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The Andromeda Galaxy

 

They are two stars, burning, lighting up their corner of the darkness. There is no communication of desire or longing, only primal celestial pull that brought them together initially and keeps them together now. They have no names, but one burns just a bit brighter—golder—than the other, and that’s how scientists will one day tell them apart.

For now, however, they have yet to be discovered, in an unseen portion of Earth’s universe. And who needs to see them? This light, this closeness is good enough for the pair of them until eventually they fall, one shortly after the other, hurtling, burning towards—something, they’re not sure what. But they’re falling, and they leave their crossing marks against the sky like raw scars.

 

Thessaly, Greece, 852 BC

 

Achilles is half-god, and he looks it. Patroclus is, well, not. The two cannot stay away from each other once they’ve met, and the Fates nod. The strings of their lives are not so much individual strands as tapestries, interwoven to show a picture not many can interpret or even make out.

One day while they are under Chiron’s care, far from Thetis’ eyes and anyone who would stop them, they pick blackberries from a patch of bushes a mile or so away from the cave—Achilles stooped over in the patch, picking and handing them to Patroclus to place in a woven basket. Only around half of them actually make it into the basket, and when Achilles turns to find black and purple pulp dribbling down Patroclus’ chin, he laughs and lunges to kiss the juices off.

The two of them lie in the tall grass, holding each other as gold and pink creeps into the sky and the temperature cools. Achilles turns to look at the dark-haired boy in his arms, and smiles. “Patroclus?” he says in his way.

“Yes?” Patroclus replies, taking one of his partner’s curls in his hands absentmindedly.

“Promise me you will always find me,” he requests. “Promise me that, no matter where we find ourselves, you will always come find me.”

Patroclus nods solemnly, not questioning the boy’s intent. “I would not dare dream of leaving you alone.”

“We’re more than just this, you know,” Achilles continues, patting the ground. “More than flesh and dirt. You and I, we’re special. That is why my mother wants to keep us apart, more than anything. She is afraid, but nothing can keep us apart.”

“I love you,” Patroclus says, and it’s not the first time he had thought it, but it’s the first time he said it. It rolls off his tongue as easily as any idea he’d ever had.

Achilles smiles. “I love you, too.”

Years later, when Patroclus falls in battle, when his soul is taken, Achilles will hold onto that first “I love you.” He will hold onto it like it is his dying wish, and it echoes in his mind as he kills Hector, as he thinks of every single person who sought to keep the two of them apart. It is impossible, he thinks as he rages in battle, because they are one. Because they love each other.

When he dies, his blood tastes like blackberries.

 

Savannah, Georgia, 1778

 

They would end up meeting when the British cavalry were stationed in Savannah to keep an eye on things as the war started to rage on in the Southern colonies. When the redcoat knocks on his door, Patroclus feels a tug deep beyond understanding. He understood the law—soldiers were allowed to occupy homes during wartime. It was expected. What was unexpected was the grace with which this one moves, the softness of his face so unlike the other soldiers’. His golden, curled hair seems to shine, even though the only light source is the candle on Patroclus’ dining table just off the door.

The man just short of frowns, appraising Patroclus, and if Patroclus isn’t mistaken, he is feeling the same strange, familiar sensation.

“I am Lieutenant Pelides,” he said, his voice smooth as the honey Patroclus served on his oats in the morning. “I’m here on orders of the King, I’ve been assigned this house.”

“Oh, er,” Patroclus says, standing aside so the soldier—Lieutenant Pelides—could enter. “Come in. I just made lamb stew, do you want some?”

The man halts a bit but walks in, silently, not taking his eyes off Patroclus. “I’ve just eaten.” He pauses. “Thank you.”

Patroclus shrugs. “Suit yourself. Don’t blame me for missing out on the best lamb stew you’ve ever had.”

“The best, eh?” Lieutenant Pelides challenges in a tony pushing the ‘polite soldier’ aura he had been giving off. “I might have to put your word to the test later.”

“You just might,” Patroclus laughed. “I’m Patroclus, by the way. You’re welcome to stay here. I’ve got a cot I can set up in the living room while you sleep in my bed.” He motions to the room with an open door in the back of the small house.

The lieutenant looks as if he’s going to protest, but simply nods. “That will do.”

The days pass, and as the war continues, the soldier keeps returning to Patroclus’ house nightly, more often than not dirtied from the day’s battles. Patroclus finds out his name is Achilles, he’s from Oxford, his father is a statesman, he’s considered one of the finest soldiers in the British regiment. Patroclus learns new recipes simply to let Achilles taste them.

