Chapter 1: The Reluctant Relationship Counselor
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.
Chapter 2: A... Complicated Home Life
It’s almost nine o’clock when Achilles finally makes it home.
The house is mostly dark, but he knows that Patroclus is home—he’d seen his car in the driveway, parked just far enough to the side to allow Achilles to pull into the garage with little difficulty. He always lets Achilles park in the garage, since the concrete half-step into their sun-room is easier to manage with his cane than the mini flight of stairs by their front door. Achilles doesn’t mention it—acts like, if he doesn’t acknowledge it, that will somehow serve to make it less real. But… he is grateful for the small act of kindness, all the same.
He sits in the car for a couple of minutes, brooding. His eyes are fixed on his left ring finger, where his wedding band had sat, once upon a time. The ring is currently sitting in a jewelry box, alongside various other rings, necklaces, and earrings that he no longer wears, but which hold too much sentiment for him to ever consider taking to a jeweler or a pawn broker. Achilles has never been much for sentiment—hence, why the trinkets are sitting in a jewelry box that’s tucked away in the back of his dresser. But…
“Daddy!” The door flies open and crashes, violently, into the wall. Achilles’ headache returns with a vengeance as Pyrrhus, with all the coordination of a gangly five-year-old, tumbles down the half-step and over to the car.
Achilles offers the little boy a weary smile, “Hey, kid.” He unbuckles his seat belt, grabs his keys, wallet, and the little white baggie of meds he’d picked up from the pharmacy, and exits the car. “You’re especially energetic tonight. Did your Pops give you extra dessert or something?”
“Nah, I’m just excited!” Pyrrhus bounces back and forth—he reminds Achilles quite a bit of a much smaller version of Zagreus. “I feel like you’ve been gone forever. And I know Auntie Briseis said it was only this many hours,” he holds up all ten of his fingers, then, upon further consideration, lowers two of them, “but still—that was too long!”
And Achilles… doesn’t really know what to say to that, except, “Sorry, love. I don’t like being away from you or your sister, either, but I have to go into the gym sometimes.”
Pyrrhus pouts, “Why can’t I come with you to the gym, then?”
“Well…” Achilles reaches for his cane, and Pyrrhus, without thinking, moves to take the baggie from his hand so that he can balance himself. Achilles’ answering smile is a bit warmer, this time. “Being a big brother is a very important job. I would hate to take you away from it just to have you sit and watch me do paperwork all day.”
“I know…” He puffs out his cheeks. “That does sound kind of boring.” He admits, almost like an afterthought.
“Pyrrhus…” Patroclus pokes his head out of the door, “At least let him come in the door before jumping him like that, jeez.” Despite his words, his tone is affectionate, fond. Pyrrhus nods.
“Yes, Papa.” He waits for Patroclus to head back into the house before turning to Achilles and whispering conspiratorially, “I have to be extra good today, because Auntie Briseis said Papa had a bad day.”
Achilles blinks—this is the first that he’s hearing about that. There’d been a time, not too long ago, when he would be the first person that Patroclus would come to when he was experiencing any kind of trouble. Now, he has to hear about it through the grapevine. He clutches the handle of his cane tight, his already pale knuckles turning a ghostly white. His foot is throbbing in time with the somewhat erratic beating of his heart, and he knows that he needs to start moving before his leg gives out and he falls.
He’d fallen, once, in front of Pyrrhus. The little boy had been remarkably brave, all things considered. His voice had wobbled as he’d asked if Daddy would need to go back to the hospital, tears brewing in the corner of his sea-glass colored eyes. They called Achilles a hero—but he didn’t feel like a hero when he couldn’t even stand on his own two feet for more than a few minutes at a time without being wracked with excruciating pain, when he’d had to explain to his five-year-old son that sometimes, Daddies fall down.
Thankfully, they make it into the house without incident. Achilles makes a beeline for his recliner—his feel always feels better when he has the chance to elevate it, even if it’s only for a short while. He shoos Chiron off of his seat (the cat lets out a somewhat disgruntled meow, before hopping upon on the back of the chair, and proceeding to swat Achilles on the head with its tail—repeatedly) and collapses into it rather gracelessly. Maybe he’ll spend the night out here—it seems so much easier than hauling his ass down the hall to their room.
Patroclus returns a moment later with two white, ovular pills in hand, “You’re home.” He says, placing the medication into Achilles’ outstretched hand. His touch lingers just a second longer than strictly necessary.
“I’m home.” Achilles breathes. He dry swallows the pills, grimacing a bit at the taste of chalk they leave behind…
“I was half-expecting you to try and hide at the gym all night.” There’s no malice in Patroclus’ tone, just a quiet understanding that cuts him deeper than any knife. “How bad is the pain? I can massage your foot for you, if you’d like.” Patroclus offers, his tone easy, light.
Achilles doesn’t deserve him, “…Aren’t you tired?” He side-steps the question, hopes Patroclus won’t push.
Patroclus shrugs, “I’m always tired. You’re almost never home. Not anymore.”
It’s hard to argue with the truth—so Achilles licks his lips and offers a brief, somewhat stiff nod. “Yeah, I… Yeah, a massage would be nice. Thank you, Pat.”
This is not the first time that Patroclus has offered him a massage—though he’ll admit, it has been awhile. Sometime after he was shot (those days all sort of bleed together in Achilles’ mind now), his physical therapist had recommended it as a way of maintaining healthy blood flow to the afflicted area. In those days, before Achilles had begun ‘hiding’, as Patroclus liked to call it, Patroclus had tended to his wounds religiously. If Achilles so much as looked like he might be experiencing pain, Patroclus would break out the chamomile oil—
It occurs to Achilles, belatedly, that Pyrrhus had mentioned something about Patroclus having had a bad day. And Achilles, by extension, ought to be the one taking care of Patroclus—not the other way around. He frowns, trying to think of the best way to broach the subject. Could something have happened at the hospital?
He’d be much more visibly upset if he lost a patient, he thinks, so that can’t be it.
“Okay,” Patroclus says. “Okay. Let me just put Pyrrhus to bed, and check-in on Amaltheia—,”
“But I don’t wanna go to bed yet!” Pyrrhus whines. Achilles never did understand these little anti-bedtime fits. If he had his way, he’d be able to sleep all the damn time. He’s certainly never not tired, not now. “Daddy just came home, and I wanna tell him all about my day with Auntie Briseis!”
Patroclus looks to Achilles, and Achilles doesn’t know what to do. It is true that he does not spend as much time with his son as he ought, and he would like to hear about his day—but he’s also always trying to find new ways to circumvent bedtime, and he doesn’t want to undermine Patroclus’ authority in this.
Parenting is hard. Communicating is hard, in general.
Patroclus, thankfully, seems to understand. “Alright. Fifteen minutes, then.” He hooks his hands underneath Pyrrhus’ arms and lifts him up into the air, the little boy letting out a delighted squeal as he’s whisked up onto Achilles’ lap.
“Thank you, Papa!” Pyrrhus exclaims, sounding far too happy. He immediately launches into a story about some craft that he’d made with Briseis (he thinks that they made birdhouses out of popsicle sticks, but he’s not entirely sure). “…And Auntie Briseis got paint on her nose! It was so funny!”
“It sounds like it.” Achilles concedes, though he doesn’t laugh. He can imagine Briseis covered from head-to-toe in washable paint, laughing her head off.
Briseis is good with kids. Achilles is not.
Patroclus disappears down the hall to check on their six-month-old daughter. He’s certain that she’s fine—they’d be able to hear through the baby monitor if she wasn’t—but it brings Patroclus comfort to check in on her every now and then now that she’s started to sleep through the night. Pyrrhus continues to babble on about how he’d painted his bird house blue because blue was Achilles’ favorite color, except the first blue he’d chosen wasn’t pretty enough, so he’d asked Briseis to show him how to mix the colors together to make it prettier.
“I would like anything that you made for me.” He says, and that’s the truth. It doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty, though he supposes that that is an added bonus.
“I know that.” Pyrrhus huffs. “But if it’s for Daddy, it has to be perfect.” He says this with such determination that Achilles is momentarily taken aback. He remembers Patroclus saying something similar to him, once upon a time.
If it’s for you… I want it to be perfect.
Achilles combs his fingers through Pyrrhus’ strawberry-blonde hair, considering. He wonders if Zagreus ever made anything like this for his own father… He wonders if Pyrrhus will one day think of him the way that Zagreus thinks of Hades. He frowns a little at that, “Pyrrhus? You know that I… that I love you, right?”
Sea-glass colored eyes blink up at him slowly, “Of course!” And then, his confusion evident, he adds, “And I love you… this much.” He spreads his little arms as wide as he possibly can, offering Achilles a positively radiant smile.
The corner of Achilles’ mouth twitches, “That much, huh? That’s an awful lot of love, just for me.”
“All for you!” Pyrrhus nods, curls bouncing on his little head. “B-But I love Papa just as much! And baby sister, and Auntie Briseis, and—,” It’s aboundingly clear that the little boy has quite a lot of love to go around.
“Glad to hear that there’s still some room in that big old heart of yours for me, little man.” Patroclus presses a kiss to the crown of Pyrrhus’ head, causing the little boy to squeal, again. “It’s been twenty minutes. I gave you extra time because you were being so cute—,”
“Aww…” Pyrrhus pouts, but carefully ambles off of Achilles’ lap without further complaint. “Okay. Night, Daddy. Night, Papa.” He gives them both quick hugs, before scurrying down the hall toward his room.
And now… Patroclus pulls over one of their dining chairs and makes himself comfortable by Achilles’ feet. He drizzles chamomile oil on his fingers, warms it between his hands… for a while, they don’t speak, save for Patroclus checking in every once in a blue moon to make sure that he wasn’t prodding at anything too sensitive. The solid, unrelenting pressure of his fingers is soothing. Patroclus’ presence, in general, is soothing. He doesn’t think that that will ever change, no matter how Achilles struggles with his stubborn pride.
He waits until he is certain that Pyrrhus won’t come ambling back down the hall before bringing up Pyrrhus’ comment from earlier. “So… I heard that you had a bad day.”
“Did you, now.” Patroclus raises a brow, but does not comment further. Not at first.
He learns forward slightly, taking Patroclus’ chin in his hand. The other man’s beard scrapes against his sensitive skin, the low-light catching on the few silver hairs in a sea of ebony. When had he decided to grow his beard out? “There are no secrets between us, right?”
Patroclus is silent for a moment, before admitting, “I spoke with Theseus today.”
“Hmm,” Achilles hums. His grip tightens, almost imperceptibly. Not to the point of harm, or even mild discomfort—he could never hurt Patroclus. At least, not physically.
Emotionally… he knows that his behavior, as of late, has caused Patroclus his fair share of heartache. He supposes that he should count his lucky stars that Patroclus doesn’t think that he’s cheating—though he thinks that the other understands, no matter how distant he grows, that he would never even consider such an act.
He doesn’t want anyone else. And he doesn’t understand why Patroclus wants him.
“He… asked me on a date.” Patroclus continues. Red bleeds before Achilles’ eyes, and for a moment, he forgets how to breathe. “I reminded him that I am, in fact, married, and he… well, he asked if what we had could still constitute a marriage…” He squeezes Achilles’ injured foot just a hair tighter.
“…What did you tell him?” The rational part of his brain knows that this is a dumb question. The insecure (and, unfortunately, dominant) part of his brain needs to hear that Patroclus sent that creep packing. Because he did send the creep packing… right?
“I told him no, obviously.” His husband frowns, “He took it about as gracefully as he takes anything else, but… somehow, I don’t think that this is going to be the last of it.”
“Hmm,” Achilles hums again, digging his short, blunt nails into the fabric of the recliner’s arm rest.
Patroclus notices, because of course he does. “Are you alright? You need to tell me if I’m pressing down too hard…”
He licks his lips, “I’m fine.” He tells himself that he means it.
Patroclus’ hands snake higher, abandoning his heel in favor of rolling the delicate joint of his ankle. There’s a soft crack, and Achilles’ sea-glass colored eyes flutter as he melts into the recliner. Nothing should feel this good. He wishes that he were in the proper headspace to accept such offerings from Patroclus more often… surely, the idea of spending an entire day on his feet would not be so daunting if he could accept that he had this to come home to. But Achilles’ brain is a treacherous thing, and it’s not long before the shame settles in…
“I… I’m okay now.” He says, and Patroclus releases his foot without complaint. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” Patroclus says, his tone easy, light. He uses one of their hand towels to clean the excess oil from his hands, “Are you coming to bed, or…” He inclines his head, Are you planning to spend the rest of the night out here?
“I…” Achilles swallows hard, “I had planned on watching a little television before going to bed. I know that we have the television in our room, but… well, I don’t want to keep you up, when I know that you have an early start tomorrow.” He knows that he’s doing little more than talking out of his ass, but…
“Come to bed anyhow.” If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn that Patroclus was pouting. “I always sleep better, knowing that you’re nearby.”
Patroclus takes his hand, smoothing the pad of his thumb over the space where Achilles’ wedding band should have been. Achilles doesn’t have the strength to continue fighting him, “Alright. I’ll be in as soon as I’ve had something to eat—,”
He’s barely finished speaking when Patroclus interjects with, “There’s leftovers on the bottom shelf of the fridge.”
He doesn’t deserve Patroclus. He knows that he doesn’t deserve Patroclus. But he nods and lets Patroclus press a kiss to his temple (his head still hurts, but this makes it feel just a little bit better). Then Patroclus vanishes again, likely intending to take a shower before retiring for the evening.
Achilles takes a deep breath, before rolling his ankle. His foot feels better, but he’s still not keen to put too much pressure on it. Still, Patroclus had asked him to come to bed with him, and he does want to cuddle. Desperately. His conversation with Zagreus had shed light on the distance between him and his husband, and he wants nothing more than to make that distance as small as physically possible—at least for tonight. He wants to rest his head on Patroclus’ chest and feel him card his fingers through his long blonde hair and—
He wants to feel loved. He wants to feel happy.
Happiness, it turns out, is an incredibly slippery thing.
Patroclus had made shepherd’s pie for dinner. Achilles doesn’t bother to reheat it—it hadn’t been in the fridge all that long, and is still a little warm. He eats it straight out of the Tupperware, before rinsing out the little plastic bowl and tossing it into the dishwasher. And then he limps down the hall to their bedroom. He takes a couple of minutes to change into a pair of loose black sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt (he thinks that it might belong to Patroclus… he can remember a time when he had more muscle, more bulk than his husband—
Remembers carrying him over the threshold of their first house after their honeymoon, as Patroclus had laughed and laughed—).
Achilles flops face-first onto the bed—he’d almost fallen asleep when he feels the bed dip alongside him, and a large, warm hand settles on the small of his back. “Aww… You’re tired, aren’t you, darling?”
“Hmm,” Achilles rolls over, burying his face in Patroclus’ slightly damp skin.
Patroclus chuckles, “I have to put pajamas on, Achilles. I can’t sleep in a towel.” Achilles shifts, using more of his weight to pin Patroclus down to the mattress. His actions seem to say, you can, and you will.
Indeed… Patroclus sleeps in a towel that night.
“Good morning, darling.” Patroclus brushes his lips over Achilles forehead, “Everything’s fine. You needn’t wake-up yet. I just wanted to let you know that I’m headed off to work.”
“…Be safe.” Achilles whispers. He does not open his eyes, but he knows that he will not be falling back asleep—not without Patroclus there. And then, he adds, almost like an afterthought—“I love you.” He doesn’t remember how long it’s been since he’s last said it, which is more than a bit not good—
“I love you, too.” He likes to think that Patroclus is smiling. He sounds like he’s smiling.
Achilles lays in bed awhile longer. He wonders if Zagreus has spoken to this… friend of his. Though… he supposes that it is a bit soon for that, considering that Zagreus had only just stuttered his way through a vague explanation of his feelings yesterday. Was that really just yesterday? He feels like an entire week has transpired within the span of a singular day. He feels like he’s aged as well. Reaching up, he cards his fingers through his hair, reminiscing on the way that Patroclus had massaged his scalp as he drifted off to sleep…
He should try to sleep more. His mood most certainly will not suffer for it—and he knows that Zagreus will be thankful if he’s at least in a somewhat pleasant mood. He truly does not want to frighten the lad, to scare him off by biting his head off in the heat of the moment. But he is, admittedly, a bit less in control of his emotions when he hasn’t slept.
Just a little bit.
“Daddy!” Pyrrhus’ distressed wail cuts through the otherwise silent morning. He’s up and down the hall before he even realizes that he’s moving—not even realizing that he’d neglected to grab his cane in his panic.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” He slams Pyrrhus’ door open, to find the little boy twisted up in his blankets, his face red and blotchy and streaked with tears. “Pyrrhus? Pyrrhus, what’s the matter?”
“D-Daddy!” And then his son launches himself at him, tackling him to the ground.
And… okay, that hurt. A lot. But it’s rather difficult to focus on the pain when Pyrrhus is sobbing incoherently about a nightmare that he’d had. Or, well, he thinks that he had a nightmare. It can be difficult to understand Pyrrhus on the best of days, but now that he’s bordering on hysterics, he considers it to be a lost cause. So, he strokes Pyrrhus’ back slowly, and lets him make an absolute mess of his t-shirt, and lets the boy place his little hands on his chest and feel his heartbeat and—
“I-I… Y-You went to sleep, and—and I couldn’t wake you up!” Pyrrhus sobs. “A-And your hands were c-cold, and Papa… Papa was crying… and I-I-I… I didn’t like it!” He wails.
Achilles blinks. He… Well, sometimes he doesn’t feel like what he is can quite be considered alive, but he is certainly not dead. And he has no intention of dying anytime soon. “Mmm… that sounds like a pretty awful dream. But do you know what always makes me feel better after I have a bad dream?”
Pyrrhus stares at him, wide-eyed. “You have bad dreams?” He asks, not quite believing.
He nods, “Yeah.” All the time. He takes a deep breath, before whispering conspiratorially, “I raid Papa’s ice cream.”
“You? Eating ice cream?” Pyrrhus looks positively scandalized. Achilles snorts—he supposes that the boy’s response makes sense, considering that Achilles is always the one pushing for him to eat healthy.
“I do.” He confirms. He’s even about ninety-nice percent certain that Patroclus buys certain flavors because he knows that they are the ones that Achilles prefers… even though he continues to insist that he doesn’t eat it. “And I’ll even share some with you, just this once. It’ll be our little secret.”
“For breakfast?” Pyrrhus asks, still sounding skeptical.
Well, he would hardly consider ice cream a proper meal—and he’d be hard pressed to say that anything consumed at four-thirty in the morning is breakfast, but… “Yeah, for breakfast.”
The ice cream helps. It also serves as a welcome distraction from the pain radiating up and down his leg. He’ll need to take his meds soon (that’s the other reason that Patroclus wakes him when he leaves—it would be a real bitch if he missed a dose), but he wants to make sure that Pyrrhus is alright first. The little boy seems desperate to keep a hand on him at all times, like he’s afraid that, if he stops touching him, he’ll ‘fall asleep’, just like in the dream. And he… he doesn’t know how to fix that.
He’s not good at… comforting. Or being comforted, for that matter. Once upon a time, when he’d been more comfortable in his own skin… maybe. But certainly not now.
He finds his thoughts drifting to Zagreus once more—to the towering stack of mildew-scented towels. He thinks of Zagreus, and how he’d been so confident that his and Patroclus’ relationship was so much healthier than Hades and Persephone’s. Achilles… well, he thinks that they’re rather more like that stack of towels. Unsteady, wobbling… waiting for just the slightest push to send them all toppling to the ground. Maybe it’ll be Theseus that finally knocked them down. Hadn’t Patroclus said that he didn’t think their little talk the other day would be the end of it?
He kind of wants to punch Theseus in the nose. Break his bones, make him bleed…
Achilles hasn’t felt rage like that in a long, long time.
“Can I…” Pyrrhus licks his lips, “Can I… come with you to work today? I know what you said last night, but…” but that was before I dreamt of you dying, and I want to make sure that you’re alright.
Achilles considers this for a moment, before brushing sweat-slick strawberry blond hair away from Pyrrhus’ face. “Much as I would love to bring you along, I still think it would be best if you stayed here. I’m sure that Briseis has a full day planned for you—,”
“But I want to be with you.” Pyrrhus whines. Achilles frowns—he really doesn’t like it when Pyrrhus starts whining, even when he has more than enough reason to, considering the morning that he’s had.
“I know. I know that you do.” He says. Stuffing another mouthful of ice cream into the boy’s mouth, he continues, “How about I bring you something special home for dinner, hmm?”
“Will you come home early?” The little boy asks.
Achilles bites down on the inside of his cheek, “I’ll do my best.” He wipes the last of the tears from Pyrrhus’ cheeks with the pad of his thumb, “So you be a good boy for your Aunt Briseis, alright?”
He slumps his shoulders, “…Alright.” He takes another couple of bites of ice cream, before deciding that he’s done. “Will you come lay with me, then? Before you have to leave for work…”
Achilles nods, “Yeah. Yeah, we can do that.” He doesn’t think he’ll get anymore sleep, but…
He doesn’t spend enough time with his son. Now seems as good a time as any to start to remedy that.
Chapter 3: Slowly, and Then All at Once
Achilles is a little surprised that it’d been so easy for him to fall back asleep.
He’s also more than a little disappointed in himself for sleeping through his six o’clock alarm and missing a dose of medication. He can still take his anti-depressant, but it’ll fuck-up his whole routine if he takes his pain pills late—it’ll be easier to wait until he’s due to take his next dose at twelve.
He wakes to the piercing sound of their six-month-old’s wails. His eyes skirt over to the clock on the bedside table, the little red LED numbers informing him that it’s almost quarter to nine in the morning. The little one is due for her morning feed, then. Achilles carefully detangles himself from his son, who at some point had decided that his chest was a much more appealing pillow than the literal ocean of pillows and plushies that lined his bed, and tucks him in under the comforting weight of his favorite SpongeBob blanket.
As soon as he moves to stand, black dots assail the corners of his vision as pain lances through his heel and all the way up into his knee. “Fuck…”
He reaches for one of the posts on Pyrrhus’ bed and squeezes until the wood starts to splinter. Maybe he’d been a little hasty in assuming that he’d be able to make it another three hours without anything in his system to mitigate the pain. Unable to think of what else to do, he sits back down heavily—careful to make sure that he’s not sitting on top of Pyrrhus. Amaltheia continues to wail in the other room, and he wishes that she were old enough to understand that he’s trying. God, he’s trying.
He doesn’t even have his cane. Fucking hell.
Taking a few slow, deep breaths—he can almost hear Patroclus whispering ‘in through the nose, hold for ten… nine… eight… and out through the mouth, nice and slow’—Achilles tries, once more, to stand. A few stubborn tears leak from the corners of his eyes, but he can balance with minimal assistance from nearby furniture, so he considers that a win. He takes another slow, grounding breath, and starts to shuffle toward the door. It’s slow going, and he has to stop every so often when the pain makes the room start to spin, but he does eventually make it to the kitchen.
He eases himself up onto the counter, to the left of the sink, and begins to fix Amaltheia’s bottle. It’s not difficult—the directions are right there on the container, after all. He pours two scoops of formula into the little plastic bottle and turns on the tap. In the time it takes the water to heat up, he takes a moment to observe his injured foot.
It’s definitely swollen (though, really, when is it not swollen…). There also appears to be a bit of fresh bruising around his ankle. He allows himself to hope, for a moment, that he hadn’t broken anything when Pyrrhus had tackled him earlier that morning. The absolute last thing that he needs in his life right now is another broken bone.
Or a little boy in hysterics over having ‘broken’ his Daddy.
Once the water reaches an appropriate temperature, he fills the bottle and gives it a few quick shakes. With tremendous care, he slides down off of the counter and slowly makes his way back down the hall to Amaltheia’s nursery. The infant’s wails seem to calm somewhat when she realizes that someone has come to tend to her, and Achilles releases a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. The babe is fine, if not a bit pink in the cheeks from all of her screaming, and Achilles breathes a sigh of relief.
After a bit of a struggle, he’s able to bring the rocking chair over beside the crib so that he has somewhere to sit while he feeds the little one her bottle. Once he’s seated, he lowers the side of the crib so that he can reach his daughter and lifts her up into his arms, mindful of her little head. Amaltheia blinks up at him with wide, tear-filled brown eyes… she looks so much like Patroclus, it never fails to take his breath away. Though he supposes that that makes sense, considering that she is Pat’s biological daughter.
He presses the bottle to her lips, and she latches onto the nipple eagerly, “Sorry it took me so long, princess. Your old man isn’t having the best morning. Think you can find it in your heart to forgive him?”
Amaltheia blinks tired brown eyes up at him slowly, before landing an open-handed swat on his nearest cheek with one gummy little hand. Achilles frowns, momentarily taken aback by the bright sting in his cheek, whilst his daughter continues suckling away as if nothing had happened.
He bites down on the inside of his lip, “…Duly noted.”
Briseis arrives at nine-thirty, on the dot. She’s never been late in the last four years, not since Achilles had been shot and Patroclus had spent almost a month of his life living in the hospital, at Achilles’ bedside. He can smell fresh coffee brewing, and a few moments later, she pokes her head into the nursery—a mug (he immediately recognizes it as the one Pyrrhus had made for her last year, the words ‘I Love Auntie Brie’ written in a child’s shaky hand) and a travel mug filled to the brim with pitch black coffee in hand.
“Thought you might need a little pick me up.” She says, then, “Achilles? Achilles, what’s the matter?”
It takes Achilles a moment to realize that he’s crying. Slowly, he strokes a hand along Amaltheia’s little back, the babe now resting contently on his shoulder. “Am I a… a bad father?”
“What?” Briseis frowns. “That’s nonsense, Achilles. You’re an excellent father.” She sets the coffee down on the changing table, before resting a well-manicured hand on Achilles’ bare shoulder. “Your son thinks the world of you, and your chest is your daughter’s favorite pillow.”
Achilles sniffles, “Pyrrhus’ as well, I think. I woke up this morning to him lying on top of me—,”
Briseis raises a brow, “I thought you said that he was too old to be crawling into yours and Patroclus’ bed?”
“He is.” He confirms, “He didn’t crawl into our bed. He… He had a nightmare, said he dreamt of me dying. I told him I’d… I’d lay down with him for a while, and when I woke up, I could barely even stand—and she was crying, and…” He scrubs at his eyes with the heel of his palm, leaving blotches of red in his wake.
“That’s not your fault, Achilles.” She says, her voice soft. Carefully, she takes Amaltheia from his arms and settles her back down in her crib. “It doesn’t make you a bad father to feel pain—it makes you human.”
“…I wish that I could be just a little bit less human, then.” He whispers.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of an exuberant five-year-old, freshly awoken from his nap. “Auntie Briseis, you’re here!” Achilles sniffles, hurriedly wiping the last of the tears from his eyes as Pyrrhus scurries into the room and launches himself into Briseis’ waiting arms.
“Ah, there’s my favorite little man!” She exclaims, hoisting Pyrrhus up into the air—much to Pyrrhus’ mounting delight.
Achilles reaches for the travel mug Briseis had prepared for him, pops the lid, and takes a long swallow. The liquid is absolutely scalding, and his mouth positively aches for it, but the rush of caffeine provides a welcome jolt to his system. Once the haze of sleep clears, he finds that he feels a little better—though now his eyes sting from the tears that he’d shed. Hell, his entire head aches… once again, he laments sleeping through his alarm and missing his first dose of medication for the day.
He watches Briseis swing Pyrrhus into the air with the greatest of ease, and remembers a time not too long ago when he could still do the same. And now… now, he’s in indescribable pain just from spending a handful of hours in a child’s bed, comforting his son. Now, he has to pull over a chair just to be able to safely hold his daughter.
And he knows… he knows that Amaltheia doesn’t really hate him—that she’s too young to even know what hate is.
But then… “Please… don’t tell Pat about this, alright?” He wipes at his eyes again, taking care to be a bit gentler this time. “I’m feeling better, and… well, there’s no reason to worry him with this, alright?”
Brises frowns, “You’re… You’re allowed to have bad days, you know that, right? Wanting—or needing—to cry every once in awhile doesn’t make you any less of a man, and Patroclus isn’t going to fault you for it.” She says. And he knows that, he does. But that doesn’t make it any easier for him to hear. Or accept.
Achilles licks his lips, “…I wasn’t crying. I just… It’s really dry in here, and I think that it’s irritating my eyes.”
Briseis raises one delicate brown eyebrow, “Yeah, sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night, love.” She ruffles his hair, much like she would with Pyrrhus, before motioning to the mug of coffee, “I want you to drink all of that, plus a glass of water, before you hit the road.”
He rolls his eyes, “Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m serious, Achilles.” Her tone brokers no room for argument, “I don’t want you falling asleep behind the wheel.”
Achilles clicks his tongue—she acts like that’d happened more than once. And it hadn’t even been his fault. The doctor had had him on a new cocktail of anti-depressants and one of the meds had reacted poorly with another. He didn’t even realize that anything was amiss until he opened his eyes and found himself parked on their front lawn, their mailbox bent double underneath the bumper of his car. Patroclus had been absolutely beside himself, and his psychiatrist hadn’t been much better. Achilles had just been thankful to still be in one piece—mostly.
“Remember your promise, Daddy.” Pyrrhus says, looking at him with all of the unnerving seriousness a five-year-old can muster. Achilles doesn’t remember promising anything, but now doesn’t seem like the best time to mention that.
“Of course.” He sniffles, taking another sip of his coffee. It’s a little cooler now—cool enough that it doesn’t scald his throat when he attempts to swallow. “You be good for your Aunt Brie now, alright? I’m sure that the two of you will have loads of fun destroying the house.”
Now, it’s Briseis’ turn to roll her eyes. “I’ll do my best to keep the place standing.”
A couple minutes later, he hears the television in the living room turn on, the volume just a hair too high for his liking. He can hear the clinking of pots and pans in the kitchen—Briseis is probably making breakfast. He wishes that he had the time to eat it… or the stomach to keep it down. Instead, he turns his attention back to Amaltheia. Reaching into the crib, he runs his fingers over her tight little spiral curls, recalling how she liked to grab onto his fingers with her chubby little hands and squeeze.
Briseis pops back in a short while later with his cane. It doesn’t ease the pain in his leg, but it does make it a little easier for him to make his way back to the master bedroom to dress. Stripping out of his clothes, he does a quick sniff test—his wrinkles his nose as he raises one arm to swipe the deodorant stick across his skin (he’s long overdue for a shower, but the idea of actually getting into the tub seems… too much—and he has too much pride to use that damned shower chair). Surely, he’ll be fine for another couple of days…
He swabs some extra deodorant on, just to be safe.
He throws on a fresh pair of sweatpants and a sleeveless blue hoodie. It’s not the most extravagant attire, but one of the perks of owning your own gym is that there’s no formal dress code. As long as you show up wearing something (which, again, was not something that Achilles had ever thought that he would have to stipulate, but…)—
Briseis presses a water bottle into his hand on the way out the door. “You promised me.”
