“Achilles…” It’s a small consolation that Patroclus hadn’t bothered to dress to impress. If given the choice, Patroclus would live in his scrubs, but he does have a selection of dressy-casual clothes he’ll consider for date nights with Achilles. He even has a dress jacket, hidden away in the depths of his disaster of a closet—
Patroclus is wearing sneakers. Achilles wonders how he convinced the maître d’ to let him into the restaurant.
“It’s okay if you… if you don’t feel like talking, or you just don’t want to talk to me.” Patroclus’ voice is soft, despairing. “But I… fuck, when Nyx told me how much of an idiot I’d been, I… Achilles, I am so, so sorry. I know that that doesn’t mean anything now, but…” He throws himself down heavily in a nearby armchair.
Achilles shifts a little, re-cocooning himself in his blanket. “How was your date with Theseus?” His voice is dripping vitriol that he doesn’t quite feel. He’s too tired to feel much of anything at the moment.
“Please don’t…” Patroclus sounds a little desperate. And then, he takes a deep breath, “It wasn’t even really a date. I told him that, upfront. But he kept flashing his cash on expensive wine and caviar and lobster and… I just… I felt so uncomfortable. He wasn’t you, and… Well, nothing else really mattered.”
“Did you mean it, that you never intended to sleep with him?” Achilles lifts his eyes to meet Patroclus’ for the first time, considering the fat tears that cling to his dark lashes. “Or did you just say that to Nyx, to keep her from—”
The tears start pouring down Patroclus’ cheeks, “Achilles… I didn’t even sleep with you until our third date.”
“And that’s supposed to convince me that you wouldn’t spread your legs for Theseus in a heartbeat?” He snarls, “I was assaulted, and you took that as an invitation to be wined and dined by your sleazeball of a boss—”
Patroclus flinches, “I didn’t know, Achilles. If I’d known, I never would’ve—”
“Yes, well. You certainly didn’t stick around to find out, either.” Achilles lowers his eyes to the floor, “I tried to tell you, but you didn’t listen. You didn’t even try to entertain the idea that something else might’ve happened.”
“A-Achilles…” Patroclus’ voice falters as he chokes back a sob. Achilles keeps his eyes fixed firmly on the ground, well-aware of the fact that, if he looks at Patroclus’ heartbroken face, he’ll falter—”I know that I fucked up. B-But you… you hadn’t been coming home, and you weren’t talking to me, and—“
“This isn’t my fault!” And there it is. A flash of that old, all-consuming rage. His entire body is shaking with it.
“I never said that it was.” Patroclus is struggling to keep his voice level, to not yell.
He’s heard Achilles yell, countless times. He’s never heard Achilles yell at him.
Achilles doesn’t want to yell at Patroclus. He doesn’t want to be responsible for the tears streaking down Patroclus’ cheeks. And yet, he’s so mad that he’s almost sick with it, so hurt by the idea of Patroclus with anyone else that he can’t help the words that keep spilling over his lips. Each word is like a blade in Patroclus’ supple flesh, chipping away at the walls he’s built around his heart in the last six months. The walls that he’d built to protect himself from the very real possibility of losing Achilles to the battlefield… the operating table… himself.
Achilles throws back the blanket, drawing himself up to his full height. His heel throbs, but the adrenaline flooding his system disguises the ache of it well enough. Patroclus shrinks back in the chair a little, but otherwise, fails to take the bait. Achilles doesn’t want him to shrink away. He wants him to yell. He wants him to admit that he’s wanted to fuck Theseus from the beginning, that he didn’t want to tell Achilles about it because he secretly liked the attention. Because he wanted to have something lined up for when their relationship inevitably went to hell in a handbasket—
“Was it the blond hair? The unusual eye color?” Achilles hisses through clenched teeth, “Or maybe you just miss me being an ass all the time—is that it? You have a fucking type, Patroclus. I guess I’m just too fucked-up to fit the bill anymore, huh?”
