It is his fault. That is the only thought in his mind, repeating itself over and over. But unfortunately, the words don’t lose their meaning.
It is the only thing that informs him he is still alive. Because never in his life has Achilles felt this much pain.
When he saw Odysseus return from the beach, carrying a lifeless, familiar figure in his arms, his entire world collapsed.
It was never supposed to be him.
If only Achilles had listened. Patroclus had begged him for weeks to give up his horrible blinding pride and return to end the war.
And on that final, fateful day – oh, how he had begged. Achilles had watched the tears pool in those beautiful eyes as Patroclus was forced to witness countless friends lose their lives from his stubbornness.
But Achilles hadn’t given in. “Anything else,” he had offered. And those two words are the ones that will haunt him for the rest of his undeserving life.
He made such a selfish choice, letting Patroclus go anywhere near the fight without him. And Achilles handed him the armor and spears that made him believe he was strong enough. And he was, because Patroclus was so much stronger than Achilles pretends to be.
With his pure heart and fierce love, Patroclus led the men to victory that day, brave as he was. And at the cost of his own life.
Achilles knows that Patroclus did not regret it.
(Achilles resents Briseis, not only for the strange almost-love his beloved had for her, but even more now for how true was her statement that he did not deserve Patroclus.)
The only part that he knows his love would protest is Achilles finally giving in to the prophecy and killing Hector, for it will lead to his death.
But it must be done. It is the only way for them to be together again. And he cannot allow the man who stole Patroclus from him – from the world – to continue to breathe.
Achilles had wished to prolong the prophecy for as long as the fates would allow, so that he could live his borrowed time with his beloved.
Until came Hector to finally commit the wrong Achilles did not realize he had been waiting for.
He remembers. He thinks of every single time he’d ever said, “What has Hector ever done to me?” The bitter, mocking irony is a swift stab to his heart.
But oh, if only it were to his body instead.
He waits for death.
He waits as if simply lying there will grant him his wish.
But of course it does not. If the gods were so merciful, they would not have taken the boy with the heart of gold brighter than Apollo. They would have taken him.
That is the way it should have been. Until the new prophecy came forth, it was supposed to be Achilles who died before his time.
He berates himself for not figuring it out. When it was said that “The best of the Myrmidons” was to die, of course it could only refer to Patroclus. He has always been Achilles’ sincerest supporter and closest confidant. There could be no other.
As Achilles lay in the bed they used to share – now so cold with Patroclus’ absence, even with Achilles curled up on his side – he cries heart-wrenching sobs until the world fades blessedly to black, if only for a too short, restless sleep.
For ten years death chased him. And for ten years he successfully evaded it.
Now, he waits for it to wash over him and turn the world dark with the promise that, when comes the light, Patroclus will be there.
Time passes, each day more bleak than the last without the only one who kept the darkness inside of Achilles’ murderous heart at bay. Now that Patroclus is gone, Achilles feels the weight of every single kill he has made in this damn war. All light inside his soul was sucked out of him with Patroclus’ last breath.
He did not even get to say goodbye.
Paris takes his aim, aided by only a god to take down Aristos Achaion, and though he has enough time to move, Achilles stays. He lets the arrow pierce his flesh, and though it is painful, it is nowhere near the torment he has endured in the days since Patroclus died.
It comes as a relief, knowing how soon he will be reunited with his philtatos. Achilles smiles, and the dull light that has been his only guide goes out like a candle.
Death finally comes and takes the outstretched hand Achilles had been holding out.
But he discovers that this place is even darker than earth, for Patroclus is not here in the Underworld.
“Where is he?” Achilles growls at Hades, long past sanity. Both of those were stolen with Patroclus’ life.
“He has not yet arrived. His soul is still wandering.”
The god’s calm manner, the almost callousness with which he says it, absolutely unhinges Achilles.
He screams, louder and more agonized than that horrible day on the beach. If his soul is lost, there is no hope.
He had known that his death was their only chance to be reunited. But Patroclus is stuck somewhere in between, hovering out of his reach, lost and alone, fighting a losing battle with a world that never did appreciate him enough while he was alive. He was so much more kind than any of them deserved, and now they will not honor him even in death. They will not let his soul rest, or reunite with his beloved.
Achilles vows to take whatever measures are in his power to make their lives miserable.
Achilles learns that Patroclus’ soul is still tethered to the beach on which he was killed. And it is all because of his son.
Another fault on his record. If he had never gone away to Scyros, running from the war like the scared boy he was too old to be, Pyrrhus would have never been conceived.
Surely Patroclus would have found him no matter where he went; but his legacy – so slight to the rest of Greece yet so immense to Achilles – would have been deservedly honored. They would have been reunited at last, in the final place they will be together.
Instead, his beloved’s soul is left discarded and forgotten in that awful place in between life and death, where Achilles himself had to spend only minimal time before his body was burned.
