Achilles stares at the wobbling stack of towels that Zagreus has just finished washing, trying to decide if he ought to be more concerned about the fact that they’re somehow still wet, despite having been in the dryer for over an hour (he knows this, because at some point the pounding in his skill had become perfectly synchronized with the tha-thump of the metal drum—oh, the wonders of having an office that doubled as a utility closet!), or that he can smell the mildew on them from clear across the room.
He knows that there’s a bit of a learning curve with any new job, but… surely the lad has used a washing machine before? …That’s, admittedly, not the sort of question he’d ever thought he’d need to ask during a job interview, but… he’s learning that Zagreus is nothing if not full of surprises—not all of them necessarily good.
Ah, but… if anyone is going to teach the lad to be a semi-functional member of society, it may as well be Achilles. It’s clear as day that the poor kid’s father cannot be bothered.
Achilles is fairly certain that he can be patient while his new hire works out the kinks (so long as Zagreus doesn’t expect to be coddled—he doesn’t do well with coddling—and actually makes an effort to learn from his mistakes). He is, by all accounts, fairly mild-mannered—although he thinks that this is due, at least in part, to the war shattering something deep inside of him, something that had never healed quite right. He can remember a time when all he felt was a righteous, all-encompassing anger. But now…
They called him a hero. He never thought that heroism would feel quite so… devastating.
"Err, lad? Are you certain that those are clean?" The basement of the gym isn't air-conditioned, and the oscillating fan he'd brought down from the upstairs storage is only serving to spread the scent of dank and rot throughout the tiny space. Achilles wrinkles his nose as he directs his attention to another membership application.
"Yes, sir!" Zagreus, excitable as ever, nearly sends the entire stack of towels tumbling to the ground (at least then, Achilles would have an excuse to ask him to rewash them...). "I even used an extra scoop of detergent!" Ah... so they're lucky that they're not swimming in a sea of bubbles, then. "Have you ever considered using something stronger than that free-and-clear crap? Those towels were rank."
Achilles wants to point out that they don't smell all that much better now. Instead, he shrugs, "It gets the job done well enough. Besides, we have members with certain sensitivities—," Perfume allergies were no joke, and the last thing someone wanted to see in the locker rooms was someone with a rash.
"Ah... Yeah, I suppose the perfume in some detergents could really irritate some people's skin." Zagreus licks his lips, and begins fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. "Can I... ask you something, Achilles... sir?" His voice is small, so much so that Achilles struggles to hear him over the whoosh of the fan.
He doesn't divert his attention away from the day's paperwork, even as the fan sends another burst of stale air his way. "You don't have to keep calling me 'sir', Zagreus. I'm... what, ten years older than you?" Not that you'd ever be able to tell that the baby-faced youth fidgeting in front of him had just turned twenty-six. God, Achilles can feel the gray hairs coming in, just thinking about how old he must look in comparison—"Achilles will do just fine."
"Achilles," he repeats, and Achilles swears that he can hear the serpentine hiss of an 's' as he makes to call him 'sir', again. "I was wondering—that picture, on your desk? Who... Who is that?"
Achilles has a number of pictures on his desk. There's not enough space for him to keep a proper frame, so most have been taped to the sides of his computer monitor—although there are a couple that hang from the shelf that sits about a foot or so above the actual desk. He doesn't think about them often. Is that bad? Probably. Once upon a time, he'd placed them there in an effort to seem more approachable, more human. He considers them his chance to shape the image of the man behind the myth, but...
Most, if not all, of the photos mean next to nothing to him anymore.
Except... He knows the picture to which Zagreus is referring almost immediately. It is decidedly different than the others—whereas most of the pictures had been professionally printed, this picture had been printed using a standard computer printer. He'd laminated over the flimsy cardstock only after the years had begun to cause the vibrant colors to fade. It was a picture of Patroclus, taken before they had enlisted. Back when he'd still worn his hair long, and his smile was brighter than all of the stars in the night sky.
When was the last time that Pat had smiled like that? He can't remember, but it was likely long before—
His heel aches. It is an incessant, burning sort of ache, born of bones that don't quite fit together correctly anymore. He'd spent too long on his feet again, today.
"My husband." He says. It occurs to him, then, that there was no way for the lad to know that he was married. Of the many, many photos on his desk, there is only one of Patroclus (this one, precious moment... immortal...). And he doesn't wear his ring, not anymore, not after—"Patroclus."
