But definitely not staring. An easy mistake, my apologies.”

“Alright, alright, you can shut up now,” Patroclus huffed, knowing his ears were now reddening as well and there was no use arguing with her.

Briseis’s grin widened and she leaned her head on his shoulder, smiling up at him. “You’re adorable, Pat, you know that? You’re so in love with him, it’s so cute! You know what? I know him relatively well and we’ve definitely talked before, I could talk to him for you if you want –”

“No!” Patroclus yelped, pushing her away. “No way, definitely not. You are not talking to him about me, that’s not happening, I absolutely refuse –”

“Why?” Briseis demanded, genuinely confused.

Patroclus shook his head. “Just – no. Don’t, please. It’s not like he even knows who I am –”

“But that’s the point!” Briseis said earnestly. “To get him to know you.”

“No,” Patroclus said. He shook his head again. “Besides, Deidameia is totally into him and honestly he’s probably into her too even though Automedon said he hasn’t done anything to show that he is but they’re probably secretly dating, I mean she’s pretty and in theater with him and then there’s me, this awkward nerd who trips over his own feet and –”

“Patroclus.” Briseis cut him off. “Shut up, Patroclus. Don’t talk about yourself like that. Okay yeah, you’re a nerd, and yeah, you can be kinda awkward at times, but that’s only part of you, and quite frankly, it’s quite adorable. Plus, trust me, he’s definitely not into Deidameia. If you don’t trust me on anything else, trust me on this, Pat.”

“No,” he said forcefully. “Look, Bri, I don’t care how good of a wing woman you are, you aren’t going to get someone like him to notice someone like me, alright? I mean, even if he really is into guys, look at all those crew hotties surrounding him all the time. I’d never have a chance.”

Briseis raised her eyebrows. “Crew hotties? And what are you, a lump?”

“Pretty much,” Patroclus snorted.

“Aw man, Pat, you’re too hard on yourself; that’s not true at all. Honestly? Even if I didn’t know you, I’d notice you over half the guys or girls on the team based on looks alone.”

Patroclus shook his head. “Either way, they work out together, they party together, they live together. Scientifically speaking, all of them have a better chance with him than I do since they’re around him so much and I’m just not.”

Briseis sighed and tilted her head. “Love isn’t scientific, Pat.”

“And this isn’t love! It’s just a crush,” Patroclus insisted, his cheeks heating up.

Briseis groaned. “Just let me talk to him, Pat! I promise I won’t embarrass you.” She lifted her phone and showed him her contacts on Snapchat. “Look, I could send him a picture of you right now! It’ll be easy!”

Patroclus shook his head. “No way.”

Briseis pouted. “Why, don’t you trust me?”

Patroclus snorted. “No, not really.”

Briseis tilted her head and pursed her lips. “Hm. Well, I can’t say I blame you.” She uncrossed her legs and then crossed them again the other way, looking back down at her phone. “Fine. If you don’t want me to talk to him, I won’t.”

Still not entirely trusting her to keep to her word, Patroclus looked back down at his assignment, struggling to concentrate on it when he heard the Ithacan (and Achilles) coming back up the river. He heard the coach saying something to Achilles about rates and shifting and some other stuff he didn’t understand, and just barely resisted the urge to look up.

Scratch that.

He just barely resisted the urge to look up for the next thirty seconds.

But then, even looking down at his assignment, he could see the flicker of Achilles’s movements out of the corner of his eye. Briseis was on her phone, so he snuck a glance upwards to see the men’s four surging ahead with a powerful few strokes and then slowing back down to a still fast but much more manageable pace.

He saw the coach’s nod of approval. “Good shift,” he called. “But it took you three strokes to get it back down to your race pace. I want it in two.”

Automedon called for the boat to build to a power ten in two, and then they surged forward again, the rowers’ muscles straining as they pulled the boat through the water. Patroclus counted ten strokes before the pace slowed again.

“Better,” the coach said, and turned his megaphone towards the women’s boat further ahead. “Amazon, take a few more strokes and then way enough and wait for the men to catch up, I want to be able to watch both of you on the way back to the dock.”

Patroclus sighed as he saw Achilles’s shoulders flexing, cords of muscle in his legs standing out in sharp relief and his abs curving under his skin. He really was like a god.

Shit. Chemistry. Do chemistry. And under no circumstances make that dreamy-looking face and sigh again, because Briseis would take pictures and have so much blackmail material.

He glanced at Briseis, and his heart sank.

He was too late.

Briseis was already lowering her phone with a smirk, a triumphant gleam in her eye.

“Briseis,” Patroclus groaned. “Please tell me you didn’t just take a picture of that.”

Briseis giggled. “Oh my God, Pat, that was adorable!” Holding her phone at a far enough distance away that Patroclus wouldn’t be able to grab it, she turned the screen towards him.

Patroclus’s eyes widened in dismay; it was worse than a picture, it was a video. A video of Achilles rowing, and then it panned over to his face, catching him just in time to hear his love-struck sigh. Briseis had artfully added a heart-eyes emoji to the snap video; there was no caption needed. The message was clear.

Seriously?” Patroclus demanded. “Delete that!”

Briseis giggled again and shook her head, holding the phone close to her chest and tapping at it.

“Wait, no!” Patroclus yelped. “Don’t send it!” He snatched at the phone but Briseis laughed and leapt up off of the bench, dancing away. By the time Patroclus had disentangled himself from his lab notebook and laptop and chemistry textbook, he knew it would be too late.

“Briseis!” he yelled, earning some glances from other students studying on the benches or grass nearby.

She returned, laughter in her eyes.

“Who did you send that to?”

Briseis shrugged. “Oh, just, um, everyone.” She grinned brightly as Patroclus’s eyes widened in horror. He grabbed at her phone and she let him take it; it was too late anyway. It had been sent. He scrolled feverishly through her Snapchat, surprise and then confusion furrowing his brow when he saw that she hadn’t sent it to anyone.

“Just kidding!” Briseis said brightly. “Knew you’d freak out. Now give me my phone back.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes and handed it over, but as soon as she’d taken it back –

Oh, man.

“Fuck,” he said. He pulled out his own phone and opened Snapchat to check Briseis’s story, and sure enough, there it was, free for all of her contacts to see. Including Achilles himself.

“Delete it, Bri,” he said.

Briseis pouted. “But it’s so cute!”

“You said you wouldn’t embarrass me,” he snapped.

Briseis rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine, fine. I’ll delete it.”

“Who’s seen it?” he demanded.

“Um, lemme check.” Briseis scrolled through the list of names of people who had viewed her story in the last few seconds. “Helen, Polyxena, Sarpedon, Aeneas, Paris, Hector, Penelope, and you.”

Patroclus groaned and held his face in his hands. “Who are all these people?”

Briseis smirked. “See? You don’t even know them.”

“So?” Patroclus demanded. “Who are they? So I can avoid them in the future.”

Briseis snorted. “It’s not like they’re going to laugh at you; they’ll probably just assume it was at the weather or one of the people in the women’s boats.”

“But who are they?”

“Fine, if you really need to know. You already know Helen and Paris, right? Well, Hector is Paris’s older brother. Goes to Harvard law, totally hot, met him once when he came to pick up Paris after a game to go to dinner and got his Snapchat. Sarpedon and Aeneas are on the soccer team with Paris; actually, Sarpedon is dating Sinope. She’s in the Amazon, the really pretty girl with black hair and greenish grayish eyes. The older one, I mean; her younger sister’s in the same boat and her name is Theseis and they look like twins. Polyxena is Paris and Hector’s younger sister, a coxswain on the women’s crew team who I’m guessing you haven’t met yet and best friends with Theseis.”

“And Penelope?”

“Oh! I forgot. Odysseus’s girlfriend. Helen’s cousin.”

Fuck. If Odysseus’s girlfriend had seen the snap, maybe she’d have screenshotted it and would show it to Odysseus, who would show it to Achilles.

“She won’t show it,” Briseis said, as if she’d read his thoughts. “She didn’t even take a screenshot of it.”

Patroclus groaned; screenshot or not, it was embarrassing. He’d sighed at Achilles, for fuck’s sake! And he’d just gotten here. He didn’t want to be known as the awkward nerd in love with the college’s top athlete who happened to also have a beautiful face.

Briseis was still grinning brightly at him. “You’re so cute, Pat. And you know what? I think you and Achilles would be great for each other. I mean, I don’t know him that well, but still. I really could talk to him for you.”

“No,” Patroclus said forcefully.

He had to change the subject. Briseis would just keep pushing it, and she knew he would eventually give in if she bugged him long enough. Better distract her before she had that chance.

“Wait, so Helen’s kinda dating Paris and her cousin is dating Odysseus,” he said. “And I heard someone talking about a sister too?”

It worked; Briseis was instantly distracted. “Yeah. Her name’s Clytemnestra; she’s dating Agamemnon.” She made a face. “It’s really gross, I don’t know what she sees in him. She doesn’t go here, though, she’s at Wellesley. No idea how they met, but hey. Stuff happens.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows. “Agamemnon has a girlfriend? Seriously? He’s so annoying! He’s probably the most narcissistic, arrogant asshole I’ve ever met.”

“Wait – you told me he was in your…poly-sci class, was it?”

“Unfortunately,” Patroclus grumped.

Briseis grinned. “And so is Helen, poor her. Aw man, you’re really in the middle of this too!”

Patroclus frowned and wrinkled his nose. “Damn, this is messed up. Agamemnon is dating Clytemnestra, so Menelaus is essentially going after his brother’s girlfriend’s sister? That’s some weird almost-incest shit right there.”

Briseis shrugged. “It’s Menelaus, what do you expect?”

“Clearly too much,” Patroclus grumped.

“Anyway, that’s not important right now,” Briseis said. “You said yourself, you need to focus on your chemistry homework, so this is me reminding you to do that like a good friend. And you have no excuse now,” she added with a grin. “Achilles is almost out of sight!”

“Shut up,” Patroclus mumbled, swatting at her, but she was right.

He looked back at his lab notebook, resolutely keeping his gaze off the river, and went back to work.

 

 

Professor Phoinix was ill the next day and cancelled chemistry; this meant that Patroclus’s last class of the day was at one in the afternoon and that he would be completely free after it ended at two-thirty. He packed up his things at the end of his poly-sci class with Professor Aella and headed back to his dorm.

Unfortunately, while he lived in Skye, Agamemnon lived in Nax, which was also situated along Island Row, and since they were leaving the same class at the same time and headed to relatively the same place, Patroclus had to deal with walking right behind the arrogant bastard for much more time than he would have liked.

They were just walking past West Aegean when he saw Achilles on the green with some of his boat members, looking to be in a heated argument with someone who Patroclus recognized from Facebook pictures as Menelaus. Well, a one-sided heated argument; Menelaus looked like he was furious, but the rowers looked practically bored.

Agamemnon, who was a few yards ahead of him, saw them too; his steps quickened.

This couldn’t be good.

Menelaus was currently gesticulating angrily as he yelled at Achilles. Diomedes raised an eyebrow as Agamemnon approached, looking entirely unimpressed. Agamemnon was a relatively large person and looked pretty angry as well, but Diomedes was clearly confident in his abilities to hold his own if it came to punches.

Agamemnon came to a stop in front of them, standing by his brother. “I don’t care, you were coming onto my girl last Saturday,” Menelaus was saying angrily at Achilles.

Achilles’s eyebrows shot up as Automedon looked at him in confusion. “Coming onto your girl? What girl? You have no girl – unless you mean Helen?”

“Yes, she’s my girl,” Menelaus spat.

Patroclus felt his heart sink. So Achilles really may not be into Deidameia, but he sure was into someone else.

Achilles grinned. “She’s not your girl, Menelaus, and we all know that.” Behind him, Automedon and Diomedes snickered.

Menelaus fumed. He took a threatening step forward, but Achilles wasn’t impressed. He crossed his arms and shifted his weight onto one leg. “You couldn’t get a girl if your life depended on it, so don’t try to fool me. Besides, I have no idea what you’re talking about, I didn’t see Helen at all this entire weekend.”

“Lies,” Menelaus snarled. “She told me you were coming onto her.”

Achilles snorted and looked over his shoulder at Automedon. “Tell me, Automedon, is it really possible to be in more than one place at once? Was there something that I missed in basic biology?”

Automedon snickered.

Achilles turned back to Menelaus. “I didn’t see her this weekend,” he said. “I was at MIT at a frat party Saturday night, probably hitting on some other girl or getting laid or both, I don’t remember. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for you. Really, Menelaus, have you ever kept a girlfriend for more than a few days?”

Achilles’s words spun in Patroclus’s head. Probably hitting on some other girl or getting laid or both. His chest felt like someone was crushing it, even though he tried to tell himself that it made no sense for him to feel that. It was just a crush, he shouldn’t be all caught up about it.

Diomedes spoke, his voice a low drawl. “Helen’s not interested in you, Menelaus, and she certainly doesn’t need your protection. Leave her alone.”

Menelaus growled. “She told me you were harassing her.”

“And my common sense is telling me you’re making that up,” Achilles replied blandly. “Besides, I don’t harass girls. I’m not like you.”

“I’m not harassing her!” Menelaus yelled.

Achilles raised his eyebrows and shifted his weight to his other leg. “Oh? So what do you call all this? Making her uncomfortable, continuously asking her out when she’s told you she’s not interested, getting drunk and trying to grope her? See, Menelaus, that’s what she’s told everyone else.”

“Yeah, and she told me you were coming onto her and she wasn’t interested!” Menelaus shot back, sounding entirely unintimidating.

Achilles shrugged, looking utterly bored. “Even if that were true, what’s it to you? It’s none of your business. She’s not yours; she’s dating Paris. And even if she weren’t dating Paris, she’d be more into me than you for sure, so give it up, dude.”

Menelaus let out a strangled yell, lunging for Achilles. Achilles just leaned back to avoid the punch, looking entirely untroubled as Menelaus’s fist brushed past his cheek; Patroclus, on the other hand, felt his breath catch in his throat. Agamemnon lunged forward after his brother, holding him back as he yelled curses at Achilles, but Patroclus figured he was doing that more for his brother’s sake than for Achilles’s.

“Save your breath,” Achilles drawled, examining his nails. “It doesn’t bother me what you think about me. I only value the opinions of equals.”

“You cock-sucking prick,” Menelaus snarled. His eyes gleamed. “Oh, I get it now. That’s why you were coming onto my girl, to hide your faggoty ways. Yeah, that’s right, that’s what you are. A faggot.”

Patroclus stiffened in anger and he saw the other rowers’ eyes flash, but Achilles looked entirely unbothered by the insult.

“Is that supposed to offend me? Or are you trying to spread rumors? Which you know really can’t happen at this point, the whole school knows I’m not straight.”

“Cock-lover,” Menelaus hissed.

Achilles just shrugged. “So what if I like dick?” he asked. “That just proves my point further that I wouldn’t come onto her. Or any girl, for that matter.”

Menelaus spat. “You probably want to fuck all your teammates, huh? Is that really why you joined the team in the first place, to be around all these fit, shirtless guys? That’s what it is, isn’t it? Oh and I bet it gets you all hot and bothered when you work out together.” He curled his lip as Agamemnon sneered beside him; Automedon and Diomedes bristled, taking aggressive steps forward, but Achilles held up his hand and they stopped.

“Ah, well, now you’re just changing the subject,” he said mildly, tilting his head.

Menelaus looked increasingly triumphant. “You just want to fuck all your teammates, and I bet none of them know, right? You probably watch them as you all work out together, and I bet it turns you on, you dick-loving faggot.”

Achilles just looked at him pityingly. “And now you’re resorting to name-calling; what an embarrassment. What are you, five?”

Menelaus plowed right on. “I wonder how many of those poor guys you’ve tried to seduce, how many of them you’ve tried to come onto. How does that make you feel, knowing you fancy all your friends, huh?”

“Yeah, that totally means a lot, coming from you.”

Patroclus’s eyes widened as soon as the words left his mouth; he hadn’t intended to approach them, hadn’t intended to stay to watch the confrontation, and he certainly hadn’t intended to speak, but there he was, standing like a fool for all his nerdiness, alone in the face of Menelaus’s wrath.

Menelaus looked positively dangerous. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” he hissed.

Patroclus’s heart thudded, but he tried to play it cool. He shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know, probably something along the lines of how messed up it is that you’re trying to fuck your brother’s girlfriend’s sister, who should technically be closer than friends.”

Menelaus spluttered. “And – and what do you know about that?”

“See, that’s another thing. Doesn’t matter, does it? It doesn’t even really matter who she is, really, but you’re harassing her and now blaming other people for supposedly doing the same thing. Oh, and of course there’s the fact that you’re lying about not harassing her and then getting pissed at someone else for supposedly lying. So how does that feel, huh, to be a hypocrite that’s been found out? Not great, right? So lay off him.”

Menelaus’s eyes widened in anger, but Diomedes looked ready to take him down and Agamemnon pulled him away with a slightly worried glance.

“Let’s go, it’s not worth it.”

Reluctantly, and still spewing insults, Menelaus let himself be dragged away.

“Should’ve let me do it, Achilles,” Diomedes said regretfully. “I’d have torn him down.” He sighed. “Whatever, there’s always going to be a next time. Now come on, we have a lift before practice, remember? And you – Automedon. Coxswain meeting.”

Automedon gave Patroclus a grin and a thumbs-up from behind Achilles as he turned to leave, and Diomedes gave him a small nod, looking surprised that someone small and scrawny like him would have the guts to stand up to someone like Menelaus. Patroclus gave them an uncertain smile, and they turned to leave.

Achilles was just staring at him.

“Pat, let us know if he gives you any trouble, eh?” Automedon called. “Achilles, let’s go!”

Achilles bit his lip. He was still staring at Patroclus, and for a moment Patroclus thought that he was going to say something, maybe to say thanks for standing up to him or to comment how stupid or brave it was or even yell at him for butting in since he clearly had everything under control, but then he glanced back over his shoulder at his departing teammates, and the spell was broken. He gave Patroclus one last look, something like a smile curving the corner of his lips and turning Patroclus’s heart into pure light and his innards into butterflies, and then turned and jogged after them.

Patroclus let out a shaky breath.

He should get back to his dorm, he managed to think through being stunned that Achilles had actually noticed him, actually given him a second thought, actually smiled at him. If Menelaus saw him, he’d get pummeled for sure. Patroclus wasn’t particularly small, really, but Menelaus was a football player.

He turned and headed towards Island Row, feeling like Achilles’s bright green gaze was still staring deep into him.

There had been something else in his expression that Patroclus couldn’t read. Interest? Nah, no way – he’d smiled, but that didn’t mean interest, even interest in getting to know him. Surprise? That was possible; he’d surprised himself, after all. Pity?

Patroclus sighed. Pity was the most likely option, since everyone knew Menelaus probably would do something to get back at him.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “Way to go, Patroclus. Making enemies before the first month of school is even over. Great job.”

But he thought about the way Achilles had looked at him, the way he’d smiled because of him, and couldn’t stop a grin from spreading itself over his face.

He didn’t care what Menelaus would do.

It had been worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It was now early October. The leaves were starting to change on the trees along the river, lining its deep blue with fire and sunlight, and the rowers’ unis and short spandex and shirtless torsos had given way to longer pants, wool socks, and waterproof rowing jackets.

The winter had come sooner than normal; when Patroclus had still been in high school in upper Manhattan, he’d been able to stay out on the little balcony of his apartment and do his homework until late October, but this year, even earlier in the month, he couldn’t stand being outside for more than an hour without feeling like his fingers were going to freeze off.

Clearly, he wasn’t a winter person.

So he reluctantly relinquished his position on that one wooden bench beside the Charles River and retreated to the library instead to do his homework every afternoon. He refused to acknowledge his disappointment that going to the library instead of the river also meant that he wouldn’t be able to see Achilles rowing by every day.

And what’s worse, Agamemnon remembered him from the confrontation a few weeks ago, and made it clear that he wasn’t about to let things go that easily.

“What’s up, loser?” he called across the room as Patroclus walked into poly-sci one Thursday morning. He was surrounded by some of his friends who sniggered and slapped him on the back encouragingly. “Come to pick another fight with me and my bro? Let’s see how well you do without big ol’ Achilles there to back you up, huh?”

Patroclus ignored him and sat down. Professor Aella and the other students hadn’t arrived yet, save for one extremely quiet boy who always sat in the corner and tried not to be noticed, but they would soon. He’d just have to weather Agamemnon’s sad insults for another few minutes.

Agamemnon stood. “Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Still, Patroclus ignored him.

Agamemnon sounded angry now. “Hey, what did I just say, punk? Look at me when I’m talking to you! Or are you too afraid, huh?”

Patroclus heaved a sigh. “What’s there to be scared of?” he muttered.

“You’re a right fucking asshole, you know that?” Agamemnon sneered, approaching him with his buddies flanking him on both sides. “I’ve been wondering why you defended that fag Achilles the other day, since you don’t even really know him, and I think I’ve got it. I think you’re a fag too. Fags gotta look out for each other, right?”

He was standing in front of Patroclus’s desk now, and he leaned down. Patroclus’s heart thudded but he looked him straight in the eye, refusing to get riled up, refusing to be insulted.

“Well, you’d better watch out, faggot,” Agamemnon hissed. He ran a distasteful eye down Patroclus’s body. “You’d better stay out of things that aren’t your business, otherwise you might live to regret it. Or not live, which seems more likely, judging from what you look like.”

Patroclus took a deep breath. Stay calm. He wants to get you angry.

“What, you got nothing to say?” Agamemnon sneered. “Just as I thought. All bark and no bite, especially when big boy Achilles isn’t around to throw punches.”

“Fuck off!”

The sharp, clear voice rang out. Agamemnon straightened and looked up over Patroclus’s shoulder; Patroclus let out a shuddering breath that he didn’t realize he had been holding.

Helen stalked in, her eyes flashing. She pushed her way past Agamemnon’s friends and stood in front of him, separating him and Patroclus.

Agamemnon raised an eyebrow. “Oh, and what are you gonna do about it?”

Helen lifted her chin haughtily. “I’m standing right here until you fuck off like I asked you to. Or, of course, you could start throwing punches, but that’s a little childish, isn’t it? Time to grow up, Agamemnon.” Her features shifted into an innocent, sweet smile. “Or, of course, you could push past me, toss me to the side, but how would your dear brother feel about that? I could tell him, you know.”

Agamemnon fumed, but there was nothing he could say. He chewed his lip furiously, glanced at his friends to signal their retreat, and took a step back just as the other students in the class began trickling in.

“Thanks,” Patroclus muttered as Helen sniffed and took a seat to his right, still between him and Agamemnon. His face flushed with shame; sure, he hadn’t given in to anger like Agamemnon wanted him to, but he hadn’t been able to get him to fuck off, either.

“Anytime,” Helen said mildly. “You’re Briseis’s best friend, and her friends are my friends. And even if you weren’t, no one deserves to be harassed like that. Believe me, I know.”

Patroclus bit his lip. “I, uh, she’s told me about, um, y’know…”

“Agamemnon and his brother? Yeah. The whole school knows, really. Dunno why he still thinks he’s got a chance with someone like me.”

“Dunno why he keeps bothering you, either,” Patroclus mumbled.

Helen sniffed again. “What a right pair of assholes.”

Patroclus huffed a laugh, but just then Professor Aella came into the room, signaling the start of class, and he looked down at his notebook.

Helen kept up with him as he left class, too, ignoring Agamemnon’s furious glare in their direction. She asked him about where he’d grown up and what he did on campus and how he liked it at Phthia. She was easy to talk to and her voice was low and alluring; as much as Patroclus hated Menelaus, he could see what he saw in her. Didn’t excuse his behavior, though.

“Briseis told me you’ve been spending a lot of time by the river,” Helen said with a twinkle in her dark eyes. “Watching the crew team, huh?”

Patroclus blushed. “No,” he said forcefully. “I’m just enjoying the weather.”

Helen laughed, but it was kind, and Patroclus felt himself relaxing.

“Anyway, I don’t spend a lot of time there anymore,” he said. “It’s too cold for me, even though I grew up in upper Manhattan and I should be used to this weather. I’ve been spending my time in the library instead.” He bit his lip. “I’m actually headed there now to study.”

Helen’s eyebrows raised elegantly. “Surprised it’s too cold for you already, but hey. Not everyone can deal with the cold.” She paused as they reached the dining hall and Patroclus kept walking. “Not even going to lunch?”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked. He looked at his watch; it was noon. “I’d completely forgotten about it. I probably won’t have time; I’ve gotta work on this essay.”

“For this class, you mean? It’s due Monday though, right?”

“Yeah.” He cringed. “Mine’s really bad right now though, I’ve really gotta edit it and it’s gonna take a while.”

Helen frowned. “You should eat though, right? Get fuel for that brain.”

Patroclus shrugged and kept walking. “It’s alright, I’ll get something later if I’m hungry.”

“Alright. I’ll be seeing you then, hopefully Agamemnon doesn’t give you any more trouble, but if he does, let me know. Bye!” She waved cheerfully.

“See you,” Patroclus mumbled as she turned and went into the dining hall.

Patroclus climbed the few steps leading to the library’s main entrance and took the stairs up to the third floor. He’d recently gotten a job organizing shelves of the third-floor music library which was right next to the quiet area he liked to study, and while he didn’t know a single thing about music other than that Troye Sivan was a fabulous gay artist who deserved more attention than he was getting, it was a job that he liked. Automedon was taking quite a few music classes so Patroclus saw him in the library frequently, and he met another girl in the Amazon named Marpesia who was a math and music double major. After some talking with her when she asked him where to find a book on the life of Arthur Rubinstein, he found out that she, too, was from New York.

The library had become something like a second home to him, which he thought was pretty funny considering how well that fit into the nerdy student stereotype. But it was also quite cozy; much cozier than his single with its hard mattress and small window that he had to keep the curtains drawn over since it was facing the building next to Skye and a window that belonged to a girl and her boyfriend who seemed to always be fucking.

He didn’t have work on Thursdays, so Patroclus picked a couch on the third floor just outside of the music library to work on his poly-sci essay. He heaved an enormous sigh as he took out his laptop and began typing his fourth body paragraph, doing his best not to think about Agamemnon.

Then he saw Achilles, walking through the shelves across the opening in the middle of the floor where the stairs came up. His heart thudded in his chest, and he could have sworn he saw a flash of green as Achilles glanced at him, but then he turned into one of the rows of shelves and disappeared from view.

Patroclus looked forcefully back at his screen. He had to focus.

Whether it was because Achilles had left or because Patroclus was deliberately trying not to notice him, he didn’t see Achilles again that day.

But even though Achilles had disappeared for that particular afternoon, he began to see Achilles more and more in the library. He’d walk across the third floor seemingly to look for a book and then walk away empty handed after casting more than one look in Patroclus’s direction, or he’d sit in a couch nearby and study for a bit before practice, occasionally looking up and catching Patroclus’s gaze.

Patroclus was working on analyzing a biology research paper near the entrance to the music library the next Thursday when he saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up, his breath leaving his body in a gasp and his eyes widening in shock.

It was Achilles, walking into the music library, the door of which was just a few feet to Patroclus’s left. He gave Patroclus a glance and a small smile as he went in, and Patroclus’s heart thudded.

Curse the gods for not giving him a work shift on Thursdays!

He forced himself to look back at his laptop and work on his analysis instead of being distracted by Achilles, pushing down a wave of annoyance at even after leaving the shores of the river where the team practiced, Achilles was still able to find a way to distract him.

The door to the music library creaked and Achilles poked his head out.

“Hey.”

Patroclus didn’t answer and kept typing away on his laptop. Achilles had to be talking to someone else.

Again, a little louder this time. “Hey, you.”

Patroclus twitched.

“Yes, you, with the laptop. Who else?” He sounded amused.

Patroclus blinked, becoming aware that there really was no one else around. He turned to Achilles, his cheeks heating with embarrassment.

Achilles was grinning, catlike, and his teeth were bright against red lips which Patroclus did his very best not to focus on. He did Patroclus a once-over, his gaze clear and unashamed as it raked over his body. Patroclus did his best not to squirm.

Then Achilles spoke, his voice light and lilting. “You work here, right? Any idea where the Chopin CD’s are? And thanks for last time, by the way. With that dick Menelaus. Thought I should just tell you now, since I didn’t get to before.”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked again. “Um. No problem.”

Achilles was still looking at him, as if expecting something.

“What – oh! Oh, the CD, right. All the CD’s are in the back and are alphabetized by last name, Chopin should be on the left somewhere.”

Achilles’s grin widened. “Great. Thanks!” He pulled his head back in and the door clunked shut behind him.

Patroclus let out a breath. Wonderful. His first actual conversation with his crush hadn’t gone too badly; that was something to be grateful for, right? And Achilles had remembered him as the guy who’d stupidly yelled at Menelaus. Not an extremely wonderful thing to be remembered for, considering it arguably both brave and stupid, but it was better than nothing.

He grinned down at his laptop.

That made twice that Achilles had made prolonged eye contact with him. He shivered as he pictured Achilles’s eyes on his body, taking him in, and prayed that he hadn’t judged him for his much thinner limbs and less fine features.

But he had looked kind, and he’d smiled.

That had to be promising, right?

 

 

Automedon convinced him to go to lunch the next day after they left class together. By convinced, Patroclus means dragged him unwillingly. “You can’t keep skipping meals,” he admonished him. “It’s not good for you.”

“It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose,” Patroclus complained as Automedon pulled him by the arm towards the dining hall. “I just feel like I need to study and then forget about the time and by the time I remember the dining hall is already closed. Now let me go; I’ve got anatomy homework to do.”

“But how do you forget about eating? It’s important, and I’m sure anatomy can wait,” Automedon exclaimed.

“I’m not an athlete,” Patroclus muttered. “I don’t need to consume the world to feel satisfied.”

Automedon snorted. “You’re a human being, though. Now come on; it’s grilled cheese today and Aege actually makes some pretty good grilled cheese, which I wouldn’t expect you to know, since you miss lunch so much.”

Patroclus ignored the jibe.

The dining hall was fairly empty; it was already past one and most other people had already finished eating by now. They sat down at an empty booth with their trays filled. Patroclus had raised an eyebrow at the amount of food Automedon piled onto his tray, but he’d just shrugged.

“Oh, you should see how much my rowers eat. And I’m small, but my metabolism is fast. I’ll burn through all this in no time. How else did you think I could be a coxswain, eating this much?” he grinned. “And plus, since you wimped out and just got the normal grilled cheese, I had to get some for you, too. You’ve gotta try all of them.”

Patroclus sighed, but the sandwich was actually quite good when he bit into it and he ended up not complaining, even though Automedon spent the entire meal talking about rowing.

“The rowers sit backwards, right? So one seat is in the front of the boat but since they’re facing backwards they can see everyone else in front of them, and four seat, or stroke seat, is in the back of the boat and everyone can see them. Of course, four seat isn’t always stroke seat; stroke seat is whichever rower is sitting in the very back of the boat,” Automedon explained through large bites of grilled cheese. “So Achilles is four seat a.k.a. stroke seat, Ajax is three seat, Diomedes is two seat, and Odysseus is in the bow as one seat. Eat.”

“What? Oh.” Patroclus realized that he hadn’t been eating and dipped his grilled cheese in his tomato soup before taking a bite of it. “So is there a difference?” he asked, chewing. “I mean, other than which sides the oars are on.”

“Oh, that’s not even really an issue,” Automedon said, already on his second sandwich. “We can rig the boat different ways – rigging refers to how we put the boat together, and we have to take it apart when we put in on the trailer to go to a race and then put it back together at the race and then take it apart on the way back and put it together again at the boathouse. But anyway, we could have a starboard-rigged boat, which means that stroke seat is a starboard with their oar on the right side of the boat but on their left side since they’re facing backwards, or a port-rigged boat, which is the exact opposite, and every other seat can be rigged so it’s on a different side, although of course there has to be an equal number of starboards and ports in order for the boat to balance properly and go fastest. The Ithacan is currently starboard-rigged.”

Patroclus tried to work through what Automedon had just said.

“The different seats do kinda have different roles, though,” Automedon went on. “Of course, they’re all doing the same thing and they’re supposed to be doing it at exactly the same time, otherwise balance – called set – and speed are affected, but yeah, the roles are slightly different. In an eight, the bow pair usually have really good technique since they set the boat the most. The middle four are called the powerhouse or the engine room, and like the name implies, they’re usually the strongest rowers. The stern pair set the rate, measured in strokes per minute, and usually also have good technique.”

“Oh, so that’s what you were talking about when you said to bring it down to a thirty-four,” Patroclus said.

Automedon nodded. “I was telling Achilles to slow down the rate to thirty-four strokes per minute; we usually race at a thirty in the fall but we were doing a shorter faster piece to practice power tens and starts. Well, we don’t have official starts in fall races, but I’m talking about right when we cross the start line, when we want to go a little faster. Anyway, since he’s stroke seat, he really is the person who sets the pace, and when I tell him to slow down or speed up, he has to listen to me, and the rest of the boat follows him.”

Automedon then went on to talk about the different parts of the boat, the different calls he’d make and what they meant, the 5K races of the fall versus the 2K races in the spring, and the different drills they did; Patroclus learned that the drill he’d seen them doing with one arm was called the one-armed pick drill, and was used to break up the parts of the stroke to focus on details.

“You know,” Automedon said, tilting his head as they left the dining hall forty minutes later, still talking about rowing. “At the beginning of this season our boat was going super fast, we were beating the girls every time we raced and always finished ahead of them every piece, but recently it’s lost some of its fire.”

“Stress?” Patroclus suggested. “I dunno, maybe you’re all super stressed and it’s taking its toll.”

Automedon shook his head, a grin playing at the corners of his lips. “Nah, it’s not that. See, it wasn’t like our boat was fast the entire practice. It was always just when we got to your spot by the river, and then suddenly it would get really really fast regardless of whether or not I called a power ten or called for Achilles to bump up the rate.” He glanced at Patroclus, who was staring at him.

“I…I don’t understand,” he said. “What are you saying?”

Automedon shrugged. “I dunno. All I know is that since you started spending your time in the library studying, that’s stopped. Maybe you should go back to the river, huh? Help us out a bit?”

Patroclus grinned. “Not a chance, dude. I’m actually being productive in the library without my fingers freezing off.”

Automedon laughed. “Right – I forgot. You hate the cold. Still, I think you should consider coming back sometimes.” His grin widened. “And you know what else I think?”

“What?”

“I think Achilles should be keeping his head in the boat instead of watching the riverbanks.”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh? Are you saying…wait, what are you saying?”

Automedon shook his head, laughing. “I’ll see you, Pat. Gotta run to practice, we have it early today since Odysseus is busy later. Would you at least consider coming back?”

“No way – but what is that supposed to mean?”

But Automedon had already left.

 

 

“He said what!?” Briseis shrieked.

Patroclus winced. “Shhh, keep it down, will you?” he hissed, looking around frantically, but the common room was empty. He’d seen her sitting there watching something on her laptop when he’d come back after lunch with Automedon and for some reason – he didn’t know what had come over him – he’d decided to tell her what Automedon had said.

“Sorry,” Briseis said, not sounding sorry at all; she was too preoccupied processing Automedon’s words. “Wait, tell me again, word for word.”

“He said, ‘I think Achilles should be keeping his head in the boat instead of watching the riverbanks,’” Patroclus said.

“And this is after he explained to you that Achilles sets the pace in the boat and after he told you that their boat went faster every time they passed you doing homework on that bench?”

Patroclus reddened and squirmed under the intensity of her gaze. “Well, uh, yeah.”

Briseis gasped. “Oh my God.”

Patroclus frowned. “What? Hey, how come everyone gets it except me?”

Briseis grinned at him. “Oh, you are so innocent. This is adorable. Hold up, I gotta send a snap.”

“What? No!” Patroclus yelped, reaching for her phone and forcing her to jerk it away.

“Aw man,” she groaned. “You made me get a blurry picture. Oh well. It’s good enough.” She grinned and typed a quick caption. “Asked about…what you said…about Achilles…keeping his head in the boat,” she muttered as she typed. “He’s…so confused.”

She looked up at him, grinning, as he folded his arms and glared at her.

“You’d better not be sending that to him,” he warned.

“Don’t worry, it’s just to Automedon. Promise.”

Patroclus gave her his best grumpy face, which wasn’t really quite different than the expression he usually wore so it didn’t have quite the effect he wanted. “Okay, okay,” he groaned as she sent it and put her phone down, looking quite pleased with herself. “Now tell me, what does that mean?”

Briseis rolled her eyes, but she was still smiling. “He’s trying to impress you, duh.”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh?”

“Yeah, he’s trying to impress you. It’s obvious.” She checked the time on her phone and frowned. “Ugh. Well, I really want to stay and tell you what I think you should do next since now we know he’s totally into you, but I’ve gotta go to class now, see you later.” She stood and walked out, leaving Patroclus blinking in confusion.

He’s trying to impress you.

Impress him? Why in the world would Achilles want to impress him? And Briseis saying Achilles was totally into him – that was impossible.

Patroclus was utterly mystified.

 

 

Briseis was right, as she usually was about such things. This was something Patroclus would find out very soon.

 

 

Midterms approached far more rapidly than Patroclus would have liked. It was to no one’s surprise that mid-October found Patroclus still in the library, studying feverishly with Briseis for his first biology midterm.

“Pat, there’s no need for you to stress yourself out so much,” Briseis sighed, as she listened to him recite all twenty amino acids. “And memorizing all this isn’t going to help you, you need to focus on more conceptual stuff.”

“I know the conceptual stuff,” Patroclus griped. “I just forget the names of the basic things.”

Briseis raised an eyebrow. “You know the conceptual stuff, huh? Okay, I’ll test you. Photosynthesis,” she said.

Patroclus spewed out the entire process without blinking.

“And cellular respiration?”

Once again, Patroclus was unfazed.

Briseis sighed again. “You’ll be fine, Pat. Honestly, you probably know all of this in your sleep, and based on what you’ve told me about how well you’ve been doing with quizzes and labs and everything you could probably get a solid C on this midterm and still pass the class with flying colors.”

Patroclus shook his head adamantly. “I need to make sure I know everything. Grades are important, you know, if you’re trying to get into Harvard for medicine. Or Stanford. Or Johns Hopkins. Or Duke. Or any of the top medical schools in this country.”

Briseis rolled her eyes. “Yes, but you know everything and you’ve still got a whole week to study. C’mon, take a break.”

“Nope. I’ve gotta go over the structure of mitochondria.”

Briseis let out a dramatic groan. “You’ve been here for hours, Pat, and it’s almost three-thirty.”

Patroclus shook his head again. “I’ll take a break when I’m a successful rich surgeon.”

There was a small thump coming from the direction of the stairs, and a moment later, a head of golden hair appeared. Patroclus felt his heart skip a beat, and his mouth ran dry.

Achilles stood, shaking out his hair and approaching them casually, leaning against the armrest of a nearby couch. “Hey, did you say you were a med student?”

Patroclus blinked. “Me? Um, yeah. Well, premed, since I’m just a sophomore but I think you know that already so –” He broke off and swallowed. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m a med student.”

Achilles grinned. “Do you happen to have a band-aid?”

“A…a band-aid? No, I –”

“Because I just scraped my knee falling for you.”

Briseis snorted loudly beside him and Patroclus’s mouth fell open. Achilles lounged, a lopsided grin on his face, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

Patroclus swallowed again and closed his mouth. “Oh,” he said.

Achilles leaned forward slightly, peering at him. Patroclus flushed and looked down, sudden panic rushing through him as he tried to find what he’d missed. A sock? His shirt? His pants?

“Do you have a sunburn, or are you always this hot?” Achilles asked.

Patroclus turned beet red, and he heard Briseis shaking with laughter beside him. “I don’t burn,” he muttered, though his face currently felt like it was. “I’m dark, see?”

Achilles’s grin widened. “Ah, so you’re just hot.”

Patroclus’s eyes widened in horror. “No – no, that’s not what I meant –”

“It’s alright,” Achilles said casually, straightening back up again. “Tell the truth about yourself and don’t be ashamed. So does hot stuff have a name? I’m Achilles, by the way.”

“I know who you are,” Patroclus mumbled. “I’m Patroclus.”

Achilles’s teeth flashed. “Patroclus,” he said, and Patroclus felt a thrill go through his body. He said his name in three distinct syllables, like a drop of a coin. It wasn’t rushed like the way everyone else said it, it was slow, deliberate.

“But most people call me Pat,” Patroclus said quickly.

Achilles tilted his head. “Well, which do you prefer?”

Patroclus shrugged, blushing, unable to meet his eyes. “Either one. Don’t really care.”

“Well, I’ll call you Patroclus,” Achilles said. “It’s more unique, like you, and they do say the name should fit the person, do they not?”

Patroclus muttered something unintelligible.

“You really are cute,” he mused, and Patroclus flushed. “And I’ve been wondering – are you my appendix? Because I’ve got a funny feeling in my stomach that makes me feel like I want to take you out. Can I have your number?”

Patroclus turned, if possible, even redder. “Absolutely not,” he said, not meaning it at all.

Achilles looked at Briseis with a dazzling grin, completely unfazed. “Can I have his number?”

Briseis smirked and pulled up her contacts list on her phone, turning the screen to Achilles. Achilles looked quite triumphant as he entered Patroclus into his list of contacts before locking his phone, flipping it once in the air before catching it smoothly as if just to show off, and then pocketing it.

“Thanks, beautiful,” he said, earning a playful push.

“Show-off,” Patroclus mumbled, thoroughly embarrassed and refusing to admit that he was pleased because that would mean admitting his enormous good-for-nothing crush on Achilles.

Achilles laughed, the sound bright and pure, and turned back to him. “Nah, not me. God was the one showing off, when he made you.” He stood up, graceful as ever, as Patroclus spluttered at his casual comment. “I’ve gotta run to practice now, but I’ll see you around, hot stuff.”

Then he turned and was gone.

Briseis let out a squeal as soon as he was out of sight and hugged Patroclus tightly. “Oh my God!” she yelped, her arms tightening nearly to the point of suffocation, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Oh my God oh my God oh my God, he just asked you out!”

Patroclus’s face was burning, but his heart was fluttering. “He didn’t,” he said, pushing her off with great difficulty. “He just got my number.” He couldn’t stop a grin from spreading itself across his face as he said that.

Briseis laughed and whooped, not caring that they were in the quiet section of the library. “This is so adorable! You guys are so cute and he’s so into you!” She grinned and punched him gently. “Told you.”

Patroclus blushed. “Yeah, yeah, you were right.” He bit his lip to stop his grin from stretching his mouth too much.

His phone buzzed, and he pulled it out. It was a text from an unknown number.

 

              Achilles here. So when are you free?

 

Patroclus debated ignoring it or even deleting it just out of spite since going out on a date with Achilles would really mean admitting his crush and he really didn’t want to do that, but he thought about Achilles’s sparkling eyes and glowing smile and felt a rush of excitement.

He saved the number to his contacts and typed out a reply.

 

              P: Saturday?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Alright, alright,” Patroclus huffed as he stood in front of the mirror in his room the next Saturday. It was about eleven in the morning; he and Achilles had made plans to meet for lunch for what Patroclus was resolutely not calling a date. Briseis fussed over him, messing with his hair, smoothing out the wrinkles in his clothes. “It’s not that fancy, honestly. It’s more just to get to know him.”

“It’s a date,” Briseis said, and rearranged his scarf around him for the seventh time.

“It’s not, not really,” Patroclus muttered for what was also about the seventh time. “We never said it was a date, he just asked when I was free.”

Briseis snorted. “Yeah, after he asked for your number to take you out. Trust me, it’s a date.” She combed through a tuft of hair behind his right ear that refused to lie flat, no matter what he or anyone else did about it. “I mean he’s totally into you already, but it can’t hurt to look nice.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes to hide the excited thumping of his heart. “It’s at the Trident, Bri, it’s really not that fancy.” At his request. He didn’t think he could handle Achilles and a fancy restaurant, even if he’d had the money to afford it, and he’d been elated when Achilles had suggested a place that was both a café and a bookstore.

Briseis’s eyes widened. “The Trident? Isn’t that kinda far though?”

Patroclus shrugged. “We’re meeting a few blocks down at the bridge in front of MIT, he said it’s less than a twenty-minute walk from there and most of that time is just crossing the bridge. I really don’t mind.” He winced as Briseis tugged harshly on his belt to straighten it.

“For fuck’s sake, Pat, the buckle goes in the front, not off to the side,” she said, amused.

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked. He hadn’t even noticed, he’d been too busy thinking about what he would say to Achilles as they were walking there. And how he would eat and make conversation without being super awkward or clumsy and dropping crumbs all over himself. And whether or not Achilles would like him enough to take him out a second time, even if it was just as friends, since friends was better than nothing.

Briseis stepped back, running a critical eye over him, even though he was just wearing jeans and a warm brown sweater with his scarf and it was a little difficult to go wrong with such simple items. It was his nicest sweater, but he figured it still probably looked casual enough for two friends meeting up and yet was thick enough to keep out the mid-October chill.

Finally, Briseis stepped back and nodded in satisfaction.

“Good to go now?” Patroclus huffed.

Briseis grinned. “Yes. Perfect.” Her eyes shone with excitement, as if she were the one going out on the date instead of him.

No, not date, Patroclus corrected himself yet again. Sure, it seemed like a date in all things but name, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. Achilles probably just wanted to get to know him better. He’d call it a date when Achilles did.

Briseis walked with him to the entrance of the dorm and then stopped. “Go get him, tiger,” she said with an encouraging smile. “And you’d better tell me how it went when you get back!”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll wheedle it out of me regardless of whether or not I want to,” Patroclus mumbled. He felt a thrill run up his spine as he stepped out of the door, a thrill that had nothing to do with the cold nipping at his face, and set off towards the bridge.

 

 

Achilles was waiting for him, though Patroclus was already five minutes early. Patroclus saw his golden hair from nearly a block away and felt his heartbeat quicken, felt his breath come faster in his throat in excitement and nervousness. He swallowed and grinned at him as he approached.

“Patroclus,” Achilles murmured, a smile widening his lips as his eyes ran up and down Patroclus’s figure.

Patroclus swallowed again. “Hey,” he squeaked, sounding very undignified.

But Achilles didn’t seem to notice; his eyes were still roaming, and when Patroclus caught his gaze, he looked completely unashamed to have been caught looking. In fact, there was mischief in his eyes, and they glittered like emeralds. “You look wonderful,” he said easily.

Patroclus gulped and tried not to blush. “Um, thanks. Uh, you…you too,” he managed.

“I know,” Achilles said confidently but not haughtily. Still mischievous, flirting. His smile widened. “To the Trident?”

“Yeah,” Patroclus said, slightly breathless. Achilles looked absolutely and effortlessly dashing; he, too, was wearing jeans and long-sleeves, but his jeans were of a lighter wash and his shirt was thin, faded black, and had three buttons leading down from the collar to a quarter of the way down his chest; he wore two of them unbuttoned, exposing golden skin that was spread over delicate collarbones and planes of lean, powerful muscle. His hair looked slightly damp; he’d had practice this morning and had probably just showered.

He caught Patroclus staring, and grinned; Patroclus blushed and looked intently down at his shoes, scuffed and worn next to Achilles’s polished black ones.

“Let’s go, then,” Achilles said, and they set off across the bridge. He didn’t take Patroclus’s hand or even stand closer than a friend would, but Patroclus hadn’t expected him to. It wasn’t a date, and even if it had been, they barely knew each other.

“Our boathouse is just down there,” Achilles said, pointing. “Not quite as big as MIT’s or some of the other bigger schools like Northeastern, but nice enough. Not sure how into sports you are, but I could take you there some day if you like. Only the crew team is allowed in, but I could talk to the coach and get him to make an exception.” He turned to Patroclus. “But we can worry about that later. I want to talk about you now. I want to get to know you.”

Patroclus blushed, shoving his hands in his pockets. “There’s not much to tell,” he mumbled.

Achilles laughed. “Of course there is! How could there not be, with someone like you? So tell me, Patroclus,” he said, saying his name in his peculiar way that Patroclus could already feel himself falling in love with, “what are your thoughts on figs?”

Patroclus blinked and very nearly stopped walking in surprise. “Figs?” he asked. What a random question. “Um. They’re…they’re good, I guess…why?”

“Why not?”

Patroclus flushed and shook his head. “No, I mean, why figs, of all things to ask about?”

“Does there have to be a reason other than curiosity?” Achilles asked.

“No, I guess not.” Patroclus bit his lip. He felt a grin pulling at his cheeks. “Well, I do like them, although it’s hard to find good ones where I’m from. New York City,” he said quickly, not expecting that Achilles would have known. “Bit too cold, I guess, or maybe I haven’t been looking in the right place for them. But I do like them.”

Achilles was smiling. “And their color?”

Another odd question. “You mean, what do I think about their color?”

“Yes.”

Patroclus snorted at the absurdity of the question, but he went with it. “Well, I think it’s unique. Not a lot of fruits are purple – other than plums, I guess, but only figs are purple on the outside and pink on the inside. It…matches the taste, I guess. I mean –” He broke off, blushing. “I mean, purple is the color associated with royalty and richness, right? And figs are sweet and, um, rich-tasting, I guess.”

