“Nyx?” He’d told Patroclus that Nyx would likely still be in her studio, but he hadn’t expected her to come over to check on him of her own volition. “I… yes, I’m alright. I was just taking a little breather, that’s all.”
“Oh? Isn’t Zagreus supposed to be helping you with that…?” She raises a brow. Achilles studies the bits of acrylic paint that stain the tips of Nyx’s long, thin fingers. When he doesn’t answer her, she asks, “I don’t suppose that I can be of any assistance? I… can’t claim to know much about how to maintain a gym…”
“I… couldn’t ask you to do that. Aren’t you busy with commissions?” Now that she’s here, he doesn’t know how to ask her for the help that he so desperately needs. He also doesn’t want to take her away from her own work—she’s never not busy with her painting commissions.
“I am, indeed.” Nyx nods. “I was actually working on a piece that Patroclus commissioned—” Achilles raises a brow—he hadn’t known that Patroclus was looking to acquire any new art. “—when he called the studio.”
“He… called you?” It hadn’t occurred to him that Patroclus would reach out to Nyx for him.
“He did. He sounded quite worried. I have to admit, I was expecting… well, I don’t really know what I was expecting.” Nyx says, “…He truly loves you, Achilles. Even when you feel yourself underserving of his affections, or think yourself unable to return them as you ought.”
“I…” Achilles draws in a deep, shuddering breath. When she puts it like that, there’s really no use in trying to deny it, is there? “We had a bit of a… f-fight when I called him earlier. Or… I think it might’ve been a fight. I don’t know.”
He doesn’t even realize that Nyx has slipped the spray bottle and rag from his hands and started to clean, picking up on the machine he’d left off on—”Have you ever had an actual fight with Patroclus before?”
He has to think about that for a second, “I… Admittedly, our definition of fight may be a bit different than most.”
“Well…” Nyx has already finished wiping down the first machine, and has moved onto the second, “Would you like to talk about it? I’d be more than happy to lend an ear.”
“I…” Would that help? He doesn’t really know. “I suppose that it’s worth a try.”
He doesn’t talk about Patroclus, not at first. After all, he regrets to admit that he didn’t realize anything was amiss in his relationship with his husband until… well, yesterday, when Zagreus had pointed out that he (and likely anyone else that hadn’t known them since middle school—so, Briseis) hadn’t realized that Achilles was married. Instead, he tells her about the odd sort of relationship that he’s developing with Zagreus. Well… maybe odd isn’t the right word, even if he does think it odd that anyone would think someone as broken as he would make a suitable mentor.
Nyx was already familiar with much of Zagreus’ story. Hades had commissioned her, shortly after Zagreus’ birth, to paint a picture of his newborn son (the painting hangs in his office, at the far end of the strip mall—it’s the only picture of Zagreus to be seen, despite the fact that the painting is well over twenty-six years old now). He’d been so pleased with her work that he’d continued to commission her for pieces of art around his house: a portrait of his estranged wife, multiple portraits of his daughters, portraits of Cerberus, horror abstracts… the list seemed endless. She works so closely with Hades that, every once in a while, rumors start to circulate that she was at least partially responsible for the strain in Hades and Persephone’s marriage—
But that’s beside the point.
He tells her that Zagreus is head over heels for Thanatos—which, again, is not a surprise, considering that Nyx is Thanatos’ mother (and if he were half as obvious with his feelings around her as he was with Achilles, then she would have to be completely and utterly oblivious to miss the budding romance between them). The problem is that he recognizes that the mess that is his parents’ relationship isn’t worth emulating, and for some reason, he seems to think that Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship is. And he… well, he doesn’t. He loves Patroclus more than life itself. The only person—well, people—that he’s second to in Achilles’ heart are Pyrrhus and Amaltheia. And yet… he knows that he’s a shit excuse for a husband, for a father…
Zagreus should be asking Patroclus for advice. He’s sure that his husband would be more than willing to offer the lad some meaningful advice on anything that he might be wondering about. …Actually, that’s not a half-bad idea. He should really work on putting the two of them in contact with one another.
Achilles looks up, about to ask Nyx her opinion on his idea, when he realizes that Nyx is clear across the room, cleaning off the last of the machines. He blinks—has he really been talking for that long? No, she’s just moving that fast. A little less than five minutes later, she returns, rag and spray bottle in hand.
“I think…” she sets the items down, before wiping the excess cleaning fluid off on her high-waited black jeans. “Zagreus came to you because he trusts you. Even if you do not understand it… you shouldn’t question it.”
Achilles bites his lip, “But… what if I can’t be what he needs?”
Nyx is silent for a moment, considering. Then, “Zagreus is at a difficult point in his life. He… He ran away from home, last year. Spent three months on the west coast—said that he wanted to see his mother. I… paid for his plane ticket.” Achilles hadn’t heard about this before. “Persephone spent a week with him, before telling him he couldn’t stay.”
