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and you'll be the guest of my adoration

Chapter Text

"Achilles, you didn't."

This couldn’t be happening.

"I'm sorry, Pat. I'm so sorry."

"Call your grandmother and we'll sort it out," reasoned out Patroclus. There had to be a way around this.

"I can't."

"Why not?"

Achilles hesitated, biting his lip.

"She bought the tickets already."

“Already?!"

“We’re going tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow! What―“

"It seemed to be a spur of the moment thing for her. She was really excited,” continued Achilles, not seeming to notice that he had interrupted. Achilles was looking anywhere in the kitchen but at him, his green, catlike eyes dodging Patroclus’ disbelieving gaze. "She's like that, you know."

Patroclus groaned. He felt despair settle deep inside him as he stared at the forgotten groceries on the table. He should really put the milk in the fridge. But how could he when he had come home to this terrible news? When Achilles had done the unthinkable?

He breathed in, feeling a bit dizzy. They weren’t even in a relationship. They were only friends; best friends, yes, and quite close to each other, but still, just friends. There must be a god, he thought fazedly, who wanted to make his life a living hell. Who wanted him to go to Greece, face Achilles’ grandparents’ and tell them he was Achilles’ boyfriend.

He breathed out a defeated sigh.

"How did you tell her?"

"I didn't!" Achilles exclaimed heatedly, his eyes wild.

"Then where did she get the idea you and I were dating? What could make her think that?" Patroclus demanded, feeling like the world had tilted on his feet. He held the edge of the countertop to steady himself. A heat was overcoming his cheeks, from anger or embarrassment, he couldn’t guess. "Please enlighten me, I'd really like to know."

"Let's make things clear first," said Achilles in a strained voice. "It's not my fault.”

Patroclus barked out a laugh, his knuckles white. He was clenching too hard. ”I’ll be damned if it isn’t!"

Achilles scowled. “If you’ll just hear me out—“

“Fine! Fine.” Patroclus dropped his hands to his sides and exhaled steadily. He hoped that Achilles had a damn good explanation or he would have to dispose of a dead body soon. “Explain, then.”

"Well, we were Skyping," Achilles began, words chosen carefully, "Ander, I had a minor slip of the tongue." He licked his lips, and Patroclus’ eyes dropped down to look. His tongue darted out, coating them with a wet layer.

"Minor?"

A pause.

"I said we were living together."

Patroclus nodded. "Yeah." He shrugged. "We're flatmates. That's what we do."

"Well, I don't think the word 'flatmate' is in my grandmother’s vocabulary, since she thought we were living together. As―as boyfriends."

Patroclus gaped.

"She thinks we're taking this relationship seriously, because we've―"

"Moved in together," he finished the sentence with another groan. Shame rushed through him, the seriousness of the situation forming into something he could’t bear to deal with. He buried his face in his hands. "Why didn't you correct her?" he moaned through his fingers.

"I couldn't," Achilles said, just as upset. "She didn't even let me interrupt while she was rambling on about me finding true love. You should have seen it, she was practically jumping for joy." He sighed. "She bought the plane tickets there and then, showed me the online receipt and everything. I couldn't say no, Pat, not after she payed. I just couldn't. I'm sorry," he said again, shoulders slumping.

Seeing Achilles distressed, Patroclus knew, in that moment that he forgave him. But that didn’t stop him from being engulfed with anger that, before, had been but a mere spark. Now, he was consumed by it, ire threatening to eat him. He busied himself with putting away the groceries, in part to prevent him from acting rashly and also, to cool his burning cheeks as he placed a carton of milk inside the fridge.

This wasn't his fault. This wasn’t even Achilles’ fault. This wasn’t, in any way, any of their faults but something had placed them in this stupid situation and they had no way to get out of it. He took the cabbage from the kitchen table and angrily chucked it in the crisper as he thought of the unfairness of it all.

"I'm sorry," Achilles repeated. He could feel his eyes on him as he put the food in the fridge. "I'm really sorry."

He halted his actions, turning to face Achilles who was examining the bag of Japanese rice with alarming concentration.

"I know. Now, shut up. I'm going to do this for you without any complaints, you bastard."

Achilles lifted his eyes to meet his, disbelief evident in his face. "You will?"

"Well, I don't have much of a choice do I?" Patroclus answered with a half hearted grin. “Now, shut your mouth and help me put these away," he ordered, gesturing at the remaining food items on the table, to which Achilles obliged.

His head was finally calm when everything was in their proper place, having accepted his fate. He was just deciding to apologize for snapping at Achilles, when he was tackled in a neck breaking hug, his breath catching mid-inhale; Achilles’ strong arms were circled around Patroclus in a firm grip.

"Patroclus, thank you," Achilles murmured in his ear, drawing away so that he met sea green eyes. Their steadiness made Patroclus’ blush return, but for a different reason entirely. Warmth emanated from Achilles’ gaze, the corners of his eyes crinkled from unobscured delight.

Sooner than he’d liked, his friend stepped away, ruffling his hair and chuckling, and offered him a smile. A perfect smile, of course, because everything about Achilles was perfect. He couldn't believe he was doing it for this bastard.

Patroclus willed the redness to leave his cheeks and looked him square in the eye, letting out a steadying breath.

“I just have a few conditions.”

Achilles nodded. “Fair enough. Let’s hear it then.”

“You do the dishes for a month.”

Achilles mouth opened in protest, but catching his look, shut it quickly.

“And the laundry.”

“Christ, I―fine.”

They lapsed into silence. They were caught in a limbo, with the both of them not knowing what to say to the other, unable to develop the conversation further. Patroclus shifted his feet, looking at his friend expectantly, hoping for him to say something, a joke, a form of reassurance, anything; finally, Achilles cleared his throat and he let out an inward sigh of relief.

“Well, I'm going to―" Achilles said, jerking his thumb to the door. Patroclus nodded his assent. "I have a few errands to run.”

“You should start packing," Achilles added. “We have a plane to catch tomorrow.”

"Right," said Patroclus, because he couldn't think of anything more to say. He cleared his throat, surprised to find his voice rough.

Patting his pockets to check that his keys were there, Achilles strode over to the door, hand on the doorknob. But before leaving, he turned, facing him. Patroclus raised his eyebrows.

With a slight hesitance, Achilles said quietly, "You should tell Briseis."

Patroclus felt like he had been slapped in the face.

"She’ll be upset if she found out from other means that you became my fake boyfriend," he explained, as Patroclus stared back dumbly. "She is your girlfriend after all. I hope she’ll understand." And with that, he opened the door and walked out, shutting it with a final click.

Patroclus stood, still stunned.

He and Briseis had broken up weeks prior.

Achilles didn't know. Because Patroclus didn't tell him.

 

 

"Achilles."

"Mhm." Achilles was looking at his phone intently, tapping away at the screen. His friend had finished packing, finished running his errands and had inserted himself into Patroclus' room to pass judgment over the countless amount of summer clothing Patroclus was deciding on bringing. The man seemed to care too much about Patroclus' fashion sense, but Achilles claimed that he should look the part of a convincing boyfriend. And if he was to have a boyfriend, reasoned Achilles as Patroclus rolled his eyes, he had to be stylish. He just had to be.

"I―" Patroclus hesitated, but chose to hold himself back. His thoughts strayed to their earlier conversation about Briseis. He felt something settle inside him, and made up his mind; no, he shouldn’t tell him about her. It would be better if they kept their distance, setting a physical barrier between them. Even if that certain barrier was a person. They would know if they crossed the line; mental boundaries were necessary.

"What do we tell your grandparents about how we met?" he asked instead, shoving away the guilt threatening to creep up on him.

"Simple," said Achilles, still not tearing his eyes away from his phone. "Same story as how we did. Became friends, realized we were in love, moved in together, and voila, you have a convincing tale."

"And we realized we were in love—when exactly?"

At this, Achilles looked up, and Patroclus was probably imagining it, but his face had turned pinker.

"I don't know. You choose."

Patroclus hummed as he folded a shirt that had met Achilles’ standards, sorting through his memories, trying to unearth a particular time when he and Achilles had most enjoyed each other’s presence. As friends, of course. "Well, what angle do you want? Romantic and cheesy or plain and boring?"

He was given a shrug.

"Okay," Patroclus said, contemplating, placing the shirt neatly in his bag. “I would think, er, pub night. The one right after exams."

"We became flatmates shortly after that."

Patroclus nodded. "Exactly. Good time frame, good memory."

“Yes. It was."

The room felt warmer. Patroclus blamed it on the building's lack of air conditioning. He turned instead to scrutinize the piece of clothing he was holding and heard Achilles scoff.

Patroclus faced him. "What?"

"Please don't bring a Hawaiian shirt."

"I was looking at it. I wasn’t actually going to bring it," Patroclus insisted. Though he did consider it.

"Right," said Achilles, looking mockingly doubtful. Patroclus balled the shirt and threw it at him, but missed as Achilles dodged it with a grin.

Patroclus resumed packing as his friend continued to tap away at his phone, sometimes looking up to interject that a piece of clothing looked horrible, and sometimes giving a nod of approval, to which Patroclus would then include the piece in question in the duffel bag, tidily folded. Caught in a comfortable tranquility, they continued on like that, until the sky had turned an inky purple, and they decided to retire to bed, saying their “good night”s with a smile.

Maybe the trip wasn't going to be so bad after all.

Chapter Text

They were at the cusp of the grandest lie they would ever tell, the doorbell a few mere inches from Achilles' slender finger. It was the only barrier separating them from a sham. The oval button was staring at them blankly, offering no answers as to what lay beyond the door. Patroclus drew in a steady breath.

They had arrived in Santorini that morning, the plane ride uneventful, nothing to distract him from the fact that they were going to tell a lie, to play a great deception for Achilles’ grandparents. In the taxi ride, he could feel his and Achilles’ own jitters, both of them too nervous to say anything, too shaken from knowing what would transpire in the next few hours.

He noted that Achilles looked paler than usual, and he couldn't blame him. Patroclus himself felt a bit nauseous at the thought of what they were about to do. He swallowed, pushing away the guilt rising in his throat.

This was it. It was actually going to happen.

"Well, good luck to us," Patroclus said with an air of finality, feeling Achilles' unsteady anticipation. Achilles looked back at him again, paused, then opened his mouth.

"Are you sure―"

Patroclus fixed him with a look, prompting the other to lock his jaw back in place. "Yes. I'm sure."

Achilles set his jaw, then, with a deep breath that Patroclus also inwardly did, finally jabbed the button. Immediately, a loud buzz sounded; it reverberated through his very bones.

The few seconds of waiting was the most agonizing that Patroclus had ever gone through. His heart thudded in his throat, and he tried to swallow, hoping that it would quell its frantic beat. He turned his head to Achilles for assurance―who wasn't even looking at him. Instead, his friend was staring at the wall like a finely chiseled statue, unblinking.

Only a few seconds had elapsed, but it felt a like a lifetime. Then, Patroclus could hear the scuffle of feet, thumping out an even rhythm, approaching the door before coming to a halt. He shot Achilles another look as the lock turned, and was surprised to see him staring back, eyes wide. He looked like he was about to say something, but the door opened wide and something akin to a scream almost deafened his ears:

"AGORAKI MOU!"

A large woman came, catapulting out of the doorway, springing like a champagne cork from its bottle; she latched her flabby arms onto Achilles' taut frame. His surprised eyes met Patroclus', projecting a look that screamed help me and he had to bite down a laugh, he really did. The woman had him fully cocooned in her arms, wrapped around so tightly that Achilles barely tamped down a grunt. After a few seconds of a choking embrace in which Achilles looked to be turning blue and Patroclus was staring amusedly and helplessly, she loosened her grip, giving him a look of pure adoration. Patroclus felt as if he had stumbled into a scene―though amusing―too private, too sweet to witness.

"Handsomer than ever," she proclaimed loudly, in accented English. She tipped his face up with one hand. "Needs more food though." She tutted. "You are too thin."

"Yiayia, I'm a runner," Achilles interjected in a small voice.

"Still doesn't mean you should starve yourself!" she replied exasperatedly. It was then she turned her attention from him and, ultimately, to Patroclus. He felt fear settle in his stomach, and gulped. Shit.

"And this," she said, eyes bright, "This must be―"

"This is Patroclus," Achilles said in a rush. He strode over to him and clasped Patroclus' bunched up fist, slackening in Achilles' hand. Threading his fingers through Achilles’, he received an assuring squeeze. Achilles' grandmother smiled, eyes crinkling at the outer edges to form large crow's feet.

"He's my boyfriend," Achilles added with a confirming nod, as if he was reassuring himself, and Patroclus inwardly rolled his eyes. His grandmother's grin only grew wider.

"Mrs. Pelides, it's nice to meet you," Patroclus said, disentangling his fingers from Achilles'. Holding out his free hand, she took it, then pulled him in a warm embrace. She patted him on the back a few times before half-withdrawing; then receiving another smile, she waved them to the door, her hand still at Patroclus' waist.

"We must go inside," she insisted. "Pappou is waiting for you. He is very excited."

She led them into the open door, gently pushing him with her fingers on his back while Achilles followed close behind them. As the door clicked close, Patroclus saw they had stepped into a small, but quaint, sitting room, painted white like its exterior. A television set that seemed to be bought a few decades earlier was placed in the middle and a few chairs strewn around, but no sooner was he sinking in his surroundings, when Mrs. Pelides tutted and hooked her arm in his to quickly lead him to another room.

But it was not a room, rather, it was a hallway; here, Achilles' grandmother started to speak, her voice harsh, and pulling him (with a bit more force than necessary) towards a set of stairs: "It seems as if Pappou has disappeared. I told him to wait in the sitting room, but did he? Did he?"

She looked at them sternly, as if willing them to answer the question. Patroclus stared at her blankly. "No, he did not! He is always leaving and being busy… this is why it is good that you two are here, to keep me company. Now, how was your plane ride? It was okay? No pickpockets that took your valuables?"

Patroclus looked back, catching Achilles' eye, who grinned at him. "There are always pickpockets here," she continued, as they made their ascent up the stairway. "You must always be careful when going through Santorini, you never know…" She continued her chatter all the way up the stairs, her brash voice echoing in the halls, up until the last step, when she paused in her prattling, to regard the door tucked at her far left. She opened it and stood, a wide, mischievous grin on her face. Patroclus worried, not liking the looks of it.

"I will leave you boys to get settled then," she said. "I will find Pappou, and drag him here, all the way from the docks if he is there. We shall see you in the kitchen; Achilles will know the way." She made to take her leave, but halted for a second to add, “The room is soundproof." She winked, then left, descending down the stairs.

Patroclus did not realize his jaw had dropped open. Turning his gaze to Achilles, he was surprised to find his friend looking embarrassed, two bright spots of red high on his cheeks. Patroclus closed his gaping mouth, then cackled. "You're grandmother's quite―quite―"

He doubled up with laughter, not getting a chance to finish his sentence. Achilles pushed him roughly to the side and entered the room; he followed suit, bent up in his giggles. Still chortling, he laid his luggage next to Achilles', and coming up to gasp for some much needed air, found Achilles with a large scowl on his face.

Patroclus immediately stopped giggling.

"Do you want me to sleep on the floor or not?" Achilles asked very seriously, voice quiet. He regarded the lone queen-sized bed in the room.

Now, it was Patroclus' turn to frown. "On the floor? What are you talking about?"

"I thought maybe you'd want your own space to sleep," Achilles replied, shrugging, "I don’t know, if it's too small―"

"Achilles, stop it," Patroclus said. "There's more than enough room on the bed, and if you object, I'd think you'd be mad―here." He placed a pillow at the halfway point. "If you're so concerned for your fragile masculinity, here's a divider so that our bodies don't touch."

Achilles snorted. "I'm not concerned for my 'fragile masculinity', as you so elegantly put it. What I'm concerned for is that you might find my sleeping habits complicated. You know I sprawl."

Patroclus raised a concerned eyebrow. "Spit it out, Achilles."

Achilles deflated, and sighing, sat on the bed. “Fine. I’ll go ahead and admit it: I feel bad for sucking you into this. You’re doing all this for me; you’re lying, you’ve travelled here, you’re holding my goddamn hand like you’re actually my boyfriend, and I can’t—I don’t—“ He sighed, rubbing at his face in frustration. “Why are you so kind to me, Patroclus? Why are you so selfless?”

“Achilles.”

“What?”

Patroclus offered him a small smile. “You agreed to do the dishes for a month.”

Achilles barked out a laugh, then immediately scowled. “No, see? You’re just taking this situation lightly. I can’t fathom how you’re doing it. It doesn’t explain—“

Patroclus held up a finger, and Achilles abruptly closed his mouth, looking at him with rapt attention. “Achilles,” he started, knowing his speech would get long and drew in a slow breath. “You’re my friend. I would do anything for you. Anything.” He paused. Contemplated. “Well, maybe not everything since I sure as hell wouldn’t murder my mother for you, but that’s besides the point; you want to make your grandparents happy? We’ll make them happy. And if we have to pretend to ensure their happiness, well, that’s what we’ll do. Because I know, without a doubt, you’d do the same for me.”

“Patroclus—I—“ Achilles faltered, unable to grasp the words he wanted. “You’re—just—“

“I know.”

They became silent, their eyes finding each other. A beat. Achilles looked down and sheepishly smiled, as Patroclus experienced something warm stir in his chest. It was an unexplainable feeling, but he had encountered it before, he just couldn't place where. He cleared his throat, anticipating the sensation to vanish, but still, it lingered.

“We should get going,” Patroclus said, breaking the silence. Achilles eyes flitted to him and he nodded. “Care to lead me to the kitchen?”

“You know I’d do anything for you,” Achilles answered with a laugh, but Patroclus felt an underlying seriousness laced in his words. Patroclus turned to the open door, and hearing Achilles stand up, the wood panels creaking beneath his feet, stepped through.

It was show time.