He blushed harder, but Achilles just smiled.

“And what are your thoughts on gut strings and horsehair bows?”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh?”

Achilles laughed. “Gut strings. That’s what musicians historically used for their string instruments; they’d use animal guts. Makes a much richer, more natural sound. Of course, nowadays a lot of them use steel or gold since they last longer, but some still prefer gut. And horsehair – they take the hairs from Mongolian wild horses to use in their bows.”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked again. “Well, uh, I think it’s cool, I guess, but I don’t really have much musical background to judge.”

“Nonsense,” Achilles said brightly. “You can still form a preliminary opinion.”

Patroclus snorted and shook his head. They’d reached approximately the middle of the bridge, which he could tell because the bridge was about three-hundred sixty-four smoots long, and the marking they had just passed was the one hundred eighty-first smoot.

“Okay. Well, I see why some musicians would prefer a more natural sound, but I’d expect that steel strings are louder, too? Or maybe not – the loudness of the instrument would come from the instrument shape itself, right? Because of resonance and all that. So that has to deal with the shape and curve of the instrument…but the steel ones last longer.” He frowned. “I don’t know. I can’t really say whether I think one is better than the other, but music is something that’s supposed to be raw and emotional, right? So I think it’s cool that something so natural and inherent in humans is produced with something more, um, robotic, I guess, or more machine-like, like metal.

“And as for horsehair bows, it’s interesting that it comes from just those Mongolian wild horses, I guess there’s something different about those that doesn’t exist in other horses. Wonder why all the bows that I’ve seen are white-haired though, I’d have thought that there would be more color variation among wild horses. I’d expect to see a lot more brown and black. Or maybe they’re treated? Anyway, that’s pretty interesting.”

Achilles was grinning as he watched him.

“What?” Patroclus demanded, somewhat defensively.

“Nothing,” Achilles said cheerfully. “Next question: do you believe in an afterlife, or a heaven, or anything of that sort? And if you do, do you think one exists for pigeons as well, or just for humans?”

“What is it with these questions?” Patroclus huffed. “Okay, well, I would like there to be an afterlife, since the thought that death is just…the end…I don’t know, it’s slightly disconcerting. Even though scientifically, people are alive just because of how certain cells function and interact, it’s nice to think that there’s something a little more after death. Or maybe that’s just me – my mother died when I was very young,” he explained, “and I’d like to think that there’s still a little bit of her left somewhere that’s more than just memory, so that maybe sometime I could…I don’t know, meet her or something. Like when I die, hopefully after many more years.

“But at the same time, I’d like to believe that there’s a such thing as a resting place, since if heaven really does exist then that suggests that there’s something like a soul inside of us that has to remain conscious, since if there’s a heaven then there’s probably also a hell but what’s the point in having either if there’s no soul or consciousness to experience it? It wouldn’t make sense to have heaven or hell or anything similar without souls to occupy them, and it wouldn’t make sense to have souls without an afterlife. But if the soul is conscious of heaven or hell and there’s no reincarnation or resting place or anything then we’re basically just living forever and ever and that just sounds downright exhausting.”

“And for pigeons, if there is an afterlife?”

A slight breeze carried Achilles’s scent towards him, and Patroclus’s lungs filled with the light, sweet smell of sandalwood and pomegranate. Was it his shampoo? His body wash? Or just the way he naturally smelled? He almost stopped walking for a moment, his heart thudding and a blush reddening his cheeks at the thoughts that shouldn’t be crossing his mind.

Achilles stopped. “What is it?”

Patroclus forced his feet to keep moving. “Nothing,” he managed.

“So,” Achilles said, walking forward again as if oblivious to the effect he was having on Patroclus, “afterlife for pigeons?”

Patroclus snorted, looking down to hide his blush. “Pigeons, okay. Well, I wouldn’t see why not? Humans are still animals, right? So if an afterlife or a heaven or whatever does exist and there’s a soul in humans, why shouldn’t there be a soul in a pigeon, or even a worm?” He laughed. “Could you imagine? A heaven filled with worms!”

Achilles’s teeth flashed, bright against his red lips and golden skin.

“So why all these questions?” Patroclus asked as they finally reached the end of the bridge.

Achilles shrugged, his eyes glowing bright and green. “They say you can learn a lot about someone by how they answer things.”

Patroclus raised an eyebrow. “And they say you can learn a lot about someone by how they ask things. And what they ask, for that matter.”

Achilles laughed. “Well then, Patroclus, what did you learn about me?”

“Nuh-uh,” Patroclus said, shaking his head adamantly. “You’re talking first.”

“Alright,” Achilles said, smiling. “I learned that you are very philosophical and like reasoning through things logically; even when you couldn’t be sure that something existed, you followed a logical thought process and didn’t make any conclusions that you didn’t have a supporting argument for. You like to think and apply your knowledge, but perhaps you are a little narrow-minded.” He laughed again as Patroclus gave an indignant splutter. “Your reaction when I asked seemingly random questions,” he explained.

“Well, anyone would be a little surprised if you asked them if they thought pigeons had an afterlife too,” Patroclus retorted, his cheeks flaming.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Achilles grinned, and continued. “You like making connections, and when you couldn’t find one, you became confused, although you didn’t stop trying to figure it out. Like a scientist, which is what a med student is, or am I wrong?”

“You’re not,” Patroclus muttered, surprised at how accurate Achilles’s diagnosis had been, except for the narrow-minded part.

Achilles’s grin widened. “So,” he said. “What did you learn about me?”

Patroclus bit his lip. “Well, I’d say you’re curious and like to take charge in everyday life, since you were the one who asked me all the questions in the first place. And I think usually, when people ask questions to try to get to know someone else, they tend to ask about stuff that they already know about so they can follow up with a conversation, which means it’s usually stuff that they care about or are fond of or otherwise have some connection to. Especially with your seemingly random topics; even if you chose them randomly, the mind automatically jumps to something with some significance. So I think you do know something about figs; maybe you like them too? Or maybe you like the color purple. Either way, something about figs draws your attention.

“And then about the gut strings and horsehair bows, you like music. I’d say classical music, since strings and bows are commonly associated with instruments used in classical music, and it’s unlikely that anyone who isn’t really into music would actually know all that information, so that means you’re into music, and perhaps you play, though not necessarily a string instrument. Although you do like string instruments and perhaps have worked with their musicians before, or maybe you really wanted to learn, but regardless, you’re interested in music. Because of that, I can also probably conclude that you have pretty diverse interests – theater, music, and sports, but you’re at a school that’s well-known for its undergrad premed program a.k.a. STEM subjects, so I think it’s a safe bet to say you’re good at that too.

“And then the question about the afterlife and heaven – that one is a little more difficult, but I’d say, since those are themes commonly tied to religion but you asked about it casually, that you aren’t a religious person, or if you are, you aren’t very religious. Or not obnoxiously religious, at least, since you didn’t try to force your beliefs on me, or even mention them. The fact that you asked about the heaven at all suggests that you’re bold and not afraid of debate if you do run into conflict, since you didn’t know my views on the subject and God knows people can get touchy about it, but you’re open-minded and like to hear other people’s opinions too.”

He paused, and frowned. “I have no idea where you came up with the pigeons, but maybe that was just you trying to figure out how much of a human elitist I am,” he said wryly. “Overall, you seemed open to listen to all of my thoughts without judgment or argument, so that makes you an open-minded person who likes to hear other peoples’ opinions, and judging from how different each of the questions were, you either had them pre-prepared or you probably have a pretty scattered thought process, or at least you think very quickly so you finish one train of thought and are onto the next before anyone has caught up. I’m going with the fast thinking though, since you don’t seem to be the kind of person to obsessively prepare for anything.”

Achilles was smiling widely at him when he finished. “You could be a detective,” he said, and spreading his head through the air as if posting a banner, he said, “Sherlock Holmes comes to life in modern, twentieth-century Boston.”

Patroclus blushed and ducked his head, laughing. They turned left onto a smaller street; Patroclus saw the sign for the Trident up ahead. Achilles’s steps quickened. “It’s a really nice place, you’ll love it,” he said over his shoulder at Patroclus, who was struggling to keep up with his long strides; he slowed slightly.

“Wait here,” he said as they entered. “Or look around or whatever, I’ll tell them to put down our names. There’s usually just a little bit of a wait on Saturdays.”

Patroclus was too astonished to really pay much attention as Achilles darted away towards the woman at the front desk; he saw books upon books on shelves all around the small shop as they entered. He looked around in awe, amazed at all the interesting titles jumping out at him and at just how many books they’d crammed into the small space.

“Let’s have a look around, shall we?” Achilles said, weaving through the shelves back to him. “We have about fifteen minutes, and then we’ll get a spot in the back.”

“Sure,” Patroclus murmured. A title caught his eye: The Onion and Philosophy. He grinned and pulled it from its shelf, skimming over the summary. It looked amusing, and he filed the title away in his brain for him to look up later. He’d probably buy it from Amazon or something if the reviews were good; it would be cheaper online.

He wandered further through the shelves, seeing titles of books that he’d read before as well as others on his list of books to read and more still that he’d never heard of before. He pulled some off of the shelves to better read the summaries, and then Achilles let out a soft exclamation and pulled a small, blue-greenish book off of a nearby shelf.

“Hamlet,” he said, holding it out for Patroclus to see, and then promptly recited Hamlet’s entire famous soliloquy effortlessly, complete with dramatic gestures and agonized expressions. A few passing people clapped as he finished and he gave several large, exaggerated bows.

“You like the play?” Patroclus asked, slightly sarcastically.

“My favorite,” Achilles said, and blushed slightly; his cheeks turned a little bit pink under the sun-kissed gold. “We’re putting on a production of it in November, right before Thanksgiving break. The theater group, I mean.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And who are you, the handsome prince of Denmark?”

He’d meant it teasingly, but Achilles blushed harder and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “Actually…actually, yeah. They wanted me to play Hamlet.”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked. Well, he couldn’t see why not.

“Yeah.” Achilles still wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I told them it would probably be better for someone else to play Hamlet, but they wanted me, and well, y’know, the guy I thought should’ve gotten the part also thought I should be Hamlet instead, so uh…yeah.”

He looked uncharacteristically flustered. Odd, since he was so smooth all other times, casually flirting and talking with anyone and clearly having no trouble showing off.

“Thought you liked the play?”

“Huh? Oh! Oh, yeah, I love it.”

“And does it seem like it’s gonna be good?”

Despite himself, Achilles grinned. “Yeah, it’s gonna be amazing. I mean, not necessarily because of myself, but because of everyone involved in it. All the actors are great and the set designers did such a great job with props and the costumes are awesome. We’re doing a slightly more modern version of it – have you seen David Tennant’s rendition?”

Patroclus nodded. “Yeah, a few years ago in AP English Lit, it was pretty great.”

Achilles was positively beaming. “Well, we’re doing something kind of like that, and I think it’s actually going to go pretty well.”

His excitement was contagious. “Well, I’ll be sure to come, then.”

Achilles looked delighted. “Great!”

Patroclus spent another few minutes looking around at all the amazing books the Trident held, and then he turned to Achilles, flushed and grinning. “This place is wonderful,” he said.

Achilles looked a little embarrassed. “Thought you’d like it,” he said. “Saw you in the library all the time, and I figured you’d like somewhere we could eat while being surrounded by books. Been here a few times, too, and the food is pretty good. Better than Subway, for sure.”

Right on cue, a waiter called them over to let them know their table was ready.

“About that,” Patroclus said as they sat down and began looking over the menu. “Why did you show up randomly last time and start talking to me? I mean, you’d been in the library wandering about before, but you’d never really…showed any interest.” His voice faltered, and he blushed.

Achilles shrugged. “I mean, you’re always in the library and I thought you were super cute ever since that day I saw you in that Subway – where I work, by the way – and I figured I’d say hi.” He grinned. “Sorry for sneaking that pic of you, that’s not really the way I usually do it but a friend from Cali wanted to see you.”

Patroclus gaped. “Huh? Your friend from Cali wanted to see me? How did they even know me?”

“He didn’t,” Achilles said. “I was texting him and told him that there was a super cute guy sitting in the Subway I worked at and he told me to take a pic. And of course he dared me to turn the flash on, see if you’d have any reaction.”

Oh. So he was taking a picture of him that day. And it was because he thought he was cute.

This made Patroclus thoroughly embarrassed, though not displeased. Actually maybe a little, since if he’d actually reacted to it maybe they’d have gotten to know each other much sooner than in mid-October when the semester was already a month gone.

“Tell me about yourself,” Patroclus said.

Achilles raised an eyebrow. “That’s a very broad question, Patroclus. What do you want to know?”

“Well, um, I don’t have anything quite as bizarre as what you asked me, so this conversation might be a little more mundane. What’s your favorite color? Is it purple like figs?”

“There’s nothing mundane or bizarre about anything,” Achilles said. “Anything can be interesting if you put effort into it, and things only seem ordinary since people stopped trying to make to make them interesting. My favorite color is actually the color of the Mediterranean ocean just after a storm – still a very clear bluish or greenish but with a tinge of gray as the storm clouds block out the sun. I’m thinking the prosciutto and brie sandwich and the mango tango smoothie, how about you?”

“Huh? Oh.” Patroclus looked down at his menu, a little lost with how quickly Achilles’s thoughts ran from one topic to the next. His eye went to the cheapest sandwich on the menu; the tuna and swiss melt, which he said.

Achilles frowned. “No drink?”

Patroclus bit his lip and shook his head. “Nah, I’m good.” It would be an extra few dollars, which he could spend on books later instead.

Achilles shrugged. “Suit yourself.” The waiter approached and they told him their orders.

“Tell me more,” Patroclus said. “When did you start crew?” He thought it would be fitting for him to ask about that, since he’d spent so much time watching Achilles on the river.

“Middle school,” Achilles answered immediately. “I actually started out as a coxswain, since I was rowing with the high school team but as a middle schooler I was too small to actually row, especially compared to all the big varsity athletes I was surrounded by. Had great times on the erg for my size, but I still wouldn’t have been able to keep up with everyone else who was a good foot and a half taller than me. I stopped coxing and started rowing in freshman year after my growth spurt.”

“Erg?” Patroclus asked.

“The rowing machine,” Achilles explained. “Not a perfect measure of how good someone is in a boat, but we don’t have anything better.”

Patroclus leaned forward with a grin. “Tell me why you asked me about pigeons.”

At that, Achilles let out a laugh. “Oh, no reason, really.” The waiter returned with his smoothie and he thanked him before taking a sip of it, making a satisfied expression. “I just like pigeons. They’re chubby and weird-looking and walk funny. In the best way, of course.” He slid the smoothie over to Patroclus. “It’s good; try some.”

Patroclus blinked. “Oh, um, okay.” He took a small sip, trying not to think about how he was putting his lips where Achilles’s just were, and hummed in satisfaction at the taste. Sweet and cold and refreshing, even on a day where it was a little too chilly for his liking.

“Have some more,” Achilles said, gesturing dismissively when Patroclus made to give the drink back to him.

“It’s yours,” Patroclus protested.

“And I’m saying you can have some more,” Achilles countered with a grin. He succeeded in pushing it back towards Patroclus as the waiter arrived with their food and set the plates down in front of them.

Patroclus raised an eyebrow in amusement as he gave in and took another few sips. “I see yours has figs in it.”

“So it does,” Achilles grinned. “Want some?”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, blinking again. “We can split, I guess, if you happen to want any of mine, even though it’s not quite as interesting as fig and brie and prosciutto and whatever that other thing is.”

Achilles chuckled. “Like I said, Patroclus, things are only boring if people make them out to be. See here, you could call your sandwich a tuna and swiss sandwich, or you could say it’s a delightful blend of fresh ocean taste with mild, sweet fromage encased in two halves of warm, freshly toasted sourdough.”

Patroclus snorted. “Well, sure, if you want to have to say all that every time you refer to my sandwich.”

“Why not?” Achilles asked. “We’re still young. There’s no need to hurry to anything, much less the name of a sandwich.” He cut his sandwich neatly in half and put one of the halves on Patroclus’s plate; Patroclus did the same with his portion for Achilles and then took a bite of his own.

He hummed in satisfaction, chewed, swallowed, and took another bite. Even though his sandwich looked rather plain and was certainly made with less fancy-sounding ingredients than prosciutto and brie, it was rich in flavor and perfectly salted and the cheese melted on his tongue.

Then he looked up at Achilles and abruptly choked.

Achille was staring at him eating, is head tilted, a small smile curving the corners of his lips.

“What?” Patroclus demanded once he’d stopped coughing, drinking gratefully from the smoothie that Achilles had pushed further towards him.

“Nothing,” Achilles said, but he was still smiling.

What?” Patroclus repeated, a little more insistently.

Achilles let out a soft laugh, shaking his head. “You’re so cute, Patroclus. In everything that you do, even eating.”

Patroclus very nearly choked again. “What?” he said, for the third time, not sure he’d heard Achilles correctly.

“You’re adorable,” Achilles said. “You make me want to treasure you and protect you, even though I’ve just met you.” He grinned. “I just can’t get you out of my head, ever since that first time I saw you at the Subway.”

Patroclus’s cheeks reddened, and he felt the tips of his ears grow hot. So maybe this was a date. “Oh,” he said. “Um. I…didn’t know I had that effect on anyone. Especially you.”

“Must be a superpower,” Achilles said easily.

Patroclus snorted and shook his head, busying himself with his sandwich so he didn’t have to look up at Achilles since he thought he just might pass out if he did. “I was joking,” he mumbled. “I don’t have that effect on anyone.”

Achilles tilted his head; Patroclus saw the slight movement out of the corner of his eye. “Oh, so I don’t count?”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Patroclus said quickly, blushing harder. Fuck, he was fucking this up. “I meant anyone else. You’re…the only person to have noticed me. Except Briseis and Automedon.”

“Ah, but they’re different,” Achilles said, smiling. “They’re just friends, right?”

Patroclus’s heart skipped a beat and he felt a thrill run up his spine. “Um, yeah, they’re just friends.”

“And that’s why they’re different,” Achilles said.

Patroclus blinked. “Huh?”

Achilles laughed, pulling his smoothie back towards him to take a sip before returning it to its spot in front of Patroclus. “They’re just friends. And of course, I wouldn’t be averse to being just friends with you either, but I like you; that’s why we’re here. Friends don’t go on dates, right?”

Talking to Achilles couldn’t possibly be good for Patroclus’s heart; this was the second beat it’s skipped in just as many minutes.

He risked glancing up at Achilles, who looked highly amused.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t know this was a date. I thought that was fairly obvious?”

“Oh,” he said, sounding slightly strangled.

Achilles laughed again. “Well, now you know. Eat your food, Patroclus.”

Patroclus bit into his sandwich again, glad for the distraction. “So are you usually this forward the first time you talk to someone, or did you somehow know I was single?” he asked, trying to change the subject but not really succeeding.

To his surprise, Achilles blushed and looked down, mumbling something unintelligible. Or rather, unintelligible except for one word.

Patroclus gasped in horror, though he really shouldn’t have been surprised, promptly dropping his sandwich.

Briseis?”

 

 

Said friend practically ambushed him as soon as he’d stepped foot in Skye.

“He walked you back!” she gushed. “Oh my God, he walked you back to your dorm! Even though he lives so far away! He walked you back!”

Not giving him any time to speak to confront her, she grabbed his arm and pulled him towards his own room, letting herself in and sitting him down on his bed as she pulled the chair from his desk and swiveled it to face him. Quite honestly, he felt like he was being interrogated, but that’s how he usually felt when talking to Briseis about boys he had crushes on.

“Tell me all about it,” she demanded, plopping down cross-legged in the chair.

“You –”

“No,” she interrupted. “We’ll get to your complaints about me later as soon as you tell me everything that happened. Oh my God he looked so happy when you were walking back and then he was so sad when he had to leave – he’s so into you, Pat! But I’m getting distracted, tell me tell me tell me!”

“Alright, alright,” Patroclus griped. “If you shut up for just two seconds.”

Briseis grinned but mimed zipping her mouth shut and throwing away the key.

“He asked me about myself when we were headed there. And I don’t mean the usual stuff; random questions like my thoughts on figs and if pigeons had afterlives.”

Briseis snorted and rolled her eyes. “Of course the hottie is also the weirdo,” she grinned.

“Quiet, I thought you wanted to hear about it?” Patroclus snapped, and she gasped and promptly closed her mouth.

Patroclus described the conversations they’d had and how he’d shown off his theater skills in the middle of the bookstore with absolutely no shame and how he hadn’t eaten until Patroclus had told him to since he’d been too busy just looking at him, and then he told her about how he’d insisted on paying for everything and asked him more about himself – more personal questions, this time – on the way back and then insisted on walking him all the way back to his dorm, and he was quite unable to stop the smile from spreading across his face.

“And yeah, it was a date,” he mumbled, blushing and looking down.

Briseis crowed. “I told you!”

“Okay, okay, shut up,” he said. “He didn’t say anything about a second date.”

“Ah, don’t worry about that,” Briseis said, waving her hand dismissively. “He’s really busy right now with rehearsal and crew and he basically never plans anything more than a few days in advance. He’ll probably ask you later; he’s that kind of person. Trust me.”

“Hopefully,” Patroclus sighed. “But you. We need to talk about what you did.”

Briseis feigned an innocent look.

“Stop that,” Patroclus scolded. “I know you told him something. I asked him if he was usually this forward with people he didn’t know or if he’d somehow known I was single and he said your name. Your name, Briseis. What did you tell him?”

She tilted her head and grinned. “Well,” she mused, “we were just talking and I may have slipped something in about how you’re totally head-over-heels in love with him.”

What?!” Patroclus yelled, horrified. “You didn’t!” He stood and began pacing around the room, tugging at his hair. “No no no, you didn’t! Please tell me you didn’t – oh my God, if he knew, what if he was just doing this to make me feel better? Or even worse, what if he just did it to laugh at me? Oh my God he’s going to tell his entire team and they’re all going to laugh at me and –”

Briseis laughed, shaking her head. “I’m kidding, Pat, stop freaking out! I sent him the video that I took of you staring at him and sighing, that’s all.”

“That’s all?” Patroclus shrieked, earning a few hard pounds on the wall from his irritated neighbors. “That’s basically the same thing!” he yelled, not any quieter.

“Oh, don’t worry, it looked like you were sighing at one of the girls. See, this is what happened: I sent him the video and then he found me on campus later and he asked if you knew who he was. Kinda awkwardly too, actually, which is weird for him, so I figured he probably saw you before and thought you were cute. So of course I said yes, you knew him, and I kinda hinted that you thought he was pretty cute since he looked pretty happy when I said you knew him. And then he blushed – he blushed, Patroclus! And then I told him that you’re practically always in the library if he ever wanted to do anything about it, and he did.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. Well, that wasn’t too bad.

Despite himself, he felt his heart fluttering.

Achilles had known Patroclus thought he was cute. He’d known Patroclus was interested, and instead of being scared off, he’d blushed, and he’d done something about it.

No, it really wasn’t that bad at all.

 

 

Achilles came to see him in the library more and more often over the next week. Midterms were coming up for everyone, at least everyone who had classes with two midterms instead of three, but while everyone was studying, everyone was studying to a different extent. Patroclus, for one, was basically always in the library and skipped meals more and more often to study.

“It’s not healthy,” Achilles admonished him, his calculus textbook spread out in front of him as he lounged in the chair across the table. “You’ve gotta eat.”

“I’m fine,” Patroclus insisted, trying not to notice how his muscles curved in his arm. Biceps brachii, deltoid, flexor carpi ulnaris, he recited silently. “I have snacks in my room. Oranges and stuff. I take them back from Aege when I do go in case I miss meals later.”

Achilles shook his head. “That’s not enough,” he said. “You can’t live off of oranges.” He sat up, swinging his legs back over the armrest so they were under the table where they belonged, and leaned forward. “You can eat with me, Patroclus. I know you just forget sometimes, but I’ll come get you before I head to Aege and we’ll go together. That way you won’t miss any meals!”

Patroclus laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t have time, Achilles. I really need to study for anatomy – this test is going to be hard and I’m already barely scraping by as it is. I can’t afford to not do well.”

Achilles frowned. “You can take a break to eat, though?”

“My test is tomorrow, Achilles, and I need to know all the muscles and bones of the human body and how they work and neural impulses and reflexes, and I still have a lab to finish! Now I’ve really gotta work, I’ll go to dinner later.”

Achilles sighed. “Alright, alright.” He stood. “Well, I’ve gotta go to rehearsal now. For Hamlet. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah,” Patroclus mumbled, his mind distracted by the many different bones of the human body he had to memorize, and he didn’t notice Achilles leave.

He also didn’t notice the time passing, and Aege had long closed when he finally looked at his watch. He groaned; it was past midnight, and all the cafés were closed too. Oh well. He’d just get up a little earlier for breakfast tomorrow before class.

Then he saw Achilles coming up the stairs with his backpack slung over his shoulder, looking a little tired but his face flushed with happiness.

“Rehearsal was great,” he said, practically falling into his chair. “How’s studying?”

“Wonderful,” Patroclus said sarcastically. “I only have another hundred bones to memorize and my lab due on Friday, and I think I can get a solid four hours of sleep if I start my lab by one-thirty and finish in three hours.”

Achilles sighed. “Didn’t go to dinner, did you?”

Patroclus bit his lip, unable to meet his eyes, and focused on memorizing instead.

“Well, that’s good for once, since I brought something for you,” Achilles continued, rummaging around in his backpack and pulling out several Tupperware and a thermos. “They brought us Chinese for rehearsal since it went through dinner, and I figured you’d lose track of time and miss Aege so I saved some for you. And that’s coffee in the thermos, thought you might need it if you’re staying up that late.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, looking up in surprise. “Um. Thanks.”

Achilles shrugged and grinned. “Don’t mention it. And, uh, you do know that it would be more helpful to actually get enough sleep the night before a midterm, right?”

“I know, but my lab is due on Friday.”

“Yeah, and that’s in two days, you can work on it tomorrow.”

Patroclus bit his lip again. “Well, I guess, but…”

“Eat, finish studying, and then go to sleep,” Achilles said, pushing the food towards him. “You said you could finish memorizing this by one-thirty, right? That’s in a little more than an hour. Isn’t that great, Patroclus? Just another hour and then you can sleep and worry about your lab tomorrow!”

“That’s procrastinating, Achilles,” Patroclus said wryly.

“That’s studying smartly,” Achilles returned. “You have a midterm tomorrow and you need to get enough sleep, and you have tomorrow afternoon to work on the lab. You can get it done.”

Patroclus sighed, seeing the logic in his argument. “Fine, fine.”

Achilles grinned, and then yawned widely.

“Go to sleep,” Patroclus said. “I promise I’ll eat and head back at one-thirty.” He wouldn’t need the coffee now, then, but he could certainly use it tomorrow. He’d been practically falling asleep in all his classes for the past few days, and he couldn’t afford to do that in anatomy if he had a midterm.

Achilles shook his head adamantly. “Moral support,” he said cheerfully.

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “Just don’t distract me, okay?” he said, though he really was quite touched by how thoughtful Achilles had been.

Achilles settled down more comfortably in the chair, and Patroclus went back to studying.

 

 

Achilles fell asleep. Patroclus gave into the temptation to take a few pictures of him since he looked quite adorable, his fluttering eyelids a delicate pink and a strand of hair that had fallen into his face fluttering with the breath from his slightly-open mouth; he took a video on Snapchat and sent it to Briseis and Achilles himself to see when he woke up before going back to studying.

The clock ticked on as he memorized the leg bones and their landmarks; the last of the bones he had to memorize, and one-thirty came and went, though not by much.

Finished studying, he shook Achilles awake.

“Huh? Oh, hi, Patroclus,” he mumbled groggily, stretching and rubbing his eyes. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

Patroclus laughed softly. “It’s alright.” He checked the time. “Only one fifty-four, not too bad.”

Achilles grinned sleepily and stood, accompanying Patroclus back to his dorm despite all of Patroclus’s protests that he should go back to his own room and get a few extra minutes of sleep instead of spending another twenty minutes walking back and forth.

“We’re going to the Head of the Charles race this weekend,” he said as they passed under one of the street lamps, turning onto Island Row. It cast a soft yellow glow on them, and Achilles’s eyes shone. “It’s always really fun, and I thought…maybe you’d like to come?”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, blinking in surprise. “I don’t know much about crew.”

“That’s alright,” Achilles said. “You’ll be done with your midterm and lab by then, and it’s a big race – the biggest two-day crew event in the world, just a few minutes away from campus! A bunch of people will be there from all over the world – I heard there’s a team from Austria this year – and you don’t really need to know much about crew to have fun. Plus it’s supposed to be pretty warm that weekend. Well, as warm as it’ll get in October.” He grinned at Patroclus. “Of course, I’ll be busy for part of it since I need to actually be in the boat to race, but that’s just for a bit on Sunday. We have the rest of the weekend to ourselves.”

“To…to ourselves?”

Achilles grinned. “Yeah! I might need to meet up with my boat sometimes to talk about things but that shouldn’t take long, and I know some other people from Phthia want to come, too, so you could hang out with them when I’m not there. But other than that, it’ll kinda be like a second date.”

“One where you show off?” Patroclus asked sarcastically, though his heart thudded at how Achilles casually asked him on a second date as if he didn’t have any doubts that Patroclus would be okay with it. And was okay with it, obviously. More than okay with it, but Achilles didn’t need to know that.

“Of course,” Achilles laughed. “I’ve gotta show off a bit, right? Can’t have you thinking you’re the only talented one – you’ve got the brains, sure, but maybe you can give me some credit too.”

“I’m hardly talented,” Patroclus mumbled.

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Patroclus said quickly.

“If you say so,” Achilles said. His phone buzzed a second later, and he pulled it out to look at it, opening up his Snapchat where he had two unopened snaps and a message from nineteen seconds ago. He laughed at whatever was on the screen and said, “Sorry for distracting you.”

“What?”

Achilles turned the phone screen to Patroclus so he could see the video he’d taken earlier of Achilles sleeping.

“I distracted you,” Achilles repeated with a lopsided grin, looking quite pleased with himself despite claiming to be sorry for the distraction. “Made you look away from your studying with my adorable sleeping.”

“It is quite adorable,” Patroclus mumbled, blushing.

Achilles laughed again and looked even more pleased with himself. “I’ll get back at you someday, I promise. So, what do you say to what I suggested earlier? Second date at the Head of the Charles?”

Patroclus bit his lip to curb his excitement and nodded. “Yeah,” he said, grinning. “Second date at the Head of the Charles.”

Achilles looked thrilled.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Patroclus aced his anatomy midterm. Well, he didn’t know for sure since it would be another few weeks before Professor Chiron finished grading them and handed them back, but he walked out of the room with an hour of the allotted three left remaining and feeling confident about all of his answers, and usually, when he felt like this, he ended up getting a ninety-seven or above.

His lab report, too, went smoothly. He’d estimated that it would take three hours for him to finish, but whether it was his proficiency in the subject, the unexpected ease of the questions, or his excitement that the next evening he would be leaving with Achilles for the race, he was able to finish it in two.

And now it was Friday evening, and Patroclus was crammed in the back of Odysseus’s car with Achilles and Automedon; Diomedes sat in the front seat and their bags for the weekend filled the trunk. Odysseus lived just a few minutes away from where all the trailers would be parked for the event, and they would be spending the weekend at his house. Ajax would be arriving separately after dinner, which they would be having at Odysseus’s house.

“I wonder if my buddy from back home is going to be there,” Automedon was saying excitedly, leaning over Patroclus to look out the window as they passed the parking area. “I know he’s rowing for Princeton now and they’re always here but he was injured pretty recently so I’m not sure if he made it. Something about his hip flexor; they’re a common rowing injury, you know,” he said to Patroclus. “Though we pride ourselves on having quite good technique, so it’s not quite as common here at Phthia as it is at, say, Mysia. No offense, Achilles.”

“None taken,” Achilles said cheerfully. He leaned forward so he could meet Patroclus’s eye across Automedon, sitting precariously in the middle seat. “My mother’s the president there,” he said.

Patroclus raised his eyebrows. “She must have had something to say about that, then. Her son going to her school’s rival school?”

Achilles grinned. “I did it on purpose. Applied to almost every college around here except hers.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Personal reasons.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, immediately deciding not to pursue the subject further.

“My friend was super good, too,” Automedon continued, still scanning the parking area as if he would be able to spot one specific person among the many trailers and other people currently milling about; as they watched, they saw Brown University’s trailer turning into the parking space, followed by Wesleyan’s.

“Oh, they’re both really good,” Automedon quipped. “Brown is D1, and they set a record here in 2013, if I remember correctly. Wesleyan is super good, especially with their women’s team. Williams is pretty good too. Sorry, Pat,” he said as he accidentally shoved him in the ribs in his quest to keep the parking lot in sight. He was now looking over his shoulder at it as it receded behind them. “We have a super good team this year – well, our men’s four and women’s first varsity eight is really good, although we didn’t get to come here last year since we did pretty poorly the year before that. Don’t know what’s changed, but suddenly we’re pulling record times for our school, and I think we have a fair chance at getting within the top few and securing a spot for next year. Especially with Ajax; he set a few records in high school and he and Achilles make a great pair.” He glanced at Patroclus. “I mean, in a boat.”

“Thanks for the clarification,” Patroclus said wryly, feeling his cheeks heat up; Achilles flashed him a brilliant smile from across the backseat. Patroclus also had a feeling that Automedon was talking this much more for his benefit than for the rest of the people in the car.

Automedon gasped. “Ooh look, there’s the Princeton trailer coming by! Of course my friend isn’t going to be in the trailer, but still! A bunch of people are arriving tonight since races go on all day tomorrow and even if they race on Sunday they come to watch the rest of the day. Hopefully my friend is here! His name’s Idomeneus, so if any of you hear that name or see him, let him know I’m looking for him! He was such a good rower, too, a shame that he didn’t come here but he got into Princeton and since our team was pretty shit when we were applying to colleges and Princeton is pretty consistently on top, he didn’t really give Phthia a second glance. He’s so cool though, I know he’ll try to show up if he can even if he’s not going to be rowing! Oh man I haven’t seen him in so long, I hope –”

“Automedon,” Diomedes interrupted.

The coxswain whipped back around, elbowing Patroclus in the face in the process. “Sorry, Pat. What?”

“Shut up.”

“Oh. Okay,” Automedon said cheerfully. He plopped back down in his seat and Patroclus saw Achilles giving him an amused, apologetic smile from across Automedon.

Odysseus turned right and into a small, winding street. “My place is just up ahead,” he said over his shoulder. “I have some spare bedrooms upstairs. It should be enough for everyone if some of you share.”

“I call not sharing,” Diomedes quipped.

“Sure,” Odysseus said with a grin. “Then as for the rest of you, there are two more rooms, one with another queen size and one with a full size and a couch.”

“I call the one with separate beds,” Automedon said immediately. “I kick.”

Odysseus’s grin widened. “That means you’re sharing with Ajax. He already called that room.”

Automedon’s face fell. “Aw man! He snores!”

Achilles laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Too late. Pat and I call dibs on the queen size, but maybe you can cover your head with a pillow or something.”

Automedon let out an exaggerated groan of despair, but then perked up almost immediately. “Oh, I know! I can discuss race tactics with him! He’s been here before, so maybe he can give us some tips; I’ve been reading articles and blogs and watching videos and stuff so I have a better idea of how to cox this race but while I kinda get the theoretical stuff, he’s the one with actual physical experience so I think he can help me out a bit. Especially since he was stroke seat last time he was here.”

“As long as he doesn’t kill you for talking nonstop,” Diomedes quipped.

Odysseus slowed down in front of a large house and turned onto the long, sloping driveway. “Yeah, I don’t want police all over my house investigating a murder,” he said wryly. “Anyway, we’re here, my dad’s going to get food from the Trojan Horse for dinner tonight.”

“His dad’s restaurant,” Diomedes explained to Patroclus.

Odysseus pulled into the garage and parked the car. Everyone got out and took their bags from the trunk, and Achilles walked around the car to join Patroclus, giving him a small smile.

“We’ll have tomorrow to ourselves,” he promised quietly.

Patroclus blushed and nodded, his heart thumping wildly at just the thought, even though he doubted Achilles was quite as excited as he was. Achilles had more important things to worry about right now, after all, such as the huge race that he would be in in two days.

“Nice car,” Diomedes commented, coming around the back of the car to join them and nodding at the brilliant black and red Lamborghini already parked in the center spot of the garage.

“Oh that? Yeah that’s my mom’s,” Odysseus said, fumbling around in his pocket for his house keys. “My dad took the other one for work. They gave me this old car since they didn’t want me or anyone else wrecking it at school and they don’t let me drive any of their cars; sucks, but seeing as I wrecked the last car I was given, I guess it makes sense.

“Leave your shoes in the cabinet by the door,” Odysseus continued as he opened the door and they entered the house. “Or else Argos will eat them.”

Patroclus was about to ask who Argos was when the answer became clear; just seconds after they’d opened the door, a great black German shepherd came bounding down the stairs, tongue lolling, tail wagging furiously as he barreled towards Odysseus.

Odysseus dropped to his knees with a laugh, ruffling the dog’s fur as he whined and licked around his face, taking a break for only a few seconds to sniff at the other boys before returning to push his head into Odysseus’s arms.

“He’s a terrific guard dog,” Odysseus explained, freeing himself from Argos’s affections with some difficulty to put his shoes into the cabinet. “But if he sees that I’m not worried about someone, he won’t be worried either. Otherwise you’d all be running away with him biting at your asses right now.”

He led them up the ornate red cherry wood steps to the second floor. Patroclus did his best not to stare in awe at the magnificent chandelier hanging from the ceiling or the elegant, timeless furnishings of the home; the beautiful décor was the second thing that had caught his eye, after Argos, who was currently trotting along behind them, wagging his tail and carrying the remains of a toy fox in his mouth.

“My parents’ room is down there,” Odysseus said, pointing down the hall to his right as they came up from the stairs. “I think my mom is out right now, she usually goes shopping for groceries on Friday nights, but you’ll meet her at dinner. Automedon, you’ll be in here,” he continued, pushing open a heavy white door on the left side of the upstairs hallway and to the left of the top of the stairs. “Lucky for you, Ajax didn’t specify if he wanted the couch or the bed so you get first pick. Just try not to piss him off, alright?”

Automedon whooped and hopped onto the bed. “Oh my God it’s so comfy!” Argos yipped and darted into the room, leaping up onto the bed next to him.

“Holy fuck!” Automedon shrieked as Argos very nearly landed on him, flailing backwards and promptly falling off of the bed.

Odysseus snorted. “Be careful, Automedon. We can’t lose our coxswain. Here, Argos!”

The dog obeyed immediately, bounding out of the room and nosing at Odysseus’s hand.

The room across from Automedon’s was where Diomedes would be staying, and Odysseus’s room was at the end of the hall on the left. The bathroom was to the right of his door across from the room that Achilles and Patroclus would be staying in, and there were two more closed doors that housed the laundry room and an extra bedroom that Odysseus said had been transformed into a game room, which was why he had only five bedrooms available out of the six large rooms upstairs.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m taking a nap until dinner,” Achilles announced, promptly dropping his bags at the foot of the bed and sprawling over it. Odysseus snickered.

“Just leave some room for Pat, alright? Unless you want him to sleep on top of you.”

Patroclus spluttered, his face reddening, but Odysseus, still smirking, had already retreated with Argos and closed the door.

Achilles rolled over on to his back with an exaggerated sigh of contentment, folding his arms behind his head and crossing his legs. “Patroclus,” he said, in that special way of his.

Patroclus raised his eyebrows, putting down his bags much more gently than Achilles had and making no move to approach the bed; not with how red his face was right now. “What?”

Achilles looked amused. “He was just teasing, you know,” he said.

“I know,” Patroclus said, though he really didn’t. Feeling slightly awkward and out of place, he looked around the room to avoid Achilles’s eyes, though he was painfully aware of their bright, piercing green as his gaze rested on him.

He also wasn’t sure how looking around would make him feel less out of place, either; Odysseus was unmistakably rich, and this was something that no one could miss even if they didn’t know that his family casually owned two Lamborghinis and drove them around on a regular basis. The furnishings and layout of the house were beautiful and elegant, compact and practical but still retaining an air of roominess and spaciousness. The walls weren’t simply painted drywall, either; from what Patroclus had seen on his way upstairs, columns of marble fitted in neatly with sections of cobblestone, wooden planks, and even glass. In fact, the outside wall of the room he and Achilles would be sharing was made entirely of glass, framed by pale but heavy curtains and overlooking a backyard pool.

Patroclus’s eyes shifted to the rest of the room. The bed was large and looked quite soft and was opposite a large, flat screen TV. There was one large, round light hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room and two more lamps on a bed stand on either side of the bed, and there was a large walk-in closet with its door currently half ajar, revealing a mirror covering the entire back wall.

Achilles noticed him looking around. “Impressed?” he asked.

Wordlessly, Patroclus nodded.

Achilles chuckled, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “His dad’s restaurant is pretty good, too. And he has a dog!” He shook his head, grinning. “Man, he’s got the life.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows, still looking around the room as he headed towards the bed and sat down gingerly on the corner. “You’re one to talk,” he mumbled absent-mindedly, lowering himself down so he was lying on his back and stretching his arms up above his head. The bed really was quite soft, and the patterns in the light on the ceiling cast what looked like small stars all over the room. “Isn’t your family super rich too or something?”

After a few moments of silence, Patroclus turned to Achilles, surprised to find him chewing his lip awkwardly, his cheeks tinged with red, unable to meet Patroclus’s eyes.

“What?” Patroclus asked.

“Where did you hear that?”

Patroclus blinked at how cold his voice was, sharp and cutting through the air like a knife; he’d never heard Achilles like this before. “Um. I don’t really remember, someone was talking about the crew team and they mentioned that your dad was really rich.”

Achilles’s eyes blazed for a moment before the fire faded and he looked down at his hands.

“Yeah, my dad’s rich,” he said finally. His voice was hard, but when he spoke a moment later it had softened and sounded much more normal, if a bit closed off. “I mean, he’s not…he’s not bad. It’s just my mom.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said quietly. “Sorry.”

Achilles shook his head, abruptly cheerful. “Don’t be! You didn’t do anything wrong. And I don’t want to talk about my mom right now, we’re on a date!”

Patroclus laughed, glad that the moment of awkward tension was over. “Thought you wanted to nap?”

“Oh right,” Achilles said, promptly flopping back down on the bed. He pulled his phone out of his pocket to check the time. “Odysseus said his dad would be back around eight with his really good food, which gives us…one hour and forty-three minutes to sleep. Wonderful!”

“Us?”

Achilles flipped onto his side in one elegant movement, propping his head up with his elbow and waggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Why, don’t you want to join me?”

Patroclus blinked, feeling the heat creep up his neck towards his cheeks. “Huh?”

Achilles leapt up towards Patroclus, pinning his wrists down with his hands and putting his knees on either side of Patroclus’s hips before Patroclus had a chance to react. Patroclus’s breath hitched in his throat; he felt his heart skip a beat and then resume beating at about twice its normal pace. Achilles leaned forward, close enough that Patroclus could feel his cool breath ghosting over his cheeks, could feel himself go slightly cross-eyed as he attempted to keep Achilles in focus, could feel the heat of Achilles’s skin just millimeters away.

“I said, don’t you want to join me?” Achilles whispered.

Patroclus’s mouth was dry. He couldn’t move.

A moment later, Achilles released him and was back on his side of the bed. “Sorry,” he said, grinning mischievously and propping his head up on his elbow again, as casual as if he hadn’t been well within Patroclus’s personal space just a few seconds ago. “I’ll stay on my side.”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind,” Patroclus said quickly before he realized what he was saying and blushing what he knew must have been a spectacular red once he did.

Achilles’s grin widened. “Even so,” he said, “I don’t want to accidentally push you off the bed. We can reconsider me invading your space once there’s a wall on the other side.”

Patroclus’s heart skipped a beat again. “Sure,” he said, and it came out more like a croak.

Achilles laughed, flopping down completely on his side, still grinning as he watched Patroclus.

“Go to sleep,” Patroclus said, since he didn’t think he would be able to stand Achilles’s piercing green gaze on him much longer, not since it was so bright and clear that he felt like it was staring straight into him and could see his thoughts.

Achilles closed his eyes obediently.

“And stop smiling,” Patroclus added, using grumpiness to mask his embarrassment.

Achilles’s attempt was thoroughly unsuccessful, and the way his mouth and cheeks twitched in his sad attempt at sobriety had them both doubled over in laughter within a few seconds.

“You’re so weird,” Patroclus said, thoroughly amused, as Achilles huffed and flopped onto his back. The tips of his outstretched fingers brushed against the back of Patroclus’s hand and Patroclus did not draw away, but both of them pretended not to notice.

“Is that bad?” Achilles asked.

“No,” Patroclus said, as Achilles’s phone buzzed.

Achilles clicked it on and peered at the screen, a grin pulling at the corners of his lips. “Odysseus demands to know what the fuck is going on in here.” He glanced at Patroclus, mischief glinting in his eyes. “What do you say, Patroclus? Shall we let him in on the joke?”

“Absolutely not,” Patroclus said with a laugh. “He doesn’t need to think we’re weirder than he already does.”

Achilles heaved an enormous, contented sigh and closed his eyes. “Alright. Well, I’m actually going to sleep now, since I’m tired and I want to have enough sleep today so we can thoroughly explore all the tents tomorrow. You should sleep too, Patroclus! It’ll be a lot of walking and cheering on the women and the other boats that are going to be racing and I don’t want you to be tired.”

Patroclus grinned and closed his eyes. “Oh, alright. Though I think you’re just looking for an excuse to take a nap, you lazy ass.”

“Who, me?” Achilles asked innocently, but his words were muddled, and a few moments later he was asleep.

 

 

Dinner was just as fabulous as Achilles had promised, and they were joined by Odysseus’s mother. She was a kind woman who seemed very invested in Odysseus’s rowing career and promised many times that she would be there to cheer them on during their race on Sunday.

After dinner, they all retired to their rooms to get to sleep early; even though they weren’t actually racing on Saturday, everyone wanted to be able to watch the races during the day and have time to go around to all of the tents.

“We don’t have to worry about lunch,” Achilles explained to Patroclus as they settled into bed for the second time that day. “Phthia has its own tent and there’ll be a bunch of food for the people who are rowing tomorrow; it’ll be the women’s second varsity eights and some of the men’s eights. They get priority to the food of course, but we can probably sneak in a few snacks and there’s going to be more food everywhere else too if we run out.”

Patroclus just watched him as he kept talking. Achilles was on his back with one arm above his head and the other resting across his chest. He had thrown the covers off and the bottom of his thin T-shirt was riding up, exposing a few inches of smooth skin that Patroclus couldn’t tear his eyes away from, especially since his boxers clung to his hips so deliciously.

Achilles shifted, turning to face Patroclus, and Patroclus stared at the way his muscles flexed and curved under his skin, highlighted by the moonlight peeking in through a crack in the curtains, knowing that Achilles wouldn’t be able to see how his gaze lingered; his eyes were too dark for that.

“So,” Achilles said softly.

“So,” Patroclus echoed, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Achilles grinned, his teeth flashing white in the darkness. “I like you, Patroclus.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, his breath catching in his throat. “Me…me too. I mean, I like you too.”

Achilles’s grin widened, and briefly, before he pushed the thought away, not wanting to dare think about it, Patroclus wondered if Achilles would kiss him.

He didn’t. He told him to go to sleep instead, and Patroclus did with their hands brushing together just like before, and his dreams were filled with thoughts of Achilles.

 

 

Saturday the 22nd was filled with excitement. They got to the tent early just as the women’s second varsity eight arrived, already dressed in their racing unis, and cheered them on two hours later as they overtook Princeton’s women just before the finish line. Then Achilles took Patroclus around to some of the other tents, including the one belonging to the Austrian team, and they had the fortune of running into the Olympic women’s eight on their way back to cheer on their own men’s first eight.

“This way!” Achilles exclaimed, taking Patroclus’s hand and pulling him through the crowd towards the last bridge over the race course; Patroclus’s fingers tingled with Achilles’s warmth.

“Excuse me, coming through,” Achilles said, weaving his way through groups of people until they finally reached the bridge. “They should have started by now so they’ll be in sight in about fifteen minutes, we don’t want to miss them!”

“We have fifteen minutes, Achilles, slow down,” Patroclus huffed as Achilles dashed forwards, but he was grinning; Achilles’s excitement was infectious.

And then, as they stood on the last bridge over the race course and waited for their men’s eight to appear around the bend in the river, unexpectedly, it began to pour.

“Fuck!” Patroclus exclaimed, and Achilles immediately took off his waterproof rowing jacket and held it out for Patroclus to put on.

“No way,” Patroclus said, utterly appalled at how Achilles could stand there with a brilliant smile on his face even as water ran down his face in rivers and turned his gray sweatpants black.

“You’re getting soaked, now put it on,” Achilles said.

“You’re one to talk!” Patroclus shot back, but Achilles wrestled the jacket over Patroclus’s head despite Patroclus’s best attempts and then pulled up the hood before stepping back, looking quite pleased with his handiwork.

You’re getting soaked now,” Patroclus griped.

