In hindsight, it is lovesick and stupid. Patroclus has no-one to blame but himself. But they are that kind of couple, and maybe they’ll find a way to laugh about this, years from now. Maybe. If Achilles’ irritation at the situation ever cools. For now, his deep green eyes are roiling, like a forest bursting with unseen life. He just about manages to keep a level tone. Patroclus knows full-well that Achilles isn’t mad at him. He’s just sort of annoyed at himself, for not being present, for being a distraction, for unfounded accusations he lays upon his own head.
There’s no need for this kind of angst. The whole thing is completely fucking stupid.
Half-past noon, a little hungry, Patroclus adjusts the strap of his ever-loosening messenger bag and whips out his phone. He finds the most-used chat, on top of all the others. Do you want lunch? he texts Achilles. His boyfriend is at the other end of the campus, though they know each other’s schedules well; Patroclus knows that at this time, Achilles will be just about finishing his afternoon class. They often catch up for a meal, and it’s Patroclus’ favourite time of the day.
Yes, Achilles types back, a moment later. The corridor is not too crowded. A couple of students. A couple of teachers. Patroclus glances up once, to gauge if he’s about to walk into someone, and getting a sense of everyone’s positions, turns back to his phone.
What do you want to eat? he replies. There are a couple of options on campus. Achilles usually likes the burger shop, so Patroclus expects him to respond with that. Sometimes they try different cuisines, sometimes just salad. Patroclus himself doesn’t have any strong opinions on the matter. Anything works.
The grey typing bubble appears, and Achilles’ response arrives. You.
The fire--and pleasure--that floods Patroclus is immediate and overwhelming. He giggles stupidly into his phone, trying to think of some witty and flirtatious retort, and does not see the stairs coming. He misses the first, slips on the second, and goes tumbling down in a heap.
In the immediate aftermath of his fall, Patroclus doesn’t register much. A second passes. Maybe two. Now he can hear people crying out. And everything hurts. His rib. His head. There is an inferno inside the bones of his arm. His palm stings. Vaguely, he tries to move it, and pinpricks of pain stop him.
Now a girl is helping him up. She is dark and pretty, her coils of hair falling over her shoulder. “Hey, hey, are you okay? Are you conscious?”
Patroclus makes a noise that isn’t very intelligent, but then musters a feeble, “Yeah, yeah…” He blinks and takes stock. In the back of his head sits a dull, pulsating ache. He can’t sit up properly for his rib. And his palm is covered in shards of glass. From what?
The girl shows him a black rectangular stone. Patroclus can only stare. It is the remains of his phone. The screen is completely shattered. It is dead. “Fuck,” he mutters, blearily.
She introduces herself as Briseis. She asks him, “Is your arm broken, you think?”
He stares at that, too. It hurts so much, Patroclus can barely form a sentence. The angle is all wrong. Distantly, he remembers he is a nursing student, and he should know these things. “It might be.”
That is how he ends up in the emergency room with Briseis. He asks her to call Achilles from there. Patroclus, of course, has the number memorised. When Achilles shows up, it is in a torrent of worry, and when he sees Patroclus, that worry turns to dread. Patroclus can actually notice the transformation. The point at which a tense frown turns to outright horror.
“My love,” he whispers, approaching. “You look terrible. What happened?”
Patroclus is glad they are alone, and that Briseis is outside giving them privacy. Because this story is so embarrassing, he can barely get it out.
When Achilles hears it, he goes suddenly stiff. Then he demands, “Are you for real ?” and falls completely silent until they are back home.
Patroclus has a dislocated arm and a bruised rib, but fortunately no concussion. He winces as Achilles helps him down on the bed. “I mean,” he says when the rush of pain ebbs, “it’s kind of funny.”
Achilles rounds on him. “It is not! I was so worried! You just vanished --”
“--My phone died--”
“And the next thing I know, I’m getting a call from the hospital!” Achilles rubs a hand over his face and then his rage crumbles. He approaches the bed and sits. His hand trails from Patroclus’ cheek to his throat. “I love you. More than anything or anyone else on earth. And I never, ever want to receive a phone call like that again.”
Achilles is always so intense. He’ll break his own heart a hundred times for Patroclus. And Patroclus is always aware of how fortunate he is to be loved by this man. He lifts his unbound hand and traces Achilles’ lips, his thumb pulling down slightly. The kiss is chaste, but long and steady, an act of comfort, a way of saying, I am here, I will always be here.
When they part, Patroclus is slightly breathless and Achilles is pink in the face. To break the tension, Patroclus eggs, “But it is funny, when you think about it. You got me so flustered, I actually fell down.”
“You are an idiot,” Achilles responds, but he is smiling now. “I have an idiot for a boyfriend.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to deal with that,” Patroclus retorts, grinning.
“Indeed.” Achilles stands. “I will cook lunch for my idiot boyfriend, and help him eat, and we will fall asleep to the TV. Does that sound good?”
“Yes.” Patroclus is suddenly ravenous, but also extremely light; happy, full of warmth. Achilles ruffles his hair, as he is wont to do. His hand is careful to not jerk Patroclus’ head and worsen the ache.
“I will be back, my darling,” he whispers, kissing Patroclus again. “Rest.”
And Patroclus listens, shutting his eyes as a feeling of calm joy blooms in his chest, underneath his aching rib, inside his blood, within the tissue of his heart. Again and again and again, he thinks, It is a privilege to be loved by you. It is with that thought that he falls asleep.