Chapter Text

“Thank you, but it’s fine, Mrs. Pelides, I’ve had enough already,” Patroclus said, politely refusing the platter of moussaka offered to him.

“But, Patroclus you must eat some more, you are very thin like Achilles!”

“Oh, if you insist—“ he said, hoping his stomach had further space. He reached over and placed the smallest piece on his plate. The dish was delicious, the cheese melting in his mouth and the eggplant creamy and soft, but he had already gorged himself full.

They were seated in the kitchen, finishing their lunch, the clink of cutlery the only background to Achilles’ hums and his grandmother’s loud voice, that before, was asking Patroclus what he was doing in life—which he proudly answered: a physician in training at the hospital nearest them. The table was heavily laden with every kind of Greek food imaginable, all cooked with care and love that only a grandmother could do; it was the reason why Patroclus felt like he could burst at any moment, too filled up with good food.

Seated on Patroclus’ left was Achilles’ grandfather Pappou, eating his salad intently and listening silently in on their conversations. Earlier, when Patroclus and Achilles found the both of them, it was to a display of Achilles’ grandmother, her neat hair spilling out of its bun like an untamed hedge, scolding, very harshly, the calmly sitting old man who was looking on amusedly at the scene above him. When she saw Patroclus and Achilles framed by the doorway, hands linked, she immediately stopped her chiding mid sentence. The sitting man followed her gaze, a soft smile gracing his lips.

"Pappou!" Achilles had exclaimed, unclasping Patroclus' hand, which Achilles had insisted on holding earlier before going into the kitchen. The ancient man stood up and pulled Achilles into a hug. As they finished their embrace, Achilles put his arm on the old man’s shoulder.

Pappou murmured something quietly to his grandson, and Patroclus heard Achilles say, "Yes, he's fine. Dad's fine."

The old man said something again, lips moving just a fraction of an inch, eyeing Patroclus. Achilles' face turned red, and mumbled, "That's him."

Patroclus cleared his throat and, approaching, held out his hand to shake. "Hi, er, yes, you're Achilles' grandfather?"

The man nodded, his attention focused on him. Pappou looked at Patroclus' outstretched hand and took it. He shook it firmly.

"It's nice to meet you," said Patroclus, smiling. The old man smiled back, and pointed behind him to a table heavily laden with food. Patroclus could not believe his eyes; everything looked sumptuous, prawns vibrantly orange on the white china, pasta heaped like a bird's nest. There was an octopus salad, and a lasagna dish that made Patroclus mouth water just by looking at it. His stomach grumbled, and Achilles’ grandmother insisted that they all sit, giving Pappou the evil eye for the last time, and they tucked in, a cheerful conversation forming.

Which was why Patroclus was in his current predicament: nursing a food baby and forcing himself to gobble down the last bites on his plate. It was just too delicious.

“It seems Achilles has always been quiet about your relationship,” Mrs. Pelides suddenly remarked, as if thinking out loud.

Patroclus blinked. He glanced at Achilles, who had a determined set in his jaw.

“You have been together for so long, yet I had not heard,” she lamented a bit dramatically. “Have I not been comfortable to confide in Achilles? Have I not been a good yiayia?”

A look of genuine shock crossed Achilles’ face.

“Yiayia, no! I would never—“

“But I must know,” she interrupted, with a theatrical shake of her head. “How did my grandson meet a beautiful man like you, Patroclus?”

Patroclus almost choked on his mouthful of moussaka. He forced himself to swallow it down, throat feeling like sandpaper. How the hell do you respond to that? Blinking several times, he decided to just answer the question pointblank. “Er, it’s kind of complicated. We didn’t fall in love—“ he coughed lightly “—er, right away. We became friends first.”

Yiayia’s eyes widened. “It was not love at first sight?”

His hands were becoming slippery, nervousness settling in his chest. “No. No, it wasn’t.”

Patroclus could feel himself shaking. It was a relief, then, that Achilles came to his rescue, adding his part of the story. He was never more grateful for him. “Pat was actually the barista at the café I frequented,” Achilles explained, each word flowing out easily and naturally. He gave Patroclus a winning smile and he felt much calmer. “He makes great coffee.”

“You became friends from good coffee?” Yiayia asked, Pappou’s eyes shifted to Patroclus.

“Er, you could say that,” Patroclus answered, voice tense. “We also realized we were in the same lecture for one class.“

“Biology,” Achilles chuckled, tucking a stray golden curl behind his ear. “I was only taking it as an elective to graduate. Could never had passed without his help.” How was Achilles doing it? How was he staying composed despite lying to his own grandparents?

“So you did not start dating immediately,” stated Yiayia thoughtfully. Patroclus shook his head.

Yiayia’s lips formed an O of surprise. “Then when?”

Patroclus’ breath caught.

He had rehearsed this lie in his head a million times, but now, hearing it asked, it was clear that those rehearsals did not help him at all. It was entirely different when he was faced with the real thing. Achilles gave him a nod, a small assurance that, somehow, sparked courage in his heart.

Better just to get it over with.

“We kissed after playing in a pub trivia night.” Knowing that did not satisfy Achilles’ grandmother, he continued, willing his voice not to shake. “It was right after exams, and we were in a celebratory mood, so Achilles suggested we should go to a pub night he was invited to.

“Needless to say we won. It was my first time—beginner’s luck probably,” he justified with a nervous laugh. “Then after—we were heading home and it was snowing, hard, and he leaned in close and…”

Something was lodged in his throat. He couldn’t finish it.

“I kissed him,” Achilles murmured.

It almost felt like the truth. He remembered the fat snowflakes collecting in his hair like wisps of clouds, Achilles giggling as they slid through the slippery sidewalks, the first fall of snow creating a slick surface. Patroclus had felt giddy then, high from their triumph, his breath fogging in the chill. Achilles’ cheeks and nose were stained pink from the cold, and he was laughing, high and wild, green eyes bright.

It could have happened. The kiss could have happened.

“He's a good kisser,” Achilles remarked, rousing him from his thoughts. Patroclus stared down at his plate, willing the fire in his cheeks to settle down. Giving him a gentle pat on the back as Patroclus raised a spoonful of moussaka to his lips, Achilles continued. “And after that, we decided to move in together. It just felt right. Didn’t it, Pat?”

Looking up, he nodded in response. The gooey cheese seemed to have glued his mouth shut.

“I am glad.”

The words were spoken quietly by Pappou, whose eyes were twinkling. It had come as a surprise to Patroclus, what with the man’s silent nature, not expecting him to react to their tale.

“Achillakis has finally found someone worthy of him.”

If there was any way he could disappear on the spot, Patroclus hoped he could do it now.

“Pappou, you’re embarrassing him!” exclaimed Achilles, scandalized. He reached over to take Patroclus hand in his then, to Patroclus' horror, gave it a kiss. His hand tingled from the touch of his lips, Achilles’ breath caressing his skin. Patroclus stared, wide eyed, back at him.

Achilles finally released his hand, his own face burning from embarrassment, and it was practically godsend then, when Yiayia tutted and changed the topic to the town's comings and goings, probably satisfied with the information they had provided her of their supposed relationship. Patroclus felt relieved when she started to complain of the tourists, always in the back, in front of the house, and one time, even—she remarked with an exaggerated gasp—on top of the house, and she was tired because they only wanted to take a picture of the famous Oia sunset. His hands had altogether stopped sweating when she talked of their cuckolded neighbour and it was so obvious to everyone that she wondered how he didn't realize his wife was cheating on him with the bakery boy. When she had come to the subject of Deidamea, who was back in town, Patroclus had settled into a nervousness he could handle, feeling more at ease than before.

Beside him, however, Achilles visibly stiffened, his jaw working.

"Deidamea?" Achilles asked, the syllables slow and sure, each one slotting into its correct place. "Dei?"

"Oh, yes," Yiayia rambled on, not noticing Achilles' sudden change in demeanour. "She arrived yesterday. But you know the one who sells figs, do you remember him? He's now rich, after turning it into a business..."

He eyed Achilles, who was settling into his normal posture, continuing to listen to his grandmother's stories with a bored expression. It was probably nothing—most possibly, a past girlfriend with a messy breakup. Patroclus made a mental note to ask him later.

Finally, Yiayia jumped up. She seemed to have finished recounting the fig man's classic rags to riches story, and Patroclus let out a shaky exhale, skittishness returning.

“Since this is a special occasion, we should have a toast!”

Yiayia rummaged in the cupboards, emerging with four glasses and a bottle of wine. She poured them each a handful—Patroclus’ glass a bit more generous—and raised her drink in hand. They all followed suit, Pappou still quiet but smiling, Achilles—he now noticed—adopting the tense posture from before. Patroclus’ own hand was shaking.

“To Patroclus and Achilles; and to their love!”

He never wanted to be more drunk in his entire life.

 

 

"That went better than I thought," said Achilles, fluffing up his pillow, then settling with his book in hand. The room was dark, the only light on being the lamp, its hazy glow casting angled shadows in the gloom. Patroclus rubbed at his eyes, exhausted. He could sleep like a log.

They had stayed in the house for the whole day, enduring Achilles’ grandparents’ company for the entire time. After lunch, they had strayed to the garden, in which Pappou showed them the various flora he was cultivating. Patroclus had never seen someone speak of flowers and vegetables so excitedly. He also received a full tour of the house, Achilles’ hand at his waist, which he had to remind himself continuously was just for show.

The dinner was as full of gossip as lunch, provided generously by Achilles' grandmother; all the while, Pappou was quiet, only lighting up when the conversation had turned to gardening or fishing. Yiayia began randomly recommending romantic dinner spots, heavily suggesting to Achilles, with a knowing look on her face, where to showcase Patroclus on his arm. He blushed at the thought of it, then thinking back to the events at lunch, almost buried his face his pillow.

“Achilles, why did you kiss—“

“Look, I’m sorry about that." Achilles heaved a sigh. "I thought it was necessary for more physical contact, or else Yiayia would suspect something.”

Patroclus rubbed the back of his hand, where Achilles’ lips had been. “Er—thanks.”

Achilles laughed, turning a page. “You’re welcome.”

They stayed silent for a while, Achilles contently reading and him deep in thought. One question, however, seemed to itch in Patroclus' mind, nestled there since lunch, waiting to be answered, and he couldn't resist but ask the man beside him, who was closing his book, "So, er, who's Deidamea?"

The change in Achilles' expression shifted quickly. His relaxed face became blank, eyes inscrutable. Try as he might, Patroclus could not decipher anything in his features.

"A past girlfriend?" Patroclus chanced.

"Nothing of the sort.” Achilles fluffed his pillow. He stretched. Yawned. “Good night, Patroclus."

Achilles yanked the lamp's chain, enveloping the room in darkness.

Patroclus let the matter go. It was probably nothing.

Chapter Text

The house was deserted.

There was no one in sight. Descending the stairs, that was when Patroclus noticed the eery stillness; there were no clamour of plates, no blare of a television or even, the chatter of people. He chanced a peek in the living room to find it uninhabited, then sauntered to the kitchen. It was completely empty except for a ready made breakfast on the table: pancakes and a steaming cup of coffee. He sat, a bit tentatively, and eyed the platter. God, he was hungry.

Taking the fork, he started cutting the pancakes into bitesized pieces. He chewed, thinking where the others may be. Achilles was gone when he had woken up, the other side of the bed neatly made up. Achilles' grandmother was not in the house, as was his grandfather. It was as if, in the duration of his slumber, someone had turned the house upside down and discarded it inhabitants, leaving him to end up completely alone. Worried, he fished in his pocket for his phone, the SIM card they had bought yesterday from the airport already fitted in, and texted Achilles.

where are you???

He was down to his last bites—these pancakes were delicious—when the phone chimed. He felt relief, glancing over to find a message.

I left you a note didn’t you see it?

It chimed again.

I'm here fishing with Pappou. We're almost at the dock.

must've glanced over it. also which dock?

He shoved the last of the pancakes into his mouth as the phone alerted him of Achilles' answer.

:P Ammoudi. Yiayia would've told you anyway.

Patroclus furrowed his brow. His grandmother wasn't even here. Confused, he formulated his reply, tapping the screen.

actually your grandmother's no where to be found

What???? She said that she would stay in the house.

Patroclus looked at his surroundings, eyeing the open doorways.

no one's here. house is empty

He tapped his chin in thought as the phone chimed again.

She might be out who knows. Anyways I have to go now. Gotta gut some fish.

sounds fun. i'll keep an eye out for her. be down there in a bit.

See ya.

Patroclus put his phone back in his pocket, gulping the last amount of coffee in his cup. He had just stood up, carrying his plate with him, when he heard the back door open. He startled, finding Achilles' grandmother with grubby palms and a sun hat, face lighting up in a smile when she saw him.

"Good morning, Mrs. Pelides!" exclaimed Patroclus. He felt a wave of relief; she was there all along. "Where were you?"

"Good morning to you as well, Patroclus. I was gardening," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone. The garden. He inwardly cursed himself for forgetting to check it. Striding over to the sink, she put her dirtied palms under the tap. "I see you ate your breakfast," she said, nodding at the plate in his hands.

“Oh, yes.” He thanked her for the breakfast and she beamed, asking if it tasted good. “Of course. It was delicious,” Patroclus admitted. Really, it was. The pancakes were sweet, crisp and light, like a honey cloud.

"If you are wanting to know, Achilles is at Ammoudi harbour," she mentioned.

“Yes, he told me,” he replied, making his way to the sink. "I'm going to meet him afterwards."

Drying her hands, she turned to face him. “Just remember the pickpockets I had told you about…”

“Of course, Mrs. Pelides,” he answered as he settled the dishes in the basin. “I’ll be very careful.”

She tutted. “And none of that Mrs. Pelides! You are family now, Patroclus. You are part of Achilles’ life as much as ours. Call me Yiayia from now on.”

Patroclus blinked. “Well, all right then, Yiayia,” he replied, testing it out. Somehow, it felt right, felt correct.

Yiayia beamed back at him again and reached up, patting his cheek. “Ah, I am so glad Achillakis has found someone so handsome. Just the perfect match…”

He swallowed as she lowered her arm, and reached for the sponge to start on the dishes. No sooner did he touch it when a quick hand snatched it away from him. His eyes widened in alarm.

"Er, Mrs. Pel—Yiayia?" he said, a bit flummoxed at her act.

“No,” she harshly said. She put the sponge back in its respectful spot and gave him a contrastingly sweet smile. “You must go and meet Achilles. He must be very worried for you.”

"No, I'll do it—" he interjected weakly, stopping when she gave him a glare so stern that Patroclus internally cowered. "Er, yes."

He edged towards the doorway, hesitant. She shot him another severe look, so, quickly, he disappeared from her sight. Patroclus was out of the house in under thirty seconds, squinting in the sunlight as he strode out of the front door. Stopping by the shade, he extricated his phone from his pocket to text Achilles again.

found your grandmother

Patroclus proceeded to walked to the street's end, where a road intersected with it. He crossed the street, holding the phone in his hand and stopped again, this time to use Google Maps. The paths they took when they had arrived yesterday were unmemorable, and he could only recall sitting in the taxi before it dropped them off a nondescript side street. He was scrutinizing the directions when Achilles' message appeared at the top of the screen.

Where was she???

in the garden

He texted as he walked, sticking to road he was on.

Oh my God you had me worried.

sorry

she was a bit scary. went nuts when i offered to do the dishes

Well her kitchen is her domain.

Patroclus wound up in another street, wider and more populated. This was obviously the main road; a whole array of shops were situated there, an abundance of tourists admiring the displayed wares. He studied his map again, checking if he was on the right direction—he was—and kept at it until he eventually discovered the stone steps to the harbour.

In that exact moment, his phone chimed in his hand.

Are you coming down now?

Making his descent, Patroclus texted his response as he dodged the excrement of an unidentifiable animal. He was extremely glad that he decided to wear sneakers today.

yes i'm on my way

He added, sidestepping a particularly nasty looking pile.

sorry but i need you to stop texting me for a bit

Will do.

i just need to focus because these stairs are completely covered in shit

 

 

Patroclus was breathless—more than he liked to admit—by the time he disembarked from the last stair. Pausing for a rest, he absorbed his surroundings; it was as crowded as he thought it would be. Tourists bustled in the quay, chatting gaily as they strolled around, taking pictures in front of the boats. Some were even swimming, breaking the expanse of blue with their bright, sun-kissed skins. Others were jumping off a small cliff, laughing when they catapulted into the water. It looked to be fun—he'd like to do that one day, he'll ask Achilles—but he was a man on a mission.

Shielding his eyes from the sun, he began his search. Any sign of a glint of golden hair, wide, emerald eyes, a well defined jawline... there. Achilles stood out, looking like a god amongst mortals, his blonde curls shining in the sun as he unloaded something from the boat. To Patroclus' distaste, he could see that he was shirtless. Scanning the area, he found a small crowd of girls hanging close by, clearly ogling him. As expected.

He weaved through the crowd, but in his haste, bumped into a large, ruddy-faced man. Muttering an apology, he continued to walk, sliding past idle tourists, shouting fishermen, and laughing children, to clear the distance between them.

Finally, he was close enough to shout and be heard above the din.

"Achilles!"

Achilles turned abruptly around, confusion tainting his features. Patroclus could see his eyes browse the horde, then upon sighting him, broke out into a smile and waved him over.

"Pat!"

He swerved around an arguing wife and husband and stopped in front of him, grinning.

"Hi."

"Hi. How was fishing?"

Achilles was giving him a wide smile. "It was great. Let's chit chat later, I have some fish to put on land."

Achilles leapt onto the boat and urged him to enter the vessel. He followed, stepping onto the deck with measured strides. It was a small fishing boat, beaten up and rusty from years of use. As Achilles occupied himself with a cooler, he noticed Pappou near the deck's end, clamping shut an ice bin with his hands. Straightening up, the old man's eyes alighted on him and smiled as he caught his eye.

Patroclus greeted him. "Good morning, Mr. Pelides.”

The old man’s eyes crinkled. “Good morning.”