Achilles shrugged. “I’m a rower, I’m used to it. And don’t tell me you don’t appreciate it.”

Patroclus mumbled something under his breath, but he didn’t have an argument for that. The jacket wasn’t particularly warm since its main function was to serve as a waterproof windbreaker and not to mimic a parka, but he was glad for the protection it provided against the rain. It was also slightly large on him, so it hung past his hips and if he stood just the right way, it flared out to protect up to his mid-thighs.

“Well, at least let me help you a bit,” he griped, wrapping his arms around Achilles’s shoulders and resting his head on Achilles’s shoulder; he felt Achilles’s soft laugh and a moment later Achilles’s hands came up to grip his own.

The men’s eight, coxed by Echion, came into view and he and Achilles cheered them on, adding their voices to Phthia rowing alumni, proud parents, and other current members of the crew team as well as the hundreds of other people gathered on the bridge and around the course to support their own teams. All of the rowers were all just wearing their unis and looked utterly soaked; as Patroclus watched, one of the coxswains from what he thought was the MIT boat wiped rain from her face and urged her crew forward, trying to overtake Phthia’s men who were just able to hold them off.

The race results weren’t determined by who crossed the finish line first, Achilles explained as Patroclus heaved a sigh of relief when Phthia’s crew surged forward with their own power ten to counter MIT’s. It was a head race, meaning that the starts were staggered and each crew was timed; the winners would be the crews with the fastest times, even if they didn’t happen to cross the finish line first.

The rain passed as quickly as it came, but not before Achilles’s whole body and the bottom third of Patroclus’s had been thoroughly soaked, and the end of racing for that day had Phthia’s second varsity eight placing seventh out of thirty-something crews and the men’s first varsity eight placing fifth.

“We’ve definitely done well enough to come back next year but we’ll do even better tomorrow,” Achilles told Patroclus over a carb-filled dinner at Odysseus’s house, already changed into a fresh set of not-soaked clothes and, per Odysseus’s instructions, dutifully ignoring Argos the dog’s begging by way of resting his head on people’s knees. “It’ll be us and the women’s first varsity eight, and we’re both pretty good. I think we have a chance of getting onto the podium. The men’s second eight is also pretty good, too.”

“Don’t jinx it.” Ajax, who had arrived late last night after Patroclus had already fallen asleep, spoke in a low rumble, and Automedon promptly knocked on the wooden table for luck, causing Argos to perk up his ears and give a doleful look in his direction when no food was forthcoming.

“Everyone go to sleep early tonight!” Odysseus’s mother announced cheerfully. “I’ll have a big breakfast ready for you when you wake up so you can all do your best tomorrow, and me and my husband will be there to cheer you on!”

“And Patroclus!” Achilles quipped, nudging him and grinning.

“And me,” Patroclus mumbled.

“And Briseis,” Automedon said happily, as they brought their plates to the sink and headed back upstairs. “She texted me earlier today asking when the race is going to be so she can come and cheer us on – though I think it’s more to talk to Pat than anything.”

Oh, man. She’d probably drill him on how his second date with Achilles was going. Which was quite splendid, Patroclus thought as he settled into bed next to Achilles. Though they’d met what felt like hundreds of people throughout the day and bought a bunch of merchandise – with Achilles’s money, since Achilles had forgotten to tell Patroclus to bring some and decided to remedy this by buying over a dozen shirts and jackets and socks and blankets for him despite all his protests – it had, for the most part, been just the two of them. Achilles had brought Patroclus into his own world of rowing, a world that Patroclus didn’t quite understand just yet but found fascinating and fun and exciting, and Patroclus loved it.

 

 

They rose early the next day; the women’s first varsity eight would be racing earlier in the morning and they wanted to be there to cheer them on. He and Achilles met Briseis on the last bridge where they would be overlooking the race, but Achilles had to leave just before the women came around the bend to join his own boat; the men’s collegiate fours would be racing in an hour and they had to push off of the dock soon so they had time to row up to the starting line.

So an hour later found Patroclus huddled with Briseis and the women’s first varsity eight, who had just returned from putting their boat back on the trailer after frustratingly missing out on second by less than five seconds, on the last bridge as they waited for Achilles and his boat to come down the course. Though it was sunny, it was a bit too cold and windy for Patroclus’s liking, and he was very grateful for the blanket Achilles had bought for him the day before.

The women were also a bit too intimidating for Patroclus’s liking; he figured the average height in the women’s boat was probably a few inches shorter than himself, but they were lithe and muscular and moved with a casual, effortless elegance much like Achilles that he couldn’t even hope to match. Smooth, powerful muscles curved under tanned skin with every movement, emphasized by the tight unis they were all still dressed in.

“They should be coming down any minute now,” Antiope, the small, thin, black-haired coxswain also currently wrapped in a blanket, though that was because she and the other rowers had gotten soaked during their race and not because she was a wimp who hated the cold, said as she checked her watch. “They started about fourteen minutes ago, and conditions won’t have changed much since we raced so they’ll be going pretty fast.”

“Wonder how they’ll do,” a girl named Myrina mused from directly to Patroclus’s right.

“Oh, they’ll be fine,” Marpesia, who Automedon had a crush on, sighed dreamily. “Achilles is in that boat.”

Patroclus felt his heart skip a beat.

“Oh, shut up,” Phoebe said. “We all know Ajax is the cutest.”

Marpesia laughed, shaking her head. “Alright, he’s cute, I’ll give him that. But so is Achilles and he’s the best rower Phthia’s seen in years, I heard Coach Amphidamas talking about it to Automedon earlier. And with him and Ajax in the boat, I can’t see them not on the podium.”

Penthesilia spoke up now from where her arm was slung around her girlfriend Hippolyta’s shoulders. “I’m not too sure about that. There are some good crews out there, and Achilles and Ajax are both better with 2k’s.”

“Oh, they’ll be fine,” Hippolyta said with a small smile. “They’ve been setting records for a reason, and Odysseus and Diomedes are pretty good at 6k’s. Had some of the best times on the team.”

Marpesia sighed again, even more dreamily than before. “Achilles is just so perfect,” she murmured. “Do you think he’ll actually notice me now, since we got third? It’s better than the women’s eight has ever placed! Oh gosh, I really hope he notices me...maybe I’ll flirt with him a bit after he finishes the race, just in case.”

Patroclus felt Briseis nudge his elbow beside him and he forced himself to relax. Achilles had asked him to come, asked him here on a second date. He wouldn’t have done that if he were really interested in any of the quite frankly gorgeous women he was nearly always surrounded by at practice.

“There they are!” Another girl whose name Patroclus forgot but thought might be Theseis spoke up, pointing eagerly to where several white boats were cutting through the water up ahead. Patroclus straightened up, squinting to better see which one was the Ithacan and spotted Automedon a moment later urging his rowers forward; he caught a flash of gold that was Achilles’s hair, just in front of Ajax’s long, now-braided mane. They were currently neck-and-neck with who Antiope said was Notre Dame, based on the color and pattern of their blades, and as Patroclus watched, Phthia’s crew inched forward.

“Go Phthia! Go Achilles!” Marpesia yelled, as the other women cheered and waved, chanting, “Ithacan! Ithacan! Ithacan!

Marpesia let out a whoop as Notre Dame’s crew yielded to Phthia, which was echoed with a roar of pride from where the rest of the men’s team stood gathered further down the bridge. Patroclus added his voice to the cheering, hoping against hope that somehow Achilles would be able to hear him through the cacophony of noise and Automedon’s own screaming into his mic and know that he was there cheering him on.

But he would have known that already. Achilles would have known the entire race that Patroclus would be waiting for him near the finish line to cheer him through the last of the 5k race; he didn’t need to hear him to know.

 

 

The Ithacan ended up placing third out of over forty crews; the results came out as Achilles and the others were derigging and putting their boat back on the trailer, and Achilles practically ran back to the bridge to find Patroclus as soon as the boat had been strapped down. He ended up seeing Patroclus before Patroclus saw him, and so before Patroclus knew what was going on, he found himself smothered by over six feet of overjoyed rower a.k.a. over six feet of muscle squeezing the breath out of him.

“Congrats,” Patroclus choked out as Briseis snickered beside him, and Achilles released him, still beaming, his smile so wide it looked like it would split his face.

“We got third!” he practically yelled, looking slightly dazed at he fact, and all of Phthia’s nearby rowers cheered, and Patroclus felt a surge of pride.

“Congratulations, Achilles,” Marpesia piped up. She stepped forward, twirling her hair with one finger and smiling brightly. “That makes two of our boats now.”

Achilles grinned. “Yeah, congrats to you guys too! Wow, we did so well this year, I’m so happy!” He saw Penthesilia standing nearby, still right next to Hippolyta, and beamed at her. “Hey, congrats, guys! First race of senior year off to a good start, huh? And great coxing, Antiope, I saw you calling that power fifteen to cut off Princeton around the bend there!”

Marpesia wasn’t fazed by the lack of individual attention he was giving her and stepped closer. “So what do you say, Achilles? Dinner tomorrow night? We should celebrate, don’t you think?”

Achilles still appeared slightly dazed. “Huh? Oh, right. Celebrate, yes.” But he was looking at Patroclus, and not once did his green gaze flicker in her direction; Patroclus felt his heart swell. “Yeah, we should celebrate,” he said, more quietly, only for Patroclus, and he didn’t notice Marpesia’s look of disappointment.

 

 

“Hey Patroclus,” Achilles said later just before he stepped onto the podium to be presented with the bronze medal.

“Yeah?”

Achilles bit his lip, stepping closer and leaning down slightly. “Um, do you happen to have another pair of underwear?”

Patroclus blinked. What a strange question. “Uh, yeah, I think so, why?”

“Are you going to need it before we get back to campus?”

“Um. No, I don’t think so, I mean we’re headed back in a few hours, right? Right after the men’s second eight races, you said.”

Achilles’s cheeks were tinged pink. “Yeah. Um, so do you…uh, is it okay if I borrow them? I only brought enough for two days since I didn’t think it would rain yesterday and I had to change into my second pair after that, so I, um, I don’t have any left.”

“Oh.” Patroclus felt a blush heating his own face. “Yeah, sure.”

Achilles grinned, hesitated a moment, and then pressed a quick kiss to Patroclus’s cheek before he withdrew, blushing, whispering a quick thank you and darting up to the podium.

Patroclus just stood there and blinked with astonishment for a few moments as he struggled to process what had just happened. On the podium, Achilles was being presented with the bronze medal; he caught Patroclus’s eye and winked, and Patroclus blushed furiously, thanking whatever higher powers that might exist that Briseis was not nearby, because if she had seen that, there was no way he would ever hear the end of it.

They went briefly back to Odysseus’s house after getting the medals so that everyone could change out of their soaked unis into dry clothes before heading back to the race to cheer on the last of their boats in the men’s club eight event. Patroclus headed upstairs and rummaged through his bag for his spare pair of underwear; he found it and handed it to Achilles, doing his best not to blush and failing spectacularly.

“Thanks,” Achilles said again with a small, apologetic grin. “I promise I’ll wash them before I give them back, if, um, if you want them back at all…?”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. Fuck. How the hell was he supposed to respond to that? No, I don’t want them back, that’s gross. But that would be rude. Or yes, please give them back, they’re mine even though you’ve worn them. But that would make him sound super desperate, right?

“Sorry,” Achilles mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, his cheeks rather pink. “This is just, um, awkward. Promise I wouldn’t have done this if I had the choice. Not that it’s gross – I mean, well, uh…” He trailed off even more awkwardly, his face quite red now.

“Keep them,” Patroclus blurted out, and then blushed hard enough that his face was just as red as Achilles’s. “It’s fine, it’s not like I’m short on underwear.” He broke off, blinking and flushing.

How the fuck did he get himself into a conversation with Achilles about underwear?

Achilles cleared his throat awkwardly.

“What – oh,” Patroclus said, also clearing his throat awkwardly. “Right, I’ll, um, I’ll get out so you can change. Right. Sorry,” he squeaked, and practically ran out of the room, right into Ajax as he was headed out of the bathroom and down the stairs.

“What the hell was going on in there?” Ajax asked. “You’re as red as a tomato.”

“Nothing,” Patroclus muttered, not needing the reminder of how red his face was.

Ajax raised an eyebrow at him. “You sure? Achilles can be a handful, I know that. If he’s making you uncomfortable or anything –”

“No,” Patroclus said, too loudly and too quickly, and he bit his lip. “No,” he repeated, more gently. “It’s all good. Don’t worry about it, it’s fine.”

Ajax shrugged and kept walking down the stairs. “Alright. Well, we’re headed back to the race now if you want to come. Or if you want to spend more quality time alone with Achilles, that’s fine too, we won’t judge.”

“What?” Patroclus yelped. “No, that’s not –”

“It’s alright,” Ajax said casually, already at the bottom of the stairs and turning towards the garage door. “No judgment, if you want to come we’ll be leaving in about five minutes, if you don’t – well, that’s fine too.”

“Oh my God, that’s not what we’re doing,” Patroclus groaned, his cheeks flaming in embarrassment.

“What’s up?”

Patroclus yelped again; Achilles had emerged from the room in a fresh pair of clothes – well, in fresh underwear and his now-dried sweatpants that he’d worn the day before, and was currently wriggling his way into one of the HOCR T-shirts he’d bought. His belly and hip bones were exposed for just a moment before he got the shirt on over his head and pulled it down, and Patroclus blinked hard and forced himself to look away, flushing fabulously.

“Nothing’s happening,” he said quickly. “They’re, um, they’re headed back to the race soon.”

“Oh,” Achilles said, and bounded past Patroclus down the stairs. “Well, let’s go then!”

“Yeah, just – um, give me a sec,” Patroclus said. He went into the bathroom and closed the door, letting out a deep, shuddering breath as he turned on the faucet and splashed his face with cold water. Stop it, he told himself fiercely. Get ahold of yourself.

He splashed his face a few more times, dried himself off with a towel, and headed downstairs with his face now much more normal in color, although he felt it heating up again slightly as he caught Ajax’s eye.

“Ready?” Odysseus asked.

No one said otherwise, so Odysseus headed out into the garage. “We’ll be walking back, if that’s okay with everyone; it’ll be impossible to find parking at this point and with all the traffic in the area, walking will be just about as fast as driving.”

So they walked back to the Charles River, which fortunately only took a little more than ten minutes. They managed to reach the bridge a few minutes before the men’s club eight event was supposed to start, and cheered on Phthia’s crew as it came under their bridge.

On their way back to Odysseus’s house, Achilles dropped back to walk beside Patroclus.

“Your underwear is extremely comfortable,” he said casually, as if he were discussing the weather.

Patroclus turned red. “Oh. I mean, I know,” he said.

Achilles grinned at him and took his hand.

So what is this? Patroclus wondered later as he sat in the back of Odysseus’s car on their way back to campus, Achilles now sleeping gently on his shoulder, having switched seats with Automedon so he sat in the middle. What are we called, me and Achilles? We’ve been on two dates already, and while we haven’t actually kissed…could we be dating yet?

Patroclus bit his lip to stifle a small laugh.

Achilles was wearing his underwear, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Midterms ended, and Thanksgiving break came up more quickly than Patroclus would have ever expected; before he knew it, two weeks had passed and he was headed to Athens Hall with Briseis to watch the campus’s theater group put on Hamlet.

He saw a mane of curly dark hair up ahead as he and Briseis turned down the path towards the theater and recognized Ajax, headed in the same direction as Automedon, Marpesia, Antilochus, Odysseus and a pretty, dark-haired girl Patroclus assumed was his girlfriend Penelope, Helen and a handsome brown-haired boy Patroclus recognized as Paris, and another dark-haired girl he didn’t recognize.

Patroclus had never actually seen Paris up close and in person before and was quite taken aback at how good-looking he was; he had high cheekbones that cast dark shadows in the hollows of his cheeks, and his bone structure was fine, almost delicate, but covered with lean muscle. He was a few inches shorter than Achilles and built differently; more thin and wiry while Achilles’s muscles were thick and strong, though by no means bulky, and he moved with the effortless ease and grace of someone who was confident with their body.

“Who’s the girl walking next to Paris?” Patroclus asked quietly.

“Her? Oh, that’s Polyxena,” Briseis said. “Paris’s youngest sibling. Doesn’t get along great with her parents from what Helen’s told me.” Briseis tilted her head. “Actually, she doesn’t get along great with her entire family except sometimes Paris. She’s a coxswain on the women’s crew team but she told me she’s a novice so she didn’t get to race in the Head of the Charles.”

Oh, so that’s why she looked familiar; Patroclus thought he remembered seeing her at practice a few times.

“What year is she?” Patroclus hadn’t remembered seeing her in Pelios, the dorm the crew team had largely taken over.

“She’s a freshman. She’s actually two years younger than us but she started kindergarten a year early so she’s younger than everyone in her class, too.”

Ah, so that explained it; she would have been living with the other freshman in the freshmen-only area near Aege.

They filed into Athens Hall – tickets were free for Phthia students, they just had to show their IDs to prove they went to school there – and Patroclus and Briseis found seats in the middle section, further from the front than Patroclus would have liked but still close enough that he would be able to recognize the actors’ faces. Not that he needed to be super close to recognize Achilles, anyway, but being closer to him couldn’t hurt.

Briseis flipped through the playbill, nudging Patroclus when she got to the picture of Achilles. “He looks really good here, doesn’t he?”

“He always looks really good,” Patroclus muttered, and then abruptly clamped his mouth shut when he saw Paris, seated in the row in front of him, turn around and look at him curiously. Patroclus kept looking through the playbill, praying that Paris hadn’t heard what he had said, and frowned as he saw that Deidameia would be playing Ophelia, Hamlet’s girlfriend, feeling a twinge of jealousy before he remembered that he and Achilles had already been on two dates and Achilles wasn’t remotely interested in her.

“I’m so excited!” Patroclus heard a familiar voice say; he looked around and spotted Marpesia sitting a few seats down from him, gushing over the picture of Achilles which she waved furiously in her teammate Myrina’s face.

“We know, shut up,” Myrina sighed, exasperation mingled with amusement.

“Hey,” Briseis murmured, nudging Patroclus. “Chill, alright?”

Patroclus hadn’t even realized that he had clenched his hands into fists, and he forced himself to relax. Now was not the time to get possessive about Achilles. It wasn’t like Achilles belonged to him or anything, and it wasn’t even like they were really dating.

The lights dimmed, and a hush fell over the audience. Patroclus was vaguely aware of Marpesia’s gasp of excitement as the play began. A moment later, the curtains parted to reveal two older boys dressed in modern guard clothing, standing on either end of a wooden set and peering at each other.

One of them, the one with black hair, spoke.

“Who’s there?”

The other boy, thin and tall with a shock of pale blonde hair, answered.

“Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.”

“Long live the king!” the black-haired boy called.

The blonde boy squinted. “Barnardo?”

“He,” the black-haired boy playing Barnardo answered.

The blonde boy looked much relieved, though still slightly nervous as he approached Barnardo. Patroclus remembered from AP English several years ago that it was Barnardo and Francisco, two sentinels, and that in this scene they would meet Horatio and Marcellus and confront a ghost that they had seen a few times before.

A few moments later, just as Patroclus expected, two more boys entered. Francisco parted after a few exchanges, and then the ghost entered.

There was a slight smattering of laughter and a catcall from the audience; Patroclus recognized the actor as a senior on the football team who was quite popular with girls and boys alike at the school, but now his hair had been spray-painted white and his face covered with white face paint. Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio all confronted the ghost, but then Marcellus proclaimed that Horatio had offended it and it departed.

After a few more lines of dialogue, the scene ended and the lights dimmed, only to come on a few moments later to an entirely new scene; now they were in court with the king, the queen, Laertes and his father Polonius, and Hamlet.

Patroclus felt his heart flutter as he saw Achilles in the play for the first time, dressed sharply in a suit and leaning against one of the pillar props, looking handsome as ever despite the dejected and depressed look on his face as he listened to the king lament his late brother and then grant Laertes his blessing to take leave to France.

“Take thy fair hour, Laertes,” said the king Claudius. “Time be thine, and thy best graces spend it at they will. But now, my cousin Hamlet and my son –”

“A little more than kin and less than kind,” Achilles – Hamlet – said dryly, his tone biting. Achilles’s voice carried far while still retaining the air of words being said under one’s breath.

Claudius looked thoroughly perplexed. “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?”

“Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun,” Hamlet snarked, to some tittering from the audience and awe-struck gushing from everyone who had a crush on him, which happened to amount to about half the people watching.

Patroclus was very proud not to have gushed, thank you very much.

The queen Gertrude was speaking now. “If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?”

Hamlet scowled. “‘Seems,’ madam? Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems.’ ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, nor customary suits of solemn black, nor windy suspiration of forced breath, no, nor the fruitful river in the eye, nor the dejected havior of the visage, together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, that can denote me truly. These indeed ‘seem,’ for they are actions that a man might play; but I have that within which passes show, these but the trappings and the suits of woe.”

There were a few sighs of sympathy from the audience, but Claudius launched into what quite frankly sounded like a tirade, urging Hamlet to let go of his father and get over his death and accept Claudius as a father instead, followed by his mother begging him not to go to Wittenberg.

After Hamlet’s agreeing not to leave to Wittenberg and everyone else’s exit, Achilles began his first soliloquy, his voice raw and aching and filled with such despair that Patroclus’s heart hurt for him.

“O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, or that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God, how weary, stale flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!”

His voice shook with emotion as he cursed his uncle and raged at his mother for marrying another so soon after her first husband – Hamlet’s father’s – death.

“Within a month, ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, she married. O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” Achilles exclaimed. “It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.”

Barnardo, Horatio, and Marcellus entered the scene again. Patroclus watched with rapt attention as Achilles’s Hamlet shifted from an agonized character to something akin to elated upon seeing his friend Barnardo, and then curious scrutiny as they told him of the ghost they had seen when they had been on guard the past few nights, the ghost that looked so much like Hamlet’s dead father.

“Ooh, he’s good, isn’t he?” Patroclus heard Marpesia whisper a few seats down before one of her teammates slapped her arm lightly and shushed her.

But she was right. Achilles really was good. He held the audience’s attention with every word, every movement, and he drew them in with his gestures and exclamations and dramatic sighs that befitted the despondent young prince. And when he met the ghost, revealed to be his dead father, and gasped with horror as it told him he had been killed by his brother Claudius, the rest of the audience gasped with him as if they hadn’t already known from English classes what had happened.

Patroclus’s heart thudded as Ophelia entered two scenes later in Act 2. Part of it was that he knew that Deidameia had a crush on Achilles, and the other part of it was that she really was pretty.

No, she was more than pretty. She was beautiful. The kind of beautiful that attracted boys.

She had large, light green eyes that were lined lightly with black – or were her eyelashes really that long? The green wasn’t as bright as Achilles’s; it was more faded, more brownish, so it was an olive green instead of pure like emeralds. Her skin was pale but her cheeks still held a healthy glow, and her hair was long, thick, shiny, and dark like the night sky. Her lips were pink and plush, her mouth small but delicately formed, and her movements were light and graceful like a dancer’s. Patroclus heard a few whistles from the audience, which Deidameia dutifully ignored.

Instead, her features were contorted with fear as she rushed towards the boy playing Polonius, exclaiming that Hamlet had frightened her like he never had before.

“He took me by the wrist and held me hard,” she sobbed. “Then goes he to the length of all his arm, and, with his other hand thus o’er his brow, he falls to such perusal of my face as he would draw it. Long stayed he so. At least, a little shaking of mine arm, and thrice his head thus waving up and down, he raised a sigh so piteous and profound as it did seem to shatter all his bulk and end his being. That done, he lets me go, and, with his head over his shoulder turned, he seemed to find his way without his eyes, for out o’ doors he went without their helps and to the last bended their light on me.”

Patroclus shivered. She was good too; he could picture Achilles’s Hamlet with every word she uttered, his face twisted with pain and despair and hopelessness, his eyes searching hers and his body seeming to shrink as he turned away from her, leaving the room with his gaze still on her face.

So convincing was their performance that Patroclus felt Hamlet’s agony as he broke into his second soliloquy, proclaiming himself a coward, pigeon-livered for not having the courage to speak up about his uncle’s murder of his father. He felt Hamlet’s bewilderment at why the actor was able to weep for a queen he had never known, at why he should shed tears when he had nothing to cry for, especially compared to Hamlet who had lost a father to a greedy and selfish uncle, and he felt Hamlet’s despair and despondency as he reflected on his existence.

“To be or not to be – that is the question,” Achilles lamented, “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep – no more – and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream.”

The bright green eyes fluttered closed, and the rich, clear voice that had rang out just moments ago faded into silence for a moment as the faintest of smiles flickered across Hamlet’s face. A sad, empty smile, as he imagined what it would be like to close his eyes and cease existing, to rest and be in darkness forever.

In the audience, Patroclus felt his heart clench.

“Ay, there’s the rub,” Achilles sighed, and breathed life back into Patroclus’s lungs again. “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life.

“For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th’unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of?”

Patroclus held his breath. Achilles, the boy he had touched so recently, had brushed hands with in the library, had leaned his shoulder against as he began to fall asleep as he studied, was like a god now, with the faint glow around his golden hair and the beautiful, twisted agony of his carved features and the way the words rolled over his tongue and across his lips so perfectly that it was as if he had been made in the future to live in the past. He was like a god, young and beautiful and anguished. Untouchable. Unattainable.

Who was he to think that he ever deserved Achilles?

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” Achilles continued, “and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.”

He broke off, his golden voice fading into an echo as he looked around. “Soft you now,” he whispered, as Deidameia – Ophelia – stepped out of the shadows. “The fair Ophelia. – Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.”

“Good my lord,” Deidameia said, and her words were clear, hiding the faintest of tremors that would betray the nervousness her character experienced.

Patroclus clenched his fist as Achilles took a step towards her, finding pleasure in the fact that his voice was cold, disinterested, and a thrill ran up his spine when Hamlet said to her, “I did love you once.”

I did love you once.

Once.

It was over.

Patroclus bit the inside of his cheek hard. This was a play, he reminded himself. Achilles and Deidameia were just talented enough that it made it seem real, made Patroclus feel like he was actually there watching the golden boy he was in love with fall for someone else. And yet, he couldn’t help a small smile from spreading across his face as Hamlet tore himself away from Ophelia.

“If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry,” he cried. “Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.”

Patroclus watched as Ophelia tearfully lamented the loss of a great mind, a mind that was now buried in shadows and cobwebs and dust and darkness, or, as Claudius said, madness.

 

 

Several more people entered the stage for the next scene, in which the players presented their play to the king, the queen, Hamlet as he lay across Ophelia’s lap, to Patroclus’s disgust and Deidameia’s barely concealed delight, and several other members of the court.

“Playception,” Briseis murmured in Patroclus’s ear with a grin.

“Huh?” Patroclus mumbled, too focused on the way Deidameia was playing with a lock of Achilles’s hair to have heard what she said.

“Playception,” Briseis repeated. “Get it? It’s a play inside of a play.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said absentmindedly.

The actor presenting the play to Claudius and the court made to poison his brother, and Claudius stood, his features dark with anger.

“The king rises,” Ophelia said, her voice quivering.

Hamlet sat up, his eyes blazing, a smirk twisting his features. “What, frighted with false fire?”

“How fares my lord?” Gertrude the queen demanded.

“Give o’er the play,” Polonius said.

“Give me some light. Away!” Claudius thundered, storming offstage.

Hamlet and Horatio were the only ones left onstage, discussing the king’s rather suspicious behavior as Guildenstern and Rozencrantz entered to deliver a message: Gertrude wanted to see her son. Hamlet and Horatio leapt up, Hamlet taking a recorder and demanding that Guildenstern play it.

“It is as easy as lying,” Hamlet said with a winning smile when Guildenstern said that he could not. “Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.”

“But these cannot I command to any utt’rance of harmony. I have not the skill,” Guildenstern protested, to some jeers from audience members.

“Why, look at you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me!” Hamlet cried, and there was a glint of anger in his eyes. “You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excelling voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?” His eyes were blazing how. “Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.”

Such was his anger and insult that Patroclus could only hold his breath, and he let out a shuddering sigh when the scene ended, only to hold it again in apprehension as Hamlet stole behind Claudius in the next scene.

Claudius knelt with his head bowed, his hands clasped together, his voice shaking with emotion as he confessed his guilt to the empty room, and though Patroclus had read Shakespeare’s entire play multiple times and knew what was going to happen, he found that he couldn’t breathe until Hamlet murmured that he would wait to catch Claudius doing something unforgiveable and stole away into the shadows, leaving Claudius to rise, very much alive, and leave the stage.

Patroclus was glad that Ophelia did not make another appearance for a while. His hands shook with rage as Hamlet confronted his mother, accidentally killing Polonius in the process. There was such fire in Achilles’s eyes, such thunder in his voice, that it was a wonder his anger didn’t bring the whole theater down.

“O Hamlet, speak no more!” Gertrude pleaded. “Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grained spots as will not leave their tinct.”

“Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption, honeyed and making love over the nasty sty!” Hamlet snarled.

The ghost appeared a few moments later, urging him to speak to her, and when he exited the stage, Hamlet turned to his mother and urged her to live her life purer, to not go to his uncle’s bed, and departed with Polonius’s body.

The theater faded to black for a moment, and then the audience lights came on. Patroclus blinked in confusion for a few moments before he realized what was going on.

A boy who looked like was probably a freshman stepped up to a microphone at the side of the stage. “It is now intermission,” the boy said. “Refreshments are outside, and we ask that you all return to your seats within fifteen minutes for the remainder of the play.”

“That was so good!” Patroclus heard Marpesia hiss delightedly to her friends. “Damn, I think Phthia ought to award people for being good at multiple things, right?”

“Patroclus,” Briseis said, tugging at his arm with a grin. “Chill.”

“I’m not –” Patroclus broke off, realizing he was glaring in Marpesia’s direction and was beginning to get a few strange looks. He forced his expression into something friendlier and looked away.

He went out into the hall with Briseis and got a bottle of water while she chatted with Helen and Paris about how the play went. Thinking that she was going to be occupied for the next twelve minutes of the intermission, he went back to his seat and looked through the playbill until he found Achilles’s short biography.

To no one’s surprise, Achilles talked about rowing a lot, saying that it was his other main passion, but also talked more about his previous theater experience. He was a fan of Shakespeare, but he had been in some musicals too during his freshman year of college and throughout high school, his favorite having been Les Misérables his junior year of high school. He was also an avid musician.

Briseis returned to her seat, licking the last of Cheetos dust off her fingers, just as the lights dimmed again and a hush fell over the audience.

The next act began with Gertrude telling Claudius of Polonius’s death and Claudius trying to find the old man’s body as well as Hamlet. He sent Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to Hamlet, but Hamlet refused to tell them where the body was, and when Hamlet is brought in front of his uncle, Claudius declares that Hamlet is to leave for England.

“And England,” Claudius mused with a small smile as everyone else left the scene, “if my love thou hold’st at aught (as my great power thereof may give thee sense, since yet thy cicatrice looks raw and red after the Danish sword, and thy free awe pays homage to us), thou mayst not coldly set our sovereign process, which imports at full, by letters congruing to that effect, the present death of Hamlet. Do it, England, for like the hectic in my blood he rages, and thou must cure me. Till I know ‘tis done, howe’er my haps, my joys will ne’er begin.”

Two scenes later found Ophelia mad and raving in front of the king and queen, singing about death and betrayal with wild flowers in her arms. Her hair was in disarray and her skin covered with dirt and scratches.

“By Gis and by Saint Charity, alack and fie for shame, young men will do ‘t, if they come to ‘t; by Cock, they are to blame. Quoth she ‘Before you tumbled me, you promised me to wed,’” Ophelia sang.

“How long as she been thus?” Claudius murmured.

“I hope all will be well,” Ophelia said, with a small, sweet, slightly deranged smile. Brought to madness by grief. “We must be patient,b ut I cannot choose but weep to think they would lay him i’ th’ cold ground.” Tears were rolling down her cheeks now, even as she smiled her sad, sad smile. “My brother shall know of it. And so I thank you for your good counsel.” And suddenly she was smiling brightly again, all tears gone. “Come, my coach! Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.”

And thus, in madness, she departed.

Her brother Laertes came in, looking quite insane with grief and rage, pointing what Patroclus knew was a fake but very real-looking gun at the king. Claudius barely flinched and calmly asserted that he was innocent in Polonius’s death. Ophelia’s brief appearance brought tears to Laertes’s eyes, and Laertes and Claudius plan to kill Hamlet. It’s in the middle of their plotting that Gertrude returns to tell them that Ophelia has drowned.

Patroclus forced himself to be honest and acknowledged that however sad it was, he was quite distracted by Achilles who was once again on stage. There were two gravediggers under the spotlight while Hamlet and Horatio hid behind two bushes; after a few moments of conversation, one of the gravediggers leaves and the other continues digging, singing merrily as he worked. Hamlet confronted him, and Patroclus just barely held back a sigh at the rich clearness of Achilles’s voice.

And then Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, a doctor, and the limp body of Ophelia entered the stage. Hamlet and Horatio ducked aside so they wouldn’t be seen as Laertes begged for a better burial for his sister.

“Her obsequies have been as far enlarged as we have warranty,” the doctor said. “Her death was doubtful, and, but that great command o’ersways the order, she should in ground unsanctified been lodged till the last trumpet. For charitable prayers shards, flints, and pebbles should be thrown on her. Yet here she is allowed her virgin crants, her maiden strewments, and the bringing home of bell and burial.”

“Must there no more be done?” Laertes looked distraught.

“No more be done,” the doctor said. “We should profane the service of the dead to sing a requiem and such rest to her as to peace-parted souls.

“Lay her i' th’ earth, and from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest, a minist’ring angel shall my sister be when thou liest howling.”

Hamlet gasped from behind the bushes. “What, the fair Ophelia!”

And when Laertes jumped into the grave to hold his sister one last time, Hamlet leapt forward and tackled him; Patroclus’s heart thudded as the two boys fell to the ground, wrestling with each other and tearing at clothes. His cheeks colored slightly as the boy playing Laertes ripped the front of Achilles’s shirt open, exposing a muscular chest flushed red with emotion.

And then the boys were torn apart, Hamlet declaring his love for Ophelia and spitting at Laertes’s feet, and when he left the stage, Claudius leaned towards Laertes and told him to be patient and wait for the moment to act.

Patroclus knew how this play ended. He’d read it countless times, studied it dozens more, and at one point had almost had the entire thing memorized. (He hadn’t aced all his English classes for nothing.)

But that was how good Achilles was. He made Patroclus feel like he was actually dueling Laertes, and the other actors onstage were raised up by his glory so Patroclus felt like he was really watching Laertes sink to his knees, felt like he was really witnessing Gertrude’s real-life poisoning.

He felt like Hamlet was actually dying in front of him, and his heart ached.

“Heaven make thee free of it. I follow thee. – I am dead, Horatio. – Wretched queen, adieu. – You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time (as this fell seargeant, Death, is strict in his arrest), O, I could tell you – but let it be.” Achilles’s breath left him in a sigh. “Horatio, I am dead. Thou livest; report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied.”

“Never believe it,” Horatio murmured, his eyes glistening as he knelt by his friend’s body. “I am more an antique Roman than a Dane. Here’s yet some liquor left.”

“As thou ‘rt a man, give me the cup,” Hamlet demanded weakly, reaching for the cup in Horatio’s hands, the cup with a small bit of poison left at the bottom. “Let go! By heaven, I’ll ha ‘t.” He managed to pry the cup from Horatio’s trembling hands and threw it away from them. “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!” His eyes closed, and his breathing grew labored. “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity awhile and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.”

Faint sounds of a march sounded from offstage.

“Young Fortinbras,” the boy playing Osric said quietly, “with conquest come from Poland, to th’ ambassadors of England gives this warlike volley.”

“O, I die, Horatio!” Hamlet whispered. “The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit. I cannot live to hear the news from England. But I do prophesy th’ election lights on Fortinbras; he has my dying voice. So tell him, with th’ occurrents, more and less, which have solicited – the rest is silence.”

He drew one breath, and then another, and then – nothing.

“Now cracks a noble heart,” Horatio murmured, tears glistening on his cheeks. “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Hamlet’s forehead, and was still. In the theater, the lights dimmed to blackness.

There was a moment of silence, and then the theater erupted into thunderous applause. People whooped and cheered and whistled, and then the lights came back on as the cast appeared onstage to take their bows. First were the smaller parts, and then Laertes and Polonius and Ophelia and then Claudius and Gertrude and then Horatio and then, finally, Hamlet.

Achilles walked onstage with a dazzling smile, his eyes bright and shining and so, so alive, his cheeks flushed with pleasure as he bowed extravagantly and waved at the audience. He held out his arms to his sides and the rest of the cast joined him for one final bow before they turned to acknowledge everyone working behind-the-scenes. The audience kept clapping and clapping and Patroclus was doing his best not to blush furiously as Achilles somehow, miraculously, met his eyes and Briseis nudged him with a suggestive wink.

What was probably a full twenty minutes later, the cast finally retreated backstage and the applause died back down. The audience began to trickle out; Patroclus heard snatches of conversation as people discussed the play.

“Go backstage,” Briseis said with another wink. “He’ll be waiting for you.”

“No he won’t,” Patroclus mumbled, though he couldn’t help hoping.

“Aw, c’mon, Pat!” Briseis said, pushing him. “He’ll be there, and you can’t let him down, right? Now come on, the boy you’re in love with just saw you in the audience and he’s backstage right now and he’s going to come out to the hall soon to meet people and you want a head start, right? So go!”

Patroclus really couldn’t argue with that. He let Briseis give him one more shove and went backstage.

Achilles was surrounded by the rest of the cast, grinning and congratulating him even as he congratulated them right back. Patroclus hung back with a small smile, watching him as he talked and laughed with his cast, and he looked so happy that Patroclus couldn’t help but to be happy too. Even Deidameia flirting with him didn’t dampen his spirits.

And then Achilles looked up and saw him.

Patroclus’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he said, even though he knew Achilles couldn’t possibly hear him over the chatter of all the other people. He shook his head apologetically. “It’s alright, I’ll wait outside –”

But Achilles had already disentangled himself from everyone and was headed in Patroclus’s direction, beaming.

“Oh,” Patroclus said, as Achilles came to a stop in front of him. “Hello. Um. You didn’t need – um. I just wanted to say…good job tonight. As Hamlet.”

A flush of pleasure spread over Achilles’s face. “Thank you.”

Patroclus bit his lip, his cheeks heating up. “Um.” He glanced back over his shoulder in the general direction of the hall where everyone was waiting. “You…you need to go out, right? To meet people. I mean, that’s, um, that’s what you do, right? Actors?”

Achilles shrugged. “It’s alright, they can wait.” He leaned against the wall, effortlessly confident and casual. “So.”

Patroclus cleared his throat. “So,” he echoed.

Achilles’s grin widened.

“You were a wonderful Hamlet, why didn’t you want to play him?” Patroclus blurted out.

“Oh,” Achilles said, and his grin faltered. He glanced backwards, as if to make sure that no one was listening, and then leaned down and lowered his voice. “Honestly? It’s because of, um, Deidameia. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s an excellent actress, but, um…” He blushed. “She, uh, kinda has um, a thing for me.” He blushed harder. “Jeez, I sound really narcissistic right now.”

“No you don’t,” Patroclus said, too quickly, and also blushed.

Achilles huffed a laugh. “Alright,” he murmured. “Um. Well, yeah, that’s it. She’s been like this for a while, and she’s uh…the way she…um. Well, she just makes me uncomfortable.” He gave Patroclus an uncertain smile.

“Uncomfortable,” Patroclus repeated.

“Guys can get uncomfortable with girls too,” Achilles said, slightly defensively, and his cheeks were thoroughly red now. “Like Menelaus and Helen, although she’s nowhere near as bad as Menelaus, but still it’s just –”

“It’s alright,” Patroclus interrupted. “I get it.”

“Okay,” Achilles said, and his crooked grin was back.

“So…so that was it?” Patroclus asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

Achilles chewed the inside of his cheek. “I just…I didn’t want to have to interact with her…that way, you know? I mean, interacting with her in playing two people that are in, um, in a relationship. I mean usually I’m fine working with whoever, but she…I don’t know, it kinda felt like she was taking advantage of the situation to…” He broke off, shaking his head. “Ah, whatever. It’s over now, and it was nothing. I’m probably reading too much into it.”

“No,” Patroclus said forcefully and a little too loudly, and he winced and lowered his voice when a few people glanced over at him. “No,” he repeated, more softly. “Whatever you feel – it’s perfectly valid, you don’t have to justify yourself. And as for her…well, it’s really shitty. No one should have to feel uncomfortable doing what they love, especially you.” He broke off, blinking and blushing furiously. He hadn’t meant to say that.

“Oh,” Achilles said, also blinking. “I, uh…thanks.”

There was a moment of silence.

“There’s more,” Achilles blurted out, and then flushed and looked down. “More to it. I mean yeah, part of it was because she made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to pretend to be in a relationship with her, but the other part was that…well, pretending to be in a relationship with someone else when you’re, um, when you…” He broke off, took a deep breath, and continued again, his words coming out all in a rush. “Pretending to be in a relationship with someone when you like someone else and they don’t really know feels wrong, like I’m ruining a moment or missing an opportunity or –” He broke off again.

Patroclus held his breath. “Oh,” he whispered, when Achilles didn’t speak again.

Achilles looked up at him through his lashes, an uncertain smile on his face. “See?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Patroclus said, though he really wasn’t quite sure. Well of course he was a bit sure, he wasn’t completely stupid when it came to these things, but Achilles hadn’t said anything for certain and so if Achilles himself hadn’t said anything concrete he couldn’t believe anything was set in stone and who was he to say that Achilles really meant what Patroclus was thinking since Achilles was like a young god at the dawning of the world and Patroclus was an awkward bumbling nerd who still had no idea how he’d gotten Achilles’s attention or earned his friendship or –

Stop. Stop it, Patroclus.

“Achilles!”

It was one of the other actors. “We’re headed out!”

Ah, right. Actors needed to go and make themselves available to meet. Patroclus bit his lip, unable to meet Achilles’s eyes and knowing that his face probably looked like a tomato at this point. “Well, uh, I should head back now. Kinda tired.”

“Yeah.”

There was an awkward silence, and then Patroclus turned and started to walk away.

“Hey – Patroclus?” Achilles’s voice was tight.

Patroclus turned. “Yeah?”

Achilles blushed and rubbed the back of his neck, unable to meet Patroclus’s eyes. “There’s, uh…there’s a party next Saturday. Crew and soccer, by invite only. It’s, um, kinda like a formal, I guess, but there isn’t really any dress code and it’s not like you have to go with a date, but that’s also an option, if…” He broke off. “Anyway, I was wondering if…if you’d like to come? I mean as…my date?”

Patroclus blinked, about a million thoughts going through his mind at once, including that Achilles had just asked him to a party as a date. A party where there would be other people, not just them. A party where they could be seen as a couple. “Oh,” he said finally, when he was able to speak. “I…I’ve never been to a party before.”

Achilles’s eyes widened. “Really?” Then his lips curved into a smile. “It’ll be fun,” he said. “I promise. You’ll like it.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said again. “Well, uh…then yeah, I guess, I’ll go.”

Achilles’s face brightened. “Great! It’s in the soccer team's dorm at eleven. Just say you’re with me – or I could pick you up, if you want?”

“Oh,” Patroclus said for what felt like the billionth time. He blushed. “Well, um, would it…would it be easier to get in if…if you were with me?”

Achilles’s grin widened. “Well, yeah.”

Patroclus blushed and bit his lip. “Well, in that case…”

“I’ll pick you up,” Achilles said.

“Oh,” Patroclus said for the billionth-and-first time. “Thanks.”

“Saturday. I’ll be at your dorm at ten-fifty.”

Patroclus reddened even more. “I…I don’t know what I’m supposed to wear.”

Achilles laughed softly, reaching out almost casually and straightening Patroclus’s collar. His fingers brushed Patroclus’s neck, and Patroclus felt his heart skip a beat.

“I’ll be there early then, to make sure you’re not overdressed,” he said with a grin. “Let’s say ten forty-five instead.”

Patroclus felt a smile spreading across his face. “Saturday at ten forty-five.”

“I’ll be there,” Achilles promised, and then just before he turned to join his cast mates, for the second time since Patroclus had met him, he leaned in, almost hesitantly, and pressed a quick kiss to Patroclus’s cheek.

It was late and Patroclus was tired, but he felt like his heart was flying.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Saturday was here almost before Patroclus knew it, even though he had spent the entire week being simultaneously stressed and excited by the thought that he would be going to a party – no, a formal – with Achilles.

“I’m so excited for you!” Briseis shrieked as she ran into his room at ten o’clock sharp the night of, armed with a comb, an iron, an ironing board, a very fancy-looking camera, a large bag of other bags containing God knows what, and…Helen?

“Hope you don’t mind?” Helen asked with a bright smile as she followed Briseis into Patroclus’s room. “She’s helping me get ready; I’m going with Paris.” She stripped off her clothes as soon as the door had closed and slipped on her dress. Patroclus, respectfully averting his gaze, noted before he’d managed to turn his eyes away that while it was a dress, it was more of a light, casual dress than a formal one.

Briseis was already in Patroclus’s closet, rifling through his clothes. “So you said this isn’t a super formal thing, right? Even though it’s called a formal?” she asked Helen, her voice slightly muffled.

“Right,” Helen said, wiggling around in her dress to get the zipper. “Like, uh, semi-formal. Not sure what exactly the dress code is for guys, but it’s definitely not a tux type of night.”

“Perfect,” Briseis said. “Pat doesn’t seem to have any tuxes anyway.” She pulled out his most formal white shirt and black pants and turned to him. “Where’s the jacket?”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh? Oh – it’s right behind my winter coat.”

Briseis tossed the clothes at him. “Put these on, I’ll get your jacket.”

“Bri – it’s ten. Achilles isn’t going to be here for another forty-five minutes.”

Oh, fuck.

Did Helen know?

But Helen seemed entirely unfazed; Patroclus wouldn’t be surprised if Briseis had told her everything about him and Achilles on their way over.

Briseis was shaking her head. “I don’t care that it’s early, put it on. I have to make sure you look perfect before he arrives so I can catch the look on his face when he sees you, and getting ready always takes longer than you’d expect. Believe me, I know.” Seeing that Patroclus had made no move to undress, she rolled her eyes and reached for his top button.

“I’ve got it,” Patroclus said stiffly, stepping away. Slightly self-consciously, he changed into the formal clothes, including the jacket Briseis handed him, and then allowed Briseis to straighten out the wrinkles.

“Move over Helen, Pat needs the mirror,” Briseis said brightly, and Helen stepped out of the way from where she was applying a fresh face of makeup.

“You look so handsome,” Helen gushed, her eyes glowing despite the fact that she’d only applied makeup to one eye so far, a shimmering reddish gold that brought out her eyes. She brushed a stray strand of hair out of his eyes and turned to Briseis. “I’m so excited! And I’ll be sure to tell you everything.”

“What?” Patroclus yelped.

Briseis and Helen ignored him, instead turning him to face the mirror.

Patroclus blinked as he looked at his reflection. It wasn’t entirely as bad as he’d thought it would be; even though he hadn’t worn these clothes for at least two years they still fit okay, and maybe if he didn’t slouch too much they would even fit well.

“Alright, Helen’s turn again,” Briseis chirped, nudging him out of the way. “Here Helen, sit on this chair while you do your makeup so I can do your hair. Oh and Pat – I’m going to have to do yours, too; it’s a mess right now.”

“Good luck,” Patroclus grumbled. His hair never laid flat behind his ears no matter what he tried.

Briseis pulled a comb, a curling iron, and two small bottles from a bag inside the bag with other bags in it, set them down on the floor next to the chair Helen was sitting on, and then rummaged through the big bag again before producing a pack of hairpins and hairbands. Patroclus watched in fascination as she plugged in the iron and put some of the contents of one bottle into Helen’s hair, brushing it through thoroughly as she waited for the iron to heat.

“You too, Pat,” Briseis called, taking his wrist and dragging him mover when he failed to obey quickly enough and smearing some of the same substance into his hair.

“Hey!” Patroclus complained, ducking away from her.

“Stop fidgeting, Pat,” Briseis sighed. “It’s heat protectant.”

“Heat – what? Don’t tell me you’re curling my hair?!”

Briseis rolled her eyes, partly exasperated, partly amused. “You want it to lie flat, don’t you? I’ve got to do something to it. Don’t worry; it won’t be too much and I promise it’ll look good. Now stay still.”

Patroclus grumbled again but stayed still obediently as she finished applying the product. By the time she was done, the iron had already heated up to the appropriate temperature and Briseis set to curling Helen’s hair.

“So, Helen,” Briseis began. “Pat’s never been to a party before. Want to tell him what it’ll be like, just so he knows what to expect?”

Helen grinned. “Oh, well everyone knows the crew and soccer teams put on the best parties here, so it’s bound to be great,” she said, applying makeup to her other eye. “They have some of the best alcohol – not that sad cheap beer and vodka that everyone else gets. Well, I mean, there’ll be beer and vodka too, but the good kinds. And champagne, of course. Gotta stay classy, right? And it’s a formal, so there’s a bigger budget.” She frowned. “Do you drink though?”