“Hmm,” Achilles tosses the bottle into his bag, and forgets about it for the rest of the day.
“Morning, lad.” There’s still about a half-hour before the gym opens, but he’s not surprised to find Zagreus already floating about. The lad is sitting on a lateral press machine, slurping a protein shake and watching a mid-morning rerun of SpongeBob.
“Good morning, Achilles.” The boy tosses him a smile, bright as the morning sun. “I hope you don’t mind.” He inclines his head toward the television, “I’ll change it once the members start arriving, I swear.”
Achilles shrugs. Most of the patrons are too busy blasting their own music to care about what they’re showing on the televisions, anyhow. “Don’t worry about it.” He takes a seat at the front desk and starts booting up the computer. “Have you clocked in yet?”
“No, I… I was waiting for you.” Zagreus confesses, “I already went through your morning checklist: the machines have all been wiped down and the sanitizer and paper towels were refilled, the bathrooms have all been cleaned, there are fresh towels in the showers and the sauna—,”
Achilles raises a brow, “You… do realize that that’s all part of your job, lad. You should be getting paid for that.”
“I… yeah.” Zagreus deflates a little, “It’s just… I got here kind of early, and I felt bad about clocking in because I didn’t want you to think that I was taking advantage of your generosity for giving me a key, and—,”
“How early did you get here?” Does he even want to know? He has a feeling that the answer to that is ‘no’.
“I…” Zagreus’ mismatched eyes skirt around the room, like he’s desperate for something, anything, to provide him a reason to not answer Achilles’ question. Finally, he settles on, “Seven?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?” Achilles counters.
“Telling. Definitely telling.”
Achilles continues to stare at him, nonplussed, and Zagreus eventually folds like wet cardboard. The kid stutters his way through explaining that his father had kicked him to the curb a couple of weeks ago, and he’d been sleeping on his friend’s (yes—Zagreus had blushed and averted his gaze—the very same friend that he was apparently harboring feelings for) couch until he could save up enough money to be able to get a place of his own. He didn’t want to impose on his friend anymore than he already was, so he’d told them that their work schedules coincided—
It normally wasn’t a problem, considering that Achilles had given him a set of keys specifically because he needed him to come in early to take care of a few housekeeping tasks before they opened their doors to the public. Achilles also never gave him strict hours—he was free to make his own schedule, and come and go as he pleased. There were… undoubtedly better ways to go about managing one’s employees, but… well, considering that Zagreus was Achilles’ only employee, he figured that he could be forgiven for having a bit of a ‘hands-off’ approach.
That, and… well, Zagreus had yet to take advantage of him. He had yet to prove himself undeserving of Achilles kind treatment (and Achilles was doubtful that the boy was capable of doing anything that would make him lose such complete and total faith in him).
Achilles has always been the trusting sort. It… hasn’t always proven to be a good thing.
“Are you… okay, s—Achilles?” Achilles blinks. He hadn’t realized he’d zoned out like that.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m alright. Just… having a bit of a bad pain day, is all.” He says. “I’m assuming that your father told you why I needed someone to help me run the gym?” He knows that Hades and his son are not on the best of terms, but considering the fact that it was Hades who’d all-but gotten his son this job…
Zagreus nods, “He… told me a little, yes. He said that you’d been shot in the line of duty and were a war hero.” He says. “You don’t have to… You don’t have to tell me more, if it makes you uncomfortable. I’m more than happy to help you out in any way that I can—,”
“I was shot in the heel.” His tongue feels thick and clumsy in his mouth, so much so that it’s difficult for him to force the words out—but he keeps pushing. “It caused a condition called medial and lateral plantar nerve entrapment.”
It’s really just a fancy way of saying that the bullet splintered the many, many bones inside of his heel, creating tons of little crevices for nerve branches to squeeze their way inside. As his heel was healing, the nerve branches then became compressed between the bones, ligaments, and connective tissue, causing horrendous amounts of pain. There were times when sitting (and, by extension, taking direct pressure off of the heel) would help alleviate the pain, but more often than not, he just hurt. All. The. Time.
Zagreus pales a little, “That sounds… awful.”
That’s not even the half of it. “I’m not telling you this because I want to be pitied. I don’t think that there’s anything I would hate more.” He says, “I just… I want you to understand… I’m not okay, most of the time. And it’s… it’s just the reality that I live with. It can’t be fixed, and I… I’ve come to accept that. But it needn’t trouble you.”
“But… even if it can’t be fixed, isn’t there anything that I can do to make you a bit more… I don’t know… comfortable?” Zagreus fidgets a little, looking for all the world like a puppy that’d been abandoned out in the rain.
Yeah. Waking up on time to take my damned medication. “Not that I can think of off of the top of my head. Though it is sweet of you to offer.” Achilles smiles a little, shifting in his seat.
“…Would it help you to elevate it?” Zagreus tries.
“It does feel better when I elevate it, yes—but I can hardly sit in a recliner at the front desk.” Achilles says.
“Maybe not a recliner, but…” Zagreus snaps his fingers, before running off in the direction of the office/utility closet.
He comes back a couple of minutes later with two boxes of paperwork in hand. From the looks of it, they appear to be boxes filled with the paper copies of memberships that Achilles had already processed. Achilles raises a brow, but does not comment, as the boy sets the boxes off to the side and motions for him to slide back from the desk. There’s just enough room for him to slide the boxes, and one of the cushions from the sofas downstairs, underneath, and still have room for Achilles to comfortably rest his leg on top.
Zagreus turns back to Achilles, a bright smile, brimming with pride, illuminating his handsome face. Achilles rolls his eyes, before carefully raising his leg to rest on the makeshift ottoman that Zagreus had created. It’s… surprisingly comfortable, with the added bonus of being tucked away underneath the desk (and therefore hidden away from prying eyes). He knows that it’s common knowledge that he was shot (in a town as small as theirs, news travels fast), but he doesn’t like having everyone and their cousin up in his business.
“Not too shabby.” He gives a little wiggle, testing the integrity of the structure. It appears to be rather sturdy, too. “I knew that there was a reason that I hired you, lad.”
“You mean, aside from the fact that my father is your landlord and he essentially told you to if you wanted to keep your lease?” And… wow, way to ruin an almost compliment. While it’s true that Achilles probably would’ve hired him anyway—
The fact that Hades was his landlord had certainly helped to… speed things along, as it were.
Suddenly desperate to change the subject, Achilles comes out with, “So… did you have the chance to talk to your friend?” He thinks that the odds are rather high, if they’re ‘living together’—
“I… Kind of?” Zagreus heaves a dramatic sigh, “I still couldn’t give him a definitive answer as to what he was to me, but… we have time, right? We’re still young. I mean, he’s older than me by like a year and a half, but he’s still only twenty-seven, so…” He cuts off abruptly, seeming to realize that he’s begun rambling.
“So what did you tell him?” He cannot help but be a bit confused, considering that Zagreus seems to be talking himself in circles. That… seems to be a bit of a hallmark of when the other man is feeling flustered and out of sorts.
“That… I’d wait for him.” Zagreus says, his voice soft.
Achilles blinks, “Wait… but isn’t he the one that’s waiting for you to tell him how you feel?”
“I… yes? No? I don’t know anymore.” Zagreus flops down into one of the little plastic chairs in the rest area, burying his face in his hands. “How did you know that you were in love with Patroclus?”
Achilles blinks. How did he fall in love with Patroclus? He feels like he’s been in love with the other man for so long, that it’s just become a natural state of being. There was a time, of course, where he’d felt like he’d fallen just a little bit more in love with Patroclus with each and every passing day. It’d been like… like floating in a tide pool. Every once in a while, there would be long stretches of absolute calm. And then… then you could feel the pressure rising, could see the wave building slowly and steadily until…
Until it crashed over you with such terrific force that for one beautiful, yet terrifying moment, you were dragged bodily under the roar of the water. And despite the frantic movement of your body desperately attempting to drag you toward the surface, you just kept sinking down and down and down…
But… you’re not in danger. And you’re not drowning. You never were.
You’re safe… safer than you’ve ever been… sinking deeper and deeper into those warm, uncharted depths.
Slowly, and then all at once.
Now, his love for Patroclus feels like a broken, disjointed thing. Patroclus is still that tidal wave barreling toward him, intent on taking him under… but Achilles is no longer comfortable wading far enough into the tide pool to feel the full force of his power. By the time the wave reaches him, it’s nothing more than a small splash against his feet.
He turns to Zagreus, “Because he makes me feel. Even when I don’t want to.” The answer is as simple as it is complex, and he’s not sure that someone who isn’t inside of his head could ever really understand what it is that he meant.
He’s, admittedly, a bit confused himself.
Zagreus inclines his head to the side, “…Thanatos, he spent a long time not feeling, too.” He swallows hard, “He tells me that it was easier, before he accepted that he might have feelings for me. Before he… considered the possibility that I might not feel the same.”
Achilles considers this for a moment, before imparting perhaps the most important piece of advice he can, “Love hurts, Zagreus.” He runs his fingers over the space where his wedding ring had once lain, repeating to himself, “Love hurts.”
Chapter 4: A Sea of Broken Promises
“Love… hurts?” Perhaps this is not what the lad had been wanting—or expecting—to hear, but it is the wisdom that Achilles offers him all the same.
It’s not a universal truth. That is… love doesn’t always hurt. Or maybe it does, and it’s a sweet and tender sort of ache (like the hickeys that Patroclus used to leave on his neck, a delicate choker of reds and purples and blues that he would press, ever so lightly, in the dark void of his bedroom as his hand shifted underneath the bedsheets). Maybe it’s a kind of hurt that you don’t mind experiencing over and over—a kind of hurt that somehow manages to leave you feeling both raw and… and whole.
Achilles can’t remember the last time that he felt whole.
But he certainly feels raw.
No. Raw isn’t quite the right word for it. He feels like he’s been wounded (and, of course, he has—his eyes flit down to his foot, which is still propped up on the makeshift ottoman tucked away underneath the desk—but he’s thinking more in a metaphorical sense), and no matter how hard he tries, he’s at a loss for how to stop the bleeding. He doesn’t even know where the blood is coming from exactly, just that it seems to be coming from him and that’s bad. Because sometimes he thinks about Patroclus leaving him and for a moment, he forgets how to breathe. And sometimes he thinks about Patroclus leaving him and wonders why he hasn’t just done it already. Surely, there’s someone out there who is far more deserving of Patroclus’ affections…
Some days, he starts to ask Patroclus why he’d stayed after… after he was shot. Some days, it’s all he can do to hold back tears when Patroclus suggests something little—like that they bathe together, when the idea of washing himself is just too much. And it hurts, because he doesn’t deserve Patroclus. He never did. And maybe all of this… it was just meant to open his eyes, to show him that his entire relationship was operating on borrowed time. He takes a deep breath, doing his best to ignore the dull ache that’s settled in his chest. This is not the same ache that’d filled him when he’d lain in bed at night as a teen, tenderly caressing his necklace of bruises that Patroclus had gifted him, before spiriting away out of his window. This… This is not a good kind of hurt.
Achilles blinks, “Wait, did you…? You said that his name was Thanatos.” He seems to remember hearing that name somewhere. “He… works at the local nursing home, doesn’t he? As a hospice nurse?”
Zagreus’ eyes widen ever so slightly, “Yes. Yes, that…” A bit of color rises in his cheeks as he begins to talk about his ‘friend’ in earnest, “Thanatos has always born a close connection to death. I never really understood it, but… it seemed to make him happy, to be able to bring comfort to those nearing their end.”
The older man nods, “It’s a noble calling.” It would also explain why Zagreus felt that Thanatos came off as a bit… emotionally distant. Even the best hospice nurses would have to harden their hearts toward the inevitability of death—it comes with the territory. “Have you tried telling him that you aren’t going anywhere?”
“I… well, I’d figured that that was rather obvious. I mean, I’m living on his couch. It’s not like I have anywhere to go, even if I wanted to…” Achilles raises a brow—he’s pretty sure that that didn’t come out quite right.
“So you’re just… using him as a means to an end? Taking advantage of his bleeding heart—,”
“No!” The lad shakes his head, “No, no, no… I-I would never!” His mismatched eyes flit back and forth as he tries to figure out what he’d said to make Achilles think that way. “I… I didn’t say that because I actually want to leave him! I did that once, and he’s only recently started talking to me again—and I think it might be partly out of pity—”
Achilles frowns, “Regardless of his romantic feelings for you… if he is truly your friend, he won’t pity you.”
“I… maybe ‘pity’ wasn’t the right word.” He heaves a dramatic sigh, “I think that he… that he doesn’t quite know what do with me. He kind of just put himself out there and I…”
“You… choked?” He offers. Zagreus swallows hard, before nodding. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, lad. I did the same, when Patroclus first confessed to me. It’s not the end of the world.”
“But I… I’m still choking! Every time I go to talk with him about my feelings, it feels like there’s something caught in my throat! And I… even knowing how he feels about me, I still feel like… if I say something, I’ll lose him forever.”
“I… I don’t think that that will be the case.” He says, “I might not know Thanatos all that well, but from what I’ve heard, he seems like a rather earnest lad. His feelings for you won’t change if you tell him what’s in your heart.”
Zagreus blinks, “Speaking of which… how do you know Thanatos?”
He… really wishes that he knew how the conversation had come up. Patroclus is a neurosurgeon—he doesn’t deal with hospice patients with any kind of regularity. There are times when he comes across something in the operating theatre that he wasn’t expecting, times when he knows that he cannot fix the problem at hand with the skills at his disposal. In all the years he’s been working at the hospital, it’s happened so rarely… but it always hits him hard. Thanatos had always made making those hospice recommendations as easy as something like that could be.
They talk a lot… about everything and nothing. Some days, he thinks that he could tell Patroclus anything. He could tell him that the ache he feels is so much more than a throbbing in his heel. He could tell him that he wishes that he could be so much more… a better husband, a better father, a better person. Some days, he thinks that speaking at all is just too much. And, after a time, all of the conversations that they’ve had… a lifetime of conversations… they all start to bleed together. And all of a sudden, he feels tears sting in the corners of his eyes.
“He… my husband works with him sometimes.” Zagreus looks like he wants to ask more questions, but thinks better of it. Achilles reaches into his pocket and pulls out his keyring, “Hey… lad? You do realize that I set the thermostat to automatically turn the air conditioning off at ten o’clock every night, right?”
Zagreus raises a brow, “I… well, yes, I remember you mentioning something to that effect during orientation.”
Achilles pops one of the keys off of the key ring and passes it across the desk, “Even with the fans running, I don’t even want to think about how hot it gets here in the middle of the night. So… please don’t sleep here again.”
Color rises high in Zagreus’ cheeks, “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. I spent the night with Thanatos, on his couch, and came in early because I didn’t want to impose—,”
“If that’s the story that you want to tell me, lad. But just in case you decide on spinning a different tale—,”
Zagreus frowns, “I—sir, you’ve already done so much for me. I couldn’t possibly accept this…” Achilles wants to mention that he’s slipped back into the old habit of calling him ‘sir’, but Zagreus is already continuing, “I don’t… I don’t want to be pitied. Even if I don’t have Than’s couch—,”
“This isn’t pity, lad.” Or, at least, it’s not intended to be. He cannot help it if that is what Zagreus perceives it as. “It’s a serious offer, because I care about your safety and well-being.”
The corner of Zagreus’ mouth twitches, “You sound like such a dad.”
Achilles shrugs, “Maybe that’s because I am one.”
He thinks about what he would do if he found out that Pyrrhus or Amaltheia were spending their nights in the basement of a gym because they were no longer welcome in their home (and he cannot even begin to fathom it, because he would never kick either of his children out of the house to begin with—no matter how their feelings toward one another might change as the years continue to tick on, the idea that he could ever be so cruel to either of his babies makes his chest ache). He, admittedly, knows very little about Hades and Zagreus’ relationship, save for what the lad has told him in confidence and what Hades had told him in an effort to secure his son a job. And Hades had somehow managed to paint his son in the most damning light possible—
—and also make Achilles feel an almost desperate need to protect him, by whatever means necessary.
There’s a long pause, during which Achilles studies Zagreus’ face and Zagreus studies the key. He doesn’t know whether the younger man will take the key, but… he hopes that he will. (For a brief moment, he wonders if he should have consulted Patroclus before handing over a copy of the key to their house—but then he remembers that Zagreus spent the night sleeping in the basement of the gym (or, at least, he thinks that that’s what happened—despite the story Zagreus continues to insist upon) and decides that his husband would be more upset if he didn’t).
“Love hurts.” Zagreus repeats, his voice soft and just a little breathy. Achilles is no longer certain that they’re talking about Thanatos.
“It does.” He nods. “Especially if you’ve spent so long conditioning yourself to not feel anything at all.” He thinks back to the way his chest had tightened when he’d realized how long it’d been since he’d told Patroclus that he loved him. It wasn’t that he ever stopped loving him, just…
It was so much easier, to not feel anything at all.
And he wishes that there was a way for him to explain that to Patroclus without feeling like absolute scum for once again proving himself to be unworthy of the other’s affections…
“I’ll take the key.” Zagreus concedes, after a long moment. He picks the key up and slips it in-between his fingers, “I really do spend most of my nights on Than’s couch, so I can’t promise that I’ll ever take you up on actually using it, but… truly, it means a lot that you would even think to offer.”
“Well,” Achilles offers him a tight-lipped smile that does little to hide the relief that’s reflected in his sea-green eyes. “I sincerely hope that you never again have reason to take me up on my offer—but it remains open all the same.”
“…Does loving Patroclus hurt?” As soon as he asks, Zagreus looks like he wishes he could take the question back.
Achilles’ smile falters ever so slightly. “I…” He seems to consider his next words carefully, “Some days are easier than others, though it’s… admittedly, not getting any easier as time wears on. Although… I suspect that our situations might be a little bit different, at least in regards to the reason why we’re having trouble… connecting.”
Zagreus stares at him for a moment, before offering, “You don’t think you’re worthy of him?”
“I know I’m not worthy of him.”
Zagreus shrugs, “Then, our situations… might not be so different, after all.”
Thanatos is not an unattractive young man. He may not be Achilles’ type (Achilles is not ashamed to admit that Patroclus is the only person he’s ever found remotely attractive—not that he’s all that inclined to act on that attraction, not now (if it weren’t for the fact that chronic, mind-numbing pain has to be at the very tippy-top of the list of things that are absolutely not sexy, the cocktail of anti-depressants he’s on has the unfortunate side-effect of making his sex-drive near non-existent—he can’t remember the last time that he and Patroclus had had sex, and while most of the time he can convince himself that he doesn’t really miss it, he does miss the intimacy of the act)), but Achilles can acknowledge beauty when he sees it. And Thanatos is almost ethereally beautiful.
He’s tall—he has about a head on Achilles, which means he likely towers over the lad—with dark skin, and long-ish hair that’s very near the color of starlight. It’s twisted up on top of his head in a messy bun, revealing that much of the hair underneath (about halfway up the back of his scalp) had been shorn off. His amber eyes are hidden away behind thick-rimmed black glasses, which sit low on a sharply pointed nose. His full, pink lips are pulled down into a frown, which, from the deep creases in his forehead, Achilles suspects may just be his natural expression. He’s wearing a pair of black and purple butterfly-print scrubs (Achilles happens to think that they would look fabulous on Patroclus, his husband could never have too many scrubs…).
The gym is closed, but he hardly thinks that Thanatos has come intending to workout in that, so he bites his tongue and waits for the other man to speak. After a moment, he wanders over to the front desk, looking a little lost. “You must be… Mr. Pelides.” He says, “I’m looking for Zag…reus.”
Achilles blinks. Straight to the point, then. “You’re Thanatos, right?” The younger man gives a quick nod, “The lad’s told me quite a bit about you. Only good things, I promise.” He’s quick to assure, when the crease between Thanatos’ brows seems to deepen. “You said that you’re here for Zagreus?”
“Hmm…” Another quick nod, “His car broke down a couple weeks back. He’s been walking back to the apartment since then, but… He’s been staying later, recently, and I don’t want him walking back in the dark.”
Achilles offers a genuine smile at that, “So you’ve come to drive him home? That’s so thoughtful of you, lad.”
“I just…” Thanatos takes a deep breath, color rising to his cheeks, “It would be really unfortunate if the idiot didn’t look both ways before crossing the street and got hit by a car or something. That’s all.”
“Right.” He chuckles. Thanatos is easy enough to read—one almost has to wonder why the lad is having such a hard time of it. “Zagreus, could you come out here for a second?!”
Zagreus comes running, perhaps having heard Achilles’ tone and having assumed that something bad had happened. “What’s the matter, Ach—Than? What are you—I thought that I told you that I would be home around ten?” Achilles flinches; the gym closes at seven-thirty. Just how far has Zagreus been walking?
Thanatos doesn’t meet his eyes, “I… I’d finished my shift, so I’d thought…”
Zagreus sucks in a sharp breath, “Did you… come all this way just to offer me a ride home, Than?”
“Maybe.” Thanatos bites down on his bottom lip. His burnt bronze lip ring flashes in the gym’s soft lighting, “And it’s not like it’s that far out of my way.”
Zagreus’ lips twist into a gentle smile, “It’s a completely different exit on the highway.”
And Achilles… he actually, genuinely needs Zagreus to stay. They still have to make their way through the bulk of the closing checklist, which, unfortunately, includes a multitude of items that Achilles cannot physically do on his own (at least, not without a significant amount of pain and the potential of being absolutely unable to move come tomorrow). But… Zagreus has always been a terrific worker, and he’d been so kind to him that morning when he was still struggling with the effects of missing that first dose of medication. And while Thanatos would never admit to it, he can see that the younger man’s bags are packed. He was exhausted after spending hours on his feet dealing with patients who were struggling with some of the most difficult moments in their lives…
And he’d still come all this way just to make sure that Zagreus made it back to the apartment safe and sound. That… That was definitely something more than just friendship. And Achilles wasn’t going to be the one to stand in the way of such a grand, romantic gesture—even if it meant he’d spend the rest of the night closing up shop all by himself. It certainly wasn’t how he’d intended to spend his night—and it meant that there was absolutely no way that he’d be able to make it home early, as he’d promised Pyrrhus—
But then Zagreus latches himself onto Thanatos’ side and offers him a dopey little smile, and Thanatos complains about him being too ‘clingy’ and makes absolutely no effort to push him off… and he knows that he’s doing the right thing, in letting them leave together.
One of them deserves to have a good night, at least.
He… should probably call Patroclus, and tell him not to expect him home anytime soon.
Thanatos is looking at Zagreus like he doesn’t quite believe that he’s real. “You… didn’t come home last night.” Achilles doesn’t think he was supposed to hear that, so he’s just going to pretend that he didn’t. “You can’t just ask to crash on my couch and then not show up.”
Because… I was worried.
“I’m sorry.” But Zagreus is smiling too bright for his apology to be in any way believable.
“Is that right?” Thanatos nibbles on his lip ring—a nervous habit, perhaps?—as he stares at the younger man, looking entirely unimpressed.
“Achilles?” Zagreus turns to him then, his mismatched eyes wide and hopeful. “I know that there’s still some work to do, but is there any way I might be able to persuade you to let me duck out a little early tonight?” He juts out his bottom lip and bats his eyes, like Achilles would actually need convincing.
“Sure thing, lad.” Zagreus blinks—apparently, he hadn’t thought that it would actually be that easy. Hmm. “You two be safe, and have a good night, alright? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Really?” He’s not that much of a hardass, is he? He doesn’t think so… When Achilles doesn’t immediately shut him down, he offers Thanatos an excited, “Stay right there, okay? I’ll be right back!”
Thanatos looks at Zagreus, nonplussed. “I came all the way here… why would I leave without you?”
He… doesn’t understand how Zagreus could interpret the look in Thanatos’ amber eyes as anything other than pure, unadulterated love. Though, he supposes that he has the benefit of experience on his side. Even if Zagreus and Thanatos are childhood friends, Achilles has a good nine to ten years’ on them both—and he’s spent most of those years with Pat. He knows that Thanatos is looking on him in love, because that’s the same way that Pat used to look at him. That’s the way that Pat still looks at him, in those moments where Achilles can stifle his own insecurities long enough to be around him for extended periods of time. Thanatos is looking at Zagreus like the lad is the other half of his soul… like he completes him.
Thanatos waits, ever the epitome of patience. Achilles thinks about starting up a conversation with him to pass the time, but he cannot think of any topics that the younger man might like to talk about. And so he sits and tries to decide what tasks absolutely need to be completed before he leaves—and tries to determine what he can reasonably do, without asking too much of his already aching body. Thanatos picks at his already peeling nail polish, bits of ebony lacquer breaking off and fluttering to the ground.
Achilles decides that they’re going to make a cute couple—once they finally get their shit together.
“Alright, I’m ready!” Zagreus latches right back onto Thanatos’ side, much to the other man’s chagrin. Thanatos blushes furiously, before averting his gaze—”Have a good night, Achilles, sir!”
And then they’re off—Zagreus babbling happily about everything and nothing, Thanatos looking like he wants to crawl into a hole to hide his mounting mortification. Adorable.
He picks up the phone and dials Patroclus’ cell phone number. Patroclus, unsurprisingly, picks up on the second ring, “Achilles? Is everything alright? You rarely ever call me from work—,”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah—everything is fine. I just… I had to send Zagreus home early, so I wanted to let you know that I’ll probably be getting home late. I know I… I told Pyrrhus that I would try to make it home early tonight, but that’s just not feasible now…” He feels bad. He doesn’t like knowing that he’s letting his son down.
And Patroclus, bless his heart, doesn’t chastise him for breaking his promise. (Honestly, he thinks he might break down if Patroclus makes like he might yell at him). Instead, he asks, “Is Zagreus alright? He’s not sick, is he?”
“He’s not sick.” Achilles confirms, “As for whether or not he’s okay… I think he will be, now.”
“Okay,” Patroclus says, “Just… promise me that you’ll be careful, alright? Do you want me to come down there and help you close up? Or… I can always call Briseis. She didn’t leave that long ago—I’m sure she’d be more than happy to come over and help you to close up for the night.”
Achilles shakes his head, even if he knows that Patroclus cannot see it. “I don’t need the help.” He winces—he hadn’t meant for that to come out quite so sharply, “Sorry. Sorry, I—,”
“It’s okay, Achilles. You don’t have anything to apologize for.” Patroclus sounds so very tired, and Achilles wants to cry. He deserves so much better.
He takes a deep breath, “Nyx is probably still in her studio. If I need help, I’ll ask her, alright?” Patroclus doesn’t say anything, so Achilles assumes that this is an acceptable alternative. “I love you.”
“Hmm…” There’s a long pause, and for a moment, he doesn’t think that Patroclus is going to respond. Then, “I love you, too.” And then he ends the call.
Patroclus is mad at him.
Patroclus is mad at him, and he doesn’t have any more pain medication in his desk in his office in the basement.
Patroclus is mad at him, and he doesn’t have any more pain medication in his desk in his office in the basement, and there are too many machines for him to ever hope to finish them all before the air conditioning cuts off at ten o’clock. And the last thing that he needs is to end up overheated on top of everything else.
Is he crying? He thinks that he might be crying.
Sniffling, he takes a seat on one of the treadmills and buries his face in his hands, his calloused fingertips growing wet with the tears that’re leaking from the corners of his eyes. He should’ve taken Patroclus up on his offer to drive over and help him—he could’ve asked him to bring some more of his pain medicine (Briseis would’ve brought him his medicine as well, as well as some of that herbal paste that has a wonderfully numbing effect on his aching joints). Now, he rubs his leg, considering the dozens of machines that he still has to finish wiping down before he leaves for the night…
The door to the gym opens—he didn’t bother to lock it after Zagreus had left; there wasn’t a point, not until he was heading out for the night. He doesn’t bother to look up, not until he hears a familiar voice call, “Achilles? Achilles, are you alright? I saw that the light was still on…”
Chapter 5: I'll Be Your Best Boy
Hey, all! This will probably be the last update that I'm able to churn out before my finals start next week. It'll be a little over a week until the next update (my last final is on Saturday, December 5). So stay tuned, and I hope you enjoy <3
“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.”
Chapter 6: These Walls Between Us
Wow, I was really not expecting the tremendous wave of feedback that I received for the last chapter! Thank you guys for all of the love and support on this fic--I'm really excited to be able to offer you a new chapter <3
“And… that’s the last of it.” Patroclus shows him the bowl, which has been scraped clean. Achilles almost doesn’t believe it—it certainly doesn’t feel like he’s eaten an entire bowl of curry, but then the bowl had only been about halfway full to begin with. “How are you feeling?”
Achilles lays a hand over his stomach, “I’m… full. Not stuffed, but… pleasantly full. I… I really don’t think that I could stomach anymore, but… thank you, for this.” He stares at his husband, more than a little bit in awe. “What possessed you to make curry for dinner tonight? I know that Pyrrhus doesn’t usually eat it—”
Patroclus’ teeth sink into his bottom lip as he contemplates how to respond. Then, “Well, it was supposed to be date night. I know that we haven’t actually had one in a while, but when Pyrrhus said that you were coming home early I thought ‘what the hell’.” He shrugs, “I’m glad that I did make it, though, even if…”
Achilles’ eyes widen, “I… I-I’m so sorry! It’s been so long, I… I didn’t even remember that tonight was supposed to be date night.” The fact that Patroclus not only remembered, but had made a special meal just in case—
“It’s alright, Achilles. I’m not mad.” But it’s not alright. “Please don’t cry, darling. We can spend this time together, now. That’s more than enough for me.” His thumbs sweep up over Achilles’ sculpted cheeks, catching stray tears.
He takes a deep breath, “Will you… tell me about your day, then? Did anything interesting happen at the hospital?”
Patroclus sets the bowl aside, before shifting a little to make himself more comfortable on the bed. “Well… I can’t say that anything too interesting happened. But I suppose that’s a good thing, considering my line of work.” The corner of his mouth twitches, “I, uh… I spoke with Theseus again today.”
Achilles’ frowns, a few more tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, “You did.”
“I did.” Patroclus confirms, “He is… an annoyingly stubborn one, I’ll give him that.”
Achilles is well-aware of the fact that Patroclus has to tread lightly when it comes to Theseus’ advances. As the hospital director, he doesn’t have direct influence over Patroclus’ job—but he can exert pressure in the right places to make it all-too-convenient for Patroclus’ boss to kick him to the curb. And while Patroclus spends most of his time at the private practice he runs with Hypnos, a young sleep therapist (who also happens to be Thanatos’ twin brother), and Apollo, an anesthesiologist (who puts folks under for procedures that can be performed in-office), if he gets booted from the hospital, he’ll lose access to the operating theatre. And what use is a neurosurgeon that cannot actually perform surgery?