Achilles frowns, “I thought that you said that he spent three months out there?”
“He did.” Nyx averts her eyes, “He was… too devastated to admit that his mother had turned him away. He had always thought that life with her would be so much better than life with Hades. And I… I will admit that there was a time where I thought the same.”
“And now?” Achilles asks.
“Now, I think he’s better off here. Not necessarily with Hades,” The idea of the lad going back to live with his father sends a shiver down Achilles’ spine, “I think he needs someone to show him he doesn’t need his mother, or his father, or anyone… He needs someone to help him be able to stand on his own two feet.”
Achilles finds himself unable to meet her gaze. He doesn’t understand what it is that she seems to see in him—what everyone else seems to see in him. “And… you think that I can be that person for him?”
There is a pause, then, “I know that you can be that person for him. Do you know why?”
“I… can’t say that I do.” Achilles says.
“Because Zagreus chose to reach out to you.” Because Zagreus trusts you, is what he hears—even if he doesn’t necessarily understand it.
If anything, he would’ve thought that the moral of Nyx’s story was that Zagreus’ judgment was questionable at best. He… hadn’t known that the lad had run away (it seemed weird to refer to it as ‘running away’, when the lad hadn’t been his father’s legal obligation for over eight years now—he could come and go as he pleased, even if it pleased him to travel to the other side of the world to be with his mother), but it didn’t surprise him. It certainly cleared up a few things about his budding relationship with Thanatos.
…He’d run away, once upon a time. At the time, he’d been younger than Zagreus—much younger. Newly graduated from high school, with Patroclus’ ring fresh upon his finger. He’d already told Patroclus yes—a thousand times, yes—but Patroclus had wanted to do things right, had wanted to ask for permission from Achilles’ mom. (His dad had never had an active role in his life, having filed for divorce from his mother when she was six months’ pregnant with him. It’d never bothered him, though his mother was still bitter over the break-up some thirty-six years later (or, at least, he thought that she was still bitter about it—he couldn’t be sure, considering that he hadn’t talked to his mother in almost eighteen-years-now). But his mom… well, she’d said no.
It wasn’t because he was marrying another man. He’d always be grateful for the way that his mother had just… accepted him, without him having to say more than a handful of words. It was because he was marrying Patroclus. And Achilles wouldn’t be convinced to marry another… so he’d run. They’d eloped, tying the knot in a courthouse on the outskirts of town. Achilles had always held that, when they had the resources, they’d do things right (although Patroclus assured him, time and again, that he was more than happy with the way things had gone). But then… Achilles had enlisted, and Patroclus had spent four years in undergrad, before enlisting himself. After one tour of duty, he’d applied to medical school—and after that, Pyrrhus had been born.
Which is… a rather roundabout way of saying that he understands. Even if they’re circumstances had been different. Maybe he’d share the story with Zagreus, one day. His eyes skirt down to the place where his ring had once lain—it’d been even longer since he’d worn his engagement ring—
(It’d taken him nearly a year to be able to afford a ring—the diamond was on the smaller side, and a little cloudy, but Achilles had loved it desperately. It currently sat in his jewelry box, alongside his actual wedding band).
And then he realizes… God, has it really been eighteen years since they’d gotten married?
Nyx places her hands on her hips, “Was there anything else that you needed to do before heading out for the night?”
He blinks, the realization that the gym looks absolutely spotless—it’s practically gleaming, in a way that it certainly doesn’t do when he tries to clean it himself—drawing him from his thoughts. “I… I don’t think so. I don’t know how you managed to do all that so fast, but… thank you. I’m forever in your debt.”
Nyx shakes her head, “There is nothing to thank me for, love. I just did what I could… I know that, were our positions reversed, you would have done the same.” She smiles, “Go home to your family, Achilles.”
“Yeah… Yeah, I should definitely… do that.” He goes to stand, only to realize that he’s sitting too close to the ground—it wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, except that he’s put considerable strain on his leg today. “Uh… fuck.”
Nyx doesn’t even ask. She extends a hand and braces herself, pulling him up off the ground. “There you are.”
Achilles hesitated for only a moment, before accepting her hand. He’s… definitely going to regret sitting like that for the rest of the night—and probably tomorrow, too. But… “Thank you, Nyx. For everything.” He grips the handle of his cane until his knuckles turn white, “Can I walk you back to your studio? It’s awfully late, and—,”
She nods, “If you would be so kind…”
It's not until he's in the car some twenty minutes later that he realizes Nyx had effectively distracted him from his 'fight' with Patroclus.
...And maybe, just maybe, that'd been her plan all along.