Patroclus felt his cheeks heating up. “Um. Well, I’ve tasted alcohol before but…no, not really. I haven’t before. But that’s just because I don’t go out, I’m sure I can hold my liquor,” he added quickly, trying to sound confident and pretty sure he failed miserably.

But Helen didn’t seem to notice. “Okay, well first thing’s first, try not to black out, alright? That part’s not fun, trust me. I’m not going to hound you like I’m your mother and tell you to just have one drink, but know your limits, that’s all I’m going to say. And if worst comes to worst, I’ll get you back.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Okay. Um, thanks.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Helen said brightly, waving her hand dismissively and then going back to fix her eyeliner. “Oh – and I hope you’ve eaten?”

Patroclus blinked. “Dinner, you mean? Yeah, I had dinner.”

“Good. It’s best not to drink on an empty stomach, especially if it’s your first time. And make sure you drink a lot of water afterwards too, otherwise you’ll get dehydrated and wake up with the worst hangover of your life.” Helen made a face. “Take it from someone who knows. Paris is such a stubborn dumbass sometimes.”

“I’m sure Pat won’t do anything that dumb, right?” Briseis said with a pointed look in his direction. “For Achilles’s sake, since if you don’t get back in one piece he’s going to get a piece of my mind.”

“I’ll be fine, stop worrying,” Patroclus grumbled.

Briseis had finished curling Helen’s hair and was now deftly working it into an elegant but effortlessly messy braid, her fingers quick and deft. When she finished, she sprayed it with the contents of the second bottle and turned to Patroclus.

Patroclus gulped. “Um,” he said.

“Stop freaking out and get over here, the cord isn’t long enough to reach you next to your bed,” Briseis complained.

Hesitantly and cautiously, Patroclus approached, very nearly flinching when Briseis swooped in with the what felt like a way too hot curling iron right next to his ear. He felt the heat radiating off of it, but Briseis knew what she was doing, and a few moments later she released the tuft of hair behind his left ear and moved onto the right.

She stepped back, looking pleased with herself. “Now I just gotta set it with hairspray and it should stick,” she said with a grin.

Patroclus peered into the mirror, raising his eyebrows at the sight; amazingly, Briseis had managed to tame his hair. She sprayed it with a copious amount of hairspray and then set down the bottle with a dramatic, satisfied sigh, running an eye over her handiwork.

“Good,” she proclaimed. “Time for pictures! I mean, we’ll get more once Achilles comes to pick you up but I need pictures of just the two of you first.”

Briseis then proceeded to drag him into the hallway and arrange him in various poses to capture all of what she dubbed his “youthful pre-party glow,” completely ignoring his complaints that he felt utterly ridiculous. Helen, of course, needed no such guidance; she was a dancer, after all, and had a natural grace that Patroclus felt he was sorely lacking in.

“Ooh, this one is so pretty!” Briseis gushed, hurrying over to Helen and showing her the camera. “You should totally put this as your new profile picture – you said that you wanted to change it, right?”

Helen pursed her lips. “Hmm, I do like this one, I’ll definitely consider it! I’ll have to pick between this and an older picture of me at a pride parade, though. Maybe I can put this one on Instagram instead?”

“That works too! I’ll send these all to you and you can decide later.” Briseis hurried back to Patroclus and pushed him towards Helen. “Now both of you together! My precious little children off to party with their boyfriends!”

Patroclus blushed heavily. “We’re not dating,” he mumbled, but Briseis and Helen would hear none of it.

“You’ve been on two dates and he asked you to formal with him,” Helen said. “You’re dating.”

“Not to mention that he stays up with you to help you study all the time,” Briseis chimed in.

“Shut up,” Patroclus snapped, his face feeling like a flaming tomato as he wondered how the hell Helen knew that they had been on two dates already before realizing that he was probably correct in assuming Briseis had told her everything already on the way to his room.

“Alright, alright,” Briseis grinned. “But pictures, pictures, pictures!”

 

 

“Just in time,” she said with a bright smile a few minutes and dozens of pictures later. “It’s just before ten forty-five. Helen, Paris said he’d pick you up from your room just before eleven, right? Better get going then!”

“Right – thank you so much!” Helen gave Briseis a tight hug and then ran off to her dorm further down Island Row; how she ran in heels Patroclus would never know.

Briseis herded Patroclus back into his room and was just finishing packing up her things when there was a knock on the door. Patroclus checked the time – it was exactly ten forty-five. His heart skipped a beat, and Briseis grabbed her things and dove under his bed.

“Go!” Briseis hissed, gesturing wildly at the door from under the bed, dragging the bag in front of her so she was barely visible.

Patroclus stared at her in confusion. “What are you doing?”

“Shhh!” Briseis hissed, still gesturing wildly at the door just as Achilles knocked again. “Just open it, he’s waiting! And don’t let him know I’m here.”

Patroclus stood there for a few more moments before shaking his head in resignation and stepping forward to open the door.

Achilles stood there, as expected, looking utterly and unfairly amazing even though he was wearing a simple button-down shirt and black pants and had done nothing different with his hair except perhaps mess it up more, but he looked slightly flushed and Patroclus thought perhaps that was just from the wind on his way over because there was no way he had been excited enough to run over to be exactly on time.

“Lose the jacket,” was the first thing Achilles said after running an eye over him.

Patroclus wasn’t sure he heard correctly. “What?”

Achilles stepped forward and unbuttoned the jacket with deft, slender fingers before slipping it from Patroclus’s shoulders, his fingertips brushing against Patroclus’s neck. Patroclus shivered, and Achilles gave him a small, sly smile.

“And you changed your hair,” Achilles said, and his fingers pulled gently at the tuft of hair behind Patroclus’s ears that Briseis had worked so hard to keep down.

Satisfied, he stepped back. “You look wonderful,” he said.

Patroclus smirked. “What, now that I’ve lost an article of clothing and my hair’s back to its normal messiness?”

Achilles laughed, the sound light and musical like a bird’s song, and Patroclus’s heart thudded. “No, you always look wonderful. But I’m here to make sure you’re not overdressed, remember?” His grin widened to show teeth. “You look like you’re fit to go to a prom, and this is just a sports team formal. Can’t have you taking everyone’s attention, right? So, uh, sorry, Briseis, for messing up all your hard work.”

Patroclus blinked in surprise, and there was an exasperated huff from under the bed.

“Ah, don’t be so shocked,” Achilles said, grinning at Patroclus’s expression. “I heard her gasp when I messed up your hair.”

There was another exasperated noise, and then Briseis shifted the bag away from in front of her and crawled out from under the bed, standing and dusting herself off. She shook out her hair and put her hands on her hips.

“Alright. But I got a few good pictures of your face when you first walked in and saw him – you don’t make that face now, Achilles, I know how impressed you were.” She took both of them by the arm and dragged them out of the room into the hallway. “Now, I know you both want to be on your way and you don’t want to be late to the formal, but I just need to get a picture of you two together, alright?”

Achilles grinned widely and immediately pulled Patroclus towards him, positioning him in front, putting one hand on Patroclus’s waist and interlocking the fingers on his other hand with Patroclus’s. Patroclus swallowed and gave his hand a nervous squeeze.

Briseis wrinkled her nose at their obvious and utterly gross display of affection but just took the picture. Or rather, several; Patroclus heard the shutter click quite a few times before she waved her hand for them to pick a new pose.

“Aw, c’mon, Bri, we’re gonna be late!” Achilles exclaimed, checking his watch. “Wasn’t that enough? You took like twenty!”

“I know, but I need at least a few different poses!” Briseis protested. “C’mon, do a funny one at least, since we already have a serious one.”

She made them do no less than five other different poses, each increasingly ridiculous and placing their faces closer and closer together, before Achilles finally gave a huff of frustration and proclaimed that they would be twenty minutes late even if they left now.

“Fine, fine, go! But you’d better make sure Pat comes back in one piece or you’ll have me to deal with,” Briseis threatened.

“I can take care of myself,” Patroclus protested.

Briseis ignored him. “You may look like a god, Achilles, but I will rip you apart if anything happens to him and make you wish you’d never been born,” she continued with a hard look at the rower. “You ask him out, you treat him right. Got it?”

Achilles grinned and bowed exaggeratedly, but his answer, though said with a smirk, was sincere. “What do you take me for, Bri? I’m offended; of course I’ll look out for him.”

Briseis looked at him for a long moment and then, finally, nodded and gestured towards the entrance to the dorm. “Off you go, then. Have fun, you two, and stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, Mother,” Achilles chirped, and took Patroclus’s hand and led him out of Skye to the soccer dorm where the formal would be held.

 

 

Achilles pushed open the door and the sound of laughter and shouting and too-loud music met Patroclus’s ears. He glanced at Achilles, who smiled encouragingly back at him.

“Achilles!” a familiar voice roared; Patroclus looked in the direction from which it had come and saw Ajax elbowing his way through the crowd, an unopened bottle of champagne held in his right hand and an already empty bottle in his left.

“Ajax!” Achilles called back.

The taller rower finally stood in front of them and embraced Achilles tightly before giving Patroclus a nod and a friendly smile. “Good to see you, Patroclus! First party, eh? Aw, man, don’t look like that, Achilles told me. Drinks are, uh, everywhere, if you’re into that kinda shit.” He gestured vaguely behind him. “Anyway, I gotta go back and find Phoebe, see you later!”

Achilles gave Patroclus’s hand a squeeze. “C’mon, you haven’t even met the whole team yet, right? And it’s Saturday, so it’s officially Thanksgiving break already! Here, I’ll show you around and introduce you to everyone as long as they’re not too drunk yet.”

“Not too drunk yet?” Patroclus echoed, raising an eyebrow. “We’re just half an hour late, and alcohol takes about an hour to actually take effect.”

“Oh, you nerd,” Achilles said with an amused, affectionate grin. “People show up drunk.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. He bit his lip nervously. “Um, where did Ajax say the drinks were?”

Achilles chuckled. “Aw, Patroclus, you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to, y’know.”

Patroclus shook his head resolutely and stepped forward into the crowd, pulling Achilles after him. “I want to. And I’m, um, I’m a little awkward, you know? Figured I might loosen up a bit more if I drink a little.” He gave Achilles an uncertain grin. “Right? That’s how it works, isn’t it?”

Achilles chuckled again. “Alright. I think it’s upstairs in Aeneas’s room – he’s one of the goalies on the soccer team, by the way. I mean, the good stuff’s upstairs, if you want cheap vodka it’s probably in the common room somewhere, you just have to look around. C’mon, it’s this way.”

He led Patroclus to the staircase and took a right down the hall when they got to the top; a boy Patroclus assumed was Aeneas was currently handing out bottles of champagne to other people who had just arrived.

“Hey Aeneas, Sarpedon!” Achilles called.

A boy with a thin face and almost white hair and a shorter boy with wavy, shoulder-length reddish hair looked up.

“Achilles,” the white-haired boy greeted, walking by with a new bottle of champagne on his way back downstairs. He gave Patroclus a nod. “Are you a new recruit? I haven’t seen you before.”

“Ah, no, he’s my date,” Achilles said, and Patroclus felt his heart stutter at how casually and confidently he said it.

“I see,” the boy said. “Well, I’ve lost my own date somewhere so I’m off to find her. See you guys around!”

“See you,” Achilles grinned, and turned back to the other boy.

“Two, I’m assuming?” the other boy asked.

“Yes, please,” Achilles said. He gestured at Patroclus. “This is Patroclus. Patroclus, Aeneas. The other dude’s name is Sarpedon, he’s – striker, was it?”

Aeneas nodded as he pulled out two bottles of champagne from one of the boxes. “He and Paris both. You mind strawberry? It’s the only flavor we have left.”

“Don’t have much of a choice then, do we?” Achilles asked with a grin. “Thanks, dude.”

 

 

“Need help?” Achilles asked as they headed back downstairs and Patroclus was struggling to pop the top off of his champagne bottle.

“Um, yeah, thanks,” Patroclus mumbled, feeling his face heat up with embarrassment.

Achilles popped open the bottle easily, holding it at arm’s length to avoid the fizz that swelled up and handing it back to Patroclus. Patroclus took a big swig to try and redeem himself for being unable to open the bottle and immediately choked.

“Careful,” Achilles laughed. “You might wanna take it easy.”

Patroclus gave him a look and shook his head resolutely. “I’ll be fine, I’m not that wimpy.”

Achilles shrugged, putting his arm around his shoulders and drawing him close to avoid being bumped into as a group of giggling girls walked by, some of them slightly unsteadily. “Hey, Phoebe!” he called out as they passed. “Ajax was looking for you earlier.”

Phoebe, one of the more steady ones, turned and flashed him a bright smile. “I know, he found me. Thanks though! We’re headed to Paris’s room now if you wanna join, they’re playing beer pong in there.”

Patroclus raised an eyebrow at Achilles. “Beer pong in his room?”

Achilles shrugged. “It’s the soccer team, who knows what they get up to?” Then, abruptly, his face shifted into a smile. “So what do you say? You wanna go? It’s not really that fun, but I mean, it’s a classic party experience. You can’t go to a party and say you’ve never tried beer pong.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Well, alright, then.”

Achilles’s hand slipped from his shoulder to his waist, and they headed to Paris’s room.

 

 

The music wasn’t any softer inside the room; if anything, the small area seemed to amplify it and the bass shook the floor and the treble bounced off of the walls so that everyone had to shout to be heard. A boy Patroclus recognized as Paris from when he’d first seen him at the performance of Hamlet was standing next to Helen, who was currently aiming for the last of the cups on the opposite side of the table. She took careful aim, released the ball, and it landed with a splash in the cup. Her side of the room whooped and hollered in triumph.

“Aw, man!” Ajax yelled. He elbowed Automedon who was standing next to him and downed the cup in one go. “Alright, we’ll win the next round.” He caught Patroclus’s eye from across the room. “Hey y’all, it’s Achilles and Patroclus!”

There was a resounding cheer from the crew side of the room; Patroclus recognized about half of the women’s first varsity eight as well as some of the men’s team, but there were about a dozen more he didn’t know, and that was just on the crew side. They swarmed around Achilles, some of them clapping him on the back and some others – mostly the girls – kissing him on the cheek.

“Well, you all know Patroclus,” Achilles said, and then rattled off the names of everyone in the room, more than half of which Patroclus promptly forgot, except for Deidameia, who had apparently been invited by someone on the soccer team and was currently staring at Achilles with a jealous light in her eye.

Patroclus took a big swig of champagne.

Ajax had already set up for a new round of beer pong. “Patroclus goes first!” he announced.

Patroclus’s eyes widened in horror and he turned to Achilles pleadingly. “I can’t aim,” he whispered desperately. “You know I can’t aim, I’m horrible at sports, I can’t possibly –”

“Hey, take it easy,” Achilles laughed, though Patroclus could feel his hand tightening protectively around his waist. He turned back to Ajax. “I’ll go first. I’m your stroke seat, after all, right? Or does that not apply here anymore?” His grin widened as jeers and catcalls erupted from around the room, and Patroclus felt his face redden.

“Aw, you know you can stroke me anytime you want,” Ajax returned with a smirk, and the men gathered around him whistled. Patroclus was vaguely aware of Deidameia’s disapproving look.

Achilles laughed. “That’s so sweet, darling. Grant me another favor and let me go first?”

Ajax pursed his lips, shaking his head and gesturing at the table. “Ah, well, you come first every other time, so why should that change now? It’s all yours, sweetheart.”

Everyone gathered around hollered and roared with laughter; clearly, these kinds of jokes between the men’s four’s stern pair were expected at this point, and the pair flashed winning smiles at them.

Achilles, predictably, easily made the ball into one of the soccer team’s cups on his first try, and Deidameia, batting her eyelashes and looking at Achilles slyly, took a very prolonged drink, taking care to lick her lips delicately when she’d finished. Patroclus was pleased to note that Achilles paid her no attention. Another soccer player whose name Patroclus forgot also made it on his first try into one of the crew team’s cups, and Achilles glanced at Patroclus, and then at the table.

“You wanna take it?”

Patroclus grinned, and reached forward.

 

 

Patroclus was a lightweight.

He and Achilles stayed at beer pong for another twenty minutes until the crew team won the round, during which he had two drinks in addition to about half his champagne bottle, and he was a bit more than pleasantly buzzed by the time he and Achilles went back to the common room for more drinking games. Achilles, on the other hand, seemed to still be functioning at full capacity despite the fact that he’d had at least the same amount to drink as Patroclus.

Achilles said something which Patroclus didn’t hear; Starboy was playing over the speakers, and a group of drunk athletes and their dates were gathered at the base of the staircase singing along very loudly and badly to it.

“What?” Patroclus yelled.

“Russian roulette!” Achilles repeated, louder over the noise so Patroclus could hear him as they stepped into the room. “With shots!”

“Oh,” Patroclus shouted back.

Helen, who had left beer pong earlier, was sitting in the circle and she looked up as they approached. She said something to the girl at her side and stood to greet them; her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright. “Mind if I borrow him for a minute?” she asked Achilles over the noise as Starboy ended and Closer by the Chainsmokers started to blast over the speakers, accompanied by the same very off-key group of people singing.

Achilles stepped back. “Just a minute,” he warned with a grin. “I’ll be counting. Promised Bri I’d take care of him.”

Helen stuck her tongue out at him. “Well, I promised her first, so I’m stealing him for this game. You can hang out with Paris instead.” And with that, she took Patroclus’s arm and dragged him across the circle. “Everyone’s busy playing beer pong in Paris’s room or hanging out over there,” she said, pointing across the common room. “Immature, all of them. But it’s perfect – we have six people! Five drinks for everyone if you average it out. Here, come sit next to me.”

She pulled him down in front of a large spinning wheel with red solo cups on each spot that were each labeled with a number from one to thirty; a few feet away, Antilochus sat next to a separate wheel similarly numbered. “Alright. So basically, Antilochus over there is going to spin the number wheel, and if it lands on the number of the cup that’s in front of you, you gotta drink. Then you put the empty cup away and we consolidate the cups on the wheel and spin it so you end up with a different drink in front of you, and then he’ll spin the number wheel again,” she explained, leaning in so Patroclus could hear. “The catch is, some of the drinks look really similar. See those clear liquids? Might be vodka, might be water, might be vinegar, you get the idea. You up for it?”

Patroclus grinned, blinking a few times as it took a few seconds for his brain to process what she had said. “Uh, yeah. Sure.”

Antilochus spun the horizontal wheel of shots gently, and when it had come to a stop, he spun the numbered wheel. “Seventeen!” he yelled out.

A boy across the circle whooped. “That’s me! Now what do you think, is this champagne or just colored soda?” He cringed. “Ew, but I don’t like soda, I hope it’s champagne.”

“Aw, don’t be a wimp, Axylus,” the boy next to him snorted. “Just drink!”

The boy made a face and drank. “Oh, good, it was champagne.”

Antilochus spun the wheel again, and it landed on number two, a clear liquid which was in front of Patroclus. It, too, was alcohol – probably vodka –  and Patroclus made a face as he downed it. Well, downed about half of it, the other half completely missing his mouth and splashing all over his shirt.

Yeah.

He was definitely a lightweight.

 

 

“Patroclus!” Achilles called about five or six rounds later from across the room in the relative silence between two songs. “I think Helen’s taken enough of your time, hasn’t she? C’mere!”

Patroclus grinned. “Guess I better go,” he told Helen, his words coming out slightly more slurred than he’d expected.

Helen rolled her eyes and took a drink from the champagne bottle she had at her side. “Go on, then. I get all your drinks, though!”

“Come dance with me,” Achilles said, his teeth flashing white, as Don’t Let Me Down began to play.

“D-dance?” Patroclus stuttered, blinking in a mixture of horror and confusion. “I don’t dance.”

Achilles laughed, louder than he normally did; Patroclus blamed the alcohol.

“What’re you laughing at?” Patroclus demanded, giving him a shove but then nearly toppling over himself.

“You don’t dance?” Achilles asked, pulling Patroclus close and spinning him.

“No,” Patroclus said forcefully, stumbling over his feet.

Achilles laughed again. “Well, that doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’re not in a ballroom, we don’t need to dance all formal. Just, uh, move.”

Patroclus snorted. “Just move?”

“Yeah!” Achilles grinned. “Move and sing along to the music!”

“I don’t like this song,” Patroclus said.

“What?” Achilles yelled, as the beat dropped.

“I said, I don’t like this song!” Patroclus repeated, but he was grinning foolishly as Achilles began to sing along, much more in-key than the group by the staircase had been. “It’s in my head, darling I hope, that you’ll be here when I need you the most, so don’t let me don’t let me don’t let me down, don’t let me down, don’t let me down!”

“Oh, shut up,” Patroclus said, still grinning. “You’re making everyone else look bad.”

Achilles laughed. “Alright, I’ll stop. We could ballroom dance instead if you want, I could teach you!” He took one of Patroclus’s hands and put it around his neck. “See, you just stand like this, and I’ll just do this…” He took Patroclus’s other hand in his and put his free hand on Patroclus’s waist. “We just stand like this and you stay close to me and we just…sway.”

“Sway,” Patroclus echoed with a foolish grin.

“Sway,” Achilles agreed, his voice loud above the music that was definitely not suited for slow dancing. “It’s easier if you put one of your feet between mine so we can stand closer.”

Patroclus obeyed, shifting so that his right foot was in between Achilles’s, which also meant that Achilles’s right foot was in between his own, and as they swayed awkwardly, Achilles’s knee brushed against the insides of Patroclus’s thighs.

Patroclus swallowed. Somewhere, distantly, in his mind, he was aware that he had lost his champagne bottle somewhere. What a pity. And then he realized, quite belatedly because he was a lightweight and had been almost finished with his champagne bottle the last he’d seen it on top of a few other drinks that he’d lost count of, that he was probably thinking about the champagne bottle to avoid thinking about Achilles’s leg in between his knees.

Wait, no, that was wrong.

Achilles’s knee in between his legs.

Wait, wasn’t that the same thing?

Patroclus shook his head and blinked hard.

Achilles leaned in closer. Patroclus felt the heat of his breath against the side of his neck, the brush of his lips against his skin. He swallowed again, his heart hammering against his chest in a way that had nothing to do with the alcohol in his veins.

“Patroclus,” Achilles murmured, and even though his voice was low Patroclus could hear him, because there was a strange silence between them, a silence that was warm and gentle, and his vision was slightly blurry and his mind was slightly hazy and he couldn’t really think straight, and he wondered what would happen if he leaned forward against that deliciously firm body and pressed his lips to the red ones in front of him that looked so temptingly soft and kissable…

“Achilles,” Patroclus said quietly, and pressed closer to him. He felt Achilles’s heart against his chest, strong and sure, and even in his dizzy haze he felt his own heartbeat quickening. He gave Achilles’s hand a squeeze and felt Achilles’s hand tighten on his waist in return.

It wouldn’t be bad, would it, if he kissed Achilles? Patroclus grinned and giggled a bit at the thought of them slow dancing to the ridiculously upbeat Chainsmokers song and then realized that it was actually quite strangely romantic, since Achilles was quite strangely unique and asked weird random questions and didn’t really care about going against convention, and then when he felt Achilles’s breath against his neck again and his hands firm and strong on his waist he realized that there was a strange warmth in his chest that felt a little bit like tugging and a little bit like fire and he wasn’t really sure what it was but it felt fierce and it felt good and he never wanted it to stop.

Then song changed, and there was a loud yell, and Patroclus completely lost his train of thought.

“Hey everyone! We’re setting up spin the bottle! Middle school throwback, eh?”

Then, suddenly, they were apart again. Patroclus blamed the alcohol for him not being able to remember when exactly they’d separated and tried not to be thoroughly disappointed.

He found himself with Helen once again on his left side, except this time it was Automedon to his right and Achilles was across the circle.

Patroclus frowned. Why was Achilles across the circle? There was a pretty girl next to him – oh, right, Deidameia was here. He’d forgotten. Achilles didn’t seem to be paying her any attention; he was talking animatedly with Odysseus and his girlfriend Penelope, who was quite pretty.

“Who goes first?” one of the crew girls yelled.

“Me, since I organized this party,” Antilochus shouted back.

“Yo, that’s not fair!” another boy called out. “It was the social chairs of both teams, you ass!”

There was a fair bit of yelling and shouting back and forth before it was decided that Polyxena would go first, since it was her birthday today, and they would go clockwise around the circle because the person with the birthday that was next closest was two people to her left.

Polyxena spun the bottle; it drifted around and around in a circle before landing on Echion, another coxswain but on the men’s team. Polyxena smirked, and Patroclus saw something that looked like…what was the word?

“Why so apprehensive, Echion?” Diomedes called, and the circle laughed.

Ah, apprehensive. Right.

Wait, no. Apprehensive was the…the adjective. Patroclus frowned and scratched his head. What was the noun form?

By the time he’d figured out that it was apprehension that was the noun, Polyxena had already decided to slap the poor boy and hollers were erupting from people around the circle.

“That’s for claiming your boat is better than mine,” she said, and the women in her boat who happened to be gathered around the circle laughed, while Echion’s boat hollered and booed.

Andromache from the women’s first varsity eight chose to kiss a girl from the second varsity eight who Patroclus had met during beer pong but whose name he had long forgotten, Paris chose to kiss Ajax, Diomedes chose to kiss Sinope despite Sarpedon’s thunderous glare, Sarpedon then chose to slap Odysseus in perfect retaliation and a few of the larger guys had to hold the three back from tearing each other apart, Automedon chose to kiss Marpesia and looked absolutely ecstatic when the bottle landed on her, and then it was Patroclus’s turn.

It took him a few seconds to notice, and it was only because of Helen that it didn’t take longer.

“Patroclus,” she hissed, nudging him.

“Huh? Oh – oh!” He grinned, taking another drink from her nearly empty champagne bottle and finding that she had refilled it with beer. Wonderful. He spun the bottle, giggling as it spun around and around and refused to settle on anyone in particular. It slowed gradually and he leaned forward with bated breath, his vision swimming slightly with the alcohol in his bloodstream.

It slowed, and then finally settled. Several people around the circle hollered and catcalled and Deidameia let out a gasp of outrage, but Patroclus barely noticed. Automedon and Marpesia had gone off into another room after starting to snog and still had not returned so the circle moved in; on his right, instead of Automedon, one of the guys on the soccer team whose name Patroclus didn’t remember nudged him with a grin.

“Achilles himself,” the guy said, and it took a few seconds for Patroclus to register what he had said. “So what’s it gonna be? Kiss him, or slap him?”

Patroclus giggled again. The answer was obvious, wasn’t it? “Well I…I can’t slap ‘im, he’s my date,” he said, his words slurring slightly, and he grinned foolishly. “C’mere, Achilles. I wanna…I wanna kiss you.”

Slowly, his face uncharacteristically pale and expressionless, Achilles stood and approached Patroclus. Patroclus stumbled unsteadily to his feet, wobbling and threatening to fall, but Achilles steadied him, his hands sure and strong.

“Patroclus,” he murmured, leaning in close. If Patroclus hadn’t been so drunk, he would’ve heard the note of uncertainty in his voice, but he was oblivious. “Patroclus, you’re wasted.”

“I’m…I’m not,” Patroclus mumbled, still grinning.

“Patroclus,” Achilles said, slightly more forcefully but still leaning in close, preventing everyone else from hearing what they were saying. “You’re drunk. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, it’s just a game.”

“But what if I wanna?” Patroclus asked, his grin widening.

Achilles drew back. “You…you what?”

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “I wanna kiss you,” he said, and then this was the part where he was sure he blacked out and began to dream, because he leaned forwards and pressed his lips to Achilles’s.

 

 

Patroclus didn’t remember anything that happened after that.

He woke the next morning with sunlight streaming in from a window, and that was when he noticed a few things in quick succession. The first was that the window was on the wrong side of the bed. The second was that the bed was extremely comfortable. The third was that he had a raging headache and his mouth was uncomfortably dry. The fourth was that he had absolutely no idea where he was.

He sat up in alarm, groaning as his head throbbed with the sudden movement. His phone buzzed on a small table beside the bed and he picked it up to check it, blinking hard a few times and squinting through the pain in his head to read the texts, most of which were from Helen who sounded quite drunk, the rest of which were from Briseis.

 

              H: Where ar eyou I’m headed back to islaned row

 

              H: Patrocus1!!

 

              H: I have you r room  key

 

              H: If you don’t reply soon I wil have to tell bri about this and she’s eogin go tkill me

 

              H: Wiat you’r e with achilles? Someone tol dme they saw you leavaing with him

 

              H: Have fuN!!! Don’t worry I wiltell bri!1!!!11!

 

              B: WHAT THE FUCK PATROCLUS I HOPE YOU’RE NOT TOO DRUNK TO SAY NO TO WHATEVER HE WANTS TO DO TO YOU

 

              B: I SWEAR IF HE DOES ANYTHING TO YOU I WILL TEAR HIM APART

 

              B: WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING ME???? PATROCLUS!!! ARE YOU OK?????

 

              B: Ok I texted Achilles and he said you’re asleep and he didn’t do anything so that’s good BUT YOU BETTER TELL ME EVERYTHING WHEN YOU WAKE UP OK?

 

Patroclus heaved a massive sigh and squeezed his eyes shut on a wave of pain from his head. That was all from last night – or, rather, this morning, since most of them were sent well past midnight, and there were a few more from just a few hours ago.

 

              H: Hey Pat! Sorry for ditching you last night but Achilles told me he’d take care of you and I figured you’d rather go with him than with me and Paris – I still have your room key btw, but I’m coming to drop it off this morning so you can ask Achilles for it if you’re still asleep when I get there! How’s your head? Killer hangover, I bet :P

 

              H: Text me when you’re awake so I know you’re alive!

 

              B: You awake yet???

 

Patroclus replied quickly that he was awake and doing fine, switched off his phone, and rubbed his eyes. Now that they knew he was awake and fine and didn’t need to kill Achilles, he needed to find out where the hell he was. Seeing as they both knew Achilles had taken care of him, he figured it was a safe bet that Achilles was around.

Oh, fuck.

He was in Achilles’s apartment, wasn’t he.

Patroclus rolled out of bed with another groan, sighing when he realized that he was still fully clothed, belt and all.

No, wait.

Fully clothed except shoes and socks.

He shrugged. That was fair.

He padded out of the room, poking his head into the hallway and glancing around. Achilles’s family might have been rich, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the apartment; it was sparsely furnished and quite small, though comfortable and homely. A backpack lay strewn on the ground in the room across the hall, and a laptop was closed on the desk.

Cautiously, Patroclus headed out towards the kitchen. “Achilles?” he called.

A moment later he heard footsteps, and Achilles came into the kitchen dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, a water bottle in his hand.

“Hey, you’re finally up! How do you feel?”

“What do you mean, finally?” Patroclus mumbled, wincing as the pain in his head spiked. He glanced at the clock on the microwave. “Oh,” he said. It was three in the afternoon.

Achilles put down the water bottle and leaned casually against the counter. “So, how do you feel?”

Patroclus groaned. “If this is what happens after you get drunk, I’m never getting drunk again. My head is killing me.”

Achilles laughed. “Nah, not all the time. You just had a bit much and didn’t hydrate before you went to bed. I mean, you were pretty wasted and I tried to get you to drink some water but you were asleep by the time we got back here and I didn’t want to wake you.”

Images flooded back. Soft lips pressed against his, hot breath mingling between them, hands running through his hair and over his back.

Patroclus swallowed, his heart suddenly pounding much harder than usual and his face feeling distinctly red.

“Patroclus?” Achilles’s voice shook him out of his thoughts. “You good?”

“I’m fine,” Patroclus said, unable to meet his eyes as he struggled to regain control of himself. “Well, except for the headache.”

Had he really kissed him?

“Okay,” Achilles said. “Well, I’ve got some painkillers and Gatorade – it’ll help you hydrate which should make the headache go away.” He slid a bottle over to Patroclus and got some pills from a cabinet.

“Thanks,” Patroclus mumbled gratefully, swallowing the pills with a gulp of Gatorade. “I, uh, I hope I wasn’t too much trouble.” He bit his lip awkwardly.

Achilles waved his hand dismissively. “No way. I didn’t want to invade your space since you were way too drunk to really consent to anything, so I just took off your shoes and socks to try and make you a bit more comfortable. They’re by the door. And, uh, Helen came by and dropped off your key earlier this morning; she found it on the floor but by the time she texted me you were already asleep and I didn’t want to wake you to bring you back to your dorm so, um, I just let you sleep here.” He blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, blinking. “No, I appreciate it.” Now he was blushing. “Um. What happened?”

Achilles grinned, gesturing at the table behind Patroclus. “Eat, and I’ll tell you.”

Patroclus blinked again. “You made me breakfast?”

Achilles shrugged. “Figured you might be hungry. Played it safe with a simple omelet and some figs from the grocery store.”

“Figs,” Patroclus said, grinning and sitting down on at the table as he picked one of them up and put it in his mouth. “You asked me about figs on our first date.”

“I did,” Achilles agreed with a smile. “How are they?”

“Delightful,” Patroclus said, his mouth full of fig. He sighed as the flavor filled his mouth, sweet and juicy even though it was late November and figs had no right to taste this good this late in the year this far north. “So what happened?”

Achilles grinned. “Well, you were pretty drunk. You didn’t black out, really, but you definitely weren’t really able to make any decisions, either. I was going to take you back to your dorm but I know you leave your door locked and I had no idea where your key was and neither did you when I asked, so I figured I’d just take you back here for the night since I didn’t want to go feeling around in your pockets and I also didn’t want to leave you alone at night just in case something happened and you started throwing up in your sleep or something. You were pretty much asleep by the time we got through the door,” he said, laughing. “So when Helen texted me saying she had your key, I didn’t want to wake you up again and I told her to just drop it off this morning.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Um. Thank you.”

Achilles watched him eat, amusement glittering in his eyes. “Do you like it?”

“It’s wonderful,” Patroclus said, his mouth now full of omelet.

Achilles’s grin widened.

 

 

“I’ve gotta leave for practice,” Achilles said, putting Patroclus’s dishes in the sink. “I have a lift at four.”

Patroclus glanced at the time again; it was three forty-seven. “Sure, no problem. I, um, I should be leaving too, I think.”

Achilles bit his lip. “Sorry,” he said. “You could stay here, if you want? I mean, I don’t want to sound like I’m kicking you out or anything…”

“No,” Patroclus said quickly. “No, it’s alright. I really should head back.” He grinned, slightly sheepishly. “I stink of alcohol, I need to shower. And I also have to go see Briseis so she knows I’m still alive and it wasn’t an imposter texting her this morning.”

Achilles laughed. “Oh, alright. I guess that makes sense.”

Patroclus grinned. “Yeah.”

There was an awkward silence, during which Achilles bit his lip.

What do they taste like?

Achilles cleared his throat. “Well,” he began.

“Right,” Patroclus said, hoping his face didn’t betray his thoughts because that would be too embarrassing to bear and he’d surely have to drop out. “You have a lift. I’ll get out of your way.”

“Okay,” Achilles said.

Patroclus blushed. “Thank you again,” he said, as sincerely as he could manage. “For everything.”

Achilles’s teeth flashed. “Anytime,” he said.

 

 

“You’re alive!” Briseis yelled, flinging open her door on the second knock.

“Yes, I’m alive,” Patroclus said, flinching back slightly as she hurled herself at him.

“Oh my God, Pat, I was so worried,” she scolded, grabbing his wrist and sitting him down in the chair in front of her desk. “I told you to take it easy and then you go and get so drunk that Achilles has to take you home! Jeez, I mean I didn’t take him for an asshole but you never know, and I was so afraid that he’d do something –”

“He didn’t,” Patroclus said forcefully. “He put me to bed and then gave me something for my hangover and then made me breakfast – well, more like lunch, I guess – and then that was it. You don’t need to worry so much.”

Briseis gave him a look. “Well, I know that now,” she said, and sighed. “And you dropped your key.”

“I know,” Patroclus grumbled. “I got it from Helen already.”

Briseis was suddenly excited again. “So tell me about it,” she exclaimed. “Helen told me you kissed him! How was it! Is he a good kisser? Are you satisfied with your choice of boyfriend?”

Patroclus felt his cheeks heating up. So it wasn’t a dream. He really had kissed Achilles. “I don’t remember,” he said.

“You what?”

“I don’t remember,” Patroclus repeated. “I was completely wasted, I thought I’d blacked out and was dreaming that part.”

So if he’d kissed Achilles, why hadn’t Achilles said anything about it this morning?

Unless he didn’t want it.

Patroclus felt a twinge of fear at the thought. What if Achilles hadn’t wanted it? He’d have said something about it if he wanted things to go further, right? He wouldn’t have just stayed silent?

“You kissed Achilles, who you’ve had a crush on for months, and you don’t remember?” Briseis sounded incredulous.

“I don’t,” Patroclus said, too harshly. He stood up. “I’m tired,” he announced. “See you later, Bri.”

Briseis looked unhappy, but she let him go and Patroclus returned to his room.

The kiss hadn’t been a dream. It had been real.

And Achilles hadn’t said anything about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“He was probably waiting for you to feel better,” Briseis said when he finally told her about the situation two weeks later. “I mean, you had a hangover, right? He’s not going to be talking about you kissing him when you’re hungover.”

“Yeah, but it’s been two weeks since then,” Patroclus said.

“The first of which was Thanksgiving break which he spent back home in California with his dad,” Briseis pointed out. “He left right after practice on Sunday, or have you forgotten?”

Patroclus rolled his eyes at her. “I know, but he has my number, doesn’t he? He would’ve texted or called or something if he wanted to talk about it, and in fact, he did text and call, just not about that. Not to mention that we’ve also been back on campus for a week and he hasn’t said a thing in all the time that we’ve been back, so it couldn’t even be him wanting to talk about it in person.”

Briseis pursed her lips and leaned forward across the library table. “Okay, but have you considered that maybe he feels too awkward to bring it up now? It’s been two weeks, Pat. You kissed him once, and maybe he’s not even sure that you remember it. You said yourself that you thought you’d blacked out, so he probably doesn’t expect you to remember and he doesn’t want to push you. Or maybe he’s the one who doesn’t remember; who’s to say that he wasn’t just as wasted as you were?”

“Oh, trust me, he wasn’t,” Patroclus grumbled. “I’m the lightweight here.”

Briseis shrugged. “Okay, then he probably thinks you don’t remember and he doesn’t want you thinking that he’s making stuff up if he tells you it happened. You should say something, just to let him know that you’re interested, or at least that you remember it happened.”

“What?” Patroclus yelped, earning a few glares from other people studying around them. He lowered his voice. “I’m not doing that,” he hissed. “You know how socially awkward I am! I can’t just…just walk up to him and say that I remember kissing him!”

“Why not?”

“Why not?” Patroclus spluttered. “Bri, you know me!”

“Yes, I know you’re hopelessly in love with him and I know that he’s hopelessly in love with you but you’re both too scared to actually do anything about it!”

Patroclus groaned and buried his face in his hands. “He’s not hopelessly in love with me, Bri.”

He could practically hear Briseis rolling her eyes. “Oh, c’mon, Pat. You’re brilliant in school; bring some of those brains to this situation, can’t you? He’s infatuated with you, Pat.”

Patroclus could feel his cheeks heating up. “Well why didn’t he say anything, then, if he really wants something more than just…just a few dates here and there?”

“Pat,” Briseis sighed. “It’s like you’re trying to convince yourself that you have no chance, but look at you two! You’ve been on dates, he spends all his free time with you, he asked you to formal, you kissed him and then he took you back to his place and took care of you, and besides that he’s so kind to you and brings you dinner and coffee when you forget to go to Aege and no matter who else is in the room he only looks at you…how much more obvious can he make it?”

Patroclus sighed. “Fine, fine, I know. I just…I didn’t ask him if he wanted to kiss me, y’know? And before it happened he said that I didn’t have to since I was drunk and it was just a game.” His eyes widened in horror. “What if…what if he didn’t want me to? What if he saw that as me invading his privacy or something? Oh God, Bri, I fucked up, I fucked up…”

“Patroclus, look at me,” Briseis said sharply. “If he felt that way, he wouldn’t still be spending this much time with you, now would he? Trust me, Pat, if he felt that way, you would know.” She sighed again. “Honestly, if you ask me what I really think is going through his head, I think it’s that he thinks you don’t remember the kiss and might actually be afraid that, if you do remember it, you regret it, so he doesn’t want to bring it up and make things awkward.”

Patroclus’s eyes widened in surprise. “You think he thinks I regret it?”

Briseis shrugged. “Yeah, that’s what I think. Or at least that’s what he’s afraid of.”

“Why the hell would he think I regret it?”

“I dunno, but my cousin’s gay and that’s what he was afraid of when his current boyfriend kissed him for the first time and then said nothing about it,” Briseis said. “And it’s not just queers; one of my rare straight friends went through the same thing when he and his girlfriend kissed. It’s just a wild guess, though; I still say talk to him about it. If you bring it up I’m sure he’ll be willing to talk.”

Patroclus blinked. “But…but then why doesn’t he just ask me?”

“For the same reason you don’t want to bring it up, I guess,” Briseis said. “He’s nervous, he’s not sure what you’ll say.” She sighed and put and hand over his. “He doesn’t want to lose you, Pat,” she said gently. “He doesn’t want to scare you away.”

Scare you away.

Well, that was something Patroclus could understand. He’d had crushes before, obviously, but he’d avoided talking about his feelings to his crushes since he hadn’t wanted to scare them away.

Y’know, because of homophobia and all. That was still a thing, even in liberal New York, even before the orange spray-tanned menace got elected.

“Well, he won’t scare me away,” Patroclus mumbled.

“He doesn’t know that,” Briseis said softly.

Patroclus bit his lip. “Alright,” he said finally. “I’ll…I’ll try. To, um, make it clearer, I guess, that he won’t…that I didn’t – don’t – regret it. And –” He blushed, and Briseis squeezed his hand encouragingly. “I’ll let him know that he doesn’t have to worry about it, and that I…” He trailed off, blushing harder, and the rest of the sentence came out in a rush. “I wouldn’t be opposed to kissing him again.”

Briseis’s lips curved into a smile. “Go get him.”

 

 

Patroclus tried. He really did. But things didn’t go exactly as he planned.

Achilles texted him a few days later while he was studying in the library asking if he was going to be staying on campus for winter break, and Patroclus hastily responded, glad for the break in his studying and also just excited that Achilles was texting him.

 

              P: Yeah I’ll be here, hbu?

 

              A: Great! Me too :)

 

              P: Cool :) Anything planned? I’m guessing you have practice or something, right?

 

              A: Actually we don’t, that’s just spring break. Well, we have workouts that we have to do but we’re allowed to go home for break, though my boat is planning a trip later so we’re all here

 

              A: My dad’s going to be on a business trip to Greece and I’m not close with my mom, so there’s nothing I’d be going home to anyway

 

              A: Unlike Odysseus with his dog, super jealous tbh

 

              A: What about you, what are you on campus for?

 

              P: Um, kinda the same situation tbh but reversed. Mom’s not around and I’m not close with my dad and I don’t have any pets either

 

              A: What does your mom do? You never said

 

Patroclus bit his lip and hesitantly typed out a reply and sent it.

 

              P: She actually passed away when I was really young

 

              P: Don’t remember much about her

 

There was a pause, then –

 

              A: I’m sorry. That sucks, man

 

              P: It’s alright, life goes on

             

              P: Anyway, should we make plans, then? We could go see a movie or something, I know Rogue One is coming out, don’t know if you’re a Star Wars fan or not

 

              A: Yeah sure, we could go see that! Comes out on Saturday if you’re free

 

              P: Yeah I think I’ll be free, it’s the day right after my last anatomy midterm

 

              P: Speaking of which, I gotta study for that now

 

              A: Ah, you’re in the library?

 

              P: When am I not? ;)

 

              A: Lmao true

 

              A: Omw ;)

 

              P: Haha ok, see you soon :) I’m on the fourth floor in one of the cubicles

             

              A: Ah, so we’ll have a little privacy, I see ;)

 

              A: Jk, I’ll just come help you study unless you don’t want me to

 

              P: Nah, it’s fine :) Could always use your company

 

              A: <3

 

              A: See you in a few mins then

 

Patroclus bit his lip to hide his grin and switched his phone off, turning his attention back to the textbook and notes spread out in front of him. The midterms were cumulative, which meant that in addition to having to know what he had learned since the last midterm, he had to know everything else that they had learned throughout the semester.

He sighed.

This might be one midterm he didn’t get an A on.

Achilles appeared a few minutes later with a soft knock on the cubicle wall to announce his arrival before he stepped in and sat down smoothly in the other chair.

“Hey,” he greeted.

Patroclus raised an eyebrow at him; his hair was dripping wet.

“Oh,” Achilles said. “I had an erg session, so I showered before I came here.”

“What, in the two minutes after you decided to come keep me company?”

Achilles chuckled. “Nah, I was in the shower when I was texting you.”

Patroclus very nearly choked. “You were in the shower? The…the whole time?”

Achilles grinned and spun his phone in the air. “Waterproof case, dude. I’m a rower, remember? Automedon uses my phone to take pictures of the sunset sometimes since his phone is shit, though I’d have expected him to try and ‘accidentally’ drop his phone into the water so he could get a new one, but who knows.”

Patroclus was still very red in the face. “Wait, so…the whole time you were texting me…”

“I was showering,” Achilles said, slowly, looking slightly confused as to why Patroclus did not understand this.

Patroclus swallowed. Achilles had texted him. While showering. And naked. Achilles had been thinking about him. While showering. While naked.

He shook his head forcefully.

It was a coincidence, was all. It meant nothing.

“Patroclus?”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh? Oh, nothing.”

“Once again exasperated by my actions, huh,” Achilles said, grinning.

“Shut up,” Patroclus said. “I need to study.”

“Ah. Right,” Achilles said, leaning over to peer at Patroclus’s notes. The smell of pomegranate and sandalwood drifted over him, and he felt his cheeks reddening. Again. And only now did he realize that if he wanted to tell Achilles that he remembered kissing him and really wanted to do it again, he’d just missed the prime opportunity.

As in, right after Achilles basically told him that he was naked when he thought of him and texted him.

Patroclus suppressed a sigh. There would be other opportunities.

“Anatomy is so cool,” Achilles was saying. “Ah, and you’ve gotten to bone stuff!” He sat back with a crooked grin. “I took anatomy in high school and I actually still remember quite a bit, so I figured I could help you out.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Um. Thanks.” He flipped through his notes. “I’m actually almost done with this part, I just need to review hormones. And then I need to look over some newer stuff; bones were on the first midterm.”

“Oh, is this cumulative?”

“Yeah.” Patroclus sighed. “I know the names of all the bones already; that’s easy enough. It’s just some of the muscles that I still have some difficulty with since there are so many of them. And we also have to know about different types of connective tissue which I pretty much know so I can probably wait until tomorrow or the day after to go over that one last time, and I also have to know the integument system.”

Achilles whistled. “Damn, that’s a lot.”

“That’s not even all,” Patroclus sighed. “Last time it was going more detailed into cells, joints, the microstructure of muscles and how they work and contract and all that, memory, the nervous system, action potential, supporting cells, and propagation. This midterm is the brain, senses and reflexes and motor pathways, the limbic and endocrine systems, signaling, circulatory systems, contraction especially related to the heart, and blood.”

Achilles raised his eyebrows. “Damn, that’s really a lot. And your midterm is…Friday, right? That’s the 9th, and classes end…wait, classes end the next Wednesday. Why are you having a cumulative midterm and then a cumulative final? It’s not like you’re going to be able to learn much in the three extra days of class, right? Wouldn’t it basically be the same thing?”

Patroclus shrugged. “Who knows? I mean, Professor Chiron said we still have to go over the respiratory system after this midterm, so that’s something else that’s going to be on this final. Maybe this midterm and the final will emphasize different things.”

“Well…okay, that makes sense, I guess, considering how much you’re covering.” Achilles moved his chair closer. “Okay, so what are you studying now?”

Patroclus flipped through his notebook. “I’m probably going to go in order; I need to review hormones and some of the muscles. Then Tuesday I can go over most of what was on the last midterm, Wednesday I can finish that and start going over new material for this midterm, and Thursday I can review it all. I’ve already studied for about four hours today since one of my classes was cancelled so I just need to look over a few things today.”

“Hormones and muscles, got it,” Achilles said cheerfully. “Want me to quiz you?”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Um. Sure.”

“Great,” Achilles said. He took Patroclus’s notebook and flipped to his section on hormonal effects and looked at Patroclus. “You don’t have a lot of detail written down here.”

“We don’t need to know too many details,” Patroclus said. “Alright. There’s the pituitary gland which secretes the growth hormones for the epiphyseal plates, which are at the ends of long bones and are what basically cause us to grow. The thyroid gland secretes thyroxine which basically controls insulin and the depositing of glucose into cells because insulin sends glucose into cells from the bloodstream. Androgens and estrogens also increase bone growth. Then there’s the parathyroid hormone and calcitonin, and the parathyroid hormone increases calcium levels, increases osteoblast activity, and decreases osteoclast activity.” Patroclus frowned. “Wait, no, I got that wrong, didn’t I? It increases osteoclast activity and decreases osteoblast activity.”