Achilles would tell him to file a complaint with HR, if it weren’t for the fact that the head of HR, Asterius, has his head shoved so far up Theseus’ ass they might as well be the same person. Patroclus has mentioned on several occasions that he thinks the two of them might be dating (which, conflict of interest much?), which makes the whole business of flirting with Patroclus on the daily even more awkward and uncomfortable. Achilles can’t help but worry that, if he were to file a complaint, it would somehow result in him losing his job all the same. And he… he doesn’t know what to do, what to advise Patroclus to do. He hates the thought of Patroclus being forced to deal with that swine, day in and day out, but…
He's reminded of their senior year of high school, when their ‘friend’ (he uses the term very loosely—Achilles had always been the charismatic sort, who attracted all sorts of would-be friends to his side; now, after everything, the only ones that’re still hanging around are Patroclus and Briseis) Hector had gotten a bit too handsy with Patroclus. Achilles had almost gotten himself expelled after he’d broken his wrist in three different places. Patroclus had been pissed, but Hector had never bothered him again, so Achilles considered the cold shoulder well-worth it.
Now… he doesn’t think he could break Theseus’ wrist, even if he wanted to. And he really doesn’t want to. For one, the bastard would probably find some way to make himself out to be a martyr and use it to endear himself to Patroclus, instead of taking it as a warning and considering himself lucky that Achilles didn’t do worse. There’s also the fact that he’s not seventeen anymore—breaking a grown man’s wrist was pretty much a one-way ticket to a jail cell. And he doesn’t want that to be the way that his kids remember him.
It’s just a bad situation all around.
“Hey, now.” Patroclus cups his chin, tilting his face back so that swollen, red-rimmed sea glass eyes meet warm, chocolate brown. “I’m not telling you this to get you more upset, you know.”
“I know.” But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still upset him, and they both know this.
“Everything will work out, one way or another.” Patroclus continues, “I’ll keep telling him that I have a wonderful husband that’s twice the man he’ll ever be, and maybe, someday, he’ll learn to understand the meaning of the word ‘no’.” He sounds so confident, like it’s only a matter of time.
“I know.” Though he doesn’t quite agree with the fact that he’s twice the man that Theseus is, he’s too tired to argue the point right now. And he’s still clinging, a bit desperately, to the fact that they were having a good night.
“Until then, it’s more than enough for me to know that you know I’ll never let him do anything.” Patroclus smiles, his gaze a little sorrowful. “I know that you’ve always been my protector, Achilles, but… this time, trust that I can take care of myself. You’re the only one that I want. Always and forever.”
“I know that.” Achilles whispers, “I just… don’t understand why.” Patroclus wasn’t meant to hear that, but he did. Of course he did. And though he’s smiling, Achilles can see the way that the words break his heart.
“You don’t need to understand why, then.” Patroclus says. “Just know that it’s true. Can you do that for me?”
Achilles’ tears start falling afresh, “I-I don’t deserve you.”
Patroclus shakes his head, “You deserve me, and our little family, and the life that we’ve built together, and so much more. I know that you don’t believe me now, and that’s okay. I’ll keep saying it as many times as you need to hear it.” He offers a small, warbling smile, “Oh, darling… how long have you been holding these tears in?”
The blond sniffles, shaking his head violently, “I-I’m tired of crying! I cry all the damn time, over nothing!” Well, not over nothing, but it certainly feels like nothing when he never used to cry this much before.
Patroclus cradles him in his arms, allowing him to hide his messy face in the ridiculous gag gift that they’d bought for him last year for Christmas. A couple of pieces of hair have fallen down from the bun, and they tickle Achilles face as he struggles valiantly against his sobs. He knows that he’ll feel better if he allows himself to have a proper cry (this has been building since at least that morning, but perhaps longer), but he hates having Patroclus see him this way. He hates that he can’t keep the waterworks under wraps for the brief period of time that he’s able to spend with his husband. Patroclus hums softly, dragging his fingers through Achilles hair as he rocks them back and forth. He’s humming something underneath his breath—
Achilles eyes flutter as he sucks in a deep, rasping breath. Patroclus moves to settle one broad hand on his stomach, his thick, calloused fingers gently massaging the skin just underneath Achilles’ shirt. Where once there had been a rippling six-pack, there is now smooth, lightly freckled skin, distended ever so slightly from all of the curry that he’d eaten. It really hadn’t been that much food, but it was more than he was used to eating in one sitting—there were days where he went without consuming anything more substantial than a meal replacement shake, and days where Zagreus would order two extra servings of large fries from McDonalds because something drenched in saturated fats and salt was better than nothing at all.
It takes him quite a while to be able to calm down. Patroclus waits, patient as ever. He is clearly concerned, but he doesn’t press the matter—he lets Achilles cling to him, muttering incoherently underneath his breath. His hand snakes up a little higher, till he feels the rapid-fire thump-thump-thump of Achilles’ heart. His lips curl down ever so slightly when he realizes just how fast Achilles’ heart is beating… Gently, he pries one of Achilles’ hands off of his back and brings it around to press against his chest.
“Sweetheart? Can you take a couple of deep breaths for me?” Achilles shakes his head, burying his face even deeper into the fabric of Patroclus’ shirt. “C’mon now, Achilles. Just a couple of deep breaths. Try and match me—” He closes his fingers around Achilles’ hand, “In… and out. In… and out.”
“I-I-I…” Achilles sniffles loudly. And then he starts coughing, his body rejecting all of the mucus that’s obstructing his throat. “I don’t want to hurt anymore, Pat.”
Patroclus nods, “I know. I know. I wish that there was something more that I could do for you.” He hates to know that Achilles is hurting, and there’s not a damned thing that he can do about it. “Do you think that a bath would help? I… don’t think that we have a hot compress large enough to cover your leg from heel to knee…”
“I… I don’t… I mean…” Achilles draws in another shuddering breath, “Not just my leg. I don’t want to hurt at all. I just… I want it to stop.” He sobs, breathless.
Tears burn in the corners of Patroclus’ eyes, “I’m sorry, darling. I’m sorry—”
“Y-You don’t need to… to apologize. None of this is your fault.” The younger man wheezes, “It’s not your fault that I’m… like this. That I’m bro—”
“Achilles,” Patroclus’ voice is tight, “there are not words to describe how angry that I’ll be if you finish that sentence. You are not broken, and I never want to hear you talk about yourself like that again.” He says, his tone brokering no room for argument.
“But I am—” That isn’t about to stop Achilles from trying to argue the point, anyhow.
“You’re not. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain, darling.” Patroclus continues, “I know you don’t like it when I throw a bunch of medical jargon at you, but it’s true. And I’m sorry that that’s not something that I can cut you open and correct with something like a… a stent. But… think of it like… like a cup.”
He can feel the way that Achilles’ lips turn down into a half-pout, half-frown, “A… cup?”
“Mhmm…” Patroclus nods, a few more stray hairs falling from his bun. “If I break a cup into sizeable pieces, I can conceivably glue it back together and the cup will more or less be able to function like a cup. That’s like when I put in a stent to ease the pressure off of a bleeding brain.”
Achilles draws back a little. He looks adorably confused—but he’s no longer sobbing, so Patroclus takes that as a good sign. “So… what are you trying to tell me, Pat?”
Patroclus takes a deep breath, “Depression is like… take that same cup, and shatter it. You might be able to glue the pieces back together, but you probably won’t be able to use that cup as a cup anymore. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a million other uses for it that are just as good, or maybe even better.”
For the first time, Achilles notices that Patroclus is crying, “No, no, no, you can’t start crying, too. Only one of us can be a mess at the time.” He tries to smile, but it doesn’t quite reach his watering eyes.
“The cups are both still cups. It’s just… one requires a little bit more than glue, that’s all. And that… that’s okay. More than okay.” He draws in a shuddering breath, “I’m sorry that, for all my years of schooling, the best I can tell you is that depression medication isn’t like a stent—it helps, but it doesn’t fix. I’m sorry that, for all my training, I can only understand what it is that you’re going through on a technical level. I’m sorry that this is one thing I can’t fix with a… a stent or a plates and screws—”
“I don’t… I don’t blame you for not being able to fix this for me, darling.” He says. If he is certain about nothing else, it is this. “So please… don’t tell me that you’ve been blaming yourself, all this time.”
Patroclus doesn’t answer. Instead, he tucks Achilles’ head underneath his chin and whispers, “Just… promise me that you won’t talk about yourself like that anymore, alright? You’re not broken. A cup is a cup is a cup, Achilles.”
“A cup… is a cup, is a cup.”
Patroclus runs him a bath, despite Achilles doing his damndest to convince him that he’s fine without. But Patroclus insists that they both need something to help them relax after the… exciting evening that they’d had. And when he promises that he’ll be partaking with him, well… Achilles honestly can’t find it within him to refuse. Once the tub is full, Patroclus adds a couple of soothing essential oils to the mix (Achilles nearly melts when Patroclus whips out the lavender—they can’t use a lot of essential oils, for fear of hurting their cat, but lavender… lavender is an absolute godsend). And then, after checking the temperature of the water one last time, he helps Achilles to lower himself down into the tub.
He lets out a sigh, sitting forward just enough to allow Patroclus to slide into the tub behind him. Once Patroclus is settled, he wraps his arms around Achilles’ midsection and guides him back to snuggle against his chest. They sit together like that for a moment, Achilles sea-green eyes fluttering closed as he listens to the sound of Patroclus’ heartbeat. However long after their conversation, and Patroclus’ heartbeat is still calmer than his own. Patroclus’ hands are mapping out patterns on his bare belly—his husband seems so unbelievably pleased to see that there’s still a slight swell from all of the food that he’d eaten. He hums softly, the water rippling around them as he strokes his hand over Achilles’ lightly freckled skin.
“Which soap do you want to use, darling?” Patroclus presses gentle, unobtrusive kisses along the length of Achilles’ neck. “If you want something with a less powerful scent, we have some of that banana-coconut body wash you like… or orange honeysuckle and vanilla…”
Achilles eyes flit toward the shelf which houses all of their bath accoutrements—they have a lot, considering that the only one who takes regular baths in their house is Pyrrhus. “What did you shower with earlier?”
“The lemon peel, cypress, and cedarwood blend?” Patroclus sounds a little surprised—Achilles likes the way that he smells, of course he does, but he doesn’t usually go out of his way to smell like him.
“The cedarwood oil…” Achilles hums, considering, “Isn’t cedarwood oil a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic? That might help with my leg…” He’s almost certain that it’s going to smell absolutely atrocious when mixed with the other oils already in the bath, but—
“Your foot is looking a little more swollen than usual.” Patroclus concedes, “Did something happen?”
“Yeah, I… well, you know that Pyrrhus had a bad dream this morning?” Patroclus nods, “He, uh… He screamed, and I thought something had happened, so I rushed to check on him and he… he tackled me.”
Patroclus frowns, “Why’re you just telling me about this now?!”
“Because it wasn’t his fault!” Achilles cuts in, “And I don’t want him to think that it was his fault! I should’ve braced myself better—”
“That’s not what I meant.” There’s a resounding click as Patroclus pops the cap on the bottle of body wash that Achilles had picked out, “I know that I’m not that kind of doctor, but I’d be able to at least tell you if there was anything broken. You might need a walking boot—”
“There’s no way that I’m wearing a walking boot.”
“And there’s no way I’m letting you exacerbate a potentially serious injury due to your pride.” Achilles fixes him with a full-on put, and Patroclus relents, ever so slightly, “At least let me look at it, darling. Please?”
With great effort, he lifts his leg out of the water and places it into Patroclus’ line of vision. “There. You can look at it just fine like that, right?”
Patroclus rolls his eyes—but he concedes that Achilles had allowed him to drag him into the tub, so he ought to see the bath through before pushing his husband for more. He lathers the soap between his hands, spreading the suds over Achilles’ broad shoulders and back. Achilles’ eyes roll back into his head, a soft moan spilling over his slightly parted lips. He’d forgotten how amazingly strong Patroclus’ hands were. Perhaps, if he could actually make it home in time to have date night with Pat, he could actually have one of Patroclus’ infamous massages.
Okay… maybe it’s best if he doesn’t go back down that path tonight.
Patroclus lathers up a bit more soap, before returning to drag his hands down Achilles’ front. Neither man comments on the fact that the bathwater is rapidly discoloring (though heat does rise in Achilles’ cheeks at the reminder that it’s been far too long since he’s taken proper care of his personal hygiene). Patroclus scrubs him down, heat blooming beneath his fingers until Achilles’ pale skin is damn-near red—it doesn’t hurt; in fact, it’s rather pleasant. Then, he rinses him off (which… he isn’t sure how sanitary that is, to rinse him off with the very same water they’d been sitting in for the last half-hour—in fact, the whole concept of the ‘bath’ is rather unsanitary). But he cannot deny that he feels better, just being able to smell the scent of cedarwood that always clings to Patroclus’ skin…
“Oh, that reminds me.” He leans his head back against Patroclus’ shoulder as the older man washes the last of the soap off of his body, “When I spoke with Nyx earlier, she mentioned that you’d commissioned a painting from her.”
“I did.” Patroclus agrees. When he doesn’t say anything else, he wonders if the commission had been meant as a surprise. Perhaps he shouldn’t have brought it up? “I… perhaps it would be better if we spoke about it at a different time? Everything’s just calmed down…”
Achilles raises a brow, “What could be so upsetting about a painting?”
“It’s not the… painting itself that would be upsetting.” Patroclus says, “It’s a painting of the family. There, uh… Well, we don’t have any pictures of the whole family together, so I had to ask her to do a little work to create a compilation with all of us in it.”
The corners of Achilles’ mouth twist down into a frown, “I know that I… well, I haven’t been the most photogenic, lately. Or… willing to have my picture taken, either.”
“I understand. You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Achilles.” Patroclus starts to work some shampoo into his hair, his short, blunt nails carving their way along the smaller man’s scalp. “I actually found a very nice photograph of you—it was taken in the hospital,” Achilles tenses, “right after Amaltheia was born,” and relaxes again.
“Then… what’s so upsetting about the portrait?” Achilles is visibly confused.
“It’s more… who the portrait is for.” Patroclus begins to wash out the shampoo, keeping at it until the blond locks have returned to their once near-radiant luster. “And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter, in an effort to keep the mood light. I want to keep you nice and relaxed…”
The bath concluded, Patroclus climbs out of the water first, taking one of the fluffy white towels off of the heated towel rack next to their sink. He dries himself off (rather haphazardly, as he’s far more concerned with getting Achilles out of the rapidly cooling water before it starts to exacerbate the ache in his heel and leg again). As he watches his husband prepare, he cannot help but notice that he is erect—his thick, dark cock curved up against his flat, firm belly. He’s making a valiant effort to ignore it, but…
Well, Achilles wishes that he didn’t have to.
There’s a faint stirring between his legs, but he knows full-well that that will be the extent of it. They’d tried, a couple of times, after Achilles had first returned from his last tour. Once the pain was under control, Achilles had attempted to use sex as a means of denying the new reality he’d been plunged into… and then the mortification of being unable to get it up had killed the vibe for months afterward. Patroclus had tried to tell him that it was perfectly natural for anti-depressants to affect his ability to… perform (which, in effect, only served to make him more upset about the whole situation—he would blame himself forever for being unable to keep his promise to Patroclus to come back home in one piece, and now… now he couldn’t even satisfy his husband?)
They haven’t tried anything since—though it’s certainly not due to Patroclus’ lack of interest. He never pushes the matter, but Achilles isn’t daft—he knows why Patroclus takes the extended, indulgent showers that he does. He knows that Patroclus has a healthy sex drive, and he deserves to have a partner that can indulge it. He also knows that Patroclus has recommended he speak to Megaera (an acupuncturist, whose kinda-sorta dating Hypnos (it’s complicated—though, what isn’t, at this point?), and who used to date Zagreus, before… all of that happened) about… alternative ways to boost his sex drive. He keeps putting it off because, well… if he gives voice to it, then that makes it real, right?
Not that… all of this isn’t already far too real for his liking.
He lets Patroclus help him out of the tub and bundle him up in the nice, warm towel. “There… Don’t you feel so much better, now?” Under the harsh bathroom lighting, he can see how Patroclus’ eyes had swollen when he cried… and he realizes that he doesn’t really feel all that much better at all.
“I… I do, yeah.” He forces a smile. “Can we, um… Can we cuddle? I would like for us to cuddle.”
“Sure, we can. Of course we can.” His eyes flit down toward his straining cock. Achilles is almost entirely certain that he was not meant to see that. “I, um… Let me just get you situated, and I’ll join you in a minute.”
He gets Achilles situated on the bed, before heading back into the bathroom under the guise of hanging the towel back up on the rack. When he returns some fifteen minutes later, both are more than willing to pretend that that’s exactly what he did.
Chapter 7: Love is Patient, Love is Confusing
Achilles is thankful that the next morning is more or less uneventful.
After Patroclus had come back to bed, he’d slept for about three hours before being struck with the sudden, unrelenting need to be up and about. So, he’d checked in on Amaltheia, tucked Pyrrhus back into bed, and went out to the car to retrieve the memberships that he hadn’t had a chance to register the night before. He knew that he was going to regret not making some kind of effort to fall back asleep when he crashed later in the day, but he knew Zagreus wouldn’t question it if he disappeared down into the office/utility closet for an hour or so to catch up on some much-needed rest. Besides, if he were able to catch up on these registrations now, there would be one less thing for him to catch up on when he eventually checked-in.
Patroclus doesn’t sleep for long, either. By the time four-thirty rolls around, he is dragging himself into the kitchen, helping himself to the coffee that Achilles has been downing like water for the last hour and forty-five minutes. He looks positively dashing in a pair of dark blue scrub bottoms and an off-white tank-top (he thinks that the shirt may have been white, once upon a time, but when you have two kids under the age of five, nothing stays white for long). He’s wearing two different colored socks, and his hair is sticking up at all sorts of fascinating angles—Achilles would take a picture, if he didn’t feel mostly responsible for Patroclus looking like he’s dead on his feet. Once his cup is full, he makes his way over to the couch to peer at what Achilles is doing—
“Are you actually doing work? Now?” He sounds surprised. Achilles can’t really blame him: he’s never been a morning person. He would stay in bed until one o’clock in the afternoon, if left to his own devices… maybe longer.
“I am.” He inclines his head toward the stack of registrations that he’s already finished processing, “I… had a little bit of trouble falling back asleep, so I thought that I would do what I could to finish up the work leftover from last night. It’ll make opening the gym this morning that much easier—”
Patroclus hums, “Well, I’m proud of you. Is there anything that I can do to help you out?” He asks.
“That’s sweet, but… I want you to focus on yourself, alright? You have a long day ahead of you at the hospital, and you couldn’t have gotten much sleep because of—” He cuts himself off before he can assign himself the blame for Patroclus not getting the necessary sleep. “I made that blueberry coffee that you like.”
“I know.” Patroclus takes an appreciative sip, “I don’t understand why the coffee that you make always tastes so much better…” He doesn’t understand it either. He can’t cook worth a damn, but Patroclus is always praising it like it’s the greatest thing ever (does making coffee even constitute cooking?—he doesn’t know anymore).
Instead, he manages a sort of half-smile, meeting Patroclus’ dark brown eyes for the first time since the older man had stumbled out of the bedroom. “Thank you… for last night, and… well, for everything.”
And Patroclus melts, “You don’t have anything that you need to thank me for, darling. I just did what I could to help… that’s all that any of us can do, right?” He leans in to press a kiss to Achilles’ forehead.
They fall into a comfortable silence. Patroclus checks in on Amaltheia, before putting on the rest of his scrubs. It turns out that Pyrrhus had been playing with his sneakers the night before, since there’s one in the sun room by the door to their garage, and one in the main bathroom, of all places. (Pyrrhus likes to play doctor—Patroclus had bought him his own junior doctor’s kit last Christmas, and his own itty-bitty pair of scrubs, and… well, he entertained the fact that Pyrrhus would make off with his sneakers to complete the look). He says that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up; or, at least, that’s the latest thing that he’s decided that he wants to be. Last year, he’d wanted to be an astronaut. The year before that, he’d wanted to be a professional track star.
Achilles sucks in a deep breath, “I’m going to try, really hard, to make it home early tonight.” He knows that a similar promise had gotten him into trouble the night before, but this time… he really thinks it’s possible. And after their conversation last night… he thinks that they really ought to start spending more time together.
“If you can, then that’s wonderful.” Patroclus concedes, “If you can’t, I won’t hold it against you. Trust me, I know that stuff comes up sometimes. And you have to look out for Zagreus, right?”
Achilles raises a brow, “I mean, he and Thanatos seemed rather… chummy last night, before they left. I find it really hard to imagine that anything too drastic happened between then and now—”
“Still,” his husband shrugs, “all I ask is that you do what you can, alright?”
Achilles sighs, “Alright.”
Patroclus reaches for one of the registration forms, “Do you always have this many registrations to close out at the end of the night? That’s kind of amazing.” Achilles supposes that his surprise is well-warranted. He doesn’t really talk about the gym with Patroclus; he’s far more concerned with learning what Patroclus does on a daily basis.
“I think part of it is Zagreus.” He says, “We’ve had a surprising number of young ladies—and quite a few men—come through ever since I hired him. It’s good, and… and a bit overwhelming.”
“He’s good for business.” Patroclus says.
Achilles nods, “He’s nice to have around. It’d be even nicer if he knew how to use a washing machine.”
He wishes that there were more that he could do for Zagreus, but he’s in an incredibly precarious position, what with Hades being his landlord. He likes to think that there is nothing that Hades could do to retaliate against him, knowing that he has a legally binding contract that guarantees him that space for another three and a half years. But if there’s one thing that he’s learned, there’s always a loophole—and while they wouldn’t exactly be hurting for money if he were to lose his job, he honestly doesn’t know what he would do with himself if he were to lose his only reason to leave the house, day in and day out. So right now, all he can do is tell Zagreus to toss the wash back in for a second cycle, or to empty the vacuum bag before vacuuming to actually make the vacuum function…
Patroclus runs his fingers through Achilles’ hair, brushing it out from in front of his face. “You know what, Achilles? You’re a good man.” And those words… they warm his heart like nothing else.
Achilles isn’t sure how they’re able to do it, but the last of the work from the closing checklist—and the bulk of the work from the opening checklist—is finished before the gym opens. It’s impressive, considering that Zagreus is late for work. And not just a couple of minutes late, either. The kind of late where he’s wondering if he needs to check to make sure that there hasn’t been some kind of accident. Does the lad walk to work? That is considerably less dangerous than walking home from work, but still. He’ll have to look over the business records later, to see if he can crunch some numbers in order to give Zagreus a bit of a raise. He knows that he hasn’t really been working at the gym long enough to have earned a raise, but fuck… it’s not like Achilles needs the money.
When Zagreus does show up, it’s clear that his mind is elsewhere. He’d done a rather sorry job of trying to conceal a blood-red hickey at the base of his neck—and Achilles would be curious about that, if it weren’t for the fact that the lad looked like he wanted to break down into tears at even the slightest provocation. He’s worried that something’d happened between him and Thanatos (he doesn’t think that Thanatos is the type to break the lad’s heart, but if he did, Achilles would have to kick his ass).
He’s in the midst of reviewing the ledger from that month when he decides to broach the topic.
Achilles sinks his teeth into the soft, malleable rubber of the eraser on his mechanical pencil. His eyes flicker back and forth as he watches Zagreus work a tread into the concrete floor, “What’s the matter, lad?” Zagreus skids to an abrupt halt, “Come now, I’m sure you’ll feel better once you have it off your chest. Besides… this is making me dizzy.”
“S-Sorry.” Zagreus lowers his eyes toward the small stack of towels he’d been trying to replenish for the last ten minutes, “I… It’s Thanatos.” Heat rises in his cheeks when he says the other man’s name, “I think that I might’ve messed things up with him. Badly. We, um… well, things progressed between us last night.”
Achilles raises a brow, “They… progressed?” He’s about ninety-five percent sure he knows what it is that Zagreus is trying to tell him, but he wants to be certain he knows what he’s talking about before giving any sort of advice.
“W-We…” Zagreus’ grip tightens on the blankets, causing wrinkles to form in the soft, fluffy white material. “W-We had sex. And I… I thought that he was really into it. He said that he was, anyway. But this morning, he was gone before I’d woken up, and his side of the bed was cold, so he must’ve been gone awhile—”
“Okay, first off—I’m gonna need you to take a deep breath, kid.” He says. “I saw the way he looked at you last night, Zagreus. He genuinely cares about you.” And then, “I’m sure that this is all just a big misunderstanding.”
“T-Then… why did he just leave?” The poor lad looks to be just a second or two away from breaking down into tears.
“I mean, I can’t speak for Thanatos, but could it be possible that he just had to leave early for work?” He doesn’t know much about hospice, but he reasons that, just like any other medical field, it requires one to keep odd hours.
“He usually tells me if he’s going to be working odd hours, though.” Zagreus is absolutely despondent. Achilles wishes there’s something he could do to quell the boy’s anxiety, “I just… I don’t want him to be mad at me. He spent so long being mad at me, and I… I know that I deserved it. But…”
As it turns out, when Zagreus had decided to ‘run away’ (he’s still not sure why it’s considering ‘running away’ when Zagreus was well over the age of eighteen at the time, and therefore legally allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted), he’d conveniently neglected to tell Thanatos that he was leaving—and, at the time, had had no intention of coming back. Thanatos had been heartbroken, and had ghosted Zagreus for almost three months (while it’s true that Zagreus had been on the west coast for just about half of that time, apparently, after his mother had kicked him to the curb, he’d tried to reach out to Thanatos, only to find that the other boy had changed his phone number—and when he’d called Hypnos to make sure that everything was alright—
Well, Hypnos had really torn him a new one. He was surprised, considering that the Hypnos he knew was hard pressed to do much more than sleep eighteen hours a day (it was official—Hypnos was a cat)). When he’d come back to the east coast, Thanatos had avoided him—religiously. It wasn’t until Hades had officially kicked him out that Thanatos started to come around—and Zagreus was half-convinced that that was only because he was too nice of a person to let Zagreus sleep on the streets. And then they’d started… talking. And once they’d started talking, Zagreus had realized that Thanatos had been harboring feelings for him for several years and he started to realize that.. well, he might feel the same. And that’d made him panic.
Zagreus had only had one serious relationship before… whatever it is that he has with Thanatos, now. And it had ended very badly. They’re friends now, but it’d taken quite awhile for him to worm his way back into her good graces (in many ways, it’d been more difficult than making amends with Thanatos—he likes to think that Thanatos was just looking for a valid reason to forgive him (but then, that might just be wishful thinking). And he just… he’s so worried about messing things up, because he can’t go back to having Thanatos ignore him.
Especially not now that they’re living under the same roof. If he’s even still welcome in Thanatos’ apartment, after everything. What is he going to do, if he can’t stay with Thanatos anymore? Even though Achilles offered to let him stay with him—to prevent him from spending the night in the gym—he couldn’t take advantage of his goodwill.
Achilles decides that he ought to intervene before the lad works himself into a proper snit.
“Okay, so…” he tries to interject, but Zagreus keeps speaking over him. So, he clears his throat, loudly, and stares pointedly at the younger man until he stutters to a stop. “Haven’t things been better between you and Thanatos since you came back?” A nod. “You’ve been communicating more—”
“Well… our version of communicating.” Zagreus sinks his teeth into his bottom lip, “It… mainly consists of me talking, and Thanatos making vague sounds of approval and disapproval at appropriate intervals…”
Achilles nods, “But if that’s Thanatos’ way of communicating, then… isn’t that better than being ignored entirely?” Zagreus twitches, then nods. It would seem that he really doesn’t like to think on the time that he and Than weren’t talking. “So, short of you doing something of that caliber again—”
“I wouldn’t! I mean, there’s no reason to try anymore, considering that my father’s kicked me our and my mother doesn’t want me—” and… he doesn’t think that he’s ever hated Hades more.
He’s honestly not too thrilled with Persephone right now, either.
“But what if…” he takes a deep breath, “God, this is really embarrassing.”
“More embarrassing than talking to your boss about your sex life?” It’s almost amusing, that the kid chooses now to be embarrassed about how much personal information he’s divulging. “Don’t tell me that you’re worried he ran off because you performed badly, or something like that?”
“I… well, maybe? I think I… well, I think that he might’ve been a virgin. And I… I probably should’ve done… you know, more, for his first time.” Zagreus’ bottom lip has now started to bleed where he’s worrying it, “Though, now that I think about it, I think he’d be even more ticked off if I made a big deal out of it—”
“Remember to breathe, Zagreus. It won’t help anything if you start hyperventilating—”
“I… may have also told him that I loved him.”
Achilles proceeds to choke on the air, “You… wait, you what?”
Hadn’t the lad just told him… what, two and a half days ago, that he didn’t know how he felt about Thanatos? He had said that he felt for him, but he wasn’t quite sure how to classify that feeling. Now, he’s blurting out that he loves the other man after what is beginning to sound less like the romantic joining of two bodies and more like a… well, he’s not quite sure how to describe it. If Thanatos is mad at him—and that’s a big ‘if’, because Achilles is still far from convinced as to whether or not Thanatos is actually upset—then it’s probably a result of not believing that Zagreus actually cares for him in the way that he claims. If he and Patroclus had never had a serious talk about feelings, he’d be skeptical too if Pat came out of the gates with the ‘l’ word.
He doesn’t want to tell that to Zagreus, though, because he knows that it’ll only serve to freak the younger man out more. He’d advise him to talk it out with Thanatos, but if his suspicions are correct and he’s working an extended shift at the home, then he doubts Thanatos will have the energy to dedicate to assuaging Zagreus’ fears. The man looks like the sort who gets stressed just by thinking about how stressed he is. There’s a chance that he might make the situation worse—unintentionally, of course—by letting that stress speak for him.
And the last thing that he wants is for Zagreus to make an impulsive decision and ruins a good thing (or to put Thanatos in a position where he talks out of his ass—and, by extension, ruins a good thing). Difficult though it may be, he thinks that the best thing for all parties involved would be to take a breather—
He’s not going to insult Zagreus and ask him if he meant it. If he said it, then he meant it…
Even if he’d only meant it in that moment.
“Do you need a ride home, then?” If Thanatos is pulling a double-shift, then odds are he won’t be able to swing by after his shift at the home (even if he’s trying to act like he didn’t go out of his way just to make sure that he would make it back to the apartment safely).
“Oh, I… I couldn’t ask you to do that. I… If I really need a ride, then I can call my cousin Hermes. He might have fourteen outstanding speeding tickets, and he might’ve totaled his last car doing… I don’t even know what. But if he brings one of Charon’s cars, he probably won’t cause any trouble…”
“I feel like I should probably be worried…” He really doesn’t want to think that Zagreus might be in more danger driving home with his cousin than he might be if he were to walk home.