“I heard fishing went well."

Pappou nodded. "It did, very good."

Achilles passed between them then, muttering an 'excuse me' as he carried an ice cooler onto the quay. His muscles strained from the weight, showcasing them evidently in his bare costume; Patroclus found himself gawking at them. Hurriedly averting his eyes, Patroclus swallowed and focused his gaze on the coolers behind the old man, who was smiling serenely, not seeming to notice what had transpired.

"Looks like you've caught a lot of fish," he said, regarding the ice coolers behind him.

"Achilles' doing," said Pappou proudly, beaming at his grandson. Achilles smiled back, but frowned immediately upon hearing a laugh bubble from the cluster of girls behind him. "He is my lucky charm."

“And only if he was for me," Patroclus said, attempting some humour, and the old man laughed. They fell into an in depth conversation about fishing for a few minutes, Patroclus asking him what they caught and how long it took them to get such a large catch. After his questions were answered, Pappou dismissed himself politely and started busying himself with the remaining coolers.

"Really, Pat, you don't give me much credit."

He whirled around to find Achilles grinning at him. Still shirtless, of course. He felt a bit faint.

"What?"

"I'm your living lucky charm," said Achilles as Patroclus struggled to focus on his face and not at his abs.

"If you say so," he answered absently, roaming his eyes around the boat for any hint of a piece of clothing. He alighted upon a neatly folded shirt on the bench and grabbed it.

"Here," Patroclus said, tossing Achilles the white bundle of fabric.

Achilles caught it. "What do I do with this?" he asked, feigning confusion as his grin grew wider and more mischievous. Patroclus wanted to wipe it right off his face.

"Put it on."

"Am I distracting you?" Achilles asked, but he complied, pulling on the shirt. He was still grinning.

"No, you're distracting those girls over there," he said, pointing at the group behind him. Achilles followed his finger, a look of irritation overcoming features as he realized who it pointed at. Scowling at them, the clique, picking up on his directed attention, shot him coquettish looks. Patroclus raised an eyebrow.

"New fan club?" he queried, curious.

"I hope not," Achilles replied surlily. "They've been there since the start, before I even went fishing. That was six in the morning."

Patroclus attempted to maintain a straight face as he said, "Anything you'd hope for in your fans," which earned him a light punch on the shoulder. Rubbing the spot, he was about to state that what he did was rude when Pappou intercepted.

"Boys, I will be going," Pappou said, making his way past them while carrying two small coolers. "I have some business to do. You both can take the rest of the fish to the house."

He heard Achilles answer behind him. "We'll see you there, Pappou."

"See you, Mr. Pelides," said Patroclus. With a slight inclination of his head in a farewell, Achilles' grandfather disembarked from the boat and disappeared into the throng of people lounging by the dock. Patroclus wondered where his destination was; turning around he asked Achilles this.

"Local fish market," answered Achilles as he gave the boat a thorough once-over. Looking satisfied, he nodded his head at Patroclus. "Let's go."

They leapt off the boat and landed on the quay to find the two remaining ice coolers settled side by side. Picking them both up, he handed one to Patroclus, who staggered as the whole weight was redistributed to him.

"Jesus," Patroclus said, equally part-impressed and -disconcerted. "How much fish do you have in here?"

"Enough to feed a village," said Achilles, turning away. Patroclus didn't know if he was joking or not. "Come on."

They set off for the stairs, Patroclus sweating as he lugged the cooler to their destination. Achilles was a few metres ahead, walking with a lazy stride and carrying his as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Patroclus sneaked a look to his back, and what he saw immediately made him start running to Achilles in panic.

Clutching a stitch in his side as he fell into Achilles' step, Patroclus choked out, "Girls. Following us. Let's go."

He saw Achilles swivel his head to the right, as if his better judgement was not enough for him. With Achilles amping up his speed, he struggled to keep up, his calves burning and his arm feeling like it could not function for anything but carrying a goddamn cooler, and it offered no relief when they reached the bottom of the stairs, staring up into the stone steps that seemed to go on forever. Achilles had already set his foot on the first step when Patroclus grabbed his arm, pulling him back.

"I have an idea," he said a bit nervously. It was stupid, because, if he was being honest, it might not work. But hell, they were already playing as a couple, so why not?

"Well, my idea right now," Achilles panted, eyeing the girls who were closing the distance between them ever so gradually, "Is running away.”

"No." Patroclus looked back again and bit his lip. "Kiss me."

Achilles jaw dropped. "I'm sorry?"

"Kiss me on the cheek, you idiot," Patroclus said as he felt his face turn hot. This was a bad idea. Why did he suggest this? Why the hell did he think this would even work?

"Why would you think I'd do that?" asked Achilles, incredulous.

“Because you already kissed my hand. And I know you don’t want to run up all these stairs—“

"That," Achilles pointed out, “Was different. That was for my grandparents."

"Yes but—I really don’t want to go up—" This was pointless. He heaved an exasperated sigh. "—Okay, you know what? Never mind. It was a stupid idea anyways, come on. Let's go before—"

Achilles surged forward and pecked his cheek, lingering a bit so he could feel his breath on his skin. His cheek tingled where Achilles' lips had touched it, and Patroclus knew that if he glanced into a mirror, his face would be bright red. He looked to the stairs straight ahead, not daring to look at his friend, but was soon startled out of his shock and embarrassment when Achilles laughed.

Confused, Patroclus whirled around and was met with the sight of the girls, retreating. They had their heads together, engaged in conversation. No doubt to talk about what they had just witnessed.

He turned back to find Achilles doubled up with mirth.

"Oh my God, the looks on their faces," Achilles said, hooting with laughter. "That was the best thing I've seen in my life. If I could see that on other girls, I wouldn't mind kissing you again—"

Patroclus swore he was going to overheat. "Achilles," he said threateningly. But really, he was mortified.

"I know, I know," Achilles replied, waving a careless hand. "I was kidding. It's just a joke, Pat..."

They began their trek up the stairs, the ice box feeling relatively lighter in his hands as Achilles recounted, in alarmingly vivid detail, the expression on each of the girls' faces. Without a gang pursuing them, Patroclus felt much more at ease, focusing on his dust covered shoes while Achilles' descriptions buzzed in his ears. He felt his embarrassment gradually subside, because really, Achilles had explained it all: it was a mere prank. Patroclus' mortification was all but gone by the time Achilles had finished his own narrative of the girls, when the idiot decided to ask a horrible question:

"What if instead on the cheek, I kissed you on the lips?" Achilles asked, wiggling his eyebrows. "Can you even imagine what they would look like? It would be hysterical! God, I'm an idiot, I should have done that instead..."

Patroclus wanted to push him off into the caldera. Send him tumbling down. He really did. "Achilles, can you please stop?"

He knew he was only teasing him, but still; it rubbed him up the wrong way.

"Jeez, Pat, it’s just a—" Something flickered in Achilles' eyes. His features hardened. "Oh, right. Right. I totally forgot."

"What?"

"Nothing. Never mind."

Patroclus rolled his eyes, then almost rejoiced at the sight of them nearing the end of the steps. He hurried up the last five, not even caring for the faeces that were stuck to the bottom of his sneakers. It was great to be back on flatter ground. He waited for Achilles to leap off the last step, and when he did so, they continued their jaunt on the main road of Oia, but this time, in silence. Patroclus was retracing the steps he took before, and was about to turn a particular corner when Achilles tapped his shoulder.

"Not there," Achilles said. "I have a shortcut."

He led him further down the main street then into a smaller one, riddled with tiny shops and with relatively less tourists. It was then that Achilles broke the quiet.

"I forgot," he said. He looked ashamed.

Patroclus gave him a questioning look. "Forgot?"

"Briseis." The name sent a pang through Patroclus and he felt the guilt that was hidden away come to the surface. He had entirely forgotten about her.

"Ah," Patroclus said, because he could not think of anything more to say.

"I forgot that you can't take this lightly, like I can, since you're in a relationship," Achilles continued on, looking at the ground. "So, I'm sorry."

They ambled along as Patroclus thought of what he was going to reply. He swallowed.

It was wrong to lie. But he decided, however, to stick with his original plan. “Right, Briseis would be—er—yeah.”

Achilles nodded in understanding. They resumed their walk in silence, either one not uttering a single word. Patroclus felt uneasy. Why was he lying to him? Why was he keeping this information to himself?

It wasn’t as if Achilles would say anything, as if he would care. No doubt, he would just wave it off, give him a pat on the back, say Sorry mate and go on with his day. Simple. But some inscrutable force was stopping Patroclus, preventing him from saying the actual reason.

Maybe that the reason they broke up was because of him.

He shook his head—that was absurd—they were only friends. Achilles could never be thought of in that way.

He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he was taken aback when Achilles froze, stopping in the middle of the road. Finding his footing, Patroclus gave him a puzzled look.

"Shit."

Achilles was looking at something in the distance he could not see, his eyes wide, clearly alarmed. Deeply confused, all thoughts of Briseis disappeared and Patroclus scanned the road frantically, thinking back to what happened at the harbour.

"What? What is it? Is it the girls again?" There were no signs of them as he swept his eyes over the few bustling tourists and some very enthusiastic shopkeepers. "I don't see them."

Achilles startled out of his fixed state. Clamping his hand onto his arm, Achilles steered him into a nearby shop with the dullest exterior imaginable.

"Nothing to worry about," Achilles said feigning a soothing demeanour. He was looking distractedly to his back. "Let's take a rest. Why don't you look at the stuff over here?"

It was a souvenir shop, various trinkets displayed on dusty wooden tables. It looked empty of people. "Achilles, what is going on—?"

But Achilles was already turning away, the bell tinkling as he exited through the door. Inspecting the street, Achilles turned his head to one side then to another, inching away to lean on the shop's glass window when he finished.

Achilles was directly in front of him, a purposeful obscuration, like he did not want a particular someone to see Patroclus. Lowering the cooler to the ground, Patroclus frowned and tapped the glass, but Achilles was pretending to ignore him, reaching for a brochure on a stand to carelessly rifle through the pages. He was about to tap his finger on the glass again when an accented voice interrupted him.

"Can I help you with anything?"

He had caught the attention of the shopkeeper, who was staring at him with dull eyes; what with the store's unimpressive features and the lack of customers, she must be bored out of her mind. He almost felt sorry. Giving her a smile, he picked up a miniature amphora and pretended to look absorbed in it.

"No, I'm just looking, thank you," Patroclus said. With an uninterested nod, the shopkeeper meandered off into the shop's depths, leaving him alone. He glanced at the window. Achilles was still there, reading the brochure, trying to look covert as the few people in the street went on with their businesses.

Then a woman stopped. She caught the eye easily, with her long chestnut locks, her dainty nose and baby blue eyes. Her red lips formed what must have been Achilles' name; Patroclus could infer that Achilles was purposefully paying her no mind, continuing his scrutinization of the brochure's pages. The woman called again. This time, Achilles reluctantly raised a hand in greeting, then made his way to her. He had on a smile so forced that it hurt Patroclus just to look at it.  The two exchanged formalities, then the woman pointed at the grimy glass window; at Patroclus. He waved back cheerily, and putting the amphora back in its place, he lifted the cooler off the ground and made his way to the exit. He had no idea what was going on; there was an underlying horror in Achilles' face, disguised under that horrible smile. Approaching them, he found himself surrounded by the woman’s hug.

"I finally get to meet you!" she said, drawing back as her perfume tickled his nose. "Patroclus, right?"

He smiled and confirmed her with a nod. "Yes. It's nice to meet you as well, er...?" He drifted off for her to fill it with her name.

"Deidamea, or Dei for short," she introduced. His eyes widened, shock hitting him full force like a train at high speed.

Well, speak of the devil. He could feel Achilles shift beside him. "Oh."

“Now, don’t look so disappointed!" laughed Deidamea, giggles like tiny bells. “What has he been telling you about me?”

“Well, er.” Patroclus paused. “Nothing, actually,” he answered truthfully.

She pouted, her bottom lip jutting out. “That makes me more disappointed then. We go back a long way, so I assumed he would’ve said something.”

Something clicked in Patroclus' head then and he felt a heaviness settle in stomach. So, Achilles did lie about her last night. "Oh," he repeated, feeling stupid. "You've dated each other?" he asked. He tried to sound as nonchalant as possible.

To his surprise, Deidamea laughed again and shook her head. "Goodness, no. We're childhood friends, me and him. We've played together here in Oia during the summers."

Relief rushed through him when he heard the words. Then he pondered: why was he relieved exactly? Pushing away one explanation, he chose instead to scowl at Achilles. A childhood friend. “Right.”

Achilles gazed back at him in defiance, a stony look on his face. What the hell was he hiding? Why wasn’t he saying anything?

Deidamea butted in, probably sensing the tense atmosphere. “So, anyway, er, Patroclus, are you enjoying Santorini so far?”

He faced her, ignoring Achilles’ glower, then smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Very picturesque. Weather’s nice.”

“Ha! It’s always nice. It’s got it all. Weather, people, food. Especially the food. And, of course, the drinks!” She laughed. “You cannot forget that. And you know what kind of drinks I’m talking about,” she added with a knowing look on her face.

He chuckled. “Actually, I haven’t had the pleasure yet. Except for a glass of wine. I haven’t even had ouzo.”

“Oh, ouzo?” She wrinkled her nose. “I never liked it. I’m a Greek through and through, but a good shot of tequila is what I prefer.” She brightened. “Tell you what, we could do something tonight! Go to a bar. You can get your alcohol and I can learn more about you”—she pointed a manicured finger at him—“I’ve heard amazing things, Patroclus. Specifically, from Achilles’ yiayia.” She gave Achilles a wink. “And of course, me and Achilles need to catch up! What do you say?”

Patroclus found himself nodding.

"That's a great idea," he said, the same time Achilles replied, "We're busy."

There was beat of silence. Patroclus squinted back at Achilles.

Furrowing his brow, he started speaking, "I don't think—"

Achilles intercepted in a flash, "—that we'll be able to make it. We have something important coming up tonight, so our schedule for this evening is a bit filled up."

Deidamea nodded understandingly. "Okay. That's fine. We can do it another time."

She began rifling through her purse, alighting upon a pen. From a hidden notebook in her bag, she ripped up a piece of paper and started writing, using her palm as a flat surface. "Here's my number if you change your mind by any chance."

She handed the slip to Patroclus. He pocketed it immediately, and gave her a weak smile. "Thanks."

Achilles looked broodingly at the pair of them. "Well, we have to go," he announced. He drew attention to the ice bucket he was carrying. "Lunch is on the way."

Deidamea smiled, and drew back. “Of course. Don’t keep your grandparents waiting!” she said cheerfully. "It's nice to finally meet you, Patroclus. I'll see you both again soon!" She waved at them, then departed, walking in the opposite direction.

When she disappeared from their sight, her chestnut head vanishing around a corner, Patroclus looked at Achilles in disbelief. "Busy? We're not busy!"

Achilles began walking, the back of his shoulders tense. Patroclus caught up, falling into step beside him. "Yes, we are."

"You just said that so you could avoid her!" Patroclus said angrily. He thought of the night before, of Achilles’ blank expression at the mention of her name. "Is there some explanation to this?"

Achilles sighed. "No."

“So why didn't you tell me about her last night? I asked you!"

"She's not important."

"I’ll be damned if a childhood friend isn’t important,” Patroclus said, clenching his jaw.

Achilles sighed again, looking weary. “Okay, fine. I don’t like her. Done.”

“So? I do! She seems nice.”

Achilles stared up ahead. Patroclus, irritated, resolved something in heart, pieces locking in place. If Achilles didn’t want to tell him, he’ll get to the bottom of this himself. "I'm going," he said with an air of finality.

Achilles stopped in his tracks. His eyes were wide. "No, you're not."

Patroclus laughed without mirth, not stopping for Achilles. "You bet I am."

"Pat—"

"Stop acting like a jealous boyfriend and let me be."

That shut Achilles right up. They arrived at the house, the silence between them electric. He did not want Achilles in his sight. Opening the door, he placed the cooler in the kitchen, immediately straying to the hallway and bounding up the stairs to their room. He took his phone, angrily punching in the numbers on the slip of paper and waited, with bated breath, as the rings sounded through.

At last, a click. "Hello?"

"Hi Deidamea. It’s Patroclus, the one you met earlier." He clamped his eyes shut. Reminded himself that he still had to play his part. “Er, Achilles’ boyfriend?”

"Oh, hello Patroclus! That was surprisingly quick."

Opening his eyes, he laughed. "Yes, a bit."

He paused, contemplating what to say.

"So your thing is cancelled then," she asked in the few seconds of quiet.

"Erm, yes. But Achilles isn't going. I was wondering if we could still..."

"Why, of course! Here..."

And that was how he ended up with a time and an address to a night club.

 

 

It was nearing evening, the sky adopting the colour of a bruised, sickly purple. He had not seen Achilles since lunch, where they both gave glares at each other over the table, not speaking. Yiayia didn’t seem to notice their strained silence, continuing her stream of chatter, but Pappou had been giving them a few worried looks from the side.

Thankfully, Achilles left immediately after eating, leaving Patroclus space to breathe. He bided his time at the house, striking up a conversation with Achilles' grandmother in the kitchen while Pappou dozed in the living room. He told her why he was skipping dinner with them. It was met with a whoop of delight.

"Oh Deidamea! She is such a lovely girl," she said, looking positively gleeful.

"That's good to know, Mrs. Pelides," he said with a small smile.

"Patroclaki, what did I say about saying 'Mrs. Pelides'?" she tutted, wagging a disappointed finger at him. He seemed to have already gained the affection of Achilles' grandmother, what with her using the term of endearment. He didn’t really mind. "Do not use that. 'Yiayia', please."

"Sorry. I’m sorry about the dinner too, that I’ll be skipping it. But I promise I’ll make it up to you, Mrs. Pel—Yiayia.”