Achilles nodded. “Right. Osteoblasts build bone, and osteoclasts do the opposite; they reabsorb.”

Patroclus sighed. “I always get that wrong.”

Achilles grinned. “That’s alright – just remember that blasts build.”

“Blasts build…okay. Makes sense. Anyway, I wasn’t done yet, I hadn’t gotten to calcitonin. It keeps calcium levels low, decreases, um, osteo…osteoclast activity – right? Decreases osteoclast activity? – and increases osteoblast activity.”

“Right,” Achilles said. “You also have a bunch of diagrams here, dunno if you need to know them?”

Patroclus’s eyes widened. “Huh? Diagrams?” He snatched the notebook back. “Oh, these. They basically say the same thing, just in diagram form and with a little more detail. I can look more into this myself later.”

“Sure. So, how do I help you with muscles? Should I just –”

“I have a diagram,” Patroclus said, flipping through his notebook to a detailed labeled diagram of the body’s muscles. “And here’s an empty one,” he said, pulling a sheet of paper out of a folder. “Could you just point to a muscle and I’ll tell you the name of it and you check it against the labeled picture? I just want to make sure I know the name of the muscle without using context from the other muscles around it. Or wait, actually, say the name of a muscle and I’ll point to it. That’s harder.”

“Sure thing,” Achilles said cheerfully. “Hm…let’s see. Supinator.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Patroclus said, pointing to a muscle on the inside of the elbow that wrapped around to the back. “Allows for rotational movement of the forearm.”

“Okay…what about the gracilis?”

“This one,” Patroclus said, pointing at a long, thin muscle on the inside of the thigh.

“Supraspinatus.”

Patroclus flipped the paper over to show a diagram of the human body from the back and pointed to the back of the shoulder. “Not to be confused with the subscapularis or the teres major,” he said, pointing to each muscle in turn.

“Show-off,” Achilles grinned. “Trapezius.”

“This,” Patroclus said, pointing to a large muscle connecting the back of the neck to the shoulder to the mid-back.

Achilles frowned. “Wait, I forget. So the trapezius is that small one, but this – what is this?”

Smoothly and without batting an eye, he lifted up the bottom of the right side of his shirt so it gathered up above his ribs, arching his back and stretching his right arm forward so a muscle stood out.

“That…” Patroclus said, his voice suddenly very high and squeaky, and he cleared his throat and began again. “That’s the latissimus dorsi,” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

“Ah,” Achilles said, letting his shirt fall back down. “Right.”

“Right,” Patroclus echoed softly. Achilles flashed a smile at him, and he became suddenly aware that he was staring at the spot where so much skin had been so deliciously exposed just a few moments before. He blushed and looked down. “Um.”

“Platysma,” Achilles said.

“Pla…oh. This.” Still blushing, Patroclus flipped the paper back over to the front and pointed to a broad muscle on the underside of the neck.

“This?” Achilles asked, lifting his chin and pointing.

“No, that’s the sternocleidomastoid,” Patroclus said.

Achilles frowned. “Guess I don’t remember as much as I thought. Which one’s the platysma?”

“Um. This one,” Patroclus said, pointing at the diagram again. “The sternocleidomastoid is the thinner one that stands out more. The platysma is broader and the fibers run in a different direction.”

“I see,” Achilles said. He reached out, his fingers brushing Patroclus’s neck, and Patroclus’s breath caught in his throat. “This is the sternocleidomastoid,” he said softly, and his fingers skimmed over the long, sinewy thread. “And this is the platysma.” His fingers shifted to the side, running back and forth almost perpendicular to the other muscle.

Patroclus felt himself growing slightly light-headed and forced himself to breathe. “Right,” he whispered.

Achilles grinned.

He was so close. Patroclus wondered what would happen if he closed the space between them, if he had the nerve to kiss him again.

Then suddenly Achilles drew back. “Biceps femoris.”

Patroclus cleared his throat and looked down, flushing. “Um. This one.”

“Gluteus maximus,” Achilles said, waggling his eyebrows. “Also known as the ass muscle.”

“Very mature, Achilles,” Patroclus muttered, flushing harder.

Achilles laughed. “Okay, okay. Um, let’s see…palmaris longus.”

Patroclus groaned. “Ew, I hate these arm muscles, they all look the same.” He peered at the diagram for a few moments before finally pointing to one. “This one?”

“Correct,” Achilles said. “This one,” he said, flexing his own arm and pointing. “Right?”

“Um. I think so,” Patroclus said, his face heating up as he glanced at Achilles’s sculpted forearm.

“External oblique,” Achilles said.

“That one’s easy,” Patroclus said, pointing.

“Rectus abdominus?”

“Also easy,” Patroclus said.

Achilles grinned. “Ah, but do you know the origin and insertion of it?” And he once again lifted up his shirt, baring almost his entire glorious torso for Patroclus to see.

“Yes,” Patroclus bit out, determined not to let his face get any redder.

“Show me,” Achilles said, his grin maddeningly cheeky.

Oh, fuck.

Patroclus bit down on the inside of his cheek and tried to force his heart to stop beating twice as fast as it was supposed to, and hesitantly reached out.

Achilles was literally lifting his shirt and telling Patroclus to show him where it was, so it had to be an invitation, right? He wouldn’t be invading his privacy or anything?

His fingers hovered over the golden skin just below Achilles’s sternum. “Xiphoid process,” he breathed out. His fingers moved slightly lower and to the side to the inner edge of his ribs. “And costal cartilages of the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs. Those are the insertion points.”

Achilles’s grin widened and he tilted his head. “And where are they exactly? I forgot.”

“There’s a diagram right there,” Patroclus said, not taking his eyes off Achilles.

“Well, I can see it on a diagram, but what use is a diagram when you’re looking at an actual human body?”

Patroclus’s face defied his best efforts and turned even more red. “Here,” he said, pointing. “That’s the fifth rib.”

“This?” Achilles asked, and then his hand was on Patroclus’s moving it closer so it touched skin.

Patroclus’s breath hitched. “You liar,” he mumbled. “You totally remember.”

Achilles’s teeth flashed. “Lucky guess,” he countered, though Patroclus could feel his heartbeat quicken through his skin. “And where’s the sixth and seventh?”

Patroclus chewed the inside of his cheek again. “Here, and here,” he said, doing his best not to think about the fact that his hand was literally on Achilles’s chest. Skin. Chest skin?

There had to be a better way to say that.

“So that’s the insertion,” Achilles said. “What about the origin?”

Oh, fuck.

“P…pubic crest,” Patroclus managed, drawing his hand back before it could travel downwards between those beautiful defined V-lines just above Achilles’s hips, because he so desperately wanted to but he knew he couldn’t. He shouldn’t.

“And where’s that?” Achilles asked, oh-so-innocent.

Patroclus shot him a look. “You know where it is.”

“Is it this?” Achilles asked, pointing to a spot that was technically correct but practically speaking way too far down for Patroclus to look at without blushing in embarrassment and having to forcibly block out certain NSFW thoughts.

“Yes,” Patroclus said, a bit sharply and looking purposefully down at his diagram.

“Ah,” Achilles said, leaning in. “What about the orbicularis oris?” He wasn’t even looking at his own diagram, the liar. He knew exactly what everything was.

“Is it this?” Achilles asked softly, touching his mouth.

I’ve kissed that mouth. I was the one who leaned forward first and kissed him. I wonder what it felt like? What it tasted like? I wonder if I could do it again, what it would feel like to have him push me back against the desk and push his tongue into my mouth, what it would feel like to have his hands all over me and my hands all over him, what it would be like to remember what it was like to kiss him –

Achilles’s lips parted, his cool breath misting over Patroclus’s mouth, and his brain short-circuited.

Kiss him – no – kiss me – the same – that’s the same thing –

Oh God what if – fuck – yes, that’s great, that sounds great – oh shit never done that before, what if – no, it doesn’t matter – oh God Achilles just kiss me – 

Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck.

His dick was twitching.

“I’m trying to study,” Patroclus said, and instantly regretted how harshly it had come out. Achilles drew back immediately, looking hurt, and the expression on his face sent a pang of guilt through Patroclus’s heart.

“Okay,” Achilles said, and stood to leave. “I’ll leave you to study, then.”

And then he was gone.

 

 

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Patroclus yelled as soon as he’d gotten back to his room, which was a mere ten minutes later since he couldn’t stand the thought of staying and studying in the cubicle when he knew that he’d literally just chased Achilles away.

Fuck!” he yelled again, kicking his bed and immediately feeling a stab of pain in his toe.

Shit!” he exclaimed.

There was a hesitant knock on his door, and Patroclus’s heart skipped a beat before he forced himself to think about this logically.

Achilles had been flirting with him. Trying stuff out. Seeing if Patroclus would be interested in something more than just, well, dating and talking. Maybe even seeing if Patroclus would be interested in kissing him again.

Achilles’s lips parting.

No, definitely seeing if Patroclus would be interested in kissing him again.

And Patroclus had pushed him away.

Fuck.

So there was no way that this was Achilles.

With a sigh, he crossed the room and opened the door to see Briseis looking at him quizzically and with more than a little concern.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Fine,” Patroclus mumbled.

Briseis bit her lip. “So…can I come in?”

“Huh? Oh. Right, sorry.” Patroclus stepped to the side to let her in and then closed the door behind her.

Briseis settled herself on the foot of Patroclus’s bed and sighed. “So, what happened?”

“What do you mean, ‘what happened?’” Patroclus snarled. “There’s nothing to tell. I fucked up, just like I knew I would, and now he’s never going to look at me again.” He sat down hard in the chair in front of his desk. “How did you know, anyway?”

Briseis sighed. “Oh, Pat. I saw you storming back from the library looking absolutely murderous and then I hear you yelling curses as soon as you get back to your room – which you never do, by the way, so I knew something had to be up.”

Patroclus groaned and buried his head in his hands. “You heard me? Oh, God, what will everyone else think?”

“Don’t worry about everyone else,” Briseis said. “Just tell me.”

Patroclus groaned again and shook his head. “I fucked up, Bri.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad?”

Patroclus laughed humorlessly, his head still buried in his hands. “Oh, it was bad, trust me.”

Briseis bit her lip. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No. I don’t want to think about it.”

“Well…alright. I won’t push you. But I’ll be here if you need me, okay?” She hesitated. “Do you want me to leave?”

Patroclus didn’t say anything, but he didn’t need to. Briseis knew him well enough.

“Let me know if you need anything,” she said gently, and a moment later she, too, was gone.

 

 

Achilles didn’t talk to him the next day, or the day after that, or even on Saturday when they were supposed to have gone to see Rogue One together. Patroclus felt like he had even gone as far as to avoid him on campus, since every time he caught a glimpse of him walking to Aege or back from theater or back from practice, he could have sworn that he was determinedly looking anywhere but at Patroclus.

Patroclus’s last midterm came and went, and so did finals. Anatomy was particularly difficult, not because of the content itself, but because every time he looked at the page, he saw Achilles’s cheeky grin and bright eyes staring back at him.

Achilles didn’t even text him. It was complete silence. It was like everything between them had never even happened, both the good and the bad, but especially the good.

And Patroclus missed him.

 

 

“It’s my fault,” he told Briseis the last day before break officially started, feeling utterly miserable. He was sprawled out on his bed like he had been ever since he’d finished his last final, and Briseis was sitting in his desk chair as she had been ever since he’d finished telling her what had happened about half an hour ago. “I was the one who snapped at him, and now he probably thinks I hate him.”

“No, he doesn’t think that,” Briseis said gently.

Patroclus sighed. “I should apologize.”

Briseis said nothing, which pretty much meant that she wholeheartedly agreed but was doing her best not to make Patroclus feel any worse than he already did.

“It’s been like, two and a half weeks,” he said miserably.

“It’s not too late,” Briseis said. “And he’ll be glad to hear from you. He misses you too, you know.”

“Then why hasn’t he said something?” Patroclus demanded, before sighing in defeat. “I know, I know, it’s not his responsibility since I’m the royal fuck-up here, not him.” He sighed again. “But I…I feel like just an apology is…it’s not enough. Especially since I snapped at him over such a small thing – it was because I was embarrassed, Bri! It wasn’t even that I didn’t want to kiss him or anything, I was just such an embarrassed loser that I didn’t know what else to do!”

“So get him something,” Briseis suggested.

“Get him – oh, you mean, like a present?” Patroclus sat up. “Wait, it’s going to be Christmas soon! Does he celebrate Christmas? Do you know?”

Briseis rolled her eyes fondly. “You could ask him.”

“Um, well, yeah I guess I could…but I kinda want it to be a surprise, y’know? Oh, I know – I’ll ask Automedon!”

“Perfect,” Briseis said. “So you’ll apologize and knowing him he’ll also apologize no matter whether or not he did anything wrong and then you’ll give him the gift and then it’ll be all good again.”

Patroclus bit his lip. “Um. Yeah, I hope so.” He sighed and flopped back down. “God, I really fucked this up.”

Briseis rolled her eyes again. “Well, now that you’ve said that for the billionth time, you can actually start doing something about it, right?”

Patroclus pulled out his phone to text Automedon. “Right,” he said determinedly. “I’ll get him something and then I’ll give it to him and apologize in person. Since apologizing over text is just…well, I feel like he deserves better than that. Right? Right. So that’s what I’ll do. And he…he really likes music! I’ll get him something related to that!”

He typed out a quick message to Automedon.

 

              P: Hey Automedon! Was thinking of getting Achilles something for the holidays – do you know what kind of music he’s into? Or something music-related? I know you’re a music person so I was hoping you had something a little more creative than a CD

 

Briseis looked amused. “Good job, Pat,” she said, grinning. She stood. “Well, I’ve actually gotta go finish packing; my parents are coming to pick me up early tomorrow morning and I’m totally not ready. See you later – and let me know how it goes!”

“Yeah, thanks Bri,” Patroclus said, slightly absentmindedly since Automedon had already replied.

 

              A: He actually is really big into vinyls, I know he’d love that if you got it for him

 

              P: Oh ok, great! Do you know what he’d like? I don’t know what he already has and I don’t want to get him something that he already owns

 

              A: Well, I’ve heard him talking about Van Cliburn a lot, he’s an American pianist and Achilles pretty much idolizes him. If you could find him a vinyl recording of him I’m sure he’d like it, even if he already has it

 

              A: He likes Chopin, too

 

Ah, so that was probably what he was listening to that first day in the Subway.

His phone buzzed again.

 

              A: I don’t mean to pry, but is there something going on between you two? He’s been acting really down lately and I haven’t seen you two together in a while

 

Well, fuck. Patroclus sighed and typed out a reply.

 

              P: Yeah there was something that happened but it’s not his fault

 

              A: Ah ok. Well, just letting you know that he really misses you

 

              A: Hope everything works out

 

              P: Me too

 

              P: Thanks, Automedon

 

Patroclus sighed. Well, that was slightly good news, right? It meant he hadn’t scared him off completely. It meant Achilles didn’t totally hate him. It meant that maybe Patroclus still had a chance.

 

 

He found a vinyl recording of Van Cliburn playing Chopin on Amazon and ordered it immediately. He didn’t have the money to buy a new one but he had just enough to buy one that was only very gently used, and according to Amazon it would arrive from the seller on the 23rd – in just two days.

That gave him two days to find something nice to wrap it with and two days to figure out what he was going to say when he finally saw Achilles. The first one was easy; he’d pop down to CVS or something and pick out some nice wrapping paper. The second one was the hard part.

“Hey, Achilles, I’m really sorry that I snapped at you that day, I was just super embarrassed at how utterly beautiful you are!”

No, that was terrible.

“Hey, Achilles, it was all my fault, I shouldn’t have snapped at you, it definitely wasn’t because you were invading my space, in fact I would not be opposed to you doing that again I was just caught off-guard and can’t deal with my emotions!”

No, that was even worse.

Patroclus groaned and paced around the room. Maybe he should ask Briseis?

No. This was his apology. It had to come from him, even if everything he said sounded absolutely ridiculous.

He sighed and shook his head. He needed some fresh air; maybe that would clear his head and help him think of something better to say. And he might as well get dinner in the meantime since he’d been lying around moping for the last God knows how many hours and was getting quite hungry. So he put on his coat, slipped his phone, ID, and room key into his pocket, and headed to Aege.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The first thing Patroclus saw when he left the food courts and went into the actual sitting area was Achilles, and Patroclus felt his chest clench when he saw that he was sitting with his team. Normally they’d eat together, at least on the days where Patroclus actually remembered to come to dinner; either Patroclus would join him with his team or Achilles would join Patroclus and they’d have a table to themselves, but since the thing in the library it hadn’t happened.

Automedon came to sit with him instead, noticing him as he came back from getting more food and changing course to approach his table. As usual, his tray was loaded, and he plopped it down across from Patroclus.

“Hey!” he said cheerfully.

“Hey,” Patroclus said, considerably less cheerfully.

“It’s actually pretty warm today, huh?” he said, picking up his fork and starting to eat. “Especially for late December.”

“Yeah,” Patroclus agreed, though he hadn’t really noticed.

“I really miss being out on the water,” Automedon said, in between large mouthfuls of today’s dinner – beef lasagna or something. From what Patroclus could see of the rest of his tray, it was his third plate of it. “I mean, the rowers obviously can’t go out onto the water either since the river’s frozen, but at least they get to erg and lift and do circuits and shit! Us coxswains? No way.” He sighed.

“Oh,” Patroclus said, taking a cautious bite of the lasagna.

Automedon shoveled the rest of his lasagna into his mouth, took a drink of blue Powerade, and bit into his dessert. “Well, we do cardio sometimes since we don’t want to build muscle but we want to lose any excess weight a.k.a. fat since we want to be as light as possible for the spring races,” he explained. “But that’s not every day and even on days where we cox our rowers during their erg sessions it certainly isn’t the same as being on the water for two hours.”

“I can imagine,” Patroclus said, taking another bite of lasagna. It was actually quite decent.

Automedon took another sip of Powerade. “We probably only get to do stuff maybe…three or four times a week? Still, winter training is important. And I’m so glad finals are over – I had my last one this morning. Unlucky me, eh? I had all my other finals like three days ago but I had to wait until the last day before break to take this stupid final and then I could go home.” He shook his head in disgust.

“Yeah, that sucks,” Patroclus agreed.

“Well, I’ve learned my lesson,” Automedon continued. “I’ll try not to take so many classes with final tests next semester. I mean of course I’ll have them for the music classes I’ll be taking but as for the others I think I’d rather have final papers since that means at least I’ll be able to turn them in and then go home; I just hope the finals I do have aren’t scheduled last. The class that I’m going to be taking next semester had its final pretty late too this semester, so chances are the registrar is going to put it earlier in the finals schedule next time.”

“Makes sense,” Patroclus said.

“Having papers is also so much less stressful,” Automedon went on, now about halfway through his dessert. “I like to think that I do pretty well under pressure – I mean, I have to, as a coxswain – but still that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Plus with papers you can kinda have your own schedule, right? With a scheduled final you still have to go to sleep at a decent hour so you can wake up on time and not be super tired, and even then so much rests on three hours of one particular day. With a paper, you can keep working on it whenever, in the safety and comfort of your own room!” He gulped down the last of his Powerade and smacked his lips. “But what about you, Pat? How’ve you been?”

Patroclus bit his lip, glancing towards Achilles before he caught himself and looked back down at the table. “Fine,” he mumbled.

Automedon followed his gaze. “Still not talking, huh?”

Patroclus sighed and poked at his lasagna. “Nope.”

Automedon had finished his dessert and now bit into his apple, looking thoughtful. “Do you mind telling me what happened? I’m only getting bits and pieces from Achilles and that’s just because I know him well enough to pick up on little things; he hasn’t told me anything either.”

Patroclus hesitated. “It’s not…well I mean it is kinda a big deal, I just…I’m working on making it right, so, um, yeah. I’m hoping it won’t be a big deal soon.”

“I’m guessing the gift you asked me about is a white flag type thing?”

“No, we didn’t fight,” Patroclus said quickly. “Well, I mean, not really. I just…there was a miscommunication and it made things a bit awkward. I mean, really awkward.”

Automedon glanced at Achilles again. “Well, he misses you. He told me he hasn’t spoken a word to you in weeks.”

Patroclus flushed. “Yeah, I…”

“He hasn’t texted you either, huh?”

Patroclus looked down and sighed. “No.”

“And you miss him too.” It wasn’t a question.

“I…yeah. I do.” He bit his lip. “I mean, it’s not like I’ve even known him for very long, but I felt like I was…comfortable around him. I liked talking to him. And now…without that, it’s like…everything’s gone back to black and white. It’s boring, dull.”

“I could ask him to come over here, if you want?” Automedon offered.

“What? No, it’s –”

But it was too late. Automedon had already gotten up and was headed back to the team’s table; as Patroclus watched, he leaned down next to Achilles and said something to him quietly. A moment later, Achilles looked up and met Patroclus’s gaze for the first time in two and a half weeks, and Patroclus felt a jolt run through his body.

Automedon said something else and nudged Achilles’s shoulder, and then Achilles was standing and heading towards Patroclus.

Oh shit.

Patroclus looked down abruptly at his tray, biting his lip and feeling a flush spread over his face.

What do I say what do I say what do I say?

A moment later there was the sound of Automedon’s tray being pushed over and a second tray being slid onto the table, and then Achilles spoke, his voice soft, hesitant.

“Hey.”

Patroclus blinked, still staring determinedly at his tray. “Um. Hey.”

There was a silence, and then Achilles cleared his throat.

“Uh, Automedon said…he said you wanted me to come over.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “I mean, yeah. I did.” He bit his lip, risking a glance upwards to see Achilles watching him, his expression unusually subdued.

“Well,” Achilles began. He stopped, looking down at his own tray for a few moments before glancing back up at Patroclus. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

Patroclus huffed a laugh. “Yeah.”

“So…how have you been?”

“Um. Fine, I guess.”

“Ah.”

There was another awkward silence, and then Patroclus spoke again. “I mean, fine in that nothing absolutely terrible has happened, like I haven’t gotten grievously ill or injured or anything, but I meant that’s just part of someone’s well-being, y’know, and as for the emotional part –” He broke off, biting his lip.

“I’ve been fine,” he said. “What about you?”

Achilles drew back slightly. “I’ve also been fine,” he said. “Well – mostly fine.”

Patroclus glanced up at him again and saw the corners of his lips curving upwards slightly.

“Better now that you’re talking to me again,” he said.

“Oh,” Patroclus said, and then cursed himself for not having a better response.

“Finals went well,” Achilles ventured after a pause. “For me, at least. Though I only had two; I had papers for my other classes.”

“Me too,” Patroclus said. “I mean, finals went well for me too. I think. Um. I guess I’ll see for sure when the grades come out.”

“Ah, I’m sure you did fine,” Achilles said, and Patroclus could hear the grin in his voice. “How could they not, for someone as smart as you? I’m sure you could fail finals and still pass all your classes with flying colors.”

Patroclus blushed. “Yeah, maybe,” he mumbled. Well, that was technically true for three of his classes; he’d done well enough in everything else that considering how much the final test factored into the overall grade, he could technically get as low as a 63.93% and still pass with an A. Though then it would be an A-, not an A+.

There was another silence.

“Crew has been good lately,” Achilles began. “Well, except for Echion. Someone in his boat pulled his hip flexor during an erg session last week.”

“Oh. Um. That sucks,” Patroclus said, awkwardly.

“Yeah. At least it’s not while we’re on the water though,” Achilles said. “The rest of his boat can still train even if he’s out, unlike when we’re on the water. We have just enough people to fill the boats perfectly on the men’s team, so if someone’s out, their whole boat is out.”

“Makes sense,” Patroclus said.

There was another silence, but this time Achilles didn’t say anything to break it. Patroclus bit his lip, squirming under the deafening nothingness between them.

Say something!

“I’m sorry,” Patroclus blurted out, his face reddening. “It was my fault, I shouldn’t have snapped at you and I have no idea what I was doing but it really wasn’t anything to do with you invading my space or anything, it wasn’t your fault at all so please don’t think that, I just don’t know what to do in these situations since I’m really awkward and I really didn’t mean it and I regretted it as soon as I’d said it but I didn’t know –”

“Hey,” Achilles said, cutting him off. Hesitantly, he reached out a hand before seeming to realize what he was doing and drawing back again. He bit his lip. “It’s alright, I get it,” he said after a pause. “I…I should’ve…I probably shouldn’t have come onto you like that.” He gave a soft, uncertain smile. “Sorry.”

“It wasn’t you,” Patroclus said. “Please, don’t think that. I overreacted.”

“To me invading your space, I know,” Achilles said. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

No no no, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go!

“It wasn’t you,” Patroclus insisted again. “I just –” He broke off. What was he supposed to say? He’d lashed out to distract Achilles from the boner that had been growing in his pants?

“I overreacted,” he said instead. “But I…I really…I didn’t mind.” He blushed.

“Oh,” Achilles said.

Patroclus bit his lip. “I mean, I really was studying, so maybe at that moment I did mind a little bit because you were distracting me, but…when I’m not studying I…probably wouldn’t mind…as much. Or at…or at all.” He trailed off awkwardly, his face feeling like it was in an oven and probably looking like it too.

“Oh,” Achilles said again, and he sounded slightly stunned.

Patroclus glanced up at him uncertainly. “Sorry I overreacted,” he said quietly. “Can you…you’ll forgive me, right? Even though I fucked up so badly?”

This time, when Achilles reached across the table again, he didn’t hesitate.

“There is nothing to forgive.”

 

 

Achilles walked with him back to Skye. It was dark by then; they’d stayed in Aege until it closed at ten, talking about the past two and a half weeks they’d spent apart, and Patroclus had seen Automedon give him a wink as he walked out with the rest of his team. Achilles was currently telling Patroclus about the stupid thing Odysseus did when he was drunk last week, but as they passed under the light from one of the street lamps Patroclus heard an unfortunately familiar voice ring out, and the smile faded from his face.

“Hey, Achilles!”

His heart sank. It was Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus, approaching from across the green and unmistakably drunk.

Achilles glanced at Patroclus and kept walking.

“That is Achilles, right?” Patroclus heard Agamemnon ask his brother.

“Ha, yeah, who else could it be?” Menelaus sneered. “The arrogant fag, though who knows how arrogant he’ll be without his faggot-loving buddies all around him?”

“Yeah, Achilles, how arrogant will you be without all your gay friends around you?” Agamemnon shouted, and Patroclus felt his palms grow sweaty, felt his heart pound, but when he glanced at Achilles it was like Achilles hadn’t heard them.

“Yo, faggot, look at us when we talk to you!” Agamemnon yelled.

“Achilles,” Patroclus hissed, feeling anger well up.

“Just ignore them, I don’t care,” Achilles said casually. “Anyway, what we were we talking about? Oh right – I was telling you about that stupid thing Odysseus was doing when he got drunk the first day of reading period.”

“Hey fag!” Menelaus yelled. “Are you so big and bad without your team around to support you? Do you have the guts to face us on your own?”

“So he’d probably had about four shots of vodka at this point,” Achilles said to Patroclus, seemingly completely unaware of what the two brothers were yelling at him. “And he goes and stands on the fucking table that’s pretty much ready to collapse at any moment, and –”

“Oh hey, is that Patroclus with him?”

At that, Achilles stiffened. Patroclus felt his heart skip a beat, and not in a good way.

“Oh yeah, it is!” Menelaus whooped.

“Hey Patroclus, what are you doing with that gay ass?” Agamemnon yelled.

“Are you trying to be his friend? Aw, that’s so sweet!” Menelaus laughed.

“No wait, look how close they’re standing!” Agamemnon jeered. “It’s like they’re dating or something!”

Menelaus turned to his brother in astonishment. “Oh shit, Agamemnon, I didn’t know he was a fag too!”

“I told you about it,” Agamemnon yelled back, even though they were right next to each other and there really wasn’t any need for him to yell, which seemed to lend support to Patroclus’s theory that they were doing this just to get a rise out of him, just like Agamemnon had done at the beginning of the semester in poly-sci before Helen had chased him off. “I told you he was a fag at the beginning of the year, and you didn’t believe me!”

Menelaus laughed loudly. “Oh wow, the cock-suckers found love, isn’t that cute! Or maybe big ol’ Achilles couldn’t get Helen to like him so he settled for this prick instead? I think that’s what happened, isn’t it? Aw, poor little Patroclus, knowing Achilles just settled for his little loser ass!”

Patroclus felt like his heart had stopped.

Was it true? Was Achilles just settling for him, since he just happened to like guys and Patroclus just happened to be a guy who liked him back?

No, it couldn’t be. Achilles wouldn’t do that. Not to him, not to anyone. He was too…too good.

“Ah, but we’ll see if they continue their unnatural ways once we’ve fucked them up, isn’t that right?” Agamemnon shouted back.

And then he collapsed with a fist to his face, and blood spurted from his nose.

“What the –” Menelaus looked around in surprise.

Patroclus had much the same reaction. He glanced at Achilles, only to see that he wasn’t beside him anymore; as soon as Agamemnon and Menelaus had started going off at Patroclus, he’d sprung forward and sprinted across the green and tackled them both to the ground; he was currently standing over Agamemnon and pummeling him.

“Get off him!” Menelaus screamed, hurling himself at Achilles.

“Achilles!” Patroclus yelled, as Menelaus rammed into him and knocked him off of his brother. Agamemnon scrambled to his feet, his nose completely bloodied and a snarl on his face. Menelaus swung a fist at Achilles but Achilles dodged it and countered with his own blow, knocking Menelaus backwards.

Agamemnon let out a shout and charged at Achilles, landing a hit on his ribs before Achilles grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and threw him to the ground, only to stumble as Agamemnon kicked out and caught his right leg. Patroclus started forward, but Menelaus had gotten back on his feet already and was walking towards him, leering.

“I’m gonna fuck you up,” Menelaus hissed. “That’ll teach you, won’t it?”

“Fuck off,” Patroclus spat, trying to sound brave, but Menelaus just laughed and sprung forward faster than Patroclus expected a drunk guy to be able to. He stumbled backwards and tried to duck, avoiding most of the blow but still catching some of it, and pain shot through the right side of his jaw.

And then Menelaus was down. Achilles had launched himself at him from behind and knocked him to the ground; Menelaus shouted out and curled himself up tightly as Achilles’s fists flew at him, and then Patroclus saw something over Achilles’s shoulder that made his blood run cold.

“Achilles!” Patroclus yelled. “Achilles, stop!”

Agamemnon started towards them and Achilles paused in beating up Menelaus to face his brother, rage blazing in his eyes.

Blazing, just like the lights of a police car headed their way.

“Achilles!” Patroclus yelled again. “Achilles, you’ve gotta stop, let’s go!”

Achilles drew back and looked at Patroclus. “They insulted you,” he hissed, and Patroclus flinched at the anger in his voice.

“It’s okay, we can deal with it later, but we have to go,” Patroclus pleaded, pulling him away from Agamemnon who was currently helping his brother back to his feet. “We’ll get in trouble if we don’t leave now, please!”

“I don’t care,” Achilles spat, staring hard at the brothers who had just noticed the car.

“Well I care,” Patroclus said, pulling him away with quite a bit of difficulty from the rapidly approaching police car as Menelaus and Agamemnon took off back across the green. “Please, Achilles – I don’t want to get into trouble!”

Achilles bit his lip, eyes narrowing as he watched them, and it looked like it was physically hurting him to not run after them. “Fine,” he bit out. He took Patroclus’s hand and pulled him towards the music building. “We can cut across here, and if they care enough to chase us inside the building I can get us into a practice room, but I doubt that’ll be necessary.”

He and Patroclus ran towards the marble structure and slipped inside just as the police car reached where they had been fighting just a few moments before. Achilles led Patroclus to a practice room and they crouched down inside by the window; by the light of the street lamp Patroclus saw the man get out and say something into his radio.

“He’s looking for us,” Patroclus hissed. “What if he’s calling backup?”

“Stop worrying,” Achilles said. “There isn’t anyone obvious to catch; he’ll give up soon.”

The man looked in the direction of the music building.

“Shit!” Patroclus yelped, scrambling back away from the window to hide behind Achilles.

“We’re fine, he can’t see us from there. See? He’s already leaving.”

Cautiously, Patroclus poked his head out and peered out the window again. Sure enough, after looking around the area for a few more moments the man got back into the car, turned off the flashing lights, and drove away.

“Told you,” Achilles muttered. He stood up, wincing. “Campus police have to deal with fights so often that they don’t take them very seriously anymore. Honestly, with the way those two assholes took off we could’ve told CamPo that they attacked us and we were fighting back in self-defense. I know they don’t have a clean record.”

“That would be lying,” Patroclus scolded him, frowning at the stiffness in his jaw that he hadn’t noticed before in his panic to escape being caught.

“Oh, and you think they wouldn’t do the same if we’d run off first?” Achilles demanded, and Patroclus was surprised to see fury still simmering in his eyes. “They deserve anything bad that comes their way.”

“It would still be wrong,” Patroclus said.

Achilles stared at him for a few moments, utterly incredulous, before giving in and shaking his head. “Alright, alright. I get your point.” He held out a hand for Patroclus to take and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s get you safely back to your dorm now.”

 

 

Seeing as Skye was just a few minutes’ walk away from the music building and that Menelaus and Agamemnon had long disappeared, it wasn’t surprising that they got back without further incident. Probably going back to party, Achilles had said.

“I should head back,” Achilles said quietly as they reached the entrance to the dorm. He glanced at his phone. “It’s ten-thirty, and –”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Patroclus said sharply. “You didn’t get away from that fight unscathed, and I don’t give you permission to go anywhere until I’ve at least taken a look at you.”

Achilles looked amused. “What, so you’re a certified doctor now?”

“No, but the health center is closed right now and I’m the next best thing around here,” Patroclus retorted, swiping them into the dorm with his ID and leading the way to his room. “I have Neosporin and band-aids.”

Achilles laughed and shrugged off his jacket as Patroclus felt around in his pockets for his key. “Right. Two things doctors can never go without.”

“Shut up,” Patroclus grumbled, pulling out his key and unlocking the door. He pushed it open and flipped on the lights, gesturing towards his desk chair. “Sit,” he ordered, and rummaged around in one of his drawers until he found the box of band-aids and the tube of Neosporin. He turned to Achilles. “Okay, so –” He broke off; Achilles’s gaze was fixed on his face and his eyes were widening in anger.

“Which one was it?”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh?”

Achilles pointed at Patroclus’s jaw. “Which one was it?” he repeated.

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked again, touching the bruise and wincing slightly. “Um. Menelaus.”

“I’ll fuck him up,” Achilles snarled.

“No, you won’t,” Patroclus said sternly. “You will forget about it, at least until I can get you patched up since you’re bleeding.”

Achilles blinked, immediately distracted. “Huh? I am?”

Patroclus sighed. “Yes. Change of plans; we need to get you to the bathroom so you can get cleaned up. I unfortunately don’t have a sink in here that you can wash your cuts in. Now come on.”

Achilles stood obediently and followed him down the hall to the bathroom; his eyes widened with surprise as he looked in the mirror.

“Oh,” he said, touching his split lip. “Didn’t even notice.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes, ripping some paper from the dispenser, crumpling it up, and soaking it with cold water from the sink. “C’mere, you.” He dabbed at the cut with a frown. “Does it hurt? I have some ice in my fridge if you want it.”

“I’m fine,” Achilles said. He jerked his chin at Patroclus’s jaw. “Keep it for that.”

Patroclus sighed and kept cleaning the blood away from the cut. “It’s fine; he barely grazed me.”

Achilles snorted. “Yeah, right.”

Finished cleaning the cut on Achilles’s lip, Patroclus moved onto the scrape on his left cheek that was also starting to bruise. “It doesn’t look any worse than this,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“And so am I,” Achilles countered.

Patroclus rolled his eyes and wiped a little harder.

“Ow,” Achilles complained, drawing back.

“My bad. Now stop arguing with me,” Patroclus grumbled.

“But this,” Achilles said, reaching out to touch Patroclus’s jaw. “You need to get this cleaned up too, right? And while you’re doing that I can go beat up Menelaus, or get you ice, whatever you want. I mean, you said I should put ice on mine, right? And yours is just as bad. Is that double standards or what?”

“Shut up,” Patroclus said, instead of acknowledging the truth to his words. “I’m dealing with you right now. Now let me see your hands.”

Achilles held them up obediently.

“Bruised and scraped knuckles, of course,” Patroclus muttered, tossing the used paper towel and fetching a new one. “And I bet your ribs and leg are bruising too, you ass. What did you have to go tackling Agamemnon for?”

“He insulted you,” Achilles said simply, rolling up his pant leg when Patroclus gestured.

“Well thanks for being Prince Charming, but now you’ve gotten yourself all busted up. Now your leg doesn’t look too bad, how does it feel?” Patroclus asked.

“Fine,” Achilles said.

“And your ribs?”

Achilles pulled up the bottom of his shirt so Patroclus could see. “It’s actually not too bad either; I think my jacket took the worst of it.”

“Yeah, looks like it,” Patroclus murmured, peering at the slightly reddened patch of skin. “Still, it looks like it’s bruising; I’ll get you some ice for that. Come on.” He led him back to his room and gestured to the chair. “Sit.”

“Yes, doctor,” Achilles chirped.

Patroclus gave him a look. “Save that enthusiasm for once I’ve gotten my Ph.D. in like fifteen years.” He opened the fridge. “Damn. Well, I lied, I don’t actually have ice, but I have a really really cold water bottle which froze because I accidentally left it too close to the freezer part of the fridge.” He took it out, pulled a thin, worn-out T-shirt that he used as pajamas off one of the hangers in his closet, wrapped the bottle with it, and handed the bundle to Achilles. “Here. It should work just as well as ice, seeing as it’s pretty much completely ice on the inside anyway.”

“And for you?” Achilles asked.

“I told you to stop worrying about me,” Patroclus said impatiently. “I’m fine. Now let me see your hands; I should wrap them so you don’t bump them against something and bust them up even more.”

Using his elbow to pin the cold water bottle against his ribs, Achilles held out both his hands.

“Right. Neosporin first.” Patroclus squeezed some of the contents of the small tube onto the scratches of each knuckle, being careful not to touch the tip of the bottle to the cuts. “Don’t want this getting infected, otherwise how are you going to row?” Then his eyes widened. “Shit, you have winter workouts right? Are you going to be okay?”

“Patroclus,” Achilles sighed. “I’m fine, I told you.”

Patroclus echoed his sigh. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop asking. Now stay still, I’ll get something to wrap it with since there’s no way a band-aid is going to work.”

Achilles raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Oh, so you have Neosporin and band-aids and gauze rolls? What a qualified doctor!”

“Shut up,” Patroclus grumbled, and began carefully wrapping the gauze strips around his hands.

“Covering my callouses too,” Achilles said cheerfully.

“Okay but seriously,” Patroclus said, sitting back when he was done. “Why?”

Achilles tilted his head. “Why what?”

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean, Achilles. Why did you start a fight with them, right after you told me to ignore them?”

“I meant for you to ignore them insulting me,” Achilles said, as if it was obvious.

Patroclus bit his lip. “So…why didn’t you ignore them insulting me?”

“Because I couldn’t,” Achilles said.

“What do you mean, you couldn’t?”

“I just couldn’t,” Achilles said simply.

Patroclus groaned and rolled his eyes again. “Come on, Achilles, now who’s having double standards? You want me to ignore them insulting you but as soon as they say a word against me you’re all over them. Why?”

Achilles looked down at his hands. “Well…no one deserves to be insulted like that.”

“Yeah, including you.”

Achilles shook his head. “No, I…that’s not what I meant.”

Patroclus frowned. “What, so you’re saying that you deserve to be insulted but no one else does?”

“I…” Achilles bit his lip, unable to meet Patroclus’s eyes. “I’ve learned to deal with what people say to me,” he said finally. “I’ve learned not to care, not to pay attention to them. I guess…I’m not saying that I deserve it, but I just…it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I don’t care enough, so I –”

“Hold up,” Patroclus interrupted. “You don’t care enough?”

“Yeah.” Achilles shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me, people can say what they like, I don’t really give a fuck. But when it comes to others…they don’t deserve that.”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked. “But you…you didn’t have to tackle them.”

“Yes, I did,” Achilles said hotly. “They were insulting you, and I couldn’t have that.” 

“I can take care of myself,” Patroclus shot back.

Achilles drew back, subdued again. “Okay,” he said quietly. “I…sorry.”

Fuck. “That’s not what I meant,” Patroclus said, and cursed himself for overreacting again. “I just meant that…I’m grateful that you…were willing to do that. For me. I really am, and I don’t know how to thank you enough. But I just don’t want you to get hurt or get into trouble or anything.”

“Oh,” Achilles said, and he sounded a little more cheerful.

“And I don’t want to run out of my high-quality medical supplies,” Patroclus added with a small smile.

“Makes sense,” Achilles said.

“Yeah.” Patroclus bit his lip.

There was a silence, and then they both spoke at the same time.

“Next time you don’t –”

“I did it because I –”

They both broke off, and Patroclus looked away, blushing. “Um. You go first.”

“No, you,” Achilles said, his cheeks also tinged with pink.

“I said it first,” Patroclus shot back.

A small smile curved the corners of Achilles’s lips. “Fine, you win, grumpy ass.” He paused and chewed the inside of his cheek, wringing his hands. “I did it because I…because I care about you,” he said finally, and blushed harder. “I care about you and I could see how they were making you feel and I couldn’t stand to have you feel that way especially when I could do something about it so I…” He trailed off. “I normally don’t fight people,” he said after a pause, unable to meet Patroclus’s astonished gaze. “Which I guess you know already, since that was one of the first times we met, with them insulting me. But with you…I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing because I…I care.”

It took a few tries for Patroclus to get any sound out. “Oh,” he said finally. “Well I…I care too. That’s why I was saying that next time you don’t have to…do that.”

“Sticks and bones may break my bones but words will tear my world apart,” Achilles quoted. “Now what’s more important, your long-term psychological well-being or me avoiding a few minor cuts and scrapes that’ll heal in a few days anyway?”

“They weren’t bothering me,” Patroclus mumbled.

“Liar,” Achilles said, but his voice was gentle. He stood and touched Patroclus’s jaw. “Don’t let what they said get to you,” he said quietly. “Being queer is…it’s something to be proud of, not something you should feel like you need to hide. Don’t listen to them.”

“I know,” Patroclus said softly. And the part where they said we were dating? Is that false, too? Or what about the part where they said you were just settling for me? Is that part true?

But he couldn’t ask that. And it wasn’t true; it couldn’t be.

Achilles gave him an uncertain smile. “So…so does that mean we’re good now?”

“Good – huh?”

“Our, um. Our thing. In the library.”

“Oh! Yeah, of course we’re good, I thought we’d established that already,” Patroclus said, bewildered.

“I just…wanted to make sure,” Achilles said.

Patroclus sighed. “I know, but if anything, it’s me who should be apologizing and you who should be deciding if we’re good again or not,” he said. “I was the one who overreacted.”

“To me being in your personal space,” Achilles pointed out.

“No,” Patroclus insisted. “I said I didn’t mind, since with you I don’t really have a personal –” He broke off, blushing. With you I don’t really have a personal space bubble, you’re welcome to come as close as you like and I really wouldn’t mind. “Just – you say it, okay? You decide if we’re officially good or not.”

“Okay, then.” Achilles straightened up importantly. “In that case I say yes, we’re officially good,” he announced, and gave Patroclus such a brilliant smile despite his split lip that Patroclus couldn’t help but to smile back.

 

 

“I really should go now,” Achilles said nearly an hour and a half later, most of which had been spent dramatically retelling the story of Odysseus’s drunken adventure that had been interrupted earlier that evening, but only after Achilles won the debate and Patroclus allowed him to clean up the bruising scrape on his jaw. “It’s getting late, and you should sleep.”

“Oh.” Patroclus frowned, glancing at the time on his phone. “Well…okay. Yeah, it is pretty late.”

Achilles stood and pulled on his jacket, handing back the now room-temperature water bottle. “Thank you,” he said seriously.

Patroclus waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it; this’ll be my job in a few years anyway so I gotta practice, right? The more important question right now is whether or not those dickheads will find you on your way back to your apartment.”

“Nah.” Achilles shook his head. “I’ll be fine.”

“And if they find you? You probably pissed them off pretty badly and they’re drunk, what if they come back with more people or – or knives or something?”

“You’re cute when you’re worried,” Achilles said with a grin, “but you really worry too much. I’ll be fine; for one, if they run into me they’re the ones who should be worried, for two, I doubt they even know where I live, and for three, honestly they’re probably too drunk to remember what happened at this point. Really; think about it. Would they rather spend two hours looking around for us while there’s a police car driving around or would they rather spend those two hours partying and getting blackout drunk?”

Patroclus sighed. “Okay, I see your point. But text me when you get back, okay? And if I don’t hear from you in ten minutes I’ll have to assume something happened.”

Achilles laughed, shaking his head. “Alright, but make it fifteen. The way your eyes are shining is making me go blind, so I might run into something.”

Patroclus spluttered, already feeling the heat creep up his neck.

Achilles laughed again. “Though maybe this time it’ll be because of your bright red cheeks instead of your starry eyes.”

“Oh, get out of here,” Patroclus said, pushing him out the door as quickly as he could to hide the smile that was pulling at the corners of his mouth. “But text me!” he called after Achilles’s retreating, still-laughing figure, and as soon as Achilles was out of sight, he pulled out his phone and typed a quick message to Briseis.

 

              P: We’re good :)

 

Then, smiling, he went back into his room and waited for Achilles’s text.

 

 

Achilles, the cheeky bastard, had the nerve to wait fourteen minutes fifty-seven seconds before texting that he’d gotten back to his apartment. (Patroclus was not embarrassed in the least to admit that he timed it. He was genuinely worried, okay?) And then he’d had the guts to say that no, he hadn’t walked into anything, but he’d been so distracted by thinking about Patroclus that he’d accidentally walked past his building!

Grumbling and shaking his head, Patroclus settled himself more comfortably into his bed and tried to think of an appropriate response.

 

              P: Well I’m glad you got back safely

 

That was safe enough, right?

Achilles replied just a few seconds later.

 

              A: Me too, I’d hate for my family to sue you claiming you were the cause for my getting lost somewhere and mobbed in some distant alley :P

 

              A: But seriously, you’re good, right?

 

              P: Oh my god, Achilles

 

              P: How many times are you going to ask that lmao

 

              A: I meant your face

 

              A: Like, where Menelaus hit you

 

Oh. Whoops. Patroclus cringed.

 

              P: Oh

 

              P: Yeah, I’m good, thanks for asking

 

              P: It’s still a little sore but I’ll ice it again in the morning and it should be fine, it’s not like anyone else is going to see it anyway since we’re on break

 

              A: Haha true

 

              P: Thanks again for doing that for me

 

              P: I really don’t know how I can say that enough, and I feel bad since you got hurt for it

 

A few moments went by without a response and Patroclus bit his lip nervously, wondering where he’d gone wrong for Achilles to suddenly stop replying, when his phone buzzed with an incoming call from Achilles.

“Really, Patroclus?” Achilles said as soon as Patroclus picked up. “You’re still going on about that? Don’t worry about me, seriously. I’d do it again anytime.”

Patroclus sighed. “I know, and that’s what I’m worried about. I don’t want you to go picking fights for me, I want you safe and whole.”

Achilles laughed. “Are you sure? I could go find Menelaus right now and beat him up for what he did to that beautiful face and I can guarantee that I’ll come back safe and sound.”

Patroclus groaned and rolled his eyes, glad that Achilles couldn’t see his blush through the phone. “Yes, I am completely sure that I don’t want you to find some poor ignorant black-out drunk bastard and beat the shit out of him for the second time in one night. Let it go, alright? For me.”

“Alright, alright. I mean technically it’s a second night since it’s past midnight, but I’ll try to forget about it as long as I don’t see him. He’d better stay out of my way though, or else I can’t make any guarantees.”

“I’m not a damsel in distress, Achilles,” Patroclus said.

“But you called me Prince Charming?”

Patroclus snorted, blushing harder. “Okay, I did, but…but I can be Prince Charming too! I’m the one with black hair, remember?” he said, and snickered. “And you’re the blonde, which means you’ve gotta be Cinderella.”

Achilles laughed. “Well I can’t argue with that; I must say I do look pretty good in a dress. Fine; I’ll be Cinderella to your Prince Charming. Is that acceptable?”

Patroclus bit his lip to stifle his grin and refused to think about what situations would have Achilles in a dress. Cinderella to my Prince Charming. Does that mean…?

“Yeah,” he said, his grin refusing to be stifled. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

“Wonderful. So uh, I guess you’re getting ready for bed now, right? I’ll leave you in peace then.”

Patroclus blushed. “Um, actually I’m not, I was just kinda sitting on my bed doing nothing,” he said, completely honestly.

“Oh. Well, you should be getting ready for bed though, right? It’s late.”

“I’m not tired,” Patroclus said, and immediately yawned, wincing as he stretched his jaw.

Achilles laughed, and Patroclus imagined his eyes twinkling in amusement. “You’re terrible. I need to teach you some basic acting skills someday; remind me.”

“Aw man, I can’t be that bad, right?” Patroclus complained, and yawned again, more carefully.