“I…” Zagreus tries to look confident… and deflates, almost immediately. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little worried too.”
“Well…” Achilles doesn’t really know what else to say. He’s done all that he can do—the rest is up to him. “You have plenty of time to think about it, alright? You don’t have to decide right now.”
Thanatos doesn’t contact Zagreus for the rest of the day. It’s not that Achilles wasn’t expecting it—but it really upsets Zagreus. Achilles has half a mind to send him home early, again, but he really can’t afford to do it. His heel is feeling better today, but he knows that, if he pushes it, he’ll be in too much pain to risk driving.
Hermes pulls up well before the gym closes. He has a membership, though he rarely finds time to actually come in for a full-fledged workout. It seems like he’s taking advantage of the fact that he’s taking Zagreus home with him to squeeze in a quick run on the treadmill. But first… he stops by the front desk to purchase a bottle of ice-cold vitamin water with his fiance’s American Express black card. (For all that Charon hangs around his mother’s studio—he commissions a number of paintings from her to hang around his office downtown—Achilles has only crossed paths with him once or twice, and he doesn’t think he’s ever actually seen Charon and Hermes together. Nevertheless, it’s clear that they love each other—a lot).
(And that’s not just because you could give a man a black eye with that tremendous purple diamond on his finger).
“Hiya, Mr. Pelides! Long time no see.” Hermes flashes him a bright, toothy smile, “Got a text from the ol’ brother-in-law, sayin’ that a certain little birdie needed a ride back to the apartment tonight.” Achilles blinks. Hadn’t Zagreus said that he was going to call Hermes if he needed a ride home?
He decides to test the waters, just a little, “Thanatos asked you to come pick up Zagreus?”
Hermes nods, “That he did, boss. Said that he’d be workin’ a double shift at the nursing home, and wouldn’t be back until really late. Late enough that Zag’d probably be able to walk back and still make it home before him.” He cracks the seal on his water and takes a sip, “So he asked if I’d be willing to pick him up on my way to Charon’s.”
“Ah.” That makes so much more sense, “Well, Zagreus still has about an hour and a half left in his shift. I’d let him leave early, but I really can’t afford to after yesterday—”
“That’s more than fine, boss. I have all the time in the world. Well, not really—but I’ve been meaning to hit the gym. I’ve skipped leg days too many days in a row now, and you know that you can’t skip leg day.”
Hermes runs off to hit the treadmills just as Zagreus comes back upstairs with another round of towels. He greets him, just as he would any other customer, before realizing exactly who it is that he’s talking to and dropping the towels all over the ground. Achilles lets out a long-suffering sigh—it’s always the freaking towels. Well, at least he definitely knows that Zagreus didn’t reach out to Hermes (it’s a little heartbreaking to think that Zagreus had been waiting to hear from Thanatos all day, but at least Thanatos had made preparations in advance to take care of him).
They chat for a little while. Achilles would be reminding Zagreus to pick up the towels, if it weren’t for the fact that he’d clearly had a rough day already. Hermes is making everyone within six machines jealous with the way he’s dominating the treadmill—seriously, he didn’t think that it was possible to run on that steep of an incline, at that speed, and still hold a regular conversation. Achilles thinks that he would have had trouble with that, even when he was at his peak. (And yes, he knows that Hermes is a professional track star—he had two gold medals in the Olympics, in the 3000m steeplechase—if he couldn’t handle a quick jog on the treadmill, there would be something seriously wrong).
Then, Zagreus comes over to the front desk, a frown on his face. He… never picked up the towels, damn it.
“Do you… know what Hermes is doing here, Achilles, s—” He’s… admittedly a bit surprised that Zagreus didn’t bother asking Hermes that question. Or maybe Thanatos told him not to tell him that he’d sent him?
That… wouldn’t make any sense. But then, nothing really makes sense anymore.
“I believe that he’s here to take you home. After he gets his workout in, that is. I… I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever seen that treadmill move so fast. I’m a little worried that he might break it—”
“He… really is fast, isn’t he?” Zagreus remarks, “When we were younger, he invited me on one of his morning jogs. He’d made it all the way around the block before I’d even finished stretching.” He takes a deep breath, “So, you’re saying that you didn’t call him, then?”
Achilles shakes his head, “No, I didn’t. But I would recommend that you get your closing tasks done quickly, to make sure that you don’t keep him waiting. And then we can both head out early.”
“Really?” Zagreus seems more excited about the fact that Achilles will be leaving early than he himself, but still. “I’ll get started right now! There’s a… surprising number of towels that need to be washed today…”
Chapter 8: The 'H' Word
Achilles, admittedly, loses track of time after that. But somewhere between thirty and forty-five minutes later, Hermes is wandering out of the showers, in a plain black t-shirt, which reads: ‘Sorry Ladies, This Guy is Taken (Yes, His Fiancé Bought Him This Shirt), and bright red basketball shorts. Achilles is almost certain that Hermes’ fiancé did nit buy him that shirt—it’s much too flashy for Charon’s tastes. His dark brown eyes flicker over to the desk where Achilles is seated, only to light up as if he’d just remembered something incredibly important.
Hermes closes the distance between them in a flash.
“Oh, by the way—” Hermes fishes an ornate, cream-colored envelope from his messenger bag. “I thought that I’d save some time and deliver a bunch of the invitations by hand. It’ll save some money, too—though with how much money I’ve already spent arranging the wedding, I doubt Charon would object to the cost of postage.”
Achilles blinks, not quite sure what to make of the invitation at first (in part because Charon and Hermes have been engaged forever, and have been continuously postponing the actual wedding date because Hermes has been training and traveling and competing). He’s on good terms with Hermes—on the rare occasions that he actually makes use of his gym membership, he is always more than polite, and he’d been kind enough to pay for the damage he’d done to the gym after that… accident (well, Charon paid for it, technically, but it was paid for nonetheless—so no hard feelings)—but he hadn’t thought that they were on wedding invitation terms. Not that he’s opposed. And if Hermes is having his brother, Dionysus, plan the affair, then—
“Oh, and don’t worry about finding a babysitter, either.” Hermes says, “Pan and Evander will be there, and they’re always looking to make new little friends. I’m trying to convince ‘dite to bring Eros, too, but we’ll see. I want all the youngsters running amuck—see how high we can raise Charon’s blood pressure.”
That’s true love right there. “How are the kids, anyhow?” He opens the invitation, marveling at the ornate golden lettering. He doesn’t think that they have any sorts of conflicts with the date—
“They’re great! Or… well, I think that they are. I’ve been keeping in touch with them through Zoom while I’ve been travelling. They’ve gotten so big…” He smiles brightly, “I’ll be seeing them for the first time in like… six months tonight, and I’m stoked.”
“That’s amazing.” He’d been away from Pyrrhus for longer than that during his last two tours, and saying goodbye to that sweet little face had been one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do. And Amaltheia had been born during his last tour, so…”Little Pan is just about the same age as Pyrrhus, right?”
“Yes, sir! He’ll be turning six next week.” He leans in over the surface of the disk to whisper conspiratorially, “Between you, me, and the floorboards, that was the only way I could convince my agent to let me have some time off.”
Achilles frowns, “That’s awful.”
“I know, right?” Hermes puffs out his cheeks, “I feel like I’m exploiting my kid’s birthday for a couple of days off of work. That’s… well, that’s really more of ‘dite’s domain.”
Hermes has a bit of a complicated relationship with his sister-in-law, Aphrodite. Her… affairs are some of the worst-kept secrets in the family (Achilles really isn’t one for gossip, but he also isn’t blind—there’s no way that Hephaestus cannot see the stark resemblance that Eros bears to their other brother, Ares). On the one hand, he’s not at all thrilled with the way that Aphrodite takes advantage of his brother’s kindness, and tries to play the victim every time that he grows wise to her antics. On the other hand, Aphrodite had been the first one to step up when he and Charon had announced they were looking for a surrogate—and she’d carried both of their kids for them. So… it’s a bit of a love-hate thing. But it’s an important step that he wants to invite her!
The only relative that isn’t getting an invite, it would seem, is Charon’s little sister, Eris. Apparently, she’d caused a real at Thanatos’ college graduation party (a party which he had vehemently denied wanting, multiple times). The police had to be called, charges were filed (then dropped)… it was a whole mess. And Hermes doesn’t want that kind of energy corrupting his special day. He plans on tying the knot just the once (after all, how often do you meet a catch like Charon?), so everything has to be absolutely perfect.
After all, who said that you had to be a bride to be a bridezilla?
“Oh, there you are, Coz! I was just starting to get worried!” Hermes fishes another invite out of his bag and presses it into Zagreus’ unprepared hands. “I know that you’ll be at the wedding, right? And don’t worry about having an awkward conversation with stuffy Than about who is whose ‘plus one’. I’ve got his invite right here!”
Zagreus nearly drops the invite at the mention of Thanatos, “Oh, um… t-thank you, Hermes. That’s… err, very sweet of you.” He looks like he’s not quite sure what to do with the invite.
Hermes wags his eyebrows suggestively, “I’mma give you a little bit of a hint with that one, yeah? It’s going to take him forever and a day to work up the courage to ask you to go with him, even though you both have invitations—so you’d save yourself a whole heap of time if you just asked him yourself.”
Zagreus blinks, “Oh, but… maybe it’s for the best that you have separate invitations for the two of us. I don’t know—”
The older man frowns, “Don’t tell me that he didn’t—oh my god, he really didn’t, did he?” Tell Zagreus that he was pulling a double shift at the nursing home? No, he didn’t.
Hermes whips out his phone. “Um… what’re you doing?” Zagreus looks a little green around the gills as he watches Hermes’ nimble fingers fly across the electronic keyboard.
“Texting Ares, of course.” Ares works at the home alongside Thanatos, as a security guard. Prior to working at the home, he’d been a guard at the correctional facility—he’d been… err, asked to leave that job, however, because he had difficulty getting along with his coworkers. Namely Athena.
“What? Why?” Zagreus is in full-on panic mode now.
“Why?” Hermes’ brows knit together, “Because someone needs to talk some sense into that thick-headed tsundere. And Than likes Ares… sort of. He’ll at least pretend to listen to him whilst ignoring everything he has to say.”
Did Thanatos neglect to tell Hermes that he’d just… disappeared that morning, without a trace? That’s certainly what it sounded like. He doesn’t know why he’s so surprised. If he knows Thanatos (and he doesn’t—at least, not that well—but from what he’s seen and heard over the last day or so, he thinks that they might rather alike), he’d probably become overwhelmed trying to process Zagreus’ sudden declaration of feelings and had plunged himself headlong into his work because the only time that the world makes sense is when it is viewed through the hazy veneer of stress. Thanatos seems like the type who gets stressed over being stressed, and who gets stressed over not being stressed, and—
He thinks that Zagreus will be good for him, if he can let Zagreus in and accept what it is that Zagreus is offering him. Which is rich coming from him, considering that he still has trouble accepting the love that Patroclus is offering him. He doesn’t know why Patroclus still wants to be with him, after everything, when someone like Theseus could offer him—holy shit, did he actually almost go so far as to say that Patroclus would be better off with Theseus? Oof, that’s really bad…
Zagreus has started chasing Hermes around in circles in front of the front desk, trying to snatch the phone out of the older man’s hands. It’s no use, of course. The text has already been sent. Not to mention the fact that Zagreus is most certainly not built like a runner. Hermes could run circles around him in his sleep.
Both men skid to a halt when Hermes’ phone chirps with an incoming text message.
Hermes checks his phone, “Oh look—he’s already gotten back to me.” He reads over the message, before frowning, “Oh boy. Turns out Thanatos is having a bad night. One of the patients—not a hospice patient, but a patient that’s in the home as a step-down after a knee replacement—is giving him a hard time.”
Zagreus frowns, “A patient? Giving Than a hard time?” Achilles frowns. He hasn’t been on the receiving end of Than’s services himself, but from what Patroclus has said, he doesn’t understand why anyone would have reason to complain—let alone give him a ‘hard time’, as Hermes said.
“Yeah…” Hermes bites down on his bottom lip. It looks like there’s something he’s not saying, but Achilles doesn’t press the matter, “You know what? We’re gonna make a little pit stop on the way back to Than’s place—”
That seems to awaken something in Zagreus, “You still haven’t told me who asked you to come pick me up!”
“Coz…” Hermes shakes his head, looking terribly disappointed. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, then I’m afraid there’s no helping you. Now—we have about,” he checks his watch, “forty-five minutes to get to the gyro for some comfort food. I’m gonna call ahead, to make sure that they have the food ready when we arrive—”
Hermes hooks an arm around Zagreus’ shoulders, guiding him toward the door, “B-But, wait! Hermes, I feel like there’s something that you’re not telling me. Something important.”
Hermes doesn’t answer him, “So, we can expect to see you and yours at the wedding, then, Mr. Pelides?”
Achilles inclines his head, “I’ll tell Patroclus about it tonight.”
They run off, then. Hermes is on the phone with the only gyro in town, putting in an order for take-out, and Zagreus is trying to figure out what the hell is going on, without being rude and interrupting the other man while he’s on the phone. He can hear the engine of Charon’s Ferrari roar to life, can hear the scrape of the tires against the asphalt as he tears out of the strip mall parking lot at a most inadvisable speed… Really, it’s any wonder how he’s only accumulated fourteen speeding tickets. He’s not entirely convinced that Zagreus shouldn’t have just let him drive him home. But… if something really did happen with Thanatos (and really, why would Ares have reason to lie about that?), it’ll be good to have Hermes there…
He looks at the clock, “God… it really doesn’t feel like seven o’clock, does it?” At least he’ll be able to keep his promise to Patroclus to come home early…
Pyrrhus is less than thrilled to see Achilles home early.
Much as he’d like to think that Pyrrhus would calm down if he allowed enough time to go by, it would appear that that is not the case. The boy is glaring at him from across the table, while making a point of speaking to everyone except him. He even has a ten-minute, one-sided conversation with Amaltheia—
“So…” Achilles tries to interject. Patroclus offers him an encouraging smile. “What did you and Briseis get up to today, little buddy?” He tries. If looks could kill…
Briseis shakes her head, trying to deter him from asking the question—but it’s too late. The little boy frowns, “I repainted the birdhouse that I made.” That’s… oh. He remembers how excited Pyrrhus had been to find the prettiest shade of blue paint to use, because Achilles deserved nothing but the best.
Briseis interjects with a hurried, “It’s a very pretty blue-green color, now. I’m sure that you’ll love it, once you have the chance to see it—”
“It’s not for him.” Pyrrhus huffs. His face is as red as a tomato. “It’s for Papa, now. ‘Cause Papa actually keeps his promises, and comes home when he’s supposed to, and… and…”
Patroclus frowns, “Pyrrhus, we talked about that. It wasn’t your Daddy’s fault—”
“No!” The little boy snaps, his voice so loud that it causes Amaltheia to let out a distressed little wail. “If Daddy doesn’t wanna come home and be with us, then he should just say so! Instead of just… just lying. Daddy is a big, fat liar!” Achilles’ eyes widen. He doesn’t think he’s ever heard Pyrrhus talk to him like this before—
“Pyrrhus!” Patroclus doesn’t quite yell, but his tone is sharp, and brokers no room for argument, “You do not talk to your father like that. Apologize, now.”
“If you didn’t want to be with us, why did you even bother coming back?!”
“Pyrrhus!” Now, Patroclus is yelling. Achilles can do little more than stare, wide-eyed.
Pyrrhus slams his silverware down hard enough to make the entire table shake, “I hate you!”
Well, he knew that it was coming, but that certainly didn’t make it any easier to stomach it. Achilles sucks in a deep breath, meeting Pyrrhus’ tear-filled eyes, so like his own… His chest aches, and he thinks that, somewhere along the line, he’s forgotten how to breathe. Patroclus’ anger is written plain upon his face—Achilles would admire his ability to keep his less-favorable emotions under wraps, if he couldn’t already feel himself spiraling. After he’d been shot, he’d wanted nothing more than to return home and be with his family. Even if the wound wasn’t lethal, it had certainly changed his entire perspective on life. But… Maybe it would have been better if he’d left, like he’d planned to do after seeing how brokenhearted Patroclus was over his injury…
He… You didn’t hear that from him. You also didn’t hear that he still has two, fully-packed suitcases tucked away in the bottom corner of the closet, ready to go at a moment’s notice. In the months since the accident, he’d thought about leaving on several occasions—not for himself, but to spare Patroclus, and his family, the burden of having to take care of him. He’s only thirty-six years old. He shouldn’t need anyone to take care of him. Is it getting unbearably hot in here, or is it just him? He… really needs to start remembering how to breathe.
Any time now…
He can see Briseis standing in front of him, but she’s… blurry around the edges. He cannot tell if that’s due to the fact that he’s not breathing properly, or that he’s tearing up from the… the… Is he having a panic attack? He thinks that Briseis is trying to talk to him, but he can’t quite make out what it is that she’s trying to say. It’s not until Patroclus pulls his chair out from where it is tucked underneath the table and kneels down in-between his legs, that the world slowly, but surely starts to come into focus. Patroclus takes one of his hands and presses it against Achilles’ chest, feeling the frantic thump-thump-thump of his heart beneath his nimble fingers—with his other hand, he takes Achilles’ and presses it against his own chest.
“Can you hear me, darling?” Achilles nods. Then, he licks his lips, and manages to muster a soft ‘yes’. “Okay. Okay, that’s good.” Then, “You know the drill, darling. Tell me five things that you can see—and make sure that you take a nice, deep breath for me before each one.”
Achilles takes a deep breath in, “I-I see… you…” and out.
He sinks his fingers into the fabric Patroclus’ t-shirt, focusing on the feel of the feather-soft fabric beneath the calloused pads of his fingers. He does his best to focus in on the feel of the fabric spilling through his fingers as he thinks of what else he can see. There’s… the table, still fixed with the remnants of dinner… Briseis, who is just coming back from putting Amaltheia down in the other room (when had she left?—he didn’t remember her leaving)… that makes three… what else? What else? He takes another deep breath… he sees the… the… hand-embroidered towels that Briseis had made them as a house-warming present, and… and the television in the living room, which is still playing The Fairly Odd Parents.
“Keep breathing for me, darling.” Patroclus reminds him. It takes him a moment, but he sucks in a deep, somewhat shaky breath. “Tell me four things that you can hear. Come on—you’re doing so good, darling.”
“Things I can… hear?” He takes another deep breath, “The… rain?” When had it started raining? He feels Patroclus’ thumb sweep up under his eye, wiping away… moisture? “Um… the dishwasher?” Briseis is clearing the table, now. “Briseis’ heels… and… oh god, was that me?”
Patroclus chuckles a little, “You are a little congested, love.” He hands him a tissue. He blows his nose, and feels a little better—though now he can feel a headache brewing. “There. That’s it. Briseis, can I have a glass of water?” A second later, he’s pressing a glass of ice water into Achilles’ hand. “Take a sip. Just the one—”
Achilles takes a small sip, nice and slow—if he drinks any faster, he’ll make himself sick. “J-Just the one.”
“Good. You’re being so, so good for me, Achilles, love.” He wraps his hands around Achilles’, stabilizing them. “What can you smell? C’mon, just three things.”
“I can smell dinner… and y-your cologne… and… fucking—when was the last time that we changed the cat litter?”
And then, “Two things that you can feel.” Patroclus’ lips spread into a comforting smile, “We’re so close.”
“Your hands… they’re really warm.” Achilles manages an almost smile, “And your shirt… It’s been through the wash so many times, it’s so soft…”
“And what can you taste?”
“I… the water.” He breathes. It feels like a ten-pound weight has been lifted off of his chest. He doesn’t feel perfect, but he definitely feels better than he did. “Can I… I think I can handle another sip of water.”
“Definitely.” Patroclus helps guide the cup to his lips, encouraging him to take another sip. “You feeling a little bit better now, love?” Achilles gives a weak nods, “I have to admit, you scared me a little bit there. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen you stop breathing like that before…”
Patroclus is clearly beside himself. He’d told Achilles that the kid would probably say some things that he didn’t mean, but he certainly didn’t expect him to say all that he had. He opens his mouth several times, clearly wanting to say something, but uncertain of how to put that something into words. Achilles can’t blame him—all of this was uncharted territory (Pyrrhus had never said anything of the sort to Achilles—he absolutely adored his father, and understood that Achilles hadn’t asked for any of this to happen ((well, he understood it on the basic level that a five-year-old child could understand such a complex issue)). Achilles might also still be crying, but he has absolutely no desire to check to know for certain. He just… really wants to go lay down.
“C’mon… let’s get you to bed, alright?” He doesn’t think that he’s ever been so happy to be whisked away into the bedroom.
Achilles buries his face in the crook of Patroclus’ shoulder, “So… Hermes gave us an invite to his and Charon’s wedding. He said that we were welcome to bring the kids—that is, if Pyrrhus is talking to me again by that point.”
Patroclus presses a kiss to the crown of his head, “I’m sure that he’ll be talking to you again by tomorrow morning.” He says, “We had a little chat while you took your nap, and he feels absolutely horrible about what he said and how he acted. He would have apologized tonight, I think—but I told him that you needed your rest.”
Achilles looks away, “He… does have a point, you know. Maybe I… Maybe it would’ve been better if I hadn’t come back.” He can’t bring himself to look at Patroclus’ face, but he can feel him tense.
“What?” Patroclus sounds like he might break down sobbing. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“I’m saying…” Achilles’ sea-glass eyes focus in on where his wedding set should have sat on his finger, “that I’m not good for you. That I’m not the man that you married, and I never will be…” never again. “You deserve someone that isn’t so ashamed of what they’ve become, they’d hide from their own family—”
“Achilles—” Patroclus’ voice sounds so broken, it shatters Achilles’ already fragile heart. But he needs to get this off of his chest—it’s been sitting there for far too long already.
“You deserve someone that doesn’t have a panic attack in the middle of dinner over something that every kid says at least once in their life—” he chuckles blandly. He hates himself a little bit more every time that he opens his mouth, but he has to keep going. He has to—
“Achilles!” Patroclus barks, and Achilles’ mouth snaps shut with an audible click. “First of all, where the hell do you get off trying to tell me what I do and don’t deserve?”
“I…” Achilles starts, then realizes he has no real answer to that question.
He doesn’t know how to explain that it’s no longer a matter of deserving. They used to fit together like Hermes and Charon, or Zagreus and Thanatos, but now… Even their son can see how much he doesn’t belong in their little family (and he knows, deep down, that that’s not what Pyrrhus meant—that he spoke from a place of pain without taking the time to consider what the potential impact of his words might be (have five-year-old’s developed the ability to empathize? Patroclus would probably know the answer to that question…)). If he could just convince Patroclus to see things from his perspective, life would be so much easier. If Patroclus would just tell him that he wasn’t worth it, then he would know, definitively—
Patroclus slides him off of his shoulder, and he knows that it’s coming. He braces himself for impact, hoping that his husband renders the heaping dose of heartbreak swiftly and painlessly… and yet, there’s a part of him that also hopes that it’s painful. He deserves for it to hurt. He’d broken his promise to Patroclus (Patroclus, who’d been devastated by his decision to enlist again, so certain that he wouldn’t make it home to see his second child—they’d never intended to be career soldiers; and in the bit of time since his last tour, he’d started up the gym, he’d made friends… he’d well and truly started his life (they called him a hero, but none of this felt very heroic)). He’d never deserve to wear the other man’s ring again—
And then, Patroclus takes a fistful of Achilles’ white blond hair and pulls it tight. The younger man winces, but allows Patroclus to guide his head back so that they are making eye contact. They simply stare at one another for a moment, before Patroclus crashes their lips together in a bruising kiss. And Achilles… he must be an absolute mess, seeing as he hadn’t had a chance to brush his teeth before Patroclus had laid him down, and he could feel the dried spittle around his mouth from the impromptu nap that he’d taken…
And yet… Patroclus kisses him, harsh and desperate, and in that abrasive touch, just for the briefest of moments… Achilles feels like the teenager who’d snuck Patroclus in through his bedroom windows on nights when his mother would have a bit too much wine at dinner and pass out face-first on her bed around eight in the evening…
He feels light. He feels whole. He feels loved.
“Achilles,” Patroclus pulls away, and in the darkness, Achilles can make out the faint sheen of blood upon his lips. Had he really kissed him that hard? Ouch. “You’re not the same man that I married, no. I married an eighteen-year-old boy, and I loved him, fiercely.’
“And the thirty-six-year-old man lying in bed with me now? I love him, too. It’s true that… some things may be different. You have a few grays in your hair. Neither of us can drink. And we spend far too much money at the McDonald’s drive-thru trying to get Pyrrhus those stupid little Happy Meal toys.’
“But I wouldn’t change this, right here, for anything. And I won’t sit here and abide anyone talking shit about the man I love—even if it’s you. You’re my everything, Achilles. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you. So, do me a favor and don’t act like you’re anything less than the most perfect person in the world for me, okay?’
Achilles stares at him, wide-eyed, as Patroclus presses a much more tender kiss to his swollen lips, “Now. Tell me more about this wedding, hmm.”
Chapter 9: Like Father, Like Son
Achilles wakes to the sensation of a tiny knee pressing into his bladder. Ouch.
He blinks his eyes open, unsure as to what time it is—but knowing that it is far too early for anyone in the house to be awake, including Patroclus. He finds Pyrrhus kneeling on top of his stomach, the little boy clutching his stuffed ant toy, Antos, to his teary face. Their son is poking and prodding at Patroclus, doing everything short of whacking the older man in the face with Antos. He’s about to tell him that Patroclus needs his sleep, that he’s awake and more than capable of handling whatever it is that’s upsetting him so much, when—
Patroclus cracks one eye open, “What’s the matter, little man? I’m pretty sure you, and all the other good little boys, should be sleeping right now.” He yawns, shifting a little so that he can rub at his eye.
“I-I…” Pyrrhus sniffles, rubbing his face with his stuffed toy. “Can I… s-sleep in your bed tonight?”
Patroclus is silent for a moment, before he lifts Pyrrhus up off of Achilles’ bladder (thank god, that was really starting to hurt). “You know… your Daddy and I bought you a really nice bed. A shiny red racecar bed, that you picked out.” He reminds him, “Our bed is boring in comparison.”
Pyrrhus nods. That is true. “B-But I…” his lower lip warbles as he considers, “I want snuggles.” He says.
“Shh… no more tears, alright?” Patroclus reaches up to brush the tears from Pyrrhus’ cheeks, “You can stay here tonight, but you need to be quiet. Daddy needs his rest—”
“Daddy…” Pyrrhus tucks himself in in-between Achilles and Patroclus’ bodies. There’s not a lot of room between them (had Achilles fallen asleep on top of Patroclus?), but Pyrrhus makes do. He rests his head on Achilles’ chest, and thumps his stomach with Antos.
“Shh…” Patroclus shifts a little, to throw his arm over the two of them. “It’s time to sleep now, okay?”
And really, all of this would be wonderful if Pyrrhus weren’t cuddled up on his injured leg. He’s not putting a ton of pressure on it, but it’s enough to make him… moderately uncomfortable. The dull ache is enough to keep him wide awake, despite the fact that he’s reached that special level of exhaustion where he’s beginning to feel nauseous. He really can’t afford to not get a couple more hours’ worth of shut-eye, after waking up at ass-crack o’clock in the morning yesterday. But he also cannot move Pyrrhus. It’ll be another hour or so before the kid’s deep enough asleep that he can crawl out from underneath him without running the risk of waking him up, meaning that he’s stuck here, staring at the ceiling, contemplating all of his life choices…
Okay, that’s a bad idea. His head already hurts—if he were to start crying, that would only make it worse. Not to mention the fact that he’d run the risk of waking Patroclus up, again—and if anyone needs to get a decent night’s rest, it’s the man who is going to be spending some twenty-odd hours in the operating theatre performing a delicate operation that could mean the difference between life or death… Achilles closes his eyes and takes a deep, somewhat shaky breath. He doesn’t know how Patroclus handles all that pressure, day in and day out. Some days (err… most days), he has trouble forcing himself out of bed in the morning. And the greatest thing he’d ever done had left him handicapped for the rest of his life.
Suddenly, he feels a… wetness seep into his tank top. Frowning, he looks down to see Pyrrhus chewing on the soft, cotton fabric, and soaking it through with drool. So, maybe that wasn’t the greatest thing that he’d done after all.
When Achilles wakes again, it is to the sound of his cell phone ringing.
Patroclus pokes his head into the bedroom, his toothbrush poking out from in-between his lips. “You’d better answer that, darling. Whoever it is has been trying to get ahold of you for almost an hour now.”
Achilles blinks his eyes open, “Has… my phone really been ringing for an hour?” And how had he slept through that absolutely horrid ringtone? It’s the same tone that he uses for the alarm for his meds, specifically selected because it’s virtually impossible to ignore. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
He shrugs, “You looked like you needed your sleep.” And then, “And, to be honest, I didn’t expect them to keep calling. Usually, these middle of the night odd-calls are just… lonely telemarketers.” He wanders back into the bathroom and spits out the mouthful of toothpaste. “Do you even know whose calling?”
To be honest, Achilles doesn’t really want to look. If it was Zagreus calling out, he would’ve left a message after Achilles failed to pick up the first time. And Briseis would’ve called Patroclus if it were something that serious. Everyone else that he cared about lived under his roof, so…
But Patroclus had asked.
He reaches for the phone, just as it turns over to voicemail. The screen lights up, showing thirteen missed calls from, “Zagreus? Why would he have called me so many times—”
Patroclus pops his head back into the bedroom, “Didn’t you mention that something had happened at the nursing home with Thanatos?” Achilles can feel his heart drop into his stomach. Could something have happened…?
“Shit.” He sits up so fast, his vision blurs for a second. “Shit, shit, shit—”
“Take a deep breath, darling. If there is something wrong, then Zagreus is going to need you to keep a level head.” Achilles knows that he shouldn’t be ticked off, but he cannot help but wish that Patroclus had taken the repeated calls a bit more seriously. What if the lad had been sitting in the hospital all by himself?
He dials Zagreus’ number. The phone doesn’t even complete one full ring before Zagreus picks up; and the lad wastes no time, immediately launching into an explanation as to what’d happened once they’d arrived back at Thanatos’ apartment the night before. Apparently, Thanatos had been hurt more severely than Ares had intimated when he was on the phone with Hermes. He’d been complaining about some… discomfort in his neck, but had taken some painkillers and attempted to sleep it off. He’d woken in the middle of the night unable to move his neck, or his right arm. Zagreus had called 911, and Thanatos had been whisked off to the hospital (where they’d lied about being engaged so that Zagreus could sit in the room, because Zagreus was panicking).
Apparently, the doctor said that Thanatos had two herniated discs in his neck. He’d stressed that the damage wasn’t as bad as it could be—but that did little to assuage Zagreus’ fears. Thanatos would have to miss at least a month of work, if not more. He’d have to attend physical therapy at least three times a week, and be put into traction in an effort to use his own weight to slide the disks back into place. The only good thing about all of this is that Thanatos took the time to fill out an incident report before leaving work the night before.