Patroclus’ short nails dig into the fabric of the armrest, nearly tearing straight into the upholstery. “Achilles—”
“You’re such a fucking slut.” Patroclus’ tenses, as if Achilles had reached across the divide and struck him across the face. “Why would I believe anything that comes out of your mouth? You went on a date with another man—”
“I’m trying to tell you that I fucked up. I know that I fucked up, and I’m sorry—”
Achilles rolls his eyes, “Your apologies don’t mean shit, Pat. I needed you, and you weren’t there.” He snaps.
Patroclus is making the most horrific, rasping inhalations as he tries to breathe around his sobs. Achilles would be worried, if he was even truly registering that his words weren’t just rolling right off of Patroclus’ back. “I… I-I know that, Achilles. I almost wrapped the fucking car around a tree getting here, because I was so worried—”
“No.” Achilles cuts him off sharply, “You’re not allowed to be ‘worried’ about me now. Not when fucking Nyx had to tell you that you should’ve taken two fucking seconds to listen to what the fuck I was trying to tell you—!”
Patroclus takes a deep breath… and snaps like an over-stretched rubber band. “No, Achilles. You don’t get to tell me how I feel about all of this. You are entitled to your emotions, just like I’m entitled to mine. You might not like that I’m upset about all of this, but that’s not going to make me any less devastated—”
“Devastated? Devastated?” Achilles is tugging at the remnants of his hair. His throat is hoarse from all of the yelling. “You don’t know what devastation feels like.”
“Don’t I?” And now Patroclus is yelling, and it fills Achilles with an icy sort of unease. He thinks he might throw up. “I sent my husband off to war, and he came back with an extra hole in his body and shattered bones and mangled, half-dead nerves. He’s hurt in a way that I can’t fix, despite years of training and practice—”
“If that’s too much for you to deal with, then why’re you still here?!” Achilles interjects sharply.
“Because I’m where I want to be!” Patroclus snaps back. “But you have to understand that you’re not the only one who’s in pain, Achilles! I’ve had to sit back and watch you pull away from me for six months, had to listen to you tell me—and sincerely believe—that I would be better off with literally anyone else—”
“So, you finally decided that I was right.” It’s not a question. Achilles deflates a little.
Patroclus’ cheeks are flushed with anger, “I don’t want Theseus!”
“Then, why did you go on a date with him? Why did it take Nyx calling and telling you that I’d been to the fucking crisis center for you to finally tear yourself away?” Achilles’ voice is so soft, it barely projects the short distance between them.
Patroclus rakes a hand through his hair, destroying the messy bun he’d put it in for his date. As his hand tangles in the dark locks, Achilles happens to catch a glimpse of a familiar glint of gold. Is that…? No, it couldn’t be. It wouldn’t make any sense, for Patroclus to put his wedding ring back on, prior to heading out on his little date with Theseus. Although… he does remember Patroclus mentioning that there was a logical explanation as to why he’d taken the ring off in the first place.
In a flash, Achilles is on his feet. Everything hurts, but the anger bubbling up inside of his stomach is enough to force the pain emanating from his injured leg to the back of his mind. He doesn’t even know where his cane is—probably in the kitchen, leaning up against the island counter, alongside his dirty dishes. He takes Patroclus’ hand in his, his fingers pressing down on his husband’s skin just a hair too hard. Patroclus is much too confused by the sudden turn of events to do anything more than let Achilles study his hand—and, more importantly, the ring upon it.
“You’re wearing your ring.” He breathes, a little disbelieving. He runs his finger over the familiar grooves of the stones, taking a deep, somewhat unsteady breath.
“I… Yes?” Patroclus is looking at him oddly, as if he hadn’t been seen without his wedding ring the other day… as if Achilles hadn’t found his ring floating at the bottom of his bedside table drawer. “I never wanted to take it off. But I had to, or else they would have had to cut it off of me—”
“Cut it…?” He doesn’t understand. The ring appears fine. It fits, just as it always did…
Patroclus uses his free hand to scrub at his eyes, “I’ve put on like… thirty pounds since you were last deployed. And I… I’ve tried everything to kick the weight, but it seems that my metabolism just isn’t what it used to be.”
