Patroclus wonders if the passing of time has always felt like this.
He falls back into the grass and listens to the soft trickle of the river, and feels that impossible breeze against his skin. He remembers the sun as well as anything, but it’s difficult to imagine when he can only stare up at all that empty white space. The silence, too, has become familiar with time, but he seems to have lost his place in it since hearing news of Achilles. The first few mentions of him had made him sick and mean with it, now it merely makes him dizzy. Something that reminds him a little of hope flutters in his chest every time he pretends to sleep.
It’s a day like this, like every other, that Patroclus is lay among all the grass with closed eyes, shifting only slightly when the door opens. The footsteps in the grass drag less than usual, and he can’t smell burning, but he smiles anyway against the backs of his eyelids. “You, again.”
Then, “Patroclus,” in a voice that sounds a little rough and all too familiar, even now, and Patroclus is sitting and blinking against the fake light, and Achilles is before him. Only, it can’t be Achilles, must be some cruel shade intent on messing with the part of his heart that remains here, with him. Nothing can be so simple, he thinks, ignoring that old Achilles that always insisted it could be.
He’s wary in spite of himself, but even that can’t hide the way his voice stutters, just so. “If you’re trying to-”
“It’s not a trick,” the shade says – shuts his mouth quick, before he can say anything else. Patroclus silently gets to his feet.
The shade before him is so golden, like that sun he could never quite picture, hair and skin and eyes so bright Patroclus can barely look as close as he needs to, just enough to confirm what he never thought would be true. But then there’s that little furrow of his brow, and the quirk of his lip that betrays his nervousness in a way that has always made Patroclus fall weak with adoration.
It hits him at last, steady like the tide, and Patroclus can’t believe he ever forgot what it feels like to worship.
“Oh. Oh,” he says, hands flitting across Achilles’ face, twitching at the warmth beneath his fingertips, “Achilles.” He feels hot tears against his skin, growing sticky in the happy creases of his cheeks. He’s breathless, babbling nonsense and endearments that had made him blush, once. “Achilles. Not even the gods know how much I’ve missed you.”
Achilles’ face is crumpled, all anguished and sweet and wrong, and Patroclus presses desperately against his cheeks, as though to force the lines away with his touch. “I never wanted to leave you,” Achilles gulps, stutters in that way he always used to hide, and Patroclus shakes his head once.
“Hush, now,” Achilles’ hands on his wrists, searing heat into his veins, “I know. I know.”
Achilles laughs wetly, and then Patroclus is pulled into his arms and away from soft grass, eyes closing as Achilles spins the very world around them.
“Achilles,” he scolds, oh so fondly, and laughs, “I think we’re a little too old for this now, are we not?”
“Not,” Achilles insists. He places him down, though, and presses into him tightly enough to hurt, voice all muffled and warm in his hair. “I’ll never tire of having you in my arms.”
Patroclus laughs, and it’s a soft little thing that he almost can’t bear to part with. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Believe me,” Achilles says, then he pulls back and those lines are gone, and his face is for a moment so youthful that Patroclus almost does. He feels his heart ache and ache for what they could have had, feels sickened, too, to his very core at the thought of sacrificing what they have now. “Believe me like you did, once.”
“I don’t think I ever stopped. How else could you be here before me?”
“Maybe I fought my way through all of Tartarus for you. Olympus too, gods and mortals and everything that lives. None of them would be able to keep me from you.”
The sudden flash of intensity reminds Patroclus of an Achilles that was alive, the one that he lost, and he does not want to think of something so dreadful in a place so lovely. Achilles eyes lower a few shades, as if he knows this. Patroclus runs his thumb across his cheek, watches as his eyes go soft, again.
“Turns out a few chores are all it takes to steal you from me, then?”
Achilles pouts, but the fire is gone. “You’re teasing me.”
“No,” Patroclus smiles, “I’m loving you.”
Achilles looks so struck, then, that Patroclus wonders if he is hurt. He falls to his knees, and Patroclus stumbles back a step in mortal panic. “Achilles-”
Achilles reaches for his hand, and then he’s pressing kisses to it endlessly, hard enough that Patroclus feels the ache of it. He feels his cheeks burn, wants to hide away, but to do so would be to part with the sight before him. He can’t stomach the thought of parting from Achilles again, even if for a moment, even to blink.
“I’m sorry,” Achilles moans, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, dearest. For this life and the last.” He stops his supplication then, momentarily, big, wet eyes shocking Patroclus to silence. “I don’t think I’ve ever done right by you, have I?”
Patroclus smiles sadly, careful fingers shaking against golden curls. “I don’t think the fates would have let you.”
“But they couldn’t have stopped me, either. If I was braver. You always were brave enough for the both of us.”
“Stop, don’t make me look down on you,” and now he’s pulling Achilles back to his feet, hands firm and demanding on his shoulders, “I don’t think that’s entirely true, either. I have never cared much for bravery. Just for you.”
Achilles lifts his hand to press another kiss to it, eyes shut as leans his face into Patroclus’ palm. He inhales once against it, and oh what a wonder it is to feel him breathe.
“I just – I have too many regrets. I can hardly bear them.”
“If I have one regret, it is that I couldn’t spend my last moments with you,” Patroclus tries, hoping the sickly sweetness will return the smile to Achilles’ face. Instead, he frowns, and Patroclus holds back a sigh.
“That regret is mine to keep.”