The house is dark by the time Achilles arrives home, and yet… he still sits in the car for half an hour after pulling into the garage, hoping to minimize the chances of running into Patroclus. He feels a little bit better about the ‘fight’ that they’d had (really, it was hardly the first time that Patroclus had heard Achilles raise his voice—he just didn’t ordinarily raise his voice at him). He still doesn’t feel quite up to seeing him (and he’s definitely not ready to see Pyrrhus—he already knows that that’s going to go (spoiler alert: not well at all)). So he sits in the car and stares at the various stickers on the windshield. He’ll have to put aside a time to schedule an oil change… and is it really almost time to have the car inspected again? He could’ve sworn that he had a couple of months yet…
The door to the garage opens—with considerably less force than it had when Pyrrhus had thrown it open the night before—and Patroclus pokes his head inside, flipping on the lights. His husband looks tired. His dark hair is pulled up into a messy bun (he always puts it up after he washes it, to minimize the tangles he has to rake through in the morning). He’s wearing the gag gift that he and Pyrrhus had gotten him for Christmas last year: a plain white t-shirt with the words ‘World’s Okayest Dad’ written in bold print comic sans and covered in about a pound and a half of glitter. Patroclus had chuckled about it at the time (though whether it was because he appreciated the joke, or he knew that everything in the house would be covered in glitter within hours, who could tell?).
His boxers had clearly seen better days. He should probably—definitely—pick him up a couple new pairs when he next goes to the store (is that weird to be thinking about right now? Probably…). Patroclus shuffles over to the car, knocking aside one of Pyrrhus’ toy trucks with his bare feet. It rolls over toward the washing machine, colliding with the metal with a soft thunk. Achilles rolls down the window, trying his best to smile as Patroclus leans on the driver’s side door and pokes his head inside.
“Are you planning on spending the night out here?” It’s a familiar question, though he’s not usually sitting in his car contemplating the expiration date on his inspection stickers when Patroclus asks it.
“No, I…” He swallows hard, his eyes flitting down to his injured leg. “I hate to ask you this, Pat, but would you mind bringing me my—” Before he can even finish asking, Patroclus is pressing a small, red pill into his hand. “How did you know that I…?” He takes the pill, regardless.
Patroclus shrugs, “Call it a hunch.” He bites his lip, “How are things at the gym? Did you get everything done?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.” He’s silent for a moment, before offering, “I… didn’t expect you to call Nyx.”
Patroclus tenses, “I… I just wanted to make sure that you were okay.” He takes a deep breath, “I’m sorry if that upset you. Is that why you’ve been sitting out here in the car for the last half-hour…?”
“I… no. It’s alright. I… Nyx was really helpful, and we had a really enlightening chat about Zagreus.” She’d even helped him to shed some light on his relationship with Patroclus, as well. Even if it had been her intention to take his mind off of the little ‘spat’ they’d had. “Thank you for that. I would’ve been there all night, otherwise.”
Patroclus doesn’t seem entirely convinced, “Really? Because you seemed really adamant about not wanting—or needing—any help when we talked on the phone.”
Achilles takes a deep, shuddering breath, “It’s… hard for me to admit that I need help, sometimes. I… I really want to be able to do everything that I can for myself, for as long as I can.” He meets Patroclus’ eyes, “But that doesn’t mean that I should have snapped at you like that. I’m sorry—”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for, love.” Patroclus says, though he does seem a bit happier to hear Achilles’ apology. “I’m just glad that everything worked out in the end.”
“I’m still sorry.” And then, softer, “For more than you know.”
“What was that?” Patroclus asks.
“Nothing,” Achilles forces a smile.
It takes a little while for the medicine to kick in. Patroclus seems more than happy to pass the time with him out in the garage, though he feels bad for pulling him away from his much-needed rest. There’s also no air-conditioning in the garage (which is, unfortunately, calling attention to the fact that he hadn’t bathed since… well, he can’t really remember when). He’s more than a little self-conscious about it, though he doesn’t know whether Patroclus has noticed (and even if he did notice, he would never call attention to it—he might gently recommend that they take a bath together at some point in the near future, like… now, but he’d never come right out and tell Achilles that he stank). But he’s a bit desperate for the closeness with his husband, so he tries to tamp down his embarrassment.
He thinks about asking after Pyrrhus. He knows that he’d promised he’d come home early, if only to assuage the little boy’s fears that something would happen to him while he was out of the house—but he still holds that he’d done the right thing in letting Zagreus leave early. He also knows that the little boy has quite the temper (one of the more unfortunate traits that he’d inherited from Achilles). Achilles wouldn’t be surprised if he’d lashed out at Patroclus, seeing him as an easy target—and that broke Achilles’ heart.
Patroclus must notice the way that Achilles’ mood has shifted, because he reaches out to tuck a stray hair behind Achilles’ ear… his hand trailing down to trace along the sharp curve of the other man’s jaw. He tilts Achilles’ head back, forcing his husband to make eye contact with him.