They continue like this until one night. Patroclus sits by the fire while Achilles writes letters home. The two have grown into this silent comfort, and it is in these moments that the tugging feeling returns.

The scratching of Achilles’ quill stops, and Patroclus barely has time to glance up before Achilles’ mouth is crushed into his. There is a moment where Patroclus is too stunned to reply in kind and before he has the chance to, Achilles draws back as if branded.

“I—I apologize,” he says, fingers ghosting over his lips. “I will not act like that again. I am very sorry.”

“What if I want you to act like that?” Patroclus found himself saying. The thought has crossed his mind more than once, but he would never dare act on his feelings, not with an acting officer in nearly every neighboring house.

A look of shock ripples through on Achilles’ face, and he closes his eyes, shakes his head.

“I should be getting to bed,” he says quietly, standing. “Goodnight, Patroclus.”

“Goodnight, Achilles,” he replies.

The following nights with the soldier are not the same as they had been. There is a tension in the small house, and Patroclus is loath to bring it up.

Patroclus is making hotcakes with blackberry syrup one morning when Achilles appears beside him. This is the closest contact they’ve had since the kiss, a fact Patroclus is acutely aware of.

“Those smell amazing,” Achilles says.

“Oh?” Patroclus replies, making certain not to turn toward him or make him feel any more uncomfortable than he already might.

“Yes. You’re a very good cook.”

“Why, thank you, my lord,” he says, bowing his head and smirking. (He found Achilles does not like it when he mocks the British regency system.)

Achilles simply rolls his eyes. There is once again quiet except for the slight sizzling of the pan. There’s something in the air between the two of them, Patroclus can sense it. He takes a deep breath and turns to Achilles.

“Achilles, what happened the other night does not have to be something we simply ignore.”

If he was expecting the subject to be brought up, it doesn’t show. The soldier’s face remains impassive as he stares at the hotcakes.

“I understand, you know,” he continues. “We’re at war. Far more ludicrous things have happened during wartime.” He pauses, looks Achilles in the eyes. “Nothing happened, and if anything were to have happened, I certainly would never speak a word of it.”

Achilles looks up at him with a genuine smile only put off by what Patroclus thought was an infinitely sad look in his eyes. “Thank you.”

“It is nothing, I assure you.”

One night, Achilles does not show up, nor the next three nights. He visits his neighbor’s house to see if their soldier has stopped making appearances—maybe the army is moving back north and no one told him—but they inform him the soldier is still there. He seems exponentially less accommodating than Achilles.

“Excuse me, sir?” he calls to the man, receiving a grunt of affirmation in return. “Do you know what happened to Lieutenant Pelides? He was to come to my house, but I haven’t seen him for days.”

The man’s eyes met his in a sort of cruel amusement. “He’s died. Run through on the field. Shame, that. He was one of our best.”

Patroclus does not respond, but backs out of the doorway, taking stumbling steps. The whistling of the wind in his ears plays a funeral tune, and he does not remember returning home.

 

San Francisco, California, 1986

 

Achilles laughs as the needle buzzes on the taut skin of his ankle. He looks up at Patroclus, who rolls his eyes, and squeezes his hand.

“It really doesn’t hurt, babe,” he says, grinning. “Promise.”

“It doesn’t hurt you because nothing hurts you,” Patroclus responds. The two have been planning matching tattoos for months now—three tiny stars on their left ankles.

“I like stars,” Patroclus had said as they talked in their one-room apartment in the Castro late one night “You know? Like, for some reason the stars always remind me of you.”

“Yeah, I get you,” Achilles murmured. “Like the whole thing with the stars guiding your fates.”

The two had met when they were eight years old growing up in the same Los Angeles suburb. Patroclus had been playing in the street when a Volvo rounded the corner a little too fast. Their neighbors said Patroclus would have died if the fast little boy from down the street hadn’t rushed out and dragged him out of harm’s way. They were inseparable after that, as young boys often are.

Thirteen years later they are just as inseparable, only now sex is involved. They moved to San Francisco when they turned 20 because they heard tell that “their kind” was more welcomed in the northern half of the state. And they haven’t regretted their decision once.

All the couples they meet are wiser, more adept in the ways of navigating this world of open sexuality. Not to say that their relationship is virginal by any means, but they have always felt their love is a bit purer than the kind you can find in a dive bar. They have been together since they were children; it makes sense that they would carry some of that with them into adulthood.