She waved a hand as if to say he need not worry. “You must have some fun. I’m very happy you are trying to get to know her. Deidamea, she is very nice. You will like her. She and Achilles were very close," Yiayia remarked with a small nod of her head. Then she regarded him carefully, a thoughtful look overcoming her features. "Is Achilles not coming?"

"Uh, about that," he said, a spark of anger going through him. "He doesn't really want to spend time with her."

She narrowed her eyes. "I'll give Achillakis a talk." Patroclus would rather not know what 'a talk' meant, but witnessing the scolding she gave Pappou was enough to give him an idea.

"Be safe in the streets," Yiayia added, reaching up and gently patting his cheek. "I do not know what Achillakis would do if something happened to you."

He grimaced inwardly. "I don't know either."

After, he went up to their room and started discarding pieces of clothing on the bed, a mountain of cloth seeming to rise from the mattress. At the time he found a decent looking shirt, the door opened. Patroclus’ eyes widened as he saw who it was, then pointedly ignored him, looking in his duffel bag for jeans.

The bed squeaked as Achilles sat on it. From his peripheries, he could see him snatch a shirt from the pile, holding it up for inspection.

“So are you planning to wear all of this or are you just undecided?“

Patroclus ignored the joke, and took out the desired jeans from the bag. Achilles sighed.

"Patroclus."

Patroclus raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry."

Pursing his lips, he nodded. "Okay."

"I shouldn't have acted that way. It was stupid of me."

“Okay,” he repeated.

Achilles delicately picked off a stray lint on his shirt. “I… I should’ve just told you who Deidamea was from the start.”

“So, why didn’t you?” he asked, accusatory tone.

“Because—“ Achilles made a noise of frustration, and a flare of annoyance went through Patroclus. “Just believe me when I say it’s not important, okay? Trust me. I made a mistake.”

“Fine,” Patroclus answered, voice hard. Why was Achilles being so difficult?

Achilles sighed. “Can we just put everything behind us? I just really want to enjoy this vacation with you.”

Somehow a certain stubbornness clung to Patroclus, making him utter a single word: “No.”

Achilles blinked. His perfect eyebrows furrowed. “What? I said I’m sorry. What more do you want?”

The anger that was building up inside him had reached its threshold, and he blew up.

“I want you not to keep things from me, Achilles!”

There was an uneasy silence.

“I’m not,” Achilles affirmed, breaking the quiet.

“You lied,” Patroclus said, seething.

“What do you mean?”

“You lied about her. About Deidamea.”

Achilles narrowed his eyes. He balled one of his shirts in his hands and let out a large exhale. “How the hell did I lie, Patroclus?”

“You said she wasn’t important.”

“Because she isn’t,” Achilles hissed. “I told you she isn’t.”

“Then why are you acting like this?” Patroclus countered, voice rising again. “Why are you acting like she is?”

He met Achilles’ steely gaze, the air between them thick; it was like you could choke on it.

“I’m doing everything for you,” Patroclus heard himself saying in the room’s strained atmosphere. “I’m faking our relationship, I’m faking how I feel about you. I’m putting everything on the line to help you. The least you could do is tell me what's going on.”

“I do tell you what’s going on, Patroclus.”

“No, you don’t! You’re keeping things from me and I don’t know why. You know what your grandmother said?” He stared back at Achilles. He could see a nerve in his jaw jump. “She said you were close, that you were both close as kids. Your grandmother likes her. Why didn't you tell me that?”

Achilles stayed silent and continued to regard him with a callous look, his jaw working.

And then Patroclus said them, the words uttered out of unrestrained fury. “I can still turn this around, Achilles. I can tell them. I can reveal everything.” He swallowed. “Remember that.”

Achilles stared at him. Patroclus stared right back. Hurt was forming in Achilles' eyes, and something else—fear.

Abruptly, Achilles stood up. He threw the shirt onto the bed. “Okay.” His voice was tight. “Do it then. You can do it anytime.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry I lied to you. I’m really sorry.” His voice wobbled.

Achilles made his way to the door. "Enjoy your night with Deidamea," he said brokenly, wrenching open the door and exiting with a resounding slam.

Patroclus deflated.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“Cheers!” shouted Deidamea over the din of the music, raising her shot glass in Patroclus’ direction. He mirrored her actions, his own glass spilling a bit—it was filled to the brim—then, with a deep breath, he gulped it down. The alcohol burned his throat, its taste strong and bitter, and Patroclus coughed as Deidamea laughed beside him, patting his back good-naturedly.

“You don’t drink much do you?”

“No,” Patroclus rasped, feeling like his throat was on fire.

The neon pink lighting washed out her pale skin as she grinned. “Then we’re gonna have some fun tonight!”

She urged the bartender to fill his shot glass again, and the man obliged, sliding the drink down the table to stop in front of him. Patroclus looked at it warily.

“Just another one,” he told her. She was still wearing her grin.

He downed the shot in one smooth motion, and somehow, it tasted better, the sting in his throat welcome. Warmth filled his chest, and rising to his feet, he had the sudden urge to do something, to move his body. The music was unrecognizable, but it was loud and the rhythm was easy to follow, the bass deep and catchy. Deidamea led him to the dance floor, moving her head to the beat, her hair swinging, her hips swaying sensuously.

As much as he enjoyed Deidamea’s company, Patroclus wished Achilles was here. Already, he felt constricted by the atmosphere, the crowd of bodies around him, hot and sweaty, the low ceiling, the alien coloured lights, the club music that seemed to come from his very core. If Achilles had come, the night would be lighter, brighter with his presence; he had an uncanny ability to turn any event charming and bearable. The bubble of guilt grew in his chest as Patroclus thought again of his parting words to Achilles—he had been running the scene nonstop in his mind during the taxi ride to Fira—and inwardly cursed himself for the umpteenth time: he shouldn’t have said that. He shouldn’t have threatened the state of their fake relationship for a girl. It was stupid of him to do so and what he had uttered was borne out of anger, out of malice.

Besides, Deidamea didn’t raise any red flags; she was just a childhood friend, nothing more, nothing less. When they had strolled around before entering the club, she had recounted bits of her youth for him, and Patroclus was amused by her interesting anecdotes—he had laughed his head off when she told him of the heinous fig incident in which Achilles was unwillingly involved. It wasn’t too hard to imagine a young Achilles tagging at her heels. Patroclus also learned she was currently studying in Athens, and would drop by Santorini from time to time. After all, it was only a short plane ride away and her father still lived here; and who couldn’t resist the pull of their childhood home?

It just baffled him as to why Achilles did not like her. From the hints in her stories, the two seemed to be close, with Achilles always seeming to make an appearance in her narrations; Deidamea spoke of him with an affection not unlike that of a sister of her brother. Patroclus had nothing to worry about in terms of romantic love between the two; a breakup was out of the question, so the cause for Achilles’ dislike for her was still, at the present moment, unknown. Perhaps he would never know.

Well, Achilles did say it wasn't important; Patroclus should trust him more. He thought back, feeling a stab of remorse. Would he honestly destroy every amount of hard work they put into this sham just so Achilles could reveal who Deidamea was? Disgust curled inside of him, and the wave of regret that followed wore him down, the pain of it stifling.

Deidamea tapped his shoulder. The back of his neck was damp, sweaty from dancing. “Wanna get another shot?” she shouted. Patroclus nodded. He really wouldn’t object to one.

Making their way back to the already familiar bar, she held up two fingers. The bartender readily filled two new glasses, then with a flourish, pushed the two drinks towards them. Patroclus raised his glass to her politely then swallowed it all, the pungent aroma hanging in his tongue. He turned to find Deidamea chugging hers like water, grinning back at him again afterwards.

“You’re getting used to it?” she asked.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Patroclus laughed, feeling hollow, and he signalled the bartender for another shot. He just wanted to forget what he said to Achilles. Erase the look Achilles gave him as Patroclus uttered the words. Like Patroclus would do that. Would break his trust.

The scrape of the glass on the wooden table was loud in his ears as the shot slid towards him. Taking it, Patroclus drank it all in one go.

 

 

“He’s really drunk, Achilles,” he heard Deidamea say.

“I figured that out for myself, thanks.” Achilles’ weary voice was instantly recognizable. When Patroclus had knocked on the door with Deidamea holding him up with some difficulty, Achilles had been the one to answer, his face tinged with surprise as he took in Patroclus’ state.

“I didn’t know he was such a lightweight…”

“He rarely drinks,” Achilles answered pointedly.

“Well, I’m sorry, all right! He just kept drinking and drinking and I didn’t know! He started crying in the taxi about some argument or the other; I couldn’t really distinguish what he was saying since it was all incoherent. I didn’t think he would react like this!”

He could feel Achilles bristle with anger. “Next time, Dei, watch him. Not everyone parties like you.” His voice was hard.

“Please, I’m really sorry! Just—just take care of him, all right? He sounded pretty heartbroken about what you and him argued about.”

“Fine, I will.” Achilles sounded defeated. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just—God, why did he have to do this?” A sigh. “Thanks for bringing him all the way here. I really appreciate it. Have a good night.”

“It’s no problem. Please take care.”

A door squeaked close and then there was silence. Patroclus could hear Achilles emit another sigh, then after a few seconds, his light footsteps creaked the wooden floor. They came to a halt in front of him, where Patroclus was currently curled up on the living room couch, feeling like everything was crashing down in his midst. Achilles leaned in and tapped his shoulder. Patroclus sniffled.

“Pat, are you all right?” His voice was gentle.

“Are you mad at me?”

“No. No, I’m not.”

Patroclus felt a sob well up in his throat. “You’re mad at me.”

“Oh my G—“ Achilles sighed. “I’m not.”

Patroclus started crying again then, the full waterworks acting up, and he couldn’t staunch the tears, try as he might. Achilles would never forgive him for what he said.

Achilles took the seat beside him. “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?” he asked, voice patient.

“Everything’s wrong,” Patroclus replied, sniffling. His bottom lip was trembling. “Everything’s—“ hiccup “—really, really wrong.”

“Deidamea told me you were crying for the whole taxi ride.”

Patroclus nodded. Because he was. He couldn’t stop thinking back to their argument and the look of hurt Achilles adopted as his words were released earlier that night, like a stinging whip, was enough to break his heart.

“Yeah,” he croaked. “I’m really, really sorry for what I said when we argued.”

“I know you are,” Achilles told him. He looked tired. “But it’s fine. Everything’s fine. Believe me.”

“But—but I betrayed you,” Patroclus whimpered. He wiped furiously at his tears.

Achilles was biting his lip. “You didn’t, Pat. Tell you what, do you want a hug? It looks like you need it.”

He didn’t even need to be asked. He collapsed into Achilles’ arms, burying his face in his neck. A whiff of Achilles’ shampoo lingered in his nose and he blurted out, voice heavy:

“Your hair smells good.”

Achilles snorted. “Thank you, Pat.” He drew away. “Come on, let’s go upstairs. You must be tired.”

Achilles took one of his arms and slung it around his neck. Patroclus’ tears were still flowing as he tightly held on to him; the support was nice, since there was a wooziness settling in his stomach and everything in his vision was askew, but it also ensured him that Achilles wouldn’t leave his sight.

When they arrived at the darkened hallway, he couldn’t help but blubber out another apology. Achilles turned to him and was about to reply when a voice came up beside them, startling them both.

"Is everything all right, boys?"

Patroclus quickly turned his his head; his vision tilted and he regretted even moving. It was Mrs. Pelides, looking at the both of them concernedly. A stream of conflicting emotions stirred up inside him, and he wanted to cry—so he kept crying.

Achilles gave his back a reassuring pat and faced Yiayia. "He just had too much to drink. I can handle him.”

“Are you sure, Achillakis?”

“Yeah, we’re fine. He’s fine. He just has too many feelings, I guess.”

Yiayia regarded them carefully.

“If you need any help…”

“Thank you, Yiayia, but it’s all right,” Achilles answered, a bit more firmly this time. “Good night.”

She paused, looking over them again for a few moments, then with a final nod and a good night of her own, she retreated back to the kitchen. With the two of them left alone, Patroclus sobbed harder, and Achilles drew away, holding his shoulders, to offer him a consoling look.

“Okay, Patroclus, we have to get up the stairs. It’s gonna be a bit difficult.” Then Achilles placed his arm on his neck again, more stable this time, making it so that his whole weight was supported.

Each step up the stairs was agonizing. His feet weren’t moving like he wanted them to, but Achilles’ small encouragements kept him going. When they arrived at the top, he crumpled in Achilles’ arms, and Achilles, holding up his body, dragged him to the bed, making him sit on the edge of the mattress.

Another wave of sadness crashed over him, and Patroclus hunched back, weeping. Achilles had leaned down and was tugging at his shoes.

“I never meant it,” he bawled. “I can’t believe I would say that.”

Achilles placed his shoes neatly by the bed and then sat with him, the mattress dipping under his weight. “Oh Patroclus, I know you didn’t.”

“Would you—would you even forgive me?” he asked through stuttered breaths, his voice heavy with mucous.

“I do, Patroclus,” Achilles told him, reaching up to wipe away his tears. Then he enclosed him in another hug. The hand patting his back was warm and assuring. “I do forgive you.”

They stayed like that for a while, Achilles’ hand still rubbing his back as he blubbered his apologies, blubbered his ‘sorry’s, with Achilles’ voice shushing him, telling him that he didn’t need to worry, didn't need to be sad. Patroclus' body was comfortable against his, and soon, his eyes became heavier and heavier; he was struggling to keep them open. Achilles’ shirt was stained with his tears, and Patroclus wanted to say sorry again for doing that, but he really wanted to lay down. Crying had made him exhausted.

“I’m tired,” he told him.

Achilles nodded. “Okay. Let’s get you to sleep.”

His friend helped him lay on the cool sheets, his hands warm and gentle. Patroclus’ cheeks were wet, and burying his face in the pillow, he felt the cloth dampen with his unwiped tears. Achilles was humming—it was something familiar, and his voice was soft—then exhaustion creeped up over Patroclus, slowly, and covered him in its blanket.

 

 

There was a pounding in Patroclus’ head.

No, that was wrong; a knife was repeatedly stabbing the front of his skull, and each plunge was an agonizing ache. In his throat, something was attempting to rise up, but he swallowed it down, tasting its unpleasantness.

He turned on his side. The sunlight painted his closed eyelids red. He groaned, feeling like shit.

“Shit,” Patroclus murmured.

Something shifted beside him.

“Good morning, sunshine.”

Patroclus pried his eyes open. In front of him, beyond the pillow divider, was Achilles, blonde curls splayed onto the pillow, holding up a book. He looked absorbed in his reading. Patroclus watched him for a few moments, before Achilles blinked and turned his gaze to him, green eyes steady.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like death,” Patroclus mumbled. He closed his eyes, relishing the darkness beneath his eyelids. His head was hurting too much.

“There’s some aspirin on the table. Better puke first before taking it.”

Patroclus tilted up his chin in a nod. “Thanks.”

His memory was cloudy. Everything was obscured in a fog, and Patroclus reached out, trying to grasp whatever came into his hands. The last event that he could recollect was crying in the taxi as Deidamea held him, but even that was covered in a faint haze. Nothing after that point remained—he couldn’t even recall what had transpired when he got back home. He did, however, remember burying his face into someone’s sweet smelling hair…

Patroclus opened his eyes again. He needed to pee. Throwing back the covers, he sat up, and carefully planted his feet on the ground. His legs wobbled when he stood, but he managed; Patroclus could feel Achilles’ eyes on him as he padded to the bathroom, closing the door behind him with a click. After relieving his bladder, he assessed his reflection. The area around his eyes were puffy, as if he had been crying, and his curly, brown hair was sticking up at odd angles. He patted down the cowlicks, turned on the tap and began splashing his face with water. It was cool and refreshing against his skin, and Patroclus felt at ease, the nausea quelled and the headache mildly improved, but not before being reminded of his predicament.

He still needed to apologize. It didn’t matter that Achilles seemed unfazed by what had happened last night; what Patroclus uttered at him was incredibly wrong. It was outrageous to threaten to expose their lie, breaking their deception into tiny, inscrutable pieces. He was disgusted at himself; it was one thing to want to know who that certain person in Achilles' life was, but holding his leverage over Achilles' head and dangling it like something precious and breakable if he let go? That was unfair. Patroclus couldn't fathom why he had even exploded in the first place when Achilles had clearly told him his relationship with Deidamea was none of his business.

Maybe it was because he was jealous.

Patroclus violently shut off the tap and that thought with it. A ridiculous notion. He opened the bathroom door, choosing to lay his eyes on the two white tablets and the glass of water on the tabletop instead of the man on the bed. It was better to wait before downing it—he was still feeling a bit queasy—then after a brief moment of silence, he made up his mind and faced Achilles.

“Achilles.”

Achilles lifted his head a tiny fraction to show that he was listening. Deep breath.

“I’m sorry.”

He wanted to take back everything he said.

Patroclus continued. “I shouldn’t have said what I said yesterday. I would never reveal the, ah, thing between us to your grandparents. I was really—“ He paused, thinking back to his thought in the bathroom, which he quickly banished. “I was really angry. I was so goddamn furious and it just blew out of me. But I realize now that what you and Deidamea had—whatever it is—is none of my business. And if you choose not to tell me that’s fine. Absolutely fine.”

Achilles closed his book with a snap. He was looking at the book cover, his eyes tracing the letters of the title, when he said, “I forgive you.”

Patroclus stared at him in stunned silence.

“What?”

Achilles sat up, his eyes finding his. “I said I forgive you.”

Patroclus blinked several times, trying to make sense of the situation. “Wh—that easily?”

Achilles looked up to the ceiling as if thinking, then he looked back to Patroclus, and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Yes.”

“Why?” God, he was confused as hell.

Achilles shrugged. “You cried about it.”

A sliver of memory suddenly pierced through Patroclus' thoughts, of him sobbing into someone’s arms and staining their shirt with his tears. Oh.