“If I’m to be completely honest – actually no, I won’t be completely honest, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” Achilles said, chuckling when Patroclus spluttered indignantly. “But seriously, go to sleep, we can talk more tomorrow.” There was a pause. “I mean today.”

“Right, since it’s past midnight,” Patroclus said helpfully.

“Right. Exactly. So, um. Goodnight, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Patroclus said. “Goodnight.”

“Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” Achilles said, and Patroclus could practically hear his grin.

He rolled his eyes. “Goodnight, Achilles.”

Achilles laughed. “Goodnight, Prince Charming.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Patroclus received an email from the campus post office at just past five PM on December 23rd notifying him that a package had arrived and his heart leapt; there was just one thing it could be.

He pulled on his thickest coat – it had snowed yesterday and it was still below freezing outside, and everyone knew he was a bit wimpy when it came to cold weather – and grabbed his room key, locking the door before heading out to the campus post office to pick up the vinyl CD.

The cold air took his breath away as soon as he stepped outside and he shivered despite his coat, ducking his head down so his mouth and nose were covered and shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. He hopped over a patch of ice and crossed the street, cutting across the green to get to the post office faster. He didn’t want to spend any more time out in the cold than was absolutely necessary.

When he came back to his room with the package in his arms, he took the wrapping paper he’d bought from CVS right before it had started snowing and began cutting a piece large enough to wrap around the entire CD, grinning in excitement as he imagined giving it to Achilles in two days.

Happy holidays, Achilles! I hope you like it, because I really like you and I wanted to give you something special for the holidays especially since I fucked up with you a few weeks ago!

No, he didn’t need to say that last part.

He shook his head and sighed, taking a piece of tape and taping the wrapping shut before sitting back and looking over his handiwork.

Not bad. He’d never actually wrapped a present before; he’d never had much money and all of his gifts had been small enough to fit into a bag, so all he’d had to do was stuff a bit of tissue paper in at the top to make it look a bit more presentable. The CD would’ve been a bit awkward to fit into a bag, so he’d looked up about a dozen YouTube videos on how to best wrap a present and had done his best to copy them.

His heart thudded as he imagined giving it to Achilles again, and he wasn’t sure if it was from nerves or excitement. He figured it was more from excitement.

In that case...

Would it be better to give it to him on Christmas (Automedon had confirmed that he did indeed celebrate Christmas, if only because it was a fun national holiday and not because he was actually religious) or give it to him the day before, on Christmas Eve, in the more traditional holiday spirit? Probably earlier, right, since Christmas was the day that people were supposed to open presents, not get them?

“You just really want to give it to him, don’t you,” Briseis said when he called her to ask.

“I mean, I can’t argue with that,” Patroclus mumbled.

“If you want to give it to him tomorrow, give it to him tomorrow. Hell, give it to him today if you’re really that desperate, it’s not like he’ll mind.”

“I’m not desperate,” Patroclus protested. “I just…I got him a present and I want him to have it, that’s all.”

He heard Briseis’s snort of amusement and knew she was probably rolling her eyes at him. “Then give it to him now, dumbass,” she said fondly.

“I can’t,” Patroclus said. “He said he’s busy tonight.”

“Busy?” Briseis asked, sounding incredulous. “Over the holidays?”

“Yeah, said a friend from back home is in Boston looking at schools and they’re going to have dinner together. Him and his friend’s family, I mean. He’s a junior right now.”

“Ah. Makes sense. Damn, I remember those days when I had to travel all around the country looking at schools. I really don’t miss it, though I’d choose that over doing the whole application process again. Anyway, I’m getting off topic. If he’s busy tonight, just give it to him tomorrow. Like I said, it’s not like he’ll mind.”

Patroclus bit his lip. “Alright. Makes sense. Thanks, Bri.”

“No problem, you love-struck idiot. And I’m glad you two figured your shit out. Let me know if you need any advice on kissing him again.”

“Bri!” Patroclus yelped, but she’d already laughed and hung up.

He sighed and taped on his hand-made holiday card resolutely.

Tomorrow it was, then.

 

 

As it was, Patroclus found that he couldn’t even wait until the night of Christmas Eve to present Achilles with the gift, so eleven in the morning saw him walking towards Achilles’s apartment with the mediocrely-wrapped package under his arm. He saw Odysseus walking towards Aege and waved at him.

“Hey, Pat!” Odysseus greeted. “Where are you headed?” He glanced at the gift in Patroclus’s arms. “Giving presents, eh? Who’s it for, a girl you fancy?”

Patroclus blushed. “No, it’s um, it’s for Achilles.”

Odysseus tilted his head, his eyes twinkling. “That’s what I said, a girl you fancy.”

“What – he’s not a girl!”

“Oh, so you do fancy him!”

Patroclus blushed harder. “Shut up.”

Odysseus laughed and punched his arm. “Ah, don’t worry, I’m not judging. I swear, everyone’s had a crush on him at some point but you’re the only one he’s really stuck with.” He winked. “You’re lucky, dude. Don’t lose him.”

“I’ll try not to,” Patroclus mumbled, feeling like his cheeks were on fire.

“Good man. Well, I’m headed to breakfast with Penelope right before she leaves today, so I’ll catch you later.”

“Yeah, see you.”

 

 

Patroclus arrived at Achilles’s apartment eleven minutes later (take that, Achilles, I beat you and I don’t even row) and walked up two floors to Achilles’s flat. Slightly winded when he reached it, he took a few seconds to catch his breath before ringing the bell, and a moment later the door opened to reveal a very disheveled Achilles, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

He blinked in surprise. “Patroclus?”

“Hello.” Patroclus blushed and shoved the gift forwards. “I got this for you.”

Achilles blinked again. “Oh. Thanks,” he said, looking quite surprised as he took it awkwardly and yawned. “Sorry, had a late night. Um. Come in?” He stepped to the side, holding the door open.

“Uh, sure,” Patroclus said just as awkwardly. “I mean, if you’re not busy…you look like you’ve just gotten up, sorry for waking you. If I did actually wake you, I mean.”

Achilles waved off his concerns. “Nah, don’t worry about it. It’s about time for me to get up anyway, so thanks for the wake-up call.” He led Patroclus to the small kitchen. “Do you want anything to eat? Or drink?” He put the gift down on the table and opened the fridge. “I have beer.”

“Oh.” Patroclus blushed. “I mean, no thanks, I’m good.”

“You sure?” Achilles asked, his voice muffled from behind the fridge door. “Not even orange juice?”

“I’m good,” Patroclus said again, sitting down gingerly in one of the seats by the island and shedding his coat.

“Suit yourself,” Achilles said, reappearing with a large jug of juice and a granola bar. “There’s pulp in it.”

Patroclus wrinkled his nose. “Even more reason not to drink it.”

Achilles set the bottle down loudly, looking utterly aghast. “You don’t like pulp?”

“What, you do?”

“Pulp is the best thing in the world!”

Patroclus snickered. “Well, I’ll have to disagree with you on that.”

“Okay, well, not the best thing, but it definitely beats having no pulp,” Achilles said loftily, taking a big swig directly from the bottle. “Guess I have this all to myself, then.”

“Go ahead.” Patroclus chuckled again.

Now munching on his granola bar, Achilles glanced at the gift sitting about two feet away. “Mind if I open that now?”

“That’s for Christmas,” Patroclus said.

Achilles shrugged, already reaching for it. “So? It’s Christmas in Australia.”

“And it’s Christmas Eve here,” Patroclus retorted.

“It’s my present now,” Achilles said with a brilliant grin.

“Not if I take it back,” Patroclus shot back.

Achilles looked deeply horrified and clutched the package to his chest. “You wouldn’t!”

Patroclus laughed. “No, I wouldn’t. Fine, open it, you impatient walnut.”

“Impatient walnut, huh?” Achilles mused, but he looked utterly thrilled, putting down his half-eaten granola bar and pushing the bottle of juice away from him as he began to carefully remove the tape holding the wrapping paper together.

Patroclus watched for a few moments, amused, before speaking. “Are you planning on reusing this wrapping paper or something?”

Achilles gave him a look. “Stop judging me.”

Patroclus laughed and shook his head. “Whatever. There’s a card on the other side.”

“A card?” Achilles looked even more thrilled. He flipped it over and again very carefully, removed it from where it was attached to the wrapping paper.

“My drawing skills leave much to be desired,” Patroclus said, slightly embarrassed as he caught a glimpse of his wobbly lettering and sad attempt at drawing a wintery backdrop which looked more than a little pathetic (which was really quite astonishing, considering the backdrop consisted mostly of just snow-covered ground), but Achilles didn’t seem to care.

“It’s wonderful,” he said sincerely, his eyes glowing as he read the card almost as much as Patroclus’s cheeks were glowing red as he remembered what he’d written. Something along the lines of ‘thanks for putting up with me, you’re a super good friend and I really enjoy spending time with you and I hope we can hang out even more because I really like it’ except in more explicit, embarrassing terms.

Sometimes his writing skills left much to be desired, too.

And then Achilles finally opened the present and let out a gasp of such wonder and astonishment that Patroclus felt his cheeks catch fire.

“It’s amazing,” Achilles whispered, still staring at the CD as if he’d never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life. “It’s Chopin and Van Cliburn – oh my God, Patroclus, how in the world did you know?”

Patroclus shuffled his feet. “I um, I may have asked around,” he mumbled.

“This is the best thing in the world,” Achilles said, still whispering. “And it’s a vinyl CD too – I took my CD’s home over Thanksgiving so I could keep listening to them and completely forgot to bring them back but now I have a new one to listen to – holy shit Patroclus, this is amazing!”

“It’s not that big a deal,” Patroclus said, feeling slightly awkward and embarrassed but also pleased that Achilles really did seem to like it.

“It’s the best thing anyone could’ve gotten me,” Achilles said sincerely. “Literally. I could kiss you right now.”

Patroclus spluttered for a few moments before he finally managed to say anything remotely coherent, and that was just one word. “Um.”

He’d hoped to convey many messages in his spluttering and stammering and blushing like yes Achilles please do and oh God I really wouldn’t mind that at all and about time, as Bri would say and Jesus I’ve been thinking about doing this for months and I don’t know if you could tell but I really really really like you and this is what I meant when I said I wouldn’t mind if you invaded my personal space.

Achilles, however, seemed to have completely missed the impact his words had on Patroclus; his eyes were widening in horror and he clapped his hand over his open mouth in dismay. “Shit, Patroclus, I don’t –” he said, and breaking off, dashed off into his room, leaving Patroclus sitting by the island counter like a (still) spluttering tomato.

Achilles was gone for a few minutes, during which Patroclus became increasingly worried and wondered if this was a cue for him to leave, but then he reemerged holding a battered-looking stuffed animal that, if you squinted and tilted your head, might have once resembled a wolf.

“Introducing Wolfie,” Achilles announced dramatically. “Senior officer of the 107th’s official companion – senior officer meaning me, of course. Two dozen confirmed kills of various important people and over two hundred missions, the last of which was when he helped take down HYDRA’s leader. Captain America’s favorite dog, mostly because he’s cute, but also because he helped him rescue Bucky.” He looked down and shuffled his feet awkwardly. “Um. I was obsessed with Marvel comics when I was little.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows, amused. “I see.”

Achilles gave him a slightly sheepish grin. “I’d imagine battles with him, y’know. I’d be the best, of course; I reckoned I was even better than Cap himself. We’d take on the Germans and we’d take on HYDRA, and when Cap formed his Howling Commandos I was the first he picked since I was so good. I imagined that we’d go all over Europe and infiltrate German bases, and Wolfie here was always right by my side, ripping and tearing all the way through. And in the real world…well, in the real world he was my one trusty companion that I knew I would be able to come home to…you know, when everything gets to be too much and you just gotta step back and be by yourself a bit. Except in my case it was me and Wolfie, which is why I brought him to college. I mean, I’ve moved beyond pretending battles, but I’ll look at him and remember what it was like to be that naïve and carefree. He was fierce, you know.”

“I bet he was,” Patroclus laughed.

Achilles bit his lip and held the stuffed animal out to Patroclus. “Happy holidays.”

Patroclus blinked. “Huh?”

Achilles shook the stuffed animal at him. “Take him. He’s yours now.”

“What – Achilles, no! He’s special to you, he’s part of your childhood!”

Achilles shrugged. “Yeah? And?”

“And…you love him!” Patroclus said.

“Yeah? And?”

“And? And so I can’t just…just take him!”

Achilles shook his head. “You’re not just taking him, Patroclus. I’m giving him to you. I want you to have him.” He suddenly looked embarrassed. “He was special to me, and he still is, but I’m trusting that you’ll take good care of him. Even though he’s ripping at the seams a bit. I uh…he was kinda a part of me when I was younger. I wouldn’t go anywhere without him. And I…I want you to be able to always have that. I mean, part of me.” He blushed. “If you want.”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked, and then also blushed, taking the stuffed animal. Wolfie. “I’d be honored.” He bit his lip and did his best to look and sound casual. “So who are you gonna go home to now when everything gets to be too much?”

“Still Wolfie, I guess,” Achilles said, grinning crookedly. “Except now I guess he’ll be with you.”

“Guess you’ll be seeing a lot more of me, then,” Patroclus said, slightly breathless.

“Yeah, I guess.” Achilles paused. “I’m assuming that’s alright with you?”

“Yeah of course,” Patroclus said, too quickly.

Achilles’s grin widened. “Perfect,” he said. He glanced at the clock on the microwave. “It’s almost noon, have you eaten yet?”

Patroclus shook his head. “Woke up too late for breakfast and too early for lunch.”

“And you still refused to eat anything I offered you,” Achilles said disapprovingly.

Patroclus shrugged and didn’t say anything.

“Well, are you hungry?” Achilles pressed.

“Um. Not really.”

“Uh-huh. Right. Well you’re at my place and seeing as this is an actual functioning apartment and not a sad little dorm room with nothing in it, I’m not gonna stand for letting you come and stay without eating anything. So what do you want? I can make grilled cheese, pasta, a salad if you’re into being healthy, a few different kinds of soup…or you know what? Let’s go out to eat.”

“No,” Patroclus said quickly, and then winced. “I mean, I’d love to but I’m poor.”

“No worries, I’ll pay,” Achilles said casually. “Let me just change into something presentable.”

“No!” Patroclus exclaimed, and then bit his lip. “I can’t…I’d feel bad.”

Achilles snorted, already pulling his shirt over his head even though he was still in the kitchen, albeit walking towards his room. “You’ve been studying all semester, Patroclus,” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared into his room. “You deserve something better than what I can come up with. Besides, I’m feeling like Chinese. There’s a really good Sichuan place I know – we can call an Uber. Don’t worry about the price, I’ll cover it.”

“Achilles,” Patroclus pleaded.

“Patroclus,” Achilles whined back, and Patroclus grumbled and heaved an enormous sigh.

“Admit it,” Achilles said, coming back out of his room in jeans and a fresh shirt. “You deserve something better than what some mediocre college chef can whip up, and not just because you’ve been studying for months and probably aced all your tests. So if you say you’re poor – good thing I’m here, eh?”

Patroclus grumbled again, and Achilles laughed.

“Okay, so if we go out to lunch, what am I supposed to do with Wolfie?”

Achilles paused. “Hm. Good question. You can leave him here for now and I’ll bring him over when I come to see you next time.”

Patroclus sighed. “Fine. I just…I feel bad making people pay for me,” he said.

“You’re not making me though,” Achilles pointed out, pulling on a thick jacket and handing Patroclus his even though it was just draped over the back of his chair. “I want to. Plus I’ll be busy for a bit doing something later this afternoon so I want to spend time with you while I can.”

“What’s this afternoon?” Patroclus asked, deciding to ignore for now the fact that Achilles said he wanted to spend a lot of time with him because he didn’t think he could handle it.

Achilles shrugged. “Just…stuff,” he said, gesturing vaguely. “Anyway, c’mon. I called an Uber when I was in my room and according to the app he’ll be outside in two minutes.”

Well he couldn’t very well ask Achilles to pay the cancellation fee too, now could he? So Patroclus followed Achilles out the door.

 

 

After lunch which was really quite good, Achilles called another Uber to take them back from the restaurant and dropped Patroclus off at his dorm first.

“I’ll see you later,” Achilles said. “Are you going to be free in about two hours?”

“Um, I think so, why?”

“No reason,” Achilles said with a grin. “See you, Patroclus.”

Mystified, Patroclus waved goodbye and went back to his room…

…the door of which Achilles knocked on two hours later, as promised.

It was also the door that Patroclus yanked open too quickly in excitement, nearly hitting himself on the head in the process.

“Whoa there,” Achilles laughed.

“Sorry,” Patroclus mumbled. “Got overexcited.”

“Overexcited to see me? Aw, I’m honored!”

Patroclus gave him a look. “Shut up.”

Achilles grinned and leaned against the doorframe. “But really, Patroclus, what are you excited about? I want to share in your happiness, you know.”

Patroclus felt his cheeks reddening. As usual. “Just…never mind. Doesn’t matter.”

Achilles looked amused. “Alright. So…can I come in?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, of course,” Patroclus said, and stepped back to let him in. “Um. Have a seat…uh, hold on, let me move my stuff, sorry.” He closed the door and hurriedly tossed his jacket onto a shelf and moved his laptop from his bed back onto his desk.

Achilles grinned. “Um. Wolfie, as promised,” he said, holding out the battered stuffed animal. “And um, I got you something else.” He held out a wrapped package. “I had everything when you came over, I just hadn’t had a chance to wrap it or make the card yet. Which is why I freaked out. And also why I was busy the last two hours.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said.

“Wanna open it?”

Patroclus laughed. “Now? Damn, you’re impatient.”

Achilles grinned and shrugged. “I want to see your reaction. I have told you you’re cute, right?”

Patroclus blushed bright red. “Fine, fine, I’ll open it.” He sat down on his bed and Achilles sat down next to him, grinning in anticipation, so Patroclus took his own sweet time opening the package and reading the card.

“Oh, hurry up!” Achilles urged.

Sighing and shaking his head in amusement, Patroclus peeled off the last piece of tape and folded back the paper, and then abruptly burst out laughing.

My underwear!” he gasped out. “Oh my God, Achilles, is this from the Head of the Charles?”

Achilles looked like he was struggling to hold back laughter. “Um. Perhaps? I washed it, don’t worry! And I’ve got a clean pack in my room in case you don’t want this one back.”

“Holy shit, Achilles! This is hilarious! Don’t worry, I don’t mind getting it back. You did say it was very comfortable.” Still laughing, Patroclus took his underwear out of the package and picked up the next item; a very high-definition picture of a very fat pigeon.

“From our first date,” Achilles explained with a grin. “Pigeons and worms and afterlives, remember? I saw this chubby little dude when I was out with the team one day and he reminded me of that, so I figured I’d take a picture and give you a print-out of it for the holidays.”

Patroclus snorted. “Glad to know our first date can be summed up by fat pigeons.”

Achilles laughed. “Could be worse. But go on; there’s one more thing.”

And indeed there was; it was a yellowish book called The Onion and Philosophy which Patroclus had seen at the Trident but hadn’t found the time or money to buy.

“How did you know?” Patroclus asked, somewhat awe-struck that Achilles had managed to get him the very specific book that he’d just glanced at for a few moments.

Achilles looked very pleased with himself. “I just happened to look over and saw you reading the summary and smiling, and thought that there was nothing in the world more beautiful and pure than your smile. Of course, you’ve smiled a bunch more times since then,” he added with a shrug, oblivious to Patroclus’s spluttering and choking at his casual compliment, “but when I was thinking of what to get you I remembered that and thought, why not?” He grinned, and Patroclus, though struggling to catch his breath after hearing that Achilles thought his smile was beautiful and pure, thought that if Achilles thought his smile was beautiful and pure there was no way he’d ever looked in the mirror.

“I thought I’d get you something from that first moment when I realized I really do like you, so when I was last here I looked around just to see if you’d gotten it already,” Achilles continued. “I didn’t see it and figured that if you hadn’t gotten it by three months later, chances are you wouldn’t have gotten it by Christmas, either.”

I really do like you.

Holy.

Shit.

Okay, if this went on, Patroclus would be needing a respirator to breathe pretty soon.

Achilles tilted his head, concern furrowing his brow. “Patroclus?”

Patroclus realized that he’d frozen with his mouth half open and forced his tongue to work. “I’m fine,” he said. “I just…me too. I mean, the liking part. I mean, I like…I like you. Not myself. Because that would be narcissistic. I mean, I like myself too, obviously, like I’m pretty pleased with myself – I mean, I’m fine with who I am so yeah I like myself, but not like that, because that would be weird.” He was babbling, and Achilles was laughing.

“Okay, okay, Patroclus, just take it easy,” he chuckled.

Patroclus clamped his mouth shut, his face flaming red. “Thanks for the gifts,” he said.

“And the card? Read the card,” Achilles said.

“What, is there something embarrassing in there that you’re super excited to laugh at?”

“Just read it,” Achilles insisted.

“Alright, alright. Stubborn arse,” Patroclus grumbled, and Achilles laughed again.

He pulled out the card from under the package, raising his eyebrows enviously at the ridiculously neat lettering.

“I got Penelope to help me,” Achilles explained.

“Makes sense,” Patroclus said. “I was wondering how you’d gotten it so neat.”

“Oh, shut up,” Achilles grinned, bumping his shoulder. “I did the inside myself though. Didn’t need anyone else’s help to think of what to say to you.”

And that made the contents of the card all the more embarrassing, even though Patroclus felt a thrill of excitement and pleasure run up his spine as he read the words.

 

My dearest, Patroclus,

Haha, did you get that reference? It’s from Hamilton, and I swear if you haven’t heard that yet I will force you to listen to it as soon as possible since I have it on my phone and on my laptop and on Spotify and also I may or may not have the illegal bootleg of it saved too :P

 

Patroclus had, in fact, heard it, and was actually quite fond of it. He also knew exactly which part Achilles was talking about.

My dearest, Angelica…

Ahem. Anyway.

 

So happy holidays! I’ll admit I was super pumped when you told me that you were gonna be on campus since I was freaking out before, I was like holy shit! Am I going to have to spend an entire month without seeing his face? And what if I run out of underwear again? Holy shit!!!

But then you kindly informed me that that wouldn’t be the case (also what the hell is the English language I hate it when I have to use ‘that that’) and I could breathe again. Don’t mention this to Automedon or Ajax; they wouldn’t stop teasing me about it. But anyway, I really hope you like what I got you since I really did put a lot of effort into it, especially washing the underwear. I mean it was clean and I’d washed it right after HOCR but still, just wanted to make sure. Haha.

Anyway (shit, I used ‘anyway’ again!) I really feel that as part of our New Year’s Resolutions we should start a snapchat streak. I was completely confused as to why we didn’t have one already and then I realized that you don’t really use snapchat, but we can fix that! I mean, only if you want to, of course, I’m not gonna make you do anything you don’t want to. And that includes spending time with me. Except I figure at this point that you enjoy it.

But that’s okay! I enjoy it too! Okay, off-topic, but dude seriously, this is probably the longest card I’ve ever made for anyone including my dad for Father’s Day when I was younger. And probably longer than the card I made for the other people in my boat the last day of practice senior year of high school. And also probably longer than –

 

Here, there was an arrow pointing to the edge of the paper, and Patroclus flipped the card over to keep reading.

 

– the card I made for this girl I was completely in love with during middle school. Guess I just love you more, huh?

Back to the point. What I was saying was, I know we’ve been spending a lot of time together first semester and I really hope we can continue doing that since you’re such a fun person to be around. You’re super smart, dude, I can’t say that enough! But that’s not the only reason I like hanging out – you’re just a wonderful person to be around and seeing you brightens my day every time. Except for when you tell me that you didn’t eat. Then it makes my day worse. You gotta work on that, Patroclus.

So um…I said happy holidays, right? I’m pretty sure I did. Yep, I did. I hope you’re not gonna get too homesick without going back for a few months, but if you do, let me know! I’ll find something fun for us to do and hopefully you won’t feel too bad. I thought I’d miss CA a bit during the holidays since I won’t be able to see my friends or see that one giant Christmas tree they put up in the square or go to holiday parties on the beach, but with you here, how can I complain? Honestly, I could travel the world and not feel homesick at all as long as you were around. You feel like home, somehow.

Man, that got really emotional. Sorry :D But it’s the season of gift-giving, right? So here I am, giving you the gift of my admiration and adoration and friendship and everlasting loyalty. In addition to the more material stuff I got you, of course. Hope you like it.

So, uh, yeah. That’s it. I mean, I could say more, but I’m running out of space, and most of what I could say is just going into gushy little details about why I like you, so I’ll spare you that.

 

And then, crammed into the corner,

 

Your buddy,

Achilles

 

Patroclus thought he might explode with the strange gushy feeling building up in his chest. He closed the card but held onto it, looking down into his lap and biting his lip to stifle his grin.

“Thanks,” he said, trying to sound as sincere as possible.

Beside him, Achilles flashed him a smile. “I meant it,” he said. “All of it.”

“I know.” Patroclus hesitated.

Guess I just love you more, huh?

“All of it?” he asked.

Achilles looked very serious when he responded. “Yes.”

“Oh.” He blushed. “I feel…I feel like…compared to what you gave me, what I gave you was –”

“Utterly fantastic,” Achilles said. He reached out a hand as if to put it over Patroclus’s but then realized what he was doing and drew back. Patroclus tried not to be disappointed.

“It was utterly fantastic,” Achilles repeated. “I loved it. Honestly, you could’ve gotten me nothing and I wouldn’t care. Your friendship is enough, and really,” he said, now with a grin, “the value of a friendship shouldn’t be put into something so material, should it?”

“I guess not,” Patroclus admitted. Then, “Chopin?”

Achilles laughed. “Yeah. My favorite composer.”

“I’d taken you more for a pop and rock kinda guy, especially after hearing you jamming out to the Chainsmokers at formal.”

At formal, where I kissed you.

Achilles laughed again and shook his head. “Nah. I mean, I do like pop and rock and R&B and shit, but at the end of the day Chopin’s still the best. He’s how I got into piano, after all, and I just know the words to all the super hype songs on the radio because we erg to them.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said. He paused. “I want to hear you play.”

“Now?”

Patroclus shrugged. “Anytime.”

“Alright.” Achilles grinned, standing and holding out a hand. “C’mon, then. Let’s go to a practice room and I’ll play for you.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yes, really.” Achilles looked amused and he gave an extravagant bow that Patroclus thought he’d probably learned from theater. “Your wish is my command.”

“Well, I’m Prince Charming, so technically it should be the other way around,” Patroclus said, but he took Achilles’s hand anyway.

“True. Who said the princess can’t top?” Achilles asked, and Patroclus very nearly choked. “Kidding,” Achilles continued, seemingly oblivious to Patroclus’s plight as he led him out of his room and down the hall towards the door. “I like to think I’m flexible.”

Patroclus tried to force himself to breathe properly.

He didn’t really succeed.

 

 

“So, what do you want to hear?” Achilles asked, closing the practice room door behind them.

Patroclus shrugged. “Whatever you want to play.”

“Alright.” Achilles looked thoughtful as he sat down on the piano bench. “I’ll play my favorite Chopin nocturne and then my favorite Chopin etude, and then we’ll go from there. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Patroclus said, sitting down in the corner and wrapping his arms around his knees.

Achilles chuckled. “You can sit on the chair, y’know. I don’t mind having an audience.”

Patroclus shook his head. “I’m alright. Just – ” He waved his hand at the keyboard.

Achilles laughed again, but didn’t argue. The smile faded from his face to be replaced by a look of concentration; he put his hands in his lap, looking down at the keyboard, distant, but when he finally lifted his fingers to the keys and began to play, Patroclus felt closer to his heart than he had ever been.

It was like magic, the way emotions flowed through the air in a way Patroclus had never experienced before. The piece was soft, melodic, and beautiful, but not exactly in the way he expected classical music to be; it was more nuanced than that. It was calming and soothing but at the same time entwined with so many rich harmonies and expressions and tortured dissonances resolving to brilliant harmonies and devastatingly sad passages weaving in out of shimmering joy that Patroclus really didn’t understand how anyone could consider anything like this boring or simple or fall asleep to it.

And when he watched Achilles, watched the emotions flitting across his face, watched his fingers flutter and dance lightly across the keys, watched the way he seemed to become a part of the music itself, there was something so beautiful, so pure, so elegant and timeless that he seemed to be an otherworldly being, and Patroclus couldn’t help but wonder what he did to deserve the attention from someone like Achilles.

The piece drifted to a close, Achilles’s touches seemingly becoming feather-light but still managing to produce a sound that resonated through the room as clearly as the sound of a small pebble falling into the waters of a still, silent lake.

And then there was silence, and it was a silence so profound and powerful that Patroclus held his breath, afraid to break it, until Achilles lifted his hands to the keys once more.

And this time it was all precision and barely contained energy. His fingers moved in a blur of devilish delight and demonic mania, leaping off of the keys as if they burned him. It was a frenzied dance, the tension building seemingly without end even though the piece lasted barely two minutes. His fingers flashed and the piano churned out something that was feverish and hectic in energy but organized and precise in sound before the entire piece drew to a dramatic close.

Patroclus heard clapping, and slowly he became aware that it was coming from himself. Achilles glanced at him, blushing slightly.

“It’s not that big a deal,” he mumbled.

“Not a big deal? What the hell? That was amazing!”

Achilles grinned. “They’ve been my favorite pieces by Chopin since forever – Nocturne Op. 27 No. 2 and Etude Op. 10 No. 4. Tried to learn them when I was just a kid but my hands were a tad too small to be able to play them technically well and I think I wasn’t in touch with my emotions enough to be able to play them artistically well.” He shrugged, looking slightly self-conscious. “I just hope I’ve done them justice now. Too many people play his pieces and too few play them well.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about piano, but that sounded much better than just ‘well,’” Patroclus said.

“Maybe. Anyway, I feel like this piano is better suited to accompany singers with the way it’s voiced; I think this is the practice room some chorus groups use. My bad.”

“But you can sing, right?” Patroclus asked. “Sing something.”

Achilles tilted his head in confusion, and Patroclus gestured towards the piano.

“Sing something. And accompany yourself if you happen to know the sheet music.”

“Oh.” Achilles’s confused furrow cleared. “I know a bit of Ed Sheeran, don’t know if you’re into him.”

“Anything,” Patroclus said with a grin.

Achilles mirrored his grin. “Alright. Give Me Love by Ed Sheeran, coming right up.”

Shit, Patroclus thought, as he finished the (quite lengthy) intro and began to sing, leave some talent for the rest of us.

Because damn was he good at piano, but his voice – especially now that it wasn’t corrupted by an entire bottle of champagne and a few shots of vodka, and even then it was beautiful – gave his piano skills a run for their money.

“Give me love like her,” Achilles sang, his voice soft and rich and enchanting. “‘Cause lately I've been waking up alone…paint splattered teardrops on my shirt…told you I'd let them go…and that I'll fight, my, corner, maybe tonight, I'll, call ya after my blood turns into alcohol…no, I just wanna hold ya.”

And then he turned to face Patroclus, something in his expression that Patroclus was afraid to think was really there, because he couldn’t bear the thought of thinking it was and later finding out that it wasn’t.

“Give a little time to me or burn this out…we'll play hide and seek to turn this around…all I want is the taste that your lips allow…my, my, my, my, oh give me love…my, my, my, my, oh give me love…”

And then, as he sang, as he pleaded for love, and even as the song ended on slow, soft, hymn-like verses, Patroclus felt that same thing that he’d felt that time Achilles had asked him to formal and they’d slow-danced to the Chainsmokers, that feeling that was like a strange warmth in his chest that was a bit like tugging and a bit like fire that burned so fierce and good that he never wanted it to stop.

“A man may drink and not be drunk, a man may fight and not be slain, a man may court a pretty girl, and perhaps be welcomed back again, but since it has so ought to be, by a time to rise and a time to fall, come fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all.”

Achilles met Patroclus’s eyes, the corners of his lips curving up into a grin as the last chord faded away into silence.

“Good night and joy be with you all.”

Patroclus let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “That was amazing,” he said. “As usual. Shouldn’t have expected anything different.”

Achilles looked quite pleased with himself, albeit slightly embarrassed. “I can sing Troye Sivan too,” he said, and Patroclus’s eyes brightened.

“Really?”

Achilles laughed. “Yeah. You know for him.?”

“Yes!” Patroclus exclaimed. “I love that one!” And not just because it reminded him of Achilles.

“Great! Thought it suited us pretty well, and I’m glad you like it. I actually did a cover of this back home with some of my friends who were trying to form a band, I think I have the instrumental still saved somewhere…” He took out his phone and scrolled feverishly through what Patroclus assumed was his music app.

Patroclus frowned. “Instrumental? Aren’t you going to play it on the piano?”

“Nah, it doesn’t get quite the right effect. At least not with this song. Hold on…here it is!” He leapt to his feet and held out a hand to Patroclus. “C’mon, we’ll sing a duet!”

“A – what?” Patroclus practically shrieked. “I can’t sing!”

“Doesn’t matter about what notes you hit, as long as you’re passionate and confident,” Achilles said, grinning, as he began to play the instrumental track from his phone. “C’mon, Patroclus! We are runnin' so fast, and we never look back, and whatever I lack, you make up,” he sang, sounding remarkably like Troye Sivan for how similar he sounded to Ed Sheeran just a few minutes ago. “We make a really good team, and not everyone sees, we got this crazy chemistry between us…”

“No,” Patroclus moaned as Achilles pulled him to his feet, putting their hands together.

“Aw, c’mon Patroclus! It’s just me,” Achilles said, his eyes shining. “It’s a bit hard of a song to slow-dance to, but we managed to make it work with the Chainsmokers!” He laughed, and jumped back into the song. “– new clichés on our own little tour, let’s ride…you don’t have to say I love you to say I love you! Forget all the shooting stars and all the silver moons…we’ve been making shades of purple out of red and blue…sickeningly sweet like honey, don’t need money, all I need is, you!” Achilles laughed and held Patroclus close. “All I need is you, you.” He gave Patroclus’s hand a squeeze. “Your turn!”

“Aw man,” Patroclus groaned, but he couldn’t disappoint the brilliant smile that was currently dazzling his eyes so he threw away whatever dignity he had left and began half mumbling, half singing. “…Staying up late but we both are light weights, yeah we get off our face too easy…and we take jokes way too far, and sometimes living’s so hard, we’re like to halves of one heart, we are, we are, we are.”

“That’s it!” Achilles grinned, and joined him on the chorus. “You don’t have to say I love you to say I love you! Forget all the shooting stars and all the silver moons…we’ve been making shades of purple out of red and blue…sickeningly sweet like honey, don’t need money, all I need is, you…all I need is you, you!”

“I can’t rap,” Patroclus complained, as Achilles launched right into it with another laugh.

“Eat a pill stay and chill, you don’t need to go…I’m about to bring emo back if you leave my home, I’d panic at the disco and you’d rather watch a TV show, then I’ll squeeze your booty real hard like I’m kneading dough.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Patroclus blushed.

“Shut up, Achilles.”

“Oh, admit it,” Achilles laughed, “you don’t really mind.”

Patroclus pushed him but only halfheartedly since he didn’t really mean for Achilles to let go, and as if he’d read his mind, Achilles just held on tighter. “And if you break this lil’ heart, it’d be an honor.”

“Oh, would it?” Patroclus muttered.

“Of course it would,” Achilles said. “Break my heart, Patroclus. I’d be honored.”

“Shut up,” Patroclus said again, without any heat.

“Forget all the shooting stars and all the silver moons…we’ve been making shades of purple out of red and blue…sickeningly sweet like honey, don't need money, all I need is you…all I need is you, you,” Achilles finished, and Patroclus mustered up the courage to finish the song with him because he really was kind of starting to enjoy himself, he was just a bit too proud to admit it so he’d pass it off as an attempt to not leave Achilles hanging since he was a good person who didn’t want to do mean things like that.

“You lied,” Achilles said as they finished the song, and his voice was soft. “You have a great voice. When you’re not mumbling, of course.”

Patroclus gave him a look, but couldn’t stop the corners of his lips from turning upwards and ducked his head down to avoid showing it because he somehow still had a little dignity left. He was also very aware of the fact that Achilles still hadn’t let go of him, even though the music had stopped and was progressing onto another song which Patroclus didn’t recognize. Achilles’s hands were gentle on his waist, the planes of muscle on his chest somehow still soft against Patroclus’s own chest and the curve of his back fitting neatly against Patroclus’s hands, his cheek warm and comforting where it brushed against Patroclus’s forehead.

He wondered if Achilles would mind if Patroclus kissed him now.

Then he wondered if he himself had the courage to kiss Achilles in the first place, and his heart jumped at the very thought.

No, he told himself. Definitely not. And who was to say Achilles wanted to kiss him, anyway? There would be no way he’d know for sure unless Achilles kissed him first but that hadn’t happened before and the one time he’d even made the slightest hint that he’d be okay with it, Patroclus had scared him off so chances were he wouldn’t try again.

No, the only way to know was if he asked.

But he couldn’t. No way. What would he say?

Hey Achilles, wanna kiss me? Or maybe, Hey Achilles, can I kiss you? Or better yet, Hey Achilles, would you mind if I attacked you with my mouth and pushed you against the wall and kissed the sense out of you the way I’ve been wanting to do for months, or is that a bit too much?

Actually, that last one didn’t seem to bad. The beginning part, of course. Hey Achilles, would you mind if I kissed you?

Oh, fuck. He felt the blush rising in his cheeks, felt his heartbeat speed up in his chest. The second one was the worst of the two; with how close they were standing, there was no way Achilles didn’t feel that too, and sure enough, when he glanced upwards, Achilles was looking at him with a slightly concerned expression.

“Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” Patroclus said, too quickly.

They stared at each other for a few moments, and then Patroclus flushed redder and looked down. He was very aware that Achilles still hadn’t let go of him.

“You’re very red,” Achilles observed after a few more moments.

“I know,” Patroclus said, again too quickly.

And like before, there was another awkward pause.

Ask him, a little voice in his mind that sounded very suspiciously like Briseis prodded.

No,” he hissed emphatically.

“Huh?”

“Oh,” he said, wincing. “Um. Nothing.”

“Oh,” Achilles echoed. “Alright.”

The music that Patroclus didn’t know was still playing in the background. It wasn’t anything with vocals, but it sounded like it could be an instrumental cover of a pop song. Presently, Achilles began humming along softly to it, and Patroclus’s heart stuttered as the vibrations from Achilles’s voice shook him to his core.

Ask him! The voice was much more insistent now, and Patroclus winced again.

He became aware that he was swaying gently to the music, though mostly because Achilles was swaying gently and he was wrapped so tightly in Achilles’s arms that he didn’t really have a choice.

Do I ask him?

Of course you ask him, dumbass!

But what if he…

Just shut up and ask! He’ll say yes!

For a moment, Patroclus was genuinely afraid that Briseis had somehow managed to hack into his brain to send him these messages, but then he remembered that because Briseis was a film major and was terrible with technology that had to do with programming, that was highly unlikely.

Just ask him!! The voices practically shouted as the song ended and faded into silence.

“Would you –”

“We should –”

They’d spoken at the same time. Patroclus broke off, blushing.

“You first,” Achilles said.

“No,” Patroclus almost-yelled, feeling a rush of panic. “No, you first.”

Achilles frowned and tilted his head. “Um. Okay. Well, I was going to say, we should go to dinner soon.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, also frowning. “It’s still kind of early.”

“We can go later if you want,” Achilles said with a slightly sheepish grin. “I’m just kinda hungry. Rowers eat a lot, you know.”

Patroclus snorted. “Yeah. Coxswains too, apparently, if Automedon is anything to go by.”

Achilles laughed, shaking his head. “He’s a weird one. Anyway, what were you going to say?”

“Nothing,” Patroclus said quickly, blushing again. “Doesn’t matter, it was a stupid question.”

Stupid. As if Achilles would’ve said yes.

“There are no stupid questions,” Achilles said with another frown.

“Well, now there’s one,” Patroclus said, a little more sharply than he’d intended to hide his embarrassment, and he took a moment to regain control of his voice. “It doesn’t matter,” he repeated.

Still, Achilles looked unconvinced. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Patroclus said, forcing a grin. “Now c’mon, are you hungry or not?”

That certainly seemed to gain Achilles’s full attention. He let go of Patroclus and turned to open the door for him, giving an extravagant bow which earned him a very exaggerated eye-roll, and they walked to Aege for dinner.

So, yeah. Patroclus had just barely managed to muster up the courage to ask Achilles to kiss him, and he’d chickened out.

But as Achilles was walking right next to him, Patroclus, on a wave of courage, stepped closer so that their hands brushed against each other, and Achilles gave him a smile and made no move to pull away.

That had to count for something, right?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Patroclus was once again in the library the day before New Year’s Eve, reading The Lord of the Rings for about the fifteenth time since there wasn’t anything to study for over break, when his phone buzzed with a message from Achilles.

 

              A: Hey Patroclus! Where are you and are you free?

 

Patroclus read through the rest of the page until the end of the chapter before he responded.

 

              P: Library, and yes I’m free

 

Gandalf and the Eagles had just saved the day, after all, and the Nazgul were doomed to fall. Middle Earth could wait a few hours, especially if it was for Achilles.

 

              A: Dope

             

              A: I’m headed over, see you in a few!

 

Patroclus sighed and stretched, putting his book back into his backpack. He sent Achilles a snap of the table in front of him before he forgot to maintain the streak – they were on their fourth day now, which made him very proud, since he rarely ever made it past three.

Actually, he rarely ever made it to three.

But that was going to change with Achilles. Patroclus was determined to at least make it to a week with him.

Patroclus sighed again and was debating whether or not he should just leave the library and meet Achilles where it was more comfortable and where there was maybe food when said person appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Patroclus!” Achilles greeted happily, as excited as if he hadn’t seen him for a month.

“Hello,” Patroclus said.

Achilles held out a brown bag. “Figured you hadn’t eaten lunch yet since you were in the library, so I brought you some stuff. A few friends back home sent me a care package when they heard I wasn’t coming back for break; there’s some great stuff in there. Homemade cookies, brownies, some alcohol, y’know. And actual food too, of course, but that’s from my place.” He grinned, looking very proud of himself.

“Oh,” Patroclus said, surprised and quite touched. He took the bag and opened it so he could peer inside; sure enough, there were a few wrapped items which he assumed were cookies and brownies, a can of cheap beer, two Starbursts, three Hershey kisses, a Tupperware with what looked like a grilled cheese sandwich in it, a thermos, and a folded paper napkin. “Thank you,” he said, as genuinely as he could. Achilles was correct in guessing he hadn’t eaten yet, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise at this point.

Achilles practically leapt into the chair next to Patroclus. “So, what’s up?”

“Um. Not much,” Patroclus said, taking out a Tupperware and the thermos. “Just reading.”

“Reading what?”

Lord of the Rings,” Patroclus said absentmindedly, opening the thermos to discover a delicious-smelling tomato soup. “Whoa,” he said, much less absentmindedly.

Achilles grinned widely. “I made it,” he said, extremely proud. “My dad used to make it when I was little and then he switched jobs and had a whole lot less time so he taught me how to make it instead.” He gave a small laugh. “It’s probably the fanciest thing I know how to make, honestly.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows, opening the Tupperware and taking out half a sandwich. “You said last week you could make a whole lot of things.”

Achilles looked a little sheepish. “Well, it’s the fanciest thing I know how to make well.”

“Ah.” Patroclus grinned back, dipping the corner of the grilled cheese into the soup and taking a bite, letting out what was probably a very NSFW-sounding moan as the sharp, rich flavors filled his mouth. He took another, much-larger bite; he hadn’t realized how hungry he was.

“This is so good,” he said, looking at Achilles and surprised to see he had turned bright red.

“Um.” Achilles’s voice squeaked a little, and he stopped to clear it. “Thanks,” he said, still sounding a little croaky.

Patroclus frowned. “You okay?”

“Me? Oh, yeah, definitely,” Achilles croaked, and cleared his throat again.

“Hm. Alright.” Patroclus shrugged and turned back to his sandwich; it was too good for him to think about anything else right now. He devoured the whole sandwich before reaching into the bag again for the napkin, and was delighted to discover a second Tupperware.

“You brought me two!” he exclaimed, pulling it out.

Achilles huffed a laugh. “Yeah. I did.” He was almost back to his normal color now.

“This is amazing!” Patroclus said, and began on the second sandwich.

Achilles laughed again and leaned back. “Well, I don’t want to distract you from your reading,” he said.

“I don’t mind,” Patroclus said through a mouthful of food. “You can stay. I mean, if you don’t mind just sitting here, since I’m almost done with the book and I’m at the part where the Eagles have just come to save everyone from the Nazgul and I don’t want to leave off at the intense part for too long.”

“Fine with me,” Achilles said with a shrug. He gestured at the food. “But eat first.”

“Oh, believe me, I am,” Patroclus mumbled, already finished with the second sandwich. He discovered a spoon wrapped in the napkin and was not surprised to find that the soup tasted just as good without the grilled cheese as with, and when he was finished with the soup, he wiped his hands clean on the napkin and pulled his book back out of his backpack.

Achilles leaned forward onto the table, folding his arms and resting his chin in the crook of his left elbow, eyes wide and bright as they looked at Patroclus.

“What?” Patroclus demanded after several minutes of watching Achilles stare at him out of the corner of his eye.

Achilles grinned and shrugged. “Nothing.”

Patroclus frowned and gave him a look, and Achilles laughed.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “Just read.”

“What, with you staring at me the whole time?”

“Does that bother you?”

Patroclus opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, and spoke. “Um. No, not really.”

“Then I don’t see the problem,” Achilles said with a kind of confident finality, and Patroclus really couldn’t argue with that so he just rolled his eyes and turned back to his book.

There wasn’t much left of it and he’d read it before so many times that he was able to finish it before the clock struck two.

“How was it?” Achilles asked when he closed the book and heaved an enormous sigh.

“Good, as always,” Patroclus said. “I’ve read it cover-to-cover over a dozen times already and a whole bunch more times in smaller chunks, but it somehow never gets old.” He put the book into his backpack and looked at Achilles. “So, what now?”

Achilles shrugged. “I dunno, I was thinking we could go to my apartment.”

“For what?”

Achilles shrugged again, sitting up and running a hand through his hair. “Just to hang out, I guess. That’s what friends do, right? And um, we were supposed to have a movie night,” he added slightly sheepishly, and Patroclus blushed; the thing with the anatomy and Patroclus being an asshole because he couldn’t deal with his feelings had happened a few days before they’d planned it, and since they hadn’t been talking to each other, the movie night had never happened.

“Oh,” he said instead of bringing up that whole embarrassing mess again. “I mean, yeah. We were.”

Achilles brightened. “So, my place?”

Patroclus stood, picking up his backpack and slinging it over his shoulders. “Yeah.”

“Great!” Achilles exclaimed. He picked up the brown back with the remains of Patroclus’s lunch and began heading back down the stairs. “Don’t worry, I’ll give this back once we get to my apartment. Just feel like I need to carry something, y’know?”

“You’re the princess,” Patroclus countered, following him.

“Yeah, and we said the princess tops,” Achilles said with a toothy grin, which widened when Patroclus flushed and ducked his head to avoid looking Achilles in the eye. “Anyway,” he continued, jumping down the last three stairs and landing with a light thump, “what do you want to watch? If you’re still in the Lord of the Rings mood even after finish all one-thousand-and-eight pages of it, I was thinking we could do a marathon?”

Patroclus stopped, his eyes widening. “Really?”

Achilles chuckled. “Yes, really. I own all of them in extended edition, including The Hobbit. But I feel like watching six extended edition movies of Lord of the Rings length might be a bit much, y’know? I mean, if each of them is…what, three hours? So six three-hour movies is literally an entire day.” He whistled. “Damn, that is a lot of content.”

Patroclus shrugged, pausing by the door to pull on his coat. “I don’t mind.”

“Well I do,” Achilles said, zipping up his jacket and pulling his hat down over his ears. “My sleep schedule is fucked up enough already, and I don’t need to be going nocturnal just yet. Still gotta go to the gym sometime, you know? Plus, I think the original trilogy is better.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Patroclus mumbled. They stepped out into the cold, and Patroclus shivered, burying his nose deep into his jacket. “Fuck,” he muttered. “What’s the temperature?”

“Um, I think around twenty? It’s supposed to be really cold for the next few days; I think tonight’s dropping down to below ten.”

Fuck,” Patroclus said, with more emotion.

Achilles laughed. “Poor little Patroclus. C’mon, let’s walk faster then.”

“Walking faster means more wind in my face,” Patroclus complained.

“And it also means warming up more and getting inside faster,” Achilles countered.

Okay, that was a good point, Patroclus had to admit. He grumbled into his jacket and sped up to keep up with Achilles, which was really quite difficult because he already felt like his legs were frozen and also because of the obvious reason that Achilles was very fit and Patroclus was, well, not.

Not that he was particularly unfit, just that he was probably about average and Achilles was basically a god.

At Achilles’s pace, they reached his apartment a bit less than ten minutes later, and Patroclus was so excited to finally be warm that he charged past Achilles and sprinted inside.

Achilles joined him by the stairs a few moments later, laughing. “You could join the track team,” he teased, brushing past him and taking the stairs by two.