"You're married?" Zagreus' shock would be almost adorable, were it not accentuated by the pungent scent of rot. Seriously, Zagreus...
"I am." He confirms, almost lazily. He narrows his eyes at yet another application, trying to discern whether the woman had meant to write an 'i' or an 'l'. "Sorry to disappoint." He's half-joking, still uncertain as to what Pat sees in him after all these years… and knowing that a young, pretty thing like Zagreus would have dozens of options—
“I—That’s not—,” Zagreus puffs out his cheeks, “I just… I’d thought maybe you could help me, is all. You see, I have this… this friend… who I think that I might… h-have feelings for? I don’t… He asked me what he is to me, and I… I didn’t know how to answer. That’s probably a bad sign, isn’t it?”
Achilles is almost amused, “You must be truly desperate, to come to me for relationship advice.”
“Well… You are married, right?” Achilles nods, “And I’m assuming that your husband can generally stand to be in the same room with you for more than ten minutes at a time.”
The blond snorts, “You’re assuming quite a lot.”
“I mean…” Zagreus huffs, throwing himself down dramatically on one of the stuffy old couches that is sat opposite of Achilles’ desk. The frame groans under his weight, “I know next to nothing about your relationship with this Patroclus, and I can already tell it’s a hundred times healthier than my parents. So, yeah. Any and all advice would be heartily appreciated.”
Achilles contemplates the many, many ways one can say ‘don’t be like me’, as his eyes track the way the towels are wobbling back and forth. Any second now, they’re going to fall off of the shelf and hit Zagreus square in the head.
Achilles might even laugh. It’s… been a long time since he’s laughed.
His eyes flicker to the picture of Patroclus. It is not the only one he has of his husband, nor is it his favorite. And yet… this is the only one that isn’t tucked away in a photo album, or hanging in some ridiculously ornate frame, or… When was the last time that he’d spent more than ten minutes in a room with Patroclus? It had to have been before—
His eyes move to his left heel. It was such an odd place to be shot, and yet… the damage was horrendous. Who knew that there were so many little bones in one’s foot? …Patroclus, probably. They paid him good money to know that sort of thing. But Achilles… well, Achilles had never claimed to be particularly smart. He knew enough about business to keep his gym open, and knew enough about the human body to know that he’d never again be able to walk without a limp.
Patroclus had sobbed and sobbed, and told him he was lucky to be able to walk at all.
And Achilles had laughed until he cried.
“Are you… okay, sir—Achilles! I mean, Achilles!” Zagreus hurries to correct himself. The corner of Achilles’ mouth quirks up into an almost smile. Really, this kid is too much, sometimes.
“I—,” No. No, I’m not okay. “Yeah. I’m fine.” He decides that it’s an ‘i’, and finishes processing the paperwork. “Don’t be stupid.” Zagreus squawks, indignant, and Achilles clarifies, “If you feel for him—feel anything for him—then tell him. Don’t leave him to guess what it is that’s on your mind—even if you don’t fully understand what it is your thinking, yourself.”
He should learn to take his own advice. When was the last time he’d had a proper conversation with Patroclus about how he was feeling? …Had it been that first night in the hospital, when even the cool rush of morphine had done little to dull the ache of his broken, splintered bones? When he’d been so overcome with anguish, with rage, that he’d lashed out at the first thing he’d seen?
The stench of mildew intensifies.
“B-But… How do I just… just tell my best friend of over twenty-years that I think I’m in love with him?” Zagreus still looks pitifully lost. Something tightens in Achilles’ chest.
“Just like that.” The elder pulls tugs the hair tie from his soft blond hair, easing some of the tension that’d been building in his scalp. “There’s no use beating around the bush, now is there? And fear is for the weak.”
Zagreus licks his lips, silently mouthing Achilles’ words back to him. Then, “Fear is for the—oomph!” The entire stack of towels tumbles off of the shelf, landing on top of him with a soft thwump. Achilles doesn’t quite laugh, but he does make a sound that may have been an aborted chuckle. “Eugh… why do these smell like mildew?”
Achilles rolls his eyes, “If they smell, wash them again.” He returns to his task—he wants to have all of these memberships processed before he closes up shop for the night…
He swears that he hears Zagreus mutter ‘fear is for the weak’ to himself repeatedly as he reloads the washing machine.
Good, he thinks, maybe… maybe he can still be helpful to someone, even now.
And that… that makes him smile.