“Er—“

“You were really drunk. Deidamea dropped you off, and you were already crying, mind you, and when she left, you started crying harder about our argument. You said sorry. From what I saw on your face, it was genuine. It wasn’t hard to forgive you after that.”

Patroclus blinked again. “What?” It seemed he could only speak one syllable at a time. His headache wasn’t helping in any way, shape or form either but thankfully he found the words he was looking for. “I can’t remember that too well.”

Achilles snorted. “After the night you had? Yeah, I’d think so.”

“I didn’t vomit on you, did I?”

Achilles bit his lip. “No. Thank God you didn’t.”

Patroclus stared at the tablets for a few seconds, before he asked, experiencing a mix of bewilderment and curiosity, “What—what did I say?”

“You said sorry.”

“No,” he answered, frazzled, “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant—what exactly did I say?“

Achilles lifted an eyebrow. “Are you asking me to recount your pleasant night?”

“That would help,” Patroclus admitted. The gaps in his memory weren’t reassuring. “Yeah. My mind is failing me. I think I had too many drinks.”

Green eyes rolled back at him. “That is the understatement of the year, but fine. If you insist.” The book was dropped to Achilles’ side. “As I said, Deidamea came here with you, and you were already crying, but not too hard. Then you saw me, and just wailed like a baby. I took you in, had a chat with Dei and then—“

Patroclus couldn’t resist but interrupt. “Did your grandparents see me?”

“Yes. Yiayia did but—“

Fear gripped him. “What?!”

Achilles waved a dismissive hand. “It’s fine, you said—“

“Did I mention anything about our relationship?” Patroclus frantically interjected. He rubbed at his aching forehead. “Shit, if she found out, we’re dead meat.”

“Everything was under control,” Achilles reassured. “You didn’t mention anything. Not a lick.”

He huffed a mirthless laugh in return. Though he felt some relief, there was still a twinge of doubt. Who knows what else he could have said? “But after that argument, Achilles? I’d be surprised if I didn’t even talk about this.” He gestured between them.

“You didn’t,” Achilles answered, shaking his head. “I have complete trust in you. Even when drunk.”

Guilt came like a thunderbolt. And here was Achilles, still trusting him, despite what he had said last night. “You know I never meant it,” Patroclus told him. “I would never reveal anything to your grandparents just because you spited me.”

“I know that.” Achilles shifted his seat on the bed, then quirked his lips up in a smile. “Now can I continue on telling you your forgotten memories?”

Patroclus sighed. Then nodded. When Achilles had finished, he felt himself heating up. God, he was embarrassing; did he really tell Achilles his hair smelled good? That thought was only something Patroclus kept a secret, because his shampoo smelled nice. He stifled a groan.

“Why the hell did I even get drunk?” he muttered under his breath, chastising himself.

Achilles laughed. He felt himself turn redder. “Yeah, well, Deidamea’s the one to blame for that,” Achilles said. “If you hang out with her, you’re sure to get hammered.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” Achilles replied with a grin. “She invited me to a club once and I can’t even remember what I did there to this day. I woke up in the living room couch downstairs, passed out. And for some reason I was wearing eyeliner.”

Patroclus’ mind formed the image of a hungover Achilles with messy golden hair, curls ruffled, his green eyes bright against smouldering eye makeup. He swallowed. That thought wasn’t something he needed right now.

“Christ.”

“Yeah, Deidamea, she’s a party animal.”

The headache was still thudding at the back of his skull. Patroclus breathed in steady breaths, trying to ease the throbbing pain.

“Hey, take the aspirin, you’re scrunching up your face,” Achilles ordered.

With a sigh, Patroclus complied and reached for them, washing them down with the glass of water. The dryness of his parched throat was instantly cured, but it would take a few more minutes for the pills to work their magic. He met Achilles’ eyes again, feeling unease in his stomach, not from nausea, but from a terrible thought.

“What about your grandmother, Achilles?”

Achilles’ brows furrowed. “What about her?”

“What does she think about me now?” Patroclus asked, concerned. Though he didn’t say anything about their fake relationship, he still completely destroyed the impression of a devoted and caring boyfriend. “Arriving home drunk? She probably doesn’t like me anymore.”

“Don’t worry. She still loves you.”

“How do you know that?” he asked fiercely.

Achilles heaved an exasperated sigh. “Look, she adores you. You should have seen her spouting compliment after compliment during dinner last night—I even got scolded for not coming with you and Deidamea.” Patroclus was vaguely reminded of ‘the talk’ that Yiayia had mentioned the night before. “She loves you. You’re in the clear.”

Regret was still stirring inside of him. “I messed it up.”

Achilles shook his head amusedly. “You’re a drama queen. If you want to assure yourself about my grandmother, she’s downstairs. She even made you coffee for your hangover.”

He blinked. That wasn’t what he expected at all. “Oh.”

“Happy now?” asked Achilles, picking up his book to rifle carelessly through the pages.

He nodded. It was only a small assurance, but somehow it made him feel better.

“Yeah,” Patroclus agreed. “Yeah, I guess.”

“If you don’t have any more questions, your honour, can I read my book now? I really want to finish a chapter,” Achilles said, a flicker of annoyance on his face. But his tone contained a certain fondness.

“Yeah,” Patroclus said again.

He really did not expect his morning to turn out like this.

Chapter Text

“I hope you are all right, Patroclus,” said Yiayia as she handed him a steaming mug of coffee. Patroclus took it and cradled it in his hand, the porcelain warm against his palm. Sitting beside him on the kitchen table was Pappou, who gave him a warm smile before returning to his newspaper.

“I am, thank you,” Patroclus replied. The headache had subsided, and taking a sip, he found the drink to quell the nausea in his stomach. He felt at ease now that everything was settled—his hangover, his argument with Achilles, his uncertainty with Yiayia’s reaction—and resigned himself to accept that this day was working in his favour.

He took another sip of his drink. The coffee had the right amount of bitterness, and its temperature was hot but not so that it burnt his tongue; just the way he liked it. It seemed the Pelides family had a penchant for brewing good coffee; back home, he always forced Achilles to make their morning cup. Achilles complained, of course, but would comply anyways, serving the drink to him with a small smile.

“I am so glad you had spent time with Deidamea,” Yiayia prattled on, turning on the kitchen faucet. The gush of water was loud, but Yiayia’s voice was louder. “She is an interesting girl, no? Very beautiful too. When he was little, I had asked Achillakis if he liked her, but he said he was not interested.” She tutted. “He liked someone else better.”

Patroclus raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Yes,” she harrumphed. “It was the boy nearby…what was his name?” She turned to her husband, who looked up from his reading to give her a shrug. “Ah, yes!” Her eyes lit up. “Antilochus!”

Patroclus hid a smile behind his mug. “Never heard of him.”

“It was a small crush,” Yiayia told him, ferociously scrubbing at a pan. Pappou’s eyes twinkled as he returned to his newspaper. “I have not told Achillakis that I know this, so this is only a secret between us, yes?”

Patroclus nodded, settling the mug down on the table. “Understood.”

“I also have another secret for you,” she stated in hushed tones. He found himself leaning forward, despite her carrying voice. She paused for dramatic effect. Then: “We are having a surprise lunch with friends and family tomorrow!”

His eyebrows felt like it had shot up right off his hairline. Well, that was actually unexpected. “Oh. Wow.”

“Yes!” Yiayia exclaimed. The expression on her face was one of excitement. “I had been planning this since Achillakis had phoned, and I wanted to tell you very bad, and now is the right time!” She nodded, like she was telling herself she was correct in that respect. “I invited people, just a few, but they are very, very close people. They are wanting to know who Achilles has fallen in love with.”

It wasn’t a big deal—Patroclus had no qualms that acting for a few guests would be difficult. They had already put on a convincing front for Achilles’ grandparents and he had practically agreed to doing anything to please them; and that turned out well, didn’t it?

He forced a grin on his face. “That’s great, Yiayia. I can’t wait.”

“I cannot wait either,” she chirped. “But you must help me with the kitchen; it is going to be a big feast!”

“Of course,” Patroclus answered, lifting the cup to his lips to take another gulp. He’ll have to tell Achilles the news afterwards. He would probably be fine with with it.

Next to him, Pappou continued to read the newspaper with a smile on his face.

 

 

Achilles shot up on his feet.

“She—WHAT!?”

“Relax, Achilles. She said it was only a few people she invited,” Patroclus replied coolly. Achilles stared at him in shock. “Piece of cake. We’ll convince them easily.”

“No, no. You don’t understand,” Achilles said, beginning to pace the room as Patroclus followed his movements from his seat on the bed. “By a few she means many. I know this, Pat. She once invited the whole town to my tenth birthday when she said she asked only a few friends to come.” He halted his walking, then with a look of turmoil, flopped down face-first onto the bed, bouncing the mattress gently. Patroclus looked at his golden head, amused.

“Then it’s going to be easier,” Patroclus attested. “The more people, the less attention.”

Achilles’ muffled voice responded. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”

Patroclus chuckled and leaned towards the blonde mass of curls. He brought out his hand, then immediately withdrew it, confused by the urge. He clenched his fist. What was he doing?

“It’s tomorrow anyways,” Patroclus said, swallowing. His throat had suspiciously turned dry. “So we have plenty of time to plan out what we want them to see.”

Achilles shifted and peeked an eye from under his hair, the green of his irises startling Patroclus.

“We can continue on like this,” replied Achilles from the mattress. “Continue on acting like how we did for the past few days. Just don’t get drunk, of course.” Patroclus felt his cheeks flush, but Achilles gave him a half-hidden smile and he was reassured yet again; last night was nothing to worry about. “Unless you want to amp it up? I know we agreed to only hold hands, but we can get more physical if you want.”

“You don’t think we’re too physical?”

“No. I mean yes, it’s fine. But I was just suggesting.” Achilles rolled his eyes. “Christ, Pat, you never listen to what I—“ and then his whole sentence was swallowed up by a fit of giggles as Patroclus shoved his hands into the crook of Achilles’ neck, tickling him. Achilles fought back, of course, jabbing at Patroclus’ sides with his slender fingers. It had evolved into a wrestling match of sorts, with him ending up on top of Achilles, who was gasping with laughter as Patroclus whispered, triumphant, “That physical enough?”

When Achilles’ chuckles dwindled into silence, Patroclus only fully realized their proximity to one another. Achilles’ green eyes were so close that he could see the gold flecks on his irises and looking down, he found his lips slightly parted. Patroclus’ heart was thudding incessantly in his chest, so audible that he thought the other might hear it; he feared what might happen next, scared of what could occur. Then Achilles cleared his throat, and Patroclus quickly dismantled from his position, looking away. He felt a dash of embarrassment, and strangely, a need for more.

What the fuck was that?

“Like you said, it’s still tomorrow."

Patroclus turned. Achilles was still in the same position he left him, but his gaze was focused on the ceiling, seeming unperturbed by what transpired. Did Patroclus just hallucinate the whole thing?

“And we don’t have anything happening until then,” Achilles continued, like the moment before did not happen. “Do you want to do anything today?”

Patroclus stared. If Achilles didn’t acknowledge it, then he wasn’t about to complain; he would take this anytime over any strange awkwardness that could have occurred.

“The other day I saw some tourists cliff jumping,” he said instead.

Achilles let out a laugh, and Patroclus could not be happier to hear it. “I never took you for a daredevil, Pat.”

“I’m not,” Patroclus replied, failing to keep the smile from his lips.

Green eyes found his. “It’s decided then.” Achilles pulled himself up into a sitting position.

“Let’s go.”

 

 

“I will see you, boys!” Pappou shouted, waving a farewell to them as the boat sped away. They had departed to the side of a cliff, a stairway carved into the rock. When they arrived at the top, the ground had reasonably flattened, a stark contrast from the slippery and uneven stairs. A small church sat on the platform, the brightness of its white paint hard on Patroclus’ eyes. No one was in the vicinity but for them.

Achilles took note of this with a grin. “Looks like it’s our lucky day.”

Patroclus looked around nervously, biting his lip.

“Does it get crowded here often?”

“Sometimes,” Achilles answered. “Usually there’s one or two people hanging about here.”

“That’s great. Then no one can hear me scream as I fall to my death,” Patroclus deadpanned. Looking down at the waters stirring below him, he instantly regretted his decision of suggesting this activity. Maybe the church was there so he could pray for his safety. “Except you, of course.”

Achilles chuckled, placing his bag on a lone rock. “I’ve done this loads of times, you’ll be fine.”

Frantically edging away from the precipice, Patroclus thought of any consequences that could emerge. He could really die. He could hit his head on a rock and bleed to death. He could break his neck and drown. “Why did I even suggest this? Why the hell did I even—“

A scream caught in his throat as Achilles ran to the edge, jumped, then disappeared from his sight. A large splash sounded after a few seconds. He peeked over the rim to find Achilles‘ golden head emerge from the ocean’s clear depths, happily spouting out a fountain of water. He gave Patroclus a grin.

“Come on, Pat. The water’s cool and nice,” he yelled from below.

Patroclus gaped back at him. His heart felt like it had stopped. “Achilles, what the fuck!”

The idiot only laughed back.

“Oh fuck sake,” muttered Patroclus. He retreated, taking a few steps backwards, and broke into a jog. He leaped.

The few seconds before he hit the water was exhilarating, the air whistling in his ears, his stomach feeling like it had relocated from his body. Then, he was engulfed in it, time seeming to slow into a halt once he was under. Patroclus felt himself rise up, a human buoy, and he gasped as he broke the surface, air forcing itself into his lungs. When he had recovered, breathing in more even breaths, it felt like a huge weight had come off his shoulders.

He couldn’t stop grinning.

Achilles was a few meters ahead, swimming towards him with deft strokes, smile equally wide as his own.

“Holy shit,” Patroclus told him when he was close enough to hear.

“Yeah,” Achilles laughed, nodding his head in agreement. “I know.”

“Again?”

Achilles laughed once more, and despite the coolness of the sea, Patroclus’ body felt warm. “Look who’s talking now.”

Instinctively, Patroclus cupped his hands and splashed sea water into Achilles’ face.

Achilles stared back at him, blinking, the droplets clinging to his surprised features. A dangerous flash came over his eyes. His friend’s voice was low and ominous when he spoke.

“You’re going down, Menotiades.”

Patroclus’ eyes widened. Before he knew it, a wave of water obscured his vision, and he was left to blink out the droplets in his eyes and splash back, his hands relentlessly pushing water in Achilles’ direction. He was giggling, and he could also hear Achilles chuckling, and then they ceased, Patroclus holding up his arms in defeat. They were caught in a silent truce, and they exchanged glances, an understanding passing between them.

“First one there wins,” Achilles declared, starting to swim in the direction of the cliff. Patroclus began swimming towards the finish line as well, putting in the extended effort, even when he knew it was a lost cause.

Achilles, of course, won.

They dived for a couple times more, then laid on the nearby rocky beach to rest. The sun was high and a few people had found their secluded spot, so they decided to start heading back.

“Here,” Achilles said, handing him a towel from his bag. Patroclus took it with a murmur of thanks, drying himself as best as he could. Yells of delight were coming from the diving spot, and he whirled around to see one person jump off with a shrill scream. Patroclus felt a tap on his shoulder, and he turned again, to find Achilles holding up a shirt to him, which he accepted and pulled over his head in a swift motion.

Their shorts needed to dry, but they kept them on although they were soaked from their cliff diving endeavour. The sun would take care of it.

 

 

“Lunch?” Achilles asked, when they arrived at the main road.

“God, yes. I’m starving.”

“I know the perfect place.”

That perfect place was a small restaurant that sold gyros and souvlakia, where a horde of noisy people had amassed, the staff behind the counter shouting out orders in hoarse voices. Achilles stepped into the fray as Patroclus hung back from the long line, holding the bag which he insisted—with a bit of stubborness on Achilles part—on carrying. Finding a generally quiet spot, Patroclus placed the bag beneath him and sat on the whitewashed barrier, basking in the sunlight.

He looked out into the large expanse of the sea. The boats were but dots on the water, tiny dashes of paint on a blue canvas; maybe one of them was Pappou, waiting for a fish to take the bait, vessel bobbing gently with the undulations. Patroclus hoped he had as much luck as he did fishing yesterday with Achilles.

Through a break in the crowd of waiting people, Achilles finally emerged, holding a pair of water bottles and two paper wrapped packages from which a delicious smell was wafting from. Coming up to him, he placed a wrap in Patroclus’ hand and sat down beside him.

“Sorry that took so long,” he said with an apologetic smile. “The man in front of me couldn’t make up his mind.”

Patroclus held up a hand. “That’s fine.”

Immediately tearing through the paper, Achilles took a large bite out of his souvlaki, chewing thoughtfully. Patroclus unfolded the end of his gyro and took a tentative nibble. Satisfied, he bit a larger portion, the flavours surrounding his tongue. He didn’t realize that he was so hungry.

“You owe me three euros for this,” Achilles said, his mouth full.

“I’ll make sure not to forget, your highness,” Patroclus retorted.

After devouring their lunch, they strolled around the town, traipsing through the twisting streets, winding though the mix of stairs and small roads from which pastel coloured buildings enclosed around them. Achilles pointed out several sites to him (“That was where Yiayia and Pappou got married,” Achilles said, as they passed by a small, homely church.) and several shops (“They sell the best gelato here,” claimed Achilles, pausing in front of a small ice cream parlour. He eventually gave in to the temptation of buying a scoop, to Patroclus' amusement.). It was about an hour or so when they took a break, giving their tired feet a rest when Patroclus heard music ringing in his ears.

Two street musicians were playing a feisty beat, guitar-like instruments in tandem. The tune was something you could listen to for hours on end, and Achilles was sporting a smile, clearly enjoying it.

“They’re good,” Patroclus remarked, just so he could have something to say.

“They’re magnificent,” Achilles corrected, smiling back at him. He tapped his foot to the music. “I know this beat.”

“Yeah?” Patroclus asked, raising an eyebrow.

Achilles nodded, then with a smirk, stepped towards the musicians.