Achilles isn’t sure why his first instinct is to poke Patroclus’ midsection. Hard. “There’s no way…”
“I hate to break it to you, Achilles… but I think our bathroom scale would beg to differ.” Patroclus says.
“Hmm…” But Achilles has already been distracted by the chain around Patroclus’ neck, tucked away in the neckline of his shirt. Curious, he tugs on it, his sea-glass eyes widening ever so slightly when he sees a familiar gold band dangling from the end. “This is…”
“My original ring, yeah.” Patroclus nods. “I took it to the jeweler to see if she could size it up, but the shank was too thin, and it broke. She claimed it could be fixed, but not without tampering with the ring’s original design. So I decided to commission a new one in the correct size, and fit it with the stones from the original ring.”
“And you… you wore that on your date with Theseus?” It’s a long-shot, but the idea warms his fragile heart, just a bit.
“It wasn’t a date.” Patroclus reminds him, but all of the anger is gone from his voice. Now, he just sounds tired. “And of course I did. I only take it off for operations, you know that.”
There’s another ring, dangling right alongside Patroclus’ broken band. Achilles recognizes it immediately, “That’s…”
“Your wedding ring? Yeah.” Patroclus’ lips quirk up into a shaky smile. Gently, he eases the chain from Achilles’ hand, to run his thumb over the gentle curve of Achilles’ ring.
Achilles’ face twists in confusion as he starts, “I’d thought that that—”
“Was in your jewelry box, tucked away in the back of the top drawer of our dresser?” Well, yes. How long had Patroclus been wearing it on a chain around his neck? “I understand why you don’t wear it anymore. I don’t think you should ever feel underserving of it, but I… I understand. I just couldn’t bear to leave it hidden away like that.”
“P-Patroclus…” the tears that’d been bubbling in his eyes since the beginning of their fight spill over, as all of the anger that’d been keeping him standing leaves him like a flood.
Patroclus is there to catch him when he starts to tetter, directing him to stumble forward and land, splayed-leg, across Patroclus’ lap. For a moment, he becomes tense, uncomfortable with the feeling of hands upon him—even knowing that those hands belong to the man that he loves most in the world. It takes a concerted effort to relax his body, to make himself fit against Patroclus. It used to be so easy. God, he wants it to be easy again. Patroclus’ hands are gentle, hesitant ghosts of things on his back, aching to draw him close and trembling with the effort it takes to not.
Achilles draws in a deep, shaky breath. His lungs burn, like they used to after he’d run a six minute mile, or after a particularly energetic round with Patroclus in the bedroom. He buries his face in the crook of Patroclus’ neck, inhaling the sweet scent of his shampoo. He hadn’t bothered to shave before his not-date, and the stubble that clings to the underside of his chin tickles Achilles’ sensitive skin. It feels nice… like pulling onto your street after a disastrous day; you’re not quite home, but you’re close, and that proximity brings you a wonderful sense of peace.
Achilles is smearing snot on the shoulder of Patroclus’ t-shirt, his tears making the fabric nearly transparent. Patroclus doesn’t seem to care—he’s crying just as hard, his hold on Achilles growing just a hair tighter. The armchair groans under their combined weight; Achilles doesn’t think it was designed to hold two full-grown men, but he doesn’t care. He’s felt so broken, so out of place—like an outsider in his own story. To know that he’s not alone, that Patroclus has been feeling just as lost, just as broken… that he’s been grappling with his own inability to fix it all…
“I shouldn’t have texted her…” Achilles wheezes, in between gasping, open-mouthed sobs. Patroclus rakes his nails along the length of his back, “If I-I’d just… If I’d just texted you, l-like Nyx told me to, none of t-this—”
Patroclus shakes his head, “No, Achilles. No. None of this is your fault. Deidamia took advantage of you—that’s on her, that’s not on you.” His voice is firm, leaving no room for complaint. “If I’d just taken a second to think about it, I would’ve realized there was something more going on—”
“S-She told me… that all I’d ever be… w-was depressed, a-and crippled, and a-alone.” He fists the front of Patroclus’ shirt tight, tugging until he can hear the stitches pulling. “And she’s r-right!” He sobs.