“Oh, shut up,” Patroclus said, walking up after him and emerging at the top a little more winded than he had been last time, but then again, last time he hadn’t sprinted the last hundred meters to get into the building either.

“So you want popcorn?” Achilles asked as he fished his key out of his pocket and unlocked his door. He stepped back to let Patroclus in first and then closed the door behind him.

“It’ll be warm, right?”

Achilles laughed again, tossing his jacket onto one of the kitchen chairs and opening the cabinet above the microwave to pull out a bag of popcorn. “Yes, it’ll be warm. Here, you have a seat on the couch or something and I’ll make popcorn and get a blanket. Do you mind putting the movie in? They’re in the cabinet to the left of the screen; I think I left it on the second shelf.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows. “A DVD? I thought we were doing Netflix.”

“No way.” Achilles grinned from beside the microwave where the popcorn was already heating up; before long, Patroclus could hear a few distinct pops. “Nothing beats a good old-fashioned DVD. Plus, I don’t think the movies are even on Netflix. Not in the US, anyway.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Patroclus shed his jacket and shivered slightly as he opened the cabinet Achilles had specified; he found all three movies sitting on the second shelf and pulled out the first one before crouching down by the DVD player to try and figure out how it worked.

The microwave beeped just after Patroclus put the DVD into the player and switched the TV channel so it connected, and Achilles brought over the popcorn before going to get the blanket.

“I don’t feel like cooking, so we can just order in or something for dinner,” he announced, his voice fading temporarily as he disappeared into his room for a few moments to retrieve the blanket; he reappeared with what looked like his bed comforter bundled up in his arms. “Sorry,” he said, tossing it onto Patroclus and plopping down on the couch next to him, not looking sorry at all.

Patroclus stuck his tongue out at him and gathered the blanket up in his arms.

“Hey,” Achilles laughed, trying to pull some of it towards him as the opening music of the movie began to play. “Give me some, you burrito!”

“You gave it to me,” Patroclus shot back, his voice slightly muffled by the blanket. “Correction – you tossed it onto me.”

“Then I get all the popcorn,” Achilles said with a grin, pulling the bowl towards him.

“Hey, no way!” Patroclus yelped. He shoved the blanket towards Achilles. “Here, have your blanket, I get the popcorn.”

Achilles laughed, holding the bowl further away. “Come and get it then.”

Patroclus made a face at him, then lunged suddenly, but Achilles’s reflexes were fast and he jerked the bowl away. Patroclus tried again, hitting the tips of his fingers against the bowl and knocking a few pieces onto the ground by accident.

“Watch it,” Achilles laughed, bending down to pick them up, and when he was distracted Patroclus dove for the bowl, grabbing it and wrestling it from Achilles’s arms.

“I hate you,” Patroclus announced, crossing his legs on the couch and hugging the bowl to his chest with one hand as he began eating with the other hand.

“Aw, really?” Achilles asked with a grin that said he knew he really didn’t.

Patroclus nodded determinedly and put another piece of popcorn in his mouth. “Yes, I do.”

“No you don’t,” Achilles said, leaning over and looking up at Patroclus. “Can I have some popcorn?”

“Nope.”

“Please?” Achilles gave Patroclus his most pleading expression, and Patroclus very nearly cracked but was just able to shake his head.

And then Achilles pouted, his lips plush and red and kissable, and Patroclus really had to give in.

“Ugh, fine, you needy bastard,” he grumbled, holding out the bowl and unsuccessfully tried not to blush as Achilles grinned and scooted closer.

“This is why I like you, Patroclus,” he said, pulling the blanket around their shoulders and leaning more heavily against Patroclus as he reached for a handful of popcorn, and Patroclus blushed harder.

“Why, because I’m a pushover?”

Achilles laughed. “No, because I’ve gotta try to win you over.”

Okay, there really wasn’t any trying at all since Patroclus had been smitten by him basically ever since he saw him, but whatever. “Be quiet and watch the movie,” he said instead of responding, and Achilles huffed a laugh.

“I forget how slow the first movie starts,” Achilles said, as Gandalf’s fireworks exploded above the hobbits’ heads. “I’ve watched the other two the most and they’re basically all action.”

“And this isn’t?” Patroclus asked skeptically as the dragon dove towards the ground, sending the hobbits scattering.

Achilles rolled his eyes fondly. “I mean fighting.”

“Ah.” Patroclus shivered slightly; the apartment was heated but not as much as the dorms were, and he still hadn’t quite warmed up from being outside less than half an hour ago. He pulled the blanket tighter around himself and the popcorn.

“Here, give it,” Achilles said, taking the bowl and putting it in front of them on the table that he pulled closer to them. “You can bundle up tighter now.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows even as he pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders and wrapped his hands into its folds. “And how the hell am I supposed to be able to eat popcorn now?”

Achilles grinned, taking a piece and holding it out in front of Patroclus’s mouth. “I’ve got you covered.”

Patroclus, of course, blushed.

“Aw, c’mon, Patroclus,” Achilles laughed. “You’re cold, you bundle up, I’ve got everything else. Now do you want popcorn or not?”

Patroclus rolled his eyes and heaved an enormous, exaggerated sigh, but ultimately let Achilles feed him the piece of popcorn.

He resolutely did not think about how cheesy the situation was.

 

 

About halfway through the first movie, Achilles pulled the almost-empty bowl of popcorn into his lap and leaned his head on Patroclus’s shoulder.

Patroclus froze.

Achilles sensed it and drew back. “Sorry,” he said quickly, flushing pink. “I didn’t mean…I didn’t think…”

“No,” Patroclus said, too loudly. “I mean – it’s okay. Really. I don’t mind.”

“Oh.” Achilles sounded like he was still a bit unsure.

“I mean it, it’s fine,” Patroclus said, trying to sound as genuine as possible.

“Oh,” Achilles said again, slightly less unsure, and a few moments later he put his head back on Patroclus’s shoulder again.

Patroclus resolutely did not freak out.

He did, however, lean back into Achilles’s touch, and he felt Achilles’s smile against his shoulder.

 

 

About halfway through the second movie, Achilles announced that he was hungry and asked Patroclus what he wanted for dinner.

Patroclus, of course, said that he didn’t really care.

“Oh, c’mon, you’ve gotta have some preferences!”

Patroclus shrugged. “Whatever’s cheap, I guess.”

“Oh.” Achilles paused, seemingly remembering the last time he’d taken Patroclus out for a meal and how Patroclus had fought extremely hard to not have Achilles pay for anything. “But I really don’t mind paying, we could get something good.”

“No,” Patroclus said forcefully. “You’re not paying for me. Um. We could cook something?”

“Nothing to cook,” Achilles said, scraping up the last crumbs of popcorn in the bowl. “Hm. Well, if you’re insisting on paying for yourself, there’s a really good place that makes Vietnamese noodles and it’s pretty cheap, about five bucks per bowl. Sound good to you?”

Patroclus hesitated, and then nodded. “Yeah.”

“Great.” Achilles grinned, pulling up their website on his phone and clicking through to the menu. “Pick whatever. I personally recommend number twenty-five, but the choice is yours. I’ll give them a call and pay and stuff and if you really want to, you can Venmo me back.”

Patroclus had minimal experience with Vietnamese noodles, so he picked twenty-five.

 

 

About halfway through the third movie and long after they’d gotten and finished dinner, the clock struck twelve.

“It’s New Year’s Eve,” Achilles announced.

“So it is,” Patroclus agreed; it was technically December 31st now.

Achilles paused. “You wanna stay here tonight?”

“Huh?” Patroclus looked at Achilles incredulously.

“Stay here,” Achilles said with a very sincere smile. “The movie’s not going to be over for like another two hours, and do you really want to walk home at two in the morning on New Year’s Eve when it’s seven degrees out?”

Seven?” Patroclus yelped. Fuck that was cold. And ten minutes was a long walk in the cold.

Achilles laughed. “Yes, seven. I just checked the weather app. Which is faulty at the best of times, but for some reason I don’t think it’s too far off right now. Anyway, I have a guest bedroom and spare sheets, and you can head back tomorrow if you want when it’s brighter and warmer.”

“Oh.” Patroclus hesitated. “Are you sure?”

Achilles rolled his eyes. “No, I’m joking. Honestly, Patroclus, it’s not like you’re asking me to pay your college tuition. You’re a friend staying over so you don’t freeze to death outside.”

“I…I didn’t bring anything. Toothbrush, pajamas, y’know?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, I have spares. I mean, we’ve shared underwear before so it’s not a big deal, right?”

Patroclus hesitated, and then nodded. “Well…okay, yeah. Um. I appreciate it. Thanks.”

“No problem!” Achilles said brightly.

And that was how Patroclus got laid.

Just kidding.

That’s how Patroclus thought he got laid. After getting a change of clothes and a new toothbrush for him, Achilles had showed him to the guest room but then, as he’d turned to leave for the night, Patroclus had called him back. He’d mustered up the courage to tell him that he was utterly infatuated with him, and then Achilles had kissed him, and then Achilles had pushed him down on the bed and straddled his hips and smothered his body with his hands and lavished his skin with his tongue and just a little bit of teeth, and then somehow both of them were naked and Achilles was pulling out lube and a condom and spreading his legs, and then Achilles was inside of him and he was writhing and moaning and clutching at the bedsheets and crying out Achilles’s name as Achilles fucked him –

– and then he’d woken up and realized that he’d just had a wet dream.

Achilles showing him to the guest room had been real enough. Him turning to leave had also been real enough. Patroclus had just been too much of a wimp to tell him that he really really liked him and might even love him.

At least he hadn’t come onto the bedsheets, but it was a close call.

His hands traveled down his body to his thigh and he closed his eyes, wanting to get back to his dream so Achilles could just fuck him already but also knowing that if he did actually dream of Achilles fucking him he’d probably ruin Achilles’s sheets and be unable to look him in the eye for the rest of his life.

But at the same time, he was a horny teenager who had never gotten laid before. He had his needs.

So he took himself in his hand and stroked along his shaft, Achilles’s bright smile swimming behind his eyes, his touch searing his skin.

Oh, Achilles.

He kicked the sheets off of himself, flesh prickling at the sudden coldness of the air, and muffled his cries in the crook of his arm as he came.

 

 

“Morning, sleepyhead!”

Patroclus yawned and rubbed sleep from his eyes as he strolled into the kitchen; Achilles was already seated at the island and he slid the cereal and milk carton towards him as he approached. “Though it’s more like afternoon by now. Hope you don’t mind one percent milk.”

Patroclus shrugged, glancing at the clock to see that it was indeed two in the afternoon. He sat down in front of the second bowl and poured himself some of the milk before adding the Frosted Flakes.

Achilles raised his eyebrows. “Oh, so you’re a milk-first type of guy, huh?”

“Are you not?”

Achilles made a face. “I used to be, but then I discovered the merits of putting the cereal in first. Namely, that you don’t end up with too much milk and not enough cereal. Also that you can get milk on every piece of cereal without even having to stir it.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes and took a bite of cereal. “Next thing you know you’ll be saying you put toothpaste on your toothbrush before you dunk it in water.”

“Yes, because that’s the correct way,” Achilles said importantly.

“Yeah, of course,” Patroclus snorted. He took another few bites of cereal. “Anyway, I should probably head back soon, I don’t want to be in your way.”

“What? Don’t be ridiculous. I really don’t mind you staying. Plus, what else is there for us to do? We’d probably just end up hanging out somewhere else.”

Patroclus bit his lip. “I haven’t showered.”

“What a coincidence, neither have I.” Achilles waggled his eyebrows. Patroclus blushed, and Achilles laughed, waving a hand dismissively. “I’m kidding. Go and shower, then. You can use the towel that’s on the rack right now; I promise it’s clean.”

“Are…are you sure?”

Achilles rolled his eyes. “Stop asking that, of course I’m sure! No go, you’re stinking up my house,” he said with a grin.

Patroclus stuck his tongue out at him, and went to shower.

 

 

Achilles showered after him, saying that he could turn on the TV or the radio or read a book or do whatever while he was waiting, though he promised to make it quick. Patroclus just decided to settle on the couch and scroll through his phone, which wasn’t dead now that Achilles had kindly provided him with a charger.

Achilles, true to his word, was out of the bathroom in less than fifteen minutes. Patroclus heard the door open and saw steam rising out of the corner of his eye; he glanced up with the very innocent intention of saying hello and ended up seeing much more skin than he’d been prepared for.

Achilles was completely naked except for a towel around his waist, which Patroclus figured was actually quite normal for people living in a dorm but not something he’d expected from someone who lived in their own apartment where they could actually bring a change of clothes into the bathroom with them. His skin was still covered in droplets of water and glistened with every movement, sun-kissed and golden except for a tattoo under his left collarbone that Patroclus had never noticed before.

“Patroclus?”

Patroclus started; he hadn’t realized he’d been staring. He looked down with a blush. “Um. Nothing. I was just…I didn’t know you had a tattoo.”

“Oh, this?” Achilles casually lifted the edge of the towel around is waist and dried off the marked spot on his chest; Patroclus saw a flash of thigh and blushed harder.

“Yes, that,” he squeaked.

Achilles grinned. “Do you like it? It’s a reference to my favorite line of my favorite play. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Hamlet.”

“Of course it’s Hamlet,” Patroclus said, as blandly as possible to try and stop his voice from shaking or squeaking or doing anything else embarrassing.

“Of course,” Achilles agreed, and then Patroclus saw his feet; he’d walked forward until he was standing in front of him. “See? It’s staff lines with a whole rest and a fermata over it, which in musical terms is basically silence for as long as you feel like it should be silent. A metaphor for death, obviously. And then the staff lines turning into feathers because I’m basic like that. For the angels.”

Well, if Achilles was describing it so specifically, there was no way Patroclus couldn’t look up. So he lifted his eyes to Achilles’s glorious chest, swallowing hard; he could see Achilles’s heartbeat between his ribs, and his skin was flushed with heat from the shower.

“I like it,” he managed.

Achilles looked utterly thrilled. “Me too! So what about you, huh? Ever thought of getting a tattoo? Oh wait – I should put clothes on. Sorry.” He grinned. “Not used to having company; I can usually just walk around naked.”

Patroclus immediately turned bright red. But Achilles had already turned away, headed to his room, and Patroclus most definitely did not stare at that spectacular ass as he retreated.

“So, tattoo?” Achilles asked a minute later, coming back out of his room. The towel was now being put to use tousling his hair, and most of his skin hidden under clothes.

“Oh,” Patroclus said. “Um. Not really. I mean…I’ve always kind of wanted one, but my dad would’ve been super unhappy about it and he can get pretty nasty when he’s pissed.”

Immediately, Achilles’s expression darkened. “Nasty?”

Patroclus shrugged, unable to meet his eyes. “Yeah. I mean, it was never anything bad, but…” He trailed off, biting his lip and fidgeting with his hands. No, it was never anything terribly bad, but it wasn’t anything good either.

Patroclus felt the couch dip beside him as Achilles sat down.

“But?” Achilles’s voice was gentle.

Patroclus shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me,” Achilles said. He hesitated. “If you want to tell me, of course.”

Now Patroclus hesitated. “Not now,” he said. He looked up at Achilles, saw the concern in his gaze, and felt something warm blossom in his chest. “Screw my dad. I’m getting a tattoo.”

 

 

So he got a tattoo. He and Achilles both, actually; a small line of seven dots on the inside of their right pointer fingers, each of the colors of the rainbow. Achilles held his left hand as the tattooist dotted the colors onto his skin, Patroclus did the same for him, and then he blushed as the tattooist asked them how long they’d been together.

“Four months,” Achilles said, completely unashamed. When Patroclus raised his eyebrows at him later and said that he was pretty sure the tattooist meant how long they’d been in a romantic relationship, which was zero days, and not in a friendship, Achilles just laughed.

 

 

“You sure you’ll be okay?” Achilles asked as they got back to his apartment and plopped down on the couch. It was past eleven at night by now; after getting the tattoo, Achilles had loudly proclaimed that he was hungry and dragged Patroclus to a nearby café for dinner, and then they’d spent some time by the banks of the Charles watching the stars glitter on the ice and imagining the black water sliding by underneath.

“What, this?” Patroclus wiggled the finger with the tattoo on it. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

“Are you absolutely sure? I…I don’t want him to get pissed at you because of it.”

Achilles looked genuinely worried, and Patroclus felt affection rush through him.

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” he said. “My dad doesn’t do things like that anymore.”

Achilles frowned, tilting his head. “Things…like that?” he asked cautiously.

Oh. Shit.

Achilles ventured forward. “Is he why you don’t go home for breaks?”

Patroclus bit his lip and nodded once. “Yeah.”

Achilles let out a soft breath. “Oh.” There was a pause. “You wanna talk about it?”

Patroclus shrugged. To anyone else? Absolutely not. To Achilles? Well, that was an entirely different question.

“Patroclus?” Achilles’s voice was soft, gentle.

“Yeah. Yeah, alright.” Patroclus bit his lip harder, released it, and took a deep breath. “It wasn’t anything physical. Not in the last few years, I mean. And even when I was younger it wasn’t anything horrible.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t ideal, of course, but it could’ve been a lot worse.”

“A lot of things could’ve been a lot worse, but that doesn’t mean they’re good,” Achilles said.

“I know. I just…I don’t want to make it into anything that it’s not.” Patroclus sighed. “Long story short, he’s always been strict. Ever since my mom died. Figured I’d always been a disappointment to him anyway, but with my mom around, at least there was someone else in the house. Without her, he could basically do whatever he wanted. And it got worse when I…when he found out I liked guys.” He took a deep, shuddering breath as he said that; it suddenly hit him that he’d never said that to Achilles that straightforwardly.

But Achilles didn’t seem to care about that part. His brows were knitted together in a frown, but his voice was soft. “Did he hurt you?”

Patroclus bit his lip and didn’t reply.

“Patroclus.” Achilles reached out hesitantly as if to touch his hand, but then drew back.

“I’m fine,” Patroclus said quietly.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m fine,” Patroclus repeated, slightly more forcefully. “He hasn’t done anything like that in years. Figure it’s too much trouble now, or maybe he’s just accepted that I’ll be what I am.”

“A wonderful human being?”

Patroclus huffed a laugh. “A disappointment. Nice try, though.”

“A wonderful human being,” Achilles said, softly but confidently.

Patroclus laughed again. “Alright, whatever you say.”

Achilles nudged him gently. “And I say you’re wonderful, so that settles it,” he said. He hesitated. “Honestly, Patroclus, if there’s anything you need –”

“I’m fine,” Patroclus said. Achilles didn’t seem convinced, so he grinned and shoved him. “I’m not that wimpy, Achilles. And besides, I told you it’s not physical anymore. It’s more just words or silence and shit like that, but I can deal with it.”

“And I’m always going to be here,” Achilles said, still serious.

“I know,” Patroclus said, the smile falling from his face. “I know,” he repeated, more quietly. “Thank you.”

“Anything,” Achilles said. He paused. “And I mean it. I care about you, Patroclus. I really do. If there’s anything that I can do – if you want to spend the summers at my place or anything – I’ll be more than happy to help.”

Patroclus shook his head, even as his heartbeat quickened at Achilles’s words. “I can’t ask that of you.”

“You’re not – okay, well I guess technically you’d be asking, but seriously. I really don’t mind, and I know my dad won’t either. My mom…well, that’s a different story, but she won’t be around anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Please, Patroclus.”

“I…”

“Stay for the parade, at least,” Achilles pleaded. “It’s New Year’s Eve, and there’s like an hour left of 2016. We can spend it together instead of all alone in our own rooms, right?”

Patroclus snorted and shook his head, trying to lighten the mood because there was like an hour left of 2016 and he wanted to spend it with Achilles but he wanted to spend it happy.

“You’re just clingy, you know that?” he smirked.

It worked; a grin stretched Achilles’s lips. “So what if I’m clingy?”

“I don’t want to talk about that shit right now,” Patroclus announced. “I don’t have to worry about it for another semester at least. There’s an hour left of 2016, and we should spend it getting lit.”

Achilles raised his eyebrows. “Really?”

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “No, dumbass, we can get lit later. I want to actually remember the last hour of this year.”

Achilles laughed. “Usually I do it the other way around, but alright.”

“And we can only get a new year’s kiss if we’re sober enough to consent,” Patroclus continued, before he realized what he was saying, and he froze. Beside him, Achilles had gone stock-still.

There was a supremely awkward silence.

Achilles broke it by clearing his throat. “So,” he said, voice a little hoarse.

“I remember the party,” Patroclus blurted out.

Achilles let out a soft breath.

“I mean, I think I do,” Patroclus babbled on, staring at the TV. “Or if I dreamed a bunch of it I remember the dream, I mean I remember getting super drunk and playing beer pong and actually not sucking at it and then playing some weird game that was kind of like Russian roulette but with drinks and then I got more drunk and then we danced to the Chainsmokers which is fucking ridiculous but you somehow made it work anyway and then we went over to play spin the bottle and then I spun it and then it landed on you and then we kissed but then I don’t remember anything after that and I’m pretty sure I dreamed that part because that would be ridiculous if I didn’t and then I woke up here I mean in your guest room not actually here on this couch but I texted Bri and she told me that it wasn’t a dream but I didn’t know if I’d dreamed that part too or if I –”

“You didn’t,” Achilles interrupted.

Patroclus stilled. “I…what?”

“You didn’t dream it,” Achilles repeated. “The kiss. It was real.”

Patroclus struggled for words for a few long moments, but at the end he could only say one word. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Achilles bit his lip.

There was another awkward silence, during which neither of them looked at each other.

“Um.” Patroclus’s voice squeaked, and he cleared his throat. “So how…how do you…”

“Feel about it?” Achilles asked.

“Y…” Patroclus cleared his throat again. “Y-yeah.”

“I don’t regret it, if that’s what you’re asking,” Achilles said, and Patroclus did his best not to be disappointed.

As in, tried his best not to be utterly crushed.

Achilles bit his lip again.

“You didn’t say anything,” Patroclus blurted out. “Afterwards, you never said anything.”

Achilles flushed and wrung his hands. “I…I was scared,” he admitted. “I thought…since you were so drunk and basically passed out afterwards, I didn’t think you remembered it when you woke up. And even if you had, I thought…I was afraid that you regretted it. And I didn’t…didn’t want to make things awkward by bringing it up, so I tried to hint at it.” He huffed a laugh. “That’s what I was doing in the library that day when you were studying for anatomy.”

“Oh,” Patroclus whispered, and hope flared. “But you…I told you that I remember it. Just now. So…”

“So how do you feel about it?” Achilles asked quietly.

Patroclus hesitated. “I…I don’t regret it either,” he said, and then immediately looked down at his feet, bracing himself for the rejection he knew was going to come, especially when a few long moments passed and Achilles didn’t say anything.

But then, finally, he spoke.

“I like you, Patroclus.”

Patroclus stilled.

“I mean, I really like you,” Achilles said, and his voice was soft.

It took a few tries for Patroclus to get any sound out of his mouth. “I…I like you too.”

“I mean romantically,” Achilles said, uncertainly.

“I know. I mean, me too,” Patroclus said, and then broke off, because –

I really like you.

Holy. Shit.

“Oh,” he breathed.

Achilles still looked uncertain. “Patroclus?”

“I like you romantically too,” Patroclus said quietly. Hesitantly. “I…for a while now. I thought it was pretty obvious.” He bit his lip.

And then Achilles laughed, a little nervous, a little exhilarated. “You can’t be good for me,” he said. “If people are born with a set number of heartbeats, you’re making me run out faster. I figure you’ve made me lose at least ten years of life already.”

“I – what?”

“My heart starts racing like a jackhammer every time I see you,” Achilles said.

Patroclus frowned. “You’ve never looked nervous.”

“I’m an actor,” Achilles said with a cheeky grin. He leaned forward. “I really, really like you.”

Patroclus blushed. “Me…me too. I mean with you. I…I like you.”

Achilles’s grin widened. “You make me feel so alive,” he whispered. “Like I could live forever if I wanted to. You make me feel like I can do anything. I look at you and I think, I would do anything for you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Shut up,” Patroclus mumbled, blushing.

“And it’s not true, what they said.”

“What – huh?”

“Agamemnon and Menelaus. When they said I was just…settling for you.” He took a deep breath and looked at Patroclus, his gaze clear and even. “That is the opposite of what I’m doing.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said, not sure if he was unable to comprehend what Achilles was saying or if he was afraid to try and understand, because sure, Achilles might like him, but that had to be the extent of it, right? It couldn’t be anything more.

“When I first saw you…you were this awkward, shy, beautiful nerd who I thought couldn’t possibly ever pay attention to me,” Achilles said quietly. “You were this ambitious pre-med student who was in the library all the time just paying attention to school and I thought there was no way you could notice someone like me.”

Patroclus snorted. “Someone like you, you mean an athletic theater guy?”

“Exactly,” Achilles said, completely seriously. “Nothing related to pre-med at all. So trust me, Patroclus, I’m doing so much more than just settling for you. When I heard you speak the first time, that day when you saw me with my boat facing off with Menelaus and Agamemnon, I was…I thought it was a dream, that you would notice me and defend me. And when I worked up the courage to ask for your number and ask you out for the first time, I wasn’t settling. I was reaching like I reached for the stars as a child, leaping like dolphins do over ocean waves. I never even dared hope that you would say yes. And every day I was so afraid that you’d leave, that you’d find someone better.”

“What, better than you?”

“Yes,” Achilles said, still serious. “You deserve the whole universe, Patroclus, and I’d give everything to be able to give it to you, but I was always afraid that you’d find someone else who could wrap it up better than I could.” He looked down at his hands. “I…I wanted to say it after the Head of the Charles, but…I chickened out. Because of my mom. She’s…not great. Socially, I mean. Raised me to hate the gays and pro-choicers and all that. And I’ve been fighting that, but something that you’ve been taught basically since you could understand language…it’s hard to get it out of your mind sometimes. Hard to get over something that internalized. Not that I have any trouble with anyone else, it’s just…myself. Who I am. Since when she found out I wasn’t straight, she…well, it was bad. But I’m fighting it, and every time I see you or think of you it’s more telling me that she was wrong since there is nothing more beautiful in the world than loving you. There’s nothing I could want more than to give everything to you.”

Patroclus was speechless.

Achilles fell silent, still wringing his hands. He glanced at Patroclus uncertainly, something so close to fear in his gaze that Patroclus felt his heart clench, and he knew that Achilles was afraid because he’d spilled out his heart and was waiting for Patroclus to either take it or tear him to shreds.

And then Patroclus knew what to do.

“I don’t remember anything after the kiss,” he said.

“That’s…understandable,” Achilles said, hesitant.

“And I don’t remember anything about the kiss,” he continued.

Achilles still looked uncertain.

“No details, nothing.” He glanced meaningfully at the clock, and Achilles’s gaze followed.

Gradually, realization dawned on Achilles’s face. “Oh,” he breathed.

There was a moment of silence. Achilles glanced at the clock again; it was a minute before midnight. They still hadn’t turned the TV on.

“Guess we missed the parade,” he whispered.

“It’s not too late to turn it on,” Patroclus said, not taking his eyes off Achilles’s face.

Achilles bit his lip. “They’ll be showing the new year’s kisses soon,” he said.

“Yeah.”

Achilles’s gaze slid to the ground and then darted back up to Patroclus’s face. “You don’t remember anything about the last time we kissed,” he said.

“No,” Patroclus agreed.

Achilles bit his lip again, and his cheeks were flushed. “So…wanna try again?”

Patroclus felt a grin tugging at his lips. “Hell yeah.”

 

 

There was a new year’s party just across the Charles, but when their lips met, Patroclus heard none of the shrill whistling that preceded the thunderous boom of the fireworks or the cheers of the gathered crowd, saw none of the brilliant flashes of color or the dramatic change on the clocks that happened once every three-hundred sixty-five days, felt none of the bone-shaking roar of new year’s bands or the chill winter air cutting through his skin.

Because the fireworks and cheers were nothing more than a distant hum compared to the soft noises Achilles was making as he sucked on his lower lip, the lights and clocks nothing more than a small glimmer compared to the brilliant green of Achilles’s eyes just before his lids fluttered closed, the cold and the shaking ground nothing more than a whisper compared to Achilles’s hot, hot body pressed against him and Achilles’s devilish tongue pushing itself into his mouth.

“Patroclus,” Achilles sighed, and then drew back. Cold rushed into the space between them, and Patroclus shivered, missing his heat.

Achilles pulled him close, kissing him again, chaste and sweet this time. “Patroclus,” he said again, and laughed.

Patroclus bit his lip to hide a grin. “So…so does this mean we’re dating now?”

Achilles laughed again. “Dating, going out, whatever you want to call it.” He looked intensely into Patroclus’s eyes, and Patroclus felt like he was looking into his very soul. “I love you,” he said seriously, and Patroclus felt a thrum of pleasure deep inside him as something hot and bright sprung up in his chest.

“I love you,” he echoed, and he meant it. He grinned. “Princess,” he added.

Achilles planted a kiss in his hair. “Stay here tonight.”

Patroclus looked up at him. “Again?”

Achilles shrugged. “Why not?”

Patroclus couldn’t argue with that.

 

 

Ten minutes later (after brushing their teeth and changing into pajamas) found them snuggled together on Achilles’s bed. Patroclus rested his head under Achilles’s chin and closed his eyes with a sigh of content, only for Achilles to prod him gently a few moments later.

“Hey, look how cute we are!”

“Huh?” Patroclus looked up to see Achilles showing him a picture he’d taken when Patroclus had closed his eyes; he was curled up tightly and Achilles was curled up around him, looking at him with such adoration that he couldn’t help but blush.

“Can I post it?” Achilles asked eagerly.

“What?”

“On Instagram,” Achilles said. “It’s so cute! Please?”

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “Oh, alright.”

Achilles looked thrilled.

 

 

Just before Patroclus went to sleep, he took out his phone to send a few happy new year texts to Briseis and Automedon and Helen and some more friends back home, and saw the notifications, mostly from Instagram except for a flood of texts from Briseis.

 

              Astrokeboy tagged you in a post.

 

              briseis.135 commented: FKCING FINALLY

 

              briseis.135 commented: I WAS ABOUT TO EXPLODE

 

              briseis.135 liked a post you are tagged in.

             

              44.automatic liked a post you are tagged in.

 

              ajaxthestrong liked a post you are tagged in.

 

              ajaxthestrong commented: lmao @patroclus97 I knew something was going on

 

              44.automatic commented: Ayyye get it!

 

              acegirlhelen commented: wow after like a billion years lmao

 

              acegirlhelen commented: ok but seriously this is fucking adorable

 

              acegirlhelen commented: i'm so fucking happy for you guys

 

              dinomeade liked a post you are tagged in.

 

              odysseusandargos commented: @dinomeade you owe me $20 now

 

              acegirlhelen liked a post you are tagged in.

 

              chileusauredon commented: you gay achilles?

 

              chileusauredon commented: lmao jk

 

              chileusauredon commented: finally dude, thought you’d never get together

 

              chileusauredon commented: i get creds for telling you to take that first pic though

 

              paris.notfrance liked a post you are tagged in.

 

              marpesia10 commented: Aww! <3

 

The notifications went on and on, most of which consisted of people liking the picture and then commenting with various degrees of mushiness and cursing how cute it was. And then he saw the caption and blushed harder.

 

              It’s official <3

 

Patroclus sighed with a mixture of fondness and amusement, took a picture of Achilles sleeping in a way that was quite frankly adorable, and posted it on Instagram, snickering a little at the caption as he typed it out.

 

              Started from Subway now we here

 

Then he tagged Astrokeboy, switched off his phone, turned out the lights, and closed his eyes.

Beside him, Achilles snored softly, shifting a little in his sleep to snuggle closer to Patroclus, and with a small smile and a flutter in his chest, Patroclus drifted into sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Hey Patroclus,” Achilles said two weeks later as Patroclus was in the midst of a mild existential crisis over his choice of classes for the next semester. “Relax, okay? Everything’s going to be fine.”

“But I need to take an English class,” Patroclus fretted. “Who would’ve thought med school required an English class?”

Achilles sighed, sounding fondly exasperated. “Aw, Patroclus, you still have two years left. I’m sure you can fit in an English class in there somewhere. Besides, you’ve still got all of add-drop period to switch things around. That’s a whole like, three weeks!”

Patroclus chewed on his lip, clicking frantically between tabs on his computer.

“Besides,” Achilles continued, “I was going to ask you something.”

“Hm?” Patroclus glanced at him and then turned his attention right back to the screen.

“My boat and I wanted to go to South Carolina tomorrow. The uh, the people in my boat, I mean, not my boat itself since that would be ridiculous.” He frowned. “Anyway, Ajax has a beach house and his old rowing club said we could use their boats and row for a bit. Just for a few days; we’ll be back by next Monday and you’ll still have plenty of time to keep worrying about your classes if you’re still freaked out about it.”

Patroclus blinked, confused. “So…so why are you asking me?”

Achilles rolled his eyes fondly. “I want you to come, of course!”

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked again. “Well, um, I guess I could always freak out about classes in South Carolina, right?”

Achilles laughed, jumping up from his seat on the other couch to wrap Patroclus in his arms, pressing his nose into Patroclus’s hair before planting a quick kiss on his cheek. “The point was for you to take a break from freaking out, dumbass,” he grinned. “So what do you say?”

Patroclus sighed, giving him a look. “Achilles, you know me, I’m going to freak out about classes no matter where I am. I appreciate the attempt, though.”

“Nah, you’ll be having fun!”

“Hm. Will I?” Patroclus mumbled, turning back to his computer and opening yet another Excel spreadsheet to try and work out his schedule in.

“Of course!” Achilles grinned. “But you are coming, right?”

“I…yeah, sure, I’ll come.”

“Great!” Achilles looked thrilled. “I can teach you how to row!”

“What?” Patroclus yelped. “Achilles, you know I’m not coordinated enough for sports!”

“Ah, it’s not that bad,” Achilles said, and then paused. “I lied. It’s pretty fucking hard. But it’s so fun, and I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it eventually! Besides, it’s just for fun, if you catch no crabs or ten crabs it doesn’t matter.”

Patroclus wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, but if I catch an ejector then I’ll be in the water and it’ll be all your fault.”

“Well, then I’ll just have to come rescue you then, won’t I?” Achilles asked, his eyes sparkling.

“And leave the other two people alone in the boat? Yeah, right.”

Achilles shrugged, still grinning. “Ah, they’ll survive, they’ve flipped a bunch of times before when they sculled in singles so they know what to do. But if you’re so worried just try not to fall out, alright?”

Patroclus made a face at him. “Very helpful, Achilles.”

“I know, right?” Achilles looked very pleased with himself. “Now let’s start packing!”

“What – Achilles, wait, I need to finish –”

“Finish it later! Come on, Patroclus!” Achilles jumped up, grabbing Patroclus’s arm and pulling him up with him. “I’ve gotta make sure that we pack enough. If we’re going to be on the water we’re probably going to get soaked and want to change multiple times a day, y’know.”

“I don’t have any of those fancy rowing clothes,” Patroclus said, quickly putting down his laptop before it had the chance to tumble out of his lap and following his overly-eager boyfriend – boyfriend! – into the bedroom.

Achilles laughed, pulling a suitcase out from under his bed. “You mean spandex? Ah, don’t worry, I’ve got a ton. You tend to accumulate this kind of stuff once you’ve been rowing for a few years.”

Patroclus sat down on the bed and crossed his arms. “Makes sense.”

“Right. So we’ll be there for the rest of the week, but I doubt we’ll have time to do anything tomorrow since we’ll just be driving the whole day. But then we’ll be leaving to come back on Sunday so we also have Saturday, so that’s…four days on the water,” Achilles mused, already pulling clothes out of one of his drawers and tossing them onto the bed. “Not sure if he has laundry there either. Hey Patroclus, could you start folding some of this?”

Patroclus stuck his tongue out at him. “It’s your turn on the way back, then.”

“Yeah, yeah. We’ll talk about it later,” Achilles said with a brilliant grin. “Anyway, do you want the bright pink spandex or the bright yellow spandex?”

Patroclus blanched. “The what?”

Achilles held up the two pairs. “Bright pink or bright yellow? I was thinking yellow, to balance out your personality.”

“My – hey!” Patroclus made to jump to his feet but before he had the chance, Achilles was already in front of him, hands on his shoulders, pushing him back onto the bed and leaning over him.

“Was that supposed to be an insult?” Patroclus demanded, but there was no heat in his voice.

“Just being realistic. You’re so grumpy, I love it,” Achilles grinned. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Patroclus’s, his cool, sweet breath puffing out over Patroclus’s chin.

“Oh, fuck off,” Patroclus mumbled, but couldn’t help kissing him back, catching his fingers in bright, golden hair, losing himself in Achilles’s touch.

Achilles huffed a laugh. “So bright yellow it is, then?”

Patroclus nipped him.

“Hey!” Achilles pushed at him again, hard enough that he fell onto his back, and clambered on top of him. Patroclus’s heart thumped hard in his chest, and Achilles leaned down to kiss him again, pressing their bodies close together, tongue working its way into Patroclus’s mouth.

“Fuck you,” Patroclus laughed, pushing up at him.

Achilles waggled his eyebrows. “Maybe later, Prince Charming.”

Patroclus spluttered. “Achilles, what – you have such a dirty mind.”

Achilles shrugged. “I’m a hot young man, what do you expect?”

Patroclus flushed and pushed at him. “You’re ridiculous.” He pushed Achilles off completely and sat up, gesturing at the suitcase. “Pack.”

“Yes, sir,” Achilles chirped, hopping off the bed obediently.

 

 

Packing was done within a few hours, and would’ve been done sooner, in Patroclus’s opinion, if it weren’t for Achilles stopping every few minutes to exclaim about something rowing-related. But Achilles was so excited that Patroclus couldn’t bring himself to care that it took so long, and the next morning found them loading the back of Ajax’s van at five in the morning.

“Man, how do you guys do this every day and do afternoon practice?” Patroclus yawned, climbing into the backseat as Ajax closed the trunk.

Achilles shrugged, looking a bit disheveled himself. “You get used to it. Though I must admit, it was pretty rough this morning since we haven’t been out on the water for more than two months. We haven’t had to wake up this early since early November.” He nudged Automedon, who was fast asleep in the left seat of the middle row. “Hey, man, you’ve gotta get up for a sec. Me and Patroclus have to get in the back.”

“Huh? Oh.” Automedon stretched, shifting over to the middle seat and leaning against Odysseus, who was on his phone on the other side of the row.

“Yeah, he’s the lucky one,” Diomedes mumbled from shotgun as Achilles pulled the seat forward for Patroclus to climb into the back row. “We still have workouts at seven in the morning, but all the coxswains to sleep in. Well, unless it’s Monday or Wednesday when we erg and need a coxswain.” He yawned and closed his eyes.

“Yo!” Ajax nudged Diomedes as he got in. “You’re shotgunning for a reason. Switch with Odysseus if you can’t stay awake.”

“Nah, nah, I got it,” Diomedes sighed, giving his head a quick shake. “Coffee just hasn’t kicked in yet, give it a few.”

“Fine.” Ajax closed his door. “Everyone good? Got everything? All buckled in? Wonderful. And we’re off, I’ll wake y’all when we stop for lunch.”

Patroclus yawned again as Ajax started the car and pulled out of the parking spot, shifting over to the middle seat so Achilles could get in after him and almost immediately leaned against Achilles’s shoulder to sleep. “You’re too bony,” he slurred, eyes already drifting shut again.

“Sorry,” Achilles whispered. He closed the car door and shifted, pulling Patroclus down onto his lap instead. “Better?”

“Mm.” Patroclus nodded and settled in closer to him, putting his feet up onto the seat to make himself more comfortable. “What about you?”

“Ah, don’t worry about me.” Patroclus felt Achilles’s hand in his hair, brushing a few stray strands away from his face, and heard him chuckle when his fingers found the tuft of hair behind his ear that wouldn’t stay down. “You just sleep now, okay?”

Patroclus hummed. “Yeah. Yeah, okay,” he mumbled, and promptly slipped into sleep.

 

 

They stopped for lunch somewhere near D.C. a bit past noon; Ajax didn’t want to stop for too long so they found a local Chili’s and bought takeout; by the end of the hour, the entire van smelled like French fries and burgers.

“Anyone else want to drive?” Ajax yawned, forty minutes after pulling back onto Route 95. “Getting a little sleepy here.”

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” Automedon offered.

“Okay, but someone else is shotgunning, I need a nap,” Diomedes mumbled, already falling asleep again.

“How late did you sleep last night?” Ajax demanded. “You’re not usually this tired.”

Diomedes shrugged, grinning slightly sheepishly. “Dunno. It was, um, a bit of a blur.” He didn’t seem to notice that he glanced at Odysseus through the side mirror.

Ajax hmphed. “A blur, huh? Doesn’t sound good.”

Diomedes shrugged again, glancing at Odysseus again and biting his lip. “I wouldn’t say that.”

Automedon raised his eyebrows, looking first at Diomedes, then at Odysseus, then back at Diomedes, then back at Odysseus. “You…holy fuck. You and Odysseus?”

Odysseus cleared his throat awkwardly. “Yeah, stuff happened last night,” he admitted, his cheeks tinged slightly pink, a sheepish, slightly pleased grin curving the corners of his mouth. “Um. Hoped it wouldn’t come up.”

Patroclus raised an eyebrow at Achilles. “He’s…he has a girlfriend though, right?” he asked quietly.

“They’re not exclusive,” Achilles assured him. “Totally open. She’s cool with it.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Jesus, Odysseus,” Automedon grinned. “‘Hoped it wouldn’t come up,’ eh? That means it’s some good shit! Can’t say I didn’t see this coming eventually, though, even Penelope knows you two have had the hots for each other for months.” He leaned across the seat towards him. “Give us the deets!”

Ajax coughed loudly. “No thank you, you’re all beautiful human beings and I love you all, but I am a pure, wholesome young man and I do not need to hear about my teammates fucking when I am this sober.”

Diomedes burst out laughing. “Yeah, sure you are. Pure and wholesome my ass.”

“Your ass is actually quite pure and wholesome,” Odysseus mumbled, and Automedon burst out laughing.

“Didn’t know you bottomed, Diomedes,” Achilles said mildly, and the other boy spluttered.

“Alright, alright!” Ajax yelled. “Shut up, all of you, we’re switching drivers at the next rest stop so I can sleep and I’m not trying to have any nightmares here.”

Odysseus snickered. “You sure, Ajax? I could give you all the juicy details, down to what he said when I first put it inside his –”

“No!” Ajax practically yelped, and beside Patroclus, Achilles burst out laughing.

“Fine. We don’t have to talk about what happened last night.” Odysseus grinned, leaning forward to nudge Diomedes’s shoulder. “You did bring condoms though, right?”

Ajax bellowed.

 

 

It was almost eight p.m. when they finally reached Lake Marion and Ajax’s house on Wilsons Landing where they would be staying. Automedon was driving and had woken Ajax up from where he was sleeping in the middle row to ask him where to turn; it was dark and difficult to see the street signs.

“Turn right here,” Ajax said, eating some leftover fries from lunch. “No, here – yeah, it’s a hidden driveway.”

Automedon turned onto the street; beside him sitting shotgun, Odysseus skipped One Dance by Drake and put on Like I Would by Zayn instead.

“Third left, and go all the way to the end,” Ajax instructed. He turned and held the takeout box out to Patroclus and Achilles. “Fries?”

“No thanks,” Patroclus said.

“Gimme,” Achilles said from where he was now lounging in Patroclus’s lap, the two of them having switched positions after lunch.

“Hey I want fries,” Automedon complained.

Ajax shrugged. “Sucks, guess you’ll have to starve.” He handed Achilles the box and turned back around. “Just kidding. I had some of my friends pick up pizza like fifteen minutes ago; they should be getting here soon. One half mushroom, half vegetable for you healthy asshole, Achilles, one plain cheese, one with half jalapenos and olives, half pepperoni, one pasta pizza, and one…what was it? Oh, right – half chicken and bacon and the other half with ham and pineapple.”

“Nice!” Automedon exclaimed, immediately appeased. “I call ham and pineapple!”

“You don’t need to call it, you’re the only one that’s going to eat it anyway,” Ajax grumbled. He turned and glanced at Patroclus. “Hope those are okay with you?”

Patroclus blinked. “Oh. Um. Yeah, sounds great.”

Achilles lifted the takeout box that had once held a hefty portion of French fries and waved it at Ajax. “Finished it.”

“All of that? It’s been like, thirty seconds!” Ajax sighed, taking it and putting it in the trash bag hanging from the seat in front of him. “You all are such children.”

Odysseus snorted. “You sound surprised.”

“Honestly, I really shouldn’t be at this point. Turn here Automedon, then it’s the house at the very end. It’s right on the beach.”

“Nice!” Automedon exclaimed, with even more enthusiasm.

They reached the house within two minutes and practically leapt out of the van, eager to stretch their legs for the first time in what felt like years. Patroclus grinned, happy to find that it was warm enough outside that he didn’t actually see his breath when he exhaled. They took their bags out of the trunk and followed Ajax up the front steps of the porch to the door, which he unlocked.

“Code is 3642,” Ajax said, walking over to the keypad by the door and punching in the code when the security system started beeping. “I’m trusting all of you not to go blabbing that to some random person on the street. As for the rooming situation, doesn’t matter to me which room you pick – except you two, Diomedes and Odysseus. If you two are gonna be fucking, don’t do it in the room at the end of the hall when you turn right at the top of these stairs. That’s my room, and like I said, I want to be able to sleep without having nightmares.”

“Are you sure that restriction will be enough?” Odysseus asked innocently. “Based on last night, he can get pretty loud –”

“Shut up!” Diomedes yelled, punching his shoulder, as Ajax choked and lunged towards them.

Achilles took Patroclus’s hand and led him upstairs while the three boys squabbled and Automedon made a beeline for the kitchen to try and find some food in the fridge or cabinets. “C’mon, let’s get a good room while they’re still fighting it out.”

The rooms all looked pretty nice to Patroclus, and they ended up picking one closer to Ajax’s room. “To get as far away from Odysseus and Diomedes as possible,” Achilles had said, since they would probably take the room furthest down the hall.

“Pizza’s here!” Ajax yelled from downstairs a few minutes after they’d put their bags down on the floor. Patroclus heard Automedon’s whoop of excitement, as well as some introductions going on, and he and Achilles headed downstairs to the kitchen.

“Diomedes, you’ve met him before, right? Well, Odysseus, this is my buddy Machaon. We went to high school together,” Ajax was saying. “Thanks for the pizza, how much do I owe you?”

Machaon was tall and broad-shouldered, slightly bulkier than Ajax; he reminded Patroclus of Menelaus in terms of build but his eyes were kind, and when Patroclus walked in he stuck out a hand in greeting.

“Hey, you must be Patroclus, nice to meet you. Nice to see you again, Achilles. And don’t worry about the money, Ajax, God knows how many times you’ve bought me pizza the morning after I crashed on your couch. It’s the least I could do. Hope the drive wasn’t too rough? What is it, fourteen hours?”

Ajax shrugged, casting a meaningful glance at Odysseus who was currently reaching for a slice of pepperoni. “Fifteen, but we took a few stops. Mostly uneventful, except for when someone –”

“Alright, alright! That’s enough,” Odysseus grumbled, and Diomedes grinned and slung an arm around his shoulders. “Or you’ll hear everything for the rest of the week.”

“Hm. Well, let’s just say it was more information than I needed to know,” Ajax said with a broad grin. He gestured at the pizza. “Anyway, you want some of this? You bought it, after all.”

Machaon shook his head. “Nah, I’d better be going. Meeting with my boyfriend tonight and I’ll be late if I stay much longer.”

“More food for us, then. Have fun, dude.”

“Hell yeah, more food,” Achilles said. Patroclus raised his eyebrows at him; he’d gotten a piece of pizza while the other boys were talking and was already stuffing the last bits of crust in his mouth. As Patroclus watched, he reached for another slice and ate half of it in about three bites. “Damn, Ajax, this is some fucking good pizza.”

“Especially the pineapple,” Automedon chirped, and Ajax made a face.

“You do you, Automedon.”

“I’ll see you guys later,” Machaon said, headed for the door.

There was a chorus of yep’s and see you’s and thanks for the pizza’s, and the other boy left.

Automedon had already demolished the entire half of pineapple pizza and was reaching for a slice of mushroom. “Last one,” he promised. “Don’t want to be weighing you guys down too much tomorrow morning.”

“Morning?” Patroclus asked, halfway through his first slice of jalapeno and olive. “How early are you guys going out?”

“You mean how early are we going out?” Achilles asked with a grin.

“Nuh-uh, nope.” Patroclus shook his head rapidly. “I am not getting in a boat tomorrow.”

“Aw, c’mon, Pat!” Automedon whined. “I was so excited!”

Patroclus shook his head again with a grin. “No way. I’m sleeping in tomorrow.”

Achilles sighed, getting a third slice and biting into it dramatically. “Fine, fine. But we’ll get you in a boat at least once by the end of the week. You can’t spend all your time thinking about school, not while you’re on vacation with us!”