And before he could blink, Achilles was moving his body, his footwork elaborate, arms held out. His movements were mesmerizing, and try as he might, Patroclus could not tear his eyes away. He vaguely registered that a crowd of people had gathered around him; and how could they not when Achilles was captivating, his body enchanting? Each step had a purpose, the tiniest movement a hidden intention, and when Achilles had finished, bowing, to rounds of applause, Patroclus did not realize he had been holding his breath. His feet automatically moved from under him, taking him to stand right in front of Achilles, to stare at him in wonder.

“That was…” He swallowed. “Amazing.”

Achilles tucked a golden curl behind his ear, and smiled bashfully. “With fifteen years of dance lessons, it has to be.”

Patroclus stuck out his tongue, but couldn’t resist the grin threatening to split his face. “You never stop being a show off, though.”

“It’s in my blood,” Achilles agreed. Patroclus laughed.

They reached the house and was met with a loud greeting from Yiayia, who welcomed them from her perch on the couch, watching an obscure television drama. They returned her hello, leaving her to watch her show in peace, and headed up to their room, their voices bouncing through the stone walls as they chatted. Patroclus ended up laying on the bed the moment they arrived at their bedroom, remarking about the sights they had seen as Achilles answered in kind, searching for clothes in his suitcase. The room smelled of the sea, what with their sun dried shorts still on, and their conversation was halted as Achilles excused himself to the bathroom.

He had opened the door, just about to step in, when Patroclus opened his mouth.

“Achilles.”

He did not know why he said his name. Achilles snapped his head to the side, attention directed to him. Then Patroclus said, heart thudding, “I really enjoyed today.”

Achilles smiled softly. “Me too.” And he stepped in, quietly shutting the door with a final click.

Patroclus breathed deeply. Turning over to face the ceiling, he examined the day’s events. It was like any other day he spent with Achilles, but for some reason, it was shrouded in a different light, in an entirely different aura. He heard the shower run, and in the background, Achilles humming softly. Patroclus felt himself being ensconced in a warmth, as if the sun was shining down on him.

A niggling suspicion rooted itself into his thoughts: this feeling, it was the same feeling that had manifested when he thought he was in love with Briseis, when she did something particularly endearing. Cheeks flushed, he thought back to Achilles: his grin as Patroclus came up from the water, having jumped from the cliff. The determined set in his mouth as he moved his body alluringly to the street musicians’ tune. His bright eyes as he pointed out an obscure ice cream flavour, wondering what it would taste like.

Patroclus denied it. It was absurd. They were only friends. Achilles could never be thought of in that way.

He was not attracted to him. So this feeling, this awareness, did not reveal any intention, hidden or not.

No.

He was not in love with Achilles.

Chapter Text

“Looks delicious,” Achilles said, sounding impressed as he looked down at the banquet table, each dish plated like it had come from a five star Greek restaurant. The garden was empty except for the two of them, plastic tables and chairs awaiting their guests. “You know, I never really did appreciate your cooking back home.”

“If it takes you a paid vacation and a fake relationship to admit my cooking is good, I don’t know how we’ll be friends after this,” Patroclus retorted.

Achilles settled the plates onto the table, cutlery tinkling onto the porcelain as he lowered them. He gave him a childish pout, and Patroclus couldn’t help but grin at the idiot.  “Jeez, Pat. That was harsh.”

Patroclus snorted. “Right. Anyway, I did only make a few of the dishes. Your yiayia cooked most of them, and I just followed her instructions.”

“They still look very good."

“Thanks.” Patroclus ran a hand through his hair. He gave a weary sigh, trepidation creating a knot in his stomach as he thought of the lunch party that was about to happen in less than half an hour. “Are you nervous?”

Achilles was biting the inside of his cheek. “A bit.”

“It’s going to be fine,” he said, though it felt like he was telling that more to himself. “Remember to hold my hand. And kiss my cheek.”

“We’ve gone over this a thousand times, Pat,” Achilles replied, which was the truth. They had been mulling over their tactics since last night, thinking up ideas of what to do in front of the guests to make their relationship all the more convincing. “I think we should just—enjoy ourselves.”

Patroclus bit his lip. “You're right."

A loud voice suddenly resonated through the garden and Patroclus almost jumped out of his skin. Achilles’ eyes were wide as saucers, a hand held over his chest; he settled, shoulders relaxing as a melody began. Patroclus pointed his gaze to the source of the noise; the large box speaker near the garden entrance played on, a man crooning in a deep voice.

Achilles chuckled and dropped his hand. “Yiayia should give us more warning when she’s testing out the equipment,” he said.

Patroclus let out a steady exhale. “You’re telling me.”

They were silent, listening to the music and entranced by the man's low voice sweeping through the space.

“Mhm,” Achilles said, after a while. The music was still going.

“What?”

Achilles grinned. Then he held out his hand, bowing down in a mock curtsy. “May I have the pleasure of dancing with the second most handsome man in the room?”

“There’s only the two of us here.”

“Exactly.”

Patroclus rolled his eyes. “God, you’re so arrogant.”

"Hey, I called you the second most handsome." 

The hand was still held out, palm outwards. Patroclus regarded it with raised eyebrows, the wide grin still on Achilles’ face. “You’re really serious aren’t you?”

He took it anyways. 

Achilles pulled him close, his palm warm in his, placing his right hand on Patroclus' waist. The fingers on Achilles’ left were calloused, as Patroclus expected it to be. They soared through the clearing of the garden, feet padding on the rock embedded floor. Patroclus let out a surprised laugh when Achilles dipped him, then he lifted him up, slowly, and allowed him a twirl. Patroclus chuckled.

“I would never have thought I’d be dancing with you in your grandparents’ garden,” he murmured. “But here I am.”

Achilles lead them to the middle of the clearing, his body against his. The press of his chest was comfortable.

“Life is full of surprises,” Achilles replied quietly. “I didn’t even think we’d be friends.”

Patroclus drew back and stared at him.

“Really?”

He could see Achilles swallow. “Yeah. Remember when we officially met? You—you intimidated me at first. Well, you were the smartest in our class, so.” Achilles breathed out. “And seeing you working in the coffee shop, asking for your help—it must have been luck.” He chuckled. “I can’t believe it’s been years. Since we’ve been friends.”

“Yeah,” Patroclus said. He could still remember it, clear as day. Achilles striding in, asking for a medium cappuccino, telling him he recognized him from biology class. He was holding up the line, and Patroclus remembered the customers waiting, irritated, behind him. Patroclus had felt that pull, that need to keep talking to him; he found himself delightedly surprised when Achilles asked for his studying assistance. “Never would have guessed it.”

Achilles snorted, feeling the burst of air on his cheek. “The frat boy and the doctor-in-the-making became friends? And are currently in a fake relationship?” he scoffed as they swayed to the music. “Shouldn’t have happened.”

“Well, when you put it like that, it sounds… terrible.”

Achilles chuckled. “I guess so.”

God, they’ve been through so much. From the start of university to their graduation, to Patroclus’ venture into med school and Achilles’ gigs, playing guitar. It was like they could go through any stage in life, and they would be all right; they would still remain friends.

“I just can’t believe you stuck with me.”

“I can’t believe it either,” Patroclus joked. “I think I was forced.”

Achilles pouted again. “Come on. You didn't stay because of my dazzling personality? Not even my devilishly good looks?”

Patroclus huffed out a laugh. “Sure, Pelides.”

The music faded off and they stopped, Achilles releasing his grip. Their hands slid away; Patroclus felt empty without his touch, craving the warmth against his skin. They stood a meter apart from each other.

“Patroclus.”

Patroclus looked at him. Achilles had a small smile on his face.

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad that it’s you.”

Patroclus stared at him for a few moments, unable to formulate a reply.

“I’m glad I get to spend this time with you. Here. Meeting my grandparents,” Achilles continued. He paused. “You know—I haven’t told you this—but I haven’t been here for a while.”

Patroclus furrowed his brow. “What?”

“This is the first time in years since I’ve been back. And seeing my grandparents really happy with all of it…” Achilles’ eyes flitted down. “I wouldn’t have asked for anyone else.”

Patroclus blinked, Achilles holding all of his attention, standing there with a serious expression on his face.

“So, I wanted to thank you,” Achilles went on, gaze lifting to his.

“We’ve already been through this.”

“I know,” Achilles said, one corner of his mouth lifting. “But I just wanted to say that you’ve been doing a lot, I know, and your effort isn’t being overlooked.”

Patroclus felt touched. “Hey.” He clasped Achilles shoulder, and gave him a warm smile. “You’re one of my closest friends.”

Achilles smiled back. There was a hint of sadness to it but then Patroclus blinked and it was gone. He probably just imagined it.

Suddenly, an unpleasant buzz emitted from the entrance of the house, their heads snapping up to the direction of doorway. They looked at each other, eyes wide.  Anxiety rolled in Patroclus’ stomach. 

He dropped his hand from Achilles’ shoulder. 

“I guess those are the guests.”

"They're early," Achilles noted.

“Achillakis!” Yiayia shouted from the inside of the house. Her voice was startlingly loud even when obstructed by a barrier. “The guests are here!”

“Coming,” Achilles yelled back. Patroclus' stomach was now in knots, twisting unpleasantly.

Achilles looked back to him, and let out a giant exhale.

“Come on,” he said, holding out his hand, like they were about to dance again. “Let’s get this over with.”

Patroclus hesitated for a moment.

“Yeah,” he said, giving him what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

He took his hand.

 

 

Achilles had left him.

Music from the speaker mingled with the boisterous chatter of Greeks, holding their wine high and devouring their food with such gusto that it made Patroclus hungry just by watching them eat.

The lunch was at full swing. The banquet table, where the platters of food he and Yiayia cooked since the early morning, were absolutely demolished, leaving only morsels on the plates. He noted with a puff of pride that his dolmades had been a hit, and the lobster spaghetti Yiayia concocted had only a few mouthfuls remaining. Achilles' compliments were not unfounded.

The sun was now setting, strokes of pink and yellow hues painting the sky. He and Achilles had been mingling with the guests for a little more than three hours, sneaking in bites of food as they went on their introduction sprees. And yes, Achilles’ earlier speculations were correct; it was not merely five or, even, ten people, as Patroclus thought it would be; his grandmother seemed to have invited everyone in the neighbourhood, hosting a fiesta of large proportions.

Technically, some of the guests weren’t invited. Achilles had told him this, with a confused look on his face, as he saw a gang of old men, moustached and stern looking, enter the garden. He murmured to Patroclus that those people were best to avoid, since they were only trying to find out how Pappou’s fish sales were up—while theirs weren’t. Christ. Leave it to Pappou for making a few enemies in the local fish market.

The lunch itself wasn’t bad, however; in fact, the nerves had altogether left Patroclus in the first few minutes of greeting the guests. It helped that everyone seemed to know Achilles well enough that Patroclus was content to follow along and murmur in agreement as Achilles told them how he was the most wonderful boyfriend. He felt as if he was on autopilot, sinking into the role, humming his assent, holding his warm hand in his, and sometimes, dropping kisses to Achilles’ soft cheek… then Achilles prodded him in the stomach and he was almost taken aback, startled. 

“I need to pee,” Achilles had told him. They had just finished chatting with the lovely old couple from next door, and were now, conveniently, alone. “I think I had too much wine.”

“What? No, don’t leave me here,” Patroclus said, gripping his hand more tightly in his, but Achilles only laughed, and successfully pried his fingers off of him.

“You’ll be fine,” he chuckled. “Just mingle. Do what you’ve been doing.”

“You were the one doing most of the talking!”

Achilles gave him a fond look. “You can live. It’s not too bad.”

Patroclus was almost ready to beg him not to abandon him, fall to his knees and plead, but with a wink—the bastard actually winked at himAchilles left, muttering that his bladder about to burst, and Patroclus felt dread settle in the pit of his stomach.

So, here he was, stuck entertaining this talkative woman, arrogance in her tone and look; he hoped Achilles would make his appearance now, but that didn't seem like it was going to occur anytime soon. The woman—face of a Greek marble statue, golden, curly hair that reached her waist—was flirting with him, that much he was sure about, what with the small touches and knowing glances. She seemed unaware of the fact he was the host’s grandson’s boyfriend. He had tried to explain himself, but couldn't; she wasn't allowing him to contribute to the conversation, overriding his speech.

He couldn’t even remember her name. He gave her a smile—in all honesty, it probably looked like more of a grimace at this point, but he resumed nodding his head to her gruelling talk.

“…and, yes, I did not know it.” She touched his shoulder, and he wanted to recoil but steeled himself. “I was very surprised of course, but she said I was just perfect for it.”

Patroclus had no clue what she was going on about.

He nodded his head again, feigning curiosity. “Wow.”

“I just didn’t expect it at all,” she said, batting her eyelashes.

“That’s… great.”

“Patroclus!”

He turned and almost sagged in relief upon realizing it as Deidamea, looking like a fairy in her periwinkle blue dress. She sidled up beside him, and gave him a half hug.

“How are you doing?”

“I’m great. I was just chatting here with…” Shit. He racked his brain for her name once more, but couldn’t recall it.

Thankfully, Deidamea saved him. “Hi Helen.”

Patroclus inwardly smacked himself in the face. God, that was her name, right. He could remember her now saying it fifteen minutes earlier, but with him so preoccupied with the thought of where the hell Achilles was and Patroclus' desire for himself to be rescued, it somehow slipped his mind.

The woman—Helen, he reminded himself—gave her a cold smile. “Hi Deidamea.”

“I see you’ve met Patroclus,” Deidamea said. “He’s Achilles’ boyfriend.”

The woman’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “I know.”

Oh. She did know.

What?

She said something in Greek to Deidamea, fast and rolling; Patroclus did not understand, leaving him to stare dumbly back. Deidamea raised an eyebrow and replied, stinginess in her tone, then began maneuvering Patroclus out of the conversation. He gave Helen a half hearted goodbye, raising his hand limply as Deidamea lead him to some empty chairs and a table at the end of the garden, beneath the bougainvillea tree.

“What happened?” he asked when Deidamea released her hold from him.

“Sit.”

He did.

“Where is your boyfriend?”

Well, Achilles was supposed to be in the washroom, but, really, no one pees for fifteen minutes. “Er—“

“He shouldn’t leave you hanging around people like that,” she remarked, taking the seat across from him.

Patroclus felt confusion stir in his gut. “Sorry, could you explain—?“

“She’s very unpleasant. Breaks up relationships. Did it with mine.”

“That’s terrible,” he winced. "Christ, I'm sorry."

“I don’t know why Yiayia invited her,” Deidamea commented harshly. “Shouldn’t have.”

“Achilles said there were people here he doesn’t even know that well, so I think everyone’s just inviting themselves at this point.”

She pursed her lips, disapproval in her tone as she spoke. “Mhm. This village is too tight knit. Everyone seems to know what everyone is doing here. It is what it is, I guess.” She sighed, and the harsh line on her furrowed brow softened. “Anyway, how are you?” she asked, fully gazing at Patroclus with steady eyes.“I haven’t been able to talk to you since the—ah—“

“That night?” he chuckled.

She smiled. “Yes. That night. I hope you are all right?”

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend the next morning,” Patroclus contemplated. “But after a few hours I was fine again. We even went cliff diving.”

Deidamea laughed. “Oh, good. I was quite worried. You were very drunk when I took you back."

“Achilles told me,” he said, feeling a swell of gratitude towards her. “But, hey… thank you. For bringing me home safe.”

“Don’t mention it," she replied, with a wave of her hand. "If I didn’t, he would have killed me.”

He smiled weakly. “Thank God he didn't.”

They stayed silent for a while, the both of them watching people dancing in the clearing, in which he and Achilles had waltzed in a few hours earlier. Several of the guests had paired off, grooving around like they did, laughter gaily bubbling to the surface. A thought prodded him, and although his brain was telling him to do the opposite, saying that this was none of his business, he broke their silence with it.

“Deidamea, why doesn’t Achilles like you?”

She stared for a few moments at the dancing couple near them, then shifted her gaze to him. “That’s very upfront of you to ask.”

He could feel himself heating up. “Sorry. You don’t have to answer. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it’s absolutely fine,” she said. She sighed, and played with one of the curls on her head. “Let’s just say he and I—we don’t agree on some things.”

“Did you do something to him?” Patroclus asked, a surge of protectiveness going through him.

“No.” She dropped the lock of hair. “It’s more of what I know, not what I did.” She paused. “He cares about you a lot, Patroclus. He wouldn’t just leave you in the dark for no reason. Please know that.”

He puzzled at the cryptic words.

“But he would tell me when he’s ready right?” he asked, feeling an ache in his chest. “He’s my frie—he’s my boyfriend,” he said, catching himself in the nick of time.

She smiled. “Of course. Don’t worry about it.”

He wanted to interrogate her some more, but he held his tongue, knowing he shouldn’t push the issue. He had already promised Achilles he wouldn’t poke his nose in his business—asking Deidamea already had him putting a toe out of the imaginary line. It wouldn’t be fair to Achilles; he couldn’t break his trust again.

She grinned back, probably hoping to lessen the uneasiness between them, but Patroclus felt an uncomfortable lurch in his stomach realizing what he had done.

“Anyway, enough about that,” she said with a small shake of her head, signalling an end to the topic in question. “I forgot to mention that you did a great job on the food. Yiayia told me you helped with cooking it.”

“I did, yeah,” he replied, pushing his thoughts of Achilles aside for now. “Thanks. I learned more in those few hours than in a cooking book.”

He and Deidamea started up a new conversation, and he could never be more grateful that it was easy to sink into it. He could get lost in their chat, talking about whatever came to mind; admittedly, he almost forgot the subject from earlier—almost. It continued to tap away at his thoughts, an annoying parasite that was desperately trying to make itself known; he pushed it out, focusing in on their current discussion.