“Shh…” Patroclus runs his fingers through his horribly mangled hair, “That’s not true, love. It’s true that depression is a condition that won’t just go away with medicine, but…” He tilts Achilles’ head back, meeting his eyes. “It doesn’t define you. You’re such a wonderful, loving person. Just look at how much Zagreus looks up to you.”
He sniffles, “He thinks that I can offer him better advice than his old man. That’s hardly a hard hurdle—”
“You’re Pyrrhus’ hero.” Patroclus adds.
That earns a short bark of a laugh, “Last time I checked, that was you.” And then, “Besides, last I checked, he still hated me for not being able to come home on time.”
He bites down on his bottom lip, breaking eye contact to focus on a strand of hair on the left side of Achilles’ head that refused to lay down properly. “I…” He breathes, before deciding that maybe he shouldn’t say anything, after all.
Achilles sniffles again, a little louder this time, “What?”
“Pyrrhus… saw you leave the other night.” Achilles’ heart drops. “He thinks that you left because he upset you. I told him that it wasn’t true, that you left because you were upset with me, and that you’d come back soon enough. But… I don’t think he believed me, because he built you that birdhouse…”
“I-I thought that was to m-make up for the one he regifted t-to you?” Achilles’ breath is coming quicker now. Patroclus shakes his head, moving one of his hands to press is gently to Achilles’ sternum.
“We’ll talk about it later.” Patroclus says, then, “I love you.”
“I don’t know why.” He whispers, “I cannot even claim to be a shell of the man you married. Fuck, I sat right there and called you a slut, Pat!” He knows that he needs to calm down. He can feel the way that his chest is tightening, each breath sounding more and more like a whistle.
“That… admittedly, wasn’t one of your greatest moments.”
Achilles doesn’t understand how Patroclus can still be smiling at him, with everything that he’d said—with how cruel he’d been. Achilles had always been an asshole—at least he had been, prior to being shot in the heel. But he’d always been so careful to shield Patroclus from the less favorable aspects of his personality. He’d never raised his voice to him, or called him names… he’s horrified that it’d been so easy for him to call Patroclus such a horrible name. He’s even more horrified that Patroclus seems all-too-willing to just forgive him for it.
Patroclus had every right to be mad at him—furious, even. And he had been, just a few minutes ago. His cheeks had been flush, his entire body trembling with the force it took to keep himself from doing or saying something that he might later regret. Achilles had had no such restraint, spitting out anything and everything that had come into his mind, as soon as it had come into his mind. And now… the hand on Achilles’ sternum raises ever so slightly to curl around his chin, tilting his head back just so. Achilles shivers, doing his best to avoid Patroclus’ searching eyes.
“Do you honestly believe that I had any intention of sleeping with Theseus, at any point?” Patroclus asks. It takes Achilles a moment to realize that they have, in fact, cycled back to the Theseus issue—and that Patroclus is, in fact, looking for an answer.
Achilles is silent for a long moment, before he asks in a small voice… “Why did you go out with him?”
He sighs, “I didn’t intend to.” He begins, “At the time, I said it without thinking. But then… he started pestering me at work today, and I just… I caved. I told him I’d go to a friendly dinner, but that it absolutely wasn’t a date. I might’ve been heartbroken, but I was still very aware of the fact that Theseus is a sleazy motherfucker.”
Achilles inhales slowly. “I… I believe you.” And, amazingly enough… he does.
That doesn’t quite seem to register for Patroclus at first. Then, his face splits with a tremendous smile, “I love you, Achilles Pelides.” Strangely, the name doesn’t seem half as bad, when it’s spilling over Patroclus’ lips.
“I love you, too…” It comes out reverent, like a prayer. It’s the only thing he wants to say to Patroclus ever again.