Of course, the purity can only last so long when you’re told in no uncertain terms that both you and your partner are ticking time bombs. They had one—one—weekend where they tried some drugs with the friends they’d made, and it seemed that the needles they used were not as kosher as presented. So, ta-da. The AIDS virus, haven’t you heard, darling? It’s all the rage. They have a few years left at most. AZT will only get you so far.

So that is why Achilles is sitting in a chair, getting stars inked into his ankle while Patroclus watches on nervously. After making sure it’s safe, they figure, hey, only a year or two left? Let’s go down swinging.

The tattoo artist finishes up the small art and wipes it down with a wet cloth. He holds a mirror to the ankle and looks up at Achilles. “You like?”

Clapping his hands together in delight, Achilles nods. “I like very much.” He turns to Patroclus, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Your turn.”

“Oh, come on, do I—do I have to? It probably won’t even show up on my skin, so, you know—”

“You aren’t that dark,” Achilles says, and now it’s his turn to roll his eyes. “Plus, you’ve gotta remember—fate. Life. All this happens the way it’s supposed to happen. Don’t you want to have something to show for it?”

“I’ve got you,” Patroclus replies instantly, and Achilles’ face flushes with happiness.

“That’s right,” he says. “And now you’re gonna get a tattoo!”

Patroclus ends up getting the tattoo because of course he does, he has never been able to say no to Achilles. And he actually likes the look of it, though he’d never admit it aloud.

 

The nights can be the worst, especially as their viruses progress. They spend less and less time outside and more time laying in bed, holding each other when they get too cold to be apart.

Asking their parents for money to cover the hospital bills was out of the question. Their relationships were strained enough as it was, and if they knew their sons were some of those “sick ones” they’ve been hearing so much on the news, well. It wouldn’t do.

So they get by, for the most part. They live when they can. Achilles can barely run anymore, even when they do feel good enough to go outside, and it’s a damn shame, Patroclus thinks. Achilles is always beautiful, but never more so than when he runs.

Soon they aren’t able to leave the apartment. Patroclus’ body is decaying at a faster rate, but Achilles won’t leave him alone, even when he’s capable.

The end comes for them both one night, Achilles minutes after Patroclus. They are shivering even though they are in bed—the smallest hitch of breath—nothing.

The light streaming in through the window illuminates the stars on their ankles.

 

Chicago, Illinois, 2015

 

 

 

The party’s a dud.

Patroclus hasn’t been to many, sure, but he’s been to enough to say, with gusto, this party is an unequivocal dud. No one is talking to one another. The music is a combination of nondescript jazz and jam bands. There’s a beer pong table but everyone here has got to be 25 or up. It’s ridiculous.

“This is ridiculous,” he mutters to Briseis, his roommate and best friend. “Who do we know here?”

“I think the people we knew left before we got here,” she replies, eyeing the room while twirling one of her curls in her fingers.

He groans and leans his head back against the wall. “I am this close to leaving.”

“Then go, you plebe,” she laughs. “I’ll be fine here. I wanna see if the guy with the blue bangs is straight or at least bi.”

“Oh, come on, you could have any guy in the city and you choose the only one whose sexuality isn’t determinable?”

“That’s how I fell for you, isn’t it?” Briseis asks, grinning. “Seriously, go. I don’t want to go home yet anyway.”

“Fine,” Patroclus says, grabbing his coat off a chair by the door. “Be home by 1 or I’m calling the cops.”

“Will do.”

As he steps out into the cold, he has to admit: While the party was a waste of alcohol and time, the apartment it took place in was gorgeous. Rent has to be something like the soul of your firstborn child, he thinks while admiring it, but it might be worth it to live in a beautiful brick-and-ivy place like this.

“Pretty, aren’t they?” a voice asks from nearby. Patroclus turns to see a beautiful blonde boy in a navy hoodie. He squints and tilts his head—there’s a familiarity about him that he can’t quite place.

“The apartments? Oh, uh, yeah, they’re beautiful,” Patroclus nods. “Do you live here?”

“I do, actually,” Blondie responds, jingling his keys. “Third floor.”

“One of the best floors.”

“I’ve always thought so.”

There’s a pause as Patroclus stands there, staring down at the sidewalk before the man says, “I’m Achilles,” and offers his hand.

Patroclus shakes it. “Patroclus, nice to meet you.”

“Patroclus,” Achilles says, and it sounds different, more meaningful, the way he says it. “Wanna come up?”