Patroclus waves him off, pushing hard at his shoulder. “Both of ours, then.” Achilles falls back a step at the force, and Patroclus watches the submission curiously. In their past life he would have grumbled, then grinned, those swift feet sweeping Patroclus off his own and back onto their bed. He’s lost some of his youthfulness, but Patroclus can’t help but marvel at the man standing before him.
“You sacrificed everything for me, in that moment. In my armour. And I let you go.” It’s that deprecation that he was always so fond of, a flash of stubbornness, and Patroclus feels at a loss.
“I didn’t sacrifice anything, knowingly at least.”
Achilles looks pained. “You did. Regardless, you still would have gone, had you have known.”
Patroclus leans in to press a kiss to Achilles’ forehead, and smiles against his skin when he feels him still beneath him. “Yes. For you, I would have.”
Achilles falls into him a step when he pulls back, as if chasing the heat. “I shouldn’t have let you,” he whispers. Patroclus smiles.
“You didn’t let me do anything. I chose to, and so I did.” Patroclus’ eyes lower then, and there’s a hint of nerves he thought he had forgotten, had left behind by the waves and the golden castle of their youth. Everything was so warm back then. “Though, this, you’ll have to allow me.”
And Patroclus is kissing him, clutching his face tightly, fingers curling just so at his ears and all that soft hair. Achilles arms settle against his lower back as though by instinct and Patroclus smiles into the kiss, feels a little thrill at the clumsy clack of Achilles’ teeth against his own. He can’t get enough of Achilles’ breath against his face, all that closeness he has been denied going to his head like ambrosia, sending him spiralling up into the clouds. Achilles’ hand sweeps around to his waist and flexes, and Patroclus thinks it must be muscle memory that has him stilling before Achilles’ fingers squeeze quick against him. Laughter bubbles from his lips, and he pulls back before Achilles can drink it up.
“You always loved to do that,” he says. He tucks Achilles’ hair behind his ear, and despairs when his eyes open and see the tears running down bronze cheeks. He wipes at them with his thumbs until the salt soaks into his skin. “Tears, Achilles! Ah, do you remember when I last cried before you, on earth? I looked like ‘a little girl clutching at her mother’s skirt’, is what I believe you said to me.”
Achilles smiles at that, at last, all wolfish, and Patroclus feels gentle relief.
“I don’t think I would say that to you.”
“Oh! That is convenient.” A pinch of a cheek until it’s pink and Achilles bats his hand away, cradles the fingers between his own.
“I think you would say that to me, though. That I could believe far more.”
“Hm. Yes. Maybe I would,” Patroclus relents, relishing in the way Achilles’ eyes sparkle at the victory. “You take even my words from me.”
He means it in jest, pinches Achilles cheek harder when he returns to all his intrinsic intensity.
“I’d take all of them if I could. I wish I could be the only one to hear you, and all your words were mine.”
Patroclus is sure enough that he’s joking, yet confident enough in Achilles’ every mood that he knows when he’s being truthful.
“You might be in luck. That is, unless that bush or that statue over there acquire the capacity to think.”
Achilles laughs loudly, and it echoes all around them. Patroclus understands him, suddenly, and wishes he could keep the sound forever. “You’re cruel to me, Patroclus.”
“Someone must be. You’ll get yourself killed, otherwise.” Achilles falls silent, and Patroclus vaguely curses his sharp tongue. “Hah. That was too harsh of me.”
Achilles sighs, “you’re right, though,” and Patroclus beams.
“I often am.” He barely parts with the words before Achilles’ lips are back on his own, soft and sweet like wine.
“To think, I had almost forgotten how difficult you can be.”
“If you forgot then I must surely try harder. You can teach me,” he teases, then gasps when Achilles ducks down to nip against the side of his throat.
“Right, right. I get it,” Achilles speaks against his neck, and Patroclus can feel the curve of his mouth. “You must persevere, since you’re the fool that’s doomed to love me.”
“And you me.”
Those teeth are white before him now, Achilles’ eyes bent into pretty crescents. “Yes. Always.”
Suddenly Patroclus can’t handle the pure, simple perfection of it all, and he pulls on Achilles’ beautiful green cloak until it creases between his fingers. He tackles him to the ground all at once, until Achilles is face first in the grass and his arm is pulled tight behind his back in a way that would’ve hurt, once.
“Oof – Patroclus!”
“Yes, dearest?” He’s on Achilles now, pressing quick little kisses all over his face and neck until he’s laughing again, his hands a weak defence before himself. Achilles allows the indignity for longer than Patroclus had expected, and then he lurches forward and presses Patroclus onto his back, hand against the back of his head before he lands in the soft grass. They roll in the green until they’re breathless and loose and their lips are sticky and pink, and Patroclus finally realises he has reached Elysium.
When they finally settle it is side by side, on their backs and heads tipped towards one another. Achilles’ eyes are gentle, and Patroclus shivers in the heat.
“I’ll love you until the gods die, and then for every day after that.”
“You shouldn’t say that here,” he scolds, and Achilles grins.
Patroclus can’t get enough of him, and pulls in close to kiss him hard, in the way he’s wanted to for an age. “Say it again.”
“I love you.”
“Again,” he says, “I love you,” he replies, and Patroclus rolls off of him before he loses the ability to breathe. He takes Achilles’ hand with him and presses sweet kisses to the loose fist. The knuckles aren’t bruised like they always used to be. Patroclus kisses harder.
When he looks over again Achilles is staring at him, and Patroclus feels liable to melt.
“I’d kill the gods for you,” he whispers, and Patroclus laughs and smiles up at all the pretty white space.
“I think I’d let you.”