Achilles stares at him—this man, whom he doesn’t deserve, whom he’s never deserved. He’s not the same man that Patroclus married, and he doesn’t know if it is possible for him to ever be that man again, but Patroclus… he loves him anyway; and for all this time that Achilles has been unable to love himself, he’s still loved him. Achilles won’t pretend to understand it, but it fills dark, cold pit in the middle of his chest with an almost unbearable light. He loves Patroclus so intensely, it hurts. And to know that that’s reciprocated, even in part, is—
He leans down, brushing his lips over Patroclus’. The kiss is gentle at first, little more than the suggestion of something far more intimate… Patroclus’ body begins to tremble for an entirely different reason, but he doesn’t push, allowing Achilles all the time he needs to decide what to do next—if he is to do anything at all. Achilles draws back a little, sucking in a ragged breath… sea-glass eyes meet chocolate brown, and for a moment, time seems to stand still. And then, Achilles swoops in and crashes their mouths together in a bruising kiss.
It is the single most disgusting kiss that they’ve ever shared, and the armchair’s ominous creaking cuts it short—
A second later, Achilles is in the air. He blinks, scrabbling for purchase on Patroclus’ broad back as he’s carried back over to the couch and set down amongst the cushions with the utmost care. “Let me get something to wash your face…” He says, as he bundles Achilles back up in the blanket.
He vanishes upstairs, presumably to get a washcloth from Nyx’s linen cabinet. When he returns, he has a cool cloth in one hand, and a cloth filled with ice cubes in the other. “…What’s that for?”
“You’re probably dehydrated.” Patroclus says, his voice soft. He takes a seat on the edge of the coffee table, in-between Achilles’ knees. “So, I’m going to wash your face off, have you drink some more water, and then let you take a nice, long nap with a cool compress over your eyes.”
Achilles shakes his head, “But I… I don’t want to take a nap. Where will you be?”
Patroclus rolls his eyes, “I’m not going anywhere, love. Brie’s got the kids, and I have nowhere to be until tomorrow morning. And since I don’t have any surgeries lined up, and enough PTO built up to take off until your birthday—”
“You’re not…” Achilles begins, and then promptly loses steam. Patroclus looks at him, curiosity plain on his face. “You don’t have feelings for Briseis, do you? I know that… well, that that’s kind of coming out of nowhere, but Dei said that Brie had had a crush on you in high school, before we’d gotten together—”
His husband presses a gentle finger to his lips, “First of all, please, don’t ever take anything that comes out of Deidamia’s mouth to heart. Just… promise me that.” After a moment, Achilles manages a weak nod. “And no. I don’t have feelings for Briseis. She’s our friend, nothing more.”
Achilles lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Good.”
Once he’s satisfied with the condition of Achilles’ face, he sets the washcloth aside and takes up Achilles’ half-finished water bottle. “Come on. Just a couple of sips, and then you can lay down.”
He takes the bottle slowly, “Will you… lay down with me?”
Patroclus blinks, “I’m not sure that’s the best idea right now…”
It’s unclear whether he’s referring to the fact that Achilles is still very much recovering from a major trauma, and needs time to feel safe and comfortable inside of his own skin once again, or the fact that Achilles will be napping on the couch, which is barely large enough for Achilles to lay on by himself—if they were to both try and make themselves comfortable on the tiny surface, it would only be a matter of time until one or both of them ended up eating mouthfuls of carpet.
Either way, Achilles doesn’t appreciate the feeling of helplessness that comes with having his choice taken from him. He knows that Patroclus means well, but he’s a grown ass adult that’s capable of making his own decisions—whether those decisions be good or bad. If he wants to cuddle with his husband, then he should have the choice of cuddling with his husband. That being said, this entire conversation has been draining. Achilles doesn’t have the energy to express his displeasure, however, and settles for asking—
“Would you sit with me, then?” He feels bad, asking Patroclus to sit on the floor next to the couch, but if it’s the best that he’s going to get…
“Of course.” Patroclus presses his lips to Achilles’ forehead, before wrapping him up in the blanket. He even takes the time to slide a cushion underneath Achilles’ injured foot, to make sure that it doesn’t swell. “I’ll be right here when you wake up. And then we’ll talk some more. Okay?”
“…Okay.” He fights the siren song of sleep for as long as possible, but when Patroclus takes a seat near his head and starts carding his fingers through the ruins of his hair, he folds like a house of cards.
He’s out seconds before his phone flashes ONE MISSED CALL: ZAGREUS.