Exhausted brown eyes meet exhausted sea-glass green.
“What’s the matter, love?” He asks. Achilles is disinclined to answer, but… he doesn’t want the rift between himself and Patroclus to grow any bigger, either.
He takes a deep breath, “I was… actually wondering how your conversation went with Pyrrhus.”
Patroclus blinks. A long moment of silence stretches between them, and Achilles wonders whether or not he’s going to answer. Then, “He… told me that he’d had a dream about you dying, and that he’d asked to go to the gym with you today to… well, to keep an eye on you, and you’d turned him down.”
Achilles nods, “I… I don’t like telling him no, but I really don’t think he’d enjoy himself. There’s not really anything for him to do, and I can’t keep an eye on him the whole time, and—”
“You don’t have to explain yourself, Achilles. I understand. And… I think that he’ll understand, too. Once he calms down a bit.” Patroclus bites his lip, “He had a bit of a tantrum. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he bumped into the kitchen table and knocked over a glass and—”
“Is he alright?!” Achilles asks—he supposed that he doesn’t really need to panic, seeing as Patroclus seems calm enough about it, and he was there. But he can’t help that that was his first instinct.
“He’s fine, don’t worry.” Patroclus adds. “Though I… I can’t promise that he won’t say something hurtful the next time that your paths cross. Just… please know that he doesn’t mean it, and try not to take it too personally. I know that it’s easier said than done, but…”
“Oh,” His shoulders sag a little—he cannot help but feel like he deserves it, even if he still holds he did the right thing.
“You don’t need to be sorry, love.” Patroclus says, again. Just because he keeps saying it doesn’t make it true, though. “I’m just glad that Zagreus is alright. What happened with him, anyway?”
Achilles licks his lips, “His dad kicked him out, and I think he spent last night sleeping in the gym.” All of the color drains out of Patroclus’ face—like Achilles, it has likely occurred to him that there is no air-conditioning in the gym at night. “And his car broke down, so he’s been walking back to his friend’s house every night.”
“You didn’t let him walk home, did you?” Patroclus asks.
Achilles looks at him like he’s sprouted a second head, “What? No! His boyfriend—well, his soon-to-be boyfriend—drove three miles out of his way to come pick him up and it was just so cute, I couldn’t say no.”
Patroclus’ lips twist up into a genuine smile, “That is rather cute.”
The medicine has kicked in at this point, and he feels comfortable enough putting weight on his injured leg to get out of the car and walk into the house. He thinks about crashing in the living room—but Patroclus had been so kind as to wait up for him, even though he had to be up at an absolutely horrific time tomorrow morning—so he decides to spend the night in the bedroom. That being said, he is tired. He doesn’t bother changing out of his clothes, just plops face-first onto the mattress (a position that is rapidly becoming a favorite for sleeping).
Patroclus is not far behind, though it appears that he’d made a detour in the kitchen to grab Achilles some leftovers. He’s not all that hungry, but he hasn’t eaten all day (he didn’t drink any of the water that Briseis had him take with him that morning, either—which is a bit not good, considering that he shouldn’t be taking his meds on an empty stomach).
He sets a bowl of curry on the bedside table (it’s mild—he can’t handle anything too heavily spiced with his stomach ulcer (another wonderful side-effect of all of the opioids that he’s taking). But just in case, Patroclus has also brought him a glass of whole milk. His stomach rumbles—loudly. Patroclus is an unfairly talented cook.
“Thank you, Pat.” He makes no move to grab the food, however. Patroclus seems to notice this, because he motions for Achilles to sit up—which Achilles does, begrudgingly—and takes a seat near his legs.
He picks up the bowl and scoops up a spoonful of curry and rice, holding it out for Achilles. “Come on, love. Just a couple of bites, and then I’ll let you sleep. You’ve had another long day, and Briseis told me that you had a lot of pain this morning—”
Achilles eyes widen a bit, “This morning was fine!” He exclaims, in a way which communicates that that morning most definitely had not been fine. And then, in an effort to change the topic, he asks, “Are you… really going to feed me?” Color rises in his cheeks, but he doesn’t seem entirely put-off by the idea.
“Absolutely,” Patroclus grins, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes. “Unless you have a problem with that?”
Achilles shakes his head, “N-No, I… I mean, I don’t need you to feed me, obviously, but… if that’s something that you would like to do, then… I wouldn’t be opposed.”
“It’s definitely something that I would like to do.” He presses the spoon to Achilles’ lips, and the younger man opens up, taking everything that he was offered. “Good boy. Do you think you can do another bite for me?”
Achilles feels a little dizzy, with the way that his heart is thumping frantically in his chest. He wants to be Patroclus’ good boy. It’s been such a long time since he was Patroclus’ good boy. “I… yes. I can… I can do another.”
Patroclus smiles, scooping up another spoonful of curry. “Good.”