“Wh—I’m sorry, ‘up’?” Patroclus stutters.

“Yeah, to my apartment,” Achilles says, smiling.

Patroclus feels an overwhelming urge to say yes, to just go with it, but—

“Look, I don’t even know you. You could be some Jeffrey Dahmer type and I’d have no idea.”

“Okay, uhm, first of all, my apartment is not nearly big enough to store all the potential dying boy slaves,” Achilles retorts. “And second of all, I’m not. I promise. It’s just… I get this vibe from you, as creepy as that sounds. I feel like I know you already.”

“Yeah, you seemed familiar, too,” he says, “but having seen each other around isn’t grounds for—”

“It’s not just ‘I’ve seen you around,’” Achilles insists, and he looks actually serious. “Like, the more I stand here talking to you, the more sure of it I am. I’ve known you already. It feels like… I don’t know. Like there’s a history here.”

Patroclus doesn’t know why, and if asked later he wouldn’t be able to give a definable answer, but he understands. “Yeah.”

“So, I’m gonna ask again: Do you wanna come up? Not for sex or murder or anything,” he says, raising his hands in innocence. “I just want to talk to you.”

And it’s strange, but Patroclus believes him, utterly and with his whole being. “Sure. Yeah. That’d be nice.”

A smile breaks out on Achilles’ face, and Patroclus can’t help but follow suit. “Come on, then,” Achilles says, heading into the building. Patroclus shoots Briseis a text explaining the situation without the more bizarre elements and trails behind him.

“So what do you do? Like, for a job?” Patroclus asks as they walk up the stairs.

“I’m a painter unofficially, but I also coach high school track.”

“Huh. Well, those are… two very different things.”

They reach his door and Achilles turns to grin at him before unlocking it. “Here we are.”

The apartment is laid out the same as the one Patroclus was just in, only instead of two bedrooms off the living room, there’s just one. He goggles at the spaciousness—the living room is furnished with a leather couch, a bookshelf, a TV and a table, but there still seems to be plenty of room.

“Do you live alone? How the hell do you afford this place?”

“You’re just full of questions, aren’t you?” Achilles laughs as he crosses to the kitchen. “I mean, I don’t do horribly with my jobs, but my mom helps out, too. She’s—she’s kind of important, I guess. I don’t know.”

Sensing that it makes the boy uncomfortable, Patroclus drops it. He turns to take in the rest of the apartment. There are no paintings on the wall, surprisingly, but there is a pile of canvasses next to multicolored rags and paintbrushes next to the couch. He wonders where all of Achilles’ art ends up.

“You hungry?” Achilles asks as he bends over to look around his fridge. “I’ve got a ton of Chinese from last night, because… Well, I was really lonely.”

Patroclus let out a bark of laughter. “Honesty. That’s nice. Yeah, I could go for Chinese.”

Achilles smiles and pops the paper container into the microwave. Patroclus looks over at him, and a combination of fluorescent and microwave lights shouldn’t make anyone look as… glowing, but he was beginning to suspect Achilles wasn’t entirely human.

They eat the pork lo mein in comfortable silence on the leather couch. The more time they spend around each other, the more facts about Achilles seep through the woodwork, even if they don’t come out of his mouth—for example, Patroclus knows for sure that his favorite color is green, even though there is nothing in the apartment to indicate this. It’s just an irrefutable fact that Patroclus can’t explain knowing.

He’s contemplating this when Achilles leans over, reaching for something Patroclus can’t see.

Suddenly he feels a cold wetness streak across his cheek, and when he looks over, Achilles is holding up two fingers covered in a purpley-midnight blue paint. “Sorry,” he says, but he’s obviously not sorry at all. “I couldn’t help it.”

Patroclus doesn’t even protest, just smiles. “How do I look?”

“Like a blackberry,” Achilles says, nodding solemnly.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

The hours slip by and it’s midnight and they’re arguing about which Monopoly piece is best, and it’s 2 o’clock and they’re tossing an apple back and forth while discussing the merits of a six-year presidential term, and it’s 4:30 and Achilles is talking about his mother, and the sun breaks and Patroclus realizes he has to be at home because the police are probably already declaring him dead in the river.

When Patroclus reaches the door, Achilles smiles, kisses him on the cheek without any paint on it, gives him his number. Patroclus walks home with his jacket pulled tightly around him and a strange lightness. He touches the now-cracking paint marking his cheek and can’t help but grin. Somehow, somewhere inside him, he knows. He knows he is done looking for Achilles, and the Fates smile.