They arrived at a natural pause in their talk. Patroclus fixed his gaze to the guests, who seemed to have turned more raucous, what with the addition of beer into the mix which Yiayia had made known, the guests flocking to the banquet table at her announcement. The music had turned more jubilant, the beat faster, and the crowd of people dancing had increased. Some guests were spinning about, reminiscent of the dance Achilles had done yesterday. He turned to Deidamea, about to ask her if she did traditional Greek dance lessons when he caught her with her brows furrowed. 

She was silently mouthing something, eyes directed elsewhere.

“What?” he asked. She turned back to him.

“Look over there,” she instructed, pointing at something in the near distance.

He turned, and was met with sight of Achilles, walking to the front with a guitar, plugging in the wire to the amp. The music abruptly stopped, and people looked up, startled by the sudden break in the din.

What in the name of God was he doing?

“The mystery of the missing boyfriend has been solved,” Deidamea proclaimed cheerily.

He was too baffled to even laugh.

Achilles had his head turned, profile sharp against the garden wall; Patroclus could see Yiayia giving him a thumbs up from the side. There was a stool in front, which Achilles sat on, perching the guitar on his leg. He pulled the microphone towards him and tapped it with a finger.

“Erm, hello? Is this working?” Achilles said, his voice filling the whole garden. Everyone’s attention was fixed at him; Patroclus stared. “Okay, it’s working.” He smiled. “Okay, okay. So, er, hey guys. Everyone having fun tonight?”

Wild cheers and loud whoops answered back to him and Achilles grinned. Something fluttered in Patroclus’ chest.

“Great,” Achilles laughed. “I’m really grateful all of you got to come. It isn’t everyday I get to catch up with everyone. So, thank you so much for coming. Even if you weren’t invited,” he added, with a waggle of his eyebrows. There were several guffaws from the crowd. “Anyways, I got, er, coerced by my grandmother to do, ah, a sort of performance here.” It wasn't a fifteen minute pee break, all right. Someone whistled and Achilles smiled at the person. “It’s nothing, really. But, I’m dedicating this to a special someone. I think everyone’s met him. He’s over there.”

Eyes immediately strayed to Patroclus, and he felt himself heating up. What he would do to trade his soul for the ground to swallow him whole.

“Guess that’s you,” Deidamea murmured, looking at him amusedly.

He was going to kill Achilles.

“So, yeah,” Achilles ended lamely, looking a bit embarrassed, and the attention turned back to him. Patroclus felt a dash of relief, but panic was slowly creeping up on him, horrified at what Achilles would do. He had seen Achilles perform for him, but dedicating a performance to him? 

That was something else entirely.

“Erm, to Patroclus.”

Achilles cleared his throat again, strumming his guitar to tune. Then, he began plucking a haunting melody, the chords melding into one another. The guitar wove in, thrums deep and sure, and Achilles hummed, like soothing a child. His voice, like water, trickled in, gentle and delicate.

The words were foreign to Patroclus, but it carried a weight that seemed to settled deep within him, filling him with a glow that was reminiscent of the embers of a dying fire. Though he did not understand, he felt, and he listened, hypnotized by the words rolling off Achilles’ tongue like dripping honey.

All too soon it was finished. There were a few seconds of deafening silence, the crowd waiting with bated breath as the last note trembled in the air; then Achilles looked up and the people went wild, roaring out their approval, cheers and applause like an explosion. A smattering of whistles could be heard, and Patroclus saw a few people standing up trying to get a glimpse of him.

His eyes locked with Achilles’ green ones. Achilles gave him a smile.

The same smile from when they danced.

“Efcharisto,” Achilles finally murmured into the microphone, and stood up and left. The music played back at full volume again. There was a moment of calm before the guests resumed their activities, dancing, chatting and drinking, oblivious as Patroclus felt a certain realization flicker in his heart.

“Does he always perform like that?” Deidamea asked, looking awestruck. “Because—and excuse my language—holy shit.”

“I—“ He blinked. Something warm was coursing through his veins, sending sparks of electricity up his spine. “Do you know what he was singing about?”

That was a stupid question. Because he already knew when Deidamea told him.

Everyone knew.

“It was about love,” she answered.

He understood now.

Chapter Text

Achilles was in love with him.

It felt like a revelation. It felt like he had stumbled upon a moment of serendipity, and the puzzle pieces were fitting perfectly, surely, completely. Like he had discovered one of science’s greatest marvels, purely on accident. Like he was on the brink of announcing to the world that this, this, this made absolute, perfect sense.

The glances, the touches, the soft words; everything was as clear as glass.

But just like that, the moment of clarity turned into a confused, muddled mess, the pieces of the jigsaw falling apart at his feet.

He was reading too much into this.

Did he really understand?

He always tended to overthink things. Overanalyzed them until they were turned to dust, ground down by his scrutinization. He once did that during an important exam, looking too much into the instructions, and before he knew it, the time was up and he hadn’t even written a single word.

He had told himself he wouldn’t do that anymore; but here he was repeating it.

They were in a fake relationship. Of course Achilles would treat him this way, treat him as if he was the love of his life. Those knowing looks, those gentle touches—they were nothing but good acting. Patroclus was getting the deception into his head; he was deluding himself. Since when had Achilles not been perfect at something? Since when had Achilles failed in portraying the act of a caring lover in the span of their trip?

“Are you okay?”

Patroclus snapped his head up. Achilles, with a concerned pucker in between his eyebrows and hint of a scowl on his mouth, stood over him. His breath caught in his throat.

“I’m fine.“ He blinked, finding himself looking back stupidly at Achilles’ worried scrutiny. Again, “I’m fine."

“He’s been staring into space for a full minute now,” Deidamea piped up beside him. He turned to her, almost forgetting that she was there. “I think your performance shocked him. It was that good.”

“Well, thank you,” Achilles said, pulling up the empty chair beside him. He knocked shoulders with him, and Patroclus felt his skin heat.

The confusion stirring in his gut was making things complicated. Achilles was his friend. Did people actually fall in love with their best friend? He couldn’t have glanced over such a valuable piece of information. Patroclus would have caught it; there would have been other hints besides this godforsaken performance. It was obvious he was looking into this too much. The clues were too apparent, too noticeable—this was all a part of their act.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Achilles questioned again, lifting a hand up as if to tuck a stray curl from his head. Patroclus slapped it away, instantly regretting it when Achilles’ expression turned to hurt.

“I’m fine,” he repeated, an edge to his tone now. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling Achilles’ worried gaze on him; he gathered to recollect himself. Patroclus opened them, and gave him a smile that felt unsteady on his face. “Do you mind if you could get us some wine?”

Achilles still looked troubled, eyebrows furrowed, but that disappeared quickly to be replaced by a glare directed at Deidamea. “With her?”

“Can you and Deidamea just make up for a bit and be friends? For my sake?”

And, God, Achilles’ expression turned soft instantly, features settling, eyes turning mellow. This was proof, right? That Achilles liked him in that way? Loved him? Or was this only because Patroclus was his friend, and he didn’t want to further complicate the strain he and Deidamea had?

A smirk was playing on Deidamea’s lips. “You heard him, golden boy.”

Achilles turned back to glower at her, but it lacked its usual bite. With a huff, he stood up and muttered, “Fine.”

“Right on,” said Deidamea with her wide grin. She offered Patroclus a teasingly grateful look. “I owe you a lot for taming the lion.”

Achilles opened his mouth. “I’m not—!”

Patroclus shot him a warning look, and Achilles gritted his teeth, fists clenching at his sides. Then he stalked off, telling them he was going to get them their wine.

“Like I said,” Deidamea stated, wiggling her eyebrows, “Taming the lion.”

He gave her a weak grin in response, turning his attention to the bougainvillea flowers swaying above them. The pink of their petals were almost alarming, in the same way that this situation was. He was overthinking this. He was giving himself hope—scratch that, why would he give himself hope? He wasn’t even in love with Achilles, for Christ’s sake.

He didn’t want this friendship ruined. This friendship had lasted for so long; their comfortable silences, their intelligent chats, their hilarious inside jokes, their fits of laughter that left the both of them panting, stomachs hurting—this was who they were, this easy camaraderie, this relationship he could effortlessly slip into like a well fitted glove. This was them; it could be nothing more, nothing less.

Patroclus did say he wasn’t in love with him.

Or was he?

“You okay there?” Deidamea asked suddenly.

He must have been quiet for too long. Patroclus exhaled and turned, again, to smile at her.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I’m fine.”

He was fine. Really, he was.

 

 

“Success,” Achilles sang, holding his hands up reminiscent of an opera singer in front of the stage lights. The kitchen towel slung on his shoulder and his hair tied up in a dishevelled ponytail made him look like some bizarre, overdramatic housewife.

Patroclus jammed his hands back into the sudsy water. His fingers were shrivelled like prunes. “I daresay it was.”

They were now alone, being forced to do dish duty by Yiayia in the kitchen; it was the perfect opportunity to pose the question to Achilles. However, try as he might, Patroclus couldn’t make the words leave his lips, ask the one thing that had been bothering him, pecking incessantly like a deranged woodpecker.

The rest of the lunch-cum-dinner party was uneventful, the guests leaving as soon as the alcohol was finished and the plates were scraped clean. Deidamea begged him to call her again sometime, reminding him she was but a taxi ride away, in case he wanted to let loose again in the next few days he was there in Santorini. Patroclus let out an airy laugh at her suggestion.

“I’ll keep a closer eye on you this time,” she chuckled good-naturedly, as he agreed with an enthusiastic nod.

After Achilles’ impromptu performance, there were no other surprises in store, no more shocking events that made him feel more confused than when he first encountered it. Achilles acted accordingly, albeit touching him more tentatively than at the beginning of the party. He must have noted Patroclus’ hesitance in falling back into his role—he hadn’t even asked him to dance after—what with the way Patroclus started when Achilles took his hand in his, threading their fingers together. The way his breath stuttered when Achilles crept an arm around his neck, a comfortable weight on his shoulders. The way, when Achilles, mouth an inch away from his ear, asked, voice so low it was meant only for him, “You okay?” and Patroclus had nodded, feeling a sweat come over his palms.

Did Achilles always make him feel like this? Feel as if he was standing on the tips of his toes, could fall and sweep him up in an instant; make him feel breathless, like the aftermath of a trust exercise? What did Achilles think of when he gave Patroclus his adoring gazes? Surely, he must feel the same, feel that same way that Patroclus did, like he was gasping for some much needed air, craving for oxygen, for more.

Conflict rose in him. Should he ask Achilles now? Settle this one and for all? Ask him if he was in love with him, point blank, no swerving around the subject matter, no flowery words to surround his observation?

With a sinking feeling, he knew asking could end their friendship. But now was the time.

“Achilles, what—“ Patroclus began, but was swiftly interrupted by a woman sweeping into the room.

“Boys!” Yiayia exclaimed, looking proud. She gathered Achilles up into a hug, crushing him into her tight embrace while Achilles reciprocated, squeezing back, a delighted expression on his face; then she loosened her hold, and went straight to Patroclus.

“Yiayia, no—“ Patroclus started, withdrawing his hands, still wet, from the tub; but he too was subjected to a similar embrace, feeling as if his lungs were crushed. He had no choice but to hold out his hands far from her torso, to avoid her shirt from getting wet.

She withdrew. “The guests loved you!”

He shook his head, smiling—he hoped, genuinely—and dried his hands on the towel hanging on the drawer handle. “Really, it was all Achilles doing.“

“What nonsense!” she interjected, tutting. “They loved your personality, your looks! I am so glad of the reception. And our food, Patroclaki, was a hit!” Her eyes sparkled.

Patroclus shook his head again. “Yiayia, you just instructed me, I didn’t really do anything.“

“Oh, Pat,” Achilles sighed, grinning lopsidedly as he crossed his arms. “Just accept her compliment. She doesn’t do that often with anyone’s cooking, particularly with me.”

“Because you do not have the talent, Achillakis,” Yiayia harrumphed.

“Yiayia, I can make a mean Greek—“

Like a lightning flash, she reached over and took Achilles’ right ear between her thumb and forefinger, pulling it. “If you say ‘salad’, Achillakis, I will be very mad. Anyone can make that—a baby can make that. But can you make dolmades like Patroclaki, here? Hm?” Her hold tightened, and Achilles shook his head gently, muttering a pained ‘no, no, no’ and she let him go. Yiayia turned to Patroclus. He couldn’t help but feel a flicker of amusement. “And I guess Patroclus also has the power to remove your stubbornness, Achillakis. It usually takes more to convince him, it is good you are here,” she told Patroclus to the side. She offered him a fond smile. “You are welcome any time here, Patroclus. If you want to cook again when you come back, it would be my pleasure.”

When you come back. The words echoed in his head, repeating like a taunt.

Patroclus won’t come back. Because this was his first and last time.

His breath was shaky when he inhaled. He flicked his eyes to Achilles, who simply regarded him with a blank look.

“Er, yeah. Next time would be—“ Patroclus cleared his throat and threw on a smile, the crushing weight of something sitting heavily in his gut. “Next time would be great.”

Patroclus’ smile was still plastered on when she let out a whoop of delight, followed by a grin that grew wide on her face. “Very good. I cannot wait. Now, Achilles, it is your time to wash. Just look at Patroclaki’s hands, just look at them!”

“But, Yiayia—!“

“No. Switch.

Huffing, Achilles stomped over to the sink, and turned on the tap. “Happy, now, Yiayia? When I use these hands to play the guitar?”

Yiayia rolled her eyes, though there was a doting look on her face. “Achillakis, you are childish as ever. But, I must say, it was a very good performance,” she remarked, her eyes shining with adoration, putting a hand over her heart. “It was very touching. I felt every word. Very romantic.” Then she clapped her hands. “Well, I will be off. I trust you can finish this; for now, I will sleep. Pappou is already in bed—he was very tired from dealing with his fish market friends.” She shook her disappointedly, as if to say the anger of rival fishermen were pointless. “Good night, boys!”

“Good night, Yiayia,” Patroclus said, taking the towel that hung from the kitchen handle.

“Good night,” bade Achilles.

With that, they were, again, left alone, the sound of the gush of water permeating the silence. They were entranced in their own activities, Patroclus wiping the damp spots in the dishes, droplets of water clinging to the cutlery, as the sponge in Achilles’ hand squeaked onto the china.  Strangely, this time, he didn’t want to be in Achilles' vicinity, didn’t want to talk of anything, especially about this. He wanted to hide, desiring that uneasiness stirring in his stomach to disappear. Forcefully, Patroclus tamped it down—he wasn't a coward—zeroing on the innocent remark Yiayia had made. It was never going to be easy.

“So, next time, huh?” Patroclus said, preferring not to look at the man in front of the sink. The scrubbing stopped.

“Huh?”

Patroclus looked up from the plate he was drying. “What will you say when she asks about me next time?”

Achilles turned off the tap. He looked tired, and only now could Patroclus see the effect of Yiayia’s words on him. “What do you want me to say?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“We’ll say we broke up.”

“While I’m still living in the same apartment as you?”

Achilles turned back to the dishes, leaving his remark ignored. It was a few minutes of scrubbing and the sound of gushing water before the tap cut off again. Achilles was placing the last dish onto the drying rack with a clatter, drying his hands last when he spoke.

“Patroclus,” Achilles said, breaking the silence that was waiting with bated breath. “I don’t think we should live with each other anymore.”

A knife felt like it had pierced his heart, cold and hard. It hurt, hearing those words said.

“You can’t be serious,” Patroclus said disbelievingly, lowering the plate he was holding with a scowl. “We’ve been living with each other for years.”

Achilles closed his eyes. His face looked pained, as if each word hurt him as it passed through his lips. “I don’t like it as much as you do. But, she may suspect something, and—how do I say this?—we live completely different lives. It’s time we’ve moved on. We’re two completely, different people. I don’t think we—“

“What are you talking about? We’re friends. Why should we move on?”

Achilles opened his eyes. Their greenness always had this warmth to them, but now they were blank, as expressionless as a wall.

“I just don’t think it’s feasible.”

“So, we’re sacrificing our friendship for this? Really now?”

“I’m just saying we shouldn’t live together. We can still be friends. I didn’t say we couldn’t.”

“But, Achilles, you’re—“ You’re the one I look forward talking to after a long day. The one who I complain to over dinner about my coworkers. The one I fight the television remote with so I can watch the news while you whine about missing that reality show. The one who stumbles in the morning to make my daily coffee. Patroclus shook his head. No, that wasn’t it. “Achilles, can you tell me something?”

He had to take the plunge, and though everything was screaming at him not to, his instincts trying, in vain, to restrain him, he knew he wouldn’t be able to go through with it if he didn't do it now.

He met Achilles’ green eyes. Achilles’ arms were crossed, and his head was cocked to the side, waiting for Patroclus’ words. There was a lock of hair in front of his face, and Patroclus had the urge to reach out and tuck it back into his ponytail.

Achilles raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“Your performance,” he said, voice low, licking his lips.

“What about it?”

“What were you thinking of?”

He could see the moment Achilles’ breath hitched, catching in his throat. Then he breathed out, almost imperceptible.

“What does it matter?”

“It matters. To me. Achilles, please.” There was a pleading note in his voice and Achilles must have heard it, because his eyes immediately softened. “When you sang. Your grandmother even noticed. What were you thinking?”

“I thought of giving the audience a good time,” Achilles answered, straight and to the point. He always was so brutally honest. But, now, Patroclus knew he wasn’t.

“No. That’s not what I—“ He let out a sigh of frustration. Just admit it. Will you admit it? “Were you—were you thinking of someone?”

Achilles raised an eyebrow again, but he could see a flash of panic behind his eyes. “No? What are you hinting at?”

“Well, Deidamea told me the name of the song,” and Achilles huffed out a humourless laugh, murmuring something too quiet for him to hear.

“What did you say?” he asked.

“I said, I thought she would,” Achilles said. He shook his head. “Anyway, go on.”

“I searched up the lyrics. And, it’s a love song all right.”