He doesn’t understand how Thanatos is taking all of this so well. Achilles wants to point out that they probably have him pumped full of all sorts of drugs (especially if it’s an injury serious enough to keep him from being able to move his head…). He refuses to tell any of the doctors, or even Zagreus, exactly what’d happened to cause his injuries. In fact, he won’t say anything about that night at all, save for the fact that he’d filled out all of the necessary paperwork and that he’d been doing his job when he’d been injured…
Ares was mad enough to spit nails. Hermes wasn’t doing much better. And Zagreus… he really wanted someone to come and sit with him, to help him to stay calm so that he could be strong for Thanatos. He knew that Achilles had to open the gym, and he was already asking a lot by asking him to take care of all of the associated duties by himself—
But he’s scared, and he doesn’t know who else to turn to, and—
“It’s okay, lad.” Achilles is agreeing to come down to the hospital before he even fully realizes what it is that he’s saying, “Don’t worry about the gym—we can afford to close for one day. I’ll be there in an hour or so, alright?”
That seems to calm the lad down, at least a little bit. “Thank you, sir. Thank you so, so much. I don’t know how I’m ever going to repay you for this—” Achilles wants to tell him that he doesn’t have anything to repay him for—this is what any halfway decent person would do, if they could—but he can’t get a word in edgewise.
“Zagreus. Zagreus, it’s okay—” Achilles starts to climb out of bed, putting a bit of pressure on his foot. It’s… not going to be a good pain day. He probably shouldn’t have waited so long to move Pyrrhus… “Thanatos is in good hands. There’s no better place for him to be right now—”
“I-I just… I wish there were s-something more that I could do for him, you know?” He sounds like he’s just a second or two away from breaking down into full-on sobs.
“You already did the best thing you could’ve done in this situation, lad. You brought him to the hospital.”
He doesn’t feel comfortable hanging up on Zagreus while he’s in this state. When Patroclus comes back from the bathroom, he tells him that he needs to call Briseis and see if she’s willing to come over a little early to watch the kids. He knows that the odds of her being awake at five o’clock in the morning are slim to none, but he also can’t justify bringing two small children to the hospital to sit for hours while they waited the results of the last of Thanatos’ tests. And if he and Thanatos are anything alike, he cannot imagine that the other man is all too keen on having more than a small handful of people see him at his most vulnerable—and it doesn’t get much more vulnerable than witnessing someone in traction. Achilles’ back gives a sympathetic twinge at the thought.
It takes a couple tries, but Patroclus is able to get ahold of Briseis, who promises that she’ll be over as soon as she can. Achilles dresses himself quickly (he really needs to invest in some new clothes—the fact that almost every article of clothing in his wardrobe could double as a pair of pajamas was kind of… well, sad), takes his morning pills (it’s a little early, but if he’s going to get an early start like this—and spend the entire day in the hospital, on those uncomfortable little chairs—then he needs to get a head start)—
“Hey, Pat?” An idea occurs to him, then. “How much do you know about herniated discs?”
Pat freezes, his hair brush caught on a tangle in his long, dark hair. “Like, herniated discs in a spinal cord? I mean, it’s not my area of expertise, but I know enough about it to diagnose it and treat it.” He says.
“Do you think you could talk to Zagreus about it? Thanatos was just diagnosed with two herniated discs in his neck, and Zagreus is really freaking out. I think that it might do him good to have someone explain the situation to him without all the technical terms and medical jargon.”
Pat was good at breaking complex ideas down into layman’s terms—he’d been the one to explain to Achilles the implications of his own diagnosis, after all. Patroclus nods, reaching for the phone, “I’ll do my best. Give me the phone while you finish getting yourself together, alright?”
“Thank you.” He turns his attention back to Zagreus, “Lad, I’m going to hand the phone over to Patroclus for a second, alright? He’s going to endeavor to explain what’s going on with Thanatos—”
“O-Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly bother your husband with all of this, sir! It’s bad enough that I—”
“Nonsense, lad. It’s not a bother—is it, Patroclus?”
“It’s no bother at all, kid.” Patroclus says, loud enough for Zagreus to be able to hear him on the other end of the line. He rakes the brush through his hair again, before reaching for the phone. “Zagreus? This is Pat—no, no, you don’t have to call me Dr. Opus… just Pat is fine. So, I heard that your bo—friend has some herniated discs—”
Achilles knows that it’s going to be an… interesting day when the woman at triage sees him limp through the automatic doors that lead into the ER waiting room and thinks that he’s there for emergency treatment. She cuts herself off a second too late when she catches sight of Patroclus making a cutting motion across his throat (Achilles doesn’t think that he was actually supposed to see that, seeing as Patroclus was standing behind him—at the very corner of his vision). Achilles offers her a tight smile, before turning his attention to the waiting area.
Zagreus is sitting by himself in the far corner, his shaking hands wrapped around a Styrofoam coffee cup. He’s still wearing his pajamas (a plain white t-shirt bearing the smiling face of a large, patchwork mouse (he recognizes the mouse from some of the retro cartoons that Pyrrhus watches on Saturday mornings—it’s one of the main characters on a show comprised of a series of short, ten- to twelve-minute-long animated skits) and a pair of black and gray plaid pants, that seem to be just this side of too big). He’d taken the time to switch out his slippers for a pair of sneakers, at least. His dark hair is a mess underneath a red, orange, and yellow tie-dyed beanie… God, now he’s really glad he took the time to put together a little bag of toiletries for the lad.
Reaching down, he slips the coffee cup from between Zagreus’ hands. Zagreus starts, his mismatched eyes flickering up to meet Achilles’ own, tired pair… The lad has clearly been crying. “Let me top you off there, kid. You look like you need it.” He shuffles over to the coffee pot and begins fixing Zagreus a fresh cup.
“You came…” Zagreus breaths, not quite believing. Achilles frowns—did he really think that he wouldn’t show? “I know that you said that you would, but…” He sucks in a deep breath, “Ares came by, a little while ago.”
Achilles frowns, “Is that a bad thing? I thought that you liked your cousin Ares.”
“I-I do… that’s…” he takes a deep, shaky breath, “Ares… h-he got hurt, too. Not nearly as bad as Than, b-but…” Achilles’ frown deepens. What the hell had happened at that nursing home last night? “He bit off part of his tongue… and he’s missing two of his teeth—”
“Holy…” He’s so distracted that he almost pours coffee all over the little table, “Was he able to shed any light on what happened?” He has a feeling that that is part of why the lad is so upset.
Zagreus takes a deep breath, “One of the nurses was having trouble transferring a patient from his wheelchair to his bed. She asked Thanatos for help, only, for some reason, the patient got really agitated around him. He was going to just let it go and find someone else to help, when—”
He’d fallen out of his wheelchair. It wouldn’t have been a bad fall, had it not been for the fact that he would have landed directly on the knee that had just been operated on. As a nurse, Thanatos is trained to help the individual that is falling to fall in a manner that will cause the least pain (or additional damage)—unfortunately, this meant attempting to catch three-hundred-plus pounds of dead weight and forcing it to correct course in the span of approximately five seconds. The resulting jolt to the system had caused him to herniate the two discs in his neck, and when they’d hit the tile, he’d cracked the back of his head open on the tile floor. The actual wound wasn’t so bad, but Zagreus had almost lost the little bit of food he’d managed to keep down when he’d first laid eyes on it in the hospital.
Then, he’d tried to… to choke Thanatos. Ares had said that the man’s arm was covered in bright red lines, where Thanatos had clawed at him, trying to get him to release his throat. The nurse had panicked and rushed to get Ares, who’d managed to pull the patient off of Thanatos—but not before getting his face smashed by the man’s elbow. They’d eventually been able to get the patient in the bed and sedated, and both Thanatos and Ares’ wounds were tended to on-site. Thanatos was checked for a concussion, and tasked with filling out the appropriate paperwork to document the incident, and they’d thought that that was the end of it. And it… Thanatos refused to tell him about any of it, because… because… well, he didn’t even know.
And the worst part? He couldn’t even be mad at the patient. Apparently, he was having an allergic reaction to his medication—and had never before exhibited signs of violence. He’d even told several of the nurses who had been in to see him after that that he wanted to apologize to Thanatos for hurting him. Ares had passed the message along to Thanatos, who’d taken it about as well as could be expected. No, really. He was taking it ridiculously well. He wasn’t even angry, which Zagreus didn’t understand, because he was furious.
He’s scared, because he cannot remember ever being this angry before. And he knows that the anger isn’t justified—it’s not the patient’s fault that he had an allergic reaction to the medication, nor is it his fault that the allergic reaction caused him to become violent and to assault one of the nurses. But still…
He’s just so angry. And he knows that that’s not the energy that Thanatos needs right now… and so he’s here.
“Lad, that’s… it’s perfectly natural to be angry about something like that. You’re angry because someone you care about—someone you love—is hurt. You’re angry because there’s nothing you can do about it. Your anger is justified…” He presses a fresh cup of coffee into Zagreus’ hands.
Zagreus takes a long sip of coffee, not even bothering to let it cool off first—“It feels… wrong to be angry about it when Thanatos just… I guess I don’t really know how Thanatos feels about all of this.”
“Everyone handles trauma differently.” Zagreus frowns, and Achilles adds, “And yes, this is trauma.” Fixing himself his own cup of coffee, he takes a seat across from Zagreus and continues, “It’s also possible that Thanatos is in shock. The reality of the situation might not’ve set in until he was checked into the hospital—”
“I just… what if Ares hadn’t been there? What if Ares wasn’t a closet masochist, and had passed out like a normal person would’ve after biting off a piece of their own tongue?” God, that room must’ve been a bloodbath.
“But Ares was there. And like Pat said, a herniated disc is treatable—and, perhaps more importantly, curable. Thanatos might not be able to free-lift two-hundred pounds anymore, but there shouldn’t be any severe side-effects.”
And then, Zagreus lets out the most heart-wrenching sob that Achilles has ever heard. “He… He put make-up on his neck to hide the bruises from the… the…” He sets the coffee aside, before scrubbing at his eyes with the heels of his palms. “H-He never wanted me to know.”
“He didn’t want you to worry.” Achilles says, “He didn’t want you doing this.”
“I…” he sucks in a deep breath, “What if he doesn’t recover? What if something goes wrong when they put him in traction and he… h-he…” It makes sense, to worry that one wrong move might cause Thanatos to become paralyzed. Especially after he’d woken that morning to Thanatos unable to move his neck and arm…
“You know, when I was… shot…” even know, the word leaves a sour taste in his mouth, “they were worried that I’d never be able to walk again.”
It wasn’t necessarily the same thing—and he’d hardly consider what happened with him to be a ‘success story’—but Zagreus needs to hear something positive and if nothing else, at least he can still walk. It’s a low bar, true, but sometimes you need to set the bar rather low in order to come up with… well, anything to be grateful for. Some days, he can barely muster the energy to be grateful for having enough money to pay the bills (with a little bit extra), for having two children that drive him crazy (that he loves dearly), for having a husband that loves him unconditionally…
But if it’s possible that his story could help just one person… if only briefly…
He’s already told him the technical bits of his story. He’d been shot in the line of duty, the wound had healed incorrectly, and now he suffers from crippling nerve entrapment. But when he’d first been admitted to the hospital, there had been a great deal of concern as to whether he’d keep the heel. Then, once his heel had been reconstructed, there’d been concern that the nerve damage was so extensive that he’d never be able to walk again. It’d taken a lot of physical therapy (in fact, he was still attending physical therapy—or, well, he should be, but he’d been ducking his appointments lately), but he could still walk. Somedays, he could even do it without the cane. But he likely wouldn’t be able to walk at all if they hadn’t of gotten him to the hospital so fast—
“It’s okay to be afraid. Patroclus was afraid when he saw the extent of my injuries, and he’s a doctor. He sees this sort of thing every day.” He gestures to his injured leg, “How you feel is how you feel. Even if you don’t understand your emotions… they’re proof of how much Thanatos means to you.”
“Can I… tell you something, sir?” Zagreus looks up at him, pure terror reflected in his mismatched eyes.
“Anything, lad.” Achilles kind of wants to give the poor kid a hug. He also thinks that the kid is about two seconds away from launching himself into his arms and squeezing the life out of him…
“I… When Ares told me what’d happened, I saw red. I wanted to hurt something, hurt someone. And I… I’ve never really thought that my father and I were anything alike. I’d always thought that I… that I was more like my mother. But in that moment, all I could think was that… me and him… maybe we’re not so different after all. And that… that terrified me more than anything else.”
“Zagreus…” And Achilles… he definitely wasn’t expecting that.
“Achilles, sir… am I becoming my father?”
“No,” His answer is immediate, before he’s even had a chance to finish processing the question. “You are nothing like Hades, lad. I know that it’s hard at times like these… but I need you to remember something for me, okay? It’s perfectly natural to feel anger, and all sorts of other negative emotions.” He says.
Zagreus sinks his teeth into his bottom lip, “I…” He takes a slow sip of his coffee. “I just… sometimes I fantasize about what it’d be like if I had a different family. A better family.” He averts his mismatched eyes, “Nyx is a fantastic mom, who actually cares about her kids. Maybe I’d be better off if I’d—”
“Sometimes, family isn’t the one that you’re born into.” Achilles says, “I haven’t talked to my mother in eighteen years. Not for the same reasons, of course, but… I know what it feels like to be disconnected from your biological family.”
Zagreus sucks in a deep breath, “Nyx was always there for me when I was little… she used to babysit me all the time. In fact, that’s how I met Thanatos.” The lad smiles a bit at the memory, “And when she was too busy with commissions, Charon would babysit us.”
Achilles raises a brow, “Charon used to babysit you?”
He nods, “Yeah. He’s the oldest of Nyx’s kids, you know. And like ten years older than Hypnos and Thanatos.” Zagreus takes another sip of coffee, “He’d watch me, Than, Hypnos, Eris, Meg, Alecto, Tis, the Fates—”
“It sounds like he ran an actual daycare.” He chuckles. “Do you have good memories of those days?”
Zagreus’ entire face lights up as he nods. Achilles can’t remember the last time that he’d seen the lad this excited, and so he gently encourages him to tell him about some of his fonder memories. Wasting no time, Zagreus immediately launches into the story of how the kids had discovered that Hermes and Charon were dating. Charon had told Nyx that Hermes was coming over “to study”—which, in retrospect, he’s almost entirely sure that Nyx knew that absolutely no studying was going on—and Nyx had suggested that Hermes help him watch the kids.
Charon wasn’t the most touchy-feely individual. So, when Hermes had cuddled up in his lap, reading a passage from Moby Dick aloud (apparently, they’d been assigned as partners for a project, though Hermes was doing most of the work), all of the kids had known that something was up. It was Thanatos who had the courage to ask.
“So, um… what are you two, exactly?” Seven-year-old Thanatos was even more blunt than his adult counterpart, if that were at all possible. He’d looked between the two of them, arms crossed over his chest.
Hermes had grinned, “We’re what you might call ‘friends with benefits’.” The kids had stared at them, confusion clear on their faces. Charon had looked ready to duct tape Hermes’ mouth shut, when he’d continued, “I do all the reading and present the project, Charon types it up, and we both share the A.”
Thanatos had raised an eyebrow, “And you have to sit on his lap to do that?” He clearly wasn’t convinced.
“Yeah!” Hypnos had chimed in, sounding mildly indignant. “Big brother doesn’t even let us sit in his lap!”
“Oh, absolutely.” Hermes had flipped the page in his book, before snuggling down further into Charon’s lap. Charon had let out an indignant snort, rolling his eyes at Hermes’ antics. “This is prime reading position, don’t you know?”
Little Zagreus had pursed his lips, “I wanna read in Than’s lap!”
Thanatos, bless his heart, had turned red as a tomato, before huffing out. “N-No! I have to… g-go do something that… that’s not here.” And he’d scurried off to the sound of Meg and her sisters’ laughter.
Hermes was… absolute garbage at babysitting. It’s not that he wasn’t good with kids—on the contrary, Hermes was rather like an overgrown child, playing (mostly innocent) pranks on literally everyone (although his favorite ‘victim’ seemed to be Charon). He’d promise to buy the kids pizza, if they could find where Charon had stashed his allowance. He’d promise to take the kids to the park, if they could find where Charon had stashed his allowance (so that he could buy them all shaved ice from one of the food trucks at the park, of course). Come to think of it, all of the activities that Hermes got the kids involved in involved stealing some, or all, of Charon’s allowance. Charon would be royally pissed, of course, but if they successfully snagged the money, he’d make good on Hermes’ promises.
Hermes was the absolute worst enabler. Candy before dinner? You only live once, and they certainly weren’t spoiling anything when it came to Charon’s cooking (he tried, but somehow, he even managed to ruin food that only needed to be reheated). Horror movies before bed? He wouldn’t tell if they wouldn’t. Video games filled with sex, violence, and profanity? Okay, so he didn’t actually know about that one. Just like Hermes and Charon didn’t need to know that Nyx had given them all “the talk” after Hypnos had found a box of condoms in Charon’s bedside drawer and tried to use them to make balloon animals. Zagreus thinks that he was just trying to raise Nyx’s blood pressure, considering that he and Thanatos were almost fifteen-years-old at the time—and definitely knew what condoms were.
“I thought you hadn’t met the majority of your extended family until…” Achilles waves his hand, not wanting to reopen old wounds. He doesn’t know the specifics, but he knows that Hades isn’t on the best of terms with the rest of his family… not that that comes as a surprise, all things considered.
Zagreus shrugs, “Hermes was always the exception to the rule. He’s also kind of an outcast, in his own way. He always felt more at home with Nyx and her lot, so she just kind of… unofficially adopted him.”
“It sounds like you have a lot of fond memories with him.” Achilles is glad. Even if Hermes isn’t the best role model, he’s still been a consistent, familial presence in Zagreus’ life—one that has, thus far, not let him down.
“I do.” Zagreus agrees. And then, smiling brightly, he continues, “There was this one time…”
Apparently, Hermes had a love-hate relationship with his older half-brother, Apollo. Zagreus didn’t know all of the details, because the story seemed to change every time that Hermes told it, and Apollo was never around for more than a day or so at a time (if he wasn’t traveling and performing with his band, the Muses, then he was generally attempting to avoid dealing with his twin sister, Artemis). But somehow, Hermes had managed to convince Apollo and his band to play at Zagreus’ high school graduation party—a graduation party that’d been thrown by his extended family, since his father couldn’t be bothered (he hadn’t even shown up to the actual ceremony). He’d even talked him around to the idea of playing at Zagreus’ college graduation, before he’d been forced to drop out—
“You went to college?” He supposes that he shouldn’t be so surprised. Zagreus is a smart boy—he may not have a lot of practical life experience, but he has a great deal of book smarts. But still, Zagreus hadn’t listed a college education on his resume when he’d applied for the job…
A faint blush colors Zagreus’ cheeks, “I, um… I went for two years. I earned a football scholarship—all I had to do was maintain a 2.0 GPA, and I had a full-ride. It shouldn’t have been hard, but…”
Achilles furrows his brow, “Did you not like your major?” He knows that it can be more difficult to achieve good grades in a course that you don’t actually care about… hence his grades from the majority of high school.
“Well…” Zagreus drums his fingers along the sides of the coffee cup, “I didn’t actually get to choose my major. The only way that my father would let me attend the school was if I majored in business, so that I could inherit the family business. I… well, I was really bad at it, and my GPA tanked, and I lost my scholarship.”
“Oh, lad…” Zagreus looks so embarrassed. “Business isn’t for everyone. It’s not your fault if it didn’t click.”
The lad chuckles blandly, “Tell that to my father. I tried. I really did. But once I lost my scholarship, I couldn’t afford to keep going… and father refused to help me apply for financial aid, or pay for my classes if I majored in anything else, so…” He shrugs. “It’s not like I need college, anyway.”
Achilles cocks his head to the side, “What did you want to major in?”
Zagreus blinks, “I… I don’t know. I never really considered doing anything else. I never really had a choice.”
And that… that’s not fair. To think that the poor lad didn’t even know what he wanted to do with his life, because he was always told what he would have to do. And when he proved incapable of living up to the ideal that his father had created for him, he’d been cast aside. Achilles had never been much for studying, himself. His own mother had wanted him to go to college, but hadn’t threatened to cut him off when he’d told her that he planned on enlisting, instead. He just didn’t see the point in wasting money and time chasing after a degree he knew he’d never receive—
But that wasn’t the case for Zagreus. Zagreus was an intelligent kid—he just didn’t have a head for business. That wasn’t his fault, though Hades had certainly made him feel like it was. There was so much damage there… Achilles wishes that there was more that he could do to help the lad to heal.
And the more that he hears, the more certain he becomes that Hades and Zagreus are absolutely nothing alike.
“D-Did I say something wrong?” Zagreus looks at him, then, concern evident on his face. He shifts nervously, and Achilles notices that his hands have begun shaking again.
“No, lad. You haven’t done anything wrong.” Achilles repeats, “And you’re nothing like Hades. The fact that you’re sitting here, fretting over perfectly justifiable anger, is proof enough for me. You care about people, Zagreus. You try to see the best in them, even when they’ve wronged you. That’s something to be admired.”
Zagreus lowers his eyes, “It certainly doesn’t feel like it.” He goes to take another sip of coffee, only to find that his cup is empty. Achilles grabs the cup for him, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I can—”
Achilles shakes his head, “Don’t worry about it. I need to get up every once in awhile anyway, or else my leg will lock up.” Slowly, he makes his way over to the counter and begins pouring Zagreus another cup of coffee. “I know that this may sound cheap, coming from someone that hasn’t walked in your shoes, but—”
“No advice that you offer me could ever be cheap, Achilles sir.” Zagreus hurries to add.
“Thank you,” The corners of his lips twist up into an almost-smile. “You have to remember that it’s not what you feel, it’s how you channel those emotions. I’ll admit that I don’t know your father very well, but I do know that he would never sit here worrying about the consequences of his anger.”
Zagreus sucks in a deep breath, “Yeah… I suppose you’re right.”
That’s a start. He hopes that he feels a little bit better. He can’t change the past, but he can help try to make things a little better for Zagreus now… “Now, how about you drink this, and then we go for a walk in the hospital garden? I think some fresh air might do you wonders…”
“Did you always known that you wanted to be a soldier?” Zagreus asks, as he bends to smell one of the blood red roses on the immaculately kept rose bushes that line the far side of the hospital.
Achilles frowns, considering. “I… I didn’t always want to be a soldier, no.” He adjusts his stance to take some of the weight off of his injured leg, “Look, I wasn’t… smart. My grades were decent, but that’s only because Patroclus used to do my homework for me… and let me cheat off of his tests.” He scratches the back of his neck, a little sheepish.
Zagreus raises a brow, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to… have him tutor you, or something?”
“Oh, we tried that. It really didn’t work out. I had trouble focusing for extended periods of time.” Achilles confesses, “Patroclus was a great teacher. I was just a bad student.” He shrugs.
“So, what did you want to do with your life, then?” He asks, again.
Achilles is silent for a moment, before continuing, “I don’t think I ever really had a solid plan. I was just… going to find a way to be wherever Patroclus was, no matter the cost. And in the end… he was the one who ended up following me.” He cannot help the way that regret tinges his tone.
He remembers how excited Patroclus had been when he’d received his first acceptance letter. Patroclus had been accepted by every school on his list—not that Achilles had been surprised, his husband (then boyfriend) was a genius, and any school would be lucky to have him. Achilles hadn’t even started to fill out applications. He didn’t see the point, considering the fact that he’d coasted his way through the majority of high school. He wouldn’t make it past the first semester before he’d flunked out of all of his classes. He’d bypass academic probation and get kicked out—
Patroclus had been the one to suggest that they attend their high school’s College Fair. They’d talked to a handful of representatives from different schools in the area, including the local trade school, but nothing had really clicked. It wasn’t until they reached the marine recruiter that Achilles finally felt… something. This—This could give him the sense of purpose which he so desperately sought. He’d never thought about enlisting (though, truth be told, he’d never thought about doing anything with his life), but the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to just… fit.
He’d enjoyed his conversation with the recruiter, but hadn’t intended to ever act on it. He knew that Patroclus wouldn’t approve. Patroclus had nothing but respect for the armed services, but he’d spend all his time worrying about all the things that could happen instead of focusing on his studies. He’d encourage Achilles to do it because it was what Achilles wanted to do, but his heart wouldn’t be in it. And yet… somehow, they’d both ended up enlisting, Patroclus putting aside his dreams so that they could continue to be together. Patroclus had been able to take advantage of the tuition assistance program after completing two tours of service, and he’d graduated at the top of his class (both times), but still… Achilles would never forgive himself for making Patroclus put aside his dreams.
Zagreus sighs, “Thanatos offered to help me pay for my schooling, if I ever wanted to go back. He told me that he would give me what he’d managed to save up—it’s not much, but it’ll pay for a semester or two of classes at the community college. If we were to pool our funds together, I might even be able to graduate.”
“That’s a very sweet offer.” Achilles says. It seems like Zagreus found himself a keeper.
“I… I can’t take him up on it. Not now. In fact, while we’re on the topic… I wanted to ask you about something else.” Zagreus plucks one of the roses, twirling it between his fingers.
“What’s on your mind, lad?” He’s starting to get a bit sore. He’ll have to turn them back toward the hospital soon enough. But it’s good for him to get out and walk around a bit—honestly, he doesn’t do it often enough.
“I was wondering if I would be able to pick up a couple more hours at the gym? I know that I’m already pushing forty hours a week as it is, but…” he lowers his eyes, “Worker’s Compensation won’t pay Thanatos his full salary. And I want to make sure that he can still cover all of his expenses…”
Achilles offers him a genuine smile at that, “You’re a good kid, Zagreus.” Thanatos was lucky to have a… friend like him. “How about we iron out the specifics of your new schedule when you next come into work?”
“You…?” Zagreus is looking up at him like he doesn’t quite believe what he’d just heard. “Really? Thank you! Thank you so much! I’ll forever be in your debt, Achilles sir—”
By the time they make it back to the hospital, Thanatos has just finished filling out the discharge paperwork. He is wearing a neck brace, and his arm is tucked into a dark blue sling… and he’s on so much pain medication, he’s barely able to string together a sentence without slurring all of his words together. The doctor takes the time to explain all of the important information to Zagreus, giving him a copy of the paperwork (that Thanatos would likely have to explain to him again once he was no longer high as a kite) and a prescription for more pain medication.
“I should really take him home… thank you again for coming to sit with me. It really helped.” It is then that Zagreus realizes that he doesn’t actually have a way to get back to Thanatos’ apartment. “Err… I can always get an Uber. I’m sure that there has to be one in the area—”
“Zagreus,” Achilles stares at him blankly, “let me drive the two of you back to Thanatos’ place. He really ought to be put to bed as soon as possible.”
“Oh, I couldn’t ask you—didn’t you drive in with your husband?” Zagreus asks.
Achilles nods, “He has an important operation today. He’ll be in the operating theatre for several hours yet—I’ll be there and back before he can miss me.”
Zagreus still looks uncertain, but requires remarkably little convincing. Achilles leads the way out to his car, Zagreus following closely behind, pushing Thanatos in one of the hospital’s wheelchairs. It doesn’t take them long to load Thanatos in the car (though he bats, weakly, at Zagreus’ hands and assures him that he is more than capable of handling himself), and the poor lad falls asleep rather quickly once they hit the road in earnest. He’s going to be incredibly thankful for that neck brace, because if his head were to list any further to the side, he would surely injure his neck even more. Zagreus is silent for the majority of the ride, twiddling his thumbs and doing his best to ignore the fact that Thanatos seems to have forgotten everything that happened in the last two days…
Including that unfortunately timed love confession.
“You know, Achilles? What you told me earlier… the same goes for you.” Zagreus offers. And Achilles… he said a lot of things earlier. He’s not exactly clear as to which Zagreus is referring. “If being a soldier was something that you were good at, then you shouldn’t apologize for it.”
“Lad…” Achilles breathes, shock causing his eyes to widen ever so slightly. That… has to be the sweetest thing that the kid has ever said to him.
“Patroclus… it was his choice, to enlist alongside you. He wanted you to have that sense of purpose… just like Thanatos wanted to do for me…” Zagreus says. “It might not be my place, but… I think that your husband loves you very much, sir.”
Patroclus is already out of surgery by the time Achilles arrives back at the hospital.
Achilles thinks that it’s odd—Patroclus had mentioned that he was completing a complex procedure, which would take upwards of twenty hours. He couldn’t have been there for more than five. And he’s… shaking? Badly. Apollo catches him before he can make his way over to Patroclus and ask what’s wrong. Apparently, the patient had had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia, and had had a seizure in the middle of the operation. And he’d died on the table. It wasn’t the first time that Patroclus had lost a patient, but that didn’t make the loss any easier to bear. Apollo had attempted to explain to the family that it was a one in a million chance that he’d have such a reaction, but… well, the mother had wanted blood, and she’d actually drawn a bit of Patroclus’.
“That was the only case on his docket for today, so he’s free to go home now. I’ll handle all the necessary paperwork, so…” Apollo inclines his head toward Patroclus, “Please, take him home. Give him some time to decompress—”
“In all seriousness… I doubt that our home is the best place to take anyone to decompress.” Achilles takes a slow, deep breath, “Thanks for letting me know, Apollo. I’ll take care of him from here.”
He can do this for Patroclus, he can. Patroclus is always putting Achilles’ needs before his own, always taking Achilles’ fears and insecurities with the utmost seriousness—and he works in a gym (that’s not to say that he hasn’t had people get sick or hurt, or even pass out on his premises (thankfully, he hadn’t had anyone die, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility)). His job is important—all jobs are important—but it’s nowhere near as important as Patroclus’. He doesn’t literally hold people’s lives in his hands…
Err… well, when he puts it like that, his job doesn’t sound very important at all, now does it? And really… it’s not so much of a job as it is a pet project. It’s something to get him out of the house, but it’s not making a difference like… like Patroclus, or Apollo, or even Alecto. They don’t even really need the money that he’s bringing in—sure, it’s allowing them to put extra money away for Pyrrhus’ (and now Amaltheia’s) college funds, but… He nips that train of thought in the bud. Patroclus needs him to be strong. This isn’t about him.
He makes his way over to Patroclus, and makes sure that the other man can see him before laying a hand on his shoulder. He looks like he wants to tell Achilles something, but is having trouble finding the words—or getting his mouth to cooperate. Achilles presses a finger to his lips, effectively silencing him.
“You don’t have to say anything, Pat. Why don’t you grab your things, and we’ll head home? I’ll run you a nice bath… maybe make some of that herbal, stress relieving tea that you like so much?” Achilles offers.
