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lions and men

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We did not speak of it, at first. 

The moment in which our hands touched—the way Achilles gasped my name, three careful syllables tripping over themselves in stunned amazement—these things, and what came after them, occupied us for a long time. And Elysium let us take as long as we wanted. At first, I wanted him to go slowly; I wanted to savour the underground sunlight on Achilles' skin, was caught up between wanting him more desperately than I ever had and being afraid he would slip like water between my fingers if I grasped too quickly.

In my memories of that first night, Achilles senses my reluctance. He tells me, "This is not like it was in Troy. Not even like it was on Mount Pelion. We have as much time as the gods do."

He grins at me, pure and bright, and this is what convinces me that I do not need to fear losing him again. 

So: I relearned what had changed in him; picked out new notes in the song of his golden body; annotated my knowledge of human anatomy with the location of a single, faded scar on Achilles' back. It was the only part of him that was blemished, and sometimes I found myself tracing my finger along it as though I was trying to commit its contours to memory. We spoke while I traced his scar, lying together on grassy fields and telling each other what had happened between then and now. 

There were still no secrets between us, but some things skittered in the spaces behind our tongues and did not come out without a fight. Perhaps that is why it took him so long to broach the topic. But he does, one day, after we've gone swimming in a silver-blue lake he shows me; we splash each other, laughing like schoolboys, and then the splashing turns into something altogether different. After that, we sit in companionable silence under a tree's shade, and Achilles says, "Patroclus."

"Yes?" 

He props himself up on one sun-dappled arm to face me, golden hair dripping golden droplets down his cheeks. "Why did it take you so long to come?"

I hesitate. He senses it, as he always does. "Was it my mother?" he asks. 

I shake my head. "She was the one who sent me to you."

"Tell me what happened," says Achilles, drawing himself up so that he can sit and watch me properly. 

"Do you remember how you wanted our ashes to be buried together?"

He frowns. "Is that not what happened?" 

The memories of my last days swirl together in my head, and, without looking at him, I tell him how I saw him die. 

Achilles interrupts me at one point: "That really was you," he says in wonder. "The voice I heard in my dream." When I meet his gaze, his clear green eyes are pleading. "Why didn't you say anything more?"

"I tried, Achilles," I tell him. "But you weren't listening."

He doesn't interrupt after that, and so I tell him about his flame-headed son, the one they called Pyrrhus, marching into the council room and telling them all that his father deserved better than to be buried with a commoner. 

At this, Achilles leaps to his feet, eyes blazing with a fury I have not yet seen from him here. "I will kill him for that," he says. "I have killed better men for less."

"You do not need to," I say, tilting my head back to look at him. From this angle he is breathtaking: the sun spills through his hair from behind, casting a warm halo around his face. "He is here, and dead already."

"He is here?" Achilles blinks at me. 

"A son of Agamemnon killed him."

But that is not what Achilles means. "He is here," Achilles repeats, "in the land of the gods' favoured men? That is an insult I will not stand."

"No, Achilles." I get to my feet, though not half as gracefully as him. "He is...inconsequential. And he was only trying to protect your legacy."

He turns, consternation drawing his brows together. "I have no legacy without you, Patroclus," he says. "You are the most consequential person in the world."

Before I can say anything, he turns, and disappears into the trees. 

 

I am not half as fast as he is, either, and though in Elysium my limbs never tire, I still fail to reach Achilles before he finds his son. Then again, Pyrrhus, with his shining red hair, is not difficult to find. When I draw near enough to hear them, they are engaged in heated conversation; at least, Achilles looks heated, familiar spots of colour rising on his cheeks. Pyrrhus just looks bewildered. "It was for you, Father," he is saying defensively. "You were Aristos Achaion before me!" Catching sight of me, he adds, "Look, there he is, the commoner they told me about."

I stop next to Achilles and take a careful glance at his expression. It is entirely closed off, his mouth set in a thin, unyielding line. Seeing how fiercely his eyes are burning, I am more than a little relieved—and a little wondrous, too—that he has never turned this look on me. "This commoner is worth a thousand of you," he says. 

Pyrrhus' eyes narrow. "Do not speak to me that way. I am your son, and Aristos Achaion too."

"As you've said." Achilles does not move, does not even blink, but between one breath and the next something subtly changes in his posture; I am suddenly aware that he stands taller than Pyrrhus does, and that every line of his straight, fair body has been drawn with the perfection of divinity. "You forget that this place is full of the best of the Greeks, among which you are not nearly as special as you think you are."

"Neither are you, Father," snaps Pyrrhus. 

Achilles scoffs. "You are no son of mine." He turns to go, dismissing this conversation the way someone lesser might dismiss a fly, and sets off in a different direction than the one from which we came. 

That leaves me, facing the boy responsible for those endless, lurking days I spent as a spirit. He is a man, now, but age and added fame have not brought remorse for what he did. "You never deserved him," he sneers at me. 

I shrug. "What Achilles deserves is not the same as what he wants." 

"And he wants you?" says Pyrrhus. This time it is not nearly as accusing. He has just been disowned by the godlike father he has spent his life idolizing, and this fact lights a tiny spark of sympathy in my chest. 

It is enough to make me say, "For whatever reason, Pyrrhus, the gods chose you for Elysium. It is not because of Achilles that you are here. It is because of something that you are."

He has nothing to say to that. Leaving him there in the clearing, I go and look for Achilles.

 

I find him somewhere else entirely; he is sitting in the lower branches of a tree, one leg swinging absently, looking from a distance exactly like the twelve-year-old boy who tossed apples at me in the palace. 

The illusion breaks when he looks at me. No twelve-year-old has eyes as sorrowful as that. 

He has picked a good tree to climb, with foot- and handholds so readily available that it takes me only a moment to join him in his perch. From here we can see across a waving, glittering sea of reeds that dance to the inaudible rhythm of the wind. "It is my fault, Patroclus," Achilles says finally. "My pride killed you, and my son kept you from joining me here."

I put my hand in his. Calluses formed from a thousand spears rub against my palm. Words said between us before come swimming back into my head, and I say them now, looking at our joined hands: "There is nothing to forgive."

"Patroclus," says Achilles, wonder blossoming in his voice. He leans a little closer, eyes dropping to my lips. 

I move my hand to his chest, stopping him, and though of course he is stronger than me, he rocks back as though dealt a heavy blow. "You are forgiven, Achilles," I say, a smile sneaking across my face, "as soon as you've made it up to me." 

"Oh?" says Achilles, grinning too. "How shall I make it up to you, my philtatos?"

He has never called me that directly, and my smile widens, even as he leans in to press his mouth to my neck. He draws back, a wicked gleam in his eyes, and says, "Like this?"

"Perhaps," I say. 

"Or like this," Achilles continues, and swoops down with his easy grace to plant a kiss at my thigh. I inhale sharply, and he looks up through gilded lashes. "Or like this." 

I have seen him furious, and serene, and grieving, but rarely have I ever seen him so unabashedly, mischievously happy. I frame this memory in sunlight before leaning in to kiss him properly. "Go on, then, Achilles," I tell him, and he does.