Achilles smirked, but it felt fake, only serving to amplify the itch of irritation. “What else would you expect me to sing?”

“But you can’t just sing it like you didn’t mean it,” he pointed out. “Unless you were thinking about someone.” Like me.

“In case you’ve forgotten,” Achilles began, cockiness in his tone, “I got my music degree in the same university as you. And I perform for a living. I can evoke any emotion I want in my performance, Pat.”

“But you told me that you think of something—or someone—when you perform,” Patroclus started, treading in dangerous waters now. He had to get this out from him, had to confirm. Even if it meant jeopardizing their friendship. “You can’t simply imagine it. You said an actual event, or a person had to instigate that feeling into the performance. You can’t tell me that you didn’t conjure up something from thin air. You said tha—thmph!”

Achilles' lips were pressed to his. It was awkward—the angle had their noses mashed, and Patroclus’ eyes were open, shock instilling in his body. Seeing Achilles with his eyes closed, long lashes fluttered down, each individual eyelash so close it could be counted, was enough to make him push away, none too gently, and feel the beat of his heart echoing in his ears. 

Achilles lifted his hands up to rub at his face and let them fall limply at his sides. “Does that answer your question?” He let out a bitter laugh. Patroclus stared back, words caught in his throat.

“I wanted to—I wanted to do that just once,” Achilles admitted, eyes shining.

Patroclus breathed heavily, feeling winded. He was expecting something, but it wasn’t this. This felt like a large blow to his stomach. This felt like someone had swept the rug from under his feet.

“I just kissed you,” Achilles said, stating the obvious. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fuck.” The curse was uttered like a punctuation mark, an end to the sentence.

Patroclus’ breaths sounded shallow to his ears, loud against the hum of the kitchen’s fluorescent lights. Achilles turned away, hiding his face. He could see his body shaking, unnoticeable, so subtle that he wouldn’t have noticed if he had not known Achilles too well.

Unfortunately, he did.

And just like that, Achilles was leaving, sweeping through the room like a bird in flight. He took everything with him: his breath, his soul, his heart, and Patroclus was left, his hand outstretched, reaching for him, the faucet trickling water, drip, drip, drip, like the thrum of his pulse.

Come back, he wanted to say.

Kiss me again.

Chapter Text

Patroclus wanted to kick himself.

This street was deserted. He doubled back, stepping through a few small staircases and into a lane surrounded by too claustrophobic walls.

Empty.

Achilles couldn’t have gone far. He knew he wouldn’t have.

Patroclus sighed, finding the next street uninhabited as well.

Maybe Achilles didn’t want to be found. Maybe he wanted space to think before he could speak to him. And, okay, Patroclus could agree to that. It wasn’t everyday you got to confess your love for someone; and to your best friend, out of all people.

Regardless, it didn’t mask the bitter taste in his mouth.

He kicked a stray pebble in his path. It skidded onto the street, creating tiny, irregular taps on the cobblestones. The sound echoed in his ears and sighing again, he resigned himself to just go back home, and wait.

It was the least he could do.

 

 

where are you? can we talk?

A chime, cheery and out of place, rang in the darkened bedroom. Turning from his phone, Patroclus stared at the spot on the bed beside him, where the noise had came from.

No.

He threw back the pillow and found Achilles’ phone lit up with a hazy glow, the words he sent imprinted on the screen.

For the second time tonight, Patroclus wanted to kick himself. Regret hung heavy in his throat, choking him. He was so stupid. It took him an hour to work up the courage to even send the text, but ultimately, it had all boiled down to nothing. His efforts were fruitless.

If Achilles hadn’t kissed him, his brain would still be functioning. The shock at having his lips pliant against his was still resounding within him, a gong continuing to vibrate after being struck; and in the kiss’s aftermath it had rendered Patroclus immobile, useless. He had stood in the kitchen for a few minutes like an idiot, and when he had come to his senses, storming out of the door in a frenzy, Achilles was gone. It was as if he had turned into a ghost, disappearing into the ethers like a delicate wisp; Patroclus had scoured the streets, hoping for a glimpse of gold, a flash of green eyes, but came up, disappointedly, empty handed.

He gripped the pillow. The beginnings of an ache in his heart faintly pulsed, a dull throb that somehow, amplified the sliminess writhing in his gut, a pile of worms coiling, cold and blind.

Achilles left. Achilles was gone. Achilles had disappeared. And Patroclus’ mind was muddled, thoughts strewn about. Because added to his heartache and uneasiness, was the one question that kept repeating in his brain like a broken record, over and over:

Why did you leave?

He couldn’t answer the question.

 

 

It took another hour before he caved. His finger hovered over her name, the black pixels staring back at him. He hesitated for a mere moment, then pressed.

Two rings. And the line clicked.

“Hello?”

In the background, Patroclus could hear the thud of club music, thumping incessantly like a bad headache. He didn’t say anything, only pressed the phone closer to his ear, the edge of the glass digging into his cheek.

“Hello?” she repeated, more worried this time. “Patroclus?”

“Deidamea.” His throat was dry. Patroclus swallowed, hard. “Do you know if—is Achilles with you?” he asked, a tentative spark of hopefulness in his chest. If it was anyone, it would be her, he had told himself.

“Oh, no. Sorry, wait—“ She had moved to a quieter place, no more music in the backdrop. “Sorry about that. But no. No, he’s not.”

“Oh,” Patroclus croaked, the flicker dampened. His voice was weak; he hated how it sounded. “Do you know where he could be? He’s gone. He just left.” A crack in his composure. He blinked, and the next thing he knew, tears were spilling from his eyes.

“No. I don’t know,” Deidamea's voice crackled on the line. “But Patroclus, he'll come back. Sooner or later.”

The tears were coming hard and fast, staining his cheeks with its wetness. He tasted its salinity in his throat. “I’ve been waiting for—for five hours. And he’s still not… he’s not back.“

He was sobbing now. It was difficult to breathe, and each time he drew in air, the exhale brought only a fresh wave of tears. He felt his chest squeeze, tightening like a cord.

“Oh no, no,” Deidamea said, sounding distraught. “Matia, no. No, no, no.”

“I don’t know how to fix this,” he said brokenly.

“What do you mean?”

“It was pretend, Deidamea. All of it,” Patroclus said, whimpering. He never felt more pathetic in his life. “The relationship was a ruse.” Rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his palm, he tried stemming the flow, but to no avail. “And he kissed me. He fucking kissed me and he disappeared and I don’t know why.”

There was another silence, broken only by the sobs that occasionally welled up in his throat. The static nested itself into his ear, and Patroclus would have thought Deidamea had hung up on him had he not heard her emit a long sigh, weary and dejected. Then, her voice emerged, quiet but clear.

“I knew it was pretend.”

The sentence came like a gunshot. He was void of words, not knowing what to say.

“How?” he finally managed to choke out. It didn’t sound like him.

She sighed. “Achilles told me.”

A sea breeze blew in from the open window. It cradled Patroclus in its breath, cooling his stained cheeks. He waited, and he could just see her worrying her lip, brows furrowed in thought, preparing to explain.

“He phoned me before the trip. And I told him it was a terrible idea, because, Patroclus, he was head over heels for you. He was so deep in.” Sighing again. “When Achilles told me everything, I said he should just admit it to you so he didn’t have to hurt himself, but he didn’t take my suggestion so well. Wanted to go through with it anyways. And I guess he hated that I was right since he was throwing quite a tantrum. You saw how he was.” She chuckled, a touch of amusement in it, then immediately said, “Sorry. God, he’s stubborn. But remember earlier this lunch? When you asked me?”

Patroclus remembered. Deidamea’s mystifying answer to his question. And he remembered other things. The terrible smile on Achilles' face when they first saw Deidamea. Achilles’ anger at him for accepting her offer for drinks. His stubbornness during the lunch party. And now, Patroclus understood.

“He didn’t want me to know.”

“No,” she said, chuckling sadly. “Of course not. He even worried that I’ll reveal everything because he knew it would end your friendship. And you know what he told me? He told me it was better to be able to know what it felt like to be loved by you than not at all.”

Oh.

Oh.

It was like a light switch had turned on his brain. Time suspended before his eyes, stretched out beneath him, and staring at the empty spot on the bed, half illumined by the moonlight, he released the breath he didn’t even know he was holding in one gasp. His heart hammered, loud and incessant. The final piece had clicked into place, the full picture in clear view.

“Oh my God,” he gasped. 

Concern laced her tone. “Patroclus? Did something happen?”

“I—“ His eyes did not leave Achilles’ pillow. “I have to go.”

“What happened?” she asked, anxious.

“I know where he is.” The words were out before he knew it, shocking himself even more. He wasn’t even sure if he was right. But the truth of the matter was that: he did know; for where else would he be? He wiped at his tears forcefully. “And I know why he left me.”

“Well, for God's sakes, what are you doing on the phone? Go!“

He could feel the pulse singing in his veins, and her words lit a fire in his heart, encouraged him, set it aflame.

“Get out there! Go get him!”

“I will,” Patroclus promised.

Hanging up, he shoved the phone into his pocket and started running.

 

 

“Achilles!” he yelled into the harbour. He ran, wet cement under his sandals, gritting onto the soles. The boats bobbed up and down in the water, wood intermittenly bumping onto the dock, a gentle rhythm. Each one was empty of its owner and his eyes searched frantically for the one person he wanted most.

Patroclus spotted him.

“Achilles!”

Achilles was crouched low, his back hunched, tying his boat's rope to the dock. At the mention of his name, he straightened up. Surprise marred his features and his green eyes were wide; his mouth set into an O. Patroclus stopped a few metres away, overwhelmed by the sight of him.

“Pat, what are you doing here, you're not supposed to—“

Patroclus strode the length between them, and it was like someone had wiped all rational thoughts from his brain because he was kissing Achilles in the face, full on. His lips were parted, allowing Patroclus to capture them easily, and they tasted sweet, though a bit salty. He broke away, Achilles staggering like he had ran into a glass window, dazed, confused. Before Patroclus could stop himself, he surged forward once more and began kissing him everywhere, placing messy kisses on his neck, his cheek, his ear—everywhere.

"I'm—" A peck on the corner of Achilles' lips. "—an—" One on the jaw. "—idiot." One placed on the neck. He did not stop, muttering more words.

"To think—that I didn't—tell you—about Briseis—and our—breakup—I’m so—stupid."

Achilles stood frozen, showing no response to Patroclus’ affections. Patroclus continued, peppering more kisses on Achilles' body. "You—bastard—I love you—so much!”

Patroclus drew back now, breathless, and looked at him fully. Achilles stared back, unblinking—his lips were so gorgeously swollen. Patroclus felt like a wildfire in his presence, proud and gleaming, blazing anything in its way: unstoppable.

Then Achilles blinked. Crinkles appeared between his eyebrows. “You lied to me about Briseis?” he asked, slowly.

Patroclus was breathing heavily. “Yes. Yes, Achilles, but I’m—“

"But you're what?" Achilles said defensively, forcefully disentangling himself from Patroclus’ embrace, setting a distance between them. Patroclus made to approach, but Achilles only took another step back.

"I'm sorry."

Their silence was filled with the sound of water lapping on the boats. Patroclus felt his heartbeat in his throat, counting each of the seconds that passed.

"When did you break up?" Achilles finally asked, his eyes not meeting his. He bit his lip, like he didn’t want it to tremble.

"A few weeks before the trip," Patroclus answered, voice shaking. "But I swear I was going to tell—“

“When? When were you going to tell me, Patroclus?” Achilles was hugging himself, seeking any amount of comfort his body had to give. His eyes sparkled with tears and Patroclus wanted to wipe them away, place another kiss on his lips, tell him: I love you.

“I don’t know, Achilles,” Patroclus admitted. “I don’t know.”

His voice broke his heart. “You lied to me.”

Patroclus looked on helplessly. “I’m—I’m sorry. I knew it was wrong but, wait—“ Achilles was turning away, in the act of leaving him again, but Patroclus couldn’t have that; couldn’t bear it. Catching his arm, Achilles stopped in his tracks. “Please. Please don’t leave,” he pleaded, his heart cracking as he saw the tears still glittering in Achilles’ eyes.

“I can't believe you’d lie,” Achilles said. He sounded so small. “I’ve loved you for years. And it hurts, Patroclus. It really does.”

And what Patroclus did—and he couldn’t deny it—was terrible. He had made Achilles think there was even a slight chance of getting what he truly wanted, had made him question Patroclus' thoughts, tortured continually by the idea of it—that maybe Patroclus was in love with him too. That his actions, that gaze, that baring of his heart, meant something, but, in actuality, didn’t. Never did.

And Achilles would have had to pull himself back with each interaction, forced to face the alarming reality of the matter. He would have to accept that Patroclus was in love with another, grounding his heart to dust, over and over. A constant reminder that he had no chance.

Seeing this now, Patroclus felt a ghostly pang go through him; his heart squeezed in his chest, hurting as if it was a physical hurt.

“I’m a coward.” Patroclus dropped his hand. Achilles was still crying, but silently. “I think—I think I always knew that I loved you. I still do. But I was really scared. I was scared to acknowledge what I felt so I thought using someone, anyone, to deny my feelings would be easier than to admit that I fell for my best friend.” Achilles’ cheeks were filled with tear tracks, and Patroclus reached up, slowly, as to allow him to draw back. Achilles didn’t, and Patroclus wiped a gleaming teardrop that rolled down to meet the others. “You don’t have to forgive me. I’m sorry. For everything I did. I just wanted to say that.” He stepped back, and though he was breaking his heart clean in two, he knew what he was doing was right. "You can go.”

Achilles’ lips parted. His eyes were red-rimmed, tears still streaming. Patroclus had never seen someone so beautiful.

“I don’t know why you’re like this,” Achilles told him after a pause, his voice thick with emotion.

Patroclus felt hollow. A void. “I’m sorry.” Why was Achilles making this so hard?

“No, you don’t understand,” Achilles said shaking his head. Then Achilles huffed out a laugh, a genuine burst of joy that sent a jolt of shock through his insides. Patroclus furrowed his brow, feeling bewildered.

“What don’t I understand?”

“You make it really difficult not to forgive you,” Achilles said.

The words dawned on him. Something bloomed in his chest, petals of a flower opening, one by one.

“You forgive me?” Patroclus asked. He hoped.

Achilles nodded, drying his cheeks. He was smiling, a small, gentle lift of his lips. “Yes. Yes, I do. But I’m still kind of angry. But I’m also really happy. More of that.”

Patroclus felt like he was bursting, his heart filled to the brim. 

“God, Achilles, I love you,” he said, before he could stop them.

Achilles laughed again. Tears and joy mingled. “Me too, Pat.” His smile was like the sun. “Me too.”

 

 

“Are you still angry?”

Achilles looked up from their entwined fingers, swallowing Patroclus in his eyes. The colour of the sea. Both calm and chaotic. An oxymoron.

A ghost of a smile lingered on Achilles’ lips. “Just a bit.”

Patroclus huffed out a laugh. “Okay. That's fair."

He could soak in this. The bed felt warm beneath them, and the humidity was unpleasantly sticky on his skin, but the press of Achilles’ body against his and the slight wind that came in from the open window made him want to relish in the moment forever.

“Did you love her?” Achilles suddenly asked, breaking their small quiet.

Patroclus waited, finding his words. He tangled their fingers together, criss crossing, before sighing and saying, “No. I thought I did. She was only a distraction.” 

Why didn’t you tell me? he had asked Achilles on their walk back to the house. The moon smiled down at them, at the pair lost in thought in their own world.

I was scared, like you, Achilles had replied. He was worrying his lip. I didn’t want to risk our friendship for my stupid feelings.

They're never stupid, he said.

Achilles smiled. No, they aren't, he agreed.

“Was that why you broke up?” Achilles asked, eyebrows furrowed, curiosity in his tone. It didn’t pry—there was only mild interest and concern.

Patroclus shook his head. “It was a mutual agreement. We agreed to stay as friends.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she’s a better friend than a girlfriend.”

Raised eyebrow. “But she was a good girlfriend?”

“She was all right. We didn’t—we didn’t do anything,” Patroclus said, feeling his face heat up. He shouldn’t have said it, but he had felt as if the clarification was necessary. “She felt more like of a sister to me,” he added hastily, to save the slip up. He hated that he couldn’t hide the blush that dusted his cheeks, in clear view of Achilles’ sight.

Achilles stared at him, searching his face, then he barked out a laugh. “I don’t care what you did before.”

“Oh, good.” Patroclus felt his blush simmer down. Feeling bashful, he added, “But you sounded pretty jealous just then.” Achilles stuck out his tongue. Childish idiot.

“Doesn’t change the fact that you’re my boyfriend.”

They stared at each other. Achilles’ half-lidded eyes gradually widened, realizing the words that had left his lips.

How long?

Achilles turned to him. Huh?

How long have you loved me?

Achilles hesitated for a mere moment, then something settled in his face.

Since the beginning, he said.

Patroclus’ breath hitched. The words startled the both of them it seemed, because Achilles’ hand broke from his grasp and flew to his mouth.

“Sorry,” Achilles mumbled, behind his fingers, covering his whole face now. Then Patroclus was laughing, trying to pry his hands away from his face, trying to hold his palm in his again. He was successful, twining their fingers once more. 

“Don’t be,” Patroclus told him, chuckles in his ears. In the dim lighting, he could see a slight darkness staining Achilles’ cheeks.

“That’s what we are, aren’t we?” he asked, lifting up Achilles’ chin to be swallowed in those eyes again, for in his embarrassment, Achilles had quickly looked down to their tangled feet in an attempt to hide his face.

Achilles held his gaze; his expression was soft. “Yes,” Achilles breathed, feeling his hot breath on his lips. And before Patroclus could resist, he kissed him, long and languid and sweet, like he was drowning in warm honey.

And you? Achilles asked, after he had answered Patroclus’ question. 

Patroclus paused. He found Achilles’ expectant, green eyes, waiting for his reply.

The answer was the same.

Since the beginning.