“I… that would be nice, yes.” Patroclus’ voice is weak, so much so that Achilles has to strain to hear it—even with the rather short distance between them. “Apollo… he already gathered my things. So, can we just… go home? Please?”
“Of course.” Achilles takes Patroclus’ bag and slings it over his right shoulder, before taking Patroclus’ hand. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
It doesn’t escape his notice, as he laces his fingers with Patroclus’, that his husband isn’t wearing his wedding ring.
So, I'm thinking about doing a 'twelve days of Christmas' Charmes fic, set in this universe. Would anyone be interested in reading it? I'm interested in exploring the other characters' stories in this 'verse a little bit more, outside of Achilles' limited POV.
Chapter 11: The Deepest Valleys
Achilles knows that Patroclus takes the ring off to operate. There’s a chance that Apollo had simply forgotten to grab it out of Patroclus’ locker in all of the excitement. The thought makes him feel a little better, though he’s still a little on-edge about the whole situation. Still, he puts on a brave face—if not for his own sake, then for Patroclus’.
Patroclus seems to notice him staring at his naked ring finger, because he tucks his hand away, deep in his pocket.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Achilles feels sick to his stomach. He wonders if he should be driving… but when he considers placing Patroclus behind the wheel, when his husband doesn’t even look like he’s fully aware of what’s transpiring around him, he realizes that he doesn’t really have a choice. They don’t live that far from the hospital, after all, so it should be fine.
They spend the duration of the ride in silence. Achilles knows that he should at least make an effort to start up a conversation, but he’s not sure what he would even talk about. This is not the first time that Patroclus had lost a patient on the table, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to bear. He can even see where the mother had scratched him with her nails—he’ll have to remember to wash that out with peroxide once they’re home and settled. They really needed to improve their hospital security. Maybe Ares could pick up a couple of shifts, if he was wanting for cash? If what the lad had told him was true, Ares had had no trouble taking down a man near twice his size. Not that he’s advocating for anyone to be tackled.
He just… thinks that everyone ought to learn how to keep their hands to themselves. Is that too much to ask for?
By the time they arrive at the house, Achilles is still contemplating all the things that he ought to say. Nothing seems to quite fit the situation at hand. He pulls into their driveway, tucking the car in alongside Briseis’, and cuts the engine. They sit in silence for several moments, Patroclus with his nose pressed to the glass, his unfocused eyes considering the mess of toys that Patroclus had strewn all over their yard, and Achilles with his hands still curled around the wheel, his mind moving a mile a minute as he considers all manner of what-ifs. It seems like an eternity passes before Patroclus lets himself out of the car (and immediately tucks his ringless hand back into his pocket), and begins the slow trek inside, his head hung low.
Achilles follows him inside, though it takes him considerably longer to cover the same distance. Briseis is there to greet him, open concern on her pretty face as she continues to go through the motions of making lunch. Achilles wants to tell her everything, but finds that the words are stuck in his throat.
In the end, it is all he can do to ask, “Can you put on the kettle? I’d like to make Pat some of that stress-relieving tea.”
Briseis stares at him, eyes wide. “Um… sure. Yeah, I can do that.” Rinsing off her hands in the sink, she moves to fill the bright yellow tea kettle with water and set it to boil. “Is everything alright? I wasn’t expecting you back until late—”
“It’s…” Achilles swallows hard, “No. Pat lost a patient on the table, and it’s hitting him really hard. He hasn’t said a word since we left the hospital, and—” Achilles doesn’t know what to do. “So, I want to make him the tea… maybe run him a hot bath? Anything I can to help him decompress…”
“Oh dear…” Briseis’ gaze is sympathetic as she resumes preparing Pyrrhus’ lunch, “You must be so worried about him.” Achilles sets his can aside so that he can lean against the island counter.
“I am.” He concedes, “This isn’t the first time this has happened, but… he doesn’t usually shut me out like this.”
She nods, “Well… it’s possible that this time just hit him differently. Everyone processes trauma in their own way—and as long as they don’t become a threat to themselves or others, sometimes the only thing that you can do is let them work it out for themselves.” She says.
“Yeah…” It’s not like he doesn’t know that. It’s just… hearing her say it out loud somehow makes him feel even more useless. He didn’t even think that that was possible.
Briseis, seemingly sensing his unease, presses a little harder, “Do you want to talk about what happened with Zagreus?” Ah, yes. The whole reason that they’d asked her to come over early that morning.
He doesn’t have all the details, but he fills her in on what he knows. He tells her about how he’d become somewhat of a mentor to his only employee, who also happened to be his landlord’s oldest child. How the lad had been having romantic troubles with a ‘close friend’ of his, and how he desperately wanted to make the relationship work despite not having any real role models upon which to base a healthy, romantic relationship off of. How he’d somehow gotten it into his head that Achilles’ trainwreck of a home life (that he was slowly beginning to realize wasn’t as much of a trainwreck as he had come to believe) was somehow worth emulating. How he’d had sex with his ‘close friend’ a handful of hours before he’d gotten two herniated discs on the job and had ended up hospitalized—
Briseis frowns, “You know, that’s your problem, Achilles.” His mouth snaps closed with an audible click. What is she talking about? He doesn’t have a problem… okay, he does, but that’s beside the point. “You’re always talking down about your relationship with Pat. It’s no wonder he—” She cuts herself off abruptly.
Achilles blinks. This is one of the first times he’s ever mentioned the fact that his relationship with Patroclus is anything but perfect—the only other person he’d ever mentioned it to had been Zagreus, in passing. “No wonder he what, Brie?” Did she know something that he didn’t?
She heaves a dramatic sigh, “Look… it’s really not my place to be talking about any of this.” She says. Achilles frowns—that certainly hadn’t stopped her from taking it this far, now had it. “But Pat’s been talking to my dad.”
“Your father?” Achilles voice is tight. His entire body is tensed, like he’s prepping for her to strike him. “But he’s a…”
“Divorce attorney? I know.” Achilles thinks that he’s forgotten how to breathe. What would Patroclus need to talk to a divorce attorney about? Just last night, he was saying how much he loved Achilles… “Look, I don’t know the specifics—attorney-client privilege and all that—but I just thought that you should know.”
“Know what?! That my husband of eighteen years is planning on leaving me?” Achilles thinks he might be yelling, but he can’t actually tell. “Because it’s really feeling like I’m still the last to know.”
Briseis shakes her head, “No, that’s not… I told you, nothing was set in stone.”
“That’s certainly not what it sounded like, over here.” He’s interrupted by the sound of the kettle blowing—the water is ready for Patroclus’ tea. He feels tears burning in the corners of his eyes at the thought of facing him, now that he knows… “I thought that you were my friend, Brie.”
Briseis recoils ever so slightly, “I am your friend. But I’m Pat’s friend, too. And the last thing I want is to have to take sides in all of this—” But she will. If her reaction is any indication, she already has.
“Just…” He wants to say something nice, something reassuring. He can’t think of anything. “Just… let me through.”
He manages to fix Patroclus his stress relieving tea without engaging in further conversation with Briseis. He can taste bile rising in the back of his throat as he wraps his hands around Patroclus’ favorite mug and tries to push the memories of his recent conversation with Briseis to the back of his mind. Briseis, thankfully, doesn’t try to stop him.
He finds Patroclus sitting on their bed, his muscular legs tucked up underneath him with a thin, handmade blanket draped over his lap. Chiron is at his side, walking in half circles around his trembling form and rubbing his furry little self all over Patroclus’ tank top. Achilles takes a deep breath, reminding himself that this isn’t about him. He has all the time in the world to be upset about whatever it is that’s going on with Patroclus—but he only has this one chance to provide comfort for what’d happened today at the hospital.
Achilles doesn’t consider himself to be the most comforting person in the world… but for Patroclus, he’d try anything.
“I brought you some of that herbal tea that you like.” He offers. It takes a second for Patroclus to look at him, “You don’t have to drink it all, but it’d probably be good to take a couple of sips.”
Patroclus blinks. Gathering up a bit of the blanket, he uses it to shield his hands from the overheated porcelain as he takes the mug and gives the contents a quick sniff. “The stress-relieving herbal blend?”
Achilles nods, “The same.”
His husband blows on it, attempting to cool if off a little, before taking a small sip. “It’s good. Thank you.” Lowering the cup, he studies Achilles’ face for a moment. “What’s the matter, Achilles? You look like you’ve been crying.” He tries to meet Achilles’ gaze, though Achilles struggles valiantly to not meet his eyes.
“Oh, this?” He wipes his eyes with the heel of his palm. “It’s nothing. I just… I must have something in my eye, that’s all.” He tries to smile, but it’s shaking. He feels like he’s going to be sick again.
“Is there anything that I can do to help you? I want to help, but I… I hate to admit that I don’t really know how.” He breathes, “And I don’t want to accidentally make it worse by—”
“Could you… grab one of the books from over on that shelf, there?” Patroclus motions to their bookcase, “And just… come sit with me and read? It doesn’t have to be anything super deep or prolific. I don’t care if you want to read me the Berenstain Bears. I just… it’ll be nice to hear your voice, I think.”
And how is he supposed to say no to that? He selects a book (it’s not one of Pyrrhus’ books, but it’s also not something super heavy—both he and Patroclus have read Good Omens before, and know that it’s always good for a pick-me-up when they need one). He climbs onto the bed, making himself comfortable against the sea of pillows that’re propped up against their headboard. Patroclus takes the time to prop his left ankle up with one of the softer pillows, before hunkering down in-between Achilles’ legs. Achilles is surprised, for a moment, that Patroclus still fits… Achilles has lost a tremendous amount of muscle mass in the wake of his injury, after all. But Patroclus, much like their cat, always seems to find a way to squeeze himself into the unlikeliest of spaces.
Speaking of their cat… never one to be left out, Chiron hunkers down next to Achilles’ injured leg, tosses one of his hind legs over his elevated ankle, and starts purring. Achilles snorts—he can almost hear Pyrrhus cooing about how that means that Chiron has claimed Achilles as his ‘hooman’. Wrapping both of his arms around Patroclus, Achilles’ cracks the book open to the first page… only for the first couple of pages to come loose of the binding and tumble out onto Patroclus’ lap. Hmm… maybe they’d read this book one too many times.
He makes his way through the first page, before Patroclus interrupts him to ask, “Are you sure that you’re alright, Achilles? Your voice… it’s shaking.”
“Is it?” Of course, he knows that his voice is shaking. He absolutely refuses to admit it, though. “Don’t worry about it. I’m just a little nervous to be reading aloud, that’s all. You know that I’m not the best at this sort of thing.”
Patroclus taps Achilles’ chest, right over his heart, “You don’t have anything to worry about, you know? It’s just me.”
Achilles’ hands tighten around the book. He never thought that he’d ever think of Patroclus as being part of the problem, but… “Yes, I know.” He swallows hard, and begins to read again.
He finds Patroclus’ ring buried in his bedside table… How had he not noticed that he hadn’t even been wearing it when they’d left that morning? He supposes that he’s so used to seeing it adorning Patroclus’ finger, he’s not necessarily on the lookout for him going without.
He knows that he doesn’t have much room to talk. He doesn’t wear his own ring, and hasn’t worn it for the last six months or so… But something about Patroclus taking his ring off strikes all the wrong chords with him. And burying it in the drawer like that? He’s acting like he has something to hide, like he didn’t want Achilles to accidentally stumble across it while going about his business. Achilles takes a deep breath, turning the simple band over and over between his fingers. Could Briseis have been telling him the truth? Could Patroclus have really been seeking out the advice of a divorce lawyer? He wants to believe that it isn’t true, but… the more that he thinks about it, the more sense that it makes.
After all, Achilles doesn’t want to be with Achilles the majority of the time. Why would Patroclus keep wasting time on him, knowing that his broken cup just kept cracking? He takes the ring and places it back in the drawer, near to where he’d found it. There’s no point in staring at it for the rest of the night.
“Are you alright, love?” Patroclus calls from the bathroom. His voice sounds a little stronger now—that’s good.
“I… I’m fine.” Achilles says. He slams the door shut, before grabbing another towel from the closet and going to join Patroclus in the bathroom. “How is the water? It’s not too hot, is it?”
“Actually, it’s a little cool.” He says. Before Achilles can offer to fix it, Patroclus reaches out to take his hand, “Why don’t you come and sit with me? That’s sure to warm the water right up.” Patroclus has been extraordinarily touchy-feely ever since they’d arrived home, which he found… odd, when he considered what Briseis had to say earlier.
“Are you sure…?” He can’t help but feel like he’s intruding… like they’re two puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit.
Patroclus frowns, “Of course, I’m sure. Why’re you acting so weird all of a sudden?” His eyes flit to Patroclus’ naked finger once more. He wants to say something, of course he does. But tonight isn’t about him.
He can keep his wayward emotions in check for one night, dammit.
He doesn’t answer Patroclus’ question. Instead, he focuses on undressing himself—tossing his dirty clothes into the overflowing hamper by the toilet (when was the last time that either of them had even considered doing the laundry? They might need to consider getting a maid). Patroclus studies him carefully, his teeth sinking into his plump bottom lip… there’s a familiar spark in his eyes, though it’s been awhile since Achilles has seen Patroclus direct it at him. There’s a slight twinge of interest down below… and perhaps, if he weren’t so distressed, he might’ve considered trying it. But right now, he has to be a bit more creative with the means of comfort he has at his disposal. Taking a deep breath, he sinks into the tub, opposite Patroclus—
“Is that better?” He isn’t quite sure how his presence is supposed to warm up the water, but Patroclus nods, and that’s good enough for him. “I was really worried about you earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you clam up like that.”
“I… It’s not the first time that I’ve lost a patient, you know that. And, honestly… the odds of him surviving the operation were slim. It was an experimental procedure that’d only been performed successfully a handful of times…” Patroclus takes a deep breath, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling.
“But, from what Apollo said, it wasn’t your fault that the patient…” he waves his hand, not wanting to come right out and say ‘that the patient died’. “He had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia.”
“Yes.” Patroclus nods, “Anesthesia that Apollo administered.” He clarifies. “He was supposed to check to make sure that the patient didn’t have any allergies that might conflict with the anesthesia.”
Achilles furrows his brows, “And he didn’t do that?”
“Honestly… I think that he did? I don’t normally check—I just kind of assume that he does it, because that’s part of his job.” Patroclus heaves a dramatic sigh, “You know what they say about assuming.”
“Pat,” Achilles breathes, “this isn’t on you.”
“I know that. Logically… I know that.” Patroclus’ dark eyes meet Achilles red-rimmed pair, “And, really… I trust that Apollo checked to make sure there weren’t any allergies before he administered the anesthesia. He’s good at his job—I wouldn’t keep him on the payroll, otherwise.”
He doesn’t understand, “Then… what has you so upset? I’m sorry, I… I just don’t seem to understand.”
Patroclus cocks his head to the side, “Don’t you think that it being a freak accident just makes it so much… I don’t know, so much worse? Like… for all of the training that I received, all of the studying that I did… I couldn’t have saved him, even if I wanted to.”
He supposes that that makes sense, in a sort of roundabout way. If the patient had died because, despite Patroclus doing everything within his power to save him, it was simply his time, then that would be one thing. But the fact that the patient had had an unexpected reaction to the anesthesia… it made him feel out of control, because it was something outside of his control. Achilles would think that it would bring him some measure of comfort, to know that there was absolutely nothing he could have done to change the outcome of the situation, but he can respect that that’s not for everyone. Like Briseis had said, he and Patroclus handle traumatic situations differently, and that’s okay. As long as he’s processing the emotions in a healthy way…
…He’s one to talk about handling emotions in a healthy manner.
But still… Achilles reaches out, grabbing Patroclus’ favorite body wash and lathering it up on a bath loofah. He encourages Patroclus to keep talking as he begins giving him a thorough scrub-down. It’s not the gentle washing that Patroclus had administered the other night—he’s not overly rough, either, but there’s a bit of a flush to Patroclus’ skin where the loofah glides over it. Patroclus has always preferred a bit of rough handling, where Achilles has always preferred to be treated gently, like he’s delicate, breakable.
Patroclus… Patroclus is holding his heart in his hands. The pieces are being held together with paperclips and bubblegum, and are ready to fall to ruin at any second… He wants, desperately, to bring up the ring. Or to mention his conversation with Briseis. But something keeps holding him back?
What if Briseis was right?
What if Patroclus really intended to leave?
Would he take the house? The kids?
“Seriously, Achilles… what’s up with you?” Patroclus sounds much better, now that he’s gotten everything off of his chest. “If there’s something that I can help with, then…”
And Achilles is so deep in his thoughts, he cannot help but blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. “I… I think it might be best if I spend the rest of the night in a hotel.” As soon as he registers what he’d just said, his heart starts hammering in his chest. That’s not going to help anything at all!
“Wait, what? Why?” Patroclus’ face clouds over in concern, “Achilles, really… Are you uncomfortable being in the bath together because…?” His eyes flit downward. He’s half-erect; Achilles hadn’t even noticed.
“I-I… no. That… That’s natural, right?” Achilles doesn’t want to make him feel bad. The last thing that Achilles wants is for Patroclus to blame himself for any of this. This is his fault, after all. “I just… It’s just something that I need to do.”
“Something that you need to…?” Patroclus frowns, “Wouldn’t you rather stay here, with us?”
“I-I’m sorry…” and then he starts to cry.
Achilles grabs one of the suitcases from the closet and shoves it into the backseat of the car. Patroclus is still attempting to convince him to change his mind, his ringless hand stuffed into the pocket of his sweatpants (Achilles still couldn’t bring himself to mention that he’d found the ring tucked away in the bottom of Patroclus’ bedside table drawer, and Patroclus was still confused as to what’d caused Achilles’ sudden desire to flee). Achilles just starts to cry harder—which makes Patroclus even more worried; Achilles really shouldn’t be driving in this condition, no matter the reason—if he’s upset enough to be spending the night in a hotel, then he can have the bed and Patroclus will sleep on the couch. It’ll achieve the same effect—
Achilles cannot forgive himself for not allowing Patroclus to have one day. Just one. He had to make the situation about himself—no wonder Patroclus didn’t want to be with him anymore. If he puts some distance between them, allows himself some time to think over everything that Briseis said (does he really only talk down about his relationship? Patroclus is, and always has been, the light of his life—anything that is wrong with their relationship is one-hundred percent his fault).
“It’ll be okay.” He doesn’t know if he actually believes that when he says it to Patroclus, or after he drives for forty-five minutes, only to end up in front of the gym, of all places. Hadn’t he just gotten done telling Zagreus that he shouldn’t spend the night in the gym, because of the complete lack of air-conditioning?
It’d be even worse, knowing that the gym hadn’t been open all day.
Well… he’d already fucked everything else up royally. What was one more thing to add to the list?
It occurs to him, belatedly, that he doesn’t have any of his medications stowed away in his locked desk drawers—and he certainly hadn’t been in any kind of shape to remember to pack any of it when he’d run out of the house earlier that night. He’d simply taken one of the suitcases that he’d already had packed, just in case—
It’s quite the chore to get the bag downstairs into the utility closet/office. He really needs to have another talk with Hades about making the building ADA compliant—he doesn’t care how much it costs; and if Hades is too stingy to foot the bill, he’ll put up the money himself. But it’s really only a matter of time until he falls coming down these stairs, and heaven forbid he hurts himself more than he’s already hurt. He’s already toeing the line with being able to walk, most days. One bad fall could make that a thing of the past.
The office is… stuffier than he’d been expecting. It seems that they’d never quite been able to get rid of the scent of musty towels after Zagreus’ little incident with the washing machine. The fan is still down there, thankfully, and though it will do little more than push the scent of rot around the room, Achilles makes a beeline for it and turns it on to full power. The gym is quiet at night, without the low roar of people talking, the constant thrum of the machines being operated… The fan helps to fill a bit of the silence, yes, but something still isn’t quite right.
The last time he’d spent the night away from Patroclus, he’d been in the hospital, recovering from his gunshot wound. Sure, they’d spent the night in separate beds since then, but… they’d always been under the same roof. Achilles had always known when Patroclus was leaving for work, would take comfort in his ramblings about whatever it was he planned to make for dinner as he rushed about, getting himself ready for another day of tending to patients. What’s more… here, there is no baby monitor to keep him apprised of Amaltheia’s condition… in fact, there’s no Amaltheia, no Pyrrhus to come rushing in after he’s had a bad dream… The gym is not his home, it’s not even a cheap imitation of it. But it’s where he intends to spend the night, perhaps longer—
He needs time to sort out the wayward thoughts inside of his head. Right now, he’s having difficulty discerning which are his own, and which have taken root as a result of his conversation with Briseis. Yes, it’s odd that Patroclus had chosen to take off his ring now, of all times. Yes, it’s odd that Achilles had found that ring buried at the bottom of his bedside table drawer. And yes, it’s odd that he’d been talking to a divorce attorney. But none of these things mean anything unless Patroclus tells him that he no longer wants to be with him. He likes to think that Patroclus would not spare his feelings in this regard—if Achilles is no longer good for him, then he needs to cut him off. But until he comes out and says as much, there’s no need to worry.
Oh, who is he trying to kid? He’s going to worry, no matter what. It’s become an unfortunate part of his nature.
He heaves his suitcase up onto the table, deciding to take a quick inventory of everything that he’d packed. It’d been awhile since he’d packed the suitcases he kept stored away in the dark recesses of the closet, and he doesn’t actually remember everything that they contain. Hopefully, there’s a blanket or two in there…
Not because he’s cold, no. He doesn’t trust the couch.
Apparently, he had indeed been thinking ahead when he’d packed this suitcase, because there are two thick, fleece blankets rolled up in the far corner (now that he really thinks about it, it had been winter at the time). There are three changes of clothes, and a pair of pajamas that he doesn’t remember buying—let alone wearing. They look to be Christmas-themed, but are thankfully not fleece. He has all of his bathroom toiletries, a spare nebulizer, and some non-perishable snacks. It’s nothing substantial, but then, Achilles usually isn’t super hungry. He’s not particularly hungry right now, but he still opens up one of the packs of crackers and forces himself to eat. Even if he doesn’t have his medication with him, he still took his pills today and doesn’t want an upset stomach.
He’s just started prepping the couch for bed when he hears his text notification go off. He has a feeling he knows who it is that’s trying to reach him—even though he knows that he should talk to Patroclus, if only to let him know that he’s safe, it still takes until his phone goes off a second time… and then a third.
From: Love of My Life :Purple_Heart:
Achilles, I know that you said you needed your space, and I can respect that. Just… please let me know that you’re safe. It’s been two hours.
Sent at 9:27PM
From: Love of My Life :Purple_Heart:
If this is about my not wearing the ring, I promise that there is a reasonable explanation.
Sent at 9:30PM
From: Love of My Life :Purple_Heart:
Please, Achilles. I’m really worried.
Sent at 9:30PM
Patroclus must be really upset, if he’s texting in full sentences. Much as he loves Patroclus, his texts are often borderline incomprehensible. Just like he’s handwriting. Achilles reads over the messages again—of course he would say that there is a perfectly logical explanation for taking off the ring. Taking a deep breath, he sets the phone aside and focuses on finishing making up the couch. He uses one blanket to cover where the cushions are spewing stuffing, and he uses the other to bundle up the pillows into something that might resemble comfort. Had it really been two hours since he’d left? He hadn’t thought that he’d been gone for so long, but then… time can be kind of funny, when he feels like this. And he supposes that he had been driving around for quite awhile before…
He takes his phone and types out a quick message back—
From: Sunshine Boy :Yellow_Heart:
I’m safe. I think that I’ll be ready to talk more tomorrow.
Sent at 9:37PM
From: Sunshine Boy :Yellow_Heart:
I love you.
Sent at 9:38PM
—then he puts his phone aside, and falls asleep without waiting for a response.
He doesn’t sleep well. That’s not a surprise, considering that his bed was a couch that they’d purchased together from the little bit of money they’d managed to scrounge together working part-time jobs the summer before their senior year of high school. His leg is killing him, and the thought of climbing upstairs to open the gym actually makes him want to cry. But he realizes that, if he doesn’t do it, it’ll be even worse. Not only will he be rattled with guilt for keeping the gym closed two days in a row (even if he’d had a perfectly legitimate reason the first day), but if he doesn’t get up and at least try to move around, then he’s not going to be able to move by the end of the day. So, he drags himself off of the couch and reaches into his suitcase for a change of clothes—
He’s about to step into a clean pair of sweatpants when his phone starts ringing again. He knows that it isn’t Patroclus, because he has his husband’s number tied to a special ringtone (you know, in case there’s an emergency, so that he knows to answer the call instead of letting it roll over to voicemail). For a second, he thinks about answering… but he’s barely awake, and not really in the mood to talk to anyone. And if it’s Zagreus, giving him a call to let him know that he won’t be in to work today… well, he wasn’t expecting him to show today, anyway.
Once he’s dressed, he grabs his phone to check for any missed messages…
From: Love of My Life :Purple_Heart:
I love you, too, sweetie…
Sent at 9:42PM
From: Love of My Life :Purple_Heart:
Pyrrhus wanted me to send you a picture of the new birdhouse he built with Briseis. He said that he was sorry he ruined the last one.
Sent at 4:12AM
Achilles scrolls down a little bit further. It’s clear that Patroclus had taken a considerable amount of time to find the perfect angle for the picture—the lighting makes the birdhouse (a two-story, avant garde build, with space in the back for an actual birdbath) look absolutely radiant. There’s about a pound of silver glitter dusted on top of an adorably messy blue ombre paint job. There’s a second picture underneath, which shows that the paint is actually glow and the dark—that is going to light up their entire back porch. How sweet.
He continues checking his missed messages. As he suspected, there’s one from Zagreus…
“Achilles, sir? I think I’m going to have to call out of work today. Than’s a little drowsy from all the pain medication he’s on, and I don’t feel comfortable leaving him alone here. I know that I haven’t been working at the gym long enough to have any PTO stored up, but I’m going to have to take the hit—”
Achilles sighs. He doesn’t think that he’s an unreasonable man. Even if Zagreus hasn’t build up any PTO yet, he can make an exception, just this once. It’s not like he has any other employees to account for, after all—so there’s no one to get jealous over Zagreus receiving ‘preferential treatment’. He’ll just write himself a note to go into the computer and adjust Zagreus’ hours at the end of the pay period, as if he had come into work today. Limping over to his desk on the far side of the room, he grabs a packet of Post-It notes from the first drawer and scribbles a quick note-to-self, before tacking it up on the computer amidst the sea of pictures he only half-cares about. Now, so long as he actually remembers to come down here before the bank takes out the money for the direct deposits…
Once he’s brushed his teeth and combed his hair, he realizes that the only thing he’s missing is a razor. It’s been just long enough since he’d last shaved that he can feel the barest hint of stubble dotting his chin… It’s not the most professional look, but it’ll have to do for now. He has the most difficulty putting on his shoes—the sole of the shoe puts just enough pressure on his heel to make black dots appear in the corners of his eyes. Fuck, he’s really going to regret leaving without his pain medication…
About half an hour later, he finds himself upstairs, ready to do what he can of the morning checklist. He’s not expecting to see anyone at the front doors—the gym doesn’t open for another couple of hours. But then… is that Nyx? Had Patroclus called her to come see if Achilles was holed up in the gym?
“Good morning, Achilles.” Nyx smiles at him. Achilles cannot remember the last time that he’d seen Nyx this early in the morning—and he knows for a fact that her studio won’t be open for another several hours, at least.
“Good morning.” He says, brows furrowed. He can’t help but feel a spike of annoyance at the thought that she may have come here at Patroclus’ behest. He knows that it’s completely unjustified—that, if anything, she just wants to help—but his emotions are all out of whack at the moment, and he cannot help how he feels.
Nyx takes a deep breath, and Achilles can see that her dark eyes are a little swollen. “Look, I… I wanted to stop by and see if there was anything that I could help you with. You see, I know that Zagreus will be staying home with Thanatos today, leaving you shorthanded…”
Achilles blinks, “Oh, but I couldn’t possibly impose on you like that. Not after you were so kind as to come over and help me close up the other day…”
She shakes her head, “You’re not imposing. It’ll be a good distraction, I think. I usually don’t have any customers come in on the weekends anyway, so it would just be me, myself, and I, cooped up in that studio.”
“Well, when you put it like that…” Achilles knows, first hand, just how hard it can be when you get trapped inside of your own head, left with only your own malicious thoughts for company.
“You’re a good man, Achilles.” She says, as he steps aside to let her into the still-dark building.
He chuckles a little, but it sounds hollow to his own ears. “I don’t know if I’m that. But… thank you.”
Nyx is more than willing to handle the labor-intensive parts of opening the gym, including all of the cleaning. This allows Achilles the chance to sit down in front of the computer and pay his bills (some of which are several days overdue—whoops). He feels bad, putting her to work like this, but she has no complaints. In fact, she seems thankful to constantly be moving, and after asking him to check the quality of her work the first couple of times, she flies through the rest of the morning checklist with ease.
As it turned out, she had had to hear through the grapevine that Thanatos had been injured. As soon as she’d heard the news, she’d called Zagreus (after trying to get ahold of Thanatos three times, and having each call get sent to voicemail), who had filled her in by repeating, verbatim, the explanation of herniated discs that Patroclus had provided him over the phone. Nyx had offered her support and asked that Zagreus keep her apprised of Thanatos’ condition… and hadn’t heard anything from either of them since. She assumed that that was a good thing, but… She was struggling, because she had always tried to encourage independence in her children, and the fact that Thanatos hadn’t told her about the injury meant that he didn’t think it was serious enough to warrant concern—
As Achilles listens, he is reminded of how Zagreus had panicked in an incredibly similar fashion back at the hospital. Thanatos had also withheld crucial information from him, worried that it would cause him to panic unnecessarily. It sounds like Thanatos had attempted to downplay the severity of his own injuries to calm himself—because if everyone around him saw reason to panic, then surely that would cause him to panic as well. Achilles doesn’t know if that was a particularly smart plan, all things considered, but it was certainly a plan.
“So, what’s going on with you?” Nyx asks, about twenty minutes later. She disposes of a pair of yellow rubber gloves, before returning the bottle of cleaning solution she’d been using to the appropriate cabinet. “It’s not like you to be here so early.”
No, he supposes that it isn’t… “Just some… trouble in paradise, that’s all. I heard some alarming news from a friend, and it’s made me think about some things. That’s all.”
Nyx arches a brow, “Do you want to talk about it? Sometimes it helps to hear the opinion of an impartial third party.”
Achilles has his doubts about whether or not Nyx is actually ‘impartial’… but decides that talking to her about it can’t hurt. “I… alright. There’s this woman, Briseis. She’s a friend of ours from high school, the surrogate mother for our kids, et cetera et cetera.” He waves his hand, “Her father is a divorce attorney.”
Nyx hums, “Alright.”