“Us and beer,” Ajax announced, walking back into the kitchen from where he’d been sending Machaon off and pulling two six-packs out of the fridge. “Don’t worry, it’s not expired, and I have a bunch more in the cabinet and the other fridge too if you’re more into vodka or wine or whiskey. Might have some rum left over too.”

Patroclus raised his eyebrows, glancing up at Achilles.

“I’ll just take beer tonight,” Achilles said, demolishing his third slice and opening a can, bringing it quickly to his lips to catch the fizz. He made a face as he swallowed and put the can back onto the table. “I always forget how gross it is.”

“And yet you drink the most out of all of us,” Diomedes sighed, taking a can himself.

Achilles shrugged. “Not my fault you’re all more lightweight than I am.” He reached for another slice of pizza.

“Good thing I ordered five of these,” Ajax muttered, raising his eyebrows.

“Yeah, save some for the rest of us,” Odysseus complained.

Achilles rolled his eyes. “Calm down, dude, I’m only on my fourth piece.”

“Yeah, and you’re gonna eat another four by the end of the night,” Odysseus pointed out.

“True. Oh well.” Achilles shrugged and bit into the pizza.

 

 

As it was, Achilles really did finish an entire pie by himself.

“You’re ridiculous,” Patroclus sighed as they climbed into bed nearly four hours later.

“Am I?” Achilles grinned, shifting over and nuzzling him.

“Yes, you are. And you smell like alcohol,” Patroclus said, but didn’t complain as Achilles began mouthing gently at his neck. Still, his heart jumped in his throat; even after two weeks of dating and sleeping in the same bed, Achilles’s proximity excited him.

“Well, what can you expect on three cans of beer?” Achilles mumbled.

Patroclus laughed, pushing at him gently. “Don’t wake me up when you need to piss in the middle of the night, that’s all I’m asking.”

“It’s already the middle of the night,” Achilles said seriously. “Unless you mean the middle of our sleep, which would probably be around…three-thirty, if we’re getting up at seven and sleep right now?”

“Well, maybe three-thirty for you, but I already told you I’m not going on a boat tomorrow.”

“Hm. Might be a good thing, actually, since we might make it sink after that dinner,” Achilles said, sighing and rolling onto his back. “Damn, that was a lot of pizza.”

Patroclus snickered. “It really was. How many pieces was that? Eight?”

Achilles groaned and put his arm over his eyes. “Nine, I think. I don’t want to think about it.”

“And you’re still so thin.” Patroclus grinned, rolling over and prodding him. “Well, not now, but you know what I mean.”

“Stop that, it hurts,” Achilles complained, but rolled over to face Patroclus. His eyes were shining. “I’m so glad you’re here. And I’ll get you on a boat before the end of the week. You promised.”

“Did I?”

Achilles propped himself up on one elbow, winced, and flopped back down. “Ow. Bad idea. Anyway, promise me now, okay? One day.”

Patroclus hesitated.

“Just one day?” Achilles pleaded. “It doesn’t even have to be that long.”

“I…fine.” Patroclus sighed. “I promise, one day.”

Achilles grinned, his teeth flashing white. “I’ll hold you to it.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “Go to sleep.”

 

 

Patroclus managed to get out of going in a boat the next day, and the day after that. He spent his time wandering the beach instead while Achilles and his boat were out on the water, and when he got tired of walking, he sat on a small overhang under the shelter of a cluster of trees and watched them.

Achilles looked as beautiful as ever, of course, golden hair flashing in the sun, bronze skin, paled slightly through the winter, already regaining its sun-kissed glow after just a few hours in the southern sky. He rowed shirtless most of the time and came back to the beach dripping with lake water and sweat, his eyes shining and cheeks flushed.

“Let’s go kayaking,” he said on Friday after he came back from their evening row. “We’ll have dinner and then we can go out during the sunset, and stay out until the stars come up! It’ll be easier than rowing and you can get a feel for being in a boat.”

“Oh.” Patroclus chewed his lip. “Um. Yeah, I guess that sounds alright.” He’d been kayaking before and he didn’t remember it being that bad.

Achilles grinned. “Great! I think Ajax wants to head to some Thai place down the road for dinner in about ten minutes, is that okay?”

“Thai sounds great,” Patroclus said, and kissed him.

They went to dinner, Achilles eating quickly to try and catch the sunset, and the two of them ended up leaving early since the other boys wanted to wander around town for a bit.

“Ajax said he has some kayaks in his garage,” Achilles said, taking Patroclus’s hand as they walked back to the house. “You’ll be fine in a single, right? Or we could do a double, I think Ajax said he had one of those too but we’ll take a look once we get back. Whatever you prefer.”

“A single is fine, as long as you don’t paddle too fast and leave me behind,” Patroclus said.

Achilles laughed, pulling him close and butting his head against Patroclus’s shoulder. “Promise.”

So they took out two single-person kayaks, Achilles pushing him off the beach into the water just as the sky started to turn pink. They paddled out onto the lake, Patroclus staying close enough to Achilles so he could hear the music he was playing softly from his phone; currently, it sounded like Imagine Dragons.

“It’s so beautiful,” Patroclus said quietly, as the sun slipped ever closer to the horizon, turning the clouds from cotton candy into fire.

“It’s what we get to see every day on the river,” Achilles said with a small smile. “It’s one of the best feelings ever; to be perfectly in sync with your boat and have something this beautiful all around you too. It’s magical.”

“Maybe…maybe tomorrow,” Patroclus said hesitantly.

“Really?” Achilles looked thrilled.

Patroclus snorted and rolled his eyes, unable to keep the grin off his face, feeling Achilles’s enthusiasm chase away some of his apprehension. “Yes, really. I did promise one day, didn’t I?”

Achilles’s eyes shone.

 

 

The sun slipped below the horizon, but the sky stayed bright for a little bit longer, glowing in various hues of orange, pink, purple, and eventually the deep indigo of night. The stars came out, glimmering in the sky and dancing across the surface of the water. Achilles had turned off the music and they floated in silence across the surface of the lake, watching the bright arc of the moon sweep towards them like a giant silver fish, feeling the brush of cool night air on their skin, hearing nothing but the soft puffs of each other’s breaths and the ripple of water on the lake shore.

 

 

“Make sure you don’t step in the very bottom of the boat,” Achilles said. The night had passed quickly. It was nearly seven in the morning now, and the sun was weak and pale in the sky.

Patroclus placed his foot gingerly on the small black strip where Automedon said he was supposed to step and lowered himself into the boat. In actuality, he found that the rowing shell was wider than it looked, but it was still a bit too narrow for him to be fully comfortable. He strapped his feet in with Automedon watching over him, and when he was in securely, Automedon hopped into the coxswain seat in the stern.

“Count down from bow when ready.” Automedon’s voice came clear and loud through the boat’s speaker.

“One,” Odysseus called.

“Two,” Diomedes said from behind Patroclus, after a moment in which Patroclus heard the sounds of him strapping his feet into what Achilles had told him were called the foot stretchers.

“Um. Three?” Patroclus said hesitantly.

“And four,” Achilles said, turning around and flashing Patroclus a smile.

“Alright, let’s get hands on the dock. Pat, I’m going to call lean away and push off in two,” Automedon said. “It’s literally what it sounds like, just don’t lean too far or else we’ll flip over, and since you’re waterside, push the handle of your oar up. That’ll help keep the balance. Got it?”

Patroclus hesitated. “Um. I think so.”

“Great. Lean away and push in two, that’s one, two.”

All three rowers and Patroclus leaned slightly away from the dock and pushed off with their hands; a moment later, Diomedes brought the blade of his oar in close to the boat, put it perpendicular against the edge of the dock, and used the oar to push the boat further away from the dock.

“Wonderful. Pat hold water, Diomedes row.”

“Put your blade like this,” Achilles whispered, twisting around to face Patroclus and holding out his hand so his palm faced forward. “Now stick it in the water and don’t move until Automedon tells you to way enough. That’s it, just like that.”

Diomedes took a few slow but powerful strokes before Automedon made the call.

“Way enough! We’ll row out just a little and then we can start doing the fun stuff. Bow pair sit ready and row.”

Patroclus heard the sliding seats behind him move, and then Diomedes and Odysseus were propelling them across the water, quickly and smoothly. The boat was tipped a little bit down on the side Patroclus’s oar was on – port, he remembered – and recalling what Achilles told him about setting the boat before he’d gotten in, he lifted his handle slightly so the boat returned to being evenly balanced.

“Way enough in two, that’s one, two,” Automedon said, and the rowers stopped. “Odysseus, give me one light stroke.”

“Finding the point,” Achilles explained. “He’s angling the boat so it’s pointing where he’ll want to go, which is usually a bunch of open water. This way, when we start actually rowing, he won’t have to worry about steering as much or crashing into something or grounding the boat.”

“Oh,” Patroclus said.

Achilles heard the uncertainty in his voice and grinned. “Don’t worry, you’re doing great!”

“Anyone need to make adjustments? Pat, Ajax was in your seat yesterday so you probably need to move your foot stretchers like five notches to bow, and move two of your spacers to the bottom,” Automedon said.

Patroclus raised his eyebrows. “What?”

Achilles grinned, turning around to help him. “Unscrew these,” he said, pointing at three separate screws by Patroclus’s feet. “Take your feet out of the shoes and move this whole set towards you about five of these notches. Then screw it back in and put your feet in.” He waited until Patroclus did so, and then leaned out of the boat to his left. “Now see those red things at the end of your rigger? Pop two off the top and put them in below the oarlock – the oarlock is the thing that your oar is in. Try not to drop the spacers; they’ll float but they might be hard to catch if they float too far.”

Then Patroclus understood why Achilles was leaning away; the spacers were hard to pop off and he needed to fumble with them with both hands before he got them off, and in order to reach them he had to lean far out over the water on his side of the boat. With Achilles leaning the opposite direction, the boat stayed balanced.

“Alright now sit like this,” Achilles said, returning to his usual position. He straightened his legs, leaned back, and pulled the oar handle in close to his body while keeping the blade squared in the water. Patroclus did so, trying to match Achilles’s position as closely as possible; Achilles ran a critical eye over him and then nodded. “Right. Nice call, Automedon; looks perfect.”

“I’m not the coxswain of our best boat for no reason,” Automedon quipped. “Right, so we’ll just start practicing the drive sequence with stern pair. We’ll start with reverse pick drill; Pat, the first thing we’re doing is just driving with the legs. Keep your arms straight and your body leaned forward, and then just push with the legs without opening up with the body. This is all going to be on the square, as usual, and I’ll call every stroke. Ready, row!”

Pat was immensely grateful that Achilles was in front of him, since he only caught about half of what Automedon was saying even though Achilles had explained the drive sequence to him beforehand. He was easy to follow, albeit slightly distracting with the shifting muscles in his back and shoulders, but he took every stroke slowly, made every move deliberate, and even though he was supposed to be doing everything at the exact same time as Achilles in front of him it didn’t take long for Patroclus to start getting the hang of it.

“Add body swing in two, that’s one…two.”

Achilles started leaning back at the end of the leg drive, still keeping his arms straight out in front of him, and Patroclus followed suit. They took a dozen strokes before Automedon called to add in arms, and then he was taking full strokes, albeit still pausing at the end of every stroke, called the finish.

“Nice, Pat!” Patroclus heard the grin in Automedon’s voice as they paused at the end of the stroke they’d just taken. “Try to keep your handle at the same level during the recovery of the stroke too, and make sure you’re not burying your blade too deep into the water. Otherwise, looks great! I’d give you a high-five but we’re a little far away and also you’re busy rowing right now so I won’t. Ready, row!”

They took another stroke, and paused at the finish.

“Better! Alright, way enough in two and we’ll move to bow pair. Row – that’s one, and even better Pat! Row – that’s two. Stern pair out bow pair in, legs only.”

Achilles let his blade lay flat on the water and moved up in his seat. “You can sit like this,” he said over his shoulder as Automedon called for bow pair to row. “Let your handle rest against your ribs and under your arm; take your outside hand, which is your left hand since you’re on port, and hold onto the rigger in front of you. You can hold onto your oar handle with your right hand and make sure it stays at this level; it’ll help keep the boat set.”

Patroclus found the position to be slightly uncomfortable, mainly because it required hip flexibility that he didn’t have, but he let his seat slide back an inch and found that he was still able to maintain what felt like the right position, and the boat didn’t tip from side to side.

Once Odysseus and Diomedes had completed the drill, they moved onto regular pick drill which seemed to Patroclus like the complete opposite of what they’d just done. To practice the recovery sequence, Achilles had explained, since reverse pick drill practiced the drive sequence. And once they were done with that, Automedon decided that he was ready to learn to feather.

“Alright, so if you were a novice rower in an actual rowing program you wouldn’t be learning all this on the same day,” Automedon began, “but seeing as this is your only day on the water, we all want you to get the full experience and we want to be rowing by all fours by the end of the day.”

“By what?!” Patroclus yelped, and Diomedes and Odysseus burst out laughing.

“Blame Achilles,” Odysseus called from all the way in the bow.

Achilles grinned at him and shrugged. “It’ll be fun, I promise!”

Patroclus made a face at him, trying to ignore the sudden thumping of his heart.

“Quiet, guys, the professor is talking,” Automedon said with an air of great importance, to which Achilles laughed and shook his head. Automedon took a few minutes to explain feathering and then let Patroclus get a feel for the rotation of the oar during the process. When Patroclus felt like he got down the feeling of the click when the blade went from being squared to feathered or from feathered to squared, he called for stern pair to pick it up.

As it turned out, feathering made everything much harder.

Not only did Patroclus need to think about proper drive and recovery sequence, but he now needed to think about when to start rotating his oar so his blade was fully squared when he put it in the water, about flicking his inside wrist and only his inside wrist at the end of the stroke to feather the blade as soon as he took it out of the water, about keeping both his wrists flat even with the rotational movement, about using mainly his outside hand to control the level of the oar handle, and about keeping his blade on the same height even through the rotational movement. Again, all at the same time as the boy in front of him, since rowers were supposed to be always perfectly in sync.

“You said this was easy!” he accused Achilles.

“No, I didn’t!” Achilles called back. “I said it wasn’t bad, but then I corrected myself, remember?”

Technically he was right. Patroclus turned back to trying to row.

“A little less pressure from Achilles,” Automedon said, stifling a laugh. “C’mon, man, you’re going at like, full pressure, and Pat’s just trying to figure out how to row. Ease off a little.”

“He’s showing off,” Diomedes snickered.

“What, like you didn’t when I first got in this boat with you?” Odysseus asked innocently, and Diomedes let out a yell of indignation.

“Quiet in the boat,” Automedon laughed. “You can make fun of each other later. Pat, you’re doing wonderfully, I think we can try all four now, right?”

“What? No! I’ll catch a crab!” Patroclus yelped.

“Bow pair in in two,” Automedon said, completely ignoring him. “That’s one, two.”

As soon as the other rowers joined in, there was no one left to help set the boat, and it began tipping precariously from one side to another. One stroke it was down on starboard and Patroclus’s oar flailed wildly in the air, and the next it was down on port and it was hard for Patroclus to get his blade out of the water at all.

“Handle heights,” Automedon called. “Level hands, even when the boat isn’t set. Don’t fight it, boys, work with it. Work with the boat to maintain the set, and once you get it you need to maintain it. It’s not going to stay by itself.”

Patroclus attempted to do what he said, keeping his hands level throughout the stroke, and it seemed to improve the set only marginally.

“A little more pressure from ports,” Automedon called.

Ports – oh. That was him. Patroclus pushed his oar into the water, pushed down with his legs, and immediately felt his blade dragging under.

“Shit!” he yelled, panic shooting through him.

“Way enough, way enough!” Automedon laughed, and the other rowers stopped rowing. “Pat, you good?”

With some effort, Patroclus was able to pry his blade out of the water. “Yeah,” he panted. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Congratulations, you caught your first crab,” Automedon said, grinning, and Achilles chuckled in front of him. “When you add pressure, just make sure you don’t forget to fully square your blade and make sure you don’t bury it too deep. Let’s pick it up with stern pair, a little slower this time. Ready, row.”

Patroclus and Achilles began rowing again. Automedon kept them rowing by pairs for a while and then called for more pressure from Achilles to turn the boat around and head back to the dock. On the way back to the dock he called for bow pair to join in, and the boat started tipping precariously again, though this time it seemed to rest mainly on port.

“Ports lift your handles,” Automedon said into the mic. Patroclus did so, and the effect was immediate though not necessarily long-lasting; the boat straightened out again. It was tiring both physically and mentally and by the time they got back to the dock he felt like he wanted to sleep for days, and it hurt his hands so that small blisters had started to come up from gripping the oar, but when Achilles asked if he wanted to go out with them again in the afternoon, he said yes without missing a beat.

 

 

“It’s wonderful,” he told Achilles as they walked with the other boys along the beach later that night, eating funnel cake and sandwiches that Ajax had bought from town during his day off of practice. “I see why you love it so much.”

“Really?” Achilles looked thrilled.

Patroclus snorted and elbowed him. “You don’t have to look so surprised that I liked it.”

Achilles laughed and shook his head. “No, I’m just really happy!”

“I can tell,” Patroclus said. “I mean, it’s not for me in that I’d immediately join the team, but it’s fun. I could see the appeal, if it weren’t for the fact that you guys go out in sub-freezing temperatures and in all weather and go on six-mile runs and have erg tests like, every other week.” He frowned. “But the actual rowing part, I can see it, even if that’s tiring too.”

“Still, it somehow gives me energy,” Achilles grinned, practically bouncing.

“I can see that,” Patroclus said, as Achilles darted off to the edge of the dunes, something having caught his eye. He returned a moment later, empty-handed but bright-eyed.

“Sorry. Thought I saw a butterfly.”

“A butterfly?” Ajax asked from further up ahead. “In winter?”

Achilles shrugged, his grin bright in the light of the sunset. “Who knows? Race you to that log over there and back,” he said, pointing at a vaguely log-like shape about a hundred meters away, and immediately dashed off.

“What – hey!” Patroclus yelled, and tore off after him. Achilles, predictably, reached the log first, reaching down to touch it lightly before springing back up and sprinting towards him. “Watch out!” Patroclus yelped, but Achilles had absolutely no intentions of stopping; all six-foot-plus of muscular rower barreled into Patroclus at full speed, knocking the breath out of him and knocking him to the ground.

“Sorry,” Achilles said from on top of him, not looking sorry at all.

“You sabotaged my race, so you lose,” Patroclus said when he’d caught his breath again.

“Guess I do, but if it’s losing to you I don’t mind at all,” Achilles said with a grin, and leaned down and kissed him.

“Gross!” Odysseus yelled from a few dozen meters behind.

“Cute!” Automedon countered.

“Too much info,” Ajax said loudly. “I’m leaving.”

Achilles just laughed. “I love you so much, Patroclus,” he said, and kissed him again. The huffs of his laughter spilled out over Patroclus’s cheeks, his sweet, sweet breath filling Patroclus’s nose, the sound of his joy filling Patroclus’s ears.

“We should stay like this forever,” Patroclus said, unable to keep a smile off his face. “Just like this. This happy, this carefree.” He leaned up and kissed Achilles, pressing their lips together, tasting his sweetness. “This in love.”

He looked up at Achilles’s laughing face, at the adoration in his bright green gaze, and felt like they could do anything. He felt like they were gods at the dawning of the world with not a care in the universe, and he knew that he had never before and never would again love anyone more than he loved Achilles in that moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


Friday was unusually warm. Patroclus waded through the shallows as Achilles and his boat went out to practice in the morning, ate lunch with them at the house, and stretched out on the docks in the afternoon and napped in the sun.

He woke as the sun faded in the sky, and suddenly became aware of someone poking his face.

“Hrmfgh!”

There was a laugh; Patroclus recognized Achilles’s voice.

“Get up, sleeping beauty,” Achilles said. “Unless you want to miss dinner.”

Patroclus pushed himself upright, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Man, that was some nap,” he yawned, rolling out his now slightly stiff neck.

“It was,” Achilles agreed, teeth flashing bright. “You’ve been out for hours.” He straightened, holding out a hand for Patroclus to take and pulling him to his feet. “Ajax ordered pizza again; it’ll be here any minute now and he’ll bring it to the bonfire.”

“The what now?”

“The bonfire,” Achilles repeated with a smile.

Patroclus blinked.

“That,” Achilles said, pointing to a rather large pile of wood on the beach that Odysseus and Diomedes were currently contributing to, Automedon holding what looked like a gallon of gasoline and a large brown bag nearby. There were a few large logs arranged in the vague semblance of a circle around the large pile of wood.

“I know what a bonfire is,” Patroclus grumbled, and Achilles laughed and kissed him. “Don’t you need a license or something to light one though? Or some kind of special permission?”

“Yeah, given to us by Ajax’s old rowing club since they own this beach. Now c’mon, we don’t want to miss lighting it!”

Patroclus was pretty sure he’d meant government permission, but he trusted that Ajax, at least, knew what he was doing. “Are there going to be marshmallows?” he asked, panting slightly because Achilles had started running and Patroclus therefore also had to start running to keep up.

Achilles laughed, his voice like the wind. “Of course there are going to be marshmallows, it wouldn’t be a bonfire without them, would it?”

He had a point.

Diomedes and Odysseus were just finishing stacking the last (quite large) few pieces of wood on the pile when they arrived; no easy feat, considering the pile was already over six feet tall, but then again, so were the boys. When all of the wood had been placed, they stepped back with satisfied grins.

“Now we just have to wait for Ajax, he’d kill us if we started without him,” Odysseus said.

“Yeah, by withholding the pizza,” Diomedes agreed.

“That would just be mean, I’m starved!” Odysseus exclaimed.

“I wonder if he got pineapple?” Automedon wondered, and Diomedes made a face.

“I did get pineapple,” Ajax said from behind them; Patroclus turned to see the taller boy carrying six boxes and a twelve-pack of beer; evidently, the pizza had just arrived. “You remembered the s’mores stuff, right?”

Automedon wrinkled his nose. “Of course I did, what did you expect? I’m a coxswain, I’m more organized than any of you. I even brought the blankets, since it seems like all of you forgot.”

“Hm. Good point,” Ajax grinned, and put the boxes of pizza and beer down. The smell of pizza floated through the air; Patroclus felt his mouth begin to water. “Keeping it classy with this cheap beer. Alright Automedon, you wanna do the honors then? Of lighting this thing?”

Automedon’s lips stretched in a wicked grin. “Oh, hell yeah.” He uncapped the gasoline and sloshed it over the pile of wood, which was now so high that he could only get the gasoline on about two-thirds of the way up with both feet on the ground. “Should be good,” he said when the entire gallon had been upended over the wood. “Who’s got the matches?”

“Me,” Diomedes said, handing them to Automedon.

“Aw hell yeah,” Automedon said again, striking a match. He held it up dramatically, his grin widening, and then dropped it with a flourish into the wood. Thanks to the gasoline, it ignited almost immediately, the fire roaring to life and licking its way up the pile.

Patroclus took a small step back as the heat hit his face; he felt more than heard Achilles’s soft laugh and felt his hand tighten around his waist.

“Aw hell yeah!” Automedon said yet again and much louder, holding his arms out and facing the roaring flames, an almost manic look of glee on his face.

“Didn’t know you were an arsonist,” Ajax commented as he laid out the boxes of pizza and opened them. “Alright, come and get pizza y’all. Napkins should be in the brown bag over there with all the s’mores.”

“Thanks Dad,” Automedon chirped, reaching for a slice of pineapple, and Diomedes gave him a mutinous look and pointedly sat down two logs away.

 

 

They were all gathered around the campfire, fully sated with pizza, about an hour later. The other boys were each on their second or third cans of beer and gathered together across the fire from Achilles and Patroclus, singing loudly along to Odysseus’s phone blasting the orchestral version of Camptown Races. Achilles sat next to Patroclus, his arm slung over Patroclus’s shoulders under the blanket they were both huddled under, both of them completely sober.

“This is so much good blackmail material,” Achilles murmured with a sly grin, pulling out his phone and recording Ajax’s particularly out-of-tune solo. “They didn’t even have that much to drink, I’m a little disappointed, to be honest. What lightweights.”

“Hey I’m a lightweight, so watch it,” Patroclus said, pushing Achilles gently.

“My bad,” Achilles grinned. Automedon was currently attempting to climb onto Ajax’s shoulders and failing spectacularly, tumbling to the ground behind the log with a shriek.

“I didn’t do anything that bad when I was drunk at the formal, did I?” Patroclus mumbled.

Achilles laughed softly. “No, of course not. Briseis would’ve killed me if I let you make a fool of yourself.”

“True.”

The boys mellowed out a bit after Automedon’s remarkably ungainly but ultimately harmless fall, singing more quietly along to what Patroclus considered the most random songs (Swanee River, for one, Britney Spears’s Toxic immediately after) and sharing laughs about past memories or whatever meme came up on Odysseus’s phone. About an hour later, they all seemed to have sobered up and Odysseus’s phone seemed to have died.

“Alright, I’m headed inside,” Ajax announced, standing up and stretching.

Diomedes yawned loudly. “Yeah, me too. Coming, Odysseus?”

“Gross,” Ajax said, wrinkling his nose. “Keep it down tonight, will you?”

“Just for you, darling,” Odysseus replied, blowing him a kiss as he took Diomedes’s hand and headed with him back up the beach. “I’ll give you the deets in the morning!”

“Fuck you,” Ajax called after them. He turned to Automedon, who was sleeping quite soundly stretched out on the ground behind the log where he had fallen from Ajax’s shoulders. “Hey.” He nudged the boy gently. “Time to get up. We’re late for the regatta.”

Automedon mumbled something incoherent and kept sleeping.

“We’re late for the regatta,” Ajax repeated, slightly louder.

“We’re what?” Automedon yelped, bolting upright. He looked around wildly for a few moments, utterly bemused as to why everyone was laughing, and then his mouth turned in a frown. “Wow, Ajax. I see how it is.” He stood, wobbling a bit, and picked up the blanket. “I’m pooped. I’m headed inside.”

“As are we all,” Ajax said, standing and gathering up the trash bags and other blankets. “You two staying out here?” he asked, looking pointedly at Achilles and Patroclus.

“Whatever he wants,” Achilles said without missing a beat.

“Oh.” Patroclus blinked. “Um, well, it’s pretty nice out here right now, I guess we’ll stay a little longer.”

Ajax shrugged. “Alright. Just remember to put out the fire before you come back in.” He yawned loudly and trudged back up the beach towards the house, and then they were alone.

 

 

“This was nice,” Achilles said. He looked thoroughly content.

“Yeah,” Patroclus agreed. He leaned over against Achilles’s shoulder, and Achilles sighed happily and rested his cheek on the top of Patroclus’s head.

“We should do this more often,” Achilles said. “I mean, not this exact thing since I love rowing but I don’t want to be rowing on every vacation, but I mean…this.” He gestured vaguely, and laughed when Patroclus gave a slightly derisive snort at his utter lack of articulation. “Traveling,” he explained. “Taking a break from campus. Just the two of us and maybe some friends sometimes, but mainly just the two of us.”

Patroclus hummed. “Yeah. That sounds nice.”

“You know what?” Achilles asked. The fire was beginning to burn out, crackling and hissing, the light orange on Achilles’s face instead of bright hot white.

“What?” Patroclus asked.

“Let’s go to Greece this summer!”

“What the fuck Achilles,” Patroclus said.

“I’ll pay for it,” Achilles said, and his face was suddenly lit up with excitement, his eyes shining. “Oh, don’t look like that, Patroclus, I want to! It can be an early anniversary gift from me. And my dad will be happy that we’re happy – I haven’t told him about us, don’t worry, I wanted to ask you first, but I know he’d be supportive and he wouldn’t tell my mother a thing and honestly who cares if she knows – and God, Patroclus, it would be so much fun! Could you imagine instead of running along the beach here we could be running along the beach in Athens? And instead of sitting by the Charles – which is great, but still – we could be sitting by the shores of Crete looking out over the Mediterranean! And could you imagine the food, the history, the architecture?”

“Alright, alright,” Patroclus laughed, taken in by his enthusiasm.

“So you’ll let me pay for you?”

He looked so beautiful, Patroclus realized. His green eyes shone like emeralds, his hair gleamed in the firelight like woven gold. He looked like something out of a book, like something out of legend, and when Patroclus met his gaze his lips parted in a dazzling smile.

“I love you,” Patroclus said, almost without realizing that he’d said it.

Achilles’s smile widened. “So that’s a yes?”

Patroclus snorted a laugh. “Fine, fine. Yes.”

Achilles whooped.

 

 

“I’m so excited,” Achilles said as they crashed into bed half an hour later, the fire having gone out on its own and left them without light and warmth. “I mean of course we’ll leave time for your internships and everything, I know you’re freaking out about getting enough experience before applying to med school, but summer is a whole four months long!”

“Three and a half,” Patroclus corrected, and felt a flutter in his chest as Achilles stripped off his shirt and flopped down on Patroclus’s left. He’d seen Achilles shirtless a bunch of times by now, but it never failed to impress. Not to mention the fact that he was also just wearing underwear, and his legs looked fantastic.

“Three and a half, four, whatever.” Achilles’s eyes were bright in the darkness. “But even the longer internships are only, what, two and a half months long? That’s plenty of time left.”

His grin was infectious, and Patroclus found himself smiling back at him.

“All to ourselves,” Achilles continued, and shifted a little closer. There was a wicked grin on his face, and presently his tongue darted out to wet his lower lip.

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “Horny asshole,” he mumbled, and leaned forward and kissed him.

“You’re not wrong,” Achilles murmured, and Patroclus felt his hands in his hair, cupping the back of his head before running down the sides of his body. “How could I not be, dating someone who looks like you?”

“Stop exaggerating,” Patroclus said.

“I’m not.” There was something different in Achilles’s eyes now, something a little darker, a little hungrier, and the intensity of his gaze caused Patroclus’s breath to leave his chest in a huff. He shifted closer; just by an inch, but Patroclus could feel the hot lines of his body brushing against him harder now, could sense the subtle shift in the pattern of his breathing.

Patroclus looked up at him, eyes wide, heart pounding in his chest. There was no way he could be reading this wrong, right?

“Do you want to go further?” Achilles asked softly.

Patroclus’s breath hitched. Confirmed; no way he could be reading this wrong. Achilles’s hands were soft against his sides, thumbs rubbing soothing circles. Achilles was propped up on one elbow, his hair falling forward into his eyes, his body turned to silver in the moonlight that made its way through the curtains draped over the window and his golden hair painted white.

“You mean…?” Patroclus glanced downwards, to where Achilles was unmistakably, well, interested.

“If you’re asking if I’m talking about sex, then yes,” Achilles said with a soft chuckle.

“Oh,” Patroclus whispered. He swallowed, suddenly nervous. “Well, then, yes.” He blushed, and he was pretty sure his heartrate had just jacked up two hundred percent of normal.

Achilles’s lips curved in a grin. He kissed Patroclus, slightly breathless, nudging his tongue inside as his hands slipped under the hem of Patroclus’s shirt, warm against his skin. Patroclus gasped and shivered as Achilles pressed against him, shifting so his left thigh was draped over Patroclus’s hip, and Patroclus felt a hardness digging into his lower belly.

“You’re beautiful, Patroclus,” Achilles murmured, and he was kissing Patroclus’s jaw now, sucking gently and leaving faint marks. His hands drifted lower on Patroclus’s body, stroking his sides, his hips, sliding over the curve of his ass, and he nipped at a sensitive patch of skin below Patroclus’s jaw and Patroclus felt it shoot down to his groin.

“I love you,” Patroclus gasped out, as Achilles paused in his ministrations only to help Patroclus out of his shirt. Patroclus took the time to be thankful that he’d decided to sleep in just underwear and not underwear and shorts.

“Not as much as I love you,” Achilles quipped, kissing Patroclus’s chest.

“You sure?”

“I love you the most that anyone can ever love anything,” Achilles declared, with air of triumph. “There, see? Now it’s final.”

“You’re so fucking cheesy,” Patroclus complained, and then Achilles’s hand brushed against his erection through his underwear and he gasped, bucking his hips up.

Achilles chuckled. “You’re adorable.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes even as sensation sparked up from Achilles’ hand between his legs; his lips parted, his breath leaving his chest in soft pants, his hands fisting in the sheets. “Jesus, Achilles,” he gasped, as Achilles’s calloused palm slipped under the hem of the cloth, closing around him and beginning to move, as Achilles bent down and buried his face in the juncture between Patroclus’s neck and left shoulder.

“Good?” Achilles asked, and his breath was hot against Patroclus’s skin.

“Yes,” Patroclus panted, and he felt Achilles’s smile against his neck before the softness of lips pressed kisses against his throbbing jugular. “Oh, fuck, yes, Achilles. Good is a fucking understatement.”

“You can touch me, you know,” Achilles murmured, rotating his wrist slightly at the end of the stroke and causing Patroclus to buck up against him with a sharp cry. “C’mon, Patroclus, that’s it. Just like that.”

Patroclus forced his hands to loosen around the sheets and brought them up to Achilles’s toned body, feeling the shifting of muscle in his chest and shoulders as he stroked, the rise and fall of his ribs as he breathed, and when Achilles moaned Patroclus could feel the vibration of the sound shake his whole body.

Achilles brought his other hand up to Patroclus’s chest, fingertips closing briefly around Patroclus’s nipple; he gasped, feeling something electric shooting through his body. Achilles was sucking a mark into his neck and had begun grinding gently against him, his body moving in one smooth motion. He brought his hand up to cup Patroclus’s cheek, to run through his hair, and the gentle tug at the roots felt glorious.

But that nipple thing –

Patroclus moved his hands to Achilles’s chest, tracing experimentally around his nipples, feeling powerful shivers running through Achilles’s body as his fingertips brushed over the erect tips. He squeezed gently, earning a soft gasp, feeling a slight hitch in Achilles’s rhythm.

“You’re learning quickly,” Achilles said, and he sounded both fond and amused.

Patroclus hummed, reaching down Achilles’s body and feeling the hard panes of muscle give way to slight softness around his waist. He teased lower, feeling the hard edges of his hips and how they rolled under his palms as Achilles ground against him. They slipped under the hem of Achilles’s boxers and Achilles ground a little harder; he gasped, digging his fingers into the muscle of Achilles’s ass as Achilles’s erection dragged against his own.

“Fuck – Patroclus,” Achilles bit out, and the hand in Patroclus’s hair tightened. Patroclus felt his cock jump at the sound of Achilles’s voice, a little bit out of control, a little bit wrecked, and he wanted to hear it again.
He slipped his hand around to the front of Achilles’s hips, feeling the tangle of hair between his legs and the hard length just under it. Achilles let out a choked cry as he closed his hands around it and began to move slowly, giving him a few strokes before he withdrew and slid his hands up Achilles’s sides, relishing in the shifting of muscle, in the smoothness of his bronzed skin.

“I…I wanna fuck you,” Achilles whispered into him, and his voice was tense. “But only if you want to, Patroclus, I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do.”

Patroclus’s lips parted in a soft gasp as Achilles kissed a sensitive spot under his jaw. “It’s okay,” he said, and he felt himself arching off of the bed to press his body against Achilles’s. “I want it too.”

And he did. Of course he did. How could he not, being a sexual living thing currently pinned under one hundred-sixty pounds of muscular beautiful golden god?

He felt Achilles’s grin against his skin. “I love you, Patroclus.”

And then he was gone.

“Achilles – what the fuck –”

“Calm your tits, I’m getting lube and a condom,” Achilles said, his voice slightly muffled but sounding thoroughly amused.

Patroclus scrunched his face in confusion, even as his heartrate jacked up yet again as the realization of what was about to happen hit him.

He was about to lose his fucking virginity. To Achilles.

“You brought lube and a condom?” he asked, to hide what he was pretty sure was excitement but also a little bit of anxiety because he’d never done this before and no matter how much he prepared for it – or rather, how much Achilles prepared him (he wasn’t a complete nerd; he did watch porn, thank you very much, and he was perfectly aware of how anal sex was supposed to work) – he couldn’t help but be a little apprehensive about how much it might hurt.

“You never know when it’ll come in handy,” Achilles said, slightly breathless as he hopped back onto the bed. He’d gotten rid of his underwear by now, Patroclus noticed, and Patroclus decided that now was probably a good time to get rid of his own. He pushed them down around his knees and kicked them off the rest of the way, hearing a soft thump where they landed on the ground somewhere at the foot of the bed. Achilles had torn open the wrapper and was rolling the condom onto his erection; Patroclus swallowed. Dicks looked a whole lot bigger when you know they’re going into your ass.

Achilles saw the apprehension on his face. He leaned in with a soft smile, pressing his lips to Patroclus’s, and Patroclus let his taste overwhelm him.

“I’ve got you,” Achilles murmured. “I won’t do anything until you’re ready, I promise.” He drew back, and his green eyes glowed with the sincerity of his words.

“You’re so fucking cheesy,” Patroclus mumbled. “Don’t make me get all emotional just before you’re about to fuck me, it’ll ruin the moment.”

Achilles laughed, his sweet breath spilling over Patroclus’s cheeks. “Alright, alright, I’ll tone it down.” He kissed him again and uncapped the lube, squeezing a dollop onto his palm before recapping the bottle and rubbing his palms together to warm up the product. He slicked himself up, his breath catching slightly as he fingered his head through the condom, and slicked up his fingers.

“I…I’ve never done this before,” Patroclus said, and his voice shook a little.

Achilles paused. “I’ll go slow, I promise. If you still want this.”

“What – of course I still want this, dumbass,” Patroclus said, and huffed a laugh. “I’m just –” He broke off, biting his lip.

“Nervous?” Achilles supplied softly.

Patroclus nodded, feeling a blush heating his cheeks. “Yeah.”

“That’s alright,” Achilles murmured. “I’ll take care of you. You’ll be fine.”

“I know,” Patroclus said. He took a deep breath, leaning back onto the bed. “I trust you.”

He saw the flash of pleasure in Achilles’s green eyes at his words, saw the faint blush that colored his cheeks. “It’s supposed to be easier if I…if I come in from behind,” Achilles said.

Patroclus shook his head fiercely. “I know. But I want to see you. I’m about to lose my virginity and I want to see the one responsible for it the whole time.”

Achilles chuckled. “Alright.” He shifted so he was between Patroclus’s legs and leaned down and planted a kiss on Patroclus’s chest, just over his heart. He skimmed a hand over Patroclus’s lower belly and then slid it down between his legs; Patroclus gasped at the feeling of his fingers, light and soft like silk against his skin.

“Ready?” Achilles murmured.

“Y-yeah,” Patroclus whispered.

“Deep breath,” Achilles said, and then gently pressed a finger inside.

Patroclus gasped again, more at the unfamiliarity of the feeling than because it actually hurt, though he figured it wasn’t enough of a stretch to hurt yet. Achilles kept kissing him, golden hair tickling his skin, his lips soft and warm and soothing against him, keeping a thrum of pleasure running through his body as he waited for Patroclus to get used to the feeling.

Patroclus swallowed. “I’m – I’m ready,” he said, and Achilles began to move his finger inside of him. Achilles kissed him again as his breath hitched, and when Patroclus was ready again, he added a second finger, and then, a few minutes later, a third. The second had been uncomfortable, but the third one hurt. Achilles’s free hand grasped Patroclus’s right, letting Patroclus’s grip tighten around the sting. Patroclus felt Achilles’s fingertips brushed against a small bundle inside of him and cried out as pleasure rocketed through his body, his hips shifting involuntarily to meet Achilles’s touch.

“You’re doing wonderfully,” Achilles whispered, and his voice was trembling.

“I’m ready,” Patroclus said, slightly breathless, eyes wide. “I can take it now.” He wasn’t completely sure he could, but he wanted to. He wanted to feel Achilles, wanted to trust him, wanted to be fucked. His body was aching for it even as he felt the harsh burn down below.

Achilles withdrew slowly, easing his fingers out just as gently as he’d pushed in, planting gentle kisses along Patroclus’s neck and chest as he positioned the head of his cock against Patroclus’s entrance and slipped in. “Fuck –” Patroclus bit out, his body stiffening, hands tightening around Achilles’s waist.

“Patroclus?”

Overwhelmed as he was, Patroclus couldn’t hold back a huffed laugh at the almost-comedic concern in Achilles’s voice.

“No, it’s not – it just hurts a little bit,” Patroclus admitted, and he could feel his breaths coming short in his chest as he blinked hard, feeling the burn already slowly fading. “Just hold on for a sec, I’ll be fine. And don’t you dare try and say something cheesy,” he added with a warning stare, to which Achilles grinned.

He forced himself to take a few deep breaths, forced himself to loosen his grip on Achilles’s sides, and looked into Achilles’s green, green eyes. He nodded.

Achilles drew out and pushed back in again, his cock bushing against that same bundle of nerves and causing sparks to fly behind Patroclus’s eyes, caused pleasure to rush through him, pounding through his veins and washing over him like waves after waves after waves. Patroclus heard his breath leave his lips in soft cries with every thrust, and Achilles took his length in his calloused hand and Patroclus arched up to meet him, his hands flying to Achilles’s body and tightening. Achilles stroked in time with his thrusts, his lips parted and red and wet and kiss-swollen. It wasn’t like anything Patroclus had felt before, not even with his own hands on himself and his imagination running rampant, and it was overwhelming.

“Fuck,” he gasped out, already feeling a tightening deep in his belly. “Fuck, Achilles, I can’t –”

“You’re beautiful, Patroclus,” Achilles panted, and his golden hair was hanging forward in his face, his pupils wide and his lips slick and red and parted as he drove into Patroclus’s body again and again, his pace unceasing. “You’re so fucking beautiful and you feel so fucking good –”

Achilles,” Patroclus gasped, and the pleasure overwhelmed him and he came embarrassingly soon, spilling out over his belly. He heard Achilles’s breath come faster, harsher, felt the tremble in his limbs, and a moment later he let out a shuddering cry, spilling inside him.

Achilles collapsed on top of Patroclus, chest heaving with fast, panted breaths. “Shit,” he whispered, and he looked slightly dazed.

“‘Shit’ is right,” Patroclus mumbled. His limbs were still shaking with aftershocks, his heart racing and pounding hard against his chest. He swallowed, his breaths coming fast and harsh, and brought his hands to Achilles’s body to ground himself.

Achilles laughed softly, burying his face in Patroclus’s shoulder. “I’m…you…that was amazing,” he managed finally, and Patroclus felt his lips press gentle kisses against his skin. “But we should, uh, clean up a bit,” Achilles said after a few moments, huffing a laugh and pushing himself up so he could gesture at the spectacular mess between them. There was a slight tinge of pink on his cheeks.

Patroclus blinked. “Oh. Right.” He swallowed. Achilles drew out carefully and Patroclus hissed at the sting of it, feeling unnervingly empty without Achilles’s presence. He watched as Achilles tied off the condom and tossed it in the trash before pulling a few tissues out of the box on the corner of the desk and heading back over to the bed.

“You’re beautiful,” Achilles murmured, leaning over and pressing his lips to Patroclus’s.

“What did I say about being cheesy?” Patroclus asked, feeling a grin pulling at his lips nevertheless. He felt Achilles’s hand on his body, gently wiping him down, and chuckled. “We should shower. Water is probably going to be more effective than a tissue.

Achilles drew back and tilted his head, grinning. “Yeah, I guess so.”

He pulled Patroclus to his feet and then slipped an arm around his waist, pausing only to toss their clothes quickly into the laundry. The house was quiet, and even with the bathroom door closed Patroclus was afraid that the sound of the shower might wake someone.

“Don’t worry, they’re all completely out,” Achilles assured him, testing the temperature of the water before stepping in; Patroclus followed him. “Tends to happen when you get drunk, remember?”

Patroclus couldn’t help the grin that spread itself across his face. “Yeah. I remember.”

Achilles echoed his grin. “I love you,” he said.

Cue the blush.

“No, really,” Achilles said earnestly.

“I wasn’t doubting you.”

Achilles’s grin widened, and he pulled Patroclus in for a wetter-than-usual kiss. “You were so good, Patroclus,” he whispered, and his hands brushed low on Patroclus’s belly like the teasing asshole he was. “I looked down at you and what I felt in that moment…I knew I could love you forever and ever, until the end of time itself.”

“That’s a long time,” Patroclus said, even though something warm blossomed in his chest at Achilles’s words.

“I know,” Achilles said.

Patroclus hummed and leaned against Achilles’s chest. “Well, then, me too.”

 

 

“We should get out,” Achilles said with a hint of a laugh in his voice, jolting Patroclus out of his reverie. “We’ve definitely been in here for way too long, and I’ve made it part of my New Year’s resolutions to be eco-friendly. Or, at least, as eco-friendly as I can be and still get warmed up in the shower after those freezing early spring or late fall practices. It’s tempting to kinda just stand there for hours on end, y’know, but I guess it’s not great, right?”

“Right,” Patroclus mumbled, wondering how Achilles still had the energy to talk. The water had been warm over his body and Achilles warmer still, and he didn’t particularly like the idea of stepping out just yet. But Achilles was right; they’d probably been standing there for about twenty minutes at least. Achilles shut off the water and they stepped out and toweled off – or, rather, Achilles toweled off and wrapped his towel neatly around his waist while Patroclus simply bundled himself into his own and refused to unwrap himself until they were back in the room.

“The hallway is cold,” he complained when Achilles laughed at him.

“Okay, true, good point.” Achilles pulled on a pair of clean underwear and crashed onto the bed. Patroclus closed the door, turned off the lights, and clambered in after him in a fashion he hoped was a little kinder on the bedsprings. Achilles laughed and held out his arms.

Patroclus allowed Achilles to pull him in; he felt more than heard Achilles’s satisfied hum and burrowed in close to his warmth, and Achilles’s arms tightened around him. A smile spread itself across his face; he reached up and tangled his fingers in Achilles’s hair, holding him close, feeling the press of their chests against each other with each breath, the heat of Achilles’s bare skin and the steady thump of his heart. He closed his eyes, utterly content.

“I can’t wait to go to Greece,” Achilles whispered.

Patroclus snorted a laugh. “Dude, you’ve got the whole of spring semester to get through first.”

“Well, true, but I’ll be spending it with you, won’t I? It’ll feel like no time at all.”

Patroclus blushed, and was glad that Achilles couldn’t see it in the dark.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Patroclus,” Achilles murmured.

“Me too,” Patroclus said softly, and he knew it was hardly the most articulate and elegant reply he could’ve gone with but he also knew that Achilles was probably used to that by now and would get the sincerity of his words regardless of how eloquent they were. “I’m so glad I decided to transfer. My dad wanted me to stay at East Locris to study law or some shit, can you imagine?”

“What a tragedy my life would’ve been,” Achilles said with a grin, and kissed him.

“Indeed,” Patroclus agreed sleepily. He yawned and closed his eyes. “Well I don’t know how much energy you still have, but I’m tired, so I’m going to sleep. Good night.”

Achilles huffed a laugh. “Okay. Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Patroclus was asleep before Achilles had finished talking.

 

 

The semester started soon after they got back to campus; too soon, Patroclus thought. The four weeks of break felt like they had passed by without warning, while he knew that the sixteen weeks of the semester wouldn’t go by nearly as quickly. He wasn’t ready to get back to the stresses of exams and papers and lab reports, and he’d gotten used to sleeping in well past when his earliest class of the semester was due to start every Monday and Wednesday.

But at the same time, it was exciting to see everyone again. He’d missed Briseis, and he’d found that even though he hadn’t been particularly close to Helen, he’d missed her too. They were in two of the same classes this semester, and Patroclus found to his delight that he didn’t share a single one with Agamemnon or Menelaus.

He moved in with Achilles. Technically, he still had his single in his old dorm, but he brought his clothes and toothbrush and other necessities over to Achilles’s apartment, and Achilles gave him a spare key so he would be able to let himself in even when Achilles wasn’t there.

It was shaping up to be a good semester.
And even if it wasn’t, Patroclus thought, it would be okay. He had Achilles beside him, and they were happy, and that was really all that mattered.

In a few months they would be going to Greece. Achilles had bought plane tickets the day after he’d first suggested the idea; his father had, as promised, been overjoyed to hear that Achilles had met someone he was happy with. They would arrive on a Friday evening, just in time to catch the sunset from the balcony of their hotel that overlooked the sea, and Patroclus knew that even though they would be across the ocean and hundreds of miles away from everything else familiar, he would feel more at home with Achilles than he had ever felt in New York surrounded by people and sights he had grown up with.

Because he felt immortal with Achilles. He knew it was cheesy, but he felt like their love was the kind to last for centuries, even after they had both been long dead and gone. He felt like he could love Achilles forever and ever, no matter what happened or how far apart they were from each other. He felt like theirs was the kind of love that you read about in sappy news stories, when an old couple who had been together for decades died on the same day because their love had connected them so intimately. Sometimes he felt like he and Achilles were like young gods at the dawning of the world, when the future held infinite potential and their love lifted every burden from their shoulders. Young gods, who were untouchable in their perfection.

But tonight, they lay beside each other, fingers skimming over heated skin, bodies pressed flush together so that their legs tangled, lips sucking bruises to mark the other as their own. Tonight, they kissed and fucked and told each other how much they loved each other. Tonight, they were allowed to touch, to feel, to relish in their imperfections.

Tonight, they were allowed to be human.