Did those foolish men not see who was more worth the monument they’d built? Achilles had been willing to let them all die fighting a hopeless battle for the sake of his pride. No, he had let them die. So many lives were lost while he’d refused to fight, waiting for an apology from Agamemnon that he knew would not come.
There was a piece inside of him, buried underneath the proud front, that withheld from fighting because of the blessed time it allowed with Patroclus. They were free to spend each day as they pleased, to swim in the surf and lay under the sun and stay wrapped around each other in bed all day if they chose.
On those days, Achilles liked to pretend that they were back at their childhood home, or in the mountains with Chiron. There were fleeting moments in which he felt that nothing had changed, save for their age and the last vestiges of boyhood Patroclus gracefully shed.
But then the soldiers would return, battle-worn, from another day of hopeless bloodshed, and Achilles was reminded just how much had truly changed. There was blood on his hands.
It was more than the spears he threw into Trojans’ chests, for he’d let his fellow men – though not Myrmidons, they were still loyal to him, some even more than to Agamemnon – continue to fight knowing of the godly interference that made victory impossible. Each death that had occurred during that time was also on his hands, even though the blood was not physically there.
Even down here, far removed from the war, it lingers on his soul. It is made only clearer now with no body to shield him from his crimes.
And yet, through it all, Patroclus still loved him. He would remind him in the darkness of every night that Achilles was not at fault. He had literally been borne with his destiny planned out, no consideration for the man beneath the warrior.
But still the world overlooks him.
Achilles stands, transfixed, as the shadow descends in front of him. It is not graceful, like his; it is better somehow. Pure, imperfect beauty – the humanly grace Achilles so loved in Patroclus.
Achilles reaches out in instinct to touch it. The darkness is everywhere: in him, in the shadow, in their surroundings.
And then, light.
It erupts from where the two hands meet, melting away the shadows and filling even the furthest corners and deepest depths of the Underworld with its brilliant aura. Apollo only wishes he could be as radiant. (Perhaps that is why he was always so angry with the Greeks: He could never compete with the blinding love these two boys had for each other.)
Perhaps they had to wait for this moment in agony. And perhaps they should have crumbled under the dense blackness of their despair.
But they finally made it, and it is beautiful. This will be their new home, the last of many they have shared over the years. It is not ideal, but neither of them pay it any mind as Achilles wraps Patroclus in his arms again – finally, sobbing into the dark hair he has missed so much.
The ache inside of him subsides as he breathes him in, making up for the lost time.
“Patroclus,” he cries, over and over, the name a bittersweet litany on his divine lips.
The embrace is messy. Both boys are shaking from tears swirled with laughter. They are all limbs, reminding Achilles of much simpler times when they were transitioning from boys into men, and he was much longer than Patroclus. It is flawless in its imperfections, like Patroclus, like every aspect of their love.
Achilles never did want to be a god; what good was immortality if Patroclus went somewhere Achilles could never follow?
This is so much sweeter than everlasting life.
He gently pulls Patroclus’ chin up to gaze down into his eyes - oh gods, his eyes - and then they close as their lips meet for a long awaited kiss.
Salty tears mingle with their panting breaths, like both of them have just run on a beach again as they did in their youth. And it almost feels like that, the euphoria of something so innocent and wholesome.
It feels like home.
He no longer feels like he could eat the world raw. He did that after Patroclus died, when he existed only for his vengeance.
The thrum of his blood rushing through his veins, the youth bouncing in his every swift step – it is all gone down here.
But he would not trade it for all of the fame in Greece. In all of history.
He needs only one thing to live, even now that his body is gone, and that is Patroclus.
“I no longer feel like I can eat the world raw,” Achilles tells him as they lay together again, in a different bed but with the same intimacy. But the words not sad. They are utterly peaceful. Finally.
“Good,” Patroclus whispers into his shoulder. “I began to fear you forgot that you are not a lion.”
Achilles freezes for a moment, confusion giving way to understanding.
“You could hear me? To Hector. After you . . .” he trails off, unable to say the words, lest a cruel god decide to take him away again.
Patroclus pushes his head underneath Achilles’ chin, gently urging him to look up and meet his gaze.
“I was there the whole time. You could not see me, and I could not show you. But I was there. When I said that I would never leave you, it was a promise.”
He lifts his hand in that achingly familiar gesture they used to make lifetimes ago, when one would make an oath to the other. Achilles, hand shaking, reciprocates the gesture. And when their hands meet, a calm washes over him, an effect only Patroclus can have on him.
“It will be like this, always,” Patroclus vows, his gaze never wavering in its sincerity.
And he is so small, so seemingly fragile, but so strong and so remarkable, that Achilles wonders how Patroclus can ever see himself as anything less than perfect.
He tells him as much, and the blush and attempt to hide himself in Achilles’ chest has him laughing softly for the first time in too long.
He runs a finger lightly over his flushed cheek, and murmurs, “I feared I would never see this again. It is one of the things I missed most.”
Patroclus lifts his head and presses his forehead against Achilles’ as he whispers, “I am here,” against his lips, and Achilles breathes them in like he had been drowning.