“Well, I was at the hospital yesterday for…” he stops abruptly, realizing that it’s probably for the best if he doesn’t tell Nyx that he’d learned about Thanatos’ injury long before she had. “That’s not important. Anyway, Pat had a rough go of it with a patient’s family, so I brought him home, only to realize he hadn’t been wearing his ring, and, well…”
He pauses, just in time to see that he has an incoming text message from Briseis.
From: Brie-Brie :sparkle: :sparkle:
Hey, I just wanted to say that I hope ur okay.
Sent at 7:03AM
From: Brie-Brie :sparkle: :sparkle:
I think that I may’ve said too much yesterday. I’m just… I’m worried about u 2. I haven’t seen u 2 this out of sorts since Hector made a pass at Pat.
Sent at 7:04AM
From: Brie-Brie :sparkle: :sparkle:
I’m sorry :red_heart: :red_heart:
Sent at 7:04AM
Achilles turns off his phone, before pushing it to the far side of the desk. While he can admit that it’s nice of her to apologize, he doesn’t feel quite ready to accept it. Besides, he’s not even entirely convinced that she has anything she needs to apologize for. After all, she was just giving him a heads-up—imagine how blindsided he would be if a service processor walked into the gym one day and took a machete to his rose-colored glasses? Though, to be honest, he’s not sure if knowing is all that much better.
This way he’s just… constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Nyx offers him a soft smile, “Achilles… if you really think that he’s just going to leave you after you’ve been together for—” Achilles mumbles a soft ‘twenty-three years’, “then you and Pat need to sit down and have a serious talk.”
Achilles shakes his head, “I can’t face him. Not after…” Not after he hadn’t even been able to put his own selfishness aside for five minutes to take care of his husband’s needs. “Besides, Briseis seemed fairly convinced that that was what Pat was discussing with her father—”
“No,” Nyx interjects, her voice gentle, but firm. “Briseis said that she didn’t know what the two had discussed because of attorney-client privilege. She made an educated guess, based off of the fact that her father is a divorce lawyer. But lawyers receive all kinds of generalized training—he could be helping with an entirely unrelated matter.”
He supposes that that’s true, but… “I don’t know what else he would have to talk to a lawyer about.”
“Do either of you have living wills?” She asks. Achilles shakes his head—it’s not something that they had ever thought that they needed. “You have two young children, don’t you? He may just want to make sure you have something in place for them, just in case.”
“I suppose that that’s true.” It’s something to think about, nonetheless. He rubs his leg, before propping it up on the makeshift ottoman that Zagreus had made for him the other day.
“Just remember, that man loves you more than life itself—second only to those darling children of yours. It won’t be easy, but… if you remember that, everything else will fall into place.”
Patroclus makes several efforts to reach out to him throughout the course of the day. While Achilles does respond to him, he never gives him more than absolutely necessary to prove that he is still alive and well. He knows that they need to have a serious talk, but he’s not in the right frame of mind to have that conversation now. Even though Patroclus was technically the one to mention that all of this had started because he’d taken off his wedding ring, Achilles cannot help but feel like giving voice to that fact will make all of it… real.
He has one dark moment where he thinks about calling his mother. He knows that the conversation isn’t going to go well (if she even bothers to answer the phone, she’ll have nothing nice to say about what’s become of his life). Come to think of it, had he even told her that he’d gotten shot? He rubs his leg, considering. If he didn’t think it would start a massive fight, it might be nice to tell her about the family. It might also be nice to have somewhere to go, in case something happened between him and Patroclus… not that anything was going to happen.
Nyx makes her way over to the front desk, “I never knew that you had so many people in and out of here in a day.” She says, “I suppose I stay cooped up in my little corner of the strip mall too often.”
“It’s a little overwhelming at times, I’ll admit. But my therapist says that it’s important to put myself out there and engage with people as often as I can.” Achilles shrugs, “Some days are harder than others, but Zagreus definitely helps with that. People are drawn to him like moths to a flame.”
Nyx cocks her head to the side, “You know, I could say the same thing about you.”
Achilles frowns, “I’m afraid that I don’t understand.”
“You know… it’s easy to see why Patroclus was drawn to you in the first place. You have a way of speaking… it inspires people.” Nyx says, “Even when something is clearly bothering you, you still find a way to push past your own pain to help someone else in need. That’s the mark of a truly good person.”
Achilles considers her words for a moment, before replying, “I… don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I wasn’t able to be there for Patroclus when he needed me—”
Nyx shakes her head, “No, I think that that was because Patroclus was part of what was causing you such distress—even if his role in it was unintentional. But… just look at what you’re doing for Zagreus.”
He supposes that she has a point, there. He didn’t think that he was the most qualified to be delivering romantic advice (especially not now, what with his husband possibly leaving him), but he seems to be helping Zagreus to navigate the early fumblings of his relationship with Thanatos, so… He likes to think that he might still be able to help people, even if he cannot serve in the capacity of a soldier any longer. Even if it’s just one person, then maybe he still has a purpose. Maybe his injury didn’t take everything away from him…
Nyx is not the first person who has told him that he has… what’s the word for it… charisma. He’s always had a way with words, which has made people keen to follow him. He’d never actually wanted to be a leader, and he didn’t think that he was particularly good at leading others (though he had saved all of the men that’d been on the mission with him that fateful day, despite it nearly costing him his life—he’d never thought that getting shot in the heel could be near-lethal, until he’d been informed exactly how many different arteries there are in the foot (and the leg, in general)). One minute he’d been shot, the next, he’d woken up in the hospital, in the midst of receiving his third blood transfusion… the doctor had told him that he was going home, and that he was lucky to be alive.
They hadn’t mentioned the fact that he may never be able to use the leg again until he arrived back in the states.
“Come to think of it, I should probably check on Zagreus…” You know, just to make sure that nothing else had happened with Thanatos. He doesn’t know much about medicine, but he does know when to advise someone to seek medical treatment, and that’s a step in the right direction.
“And your husband?” Nyx presses, ever so gently.
Achilles sighs, staring at his blank phone screen for a moment. Then, he steels his resolve, “And Patroclus.”
If you're so inclined, the first two chapters of the Charmes Christmas fic have been posted! Come and give your Scroogey boatman some love <3
Chapter 13: Deidamia
OMG it's been forever since I updated I'm so sorry! Thank you for patiently waiting for this update, I hope you enjoy it <3
Achilles has no intention of calling Patroclus.
Now, to be fair, that doesn’t mean that he’d lied. He just hadn’t told Nyx the entire truth. It’s an admittedly small difference, but an important one all the same. He has, technically, been checking in with Patroclus ever since he’d left the night before. Patroclus knows that he is alive and (mostly) well. Achilles doesn’t know if he’s ready to commit to more. He still doesn’t know how he feels about the situation with Briseis. Certainly, there’s a part of him that wants to believe that Patroclus was being truthful when he said that there was a perfectly logical explanation for his missing ring. But there is another part that recognizes that that ring was buried deep in the confines of the drawer. That sort of thing doesn’t just happen, not unless you go around slamming drawers or frequently reshuffle their contents…
The worst part is that he knows he’s over-analyzing the situation. If Patroclus says that there is a perfectly logical explanation, than there is a perfectly logical explanation. He ought to at least hear him out before deciding whether or not to believe him… And Nyx had valid points, as well. Even if he had been talking with Briseis’ father, that didn’t necessarily mean that he was looking to file for divorce. Even without talking to Nyx, Achilles could reason that Patroclus would never blindside him with something like that. Patroclus was a talker. It didn’t matter how big, or small, the issue, or even if the only person around to talk to was himself—Pat talked about an issue until he knew, definitively, that that was the best course of action to take. He had no reason to believe that this would be different.
But still… Achilles doesn’t know if he’s ready to talk about it. Everything still feels so raw (which makes sense, in hindsight, considering that less than a day had passed between then and now). He’s been without pain medication, and his antidepressants and antianxiety medication, for nearing eighteen hours, now. He feels the lack of pain medicine acutely. The mental health medication, on the other hand… he knows that it will take a few days to leave his system completely, but he’d been questioning it’s effectiveness for some time (it was just… incredibly difficult to admit that he needed more help than he was already getting—that one, single bullet had taken so much from him, and it just kept on taking, and taking… he didn’t know how much he had left to give).
He turns to Nyx, then. “I was wondering if I might impose on you for just one more thing.” He doesn’t wait for her to insist that he’s not imposing, continuing right along with, “I will talk to Patroclus, but… I don’t know that I’m ready to go back home tonight. And when I left, well…”
Nyx’s dark eyes widen in understanding, “Say no more. If I head out now, I can be back before it’s time for you to close up shop for the evening.” Achilles lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, “Just let me know what it is that you need.” Nyx was a good woman. It makes Achilles wish there were more he and Pat could do for her.
He keeps a list of his medications in the bottom drawer of the desk, just in case. He turns this over to her now. “Briseis should be there with the kids, but she won’t give you any trouble.” Achilles says, “The pills are in the medicine cabinet in the master bathroom—first door on the left.”
Nyx nods, committing all of this to memory. Then, “Alright.” She grabs her bag from behind the front desk and begins rummaging for her car keys, “Tell Zagreus that I hope Thanatos isn’t being too troublesome of a patient…”
Achilles chuckles good-naturedly. It sounds a little hollow. “I’m sure that everything is fine. The lad would’ve called by now if something bad had happened.” Or if Thanatos had kicked him to the curb for being too overbearing.
“I suppose that’s true…” Nyx doesn’t seem entirely convinced. Achilles can understand. If something of the sort had happened to Pyrrhus and he’d had to hear about it through the grapevine, he’d be upset, too. “If you need anything while I’m gone, Orpheus and Eurydice are still next door. Their last voice lesson is at five o’clock, so—”
Achilles’ smile grows a little tight around the corners, “I’ll be fine. Promise.”
Nyx… doesn’t seem entirely convinced. But, not wanting to push the matter further, she snatches up her keys and heads out to the parking lot. Achilles watches her until her car is little more than a black dot fading into the distance… and then allows his shoulders to slump. Much as he loves Nyx, being around people for extended periods of time can be so draining. Nyx certainly isn’t as high-energy as the lad, and he wouldn’t want to attempt to explain his mindset (read: stumble over his words as he becomes increasingly frustrated with himself, only to end up projecting that anger onto her and potentially ruining an otherwise lovely friendship) and risk her misunderstanding and assuming the worst. He just… wants her around… and doesn’t, all at once. Does that make sense? Probably not.
He stares at the three new text messages that he has from Patroclus for a moment… before unlocking his phone and dialing Zagreus’ number. The lad picks up on the third ring, sounding a little tired and out of breath, “Is everything alright, Achilles, sir? Do you need me to come into work—?”
“No, no. Nothing like that, lad.” Achilles shakes his head, “I just wanted to call and see how the two of you were doing. Do you need anything? Food, toiletries, medicine…?”
“That’s truly very kind of you, sir, but I think we’re okay.” That’s good, because Achilles doesn’t think that he’s in any condition to be driving. Not without his pain medication, at least. “Thanatos is sleeping—finally. It’s… well, to tell you the truth, it’s a bit eerie, watching him sleep. So, I’ve been out in the living room… reading.”
Achilles furrows his brows, “What do you mean, eerie?”
Zagreus chuckles a little, “Well… half of the time, Than doesn’t look like he’s breathing. The other half, he’s in a sleep so light he’ll wake up if you so much as breathe the wrong way in his direction.”
He nods sagely, “I take it you’ve been interrupting his beauty rest, then.”
“Something like that, yeah. Than’s never really been one for being touched. He was really cuddly for the first little while—I think the opioids the hospital prescribed him caused him to have some nasty hot flashes, which really freaked him out. After he calmed down, though… I think I was just annoying him.”
Achilles’ heart wrenches as the lad’s laugh turns a little self-deprecating. There is so much room in that heart of his, and it is so easily broken. “Look… if Thanatos is anything like me, it’s not that you’re annoying him. It’s more like… the entire situation is annoying him, and it’s completely out of his power to fix it. You’re the easiest target for his ire. That doesn’t make it right, or fair—”
“I… think I understand.” Zagreus concedes, his voice soft. “I’m going to continue to be here for him, regardless. Before we were… whatever we are, we were best friends, and nothing will change that. I won’t let him suffer alone.”
“You’re a good lad.”
As he talks with Zagreus, he is forced to remember what else had happened that afternoon. Patroclus had lost a patient on the table, and had been attacked by the young mother in the waiting room. He’d been so upset that he couldn’t even bring himself to speak… and all Achilles could focus on was the fact that his wedding ring wasn’t on his finger, as it was supposed to be. What kind of husband was he? He listens to Zagreus talk for a little while longer, and imparts what wisdom he can—though it is admittedly growing rather difficult to think, what with the dark cloud descending upon his mind. He ends the call rather abruptly, after a hurried goodbye, and tosses the phone down on the desk so hard that he’s certain the screen must’ve cracked.
Even if he wanted to call Patroclus, he’s certainly in no condition to do it now. If, by some miracle, Patroclus weren’t already worried about him, he certainly would be once he heard the tremor in Achilles’ voice and the telltale hitch in his breath. He inhales shakily, reminding himself that he has to hold it together just a little while longer. Once the gym is closed, and Nyx returns with his medication, he can lock himself away in the office downstairs and cry and scream all he likes. Right now, he has a business to run. Taking another, deeper breath, he reaches for his phone and flips it back over just in time to see another incoming text message from Patroclus. He lets the screen fade to black as he debates whether or not he ought to text him back… before ultimately deciding to turn to the computer.
He can do this. Just one more hour…
Patroclus had always liked Achilles’ hair long. Achilles had liked it that way, too—aside from the fact that it was an actual pain to maintain. He had just enough of a curl to turn his hair into a giant mess of knots if he wasn’t careful (and, let’s be honest here, when was Achilles ever known for being careful?). When they were younger, Patroclus would sit and lovingly comb out the tangles, careful to make sure that the brush didn’t snag on a knot and cause Achilles any unnecessary pain. It had been nice, once upon a time, to tuck himself in-between Patroclus’ thick thighs… to rest his back against his husband’s broad chest… to feel his calloused fingers wade through his hair… But that was then, and this… this is now.
He opens his switchblade, considering. Then, he takes a fistful of his hair and brings it right up to the curve of the blade, “Just a little bit. Just enough to ensure it doesn’t tangle…”
Blond hair pools at his feet, covering the white and blue tiles that line the bathroom floor. It’s not a little bit—it was never a little bit—in fact, it’s almost as short as it was when he was in the service. His scalp starts to burn from the constant tugging; a switchblade isn’t really meant to be a proper haircutting instrument, but he doesn’t have an actual pair of scissors in the office/utility closet. Weird, he knows, but he thinks that Zagreus accidentally walked off with them one day, and he’s never bothered to replace them. There aren’t many things that need to be cut in a gym office, after all. After another couple of minutes, he drops the switchblade into the sink and dares to look into the mirror for the first time. God, but he hopes that there aren’t any bald patches…
His hair is… very short. The cut is rather uneven, but it’s not as bad as it could be, considering he’d been hacking away at fistfuls of hair with a pocket-sized blade. And there appear to be no glaring bald patches… though there’s only so much he can see of the back of his head, so he’ll probably need the lad to confirm that for him when they see each other next. It’s… novel to him, that he feels so much better for having cut his hair short. It’s like he’s regained a little piece of himself that he’d lost. A piece of him that he’d sacrificed on the battlefield.
But there’s another part of him… a smaller part, though it is there all the same, that wonders what Patroclus will think of it. Patroclus had always loved his long, flowing hair. And while it hadn’t had enough time to grow out to where it’d been when they were teens, it had still been fairly long. Would Patroclus still find this version of Achilles attractive?
Maybe he should’ve taken a step back to think this through a little bit more…
“Achilles, are you down there?” Achilles jumps, frantically reaching for his shirt like he has something to hide. He relaxes a little when he realizes that it’s only Nyx—the matronly woman had seem him shirtless before.
“I am.” He takes his cane from where it is hanging on the sink, and shuffles out to meet her at the bottom of the stairs. “I was just starting to get worried. I hope that Briseis didn’t give you any trouble—”
“No, she—Achilles, what happened to your hair?” Her tone is sharp. She must notice the way that it causes him to flinch, because she hurriedly amends, “It’s… It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just… what made you decide to cut it? And what on earth did you cut it with?”
He sighs, “I thought that… I don’t know, it might be nice to change it up a little, that’s all.” He grabs a towel from one of the shelves by the washer/dryer combo, before asking, “Are you planning to stick around for a bit? I was thinking about heading back up to the gym and getting a little exercise in—I could use a spotter.”
Nyx stares at his arms, clearly wondering how she is supposed to help him should he run into trouble. “Are… you certain that that’s the best idea? You haven’t had your pain medication in almost twenty-four hours…”
Achilles hums. His hands are shaking. “I’ve just… been noticing that I’ve been losing a lot of muscle mass since…” He sinks his teeth into his bottom lip, hard. “One little workout won’t kill me, I promise. Besides, I don’t plan on using any of the machines that’ll put excess pressure on my leg.”
At first, Achilles is almost certain that Nyx is going to attempt to talk him out of it. But then, “I’m not sure how much good I’ll do you as a spotter. But… to be perfectly honest, I’d rather be here in case something were to go wrong, than have to find out tomorrow that you pushed yourself too hard and ended up in the hospital.”
He smiles—an honest smile, the first one in a long while. It’s sweet of her to be so worried, but he knows and respects his own limits. Of course, after so much time, there’s a good chance that those limits have changed… “Alright, then there’s no time to waste—”
Nyx presses one well-manicured finger into his left pectoral hard enough for Achilles to feel the slightest of burns, “Not so fast. I have one condition.”
He raises one eyebrow, “A condition?”
She hands him the bag. “Take your pain medication, first.”
She has a valid point. Even if he won’t be exercising his legs, the exercise machines aren’t exactly designed with the comfort of someone suffering from extensive nerve damage in mind. Hell, they weren’t exactly comfortable before his injury. He roots around in the bag for his morphine, before dry swallowing one of the tiny white pills and depositing the rest onto the counter in the bathroom. It’s far too late for him to be taking his antidepressant and antianxiety medication, though allowing himself to fall one day behind on his regimen won’t be the end of the world.
Nyx follows him upstairs, the older woman seemingly lost in her own thoughts. He wonders if she’s had a chance to talk to Thanatos (but if his reaction to the pain medication is as bad as Zagreus is making it out to be, then he decides that the odds are more than a little bit not good). He hasn’t given the machines their final wipe down for the night, having been preparing for this moment since closing. It’ll be good, he thinks, to be able to focus on something other than the gaping hole in his chest, that’d been growing steadily larger ever since he’d found the ring sitting in Patroclus’ bedside table drawer. He selects the horizontal bench press first, if only because it has a seat, allowing him the chance to take a bit of pressure off of his aching leg…
He sets the weights to seventy-five. It might be a bit advantageous, but he has to start somewhere.
Nyx watches as he settles himself down to begin working out. He’s struggling through the first set of fifteen reps when she finally asks, “So, I take it that you have no plans to try and talk things out with Patroclus tonight.”
There is no judgment in her tone, but Achilles feels judged nonetheless. “We talked a little, after you left. Nothing substantial, but he knows that I’m alive.” Perhaps he should’ve thought twice before lying to the woman that’d just been in his house not twenty minutes before… “I just… think it’s better if I have a chance to… cool down a bit.”
Nyx raises one delicate brow, “Really? That’s funny, because when I was at your house, dear Patroclus was absolutely beside himself with worry. He said that he hadn’t heard from you in hours.”
His first set completed, Achilles gently lets the weights rest. There’s always that one asshole that drops them at the end of his set and ultimately breaks the machine… “Oh? Was he?”
“Don’t be coy with me, Achilles. I know that we may not be the best of friends, but I never expected that you would lie to my face.” Disappointment curls around her every word. It makes Achilles’ skin crawl. “That’s something that a child would do, when they’re trying to escape punishment. I’m only trying to help you.”
“I know that…” Achilles breathes, scarcely loud enough for her to hear. “I do… I know that.”
“That man adores you. Even if you’re not ready to face him… the least you can do is let him know that you’re still alive.” Nyx is holding something tight in her hand. It’s… his phone? But when had she…?
“You want me to text him.” It’s not a question. He’s not expecting her to answer, but she does—
“He asked about you, while I was there. I couldn’t honestly say that I’d come for any other purpose, considering I was walking out of the house with your medication.” Nyx sighs, “He’s not asking for much. He just wants to know that you’re okay. It’s really not a lot to ask for.”
Achilles takes the phone, his face burning with shame. He’s beginning to regret asking Nyx to stay, though a part of him recognizes that if he hadn’t, this uncomfortably conversation would’ve come much sooner in the night. He supposes that her little conversation with Patroclus was what had kept her so long, considering that she’d been so certain that she’d be back at or around the time that he closed the gym for the night… Achilles cannot meet her eyes as he takes the phone from her hand, unlocking it with the press of a finger and a quick entry of Pyrrhus’ birthday. It doesn’t take long for him to locate the last text he received from Patroclus, and, just a little higher up, the last text he’d sent Patroclus in turn… Fuck, it really had been several hours…
He makes a show of contemplating what to say, before discreetly moving off of Patroclus’ screen and selecting another number at random. The name attached comes as a bit of a surprise. Deidamia. It had been an eternity since they’d last talked—she’d been one of the witnesses at their impromptu wedding, and had subsequently fallen off the radar. If he remembered correctly, she’d always had a little bit of a crush on him, but had never acted on it, content to see him and Patroclus happily in love. He wonders if this is still even her number.
From: Child of the Sun :sunny:
Hey, it’s me. Listen, I know it’s been awhile since we’ve talked but… I’m going to pin my location. If you want to come by and chat, I’ll leave the door open.
Sent at 9:02PM
*Child of the Sun has pinned their location.*
He shows the screen to Nyx, careful to keep his finger over the recipient. If Nyx wonders about the absolute lack of conversation history between him and his husband, she doesn’t ask. “There. Is that better?”
Nyx smiles then, and it helps to ease the tight knot in his stomach, if only a little. “Yes. Now, do you intend to finish your workout, or was that single set enough to satisfy your newfound workout craze?”
Nyx stays with him until well after eleven o’clock, spotting him on the various machines and then, afterwards, helping him to clean them. Achilles finds that he is sore, but not unbearably so. Although he kept his word that he wouldn’t try anything with his leg, he has a feeling that he’s going to regret even the slight strain that he placed on it in the morning. Oh well…
It’s sometime after Nyx leaves that he hears a knock on the glass doors. He frowns, turning away from the YouTube video he’d only been half-watching to see who could be calling at this hour. His eyes widen when he sees Deidamia. Yes, it had been almost eighteen years since he’d last seen her… and no, she hadn’t changed in the slightest. Her wild black curls were piled high atop her head in the messiest bun he had ever seen, her normally pale face sun-kissed and spotted with freckles… she was wearing a pair of thick-rimmed, blood red glasses, and a little red dress to match. Just looking at her, it was hard to believe that she was pushing thirty-seven. She very well could have been the girl that he’d almost…
She stares up at him with her big, gold-flecked eyes. He’d forgotten that she was nearly a head shorter than him… “Imagine my surprise when I receive a text from the Achilles Pelides, asking me to come meet him—in a gym, of all places—in some tiny little town I’d never even heard of.”
How is he meant to tell her that he’d never intended to contact her at all? That he’d only texted her to get out of texting his husband? The answer: he’s not. “Yes, well… it’s certainly not the Achilles Pelides. Just Achilles will do.”
“And humble, too? Are you sure that I’m talking to the right man?” There’s a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Achilles doesn’t rise to the bait, “As sure as I’ll ever be. Achilles Pelides is a heroes name. Throw all your laud onto his unshakeable shoulders.” He plops himself back down onto his seat, pausing his video. “I… I’m just Achilles, and I’d prefer it if that’s how you called me.”
Deidamia’s pretty eyes widen a bit, “You’re serious, aren’t you?” Achilles doesn’t bother to grace that with an answer, “Wow… you certainly have changed.”
“Why did you come, Dei?” He thinks that he knows why. And if he’s right… he ought to send her packing, now.
She cocks her head to the side. She’s wearing a pair of stark white sneaker boots, with wide heels that make his heel ache just to look at them. “I suppose I wanted to know why, after almost twenty years, you suddenly decided that there was something that we needed to talk about.”
Achilles swallows hard. He really ought to tell her that that text was meant for someone else. “Dei, I…”
“Unless you’d really prefer it if I leave, Achilles.” Why is she saying his name like that? Before he is even fully cognizant of what is happening, he’s logging off of the computer and reaching for his cane.
“Come on. We can chat in my office, downstairs.”
Chapter 14: A Misunderstanding Weeks in the Making
TW: Attempted Sexual Assault (Non-Graphic), Ableism, Unintentional AND Intentional Victim Blaming, Disassociative Episodes, and a Depressive Crisis. The tags have been updated accordingly. Please proceed with caution.
“So…” Dei traces one well-manicured finger over the picture of Patroclus that Achilles has attached to the side of his computer. It is the same picture that the lad had noticed earlier in the week. “I’m assuming that you and Patroclus are still married, then.”
“Mhmm,” Achilles hums. He takes a seat in the very corner of the worn-out couch that’d been doubling as his bed, and hefts his aching leg up onto the cushions. “It’ll be our nineteenth anniversary at the end of the month.”
She arches a brow, “Oh? How… lovely.” He doesn’t miss the note of condescension in her voice, but chooses not to comment on it for now. “And these are your children? The boy looks just like you, right down to the little furrow between his brows.” Her lips stretch into a thin, ruby red smile.
“You think so? Honestly, I think he’s starting to look more like Briseis. I don’t think I ever had quite so much red in my hair.” He muses. The picture to which Deidamia is referring is old, taken mere hours after Amaltheia had been born. Patroclus had sent it to him days before he’d been shot.
“Briseis was your surrogate?” Dei looks between Achilles and the photo again, before deciding, “No—I definitely think he takes more after you.” She shrugs, “Maybe it’s the eyes.”
“They are a rather distinctive color, aren’t they?” He’s never seen another pair quite like them, save for his own.
“They’re beautiful.” Achilles shifts a little, uncomfortable with the sudden intensity of Dei’s gaze upon him.
Achilles finds himself at a loss for how to proceed. He and Deidamia used to be close; they had never been the absolute best of friends, but he used to be able to hold a full conversation with her without being ever conscious of the ticking of the clock in the corner of the room. Deidamia seems more than content to entertain herself with the pictures he has scattered around his desk. He doesn’t remember when most of the photos had been taken, and many are in such horrid shape that he cannot even begin to attempt to identify the faces of those that are in them, but Deidamia seems to be having an easy enough time locating herself. There’s one picture in particular that seems to have caught her attention, and she tears it off of the side of the computer with an almost feral grin.
“Do you remember this?” She asks. The picture is so faded, he’s amazed she can see anything. “This was taken at our senior prom! Remember, when we—” Ah, yes. Achilles does remember that. Perhaps not with the same glee as Deidamia, but—“Oh, you looked so handsome in your tux!”
“Did I…?” It’s been so long since he’s worn anything other than sweatpants and loose fitting t-shirts (or, of course, his military uniform) that he finds this somewhat difficult to believe.
“And you were such a wonderful dancer!” She presses the photo to her modest bosom, a wistful look on her face.
Achilles, who is almost certain that he had two left feet, is thoroughly unimpressed. “If the picture means so much to you, you’re free to take it. I certainly don’t need it cluttering up my desk.”
Dei’s eye twitches, as her full lower lip juts out into a pout. “Aww, don’t say that, Achilles! Prom was so much fun!”
For her, perhaps, although he doubts it. Patroclus had broken his leg the month before, and though he was due to have the cast taken off in time, he didn’t think that the leg would be strong enough for a night of dancing. And since the idea of spending the entirety of prom sitting at their table, while they watched their friends have fun, sounded like a complete and total bore—he’d decided to sit it out. Achilles would have stayed home with him, had Deidamia’s boyfriend not dumped her two days before. She’d been absolutely devastated, and Patroclus had conceded that he ought to take her as a friend. The night had been… fun, though Deidamia had spent the bulk of it clinging to him like an extra limb. She seemed worried that he’d try to run if she took her eyes off of him for even a moment…
“So,” she plops herself down on the couch alongside him, dangerously close to his injured foot. He flinches, situating himself that much deeper in the corner of the couch, “Tell me, what was that you wanted to talk about?”
Achilles swallows hard. All that time, and he couldn’t think of one thing to talk to her about. “Um, well… I heard that you got married.” That seems to be a safe enough topic, considering they’d just been talking about his own marriage. There is a distinct lack of ring on her finger, but that doesn’t mean anything—
“Ah, yes…” She smiles a little wistfully. “Three times, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, I never quite managed to find ‘the one’.” Achilles winces, but doesn’t comment. “You’re incredibly lucky, you know—to have a husband who loves you so unconditionally. You know…” Dei starts, then shakes her head, “No, I shouldn’t say that.”
This piques Achilles’ interest, “What? Come on, you can’t just leave me hanging like that—”
Deidamia cocks her head to the side, a few strands of inky black hair falling from her messy bun. “I shouldn’t be saying this, but… I’m surprised that you let Briseis be your surrogate, all things considered.”
Achilles furrows his brows, “Why? She’s perfectly healthy. And she loves kids.”
“She also loves your husband.” Dei idly curls a strand of hair around her finger. Achilles’ eyes widen, just a little. “Oh, she used to worship the ground that Pat walked on, before you finally made your move and the two of you became official. And even then… don’t tell me you never noticed the dopey look on her face in all of the pictures.”
He hadn’t. Though that was mostly due to the fact that he never paid all that much attention to the pictures that he was in, even before… Achilles doesn’t notice that she’s moved a little bit closer. “Even so, she would never—”
Dei interrupts with a soft, “So tell me, Achilles… why does it look like you’re living out of your gym?”
He… doesn’t really want to talk about that. He offers her a cursory, “Pat and I are having some… difficulties.”
“Difficulties?” She repeats, as though the word is foreign to her. And then, “…I see you’re not wearing your ring.”
He moves his hand to his lap, hiding it from her line of sight. “I, um… I haven’t been. Not since…” He inclines his head toward his wounded leg. Dei slides a little bit closer—if he were to flex his foot, he’d be able to touch her with the very tip of his big toe. “I don’t deserve to wear it anymore.”
Patroclus hadn’t wanted him to leave on his last tour. Much as Achilles loved managing the gym, he’d been itching to return to active duty for some time. Admittedly, leaving just after Briseis found out that she was pregnant with Amaltheia was not the best… but Achilles had assured Patroclus that he would be as careful as he could be, that once he returned, he’d retire from active duty and settle down. He’d been shot just three days before the end of his nine month tour, and had woken up in a hospital back in the states to Patroclus sobbing at his bedside, with a days’ old infant in one of those clear bassinets that they have in the hospital nursery. He was too deep in his opioid-induced haze to truly understand what was happening right then, but it all became clear soon enough…
They cut him open and pieced his heel back together—but his heel was much like an old puzzle, that through wear and tear had several pieces that didn’t quite fit together like they should. His nerves had become entrapped in the little crevices that never quite healed right, causing unspeakable pain. Once the doctors had finished duct taping him back together, they’d taught him how to walk with a cane… He was alive, though most days he didn’t truly feel like the hell he endured should be considered living. But he was most certainly not whole. And he felt this, acutely, every time he attempted to put any real pressure on his heel… It may have appeared as though he had returned to Patroclus in one piece, but—
Achilles starts when he feels a delicate hand on his shin. The sudden movement causes him to press his heel down into the couch cushion, which hurts like hell. “I-Is there a… reason why you’re touching me?” He asks.
“Oh…” Dei doesn’t move her hand, “Is that bothering you? I could always move it…”
He doesn’t exactly mind it, per se. It’s more that… he doesn’t like anyone touching that leg (and that includes Pat, most days). “I’d… actually prefer if you didn’t. That leg is really sensitive, and I’ve missed two doses of my pain medication.” He withdraws from her a little. She follows.
Her delicate hand doesn’t leave Achilles’ leg as she continues, “Why did you really call me here, Achilles? Surely, it was to do more than have a friendly face to commiserate with…” She walks her fingers up the long line of Achilles’ shin, to curl her hand around his knee. “Is it because—”
Achilles reaches for her hand, gently plucking it off of his knee. “I think… that you and I have very different ideas about what’s going on here, D-Dei…” His eyes widen as she tangles their fingers together.
“Don’t you?” She slithers upward, settling herself down atop his lap. Achilles stares at her, wide-eyed, “We all know that there are only so many reasons you would just decide to text me, out of the blue…”
Achilles’ left eye twitches, “Actually, about that—” He reaches for her waist, intent to gently, but firmly, push her off.
“You said it yourself. Your relationship with Patroclus is hanging on by a thread.” She smiles, “It’s really only a matter of time until Briseis smells the blood in the water and makes a move on your man. And then, where will that leave you? Depressed, crippled, and alone.” Achilles flinches.
He narrows his eyes up at her, “I’d almost forgotten how much of an epic bitch you could be.”
“Aww… are you upset because I told you the truth? Well, then… let me give you another little piece of advice.” She licks her lips, “It’s not your heel that’s crippling you. It’s the fear that you don’t mean shit now that you can’t do the one thing you were ever good at.” Her smile is blindingly bright. It makes his stomach ache.
Tears blur Achilles’ vision as he hisses, “…I think it’s time for you to leave.”
Dei smiles down at him, “I don’t think so.” She clicks her tongue, “And… I don’t believe that you’re in any position to be making me leave, either.” She glances knowingly at his injured leg, pinned solidly beneath her weight.
Achilles swallows hard. Unfortunately, there is more than a modicum of truth to her words. She’d seen him walking with the cane, had listened to his story about how he had sustained the wounds and how serious they were… If she didn’t want him to move, he wouldn’t be moving. For several tense moments, they simply stare at one another. And then he hears the door to the office open. He hadn’t bothered to lock the doors to the gym before escorting Deidamia downstairs, having not expected her to stay as long as she had. He’s, admittedly, a little unnerved by the fact that someone had just walked right in, until he sees that that someone is Patroclus—and that just his presence causes Deidamia to scramble off of his lap as if it had spontaneously caught fire.
He doesn’t think that he’s ever been so thankful to see Patroclus in his life. It doesn’t appear as though the feeling is mutual, however. “So, this is the reason that you haven’t been texting me back.” His voice is flat, but Achilles can see the tears brewing in the corners of his eyes. “Well… I’m glad to know that you’re still alive.”
“Pat, I swear—this isn’t what it looks like.” Achilles realizes, belatedly, that that’s about the most cliché thing that could’ve come out of his mouth—and that it makes it look even more like that is exactly what Patroclus just walked in on. “You have to believe me, I would never—”
“Is this what you’ve been doing, all of those nights that you stayed late at the gym?” Patroclus asks. Achilles blinks; he doesn’t even know how to begin to refute an assumption that was so very, very wrong. He doesn’t realize that his hands have begun to shake, “And you—you knew that he was married, and yet—”
“I-I just came here, wanting to talk! I hadn’t heard from Achilles in so long—” Is she… crying? When she was the one who climbed on top of him and threatened—”Achilles was the one who reached out to me. I have the message here.”
There’s no denying that he sent her that message, but it was never with that intention, “Pat… Please, just listen to me. Yes, I texted her and told her that I wanted to talk, but I picked her number out at random so that—”
He stops, suddenly, realizing that admitting to the fact that he hadn’t wanted to talk to Patroclus wouldn’t do him any favors right now… “So that what, Achilles?” Tears are streaming down Patroclus’ cheeks. He doesn’t bother to wipe them away as he continues, “I was so worried that you could’ve fallen, or—or—”
“She was the one who came onto me!” He tries to stand, but he’s shaking so badly he can’t get the proper footing, and ends up falling back down onto the couch. His heel aches. “Please. Please, you have to believe me.”
“You know what? Maybe I will take Theseus up on that date, after all.”
He tosses something down on the ground that Achilles is later able to identify as a bouquet of flowers. Had he… He’d likely brought them as a peace offering, to make amends for… well, he hadn’t actually done anything wrong, but he was likely going to be the bigger person and take the fall for it, anyhow. And now… the plastic wrap around the flowers crinkles loudly as he crushes them underneath his boots storming back out of the office. It is only after he’s gone that Deidamia turns to him with a bright, and terribly hollow, smile, and excuses herself back to whatever hole she’d crawled out of. And Achilles is left to ponder what had just happened, his sea-glass colored eyes focused on the flowers that’d been trampled on the concrete floor.
He doesn’t move for the rest of the night.
“Achilles,” the next thing he sees is a hand, adorned with chipping black nail polish, waving back and forth in front of his face. “Achilles, love—I noticed that the door was unlocked. Please tell me that it hasn’t been that way all night.”
He furrows his brows, “It… what… what time is it?” It’s almost nine o’clock in the morning. Not quite time for the gym to be open, but well past time for Zagreus to be coming in—if he was coming in that day. “I… must’ve lost track of time. Give me a moment, I’ll be alright.”
He’s shaking, and he doesn’t know why. Nyx seems to notice, too, but when she moves to rest a comforting hand on his shoulder, he shies away from her touch. That’s odd. He’s never been put-off by Nyx’s touch before. Taking a slow, deep breath, he turns to meet her wide-eyed stare—she’s focusing in on something on his collar. Pulling his shirt away from his chest, he tries to see the damage for himself—he catches the faintest hint of red, but isn’t able to see anything more distinctive than that. Is he bleeding? He feels around his chest for anything sore or tender, and comes up empty. Perhaps it’s a stain of some sort? He has the vaguest recollection of ruby red lipstick, but hasn’t the slightest as to why there would be lipstick on his shirt.
“Oh, Achilles… please tell me that you didn’t.” There’s so much disappointment in her voice, she’s beginning to sound like Achilles’ own mother. “You still love Patroclus, don’t you?”
Achilles frowns. Why is that even a question? Of course he still loves Pat! “Yes, with every fiber of my being. Why would you ever ask such a thing?” When Nyx doesn’t immediately answer, Achilles’ frown deepens. “Nyx, you’re not making any sense. The last thing I remember is Pat storming off after Dei climbed—”
After Deidamia had climbed into his lap and—
And that was it. But if Patroclus had been just a few minutes later, then… And he… he’d tried to tell Patroclus what’d happened, but he’d kept stumbling over his words and spouting cliches that only served to make him look more guilty. He’d tried to tell him that he would never, but Pat… Pat was already suspicious. Achilles had spent one too many late nights at the gym, after sending the lad on his way. He’d kept himself too closed off, despite Patroclus’ best efforts to reach out to him. He couldn’t even be there for him when Patroclus lost a patient on the table. If the shoe were on the other foot, would he believe himself? Or would he trample on the fresh-cut roses he’d brought for his lover as he stormed out of the building, just as Patroclus had done?
Achilles turns to Nyx, tears streaming down his tired face. “P-Pat thinks I cheated on him.”
Nyx must’ve ascertained from the way Achilles’ features had twisted that there was more to the story than meets the eye, because her features soften as she comes to sit beside him on the couch. She is careful to keep a comfortable distance between them as she asks, “Would you like to talk about it?”
Achilles sniffles, “Yes? No? I don’t know…” He’s breathing hard, and Nyx begins to coach him to back him down from the brink of hyperventilation. “I-I lied to you. I know I shouldn’t have, but I-I just w-wasn’t ready to face Pat. I texted someone else. An old friend from high school—o-or, I thought she was a friend.”
“Okay…” Nyx nods. She doesn’t look pleased about the lie, but that is the least of her concerns at the moment.
“She came over to the gym a-and…” He stops there. Nyx waits for him to continue for some time. The tears continue to pour down his cheeks as he collects himself and continues shakily, “I wouldn’t… I only… I only wanted to talk to her. I never t-thought s-she’d… She was supposed to be m-my friend.”
Nyx’s face pinches as she asks, “Did she hurt you, Achilles?” Achilles stares at her for a moment, his entire body thrumming with anxious energy. Then, he shakes his head.
“Patroclus w-walked in before she…” He sucks in a deep breath, “And n-now he thinks t-that I…”
He wonders, idly, if there was any truth to what Deidamia had told him about Briseis and Patroclus. Could that be why she’d come out and told him that Patroclus had been speaking to a divorce lawyer? Could it be… that all of that had been less about attempting to fix their relationship, and more about trying to deepen the divide that’d already been forming between them? It hurts him to think of his friend like that—it hurts him to think of the woman that delivered both of their children like that, even more so. Even Achilles, in his fog-addled mind, can admit that the whole thing seems more than a little bit far-fetched. But then he remembers how Deidamia had pinned him down—a feat that never would’ve been possible before this debacle with his damned heal—and—
Depressed. Crippled. Alone.
Depressed. Crippled. Alone.
Depressed. Crippled. Alone.
He’d made himself putty in her hands. He’d told her everything that she needed to know to ensure that he would be completely at her mercy. He’d thought that she was his friend, and she’d taken advantage of that weakness to—He doesn’t even want to begin to think about what would’ve happened had Patroclus not come through the door when he had. If he hadn’t sat down on the couch… If he hadn’t asked her to come with him to the office downstairs… If he’d just texted Patroclus like he was supposed to… none of this would’ve happened. But perhaps, in a way… it was almost a blessing. So long as he continued to believe the lie about what happened here, he needn’t feel bad for leaving Achilles behind to pursue greener pastures.
If Achilles were a cheater, Patroclus wouldn’t have to worry about continually applying sealant to the seemingly never-ending cracks in his metaphorical cup.
If Achilles were a victim, on the other hand…
“…We need to go to the police station.” Nyx says, softly, firmly. “I know that this is difficult, but you need to make a statement while all of this is still fresh in your mind.”
She reaches for Achilles’ hand. He lets her take it, although it seems like he’ll yank it back from her at any second. “Please, don’t tell Patroclus.” His voice is scarcely above a whisper as he allows the older woman to lead him out of the office. “I-I don’t want him to…”
“Achilles, darling… none of this is your fault, do you understand me? You texted her with… well, I can’t say that you had the best of intentions, but you certainly didn’t ask for any of this to happen.” Her tone brokers no room for argument. Achilles hears her, but the words don’t truly register.
“I want nothing more than for Patroclus to be happy.” He says. “Even if that means he spends the rest of his life thinking that I’m the scum of the earth. I just…” and then he squeezes her hand so tightly, he can feel the bones grinding against one another, just beneath the surface of the skin.
“Achilles…?” Nyx’s concern is practically tangible.
“I think…” He swallows hard, “I think I need you to drive me to the crisis center—now.”
Chapter 15: The Day from Hell
TW: Mental Health Crisis, References to an Attempted Sexual Assault, Implied/Referenced Cheating (a brief date cut short). The tags have been updated accordingly. Please proceed with caution!
ETA: I love that this fic has opened the door to so much discourse, and that everyone has such strong opinions about the fic, wherever said opinions may lie. I welcome everyone's opinions of the storyline, the characters, and the writing down in the comments below--it really makes my day to hear from all of you! But please, if you're going to leave a comment, be respectful of me and your fellow readers. We are all entitled to our own opinions, whatever they may be.
Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the new chapter <3
The crisis center is a relatively new structure, added onto the rear of the hospital in 2015. Hera, the head crisis counselor, had petitioned to have it built after discovering that the nearest facility equipped to handle a mental health crisis was nearly an hour and a half drive from the center of town. The hospital, however, could be reached from any point in town in a little under fifteen minutes—twenty, at the height of rush hour. Nyx makes the drive from the strip mall to the hospital in a little under seven, breaking at least three different laws of the road in the process.
The other crisis counselor, Dr. Pythia, had attended school with the lad’s cousin, Apollo. They’d dated for a little less than six months, before Apollo had rediscovered his love of music and had become involved in the school’s world-renowned music program. It was there that he’d met Eumelia, his future wife. It was Achilles’ understanding that Zeus had been partial to Pythia, anxious to have another doctor in the family—Apollo’s choice to marry Eumelia, an elementary school music teacher, was seen as a personal slight. Achilles didn’t really understand the logic behind Zeus’ argument—and he didn’t need to understand, since his interactions with Apollo and Eumelia were relatively few and far between. Even more so, with Zeus. Pythia, on the other hand…
Dr. Pythia is a conventional beauty, with hair the color of fresh wheat done up in an elegant and sophisticated French twist. Her eyes are a peculiar shade of green, just a few shades lighter than a prime sample of moldavite. Her face is soft, with a bit of fat in the cheeks, and a straight nose resting above lips that’re neither too plump nor too thin. All in all, she looks much the same as she did when Achilles was last here, squeezing Patroclus’ hand so tight he could feel the bones shifting beneath his feathery-soft skin. He hadn’t known at the time whether he was clinging to Patroclus from fear of what the doctor might say, or as a means of coping with the pain radiating from his newly repaired heel. He realizes now, as he stares blankly at the paperwork he’s meant to fill out, that he still doesn’t know.
Patroclus is not here to hold his hand. Not this time. And while Nyx had driven him to the hospital… he’d asked that she wait for him outside while he spoke with the counselor. Even if he could use the emotional support, he couldn’t justify asking her to come into the center with him. He had suspected that he was undermedicated for some time, but he hadn’t mentioned it to Patroclus… or his therapist… or anyone, really. He’d thought… certainly, if it was that bad, someone would say something. Maybe he’d just been imagining how bad things had gotten—
But then… Nyx had shown up at the gym, and he’d realized that he’d lost almost nine hours and that… that couldn’t happen again. Not when he had two small children at home that relied on him. Not when Patroclus still needs him… if he even still needs him.
So, he fills out the forms, and he waits. He thinks about the birdhouse that Pyrrhus had made him, and how adorable Amaltheia had looked when he’d first laid eyes on her in the hospital. He wouldn’t say that he’s ‘ready’ when Dr. Pythia finally calls him back, but he’s determined. He’ll force the words out, even if he must choke on them first. He’ll lay everything bare before her, and he’ll ask for her help. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll be able to start to piece the shattered pieces of his cup back together. It won’t be perfect, but maybe he can hope for something close to whole.
If he cannot be the husband that Patroclus deserves, then he can at the very least try to be the father that his kids need. Patroclus may never forgive him for what he thinks happened in that office, and Achilles… well, Achilles is trying to make his peace with that. He reminds himself, firmly, that his perceived cheating provides Patroclus an out—
He took off his ring. He spoke to a divorce lawyer. He just needed that one, final push—
“Mr. Pelides?” Dr. Pythia motions to the couch opposite her, “Take a seat, if you would.”
“I think that you should close down the gym for a day or two.” Nyx says, as Achilles wrinkles the corners of his prescription. They’re on their way to the pharmacy to have Achilles’ new script filled. “I think it’ll be good for you, mentally and physically. At least until I’ve had a chance to go in and—”
Achilles’ eyes are focused on the doctor’s illegible script as he whispers, “Yeah, you’re… you’re probably right. It’s… nice to have something to take my mind off of things, but I think… I think being there will just make me feel worse.”
Nyx brings the car to a gentle stop, before activating her blinker. “Have you thought about where you’re going to stay?” He hadn’t, not really. Though, now that she mentions it, a hotel is likely his most promising option.
“A hotel, probably.” He’s exhausted—which would make sense, considering he hadn’t actually slept the night before. Even the simple act of stringing a handful of words together into a sentence is beginning to prove to be too much. “I have my credit cards, so I’m not really worried about the cost—”
“You could stay with us for a few days.” Nyx offers. Achilles’ eyes widen a little. “The triplets are off at college, so their room is available. It’s… admittedly a little cramped, what with three beds in there—but it’s actual mattresses in an air-conditioned room.” Achilles flinches a little. He knows that the conditions were less than ideal…
“It sounds like you’re making me an offer that I’d be a fool to refuse.” He cracks a small smile, and continues worrying the script in his hands. He really should stop before he accidentally tears it…
Nyx shakes her head. The car starts moving again, cutting the corner a little too sharply. “You misunderstand, Achilles. I may not be happy that you lied to me, but I will never force you to do something you’re not comfortable with.” She says. “If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, you’re more than welcome to do so. But you’re not—”
“Staying in the gym?” He finishes for her, his voice weak. “No, I’m not. Not anymore.”
There is an unspeakable pain in Nyx’s eyes as she asks, for the hundredth time, “Are you sure that you don’t want me to reach out to Patroclus for you?” It sounds like she wants to say more. Instead, she bites her tongue.
“There’s no point.” Achilles says. “It’s not like he’ll believe anything that I have to say, anyway.”
“Why don’t you allow Patroclus the chance to make up his own mind about what he does and doesn’t believe?” Nyx sighs, “That’s what I want to say, but… I understand where it is that you’re coming from, even if I don’t think that it’s right. So, I’ll hold my tongue, for now.” She says.
Achilles’ eyes widen a little, “Thank you, Nyx.” And then, a little quieter, “I… If it would really be alright, I think I… I think I would like to stay with you for a little while. It might be nice, to see a familiar face.”
After he’d been shot, the gym had become his refuge. Even if he could no longer serve, he could still oversee it’s day to day operation… and when he realized that there were some facets of the gym’s operation he could no longer handle alone, he hung a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window and, after nearly six weeks, received a single applicant: the lad. He’d worry that closing the gym indefinitely would put a hurting on the lad’s income, if he hadn’t already decided that he was going to continue to pay the lad while he was helping Thanatos to recover from his injury, regardless of whether he actually came into work. Even if Patroclus cut him off from their accounts, he still had the funds to do it… at least, for a little while.
And if not… well, there’s always his mother. Much as the idea of asking her for anything, in any capacity, absolutely horrifies and disgusts him… he’s also about ninety-nine percent certain that she’s just been waiting for him to come crawling back to her. Thetis had been so certain that Patroclus was bad for him, that Patroclus would end up hurting him somehow… it was almost ironic that, in the end, it was Achilles that had destroyed their relationship. Much like Icarus, he had flown too close to the sun… His wax wings had melted, causing him to plummet back down to Earth…
And that… that was just in reference to the lousy bullet that’d ruined his heel. That didn’t even begin to factor in the six months he’d spent withdrawing into his own personal hell, watching his relationship with Patroclus deteriorate by the second—each attempt to reach out, to connect, felt like he was putting his hand on the side of a screaming kettle to see if the metal was hot. They’d been together for years. All of this had been so easy weeks, months, years ago. So, why was it so hard for him now?
He began spending more time at the gym. It was easy to scrub down machines, to fold towels that were still warm from the dryer, to balance accounts… It was something he could do, whether or not he could still walk. And being a good husband, a good father… those, too, were things that weren’t reliant on his ability to walk.
He didn’t understand what made them so different. Maybe if he could just understand…
Nyx slides the script out of his hand. He looks up, to see that they’d pulled into the pharmacy drive-thru. Nyx handles everything, and after thanking the pharmacist, informs Achilles, “She said it’ll be about thirty minutes. Do you want to head to Starbucks? I’m sure they have something fruity and overpriced on the menu.”
“Don’t they always?” Nyx snorts. That is, indeed, true. He feels bad about taking up even more of her day than he already has, but a drink does sound nice. “I thought that we were going to the police station next.”
She hums, “Well… to be honest, I don’t know how long that will take. And I want to make sure that you have your medicine as soon as possible.” It’d never occurred to him that it might be a particularly lengthy experience… though it does make sense, now that she mentions it. “Besides… I think you may be dehydrated.”
“It’s the meds.” Achilles replies automatically. This isn’t the first time he’s had issues with dehydration since he started taking his antidepressants. “They make it easy to become dehydrated. Especially in heat like this.”
“And you’ve been sleeping in an unairconditioned basement?” She raises one thin eyebrow.
“It… admittedly wasn’t the best plan.” He also wasn’t in the best state of mind when he came up with it. Not that his current state of mind is much better… but the medicine will definitely help.
Nyx orders him a Trenta black tea, with a plethora of sweetener that Achilles has never heard of. She orders an iced Frappuccino for herself, with so many different ingredients that Achilles loses track after ‘caramel’. She also buys two ice cold water bottles, and shuts him down hard when he offers to pay. “It’s my treat.”
It reminds him so much of when he and Patroclus both rush to put their chip in the card reader before the other (and the one time Patroclus’ card snapped clean in half as a result), that he’s momentarily taken aback. “T-Thank you.”
“There’s no need to thank me, Achilles.” She says, pressing the plastic cup into his hand. “That’s what friends are for.” He takes a deep breath, considering the translucent liquid in the cup. The bitter cold emanating from the ice makes his hand ache. “Now, drink. I want that entire drink gone by the time we circle back to the pharmacy.”
Achilles’ eyes widen a little. That’s… a lot. Still, he knows that, if he does actually get dehydrated, he’ll start having auditory and visual hallucinations. And after everything else he’s endured in the last twenty-four hours, he would like to avoid that, if at all possible. “Yes, ma’am.”
And so, he drinks.
The officer that takes his statement is a kindly woman in her mid-thirties, who bears a little bit too close of a resemblance to Deidamia for comfort. His cellphone becomes evidence, as does the shirt on his back—thankfully, during the time that Achilles was in speaking with the crisis counselor, Nyx had gone back to the gym to get him a change of clothes. By the time they’d finished talking, the officer has at least three pages worth of notes on their discussion, as well as a full-recording. She tells him that there’s a chance he’ll be asked to come back down to the station to identify his attacker. And even if the idea of returning to this place, of being forced to go face-to-face with Deidamia again (even if it is through one-way glass), horrifies him, he still nods—
As he sits back down in the car, he takes stock of his emotions for the first time since… well, the first time in recent memory. He’d thought that the prospect of putting Deidamia behind bars would make him feel better, but… locking her away didn’t change what she’d done to him. It didn’t give him back what she’d taken from him.
Nyx moves to take his hand, nice and slow. Although he can see her coming from a mile off, he still jumps a little when her fingers brush over his, just so. He takes a moment to remind himself that this is Nyx. Nyx is his friend—the first person he’d told about Deidamia, the first person who’d listened. She wouldn’t hurt him.
But… hadn’t he thought that very same thing about Deidamia?
The ride to Nyx’s house is utterly silent. Nyx lives on the far side of town (technically, something like one-eighth of her property spilled over the border into the next town over, but that was neither here nor there), in a house that can only be described as a piece of art. What had started as a two bedroom, one bathroom house for her and her eldest, Charon, had gradually morphed into a five bedroom, three bathroom masterpiece. Each of the additions to the house have a different feel to them—the triplets’ bedroom is ensconced in white-washed brick, with thick lines of ivy twisting down the walls, while the twins’ bedroom (which had been repurposed into Hypnos and Megaera’s room) had dark wooden siding. Despite none of it matching, it somehow all seemed to work.
“Oh, and you don’t need to worry about Hypnos saying anything to Patroclus.” She says. It hadn’t even occurred to him that Hypnos and Patroclus worked at the same practice until then—”That boy is off in his own little world. It’ll take him a week to even notice that you’re here, at best.”
Achilles nods, his mind elsewhere as Nyx shepherds him inside the front door. The front hallway is lined with half-finished portraits, including one that stands out from the lot. “Is this… the piece that Patroclus commissioned?”
“Hmm?” Nyx turns, her brown eyes widening a little. “I’m so sorry. I’d… forgotten that I’d brought that home to work on.” When Achilles continues to stare at it, she confirms. “Yes, that’s Patroclus’ commission. He, um… Well, he’d realized that he didn’t actually have any pictures of you and Amaltheia together, so—”
“It’s… beautiful.” He breathes. You’d never be able to tell that Nyx hadn’t been working off of a photograph for him and Amaltheia. They looked so… natural. “Did he ever tell you… why he commissioned this?”
Nyx furrows her brows, “You mean, he didn’t talk to you about it?”
“We talked about it, once.” Achilles says. “My mind was… elsewhere at the time. But I remembered you mentioning the commission, and I was intrigued. He told me he didn’t want to talk about it, for fear of upsetting me.”
“Well, then maybe I shouldn’t…” she sinks her teeth into her bottom lip, taking a chunk out of her immaculate black lipstick. It’s clear she doesn’t want to upset him further after an already trying day, but… this has been eating at him for days, and the odds of him ever finding out the truth from Patroclus now are slim to none—
He decides to go with his gut, “Is it… for my mother.”
Nyx is silent for a long moment, before the dam inevitably breaks. “It… Yes, it is. Listen, I… I don’t have all of the details, but I know what it’s like to be estranged from your parent.” She runs her fingers through her hair, destroying her already incredibly messy bun. “He said that he wanted to show her just a glimpse of how happy you were, so…”
“How… happy?” Her word choice is rather… curious, considering he wouldn’t say that he’s felt happy since that bullet impaled his foot. “When did he commission this?”
“It’s… been awhile. At least a couple of months. I’ve had a massive backlog in commissions, otherwise I would’ve had it finished by now.” She says. “Why? What’s the matter…?”
“Nothing.” He shakes his head. He’s not quite used to not feeling his hair whip back and forth when he does so—
It’s just that… the reason that Patroclus didn’t have any pictures of Achilles and Amaltheia together was that Achilles spent the first weeks of Amaltheia’s life in the hospital. And after he’d been released, he’d become a master of sneakily excusing himself from photographs. The only explanation for this was that Patroclus had given Nyx a photo of Achilles and Pyrrhus together, and asked her to find a way to include Amaltheia. That’s not to say that Nyx hadn’t done a spectacular job, because she had. If he didn’t know any better, he would think that the picture that this was based off of had always included both children. It’s just… interesting. The fact that Patroclus wanted to send it to his mother, even more so.
It’s not like he had anything to prove to her. And it’s not like one little portrait would change her mind about him.
A portrait that he was absent from, interestingly enough…
“Would you like something to eat?” Nyx asks. He’s about to tell her that he’s not hungry, when he remembers that the last time he ate was breakfast the day before—and that’d been some Dunkin’ Donuts he’d ordered through GrubHub. It hadn’t been anything particularly substantial—or healthy.
“A sandwich, maybe?” He knows that she’s offering, but he still feels bad about imposing. “I… I really don’t think that I can keep too much down right now.”
“Half a sandwich, then. We’ll put the rest of it in the fridge for you to eat later.” She fixes him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sans crust. He wonders, absently, which one of her children doesn’t like crusts on their sandwiches…
He takes a deep breath, “And an apple, too? If you have one.” He tacks on, hurriedly. He is a guest in her house, after all, and the last thing he wants is for her to think that he’s being rude.
“I just so happen to have one here…” Nyx smiles, pulling a red delicious apple from a basket of produce on her island counter. She slices and cores it, and drizzles the individual pieces with a little bit of honey. Achilles has never had an apple served to him like that before… but he finds that he’s eager to try it.
It’s the first thing he tries when she hands him his plate a moment later. The honey compliments the subtle tang of the fruit, adding a bit more substance without being overwhelming (he’d tried apple slices and peanut butter, once—it hadn’t gone over well). “Thank you. For this and… well, for everything.”
She shakes her head, “I already told you, Achilles. That’s what friends are for.” Pushing the plate a little closer to him, she continues, “Now… after you’ve had your fill, I’m going to head over to the gym and gather up the rest of your stuff, okay? You’ll have the house to yourself for a bit—Meg and Hypnos won’t be back until much later.”
Achilles hates the way that his body tenses at the thought of being left alone, even if it’s just for the amount of time it takes for Nyx to drive to the gym and back. Even so, he steels his resolve. “Okay.”
If she notices the way that he starts to eat slower, she is merciful, and doesn’t mention it.
Achilles sprawls himself out on the couch and turns on the television. After a couple of minutes’ worth of channel-surfing, he settles on one of the cheesy romantic comedies that Patroclus so adores. The movie is already about halfway over, but the plot never really matters in this sort of film, anyway. It’s all so formulaic. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. Sure, different stories like to tweak the key plot points a bit, but all in all, every romantic comedy is essentially the same, reproduced with different faces and different names. Pulling the blanket off of the back of the couch (he thinks he remembers Nyx mentioning that one—or all—of the triplets liked to knit) and hunkers down to watch the last half of the film.
He’s not sure when he falls asleep, but he wakes to the sound of voices coming from Nyx’s front hallway. At first, he thinks that it’s Meg and Hypnos home early from work… but then he realizes that he recognizes one of the voices. It’s far too deep to belong to Hypnos, but it is also laden with a sense of… panic? Distress?
“I cannot believe that you went out with that scumbag.” Nyx hisses. It’s clear that she’s trying to keep her voice down, since she can hear the television playing in the living room.
“I… There’s nothing that I can say that’ll make that even remotely better, I know. But I left him to settle an almost four-hundred dollar bill, so…” there’s a pause, before he adds, “Theseus has expensive taste in wine.”
“Please tell me that you weren’t planning to—”
“Planning to what? Sleep with my boss? Never!” Despite the force behind Patroclus’ denial, Achilles’ chest is painfully tight. Yes, he’d heard his threat loud and clear, but he’d never actually thought he would go through with it. And certainly not so soon. “I was heartbroken, not vindictive. Never vindictive.”
“Still…” Nyx takes a deep breath, “You need to come clean about it. After you apologize for not listening to him in the first place.” Patroclus does not bend. He’s a braver man than most.
“I never intended to try and hide it from him.” There’s an emotion in his voice that Achilles can’t quite identify.
“Good,” Nyx says. “I’ll leave the two of you to talk, then. I’ve already contacted Meg and Hypnos—nobody should be coming through for the next little while. Talk to him. Help him to see that he’s not everything that that wretched bitch said. Help him to start to heal.”
He hears the door open… and close… and a few seconds later, her car start. And then, he and Patroclus are alone.
Chapter 16: One Missed Call
TW: Discussion of Cheating, Discussion of Sexual Assault. There are no new tags for this chapter. Please proceed with caution!
“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.